Oct. 15th, 1866: I wake up this morning a very happy man. I have friends to eat breakfast with, a place to call home, and lots and LOTS of weapons to get ready for travel! We all get everything in order (Aldo handles most of the mechanical weapons, Marcus and I get the archaics ready, and Sergei practices being human before ten in the morning), including Emily and Jenny. This will be Jenny’s first trip outside of London, so we have to make sure she has everything packed up for travel! Breakfast is great, if a bit anxious, and is capped off with our packing our baggage onto a wagon and heading for the train station.
We are met by Koenigsman (all grins), Vaughn, Sixsmith, and Yates (happy to be outside, I bet), and two members of what I have to assume are the other House’s ‘troubleshooting’ team.
The obvious one to notice is the lady I immediately assume is one Ms. Jane Starling. Petite does not describe her well enough; she is tiny! Taken at face value, she looks about as threatening as Emily; slim and very exotic. Her Asian heritage definitely shines through; I heard that she is half Scottish and half Chinese, but it is plain to see which half she favors! A lovely young lady who is all smiles and nervous energy.
A bit more reserved is one Mr. Fritz Vanderfaust. Immaculately groomed and a bit stoic, he seems to have a quiet manner. I sense a bit of the paranoid in him; he is constantly scanning the area for threats and is a bit tense. But, as we tend to get jumped a lot, I assume they they either suffer the same malady or have heard of ours. Fritz is evidently a stage magician of some fame, and looks the part.
We all hop into one large car for the trip, and immediately groups form. Emily and Jenny are entertained by Vaughn’s crew (as they know each other), and we sit and chat with Jane and Fritz. An interesting set of groups; ‘initiates’ and ‘professionals,’ I suppose? Jane is as chatty as she is pretty; we find out that she is a legacy within her House, with her mother being a famous healer who was beloved of pretty much everyone, ever. Fritz seems to have angered some Austrians (easy enough, that) and wandered his way to London with Jane’s cousin, Wilbur. Wilbur is away working on House business; getting their crew ready for a trip to America.
By the time we get to Aberdeen, it is already 10PM. We eat some dinner (Jenny can barely stay awake!) and continue our chatting. The folks at Aberdeen, as always, are the best of hosts; I just think they are still amazed to see our Houses not at each other’s throats! Sergei and Jane specifically talk a bit (both casters and maybe healers?) about work. And with that, we all bed down for the evening.
Oct. 16th: It takes several wagons to get all of us plus the weaponry and ammunition to Stoney Hill. When we get there, we have all manner of weapons to play with; wooden practice weapons, plus plenty of live steel. Firearms of all description, including Koenigsman’s surprise toy: a Gatling gun! Just the sight of it brings back so many memories… most of them bad, to be sure, but at least they are fun to shoot! Mr. K lets me take over the loading and operation drills on the Gatling (I have a bit of experience on this weapon), and everyone has fun sawing boards in half with science.
Very interesting things happen while we practice. First, Mr. K and I watch as much as we work. I am new to this weapon-master duty, but I am trying to take it very, very seriously. Marcus and I ace most weapon drills and practices (training + experience). Aldo burns through firearm drills, and Sergei gets the practice with firearms he has desperately wanted. Benjamin is an ace with all manner of ranger weapons, and decent enough with a sword to boot. Jane and Fritz do very well in them as well, with Fritz being an all-rounder and Jane specializing in easily-hidden daggers. She is also pretty good with javelins and thrown hatchets, even if she almost has to use two hands to throw them!
Vaughn is focused mostly toward blades (a fencing saber for real combat, it seems), Sixsmith with pistols, and Yates with his absolutely delightful stake crossbow invention. Yates is a bit of a worry; over-reliance on that one weapon shows his hyper-focused nature and, over time, can become a hindrance. Hopefully he will be like Aldo; once his new toy is finished, one hopes he will move to a new one!
Emily is going to be a bit of a problem. She shows basic competence with small blades (knives, mostly), but I fear that her training may be more of a natural weapon variety. This is an area that I have some proficiency with (I have seen my share of brawls), but nowhere near the expertise needed to train someone with her natural gifts. I will have to find someone for her to train with… or learn how to myself.
Jenny is a natural blademaster-in-training. She is a bit small to use anything but knives now, but shows serious skill in their use and absolutely no hesitation in their application. She reminds me of me at her age.
Vaughn is a bit of a puzzle. He is obviously the leader of his little squad, but seems to show no urge to do anything with it. He seems happy within his cocoon of self-importance, even though he was dragged to the carpet for almost getting himself and his two friends (and House members) legally eaten. Mr. K mentions that much of that is Vaughn’s reliance on his heritage, which Mr. K has to tread softly around due to in-House political reasons. He invites me to try to get through to Vaughn, if I can.
We set up for dinner, but uneasily. We all feel as if we are being watched, and soon prove to be correct.
I almost disbelieve I am writing this, but it is the truth. While we are munching on various meats, breads, and cheeses, a small platoon of honest-to-god elves, pixies, and other assorted fae creatures stroll out of the woods and ask to share our fire.
Oh well, why not!? Well, other than Sergei and Marcus look like they are ready to kill them all if ANYONE sneezes funny…
The obvious leader is one Therion, lord of the Seelie (light) elf court. His arm-candy is one Una; she is cute if you like that ‘oppressive otherworldly beauty’ kind of look. Kind of like Bia if she were in a dress and spent all of the time worrying about her hair. They thank us for taking care of the hellhound problem in the quarry and then get to the real story.
Therion is Emily’s grandfather. Well, that explains a lot. They want to make the offer to Emily; she is welcome with them, as family, whenever she wishes. Emily is being polite, but is pretty stalwart in her belief that she is where she needs to be.
Good. If she went with them, I would be… upset. It is her choice, but I would miss her terribly!
Well, since thing were not weird already, another large gang of fae come strolling out of the woods. These are definitely of a different bend; darker in clothes and movement, they move more like predators than spirits. Their leader, Oberon, and his lady, Tatiana, ask for sanctuary at our fire for the evening.
We should have brought more cheese.
Oberon is also kin to Emily (I lose track of exactly how). He is making the same offer for his Unseelie (dark) court. Emily is still sweet, polite, and NOT INTERESTED.
Rather than let these two groups fume across the campfire at each other, we settle on the old camping tradition of ghost stories. After my tale of the battle at Antietam, everyone decides that is enough of that. (I can be a real buzzkill sometimes). Finvaran suggests a dance, which is good enough all attended. Marcus and Sergei stay off the dance ‘floor,’ preferring to be ready to began Armageddon instead. Probably a good idea; Aldo and I are busy making sure NO ONE drinks or eats any fae food! I do steal a dance with Emily and Jenny, thanking my Father for requiring a few lessons, just in case.
With Oberon’s group came a knight (in honest-to-God armor!). He seems human, but touched by magic. He all but begs Jane to help free him, and it is obvious that it is some kind of game of Oberon’s meant to capture humans. Jane desperately wants to help, but Fritz makes a good case for waiting and trying again later. Hell, for all we know the knight is in on the whole thing!
Therion and his crew leave, telling Emily and Ben that they will be back every year on this date to see if either of them want to change their mind. Pretty good folk, for baby-stealin’, mind-controlin’, hair-obsessives! I pick Oberon as a more useful target for my next trick; I convince him that making our demon hair silk into armor for Emily might sweeten her to his offer of protection over Therion’s. He knows it is a ploy, but it is also the truth! Plus, it lets him show off, which I can see is VERY high on his daily ‘to-do list!’ He also wishes to trade information on our weapon that can render an soul unrecoverable for a method to track a VERY specific demon on our List.
Bedtime. Another day in an increasingly weird life checked off.
Oct. 17th: Today is my day! We begin martial weapon training in earnest. Everyone has to participate, but it is not to embarrass. We are finding our strengths and weaknesses, as individuals, as Houses, and as a combined force. Notes are taken by Mr. K and myself, especially on individual training needs and group dynamics. After setting a bit of a perimeter, our folks with magic get to flex, with Sergei showing why he does NOT usually need a gun, and Jane showing why she does not need a match. A tiny half-Asian pyrokinetic-healer and a gruff Russian cryokinetic-healer. Sounds like a fairy tale.
Time for my gamble; I pick Vaughn out for a sparring session. He comes into it as always: flippant, playful, and not a care in the world.
That changed a bit after the first time I put him in the mud followed by the punch to the face.
I mentioned to him as delicately as I am able that, so far, I would not put him in charge of a meat-on-a-stick cart, much less a team of professional monster hunters. So far, he is a failure at anything but being idly rich, and has the inevitable death of himself and his friends to look forward to. All of this while ramping up the intensity of our spar. Gone were his pretensions of wanting to score some kind of points against me; he was getting angry with me, and wanting me to stop humiliating him in front of his peers.
Pride. A fatal flaw of my people as well, and laid bear for him to see. We were speaking quietly enough that most of those around us could not hear; Marcus, Jane, Aldo, Ben, Fritz, and the Mad Russian were near enough they probably got an earful. But Vaughn faced his fear (failure) and found his strength…
Usually, this is where I would say something hokey like ‘loyalty’ or ‘friendship’ or ‘inner nobility.’ Nope! Vaughn’s strength is apparently the ability to split into several phantom images, surround me, and finally let the real one to get an opening to start actually landing hits.
That is a very useful strength, friends! And one he did not know he had! We stop our duel, and he promises, man-to-man, to work on what we talked about. He has a leader in him ,to be sure. He just needs to kill the noble in him first.
As we close up on the day, Jane reveals to us (VERY hesitantly) that she believes that she has unlocked the ability to heal wounds past ‘the Golden hour.’ Sergei, MUCH more casually, does the same. She is afraid of her new power; evidently people who can do this are an amazingly rare subset of caster, who are rare to start with. (OF NOTE: How rare can they be? I know TWO already!) As neither of them have tested it, I offer myself up as a test. I put a narrow cut across my forearm (what is one more scar in my life?) and we wait a good while. Wiggly fingers (Sergei casts), a bit of light (Jane assists), and no more cut!
While we dwell on the enormity of the situation, dinner is had, and following that, sleep.
Oct. 18th: We keep practicing today (Oberon asked us to wait a few days while he got crafters to work on our possible new toys). Jane decides she wants a go at healing Mr. K’s heart condition. This is risky, as it means telling a man who is carved out of duty a secret that he is near honor-bound to tell his superiors. But, you know what, I back her play; Mr. K is a great friend and mentor, and deserves a physical heart as healthy as his spiritual one.
BANG! FLASH! It seems to have worked, and an hour jog with Mr. K shows him not even winded. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves two more bona-fide miracle workers! Well, outside of the OTHER miracles they can perform, but you get my meaning! Mr. K is at a crossroads here, as he is supposed to report this to Montague. But we offer him a way out; his actual boss is one Matthias Tyson, and a matter such as this should be taken up with him before it is tied up in regional matters. Mr. K agrees to go to see Tyson as soon as he can to do just that.
We end the evening with Fritz putting on an impromptu but one hundred percent professional-quality magic show. With all of the magic and mystery around us, a show like this still amazes me as much as it did as a child.
Oct. 19th: As we break camp, Oberon shows back up (sans crew, showing trust. I like that.). He has one EXTREMELY tight-fitting black outfit for Emily made from the silk. He says that it will offer no small amount of protection from all manner of wounds, and that his crafters enjoyed the high-quality material to play with. And, for Marcus…
…a compass. One which, at dusk and dawn each day, will point unerringly to his demon (so long as it is one this plane).
We are coming for you, Child-Killer. And when we get you, Hell will be much, much too good for you.