‘The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man’ Actual Play in Inverness, Report 3: The Onyx City

Sense-of-the-Sleight-of-Hand-Man-cover-620pxIn June 2013 I began running The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man, our new Call of Cthulhu campaign set in H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, for my local gaming group in Inverness, Alabama. I’m writing up these summaries of their adventures and mishaps.

WARNING: SPOILERS! These actual play reports will explicitly divulge details about the campaign. If you expect to be a player in The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man, stop reading now.

Previously: Report 2.

Game date: 3 July 2013 (continued)

They grew warmer and calmer, but thought they should find something to eat. After a while they came to another little stand of small, scrubby trees. Elissa wished hard for a penthouse apartment. There was none to be found.

In the cliffs above the trees, Owen spotted the black gap of a little cave entrance far overhead. Curious, he searched for a way up. The others searched for food. They found only a clutch of fat, unidentifiable insects nestled under a large rock. Elissa turned he nose up in disgust. Sam gathered them up and pulled off what he thought must be their heads. They made a fire and cooked the bugs. Elissa refused them so Sam ate them all.

Meanwhile Owen finally found a way up the cliff and ventured up to the mouth of the cave. It was narrow and deep, and he could see only a few feet inside without going in. He climbed down instead.

The Dreamers rested and drank from a little brook and ate the last of the bugs. They thought they should go on again. But Owen’s curiosity got the best of him. He built a torch from the fire and climbed back up to explore the cave after all.

He went inside and thought he saw movement ahead. It had a powerful stench like an old nest. He brought the torch to bear—and was startled by an eruption of feathers and squawking. The birds knocked him down as they fled. From below, the other Dreamers saw the flock of colorful, strangely proportioned birds fly out and land on the rocks and ledges around the cave mouth, squawking indignantly.

Owen picked himself up, climbed back out of the cave, and killed one of the birds with a well-thrown rock. He climbed down, collected it, and began stripping it of feathers for cooking. Elissa asked if he would share. He said that she could catch her own bird and he’d help her feather it. She pouted and refused.

After a while Owen had his meal—the flavor of neena-bird was familiar from Puko’s campfire—and the Dreamers set out again to the west. The day was half done.

They walked the rest of the afternoon. At one point they rounded a headland that jutted far out and saw, far away to the west, the glimmer of what must be the city on a headland of its own. But soon the road wound deeper inland and they did not see the distant city again that day.

The Spiders of Leng

The day darkened. Before night fell, they stopped at a place where the cliffs rose up uneven beside the road and offered many nooks and crannies where they could hide, up high. They settled in to rest as the sun vanished again.

The Dreamers woke, still enveloped in night, to a strange sound coming nearer. It sounded a little like pebbles falling or water dripping, but it was too numerous and too steady and dry a chittering. The Dreamers looked up in alarm. They saw shapes descending from higher up on the cliff, little shapes about the size of housecats but ponderous and bulbous on many legs—hideous great spiders.

The Dreamers clambered out of their holes and down the slope to the road. More spiders closed in from around them. The spiders were slow but they were everywhere.

Owen slowed to hurl rocks at the nearest spiders. The other Dreamers sprinted ahead in terror.

Fat spiders with transluscent purple shells got near enough to leap at Owen. One latched onto a leg. Another sank its fangs into his arm and he felt the agony of flesh tearing and poison burning. He tried to shake them off and run but he staggered.

He tried to raise a warding hand and call out, “I am Owen of Ohiyo, friend to Puko and Hero! Away from me!” but the spiders were unimpressed. Owen’s defiance turned to screams for help.

The other Dreamers heard Owen’s cries. Sam stopped and looked back in despair. He could keep running and be safe. But he cursed and ran back.

The spiders were climbing over Owen, leaving trails of sticky webbing even as he struggled. Sam started knocking them loose. Others climbed up and bit his legs.

In the darkness not far away, they saw a much larger shape coming forward, something the size of a hippo propped up between many powerful legs. It uttered a hissing, chuckling sort of laugh.

Elissa, farther off and safe for the moment, turned. More and more spiders were converging on her friends. But she had heard about Owen’s strange trick with the monster the night before and she thought perhaps she could do something like it here.

Elissa began singing, loud and pure. She meant to drive the spiders off, thinking such evil things surely could not stand beauty.

The spiders turned away from Owen and Sam and began rushing toward Elissa instead.

Owen and Sam managed to crush and shove away the last spiders that clung to them and they ran after Elissa, ducking away from the spiders that saw them and charged. Again and again they dodged away from the foul creatures. Then after a while the Dreamers all realized that they had left the spiders far behind.

They paused only to catch their breath and then kept walking through the night.


Leng Spider, by Dennis Detwiller, (c) 2013

The Golden Sun

The sun rose behind them and revealed the vast black onyx walls of Inquanok glittering only a mile ahead.

The walls of the Onyx City stretched half a mile from the cliff face that rose on the right to the sea on the left. The stone walls, five stories high, jutted at a strange angle and curved out over the ground underneath, held up by some unknown art or science. In the middle stood a big gatehouse that seemed to be built of a single piece of grey metal. A golden sun gleamed atop the gatehouse. The gatehouse door was wood painted red.

The Dreamers stopped and took in the sight. They waited — then they smelled bread baking from somewhere behind the walls and they rushed forward to the gate.

When they were only fifty feet from the door, an enormous trumpet blast shook them and stunned their ears. The door flew open and soldiers rushed out, jogging in close formation, spearmen wearing breastplates adorned with the golden sun. They were tall men with pale skin and fair hair, powerfully built. They surrounded the stumbling, wounded, frightened Dreamers and leveled spears. The leader of the soldiers shouted orders or questions in a strange tongue. It sounded vaguely Germanic.

Elissa responded in German to no avail. Owen replied in his own language: “I am Owen of Ohiyo, friend to Puko and Hero the Cat.” Sam shook his head.

But the guards’ leader seemed to understand. He replied in halting English. “Hand over weapons!”

He made them turn over their swords, knives, and even Owen’s hand-carved wooden spear. Then the guards, relaxing slightly, escorted the Dreamers into the city.

Beyond the gate and the long passage that led through the wall, they emerged into a strange city of stone and metal and only a little wood here and there. Most of the buildings were onyx with marble highlights. Children play in the carefully-proportioned alleys while pets looked on, disinterested. Cityfolk gathered to see the newcomers. They wore robes and sandals and their beards and thick hands were coated in the dust of the stone that they worked.

A long, arrow-straight avenue led deep into the city to an enormous tower far away. The guards led the Dreamers slowly there.

The great central tower—the leader of the guards called it the Temple of the Elder Ones—stood in the center of a wide stone court that itself was circuited by a broad avenue called Round Street. Sixteen avenues led from the center of the city out to the edges, and the tower had sixteen sides that faced them. The tower was closed but around it stood and sat and walked a host of thoughtful men arguing and negotiating and thinking. The guard said they were the Council of Sages, the leaders of Inquanok.

The Sages of Round Street

He led the Dreamers to a pair of sages who held court nearest the closed temple door. The elder of them introduced himself as Yveddes. The younger, waiting impatiently for the elder to finish, said he was Drax. Yveddes was gray and fading. Drax was strong and robust and handsome. He paid special attention to Elissa, still striking despite the dust and fear of the road.

The two elder sages called for wicker couches so the Dreamers could rest and for bread and wine so they could refresh themselves. They welcomed them and answered their questions with apparently open hands and hearts.

They said Inquanok was a city of quarriers and stonemasons. It sent its work on strong ships away to many ports on the Cerenarian Sea, especially Lhosk but sometimes Ilarnek and others. They traded only infrequently with Ilek-Vad and Celephais. They traded not at all with Sarkomand, whose Black Galleys were never allowed at Inquanok’s docks.

The sages told the Dreamers many things that Owen had heard from Puko the hermit—rumors about Dreamers from Earth and their strange abilities and the unseemly way that the Men from Leng seemed to pursue them.

Drax and Yveddes said they had heard of portals of some kind that led from this land to Earth. They had heard that one was in the great Underworld that lay beneath Inquanok and Sarkomand, and that another was far to the south, across the sea.

The sages said that they would be happy to provide the Dreamers with supplies and provisions and to arrange passage on a vessel leading them across the sea, if they wished.

They only asked that the Dreamers help them, first.

There was an errand that they needed done. Only a Dreamer from Earth could accomplish it. After the Dreamers were refreshed, perhaps they could discuss it.

The Dreamers sighed and enjoyed their food and wine while they could.

Inquanok, by Dennis Detwiller, (c) 2013

Inquanok, by Dennis Detwiller, (c) 2013