Events Post #495: The Curious Case of Specimen XSPS79, Part II

It would not be even a month later that an inconspicuous letter was left at the Emperor's Lament Post Office. It revealed the location of the ship Magnagorans so sought and a warning: that a plethora of agents within the Gnafia did not care for interference, no matter from whom, and to take care to avoid confrontation.

Having assembled a team, Uzriel d'Vanecu led Magnagora to Cankermore, where a sleek black ship had a ramp extended to the dock it was stationed at. Wasting no time, the troupe boarded and soon found a gnome, Jace Wingnut, scribbling at his desk. Unfazed by these intruders, he continued to write in silence, aiming to make introductions on his own terms once he was done. But the Engine grew restless. This would prove to be a costly mistake, as the unsettling silence drew many to begin rummaging through the gnome's possessions in the study, galley, and even his bedroom.

Jace pulled a drink from within a drawer on his desk and downed it swiftly before introducing himself properly. He began to negotiate an offer to exchange information, but this offer quickly turned south as a member of the Engine began rifling through Jace's desk drawers mid-conversation. In the end, all that could be determined was that the Gnafia's interest in the creature had simply been to sell it to the highest bidder, and as it was a previously unknown species it could sell for quite a lot.

This would be the last helpful, or kind, thing the gnome would say as he crossed his arms and clamped his lips shut. Further inquiry would only be met with icy silence or an equally sharp retort, interspersed by soft belches. Soon, a pained cough escaped the gnome's chest, and he staggered back against his desk, offering a final wave before his front dissolved in a gory display. In death, the gnome had assured his corpse would be useless against the Necromancers staring him down.

Undeterred by this resolution, though disgusted in some cases, the Magnagorans began to unearth an unorthodox locking system that they quickly set about un-locking. Successfully rearranging hidden levers beneath wine decanters, arranging ribbons on a star chart, and even using the heat of a stove to uncover hidden buttons on a table, the group quickly replaced a candle within a sconce in Jace's bedroom; a nearby bookcase swinging open to reveal a hidden office beyond.

Within, a cipher lay on top of an unfinished report, which Uzriel quickly collected before the Magnagorans returned home. There, they described their findings to Tunika, who read the preliminary report and puzzled over the cipher before leveraging his wealth against the situation, promising to take a copy to some learned acquaintances of his who could likely crack the code.

While the learned minds of the Engine puzzled over the cipher in the following days, a beggar flagged down Merceaux, and in an incredible turn of events related a story that solidified the snowman's claim: that the beggars themselves had attempted to haul the creature through the city streets after finding it discarded at the aetherdocks of Magnagora. However, after some gorged themselves on the raw flesh, a horrible sickness overcame them, and they were forced to abandon their attempt. Merceaux was true to his word and recouped the beggar an incredibly generous sum for his honesty and his caretaking of the other, ill beggars.

Days passed and the cipher continued to vex many. Finally, the codebreakers Tunika mentioned met at the Necropolis Library Atrium. Arguing in a place least suited to loud quarrels, Ghalib d'Murani and Labourer Seruldin soon attracted the attention of other codebreakers eager to help. The type of cipher and how to crack it had already been determined so now was the time to seek the right solution. However, the matter was so complex that half of those gathered would attempt to further encode the cipher instead of solving it for a short time.

After all were on the same page, however, a quick and tidy series of questions soon saw the puzzle eagerly hounded at by all the bright minds of the Engine - many of whom eagerly regaled the codebreakers with firsthand tales of aetherspace and its mysteries as they attempted to discover what the key passage might be. Eventually, Zagreus and Uzriel both erupted with cheer as they proclaimed to have discovered the correct cipher password, which was 'astrl', for the Astral Plane. Using the cryptic phrase to decipher the report would lead them into aetherspace, ultimately docking at a seemingly abandoned anchor.

It was Sapphira and Veldrin who would spot a trail of orange stain upon a rock, leading towards absolute nothingness. Perplexed by this, they relayed this information to the Engine at large, and were soon met by none other than the Goddess Drocilla Herself, whose interest had been piqued by Her Night-Commander Thaleem's report about the strange goings-on. Sapphira quickly endeavoured to ensure She was up to speed as the ships above quickly docked and the Engine joined the Enchantress as She observed nothingness.

Strolling at the very edge of the precipice, Drocilla ran Her fingers across the air which rippled like a dark curtain. It was a divine illusion, and an inferior one compared to Her skills - as She was quick to point out. The very location, however, had been hidden by a Soulless. Intrigued all the more, She sang in an undecipherable, mellifluous language and dispelled the illusion, causing reality to distort around the anchor and forcing mortal eyes to turn away. When it had settled once more, shock rose as the lifeless anchor they had once stood on now appeared to be a smaller piece of an enormous aetherbubble, the centre of which was a large building filled with silvery, glittering fog.

Momentarily bewitched by the far-off sighting of a magma-diving creature, very much like the corpse that had started them on this path, the mortals did not spot that the fog was rapidly encroaching upon them. Drocilla barred their passage and bid caution as a silhouette slowly approached. Eventually, a mysterious woman stepped from within the coiling fog, clad in a simple grey dress that hid much of her pale skin from view. Her face, or lack thereof, was displayed for all to see: a head like an uncarved statue resting atop her thin neck. Her voice echoed from the fog as she conversed with the Goddess.

What followed was a peculiar and cold standoff in which the woman referred to those gathered behind the Goddess as "insignificant scraps" and "far too broken to be repaired", thus suggesting they were being brought there for her. This puzzled Drocilla but She played along, pretending to be whoever it was the woman thought Her to be, but all the same gently reached for the hollow of Her throat. As the intoxicating scent of musk and spices filled the air, the faceless woman grew apprehensive and quickly demanded Drocilla identify Herself. She would not, instead demanding to know what the woman was doing in a place that once belonged to the Elders. "It was abandoned, and now it is not", the woman replied warily, and then in an even more confusing turn of events added, "You wear Her demeanour well, I will admit."

And though Drocilla's retort - "As do you" - brought no clarity to those witnessing the confrontation, it did mean something to the woman. She countered with a question about a mysterious "He" that the Goddess quickly replied, and in that instant something changed between them. And though the fog withdrew and the Goddess' hand dropped from Her throat, the woman asked for one more proof - to see Drocilla's mask. "It is only fair," the Goddess replied as She conjured an aureate mask beset with stunning lavender crystals, "After all, You are wearing Yours."

The faint of stomach turned away as the faceless woman reached up and tore her own skull from her body, bathed in a blinding light that faded to reveal a plain, unassuming woman with auburn hair bound in a pin of blackened bone. And there, standing before them, was the Goddess Malmydia.

Embraced by Drocilla as a friend, the Elder Goddess was surprised to see one of the Twelve not only alive but faring well. Though She said little of Her time in the Void, She made it clear that She had been working there a while and was content to be left to Her own devices. Nonetheless, Malmydia agreed to return to the First World at Drocilla's side and take in the world that awaited Them. It was then that Malmydia would hide away this bubble once more, and the Magnagorans quickly rushed to return to their home.

Back in the Basin of Life, the Enchantress bid Her friend to reveal Herself. None but the Magnagorans knew what had just transpired so fear gripped the land as a chill wind and a nauseatingly clean scent heralded the sudden return of Malmydia, the Chiurgeon to the First World. She entertained Herself briefly with the mortals brave enough to attend Her within Her fulcrux, and then retreated to the Enchantress' company and care.

What frightening innovations and daring experiments and will Her presence spur?


  • Is it possible somebody from the admin team can explain how the cipher we found in the aethership was transformed into the second stage we tried to decipher with Seruldin and Ghalib?

    There were a couple of cipher lovers the day between trying to figure it out and while I was not one of them, I'm still verycurious along with them what steps happened between the two.

    For reference, the original cipher we found was:
                            wl rfxmgwkqg paz
                            snsfh izgk jdgjf
                        lh o lebdhtegbqjjpfv wiX

    Which was transformed into:
    wlpq boki clieje
    pkuqd boki veock
    hkkg bko nulljelp dlaoq

    Which we then found "astrl" as the codeword to break. I really appreciate that how to break the second cipher was discussed and that was quite fun (once we understood the correct way to decode it).

  • Uzriel said:
    Is it possible somebody from the admin team can explain how the cipher we found in the aethership was transformed into the second stage we tried to decipher with Seruldin and Ghalib?
    It's a columnar transposition cipher, key of 12, with no key-length hint in formatting. There are a lot of resources that will better explain those words with a quick google than I will ever be able to. @malmydia can explain better why it was solved for you in the event, but the X that was confusing everybody is just a padding hint.
  • edited April 2022
    Thank you Ein!

    As you can see, I was not the writer of the cipher but I was its mastermind! The Gnafia is an organisation that values clandestine ability, so of course their internal reports should be encoded not only once, but TWICE! The first encoding I was able to do with the keyword shift (which is why that one is the one we explained in-game and taught people to do for the event!), but I couldn't do the second in a way that satisfied me, so I sought out a master! Ein helped me set up my code, and then graciously helped me again when I realised I'd confused scorpio and virgo (but really, who hasn't?).

    However, we made a fatal error in there, in that we only copied the change in one place! So the wrong information propagated and, unfortunately, the original cipher that you received was technically not solvable because it used 'scorpio' shifted instead of 'virgo' shifted, which threw everything off. That's why during the event, we skipped the solving of that part and had it by done by the NPCs, to let you guys have a chance to actually crack the thing in real time when given the correct information.

    For those curious, the reason the transposition cipher is the key of 12 is because that's how many astral docks there are (and also the number of Traitors in a meta sense!). The reference to "Queenie's Heart", by the way, was that she is a "cold, heartless woman", so having her heart be a barren, lifeless rock seemed like a fun inside joke between agents in the field.

    ETA: Goodness, I can't keep astrology signs straight even in text.
  • Really cool event!

    I don't think XSPS79 moniker was ever said during the event (certainly was news to me, at least), so that was a final nugget of learning today. 

  • Zagreus said:
    Really cool event!

    I don't think XSPS79 moniker was ever said during the event (certainly was news to me, at least), so that was a final nugget of learning today. 

    No one had thought to ask Malmydia overmuch of it, but that is how she would address the creature! Perhaps it could yet come up in game? ;)
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