As Lance and Emily returned from the ruins of Silver Lake village and Patrick came back to camp with the extraction workers, Laura Popwell approached John Henry and noted that with the work well underway extracting the Aether, she would spare some horses if he'd like to ride down the river to look over the coal mining camp if he'd like. John Henry talked the plan over with the others as they ate a hearty stew and stale rolls around a campfire on the lake shore. Lady Shaw and Lance very much so wanted to visit the end of the great road to inspect the site more closely for evidence of who was building it and what it was used for. They decided there was no reason they couldn't accomplish both. Patrick tried to explain that he wouldn't be able to wander into danger with the others because of his camp duties but Lady Shaw assured him she could have him excused.
The Adventurers woke in the early morning, Emily performed practiced her fighting stances, Lance his waking rituals, John Henry put on a decent shave, and Patrick found a good vantage point to gauge the weather. The rendezvoused at the horse hitch only to find out that nobody had any riding experience other than John Henry. After about 30 minutes of riding instruction and some embarrassing attempts at horsemanship they decided that horses only stood the slow them down. John Henry's horse was packed for the ride so he just walked it to carry gear. As they came over the rise and into view of the road they saw a small encampment on top of the road, a simple black tent and wagon and a figure standing on the road's end. Emily examined the scene with her spyglass and noticed some armored men with spears but nothing they felt especially unprepared for.
They descended the hill towards the worksite for the end of the road to find the figure, tall and lean with a long face and tangled black curls, dressed in luxurious blue robes standing between a pair of waving dark blue pennants bearing the symbol of a cross. As they approached the guards backed away warily with their spears and the lone figure strode down the beaten planks at the end of the road speaking New Crown. John Henry squinted at the words and began to translate as best he could "We come in peace.. We bring a gift from great Count Volker, noble of Bridgewater" Emily Shaw's brain was pricked to hear that the word "Count" in Old Crown was identical to it's English pronunciation. The Emisary reached into his velveteen robes and withdrew a rolled scroll with silver bollards, looking among the adventurers and presenting it to Patrick, speaking while John Henry translated "This is a key to the West to the next moon" Patrick reached to accept the scroll but Lady Shaw snatched it from him. He asked through some translation how far Bridgewater was, to which the Emissary responded "214 Flags". Looking at the even intervals of flags along the road Patrick guessed it was a Journey of just over 100 miles. Lady Shaw wanted to know the purpose of the invitation, "We want peace to our neighbors.. We will make friends". Despite the sinister appearance of the Emissary the promise of an allied native nation in the New Imperial Territories was an intriguing offer.
As the adventurers discussed this new development among themselves the Emissary withdrew back up the wooded ramps to his encampment and his soldiers immediately began to break down the pavilion. His task complete he was not staying. So the adventurers began their walk back to the camp.
Arriving a short hike back at the camp on Silver Lake they found the processing of Aether in full swing, they filled their canteens and looked decided there was time to make the trip down river to the mining camp. Lady Shaw and Lance lagged behind to show the scroll to Guy and see if he had any insight into it. Guy found the scroll very confusing, he said it used more than just the Old Crown language and it read more like a contract than an invitation, but he couldn't be much more helpful than that. He recommended they show it to Mister Montjoy of the Royal Geography Society, the man who taught him the language.
John Henry and Patrick forged ahead hiking with a pack horse. The trip turned out to be less a gentle hike along the river as thickets and falls caused them to have to navigate away from the river a few times, but the journey was safe enough. Along the way they passed the ruins of what looked to be a large town but they were on a tight schedule. They encountered Lance and Emily near the curve of the river with the mine, discovering that Emily had some keen navigation skills that allowed them to make up time on the trail. In the early afternoon they saw a quiet campsite up against the rugged cliff side on the opposite side of the river, a rickety wood bridge across stone pylons the only visible crossing.
The boards creaked and sagged as they walked onto the bridge, John Henry leading the way. Just pass the halfway point there was the crack of a gunshot and the singing of a bullet passing by John Henry's head, smoke listing from a ramshackle wooden tower up on the rocky cliff. A voice called out "I missed on purpose, state your business.." John Henry gripped the rope rail of the bridge and shouted back "Don't Shoot.. we're British, from Fort Alice.. Don't shoot!". He raised his hands and continued across the bridge. On the other side a pair of British soldiers emerged from the curve of the cliff face with rifles at the ready.
One by one the adventurers crossed and provided proof of their identity before the soldiers led them around piles of broken rock into a hollowed canyon in the cliff face. Here there were small buildings and ore containers seemingly disorganized. As they walked in an anxious man in dirty dress pants, a white shirt and clerk's cuffs approached them demanding to know what their business at the West Mine was. John Henry spun a plausible tale of needing technical details about the recent extraction of Orichalcum from the mine-head for the refinement of mining practices. The clerk introduced himself as Mr. Landry, the manager of the West Mine on behalf of the East India Company. When asked about inspecting the condition of the mine, grew uncomfortable and said that he didn't feel it was safe to allow people with no experience in a mine down in the shafts but John Henry just smiled and explained that he's a mining engineer.
John Henry and Lance went down into the mines to look about. They found the mine to be much less slapshod than John Henry had imagined it would be. The miners were experienced working a coal seam and knew what they were doing but when asked about accidents they clammed up until John Henry produced a flask of bourbon to wet the miner's dry lips, then they confessed there's a number of minor accidents but no deaths and they feel the company is pushing them to exploit the coal too quickly.
Above Patrick and Lady Shaw took the liberty to inspect the miner's barracks, a sturdy lean-to against the canyon wall. Patrick wasn't impressed with the workmanship but the workers were kept warm from a coal fireplace and seemingly dry enough.
Down below Lance spotted a man climbing out of a closed mine-head and went to investigate. As he told John Henry of the suspicious closed mine-head the cowboy simply climbed over the barricade and walked deeper into the mine with the carbide lamp he had acquired in the camp. As the pair crept deeper into the shaft the light of their lamp lit up a man cradling a Sharps rifle, his face concealed by a bandanna, he had been standing there in the darkness waiting. As John Henry instinctively reached for his paired pistols the man said in a gravelly voice "I wouldn't.. This shaft is closed, it's dangerous here.. you could get hurt." Lance raised a brow as he contemplated whether a lightning bolt would blow up the entire mine or just start a horrific fire "Then what are you doing down here?" The figure in the darkness adjusted his grip on his rifle and lowered his voice "I'm keepin simpletons from falling down shafts, now I'll see you back behind that barricade if you please.." John Henry took another second to evaluate the situation but decided against recklessness, pulling his hands from the grips of his revolvers and showing them in a gesture of peace as he and Lance backed away out of the mine head and walked back towards the open air.
As they emerged John Henry made a direct path for Mr. Landry watching nervously from his shack office. He at first thought to press the man for answers but his zeal softened at the prospect of confronting the East India Company. He insisted Mr Landry shows him the mine ledger. John Henry had a keen eye for mismanagement and the ledger was irregular but well-balanced, showing no sign of theft or loss. For all his anxious fidgeting, it appeared Mr. Landry was legitimately an honest mine manager. However as John Henry examined the ledger he realized that this mine wasn't able to produce nearly enough coal to support Fort Alice and Neverwhere.
Lance had gotten bored in the cold of the canyon and he went out onto the river shoal to write in his diary. Soon Lady Shaw came to join him and they talked a bit about the strangeness of the mine. She suggested that Lance inquire of the dead, fore surely if there were accidents there would be spirits who wanted to speak of them.
After a short concentration Lance reached out to an entity who called himself Thomas Moore. Thomas claimed to be an Engineer, but lance couldn't imagine what a train would be doing anywhere near the mine, then later said he was an architect who built webs. Madness wasn't uncommon among the lost dead so it didn't startle him much. Thomas Moore claimed to have died of Ricken Influenza, and Lady Shaw had heard of Ricken Fever from her time in India. He spoke of many deaths that plagued the city, but again this didn't make much sense far in the countryside. When asked when he died Thomas More claimed he died in the year 2432. Lance had had enough of Thomas Moore's milarky and dismissed the madman spirit.
By the time Lances little seance was over John Henry was eager to get going. So with the sun setting the adventurers set their path along a long and uneventful hike back to Silver Lake, arriving just after dark. The harvesting of Aether was apparently prodigious and Popwell and company were in good spirits, with warm supper still in the pot. John Henry pulled a bottle of the good bourbon from his pack to refill his flask and didn't see the harm in having a glass before settling in, but soon his beastly nature got the better of him and Lance and Emily Shaw found him by the lakeside crying with an empty bottle laying on the shore. They encouraged him to settle down by the fire and get some sleep.
John Henry woke under a gigantic moon, laying in the broken grass far from the camp. A shadowed figure crouched over him holding one of his pistols gingerly in it's hand as he looked it over his other pistol was missing as well. The moonlight made the figure's long hair glow like spun gold and it played off the lines of his long curved ears. The creature watched John Henry for a long moment "What curious creatures you are, always in such a hurry but no sense of what you're doing so urgently.. Perhaps that is how we came to be here.." John held his hand out for the revolver "May I have that back?". The fey glanced down at the pistol in his hands as if he had forgotten it was there and handed it back "Of course.. it's a beautiful device..with such dark purpose..". John Henry felt a terrible sense of foreboding as the Fey stood towering over him, gaunt and beautiful "Is this a dream?" She Fey shook his head slowly "No Mr. Jackson.. you're not asleep yet.." and with that he blacked out once more.
John Henry woke on the lakeside where he apparently had wandered drunk in the night, hung-over and bestranged from his dream. The other adventurers also slept poorly sleeping their third night on the ground. A poor breakfast was cooked and the camp was struck, and soon still-wounded soldiers were leading the group back towards Fort Alice. The trip through the forest was harrowing with everyone on guard, especially after seeing blood still on the road from where the battle took place. However, they found no sign of the insurgent forces. In the last stretch of the woods the steam conveyance began to make peculiar sounds and require a lot of attention. Fredrick Martins, the excursion's technicals leader wanted to stop and break down the steam engine to check for possible problems but Miss Popwell insisted that the excursion wasn't going to be in the woods at sundown and they pushed on.
Just 100 feet outside of the treeline the excursion stopped for a lunch of hard boiled eggs and pickled beef. Martins finally got a chance to examine the engine for difficulties and John Henry pitched in to offer his limited experience with the technology. Lady Shaw noticed an adorable creature near the trees and wanders over there to feed it a bit of her lunch. The beast was a fox-like animal, about a meter long, with luxurious golden hair. As she held out her food the creature rose up on it's hind legs like a dog and grasped at the food with tiny black hands. Once it was clear she was offering food other golden foxes appeared from the brush. Shaw attempted to lure the cute fox back to the column but heard a strange rustling in the grass and discovered that three more foxes and snuck around behind her. She quickly tossed the rest of her pickled beef to the side and hurried away as the cagey animals fought over it. Later when describing the animals Popwell informed her that they were known as Carlton's Foxes after explorer Andrew Carlton, mostly harmless but wild animals.
An hour later the column was moving again and pulled into the gates of Neverwhere just after dark. People came out to greet them as they arrived, taking the horses to the stables and the wounded to the doctor. John Henry went to the Hart for a survival celebration drink. Patrick would have liked a beer but unlike the bourgeois he had work in the morning so he slunked his shoulders and trudged back to the dorms for the night. Emily Shaw and Lance were on a different mission. They walked up to Lord and Lady Poole sitting on the veranda of their residence watching the crowd around the excursion and spoke to The New Imperial Territory's most British citizens.
Upon asking to speak in confidence with Lord Poole, Lady Shaw and Mr Weston were shown into the Poole's entertaining room and Sheri was served. Emily showed Lord Poole the invitation from the emissary and related their peculiar encounter. Lord Poole seemed troubled by the whole affair and complained that he couldn't read a damned thing on the scroll, he had no sense of what it said. Lance suggested that Mr Montjoy was fluent in the language and could offer a translation but Lord Poole was unmoved by the suggestion relaying a less than favorable impression of the adventurous Montjoy. He assured Lance and Lady Shaw that he'd examine the invitation and make a prudent decision about it, tucking the scroll away in his desk before seeing them out.
Emily returned to the boarding house feeling defeated only to find a small crowd of working girls trying to smoke inconspicuously in the kitchen. She wanted to have a bath but it was too late and she wouldn't be able to get the tub filled without waking the boarding mom. So the girls taught Lady Emily the proper way to take a rag bath and after cleaning up she wet to bed.
John Henry had a pint nearly alone in the silent Thursday night pub, nobody was interested in the excursion, no whores were looking for company. John Henry lamented sourly that this outpost colony town had no whore house until his pint was nothing but foam and he walked back to the barn. When he arrived he found Miss Popwell and Mr Martins painstakingly draining barrels of collected Aether into air-tight tanks to be transported back to England in the morning. Both of them were exhausted but John Henry felt energized so he sent Martins back to his bunk and spent the rest of the night performing precision cold vapor pouring with Miss Popwell. As they finished the work Laura Popwell gave John Henry a kiss on the cheek and told him that she feared her work would have been doomed without him.
Patrick Omallie woke with the customary kick to his bunk and as he dragged his sore body out of bed he actually missed the casual pace of expeditionary life. He got his work clothes on and fell into line for work at the mill. McShane hollered from the back of the hall and walked through the line with a hatchet, gesturing to Irishmen and pulling them out of line for house duty, naturally he pulled Patrick out of the line. Patrick offered some objection about being needed at the mill but McShane told him they would just get less done. McShane handed Patrick a Broom and told him to sweep the dorm floor, others were paired off to other tasks, cleaning the kitchen and privy. Patrick worked for about an hour before McShane came in and looked the floor over "Ok Patrick, it's break-time, don't make us look like slobs". McShane led Patrick into the kitchen where a pack of Irishmen were sitting around when another laborer came in the back door with a case of beers. Men passed out the beers and spent about an hour bitching about the British and the colony. Then McShane put them back to work for another hours, then it was time for another another hour break and more beers. Patrick loved the camaraderie of his kinsmen but he didn't sit idle well. With the floor swept, he took his beer to go and grabbed his toolbox to mend some loose boards on the stoop of the dormitory.
John Henry woke late in the day to find Miss Popwell's bunk made and her bags gone, apparently back to England. He walked into the laboratory but couldn't find the work in himself today. So he strolled out along the road through town watching people being very British and missing his home very badly. John Henry wanted a quality Mexican cigar, a decent American beer, a sausage that had been cooked on a grill. Suddenly it occurred to him that he could have any of those things and more, he was going to build a whorehouse here. He continued his way through the town trying to figure out where a parlor of prostitution could be built but he didn't
Emily woke vexed, after a full night's sleep she had convinced herself that Lord Poole wasn't going to do anything with the invitation and the implications of turning down a potential ally to the crown was huge. She needed more information and while she was flipping through her notebook it occurred to her that there was a faction nearby that didn't have a horse in the race. The Fey might have knowledge of this Count Volker and no reason to keep secrets. She hurried out of her dorm room, searching through the city for John Henry.
John Henry stood on the parapets of the palisade looking over the fields around the town, imagining a walled tavern close enough to the fort to be safe but far enough to be free from good British manners. Lady Shaw climbed the steps up and joined John Henry with a proposal. She wanted his help traveling to meet with the Fey. John Henry had just been turning over how to convince the powers that been into allowing him to open a whore house and it had just fallen into his lap. He agreed to give Lady Shaw his protection if she'd speak to the Pooles on his behalf about a humble gentleman's club he wanted to open.
Lady Shaw came to pay a visit to Lord Poole but he was away, which suited her just fine. She asked Lady Poole if she might speak about a citizen who was interested in starting a business. Lady Poole had her in for tea and they casually discussed John Henry's usefulness to the crown. She played the part of the good-wife, explaining that she couldn't offer any promise of a license but asking a lot of specific questions about John Henry and his business. She didn't seem to like the idea of men and alcohol being left unattended until Emily hinted that her license could convince John Henry Jackson to perform a great service to Queen and Country. Lady Poole said she would consider the matter with her husband and reflect on it after Mr. Jackson's service.