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Upon reflection, it seemed nothing short of a miracle that the siren towers were functioning. Their installation, a mere decade prior, was the result of a Parliament mandate pushed forth by the Reformists amidst one of their numerous war scares. Siren towers had promptly been erected in all the major cities, causing quite the commotion before fading entirely from the public's thoughts. No living soul in Aecumen would believe if you told them the sirens would be used in their lifetime.

After all, centuries had passed since the Isles were last invaded. The Commonwealth, of course, had engaged in many wars, but they were always waged overseas. The notion that anyone would dare challenge the world's foremost naval and military power in its heartland was unfathomable.

And yet, there they were, the menacing silhouettes of airships, dozens upon dozens of them, looming against the overcast, dark sky, advancing from the Channel.

The sirens began their dreadful wail at the most inopportune time, when The Man in the Suit found himself at the center of the bridge. Too far to turn back, he decided to hurry towards the advancing fleet - and into the Inner City.

The sirens served only to incite widespread panic. It was a market day. The city would be swarming with activity.

No sooner had the Man in the Suit stepped off the bridge than a Foot Guard rudely shoved him aside. The guard's unit was hastily erecting a cordon, blockading all access to the bridge. A throng of people - gentlemen, ladies, laborers, and scoundrels alike - stampeded toward the bridge, jostling the Man as they passed. But he knew their efforts would be in vain; the Foot Guards would stand firm.
Rolled 2, 5 = 7 (2d6)

With renewed haste, the Man in the Suit resumed his course toward the Admiralty building. A procession of carriages bearing elaborate coats of arms swept past him. He recognized most of them. This was why the Guards had closed the bridge: to allow these parasites safe passage. They were fleeing upcountry, away from the advancing airfleet.

The Lords Regent. The man spat and cursed in a most ungentlemanly manner. At the very least, he was reasonably certain they would ensure the royal family's safety. Anything less, and the people would demand their heads.

Tumult erupted into a riot as a great mass of people attempted to breach the blockade and gain access to the bridge. There were shouts, screams, orders were barked, muskets fired, followed by agonized shrieks. But the Man in the Suit had more pressing concerns and was already rounding the corner.

The streets were still in utter chaos when the first detonations began. The human river transformed into a torrent, a cacophony of flailing limbs, screams, and desperate flight in all directions at once. Horses bolted, and a brougham careened off course, flipping over and crushing a young lady beneath its weight, her parasol flying almost comically several yards in the air.

Caught up in the stampede, the Man in the Suit found himself unable to advance and was, in fact, pushed back toward the bridge. Desperately, he clung to his briefcase, knowing that losing it now would be disastrous.

As the ground shook from one explosion after another, the deafening roar filled the air. When the initial shock subsided, the Man saw the great tower of the Cathedral of The Three Martyrs collapsing, tumbling directly toward him.

The tower seemed to crumble in slow motion, and for a fleeting instant, it was as if the sirens and airships had vanished. The Man found himself with what the time to observe the mass of bricks, debris and dust collapsing in his direction. He had, it seemed, all the time in the world to contemplate whether he should even try dodging out of the way.

(Rolling 2 dice. One for the Man in the Suit, and one for the officer in the naval uniform that is at this moment rushing at him.)
I’m monitoring this thread, OP. Looks cool so far.
Rolled 4, 5 = 9 (2d6)

Rolled 6, 1 = 7 (2d6)

sorry, this was my bad, I already rolled and wrote with my results. Next time I will let you guys roll.
If it were up to the Man in the Suit, he would have stood his ground and accepted his fate right on that spot. He was vaguely aware of a young officer in a Naval uniform running and screaming at him. The foolish lad almost acted as if he was trying to escape the falling debris.

Not a second before the falling bricks caught up with the Man, the officer reached him- and in the most rude manner imaginable, knocked the air out of the man's lungs, tackled him bodily straight into the shop window behind him.

The glass gave way. The man and the officer fell into the shop, and a devastating avalanche of bricks and the debris of the falling tower followed. The last thing the Man felt was rocks falling on his chest and knocking the air out of his lungs.
In the darkness, the Man in the Suit slowly regained consciousness. The first thing he noticed was the absence of the sirens and the explosions. The second thing he noticed was that he could not move. There was something extremely heavy pressing down on his right leg. He felt no pain - indeed, he felt nothing below that point. His left leg was in a somewhat better state - in that a sharp, piercing pain came from his shin. He felt around a bit. His leg seemed bandaged and splinted.

"You're awake, Sir? Thank the Gods!"
He heard rustling, and a faint light of a gas-lamp filled the room. He had lost his monocle at some point, but he could still see the enormous pile of rubble pressing down upon him.

The Man answered:
"Well, I'm alive, which is more than I'd hoped for."
"I'll say. I'm afraid I was the more fortunate one."

The young man sat down besides the Man In The Suit, coming into full view in the dim, eerie light of the gas lamp.

"As you can see, I tried my best. I was able to dig out your torso and left leg from the debris. The right one… "

The man saw the predicament he was in. Not only was his leg pressed in, it was quite a miracle the cave-in stopped at the doorway. Both his head and his left leg were propped up on cushions of some sort. He could feel the scent of a lady's perfume.

"You did well, lad, considering. Thank you."

"We're well and truly caved in, I'm afraid. Behind us there is a solid brick wall. There may have been stairs but if so they are behind the rubble. We're inside an establishment of some sort - possibly a tailor. This is one of the lower buildings on Second street - I wager that's why we are alive. If it had more than one storey it would collapse in on us."

"How long has it been, then?"

"Slightly more than two hours, if my pocket-watch is to be believed."

"The attack must be over, then?"

"'Twould appear so. The explosions died some half an hour ago. I don't hear any sound of rescue-crews, but I wager it's a matter of time. I had turned off the gas-lamp, to conserve aer."

"I wouldn't worry about that, lad. A roomy space like this, we will have aer for days, even if we were hermetically sealed in."

"I couldn't sit still. I tried to find an exit, or dig through, but the debris seems precarious as-is. "

"The best we can do right now is wait to be rescued."

"You truly think they'll come for us?"

"I'm certain of it. Though it may take quite some time. Hours. Days."

He stopped himself from adding "weeks". They would die of thirst well before that.
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"You are Lieutenant Gladston, aren't you? From the First Lord's Office?"
"Why, I am, Sir. Though I must admit you have me at an advantage."
"Oh, I had the pleasure of passing you by in the Admiralty office a few times."
He turned towards the Man, and after a moment's inspection under the gas lamp, his eyes suddenly widened in recognition.
"Bloody hell - pardon my language. Aren't you Sir--"
"Yes, yes I am. But please, no names. I am not supposed to be in the capital."
It seemed like such an empty gesture under the circumstances. But old habits die hard.
"Understood, Sir. Don't worry, Sir. My lips are sealed."
"Good, very good."

After a while, the man added:

"I served with your father in the Andores. He was an excellent officer. And a trustworthy man."

"Thank you, Sir. I hope I have the chance to do justice to his name and legacy."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. In the coming period, plenty of opportunity will await young men eager to risk their lives, unfortunately."

The implications lingered heavily in the air. After a while, the young officer said:

"There was chaos at the Admiralty this morning, Sir."

"I must say I was taken aback by the sirens. Why did they sound off so late? Surely there were lookouts over the channel."

"I can't say, Sir. The semaphores were down since last night, and this morning, it turned out, the wire system too. We did think it odd, and the First Lord raised quite a fit. The Indomitable - an air frigate, second rate, Sir - was the one who informed us of the incoming fleet. They were overlooking the Channel. She sent out a light flare signal. Scarcely seconds after, she was sunk. She was barely in range of our observation towers. This was the last thing I heard. The First Lord basically threw us out with mobilization orders."

"So our praised Air wing was taken completely by surprise by the Bosch?"

The shame of it was plainly visible on the young man's cheeks even in this meagre light.

"Aye, Sir. It would appear so." he said, in a very low voice.
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"I was headed for the Admiralty myself, but... well, you saw how it was. I don't think I would know much more even if I reached it, to be frank."

"I am but a junior liaison. I am only privy to information His Lordship saw fit to pass on to me. Which wasn't much."

The Man tried to pull himself up, but felt a very sharp pain from his ribs. He grunted but decided to stay lying down.

"Well, I assure you, that is about to change, lad. What were your orders before this mess?"

"Sir, I was sent to ensure the airfleet mobilizes by any means necessary, whether by foot, wire or horse."

The Man eyed his legs, covered in debris. He sighed. It was unfair to bring this lad into it.

"Lad, would you consider yourself a man of honour?"

"Of course, Sir."

"Have you seen any fighting?"

"Aye, Sir. I was the musket-marine lieutenant on the Impervious for two years."

"Good. Very good."

The Man rubbed his chin before continuing.

"The way I see it, there are two options. Either they dig us out in time, or they don't. If they don't, well, then nothing that transpires here matters. If they do, however... Even then, a man of my age might not survive the amputation. Or indeed, survive until then."

"I have every hope you will make it, Sir."

"Hope is good. But this bloody briefcase needs delivering to certain persons of interest, and in my line of business, I must think in terms of the worst case outcomes. This matter is too important to leave to chance. I will have to put it in your charge."

"As you say, Sir. I am sure the Admiralty--"

"No, lad. This goes beyond your chain of command. It is Crown business."

"Well, I… certainly, you have the authority... I am certain the First Lord will understand."

"If he is still alive, you mean. We have no idea what is going on out there. But, that's all the more reason to deliver this handbag. War is afoot, Mister Gladston. And the contents of this briefcase are of vital importance to its outcome - if, indeed, they are not the cause".

The Lieutenant suddenly eyed the small bag with great wariness, as if it were made of spikes.

"So, that's it, then, Sir, just like that? The War is upon us?"

"Not just any war, Mister Gladston. The Great War."
"If this briefcase is so important, shouldn't we be trying to dig ourselves out?"

"When I was younger, I too confounded the important with the urgent. This war shall not end in a fortnight, boy, and we are trapped in here anyways. But once you are rescued, I will need you to take this briefcase and deliver it to certain persons, and guard its contents with your life - even destroy it before it falls into wrong hands. But above all, I must implore you to keep our conversation in absolute secrecy. Are you up to the task?"

"Why, to even ask such a thing, Sir! I am an officer in Her Majesty's Imperial Navy. But above that, you have my word as a gentleman."

"Very well, Lieutenant. Well, we are not going anywhere in a while, so we might as well make ourselves comfortable."

Within a few minutes, the Man In The Suit was propped up in a comfortable seated position, and a loose board made a makeshift table on which rested the gas lamp and two glasses, and a bottle of middle-class brandy. The Lieutenant was able to dig it out, as well as a few cigars, from under the counter.

"Do you think the owner will mind?"

"He abandoned these resources in a time of war. With the authority of the Crown, we have decided to avail ourselves of them."

With this, the two men had regained their spirits a bit. The briefcase was unlocked and put precariously to the side. The lieutenant could not help but glance at it askance every so often.

"I am sure you have questions, Lieutenant."

"I am used to being kept in the dark at the Admiralty. But I can't in all honesty say I am not curious."

"Well, we have time, Mister Gladstone. I will tell you... everything"
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"But I must warn you, Lieutenant: I hope you found more than these two cigars. Ahead of us is quite a story, with twists and turns, with steam powered airships, secret despatches, and politicks of The Great Game. But more than that, it's a story..."

> "... of subterfuge and intrigue in high society. Of bon vivant balls and smoke-filled parlour rooms."
> "... of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged in the deepest abyss."
> "... of border princes and disposessed nobles, of second sons and moonlight treachery above the clouds."
> "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."

(pick one as your primary choice, and up to 2 secondary choices. I will leave this up for a while to gauge interest and give people the ability to shape the quest).
> "... of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged in the deepest abyss."
> "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."

> "... of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged in the deepest abyss."

> "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."


I dig the vibe, OP. I also notice that the water table in your setting map is considerably higher than it was in the mid 1800s, I presume you have a reason for this?
> "... of border princes and disposessed nobles, of second sons and moonlight treachery above the clouds."
> "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."
> "... of subterfuge and intrigue in high society. Of bon vivant balls and smoke-filled parlour rooms."
> "... of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged in the deepest abyss."
> "... of subterfuge and intrigue in high society. Of bon vivant balls and smoke-filled parlour rooms."
> "... of border princes and disposessed nobles, of second sons and moonlight treachery above the clouds."
> "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."

Really cool quest QM! Love the setting so far.
Rolled 4 (1d4)

All of these sound cool, the dice will decide my vote.
> 1 "... of subterfuge and intrigue in high society. Of bon vivant balls and smoke-filled parlour rooms."
> 2 "... of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged in the deepest abyss."
> 3 "... of border princes and disposessed nobles, of second sons and moonlight treachery above the clouds."
> 4 "... of the machinations of Alchymists and their Serpent, and the terrible truth behind our flying machines."
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Thank ye all for the interest and the kind words.

I'll be keeping the vote open for a while but a clear pattern is emerging.

Heads up, this is be a spin-off of a oneshot quest from 2020:
The popular vote seems to be driving us in the direction of a flat-out sequel.

It's not required reading as everything will be recontextualized by the next protagonist. However, for those of you voting for steampunk submarines and alchymist backstory, I strongly recommend you read it since it is a) a one-shot and b) will give you a good head start on the lore.

If you are hunting for details, you will notice that in the original quest, the Pelagius was launched in 812 AC. This quest retcons the dates and the Pelagius was now launched in 831 AC. I need to move things forward a bit more towards Bruce-Partington Plans, and away from Horatio Hornblower In A Diving Suit.

Alt-history deserves alt-geography.
> "... of border princes and disposessed nobles, of second sons and moonlight treachery above the clouds."
>"... of subterfuge and intrigue in high society. Of bon vivant balls and smoke-filled parlour rooms."
The votes are in. Submersibles and Leviathans win by a narrow margin, with 3 first choice votes. Skylit treachery and Alchymists are tied at 2 each, but Alchymists have way more secondary votes.

So we have:
- Airships, despatches and subterfuge of the Great Game
- Submersibles and Leviathans and a covert war take center stage
- Underpinning it all is the mystical order of the Alchymists and their ancient machinations
- In the course of this covert war, a certain disposessed noble and second son might swoop in and upend the narrative
- the masquerades of high society will not be crucial in our quest, should be an occasional side activity.
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"But above all else, it's a story of submersibles and leviathans, of sunken cities and derelicts, and a covert war waged by great powers in the darkest depths of a watery abyss."

"Sir, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you're pulling my leg. You're describing scenes straight out of the pen of that Frog phantasy writer."

"Our natural philosophers surpassed even his fairy tales. You, of course, know of the Pelagion class submersibles that are being slated for serial production?"

"Oh, Sir, do I ever. They constitute half the bloody paperwork at the Admiralty recently."

"Well, you might be surprised to find out that there was a prototype built in utmost secrecy, The Pelagius, some five years ago - and that I had the honour of being on her maiden voyage."

"The Pelagius? I remember that name. Isn't that the vessel for retraining obsolete seamen?"

"On paper, yes. In reality she was our most advanced trump card, and the prototype for our first serial line of submersibles. I don't blame the First Lord for not sharing the information. He was under strict orders of secrecy."

"Oh, would that I have seen her, Sir! I fear she may end up being the only one of her line."

"What do you mean, lad?"

"Well, if I was Bosch... and if I could sneak up an airfleet all the way up to the capital... then I would take a small detour to also bomb the living hell out of Crichtonshire drydocks, Sir. That's where all the Pelagion class hulls are being laid out."

"Well noticed, Mister Gladston. Well noticed indeed."

The man may have been impressed by the junior officer's sharpness. But his voice was far, far from pleased.

"Indeed, we put great stock in the Pelagion class submersible. To the best of our knowledge, the Frogs STILL don't know about the Pelagius' existence, even though she has feasted on their merchant navy for half a decade now. An entire series of submersibles would be a great boon to our ability to project power. Airships are faster, aye. But they can't exactly hide."

"Today's events put the lie to your word, Sir."

"Oh, we will get to that, lad, in time, I promise you. I have a theory as to how the Bosch managed to catch us with our breeches down. You will, perhaps, be surprised to know that today" - here, the Man gestured above his head, to the ceiling and beyond - "was not my first time being fired at by the vaunted Luftflotte."

"But the war just started!"

"Officially. But for years the Pelagius alone played at cat and mouse with the Krauts across half the bloody globe."
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"What ever for?"

"We were seeking the same thing. We just had to get entangled with that blasted order of Alchymists and their mystical secrets. Tell me, do you know how the miraculous Von Graaf Archimedean apparatus works?"

"Some of it, certainly, Sir. It is the backbone of our airfleets, and we are using it in the Pelagion class to generate buoyancy - oh, but you already knew that, didn't you."

"Yes, but how does it work, exactly?"

"It is a vacuum chamber that has aether pumps which, as I understand it, pump out the intestitial mass of the aether using magnetick lines. The inside of the vaccum chamber consequentially acquire net negative mass, and the chamber generates lift."

"That's as much as they teach at the academy, yes. In reality it is much more complex. Would it surprise you, Mister Gladston, if I told you that the Aether has not yet been experimentally detected by anybody? If you take away that one concept, then the method on which the apparatus operates is a complete mystery to everybody. Not even Herr Von Graaf himself was the brilliant mad scientist he presented himself to be. He was in bed with the Alchymists."

"But - half the world trade and military at the moment is in airships!"

"Yes. Flying machines are of course a marvel of technology, and when one has such a blessing, one tends to not look too close. At some point, however, one has to wonder - was it truly worth it? If it wasn't for bloody alchymists, if it wasn't for their schisms, always probing around in places man was not meant to fathom - well, today, we would not have the Archimedean, we would not have airships, and I am absolutely certain we would not have this war."
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"Well, enough speculation. For now, you need to understand the past. I will give you as much detail as possible. It can be difficult to say when it all began, but we have to start somewhere, so let's go, say... three years back."

Here, the Man in the Suit opened the briefcase, and rifled through papers. It was difficult to see much under the gas-lamp, but it was impossible for Gladston to not peek. He didn't know what he had expected - a superweapon, perhaps, stolen at great risk and loss of life; some mysterious glowing crystals perhaps; he would even be satisfied with seing some top secret machine stolen from the League.

What he saw instead was just a stack of papers - dossiers, letters, telegrams, alchymical circles, technical diagrams, despatches, and even what was unmistakably a love letter written in flowing cursive.

"I had served on the Pelagius for close on two years already. That was when I first met the unlikely protagonist of this tale." Gladstone could catch glimpses of names and a few notes scribbled in barely legible letters, as the Man rifled through the dossiers. Finally, he decided on one and pulled it out.

"Plenty of pieces on the board, as you can see. But I would say this one turned out to be the most important..."

Gladston read the name on top of the dossier. It said...

> Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT
Great stuff so far QM


I'm getting The Mummy vibes from this guy and I love that.

Geber, here’s the actual archive link for thread 1

Question QM.
Do you play or watch Sunless Sky and Sunless Sea?
>Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT


Let’s send our gambler after their gambler?
>> Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT

I can't imagine he wouldn't be aware of them
>Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT
As a player from the previous one shot I am curious what the Pelagius did in the between then and now
>Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT
>Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard - SOCIALITE - ENGAGED (crossed off, the word FORMERLY scribbled above) - MASSIVE DEBT - INTELLIGENCE ASSET - SUSPECTED LEAGUE AGENT
The redhead German baroness who is totally not a spy wins.

Yall really like roleplaying the only woman in a submarine, huh.

Well, this gives us options. Though we will spend less time swashbuckling and suit-diving.

Pic unrelated

Played both, didn't finish either. Got really far in Sea. Ironically did not play Zubmariner. I wouldn't expect that amount of Lovecraft and abstraction. This quest is fairly grounded.
Just a heads up that I'm on the road all day today. Expect the next update tomorrow.
Will there be more high society intrigues with this choice then?
Neutral Skies, somewhere above Hadrian's Sea

You are Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard, and you are bored out of your mind.

Alejandro was a naturally charming man, and you didn't mind spending time with him. The problem was the sycophants surrounding him, jostling for his attention.Unfortunately, this meant that there was nobody to stop him when he went on one of his long tirades about the vagaries of trade routes going over the Central East. The yes-men around him, consisting of minor nobility or spoiled merchant sons, ate it all up, hoping they would be next in line for a profitable secret or a trade tip.

One disadvantage of being on an airship was that there was nowhere to escape from a boring conversation.

Normally, conversations such as these would be conducted somewhere inside the smoking room, where gentlemen could talk about Important Matters all they wanted without those [i]pesky women[/i] to bother them. The ladies would, meanwhile, withdraw to the salon to prattle on about ineffectual things such as fashion or societal gossip.

Nothing was further from the truth. You had listened in on the gents' conversations in smoking rooms multiple times. (Walls can be incredibly thin if one knows where to put their ear, perhaps aided by an inconspicuously placed listening trumpet.) In your not at all scarce experience, smoking room talk was boring as all hells. It was all about grandiose ideas, social movements and politicks, and nothing of any real consequence whatsoever.
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You didn't mind. It was sweet, in a way. It's not that men didn't [i]want[/i] women to indulge in these difficult objects of conversation. It felt more as if they wanted to protect women's irrational, easily startled minds from these dreadful, uncouth male topics. Bless them, they seemed genuinely concerned, even if it was the most misplaced example of good intentions in the history of mankind.

When women had to be part of the conversation, such as this evening, men would strive to avoid such topics altogether, but if that was impossible, gentlemen would be quite considerate. Why, they would even take the time and explain everything, talking slower and using smaller words. It was absolutely charming. You would, of course, eat it all up, innocently nodding, and asking for clarifications where necessary. You knew full well that in these gentlemens' minds you would be unburdened by the responsibility of actually understanding and discussing these things at a deeper level. They would no sooner suspect you of being capable of discussing these complex topics than they would expect the steak on their dinner plate to suddenly share its opinion on shares of the Imperial Bank or troop movements in Lydia.

This usually made things very, very easy for you.

Besides, there was nothing men would discuss in the smoking room that they wouldn't repeat over dinner, if you batted your eyelashes in a dumb enough manner. For the really hard nuts to crack - the principled ones, for example - well, for that you'd have to be in private.
(wait wtf is happening with the formatting tags. [i]italics[/i] no longer work on this board? [b]testing[/b] spoilers)
(Nevermind, I found it. Posting from a different IP / device so I am not considered the OP. Well, that's just great. You'll have to imagine the formatting inside your mind. Resuming writing)
But really, it was the salon where one could find out the real important information. You could only chuckle at what gentlemen probably thought was going on in there.

None of these buffoons would last ten minutes in the ladies' salon after one of the dinner parties you attended back home in Sternbergen. The conversations there were much more cutthroat, under a paper-thin veneer of politeness.

It is true that no duels were issued by the ladies - that *would* be preposterous - but you saw girls take wounds far more grievous than any duel could effect. Through the infantry of Shunning, the cavalry of Rumour, and the heavy artillery of Insinuation, you saw lines of battle drawn, trench wars waged by factions, until one would eventually be run off. You saw subtle alliances and betrayals rise and fall with nothing more than a knowing gaze behind the wave of a fan. You saw people put on trial, accused, prosecuted, defended, convicted and condemned to (social) execution without them ever learning it.

Two men may fight, and tomorrow they could be fast friends. They were fickle and unpredictable. If you TRULY wanted to prohibit somebody from ever setting in another's estate, the way to go about it was to condemn them in the eyes of the lady of the house.

As for intrigue and politicks, well, the talk in the salon was much more salacious (directly proportional to the strength of the wine served at dinner). And for those who knew how to listen, the wealth of information was unparallelled. The gossip of which debutante had spent the night with which dashing young officer could trace airship movements much more accurately than the gentlemens' papers or listening posts. Talk of who was excluded from which garden party provided superior insight into the shifts of parliamentary favour.

Fashion trends were perhaps the most telling of all - if you really paid attention, they spoke of the flow of silk from Theodorea to Vostok, of riots in the pearl mines of Babylonia, of the blockade of the Channel of Lydia, of the ammount of influence merchants of Viginti currently held in the courts of Altmark.
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However, these were new, exciting times, and society was struggling to catch up. The Celestial Empress, a newly designed luxury cruiser, had several drawing rooms, but they were quite small due to the necessities of how bulkheads had to be arranged on an airship. There was something about being on an isolated airship, far up above the clouds, away from all the hubbub of the Continent and the stuffy chaperones, that liberated people. And so both the ladies and the gentlemen withdrew to the same hall - the observation deck - and were currently conversing and intermingling, in various levels of audacity, and observing the sun go down below the carpet of clouds.
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You are wearing what is affectionately known by Mitzi, your handmaid, as The Killer. You could never show yourself in this dress in Altmark or Sternbergen. But this was neutral territory, thousands of feet in the air. No chaperone or stuffy countess would be here to take this away from you. You were itching for the opportunity to show it off, and when Alejandro asked you to wear your best this evening (which you casually pretended to talk down), that was all the excuse you needed.

Made of exquisite midnight blue and shimmering taffeta, its bodice is adorned with a myriad of intricate patterns formed from the finest lace. It contrasts your dark-red hair, which for this evening is modestly, but intricately tied in the Eastern fashion (the better to show off your shoulders), with one central curl in the back, held in place by two long ivory hairpins. The skirt of the gown cascades to the floor in subtly alternating shades, and the hem is adorned with silver thread and embroidered bouquets of [i]Belle-de-Nuit[/i].

The neckline of the bodice is just low enough by the standards of the Continent to be called daring, but not low enough to cause a scandal here. A choker of soft velvet encircles your neck, at its center an unassuming sapphire pendant. A delicate fall of lace trails from each wrist. Your evening gloves (only the finest Karelian kid leather) extend to your elbows. Your fan is a delicate masterpiece of peacock feathers and carved ivory.

You must admit to yourself that so far, the effort seems wasted. Alejandro had promised you a pleasant evening, but so far it was an absolute bore. You'd have to scold him later. Perhaps you'll even have to pout a bit - you haven't decided.
Perhaps it was the wine. Or perhaps it was the sun setting, or you simmering and thinking up of wicked ways to get back at Alejandro. Either way, you made an uncharacteristic mistake of phasing out, when you notice the company at the table is watching you intently, waiting for an answer.

You look to Alejandro to try and get a hint, but he is just doing that perfect smile of his, with his impeccable white teeth and his damn chiseled jaw, and his arm quite brazenly around your shoulder. The two of you are, of course, on a first-name basis (in private), and he has been known to nonchalantely put his hand on your body more than once, though nowhere too scandalous. But to do it in front of these people - what was he thinking?

> (With a smile) "Why, certainly."
> (With a smile) "No, I don't think so."
> "Do excuse me, I was so distracted by observing the sun set, I'm afraid I didn't catch that last bit."
> (playfully take his hand away from your shoulder) "I do believe you're getting ahead of yourself, Mister Ortega. (fan yourself a bit; with a smile) Now, what was the question again?"
> (gently but firmly take his hand off your shoulder;) "Mister Ortega, please. You know that I am engaged."
> other (write-in)
> (playfully take his hand away from your shoulder) "I do believe you're getting ahead of yourself, Mister Ortega. (fan yourself a bit; with a smile) Now, what was the question again?"
>"Do excuse me, I was so distracted by observing the sun set, I'm afraid I didn't catch that last bit."
>> (playfully take his hand away from your shoulder) "I do believe you're getting ahead of yourself, Mister Ortega. (fan yourself a bit; with a smile) Now, what was the question again?"
I change my vote to this
>"Do excuse me, I was so distracted by observing the sun set, I'm afraid I didn't catch that last bit."
>> "Do excuse me, I was so distracted by observing the sun set, I'm afraid I didn't catch that last bit."
It's better to play the ditz than to accidentally blunder into saying something wrong. You say:

"Oh, do excuse me - I was so distracted by observing the sun set, I'm afraid I didn't catch that last bit."

Alejandro is quick to help out in your predicamen:

"And who can hold it against you, my beautiful? The sunset is indeed breathtaking. As we were discussing, we turned to gemstones and their beauty, and we would hate to infringe upon the expertise of a lady in that regard. We were wondering if you could enlighten us - which gemstones are considered the most pleasing to the eye? I can't think of a better person to ask in matters regarding aesthetics."

Giuseppe, a particularly fat Viginti merchant, chimes in, though his Francian is quite broken:

"Most ladies say diamonds as first choice. Wonder why that is!"

People around the table laugh. You quickly answer, with a quite innocent smile:

"That tells us nothing about jewels and everything about the kind of ladies that keep you company, Giuseppe."

Giuseppe bellows with laughter, and the table follows suit.

*So you would-be merchant princes want to discuss gemstones?*, you think to yourself. *shall we talk about crystals of amorphous sillica and light diffraction, perhaps? Or about the process by which corundum is extracted? Or the prices of sapphires on the Hanseatic stock market since the blockade took effect?*

But you stop yourself. It wouldn't do to tip your hand. You fan yourself coyly, and continue:

"Diamonds are *so* late-VIII century. So are emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Haven't you heard, gentlemen? It is the Archimedean revolution. Ladies are now allowed to like a bit of flair, a bit of colour! In the courts of the Continent, it is considered somewhat of a *faux-pas* for nobility below the ducal rank to wear precious gemstones. What with the blockade and all, they have grown more expensive recently, and not every countess can afford to wear them. So what is a poor baroness to do? We are forced to improvise with semi-precious ones. Amethysts, moonstones, vivianite, corundum, chalcedony - a girl is spoiled for choice. Back home, I myself own a wonderful 30-carat rainbow opal that I reserve for court outings."

That is a bold-faced lie. You *used to have* a 13-carat orange opal, and you pawned it off years ago. You proceed: "It is beautiful enough to wear, yet safe enough to not upstage the more *important* noblewomen".

"Stucked up bitchings, the lot of them!" roars Guiuseppe, and the table echoes with laughter again. His cheeks are red, which might be a concern with some men, but you have long ago classified him in the "harmless when drunk" category.
You smile and fan yourself demurely, and proceed:

"But wouldn't you say that no single gemstone can be the most beautiful? Emeralds, I've been told, would go well with my eyes. I could put one around my neck and I am sure I could get at least some gentlemen here to agree it is the most beautiful thing in the world."

"Without a doubt." says Alejandro.

"I've also had the honour of meeting the princesses of the Nordic Alliance at a ball in Helfjord. They wore such beautiful twin tiaras studded with sapphires, I am sure the sight would leave breathless every man and woman here. But take that same sapphire, and fasten it to Giuseppe's belly, and, well--"

Racuous laughter fills the hall, Giuseppe slapping his thigh in approval.

You went nowhere near the ball in Helfjord, of course. Not only are you too low in the hierarchy of peerage, but it would be too much of a political liability for any nation with such close ties with the League to invite a baroness from Sternbergen. The small mountain kingdom has been resolutely resisting absorption into the Hanseatic League for years. But, you have a friend whose handmaid has a friend whose mistress did attend that ball. Since you are quite certain that none of the "ladies" and gentlemen in here are intimately acquainted with the politicks of the many small Allemanic kingdoms, and would not be allowed within a hundred leagues of Nordic royalty, you feel it's safe to embellish the story a bit.

"And what do you personally think of rubies, my dear?"

You playfully, and quite intentionally, twist a lock of your dark red hair, while pretending to think of rubies.

"That would be my personal choice. It is by far the most beautiful of the precious gemstones. Red is the colour of wine..." You raise a wineglass filled with red burgundy. Then you point it to towards the observation window. "... the colour of sunset..."

You look Alejandro directly in the eyes. "... the colour of passion".

His left hand is still on your shoulder. He uses his right to politely raise his glass in response. You can feel the eyes of every man and woman at the table on the two of you. You can taste the envy in the air. Surely, you are allowed to revel in it just for a bit.
"I couldn't have hoped for a better answer, my beautiful."

He beams with pride, as if you passed a test of some sort. In your experience, the safest way to drive a man crazy is to be a mysterious woman who somehow knows to say exactly what he wants to hear at exactly the right time.

Of course, he couldn't know that you have been keeping tabs on his recent correspondence - and that, a few days before the present company boarded the Celestial Empress, he received mail from a man who was a known jeweller from Al Avraam specialising in rubies.

You pout ever so slightly: "Though I'm afraid rubies have all but vanished from the courts of Altmark and Sternbergen, as they seem to get more expensive by the year."

"We in this room know this pain too well, my beautiful. Most of us in here speculate in gemstone trade from time to time, as the winds of fortune dictate. We have been bitten by the blockade and the economic crisis, and must seek opportunity where it presents itself."

"Speak for self. I make fortune off of it." Giuseppe interdicts happily, drawing a big puff from his expensive cigar. Alejandro chuckles and continues, unbothered.

"The world is changing, ladies and gentlemen, and we need to adapt, like Giuseppe does, although we can't all be so lucky that our father holds a monopoly on the Silk Corridor. The rest of us have to make do. Well, I believe I have some interesting news in that regard."

Alejandro was a shrewd merchant. Every endeavour he touched turned to gold. Even you perk your ears up. Catching early wind of some market change could be very helpful in your current situation.

"As you know, my interests are far reaching. I have spent the better part of the past seven years in the Caliphate. Ostensibly, to pursue business opportunities - which I certainly have done, as you can see."

He waved his free hand around, showing off the Celestial Empress. They say he had purchased her from her original owner before the paint was dry.

"I've also made many friends there over the years. Poets. Scientists. Philosophers. " He pauses. "Sorcerers."

The tone in the hall shifted subtly. Sorcery was very much an anathema in Al Avraam, and ridiculed elsewhere. Natural Philosophy was rapidly uncovering the mysteries of the world, and one by one condemning superstitions to history. But somehow, it suited a man like Alejandro to dabble in such things. He made everything look easy.
"Come, come now, we're all men and women of the world. I didn't do anything *illegal*, not quite. I merely... visited some old friends, and kept an open mind. I caught wind of some very interesting opportunities. I even visited the temples of the ancient alchymists -- well, what's left of them."

Giuseppe waves his hand dismissively. "If I being you, I not believing anything these fog-sellers tell me. They talking much, taking money, always promising gold, then disappearing when money running out."

Nobody questions where Giuseppe got this information - it was common knowledge. It wasn't excluded that he was also worked over by an "alchymist" in the past. Why, the entire government of the Commonwealth was duped into believing their tall tales and even gave them sanctuary.

"Oh, but my dear fellow, I assure you, I wouldn't be sitting here this evening if that were the case."

The way Alejandro mysteriously became so wealthy was quite suspect, now you think of it. You never gave it much thought - plenty of ways for the rich to become richer, especially with the blockades and the civil war in Vierre, and all the sabre-rattling elsewhere. But if he really has found some way to work with alchymists... well, who could say they WEREN'T capable of transmuting gold from thin air? Oh, how you could use an Alchymist or two of your own, right now!

"Since I guessed you would not be easily persuaded, I had a good friend of mine send me a certain work of art that will hopefully put a stop to your doubts."

He takes out a small box and places it on the table in front of you. When he opens it, time seems to stop for a bit. Every woman in the room, you included, gasps involuntarily. The men are also similarly impressed. Giuseppe blurts out a string of very expressive Mletaccian curses.

In front of you, in the box, is the single biggest damn ruby you have ever laid your eyes upon. Though you know of larger specimens, this one is at least fifty carats. It is surrounded by clusters of smaller rubies, embedded in a flawless silver filigree. The cut and craftsmanship of the central ruby is flawless.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the most beautiful gemstone in the world..."

You watch in terror, mesmerised, unable to move, as he takes the necklace and holds it in front of your eyes.

"... for the most beautiful woman in the world."

Surely, he is not going to do it. Is he? He can't. Right?

As it turns out, he is definitely going to do it. You can only watch powerless as everything around you happens without your participation. His hands join behind your neck. There is absolute silence in the hall, so much so that when the clasp snaps in place, you are certain everyone can hear it, and it seems to you they must be hearing the frantic beating of your own heart.

Shit, shit, SHIT.

Is he insane?

You are fucking ENGAGED.
This is bad, this is very bad.

You will NOT be able to hide a gemstone the size of a godsdamn fowl-egg from Frederick. Duels were fought over less.

And no man, not even a polite charmer like Alejandro, will give you such a valuable gift, without implicitly demanding something *concrete* in return.

But that's the least of your worries right now. If you go back with that absolutely massive stone around your neck, nothing *has* to happen. Everyone will assume it did anyway.

There is no way. Absolutely no way you can accept such a gift.

And yet...

And yet...

That ruby IS large, and the craftsmanship is so exquisit...

And it would go a great deal towards paying off your debt... and then you would no longer have to do "errands" for that sleazebag Newt...

And besides, there is no guarantees that Alejandro's intentions are dishonourable. It's not such a huge expense for him...

Who knows, if he is so taken with you, maybe he does intend to propose some day. And why should that be so bad? You are a baroness. Who can tell you who you can or cannot marry? You are reasonably certain Alejandro holds some sort of rank in Domingo peerage, and even if he didn't, he can buy one any time he wants. And besides, he *does* have quite a charming smile...

You're fantasizing again, Clarissa. And you know where that lead the last time.

Oh, you don't doubt his intentions. At the moment. You are sure he is infatuated with you. His feelings are sincere (if the ruby the size of a house didn't already announce that quite clearly). But would they still be as sincere in the morning?

He really put you on the spot. There is no way to refuse the gift without looking like an absolute bitch and undermining everything you worked for these past weeks. Can you afford making him angry now?

Stupid, stupid, stupid! You shouldn't have encouraged him. You should have put his hand down when he put it on your shoulder. You should have...

But then... why should you? Why can't you be in control for once in your damn life? Why shouldn't you be allowed to flirt?

What are the odds that anything that happens on this airship reaches the Continent, let alone Frederick?

And besides, you do ever so LOVE rubies...

> Accept the gift
> Reject the gift
>Accept the gift
>> Accept the gift
A ruby in hand is better than a dream of one.
> Accept the gift
>Reject the gift
>> Accept the gift
I finished reading the previous archived thread, you said in the end that you were going to continue trawler quest. Are you really scribe QM?
Give us the rock thanks. We'll deal with the fallout later. Writing.

I am not. I had to go back and see what the hell you are smoking. Disregard my retardation. When I said "continue Trawler" I meant "continue READING Trawler"

Let's wait and see.
In the end, you didn't even get a say in the matter. While you ponder the far-reaching consequences of accepting or rejecting the gift, you are brought back to the reality of the situation by a polite applause, though the ladies' eyes are sending knives in your direction. Even Giuseppe, bless him, is content to just gawk worldlessly and clap his fat hands.

"Marvelous!", exclaims one of the gentlemen.
"Simply stunning", one of the ladies, the wife of a mid-rank merchant, agrees, though beneath her smile is a not-so-well concealed desire for you to drop dead on the spot.
"I knew it! It does go well with your hair.", says Alejandro. "Oh, if I had thought to bring a painter."

You allow yourself a flush in the cheeks under the circumstances. You act surprised and taken aback. Hells, no act is necessary - you ARE surprised and taken aback.

"Herr Ortega..." you blurt out. "Alejandro... I... don't know what to say. It is a magnificent gift, it truly is, but... is it truly alright? I have done *absolutely nothing* to deserve this."

You make sure to emphasize the words "absolutely nothing" in the vain hopes it will get your point across to the rest of the table. The looks on the ladies' faces could charitably be described as skepticism. You proceed: "Surely there are many ladies in Domingo or Al Avraam equally worthy of such a precious gift?"

"And I could likewise say, surely there are princes and dukes more worthy of your company, and yet, of all the airships in the world, here we are on the Empress, at this moment in time, high above the clouds."

Oh, gods. Has he fallen for you? That is to say, of course he has fallen for you, but has he... you know... *fallen* for you?

With dread and fascination, you realize that there is a possibility that all of this - the jewel, the airship, the orchestra - might actually be here because of you. Lots of men did foolish things for you before. Mostly in an attempt to get you into bed. Alejandro may yet turn out to be that sort. But for the love of the Gods, how far is this man willing to go? You are not so naive to think that your affection doesn't have a price - your engagement to Frederick is quite enough to dispel that notion - but if Alejandro continues like this, sooner or later he won't *have* to buy your affection.

A quartet had been off in the corner of the observation lounge, playing a casual, barely noticeable Kammermusik all evening. They were so good that you had forgotten their existence, but they had certainly added to the ambience. Alejandro claps his hands at them, and they switch to a waltz. stands up and extends his hand towards you.

"Now, my beautiful, may I have the honour?"

There is absolutely no way you can refuse. For more reason than one.
The dance floor is quite a bit more cramped than the spatious and cold floors of the castles and halls of the Continent. It is all you can do to keep bumping into other couples. But you are waltzing in an airship at thousands of feet in the air - so you are prepared to let some things slide.

*Gotsimhimmel, he is a good dancer too.*

He leads the waltz with all the skills of a seasoned veteran. You yourself are not a slouch - you began your dance lessons when you were five years old. This was one battlefield where you may yet have an upper hand on him. But you decide to make a few wrong steps, and let him guide you through them. Men like being put in charge over trivial things.

No. Something doesn't add up. He is shrewd and socially intelligent enough to know how this necklace will be seen. You refuse to consider the possibility he has been blinded by ... ugh... love.

Besides, how long must have he been planning this? The necklace was in the package sent by the ruby merchant, there's no doubt about that. So he received it just a few days before you embarked the Empress. When you think of it, that was about the time he made up the abrupt scheme to launch the leisure cruise. And before that, you'd spent - what? Three or maybe four suppers together, and that one time he took you and his yes-men hunting?

There must be a lot of pretty ladies and opportunities. You are, in fact, somewhat of a spinster by Dominican standards (at the ripe old age of twenty.) Some merchant sons have been known to buy a title through marriage, but if so, you are quite certain he could do much better than a destitute baroness hailing from the mountains half the Continent away. Even so, the law of the land in Sternbergen dictated he wouldn't own the title. But his - your - children would.

*Don't be an idiot, Clarissa. He gives you one stupid rock and you are already planning children.*
Dances serve a vital purpose in high society. You can talk freely in a social setting, with very little chance to be overheard. Box-step, Promenade, Hesitation - these steps give a cadence to your conversation.

You are as fluent in the language of the dance floor as in any of the five languages you were forced to learn by the endless string of tutors Papa saw fit to throw at you. As soon as you are close enough to ensure privacy, you chide him in a low voice:

"Alejandro, what in the world are you thinking with all this?"

"If giving gifts to beautiful women were a crime, my dear Clarissa, I would be a wanted man across half the Continent."

"You know perfectly well what I mean." You pause while spinning in an Outside Partner, then resume gracefully: "This sort of thing could cause a scandal for me back home."

"I do apologise, my dear. The mountains of your home country are so cold and far away. Why should they find out anything?"

"What good is a jewel that I can't wear on outings?", you tease, mid-Chassé.

"You can keep it hidden inside your cabinet, and remember me fondly by it."

"On the Continent, we don't... do things in this manner. We could get in trouble. You could get in trouble."

"Trouble follows me where ever I go, it seems. I am used to it."

"Alejandro, I am serious. You know that I have a fiancé."

"I know, my beautiful. I am engaged to marry also. Her name is Isidora and she is quite a charming girl - although currently 10 years old. I have six more years to wait."

"Oh, I am sure you will manage until then."

"I am sure I will."

"Then what is all this? The ruby, the music, the airship..."

"My beautiful, think of this as a beautiful dream. Here we are, dancing in the twilight, high above the clouds. Look how fair the moon rises!"

"All dreams must end. Tomorrow you go back to your cold mountains and your fiancé, and I go into the unknown to pursue another one of my schemes."

A Hesitation briefly splits you apart, before he proceeds: "Or, who knows? You and I take this ship, drop off these rubes, and abscond somewhere far away into the mountains of Archimaia, and live there for the rest of our lives. Who can tell what the future holds?"
The end of the dance approaches. He executes a daring spin, and you give yourself entirely over to the momentum. His hand is there to stop you from falling.

"One day we live, another we die. But I had the pleasure of your company and your dance. I do not wish to live in a world where that is not worth a jewel or three."

As the music reaches crescendo, the two of you end the dance in perfect sync, executing a complex figure to perfection. You are center stage. Everyone applauds, but they do so in your direction. It is clear that the eyes of the room were upon you. Oh, you're so lucky there aren't any Allemanic noblemen here. This would be the gossip of the town for weeks back home.

You curtsy politely. Alejandro bows to the room, and releases your hand.

Small talk resumes in a circle, as couples come and go, dancing. One thing is clear to you: nobody else will even dare to ask you for a dance for the rest of the evening. Alejandro has marked his territory well.

"Alright, but one thing I not understanding." Giuseppe casually strolls into the circle, downing a glass of wine as if it were nothing. "So, man giving pretty jewel to pretty lady. Not first time. Not last time. And should persuading us jewel was made by sorcerer or what?"

"You will pardon the show, my friend. You know I've always had the flair for the dramatic. I merely found a new source of income. A considerable one. I cannot embark on this endeavour alone. I was thinking of offering you - all of you, my friends - an opportunity."

You sigh with relief. To outward onlookers, you make sure it looks like a sigh of being bored with business talk. Now things are starting to make much, much more sense. This is not about you at all. It's a sales proposal. You are nothing more than the dessert for the eyes, the pretty centerpiece to show off and sweeten the deal. You take up the same space in this man's plans as does the quartet, or the airship itself: you are the entertainment, not the main objective.

You should be relieved. You should be glad. You *are* glad. But then, why is a small, resentful part of you so annoyed?
"It better not being weapons. I will having no part in weapons."

Another of the yes-men chimes in: "Yes. Islanders crack down hard on arms trade."

By "Islanders" he means the Commonwealth. The reach of their navy and air fleet is considerable, and the penalties for arms trade are best not discussed in polite society.

"Friends! What do you take me for? But - we have three more days before landing. So let us not spoil such a beautiful evening with business details. We'd be boring the ladies."

Ah, rats. You were keen on listening in. This information could pay well.

Well, who knows but you may yet worm it out of him. One way or the other. As he said, you have three more days.

But the rest of the evening is, it appears, your own.

It is getting dark out there, and candlelight has taken over from the crimson of the sunset. Alejandro is already off discussing something with other guests, and you would not be faulted for excusing yourself for a brief refreshment, withdrawal to your quarters, or a stroll on the boat.

> mingle with the other guests, engage in idle chitchat.
> spend some time walking around the observation lounge, and watching the scenery.
> excuse yourself and go to your cabin.
> (other - feel free to get creative. We have time.)
Get changed to our night dress and wander around the observation decks where we know men of importance will visit.
>(other - feel free to get creative. We have time.)
Visit the ship's deck. Speak with the Captain, helmsman and all. Play innocent as usual.

Support >>5657279
>> mingle with the other guests, engage in idle chitchat.
Not happening. Feel free to pick another option or a write-in that doesn't involve immediately whoring out, in public, the socially conscious baroness MC. And don't forget to call me a railroading bastard while you're at it, as is tradition.
Okay. I thought it would have been fine since we're thousands of feet above ground. Supporting this instead >>5657283
If you think there's something the MC wouldn't have done under normal circumstances then just bring it up. Don't think anyone will call you a railroader for it.
I just noticed that I wrote the ship's deck instead of BRIDGE which I meant.

Nah, no one's going take an issue with this intervention
Hey, if you're willing to engage with the quest at that level, ask away and we'll explore options.

I am modeling the social interactions on latter half Victorian era, with some liberties here and there. Walking around in a night gown in public is just too much for this era's exaggerated sense of propriety. You have too much to lose if a hint of a scandal were to get out to the continent.

Also, this is Alejandro's ship, and he is as "men of importance" as it gets on this ship. There really is nothing to gain by trying to seduce or titillate other men since you already have the head honcho fawning over you. Though in the end, note that he is just a merchant.
Great. I want to ask about our fiancée Frederick. Who is he and what did he promise us? Is there a limit to what we might do in this airship as long as no one sees it?
>> spend some time walking around the observation lounge, and watching the scenery.
Not 100% sure what our mission on this boat is... so I guess go sneak into Alejandros room look for le clues? Or drug Alejandro. Go full fang fang.

Or just mingle.

Mingle (though I like the cut of 5657407's jib, he may have stumbled upon something)

Lounge, observation

You feel restless. You walk a bit through the improvised social circles and exchanging smalltalk. Inevitably the conversations start with how absolutely pretty the necklace is and how nicely it fits you. Still, you do your best to entertain the guests and be entertained in turn. Stories are exchanged, and jokes are had.

You don't exactly have anything to do this evening, but you keep glancing at the large clock built into the wall of the lounge. An hour has passed since the necklace was presented, and you decide that nobody will fault you for wanting a bit of change of scenery. Some of the guests are getting quite red in the face, and more than one lady has already excused herself and retired to her cabin.

You briefly look through the observation lounge's windows. The night has now fully descended. The moon is out in full view - and what a gorgeous view it is. An ocean of clouds floating calmly below. They are not uniform, and there are voids in the cloud cover, through which you can just make out thousands of leagues of the beautiful Hadrian's sea, as far as the eye can see.

To the outside of the lounge, there is a railing, wide enough for two people, or one Giuseppe, to walk side-by-side. Nobody is outside currently, since at this hour and altitude it can get more than a bit chilly. You consider stepping out, but decide against it. The last thing you need is a sudden gust of wind or turbulence, and you didn't bring your mantle with you.

In your boredom, an absolutely preposterous thought grips your fancy. You briefly entertain the notion of just how liberating it would be if you were to change into your nightgown and take a stroll outside at the railing, ruby and all.
After all, why shouldn't you? You're on a ship. There are no nations whose laws you would break, no lands whose customs you would offend. What is the code of propriety thousands of feet in the air?

If ever there was a time and place for such preposterous outings, it was here and now. The daring baroness from Engels-Halsgaard. Somehow, you are certain Alejandro would laugh and take it in stride. Who knows but it might even fire up some passions in the other gents and ladies...

But no. You see it as plain as day. Even if the guests don't throw a fit. Even if everybody goes along with it. They know your name. Some of the guests will do business on the continent. They will speak of this. There is crew on this ship. People will talk. (Well, except perhaps if the airship was filled with Vierre nobility, in which case the orgies would probably already have started and everyone would treat it as business as usual.)

But these are stuffy businessmen. They would revel at a chance to hold something over a noblewoman. Sooner or later somebody who knows somebody will tattle. You can already imagine the salacious titles about wanton debauchery in the sky. The courts would be scandalized for months. And wouldn't that be a nice article for the Chronicle! You would be shunned everywhere you go.

But none of that matters. What matters is that sooner or later, it would reach Frederick. This thought alone is sufficient to completely paralyze you.
"What's the worst he can do? Break off he engagement?", you used to think once upon a time. Oh, how naive you were.

Frederick wouldn't even harm you physically. If you made a scandal, he wouldn't even dirty his hands with you. Though, he would probably be seen as within his rights if he did. Even if his daddy didn't keep half the judges in his pocket.

But breaking the engagement alone would be ruinous to you. The guarantee of the impending marriage is literally the only thing keeping creditors off your back, and the second that barrier is removed, they will come a-knocking like so many vultures. Poverty is an ugly thing. But more than that, powerlessness is an ugly thing.

You were powerless once. You will never be powerless again.

But no, it wouldn't end at that. That would be only the start of it. We're talking about the house of Von Ortmueller. They do not take insults lightly. They make an *example* of people who wrong them.

You don't dare even think about that. It wouldn't involve assassins in the night, or anything as dramatic. It would involve systematically destroying you, your self-worth, and everything you hold dear.
You snap out of it. You will worry about merchants and rubies and fiancés tomorrow. You need something to take your mind off of this unpleasant train of thought.

A suitable diversion occurs to you. You manage to snatch Alejandro for a brief moment. "You know, I've just realized I don't know the first thing about how an airship is flown. You don't suppose you could arrange for me to visit the bridge? If it is not too much trouble, of course."

"Why, my beautiful, all you have to do is ask. I would think the crew would be honoured to show you around."

It took scarcely more than a snap of the fingers, a few whispered instructions to one of the valets present, and you were on your way, escorted through a service exit, and descending the spiral stairs to the lower decks - where you hadn't set foot once since you came aboard. It was scarcely thirty feet away, but it was an entirely new world. Instead of polished floors and upholstery, there were chipped boards and rusted iron. In place of paintings and patterns on walls, there were dirty diagrams and indicators.

The crewmembers, clad in comfortable overalls rather than a uniform, greet you in fairly high spirits as you pass by. They are professional and polite. But you are very familiar with the looks they are giving you. This is the look that says that you are the Other. You are one of the Haves; while this is he realm of the Have-nots. The people who work and toil so you could enjoy a pleasant supper upstairs.

You enter the bridge proper, and are quite surprised at how small it is. The ceiling looms quite low, and the oil-lamps are giving everything a slightly subdued mood. It is more windows and instruments than anything else.

In the front, a bona-fide wheel like that on ships of wood and sail operated by a helmsman. You are fairly certain it is there just for the feel of it. There is a total of four crewmembers here.

The captain is a relatively young man, and his features are olive-dark, probably of Babylonian stock. His Dominican is utterly dreadful. He is barely able to formally welcome you to the bridge, and explains his name is Mahir. Communication at first is very laborious. But, you soon find out he is reasonably proficient with Hellenic, and from there it goes smoothly. It quickly becomes apparent that he is sharp and technically capable. He used to run locomotives in Babylonia for years before getting an apprenticeship as an airship deck-hand.
One thing you immediately like is how nobody here comments on how the necklace fits you or how your dress is just-so. They get straight down to business.

"Please, pay me no heed. I am just here to look around, and talk. Only the places I'm allowed to go, of course."

"You are a personal guest of Don Ortega. No part of the ship is off-limits to you, except personal cabins of other guests."

"That's very sweet. I don't want to impose. I am guessing your job is quite difficult even without me interfering."

"Well, my lady, I wouldn't say difficult. But it is a handful. As you can see, there are tubes and levers here through which I communicate with the various compartments of the ship - the coal furnace, the boiler room, the propeller room, and the Archimedean. The rudder is the only thing we directly control from here, as you can see our helmsman, Zam, currently doing."

The helmsman is a rather large black fellow. He doesn't appear to understand Hellenic, but he hears his name and turns to greet you, politely but quite awkwardly. It is clear he is not used to having nobility on the bridge.

"One man is controlling that entire rudder? I've seen it when I came aboard. It's massive!"

"There are actually two rudders, my lady. The main one on the bottom, and the smaller, auxilliary one on top. Auxilliary one can help reduce listing when used in opposition from the main one."


"In fact, I would say a third of our minute-to-minute job is preventing listing. For water ships this is not an issue, as the hull's water displacement usually makes the system self-correcting. If you list to starboard, the shape of the hull means more water is displaced on the starboard side, which in turn causes the starbord side of the ship to rise more, thus creating an equilibrium. In airships, this can somewhat be achieved by having three archimedean units, but that's reserved for the largest military cruisers. Civilian liners like this one are all single-archimedean; there is only one point of the ship providing lift. The shape of the ship ensures the weight is evenly distributed under usual conditions. The shape of our fins and the placement of the propellers is sufficient to keep us straight as long as we are moving at any appreciable airspeed, regardless if, for example, all the guests moved to one side of the lounge. Sudden gusts of wind introduce imbalances that must be manually corrected."

"Most intriguing. She looks like nothing so much as an elongated fish."
He laughs. "That is one way to look at it, my lady. This is a somewhat older design. The observation lounge only has windows to the side. The top deck is rounded, so only mechanics go out on the top deck. Some newer designs have a proper topdeck, like naval ships do."

Something about this exciting new world piques your natural curiosity. You unload a veritable barrage of questions about the airship.

"At what height are we?"

"We're currently at 10 - begging your pardon, Ma'am, that is shorthand for 1000 fathoms. That's usually enough to fly over most of the clouds in this part of Hadrian's sea. This is why it can feel somewhat chilly."

"So I presume you work in shifts?"

"Yes, my lady. There are two shifts for the flight crew, and three shifts for the labour-intensive personell such as coal furnace operators."

"So what do you do on your off-hours?"

"We spend our leisure time in the lower decks. You are free to visit any day. We have our own kitchen and mess."

You might just take him up on that offer. Interactions of the commoners in the belowdecks is completely outside the area of your expertise. But you don't have a lot in you.

"So do tell me more about the Archimedean Unit. It is ever so fascinating. You say it is on top of the ship?"

"Indeed it is, my lady, exactly above the observation lounge. I am in constant contact with the Archimedean engineer. He is the only person aboard who has a greater responsibility than I do. I would say his authority even outstrips Don Ortega's. As soon as the Archimedean acts up, we immediately land, and no questions asked."

"Oh, sounds dreadful! How likely is it that the Archimedean will fail?"

"It's been known to happen. Especially in the early years. Over the past decade or so, very few airships failed. Nowadays, if an airship sinks, it's usually due to non-archimedean factors. Storms or collisions. Just like water navy. The biggest threat, I would say, is an Aether Vortex."

"What is that?"

"Anomalous volumes where there is no Aether to displace. Fortunately, a skilled Archimedean engineer can detect them in time and warn us to steer away from those."

"And an unskilled one?"

"There are no unskilled ones, my lady. Not any more."

"Say, what are those lights I see in the distance?"

"Probably a Semaphore baloon. There is a string of them at 20 mile intervals connecting Lydia with the Continent. They blink encoded light messages at night. I didn't realize we were close to a Semaphore line." He turns to the third officer and they discuss something in Babylonian for a minute or so. A map is spread on a table and a protractor is put to task for a while. In the end they both reach a satisfactory conclusion, and the map is safely put away.
This goes on for a while. but Captain Mahir seems very forthcomin. If anything, your visit appears to put the bridge in somewhat higher spirits. It's probably a dull business otherwise. The other fellows on the bridge unfortunately do not speak either Dominican or Hellenic, so it's a bit problematic to converse with them. You also inspect the rudder, and Zam gives you a happy thumbs up. He seems to have taken a liking to you.

"Say, captain, would it be possible to arrange seeing the Archimedean unit? I've never seen one."

"Usually, the Archimedean chamber is off limits. But I think we can make something happen, if Don Ortega allows it. Probably better if you do it tomorrow during the day." Mahir gives you a friendly wink. "The day shift Archimedan Engineer is a much more amiable fellow."

> talk more with Captain Mahir (write-in)
> look to withdraw
>talk more with Captain Mahir (write-in)
Ask him about the previous voyages of the Empress and their passengers.
>look to withdraw
Thanks for the info dump Geber
>Ask him about the previous voyages of the Empress and their passengers.
>Ask the Captain the maximum load of the ship
>Ask the Captain the maximum range of this ship
>Ask him what was the strangest thing he has seen up here

> look to withdraw
>Ask him about the previous voyages of the Empress and their passengers.
>Ask the Captain the maximum load of the ship
>Ask the Captain the maximum range of this ship
>Ask him what was the strangest thing he has seen up here

> look to withdraw
Love this stuff so far, keep'em coming while I write. We are grilling poor Mahir for all he's worth but he gets to eye your "ruby" and I get a nice infodump opportunity so it's a win-win sort of situation for everyone involved.
Forgot muh tripcode, we are not being raided, there is no impostor, you saw nothing.
"Please tell me, Captain, do do you spend a lot of time in the air, then?"

"I've been in Don Ortega's employ for ten months now. I've spent six or seven months in the air."

"So you must have travelled far and wide and seen all sorts of wonders!"

"Don Ortega is a man of the world. We travelled as far as Uhlan, the Isles, and even the Avicenes. But most of our flights are short hops over Hadrian's see. That's where his trade interests lie. We hop around between Viginti, Xerxes, and Soledad. One time, we had the honour of entertaining the Emir of Lower Carnassia, and his albino tigers."

"Oh, how dreadful!"

"Not at all. They are very well behaved. I had the honour of petting one. They purr like kittens.

"It's never boring up here, is it?"

He shrugs. "No two clouds are the same. I like being up here. It's quiet. Don Ortega always brings all sorts of gentlemen to keep him company."

"Just gentlemen?"

He gives you a conspiratorial smile.

"I've perhaps said too much."

Well, not like you care, anyway. It's just that jealousy is always a good cover story for a lady's inquisitiveness. It's a ruse, actually. Nothing more. Yep.

"Pray tell, Captain, what is the weight of this ship?"

"In the airship business, we call it displacement. Our displacement is currently... " he consults a gauge. "... 121 tonnes in total."

"So what is the maximum weight we could take on?"

"Our Archimedean is a Zephram-III model, rated at a maximum of 150 tonnes. Oh, but, it's required by maritime regulation to keep a 15-20 tonne safety margin."

"Fascinating! And does the Archimedean expend any sort of fuel to lift us?"

"Well, I would say coal first and foremost. We require a steam engine for the the propellers anyway, but the Aether pumps also need constant mechanickal power. If you look upwards next time you're on the outside observation railing, you can see the axle spanning the length from the steam engine to the Archimedean alcove."

He scratches himself behind the ear.

"Oh, I almost forgot. The Apparatus uses up the Catalyst, too, but we don't concern ourselves with that. Every several months we ship the entire engine to a factory in Altmark and it gets refit and refilled. It's the single largest expense when operating an airship. Followed closely by the Archimedean Engineer salary."

Mental note: Archimedean Engineers are loaded. Good to know.
Would it be appropriate to ask how large our "ruby" are? At least compared to continental women.
Ask the maximum/crusing/average speed of the ship as well.
"Captain, you've been singularily forthcoming! Can you now tell me, how fast and how far could the Empress go if we really wanted to?"

"We are currently cruising at twenty-three knots. We could go twice as fast, but the steam engine would overheat, and we don't want to spend freshwater to cool it if we don't absolutely have to."

"That's much faster than naval ships, isn't it?"

"Certainly. Why, some military airships are rumoured to achieve eighty knots! The coal use must be dreadful, though. Even at low speeds, airships are generally less coal-efficient than sea-ships, because pushing on water is much more impactful than pushing on air. But who cares about that! Coal is cheap and virtually inexhaustible, and speed is time, and time is money! It's scarcely a wonder that you see so many former sailors move over to airship crews. Look no further than the Empress' own crew, half of it is ex wet-merchant fleet rats."

"As for the range, coal reserve is still the most limiting factor. I would say we could bear anywhere between four and six hundred leagues for a normal cruise, depending on winds and desired cruise speed. The Empress is a luxury yacht, she is not designed with independence in mind. Even so, more than a quarter of our lift-off displacement is coal reserves. We usually make a stop at Carthago Minor to replenish the coal mid-journey when hopping over Hadrian's sea. We won't have to do it this time. Thankfully we have a closed-loop steam engine, otherwise we'd have to stock up on freshwater, too, and our range would be much shorter."

You never realized just how economic airships were. Six hundred leagues is enough to cross the Continent end-to-end.

"But do tell me, you must have seen your share of strange stuff, high above the clouds."

"Oh, certainly, my lady. Spending all day looking at the sky, one's imagination can run wild. Plays of light and colour, especially before dawn. Towards the end of the shift it's particularly bad. A good night's sleep and a hearthy breakfast usually makes it all go away. And there is of course, the Hadrian Kraken."

"The Hadrian WHAT?"
It's safe to say Clarissa exaggerated when she said it was the largest she'd seen. But this necklace is definitely something you'd only expect to see on a Dutches, not even a Countess, and definitely not on a Baroness. In today's terms, imagine a rich techbro suddenly putting a $100.000 diamond necklace around the neck of a model on his yacht. Clarissa has seen some oriental and Lydian (african) courts recently, and it doesn't seem that they are much different in that regard.
He laughs. "The entire merchant fleet affectionately calls it that. It's some sort of a large whale or hydrosaurid, follows shipping sometimes. Too large to be a narwhal. Probably the poor thing wandered in from the Atlantean ocean into Hadrian's sea, and can't find its way back. We think it's attracted by the lights of the Semaphore Line. It never caused any incidents. So far it has only been seen by airships, it seems to dislike surface shipping. The Imperial Society of Aecumen offers prize for identifying or catching a specimen. Why, Zam here spotted it just yesterday! So if my lady ever feels up to some whaling..."

"I shall have to work on my harpooning skills, I'm afraid."

Mahir translates your remark to the other folks and the bridge erupts in soft laughter.

Well, you can't say you leaerned anything particularly useful. You had hoped for something saucier, in particular the mysterious origin of Alejandro's newfound wealth. Something told you scumbags like Newt would be interested in it.

But everything Mahir said pretty much confirms what you knew so far, and is in line with what you knew of the Empress' travels yourself. You spend some more time inquiring about the weather in the Caliphate of Al Avraam, trying to subtly worm out where the ship docked in the recent months before you boarded it, hoping to maybe grasp the secret of the rubies' origin, but you get nowhere. And there is no way that an entire airship with all its crew would be involved, if any secrecy was required, anyway.

All in all, you consider yourself quite clever for couching your true line of interrogation in between all these boring technickal questions. There is only so much you can cover under the veneer of jealousy, so it's best not to push your luck. Captain Mahir seems loyal, and it wouldn't do for him to warn his employer about just how inquisitive you have been. At the very least, it is safe to say you know more about airships than you'd ever hoped to learn in your life.

"I am very grateful to you, Captain. You and the crew have been most forthcoming. How can I ever repay you for this imposition?"

"Nonsense, my lady, begging your pardon! You are our guest - just between us, one of the most pleasant we've had the honour of serving on this ship yet. Please come visit us again, we'd be very glad for your company."

Captain Mahir returns to barking orders into the tubes. Zam gives you a smile and a thumbs up. You respond in kind, and leave the bridge.
A sudden fancy strikes you, and you decide to walk back to your cabin through the outside railing.

You struggle toopen one of the main doors leading to the outside of the gondola. Finally help arrives in the form of a young crewmember, a lad no older than sixteen. Though the sky looks so tranquil, a strong wind and a wave of chill hit you both. Your shoulders are still bare. You contemplate closing the door, but steel yourself. A lady must always be prepared for anything.

The lad stop you. He is trying to tell you something, but you simply find no common language with him. You are reduced to shrugging helplessly and gesturing. He gestures for you to wait, walks back a few steps, and rummages through a cabinet of some sort. From that, he gives you a harness.

Of course. The safety harness. You don't own your own, even though having a personalized one that goes with your dress is are all the vogue in Slavian courts. You eye this one with slight dread, but you decide that the dark blemishes and splotches are discolorations from years of use, and not stains that would ruin your expensive dress. It goes around your waist, armpits and shoulders. You are very briefly explained where to clasp it, and only then does the boy allow you to exit.

You give him warm smile and a soft kiss on the cheek before closing the door behind you, leaving him as stunned and as immobile as if he were a statue. Might as well give the lad something nice to dream about.

You clasp the harness to the railing. The winds are assaulting you now - but, you realize, it's not the winds at all; it is the Empress moving through the aer at the speed of over twenty knots. You can see the insides of the lounge, where people are still dancing and drinking. You spot Giuseppe lying on his back on one of the comfort chairs, snoring. You can't hear anything - the windows, you seem to recall Alejandro saying, are double glass for thermal isolation.

You see a figure, also harnessed, moving in the opposite direction. It's a crewmember. He politely switches to the other railing so that you and he can pass each other by. You give him a polite smile. He returns the favour, but then, through his smile, he says, in broken Francian:

"Boiler room C. Ten minutes from now."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Better be there, mademoiselle." He leans close to whisper. "Newt business."

You freeze instantly. The crewmember cheerfully continues on as if nothing had happened. You spend some time watching the clouds below you, forgetting about the winds and the cold.

You weren't really afraid, per se. Although this will certainly make the matter more complicated.

You were just plain angry and frustrated.

Was a girl truly never safe from that man, even in the gods-damn SKY?
Go on.......
Fifteen minutes barely gives you time to go and change your clothes. You are NOT going anywhere near anything called a "Steam Boiler C" inside your best dress. But also, because it will require go via the outside railing again, you make sure to wear your mantle, shawl and spencer.

You briefly consider whether to leave the necklace. You decide it's safer on your person. You don't suspect foul play from this - Newt is a lot of things, but he doesn't hire thugs. Regardless, if anyone tries some funny business, you are not entirely incapable of defending yourself. You have a small but very sharp dagger concealed inside your bodice. You never had to use it yet. But then, this has been an evening of firsts.

It is fortunate that the other guests are busy drinking themselves into a stupour inside the observation lounge. Your trip to the boiler room goes unnoticed. Even if someone intercepted you, you can always say you wanted to go for a stroll.

The boiler room is cramped, extremely hot, loud as all hells, stuffy and dusty. You don't know what else you expected, frankly.

The crewmember that passed you by on the bridge is there. He is currently busy shoveling coal. He is only in his undershirt. You reluctantly must admit to yourself that he has a very ... wiry physique. It doesn't help that he has taken of his shirt, and his muscles are glistening with sweat in the low, orange light of the furnace. Not bad at all, for a commoner.

You keep your hand close to the hilt of the dagger just in case.

"Why invite me here, of all the places on the ship?"

"It's my shift is, innit luv?"

He is using working-class Albion. You switch, but make sure you don't overuse complex words.

"Your Francian was simply terrible, anyway."

"That so? I think I did quite well, meself."
You measure him up and down.

"I don't know you. You're not one of his usual lackeys. You seem less... troglodytic."

"Why, thanks, luv. Means a lot coming from a Kraut countess."


"Same difference. Anyway..." he uses his shovel to close off the furnace, then turns to you. "I am here to ensure the interests of our... employer..." You roll your eyes at that word. "... are best served."

So he was even able to get a man to infiltrate the Celestial Empress. That must have taken a lot of planning.

"You mean you're here to keep an eye on me. Or, you're the plan B, in case I fail."

"Maybe. Maybe not." He wipes himself with a cloth. "Do pardon the circumstances, lady. Really not many ways to chitchat alone on this ship."

"How many other men does he have on board?"

"None. It's just you and me, luv. Well then, to business. Discover anything juicy?"

"Nothing concrete. I have some information that he might be interested in. Alejandro seems to have found some new source of income. A new ruby trade route, possibly. He mentioned sorcerers and alchymists from Al Avraam. I think it was just misdirection, but who knows. I am trying to dig out the movements of the ship."

"Don't bother. I spoke to other crewmen. I know exactly where she's been over the past few months. I also took a peep in the logbook. Whatever he did, the Celestial Empress wasn't part of it."

Pretty sophisticated, for a coal worker.

"And what about the despatches? Did you find them yet?"

"No. Not yet. It would go faster if I knew what exactly I was looking for."

He shrugs.

"I know as much as you do. Some sort of a diagram or possibly a string of letters or numbers."

"I said I'm working on it."

"I know. I was on the railing when you did your little dance. Seemed to me you were REALLY working on it, if you know what I mean--"

Before you can even think about what you're doing, you slap him. He doesn't even seem to react much to it.

"Oi, lady, all I'm saying is, you have the cat eating out of the palm of your hand. That's a good thing. Relax."
The furnace light trows sharp, elongated shadows on the walls around you. He breaks the silence after a while:

"By my reckoning we're about seven hundred leagues to Theodorea. We have less than three days to do something."

"You can't rush these things, you rude... thing. There is a certain way one has to go about it in high society."

"Well I mean I ain't no high class lady but have you considered just... strolling up to his cabin in your nightgown and knocking? I'm pretty sure it would work."

You feel your cheeks flush red. You raise the hand to slap him again, but this time, you're able to control yourself. He flinches, but seems amused more than annoyed.

"And then what? I ... seduce... him, and you suppose he just happens to leave this lying around his table?"

"I am sure you 'ave resources at your disposal."

> Ask the guy any further questions (write-in)
> Leave
> Ask the guy any further questions (write-in)
Does Alejandro keep his room guarded when he leaves?
Does he know the keys to the safe?
What does Alejandro carry with him at all times?
Well if I end up having to seduce him do you have some.... birth protection?
Support. Some additions:
Ask him exactly what our employer is looking for
Where would Alejandro keep his despatches and ledger?
Are there any other spies or people I should keep an eye on aboard the ship?
"Resources", huh. Oh, if this simpleton only knew how far from truth is that.

You are as inexperienced as can be. You are a PROPER lady. If you were from Vierre, or some of the oriental states, things would possibly be different. It is the age of scandals, after all.

There is no easy way to say it. But you are cynical enough to face the fact that a lady's ... virtue... is, among other things, a resource. A resource that you are, to be sure, free to use strategically or even throw away as you see fit.

However, this resource happens to rightfully belong to Frederick, as much or more than the meadows and farms and long abandoned mines sprinkled around your estate. You cannot, absolutely CANNOT throw this resource away on a whim. It is, implicitly, the part of the arrangement.

You heard that the methods of detection of a lady's virtue are not 100% perfect. Maybe you could arrange it so that Frederick doesn't notice. Maybe he will notice but won't even mind. He certainly had his way with more than one servant girl you know. But any woman willing to take that gamble is a woman who doesn't know Frederick when he is angry.

Besides, that would be putting the cart before the horse. The whole reason you are on this airship is to try and PRESERVE your engagement in the first place. You are here because Newt sent you; because Newt has in his possession that BLASTED letter you wrote, five years ago, when you were young, and stupid, and Kristian was still alive, and you were naive enough to think you'de be allowed to marry him some day, and you had read some of the saucier novels, and you wanted to sound more adult and mature than you really were, and...

You are not even that afraid that this letter will reach Frederick. You're afraid it will reach his father, or the newspaper.

And what of the danger of pregnancy? Gods, the very thought of it is enough to make your blood freeze. Your life would be as good as over.

You know of some preparations of quinine, or pills of arsenic and lead. Even if they don't kill you - and you know of more than one young lady who "mysteriously" died of mercury poisoning - you have none in your possession. Why would you? You are not that kind of a woman. Perhaps this man can help you come into possession of--

But no. This whole line of thinking is preposterous. You stop yourself. You didn't hold yourself back for twenty years to throw it all away on some airship cruise. No matter how charming certain Dominican merchants are.
You snap out of it. "Well I am not one of your lower-class *harlots*. I am not going to throw away my... reputation... and jeopardize my engagement just so Newt can get his grubby paws on some document or another."

He shrugs.

"It's nothing to me whether you will or you don't. We're 'ere to do a job. We succeed, we get paid." He pauses. "Look, I--"

He takes a step forward and makes a movement as if he is to put his hand on your shoulder. You are a decent judge of gentlemen's body language, so you don't think he is trying anything untoward. But involuntarily you flinch regardless. He abandons the gesture, and takes a step back.

"I just wanted to say, I know he has you by the b-- well, that he has you, anyway. Newt, I mean. It's how he operates. I'm on your side here, lady. So let's do this job and go our separate ways, alright?"

"It seems to me I am being asked to do all the hard work."

"You are seriously telling that to the bloke with the shovel?"

You sigh.

"At the very least try to be useful. Have you... observed him entering or leaving his cabin?"

"Oh right, I'll just mingle with the gents, shall I? Lady, I. Shovel. *Coal*. Alright? The cabin deck is your responsibility. But yes, I've kept an eye open. I've found a way to be busy on the hull a few times in the morning when he was happening to leave his cabin."

You both stay silent as you hear footsteps and conversation on the outside. The footsteps pass and the conversation subsides. The coal shoveler continues:

"I've seen nothing out of the ordinary. There's a mortice lock on his door. Give me half a minute and a dinner fork and I'll have it open. But that leaves another problem."

"You mean, the fact that we're on an airship."

"Exactly. If we swipe'em he's bound to see they're missing sooner or later. Then they will search this ship up and down and we'll be found out for sure. So we either copy them or take them shortly before disembarking. Then you hide them somewhere off-ship and take them when the hubbub has passed."
"Copying is out of the question. It takes too long, and what do we do if it's a drawing? Gods, This is so frustrating. How can we take something if we don't even KNOW what we're after?"

"I'm sorry, lady, alright? I know as much as I'm told. Papers, important, despatches, possibly a diagram or a cypher or a map. I don't think even Newt knows for real, else he would've told us. But I can tell you this much, this seems real important to him. Like, REAL important. Y'know, I think that's why he sent you and not just me. This is not a smash an' grab. This is some big stuff. It requires a lady's touch. Maybe, you can, y'know, get the playboy to open up to you. Maybe we find out what's in the papers instead. Worm it out."

That sounds marvelous. And if you had two weeks, you are fairly sure you could not only do it, but do it in a way that would make him think it was entirely his idea.

"Maybe it's not in his cabin. What if he is carrying the papers on his person the whole time? Have you noticed something like that?"

"You dance with him, you tell me."

"Gods, you are useless. I need concrete information."

"It's like you said. I am here to keep an eye on you and assist you. You do the fancy high-class stuff and drink the champagne, and I do the footwork."

"Do footwork then! Got any indication where he keeps his keys? Which pocket? Anything that looks like a key to a safe-box?"

"How do you know he has a safe-box?"

"He's a merchant with his own airship, of course he'll have a safe-box! And have you seen anybody resembling a guard running about? Or a spy?"

"Nobody on this crew is a bodyguard of any sort. I have everyone accounted for, shifts and all. He trusts the guests and the crew, I suppose. More fool him." He wipes his brow again, and resumes shoveling coal. "Nobody patrols the cabin deck. The best times to move about are after the breakfast and supper. The crew dines before the guests, and then they scuttle about the ship and go to their posts."
"Alright, look. Let's not rush into it, okay? We have three days. Let's gather some information first. Getting into his cabin seems like a logical next step. I think that's rightfully your job."

He sees you prepare to go on another tirade, so he hastily adds: "You don't have to do anything, just... get in there. All naive-like, alright? 'Ave a drink with the cad. Laugh at his jokes. Nice and slow. Scout out the place. See where the safe-box is. Try to get an inkling where the keys might be. Excuse yourself on account of some lady problem like you're feeling hot or your bodice is too wrinkled or whatever. That sort of stuff. Then we meet again and come up with a plan."

You think it over. He's right. Three days is plenty of time.

"You're pretty sharp, for a coal shoveler."

"Well, you're less of a shrew than I expected, for Kraut royalty."

"Was there *anything else*?" you ask, trying to dispel any notions that he is allowed this sort of familiarity with you.

"I don't suppose you want to have a go at shoveling the furnace?"

You roll your eyes and go for the door. As you shut it behind you, you hear:

"I'll be here every evening after two bells. And lady? Good luck."

You fasten your harness and walk slowly along the railing, trying to collect your thoughts. You feel that you are absolutely done socialising for the evening. This business with Newt's man drained the last drop of energy from you.

Rank amateurs, the lot of them. A wannabe spymaster - but in reality nothing more than a base blackmailer - sending you across half the Continent to try and find papers but without knowing what the papers even are? And somehow you are expected to make it work? A spoiled rich boy spending Gods know how many thousands of pounds on a necklace just to impress his friends and potentially get a lady to like him? And if that man is a mere coal shoveler, then you are the Archduke of Altmark. And last but not least, a baroness who hasn't ever been touched by a man playing at socialite and seductress.

You close the door of your cabin behind you. Your bed is draped with only the finest silk sheets. And it beckons so sweetly...

As you get into bed, rubies the size of houses, archimedean airspeeds and safe-boxes spiral around your head for a while. The last thought you have before the sweet oblivion of sleep claims you is:

"What the hell are two bells, anyway?"
Alright, will be taking a day to prepare for the next steps and give you all time to consider the situation and possible approaches.

Now that you know pretty much everything there is to know about Clarissa's situation, I'll be around for any questions. If there is anything confusing, or something that you would like to know about the plot (within reason, that should be known by the MC.) ask away.
Enthralling quest. Geber. I'm hooked. Now some questions.

Did we take take anyone else on board? Our handmaiden?
Can you describe how Clarissa looks like
What do we have in our inventory?
About our title, do we own land or is it just a courtesy title?
Do we know that are other ways to please a man without losing our virtue. I mean let's hope it doesn't have to come to that, but do we?
Are the other MC choices aboard this ship? How did we even end up in a submarine? It's fine if you can't answer the second one for obvious plot reasons.
Thanks for running QM. Have we fucked up yet or did things you were not expecting?
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Oh, what's on tomorrow's schedule? More dances or dinner?
> Did we take take anyone else on board? Our handmaiden?
Clarissa has a single handmaiden aboard. She was dismissed for the evening but will be there first thing tomorrow morning to braid your hair and listen to gossip and probably pass out when she sees the ruby.

> Can you describe how Clarissa looks like
So far, we only mentioned red hair. It is also obvious she is a looker. We can work on the details as we go along. I guess you can always inspect a mirror and make me write flowery prose about her freckles or whatever (please don't).

> What do we have in our inventory?
One hastily packed suitcase with toiletries and all sorts of lady's garments, sufficient for a trip. Some petty cash in the form of Sternbergen Kronen. Some jewellery, false and real. A few books and almanacs. A passport and a few official letters of guarantee indicating who you are. Your seal. The family ring with the crest, used for was seals. Your most dramatic possessions, really, are the self-defense dagger (which nobody would fault a lady for having on her person), a small garrote concealed inside your ornamental fan, and of course the ruby necklace.

> About our title, do we own land or is it just a courtesy title?
Clarissa mentions her estate very briefly in >>5659209. She is a Freiherrin, a noble, holding the landed title of Engels-Halsgaard, in the mountains of Sternbergen - which is itself a small, neutral alpine kingdom bordering the germanic states of Hanseatic League and Altmark. This can tell you a lot about her situation. For now, it's enough to know that you (or your estate) are in crippling debt and that if you get married to Frederick, the debt will be shouldered by his rich daddy. Whereas if the engagement is broken off (with cause!) your creditors will basically pick your estate apart and you will be reduced to poverty.

> The spicy question
Oh, salon talk gets quite saucy. Clarissa is theoretically quite aware of ... options.
Can't say much at this time, but at least some things should be clearer by the thread's end.
I had to draw from the "skyship intrigue" pile sooner than expected, but that's about it.
All shall be revealed in time.
That's handy. Can we trust her to be discreet and assign her minor spywork?

I can do with a brief description. I guess what I really want to know is how large her boobs are, does it make other ladies envious?

Should've brought another suitcase if we're planning on stealing stuff

It's always money, isn't it. How much did Newt promise for this job? We can't be doing this for free surely.
How does Clarissa know that word of what transpired here wouldn't reach her home?
She doesn't. It's a risk.

As for the breast size - I will let you, specifically YOU, decide. Roll a 1d4 for it (respectively B,C,D,E on the given reference chart). And no, we did not bring a dedicated suitcase to lug around stolen stuff. At that point, just steal the suitcase too. The rest shall be touched upon.
Rolled 4 (1d4)

>breast size
The stuff of envy or desire, depending on who's looking. Excellent.
looking forward to seeing when she gets command of the ship.
Huge bouncing knockers, no wonder everyone's staring at our rubies.
Well, the RNGods have spoken. We're stacked. A lifetime of envious glances and intermittent back pain awaits.I like how /qst/ dice always come through when it's about stuff like tit size but heaven forbid we do as well on an important plot roll later on.
So true. You want a buff/stacked MC? Here you go. Trying to jump over a chasm? Nat 1. Can't say the dice gods aren't with a sense of humor.
honestly, that's half the fun is seeing things go pear shaped on dice rolls.
The next morning finds you well rested. Mitzi was there to wake you up at the usual 7 o'clock. You sent to get breakfast served directly to your room, while you recapped the events of the previous evening - leaving aside some of the details regarding certain boiler rooms. Mitzi is trustworthy, but she doesn't know about your secret errands. It's not that you can't tell her. She and her aging father are the only two servants who didn't abandon you when the money ran out. It's just that she doesn't deserve being involved with that sort of sordid cloak-and-dagger stuff.

When the moment came to show her the necklace, you thought her scream would make your ears fall off. It took a few minutes to calm her down.

"Mitzi. I am serious. If you go tattling to anybody, and I do mean anybody, we could be in big trouble."

"But what is the point of it if you can't wear it?"

"I told him the same thing! He shrugged it off. I swear I will never understand that man."

"But it's such a shame, m'lady. It is gorgeous!"

"I was thinking of selling it when we reach the Continent."

"Oh, it would be such a waste, it goes so well with your hair--" she says, even while opening the wardrobe. "Well, you can at least wear the necklace while on the airship! What shall my lady be wearing this evening?"

"I'm thinking, I should like to get invited to a private dinner. To thank Alejandro for this. So I'm thinking... chaste and innocent?"

"I'm afraid no dress looks chaste and innocent on you, m'lady. But we can go with the white silk one, perhaps?"

"That'd be delightful."

"Only, take care not to go thanking him too much, if you catch my meaning, m'lady!"

You throw a cushion at her laughing face. "And you? How are things going with the Vigintine deckhand?"

She gives you a genuine smile. "Sergio is a gentleman! Yesterday he showed me around the rear part of the ship."

"The stern."

"Yes, where the propellers are. It's quite scary, they are larger than they seem from afar! And then we danced, and then we played cards, all of us together. Me and Sergio don't really understand each other all that well, but Sophie - that's Lady Tremona's maid - usually translates for us, and it's not like--"

This goes on for a while.

You couldn't care less for gossip from the lower decks, but feel like you owe it to Mitzi to at least seem interested. Sometimes it's a useful source of information, but at least now you feel like you can leave that part to your co-conspirator--

Huh. You realise you never asked for his name.

Oh, well.
It's now well past lunch, and you didn't actually get a chance to speak to Alejandro yet. You rarely see him on the leisure decks during the day, anyway. He probably spends his time holed up in his cabin working on this new scheme of his or doing some private dealings.

You've spent a pleasant morning in the company of some of the merchants' wives. They are still in the phase of giving you a polite smile while simultaneously keeping you at a distance.

There's also no sign of the man from the boiler room anywhere.

It is currently past lunchtime, and you visit the ship's greenhouse - it's one of the most beautiful rooms, near the top of the ship, and it's surrounded by luxury glass windows on all sides. There are many plants from all over the world, and you take the opportunity to freshen up on your botany (which was, to your chagrin, one of the topics covered by the natural philosophy tutors your father so kindly provided for you.)

It is then that you hear the sound. It is difficult to gauge the distance, but it seems as if it is coming from the outside. The other women seem a bit perplexed. The airship is a veritable menagerie of sudden noises. Scarcely a minute goes by without a steam valve or an axle or a furnace or a signal whistle of some sort doesn't make itself known.

But the sound you just heard was, unmistakably, a gunshot.

Very soon it is followed by another, and another.

The shots seem to be coming from the outside, from the starboard side.

> Leave the greenhouse in the opposite direction, descend to the cabin deck
> Leave the greenhouse in the direction of the shots, and investigate
> Stay in the greenhouse for the time being.
> ?
>Leave the greenhouse in the direction of the shots, and investigate
Is the ? for write ins or a mystery option
>> Leave the greenhouse in the direction of the shots, and investigate
Ready the dagger
>> Leave the greenhouse in the opposite direction, descend to the cabin deck

Find safety in numbers. Whoever fired the shots probably has killed and may kill again.
> Leave the greenhouse in the direction of the shots, and investigate
Bring a couple of curious ladies with us. They could serve as meatshields or warn others if nothing else.
Operation meatshield is a go.

? is a write-in shortcut
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The ladies' reactions range from the state of a mild panic to indifference.

"These are clearly gunshots," you say.

This is followed by a series of outraged exclamations: "On an airship?" "How dreadful." "Preposterous!"

But you are certain you have it right.

Some time before you all embarked the airship on Alejandro's whim, he and his friends organized a hunt. At that time you were nothing but a guest, a foreign noblewoman invited to a group as a courtesy. While the other ladies were content to go for some excursion or another, you somewhat audaciously asked to join the hunt.

Pretty much every noble in Sternbergen is forced to become a competent equestrian, because otherwise they'd have a hard time getting anywhere. Twists and turns on the mountain passes and the disrepair of the roads means carriages have to go slowly, and a horse is much more convenient.

During the hunt, you weren't given a rifle - and did not think of asking for one for fear of causing apoplexy in the more sensitive gentlemen - but your handling on the horse seemed to make an impression on the gentlemen. Maybe some of them were more amused than impressed, like observing some exotic animal at the menagerie, but that's when you caught Alejandro's eye. The only important thing is to be interesting.

Your ears were liable to fall off from the sound of repeated shots until the poor critter was finally killed - you remember the sound very well. The shots that now came from the outside were identical.

"Ladies, please. I volunteer to go and investigate what is happening. Would any of you like to keep me company?"

"Well I'm not going anywhere near." "I'm going back to the cabins!" "Imagine if there has been a ... murder." "Are we being being attacked by pirates!"

Pirates, flying over Hadrian's sea? Quite unlikely. But not unheard of.

"I'll go". The young wife of one of the merchants from the Caliphate steps forward. Her name was Aaliyah and she always has an enigmatic smile on. Her eyes are always done so expertly, you simply must instruct Mitzi to work out her lower decks magic to interrogate Aaliya's handmaidens about the make up she is using. She usually keeps quiet in conversations. In fact, this is probably the first time you hear her speaking Francian (which is used as the de facto common tongue between Continental nobility).

It doesn't seem likely you will be able to recruit further allies. So you and Aaliyah steel yourself and carefully walk to the starboard exit and open the door to the outside.Though winds lash at your face, through the usual bustle and clanging of the airship, the environment sounds quite serene. You immediately notice something is off - there are no screams, there is no commotion. One crewman walks along the railing without a care in the world.
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Emboldened, you and Aaliyah move forward. Another gunshot is heard. There is amazingly little echo up here, thousands of feet in the air. You hear men grumbling and - laughter?

You climb the ladder and carefully, with as much stealth as you can muster, lean your head over to see what is happening.

You immediately sigh with relief. Leave it to men to do stupid things.

One of the Empress' two life-balloons have been deployed, and is now trailing behind the airship, being pulled by ropes. A series of targets are being dragged behind it. Several men are standing, harnessed to a railing, on a small recess where the topdeck is not curved, and they are smoking, laughing and taking turns to shoot at the targets from a hunting-rifle.

Aaliya squeezes next to you on the ladder and looks over. She then bursts into a laugh, and you can't help but share in.

The men turn around. One of them is rounder than the others. "You louts need to warn us when you do these things. You had us worried sick!", you say, with a smile.

Alejandro steps forward. "My apologies, ladies. It's just, Pietr just gifted me this rifle over lunch, so naturally we thought nothing else but to immediately test it out."

"It's latest model from League.", Giuseppe chimes in. "Percussion cap, not flintlock."

Alejandro steps forward, offering you and Aaliyah both a hand to climb onto the recess.

"Do forgive us, ladies, we gave you such a scare. We had notified the crew, but I can't believe nobody thought to inform the ladies."

"Well, we did briefly consider if we were being boarded by pirates."

The gentlemen laugh. "Pirates! In this day and age? Gentlemen, we better pack it up, or we'll cause a panic in the ship!"

"Nonsense, Mister Ortega. We would never fault the gentlemen for having a bit of fun."

Giuseppe chimes in: "You should joining us. This rifle kicking much less, even a woman could shooting it. Though if she hitting something is different matter!", he laughs.

"That is not a bad idea. Would you care to join us, ladies?", Alejandro asks, offering the rifle up for inspection.

Aaliyah seems to have reached the extent of her curiosity - she politely refuses.

> "Oh, I'm not much for shooting rifles. They make such a dreadful noise - I'm content watching."
> "Oh, I've never shot one." (she lied as naturally as she breathed) "But I suppose I could give it a go."
> "Oh, how interesting! I would love to give it a go, if you don't mind."
To clarify things, because I didn't write it very elegantly - the options listed above are your potential responses, not Aaliyah's. To further clarify things, yes, you have shot from hunting-rifles before. Dear old Papa had wanted a boy, you see. Just don't expect to be a crack shot. You do, however, now which end is pointed to the target. Just good enough to do a skill check without penalties.
>"Oh, I've never shot one." (she lied as naturally as she breathed) "But I suppose I could give it a go."
Pretend to be a bad shot and let ourself be guided/handled to accuracy. Men love it when they get to teach and show off to women.
> "Oh, I've never shot one." (she lied as naturally as she breathed) "But I suppose I could give it a go."
>> "Oh, I've never shot one." (she lied as naturally as she breathed) "But I suppose I could give it a go."
>> "Oh, I've never shot one." (she lied as naturally as she breathed) "But I suppose I could give it a go."
"Oh, I've never shot one." You almost feel embarrassed for the lie. But it doesn't do for a lady to show all her cards. "But - I don't suppose there is harm in giving it a go."

You allow yourself to be guided by Alejandro in your posture, and the way to hold the rifle butt firmly to your shoulder. He shows you how it is loaded. This is indeed a new model, one you'd never heard of before (but then, you don't pay too much heed to this sort of thing). It's a "hybrid" rifle that comes with its own cartridges. The powder is prepacked in its own wadding. The charge cartridge and the lead bullet are then loaded, breech-side, not muzzle-side as all the other rifles you'd fired before.

"Why, this is very convenient", you exclaim, and for once, your marvel is not feigned. "No need to deal with the swadding, the powder, and the ramrod? That was the most terrible part of the whole ordeal!" You take the rifle and feel it in your hands. "Why, gentlemen, our friend Giuseppe might be on to something. This is a rifle that I feel even us women might be able to handle."

From a standing stance, you aim somewhere in the general vicinity of the targets, but make sure you aim off to the side. You pull the trigger. The rifle kicks like a mule, pressing your cheek and shoulder.

"Did I get it?" you ask, naively. "I didn't see. I kept both my eyes closed."

Giuseppe laughs again, but it's a good natured laugh. Alejandro is the very picture of politeness "I think you did very well for your first attempt, my beautiful. But look, if you pull your feet apart a bit..."

He guides you through the aiming process again and you pretend to absorb it all. He puts his hands on your hip, shoulder, and elbow, guiding you through the motions. You can't say you don't feel the least bit flustered by it.

And just like that, the shooting gallery continues. Everybody takes a turn - there is four gentlemen here, plus you, and Aaliyah who seems to be having fun just observing from the side.

As the rifle gets back to your possession, and you fiddle with loading the charge cartridge and the bullet into this new breech-loading mechanism, Giuseppe cracks: "Perhaps young lady trying to shooting balloon this time. Bigger target." In a more stuffy setting back at the continent, there would be at least one busybody who would make it their matter to get offended on a lady's behalf and demand Giuseppe to apologize. But this is a more relaxed bunch, and there is always that one jester who can get away with everything. You laugh it off - however, it does give birth to a sudden mischievous thought.
As you look down the sights, you say:

"Oh, I think I get it now. The weight needs to be shifted just so. I am sure I will have it this time!" You spend some time aiming, getting a feel for the barrel. "Well, gentlemen? Why don't we wager on it?"

"I wouldn't dream of betting against you, my dear!" Alejandro appears to be a uncomfortable with taking advantage of your naivete.

"Nonsense! I am sure I will do much better this time around. Come now, gentlemen. Last chance!"

"Let it never be said that Alejandro Ortega backed down from a challenge. Very well - if I hit closer than you, I'll have you attend to me at dinner."

In Domingo, the stakes of a wager are asked for, not offered. That suits you just fine. Just as you knew would happen, Alejandro is a perfect gentleman - he doesn't make an outrageous demand. So you'll sit next to him at dinner and have to give a toast or two. Big deal.

"And if I hit closer than you, perhaps I'll have you..."
> "...attend *me* at a *private* supper? I grow bored of the smoke and noise in the lounge."
> "...show me around your cabin before dinner? I am quite curious about the sort of luxury and decadence you live in."
> "...share something about your mysterious travels and source of wealth? I am sure it is an interesting story."
> "...(other?)"
>> "...attend *me* at a *private* supper? I grow bored of the smoke and noise in the lounge."
My logic is that we can wring out his secrets in a private supper in his room (if that is appropriate)
*wring out his secrets and scout out his cabin
>"...share something about your mysterious travels and source of wealth? I am sure it is an interesting story."
>"...attend *me* at a *private* supper? I grow bored of the smoke and noise in the lounge."
>"...show me around your cabin before dinner? I am quite curious about the sort of luxury and decadence you live in."
>"...attend *me* at a *private* supper? I grow bored of the smoke and noise in the lounge."
If we get to do it in his cabin then we can kill two birds with one stone. Directly asking him for his secrets is a little too upfront, we have tease him into revealing it himself.
>"...show me around your cabin before dinner? I am quite curious about the sort of luxury and decadence you live in."
Close vote, but the private supper it is
"And if I hit closer than you, perhaps I'll have you attend *me*, but at a *private* supper? I grow bored of the smoke and noise in the lounge."

Behind Alejandro, where nobody else can see, Aaliyah covers her mouth discreetly in astonishment at your daring. This is skirting the border of scandalous, but it falls just short of inappropriate - and you really don't have the time to dance around.

Alejandro doesn't miss a beat: "You have it all wrong, my dear. It's supposed to be something I wouldn't normally do with relish. Alright. Deal!"

That's all you've been waiting for. You have the sights aligned to the target already. You hold your breath, compensate for bullet drop, slooo-wly wait for the gunsight to cross the target... and pull the trigger.

Roll 1d6. Gonna need just one. first come first served.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

Rolled 6 (1d6)

Roll high?
Why are you namefagging?
Yep, we're rolling high.

The goal is not just to hit the target but to check who hits it better, so I will be rolling for Alejandro's shot.

I will be rolling for Alejandro.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

disregard me, I am a newfag apparently. Rolling for Alejandro, higher is better.
Tied... Another round or is he going to be a gentleman and conceding?
PSA that updates will be slimmer today and tomorrow.

It's an interesting situation but I can write around it.
You feel the sharp crack of the rifle, a recoil in your shoulder, and a satisfying sound of splintering wood.

The targets are little more than thin wooden boards with a cross painted in in the center. There are no score lines or circles, but by your reckoning, you manage to hit at around halfway to the edge of the target. Not the best shot you've ever made, not the worst either.

"I think that went well", you say, as you turn to hand the rifle to Alejandro. You are met with looks of astonishment, the gentlemen quite unable to process what just happened; and Aaliyah's impish grin.

To his credit, Alejandro doesn't seem as perplexed as the others: "Excellent shot, my beautiful. It seems to me I will have to try to best you in earnest."

"It wouldn't be chivalrous to do any less", you pout.

With very little ceremony, he takes the rifle, reloads it, and aligns the shot at the same target. The rifle roars again, and the target emits another loud CRACK as it is immediately hit. You strain your eyes to see, but Giuseppe is ready with some binoculars.

"I must saying, Alejandro, friend. This is tough one. To me it seeming you both hitting the same distance from center."

"It appears I have found my equal in marksmanship", he says, with that damn grin of his. A brief discussion is held between the gents on whether or not it would be appropriate to draw in the balloon so that the outcome of the wager can be accurately determined.

But Alejandro says: "Why go through the trouble, gentlemen? It would be silly to apply the same standards to me and the lady. I will gladly concede."

You say: "Nonsense! I will not have you dilute both our skills by showing any sort of favouritism."

"So is the wager off, then? Since nobody hit closer?"

Aaliyah chimes in, offering a way out of the conundrum: "But then it would feel as if nothing was gained from the wager, which seems wrong to me. To me it feels like you both won. So wouldn't it be more appropriate if you both honoured your stakes?"

It is clear to you, but perhaps not to the gentlemen, that Aaliyah is doing this for your sake. Although she may have misunderstood your motives, it is clear that she is rooting for you to get your private time with Alejandro. You will have to thank her later.

"That sounds like an acceptable solution to me." you chime in before some of the other gentlemen boorishly try to interject and ruin everything.
Alejandro has no option but to graciously agree: "Very well, then - you will attend me at dinner, and then later I will have my men prepare supper for us that we can take in private. And I shall even refrain from cigars for the duration, since the smoke vexes you so."

You take a small bow. A lady must know when to make the most effective exit, and that would be now, before any further questions about your newfound marksmanship skills can be fielded.

"Well, gentlemen. It has been a pleasant distraction, but we will be taking our leave now. We would hate to infringe upon your time playing with your new toy."

Aaliyah nods politely and the two of you descend the recess. She smiles at you, although she is too reserved or too polite to talk to you directly.

"Thank you for that", you say when you are out of earshot. "You really helped me out."

"On the contrary. You have me a priceless memory - the look their faces when you hit that target. Giuseppe looked like a catfish!"

It is still a sunny afternoon, but the winds and the sun have been whipping the two of you for a while, so you decide to descend to the enclosed leisure deck and resume your conversation there. You feel no intrigue or ill-intent from her. To your surprise, you catch yourself feeling at ease, and not even considering how you can fit her into your plans. Just a pleasant afternoon spent between two acquaintances.

You don't know how, but rumours of your wager and marksmanship spread around the ship quickly after that. It wasn't really an impressive shot, but it did make an impact.

The people on board were either from Alejandro's native Domingo, or the Caliphate of Al Avraam, or from the myriad city-states of Viginti. Together, these three countries had a monopoly of trade in Hadrian's sea. Each of them had their own view on women, but in none of those was it expected from a lady to know how to handle a firearm. In Domingo, women were to be passive objects of sonnets, fierce duels and rivalries between gentlemen; in Al Avraam, they were to be pearls, kept from harm and admired for their beauty and wisdom; in Viginti, ladies were considered as cunning and backstabbing - more dangerous than men, but their weapon of choice would be poison, not a blade or a firearm.
You withdraw to your cabin and have Mitzi draw a bath for you. On the Empress, there is no need to heat the water separately - it has a steam boiler that allows hot water to be drawn in every cabin. Letting your skin soak in this luxury, you close your eyes and immerse yourself fully into the water. As your ears disappear below the surface, the hubbub of the airship subsides and all that is left are the faint, low, rhythmic thuds of the propellers. You are alone with your thoughts.

You turn over in your head what would happen next. A private supper - nothing unheard of, but you would need to find a way to minimize rumours that are sure to follow. The goal is to scout out his cabin. Perhaps learn more of this sudden source of wealth. Even if you achieve nothing else, getting better acquainted might put you in a better position to strike in the future.

You do feel a bit guilty for hiding your true purpose from him. For all you know, you are about to ruin him. Alejandro has done nothing but be a gracious host to a foreign noblewoman whom he just recently met.

But Newt has promised a very handy payout if you secure this unknown despatch you are supposed to be after. The monetary compensation almost matches the price you can get for selling off the necklace. But much, much more importantly, he has promised you to return the letter. Of course, you will be burning the letter the moment you get your hands on it, and you will have nothing to do with Newt again. From the moment the letter ceases to exist, your debt becomes more or less irrelevant. You can live off the prize from this job all the way until you are married to Frederick within a year or two, and at that point the debt will be a thing of the past. You will spend the rest of your life as a von Ortmueller, becoming a Grafin (countess) when Frederick's old man kicks the bucket.

Every time you do a task for Newt, someone implicated in that gets ruined in one way or the other. Alejandro will just be another name on that list. So why does it feel so different?
Briefly, you fantasize about ditching all the lies. You could talk earnestly to Alejandro, speak of your life and your circumstances, and tell him why you are on this ship. And if you executed it just right, and timed your tears correctly, you could just make him trust you. Nothing like a crying woman to cloud mens' senses. This would be the first and last moment in your life where someone would see the true you. No lies, no deception. He would be a perfect gentleman, of course, and he would give away the secret of the despatch; and you would, in a perfectly feigned moment of weakness, decide that you cannot betray him after all, embrace him and then he would take you in his arms with his broad shoulders, and--

"Getting quite hot, aren't we milady?" Mitzi bursts in with the towels, as you hastily put up your hands above the foam.

"Uh... yes."

"I'll say - look how red in the face you are! Here, let me fetch your gown. Have you considered what to wear this evening?"

You are quite certain there will be no time to change after dinner, so you need to prepare right now for the supper with Alejandro. You have an inkling even the headquarters of the greatest generals in the world would contain less meticulous planning than that which goes on in the privacy of a lady's dressing room ahead of a big evening.
You are having trouble deciding on the dress to select for the evening. All the dresses you own are socially acceptable, of course, with some slightly more scandalous than others. You want to go with something more modest, but Mitzi believes that you would look much better in your red one, that reveals a bit more of the neckline and has a more audacious Eastern design. She sighs wistfully at the silly social norms that dictate you can't wear the same dress two evenings in a row, because the Killer still looks best on you, with or without the ruby. The red one is a close runner-up.

"Besides, the red one is easier to get out of", she winks.

"Mitzi!" you splash at her with water, while she gives an "eek" and dodges. "This is no laughing matter. What if Frederick could hear you now?"

"Oh, he's half a continent away. Besides, my lips are sealed. You will be a married woman soon enough; no harm in sampling the local quisine before that, as it were!"

"Such a 'meal' could turn out quite costly for the both of us, you know."

"Oh, you don't have to go all the way to the main course, if my lady catches my meaning."

"I catch it all too well. When did you become that much of a rascal?"

"'Tis the air, milady. It's thinner at this altitude."

"I'll show you thinner! Go and fetch me another towel."

You yourself have no idea or plan for what will happen this evening. A lady needs to be prepared for everything. You will, of course, be wearing your dress, and your ornate fan and reticule (a reticule is a small drawstring bag intended for a lady to wear her handkerchief and her smelling salts).

(choose one from each group:)

> Wear a modest dress.
> Wear a more provocative dress.

> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Don't wear the ruby necklace.

> Take the concealed dagger inside your bodice.
> Don't take the dagger.

> (other preparations?)
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> Wear a more provocative dress.
> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Take the concealed dagger inside your bodice.

> (other preparations?)
Perfumes, maybe a small domino mask?

I have just the perfect picture to describe our appearance.
>> (other preparations?)
do we have access to anything like sleeping draughts that we could slip into his food or drink?
This would be nice too.
> Wear a more provocative dress.
> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Don't take the dagger.

> (other preparations?)
Sleeping drugs, lockpicks, silent footwear, scissors, clean gloves, magnifying glasses and a comb
> Wear a more provocative dress.
> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Don't take the dagger.
> (other preparations?)
Supporting everyone else's ideas

That's a really fitting pic

While a mask such as that would be reserved for a masked ball or a similar festival, it can fit the situation and we're sort of presenting ourselves as a mysterious eccentric anyways, so I'll allow it.

You didn't think those little bottles in our reticule were *actually* smelling salts, did you?

You have nowhere to put any sort of additional footwear, but since you are wearing silk stockings, it should be sufficient to remove your shoes. Though, Victorian dresses really weren't made for sneaking about.

Additionally, picking locks is not something Clarissa would be proficient with. That's what the other two MC choices were. You chose the baroness, so you're going to have to finesse this one. Though a reminder that your ally from the boiler room did mention some proficiency in lockpicking.
>You didn't think those little bottles in our reticule were *actually* smelling salts, did you?
I did, but that's on me.
I didn't have any plans for that one way or another but if you think about it there really is no chance in hell that a person like Clarissa wouldn't think of such a thing. I mean, it's been established she carries a concealed garotte in her fan, for crying out loud. She would definitely take a chance.

This works doubly so since she's been through Viginti recently. The merchant city-states of Viginti have a very long tradition of women poisoning their husbands with arsenic and similar poisons. At one time it reached the point where ladies openly held bottles of poison on their nightstands, next to their tinctures and perfumes.

While this practice has somewhat receded in the recent century or so, things like laudanum and belladonna could probably be easily purchased at any apothecary there.
> Wear a more provocative dress.
> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Don't take the dagger.
> (other preparations?)
Bring a towel and maybe extra make up. We are playing the role of the temptress tonight so we have look really good and sexy.
Perhaps the dress can be made strategically tighter in certain places and looser in others?
It can certainly be made tighter at the chest, which will give us a convenient excuse for privacy, saying we need to loosen up our bodice.
> Wear a more provocative dress.
> Wear the ruby necklace.
> Don't take the dagger.
We don't plan on stabbing people, a scissor would do for cutting needs
That was the tiebreaker for the dagger. The rest of the options are pretty unanimous. Writing.
I was the only one to vote for dagger desu lol
Jesus, let's hope I don't miscount something of actual consequence.
This evening, you are going all out. Mitzi is providing the very best in make up, and the finest jewelry is lined up - with, of course, the ruby necklace as the centerpiece. You will be showing no mercy; the red dress is selected, laid out, expertly fitted, and made to look especially... tight-fitting in certain places.

You usually have to tighten up the corset, because Gods know you have enough there as-is, but for this occasion, Mitzi is instructed to loosen it up - let everything that should breathe, breathe.

Inside your reticule, there are a couple of bottles of "smelling salts" - one never knows when a gentleman's drink might become unattended. Something you picked up from a shady apothecary in Altina, that nevertheless came highly recommended by certain trustworthy local noblewomen, who thought it quite essential to keep their husbands asleep at night. (The dosage instructions were very specific, and dependent on the size of the man in question.)

But there is more. You are also bringing scissors, a comb and extra make-up. There is also a magnifying glass disguised as a pince-nez.

You briefly regret not taking more interest in the more underhanded practices such as picking locks. But it simply would not do for you to lower yourself to the level of the common ruffian. No, looking at yourself in the mirror, you realize that shan't be necessary. Why learn to pick locks when you can just ask someone to give you the key?

You decide against carrying your dagger. You never had to use it yet, and this evening should be more relaxed than most - and if it does come to that, will a dagger really save you? Besides, we wouldn't want Alejandro to become... distracted if he accidentally finds it, would we?

As the final missing piece to the collection, you take a small handheld mask, which you'd intended to use on masked balls in Viginti, but never had the chance to. Of course, this evening is not a mask ball, and besides, it would be impossible for people to not recognize who you are - but you feel it fits well, and it's worth to reinforce your enigmatic status.

You dismiss Mitzi for the evening and head for the door. She wishes you good hunting.

The cannons, so to speak, are loaded. The objectives are clear. The battle lines are drawn. This evening, Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard goes to war.
It has been half an hour since dinner started. As the evening crawls on, the feeling of nervousness at the prospect of your incoming mission grows - you take a sip of wine to steel your nerves. The evening so far has consisted of everybody keeping an eye on you.


You are "attending" to Alejandro, as per the terms in your bet, in all the ways that count. You are giving toasts to your gracious host, and you've even fed him from the end of your fork, once or twice. He is in his spirits.

The news of your marksmanship have already spread. Alejandro himself is praising you to other guests. You are the star of the evening, in more ways than one.

The lounge has been rearranged by the ship crew a bit. The quartet is now placed more prominently, in the center where the dance podium used to be. That's fine by you - there won't be any need for you to dance this evening. You and Alejandro intend to withdraw to a private supper later on.

And the chef has outdone himself. Apparently the theme of the day is Orient. For the aperitif, a refreshing glass of chilled Limoncello. This was followed by some Hummus and marinated olives, stuffed vine leaves and Feta cheese drizzled with olive oil and herbs. There was sea bass sand a Bouillabaise, and for the main course, an Avrami Tagine, a slow-cooked lamb with apricots, almonds, and fragrant spices, served with saffron rice. You can only watch wistfully at these mountains of food, and eat small, ladylike bites, because you naturally want to keep yourself open for later in the evening. As far as you are concerned, the supper is the real event for tonight; this tiresome dinner show is nothing but hors d'oeuvre.

You find that your position as someone who is obligated by the terms of the wager to lead the evening with toasts puts you, somewhat unexpectedly, in partial control over the course of the dinner.

> Make the toasts brief and mundane, so as to try and get Alejandro (and, you suppose, the other guests too) to drink more than they normally would've by the time supper arrives
> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's business endeavours, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's dealings with the sorcerers, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
> (any additional topics also welcome)
>> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's dealings with the sorcerers, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
want to learn more about magic in this setting.
>> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's business endeavours, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
>> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's dealings with the sorcerers, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
>Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's dealings with the sorcerers, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's business endeavours, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
He would likely reveal more about magical matters in a private setting.
>> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's dealings with the sorcerers, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
Before we proceed, you should be aware on a meta level that this setting is intended to be "realistic". Don't expect something like Dishonored.

The only divergence is the Archimedean flying machines; to the characters of this setting, it would seem no weirder than the steam engine or the aeroplane. However, please consult >>5654534.

In short, if Clarissa saw someone casting a fireball, she would be as surprised as you would be if you saw someone do it on the streets today.
>> Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's business endeavours, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
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As talk of the table turned to politics, and similar things of no consequence, for the fifth time this evening, you decide that enough is enough. A change is needed. You decide to shake it up a bit. And one thing that does intrigue you the most from last evening was the talk of sorcery, but also the source of Alejandro's mysterious wealth.

Your attitude on the supernatural can best be described as disappointed cynicism. Papa hired only the very best tutors in the kingdom - more than most would deem necessary even for a noble heir, especially if said hair was regrettably a daughter.

Ever since Neustadt ushered in an era of enlightenment, by publishing Principles of Natural Philosophy in the early 8th century, even the orbits of celestial bodies turned from something inscrutable into a predictable, calculable phenomenon - "as if written in Gods' mathematics", as someone said. Where once we might have sought solace or explanation in the mystical, we now have recourse to the precise and methodical understandings of physical law. The miraculous transformations once attributed to the divine or the arcane are now laid bare before us, subject to rational inquiry and comprehensible to the educated mind. The rainbow's enchanting array of colours, once attributed to magic or divine intervention, now can be understood as the dispersion of light.

It is as if the curtain of superstition has been drawn back, and we are at last permitted to gaze upon the true workings of the universe.

All that doesn't change the fact that the world, as described by the Natural Philosophers, seems dreadfully more *boring* to you than the world from fanciful phantastic novels you used to read in your youth. In these stories, dragons terrorized villages, sorcerers secluded in their studies wielded their jealously guarded secrets. Good stories operated on principles which eluded even the great minds of natural philosophers.

For who can say that he knows all? Before the first hot balloon flight, people said flight was the domain of birds, not humans; whereas now, a 300-tonne ship may fly as easily as it would sail the high seas. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

And who knows? Maybe there is something valuable to learn here about your mission...
>Steer the toasts towards the topic of Alejandro's business endeavours, so as to stimulate conversation in that direction
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You, of course, strongly suspect that the mystical talk from yesterday was just a foil. You are equally interested in his business dealings as you are in his talks with Avrami mystics and street magicians, and the former probably has infinitely more practical use to you. Alejandro has a flare for the dramatic, but he is a very shrewd businessman; he would not be openly uncovering his secrets, but rather keep his enemies - and, presumably, friends, too - guessing. What is more probable - that a merchant actually found a way to manufacture gold, or that he is using that talk to divert attention from the real source of his wealth?

And also, your mission - to secure a despatch of some vague description that not even Newt knows more about - is simply too ill-defined. Perhaps if Alejandro talked a bit about where he travelled and traded, that might help you learn some more.

It may put Alejandro on the spot to talk about it directly. Perhaps it's even something illegal. It matters little, because you will enjoy prodding him into talking about it regardless. You wouldn't even like to have him spill all the secrets here, in public. Information's worth is inversely proportional to the number of people who know it. The most preferable scenario is to talk about it just enough to open up the conversation for the rest of the evening, then leave everyone else guessing, and then to extract the real information later, when you are alone. You think you know just how you might achieve it. Get him to drink a bit, innocently sit next to him, put your hand on his chest while admiring just what a big, smart man he is--

-- let's just say that, by the end of the evening, it will be a miracle if you don't walk out of there with the despatch in hand, gladly surrendered to you.

You stand and raise your glass.
You stand and raise your glass.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I might beg your indulgence for a moment? Once again, I should think myself remiss were I not to raise a glass in toast to our most gracious host, Mister Ortega. Yet it is not the terms of our wager that compel me to do so; rather, I sincerely believe he has deserved nothing by praise, be it from me or any one else at this table.

A man of commerce, a patron of the fine arts, a connoisseur of fine wines - Mister Ortega has it all, and yet remains humble as if it were of no consequence. While I do not fault him for his fortune - no more than I would for his quick wit or charming personality - one might be forgiven to lend credence to last night's talk of sorceries and alchymists. Though Natural Philosophy has done much and more recently to dispel the superstitions of centuries past, I should still prefer to live in a world where there is yet some mystery to the workings of Gods and mortals, so that charismatic young merchants may encounter life-changing events by consulting with sorcerors.

Far be it from me to insinuate the good fortune of our host on anything but his own proficiency and skill - though I shall have you know, my dear Alejandro, that if you *have* managed to find the Elixir of Life, and didn't think to share it with me, I should be very cross indeed.

We would, of course, never wish to take advantage of our host's hospitality to steal the secrets of his shrewd business sense - everybody is allowed some secrets, a lady should know this better than most. There is yet some charm to an enigma, romance to mystery - though I think I speak for all of us when I say that our gracious host owes us some explanations from last night; and if not that, then at least a good story or two!

So, ladies and gentlemen, let us raise our glasses to our most gracious host. May his fortunes continue to flourish as they have up until now, may his voyages never tire him, and may he always retain a bit of mystery and charm. To Alejandro!"

"To Alejandro!" everyone raises their glass.
"Well, my beautiful, you caught me. I did promise to talk more, and if you all are so insistent, then I will share a story or two about what happened on my travels. I fear I may have led you all to believe that it was rather more... exotic than it shall truly turn out to be. But it is a worthwhile story, nonetheless.

You could hear a pin drop in the room, as Alejandro began spinning his tale.

"It is no secret that my trade over the past several years has consisted of fabrics, spices, and on occasion, gemstones. The Caliphate of Al Avraam has always presented lucrative opportunities for any trader with a ship and a half-decent business sense. And for several years, that was enough for me. Over the years, my wealth grew. First I got another ship; then another; after five years, I had a fleet of ships that knew exactly where to purchase spices and fabrics to take to the Inner Sea and the decadent ports of Viginti."

Everyone around the table is soon entranced. The wine, the company, Alejandro's tales, and, let's face it, the enigmatic foreign lady sitting next to him in THAT dress - there is plenty to look at and to listen.

"With the age of the airship still in ascendance (if you will pardon me the pun), some of my colleagues have switched to that form of transport. But I feel that the margins there are too thin; there is really no replacement for a ship. It doesn't need some form of advanced machinery to travel; it is cheap to maintain; and sailors are, or at least, have been until recently, cheaper and easier to find than airmen.

"But I did more than just trade. I travelled, and talked to a lot of people, and I am proud that many a good man calls me friend or brother on three continents.

"As you will know, Al Avraam has a strict stranglehold on some goods over the others - they will not allow anybody to trade in pewter, for example. So, in pursuit of hidden passages, I went abroad. On camel, horse or boat, I scoured the old continents as far as I could. I went deep into deserts, sailed the river Iteru to the unhospitable jungles of central Lydia. Few men know better than I do the hidden passages in the Sigon Mountains, where one can pass the border between Al Avraam and Priam."
"Who among us will not admit to sometimes bypassing the greedy border officers and their exorbitant tarriffs, when ever they had half a chance?", one of the yes-men at the table says, and everyone laughs. Alejandro continues:

"One fateful day, in the course of my travels - for I always led my ships and caravans in those days, to better get a feel for the prices - fate led me to the small city of Al-Kharabas. That is where I first met my friend that will become so important for the story.

"Ah, I see that I have your attention. I admit, I may be embellishing the truth a bit. It was not in the shadows of the pyramids that I met with a hooded figure. It was a simple talk on the bazaar of Al-Kharabas one day - and this one peculiar apothecary had some oils to sell to me. Oils went well in Viginti and Babylonia at the time, and it was not long before I struck a regular route.

"Over the years I visited my apothecary friend many times - I am afraid he shall have to remain nameless, for he is not the kind of man who could sleep freely if his true name were known - and every time, our discussions grew deeper. This was a man who knew everything on every topic of philosophy and literature, and for some reason, he took a liking to me.

"In a matter of two or three years, I caught myself crossing the caravan to get to Al-Kharabas, looking forward not to the spoils of the trade, but the talks with my friend.

"It turned out that he was from a noble family, and had enjoyed a prince's education. He had been a bright youth, that studied to be a philosopher-poet, but his father was deposed - and my friend alone fled the terrible fate exacted upon his family by their enemies."
"In truth, I should be reluctant to share even this information about his identity, but I feel safe in the fact that the region, over the last decades, has seen so much turmoil, and so many dynastic struggles among the small desert tribes, that I am quite confident nobody could use this information to track him down.

"Though the library from his youth was lost, my friend was able to salvage some books that fascinated him the most, and he could boast of having memorised most of the rest. He had a particular interest in ancient tracts of the Alchymists, ever since he was a youth - you will perhaps remember that Al Avraam is the seat of this ancient and noble art. In fact, it was in these tomes where he found detailed instructions on how best to distil certain essences from plants. This is how he got to working as an apothecary, and how he was able to produce the oils we so lucratively traded on the continent.

"But it did not end there. He inducted me into the world of the Alchymists. He talked with great sorrow about the fateful days of the sect, when the bloodthirsty vizier Mammud condemned the entire order, and their temples were burned down overnight by the angry mob. I could sense all too well the reason why this would vex him so, and the parallels between his own exile and the fate of the Alchymists, reduced to roam abroad while hated by everyone."
"Either way, this is where the story would end, were it not for an unrelated venture of mine. Some of you will remember I traded in the East for a while. While there, I came into possession of an old, dusty tome in one of my travels. I purchased it at an Uhlan market-place. For centuries, these savages have plundered the silk trade routes. Though they have no use for tomes of paper written in a foreign script, they yet know such items can fetch high prices, so they frequently ... arrange to come into possession of them while on their raids in the east.

"This book, as explained to me, came from a palace of some Xingese governor or another - but I could understand nothing of it. It was written in an archaic Babylonian dialect that I could not read, but it was very clearly a book related to Alchymists, as I could spot the hermeneutic symbolism of a serpent eating its own tail in multiple places in the book.

"When I brought the book to my friend, he could scarcely believe his eyes. He jumped with joy and kissed me on the cheeks, exclaiming that he would be forever in my debt. The tome turned out to be a fount of lost knowledge, including such information that I shan't speak of. But I can tell you that my friend and I embarked on a journey of pilgrimage like no other.

"Alejandro José Ortega is not lying, my friends, when I say that I stood inside one of the Old Temples, deep in the jungles of Catanga. This means nothing to you, perhaps, but the Old Temples of the Order of the Serpent are revered, almost mystical; that any remain standing is a notion long ago abandoned by even the most optimistic of natural philosophers. I am not exaggerating when I say that the simple act of providing the location of this temple would be sufficient to make me an honorary fellow of the Imperial Society, or an honorary doctor in the University of Hofgarten. All the learned men of the Continent would speak about me!"
"But due to sincere entreaties by my friend, I shall refrain from doing so - I never had many academic aspirations, after all. It is not the location of the temple that is important. It was the glyphs carved into the wall of the temple... and the contents of its vault. I shan't go into detail.

"What I am about to tell you, my friends, I will tell you freely, because I have come to know and trust you all. And I am a good judge of character. We all stand to be richer for it. But I implore you, no word of it must leave this dining room for reasons you shall soon understand."

He lowers his voice, so that not even the members of the quartet can hear him. Everybody leans in, holding their breath - including you.

"Here we come to the most important part of the story. My wealth, and the business proposal I have for you, friends. My friend is, by his own reckoning, in my debt for the rest of his life. Had he asked, I would have given him equal part of the wealth found in the temple, or more; but he asked for none of it. Knowledge is his part of the plunder; and I shall content myself with the material part.

"It is safe to say that I have a claim on the temple, at least morally - but not, quite, legally. Let's imagine, for a moment, that the temple is full of valuables. It is not gold, but it might as well be. I cannot, by myself, trade it all away, all at once. I alone know of its location; but as you know, luxuries are forbidden to carry out of Al-Avraam in any great quantities. I could go the long way around and export them through a lesser country in Lydia, but those roads are unsafe, and the jungle is dangerous. It would be easiest, of course, to reach it by airship, although permits must be obtained that might arouse suspicion - but that is out of the question. My friend bid me swear that I shall never reveal the temple's location to another human being; and airships need crews.

"But even so, getting to the gold physically is more or less a non-issue. I have a larger problem. Such a large amount cannot be immediately carried or traded. I need a... consortium, so to speak. To distribute over time and space the wealth of the temple towards the continent, piece by piece. For your trouble, you would, of course, be allowed to keep a percentage for yourselves. I am sure we can negotiate an amount pleasing to all parties, but let's not sully this evening with such talk."
Please some kind anon roll a d6 for... reasons
Rolled 1 (1d6)

Don't worry, nothing bad has happened. to your knowledge.
Continuing to write.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

It is at this moment that servants enter the dining room with plates bearing the dessert, and before they can reach hearing distance, Alejandro stops talking.

The dessert consists of delicious-looking rosewater Panna Cotta served with a drizzle of pomegranate syrup. But nobody, not even you, paid any sort of attention to it. For the first time this evening, it seemed, you could clearly hear every spin of the propeller as it vibrated the table ever so slightly. People looked at each other in incredulity.

It takes seemingly forever for the serving staff to take away the main course plates, in perfect silence. As soon as they move away, however, the table erupts into a general alarum. Everybody, *everybody* seems to have a question or three for poor Alejandro, in multiple languages, all at once. But, you notice, not a single one of them for a second seems to doubt his story.

Neither do you, for that matter. It all fits now - if he really found some old temple brimming with gold and rubies, then the necklace would be absolutely nothing to him... and his newfound wealth over the past few years? But, with sheer terror, you realize: Alejandro's secret is not as safe as he thinks he is.

Somebody must have talked.

How do you know that? By the fact you are on this ship. You are, without a doubt, now convinced of what your mission truly is. Some way or another, Newt managed to catch wind of this man's comings and goings. He may not know about the temple, but he knows about SOMETHING, and he has sent you - and the man from Boiler Room C - to get into possession of this information.

A wave of heat flushes over you. This information is big. But it also means your job for this evening is going to be very difficult. You are quite certain that you cannot hope to get Alejandro drunk or ... otherwise distracted... enough to get him to break his word to his friend. The despatch will, then, probably be a map of some sort, then. Or a journal from which the location of the temple will be extracted.

Oh, but if that were the case, your job might also be easier - remembering or copying some instructions or a location on the map.
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Someone roll another d6, please. Just one is enough, first come basis.
Rolled 6 (1d6)


Bipolar today, aren't we?
For the briefest moment, you catch a glimpse of something reflecting on the window of the lounge. The wine, the shock of Alejandro's story, and the general hubbub turn your attention away from it. You observe the pathetic yes-men vying to get a word in. You let the peasants have their way, jostling to speak to Alejandro. You know that your time will come, just a bit later this evening.

Suddenly, another reflection crosses the window, gone as quickly as the previous one. You are intrigued. Is it a shooting star? The night sky always has looked astonishing from here, thousands of feet above the clouds, and you've always felt as if you could count every star in the sky. While everyone busies themselves with the evening's host, you keep an eye out to the outside.

It is not a star, you decide, and it seems too vague to be a light. It comes and goes as if moonlight is reflecting on the window intermittently. From your position, the windows of the observation lounge are overseeing the starboard side of the airship. This far forward, there are no propellers or any other sort of machinery anywhere to be seen.

In some ladies, with less nerves than you, this would perhaps induce a panic. You still remember the rifle shots took you off guard, and how you almost ended up looking silly while worrying over nothing.

You remember the captain speaking about the grand Semaphore line. Perhaps it's one of those? This light has another, more transient quality to it. You can't put your finger on it, but it's like you've seen it somewhere before. There are no clouds at this altitude, and you've seen no indication of a storm since the Empress took off.

There it is again! This time you definitely notice it. It is not a star. And it cannot be moonlight reflecting off the window. You are intrigued enough to excuse yourself.

"Pardon me, but I feel as if the excitement of the evening is getting to me. Please excuse me while I catch some fresh air."

You stand up, putting your hand on Alejandro's shoulder nonchalantly. He gives you a pat of approval. He is well and truly "well cooked", as women back home at Sternbergen would say. One way or another, you'll sure to have a good time with him this evening.

As you walk towards the window you can feel his stare, as well as the gazes of men and women alike on your back. Let's be honest here. You love that feeling. You live for it.

You approach the window, perhaps more slowly and with more ... *swaying* than strictly necessary.

*Well then, my mystery twinkling star, let's take a closer look at you.*

And then it happens.
You can't be more than a yard away from the window, when you see something - a bird? flying at you with enormous speed. Fortunately, you have your wits about you, and just about manage to step out of the way without falling over.

The window ahead of you explodes into a million tiny pieces, as the projectile whooshes a mere two feet away from you. You are almost knocked on your back, but by sheer stroke of reflex or fortune >>5665561 you avoid both the projectile and any cuts from the glass shards.

Through the cacophony of horrified screams, the thunderous crash of splintering wood and tumbling silverware, and the rain of glass shards, you catch a glimpse of the object that had flown past. It resembles nothing so much as an arrow, if arrows were a girth of several inches and a length of five feet. Most curiously, it is tethered to a steel cable.

Before your eyes can fully register the sight, two more windows burst open, each followed by another arrow in turn. Women are screaming, men are scrambling from the dinner table - you turn to see that the cellist is all but decapitated by one of the arrows - the one you managed to dodge. The remaining three quartet members are paralyzed in sheer terror.

As the steel cables grow taut, the "arrows" reveal their true form. Each sprouts three menacing prongs, taking the shape of a ship's anchor. The anchors retreat, their path marred by the ruined floorboards. The cellist's lifeless form is ensnared by the anchor prongs, dragged towards the windows in a grotesque dance. Eventually, two anchors root themselves firmly into the wall, while the third rips through the structure, only ceasing when the torn-off piece of the wall collides with the outside steel railing.

People are literally tripping over each other, some still processing what is happening, others trying to run - though Gods know which way. The ladies are clumsily trying to stand up, stepping on the hems of each other's dresses, gentlemen jostling around them, with everyone shouting at everyone else in probably five different languages. A chandelier falls to the ground, and a candlestick tips over, and a fair few tables and chairs are upended and dragged by the anchors.

Perhaps you gave the toast a bit too many times this evening, because it seems to you that everyone is acting like a drunkard. You do not let panic overtake you, but act on instinct. You...

> Move away from the windows and find a strong male back to curageously hide behind.
> Make a run for the exit, leading to the the aft of the ship.
> Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
> (other)
>> Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
Pirates or Privateers? Either way we have to stick with Alejandro
Was the 1 for how drunk the guests are?
The 1 was for a social deduction check, but I can't say any more for now, or you may as well have rolled a 6
>Move away from the windows and find a strong male back to curageously hide behind.

Better to roll 1 here than when trying to dodge a decapitating anchor I suppose.
>> Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
>> Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
>Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
I was rereading the dress vote and thought, could we have brought cameras? Are there cameras in this world?
>> Move away from the windows and find a strong male back to curageously hide behind.
Gentleman will rally to protect the damsel in distress
If they do they would've been large studio cameras, not the kind you can fit inside a lady's handbag which would not be invented until much later.

>>5666205 is correct, even stretching the dates a little the best you could hope for would be a daguerreotype (pictured). Not only is it cumbersome to carry but also requires prolonged exposure and has crappy resolution and image artefacting. Discreet, spywork-appropriate cameras are probably around 100 years away at this point.
>> Hide in the corner of the room, behind a flipped-over table, and assess the situation.
table-kun wins
A table is conveniently flipped over near the corner of the lounge, away from all the hubbub. You waste no time - you swiftly hide behind it, make yourself as quiet as a mouse, and look over the room.

You see Alejandro standing in the center of the podium, trying to calm the chaos down. "Friends, please!", he shouts, but to no avail. People start pouring towards the door that leads to the rear of the ship. Chairs and a table are in their way, and the situation is made even worse by the fact the floor and the walls go... crooked. *The ship is listing*, you realize with horror. Tables, chairs and guests alike start sliding along the floor. The overturned table you are hiding behind also jerks but quickly comes to a stop, one of its legs stuck in the recess the anchors wrought. A large series of CLANGS is heard, and you feel you are about to lose your dinner. The Empress jerks violently - you hold fast. You see two people nearest the door get knocked down by a new impact, and more cutlery, glass and dishes fall to the floor. A small fire starts spreading near the curtains, illuminating the macabre spectacle with an eerie glow. A table slides all the way to the the door, blocking it temporarily.

You barely have time to think. Privateers? In this day and age? Over Hadrian's sea?

*Nobody on this crew is a bodyguard of any sort* - the words of your dubious ally from Boiler Room C echo inside your head.

An image of the rifle springs into your mind - where would Alejandro keep it? Maybe it would be in the cabin. But would it be loaded? Would-- but you stop yourself. That's just one rifle. What would it do?

Finally, one of the traders pushes the barricade table away, and the door is free. He runs out of the room...

... and is bodily thrown back into it the very next second.

Jackboots. You hear jackboots echoing on the metal decks outside and the wooden floors inside.

That's when they enter, two men initially, followed by more. They are wearing uniforms and masks.
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You've spent quite some time in the society of officers all over the Continent. You could pick out the reds of the Commonwealth infantry, the dark blues of their navy, the sky blues of their air wing; the green-greys of the Hanseatic League, the whites of the Royalist Vierre Guard and the green of their republican counterparts. You even know enough to discern cuirrasiers from hussars. Within a second, you could tell the gaudy garb of Domingo conquistadors from Vostok cossacks.

The uniforms you are seeing are none of those. The fabric is dark-grey and black. The mask itself is black. Puzzlingly, They are wearing steel helmets, like armoured warriors of old. There is even insignia on their uniforms. One has two golden eagles on his chest and epaulettes, whereas another one has a single triangle of some sort. There is certainly nothing resembling a crest anywhere. There are multiple small bags strewn over their chest and waist.

The most haunting aspect of their appearance, however, is the mask they are wearing. Its inset glass eyes lend an insect-like quality to their faces, dehumanizing, and alien. The mask's rubberized material is strapped tightly against the skin, distorting the natural lines of the face and reducing their identities to a pair of emotionless glass. The cylinder attached to their mouth hangs heavily, and a tube leads away to somewhere behind. Something tells you that this mask probably serves a functional purpose, even if it is to terrorize anybody who would gaze upon them.

With gloved hands they grip weapons wrought of dull black-iron. But these aren't muskets or rifles, even though they are sufficiently long - they have a peculiar design. Large cables attach to the back, where the butt would normally be, and leading to a large canister on their back. You can see valves and gauges on the weapon.

One of the gentlemen starts approaching the newcomers - you recognise him as Pietr, the man Alejandro said gifted him the rifle earlier on. He is trying to speak to them in Francine, but no sooner does he step within a yard of them than he receives a blow delivered with the bulk of the rifle. This sends him flying back and he lets out a curse word in his native language of Vostok. He is caught by the other gentlemen. The room falls more silent, if one ignores the subtle licking of the flames and the CLANGS of jackboots.
The invaders raise their weapons menacingly as if to warn others away. Gentlemen generally take a step back, and ladies are apprehensively peeking from behind them.

Alejandro is standing strong. He is alone in the center of the room. He is currently silent. Clever - you'd expect no less.

He has recognized the same thing you have - these people aren't mere brigands or pirates. These men move with the coordination and discipline of well-drilled soldiers. That would mean they are here under orders. And that would mean that they are not the ones to talk to or reason with.

Not many people can be relied on to make such a chain of deductions in a stressful situation. In fact, Alejandro doesn't seem too perturbed. If anything, his face shows just a hint of indignity.

There is five or six soldiers in the room, forming a cordon around the door and, using their weapons, threating the gentlemen in the room. And that is when you hear a new sound, rhythmic, almost serene in its regularity, growing ever stronger, like a very slow clock approaching slowly from a distance. Clack. Clack. Clack.

The tip of a cane enters the room, emitting another *clack*. The cane is ivory, and though you can't make out the details, you see it is impossibly ornate. The top ends with an elaborate silver handle in the form of a snake, held by a shivering, shrivelled old hand.
Following the cane, enters a rather short, bald man. He isn't wearing a uniform or a mask. There is a limp in his step. He is wearing unassuming black robes. But none of that matters. The only thing you can look at is tattoos. Dozens of tatoos. Every visible part of his body has been turned into a canvas. You see symbols, drawings, lines, geometric figures, writings - in multiple scripts, it seems, though none that you recognise. The tattoos are deformed in places by the sagging skin, and some tattoos are older than others, because their ink has faded more. His skin is much whiter than you are used to seeing, like that of a powdered baby.

This man has no eyebrows. His eyes are an almost impossible shade of blue. They are enough to make one's blood curdle. He is constantly shifting them left and right, like some sort of wary reptile. He slowly limps, using his clacking cane, across the room, until he is a few yards away from Alejandro.

He waves towards the dead cellist.

"This was... unfortunate. There is so little... art in the world left."

His voice is old, but commanding. The words are tortured, as if he is trying to remember them.

"Murder, sir - that is what it was." Alejandro's voice rings throughout the lounge loud and clear.

"You are Alejandro Ortega."

"I am, sir. Forgive me, but I do not usually throw parties for murderers and blackguards."

The bald man looks at him humorlessly.

"Let's save us all... trouble. Where ... is it?"

"I have no idea what 'it' is you are referring to."

The bald man's left hand, which is currently holding the cane, starts trembling more than before. His entire body starts shaking. It is not quite as if he is shivering with cold - these movements are more jerky, less rhythmical, more... wasteful somehow. Through this, his head and eyes remain fixed on Alejandro.

The man's right hand leaves the confines of the black robe, producing a small syringe filled with some liquid. He immediately unceremoniously stabs himself in his right thigh, even through the clothing. The trembling immediately subsides. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes as if meditating.

His eyes open, slowly, calmly. He points to Aaliyah without even looking at her. He says, briefly: "Töte diesen."

You barely have time to realise that this was spoken in Mittelsprache, your native tongue. Tragically, nobody else, Aaliyah included, has any idea what it means. A single ear-shattering CRACK is heard from the soldier nearest to the bald man, similar to a rifle shot. You will never forget the look of ignorant confusion Aaliyah's beautiful face bears in this moment - right before it explodes in a red burst, a stream of blood splattering from the back of her head, and simultaneously, the wall several feet behind her erupting in splinters.

A crater is left where her nose and eyes once were, as her lifeless body starts falling to the floor.

> try not to scream (roll 1d6)
Rolled 4 (1d6)

Rolled 6 (1d6)

As a rule, I only take the results of the first roll. We succeeded, just barely.
It was meant to be "töte diese", for the Germans out there. Worry not, I shan't butcher your language much longer.
But perhaps you could use the second roll for something else or the next test though..... just saying
Nice sexts. Checked
This is so sudden, and so shocking, that you do the stupidest thing you did all day - you scream. Well, you try to, anyway - but catch yourself in the last moment, putting both your hands on your mouth. What comes out is more of a whimper, which mercifully gets lost in the general cacophony that follows. And there is a LOT of shrieking going on.

All of it - the hand wave, the instruction, the execution - took less time than it took Aaliyah's body to fully hit the floor. It was so efficient and ruthless.

Immediately, gentlemen run forwards, but two are brutally knocked over, with the uniformed ruffians using their rifles as clubs. The rest of the gentlemen take heed, and stop. The soldier who made the shot adjusts a handle and hot steam starts streaming out of his weapon, to the side. The sound resembles a steam valve release that you've heard before on trains, of all things.

As part of the general pandemonium, Alejandro roars and lunges at the bald man, flailing his fists like a lunatic. With all the swiftness of a coiled serpent, the bald man's hand shoots up and catches Alejandro by the throat, stopping the valiant attempt dead in its tracks. It is strange - Alejandro is the larger, stronger man. He has broad shoulders that are not just for show. The bald man is older, shorter. His robes cover up much, but what you can see of his physique is wiry and not muscular. And yet it is Alejandro who is brought to his knees, and it is the bald man who is leaning over until he is looking down on im from above.

"I WILL NOT ASK AGAIN!", he screams with a strength of voice you could never attribute to such a man - and his voice sounds to you resonant, more youthful, as if coming from the chest of a woodcutter, certainly not from this small, frail man. He brings his ugly, toad-like face within an inch of Alejandro's, and menacingly spits out: "The Apostate Cypher! WHERE?! IS?! IT?!"
"Do you really think-- " Alejandro gargles, with great effort "-- I would bring it -- on a leisure cruise?"

The man stares at him for what seems like a very long time, though it couldn't have been more than several seconds.

You watch the entire proceeding by peeking with just one eye, as far as you would dare, from behind the table. You can't see the soldiers, but you can see the bald man from the back. The lounge is quite spacious and dark, and it is filling up with smoke. You may yet remain undetected. You also press down on your hair so that it doesn't stick out.

The bald man lets his cane fall freely on the floor. His hand now free, with a deft movement it produces a small glass phial from somewhere inside his robe. This one resembles the syringe from earlier, but there is no needle that you can see.

Alejandro struggles in vain, trying to strike the man's arm, but his attempts are feeble, as if he were the old man of the two of them. He is becoming blue in the face.

Looking down on his prey, and still holding him by the neck, the bald man positions his other hand with the phial above Alejandro's head. Alejandro's eyes are open wide in terror and he appears to be unable to look away. A few drops of viscous, dark liquid fall down straight into one of his eyes.

He screams. The man releases his iron grip, and Alejandro immediately drops to the ground, holding his eyes with both hands, and writhing on the ground like a worm in agony. He looks as if he is seizing, foam leaving his mouth. A lady falls over, unconscious.

The flames from the knocked over candle have started spreading. Black smoke starts filling the room.

"Don't... fight it. You're just torturing yourself. Now - " the man turns around as if to address the other guests, but his words are still aimed at Alejandro. "Yes... or no... is the cypher on the ship?"

It seems as if Alejandro is struggling not to speak. He is convulsing, foaming at the mouth, his teeth are gnashing. But even through his closed mouth, he lets out a protracted "Nnnnngh... Nnnno".
It is all you can do now to stop your trembling body from sabotaging you by letting out a whimper or a scream or a cough, or running out there to cradle Alejandro in your arms. You are sitting absolutely still, powerless to change what is going on.

"Is the cypher... with your heretic friend? Yes, or no?"

"Nnnn--nnnooo-aaaargh! Yeeeeeesssssnnnnng" he writhes, and starts hitting himself on the head.

"He gave us... the slip back in Caracol. But it's only a matter of time... before we find him."

He seems to be lost in thought thinking for a while, while Alejandro is writhing helplessly on the ground.

"Pity. Just another goldmonger. A ... merchant who doesn't know... what is at stake. I pity your kind. There is no... elegance to it. No art. Only... greed."

With those words, he does something - uses his foot perhaps? - to kick his cane in the air. As the cane approaches the tip of its parabola, he grabs it and in a deft and swift movement, brings the full weight silver snake down onto Alejandro's throat. The sound of his larynx shattering can be clearly heard throughout the lounge.

You can bear to watch no longer. You turn away. Your hands are mercifully still on your mouth, so you are able to somehow stop yourself from screaming, though silent tears are streaming down your cheeks. But you are still hidden, behind the table, and that to you seems to be the safest place, currently.

You hear the voice of the bald man, now once again talking in Mittelsprache: "This was ... a waste of time. Kill them all."

You don't see what is happening, but you can hear it all. A devastating barrage strong enough that your ears are buzzing, screams and shouts occasionally managing to come to the fore. You can only grip your knees and curl up in a fetal position, in a desperate attempt not to cry out. You recognize a loud voice - it's Giuseppe's, echoing around the lounge like his dumb, crude laughter used to, cursing in his native Viginti "I fuck your mother's cunt, you filthy froglike son of a syphilitic who--" Another shot, then silence, and the lounge gets filled with the sound and thick white smoke of steam being released.

"Klein, go and sabotage the... Archimedean. Check if Brinkmann liquidated the... flight crew. Then... zip over. The rest of you... back to the ship."

"Yes, sir!"

The jackboots once again beat the floorboards, and in several moments, there is no other sound in the lounge other than the rising flame.

You feel your lungs burning. The smoke, steam, and the fatigue of trying to simultaneously cry, keep your breathing soundless, and not cough - all of it is getting to you. You can't see directly, but the shadows dancing on the wall are becoming less defined, while the orange glow of the room is becoming more and more pronounced.

You peek out carefully, and see nothing in the room except the flames and the pile of corpses - upon which sight, you throw up in a most unladylike manner.

You can't stay here.

> (write in next course of action)

two options come to mind:

>see if you can link up with the boiler man, evade notice as you go to the boiler room.


>Go to Alejandro's room and loot it for anything of value that could be related to the cypher.

Personally, I'd go with the first option.
>>see if you can link up with the boiler man, evade notice as you go to the boiler room.
We can't leave Mitzi behind. Find her first, tell her to pack everything important in the suitcase and meet us in the boiler room.
Well that's horrible. We need to get out here fast, as I doubt anything but a cannonball could kill one of these iron men.
>Find Mitzi
>Find the boiler room man
>Discuss our escape options and if it's possible to retrieve anything from Alejandro's cabin
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Clarissa has seen gas masks, straps, and uniforms, but not any form of iron plating. However, she doesn't know much about actual military. I will address this in-character.

I'll leave it open for a while more, so I can incorporate everyone's suggestions. The next few updates are significant.
Forgot the tripcode, but it's me, I promise
I think we would understand that the armor isn't just there for intimidation.
Try to find a gun if we can. It won't help much but it's better than nothing.
You feel as if you have just narrowly evaded a nervous breakdown. But the entire situation is just so alien, so different that you can't quite comprehend what has happened, not yet. You are sweating, and the smoke is irritating your eyes and throat - you are forced to crawl around to avoid the smoke, which is accumulating in the upper parts of the room.

You feel wary going out the door that the masked soldiers used, but you must leave the room. You briefly consider leaving through the broken windows - large chunks of the wall have been taken out along with them, so it should be manageable - but as you come near the windows and look up, you can see the large bulk of another airship. It is a lot more menacing that the sleek, rounded lines of the Empress. It is bristling with masts, cables, and cannons, and tubes, and rigging, and all sorts of small protuberances whose purpose entirely eludes you. It is quite a bit larger, too. It is looming around ten to twenty yards above the Empress, so you can only see its bottom and a bit to the side. All you can see are observation domes and rows of small, evenly spaced, circular windows. There is no sign of a ship name or a flag that you can see.

You decide to not go outside this way. The hem of your dress gets stuck on a bit of glass and debris as you try to move back into the room. You immediately rip away a large portion of the dress, and a part of the petticoat. It was quite an expensive dress, but something tells you you will never put it on again in your life. Ladies' dresses aren't really meant for subterfuge or ease of movement. You look at the massive table that had protected you from certain doom. Had it been any smaller, you feel as it wouldn't have been able to hide you.

Carefully, you approach the door of the lounge - and peek through. There aren't any soldiers there, not yet. In fact, you would expect much more hubbub and screams for a ship that is being boarded by mysterious murder-soldiers. You manage to get to the outside without being seen. This time, at least, you don't go through the motions of attaching a harness. Not only would it take time you don't have, it would also make you slower, and the sounds of the carabiner sliding along the railing would give you away.

While you're at it, you take off your shoes. Through your stocking, you feel the metal of the catwalk drain the heat from your feet. The sun has been down for maybe half an hour at this point, and the metal has cooled.
Where to go? What to do? Oh, is Mitzi okay? They couldn't kill everybody on the ship, could they? You heard no gunshots except the ones in the lounge. Mitzi would be on the lower decks, probably having fun with the deckhand in their off-hours when the Empress was boarded. And then there is also the boiler room man. He is nothing to you, but he seemed to be someone who might do well in this kind of situation. He would certainly do better than you - you are quite unarmed and unprepared for any kind of a conflict. You didn't even bring your dagger with you - and a lot of good that would do, anyway. But what good could he do? What tenuous alliance you shared would certainly be dissolved in the face of such unprecedented events.

You do not feel confident to enter the interior of the airship and take the stairs. You need to take one of the access ladders on the side of the ship (the ladders are quite safe to climb, since they have a railing preventing people from falling, but it is not advised to look down when climbing one). You are torn, because when you reach the access ladder, you will have to choose - up, or down? Up is the cabin deck, and the boiler room. Down are the belowdecks, and therefore Mitzi. You honestly have no idea which way to choose.

As you are making your way to where you think the nearest ladder is, you think your options over. There is precisely one weapon aboard this ship that you know of - the rifle you shot earlier this day, the new model from the league. It would probably be somewhere in Alejandro's study - which is, on this ship, his cabin. And this would be the perfect time, and even the excuse to go and break into his cabin - but would it be worth it? Something tells you that your mission has to do with the "cypher" the bald man in the black robes mentioned, and he seemed satisfied that the cypher was not anywhere on board.

The soldiers you saw were dressed like no army you have ever seen. You didn't exactly see much. You knew all about the uniforms of the officers of various courts and countries, but you would usually encounter them in a pleasing social setting, vying for a dance with you, or having a pleasant chat over a drink or two. You have never, however, seen a battlefield, and after this evening's events, you hope you never will see one. To you, the men in dark grey uniforms looked impossibly powerful. The rifles they wielded were unlike anything you'd seen. How could you be sure they didn't have some form of armour that would be impervious to weapons?
At one point, you come across an unobstructed view of the lower deck. Your blood freezes in your veins when you see a few of the men in masks, and you instinctively drop to the floor - then you carefully crawl to look at the deck. They are several yards away horisontally, and one deck below you, but it seems to you they have no chance seeing you. You see several deckhands, mostly out of work uniform, lined up against the wall. One man is lying on the ground, unconscious (or worse). But you do not see any blood. The two soldiers do not seem terribly interested in shooting the civilians at the moment. They are merely standing there, albeit keeping the crewmembers in their sight. The soldiers exchange a few words between them, but you cannot hear them, due to the combination of them wearing masks, the winds whipping your ears, and the propellers of the hostile airship, an assortment of spikes, shadows and cables hovering above you and above the Celestial Empress.

Some of the men are yelling at them, but the soldiers seem unperturbed. One of the chaps starts walking towards the soldiers, demanding some form of an explanation, but thinks it over when the soldier nonchalantly raises his rifle in a menacing posture. *You aren't getting anywhere talking Viginti to them*, you think. You would gladly try to mediate between the two groups if you'd thought it would accomplish anything. But when one side is holding the guns, there is no negotiation.

Thankfully, it would seem the unknown soldiers aren't interested in slaughtering the civilians. But there is still two of them, and you are both unarmed and unwilling to engage in a battle with professional soldiers who can murder people with hardly a second thought.

The two sentries seem to reach an agreement of some sort, as one of them nods and approaches the railing. There are cables all over the place, anchors connecting the two ships, cables dropping from the predator ship onto the railing of the Empress. The man fiddles with some arrangement of equipment on his belt, attaches something onto something, grabs onto one of the cables, checks them for something or another - and flies.

He is not flying, of course, not really. He is being pulled upwards to the other ship by the steel cable. You crane your neck a bit to see better - and sure enough, there is a crane on the predator ship that is dragging the soldier upwards.

However, you have been careless. The soldier's trajectory makes him veer closer to you than you'd like - your vantage point will be in his full view. Instinctively, you try to dodge out of his sight.

> roll 1d6
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)


I only take the first roll as a rule, but the cutoff for success unless otherwise specified is 4+, so we failed either way
Can you take the unused 6 roll pretty please?
> skill check failed

You try clumsily to get behind a nearby tube, but you are unused to executing such maneuvers in stockings alone, your grip slips, and you stumble. You don't make it behind cover in time. You are in full view as the soldier veers maybe five yards away from you, looking straight in your direction. You can't see behind the glass rims that are where his eyes are supposed to be, but you are one hundred percent certain he sees you, as his head seems to be pivoting in your direction as he is being slowly dragged upwards. You can hear every clink of his belt buckles, every rustle of his pouches, see the menacing mechanism of his rifle. At a speed of one or two yards per second, he has a good several seconds of full view.

*It is over*, you think. *I am dead.* The soldier lifts his hand...
worth a try
...and gives you what can only be construed as a whimsickal, friendly salute. You are not sure, but you also hear, clear as day, an impressed whistling noise coming from behind his mask.

His eyes remain on you until he is out of sight. Your heart is beating as if it will burst out of your chest.

*What the HELL was that all about?*

You turn on your brain, for a change. Well, what did you *think* would happen? They don't seem to be firing indiscriminately at the people on the ship. What he sees is probably just a terrified lady in a somewhat torn, probably dirty, but otherwise very nicely fitting red dress, her legs in white stockings being visible through the tears in the dress, her neckline exposed - hiding innocently from all the tumult on the ship.
Whatever was the reason for the people in the lounge to be executed, doesn't seem to be applying to the rest of the crew - and nobody knows you were in the lounge.

*Pull yourself together, Clarissa. They are soldiers, but they are still human. They are probably only following orders. More importantly, they're *men*. If worse comes to worst, just do the things you usually do and you will be alright.*

But there is still the matter of the remaining guard on the deck below.

> Go around to try to find some other way to belowdecks and try to find Mitzi.
> Go belowdecks in full view of the guard, and approach him in an innocent manner, asking for his assistance in Mittelsprache
> It doesn't seem people belowdecks are in immediate danger. Go up towards the boiler room instead.
>Go belowdecks in full view of the guard, and approach him in an innocent manner, asking for his assistance in Mittelsprache
Crazy enough to work, plus they don't seem hostile to not!Germans
Shame about the dress though. If we make it out alive we should buy another identical or similar copy.
>Go around to try to find some other way to belowdecks and try to find Mitzi.
>> Go belowdecks in full view of the guard, and approach him in an innocent manner, asking for his assistance in Mittelsprache

If we have to go extra to Charm him then lower the neckline even further
>Go belowdecks in full view of the guard, and approach him in an innocent manner, asking for his assistance in Mittelsprache
Time to use that German baroness voice papa has trained us for
>It doesn't seem people belowdecks are in immediate danger. Go up towards the boiler room instead.
>Go belowdecks in full view of the guard, and approach him in an innocent manner, asking for his assistance in Mittelsprache
ohohoho I'm just an innocent buxom noble looking for my handmaiden, mind helping me?
>It doesn't seem people belowdecks are in immediate danger. Go up towards the boiler room instead.
There is only one soldier left down there, and Mitzi is also in that general direction. A man might go down there, and try to solve this with violence. You have other weapons at your disposal. Ruffians with rifles they may be, but so what? You're not made for cowering behind a wall. There is one game that you know how to play very well, and it's about time you play to your strengths.

Shoulders straight, chin up. Dust off the dress. Start walking towards the ladder as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Don't look apprehensive. Don't look like you're out of place. Look like you're exactly where you want to be.

Inside your head you are rehearsing the most innocent, braindead and dependent voice you can muster: "Oh, thank goodness, my good sir!" "I appear to be lost, and nobody here speaks my language, and there appears to be some tumult on the ship" "You are here to help us, right? You will make sure everything will be alright? *bat the eyelashes*"

Yeah, that sounds about right. Surely, there is no way they are going to shoot at you, right?

You think it over a little bit and rip open more of your dress and lower the neckline even more. Doesn't hurt.

You move towards the ladder as naturally and as enthusiastically as if you were having a stroll through a meadow. Various things are flashing and bobbing around, just as they should. Presentation is everything.

*You are nailing it, Clarissa. You are absolutely in control of the situ--*

-- a hand goes over your mouth and another around your chest in a quite scandalous manner. You find yourself very rudely drawn back towards a recess. You try to struggle but find yourself in a quite powerful grip. You are not in control. You are very much not in control.
"Calm down, luv. Not that kind of kidnapping." you hear a familiar voice whisper in your ear. You feel the grip easing up and take a step back.

"Shouldn't you be in the boiler room?", you muster the most indignant tone you can.

"What, and shovel coal while we're getting bloody boarded?" He stops, and looks you over up and down. "Nice. Guess I don't have to ask what your plan was."

With a "Hmpf!" You lift your neckline as far as you can. "I *wanted* to go over there and distract the guard."

"Clever plan. Might work, too. And then what?"

"Demand to know what's happening. Or... have someone hit him over the head. Or whatever. What's it to you?"

"Lady, I'll tell you what's happening. We're being robbed. Well, your friend Alejandro is. They're ransacking his cabin as we speak." He points up. The cabin deck was one floor above this one.

"Alejandro is dead.", you say. He raises an eyebrow. "And everyone from the lounge."

"So that's what the steamshot sounds were." He pauses. "Hang on a second. How are you still alive, then?"

"I managed to hide behind a table."

He looks at you with renewed wariness. His eyes show a fire that borders on the murderous. Suddenly you are acutely aware of just how much larger and stronger than you he is. "Oh, you did, did you? Or did they spare you because they're your people?"

"EXCU--" you catch yourself. You almost said it very loud, loud enough to be overheard on the deck below. You switch your tone back to whispering vigorously: "Excuse me?! *My* people? I have nothing to do with... whoever you think *they* might be!"

"No thinking about it, lady. These are League soldats. Those are painted-over Luftstosstruppen uniforms. The armour is new to me, and they took the time to scrape off the eagle. But that's unmistakably Luftflotte debarquement harness. And those rifles they are carrying? KK-8. That's Kompressionkanone 8. I thought the prototype was abandoned."

"Well, *I* am from the *independent* kingdom of Sternbergen. We're not a League member - if anything, we're politically opposed to them! And... wait. How do you know all that? About the fleet and the harness?"

He shrugs. "I've been around an airship or two. So why would they--"

He trails off suddenly, and pulls your head towards the ground. The unmistakable echo of jackboots on metal is heard, close by, walking slowly, on the deck below you. You hear a fragment of conversation, muffled a bit through the masks, but it is unmistakably in your native language.
"-- taking so long? The civilians are becoming unruly."

"No zipping out before Archimedean is spiked. They'll signal us, but we'll only have two minutes before--"

Their voices, and the sounds of their boots, trail off.

Your "friend" is giving you an inquisitive look. You translate for him: "They are mentioning a spike and an Archimedean. Something about two minutes. They--"

The man suddenly takes you by the shoulders and pushes you into the wall with such force that it actually hurts you and puts the air out of your lungs. "--what the--".

"What did you just say? Did he say SPIKE THE ARCHIMEDEAN?"

"Come to think of it, the bald man did say something about sabotaging the Archimedean, but I really don't--"

"You KNEW? And you are GALLIVANTING here with your tits out? Heavens, woman, you're dumber than a sack of bricks. They intend to disable the Unit and leave us to crash!"

He releases you, but then proceeds to almost knock you over in a mad scramble to the ladder, which he starts climbing with unexpected agility, apparently unbothered that anybody might hear, see, or shoot him. You are frozen in terror. Surely, he can't mean that? Surely, these people wouldn't kill *ALL* these civilians, right? There is probably sixty people on board! Besides, they don't know that you, a *noblewoman*, are on board!

The image of the bloody bodies from the lounge springs back into mind and you almost throw up again. The real weight of the boiler room man's word start bearing on you.

They intend to leave everyone to die.

You only have a split second to decide.
> This man seems to know more about what's going on than most, but he's sure to get into trouble without you. Follow him.
> You are not a fighter, nor a mechanic. Resume your plan and take your chance with the soldats. Perhaps you can negotiate, or ask them for a lift.
> (other - write in)
> (other - write in)
Alright this might seem dumb we don't really have much of a choice. Make a really loud scene, get every soldat's attention then stall, lie and negotiate while the man tries to stop the Archimedean from getting spiked. We are a noble League lady and we aren't going down on a damned airship!
>This man seems to know more about what's going on than most, but he's sure to get into trouble without you. Follow him.
Honestly don't think we'll be of much assistance but everyone has a better chance of not dying if the ship isn't crashing and burning.
>> This man seems to know more about what's going on than most, but he's sure to get into trouble without you. Follow him.
>We are a noble League lady
I'll allow the write in, just want to clarify that Sternbergen is not really in the League. You're basically German-speaking Swiss nobility.
>> This man seems to know more about what's going on than most, but he's sure to get into trouble without you. Follow him.
I understood, we will pretend to be one.
Cause a scene and stall to buy time

Follow the man towards the top of the ship

We're at an impasse. Either option works, there is no "good" or "bad" choice here, but I cannot reconcile the two. I give it 5-6 more hours and if we're still tied then we'll roll to tiebreak.
I'll change my vote >>5668508 to causing a scene to clear the way up for the boiler man. Tell him we'll do our best to distract as many soldats as we can before he leaves our sight.
"I will do my best to--" you start, but he is out of sight and out of earshot before you can complete your thought.

If the boiler room man knows his stuff, perhaps he can prevent this catastrophe. Can you really help him in this endeavour in any way? You are not a fighter, nor a mechanic. But you are one thing - a baroness. There are multiple ways you can cause pandemonium, a distraction. You are not exactly sure what the next step is after that, but your impending death has put everything in crystal clear focus.

The plan to confront the soldiers could still work. You readjust your dress in a frankly scandalous fashion and move forward, your mind made up.

You drop to the lower deck, a spectacle of flashing legs and bouncing bits. The crewmembers that are out are watching you in disbelief. The soldats' faces are masked, so less readable, but every head on the deck is turned in your direction. There is three soldiers and maybe dozen or so crewmembers, all male.

Confidently, you move towards the nearest soldat, as if you were at a ball back home.

"Mein Herr? I overheard you talking Mittelsprache. Are you from the League?"

The soldiers look at each other. Even through the masks, you can read confusion from their body language.

"This is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable! You are frightening these poor people! What is going on here? I demand to speak with your superior officer at once."

Finally, one of them speaks. His voice is slightly muffled behind the mask. "Miss, please step back for your safety. We are ... apprehending a criminal, and, he uh, fought back. We will be done shortly and get out of your hair."
The lie is so blatant, you are somewhat disappointed. They didn't even dignify you with a pre-arranged bullshit excuse. The soldat carefully reaches for your forearm and tries to move you towards the crewmembers.

"Get your hands off me! I will have you know that I am Countess Elisa von Kustendorf. Do you have any idea who my husband is? I demand to speak with your superiors at once!"

You mixed with League nobility for quite a while. You happen to be very well informed on their social circles. You spoke to Elisa Strosmeier several times in the past. You took it as something of a slight when you were not invited to her wedding to Count von Kustendorf. Your choice of whom to impersonate is not accidental. She has a similar build and hair to yours, she is childless, and von Kustendorf is not involved with the military. In short, nobody on the ship should have any knowledge of who Elisa is, and a cursory check should not cast doubt on your story.

Anyway, as "Elisa", you are yelling this at the top of your lungs, but somehow it doesn't really sound like it's getting the attention it deserves. The crewmembers are looking at you as if you were insane, and the three soldiers are still the only ones you seem to be occupying. Well, whatever. This may be all the distraction the boiler room man needs.

The soldiers start talking to each other: "Do you think we should inform Richter?"

"Nobody said anything about a fucking countess on board."

"Fuck it, you do it. I don't want latrine duty."

He sighs and approaches the railing, looks up and starts sending a light signal by flashing a gas-light of some sort.

> Time to roll to see how well the boiler room man is doing. 1d6 please.
Rolled 5 (1d6)

Oh yeah, continue berating them until their ears bleed
A similar light signal comes from the airship above, in response. The back and forth communication lasts for maybe half a minute. You dislike the silence, so you consider what words could cause maximum mayhem. A few words spoken in Viginti or Hellenic to the assembled crew would cause a riot. If they knew these soldiers were plotting certain death, they might overpower them...

As you are thinking about your next step, the soldier with the gas-light turns to the other two: "Shit."

"What's going on?"

"Look down there. Isn't that a life-balloon?"

The remaining soldier, the one who isn't currently holding you, comes over to the railing.

"Shit. Weren't they guarded? What the hell are those clowns from squad two doing?"

"They already zipped up. The old man is going to blow his lid when he hears about this. Should we shoot it?"

"Nah, look at it go. Overburdened with ballast. Probably detached on its own or something."

At that moment, a piercing siren is heard from the ship above. You cover your ears, but can't prevent them from ringing. The guy with the gas-light makes a hand gesture.

"That's the signal. Wrap it up."
What .... what do they mean `wrap it up`? Your ears are still ringing from the aftershock of the siren.

"What do we do with this one?" he gestures towards you, but you don't really seem aware of what is going on.

Wait... what is happening?

"Do you want to end up on some bigwig's shitlist?"

No, wait... Everything is going to be just fine... right? Stall for time, scream, do something - don't let them leave. Don't, under any circumstances, let them leave.

"What are you doing? I DEMAND an explanation! You can't just... leave like this. Isn't the captain dead? Who is going to pilot the ship? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?"

"Lady, I don't care if you're the fucking Kaiserin. Hang on." The man holding you executes a maneuver where he effortlessly lifts you over his sholder, so that you are staring at his back Not only is his hand cleanly firmly gripping your butt - the indignity! - but he is also wrapping some cable around you. You hit at his back with your hands, but to no avail.

You change the tune, desperately. You try to make your voice as sweet as possible: "Sir, sir please, I have a handmaiden aboard, her name is Mitzi - if you would be so kind to let me fetch her, please! Clearly this is some sort of a misunderstanding. If you could just let me speak to your superior officer I am certain he would be--"

A huge, painful groan of metal is heard, followed by the sounds of cracking wood and the tumult of the croud. The ground - well, the ship - starts vibrating below you.

"It's buckling, go go go!" You feel a sudden lurch and the decks of the Empress start shrinking below you. For a brief moment you see the entire airship from above, its sleek elegant lines reflecting the moon dully, marred by occasional smoke spots. You see the fire from the lounge has spread. You see the arboretum, the deck where you used to shoot the rifle. You see crewpeople running at the railing, cursing, crying, throwing things at the soldiers. You see a dozen more ziplines from all over the Empress, each of them ending with the dark silhouette of a soldat. You see the Empress start listing. You are vaguely aware of the sound of your own screaming, yelling obscenities, crying...

As if to echo you, a choir of people from below chimes in with their own screams. A terrifying shriek is followed by a wavefront of air pressure that makes your ears pop, and then - the Celestial Empress just... falls. You'd expected it to be gradual, but it is as if whatever strings were suspending it in the sky were instantly severed. It falls like a brick. Like several hundred tonnes of brick.

There is a spinning component to its fall, and you see tiny flailing, screaming silhouettes detaching from the ship and falling alongside it. Through the tears in your eyes, the ringing in your ears, the smoke in your lungs, you can but watch and wail while the Empress drops below the cloud carpet.

For a brief, terrifying moment, there is nothing below you but the empty sky.
No bodies means that they may still be alive r-rright?

The water is biting cold. Everything is dark around you. You are suffocating. Was it all a dream? Did you fall with the Empress after all, and are now drowning in the dark blue depths of Hadrian's sea, with Mitzi and all the others?

The hand holding your hair pulls on you rudely. Your head leaves the bucket, and streams of water fall down your face on the grating below.

The man with the scar once again addresses you. It's not real, none of this is real. It's a bad dream anyway. You see and hear everything as if through a fine haze.

"--once again. Who ARE YOU?"

You spit out extra water:

"Monsters... you are monsters."

You are pushed down into the bucket again. You try to count the seconds. One, two, five, fifteen. It's tranquil down here. You never realized drowning would be such a peaceful way to go.

But, of course, you are denied that small mercy.

"We know you are not Countess von Kustendorf. Do you know what that makes you? An impostor and a liar. Do you know what we do with liars?"

You yourself are unsure if the streams going down your face are tears or just leftover water. You yell:

"What did Mitzi ever do to you? What did all those people ever do to you?"

"What were you doing on board the Empress?", the man with the scar asks, unperturbed.

"Murderers!" you answer. Again a trip to the bucket. Again a rude removal of your right to drown.

"Isn't it obvious? She's a whore." This observation is provided by the man with the glasses, standing upright calmly next to the door, scarcely looking at the entire ordeal. "A high-class prostitute brought on to entertain Ortega and his merchants."

"We should ask for her rates." the man with the scar offers, helpfully. "Our men have a lot of backpay burning their pockets."

"You SWINE." you spit, and take a deep breath in preparation for the bucket dive which never comes.

The man with the scar laughs, instead. "What do you say, lovely? It should be an honour to service the members of the Luftflotte for the likes of you. You'll do it for free, won't you?"

The man in the glasses says: "We'll end up executing her anyway. Seems like a waste not to have a bit of fun first."

"But Richter, aren't you married?"

"And who the fuck is going to tell on me? You?"

They both stop for a bit, as you become faintly aware of a sound that causes an immediate gut reaction. A small clack - clack - clack sound is heard outside the door, increasing in intensity.

"Oh, you're fucked now.", says the man with the scar.

"Unfortunately, probably not in the literal sense of the word.", says the man with the glasses.
The cell door squeaks prodigiously as it opens. Your heart beats as if to leave your chest, and fruitlessly you try to struggle, to get away; but your hands are bound behind your back, and you are held firmly in place, on your knees, in front of the bucket, by the man with the scar.

The serpent head on the ornate cane comes into view, followed by the bald tattooed man. His robes are the same dark as they were on the ship, none the worse for wear. He comes to a full stop and the cane embeds itself into the rusty floor grating not three inches from your face.

"Now, madam." The man says, quite calmly "I would apologize for... your treatment, but we both know you deserve it. At least on... some level, everybody is... a sinner."

You are terrified enough. You struggle to speak, but no words come out. You can see nothing but the man's blue eyes, piercing through to your very soul. He kneels in front of you, so that you are now almost face to face. You hadn't noticed before on the ship as he was too far away and it was too dark, but his face has cuneiform writings inked over it, and a small tattoo of Ouroboros, the worm eating its own tail, in the middle of his forehead.

"I will not talk to you." you muster, feebly.

"Oh, you will. We have... ways. I'd prefer for it not to get to that." He answers calmly.

"How could you do that? How could you kill those people?"

"That was... unfortunate. Would it absolve us at least somewhat... if I told you that it wasn't our choice? This is why we never... show ourselves, except if we deem it... absolutely necessary. Our orders are ... quite clear in that regard: no witnesses."

"So that's it? You were just following orders? And that's why Mitzi had to die? For what? What is so important that gives you the authority to play God? Are you telling me the League condones this behaviour?"

The man is humorless, but his eyes do not seem angry. Or disappointed. Just inquisitive. From inside his robe, he pulls out the ruby necklace and dangles it in front of your face. The silver is still spotless, the ruby is still beautiful.

"Where did you... get this? Do tell me... the truth. I can tell when people lie."

"I got it from Alejandro. The day before you MURDERED him."

He looks into your eyes for a while - five seconds, ten, maybe more. Then he says simply: "Truth".

You are prepared to go back into the bucket. You are prepared to be lined up against the wall and shot. You are prepared to be thrown overboard. You are not prepared for what happens next: the tattooed man chuckles.

"So this is how he... meant to do it. I gave Mister Ortega too little... credit. He is not a mere goldmonger...at all. There is some ... inspired cunning in him too. Artistry of the baser sort... but artistry nonetheless."
He stands up with some difficulty, and begins pacing about the cell.

"You want to know... why all those people had to die? I will tell you. You deserve to know, because you had... the honour of bearing it on your person... if for a brief day. It's because... of this." he holds out the necklace. "This is far more important... than the lives of sixty... or one million people. This is something... I've been searching for... for over a hundred years."

"Are you daft? How can all those lives be worth less than one measly ruby?"

With a calm, nonchalant monotone, he informs you:

"This is not a ruby. This... is the Philosopher's stone."
(roll curtain. That's the thread, for now. And yes, I know it took three years between threads one and two. It's not going to go that way this time. I am going somewhere with this.)
Thanks for the thread.
Were everyone doomed to die? Did we fuck up somewhere? Was the man unable to fix the Archimedean?
you going to post the next session on your twitter?
TFR. A few questions. Was not trying to help the man the wrong decision? Was this always the planned ending? What would have happened if had chosen the paths not taken? How will our baroness escape this predicament?

Any ETA for the next live at least? Will we continue from Clarissa's POV?
How screwed is Claudia?
> Were everyone doomed to die? Did we fuck up somewhere?
From the start the Empress was getting boarded, and the only question was who is getting saved and how. There were a few hints and opportunities. The rifle shooting targets were strung out from the life-balloon, for example. I was surprised to find that parachutes were present in this era.

The only "fuck-up" I can think of was that people were given the Archimedean sabotage information in the lounge scene, and then planned on going on their own merry business in the lower decks, looking for Mitzi. Which, if you think of it, would be completely in character for Clarissa. She was a little slow to understand that everyone is doomed to die, because she is not from that kind of world.

>Was the man unable to fix the Archimedean?
This is OOC knowledge, but it's safe to say that he didn't even try. In fact, he never said that would be his plan. He did apparently succeed in whatever it was he wanted to do. Good for him. If you were with him, perhaps you would have persuaded him otherwise.

If you think about it, preventing the sabotage would not work (soldiers waiting for signal before evac). Fixing the Archimedean (if possible) would also not work - the invaders are in a larger, faster, armed military ship, and they would definitely notice that the airship they rigged to go down was not in fact going down. I do not blame the players or Clarissa for not thinking it through, because we had incomplete information at the time.

> Was not trying to help the man the wrong decision?
I tried steering you guys away from talking to the soldiers once, I was not going to do it twice. The session was railroaded enough by being on an airship that was going down no matter what; I'm not going to take away agency from my players or punish them for roleplaying the MC correctly, which is certainly what was done in this case.

It was flat-out stated from the start that Clarissa was supposed to end up on the Pelagius; it would have been nice to do it at the end of this session, but this opens up a more roundabout, but even more interesting, way to do it.

> Any ETA for the next live at least? Will we continue from Clarissa's POV?
I don't intend on a prolonged break, a new thread will be up in a few days. I am reluctant to switch the MC because that can spiral out into following multiple stories in parallel, and I haven't the time for that.

Forgot about it. I am apparently locked out of it. Might have to make another one.

>It was flat-out stated from the start that Clarissa was supposed to end up on the Pelagius; it would have been nice to do it at the end of this session, but this opens up a more roundabout, but even more interesting, way to do it.
That's good to hear. While stories that are too railroaded isn't to my liking, you have steered the story in a way that made things more dangerous and exciting.
>a new thread will be up in a few days
Great. Will the quest title remain the same?
Thank you all, both recurring and new players. We spent some time in a social setting, and we'll now start getting into the main plotline.

A few more layers of plot armour yet remain because of some pre-established events that are yet to happen. After that all bets are off.

I left the title of this one open ended because I had no idea where the genre-establishing vote would lead us. Time to stop with the naming shenanigans as it might be actively harming the quest.

So next thread will be Archimedean Quest #3

And who knows, we may finally get to some submersibles and leviathans.
I guess I have one more question to sate my curiosity. Could we have saved Mitzi? Like by sneaking past the soldiers and immediately going below decks
If it makes you feel any better, the airship soldiers would definitely not have taken her on, and her presence would complicate other escape possibilities. I must admit I underestimated how attached people would get to her.
>I must admit I underestimated how attached people would get to her.
Just playing it in character. It is not the wisest move but it is 100% what Clarissa would have done.
Continuation is now running at: >>5671876

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