Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Session 3 - February 16th - 17th 1879

   As morning rose so did the adventurers, each packing their possessions quickly and heading out to the street outside the gates of Fort Alice. Patrick had been roused from his bunk an hour earlier than the rest by Old Nan and lead to the Company Barn to start loading supplies into the "conveyance" a horseless wagon powered by steam engine. John Henry stopped inside the tool room and gathered a selection of suitable replacement parts for the pump he had worked on and tossed them in his toolbox, just in case. By the time he got out of the barn they were firing up the Steam Conveyance, a surprisingly quiet little engine puffed the low-slung wagon up the road into the crowd. Gathered around were horse grooms and well-wishers and the last few people running with crates of supplies. With such short notice none of the adventurers had thought to secure a horse for the trip so with the exception of Lady Shaw who was afforded a place to sit on the Conveyance, the rest of them were on foot for the very long journey. Patrick noted that the excursion seemed a lot smaller than the expedition that had just been attacked and most of those missing numbers seemed to be in soldiers not assigned to the group. With just two cavalry men and four infantrymen the excursion group seemed badly under-gunned.
  As the excursion was preparing to leave one of the cavalrymen rode the the head of the column and introduced himself as Sgt. Hugh James of the 1st Reformed Cavalry. He stated that he didn't expect any resistance but that any journey away from the safety of Fort Alice carries inherent dangers and while Miss Popwell was the commander of the excursion he expected that in the event of an attack his instructions would be followed without question. The main gates to Neverwhere opened and the excursion set out on the road, horses in the lead of the conveyance, labor marching behind in the fumes of the machine and the rest marching a few steps behind. The pace was lazy for the horses and the conveyance but brisk for those on foot. Emily rode atop a stack of equipment crates, scanning the edges of the treeline and following the point of her compass as she began to draw a map in her notebook.
   Along the long hike across the meadow John Henry overheard one of the excursion leaders talking about the language of the Natives and he jogged to the head of the column to find out what the plan for communicating with the seemingly savage natives was. Laura Popwell was politely arguing with a Frenchman while they rode on horseback, she had decided that it was almost certain that they wouldn't encounter natives in the direction they were traveling because no other excursion to Silver Lake had countered them. John Henry seemed unconvinced, given that Popwell had gone out of her way to bring extra muscle for this trip. He struck up a conversation with the Frenchman as he walked beside him. The Frenchman introduced himself as Guy Marsten, an expert in foreign cultures who like John Henry had been contracted by the crown for his expertise. Guy informed John Henry that the Natives he had studied spoke a language they called "Nexo Crana" or New Crown. It was the language the current King of Roanoak forced all people to speak when he overthrew they previous king. Guy believed that New Crown may have evolved from Latin but that if so it had changed a great deal. During the long hike he taught John Henry a bit of essential New Crown phrases and words.
   Lance struck up a conversation with Sgt James and his fellow Sgt Dursley, both seemed like amicable gentlemen if only a little haughty. They two of them assured Lance that they excursion was very safe and would likely end up being very boring and that the soldiers were accompanying the academics because it was procedure. But Lance, having a keep eye for deception instantly recognized Dursley's nervous lip biting. They expected some kind of trouble and it was causing Dursley some anxiety.
   Patrick marched along with the rest of the labor behind the conveyance, overly cautious of his safety after hearing stories of the attack on the expedition that had just returned. He spoke with the others Neil Sutton, an Englishman from Longfordshire and Rondey Byrne, a Scott who had been serving time in Castle Rock just like Patrick. Both men assured Patrick that the Natives weren't interested in work excursions because work excursions don't get into Native business. Expeditions get attacked because they meddle, but Patrick couldn't help but notice that both men kept weapons on their belt. Later as they rested Patrick had a chance to talk with the driver, a laborer named Robert Norris who rose to his lofty office of Conveyance Driver by being one of two teamsters who were brave enough to try to drive the horseless wagons.
   Within a few hours the town had grown smaller until barely rose above the grassy hills and within minutes of crossing into the Forrest the road had curved and the town was gone. The excursion took frequent breaks and about three hours travel into the wood they stopped for lunch, breaking out packed sandwiches and steaming a kettle of tea on the cowling of the conveyance engine. People sat and talked and enjoyed their simple meal together until slowly people began to overhear the sound of shouts and the clang of steel from deeper into the woods.
   Dursley and James armed up, mounted up and road ahead on the road to see what the trouble was while everyone else grew increasingly nervous. John Henry rand down the road after the cavalrymen only to find them another 150 yards ahead, watching a fight just around the bed in the road. There were two groups involved in a melee, mean in furs with axes with shields with a star symbol, and men wearing primitive armor and livery that looked remarkably European bearing flags with a sun over waves. Dursley hissed at John Henry to return to the group when he caught sight of him but he only stepped closer for a better view. The men in European armor seemed to be losing the fight until a man in heavy plate mail lifted a strange sword above his head, slowly it crackled with energy and then he used it to throw a bolt of blue lightning at an archer attacking his men. It looked identical to Lances lightning bolts. With the shock of the sudden burst of energy the losing side grabbed their wounded and retreated further ahead down the road. John could see the men in furs pull a man in dark robes out of the ditch at the side of the road and lash him to a tree nearby. At this time John discovered the cavalrymen were galloping back to the rest of his excursion group and he hurried to catch up.
   As the cavalrymen returned from the road and explained the situation people began to bicker about turning back or pushing on. Lance and several of the excursion leaders were in favor of  pushing on in hopes of catching the natives off-guard. Lady Shaw and the soldiers thought it would be prudent to fall back and wait until the natives moved on. Patrick and the labor, as little as they were listenned to, were really only interested in returning to Neverwhere and somehow they managed to sway some of the soldiers as Patrick eloquently explained that men who had ambushed one armed caravan wouldn't hesitate to ambush another, especially if they were camped and unable to escape. Miss Popwell began to beat her riding crop against the cowling of the conveyance's engine until the bickering died down before she spoke "Ladies and gentlemen we have not the luxury of time. Mother England faces imminent threats from other nations. War is looming for our friends and families and our mission is essential to war machine of The Queen. I'm not going to put any man or woman in harm's way against their will but we are pressing on now with or without you and I hope you'll marshal the courage to join us quickly.." Then she begin issuing orders for people to mount-up and ready to move. Patrick raised his voice to suggest that there might be a safer route around the wood that they could take but Popwell interrupted him with a decisive tone, thanking him for his suggestion but warning him that he isn't privy to enough information to speak on the topic. Patrick was needless to say, non-plussed by the interaction.
   Sgt James rode over to Miss Popwell to have a very tense exchange regarding her direction but with a glower from the determined woman the column advanced. Sgt. James turned about to address the excursion team "We are going to be proceed with caution. The attackers aren't expecting more people on the road. If they show intent to harm, horses will ride forward and through with the conveyance.. those on foot will run to keep pace, soldiers and cavalry will protect the stragglers until we reach safety. And with that John Henry finally reached the column and fell into place. As he told Lance and Patrick about the captive the Natives had taken they decided that the Sgt James could hang himself, they were going to rescue that man.
   As they quickly rounded the corner of the road they could see men ahead on the road picking over the dead or sitting on the roadside relaxing suddenly scrambling to get to their feet and grab weapons. The cavalrymen drew revolvers and charged forward shooting at a half-dozen men who were blocking the road with axes and shields, dropping one of them in the hail of gunfire and running another of them down with their horses. Infantrymen took aim on the native ambushers. Native archers on the right of the road fired on the soldiers, injuring two infantryman and burying an arrow deep in Sgt Dursley's back. Patrick grabbed his laborer comrades and dragged them quickly off the road into the brush, instructing them to keep low and make their way towards the man tied to the tree and cut him free. Lady Shaw took aim and missed a shot at the archers uphill from the road. Lance jockeyed for a position to be able to affect the fight but couldn't safely discharge a lightning bolt with so many Englishmen wearing metal between himself and the natives. John Henry charged forward into the skirmish and unloaded the shot chambers on both of his Lemat Revolvers hammering two of the axemen in a spray of shot and injuring a large man with elk horns on his helmet.
   Injured but ferocious the native ambushes locked up the cavalrymen, one of them delivering a brutal blow that punched his axe blade into the breastplate of Sgt James that took him off his horse. Sgt Dursley unloaded three more shots into one of the men attacking him, dropping one of them. The mounted excursion members quickly rode around the melee and the conveyance began to accelerate to follow them. Patrick noticed the big native with the elk horns draw back his axe and charge at John Henry but as he charged out of the brush the escaping riders blocked his path. Lady Shaw moved to reload but found the driver handing her his ready rifle so she took aim on one of the archers once more as the conveyance bumped along. Lance finally got a clean shot and blasted a massive bolt of electricity into the chest of Elk Horns leaving a glowing hole in his breastplate but only seeming to infuriate the huge warrior. John Henry put to shots into the Elk horns even as the man closed the distance with him, the second shot punching through his breastplate and seeming to stagger him.
  As the battle raged on the remaining men with axes attacked Sgt Dursley from all sides, he drew his saber and defended as best he could but suffered terrible wounds as he frantically parried their blows. The standing infantrymen grabbed their fellows and tried to hoist them into the moving conveyance to get them out of the fight. Patrick charged in on Elk Horns and swung his Shilelagh at the back of his skull but the attack was fowled by his horned helm and left Patrick in the path of the rolling conveyance that nearly ran him over. Lance couldn't get a clear shot at Elk Horns but he put a bolt of electricity into one of the other Axemen. Lady Shaw finally got her shot on an archer, wounding him badly enough to ruin his shot. The big axeman with the elk horns took one step towards John Henry and crashed to the ground unconscious from bloodloss, so John Henry took aim on one of the other axe-weilding natives. They just stared at the fallen man with the elk-horned helmet and lowered their weapons, backing away slowly.
   As the native ambushers backed away and ran into the wood, Miss Popwell doubled back and dismounted to help patch Sgt. James up and get him laid over his horse. Patrick and the laborers cut the hostage free from the tree he was tied to hurried him up the road. Lady Shaw did her best to treat the wounds of the injured soldiers. Lance and John Henry quickly searched the fallen natives and then helped the excursion group get moving again. Within about an hour the anxious group walked out of the other side of the Forrest as the sun was beginning to set. Across the field of white grain stood the tents of the encampment of the soldiers who had retreated, their gold flags flying from spears, beleagered soldiers aiming crossbows at the wearing and wounded Englishmen.
   John Henry took the arm of the Native they had rescued and lead him across the field towards their camp, shouting to Guy to translate for him "Hey! No.. we're not your enemy.. We're returning your man. Don't shoot.." Guy shouting out strange slurred syllables of their language. John continued "We're hurt.. We fought your enemies.. Please help.." The man in heavy plate stood there staring John Down, energy crackling from his sword and everyone held their breath wondering if Guy spoke their language as well as he claimed. Finally the man in heavy plate spoke, Guy's translations trailing his words "I don't trust... words of strangers... You have given your strength/your courage.. You have _shown_ your courage..Thank you men of.. not of our way..You have my debt.. or I am in your debt.." It was clumsily communicated that the excursion group would camp across the road and soldiers from the Kingdom of Roanoak came across the help them unpack and to treat their wounded.   
   With a sense of safety the English quickly gave in to hunger and exhaustion, cooking and lounging. Emily Shaw wanted very badly to go and speak to the Roanoak people but Miss Popwell forbade it. Instead she went across the road with Guy to engage in diplomacy without her. While Emily stewed angrily a pair of Roanoak soldiers crossed the road lugging what appeared to be a 45lb skinned rabbit and a pair of proud smiles and the camp set about cooking up a big hot meal. Later Popwell returned and explained that the men served the King in Yellow, the leader of Roanoak, that the man they rescued was an exciseman of the king and the soldiers would likely have been in a lot of trouble if they lost him. She explained that the leader of their group was actually the soldier with the feathers in his helm and the man in the heavy armor was more of a bodyguard, what they call an "artist". After translating the news from their neighboring camp Laura Popwell singled out Patrick Omallie and approached him with a sense of contrition "I'm sorry if I ran roughshod over you Mr. Omallie. I was concerned with the safety of the people who were counting on me. You and your men behaved heroically and I wanted you to know I appreciate your willingness to do what needs be done.." and with that the camp slowly faded into sleep, only a few remaining awake to keep watch.
   In the morning Popwell roused the camp and got people packing to go, several members of the excursion group crossed to road to thank the Roanoak soldiers for their hospitality. Lance approached the electrical knight but the man squared his side to Lance and reached for his sword in a gesture of warning. Lance raised his hands in surrender and backed away as the electrical knight spat angry words at him. Later as the excursion began moving again Lance asked Guy what the knight had said and Guy explained somewhat confidently that the knight had said 'It is forbidden' and postulated that perhaps he couldn't talk to someone else that throws lightning bolts..
   Late morning brought the excursion group up over a hill and into view of a broad lake of glimmering silver nestled near a rocky outcropping in the white plains. As the group approached they found signs of previous encampments and they quickly settled into a comfortable spot by the lake. Laborers and academics began setting up the extraction equipment, running long lines across the lake and erecting booms while most of the adventurers were left to their own devices. Popwell warned that the lake water wasn't poisonous but it didn't taste very good because of the Aether condensed on the water.
   Lance had spotted what looked like a more well-constructed road from the hilltop and they circled the lake to have a look. The road beyond the lake was remarkable, carved of black stone, about 40 feet wide, stretching into the distance with gold pennants flying from high poles over few hundred feet. The road looked like it was under construction recently but nobody was building it currently leaving a still impressive crushed gravel road that stretches to the meadow where Fort Alice stands.
   After lunch Lady Shaw had heard about an abandoned village on the other side of the rocky outcropping and she and Lance walked around the lake to inspect it. The village wasn't very large, maybe a dozen wattle and daub buildings with collapsed roofs and the remains of animal pens from what Emily assumed was a herdsman's village of maybe two hundred people. But there was no indication of what happened to them, no corpses or signs of a fire, there were even possessions left around the homes. It was as if people just walked away from the village overnight. Searching one of the larger building ruins Lance found what seemed to be an alter with a large religions symbol made of corroded bronze. The shape of it definitely resembled the infinity symbol. Despite being in an unearthly world there was a lot of symbology from Earth in the New Imperial territories. The pair returned to camp at dusk to see the extractors soaking tarps in the middle of the lake and reeling them in to let them drain into a still that distills the Aether from the water.


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