Finding Father

Author: Ama / Labels: , , , , ,

He was quite mad, of course - the strain of the trial, transportation and whatever had happened since the crash was bound to make an impression. Amanda had been hoping for a less traumatic encounter, but the precaution of having Ash out of the doctor’s vision meant he could be restrained without damage. Going straight back to town meant avoiding the carnival, and actually brought them closer to the Royal Bethlehem... Hotel.

Not that this was a normal hotel, in the manner of the guesting houses and inns from before the fall. No, this was only called a hotel to save the sensibilities of society. Still, they did manage to keep those who had lost their grip on reality from serious harm.

Mostly.

But in the grand old tradition of similar facilities, it was quite the norm for “guests” to arrive without fanfare or even great notice. Those that recognized him would likely keep quiet about it, for then the question would be how did the gossip come to see to see him there? The rules of the game were to be observed.

Such traditions would also keep him out of the public eye for some of the time needed to let the rumor mill grind fine. If there should be additional time needed, there was still the swamp clinic to attend.

A few haughty glares (copied from her mentor) backed up with the unnerving calm of a Clay Man behind her ensured that she would be receiving reports of the doctor’s care, and some could even be true. Also traditional, in places such as this, was the belief that friends and family would only distress the guest. While Amanda had met many people whose families were excellent examples in which this was certainly true, it still caused her concern. Would that she could detail Ash to watch over her father, but the staff was adamant. While her father did not stay here often, it was often enough that she knew the rules.

Upon her return to the office, Ash bowed to her and left for wherever he stayed in the embassy. Her mentor was out, and from the notes on her desk, he was likely to be out the rest of the shift. She caught up on the office correspondence, which had the decency to not go up in flames as the Correspondence would. She completed her report of her activities over the past few days and began securing the paperwork in the file cabinets of Mr Bloodwing's making.

All of the files were kept under lock and key in Mr Bloodwing’s office, and because they were also under his personal seal, would stay as such. The key would not work if it was not in his hand, but for some of the files, Amanda had her own key. Pricking her finger with the end of the key was all that was needed to make it work. While securing her report on the trip out to the marshes, she ran across some familiar handwriting. Why would her father’s notes be in Mr Bloodwing’s desk?

The title was similar to the one he had published two years ago. Quickly scanning the document, she noted that it had a receipt number for Mr Pages’s archives, the date was over a year ago. So, this was not part of the papers that had been seized at Dr Mason’s arrest last month. The most obvious additions were in red ink, Mr Bloodwing’s proofreading commentary. Indeed, in places it was almost conversational, with notes such as “Notice how quickly the treatise devolves into ranting” in the margin by the first section of the thesis. Large sections of his were new to her, as the initial focus fit the title of Theory of Unaccountable Peckishness as Parasitic Infection, but it delved into new territory as it danced around the edges of the Correspondence.

Here, her supervisor’s notes became shorter, but written with a quick hand, as though he was sharing in the excitement of discovery with Dr Mason. Indeed, it seemed to be notes on an entirely different project, one involving creating a clay woman? Such had not been tried before, and certainly not with the Correspondence Stones. The heady rush of discovery almost caught her until she saw the note at the bottom: “AMA - After you're done snooping through my desk drawers please lock this in my safe.” It was signed with his initials.

Blushing, Amanda followed orders and closed up the office for the night.

Appearances

Author: Ama / Labels: , , , , , ,

The detour through Ladybones from the Embassy to her lodgings was not strange; it was nearly a daily stop, though her route to and from the district was seldom the same from day to day. There had also been many times when she picked up a newspaper from the little girl with blonde pigtails. Amanda hoped it was often enough that few would notice how the little newspaper girl occasionally gave her a newspaper from the bottom of the stack.
The less the eyes of the Embassy were on little Wren, the better Amanda felt about it. The only reason why she had involved her cousin (for that is how Father had taught her to think of the girl) in the first steps of The Great Game was to make sure Wren was cared for. Too many times her uncle had been “between engagements”, requiring Wren to seek odd jobs to keep them whole. Amanda and her father had been distressed to find out how very odd some of the jobs had been. Uncle Marcus would not take anything from the family, but Amanda could hide the largess behind the small courier jobs she was able to give Wren. Careful accounting made sure she did not overpay for the information, but the frequency was enough to keep Wren from the truly peculiar jobs.
She pretended to not notice Ash’s interest in her cousin and walked briskly to the townhouse that held Father’s surgery at the ground floor and their flats above. At the entrance, she paused, and turned to face Ash fully before speaking. “Please stay here and wait, I shan’t be long.” She suspected he might be deaf, but one does not accuse co-workers of being Unfinished. She merely took precautions. At his nod she dashed up the stairs, quickly changing to her expedition skirt and stout boots.
A brief stop at the back step to set out clean water and a small treat for the neighborhood cats, and she was out the door, locking it behind her. She glanced at the plaque for her father’s surgery, with the small sign indicating “The Doctor Is Away”. It was not a new sign, for he still had kept his old surgery in the swamps, and travelled there every so often. It was the first time the sign had been put up before he had been called to the other clinic.
Ash had been watching the street, and nodded to her as they started off for the carnival. As was his habit in town, he walked a few paces behind her. His easy gait did not indicate how quickly he could move, when needed. He did not betray any annoyance at her wandering track through the carnival, as she flitted to and fro. Though masters of the Great Game (and Masters) could still be following her, she thought she had lost the smaller fish that would likely be interested in her movements.
In the marshes, Ash paced her as they searched for signs of the crash or Dr Mason’s passage. They moved quietly, relying on lantern signals to communicate where they were too far apart for hand signals to be seen. Ash was the first to find tracking – a fluttering paper speared on a branch. The scribble was incomprehensible, even to those who studied the Correspondence, but the hints of a Scholar were there. Amanda signaled for a spiral search around the tree, making sure Ash had his compass with him. She found the second roughly thirty yards northwest of the first, and they continued in the same fashion.
The lodestone habit of the denizens of the Neath to go North at all costs made tracking marginally faster, and they found him sleeping in the cup of an abnormally large cantharellus subalbidus upon which something had recently nibbled. His nightmare moans caused her to motion for Ash to step out of the doctor’s line-of-sight as she touched his shoulder to wake him.

North.

Author: David VC / Labels: , ,

Trying to focus. Writing letters for help and and impaling them on long-dead trees. I've given up guessing how long I've been out here. Only eternal night.

The sky continues to thunder. The Beleagured King, striding past on his sable horse, resplendent in a crimson shell that matches its master. He rides high, alabaster face with scarlet warpaint beneath the helm. Blood-red wings spread behind him like a cloak. Marshalling his troops under the gold banner he clutches for one last stand. Can this be? Yes! The Queen has freed our souls! We will die by your side as equals!

Can't you see him? Can you hear the thunder of hooves and see the burning trail of ironshod on flint? With rage he charges Hell's army! His crimson armor deflects the barbed arrowheads like drops of rain! His sword cleaves their banners like twigs! The footmen swarm around him! Scoundrels cut his horse beneath him! Let not the banner fall! Rush to his side! Protect the Queen!

TO THE NORTH!!!

food for the soul

Author: David VC / Labels: , , ,

Marcus was rather tall. He just barely fit on the wooden palletes and stuffed cushions that passed for a bed. Unlike his more successful brother, he avoided useless tufts of facial hair unless they were glued on for a dramatic role, on the stage or otherwise. Similarly, he kept his brown hair cut rather short, but not so low that he could be mistaken for a newly-shorn criminal. His face, at the moment, was pale, and his hazel eyes glazed with a deepening yellow. His shirt was already peeled away, the ribs of his wiry frame plastered with oily patches of brown paper, almost hiding the stab woulds beneath save for the small dark red blooms spread across them. Wren took the little jar that his uncle gave him and waved it under his aquiline nose.

Marcus shot up in his bed, taking a deep wheezing breath. As he coughed, the girl picked up a dark blue jar and a teaspoon from the nightstand.

"Welcome back, Daddy! Take your medicine!"

"Erm...urgghhh.." He waved the spoon away with a numb hand as he shuddered with each ragged breath, his blood rushing in protest back to his heart and outwards in all directions like liquid fire. He coughed. "No thank you, dear. I'll be fine."

"I thought you were going to give up on knife-and-candle, Daddy?"

He leaned foward and groaned as he stretched out his arms. "My friends and I have been doing it for years, Love! I have to stay in practice!"

"It's rather queer that you call them your friends when they keep killing you!"

"Well, mostly we chase the new recruits these days...teach them some manners..."

"Did you see the boatman. Daddy?"

Marcus froze in mid-stretch. "Yes, Wren. I saw the Boatman."

She bit her lip nervously. "Was he...asking about me again?"

"Just think," he said as slid his ivory queen to the knight's square, palming the other piece, "some day, old man, with enough of my metal hearts, you can actually retire!" He smirked at what should be the face of the featureless shadow. "Checkmate!"

"Mmmm...you were mentioned."

"OH! DADDY! I almost forgot! I think we found a MATCH!"

"A match?" He turned and planted his feet on the bowing floorboards in the cramped room and stumbled forwards a few steps to the opposite wall. Wren turned his head to listen, smiling as he fell against the wardrobe and sank to his knees. "Are you sure, Wren?"

"Yes! Just watch!" Wren opened one of the closet doors and rummaged through the pile on the bottom. She covered her hand with a motheaten scarf as a precaution before pulling away the charcoal tattered silks retreived from the Forgotten Quarter.

In her veil of darkness, the stack of bottled souls, in three neat rows of eight against the backboard, shone clearly to her in blue clouds (or was it green? Those names stopped having meaning for her) more vibrant than anything she ever seen when her living heart was beating. She watched the essenses inside squirm and sigh. Meanwhile, she heard Marcus the scrape of wood against wood as he pulled open the drawer beneath the cabinet.

Marcus leafed through a handful of parchments, crowded with row after row of red ink scrawled in the finest and most arcane handwriting. Weighted at the end of each page were smears of impure red and black wax upon which were imprinted seals of the most obscene configurations, forever imprisoning oily ribbons of loathsome hues between the layers. He held up one document and held it close to the souls, as if giving them the opportunity to read.

The inhabitants of the glowing bottles did nothing but continue to stir in their gloom, save for one.

"That's the one!" shouted Wren as she pointed. "I put that paper on top! It's that one! See? He's pointing!"

Indeed, it thrashed about in its glass prison so forcefully that the bottle shook, but not enough to risk tipping over the translucent chambers of the other unfortunates around it.

Marcus put the other contracts away and pulled a green candlestick from the table. He blinked and squinted as he skimmed over unholy stipulatons and contingencies.

"Alright...his name is Anthony Griffiths...lived...lives? It's a year old...in Veilgarden...owner of establishment...a steakhouse? Oh yes, I remember! Tried to compete with the Long Spoon. Place went downhill quickly. Poor bastard must have been trying to save his business!"

After a brief silence, he put the candle stick back on the table and rolled up the parchment. He pulled his pocketwatch from his trousers, flipping it open to glance at the time. "Get me the frock coat, will you sweetie? We're going out for supper!'



Anthony's Steaks had a fading sort of lavishness. The curtains were a bit dusty. In fact the creases on the immaculate but faded tablecloth where Marcus and his daughter sat clung so tightly to the corners that it may have been laying there unused for a year. That is until Marcus spilled his glass of mushroom wine across it, leaving a stain resembling a gray ghost.

"No worries Mister Mason!" Bellowed Mr. Griffiths as he waddled out from the swinging double-doors. He wore a freshly bloodied apron over a white uniform two sizes larger than he had once been. His cheeks burned the deepest red from being forced to smile again, revealing yellow crooked teeth. "I'll get you a bottle from the top shelf!" He placed his tray on the table and presented them with the platters.

"A porterhouse medium rare for special friend! And a filet cut small for the pretty lady! With real potatoes and white asparagus!"

The steam rose from the plates, and that smell along with savory odors that escaped from the kitchen caused a stir in the street outside. Urchins and gentlemen alike pressed their faces to the newly-polished glass, leaving imprints of grime and saliva behind as Marcus taught Wren how to raise a glass to toast.

what the thunder couldn't say

Author: David VC / Labels:

I am standing on the cliff again. This could be sunlight, but the weather only permits jaundiced shadows. The chill in the damp air bids me to raise my eyes. Their backs turned to us, clouds in competing stains of gray and black crash axes against shields. Why is there no rain? Their blood sprays in bright gouts that drains to the surrounding mountaintops.

The cloaked throng stands together, afraid to say what is already understood. Did I see my brother in there? I cannot tell.

I hear a faint shiver behind me. The blindfolded girl. But this time she is on the operating table.

The cloaked ones circle me like medical students, dreading yet eager.

Blindfolded? Yes. Is she anaesthetized? I hold out my palm.

"Scalpel."

My father's chambermaid places the obsidian blade in my hand.

I pull back the sheet. The incisions are fresh. I hear the hiss of gas and the clicking of her mechanical heart. The light of its furnace illuminates her entire rib cage. I smile with pride.

"We've done it, brother!"

The voice meant to be Marcus replies without emotion. "But that's not why we're here."

The sky shudders in rage, furious at my distractions. Enunciate with thunder and accentuate with lighting.

"The human tongue is much better for such things..." I feel a lecture coming on.

Impatience. Disgust. Desperation. As the dream dissolves like breaking clouds into limitless abyss something alien and unseeable hiding behind the last scrap of sky shrieks "NORTH!!"

I wake with a start, still under the canopy of fungus. I was unable to focus my eyes quickly enough to make out the shape that was inches from my face but bolted through the thicket of woody stems. These prints in the sand are bigger than mine. I can't even guess what made them. Is it the onset of pneumonia pressing a weight in my lungs, or is my body revolting to the stench of damp fur?

a night's respite

Author: David VC /

I knew I had to find a place to rest before I became completely exhausted. I wandered into a patch of mushrooms of gigantic size, the smallest ones at the edge of the patch being waist high, which I tried my best to step through without damaging. Their wide caps were concave, allowing me to sip some handfulls of collected dew as I passed through. The cap elevations grew smoothly upwards. I waded through them until it became easier to crouch under them, weaving my way through the white stalks like an endless series of tight doorframes. I was gradually able to walk with a normal gait where the stalks reached twice my height. The ground beneath these fungi was drier than the rest of the swamp, almost sandy like the soil under the pine forests I remembered from the Surface. Large lazy circles of moonish light on the sandy soil traced the gaps in the canopy above.

I dropped the roll of airship canvas form my shoulder. I sat and leaned my back against the largest stalk, and feasted on the previous owner's snack as I spread out the content of the pouch before me. Mostly documents, along with a fountain pen, and the revolver. I predicted there wouldn't be matches of any sort, since the inside of the pouch didn't smell of tobacco. Of course, most tobacco is smuggled into the city along with the tea, therefore a suspicious habit for the rank and file Constabulary. Only the Commisioner's office had the lingering odor of pipe smoke. It looked like I wouldn't be building a fire tonight. Not that I needed one at the moment, nothing to cook and with the last few days of the Neath summer, the weather wasn't chilly at all. I unrolled the canvas and folded it upon itself on the ground enough times to qualify as a mattress. Still a bit long, I rolled the narrower end inwards to serve as a pillow. I lay down there, listening to the songs of the insects of the swamp I kept my revolver in my hand, and closed my eyes, wondering if the nightmares would find me under the thicket of fungi.

From the desk of Mr. Bloodwing

Author: David VC / Labels: , ,

FROM: M. BLOODWING
TO: ALL STAFF
DATE: 16 SEPTEMBER 189X
RE: REVISION OF NEATH LEXICON BY MR. PAGES


NO CONTRACTS SHALL BE WRITTEN USING WORDS INVENTED BY MR. PAGES WITHOUT PRIOR COMMITTEE REVIEW:
  • PER WORD
  • CHECK-LISTED FOR ALL GRAMMATICAL VARIATIONS
PENALTIES FOR UNAUTHORIZED USE:
  • FIRST VIOLATION - SEVERE
  • SECOND VIOLATION - REASSIGNMENT TO FILING ROOM (AS CABINETRY)
  • POSSESSION OF MR. PAGES DICTIONARY - REPATRIATION VIA MOLOCH STREET STATION FOR ESCALATION
REMINDER: NON-ASSIGNMENT ATTENDANCE OF THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS DISRESPECTFUL (OVERTLY OR SUBTEXTUAL) OF THE EMBASSY IS GROUNDS FOR REPRIMAND AND DEMERIT.

(signed) M. Bloodwing

Hanging about Ladybones

Author: David VC / Labels: , , , ,

Once upon a time there was a little girl with blonde pigtails. She was dressed in the nicest second-hand rags, complete with a bluish-gray cap. She was leaning against the modestly sturdy table, stacked far over her head with old serial novels set in an older, alien London - a London where a ball of flame lingered in the sky to return with unerring regularity in a futile attempt to clear the mists from the streets. A London that little Wren, nor any of the younger folk born of the Neath would ever know, or possibly even believe.

"It's for the money...it's for the money..." she whispered to herself as bony fingers reached around her, pulling leather straps and buckles just a little too tightly for her liking.

"Are you ready, Wren?" He hissed in a ragged whisper.

She rolled her eyes behind her round smoked glasses and nodded quickly. She grunted as the gaunt man with the sunken chest stacked layer after layer of newspapers into the wooden crate strapped to her back. She felt the straps bite through the motheaten layers of cloth. She wanted to scream in protest, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction. She'd survived worse. Much worse.

He enjoyed this far too much, she thought.

The man handed her back the slender cane and tin cup. She bent forward a bit to keep her balance, but not far enough where she'd lean on the cane which would surely snap under the extra load.

"There you go, my dear. And please remember it's Unexpurgated. London. Gazette."

"Yes Sir." she feigned a smile without turning her face up to him.

The man shuffled his way forwards through the stalagmites of stacked books and wrapped a skeletal hand around the doorknob. As the lock clicked open and the hinges creaked, he bowed with a condescending smile. She tapped her way out of the bookstore and down the rotting steps, into the bustling walkway of Ladybones Road and the eternal night of Fallen London. He sighed, looking out at the rows of ghostly green candles dancing in the stores all down the lane. He then remembered how miserable his soulless life truly was, and shut the door to go about filling some more invoices. Wren bent forwards (but not quite as far as the gait of her benefactor) from the weight of her cargo that seemed rediculously bulky for one her size, and huffed her way down the street.

"GAZETTE! *gasp* GET YOUR GAZETTE! UNEXASCERBATED!"

A well-dressed banker chuckled as he dropped a fragment of jade into the her cup and took a copy from the stack, his glove brushed against her pigtails.

"Thank you Sir!'

Wren stopped short of a row of merchant stalls and slipped her cane under her arm. She crouched and wriggled the crate down to the cobblestones with a thump, and stood and stretched.

An old woman's familiar voice greeted her. "Good mornin' Wren!" The girl held her palm open and felt a small bag of candied mushrooms (fresh and hot!) plop into it a soft hand still warm from and smelling strongly of candied mushrooms patted her cheek affectionately. She heard rustling as another paper was pulled from the crate.

"Good morning, Mrs. Tucker!" she replied with a smile. The candy-ladies were notoriously cheap, buying only one newspaper in the morning and passing it in sections amongst themselves. But they did buy up her remaining stock at the end of the day for a fraction of the price as wrapping for the next day's snacks. It was always enough to pay for the next stack of papers, with a bit to spare. The real payment, of course, was being allowed to overhear the secrets they traded with each other all day. Well, that and the steady supply of sweet mushrooms, or course.

"GAZETTE! Yum.." She chewed a bit more and swallowed, and rubbed her greasy fingers on her coarse shirt. "GET YOUR GAZETTE! THE UNSUBSTANTIATED GAZETTE!"

She always got peals of laughter from that line, and an extra clinks of rostygold and glim in her cup. At least once a day someone, usually another child with hand caught in the tight grip of a tense parent, would ask her if she was really blind. She'd quickly respond "Yep, the sorrow-spiders got me!" Does she live at Watchmaker's Hill? "Nope! Only men I'm told!" A few times the candy-ladies would hiss at men and call "Constable!" when someone lingered by her a little too long, especially if they started asking her vague questions.

Wren wiped the sugar granules off her face with her sleeve from another helping of mushrooms and rejoined the chorus of merchants who milled about Ladybones to enjoy the spectacle of Neath Justice.

"GAZETTE! GET YOUR GAZETTE! THE UNEXPLAINABLE GAZETTE!"

Wren couldn't see the condemned carried up to the gallows, but she heard their crimes rattled off by the Constables. She heard the cowardly ones screaming as they were carried up before the jeering of the crowd. Then the inveitable clank of the lever and the distinct snap beneath the creaking of the hinges of the trapdoor, followed by the collective gasp and applause. Wren tapped an adult with the side of her cane as she shook her finger. She could hear the flies even before she wrinkled her nose from the stench. "No rats please! They stain the papers!"

"Oh lookie here!" said one of the heavier ladies as she spun the paper back to the front page. "They had an airship crash, they did! A whole quiver o' broadarrows stuck in the mud!" She half laughed, half wheezed. "And that Mason was on it too! The one who..."

Wren felt eyes on her for a moment. Then they nodded to each other with exaggerated whisperes and hasty gestures. As one, they shuddered in disgust.

"Are we talkin' bout the doctor, or the honey-thief here?"

"The doctor! Who'd a known?"

"Are you sure there's two of them? I thought That Mason it was just one bloke!"

"Don' be stupid, Lydia! Oi seen 'em both! Th' doc named Darren gots 'andlebars, roit? Th' other one e' always shaives! Oi saw Marcus 'im in 'Amlet two weeks ago, 'usban took me t' th' dinner theatre fer out anniversary!"

"How was he?"

"E's a HOOT 'e is! Oi nebber loffed so 'ard in me loif!"

"I went to Doc Mason for me...me dropsy once, charmin' bloke up in the years but aged like a fine neath wine y'know...?" She giggled like a schoolgirl, adding a snort for good measure. "Could barely make out a word 'e says tho cos 'e talk so Yankee-like...'use vin-eh-gerrrrr!'" She snorted again, and cleared her throat after an awkward silence. "Too bad about Doctor Mason. It's always the straight ones who's crooked, eh wot?"

Wren kept tight-lipped, wisely not divulging that Marcus had taken her in as his own child after the Fisher Kings abandoned her. Not only was Marcus a talented artist, she would have said, but he's a very accomplished engineer who builds wonderful things to help releive people of excess money! He was especially proud of the gaslamp heart he built for her (with the help of his little furry friends) than Uncle Darien sewed up inside her with a ring of pretty red scars. She'd be permanently dead by now after that fall from the Flit! She was forever glad she couldn't remember being run through on her own fishing pole. Her pupils clouded after the operation, and people mistook them for cataracts, but oh she could still see, up close at least.

"Little Miss, does it have the latest weather report?" Asked Miss Ama.

"Yes'm, same as always." Wren reached down in the bottom of her box and handed Ama the special newspaper. As before, Ama handed her a small silk bag with a few moonpearls...which were wrapped in a rather large denomination of an Echo note. She slipped the sachel under her coat, smiling with the knowledge that she made enough from that one transaction to take the rest of the week off.

The gossip around her hushed as the hulking Clay Man plodded several steps behind Miss Ama. As always. He had an odor of heady dampness around him, like something freshly dug up from a swamp. Something about him made her heart speed up. She could see his massive shadow over the rim of her glasses. He was staring down at her! Could he hear her heart clicking? Could he tell she wasn't completely blind?

The Clay Man silently turned and continued in Miss Ama's footsteps. She and the ladies breathed a collective sigh of relief.

A bell rang from the gallows. "This concludes the proceedings for the day!" shouted the Constable. "We shall reconvene dispensation of Justice at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning! God save the Traitor Empress!"

Wren said her goodbyes to the ladies as she stuffed her day's wages (and an extra bag of sugared mushrooms) under her coat and strapped the now mercifully light crate to her back. She sang to herself in time with the tapping of her cane.

"The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Look what it did! To your nice new hat!"

She rattled her cup as she wandered back up Ladybones, and earned a few more rosty in her cup as she took the last few blocks home. Abruptly she collided into a man warned who with a concerned tone told her not to continue that way, saying there's some "grownup business" up ahead.

"Thank you Sir. I'll take the shortcut."

She twisted her way through the alleys, a derelict moved his leg so she wouldn't step on it. She heard a squeaking voice near her feet.

"Oi Wren! Howsyou? Whogotsomesugar? Prettypretty?"

She laughed and tossed the bag to the ground. She felt several furry bodies race over her shoes.

"Oi! Shareit!" "Mine!" "Mmmm!" "Tankee Wren!" "Oi Wren! Wegotchanudda capindabrick!"

Wren felt the rough decaying brick of the corner of the building, and delicate fingers pulled back a piece to pull a brass cylinder of hydrogen from the gap behind it.

"Thank you so much, guys!" She reached down to her shoes to pet the rattus fabers that circled her ankles and snuggled against her hand.

"Ahhhh, loveydovey!"

She continued, and heard the grumbling in front of the bookshop as she stopped to listen.

"Oh look, it's his daughter again."

She adjusted her glasses, peering over the edge. In the gaslight she made out three figures, and a still figure splayed out on the doorstep.

"Sorry kid," said the other man. "He lost at Kinfe-and-Candle again."

Wren pouted as she stepped forward and peered closely at him. She sighed. "Oh Father, you fell for the honey-trap again, didn't you?" One of the men coughed nervously.

"Ten rosty for you both to carry him upstairs for me?"

"Sure thing, love!"

The Expedition is Set

Author: Ama / Labels: , ,

Mr Bloodwing plucked the file from her hands as the juniors cleared the antechamber, "Ah, there you are, my Amarantis, and is this is what caused all the fuss?" Amanda brightened briefly at his nickname for her as he scanned the file, then he grunted, "No subtlety here, and such poor craftsmanship... still, even if they make it easy for us, no need in being careless," and the file flashed to flames in his hand, the ashes disintegrating before they reached the opulent Turkish carpets.

He looked up at the entrance of the Clay Man, "Ah, good timing - Ash will be your assistant in your next expedition, sweetling. Walk with me..." Mr Bloodwing escorted her through the Embassy to the front entrance, Ash falling in behind them. Mr Bloowing's arm was casually draped across her shoulders in a carelessly possessive manner, while she took notes on the reports he whispered to her on the way. Such was his usual fashion for similar situations. In the halls, it was harder for someone to have a listening post, and their postures did not invite a third to join in.

"The report came in while you were at the constable's office. His ship has gone down in Bigby's Marshes. Your usual kit will do, as you will have Ash with you. South of the Carnival would be a good place to start, since your father will likely be headed North. We will not be able to bring him straight back into town, as we need to let the rumor mill do its work and drop some scandalous hints about the solicitors behind his arrest. The sooner you get him to that swamp shack of his, the sooner we can spread the word that he left on his own to start the charity clinic."

With the end of the briefing, they had reached the front entrance, Ash holding the door open for them. Suddenly Mr Bloodwing was confronted with the distraction-of-the-moment. This season's flavour was Mademoiselle Jennette, a dancer who was not quite able to manage the innocence needed for the ingenue roles she looked young enough to fill. He patted his assistant on the shoulder, "Run along sweetling, you have work to do."

The actress gave Amanda such a look of poisonous gloating before turning dewy-eyed sweet under Mr Bloodwing's gaze, Amanda had difficulty keeping her face impassive, though she wanted to laugh at the sorry chit. Mr Bloodwing murmured sweetly, "Ah, mon petit chou! Comment allez-vous? Have you considered my offer to lighten your load, ma chere? You know your career will be much easier to pursue without that extra baggage. N'est-ce pas?"

Amanda chuckled inwardly, with a tinge of guilt. Though that girl was a poisonous social climber, the "extra baggage" Mr Bloodwing was offering to take from her was Mademoiselle Jennette's soul. She shivered slightly, then straightened her spine and began a purposeful march to her lodgings. If the girl was not careful, it was none of Amanda's affair. C'est la vie du Neath.

Meanwhile, in the halls of the Brass Embassy....

Author: Ama /

A young lady navigated the baroque and twisted halls of the Brass Embassy, her heels traced echoes off the black polished marble. She ignored the screams reverberating from behind the opulent doors in the next hallway as she clutched the folder tightly against her. She lifted her gaze to the the frescoes of imps gleefully torturing the damned on the vaulted ceiling as she passed the two young succubi from the secretarial pool gossiping in the corner. The two fell in a hush as she hurried by.

She knew she'd be the next subject of conjecture for an hour or two. As the result of endless taunts and worse for features being neither flawlessly devilish nor passably human in her youth, she'd come to expect the worst in all sentients. She smiled as approached room #413, and waited just outside as her mentor argued in his office with two junior devils.

"Listen you two," Bloodwing bellowed as he jabbed a black fingernail into an elongated stretch of parchment on his desk choked with lines of red ink, "I argued this clause for four days and four nights with an angel without pause in the Negev before either of you were conceived!"

Mister Bloodwing stood head-and shoulders over his visitors. He must have been quite annoyed to rise from his favorite chair, she thought. Like most devils, he wore fashions that were as striking as they were scandalous, at least for the souls outside the Embassy's majestic gates. His suit was charcoal black, with shining brass cufflinks ending in spikes that appeared ready for double duty for some more sinister purpose. His shirt beneath was as scarlet as his hair. The long flat necktie...the piece de resistance... was a surprising shade of deep, shimmering violet.

"And guess what?" he snarled as he leaned over the desk, laying his large yet supple hands on their shoulders. "I WON."

Bloodwing was proud of his luxuriant crimson hair, and tied it back while in the office. His face was pale as opposed to the pink complexion of most of the Embassy staff, not a lifeless pallor like the groaning Drowned that clogged the Stolen River, but the austere pale of a marble statue recovered from one of the more decadent reigns of Ancient Rome. Along with the curious outward twist of his horns, nearly twice the length of most devils his rank, it lead many in the Embassy to speculate he was the stock of vanquished royalty from some obscure infernal kingdom annexed before history from the far borders of what is present-day simply known as Hell.

The visitors gulped and nodded. One of them swallowed, and built up the courage to reply. "Yes Sir. We'll...we'll amend this and all future contracts accordingly."

Bloodwing withdrew his hands to cross them over his chest. "Resolved. And one more thing...

She could not hear the rest of the argument, but considering the incidents over the last week, she thought she knew what the topic could be... herself. Mr Bloodwing had a habit of letting juniors know that she was his protege, and insults to her were considered insults to him. It could be a dangerous stance in these halls, where blackmail and secrets were heavy coin in themselves.

Her superior had treated her oddly since she had been recruited for the Embassy. Many devils knew her to be an outsider, raised in the morals of London before the Neath. She had been a foundling, raised by a kind doctor who himself was a transplant to London. Mr Bloodwing treated her with an odd sort of kindness, a confusing attitude. Those who were not in their department assumed he was seducing her, the way he seemed to flirt with her. Indeed, there were tales of how some of his other proteges, her predecessors, had either gone on to be great courtesans or gone mad, sometimes both.

She sighed inwardly as the rumblings inside the office continued. No, Mr Bloodwing had never gone that route with her. She was relieved and puzzled, for she did feel affinity for him, but it was much as she felt for her adopted father.

She frowned, thinking of the contents of the folder she had... retrieved from the court records office. The charges against Father were false, blatantly so, to the point one could calculate the amount and distribution of the bribes in the testimony. She clutched the folder a little tighter as the noises inside her mentor's office indicated the interview was concluding.

Anywhere but North

Author: David VC /

The moment I ripped the satin mask from my face, memories began to trickle in. One fact lead to another, another secret revealed to myself, more and more until I felt I was being buried again like in the sinking cockpit. I remembered growing up at the Mason Plantation on the Chesapeake. My brother and I were still only boys when our father, the Senator, resigned in disgrace as our nation ripped itself in two. He sent us to school in London to escape the chaos of war.

And then London fell.

And now I'm a doctor (and a surgeon, and a physician) in a town where some of my patients are already dead. And my brother? He was on his way to becoming an accomplished engineer, but turned into a honey-mazed fop who cavorts with poets, pamphleteers, sport-killers and redstockings!

The distant baying of a marsh-wolf shocked me back to the situation at hand. I wasn't just going to sit there and wait for the Constables to track down the wreck and clap me in irons again! Nor would I let whatever was out in the swamp turn me into a main course! But which way back to civilizaton? There was no telling in this mist! And while the shoulder bag did have the pilot's lunch inside (a mushroom pastry, delectable compared to the prisoner's gruel!), I didn't find a compass.

When one is lost in Fallen London, one feels a growing preternatural urge to tread a path to the North. This urge consumes the traveler until he is oblivious to his surroundings and quickly becomes a statistic. I devised a strategy. I noted the swath of destruction of fungi and long dead trees from the now nearly sunken ship. I made a conscious effort to follow that path. It was easy enough for the first mile or two as scraps of canvas ripped apart by the bats littered the swamp. I rolled up a particularly large swath of the heavy fabric it and slung it over my back for use as a tent or a bedroll later.

Was I making good progress when my candle finally flickered out into a smoking stub? It was very hard to tell. All I knew was that the faint glow of patches of luminescent mushrooms were my only clue to navigation through this limitless expanse of eternal night.

the escape

Author: David VC /

When he came to, he was crumpled against the aft door that once led to the prisoner's hold. One of the lanterns on the side walls was still lit. The foxfire candle inside cast dancing shadows with a green radiance in the silence. Thick mud was oozing towards him, inches away from his tattered shoes. He winced as he propped himself against the wall and rose to his feet. The stairway door on the right had ripped away in the crash, and the muck was flooding in steadily, already at knee height. The gondola was sinking into the swamp!

He removed the candle from the lantern. He pressed two fingers to the pilot's neck, No pulse. He pulled the shoulder bag off the pilot and secured it, and with a swift tug he pulled the shiv from the man's eye socket. The guard with the slit throat a few paces away still had the revolver in a death grip. He considered holding the candle in his teeth as he pried the weapon from the dead man's fingers, but remembered what happens to mice that chew on on the green wax. He secured the candle in the pilot's mouth instead and used the shiv to pry the fingers loose. WIth a loud creak, the cockpit started listing to the side. The weight of the mud coming through the side door was pulling the ship down faster than before. Now it was waist-deep. He'd be submerged before he could crawl through that door. He shoved the pistol into the shoulder bag (which contained a newspaper, among other things) and retrieved the candle. He broke off the more jagged pieces of glass of clinging to the frame of pilot's window with the shiv, then stood on the seat and squeezed himself through.

It should have been a ten foot jump, but the gondola was now half-submerged. He landed in cluster of large, squat mushrooms that reminded him of serving plates. The fungi crumbled like wet cardboard when he landed, and he felt insects he could not see in the meager candlelight scatter over his shoes which were quickly becoming waterlogged.

Already the hot fetid mists of Bugsby's Marches made beads of sweat pool on his forehead and soak into his mask.

"The mask..."

Was it safe to remove it? Yes. He was on more-or-less solid ground. It almost seemed to fight him as he peeled it away. Over his lip, it was especially painful. He wrapped the satin mask around the base of the candle to keep the wax from dripping onto his hand.

He caught his reflection in a pool of murky water by the ship, the smooth surface rippling softly as the swamp claimed the gondola. What part of his face wasn't caked in mud? He saw Brown hair. A matted mess of a mustache in bad need of a waxing - no wonder it hurt to peel that damned mask off! Yes, under the mask his face was clear. eyes...blue? Not brown... A snake's outline undulated through his reflection, and he wisely backed away.

There. Now his memories were returning. His name was...Darien. Darien Mason. Doctor Mason.

And this is my story.

excess baggage

Author: David VC / Labels: ,

The prisoner's attention shifted to a small vial of mercury dangling from a brass bar, hinged to the airship's console by iron brackets. It was swinging steadily forwards. Then to the steering column. It was risen to the level of his head, when before it was level with his waist. He wrapped his aching arms around the column's bars as tightly as he could and pushed downwards with all his weight. He grunted and grit his teeth from the effort. He stared at the vial as he did so. With agonizing slowness the bulbous end of the vial began to pull back towards him.

He looked down. Under his seat was a long metal bar, painted red with EMERGENCY dabbed across it in black letters. He leaned back, still wrestling with the column, finally able to feel it with his toes. He stamped down hard on the bar. There was a jolt in the machinery beneath the floorboards. A series of clicks. The balance measure trembled and swung closer a few more precious degrees.

He felt the howling winds in the cockpit become less violent. The front window was blown through and the cockpit ladder was kicked forward and broken! But now the wind was going straight behind him? A quick glance...

"Those BASTARDS!"

Beyond the cockpit's rear door was only the night sky and a glimpse of the underside of the airbag. The emergency pedal had jettisoned the entire prisoner's hold and all the victims inside it! Was this the guardsmen's answer to an "Emergency?" Hide in the cockpit and drop the rioting felons into the Unterzee in one giant coffin, chains and all?

He dared to take a deep breaths again. Mist was now flooding the cockpit from the front window. The smell of decaying plants on the hot wind assaulted his nostrils.

"A swamp?"

He held onto the column as the ship's gondola ploughed into the marshes. A wave of thick mud sprayed through the front window. He shut his eyes and mouth just before the impact threw him out of his seat.

maynight! maynight!

Author: David VC / Labels: , ,

I rushed to the cabin door and shouted "DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO FLY..."

No. They were all murdered. Two rows of lifeless prisoners still chained, their mouths twisted in dying screams, their satin masks darkened by the same arterial spray that striped the filthy walls of the cabin. The second guard lay crumpled before me, his face so mutilated that I shot a look back at the other corpse and could discern which them had been my tormentor.

I rushed to the pilot's console, scouring the papers and white quill pens and sepia pictures of Constable pilots posing barrel-chested with now-widows and hollow-eyed children wrapped in lace and ribbons and dark schoolboy outfits. I was looking for a damned FLIGHT MANUAL!

"EUREKA!"

Yes, Table of Contents...Page 45...Altitude...Figure 2a...

I was two sentences into my required reading when I dropped the book, distracted by the din of the cockpit window shattering and pouring shards of glass upon me. I dared not look up, still covering my face with my bruised arms, but I knew full well what had happened. From outside I could hear the thunderous force of thousands of vulture-sized bats careening into the listing vessel, now far off-course. As deafening as lightning, then, was the savage rending of the canvas of the ship's airbag by that same flock of those accursed deadly bats!

cancelled flight

Author: David VC /

The prisoner gasped in horror into the face of the corpse that was thrown on top of him. The guard's neck was ripped open in a damp crimson curve resembling a smile. He pushed the lifeless guard's body off of him as the pilot's shots rang out in the cabin. He leapt to his feet and fell over the pilot's back. He wrapped the left arm around the pilot's eyes and jerked his pistol hand upwards at the wrist. He felt the swift current of air as a blade slashed across the pilot's neck. The victim fell through his grip to collapse on the floor.

He was gathering his breath to thank his rescuer. But the words turned to ice in his throat. His savior was in fact the man with the skeletal frame and sunken chest who had died in his arms! He was clutching a crudely sharpened bar of steel caked in layers of dried and fresh blood so tightly that the wielder's own fingers were oozing scarlet in thin lines to the floor. The prisoner somehow remembered that there should be droplets from those wounds...only corpses empty of fluid in that way!

The blood-soaked hand lifted upwards, past the torso wrapped in darkly drenched rags scorched with bullet holes to the owner's face. The velvet mask he wore was ripped away...along with the flesh beneath, exposing muscle and bone. Lidless eyes stared back at him maniacally as he raised the blade over his head, and snapped the arm downwards, hurtling the weapon towards him!

By the time he opened his eyes from flinching, he could hear the gurgling of the copilot behind him as he fell. He didn't look back at him. He wouldn't dare break his gaze from the walking corpse that shambled over the pilot to stare him down with unblinkable eyes and mauled countenance. "We shared a kill", it croaked with a voice that should never have stirred again. "I'll let you live. For as long as it matters."

The prisoner trembled as the murderer lurched past him towards the same exit that he had almost been expelled from an hour before. With an impossible reserve of strength for a broken body, he kicked the door open, ripping it free from the locks and snapping the chains to winch it back into place. He turned to the prisoner and pointed towards him with a smirk as the hot, damp wind again shook its way through the cabin.

"When you see the Boatman, tell him Jack sent you!" And with that, the figure stepped out onto the stairs without an ounce of trepidation, as he if the ship were already moored on solid ground. The winds carried him away before the prisoner could blink.

The prisoner took a moment to swallow his terror. It was then he realized that the airship was in a steep dive, and no one was left alive in the room who understood the controls.

this way to the egress

Author: David VC /

He held onto the one of the wooden stairs so tightly with his free hand that he felt as if his fingernails were ready to shatter. His other arm was pulled to its limit by the same sadistic guard, who clutched it tightly with both hands as he howled with laughter.

"It's 'alf a mile drop, Yankee!" he shouted. "Nothin' but Zee below ye!"

From behind his mask the prisoner looked up helplessly at his tormentor. At the edge of his hearing, he sensed something high-pitched, getting louder by the second.

One of the pilots placed his arm on the guards shoulder, and pointed into the blackness, shouting "BATS!" over the rising din.

The prisoner looked behind him. A swirling column of red eyes snaked in the darkness towards the ship. For a long moment, he pondered which would be the more merciful fate: to be eaten alive by the dark swarm, to plummet to whatever lay below, or endure the further brutalities of the airship.

He tugged frantically at his shackles, nearly toppling the guard onto the dangling stairs and over to throw them both into the dark expanse. The guard, however, tugged back with desperate might, assisted by the pilot. In a few seconds he was thrown to the floor again, and the wind abruptly stopped as the stairway was drawn up.

He curled up to protect his head from the flurry of kicking and stamping with an unending stream of poorly enunciated curses. He shook with fear, dreading what punishment he would endure next. His fears were surpassed as the guard pulled at his trousers.

He struggled as if it was his last chance,and managed to gouge at his eyes. He was so busy fending off the guard's hands pulling away his wrists that he didn't realize he wasn't the only one screaming until he felt a pistol pushed into his face.

"STAY DOWN!" the pilot shouted. "You!" He was shouting at the guard now. "Get in the cabin! Sounds like a riot back there!"

Again, the fumbling of the keys. The door was smashed in from the outside before it was unlocked. The mangled body of the second guard was thrown with great force over him as a pistol cracked in rapid rounds in the confines of the cabin.

...until moral improves

Author: David VC /

The burly guard pulled the prisoner upwards. The prisoner to his left quickly rose with him so the manacles would not rip at the flesh in their wrists. The now-dead prisoner at the end however was slumped over, nearly tugging the socket out of the insolent one's shoulder. He howled in agony. The guard scowled at having the extra strain to lift him up. He threw the man down, who was too disoriented to anything but wheeze and spit blood while the guard fumbled at his ring of keys to unshackle the corpse.

"You! Gimme your wrist!"

A few more clicks, and he was unshackled from the fellow unfortunate passenger that was still living. Next he felt the man's huge bicep curling around his head and crushing it under the guard's armpit.

"We're gonna 'ave some fun wi' you!"

He was dragged behind a slamming door before he could raise his arms to try and resist. He was thrown just as savagely to the floor. From where he lay he had a side view of the two pilots at the controls of the dirigible, who gave him a disinterested glance before turning back to the cockpit window.

More turning of keys. The shouting of irate pilots as a hot fetid breeze filled the previously stagnant compartment.

"You want t'go back to Hospital, eh? Why don't you FLY down yo'self?"

He was pulled to the side of the cockpit where a section of the wall was hinged and staggered to act as a stairway for boarding pilots. The wall had been unlocked and pulled down. He screamed as he was kicked down the stairs into the limitless night.

another place, another time

Author: David VC / Labels:

The ebony-furred neko in the cabin of the airship The Bloodwing's Revenge adjusted the knobs and dials and switches on the baroquely decorated console and looked up at the mists swirling within the mirror.

"Logging Dr. Mason's genetic code and chronological age at the time we departed the Steamlands for Seraph City...that should get us right where we need to..." He stopped in mid-sentence as his ears lowered in alarm at the scene that coalesced on the screen before him.

A line of prisoners in sackcloth chained in irons, secured to a filthy wooden bench. Their faces wrapped in satin masks. The men were silent, slumped in despair, save for the one at the end, his chest rising and falling in a slow gruesome rattle that broke the relentless drone of the airship in which they were secured. He collapsed in the lap of the prisoner next to him. Dark blue eyes widened as they gazed down at the man. They were both devoid of honor, devoid of identity. But something stirred in the heart of that one...

He looked up to the edge of the room, tight enough to equally qualify as a hallway. "OFFICER! This man is dying!" He shouted in an American accent. "We need to get him to a hospital immediately!"

"The prisoners shall remain silent!" Bellowed one of the two gray-uniformed guards in a rough voice, reciting an order more proper than his ordinary speech.

"Listen to the man's breathing!" The prisoner held his shuddering companion, and rose with him as far as the chains would let him. The prisoner sitting beside him looked away, desperately trying to ignore the confrontation.

"SIDDOWN! I ain't gonna ask you again!" The guard poked the man in the collarbone with his club. "If 'e dies, we dump'im once we fly up to New Newgate! Do ye wan't his servin' o' gruel or not, ye grubby wretch?"

The prisoner's voice rose with an anger and indignation betraying his pathetic state.

"Listen you half-toothed Cockney GOON! This man is in respiratory arrest! We need a small blade to open a tracheal..."

The club arced across his jaw in mid sentence, knocking him backwards onto the shoulders of the other nameless prisoners.

"Oh, Doctor Yankee thinks he's wearin' a surgeon's mask?" The guard pulled him back up by his filthy robe. "Ye won't be havin' any teeth left in yer gob to spit out when I'm don wi' ye!"


"QLIIPPOTHIC! DAD'S IN TROUBLE!"

The android slid out from the compartment where she was refitting the engines, her coveralls and the rest of her brass shell left exposed were smeared in grease. She laid down her wrench and pulled off her gloves as she leaned over the neko's shoulder and squinted at the screen.

"No, Koen. That's not..." Qlippothic looked down at Koen as her voice softened. "Not our father. Look at the dimensional coordinates." She pointed to the dials. "Sensors indicate the event you are watching is three quarters of a mile below London...and they are already airborne."

"But Qli! He's gettin' the crap kicked out of him!"

"We don't know why he's a prisoner. This Darien could be twisted and evil for all we know..."

A bell suddenly clanged furiously from inside the machine as the image of a snake faded in and out of focus, blocking the brutality on the other side, its burning eyes staring back at the neko and the android, who leaped from their seats to flip a series of wooden levers down as quickly as they could without damaging the delicate machine.

"Something's trying to intercept the transmission and break through!", Qlippothic warned.

"Engaging emergency shutoff!", shouted Koen.

The beast's hissing nearly mocked human speech. It could almost fool the listener into believing it said "PARABOLA" before the Time Window winked into small dot of light and went completely black.