Blackwood Gazette #305- Oeil de Fleur City Guard Grows Desperate as Stink Monkey Rampage Continues

3/2/283-Two weeks after its escape from the Oeil de Fleur Menagerie, the Ganborran Stink Monkey known affectionately as ‘Chirpy’ is still at large. It is estimated that the creature has caused nearly 300 thousand Imperons in damage, and the amount is rising.

The primate miscreant was last sighted scurrying along a wall by the Dezoar River, where it is said to have caused a panic amongst weekend picnickers.

“We smelled it long before it actually showed up,” said one witness to the incident. “At first, I just thought it was the river…it doesn’t have a particularly pleasant smell, even on the best of days. But within a few minutes the odor was nigh unbearable. That’s when someone screamed. I looked over and saw a woman pointing toward a small shape running along the river wall.

“That’s when someone yelled, ‘It’s Chirpy!’ and everyone lost it, stampeding out of the park like we were running from an air raid.”

Nearby guardsman responded to the report of the monkey’s intrusion and rushed to the scene. They found the beast sitting on a blanket, eating a jam and nut macaron.

“It was just sitting there, chomping away,” said one of the guardsmen. “We moved in to open fire, but no was willing to get close enough for an effective shot. We fired a volley, the six of us, hoping the law of averages was on our side. We all missed. At that point, our eyes are already watering, but to make matters worse the little beast dropped its treat and ran at us. It sprayed as it passed by and disappeared into the trees. None of us could pursue it, gagging as we were.”

The incident at the Dezoar picnic ground isn’t the only encounter citizens have had since its escape. A few days before, a shop owner reported finding the animal malcontent building a nest in the entry way of his business, and the day before that a young couple complained that their midnight tryst was interrupted by a territorial display from the creature.

“It hopped up onto the balcony as we shared our first kiss,” one of the lovers said. “It then began screaming, slapping its bottom and…and…oh, it was awful!”

It has even begun interfering with the creative process, albeit to mixed results.

“I was in the park, painting an abstract of the day’s sunset, when Chirpy dropped down onto my easel and began slapping at the wet paint, leaving tiny monkey paw prints all over the piece,” an amateur painter told us. “To my surprise, the monkey’s contribution improved the piece, gave it a certain whimsy that I feel my work has been missing. I’ve shown it to a few galleries, and more than one of them is interested.”

No one knows where Chirpy will turn up next, but citizens should be wary, the Menagerie warns.

“Chirpy is a young primate at the dawn of its maturity, in a strange environment with a plethora of unknown sights and sounds. He will be extremely curious, and extremely aggressive. Anyone who runs afoul of Chirpy should immediately flee and alert the nearest city watchman.”

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Blackwood Gazette #305- Oeil de Fleur City Guard Grows Desperate as Stink Monkey Rampage Continues

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 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 #254-Recovered NESS Operative ‘Confirms’ Deaths of Rinkenbach and Sinclaire

By Chester Seaton, News

10/8/282-In the week since a Pharassus military flotilla bombarded an ancient and historically valuable ruin, Triumvirate Authority officials have been picking through the rubble trying to piece together what happened. The Authority has now announced a breakthrough.

The sole survivor of the ground team on site, one Gerard P. Shanahan of the Nor Eastern Subterfuge Society, was recovered this weekend, camped in the valley near the ruins. Along with Shanahan, two bodies were recovered.

Shanahan claimed that the bodies belonged to the fugitives Pixie Sinclaire and Rigel Rinkenbach. An authority medical examiner confirmed that the bodies (which were reportedly too badly damaged to make an authoritative identification) were consistent with that of a Triumvirate woman and a man of Sarnwainian descent, both in their mid to late twenties, a description consistent with the pair.

The military of Crowndon, however, has several doubts on this story. For one, Shanahan is a known associate of both Rinkenbach and Sinclaire. Two, there is no one left to dispute his claims. Finally, it is said that the medical examiner in question was Nor Eastern, and was in fact appointed by the Figurehead Marcelette Bastian.

Despite Crowndon’s doubts, the Authority and Nor Easter both have officially declared Rinkenbach and Sinclaire dead. And despite the crimes both are accused of, the remains will be laid to rest in the Nor Eastern Imperial Memorial Cemetery, for their service in the Dividing War.

In Crowndon, many military units had planned to celebrate the deaths of two of our Empires most hated enemies. However, the military leadership has ordered all units to standing duty in order to prevent such displays.

“This whole thing reeks of a cover-up,” said Lord General Johnathan Gorsky. “We have nothing but Nor Eastern assurances of the pair’s demise. And Sarnwain still doesn’t have the answers it wants concerning Rinkenbach and Sinclaire’s actions. This isn’t over, I can guarantee that.”

Blackwood Gazette #254-Recovered NESS Operative ‘Confirms’ Deaths of Rinkenbach and Sinclaire

Blackwood Gazette #244-Ivan Klankenvroot Offers Small, Quickly Extinguished Ray of Hope During IIC Presentation

By Ada Herschel, Science and Technology

16/6/282- If there was a presentation at the IIC that I expected might help shuffle off the draconian air of this year’s conference, it was Ivan Klankenvroot. He is, after all, a peer of Rigel Rinkenbach, second only to Rinkenbach in terms of theatricality and bombast. Ultimately, however, such was not the case.

Things started well enough. As the lights went down in the auditorium, a player piano began plinking away at Rautledge’s Deep Sea Aria. Klankenvroot himself descended from the rafters, seated within the subject of his presentation, a small gyrocopter. As it settled on the stage and Klankenvroot stepped out, the audience (mainly composed of tech enthusiasts and writers such as myself) gave him thunderous applause. Not necessarily because we were impressed with the machine, but because we were finally happy to be shown something that didn’t have guns on it for a change (although, if the group of uniformed Crowndonian officers seated in the front row were anything to go by, that could likely change. The officers did not applaud, by the way. They were very serious men, with very serious faces).

Klankenvroot bowed and accepted this adulation, told us that he was glad to be back under the auspices of his new, Nor Eastern patronage (a statement which elicited much grumbling from what I’m assuming were Crowndon natives), and went on to present his machine.

“I’m happy to announce that I have conceptualized, built and, most importantly, SAFELY tested the world’s first commercially viable gyrocopter for personal use, the Klanken-Copter. This small copter is made of light weight, yet triple ultra-strong materials that won’t break the bank (or the bones, should something unfortunate occur) of the average citizen. Imagine taking flight in your very own Klanken-Copter. With the power of flight, you can Break Free of the constraints of the streets and alleys of your cities and towns. Break Free of traffic jams caused by trudging horse drawn carriages, or overheated steam-autos. Break Free of the pressures of time as you fly straight as a crow to your destination with the Klanken-Copter. With the privilege of flight, all such obstacles will be rendered obsolete.

“My personal goal is to make the Klanken-Copter the preferred method of everyday travel throughout the Triumvirate, and beyond. The Klankenvroot Klanken-Copter. Break Free.”

The audience applauded the presentation. I applauded it too, despite having some reservations about the idea of your average dock worker taking off from a pub in a gyrocopter and ‘Breaking Free’ through an apartment window, but such worries were second to my relief. We’d finally been shown something exciting, something ambitious.

That excitement was quickly dashed, however, as the Crowndonian officers took to the stage, presented Klankenvroot with what I can only assume is an extradition order, placed him in cuffs, and led him off stage. I am told they also confiscated the Klanken-Copter (stupid name) prototype.

Outside the auditorium, my already battered hopes broke completely when I saw the crowd of people protesting Klankenvroot’s presentation. Many held up signs calling him a traitor; others called him a murderer, likely referencing the ill-fated and tragic Heisenberg project (a project that Klankenvroot ultimately had little to do with, other than coming up with the idea, but that’s enough for some people, I suppose.)

The crowd was dispersed when Monteddorian troops rolled in. Luckily, the crowd was made up of invertebrates who ran at the first sign of the Julianos sigil. Hell, I ran, and I wasn’t even involved with the mess.

I’m beginning to think I’ll have to write this year’s conference off as a total loss.

Blackwood Gazette #244-Ivan Klankenvroot Offers Small, Quickly Extinguished Ray of Hope During IIC Presentation

Adella Chatelaine Reports #001-In the Shadow of Klankenvroot: A Tale from the Gutters of Crowndon

They’d all pull us up, then spend the rest of their days knockin’ us back down, reminding us every step of the way that we got by on their pity and conveniently forgetting the fact we were down here because of them in the first place. I figure you might understand a little of that, Miss Chatelaine.

Earlier this month, the city counsel of Crowndon’s capital, Old Crowndon, held a low key memorial for the victims of the Heisenberg catastrophe. One might be surprised to hear that this memorial ever occurred, seeing as how it had not been reported on until now. But I, for one, am not surprised that the Oligarchs kept the event under wraps.

As a matter of fact, it surprises me that such a memorial even took place at all; the disaster, after all, is still a sore wound for Crowndon’s national pride that rivals, or perhaps even exceeds, the military loss against Nor Easter five years ago. Indeed, the effects of the disaster can still be seen throughout the city.

None of these effects is more visible, yet overlooked, than the shanty town that has sprung up around the base of the old Klankenvroot factory (rebranded as the now defunct Crowndonian Ministry for Planar Wing Research and Development after it was taken over by the government). Thousands of former Klankenvroot factory workers found themselves without a place to turn after the disaster, and so huddled beneath the shadow of their former place of employment, constructing shacks of old wood and sheet metal.

While the entirety of the town is one of sorrow and misfortune, the harshest depths of this place lay within the area known as the Gutter, an area that extends down into the dry docks on the western end of the factory grounds. It is here where those unwanted even by the denizens of the shanty town eventually end up: the elderly, the sick, those crippled by the factory’s machines, and perhaps most tragically of all, the abandoned child laborers and orphans of workers who died on the factory floor.

I had a run in with one of these wayward children not long after entering the Gutter, despite protestations from my escort. She was an adolescent girl by the name of Vertiline Torp who tried to steal my photographer’s camera. The attempt was shamefully humorous, as the camera is a bulky thing and when the girl tried to snatch it, the camera stayed in place and her feet flew out from under her.

Realizing her mistake, Vertiline ran. I managed to track her to where she lived with her brother, a younger child with a lame leg. It took some convincing but I managed to get her to talk to me.

“I’ll talk to you,” she said. “But only you. Your copper friend and the man with picto-box have to stay outside.”

The officer escorting us grumbled at the conditions, but agreed to stay outside as I followed Vertiline into her home. It was a crudely thrown together structure constructed of discarded wooden pallets against the side of the dry dock’s wall. Space is limited in the Gutter, but Vertiline and her brother had made due by digging into the wall.

“Tisn’t much, but it’s dry and it stays warm at night,” Vertiline told me. “And there was a pipe in the wall, runs clear up to the top, so we’ve some sort of ventilation. I’d like to say I knew it was there, but it wasn’t. Just a small bit of fortune I guess.”

“Crowndon is kind,” her brother interjected, to which Vertiline scoffed.

“Crowndon ain’t never been kind, not to the likes of us. I look at that damned pipe every night and wait for that small bit of fortune to bite us in the arse.”

She told me that her mother died giving birth to her brother, Pigott. An all too common story, she said.

“He wasn’t turned round the right way, and they couldn’t get mum help in time. Pigott never could wait. Always been impatient. That’s why his leg got mangled.”

Their father worked for Klankenvroot, and they rarely ever saw him.

“Guess you could say we was orphans long before he ever died. One day he went to work, never came back. But I know he’s dead. Saw Old Turner wearing his ring one night.”

She held up her hand to show me a ring, a simple gray band made of chipped tin. I asked her how she got the ring back.

“None of your business,” was Vertiline’s answer. So I asked how it is that she gets by.

“Thems up top all call us the Gutter Rats,” she told me, as if that was answer enough. I suppose I had enough confusion on my face that she expounded on her own. “You know anything about rats, Miss?”

I’ve had my share of experiences. I try to remain objective about their nature.

“Rats are survivors, yeah? When a ship goes down, they tells you to follow the rats. Men in mines? Follow the rats. Fire in the factory? Follow the rats. Rats always know where to run, how to escape. And it’s got nothing to do with planning or being cunning. It’s instinct. I get by because that’s what I do.”

I shifted my eyes to her brother. Her explanation was cold, almost pragmatic. It seemed to me almost opposite of what someone caring for a crippled younger sibling would say. I didn’t challenge her on it, though.

I asked her if she’s ever thought about leaving the Gutter instead.

“Nope,” she said, without hesitation. “This is my world. I know it, and it knows me. Everyone here, we’re all in the same situation, we’re all on the same page. Wouldn’t be the same up there, with that lot. They’d all pull us up, then spend the rest of their days knockin’ us back down, reminding us every step of the way that we got by on their pity and conveniently forgetting the fact we were down here because of them in the first place. I figure you might understand a little of that, Miss Chatelaine.”

She lifted up a copy of my book, detailing my captivity in the colonies. It’s only been out for a month but it’s already beaten and dog eared. It looked like she’s read it more than once.

“That’s right…I know you,” she said. “Only reason I agreed to talk to you. You never asked for help or pity. Why should I?”

I left Vertiline with her brother, taking with me something to think about. I continued my tour around the Gutter with her story in the back of my mind. I conducted a few more interviews, but none of them struck me in the same way as my conversation with the girl. During one such interview, I asked a man if he knew who Old Turner was.

“A bad apple, that one. We don’t like talking about him more than that. Bad as this place is, it was worse when he was around.”

When? I wondered. Meaning he wasn’t around anymore?

“The villain turned up dead, near a month before,” the man said. “Stuck in a drainage pipe and drowned, one half of him dry, the other half bloated up like a soggy loaf of bread, and about as soft, too. No one knows how he got stuck…maybe he was chasing a meal.”

The man laughed, and I excused myself. As I followed my escort out of the Gutter I thought back to Vertiline and her ring, and that pipe in the ceiling of her home, and how she said she stared at it every night, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I smiled, content with the knowledge that when that shoe did drop, Vertiline would probably be ready to deal with it.

Adella Chatelaine Reports #001-In the Shadow of Klankenvroot: A Tale from the Gutters of Crowndon