Steam London

From Brass Goggles

Steam London Game Thread (WIP to replace the summary lost due to someone's inadvertent erasure of the original summary; much will be simply copied and pasted until I can get around to editing and formatting. Also, This may be boiled back down to a summary at some point. I cannot and will not guarantee any set timeframe for completion - I simply have too many other things going on. Life happens, in other words. Apologies in advance to all authors and players of the game - MWBailey)

[edit] Steam London

Bracer had been moving around the city since sunrise. It was now midday and he was getting hungry again. He was using his usual mode of transport: his grapple. He had become very good at slinging it onto poles, bars, ledges etc. and then swinging gracefully from the current rooftop to the wall of the next building and winching himself up. It was not at all a "spider-man" style way of getting around, despite what people may initially think. He knew where he was. He almost always knew where he was in London, on the rooftops at least. He headed a little south and spotted what he was looking for. It was a market place, one he often visited when he wanted food. There was an old building at the edge of the market place, it was helpful because older buildings were smaller buildings and that meant he would be able to attach his grapple to a part of the building, and absale down into the market. Something he was in the act of doing right now. He had two steady hands on the winch at his waist, gently lowering himself down the edge of this building. It took a while to reach the floor, but if he did it too fast he would likely loose his grip on the winch and end up falling a distace that didn't bare thinking about. When he neared the ground he didn't go the final way, he waited. There was a stall just below him, it was a bakery, displaying a particularly delicious looking lump of bread on a table near him. There was a roof over it so he couldn't tell where the owner was, also everyone in the market seemed to have been too busy to have noticed him, so he slowly winched himself down, a rare occasion where his feet connecting with a horizontal surface for a brief few moments of the day. He crawled along next to the stall, popped his head over the table with the bread on. The owner was selling some muffins to a customer on the other side of the stall, fortunately. He sunk back down under the level of the table and moved back to the wall. He stood up and put the loaf of malformed bread in the satchel at the back of his belt. He then went back up, up towards the top of the building, up towards freedom, up towards his paradise. Up towards his home. He had become well acquainted with all the main geographical aspects of London and was on his way to his favourite. It was a tall building from which he would be able to see all of London. If the smog wasn't in the way. But he was cut off part way in his daydream, half way up the wall to this building. A voice was being directed at him.

Demetri Rousselle was still in the University College, down the steps of which poor Professor Agrippa strode two at a time, clutching his meager sized top hat to keep the nipping London wind from knocking it off. He pained to leave the poor boy like he had an appointment more urgent than with his cat and the newspaper, but the alternative was to be stuck in his classroom until nightfall. Demetri always had another take on the lesson to go on after the lecture about, another connection or another theory, and always in rapid French--a mark of his intelligence and dependence on the French speaking professor for someone to truly speak his mind to, but not something Agrippa could sit through on a daily basis. He practically leapt into the first carriage he saw, tracing the word "godspeed..." in his exhale; he had only until his persistent student got out of the bathroom to be out of sight.

Almost immediately after Agrippa left, Demetri retraced his steps with his usual stack of textbooks he had bound together with an extra belt, a blissfully unsuspecting lack of expression on his face. He was silently looking forward to taking a roundabout way back to his dingy flat, through a part of town he had never seen before--when he came to a small hill between it and school, he wandered down instead of up. Down--chips and cracks began to appear in the lower stories of buildings; a quaint display of their antiquity, he thought. Surely no vandals who existed who could do the damage. He turned north in a direction he speculated to be in the direction of his flat--further down--the buildings towered and seemed to bow inward like the teeth of a giant. In this part of town, its inhabitants did not merely live in the city--they were swallowed by it and, honestly, all looked in various stages of digestion. Shouts fearful and furious crisscrossed the windows above him; from one, at the top of the tallest and pointiest of teeth, there was a blue flash of light--curtains bloomed into an azure fireball, the window cracked and shards of glass pierced the ground no more than a meter behind innocent Demetri, who took no notice. This place, he observed, had never been addressed in any of his books--a shame. An absolutely spiffing carriage--with no horses at that--thought Demetri, swerved, just missing him; Demetri missed the bottle of absinthe in the hand of the whiskered driver. It collided with one of the horse drawn variety just out of his hearing (and maiming) range; Demetri caled out a friendly "Bonjour--ah, hello...!" to a child scaling one of the buildings as though he were passing him on a safer street. He was walking along one of the countless trails of destruction that slithered through the shadiest corner of London, miraculously staying just ahead of the mayhem as though there was a lucky cricket in his pocket, protecting him as he ventured downward. Eventually, he located a bench in what seemed to be a park (in reality, had used to be a park before it was neglected beyond recognition) and sat down on the only corner not polka dotted with scorch marks and worked out where he was. He had taken no more than two turns to arrive at this...lively...piece of London since he had left the college--three? Maybe just one? Oh, well; he knew that his home was always in the direction of that...that clock tower...what was the name? If he could see it, name aside, he could get home. He stretched his neck skyward and looked all around the skyline--nothing; as tall as it was, here, it was obscured behind the teeth. Directions, then. I'll ask the next helpful looking person--no, the next person who sits down if they know the way. That way, I'll just have more time to sit and watch the people... And what interesting people there were...he crossed his legs and relaxed, feeling as safe as he was in any district--to him, not having lived here a year yet, there was only one, made of all of the city's sprawling roads; east and west, up and down, deep down. A fog blew in from above, softly tinted blue, and he squinted through it, thinking nothing of its noxious pouring from the ruptured window overhead, dragged out by the wind. Blinked it out of his eyes...just blinked and couldn't stop...sleepy...his books passed as a pillow...down, down, down...

When the windswept gasses cleared, Demetri was curled on the bench, fast asleep. Unless it was loud, or painful enough, nothing could wake him, not for a while.

Emerging from the blue smoke filled building with his handkerchief clasped firmly over his face, Horatio cleared the air with a frantic waving of his free hand before collapsing to his knees and coughing violently. He'd heard the manners of your average Londoner were somewhat lacking, but so far the majority of his investigations had been met with outright hostility. He rolled onto his back and watched the swirling gases clear whilst pondering his next move, the bribes, information fee's and high cost of London living had left him with little more than a shilling and it was a long walk back home. The air clear, he sat up and scanned his surroundings, dirt, smoke, cramped houses and someone sleeping on a pile of books. Climbing to his feet he sighed and tried to remember the route back to his lodgings, starting down the street he stopped suddenly and turned around... books... down here...

"Excuse me sir?" Horatio nudged the sleeping Demetri, "Hello?" A few moments passed and with it his patience, having looked round and satisfied that the coast was clear he drove a fist into the Demetri's arm. "Excuse me sir?"

"Sir! Hold on, sir! You haven't even seen the trick wi' the pressure gauge yet, sir!"

The heavy Irish brogue emanating from the rundown public house was soon followed by the hastily exiting figure of a diminutive fellow in a dented bowler and soot-dusted spectacles, babbling incoherent apologies over his shoulder. "Terribly sorry, my dear chap, but I've got a, er, an appointment... with my, erm, ah... I say, good luck, though! Cheerio!"

Without waiting for a reply, the frightened gentleman dove behind a battered crate at the side of the building, just seconds before his pursuer squeezed through the pub door and stumbled out into the bustling road. "Sir, please! I'm beggin' you, hear me out!" The burly man cast about for his hidden quarry, and his face fell. Yet another failed interview with yet another uninterested investor. This one had been going so well, until he'd accidentally singed the man's handlebar mustache.

Ajax Callaghan glumly scuffed his feet in the muck that lined the cobbled street, and retreated back into the gloom indoors (oblivious to the relieved gentleman who snuck into an alley and disappeared), re-emerging with an unwieldy length of pipe connected to an intricate brass tank festooned with knobs and levers. This he hefted onto his broad back, wending his melancholy way down the street towards the next failure. Haywood had been so much better at selling the contraption – not that it had done him any good in the end.

Ajax kept his eyes peeled, appraising each passing pedestrian with an inventor's eye as Haywood had taught him. That one had no money to spare, that one was too sensible to give any thought to the idea, that one probably wrote too much terrible poetry to care one way or the other. He wondered whether he'd have more or less luck in the Underworld – few people had any money, but those who did were crazy enough to give it some serious thought. He found his steps unconsciously drifting down the all-too-familiar roads that led to his old rundown stomping grounds. If worse came to worst, he could always salvage some tools from Haywood's old flat by the park, provided it hadn't been repossessed or broken into yet.

By the looks of things, it hadn't. Instead, it was probably in the throes of burning down, judging by the foul blue vapour that billowed from the windows. There were five or six flats in the building – he fervently hoped the smoke wasn't in Haywood's. Not yet, at any rate. Ajax sped up, sweating under the weight of the apparatus at his back. He wouldn't be able to get in, though, not with a full tank of flammable coal gas... There were two figures visible in the clearing smoke (arsonists, perhaps?), and he made towards them instead. One appeared to have passed out from the fumes – probably while tossing around matches inside.

"Oy! Which one o' you louts set the bleedin' flat on fire, then?"

The cards went down. Hiram looked at his, and calmly said "banco". The other gentlemen looked at their hands and glumly matched the stake. The cards came down again. Hiram turned his over at looked at Sir James Rowan, who this night was acting as croupier.

"My word" said Sir James. "Nine to the Colonel, seven to the bank, I fear, Colonel, that you have broken us."
"Indeed, gentlemen," said Hiram, looking at the other players seated with him in the cardroom of the Bagatelle club. "Indeed, my luck seems to be running tonight" There was a soft chiming. Hiram withdrew a pocketwatch from his waistcoat pocket. It was a Breguet hour repeater, elegantly crafted in gold, on a gold double Albert chain. The charm that dangled from the chain where it passed through the button hole was the tooth of a tiger, set in fine gold. Hiram raised his arm and snapped his fingers, once... Immediately a club butler appeared at his side.
"A magnum of the house champagne for these gentleman, on my account" Hiram said. The butler silently slid away. 

"Indeed, gentlemen, my luck does me well. Allow me to at least offer you a nightcap by way of thanks for a most pleasant evening's sport" Hiram looked at his companions, nobility, highly placed government officials, and well-heeled gentlemen all. They would never suspect that his "luck" was augmented by some rather fancy sleight-of-hand. No, a gentleman such as Hiram would never be suspected by another gentleman. Even so, if he was called out on a point of honour, he could settle that score easily enough on the dueling-field, few would risk that, standing and exchanging fire with the Colonel was not a thing that would extend life.

"I bid you them, good evening" said Hiram, rising. He walked from the cardroom, into the members lounge and took up his customary wing chair by the fireplace. He sat, and snapped his fingers once again. This time, Jenkins, the clubs senior butler answered his call...
 "The Colonel's wishes?" he asked?

" A bottle of claret from my private stock, Jenkins, and a cigar or two as well. And the late edition of the Times, and any messages that might have arrived"

 "At once, Colonel" Jenkins turned and left.

Within a minute or two, club servants delivered the claret, placing it in the mahogany sidetable, along with a crystal glass, and the Times. A young boy in club livery approached, bearing a sliver tray with two small envelopes on it.. "Messages, Sir" said the boy..

"Good lad" said Hiram, reaching into his pocket and tossing the boy a half-crown.. The lad caught the coin deftly.. Hiram smiled, it was well worth tipping the lad, young boys like that were useful for certain errands, being almost invisible in the city crowds.
  Hiram reached for the tray. He picked up the first envelope, and checked the seals, making sure they were intact. He took a small pocketknife from his waistcoat pocket. A touch and the slim blade of watered steel sprung forth. Hiram opened the envelope and read....
 "Our mutual friend, the oriental gentleman, agrees to meet with you tomorrow evening, at the appointed place" It was signed "Chen-yu"

Hiram touched the end of his cigar to the note, there was the faintest of flashes, and a soft "poof". Nothing remained..

  Hiram took up and opened the second envelope.. The note read:

"The work progresses and the test was successful, the plan moves ahead well " It was simply signed "D." Again the cigar did its work, and again no trace of the note was to be found.

 Hiram smiled to himself, it looked as if tomorrow evening could be even MORE profitable than his little game tonight, FAR more profitable indeed, AND his other plan would seem to be unfolding well. That plan had implications of immense gain..
Hiram finished the claret, and rose. He donned his coat at the door, and had the doorman call up his personal Hansom cab.  In a moment, it was there, the driver and the footman looking rather all to large and muscular for their job, odd bulges under their coats. Hiram alighted, and the cab hastend off towards his Mayfair home. There he would spend the rest of the evening reviewing his plans for the upcoming meeting.. 
 All in all, it had been a very good night.

Demetri moaned. Some blurry, human-shaped creature was standing over him, and his arm hurt with a dull throb, but he was too drowsy to care why. "Aidez-moi...s'il vous plait...monsieur...? Je pense que j'ai perdu mes pieds..." (garbled nothings, to those not understanding the language) A chilly breeze began to whisk the dangerous vapor away; a little more of Demetri's consciousness poured back into his head like the clean air into his lungs and fully opened his eyes. He regained the sense to assume that this strange man probably spoke English and to know the importance of usually being able to move more than his eyes and mouth. "Monsieur..." he began, then caught himself. "...help..." He strained at his hands to see if his books were still there, but his muscles seemed as if they had disappeared; nothing more happened than the sensation of pins and needles running down his arm and abandoning it. Oh yes, he definitely needed help. With his face to the sky, he caught a glimpse of the window through the clearing smoke, and reasoned the stuff's origin. What sort of...scientists? No, mad scientists live in this part of London...!? He realized what had happened to him and cringed; he could barely get a twitch out of his feet.

"Oy! Which one o' you louts set the bleedin' flat on fire, then?" Another smoky shape was approaching him--a huge one, and this time he knew right away that it was an angry human. He turned his eyes toward the man and cleared his throat. "I know not what fire you speak of, monsieur," he said bravely, trying not to sound paralyzed. "I had nothing to do with it, and I do not suppose he--" He tried to gesture to his rescuer and failed. "does, either." A little quirk of Demitri's--he had learned his English from Professor Agrippa, and no more formally, pedantically speaking man could likely be found in all of London. He could not help but address the stranger with a wordiness most would reserve for a dinner party with the Queen herself. Something clattered above, and another small explosion could be heard. Spiting his need to stay calm, his limbs tingled to get him off the bench and finding out if there were any people up there, perhaps in danger--perhaps what was worrying this new stranger. "Does either of you know what is amiss up there?" Don't ask me for help...don't ask me for help...don't ask me to get up and help...

Geirulf looked out his window. A distance away, he saw smoke coming off a fire. "Hm, ikkje min sak.." he mumbled lowly on Norwegian to himself, taking note of the, but not doing a effort to alert someone about it. His throat rasped a little, as he hadn't said much that day. Naturally, someone else would have seen the fire. He returned to his workshop desk, flipping down his magnifiers and trying to perfect his spring blades. They now ejected when he pressed his elbows towards his side and bent his wrists downwards.

He couldn't let the situation the other day repeat itself, when they sprung as he was taking up an apple from a basket, accidentally piercing it. Needless to say, he got a strange look from the trader as he paid for three apples, one which was split in three due to the force of the blade.

He had no orders today, but he expected one tomorrow, which of he had been noted by a small boy, entering the shop, giving him a note and leaving, without saying much. Just the way he preferred his customers.

Scott Coolige stumbled out of Bucer's Pub rather tipsy. He rammed his hand into his ragged pocket and jingled the change inside. It might have been the stout, but he could swear that he heard nothing. He prided himself in his good hearing. It’s couldn’t simply be the alcohol! Twirling his head around in a fashion that would have made any sober man dizzy, he peered into his pocket for himself. Seeing nothing, he clumsily pulled it inside-out. Nothing… “Damn!” he managed to slur the curse out loud, which garnered some distasteful looks from the locals. Scott was too drunk and angry to notice. He was so inebriated that he even failed to notice the fire of unknown origin several quarters away from him. Bells started ringing as a horse drawn carriage filled with men armed with buckets full of water headed in the direction of the blaze. The bells made him cover his ears. No, he had definitely not lost his hearing. That was the one thing he hated about London: the noise. It was nothing like home, where you could go a whole day without hearing anything but the wind and the sheep. He finally realized how drunk he was when he lost his balance and fell into the cart of a fruit vender, who assisted Scott on his journey to unconsciousness by beating him over the head with his fist.

"You dunno what fire I–" With the vocabulary of a steelworker, Ajax was not one for verbosity. He shuffled the words around in his head until the pieces slipped together, and glowered at the feeble man. "What'd'ye mean, what fire? The one right over your head, that's what bleedin' fire!" Unless it really was just smoke, from some madcap chemist's accident... "Get up an' help, lazybones!"

The unfortunate invalid showed no signs of moving. Perhaps he was stunned, or perhaps he was just a weak-kneed ponce who spent too much time with his nose in the books he'd collapsed on. Ajax snorted and unslung the Illuminator, tossing it on the rank grass – no use getting roasted along with Haywood's beloved invention, if it came to entering the reeking building. "Fine, stay there." He directed his dull gaze towards the other man, the one who could apparently move and thus offer assistance. "You, though, were you just in there? What the blazes is goin' on? I'll tell you right now, I've a fair load o' tools in that ol' flat, and I've no mind to see 'em gettin' all scorched-like..." Report to moderator Logged

There was no point in saying anything, not until Demetri could get up and prevent this irrational man from doing something rash. He struggled; the few bits of his will to reach his limbs at all only got so far as to cause him to fall off the bench and into a pile of...something's...ashes. Well, it was a little better than before. Maybe I won't repeat this route home. He took a deep breath--there was one limb that did work, and it was his voice. "Monsieur--!" he called out to Ajax with inhuman coolness in the face of the burning building and the frustrated man. "It is the mysterious substance there smoldering--I am paralyzed and have no choice, monsieur, but if I could move from this spot, I would still refuse to. If I could, I would surely help you in another way--" A new wave of smoke replaced his words with a fit of coughing--it wasn't toxic, but this time, it was black and smothering; the fire had cut though to the building itself. If something was not done, a least some of it would burn down.

Scott regained his senses after inhaling a whiff of highly pungent smoke. He looked around with very dull vision at the scene around him. There was a rather large group of people gathered together looking down a particularly forbidding looking street where the fire Scott had smelled was apparently coming from. Yet no one moved. Not one single person ventured into the alley to help whatever poor, unfortunate soul was in the flaming building. Had these city folk no honor? Had they no pride? Scott tried to stand and get out of the wreck he had made of the fruit cart, yet found this more difficult than usual, as he had a splitting headache. He couldn’t quite remember why, although he remembered that he had been trying to forget something which he couldn’t remember. Giving his head a vigorous shake, he finally stood up and started towards the crowd. Stumbling upon a man on the edge of the group, Scott grabbed his shoulder to get his attention and more importantly to keep his balance. “What a b...b…..bloody ‘ell is gon on??” Scott breathed foul liquor breath into the man’s face, having trouble pronouncing the word “bloody.”

“Out o’ me face, boy!” The man yelled at him. “Can’t you see there’s a fire, ye’ young rip?!?”

“Cos tas a fire, tats obious.” Scott was amazed at his own inability to speak coherently. “Bu why i na un guna hep?” The man was beyond irritated. “Zats the UNDERWORLD, ye sack o’ vorms!” he said in disgust. “Zats “Colonel’s” ground, ye dog, ye drunk!” Seeing that the conversation was getting nowhere fast, and that someone might need help, Scott plunged into the once dark alley, which was now alight with blue flame.

The razing inferno quickly spread to surrounding structures, the enormous amount of smoke the fire exhaled blinding Van Ottens' view of the city skyline. He was leaning over the railing of his airship's promenade, trying to observe the tiny figures moving panick-strucken about deep down below. "What can you make of it, Mr Mate?" he asked his trusted deck officer, the only Englishman among his crew.

"Bloody hard to tell what the devil is going on down there, Sir," answered the man, not bothering the effort to remove the pipe from his mouth while he did. "It would seem that fire's spurring from the Underworld, tho'."

Van Ottens merely raised an eyebrow at hearing the name of that notorious part of London he would not be able to avoid. Not this time, no. He sighed and turned 'round to face his First Mate. "Navigate around the fire. We wouldn't want the ship damaged." The man replied with a simple nod. "And have our Telegrapher contact The Doctor. He should have the message in his possession already."

"Aye," said the deck officer, and with that he made for the steering cabin. They were dangerously nearing the fire now, but Van Ottens had great trust in the navigational skills of his crew. They would not be in peril.

"Ahh..." Shaking his head to clear the sudden confusion and fright of being shouted out by a huge Irishman and desperetly trying to recollect his French, Horatio closed his eyes and found some courage. "I wouldn't go in there sir," He addressed Ajax, pointing to the flat, "it's, ah, not the most naturally occuring of, of, combustible situations." He opened his mouth to say more then thought better of it. "If you could assit me in moving this gentleman to a safer place?" Horatio motioned to the fatigued Demitri, attempting to pull him to his feet as he spoke. "Monsieur nous sommes à être mobiles?" he would be the first to admit his French left much to be desired.

After a moment's pause, Demitri thanked Horatio and reminded him not to forget his books; he was recovering, but too slowly to get out of here alone. Maybe this wasn't a bad thing--just as before the fire, he was still lost. At least he thought he had heard Horatio right--his accent threatened to overpower Demitri's comprehension. He choked out his best English through the haze: "I think I may be able to stand now." Walking, though, was, as his swaying made obvious, going to be much harder. "You are very kind, Monsieur, but I will only require the assistance of Monsieur Callaghan--" He had seen the name scratched into the abandoned Illuminator, and butchered the pronunciation almost comically. "--if it is the only way to prevent him from imperiling himself." His speech was interrupted by violent coughing between every word--the fearless, matter-of-fact-ness with which he spoke was disproportionate to the danger they were in. Demetri hadn't the strength to pull out a handkerchief, and though Horatio did, he doubted he could breathe any better than himself. They could not stand here forever--something had to be done, fast.


Re: "STEAM LONDON" Game Thread « Reply #15 on: November 05, 2007, 07:02:32 pm » Reply with quoteQuote Hang your bleedin' fancy-talk, the both of you, thought Ajax, exasperated. Outwardly, he grunted and scooped up the wobbly Frenchman with little effort, depositing him in Horatio's arms. "I don't want to seem rude, sir, but me dead mate's only remainin' tools are in that burnin' hulk. I'm goin' in there, impiratellifyin' myself or no. You can go ahead an' just... lean there, maybe call the fire brigade, don't matter to me – but I'll be on the third floor scoopin' up wrenches if anybody needs me."

Pulling his newsboy cap off his round head and pressing the coarse fabric to his mouth and nostrils, Ajax grabbed a loose paving stone (he might have to break a window, after all) and shoved it into his coat pocket before lurching resolutely through the soot-choked doorway. The last time he'd crossed this threshold, Haywood had been in the best of health, eagerly ushering him up the rickety stairs towards the cluttered workshop and an early rendezvous with the hand of Fate. If I'm to die in a fire, he decided grimly, best to do it here, of all places. Fittin' end for the both of us, eh, Haywood? The smoke closed around his bulky form, obscuring it from view, and all was silent save for the crackle of the hungry blaze.

Merriwether sat in his study, enjoying the warmth from the fireplace. He went over to the bookshelves, and with some study, carefully selected a thick volume. Taking the book over to his writing desk, he opened it, and taking pen and paper to hand, began to make notes. The only sounds other than the sound of pen on paper and the cheery crackle of the fire, was the muted clicking and whirring that emanated from some shelves on the far wall. On these shelves sat a bank of telegraph tickers, clacking away intermittently, and feeding their paper tapes into a small Babbage engine that sat whirring to itself, as it digested the incoming tapes. Years ago, Moriarty had discovered how to tap into the government telegraph, and intercept its coded messages. After some time, the Professor had realized the value of telegraphy, and had quietly set up his own networks, that ran like a spiders web through Upper and Lower London. Those terminated in a second set of tickers.

 Hiram had only been writing for a short time, when he was interupted by the soft chime of a bell. Something interesting was coming in, or had been decoded from the wire. Hiram rose, and went to his tickers. Odd, he thought, not only the government spy network, but also his own were reporting a strange fire in Lower London. Hiram read a bit, and the went to his desk, and pressed a button. Almost immediately, his secretary, a weedy, but very efficient man, named Uriah Asquith, entered. 
 'Uriah, read this and tell me what you think"

"Certainly, master, it seems that it is a double report of an odd fire in one of the Lower London districts, it looks like near St-Martins, the Seven Dials sector" "Indeed" said Hiram. "Who is our local "boss" there?" "That would be Jimmy "Boxer" Wimbleton, I believe, master" said Uriah. "Again, indeed, and why has he not acted? One does not let ones sheep burn themselves to oblivion, before one can fleece them, one might say, Even those poor folks have their uses, and can be of profit to us. Send Lamont and his crew at once, Have "Boxer" removed from the position, permanently as it were, and painfully as well. Put Tulkington, his second in command in charge, and make sure that he not only puts the fire out, but finds the cause. If he needs to break some heads to do so, well, so be it" "At once, Master" said Uriah, and left the study.

Hiram rubbed the bridge of his nose, good local bosses were hard to find, and harder to keep, as they became ambitious. Lamont would ensure that "Boxer" was reminded of his failure, and Tulkington would get an object lesson by being made to watch.

A short time later, down in Lower London, the frantic clanging of the fire brigade bell could be heard, albeit a bit late. Through the chaos and smoke walked a few hard looking men, in black frock coats and bowlers, following an even harder looking man wearing a cape.

 A few hours later, some street urchins, scavenging in an alley, came across the broken, and barely recognizable body of the once Jimmy "Boxer" Wimbleton, uglier even in death than he had been in life... Not wasting any time, the urchins emptied his pockets, spat on him, and ran off...
Sir... Demetri noted, that's a new one. Goodness, they say it all the time here, now that I think about it--I cannot believe I've missed for so long. And in a situation like this, I'll probably forget it again before I can use it once!

Oh, well. But enough about that; the word's user was of more importance--his life, which was hanging by a thread. An immense fire brigade that could have populated the entirety of one of the towns he was accustomed to was attending the building, but the other side; none of them saw the impetuous Irishman. None of them even looked this way. Demetri struggled vainly against the lingering paralysis, not caring if the movement that had made its way to his arms bruised Horatio's. Something was boiling up in him that he had, for a long time, never let get past a quiet simmer: terror, for that imprudent fellow. Being so incapacitated was a veiled blessing--if he were not, he might have run in after him. "HELP! OVER HERE! MONSIEUR AJAX IS INSIDE!" He widely gestured toward where Ajax had disappeared with an arm that quickly fell back down, weakened. "HELP!" Agrippa's fancy speech had gone, and alas, he had forgotten the precious new word already.

Too far from the park, Demetri's efforts succeeded, though barely. His cries had caught the attention of one young newbie to the fire brigade with excellent hearing; no one else caught it over the roar of he flames and something continuing to explode on the top floor. But this was enough. When the youth, investigating, caught the shape of a towering person in a window, a fraction of the brigade was summoned, and a ladder propped against said window. Demetri, having never been in a situation so tense, was beside himself, and shocked that he was, and horrified that he was shocked...and so on. He stayed quiet; it and Ajax would be taken care of. "This never..." he exhaled, only half to Horatio. "...never happened in Annecy...never came so late...ils n'arrivent...jamais..."


Vagabond and Raconteur


  Scott was either amazingly stupid or very brave, but more probably a good mix of the two. He had dashed right into a sector of London that NO man in his right mind would have gone into…. even if it had not been in flames (which it had). Then, after he had nearly been run over by the fire brigade, he himself ran into an odd trio of characters: a paralyzed Frenchman, a scholarly looking book collector who was apparently trying to relieve the Frenchman of his stash of textbooks and then one fellow who was hard to make out. He was huge, THAT was obvious; he was also covered with soot, which made the rest of him hard picture. The man was also carrying a large bundle of objects in the crook of his arm, as if protecting them from some unseen enemy. Scott wondered why on earth the collection of junk the man was holding, which was as black as the man himself, was so important.
  As the firemen threw water on the roaring flames, in a hopeless effort to save the building, Scott advanced towards the odd group of men seated on the decaying park bench.
  His vocabulary being very limited after drinking so much, Scott was able to repeat the phrase he had asked the man in the crowd earlier: “Wha’ a b…bbb….bloody ‘ell is gon on?”  

"Oui, c'est London, c'est nai pas rapide."

Horatio wrinkled his nose at the sight of Scott and his drunken inquisition. Feeling it impolite and potentially dangerous to ignore such attentions he freed a hand to adjust his spectacles then replaced it quickly as he felt Demetri slipping.

"It's, ahm, slight case of arson so it err-seems," He nodded towards the burning building, "can, can you perhaps see that Irish fellow a-around?"

His vision the way it was, smoke and soot served to limit his view to a few feet infront of his face. Beyond the drunken Scott he was aware only of the sounds of shouting and ringing of bells. Not an ideal situation to be in he considered and let his eye's wander to the bag that hung at his side, still there, he let an inward sigh of relief.

Finally...finally, Demetri felt enough of his feet to see if he could stand on them. He quietly stepped away from Horatio, wobbled for a few seconds, and sat down. How would he know how to get anywhere else? He spent the next thirty seconds composing himself while Horatio and a new stranger conversed, settling calmly into his usual impassive self, now that he knew the fire brigade had every window covered. Then he shifted his eyes between th other two men. "I apologize...it seems I lost my head for a moment..." He squinted at the building, which was almost obscured by smoke. Only its outline could be seen, as if all that was left was its shadow. "I don't know about you, but I spy something descending a ladder."

The stairs had been tricky, to be sure. Halfway up the first flight, Ajax had suddenly gotten that awful feeling in the pit of his stomach – that terrible lurching, slowly descending sensation that comes with an unexpected change in the terrain beneath one's feet. These damn stairs had never been well-constructed in the first place. Haywood had nearly broken one of the banisters the week before the accident, Ajax remembered, with the useless lucidity of one who can sense his world is about to get a lot more painful.

With a murderous gnashing of splintered beams, a five-step segment of the staircase tore itself from the wall and tilted like a trap-door beneath the lamplighter's heavy boots. It had only been the coarse fabric of his cap that saved him from a broken leg or two at the bottom of the stairwell – lunging for the landing a few steps above him, he scrabbled for the ruined post with both hands, forgetting that he'd been holding his hat to his face. It caught miraculously on an ugly shard of cheap wood, tearing a regrettable hole in the crown but ultimately providing enough support for Ajax to haul himself clear of the lovely new chasm he'd created.

Then the smoke caught up to him, and he clapped his poor cap to his face once more, choking. This was the second floor; he had yet another treacherous stairway to navigate. The fire seemed worse here: flames licked at the doorway to his left, and the lazily billowing smoke made it impossible to see more than halfway up the last stair. His eyes watered viciously, but he remembered two things all at once. Firstly, there had been a window (most likely shut) at the very top landing, where the smoke was thickest. Secondly, he had a paving stone, which he lost no time in hurling with all the precision he could muster.

The shatter of broken glass brought him momentary relief, and the smoke did seem to abate somewhat, but there was still that blasted stairway to consider. I made it up the first. It damn near killed me, but I'd do one more o' those in a jiffy, with Haywood's tools at stake. Besides, the cap's still got a bit o' luck left in 'er... He cast his eyes fondly down at his tweed guardian angel, and sprang with the fury of a desperate tiger.

The stairs seemed to be anticipating his move, or perhaps the force of his stride had been the straw that broke its back. A terrible scream of wooden frustration assaulted Ajax's ears, and he landed three steps up, horror-struck, as the very top step broke away from its mooring and began to plummet inexorably towards the red-flickering hell three floors below. Bellowing in desperation, he leaped once more. His thick arms flailed almost comically in the void, close enough to brush the wreck of the third floor landing... and were caught, stunningly, by a fireman from nowhere who braced himself against the rickety banister and screeched like a wounded gorilla. "For God's sake, man, pull yourself up! You'll break my arms and legs!"

He was a strong fellow, though, and somehow, despite his confused inaction, the Irishman found himself kneeling on the landing, gasping at the inside of his hat. "Tools," he panted, muffled by the tweed, and crawled past the concerned fireman, despite the man's protests, into the terrible old flat Haywood had called home. What little consciousness was left to him was glad indeed to see that nothing had been touched – although that was about to change. This poor little workshop would soon be meeting the same end as its master, and even a half-dead Ajax had no mind to see all of his friend's accomplishments perish along with it. He tore open the familiar cupboard and grabbed everything he could see, mindless of the omnipresent soot and dust. As an afterthought, he lurched to the rotten desk and flung open the Important Drawer, where Haywood kept the money and the letters from his sweetheart in Liverpool. Damned if I'll ever get a chance to find this girl – whoever she is – and give her the news, but Haywood would've done the same for me, burnin' flat or no. Satisfied, he crawled back to the fireman at the window, clutching his prizes like a sick child. "Get us out o' this hell-hole, will you?" he whispered, and coughed until he collapsed.

The fireman heaved, grunted, dug in his shoulder, and somehow managed to hoist the prostrate form out of the broken window and down the ladder. With luck, there weren't any more souls in there, he thought, since this one took so damn much time. Stubborn ox.



Demetri leaned a few inches further into the haze and gripped the edge of the bench to prevent himself from collapsing again--note that he now could grip it. His left eye twitched, the most disbelief he had ever outwardly expressed in his life. "C'est lui..." Yep, there was Ajax. "Horatio, you have your answer." The disgruntled fireman descended the ladder with a bleeding lip from nervous biting; under the weight of the both of them, it creaked worryingly. He strolled over to Scott, Horatio, and Demetri, if one carrying a man like Ajax can manage much of a stroll, and dropped him at Demetri's precarious feet in an explosion of wrenches. He lifted his goggles; his eyes stared down Demetri from two absurdly sootless patches on his face. "You asked for him. Stubborn bloke owes you some thanks..." He rubbed a sore arm. "...as do you owe me--English, please." To just say "merci" was still a reflex; Demetri fought against it. "Thank...you." Now what? It's a pity for him that my arms can't yet fan away the smoke. This was a job for what was still his most functional limb. "Monsieur Ajax?" No response. The fireman wrung his hands, hoping, praying that his exorbitant efforts had not been in vain; but Demetri had got his composure back, and did not lose a shred of it. Without a nervous blink, he repeated Ajax's name, louder this time.

Horatio's heart skipped a beat as he looked at the collapsed form of Ajax. Although not directly his fault per-se, he could not shake the intense feeling of guilt for the man's condition. Furrowing his brow he searched his mind back across many hours reading for some indication of what to do.

"Air! He need's air!" He almost squealed in excitement, "quick, erm..."

Looking around he almost missed his hand going instinctivly to his bag, gathering his senses he pulled out a sheath of paper covered in bizarre inscriptions and began fanning the unconcious Ajax.

"Being Irish I'm told there is another cure to his ailment, does any one have a drop of whiskey by chance?"

Hiram finished dressing, putting on his black pearl collar studs. Tonight's meeting with the 'foreign gentleman" was critical to 

his plans, and he must look right. He had decided not to wear any of his more unobtrusive weaponry, as, like as not, they would be of little use against them an he would meet tonight. Indeed, coming armed with anything more than his wits would have been seen as a grave insult.

 Checking one last time in the mirror, he decided he was as ready as he could be. Hiram looked at his watch, then called for 

Uriah to summon his coach, not the hansom, but rather the more formal and impressive four wheeled coach.

 He donned his hat and cape, and waited for his coach to arrived.. Then, handed up and in, he was off..

The coach rattled along the cobbled streets of Upper London, turning and twisting through the now-empty streets, The lights of the great buildings sparkled through the occasional break in the evening mist. No, tonight's meeting was not in Lower London, but rather in one of the exotic clubs that Hiram owned, albeit owned through a complicated and hard to follow trail of business fronts. The coach slowed and pulled up in front of a club, decorated in a garish Oriental style. "Chen Yu's Palace of Oriental Delights" read the marquis. Inside were the usual London entertainments, fine food and drink, and a dance floor and stage, all with an exotic Oriental feel. Few of its well-to-do clientele knew what went on below that finery, in the sub-levels below ground.

 Hiram was escorted in by Chen Yu himself who took Hiram's hat and cape, and shown through a discreet passage to a private area. 

There, outside a set of great mahogany doors, Hiram waited, and after a discreet knock, was ushered into a private study, of muted elegance..

  Sitting in a high backed leather chair behind a desk was the man he had waited so long to see...In the chair was a man, 

tall,lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invested in him was all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, which, if you will, of a wealthy government--which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. There sat Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.

 Hiram bowed deeply. The green eyes bored into him. Fu Manchu spoke:
"I know what you desire from me, and you have something for which I would exchange it" 

Hiram was surprised by that voice, clear, and soft, and with only a hint of an accent.

"Ah, I surprise you,do I then? My tutors in your tongue were from Oxford, you see. Please be seated."

Hiram felt a touch on his arm, and turned to find two great, bare-chested, turbaned guards. They brought forward a leather chair, and a small side table, and placed them down, opposite their master. Fu Manchu gestured, and Hiram sat.. Hiram spoke:

 "I am honored to be in your presence, great lord. It is my hope that we can do business profitable to both of us this night. 

I have for you a small token of my thanks and appreciation"

Hiram withdrew from his jacket a small leather case, and laid it on the desk. "It is most rare, and I think you will find it well 

suited to your particular tastes. It is the concentrated venom of the North Sea Striped Kraken, most deadly."

Fu manchu opened the case, and with drew a sealed vial containing an opaque green liquid that shimmered oddly in the light.

"An excellent gift, Colonel, I have not had the pleasure of owning this particular poison. I offer you a gift in return" Fu Manchu gestured, and a servant laid a velvet case on the table beside the Colonel.

"Open it, Colonel, and behold"

Hiram opened the case, inside, cushioned in velvet was a dagger, worked in gold, and the finest Japanese layered steel. elegant yet simple, with its hilt ornamented by a single gem, a star gem, its colour a match for Fu Manchu's eyes.

 'I am most deeply thankful, great lord, you do me a singular honour" said Hiram.

'So, now to business, Colonel? My time in your country is short, for I am hounded even as we meet by your countryman Nayland Smith. But I am a remiss host, a drink perhaps, before we talk?"

 Hiram nodded, and immediately a servant laid a decanter of brandy and a glass on the sire table.  On the desk beside Fu Manchu, 

a servant placed a decanter containing a liquid whose colours seemed to shift with the light, and a small crystal glass.

 Hiram waited as the servants poured.
"Ah, you wonder at my drink? It is a wondrous sight is it not? That Colonel is what in your Latin tongue would be "Elixir vitae". 

It is the drink of life, and has allowed me to live these many centuries unaged. I alone know its makings, and those servants who concoct it for me die after the making of each measure. But then, I prattle. A toast, then, "To Mutual Gain" "

 Hiram raised his glass, and the two men drank. 

"As you have said, then great lord, to business" said Hiram. 'I know you rule the east, as I rule Lower London. You wish to expand that rule through what is now a European sphere of influence, the subcontinent of India, and through the Hindu Kush and Khyber to the Mediterranean and Africa. I desire London, and Europe an eventuall the Americas. By our own means we lack resources, but it is in resources that we compliment each others endeavours"

"Indeed, you understand the thing admirably" smiled Fu Manchu, with a smile that was as humorless as death. "I know what you 

need to attain your grip on London. You wish to introduce opium and the extract of the Black lotus into your society. I can provide you with a supply route, as well as access to other items of high profit for you, in return for...."

 "I know what you need, dread lord, that being access to London's steam technology and modern arms as well as a way to access 

our banking system to handle the funds needed by your organization in Europe. I can provide these" said Hiram.

 " Ah, then I see that our ambitions do indeed supplement each other. I think we have reached an..... understanding. I trust our 

agents will work out the details satisfactorily"

 Hiram rose, and offered his hand. Fu Manchu looked at him and smiled that same smile "I do not shake hands, Colonel, I abhor 

the practice, and as my word is my word, I find there is no need of the gesture, we have a bargain"

 Hiram bowed and turned to leave. As he did Fu Manchu spoke.
"A caution Colonel, do not think to cheat or betray me, I have a long reach, and there are many more ways to kill a man than you 

would realize"

Hiram turned and bowed... "A saying in my country, dread lord.. "Honour among thieves".. 

He strode out through the gaiety in the Club, and retrieved his hat and cape.

Later on, in his study, toying with the dagger he had been given and enjoying a whiskey , Hiram smiled to himself.. Yes, it had 

been a good meeting indeed....

---End of First Page---


---Begin Second Page--- Samuel "Scuzz" Tulkington took another drink from the bottle of gin on the tabel in front of him. Spread out were the ledgers and notes left behind by "Boxer" Wimbleton. Tulkington now knew 'Boxer's" secret. He had been skimming profit from the rackets, and holding back from the Colonel. "Gods, what a bleedin' mess. I'll have to make up the shortfall. Bloody "Boxer" getting too fancy fer his britches, and all" he sighed.. "And then this fire, if I don't find out what THAT"S about, it'll be my neck next" Tulkington sighed, and took another swig... "Billy! get yer bleedin' arse in here. NOW!" he yelled.. The door opened and a slight young man, raggedly dressed, and dirty as a sweep. "Aye, Bossman?" "Get down to the Seven Dials and find what's bloody well going on down there with that fire. Who started it, and all. You need muscle, take Scoggins and Bumble wit' you. Tell 'em I said to get their thumb's out and 'op to it!.. and quick mind ye, the Colonel's asking!"

 Billy ran out the door, yelling down the stairs to the two bully-boys..

"Bleedin' Hell, what a day, what a day" mumbled "Scuzz" taking another drink.. He had seen and heard what LAmont had done with "Boxer" before releasing him to death. That had given "Scuzz" a great desire to make sure he did his job well. He had no desire to have a visit from Lamont, ever. Not all the gin in Lower London would erase the sights and sounds of Lamont's "professional call" from his memory...

At Horatio's inquiry, Demetri gasped and tried to reach into his breast pocket; the attempt only got him a mess of numb, tangled fingers. Time for plan B: he rocked back and forth like a frightened child until he felt a bottle smaller than the palm of his hand jump in it. Just a little more... "I thought I should finally try some--being in London this long--but not much..." Ping! The world's smallest bottle of whiskey, no more than two inches tall, shot into the air and came down right on Ajax's head. It was anyone's question where Demetri had got such a thing. "Je suis désolé--!" he cried. Report to moderator Logged "An eruption!" I said. "We're in the chimney of an active volcano?" "I think so," said the professor smiling, "and that's the best thing that could happen to us!"

Whiskey?

Whiskey. Ajax's eyes fluttered at the promise of alcohol – and the rapidly-descending decanter hit him square between them.

"Bleedin'... soddin'... plaguy... ooh, hello!" It was whiskey! He forgot his ringing ears and burning throat for a moment and sat bolt upright, uncorking the tiny bottle and downing its contents in a split second. Pity, hardly more than a drop or two... He cast about for more, and his eyes fell on the concerned trio around him. "Who do I have to thank for that, eh – and any chance they've got another on 'em?"

The tools! Where were – ah! He scrabbled in the dirt for Haywood's various belongings, suddenly very aware of his cuts and bruises. Good Lord, he was filthy, too. A pox on fires, and soot in general. At least he had what he'd come for, and the Illuminator was still lying on the grass, unharmed. Leaning on the fireman's arm, he hoisted himself to his feet and stumbled over to the contraption, but his muscles screamed blue murder at him when he tried to hoist it onto his back. "Damn!"

Giving up on the brass monstrosity, he turned to Horatio and Demetri and sat down hard on the grass, groaning and rubbing his aching neck. "All right, so now that the brigade's gettin' everythin' ship-shape, I figure someone oughta let me know just why me mate's flat is burnin' down. Any takers?" He wasn't mad, per se – after all, it was ironically fitting – but that building had held some small shred of nostalgia for Ajax, and certainly for old Haywood. Besides, he still needed to gather his strength, and one couldn't just turn one's back and walk away without hearing the story.

"It was mine, monsieur," said Demetri. "The smell of it failed to appeal to me enough for me to purchase another." He turned to the now much happier fireman and thanked him for arriving in time in a voice one might normally use to thank a waiter for a glass of water. "I feared you wold not hear me calling you." The fireman squinted confusedly. "If you were so desperate to save this troublemaker, tell me why you didn't just come to where we were?" "That relates to just the question Monsieur Ajax asks us--what I can answer." He gave Ajax a sideways glance. "Before there was any fire, I observed an explosion in the corner of my eye, in the window of the top floor. Something blue, and before the fire was of any danger to the building's foundation, smoke was--it was the same blue at first, and put me down for an unexpected nap on this bench. My nerves are yet to completely wake up with the rest of me, and I can still barely move. I think I'll be all right, but the initial explosion has to have involved strong chemicals, or I can jump up and do a cartwheel for you." He paused to let them make sense of this, his mouth a thin line as straight as his face had been even through his second of jest. "I will venture to voice my suspicion that the explosion and its noxious aftereffects were the product of a science experiment gone horribly awry; but history, not chemistry, is my specialty. I have nothing more useful to give you on the matter." Report to moderator Logged

"Might I suggest," Horatio clambered to his feet and replaced his notes within the tattered leather bag, "we locate a somewhat more erm suitable location within which to discuss events? The evening is ah closing in and this is no place to be after dark. Call it sutble irony, but I would find myself err much more inclined to shed light on the subject in front of a ah warming fire so to speak."

He removed his glasses and began to clean them nervously with an old handkercheif. Report to moderator Logged Piece by piece, snip by snip, croup, dock, haunch, shoulders, hip, Tread by thread, primmed and pressed, yard by yard, never stressed, And that's the Art of the Dress! the Hat

"Marvelous," Horatio's eyes lit up as he replaced his spectacles, "shall we Gentlemen?" Report to moderator Logged

Demetri answered affirmatively with a rare smile. "Perhaps I will see my Professor Agrippa there...he taught me English. I always wonder where he is in such a hurry to go every afternoon. I only hope I will be able to follow you." Report to moderator Logged the Hat "I have not seen any professors or such folk as that, they are mostly the younger students. I do know that they make a mean ale and coffee, or tea, if such a thing catches your fancy." Scott looked at the endearing Frenchman and asked: "Sir, I'm not sure quite how stable I am myself, but do you require a "hand" as it were? You do not look well!"

Only students? Boring. The smile dropped from Demetri's countenance, leaving only the usual poker face, but he was glad to have this group; they would be the source of the only mildly intriguing conversation in the establishment. His knees protested as he stood up. He was more content not asking for help, but he had slept on this bench once, and it had got old fast. "Merci--maybe one hand, but no more than that." Report to moderator Logged

At the prospect of a quick drink (and the story, naturally, but the drink was the main attraction), Ajax's eyes lit up. "Aye, that'd hit the spot. That poor little dram o' whiskey must be gettin' a mite lonely in me innards without a few of his mates to keep him company..."

Grunting like a troglodyte, he managed to hoist the Illuminator and cradle it in his arms. His legs bent like a Hussar, he managed a grin at the Scotsman, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere with his brilliant idea. "Dunno who you are, mate, but I daresay you think a lot like I do."

That reminded him, though – he hadn't introduced himself! Terrible manners to leave oneself nameless for more than a minute, Haywood always said, but Ajax had a little ways to go before he could approach his late friend's level of social grace. "Almost forgot," he grunted, wincing as he shifted the invention's weight to extend a massive, calloused hand in the general direction of everyone present. "Ajax Callaghan."

Scott had always known he liked Irish folk! The huge man, named Ajax, seemed to be more than friendly; he wondered why on God's great Earth that his family despised the red-headed highlanders so. He had never seen anything to fear or hate about them. So, while smiling a large Scottish smile, he shook Ajax hand and said: "Aye, whiskey it is! Or they have a good Scottish ale I'm fond of: Skull-splitter!" Scott grinned widely at Ajax, hoping the invitation would make him even more friendly. Then, Scott helped to Frenchman to his feet. They both wobbled precariously, but managed to keep their balance. The man said something unintelligible to Scott in French, but by the look on his face, it was a comment of gratitude. Once everyone seemed up and able with all their odd assortment of gear in hand, Scott called to the group entire: "Well lads! It's off to the pub we go!"

'Bucer's Quill' was a public house like many others in London, the oak door painted a dark green, stained darker by the soot and smoke and it's coat peeling from years of neglect, gave way to a low ceiling from which hung just enough oil lamps to provide illumination for the regulars to see their drinks, but not enough for close inspection. At one end a rotund Publican with huge handlebar mustache cleaned a pewter tankard with his apron, behind him row upon row of unmarked casks sat on a shelf barely managing to support their weight.

Scott led the group to his regular table by the roaring fireplace in front of which a flat capped old gent slumbered in an old armchair, his faithful hound keeping a constant vigil on a tankard that sat beside his master. As his companions pulled low stools to the solid oak table, it's varnish stained deep burgundy by years of spilt drinks, Horatio wandered to the bar and returned with a round of a suspect beverage by the name of 'Skull-splitter.' Sliding them across the table to the assembled, he swung into a seat beside Ajax and stowed his bag beneath the table.

"Darcy," he grinned after taking a sip of the dark and bitter liquid, "Horatio Darcy. Apologies for any inconvienience you may have suffered as a result of that nasty business with the fire, errm, I found myself in a corner whilst attempting to do business with one of the residents. Of course it was only after I saw fit to defend myself that his penchant for Alchemy was revealed."

That said, Horatio looked at his beer, then over his shoulder, glimpsed at the others faces, then took another swig.

"You see I'm getting somewhat desperate in my purpose here, perhaps I might not have been so rash as to see this particular gentleman had I more clues to what I seek."

The gravity of his situation struck home and Horatio lent backwards to regard his drink.

The companions were just settling into their drinks and a discussion of the fire and surrounding events when there was a cough from behind them... "Ello, then gents.." Horatio turned and saw three men approaching their table. The other regulars had suddenly started staring into their drinks, and studiously minding their own affairs.. The man who spoke was dressed in a ragged coat and trousers, with a woollen muffler warpped about him. he wore a battered top hat, and was as dirty as a chimmney sweep. He had hard look about him, and a foxy, pocked face.

 With him were two others. One was a broad shouldered, well built fellow, who had the air and look of a seasoned professional prize-fighter. His knuckles were scarred, and his nose had been broken, several times too many, by the look of it. He attitude was watchful, and ready, and he had that air of confidence that a seasoned and successful fighter had.  He dressed in a linen shirt, sleeves rolled back, black trousers with hobnail boots, and a leather vest. This was topped of by a bowler. Tucked into the back of his belt, was a leather blackjack.   Beside him was someone altogether different, a large towering man, larger even than Ajax. His fists were large and scarred, his legs like tree trunks. He was built like an ox, and appeared to be solid muscle. Strangely enough, atop all this was a face that looked oddly child like. He was dressed in a set of boilermakers overalls, and wore a flat cap..
 "As I woz sayin, then gents, 'ello.. Me name's  Billy, and the fightin' cock to me left is Scoggins. The big un's Bumble. A likkle birdie tells me you all woz at that fire wot 'appened over at Seven Dials. Me boss wants fer me  to find out  as wot 'appened, as 'IS boss wants to know right quick, see? Now my Boss, 'e's an all roight sort, but, a word to the wise, mates, you don't want to go crossin' 'is Boss. So, seeing as some of you gents seem to be new to these parts, me boss said to go easy, as you moight not know the rules of the place, as it were"
 Billy reached into his coat, and pulled out a purse...
"Me Boss can be a gen'rous sort, to those wot see things 'is way"   Billy dropped the purse on the table.. 

"These a gold sov'rin in there fer the each of youse, just for a bit of h'information on what you knows about that fire.. That's the easy way of it, or, if youse would rather, me two cullies here would be 'appy to discuss things wit youse.. An' one more thing, I wouldn't be trying any flash cove tricks.. You'd not last long, this is me Boss's territry, and its fair short on hidey holes for those coves wot think they can run and 'ide from my Boss... So boyos, like as to be old friends, then.. will you tell Billy what ye be knowin' ? " ......

Ajax's eyes narrowed, and his mouth split in an unpleasant grin as he uncrossed his legs and pushed his chair ever so slightly away from the table. He swallowed his mouthful of ale and exhaled slowly and deliberately. Steam practically hissed from his wide nostrils as he fixed the grotty newcomer with a withering stare. Petty thugs were a dime a dozen in the Underworld, but this one seemed to be giving himself airs like he was some bigwig somewhere. Most just laid a man flat and then told him what they wanted from him.

"You're talkin' me language, mate, but you're not sayin' what I want to hear. What I'd love to be hearin' right now is a hearty 'Top o' the mornin', gents! Can I buy youse another round?', not a bleedin' threat." He cracked his knuckles, and cursed inwardly. Bleedin' fire still has me seein' stars. Need more ale, Callaghan, yes you do. Don't nobody intimidate me without a black eye for their troubles. He raised the mug to his lips and drained it. If push came quite literally to shove, there was still the good ol' Mark II, snug under the table where the knuckleheads might not have seen it.

"I've got a counter-proposal for you, though, an' I think you might like it, if I knows your type like I think I do. We tells you the fire was an accident; somebody's mother fell asleep in the middle o' boilin' some pottage, or whatever it takes to keep your 'boss' happy. You go stuff your moneys – keep 'em for yourself or join us for a round or whatever suits your fancy – and we all goes home as happy lads..." He leaned back in his chair, arms folded behind his head, and inspected the bottom of his mug with mock interest. "Else, we can all have this out and you can get two lovely fires to report to your chief."

He looked from face to face at the table, suddenly noticing a certain lack of support from his companions, and snorted disparagingly. "Unless you'd all rather not get your precious cufflinks dirty, o' course."

Billy looked at Ajax..

 "Ah, an Oirish gentleman of principle... me dear ole muvver was Oirish, before I kilt her and her cheatin' flash cove.  No boyo, Oi'm  a diff'rent sort than you'd like have known back home in Oireland, you sees, Oi means what Oi says, and Oi'm not just a flash cully what works fer yer local Big Yin...
So, let me say, one more time nice like, yer new here, and London town down here, well, it belongs to the Colonel, yer see. Ye'll live longer and maybe see yer grandkids if yer nice.. Now me Boss, he knows what he knows, and as I wuz saying, you can tell nice and friendly like what  ye saw, or know, or, ye'll not make it past the morrow, a tragic accident an all, and then we'll be having that fancy toy of yers ye seem so fond of,  to take to my Boss. Now, seeing as I wuz told to be noice and polite like, I'll have anuvver round sent over here, and me and me mates will sit over there by the door while ye and your mates decoides. Oi just needs ter know what ye saw, and whatever else ye can tell me about that passin' strange fire."
 Billy whistled to the barkeep, who nodded and bent to the pulls...He turned back to the group..

"Oi'll give ye some advice about London, me fine Oirish gent, for the sake of me dear ole muvver. It's like this, all koinds of ways of livin' and makin' some good coin, if ye plays by the rules... Trouble bein, there's lots more ways of dyin', be it, fast, slow, neat er nasty, than ye could think of, should ye cross them folks as makes the rules.. Oi don't doubt a big fine gent loike yersef could give me and me bully-boys trouble, maybe even leave us here daid on the floor, but how many time after that could ye come out on top, ye'd be watchin' yer back fer the rest of yer life, an a short one it'd be fer sure. So, take some advice from ole Billy, 'ave a drink on me, and talk it over wit yer mates.. O'ill be waitin' over there..take yer toime, Oi've got all night, and me sovs are easy money..."

Demetri had been just about to introduce himself, too, when Billy had walked up. "Good evening, monsieur...!" he had greeted him cordially, innocent of the danger, but was ignored. What followed was the biggest mess of unintelligible English things he did not understand that he had heard since he had hopped off the boat from France. Then his companions had all looked so threatened...Demetri sat there silently and uncomfortably, with a comically befuddled look on his face, feeling unable to help until he knew what was going on; this frightening man's speech lost him every time he tried to follow it. When Billy finally wandered off, leaving everyone else at the table in a seeming state of anxiety, Demetri could only think of saying one thing. He took a sip of his glass of absinthe while the others looked after Billy in a tense silence. "I call myself--" He cut himself off and intensely concentrated for a second, remembering how they said it in English. "--my name is Demetri. Demetri Rousselle. I regret to say I understood almost nothing that man said, though I fear he was inexcusably rude to Monsieur Ajax and promise to tell him what I think of that once I know what he was talking about," he sniffed. "I only picked up a few words--and I think I may be the newest to this place of us all."

That man had no right! How dare he make threats to a man such as Ajax! He had always known that he disliked "Billy," whoever that impostor said he was. He had a VERY poor Irish accent as well. Scott had courted a colleen for four years, and knew how REAL Irish folk talked. Ajax was the real deal......... "Billy" was not; this made him extremely suspect in addition to his already suspicious characteristics. And then there was that "Colonel" fellow again. I'd like to give that bastard a piece of my mind, Scott thought as he muttered a quiet stream of profanity into his mug of ale. "The rotten, pig-eared, bile eating son of a..." he looked over at Demetri, who was utterly confused by the goings on. "Don't worry me fine friend, I believe our good Irish man can take care of himself! Now what, pray tell, where you doing paralyzed on a park bench? I am quite curious!"

Ajax fumed. 'Me deer ole muvver wos Oirish! Oi'm 'alf Oirish, boyo! Oo er, lookit me bein' all Oirish!' If there was one thing he disliked more than stuck-up ponces with their noses in books, it was stuck-up ruffians who tried out their Irish accents on him. Most waited until they were good and drunk, but this one had daring of a type he hadn't often crossed as a steelworker. Either there was truth in his talk about his boss, or he was the spunkiest liar in London. Don't matter any more, though – he's crossed the damn line. He set down the mug with furious restraint, cracked his huge knuckles, and growled across the room through his clenched teeth. "Call it a toy again, ye boot-lickin' scumbag, an' I'll kill you an' yer mates just for the chance to hunt down yer boss, an' his boss, an' Satan his boss, an' knock out all his pointy teeth one by one 'til he's taught his witless muck-rakers what not to say to an actual Irishman."

Demetri, even sitting just across from the fuming Ajax, didn't flinch. "When I regain my legs, I'll gladly clear your path straight to the boss," he said as eloquently as ever. His second glass of absinthe (and these were not small glasses) had been delivered, and he showed nor felt any affect of the first whatsoever--it seemed his level personality outweighed the usual effect of alcohol on a person, almost supernaturally. "This Billy fellow gets worse with everything you say." Hearing Ajax and Scott, he had started to piece something together. He turned to Scott. "I dimly recall having told the story a bit ago, but if my memory fails me, what started the fire was some noxious substance that exploded on the top floor, and the fumes were blown straight into my face. That is the last I remember before by this gentleman--" he near imperceptibly nodded in Horatio's direction. "--appeared out of thin--ah, non; it was very thick air, and awakened me. I could not do much more than blink then, but now, I think I can at least walk and know I can lift this glass. And maybe even kick." He narrowed an eye at Billy.

As Ajax called across the bar Horatio couldn't help but sink lower into his chair and lean his head forwards onto the table, his clenched fist slowly hammering the oak beside him. He heard the sound of scraping wood and cluttering tankards across the room and closed his eyes in resignation.

Then a thought occured and he sat bolt upright, looking at the approaching thugs like a hungry crocodile.

"I say," he whispered to his companions, "if we could see to leaving one concious I have a few questions I might ahm, ask." Billy turned back at this outburst and said... "And you tink Oi'm not Oirish? Sure, now thats a mistake ye'll be making. Oi was born in County Down, me father was a Taggarty, and my muvver was a Kilfillen, afore I cut her froat for layin with that cheatin' English flash cove.. Oi was forced to leave over that, and 'ere I am these past 20 years.. Now boyo, I'll tell ye this, your a dead man if'n ye dont sit back doown and think on this."

Billy nodded, and a small boy, obviously a runner, scrambled out the door.

"Me Boss will know in a few minutes what's happenin' here, and say, that maybe I don't leave here tonight.. You'll be dead afore the day is new, and ye'll never even see it coming.. As Oi was sayin, the be the Colonel's world, Lower London, and 'e don;t take kindly to what upsets 'is plans.. Ye could even kill me Boss, and it wouldn't bother the Colonel none, and ye'd still be dead. Ye've no way of knowing who's who down here, a newcomer like yerself, and ye can;t watch yer back allways. So for the sake of auld times, afore ye do something rash, think on it.. Oi'll leave if ye want, and take me bullies wif me, but is yer life to be that short?

Demetri heard the word "dead" a few times and reasoned that Billy was probably not directing the word at himself. Good Lord, he could have been speaking Chinese! Whatever it was, he noticed something suspicious about it, and had no way of knowing that the topic of conversation had left language behind or of Billy's deadly position in the underworld. "I believe, monsieur, that something is different about your accent if I can understand Monsieur Ajax better than you!" That had felt good. Fear was a foreign concept to the young man... He turned back to Horatio and lowered his voice considerably. "What do you propose? And what does 'colonel' mean?"

"Colonel is a military rank dating from sixteenth centuary Italy, designating one assigned in command of field troops whilst still maintaining a field position. In charge of the column so to speak as originated from the Latin 'columnella'," Horatio opened his mouth to continue then remembered himself, "Propose? Err, naturally I have a pistol in my bag, regretably I have nothing in the way of ammunition, but that's rarely something I, ah advertise."

He drummed his fingers on the table for a moment then furrowed his brow.

"Of course I'm a pacifist by physique, so I'd usually suggest running." ---End Second Page---

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