- Alternative Names: Respectful Guild of Actors and Writers (Parrot), Oneiromantic Research Council (Raccoon), Her Eminence’s Messengers (Ghost Owl)
- Informal Names: Playwrights, Conjurors, Mind Knights (respectful, among those authorized to know their true nature), Schemers (insulting), Heretics (very insulting), Alhambran Ministry of Love (Radiant followers only)
- Attached to Order: Ambiguous - has charters from Ghost Owl, Parrot and Raccoon under different names
- Surprised? You shouldn’t be; for one, the third act’s always the one with the big reveal. Second - you’re the one who told me about this place.
Alhambra is a city that despises frivolity - which is to say, they hate anything that reeks of taking too much joy in life, barring service to the Last Empress. The Queen of Tears has decreed that, until such time it is reborn, the Kingdom must be mourned. Whoever does not properly grieve, by Her decree, is not appreciating what was lost, and by extension is not appreciating the sacrifices that went into creating the City Within The Dark. Thus, Alhambrans have been trained to see anything that speaks of a purely artistic endeavor is wasting energy on a frankly blasphemous display, energy that could be better devoted to service of the city and its mistress. In principle, the Queen of Tears dissolved the Order of the Peacock because there is no art, apart from dramatized history and the bleak commentary of the Fools of the Summit, that respects the memory of her lost home.
In practice, expecting the inventor of Lacrima, of all Invocations, to not have more nuance in her principles than she publicly states is an idiot’s theory. While she does not buy the theory that art is always political, she recognizes that much of it is, touching the soul in ways that go beyond thought, beyond consciousness. So while critical art is not something she wishes to muddy the minds of her people with thoughts of nonconformity and rebellion, propaganda is something entirely different. Thus, when representatives from the Raccoons, Tortoises, and Ghost Owls simultaneously approached her with the accidental discovery that the Rebellious Provinces could give dreams awareness and use those aware dreams to shape the minds of humans, she realized perhaps there was a purpose for the Blessed Merrymakers after all.
The Protectorate of Blue Topaz is one of the youngest, by Alhambran standards - barely past its thousandth year. By all rights, they should have long been made a public Protectorate by sheer accident, but the protection of the Queen combined with the well-practiced selective obliviousness Alhambrans have towards her own actions (by definition, if Her Everflowing Majesty is okay with it, that must mean it is within tradition, so they don’t question it) means they have, if anything, developed an even better set of cover stories to ensure their anonymity in their hidden duty of ensuring Alhambra dreams the right things, and thinks the right thoughts. While all the Orders are aware the Protectorate exists, those who even bother just assume they are dumping grounds for the unacceptably independent and airheaded amongst them, not a proper royal commission at all.
The genius of this is that it’s slightly true - the Respectful Guild actually does look for the people in the guild who have found joy in their work and have an urge to create something, but critically, their recruits are chosen from those who wish to create for Alhambra. Taxmen of the Vulture who puzzle out ways to banish the Taint they create and restore the fields even as they are drained, Ghost Owls who wish they were allowed to inspire as well as critique, Tortoises enthralled with the idea of a glorious past becoming a blueprint for the future, and genius Pelicans who have grown weary of the old techniques holding back their potential all find a ready friend in the hidden handlers of the Playwrights. For many, a friend is all they ever have, but for those with the proper balance of empathy and fanaticism to ignore their conscience, Her Eminence’s Messengers quietly expose the prospect to new ideas from the Rebellious Provinces, artistic movements, translated novels, political treatises - and see if the prospect, rather than destroying the heretical creed or becoming corrupted by it, starts to wonder if there’s any way to turn those ideas to Alhambra’s betterment. Those who do are introduced to the true face of the Playwrights, and told of the glorious destiny they all share - to make of the entire world a stage, and upon it bring the production Alhambra’s Victory Over All to a glorious conclusion. And more importantly, how to turn the world into method actors with the proper stimulus and response.
Frequently, followers of the Radiant Queens see the Mind Knights as a rebellion in the making - once outside of the watchful gaze of their neighbors, the Schemers let themselves reveal their joi de vivre, dressing in actual color and playing idle games with each other, easy with laughter and smiles. This is a mistake - the Playwrights are just as loyal as the rest of Alhambra, and in fact their lightness of heart comes from utter zealotry equal to any one of the Stormwracked. The Schemers are completely assured of the rightness and inevitability of their cause, and part of what makes them so effective is not direct mind control or blackmail, although they can do both; rather, each and every one of them truly and earnestly believes their messages about the nobility of the Last Empress and the superiority of their way, and that passion drives everything they do; while most Alhambrans serve out of inertia, the ironically-nicknamed Heretics serve because they are patriots. The only real disagreement they have with Her Ever-Flowing Majesty is her traditionalism; the Protectorate of Blue Topaz is constantly trying to find new and better ways of serving the Queen of Tears, in particular dream manipulation and the shaping of new artistic movements that glorify the virtues of Alhambra: utter dedication to the group above all else, the willingness to do what is necessary without regret or hesitation, and contempt for all who do not accept the previous two precepts.
When it is finally time for Alhambra to return and reclaim its place as capital of the Earth, the Playwrights plan, there will be no true resistance, for the barbarians’ hearts will already belong to the Last Empress. Until then, making their enemies the unknowing actors in the grand production - and sources of intel to ensure the script isn’t changed - is a worthy objective.
Marks and RequirementsEdit
The Protectorate of Blue Topaz deliberately selects for people who already have an inherent link to the Dreamlands - even besides the natural talent this gives them with their Irim (see below), most of those tend to be creative exiles from society already, especially stodgy, Trap-wary Alhambra. This includes the White Rabbits Merit, obviously, but a non-Hopeful with Dream Travel fits the bill. Her Eminence’s Messengers need the capacity to make long-term plans and to understand people on at least academic level; their required Attribute is Intelligence and their required Skill is Empathy.
A Princess who joins the Conjurers finds that their core philosophy - that all human motivations can ultimately be reduced to a spectrum between Love and Fear - is now written large over her Transformation; Playwrights always have a trace of duality about their Regalia. One resembles Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, with a vivacious girl covered with plant growth on one side and an immaculate corpse dressed in mournful black on the other. Another has an angelic halo and wings that are attached to a snarling beastwoman that looks uncomfortably akin to a well-groomed Darkspawn. One of the most subtle belongs to a male Seeker who appears to be dressed as a Renaissance nobleman with distinctly modern scientific instruments attached to a nylon belt. As fitting a clandestine and highly secretive Protectorate, this duality has no particular commonality among it, and seems to be almost deliberately unique for the sake of ensuing that nobody figures out a link. To show their true allegiance, the members summon their Irim familiars - while these are not altogether different from bird shikigami, the members are briefed on the secret signs that make disguising yourself as one nearly impossible, such as the fact that the Irim appear out of thin air (the minds of their masters, technically, but anyone observing Twilight can tell they weren’t there a second ago).
A Secretary of Blue Topaz shapes dreamstuff and a bit of her soul into her personal Irim as part of her initiation to the Protectorate. The Irim takes the form of a bird that can perch on its mistress’ shoulder or arm (Size 2 at most.) However, being immaterial an Irim has the traits of a Dreamlander - in fact, as a detached portion of the Secretary’s soul, it has the same traits as her Dream Form. Irim may use any non-supernatural Merits of their mistress that make sense for a bird, but cannot use any of her supernatural powers. However, an Irim can fly (equivalent to the Wings •••• Merit for shikigami) and its natural attacks do lethal damage. (All this becomes relevant when a Mind Knight’s Privileges are active.)
If an Irim is “killed” its mistress instantly loses a point of Willpower and cannot use any of her Privileges until she has regained all her Willpower; the Irim returns to her soul and sleeps there while its dream-body heals.
A Little Bird Told MeEdit
The Secretary may send her ephemeral bird into the dreams of other people she has recently met, to glean information about their emotions and ambitions. Once per night, she may send her Irim to observe the dreams 400 Protectorate of Blue Topazof a person she encountered after the last time she slept. The Irim will return during her next sleep and show her a series of visions, which she rolls Wits + Empathy + White Rabbits to interpret. Each success rolled allows her to discover one of the following: the target’s Virtue, his Vice, one Aspiration or Vocation, or one Condition affecting his mental state.
When she is transformed, the Secretary can spend one Wisp to pull her Irim out of Twilight and grant it material form. While materialized the Irim becomes an NPC that obeys its mistress’ orders but acts independently of her; it also knows everything about her situation and intentions that the Secretary does. Lacking instructions, the Irim will usually pose, preen or fly about to inspect various objects. It dematerializes as the end of the scene, unless the Secretary recalls it before then.
The Secretary can also tell her Irim to examine a person’s thoughts while it’s materialized, if the person is present and capable of dreaming. The Irim must perch on, peck at, preen at or otherwise have physical contact with the target for an instant action, then return to its mistress; it will display visions to her on the surface of its spread wings. The Secretary interprets these visions with a roll of Wits + Empathy, learning the same information as she would from A Little Bird Told Me.
The Secretary can spend 1 Wisp while her Irim is materialized and in contact with her to make it lay a phantasmal egg, roughly an inch in length and with a polychromatic shell. The Irim’s eggs have an Intimate sympathetic connection to the Secretary, last indefinitely until hatched, and can’t be destroyed by any external force. The Secretary can make a number of eggs equal to the higher of her Intelligence and White Rabbits dots; once she has, she must wait until one hatches before making another.
Any character can pick up and carry an egg. A mundane or Light-touched character - but not the Secretary herself - can hatch an egg by holding it in his bare hands and concentrating for a full turn (losing his Defense if in combat); what comes out of the egg is a dream-bird, formed from the Secretary’s dreams and the hatcher’s. The dream-bird has the traits of its hatcher’s Dream Form. It shares the Irim’s ability to read dreams, giving the hatcher one use of A Little Bird Told Me. It dissolves when the hatcher next awakens from sleep; if he hasn’t sent it to observe someone before he sleeps he loses his opportunity.
Sometimes, an actor just isn’t cooperating. A Governor of Blue Topaz can force the issue and give a certain amount of...incentive. The Governor can send her Irim to make a nest and lay one of its eggs within a person’s dreams. The person must be a valid target for A Little Bird Told Me. The Governor spends 1 Wisp and makes a contested roll of Intelligence + Empathy against the target’s Resolve + Supernatural Tolerance.
- Dramatic Failure: The egg incubates in the Governor indefinitely, although the Governor believes that it is incubating in the target. When the Governor hatches the egg, the chosen Condition is inflicted on them towards the target.
- Failure: The Irim fails to lay an egg. The Governor may try again if the target is still sleeping.
- Success: The egg incubates in the target indefinitely. The Governor chooses Swooning [CofD 291] or Fearful, a person to be the chosen Condition’s object, and a trigger (often a bird call, occasionally the call of the Irim themselves). When next exposed to the trigger, the egg hatches, inflicting the chosen Condition on the target.
- Exceptional Success: The first time the chosen Condition’s resolution occurs, the target gains a Beat but does not shed the Condition; it must be resolved a second time.
Modifiers: The target has eggs from the Privilege in his dreams (-1 per egg)
Only one egg can be hatched during a single scene; if multiple eggs are set to the same trigger, the egg that’s been incubated the longest hatches. Eggs from Cuckoo’s Egg count against the Governor’s limit for Nest Egg.
Birds of a FeatherEdit
By spending a second Wisp when using Nest Egg, the Governor can cause the bird hatched from the laid egg to emerge in material form. The dream-bird then has the same abilities as an Irim materialized by Aviary does. It dematerializes when the scene ends. The hatcher may still use A Little Bird Told Me after the dreambird has dematerialized.
Birdhouse in Your SoulEdit
If you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. The Regent’s Irim can be empowered to take over another person for a short time and force him to act according to the Regent’s script. The person to be possessed must be a valid target for A Little Bird Told Me. The Regent spends 3 Wisps and 1 Willpower, and makes a contested roll of Intelligence + Empathy against the target’s Composure + Supernatural Tolerance.
- Dramatic Failure: The Regent’s Irim gets caught by the target’s psychic defenses and is destroyed.
- Failure: The Irim can’t get a grip on its target.
- Success: The Irim inflicts the Possessed Condition [CofD 134] on the target. Unlike most ephemeral entities, the Irim always uses its own Attributes and Skills, but it can roll its Finesse + Empathy - the target’s Resolve to read the target’s memories. The Condition expires when the scene ends, and the Irim may not possess the target again until he has regained Willpower from sleep.
- Exceptional Success: The Irim has a +2 bonus when it tries to read the target’s mind.
Drawback: Naturally, while the Irim is possessing someone it isn’t available for other purposes, so the Regent can’t use any other Privilege until Birdhouse in Your Soul expires. Also, possessing people inflicts a deep blow to their psyches, even if they don’t remember it; each use of the Privilege is a compromise at a -3 penalty.
Oh dear. ’Tis a shame you cannot lift this cloud of Dark over yonder cathedral, no matter how hard ye try. But oh, do not curse thy shadow - for mine own self is here to help thy friends. All I require of thou is a small oath, favor for favor.
Alyssa Halliwell’s first memory is her parents enacting the opening seen to Macbeth, her mother one of the witches and her father Banquo. She doesn’t remember any nightmares from that time; as part of a troupe that specialized in Shakespeare’s tragedies, her baseline for what was frightening and not was...a bit different. Her life, infancy to teenager-dom, was filled with the Bard. Post teenager-dom, it was filled with her duties as a Troubadour, too. Briefly, it was also filled with the All-Consuming Dark, a fight with her parents leading her to camp out under a Tainted stage that had been used to hide the body of a suicide for the sake of protecting an acting company’s reputation too long, but her sense of ethics won out over both her corruption and her personal ambitions of becoming a Hollywood starlet, expelling her inner Shadows and Blossoming in one fell swoop.
It was really too bad the first Hopeful she met were Furies who even the other Seraphic Legion exiled for their fanaticism; to them, anything that had been touched by the Dark at all was irredeemably corrupt; to them, a Princess that had once been a Darkened was obviously a Cataphract of some kind, no matter how little the flames of Tempestra took. Many survived the fire. Mr. Halliwell and her younger brother were not among them.
This shaped her views on the Nobility forever - to her, the Light has always been an amoral thing, good in principle, but fundamentally used by a flawed species that must be guided with a firm hand - occasionally with barbed wire, if they are especially recalcitrant. She never was a good fit for the court of Hearts; she had the best of intentions when it came to spinning politics to the benefit of all, but she quickly revealed a rather manipulative attitude towards “encouraging” people to follow her teachings. Eventually, it was discovered that her talent for Purifying Taint relied on blackmail and outright emotional manipulation, leading to a crack between her and her nakama.
That's when the Protectorate of Blue Topaz, which had quietly been watching her dreams, approached her with sympathy.
One of the few Tears Troubadours who cleaves to her Calling’s normal purpose, the rechristened Lady Maria (named after the cunning maid in Twelfth Night who masterminds the utter humiliation of her prickly superior Malvolio) is emblematic of the Vultures among the Playwrights, one concerned less with the size of the harvest and more the sustainability. She specializes in removing the very Taint her fellows draining the Light causes, having discovered that (at least as it pertains to her Enclave) the foci so formed by draining Light is not so much random as an exacerbation of dormant evil; Taint, it seems, needs a form to define it, and so it draws on old and forgotten acts of evil to stabilize itself if called by a vacuum of Light. Besides an easy first stop in any plan to revitalize the fields, she’s long realized this is something she can use - her Irim, Macduff, is very skilled in scouring the Dreamlands for historical information, and the Taint’s memories are usually not so long ago that entering the Dreams of Sin becomes a necessity. Which, of course, means that her Governorship in the Protectorate makes her superbly skilled at both the research and application of Purification, as she can force the issue of finding recruits to negate the curses of an area (assuming she can’t pull it off herself - she's one of the more talented Handmaidens living today).
In particular, she’s skilled at repairing (with extreme prejudice) the Taint caused by child abuse - but her pragmatism taints this as well, for many of the children she saves are either shipped off to Alhambra (willingly - she earnestly believes they will have a better life there if they’re unhappy enough to buy her sales pitch) or her personal Sworn; the Mooncalves, so called because the children who willingly turn on Earth and are fine with being her agents in draining hope and setting up her dramas are usually the ones who want the planet to suffer for what it did to them. They are, as far as the world is concerned, aborted fetuses, only fit for the trash heap - so like Caliban (who is also called that title) they’ve become angry little monsters who crave love, something Maria grants them (she is tacitly oblivious to the irony of naming them after a resentful slave).
And so, the Lady Maria has become quite the like the Wyrd Sisters herself, for what she offers to her Radiant counterparts is an easier way to purify, and to purify safely. All she needs is one little favor...
Maria would prefer not to be seen in her mundane state at all, minus her family, her Sworn, and her immediate co-workers; she remains Transformed when attending court in the belief it’s more polite, and she is almost pathologically afraid of anyone being able to connect her face to her former life or schemes. Thus, normally she is disguised via normal stagecraft or Charms, something ironically made easier by the fact that she’s actually quite beautiful. Much like a living Barbie, her auburn hair, slim build, and nearly flawless skin is almost built to be modified as she desires (she likes to say she was bred for the stage); a little layered powder with a hint of green, and she’s a sickly waif; hair pulled back and nose held up, she’s a young elite straight out of business school. She can even imitate a boy for a while if she cuts her hair short (actually why her alias is from Twelfth Night).
She’s a lot less shy in her Transformed state. She appears significantly less morbid than most other Handmaidens, appearing to be nothing more or less than a maidservant (though not a French maid - she is completely lacking in lace), the only oddity being that she’s dressed in blue and red. Nothing about her seems to reek of the paradox that defines most Playwrights - by sight alone. It’s impossible to not notice from touch that it seems to be made of the finest silks; on the occasions her cap slips, one can see a thin tiara of silver, and her phylactery is a royal scepter (her paranoia strikes again though; she makes sure to cover it in feathers when she has a chance in order to make damn sure people think she’s just the cleaning lady). When outside, Macduff completes the subtle contradiction between servant and master; the Irim is nothing less than a golden eagle, that radiates dignity and power - but it’s a cold dignity, the heartless charisma of tyrants.
Perhaps once, Alyssa had some degree of doubt, but no more; a combination of peer pressure and in truth, her own order practicing their own Cuckoo’s Eggs on her mind (willingly; she didn't want any ounce of indecision to hold her back) has removed any mental barriers to she had to being one of the most manipulative and cold Ravens in a group of manipulative and cold Ravens. What obligation she felt to the planet of her birth is gone; her immediate family and friends, the only innocents she cares about, live in an Alhambran manor, and due to her having exposed herself to some of the darkest elements of humanity through the Mooncalves, her previous cynicism has deepened into outright misanthropy; the Rebellious Provinces are a kingdom of demons to her, fit only to have what little light remains stripped out for safekeeping and damn the rest. This is why she tries to recruit Princesses for Tears, however little success she’s had yet; it’s just the sensible option, according to her.
Not that she lets this show, of course. When met directly by Princesses she wants to manipulate, Lady Maria does everything in her power to come off as somewhat fanciful, even a bit ditzy. She speaks in Elizabethan English (though not perfectly; she sometimes screws up with “thee” and “thine”, and she's not trying for accuracy anyway), acts like a fussy maid who hates any degree of uncleanliness in her vicinity, and generally makes herself seem spaced and harmless, but highly competent within her purification schemes and very motherly towards the Mooncalves. Even when people figure out she’s loyal to Tears, they still trust her - how can the sweet, possibly nutty woman who cares for orphans be a threat? But it’s a mask - one she can’t help but let slip sometimes, revealing the true depths of rage that drive her; she plays nakamas off against one another, quietly inserts doubt that the world is worth saving, and masks scathing criticism of the Nobility’s ability and beliefs in flowery language and “caring” advice (she always did like playing Iago). Even her favorite way of referring to Radiants, “thou”, is generally a way of referring to intimates or social inferiors. She’s not heartless, not completely; she genuinely loves the Mooncalves, and they love her back, like an aunt or maybe an older sister. But it’s a warped love, founded in mutual hate of everything that has ever hurt them; most of the children are downright codependent and possess an outright cultish devotion, and although she’s not entirely aware of it, she loves them at least partially for being so slavishly loyal; she is capable of some truly cruel manipulation, and she has no idea she’s doing it. This shows in her fighting style; she is primarily defensive, while the Mooncalves, Macduff and whatever ghosts she’s requisitioned from her masters serve as a wolfpack, hiding behind her Bubble Shield between bouts of assaulting her enemies with their (usually rented) Bequests and Numina.
- Calling: Troubadour Queen: Tears Protectorate: Blue Topaz (Governor)
- Vocation: Found a Nation based around Alhambran theater
- Aspirations: Convince my superiors that an Alhambran orphanage is not a waste of resources; Erase what’s left of my life on Earth; Shake my old colleagues in Hearts off my back
- Virtues: Ambitious (Maria is a creature of many dreams, great and small - many of them are even selfless); Motherly (She just plain likes children, and likes protecting them.)
- Vice: Spiteful (She disguises it well, but she’s never truly forgiven the world that hurt her and took away half her family. She is a deeply angry person, and that anger manifests itself in cruel games, big and small.)
- Attributes: Intelligence 3+1, Wits 2+1, Resolve 3, Strength 1, Dexterity 3+1, Stamina 2+2, Presence 4+1, Manipulation 3+1, Composure 3
- Skills: Academics 3 (theater), Computer 1, Crafts 3 (stagecraft), Investigation 2+2 (child abuse), Occult 2 (Alhambra), Athletics 0+2, Larceny 2, Stealth 3+1 (beneath notice), Weaponry 2, Animal Ken 1 (therapy dogs), Empathy 3, Expression 4 (acting), Persuasion 3, Socialize 2, Streetwise 1, Subterfuge 2+2 (I’m so ridiculous I have to be harmless)
- Derived Traits: Health 7+2, Willpower 6, Size 5, Defense 2+3, Initiative 6+1, Speed 9+1
- Merits: Allies 4 (Mooncalves), Circle 2 (rescued children), Contacts 2 (child support agencies, theaters), Pusher, Resources 2, Status (Order of the Raccoon) 2, Striking Looks 2, Virtuous
- Inner Light: 5 Belief: 3 Wisps: 14
- Invocations: Lacrima 4, Terra 3
- Appear: Twenty Faces (Masked), Mantle of Authority, Goccia Astrale, Road Crew
- Inspire: All Together Now, Hear Me, O Muse (Cooperative), Razzle Dazzle (Bargaining), Carry On, My Wayward Son (Collective), Queen's Sorrow, Look Into the Future, Jumping Jack Flash
- Shape: Bubble Shield (Adamant, Unbroken), Painting Roses, Darkling’s Treasure (Trapped)
- Practical: Twenty Faces (Masked), Hear Me, O Muse (Cooperative), Razzle Dazzle (Bargaining), Painting Roses