Numenera 16: The Berenock Deception

Berenock is only briefly described in the adventure in Weird Discoveries. Literally the only information is that it is free of the despotic rule of House Nooran, it floats in the sky and is accessible by fish-dirigible. So I ended up winging everything and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out: it felt like a place with identity and put the players into more than a few conversarguments about whether or not it was worth saving. The easy way would be to have a flawless Disney-eque village or a Totalitarian Shithole with which to contrast House Nooran’s plans. But Berenock turned out to be a bit more complex than that. It’d be nice to return there someday. For me, anyway.

I searched through Pinterest for some ideas and that turned out to be a good way to throw a couple of ideas together and have something to show for it, in this case the character studies by Ivan Dedov, an artist about whom I know nothing, except that he painted austere dudes with fancy hats. That was enough to get me started and the players through solicited input and reactions to things I added helped create the rest. Cheers Ivan.

Berenock City Guard.
Art by Ivan Dedov for something completely different, but after stumbling across this and a few others of his, I started putting together what Berenock might be like.

Berenock is a floating island city state, aloof and removed from the surrounding (relatively speaking) settlements of the Southern Plains of Kataru. Surrounded by farmlands, the city proper is small, a jumble of different architectural styles, arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way; although the predominance of onion domes is noticeable. Resources are in short supply on Berenock, so a lot has been preserved that in other regions would have been replaced.

Visitors arrive at an area set aside for docking airships and niacali, an enclosed port on the edge of the city. The party’s niacali gondola touched down gracefully and they climbed out to be greeted by a functionary wearing a lovely square hat. After something of a misunderstanding regarding who Red Pepper might be, the functionary returned with half a dozen white conical hats for them to wear during their time in Berenock. Their compulsory white conical hats.

They found Berenock to be an orderly, subdued place. The people, all wearing hats denoting their place in the carefully managed society were friendly enough, but very reluctant to speak about certain topics. One such topic were the Gazers, groups of floating metal spheres that roamed the streets, checking everything out.

Their dialect was a bit off the beaten path from the typical truth spoken in the area and they used a modified form of alphabet. Their clothing was heavy and fairly drab, considering their main export was dye – the dyes, extracted from flowers grown in the fields surrounding the city, were used to dye food too and it was possible to by vivid blue meat on a stick, or lime green pickled eggs, although it didn’t do anything to change the taste. Of all the many bright coloured powders on display, there were no reds at all.

The people of Berenock didn’t seem to have much livestock or previous world technology (at least visible and in use), but they got around on foot through their well cobbled streets or by way of hovering scooter like devices to which they attached trailers and panniers to make floating carts and rickshaws. PWT was sold at a stall in the market, but seemed to be very heavily monitored by the Committee for Relic Preservation and Dispersal.

They took a turn by a museum, , under the auspices of the Committee for Education and Veracity, dedicated to telling the story of the peaceful(ish) revolution that ousted the Noorans – the populace, having grown sick of the inept brutality of their ruling house overthrew the Noorans in absentia and simply refused tho allow them to return. There was some pushback by the nobles, but not that much and so the Directorate which governs the Committees that make up Berenock was formed and everyone has been very content since then, thank you very much, stop asking. Please, stop asking.

After getting a feel for the city, they headed to the assigned visitor lodgings: a comfortable inn in an ornate stone building, called Pierlu’s Hotel. Solely for the use of the white hatted visitors, the rooms were small and simple, and most of the visitors seemed to have gathered in the taproom.

There they met a man named Calgor Addor, who had folded his conical cap at a jaunty angle and seemed as skeptical about Berenock and its tightly ordered society as they were beginning to feel. Furthermore it came to light that he was also here on an errand from Orrudis on behalf of House Nooran. He had been tasked with awaiting some great signal, which he was then to relay to the Seneschal and so begin the restoration. In the mean time, he’d discovered that the city state wasn’t free with their red dye because it was a potent euphoric when mixed with alcohol. He planned to make a fortune when a grateful House Nooran was handing out concessions to it’s restorers. He gave a hit of the red powder to Meef, who greatly approved, or if he disapproved, had a wonderful time doing so.

The gnawing doubts about the liquid-filled “recording device” plagued the party however, especially as they’d seen a Berenock-made munition for sale at the market (a relic of the more bellicose Nooran era) that looked pretty similar. Sharad used Calgor to set up a meeting with a functionary of one of the Committees to figure out what the device was and how it worked. There was a lot of discussion among the group about whether this was really a recording playback device or a bomb and whether or not they could record a copy of the audio recording. The meeting would have to wait until morning, however, as curfew had been imposed.

That night, Giana was awakened by a very very high pitched sound, on the edge of her hearing, coming from outside. She looked out her window onto the street below and saw a man running frantically, pursued by Gazers. The panicked man didn’t get far before a larger, slower metal orb appeared to cut off his escape. A metal limb unfolded from the larger orb and it quickly lunged at him, the limb lashing out, the man instantly liquified where he stood. He splashed to the cobbles. The floating orbs slowed and retreated and the city stayed silent.

A Gazer.

Giana was horrified but within minutes couldn’t quite tell you what it was that had horrified her. By the time she could tell anyone about it the next morning, she’d forgotten almost all of it, except that¬† she had a vague notion of being appalled by something bad that had happened.

They made their way to the market, to meet with Calgor’s contact, Ludov. The nervous young man worked for the Committee of Relic Preservation and Dispersal and had a flat metal plate with a series of cables that he was able to plug into the “recording device”. He made anxious chit-chat as he waited for the results to come up. Sharad, looking over his shoulder saw the results as they came in and acted quickly, snatching the plate away from the startled man before he could see them. The man wanted to know what gives, but Sharad pretended that he really didn’t want to know, changed his mind, very suddenly. While this was going on, there was a kerfuffle at the edge of the marketplace, which then became a panic. Gazers appeared and, causing a panicked crowd to flee, one of the larger orbs that seemed dimly familiar and ominous to Giana. The poor sap that Calgor had gulled into helping them was helpless before the floating orb as it approached and with a flick of an unfolding arm, liquefied him on the spot. The party fled in horror.

Disassembler, by McHugh

Sharad was closest to the orb when it puddled the poor techie and while everyone else was able to sidle away/flee with everyone else, he had a harder time evading the Gazers. Fortunately, he managed to swipe a hat to replace white cone and that gave him just enough of a diversion to get away from the Gazers and get swept up in the tide of other flat-fronted hats.

The team regrouped at Pierlu’s but it wasn’t long before an armed patrol of guards, along with a whole bunch of Gazers and a Committee member appeared at the hostelry. They had come to see the party, but ended up finding only Meef, Sharad and Giana. Red and Loretta kept a low enough profile that they were not brought along. Also not brought along: the ‘bomb’ and the metal plate that had been used to analyse it – Giana managed to TK those out of the way and amazingly – onto the roof.

The trio were politely but firmly ordered to accompany Aless, the Committee member, to the Directorate’s tower in the center of town: the out-of-place metal cylinder. They were politely but firmly put on floating scooter rickshaws and politely but firmly driven to the tower. There, at the foot of the cylinder, in front of its open force field covered entrance, they were politely but firmly allowed out of the rickshaws and asked to follow the Committee member.

Committee Member Aless.
Art by Ivan Dedov again.

At this, Sharad balked. Even though Meef and Giana went through the shimmering wall of light (and had not been harmed or disarmed), Sharad wasn’t going through. He tried bluffing one of his guards, with uncanny success, because he’s Sharad and talking people into things is kind of his bag. The guard, convinced that Sharad was a friend of his father’s, reassured Sharad that it wasn’t an ambush or trap.

Sharad eventually consented and entered the tower. Aless led them through to a central atrium with a ramp that wound up to the ceiling far above. Along the ramp were doors, lots of doors, labelled with the name of the committee that met behind them presumably.

And that’s where things got hazy. Back out of the tower after the meeting, they could remember little of the questions they had been asked and what had been decided, except to say that they had explained and the committee had released them, with the understanding that they leave as soon as was convenient.

On the ride home however, the guard who had been convinced that Sharad was an old family friend pulled the rickshaw cart into an alleyway and told them that their minds had been clouded. He gave them a crystal liquid that would apparently clear the fog from their memory. They took it and their memories returned: they recalled walking through the door marked as the home of the Committee of Public Safety and Moral Hygiene, the vibrant sunlit garden beyond it, the questioning by the members of the committee seated on a balcony, the story they spun about knowing nothing about the bomb that the Ludov revealed.

The town was starting to get to them, they decided: creepy surveillance bots, weird hats, liquified dissidents, and memory manipulation. However, what the Committee had told them didn’t put Orrudis and the plans of House Nooran in any better standing. When they ran into Calgor, the mercenary agent was incredulous that they believed anything that they’d learned. Berenock’s Directorate, he said, was manipulating them – it was the Directorate’s employees who had told them the recording device was a bomb and given them a memory ‘restoring’ fluid. He believed that the Berenockians were skillfully turning the party against Orrudis as they were masters of thought control.

MAEKS YOU THINK.

Their minds were not changed, however, they were content to leave as the Committee had requested. They scored a bunch of red dye powder from Calgor in exchange for shins and said goodbye. They set about hiding the ‘viral bomb’, Meef finding a wall cavity in which to hide it.

The following morning, another troop of guards arrived at Pierlu’s with Committee Member Aless bearing gifts for the departing party. Sharad was the only one brave enough to actually go down and talk to the Committee Member. He was thanked for his cooperation and presented with a shallow chest: a fine tricorn hat for Meef, Sharad and Giana each and a beautiful selection of Berenock’s finest, most vibrant dyes.

As he presented these farewell-don’t-come-back gifts/bribes he suddenly went rigid and blood cascaded from underneath is hexagonal hat. He slid to the floor, his head fountaining blood from a neat slot that had been cut into the top of his skull. Sharad looked on, aghast, as one of the guards turned at the sound and screamed “They’ve killed the Committee Member!” he rushed into the room and Sharad immediately put him in Stasis and bolted up the stairs.

As the guards responded, the party sprang into action, variously hiding, fleeing, or preparing for combat. The guards, meanwhile advanced cautiously into the hallway in which the party was individually quartered… and were butchered by an unseen foe. One guardsman, decapitated seemed to writhe in midair as a spray of arterial blood wrote FINISH THE JOB on the wall. That’s some penmanship. The message appeared to be directed at Red, who was about the only person who could see it who wasn’t being sliced to ribbons by some unseen force.

They were able to confirm that Aless was dead, a single penetrating wound to the top of his head, piercing his hat. Someone was able to snatch away his cane,  but they left the crate of gifts behind. They fled the hotel as the Gazers descended on it, more guard patrols arriving as well as the dreaded Liquidator orbs. One such Orb got itself between Sharad and the rest of the party who were preparing to make a dash for the airport/landing grounds. Sharad threw up a wall of energy, the crackling lightning keeping the Orb at bay while it tried to find a way around it.

Then, who should come to the rescue, but Shome, follower extraordinaire. He stole a rickshaw and set it speeding towards Sharad through the wall of energy, bailing before he had to pass close to the Orb. The floating scooter passed through the wall and skidded, inert and fried to Sharad’s feet. Sharad, leapt aboard, kicked it back to life and zoomed away from the scene.

Hurrying through the quickly emptying marketplace before the landing grounds, they were pursued by Gazers and the larger Disassembler orbs, but hid, Sharad nabbing another passerby’s hat. Then they vaulted over the counter of a place selling street food on skewers that was built into the wall surrounding the port and popped out on the other side.

They raced for the nearest airship, Red spotting a signifier and delivering a passphrase that had the captain hurriedly ordering the lines severed and the sails set for hasty exit. The party was hauled aboard as the ship slipped its moorings and lifted into the sky. Peering over the gunwales they saw Gazers and Disassemblers cross the wall that separated the city and the port, but they were too late.

Airship, by Tao Yang.

The last arrival they saw as Berenock slipped away under them, was a lone figure, standing on the precarious end one of the long guide beams of the airship dock and a full suit of dark blue plate armour. It shimmered into sight, seemed to consider the rising airship for a second or tow and then turned and walked gracefully down the spar, shimmering out of sight again.

 

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