Last time I asked one player to name one Truth about something that would happen in the next session. He said: "Pyro will throw a bomb." So, I had to work that into this session somehow. Okay.
The OpenerThe Keepers had found a set of splattered Ursyklon corpses on Bellamy's Stair, on the Skullmount in the center of Crux. Before they could act on any information they had found, they had been interrupted by the arrival of someone moving up the Stair, Ono (a Tengu and former ninja, as well as rival of Ishida) and a posse of Crow (members of the Eternal Order of the Eagle and the Crow to be precise). Ono calls Ishida (A PC) out, determined to "right the crime Ishida had committed, the horrors he has unleashed on the City."
For the location, I drew up a little map. I pointed out the three aspects on the story, scene and location to the players. The story aspect is Wolves At the Gates, referring to the Ursyklon's efforts at the university to work against the Chancellor. Bellamy's Stair, the location they are at, is narrow and can be hard to navigate outside of a fight- so the location has an aspect called Narrow Stairs. The last aspect was a scene aspect, referring to the dead bodies- Splattered Corpses.
I thought perhaps I'd been running a combat, but my players took things in a different direction. Sideways is a good description for it.
Bombs on the Stairs.This opens onto the session's first question: Do the Keepers fight Ono?
Gav stops Ono, using a subtle enchantment to get him and his posse to calm down and talk. Gav lies, saying he knows nothing about Ishida Gold-Sun. Ono, under Gav's magical sway, gives him a photograph. It is of a Tengu on Palace Hill the night the monsters attacked, holding a piece of strange machinery. It looks like Ishida, but Gav can't see the difference in the photo of one Tengu in the night from another.
Gav's attempts for a peaceful conversation are torn apart, however. Ishida uses a blend of Tengu ninja tricks to toss a fake body down the cliff, into the sea below. He vanishes, leaving Ono (and Pyro, another PC) to think that Ishida has up and vanished. Gav puts two and two together, but is the only one who seems to notice that Ishida had not leapt to his death.
But things go even further from "peaceful resolution." Pyro, seeing his new friend leap to his death, tosses a smoke bomb. Now with the Smoke Bomb aspect on the zone, Ono decided it was all ruse- and rushed in for the attack. Gav took advantage of the smoke and their higher position. Grabbing Pyro, the two of them vanish back behind the illusory wall of the tunnel the Ursyklon had used to steal the Device to begin with.
Ono's posse convinces Ono to leave the Keepers, as Ishida looks like he is dead. They leave, but Ono isn't happy with the situation.
They Think Ishida Is DeadIshida keeps his distance, deciding to play dead for awhile. He keeps an eye on the rest of the Keepers. He comtemplated acting as his own brother to come back and demand vengeance, but instead decides to observe at the moment.
After a tense emotional moment (where Pyro almost accidentally broke Gav's hand), the two of them instead go to the Archaeology Department to talk with the clue they received last session. Professor Wiseowl (also the mother of Ash, the PC who wasn't present to the session) who the dead Ursyklons claimed was their contact at the University. It was time for the next scene's question: What does Professor Wiseowl know?
They found a lone grad student in Wiseowl's office, a space built for Ursyklon stature. Feeling cramped, Gav gives the wrong impression to the student who goes and retrieves the Professor. The Professor (a NPC played by the same player of Ishida, so it was nice and convenient that way) came in angry, as the grad student smelled the blood and gore on the two of them. Gav told her Ash was fine, and explained everything up to that point.
Pyro proceeded to explain every detail about the Ursyklon's splattered corpses. Ick.
Gav was honest, his Station Street Honor compelling him to be upfront and ask the professor for help. The Professor dodged the question at first, but eventually revealed her distaste for the Chancellor. In fact, she presents Gav and the Keepers a counteroffer: work for her, against the Chancellor and make sure the Abolethic device is destroyed.
Unsure about Aboleths, Gav has no frame of reference for them at all, he tries to reach some sort of middle ground with the Professor. But Pyro notices the telltale hum of a incoming teleportation effect.
A monstrous THING appears between Gav and Professor Wiseowl.
Stinking of sulfur, the long tapeworm-like body hisses at the Urskylon matron. Two infernal horns came out of its head and a thousands of millipede-esque feet. The maw of the thing hisses out gibberish. But Gav makes out the phrase, 'Wiseowl ursyklon die for Shraxes.' Its dozen or so glowing red eyes swam with glee as it drooled green ooze.
And that was where I ended that session.
The same monster as those that attacked Palace Hill, I've decided to go the tapeworm direction with it. Tapeworms are always a great way to sicken. In this case, the Tapeworm Monsters will need a better name, but I haven't gotten that far yet.
I also should stat them out. I'll sleep on it, perhaps something will come out from that.
My final analysis of the session was a good one. It was short. It got to the third or fourth question of the story arc. It feels like part of the second act of the story, so perhaps next session will wrap it up. We've had delays, but that is core to this time of year.
On how I handled being a player short: I choose to act as though the character were in the background. She was there and she was witness to all of it. Choosing to not acknowledge her absence by focusing on action helped. This is one of the three main ways of handling an absent player. Treating the character as backdrop until needed is something other kinds of media do as well. Think of entire episodes of TV wherein a character appears, but says nothing.
They are there as backdrop, but the current story doesn't involve them yet. They'll have their chance to work with them the next time they get lines or a chance to regain the focus.
Note that there are at least two other ways to handle this. But dealing with it and not forgetting about the character is a key thing.