21st of Demiber 1884
A man was seated at a small table, reading a newspaper. The front page headline stated ‘New Wave of Reforms to Aid the Lower Class’. He read the article intently, taking in every word. He sighed.
“What’s wrong, Phin?” asked a tall, pale man sitting across the table.
“Oh… I don't know, Boric”. It is all of these reforms. The papers seem to be trying to convince people that good things will come of the revolution, but they're talking in circles and not really saying anything.”
“Isn't that the nature of politics? They never say what they mean.”
“I know, but some of these seem to be outright lies. I mean, here, it says that the new leaders will be instituting a program that will give everyone access to clean water. Where is the water coming from?” Phinneus threw the paper on the table in frustration. “I am going out for some air.”
Phinneus stood up, grabbed his coat and hat, and walked out the door.
Demitrius was beating down. Phinneus was used to the heat, having been raised in Antiford. However, he had spent the past year in Titania with the Yeti. When the revolution started, he decided to return.
While in Titania, he constructed a few condensers based off of a new technology being researched at the University in Hjem. The condensers could generate drinkable water by extracting it from the air. These condensers, he brought with him to Gearford. Shortly after he arrived, the government passed a law making the possession of water generators and lab equipment illegal. Phinneus worked quickly to hide his devices aboard his ship, The Northstar.
That was nearly six months ago. Most of his time was spent aboard the ship making cargo and personnel runs between ports. It was a meager living, though it afforded him a small house in the Barrett District. Though now, he was also illegally selling water to the lower class. This allowed him to amass a small fortune. He took to selling his water to the upper class as well. They had no reason to question where it came from since he spent so much time at sea.
This day was particularly hot. He knew that many of the mill workers would be using up their reserves. Grabbing a small cart, Phinneus unloaded several large containers of water and made his way to one of the alleys behind a mill. A loud bell rang signaling a break in the workday. Dozens of people poured out of the doors and flooded onto the street.
A young boy, no more than eight years old, saw Phinneus standing with his cart and walked over to him with an empty mug in one hand, and his lunch pail in the other. Phinneus grabbed the cup from the boy before he could say anything and half filled it with water from one of the containers.
“Thank you, mister. But I cannot afford this,” the boy said.
“That is fine. It is free today.”
The boy’s eyes widened as he looked at the cup. A few other mill workers approached Phinneus and were handed mugs of water. They called some of their friends, and soon a crowd formed. Nearly seventy people stood around the cart laughing and cheering and telling stories. Phinneus felt good about himself. He knew that he was doing a good thing. He had the water and money to spare.
The sharp sound of a whistle pierced the air. The crowd parted and two constables approached Phinneus.
“What do you think you are doing,” asked one of them.
“I am…” Phinneus paused. He knew that the constables would not believe that the water was his, and he had forgotten his papers. “I am just getting to know these fine people,” he said with a big smile.
“Where did you get the water,” the other asked.
“It is mine,” he replied.
“Where did you get it,” the first asked.
“I found it. I am a merchant who sells water. I seem to have forgotten my papers back at the office.”
“Don’t you know that it is illegal to sell water without a permit? Sir, we are placing you under arrest.”
The crowd booed and cursed at the bobbies. When their faces were turned towards the mill workers, Phinneus took off running. The constables shouted and ran after him. “Fool! Why did you run,” Phinneus asked himself. He was weaving in and out of the crowds and carriages. Then a man appeared in front of him, stopping him dead in his tracks.
“In here,” said the man as he shoved Phinneus inside a shop and down into the shops storage cellar, the door slamming behind him.
Phinneus could hear the men looking for him enter the shop. They began to interrogate the man and shop owner. Not finding Phinneus, they soon left. The door opened, and footsteps came down the stairs.
“Why did you do to have so many constables chasing you,” asked the man.
Phinneus looked at the man. He was tall and well dressed.
“If you must know, I was caught handing out water.”
“And did you steal the water,” asked the man.
“Absolutely not! It was my own private stock.”
“That is not very convincing.”
“I am a water merchant. I felt that it would increase my business if I gained the loyalty of some of the mill workers. Besides, I was doing a good thing by giving out water,” said Phinneus defensively.
“It was a good thing, Phinneus.”
“How do you know my name?”
“That will have to wait. Go to this address tonight at nine. I will see you then.”
“But you have not answered my…” Phinneus began before he was interrupted by the man turning and walking up the stairs.
Phinneus followed the man up the stairs to finish the conversation. But, when he walked into the shop, the man was gone. He glanced at the note in his hand. All that was on it was an address and a time.
That night, Phinneus went to the address on the note. At the address was a small building with a sign on the front that read ‘The Black Leaf and Earl’.
“A new business. At least some people are not as bad off as others,” Phinneus said quietly to himself.
He walked up to the door and hesitated. He was not certain what he was doing there. Opening the door, he saw a short woman busily running around cleaning up tables and carrying out tea and sandwiches.
“Have a seat wherever you like dear. I will be right with you,” she said with a stack of tea cups carefully balanced in her hands.
Phinneus sat down. But, no sooner than he had, he saw the mysterious man from earlier approaching him.
“Please follow me Mr. Cromwell”
Phinneus stood and followed the man into a back room. In the room there was a table with three chairs. Sitting in one of the chairs was an older man.
“Welcome Mr. Cromwell. First things first, I believe introductions are in ORDER...” the old man said as he was standing up, wheezing quietly with laughter. The other man sighed and rolled his eyes. “My name is Lars Attridge.”
“And I am Hector White,” said the other man extending his hand.
“It…is a pleasure to meet you both. Why am I here?”
“How do you feel about the new government,” asked Hector.
“Why… do you two work for them?”
“Not quite. We're trying to keep an eye on them,” stated Lars.
“We have also had an eye on you since you came back. There aren't too many water merchants,” said Hector.
“And those that are licensed typically have dozens of employees and considerable land. How is it that you are successful,” asked Lars.
“Look, you aren’t the government, and I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“You misunderstand us. We are not trying to trap you.”
“We would like to offer you a position within our organization,” stated Hector.
“We've looked into your past. You're in good company; Hector is quite a skilled chemist and I have been pursuing the creation of automatons.”
“What is it that you would want me to do?”
“Go about your daily business. Keep an eye on the government’s involvement. You are in a unique position, when compared with us,” said Hector.
“You have business dealing with the government. We do not. But, there is more to being in this organization than just spying,” replied Hector.
“That's why we asked about your feelings on the government,” said Lars.
“Well…to tell the truth, I am not too keen on the new government. I feel that they are making promises that cannot be carried through. Besides, several of them were the reason for my arrest a few years ago.” Phinneus thought for a moment. “Count me in.”
“Very good, Mr. Cromwell,” said Lars.
“Welcome to the Order of the Badger.”
3rd of Gornuary 1885
Abigail sighed and closed the black leather-bound tome positioned on her lap. Although it was still quite early in the night, the few remaining party members had cuddled like kittens among the Southern Paorrian styled tuffets and brocade cushions. Uprooting herself from what she thought was a very comfortable throne of a chair, Abigail gathered her things quietly avoiding the splayed limbs and entangling blankets strewn across the floor. When all things were packed back in her trusty doctor’s tote, she stopped to survey the room once more. The group looked at peace in their opium-induced dream states, a stark contrast to how she felt herself.
‘What a bore.’ She thought to herself with a look of disapproval.
‘A couple hundred Ciam and nothing new.’
She slipped her notebook into her bag last, and saw herself out of the hazy manor into the comparatively crisp night.
In other parts of Antiford, Abigail imagined that this time of night would be rather dangerous. Perhaps even more dangerous with the new political changes. But in Rowe, the new lights lined the street guiding her way home without fear of shadows, if she was ever afraid of them. Saks was a slightly different story. Although the market place was full of people and goods in the day, it was disparately quiet and bare at night. It was no surprise to her that the new light fixtures ended right before the shopping district began.
The long hall of the shopping market was bathed in dark and the small alleyways that ran between some of the shops seemed like black columns holding the sky barely above the shops.
Abigail continued down the street unhesitating, trying not to care about the sudden change in atmosphere, even though it did bother her. A hand extended from one of the dark columns and Abigail’s arm was yanked toward the black mass.
“Excuse me, Miss” the voice creeped forward, almost unsure of it’s place.
“Excuse you is right!” Abigail barked back, pulling her arm back to herself. Taking a step back, she furrowed her brow and examined the dark, trying to make out a figure.
A man emerged from the shadow, sulking. Although not the most stylish man, he was very clearly misplaced. Obviously he was not a native Optilocal, but he was not quite lavish to be from White Haven, nor looked like he carried a simo from overseas.
Holding himself in a rather pathetic stance, he spoke again. “I’m very sorry miss. You see, I am, uh.., We are in need of assistance.” He held his hands together, not quite begging but more in an attempt to self sooth. He was obviously not comfortable in the position he injected himself into.
Abigail sighed and continued on her path home for the night. He man followed her a few paces. As he grasped at her dress, she spun heel and landed her hand across his cheek quite forcefully.
“Don't you dare touch me, you rat-handed peddler.” she growled, irritated with this encounter.
His hands clamped down on her shoulders and pulled her face very close to his. “I’m sorry- you have to!” his foul breath was hot against her skin.
Although inside Abigail’s head was the uncomfortable static that often accompanied the touch of another person, her hands instinctively went through the motions she unfortunately had practiced more than a few times before.The mysterious man’s pupils disappeared into his eyelids and his body crumpled to the ground.
As the static dissipated, Abigail disposed of the needle with the rest of the unwashed glassware carried in her trusty tote, taking extra care to be sure to fasten the clasp.
“I wonder what he needed so badly.” She said to herself while taking a moment to look down at the man.
“Guess it doesn't matter.”
She straightened her clothes and gave the man a swift kick on the injection point. She smiled, feeling a bit childish for kicking a down man. Then continued on the last few minutes of her journey.
When she arrived home, there was another stranger casually seated on her stoop. This man was much larger than her attacker, and was reclining very naturally across the stairs with his nose buried in a small leather-bound book. It wasn't uncommon for her to receive unwelcome visitors, but as she approached she noticed something familiar about the scene.
Standing with her hand on her hip, she cleared her throat. The man didn't stop reading. “Excuse me.” No reaction still. Abigail ripped her book from the man’s hand. The man let his empty hand drop, while drawing his eyes up to meet hers. His unruly beard and large mustache hid his half smirk while his thick eyebrows raised above his spectacles.
“What language is that?” he queried, almost like he was trying to strike up a conversation. Abigail was taken aback from his nonchalant question, and held her tome close to her chest.
“None of your business.” she snapped.
“Is Arthur home?” he continued, unfazed by her comeback. Confused, Abigail glanced down further down the street and then back at the man.
“My uncle had passed a few years ago.” she retorted. No one had asked about Arthur in a long time.
The man covered his mouth with a fist and coughed. “Excuse me?” he queried, in a tone that was bathed in disbelief. “Arthur never had any family.”
Abigail let go a brief snort “Well, apparently he does.” Grasping her case and her notebook, she stepped closer. “Now, I don’t know what you or your goon wanted, but it’s early…”
“Goon?” the man said under his breath, burying his thick brows deeper into his facial expression. He turned slightly to look at the door and back at Abigail. “So you’re saying Arthur is dead?” Abigail sighed impatiently. “And you reside here now?”
Abigail’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but I don’t have time for these questions.” Grabbing the hem of her bell-ish skirt, she pushed past the man and unlocked the door to her shop, ignoring the static feeling that had been building since the beginning of this encounter.
At this point, the man stood up and pressed behind her- barging into her shop immediately after she entered. Abigail took a few steps into the cluttered mess and turned to find him closing and barring the door with his large frame.
Disgruntled, Abigail began raising her voice. “I am very unimpressed with your tactics, Mr…” “ Phinneus Cromwell.” He finished, still calm as ever.
Silent, Phinneus slipped his cap off to reveal a dark tangle of hair, then held it to his breast. He scanned the room as if he had come home to find the room as it was let years ago. His expression revealed his apparent nostalgia for the piles of books, chaotically organized buckets, and overfilled baskets that overwhelmed the shop.
“Cromwell?” Abigail queried at Phinneus, placing her bag near the junk-covered counter. “Commodore.” she corrected.
Phinneus placed his cap back on and rubbed his eyes with one hand, pushing up his glasses while he did so. “So this means you’re-” “Abigail.” She finished.
“So- Are you in need of a trade...or favor?” Although she had no idea what the Commodore could have been possibly looking for, Abigail was never the type to pass up the opportunity of a water merchant. The thought of even having the man be in her debt excited her a bit.
“I was hoping to find Arthur...but maybe he left what I needed.”
“Straight to the point, Commodore. What exactly are you in need of?” Her smile grew even more. She was anxious to hear the secret readily spilling past his lips.
“I… I’m actually not completely sure.” He made a face while confessing. “I had no idea that Arthur wouldn't be here. I had hoped he could help.”
Abigail felt betrayed, almost as a pirate digging for hours to find a chest full of nothing but empty promises and failed dreams.
“Perhaps I could be of assistance? I’m assuming you’re looking for information about someone in particular?”
Phinneus’ face lit up in realization.
Abigail knew about the merchant. Even though some after the revolution still held the name Cromwell in distaste, most adored him for supplying their gold-lined pockets with fresh water from the north, or other exotic locations. While Abigail had a small interest in the possibility that he might be a reliable source for mineral water, she was much more interest in his Fraternal affairs.
“Yes, actually. I didn't know you knew what your ‘dear uncle’ did. I should have assumed with all the coded charts in your notes.”
Abigail scrunched her face in displeasure. “Yes, well- I do have records on many people, but I would like something... uhm. unusual in return.”
Phinneus gave a worried look Abigail would soon come to know very well.
50th of Moghs 1888
Cordelia came into Lucas’ workshop bringing tea, “How’s the decision engine, darling?”
“It works, so well it scares me,” Lucas said looking up at his love, “I must show Lars what I've done.”
“You'll wait until you've had the tea I've spent all this time to make,” she demanded with a knowing smirk.
“All of course.”
Lucas dragged some bits and bobs together to make a small table to have tea upon.
“This is it, you know. The final piece of the puzzle. We can start making automatons now.”
“And where would that leave our doll business?”
“Well, err... We can do both!”
“You're going to run yourself ragged, you know. You're too hyperactive for your own good.”
“Life is just so full of surprises, Delia. How can you not be so excited all the time?”
“Oh, but I certainly am.”
Lucas drew a paddock’s carriage and rode into Gearford, to the home of Lars Attridge, his mentor for the past few years and noted expert in the mostly academic field of automata. He rang the bell and waited some time before taking up his scrolls and blueprints and simply entering unannounced.
“Lars! I've much to show you!” he called out into the empty hall.
Lucas went into the drawing room to find his mentor slumped over the couch, neck swollen and deep purple. Lars gasped, eyes far too wide, which spooked Lucas more than anything before.
“Professor! How can I help you?” he shouted, dropping all his documents.
Lars weakly pointed towards the unlit fireplace, “Find... brick.”
“We need to get you a doctor!” Lucas said trying to keep his teacher focused.
“Too late!” Lars mustered with defiant resolve, “Loose brick.”
“Fine, I'll do that as soon as I know you're safe.”
Lucas ran out onto the street, and found a young one, playing.
“You there, girl, call an amberlamps!”
Returning to the drawing room, he sat his mentor up, trying to keep him calm and breathing. Lars’ glace remained steady on the fireplace and until he was no longer conscious.
Lucas tried as much as he could to slap and shake him awake. Tears came down his face as he felt the helplessness of the moment.
An amberlamps finally arrived, but he knew it was far too late. He answered a constable’s questions and went back inside to collect his things.
He stared at the fireplace for a while, “Okay, professor. Where’s this loose brick of yours, you were so concerned about.”
He felt around the sooty inside of the fireplace along the bricks for any sign of movement. Up and towards him on the inside, a brick - slightly raised from the wall wiggled. He pulled the brick out and a sealed letter fell out.
It was addressed to Lucas.
I've prepared this letter in the event that I expire, naturally or otherwise.
You've been a wonderful student and I will rest easy knowing the knowledge passed to me will continue on to you. Keep Moreau’s dream alive, Lucas.
To important matters, My funeral will have already been arranged by those not known to you. Hopefully, they will reach out to you like I've asked them.
Trust in them as I have.
Greatness is more than accomplishments, but in what we fight for on Orr.
Lucas had never heard his mentor talk so boldly. Passionately, sure, but this message was confusing.
The funeral service fell on the foggiest day of the year, so that even in the early morning, the fjordan priest brought the entourage of lanterns used most usually at night services.
Lucas and Cordelia Buford stood in the murky cemetery on the edge of town in their finest blacks. Across the casket from them, two stood out to Lucas as unknown to him: a stout, gruff, yet well-kept gentleman and a lady of eerie youthfulness.
The priest finished with the ritual of sprinkling water on the casket, “May you never thirst again, lost soul. And now, the last words.”
Cordelia squeezed his hand before letting go, as one does, as if to make up for the time hands unheld. Lucas walked over to the podium.
“Professor’s life was taken from him, quite unfairly. He had a lust for life, and always searched for truth...” Lucas closed his eyes for a moment to collect himself, only achieving the opposite. His eyes watered uncontrollably, “You will not be forgotten, friend. You shall not be lost to the aethers of history. Not a day shall pass that you are not remembered.”
And with that, they lowered the casket into the ground.
On their way to the carriages, the mysterious lady stopped Lucas and held out a letter.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Now is not the time,” she responded glancing back to Attridge's grave.
Lucas took the letter and hopped into the wagon.
Cordelia looked at him, “What was that?”
“I'm not sure. I have a feeling the professor left me more than what’s in his will.”
The envelope contained instructions to meet at an establishment in the back alleys of Gearford's Barrett district. The night air was chilly, and it ripped through Lucas as he navigated the twists and turns of the city. He had a siren gun in his inside pocket. He didn't know what to trust, but the streets of Gearford at night were not among the likely candidates.
“What have you gotten me into, professor?” Lucas muttered to himself as he approached the restaurant’s entrance.
The Black Leaf and Earl was dimly lit, like a pub, but none of the patrons seemed inebriated. The scent of a thousand teas emanated and persisted the atmosphere, as if soaked into the very woodwork.
The lady from the funeral was in the corner. She put down her copy of The Ticking Clock and got up.
“Took you long enough.”
The gentleman from the funeral spoke from directly behind Lucas, “He has no idea how to navigate this city... Come on.”
She went up to the front, and the owner let open a back room.
The proprietor and the gentleman stared angrily at each other for a moment, before greeting Lucas with a smile. The back room was decorated with the same black-on-black scheme. The lady was already sitting.
“Introductions are, finally, in order. My name is Phinneus Caractacus Cromwell.”
“I’m Abigail Beatrix Cormac.”
“I’m-” Lucas tried to continue the flow of conversation.
Phinneus finished his sentence, “Lucas Merriweather Buford, proprietor of Auto-Marie and protégé of our late Mr. Attridge.”
“No need to show off, Phin.” Abigail said to her compatriot, “Lars talked often about you.”
Phinneus sat down at the table and held out his hand to offer Lucas do the same, “The business at hand is an offer to continue the work your mentor helped start.”
“I don’t follow. I assume you don't mean the automata work,” Lucas stated his confusion.
“What do you think about the Technocracy, Buford?”
“Well, It's quite a brilliant system of governance...”
Phinneus' disapproval was obvious, “but?”
“Well, they're a sketchy lot, aren't they? Secret wizards of their fields making decisions in their ivory tower.”
“Thank goodness. I thought we'd lost you for a moment with that 'brilliant system' nonsense.”
Lucas straightened his back and furrowed his brow defensively.
Abigail interrupted their feather ruffling, “Lucas, you might not believe all the horrible things our government is doing in the name of the progress.”
“So what’s this have to do with the professor?”
Phinneus continued, “Lars was a vital member of a network that keeps an eye on the abuses of the state. It’s our job to be the check where there is no balance of power.”
Lucas looked at the wood grain of the table, pensive. He had no idea what to think of all this. The Technocracy was what saved him from the tyranny of his formative years: the awful prince. Regardless, the devil that saves is still a devil, after all.
“What do you need me for?” Lucas asked.
Phinneus answered, “You've got resources, money, and some technical expertise. We're down a member, and you came highly recommended.”
“I'm in.” he said before he could over-think things, “Lars’ dying wish was that I trust in your group.”
Abigail and Phinneus nodded and smiled in approval.
Lucas’s gaze grew serious, “His death wasn't a self-inflicted accident like the official report shows. You can help me avenge him, can't you?”
Phinneus extended his hand to Lucas, “Welcome, Lucas, to the Order of the Badger.”