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.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Session 6 - Feb 23rd - Feb 28 1879

Session 6
   Tuesday morning Emily Shaw grabbed a burnt scone and marmalade on her way out into the shallow yard of the women's boarding house. She was tired and felt the weight of her troubles. As she stretched and stepped through her fight poses she felt some ease in the routine. However, her peace was ruined when she spotted someone spying on her in her underclothes from the gate. She bristled and covered herself returning to her room.
   Patrick woke late in the day, still badly beaten. Old Nan tended to him and made him some tea but he wasn't in any shape to move around so he slept the day away.
  John Henry rose and chased down some breakfast. He watched the other scientists working in the barn but didn't have it in him to conduct any experimental work. He tracked around the town, he stood on the wall and though about his ambition to make a gentleman's club, he counted his dwindling funds.
   In the late afternoon he encountered Emily Shaw returning checking in on Patrick O'Mallie. She reminded him of her expectation that he would accompany her on her ill-advised diplomacy attempt with Count Bridgewater to whit John Henry reminded her that she was to be working on his aims to be a businessman in Neverwhere. The pair of them headed into the Hart to get out of the afternoon heat and have an early dinner.
   Later they pair was joined by Lance Weston who had spent the morning trying to tune in the land of the dead and announced that he believed he was close to cracking the code of channeling the dead. As the sat drinking in a quiet corner they conspired on how they would get the invitation back from the Poole's. They decided none of them had the talent for burglary but that with a suitable distraction perhaps they wouldn't need much stealth, perhaps they could engage in a spectacle and their largely invisible Irishman could simply walk into wherever the scroll was held and walk out. John Henry reasoned that if a suitable decoy were left behind chances are Lord Poole would never know he was robbed. One-by-one the adventurers parted company and went to bed contemplating something shy of treason.
   Come Wednesday Lance woke from an unsettling dream that he stuck outside the gates of Neverwhere with the fields ablaze. He shakily carried out his morning rituals. Once he was centered he once more attempted to commune with the dead but he found them flighty, terrified of something in the spirit world, a most unsettling revelation. On his way down the stairs he encountered Mr. Spooner , and the pair of them prepared a sumptuous breakfast while talking over the business of the fort. Later Lance visited the Fort's armorer to talk about purchasing a sword but the man seemed reluctant to offer him one despite the many that were in his shop in various states of construction. As he explained it he can barely keep up with the cavalry's demand for blades. Disappointed but not undone, Lance took to the scrap bins and rubbish piles around Neverwhere, asking workmen where broken appliances are thrown out. With some luck he found a steel bracing bar, heavy and short for a sword but with the rust scraped off and handle wrapped in cloth it would make a serviceable practice sword. For good measure he walked it outside of the town gates to the tree he had lit on fire and gave the trunk a few sturdy hacks until he was satisfied it would work.
   Patrick awoke again in the late morning to the sounds of hammers in the kitchen as some of the men were doing carpentry. Immediately he wanted to investigate and pitch in but he felt woozy upon standing so he laid back down. Old Nan brought him some broth and checked his bandages. He resolved that he'd remain awake today so he got out a book and set about refreshing his knowledge of More's Utopia.
   Emily Shaw woke early, staggered downstairs into the yard and set about her exercises while still mostly asleep. While in the midst of her katas she heard snickering from the gate of the tiny yard between house and palisades and spotted a pair of youngsters spying on her. She bolted at them with clenched fists and while two of them bolted one stumbled and found Lady Shaw standing over him "Having a good look are you boy?" The young man apologized and explained that his friends said there was a woman doing Chinese boxing. He just wanted to see it. Emily Shaw relaxed and explained that her fighting art wasn't Chinese but Indian and admirable curiousity in the foreign aside, it wasn't appropriate for a young man to be spying on the lady's boarding house. She helped him to his feet and ran him off.
   Once she  had time to make herself presentable in her best dress, she hurried across the town to the gates of the fort and knocked at Mr. Montjoy's door. Montjoy appeared mid-shave, seeming embarrassed to see Lady Shaw at his door. He invited her in if it didn't offend her and cleaned the shaving cream from his face. She sat at his desk and laid out the plan to steal back the invitation from Count Volkov. She wanted to know if Montjoy could, from her description of the scroll, manufacture a forgery. Montjoy assured Lady Shaw that he felt it was essential to meet the count but he didn't see how he could make a facsimile with so little idea of what he was copying. Lady Shaw assured him he would just have to make a scroll of similar dimension and that they could roll it onto the scroll's bolster and fittings.
  John Henry woke to the sound of people arguing. High above his cubicle men were fooling around in the rafters of the work barn, sawdust drifting down. He got up and dressed, asking around the barn what was going on. Mr. Martins said "It's Wells, he's got some mad new project from the crown and he's tearing the roof of the barn apart." John Henry wandered into the kitchen to see what scraps could be found at the tail of breakfast and he overheard a pair of academics talking worriedly about funds. When one of them walked away he struck up a conversation with a melancholic lab assistant named Fennworth. Fennworth told him that the presiding manager of Fort Alice had been found dead in his room this morning and nobody knew who would be taking over or how anyone would be paid or work would be approved until there was someone else in his office. It was as if The Company's head had been cut off.
   As John Henry arranged his work table and began the ordinary work of studying Oricalcum a hammer abruptly dropped onto a nearby table with a loud bang. John Henry shouted at the rafters to get someone's attention and a young man with a dirty face and glasses looked down with a smile "Did we lose a hammer? I'm dreadfully sorry, is everyone alright down there?" John Henry cursed out the young Englishman until he came down from his ladder hat-in-hand to make amends. The scrawny spectacles man introduced himself as Herbert Wells, a journeyman carpenter and explained that the roof of the barn is being modified to open like a breadbox with the most exquisite pulley system by order of Lord James Robins of the Royal Army. John Henry was both charmed and annoyed by the young Herbert Wells who was eager to tear the roof off a building with eccentric mechanical aspirations yet no idea of the purpose of the project.
  Before too long Lady Shaw arrived and they excused themselves to the kitchen to conspire. Emily needed assurance from John Henry that he was committed to the diplomacy before she stole the scroll and wanted to know if he could help arrange provisions and horses for the adventurers and Montjoy. It was at this time that the abandoned Wells spoke up "Pardon? Not to intrude but did you say you're arranging an excursion? Are you going to Silver Lake?" Emily and John her unnerved to be spied on but couldn't help but find Herbert's curiosity charming. Wells wanted to test an Aether extraction machine he had built and would be willing to make a substantial contribution if he would accompany them. When asked what he could contribute Well's boasted that he worked four summers apprenticing to an upholsterer and has some skill  loading and driving a wagon. After a quick conference they told Wells they would have to first introduce them to their contemporaries.
   Lady Shaw and John Henry walked the gawky Wells over to the Irish Dorms to check on Patrick, only to find auspiciously that Lance was visiting him. We'll made introductions with vigorous handshakes, winning a smile from Lance when he recognized the young man as the new spiritualist in town. Patrick was harder to win over. He had some hard questions for the distracted young Englishman until Herbert interrupted him to ask if that was More's Utopia he was reading and after a few minutes of critique of More's vision of socialism Patrick had signed off on the gawky young man.
   As they stood and gabbed a group of solemn Irish carried a white pine coffin out of the back of the dorm. After the pallbearers had left the adventurers shared information about the demise of Mr. White and the disruption in the spirit world. John Henry decided that A. N. White may hold some critical knowledge about the Company mine or even more eccentric secrets. Lance Weston was eager to experiment with channeling, believing he could have the dead embody him for a short duration. Lady Shaw liked neither idea but was in need of the support of her friends so she backed them. The left Patrick to rest and parted company with Wells and they were off to Fort Alice.
  They arrived in the rail yard of Fort Alice, seeing the coffin laid out on sawhorses as a solemn crew of soldiers began to carry a body wrapped in sheets out of one of the rail yard apartments and gently laid it to rest in the coffin. Gathered around were the solemn faces of the leadership of the town and the soldiers that serve the fort. The one exception was spotted by Lance and John Henry, a pair of Knights of Avalon smiling gleefully as they shared a private conversation on the parapets. The three of them maneuvered to the deceased manager's apartment but there were too many straying eyes. However, once the laborers began to nail the coffin shut attention was drawn to the sound and quickly the three of them slipped into the ajar door of Mr White's quarters.
  The adventurers began to search the small cluttered apartment for any information they could find. Lance settled down on White's little bed and clutched the man's jacket while closing his eyes in concentration. Lady Shaw admonished him "Not to rush you but we have little time.." John Henry found a little chest in Mr. White's desk but it was locked securely, beside it were ledgers but their contents were a cryptic scrawl of notation. Suddenly Lance looked up from his concentration and his face hardened like he had just eaten a whole lemon. He scowled and began snapping his fingers at Emily Shaw "Ledger.. pen..". As Emily gave him what he asked for he began to move stiffly, writing notes quickly with a look of sour determination. Emily bent down and looked into his eyes "Are you Mr. White?" Lance replied in a monotonous voice "There is a key in my coat pocket for the cashbox, there will be more than enough to finish these tasks. It's unclear how long I can remain so it is paramount..." Lances eyes widened and he stopped scribbling in the ledger "What happened?". Lance had written more of Mr. White's notation but John Henry was able to quickly decipher that that it was four different transactions, credits and debits, a last wish of a dead man.. or an attempt to hide the bodies from beyond the grave. With the lockbox open John Henry found a stack of crisp pound notes. he grabbed a handful and stuffed them in his pocket before peering out the door and discretely the three stepped out into the rail yard to fall into a group of people walking by.
   Walking out of the gates of Fort Alice the trio parted ways with a plan. John Henry walked to the stables to secure horses and a wagon for their trip to Bridgewater. Lady Shaw and Lance walked to the Poole's home to convince them of the importance of a seance that night. Lord Poole was at first reluctant but his wife vouched for Mr Weston's impressive powers. Lady Shaw attempted clumsily to con Lord Pool into arranging a private seance where Mr. Weston would channel the Spirit of A. N. White. Poole was instantly suspicious but agreed to the seance, if only to get to the bottom of Lady Shaw's deception. It was agreed they could convene the elite of Neverwhere at sunset the following night.
   Emily slept restlessly, realizing that time to change her treacherous plans was evaporating quickly. She woke in the night and groggily packed her things for the journey and did her exercises in the half-light before dawn. After breakfast she dressed in her best dress and made her way to the provisioners to buy proper clothes for Patrick to wear in the charade. A suit of decent clothing turned out to be more expensive than she expected and she ended up taking a note of debt to the store.
   Patrick woke feeling all-together resolute, still injured but no longer fading in and out. He asked to return to work but Old Nan insisted he rest another day. Emily Show showed up at the Dorms with boxes of clean new clothes and shared with Patrick his role in their little conspiracy while he dressed. Patrick stopped to admire how he looked in the mirror dressed well and groomed.
   Lance performed a ritual cleansing to remove impurities from his body, then he dressed, packed his things for the journey and set out on the street. He made his lazy way to the work barn to see John Henry only to find Patrick and Lady Shaw there. they gathered in the relative privacy of the kitchen to lay out the plan. The only missing piece was Montjoy with the forgery of the scroll.
  Each of them arrived at the Poole's at their own pace. They found Montjoy waiting in attendance with a knowing grin. As Lady Shaw approached him to share a polite conversation he slipped a scroll into her handbag. Lady Shaw handed her coat and handbag off to Patrick as Lance Weston began to ask for everyone's attention. Patrick moved into the office to "put Lady Shaw's things away. Away from prying eyes Patrick began to search Lord Poole's office. He stealthily jimmied open the Lord's with a boot knife and found the scroll. He quickly unraveled the scroll while the show was starting in the parlor and rolled up the forgery. Just then Patrick realized that the good people of Neverwhere were gasping in horror. He walked out of the office and into the parlor to find Lance looming over the seated Brittains, fingers clutched in to claws, speaking to them in a gibberish language. Montjoy squinted at Lance's growled syllables piecing out what he could "I am Szasha.. I serve Krom in the.. go around? Your blood will .. pour.. fire-branch-man. Kron will lay you flat.. Something about the gift gone bad?" Lance fell out of his possession and stumbled to the carpet, holding his chest. All around him the good Lords and Ladies of Neverwhere flushed and shouted at him for his stunt. Lady Shaw made apologies as she tried to help Lance to his feet once more with the help of John Henry. She asked Patrick to please fetch their coats and after a good tongue lashing from Lord Poole for the embarrassing seance, they quietly walked out of the Poole home without anyone realizing they had stolen the scroll.
   They agreed to meet in the morning at the stables early and set out before anyone's suspicious can be aroused. Lance and Lady Shaw saw Patrick back to his dorm before turning in. John Henry felt a bit more adventurous. He wandered into the Lonely Hart and bought a pint. When the there were no prying ears close-by he leaned into the buxom bartender and ask if Mr. Blackpool was expected tonight. Miss Ainslee gave John Henry a tired look and nodded towards the cellar door, pretending not to notice as the gunslinger slunk by her and vanished into the back of the bar. John Henry found Blackpool at the fight room bar counting his money and struck up a conversation about a hypothetical arrangement where Blackpool would turn wheels to get his gentleman's club up and running in return for back-scratching in kind. John Henry continued to push for specific terms to get his business started until Blackpool held out his arms with pound notes clenched in each fist "Here in these walls walls lays the whole of my kindgom Mr. Jackson, ambitions not withstanding. I don't run this town and certainly not the fort. If you want land and right you'll need to charm Lord Poole. If you want customers you'll want to win over the Friar and the Cavalry Commander..". Blackpool poured John Henry a glass of whiskey and left him to grouse. Upon finishing the glass John Henry felt a familiar sinful thirst and returned to the bar where he began to collect glasses in front of him. When he finally stumbled out of the Hart he realized he couldn't trust himself to wake early in his stumbled state so he broke into the stables and collapsed in the first clean pile of hay he found.
   Friday morning came bright an early with the horse grooms rousting John Henry with a rake and still-wounded Patrick O'mallie struggling into the stables carrying his tools and a large sack. The Provisioner's boy arrived with a hand-cart full of supplies. Next arrived eager Herbert Wells with his cumbersome equipment and baggage. Montjoy arrived and signed out a horse for himself and Lady Shaw arrived shortly before dawn to survey the loading. Lastly Lance arrived with his small luggage bag and his breastplate, ready for adventure. The wagon and two horses pushed out of the gates of Neverwhere amidst the tide of workers heading out into the woods and within a few minutes Fort Alice began to fade into the distance.
   They felt a sense of trepidation as the road lead them back into the woods. An ambush without military assistance could be disastrous. The traveled slowly, John Henry riding ahead. When they stopped Lance Weston levitated above the trees to survey the area. He couldn't' see much in the forest below but he saw smoke to the south, a camp or village he reasoned. As they neared the edge of the woods they saw a rider waiting on the road, his horse slender with long spindly legs. As Lady Shaw looked at him through her spyglass he was clearly not a man, but some sort of fox-headed creature, dressed in armor, carrying a spear. John Henry collected the scroll and rode forward slowly, bearing it to be seen but as he neared the fox-on-horseback bolted away.
   The adventurers set across the plains in the evening and were treated to a beautiful sunset reflecting of silver lake. The set camp in the wrecked village on the lake shore and Herbert ran out to the shore to perform tests on his new extractor. Lance flexed his new cooking skills on a warm pot of stew with bread still-soft from the bakery. Montjoy turned out to be an able camper unafraid to roll up his sleeves and help with the labor of settling in and they slept restlessly.
   Saturday morning came with an urgent rush to push onward. Camp was broken and Herbert used what daylight he could get to make one more attempt at extracting Aether but his results would take time to examine. Lance doled out pasties made from the leftover stew and the wagon rolled onward. At the sight of the King's Highway Herbert pulled to a stop and gawked, unable to conceive of such a marvel. They rode closer and mounted it's huge black bricks, driving down it's wide lanes for miles.     Near sunset the road bridged a massive lake that Lady Shaw estimated at a mile long. At the far end the Adventures found the first exit to the high stone road they had seen in miles and decided to pull off of the way to camp for the night. The land was marshy but dry enough near the road. They set camp and started a campfire. John spotted lights in the forest across the moors and rode across to investigate. As he neared he could see the lights came from lanterns hung in the trees. The woods gave him a sense of unease and he rode back rather than investigate further.
   As the adventurers settled in for the night, laughing about the shared stories there was a mournful wail from deep in the dark wood. Montjoy rose out of his bedding like a shot and grabbed his rifle, searching the darkness. The others reacted in fear, grabbing weapons and looking for what they didn't know. "What is it?" John Henry demanded as he thumbed the hammers of his revolvers anxiously. Montjoy began to move slowly, searching the moonlit moors "The natives call it the Shadow Hound.. it is a very very disagreeable beast.." and slowly howling wails rang out one after the other, seeming to come from every direction.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Session 5 - Feb 20 - Feb 22 1879

Session 5

   Lady Shaw rose energized in the morning and quickly hurried downstairs for a brisk breakfast then she was out in the yard for her morning practice. Her dormitory mother kindly nagged that she wished she wouldn't carry on in the back yard in barely more than her unmentionables like she did but Emily said the only alternative to her exercise wear was to exercise in the buff and suggested that she erect a privacy hedge. She dressed and set out into the street in a nice floral dress to collect her wages from the Royal Geography society just as the Fort Gates opened. She dropped her exploration clothes off at the launderers and knocked at the provisioners until they turned their open sign over and let her in. She spent the morning sampling tobaccos and shopping, finally getting some expensive Turkish blend and a a bag of chocolated caramels.
  Lady shaw stopped by the stables to collect her scrimshaw bones from Mr Swift but she found that the stablemaster hadn't seen the young man in three days and had no idea what had become of Gerald. Disappointed, Lady Shaw asked that if the young man was found that someone send word to her at the lady's dormitory.
   Lance Weston woke tired but resolute to observe his rituals, dragging himself out of bed and performing his morning meditation. His long journey and living on the land had left his energies badly out of balance. His boarding mate  wasn't to be found so he scraped together breakfast from leftovers in the kitchen and made his way to get to the head of the Saturday pay line. After collecting his dispensation he had his clothes laundered and looked through the provisioners to see their new wares but they were too crowded to shop so he went out for a stroll.
   John Henry woke feeling a bit stifled and frustrated by a lack of discipline in his work. He took a morning bath in the back of the work barn that left him feeling less-than-clean. Then he dressed and went out for a stroll to clear his head. Walking along the Company Offices on the back of the Fort, he spotted a brassy blonde woman accompanied by a large brute in the middle of an argument with a man in a Doctor's apron. She asserted that the doctor had done something with  her brother, Gerald and she demanded answers from the Dr Morse. Morse tried to calm her and assure her he hadn't seen her brother in days since his accident at the stables and had no knowledge of his whereabouts until he lost his patience with her impertinence and encouraged her to fetch the guard if she was so sure something untoward was going on in his offices.
   By the time John Henry reached the pay line it was going out the gates and across the road. He waited patiently for his dispensation, then he returned to the barn, organized his work table and focused on a long day of making progress in experiments meant to validate the work others had done on Orichalcum.
   Patrick woke at his own will, enjoying the luxurious pace of a Saturday. He rose and dressed and got in line at the pay table in the dorms for his tiny stack of schillings, tucking them away before they were spent. While he sat in his bunk reading there was a call from the front door that he had a visitor.
   Standing on the Porch was the much maligned Tom Blackpool and his giant thugs, the young Scottsman cradling a shilelagh over his shoulders and scuffing the dirt in the street with the toe of his riding boots. When Patrick emerged he flashed a broad grin "Omallie, my title man is sick and I need a fighter, do us a favor and stand-in.." Patrick wasn't keen on being pulled into Blackpools fighting show, he knew there were strings attached he couldn't anticipate, he politely declined the persistent requests until finally explaining "What I fear Mr. Blackpool is that I'll come to expect your fight wages and find myself on a raft when you don't want to put me in your ring.." Black pool took off his gloves literally and stated in a quiet voice "What worries me Patrick is that some day you may take injured and be unable to labor, or perhaps your tools will need mending or any number of calamities, and you'll not have money socked away from fighting in my ring and you'll have to come to me in desperation.. I don't want to see you a desperate man Patrick, come fight one night.." Begrudgingly Patrick relented and agreed to come to the fighting ring at 9PM that night.
  As afternoon wore into evening the Adventurers turned up one at a time at the Hart to drown their boredom. The pub was busy on a Saturday Night, several soldiers deciding to share their table with Emily and gradually with her friends. One of the soldiers from the excursion, Nora, struck up a conversation with Lance Weston, making some clumsy effort to flirt with the man that he was amusingly oblivious to until the others filled him in. As Patrick arrived he ignored their summons and went directly to the door in the back of the bar. Unsure what to make of his behavior Emily Shaw followed after him along with John Henry and eventually Lance once he made his polite goodbyes.
  As they followed Patrick down into the bowels of the pub they were intercepted by one of Blackpool's giant thugs. Lady Shaw applied a little charm to get past him into the fighting pit, a large room with a wooden fighting square and risers built around the corners for people to see the fight better. In the corner was a lonely bar ignored by energized spectators of all classes watching two men pummel each other for their amusement. Patrick had found Blackpool and was getting the lowdown as the others approached "The fight goes 10 minutes bell-to-bell. The only winner is the man who can still stand or hasn't cried mercy in that time, win lose or draw you get your pound note but the house is much happier with a decisive outcome." Patrick frowned as he watched the brutal action in the ring "I'm assuming gentleman's rules?" his eyes widening as he saw one fighter grapple and throw his opponent through the barricades of the fighters box. Blackpool sneered "Do those men look gentle? Hit where you can get your hits in, put the other man down, nobody is here to see dancing..".
   As Patrick took off his shirt to expose a history spelled out in burns and nasty scars, Lance and John Henry sized up the decidedly overweight and doughy looking men in the fight and excused themselves to place large bets with one of Blackpool's men. Emily Shaw remained to offer Patrick some unsolicited advice on how he should fight. Patrick tried to contain his fury at being lectured in how to fight by the aristocrat but he lost his temper and offered her some firm words about what a know-it-all she was. Emily was aghast and tried to explain that she was only hoping to protect him somehow.
   As 10PM rolled around Patrick climbed into the ring and prepared himself for a beating. Blackpool mounted a chair and shouted to the audience "Our final title of the evening is about to begin, Patrick "the pummeller" O'mallie against the savage Mr. Chen, you'll not want to miss this momentous battle. get your bets in before the bell rings.." Across the fighter's box a lean muscular Asian man climbed the barricade and swept his long black hair back into a ponytail as he regarded Patrick with stoney stoicism. Patrick could feel his stomach sink without even knowing that Lance and John Henry had placed bets on hims with 2-to-1 odds to lose.
   When the bell rung Mr. Chen was across the small fighter's box before Patrick could find his footing, launching fast relentless kicks. Patrick held up his defenses under the fury of blows trying to keep his eye on the Chinaman's stance and body movement before his strikes. Mr. Chen closed in and kicks turned to punches. Patrick couldn't move his guard fast enough to stop the assault and he took a hard blow to his ribs that snapped a bone. The crowd exploded in cheers. Mr. Chen closed in deeper, leveling knee strikes against Patrick's broken rib, what he didn't know is that Patrick's ribs had been broken many times and the pain didn't phase him. The Irishman unwound with a punch to Mr. Chen's brow that sent him staggering backwards. Then Patrick threw another punch and what was a slaughter quickly became a fight. Mr. Chen was terribly quick and aggressive. He pounded Patrick with blows until he spat blood but Patrick was unstoppable, continuing to land glancing punches until a solid hook put the Chinaman on his back. Then Patrick collapsed, struggling to see or breathe, utterly thrashed.
   Blackpool rushed into the ring and lifted Patrick's nearly unconscious body off the dirt to raise his his hand in victory and proclaim the winner. Both fighters were carried to chairs outside the ring and were given first aid to make sure they weren't dead. Patrick complimented Mr. Chen as they sat in pain and tried to breathe slowly. Mr. Chen humbly told Patrick that his skills were no match for a fighter such as himself. Lance collected 10 Shillings from the bookmaker, John Henry reaping two Pound Sterling, they had a beer to celebrate their shrewd wager, and at Lady Shaw's behest they helped carry Patrick out of the basement and get him back to his bed safely.
   The next morning Lady Shaw woke extra early and got in her exercises before sun-up. She dressed in her best dress and went to Church. She was a little disappointed to see that none of the boys made an appearance, knowing someone of her station wouldn't get away with such disregard for ritual. Afterwards she walked into the gates of Fort Alice and asked after Mr. Montjoy of the Royal Geographer's Society and was greeted at the door by the handsome young explorer. She began to ask about the Count of Bridgewater but her questions made him look about uncomfortably and he asked if it would be appropriate for him to entertain her in his apartment. Emily wasn't sure what to think of the impropriety of his request but she was determined to get answers so she agreed. Montjoy put on a kettle and broke out maps on his tiny table identifying who her emissary was with a sketchbook of heraldry of the Native peoples. He explained that their emissary was neither of Roanoak or from The White and if his Count's offer is genuine it could mean a great deal to the Crown. Lady Shaw explained that the invitation was no longer in her hands. Montjoy offered some colorful words about Lord Poole's ideas of diplomacy and told her that if the invitation was not recovered it would be wasted. He offered to help with provisions and horses for the journey but she must find a way to recover the invitation or there would be no way to understand the invitation accurately. Lady Shaw left their meeting feeling energized, her mind ticking away at a plan to meet the illusive Count.
   Later Emily Shaw found a shady space in front of the gates of the fort and worked at her drawing. She was poorly illustrating a gathering of Scottish men wearing kilts, a practice outlawed in England proper, when she looked up to find one of them smiling at her suggestively. She tried to ignore the man but he persisted in watching her draw and eventually she felt so uncomfortable that she hurried away.
   Lance Weston woke in his own time, he rose and performed his morning meditations. As he stepped out into the hall Mr. Spooner offered him a conspiratorial smile "Ready for brunch Mr. Weston?" and he escorted Lance to the kitchen where he helped his mate prepare sumptuous salmon peroshkis and a wild-green salad with grilled squash.
   After a fabulous brunch Lance set out to pursue tales of a local graveyard on the Northern slope of the clearing. He felt his nerve wavering close to a mile away from the walls of the town but seconds later he discovered markers set into the ground with names. After a brief seance Lance called upon his first spirit, a confused British Soldier named James Dorset. Dorset was a spirit bewildered as many are, and his ability to recall events before his death were shakey but Lance gathered that he must have been one of the earlier fatalities in the New Imperial Territories. Feeling more secure Lance attempted to contact the spirits once more. As he called out the voices around him muttered and grew silent before he heard a voice in the shadow speaking words in New Crown, he could barely understand but he picked out what he could "Fire-branch man, No are welcome.." "I am horse-horse" "Kron will give me payment in come round" Lance tried to ask him what the unfamiliar word "Kron" meant but the spirit explained "Kron is come round.. Kron will make flat.." Lance couldn't fully translate what the savage spirit was saying but he could feel the menace of it. He decided to retire for the afternoon.
   Patrick woke up late Sunday feeling somehow worse. Old Nan looked at him with pitiless eyes before pulling his sheets away and prodding his purple bruises. She rubbed lineament into his wounds and fed him hot soup and told him to sleep and pray, the implication being that Patrick would not be going to mass today.
   John Henry woke lazily in his bunk and put himself to work directly. He focused for the morning on Orichalcum experiments but found his concentration plagued by the business of the invitation and the fierce blond woman who's brother was missing. He took a walk to clear his head once more and buckled down for more work but still felt his efforts were frustrated. Later Lance Weston stopped by the bar and they chatted about the graveyard and the missing boy before the both visited the Irish dorms to check on Patrick.
   Patrick had been terribly bored and excited to see his friends. With some help they got him dressed and walked him down the street slowly to the Mill on a Sunday afternoon. They found a grassy spot int he shade and Patrick laid down, hoping the spot Mr. Chen in the Sunday afternoon traffic. While they waited Emily Shaw crossed their paths and she stopped to check on Patrick and offer to buy him lunch. While they socialized John Henry went to buy Patrick a huge meaty sandwich in the pub, reasoning that the Irishman just needed some hearty greasy meat to put him back on top. They chatted quietly about the graveyard and Dr. Morse and Emily's meeting with Montjoy but they didn't manage to form a plan before Patrick starting feeling like leaving his bed was a poor plan and they helped him back to the Irish dorms.
   In the evening Lady Shaw decided to take dinner at the women's boarding house. She wasn't surprised to see the working girls dressed sensibly around the table but she hadn't expected to see Miss Popwell in attendance. When she whispered a question about the lady chemist over dinner one of the prostitutes explained that snooty Laura rarely comes around but she has a room at the top of the stairs. Afterwards the women took to the livingroom for a bit of choir singing and games but having a thoroughly British moment in the wilderness only reminded Lady Shaw how alien British living was to her.
As Monday came round, Patrick's bunk wasn't kicked to wake him. Old Nan inspected his wounds and gave him a bit more lineament. He got up and moved around a bit but felt impossibly sore. He could barely keep on his feet much less work. McShane came around to his bunk and assured him the Mill would run just fine while he rested up and took advantage of the moment to remind Patrick that this is why Irish have no dealings with Mr. Blackpool.
   Lance woke to help Spooner with breakfast and relaxed a few minutes to focus himself before setting out to the Doctor's "office" a wooden shack in the line of company buildings that lined the back of the fort. He sat down calmly on the bench outside of his offices and focused on the spirits nearby. It took some time to lure any of the dead but eventually he landed a weeping ghost named Pollyanne Summerset who was Dr. Morse's Nurse. She accused the doctor of strangling her and claimed that his medicines were poisoning the people. But she was so agitated that it was difficult to converse with her, she didn't seem to have many answers even when she understood his questions. Before he could continue he was roused from his trance by a hand shaking his shoulder and he found himself being looked down at my Dr. Morse. The grey-haired doctor asked Lance if he was well and said he had seen him mumbling to himself. He invited Lance into his office to have a glass of water, seeming for all appearances to be a kindly concerned gentleman. He even offered to sell Lance some Laudanum for his wounded Irish friend after Lance had asked about the best method for curing heavy bruising.
   John Henry rousted himself from his bunk. Miss Popwell's bunk was empty yet again but her personal effects were still around so it didn't seem likely she had returned to England. He organized his work table and resumed the work but he couldn't focus on his job with all of the nonsense his friends were involved in. So he tore a page from his notebook and began calculating the time to travel to Bridgewater and make a list of provisions for the journey. Then he made a list of people he had met in Neverwhere that might be able to break into the Poole's home as he began to science this problem.
   Later Lance swung by the Fort to speak with the armorer and pick up his breastplate. The armor wasn't what he expected, fitting but not comfortable, attractive but heavier than he anticipated. Still he was please and paid the armorer. As he was making his way out the soldiers closed and barricaded the gates and opened the portcullis to allow a train to come in. Stevedores burst into action unloading the train while a handful of passengers disembarked. The portcullis was closed and then with drill precision the gates of the fort were opened once more. Lance Noticed once of the passengers, an young auburn-haired beauty was seeming a bit lost so he moved to her side "I'm Lance Weston, could I offer you assistance?". She smiled "Not unless you know where his Lordship Sir Tristan was, white hair, very distinguished? fancy blue coat?" Lance didn't recognize the name but said he'd be happy to show her to the lady's boarding house, he has a friend staying there. The woman seemed amused and assured him she wasn't in the same line of work as Lance's friend. She introduced herself as Lady Guenevere of The Order of Avalon and thanked him for the gesture as she continued on into the offices of Fort Alice.
   When Lady Shaw returned to her boarding house she found a basket of fruit with a card had been left for her by a man in the kilt. The not attached read "I'm told ladies are fond of drawing fruit, my name is Ian McCutcheon."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Session 4 - February 17 - February 20 1879

   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.