Blackwood Gazette #302: Sarnwainian Coalition Sends Prince Djidann to Parlay with Desantana Fleet; Djidanni Forces Turn Guns on Compatriots

10/1/283- The stalemate between Sarnwainian and Triumvirate military forces along the northern border of the Triumvirate grew a little less stale this weekend, as the Sarnwainian Coalition (consisting of the combined military might of Djidann, Pharassia, Thankaen and Ganborrah) sent the Djidanni Prince to parlay with his former business associate (and rumored paramour) Yolanda Desantana. However, the Coalition greatly underestimated the hold Desantana had over the young prince.

“Their thinking was typically Sarnwainian,” Lieutenant Gabrielle Antillan, an officer in Desantana’s, fleet told us. “ ‘Send a man to put a woman in her place.’ What they got instead was a toothless puppy wrapped around said woman’s finger.”

Shortly after his arrival aboard Desantana’s air ship, Prince Alarasant Djida is said to have sent a message to his nation’s forces. The Djidanni military, easily comprising the largest percentage of the force, then turned their guns on the rest of the Coalition. After a brief ten-minute fire fight, the Coaltion is said to have called a ceasefire and retreated.

“Once again, our illustrious Governess has proven her talent for laying the groundwork for fruitful alliances,” the Lt. Antillan said. “We’ve always known she had an instinct for business, but now she’s proven herself militarily as well.”

The turnout of this conflict has proven fruitful for now, but we have yet to see the no doubt catastrophic repercussions Djidann’s betrayal will have throughout the Sarnwainian power structure. Prince Djida has returned home, where his father, the King of the second largest power in the Sarnwainian Empire, is said to be exceedingly angry about the results of situation.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about the Prince,” Lt. Antillan told us. “Yolanda Desantana is firmly in his corner, and any action against him will be an action against her and the Triumvirate of the Sky. The King would be wise to seek out alliance with the Triumvirate.”

***

Related Story:

BG #217: Courting Disaster: Yolanda Desantana Seen Meeting with Djidanni Prince

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Blackwood Gazette #302: Sarnwainian Coalition Sends Prince Djidann to Parlay with Desantana Fleet; Djidanni Forces Turn Guns on Compatriots

CROWNDON AIN’T KIND: The Tales of Vertiline and Pigott Torp

The Princess and the Ring

“Crowndon hasn’t been kind, lately,” Vertiline Torp said as she turned from the opening of the literal hole in the wall she and her brother, Pigott, called home. She struck a match and lit a small tallow candle.

“Crowndon ain’t never been kind, Verti,” Pigott said, sitting against the back wall with his eyes closed, his body shivering with fever. “Not never to the likes of us.”

He coughed quietly into his arm. Vertiline smiled ruefully and pulled a tin of salve from within a cinderblock she used to stash things. She’d lifted the salve from a salesman some months back, she couldn’t remember how long. The salesman had been of the snake oil variety, selling dyed water and cheap whiskey to the desperate and stupid of the Klankenvroot Gutter, but the salve was real enough. Probably not something the salesman intended to sell. A private possession. None of these thoughts mattered much to Vertiline, just ghostly whispers in her memory as she dipped her fingers into the tin and pulled out a little dab of the salve. Had to be sparing with the stuff. That traveling salesman was nowhere to be seen, long time now. Either moved on or rolled by the Rats.

“Thanks, sissy,” Pigott said as she rubbed it on his chest. “But you know that’s not doing much good.”

She was all too aware. The salve wasn’t a cure. It was something called a ‘amnegezic’, or something. It could only bring relief. The only way to really help him would be to get out of the Gutter, and that wasn’t happening anytime soon, not with the Thickies running the streets.

“Verti.”

“Yup.”

“Tell me a story.”

“What sorta story do you want to hear?”

“I dunno. One where the good guys win.”

“I dunno any where the good guys win.”

“Make one up.”

Verti was silent for a moment. She thought of something. Wasn’t a story, not really. A memory. A memory she’d not told anyone. A dangerous kind of memory. She’d have to make it into a story.

“Alright,” she said, and turned to pull down the curtain that served as a door for their hole, dug into the wall of the Gutter. She listened, could still hear the hustle and bustle of the other Rats outside, and so she lifted a section of board that served as flooring. Didn’t leave much of a dry spot for her to sit, but it muffled the sound well enough. She checked the candle, made sure it wasn’t in danger of catching anything on fire. It wasn’t, but she moved it down to the ground between them anyway.

“Well?” Pigott pushed.

“There was once a girl, her name was…Birdie.”

“Birdie?”

“Yup.”

“Sounds a lot like Verti.”

“Yup. How about that?”

Pigott didn’t respond, so Vertiline continued.

“Verti was a princess, but she didn’t know that, not yet. But she had a golden ring.”

“Did the ring mean she was a princess?”

“Yes.”

“But she didn’t know that yet.”

“No.”

“When did she find out?”

“Not for a long time. This story isn’t about that, though.”

“But it’s about the ring?”

“Yes.”

“You have a ring.”

Vertline looked down at her left hand. On her thumb she wore a thin band of worn tin. She wore it on her thumb because her other fingers weren’t big enough yet.

“That’s right.

“Now. The ring was her favorite thing in all the world. A beautiful thing, and it was hers, her only thing, and she liked to sit in the sun and let the light shine on it. Nothing unusual about that, right? Nothing wrong with that? She didn’t do it to flaunt or tease or anything. She just like the way it looked.

“But one day, a big brute, a troll, or maybe just a troll of a man, Birdie couldn’t really tell the difference, saw the gleam of the golden ring from his hiding place in the trees. He comes lumbering out, walking all Ziggy, like a jammy on a bender, and he bellows at her: ‘What’s you got there, vittle? A pretty?’

“The voice took Birdie by surprise, and the smell even more so, like rice left in a barrel, and she pulled her hand behind her back. And she said, ‘I ain’t got nothing for you!’”

“Verti?” Pigott interrupted. “I thought you said Birdie was a princess.”

“She was.”

“Then why’d she say, ‘ain’t’. Princesses and them all don’t say ‘ain’t’.”

“She didn’t grow up like a princess. She grew up like us, so she didn’t learn all that stuff, like being proper and stuff, yeah?”

“Oh. So, proper folk, they start off like us, and then they got to learn to be proper?”

“Yup.”

“So, what’s keepin’ us from bein’ proper? Can’t we learn it, too? We’re smart, right?”

“Yeah. Smarter than most, I’d wager.”

“So, what’s keepin’ us?”

“A whole lotta stuff. Bein proper’s more than just speakin’ right, yeah? You have to be rich…”

“So we nick a few purses. Done and done.”

“Not just rich, though. You have to know people.”

“Oh. And we don’t know people.”

“No. And you gotta be related to the right people.”

“Oh. We’re just related to each other.”

“Yup.”

“Verti?”

“Yes?”

“I think that’s okay.”

Verti smiled. “Me too.”

“So, the troll, or the troll of a man. What he look like?”

“He was brutish, with a big nose, and a big wart on the tip, with hair growing out of it long enough to braid.”

“Eww, gross!”

“Damn right, gross. And he had a lazy eye, and a bum leg, and a bald head that he tried to hide under a bowler cap he found in a ditch that was two sizes too small and just made the bald spot look bigger.”

Pigott laughed, then coughed, then said, “That sounds like Old Turner.”

“Yup. And guess what the troll’s name was?”

“Old Turner?”

“No. Wart Face.”

Pigott giggled again. Vertiline lived for that laugh, and dreaded the inevitable cough that followed. She gave him a sip of water and when the fit ended, she continued.

“Wart Face plodded out into the field where Birdie sat, every ounce of fat bouncing every step of the way. Birdie had to hold her nose because the stink was so bad.

“’What’s that you got in your hand there, vittle?’ Wart Face croaked at her. Birdie stood up and held out one hand (the other still behind her back). She said, ‘Nothing. Just like I said before. Now get out of here, before you kill all the grass with your stink.”

“Verti?”

“Yup.”

“Can you kill grass with stink?”

“Apparently. Saw it in a funny once.”

“Oh.”

“Anyways, Wart Face didn’t like being told what to do, and he didn’t like being lied to. And despite being ugly and mean, and drunk out of his wits half the time, he had a certain kind of smarts.”

“Like us?”

“No. Like a snake.”

“Oh.”

“Them’s at the university call it ‘impstinks’, or something. It’s something all mean things have, makes it easier for them to kill nice things.”

“So, he knew Verti was lying?”

“Birdie. And yes. He knew Birdie was lying, but that was more because she made a mistake.”

“And what mistake was that?”

“She acted like she had something to hide.”

“But she did.”

“Yeah, but Wart Face didn’t know that. It was a lesson she learned that day. Years later, another troll saw the ring, but that time she was able to trick it.”

“How?”

“By acting like the ring was nothing special.”

“So that troll left her alone?”

“No. That troll tried to eat her. That was another lesson she learned.

“But, back to Wart Face. ‘Show me t’other hand, vittle.’ Birdie dropped her first hand and put it behind her back. She switched the ring from one hand to the other, and held out her second hand.

“’See? Nothing!’

“Wart Face narrowed his eyes at her.

“’Show me both hands at the same time,’ he growled. Birdie panicked, then. If she’d been wearing trousers, like I do now, she could’ve stashed the ring in the waist band, but no. She was wearing a stupid dress. She could have dropped the ring behind her, but she was afraid the troll would see.”

“So what did she do?”

“She turned and bolted, down from the hill toward the trees. Wart Face raced after her, calling her names and shouting all the horrible things he would do to her when he caught her.”

“What types of things?”

“Things you don’t need to know about right now. She ran into the trees, ran like the wind. Surely, she was running faster than Wart Face, but the troll’s stubby legs carried his bloated body quicker than should have been possible.

“Verti tried to dodge him…”

“Birdie.”

“What?”

“The girl’s name. It was Birdie. You said Verti.”

“Oh. Well, you know what I meant. Can I keep going?”

“Sure.”

“BIRDIE tried to dodge him, scrambling through branch and root, but that only slowed her down. Wart Face was like a train, and he just crashed through the brambles and bush. He was so close, now, she could feel his hot breath on her back. And all the while, the ring cut a tiny circle in the palm of her hand.

“She thought to herself, this is it, Birdie. That’s all you get. And she thought about throwing the ring in his face to save herself. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. The ring was too important to her. It was a part of her.”

Verti realized that she was playing with the tin band around her left thumb. Pigott had noticed it too, so she stopped. She crossed her arms across her chest, wedging her arms under her armpits to keep them still.

“What happened next?” Pigott said. He was wide awake, now. That was the opposite effect she meant the story to have. Verti made a conscious effort to speak softly, afraid someone might overhear the end of her memory-story.

“Verti came to a riverbed, and in the wall of the riverbed was a pipe. She dove into it. And Wart Face, in his blind stupidity, dove in after her. But the pipe was just big enough for her, so it was much too small for Wart Face, and he got stuck at the waist…”

“Just like Old Turner!”

“Pigott, shhh. Not so loud. It’s late and we don’t want to wake no one. So, Wart Face…he didn’t seem to notice he was stuck as he scrabbled for her, clawing at the floor of the pipe with thick fingers and cracked, yellow nails. It wasn’t until Verti began to crawl away from him that he realized his situation. Anger gave way to desperation. She ignored him, and continued up the pipe. Up ahead, she saw light in the top of the pipe. And further up ahead, she heard the rush of water.

“Birdie had escaped the evil Wart Face, but now she faced a flood. With only one option, she kept forward, towards the light. Unfortunately for her, the hole in the top of the pipe was covered with a grate. It was old and rusty, but held firm when she tried to break through. The water ahead grew louder, and the cries of Wart Face behind her grew terrified, pleading.

“It was too late. The water was there. Verti grabbed onto the grate and held on, held her breath, as the water rushed past. Seconds stretched, on and on and into forever, as the light above her grew wavy and weird. She felt the slats in the grat give way, and her body slip, but she was able to grab on and hold.

“Eventually, the water lessened, and she could breath again. Then, it slowed to a trickle. She could still feel the water around her knees. She guessed that with Wart Face stuck in the front of the pipe, the water had nowhere to go. She was safe for now, but she knew that if more water came, she’d be drowned, same as Wart Face surely was now.

“Birdie looked up and saw that two of the rusty bars had indeed given away, and a third had broken. If she could just get that third bar gone, she might be able to escape. She grabbed hold and put all her weight on the bar, felt rusty flakes fall on her face. Up ahead, she heard it. More water, rushing toward her. She pulled harder than she ever thought she could. The final bar bent, but didn’t break. As the water barreled down through the pipe, she screamed through the grate, loud as she could, and stuck her arm through as the water swallowed her up.

“Did she break through?”

“No.”

“But, she had to, right? You said that later on, she met another troll. And that she would be a princess!”

Verti shrugged. “You told me to make up a story, so I did. It’s what they call a first draft. Things changed at the end.”

Pigott sulked. “That’s no good! I wanted a story where the good guys won. You gave me a story where no one won.”

“Didn’t I, though?”

“No!”

“Birdie didn’t throw the ring.”

“Verti.”

“What?”

“You kept saying ‘Verti’ at the end, not Birdie. Or did that change, too?”

Vertiline felt her face grow red. She wanted to lash out at him…not a new sensation, to be sure…but instead took a deep, calming breath.

“She didn’t let the monster have it. She kept it, until the end. She won.”

“Yeah, and apparently she died!”

Pigott started coughing.

“That’s usually how things go,” Vertiline said, sourly. “Go to sleep.”

She blew out the candle, now just a sliver in its dented tin pan, and turned over. Pigott cried silently. Sleep put an end to it. Vertiline hated herself a little bit. All he wanted was to take his mind off things for a while. But while he was escaping, she’d been reliving. Reliving that time Old Turner had chased her through the Gutter, and she’d escaped through a pipe. They found him a few days later, drowned and even more bloated than he had been, from the trapped water.

Vertiline had managed to escape with the help of a passing Thickie, who broke the last bar over a street grate and pulled her to safety. She resented that it was a guardsman who saved her, that she couldn’t save herself. Hated the guardsman for pulling her to safety and trying to take her away from the Gutter, away from Pigott.

And now the Thickies gathered outside the ground of Klankenvroot factory, trying to root them out, trying to take their home. The band of tin burned around her thumb. She hated the damn thing. But she loved it too.

“They’ve got a word for that,” Vertiline whispered to herself as her eyes grew heavy. “Cinammon-tality. Stupid word for stupid people.”

And she fell asleep.

***

Related Reading:

Adella Chatelaine Reports #001

CROWNDON AIN’T KIND: The Tales of Vertiline and Pigott Torp

The Blackwood Gazette #301- Nor Eastern Engineers Reveal Plans for Waystation Systems Over Omeddon, Pyrossi Oceans

By Patrice Coulon

4/1/283- A group of engineers based out of Oeil de Fleur University say they have drawn up plans for two new Waystation systems. The stations, they say, are an important part in building the bridges of commerce between the Triumvirate and extra-imperial entities.

“The Triumvirate does not exist within a bubble,” said Lucianne Volpe, the engineer heading up the project. “Nor does it contain all the necessary resources for the advancement of our society. There are factors outside our realm of influence that could prove either a boon, or a curse. Economic ties are a tried and true way to build alliances.”

Detractors have already caught wind of the proposal, and call into question the veracity of such a project.

“I can sort of understand a Waystation or two between the Triumvirate and Quin Loh,” said Joshua Trachter, an economist from Val Coursais University. “But a station in the Omeddon Ocean is a fool’s errand. There’s nothing out there except scattered islands and the western coast of the Newlands.”

Volpe sadly shakes his head when told of Trachter’s doubts. “That man is short sided, at best. Dumb at worst. If he, as an economist, fails to see the untapped trade potential provided by the Omeddon island chains and original peoples of the Newlands, he needs to be stripped of his tenure. Hell, his being a Crowndonian is probably enough to warrant that!”

All of this talk of new Waystations is purely theoretical at the moment, however.

“The original station was an immense undertaking, and an enormous drain on resources,” Volpe admits. “Be we’ve nearly a century and a half of development since then. It is my job as engineer to prove that new stations could be built in a timely, and cost effective, manner.”

The Blackwood Gazette #301- Nor Eastern Engineers Reveal Plans for Waystation Systems Over Omeddon, Pyrossi Oceans

From the Journals of Sir Rigel Rinkenbach: A Waltz for Sinners

It was the month of Advent, 282nd Year of the Triumvirate, when my past began to catch up to me. I had been running for so very long, and I suppose I may have been getting slightly tired of it. But that is neither here nor there, nor is it the point I am ultimately trying to make, if a point is to be made at all.

I had just returned to Nor Easter after a long and trying absence, following a series of events that led to me perpetuating my own demise. It wasn’t an act that I was unfamiliar with; I’d discovered that faking one’s death was a good way of getting out of certain obligations, but the façade always grew tiring. I am Sir Rigel Rinkenbach, after all, and the world needs me.

This was the night of an annual meeting of minds, started long ago by great Nor Eastern thinkers long dead. I figured it was the perfect way to announce that tales of my demise were greatly exaggerated.

The meeting of great minds took place, as all the best summits of such a sort do, in a red light establishment of Oeil de Fleur (though this particular establishment was no longer located in the red light district, having been forced to move several times for reasons I don’t have time to make sense of.)

Big Bessie’s is neither the most decadent of bordellos, nor is it the most highly regarded…certainly not in Oeil de Fleur. It is, however, often the most lively, and sees the patronage of the most interesting, and features the most profane acts in its burlesque of any bordello in the entirety of the known world (the known world being Nor Easter…never mind the rest of the Triumvirate, or the Newland colonies, The Man forbid. Troglodytes, all of them.)

I arrived fashionably late, which by my ken is precisely whenever I arrive (typically fifteen minutes subsequent to the event’s scheduled beginning). Anything earlier or later and you risk seeming desperate, or so I say.

Those desperate souls already gathered when I walked through the doors of Big Bessie’s Barroom, Billiards, and Burlesque consisted of Ivan Klankenvroot (a poor soul and rival of mine that I took great pity on, having been exiled from his home in Crowndon), and Alessia Cosgrove, who I am given to understand was the host for that year’s meeting. She was a Vintner from the outskirts of Oeil de Fleur. I have no opinion on her status as a Master of the art, as I have no taste for wine. Absinthe is my drink of choice.

Also at the table was the luminous fashion designer Bedform Rumtree and the playwright Delando, or at least a stand in for Delando. Delando never appears in public, for an unknown reason (at the time). The only thing I knew for sure is that the person at the table was not Delando, for an earlier encounter with the playwright had been with a different individual.

Upon entering the room, I was granted the only welcome one could ever expect under the circumstances; silent reverence fell over the establishment, all eyes on me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” I said, raising my arms and throwing off my coat. “I know my presence may come as a shock, but here I stand, alive and well. Sir Rigel Rinkenbach!”

They pretended not to be surprised. Most of the other patrons went about their business, but Klankenvroot, who I had taken on as something of a protégé out of pity after his business went under (a pitégé, if you will) stood up.

“Rigel Rinkenbach, you arrogant bastard!” Ivan said, in endearment, I’m sure. “Why should I not be surprised?”

“Because he’s Rigel Rinkenbach,” Miss Cosgrove said. “I’d have been more surprised had he stayed dead this time.”

I laughed and took a seat, shouting at the bartender. “Barkeep! A round of Romillion’s please!”

The barkeep muttered something under his breath to the effect of ‘bloody Alchemists’, then shouted back.

“I don’t carry Romillion’s anymore, for the express purpose of keeping you out of here. As it’s been nearly a year, I’d thought I’d succeeded, but what a fool I am, huh?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, perplexed. “But, sir. I’ve never been in this establishment before.”

“That’s because we moved, you imbecile. But trying to outrun you troublemakers is impossible, it seems.”

“Ha ha! You flatter my tenacity! Well, I’ll just have whatever house absinthe you have.”

“Haven’t got any ‘house absinthe’. Fool.”

“Anything in the absinthe family?”

“No. Please leave.”

“Never fear, Sir Rinkenbach!” A new voice said from the entrance. It was the puissant architect Davis Case, to whom I once lent money and never saw a return on, standing with the narcissistic Primarch, a philosopher. Ugh, philosophers. They make my skin crawl. They take everything so seriously.

Mister Case had a bottle of Romillion’s under his arm. That ALMOST made me forget his debt. I still wanted my fund back, with interest. But tonight, he was my best friend.

“Mister Case,” I said, walking over and snatching the bottle from his hand. “I’d almost think you were expecting me.”

“Oh, but I was, Master Rinkenbach. I had faith that no Sarnwainian dogs could really kill you.”

“Careful, now, Mister Case. Remember, I am half Sarnwainian, myself.”

“Yes, of course, Sir. I didn’t mean to-”

“Think nothing of it.”

“And besides, you had Miss Sincla-”

“Hush, now. Barkeep! Glasses for my table!”

“Nuh uh. You have to order something first.”

“Snifters of whiskey then. And glasses of ice water. Oh, and a plate of sugar cubes, for, um, snacking!”

The barkeep, whose surliness I must say was starting to feel very familiar, went about preparing our order. A waitress brought the order over, but we were short one…mine. That didn’t deter me from snatching away the Primarch’s order and emptying the whiskey over my shoulder.

“Foul swill,” I said, opened the bottle of Romillion’s, and prepared. The tools I had at my disposal weren’t ideal, and it was almost a sin to do such a shoddy job with Romillion’s, but I was desperate. I took that first delicious sip and all was right. “Oh, how I have missed this. Anyone else?”

My company said nothing. Klankenvroot downed his whiskey, as did Case and Rumtree. Miss Cosgrove gave her whiskey to the Primarch and ordered a glass of wine. Her own wine, as it were. Make of that detail what you will.

We moved on to the purpose of our gathering, to discuss matters of great import, such matters being of import because we had declared them so, of course. Later, we would make merry with the lovely ladies of Big Bessie’s. And by make merry I mean to copulate with furiously and with great enthusiasm.

But I get ahead of myself.

While I enjoyed my drink, the others went around the table, telling of their latest accomplishments and plans. I barely paid attention. The most interesting point was Klankenvroot’s Klankencopter, but everyone had known about that for months. After rambling on for the better part of an hour, the conversation turned toward me. Normally, I would not have allowed the conversation to meander so without some sort of direction, but I was distracted by my old friend the green fairy, who I had not seen in such a long time.

“So…what exactly happened in Sarnwain, Sir Rinkenbach?”

“Hm?” I looked up from my glass to see them all staring at me. I must have been feeling lethargic, for I waved my hand lazily through the air and said, “Oh, not much. Just this and that.”

“This and that?” Miss Cosgrove said, irritation in her voice. “Your actions have very likely started a war, don’t you know?” she said.

“Really? Who knew I had such influence!”

“You know very well your influence,” a gruff voice said. It issued forth from a nearby table, where sat a trio of louts who’d seen better days.

“If you gentlemen and lady wouldn’t mind, I have traveled a long way to Oeil de Fleur to enjoy Madame Bessie’s retinue, not listen to you all prattle on about your little projects and wanton desires.”

I turned toward the source of the dissent and could tell immediately from their rough exteriors and dusty clothes that these men, if they could be called that, hailed from the infernal pits of the Newland colonies. I do not take kindly to colonials, much less the colonials of Crowndon, and even LESS the colonials of Crowndon who presume to instruct me in the matters of good manners in the heart of Nor Easter.

I also knew, through rumor and tales told by my dear Empress Marcelette, that the man before me was one Dr. Argyle Von Grimm. His bionic eye gave him away, and I must say it was the most civilized thing about him. I should know, because I am the one who invented such things.

“Ah, what have we here, lads? A talking ape, in a waist coat and top hat? Someone, please inform Madame Bessie that a member of her menagerie has escaped from the cages back stage!”

My compatriots shared an uneasy look. Von Grimm’s face reddened. The only appropriate reaction to such a barb, I am sure.

“You dare insult the Imminent Doctor Argyle Von Grimm?” He said it as if he were more than a common bandit. What mental contortionism was required from him to actually believe such a thing must have caused him a great many migraines.

“Oh…forgive me, your Imminence!”

I fell to the floor, where I had spotted a rat chewing on a piece of moldy bread. I spoke to the rat, pleased that such an opportunity had presented itself. “I failed to see you down there, distracted as I was by the company of anthropomorphic lizards standing before me.”

The rat squeaked and ran away a few feet, stopped, and ran back. It grabbed the bread and took off again. That rat had priorities. I could respect that. That respect did not extend to Von Grimm, however.

I stood, and looked around. Made a real show of it, too, just to get my point across.

“As for Doctors, I see no Doctors here.”

I spied a mirror and pointed at my reflection.

“Oh, look; there’s one now. Hello!”

It was at this point that the Great Doctor Von Grimm folded under the barrage of my acerbic wit and lived up to his true nature by going completely ape shit.

“Bud! Quixote! I have suffered the barbs of this charlatan long enough. Teach him a lesson.”

The first one to come at me was the one known as Quixote. I recognized him immediately as an automaton, a Taro series four. And while, regretfully, I had NOT invented this particular manner of automaton, I was familiar with its systems, having been contracted once to design repair parts and upgrades for the machines. As such, I knew a simple way to deal with it.

Quixote ran at me, but I stood my ground. I like to think that I had a knowing smirk on my face, but honestly can’t remember. It’s highly likely.

“The Loon Sings to the Moon, seeking its Benevolent Boon.”

On my words, the automaton deactivated mid stride and crumpled at my feet. I shook my head.

“Tsk. Tsk. Such a remarkable machine…and remarkably flawed.”

At first glance, one might assume that the second henchman, a gigantic simpleton that looked as though he consumed grizzly bears for dessert, would be trouble for someone as small in stature as yours truly. As he stepped up I looked him straight in the eye and asked…

“What is your name, Oaf?”

“They call me Big Bad Bud.”

“Bug Bid Bag?”

“What? No, that ain’t right. Bag Bud Bid…no…wait…”

“Bog Bad Bill?”

Confusion now completely overtook him. That was probably enough, but I pushed further. Sometimes I underestimate even myself.

“Oh, I’ve got it now! Big Dumb Bum!”

Tears formed in the lout’s eyes. I felt a trifle sorry for him, but he had been about to pummel me.

“I ain’t a bum. I’m a hard worker, ask anyone! Don’t call me a bum!”

“But that’s your name, isn’t it? That’s what people call you, right?”

“Yeah…sometimes.”

“More often than they call you Bud, though, isn’t that right?”

“Y-Yeah…”

“Well, if that’s what people call you, then that’s your name, now, isn’t it?

Highlighting this fact only broke the poor boy down completely.

“Y-y-yeeeeesssss!”

Bud ran bawling into a corner to sulk. The good doctor Von Grimm was dumbfounded.

“Good god, Rigel,” Mister Rumtree said. “That was cold, even for you.”

“Well, ‘Doctor’? You appear most vexed. Have you any more goons to throw my way, or are you prepared to fight your own battle?”

“I am not above dirtying my own hands, sir. En garde!”

Von Grimm pulled a black baton the length of his forearm from the inside of his coat. He flicked it downward and a di-sectioned, rapier like blade telescoped from within.

“Ah, so it is to be a contest of blades, then? Wonderful! I’ve not had such sport in ages!”

I lifted my cane, twisted the handle, and drew my own rapier.

“Have at you! Cretin.”

We dueled, causing quite the mess and chasing out most of Bessie’s other patrons in the process. We made ribbons from curtains and took the fight to the tops of tables, scattering glasses. I kited the doctor up a winding stair case.

He was not much an opponent, easily led. I could have ended the fight quickly, but I was having too much fun. I decided to end the diversion with a bit of flair and pushed him through a banister to the stage below, sending the dancers scattering. I landed on top of Von Grimm as intended, knocking the wind out of him and breaking my own fall. I recovered quickly and placed the tip of my blade at Von Grimm’s throat.

“I yield!” he pleaded, in vain.

“Do you, now?” I plunged the tip of my rapier into Von Grimm’s bionic eye, shorting it out. It was a bit of a low move, I admit, but my blood was up and I wanted to give my fellow patrons a story to tell.

Von Grimm screamed in agony and rolled around on the floor, clutching at the shorted eye, the occasional spark arcing between his fingers. I sheathed my blade and jumped from the stage to the applause of Mister Case, taking a bow.

“Thank you, my friends! That was most invigorating!”

One of the establishment’s women sidled up to me and hung on my shoulder. I arched an intrigued eye brow at her and turned toward my colleagues.

“Excuse me, my kind fellows. I feel the sudden urge to retire for the evening. Good bye, until next we meet!”

The dancer and I exited the bar, with the barkeep shouting something about damages. I wasn’t hurt, so I assumed he was talking to someone else. While we waited, the dancer and I chatted. She told me her name, but I immediately forgot it.

We arrived at my hotel, a rather rundown place, I admit. I’m sure that played a part in my companion’s sudden cold turn.

“I was under the impression you were rich?” she said, running a finger across a banister and frowning at a layer of dust on her skin.

“I am rich,” I assured her, while fumbling with my keys. “And capable of a great many things.”

“So why’re you staying in a dump like this?”

“Haven’t you read the papers? I’ve been dead for nearly a year.”

“But you’re not dead now. Why not go home?”

“Spending any amount of time dead brings up certain bureaucratic entanglements. My home is currently in the custody of the government.”

“Custody of the government, huh? But not the custody of you?

“Not…technically speaking, no.”

“I’m guessing the same goes for your money?”

“All of my assets are withheld at the moment, yes.” The dancer had bested me. Interesting. “What was your name again?”

“Estelle.”

I remembered it that time.

I entered ahead of Estelle and walked to a small bar I had set up. While the majority of my resources were on hold, I had managed to scrounge up a few essentials. Absinthe was one such, the other was my prized piano. Not to mention Gossamer V, who perched sleeping in his cage. Or, at least, I hoped he was sleeping.

“Drink, my dear?”

“Yes, please. And thank you. Is that an owl?”

“Yes.”

“I think it’s dead.”

Drat.

I threw a covering over the cage. “Think nothing of that. Gossamer V is just a heavy sleeper.”

“Five? What happened to the other four?”

“Come, now, relax.”

Estelle sat on the bed and fell back, stretching her arms. She sat up and looked around, her eyes resting upon my prized piano on the far side of the room.

“That’s nice,” she said as I handed her a glass of absinthe.

“Thank you. It means a great deal to me. Which is unfortunate, because it weighs so very much. This apartment I rented out in perpetuity under a false name, just so I wouldn’t have to lug it around to keep it from being confiscated.”

Estelle sniffed at her glass, wrinkled her nose, and drank anyway. She must have liked the taste better because she nodded in satisfaction. Taking another sip, she gestured with the glass toward the piano.

“Do you play?”

“Yes, I play, and I compose. And I am exemplary at it.”

“Yeah? Go on, then. Play me something.”

“Oh, my dear. I fear I am not in the mood for playing. I am just in the mood for your company. And perhaps a tumble.”

“Oh, come on! Tell you what…you play me a song, and if I like it, you get half off. Deal?”

“Shrewd. I like that! Very well, then. Challenge accepted.”

We shook on it. I went to the piano, started to set my own drink upon it, but thought better of it and set it on the floor instead. I placed my fingers on the keys and considered what to play.

There is a song I play for all my women, though it was only ever intended for one. The song begins as a simple waltz, for a foundation.

The waltz is simple, elegant and playful, much like she was. She with the Red Locks and the Emerald Eyes, and more blades shoved between her clothes and skin than a Pyrossi butcher’s shop. Estelle settled in for the song, moving her head to the rhythm. A good sign, for my ego and coin purse alike.

A melody follows the waltz, a whirling mixture of major and minor notes. The melody is whimsical, much like my relationship with that blade wielding spy. Up and down, but mostly sideways…

I always think of her when I play the song. Little snippets of our times together, coming and going like swift sparrows. Our meeting in an alley, under false pretenses on her part. Me teaching her alchemy, us exploring a dig site, her saving me from bandits. I once stole a kiss, and she slapped me.

“I’m the thief here, remember?” she told me, and kissed me back.

Everything fell away from me then, lost in the music…or perhaps lost in these conjured memories. My playing became more focused even as it became more undisciplined, more intense, as the song and my memories of Pixie Sinclaire reached their climax.

The song ends on a bittersweet, discordant note, as I suppose all great things do. As I finished, Estelle asked the same thing everyone does.

“That was lovely. It had a certain on the spot truth to it. Like, it was improvised. Did you just come up with it?”

“Yes.”

“Were you thinking of me while you played?”

Whenever they ask me this, the answer is always the same: I tell them what they want to hear. And it is always a lie. Even the one time I told the woman ‘no’, it was a lie.

Estelle lay back on the bed.

“I liked it. Come to bed.”

I stood and closed the keyboard of the piano. I walked away, passing my fingertips over a carving in the piano’s wood. It is quaint, but says all it needs to. A simple carving of a heart, within it inscribed the initials RR+PS. Two deep scratches run across it, a halfhearted attempt to strike it out.

From the Journals of Sir Rigel Rinkenbach: A Waltz for Sinners

From the Journal of Sir Rigel Rinkenbach, circa January, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

Curse whoever decided to rest the future of our great society on the Blackwood grove!

Oh, wait. That was me. I can’t rightly curse myself, now can I? I could, I suppose, but why would I want to? I must find someone else to blame.

Perhaps I should blame that infernal automaton that announced to the world that I was working on the formula at the Industry and Innovation Conference. But who built the automaton?

I did, and I presented. And I let the audience ask it questions. So that won’t do.

I could blame that idiot in Des Anges for letting Nor Easter on to my trail. Then again, I was the idiot that trusted him. So once again, the blame rests squarely on my shoulders, down along that path.

What of the Empress’ protection detail? The ones that were supposed to watch my every move? Marcelette had taken it upon herself to jump between an assassin’s bullet and myself…and therein lies the problem. She’d been trying to protect ME.

Me, me, me. The blame all lay on me. Rigel Rinkenbach, the most brilliant alchemist and inventor in the Triumvirate, sole heir to the knowledge of Blackwood transmogrification.

The sad fact remains, that there is no one to blame for my incarceration on this humid rock in the middle of the Pyrossi Ocean other than myself. And there is nothing for me to do but dwell on that fact.

Oh, I suppose I could try focusing on my studies. These pirates holding me, charged by some unknown benefactor with keeping me in check, have provided me with substantial, if rudimentary, materials for working on the Blackwood formulae. My heart isn’t in it, however. I’ve no absinthe, no feather bed. My prized baby grand sits in a decrepit apartment in Oeil de Fleur, no doubt gathering dust.

The only concession to my comfort that these brutes have given me is young Gossamer IV, an owlet of the local variety. And a noisy variety at that. I might consider letting this one go of my own accord, but I’m unsure the thing is even capable of flight.

I believe the one thing holding me back from my formulation, however, is my conscience. Yes, despite the public perception, I do have one, and with no knowledge of who it was that has kidnapped me and pressed me into their service, the inconvenient thing has made itself known.

“You really shouldn’t be making this for these people,” it says to me.

“Why?” I ask it, trying to focus on my ‘scientific’ implements.

“Because these people are bad,” it replies.

“Bad? What does that even mean? Who decides who is bad?”

“You do,” my conscience says. Well, I can’t really argue with myself, now, can I? I am a genius, after all.

***

Something is happening outside. It sounds like some sort of attack! Finally, something exciting in this place!

It began with an explosion somewhere along the north western perimeter of the old fort these pirates are using as their base. Pirates, lacking any reckoning for subtlety or grace, are currently racing across the yard with sword and flintlock drawn. Even one of the two guards outside has run away toward it.

Brutes, all of them, to fall for such an obvious diversionary tactic.

Oh! Is someone effecting a rescue for me? That would be fantastic. In my studies, I’ve created no less than thirty two varieties of highly unstable Falsewood. I suppose I could whip up a quick batch using Gossamer IV’s bones…no, I couldn’t. I’m not particularly fond of this particular owl, but I will not murder it, not even to save myself.

Whoever it is storming the gates of this place obviously knows what they are doing. I’ll just sit back and wait.

***

Hello! *cough cough* Ack. Let me knock away some of this dust. Just thought I’d drop a little something something onto this blog. The above is presently the first couple of pages of my new project, a novel with the working title of “The Ballad of Rigel Rinkenbach and Pixie Sinclaire”.

I say they’re ‘presently’ the first pages because I’m currently in the very early stages of ‘let’s get the the ideas on paper, and worry about specifics later’, so I’m not sure the above will even make it into the final draft. I haven’t even decided what POV to use for the book yet. I thought journal entries, like the one above, but that often leads to weird scenes where shit is going down and the character is writing about it, rather than trying to stay alive (PUT THE CAMERA DOWN, YOU FOOLS!). The alternative is to have the character write about it after the fact, and that always comes across as passive. I may just settle on a standard first or third person format. I’m currently leaning toward first, because it’s similar to the journal idea while letting the characters be present in whatever events are unfolding. I also enjoy being in these people’s heads for some reason. Not sure why, they’re all completely bat-shit crazy.

In any case, that uncertainty is what makes a new project exciting! At least for me, anyway, from the writer’s perspective.

I hope to have the thing done by the end of the year, taking a break every now and then to post an excerpt or maybe a short story. The main issue I’m facing right now is that I’ve got three years worth of material to expand upon (much of which is stuff I’d forgotten about, like that Racing League story, or that thing with the albino locusts). The last month has been spent researching my own work to nail down the timeline between Rigel’s breakdown in Greenlille and his little adventure with Pixie in Sarnwain….and you have no idea how fucking weird it was for me to realize and admit that. I hope it doesn’t come off as self indulgent. It did, didn’t it?

*awkward pause*

Speaking of short stories, I’ve got one in the hopper. It’s pretty much done, but I wanted to do an illustration for it. Problem is, I’m not an illustrator, so producing a image I’m happy with takes FOREVER. Hopefully I’ll have it ready in the next couple of weeks).

At any rate, thanks for letting me ramble, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this little aside. More to come!

From the Journal of Sir Rigel Rinkenbach, circa January, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

Blackwood Gazette #300- Curtains Down: New Delando Play Opens in Oeil de Fleur and Nobody Came to the Party

By Alex Grosset, Arts and Entertainment

3/1/283-The Empress Theatre in Oeil de Fleur has spent the last month getting ready for the premiere of Delando’s newest play, hoping to pull in another record breaking crowd. Unfortunately, either people didn’t get the message or ignored it, because nobody of import showed up.

“The opening was a disaster,” said promoter Rean Marcelle. “We spent hundreds of thousands on advertising alone. But still, we have a table full of seafood and cheeses just sitting in the lobby, stinking up the place. It was so bad. Not even Delando showed up.”

The small group of curious souls who did attend, however, were led by Delando super fan Bartolomew Bartlesby Bartlette (a nom de plume culled from Delando’s earlier works.) Bartlette, however was not allowed inside the theater.

“I’ve been blacklisted,” Bartlette told us. “Earlier this year I organized a protest when we found out that this new play wasn’t part of the Ichthylliad saga. You ask me, that’s the reason no one was interested. I only showed up so I could tear it a new one, maybe throw an egg or two. Guess I didn’t need to do anything after all. I mean, look! We’re standing on Empress Boulevard on Saturday night and its damn near empty! So sad.”

Marcelle echoed Bartlette’s sentiments. “I guess Delando is a one trick pony. When people come to see Delando, what they really want is Ichthylliad. We knew we might take a hit, what with a completely new story, and that whole Heisenberg incident, and that story about Rochelle Walsh, and…you know, the more I think about Delando, the more I want to wretch.”

Despite the disastrous turnout, the show was put on, for an audience of about thirty, in an auditorium that holds 600. Of the ten people that remained at the show’s end, reception was mixed.

“I enjoyed it, and actually felt that the dour atmosphere helped it,” said critic Henri Guillemot. “There’s a character in the play who makes jokes at completely inappropriate times. The small audience guaranteed that laughter at these jokes would be sparse, and the ham-fisted delivery in such a large open space rang loudly, and true. Honestly, it should only be performed this way.”

“I [expletive removed] hated it,” said Alicia Vidillia, a student at OdFU. “The story line was vulgar, as was the guy who played the corpse in the second act. He kept winking at me while lying on the stage, pretending to be dead. Disgusting.”

Marcelle says that the play will be pulled from the Empress theatre’s lineup, and he must now struggle to find a new show for the stage.

“We’re bleeding money, because of this. Damn Delando.”

Delando, as usual, was unavailable for comment.

***

And, that’s a wrap, folks. At least for now. I’m putting the Gazette on indefinite hold for the time being, though it could pop up from time to time in the future. The whole thing got a little unwieldy this year, and quite frankly a little joyless as I succumbed to Cerebus Syndrome and started to get more invested, personally, in the story I was telling. The gazette was primarily meant to be FUN, dammit. A lot of the stories I told this year were just depressing. I need to pull back, reconfigure, and revise a lot of what I’ve already written. As of number 300, the word document containing the Gazette is a hefty 115,000 words over 343 pages (unformatted).

When I first started this thing, I wanted the stories in the Gazette to coincide with longer narratives, short stories, novellas and such that told the truth of what happened, and I failed to deliver on that end, aside from last year’s The Lelina Horror’. So, going forward, in 2017, I want to focus on some of those longer narratives.A True Account of Waystation Bravo already exists in a completed first draft. A couple more pass-overs and I should be ready to show it off. I’ve also started work on the tale of Pavetta Janvier and her investigation into the Southward Slayings. Hopefully I can get that out this year, as well.

On the backburner, I’ve still got the woefully incomplete ‘Shroom Job, which I started way back when. I recently revisited it and found myself at a loss as to where I was going with it. It’s still a part of the plan, though, given that some of those characters have important roles to play throughout.

In the planning stages, I have what is tentatively titled the ‘Ballad of Rigel Rinkenbach and Pixie Sinclaire’. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell since I came up with the idea of Blackwood Empire and while I was writing the series’ sole published novel, ‘Where, No One Knows’. Now that I’ve set up the tale of their adventures across Sarnwain, I feel like I have a pretty good framing device for their tumultuous relationship.

Other ideas are still little seeds, and I’ll be evaluating their potential as I go. There’s a lot of threads dangling throughout the course of the Gazette. Who was knocking off Monteddorian military officers? What happened to Veronica Trenum’s expedition into the Deadlands? And that mysterious organization that attacked the Triumvirate last year sure was quiet this year…or were they? Oooh, mystery! Intrigue! Spies and gunslingers, pirates and assassins! Shadowy organizations and ancient mysteries! I’m really eager to dig into the larger Blackwood Empire, and hopefully share it with you.

So hold on tight. It gets pretty windy on the Imperial Skyways.

Blackwood Gazette #300- Curtains Down: New Delando Play Opens in Oeil de Fleur and Nobody Came to the Party

Blackwood Gazette #299- Roderick Beauchamp La Pierre Delivers Precious Cargo To Nor Eastern Shores On Advent’s Eve

By Jeanne Dupris, Nor Eastern EIC

3/1/283-Triumvirate Authorities claim that on the night of Advent’s Eve, a large group of people were discovered on a beach on the eastern coast of Oeil de Fleur. Among them was Ada Herschel, the science and technology writer for the Blackwood Gazette’s now defunct Crowndon Branch, as well as several other former staffers arrested for sedition.

How did they come to be there? Ada Herschel told me herself, and it’s a doozy.

“About a week before Mister Merchant was executed, they pulled us [the seditionists] out of our cells, along with several others arrested for dissent. They told us they were moving us to another location and put us all on an air ship. We began heading south, or at least I think it was south.

“We were out over the ocean, about a day and a half into our journey, when we were attacked. We were all down below, but we could hear the fighting, the boom of canon and shots of flintlock. Eventually the door to our hold flew up and several guards rushed in. The attackers pushed them back into the cargo hold and barred the door. One of the pirates stopped outside my cell and looked in, and he smiled.

“To my surprise, it wasn’t a malicious smile, but a kind one. He was a young man, didn’t really look like a pirate. Wore a red scarf and had a tinge of Romms in his accent. Came to find out later that it was Klaus Klaudhopper, the notorious bandit. He and the other pirates let us out of our cells and we found ourselves on the Pernicious Platitude itself.

“We all asked to see the captain, Roderick Beauchamp La Pierre, but they said La Pierre wanted nothing to do with us, just to get us off his ship. We thought we would be thrown overboard, but such wasn’t the case. They brought us all the way to Nor Easter, and dropped us off at the beach, under cover of night, before flying away.

“I’ve no idea why La Pierre rescued us. Maybe he was hired, maybe he thought he was attacking a cargo ship, and got us instead. Either way, it worked out for us in the end. They gave us food…not much, and it was kind of moldy, but it was better than what we’d been getting in prison. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad to be free.”

Miss Herschel and the others have been granted political asylum in Nor Easter. Triumvirate Authorities say they are hunting for Captain La Pierre, but have found no trace so far.

Blackwood Gazette #299- Roderick Beauchamp La Pierre Delivers Precious Cargo To Nor Eastern Shores On Advent’s Eve