Seken

Session 1 (Feb. 16, 2011)
Beginnings (by Byron)

It all began so innocently, with Torvik bringing the underage Kalb, Raisa to an underground club in the sketchy part of town to meet with Leo and Alexei. Byron was drawn there by the forces of chaos. While at the club the group met up with a couple of the employees – the lovely Cinnamon the charming Torey.

There was a group of assassinations as you might expect, and the Kalbs, along with Cinnamon and Torey Westerlyn chose to flee the scene rather than get caught up in some messy investigation.

The Kalb family contingent followed Anton Carborn for a time until there was a fight between Anton and Leo, and the resulting argument betweebn the Kalbs over this fight allowed Anton to slip the tail, as it were.

It was at this point that we once again met up with the lovely Cinnamon and her charming compatriot Miss Westerlyn. We found a likely place to continue our carousing and once there we were approached by a fascinating character who wanted to hire us to find some artifact important to Calliech in order to prevent some doom from befalling our fair city. after some negotiation we managed to come to an agreement and we were off.

We made our way to the docks and to the pawn shop where the artifact originally emerged, and broke in, much to the chagrin of Torvik. While there we found that the place had clearly been tossed, and found that the artifact had been taken by the owner to another, less disreputable pawn shop for appraisal. We then made plans to meet the next day to go to the more reputable shop in question and investigate.

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Leo's view: Magical Shrubs, Unidentified Meat on a Stick, and Other Diversions

WTF, Shrub-people? In the park on the way to not-so-shady Bob’s. Where it turns out we found what probably used to be Bob, now a shrub. A magical shrub, Byron says. I repeat: W.T.F.

Anyhow, it’s been an interesting few days. Went to a shindig with my boys down at the Big House a few nights back, where a wave of subhumans provided a diversion as Ssama and the Thieves’ Guild proceeded to co-assassinate each others’ bigwigs. Got Alexei’s back while he fenced with something invisible, then followed his lead out of there – where did he find out about that trick candlestick, anyway? – and into the alley. Alexei ran off, Anton followed him, I followed Anton, and for some reason my sibs and Torvik – goodness knows why they were even there – decided to tag along after me. Anton ended up giving me the runaround, gave me some line about me being too hotheaded to trust, so I pummeled him… sigh … yah, I know, but it felt good. He ran off, presumably to go help Alexei, who presumably didn’t want or need my help. Anyway.

So then there’s this totally hot-bod half-elf Cinnamon who’d been serving at the Big House, and she’s there in the alley, and also Torey, a lovely lady singer from Ssama with a fantastic voice, and… well. And, wouldn’t you know it, Byron, Raisa, and Torvik. I have to say, they cramp my style.

So we all went for drinks, like you do. Enter an amazingly gorgeous woman who only gave us the name ‘C’, all coyness and word-games. She wants us to find a small metal symbol that was stolen from a shrine of Calleich under the city and return it to its right place. Sounds like a fun little quest, so I was in. There was the Calleich angle, so naturally Raisa was in – little sis is adorable when she’s trying to be evil. The rest hopped on board too. We negotiated for money and stuffs, but that’s really kind of secondary to the fact that hell, it sounds like fun, right?

So we went down to Shady Joe’s pawnshop, where the medallion had last been seen. Locked, so I picked it, but someone had been there before us and tossed the place before locking it back up. We didn’t find the medallion, but the girls picked up pages of Joe’s ledger, all torn up. Byron realized that we’d tripped a magical alarm, so we picked up what we could and hoofed it back to a family office and spent the night there. By morning we’d put the ledger back together, and found that Shady Joe’d taken the medallion to Not-so-shady Bob for appraisal.

Next morning we went over to NSSB’s pawnshop, and Torey and I pretended to be interested in buying her a piece of “sacred art” while Cinnamon scoped the back alley and my sibs and Torvik sat out front eating Unidentified Meat on a Stick. The lady there seemed all put out that NSSB had run off on her, so I tried to play that angle. She said she had the medallion in lockup but couldn’t close the shop until lunchtime, but she’d go get it then.

Lunchtime rolled around and after, and she said someone had broken into her secure lockup since the last time she’d been down, which was after NSSB had run off. We (me, Torey, and Raisa) went down there with her to look around, and from what she said, it seemed like someone had either had a key and known how to circumvent and re-set the security traps, or had been AMAZINGLY good at locks/traps and picked/re-set them somehow, or waltzed right in and out with magic, because she said everything had been in-order security-wise. The only thing that was missing was the medallion, and the place was all still in order, not tossed like at Shady Joe’s. Counter lady was getting tetchy at us by this point, so we left. (Note to self: talk with the others about how to keep a charade going over the long term. Not so good to have your ruse rained on by people on your own side). Cinnamon picked up from there and went and charmed the pants off of tetchy counter lady, and got herself a commission to find NSSB, dress him up in some man-whore costume, and let him make his way home (or not) with just that.

We went to a seedy dive called the Gin Joint as our first recon, and Cinnamon got information from a big drunken bear of a fellow and the world’s creepiest whore that NSSB had been there a few nights back pulling his cheapskate routine, but hadn’t been back since. They pointed us in the direction of where he lived.

Cue magical shrubs. First it seemed like it’d be a nice little swordplay fun with three fellows hiding terribly ineffectively upwind of us behind some bushes. We took two down and one ran away, and one of the bushes just… destroyed him. Whip-vines-thorns, a spray of blood, and a godawful mess, but nothing really left of him, you know? Torey sang quite an inspiring song, and Cinnamon and I fought one bush while Torvik, Byron, and Raisa killed a bush and a massive creepy tree-thing. Seriously, I harsh on them sometimes, but really… I was proud of them. A little stick-man thing came haring out of the bush I’d been hacking at and ran away, so I guess it’s still out there.

Byron looked around the lot at all of the shrubs, and said they were magical, the smaller ones the most so. We noticed that there were piles of personal effects around the shrubs that really made it look like the shrubs had risen up where people had fallen. One of the shrubs had a cheapass ring that matched the description of the one NSSB had had a few days ago, and there was a key with that pile that looks like it could be for a high-security lock like the one at NSSB’s pawnshop. There were two other piles with high-quality keys, so I pocketed those two as well.

So here we are, in a field, with magical shrubs, one of which seems to be the guy who last knew where our medallion was. What’s next, I wonder?

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Leo's View: Divine Inspiration Comes in Pints

So like I said, there we were, in a field with magical shrubs, one of which seemed to be the guy who last knew where our medallion was. We were contemplating the shrubs when we noticed a bunch of Sickers gathering in an alleyway across the street. After a time they gained critical mass or something, because finally they came across the street at us. They didn’t aggressively breathe on us, and seemed like they had something to say. One of them – this dude with particularly yellow eyes – seemed to be a bit braver than the rest, or their spokesperson, or something. Byron said something snarky at him, and Yellow Eyes shrugged and said “never mind, then” and they all started to turn away. It sounded like they had something important to say, so I apologized for my brother’s boorish behavior and asked him to stay and say what he’d come to say. He said they’d just wanted to say Thanks, indicating that we’d helped his crew out by taking care of the stick-critters that had been killing people and turning them into shrubs. He also said he thought it was related to what was in the ( Mann) warehouse next door to the lot – said someone had harvested Live wood, and that the warehouse is now – and I quote – “full of some pretty pissed-off lumber”.

They started to melt away, and as they were leaving we realized that they might have seen something useful about Bob’s demise. We caught one who’d lingered to pick up some trash – called himself Four Coughs. We asked if he knew anything about NSSB’s demise, or if he could find out for us. We also asked him to let us know if he could find anything out about Calleich’s medallion, and gave him a little cash incentive with a promise of more later if he could help us out. We agreed on the back of the Shrine of Maelsh as a drop-spot for information. He seemed really fascinated by Raisa’s drawing of the symbol we’re looking for.

As Four Coughs left, we saw a dark-cloaked man in shadow in the alley across from us who seemed to have been watching us. We began to approach, but he slipped further into the shadows, seeming to want to avoid us. Cinnamon took off in one direction – climbing? – as the rest of us gave chase, but we came abruptly up on a busy street, with the cloaked man nowhere to be seen. Folks on the street didn’t seem stirred up like you might be if someone had just come tearing through, was the funny thing about it. Cinnamon caught up with us and we talked (okay, argued) about what to do next, and next thing you know some little Orc kid is coming up to us with a note saying that the Sickers had some information and were waiting at the Shrine of Maelsh for us. Around this time Muriel, NSSB’s wife, walked by and looked straight at us, but keept on walking like she didn’t recognize us. Cinnamon peeled off again to follow her and the rest of us went to meet with the Sickers.

Yellow Eyes was there with a bunch of the rest of them, although Four Coughs wasn’t there. Yellow Eyes asked if he could speak for the rest of them, since the rest of them seemed skittish and afraid of talking with us. He said that one of them had seen NSSB two days back, walking home late. A bush grew to twice its size as he passed by, and pulled him in. We asked if they had any information about the medallion, and showed Raisa’s drawing again. Four of them reacted the same way Four Coughs did, like they really wanted the picture. Really wanted it. They said they’d keep a lookout for more information about it, and we tipped them again to keep them interested in it.

We’d planned with Cinnamon to meet back at the Gin Joint, but as we were walking in that direction I had this Very Strong Feeling that Cinnamon was in danger and needed our help. Like a vision without the vision part. And I felt… drunk. Marius hasn’t ever come down and talked with me face to face, but if ever there was a time when I felt his presence, this was it. I told the others about my feeling and persuaded them to come with me to Muriel’s house instead of the Gin Joint. Which is a good thing, because it turns out Muriel had been eaten by some hideous monster that was impersonating her. Who knew, right?

When we got there, Cinnamon was down, and Not-Muriel ran up the stairs. Torey stopped to heal Cinnamon, and the rest of us went after NM. Byron stuck her in place, and Torvyk and I flanked her while Raisa took pot shots at her with her crossbow. She started monologuing about how much she hated ‘fleshbags’, and then she ripped off her face. The next minute or two as we were fighting her, her Muriel-skin sort of slid off from around her, and she … it… ended up with much longer arms, bigger than what had been inside the Muriel-skin, weirdly. We got in some good shots, but so did she – hit me pretty bad twice. Cinnamon was up by then, and Torey was singing to encourage us all. The thing got its tongue lodged in Cinnamon; Raisa managed to cut through it right around the time the rest of us took the thing down. We regrouped, poked around a little bit, found the husk of what used to be Muriel upstairs, but nothing else useful. We needed a lot more medical help than we had with us, so decided to go to Vikon’s clinic.

When we stepped out of what used to be Muriel’s and Not-So-Shady-Bob’s house, Anton was there across the street. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was there with backup for me. There were a couple of other guys with him. He seemed to think I was in some kind of danger, but didn’t say what kind. He saw we were hurt and the guys helped all of us get to the clinic where we got patched up. Turns out Cinnamon had some kind of creepy larval egg in her where that monster’s tongue had been, but the physician working on her said she’d be fine.

When we came out, Harrik, that huge guy Grllith from the Gin Joint, and several Ssama guards were there waiting for us. Well, for Cinnamon and Torey. They started posturing at Anton & co, saying they were dangerous to Cinnamon and Torey, and Anton & co started flipping out that we (Kalbs and Torvyk) were in danger from Ssama. It came out that 1) Anton, Alexei, and friends are all with the Thieves’ Guild, and 2) the Thieves’ Guild and Ssama had signed articles of war earlier in the day in no small part due to the shenanigans that went down at the Big House two nights back with the assassinations and all. They had a 16-hour truce, so could stand around in the alley with us arguing over it without coming to blows, fortunately. In the middle of all this, Byron did that vague far-away voice blinky-thing he does and said “you do know travel magic was used in there…?” This was a conversation-stopper, so we all went to the Big House for Byron to show them what he meant.

When we got back to that room, Byron did some wacky magic and suddenly there was a glowing outline of a sigil in the air, which he said was the remnants of the travel magic. Harrik went and got this eccentric looking elf-dude who verified that it was what Byron said it was. Given the way the Big House controls its space and the limits of travel magic, it seemed like the only place the travelers could have come from was underneath the building, in the Underbelly, so I said as much. Harrik seemed to agree.

Anton and Harrik agreed that this revelation changed everything, and that it looks like a third party is intentionally trying to play the Theives’ Guild and Ssama off of one another. Harrik mentioned that things are hectic enough with Mayhew retiring soon, and that the last thing he needed was a war. He gave Anton some papers to take to the Theives’ Guild so that they could review the information and hopefully call their war off. Anton and company took off to deliver those.

Which left our party, who all in all were ready for bed. Fortunately the Big House has lots of beds, big and small, square and round, solo and accompanied. Harrik offered Raisa a bed made entirely out of dragon skulls, with a bed nearby for Torvyk to keep an eye on her. He gave me a room across the hall with a hot tub – and three blondes, two redheads, and a brunette. I’m sure it will all be very therapeutic, what with my war wounds from earlier today…

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Leo's View: Politics and Cinnamon Cakes

Mmm… that was a delicious lunch. A few notes before I’m off to bed.

The day after saving our esteemed noble cousin Vasily from psychotic animate toys and having our family downgraded in status due to cowardice within the course of a few hours, I went to visit Alexei to see how he was doing. He’s showing notable improvement in terms of energy, appetite, and all-around spunkiness, but the burn mark on his face is spreading, and his eye is discoloring strangely: the iris more intense in color than it should be. The Vikon priests say it was a magical poison; I’m glad he’s feeling better but concerned about the spread of the face burn.

He made the point that Ivan and Fyodor must be “sitting pretty in power” in order to orchestrate our original assignment to Averton and our consequent plummet in reputation for the sin of politely asking to not be sent to certain death. Which makes me wonder… why is Lord Markov so easily swayed? When we got to the palace he was apparently ready to foster Vasily with my parents, and if he esteemed them that much, it’s odd that he’d want to send all three of their children into mortal peril. Mother believes that the Averton assignment was entirely due to I & F’s involvement, as backlash against a lifetime of counseling them towards restraint and wisdom. If I were Markov and in my right mind, I think I’d have told my sons “you know, I think that’s a rash idea, and I’m the Duke, and I get to make the decisions.” Of course, the fact that he (evidently) even thought to send any of his scions into Averton as a “hand of peace” seems short-sighted at best, and I find myself wondering what’s really going on with Lord Markov. Is he being controlled, or getting diddly in his old age? At any rate. Arcady, Dariel, and Faina were off to Averton yesterday afternoon, and I pray to any gods who will hear for their safe return.

Alexi babbled a bit about an asylum/monastary in the Capiz district – I’m not sure what he was on with about that, but whatever. If I encounter anything about it I guess I can ask him for more information. Likewise I told him a bit about Seal, but he didn’t seem to have any context for him. I also told him the story about dancing with the little old accountant lady at the Vikon clinic we took Katja to – he seemed to get a kick out of it, and it was good to see him laugh.

I told him about moving my bedroll to the lowest bunk in the mid-level section of the Clubhouse, and he said Pierre Mann was likely to make trouble. (This was not news.) He gave me a bit of a rundown on Pierre’s fighting style, and honest, he’s right, I’d probably only win against Pierre if I cheated and sabotaged him somehow. Talented, hotheaded, axe and reversed short sword – just lovely. We did note, though, that Pierre might be convinced that he’s too good to fight me, and assign someone less personally hating on me to challenge me instead. Alexei had his guard send word to Anton that he’d like Anton to come visit when he had a chance. Anton’s been my friend for years, and his older brother Will is one of Pierre’s friends. This seemed like a decent direction for things to go, although Will is also heavier and stronger than I am, and no easy challenge to fight. I took my leave of Alexei before Anton got there, and promised to bring him some (discreetly disguised) honey butter the next day.

That night, as expected, Marcel (one of Pierre’s lackeys) and some of his friends started whispering and giggling in the corner of the bunk room in the middle of the night. I’d purposefully been sleeping very lightly, because I’d been expecting something like this, so when they came over to try to dump a bucket of sticky goo on me I was already awake. They snuck like elephants across the room and when I said “don’t even try it” in a firm but conversational tone they squealed like little girls and ran away. It was actually pretty great.

In the morning I had breakfast, where I noted who was willing to sit at my table – That Kalb, the one everyone thinks is brain damaged, but I think he’s a bit smarter than people give him credit for. Granted, he sounds like an idiot, but seems fairly observant and decently canny. And two Xarx kids, which given the martial tradition of that liege household are probably considered pretty big fuckups if they’re in the musters instead of doing actual military service. So to the public eye a retard and two fuckups were willing to be seen with me but not to actually talk with me. Not the best I could have hoped for, but I survived the night in the middle level bunks without anyone successfully indicating I should move to the lowest-rank lodging room, so that was something at least.

I went to my folks’ house after breakfast, napped a bit, had lunch with them, and talked a bit about what they want me to do for them. Basically it boils down to “maintain and reaffirm family connections suavely and genteelly; crack heads as needed.” Seems they want me to represent our business at salons, tearooms, soirees, and such for the younger set while mother works the older set and father works the business contacts. Keep an eye out for fops & sycophants who can be of use or can be detrimental, talk up the stability of our business. Keep an eye out for Manns – they’ve been trying to edge in on our shipping since forever and are leaping on this opportunity to cut us out. The Foamer’s guild is trying to take a cut, apparently also trying to get into farming, which doesn’t immediately make sense to me – I’ll have to get Father to clarify that. And keep an eye out for Aglion – they’ve technically never sworn alliegance to us even though they’re treated as a Kalb liegehouse.

I snagged a few cinnamon cakes for the road on the way out, and thoughtfully wrapped up a number for Alexei along with his requested disguise-able pot of honey butter. Got to his room at the Vikon clinic and he’d had it all done up with furniture and knicknacks and new draperies. Yes, draperies, I kid you not. It did make the urn of honey butter much easier to blend in, but might perhaps have been a bit of overkill. Anton stopped by and offered to be my Second for a duel at dawn against his brother Will at Tilter’s Field. I appreciate that he and Alexei are still talking to me this week – it’s good to have some friends who don’t immediately shun me the way the rest of the high-rank folks in the Musters do.

I went back to my folks’ house for food and more sleep – they seemed a bit confused on the concept, but I needed to be decently alert through the night at the Clubhouse and in top form at dawn, so I needed the rest.

And yeah, it was the right call. Marcel and his goons upgraded to an attempt at a soap-in-a-sock attack, which derailed in a nice one-two with an unknown ally who firmly said “no” just as I was sitting up to tell them off. So I just followed up with “yeah, I really wouldn’t recommend it guys.” Again with the squealing.

I grabbed a light breakfast before dawn, amid whispers of “I tell you, he doesn’t sleep!” Good. I need to establish a reputation for any badassery I can these days. Whenever I’m in the Clubhouse I’m trying to maintain a facade of ‘this demotion is a mildly humorous temporary inconvenience’. So far it seems to be coming across successfully that way to folks. Fake it ’til you make it.

I started towards Tilter’s Field before dawn, and Anton caught up with me on the way. Briefed me on Will’s fighting style – warhammer & shield, slight favoring of left side, a solid fighter. Not as hot-headed as Pierre, which can be either a benefit or a detriment, depending on how you’re trying to play the game.

Glossing the gritty details of the duel, I’ll honestly sum it up – it’s not a duel I ordinarily would have won. He’s a very good fighter, solid guy, good armor. I don’t remember exactly what happened when with the fight, but Anton assures me that it looked really good, which in the end is really what matters. I went into the duel with the basic plan to look as awesome as I could until he beat me unconscious, to make as good a stand as possible for my honor and my family’s honor. I caught him by surprise right off the bat, though, and we both got some decent hits in before the end. After I had two good hits in my basic objective of ’don’t look like a complete weenie’ had been fulfilled, but if I could, I wanted to win. Winning would be really, really good. I was hurting pretty badly by the end, but I got him with a good feint and hit him hard. A little harder than I’d meant to, honestly; I ran him straight through. Fortunately his Second seemed to have some healing ability, so I stood at my initial mark until Will was on his feet again and able to shake hands and leave the field.

I’d joked with Alexei that if I needed hospitalization after the duel that I’d go to the clinic he was at and get a room nearby so we could at least have hijinks while we recovered. Anton was kind of flipping out that I was walking all the way there (well, we did pass a few other Vikon clinics on the way, he was right, but it was the point of the thing you understand). Granted, I was trailing a bit of blood behind me, but I could walk fine. We made it to Alexei’s clinic, and they patched me right up – no need to convalesce, so I suppose maybe it was all kind of pointless, but hey, I kept my word. And I visited with Alexei after the priestess was done with me, and Anton gave him a blow-by-blow of the duel.

Anton was pining for some more of the cinnamon cakes he’d been ruthlessly stealing from Alexei’s stash, so I invited him over to my folks’ house for lunch. We stopped by the Clubhouse on the way there to move my bedroll up a few rungs in the middle-tier room. A bed had already been cleared out four beds up, and since I don’t feel up to another duel in the next few days I decided not to push the issue just at the moment. My family’s overall reputation is a bigger behemoth than anything I can shift with a few duels, and I can’t move too far out of our overall range and hope to keep a toehold. Still, I mean to climb it one rung at a time, whatever it takes.

We had lunch with Mother, Anton got his order in of cinnamon cakes, and Mother promised to send more to Alexei and Anton each (the apricot ones, too.) Our new butler is an odd little duckling – he can’t be more than seventeen, and he’s trying to put on all of these Ancient Old Butler airs. It totally doesn’t work, and I told him so, but now he seems to be trying on different ways to look stuffy each time I see him. Weird kid, but hey, he opens doors with the best of them. Maybe he’ll grow into it with a few decades.

Another afternoon nap was in order, especially given the duel – which Mother apparently knew about, since lady Carborn had stopped by in the morning to pay respects. Well, at least she didn’t grill me about it. She indicated that she’d had several unexpected morning visitors, a positive thing. And I’ve been receiving a number of ‘well done’ letters – also a positive thing. Last night I stopped another prank attempt by dear Marcel, whose followers appear to be losing enthusiasm. I suspect he’ll wait a bit, maybe a week or two, and then try something again on his own, so I’m going to keep up this daytime napping thing until I can thwart whatever those petering attempts are. I still don’t know who it was who nixed his soap-in-a-sock attempt – if I had to guess I’d guess it was That Kalb, given the monosyllabic nature of the injunction, but I’m keeping my eyes open on all sides for any potential allies and am not rushing to make too many assumptions for or against anyone. I had breakfast this morning with a girl from the lower nobles’ room – not someone I can afford to be seen out drinking with just now, but she seems like a nice kid.

And then back here for a morning talking with Mother and Father, and then lunch. One more cinnamon cake and I’m off to bed…

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Leo's View: awkward, but well-dressed

Last night I had dinner with my folks – I’m still using their place to crash at random hours, and they seem to expect it. Plus, rabbit with bleu cheese.. not bad.

Father came in late, frowning and taciturn.

Mother pattered on about a new opera being shown re: conquering of the Western Wastes. The person playing the Western Wind is supposed to be quite good, blah blah. I know it’s Polite and all, but it kills me to sit and listen to her talk about this kind of thing when there’s so obviously Something Wrong. Nothing of any consequence was said throughout dinner.

After dinner Father went for drinks in his study. I joined him, got myself a whiskey, and sat down sideways in the comfy chair I like as Mother came in.

Father said there’s a Business Problem that he can’t quite get the shape of it. He’s losing too much business at once, in too organized a fashion. There’s been a 30 – 45% reduction in crop shipments to major markets in the past few days. “Feels like a Mann-ish game” said Father. Many Kalb liege houses are no longer shipping with us.

He also mentioned the Foamers again, moving into farming and food shipment. Quoth he – “guilds love to tweak our tails”

So they tell me: Leo, please go play at the Minor Courts with the Foamers, Mann-ish rejects, and Kalb minor houses. “Mann-ish rejects” is a direct quote, mind you. While I love canapes, banter, and pretty girls, this assignment looks to be the opposite of relaxing.

Father mentioned House Aglion again as well – they never swore alliegance to Kalb, and the family is on Mann border. If Mann pushes to expand their borders, Aglion is a possible direction for expansion.

Woo Aglion, he says.
May be approached by Fla or Westerlyn, not Deston or Carborn
Feel out players
Find opinions
Make connections not easily seen

Then mother chimed in with this:
“Try not to be too offensive, but still be yourself,”
“Mother, just what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t quaff your whiskey, but don’t put on airs. And don’t sit like that.”
… Seriously, my parents. …sigh…

She told me there would be an escort for me at court to “teach me how not to get into duels with the Manns”. And “how to get girls to smile at me more often”, except that Celine smiling at me was what got me into the whole mess with Pierre in the first place, so I’m dubious. I’m to spend the morning in court with Mistress Yee-Lin and then the afternoon/evening taking etiquette lessons from her in the government district.

The tailor showed up to re-do some of my clothes overnight, to be delivered to the Clubhouse in the morning.

There were no attacks as I slept last night – bonus.

I’d worried that Mother’s tailor might do something embarrassing with my clothes, but was pleasantly surprised. I have to admit – they’re actually pretty snappy. The top is a streamlined take on a fencers’ doublet, black and dark purple, with a black-on-black Kalb crest. The pants fit well, and there was a new cape brooch that matches the red gold of the shirt buttons. Put that with my swishy red Noble Musters cape and my awesome hat and I’ve gotta say, I looked good. I got some jealous looks and jibes from fellows before I left the Clubhouse, but I got enough interested looks from the girls that they were easy to brush off.

I haven’t been to the Royal Palace since I came of age, and never have really spent a lot of time there. It’s pretty huge – as big as a city district. I went up to the main gate on the huge earthwork ramp, and must’ve had my pass checked at least half a dozen times, probably more. I’d forgotten how impressive the waterfall in the courtyard is, but I didn’t want to stand around gawking like a country bumpkin at it, so I asked one of the liveried servants to direct me to court.

(Side note: I wonder if anyone ever just stands and appreciates that waterfall, or if new-to-the-palace people purposefully avoid looking at it for too long like I did, and then with repeated exposure just get used to it and stop noticing? Shame, really.)

So the liveried servant lead me through this maze of huge corridors – I sure as hell won’t be able to find my way back there without directions for a week or two – up to an ornately carved set of double doors with a woodland scene carved on them. The animals’ eyes are gems, and sparkled a bit creepily, like they were watching.

Anyway, I went in, faux-pas-ed right off the bat by not handing the servant inside my cloak first thing. Awkward.

Court is a series of several huge rooms, with several side rooms, some open, some closed – the doors of the closed ones have family crests hanging on them. And there are conversation nooks and pillow pits, that sort of thing – lots of different places to have conversations of any size.

A dark eyed, dark haired, overly dramatic fellow came up first thing, got right in my personal space and said “We Know You.” like he was being all threatening. I was glad I’d been briefed on the major players.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Emile, would you?” I put on my most charming smile.
He seemed taken aback that I’d identified him so easily and got even haughtier, if that were possible.
“I see you know us. We’ll be watching you.”
… and he stalked off.
Manns. Class act.

I started looking around the room and was – frankly – stunned by this gorgeous woman in white, with dark hair held in place with silver filigree. She’s a bit older than I’d ordinarily go for – okay, she’s probably old enough to be my mother – but seriously stunning. And as I was gawking at her like an idiot I realized that she was coming toward me, and that her outfit had color highlights that matched mine in counterpoint.

So, uh, my etiquette tutor is really hot. It was disconcerting. I might, perhaps, have blushed.

I managed to recover myself with a not-too-suave “Mistress Yee-Lin?”, but she took me under her wing like I wasn’t acting like a bumbling blushing idiot. We went around “tasting canapes” and she identified folks in a modified thieves’ cant patter, but with different vocabulary, you know? For anyone who wasn’t familiar with both nobility and the underworld it’d have been hard to follow. The second trip around we “tasted wines” and she briefed me in a bit more detail about most of them.

Rough outline:

House Aglion:

Chiss Aglion – official Aglion rep – old, lets the twins do the work, prefers wine, women, and song.

Vermus Aglion – always in the latest fashion, reds, golds, dashing, generally smiling and surrounded by sighing women. Devastatingly good at the bargaining table – naturally cunning, good at reading people, pushes buttons easily. Self-confident, flirty.

Timus Aglion – brains of the outfit – quieter, withdrawn, prefers games of strategy. Unfortunately got her twin brother’s square jaw, isn’t much of a looker.

Foamer’s Guild:

Urhant Felst – “man singlehandedly keeping the Silkies in business”: large, swaddled in silks, in a palanquin, doesn’t seem to be able to move about on his own.

Gemmi Derought – elderly woman, fashionable about 20 years ago. Hard and unscrupulous. Recently began working separately from Felst, sharking lesser players on the outside while others go to him.

Mannlings:

Simone Mann – Young, ambitious. Also, bluntly bitchy. Plain girl, wearing an immensely overdone dress. Hard eyes, flimsy smile, basically slimy.

Emile Mann – Dressses in black, takes everything as an insult to his honor. Obsessive about Mann honor to the point where baiting him is pointless – it’s just too easy.

Thessily Mann – “Sometimes remembers to show up to court with her clothes on – quite the class act” says mother. Sounds like I’d like her, if she weren’t a Mann. Party girl – danger – knows modified thieves’ cant, said Yee-Lin

Potential Ally

Dermont Elberson – Note from Father: tread carefully. Elberson is staunchly anti-Mann, and the house is one of the few who has maintained business with Father.

Other Players

Muher – In eternal feud with Xarx. Richer of the two liege houses, primarily farmers.

Vincent Muher – Elderly gent with a grandfatherly demeanor. Friendly, but unreasonable about Xarxes – burning animosity overrides reason.

Elizabeth Muher – gangly awkward teenage girl – ambitious, but not for personal gain. Level-headed.

Xarx – In eternal feud with Muher. Like, from before Korpesh existed. Military, more prestige than Muher, more important than the other minor houses, but not as wealthy as Muher.

Ruption Xarx – low 30s, in an army uniform, behaving like a puffed shirt. Good with a blade, enjoys baiting Muher into a row, but mostly because he enjoys arguing and dueling, not because of personal animosity.

Lenna Xarx – In Xarx house uniform – they’re the only Kalb minor house with a uniform, and it’s designed for fighting, padded gambesol & slacks. Quiet, acts as social secretary for Ruption. Mistress Yee-Lin hesitated when talking about Lenna, but I couldn’t quite place why. Must ask her about this.

There was also this Deston noble – a weirdo wearing fur & bone and all and calling himself “Chief.”

There were Guild representatives in staked-out positions in the rooms – Foamers, Silkies, Riverwalkers (the only nonhumans around, and on the outskirts in a corner where they could be ignored by folks who don’t want to see them), and Hoskins’ private security force.

I totally forgot to take Yee-Lin’s arm after moving around the room. Awkward.

She introduced me to Simone Mann, who was exerting herself to be catty at me, when Thessily came over all drunk and/or high, half falling out of her dress, and draped herself over Simone. Thessily seems to think I’m cute despite being a Kalb – I’m not sure whether it was because of that or because of her general dissolute tipsiness, but Emile quickly hustled her off to go look at a fountain. Simone seemed genuinely embarrassed by the incident, which was a high note with which to depart from that conversation, if I do say so myself..

Mistress Yee-Lin and I went to a self-serve bar where a middle-aged man was chatting with lots of un-introduced minor nobles and/or merchants — Dermont Elberson.. He was telling a fishing story. I genuinely like the guy – he’s laid-back and easygoing, none of the hoity-toity airs that so many of the people at court were throwing around. There was an awkward moment when his story was done when someone in the crowd asked if the Elbersons had any suitors yet – and there was this pause where I swear all you could hear was crickets. The Elbersons have only daughters, 12 – 17, and the Kalbs just have sons – Ivan, Feodor, and Vasily. Vasily’s a year older than me, so I guess that makes him 16 now. Anyway, the Elberson’s land encompasses an important part of the VanKest River, just before the VanKest Ladder. It’s the only resupply area for ships going up and down the ladder, so in the past two decades they’ve basically tripled their trade – it’s the only way to get supplies in to Fla. The whole suitor thing is a don’t-talk-about-it sensitive topic – Dermont’s jaw got all tight in a rictus smile when it came up. Someone else in the crowd managed to come up with an icebreaker, and the guy with his foot in his mouth decamped as soon as he could.

I stayed and chatted with Dermont for awhile – I would have talked with him longer, but Mistress Yee-Lin reminded me I had other people to talk to. We approached Aglion next, where Vermus was flirting with some Flavian ladies and Timus was reading a book. I thought I’d approach Timus and see if I could be friendly with her, but she was pretty absorbed with her “Art of War” book and on the snippy, short side, rather than seeming to enjoy the attention. I asked her to introduce me to Vermus, and she irritatedly pawned me off on him and went back to her book. So much for that.

Vermus introduced me to his lady friends and we made small talk for a few minutes while Yee-Lin went and did something. When she came back we went to go talk with Urhant. He had this gaggle of companions, and there was this agonizing protocol where each one had to introduce me to the next, even though they were all sitting right there, before I could be introduced to Urhant. He, like Simone, was on the abrupt and rude side. I recall his taking the time to ask Kalb to “step aside – gracefully, of course.”

When I left Urhant’s delightful company, Yee-Lin mentioned that he’d been more obvious in his slights than usual, that he’d seemed generally displeased and been using me as a scapegoat. “He’s usually more careful – something must have put the wind in his sails. He’s acting like a petulant child, but still… very sure of his place.” She said it didn’t seem as if he has a plan, but it seems to me that he has more information about… something… than I do.

Mistress Yee-Lin put a word in someone’s ear just then, and suddenly someone slipped and spilled a pitcher of red wine all over Urhant and his mass of silks. I asked if that was going to provoke retaliation, and she said no, he’d know he’d overstepped his bounds, and sometimes courtiers need to be reminded of proper ettiquette.

She mentioned at that point that Gemmi Derought and Urhant Felst always used to sit together – they never got along, but had always presented a unified front. 2 or 3 weeks ago Gemmi started sharking the sides, as I’d seen her doing earlier in the morning. I looked for her to talk with her, but she’d gone already.

If the Foamers had recently been put in a position of losing profit, it might create petulance and a need to start actively seeking business. It’s the obvious conclusion to jump to, but I’m trying to keep my mind and ears open to other possibilities as well.

Yee-Lin asked if I were available for dinner tonight and some out-of-court ettiquette tutoring. I don’t have anything else planned, and dinner with a beautiful lady isn’t too objectionable, even if she is planning to tell me all the ways I was hopelessly boorish this morning. In the meantime, I think I’ll stop by my folks’ house for a pre-emptive nap – it’ll still be a few weeks before I feel like I can sleep easy at the Clubhouse.

Questions for Father and/or Mother and/or Yee-Lin:
What happened 2-3 weeks ago? Can the date that Gemmi broke off from Urhant be pinpointed, and what was happening just before that?

Which liege houses have defected? Where do Muher, Xarx, and Aglion stand compared to where they used to be? What were the methods in which those who left communicated their defection? Is there any indication of who they went to?

Clarify: Thessily understands the noble dialect of thieves’ cant better than everyone else around… why? Who does she run with that she’d understand better than her compatriots? Is she just a party girl, or is there a sharp mind in there somewhere?

Why did Yee-Lin hesitate when she spoke to me about Lenna?

The family crests on closed doors at court – are those rooms always reserved for those houses? First come first served? What’s the political meaning behind it?

Horribly awkward question, best to ask Yee-Lin rather than parents, but with Thessily half-clad and Chiss with a mostly naked servant girl on his lap – what are the rules and subtleties of sexual politics at court? Not that I’m likely to be banging any high-class ladies any time in the forseeable future, but I’m liable to say something stupid if I don’t know how these things work.

Speaking of banging high-class ladies… hm.
Because, um, someday, right?
Um.
They’re gonna have different expectations than whores, aren’t they.
Huh.
Total way to die of shame.
I should… find a way to figure that stuff out before I need it.

Notes to Self:
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh. There is no way I can enlist a high-class ‘entertainer’/tutor without Mother finding out about it and then I’d pretty much be forced to kill myself. I wonder if there are any low-class whores who could teach me most of what I need to know without blabbing? I should talk to Harrik – it’s in his best business interest to sell discretion.

Um. Back to what I’m supposed to be paying attention to.

I didn’t meet the Muhers, Xarxes, Chiss Aglion or Gemmi Derought. I should try to at least make their acquaintances. Hopefully they won’t all be as poisonous as Simone and Timus.

Regarding Urhant and Gemmi – find out what’s going on there. Did one of them get the upper hand over the other and they split off due to animosity, or did she split off because the Foamers needed to more actively pursue business or for some other reason? I should see if I can convince Byron to ask around dockside to see if there’s word on the street about what’s happening with the Foamer’s guild.

I wonder if the Manns are dominant in shipping right now but giving the Foamers the table scraps? Observe how Urhant reacts to Simeone or the other Manns, if possible, or to a mention of them if they don’t go near him and he never looks at them.

Side note: get some exercise. I ate way too many canapes today, and if I’m doing this every morning I’ll end up immobile on a palanquin like Urhant.

What part might Aglion be playing? Observe players playing their games, if possible.

Historically, the Foamers hate Mann & Mann hates the Foamers
BUT the two Foamers representatives dislike each other, so maybe one’s in bed with Mann(?)
Simeone and Emile both seem to be fed up with Thessily.

Elberson hates Mann – presumably they hate him back because they’re hateful hating haters.

Muher hates Xarx, Xarx hates Muher, and the sky is blue.
Don’t know in depth how Elizabeth and Vincent M get along, or Lenna and Ruption X.

Aglion’s relations with all other parties is unknown.
The twins seem to work well as a team;
Chiss leaves business to them, so presumably trusts them(?).

View
Leo's View: Marginally Less Awkward.

Some information I got from Yee-Lin, Mother, and Father last night:

- Gemmi and Urhant split on 4th Day, 2 weeks ago. They had a private lunch, then Gemmi stalked away angrily; they haven’t been seen together since.

- The same day: Paul-Henri Mann (usual High Court Mann representative) was missing from court; a minor Mann official took his place.

- Day 5 was Market Day

- Day 6 – problems started. Weekly contracts not renewed by Aglion, who stopped almost 100% of their shipping through us that day. When asked, gave obviously BS stories about a crop blight. Then, after the 9th Day explosion, ‘safety concerns’, yadda yadda.

- The city of Ruk in Aglion is full of warehouses – Muher ships through Ruk, and all of their current shipments are caught there. They say they’re trying to keep their shipping with us, but their things need to go through Ruk, so they’re dead in the water.

- So, the drop in shipping is Aglion and Muher, although Aglion seems intentional and Muher seems caught.

- The explosion in the Warehouse district was on 9th day, so even if related, it was not causal. It’s probably not directly related – seems to be more whoever’s dicking with the Thieves’ Guild / Ssama.

- I asked Yee-Lin about Thessily and Lenna. She says Thessily seems to be smarter than she lets on, but that she seems to only use her cleverness to party above her station. Lenna she declined to answer verbally, but wrote me a note that indicated that she’d been ‘asked’ by someone of rank not to look into Lenna.

- Rooms at Court – rooms closest to main entrance are reserved for houses that pay a “consideration” to the crown. Reserved rooms are a symbol of status. The other rooms are first-come first-served meeting rooms – the crests are hung on the doors to let people know who’s using them, to avoid awkward adjacencies. Contracts made in a room with a house seal are treated as if made on the home land of the host – this extends to guilds ‘home turf’.

- Flirtation is very common and considered normal. Liasons in back rooms are not unheard of, but Chiss and Thessily’s overt activities are considered crass and rude.

- Yee-Lin told me to think of conversation as swordplay. Interesting framework.

Interesting tidbit from Father:
~ The rise of the guilds has raised the worry that the minor houses will stop accepting the status quo and make plays for themselves. Resurrection of a very old problem that hasn’t been an issue in hundreds of years ~ Aghalion has never sworn; I wonder if they’re thinking of making a play to become a major house?

Also, on the way back to the Clubhouse last night I visited Harrik to ask about some extracurricular lessons with a lady of the Big House. He booked me an appointment with someone at 8:30pm, 4 nights later. He wouldn’t tell me her name, but I at least made sure it wasn’t Cinnamon, because that would be beyond awkward. Like I said yesterday, it’s in his best business interests to be discreet, but I tipped him anyway in thanks for his discretion.

Last night there was no harassment from Marcel. Give it a few more days – I’m pretty sure he’ll try to get in one more shot at me.

This morning I slept in a bit. When I woke up I found a package with 5 sets of new clothes for court, still in the fencer motif, more purple/Black, the Kalb colors. I put on a purple shirt, black doublet, and purple sash. There was also my day’s pass for the Palace, which I tucked away.

“That Kalb” had saved me a seat at the breakfast table, where the Xarx rejects were sitting as well. He handed me a cranberry and chocolate chip muffin, which was really nice, because those go pretty fast, so there were none left by the time I got to the tables. I thanked him and tried to make some kind of friendly conversation, which is kind of hard to do with him. The rumor is that his mind was touched by Takara’s virus before he was born, but whatever the reason, conversation isn’t his strongest suit. (That would be fighting – he’s huge and fights with a maul.) Anyway, I asked him why he was sitting with me and he said (in monosyllables I don’t remember) “people are judging you for something beyond your control. I understand that.” I realized as I was finishing up my breakfast that I actually had no idea what the guy’s name is, so I asked. He said it’s Leonid, but he prefers Nid, because it’s easier.

I got some information from Katja – the Foamers are an aggressive guild, and have been expanding. They can’t expand against Mann or Velucia, which leaves inland. Therefore, they’re looking to extend into farming. Foamers never managed to break into shipping because of Mann & Velucia, so they’ve historically been reliant on shipbuilding and fishing. Their shipbuilding has always been in competition with Mann, because Mann has the good lumber. The foamers are now buying up struggling farms and running them with some kind of business model rather than the traditional feudal system. Each farm they buy up is an egg taken out of the nobles’ baskets. There’s lots of tension within the guild about the move towards farming. There are some well-established old timers who stand to lose a lot if this move succeeds.

So, I went back to court. Again, Emile was the first person to greet me – oddly, he thanked me for not making an embarrassing scene regarding Thessily yesterday. Yee-Lin came up shortly thereafter and mentioned that sometimes his stickler-ness about honor cuts him the wrong way.

Urhant & Gemmi – both have a lot wrapped up in fishing and shipbuilding. Urhant is higher ranking. Historically he has supported risky ventures. Urhant has many courtiers, Gemmi has only 1.

Chiss Aghalion – Timus & Chiss were talking, both frowning. Timus looked like she was intellectually wrestling with a Big Problem, but Chiss just looked plain old unhappy. To recap, Chiss is the official Aghalion family rep, but Timus ranks higher in the family, because she’s more competent and more interested. Chiss has more experience, but accepts his place under Timus. He’s generally content to be a friendly drunk at court, fairly unprejudiced, and a fun conversationalist. As it turns out, Timus has apparently been acting unusually recently. She was snippy at me yesterday morning, but although she’s evidently not the most socially adept person, I’m told she’s generally sort of a geeky, quiet, bookworm type.

Timus walked off, looking thoughtful, and went to talk to Elizabeth Muher. They had a long conversation, laughing – seemed like they’d been friends for awhile. Vermus joined them, and it seemed like Elizabeth was on friendly terms with him as well, although he did sometimes make her giggle and blush.

I spoke for awhile with Chiss, not much of consequence was said. He gave me something alcoholic, with… pineapple. From Nehni, apparently. And then some kind of weird fruit daiquiri. Odd, but he was an amusing conversationalist.

I went over to talk with Sir Vincent Muher, Elizabeth’s great-uncle, since I hadn’t had a chance to meet him yet. Sir Muher was sitting alone in a gentleman’s corner near a fire, so Yee-Lin decamped. I managed to lose the daiquiri and get a port, which didn’t have all those confusing umbrellas to poke your eye out on. He said the port was made on his family lands, and apologized for the shipping troubles, said they were “trying to clear it up”. He seems to be a very straightforward guy, not cut out for duplicity. He genuinely seems to want to resolve the issue. I told him we’d be happy to do what we can to help resolve it, and he said he’d have his people contact Father regarding future shipments, although the cargo stuck in Ruk is out of our hands. We spent a bit more time chatting. At one point Mann and the Foamers came up, and he said that Mann is winning the war against the Foamers for one reason: they control the wood. The foamers have drydocks and shipbuilding ability, but they just don’t have the wood, so to get any, they have to pay Mann for wood from the Leth forest. Mann very selectively harvests that wood, so the supply is limited, and Mann wants to use it for their ships, so they probably charge the Foamers a hefty price*. Apparently Mann is also getting help from Velucia against the Foamers – neither wants to see another player on the high seas. He said it was the only Noble/Guild battle that the nobles are hands-down winning, and that it’s a shame it had to be the Manns. The Foamers control 80%+ of fishing, and most small boat building, and have the most labor on sea and docks on their payrolls. But the large trade ships and navy ships are owned and bankrolled by the Manns, so all of the profits roll that way – and “profits are what wins in this little war.”

*Given the Mann love of profit, they’d probably harvest more wood if they could, but it seems they hae a strong reason against doing so. Lots of people believe a godling, or sentient trees strictly control the harvesting. Given the tree people we fought with down near the warehouse district, the sentient plant thing gains validity.

In the meantime, Yee-Lin was watching Urhant.

She said Urhant was just as prickly and insulting to the Manns (maybe even more so) than he had been to me yesterday. Emile said something snarky like “fat old men should watch out for the future”. Urhant retorted with something along the lines of children serving as bait for their elders. Simeone berated Urhant, seemingly genuinely irate, and Urhant apologized in an overly sweet and sarcastic tone that fit the forms but belied his apology entirely.

I’d been trying to figure out how Dermont feels about Mann personally, and I get the impression that he’s a businessman first, but still doesn’t particularly like Mann, although the dislike seems more generalized than personal. He seems to only really personally dislike Simeone – said “that girl needs to get another hobby”, after she oiled past casting bitchy glances at Dermont and everyone he was talking with. Simeone seems to hate pretty much everyone. Emile doesn’t like Dermont – doesnt’ really seem to like Simeone either. Thessily doesn’t even seem to notice Dermont.

Anyway, after Simeone did her walk-by Death Glance at Dermont, we were looking at her as Dermont was saying this. I noticed Simeone make brief but significant eye contact with Gemmi Derought, and Simeone nodded slightly. Immediately, Gemmi went over to Timus and dragged her off to a private room. Timus seemed annoyed in a “we just talked about this fifteen minutes ago, I haven’t had time to think on it” kind of way – it seemed like Gemmiswas pushing an issue. Timus was frowning in the same way she had been earlier, as if she were working through a distasteful intellectual problem. She seemed not to like Gemmi. Whatever their business meeting covered, they were in that room together for hours.

I chatted with Dermont and his cronies for awhile, then went and talked with Elizabeth Muher, who was being shy in a corner. She and Sir Muher are stiff and formal with each other, as if they agree on fundamentals but have different priorities. I introduced myself and she blushed and giggled – I guess I hit the right tone of friendly but not threateningly friendly. Although I had a feeling she was laughing at me rather than with me a few times, it didn’t seem malicious, just amused with my bumbling. She was very earnest as we spoke, almost to a fault. Like her great-uncle, she doesn’t seem the duplicitous sort. She told me how she feels the whole feud with Xarx is a huge waste of resources. She told me exhaustively about her plans to make Muher better, by ceasing to waste resources on fighting wiht Xarx and re-focusing on making Muher superior. She went on about this at length, passionately. Seems like she’s maybe a bit idealistic on the details, but she’s definitely got drive.

Elizabeth apologized for Timus and the way she behaved yesterday – I had brought up Timus in a positive framework, but she was apologetic right of the bat. She said Timus has been flustered recently. She gave me some improbablye story that Timus was still embarassed because she’d spilled milk on herself earlier in the week, but later said something along the lines of “Timus is stressed that she can’t solve the problem.” That would go along better with the frustrated-intellectual look Timus’d had on her face all morning. Elizabeth invited me to tea tomorrow with Timus and Vermus , because Timus never reads at tea, and she though it would help me see Timus in a better light. Apparently she likes the structure of the tea ceremony – it seems like her mind works like that, structure and logic. Elizabeth said she’d been friends with Timus and Vermus for close to two years, since she came to court, although she’d known them as kids. Elizabeth seemed weirdly concerned that I not wear court wear to tea, which I wouldn’t have intentionally done, but I guess it was a good reminder to have someone send gardenwear to the palace for me tomorrow so I don’t have to schlep home and back to change.

When Timus came out from her meeting with Gemmi Vermus went right over to her, and they had a serious conversation for about twenty minutes. Then Vermus invited Elizabeth over with a genuine-seeming smile, although Timus still seemed very upset. I’ve been told that he’s an amazingly good bluffer, so it’s hart to say whether or not he was as upset as Timus – he didn’t look it, but who knows.

I mingled for awhile with various folks so as to not jump directly from Muher to Xarx, then approached Lenna & Ruption. They seem to get along reasonably well. I’d been told that Lenna serves as Ruption’s social secretary, which sort of underplays how much she knows and how efficiently she multitasks. We’d never met before, but she knew me on sight, not just by name, but by my rank in the Noble Muster. It seemed like she knew everyone’s names and social standings by heart. She was soft spoken and efficient, and triaged the folks around Ruption with a combination of precision and social grace, relentlessly organizing the chaos with a preternatural calm. There wasn’t any clear indication of why she was ‘not to be looked into’, but maybe her steel-trap mind isn’t just working for Ruption’s social sphere?

Ruption was good-natured – he likes arguments and was trying to bait me, but Yee-Lin’s description of conversation as swordplay came in handy. As soon as I started bantering with him like he was in the Musters he got this gleam in his eye and seemed to take to me pretty well.

After leaving Court, I had a re-hash session with Yee-Lin, who said I’d done all right, and hadn’t made people feel like anything other than their routine was expected of them. She seemed particularly impressed that I’d managed to hit the right note with Elizabeth – apparently she’s a hard nut to crack.

We talked a bit about social etiquette, the real subtleties, both what they are and who seems to care about them. She said Elizabeth’s etiquette when she’s shy is almost always perfect, but when she’s enthusiastic she slips up. (She’d initially invited me to tea today, and then seemed flustered because that wasn’t appropriate.)

Vermus is almost always perfect with etiquette except if enthusiastic or if he’s worried about Timus.

Simeone’s intentionally rude, constantly slighting people. She’s just bitter, has been passed over too many times.

Lenna, unsurprisingly, has all the details perfect, always. A little frightening.

Dermont’s etiquette is good for anyone outside his friends, but he’s informal with his friends. It seems like they all helped scout, survey, and construct the Van Kest ladder 20 years ago in their glory days.

I asked Mother and Father about the lumber warehouse that we’d passed on word about. They said the whole warehouse district is having problems – people are disappearing. No one’s doing a whole lot of troubleshooting there right now, for a 25-30 block area – folks just don’t go there after dark, and even during the day it’s pretty deserted of foot traffic. This is problematic for a lot of businesses.

Ask Anton:
Paul-Henri Mann, 4th Day, 2 weeks ago
More information regarding foamer / mann interaction. Carborns friendly with Mann.

Ask Byron
About foamers, internal politics / Mann or Aghalion interactions
Whether he knows anything about what’s going on in the warehouse district.

Pass on to Father:
Vincent Muher says to contact his people regarding how Kalb can help with future Muher shipments.


Hi Byron,

Short story: plummeting family revenue and plummeting social status
have both occurred within the past two weeks, and hitting the ground
hurts. I’d really like to avoid it if possible. I’m trying to figure
out exactly what’s happening so that we can stop freefalling before we
hit bottom.

I know you have contacts that might be able to get you some inside
information from the Foamers’ Guild. Think you’d be able to dig up
anything on the following?

- Information about a Mann / Foamers truce or alliance.

- Information about the schism within the Foamers regarding their
recent expansion into agriculture.

- Information about what the Foamers are trying to accomplish with
House Aghalion.

All of these are important, but the last one is the one I have the
least information about.

Context, you say?

To refresh your memory from gradeschool – House Mann (shipbuilding &
sea trade) and the Foamers Guild (shipbuilding & fishing) have always
been at war with one another over shipbuilding. The Foamers are
reliant on precious Mann lumber to build their ships. The Foamers tend
to build smaller boats, but Mann’s large trade and navy vessels are
what bring in the cash, so Mann profits both from their lumber sales
and from the ships they build/own/bankroll. (Tidbit: Mann and
Velucia have combined forces against the Foamers, because neither
wants another major player on the high seas. That’s how much Mann
doesn’t like the Foamers. Usually.)

Recently the Foamers, traditionally focused on fishing and small boat
building, have begun farming – buying up failing farms on land and
running them with a business model rather than the feudal system.
Every farm they take over is one farm less that produces for the noble
houses, and one farm less that is able to ship through Father’s fleet.
There is significant tension within the Foamers about this move.
There are some well-established old-timers in the guild who stand to
lose a lot personally if the farming move succeeds.

The Manns’ income being primarily from shipbuilding and sea-based
trade, this farming thing isn’t cutting into their profits nearly as
much as it cuts into ours. In fact, the Foamers’ Guild moving into
Farming benefits Mann twice over, because it takes away agricultural
assets from Kalb, while simultaneously reducing the Foamers’
hyperfocus on sea-related activities.

Most recently, House Aghalion (the only Kalb liege house that hasn’t
ever actually sworn alliegance, and which incidentally borders Mann)
seems to have gotten tied up into this… somehow.

Timeline:
The primary Mann high court representative (Paul Henri Mann) was not
at court on 4th day two weeks ago.

The same day, two senior members of the Foamer’s guild (Urhant Felst
and Gemmi Derought) met for a private lunch. They had a disagreement
and have been at odds ever since.

5th day is Market day. Usually liege houses shipping with Father renew
their contracts on 6th day, after Market.

On 6th day two weeks ago, Aghalion abruptly ceased shipping through
Father. Aghalion ships a lot through us, so this alone was a bite out
of revenue – and they gave clearly bullshit excuses when asked why
they hadn’t renewed their contracts that week. Then Muher, another
agricultural Kalb liege house that ships through us, had their cargo
“tied up” in warehouses in Ruk, the major city in Aghalion – another
bite out of Father’s shipping revenue.

Two weeks pass, wherein our family’s status abruptly plummeted from
“here, foster Vasily” to “get your crap out of the palace pronto”
This morning, I observed that at a signal from a junior Mannling
(Simeone Mann), one of the Foamers’ Guild representatives (Gemmi
Derought, presumably pro-farming, since she’s seemingly in alliance
with Mann) went over and started badgering Timus Aghalion, the key
decision-maker for House Aghalion, then dragged Timus off for a
multi-hour private meeting. The Aghalion representative seems to have
been given a frustrating intellectual puzzle she can’t solve. She
seemed irritated by the Foamers’ rep, but didn’t seem to be in a
position to tell her to go screw off.

Conjecture: Aghalion is likely being “encouraged” by the Farming
Foamers (read: Mann) to do Something. Since they’ve already stopped
shipping with us, it seems to be Something More. I know Father’s said
that the rise of the guilds may inspire some minor houses to stop
accepting the status quo and make plays for greater power, so maybe
that’s it? Or, Mann may be threatening to annex Aghalion. Or both:
bait and/or switch. Or something else entirely.

If you can turn up anything that might help connect any of the dots,
I’d be much obliged. I’ll buy you meat on a stick and/or introduce
you to the wonders of banana daiquiris with little paper umbrellas.
(I’d go for the meat on a stick, personally, but that’s just me).

Thanks big bro,

~ Leo

PS: do you have any idea what’s going on in the Warehouse District?
Word is the problems there have gotten a lot worse since we visited.

~L

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Leo's View: Agents of Karma Need Lots of Clothes

I visited Alexei two evenings ago. He seemed more tired than the last time I saw him, but at least his burn isn’t spreading. After we chatted a bit, he sent me down the street to where Anton was drinking with some (presumably) Thieves’ Guild cronies. I asked Anton whether he knew anything about this whole Mann debacle. He said Paul-Henri isn’t actually a key decision-maker, and that he might be making a power play for himself. He isn’t aware of any connection between the Foamers and Aghalion. The Manns have tried to use Aghalion in the past to cause trouble, with limited success. There was tension between Aghalion & Kalb after Kalb gave up the Eastern Wastes. He said he’d ask his contacts, ie beggars, who are with the Beggars’ Palace, but are friendly with the Thieves’ Guild. Sickers and beggars and low-ranking Manns – the company I keep.

I went to the clubhouse – I hadn’t had time for a nap that day, so I slept more deeply than usual, but didn’t have any untoward visits from Marcel. The next morning I put on court clothes and hied me to court.

Gemmi was in meetings with Vermus & Timus for several hours in the morning. Both seemed legitimately upset coming out of the meeting. Elizabeth was scurrying trying to re-route all of Muher’s shipments over land, so I didn’t have much chance to speak with her, either. Yee-Lin took the opportunity to refresh my memory on the tea ceremony, since we don’t do a lot of that formal la-dee-dah at home. In addition to not wanting to seem an utter boor, Timus seems to get flustered without order, so it seemed worth trying to do it right if I wanted to get any information out of the tea.

I had 2 pineapple daiquiris with Chiss, who said there was a business deal going south, but ‘out of the realm of business’, that it was getting personal. He suggested trying to get on Vermus’ good side to find out about Timus – ‘if there’s a crack it’ll be with him’. Chiss suggested that he’d love to find a chemical relaxant for Timus that doesn’t impair logical functioning, since he wants her to relax but she hates the effects of alcohol. He said he’d like to giver her something like that for her birthday. I of course disavowed all knowledge of anyone who might know anything about that sort of thing, but said if I stumbled across anything I’d let him know.

Come tea-time, I changed into garden clothes and went to the spot that Elizabeth’s invitation had indicated. It was one of the palace gardens – rosebushes giving the impression of a hedge maze, but low enough that you couldn’t get lost in it. Elizabeth was there and wanted my input on where people should sit (I deferred to her expertise). Vermus and Timus arrived a bit later – after Yee-Lin’s tutoring I could identify that Vermus’ greeting was appropriate but somewhat archaic. Timus continued to seem distracted. We all sat, and talked about the appropriate things at the appropriate times – the weather, then the brew of the tea that Elizabeth had chosen, then after the tea was done the topic opened.

On Chiss’ suggestion I’d planned to try to warm up to Vermus, but it turned out that it was pretty easy, because he’s a likeable guy. We talked about active sports for a bit – I should invite him to come hang out at Tilters’ Field some time for our sparring practice. Then Elizabeth turned the conversation to tax law, which made Timus light up.

Timus never interrupts – she makes it obvious that she has something she wants to say, but doesn’t seem able to break into someone else speaking. Sometimes Vermus interrupts for her, and leaves her a space to talk. If someone interrupts her (I did once, early on, to clarify something she was saying) she gets flustered and has to go back to the beginning of her thought. I try not to be too slow a learner, so I managed not to interrupt her again through the tea. Vermus and Elizabeth seemed to appreciate that, as a side benefit.

15 minutes before the end of tea Gemmi showed up and started arguing with a servant. Timus went to a corner, upset, and Vermus followed to calm her. Elizabeth went to confront Gemmi and I followed her, both as silent social-status back-up and because I figured I might hear something useful.

“I told you you’re not allowed here”
“I have negotiations scheduled with the Aghalions”
“later”

Vermus and Timus came over, and Gemmi pulled out a sealed letter, said it’d be “enlightening” before entering negotiations. Vermus took the letter (it looked like Timus was going to open it right there) and spun some convincing bullshit to tell me what was going on, while Timus stole the letter from him and opened it a few paces away. She paled, then composed herself, came back over, and said she couldn’t discuss it.

Gemmi must be ridiculously sure of herself to show up there – it was inappropriate on all sorts of levels, and she knew it. She must have assurances that her actions wouldn’t come down on her — and from what Elizabeth said, it wasn’t the first time.

Elizabeth was flustered at the end of tea – understandably, given that it did kind of blow up at the end. I tried to soothe her, but she wasn’t ready to get over it yet. Note to self: write her a thank-you letter to try to help her feel better about it all.

A liveried servant showed up saying Anton was at the palace, and I sent word to Yee-Lin that I had other business and wouldn’t be able to be at court that afternoon.

Anton says “I owe him one” – with the information that officially, the Foamers and Manns have no alliance, and unofficially… the Foamers and Manns have no alliance. The Lord Admiral hates the Foamers, and wouldn’t help them, even at the expense of Kalb. But, Mann has factions. Paul-Henri was “sick” that day he was missing from court, but was spotted in Otik (where the Foamers’ Guildhouse is). He had some muscle bodyguard with him that he hasn’t submitted for reimbursement from Mann, so looks like he’s trying to go under the table from Mann.

I changed again, into much less froofy clothes – one might even say ‘raggedy’ – and Anton took me down to Otik, where he basically paraded me around a lot to let the beggars see me and know I was with him. I tried not to feel too much like a show pony.

We finally went to talk to an elf girl outside of the Foamers’ guildhouse. Her name was Peony, and she was somewhat-convincingly pretending to have Takara’s virus – at least, if you didn’t look too closely. She said Paul-Henri Mann walked by the guildhouse 3 or 4 times on the day in question, then walked off, without going in. A woman who looks like she should be Risen (Gemmi) came out when he left. Peony never saw them together. Gemmi has only been back twice since she moved out. The day after her fight with Urhant she came and took her luggage, then 1 week ago she came on Lastday (presumably to account for profits/losses), but looked irritated to have to be there.

Some time the same day – either before or after, Peony couldn’t remember – an Aghalion bodyguard came to the guildhouse. He went in with a smile, and a big weird book, black and white with interlocking shape-patterns on the cover. When he left he had only half a smile and didn’t have the book, but he had a large-ish jingling sack of coins. Peony described him as having a “wispy weird pathetic moustache”, with beady eyes and a scar on his face that makes him frown.

I went back to my folks’ house for dinner, and changed clothes again (which I would have done even if the new butler hadn’t given me that weird look). Father wasn’t home (Mother said he was scrambling to follow up on re-courting Muher). Mother agreed with my suspicion that Timus was being blackmailed by Gemmi, likely involving the book from the Aghalion guard.

Mother said that the Lord Admiral wouldn’t believe anything bad of Paul-Henri without some hard evidence against him… like a signed contract. The Mann resources involved in what’s going on with the Farming Foamers are more than what Simeone would be able to bring to the table, but P-H would have the resources.

Mother then downed more whiskey than I’ve ever seen her drink – in totality – and after a pensive silence said that of course she would never encourage her son to break into anyone’s house to steal evidence.

She’d deny it to the grave, but that was parental permission, right there.

It was late and I hadn’t had a chance to nap (again), so I stayed at my folks’ house to be fresh up for looking into Gemmi in the morning. She has a 2-story townhouse in the Aman district, is up and out by 9am, is at Court from 10 – 6, takes a dinner break, then works various ‘after court’ meetings until 10 or 11 each night. Her house would be an easy target, except that she keeps 8 guards on staff who work 3 or 4 person shifts. (And also a maidservant/cook, who’s apparently ancient and deaf as a post, but she’s less of a liability).

Word on the street was that she’d brought in two separate boxmen to create locks for her office door and for something in her office. One was a magical, volume-activated alarm, and another was a pressure-sensitive trigger, a trap somewhere in the room. Her office is on the second floor, in the middle of the floor, so there are no windows directly in.

There was no sense in waiting, so I decided to break in that afternoon. For fun, I put on two layers of disguise – one was ‘generic merchant-class person who visually fits into Aman district’, with a second layer underneath that had subtle yet notable telltale Mann signs in case I had to rip free for a dramatic getaway.

I scoped the outside of the house, and made a try for one of the second-story windows. The locks were weird, unlike anything I’ve seen before, so I broke my pick in the first one. The second window I tried had the same problem, but I managed to figure it out without breaking another pick, and got that window popped. I hadn’t heard anyone in the corridor outside the room, but as I stopped to tie my bootlace I heard footsteps, so I waited for them to pass by, and then followed the heavy-walker around the hallway circling the center office. I managed to get the door to the outer room popped and re-shut quickly and quietly, and found that the room was full of filing cabinets.

I had to give it a chance to be easy, so I scanned what she had on the tables (lots of tentative contracts to purchase farmland in the river valley, some filled out, some not) and I checked her super-easy-pickable locked file cabinet under ‘Mann’, but alas, there was no convenient contract signed splashily by Paul-Henri Mann.

The door to her inner office sanctum had an enchanted knob. I cunningly identified it as Byron’s favorite Acid Splash spell.. after it hit me. I’d been checking under the Obviously Different Rug right in front of the door to see if there was a pressure plate – which there wasn’t. Win some, lose some.

I skimmed the books on her bookshelf, but nothing matched the distinctive description of the book that Peony had given me. I went to Gemmi’s desk, which had two drawers. The top unlocked one had office doodads, nothing interesting. The second one had a lock with a really cunning trap, where you had to insert the key and then turn the lock . If you turned the key, a needle with Something Bad would shoot out and hit your hand. I managed to disable the needle mechanism – unfortunately had to snip the cord so I couldn’t re-set it, but it’d only be a matter of seconds between Gemmi opening the re-set lock and discovering she’d been robbed anyway, so no serious problem.

Inside the locked drawer were papers between Simeone and Gemmi, referencing a (maddeningly anonymous) third party bankroller who was providing seed money for farming. There were also some papers on crooked boat captains, who could be bribed, etc, and underneath, the black-and-white book.

Since you never know when you might get caught, I tucked the Simeone and Gemmi correspondence into my pants in a way that only a very zealous guard would discover them. I kept the other papers and book separate, and put them in my bag.

There was a bad moment as I was leaving where I had to be very very still lest one of the guards notice that I was three feet away from him, but fortunately I was fairly stealthy, and he was fairly drunk. He and another guard went downstairs for chow and I made my exit.

Back at my folks’ house, I checked the book – it’s a prayer book to Temon. Looks like a long string of mathematical equations, actually – same difference. 6 pages after the title page have been torn out, presumably what Gemmi was giving to Timus as pre-negotiation ‘enlightenment’.

My plan is to send the book (well wrapped up) with Hoskins’ to where Timus and Vermus stay, and send a note to Timus at the palace that she has an important package waiting for her. I don’t plan to sign that one – it’d be impolite and heavy-handed – but I also need to write a thank-you note to Elizabeth and an invitation to sparring practice to Vermus. The priests of Zekan always made comments about my handwriting as a kid – it improved a bit over the years, but I guess it’s still pretty distinctive.

Though, maybe that’s all too un-straightforward for Timus. I’ll bounce the plan off of Mother over dinner and see if she looks at me like I have nine heads. (As opposed to the usual seven)

Dinnertime – smells like ham. Gotta go.

Notes to Self:
- Turn over papers on crooked shipowners to Father

- Consult with Mother on the best way to use the Underpants Papers against Simeone and Gemmi. Bounce anonymous book-delivery idea off of her to get her opinion.

- (unless a better plan unfolds) Write anonymous letter to Timus // send book package via Hoskins’

- Write Thank-You letter to Elizabeth

- Write invitation to Vermus to come to sparring practice at Tilters’ Field some time.

- Also, I completely forgot when I saw him – ask Anton about non-logic-muddling relaxants to pass on to Chiss.

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Leo's View: A Variety of Surprises

So, dinner yesterday was another one of those agonizing talk-about-nothing-important affairs, and then Father and Mother retired to the study, where I could finally talk to them. I gave Father the papers on the corrupt ship owners. Apparently some of them were on the Kalb payroll, so that was pretty useful information. He hopped right to it and started poring over his ledgers to see who he’d done business with in the past.

I showed Mother the Underpants Papers (without that detail, of course), and consulted with her about the best way to use them to nail Simeone and Gemmi without implicating House Aghalion. With her input, I eventually decided to remove the papers that named Aghalion directly, and to anonymously send some of the papers to Urhant, who will undoubtedly use them to punish Gemmi. The rest of the papers I’ll send anonymously to Emile, who seems to have enough of a stick up his ass about honor that I think he’ll probably turn in Simeone. Plus, he doesn’t seem to much like her personally, for a bit of extra incentive.

Mother thought that my plan regarding the anonymous book shipment along with the invitation to Vermus and the thank-you note to Elizabeth was a good idea. It follows all the protocol for “I know that you know that I know” without being gauche and outright admitting any knowledge.

I took a nap after sending those off, then returned to the Clubhouse for the night. Which was a good plan on my part if I do say so myself, because Marcel chose last night for his wee hours follow-up strike.

I was dozing lightly when I heard an outright terrible attempt to sneak up on my bunk. “Oh, seriously man?” I asked, sitting up and lighting a candle. Turns out he’d been so un-sneaky because he was wearing a chainmail shirt. And because he had five flunkies tip-toeing in behind him like timid rhinoceroses. He started to say something, but I had to interrupt him, because it was really just that contemptible. “And you bring five guys as backup to help you beat one guy who’s unarmed and asleep. Could you possibly be any lamer?” He started to get flustered, which really was the point. People started waking up and lighting candles, and money started changing hands in the shadows. In hindsight, I’m sort of curious who thought I’d win against six guys. I wasn’t counting on it, but I kept the cocky attitude, because it was pissing Marcel off, and that’s fun.

He took a swing at me and I ducked and rolled, dodging the blow and grabbing my rapier on the way up. I still had the candle in my left hand, so I feinted with it, which he went to block with his shield, leaving a nice wide juicy opening on his side, which I obligingly stabbed.

I had been hoping that my witty repartee about his utter lameness in needing backup on a midnight ambush would get him to call off his goons and fight me one on one, but they started moving forward. Then one of them crumpled, from around where Nid’s bunk was, which took the rest of the lackeys’ attention, since they’d been right next to him. Now, Nid is pretty badass, but four on one isn’t great odds. I appreciated his help in improving my odds from six to one, and spared a moment of concern as I ducked another swing from Marcel. I missed my next shot, he nicked me lightly, and then I got in another good blow which knocked him down. As I stepped over him, one of the lackeys saw that he was down and ran away. I poked the ringleader lackey in the back with my rapier to get his attention, and took him down in fairly short order. The remaining two hightailed it out after their buddy.

Nid was still up at the end of the fight, but he was hurting pretty bad. I took him out to find a priest to heal him – Zekan’s was the closest. The priest gave us a hearty lecture as he patched Nid up, and he cleaned out the cut on my arm while we were there. Then we headed back to the clubhouse where I got Nid a drink in thanks for having my back. He kept on apologizing for not having been faster, but finally calmed down a little when I said, really, it’s okay to sleep, and I appreciated how fast he did wake up and jump in to help. Good kid.

Eventually we went back to our room to grab some shuteye before dawn. There was a bag of 20 gold on my pillow – winner’s cut. There was still some blood being cleaned up near my bunk, but I figured I’d earned a status increase, so I swapped out Marcel’s things with mine and got me a bunk about ⅔ of the way up the room.

In the morning, Nid slept in, so I saved him one of the good muffins as he’d done for me a few days ago. Word in the clubhouse was that the first guy Nid had toppled had died almost immediately. (Note to self: never wake up Nid unless from a safe distance). He’s going to have some trouble from that, but I’ll see if there’s anything I can do to give him backup. He seems confused by the fact that he’s in the game now. Some folks like him better today, and some folks are glowering, and he doesn’t really seem to get any of it.

Marcel’s alive, but apparently recuperating at a Vikon clinic. Just as well – I was happy not to have to deal with him glowering over breakfast.

I got dressed and went to court, where Mistress Yee-Lin greeted me, with some innuendo about the fight the night before and never wanting to startle me awake. I smiled and told her she could roll over to wake me up anytime. I seemed to get it right, at least mostly, because she smiled back. We went in to court and I started scouting out whether there was anyone who’d be a better idea to deliver the Underpants Papers to. Pretty much came up with the plan I’d had before. I had a chance to say hello to Elizabeth, and spoke with her for awhile.

Timus and Vermus came in just before lunch. Timus seemed stressed out, but Vermus settled her down in a corner. Shortly, I received a note asking me to lunch with Aghalion, which I accepted. We met in one of those private rooms, just the three of us, and Vermus started out by asking me about the fight at the Clubhouse, then said he’d had an eventful evening as well. We were talking about it in veiled terms when Timus banged on the table and demanded to know what it was I wanted. I replied that this wasn’t blackmail, but an act of good faith to let them know that we would appreciate their business back. Vermus seemed to want to test this, so I explained that reciprocation of the good faith was what we had in mind. He agreed to negotiate about slowly returning business to Father, and we set up a date for contract negotiations. Timus was still upset as lunch finished, but Vermus said he’d see me tomorrow at sparring practice, so things seemed to end on a somewhat friendly note.

When I came out of the meeting, Yee-Lin was standing exactly the appropriate distance away to indicate that she had business with someone inside but was too far away to listen. Almost immediately a liveried servant – not one of the usual palace servants, but one of the endless variations of palace heraldry – and fetched me to another private room, this one with a Korpesh crest on the door. It was set up like a sitting room inside, and a snappy-looking woman dressed in black was standing by the mantelpiece. When she turned around, I saw with surprise that it was Lenna Xarx, but nowhere as military-looking as usual. She’d even braided her hair differently.

She was as no-nonsense as ever, and bluntly explained that I was causing too many ripples, and that It Had Been Requested that my house assign a new representative as of tomorrow. She didn’t seem angry, just delivering a message with a voice of authority. She didn’t say exactly what it was that I’d been doing – she threw out some wild accusations, but never gave me specifics. She finished what she had to say, and dismissed me.

As I opened the door to leave the room, I ran into a servant in Kalb livery. I was too distracted at first to notice exactly which shade of Kalb livery it was, but he bundled me back into the room and came with me. Then came in two armed guards, and Lord Markov Kalb.

Not only was I surprised – Lenna the Unflappable was surprised.

The way that Lenna bowed to him wasn’t enough obeisance for her public position as a Xarx. From what Yee-Lin has told me, Lenna is always exactly spot-on for everything protocol, and from her bow I’d say she’s a direct servant to the crown through the army.

Be that as it may, Lord Markov wanted to remind her of her place, so he asked her to fetch him a brandywine. Around this time I managed to process that Lord Markov had just appeared in Lower Court to have this meeting with me. He brought out this enormous envelope covered in shiny gilding and elaborate calligraphy and asked me to deliver it to my mother. I told him I would. He asked “No rants? No raves? No anger?” I replied that ranting and raving was childish, (which seemed to amuse him) but I didn’t deny being angry. Though I’m pretty sure that matters not at all. There was a bit more banter, and he departed, and Lenna said “I don’t know whether the game was his or yours, but someone’s played it well. I’m not usually surprised." That seemed like a decent note to part on, so I took my leave.

Yee-Lin was waiting outside again, and it felt like everyone at Lower Court was covertly watching me as I came out. At this point I realized that the absurdly large and ornate envelope was just as much a part of Lord Markov’s public statement as his visit to me in person had been. I didn’t want to spill wine or some such on it, and it seemed like a good time to leave. I realized that I might not be coming back to Low Court for a good long time, so I said some goodbyes before leaving. Outside, I said goodbye to Yee-Lin, who said to look her up if I ever have any ettiquette questions.

When I got back to my parents’ place, the young stuffy butler was fretting about what to do with an enormous fruit and flower arrangement taking up most of the foyer. I found my mother in the study, and delivered the envelope. Inside all that show was a regular-sized envelope, which Mother opened and scanned the contents. “Well, that explains the bouquet.” was her first statement. It turns out that not only is our family forgiven whatever sins we may have been railroaded into, but that Vassily is once again supposed to be fostered with Mother and Father.

All that — that’s a Good Thing.

I went back to the clubhouse and took back my old bunk in the room I’d been in upstairs before this whole debacle. I briefly pondered moving up a few bunks from there, since our family’s status is currently higher than it was before the fall, but decided to give it a bit of time to avoid the inevitable pesky duels that would arise from jumping from most of the way down one room to above my former station over the course of 24 hours. I’ll give it a few days – maybe I’ll make the move on whatever day Marcel comes back to the Musters, just to tweak his nose a bit.

Nid has been challenged to three duels next week. I told him I’d be his Second for them, since he had my back last night.

I had an 8:30 appointment at the Big House, which I’d managed not to fret too much about, what with all of the other excitement. When I got there, Harrik seemed really frazzled as he hurried by. My appointment was with Eowyn, this really hot elf courtesan who Harrik had said was a good tutor. She was… straightforward. Honest and to the point, which is what I wanted, but um, well. I have a lot to learn. Which I knew, and which is why I contracted with her to begin with, but I guess I have even more to learn than I thought I did. Ouch. Still, at least I know what I don’t know now, and that’s at least one step better than complete ignorance. And at least she seemed willing to teach me, so I’m not completely hopeless. I have another appointment with her in two weeks. If the opportunity arises to go to the Big House with buddies in the meantime, I guess there’d be no harm in doing a bit of homework with one of the other ladies of the house while I’m there.

Well, now it’s late, and time for bed. My bed. In the right room. I hereby indulge in a feeling of smug satisfaction before I sleep.

~~

A few after-notes – Nid won 2 of his duels and lost 1. He seems to have decided to stay in his new lower bunk rather than try to play the jockeying game, and since he seems content there, everyone seems pretty willing to let it lie.

Vermus came by to sparring practice the next afternoon. He’s a better talker than he is a fighter – he seems like he has the raw talent but hasn’t ever trained for anything but jousting. Still, it was a pleasant time, and I’ve invited him to come back again some time.

Father and Vermus met, and worked out a mutually agreeable timeline for Aghalion to return shipping through Kalb. It’s not as fast as Father would like, but it would be poor form for Aghalion to snub their current (new) shipping partners by dumping them immediately after coming on board.

I also got news that Torvik had been infected by the same poison that’s affecting Alexei. Apparently three other people have encountered it.. One man developed chitinous armor all over his body and killed himself. Another woman developed a crab arm. And the third is Torvik, who has a bright blue eye and blue fur growing around it, in a patch that’s spreading. He seems in good spirits, though. I gathered from talking with him that he took the hit for Raisa – he seems genuinely glad to have been the one infected, since it means that Raisa isn’t. Good man.

Also – unrelated to anything – I think I’m hitting a late growth spurt or something. The pants I had made this week fit great, obviously, but most of my usual pants are too short now. My shirts don’t fit right anymore either.

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Byron's View: 18 in the hand is...

Well, at least I get to keep the apartments.

The day began well enough, with a breakfast of whatever was about, when Leo arrived with the good news that all was forgiven and the family was back in the good graces of His Grace, Markov Kalb. It was all downhill from there, really.

We decided to go out to warn the inhabitants of the warehouse district who were in the especially threatened locations, and perhaps pay them to leave, thereby thwarting the Star-cultists plans at least for the short term. While there we ran into our musical Westerlyn friend, once again getting the whole band back together.

Except Torvik.

Poor Torvik. I hope the blue hasn’t spread too far.

In any case, We decided to enlist the help of the local temple of Amaya and Aneko in our convincing the locals plan. The priestess, a wizend old woman was more than happy to help, and bestowed upon us the blessing of Amaya in our efforts to prevent the Star cultists from burning everything. We made it through all of the targeted locations except the last five houses, where we ran out of time. I went off to Papa’s ship to check on those who I enlisted last night, and to see if I could perhaps enlist some more assistants from that quarter, to aid us in the thwarting of the apocalypse enthusiasts.

When the time came, the benighted cultists were much more clever than we gave them credit for, and distracted us with a torch-bearing procession, led by a burning skeleton. Meanwhile a couple of blocks away they were getting away with the dastardly deed they had been planning on the whole time, burning a person alive. Most unfortunate. We attempted to capture or kill some of the people performing that ritual, but were unsuccessful in doing so.

Also, they got away with the new skeleton.

It seems perhaps the flaming skeletons are in fact some sort of fire spirit from the plane of fire, which can jump from host to host, and that they are not trying to create some sort of undead so much as trying to do some sort of summoning ritual. Tomorrow we will either talk to a devotee of deceased Ramliya, or the priests of Aodan, as little as Raisa might enjoy that.

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Leo’s View: Daiquiris are Preferable to Death Cults

Okay, first off, note to self: never let Byron go to Court. Ever. He’s way too jolly and proud of the “medal” the Sickers made for him. I didn’t jump through all those hoops to drag our family out of the gutter only to have Byron show up at Court looking like he’s gone rolling in a garbage heap.

Other news: the Golden Eye is a front for people who are Actually Useful, not just love potion apothecaries. The lovely lady C works for them, as it turns out. Who knew?

So, there’s this fire cult of people calling themselves Falling Star who wear stars on their chest. Apparently they want the world to end in flames – strange motivation if you ask me, but they didn’t. They think a star fell and landed on that warehouse a couple of weeks ago, and desire all things to be destroyed in fire, shouting encouraging things like “the end is near!” Awfully well-organized for all that the warehouse only burned pretty recently. Byron et al apparently had a run-in them last week involving that pesky seal we’d been looking for – turns out they found it with the cultists.

Anyway, apparently the number 18 is important to the Falling Star folks. Problematically, they seem to be doing some sort of overarching ritual that requires them to kill 18 people, each of whom are taken from a house on a street corner 18 blocks from their headquarters at that blown-out warehouse. They pour wax over them and burn them alive, in an apparently ill-conceived attempt to re-create a skeleton-like construct that Byron says wasn’t ever actually a construct to begin with. (They found the seal in the thing’s chest cavity, by the by. Like you do.)

So, since 12 or so people had been killed over the past several nights, the plan last night was to save people in the remaining houses 18 blocks from the warehouse, and to prevent the fire cult people from achieving their goal of 18 kills. We went to the temple of Amaya and Aneko in Balsam District, and convinced one of the priestesses to come with us to the houses on those corners and try to convince the folks there to vacate for their lives. Since most folks near the water pay honor to Amaya and Aneko, she gave us a bit more authority than five random folks showing up on their doorsteps waving money around – instead, it was five random folks and a priestess. Much better. We spent most of the day going from block to block trying to explain the situation.

In the evening, Raisa and I went with Tory to answer a note she’d gotten from Amele – the guy who sells that awesome unidentified meat on a stick. Used to sell. His house’s windows were smashed, and there was a scorch mark on the ground that looked like a person on fire had been writhing around. The neighbor next door – a weird lizard-like man – said that Amele’s daughter had been taken the night before. Once we found Amele he refused to believe that his daughter might be dead, and was ready to go try to get her back. When we tried to gently reinforce that she probably isn’t alive anymore he went back inside and locked us out, which we were about to take as dismissal until we realized that the Falling Star cultists might come back to sites of previous kills if we successfully prevented them from finding people at new locations. We managed to convince Amele to come with us to try to prevent more people from losing loved ones. He dressed up mightily in pots and pans and things, but as it turns out he was pretty effective with those meat skewers.

There were a few blocks we hadn’t had a chance to get to by nightfall, so we (and some hired muscle) spread out between the blocks. Shortly, a number of snakes of people bearing torches started coming from the warehouse, one of which was coming right to the area we were in. Idiodically, we fell for it. Only when I heard a strangled cry behind us did I realize that the torchbearers were a distraction while the higher-level cultists went elsewhere for their kills. We didn’t manage to save… the person – I don’t even know if it was a him or a her. We shot up a number of the cultists, but they got away. Going back to the fight with the torches – did I mention that the snake of torchbearers was led by a glowy animated skeleton? I think I forgot to mention that. Anyway, the fight was just finishing up, and the skeleton was just standing there. Someone hit it on the head, and flame gouted out from the hole in its skull, but it still just stood there. I think it was around this time that Byron mentioned his idea that the cultists might be trying to re-create something that hadn’t really ever existed.

We captured one of the torch-bearers alive and questioned him. He seemed to be pretty low-level, and kept saying that he just did what he was told… including pulling people out of a building to be killed. He didn’t have much useful to say beyond spouting catchphrases and cult propaganda. While everyone was debating appropriate awful punishments for him, he kept on making these awful whining noises, and being tired and cranky, I just put an end to the noises and the debate.

It was an impulse. I discovered that killing someone who’s unarmed feels gross, like stepping on a bug with your bare feet. Would I do it again in the same situation? Yeah, no doubt. He deserved it.

We heard later that Falling Star had made some more successful kills – not their full eighteen I don’t think, but one more night like last night and they probably will.

On the to-do list: Thwart Falling Star. Visit Alexei and Torvik. Check in on Nid. See what Anton’s up to.

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