Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Interlude - And how can we help sir today?

De Havilland examined the sorry-looking creature in front of him carefully.  It appeared somewhat familiar but there was still a resounding sense of the “unrecognisable” about it.  He shifted in his chair uneasily as a sudden sharp sense of dread came over him.  
“Well...” he pondered, wriggling around in his seat like a child being fitted for a wedding outfit, “what would you recommend?”
The barber appeared to spasm momentarily and then very quickly recovered the moment up by coughing rather elaborately.
“Perhaps your lordship could explain perhaps the look he was going for at the time that this...natural disaster occurred?” he questioned pulling strands of De Havilland's hair outwards in all directions.
De Havilland stared at his reflection in the mirror in front of him.  It had been a very long time since he had need or want to consider his outward appearance.  He wasn't really sure he was qualified to make any sort of appropriate decision on the topic anymore.
“Perhaps just a trim?” he queried expectantly, which was sadly immediately followed by another coughing fit from the barber.
“Maybe your lordship could explain a little bit about his role, or perhaps whether he will be meeting people of purpose at all.  I might then have more of an idea as to what might be required.”

De Havilland mulled over the words carefully.  Eighty percent of him was wondering how appropriate it might be for him to be seen smashing a barber’s head through a plate glass window; the remaining 20% knew that he probably deserved to be treated like a barbarian.  He was after all in the Known Worlds now and was expected to look just like everyone else, no matter how disappointing a thought that might be.  The Marquis peered at himself again in the mirror.

“I’ll tell you what” he stated, “you fix me a large drink from your collection of spirits from over there and I’ll figure out what we are doing.  I have the distinct impression that this is going to be a lot harder work than either of us anticipate.”

The barber picked up a pair of scissors and looked De Havilland in the eye.
“I very much doubt that…” he quipped.

About an hour and a half later a statelier if still imposing figure of The Marquis De Havilland stepped out of “Bryon’s Gentlemen Grooming Establishment”.  The hair was now a socially acceptable shoulder length although in some places De Havilland had retained some of the Vuldrok warrior braiding and beading of his original look.  He had thought it might add a touch of dramatic flair for the fashion conscious of the city who might (strangely as it might appear) want to imitate him.  His beard had been a real trial.  The wild bushiness of it had been cropped back, but he had chosen still to retain a neat and refined gentlemen’s beard.  His moustache he kept longer than the beard as he had really missed the feeling of having one over the past years. His skin, beard and hair had all been treated with an astonishing assortment of various oils and potions and despite their own objections the grooming established had been tasked to spend some time attending to his hands and nails.  Overall it had probably been one of the most uncomfortable periods De Havilland had ever spent in civilised space.  He had of course refused eyebrow trims and a whole host of other fads, (some of which sounded more like Decados interrogation techniques) but he was satisfied that he had probably managed to capture the populist image of the dashing explorer Phoenix Knight.  He was now wearing some of the new clothes that he had picked up earlier that day and felt ready now to make a first trip to the offices of the Phoenix Order.  
Perhaps just one more drink would be advisable first though.

“You are Anton, Marquis De Havilland Hawkwood and your liege lord by estate is one Count Otto Kierkegaard Hawkwood of Ravenna.  Is this correct?”
“Yes, your Lordship”
“You are a member of The Company of the Phoenix and have sworn to uphold the values and principles that our order espouses in active service to his Imperial Majesty, our Emperor Alexius.”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “You have forsworn all political ties and affiliations to your noble house for the period of your service and have been given the rights and freedoms to serve His Majesty without impediment by grace of your liege lord through his observance to the authority of the throne?”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “You have come here to this office today of your own free will in honourable service to His Majesty, and the words you speak here will be your own, and are not the views, testimony or instructions of another party?”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “For the benefit of the clerk the hearing panel today consists of myself - Baron Audley Mountbatten, Her Ladyship Ciera Li Halan and Her Ladyship Latha Saritha Akilla Al Malik who are all serving knights with the Company of the Phoenix.”
“Marquis De Havilland, can you confirm that you know and have been made aware of the reasons as to why you have been summonsed here today?”
““Yes, your Lordship”
 “The panel are now providing The Marquis with a copy of his summons letter, which states the following:

From the desk of Baron Eviathan Hawkwood, leader of the knights of the Order of the Phoenix,
To the Marquis Anton Hawkwood De Havilland, Phoenix knight.

You are summonsed to appear before your peers in the noble Order of the Phoenix, to which you swore your oath, to give account of the conduct of your sworn Cohort, the Ur-Obun known as Tonbei vo Khaan. 
You are expected, at your earliest convenience, in the halls of the Order in the Imperial Palace, Galatea on Byzantium Secundus, when a meeting of a council of your peers will be convened.
By the light of the divine Pancreator.

Have you seen and read this letter before?”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “Have you read the notices concerning this process?”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “Do you have any other questions concerning either the summons or this process?”
“No, your Lordship”
 “Before we start I will bring forward the written testimony of Sir Vim Militas-Djinn Al Malik, knight of the Company of the Phoenix who wrote to this office at the same time that your official notice concerning the events of this investigation were first brought to light.  For the sake of the clerk, this letter provides positive character references concerning the Marquis De Havilland and his actions concerning threat of political unrest on Ravenna and beyond between the Justinian and Hawkwood Houses.  We also received more recent notice regarding the Marquis’ foray into barbarian space in order to support the expansion of the Phoenix Empire, which is in fulfilment of his sworn duties; and if this is correct might be used in testimony on his behalf.”
The Baron puts his papers down and looks up at De Havilland.
“Marquis, can you share with the panel where and how you first met the Ur-Oban, Tonbei vo Khaan please?”
“I met Tonbei during the Emperor Wars.  I can’t recall our very first meeting but certainly it was whilst my unit were on active duty in Velisamil …
“The Oban homeworld?”
“Yes, my lord.  My unit were stationed there for a period during the war as a standing force and then, as the war progressed, we were moved on as needed.  But certainly, it was whilst on Velisamil that I first came in to contact with Tonbei.”
“And how did you take him at that time?”
“As an individual or as a soldier?”
“I found him to be a very quiet and dutiful character.  I had no real experience of others of his race before but my time on Velisamil, but from what I could determine later he was fairly typical of his kin.  Tonbei was picked out as an exceptional soldier and had made himself a strong candidate for the unit.  I don’t know how we ended up working together but I know that at that time I liked working with him.  It became apparent that together we offered the unit more tactical options than the usual standing troops. Certainly, I was more of your typical squad leader at that time and he was something of a specialist but together we were very successful at a number of the more covert operations, particularly in situations of close proximity to imperial citizens.”
“Can you explain that further please?”
“Certainly. Tonbei was an exceptional covert operator.  He was able to get into situations without being seen and could deal with light security teams quite comfortably.  I was more tactical in my training and could provide him with a clear plan of attack.  In addition, I could provide a more traditional armed support on operations when a diversion or extraction was needed.”
“I see.  We thank you for your service during the Emperor Wars Marquis, as we thank all those who served and died to bring about natural order.  We note to the clerk that we are now reviewing the war record of Tonbei vo Khaan which I believe…[turns to the others] that we have all read?”
The others sat either side of Baron Audley both nod and respond positively.
“How would you regard his service during those years Marquis?”
“I’d have to say it was very good.  It was a lot to do with our success during the wars that lead to us taking up the option of joining as Imperial servants within the Phoenix Order.”
“Yes, you both applied together, and you were his sponsor at the time?”
“Are you aware of the responsibilities and liabilities of the sponsorship of Imperial Cohorts Marquis?”
There was silence.
“I take it that you were made aware of those responsibilities at the time Tonbei vo Khaan was made an Imperial Cohort?”  The question was made a little louder this time.
Ciera Li Halan stares at De Havilland studying him carefully.  5 years ago he would have cowered under that gaze.  Today he felt surprisingly more able to hold it for reasons he didn’t fully understand.
“Let us move on for a moment.  So, to summarise you were both offered service, you as an Imperial Phoenix Knight and Tonbei as your assigned Cohort.”
“Yes, your Lordship”
 “And you provided that service in a number of campaigns [flicks through some pages] before arriving on Ravenna, which is where the focus of our session will rest.”
“Yes, your Lordship”

Some time was then spent analysing the career and actions of De Havilland and Tonbei during their various campaigns.  It seemed to De Havilland that the panel went out of their way to belittle and demean any and all of their works and labours over those years.  Learning your craft was a difficult challenge for a Phoenix Knight and very costly if mistakes were made as part of that process, but that certainly didn’t stop the panel from making it clear that they did not hold the pair’s accomplishments with any degree of respect.  Quite the contrary in fact.  To speak ill of the dead is one thing but De Havilland kept getting the feeling that his own name was being muddied in with Tonbei’s all too frequently.  To him it didn’t feel like justice was being served.  Until finally, after many hours of sneering commentary…

“…I take it the panel have read the full account leading to the event of Tonbei vo Khaan’s death?
The Baron turns to the knights either side of him; Ciera keeps her eyes firmly on De Havilland but both she and Latha nod their confirmation.
“Marquis, could you summarise your own statement on the matter please?”
The Marquis composed his thoughts, summoning up a series of words and names he hadn’t need to recall for many a year.
“Tonbei was killed by Sir Hasimir Fenrig Torenson and his aide, Virssu Lainis.  He had attempted to attack Baron Christopher Hawkwood in the early hours of the morning, at a point when the Baron was retired to bed.  Tonbei was killed as an unidentifiable assassin, and then immediately after his death he was identified by Sir Hasimir.  As you would expect, I was approached the very next morning…”
“I expect the Baron supposed you were behind the attack?”
“Yes Your Lordship”
 “And were you?”
The question seemed to puncture the very space between De Havilland and his peers.
“That would be absurd.  I had absolutely nothing to gain from the death of the Baron”
“And yet according to our findings you personally believed the Barons presence in Deepcore 104 to be a significant political problem?”
“I thought his presence was deliberately provocative if that is what you mean?  It seemed to me to be either a direct attempt to stir bitter reprisals by the Justinian’s or at the very least a deeply flawed decision.”
“So you feel you were more capable of making decisions regarding this matter?”
“I would not have sent a power hungry Hawkwood to nurse vulnerable Justinian adolescents in a sector already marred by considerable controversy.”
“You feel it your duty to make decisions concerning the management of domestic matters?”
“When those decisions threaten the very lives of the common people there, then I do have an obligation…”
“Did you tell the Planetary Duke that you did not feel him capable of managing his own affairs?”
De Havilland stopped.  This was indeed surprising territory.  Discussion of the Planetary Duke could have any number of unforeseen consequences.  He had not expected an old warhorse like Audley to need to wander into this sort of territory at all.  There was more going on here than he could fathom.  De Havilland’s survival instincts suddenly kicked into life.
“No, of course not.  On the contrary. The Duke is most definitely capable of managing his own affairs.  I expect everything worked out exactly as he would have wished.”
“Meaning I have every confidence the Duke is managing his political affairs…correctly.  But then of course that would not be something I would ever have cause to be interested in myself”
“Do you resent being asked these questions Marquis?” interjected Ciera without warning.  She leaned forward in her seat like an old school-master and seemingly peering into the very inner workings of his mind.
“No, of course not…”
“But you do.  A great deal.  Why?”
De Havilland looked at her without expression.  He wondered how much she could read of his thoughts and feelings on the matter.  He had heard that she was an expert at interrogation.  
He certainly, was not.  
“I would prefer to keep to the subject of Tonbei if it is all the same to the panel.”
“Are you offended about being asked your views here Marquis?  Surely you would be pleased that we are showing an interest.  We are just trying to put you at your ease?”
“No, I am not pleased.  I would prefer to keep discussions to the subject matter in question.”
“What are you afraid of De Havilland?” she followed up again.
“I would prefer to keep to the subject matter in question” he repeated indignantly.
The room was quiet for a long time whilst the 3 members of the panel eyed De Havilland carefully. When the silence was broken it was Baron Audley who spoke first.
“Do you still claim that Tonbei was [refers to his reams of notes and reads directly from one page]…a member of an order you referred to as ‘The Slayers Guild’ and in the service of Count Innocence Decados?”
“Yes Your Lordship”
 “Even though that group is well known to be a figment of myth; a superstition of the common people?”
De Havilland grew impatient.
“Is it…?” he responded with a slight tone of sarcasm.
“There is no credible proof that any group calling themselves ‘The Slayers Guild’ ever existed at all.”
“I suppose the Ukar knives with the non-existent sigil were as much of a sign as you are ever likely to expect.”
“A decorative drawing left at the scene of a crime is not exactly a completely unknown phenomenon.”
“No, indeed, that much is true.  But the existence or not of this group is not significant to the outcome either.  Tonbei was recruited to commit murder, and commit murder, he did.”
“But you can understand the challenge here Marquis.  You suggest that the Count enlisted Tonbei through contact with this organisation.  If this organisation does not exist then perhaps neither too does the Counts involvement here?”
“One does not necessarily preclude the other.  We had testimony of the fact in front of witnesses.”
“Yes, so I note.  Such credible witnesses as Sir Hassimir Fenrig Torenson who by all accounts is indeed a master of table etiquette and is now more popularly known within the empire as a self-confessed psychic, and Sir Hemlock Justinian, whose own family currently lie in a considerable state of disgrace concerning the trade of banned Second Age technologies.  I won’t even bother to mention the other members of this crew who supposedly heard this same confession. Hardly a credible batch of witnesses, is it Marquis?”
“Yes, it is a shame some of the more acceptable members of society were not present but then I expect there was some really important work for them to be doing here that kept them away from… any personal liabilities.”
“You consider the work of senior nobles to be less important than the frontline work of real servants, such as yourself?”
“What is this really about?” responds an exasperated De Havilland.
“Sorry Marquis?”
“We’ve been sat here for a good while now and it’s pretty clear to me that you have poured scorn over the principles of my official statement and in general you seem to have been more interested in my general socio-political views than the facts of this case.  Given the years that has passed since this event took place you would have had plenty of time to accrue facts from any other sources of interest.  I don’t think you are really trying to assess the facts from my point of view here at all.  Actually, from where I am sitting, you just appear to be trying your best to provoke me.  You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear…”
De Havilland trailed off.  The room was silent whilst his mind whirred into motion.
The Baron was making notes and looked up expectantly having noticed the pause.
“I’m sorry Marquis, you were saying?” he queried.
De Havilland looked at the Baron making his notes.  ‘What on earth was he making notes on?’ he wondered.  ‘We weren’t actively discussing the case at that moment.  It was as if the Baron was more interested in his general response than the details within it.  But why would he want to be doing that?’  Something just did not add up.
“Marquis, you were saying?” repeated the Baron.
“You aren’t interested in this case at all are you?”  said a calm voice of realization.  De Havilland laughed briefly.
“You aren’t here to question me on this case are you?  You are assessing me.  Why?!”
“I really have no idea what you are talking about” replied the Baron.  He placed his quill down and pushed himself back into his chair.
“The purpose of this panel is to ascertain the facts concerning the betrayal of Tonbei vo Khaan and whether he ‘under your direct instruction’ committed attempted murder or not.  Need I remind you Marquis that if you are found guilty of orchestrating attempted murder the consequences would be most profound.”
“Liar...” the words fell from De Havilland’s lips, but he didn’t know where they had come from or who had said them.  The voice was certainly his though.
“I beg your pardon!” spat the Baron, clearly irritated by the response.
De Havilland leaned forwards to the edge of his desk, “That is a lie” he follows in a softened voice.
The Baron fixed a wily gaze on De Havilland.
“As a sponsor for Tonbei you have an official obligation in any capacity for his actions…”
“No...“ De Havilland cuts him off.
The Baron looks more even irritated and started to look a little red in the face.
“Do not question the authority of this court” he rages.
“I don’t, in fact I am relying upon it” responds De Havilland curtly.
“You’re babbling man, explain yourself!”
“I am not Tonbei’s sponsor” he answered simply.
“Impossible!” retorted the Baron, “Every Cohort has an official sponsor and it is always their allotted Phoenix Knight.”  The Baron starts to flick through pages of documents and eventually finds the page he was looking for.
“Yes, here!” he finds and stabs at a section of writing on a document before him and starts reading from it.
“I Anton Hawkwood, Marquis De Havilland hereby swear that I hold the character of Tonbei vo Khaan to be of sufficient standing to allow him to serve in the assigned position of Imperial Cohort…. And so on and so on and so forth, signed Anton Hawkwood.”
“Yes” replies De Havilland calmly.
“It’s here in black and white!” exhorts the Baron.
“That…is a character reference” replied De Havilland, “I was not actually permitted to sponsor Tonbei.”
The room falls quiet.
The Baron looks at the documents again.
“I made the application, but I was turned down on the basis that Tonbei was not of suitable candidate material.  When I protested it was suggested to me privately that perhaps an Ur-Oban was not a suitable field agent nor desirable face for the Phoenix Empire.  However, contradictory to that view there was also at that time a push to sell the concept of Phoenix Knights to the general populace. The Town Crier ran a sensational story about how an Ur-Oban was making his Imperial Cohort application; the first non-human to do so.  The story sold very well with a readership who lapped up the notion that under the emperor the common man now had more opportunities in life. The next I had heard, Tonbei’s application had been re-submitted and rather miraculously had been accepted…”
The Baron picked up his documentation and quickly began reading through it again.
“Your original request was indeed refused…A subsequent request was then sent through to this office from…[reads to himself] and then there is a note here to this office… with a final application signed and sponsored by……………………”
“…one Baron Eviathan Hawkwood in his capacity as a leading representative at the office of The Company of the Phoenix.  An official stamp of approval from the office itself was a ringing endorsement, as good as anyone could have hoped for.”
The Baron looks down at the words in front of him and then back at De Havilland.
“I see...”
There was no sense of triumphalism about this moment at all.  The room was surprisingly still. Oddly so. The tension that had been building in the room suddenly dissipated.  De Havilland had expected the Baron to be annoyed given how much emphasis he had wanted to make of Tonbei’s sponsor but now, it just didn’t seem to matter to him at all.  Things were very strange indeed.
“This session will now briefly adjourn.  The court will be emptied and I will remain present with The Marquis” announced The Baron.
The others all left silently; Ciera gave De Havilland a curt nod.
Once they had left The Baron grabbed a decanter of water and some glasses and left his table to sit opposite De Havilland.  He placed both glasses down, took a flask from inside his jacket pocket, tipped out a small measure of a thick green substance into both glasses and then topped them up with plenty of water.  He pulled a small clear stick from another pocket, stirred both glasses with it and then picked up one glass and lifted it slightly next to the one opposite De Havilland.  The Marquis reached out tentatively, lifted his glass and gently tapped the Baron’s glass with his own.  Both men took a good sip of the strange concoction.  The Baron let out a deep breath and allowed himself to rest back into his chair.  He tipped his head back across the top of the chair, as if granting permission for any weariness he felt to leave him.
De Havilland just kept watching him.  He really wasn’t sure if this was all part of some kind of elaborate rouse.  He just had this sense that all the tension in the room that he had felt building up had left, but without any lasting sense of legacy.
The Baron broke the silence first, his eyes were now closed, and his head was still tilted back.  “Do you know, I can picture perfectly the face of every young knight we have dispatched to do the Emperors bidding from this place  Some of them looked bloody terrified at the prospect of being sent out into the Known Worlds.  I can remember looking over to you and your cohort during the final evaluation stages.  You both looked like you were so full of confidence. I was worried for you, I’ll be honest.  I had no idea what sort of…prejudices… you might have to deal with during your service.  It’s not like we need any extra complications in our line of duty, now is it?  It just looked right to me though, for us to be sending you both out together like that.  I’m…I’m not just saying it was just the right message…it felt goodly…righteous even.  But blast that Ur-Oban if he didn’t blow a bloody great hole right through all that good work. The shitpile that I received concerning his betrayal from the Hawkwoods…well…you can just imagine it can’t you?  We’ve had all manner to polite courtier’s queueing up outside Baron Eviathan’s office door to make appeals for him to ‘intervene’ directly.  Slimy little bastards.
But, despite everything.  I still think it was right.  
I know some might not like me to say it, but the Empire is just too big and too damn full of nightmares for us not to be standing together.  We can’t face every threat alone.  I’ve seen too many battles fought over the years to think the future of mankind rests solely in the hands of a few very well-meaning nobles.”  The Baron took a deep breath and tilted his head forward and opened his eyes to De Havilland.
“Recently, we’ve started seeing a rot enter the order.  I don’t mean anything obviously orchestrated, just a general weakening of the values and principles that it began with.  We started seeing knights coming back from long trips to new worlds with strange ideas about how the empire should be run, where it should prevail…and even…who should be running it?”
De Havilland gave the Baron a curious look.
The Baron nodded, “Yes, all sorts of ‘well-meaning’ ideas.  In most cases it’s pretty simple to understand.  Knights have been sent to the backend of nowhere and tasked with making our empire work there.  To accomplish that task they integrate themselves fully with the local peoples, try to figure out how they all think, how they function.  The problem is, this process causes the knights ideals to soften, just a little.  They consider how they can deliver a vision of our empire to an existing and functioning society…without ever breaking it.  Without re-making it.
The problem is, you can’t.”
The Baron takes another swig of the green drink and smacks his lips together.  He examines the glass carefully.
“We had to be sure about you Anton.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth of it.  We had to see how you would respond under pressure.  We need to know whether knights are still working for us, or…”
“Whether they work for someone else…” finishes De Havilland, tipping his own glass back and taking a gulp.
“Right enough” replied The Baron.
The room sits perfectly still whilst both men eye each other carefully.
“So…how many fail the test then?” questions De Havilland.
“It’s worrying the Emperor” came the honest reply, “Too few of the longer-serving knights retain a proper sense of perspective.”
“And what about me?” comes the obvious question from the Marquis.
“Well I don’t think you have sold us out just yet, but, I don’t think it would do you any harm to know that we are watching, and why.”
De Havilland finished his drink, “I’ll keep it in mind” he answered 
 “And what about the panel, what is their decision regarding my culpability concerning Tonbei?”

“Acquitted of all direct responsibility for the assassination attempt on Baron Christopher Hawkwood” answered De Havilland.  He sat himself down in a large comfortable chair opposite Ylanath and placed his arms on the armrests.
“Just…like that?” she asked.
“Just like that” came his response.
Ylanath shakes her head in disbelief, “It just sounds all very strange to me.  You made it seem like this could be the end of the universe.”
“Well, it could have been.  They could have sent me packing from the order, back home to serve my remaining days fighting in my brother’s army against my sister.  But, thankfully they chose not to…”
“They could have done that?” she queries, “you didn’t tell me of this!”
“I...didn’t want to worry you unduly” came an abrupt answer.
“You are unbelievable” comes back an annoyed response.
“Probably why you love me so much” retorts a smiling De Havilland.
“Ha” smiles Ylanath sarcastically.  “You don’t deserve me. I should leave you to marry one of those boring Hawkwood ladies of the court”, Ylanath pranced around the room pretending to walk like an elegant lady twirling a parasol.
De Havilland laughs for a moment and then his face starts to turn serious again.
Ylanath notices, stops playing for a moment and then comes over and sits across De Havilland’s lap.  She puts one arm round him and the other on his face.
“What is it, what is wrong?” she asks.
“My order”, he replies, “I think it could be in trouble.”
She runs a finger across De Havillands furrowed brow.
“Is there something you can do about that?” she asks.
“I don’t know” came the honest reply.
After a few moments Ylanath smiles at De Havilland playfully, 
“Did I forget to tell you how much I loved your dashing new haircut” she jokes, “Very handsome…”
“You…” mocks De Havilland, sitting forward suddenly to embrace Ylanath “are a total disgrace”.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Session forty-six

Having finally arrived on Byzantium Secundus the cadre find accommodation in the Imperial City and meet up with "Pandemonium Max" a Muster Guilder who fought with De Havilland during the Emperor War and has been called in by the Marquis to offer some support.
While Anton goes to appear before the Phoenix Order the rest of the group head to the planetary agora to try to locate Corteaz's missing investor. After making enquiries they locate the office of Constance of San Tandere. She initially welcomes them but as soon as they mention that they represent Corteaz she tries to run for it, attempting to escape out of the office window. Hemlock and Max manage to catch and restrain her and convinced her to explain her actions. 
She narrates how she is just an agent and that her investor stopped sending funds and communicating with her. Before she was concerned enough to chase them up she was approached by representatives of the Scravers Guild who warned her off and threatened violence if she either contacted the Investor or Corteaz. She is now afraid that if she was seen with known agents of Corteaz's then "they" would try to kill her. 
Unfortunately, due to the time it took the group to find her (i.e. failed skill rolls), "they" have got wind that the cadre are paying Constance a visit.  On cue, three armed Muster "rent-a-thugs" arrive at the office to teach them all a lesson.  The PCs pointed out how outclassed they were and intimidated them until they backed off and left, Hemlock sneaking after them. 
Meanwhile, Mal and Max stayed with Constance and negotiated that, if the Cadre  could get her to Cumulus space station, once there she would reveal details of who the actual financial backer was and how to contact them. 
Hemlock tracked the goons to the local Scraver guild house, where they meet with Master Alfredo Garcia (Hemlock's Father's deceased seneschal), apparently now alive and well. 
When Hemlock reunites with Mal and Max they ask Constance about Alfredo Garcia but she doesn't recognise the name however, when described to her, she says that he sounds like the Scraver "Boss" who came to threaten her.
They then board the monorail, heading for the comparative safety of the capital.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Interlude - The Leminkainen Encounter

Between sessions forty-five and forty-six we decided to help the plot move along by running the intervening scenes via text chat. This is a transcript of what transpired:

With a noiseless thump that reverberates through the ship's hull, the Innocent Pursuit is thrown from Jump Gate into the real space of the Leminkainen system.
The Charioteer who opened the gate for you, Captain Moseley, hails you;
"I got you safely through my Lords, as promised. Now for my payment I believe?"
Anton De Havilland: Keats, I expect you will know the level of information that a Charioteer will need to establish contact with a new contact...We should honour the commitment made and then set about organising passage for ourselves from here to the capital.  As discussed we should seek to make as little contact with other parties as possible. I have the distinct concern that our trip is being monitored.
Hemlock: "Acknowledged."
To the radio, "Captain, you may have heard of Captain Cortez.  We have the pleasure of working with him. [provides contact details]  May you mutually profit."
To others on the bridge, "Anton, is it Cortez's adversaries that worry you, or something more personal?"
Anton De Havilland: "Its a good question.  Our distraction with our business leads us to pass through Ravenna where I discover Hassimir leaves in unusual circumstances,  just at the time a WMD is triggered. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily worried about this trip. I just have the nagging feeling someone is pulling strings here. All the more worrying that I find myself wandering into the nest of vipers that awaits us in our capital."
GM - On one of the bridge stations a notification chord strikes indicating that another ship or space station is hailing you.
(Captain Moseley thanks you avariciously for Corteaz details and the accompanying letter of recommendation he had you draft  and signs off)
Anton De Havilland: "I wish I knew of friends on Byzantium Secundus but unfortunately I do not have any support there other than those who would willingly wish to support any Phoenix Knight.  Before we get there we should give thought to every word or deed we undertake. We should not underestimate the influence of politics in our capital. Others make seek to make use of us. "
But first, we have one more jump to negotiate
Hemlock: "You think events on Ravenna are linked to Byzantium Secundus?  Ah, excuse me Anton," Hemlock opens the hailing channel, "This is the Innocent Persuit."
Anton De Havilland: "I just see a number of coincidences here. Coincidence is either the direct hand of the Pancreator or something more sinister"
"Keats, when we get to the capital are you Keats or is Hemlock attending to his business?"
"Someone representing the business venture should take a lead with the banks. It might be Hemlock who has to do that..."
Hemlock: "I believe Mal has had a much greater hand in the business.  But I feel no need to hide as Keats: it does me honour to be in your entourage."
Anton De Havilland: "Then we will be in the hands of Mal. I should perhaps now remind us of the other business I was tasked with in our capital.  Accounting for the betrayal of Tonbei.  It is entirely possible that there could be fallout from that. My future on this point is not clear."
GM - The cockpit squwaker device crackles into life
"This is Lady Guinevere Hawkwood, Captain of the Saint Astrid's Blade, you have entered House Hawkwood space and are a vessel of indeterminate origin and purpose. Stop engines and prepare to be boarded."
Mal: "oh shit"
Hemlock: To Mal, "Do you think they'll have heard of you this far out?"
"Could you pretend to be someone else?  We could have any crew or passengers, after all."
Mal:  "that is what I was going to recommend" at which point, Mal proceeds to stow away any house sigils he carries and rough himself up a bit.
"Jonas Smithe, resident yeoman ship hand, at your service. Call me Jon"
Hemlock: "Understood... Jon."
To radio, "Confirmed Captain.  Cutting engines.  We look forward to welcoming your party."
GM - The ship shudders as a pair of grapples from the Hawkood vessel latch on. On the Innocent Pursuit's viewports and screens Lady Guinevere's Galliot slowly grows in size as the winches wind in the massive cables, drawing the ships into an intimate embrace. Moments linger as the sleek, arrowhead shaped 'Pursuit is overshadowed by the sillouette of the Hawkwood ship. 
Boarding a ship takes time, given the benefit of not being in the midst of combat, there are many steps to take to ensure the safety of those involved. Mal makes good use of the time to try to create a new cover identity and hide reference to his true name. But when trying to perform nefarious deeds there is never quite time enough...
Sensors read that a boarding party of about a half dozen individuals are making their way across the void between the two ships. 
In hardly any time they are at the main airlock at the front of the Myrkwym. The ship echos with the thumping of a fist on the airlock and a local squwarker burst announces "This is Lady Guinevere Hawkwood of the Royal House Hawkwood, Captain of the Saint Astrid's Blade, Galliot of the Hawkwood space naval fleet with authority to visit, board and search star vessels entering Hawkwood space, and with powers of seizure and detention of items or persons of illegal nature. You are to permit the full execution of our duties without delay or impediment and submit to myself and my officers and our commands. You will be released to continue upon your voyage as and when I am satisfied. Open your airlock and permit our embarcation."
Hemlock: Aware of his limited experience in handling a starship, Hemlock goes through the safety protocols methodically, with the accompanying radio chatter: "Aye, grapples secure this end, confirmed," and so on. Similar with the safety-critical airlock operation. Will their party come directly into the bridge, or are they coming via the cargo hold?
GM - (@Hemlock the main airlock access is directly onto the bridge.)
Hemlock: In that case, Hemlock greets then standing by the pilot's chair.  He's put on his big purple cloak for the occasion.
"Welcome aboard ma'am.  I, Hemlock Justinian, have the honour of presenting you to our Captain, the Marquis de Havilland Hawkwood."
GM - The figure before you reaches up and releases the latches on the helmet of their Vacuum suit. Lifting their headgear they reveal a stern faced but not unattractive woman in her late twenties-early thirties. She has a fair, almost palid, complexion, and sandy hair captured tightly behind her head in a pair of complex braids. Her appearance brings to mind the Valkyries of ancient Urth myth. 
Behind her are four other similarly vacuum suited individuals. All bear the sigil of House Hawkwood and are obviously armed.
Anton De Havilland: "Well...well..well if it isnt the Valkyrie of Tal-Umbra.  I haven't seen you since the last push on Byzantium. Last I saw of you, you were leading a group of reservists  to a enemy supply depot. That bloody awful "No-Chin Groper Gilchrist" sent you. We felt sure the place would be boibytrapped to hell. I heard he had tried to get too friendly and that you had given him the Hawkwood Hammer... How are you doing!"
GM - "The Valkyrie" looks Anton up and down.
"Do I know you? Did you serve as one of the yeoman militia? You should be aware that if you are find guilty of a crime or misdeed I you will need to plea your previous good service before the court, not me."
Anton De Havilland: De Havilland looks a little crestfallen, "We served together during the Emperor Wars. I was possibly going by the name Anton Hawkwood at the time. Since then I have had the pleasure to inherit a title as The Marquis De Havilland, Brither of Otto Hawkwood from Ravenna, a Phoenix Knight serving his royal excellency, our Imperial father The Emperor. Actually, (leans forward slightly to whisper) I am on my way to his Imperial majesty right now on an urgent errand"
GM - She pauses and squints slightly at the Marquis. Recollection starts to grow in her mind
"Anton? Is that really you? Dear fellow, I trust that you won't mind me saying that the years have not been kind. You look more like some wild-eyed,  bearded barbarian than the starched and disciplined young officer I knew. I expected this craft to be crewed by a mob of heathen Vuldrok and at first glance you did not disappoint!"
She now looks across the rest of the assembled bridge crew. She meets Hemlock's eyes with a curt nod, glances over Tabby and then her eyes fall on Ylanath...
"But what is this? You openly bring a Barbarian into our space!?" You see her entourage place their hands to their weapons... "This seems far too convenient now...You pilot a Vuldrok vessel to Hawkwood space with a Rune Bitch aboard! Do you take me for a fool? Have you been co-opted to deliver her to our lands? Are you her willing confident and a traitor to your House and the Emperor you profess to serve or are you her prisoner? Is she reponsible for your haggard demenour and haunted stare? Speak man! We may be your chance for deliverance!"
Her hand moves to her sword hilt...
Anton De Havilland: De Havilland pauses momentarily and drifts off for a mere few seconds. "Yes..., I remember that young wide-eyed officer. I was loyal to a fault then, and I still serve loyally today. You are right though, my ship and crew do need some explanation. I have been to Vuldrok space you see, Twilight originally but was then taken prisoner to Antioch. I have recently escaped in this vessel and am now heading back to Byzantium Secundus. I apologise for my appearance... the guests of the Paladindrax pay a heavy toll for their room and board.... and regarding our Vuldrok guests, well she is the reason why I was able to escape and am still able to serve today. But I understand your concern, my crew and I appear anything but honest travellers. Perhaps if you get to witness Vuldrok space in the service of our Emperor you will think more kindly on this old soldier"
GM - "Twilight? Antyock? Paladindrats? What on Holy Terra are you talking about? Not one of those sounds like a real place, let alone one a Pancreator-fearing son of House Hawkwood should been seen!"
Anton De Havilland:  De Havilland smiles to himself, " Ha... truly spoken.  How quickly I forget the rest of the empire never hear of such places. And yet it is our Emperor's will that in the years to come such places are as familiar to you as Leminkainen is today. And if my endeavours succeed and my errand to Byzantium proved faultless then perhaps one day I will see your ship pass to Twilight to do your duty in a strange place.  But concerning the Vuldrok did I not hear that they have lived in settlements here in peace for years?   For it is not well know that the Star Nation is not a single peoples but formed from many strands.  Perhaps in the Known Worlds this is not so commonly known.
Anton De Havilland: "But I forget myself. These places might sound like fancy to you but they are real. I have the scars to prove that. Even now though our investment into jumproutes to these places is in a desperate state. My business takes me to the capital where we hope to continue to support the growing empire. This crew you see here have been through many an ordeal and we hope to make our way to the capital to manage our affairs.  I did not choose a Vuldrok ship and to mark it with colours in order to secretly navigate Imperial worlds. It is such a trophy from places you are yet to see where amazing things might be possible in the years to come. For though I suffered on Antioch, there was majesty there too and wondrous things that would create such a story. "  Pulls a tiny knife from  a back sheath " This small instrument is used to cut the fruit from the stone on Antioch. The flesh of that fruit, I have yet to taste any better". Reaches to a small silver box  and opens it showing an orange yellow powder. "This spice they use in their cooking and I saw one woman rub it into a wound to heal". Such amazing things I have seen and we will all see one day I hope.
GM - "These objects, these tales, this all reeks of heresy and apostasy to me... I fear that you have been corrupted by the influence of these Barbarian worlds, and females such as that." She nods  her head toward Ylanath "Could it be that you have strayed too far, and for too long, from the glorious light of the Pancreator? Who is your confessor? What say they about your fruit knives and boxes of dust?"
Anton De Havilland: "Valiant questions." Pulls out his Imperial Seal. "And you would also say trinkets such as these can be prized from the hands of dead men too no doubt. " looks at it carefully as if mulling something over. "I do not blame you.  You are just a knight doing your duty.  I am the same.  We do not send out lone Questing Knights to conquer worlds single-handed. They are charged with opening up lost routes, to discover new things. Sometimes new things are for the New World and sometimes  they are for the Old World too, such as concerning Jumpgates. I can see you doubt my word here. You will know a Hawkwood can be prideful.  I have given you my testimony truthfully, and more than I would have given any  other inspection party.  Consider yourself fortunate.  I presumed you had wits to discern truth from false. Were you not also gifted this responsibility because you above your comrades were gifted with a mind to determine fact from lies or have I missed the mark? Does our family now trust not their own soldiers to make their own decisions.  Perhaps seeing a brightly decorated Vuldrok ship confuses you, or the fact that a Phoenix Knight, a man you recognise, in part, create such fear and alarm to 6 well armed warriors that you feel intimidated.
Have i mistakenly assumed your authority here, perhaps there is other who makes a decision  when faced with a righteous man. Look at this grizzled  face again and answer me this. Have I lied to you during our exchange? If yes, then I am at your mercy entirely.  But if no, and your wrath is because you dislike the answer, then that is another tale of your own making.  " Stands upright like the soldier he once was, " I am Anton Marquis De Havilland Hawkwood, Phoenix Knight This is my ship, seized in foreign lands and now returning to our capital in order that our mission to open jumproutes to the planets of Twilight and Antioch continue as instructed by my Emperor, his direct orders to me. Now, Valkyrie, protector of the planet of Leminkainen make your judgement.  Am I false? If you seize me and my crew I would like my holding cell to be near to your office, within earshot for when the full impact of your mistake can be heard. Make....your...judgement protector. Am I false. Yea, or nea?"
GM - The atmosphere on the bridge shifts immediately the moment Anton takes out his Imperial Seal. The Lady fixes her eyes on it and seems unable to remove them throughout the Marquis' eloquent speech. Her face seems to flicker through mixed and conflicting emotions; Hemlock sees what could be awe, frustration and perhaps even jealousy. 
Anton has played his hand and she cannot trump him. Not yet, in any case. A good soldier, a good Commander, knows when to retreat, when to consolidate and, if and when, to retaliate.
"My Lord.." she bows her head slightly. Her tone has returned to it's original cold formality. All hint of familiarity and wartime camaraderie has been curbed. "I trust that you will forgive me my...previous enthusiasm." 
She meets Anton's gaze once more "But I also trust that you and your...people...will not impede us in the conduct of the rest of our duties. While I cannot, nor would not, unduely impede the journey of a dutiful servant of the Emperor and cannot legally tax your passage, I still have a duty to my House to search your vessel. I am sure I need not remind you that you can be held accountable, even if only by your own Order's Court, for any contraband or illegal activity we discover."
Anton De Havilland: "Aye, you speak honestly. I would never hold a dutiful knight up in their charge.  Set your men to the task" Once the Hawkwoods are not seeing his face, MDH gives Ylanath and Mal and thoughtful look...
GM - "Jon" enters the bridge, mop and bucket in hand. He raises his eyes just enough to meet Anton's thoughtful glance and nods a brief "'scuse me sir." to Hemlock
Lady Guinevere's crew gets to work, two of them pushing past "Jon" to search deeper into the bowels of the ship. They don't give the yeoman a second glance. The Hawkwood captain glances after them and looks back to Anton. Then suddenly snaps back with a double take "MAL?!!?"
Mal: In a deep and broken voice:
"no, ma'am, name is Jonas Smithe, ma'am"
*begins rigorously scrubbing floor
GM - Her voice rising and breaking with emotion "Don't you dare try to evade me Malcolm! You owe me that much at least! I should have known our paths would cross again one day but I never expected it to be like this..."
Mal: With the fake voice slowly become more stereotypically Almalik:
"No, I'm just Jonas "Jon" Smithe the Yeoman...."
Mal: *mal begins slowly shuffling away
GM - "Will you really force my hand like this?" A tear appears in the corner of her eye. The Valkyrie waivers. She points at "Jon". "Seize him."
Mal: "fine fine, you got me"
grumble grumble
Mal: "what's the charge this time? Last time I checked, I've not done anything in your derestriction"
GM - "Really? You think my first concern is the crimes you have committed against our House? After all these years, after everything I went through with you, and because of you, you think that I am just going to slap you in irons and be done with it? Mal! Do you truly think me so callous? So unreasonable? So...much like you?"
Mal: "well, until recently i thought everyone was like me. And hey, if i can try and become a better person, who knows what anyone else is capable of. Even Anton is slowly becoming more like me"
GM - Lady Guinevere darts a look at Anton, then back at Mal.
"I suppose you have tricked the Emperor into swearing you into his company of errant knights too, have you?"
Mal: "no, not yet... But now you mention it, that's not a bad idea... :thinking:"
Anton De Havilland: Lady Guinevere, can I assume you know our deckhand? How is it that you went through an ordeal at his expense? Please explain to us what is occurring here?
GM - Her gaze is still transfixed on "Jon" 
"As he obviously has not been completely honest with your Lordship, I think it better if Sir Malcolm Hawkwood, Knight of our Royal House, were to explain. I am sure that the crew who have obviously and, I fear to say, ignorantly, taken you under their wing deserve to hear how we are "acquainted", don't you, Mal? "
Hemlock: "I fear the fault is mine.  On understanding that some of Sir Mal's family think ill of him, I recommended that he don a less conspicuous guise.  I have known him always as a stalwart companion, and I would not wish my poor advice to cause him further trouble."
Mal: "Well you see, quite awhile before any of the other stories I might have told you, before becoming the 'black sheep' I am today, me and Guinevere where kind of... that is to say we... courted each other. Well, I did most of the courting, since I was training to take my father's place in the courts some day at the time (2 drums and a cymbal). It was great fun... but at the time, the rash young man I was becoming, that's all I ever thought it was. After I finished studying, I went off to Ravenna, it was nearby on a planetary scale relatively speaking. " 
Turning to look Guinevere in the eyes, "I left you a lovely heartfelt note, and a pretty good portrait. I'd been drawing that for months... I told you I'd come back, I just got caught up. My 1 year trip turned into 2, and then I fell in with the wrong crowd and got kind of stuck there. That's why I'm here, now, to try and get stuff back to how the could have been, how they should have been. For what it's worth, finding you was top of my list. I wouldn't have dreamt of going back to my father before I'd patched everything up with you. And look, as soon as I can smooth things over, I'd wanna make things right between us. After all, my intentions were for me to encounter you again after having sorted out my record..."
GM - Guinevere meets and holds Mal's gaze. Her troops pause, awaiting a fresh or revised orders. One has already grabbed Mal by the arm. Still staring at him her shoulders seem to drop slightly.
"You really expect me to believe that? To accept that you intended to return? That I was on your schedule of loose ends and unfinished business? You flatter me. If I for a single second believed it...well, duels have been fought for less of an insult."
There is a weariness and frustration in her voice, as if speaking to a child who has spilt milk over the nursery floor and sits in it playing, not realising what a mess they have made.
"Do you even know what you left in your wake? How your disgrace affected your family? Your actions broke your father, he is a shadow of his former granduer and his lands, such as remain, lie in ruin. But you know what upset him the most? He could explain your misdemenaours, your crimes and actions; which young knight hasn't had a time of excess and adventure? While many would say that you took things beyond that which was excusable he would always seek to defend you publically, no matter how tenuous or damaging to his own honour and standing. What wounded him to the core, what broke him was the news of your  excommunication. The fact that the Pancreator's grace had been withdrawn from you, that you were, that you are a souless creature, damned for all eternity...that tore that great man to shreads."
Mal: "Are you calling me a liar?!"
Shaking his arm free of the troops grip as best he can.
"You're right, duels have been fought for less. If you think me a liar, I will duel to defend my honour. I may be the black sheep, I may be excommunicated, but hawkwood blood still flows through these veins!"
GM - "Calm down Malcolm, You are a liar. A known liar by reputation and action. Why do you think your family treat you as such? I will not dishonour you further by beating you in a duel that holds no offence as it's foundation."
"You say that you have changed, Mal? That you are no longer that man and your Justinian associate speaks up for you on that basis. But you aren't the only one who has changed over these years."
"Perhaps I should thank you? You left me in a situation where I was also cast out. If even "Black Mal" had cast me aside what value was I to any other suitor? My reputation was as tarnished as your own. But I swore to overcome it - I plunged into my duties and obligations to our House as never before."
"Anton has seen me on the battlefield, he can bear witness to the fury I would unleash upon our enemies before you deserted me, that is as to nothing compared to how I learned to conduct myself in my quest to regain the good favour of my House. Duty has become all to me. "
"If I leave you aboard this vessel what would you have me tell your Father? Or your child?"
Anton De Havilland: "Child! The rabbit hole goes further than the arm can reach!"
Mal: " Well, I intended on meeting with my father whilst on Byzantium Secondus, if he is still there and... wait what?!?"
GM - "Yes Malcolm, three lines of second hand poetry and a sketch from your collection of generic female studies wasn't all you left me with.
But do not worry, I never kept your existence from them, they know exactly who and what you are and have shouldered that burden throughout their young life. "
Mal: "Well i can't argue with the poetry thing,  but that sketch was the genuine article. And believe, I'd pour every firebird I have into fixing what I've done if not for the fact that as it stands I'd be doing more harm than good. Look, if I can get to the right people, I can convince them that I've changed. I've got a cunning plan. What the worst that could happen? If i go talk to my father, then you don't have to. If my plan works, you get your honour back. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't impact you, since De Havilland has already 'apprehended me' and therefore it isn't your duty to take me in"
GM - Steel returns to her eyes
"As always you aren't listening to me! I restored my honour! Me, and me alone! I bought it back with blood, sweat and tears and worked my way up from disgrace to the captaincy of a Galliot. That was all my labour, the fruits of my toil. Don't you dare to belittle that by implying that you will swoop in and become my long lost saviour. As for apprehending you, well that falls to the Marquis here." 
She turns to Anton, anger still evident but currently reigned in by professionalism and years of habitual restraint.
"Your Lordship Marquis De Havilland Hawkwood, Knight of the Order of The Phoenix, is this man under your auspice and do you extend sanctuary to him until such time as he is brought to court or dealt with by your own discretion, with the powers extended by your liege Lord, House and Order, understanding that he is under sanction from the Holy Orthodox church, has had all sacrements and blessings withdrawn, that his soul is damned and excluded from the Luminous Glory and that such spiritual matters are excluded from the authority of powers temporal?"
Anton De Havilland: De Havilland grabs a metal support running crossways above his head, and leans forward gently. The figure of De Havilland fills the small passageway between the cockpit and the body of the ship. The faces in the room watch him closely as the grizzled soldier thinks through his next words carefully.
Anton De Havilland:  "I am sure that I can take Jon...Mal...into safeguarding until such times that he can account for his wrongdoings. I would like to know the full account of the crimes he has committed though so that I can deliver a full account of them if asked. The excommunication in particular is worth knowing more of since, as you state, we are in a Vuldrok ship with a foreigner aboard. Understanding the full accounting  for our deckhand  would seem wise now, rather than at a point when the truth of it is bearing down upon the whole crew."
Anton De Havilland: "In addition... if Mal has committed wrongs to your family... and to your...........child.......I would actively seek a means for him to account for that in such a way that your own pride in your own actions remains intact, but that this child should not be wronged in their own life and be forfeit in any regards because of circumstance. I would want to ensure that things there are put in good order, so that when all emotions have cooled that there is a sense that right has been restored.  This seems righteous and just.
"If our Lady agrees to accept that Mal would seek to make some amends, if this be agreeable in principle then let me then hear the full fallout concerning the deeds and misdemeanor of our black sheep"
GM - The Lady nods.
"I appreciate the gesture and I begin to see the measure of Your Lordship's character. You are more a son of House Hawkwood than your unconventional attire and company would have had me believe.
As for our child, they are well cared for, but I see them only infrequently. It has ever been the way that duty has drawn loyal servants away from their loved ones..."
She pauses, casts a swift dark glance at Mal and then continues
"While I know some of what Malcolm has been accused of I fera that the full extent was never revealed to me as I was placed under the same dark shadow and thought a co-conspiritor. Added to which I doubt that the crimes stopped after he fled my bedchamber. I propose that he gives us his own full account. I for one would be interested to hear it..."
Mal: "I guess it's time I tell the full story. You may wanna take a seat as this may take awhile."
Mal proceeds to perch on the nearest chair/table.
"My father wanted me well educated, so I could take his position in the family when the time came. As a result I spent all my tutelage in the courts. For a time I was a decent duellist as well. Eventually it became appropriate for me to begin courting, and at the time the status I was to inherit made attracting ladies fairly easy. That's why I began courting Guinevere. She was the only one not to flock to dashing looks and sharp wit. After my time in the courts was finished, I decided to travel a little. See the known worlds beyond Byzantium Secundus. Ravenna seemed like a sensible place. I'd heard it was nice, had good vineyards. On a planetary scale it wasn't that far off as I said before. So, with the promise to return in a year after having my fun, take my duties to my lady and house seriously, I left.
I arrived on Ravenna and quickly took to the local courts. Having found out where my closest cousins on the planet were, I'd arranged to stay with them for a little while, at least to start with. I didn't take part in the local politics. I spent most of my time drinking and learning more about my expanded family. It was like one big bachelor party... but with it came the worlds biggest and longest hangover. One night, in the pub, when visiting Deep Core 104 about 5 or 6 months in, I met this... guy. He bought me a few drinks, told me I had a "special gift". He knew I had it, because he had it too. I mean, I'd always suspected something, hearing all these stories about psychic stigmas, never wanted to believe that my..." Mal gestures to his chest "... was one such stigma, but something had always seemed off so I thought 'what the hell, I'll humour him'. He told me where and when to meet him, and I complied."
Mal:  "He introduced me to his coven, what I later learned was the invisible path, and they told me they could teach me to do 'great things' and that it was 'my calling from the universe' and the egotist I am, I lapped it up. They showed me what I could do, taught me how to use my 'gift' and then I realised I'd been on Ravenna almost 2 years. By this point, I later found out, rumours of me abandoning my family started. I decided I'd leave, come back to Byzantium Secundus. But then they told me 'the truth'. They sat me down and fed me lies of how the church was manipulating to repress psychics. How it was up to people like me, who could detect psychics, to defend them. How I was suited for 'the coming conflict' where my ability to deflect psychic abilities would be invaluable to them. They convinced me I was needed there. So I penned a letter. Nothing to specific, but to inform my family I had 'found a needing cause' with specific instruction to relay the information to Guinevere and so they knew I'd be back in a year or so at most... If only it had been that simple. See, the Invisible Path liked my status. I helped them sneak some people into places, sneak people out. There were quite a few nobles there and we all helped shepherd their members around. I grew to like a life in the shadows. It gave me a great adrenaline rush and I could still keep up the drinking and parties. But then... then they abducted a priest... He was an Orthodox priest called father Lewellen. They branded him, beat him, flayed him. And then they handed me a knife." Flicking his wrist, Mal's knife falls out of his sleeve. "I knew what I had to do and I knew I didn't want to do it. But I still did it. As I looked at him, the pleading in his eyes... he wanted me to end it, and a part of me didn't want to give him the satisfaction. But for the sake of both of us I knew I had to. They left his body out so it would be found, not to lead it back to us, just to scare the church a bit."
Mal: "Let them know they were there. We weren't Invisible anymore. I learnt the gravity of my situation and actions that night. How many penitent psychers who wouldn't join us and how many non-psychers that 'looked at a member funny' had been killed. And how many of those deaths I'd help facilitate. 
That night, for the first night in 3 years since coming to Ravenna, I prayed. I prayed for forgiveness. Not for just for what I did, but for what I was going to do. I did everything I could to climb their ranks. They may have not agreed with the church, but killing, killing a defenceless priest, that wasn't what I'd signed up to. You can't just walk away from these people, so I'd take them down from the inside. I couldn't focus on my house or family, this is all that mattered, this was all that had to matter. The higher the rank, the more important the tasks I was given. I wasn't able to save many, but where I could I helped prisoners or would be victims escape. Thanks to them, my name stayed out the radar for quite some time. Every accusation had enough members on the defence to back down. I kept up my persona as a drinker and gambler, adopting this black sheep identity, so that my blatant disregard for my house was within character. The Invisible path just thought I was doing a good job selling my story. I had no idea the apparent effect this had at home.
Unfortunately however, after being in the Invisible path for 6 years (6 and a half years on Ravenna), I learnt two horrific details. The alarm bell that made the hangover worse ten times over. Number 1: This had just been 1 cell. Sure, I was highly ranked within the Invisible Path on Ravenna, but off world? Off world the identity and location of any other cells was unknown to me. My great plan, what I'd thrown my life and, as I've now learnt, the lives of my family away for, would be nothing more than a footnote in the story of the Invisible Path."
Mal: "Number 2: I learnt quite unfortunately that a member of my cell had done a better job than me, and had been conspiring with the church.
Many coven members died, others were arrested. I was locked up in a church prison for psychic. Knowledge that I was of notable standing was all that was needed, combined with their spies testimony, for the church to excommunicate me. Of course, the specifics were not knowledge to everyone, but who needs specifics in this sort of situation. I must have spent about a year in that prison, everyday thinking about Father Lewellen. I pleaded for the church to get a penitent psycher to scan my mind, see the truth to my story, but when you a suspected murderer that murmurs the name of your first victim, people think you're a crazy psychopath. I managed to escape, barter my way back to the deep cores and seek sanctuary with family members. I conned some cash and resources, before bumping into De Haviland and Hemlock here as well as another psychic called sir Hasamir Torrenson. I set about trying to find any other escapees, thinking I could at least clean up Ravenna since leaving the planet wouldn't be feasible. Then I had an incident in a deep core... a conversation with a priest escalated and well... to say I'd never be convicted due to lack of evidence would be an understatement. I was haunted by Father Lewellen yet again, and deservedly so. But still wanted to round up any other coven members I could find, maybe hand them in and clear my name. Well I eventually got recognised and had to go on the run, ruining that plan, until I had the luck of being able to journey to Twilight, the lost world. I had sir Hasimir keep tabs on the one member of my coven I'd been able to locate, since he was a mutual friend, and I left again."
"Years later, here I am. Of course I skipped the part with alien and decados assassins, and psychic ghosts, but surprisingly none of that was my fault...
This sensible and serious side of me probably comes as quite a shock to you De Haviland after all these years, all those debts you owe me..."
"That's my story. I must have been away about 11 or 12 years now... Recounting this now, I can see why you see my actions as irredeemable, why you would think me to still be lying. And De Haviland... I need to stop hiding behind you, I've done so for two many years now.
I've lived the life of a noble, a pirate, a gambler, a drunk, a vigilante... of sorts... and a duellist. I've run a foul of every major faction at least once. I've had great friends and found love.
I guess what I'm saying is, for the first time, I've shown my hand. All my cards are on the table. No lies, not this time. It's not worth it anymore... If I'm reaching my end, then it was a jolly good run."
Mal turns to meet Guinevere's gaze.
"I just want you to know, I truly cared for you, and I wanted to come back, but even if I had it wouldn't have been safe, for either of us."
Mal: Mal takes off his sheathes, holsters and weapons. Fiddling with the knife in his hand he hesitates, before putting it down where he's been perching and whispering to himself, "I'm sorry Father", before stepping towards Guinevere with his wrists held out towards her, ready to be shackled.
"If you grant me no other favours, grant me this one: Can I at least know their name?"
Anton De Havilland: De Havilland exhaled a deep breath in shock and looks to Guinevere
GM - Time seems frozen. Guinevere doesn't take her eyes from Mal. One of her guards shifts somewhat uneasily.
GM - The Lady eventually breaks the impasse. Without taking her eyes from Mal she speaks;
"If your Lordship will grant us leave for a moment and a space within your vessel where we may have some privacy I believe there are some matters I need to discuss with Sir Malcolm. Would you please excuse us and direct us to a suitable location aboard?"
Anton De Havilland: "Of course..." replies De Havilland. "Mal, why  dont you go below deck to the storage bay. Plenty of space down there and we can seal the hatch for privacy?"
GM - Guinevere lets Mal, still unbound, go first and follows him to the access hatch. As she passes one of her men she subvocalizes but none of the cadre catch what she says. After they have climbed down below deck, one of her guards closes the hatch and stands guard over it. Another Hawkwood marine stands guard at the bridge airlock and the other two turn to face the Marquis. Lifting the visor of their vacuum suit helm one asks
"Shall we continue with the search, your Lordship?"
Anton De Havilland: "By all means..." gestures De Havilland sweeping his arms open
GM - The Marine nods and gestures to his companion. They start at the fore of the ship and work their way to the aft, opening every cupboard, compartment and container. They are thorough and comprehensive, having done this to hundreds of previous vessels.Ylanath looks furtively at Anton...
Anton De Havilland: "So I wonder what is going on downstairs? Just imagine having that kind of conversation with someone you haven't met for years.  I couldnt even begin to fathom what else might be going on.  Hey, here's a thought. Do you think it might be wise leaving a captain alone with a confessing psychic and murderer. I mean what if my captain went off for a confab with someone like that and something happened to them. I wouldn't want to be that soldier. I've met guys like that. I bet they send guys like that to back-world planets that have a high incident of Symbiot attack.  Nasty little blighters those those symbiots. Can turn a soldier inside out in seconds. Nah, I wouldn't want that to happen. I'd probably insist on being present with my captain with my helmet plate up so I could see her and not hear anything...Yes sir... that would be the smart thing to be doing...".
GM - The marine continues rummaging through an overheard storage locker.
"Indeed that is so your Lordship, I served a term alongside my lady on garrison duty on Stigmata and we fought those beasts side by side. I am unfortunately well aquainted with the horrors that they are capable of."
He stops his search and looks straight at Anton. As they lock eyes the Marquis can't help but catch a glimpse of a deadness behind them, a lingering footprint of the man's experiences in the field.
"But then again, your lordship, I am also well versed in the horrors that my Lady is capable of."
Anton De Havilland: "Then I hope Mal survives his chat'
GM - "I believe that outcome may rest with My Lady, and obviously the Pancreator's will. Perhaps a prayer might  be suitable, your lordship?"
Anton De Havilland: I would pray for his soul but the poor creature has been excommunicated, but it is good to have hope and faith that he may find the right path again.  So you have served on Stigmata, I have heard terrible things from there. Without the good work you delivered their soldier, our empire would already be overrun. Personally I haven't had the pleasure of meeting that enemy face to face but we have enemies enough within the Known Worlds.
"So... tell me about your captain? She seems as tough as they come these days.  Do you know of all the campaigns she has served in?  Personally I liked her from the moment we first met. One of the men i was serving with got overly confident with her. She put him straight right there and then. No nonsense. Did her job well and worked damn hard at it too.'MDH will keep the soldier engaged in case Ylanath needs to do anything discreet. MDH had asked her not to bring anything incriminating to the known worlds and so if she is looking nervous then he will be concerned..."
GM - The marine continues his work with polite, non-committal responses. De Havilland gets the impression that the memory of Stigmata may have brought on this laconic state.
Anton and Hemlock hadn't noticed that Ylanath had slipped away from the bridge until she reappears. Anton can't help but notice that she looks pale and seems to whince as she sits in one of the chairs on the bridge. He recalls her words to him back on Antioch; "...there is always a price to pay. Always there is a sacrifice..."
GM - About two hours pass. The marines seem unpreturbed and just continue with their search. They occasionally ask questions about the nature of certain items, in a manner that could be described as "respectfully probing". They operate with the authority of their Captain but they show appropriate deference to the Marquis and a knight of House Justinian.
Finally the relative quiet of the ship is disturbed by the heavy metal clang of the cargo bay hatch opening. Lady Guieneve emerges.
GM - She barks, "Sergeant-at-arms! Have you found anything that merits delaying the Marquis and his crew any further?"
"No, m'lady. There are items of a rare and valuable nature but nothing that presents an immediate danger to House Hawkwood, given the Privelage of Martyrs."
"Very well." She nods to Anton and extends her hand "Your Lordship, we will bid you safe passage and wish you the blessings of the Pancreator on your future journey."
Anton De Havilland: The airlock doors groan and slam shut. A harsh crunching noise confirms that they are fully locked in place, followed soon after by a fierce and unrelenting hiss. The Marquis turns round to the solemn figure of Mal and takes a deep breath. "Right...well...sort yourself out and then meet the rest of us upstairs....when you are ready." The Marquis hesitates for a moment as if unsure of whether he should say or do something more to support his cousin but he isnt sure whether that would be right or not. He heads back to the access steps and briefly reaches out to remove the storage bay medkit from his holdings.  Clamping the bag under his left arm he climbs to the upper decks.
Hemlock catches sight of The Marquis as he climbs up through the access hatch.  They exchange a tentative look as the Marquis carefully steps through the cramped walkway tand approaches the cockpit.  He throws the medkit into an empty seat and leans on the cockpit door. Hemlock looks a little confused for a moment but then remembers something importantand immediatelyasks "How is he ?"
Hemlock: De Havilland takes a deep breath. "Honestly,  I have no idea."
"I wonder how old his child is," Hemlock frowns, "And what they have been told about him.  Ought we leave him awhile?"
De Havilland pauses again and weighs up the options. He isn't sure. This event was beyond any he had expected from Mal. No knowing how he will react. "Maybe ... pay him a visit?" questions The Marquis.
Hemlock peers back at the bulkhead door, then throws his cloak off onto the pilot's seat and stalks out. In leaving, he sees the medkit get rolled out flat; De Havilland reaches out and pulls the cockpit door closed....
Ylanath meets Anton's gaze.
"You do not need that."
Hemlock: Hemlock finds Mal down in the cargo bay [let me know if that's wrong Harry].  He doesn't say anything, but curls up cross-legged on a nearby cargo crate and sits in silence.
Mal: "well, that definitely could have gone worse..."
Hemlock: "Where is your family?  Which planet?"
Mal: "Well, when I last spoke to them, and from what Guinevere tells me, they are still on Leminkainen."
Hemlock: "Then, you could see your child." Hemlock looks searchingly at Mal, but he's never been good at reading people.  "Are they healthy?  Are they safe?"
Mal: "I've been told, they're ok. Guinevere want's me to follow through with my promises before she'll let me see them though."
Hemlock:  "Oh," Hemlock frowns, "I suppose that's understandable.  So what do we need to do first to complete your promises?"
Mal: "first, I need to atleast talk to my father. And at some point I'm going to have to patch things up with the church... Some how..."
Hemlock: "The church?" he scowls. "I always thought excommunication a ridiculous concept.  The thought that an omnipotent Pancreator, if they or it exists, would decide the fate of your soul because some old man in a robe declared it, seems preposterous.  But if Guinevere wishes it, you need not face the church alone."  Hemlock slides off the crate, and, before leaving, briefly lays a hand on Mal's shoulder.  "I hear the church can be swayed by donations, if nothing else."

Monday, 22 June 2020

Session forty-five

There was a lot of in character planning and discussion in this session so the below doesn't accurately reflect everything as it happened but it does provide the outcomes:

The cadre enjoy the hospitality of Anton's manor for a further day as they review Hasimir's activities in their absence. Part of this involves a meeting with the elders of the village and Anton speaks with them at some length about what has been happening in and around Austrum in his absence.

Eventually they decide it is a time to continue on their journey and bid farewell to Bretoph and Maria. 

Their next stop is the community of veterans and the St Lexitus Academy on Bredonia where Anton has some unfinished business (see the previous Bredonia post for details of what transpires). After this Hemlock pilots the ship to the spaceport at the civic capital of Suryada. While there Hemlock and Mal negotiate with a Charioteer captain to allow them use of his jump key (by docking with his ship and "piggy backing" through the gate) to get to Leminkanen in exchange for a letter of referral and introduction to Corteaz and the route to Twilight. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Session forty-four

Keats brings the Innocent Pursuit in to land on Ravenna. Anton notes that there is a lack of anti-air fire compared to the last time he flew over his home islands. However clouds of dust, smoke and particulate matter seem to cover his siblings' lands.

Keats surprises the rest of the group by dressing and carrying themselves as Sir Hemlock once again.

The cadre land near the village of Havilland and are soon met by a small group of local militia armed with spears. The Marquis engages them but they do not believe he is who he says he is. These are suspicious times; the local Regent (Sir Hasimir) has recently left in a hurry and De Havilland was mostly and absentee landlord.

Sirs Mal and Hemlock are able to talk the Militia down and the cadre eventually make their way to the Marquis' estate. Once there they meet with Anton's trusted steward and his wife, the house keeper. They are overcome with joy at the return of their master and do all they can to make them comfortable.

The housekeeper makes up beds for the cadre and Anton and Ylanath share a bed chamber.  Bretoph the steward mutters that he knew she was his "bit of fluff".

Hemlock returns to the ship to check on Tabby but the Ur Obun refuses to come to the house, claiming that the lack of invitation is typical of how their race is treated.

The Cadre checked over the fief's ledgers and the records that Sir Hasimir had kept. The discover that while Hasimir left with a lot of valuables, including at least one heirloom of family significance the records indicate that he did a good job of stewardship and saw the fief through a very trying time. Hemlock and De Havilland were left with the impression that Hasimir had done his best to protect the fief and it's people from the demands of war.  Discussions with Bretoph also established that Hasimir left just after the viral weapons had been detonated.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Session forty-three

After possibly too long a hiatus we have returned...with a view to providing a final chapter in the trials and tribulations of Dame Arcadia Justinian before the release of Fading Suns: Pax Alexius and we step into a new age...

While we may fill in more details of what has happened since we last met our cadre over time or in future posts (and yes, I never did write up session forty-two) it's enough for now to say that just over four years have passed. It is mid-5008. Sir Hemlock (now just Keats) and the Marquis De Havilland had an accidental and lengthy excursion across Kurgan and Vuldrok space, visiting a series of lost worlds while trying to return to Twilight. They returned about six months ago and were reunited with Sir Mal Hawkwood and the Charioteer Corteaz. They bring with them a travelling companion in the form of a female Vuldrok warrior by the name of Ylanath and both have been changed by their experiences.

In the meantime, while not operating independently, Corteaz' operation is turning a profit (both in direct trade and also fees relating to using the Jump Key, consultancy fees, commission for introductions to potential contacts on Twilight etc.). The Citadel is still a threat and travel to and from the Jump Gate and Twilight is dangerous, however ships don't travel alone and Corteaz' crew are becoming experts in the Abwehr fleet's tactics. Mal has been acting against type and has been every bit the noble, doing all he can to support the expedition in the absence of his cousin, De Havilland. 

As we begin the cadre have been summoned together by Corteaz. Keats and De Havilland have yet to travel far beyond the Ravenna side of the Twilight Jump Gate since their return but have been familiarizing themselves with the "mercantile expedition". In fact Keats has been making himself useful in whatever capacity Corteaz required.

The Charioteer, to his credit, seems both relieved and overjoyed to have his old friend back with him.

It soon becomes apparent that not all is well with the flamboyant Corteaz. He narrates how his financial backer, banker and agent, a Reeve from Byzantium Secundus is no longer responding to messages and the flow of funds has stopped. While he can keep the operation going "cash in hand" for now he still owes his "backers" for both his ship (the San Paulus) and the Twilight gate key and the lack of communication concerns him greatly.

He begs the cadre, knowing that they may be reluctant to return to the Known Worlds for their own reasons, to investigate what has happened. They all agree.

During their journeys the Marquis "acquired" a Vuldrok explorer starship and they prep this for their journey. Keats will act as pilot while an Ur-Obun guilder of Corteaz' acquaintance will serve as the ship's engineer (and contribute some additional Think Machine skills to the group).

Ylanath and De Havilland discuss his return and whether she will accompany him. She seems to toy with him somewhat but there is obviously a deeper, if complex, relationship between them.

The travel is relatively uneventful, they witness an skirmish with Citadel forces but the San Paulus, which is escorting them as an "honour guard" soon scares off the raiders. Keats has witnessed at first hand that that Corteaz' ship and crew now have a reputation amongst the enemy forces.

Once through the gate the cadre fly to Ravenna orbit and dock with a geostationary station. They seek news from the planet below and are able to find out some of what has been happening in their absence.

The most shocking piece of news is from the conflict on the Austram isles (the lands belonging to De Havilland's warring siblings). In recent days a Weapon of Mass Destruction (possibly an Atomic device) was discharged, seemingly by Count Otto's forces. This has sent a ripple of shock through out the local nobility and hostilities have fallen into an uneasy ceasefire. Tensions are high and the Amaltheans of Sanctuary Aeon, who were already a noticeable presence in the conflict, have been very vocal in their protests while also doing all they can to alleviate the suffering in the aftermath of the attack.

When it was known that De Havilland had returned to Twilight he received news from Sir Hasimir (who was acting as his regent) about his fief and lands. Upon arrival at Ravenna he is sent a more recent epistle from his old House Torrenson ally. It appears that Hasimir has fled for a new assignment, taking his ship "The Endless Turn", and a significant amount of "gifts" from De Havilland's estate. The cadre wonder if this is in any way related to the WMD.

The cadre are left to debate whether they ought to set foot on Ravenna again or just head to Byzantium Secundus.