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Capitol City
836 AC
Three hours after the League invasion started
Inside the collapsed Haberdashery

The young lieutenant had listened, as if enthralled, as the Man in the Suit recounted the exploits of a certain Baroness from Sternbergen. What started innocently enough, a high-society soiree with dinners, petticoats, gossips and wagers - but also backroom dealings, attempts to intercept despatches, cyphers... culminated in a heinous aeritime crime that resulted in over sixty deaths (of which "accident" Lieutenant Gladston remembered reading in the Aecumen times).

"By Jove, Sir, I think I found it." Lieutenant Gladston produced a dusty monocle from somewhere inside the rubble. He shook it off and wiped it with his handkerchief. "It's a bit dusty, Sir, but none the worse for wear."

"Thank the Gods for small mercies, Lieutenant." The man in the suit put the monocle on and adjusted it a bit. "Ah, much better. I can actually see what is written now. But its value is mostly nostalgic - I've mulled over these papers for so long, I know most of their contents by rote."

It had been maybe an hour or so, and so far, there was hardly any indication of a rescue attempt. Both men knew that it sometimes took a day or more to mobilize the rescue crews. But with a war on, who knew?

"But Sir, did I hear you correctly? Did you just say the ruby was The Stone of the Philosophers?"

"I did tell you, lieutenant, that the story would turn out to be quite preposterous."

"Preposterous" was one way of putting it. When the story last left off, Clarissa was captured, taken to a League ship, a witness to an atrocity, tortured, and threatened with execution.

"What do you know of the concept of the Stone of the Philosophers, lieutenant?"

"Enough to know that it's balderdash. Supposedly able to transmute metals into gold, and give eternal life."

"That's the superficial meaning of it, as popularly understood. It is also completely wrong. To those more familiar with alchymical writings - and, over the recent decade or so, this description unfortunately came to include me - it's a bit more complex than that. Alchymists do not like sharing their little secrets, and I shan't repeat too much here - but you will be interested to know that the stone that Freiherrin Engels wore around her neck did not, in fact, provide eternal life, or the ability to create endless mountains of gold, on its own. It is, however, a substance that would allow a skilled alchymist to do... a lot of things they normally wouldn't be able to. Even transmutation of metals becomes possible, though quite slow and not very efficient."

"You mean to say that such a thing really exists?"

"Would you believe me if I told you that the material is not only known to exist, but its use is well understood and documented, and utilized even by the Admiralty?"

"If that was the case, it would be my first hearing about this, Sir."
"Well, it is so. Alchymists alone know the secrets of manufacturing the stone, although even they appear to have lost the art - if indeed they ever truly had it. In 825, The Royal Guild of Alchymists was, through great efforts, able to complete an experiment which successfully synthesized less than an ounce of the material, at great cost, and using up an exorbitant amount of materials. We damn near used up our entire supply of the Universal Alkahest; we had to ground half of our airships for a while!"

"I remember that. The grounding. It was under the pretence of inspecting the ships' Archimedean Units."

"Just so. And keep in mind, this synthesized stone, obtained at such a cost, was a less potent, impure variant. Inferior, artificial, incomplete - yet even so, this less-than-one-ounce allowed us to create certain materials that would never be achievable otherwise. Most of these advanced materials went into building the Pelagius, and there was still some of it left over."

"Now that you mention it, Sir, I did notice the occasional transactions Admiralty makes to the Guild of Alchymists."

The man nodded. "And the stone from Freiherrin Engels' necklace was apparently in its purest state - the alchymical ideal of purity. The very thought of that coming into possession of... that man."

He grew a bit paler, and took a deep smoke from the cigarette.

"That was unfortunate. Most unfortunate. It pains me to say, but to the strategic interests of the Commonwealth, it would have been infinitely more preferable for Miss Engels to have plummeted to her doom along with the rest of the people aboard the Celestial Empress."

"But Sir, if it is such a precious artefact... then how in the world would a simple merchant like Ortega get into its possession? Who made it, when and how?"

"Very good question, indeed. I have my guesses - but first, what do you make of it, Lieutenant?"
He thought for several seconds.

"Clearly, the `treasure` Mister Ortega referred to was not gold. He would want to hide the source of his wealth, so he made up the story - either about just the gold, or about the temple itself - to conceal the real source of his wealth, which was the stone or its potential applications. His mysterious oil-merchant friend seems acquainted with alchymy. Since the stone is so potent, he would probably be able to utilize the stone to extract value somehow."

"Excellent, lieutenant. But then, why would the stone end up on Freiherrin Engels' neck?"

"This is where I am having difficulties, I must admit. If the artefact was so precious, why give it to her?"

"I believe Mister Ortega used Miss Engels as an unwitting courier. Perhaps he feared his movements were watched; or, that his shipments were being inspected. Most likely, I would think he intended to misdirect any potential agents by parting ways with Miss Engels and coming up with some pretense to direct her to meet with the intended recipient of the stone. It would be then trivial to arrange for someone to switch the necklace with a facsimile."

"So he hid the stone by displaying it to everyone in sight?"

"Mister Ortega certainly had a flair for the dramatic. And a way with the ladies. It would appeal to a man of his sensibilities to kill two birds with one stone."

"One other thing confuses me. The way you are telling it, it seems that the League ship wasn't originally after the stone. They were pursuing mister Ortega for other reasons - this `apostate cypher`. Was the Stone truly just an accidental find?"

"Yes and no. The two are inextricably linked, as you'll come to find out. None of us even expected a stone to feature in it; the cypher was the real prize. The stone, however, was significant. It was an undisputable proof that the cypher was indeed found by someone.

"The stone proved useful for them, of that there is no doubt. Have you wondered why the Luftflotte airships suddenly became lighter and better armoured over the past year? But sooner or later, the stone would be used up.

"However, if that man had gotten his hand on the cypher as well... I shudder to think of the results."

Lieutenant Gladston refilled the man's glass of brandy. He continued.

"But I am getting ahead of myself. All in good time."
"I must say, sir, this story is much more gripping than my usual daily fare of shuffling papers at the Admiralty. Why, the way you are telling it, the baroness faced certain death! But I remember reading about her in the papers afterwards, so I know she survived. I am anxious to learn how she was rescued."

> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."

> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."

>> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
Don't forget to link the previous archived threads
> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone
Rolling vote for this.
>> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
>"By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>"With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
The daring rescue it is. Writing
Thread 1 : https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2020/4487084/

Thread 2 : https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2023/5654217/
thanks for that, I was gonna get around to including it, you saved me the trouble.
Over Hadrian's Sea

You are Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard, and you have had better days.

Two days ago at this time, you were the top of the world - dancing, laughing, flirting, on a leisure cruise. Now, you are cold, hungry, thirsty, and there are no tears left in you. You have been manhandled, subjected to near drowning for hours. You were threatened with death and rape, not necessarily in that order. And you were left to rot in a cell smelling of urine and machine oil.

Der Lindwurm - as you've seen the ship called in several plaques, even as you were escorted to your torture - doesn't have much of a brig. You are in a dark room that only has a small window several inches across, but even that is barred, as if someone could really contemplate escaping through it. Even assuming you could fit through (which you can't), this is an airship, so the only way to escape is to plummet thousands of yards. The rhythmic thud-thud-thud of the propellers is your only company.

In the end, the torture didn't work. You didn't tell these swine your name. You are certain it would have made no difference. You've had time to think it over. Their orders say "no witnesses". You are a witness. The only reason they weren't able to break you at that time is that you were somewhat numb from the destruction of the Empress. It was just too much to handle.

They really destroyed a ship with all hands and passengers. Left it to fall out of the sky. Killed all those people... Kiled Mitzi.

And the water torture... for what purpose? Yes, you had pretended to be a League countess. That was never going to survive more than a cursory inspection (but you had hoped that the inspection would only be conducted after you were safely away from the ship). You didn't even impersonate her in order to save yourself - you did it so that you could cause a temporary ruckus on the Empress, hoping--

What were you hoping for, actually? That Der Lindwurm would conveniently fly away, leaving the boiler room man to miraculously prevent the Empress from falling to its doom? Well, whatever it was, it didn't work. And the Boiler Room Man did nothing. Why would you ever put any stock in such a man?

While it is true that you are out of your usual element, you are still not robbed of your faculties. You could tell the little signs, even as you struggled for aer in between the bucket-drownings. You could see plainly that these ruffians were not used to dealing with a woman, let alone a borderline hysterical one. If you were the toughest man in the world, you are sure they would find a way to make you talk. But they didn't know how to approach you and didn't resort to inflicting lasting harm.
The bald man had spouted some nonsense about how the ruby was the Stone of the Philosophers, which, considering everything else that happened, may as well be true for all you're concerned. You've had just about enough of alchymists and their pursuits. He was looking at your eyes, as if trying to mesmerize you.

There were other questions, but you threw a hysteric fit, and the bald man gave you a sedative to drink. You resisted, but you were restrained after all, and the bitter fluid was forced down your throat, and - you immediately fell into the sweet clutches of sleep.

Daylight was visible through the small window when you woke up. An entire day went by, with only the propeller noise keeping you company. You weren't put through any other torture in the meantime. You were even given a meal. It was cold, but edible. So, you ate. The only thing you don't understand, actually, is why you are still alive. Surely if they were going to kill you it's better that they do it sooner rather than later.

You try to act tough, but in truth, the moment you hear the boots on the grating of the corridor outside, you freeze. The cell door opens up with a SQUEAK - only it is not your cell. You hear cursing.

"Will you get your fucking hands off me?"

"What the fuck do you want me to do, Etienne? Old man's orders. You want me to release you, so we can share a cell maybe?"

The second voice, you recognize. It's the man with the scar. The one who handled most of the water torture.

"I even went through the trouble to arrange for you a room with a view, you ungrateful bastard." He gestures in your direction.

"But I didn't FUCKING do it, alright? I counted, you know I counted. Shit, you know me since basic. I wouldn't make a rookie mistake like that!"

"Even if I believe you, Etienne, the Captain doesn't. And that's that."

"But you don't believe me, do you?"

"What the fuck does it matter if I believe you or not? Shit, Etienne, even you gotta admit it looks bad. Where is Braun, then, if you counted?"

"He fucking fell overboard or something. AFTER he got to the ship. The entire squad made it. I'll vouch for it."

"It was chaos. People miscount in a hurry."

"I don't." There is a silence, while the man with the scar fiddles with the lock. "Now what the fuck am I am supposed to do? Sit here and listen to this bitch cry?"

"Maybe you can get her over to put her ass against the bars. She'd be grateful for some action before we throw her overboard" He turns to you. "Wouldn't you, love?" You spit in his direction, feebly. He roars with laughter. "Well, I'm off. You two lovebirds enjoy yourselves."
There is a long silence, with the man cursing and grunting occasionally. Mercifully, he doesn't try to strike a conversation. The man paces about his cell a bit. Then he starts pissing loudly into the bucket in the corner.

"Sorry about this, lady." he says. "But I gotta go."

It doesn't elude you that this is, in fact, another humiliation orchestrated by the man with the scar. There lies nothing but bars between you and the other prisoner, Etienne. There is no privacy. You are not exactly naked - you are still wearing your red dress, now dirty and torn. But the man pissing in the bucket is not the problem. The problem is that you also have only a bucket.

"Well, aren't you the talkative one?"

You don't take the bait. He doesn't press the matter.

Within ten minutes, he is snoring, and you are left alone with your thoughts.

How are they going to do it?, you wonder. Would they really just throw you overboard? Probably better than wasting a bullet. So long as they don't hang you. You would hate to give these people a spectacle...

It would be a lie to say you aren't afraid of what is to come. You never have been particularly religious. But what pains you the most is that nobody will ever know. You will be assumed dead along with all the others on the Empress. At least it's not the end of the family line. The title will pass to your younger sister Hildegard - dear, kind Hildegard, not even eleven years old. It's been ages since you've seen her, since she was currently in a boarding school in Altmark. You will never see her again.

A sudden thought grips you with terror.

With your death, the engagement arranged with von Ortmuellers should be void. Hildegard will inherit your debt. Without the betrothal, she will become destitute. But the alternative is even worse. Frederick could offer to marry her instead. Gods know why, but von Ortmuellers seemed very eager to arrange this marriage, and you spent a lot of your life wondering about it. It seemed like your family was the only one which stood to gain anything - well, it would seem like it to anyone who wouldn't be obligated to spread their legs for that monster Frederick every night, but the point stands. The disparity in your wealth and titles was so large, the marriage skirted close to breaking Ebenbürtigkeit, the concept that people should marry within their rank. The reasons for the arrangement were only known to Papa and the Old Man von Ortmueller, and Papa took his part of the secret to his grave. But the very thought of Frederick putting his hands on Hildegard...

With this one thought, your entire world shatters. A freezing cold shower that washes away your veneer of calm acceptance. No matter what happens, you absolutely cannot, CANNOT die here on this cruddy airship. You will lie, steal, murder, and yes, if needed, even whore your way out of this, but Hildegard MUST NOT be allowed into Frederick's clutches.

With that, you fall into a restless, exhausted sleep.
The next morning, they come for you. Your heart pounds as you are being led through a series of same-looking corridors, imagining a gallows behind each door.

You are led into a cabin instead. It was probably originally intended to be huge, but stacks of pots, glass vessels, books, maps, boxes and various mechanickal devices line every shelf and wall to the point it feels downright claustrophobic. Though it looks lackluster, you notice that every pot and vessel is tied, or otherwise secured in place, no doubt to withstand the rigors of airship voyage. An assortment of vices and rails holds in place the central assembly on the desk, full of retorts, and other devices - you could probably name them all if you bothered, since Papa's natural philosopher tutors were quite strict. A strong scent of Sulphur assails your nostrils. A gas-burner is boiling something or another.

"Leave us", the tattooed bald man says. You almost didn't notice him, hunched over the table. The soldier releases the grip on your shoulder and closes the door.

"I hope your accommodation is ... more acceptable?" You stay silent. "I intervened with ... the captain. They shan't manhandle you any... longer."

Somehow, you don't think there is anything this man does out of the kindness of his heart.

"You mean, if my body ever gets found, it would raise some questions if there were bruises on it?"

He looks at you, humorless as ever. But in his eyes you find no rage, no condemnation.

"I am sincere. You have brought me... the Catalyst, however inadvertently. This merits some... gratitude."

"Enough gratitude to let me live my life in peace?"

"That... is out of my hands."
He grabs a grain of something from a dish with a pincer and raises it up to your eyes. "Look. What do you see?"

"It's... gold?"

"Yesterday it... was quicksilver. We all have the potential for... great change, within us, madam. One... just needs to know... which catalyst to apply."

"Surely, mein Herr, you didn't bring me here to teach me Alchymy."

"No, I didn't." With a trembling hand, he releases a few drop from a dripper into the white powder. The drops evaporate into thin air with a hiss and a foul smell, while the powder darkens into dark yellow. He then pours the powder into a retort and shakes it one-handed, in a swirling motion that betrays the skill and ease of movements of someone who has been doing this all their life.

"You are... blood of Ishtar", he says, even as he continues mixing.

"I'm what?"

"Do you have any ancestors... from the East?"

Careful, Clarissa. It may be a trick to give away your identity. Your family tree is convoluted. Your great-grandmother was a Vostok woman, but that's as eastern as it got. "Not to my knowledge", you say, truthfully.

"Thousands of people... have the blood today, however... diluted. It's not a coincidence... that the stone ended up with you. It is drawn... to the blood of Ishtar. To the likes... of us."

I am nothing like you, you murderous piece of shit, you think to yourself, but do not say it.

One of the retorts fastened to the desk starts bubbling. He switches off the flame. "Have you heard... the Serpent whisper to you?"

"I'm sorry, I feel like this conversation got away from me. I assure you I hear no whispers. And what was that about blood of Ishtar?"

"That's odd. You bore... the stone on your person for an entire... day. By now, there should be some--"

He gets right up to your face and lifts one of your eyelids. You resist the urge to wince. He inspects both of your eyes in turn.

"Well, no matter." He pushes a small phial towards you. "Drink this."

"Is it poison?"

"It is not poison. It is ... the opposite."

"What is it?"

"The stone... is not safe for humans to ... touch. This will help."

You eye the fluid with suspicion. It is crystal clear. There isn't much of it - barely a thimble. You try to remember if you've touched the ruby with your bare hands. You must have, at some point.

"Why give me medicine if I am going to die anyway?"

"You are alive now, ... yes? Who knows... what machinations the Serpent spins for us?"

Is this a way to say "who knows what the future holds in store" in his weird way?

You feel that, at the very least, if they were going to poison you, they could just pour the poison down your throat. On the other hand, a shady lunatic covered with tattoos, claiming to have lived longer than a century, known to kill people in cold blood, is currently offering you a weird concoction to drink.

"Drink it, or don't. I shall not... force you." He resumes fiddling with his retorts.

> Drink
> Refuse
> (other)
Maybe it'll make us immortal too
>> Drink
>> Drink
>> (other)
Splash the vial at him
Are we still "gallivanting our tits out"?
>> Refuse
To clarify, that was a joke / exaggeration by the boiler room man due to our intentionally low neckline at the time. One would assume Clarissa would cover herself up after the ordeal. Assume she was given an oversized Not!German military coat to cover herself in the cell.



I'm counting this as a refusal too

Let us drink the unlabeled home remedy concocted by the mass murderer, shall we?
nothing could possibly go wrong.
As you mull over the choice in your head, the situation is just so absurd, and you are so unnerved in this man's presence, that your brain decides to try to make light of the situation: "You know, I've read that the Stone of the Philosophers is made of people."

"Preposterous. Have you been reading those... Oriental illustrated almanacs? They are... drivel."

You raise the phial to your eyes and inspect it. "So this will not make me immortal or something like that?"

Apparently, he takes your question literally. "I would not... inflict such a curse on another. Immortality is counter ... to the natural order of things. The Serpent herself... eats her own tail. One can but... stave off... Her call ... for a while." He looks at his trembling hand. "At great cost." All the while he keeps fiddling with his apparatus.

You cannot read this man. His lack of eyebrows, his slight accent, and his pale eyes, are an impenetrable wall to your normally shrewd social sense.

So far, these people played at murder, torture, and humiliation. But they were always brutally direct about it. What are the chances that this is some sort of a sick game, and that drinking this would actively cause you harm while refusing it would result in them not forcing you to drink it? The chances are slim indeed. If they really want you to drink it, they have ways to make you do it. Or just slip it into your water.

In the end, you decide you want nothing to do with the Stone of the Philosopers, or Alchymists, and you were told that this was supposed to counteract some ill-effects of the stone. But in the end, what decides is that you want to keep some shred of control. Some semblance of agency. You are intrigued, damn it.

The trick is to be interesting.

You open up the phial and drink the contents. The fluid is not cold, yet it bites like cold ice down your throat. It is bitter, but not unpleasantly so.

"You will ... be escorted back to your cell, now. We shall speak again... tomorrow. Send for me should the Serpent... speak to you."

He is stark raving mad. "Uh... I am certain I will."

Has everybody lost their minds? Did the League really throw in with the likes of this lunatic? For what purpose?

The man rings a bell, and a soldier enters the cabin. You start getting up to your feet, but you feel dizzy. Everything goes blurry. You find it hard to focus. Your ears start ringing and buzzing, so you can't make out what the bald man is saying to the soldier. Is this it? Did they poison you after all? And you willingly took the bait? Stupid, stupid, stupid...

No, that cannot be right. You are not feeling unwell at all. You are feeling vigorous. You are feeling strong. You are feeling clear. It's just that you are... tired. Very tired. And very warm.

Everything goes black.
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You toss and turn, and are full of sweat. You are trapped in a nightmare. You vaguely see silhouettes around you, in a room that smells of antiseptic. You are strapped to a bed (still more comfortable than the cell floor) and your body seems to be convulsing involuntarily.

You hear voices as if from inside a barrel or a well. Yet, they are close by. One of them you recognize by voice as the bald, tattoed, toadfaced alchymist. The other voice is unfamiliar to you, but you attribute it to the tall silhouette leaning over you to your right. Somehow, you can make out it has a bushy, menacing moustache.

Everything is spinning, and their voices intermittently feel as if pulsing closer, then farther away, so you can only make out fragments of sentences.

"--could not wait until we anchor? We have plenty of prisoners back home--"

A crow caws above you.

"--of Ishtar. One in a ... hundred prisoners, if that. She... is the best chance... we've got at the moment--"

A sacrificial altar, dark with long dried blood stains, in front of a stepped pyramid.

"--liability is what she is. I am not going back to Altmark with her aboard--" "--honestly could not wait seven days?--"

A tentacle comes out of the darkness, and pulls a hapless man inside the recess.

"--wait?--" "--constant... agony--" "--running out... of time--"

A luminescent starfish swims a slow, tranquil dance - only it is not swimming. It is flying.

"--your art failing you at last, old man?--" "--Projekt Eschaton is too important to be left to--"

A translucent, enormous octopoid creature extends its tentacles in the darkest depths of the abyss. It beckons you towards its embrace.

"--formula hasn't... been tried--" "--three hundred years. Single... wrong measure... would mean death--"

A swarm of creatures, similar to humans only smaller - slimier - greener - wearing flint-blades and armour made of bone, dancing menacingly around an obelisk.

"--will still need to get rid of her. It would be much more difficult once we fly overland--"

Serpents. Serpents on statues. Serpents on the walls. Serpents everywhere.

"--one more day is all... I ask. Then do with her... as you please--"

A solar eclipse, and men impaled on stakes beneath it.

"--have to adjust the course... But alright. Twenty-four hours, and not a minute--"

It is not an eclipse after all - it is a serpent devouring its own tail.

What a weird nightmare to have, you think to yourself, and go back to the depths of sweet, dark sleep.
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You are rudely woken up by an explosion.

It is dark, and your fellow inmate is no longer in his cell. You would expect headaches, or your head spinning. You are sweaty, and you feel as if you are burning with a fever, but you do not feel ill. Just lightheaded.

That will teach you to drink strange potions, Clarissa.

Well, at least it wasn't poison.

A few shouts are heard. Then, a few more. Then, another explosion shakes the entire ship.

A siren starts blaring. The last time you heard it, it heralded retreat and the certain demise of the Empress. Is another poor ship being boarded? What is going on here, exactly?

You don't know how far you are from the ship's top deck, but you feel as if you can hear everything. Footsteps, dozens of footsteps, panicked and rushed. Shouts. Alarum. General shuffling about. Things being passed around. Carabiners snapping into place on security railings. Propellers thudding ever slower, until they stop. Wind intensifying.

The constant wail of the alert siren is so pervasive that you try to close your ears. It doesn't do much to help.

You stand up, grab the bars, and pull. You are disappointed to learn that the soldiers did not, in the end, forget to lock your cell. You notice you are out of your red dress. You are apparently wearing only your petticoat and blouse. You don't remember taking your dress off. But you do not feel cold at all.

Suddenly, gravity ceases to exist. The uniform you were given as both bedspread and cover starts rising up from the bed slowly. Your legs losed purchase on the hard floor of the cell, and you find yourself slightly drawn towards the ceiling.

The airship is falling. Is this how the people on the Empress felt, right before they were killed? Are you about to hit the ground and die, not knowing what is happening? Will this ship finally get its comeuppance?

Good. They deserve it.

Yes, they deserve-- wait, what?

You hear people yelling outside: "Under attack!" "The unit!" "Manual pumps!" "Get everyone!"

The gravity returns as quickly as it vanished, and you almost fall to your knees. Not one moment afterwards, a soldat bearing the full regalia - mask, gun and all - enters the brig in a hurry. Dim light from the corridor outside illuminates the room. You freeze. He stops in front of your cell and raises the gun.

You've heard rumours of people killing prisoners rather than have them be rescued or escape. There isn't much you can do, so you decide to heroically stare death in its face.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Shoot, you bastard."
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A muffled voice comes from behind the mask:

"Well, at least you still like parading your tits about, luv."

It's only then that you realize the voice spoke in Albion, in a dialect that could best be described as "ruffian".


"Who else, the bloody Empress of the Commonwealth? Step back, for gods' sake, we haven't much time! No, not like that, further back!"

"I am hugging the wall, there is no further back!"

"Suit yourself!"

You have already heard these hand-cannons-spretending-to-be-rifles fired before, but inside this cell, at such a close distance, the shot rings twice as loud... and your ears ring for a long time to come. There is now a large hole where the lock mechanism used to be, and a swift kick of the jackboot sends the cell door flying open. He adjusts a valve and a wave of hot steam fills the room.

"OW! Are you trying to scald my skin off??"

"Sorry, lady. I never shot one of these before, did I!"

"Learn faster!"

"Oh for the love of-- 'ere, take this." he tosses you a pistol. You almost drop it. "Careful, it's loaded." It feels heavy in your hand. You've never fired a pistol before, only hunting rifles.

As you pass him, you wag a finger into the mask. "And don't you stare like that!"

"How do you know I'm staring? I'm wearing a bloody mask!"

"I can feel it!"

He takes you by the hand. "We have to go! This way!" He pulls you in a very rude and firm manner, and you are just about to leave the door when you encounter the man with the scar. He only has half his uniform on, is unshaven and has clearly been woken up only recently.

"What the... Werner, is that you? What are you doing with my charge? Did Scrawlface ask for her again?"

There is a long, almost comedic moment while the two men are looking at each other. The Boiler Room Man turns his mask towards you inquisitively as if looking for the translation.

> Shoot him with the pistol
> Punch him in the face.
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Let the Boiler Room Man handle it.
> (other)
Had to delete a few posts because I posted out of order and without proper editing. Just ignore them. It's been a long week.
>Shoot him with the pistol
That's for Mitzi you bastard
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol
Can we reload after shooting though? Don't want to be caught defenseless again.
> Shoot him with the pistol
Ol’ reliable
>> Kick him in the nuts.
>> Shoot him with the pistol
You should've drowned me, pig
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol
>> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol

Also, I can't help but imagine that when Baldy talks, he's got the mannerisms of Christopher Walken.
Jesus, /qst/ out for blood. I almost feel sorry for the guy.

And that, kids, is why you should keep your villains vague and shrouded in mystery.
Without even thinking, and mustering all your strength, you kick the man with the scar straight between the legs. As your foot connects, you feel something soft and squishy giving way, and a flash of pain spreads through your foot. Good - just imagine how it must feel for him. Well, you can ONLY imagine what it must feel for him; regardless, you hope it is the worst pain imaginable in existence.

He puts both his hands between his legs. It's like you knocked all the air out of his body without giving him a chance to scream properly. It's like he is replaced with a rigid statue, his face in agony, his mouth open, he falls to his knees. The most he can put out is a prolonged, high-pitched whimper.

That wiped the smirk off his ugly face. But it's not nearly enough.

He's helpless. Kill him. End his existence.

Some people would think twice in this situation. Some people could never bring themselves to do it. A week ago, you were a part of those people.

He is the one who killed Mitzi. He is the one who wanted to rape you.

He can only watch helplessly, paralyzed, as you point the pistol at his head.

It's his fault. It's all his fault.

It's supposed to be a mental struggle, weighing pros and cons, considering the implications of crossing the line. It's supposed to take a while to think about it.

Whereas, in reality, it didn't take even a second. It's the easiest thing in the world.

Do it. Blow his brains out.

"This is for Mitzi, you BASTARD!"

You pull the trigger. The pistol kicks like a mule in your hand. But there is no missing at this range.

A pistol shot at such a close range is a terrible thing. In quick succession it all assails your senses - the flash, the smoke filling the room, the smell of gunpowder - what surprises you is that his head makes an almost bouncing movement before his body goes limp and falls. Where the bullet hits, it's just a hole, crushing his forehead. From the back of his skull, however, spills an unholy amalgam of blood, bone fragments and brain matter, and splatters the floor behind him.

You feel an intense wave of satisfaction. If sex doesn't feel like this, it should.

His body hits the floor with a dull thud.

But why do you still feel angry? Why do you still not feel safe? Why is everything around you so empty? You are vaguely aware of trembling and crying, you find yourself kicking the lifeless corpse.

"You should have FUCKING drowned me when you had the chance, you SWINE!"

You kick some more.

"Hang me, will you? Rape me, will you? Throw me overboard, will you? Take this! And THIS!"
A hand goes over your mouth, while another grabs around your waist. You struggle to break free as you find yourself carried away from the corpse, but you still manage to get a few kicks in.

"Will you bloody shut up? Do you want to bring the entire ship down on us? I knew I should've left you behind."

You throw the pistol at the corpse for good measure. Your rescuer slams you against the wall. Isn't this the second time he did that? There are limits to how rude a man should get!

"And have you gone completely mad? Do you know what it took me to get that pistol? It didn't last five bleeding seconds in your hands!"

"He deserved it!"

"Yeah, well, I deserve to leave this ship in one piece. Now shut up and follow me, or I swear I'll leave you behind."

> need a 1d6 roll to see if we encountered someone and how smoothly it goes. higher is better.
Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

>tfw we were 29 seconds away from disaster.
The first of the two results wins. Writing.
He runs down the corridor. You follow him. As you turn a corner you almost collide with two crewmembers at the door to a cabin, in similar state of confusion and undress as the man you just killed. You don't recognize them ones. The Boiler Room Man knocks the closer one down with the rifle. The other one takes a step back and puts his hands up in a defensive posture. The boiler room man points his oversized rifle at him, and says, as if talking to a gorilla at the zoo:


His Mittelsprache is completely butchered, but it gets the point across. The crewmember shows down the corridor and says "d...down that way. Second room after the turn."

"Did you catch that?" he asks you.

"Yes. Second room after the turn."

He turns to the crewmember. "Danke." He slams the heavy steam rifle into him, sending him back into his cabin. You continue running until you burst into the room. He scans it with his rifle, but it is empty. It's not even lit. Clearly it is some small hour in the morning.

"What do you need the signal room for?"

"Flares! Help me find signal flares. Do you know what they look like? Oh, this blasted mask!"

As it turns out, you don't know, but it doesn't matter much. He frantically opens a few drawers and turns them over. Papers, pens, and other equipment scatters around the floor. "There! One yellow one and one black one. Take them and DON'T. DROP. THEM." You do as he says. "We don't have much time, go, go!"

You run back into the corridors and resume your mad dash.

> Roll 1d6 again
Rolled 6 (1d6)

Let's pray this one's better
Clarissa on a roll
You would expect something to go awry. You would expect someone to be in your way, to ask questions, troops blocking your paths, doors being locked, having to go the long way around. You would expect any one of so many things go wrong in so many ways.

But nothing does.

The alert is still wailing somewhere above you, and it doesn't seem like it is about to ubside any time soon; the entire airship is still scrambling.

You feel as if you're starting to understand the layout of the ship's corridors. Clearly you have been running through the long axis all this time, towards the stern of the ship. As you near a door, you pull on the boiler room man's sleeve and give him a signal to wait. He obeys, and you peek through the door discreetly.

"Three crewmembers. These are dressed, at least. They seem unarmed."

He nods, and you let slip a yelp as he immediately grabs you by the wrist and pulls you along rudely, and just... enters the room.

At an urgent pace, you just - walk past them, without a care in the world. You are terrified, mortified, but they do nothing to interfere with you. In fact, aside from a few glances, they don't seem to acknowledge you. They seem in a hurry to get somewhere, just as you. It dawns on you - they don't understand you are trying to escape. By manhandling you so roughly, this man is making it look like he is urgently escorting a prisoner somwhere. Upon reaching a staircase, he drags you to descend with him.

As soon as the two of you are on the deck below, outside of earshot, you ask him: "Shouldn't we be going up where the top deck is?"

"Yeah, well, that's where all the Krauts are! I know a way."

Once you descend to the bottom deck, you see no other crewmembers anymore. In fact, you hardly see much of anything, since it is so dark. You've noticed before Der Lindwurm has state of the art gas lamps, but they aren't running at the time, not on this deck.

He lights one of them with a turn of the handle, and closes the door behind him. Then he barricades it by knocking over some sort of a heavy woodern storage locker. Then, he collapses onto the floor, heaving heavily.

"Gods damn it." He takes off the dark mask and the menacing black helmet and tosses them to the floor. "Can't see a thing in this damned--"

You see a familiar face, sweaty and rude as ever - but a bit more gaunt than his old, smug self back at the boiler room of the Empress.

"Now be useful, will you? Help me get out of this bloody armour."
You do so. The armour doesn't fit him very well anyway, you find. It and the uniform underneath was clearly made for a smaller man... with shoulders less broad... focus, Clarissa

You start with unstrapping his backpack. It takes a while, so you even have time to chit chat.

"Well? Aren't you going to ask me how I got here? Or something?"

"Do you think me stupid? I know precisely how you got here." You remove his backpack, containing a pressurized tank with some gauges. It makes a heavy CLANG as it drops to the floor.

"Oh, really? And how is that, then?"

"Back on the Empress, after you heroically abandoned me, you found the first isolated soldier you could, killed or overpowered him and put on his uniform and armour. Then, when the signal came, you ziplined onto Der Lindwurm", where you saw me being carried off to the brig. In the chaos, you slipped away before anyone could see your face. But they don't wear masks on normal duty, so you couldn't move about the ship. Since `you've been around an airship or two`, you were able to know where to hide so as to avoid detection."

He nods. "There's a few larders just around the corner. They're always on the bottom deck where it's colder, and they're usually empty at the tail end of a voyage."

"Since then you've been waiting for - what is it now? Two? Three days? For an opportune moment to get away, probably at night since most the crew is asleep. Then you did to them what they did to the Empress, and you used the confusion, because nobody will question a masked man with a gun in an emergency. Oh, and you might be interested to know the soldier whose armour you took was called Braun."

"Lady... how the hell you know all that?"

"A lady has her secrets." You remove his gauntlet.

"Well, you've got it mostly right. I didn't do what they did to the Empress, because there are two Archimedeans, and both are guarded at all times."

"Then what did you do?" You unstrap his other gauntlet.

"I'm a boiler man, aren't I? I went to one of the boilers, tossed the poor sod overboard, shut off the outlet valve, and ran very, very fast."

The Archimedean units require mechanickal power to operate, you remember.

"How crude." You say, and toss his chestplate to the floor.

"Well, it worked, didn't it?"

"It did." You put your hands under his shirt.

"Uuuuh, lady?"

> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know I appreciate that."
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
>"You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)

We're going to blame the potion for this
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
>> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
>"You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
>> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
File: kiss kiss.jpg (32 KB, 564x564)
32 KB

"Nowhere in your plan was it necessary for you to come for me. This hasn't escaped me." You straddle the man. "I wanted you to know just ... how much I appreciate that."

You kiss him, lustfully. It's quite scandalous behaviour, but somehow you are certain he won't mind, and who else is going to know? Besides, it was the potion's fault. Old Clarissa would certainly not behave in this unladylike way.

Besides, you hate to admit it, but being pulled around by him like that against your will ... and being exposed to all sorts of dirty men, looking at you, while you were paraded in your underwear throughout the airship...all those things could be said to have had quite an... inflammatory effect on your sensibilities. You feel dizzy. You feel better than ever. You feel things that ladies of good standing would never dare talk about.

The kiss lasts for several seconds, time you may well not have, but you are ALIVE, damn it, and you have him to thank for it. Your lips soon part, and sweat and heavy breathing fill the room. Then you slap him as hard as you can - so much so that it echoes around the room a few times. Your hand is throbbing.

"What the hell was that for?"

"That's for leaving me aboard the Empress to die with the others. You have no idea what I've been through!" You start fixing your hair.

"And because I'm engaged. You pig!"

That will teach this ruffian to take advantage of you in such a carefree manner!

Suddenly, the ship creaks painfully, and you feel as if being pressed downwards by a great force for a few moments. You are instantly made acutely aware of just how many... things ... are mutually touching, with nothing but your blouse and petticoat standing between you and absolute scandal. You collect yourself and promptly stand up before this... whatever is happening here... goes any furhter.

"Well, that's it. They stabilized the pump output. The ship is climbing, we aren't getting any lower than this. And we don't have much time before they start canvasing the ship."

"Right, so, what is the plan, then?"

He stares at you blankly.

"You ... do have a plan, right?"

He is reluctant, but in the end, he shrugs. "I may have one. But lady... you aren't going to like it."

You shrug. "Try me."
File: dogging_wheel.jpg (38 KB, 506x653)
38 KB

You do not like this plan.

You do NOT like this plan at all.

You are currently in the stern ventral observation chamber, which was just down the corridor from where you had ... helped the gentleman take off the armour. You would know - he had to drag you by force all the way, because when you heard the plan, you immediately considered turning around and trying your luck with the bald man. The only thing that prevented you from screaming was the fact that you were suposed to be hiding from others.

Below you lies a glass cupola, no more than a yard in diameter, cut in the floor of the chamber. There is a map and a couple of voice pipes. The cupola is secured to the hull by a massive dogging wheel.

"I am not doing it!"

"Yes you are."

"No I am not."

"Take your chances with the soldiers, then."

"At least that isn't certain death!"

"Relax. I've done it twice. I only broke a few ribs on my second go."

"But there's two of us!"

"I could only secure the one! We don't have the time to go looking for another one!"

The worst part is that you can see the sea and the shoreline below. You are clearly below the cloud level - no, it must be a a clear night, because you see pale moonlight reflecting on the waves below Either way, it is just so far down. Hundreds, or thousands of yards, probably.

He is currently tying a rope around you and him with very deft movements, as if he made these particular knots a thousand times in his life. He pulls on the rope and you feel it digging into scandalous places.

"Watch where you're touching!"

"You can slap me again when we are safe and sound. We HAVE to do it like this. Now hold still!"

He tightens the rope around you. The knots press into you around your armpits, waist, and thighs. He repeats the process on himself. You are brought dangerously close to each other. You are pretty much fastened to each other. He has you help him attach the ... whatever it was called. He triple checks every strap.

"Bloody League issue... Not like Air wing ones. I think I got it correct."

"You think?"

"I'm reasonably confident."

"Gods, we're about to plummet to our deaths, aren't we?"

"Do you have the flares!"

"The wha? oh. Those." You've been keeping the two cylinders in the elastic of your petticoat. You dig them out.

"Hold on to them. We won't have time later!"

You hear a crashing sound, shouts and footsteps somewhere nearby.

"Damn. We are out of time."
The door to the observation chamber has been closed and locked, but airships need to be made as light as possible, and that means wooden walls and wooden doors.

Since you are practically connected at the hips, waist, and chest, with you being in front of him, and both facing the same way, it is quite awkward to move about, yet somehow the two of you manage to turn towards the dogging wheel of the glass dome. Well, it's more that he turns forcefully and you are flung around by his movements like a kangaroo cub inside its mother's pouch. You almost hit the dogging wheel, it is right in front of ytou.

"Hurry!", he whispers. "Turn!".

He strains to turn the wheel, his muscles bulging, his grunts echoing into your ear. You join in turn, for whatever that's worth. Even as you do that, you hear soldiers milling about on the other side of the chamber door.

> I need anons to start rolling to budge the dogging wheel before time runs out. 4 separate people roll 1d6 please. Oh, also, we kinda may need more than one success.
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

Rolled 2 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

We still haven't asked for his name.....
Rolled 1 (1d6)

You try and try until it hurts, but no matter how hard you twist and pull, it seems like your fingers are going to fall off. The wheel resolutely refuses to budge. You are so frustrated - to be foiled so late, within sight of deliverance! You hear the sound of a door being broken into - but it is not the door to your cabin.

With a renewed effort, you both apply yourselves until your muscles are about to burst - and you can feel the wheel move, ever so little! You feel as if you almost have it...

>> 5674174
... when suddenly, you lose grip of the wheel and stumble, taking the man with you. He manages to hold on just barely before you fall, but you inadvertently let off just a hint of a scream.

"What was that? Do you hear it?" "It came from the observation room!"

Rolling a check for the bad guys.
Rolled 6 (1d6)

"Let me handle it", you hear from the outside. Immediately afterwards, you hear a sharp CRACK against the door. For a second you are terrified that you two will be trapped like rats - but instead, the door remains standing, and doesn't even budge. (>>5674240)

"Gods, Werner, you kick like a woman. Let me do it."

You renew your grip around the wheel and pull, both as one, with all your might.

> need two separate d6 rolls. You only get two - the MCs are running out of time.
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Are you counting this? >>5674244
Sorry, that's an unrelated roll. Gotta be fair.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

BARELY. But was it in time?

(rollan for my own purposes)
Rolled 6 (1d6)

(forgot to roll. Also, this is me rolling for the badguys so higher is better for them and good for us. You need make no further rolls.)
Rolled 3 (1d6)

The wheel is recalcitrant. But now that the cat is out of the bag, you can at least freely grunt in your attempts, and the fact it moved slightly before means it is now easier to work it.

You hear another kick at the door. This time the wood gives way slightly - you can see a fracture forming on the door.

The wheel moves! Just... a little... bit... further...

Another kick in the door. The door splinters.

You have had just about enough with this dogging wheel. With one last HEAVE and a rusty squeak it finally gives way completely. It is now a matter of three or four seconds of rotation before it is fully unwound. But as it turns out, it's seconds you don't have, because >>5674270 the door of the observation room also gives way, and splinters. That pistol would sure come in handy right about now.

The boiler room man curses, quickly takes one of the flares from your hand, twists off the top and tosses it forward through the hole in the door. You hear yelling on the other side of the door and acrid yellow smoke starts pouring into the room.

The boiler room man gives one final mighty kick to the dome, which detaches and falls downward. There is now a hole in the floor, and immediately you can feel a rush of wind streaming below you.

The door shatters fully and through a cloud of smoke, a coughing man enters the room. Were not bound awkwardly into a single organism, you have no doubt you could easily take him on in this state. But as is, it is difficult to move.

The coughing man raises a pistol in your general direction.

Of one mind, you both jump through the hole.

A loud BANG is heard, and then - wind, wind all around you, as all the hubbub of the Lindwurm soars towards the sky... but in reality it is you who are falling, falling down towards Hadrian's sea.
> Rolled 3 (1d6)
(the bullet missed, just barely. It was close quarters but he was gassed up.)
The view is breathtaking. The moon is still visible, but the sky is already reddening in the east. It's about to be dawn. Every wave, every reef, every island, every coastline for dozens of miles all around you is illuminated and visible. It would be the best sight of your life, if you were not falling to your death and close to throwing up.

"RELEASE IT!" you scream at the man, with the wind making it so you can barely hear yourself.




Easy for him to say, but you are fastened in such a way that your back is turned to him. It is alright, though - because he holds on for the both of you. With both his hands and legs he grips you in a vice so strong you feel your circulation will cut off.


You and him both pull on the rope - he had shown you while you were putting on the contraption. A large sheet of linen cloth starts flapping about from the backpack on his back. The air streaming all about you catches the canvas and-

You are jerked upwards with incredible force. Well, technically, the man behind you is, and for a moment, you think you are liable to fall out of his grip. But the ropes he bound around you cut deep into your flesh. The pain is excruciating, and you close your eyes in agony.

When you open them, you are flying through the sky.

Well, technically, you are gliding. But the sight is spectacular, breathtaking, much more so than the distant vague silhouettes you could see from the Empress. The sea is at most several hundred yards beneath you - and closing in fast.
The aftertaste of the flare smoke still irritates your lungs. Your armpits and thighs hurt from the rope. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters. You are alive. You both laugh, for no reason whatsoever other than that you can. You laugh until you are out of breath. As for you, you even start crying - are they tears of joy or are you just finally processing what went on over the past few days?

"Sorry about that scare, luv. I had to deploy it as late as possible to put distance between us and them."

"Now what do we do?"

His hand starts wandering around your blouse, down towards your thighs.

"Hey You fiend! What do you think you are doing? Stop that!"

He finds what he is looking for - he takes the remaining flare from your waistline and shows it to you.

"Now, we wait for them to leave sight. And then we light this thing. It will work as long as we keep it above the waterline. I would have preferred to have the other flare, too. Together, they form the universal signal for airship survivors. If we're lucky someone will notice anyway."

The Lindwurm is high, high above you. And shrinking.

"Will they not also be able to come for us?"

"With a broken boiler and Archimedean on pump power? I think we're safe. We will get picked up long before that. I really don't think they will risk being seen. They were willing to sink the Empress for no other reason than to hide the existence of their ship. I don't think it's accidental that they waited for nightfall before boarding her."

"The bald man said it was their standing orders. `No witnesses`."

"Well, there you have it. And have you noticed how high she was flying after picking us up?"

"No, how could I?"

"By how rare the aer was, of course. We must have reached twenty-five, maybe even twenty-eight. That's, uh..."

"Two thousand eight hundred fathoms. I know."

"And where did you learn that?"

"A lady has to keep her secrets."

He laughs. "Suit yourself, luv. So anyway, I reckon we are in the Gulf of Theodorea. These are merchant waters. Look, there's a sail ship over yonder. Two leagues out, or more. But if we see them, they certainly see us. We are sure to get picked up by somebody. In the worst case, we can probably reach that shore yonder in a, oh, day or two."

"I am not much of a swimmer."

"Water's warm this time of year. I fancy our chances. I'll hold you up."

Somehow, you actually do feel reassured. And he is gripping you tightly with his hands, although perhaps not strictly in a socially acceptable manner, but you reassure yourself that it is all in the service of sharing a para-linen.
The water surface is approaching rapidly. One thing is foremost on your mind.

"Say, don't you think you should tell me your name by now?"

"I am not sure if I should tell you. Seeing as how my lady has a penchant for kissing unknown men."

"I am sure I have absolutely no idea what vivid dreams of yours you might be referring to, sir. Now, answer the question."

He laughs. "It's Everard. Formerly third lieutenant of the HMA Grand Victoria. Currently unemployed."

"An officer? Of the Commonwealth Air Wing? You?"

"I did say former."

"Very well, Everard. I am Clarissa."

"Oh, I know. Though you'll never catch me being able to repeat your full name, it's a mouthful."

"And how do you know that?"

"Newt told me. I was supposed to be your unseen bodyguard."

"Oh. Well, you did a wonderful job. But must you spoil this moment by mentioning him?"

He pauses. "Look, luv. About Newt. There is something you should..."
You scream quite loudly as the water surface approaches. A huge splash and a brief tussle underwater follows, and you swallow quite a bit of seawater. As you briefly emerge above the waterline, you take as much air as you dare. He had warned you of this back when he laid out the plan - you would only have a minute or two to unfasten yourself, or risk drowning. Fortunately, he knows where to pull, yank, and twist, so the ropes come off one by one and very soon you can emerge, free to move about independently from one another.

The linen canvas that saved your life is swimming freely alongside you.

The first rays of dawn fall on your faces.
You take a deep breath, and laugh. Not exactly firm ground. But the water is a close substitute. It is warm, and pleasant. You are floating, looking at the sky above, as stars twinkle out one by one, with the rising of the sun. It is almost tranquil. Der Lindwurm is a speck. A bad dream. It's gradually becoming larger and larger.

Wait, what? "Everard." He is under the surface, doing who knows what. You nudge him. "Everard!"

He surfaces. "What? Gods, woman, I didn't tell you my name to be your bloody bellhop--"

"Shut up and look! There! The Lindwurm! What is it doing?"

"Aw, crud."

The sky is already light enough that you can see the black cylinder against a darkish blue backdrop. It is descending - at an impossible speed.

"Is she falling? Did she lose the Unit after all?" he says, struggling against waves to keep watching. "Oh, dear gods. They cannot be that stupid."


"They are doing an Archimedean Drop. Nobody in their right mind ever does that. Lady, what the HELL did you do to piss them off?"

"ME?! It was you who exploded their boiler!"

"No, they are definitely coming for you!"

There is a flash of headache, and you can see, plain as day, the tattooed face of the bald man, angry, angry as you've never seen before. Even as he was killing people, you've seen him calm and collected. Whereas now, it seems like every piece of ink on his face, every wrinkle, burns with anger.

"Either way", Everard continues, "plan's changed. They are coming after us, and risking everything to do it."

The ship looks like it is in complete freefall for a while, but then you notice it gradually losing speed. It is hard to estimate at this distance. But it looks inevitable that it will crash into the surface. Not that you'd mourn that particular turn of events. Except it keeps decellerating.. getting slower... slower... A wave of water covers you at a crucial moment, and by the time you are back on the surface, the ship looks within a hair's breadth to crash into the sea. Your heart sinks when you realize the cylinder has come to a complete stop, barely avoiding the crash. As if to compensate, it now starts falling upwards with almost the same acceleration, for several seconds; then back down, and so it goes several times until it finally stabilizes.

"I never thought I'd see it done. That must've been hell for the poor sods aboard. They must have the most skilled flight crew of the League aboard that ship."

Mercifully, its horizontal distance is quite far. But even from this distance, you can see its chimneys start emitting thick black smoke, and the ship starts turning.

"Admire them later! What do we do now?"

"Make as little noise and foam as possible. If they spot us, we are dead."

> roll 1d6.
Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 4 (1d6)

Rolled 2, 2, 2 = 6 (3d6)

A red and yellow flare streak through the air above the ship. Everard grows pale.

"This is bad." he explains. "It means `stay away, military business`. Civilians ships are sure to obey that."

"So they mean to find us, no matter what."

"For a ship that is under strict orders to remain secret, they are certainly risking a lot. But why? Surely they can't be that cross at a couple of saboteurs?"

"We are witnesses to the Empress' demise." You don't say the other part out loud: And the bald man wanted something from me, with that thing he made me drink.

"Soak your hair while you still have the chance."

"But the saltwater will ruin it!"

"Gods' sake, woman! You just had to be a redhead, didn't you? The more soaked it is, the less chance it will be seen from above. And keep it tied, or something. Don't let it spread."

"Oh, I'll just reach into my commode, shall I, and take a ribbon or two!" You grumble, but do as he says. "They're sooner likely to spot that oversized head of yours than my hair anyway."

Then, you remember something. "The linen! They will see the linen!"

The linen, painted bright white as if to spite you, is left to float freely beside you. It is still just underneath the water surface, as it doesn't have enough density to sink; worse, as it bobs and weaves at the surface, pockets of air are trapped beneath it, making it impossible for it to sink. It is a dead giveaway as to your position, especially when viewed from above. It is soaked, has become unwieldy, and would most certainly present a dead giveaway when viewed from a height.

"Good thinking. Quick, give it here."

It cannot be made to sink, despite your best efforts. While rolling it back into the pouch where it came from would be a completely hopeless endeavour, you can at least use the untied ropes to collect it into a manageable form. Eventually you succeed to bundle it up as much as possible. You even use it as a sort of a very primitive flotation aid, as the bundle refuses to sink, but is something you can hold on to below the surface.

"This will make things easier. But if we hadn't noticed it, it would 've become a disaster. Now stand as still as possible and be as vertical as possible."

(I am rolling for their spotters. They would need a 6 to spot you. Stay tuned.)
uh, that's 6.

we boned?
No, it was 3 separate checks. I meant they'd have to get at least one individual 6.

The chances of rolling less than 6 total on a 3d6 is ... lemme check the math... 10/216 or something like that. I wouldn't subject people to such a low chance roll.

While we're on the subject, getting at least one 6 in 3 rolls is pretty high. Now that I calculate it, it's around 42%. This went well for us.
I think it means a 6 for one of those individual rolls.
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You can easily track the The Lindwurm as it hovers at around a hundred yards above the water surface. It almost seems as if it is about to drift away, at a distance of about a mile, but then it starts rotating. It resumes its slithering search pattern for a while. Fortunately, the visibility is nowhere near perfect yet - but as the day goes on, the clear, cloudless sky will turn into your enemy. Just how long can they allow this ship to be in plain daylight?

For the better part of half an hour, you and Everard are as living statues, only making the smallest possible movements to keep your faces above the water.

"Thank the Gods, they can't seem to find us. We just need to stand still for a while longer, and we'll--"

Another flash of headache.

You are inside your laboratory. Wait... this is where I've had that weird concoction given by the bald man.

The distillate of the Third Principle is bubbling. The Tincture is ready. What a weird time to hallucinate. Am I going insane?

The viscous liquid swirls around a shallow dish. Like is drawn to like. She was Touched. Her blood boils with it.

In the Aether, she will leave a wake. Not strong, but she is the only one for leagues around.

Like a ferromagnetic compass to the poles, the fulgurate of the Red Mercury aligns itself to Aether lines.

You observe the bubbles... forming a pattern. Weak, but unmistakable.

"Twelve points starboard", you say to the soldier next to you, and he salutes and leaves.

The hallucination - though it's far to vivid to be called that - ends as abruptly as it started. You are vaguely aware of Everard holding your head above the water and calling for you to snap to.

Almost immediately, Der Lindwurm starts turning. And turning. And turning. Until it is bearing directly towards you.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

"Oh bloody-- how did they know?"

Despair grips you. You were so close. You almost got away. It is not fair. You begin laughing hysterically.

"It's me. They are after me. They can see me. I don't know how, but they can see me."

You have had enough. You regret the day you ever heard the first thing about the fucking Alchymists and the fucking mystery ships and the fucking soldiers. There is a limit to how much one girl can take.

"What are you talking about? Look, maybe we can..."

"Swim away, Everard. You still have a chance. It's me they're after. Just... turn and swim. I was an idiot to think this would end in any other way."

"You are not thinking straight. Let's--"

The rhythm of the sea changes its tune, a disquieting throb beneath, around, inside you. A chill, not born of the water's temperature but of primal fear, clutches at your heart. You instinctively clutch Everard by the shoulder.

The sea begins to roil and churn. A dark formless shape appears in the depths, just below the waterline, growing, ascending. Your eyes widen in terror as the monstrous shadow looms closer. For a moment, time itself freezes.

With a collosal surge, the behemoth breaches the surface. The frothy wake throws you back, and you and you swallow sea water. Your coughs are overshadowed by the churning groan of the ocean. Towering above you, a vast, dark, and unfathomable presence glints in the sun's morning rays, a silhouette cast against the dawn.

You are reasonably versed in the natural philosophy of the world. A whale, perhaps, or a narwhal, would be quite harmless. They have even been known to help the shipwrecked. But you know that other things, more sinister, roam the oceans at greater depths - though none typically dare enter the relative calmness of Hadrian's sea. But this is no whale. This thing is much larger.

Your blood chills in your veins, as you remember the stories of the Hadrian Kraken.

It doesn't seem fair at all - to survive all that, just to be eaten by a sea monster.

The titan rises into the sun, glistening. It has wounds on its skin, and an enormous yellowish eye, placed way further back than you would expect, glints at you menacingly, reflecting the hue of the morning sky. Water cascades down its hull in a gleaming veil. The roar of its emergence echoes ominously.

"Do you think we should take a chance with the Krauts after all?", Everard asks.
Der Lindwurm has already grown large against the horizon; it can't be more than three hundred yards away. But who has time to keep track of that, when the creature has just emerged?

Even with the water splashing at you and threatening to take you away, even with the fear of being eaten, you are perceptive enough to notice a detail quite out of place - an enormous cannon mounted on the creature's back. It is aiming upwards, directly towards the Lindwurm. The cannon rotates slightly, seemingly on its own, and with a huge, sudden roar that assails your ears with a wave of pressure, it CRACKS with the force of a hundred thunderstrikes.

( >>5675190 Rolled 4)

The shell appears to hit its intended target, and some debris falls downwards - but at this distance, and with the smoke of the chimneystacks obscuring the ship partially, you can't be sure.

Following a triumphant yell from Everard, the airship that gave you so many troubles immediately starts ascending with alarming acceleration - almost as if falling upwards.

A "HISS" of steam emanating from the cannon on the "creature's" back attracts your attention back towards it.

From the leviathan's blowhole, a small, only slightly overweight man with glasses emerges, until he is out up to his waist. His friendly face beams at you, and in perfect Mittelsprache he addresses you:

"I do apologize for keeping you waiting, Freiherrin Engels, we got to you as fast as we could. I am Professor Hamilton. I bring compliments from Newt, and he would appreciate it very much if you were to join us for breakfast."
Will be taking a few days' break. Feels like a good spot to catch one's breath before we get to the next leg of the journey.
well played, Geber
Thanks for running! I was wondering what walking off the ship unharmed would entail.
If you're referring to the dialog option "My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please", that would be the double-agent plotline. You would make a deal with the bald guy (and by extension the League, question mark?). And trust me, you would have no choice but to obey the terms.

Even though we know a war is bound to start in a few years, the balance of power and its outcome of that war is directly in the hands of the players - one example is the Hanseatic League getting the Stone of the Philosophers, instead of Clarissa walking aboard the Pelagius with it. Now consider the strategic implications if we ended up in the submarine that is at the center of the plot while the League held our leash.
That sounds like it would have been an interesting plotline. Lots of sneaking around and making things explode. Actual League agent instead of just a suspected.
We can revisit that later. Clarissa is not under obligation to align with anyone. Sure, the bald guy is a villain, but it's been revealed that Newt is on the Pelagius. She does NOT like Newt.
Is Hamilton the tomb raider professor?
No, that would be Calvert. Hamilton is a returning character from the first quest (https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2020/4487084/)
Waiting eagerly for the next installment
We shall return soon to our scheduled programming. Thank you for your patience.
I don't think you can find that kind of dress inside a submarine.
Updoots when
Geber? You alright there?
Sorry about that, hell week at work. I'm back now.
"So this is the 'Hadrian Kraken'? I must say, I am quite impressed."

The sea creature, of course, turned out to be a submersible vessel - you caught on to that the moment people started coming out of it and helping you climb aboard.

You are sitting inside a cramped, small, dirty, utilitarian version of the private lounges from the Celestial Empress. You are given to understand this is the ship's wardroom. Currently it's just you, Everard, Professor Hamilton and a gaunt, silent guard in a uniform similar to, but not quite, that of the Commonwealth navy. There are too many things about the situation you don't quite understand, but these people have been kind enough to save you from certain death aboard der Lindwurm, so you are willing to not ask too many questions.

You have been given the smallest uniform they had on board, and it is still oversized for you. It is made of some gods-awful fabric, and truth be told, doesn't smell very appealing, either. It is crude, rigid, and chafes. But you are, at last, warm and dry.

"Yes, well," Professor Hamilton beams, "That little bit of biomimicry was my idea. The shape of the hull is distinctly cetacean in design, not just because a capsular shape is the second most stable - the first being a sphere, which would hardly be fitting for our usage - but also because it is uniquely suited to disguise. We have found a marvelous way to mimic the peculiar properties of the skin of several clada of marine mammals. Our friends from the Royal Guild of Alchymists have a curios way of adding sulphur to rubber, which when--"

The guard clears his throat.

"-- oh, but I am boring you, aren't I?"

You have phased out for a bit, to be sure. But you smile and say "Oh, not at all, do continue." You will take talking to this man for hours if the alternative is to listen to the bald man prattle of catalysts and serpents.

Everard is currently busy wolfing down a third bowl of stew.

"My, you certainly have an appetite, mister Holcombe." the professor says.

Still chewing, Everard replies: "At least she was fed something. All I had these past two days was a stolen wheel of mouldy cheese." He licks the plate clean. "And I don't recall giving you my name, Prof."

"Oh, we are quite aware of your identities."

Another voice, from behind, speaks: "Indeed. And you should be grateful. Those identities are the sole reason you were allowed on board."

You recognize that voice. You had expected him, of course. They had mentioned him. And yet, a lump of loathing is caught in your throat as you turn around and see him entering the wardroom. You almost didn't recognize him in that fancy red uniform of Guards Infantry.


"Welcome aboard, Miss Engels-Halsgaard.", Newt says, somewhat cordially.
There is no mistaking it. You have only seen the man once, in a lounge of a hotel in Varfurt. He was in a suit then, suave and business-like. Everything after that was in writing or via middlemen. But it was a meeting you shall never forget.

"Please, leave us." he turns to others. The guard obeys at once. Everard swipes a piece of bread off the table before leaving. The professor gives you a kind, oblivious wave before leaving and closing the door.

You are alone in the wardroom with Newt. He sits across you, and wastes no time before putting a brief-case on the table. With calm movements, he pulls out a small ledger and a pen.

If he is trying to unsettle you, it's working, damn it. You can barely contain your rage.

"This is all your fault." Your voice is not even raised. It is cold, clinical, full of contempt. It is a statement of fact.

"What would that be?"

"This... *everything*." You wave your hand around. "You sent me to stalk Alejandro. It's because of you that I was on the Empress. Mitzi is dead because of you."


"My handmaiden."

"You mean Miss Brose? She boarded the Celestial Empress with you?" He puts on his monocle and starts scribbling in the ledger. Of course he would know her name. He knew everything about you, it seemed at times.

"You know all this would happen, didn't you? With Alejandro?"

"Heavens, no. When I originally had you sent to Al Avraam to catch Mister Ortega's eye, I had hoped that everything would be resolved on his estate. Of course, I knew of the airship's existence. I had Mister Holcombe infiltrate her crew approximately a month ago, for an entirely different reason, after all. But taking the guests on a sudden leisure cruise with his airship was a spontaneous decision by Mister Ortega. In fact, I commend you for being able to effect an invite after such a short acquaintance."

A bell rings twice shortly, but he doesn't seem to react. He notifies you, calmly: "This is to inform the crew that we are diving below polemoscope depth."

"We are... diving? Under the surface, right now?"


"It does not feel like it." Somehow, you feel as if you are in a mouse-trap. You sigh. "You really are an officer of the Commonwealth? You've been one all this time? Or is this some disguise?"

"I do honestly hold a rank of Major in Her Majesty's Rifle Guards."

"Are you telling me the Commonwealth condones their officers blackmailing honest women?"

"That business... I shan't defend it. But it was necessary. In my line of work, recognizing value is everything. I happened to come across your ill-advised love letter. I recognized its value to you, specifically. I also recognized that your unique position, connections and qualities could ... generate value, shall we say ... for the Crown of the Commonwealth. Is there anything more natural under the circumstances than that we should enter a transactional relationship?"
You laugh. It is an ugly laugh, full of loathing. "Is that how you call it? You had me spy on people. You had me steal papers. And don't think I didn't notice that when ever I did one of your `innocent little jobs` the person I spied on would be involved in a scandal, or soon be brought to ruin, or end up imprisoned."

"Well noticed, but if it helps, I assure you the personal ruin of those men was not my main objective."

"Yes, I am not stupid. Your uniform made it all fall into place. They were all industrial types, or officers. Important men. I wasn't working for a sleazy man after all. I was an agent of the damn Commonwealth."

"An unwitting agent, if that makes you feel any better."

"So, what now? What is going to happen to me? Am I a loose end to be taken care of?"

"Miss, aboard this vessel, we obey the law of the Empress. The government of the Commonwealth is not in the business of murdering inconvenient people; the captain would have me hanged, for one. I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that we have just saved you from certain death."

"But you didn't save me out of the kindness of your own heart. You want information."

"I won't hide it. I was hoping you would tell me what had transpired aboard the Empress. And... afterwards."

"Both the Commonwealth and the League can go to hell as far as I am concerned. I will have no part of this. How about we part ways, you return to me that damnable letter, and you never bother me again?"

"You must understand that the very existence of this vessel is one of the most closely kept secrets of Her Majesty's Imperial Navy. We might not have the luxury of allowing you off the ship immediately."

"I knew it. For all your talk, I am a prisoner."

"Quite the opposite. But alright, assume we release you. Then what? You think you can go back to your estate and live your life? You are an intelligent woman, Miss. I think you'll come to see past your dislike of me to see the situation as it is. It is an undeniable truth, that this submersible is at this moment the single safest place for you in the world. You made some powerful enemies; of that I can assure you."

"They don't even know who I am."

His eyebrow raises slightly. *Crap. I am already giving him information he doesn't have.*
"Even if that is true, I find underestimating the League operatives is never wise, and usually quite costly. Do you really wish to gamble on it? There are other considerations as well. You are one of the two lone witnesses to a grievous crime with international implications. The Crown could... extend its protection. A woman of your talents could find plenty of opportunity of advancement in Her Majesty's employ. Naturally, we would make whatever arrangements you wish for little Hildegard, too."

> "You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."

> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."

> "You're right about one thing. I am involved, whether I like it or not. Protection of the Commonwealth crown sounds like the least you can do to right that wrong. If I have to choose, I might as well choose the side I've been working on all this time anyway."

> (other)
>> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
It's personal.
>> "You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."
Welcome back!
Listen, what I need and want is a husband. This line of work you are forcing me into, and I understand I don't have much of a choice here, will eventually be fatal for my betrothal. What arrangements can YOU offer for my *deep sigh* financial affairs and my own domestic happiness?
>"You're right about one thing. I am involved, whether I like it or not. Protection of the Commonwealth crown sounds like the least you can do to right that wrong. If I have to choose, I might as well choose the side I've been working on all this time anyway."
Along with some elements of this >>5679573
>> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
>"You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
Do bring up the point about how important a good marriage is to us
>"You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."
Personal score

Excellent point. Looking for husbando (backed by 2 others as a secondary option)

Want nothing to do with you

Commonwealth crown
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"I shall not work with you. You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn after this. Throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."

There is a long pause, as he silently scribles something in his ledger. He is trying to be calm, but there are subtle cues that can be detected. Sweat drops. Looking at his watch. You can see that you have him, but you let him stew for a bit. Finally, you resume: "Unless, of course..."


"Well, you did save our lives. And you are most fortunate that my interests align with yours in this matter. I have a personal debt to settle with those murderous swine." You suddenly remember Alejandro's joking offer to switch course and run off into the mountains with the airship. The memory stings a bit. "So if my talking can hurt them in any way, then I'll talk your ears off. Whether the information happens to benefit the Commonwealth or the League is of no consequence to me."


"However... it is of large consequence to you."

You are met with only silence. You smile the sweetest smile you can muster, and for once, you really, really mean it. You proceed: "Now, how did you put it? I recognize the value of this information to you, specifically. Is there anything more natural under the circumstances than that we should enter a transactional relationship?"

The look he gives you at this moment can only be described as professional admiration.


In the end, the haggling took no more than several minutes. It is a testament to how well the negotiations went for you that you were somehow even able to arrange for an impromptu fan to be fetched for you. It is a crude thing, originally used for the bellows in the furnace room.

"... I'll be wanting the letter delivered to me personally before I leave the ship, of course. Oh, and a written guarantee that you will leave me alone in the future. *And* you shall disavow that I had ever been in your employ. I am NOT working for your blasted Crown. I have a king already, I see no need to replace him with an empress."

"... will there be anything *else*, Miss Engels-Halsgaard?"

"There is one more thing, actually."

"Oh, indeed?" He is at the verge of exasperation. Good.
"Yes, indeed. I have spent the past year socializing around the continent, ruining people for your benefit. My marriage prospects have already suffered enough for this. This line of work you forced me into...and me being bound to play dead and languish aboard this submersible for the foreseeable future... I simply do not see how my betrothal will survive it."

You offer a deep sigh. A fan in a lady's hands has a language of its own, and you happen to know how to spell out "I am feeble and threatened and uncertain and hopeless" in nothing but fan movements.

"Without that betrothal, my financial ... and marital ... prospects are nonexistent. For a lady of my age, that is nothing short of a disaster. What do I have to look forward to when I leave this ship? Would you honestly deprive a young woman the purpose of her life?"

"What would you have me do? Have the Crown somehow... help your betrothal to the young Von Ortmueller survive at all costs?"

"NO!" you blurt out before catching yourself. "I mean... no. There are other ways. Certainly, a man of your resources..."

"Miss, I am quite a few things, but being a matchmaker is not one of them. I cannot in good honesty promise to aid you in this regard. Frankly, I fail to see what this has to do with any of--"

Oh, gods, how can men be so stupid? When it's about espionage and subterfuge they are as subtle as a blushing maiden, but to understand anything about a lady, a direct approach is needed. You reach across the table, grab him by his collar, and pull him close, although you stop yourself an inch before you collide with his slimy, wrinkled forehead.

"Listen here, old man. You are quite fine playing at games that can topple governments and send armies across continents, so I am sure you will figure out how to manage one goddamn marriage. What I *really* need is a husband. One that isn't Frederick. Getting me debt-free would be a good start, but who will marry some nobody from Sternbergen with a broken betrothal to her name? And since *you* have blackmailed me for a year, and are the reason I am in this mess, you *will* find me a suitable match. And he better be tall and handsome. And a good dancer!"

His monocle falls to the table and rolls around before coming to a complete stop. He doesn't even struggle, he is too shocked to think straight. Finally, he stammers: "I... I promise I will personally make sure to see if we can make such arrangements. But Miss, I cannot make guarantees for people's hearts."

"Oh, just you get his 'heart' in the room alone with me for five minutes and let me worry about the rest."
You release his collar and he falls into his chair. He flails about for his monocle until he feels it and puts it back on his face with a shaken hand. It takes some seconds for him to regain his composure. If someone had told you just a few days ago you would have Newt so pale and his feathers so ruffled, you would have laughed it off for a lark.

You sigh. "Alright, Islander. I'll stay aboard your Nautilus--"


"--whatever. And I'll work with you, but not for you. Now, let's talk. You don't happen to have an Alchymist aboard, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, we have one. Why?"

"I recommend you send for him. Trust me, he'll want to be here for this."

The Ship's Royal Alchymist, a morose, silent fellow who was introduced to you as Sartorius, says almost nothing the whole time, though his face did go through a veritable kaleidoscope of shades of pale green, especially when you had mentioned the details of the Stone of the Philosophers and the bald man.

You make sure you don't withhold anything crucial, except perhaps some crass Everard's remarks about gallivanting with certain assets out, or some intimate memories you shared with him in the heat of the moment. Things like that shouldn't be anybody's business anyway.

Recalling the scenes from the lounge, or the conversations with the bald man is difficult, but not insurmountable. They offer you some rum to keep your spirits high through those recollections.

They listen intently, occasionally consulting or exchanging glances, and Newt writes everything down diligently. It takes a few hours and many questions to get to details. They seem particularly interested in the Lindwurm. You get the feeling that they have heard of that ship before.

"-- and that's when we broke the water and discarded the para-linen. I believe you know the rest."

"Fascinating. Is that all?"

Technically, there is one more thing. You hadn't mentioned the hallucinations or the dreams up until this point.

> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
> You've worked hard to exchange this information for important assurances, so, you would hate to bring into question your reliability as a source of information by mentioning some inconsequential hallucinations.
> (Additionally, feel free to write in other details you might want to withhold, emphasize or embellish.)
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with
The bald man carries a great number of potions and concoctions with him at all times. One to inject himself with, one a "truth" serum, one I drank myself and another that he used to track me somehow.
>A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
It's a good deal for us, all things considered
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
>A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
I see nothing wrong with revealing this to an expert. Maybe we can tell them more about the Lindwurm's layout but I feel Everard knows more than we do.
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
>> You've worked hard to exchange this information for important assurances, so, you would hate to bring into question your reliability as a source of information by mentioning some inconsequential hallucinations.
The people have spoken. We're coming clean. I'll make sure to include the topics you laid out too.
"That dreadful man has had all sorts of concoctions on his person at all times. I already told you about how he did something to poor Alejandro that seemed to force him to tell the truth. He had to inject himself with something, too, which alleviated his trembling. He said he was a hundred years old..."

While Newt rolls his eye sin an incredulous way, Sartorius chimes in in a morose monotone: "He seems quite skilled with his distillations, to be sure. Lots of Alchymists hone their skills in the realm of pharmacology."

"There is one more thing. I was reluctant to tell you this, for fear you shall think me a madwoman. But I assure you I have my wits about me. The bald man had me drink some weird concoction, telling me that otherwise I'd have some consequences from touching the Stone. Something about the whispering of the Serpent. I was hoping I could ask Mister Sartorius about this - this whole business seems to me to be related to his line of work."

Newt stands up impatiently " Needless to say, Miss Engels-Halsgaard, if you find yourself hearing some strange whispers, please consult with the ship's chirurgeon, though I'd hardly blame you, seeing what you've been through recently. I shall leave this alchymical discussion to the two of you for the time being. As for myself, I should probably check up on Mister Holcombe before he eats through our entire larder. I am very interested to hear his assessment of the layout of the Lindwurm."

*And to double check if anything he says conflicts with my story, of course*.

"Well then, I shall be taking my leave." To your surprise, Newt greets you with a small bow before leaving the wardroom. One would be forgiven to think him the very picture of gallantry.

The door closes. Sartorius spoke very little directly to you until now, only being content with asking questions about the bald man. It seems as if looking into the distance through you.

"I am afraid you will be quite disappointed by my help, madam. I am a Salamander; my expertise lies in distilling the fulgurants necessary for the powders and explosives, and fueling the operation of the Archimedean apparatus. I do not believe there is a man alive who can consider himself an expert on the subject of the Stone. If what you say is true, then the stone around your neck was the first one seen in centuries. We of the Orthodox creed oppose studying it. But I've never heard it described as toxic. Physically, at least."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"The records are old, and exaggerated to the point of myths. But it has been said that those who meddle with the stone sooner or later start hearing the Serpent whispering to them. Some were even said to be driven insane by these whispers."
"WHAT? You'll forgive me if that doesn't sound very reassuring."

"It is supposed to take years, from what I understand. Have you had such effects?"

"I... am not going to lie to you. I have been ... seeing some ... dreams. While I was awake. Sudden headaches. And this started after I got into contact with the stone. Or after I drank the concoction. Look, I'm not insane, alright?"

"I cannot say. You do not seem insane to me."

"That's... comforting", you say, though mostly out of courtesy. "But then what did the man have me drink? Can't you help me with these headaches at least?"

"We can only hope that he was truthful when he said his medicine would protect you from the effects. I myself know nothing about this."

It seems more likely to you that he did some sort of an experiment on you than help you cope with the stone. Alejandro would have held the stone too, so why didn't it have any effect on him?

You sigh. "Can you at least tell me what the bloody Serpent even is?"

"That much is common knowledge. It is an ancient symbol revered by the Order. A serpent eating its own tail. It is meant to represent the cycle of death and rebirth. Some older sects believe in a more literal interpretation, and worship her as a deity."

"Well, this man was certainly convinced of its existence. He spoke of all sorts of nonsense, like the Serpent, the blood of Ishtar--"

Sartorius is not a man of expressive emotions. But you can tell you struck something with that. He catches your wrist, and squeezes it hard, but resumes looking at your eyes. He grows pale in the face.

"Ishtar? You're certain he mentioned that?"

"Yes. Told me I have the blood of Ishtar. Asked me about my ancestry. Please, sir... you're hurting my wrist."

"How would he know? Did he take your blood? Did. He. Take. Your. BLOOD?"

"I... don't think so. Please, what are you doing?"

Hastily, he rolls up the sleeves of your impromptu uniform and, sure enough, upon closer inspection, there is a dark splotch at your elbow pit. With all that was going on at the Lindwurm and your recent escape, you hardly had time to notice this detail.
He seems to catch himself. He releases you. "Apologies. Can you describe to me the man again? Can you go into detail with the tattoos?" You painstakingly describe once again what little you remember about the tattoo patterns on the bald man's face. There is not much you can tell him, except that they appeared to contain some cuneiform script and geometric patterns.

"Well? What does this tell you?"

"I will refrain from speculation."

"You know, mister Sartorius, you are not very useful to me at this moment."

"It's just Sartorius. There are things I am not allowed to say. I will not say them even to the captain, or Newt." He stands up abruptly. "I should go. I must speak to... everyone. I must... I must..."

Now it is your turn to grab him by his robe.

"That's all well and good, but you're not the one threatened with insanity. At the end of the day the bald man is one of yours. I am owed some explanations!"

He looks around helplessly for a bit before meeting your gaze. "I will tell you this much. Alchymy is a broad art. Like I said, I am a Salamander. There are three other orders, each associated with a primary element of nature. The man you have been in contact with must be a Sylphite. An Aetherite, to be more precise."

"All... right? You are saying that as if there is some significance to it."

"Perhaps not to you. But Sylphites have been thought extinct for more than half a century. They were all killed in the Purge." You are vaguely aware that some people in Babylonia got fed up with these sorcerers and razed their temples overnight half a century ago.

"And how is this significant?"

"It would be -- miraculous. Every order held its own mysteries, its own libraries. This man represents nearly a quarter of the accumulated wisdom of the entire Order, thought long lost. Oh, but if a member of the Aetherite Kabal got his hands on the Catalyst..."

He pulls your robe from your hands, and rushes out the door. Halfway through, he pops his head back into the wardroom:

"It has been a... it has been... goodbye."

The door closes and you are alone in the room. You look around the empty wardroom.

Well, one thing never changes. Every time you spend time in the room with a bloody Alchymist, you end up knowing less and having more questions.
The guard from earlier enters the room. He seems more relaxed than before. "If you please, I would like to show you to your cabin now, madam."

"Am I to be confined?"

"Civilians are prohibited from certain parts of the ship, but other than that, no, madam."

*And you are here to make sure I don't `accidentally` make a wrong turn, I suppose.*

> Let him show you to your cabin.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Ask to speak with the captain.

As you walk, you spend the time by talking to the guard. He seems quite polite.
> Inquire about Everard.
> Inquire about Sartorius.
> Inquire about Pelagius.

As always, write-ins are allowed.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
We went through a lot. Some medical checkup is due.

> Inquire about Pelagius.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.

> Inquire about Pelagius.
>Let him show you to your cabin.
>Inquire about Pelagius.
Tell me about this sub and what Newt's position in all this is
>> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
>> Inquire about Pelagius.
>> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
>> Inquire about Pelagius.
Should probably have our whole body checked and tested to ensure that the bad man did not leave any nasty souvenirs behind or pricked the skin elsewhere.
>Let him show you to your cabin.
>Inquire about Pelagius.
Clarissa must eat too. I don't believe they served anything in the prison.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Inquire about Sartorius.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Inquire about Everard.
"Actually, I was told I should report to the ship's chirurgeon. Is he any good?"

"Old Bonesaw Boyle? Oh, he's the best there is. You might want to keep your voice up, though."

"Oh... that's just... splendid.

"His alcove is all the way back in section V, so I will have to escort you there. I will also be there to show you to your cabin afterwards."

"Oh, how nice of you". So, this is the guard dog that Newt assigned you. Everard probably has one too.

As you walk down the corridor, the sounds of shoe on wood echo throughout the hull. You feel as if you are in a metallic maze.

You pass various doors and compartments. There are circular windows in the interior at least, so you steal a few sights here and there. You can't make heads nor tails from what you're seeing. There are occasionally letterings - you were amused that the room you were interrogated in was called "SALON". Clearly anyone who has served aboard this vessel for longer than a month would know every inch of it without needing the signs.

You catch a short glimpse of a man with an eyepatch inside one of the compartments in heated discussion with somebody. The guard is quick to rush you along. "This is the bridge, ma'am. You're not allowed there."

"Well, which parts are off-limits? So I know I don't accidentally wander there, of course."

"You may have noticed those large athwartships bulkheads--"

"The what?"

"The walls with large doors that have wheels on them. Athwartships just means transversal. These walls divide the ship into five compartments, compartment I being at the prow and compartment V being at the stern. Compartments I and II are where you will be allowed. This is where the living quarters are, mostly. We are now in compartment III, at the center. This houses the bridge, the armoury and the Archimedean Alcove. As long as you stay in the forward two compartments, you should be quite alright."

From above you hear a very peculiar sound, a high-pitched vibration with some irregular drum-like reverberations. This was similar to what you heard when you were near the top of the Celestial Empress- the sound of the Archimedean doing its work. You don't even ask about what the Archimedean is doing aboard a submersible - gone are the days when you wanted to know everything. The less you know, the better.

You encounter one of those doors he was talking about. He goes on. "There are multiple corridors in every compartment, but the bottleneck between any two compartment is a single pressure door. In case we need to seal them off to avoid flooding."

"Have you had to do it before?"

His lips stiffen somewhat. "Once."

You know when to push a topic. This is one of those times.
You move through the massive door, and immediately you can feel the sound of the engines, the vibrations, and the temperature increase. Even the air is stuffier. This compartment has no inside windows.

A sailor, his face black with coal, passes you by and gives you a boisterous wink.

"Is that the new recruit, then, Reginald? Looks a bit soft!"

"Sod off, Parker."

Parker's cackling gets lost in the noise of the engines as he walks down the hall.

Your escort turns to you. "Apologies for that, ma'am. The sailors are a decent bunch, but they have been... starved for companionship over the past year. We are in compartment IV now. This is where the furnace and the boilers are."

"I sort of gathered that much."

The floors in this compartment are metallic, but the echo of your footsteps is deafened by the operation of who knows what engine. It's a long, claustrophobic walk.

"So this is a miraculous vessel, then? A marvel of engineering?"

"You'll have better luck asking the Prof about it. He never shuts up. Being aboard a submersible has its... unique challenges."

He gives you a subconscious look-over as he says that. It hasn't escaped you that he considers another "challenge" has just boarded this ship, no matter how much it was given a man's uniform.

"Do you happen to know what happened to the gentleman who was rescued alongside me?"

"I believe Sir Webber and the professor are questioning him in the officers quarters. He'll be released after they're done, same as you" Oh, so Everard merits officer's quarters but I get stuck in the salon. Interesting.

"Sir Webber? Is that Newt's real name?"

"It is so. It is sort of an inside joke aboard the Pelagius. We are all terrified that old spook Sartorius will get fed up with us and turn us into newts."

A few days ago you would have laughed at this joke. Now, it doesn't seem nearly so funny.

"I've been meaning to ask about him. Is he always quite ... like *that*?"

"He is a good man, I'm sure. Never causes problems. He doesn't socialize much, I'm told, even with the officers. You know his sort."

*Much more than I've ever wanted to.*

Finally, you pass the last pressure door and as you round a dog-leg in the corridor, you are greeted by the sight of a man being held down by two sailors as he is screaming for his life.

The white-haired, white-bearded head of an old man and imposing nose appears from behind a screen. "Oh, blast you, stay still! It's just a toenail!" He picks up a pair of pliers and goes back behind the screen. The screams intensify.

"QUIT YOUR WAILING, SIR! Or did they start recruiting women into Her Majesty's Imperial Navy?" His look falls upon you. He drops the pliers on the floor. "What in the ACTUAL DEVIL IS HAPPENING ON THIS BLASTED SHIP?"
Correction: last sentence was meant to say "This is not one of those times."
What takes the most time is to secure a little privacy. There is nothing but a board separating the chirurgeon's alcove from the rest of the compartment - there are some other workshops and storages in the same room, apparently - and while the board may be enough to stop people from accidentally seeing what they don't want, it doesn't do much to prevent peeking, as was obvious by the giggling going on just in the room over. In the end an arrangement was reached wherein Reginald, your guard, stands watch just outside the alcove, and the screen linen is hanged to shield you from the rest.

He is unlike any doctor you've ever seen, but it's not likely there is another one aboard.

He performed a very quick inspection of your skin.

"Bit skinny, aren't we madam? You need to eat more beef."

"I beg your pardon?"

"How do you expect to get married?" He rudely spins you around on your feet while inspecting your back and shoulders. "It's hips men want, good, child bearing hips! You're passable in other compartments, but woman, you need to eat better!"

"My hips are just fine, thank you! Are there any other needle marks?"

"WHAT? Why are you whispering? Speak LOUDER, MADAM!"


"No need to yell!" He looks you over some more. "None that I can find. I'd have to take a better look in the sunlight. We can go to Hamilton's study once we surface." As the rest of the vessel, this cabin is lit by a gaslight.

"Does the professor have a window in his study?"

"Madam, his study IS a window. So you say you were imprisoned for three days. Did they feed you anything?" he says, while inspecting your teeth.

"Fhome tafthelefh... Some tasteless gruel, twice a day. I didn't have much of an appetite."

"That's Kraut cuisine for you! Well, don't worry. We have plenty of Her Majesty's solid, good food on this ship. We'll whip you up into shape in no time." He inspects your thighs one by one, and then to your horror starts lifting your gown. "Did they leave your virtue intact?"

You promptly slap away his hand: "Yes, although I don't see how that's any of your business."

He lets out a rambunctious laughter. "Madam, I have a granddaughter your age. But no matter."

"So I am physically well?"

"You walked in here on both your feet, you have all your limbs and are not presently dying of scurvy or some other chronic or acute ailment. I have absolutely no idea how in the blazes you think I can be of any help."

"Look, Doctor... the reason why I am here is... they had an Alchymist on board."

"You have my condolences, madam, truthfully, but we have a similar proliferation of that particular infestation on this very vessel and I wasn't able to extirpate it in two years since I've been aboard."
As you put your uniform on, you venture: "No, I mean... they made me drink some weird alchymical concoctions. Talked about the blood of Ishtar. Of the Stone of Philosophers. Whispers of the serpent, they called it. Ever since then, I've been ... having these headaches, followed by vivid visions. I was wondering if you knew something about--"

"I see, I see. Madam, you have come to the right person."

"I have?"

"Exactly so! Alchymists? Serpents? Whispers? It's all clear to me. I know exactly what is ailing you."

Hopefully, you look at him as he singles out a small brown bottle out of a cabinet, and gives it to you. Eagerly you take it and read the label.

"Laudanum? Really?"

"Of course! A fragile little thing like you? Three days in mortal danger? Your nervous system was overstimulated, dangerously overstimulated, madam!"

You can hardly contain your jaw from dropping while the doctor continues rambling on:

"The female mind is a feeble thing, you see, prone to hysterics. I am happy that you consulted me when you did, it could have been much worse. A sip of this three to four times a day, get a good nights' sleep, and you'll be right as rain, and then you can return to embroidery and needlework, no harm done."

A red mist falls over your vision. This much, at least, you know is not caused by any alchymists.

The next thing you know, you are being dragged away by the guard, while the doctor is picking up his glasses from the floor, yelling after you:

"I knew it! My diagnoses are never wrong! Textbook case of hysteria! Drink the laudanum, madam! Check up in three days! You will thank me later!"
I fucking knew it kek
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"Miss, please, if you will..." Reginald is at the edge of exasperation.

"Absolutely not! You must be insane!"

"But Miss, it's the only available cabin we have."

"You call *this* a cabin? I can barely turn my head around!"

Here at the front of the submersible, the sounds of the engine are slower and your screams echo across the corridor. Yours is not the only cabin in this corridor - in fact, there are at least a dozen. Some confused heads of sailors are popping out. Not that you particularly care.

"But it fits three people!" Reginald pleads, to no avail.

"Maybe if they are pygmies and don't mind being very very close! There aren't any windows?"

"Well it's a bloody submersible, isn't it?"

"And? I should have liked to observe the wildlife!"

"Miss, this is your cabin. If you want to change it, take it up with the captain."

"Captain? I'll take it to the First Lord of the Admiralty if I have to! Alright, where is he?"

"He is currently occupied on account that we are diving."

"That doesn't even explain anything!"

You sit down at one of the three beds - the single one, not the other two which are, dreadfully, stacked above one another.

The mattress is hard and the room smells of chemicals. You eye the bottle of laudanum. You shrug. You take a swig. The doctor is a pig, but you could use a little bit of calming down, for sure.

"And isn't there a single mirror on this blasted ship?"

A familiar voice rings through the corridor. "Well, I didn't have any trouble finding you. Your shrieking can be heard through half the bloody ship."

Everard's head pops into your cabin.

"Are you decent, milady?"

"Everard." You give Reginald a look, and the guard he decides he has urgent business everywhere. He excuses himself politely and marches away, probably relieved.

"In the flesh. Newt squeezed me dry." He whistles. "Say, it's quite a nice cabin you've got in there. Fancy inviting me in?"

"In your dreams."

"You have it all to yourself? Blimey. I have to share mine with two navy boys. They don't seem to like me very much."
"So, what do we do now?"

Everard shrugs. "I suppose you've been told that we are not allowed behind those pressure doors, on account of it being so secret and all. We'll just spend some time in the crew quarters and bore ourselves to death. That is, unless milady has some ideas on how to spend time aboard."

*See, Clarissa, this is why you shouldn't passionately kiss men in the heat of the moment. They get all sorts of strange ideas.*

"Oh, but you can ask the professor if he has any books. He has asked me to fetch you for lunch."

You were offered some food after coming aboard, but you barely touched it. Everard ate your bit enthusiastically, before you were separated. You haven't had a proper meal since that feast on the Celestial Empress.

"Lunch? Like this?" Not only are you wearing a poorly fitting man's uniform, but the most humiliating part of your dress have to be the shoes. They are so much oversized that you are liable to trip.

"I think you looked better in that torn-up dress, personally."

"I bet you did. You pig."

"I love it when you call me that. It excites me."

"Oh you absolute p..." You sigh, but take him under the arm as you two start walking down the corridor. "Well, I suppose it beats waiting to slowly go insane in a boring gas-lit cabin. It's not like I have a mirror to fix up my hair. They don't even have windows! The accommodations are simply dreadful."

"If you're screaming this much about the cabin, I can't wait to hear when you see the toilets."

"What do you mean by that?"

Everard just gives you a wink and a laugh. A mild state of panic and dread starts setting in. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?"
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Oh no. Just throw us in the ocean.
I will resume writing tomorrow, but have no meaningful choices to give you at this time that wouldn't feel forced.

Since the next thing in the itinerary is a lunch in the professor's study, perhaps you can prepare a list of topics you wish to discuss with him. He is a polymath, and was involved with the construction of the Pelagius. Though keep in mind he will probably not be able to talk much about classified topics. He would be well versed in history, science, and marine biology.
Standard questions about the Pelagius' range, armaments, time it can spend submerged, and how deep it can dive.
Weird sea creatures, we love those storeies
Ask him under whose authority is the League doing these "No witnesses" black operations.
The accommodation can't be helped but maybe the professor has a mirror we can borrow?
Is Lieutenant Glennister the only person unaccounted for?

>passable in other compartments
I'm insulted, we didn't roll jackpot in the chest compartment to be called passable!

Fun fact: Laudanum (opium) became an effective cure all in Victorian times because most medicine back then actually harm more than they heal.

Are we still wearing the wet and torn dress underneath?

I do want to know how they found us.
Were they tracking the Lindwurm? How did they know of our escape? What is this submersible doing here? When can we expect to see land again? What does science or history say about the philosopher's stone?
We should also ask for things to alleviate the boredom like musical instruments and books.
That was funny and nice. Pray we don't get boarded out of the blue again.
I'm interested in the sub's weapon systems, especially the one they fired right after it surfaced.
Good stuff, I'll include it in the convo.
Although some anons appear to be speedrunning for an espionage indictment by imediately inquiring about the strategic capabilities of a secret weapon, I trust Clarissa's social senses to wiggle out the info without rousing suspicion.

As for the meta questions,
> jackpot in the chest compartment
Elderly doctors gonna doctor.

> Are we still wearing the wet and torn dress?
It has been hours by now. Clarissa jumped off the Lindwurm without the dress. She was given a poorly fitting uniform, offscreen. Presumably whatever underwear she wore was dried off by the time she was at the doctor's.
Everard seems to know the way to the Professor's study, and you engage in idle chitchat. There is a bend in the corridor, with yet another pressure door to pass. Everard opens it for you - and you come face to face with a dragon, made of bone and nightmare.

You stop yourself from shrieking - perhaps the laudanum *does* work in some capacity after all - but you do notice how Everard makes a protective gesture and puts himself in between you and the creature. But a moment afterwards, he bursts into laughter.

"Professor, I have to hand it to you, you gave us a proper fright!"

You hear the professor's voice: "Oh, that's just Richard. He is harmless."

You peek behind Everard's back to see that "dragon" is just a head, it turns out, a skull mounted on the wall. With horns, it is almost a yard long. The creature it belonged to must have been enormous, but you do not count zoology among your talents so cannot identify it closer.

The skull sets a good tone for the rest of the study. You could swear that this one room has more colour than you have so far seen on the rest of the vessel. Immediately you are reminded of a jungle, or perhaps a museum of natural history. Apparently, the good professor has been in here a while, and his cabin has metamorphosed into a microcosm of exotic existence - an Aladdin's cave of scientific curiosities.

Tomes, notes, papers, sketches and scribbles, line the shelves. On closer inspection, every line of books and papers seem to be fastened to the shelves, by straps of some sort. It gives off the consideration for the swaying and bobbing of a naval vessel.

Stuffed birds of fantastical plumage and insects of impossible size are dilligently affixed to display-mounts on one of the walls according to some classification you aren't aware of, with each having a note pinned to the side in Hellenic. An entire section is covered by dried-out corals and sea-shells.

There is also a vitrine filled with colorful flora of all sorts, hues still bright despite months in preservation. Garishly colorful flowers that you've never seen before thrive in earthen pots. A huge fern covers up the entire corner of the study. Behind it, you can glimpse jars of multiple sizes, filled with preservative fluids. Inside you can make out (before immediately regretting the attempt) varios internal organs, or entire specimens. These include an eye as large as a fist, with a misshapen iris, swimming in a sickly yellowish fluid; a grotesque embryo of some creature, still in its placental membrane; a disembodied tentacle of some cephalopod, that you could swear is wriggling the moment you turn away your sight; and a colony of darkish, bulbous growths that doesn't seem like anything you have ever seen.
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The wall on your right has a sprawling map, apparently drawn by hand, peppered with hastily scribbled notations, lines, and cryptic symbols. By the looks of it, Pelagius has been far and wide across the globe, even reaching the Colonies. It was not just confined to the tranquil warmth of Hadrian's sea.

Having apparently run out of space on the walls, the professor started affixing specimens to the ceiling, too. You are liable to spend the rest of the lunch in fear of a long-dead preserved insect or a bird skeleton detaching from the ceiling and falling into your soup.

But the most awe-inducing part of its all, that makes your heart race with excitement is the fact that one wall of the study is made of glass. It is a very large, circular window, the first you have seen on the submersible. Only now do you understand what the doctor meant by "Professor's study IS a window". And beyond the window - water. Clear water, bubbles, and a school of fish - and the surface, Gods, the surface! With sunlight refracting from above, transforming the waters into a shimmer of viridian light, occasionally casting pinpricks of brilliance onto the cabin. This azure dance of light forms a complete contrast to the dull orange gaslight that permeated the rest of the ship.

And at the center, a workbench somewhat hastily repurposed into a table. Off to the corner it sports an elaborate mechanism holding a system of lenses, and you spot scalpels, tweezers and empty preserving jars. At the place where the workbench meets the wall, some small shallow dishes are lined up and labeled, with a gas lamp positioned precariously above them.

The workbench is flanked by a few boards, which could charitably be called seating benches, that can be swiveled into position to serve as chairs. The professor himself, with his golden spectacles, greying moustache, and his signature pleasant smile. It is as if you stepped into some extraterrestrial menagerie, and this was its benevolent keeper.

The enormous amount of detail encroaching from the walls makes the room seem even smaller than it originally must have been. You feel like the three of you will barely fit sitting down. Already you have started understanding that on the Pelagius, personal space is at a premium.

"Allow me to humbly welcome you, friends, to the Starboard Observation Window of HMS(S) Pelagius."
It doesn't take long to get the pleasantries out of the way. You somehow position yourselves on the bench across the professor, so that you two are facing the window. Everard has more difficulty than you, being taller than both you and the professor, but eventually you find an arrangement that suits you all.

"I'm afraid that I do not have separate facilities for cooking. The Captain forbade me from using open flames on the vessel after ... the flamingo incident." He gives off a sheepish look. "So we will be relying on the kitchens to prepare our meals. In the navy, our nutrition must by force of circumstance consist primarily of the ship's biscuit, meat salted in brine, and pease pudding, but I am pleased to report that the ship's cook is a proper wizard able to work wonders with such a limited arsenal."

"Oh, please. Anything will be better than the gruel I was given while being a prisoner", you say, pleasantly.

"That must have been a dreadful experience, miss! And that business with the Celestial Empress, too!"

"I just pray we don't get boarded out of the blue again."

"Boarded? By whom, miss? A school of fish? You'll be happy to know that a submersible is, at least, boarding-proof. To board us would mean to breech our pressure hull. And in that case, we'd all drown anyway" he says cheerfully.

"That's... good to know."

"But oh, where are my manners - would you like to drink something? I have a few more bottles of a very good vintage of '79."

"I've been prescribed laudanum by the ship's chirurgeon."

"Laudanum is already dissolved in alcohol, so you might as well dissolve it further, as it were. It may enhance the effects."

Everard says "We'd be delighted to, Sir."

The professor, the very picture of manners, pours out the wine into his glass - only, the shape of the glass is peculiar, and is suspiciously similar to the specimen jars lining the walls.

"Apologies, but we do not have wine glasses aboard. I was able to convince the Captain to allow me scientific equipment, but there is a limit to how much my sway over him extends, I'm afraid."

"Hey professor, these 'aven't been holding some weird specimens, I hope?" Everard says, eyeing the glass, flipping it over.

The professor coughs a bit. "Well, I mean, certainly, that is to say... at the very least, you may rest assured they were sterilized properly!"

You cast a glance to the giant eye in the jar staring at you from the wall to your left. Oh well. The last time you drank out of a wine glass didn't end well, anyway.
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"I was hoping the captain would be joining us for lunch?"

The professor gives an evasive smile. "Oh, the captain is busy, way too busy. Me, Sir Webber, and Doctor Boyle usually sequester ourselves. But they have both excused themselves for today."

"Wonder why" Everard winks at you.

"What about other officers?"

"We have a lack of junior officers on board currently." It appears as if he would like to say more on this topic but something stays his tongue. Time for a change of topic.

"I see you have kept yourself busy, at least." you wave your hand to indicate the cabin walls.

"Indeed I have, miss. There can be no boredom to an educated mind!"

"But still, it must be a challenge, living aboard a submersible."

"I have been on sea expeditions before. The main complications come from this being a military vessel. The secondary complication is the need for utter secrecy. I don't get nearly enough time to go on my sample-collecting excursions. But I shan't complain! I personally asked to be granted a permanent position on the Pelagius, after all, as a technickal advisor. That was my condition for contributing to the project."

"So you do know a lot about this vessel?"

"Probably more than anyone, miss" he beams proudly. "But I am not allowed to speak much of the topic. It's not personal, you see. I am sure Sir Webber trusts you."

You almost choke on your wine, but say "I'm sure."

"Well, one thing we can discuss openly is the compression cannon on the top deck." Everard chimes in. "I saw it in full light. An eight-pounder, if I am not wrong? Since when did Navy start using those?"

"You are correct, mister Holcombe. Navy prefers its blackpowder cannon, but we just couldn't solve how to get one to reliably fire immediately after being waterlogged, even with mister Sartorius' knowledge of advanced materials."

"But I saw no crew servicing it? How would you reload and aim it?"

"As you know, these cannons are not muzzle-loaded, so loading is much simpler and can be automated. Next ot the breech there is a chamber holding three additional shells. After each shot, a lock is unlatched and the next shell falls into place, while the steam compressor is reloading. After the three shells are expended, the cannon itself must be serviced and reloaded by the crew, while we are surfaced. There is an ingenious arrangement of pulleys that allows us to aim the cannon several degrees, from within the ship. Naturally, a similar mechanism must exist for the gunner to aim. And the mechanism must pass the length of the pressure hull! I worked for months on that" he puffs out his chest proudly. "Sadly, it is a hand-crafted system, so complicated that I do not see the Navy or the Air wing employing it. For normal purposes of non-submerged vessels, a live crew is preferable and logistically much more sound."
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(I am posting material from the original #1 thread when Pelagius was first introduced. It's not strictly information that Clarissa would have, but we can pretend she would extrapolate the information from various conversations on the ship in the coming days)
From there on, the two engage in technical discussions. It is becoming clearer by the minute to you that Everard was a military man, because he knows a wealth of details. The Professor is, to his credit, quite guarded against revealing classified details, as they engage in a discussion of pressure hulls and archimedeans that frankly bore you to hell and back.

At some point during all that, food arrived, brought in by a sailor. The course of the day appears to be chickpea puree with boiled beef, seasoned with seaweed. You feel like it's the tastiest thing you've ever eaten. Catching the opportunity to prevent the professor and Everard from going at it all day, you but in to try and change up the topic while their mouths are full.

"Professor, do tell me about these fantastic creatures you encountered during your expeditions."

His eyes beam.

"Oh, miss! I knew I was talking to an educated woman the moment I laid eyes upon you. Yes, indeed!" He points to the huge skull. "Richard here is my most prized possession. He was a juvenile hydrosaurid from a phylum hitherto unknown to science! I call it the *Ichthyopterigeon Hamiltonii* . Ten yards from nose to tip of the tail, but even so a juvenile! Oh, how I wish we hadn't had to kill him!"

"You mean to tell me you killed it?"

"In the end, the captain harpooned it himself, if you can believe it. It was a most glorious adventure, worthy of being made into a book! Words cannot describe it - you should have been there!"

For some inexplicable reason, the nonsense phrase "Lazy QM" flashes into your consciousness and quickly fades away. You attribute it to the headaches you've been having, and take another sip of wine. The professor continues:

"The meat was all leathery. Unfortunately, we had to dump it all overboard after that one sailor almost died. I still insist it must have been an allergy! Well, no matter. I kept the skull, and its peculiar vertebrae are secure in the ship's hold."

"Is this the most dreadful sea monster you have ever encountered?"

The professor looks around conspiratorially: "Why? What have you heard?"

"Nothing, honestly."

"What do you know about the Atlantean Leviathan?"

Everard says: "It's some sort of a big sea monster. Nobody ever saw one. Navy is speculated to hold one captive at Woolswitch Cove."

Hamilton bursts into laughter. "Oh, the imagination of the common serviceman never ceases to amaze me! We are direct culprits for that rumour, I'm afraid. Woolswitch Cove is where the Pelagius is berthed, and so it is off-limits. People would sooner think of a sea monster than a submersible. Excellent! Most excellent!"

He calms down, then resumes. "I must take part of the blame for the recent frenzy about the sea monsters. That has been inadvertently caused by Pelagius herself. You can only sink so many Vierre ships before they get suspicious. I can't in honesty say Sir Webber and the Admiralty didn't bank on it."
He takes a sip of wine. "Regardless, the Leviathan. We, of course, know of its existence by the bits and pieces washed ashore on the colonies every decade or so. Those *ABSOLUTE IDIOTS* at the University of Hofgarten have come up with a hypothesis that these belong to some remote cousin of the cephalopods.

"When I was twenty-one, I had the extremely good luck to examine a washed-ashore specimen before anyone else. I was known in my town to have somewhat of a fascination with creatures and animals of all kinds, so I was summoned by some locals to help them with a carcass that washed ashore. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was quite the seminal event of my youth!

"Oh, very quickly the College got involved, and then the Imperial Society. Soon you couldn't even get to the bloody thing from all the suits and onlookers. But for me - I saw enough.

"The carcass was not an animal. It was a bodypart of one. It defied all known clada of undersea creatures. And yet, the texture of the skin adapted to deep pressures, the undulation of the smooth muscles - these were unknown to our taxonomy. I can tell you, right now, that creature was no cephalopod, nor a vertebrate. What ever it is, it must be absolutely massive, and it must dwell in the deepest hadal strata of the ocean. Something that so fundamentally shatters our so many assumptions about the divisions of aquatic fauna - as a natural philosopher, I *must* get to the bottom of it! The implications alone... oh,to see one - to find a proof of one - perhaps sample or capture a living specimen - that is my life's ambition."

He turns around for a moment, wistfully looking through the window into the blue depths.

"The most unnerving part of all? I am certain that I saw definitive signs of cubichnia."

He holds that word in the air as if it is the most dramatic thing in the world. After a few seconds of confused silence, Everard takes it uponhimself to deliver you both from the predicament:

"Pardon me, professor, but my ancient hellenic is rusty. What does that word mean?"

"Oh, pardon me. In layman's terms, mister Holcombe, I saw what I believe was evidence of bite marks. The grotesque appendage was severed off by enormous teeth."
For a moment, the waters outside the window seem to grow darker, and you become aware of the silence looming over the room. Everard is probably as anxious to shift the topic as you, so he decides to derail the conversation:

"Professor, I hope you don't mind, but something's been bugging me. How did the Pelagius know we were there? How were you aware of our escape? You won't catch me complaining, of course, but I am far to cynical to attribute it to chance!"

"Well spotted, sir. Well spotted indeed. I see the Air Wing lost a good officer when they lost you, mister Holcombe. It is, as you say, anything but chance. I can't go into details of our mission, but we are in Hadrian's sea to search for... the same thing that the League is searching, shall we say. We tend to stick close to the Semaphore Line, because that way we can have various news and commands delivered to us. Encoded, naturally. This is how our contacts from Al Avraam notified us that mister Ortega had boarded the Celestial Empress, and headed northward."

"I was the one who sent that report. There was a guy in the port, on Newt's payroll, who was my contact. He helped me get an employment at the Empress. I was to keep him updated on Alejandro's movements. I never was quite sure how he passed the news along."

"Well, now you know."

You chime in: "Newt-- Sir Webber, I should say, had obviously tracked Alejandro for a while; but I hadn't expected him to mobilize a secret submersible for the purpose!"

"Unfortunately, even a surface ship cannot track an airship. The disparity in speeds is too large, the Pelagius is much slower than a surface ship, when submerged, and we can't spend much time surfaced for fear of being spotted. So we couldn't exactly track the vessel as it travelled. As soon as we received the news, we decided to head to Mister Ortega's speculated destination. By the way, miss, before we resume this conversation, do you happen to know where the Celestial Empress was headed for?"

"Certainly! Alejandro told me we would be landing at, how he charmingly put it, ..."

> "... New Antioch, that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait."

> "... Skender, that beating heart of the Sultanate, where the skies are said to be black from the chimneys of a thousand airships mooring every day, while prisoners dig for malachite under the watchful eyes of the Grand Visier."

> "... Melchior, the City at the Mouth of the Mountains, where East meets West, and the Silk Corridor flows to the far-flung lands of Xing, Uhlan, and Vostok, in the shadows of an enormous stone wall that no longer serves any purpose."

> "... Corcyrra, that rogue Mletaccian city-state no longer within reach of Viginti law, where no customs agents dare tread, and one can buy anything for the right price... even people, it is said. "
>"... New Antioch, that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait."

I though we were headed to Theodorea, was that simply a stopping port?
>> "... Skender, that beating heart of the Sultanate, where the skies are said to be black from the chimneys of a thousand airships mooring every day, while prisoners dig for malachite under the watchful eyes of the Grand Visier."
Very perceptive of you. Here, have a suave napoleonic lady as thanks for paying attention.

Theodorea is not a city, it's a region, analogous to eastern Balkans and western Anatolia. I didn't want to lock ourselves into a specific destination at that point(as it was always going to be player vote), so I just had Everard blurt out a broader geographical term.

One of the things on my backlog is to make a detailed old-timey map to make these things easier in the future.
>"... New Antioch, that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait."
The other cities don't sound like places you'd take a Lady on a first date.
I do have plenty of setting appropriate art in my folders
>> "... Melchior, the City at the Mouth of the Mountains, where East meets West, and the Silk Corridor flows to the far-flung lands of Xing, Uhlan, and Vostok, in the shadows of an enormous stone wall that no longer serves any purpose."
>> "... Melchior, the City at the Mouth of the Mountains, where East meets West, and the Silk Corridor flows to the far-flung lands of Xing, Uhlan, and Vostok, in the shadows of an enormous stone wall that no longer serves any purpose."
>"... New Antioch, that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait."
Sounds cooler
>> "... New Antioch, that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait."
>> "... Melchior, the City at the Mouth of the Mountains, where East meets West, and the Silk Corridor flows to the far-flung lands of Xing, Uhlan, and Vostok, in the shadows of an enormous stone wall that no longer serves any purpose."
> "... Skender, that beating heart of the Sultanate, where the skies are said to be black from the chimneys of a thousand airships mooring every day, while prisoners dig for malachite under the watchful eyes of the Grand Visier."
>For some inexplicable reason, the nonsense phrase "Lazy QM" flashes into your consciousness and quickly fades away.
Forgot to note that this got a chuckle out of me
New Antioch



And zero votes for the crime syndicate city.

"It was my understanding that Alejandro planned to disembark and pursue his business in New Antioch - and therefore, naturally, so did I. As he charmingly put it, `that ringed megalopolis, where the Lord Autarch and his steam-powered hoplites defiantly watch over the last remnants of the Eastern Latin Empire, and where the Bronze Collossus straddles the Bucephalos strait.` I've never been, so I was quite excited."

"The ship was bound for Melchior after that", Everard adds. "I saw the flight plan. But I reckon it's Ortega you were after, not the ship itself."

"Indeed. There are four fortunate circumstances that conspired to allow the Pelagius to be in the vicinity and find you when you escaped. The first one was, when the news reached us that the Empress was headed towards Theodorea, were already near the bay. The second fortunate circumstance was that it was a clear, moonlit night when the Empress was sunk, so we were aware of the fact almost immediately."

"How did you know that?"

"Until Sir Webber gives me the say-so, I am not at liberty to speak of it, I'm afraid. Suffice to say, the Crown has resources other than Pelagius in Hadrian's sea. But yes, we were able to receive through the Semaphore Line not only the confirmation that an airship had sunk the Empress, but even the heading and altitude it took afterwards.
"We immediately suspected the Lindwurm - although we didn't know it was her name at the time, we were aware of her existence."

"So Newt knew this ship was prowling about and you still let us board the Empress?"

"We hadn't known its whereabouts at the time. But I doubt it would change much. I must stress this, Miss Engels, Mister Holcombe - had we known that they were becoming so desperate, that they were ready to commit such drastic measures... You must understand, this is a line they had dared not cross before. All that loss of life..."

"The third fortunate circumstance was that the Lindwurm, according to mister Holcombe's estimate, was traveling at an extremely high altitude for an airship, probably due to strict orders to avoid detection. The higher one goes, the slower an airship moves, due to a combination of factors - the air is thinner, so the propellers have less to push against, and the Aether vortices are more unstable."

"Last I was aware of, the Air Wing doesn't have a single airship that can reach that sort of ceiling reliably."

"I am informed that some strides have been made since your unfortunate discharge, mister Holcombe, but certainly none have the capacity Der Lindwurm has displayed."

"Krauts were always ahead of us in that regard."
"But despair not, my friend, for we certainly have advantages of our own! The Pelagius has a most modern set of paddlewheels, needed for it to propel itself through the dense medium of water. On the surface, she can move very fast when she wants to, as fast as any surface ship. I can tell you, we spared no coal in this endeavour! We are free to surface during the night, but were even were able to steal several hours a day. I'm afraid that we had to loosen up our usual restrictions of secrecy a bit, and a few passenger liners may have even spotted us from afar, but this was attributed to the Hadrian Kraken."

"What about smoke, though? Wouldn't the smoke be visible and give away the Pelagius during the day?"

"Ah, you would think that. But Muyself and Mister Sartorius have devised certain... measures. The phlogisticated aer and the solid residue of combustion can be redirected underwater or even accumulated for a while and released at leisure afterwards. It was a necessary specification when constructing the submersible.

"So, while the Pelagius could never have hoped to catch the Empress, Lindwurm was a different matter. We have to stay submerged for most of the day, but at night, we can surface freely without fear of being detected. Pelagius has some of the most modern engines, necessary to propel itself through the depths. We can therefore move as fast as any surface ship, and I can tell you that we spared no coal in this endeavour! Even if during the day der Lindwurm could gain some distance on us, we would be able to make it all up during the night, and even overtake them if we felt so inclined a bit. We are fortunate that we have very skilled navigation officers on board."

Everard perks up suddenly: "Oh, now I get it! It's about coal!"

"Indeed. Very astute."

"Care to explain, gentlemen?"

Everard turns to you: "Normally an airship is considered about twice to three times as fast as an equivalent naval steamship. But the calculations about range, distance, cruise speed and the like are all made under the assumption that coal is not an issue. Coaling stations are everywhere, and cheap. But these blokes had to travel at high altitudes, on a prolonged flight, and they can't bloody well land at just any civilian coaling station. And we do not allow League shipping into Hadrian's sea due to the blockade, so the nearest coaling station this ship can refill at is probably in Altmark. They'd probably have to economize because there was no way to refuel. So that's why they were moving so slowly!"

"Just so! And now we come to the final fortunate circumstance. You shall recall that your escape was made at dawn, which meant immediately after the Pelagius' nightly sprint, so we were well caught up with der Lindwurm's expected course. It could be said, Miss, that within tolerance of a few miles, you jumped out right on top of us!"
"Now, we have sharp eyes on the observation deck, but not that sharp to notice a small para-linen before sunrise. However, there was one thing that drew our attention."

Everard fills in: "The Lindwurm itself! They made an Archimedean drop and cast a flare!"

"Indeed. At first we thought she had encountered some malfunction and would crash. At any rate, we knew we should investigate. Oh, I shall never forget the look on Sir Webber's face when he looked through the polemoscope and saw your faces. Him and the captain had a most fierce debate, most fierce. Sir Webber gave it his all to ensure we rescue you."

"Newt would go that far? For us?" Everard says, incredulously.

"Of course he wouldn't", you respond. "But he would for the information he knew we must carry. We were valuable assets to him."

The professor is quick to add: "Your information has been most valuable. We haven't regretted it in the slightest!"

Everard continues: "So, it's not that we were lucky. It's that you were tracking the Lindwurm and were ready to pick us up."

"But one thing is bothering me still." Everard says. "You have evidence that the League sunk a civilian yacht. Why is nobody doing anything about it?"

"I'm afraid the tensions between the League and the Commonwealth are so common these days, that it shall be dismissed as an attempt at discreditation."

"Nobody's going to listen to me." Everard says. "On account of my dishonourable discharge."

"But I'm not from the Commonwealth!"

"I am certain the time shall come when you shall be called to give your testimony, Miss Engels. Were you to testify in public, right now, you would be placed under scrutiny. I wager it wouldn't take long for the League to dig out certain payments made to you by Sir Webber for your previous services."

"No! I cannot bear it. These... MURDERERS are roaming out there. For what? Professor, no more evasions. I lost ... many things aboard the Empress. A lifelong friend. All my best clothes and jewellery."

"A wealthy lover" Everard butts in, and your elbow delivers swift justice to his armpit. As he bends over in pain, you continue talking to the professor, unfazed: "Who ARE these people? How can they be doing what they are doing? Under whose authority? Why is it so important that they maintain secrecy? The two of us deserve to know."

"I wish I could tell you. Suffice to say, they - and, in turn, we - are looking for something of utmost strategic import--"

"I know about the Apostate Cypher."

Hamilton goes pale in the face. "I... but... how?"
*So Newt hasn't had the chance to keep the good professor up to date.* "I overheard it on the Empress. We are owed at least some explanations, aren't we?"

The professor surrenders: "The Cypher is indeed what we are looking for. This is why Sir Webber went through the trouble to have the two of you infiltrate the Empress. We have been stuck in Hadrian's sea for three months now on this mission, pursuing various leads, but Mister Ortega was the most solid one by far."

"The main question I am concerned with is: is the Lindwurm operating under the authority of the Landesrat?"

"At the moment we do not have any indication that this the League ruling council has any direct involvement."

Everard seems to have restored his breath: "Oh, it is a League ship, I'll wager anything. That hull is almost identical to the *Graf Birkenau* or I have never seen an airship in my life."

"Indeed. But that's not sufficient evidence, I'm afraid. Now, unofficially, we have had indications this ship is tied to the Staatssicherheitsbüro."

"The SSB?" Everard whistles. "Who decided to give *them* an airship?"

You are not very knowledgeable in politics, but you know enough about the SSB to know they are the League's "counterintelligence" watchdog. They have quite the reach in League politics, because one of their duties is to round up domestic enemies of the state, which includes political dissidents. It has been said that no member of he Landserat sits in office without the SSB's say so.

"The confederate nature of the League means it is very easy for various organizations and factions to spring up. We believe that the SSB has allied with some clandestine faction or another, of which we had no indication whatsoever until we rescued Miss Engels."

"Let me guess: this faction has something to do with alchymy?"

"We do not know. You are the first person who brought us any concrete intelligence in that regard."

"I don't suppose you can tell us how a bloody cypher can be worth all that trouble."

"It is the key to decyphering certain alchymical manuscripts. My good friend Sartorius believes these manuscripts might have information about how to produce the Stone of the Philosophers."

Everard laughs. "And here I thought you were after something important. It's probably a lark, innit? Even if you go through all that trouble, you're just as likely to find that the manuscript is a recipe for flap-jacks."

"No." As the realization sets in, you subconsciously put your hand to your throat. "It's true. It's all true."

"What do you mean?" Everard asks, sincerely.

You are about to answer, when the professor clears his throat and gives you a significant look.

"Uh... lady's intuition." you answer.

You have a feeling he understands not to push further. "Alright, so this stone, what is the big deal with it?"

"Suffice to say, it can shift the balance of power between the Commonwealth and the Continent, at this crucial stage."
"You mean to tell me the League will be able to produce gold on demand? And the bankers have their knickers in a twist that their banks will be ruined or something?"

"That is... just so, indeed. The Livre could depreciate in value considerably!"

*Oh, come on. That was CLEARLY a lie. Is Everard so blind to not be able to notice the little tells?*

Well, if the professor doesn't want to say it, you can't push him into saying it. So you switch the topic: "So professor, you can tell us at least what does natural philosophy think of the Stone?"

"Oh, certainly! It is no small matter, the stone. The order of the alchymists prohibited the search for it, for reasons unclear. It is one of their most sacred dogmas, and they devoted their whole lives to eradicating any written record of the Stone. Which is why it is so hard to find any concrete information these days.

In the end, they succeeded in eradicating all the Stones and the records of one. The last credible record of a Stone concerns a Lydian king who waged an entire war to get his hands on the last Stone in the world. After tens of thousands of people paid for it with blood."

"What would he hope to achieve with it?"

"He thought it would give him eternal life."

"And did it?"

"Quite the opposite. He promptly grew insane and within two years he cast himself off from his tallest tower. In the end he was a rambling mess. They say he was obsessed with a dragon - or serpent, the translation on that is a little ambiguous if I recall correctly - that shall tear the world asunder and devour the Sun."

You shift a bit uncomfortably on your bench.
"But what CAN the stone do? Surely, if it has a historical record, then the scientific world must have theories or opinions, professor? You've been working with an alchymist. Are you telling me there are truths to their ramblings?"

"Natural philosophy would be lying if we told you we knew everything about the workings of the world. Alchymy is a very old craft, and there is no doubt that they have become very well versed in manipulation of substances. There is more mysticism in the practice than I should like, but on the whole, the methodology they follow has given indisputable results over the centuries. Take the Royal Guild of Alchymists - ever since the Crown gave them sanctuary, our materials capabilities have blossomed.

"Hellenic ancients thought there were four elements: water, earth, fire, and aer. Aether was added afterwards as a speculative fifth element. For centuries, Alchymists have toiled under these assumptions, and have gotten far. But in recent centuries, this division of elements has become insufficient to describe the results they were getting form their retorts.

"We are always on the path of understanding the laws of nature. Neustadt has done much to set us on the right path with his Principia Philosophiae Naturalis. Our understanding of the composition of nature is still in its infancy. It is obvious that there are reactions that can convert one form of matter into another - and there are laws and certainties about the process. But these forms are not the four elements of the Alchymists; of this much, modern Natural Philosophy is certain.

"Take Pelagius, for example. Burning coal is actually reaction between the coal and the aer, where the aer becomes phlogisticated, or 'depleted' somehow. We, however, now know that this phlogisticating agent is about one part in five of aer, and the proposed name for it is Acidogene. It has been all but proven by Vierre naturalists, before they were all guilotined at the outset of the civil war.

"Take the Sun, for example. Its warmth keeps us alive. But Lord Melvin would have us believe that our planet is at least ten million years old - and I am inclined to agree with him, because I do a lot of fossil work, and I have observed geological features and layers that seem to suggest to me long periods of gradual change. For the longest time, it was thought that the sun was an enormous furnace, burning some extremely pure form of celestial coal. But that cannot be right - given its size and the amount of heat it gives off, it would eat through even the densest combustion fuel within the span of ten thousand years at most. Ten thousand!

"From this alone, it is obvious that there are processes and laws of nature that we do not yet fully understand. Just imagine! Every morning at dawn we are greeted with a living reminder that our knowledge of the laws of nature is faulty and insufficient!
"It appears that every substance can be broken down into basic, or "elemental" constituents, after which a "wall" is encountered. But these "elementals" are a far cry from merely four of the ancient Alchymists. Sulphur is certainly one such elemental. Acidogene, another. Gold is almost certainly elemental, as is iron. There appears to be dozens of elementals! The orthodox Alchymists have adapted to this new reality - indeed, they were the first to transcend the four-element theory. Crystals, solids, gasses, liquids - an experienced Alchymist will mix, distill, evaporate, fulgurate them all and will be able to seemingly turn one type of matter into another. They call this the Transformation of The First Order, or Breaking the First Wall. Combustion of coal is one such first order transformation, of recombinating existing agents, or elementals.

"But this `wall` where matter can no longer be broken down beyond elementals - it still exists. And that is what the Stone of the Philosophers is speculated to do. It is said to be a catalyst, able to transcend that wall, for a brief moment of time, and allow the elementals to be broken down into the "original" four elements, and reconstituted into another base elemental. This they call the Transformation of the Second Order, or Breaking the Second Wall. In places, this is referred to as transmutation.

"The Transformation of the Second Order has long been considered nonsense. But I can tell you it is a proven scientific fact. I myself have seen it. It can be achieved even now, although very labouriously, and at great cost. The Stone would, however, trivialize this. And League would be inundated with gold. And we don't want that, do we, mister Holcombe!

"I should mention that orthodox Alchymists, such as Mister Sartorius, are very wary of breaking the Second Wall. This is the real reason why the Catalyst of the Second Wall, or the Stone of the Philosophers, is an anathema to them. However, the promise of power provided by such an agent... to be able to freely reconstitute matter, to remove the shackles of the wall standing between them and purity... it has over the centuries caused a most dreadful schism. Those who are tempted to break the Second Wall are referred to heretics, or the apostates."

*Is the cypher... with your heretic friend? Yes, or no?* The memory of the bald man's words spoken on the Empress springs to mind.
"Lastly, there is also the Third Wall - the conversion between the living and non-living matter, and vice versa. This is where the delusions of stone giving us eternal life come from. Alchymists believe that all living matter is infused with the `principium vitae`. The circulation between life and death has given rise to the symbol of the Ouroboros, or the serpent eating its own tail.

"One dreadful consequence of experimentations with the Alkahest in history is that we were left with quite an accurate description of a human body's elemental composition. It seems to be nothing more than some charcoal and a bucketful of salts, when you come down to it. But if you take all those elements and group them up, you cannot, of course, create a living being.

"The Principium Vitae appears to be a concept orthogonal to the elementals, or indeed the original four elements. As such, it was not much researched by the more practical Alchymists. This is where my interest in the matter wanes, too, because it veers far to into sophognosticism for my liking, but I can tell you that most orders from both apostates and orthodox Alchymists agree at least on that one point - that trying to break the Third Wall is an endeavour that will result in nothing but grief. It was not meant for us to meddle with such forces, they say - the Third Wall is the providence of the Serpent, not man.

"But then, imagine being given the chance to meddle with the divine. It is no wonder so many have fallen to the temptation over the centuries."
> Muyself

> that this the council

> guilotined

> The order of the alchymists prohibited the search for it, for reasons unclear.
> proceeds to immediately give an extremely elaborate multi-post explanation that renders their reasons crystal clear

This, kids, is why you should edit your drafts.

(will resume writing tomorrow, until then let me know if there are any last minute follow-up questions)
What/who is Ishtar? And most importantly, WHEN ARE WE GETTING OFF THIS BOAT? A LADY NEEDS FRESH AIR.
The professor looks like he could prattle on and on for hours if prompted. You nod along, but his discussions of the essence of matter are lost on you. None of this seems relevant to your predicament, does it? All you were interested in was the Stone.

Poor Everard looks like he's liable to fall asleep. Well, he'll just have to soldier it on, you're afraid. You ask: "Professor, one last question. Do you happen to know if `Ishtar` means anything in connection with Alchymy?"

"Ishtar? As in the ancient Mesopelagian goddess of war and fertility? I am not aware that she was worshipped in the circles of the Alchymists. More likely it refers to the mythical Bronze Age city named after her, which we know of circumstantially by way of certain clay tablets. The city's speculated location would be somewhere in today's Babylonia, which was also the cradle of Alchymy. Why do you ask?"

"It's probably nothing, only... not sure what Newt shared with you, but the Alchymist aboard the Lindwurm mentioned it. He said that the Stone was drawn to `blood of Ishtar`, as he put it. He appears to have sampled my blood and got it in his head that I too was `blood of Ishtar`. The name held significance to Sartorius, but he didn't seem forthcoming with information, to say the least."

"Interesting. The belief in the potency of bloodlines was very real in the ancient world (and, sadly, some political systems of today). It may well be that the first Alchymists descended from the people that city, after all. I wouldn't be surprised that Alchymists, so quick to ascribe meaning to every meaningless thing, should find some fascination with it - it was said that a great calamity befell the city. Ah, now I remember! The city's emblem was a serpent eating its own tail. There is your connection!"

"But still", Everard says, "Why'd that weird bloke have to go taking Clarissa's blood? Do blood tests exist that could tell us where a person is from?"

"I do not exclude the possibility that the Alchymists, in their bumbling, would discover reagents that react differently with blood of different types - but to then proceed not to share that knowledge with the world of Natural Philosophy, that would be just plain rude! We don't know the first thing about how heredity is transmitted through living beings, much less how much of it lives in the blood - and somehow I doubt that our friends the Alchymists know more than natural philosophy in that regard."
"I appreciate you being so forthcoming, Professor. I am as confused as you are, being thrust into these alchymists is enough to drive one mad." *hopefully, not literally*. "Speaking of, I know it's all secret and military and all that, but do you have any idea when we shall be getting off this vessel? A lady needs fresh air."

"Oh, I've barely set foot ashore on land the past two years." he exclaims, cheerfully. "Of course, we make stops here and there, and I have leave from the captain to collect specimens and make notes. But as you see I've made my home here."

"Surely, sir, your family must be worried sick!"

"Oh, they'll be fine. My sons are grown lads by now, and my wife can't stand me cluttering up the house with specimens anyway. They are used to me being away for longer." He grows more serious. "Miss, did sir Webber not explain the situation to you?"

"What ever do you mean, professor?"

"You are not allowed to leave the Pelagius. None of us are."

The words hit you like a bucketful of cold water. It's not *quite* news to you that you are stuck on this ship for now - ostensibly for your own protection, but the real reason is that Newt cannot allow the secret of this vessel to be compromised. But only now do you understand that this restriction extends to every man aboard.

"Figured as much." Everard says, unperturbed, wolfing down his wine. "Ah, that hits the spot. Well, Prof, we are mighty grateful. We'll be getting out of your hair presently."

"Not at all, it's wonderful to have new conversation partners! We don't get too many new people here, after all."

"What *do* you do to alleviate boredom on the ship?"

"Boredom? Miss, I have hundreds of species yet to describe and catalogize, and I am woefully behind on my monographs! The men usually congregate in the mess to drink their grog. Officers play at cards or discuss the news. We have had poetry nights. I have some books I've been lending out to the gentlemen, though it grieves me to say that my copy of the History of Fishes is not popular at all."

"As for fresh air, we do open up the weather deck in the evening, and the men are allowed to cavort a bit, so long as no lights or lamps are lit."

"I don't suppose there is a musical instrument on board or something like that?"

"Well, do you play any?"

What with minor nobility always feeling like they have much to prove, obviously music was part of your education. How else would you demonstrate refinement and sophistication?

> "I have some experience with the pianoforte."
> "I am somewhat proficient with the harp."
> "I play the flute passably well, I'm told."
> "Vocal cords are my instrument, and one I have some skill in."
>> "Vocal cords are my instrument, and one I have some skill in."
No way out of the boat? Well that's enthralling.
>"I have some experience with the pianoforte."
I'm sure we'll get missions that takes us outside the ship in time anon.
>"Vocal cords are my instrument, and one I have some skill in."
Singing is the only instrument you can take everywhere with you
>> "I am somewhat proficient with the harp."
>> "I have some experience with the pianoforte."
> "I play the flute passably well, I'm told."
>> "I have some experience with the pianoforte."
>> "Vocal cords are my instrument, and one I have some skill in."
Just an update that I have contracted something that hopefully doesn't come from a Chinese biolab
Will still be posting updates, but schedule might be shaky until further notice.
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Must be some ancient Babylonian plague you awakened
Hope it isn't too bad. Have some art to cheer you up.
What, I'm still alive, you can't prove I'm not.
I'm all better now, why, I barely died of peumonia at all.
Thanks for the well wishes, continuing...
Thank god, I thought you might be sightseeing in a submarine.
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"I have some experience with the pianoforte, and I suppose you could also call my vocal cords a decent instrument on its own" you say, careful not to exaggerate your middling skills. The truth is, since you were trained in both, neither is quite up to par with the professionals. But it was expected of a lady of your position to have the ability to entertain her guests. Nobody would ever expect you to sing or play at professional concertos - but you can hold a note reasonably well.

The professor laughs. "I should love to hear you play sometimes, miss, but we certainly have nothing resembling a pianoforte aboard. Evans, one of the boatswain's mates, has an accordion but that's about it. As you see, space is at a premium here. However, we are most fortunate that singing is one instrument you can take everywhere with you."

"I haven't had much opportunity or inclination to sing, recently."

"Oh, I can well imagine. But... if you were asked to... would you be able to?"

"What?" You laugh. "Here? Who'd listen to me?"

"We have nothing in the way of instrumental accompaniment, you know. And the morale is, if I dare say -- well, it has certainly been a long time since the men were ashore. I myself don't mind the voyage, but some of the others... None save myself, the Captain and Sartorius have an overview of the vessel's mission. To the men it may well seem we are, well, gallivanting all over Hadrian's sea."

Everard nearly chokes on his wine at the mention of the word "gallivanting". You scoff and cross your arms over your chest. You give the professor a smile "I would be delighted to sing for the men, if that is what you mean, Professor. I am afraid I do not know any... ribald songs suitable for the working class. Or any Albion lyrics, in general."

"Don't mind the details, Miss. I had the pleasure of hearing Miss Agostini sing in the Hofgarten Opera House. I couldn't understand the word of it, but it was the most moving experience of my life. The men are starved for entertainment, so I don't think they shall mind. I shall arrange for your presence on the weather deck at one bell."

"You know, one of these days, someone will have to explain to me what these damn bells are."

Everard, for his part, made no further complications, and once the lunch was over, even escorted you back to your cabin. In front of it, you see Reginald waiting.

"Well love, it looks like they trust you less than they trust me. Hey, blueshirt! She under arrest after all?"

"I was posted here to guard Miss Engels."

"How come she gets a guard and I don't?"

If looks could speak words, yours would be screaming "You cannot possibly be that daft."
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"Oh." He scratches himself behind the ear. "Must be tough, being a lady and all. Well, seeing as how I am left unattended, perhaps I shall visit the ship's larder again."

"I would recommend against it, sir. Stealing food is a serious offense. The captain would hang you by the-- well, it would not be pleasant."

"Captain giving you a hard time then?"

Reginald forces his expression to be completely, absolutely unreadable, and that says more to you than any words could. Everard excuses himself and scampers off to wherever his cabin is.

Unlike this morning, there are no other sailors in your compartment at this time. It's just you and Reginald, as stone-faced as ever.

In your mind, dying of boredom seems like no more appealing an option than being delivered to the bald man. If these people think they can keep you aboard this ship as little more than a prisoner, well, you might just have something to say about that. But for now, you welcome the opportunity of rest.

You still have hours to kill before the evening. The professor has been kind enough to lend you his copy of the History of Fishes - for the time being, it will have to do.

Perhaps it's the laudanum and the wine - or perhaps it's the fact that the book is so dense, tedious and full of unnecessary detail - but it doesn't take ten minutes until the black shroud of sleep takes over you.

And the dreams...

You find yourself wandering through a translucent shroud. All around you you can recognize the faint shapes of the walls of your cabin on the Pelagius - and you can see through and beyond that, the entire ship, a large cylinder encased in a fish-shaped shell. Every wall, every cranny, all of it transparent, none of it solid. It offers nothing but a slight resistance when trying to touch it, and then you drift right through. You can sail along, similar to the swarms of glowing fireflies - no, wait, that can't be right, those would have to be schools of fish - that shimmer outside. You are not in some oppressive black void - you are in a beautiful greenish realm of wisps. Illuminated silhouettes bustle about this ghost-of-a-Pelagius. As you drift to and fro, some of them go right through you. While they are very close, you can hear their voices, as if coming from the bottom of a well.

"--damn third shift four days in a row--"

"--Haven't set foot on land in six months--"

"--Better not be bloody crackers for dinner again--"

What a peculiar dream!
You are drawn to the center of this ethereal Pelagius - because there, near the top, shines an impossibly beautiful purple light. It is not fuzzy, inconstant, like the others bustling about their business - it is static, in the form of a cylinder, with regular features, like that of a machine. And it is resplendent with light, thrumming with rhythmic purpose, a veritable beacon illuminating this realm of tranquility in vermilion hues. Once during your tutelage, you were shown the lines formed by grains of iron when exposed to a magnetick stone. This is precisely the shape that the lines of beautiful ethereal winds form ahead of the Device of Light, entering it from the front, and being expelled at the back. The winds are all around you. You see neither beginning nor end of this azure universe you were cast into - but you know one thing. You have never felt so much at peace.

Slowly, the ghost of Pelagius drifts away from you, and you are free to roam the azure void. The rest of the dreams is about the grotesque illustrations from the History of Fishes.
You are delicately woken up by someone banging at the door. The problem with sleeping in the afternoon - especially inside an enclosed cabin miserably lit by gaslight, underneath the sea - is that when you wake up, you have absolutely no idea if your dreams lasted for ten minutes or ten hours.

Everard's voice booms from the other side of the door: "Rise and shine, your highness. You've a concert to attend to in half an hour."

It takes time, usually, to prepare to sing. Voice exercises. You barely have the time to go through the basics - your throat is still slightly sore from inhaling that acrid yellow smoke on the Lindwurm this morning. There is a pitcher of water fastened to the wall, one that you have some difficulty uncorking, but it will have to do. Among other parting gifts, the professor was kind enough to provide you with a rather small, but functional mirror. ("It is for shaving. Don't worry about me, I'll just have Sartorius transmute me another one from thin air.")

Everard even manages to bully Reginald into providing you with a comb. Without a proper hairbrush, you can't do much to bring your hair in order, but you try your best.

After exiting your cabin, Reginald dutifully escorts you to one of the exit hatches. Your goal is the weather deck, you are informed. Even while strolling through the corridors, you notice a change in the scent of the air. It's as if a stuffy room was aired recently. "We must be on the surface."

"Aye. It's evening - no danger of being spotted."

The hatch itself must be climbed out of by way of a ladder - Reginald is enough of a gentleman to avert his eyes while you climb it. You take a deep breath of the fresh surface air and immediately feel reinvigorated.

"Oh, it's so dreadfully dark out here!" you exclaim, while climbing the last rung. The sun has long set, but the sky is clear. the faint light of the moon and stars is all that illuminates the deck. A gloved hand is extended towards you.

"No lights allowed on the weather deck, miss Engels-Halsgaard. Captain's orders. We are lucky to get away with this much, in truth."

> (reject the hand, climb out yourself; coldly) "Oh. You are here as well."
> (accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."
> (accept the hand graciously; smile) "Sir Webber. Pleased to see you again."
I had a power outage and thought I'd lost this update literally 90% of the way there. The QM curse is real, man. Thank god my text editor autosaved everything.
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>(accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."

At least we don't have to add your name to the memorial for victims of the QM curse
>> (accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."
>> (reject the hand, climb out yourself; coldly) "Oh. You are here as well."
>(accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."
>(accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."

Good to see you well. We missed you.
> (accept the hand graciously; smile) "Sir Webber. Pleased to see you again."
No one can claim we aren't charming to people we hate
> (accept the hand) "Newt. So you are here as well."
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You okay there? QM curse hitting hard?
>Catch up the quest.
>Read description of Second Order transmutation.
>Wait, isn't transmutation basically nuclear fission and fusion?

Oh shit! Is the Philosopher's Stone gonna enable the Manhattan Project 100 years early!?

Is the danger associated with touching the stone radiation?
Really hope this isn't dead. I like our character very much and enjoy exploring the very meticulously made setting. If you're simply occupied, give us a heads up.
The curse takes another one
Shall I archive this in hopes that Geber will return again?
Yes. Do it.

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