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File: doscher2.jpg (72 KB, 1024x614)
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Capitol City
836 AC
Three hours after the League invasion started
Inside the collapsed Haberdashery

The young lieutenant had listened, as if enthralled, as the Man in the Suit recounted the exploits of a certain Baroness from Sternbergen. What started innocently enough, a high-society soiree with dinners, petticoats, gossips and wagers - but also backroom dealings, attempts to intercept despatches, cyphers... culminated in a heinous aeritime crime that resulted in over sixty deaths (of which "accident" Lieutenant Gladston remembered reading in the Aecumen times).

"By Jove, Sir, I think I found it." Lieutenant Gladston produced a dusty monocle from somewhere inside the rubble. He shook it off and wiped it with his handkerchief. "It's a bit dusty, Sir, but none the worse for wear."

"Thank the Gods for small mercies, Lieutenant." The man in the suit put the monocle on and adjusted it a bit. "Ah, much better. I can actually see what is written now. But its value is mostly nostalgic - I've mulled over these papers for so long, I know most of their contents by rote."

It had been maybe an hour or so, and so far, there was hardly any indication of a rescue attempt. Both men knew that it sometimes took a day or more to mobilize the rescue crews. But with a war on, who knew?

"But Sir, did I hear you correctly? Did you just say the ruby was The Stone of the Philosophers?"

"I did tell you, lieutenant, that the story would turn out to be quite preposterous."

"Preposterous" was one way of putting it. When the story last left off, Clarissa was captured, taken to a League ship, a witness to an atrocity, tortured, and threatened with execution.

"What do you know of the concept of the Stone of the Philosophers, lieutenant?"

"Enough to know that it's balderdash. Supposedly able to transmute metals into gold, and give eternal life."

"That's the superficial meaning of it, as popularly understood. It is also completely wrong. To those more familiar with alchymical writings - and, over the recent decade or so, this description unfortunately came to include me - it's a bit more complex than that. Alchymists do not like sharing their little secrets, and I shan't repeat too much here - but you will be interested to know that the stone that Freiherrin Engels wore around her neck did not, in fact, provide eternal life, or the ability to create endless mountains of gold, on its own. It is, however, a substance that would allow a skilled alchymist to do... a lot of things they normally wouldn't be able to. Even transmutation of metals becomes possible, though quite slow and not very efficient."

"You mean to say that such a thing really exists?"

"Would you believe me if I told you that the material is not only known to exist, but its use is well understood and documented, and utilized even by the Admiralty?"

"If that was the case, it would be my first hearing about this, Sir."
"Well, it is so. Alchymists alone know the secrets of manufacturing the stone, although even they appear to have lost the art - if indeed they ever truly had it. In 825, The Royal Guild of Alchymists was, through great efforts, able to complete an experiment which successfully synthesized less than an ounce of the material, at great cost, and using up an exorbitant amount of materials. We damn near used up our entire supply of the Universal Alkahest; we had to ground half of our airships for a while!"

"I remember that. The grounding. It was under the pretence of inspecting the ships' Archimedean Units."

"Just so. And keep in mind, this synthesized stone, obtained at such a cost, was a less potent, impure variant. Inferior, artificial, incomplete - yet even so, this less-than-one-ounce allowed us to create certain materials that would never be achievable otherwise. Most of these advanced materials went into building the Pelagius, and there was still some of it left over."

"Now that you mention it, Sir, I did notice the occasional transactions Admiralty makes to the Guild of Alchymists."

The man nodded. "And the stone from Freiherrin Engels' necklace was apparently in its purest state - the alchymical ideal of purity. The very thought of that coming into possession of... that man."

He grew a bit paler, and took a deep smoke from the cigarette.

"That was unfortunate. Most unfortunate. It pains me to say, but to the strategic interests of the Commonwealth, it would have been infinitely more preferable for Miss Engels to have plummeted to her doom along with the rest of the people aboard the Celestial Empress."

"But Sir, if it is such a precious artefact... then how in the world would a simple merchant like Ortega get into its possession? Who made it, when and how?"

"Very good question, indeed. I have my guesses - but first, what do you make of it, Lieutenant?"
He thought for several seconds.

"Clearly, the `treasure` Mister Ortega referred to was not gold. He would want to hide the source of his wealth, so he made up the story - either about just the gold, or about the temple itself - to conceal the real source of his wealth, which was the stone or its potential applications. His mysterious oil-merchant friend seems acquainted with alchymy. Since the stone is so potent, he would probably be able to utilize the stone to extract value somehow."

"Excellent, lieutenant. But then, why would the stone end up on Freiherrin Engels' neck?"

"This is where I am having difficulties, I must admit. If the artefact was so precious, why give it to her?"

"I believe Mister Ortega used Miss Engels as an unwitting courier. Perhaps he feared his movements were watched; or, that his shipments were being inspected. Most likely, I would think he intended to misdirect any potential agents by parting ways with Miss Engels and coming up with some pretense to direct her to meet with the intended recipient of the stone. It would be then trivial to arrange for someone to switch the necklace with a facsimile."

"So he hid the stone by displaying it to everyone in sight?"

"Mister Ortega certainly had a flair for the dramatic. And a way with the ladies. It would appeal to a man of his sensibilities to kill two birds with one stone."

"One other thing confuses me. The way you are telling it, it seems that the League ship wasn't originally after the stone. They were pursuing mister Ortega for other reasons - this `apostate cypher`. Was the Stone truly just an accidental find?"

"Yes and no. The two are inextricably linked, as you'll come to find out. None of us even expected a stone to feature in it; the cypher was the real prize. The stone, however, was significant. It was an undisputable proof that the cypher was indeed found by someone.

"The stone proved useful for them, of that there is no doubt. Have you wondered why the Luftflotte airships suddenly became lighter and better armoured over the past year? But sooner or later, the stone would be used up.

"However, if that man had gotten his hand on the cypher as well... I shudder to think of the results."

Lieutenant Gladston refilled the man's glass of brandy. He continued.

"But I am getting ahead of myself. All in good time."
"I must say, sir, this story is much more gripping than my usual daily fare of shuffling papers at the Admiralty. Why, the way you are telling it, the baroness faced certain death! But I remember reading about her in the papers afterwards, so I know she survived. I am anxious to learn how she was rescued."

> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."

> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."

>> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
Don't forget to link the previous archived threads
> "With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone
Rolling vote for this.
>> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>> "By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
>"By a single person, as it turns out." He took a sip of brandy. "In a daring escape orchestrated by an unlikely ally."
>"With steel and gunshot." He paused, staring into the distance. "We lost some good men that day." He takes a sip of brandy. "We didn't even know we were rescuing anyone."
> "Rescued? My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please." He took a sip of brandy. "And we didn't catch on until it was too late."
The daring rescue it is. Writing
Thread 1 : https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2020/4487084/

Thread 2 : https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2023/5654217/
thanks for that, I was gonna get around to including it, you saved me the trouble.
Over Hadrian's Sea

You are Freiherrin Clarissa zu Engels-Halsgaard, and you have had better days.

Two days ago at this time, you were the top of the world - dancing, laughing, flirting, on a leisure cruise. Now, you are cold, hungry, thirsty, and there are no tears left in you. You have been manhandled, subjected to near drowning for hours. You were threatened with death and rape, not necessarily in that order. And you were left to rot in a cell smelling of urine and machine oil.

Der Lindwurm - as you've seen the ship called in several plaques, even as you were escorted to your torture - doesn't have much of a brig. You are in a dark room that only has a small window several inches across, but even that is barred, as if someone could really contemplate escaping through it. Even assuming you could fit through (which you can't), this is an airship, so the only way to escape is to plummet thousands of yards. The rhythmic thud-thud-thud of the propellers is your only company.

In the end, the torture didn't work. You didn't tell these swine your name. You are certain it would have made no difference. You've had time to think it over. Their orders say "no witnesses". You are a witness. The only reason they weren't able to break you at that time is that you were somewhat numb from the destruction of the Empress. It was just too much to handle.

They really destroyed a ship with all hands and passengers. Left it to fall out of the sky. Killed all those people... Kiled Mitzi.

And the water torture... for what purpose? Yes, you had pretended to be a League countess. That was never going to survive more than a cursory inspection (but you had hoped that the inspection would only be conducted after you were safely away from the ship). You didn't even impersonate her in order to save yourself - you did it so that you could cause a temporary ruckus on the Empress, hoping--

What were you hoping for, actually? That Der Lindwurm would conveniently fly away, leaving the boiler room man to miraculously prevent the Empress from falling to its doom? Well, whatever it was, it didn't work. And the Boiler Room Man did nothing. Why would you ever put any stock in such a man?

While it is true that you are out of your usual element, you are still not robbed of your faculties. You could tell the little signs, even as you struggled for aer in between the bucket-drownings. You could see plainly that these ruffians were not used to dealing with a woman, let alone a borderline hysterical one. If you were the toughest man in the world, you are sure they would find a way to make you talk. But they didn't know how to approach you and didn't resort to inflicting lasting harm.
The bald man had spouted some nonsense about how the ruby was the Stone of the Philosophers, which, considering everything else that happened, may as well be true for all you're concerned. You've had just about enough of alchymists and their pursuits. He was looking at your eyes, as if trying to mesmerize you.

There were other questions, but you threw a hysteric fit, and the bald man gave you a sedative to drink. You resisted, but you were restrained after all, and the bitter fluid was forced down your throat, and - you immediately fell into the sweet clutches of sleep.

Daylight was visible through the small window when you woke up. An entire day went by, with only the propeller noise keeping you company. You weren't put through any other torture in the meantime. You were even given a meal. It was cold, but edible. So, you ate. The only thing you don't understand, actually, is why you are still alive. Surely if they were going to kill you it's better that they do it sooner rather than later.

You try to act tough, but in truth, the moment you hear the boots on the grating of the corridor outside, you freeze. The cell door opens up with a SQUEAK - only it is not your cell. You hear cursing.

"Will you get your fucking hands off me?"

"What the fuck do you want me to do, Etienne? Old man's orders. You want me to release you, so we can share a cell maybe?"

The second voice, you recognize. It's the man with the scar. The one who handled most of the water torture.

"I even went through the trouble to arrange for you a room with a view, you ungrateful bastard." He gestures in your direction.

"But I didn't FUCKING do it, alright? I counted, you know I counted. Shit, you know me since basic. I wouldn't make a rookie mistake like that!"

"Even if I believe you, Etienne, the Captain doesn't. And that's that."

"But you don't believe me, do you?"

"What the fuck does it matter if I believe you or not? Shit, Etienne, even you gotta admit it looks bad. Where is Braun, then, if you counted?"

"He fucking fell overboard or something. AFTER he got to the ship. The entire squad made it. I'll vouch for it."

"It was chaos. People miscount in a hurry."

"I don't." There is a silence, while the man with the scar fiddles with the lock. "Now what the fuck am I am supposed to do? Sit here and listen to this bitch cry?"

"Maybe you can get her over to put her ass against the bars. She'd be grateful for some action before we throw her overboard" He turns to you. "Wouldn't you, love?" You spit in his direction, feebly. He roars with laughter. "Well, I'm off. You two lovebirds enjoy yourselves."
There is a long silence, with the man cursing and grunting occasionally. Mercifully, he doesn't try to strike a conversation. The man paces about his cell a bit. Then he starts pissing loudly into the bucket in the corner.

"Sorry about this, lady." he says. "But I gotta go."

It doesn't elude you that this is, in fact, another humiliation orchestrated by the man with the scar. There lies nothing but bars between you and the other prisoner, Etienne. There is no privacy. You are not exactly naked - you are still wearing your red dress, now dirty and torn. But the man pissing in the bucket is not the problem. The problem is that you also have only a bucket.

"Well, aren't you the talkative one?"

You don't take the bait. He doesn't press the matter.

Within ten minutes, he is snoring, and you are left alone with your thoughts.

How are they going to do it?, you wonder. Would they really just throw you overboard? Probably better than wasting a bullet. So long as they don't hang you. You would hate to give these people a spectacle...

It would be a lie to say you aren't afraid of what is to come. You never have been particularly religious. But what pains you the most is that nobody will ever know. You will be assumed dead along with all the others on the Empress. At least it's not the end of the family line. The title will pass to your younger sister Hildegard - dear, kind Hildegard, not even eleven years old. It's been ages since you've seen her, since she was currently in a boarding school in Altmark. You will never see her again.

A sudden thought grips you with terror.

With your death, the engagement arranged with von Ortmuellers should be void. Hildegard will inherit your debt. Without the betrothal, she will become destitute. But the alternative is even worse. Frederick could offer to marry her instead. Gods know why, but von Ortmuellers seemed very eager to arrange this marriage, and you spent a lot of your life wondering about it. It seemed like your family was the only one which stood to gain anything - well, it would seem like it to anyone who wouldn't be obligated to spread their legs for that monster Frederick every night, but the point stands. The disparity in your wealth and titles was so large, the marriage skirted close to breaking Ebenbürtigkeit, the concept that people should marry within their rank. The reasons for the arrangement were only known to Papa and the Old Man von Ortmueller, and Papa took his part of the secret to his grave. But the very thought of Frederick putting his hands on Hildegard...

With this one thought, your entire world shatters. A freezing cold shower that washes away your veneer of calm acceptance. No matter what happens, you absolutely cannot, CANNOT die here on this cruddy airship. You will lie, steal, murder, and yes, if needed, even whore your way out of this, but Hildegard MUST NOT be allowed into Frederick's clutches.

With that, you fall into a restless, exhausted sleep.
The next morning, they come for you. Your heart pounds as you are being led through a series of same-looking corridors, imagining a gallows behind each door.

You are led into a cabin instead. It was probably originally intended to be huge, but stacks of pots, glass vessels, books, maps, boxes and various mechanickal devices line every shelf and wall to the point it feels downright claustrophobic. Though it looks lackluster, you notice that every pot and vessel is tied, or otherwise secured in place, no doubt to withstand the rigors of airship voyage. An assortment of vices and rails holds in place the central assembly on the desk, full of retorts, and other devices - you could probably name them all if you bothered, since Papa's natural philosopher tutors were quite strict. A strong scent of Sulphur assails your nostrils. A gas-burner is boiling something or another.

"Leave us", the tattooed bald man says. You almost didn't notice him, hunched over the table. The soldier releases the grip on your shoulder and closes the door.

"I hope your accommodation is ... more acceptable?" You stay silent. "I intervened with ... the captain. They shan't manhandle you any... longer."

Somehow, you don't think there is anything this man does out of the kindness of his heart.

"You mean, if my body ever gets found, it would raise some questions if there were bruises on it?"

He looks at you, humorless as ever. But in his eyes you find no rage, no condemnation.

"I am sincere. You have brought me... the Catalyst, however inadvertently. This merits some... gratitude."

"Enough gratitude to let me live my life in peace?"

"That... is out of my hands."
He grabs a grain of something from a dish with a pincer and raises it up to your eyes. "Look. What do you see?"

"It's... gold?"

"Yesterday it... was quicksilver. We all have the potential for... great change, within us, madam. One... just needs to know... which catalyst to apply."

"Surely, mein Herr, you didn't bring me here to teach me Alchymy."

"No, I didn't." With a trembling hand, he releases a few drop from a dripper into the white powder. The drops evaporate into thin air with a hiss and a foul smell, while the powder darkens into dark yellow. He then pours the powder into a retort and shakes it one-handed, in a swirling motion that betrays the skill and ease of movements of someone who has been doing this all their life.

"You are... blood of Ishtar", he says, even as he continues mixing.

"I'm what?"

"Do you have any ancestors... from the East?"

Careful, Clarissa. It may be a trick to give away your identity. Your family tree is convoluted. Your great-grandmother was a Vostok woman, but that's as eastern as it got. "Not to my knowledge", you say, truthfully.

"Thousands of people... have the blood today, however... diluted. It's not a coincidence... that the stone ended up with you. It is drawn... to the blood of Ishtar. To the likes... of us."

I am nothing like you, you murderous piece of shit, you think to yourself, but do not say it.

One of the retorts fastened to the desk starts bubbling. He switches off the flame. "Have you heard... the Serpent whisper to you?"

"I'm sorry, I feel like this conversation got away from me. I assure you I hear no whispers. And what was that about blood of Ishtar?"

"That's odd. You bore... the stone on your person for an entire... day. By now, there should be some--"

He gets right up to your face and lifts one of your eyelids. You resist the urge to wince. He inspects both of your eyes in turn.

"Well, no matter." He pushes a small phial towards you. "Drink this."

"Is it poison?"

"It is not poison. It is ... the opposite."

"What is it?"

"The stone... is not safe for humans to ... touch. This will help."

You eye the fluid with suspicion. It is crystal clear. There isn't much of it - barely a thimble. You try to remember if you've touched the ruby with your bare hands. You must have, at some point.

"Why give me medicine if I am going to die anyway?"

"You are alive now, ... yes? Who knows... what machinations the Serpent spins for us?"

Is this a way to say "who knows what the future holds in store" in his weird way?

You feel that, at the very least, if they were going to poison you, they could just pour the poison down your throat. On the other hand, a shady lunatic covered with tattoos, claiming to have lived longer than a century, known to kill people in cold blood, is currently offering you a weird concoction to drink.

"Drink it, or don't. I shall not... force you." He resumes fiddling with his retorts.

> Drink
> Refuse
> (other)
Maybe it'll make us immortal too
>> Drink
>> Drink
>> (other)
Splash the vial at him
Are we still "gallivanting our tits out"?
>> Refuse
To clarify, that was a joke / exaggeration by the boiler room man due to our intentionally low neckline at the time. One would assume Clarissa would cover herself up after the ordeal. Assume she was given an oversized Not!German military coat to cover herself in the cell.



I'm counting this as a refusal too

Let us drink the unlabeled home remedy concocted by the mass murderer, shall we?
nothing could possibly go wrong.
As you mull over the choice in your head, the situation is just so absurd, and you are so unnerved in this man's presence, that your brain decides to try to make light of the situation: "You know, I've read that the Stone of the Philosophers is made of people."

"Preposterous. Have you been reading those... Oriental illustrated almanacs? They are... drivel."

You raise the phial to your eyes and inspect it. "So this will not make me immortal or something like that?"

Apparently, he takes your question literally. "I would not... inflict such a curse on another. Immortality is counter ... to the natural order of things. The Serpent herself... eats her own tail. One can but... stave off... Her call ... for a while." He looks at his trembling hand. "At great cost." All the while he keeps fiddling with his apparatus.

You cannot read this man. His lack of eyebrows, his slight accent, and his pale eyes, are an impenetrable wall to your normally shrewd social sense.

So far, these people played at murder, torture, and humiliation. But they were always brutally direct about it. What are the chances that this is some sort of a sick game, and that drinking this would actively cause you harm while refusing it would result in them not forcing you to drink it? The chances are slim indeed. If they really want you to drink it, they have ways to make you do it. Or just slip it into your water.

In the end, you decide you want nothing to do with the Stone of the Philosopers, or Alchymists, and you were told that this was supposed to counteract some ill-effects of the stone. But in the end, what decides is that you want to keep some shred of control. Some semblance of agency. You are intrigued, damn it.

The trick is to be interesting.

You open up the phial and drink the contents. The fluid is not cold, yet it bites like cold ice down your throat. It is bitter, but not unpleasantly so.

"You will ... be escorted back to your cell, now. We shall speak again... tomorrow. Send for me should the Serpent... speak to you."

He is stark raving mad. "Uh... I am certain I will."

Has everybody lost their minds? Did the League really throw in with the likes of this lunatic? For what purpose?

The man rings a bell, and a soldier enters the cabin. You start getting up to your feet, but you feel dizzy. Everything goes blurry. You find it hard to focus. Your ears start ringing and buzzing, so you can't make out what the bald man is saying to the soldier. Is this it? Did they poison you after all? And you willingly took the bait? Stupid, stupid, stupid...

No, that cannot be right. You are not feeling unwell at all. You are feeling vigorous. You are feeling strong. You are feeling clear. It's just that you are... tired. Very tired. And very warm.

Everything goes black.
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230 KB JPG
You toss and turn, and are full of sweat. You are trapped in a nightmare. You vaguely see silhouettes around you, in a room that smells of antiseptic. You are strapped to a bed (still more comfortable than the cell floor) and your body seems to be convulsing involuntarily.

You hear voices as if from inside a barrel or a well. Yet, they are close by. One of them you recognize by voice as the bald, tattoed, toadfaced alchymist. The other voice is unfamiliar to you, but you attribute it to the tall silhouette leaning over you to your right. Somehow, you can make out it has a bushy, menacing moustache.

Everything is spinning, and their voices intermittently feel as if pulsing closer, then farther away, so you can only make out fragments of sentences.

"--could not wait until we anchor? We have plenty of prisoners back home--"

A crow caws above you.

"--of Ishtar. One in a ... hundred prisoners, if that. She... is the best chance... we've got at the moment--"

A sacrificial altar, dark with long dried blood stains, in front of a stepped pyramid.

"--liability is what she is. I am not going back to Altmark with her aboard--" "--honestly could not wait seven days?--"

A tentacle comes out of the darkness, and pulls a hapless man inside the recess.

"--wait?--" "--constant... agony--" "--running out... of time--"

A luminescent starfish swims a slow, tranquil dance - only it is not swimming. It is flying.

"--your art failing you at last, old man?--" "--Projekt Eschaton is too important to be left to--"

A translucent, enormous octopoid creature extends its tentacles in the darkest depths of the abyss. It beckons you towards its embrace.

"--formula hasn't... been tried--" "--three hundred years. Single... wrong measure... would mean death--"

A swarm of creatures, similar to humans only smaller - slimier - greener - wearing flint-blades and armour made of bone, dancing menacingly around an obelisk.

"--will still need to get rid of her. It would be much more difficult once we fly overland--"

Serpents. Serpents on statues. Serpents on the walls. Serpents everywhere.

"--one more day is all... I ask. Then do with her... as you please--"

A solar eclipse, and men impaled on stakes beneath it.

"--have to adjust the course... But alright. Twenty-four hours, and not a minute--"

It is not an eclipse after all - it is a serpent devouring its own tail.

What a weird nightmare to have, you think to yourself, and go back to the depths of sweet, dark sleep.
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You are rudely woken up by an explosion.

It is dark, and your fellow inmate is no longer in his cell. You would expect headaches, or your head spinning. You are sweaty, and you feel as if you are burning with a fever, but you do not feel ill. Just lightheaded.

That will teach you to drink strange potions, Clarissa.

Well, at least it wasn't poison.

A few shouts are heard. Then, a few more. Then, another explosion shakes the entire ship.

A siren starts blaring. The last time you heard it, it heralded retreat and the certain demise of the Empress. Is another poor ship being boarded? What is going on here, exactly?

You don't know how far you are from the ship's top deck, but you feel as if you can hear everything. Footsteps, dozens of footsteps, panicked and rushed. Shouts. Alarum. General shuffling about. Things being passed around. Carabiners snapping into place on security railings. Propellers thudding ever slower, until they stop. Wind intensifying.

The constant wail of the alert siren is so pervasive that you try to close your ears. It doesn't do much to help.

You stand up, grab the bars, and pull. You are disappointed to learn that the soldiers did not, in the end, forget to lock your cell. You notice you are out of your red dress. You are apparently wearing only your petticoat and blouse. You don't remember taking your dress off. But you do not feel cold at all.

Suddenly, gravity ceases to exist. The uniform you were given as both bedspread and cover starts rising up from the bed slowly. Your legs losed purchase on the hard floor of the cell, and you find yourself slightly drawn towards the ceiling.

The airship is falling. Is this how the people on the Empress felt, right before they were killed? Are you about to hit the ground and die, not knowing what is happening? Will this ship finally get its comeuppance?

Good. They deserve it.

Yes, they deserve-- wait, what?

You hear people yelling outside: "Under attack!" "The unit!" "Manual pumps!" "Get everyone!"

The gravity returns as quickly as it vanished, and you almost fall to your knees. Not one moment afterwards, a soldat bearing the full regalia - mask, gun and all - enters the brig in a hurry. Dim light from the corridor outside illuminates the room. You freeze. He stops in front of your cell and raises the gun.

You've heard rumours of people killing prisoners rather than have them be rescued or escape. There isn't much you can do, so you decide to heroically stare death in its face.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Shoot, you bastard."
File: pistol.jpg (9 KB, 400x400)
9 KB
A muffled voice comes from behind the mask:

"Well, at least you still like parading your tits about, luv."

It's only then that you realize the voice spoke in Albion, in a dialect that could best be described as "ruffian".


"Who else, the bloody Empress of the Commonwealth? Step back, for gods' sake, we haven't much time! No, not like that, further back!"

"I am hugging the wall, there is no further back!"

"Suit yourself!"

You have already heard these hand-cannons-spretending-to-be-rifles fired before, but inside this cell, at such a close distance, the shot rings twice as loud... and your ears ring for a long time to come. There is now a large hole where the lock mechanism used to be, and a swift kick of the jackboot sends the cell door flying open. He adjusts a valve and a wave of hot steam fills the room.

"OW! Are you trying to scald my skin off??"

"Sorry, lady. I never shot one of these before, did I!"

"Learn faster!"

"Oh for the love of-- 'ere, take this." he tosses you a pistol. You almost drop it. "Careful, it's loaded." It feels heavy in your hand. You've never fired a pistol before, only hunting rifles.

As you pass him, you wag a finger into the mask. "And don't you stare like that!"

"How do you know I'm staring? I'm wearing a bloody mask!"

"I can feel it!"

He takes you by the hand. "We have to go! This way!" He pulls you in a very rude and firm manner, and you are just about to leave the door when you encounter the man with the scar. He only has half his uniform on, is unshaven and has clearly been woken up only recently.

"What the... Werner, is that you? What are you doing with my charge? Did Scrawlface ask for her again?"

There is a long, almost comedic moment while the two men are looking at each other. The Boiler Room Man turns his mask towards you inquisitively as if looking for the translation.

> Shoot him with the pistol
> Punch him in the face.
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Let the Boiler Room Man handle it.
> (other)
Had to delete a few posts because I posted out of order and without proper editing. Just ignore them. It's been a long week.
>Shoot him with the pistol
That's for Mitzi you bastard
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol
Can we reload after shooting though? Don't want to be caught defenseless again.
> Shoot him with the pistol
Ol’ reliable
>> Kick him in the nuts.
>> Shoot him with the pistol
You should've drowned me, pig
> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol
>> Kick him in the nuts.
> Shoot him with the pistol

Also, I can't help but imagine that when Baldy talks, he's got the mannerisms of Christopher Walken.
Jesus, /qst/ out for blood. I almost feel sorry for the guy.

And that, kids, is why you should keep your villains vague and shrouded in mystery.
Without even thinking, and mustering all your strength, you kick the man with the scar straight between the legs. As your foot connects, you feel something soft and squishy giving way, and a flash of pain spreads through your foot. Good - just imagine how it must feel for him. Well, you can ONLY imagine what it must feel for him; regardless, you hope it is the worst pain imaginable in existence.

He puts both his hands between his legs. It's like you knocked all the air out of his body without giving him a chance to scream properly. It's like he is replaced with a rigid statue, his face in agony, his mouth open, he falls to his knees. The most he can put out is a prolonged, high-pitched whimper.

That wiped the smirk off his ugly face. But it's not nearly enough.

He's helpless. Kill him. End his existence.

Some people would think twice in this situation. Some people could never bring themselves to do it. A week ago, you were a part of those people.

He is the one who killed Mitzi. He is the one who wanted to rape you.

He can only watch helplessly, paralyzed, as you point the pistol at his head.

It's his fault. It's all his fault.

It's supposed to be a mental struggle, weighing pros and cons, considering the implications of crossing the line. It's supposed to take a while to think about it.

Whereas, in reality, it didn't take even a second. It's the easiest thing in the world.

Do it. Blow his brains out.

"This is for Mitzi, you BASTARD!"

You pull the trigger. The pistol kicks like a mule in your hand. But there is no missing at this range.

A pistol shot at such a close range is a terrible thing. In quick succession it all assails your senses - the flash, the smoke filling the room, the smell of gunpowder - what surprises you is that his head makes an almost bouncing movement before his body goes limp and falls. Where the bullet hits, it's just a hole, crushing his forehead. From the back of his skull, however, spills an unholy amalgam of blood, bone fragments and brain matter, and splatters the floor behind him.

You feel an intense wave of satisfaction. If sex doesn't feel like this, it should.

His body hits the floor with a dull thud.

But why do you still feel angry? Why do you still not feel safe? Why is everything around you so empty? You are vaguely aware of trembling and crying, you find yourself kicking the lifeless corpse.

"You should have FUCKING drowned me when you had the chance, you SWINE!"

You kick some more.

"Hang me, will you? Rape me, will you? Throw me overboard, will you? Take this! And THIS!"
A hand goes over your mouth, while another grabs around your waist. You struggle to break free as you find yourself carried away from the corpse, but you still manage to get a few kicks in.

"Will you bloody shut up? Do you want to bring the entire ship down on us? I knew I should've left you behind."

You throw the pistol at the corpse for good measure. Your rescuer slams you against the wall. Isn't this the second time he did that? There are limits to how rude a man should get!

"And have you gone completely mad? Do you know what it took me to get that pistol? It didn't last five bleeding seconds in your hands!"

"He deserved it!"

"Yeah, well, I deserve to leave this ship in one piece. Now shut up and follow me, or I swear I'll leave you behind."

> need a 1d6 roll to see if we encountered someone and how smoothly it goes. higher is better.
Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

>tfw we were 29 seconds away from disaster.
The first of the two results wins. Writing.
He runs down the corridor. You follow him. As you turn a corner you almost collide with two crewmembers at the door to a cabin, in similar state of confusion and undress as the man you just killed. You don't recognize them ones. The Boiler Room Man knocks the closer one down with the rifle. The other one takes a step back and puts his hands up in a defensive posture. The boiler room man points his oversized rifle at him, and says, as if talking to a gorilla at the zoo:


His Mittelsprache is completely butchered, but it gets the point across. The crewmember shows down the corridor and says "d...down that way. Second room after the turn."

"Did you catch that?" he asks you.

"Yes. Second room after the turn."

He turns to the crewmember. "Danke." He slams the heavy steam rifle into him, sending him back into his cabin. You continue running until you burst into the room. He scans it with his rifle, but it is empty. It's not even lit. Clearly it is some small hour in the morning.

"What do you need the signal room for?"

"Flares! Help me find signal flares. Do you know what they look like? Oh, this blasted mask!"

As it turns out, you don't know, but it doesn't matter much. He frantically opens a few drawers and turns them over. Papers, pens, and other equipment scatters around the floor. "There! One yellow one and one black one. Take them and DON'T. DROP. THEM." You do as he says. "We don't have much time, go, go!"

You run back into the corridors and resume your mad dash.

> Roll 1d6 again
Rolled 6 (1d6)

Let's pray this one's better
Clarissa on a roll
You would expect something to go awry. You would expect someone to be in your way, to ask questions, troops blocking your paths, doors being locked, having to go the long way around. You would expect any one of so many things go wrong in so many ways.

But nothing does.

The alert is still wailing somewhere above you, and it doesn't seem like it is about to ubside any time soon; the entire airship is still scrambling.

You feel as if you're starting to understand the layout of the ship's corridors. Clearly you have been running through the long axis all this time, towards the stern of the ship. As you near a door, you pull on the boiler room man's sleeve and give him a signal to wait. He obeys, and you peek through the door discreetly.

"Three crewmembers. These are dressed, at least. They seem unarmed."

He nods, and you let slip a yelp as he immediately grabs you by the wrist and pulls you along rudely, and just... enters the room.

At an urgent pace, you just - walk past them, without a care in the world. You are terrified, mortified, but they do nothing to interfere with you. In fact, aside from a few glances, they don't seem to acknowledge you. They seem in a hurry to get somewhere, just as you. It dawns on you - they don't understand you are trying to escape. By manhandling you so roughly, this man is making it look like he is urgently escorting a prisoner somwhere. Upon reaching a staircase, he drags you to descend with him.

As soon as the two of you are on the deck below, outside of earshot, you ask him: "Shouldn't we be going up where the top deck is?"

"Yeah, well, that's where all the Krauts are! I know a way."

Once you descend to the bottom deck, you see no other crewmembers anymore. In fact, you hardly see much of anything, since it is so dark. You've noticed before Der Lindwurm has state of the art gas lamps, but they aren't running at the time, not on this deck.

He lights one of them with a turn of the handle, and closes the door behind him. Then he barricades it by knocking over some sort of a heavy woodern storage locker. Then, he collapses onto the floor, heaving heavily.

"Gods damn it." He takes off the dark mask and the menacing black helmet and tosses them to the floor. "Can't see a thing in this damned--"

You see a familiar face, sweaty and rude as ever - but a bit more gaunt than his old, smug self back at the boiler room of the Empress.

"Now be useful, will you? Help me get out of this bloody armour."
You do so. The armour doesn't fit him very well anyway, you find. It and the uniform underneath was clearly made for a smaller man... with shoulders less broad... focus, Clarissa

You start with unstrapping his backpack. It takes a while, so you even have time to chit chat.

"Well? Aren't you going to ask me how I got here? Or something?"

"Do you think me stupid? I know precisely how you got here." You remove his backpack, containing a pressurized tank with some gauges. It makes a heavy CLANG as it drops to the floor.

"Oh, really? And how is that, then?"

"Back on the Empress, after you heroically abandoned me, you found the first isolated soldier you could, killed or overpowered him and put on his uniform and armour. Then, when the signal came, you ziplined onto Der Lindwurm", where you saw me being carried off to the brig. In the chaos, you slipped away before anyone could see your face. But they don't wear masks on normal duty, so you couldn't move about the ship. Since `you've been around an airship or two`, you were able to know where to hide so as to avoid detection."

He nods. "There's a few larders just around the corner. They're always on the bottom deck where it's colder, and they're usually empty at the tail end of a voyage."

"Since then you've been waiting for - what is it now? Two? Three days? For an opportune moment to get away, probably at night since most the crew is asleep. Then you did to them what they did to the Empress, and you used the confusion, because nobody will question a masked man with a gun in an emergency. Oh, and you might be interested to know the soldier whose armour you took was called Braun."

"Lady... how the hell you know all that?"

"A lady has her secrets." You remove his gauntlet.

"Well, you've got it mostly right. I didn't do what they did to the Empress, because there are two Archimedeans, and both are guarded at all times."

"Then what did you do?" You unstrap his other gauntlet.

"I'm a boiler man, aren't I? I went to one of the boilers, tossed the poor sod overboard, shut off the outlet valve, and ran very, very fast."

The Archimedean units require mechanickal power to operate, you remember.

"How crude." You say, and toss his chestplate to the floor.

"Well, it worked, didn't it?"

"It did." You put your hands under his shirt.

"Uuuuh, lady?"

> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know I appreciate that."
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
>"You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)

We're going to blame the potion for this
> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
>> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
>"You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that." (kiss him on the cheek)
>> "You didn't have to come for me. I want you to know just how much I appreciate that." (they'll have to pull you off this man with a crowbar)
File: kiss kiss.jpg (32 KB, 564x564)
32 KB

"Nowhere in your plan was it necessary for you to come for me. This hasn't escaped me." You straddle the man. "I wanted you to know just ... how much I appreciate that."

You kiss him, lustfully. It's quite scandalous behaviour, but somehow you are certain he won't mind, and who else is going to know? Besides, it was the potion's fault. Old Clarissa would certainly not behave in this unladylike way.

Besides, you hate to admit it, but being pulled around by him like that against your will ... and being exposed to all sorts of dirty men, looking at you, while you were paraded in your underwear throughout the airship...all those things could be said to have had quite an... inflammatory effect on your sensibilities. You feel dizzy. You feel better than ever. You feel things that ladies of good standing would never dare talk about.

The kiss lasts for several seconds, time you may well not have, but you are ALIVE, damn it, and you have him to thank for it. Your lips soon part, and sweat and heavy breathing fill the room. Then you slap him as hard as you can - so much so that it echoes around the room a few times. Your hand is throbbing.

"What the hell was that for?"

"That's for leaving me aboard the Empress to die with the others. You have no idea what I've been through!" You start fixing your hair.

"And because I'm engaged. You pig!"

That will teach this ruffian to take advantage of you in such a carefree manner!

Suddenly, the ship creaks painfully, and you feel as if being pressed downwards by a great force for a few moments. You are instantly made acutely aware of just how many... things ... are mutually touching, with nothing but your blouse and petticoat standing between you and absolute scandal. You collect yourself and promptly stand up before this... whatever is happening here... goes any furhter.

"Well, that's it. They stabilized the pump output. The ship is climbing, we aren't getting any lower than this. And we don't have much time before they start canvasing the ship."

"Right, so, what is the plan, then?"

He stares at you blankly.

"You ... do have a plan, right?"

He is reluctant, but in the end, he shrugs. "I may have one. But lady... you aren't going to like it."

You shrug. "Try me."
File: dogging_wheel.jpg (38 KB, 506x653)
38 KB

You do not like this plan.

You do NOT like this plan at all.

You are currently in the stern ventral observation chamber, which was just down the corridor from where you had ... helped the gentleman take off the armour. You would know - he had to drag you by force all the way, because when you heard the plan, you immediately considered turning around and trying your luck with the bald man. The only thing that prevented you from screaming was the fact that you were suposed to be hiding from others.

Below you lies a glass cupola, no more than a yard in diameter, cut in the floor of the chamber. There is a map and a couple of voice pipes. The cupola is secured to the hull by a massive dogging wheel.

"I am not doing it!"

"Yes you are."

"No I am not."

"Take your chances with the soldiers, then."

"At least that isn't certain death!"

"Relax. I've done it twice. I only broke a few ribs on my second go."

"But there's two of us!"

"I could only secure the one! We don't have the time to go looking for another one!"

The worst part is that you can see the sea and the shoreline below. You are clearly below the cloud level - no, it must be a a clear night, because you see pale moonlight reflecting on the waves below Either way, it is just so far down. Hundreds, or thousands of yards, probably.

He is currently tying a rope around you and him with very deft movements, as if he made these particular knots a thousand times in his life. He pulls on the rope and you feel it digging into scandalous places.

"Watch where you're touching!"

"You can slap me again when we are safe and sound. We HAVE to do it like this. Now hold still!"

He tightens the rope around you. The knots press into you around your armpits, waist, and thighs. He repeats the process on himself. You are brought dangerously close to each other. You are pretty much fastened to each other. He has you help him attach the ... whatever it was called. He triple checks every strap.

"Bloody League issue... Not like Air wing ones. I think I got it correct."

"You think?"

"I'm reasonably confident."

"Gods, we're about to plummet to our deaths, aren't we?"

"Do you have the flares!"

"The wha? oh. Those." You've been keeping the two cylinders in the elastic of your petticoat. You dig them out.

"Hold on to them. We won't have time later!"

You hear a crashing sound, shouts and footsteps somewhere nearby.

"Damn. We are out of time."
The door to the observation chamber has been closed and locked, but airships need to be made as light as possible, and that means wooden walls and wooden doors.

Since you are practically connected at the hips, waist, and chest, with you being in front of him, and both facing the same way, it is quite awkward to move about, yet somehow the two of you manage to turn towards the dogging wheel of the glass dome. Well, it's more that he turns forcefully and you are flung around by his movements like a kangaroo cub inside its mother's pouch. You almost hit the dogging wheel, it is right in front of ytou.

"Hurry!", he whispers. "Turn!".

He strains to turn the wheel, his muscles bulging, his grunts echoing into your ear. You join in turn, for whatever that's worth. Even as you do that, you hear soldiers milling about on the other side of the chamber door.

> I need anons to start rolling to budge the dogging wheel before time runs out. 4 separate people roll 1d6 please. Oh, also, we kinda may need more than one success.
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

Rolled 2 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

We still haven't asked for his name.....
Rolled 1 (1d6)

You try and try until it hurts, but no matter how hard you twist and pull, it seems like your fingers are going to fall off. The wheel resolutely refuses to budge. You are so frustrated - to be foiled so late, within sight of deliverance! You hear the sound of a door being broken into - but it is not the door to your cabin.

With a renewed effort, you both apply yourselves until your muscles are about to burst - and you can feel the wheel move, ever so little! You feel as if you almost have it...

>> 5674174
... when suddenly, you lose grip of the wheel and stumble, taking the man with you. He manages to hold on just barely before you fall, but you inadvertently let off just a hint of a scream.

"What was that? Do you hear it?" "It came from the observation room!"

Rolling a check for the bad guys.
Rolled 6 (1d6)

"Let me handle it", you hear from the outside. Immediately afterwards, you hear a sharp CRACK against the door. For a second you are terrified that you two will be trapped like rats - but instead, the door remains standing, and doesn't even budge. (>>5674240)

"Gods, Werner, you kick like a woman. Let me do it."

You renew your grip around the wheel and pull, both as one, with all your might.

> need two separate d6 rolls. You only get two - the MCs are running out of time.
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Are you counting this? >>5674244
Sorry, that's an unrelated roll. Gotta be fair.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

BARELY. But was it in time?

(rollan for my own purposes)
Rolled 6 (1d6)

(forgot to roll. Also, this is me rolling for the badguys so higher is better for them and good for us. You need make no further rolls.)
Rolled 3 (1d6)

The wheel is recalcitrant. But now that the cat is out of the bag, you can at least freely grunt in your attempts, and the fact it moved slightly before means it is now easier to work it.

You hear another kick at the door. This time the wood gives way slightly - you can see a fracture forming on the door.

The wheel moves! Just... a little... bit... further...

Another kick in the door. The door splinters.

You have had just about enough with this dogging wheel. With one last HEAVE and a rusty squeak it finally gives way completely. It is now a matter of three or four seconds of rotation before it is fully unwound. But as it turns out, it's seconds you don't have, because >>5674270 the door of the observation room also gives way, and splinters. That pistol would sure come in handy right about now.

The boiler room man curses, quickly takes one of the flares from your hand, twists off the top and tosses it forward through the hole in the door. You hear yelling on the other side of the door and acrid yellow smoke starts pouring into the room.

The boiler room man gives one final mighty kick to the dome, which detaches and falls downward. There is now a hole in the floor, and immediately you can feel a rush of wind streaming below you.

The door shatters fully and through a cloud of smoke, a coughing man enters the room. Were not bound awkwardly into a single organism, you have no doubt you could easily take him on in this state. But as is, it is difficult to move.

The coughing man raises a pistol in your general direction.

Of one mind, you both jump through the hole.

A loud BANG is heard, and then - wind, wind all around you, as all the hubbub of the Lindwurm soars towards the sky... but in reality it is you who are falling, falling down towards Hadrian's sea.
> Rolled 3 (1d6)
(the bullet missed, just barely. It was close quarters but he was gassed up.)
The view is breathtaking. The moon is still visible, but the sky is already reddening in the east. It's about to be dawn. Every wave, every reef, every island, every coastline for dozens of miles all around you is illuminated and visible. It would be the best sight of your life, if you were not falling to your death and close to throwing up.

"RELEASE IT!" you scream at the man, with the wind making it so you can barely hear yourself.




Easy for him to say, but you are fastened in such a way that your back is turned to him. It is alright, though - because he holds on for the both of you. With both his hands and legs he grips you in a vice so strong you feel your circulation will cut off.


You and him both pull on the rope - he had shown you while you were putting on the contraption. A large sheet of linen cloth starts flapping about from the backpack on his back. The air streaming all about you catches the canvas and-

You are jerked upwards with incredible force. Well, technically, the man behind you is, and for a moment, you think you are liable to fall out of his grip. But the ropes he bound around you cut deep into your flesh. The pain is excruciating, and you close your eyes in agony.

When you open them, you are flying through the sky.

Well, technically, you are gliding. But the sight is spectacular, breathtaking, much more so than the distant vague silhouettes you could see from the Empress. The sea is at most several hundred yards beneath you - and closing in fast.
The aftertaste of the flare smoke still irritates your lungs. Your armpits and thighs hurt from the rope. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters. You are alive. You both laugh, for no reason whatsoever other than that you can. You laugh until you are out of breath. As for you, you even start crying - are they tears of joy or are you just finally processing what went on over the past few days?

"Sorry about that scare, luv. I had to deploy it as late as possible to put distance between us and them."

"Now what do we do?"

His hand starts wandering around your blouse, down towards your thighs.

"Hey You fiend! What do you think you are doing? Stop that!"

He finds what he is looking for - he takes the remaining flare from your waistline and shows it to you.

"Now, we wait for them to leave sight. And then we light this thing. It will work as long as we keep it above the waterline. I would have preferred to have the other flare, too. Together, they form the universal signal for airship survivors. If we're lucky someone will notice anyway."

The Lindwurm is high, high above you. And shrinking.

"Will they not also be able to come for us?"

"With a broken boiler and Archimedean on pump power? I think we're safe. We will get picked up long before that. I really don't think they will risk being seen. They were willing to sink the Empress for no other reason than to hide the existence of their ship. I don't think it's accidental that they waited for nightfall before boarding her."

"The bald man said it was their standing orders. `No witnesses`."

"Well, there you have it. And have you noticed how high she was flying after picking us up?"

"No, how could I?"

"By how rare the aer was, of course. We must have reached twenty-five, maybe even twenty-eight. That's, uh..."

"Two thousand eight hundred fathoms. I know."

"And where did you learn that?"

"A lady has to keep her secrets."

He laughs. "Suit yourself, luv. So anyway, I reckon we are in the Gulf of Theodorea. These are merchant waters. Look, there's a sail ship over yonder. Two leagues out, or more. But if we see them, they certainly see us. We are sure to get picked up by somebody. In the worst case, we can probably reach that shore yonder in a, oh, day or two."

"I am not much of a swimmer."

"Water's warm this time of year. I fancy our chances. I'll hold you up."

Somehow, you actually do feel reassured. And he is gripping you tightly with his hands, although perhaps not strictly in a socially acceptable manner, but you reassure yourself that it is all in the service of sharing a para-linen.
The water surface is approaching rapidly. One thing is foremost on your mind.

"Say, don't you think you should tell me your name by now?"

"I am not sure if I should tell you. Seeing as how my lady has a penchant for kissing unknown men."

"I am sure I have absolutely no idea what vivid dreams of yours you might be referring to, sir. Now, answer the question."

He laughs. "It's Everard. Formerly third lieutenant of the HMA Grand Victoria. Currently unemployed."

"An officer? Of the Commonwealth Air Wing? You?"

"I did say former."

"Very well, Everard. I am Clarissa."

"Oh, I know. Though you'll never catch me being able to repeat your full name, it's a mouthful."

"And how do you know that?"

"Newt told me. I was supposed to be your unseen bodyguard."

"Oh. Well, you did a wonderful job. But must you spoil this moment by mentioning him?"

He pauses. "Look, luv. About Newt. There is something you should..."
You scream quite loudly as the water surface approaches. A huge splash and a brief tussle underwater follows, and you swallow quite a bit of seawater. As you briefly emerge above the waterline, you take as much air as you dare. He had warned you of this back when he laid out the plan - you would only have a minute or two to unfasten yourself, or risk drowning. Fortunately, he knows where to pull, yank, and twist, so the ropes come off one by one and very soon you can emerge, free to move about independently from one another.

The linen canvas that saved your life is swimming freely alongside you.

The first rays of dawn fall on your faces.
You take a deep breath, and laugh. Not exactly firm ground. But the water is a close substitute. It is warm, and pleasant. You are floating, looking at the sky above, as stars twinkle out one by one, with the rising of the sun. It is almost tranquil. Der Lindwurm is a speck. A bad dream. It's gradually becoming larger and larger.

Wait, what? "Everard." He is under the surface, doing who knows what. You nudge him. "Everard!"

He surfaces. "What? Gods, woman, I didn't tell you my name to be your bloody bellhop--"

"Shut up and look! There! The Lindwurm! What is it doing?"

"Aw, crud."

The sky is already light enough that you can see the black cylinder against a darkish blue backdrop. It is descending - at an impossible speed.

"Is she falling? Did she lose the Unit after all?" he says, struggling against waves to keep watching. "Oh, dear gods. They cannot be that stupid."


"They are doing an Archimedean Drop. Nobody in their right mind ever does that. Lady, what the HELL did you do to piss them off?"

"ME?! It was you who exploded their boiler!"

"No, they are definitely coming for you!"

There is a flash of headache, and you can see, plain as day, the tattooed face of the bald man, angry, angry as you've never seen before. Even as he was killing people, you've seen him calm and collected. Whereas now, it seems like every piece of ink on his face, every wrinkle, burns with anger.

"Either way", Everard continues, "plan's changed. They are coming after us, and risking everything to do it."

The ship looks like it is in complete freefall for a while, but then you notice it gradually losing speed. It is hard to estimate at this distance. But it looks inevitable that it will crash into the surface. Not that you'd mourn that particular turn of events. Except it keeps decellerating.. getting slower... slower... A wave of water covers you at a crucial moment, and by the time you are back on the surface, the ship looks within a hair's breadth to crash into the sea. Your heart sinks when you realize the cylinder has come to a complete stop, barely avoiding the crash. As if to compensate, it now starts falling upwards with almost the same acceleration, for several seconds; then back down, and so it goes several times until it finally stabilizes.

"I never thought I'd see it done. That must've been hell for the poor sods aboard. They must have the most skilled flight crew of the League aboard that ship."

Mercifully, its horizontal distance is quite far. But even from this distance, you can see its chimneys start emitting thick black smoke, and the ship starts turning.

"Admire them later! What do we do now?"

"Make as little noise and foam as possible. If they spot us, we are dead."

> roll 1d6.
Rolled 5 (1d6)

Rolled 4 (1d6)

Rolled 2, 2, 2 = 6 (3d6)

A red and yellow flare streak through the air above the ship. Everard grows pale.

"This is bad." he explains. "It means `stay away, military business`. Civilians ships are sure to obey that."

"So they mean to find us, no matter what."

"For a ship that is under strict orders to remain secret, they are certainly risking a lot. But why? Surely they can't be that cross at a couple of saboteurs?"

"We are witnesses to the Empress' demise." You don't say the other part out loud: And the bald man wanted something from me, with that thing he made me drink.

"Soak your hair while you still have the chance."

"But the saltwater will ruin it!"

"Gods' sake, woman! You just had to be a redhead, didn't you? The more soaked it is, the less chance it will be seen from above. And keep it tied, or something. Don't let it spread."

"Oh, I'll just reach into my commode, shall I, and take a ribbon or two!" You grumble, but do as he says. "They're sooner likely to spot that oversized head of yours than my hair anyway."

Then, you remember something. "The linen! They will see the linen!"

The linen, painted bright white as if to spite you, is left to float freely beside you. It is still just underneath the water surface, as it doesn't have enough density to sink; worse, as it bobs and weaves at the surface, pockets of air are trapped beneath it, making it impossible for it to sink. It is a dead giveaway as to your position, especially when viewed from above. It is soaked, has become unwieldy, and would most certainly present a dead giveaway when viewed from a height.

"Good thinking. Quick, give it here."

It cannot be made to sink, despite your best efforts. While rolling it back into the pouch where it came from would be a completely hopeless endeavour, you can at least use the untied ropes to collect it into a manageable form. Eventually you succeed to bundle it up as much as possible. You even use it as a sort of a very primitive flotation aid, as the bundle refuses to sink, but is something you can hold on to below the surface.

"This will make things easier. But if we hadn't noticed it, it would 've become a disaster. Now stand as still as possible and be as vertical as possible."

(I am rolling for their spotters. They would need a 6 to spot you. Stay tuned.)
uh, that's 6.

we boned?
No, it was 3 separate checks. I meant they'd have to get at least one individual 6.

The chances of rolling less than 6 total on a 3d6 is ... lemme check the math... 10/216 or something like that. I wouldn't subject people to such a low chance roll.

While we're on the subject, getting at least one 6 in 3 rolls is pretty high. Now that I calculate it, it's around 42%. This went well for us.
I think it means a 6 for one of those individual rolls.
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You can easily track the The Lindwurm as it hovers at around a hundred yards above the water surface. It almost seems as if it is about to drift away, at a distance of about a mile, but then it starts rotating. It resumes its slithering search pattern for a while. Fortunately, the visibility is nowhere near perfect yet - but as the day goes on, the clear, cloudless sky will turn into your enemy. Just how long can they allow this ship to be in plain daylight?

For the better part of half an hour, you and Everard are as living statues, only making the smallest possible movements to keep your faces above the water.

"Thank the Gods, they can't seem to find us. We just need to stand still for a while longer, and we'll--"

Another flash of headache.

You are inside your laboratory. Wait... this is where I've had that weird concoction given by the bald man.

The distillate of the Third Principle is bubbling. The Tincture is ready. What a weird time to hallucinate. Am I going insane?

The viscous liquid swirls around a shallow dish. Like is drawn to like. She was Touched. Her blood boils with it.

In the Aether, she will leave a wake. Not strong, but she is the only one for leagues around.

Like a ferromagnetic compass to the poles, the fulgurate of the Red Mercury aligns itself to Aether lines.

You observe the bubbles... forming a pattern. Weak, but unmistakable.

"Twelve points starboard", you say to the soldier next to you, and he salutes and leaves.

The hallucination - though it's far to vivid to be called that - ends as abruptly as it started. You are vaguely aware of Everard holding your head above the water and calling for you to snap to.

Almost immediately, Der Lindwurm starts turning. And turning. And turning. Until it is bearing directly towards you.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

"Oh bloody-- how did they know?"

Despair grips you. You were so close. You almost got away. It is not fair. You begin laughing hysterically.

"It's me. They are after me. They can see me. I don't know how, but they can see me."

You have had enough. You regret the day you ever heard the first thing about the fucking Alchymists and the fucking mystery ships and the fucking soldiers. There is a limit to how much one girl can take.

"What are you talking about? Look, maybe we can..."

"Swim away, Everard. You still have a chance. It's me they're after. Just... turn and swim. I was an idiot to think this would end in any other way."

"You are not thinking straight. Let's--"

The rhythm of the sea changes its tune, a disquieting throb beneath, around, inside you. A chill, not born of the water's temperature but of primal fear, clutches at your heart. You instinctively clutch Everard by the shoulder.

The sea begins to roil and churn. A dark formless shape appears in the depths, just below the waterline, growing, ascending. Your eyes widen in terror as the monstrous shadow looms closer. For a moment, time itself freezes.

With a collosal surge, the behemoth breaches the surface. The frothy wake throws you back, and you and you swallow sea water. Your coughs are overshadowed by the churning groan of the ocean. Towering above you, a vast, dark, and unfathomable presence glints in the sun's morning rays, a silhouette cast against the dawn.

You are reasonably versed in the natural philosophy of the world. A whale, perhaps, or a narwhal, would be quite harmless. They have even been known to help the shipwrecked. But you know that other things, more sinister, roam the oceans at greater depths - though none typically dare enter the relative calmness of Hadrian's sea. But this is no whale. This thing is much larger.

Your blood chills in your veins, as you remember the stories of the Hadrian Kraken.

It doesn't seem fair at all - to survive all that, just to be eaten by a sea monster.

The titan rises into the sun, glistening. It has wounds on its skin, and an enormous yellowish eye, placed way further back than you would expect, glints at you menacingly, reflecting the hue of the morning sky. Water cascades down its hull in a gleaming veil. The roar of its emergence echoes ominously.

"Do you think we should take a chance with the Krauts after all?", Everard asks.
Der Lindwurm has already grown large against the horizon; it can't be more than three hundred yards away. But who has time to keep track of that, when the creature has just emerged?

Even with the water splashing at you and threatening to take you away, even with the fear of being eaten, you are perceptive enough to notice a detail quite out of place - an enormous cannon mounted on the creature's back. It is aiming upwards, directly towards the Lindwurm. The cannon rotates slightly, seemingly on its own, and with a huge, sudden roar that assails your ears with a wave of pressure, it CRACKS with the force of a hundred thunderstrikes.

( >>5675190 Rolled 4)

The shell appears to hit its intended target, and some debris falls downwards - but at this distance, and with the smoke of the chimneystacks obscuring the ship partially, you can't be sure.

Following a triumphant yell from Everard, the airship that gave you so many troubles immediately starts ascending with alarming acceleration - almost as if falling upwards.

A "HISS" of steam emanating from the cannon on the "creature's" back attracts your attention back towards it.

From the leviathan's blowhole, a small, only slightly overweight man with glasses emerges, until he is out up to his waist. His friendly face beams at you, and in perfect Mittelsprache he addresses you:

"I do apologize for keeping you waiting, Freiherrin Engels, we got to you as fast as we could. I am Professor Hamilton. I bring compliments from Newt, and he would appreciate it very much if you were to join us for breakfast."
Will be taking a few days' break. Feels like a good spot to catch one's breath before we get to the next leg of the journey.
well played, Geber
Thanks for running! I was wondering what walking off the ship unharmed would entail.
If you're referring to the dialog option "My dear boy, she was allowed to walk off that ship with a smile, neat as you please", that would be the double-agent plotline. You would make a deal with the bald guy (and by extension the League, question mark?). And trust me, you would have no choice but to obey the terms.

Even though we know a war is bound to start in a few years, the balance of power and its outcome of that war is directly in the hands of the players - one example is the Hanseatic League getting the Stone of the Philosophers, instead of Clarissa walking aboard the Pelagius with it. Now consider the strategic implications if we ended up in the submarine that is at the center of the plot while the League held our leash.
That sounds like it would have been an interesting plotline. Lots of sneaking around and making things explode. Actual League agent instead of just a suspected.
We can revisit that later. Clarissa is not under obligation to align with anyone. Sure, the bald guy is a villain, but it's been revealed that Newt is on the Pelagius. She does NOT like Newt.
Is Hamilton the tomb raider professor?
No, that would be Calvert. Hamilton is a returning character from the first quest (https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2020/4487084/)
Waiting eagerly for the next installment
We shall return soon to our scheduled programming. Thank you for your patience.
I don't think you can find that kind of dress inside a submarine.
Updoots when
Geber? You alright there?
Sorry about that, hell week at work. I'm back now.
"So this is the 'Hadrian Kraken'? I must say, I am quite impressed."

The sea creature, of course, turned out to be a submersible vessel - you caught on to that the moment people started coming out of it and helping you climb aboard.

You are sitting inside a cramped, small, dirty, utilitarian version of the private lounges from the Celestial Empress. You are given to understand this is the ship's wardroom. Currently it's just you, Everard, Professor Hamilton and a gaunt, silent guard in a uniform similar to, but not quite, that of the Commonwealth navy. There are too many things about the situation you don't quite understand, but these people have been kind enough to save you from certain death aboard der Lindwurm, so you are willing to not ask too many questions.

You have been given the smallest uniform they had on board, and it is still oversized for you. It is made of some gods-awful fabric, and truth be told, doesn't smell very appealing, either. It is crude, rigid, and chafes. But you are, at last, warm and dry.

"Yes, well," Professor Hamilton beams, "That little bit of biomimicry was my idea. The shape of the hull is distinctly cetacean in design, not just because a capsular shape is the second most stable - the first being a sphere, which would hardly be fitting for our usage - but also because it is uniquely suited to disguise. We have found a marvelous way to mimic the peculiar properties of the skin of several clada of marine mammals. Our friends from the Royal Guild of Alchymists have a curios way of adding sulphur to rubber, which when--"

The guard clears his throat.

"-- oh, but I am boring you, aren't I?"

You have phased out for a bit, to be sure. But you smile and say "Oh, not at all, do continue." You will take talking to this man for hours if the alternative is to listen to the bald man prattle of catalysts and serpents.

Everard is currently busy wolfing down a third bowl of stew.

"My, you certainly have an appetite, mister Holcombe." the professor says.

Still chewing, Everard replies: "At least she was fed something. All I had these past two days was a stolen wheel of mouldy cheese." He licks the plate clean. "And I don't recall giving you my name, Prof."

"Oh, we are quite aware of your identities."

Another voice, from behind, speaks: "Indeed. And you should be grateful. Those identities are the sole reason you were allowed on board."

You recognize that voice. You had expected him, of course. They had mentioned him. And yet, a lump of loathing is caught in your throat as you turn around and see him entering the wardroom. You almost didn't recognize him in that fancy red uniform of Guards Infantry.


"Welcome aboard, Miss Engels-Halsgaard.", Newt says, somewhat cordially.
There is no mistaking it. You have only seen the man once, in a lounge of a hotel in Varfurt. He was in a suit then, suave and business-like. Everything after that was in writing or via middlemen. But it was a meeting you shall never forget.

"Please, leave us." he turns to others. The guard obeys at once. Everard swipes a piece of bread off the table before leaving. The professor gives you a kind, oblivious wave before leaving and closing the door.

You are alone in the wardroom with Newt. He sits across you, and wastes no time before putting a brief-case on the table. With calm movements, he pulls out a small ledger and a pen.

If he is trying to unsettle you, it's working, damn it. You can barely contain your rage.

"This is all your fault." Your voice is not even raised. It is cold, clinical, full of contempt. It is a statement of fact.

"What would that be?"

"This... *everything*." You wave your hand around. "You sent me to stalk Alejandro. It's because of you that I was on the Empress. Mitzi is dead because of you."


"My handmaiden."

"You mean Miss Brose? She boarded the Celestial Empress with you?" He puts on his monocle and starts scribbling in the ledger. Of course he would know her name. He knew everything about you, it seemed at times.

"You know all this would happen, didn't you? With Alejandro?"

"Heavens, no. When I originally had you sent to Al Avraam to catch Mister Ortega's eye, I had hoped that everything would be resolved on his estate. Of course, I knew of the airship's existence. I had Mister Holcombe infiltrate her crew approximately a month ago, for an entirely different reason, after all. But taking the guests on a sudden leisure cruise with his airship was a spontaneous decision by Mister Ortega. In fact, I commend you for being able to effect an invite after such a short acquaintance."

A bell rings twice shortly, but he doesn't seem to react. He notifies you, calmly: "This is to inform the crew that we are diving below polemoscope depth."

"We are... diving? Under the surface, right now?"


"It does not feel like it." Somehow, you feel as if you are in a mouse-trap. You sigh. "You really are an officer of the Commonwealth? You've been one all this time? Or is this some disguise?"

"I do honestly hold a rank of Major in Her Majesty's Rifle Guards."

"Are you telling me the Commonwealth condones their officers blackmailing honest women?"

"That business... I shan't defend it. But it was necessary. In my line of work, recognizing value is everything. I happened to come across your ill-advised love letter. I recognized its value to you, specifically. I also recognized that your unique position, connections and qualities could ... generate value, shall we say ... for the Crown of the Commonwealth. Is there anything more natural under the circumstances than that we should enter a transactional relationship?"
You laugh. It is an ugly laugh, full of loathing. "Is that how you call it? You had me spy on people. You had me steal papers. And don't think I didn't notice that when ever I did one of your `innocent little jobs` the person I spied on would be involved in a scandal, or soon be brought to ruin, or end up imprisoned."

"Well noticed, but if it helps, I assure you the personal ruin of those men was not my main objective."

"Yes, I am not stupid. Your uniform made it all fall into place. They were all industrial types, or officers. Important men. I wasn't working for a sleazy man after all. I was an agent of the damn Commonwealth."

"An unwitting agent, if that makes you feel any better."

"So, what now? What is going to happen to me? Am I a loose end to be taken care of?"

"Miss, aboard this vessel, we obey the law of the Empress. The government of the Commonwealth is not in the business of murdering inconvenient people; the captain would have me hanged, for one. I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that we have just saved you from certain death."

"But you didn't save me out of the kindness of your own heart. You want information."

"I won't hide it. I was hoping you would tell me what had transpired aboard the Empress. And... afterwards."

"Both the Commonwealth and the League can go to hell as far as I am concerned. I will have no part of this. How about we part ways, you return to me that damnable letter, and you never bother me again?"

"You must understand that the very existence of this vessel is one of the most closely kept secrets of Her Majesty's Imperial Navy. We might not have the luxury of allowing you off the ship immediately."

"I knew it. For all your talk, I am a prisoner."

"Quite the opposite. But alright, assume we release you. Then what? You think you can go back to your estate and live your life? You are an intelligent woman, Miss. I think you'll come to see past your dislike of me to see the situation as it is. It is an undeniable truth, that this submersible is at this moment the single safest place for you in the world. You made some powerful enemies; of that I can assure you."

"They don't even know who I am."

His eyebrow raises slightly. *Crap. I am already giving him information he doesn't have.*
"Even if that is true, I find underestimating the League operatives is never wise, and usually quite costly. Do you really wish to gamble on it? There are other considerations as well. You are one of the two lone witnesses to a grievous crime with international implications. The Crown could... extend its protection. A woman of your talents could find plenty of opportunity of advancement in Her Majesty's employ. Naturally, we would make whatever arrangements you wish for little Hildegard, too."

> "You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."

> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."

> "You're right about one thing. I am involved, whether I like it or not. Protection of the Commonwealth crown sounds like the least you can do to right that wrong. If I have to choose, I might as well choose the side I've been working on all this time anyway."

> (other)
>> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
It's personal.
>> "You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."
Welcome back!
Listen, what I need and want is a husband. This line of work you are forcing me into, and I understand I don't have much of a choice here, will eventually be fatal for my betrothal. What arrangements can YOU offer for my *deep sigh* financial affairs and my own domestic happiness?
>"You're right about one thing. I am involved, whether I like it or not. Protection of the Commonwealth crown sounds like the least you can do to right that wrong. If I have to choose, I might as well choose the side I've been working on all this time anyway."
Along with some elements of this >>5679573
>> "You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
>"You're lucky that I have a personal score to settle with those bastards. They killed Mitzi and Alejandro, and they have my necklace. If my talking can hurt them in any way, I'll talk your ears off. I'll even sit in your submersible for as long as necessary. But after all is settled, I never saw you, I don't know who you are, and I was certainly never on this ship."
Do bring up the point about how important a good marriage is to us
>"You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn any longer. You sent me to get the dispatch from Alejandro, and I failed. That's the end of it as far as I am concerned. You can learn all about the Empress from Everard. As for me, throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."
Personal score

Excellent point. Looking for husbando (backed by 2 others as a secondary option)

Want nothing to do with you

Commonwealth crown
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"I shall not work with you. You are a blackmailing blackguard, and I will not be your pawn after this. Throw me overboard or release me ashore. Either way, this conversation is over."

There is a long pause, as he silently scribles something in his ledger. He is trying to be calm, but there are subtle cues that can be detected. Sweat drops. Looking at his watch. You can see that you have him, but you let him stew for a bit. Finally, you resume: "Unless, of course..."


"Well, you did save our lives. And you are most fortunate that my interests align with yours in this matter. I have a personal debt to settle with those murderous swine." You suddenly remember Alejandro's joking offer to switch course and run off into the mountains with the airship. The memory stings a bit. "So if my talking can hurt them in any way, then I'll talk your ears off. Whether the information happens to benefit the Commonwealth or the League is of no consequence to me."


"However... it is of large consequence to you."

You are met with only silence. You smile the sweetest smile you can muster, and for once, you really, really mean it. You proceed: "Now, how did you put it? I recognize the value of this information to you, specifically. Is there anything more natural under the circumstances than that we should enter a transactional relationship?"

The look he gives you at this moment can only be described as professional admiration.


In the end, the haggling took no more than several minutes. It is a testament to how well the negotiations went for you that you were somehow even able to arrange for an impromptu fan to be fetched for you. It is a crude thing, originally used for the bellows in the furnace room.

"... I'll be wanting the letter delivered to me personally before I leave the ship, of course. Oh, and a written guarantee that you will leave me alone in the future. *And* you shall disavow that I had ever been in your employ. I am NOT working for your blasted Crown. I have a king already, I see no need to replace him with an empress."

"... will there be anything *else*, Miss Engels-Halsgaard?"

"There is one more thing, actually."

"Oh, indeed?" He is at the verge of exasperation. Good.
"Yes, indeed. I have spent the past year socializing around the continent, ruining people for your benefit. My marriage prospects have already suffered enough for this. This line of work you forced me into...and me being bound to play dead and languish aboard this submersible for the foreseeable future... I simply do not see how my betrothal will survive it."

You offer a deep sigh. A fan in a lady's hands has a language of its own, and you happen to know how to spell out "I am feeble and threatened and uncertain and hopeless" in nothing but fan movements.

"Without that betrothal, my financial ... and marital ... prospects are nonexistent. For a lady of my age, that is nothing short of a disaster. What do I have to look forward to when I leave this ship? Would you honestly deprive a young woman the purpose of her life?"

"What would you have me do? Have the Crown somehow... help your betrothal to the young Von Ortmueller survive at all costs?"

"NO!" you blurt out before catching yourself. "I mean... no. There are other ways. Certainly, a man of your resources..."

"Miss, I am quite a few things, but being a matchmaker is not one of them. I cannot in good honesty promise to aid you in this regard. Frankly, I fail to see what this has to do with any of--"

Oh, gods, how can men be so stupid? When it's about espionage and subterfuge they are as subtle as a blushing maiden, but to understand anything about a lady, a direct approach is needed. You reach across the table, grab him by his collar, and pull him close, although you stop yourself an inch before you collide with his slimy, wrinkled forehead.

"Listen here, old man. You are quite fine playing at games that can topple governments and send armies across continents, so I am sure you will figure out how to manage one goddamn marriage. What I *really* need is a husband. One that isn't Frederick. Getting me debt-free would be a good start, but who will marry some nobody from Sternbergen with a broken betrothal to her name? And since *you* have blackmailed me for a year, and are the reason I am in this mess, you *will* find me a suitable match. And he better be tall and handsome. And a good dancer!"

His monocle falls to the table and rolls around before coming to a complete stop. He doesn't even struggle, he is too shocked to think straight. Finally, he stammers: "I... I promise I will personally make sure to see if we can make such arrangements. But Miss, I cannot make guarantees for people's hearts."

"Oh, just you get his 'heart' in the room alone with me for five minutes and let me worry about the rest."
You release his collar and he falls into his chair. He flails about for his monocle until he feels it and puts it back on his face with a shaken hand. It takes some seconds for him to regain his composure. If someone had told you just a few days ago you would have Newt so pale and his feathers so ruffled, you would have laughed it off for a lark.

You sigh. "Alright, Islander. I'll stay aboard your Nautilus--"


"--whatever. And I'll work with you, but not for you. Now, let's talk. You don't happen to have an Alchymist aboard, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, we have one. Why?"

"I recommend you send for him. Trust me, he'll want to be here for this."

The Ship's Royal Alchymist, a morose, silent fellow who was introduced to you as Sartorius, says almost nothing the whole time, though his face did go through a veritable kaleidoscope of shades of pale green, especially when you had mentioned the details of the Stone of the Philosophers and the bald man.

You make sure you don't withhold anything crucial, except perhaps some crass Everard's remarks about gallivanting with certain assets out, or some intimate memories you shared with him in the heat of the moment. Things like that shouldn't be anybody's business anyway.

Recalling the scenes from the lounge, or the conversations with the bald man is difficult, but not insurmountable. They offer you some rum to keep your spirits high through those recollections.

They listen intently, occasionally consulting or exchanging glances, and Newt writes everything down diligently. It takes a few hours and many questions to get to details. They seem particularly interested in the Lindwurm. You get the feeling that they have heard of that ship before.

"-- and that's when we broke the water and discarded the para-linen. I believe you know the rest."

"Fascinating. Is that all?"

Technically, there is one more thing. You hadn't mentioned the hallucinations or the dreams up until this point.

> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
> You've worked hard to exchange this information for important assurances, so, you would hate to bring into question your reliability as a source of information by mentioning some inconsequential hallucinations.
> (Additionally, feel free to write in other details you might want to withhold, emphasize or embellish.)
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with
The bald man carries a great number of potions and concoctions with him at all times. One to inject himself with, one a "truth" serum, one I drank myself and another that he used to track me somehow.
>A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
It's a good deal for us, all things considered
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
>A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
I see nothing wrong with revealing this to an expert. Maybe we can tell them more about the Lindwurm's layout but I feel Everard knows more than we do.
>> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
> A deal is a deal. Tell them about the hallucinations and the weird dreams you've been experiencing. Maybe there is something this Alchymist can do to help you with.
>> You've worked hard to exchange this information for important assurances, so, you would hate to bring into question your reliability as a source of information by mentioning some inconsequential hallucinations.
The people have spoken. We're coming clean. I'll make sure to include the topics you laid out too.
"That dreadful man has had all sorts of concoctions on his person at all times. I already told you about how he did something to poor Alejandro that seemed to force him to tell the truth. He had to inject himself with something, too, which alleviated his trembling. He said he was a hundred years old..."

While Newt rolls his eye sin an incredulous way, Sartorius chimes in in a morose monotone: "He seems quite skilled with his distillations, to be sure. Lots of Alchymists hone their skills in the realm of pharmacology."

"There is one more thing. I was reluctant to tell you this, for fear you shall think me a madwoman. But I assure you I have my wits about me. The bald man had me drink some weird concoction, telling me that otherwise I'd have some consequences from touching the Stone. Something about the whispering of the Serpent. I was hoping I could ask Mister Sartorius about this - this whole business seems to me to be related to his line of work."

Newt stands up impatiently " Needless to say, Miss Engels-Halsgaard, if you find yourself hearing some strange whispers, please consult with the ship's chirurgeon, though I'd hardly blame you, seeing what you've been through recently. I shall leave this alchymical discussion to the two of you for the time being. As for myself, I should probably check up on Mister Holcombe before he eats through our entire larder. I am very interested to hear his assessment of the layout of the Lindwurm."

*And to double check if anything he says conflicts with my story, of course*.

"Well then, I shall be taking my leave." To your surprise, Newt greets you with a small bow before leaving the wardroom. One would be forgiven to think him the very picture of gallantry.

The door closes. Sartorius spoke very little directly to you until now, only being content with asking questions about the bald man. It seems as if looking into the distance through you.

"I am afraid you will be quite disappointed by my help, madam. I am a Salamander; my expertise lies in distilling the fulgurants necessary for the powders and explosives, and fueling the operation of the Archimedean apparatus. I do not believe there is a man alive who can consider himself an expert on the subject of the Stone. If what you say is true, then the stone around your neck was the first one seen in centuries. We of the Orthodox creed oppose studying it. But I've never heard it described as toxic. Physically, at least."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"The records are old, and exaggerated to the point of myths. But it has been said that those who meddle with the stone sooner or later start hearing the Serpent whispering to them. Some were even said to be driven insane by these whispers."
"WHAT? You'll forgive me if that doesn't sound very reassuring."

"It is supposed to take years, from what I understand. Have you had such effects?"

"I... am not going to lie to you. I have been ... seeing some ... dreams. While I was awake. Sudden headaches. And this started after I got into contact with the stone. Or after I drank the concoction. Look, I'm not insane, alright?"

"I cannot say. You do not seem insane to me."

"That's... comforting", you say, though mostly out of courtesy. "But then what did the man have me drink? Can't you help me with these headaches at least?"

"We can only hope that he was truthful when he said his medicine would protect you from the effects. I myself know nothing about this."

It seems more likely to you that he did some sort of an experiment on you than help you cope with the stone. Alejandro would have held the stone too, so why didn't it have any effect on him?

You sigh. "Can you at least tell me what the bloody Serpent even is?"

"That much is common knowledge. It is an ancient symbol revered by the Order. A serpent eating its own tail. It is meant to represent the cycle of death and rebirth. Some older sects believe in a more literal interpretation, and worship her as a deity."

"Well, this man was certainly convinced of its existence. He spoke of all sorts of nonsense, like the Serpent, the blood of Ishtar--"

Sartorius is not a man of expressive emotions. But you can tell you struck something with that. He catches your wrist, and squeezes it hard, but resumes looking at your eyes. He grows pale in the face.

"Ishtar? You're certain he mentioned that?"

"Yes. Told me I have the blood of Ishtar. Asked me about my ancestry. Please, sir... you're hurting my wrist."

"How would he know? Did he take your blood? Did. He. Take. Your. BLOOD?"

"I... don't think so. Please, what are you doing?"

Hastily, he rolls up the sleeves of your impromptu uniform and, sure enough, upon closer inspection, there is a dark splotch at your elbow pit. With all that was going on at the Lindwurm and your recent escape, you hardly had time to notice this detail.
He seems to catch himself. He releases you. "Apologies. Can you describe to me the man again? Can you go into detail with the tattoos?" You painstakingly describe once again what little you remember about the tattoo patterns on the bald man's face. There is not much you can tell him, except that they appeared to contain some cuneiform script and geometric patterns.

"Well? What does this tell you?"

"I will refrain from speculation."

"You know, mister Sartorius, you are not very useful to me at this moment."

"It's just Sartorius. There are things I am not allowed to say. I will not say them even to the captain, or Newt." He stands up abruptly. "I should go. I must speak to... everyone. I must... I must..."

Now it is your turn to grab him by his robe.

"That's all well and good, but you're not the one threatened with insanity. At the end of the day the bald man is one of yours. I am owed some explanations!"

He looks around helplessly for a bit before meeting your gaze. "I will tell you this much. Alchymy is a broad art. Like I said, I am a Salamander. There are three other orders, each associated with a primary element of nature. The man you have been in contact with must be a Sylphite. An Aetherite, to be more precise."

"All... right? You are saying that as if there is some significance to it."

"Perhaps not to you. But Sylphites have been thought extinct for more than half a century. They were all killed in the Purge." You are vaguely aware that some people in Babylonia got fed up with these sorcerers and razed their temples overnight half a century ago.

"And how is this significant?"

"It would be -- miraculous. Every order held its own mysteries, its own libraries. This man represents nearly a quarter of the accumulated wisdom of the entire Order, thought long lost. Oh, but if a member of the Aetherite Kabal got his hands on the Catalyst..."

He pulls your robe from your hands, and rushes out the door. Halfway through, he pops his head back into the wardroom:

"It has been a... it has been... goodbye."

The door closes and you are alone in the room. You look around the empty wardroom.

Well, one thing never changes. Every time you spend time in the room with a bloody Alchymist, you end up knowing less and having more questions.
The guard from earlier enters the room. He seems more relaxed than before. "If you please, I would like to show you to your cabin now, madam."

"Am I to be confined?"

"Civilians are prohibited from certain parts of the ship, but other than that, no, madam."

*And you are here to make sure I don't `accidentally` make a wrong turn, I suppose.*

> Let him show you to your cabin.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Ask to speak with the captain.

As you walk, you spend the time by talking to the guard. He seems quite polite.
> Inquire about Everard.
> Inquire about Sartorius.
> Inquire about Pelagius.

As always, write-ins are allowed.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
We went through a lot. Some medical checkup is due.

> Inquire about Pelagius.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.

> Inquire about Pelagius.
>Let him show you to your cabin.
>Inquire about Pelagius.
Tell me about this sub and what Newt's position in all this is
>> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
>> Inquire about Pelagius.
>> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
>> Inquire about Pelagius.
Should probably have our whole body checked and tested to ensure that the bad man did not leave any nasty souvenirs behind or pricked the skin elsewhere.
>Let him show you to your cabin.
>Inquire about Pelagius.
Clarissa must eat too. I don't believe they served anything in the prison.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Inquire about Sartorius.
> Ask to be taken to the chirurgeon.
> Inquire about Everard.
"Actually, I was told I should report to the ship's chirurgeon. Is he any good?"

"Old Bonesaw Boyle? Oh, he's the best there is. You might want to keep your voice up, though."

"Oh... that's just... splendid.

"His alcove is all the way back in section V, so I will have to escort you there. I will also be there to show you to your cabin afterwards."

"Oh, how nice of you". So, this is the guard dog that Newt assigned you. Everard probably has one too.

As you walk down the corridor, the sounds of shoe on wood echo throughout the hull. You feel as if you are in a metallic maze.

You pass various doors and compartments. There are circular windows in the interior at least, so you steal a few sights here and there. You can't make heads nor tails from what you're seeing. There are occasionally letterings - you were amused that the room you were interrogated in was called "SALON". Clearly anyone who has served aboard this vessel for longer than a month would know every inch of it without needing the signs.

You catch a short glimpse of a man with an eyepatch inside one of the compartments in heated discussion with somebody. The guard is quick to rush you along. "This is the bridge, ma'am. You're not allowed there."

"Well, which parts are off-limits? So I know I don't accidentally wander there, of course."

"You may have noticed those large athwartships bulkheads--"

"The what?"

"The walls with large doors that have wheels on them. Athwartships just means transversal. These walls divide the ship into five compartments, compartment I being at the prow and compartment V being at the stern. Compartments I and II are where you will be allowed. This is where the living quarters are, mostly. We are now in compartment III, at the center. This houses the bridge, the armoury and the Archimedean Alcove. As long as you stay in the forward two compartments, you should be quite alright."

From above you hear a very peculiar sound, a high-pitched vibration with some irregular drum-like reverberations. This was similar to what you heard when you were near the top of the Celestial Empress- the sound of the Archimedean doing its work. You don't even ask about what the Archimedean is doing aboard a submersible - gone are the days when you wanted to know everything. The less you know, the better.

You encounter one of those doors he was talking about. He goes on. "There are multiple corridors in every compartment, but the bottleneck between any two compartment is a single pressure door. In case we need to seal them off to avoid flooding."

"Have you had to do it before?"

His lips stiffen somewhat. "Once."

You know when to push a topic. This is one of those times.
You move through the massive door, and immediately you can feel the sound of the engines, the vibrations, and the temperature increase. Even the air is stuffier. This compartment has no inside windows.

A sailor, his face black with coal, passes you by and gives you a boisterous wink.

"Is that the new recruit, then, Reginald? Looks a bit soft!"

"Sod off, Parker."

Parker's cackling gets lost in the noise of the engines as he walks down the hall.

Your escort turns to you. "Apologies for that, ma'am. The sailors are a decent bunch, but they have been... starved for companionship over the past year. We are in compartment IV now. This is where the furnace and the boilers are."

"I sort of gathered that much."

The floors in this compartment are metallic, but the echo of your footsteps is deafened by the operation of who knows what engine. It's a long, claustrophobic walk.

"So this is a miraculous vessel, then? A marvel of engineering?"

"You'll have better luck asking the Prof about it. He never shuts up. Being aboard a submersible has its... unique challenges."

He gives you a subconscious look-over as he says that. It hasn't escaped you that he considers another "challenge" has just boarded this ship, no matter how much it was given a man's uniform.

"Do you happen to know what happened to the gentleman who was rescued alongside me?"

"I believe Sir Webber and the professor are questioning him in the officers quarters. He'll be released after they're done, same as you" Oh, so Everard merits officer's quarters but I get stuck in the salon. Interesting.

"Sir Webber? Is that Newt's real name?"

"It is so. It is sort of an inside joke aboard the Pelagius. We are all terrified that old spook Sartorius will get fed up with us and turn us into newts."

A few days ago you would have laughed at this joke. Now, it doesn't seem nearly so funny.

"I've been meaning to ask about him. Is he always quite ... like *that*?"

"He is a good man, I'm sure. Never causes problems. He doesn't socialize much, I'm told, even with the officers. You know his sort."

*Much more than I've ever wanted to.*

Finally, you pass the last pressure door and as you round a dog-leg in the corridor, you are greeted by the sight of a man being held down by two sailors as he is screaming for his life.

The white-haired, white-bearded head of an old man and imposing nose appears from behind a screen. "Oh, blast you, stay still! It's just a toenail!" He picks up a pair of pliers and goes back behind the screen. The screams intensify.

"QUIT YOUR WAILING, SIR! Or did they start recruiting women into Her Majesty's Imperial Navy?" His look falls upon you. He drops the pliers on the floor. "What in the ACTUAL DEVIL IS HAPPENING ON THIS BLASTED SHIP?"
Correction: last sentence was meant to say "This is not one of those times."
What takes the most time is to secure a little privacy. There is nothing but a board separating the chirurgeon's alcove from the rest of the compartment - there are some other workshops and storages in the same room, apparently - and while the board may be enough to stop people from accidentally seeing what they don't want, it doesn't do much to prevent peeking, as was obvious by the giggling going on just in the room over. In the end an arrangement was reached wherein Reginald, your guard, stands watch just outside the alcove, and the screen linen is hanged to shield you from the rest.

He is unlike any doctor you've ever seen, but it's not likely there is another one aboard.

He performed a very quick inspection of your skin.

"Bit skinny, aren't we madam? You need to eat more beef."

"I beg your pardon?"

"How do you expect to get married?" He rudely spins you around on your feet while inspecting your back and shoulders. "It's hips men want, good, child bearing hips! You're passable in other compartments, but woman, you need to eat better!"

"My hips are just fine, thank you! Are there any other needle marks?"

"WHAT? Why are you whispering? Speak LOUDER, MADAM!"


"No need to yell!" He looks you over some more. "None that I can find. I'd have to take a better look in the sunlight. We can go to Hamilton's study once we surface." As the rest of the vessel, this cabin is lit by a gaslight.

"Does the professor have a window in his study?"

"Madam, his study IS a window. So you say you were imprisoned for three days. Did they feed you anything?" he says, while inspecting your teeth.

"Fhome tafthelefh... Some tasteless gruel, twice a day. I didn't have much of an appetite."

"That's Kraut cuisine for you! Well, don't worry. We have plenty of Her Majesty's solid, good food on this ship. We'll whip you up into shape in no time." He inspects your thighs one by one, and then to your horror starts lifting your gown. "Did they leave your virtue intact?"

You promptly slap away his hand: "Yes, although I don't see how that's any of your business."

He lets out a rambunctious laughter. "Madam, I have a granddaughter your age. But no matter."

"So I am physically well?"

"You walked in here on both your feet, you have all your limbs and are not presently dying of scurvy or some other chronic or acute ailment. I have absolutely no idea how in the blazes you think I can be of any help."

"Look, Doctor... the reason why I am here is... they had an Alchymist on board."

"You have my condolences, madam, truthfully, but we have a similar proliferation of that particular infestation on this very vessel and I wasn't able to extirpate it in two years since I've been aboard."
As you put your uniform on, you venture: "No, I mean... they made me drink some weird alchymical concoctions. Talked about the blood of Ishtar. Of the Stone of Philosophers. Whispers of the serpent, they called it. Ever since then, I've been ... having these headaches, followed by vivid visions. I was wondering if you knew something about--"

"I see, I see. Madam, you have come to the right person."

"I have?"

"Exactly so! Alchymists? Serpents? Whispers? It's all clear to me. I know exactly what is ailing you."

Hopefully, you look at him as he singles out a small brown bottle out of a cabinet, and gives it to you. Eagerly you take it and read the label.

"Laudanum? Really?"

"Of course! A fragile little thing like you? Three days in mortal danger? Your nervous system was overstimulated, dangerously overstimulated, madam!"

You can hardly contain your jaw from dropping while the doctor continues rambling on:

"The female mind is a feeble thing, you see, prone to hysterics. I am happy that you consulted me when you did, it could have been much worse. A sip of this three to four times a day, get a good nights' sleep, and you'll be right as rain, and then you can return to embroidery and needlework, no harm done."

A red mist falls over your vision. This much, at least, you know is not caused by any alchymists.

The next thing you know, you are being dragged away by the guard, while the doctor is picking up his glasses from the floor, yelling after you:

"I knew it! My diagnoses are never wrong! Textbook case of hysteria! Drink the laudanum, madam! Check up in three days! You will thank me later!"
I fucking knew it kek
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"Miss, please, if you will..." Reginald is at the edge of exasperation.

"Absolutely not! You must be insane!"

"But Miss, it's the only available cabin we have."

"You call *this* a cabin? I can barely turn my head around!"

Here at the front of the submersible, the sounds of the engine are slower and your screams echo across the corridor. Yours is not the only cabin in this corridor - in fact, there are at least a dozen. Some confused heads of sailors are popping out. Not that you particularly care.

"But it fits three people!" Reginald pleads, to no avail.

"Maybe if they are pygmies and don't mind being very very close! There aren't any windows?"

"Well it's a bloody submersible, isn't it?"

"And? I should have liked to observe the wildlife!"

"Miss, this is your cabin. If you want to change it, take it up with the captain."

"Captain? I'll take it to the First Lord of the Admiralty if I have to! Alright, where is he?"

"He is currently occupied on account that we are diving."

"That doesn't even explain anything!"

You sit down at one of the three beds - the single one, not the other two which are, dreadfully, stacked above one another.

The mattress is hard and the room smells of chemicals. You eye the bottle of laudanum. You shrug. You take a swig. The doctor is a pig, but you could use a little bit of calming down, for sure.

"And isn't there a single mirror on this blasted ship?"

A familiar voice rings through the corridor. "Well, I didn't have any trouble finding you. Your shrieking can be heard through half the bloody ship."

Everard's head pops into your cabin.

"Are you decent, milady?"

"Everard." You give Reginald a look, and the guard he decides he has urgent business everywhere. He excuses himself politely and marches away, probably relieved.

"In the flesh. Newt squeezed me dry." He whistles. "Say, it's quite a nice cabin you've got in there. Fancy inviting me in?"

"In your dreams."

"You have it all to yourself? Blimey. I have to share mine with two navy boys. They don't seem to like me very much."
"So, what do we do now?"

Everard shrugs. "I suppose you've been told that we are not allowed behind those pressure doors, on account of it being so secret and all. We'll just spend some time in the crew quarters and bore ourselves to death. That is, unless milady has some ideas on how to spend time aboard."

*See, Clarissa, this is why you shouldn't passionately kiss men in the heat of the moment. They get all sorts of strange ideas.*

"Oh, but you can ask the professor if he has any books. He has asked me to fetch you for lunch."

You were offered some food after coming aboard, but you barely touched it. Everard ate your bit enthusiastically, before you were separated. You haven't had a proper meal since that feast on the Celestial Empress.

"Lunch? Like this?" Not only are you wearing a poorly fitting man's uniform, but the most humiliating part of your dress have to be the shoes. They are so much oversized that you are liable to trip.

"I think you looked better in that torn-up dress, personally."

"I bet you did. You pig."

"I love it when you call me that. It excites me."

"Oh you absolute p..." You sigh, but take him under the arm as you two start walking down the corridor. "Well, I suppose it beats waiting to slowly go insane in a boring gas-lit cabin. It's not like I have a mirror to fix up my hair. They don't even have windows! The accommodations are simply dreadful."

"If you're screaming this much about the cabin, I can't wait to hear when you see the toilets."

"What do you mean by that?"

Everard just gives you a wink and a laugh. A mild state of panic and dread starts setting in. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?"
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Oh no. Just throw us in the ocean.
I will resume writing tomorrow, but have no meaningful choices to give you at this time that wouldn't feel forced.

Since the next thing in the itinerary is a lunch in the professor's study, perhaps you can prepare a list of topics you wish to discuss with him. He is a polymath, and was involved with the construction of the Pelagius. Though keep in mind he will probably not be able to talk much about classified topics. He would be well versed in history, science, and marine biology.
Standard questions about the Pelagius' range, armaments, time it can spend submerged, and how deep it can dive.
Weird sea creatures, we love those storeies
Ask him under whose authority is the League doing these "No witnesses" black operations.
The accommodation can't be helped but maybe the professor has a mirror we can borrow?
Is Lieutenant Glennister the only person unaccounted for?

>passable in other compartments
I'm insulted, we didn't roll jackpot in the chest compartment to be called passable!

Fun fact: Laudanum (opium) became an effective cure all in Victorian times because most medicine back then actually harm more than they heal.

Are we still wearing the wet and torn dress underneath?

I do want to know how they found us.
Were they tracking the Lindwurm? How did they know of our escape? What is this submersible doing here? When can we expect to see land again? What does science or history say about the philosopher's stone?
We should also ask for things to alleviate the boredom like musical instruments and books.
That was funny and nice. Pray we don't get boarded out of the blue again.

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