Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Interlude - Home

A shapely hand moves over the items on the table and plucks a round piece of fruit from a shallow wicker basket. The woman lifts the fruit up to her face and tries to sniff at it. It is not as easy as she would have liked, the metal veil she is wearing just makes everything smell of rusted steel. She lifts the veil a little higher and tries again. This time she gets the scent she is seeking. The fruit is good.

The woman lowers the edge of her veil and looks across to the old man manning the stall, “Okay, that doesn't smell quite as bad as I expected. Lets see about the rest .”

She starts looking through the other items on the stall and places a few choice pieces into a wooden bowl. Having piqued his curiosity the stallholder starts to assess the woman thoughtfully. At first she appears to be just like any other Vuldrok warrior, but it is clearly evident that she is certainly no shield-maiden. The metal Kurgan veil she is wearing suggested she was well travelled, perhaps a mercenary just passing through with her tribe or perhaps a loner who has come here to settle from foreign lands? She had the height of a shield-maiden, that much was true enough, just not the frame. She was far too scrawny from what he could tell, no real bulk to speak of. He doubted whether she would be much good at lifting up shield at need, or much use at swinging anything heavier than that spear she carried. Her eyes looked pretty enough though, that much he could discern. They were richly dark brown, very alluring, which she seemed to have enhanced within a mist of dark face-paint.

“I'll take everything in the bowl. Throw in those herbs as well” she says pointing to a small bowl of crushed medicinal leaves.

They agree on a price; the woman hands over a cloth bag and the stallholder starts to place all of the provisions inside. Once he has finished he raises his hand and looks at her expectantly for payment. It is only then that he notices that she is looking in a completely different  direction. He watches the woman as her head starts turning this way, and that. The stallholder clears his throat a few times and the woman hands him the coins without ever looking back. Suddenly and without warning she grabs at the bag and starts to walk off at a great pace through the pressing crowd of the market. Her strides are long and filled with a tremendous sense of purpose, her lithe torso twists and turns between the passers-by; the little bag of groceries still clutched firmly in her hand.

Eventually she breaks free from the crowd and steps out into a small pathway that is flanked on either side by a row of small dwellings. A few metres immediately ahead of her is the static form of large wretched man. The man appears to be clothed in an array of sorry-looking rags and armaments, his wild hair and bushy beard are caked with a veneer of forest filth. The wild man's face appears to be fixed upon one particular side of the pathway, perhaps focussing in on some of the houses that were pressing in around them. From what she could tell he does not yet appear to have noticed her. The warrior-woman silently affixes her bag to a clip on her belt and then brings her spear around, forcing it out in front of her. Carefully, and with great skill she creeps forwards.

Her heart is racing now; her steps are faint but to her own ears they sound like the trumpeting of heralds. So close to him now, just a mere moment away...

Suddenly, and with great speed the man raises his forefinger to his lips. Ylanath stops dead in her tracks, barely breathing.

They stand like that, motionless, for what feels to her like hours. Eventually the wildman raises both his hands upwards and places them palm-down on to the crown of his head. Ylanath shakes her head in disbelief. This cannot be happening, this cannot be right! They had come too far already.

“Anton! Please! Don't!” she begs. Without turning The Marquis pushes one hand out towards her in a gesture for quiet and returns it back to the top of his head. Slowly The Marquis makes his way forward, his whole being in a state of perfect surrender.
_____________________________________________

Hesitantly, Anton pushes at the door with his fingertips. His other hand he still keeps placed firmly on the top of his thick crop of filthy hair. He steps purposefully through the doorway and into the small room the other side. He does not turn round and he keeps his eyes downcast and his movements passive and unthreatening. With great care he slowly turns around to face the scene in the room.

In one corner of the room stands a man dressed in the common finery of an Antioch freeman. He appears of average build and so does not carry the imposing form of De Havilland. Of more immediate relevance and concern is the fact that in his right hand he appears to be holding what looked to be a fairly sizeable flechette pistol.

Opposite him, lying on a table with a cushion under her head is a woman in local dress but fair-haired, sharply pretty, with tattoos tracing the edge of her cheek and jaw.  And although they're convincingly female, De Havilland is certain it's Keats, apparently going by the name Arcadia had called him (her?): Tigerlily!

“What have you done with my friend?” starts De Havilland.

“Stay away from my wife!  I don’t know what you did to her in the market that gave her seizures, but she’s sleeping now so I would bloody well appreciate you leaving the same way you came in.”

“I am afraid I can't do that...” followed De Havilland.

The stranger smiled, teeth poking through the veil of amusement. “I think you may be about to make a really big mistake Wildman.”

De Havilland shakes his head. “No, I don't think so, you see I actually know your wife very well.”

The stranger looks De Havilland up and down, and smirks. “From the look of you I find that very hard to believe”

De Havilland smiles back. “The really astounding thing for me, and to be honest this came as quite a surprise, is that now I have met her husband I just suddenly realise that I know who you are as well.”

The stranger’s eyes narrow very sharply. “Explain...” he calls.

However, hearing a sudden noise from outside the stranger turns his gaze back over to the doorway but keeps the gun firmly pointed at De Havilland. Slowly and with her arms outstretched Ylanath steps bravely into the room.

“What is going on....” she asks, pointedly looking at De Havilland. “What are you doing, why are you talking to this man?”

The flechette pistol was moving back and forth between them now.

“Keep it on me, keep the weapon on me!” cries De Havilland still keen to look as much a supplicant as he could.

The stranger looks at them both, calculating a next move. He was outnumbered now and in a small space. He would still have enough rounds to take the big man down first though. He was still in control here.

“We've met before” interjects De Havilland, “Off-world....somewhere...very far away from here.”

Ylanath looked over at the man. He looked typically local to her. Part of the reason for De Havilland’s ragged hair and beard was to help cover up some of that noble pampered skin he had cultivated over the years. This stranger looked entirely native to her. De Havilland had clearly made a mistake.

The stranger’s eyes were peering intently at De Havilland now. He tilts his head ever so slightly to one side, trying to get a better look at the filthy human in front of him. De Havilland lifts some of the mucky hair away from his eyes so that the stranger can get a better look.

After a few moments the briefest flicker of recognition spreads across the man's face, but he keeps the gun extended on De Havilland anyway.

“Who is she?” he asks pointedly, gesturing with his head in Ylanath’s direction.

“She helped me escape the Paladindrax's prison. We were both being kept deep underground, right under his palace. She helped me to get out.” answered De Havilland, still not moving a muscle. “We've both been on the run ever since for just over a year now. It’s been desperately close on more than a few occasions, but I am sure they have no idea we are here at the moment.”

“You really haven't answered my question Phoenix Knight”, followed the stranger, “WHO IS SHE...?” Slowly the gun moves round to Ylanath.

“Woah, no..wait!”, calls out De Havilland, “She was a prisoner. She had attempted to break into a store of some of the Paladindrax's personal effects; Some ancient artifacts and suchlike. He was just making up his mind about what to do with her when we escaped. That's all”

“Still don't buy it. You steal from the Paladindrax you get executed”, continued the stranger.

De Havilland looked over at Ylanath who was looking nervously back at the knight.

“She never took anything. She was just there to study it. That was all” finished De Havilland.

Ylanath spoke next, “He speaks the truth. Nothing was taken. They found me there, that much is true,  but they know I would never need to take anything. My people have no need of trinkets and baubles. I follow the old ways. Those in charge know of this. I meant no harm to anyone.”

“I still don't get it” retorts the stranger, “but I guess it really doesn't matter all that much right now. What I have to determine now is what to do with you.”

They stood there in absolute silence. De Havilland speaks first.
“Why don't you and I have a quiet little chat somewhere, discuss a good solution for everyone?”

The stranger shakes his head, “I don't think so Knight. I kind of like keeping this weapon on the woman to be honest. Besides, you know this isn't a two-way conversation. I make the decisions and I get to decide whether you two live or die right here.”

“I don't think so” copied De Havilland, “If you wanted me dead you would’ve shot me by now. And your wife, well, she’s a noble scion of House Justinian.  This isn’t her home, it’s just where the slavers sold her.”

More silence, with the man and the wildman looking across at each other.  The man’s smile falters, grows uncertain: De Havilland’s suggestion is preposterous, but it’s the word of a Phoenix Knight.  It explains things about her.

Finally, after a protracted and tense period the stranger nods slightly, “She’s a free woman.  She can go where she damn well pleases. But you, you two have to leave.”

De Havilland looks over to Ylanath. They had discussed this eventuality at great length during the preceding months.  Antioch was indeed her home but staying here after their dramatic escape from the prison in Nicaea was simply not possible any longer. Still hidden beneath the metal veil she was wearing, she nods her head in agreement.

“You leave when I say and how I say. No questions asked. No side-missions, no retribution on the Paladindrax, De Havilland. Am I making myself clear, here?”

“Absolutely” grins De Havilland, slowly dropping his hands to his sides, “Besides, I’ve had plenty of retribution already…”
_____________________________________________
  
Keats felt the familiar rumble of a ship’s engine vibrating through his body. How often had that rhythmic tune sung him off to sleep in the early years of his travels? He’d had peace on Antioch too: tenuous, the false contentment of forgetting. How many more years would he have to endure before he would experience those same feelings of peace and happiness?

Keats looks over to the Marquis. De Havilland was now sound asleep on a great pile of woollen blankets within their shelter. Keats decided it would probably take explosive decompression to wake him up right now. Keats laughs despite himself, imagining the Marquis floating around in space still completely unaware of his comical predicament.

The Vuldrok woman De Havilland had been travelling with now lay close by his side. Once or twice Keats had watched her move over to him completely unaware in her sleep. She had removed her disguise since coming aboard ship and it came as no surprise to Keats that the woman was exotically beautiful. Keats lay there, watching the two of them close up; together. He took a deep breath and fought back the gut-wrenching twist in his stomach as thoughts of Cortez came rushing back. Their last exchange had been heartfelt, raw and excruciatingly painful. He wondered if Cortez was still alive or not; wondered if Cortez cared if he was still alive. One small tear pooled in an eye which Keats immediately wiped away and fought back.

There was no time for this right now. No time for sentimentality. No time for daydreams. Keats quickly commanded his mind to start thinking about something, anything else really. He started trying to think about the ship they were on. 'The Provenance' was just one of the many ships that belonged to the Palindindrax, he reminded himself. It was used as a small personal freighter and passenger vessel for the office of Paladindrax and was often used to traffic any number of his ongoing personal interests. From what Keats could make out it was probably a fairly luxurious vessel. Forays into the cargo deck during quieter periods of their travel had suggested that no expense had been spared in terms of the choice of materials used within the build. Keats had spent many years walking the length and breadth of ships in his time, and this one was certainly one of the more extravagant crafts. He wondered who had been commissioned to design such a craft and marvelled at how ancient it now must be.

On Antioch, she had just been Tigerlily. Tigerlily who’d saved her brother and been captured. A gladiator who’d earned her freedom. With a home, a husband. They were going to adopt. All her roles - Keats, Hemlock - had been lost, memories buried alongside Cortez. Now Keats’ life is unveiled, stark, while Tigerlily’s time of simple contentment feels like someone else’s recollections.  The goodbye was hard.  Keats still knew what Tigerlily felt for her husband.  But he had to go.

And what of De Havilland?  Ragged but powerful, dirty and wild-haired, sharing his bed with an exotic Vuldrok.  Is he any less changed?  Can he too just cut his hair and return to who he was?  He'd come across half a planet searching for Keats with the forces of the Paladindrax at his heels, found Keats’ secret and stuck with him nonetheless.  Things would never be quite the same again.

They were going home.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Interlude - The Assault

Beyond the known worlds, beneath the surface and nuclear winter of the planet Twilight, Keats walks alone through bunker tunnels.  Today he could just be Keats: Sir Hemlock Justinian was not required.  No dinners, no negotiations.  At the entrance to the diplomatic suite, Keats swipes the lock and heaves the door open.  It shuts heavily, cutting off the bunker’s clamour, leaving just the hum of the air units, quiet as a cargo-hold when a ship is drifting.  An emergency lamp above the door throws the only light; the room is intimated in amber and shadow. That’s good: Keats can use the washroom before anyone else gets back. He starts to unfasten his jacket and is half-way across the room before he notices the man in the chair.

‘I am sorry, Keats,’ Cortez raises a glass; the chair’s wings cast his face into shadow, ‘I did not mean to startle you.’
‘Are you alright?’ one hand re-buttons the jacket, the other puts the knife away.
‘I consider things.  It is quiet.’
‘I thought you were entertaining Miss Jessica.’
Cortez laughs, ‘I think she prefer blondes,’ then, lifting a bottle from his side-table, ‘Would you like some?’

Keats smells spirits and shakes his head, and though he doesn’t say anything Cortez reads the concern.

‘I need the practice,’ Cortez sets down the bottle and shrugs in the depth of the chair, ‘Negotiatory lubricant.’

Keats nods and leaves him, but at the door to the washroom stops and turns back.  Cortez had said his name, quietly, something childlike in it, needful.  Keats pads back in and peers into the chair’s shadows.

‘Do you think we overreach ourselves?’ Cortez, thick-voiced.
‘What do you mean?’
‘This is the most horrible planet I have ever descended to,’ Cortez continues and Keats’ response is cut short, ‘And deadly!  I would call it a nest of vipers, but vipers are not so heavily armed.’
‘Nuclear vipers?’

Cortez snorts, ‘I look at how this can end, and nine in ten end with us shot and our ship turned to cooling debris,’ Keats gets a sense of Cortez’s head turning, facing up at Keats, ‘I fear I have doomed us all.’

Keats shakes his head, ‘There are trade-routes with other planets, and the Heidgards are impressed with the Marquis De Havilland.’
‘The trade-routes are a jump we have no key for; the Heidgards are a weak faction in a war-scoured hell.’
‘I’m glad we didn’t side with the Citadel,’ softly, ‘I have no stomach for slave-trading.’
‘I saw the hand of the Pancreator in our endeavours, a galaxy to explore,’ Cortez spreads his arms and growls, ‘The gleam of opportunity!’ he drops his hands, voice cracking, ‘Was I deluded?’

Keats stares down at Cortez, silent.  He finds a glass, pours himself a measure from the bottle and sits in the chair beside Cortez, but leaning forward, elbows on his knees.  Eyes adjusting, Keats sees the stray coils veiling one of Cortez’s eyes; the other glistens.

Keats is used to Cortez’s dramatic moods.  Sometimes Keats would joke with him, sometimes just listen, or sit in companionable silence.  This is different.  There’d been an urgency to him since he turned up with his own ship and jump-key, Keats had thought maybe desperation, but dismissed it since Keats was never much good at understanding people.  Should Keats have stayed with his friend instead of leaving him to play Hemlock?  What if Hemlock was a mistake, a lie too far?  Keats kicks off his boots and curls his legs up in the chair, leaning on the wing so he can look at Cortez.  Cortez asked if he was deluded.  Keats could tell him about delusion.

Through the years of lies – or, if not actual lying, then allowing a false belief to perpetuate – the truth sometimes intruded on Keats and he longed to share it with Cortez.  But would he see it as betrayal?  Keats couldn’t endure that.  Meanwhile, a little part of Keats dreamed that Cortez would fall for the person beneath the lie, and they’d skip hand in hand into the sunset.

But not now.  Cortez has problems enough without his best friend’s betrayal.  And now Cortez, the decisive one, the captain with a plan, sees only doom.  Keats pats his knives and shield unit.  His sword hangs by the door.

‘Yesterday, you did not see,’ Cortez murmurs, ‘Miss Jessica gazing at you all evening?’
‘I thought she was looking at you.’
‘Have you ever been in love, Keats?’

Keats looks away, hiding behind a sip of the spirit, ‘I think so.’
‘Who?’ Cortez leans forward.  Keats wants to reach out and tuck the fallen curls back behind his ear.
Instead, he sits frozen and turns red, ‘I never mentioned it to them.  I doubt I’m their type.’
‘I had often wondered about you.  I thought, perhaps, you might be gay.’

Had he seen it?  Keats’ breath catches.  He should’ve been more thorough, manufactured an affair or two, but that was its own risk: Keats never was a good liar, protected by others’ assumptions and that the lie had become so part of him that it sometimes felt like the truth.  A shield of delusion.  Instead, Keats was asexual, not risking comments about young ladies for fear the falsehood might shine through.  But had he let an errant gaze slip?  Keats mouth opens, closes.

‘Because,’ Cortez meets Keats’ gaze, ‘I am.’

Keats’ eyes glaze.

‘I always dreamed,’ Corteaz breathes, ‘that you were too.’

Keats laughs.  It snaps out high, hysterical.  A sense of something shattering.  He sets down his drink, unfolds from the chair and starts to undress, still laughing.  His shaking fingers slip on the buttons.
Cortez starts to rise, ‘You do not have to, not like this.’

But the look Keats gives him, manic, scares him and he falls back into the chair.
Keats stands naked before Cortez.  He turns so the light falls on his front, silent now, barely breathing.

It takes Cortez a moment to realise what he’s seeing.  Eventually, he asks, ‘What happened?’
‘It would go easier on you, if you were a boy,’ high and fragile, but deliberate, quoting.
‘What?’
‘He said it, before he put me on the shuttle.  Then he died.  And everyone, everyone else.  All dead. Just me.  And up there, in the black, it would go easier on me, if I were a boy.’

And for once, Cortez is lost for words.  His expression changes as the last dozen years reconfigure.
‘I’m sorry,’ Keats is crying, and despite that, Keats’ higher-pitched voice seems easier, ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Then, who is Hemlock?’

Keats’ head shakes: don’t go there, ‘I can’t let him be dead.’

After a moment, in disbelief, ‘Tigerlilly?’

Keats stands, shaking, and doesn’t deny it.

‘You’re insane,’ Cortez breathes.

Keats laughs, wild-eyed.

Cortez chokes, ‘I loved you.’

The laughter comes so hard, so hysterical that Keats collapses, clutching ribs, crying and laughing and curling up in a ball on the rug.

Cortez slams down his drink and rises to slap Keats, but the drink makes him unsteady, and Keats – or whatever rolls and laughs on the floor – frightens Cortez.  He staggers out.

In time, the madness passes, and Keats dresses in panic in case anyone else comes in.  As he creeps to bed, he whispers to Cortez’s door, ‘I loved you too.’

*****

Distant cracks and rumbles wake little Tigerlilly.  A tremor runs through the room.  Trinkets rattle.  Then the alarm bells start to sound.

Distant thuds and rumbles wake Keats.  A tremor runs through the room.  Masonry cracks.  Then the alarm sirens start to sound.

Hemlock grabs Tigerlilly’s hand and runs into the corridor.  People are shouting and fleeing.  Hemlock slips through the press.

Keats fastens shield unit and buckles sword and knives over his pyjamas.  Cortez emerges in damask dressing-gown.  Keats grabs his hand and runs into the corridor.  People are shouting and fleeing.  Keats slips through the press.

The corridor smells of smoke.  Light of distant fires.  Masked men step out of the shadows and cut down guards and civilians.  Hemlock ducks into a side-corridor.

Bits of ceiling fall in showers of dust.  A closer rumbling, cracking, tearing and soldiers appear, masked men that shoot the guards and panicking civilians.  Keats ducks into a side-corridor.

Tigerlilly runs, stuffed tiger in one hand, the other clutching Hemlock’s.  People screaming, dying, the sound of buildings collapsing.

Keats runs, sword in one hand, the other clutching Cortez’s.  He has a pistol.  People screaming, dying, the sound of tunnels collapsing.

The ceiling falls, the way blocked, sound of fire and death beyond it.  Smoke billows black.

The ceiling falls, the way blocked, sound of fire and death beyond it.  Smoke billows black.

Losing Hemlock’s hand.  Separated, smoke washing between.  Masked men with blades emerge from the shadows.

The ground shakes.  Losing Cortez’s hand.  Separated, smoke washing between.  Masked men with guns emerge from the shadows.

A hand over Hemlock’s face and his throat is cut.  Tigerlilly runs.

Keats screams Hemlock’s name.  The solders turn their guns: his shield flares.  Keats kills them, then takes Cortez’s hand.

Tigerlilly, found by the family retainer, spirited out through the tunnel to an ore shuttle and bundled in with an envelope and satchel, and the advice, ‘It would go easier on you, if you were a boy.’

Near the shuttle, enemies closing.  Keats slips his shield onto Cortez and pushes him toward the door, ‘Go, Hemlock!  I’ll slow them.’

The shuttle tears upwards, shaking and roaring, Tigerlilly all alone.  Below, Hemlock is dead.

Enemies rounding the corner.  Keats emerges from the shadows and cuts a throat open.  He slips around bayonets and carves a bloody path, alone with a sword.  Until they shoot him, and he falls, knowing that Hemlock is safe.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Where are they now? - Part 3 - Other notable nobles

In preparation for the restart of our campaign here's the latest updates concerning some of our previous supporting cast.  This time it is other Nobles of note:

Count Innocence Decados
Since the events of "The Arcadia Affair" and the implication of his House (and his own knights directly) in events, the Count has withdrawn again into his self imposed exile. Rarely seen in court these days many wonder if he is actually spending most of his time off world.

Lady Chastity Decados
While her father may have withdrawn from Ravenna society again Chastity has embraced it. She acts as her father's representative at most formal functions and events and seems to be going out of her way to play to all the tropes and stereotypes of the Decados.  Rarely out of the gossip columns she has been linked with a string of affairs and trysts both with nobility and freemen. In the true nature of her House she seems determined to shock and outrage the formal and traditional Ravennans but so far has avoided formal censure other than some harshly worded public admonishments, negative Town Crier editorials and being the direct target of a number of fiery sermons by notable clergy. Whether she has a deliberate long term goal, other than to cause controversy, is unclear.

Lady Yelizaveta Decados
Once Sir Bedevere's ransom was arranged and settled and the Hawkwood's ships and remaining crew returned the Lady Yelizaveta appears to have faded away. As one of the Count's key agents it is likely she will resurface at some point but how, where and in what guise, only the Pancreator can say. As for Sir Hasimir's ill fated vessel, "The Questionable Intent", that remains in Decados control and is berthed in Ravenna orbit in a dock rented by the Count.

Countessa Morgana Trusnikron
Still the undisputed ruler of her House on Ravenna the Countessa continues her open support of her dear friend the Countess Cassandra Hawkwood. Her House troops have seen heavy losses (both in manpower and beasts) and she has seen some internal pressure to withdraw or reduce her support. Mercifully perhaps, due to the respect in which she has held, she has seen off all these challenges. However it may only be a matter of time unless the tide of the war turns. Some speculate that she may have therefore had a hand in bringing in the various errant knights who have joined Cassandra's cause, and it is notable that a number are Trusnikrons from other worlds.

Baronet Theodore Gangrel Trusnikron
The rough and hardy knight still serves as stable master and beast and horse trainer for Baron Tochiro but that agreement comes to an end soon. The Trusnikron support of Countess Cassandra, coupled with the negative view of the Baron (and the suggestion that his funds may be on the wane) give rise to much speculation that this arrangement will not be renewed.

Sir Vim Militas-Djinn Al Malik
Sir Vim has apparently succumbed to wanderlust once more and headed off into the Known Worlds upon a quest. After his disappearance the courtly gossips of Ravenna will recall and relate that he was seen at a soiree in a private discussion with Baroness Emeraldas Al Malik Justinian, in which neither of them appeared very pleased, some might say that they were irate (well, as irate as users of the Graceful Tongue become)

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Where are they now? - Part 2 - The Justinians

Continuing on the updates to our campaign based on teh time that has passed since we last played, it's time to look at some of the main Non-player Characters from events to date, the significant members of House Justinian on Ravenna.

The Ravenna Justinians are currently a torn and fractious House. Not only are they dealing with the wider conflict within the House between the old guard and the youth but the two most senior members of the House are now in increasing open conflict. 

Earl Kiruda Quentin Justinian
The Earl is still feeling the pressure and reputation damage caused to his House by the whole Arcadia affair. The fact that the Decados were involved helped mitigate a lot of the damage and restore some of the Justinian's reputation with the Hawkwoods although it was replaced with a certain amount of pity (those poor little minor house nobles, easily deceived by those nefarious Decados swine....).  As a proud man this has galled him no end but he has redirected a lot of his frustration towards his rivalry with Baron Tochiro. Taking care to not act overtly against the Baron he has however supported the Orthodoxy in their investigations (based around the notebook Hemlock provided) and relished every awkwardness and difficulty this has caused.
A lot of the rest of Kiruda's time is spent hosting and carousing Hawkwoods and local representatives of other noble Houses in an attempt to recover some of the House's reputation, a role he pretty much despises. He officially defends the Hawkwood claim of the Midden Barony but has done little to impose or support it other than a few official letters sent to Sir Tarquin. It seems that he has a certain admiration for the boy and not taking a stronger line is both preventing the true restoration of Justinian reputation and plays into Tochiro's hands.
Some close to the Earl (and the Hawkwood courtly gossips) also express concern that his health may be beginning to fail and the pressures of recent years are taking their toll...

Baroness Helena Midden Justinian
Few have seen or heard of the Baroness since her arrest and internment in Suryada. It is said that Kiruda is occasionally permitted to visit her but that is unsubstantiated.  He has certainly not been successful in negotiating her release, if she still lives.

General Sir Anthony Masseri Justinian
The General's social popularity rapidly waned, as did the Hawkwood appetite for the cost of keeping him under house arrest. Therefore when his daughter Stephanie Hawkwood appealed for him to be released to her custody he was swiftly sent packing back to Deepcore 104.  He has now reverted to the same existence he had under Baroness Helena; hunting, drinking and entertaining his cronies at the expense of his family while seemingly blissfully unaware of the events that surround him.

Sir Tarquin Midden Justinian
The young knight has retained regency of his mother's fief, in opposition to the demands of the Hawkwood authorities. While he might have the unofficial support of Earl Kiruda he is in a delicate position. His sister, Stephanie, has been charged with reclaiming his lands for the Hawkwoods but her lack of resources and military experience have rapidly led to a stalemate.  However this is a situation that at present the authorities of House Hawkwood seem happy to leave as is. In recent months Stephanie has changed tack to seeking a more bureaucratic solution and the Reeves are profiting greatly from the legal challenges that have ensued.
Tarquin himself has proven to be a kind and gracious ruler, concerned primarily with the lives and well being of his people, and he is loved by them for it. Many peasants dare to mumble that he is a great improvement on his mother and they have proven in the past that they would protect him with their lives.

Lady Stephanie Justinian Hawkwood
Stephanie adores being lady of the manor and it would be absolutely perfect if it wasn't for her troublesome brother...but at least her adorable Daddykins is home with her where he belongs. If only the Hawkwoods would take her seriously. Perhaps if she was wed again that might help...Baron Cuthbert Hawkwood is now eligible....

Baron Tochiro Justinian
Hemlock's father is seemingly under pressure from all sides, and may be all the more dangerous because of it. Like a cornered animal he is at risk of taking drastic and deliberate action to protect himself or punish those he sees as his foes.
His main adversary at present is the local Orthodox Church. The notebook discovered by Sir Hemlock implicated Tochiro in a long running black market tech and artefact operation, a possibility that had ben suggested and gossiped of for sometime (and was feared by elements of the church) but this appears to be damning evidence. That being said the Baron has tried to discredit the source (his own son) pointing to his lack of stability, wayward nature and the emotional damage caused by his childhood trauma. While the church is actively pursuing investigations and prosecutions against him he still entertains the support of the ruling Hawkwoods (many of whom openly prefer him to Earl Kiruda) and hence there have been significant "administrative delays" which have beset and hampered the church's activities. It might also be suggested that any technology that came from Tochiro's operation was sold somewhere and so there will be a number of his customers who may be helping to prevent accusations and evidence from coming to light...
The Baron's other key adversary is the Earl himself. Whilst never friends Tochiro has become increasingly open in his criticism and hostility towards Kiruda.  It appears that Tochiro feels that one of the best ways to protect himself would be to finally wrest control of the Ravenna Justinians from his liege. While still stepping carefully he is moving his pieces into play and many expect his final moves to come soon. With allies in two royals houses (Hawkwood and Al Malik) and deep Guild connections (even if cast under a shadow based on the notebook's revelations) the baron is not without powerful friends.

Baroness Emeraldas Al Malik Justinian
As enchanting as ever in public some say that a certain melancholy has entered the attitude of the demure and beautiful Baroness. Many speculate it is her husband's woes, others that she mourns her wastrel, broken shell of a son. Whatever the reason she puts up a fabulous front but the most perceptive of onlookers note that there is "something"...
As ever she remains an advocate for her husband, smoothing tensions and social engagements when his "plain speaking" and the rumours of his back handed dealings can cause "difficulties". She is also doing a great deal of work with the Sanctuary Aeon, donating significant amounts for a new hospital complex and organising fundraising events for the sect's Austrum relief effort.  Such work has taken her increasingly off world but when visiting Ravenna she is always seen to be supporting her husband at least once or twice...

Master Alfredo Garcia
Tochiro's master of the household met with an unfortunate accident while checking an air pumping unit on the edge of the central chasm of Deepcore 104.  No body was found an he left no immediate descendants.

Baroness Phillipa "Peppa" Abalone Justinian
The Baroness never really recovered from the shock of witnessing the death of Baron Christopher Hawkwood. She was too frail to be moved from the Midden Barony, especially as the troubles erupted as Tarquin tried to retake his family domain, and so she slowly declined and passed away there. Lady Stephanie graciously agreed to a brief respite in border fighting t accept her body to be interred in the family mausoleum within what was the Barony of Abalone.

Baron Turmeric Justinian
Tumeric remains in a holding position. He considers Tarquin an ally but is distrustful and disdainful of Stephanie "A viper at my very door", he has been known to say. He is also critical of both Tochiro and Kiruda as he sees them both as staid members of the "old guard" of the Justinians. However some believe that recent visits from representatives of the Al Malik may be a on behalf of Baron Tochiro seeking to win his ear and support.

Baron Samuel Justinian
Samuel has spent recent years still holed up in his library.  He is rarely seen "in the season" or at court and is content to let the larger universe pass by.  However due to the bureaucratic interference that the church has encountered in it's investigations into Baron Tochiro, Earl Kiruda stepped in to suggest that Samuel might be of some assistance.  A task (and recognition) he actually relished.  A number of inquisitorial agents and scribes are now hard at work, pouring through the Barons copious archival records looking for further evidence of Tochiro's tech heresy.

Lady Saffron Justinian
The Lady Saffron retains her stewardship of her master's lands in Crofters Holt. While the men-at-arms of Crofters Holt never assisted the Midden Barony in it's skirmishes against Lady Stephanie's forces a number of well trained and disciplined mercenaries offered their services to Sir Tarquin for no charge other than meal and board while Saffron's men were strangely absent hunting Snarks in the north reaches...

Monday, 4 December 2017

Where are they now? - Part 1 - the Hawkwoods

It is almost twenty months since the last time I ran Fading Suns... When we last played we left Keats, Mal and De Havilland with the crew of Corteaz' Charioteer Guild ship as they set out from the Known Worlds to Lost Worlds, beyond the mapped jump routes, there to find new life and new civilisations (and exploit them for profit and glory....). While Hasimir remained on Ravenna as steward for De Havilland's fief on the war torn Austrum Islands.

Fading Suns is never truely far from my mind and lately there have been a few topical triggers that have brought it to the forefront. One of which being the activity around the new edition.  In almost thiry fve years of gaming "The Trials and Tribulations of Dame Arcadia Justinian" remains one of my favourite ever RPG campaigns and I hold the cast and story we created very dear.  

The story, as I originally intended to take it from where we left off, will never be run. For personal reasons there are concepts, characters and plots that I wouldn't use now, or at least don't feel able to use as I had planned.  That is not to say I wouldn't play a sequel game, just that it will be far from my original plan, and probably for the better. 

Thus I decided to engage in a little "thought exercise". What were the fates of our cast since we saw them last?  I'm winding the clock forward about two years from our last adventure and will start with a review of some of our supporting cast...

Planetary Duke Cassius Hawkwood
The duke has always placed Ravenna first, even to the perceived detriment of his House as a whole. Tradition is everything and there are right and proper ways to do things. Unfortunately this position of following the appropriate ways and all will be well is being tested to the limit.  The conflict in the Austrum Islands has reached a tipping point with old allegiances and favours being called in from both sides. More and more off world eyes are being drawn to events in the otherwise peaceful world as many nobles from other systems come to support the warring factions due to ancient fealty or modern opportunism.  Leading to an increased focus and pressure on the Duke to act to resolve the matter in some way...

Sir Bedevere Hawkwood
Bedevere remained a captive aboard The Questionable Intent, but as an "honoured guest" rather than a prisoner of pirates until his family agreed on a suitable "recovery fee and administration costs" (i.e. ransom...), as is the custom with the Nobility and their naval conflicts.  As it stood though the Decados set a very low fee; enough to follow form and not cause insult to the status of the knight or his command, but trivial enough that either it was a sign of good faith, that they wanted a swift end of the matter or that they will expect a favour in return at a future time...
Since then Bedevere as remained a dutiful knight.  He continues to primarily serve in space and may be about to be promoted to the command of a larger vessel. If the players opened up the gate to Twilight he will have been charged with escorting vessels into "barbarian space" and possibly could be involved with blockading the gate to prevent "heretical corruption" spreading to Ravenna.

Countess Cassandra Hawkwood
The war swiftly turned on the Countess.  Her Justinian allies largely abandoned her, turning their attention back to the internal strife in their own House. Her people lacked military strength (beyond her efficient wet-navy) and the air cavalry of her Trusnikron allies could only do so much. Saboteurs and commando forces from the West destroyed key canals and logistical targets and things looked bleak. What happened next is unclear but it is believed that while Cassandra is no military expert she is both tenacious and have the courage of her convictions.  Although she probably despised doing so it is thought that she got word to her cousin, one who considered her a personal favourite; none other than the Emperor himself.  While he has not officially intervened in the months since, a steady stream of young Errant Knights, keen for glory or recognition (and perhaps seeking the favour of the Emperor or a seat as one of his Phoenix Knights) has arrived on the shores of the islands, offering Casandra their swords.  This small but growing, eclectic, force is hard to command and full of eager, glory hunting young turks and idealists.  While they have not turned the tide by any means they have held the line and prevented the West's victory (for now). Meanwhile Cassandra herself, bolstered by this support, seems to become more determined by the day...

Count Otto Kierkagaard Hawkwood
The Count saw victory in his grasp, and had the support of the Orthodoxy and the tacit approval of his House on Ravenna and the Duchal court....and then all these off-world knights started to interfere.  He has protested and scowled and shouted.  Raged against the indignity of it all and tried to bring down the weight of authority upon them...but to no avail.  He is an efficient soldier but when it comes to the social graces he is short tempered, rude and boorish. While making the matter of the ownership of the islands an informal family dispute worked for him initially, now that he wants outside support and legal aid he finds he lacks the support he needs without making the war an "open conflict". Thus he has turned his fury against his sister.  He is driving up the production and militarisation of his forces, pilling on more and more pressure and digging deep into his coffers to do so.  The impact on his once idyllic lands and peaceful people may be irreversible.

Baron Cuthbert Mountbatten Hawkwood
Young Cuthbert is growing nicely into the landed gentry he was forced by circumstance into being. He is learning to steward his fief well and taking good counsel from the staff he inherited from his deceased brother. It is suggested at court that he will soon look to take a wife and a number of eligible suitors are already being suggested by the gossip columns of the Local Town Criers.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Session forty-one - The journey begins...

Seems like a short session but there was a lot of explanation as to the ship, crew and set up. Lots of groundwork laid  down for the coming sessions...


The crew prepare to leave Ravenna space. De Havilland stocks up on a number of items of gear and Mal wanders the Agora. While in the Market place a mysterious stranger presses a note into Sir Mal's hand...


Fully loaded with crew and supplies the San Paulus sets sail. As a member of the crew, Mal is given duties by the Bo'sun, an Ur-Obun named Lod By Ron.  It appears he is to be a swabbie and general dogs-body a role he seems to enjoy as it allows him to watch and wander around the ship. The duty rota is established and it appears that all the crew members of the cadre are scheduled to work the same shift (with Keats as Watch officer). As well as De Havilland there is a second passenger, a young, short, free-woman named Eloise. De Havilland recognises her as Lady Althea Justinian and at a quiet time they manage to catch up. Following her rebellion against the wishes of Father Konrad she has been trying to evade the church and is heading into space in her search for truth and a personal spiritual quest. She soon establishes herself as the de facto cook aboard as Mal (the previous choice) is shown to have little skill and even less inclination, while Eloise/Althea relishes taking care of the crew.


The ship is halted by a Hawkwood customs inspection and De Havilland notes that Cortez is not forthcoming with their ultimate destination to the knight who boards them. He makes a mental note but says nothing more.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Session forty - the epilogue

The travel back to Ravenna was slow (as Hemlock didn't want to push the ship or his piloting skills) and in many respects awkward. The cadre are a little uncomfortable in each others company now and meals aboard the ship are stinted affairs.
Hasimir states that he will not be hiding and will return to his liege and find a new appointment.  De Havilland advises him against it as there is nothing to say that the Decados will not attempt to kill him again but he will not hide away. However he does take Sir Hemlock to one side and tries to explain some of what happened with Arcadia's possession. Hasimir told Hemlock that regardless of what Sir Anduin believed, it was his psychic intervention that led to Arcadia passing on, which Hemlock felt some gratitude for.  Hasimir also gave Hemlock Arcadia's old shield unit.

The ship arrives on Ravenna near the city of Celdor and the party pay a visit to Earl Kiruda. The earl appears to have heard news of the demise of Arcadia already and is somewhat surprised that Hasimir still lives.

They learn that Stephanie has left the Midden Barony with the Hawkwood guard (leaving the massacre De Havilland feared in their wake) and has established herself in The Barony of Abalone, which she has renamed "Windsor's Recourse" in memory of her late husband. Many of the Hawkwood guard have deserted her service and are returning to the capital as they do not recognise her authority. Sir Tarquin has taken control of his family lands and has his people's support but seems to lack any close advisors or inner circle.  Baron Tumeric's Muster returned to the Folly but Earl Kiruda has dispatched some of the knights of the Justinian Silent Guard to arrest him.  The Earl plans to use the Baron (long a thorn in his side) as a scapegoat to appease the Hawkwoods.

He also confirms to Hemlock that he has passed the notebook he gave him to the local Bishop to deal with, along with a pledge of the full support of House Justinian in the matter. He wants it dealt with appropriately and officially and is trying to balance his desire to take down the Baron with his urge to protect his House from further loss of face and reputation.

The group walk through the cobbled streets of the idyllic coastal city, heading back to the Endless Turn when a voice from a nearby noble palanquin causes them to halt; it is Hemlock's mother, Baroness Esmeralda Al Malik Justinian.  Hemlock is a little taken aback but she insists that they at least come to their town house for refreshments. They agree but Sir Anduin Takes his leave of the group and wishes them well.

As the procession moves through the city they note a disturbance ahead.  It seems to be approaching and shots are fired. It turns out that it is the cadre's old acquaintance (and De Havilland's cousin) Sir Mal Hawkwood.  He stops running and seems pleased to see them (although like earl Kiruda he seems to have heard that Hasimir had died). They agree to help him evade his pursuers and he manages to hide as two pistol armed Hawkwood retainers come running down the street.

The marquis insists that they will hear more of this later but they continue to the Baroness' residence.

Hemlock's mother is insistent that Hemlock should discard his dirty and drab attire and let her people dress him in something more suitable.  He needs to stop all this travelling, settle down and continue in his preparations to inherit their lands. Hemlock refuses, he tells her about what he learnt from his father and the events with the Al Malik and his mother advises that she knows about the visit and the Baron has told her that Lady Chastity murdered Al Salih. She is also incredulous that Hemlock might be suggesting that she or her House should have had a hand in the attack on the fief during his childhood. De Havilland is convinced that she is up to something and that she is a very dangerous woman. They excuse themselves and leave as soon as they are able, Hemlock saying that his mind is set, he has made a promise to Corteaz, regardless of what his mother may say.

Mal asks if there might be a place on the San Paulus crew for him, to which Hemlock says he will speak to Corteaz on his behalf.  Before heading to the station though they fly to Austrum West (over artillery barrages on the front line) to the Marquis' fief of Havilland.  There they are greeted warmly but witness first hand the effects of the war on the people and town.

In the local tavern they rest and dine (Hasimir getting rather drunk) and Mal tells of how he the psychic twins, Sir Victor & Sir Hugo Windsor Hawkwood accused him of killing Baron Christopher and that he believes it was they who sold his previous psychic associates out to the church.  It was their men (he believes) who were after him in Celdor. 

It appears that someone in the town has been looking for De Havilland and he approaches the Marquis in the tavern.  He is an Imperial Consort with news from the Order in response to De Havilland's original questions after the revelation of Tonbei's betrayal. A full investigation into the assessment of Tonbei will be launched but the council suggest that De Havilland has possibly lost direction somewhat.  He might benefit by returning to the tenets of the Company and charge him to quest. To push out and go forth in the name of the Emperor.  

Hasimir receives word from his Coven ("The Club") that Sir Mal is a member of the Invisible Path and must be killed. He contacts the magus of coven to address this and says that there must be a mistake.  He tells them his suspicions about the twins and the magus reluctantly agrees to investigate. 

The crew eventually leave Havilland and dock with the station to rendezvous with Corteaz. De Havilland goes to speak with him to negotiate passage on his vessel. Corteaz discloses that the jump key that recently came into his possession, and motivated his acquisition of a ship, leads to a lost world. Having an Imperial Knight aboard would validate his journey beyond known space and provide the quest De Havilland seeks...