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.