Secrets of the Inner Sea

The Italian Ball
From the Recollections of CDR Fenton Harbinger

My first official diplomatic ball, and it’s being hosted by the Italians of all folks. I do hope that I don’t cause any incidents. I made sure to visit one of the more renowned tailors in Paris to get my official officers uniform refit as well as ask for a ball costume in the style of an exaggerated naval uniform, I plan to wear a standard Barca mask but with my CDR naval hat.

Of my own contingent, the Ambassador is <u>Lord Richard Lyons, Baron of Lyons</u>. Does exactly what he's told by Her Majesty, even if he disagrees, and does it well. This doesn't prevent him from hoping the French Emperor stays in power (he doesn't think the French can maintain a less authoritarian system), nor, given his distaste for slavery, including slavery by any another name, prevent him from allowing Bertie's faction to operate in Paris due to benign neglect. I have spent some time in private discussion the situation within the Prussian alliance as well as the situation with France, Bayern and Austria. Both he and his fiancé are deliberately wearing non-Venetian style costumes, as a subtle rebuke of Italian tactics, though he will of course be friendly to the Italians, as per instructions from Her Majesty's Government, who wants to drive a wedge between France and "Italy". He wears an American-style dinner jacket (proto-Tuxedo), matching and somber in the American style, with a mask designed to look like a beautiful angel, complete with a clockwork halo.

I have been warned by one of “Berties” folks (I guess that is how I will term them anyways) about the Ambassador’s fiancé; <u>Katherine Howard</u>. Richard's fiance. Vivacious, brown-haired, short, and mildly stout. She's extremely pro-business, and therefore pro Steam Lord, and honestly thinks the poor in factories are getting a good deal. Her father is a minor industrialist, specializing in large-scale springs and clockwork. She is wearing a beautiful crimson and black satin gown and a half mask designed to look somewhat like a devil. She and the other two members of the military attaché contingent; <u>Captain David Burgoyne</u> of the 16th Regiment of the Queen's Dragoons and <u>Second Lieutenant William Burgoyne</u>, David's younger brother are probably working together. David is tall, thin, dark-haired, handsome, well-meaning, flamboyant, and dumb as a rock. At Katherine Howard's insistence, he's wearing his red uniform with a red mask designed to make him look like a goblin. Treats his brother William like a slave. William’s mask and uniform are identical to his brother, but his fair hair and short stature make it easy to distinguish the two, even in costume. He is smarter, more sensible, and more earnest than his brother, who he loves dearly.

The ball is being hosted by <u>Lady Filumena Maria Elianora Gabrielle, Countess of Tortoli</u>. About five-six, somewhat lush figure, chestnut brown hair, bright blue eyes, full, wry mouth; and her husband, <u>Lord Baleri Giovanni Gabrielle, Baron of Vercelli,</u> Ambassador to the court of Emperor Napoleon III of France. About five-eight, somewhat heavyset, thinning dark brown hair, sparkling brown eyes, warm smile. Lord Baleri, or Vanni as his many friends call him (a nickname for Giovanni), is a minor nobleman from the Piedmont who, by virtue of his good nature and good marriage, has landed an important diplomatic position. While he is technically the Ambassador and responsible for pursuing Italy’s agenda, in society he is far outshone by his brilliant, charming, and politically connected wife, who is a niece of King Victor-Emmanuel of Italy, and a cousin to half of the Austrian nobility. It seems to me that she runs the show and he is merely a good natured dilettante, although in actuality (as I had been briefed by my own ambassador) the pair are very well matched, and use their respective strengths in tandem. His good nature and casual warmth makes people confide in him and helps him establish strong, lasting friendships which Filumena uses to their mutual political advantage. Her salons attract the parts of the set that his hunts and lakeside excursions do not, which makes them a formidable pairing. They also are fond of each other, although it was not a love match and both have taken lovers from time to time. From my understanding, the rest of the court is as follows:

The French Court

<u>Anne Debelle, Princesse d’Essling, Grand-Maitresse to Empress Eugenie of France</u>. Princesse Anne is a tall, thin woman with light brown, wavy hair and serious blue eyes. She is the most important of the Empress’s ladies in waiting, and sometimes serves as a proxy for her when attending an event would be awkward or undesirable. This is such an occasion. The “Italians” have invited the Emperor’s lowborn mistress Marguerite Bellenger to their ball. The Empress, of course, cannot be in a room with that woman, but she is still hoping to convince the Sardinian upstarts to give up on their futile quest to conquer the holy city, so Princesse Anne will go in her stead. Anne is a very intelligent, capable woman, but also rather reserved, which means many people find her standoffish. Princess Anne will be wearing a gown in the style of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria in pale blue and white with a simple blue and white silk domino mask.

<u>Arlecchino</u>. Everyone knows that the Emperor loves to attend these events in “disguise”. On this particular occasion, he’ll be wearing an elaborately patterned black and gold doublet with particolor black and gold pants, boots with long black toes tipped in gold, and a Arlecchino mask. It is well understood in society that when he is in disguise, the Emperor is not there, and that people are expected to behave as such. In practice, this confers all of the dangers of his presence (you still don’t want to offend him, and God forfend he’s injured) but few of its advantages (he takes poorly to attempts to influence him at these times)

Austrian Delegation

<u>Princess Pauline Claudine von Metternich</u>. Ambassadress from the Austrian Empire to the Court of Emperor Napoleon III of France. Around 5’2”, with straight brown hair and sardonic brown eyes. Brilliant, charming, and fearless, Princess Pauline is one of the great forces in Parisian society, and also one of the key threads that binds the Austrio-French alliance together. She is not especially beautiful, but has a great force of personality, and is known for her wit, her taste in art and music, and her awareness of social nuance. Her salons and balls are among the city’s most fashionable (always excepting the Empress’s), and a great deal of diplomacy is accomplished in the elegantly decorated parlors and corridors of her 7th arrondissement town house. Pauline is also more than willing to flout convention, and more able than most to get away with it. She travels frequently, when she is able to get away, and is particularly fond of visiting distant locals. She once challenged another woman to a duel over a music arrangement. She has close relationships with a number of artists, men and women both, and there are rumors that not all of them are platonic. However, whatever is whispered behind closed doors, in the salons of Paris and the halls of the court, Pauline is alway Comme Il Faut. Pauline married at seventeen to a distant relative, but was widowed by the age of twenty-nine, after her husband fell from his horse. – I do say she lives up to her billing, between the few opportunities I had to talk with her she was stunning. She was smart and very quick to catch onto what needed to be done. I also hope we did not draw too much attention, given the delicate political situation.

Other Important Guests

<u>Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace</u> – A solidly built woman in her fifties with intelligent brown eyes that convey a great degree of focus. She’s wearing a volto (full face mask) with precise fibonacci spirals in the place of eyes, and a fine mesh of geometric shapes painted in silver decorating the cheeks and forehead. Her costume is an academic gown from Oxford, worn over a black ballgown. Countess Lovelace is the lead programmer on the analytical engines that control the Verne Cannons. She came here from England when Louis-Napoleon convinced Babbage and Verne to bring him their expertise. Babbage had already been greatly frustrated with England’s lack of interest in his research, so he was more than willing to go, and after separating from her husband after she nearly died of cancer in 1852, Ada had no strong ties to keep her in the country. Upon arriving in France, with the support of the Empress Eugenie, she began the Women Inventor’s League (WIL) an organization to encourage women to engage in scientific and technical fields of study, and particularly to support women in the new field of programming. Her organization now has hundreds of active members spread across Europe, and even a few in the wilds of the United States!

<u>Mistress Marguerite Bellenger</u> – A beautiful, shapely woman in her early thirties with curly brown hair and warm green eyes. She is attending alone. Her costume is a (somewhat) Grecian style white gown with more standard underpinnings in cloth of gold, a Columbina mask in white and gold, and a crown of gold laurel leaves with a stylized golden apple at the front, identifying her as either Helen or Aphrodite. Mistress Bellenger is, in fact, a mistress. Specifically, she is Louis-Napoleon’s mistress. As such, she has significant access to him, and more than a little influence in his court, although of course the Empress’s faction loathes her. She is not especially religious, which is why she has been invited tonight. Since the King of Italy needs to conquer or otherwise claim Rome, thus wresting it away from the Pope, in order to unify his country, he cannot expect a great deal of support from the extremely Catholic Empress. However Bellenger might be more amenable to their cause

The Evening

One of my missions from the Bertie folks was to keep an eye out for a female Prussian defector; she was a scientists or engineer who wanted out of Prussia and I was to see if I could help her get to Bayern or maybe Austria. I figured out who she was among the Prussian contingent (perception); Dr. Jutte Ludwig; Prussian scientist of applied dimensional studies…requested to escape to Prussia. I spoke with her (courage) and generally figured out where she might want to go. But I would need help. Not too surprisingly, I encountered Mrs. Wharton, an engineer I had the pleasure of meeting at the last Analytic Engine Conference I went to; I knew she at least shared some of my same viewpoints on the modern political situation…what I didn’t know was that she had also talked with Dr. Ludwig and had come to the same conclusion. She knew of a young lady named Fleur who was also gifted in magic and able to open a portal; so a plan was hatched…over dinner and via engineering terms and formulas (education, tinkering, perception, courage). The plan is to during the waltz (social graces) exchange Dr. Ludwig with Mrs. Wharton and a rather interesting dwarf gentleman named Rho. While dancing with Dr. Ludwig and passing her onto Rho in the exchange, with her and Mrs. Wharton trading masks and cloaks; Fleur would open a gate in the library to help Dr. Ludwig escape to the Austrian Embassy. Unbeknown to us dancing, the gate Fleur opens also had the nasty side effect of attracting a swarm of ghost which pours out and proceeds to cause havoc in the library. Of course, no plan ever survives contact and while we thought we were clever, one of the Prussian guards, a nice female had followed Rho and Dr. Ludwig to the library. She saw the gate and the ghosts and Dr. Ludwig step into the gate and she proceeded to fire a round from a derringer which wounded the dwarf. Hearing this commotion and the gunshot, with all pretense dropped, some of us headed to the library to see what happened and to render assistance. Being one of the first there, I saw one of the costumed partygoers helping the dwarf. Fleur looked distracted by all that was happening and the dimensional gate closed as ghosts swarmed about. I saw the Prussian guard regaining consciousness, and I pulled out my new reservoir pen (having both a reservoir of ink and of air) with a twist and a pull of the cap I shot a sopforic needle (marksmanship) into the Prussian guard right in her carotid artery. She quickly collapsed and I took her into my arms to get her into the garden and out of sight. Fleur came with me and rubbed her hands, she mentioned she had an idea and proceeded to cast a spell that wiped the guard’s memory. I was fairly amazed at her abilities and told her so…I also pointed out she may want to go back and assist with the ghosts…I stayed with the Prussian and will try to suggest that she helped foil an anarchist plot. The night is still young and I’m not sure what else is in store.

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The Mardi Gras Masquerade
As recounted by the Hob Ellena

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.

Mingling

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.

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Investigating the Russian Embassy
In Tsarist Russia, wine drinks you

Ellena recounts the completion of the masquerade ball and the events that followed:

Towards the end of the ball, as I was patching up Rho, my old acquaintances Owen Daniels and, er, Duchess Cantemir showed up. The Duchess herself lent me needle & thread, and helped with the repairs on my favorite dwarf. Our hosts asked the remaining Prussians to leave. Fortunately there was enough liquor to subdue Rhododendron and enough bandages to properly stanch the wound.

Daniels helped drive off the ghosts and regaled the assembled VIPs with tales of his nautical adventures. (Being from the far side of the Atlantic makes him rather a celebrity.)  In particular, while traveling on the Inner Sea, he was ship-wrecked in a strange storm, but managed to swim to an island. He reported a bright blue light on the horizon and some feathered dragons.  He was on the isle for about three days before he could assemble a raft and continue his journey to a proper shore. Once back on land, he confirmed the island appeared on no charts. This sounded vaguely familiar, like I was remembering something, possibly something like a fae gate, and alarmingly reminiscent of Kelvin's description of what the Adversary was searching for.

Maru Giovanni approached me that evening as well, seemingly looking to join me (us?) for some sort of adventure. I… don't know how to handle that. It's not every day that a human child asks to be taken away from their homes by the fae… and the parents, especially noble ones, tend to object. I like the boy well enough, but what am I supposed to do with him?

He and some others seemed interested in seeing Rho's newest contraption, the Gyrosquid, so we resolved to meet up at his family's vineyard the next day. Lord Giovanni was also interested in ordering some more wine.

I'm still working for Fenton Harbinger, so accompanied him back to his apartment. During that walk, he told me that he, Mary Wharton and Rho had conspired to teleport Jutt Ludwig out of sight of her Prussian minders to the safety of the Austrian embassy. That explains why the Prussian lady was sufficiently angry to shoot her pistol, hitting poor Rho.

We found that the Duchess had arrived early at the vineyard, and had, with Rho's father's help, set up a lovely picnic. It was an incredible spread, with plenty of meats, breads, and cheeses. Of course there were several bottles of wine as well. I hadn't expected anything like this, and certainly hadn't done any work to deserve it. While the others were enjoying themselves, chatting, and touring the flyer, I snuck off to hunt some fresh game for lunch. It wasn't as good as I'm sure the provided food would have been, but even with helping to fix up Rho, I'm not sure how I could have paid off that debt in addition to the one from attending the party the day before.

During all this, I had a chance to talk to Maru's uncle. He seemed overjoyed at the idea that his son would be away from home, out from under his mother's control. (What is with humans? I'll of course try to keep Maru safe, but it's a dangerous world out there, and he's not even a score of years old. Owen and the others assured me that he was old enough to take some responsibility and risks of his own.) On board the Gyrosquid, Maru kept offering to do chores – physical labor like coiling rope and swabbing the deck. Daniels and the other humans encouraged this, but I was aghast. I had assumed I would be the one doing such work. Duchess Cantemir said I should treat Maru like a young brownie, teaching him to build and repair…  but young brownies know instinctively how to do these things. She also claimed that my teaching him would count as labor for me, that I would still be providing a useful service to the 'squid and others upon it. I suppose that makes some sense, but it's very strange. I'll have to think on it more.

After Lord Giovanni left, Fenton, Noemie, and Owen revealed they each had various reasons for wanting to investigate the Russian embassy and some shipments it had been making to a valley in northern Italy.  From their various contacts (both political and sorcerous), we knew the Russians were sending about one crate a month to the rural location, but didn't know the contents of the crates or the purpose of the shipments. With some information from the others about what to look for, I turned into a mouse to sneak into the building, then became ethereal to enter the crates proper. A little glamour gave me enough light to see what was packed inside: wine bottles. I gnawed open one of the bottles and verified the liquid inside smelled and tasted like wine.

Over the next few weeks, Noemie twice constructed reasons to intercept the courier taking the crates to Italy for the Russian embassy. On her first encounter, she was able to get the name of the town he was headed to.  It's a small, backwater place, although it does have a fort.  On her second encounter with the courier, she drugged him (with a potion developed by Fenton), and we were able to replace the crate with one I had manufactured the night before.  This let us inspect the contents in detail and send the fake ahead. Opening the original crate, we found the wine was from Rho's father's vineyards.  There was also a note inside, "Cabinet 86" or some such. I don't recall the number, and we weren't sure whether the note was instructions to the recipient, a packing list from the source, or just random packing material.

At this point, we're strongly considering taking the Gyrosquid down to Italy to do more investigations at the receiving end.

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Arrival at Fort Bard
Counterfeiting counterfeits while investigating Italy's foreign-supported fort

We flew Rho's Gyrosquid to Italy – or tried to. For some reason we gave Maru the helm, and soon found ourselves crashing outside Nice, substantially off-course.  There we ran into a human explorer / sorceress, Lady Emilia, and her brownie footman, Jeffrey. We brownies got the ship righted while several members of our company discussed joining Emilia in her hunt for dragons.  Fortunately, someone reminded the assembled adventurers we had a mission scheduled, or a "picnic" as we attempted to call it when Emilia and Jeffrey were within earshot.

Back in the skies, we soon reached Bard. Owen Daniels set the Gyrosquid down outside town and we split ways to do some investigations of Fort Bard and its surrounding settlement:
* I turned ethereal to investigate the fort directly, and soon discovered that most of its walls and doors were iron-lined… Apparently it's quite old, though, and a number of the repairs did not include the metal lining. I eventually found my way to the wine cellar and discovered it had many hidden cabinets, but they didn't contain anything obviously noteworthy.  There was also no "drawer 42" to match the packing slip from the crate. Also, they seem to be out of Rho's wine.
* The artillery on the fort is quite modern, having been recently installed by British soldiers who are still on hand to train their Italian counterparts.
* The guards appear more numerous, active, and alert than usual – both by my own observation and by Noemie's investigations.
* The gents investigating a town managed to get some maps from the folks there.
* The most recent shipment of Rho's wine is overdue.

After comparing notes with my friends, I headed along the road toward Paris to discover what had happened to Noemie's courier boyfriend. (None of the others can move near as quickly as I can while ethereal.) I found his cart several miles up the road – and him in a bar nearby. I took the form of a Bard guardswoman to question him about the missing shipment. It seems that Noemie (or her doppelganger, more likely), knocked him out and took the crate. He was drinking away all his money, certain he was to lose his job. Taking pity on him, I made a replicate crate (and got a new wine bottle from Rho's ship). I was able to have this second counterfeit crate in his possession shortly before dawn.  I reported in to the others and took a nap.
 

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