High Adventure in the Steam Age

Friday, August 16, 1872 - Part II
A walk through the Prater opens a Hall of Mirrors

I am only half-dressed for tonight's ball, but I am compelled to make an account of this afternoon's activities before the festivities begin. There is, perhaps, a touch of the maudlin in my sense of the possibility that I may not return to this journal to relate how these events play out, but I cannot but be who I am. Well, after a fashion.

In any event, I am attending a high-level Viennese Ball with two guns, one of which will be legitimately loaded. Survival is not guaranteed

But let us return to where I left off. Having dispatched Master Clockmaker back to the Palais Todesco, we took our own cab to the Wiener Prater, hoping to find Count Navarre and Lady Cecily somewhere among the entertainments of Wurstel Prater Amusement Park. We discussed our options and eliminated some from the list of the possible (Mlle. Bechard does not find people with her particular Art). We arrived to the sounds of laughter and the smell of various treats shared in the open air. Perhaps it was one such sweet that drew Mlle. Penneg haring off on a brief adventure of her own, but she declared that she would return shortly and was then gone into the brush. Mlle. Bechard informed us that she did this sort of thing somewhat frequently, a tendency I confess I might find slightly alarming, like the way cats seem to stare at a space just behind your shoulder. But I digress.

The Prater was filled with people enjoying the weather, and the sounds of a fairground organ could be heard in the background, with people crying in joy and perhaps a bit of alarm on a steam-powered Carousel. We searched frantically amidst the crowd for our quarry, but it was Mlle. Glass who spotted him on a rowboat headed out onto the Danube. As we closed with the small pier for the Prater, we also saw a rough-looking man in a paddleboat coming to meet the Count in the middle of the water. Racing to the shoreline, we saw a number of boats to rent, but none of us were in condition to row ourselves out and catch the Count before he met with his less-genteel comrade mid-river. One of the boats however, was steam-powered, and seemed ideal to out hopes; however, the only one of us competent with machinery had gone galavanting about the Prater with neither explanation nor a predicted time of return.

With all due respect to the many show-offs and high-theater miscreants I have known in my life, no one quite makes an entrance like the fey. Mlle. Penneg came barrelling back to us like a Roman chariot racer, driving some hapless dog before her. What she had been doing, why she had disappeared, or even where this beleaguered hound came from were all questions lost in the needs of the moment to get to the chase. Clearly, we must develop some alternate source of funding, for when it came time to rent the boat, I found myself passing over my funds for next week’s morning papers. This, then, is how I found myself tight on funds (and no prospects), on the river (unable to swim), and chasing after strangers surrounded by women eager for an adventure. I don’t know when precisely I lost control of my circumstances, but it was at this point that I became aware of said loss.

Nevertheless, there was work to be done. The rough-looking scoundrel aboard the paddleboat produced a revolver and took a shot at Mlle. Glass, who had been taunting him with her hat. She very nearly ended up in my lap to avoid the shot, which would likely have put us both in the river. We closed with Count Navarre’s rowboat and I pulled the same strategy which had bought us time with the hooligans that had assaulted Master Clockmaker – I produced my handy derringer, with but a single shot therein. Count Navarre, at least to begin with, seemed to better understand the consequences of gunfire than his brutish minion and raised his hands in surrender. Mlle. Glass instructed the Count’s accomplice to drop his gun, which Mlle. Bechard reinforced with a hurled dagger that pierced the man sharply. Mlle Penneg summoned forth an image of something in the water to menace our opponents (my eyes were focused on Count Navarre, so I shall likely never know of what precisely). It seemed a fracas was to ensue, but the Count had other plans.

Seizing Mlle. Glass by the lapels of her coat, he demonstrated his personal magical skill and seemed to shatter like a mirror, with hundreds of Count Navarres falling this way and that into the river and swimming away for shore. Mlle. Glass, now quite irate at not being able to give someone a proper thrashing, exorcised some of her discomfort on the various images in the water. The gunsel, now absent a master to direct him and with a new and exciting stab wound, found his own way back to shore.

A victory, however odd, is still a victory, and we escorted Lady Cecily back to our own boat and returned to shore, with Mlle. Penneg wondering aloud how we might keep this steam-powered craft forever. Successfully dissuading our faerie friend from high seas burglary, we returned to the cab to get our second mystical surprise from Count Navarre. A button fell from Mlle. Glass’s jacket, though it was not of her jacket. A ghostly image of the Count appeared, warning us of danger to Lady Cecily and, that if we were to see him that night at the ball, we must arrange to pretend to kill him. In the space of a single trip to the Prater, our little adventure had taken a spin on the carousel itself, swirling us into the realm of the bizarre and, quite frankly, the paranoid, as we were left to wonder about unseen threats and the truth of those around us.

In the midst of this chaos, I felt the tug of a thread of a plan. I asked how difficult it might be for Mlle.Penneg to craft a glamour to make one of the ladies in our own company appear to be Lady Cecily. She stated it was possible, but complicated, whereas producing a dress and wig to create the facsimile of the Lady might be simpler. I filed both of these options as we returned to Palais Todesco.

Which brings me here to my desk. I am about half-dressed in a Légion d'Honneur outfit with a comedia dell’arte mask that may bring to mind C. Auguste Dupin, if one does not inspect too closely. My drop pistol is fully loaded for the first time in a week, and I have removed my derringer from its track in my coat and loaded it with two percussion caps, but no bullets. Mlle. Glass is getting herself fitted to playact a Lady of mysterious provenance, and Mlle. Bechard is preparing to present her entertainment.

The sophists had a philosophy called Dissoi Logoi, which encouraged a rhetorician to explore all sides of an issue equally so that, in the moment of kairos, or fortuitousness, they could make the right argument at the right time to the right audience. Without knowing who has fair intentions and who foul, I have engaged on a sort of Dissoi Logoi here, with the possibility of three Lady Cecilys, two harmless pistol shots, eight decidedly non-harmless pistol shots, and enough lies to fill a novel of fiction. I can only hope that we can discover kairos before our enemies do.
 

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Vienna waits for Me...
Diary Entry: Adelaide Bechard

 

 

 

 

 

 


I thought the only thing I'd need to dread this week was whether or not the Todesco's and their guests would enjoy my performance and recommend me to a more fashionable clientele.  I shouldn't have spent so much on my scarlett and violet, sequinned and feather covered headdress, but it will look absolutely beautiful when Pierre flies overhead and swoops around me, the audience will not be able to tell where I end and he begins. Magical theater is just as much about tricking and amazing the eye as it is about using actual magic. I have to save my energies for the larger, more flashy tricks, its true.

I arrived a few days ago and was given the most comfortable and clean quarters with a beautiful view of the fashionable ladies strolling the streets in the most elegant green, pink, and gold silks and ribbons I've ever seen.  For being such a metropolitan area, I couldn't help but be impressed at how clear air feels here, there is something robust and healthy about this city that Paris lacks, but I thought it lacked a bit of mystery and danger that I love about Paris.  

I met a few renowned personages that the lady Todesco must like to collect (including myself). I'm not offended, I'd rather be interesting and infamous than part of noble family that forces me to marry against my will. Money is a necessary evil, but I'd rather be penniless on the street than lose my freedom to choose my own destiny. 

I find that this desire is something I share with Henri Glass; I personally find her trim and fitted male suits alluring and powerful on her, but I know I'm not as brave as her to completely shred my feminine trappings and trimmings. I hate my corset and sometimes wish I could set it afire and have Pierre, my phoenix carry it away for me, but alas I know that I have a hard enough time building my performing reputation after what happened to my mother. She offered to teach me some of her fighting moves if we survive our current adventure. I may just take her up on that, I'm curious about this medicine ball she talks of training with. I do admit I'm a bit intimidated by her prescence but she's definitely a character I want to have on my side. 

Then there is Dr. Cannaver….he is the exact opposite of Henri when it comes to physique and athletic ability. I believe he must have some kind of chronic ailment, he loses his breath through very minimal exertion, but I find he makes up for this with his quick wits and confidence. He proved today when we were stealing the ledger than if you believe in your own performance 100%, you can convince almost anyone of anything. 

Our adventure began this morning over coffee and pastry…the Viennese are renowned for their pastries, an I had the most delectable peach danish this morning. Penneg enjoyed it, but wished that her Brownie cousins had made it instead of human hands. I still am of the opinion that nothing compares to a fresh baked baguette with a cup of hot coffee in the morning. We were all exchanging pleasantries when all of a sudden, walks in the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Not a single blemish or feature out of place, almost too perfect. 

We heard a man screaming and went to investigate. A dwarf was being beaten by a pack of hoodlums. I was scared, but I forced myself to think on my feet and conjure up a confusion spell while Henri and the Doctor helped to fight the thugs. We managed to stop them from their nefarious intentions on the gentleman, whom we discovered to get a reowned inventor and tinkerer. We found out later (though our own investigations), that his beautiful lady friend was actually a clockwork creation of his that he was to unveil at the Todesco's ball this evening. 

After much coaxing on the part of Penneg and the Dr., we were able to find out that Cecily was taken by a rival mastermine, Count Navarre. I saw him get into a cab with Cecily, he was indeed quite menacing and yet attractive I hate to admit. I do love a man with an elegant cape, probably the theatricality of it reminds me of the male magicians I work with. 

I am writing this currently as we race aross the city and the cobblestone streets, causing my words to be quite messy and shaky. I hope we aren't too late to stop whatever vile intentions he has toward's Cecily. I wonder what happened to her to cause her to willingly go with the count? I wonder if he somehow found a way to alter her inner workings or could she possibly have gone with him of her own will? The craftsman that made her said her mind was that of a child. I hope we will be in time to save this innocent creature, whatever she truly is. I must say I am quite fascinated with the concept of combining magicks with clockwork, the opportunities seems endless. 

I what wonder my father, Louis, god bless his soul, would think of the progress of our age and the ability to transcend the limitations of magic and machinery by combining them both together? The mind boggles, but such queries must wait until we finish our current adventure. 

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The Clockwork Lady Incident, Part 1
A moving picture recording of the first session of the campaign

In which a mysterious academic, an unusual female adventurer, a Magickal performer, and a Brownie spy save a dwarven craftsman from a savage beating and then undertake a quest to rescue a beautiful but unusual lady.

Please note, the session was recorded in video format. An audio version will be made available as soon as is possible. An excellent written summary of the campaign can be found here.

At present, Obsidian Portal seems to be having issues with the embedding of videos. For now, the video of session 1 of the Clockwork Lady Incident can be found here.

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Friday, August 16, 1872 - Part I

Sed enim maius est hoc quiddam quam homines opinantur, et pluribus ex artibus studiisque conlectum. – Cicero, De Oratore, Book 1, Sec. 16.

The grand halls of Palais Todesco are intimidating to the newcomer, and do not become particularly more inviting over time. You could spend a day in each room and still have a season to go after a year’s time in order to see it all. My own room is truly an architectural wonder and my meager possessions are made all the more humble by their opulent containers. Still, if one must keep the rain off, it does not hurt to do so in style.

The letter I received barely three days after my arrival continues to lurk in my desk drawer, taunting me to take it out and examine it again. Tennyson’s fragment in Tennyson’s handwriting, but in a rusty ink that looks more likely to have been drawn from an artery than an inkwell. The poem seems to hint at menace – the all-seeing predator prepared to fall from heaven – but I lack evidence, so I must avoid needless conjecture. It is enough to keep me more than occupied to play the part of Doctor Cannaver, Professor of Rhetoric.

I am fortunate that I discovered a copy of the Encomium of Helen in Paris, or I probably would not not have written the monograph on the Sophists to occupy my time on the train. Töplitz & Deuticke were delighted to have something so scandalous to print, and the Baroness was equally delighted to take in such a seeming rabble-rouser. I shall need to be elsewhere before the turn of the seasons, lest some copies of the book actually make it back to Scotland, where the University of Edinburgh will wonder just who this so-called professor is, but c’est la vie.

I think I shall at least stay for the masquerade, and perhaps for the balls next week for the Emperor’s birthday. Perhaps I can work my way into some money to help put me to flight.

I look at that last sentence and I sigh. Where has my dedication gone? I know where – it is as feeble as my arm. I fled England with a soul full of righteous anger, and yet, what have I done to even begin to put right the evils I have enabled? I am not helpless – I have my mind and that has proved more than adequate to seeing me across Europa, but still I hesitate. Still I am waiting…for what I do not know.

*

I write this part now so I may have an accurate record of events while said events are still fresh in my memory. We have not yet reached midday, and yet I have been a guest at breakfast, the dupe of a true masterpiece, witness to an assault, party to a killing, organizer of a criminal charade, and now a member of a rescue party. It has been, we may say, a full morning.

In order to get out from under foot while the Baroness made preparations for the ball, we were invited as guest of Master Elrich Clockmaker for a late breakfast. Our party was Master Clockmaker, his ward, Lady Cecily, Mlle. Adelaide Bechard and her korrigan assistant, Mlle. Penneg, and Mlle. Glass, attired in a suit and tie, as is her way. Lady Cecily is an unparalleled beauty, but with a queer manner that drew my attention. Mlle. Bechard is a lovely young woman as well and a magician both in the theatrical and mystical senses. Mlle. Glass appeared to us with a rather impressive bruise that she no more cared to explain than she did her penchant for going about in trousers, suit, and tie. Mlle. Penneg had seated herself atop a pile of old books, her work clothes neat and clean, but still a sight, even to those educated on the nature of the Faeries.

We endeavored to make small talk in that way that strangers must when thrust around a table. Mlle. Glass is as restless as a hunting hound kept perpetually indoors, and seemed to endlessly fidget, battling the requirements of polite society. The korrigan, revealed by her Breton accent, looked pinned between the desire to speak on or inquire after every topic and a sense that such exuberance from someone considered to be a servant may violate some human norm of proper conduct. Mlle. Bechard was, perhaps, only with us physically. She is to perform at the ball and the responsibility appeared to weigh heavily upon her. As for me? I was still the reticent academic, content to be more of a professor of rhetoric than a practitioner.

It was from the Lady Cecily that I first caught the scent of something incongruous. Thomas Sheridan’s Letters on Elocution are an invaluable resource for both the rhetor and dishonest man, as oratorical delivery is perhaps more important than what precisely is said in most discourse. The lady’s French was passable, but peculiarly slow and methodical. This is nothing by itself – my French was slow and methodical once upon a time, and I should wager that my Hindustani would be so now were I to need to call upon it. But her tone and inflection were so precise that her speech pattern did not indicate a linguistic novice struggling for words. Unable to resist an experiment, I rephrased a question she had just been asked and received precisely the same answer, delivered in precisely the same intonation. Now caught up in my observations, I put down my tea and appraised the lady in a manner that would likely get me into trouble in more polite company. Her perfect skin, gentle fragrance, and physical mannerisms overwhelmed the evidence of my ears, and I dismissed the girl as either a linguistic novice or perhaps an idiot in the dwarf’s care as a favor to a deceased friend.

Master Clockmaker was called away for a telegram, as the rest of us struggled to become less strangers and more acquaintances. I was inquiring after Mlle. Bechard’s planned performance when we heard a commotion from the telegram room. Mlle. Glass was, of course, off like a shot towards something other than chit-chat, but the rest of us followed. We came upon a scene more appropriate to a dingy alleyway than this charming cafe. Half a dozen brutes were laying about Master Clockmaker with clubs. Mlle. Glass leapt into the fray with, dare I say, a fierce grin, and immediately rendered one of the brutes unconscious. I pulled a small thread around my left ring finger and my derringer slid along its track into my hand. I made some vague threatening pronouncement and they stopped to consider the tactical situation of guns versus clubs. I had to restrain a smile as, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the diminutive Korrigan slip into the pocket of one of the larger of the brutes. Said larger brute decided to test his resilience to bullets in the hope of testing my resilience to a thrashing and learned that physics is an unforgiving master, as an abundance of acceleration made up for any lack of mass. I felt my stomach drop as I realized I had likely killed the man, even in self-defense. Mlle. Glass sent another one to join his brother in the care of the Oneiroi. Their numbers halved before they knew what had hit them, they elected retreat.

Mlle. Glass leapt after them, even as I admonished her that we should like to have one for questioning. Mlle. Bechard and I checked on Master Clockmaker. Mlle. Penneg began raising up a hue and cry about a villain, but I fear I was focused on examining the poor victim dwarf’s injuries. It was not until Mlle. Bechard mentioned that Lady Cecily was departing that the craftsman became alarmed, his heart willing him to rise where his body would not comply in its present state. We called some waiters to assist Master Clockmaker back to a seat, and I saw their alarm at the state of their telegram room, knowing that we were now on a quick clock to determine what was going on before the Polizei arrived and bungled everything.

First was the ruffian that Mlle. Glass had collected. I am, perhaps, not a master interrogator, but I have a fairly good sense of where to press on certain minds. This mind was clearly none too well developed and likely prone to suspicion and superstition. Promising an eternity of necromantic hell if he demurred, I encouraged him to share what he knew. Mlle. Bechard, without missing a note, began plucking identifying items from our mark’s unconscious allies. With his imagination no doubt filling in the details I would never be able to honestly supply, he confided in us that he had been hired simply to waylay the poor dwarf. He also snitched on an accomplice in the matter – a member of the wait staff who had also been employed by our mystery abductor. Accosting the young man, the sight of the dead body on the ground was more than enough to persuade him to unburden his soul, lest his poor decision cost him his aspirations of a future in the university (or, quite honestly, any aspirations whatsoever). So our stranger – tall, dark, and handsome with a notable mustache – had been identified by the ruffians, the waiter, and the ladies that had lain eyes upon him as he disappeared with Lady Cecily. Mlle. Bechard had been keen-eyed enough to discern the company that provided the hansom our mystery man had used for his getaway, so we did, at least, have a lead. We lost precious time as the constabulary finally arrived, but they were seen off simply enough – the others didn’t even have to support my omissions, as I think Mlle. Penneg and I are the only ones who speak German.

Having seen the police off to what they do best – disposing of bodies – we decided to pay a call on the cabriolet company. As we approached, I could see the reservation ledger on the desk and my mind raced through the various ways we might lay hands on it. I realized that, not only were we ill-prepared for the simplest means (none of us had sufficient bribe money to hand), we must look like a motley group indeed, with a korrigan and a woman in a gentleman’s suit. Even discounting Mlle. Bechard’s background in performing, we were a fairly theatrical-looking cabal. And then an old familiar instinct stole over me and I began spinning to my comrades a proposal that I knew, upon reflection, would cast serious doubt on my identity as a rhetorician. As I explained my plan to the others, I was struck by how readily they adopted to making such a scene. Maybe it’s because they are French? Who knows.

Humans are creatures of routine. We find psychological comfort in seeing the same walls, the same files, and the same people undergoing the same routine day in and day out. It gives us a sense of continuity. That said, we cannot help but be drawn to things that disrupt the routine. We look and are unable to look away, no matter what propriety or, in some morbid instances, our own sense of virtue and sympathy may call for. This is usually an admonition to not call attention to one’s self when organizing a sham. Sometimes, however, it is just the opposite.

Mlle. Bechard and I strolled into the company office as a young couple in search of a cab to take us about. Someday, Mlle. Bechard will gaze in truth at some poor young man in the manner with which she favored me and that man will be as helplessly ensnared as an explorer lost in the Sahara that has discovered a pool of water. I imagine that Colonel Beauregard would be heartily dismayed to discover that I borrowed his broad Virginia accent to pass myself off as an officer of the United States, but I consider that to be just one more benefit of my selection. We put on quite a display for the drivers and clerks, who gaped in dismay. Just as we had them all gathered at the door to the stable, Mlle. Glass entered like a Polish force of nature. The resulting fracas had everyone’s attention, which meant that no one noticed the diminutive faerie making off with their ledger.

Back at the cafe, it was now time for a gentler conversation with Master Clockmaker. He had made vague pronouncements about a need to get the young lady her “medicine,” but confronted with a need to rescue the girl and an inability, possibly due to concussion, to engage in the matter directly, the craftsman confided in us the truth of Cecily’s nature, which I shall not relate here in accordance with the oath Mlle. Penneg took. Master Clockmaker was able to identify our handsome stranger as a Bavarian Count by the name of Navarre. Apparently, Navarre was an illusionist who had been involved in Master Clockmaker’s great work, but the dwarf could not fathom what he was up to in this.

We found Navarre’s name in the ledger, along with the order for the cab that whisked both him and Lady Cecily away. It was apparently bound for Wiener Prater, home to the Wurstel Prater amusement park, and a wonderful place to lose followers and switch transports. It was a thin thread to pull, but it was what we had to hand.

Now, as we wait for the cab to see Master Clockmaker back to the Palais for rest, we are charged to find and rescue the girl before she has a somewhat Cinderella-like moment at the stroke of midnight. Despite the early time of day, I fear haste is in order.

 

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A Slip of Paper Found in the Diary of Marie Bechard

The following slip of paper was just recently found. It fell out of the spine of the diary as it was being examined. The handwriting is most certainly Marie Bechard's.

"My God forgive us for what we've done. I've hidden the map in the smaller of Napoleon's victories. One foot east of Italy, two feet shorter than my dear Pierre's wingspan. Not even Penneg knows."

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Excerpts from a Treatise on the Proper Due Deserved by Brownies

The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet entitled The Proper Due Deserved by Brownies, written by Mademoiselle Danielle Bendit, a member of the Teuz subspecies of Brownie. The pamphlet was published by the Movement for Advancement of the Lesser Faerie's Rights (MALFR) and has been translated from the original French.

As is commonly known by many, if not all, we Brownies are incapable of receiving gifts. Indeed, it is written deep into our very natures that to be given any sort of gift is to insult us and drive us away. Thus, the chores we do we do for love of the work. We ask not for wages and bonuses but simply for regard by those for whom we labor.

However, our humility and affection for good, hard, honest labor should not be an invitation for those of higher station, be they human or Faerie, to trod upon us as if with boots of iron! Nor is it grounds for those for whom we work to claim our deeds for their own. Indeed, my brothers and sisters, just the opposite is true!

I say to you, words are not a gift! They are not wages nor compensation but our simple due as the backbone of so much of the world economy. To be blunt, my brothers and sisters, we deserve to be given explicit credit for that which we craft or produce. I imagine I can hear the grumbling and cries of astonishment such a statement produces among out kind but let me be clear. It is a modern world and we must be modern Faeries in it. 

Thus, I propose, we demand one simple concession from the humans and Faerie Lords for whom we toil. We must demand that, whenever possible, we be named and given full credit for our work. Did Brownies help produce a bottle of wine? Their names should be listed clearly on the label for the world to read. Did Brownies work overnight to craft a stage for the latest production of Hamlet? Their names should be clearly listed in the program. 

Such words would cost the world little but ink and paper space but they would serve our people well.

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A Letter Addressed to Doctor George Cannaver

A letter arrives by post for Doctor George Cannaver at the Palais Todesco three days after he takes up residence there. It is scribed in an unsteady hand, as if done by someone who was shaking or ill. The paper has an oddly homemade quality to it and the ink is a rusty red in color. On it is a single poem, easily identified as "Eagle, A Fragment" by Tennyson. The poem was written in the 1830s but not published until 1851.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

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