Monday 7 September 2020

Interlude - Keats epilogue

 Last night was bad.  Chastity’s wife woke her with urgent hisses in a language that Chastity didn’t understand but is beginning to recognise as Antiochian.  Chastity let herself be led out through the house, hand clasped tight, slipping silent as her wife who carried a sword in her free hand and watched every dark corner and alcove.  Chastity ensured the guards stayed clear.  Then they came out under the trees, and the smell of night-orchids and damp earth, and Chastity’s wife looked around confused, then embarrassed, and let Chastity led her back to bed.

Chastity wipes condensation from the tall bathroom mirror.  It takes a while.  Then she stands back beside her wife and points at her wife’s reflection.

“This is you.”

Chastity’s wife stares at herself, like studying a map of a strange land.  The scars aren’t confined to her face.  Nor are the tattoos anymore: one in Urthish script coiling down her side from shoulder to knee.  Her name, in mirror-writing so that it reads clearly on her reflection. 

She points to one scar on her stomach, frowns, “That was Yannis Three-Fingers.  He gained his freedom too – we got drunk together once – but he didn’t know what to do outside the arena.  He was hung, I think.”

A memory, new to Chastity and lucid.  Chastity rests an arm around her wife’s shoulders.

Her wife stares at herself in the mirror, “This is me.”


“Will I ever have my first mate back?” Cortez walks through the garden beside Chastity.

“She is broken.  She has been broken several times before, and pieced some semblance of herself back together out of necessity, but fragile.  Now, we will help her to do it properly.  It will take time.”

“And she is married to you.  Whenever Keats was noticed by the ladies, he – she – always evaded their attention.  Does she… like ladies?”

“I don’t think she knows herself.  But marriage and sex are not the same thing.  We may take lovers,” Chastity’s smile suggests it might not be that simple, though it could as easily be to tease him.

“Are there subjects I should avoid?”

“No.  Just be patient with her,” Chastity glances up.

Then someone is beside them.  They’d dropped from the tree, but so suddenly and quietly that they seem instead to rise out of the grass.  Unadorned blue cloak that, in crouching, had fanned out and now pulls in; black hair; katana held by its sheath in one hand.

“Mal?!?” but it isn’t.  The hair is dyed, the face scarred and tattooed.  Even the eyes are wrong: now amber.  “Keats!”

Chastity addresses her wife calmly, “Who are you today?”

“Lady Patience Keats Decados.”

“Good.  Then shall I look after that?” Chastity holds out her hand, and Patience passes her the katana: it’s Mal’s.  To Cortez, “I’ll leave her in your care.”

“Do you have news?” Patience demands as soon as Chastity turns away.

“What about?”


“No.  I am sorry.”

Patience stares at Cortez.  She’d never seen him among trees before, always in ships or spaceports or cities.  He is out of context.  She’s still for a moment, tense, processing the transposition.  Then she grins, hugs him, picks him up and spins.  That’s new.

“Patience Decados?” when he is set down.

“All the other names were tangled.”


“There is nothing left for me in the Justinians.  Only bitterness.  Hemlock,” she says the name as if testing it out, “joined the Decados on his marriage and renounced his Justinian claim.  Though sooner or later someone will notice that the marriage documents all say Tigerlily.  And it simplified my illegitimate inheritance.  I’m sure cousin Suki will do a better job than my father when he dies.”

“And your eyes –” Cortez touches her cheek.

“I can see colour again!” Patience beams, “Though that waistcoat looked better in monochrome.”

“I always liked the blue,” wistful, “I thought they were beautiful.”

“Dead men’s eyes,” Patience frowns, “I considered green, but no-one else had amber eyes.  When I look in the mirror, I see myself,” all stated plainly, undisturbed, as if normal people had trouble with their own reflection.

“What has become of Keats?”

“Hemlock,” she pauses, struggles, “was a lie.  Tigerlily-on-Antioch was a delusion, sort-of, though she’s still part of me.  Keats is part of me too, maybe the biggest part.  You can call me that if you want: it won’t trigger a seizure,” a slight smile.  She’s teasing him, which seems a good sign, or perhaps a fleeting moment of lucidity.  Remembering something, she pulls a ring from her pocket: the nose-ring she’d worn since Antioch, “Can you look after this for me please?”

“Of course,” he pockets it.

They walk under the trees, old friends chatting.  She slips her hand in his.  It’s warm and callused.  While it surprises him, it seems to please her to have that contact.  It’s a while before he realises that it’s her left hand so her right is free to draw – she wears Keats’ knives – and she knows where he is without looking.

Friday 28 August 2020

Session fifty - The Finale

Mal and Ylanath are confronted by the inquisitor, Father Torquemada. Mal attempts to direct the blame at Sir Ali and accuses him of psychic powers and antimony but the priest seems to be having none of it. Mal is a known recidivist and has been excommunicated by the church, he appears to be the guilty party here. Threatened with the priest's flame gun Mal lays his swords on the table.

Ylanath and Mal are not alone though; Pandemonium Max has been sat across the room and come over to the table. He tries to calm the situation with intimidation but Torquemada is not an easy man to sway from his path and things look set to turn violent.... 

Meanwhile in Sir Ali's apartment Hemlock's mother, the Baroness Esmeraldas welcomes her son and begs him to stop all this foolishness and sit alongside her. Hemlock coldly refuses, demands that she call off the inquisition and when she refuses, strikes her with his frap stick, penetrating the shield she wears.

In the cafe, while Mal laid his swords aside, he still has a knife and he strikes at Torquemada, pinning his hand to the table. Max then headbutts the priest and they subdue Sir Ali, her promises to sign a full confession and provide them with the evidence they need if they end his life quickly rather than handing him to the church for punishment. They agree (although they fully intend to hand him to the "mercies" of the church) and then hastily take him and Torquemada out of the shop.

The apartment is in uproar, Anton and Chastity make short work of the Baroness' guards while Hemlock tries to reason with his mother. She admits that the attack on his uncle's estate when Hemlock and Tiger-Lily were children was punishment on her husband and his brother after they tried to take too much of a cut and cheat the Al Malik's over the illicit artefact smuggling. She fully condoned the attack as, in her mind Tochiro Justinian needed to know his place. It was unfortunate but necessary, but at least her son survived. Hemlock tries to tell her that her son did not in fact survive and that "he" is Tiger-lily and has been all along. She doesn't accept it initially but comes to see the truth. She is bitter and outraged and with venom on her lips Tiger-Lily stikes her again, mortally wounding her. As Anton clears up the guards, Mal, Max and Ylanath arrive while Chastity comforts Tiger-lily as she slowly suffocates her mother, ensuring that she is dead.

With the evidence they need to clear Chastity and Sir Mercucio and the revelation of Count Innocence's involvement meaning he can now invest directly in Corteaz' endeavours the cadre can rest, comfortable that their mission in complete. 

Sir Ali's evidence also clears the charges of smuggling and the "Innocent Pursuit" is released to the Marquis de Havilland once more.

In a final coda Tiger-Lily asks Chastity where they stand now in respect of their engagement. Chastity says that she is her dearest friend and that has not changed. She comes from a noble House where people change physically all the time so she has come to look at the person for who they are, not what they present to the world. She has no closer friend, no one she trusts greater and cannot imagine anyone she would rather have as a partner than Tiger-Lily, or Keats. Keats agrees and thet board Chastity's ship, hand in hand. 

Session forty-nine

Having decided that their next step is to try to obtain evidence of Sir Ali Em Sabu Al Malik's involvement in the conspiracy to implicate Chasitity and Mercucio in antimony, the cadre set out for the city of Archeon.  

They sneak out of Ost, late at night, hidden in the back of a wagon. They head out of the city and into the woods where Chastity's ship is hidden. Boarding the ship they take off and enter low orbit, avoiding Al Malik patrols and sensor sweeps and descending back down to the planet in the hills near Archeon.

Come morning the cadre make their way into the city and locate the fief, and city block where Sir Ali abides. They decide to try to lure him out with a note pretending to come from Sir Hasimir and alluding to knowledge of the Ravenna covens. Mal and Ylanath will meet Ali in a nearby coffee shop while Anton, Hemlock and Chastity plan to gain access to his apartment and search for incriminating evidence.

The note appears to work and Ali heads to the coffee shop. Anton uses his status as a Phoenix Knight to get past the building concierge and they make their way up to Ali's apartment.

As Ali sits down it is obvious he knows who Mal is. He is also accompanied by a priest he introduces as Father Torquemada. Mal begins to realise that Ali's psychic gift of Omen has allowed him some sense of what they planned. He is prepared for them.

When Hemlock, Anton and Chastity enter the apartment they discover an occupant lounging on the couch; Hemlock's mother; the Baroness Esmeraldas Al Malik Justinian...

Interlude - Chastity's warehouse cont.

Hemlock: "Sir Ali seems our obvious first lead.  Sir Mercucio tells us that Sir Ali has a place in the capital, Archeon, but he's known to visit family and his club on Ravenna, and often travels the Jumpweb to secure things for his collection.

"The obvious step is to investigate his home in Archeon, as we might find something of interest there.  Other options are to contact or investigate the Ravenna coven, that is, if Mal can find a way to them.  More complex still, we could present an interesting artefact and see who turns up to buy it.

"We also need to know more about who he is and who his family is.  Where might that be discovered?  Simply investigating his home might give us clues."

Hemlock pauses, changing topic.

"On the framing for antimony, since the perception of truth is more important than actual truth (which itself raises questions about anything and everything claimed as fact by our religion), we need a counter-narrative.  Another perceived truth.  Chastity, do you have copies of the doctored pictures?  If we could edit them to remove the doctoring, and leave them and suggestions of doctoring at Sir Ali's place (or another patsy's) together with documents showing purchase of the planted items, that would give a narrative for a set-up."

Anton De Havilland: De Havilland turns suddenly to look at Hemlock, "Who are you and what have you done to Sir Hemlock? I haven't seen this scheming side to you before now. Perhaps our proximity to Al-Malik space has done something to awaken in you a little of your families pedigree and mannerisms... I certainly agree that our focus remains with Sir Ali. If we cannot find him in Archeon then we will need a covert way of escaping back to Ravenna as we are most of us wanted criminals. Even worse now that we have been sprung from incarceration in an attack. Archeon is a good choice, also likely to be abandoned.  If this man is clever he will have his place watched knowing at some point that an enemy will seek him out there. A trap is very likely.  We need to get there early enough to monitor the place beforehand."

Mal: "The way I see it, we could try and use the fork to draw him out, advertise it as being owned by a known psychic and possible friend of Ali. In a way it is a "psychic artefact", we are just using a different definition of artefact. 

And if we wanted to get into contact with the club on ravena, if  it becomes known that I'm on ravena looking for the club I that might draw them out. Hasimir warned me they had their eyes on me before, so it might be fair to assume they would still want to keep a tab on me..."

Anton De Havilland: "Do we know any faction who isnt monitoring you Mal, our journey here has sprung up a good number of your fan club?"

Mal: "Yes actually, we do. Currently the Al'malik aren't monitoring me... as far as I know. I believe the decados aren't either"

He turns to look at Chastity.

GM - (Chastity): "Who are you again?" Chastity says with a sneer and a glint in her eye

Anton De Havilland: "Surely Chastity you have heard of the Kitchen Fork Fiend of Ravenna, the Salacious Scourge of Silverware.?" Responds De Havilland in a like minded mood

Mal: Mal glares at De Havilland

"That was one time. And anyway, if it wasn't for my magpie nature you wouldn't know what happened in Austrum"

Anton De Havilland: "Yes, kleptomania seems to have an impact on destiny. Steal enough material and eventually one of it will be essential. But I jest of course, the message from Hassimir was clever and I am grateful of your revelation."

Hemlock: "I think it also worth tying my fate and reputation to Chastity's.  If the inquisition is my mother's doing, then she may have the means to stop it.  We can give her a reason to do so, and even make it easy for her by implicating Sir Ali as a patsy.  I was considering a letter along these lines to the Ravenna Town Crier."

Hemlock reads from a scrap of paper he'd written on:

My return to the known works came with mixed feelings.  I was overjoyed that a marriage had been arranged between myself and the Lady Chastity Decados.  Despite the popular perception, Lady Chastity has proved an impeccable guest, excellent companion and stalwart ally.  I was, however, distraught to discover the obviously falsified charges against her.  It seems that some in the church, and society at large, have been taken in by doctored photos and planted "evidence".  I hold out hope of finding a priest with sufficient perspicacity to perform the wedding ceremony. 
Sir Hemlock Justinian.

Anton De Havilland: "I admire the cunning here. My only thought is whether your mother is going to simply suggest that your marriage has been orchestrated through the use of nefarious means and that it should be null and void on that basis. "

"Suggesting that your mind were taken over by a known Antimonist "

Hemlock: "From what I understand, marriage is quite hard to annul.  That would cost some political capital.  And the marriage had already been agreed and arranged by my family.  Going through with it would hardly be surprise eloping.

"But, at this stage at least, I'm not getting married, but expressing the intent to marry.  (Actually getting married would involve finding a willing priest, which could currently be very hazardous.)"

"Hopefully that's enough to worry my mother: she doesn't know where I am exactly, my state of mind, what I've done or whether I've gone through with it yet.  It might have already happened by the time she sees the letter."

GM - Chastity meets Hemlocks gaze. He cannot place the emotions he sees there, he was never that good with reading people, after all

"A priest is easy. I have one of those. The question is whether you want to really put the grashk cat amongst the urrocs and do this properly or just want to throw out a bunch of rumours and idle threats."

Hemlock: "Yes!"

Hemlock gives a strange, cracked laugh.

"But... you should know, on Antioch I ..." a flicker of something disturbed, maybe panic, "I was not myself.  I was under a comfortable delusion and forgot many things.  And I was married.

"I have left that false life, and I think it far enough away not to trouble us.  And the priest need not know.  But you should."

Mal: "Did I set a trend? Do the church like any of us at this point?"

GM - Chastity chuckles and stares off into the middle distance, for a moment she seems almost wistful

"Some of the priesthood adore me... But the Church as a whole is not so keen..."

Hemlock: "Who are the priests that adore you?"

GM - (Chastity): "Heh. At many of my soirĂ©es the names given by the guests are very rarely true... If I had ample time and resources I could identify who they truly were... But I can certainly trust my old confessor. He's not of the Urth Orthodox but he is a priest of rank and good standing."

Hemlock: "Then as soon as we have conducted our business here, if it pleases my lady we should go to him and be wed."

Pandemonium Max: Max bursts into the room from wherever he had been lurking. There is the smell of burning about him, and his hands are thick with some sort of black chemical. In his arms he cradles a large transit box bearing the words Intergalactic Cutlery Delivery, 1500 forks (misc assrt.).

"Guys! Guys!" He says breahlessly. "Guess what's arrived? Only the fo..." He stops talking as he finally glances around the room and notices the severe looks directed at him.

He fumbles the transit box behind him trying to keep it out of sight now. "Oh, er... Don't worry. I've, er... Have you seen my '101 Things You Never Knew About How To Hack Jump Gate Keys' book?" He smiles, awkwardly. "No? Er, never mind."

"I'll be in my... er..."

And with that Pandemonium Max sharply turns and leaves, almost fumbling his hidden box, the door closing behind him. Suddenly, the sound of many pieces of cutlery falling to the floor is heard a little way down the corridor. 

"Damn cheap bloody boxes. Oh goddamn."

GM - Chastity stares after Max, somewhat dumbfounded and then suddenly, with a deep inhalation, her composure returns.

She takes a step towards Hemlock and extends her hands to gently take his.

"At present, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be your wife, and I can think of no other that I would trust to be my husband."

Hemlock: Hemlock seems nervous but happy; resolved.

"Then I am blessed."

Mal: "I love weddings, drinks all around!"

GM - Mercucio pipes up "Well isn't this adorable!  You will need to let me know the date in plenty of time as I'll have to speak to my tailor about a new suit."

Anton De Havilland: "Well unless we want to invite the  Inquisition to the service I guess we need to figure out how we get them to start looking for Sir Ali instead, and we also need a way off the planet because at the moment our only way off is impounded and likely now to be under increased security."

"Implicating him seems interesting. "

Hemlock: "Chastity, do you have a copy of any of the doctored images of you?

"Is anyone skilled in forgery?  I hesitate to cast such aspersions, but is it within your capabilities Mal?"

GM - (Chastity): "I don't have any of the images with me, I am loathe to travel with potentially incriminating evidence when attempting to avoid possibly fatal indictment by the authorities.. But as I mentioned before, I do have a ship, with a loyal crew, currently hidden in the woods to the west of the city."

Mal: "I'm afraid forgery is not something I've ever attempted"

Anton De Havilland: "Not sure which is the shorter list we should keep a record of;  things tou have or things you  haven't tried yet"

Monday 24 August 2020

Interlude - Confessions of a Known Psychic

Whilst on the Innocent Pursuit, after meeting Lady Guinevere, Mal wrote the following letter which he now carries on his person.

The letter is addressed: To the child of Sir Malcolm Hawkwood, to be sent to Lady Guinevere Hawkwood on Leminkainen death of Sir Malcolm Hawkwood.

To my young child,

May this letter find you well. I hope to soon be meeting you. Your mother has most likely told you I have my demons. I have more than that. I have many enemies and a reputation to clear before I can meet you.

I aim to resolve the issues brought about by my previous activity before such time as my return to Leminkainen, but the path I am about to walk will bring me close to my enemies. Not only that, but both the church and these enemies may want me dead before I get the chance to confess my sins. That is why I’ve written this letter. Upon my death, provided it can be found and retrieved, this letter should have been sent to you, and with it it’s contents. I trust that my allies will be able to do this small favour for me, as I wouldn’t trust this task to anyone else. If you are ever to meet Marquis Anton De Havilland or Sir Hemlock Justian, or the Charioteer Guildsman known as Keats, know that they will be a trusted ally and friend to you in my absence.

Inclosed is a small sum of firebirds. It isn’t much, but my life has not been one of frivolity and wealth. Within this letter is also my full account and confession. I hope that this will help in some way clear your own reputation and that of your mothers such that the sullied reputation of our family ends with me. This confession is not a legal document. Acquiring such would be hard for me, but I know the church does not always need Reeves to legalise their proceedings anyway. I would hope that this helps alleviate that which I’ve left behind.

Sincerely, your absent father, Sir Malcolm Hawkwood.

Within the envelope is a secondary envelope, labeled: The full account and confession of Sir Malcolm Hawkwood.

To whomever reads this document,

I openly acknowledge having had no legal council before writing this. I do not see any point in doing so. The church has no reason to suspect me to lie if I’m confessing anyway. After all, if you are reading this I fear I may be either dead or shortly will be if not for this information becoming public knowledge.

Until a few years ago, what I had done felt right. I may have disagreed with how it was done, but I still believed the church was wrong and that the Psychics among us were superior. That belief has since died.

The church is aware that I was a member of the Invisible path. Someone exposed the cell I was a part of and I was apprehended along with many of my fellow members. At the time I had been planning to expose them myself, but didn’t get the chance. 

I then broke out of prison and attempted to track down my fellow members. I do not honestly know what side I was on when I did this. I openly confess at this time to several crimes, including murder, which I committed prior to my apprehension. 

I had intended to reunite with members of the cell, using the company of my cousin, the Marquis De Havilland, for protection. However, in the year after my escape, I was the guest of a Justinian knight, who had another guest at the same time in the form of a Decados Lady. The three of us became good friends, despite our apparent differences, and that turned me towards the path that has led me to remembering who I was and who I wanted to be. Whilst I should have handed myself over to the church there and then I found a pair of members of my old cell who had become acquainted with one Hasimir Torenson, from whom I learnt of a secret coven on Ravenna. This coven was aware of my presence in the local area and had been keeping tabs on me. If I went to the church I might have lost my lead on them, so I stuck to the shadows. I then fell into some trouble with these two individuals, having to then flee to space.

Now several years down the line, the Invisible Path of Ravenna has been resurrected by this club, most notably Victor and Hugo Hawkwood, who are both members of the club and members of the Invisible Path prior to it’s exposure. 

As of the time of writing this confession I am fully intending to see this through to the end. Sir Hasimir has provided information on the fact that the weapons of mass destruction released on the Austrum Isles on Ravenna, were the fault of these two and their wider network. They not only provided these weapons, but he believes they engineered events to launch them. I believe they did this as a part of some, as yet unknown, larger plan that other members of this club may know about. 

I intended on hunting down as much information as I could before confessing my sins, in the hopes of becoming penitent, using my skills to draw out other psychics such as myself.

Signed, Sir Malcolm Hawkwood.

Friday 14 August 2020

Interlude - In Chastity's warehouse

 Mal: "I think our first step here is simple"

Talking to the whole room, "what do we have on our side at the minute? What pieces other than the 6 of us do we have in play and who are our suspected enemies out there?"

GM:  Chastity speaks up "I have the whiny bitch of a Van Gelder, he might still be of use. I have access to agents in Ost but, as I am actively sought by the Inquisition there is a limit to what they can do for me and how long I will be able to operate here before I will need to move on.

I also have a ship. Its hidden in a clearing in the woods to the west of the city, about a day's walk from here."

Hemlock:  "We have a gate key, should we need it, and if Chastity's agents can recover things from the ship, a blur suit."

"We have the probability that my mother wants to control rather than kill me.  I can imagine ways to use that."

"In terms of objectives, overturning these ridiculous allegations of antimony solves most of our problems.  I've seen that reason rarely enters into a courtroom, much less a church one, but we might yet have some chance.  Chastity, is it all purely based on the Van Gelder's psychic associations?  Or have they manufactured 'evidence'?"

GM – (Chastity): "There is evidence, planted in our belongings and I believe the source is the Al Malik associate of Sir Mercucio's."

Hemlock: "What sort of evidence does one plant to implicate someone in antimony?"

Anton De Havilland:  Once we have an answer above, "I am keen to understand more about the risks and threat of Emereldas Justinian here.  I am willing to accept that a woman of power might choose a husband from a minor noble house if she has reasons to do so but I would like to see what reasons those were.  I don’t yet see what her motivations are.  I would like to understand that more, so it is clearer to me what her aims are concerning Hemlock and you and your father."

"I also need to understand what information we have about the groups or individuals working against you at the moment.  What do we know about them and where they are looking for you at this moment in time?"

The Church is rumoured to have a number of groups who are interested in Antimony.  If we know which group we are facing that might give us more of an idea as to what we might expect to encounter, if they have already identified you are on Criticorum"

"In terms of equipment, then yes, it would be good to have some of our equipment back but I think we can ONLY do that if we are certain the ship is not being watched; and that depends on how quickly the authorities find out we are missing"

"If there is any risk then we must be willing to abandon them for now, in the hope that we may regain them at some point."

"I know little about this country and its authorities.  It would be good to understand how long we can use this place as an escape before we have to find a replacement"

"The way I see it at the moment, there is a shared aim here to clear our names; which from what I hear leads us to the same lady.  We should be under no misapprehensions here, by supporting Lady Chastity we run the risk that we associate ourselves with the same allegations.  Hemlock is clear that he is willing to help."

"Each of us must be willing to make the same commitment if we are stay together.  If anyone is not then they should make it clear now.  I , for one, will support this move.  I also do not believe these allegations."

Mal: "well, we have one advantage in this; my identity and involvement would appear to still be unknown so the authorities shouldn't be looking for me for any new crimes.

I'm not sure how this might help us though..."

Anton De Havilland: "Maybe not the authorities.  I expect The Emerald Lady and her people knows you left Ravenna with us"

"It's possible to get records from planets on who and when we even left Byzantium"

But the authorities don’t have a record of you until they are told to look for you

"It's hard to have a sense of the reach of this individual.  But if Chastity and The Count are impacted then I expect it is more than I expected."

GM – (Chastity): Chastity replies to Hemlock’s question about evidence "It would appear that Mercucio's Al Malik associate has a personal collection of certain occult "esoterica", some of which was planted and ascribed to our ownership. Along with fabricated evidence implicating our involvement in various debased ritual practices. Unfortunately, in my own case, the modification of the pict-images wasn't difficult..."

"In terms of equipment, then yes, it would be good to have some of our equipment back but I think we can ONLY do that if we are certain the ship is not being watched; and that depends on how quickly the authorities find out we are missing"

“Anton, I have paid informants and agents amongst the guilders and Freemen at the port. They could have amble reason to get aboard your ship and remove things, but I dare only use them once in such a way. To do more so would be to invite discovery."

Hemlock: "Someone sufficiently technically skilled might be able to recognize that the pict image was edited.  (And if pict images can be edited without trace, then they're wholly worthless as evidence.) Is Mercucio's associate also being hunted?  Do we have any means to persuade him to admit that the esoterica were his?

"I wonder if I'm coming at this too logically, that truth and reason have no place in a trial, and the best we can do is bring our own influence to bear in whatever means we can to alter its course?"

(Hemlock's past experience might've made him a bit bitter about such things...)

GM – (Chastity): "Dear Hemlock, this would be at best a Courtly trial but most likely a church one - in such "truth" is determined my what can be seen not reasoned. If a thing looks like a thing it is a thing... And they will have much personal testimony to confirm my sinful ways. They will seek to prove that I have a tarnished soul mirror and am beyond their salvation. Appearing before such a court will be a death sentence, the only variable will be the form and speed of the execution."

Anton De Havilland: "Agreed. Truth and Reason do have a place but there needs to be a will to listen to them. This is also the principle challenge we have. Even if we can find evidence to save ourselves, we will need to find an audience willing to listen to and support it. Without that, all our efforts will be for nothing"

"If Hemlock's mother has that much influence on Criticorum, how do we find someone willing to listen to us, to want to oppose her."

"I think the answer could rest with Hemlock."

GM: Chastity looks at Anton with curiosity "What are you saying De Havilland? Are you intending to throw Hemlock to the wolves in some way? Typical behaviour from a Lion, exploit the trust of your "friends". He is only from a minor house after all... At least people expect deceit and betrayal from my House.. You Lions love to appear to be honourable and then you suggest something like this!"

Hemlock: "I trust Anton: he recovered me when I was lost, and we have travelled through dark places together.  But he has a point: all of my mother's recent schemes seem to be about me.  Whether she cares about me, or simply wishes her heir installed when my father dies, she seems to want to control rather than kill me.  Confronting her is a valid move, but I would want to understand more before any such decision."

Mal: "Also, excuse you lady chastity, appearing to be honourable and then being deceitful is the best part of being a lion.

At least for me it is... "

Anton De Havilland: "Throwing Hemlock to the Wolves is not going to achieve anything,  so no, that is not my suggestion.  Besides, I don't have the expertise in this sort of work. I don’t have the spy network, paid informants, authorities in my pocket. We should be asking our expert on what we should be doing here."

"I have a few ideas, nothing concrete yet. Certainly, my first thought is to meet with the man you identified as setting you up Chastity. I would like some certainly about Emereldas culpability here since we actually don’t have any evidence of that yet."

GM – (Chastity): "You want to meet with Mercucio or his Al Malik friend, or both?"

Anton De Havilland: “Well logically if we wanted information then hitting Mercucio would be the best option as he isn’t necessary expecting it at the moment. If we meet the Al-Malik contact then we might be tipping off Mercucio or it might be better for us if we can get access to information that means getting to Mercucio easier. What does everyone think here, we all have a valid opinion "

Hemlock: "I think I would like to meet this Mercucio. We need information, and he might have some insight."

Anton De Havilland: "He seems to be the person in the know, for sure and more likely to have an understanding of the wider aim"

"I still would like to understand more about your mother and what her aims actually are. Mercucio might know that."

GM: Chastity glides across the warehouse floor with the grace and poise of a predatory serpent. She reaches a bank of steel lockers, takes out a key and undoes the padlock that secures it. The door opens with a screech that reverberates around the mostly empty warehouse space.

"Come out you piece of Vorox shit, these nice people want to speak to you."

A dishevelled and nervous looking man with greasy hair, a pencil thin moustache and the chin stubble of a few days growth, stumbles cautiously out of the cupboard.

Anton De Havilland: De Havilland pulls up 2 chairs and beckons Mercucio to sit at one. He straightened out his jacket and trousers and sits himself upright at the other....

"I'm going to be honest with you Mr.Mercucio, I don’t have much experience extracting information from people. Back in the service we had people who specialise at this kind of work. I happen to think my own methods are rather clumsy and brutal by Decados standards and I understand that some may see a lack of skill and interpret that as outright cruelty. Now I want to assure you, that even though I may lack the clinical precision of a Decados torturers I more than make up for it in zeal.  Mr Max here is from the Muster guild. He is an expert in keeping patients alive.

It's his responsibility to make sure that any mistakes I make are patched up enough to keep you conscious.

Which is what we all want at the end if the day.

We are all friends here”

Anton De Havilland: "Now let me tell you what is going to happen here and why. Now the why is simple. A few years ago I had a friend who was picked up by this Ladies father. Now this friend had in his eyes, caused harm to someone he cared about. So they wanted some intel from this friend of mine and they went to work in him. He was a tough son of a gun from what I read of the notes. Took them a few days to crack him but he died possibly earlier than they anticipated. They overcooked things you might say

However, I think they got most of what they wanted from him before his heart gave out or despair took him.

Whichever went first.

I think they were experts. I have already apologised that I am not an expert. I lack the training if I am honest. What I did learn though is not to ask any questions for the first few days of ordeal

Let the victim just endure and despair at the fact that it isn’t ending. This makes it more likely that when you do want to ask them something later you get to that part cleaner

Now if you wanted to talk to us now well I can talk to these people and ask them what we do. After all Mr. Max has been hired for a specific job after all

There is his professional pride at stake here..."

GM: The greasy weasel that sits before Anton looks furtively at Lady Chastity, then meets the Hawkwood's gaze. He chuckles. He speaks with the nasal tones one might associate with a bookkeeper or upper-middle class social climber.

"First of all, we have not been properly introduced so I will forgive you the disparaging insult to myself, my House and my station. Duels have been fought for less. You will please address me as "Sir" Mercucio or an appropriate form of deference depending on your rank."

He pulls himself up straight in the chair, seemingly in an attempt to convey his bearing and station. He sinks almost immediately. It would appear that "slightly hunched" is his natural pose.

"Secondly my House has been associated with House Decados since the fall of Vladimir. As such do you really believe that I have endured and inflicted greater punishments and tortures than you or your pet ogre here could devise? You flatter yourself and further underestimate and insult me."

He shifts in the chair again. The cadre notice that his hands are bound behind his back and the ligatures seem to be irritating him.

"Thirdly, do you really not believe that my honoured Lady here," He nods to Chastity. "Has not already used only a mere modicum of the exquisite skill she possesses in this area to make me tell her absolutely every damn thing she wanted to know!" As he speaks so his temper rises with every syllable until that last word  it literally spat at De Havilland. Suddenly the Van Gelder is composed again. The venom concealed as his sinks back to the weaselly, hunched and decrepit little figure he first appeared to be. Hemlock is reminded of the dried husk of a dead spider.

"And so, finally, can we please just have a civil conversation where I will attempt to answer your questions and then, perhaps, we can all assist each other in resolving our present predicament?"

Anton De Havilland: Looks to Chastity. "He’s been in there for 2 days? Still pretty sparky and fairly confident still that his lord and master will save him. Mal, you got any tools in your unique skill set that apply here"?

GM – (Mercucio): "My Lord and master? My employer is m'lady's father! Why do you think I would be waiting for any other aid? She is right there, and I have been "rescued" in exactly the way I would anticipate help to come! The fact that I am still alive is both a blessing and a curse and speaks to me that I either still serve a useful purpose or that m'lady and his Lordship have something far more horrific in store."

He breathes a deep sigh.

"I would very much prefer it to be the former rather than the later and therefore I shall continue to seek to be as compliant and helpful as possible. Now, how abouts you give up the veiled threats and actually ask some questions?"

"And if anyone has any smokes of any sort, I'd be much obliged if I could bum one off you?"

Anton De Havilland: "Then why does she keep you in a locker and refer to you in such terms? Seems a strange thing to do to an employee, especially where that employee has apparently arranged for objects a dubious nature concerning Demon worship to be associated to their master’s daughter."

"Also odd that you haven't taken this brief opportunity to ask why you were seized"

Hemlock: Hemlock whispers to Chastity, "I understood that both he and you had been similarly framed, with objects from his Al Malik associate."

GM – (Mercucio): "I have not arranged for anything to be associated with m'lady!" Sir Mercucio's tone is initially exasperated but swiftly shifts to the slow and frequently pausing manner that of one trying to explain something to a child or an adult of limited awareness...

"I am as much a victim here, you fool, but how Lady Chastity chooses to deal with a subordinate who she has believed has failed her father is up to her not you. I will not have YOU judging HER disciplinary measures. I can understand her belief that I have made mistakes and failed her father and she has a right to deal with that failure as she sees fit, whoever you are you are obviously not a part of her or my House and so neither she nor I need answer to you."

Anton De Havilland: Turns to Chastity. "Now I am satisfied. You picked wisely M'Lady. With your permission I will ask the straight'forward questions we have?"

GM – (Chastity): "Whatever." Chastity moves away to busy herself with a table of gear and various items set off to one side. She remains within earshot but it appears that this exchange is either boring her or she has heard it all before

Anton De Havilland:  "What is the name of the Al-Malik associate that we are told planted the antimonist material?"

"What was the nature of your business with them and for how long?"

GM – (Mercucio): "Now we're getting somewhere, perhaps there is hope for a mutually beneficial relationship after all...The "associate" you refer to is Sir Ali Em Sabu Criticorumiyy al-Malik. He and I have a shared interest in the powers of the mind and the broadening of the human experience into a psychic plane of existence. We have corresponded at length over such matters and have played host to each other as guests."

He waives nonchalantly as he tells the tale. Anton can imagine that Mercucio sees himself as a raconteur and the life and soul of a party.

"We are both collectors of knowledge and artefacts which relate to our shared passion and we would often boast of our most recent acquisitions. After some years our strengthening relationship had obviously reached the point where he felt he could trust me enough to show me some of his more "private" collection.

Now, I would clarify this by saying that even my collection and the collection that Ali had shared with me up to that point would be considered abhorrent and heretical by certain members of the church, those who consider all psychic abilities to be the work of Darkness, for example. However even I balked at some of the esoterica Ali showed me. His collection encompassed much that was macabre or at least borderline antimonistic, if not fully of qlippothic origin. In hindsight I should have summoned the retribution of the church upon him at that point but, to my regret, I did not. My reasons were base ones; I feared that if discovered I would be implicated and tarred with the same brush, I thought that the knowledge gave me leverage over him should I need it in future and finally there was a part of me that was curious, albeit also revolted, to learn more of such items and how they might relate to "pure" psychic ability."

"When such items were found on my property, and that of Lady Chastity, I recognised them from Sir Ali's collection. How they were placed there I do not know, whether it was by direct action of Ali, an agent on his behalf or a third party who has taken objects from him, I do not know. To be frank I was more concerned to avoid the flame guns of the Avestite inquisitors that arrived at my door than to stop to ponder the detail of how the items had been inserted into my domicile."

"Do none of you have a smoke of any sort then?"

Hemlock: "I'm afraid I never acquired the habit, sir.

"Was it the framing that caused you to break off contact with Constance san Tandere, or did something happen beforehand?

"Further, what more can you tell us about Sir Ali Em Sabu Criticorumiyy al-Malik?  Is he part of a broader coven?  Is he related to anyone significant?  Is he also hunted?  What are his capabilities?  When he presented the worst esoterica to you, did he show any fondness or affinity, or was it more fascination with the macabre?  Did he make your acquaintance before or after you started passing funds through Constance?"

GM: Mercucio turns his head to meet Hemlock with a sideways glance.

"I was warned off dealing with the San Tandere woman before the artefacts were planted in my possession. As for being a member of a coven, some might consider the trading of ideas that we shared would connect Ali and I as a" coven".... However I believe that he did mention a "Club" of like minded individuals that he frequented in Hawkwood space, Ravenna I think it was.

To my knowledge he holds no high station, nor are his relations particularly notable. I believe he has an aunt on Ravenna, hence the connection."

"As far as I know the church does not hunt him and there is no obvious connection between the evidence implicating Lady Chastity and I and himself.

He was certainly fascinated by the items that he showed me and seemed to hold a desire to know more, whether his studies took him far down those dark paths I really could not say, nor would I truly wish to know. "

".. And I have known him for a good dozen or so years, far longer than Count Innocence's investment in Captain Corteaz' affairs."

Mal: Mal whispers to De Havilland

"we may have to deal with the club and the twins sooner than anticipated... "

Anton De Havilland: "How safe is it for us to determine the identity of this aunt?

"Are there records kept of such things that we could find access to?

"Did he ever mention a connection to the Justinian family at all?

GM – (Mercucio): "I don't recall a mention of House Justinian, but our conversation tended to dwell on more complex and occult matters than mundane politics and family trees."

Anton De Havilland: "How fortunate for you. Do you know of any means on Criticorum that we could identify this Aunt?"

"If not then I expect we will just need to determine how to find this man, Sir Ali."

GM – (Mercucio): "There will be peerage documents which a Reeve or local al-Malik household could access."

Anton De Havilland: To Mal, quietly "If our friend here is psychic could you identify his talent for us please?"

De Havilland asks, "Aside from an interest in psychic phenomena can I assume that you and Sir Ali both demonstrate psychic abilities in some capacity?"

Mal: Mal whispers back "Step ahead of you, his aptitude is in psyche, the same as Hasimir (from what I recall), and sympathy. Due to the nature of both I've been keeping a close eye on him just in case.

Try not to think about something you wouldn't want him to know... "

Anton De Havilland: "Good work, this is your area so let me know if anything untoward is going on"

Hemlock: "Sir Mercucio, how were you persuaded to break contact with Constance?"

GM – (Mercucio): "Force. I am, as you might assuage, not inclined, or designed, for martial pursuits. Pugilism and weaponry hold no allure. When a group of personages with violent intent come knocking on one's door with a simple offer vis-a-vis they will not spread your entrails over the wall if you stop sending funds to a Reeve, I am therefore inclined to take their very kind offer."

"Over the following weeks I was considering my future options, knowing that Count Innocence would eventually discover my disobedience in some way when the Avestites came looking for me too."

"In hindsight I suppose it is perfectly plausible that the ruffians who assailed me in my own home could have been the same party as placed the incriminating evidence. They certainly had the access."

Anton De Havilland: "Are you psychic and if so what power do you possess?"

GM – (Mercucio): "I thought that was clear from my relationship with Ali... I am gifted with certain psychic abilities, yes. In the common vernacular of the magic lantern shows or salacious articles in the Town Cryer I would be called a telepath. By the more accurate classification of the Flavian Institute I would be said to have a level of mastery in the paths of Psyche and Sympathy. "

Mal: murmuring under his breath "I told you so..."

Anton De Havilland: "Psyche I know a little of. Tell me about Sympathy"

Mal: "I'd be interested to know your answer as well, it's a path I'm less knowledgeable on"

GM: Mercurio squints at Mal for a moment as if trying to size up whether he is a peer or a threat, then sighs and turns once more to De Havilland.

"Sympathy is a supplementary path... It is a gift of limited use on its own, but it can be of great use when combined with other powers.

Fundamentally, and in a way that your minds may have a chance to grasp it, Sympathy allows a psychic to build more permanent connections or links. These in turn make other gifts easier to use, and over longer ranges. "

Anton De Havilland: De Havilland smiles at Mercucio. "My idiot brain tells me you have a connection with this Ali. I am wondering whether it works the same for him.  How much have you already shared with Ali using your precious permanent connection"

"Are you possibly sharing something with him this very moment?"

GM – (Mercucio): "Yes, I have a Bond to Ali but it is a one way street. I Bonded him but he doesn't have the capability to Bond me, to my knowledge he has not walked that Path of study. You cannot establish a Bond with a subject who is unwilling so I would know if he had even attempted to create such a link with me. I have never had much interest in covens and groups so I have not pushed my mastery of Sympathy beyond the ability to Bond an individual or a location.

While a Bond makes the usage of my gifts easier I am not so talented that you would not see the effort on my visage. But I appreciate the flattery."

"Look, if none of you straight arrows have a smoke on you, have you at least got some liquor? I'm frightfully parched."

Anton De Havilland: "We have a ship full of Selchakah if you fancied a smoke but then that particular sting is why we are now sat here trying to work out what we are going to do about it. I do have a few Ravenna ci-gars if you want one."

GM – (Mercucio): "Ah...a roll of Ravenna leaf would be much appreciated."

Anton De Havilland: "To Sir Ali, what was his particular psychic talent? Might be good to know what that is. With regards to Antinonmist powers we have some experience in confronting those but not much. At least knowing his psychic threat is a start"

Hemlock: "Agreed.  I think Sir Ali is someone we will need to confront."

Hemlock looks dubiously at the ci-gar, too used to being aboard ship where smoke sets off the air scrubber alarms.

GM – (Mercucio):"Heheheh..." He takes a long slow drag of tobacco while clenching the slim cigarillo in his teeth while his hands remain bound.

"Ahhhhh...." Pungent smoke drifts out from between his clenched teeth.

"If you were to believe Ali all psychic powers are his to command...I'm pretty sure that in reality he has command of the Sixth Sense. Although one of the reasons I was first interested in correspondence with him was that he has some command of the rare and complex gift known as "Omen". He appears to be able to see glimpses of the past and future."

Anton De Havilland: De Havilland takes one of his cigarillos and lights it. He gets up and paces about for a bit. "He'll be expecting someone to look for him. Probably using that power of his to gain insight. Not sure how we contend with that."

"Any other situation and we could have laid a trail for others to follow to his door. On this occasion we need him ourselves and so can’t do that." Turns to Mercucio "Is there any way the bond you have to him could be utilised in some way, a name or a place or an image? We need accurate current Intel on his location but maybe you might have a means to gain some insight here. If not, then we are forced to look to more traditional methods. But, from what I see all roads lead to us finding this man and questioning him. I do feel we are walking into completely unknown territory here"

"I feel outgunned as usual but the Antinonomy aspect is concerning "

Turns to Chastity,  "Do you have any idea whether the Inquisition are looking for you on Criticorum yet? Are they already here or do we think they are still searching?"

" Be just our luck to find Sir Ali and have an Avestite Apostle turn up at the same time"

Mal: "Depending on how skilled he is, I might be able to level the playing field, but we would need to be able to find him first and get closer to him..."

GM: Sir Mercucio attempts to raise a bound hand but fails

"Urm, whilst as yet they may not be seeking M'lady the Inquisition are certainly active in their hunt for me, hence my current unshaven state and lack of in-season attire.  Oh, and If he's close enough I could read Ali's surface thoughts but nothing deeper and can send mental messages to him. I cannot sense his presence though."

Anton De Havilland: "Aside for looking for Sir Ali is there any specific items we need to consider to bring with us? Personally I have no idea how we could deal with an Antinmonist and I expect we would need a priest perhaps to have any Hope's there. If anyone has any ideas now is the time to raise them"

Hemlock: "To my mind, things Chastity's agents can recover from the ship will give us advantages in stealth.   I can use the camouflage cloak, and lend the blur suit to you or Mal.  Actually, you might be a bit broad across the shoulders, Anton.

"Sir Ali must know his items have been used.  So either he's party to the scheme, or he is likely concerned that the trail could lead the inquisition to him.  In either case, we can assume he's prepared for unwelcome guests, possibly by fleeing himself.

"Sir Mercucio, do you have any insight as to where he might be?"

GM: Mercucio is sat back in the chair, taking a long, ponderous, inhale on his smoke. He leans forward to let the collected ash fall to the floor between his legs. It is done in such a practiced way that it occurs to Hemlock that this may not have been the first time the Van Gelder has had to smoke without the use of his hands.

"He has a place in the capital, Archeon but, like I said, he's known to visit family and his club on Ravenna. Likewise he often travels the Jumpweb to secure artefacts or object d'arte for his collection.

He doesn't have a fief to speak of, his income must come from business investments and other revenues."

Anton De Havilland: "I still don’t get what is supposedly motivating our Emerald Lady here. Hemlock has been coming and going from Ravenna for years. Why suddenly now is his mother supposedly making plans to thwart his business ventures?  Even Hemlock is lost on this point.  I don’t understand what has changed to warrant this overreaction. Something has changed, or someone has changed. .."

GM: Chastity looks up from her equipment checks

"Hemlock is the afterthought." She pauses suddenly and looks across at Hemlock, there is a glimmer of regret or perhaps embarrassment and then it is gone.

"It would be more accurate to say that he is the cream on the cake, the surprise bonus. This is about revenge, pure and simple. She is striking out at those she blames for taking her son away or disrupting her plans. Remember that this began before it was known on Ravenna that you had returned from the lost worlds. The last we all knew you had disappeared into Barbarian territory. I think that it only took as long as it did for her to put her plan into motion because my father kept his connections and business dealings secret. If she had had a way to reliably strike back sooner I have little doubt that she would have."

"This way she gets at my father's business investments, Corteaz and me and through us, hurts my father."

Hemlock: "How does our engagement fit into this?  It seems odd that my mother would agree to her son being engaged to someone she was acting against.  I suppose she might have thought me lost for good, or believed her schemes would negate the engagement."

GM – (Chastity): "If you'll recall the original marriage petition from my father was to yours. As I understand it the majority of House Justinian are traditionalist fuddy-duddies....must be why they get on so well with the Big Boring Blue Lions..." She winks at Anton

"And we all know by now that your daddy-dearest is in that old school camp. Any betrothal would be agreed by him, as head of his household, not his darling and demure wife. Pancreator only knows what happened behind closed doors once she found out - or whether she was in agreement as it served her wider purposes...I'm not a mind reader like our friend here." She waves the vicious looking blade she had taken from the table in Mercucio's general direction.

"It does occur to me that there are a few players engaged in this drama and while some actions might suit another's purposes, they aren't all acting as a single faction with one goal. If there was one singular threat or machinator above all then I would place good money on your mother." She fixes Hemlock with a gaze that somehow seems both severe and sympathetic at the same time, as if trying to drive home the point while knowing that it may be a bitter pill to swallow.

Mal: "I would definitely take that bet. I think another party may have a larger roll than we have so far given them credit..."

"Several roads have led back to the noble's club on Ravenna. Even when looking back at past events, they have still been floating around. You say your Al Malik friend has a connection, they are responsible for recent events on the Ravenna. For all we know Hasimir was, for who knows how long, or still is being puppeteered by them.

I know we have nothing concrete to connect any of this to them, but there is still a link. I don't think we should ignore such a connection. After all, we have no way of knowing if one party may be controlling the other."

"Perhaps Sir Ali can help provide some information on what the connection is, if we can get close enough to ask."

Monday 10 August 2020

Session forty-eight

The cadre arrive on Criticorum, landing at Ost spaceport. There they are met by representatives of the Merchants League who proceed to board and inspect the cargo. Mal is concerned that his outlaw status may be recognised so he hides aboard the ship. 

The cargo inspection reveals that the plants that they are carrying are Severan poppies, the source of the drug Selchakah. As the crew had broken the seal of one of the containers the Customs Officer rules that they cannot say that they did not know what was within and has his guards place them under arrest. Max suggests fighting their way out but De Havilland dissuades him.

Anton, Hemlock, Max and Ylanath are taken under arrest to a facility some distance from the spaceport while Mal remains hidden aboard the Innocent Pursuit.

After being separated into male and female cells the cadre are left to stew about their "crimes". They discuss how they may have been set up, available options and what they can do next, meanwhile, after the guilders have left the ship Mal sneaks off the vessel and makes to leave the spaceport via the perimeter fence. 

That evening the prison receives an unexpected visitor. A lithe and stealthy figure dressed all in black breaks in to the cells and releases De Havilland, Max and Hemlock. They are about to leave but the cadre insists that Ylanath is also rescued.

The mysterious stranger takes them to the warehouse district near the spaceport and to a hideout within one of the warehouse units. They then reveal their identity: the Lady Chastity Decados.

Sharing their respective information they learn that Lady Chastity has come to Criticorum to locate the same Van Gelder knight that the cadre has, Sir Mercucio Van Gelder. He, like Chastity has been accused of antimony and has gone into hiding. Chastity informs the group that he is an agent of her father and that it was Count Innocence, through the intermediaries of Mercucio and Ms San Tander, who had been bankrolling Corteaz' expedition. He was doing it by way of thanks to Hemlock. Chastity also advises Hemlock that, in his absence, his father Baron Tochiro Matsumoto Justinian, accepted Count Innocence's offer of his daughter as a suitor for Hemlock. They are currently betrothed to be wed. 

The cadre manage to raise Mal (who is evading guild security patrols) via squwarker and arrange meet up with him.

From Chastity's information it appears that she and Mercucio have been set up using materials from the collection of an Al Malik knight, Sir Ali Em Sabu Al Malik. This plays into suspicions she, and Anton, have that the party behind all this is Hemlock's mother, Baroness Esmeralda Al Malik Justinian. It is Chastity's belief that Hemlock's mother blames Count Innocence in some way for her "losing" her son due to the events of the Dame Arcadia controversy and is manipulating things to get revenge. 

The group take stock and plan what to do next...