"Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men."-- Seneca, De Providentia


Dr. Jurgen and Kaeth are in the study off of Franz's bedroom, crashed in large overstuffed chairs with brandy snifters still lightly grasped in their hands. Dr. Jurgen has a medical book open on his lap about treating liver infections; hoping for divine inspiration.

Geoff goes to visit Heinrich, who is keeping watch with his shotgun and a really big thermos of strong coffee. Geoff sits down beside him, and brings up the topic of blood brothers. Geoff is primarily referring to his having given blood to Franz, but Heinrich hasn't a clue what the heck he's talking about. Geoff: "Where I come from it's a tradition, mostly upheld by young boys, but also in the military. When you want to swear an oath, you mix blood from two people, usually by making small cuts on the palm of each person's hand. There's nothing medically unsafe about it, it's like a symbolic ceremony that makes you the same as birth brothers." Heinrich: "Very interesting, sir. I shall have to read up on the customs of Kanaida." Geoff: "Like I said, it's mostly young boys, although it does have a strong tradition in the military, based mostly on men shedding blood together in battle." Heinrich: "I see sir." He's less talkative than usual, and is in the tense guard dog kind of mode.

Geoff: "Do you know if there are any secret passageways into that room?" Heinrich: "I don't know sir." Geoff: "It's all well and good to guard the door, but if the bad guys know about the passages and there's one into this room...The point is, if there is a secret passage and they use it to knock off the Count during the night, I won't be able to discuss this matter with him. If you see my point." Heinrich: "I see your point sir." Geoff: "Now that I'm Franz's blood brother, I'd feel very bad if anything were to happen to him. It would be as if something had happened to me." Heinrich: "Yes sir." Geoff stops confusing Heinrich, but does offer to relieve him later if he wants, or to keep him company. Heinrich is polite, but he's wound really tightly right now. Geoff sees the Marshal's men, armed, inside the main house and out. There is also a candlelight vigil being held outside.

Geoff goes to see the head groom, inquiring as to how long the groom has been there. Groom: "Let's see, I remember the Count when he was a lad, sir. That was some time ago now." Okay, he's been here long enough to satisfy Geoff, who explains that there was a plot to kill the Count, which is news to the groom. Geoff: "The assassination plot against the Count's life was to be staged in the north end of the stables. Some of your men may have been involved. I want to know why they chose that particular place." Groom: "An assassination attempt? I was not aware of that, sir." [Apparently, Franz's personal staff and the Marshal were trying to keep that bit quiet, to cut down on the panic. Oh well.] Groom: "Let's see, sir...Well, that location is far from the main house, and it isn't too well lit." Geoff: "If you think of anything, let me or Heinrich know." Groom: "And you are, sir?" Geoff: "Colonel Geoff Thompson. I'm one of the Count's guests." Groom: "Yes sir." He tries to memorize Geoff's face, which is difficult, since Geoff isn't a horse.

Geoff goes to the north end of the stables to look around. It's just getting dark, but torches and lanterns are being lit in the general area. Something reflects in a metallic fashion further towards the forest. The north end of the stable abuts with the edge of the forest. Geoff marks the spot in his mind, but is not going to go out there by himself and be spotted picking up the murder weapon or whatever. He turns around to go back to the house but there's a man standing right behind him. Looks like a Germanic hunting guide - rifle, feather in his hat; Geoff didn't hear him approach. Jaeger: "Can I help you, sir?" Geoff: "What's your name?" Jaeger: "George." Geoff: "How long have you worked here, George?" George: "Years come and go, seasons change...I don't know you, sir. There is word of strangers who want to do the Count harm." Geoff: "My name is Geoff Thompson, I'm one of the Count's guests." George: "Colonel Thompson?" Geoff: "Yes, that's right." Voice from the woods: "Colonel Thompson? We've been expecting you." [Note: When the bad guys want you set up to go to the north end of the stables, don't go to the north end of the stables by yourself!!] Argh. Geoff hits the jaeger in the nose, hoping to throw off his shot. George's head snaps back, and he falls to his knees. Geoff grabs for the rifle as he feels a stinging in the back of his neck. Geoff's body goes limp too quickly for him to run for help. He goes to the ground and tries to get off a shot with the rifle. Not going to happen. He sees a man's legs and shoes come over, look at Geoff, turn to the jaeger and shoot him in the head. Lachlan: "Colonel Thompson, how nice of you to join us. There has been a slight change of plans, but you can still be of use to us. You two, get over here and pick him up." Geoff gets some satisfaction from the fact that he's too big to be picked up and must be dragged (leaves more of a trail). On the other hand, Geoff is paralyzed but can still feel as he's being dragged through the brambles. The two men bitch and complain about how heavy Geoff is, and they drop him a couple of times. Lachlan: "Pick him up you idiots! You're leaving drag marks." The men complain in a surly fashion about how large Geoff is, muttering something about "pick him up yourself...". Lachlan: <reaching into pocket> "Perhaps this will fortify your strength." He tosses them a gold coin. Thug: "Thank you, sir." Yes, a bit of gold works wonders with lazy local thugs. Geoff: <thinking> "Not like they're going to live to spend it." Geoff's taken to a cottage. Lachlan: "Put him there. See that he's tied securely." More rope is better. Lachlan (not that Geoff knows him by name) comes over and tests the bonds. Lachlan: "No, no. That's too loose. And tie his elbows." His instructions are followed, with only minor whispering to indicate the men are annoyed at being told how to tie someone up; after all, they're experienced at this sort of thing. Lachlan: "Now, if you'll come with me to the cellar, I have some equipment to move." Three men go down to the cellar, one comes up. Predictable, really.

Lachlan: <to Geoff> "Well, now. We just have to wait for my associates to arrive later, and then I think we'll go to pay the Count a little visit." He then goes over to Geoff and hooks up an IV, taping it to Geoff's arm quite efficiently. Lachlan: "Hmmm, according to the expiration dates, these are still good. We'll see, won't we? But not right now." Lachlan digs around and brings out a nasty, large knife, with a sawtoothed back edge. He puts it into a leather sheathe that just happens to have Geoff's initials on it, and straps it to Geoff's waist. Lachlan stands back to admire his handiwork. Lachlan: "Yes, I think that should do nicely. And a dose of Rage. Now, what's the dosage...<checks something> Well, if ten is good, fifty must be better. But later. I think I'll have a nice drink. I'd offer you one, but under the circumstances I think not." Yeah, since Geoff's currently drooling on himself. On top of having him drugged, dragged, and tied up, now Geoff has to listen to his erstwhile host go off about how under appreciated he is, and how he's going to change that. Lachlan: "...Those idiots back on Rhylanor...I'll show them all. Why, when I come back with this technology, I'll probably be invited to dine with Strephon himself." Hang on...Strephon??? He has been out of touch, hasn't he?? Geoff would like to see to it that Lachlan dines with Strephon all right.

Meanwhile, in Robert's room, Ariana is in full bore, linear fret mode. Ariana: "...they may have already given us a slow acting poison in our food...Maybe they've already killed the other party members - go check!" Robert: <sigh> "We'll both check." Ariana: "Good idea, I'll go with you. They might come in and kill me while you're gone." They get up and dress, and go to check on the first bedroom nearby, which is Geoff's. No answer to the knock, and no one in the room. Of course it's only 9 o'clock at night. No one in Kaeth's room either. Robert goes to Franz's room next, careful to not upset Heinrich.

Robert: "Heinrich, have you seen Colonel Thompson lately?" Heinrich: "Sir Geoffrey came by earlier and had a cup of coffee, sir. I'm not sure where he went after that, but he may have gone to check on Lady Sophie, considering today's occurrences." Robert: "Good thought. Thank you, Heinrich." Robert and Ariana walk off, Ariana whispering to Robert. Ariana: "You don't think that...I mean maybe they replaced Heinrich with some one they had biosculpted to look like him." Now Robert enjoys Dick Salamander as much as the next rabid fan, but enjoying and obsessing about it are two other things. He reassures Ariana that it's not likely Heinrich has been replaced by a fake Heinrich. They go to the women's wing, and Robert has Ariana knock on Sophie's door. Clarice: "Good evening. It's a bit late to call." Robert: "I was wondering if you'd spoken to Colonel Thompson lately?" Sophie: "No, he hasn't called." Robert: "Oh, that's all right, he's probably off doing...man stuff." Sophie: "Oh. That's all right then." They say goodnight politely.

Next to the Count's study. They knock, but there's no answer. Robert opens the door and then hears the snoring - heavy oak doors. He goes in and pokes Kaeth, repeatedly. Eventually Kaeth wakes up. Kaeth: "What?" Robert: "Have you seen Geoff?" Kaeth: "Is there something wrong with my patient?" Robert: "No, I was just trying to locate Geoff." Kaeth: "Haven't seen him. I'll go check on Franz, since I'm up." The door from the study to Franz's bedroom is locked from the inside. Robert: "You'll have to get through Heinrich to check on him. I'd be careful around Heinrich; he's tense, and I think he's had a lot of coffee."

Kaeth cautiously approaches Heinrich, and tells him he's going to check on Franz. Heinrich has Kaeth wait a moment, out in the hall, while Heinrich sticks his head into the bedroom. Heinrich clears his throat softly. Heinrich: "Lady Telford?" Samantha: "Yes?" Heinrich: "Uh, Mr. Kaeth wants to come in and check on the Count. You might want to..." How cute, he's worried about her reputation. Samantha: "Give me a minute, then send him in." Heinrich: "Yes ma'am." He closes the door behind him, and makes Kaeth wait. Samantha gets off the bed, refastens a few buttons, and sits on a chair off to one side. Kaeth is allowed in to check on Franz. The patient is breathing a bit raspy, but doesn't seem to be bleeding internally, and he's spiking a temperature. To be expected, under the circumstances. They're at the wait and see stage right now, given the local medical technology. Kaeth gives Sam instructions. Kaeth: "If his breathing gets worse, elevate him slightly and roll him over onto his right side, since his liver is on the left side. He may have a pneumonia-like reaction, but that's to be expected. He may have ice chips, or a sip of water and aspirin, but that's it. <Kaeth brought the aspirin> And Robert was looking for Geoff; have you seen him?" Samantha: "No." Kaeth leaves to talk to Robert, and finds out that no one has seen Geoff, and he hasn't checked in with Sophie. Kaeth: "That's not like him." They ask some servants if they'd seen Geoff. One of the servants tells them that "Oh yes, Colonel Thompson. He was asking about the stables earlier." Robert: "Oh shit. Let's go!" Kaeth: "Wait! Let me get something first." He dashes back to his room to get his shotgun, then they grab a couple of lanterns and head that way.

Speaking of Geoff, three large, tough-looking, no-nonsense kind of guys show up at the shack. They're not as big as Geoff, but still good sized for this planet, and they act like pros. Lachlan: "Ah, precisely on time." Perhaps they're Zendan? Lachlan: "I've already inserted an IV into his arm. About 100M to the west you'll find another shack like this one.....<he gives them directions to the part of the secret passageways that lead to Franz's room> There may be some others in the tunnel. Don't take any chances, kill them. Get Colonel Thompson into the Count's room, give him the drug, remove the IV shunt, and shut him in there. The one thing you'll want to make sure of is you're not in his way. He'll be an unstoppable force. It's not exactly like Frenzy, it's more specific, but whatever is in that room is going to be on the receiving end. Gentlemen, I'll meet you at the usual place. Good luck. Your Emperor is counting on you." One of the men rolls his eyes.

Muscle: "Don't worry Colonel, we'll take good care of you. Get his legs." They don't untie him. Geoff is drilling into his mind who he's angry with and it's that average-looking guy over there (Lachlan), who for some reason Geoff keeps thinking of as Wainwright. He keeps thinking, over and over again, that he must get Wainwright, even if he has to gnaw his way through a wall or those three guys to get him. It's Wainwright he wants as he's being carried off. The more they carry him, the more tired they'll be, so Geoff is pleased about that part. They take him to a shack that's overgrown with ivy. Geoff gets what info he can about these men - dressed like locals, but one of them is wearing a decidedly off-planet gun and holster.

Robert, Kaeth, and Ariana head off for the spark and dooky stables. Wolves howling. Ariana: "What's that?!" Robert: "Ow! Ow, Ariana? Ow, uh, arm? Circulation?" She relaxes her grip slightly. They get closer to the stable and are challenged. Robert: "I'm Robert Shelzie. One of the Count's guests. We're looking for Colonel Thompson, he was headed over here. A really big man?" Servant: "Oh yes, he was looking for the north end of the stables, over there." Robert: "Thank you." They walk that way. Ariana: "Maybe he's with them." Robert: "I doubt that, but he has walked right into their trap." They head over to the north side, and Kaeth detects the coppery smell of blood. They find a spot where two bodies have been dragged off. One trail, the bloody one, leads to a ravine. It's too dark to tell, but that's where George's body was dumped. Since they're not going into the ravine in the dark, they decide to hope that Geoff's the live one, and follow the other drag trail into the woods.

Kaeth is leading as they enter the trees. After a few minutes, Kaeth takes a step and hears click. Kaeth stops and looks down. No wires or anything, but still not good. Kaeth: "Take a look, Robert. What do I have under my foot?" Robert: <looks> "Uh...Dirt." Great. Robert shines one of the lanterns in that direction, and a couple of feet away he sees what looks like a big railroad spike nailed into the ground. Kaeth: "Oh!" Robert: "What is it?" Kaeth: "I think it's a very old type of trap. Move back." Robert: "Right. Move back." Ariana: <to Kaeth> "Aren't you coming?" Kaeth: "In a minute." Robert and Ariana move back, then Kaeth tries to sidle off the trigger in such a way as to escape serious injury. There's a bang, and it feels like a rocket assisted back flip as soon as he takes his foot off the trigger. Kaeth ends up laying on his back, his boot smoking. The sole of the boot is missing, revealing the ceramic anti-mine insert underneath. Oh that hurts! He probably has several toes broken, but he still has a foot. There's an acrid smell, like from local cordite. Robert: "What was that?" Kaeth: "The local equivalent of a toe-popper. Probably to discourage anyone trying to follow the trail. You should go back to the house and warn them. I'll go on." Robert: "I don't think that's a good idea." Kaeth: "Geoff's gone, the Count can't defend himself, most of the house is asleep." Robert: "Sam and Heinrich are with Franz." Kaeth: "That may not be enough unless they know something's coming. That's why you should go warn them the plan's been set in motion." Robert: "And you're going to go off by yourself, injured." Kaeth: "And bloody pissed off! Do you know how expensive these boots are to get? And all surprise is lost. What's Ariana carrying for a weapon?" Ariana has a lantern. Kaeth gives her a 12mm revolver a local breaktop (Webley-like). Robert: "Since all surprise is lost, then we should all go back to the house." Kaeth: "All right, I'll watch your backs."

At the house, Franz wakes up. Samantha goes over to him. Franz: "What time is it?" There's a clock on the mantle. Samantha: "It's 10 o'clock." Franz calls for Heinrich, who appears almost instantaneously. Franz: "Ah, good. Heinrich, fetch me a bottle of wine." Samantha: "Heinrich, I don't think so. <to Franz> I've been told you may have aspirin, and sips of water." Franz: "That special bottle I think, the one I've been saving, and glasses." Samantha: "Franz..." Heinrich returns with the bottle, as instructed. It's an old, dusty-looking bottle with an interesting shape. Samantha: "You aren't allowed to have that right now." Franz: "I've been saving this for a special occasion, and I'd hate for it to go to waste. Heinrich, fetch a glass for yourself as well. <to Samantha> Don't look so worried, my dear. I doubt a glass of wine will change whether I live or die." Samantha: "So let's help it along one way or the other, shall we?" Heinrich returns with the third glass. Samantha: "Heinrich, half a glass." Franz: <smiles> "What are you going to do, kill me?" Samantha: "No, but I could throw Heinrich out the window...Oh, I give up." Franz launches into a long story about the history of the wine, when it was bottled...

Elsewhere, Geoff hears a bit of a struggle up ahead as the bad guys knock out a man and then kill him with a boot to the throat, setting his shotgun off to one side. Geoff will remember there's a loose shotgun back here; could be important later. Up further, left turn, right turn, right turn... Geoff tries to memorize the route.

Out front, Kaeth, Robert, and Ariana are stopped by the peasants out front with pitchforks, scythes, and some kind of nasty-looking lopper thing that they just don't want to think about. After a few tense moments, the Marshal's men are able to identify the trio as not being cutthroats and murderers, and they are allowed back into the house.

Geoff is finally set down on the ground, just outside of the secret door into Franz's bedroom. Geoff tries to lunge at one of his captors, but he's still unable to move. Muscle: "I don't know...this guy's still pretty limp." Muscle B: "Don't worry, once this stuff hits his system it will nullify the paralytic."

Outside of Franz's room, Kaeth, Robert, and Ariana arrive. No Heinrich. Kaeth: "Oh-oh, no Heinrich." They go in, see Heinrich inside by the bedside table, Franz sitting propped up in the bed about to take a drink of wine, and Samantha sitting on the other side of the bed.

Suddenly, the armoire pivots open across the room. Samantha, on that side of the bed, puts herself between Franz and the door, drawing her gun. Kaeth is in the doorway, and he sees Geoff being pushed into the room and falling onto the floor like a drunk. The armoire rotates closed again, then Geoff hears hammering on the other side of the wall - the bastards are nailing the door shut! Robert: "Ariana, get Dr. Jurgen." Geoff manages to control his direction, for the moment, as he gets to his feet, knife in hand, looking like he's been shot full of Frenzy. Kaeth: <thinking> "Oh great, and this is only a two-shot shotgun." Heinrich takes a bead on Geoff, but Sam's in the way. Heinrich: "Lady Telford, you must move!" Sam sees Geoff turning away from them, towards where he came in. Samantha: "Heinrich, wait!" But she does go down on one knee to get out of his line of fire. Geoff is feeling absolute blind anger, which he is trying to direct to the wall. Every move is overstated, the fine motor control lost. Geoff tries to charge through the armoire, but bounces off of the 3/4" thick oak piece of furniture. Geoff bounces up and attacks the "*(&^(&^(#&$ closet", using language few people in the have ever heard. He finally gets through the armoire, then goes after the wall behind it, snapping the "cheap piece of crap knife" in the process. He throws it down, starts pounding his way through the wall.

Samantha: "Uh, Franz, is there anyone on your staff who would know these tunnels? Someone you trust?" Franz: "Old Henry might." They're all sort of just standing there, guns trained on Geoff as he tries to rip the wall open. He's not a direct threat, so why interfere and get killed? Geoff gets through the wall and charges off in the direction he was brought. Franz: "Was that Colonel Thompson?" Samantha: "Yes." Franz: "Good heavens." Kaeth follows, with his shotgun. Samantha: "Where would we find Old Henry?" Franz: "In the library. He's gotten too old for anything else." Samantha: "Perhaps some one could go see if we could get a map to these passageways?" Franz: "Oh, there's no map." Samantha: "Okay, a diagram?" Robert: "Just how old is Old Henry?" Franz: "I'm not sure. I remember when I was a boy, thinking he was very old."

In the hidden corridor. Muscle: "What was that?" A bright lantern is shone on Geoff, who ignores them and charges full tilt that way. Gunshots are fired, missing Geoff and hitting the wall beside Kaeth. The first bad guy drops his carbide lantern and kicks Geoff in the crotch. Geoff: <thinking> "That's going to really hurt later on. That guy just kicked me in the balls. Not cricket, old man." Now Geoff's really focused. He shoves his shoulder, his whole force behind the charge, into the first guy's abdomen. Hmm, he's rather solid. Geoff slams the guy backwards, hitting him in the kidney. Then the bad guy slams Geoff into the opposite side of the passageway. Kaeth is closer now, but in the light on the lantern laying on the floor, it looks like two bears going at each other. Geoff and his opponent collide, Geoff hitting the guy in the chest while being headbutted in the jaw. That really pisses Geoff off. Kaeth would have to shotgun both Geoff and his friend, and that would just make Geoff angry with Kaeth. Not worth it.

Robert is looking down the passageway, Ariana leaning behind him. Ariana: "I don't think you should go down there." Robert: <not moving> "No kidding. Did you get Dr. Jurgen?" Ariana: "No, that would mean leaving you." There's a creak as the door from the hall into the bedroom opens and a large man steps into the room with a suppressed handgun in his hand. Samantha recognizes the fact that a suppressed Glock is not a local weapon, and fires on him, hitting him in the hip with the gun Franz gave her. Heinrich turns quickly and accidentally discharges the first barrel of his shotgun into the wall. Robert fires his 12mm, hitting the man in the groin. (They're beginning to worry about that boy.) The man goes down, but not before he shoots Robert in the mouth. Robert also drops. Sam approaches the downed bad guy, hoping to maybe get someone they can interrogate, when Heinrich fires the second barrel into the fallen man, to protect Lady Telford. Sigh. Oh well. There's too much blood in the carpet from the femoral artery hit for him to have been much help any way. Sam goes over, kicks the Glock out of the dying man's hand. The man is mouthing something, like he's trying to speak. Sam doesn't lean down, but can make out "Fuck you". Sam: "In your dreams."

The fight in the secret passageway is slowing down as the Rage is starting to wear off. Geoff is in a lot of pain, but he has to keep fighting to save his life. Eventually, after trading more blows, the bad guy falls to the ground. Geoff takes the man's suppressed Glock and his nice knife, and continues down the passageway in search of the other ones responsible for all that pain Geoff is in.

Kaeth follows behind Geoff. He checks on the downed man, who is not dead. He's breathing well, but has a nasty skull fracture on the frontal lobe. He won't be jumping up to do much of anything any time soon. Especially not long division or other things of a mathematical nature. Geoff stumbles along further in the dark, trying to track his footsteps back the way he was brought in. He takes his best guess, then opens a small panel set into a larger panel. He slides open the smaller panel, and is looking through a scrim cloth. He sees Sophie, who is undressing for the night. She's taking off a stocking, and that's all she has on. Oh, what a dilemma! He closes the small panel and goes on. He finds another panel, in the women's wing, and goes through to another room. There are two people in the bed, a woman and a man. The back of the female, on top, looks vaguely familiar. The male servant on the bottom is definitely familiar. Geoff charges through the room, recognizing Clarice, back arched, and very distracted. Clarice: "Yes! Yes!" Geoff exits the room, stopping to lean against the nice, cool armor.

Back in Franz's room. Samantha checks on Robert, who's alive, then goes into the study and wakes up Dr. Jurgen. Dr. Jurgen: "What? Oh, excuse me, my dear." He redoes his collar. Samantha: "You're needed." Dr. Jurgen grabs his case. Dr. Jurgen: "What is it?" Samantha: "Franz is fine, although he has been drinking wine, but Robert's been shot. Mind the blood." She leads him back into the room, and they both step around the copious amounts of blood on the floor.

Kaeth had gone as far as he could after Geoff, but then goes back to where he left the unconscious man. There's a sound and a glint of metal across on the opposite side of the passageway. Kaeth spins, bringing up his weapon, and firing as it snags on the man's coat (they're that close). He hits the man in the liver, then is stabbed in the stomach. Kaeth fires again, into the man's groin, as Kaeth is stabbed in the chest, in the artery. They are both standing, but swaying. Kaeth is stabbed in the kidney, but manages to pull the trigger and hit the bad guy right in the heart, at contact range. The bad guy drops over, quite dead. [Good thing too - they were running out of undamaged organs.]

Ariana is all over Robert, begging him not to die. [Pretty silly is what Samantha should be thinking about now.] Ariana is holding Robert's head in her lap and trying to staunch the flow of blood with tissue. Sam pulls her away from Robert. Samantha: "Let the doctor work." Dr. Jurgen gives Sam an "I've seen worse" look, as he removes and tosses um, bits off to one side. Dr. Jurgen would probably fit in rather quickly at Regina Trauma.

Geoff finally finds a servant, who is able to identify him to the Marshal and the other men who show up, mostly by his size and clothing. (Yes, he's that beat up.) Geoff makes writing motions and is eventually given pen and paper. Geoff writes: Three men in the secret passageways, after Franz. He adds descriptions of the men, and of Wainwright - or Lachlan rather, their boss, then he goes with the Marshal's men to see the doctor. The line forms on the left.

Sam checks on Franz, who is sitting where he was with his glass of wine. Sam downs her glass of wine, stops. Samantha: "Wow, that is smooth!" She sets down her glass, then goes carefully into the passageway, and finds Kaeth, several unidentified male humans (unconscious or dead), and a lot of blood. She checks to make sure Kaeth is still alive, which he is, then goes back into Franz's room. Samantha: "Dr. Jurgen, I've found Kaeth. He's alive, but just barely." Dr. Jurgen: <as he works on Robert> "How is he injured?" Samantha: "Difficult to tell in there, but he does have a rather large knife sticking out of his abdomen, and no I didn't move it." The doctor is able to leave Robert for the moment, and he checks on Kaeth's condition himself. Dr. Jurgen: "Heinrich, we need something to move him on. Something stout." The door of the armoire that Geoff ripped off works very well. It's brought in and Kaeth is secured, the knife stabilized, and he's transported into the study, where Dr. Jurgen shoves everything off the desk and performs surgery in the study. After he closes, he goes in to check on Geoff, who is sitting against the wall with a bucket of ice between his legs, and more held up to his face in his hands. Dr. Jurgen: " Hmm, let's take a look at that. Hmmm." Dr. Jurgen feels Geoff's jaw, then quickly snaps it into place. There's a sharp pain, but then it feels much better. Dr. Jurgen swabs something on Geoff's nose, which hurts, then it stops hurting and the doctor moves it back into alignment.

This area has become the estate's hospital ward. It's a bloody mess, literally, so Franz is moved into another large room, but much more feminine. This makes Franz rather uncomfortable, which Samantha notices. She asks the doctor if there isn't another room he could be moved to...? Dr. Jurgen: "Oh, of course." Another room nearby is available. Franz: "I can walk. I'm not a child." He is looking better, oddly enough. What a sec, that wine tasted a lot like those little red berries. Suddenly the wine seems like a very good thing.

Samantha is covered in blood, from various people, so she makes certain that Heinrich (who has reloaded is shotgun) or Dr. Jurgen will be with Franz, then she makes a trip back to her room for a bath and a change of clothing. Easily enough done, thanks to the incredibly useful Lisette. Afterwards, Samantha speaks with old Henry, and after listening to all his rambling, does get an accurate diagram of all the passageways.

Kaeth wakes up feeling horribly nauseous, concerned that he's been stabbed in the abdomen and will die of a horrible sepsis on this backward planet. Maybe. Then again, it looked even worse for Franz a few hours ago, and he's still alive.

As Sam enters Franz's new room, the laughter stops and the conversation shifts. Dr. Jurgen puts some card-like things into his pocket. Naughty postcards? Franz is sitting up, sharing brandy and cigars with the doctor. Franz has a lot more color than he did earlier. Samantha: "I'm glad you're feeling better." Franz: "Much. And I'll be up and around as soon as the doctor gives me permission to get out of this bed." Dr. Jurgen: "Tomorrow. And no riding for a few weeks."


A mere few hours of sleep later, for most people, there is the high-pitched sound of a whistle. Guess the train's here. Everyone wakes up, whether they want to or not. Robert will be eating mashed food for a while, and has a couple of bitchin' new scars and missing back teeth; he wants to get off this fucking place, and yesterday. Ariana is now packing one of the bad guys' Glocks, minus the suppressor. (Probably in her pocket for later.)

At last a chance to share information among the group, and Dr. Jurgen. Geoff: "That boss of theirs, he's a right nutter. He thinks that by pulling off this coup, he'll be dining with Strephon. He'll prove to the others at the agency that they were wrong and he was right. He gave instructions to the three thugs to kill anyone that they found in the passageways and to meet him in the usual place, wherever that means. He really knew the passageways in this place." Ariana: 'Dining with Strephon?" Samantha: "That answers the question of how in touch he's been since his arrival." On a hunch, Samantha goes to the library and asks Old Henry if anyone had asked him about the passageways recently. Actually, yes. A nice man. Sigh. Sam speaks with Heinrich about making certain he and some very trustworthy staff take care of making the secret passageways either non-functional or at least guarded and booby trapped. Sam: "Oh, and Old Henry needs a minder.

Samantha returns to the group discussion. Geoff: "...There was one of them, when the main guy was going off about meeting someone, one of the guys rolled his eyes like oh let's just humor him. They seemed to be former military, possibly special ops. They were very efficient. Real pros." Robert: "Did any of them have any tattoos, or marks where tattoos may have been removed, especially under the left arm?" Dr. Jurgen: "No scars, marks, or tattoos. They were very fit, but I believe one of them had the beginnings of frostbite on several of his toes." Kaeth: "What makes you say that?" Dr. Jurgen: "Because I recognize frostbite. Also, all of them had some distension on their left forearms. Like they had received intravenous feeding or something of that nature recently." Robert mouths "Low berths" to Kaeth. Lachlan may be keeping people on ice and defrosting them as needed. There are a number of deep, cold water lakes in the area, especially near the main estate. Kaeth is thinking of where one would hide a vessel. Dr. Jurgen: "Do we go, or do we stay? Franz seems eager to get home." It's agreed to leave, since Lachlan knows this place way too well, and besides, Robert wants to get to where they might at least have air surveillance, courtesy of Franz's airship.

It's a day and a half to the estates. Well, it's a day to the edge of the estate, then another half day to the house. Wow.

Franz is feeling very well today. Samantha, even though she hasn't had any sleep, feels pretty darn good. She arranges for a glass of the wine to be sent to Kaeth, who Dr. Jurgen doesn't think will make it (not that he tells Kaeth that, mind you). This makes a big difference.

After everything else that's happened, Samantha decides to just enjoy the trip with Franz. He points out all sorts of things to her along the way. Aside from one area where they're logging, it's pretty much all pristine wilderness. Very beautiful. Robert is making drawings and is given maps by Franz. Cool! Geoff gets to spend the day riding with Sophie. It's very pleasant.

Franz seems elated, but there's something tempering his pleasure and making him a bit more distant. He has a lot to think about right now. They cross a large river, and Franz informs the group that they're on his property now. They should arrive the next morning.


The train passes by several neat little villages. They eventually arrive at the train station. Yes, Franz has his own train station. Before they get off the train and into the crowd of liveried servants, Samantha asks to have a moment with Franz alone, without Heinrich. Heinrich goes to do something with the luggage. Samantha: "I know you have a lot on your mind, but there's something I want you to know. No matter what happens, I meant what I said. I love you. <looks down> Boy, is that something I never thought I'd be saying." Franz reaches out and lightly touches her cheek before he has to get back to business.

Off to one side of the train station, running into the side of the mountain, is a very new building that you could park a good sized starship in. That would be the zeppelin hanger. Oh, now that's neat! Robert: <to Franz> "Is that your hanger?" Franz: "Yes, yes. Every generation tries to add something. That is my contribution. It keeps people employed." Robert: "It's very impressive. Will the weather be conducive over the next couple of days to take it out?" Franz: "Possibly. But I think everyone will want to rest." And they can do that resting inside Franz's really big stone castle, also carved out of the side of the mountain. (As if having a spare zeppelin wasn't impressive enough, the man has a train and a castle.) They're delivered to the well, the house inside the big castle. There's a lot of silver chasework on things around here. A lot of it. The stuff piles up; you have to find something to do with it. As Franz has business to attend to, the party is led off to their apartments by Charles. They pass a wing with a very heavy door and locks on it. Ariana: "Wow, what's that?" Charles: "We never speak of that, miss."

Heinrich is the majordomo, and obviously runs the place. He tells the group that Franz has asked him to make sure they get tours while the Count is occupied. Robert: "Do we all have to take the same tour?" Heinrich: "No sir. I take it you would like to see the hanger?" Robert: "Yes." Heinrich: "And Lady Telford, the Count thought you might want to see where the Maxim guns are made." Laughter. Samantha: "Yes, I would." Heinrich: "We have the benefit of being rich in iron as well as silver."

There is a great deal of information to be had here. The Count's father started the move towards greater modernization, moved machines into the mines to get rid of the really dangerous backbreaking labor, built schools, etc. The town runs itself, and the Count doesn't bother with day to day things. There is another, separate train line, for the silver transport. Most of the estate buildings, mines, etc. have been built into the mountain. The zeppelin hangar is 900' long, and really, really impressive. Most of the weapons are made about 80 miles from here at the primary foundry, but Sam can go to see the smaller weapons plant that makes some of the lovely Maxim guns. Way cool. Robert wonders about the deep lakes here. No, they've never been explored by submersible. Yes, some of them are very, very deep. Yes, deep enough to hide a starship, not that he asks.

Copper is in good supply in this area as well. Dr. Jurgen has a theory that the lead commonly used for water pipes can effect the population, and he's convincing the Count to replace the lead pipes with copper. Kaeth reinforces this opinion. Kaeth checks out the "security" when he's taken to the nearby town. Nothing noticeable, but any new people would be noticed, and the rail line to the castle belongs to the Count. It is a mining town, so things can get a bit interesting. There is a "bad" part of town, and they like to keep the bad elements there. Sort of a low tech version of Old Port. Not a place for a gentleman, unless he wanted a walk on the wild side.

235 to 237-1123.

Several days pass, people are left on their own to rest, visit, and explore. Samantha investigates the high towers, taking in the incredible views, especially from one of the parapets in the outer wall. Kaeth arranges for a small copper cage with a little door and a trailing copper wire to be made. It's doable, and no one asks why Kaeth wants these odd things. And anyone who wants to, can practice riding. Samantha wants to keep at it, and Kaeth really wants to learn. Ariana declines.

Dr. Jurgen has gotten a message by semaphore. All three assassins had traces of silver ore in their clothing, and there were traces found near von Bulow as well. Very interesting, since they're now in one of the major silver-producing areas in Fredonia. The ore is processed here and shipped to the city, and the mines are in all the major mountains. Robert: "Any large caverns?" Dr. Jurgen: "I'm sure there are, in areas that have been mined out." There's a whole underground railway inside the mountains, as it turns out. Robert: "Do you have any maps of the mines?" Yes, he'll have to talk to the senior geologist. Robert is looking for something large enough that they could park a 200 to 300 ton ship. Kaeth: "Or cargo pod." Robert: "They need a ship." Kaeth: "And water." Robert speaks to the geologist, and has him mark off the larger ones that are not currently being used, either because they're played out, or just not economically viable right now.

Heinrich takes Samantha to see the Maxim and other guns made. The major foundry is off site, but the Count likes to keep parts of this on his estate. Things are being assembled in teams, making guns. Sort of part way between an assembly line (too dehumanizing) and one person making the whole weapon. Samantha also goes to see the vaults. Oooh! Stacks and stacks of silver bullion bars, and people shoveling silver coin blanks like it's nothing. Neat, but the Maxim guns are still better. They could make one with silver chasing, if she likes.

The evening of day 237, Franz joins the party for dinner. He has some interesting scratches on his face. No one asks anything, but several of them are thinking things. Damn.


Robert is exploring one of the caverns, lantern in hand, with one of the mine workers, when he notices a glow from his pocket. What the -? It's his PlusP flashlight, and it's working! It's faint at first, then it gets brighter as they go deeper, and he checks it covertly as he follows the miner deeper into the cavern. Oh boy.