Saturday, 19 December 2015

Session thirty-one - Lots of post and messages

While Hemlock has "retired to bed" (is visiting Chastity) a young boy (one of Father Helsing's altar boys) arrives from the Midden Barony with a message from the priest for Hasimir. The knight pays the child for his trouble and reads the message. Tarquin excuses himself and bumps into Sir Hemlock running from his room. Shortly after a high pitched scream of "Hemlock!" is heard. Hasimir & Virssu go to investigate and find Hemlock curled up in a corridor hugging a tattered cuddly toy.  He regains some of his composure and explains that this is "Keats" one of the few things to survive the fire that torched the mansion, claimed the life of Hemlock's sister, Tiger-lily, and caused him to be shuttled off into the care of the Charioteers.
Above: The various prop letters and message packs I made for the session.
After taking some time to calm down Hemlock returns to his room to find Chastity awake and waiting for him.  She apologises for her conduct and explains that she was brought up to treat sex as a non-comittal, pleasurable act, but she over stepped a mark.  She didn't mean to cause offence as she values Hemlock as a friend (and nothing more).  he accepts the apology and apologises for his hasty and sudden departure and the matter is settled and the air between them cleared.

After breakfast the following day Hasimir, Hemlock and Mal get involved in a length discussion about what to do about Sir Tarquin and The Midden Barony.  Mal is concerned that supporting the "revolution" could lead to greater loss of life while Sir Hasimir outlines his current plan to implicate Tarquin in the revolution, remove Baron Christopher after his wedding and rule as regent for Lady Stephanie (the grieving widow). Hemlock is concerned as to why The Folly has closed it's borders to The Midden Barony and wants to learn for himself to identify how it impacts on any plans they wish to make. Hasimir decides that word needs to be sent to Father Helsing, from Sir Tarquin and goes to draft a letter.

During this time Hemlock receives a letter indicating that a new guest, Sir As Salih Ishmael Al-Malik (a cousin on Hemlock's mother's side and fellow guest at the St Gavin's Day Tournament) is coming to visit, having heard of how welcoming Hemlock has been to others.

Sir Mal and Sir Hemlock visit Baron Turmeric, ruler of The Folly and find him to be a welcoming host.  He is reluctant to have Mal (as a Hawkwood) in his home but Mal convinces him of his good intentions (and how he is considered a renegade by his own House).  The Baron tells them of how the Hawkwood army under Baron Christopher has grown and how he hears word that they are planning to invade, therefore he has taken action to defend his borders.  He is a non-traditionalist Justinian and feels that he is not listened to by the established and traditional Earl and barons and that they are ignoring his warnings.  He is seriously considering a pre-emptive strike on the Hawkwoods in order to provoke a reaction and make the other Justinian barons rally around him, as there is nothing that can pull Justinians together more than an attack on one of their own.

While Hemlock and Mal are out a Scraver visits with a packet for Hasimir.  It is a delivery from Lawrence, updating Hasimir on what he has found out so far (with supporting evidence) and word that he is going to follow the lead to try to identify the Decados responsible for the theft of their ship. Lawrence believes that this is a dangerous task and it may be possible that this is the last Hasimir will hear of him.

Mal and Hemlock return from The Folly and update Sir Hasimir.  They recommence their debate over what to do next when a sudden explosion rocks the mansion.
Above: Unwelcome Hawkwood visitors...
A group of Hawkwoods troops arrive, regular marines and heavily armoured Marauders, led by Sir Bedevere (who appears wounded).  They have come, he announces, to arrest Hasimir for "Conspiracy to conduct Piracy and aiding and abetting a known Traitor to the Crown".  He alleges that Hasimir's ship "The Questionable Intent" has resurfaced and has been striking at Hawkwood shipping and that Bedevere was caught in such an attack on his waty back from an assault on SOE/8807. The pirate ship appears to be captained by non other than Dame Arcadia.  Bedevere accuses Hasimir of being party to faking her death and being in league with her.  

We then jump to a short epilogue in the Midden Barony.  It appears that the Marquis de Havilland has been captured for "spying" by the Hawkwood troops and is brought, beaten and bound as a prisoner before Baron Christopher...
And that's where we'll leave it over the holiday period....we shall return with new sessions in the new year...Lux Splendour, children of the Pancreator.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Session thirty - How to cook a baker's boy or "Don't eat the pies."

Hemlock and Chastity are disturbed by another knock on the bedroom door; it is Master Alfredo.  The Baker is here to see Sir Hemlock after he summoned the delivery boy.  Hemlock speaks with the man, who turns out to be the baker that the Protos was treating earlier in the day. He says that there has been a terrible accident and the boy Hemlock wished to speak to "fell in the oven".  The baker tried to save him, burning his hand in the process, but it was too late.  Hemlock presses the man (suspecting foul play) but it appears he knows no more.

In preparation for their plan to fake Chastity's death, during dinner that evening she is moved to Hemlock's room.

The following day Hemlock, Hasimir & Mal catch up and Hemlock learns all that has gone on or been discussed while he was indisposed and Mal confirms to him that he has occult gifts and can detect, and may be able to cancel, the abilities of others.  They debate at length what to do about Tarquin and whether he was acting of his own volition.

Mal also receives a letter but keeps its contents private for the time being.

The nobles also discuss the assassination attempts made by the Scravers and Hemlock determines to approach them formally on the subject "as a noble would". He and Mal head into the fief to the Scraver Guild Hall and meet with the local Boss, a middle aged scholarly man named Marcus.

Mal can tell that the man knows more than he is letting on but he professes ignorance and reinforces that the Scravers are a guild of individuals and so parties may get up to things he is not aware of.  He does take on board Hemlock's pledge that they have no intention of digging further into matters that precipitated the attacks, and that Hemlock is greatly aggrieved at the attacks on his guests, and says he will do what he can to pass word around.

That night Chastity "dies".  In the morning Hemlock feigns distress (helped in the ruse by Hasimir and Mal) while Tarquin seems to be both stunned and filled with a renewed pride. He determines to go for a ride and is accompanied by Hasimir and Virssu.

Protos visits daily, on the pretence of leading Hemlock in a study of the Omega Gospels, and finally asks Hemlock for a penance in exchange for his care and treatment.  He wishes to have a permanent hospice for the treatment of the locals, and for the worship of Saint Amalthea, so he asks Hemlock to build him a church.  The knight agrees.

Tarquin and Hasimir return and Hasimir is accosted by a huge bear of a man.  It appears that he is "The Grand Marquis" Barabas Trusnikron.  It turns out that he is Hemlock's father's Beastmaster and trainer but has been away for some months in his home country of North Follari.  He is the anti-thesis of Hasimir's cultured ways and seems determined to wind up the "waiter" Torenson.

News also reaches the fief that one of the Justinian territories bordering The Midden Barony, "The Folly" has closed its border to the Hawkwood administered land and is preventing all access to and from the fief.

Hemlock has been spending what time he can with Chastity, keeping her appraised of what is happening while she recovers.  She is healing well and the majority of her cybernetics are back online.  While they are sat together on Hemlock's bed she attempts to slip her hand into his trousers, he pulls back, saying “We all have our secrets", but she urges him not too. He lets her touch him and her eyes widen in shock.  At which point she smiles and says "No, this is better…" but before she can act further Hemlock rushes to get up and runs from the room...

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Session twenty-nine - Secrets and revelations

With Lady Chastity stabilized Sir Hemlock sends servants into the city to get aid from a Sanctuary Aeon priest rumoured to be working among the poor.

Sir Mal confronts Tarquin, and is joined by Hasimir & Virssu. The boy is unrepentant and convinced of the appropriateness of his actions.  He decries Hasimir's attempts to rebuke him reminding him of "his place" in the employ of his barony and pouring scorn on the "landless Torenson's inability to recognise the honour in what he has done". He feels that by slaying a traditional enemy of his House, his actions make him a hero and they seem to have given him a new confidence. Sir Tarquin moves off to have lunch leaving Mal and Hasimir to discuss matters further. Hasimir confronts the Hawkwood about his knowledge of his psychic gifts and Mal allows Hasimir to read his mind, revealing his own psychic gifts and how he was previously a prisoner of the church.

The servants return to say that the priest will not come so Mal and Hemlock set out to fetch him. They find him ministering to a baker who has been injured with sever burns. Hemlock explains the situation and the priest, Protos Cobblestone, concedes to come now that he understands it is a serious issue and not just nobility wasting his time with trifles.

Upon their return to the mansion Cobblestone sets up a variety of instruments, tools and religious paraphernalia and requests water, towels and food (he hasn't eaten). He reassures Hemlock and tells him to do three things: rest and take care of himself, look after his other guests and finally pray.

It was around that point that Marquis Anton De Havilland Hawkwood returns. He spends a lengthy time filling in the others about his activities in Suryada and being briefed in turn about what has been happening in his absence.

While in Suryada De Havilland made contact with Lawrence and advised him of the hit list. The Scraver then passed on what he’d already found about the identity of Lady Yelizaveta Decados. At De Haviland's request he located an Ur-Obun scholar, Velike Sho Bahkran, who was able to explain the identity and story surrounding Eok├ęsmen ma Dohlenni (Tonbei's last words). Lawrence also advises that he hears on the Scraver gossip network that things are happening in Deepcore 104 and that the Guild is rattled.

The Marquis has also learnt that while Arcadia's father is getting a high profile socially as a dinner guest and socialite after his release, there is no word on the fate of her mother.

Sir Mal attempts to sense if Tarquin had been affected by an occult power and after some attempts he detects he has, but it was some days ago.

Protos Cobblestone advises that Chastity is stable but that her cybernetics will take time to recover and/or repair.  She have been mumbling a name; is there an "Arcadia" here? Hemlock goes to sit with her and after a time she regains consciousness calling out "Arcadia...Mother!" before realising it is Hemlock beside her. He promises to remain beside her while she sleeps.

Sir Mal receives a note from a Scraver saying that his boss has died and that he owed him the following unfinished work - the partial translations of some more of the intercepted messages. Mal assumes that Mitnick was the other assassins' target.

Mal takes Tarquin to one side and tries to work out when or by whom he was affected.  Tarquin is convinced that he is fine and eventually excuses himself, going upstairs to unpack. Before he does so he knocks on the door of Chastity's room, demanding to be allowed in to see her.  But, after a tense confrontation with Hemlock, he withdraws.

De Havilland is now aware of the fact that Hasimir has been acting as a go-between between the Baron and a rising number of dissenters who would want the Baron overthrown/killed.  Hasimir tells him that he has been feeding the Baron information on the 'rebel scum' in an attempt to keep him increasingly nervous and appreciative of the information and up until recently the Torenson knight had the intention of supporting Tarquin's claim for the right to rule if an attempt is made to remove the Baron.  The Marquis was not happy that the Baron would be harmed and suggested that if this uprising came about, as a Phoenix Knight he would feel somewhat compelled to ensure that the baron came to no direct and immediate harm for as far as he was aware, the Baron had not warranted such treatment.  Hasimir then detailed why the peasantry had such feelings of angst against the Baron, and mentioned that the people of the Midden Barony had been driven to the point of despair.  De Havilland then determined that he would need to see this for himself since he had a duty to protect the innocent and also avenge the wronged.  A certain degree of "mistreatment" might be standard for any new Hawkwood ruler and so he would have to look at the matter and the level of hardship that the people were being forced to bear.  The Marquis did say that he would not be comfortable overthrowing the Baron himself unless it was clear that there was good reason for doing so, and also reminded Sir Hasimir to be mindful of the Baron's sponsor, the Duke.  Hasimir then mentioned the increasing martial training within the barony plus the change of peasant staff.  De Havilland believed it had all the signs of a massacre.  Hasimir then went on to describe that if the uprising did take place and if Sir Tarquin happened to be killed during the proceedings that a Torenson stand-in was an entirely honourable option as an interim, at least until a replacement was determined.

Their discussions turned to Tarquin again and they believe that it may be prudent to pretend that his attempt to kill Chastity actually succeeded and put the lady in hiding for the time being to protect her while they also decide what to do with the boy.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Interlude - Lord Tochiro receives a message

"Your correspondence, m'lud." the servant laid the silver platter containing the days reports, missives, sundry epistles and letters down on the desk beside the breakfast plate his master was still picking from, absent-mindedly.

"Hmm? Very well Jensen." The baron's eyes remained fixed on today's Celdor Cryer's Guild news sheet.

The servant withdrew, as was expected.

The Baron continued his reading; more on the Leminkainen trade delegation's arrival (must ensure they received their gifts), details of the St Oswystry's Day remembrance services (have Jensen ensure that his more austere and reverential dress robes are laundered and pressed in preparation), article lauding the (buffoon) father of the "Justinian traitor" for confessing all and falling on the mercy of the church and state (pitiful idiot, but serves his purpose), social pages full of the Duke's recent visits and social calendar (the local "season" is in full swing, must ensure the diary is full; lots of ground work still to be done), oh and look in the court announcements; the lapdog Hawkwood "baron" has got himself engaged to the Traitor's little sister.  Well played, boy. Wonder if that Torenson you inherited had anything to do with that? Can't have, I suppose, he was last seen swanning off into space.

The remains of the breakfast are cold now. He folds the news sheet neatly and places it to one side and idly flicks through the correspondence.

Copies of Guild financial reports (increase in marble exports, best to refocus some of the mining efforts to capitalize in the short term, long term stick with metals for security). Formal correspondence about the expansion requests (positive, but a way to go yet). Introduction letters from the Leminkainen delegates (yadda yadda). No word yet from Sir Jutland on the Austrum Situation.  Odd (has that old goose, Samuel, got to him?), possibly delayed (hmmm, might need to find additional sources). Strange and unusual, a transcribed message, taken a while to be decrypted.
(Stupid bastard son of a whore)

"Are you well, my dahhrling?" his wife purred demurely as she looked up from the chaise longue on the other side of the room. The cotton candy coloured fur ball of a creature on her lap perked up it's ears. "Your countenance appears to have discoloured with anguish."

"That Prophet Cursed idiot!"

"Which particliere eediot, sweetness?" She was already starting to focus back on petting the creature on her lap.

"I told him to leave things alone but it appears he may have acted unwisely, Devils take the man!"

"Which "man" my love?" She swung her legs from the seat and strode towards him, her graceful gait and perfect, sculptured figure belying her age. Her pet yipped as if trying to underline it’s mistresses question.

"That imbecile Alfredo, I don't know what he's done but from the sounds of things there is a mess back at home."

"Home? Which home?"

"The mansion, in our fief, where our SON is." His frustration was beginning to be redirected towards her.  He immediately checked himself. THAT would be a dangerous path to take. He back tracked. "Sorry.  My humble apologies, I spoke rashly."

She reached out and stroked his cheek. He felt the cool of her touch and the bejewelled rings on her slender hands.  She always seemed to have such cold fingers (warm heart).
"I may need to return there."

"At thees time of year, but the season?  The delegation?"

"I know, I don't want to but I fear I have to. Things demand the Baron's attention and I fear the damage that could be done if matters are left unchecked. You will have to take charge of things in my absence I'm afraid." He placed his hand gently on hers.

She pouted "But thees is why I marry you, so I do not have to do thees things."

He chuckled "I know my dear, but you and I know you are eminently better at it than I anyway.  Who could refuse you?"
"Well, you could not"

(No. I couldn't, could I?)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Interlude - A heavy boot

One heavy boot lands solidly on the waterlogged landing pad, and is joined shortly after by another.  The winds are fierce this evening and driving rains whip into the face of the traveller.  They had told him that the trek was almost suicidal whilst the storm was still raging but he had little choice in the matter.  All the signs were there just as she had warned him, and this time he had been smart enough not to trust in his own judgement. 

The pilot had been extremely well paid, of course, and was very happy to power down and sit the storm out for the evening.  They shouted across to each other, the traveller trying to make himself heard whilst driving winds tried to force themselves into his eyes and mouth.  How on earth had they managed to survive this trip?  Was it a sign?  Did he still believe in such things?  The traveller points repeatedly in the direction of a building on a hill not far away and the pilot says something and then nods, giving a thumbs up.  With that, the traveller pulls away from the transport and fades away from the crafts lights and into the stormy night.

A storm-screen is pulled aside and a rushing noise can be heard.  The inner door is opened shortly afterwards and pupil Anton Hawkwood brings himself into Airi’s house.  He closes all the doors behind him, takes off his shoes and places them neatly on a small rack.  He bows and waits patiently.  Airi is working on a tiny white orchid.  She keeps him standing there for a while as she gets to a place where she is satisfied to stop.  She sits back and admires her handiwork carefully, taking in each line and assessing each colour and shade in context.  It is imperfect, but she enjoys the sensation nonetheless.  Airi peers across to the boy over the top of a set of small round glasses.

“So Anton…fighting again then?” 

The side of the boy’s face is ruddy and scratched and his hands are marked and cut.  He doesn’t raise his head, just nods whilst it is still lowered.

“The same boys again?” she asks.

He just nods again.  She can tell that he is still full of rage and yet the fact he has come here demonstrates a sense of shame as well.  “He’s doing okay” she contents herself and nods in thought.
“Pass me that small knife will you Anton?”  He raises his head and walks over to a small rack of tools on one side of the room.  He knows the knife she is needing; he feels he knows her well.  He is mistaken.

He passes her the knife and leans in to look over the plant, readying himself to assist in whatever careful work they are about to undertake.  Airi takes the blade to the orchid but twists it in her fingers, forcing it outwards and moves her hand towards Anton so that it is pointing towards the boy’s face.  His reflexes force him to flinch and instinctively lean back but she has grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards the knife.  It is close now, so close to his eye and it is all he can think of to get away.  But for reasons he cannot fathom his glance momentarily looks up into Airi’s face and he can see that she is smiling warmly.  So he stops, relaxes; the blade sitting just before him.  He trusts her.  He doesn’t know why, but he does.  She nods, pleased by what she sees.

“You know Anton, if only you had been born to a good Li Halan family.  Such a shame…” she shakes her head but smiles at him and lifts up his face.  He laughs briefly, the moment is broken.  Another lesson provided but one he must think hard on to understand.  Always with her the lessons came draped in confusion, but he remembered more from her than he did from any of his actual tutors.

The screen is moved back and the inner door opens.  The Marquis De Havilland bends over slightly and steps into the small room.  He shuts out the storm behind him and takes off his sodden boots.  He removes the waterproof cloak and rolls a pack off from his back, and unfastens his swords and shotgun.  It smells just as he remembered it in here, the earthy compost and fragrant flowers around the workbench fill the air.  He hasn’t been back for years now and feels a twinge of guilt about that.  The Marquis doesn’t hear anything but waits patiently nonetheless. Time passes and he’s beginning to feel a little concerned now.

“Airi…?  Are you here?”

The door suddenly opens behind him and a short heavily cloaked figure steps into the room.  Airi stamps down on the ground and removes her weatherall and coat.  She coughs and moves over to a warm glowing stove in the corner of the room.  She removes the lid with a short metal rod and throws more fuel in, placing the top down carefully and rubbing her hands together.

“I’m feeling the cold more than I used to; never thought that would happen.”

The Marquis looks over at the old lady.  “Never thought you’d feel the cold?”

“Never thought I’d ever live long enough to grow old”, she answers.  Airi sits down in a chair near to the fire and rubs water droplets from her face with a small towel.

“There’s a hell of a storm out there Airi, why were you out there anyway?”

Airi looks over at her old pupil and nods to the doorway.  On the floor is a small pot of near clear blue flowers.  The Marquis lets out a breath and stoops to pick them up.
“Cholarynn; I can’t believe you still pick this?  It’ll kill you foraging for this in a storm.  Where did you find it?”

The old lady seems pleased with herself.  “Found it up near Reverential falls.  And you can’t really find it unless it is wet weather, you know that.”

The Marquis steps into the room and walks over to a small sewing stool in the corner of the room.  He flips the lid of the stool and takes out two small clay cups and a small flat pot.  He tips a liquid into both cups and passes one to Airi before sitting down.

“You remembered then?” she asks, taking a sip and relaxing back into her chair.

“I still dream of it”, he answers, “You can’t get plum brandy like it anywhere else.”

They sit in silence for a few moments whilst the stove flashes out streaks of red and yellow light.  It is Airi who starts talking first.

“So, you’re a Phoenix Knight now I hear.  How are you finding that?”  She keeps her gaze at the stove but he knows she is watching him intently, looking for any signs.

“I’m doing as well as can be expected” he answers, deliberately guarded and an obvious parry of the deceptively keen first strike.

“I hear that you have a travelling companion?  Where is he?”  The Marquis tries not to flinch but his mind is whirring trying to figure out if she has heard anything and if so, how.  It had been far too soon for anyone to have heard rumours of Tonbei’s death, but every moment he sat here she was soaking up small moments of his life as though she inhaled it.  The Marquis had assumed in early life that Airi was a psychic or that she employed theurgic rituals or some other un-godly power in order to read people so clearly.  But she had over the long years revealed the small means of the ability, and it was solely down to an exceptional technique.  Quite how she had gleaned that ability was never touched upon and he felt that, and most of her history, would go to the grave with her.  She was very much like Tonbei in that regards perhaps, something of a mystery.  Did he seem to gravitate to those sorts of personalities he wondered?

“He’s not here Airi.  He didn’t make the journey with me”, he answered curtly.

 ‘She’d know from that response’, he cursed himself.  ‘I’m out of practice, not putting up much of a fight against the old lady on this occasion.  Maybe I’m just a bit better now than I thought though?’ 

De Havilland thought to move things on a bit but he had just let a lonely woman into his life again and she was obviously not as used to having company as she once was.  She wanted to spar.

“So how did it happen then?” she asks, and turns to him sipping her brandy.

The Marquis knocks back the contents of his cup and knows the game is up on this one line but he can be better prepared for any others.

“He attacked someone I was monitoring.  He failed, and was killed.”  The Marquis looks into the bottom of his cup as though he were searching for tea leaves to read, but all he can see is the glazed thumb print of the sculptor who made the cup.

“Ah, I see” she answers, her voice trailing off slightly.  He hated it when she said that.  She was judging him incompetent no doubt, much like he had done so himself.  He really hated that.

“I know I’ve been stupid here.  I know it’s all my fault.  I take complete responsibility….” He jumps in, ready to dampen down any sparks as early as possible.

Airi turns round and looks him in the eye.  “How little you still know yourself Anton.  In some things you are learn’ed I’m sure, but when it comes to your own thoughts and feelings about yourself, even now you fall short of the mark.  Why did you come here?”

The question is an easy one to answer.  “Because I wanted to see you and seek your advice...” he answers

“Mnya, mnya, mnya…” says Airi looking wildly about the room and pulling a comical face.  “You are still the silly little boy sometimes Anton.  You came here to seek my council?  Really?  On what matter precisely?” She asks, her piercing eyes boring into him.

The Marquis tries to find some words but is unable to find the verses.

“You didn’t come here to seek my advice Anton, you already have everything you need to determine your own destiny.  You come to me now like you did when your father died, to expect me to punish you and make you feel bad because you have guilt.”

She looks at him, her breath heavy and laboured as the weight of emotion pours from her.  It was hard for her to say that, he could tell.  He sat back into his chair taking in the words, his mind partially blanked by the shock of it.  He couldn’t get his thoughts together.

“You have to forgive yourself Anton, it was not your fault that he died; Not your father or this so-called friend.  You are not always responsible.  You may feel accountable, but you are NOT responsible.  Not for this or the war either….”

They spent much of the night talking together in that way.  Airi took care to spend time with her young pupil in his moment of careful vulnerability.  She knew when he left the next day that she would have made him an infinitely better pupil than when he had left the school all those years ago.  If only he had been born to a good Li Halan family…