Planning & Arrival
Shortly after I returned to land from my most recent trip, I attended a Paris Masquerade ball. I was nominally accompanying Fenton Harbinger, a British Naval Commander and diplomatic attache… but, truth be told, I hardly spoke to him for most of the evening. I'm between projects at the moment, occasionally helping and catching up with friends like Rhododendron and Fleur Durand, both of whom were present.
Parties are interesting affairs, especially mortal ones. The foodstuffs, entertainments, and fashions were of course beautiful and creative. (Fey events are more beautiful, but are much less impressive since nearly everything's illusory and if you've been around for long, most of the illusions are ones you've seen before.) This being a rather high-class affair, there were also a large number of conspiracies, plots, and political conversations going on which I probably should know about, but can't quite seem to follow.
So I went to have some fun, to learn a bit about who might have need of my services, and maybe to pick up on something that would be useful or important. Since there was to be both dancing and conversation, I went as a cat in a dress. This particular form and dress was based on a fanciful crayon-and-paper sketch made by a young girl, Claire, while I was working for her family a few years prior. On my way into the event, Fleur suggested that since it was a masquerade, I should have a mask – a human mask.
The hosts were an Italian lord & lady, and their pleasantly awkward nephew, Maru. Amongst so many powerful people, he appeared unsure of himself, as if someone else had dressed him up and ordered him to "have a good time" without telling him how. He seemed every bit as uncertain about the party as I felt, and that attracted me to him instantly. I should've talked to him sooner, but didn't know what to do until he asked me for a dance after dinner.
The French Emperor was present, but several of my friends warned me that since he was in a full mask, I was to pretend I didn't recognize him. His mistress was also there, but not his wife. Apparently there's some bad blood between his official mate and his officially-unofficial mate? And maybe some politics and religion mixed in? Or was it just the fact that the Empress didn't want to admit she knew the Emperor was having sex with another woman? It seems like some honesty about expectations and boundaries would save them a lot of trouble. Perhaps their taboos forbid honesty in this case? Humans are weird. There were plainly opportunities for my misunderstanding their rules to cause problems. I steered clear of the Emperor.
I started off chatting with Rho. He has apparently built a flying clockwork squid and is looking for opportunities to try it out, as well as funding for additional projects. (I've been assured the squid is free of iron of any kind, and am looking forward to seeing it in person.) Although his father's vineyard is doing well, Rho's talent for explosive experiments is not appreciated at home. He's consequently looking for funding. The two of us also talked a bit with Fleur Durand, whose orphanage is coming along. The children are getting older and more capable. I'll have to check in soon to see if there are things I can help them with.
A sorceror in an Egyptian garb (from the Temple of Ra?) approached us and offered to support Rho's activities. Apparently the magician had some ideas which could benefit from mechanical tinkering.
Shortly after that encounter I spied an Unseelie Dione Sidhe, a fellow who the others called "Lord Kelvin". He had a reputation for writing precise and uninspiring poetry that utterly failed to convey the misery he feels. The humans seemed unaware (or uncaring) that by being Unseelie, Kelvin was more-or-less sworn to kill them all. I figured I would have to talk to him to get some hints as to what he was doing there and what might be done to thwart him. He claimed the Adversary was "almost like he was remembering something", and was disturbed by premonitions of a major disturbance in the area. (Near Paris? In France as a whole?) Kelvin was here in an attempt to gather information about whatever that might be. I kept the conversation as brief as I could, but Rho came over as well, and Kelvin offered to fund "small, pretty" projects that the dwarf might make. I tried to discourage that, as the Dione Sidhe also seemed to be flirting heavily with the stocky inventor. To make matters worse, Kelvin told the two of us (and Fleur, if I recall correctly) that he would be in our debt if we could give him further information. I'm of course not so naive as to take an Unseelie at his word, but decided that whatever else he might be lying about, he had hints that something big was coming – and that he wanted me to believe the Adversary didn't like it. I tried to convince Rhododendron and Fleur Durand of the dangers of having any dealings whatsoever with any member of the Unseelie Court, but I don't think I made much progress. Eventually, in frustration, I told Rho that if things between him and Kelvin went far enough, I would arrange for a pair of cold iron wedding rings for them.
There were of course many others as well, several of whom had lovely clockwork costumes. These and the engineers who wore them attracted my attention as well, and I decided to strike up a conversation with one of them, a Dr. Jutt Ludwig. It turns out she's a Prussian "dimensional expert" who has been getting strange measurements recently. Her descriptions reminded me a lot of the portals to Arcadia the Fae have used in the past, and she seemed to think some sort of time travel might be involved. This reminded me far too much of Kelvin's description of an upcoming Adversary-relevant event. I did some chatting and probing with her, and found that she was concerned about her Romani grandmother, back home in Prussia. Prussia's having a lot of civil disturbance these days, supported by Unseelie machinations. Since she seemed concerned by her kin's plight and was at least nominally opposed to the Unseelie, I thought that I could safely give her the little bit of additional information I had… so I told her of Kelvin's descriptions of the Adversary's concerns. I tried to warn her that part of the information was unreliable, and that she shouldn't follow up with the Unseelie, but that there was at least some similarity between her observations and Fae magic.
Dinner & Dancing
Over dinner, I ended up sitting between Kelvin and Princess Pauline of Austria. By this point I was quite concerned by whatever oddities Kelvin was expecting / planning, and didn't want to speak with him at all. He tried conversation; I tried to ignore him as politely and firmly as possible. Pauline at least can talk about music and art – a welcome respite from the heavier topics in which I had just been engaged.
After dinner was dancing, and I immediately found the Kelvin had sneaked his name onto my otherwise-blank dance card. Two can play at that game. I glamoured his name off my card and made some excuse about having other plans. I doubt I was convincing, but I was able to get away from the murderous scheming Lord, at least for a bit. Instead, I ended up dancing with Maru Giovanni, who proved himself to be pleasant and charming once you got past the extremely awkward shell. There were other dances as well, most of which were forgettable.
A few dances in, there were gunshots and screams from the library. I apologized to my partner as quickly as I could, reflexively dropping the feline shape and turning ethereal to fly through the crowd and wall as quickly as I could. When I arrived, Rho was on the ground with several gunshots in him, and one of the Prussian representatives was holding a gun. She seemed dazed, and I shouted at her as I rushed to tend the tinker's wounds. Guards. Chaos. A few other attendees from the party. I don't yet know what happened. I'll get more details from my friend once I'm sure he's on the path to recovery.