Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Session 8 - March 4 - March 5 1879

As the sun sank beneath the mossy trees of Bridgeport the adventurers rode silently towards the massive iron bridge that spanned the river valley between the lands they were in and strange and foreign lands of Count Volker. Across the bridge they could see large and beautiful buildings with metal roofs and bright decorations. Around the closer bridgehead they could see ramshackle buildings and lean-tos. As they drew near peasants and children rushed out to their wagon with hands held up in the universal language of poverty. Emily suggested that some of the provisions should be given to the poor and Wells began handing out preserved goods to the poor as the wagon slowly pushed by them. As They pulled away Emily saw two children fighting over a jar of jam and she abruptly jumped from the wagon with another jar, running over to the kids and handing them a jar so they wouldn't have to fight. A haggard woman, presumably their mother came nearer to collect the children with her head bowed. When she made eye contact with Emily she whispered "Don't believe them, everything inside is lies.." but before Emily could get a better answer one of the Skull-faced warriors rode up to disperse the peasants.
   As they crossed the bridge there was an obvious fear in the eyes of the local people. John Henry recognized quickly that they were unwilling to get within weapon reach of these skull warriors. Once they had crossed the bridge and and entered Bridgeport's busy night streets the horseman bearing Lance Weston turned and rode off to the edge of the town. Everywhere in the city streets people seemed to be happy, music played from bandstands, people walked hand-in-hand down the street. Their escort rode them towards the massive stone base that the huge blue-ball structure towered over, and a wide carriage gate that admitted them and the remaining four riders. The inside of the building seemed cavernous dark-lit with torches, long furling banners and with room for dozens of wagons.
   As they arrived guards much like they saw patrolling the town took the reigns of their horses and began to help them unpack. Shortly the tall slender emissary that met them at the other end of the road appeared at the head of a balcony with a bright smile and threw out his hands "Thank Marvel you arrived ambassador. We didn't know if you could join us.. please lets get you rooms to recover in, I'll make arrangements to seat you at dinner tonight." The Emisary who introduced himself as Len waved house servants into motion, taking their bags and leading up up and up into the massive and labyrinthine building. Soon stone passageways and stairs gave way to metal grating not unlike a factory catwalk, then many flights of stairs up to metal plated floors and white enamel walls. Len introduced them to their maid, a young woman with a dour demeanor who dutifully showed each of them to a spacious room with beautifully crafted wood furniture. From the curvature of the walls and floors it appeared as if they were in one of the massive blue balls towering above the foundation.
   Once they had some privacy the adventurers huddled together in Montjoy's room to discuss the business of their political theater. It had already been mostly decided that Lady Shaw was the ambassador so the others would pay deference to her to demonstrate her authority.  Montjoy would serve in the role of her translator and wells as her son as strangely all of the staff seemed to insistently believe he was despite their close ages. John Henry would play the part of her bodyguard and at one point he would act out and she would slap him to demonstrate her authority over males. It was agreed they would conduct their diplomacy quickly and decisively, then ask for Lance Weston's safe return.
   As John Henry emerged from the guest room the maid waiting in the hall, stood abruptly and locked eyes with him in an unsettling stare. She wasn't ugly, on the contrary, the maid was pleasant looking but her manner was a bit domineering for his tastes. He nodded to the woman "We've been on the road for days.. is there somewhere Lady Shaw could have a bath..". The maid's eyes lighted with a zeal and she responded "Yes.." already in motion to get servants with buckets running up stairs to fill baths in a small room in the hall. Later when the adventurers were milling in the hall waiting on baths John suggested that a the maid was such a hard little worker maybe she could keep his bed warm after dinner. Emily Shaw slapped him so abruptly he almost forgot about their arrangement and she angrily chewed him out for being so crude on a diplomatic mission, perhaps genuinely angry at the man for being so mean to the maid. She offered the maid a calm apology but the maid just shook her head "Your comfort is my pride Lady Shaw.."
   After everyone was bathed and put in presentable clothing they were shown back down to a large courtroom where a very long table had been dressed and man and women in fine clothes had gathered, drinking wine and conversing. Len announced them as they entered and the nobles gathered raised their drinks. Servants showed them where they were seated, at the opposite end of the long table from the Count and they looked about the room trying to size up who their host was. The adventurers were told that their servant Patrick would not be seated but that food would be prepared for him in the kitchen.
   They made pleasant conversation with a woman who introduced herself as Ealanore, The Vorchess of Falmoth. Ealanore was a charming conversationalist and endlessly curious about the Britains and their little fort. Others around them seemed to be talking about the spring planting and early storms. Before long Len appeared on the stairs to announce Count Volker, Master of Bridgeport. The Count appeared at the top of the stairs flanked by two of those Black Guard skull-faced fellows. He was younger and fatter than they expected with long chestnut hair streaked with stark runs of silver. He dressed in beautiful clothing and wore the silver hide of a Worruworru over his shoulder. Once the Count sat, everyone sat and dinner was served. The first two courses, a fruit plate and a fish entree, were delicious, conversation was light and dominantly at the Count's end of the table. Periodically he'd ask Emily a question to keep her engaged but for the most part there was very little interaction between them.
  Meanwhile Patrick had been taken into the woodfire kitchens and was given a place to sit out of the way and given a heaping plate of food and beer. It has been a long stressful day for Patrick and he was thirsty. He dug in while watching the servants work until gradually he noticed he was having trouble hearing them talk and his throat felt numb. Once he realized he was suffering from poison he staggered to the pantry and begin to try to force himself to vomit, finally he threw up, then keeled forward and blacked out.
   Dinner in the courtroom progressed through two courses and a pudding and a lot of wine. Eventually the Count thanked his guests and made his exit. Gradually the guests began to depart but Patrick did not return. Earlier in the dinner the Vorchess set a note on a platter one of the servants had been carrying and after dinner it was brought to John Henry, after the meal it was brought to him, an invitation to the wing she was staying in but decorum unfortunately wouldn't allow him the chance. John Henry caught a servant who went looking for their friend but he wasn't found in the kitchens and nobody was sure in the chaos of dinner who would have known where he went. One of the castle guards was called on as Emily became increasingly irate and he assured her that if she would return to her room he would personally search the castle for Patrick.
  Reluctantly the adventurers returned to their rooms upstairs. It was decided that Patrick had become an unwilling pawn of a political game and wouldn't have any reason to be harmed, but Emily didn't like any of it, she had risked so much for this diplomacy, only to be mistreated. John Henry told her to sleep and he stepped out into the hall, the maid sitting on the bench standing attentively and staring him down, daring him to ask something of her with her eyes. He smirked as he pulled a chair from Emily's room and leaned it against the door, settling into it to sleep. The maid adjusted her footing and prepared to stand as long as she was in the pretense of those she was charged to serve.

I separated Lance's player from the rest of the group for the next scene

   Lance was ridden away from the wagon as they passed into the streets of Bridgeport. He was taken to the edge of the town and ridden into a beautiful brick building. His rider dismounted as a groom took his horse and helped Lance dismount. The skull-faced warrior took Lance's rucksack and they walked him deeper into the pleasantly decorated manor. As his captror removed his helmet Lance was a little surprised to see the huge man's face was angelically beautiful with long white hair. The beautiful warrior searched through his bag quickly then directed him to a heavy wooden door and into a cell with a single wood chair. As the warrior departed a sheepish man in a guard's uniform entered and explained in New Crown that unfortunately Lance would have to wait here for a short while and asked if he could get Lance anything. Lance asked for a glass of water, got it.. and was left in a featureless room for a few hours to meditate. He got out his writing kit and began updating his journal, perhaps a little worried it would be his last words.
   Abruptly the door opened and and in walked a pair of guards carrying folding tables and boxes of goods. A chair was set before Lance and a table placed between them, a table for food and drink was put beside him and a large man dressed in the armor of one of those skill warriors walk in. Like his companion he was universally beautiful with long white hair. He sat and smiled "My name is Captain Wesser of the Magister's Black Guard. I was hoping you could help me answer some questions.. before we begin is there anything I can offer you? Something to eat or drink?" Lance seemed bewildered by the world's most courteous prison and declined anything but a picture of water and a plate of meats and cheeses was set out for him. Wesser began by asking his name and the names of his companions, then their land of origin and intention in the lands of Petero. The questions all seemed rather benign even when they were specific. Lance went on at great length detailing the role of The London Spiritualist Confederation in the New Imperial Territories and detailing the nature of his "art". Wesser seemed fascinated by the idea of speaking to the dead and wanted to know which king bestowed this gift on Lance. He seemed all the more in awe to learn that Lance was born with this talent. As the conversation went on Lance noticed that Wesser's tone and mannerisms began to change, staring agape as his features finally molded themselves to form a mirror of his own face. Lance Weston stood and smiles comfortingly to Lance Weston "Thank you for your assistance, I expect we'll be releasing you soon.. rest and I assure you no harm will come to you.." He left Lance sitting alone in his windowless cell, contemplating in horror what he had done and the nefarious nature of the Black Guard's art.

   Thursday morning came and John Henry woke with a sore back from sleeping in a wooden hall. As he lifted his head a different maid rose to her feet attentively and waited his request. He stretched uncomfortably and went to check on Lady Shaw who was fine and she responded sleepily from behind her door. Next he checked on Patrick's room, still empty, on Montjoy, rousted from sleep and lastly on wells who did no answer. He opened the door to find the room clean, bed made with extra blankets folded. He charged up to the maid in the hall and demanded to know where Herbert Wells was but the young woman just balked and shook her head, claiming not to know who he was referring to. About this time Lady Shaw emerged in her exercise wear and joined the grilling of the bewildered house servant, demanding to speak to the maid who was in the hall the night before.
   Lance Weston walked up the stairs lead by a houseboy, smiling when he saw John "I'm back.." John looked at Lance confusedly "What happened?" Lance shrugged "I'm really not sure, they held me in a manor for the night, asked me a few questions then rode me to the castle.. I can't make any good sense of it." John Henry puzzled harder "Did you see Wells where they took you?" Lance blinked "No, should I have?" John Bristled "They've been taken.." Lance smirked "That makes no sense, who would take the laborer and the hairbrain? They've likely just gotten up to some shenanigan or another.."
   One maid hurried down the stairs returning with the other looking exhausted and annoyed. Lady Shaw demanded to know where they had taken Wells but the maid from the previous night set her jaw and explained that there were four Ambassadors that arrived and only four rooms prepared, that she knew nothing of any man named Wells. The maid's fearless lie was so utterly convincing that the adventurers found themselves doubting what they remembered from the previous night. Finally Lady Shaw demanded that the maid bring her to speak with the Count immediately. The maid seemed stunned by the words and her eyes narrowed at Emily "You overstep Lady Shaw, I cannot simply create an audience with the Count of Bridgeport.. I am sure he will meet with you. Please compose yourself and I'll announce your wishes.." But Emily was having none of it. She raised a hand to strike the maid and pushed past the girl as she flinched, storming down the stairs to the Count's residence.
   Patrick woke in a dank stone cell with an iron-bar wall that faced out into a dungeon hall, feeling poisoned. In a way the setting seemed familiar to Castle Rock but where it was different was terrifyingly uncertain. Across the hall was a man dressed in rags sleeping on a wood bench. Patrick pressed himself to the bars and called out to the man in the other cell. He stirred and looked at Patrick "What do you want?" Patrick spoke in hushed tones with the man who called himself Hafel. Hafel claimed to be innocent of the crimes he was charged and he just wanted to go home and he pleased with Patrick to speak on his behalf to the Count. Before Patrick could ask how he would go about speaking to the Count a pair of jailers pulled open Hafel's cell and dragged him up the hallway and out of sight.
   In the Count's chambers a table had been set and servants were arranging decoration when Lady Shaw and her remaining companions busted in. Servants rushed to dissuade them, cautioning them from disturbing the Count while remaining courteous and accommodating. Until finally the double-doors at the end of the hall opened and the Count emerged perfectly groomed in his dressing gown and demanded to know what the ruckus was. Emily explained that yet another of her group had been taken with strained civility. The maid tried to apologize for the rude interruption but the Count chastised her, explaining that their visitors from the fort had every right to be critical of his hospitality. He walked to Lady Shaw and spoke softly, apologizing that they had still not found her manservant and seeming no-less confused about sharing a table with Wells than the maid was about setting up a room for him but he assured her he would get to the bottom of this and explained that under the circumstances he couldn't possibly expect her to engage in diplomacy. He would get to the bottom of these disappearances and then restore her faith in his trustworthiness. Lady Shaw insisted that she and her men be allowed to search his dungeon and to her surprise he agreed wholeheartedly and summoned a house guard who would show her each inch of his dungeons.
   Lady Shaw and her companions were shown through the familiar path of of the castle to the coach court and down another level into a dirtier part of the castle with doors with barred windows. Almost all of them were left empty, some full of stored furniture. Capitan Horrux offered to show them any of the cells but asked that they not engage with the prisoners as they were obviously bad men. None of the dozens of little cells held either of their companions. Lady Shaw turned to Lance "Is there any chance that the dead could help us find Patrick?" Lance pursed his lips in thought and shrugged, nodding his head in contemplation before shaking it "No, it seems the dead are not cooperative.. perhaps later?". John Henry Scowled "I think this is a trap, Lance, be ready. If they try anything  you know what to do.." Lance raised a brow "I do?" John gave him a look and made a lightning pantomime with an amusing sound effect.. "Lightnin.." Lance blinked and smiled "Oh yes, right.. right you are john.."
   But one floor below them Patrick languished in the lower dungeons as guards were dragging a struggling figure up the hallway. As they forced him into the cell across the way Patrick quickly recognized the man's tweed as the same as Hubert Wells's jacket. Hubert stood up abruptly and straightened his hair flustered, "Patrick! Is that you man?" Patrick gripped the bars, "Wells, be quiet, what's happened?" "Wells fished his fountain pen from his pocket and began to fiddle with it while relaying the tale of Patrick going missing from dinner and his awaking to kidnappers in his room that had put a bag over his head and given him the Shanghai surprise, his face growing into a more and more pleased smile. Patrick demanded "What are you smiling about then?". Wells broke his pen carefully apart and began to use it to fiddle with the prison lock "Because I am a man who knows the might of the pen..". Within minutes Wells and monkeyed his lock open and hurriedly began to work on Patrick's, springing it open just as they heard shouts from guards telling them to stop. Both men broke into a furious run past cells and through narrow halls with guards chasing them, each turn taking them deeper into the castle. At the end they reached a dead end in some sort of plumbing room with two of the Skull-faced warriors seemingly waiting for them. As one of the warriors lazily jerked open a sliding metal door Patrick felt Well's shove him into what appeared to be a sewage culvert, the door sliding closed as he tried to gain him footing on the sloping slipper floor.
    Emily, John, Montjoy and Lance marched back up from the dungeons feeling a bit defeated. As they returned back through the coach court they encountered the Count, his bodyguards and a procession being loaded about coaches and wagons. He stepped away from his attendants and down onto the straw-literred ground "Lady Shaw, I'm afraid that urgent matters demand my direct involvement. I feel I have failed this diplomacy but at least I have news that your man has been found and is being returned.. I have only this one thing to ask. I wish to wed you Lady Shaw, to form a lasting bond between our Kingdoms. I would have wished to entreat you more softly after demonstrating my values but circumstances forbid me the time so I simply ask you to think of what's best for your people and mine.." He held out his hand, standing taller rather than kneeling "Would you honor me by being my bride?" Emily felt her choker tightening as the fear of her freedom being taken from her seemed to crush her. She tightened her features and stared up at the Count "You have played games with us, allowed my men to be kidnapped and now you propose to marry me? Our diplomacy is ended.. I will have my men returned to me and we will depart tonight.." She walked past the Count leaving the men to smile awkwardly as they eased by the stunned Count and continued up to their rooms.
  As Patrick stood in the black water looking around his large strange cell he could see the jeering faces of men watching him through barred sections of the walls. From above another sliding metal door was opened and another man was shoved into the culvert, a very wet and pissed Lance Weston emerged from the blacked water. Patrick rushed to help him to his feet "Mr. Weston, are you alright?" Lance looked at Patrick a bit wild-eyed "Patrick.. are you you? What is this?" before more conversation could be had, Un-Wells appeared in one of the barred-section and tossed a pair of wooden constable's clubs into the black murk of the culvert. Speaking in a voice that didn't match his features he said "We're going to let one of you out, I'm sure you can figure out how we're going to decide, don't wait to grab a weapon.." Patrick seized on the the clubs without thinking and looked at Lance.
   Lance held up his hand to Patrick in a wait gesture "Much as I'm curious to see how this would play through, lets be on our way instead.." he made an arcane gesture and fired a sizzling blue lightning bolt at the lock of the sliding door that sent arcs of electricity through the bars and into the water that made their skin tingle, then another. Then he continued to pound the door with jolts of electricity until the metal glowed. He paused to see if Patrick could try to door and that's when they heard Un-Wells bellowing "STOP STOP STOP!" the shapeshifting Black Guardsman grumbled "It was simple enough a child would understand, yet you resort to nearly killing yourselves and everyone else.." "Let us out," Patrick Demanded or it won't be so near as you'd like..". Huge swords shoved themselves into the gap between the doorframe and the glowing hot melting lock, twisting and flexing the door open, parts of it bending like taffy against the blades. As the door finally opened Unwells and shifted back into the shape of one of the huge white-haired warriors, pulling on his armor, he simply waved them out of the culvert with a sour expression and explained he would take them back to their friends in a resigned tone, leading them back up through the dungeon.
  Back upstairs in their rooms the found Wells waiting in the Hallway as they emerged from the stairs. John Henry, somewhat distrustful, asked where he had been. Wells explained he had somewhat of an adventure involving secret passageways and an unsettling man who can change his features. Emily ordered everyone to pack and be ready to go, chasing off the maid who offered to assist her with a fan. As Emily grabbed her belongings and began barking for everyone to get going the maid once more tried to stop her, warning that her friends were being returned shortly. John had to think twice to make sure that she referred to Patrick as his "friends". Emily threatened her with the fan once more "You're taking us to see the Count. We're not waiting.."
   The maid reluctantly lead the group down the stairs towards the Count's domicile. John Henry pushed forward behind Lance and asked him "Lance, where was it that you practiced your art back at the Fort?" Lance gave him a quizzical look "That's none of your business is it John?" John Henry drew his gun and shot Lance in the back of the leg before he finished his words, then as Lance was tumbling he took aim on Wells "What promise did I make you?" staring hatefully at the bookish young man. Wells squeaked with hands raised "I don't know.. I don't know what you're doing!". Emily screamed "John what are you doing! Stop now!". John stared at Wells down the length of his barrel "I made you a promise at Silver Lake, tell me what it was." Wells gaped "The collector! You promised I could use the collector on our return to make another attempt to extract Aether..". John lifted the barrel of the gun from Well's nose "That's correct.." he turned to Emily "That isn't Lance and hasn't been Lance since they took him from the wagon. The Un-Lance responded as he began to pull himself to his feet, the wound already closing "He's not wrong.." his body swelling in size, white hair pouring out over his shoulders as he became a different man before their eyes. John once more leveled the gun at the pale beautiful monster that was Lance "And what if I shoot you through the heart?" Captain Wesser sighed heavily "We do not die John Henry Jackson, it would accomplish nothing but putting your friends in peril.." John Henry punctuated the shapeshifter's sentence with a gunshot through the chest, sending him tumbling back down the stairs "Maybe not, but you do bleed, and that pleases me.."
   With the sound of Gunshots a skull-faced warrior charged into the room at the bottom of the stairs and John Henry leaned over the railing to shoot him in the arm, causing him to retreat. The wounded Black Guard warrior shouted out at him in New Crown "Be Damned! you are all madmen!" then in Queen's English "Stop attacking people, you will injure your friends.." From behind the bleeding warrior Patrick poked his red head out of the doorway and waved to John Henry with The Real Lance Weston following behind him. John aimed down at Lance Weston's head "Where do you practice your art?" Lance, having had a rough morning, looked angrily up at John "I practiced at the tree until it burnt down.." Next John took aim on Patrick "Patrick, what's wrong with the British Government?" Patrick eyed John and spat out his words venomously "Fuck you John Henry Jackson.." John lifted the barrel of his pistol with his brows raised "Right then, that's all of us then.." Then he turned his Lemat Pistol on the maid who had been leading them through the castle, his playful expression fading "That just leaves you..". Lady Shaw reached to pull John Henry's hand back from aiming at the servant but just then she realized that the maid never flinched, never bowed her head, even with a pistol in her face she was unflinchingly confident. The Black Guard warrior rushed at the spiral stairs to protect the maid but she stopped him in his tracks with a slight gesture of her hand as she looked John Henry in the Eyes and speaking in an accented Queen's English "I think we can dispense with the dramatic reveals and the bleeding, we're all very impressed with your wits Mr. Jackson.. If you'll all come with me I have much to answer for.." and she turned and continued down the stairs, stepping over the fallen warrior. John Henry gaped, finally realizing who he'd been speaking with "He.. she's Volker.."
   The Volker Maid led onward down the stairs and into the Count's domicile, stripping off her cap and apron as she went and shaking out her long black curls. Once through the meeting room she pushed open the double-doors to the count's bedroom and suddenly there was a rush of missed clues, the feminine decor, the scent of perfume, there had never been a Count at all. The Countess settled into a throne-like chair and gestured for the adventurers to make themselves comfortable in her home. She began "An apology is owed, our intentions have been earnest but our method less scrupulous. It was never my intention to cause you harm but only to test your mettle.." Lady Shaw snapped back "You lied to us, tricked us, kidnapped us.." Patrick added "Poisoned us..". Volker raised her hands in surrender and waited for quiet "We did what we must to know you.. You are strangers.. this is how we know strangers.." John Henry scowled and said without malice "This is how savages act.." Countess Volker nodded in acknowledgement "We are savage.. we are cornered and at war with two Kings of the Art.. We are powerful in our own right.. All things we share with the people of Aenglad.. There is no reason for us not to ally for the good of our people." Lady Shaw shook her head "We cannot put our trust in those that fly a flag of trust and then trick us..". Volker hung her head in frustration "Then we can forge no further ahead here.. I had prepared a written treaty in hopes you would find it in your best interests to sign. Please take it with you as a gesture of our intentions. See if you can't find the desire to put your trust in us until we can earn it.." Lady Shaw sat talller in her seat, sensing her moment to apply leverage "What is it Petero offers The Crown?" Countess Volker smiled confidently "In addition to our fearsome reputation we offer all of the knowledge you lack.." Lady shaw wrinkled her nose "What could England honestly be lacking?" Countess Volker's smile widenned as she rose from her throne "It would be simpler to show you than tell you.." and with a gesture she escorted them out of her private chambers, through the dining room and into a secure door.
   As Volker opened the vault door she lead them into a library large and crowded with shelves. She stopped halfway down the isle, grasping two bookshelves and pushing them appart, the massive wall of books sliding open to reveal more shelves and then Volker grasped the next shelves and pushed them appart as well revleaing the next isle. She led them through her impressive archive glancing back at Lady Shaw "You were curious about the Sylvan were you not?" displaying an uncanny knowledge of Emily's obsession. The Countess withdrew a map from a rack of scrolls and handed it to the curious Geographer. As Emily opennened the map she instantly recognized the outlines of forrests and symbols that marked locations she knew to be places the fey were found and there were hundreds of these symbols. The Countess also pulled a leatherbound book and handed it to Emily "I believe you'll find this useful as well.." However, Emily was still staring at the map as slowly a horrific realization gripped her heart. She schooled her features and rolled up the map, accepting the book graciously. Volker explained "Let this be a gift of knowledge from me to you, the beginning of our journey towards trust.." The Countess frowned a bit by Emily's lack of acknowledgement but made no issue of it, leading the adventurers back out to her dining room. Thank you for coming, I'll have my staff prepare your wagon to depart..
   Fully packed the adventures decided to leave Castle Volker as soon as they could. They collected the written treaty and brushed away servants that offered to help them or apologized for their role in the deception. They loaded their belongings into the wagon, finding that curiously more cargo had been added to what they arrived with but for now they were focused on escaping castle Volker. They rode to the massive gates and as they opened they were washed in the evening sunlight, breathing their first carefree breath since their arrival.

As the wagon pulled away from the town of Bridgeport and continued across the bridge Lady Shaw opened the tightly rolled map once more to make sure her eyes didn't deceive her. She traced her finger across the town of Bridgewater where her family had vacationed on the sea, up the river mouth at Bristol Bay where she attended school and to the familiar shape the hills around her family home in Stroud. She had drawn the map many times in school. It was a map with strange markings and names but it was a map of England and there was no other place it could be.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Session 7 - Feb 28th - March 4th 1879

Session 6

   The adventurers gathered around the fire as the haunting wails of the beast in the darkness rang out. Each grabbing weapons and trying to hover near their only source of light. Herbert ran to the tent and grabbed an oil lamp, lighting it with a phosphor striker. Emily Shaw shouldered her rifle but lifted her head, canting it into the wet marsh breeze, spinning about to aim away from the sound of the wails "There's another one this way.. I'm sure of it." Montjoy but his back to Lance Weston's aiming into the shadows between the tent and the wagon.
   They all saw it at once, cresting a ridge about 100 feet in front of John Henry, easily 9 foot long and slender as it's silver fur slid between the waving sheathes of grass, almost seeming to glow in the moonlight. The Cowboy lifted both of his revolvers and fired, burring a shot into it's chest, dropping it in a dramatic struggle. Lance saw the next one, a shadow in the dark near where Lady Shaw pointed her rifle. He balled his fist crackling with energy and shot forth a bot of lightning that singed a line down the monster's back as he bolted out of the way, running behind the wagon where the horses were kept.
   Patrick realized all at once that the wild beast could cripple the horses and strand them deep in the wilderness and he charged around the back of the wagon shouting "The horses, it's after the horses.." Quite suddenly something came out of the darkness between wagon and tent in front of Mr. Montjoy and jerked him into the shadows. Lady Shaw, her heart racing in panic, stumbled and fell into unconsciousness from the abrupt terror of the moment. Herbert shrieked with the ferocity of a terrified girl and began flailing at the head of the beast that had just yanked his friend into the darkness with the shillelagh handed to him by Patrick. Lance spun about, confused to see the beast that had vanished afield appear behind him and, chanting the ancient words of power, hurled a bolt of electricity into the shoulder of the beast, driving it back into the darkness with a yelp of sizzling pain.
   John Henry had looked away for an instant at the melee behind him, noticing the movement out of the corner of his eye as the beast he had shot down abruptly pushed nose-down into the thick grass and began to run at him. He shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOO" shooting wild shots at the beast as it charged, missing all but one shot, not enough. So John Henry kept shooting, punctuating each shot with a shout "Why!" bang "Won't!" bang, the beast reared up lashing it's fierce teeth "You!" and the slug to it's chest dropped the silver monster dead "DIE!" putting one last shot into it's corpse as angry good measure.
   Patrick launched himself after Montjoy and the retreating beast, leaving the relative safety of the firelight. In the darkness he found not one beast but two, charcoal fur with black eyes and glistening white teeth, one dragging struggling Montjoy away by his ankle in what appeared to be a claw-like hand. He swung into Montjoy's captor with his axe and the beast dropped the explorer as it bolted away, the other turned and reared at Patrick. Lance leaned over Patrick's shoulder and, with shouted arcane words of power, pounded another hot bolt of electricity into the beast. It turn and bolted up the hill, collecting the last two shots in John Henry's revolver's as he shot the beast twice through the fabric of the tent and it slumped down halfway up the hill.
   Lance went to revive Lady Shaw and Patrick checked on Mr. Montjoy to see if he was badly injured. The young explorer had a lot of scrapes from being dragged and his shoulder was sore but other than being a bit rattled he was fine. They examined the silver-haired beast's corpse, deciding the creature was more bear than dog with claws made for digging and a prodigious scent organ. Patrick began to skin the animal with Herbert's assistance. John and Lance climbed the hill in the dark to find the other beast only to discover it's body was gone. The drew weapons and slowly stalked forward until Lance noticed a strange patch of grass was actually the charcoal colored beast dug deep into the dirt of the hill with it's fur turned a dark green. They dragged the dead animal back to the campfire and studied it's remains as well. Patrick fleeced a decent amount of the meat from the hind of of one of the beasts but it didn't end up cooking very well, gamy and tart.
   The adventurers settled down once more, taking watches fearfully in the cold quiet night. Lance and Wells taking the first watch, waking John Henry for the next but the cowboy asked them not to rouse Patrick for his watch and let him rest instead. As John Henry paced around the encampment to keep awake, guns in his hands he spotted a cloaked figure that had mysteriously appeared and was stroking the horses thoughtfully. As John Henry raised his gun and told her to turn around real slow the beautiful woman turned with her elegant brow raised at his gesture "Your horses are so big.. is this your art?"
The woman introduced herself as Auren, and as she spoke with John Henry he realized that the movement of her mouth didn't match the sound of her words. She explained she was speaking through her art. John Henry tried to explain horse breeding to her but it's unclear if Auren understood. At his insistence Auren waited for John Henry to wake Lady Shaw and Lance Weston. Lady Shaw instantly recognized the fey features of her guest and she was beside herself offering her tea and struggling not to bombard the unspoken woman with questions. John Henry offered her a cup of his Kentucky Bourbon. She didn't like the smell of it but had a sip before returning the cup to  him "No, this isn't to our liking.. we'll not have it.." Lady shaw gave her a cup of Purejoy's Black Breakfast Tea which she seemed to like more "This pleases us.. what is it's name?". Lance Weston woke to the conversation in the night and found one of the fey in the camp and politely asked if he could talk about the art she was using to which Auren thrust her hand at him without making eye contact "Come no closer, I do not welcome your art mixing with mine..". The rebuke was shocking, especially given how curious the fey was, but more curious rather than angry or disapproving, Auren sounded afraid. As he examined her warily he could see a ridged pattern that emerged from her hair just under her hood, maybe horns? John Henry showed her the skin of one of the beasts they had slain and she nodded placidly "We know.. it is why we are curious.. Worru-worru is very dangerous." She continued to wander about their camp picking up things and examining them. When she was satisfied she announced her departure "We will have another cup of this 'tea' then we will return to my mist-covered wood, you may not follow.." she drew a beautiful book adorned in stitchwork and gilt and handed it to Lady Shaw. As she opened the book and looked through it she found it full of an alien script "How do I read it, is there a cypher?" Auren smiled smugly "You wanted to learn our words, learn them.." Lady Shaw pleaded "I don't know how to start, please, some help.." Auren signed and flipped the little book to the first page, reading across the characters with her fingertips "I was born in snow and hazy stars. The path swept white I inherited all ways.". The curious fey took the camp cup full of tea and just walked out across the misty marsh in the dark. For the last hours of the night they slept restlessly.
   As the sun rose Sunday morning they struck camp after another failed foray into cooking the Worru-worru. They packed the wagon and hitched the horses and got back on the King's Road. The trip took them across rocky scrublands dotted with distant ruins. Travel took them over a second lake, up and down elevations, the road unchanging stretching over their horizon. Late in the afternoon they saw the first exit to the road they had found since they started their journey for the day and up on the hillside was a small village. They decided to stop for the night and see if the village would trade with them.
  As they approached the low-walled village things went into a tizzy with peasant farmers running to their houses and village guards running around with wood spears and pot helms pulling on their heraldry and rushing to the entrance of the village. Montjoy dismounted and spoke for the party in the New Crown language "We mean you no harm, we are tired travelers hoping to trade for food and a place to rest.." Montjoy explained that the guards seemed anxious to know which King they served. Lady Shaw said to tell them "We are travelers from a far land and our Queen is Victoria". The village guards wanted to know what they had to trade and Lance Weston pulled a handful of the iron chits he took from the men who ambushed the excursion in the woods and showed them. The guards seemed impressed and told Montjoy that they could camp on the green in the center of the village and use their well but they would not be allowed to harass the villagers. So the adventurers pulled their wagon into the tiny town of Carmine and set camp in the middle of the ring of their poor homes.
   As everyone was settling in for the night an old man cautiously walked into the light of their campfire. He told them his name was Alejandro, speaking in New Crown. Alejandro had a bottle of wine to trade with the adventurers and after some negotiation he traded them for one of the extra iron pots in their camp box. He sat and talked with the adventurers a while, Montjoy translating the pleasant older man's words. He said that he had lived in Carmine village since the time of the Unnamed King and his village struggles but it has done much better under the King in Yellow. Alejandro talked about the nearby village where the wine came from and mentioned a logging village to the East, warned them about the beasts that live near the lakes and the 'forrest children' to the South. As the night wore on Alejandro thanked them for their hospitality and returned to his  home. They took watches but felt very secure in the tiny village.
   Monday morning they woke lazily and made breakfast while curious villagers went on about their day all around them. The broke camp and returned to the road for another long day's travel Westward. They passed the logging village Alejandro mentioned but drove on, only stopping once they ran out of daylight. The pulled to the edge of the road and made an improvised camp, no tents or fires just the howl of the wind and the flapping of the flags long the endless King's road.
  Tuesday found the adventurers facing a long climb as the road pushed up into inhospitable rocky lands. Poor sleep and humid conditions made the trip the worst day of the journey but they forged onward. By midday they came through the highlands and were greeted by and endless blue ocean. The black road turned to the South and as they traveled it the flowing yellow banners turned to flag pole after flag pole of white flags bearing a rampant horse on waves. Their 6th day on the road introduced them to the only other traveler they encountered on the massive black road, a pair of wagons loaded with tradeware and a guard on horseback travelling the opposite direction. They greeted each other anxiously in passing.
   As the sun set they still hadn't found an exit to the road but ahead were the lights of a large coastal town so they pushed on into the dark. The drove into a large walled town built below the level of the road so that the entered the town over it's rooftops. The center of the town was raised to meet the road with a small market and a busy tavern. The pulled off onto one side of the town to discuss a plan for the night while inhaling the scent of hot food and watching the glow of an open fire from the Tavern.    As they stood around the market square they were approached by a group of men wearing loose white clothes, carrying staves. One of them spoke in an oddly accented New Crown "Strangers to our land, what is your business in Seaholm Village." Montjoy translated between the men and the part members as they explained they were tired travelers just looking for a place to rest as they move through. The men who seemed to be some sort of authority gestured at a narrow road leading downhill and explained that they were welcome to camp outside the walls in the field. Then he advised them that all travelers coming through the town are to be searched and they should get out of the wagon. Lance produced the invitation scroll and explained that they were on a diplomatic journey. The man with the staff seemed to not entirely trust Lance but held out a hand for the scroll and read it over, commenting that the party was traveling to "Petero". The man in white handed the scroll back to Lance and explained with some translation "You have a long ride ahead of you, pull your wagon up to the side of the inn and I'll speak with Marja about rooms for you.
   They followed the men's instructions, and the barn door on the back of the inn was opened where a young boy came out to show them where they could store their goods. From the stables they followed the sound of drinking into the warm crowded tavern where an older broad-shouldered brunette greeted them with a broad grin and tankards of beer. She greeted them warmly and introduced herself as Marja and her grunting husband working behind the bar was Lutipold. She told them there were rooms upstairs for them when they're tired. When John Henry asked her about payment she explained that the 'Arbitory' have paid for their rooms and drinks and care of their horses and they should just relax and make themselves comfortable. John did just that, drinking the warm gritty beer and flirting with Marja in his clumsy grasp of New Crown. Lady Shaw convinced Montjoy to try to strike up a conversation with the locals to find out more about the lands they were in but the tavern folk seemed a bit unnerved by questions from strangers. Patrick was still suffering from the beating he took in the fight so he crawled upstairs and got into a soft mattress bed for the night. Slowly the rest of them piled into the rooms reserved for them, gentlemen sleeping in chairs or on floors to allow Lady Shaw the respect of a room to herself.
   They all rose Wednesday later than they would have liked on Tuesday. John and Montjoy hung over from too much of the shady beer. Herbert had woken early and was working on a bowl of warm breakfast porridge while writing in a book. Slowly the all gathered themselves and filtered into the stables to find their horses had been washed and groomed and their wagon was loaded with their things. Marja showed up to wish them well on their journey. It was an almost unstintingly welcoming stop.
   The day's ride took them away from the shore and deeper into lands as rocky peaks gave way to wet marches. The road curved towards the mossy woods below and eventually ended. The flags on the last pair of flagpoles long blue banners with black crosses, the heraldry of their guests. In the distance across the canopy was a massive structure that looked like giant balls stacked atop one another in a cube. Lady Shaw examined it with her telescope but couldn't make any better sense of it for seeing how it was scaffolded or assembled. They rolled off of the wide black road onto a narrow dirt road and pushed onward into the woods.
  About a mile down the road they noticed that overgrown swampy trees had given way to over overgrown crumbling buildings. The further into the ruins they traveled the more a town began to look like a dead city. Ahead they could see the structures of a large town through the trees and a troop of mounted soldiers in black armor with helmets with white skull facemasks riding towards them.
   As the riders pulled near they spread out across the road with hands on their swords, huge men, thick with muscle. One of the faceless soldiers rode closer and called out to the adventurers in Old Crown "This is Petero land, disarm yourselves, name your business.." John Henry raised his hands "We're not enemies, we've been summoned by your count." he nodded to Lance who once more withdrew the silver scroll. The rider pulled off a fighting gauntlet and collected the scroll with a clawed hand, delicately unrolling it and reading it through. He glanced over the group "Is this all your number? Do you all solemnly swear your business is as stated?". The adventurers looked among themselves and nodded. The rider rolled up the scroll and handed it back to Lance "Select one of your number that will come with us.." his face unreadable behind the white steel skull mask. None of the adventurers knew what to do. Patrick volunteered immediately but everyone decided his wounds would have to exclude him. Herbert volunteered but nobody was comfortable with this either. Lance eyed the strange warriors and said "It has to be me.." He looked back at the rest "I can barely speak the language and I'm not a diplomat.. it has to be me..". The others agreed. One of the skull-face riders maneuvered against the side of their wagon and helped Lance onto the back of his horse and the soldiers began to escort the adventurers into the setting sun, towards the city of Bridgeport.