So battle was joined against Lord “Sintallon” and his grim-faced band of soulless killers. Switching from urbane banter to brutal savagery in a single instant, Sintallon got right in Tiberius Thunder’s face and kept pummelling him with his fists, staying too close for the inventor to get in a good shot with his lightning gun.
Randolph Ash backed up onto the gangplank, so the thugs who came after him would have to do it one at a time; this added black dice to the thugs’ attacks against him.
Meanwhile, Captain Swan led a small crew of ten from the Fortune Hunter as they swung across the several-hundred-foot drop between the ships on ropes, joining the fray and earning an Awesome! bonus, while James Blackpaw pulled out his needlerifle and started sniping at thugs and red-clad murderers.
The battle went back and forth for several rounds before Thunder got in a good shot with his lightning gun; then, stunned and staggered, “Sintallon” fell back into the arms of his automaton butler, gasped out a threat, and whistled for thirty more thugs to come out of the woodwork.
This…could have been bad.
But, before you could say “GM Fiat,” another figure swung across the gap to stand on the railing at the side of the circus ship. Still in her white “Snow Elf” dress, Ivy Jolie stood there and yelled “Leave them alone! I’m the one you want! But you’ll never get me!” And then she stepped back off the rail and dropped out of sight.
Several of the thugs ran to the rail and looked down, so only they and James (who had stayed behind on the Fortune Hunter) saw that she’d landed on one of the Bridgeport’s furled undersails. She was scrabbling for something wrapped up in the canvas. As everyone looked on, she pulled out a huge blunderbuss that was almost as big as she was and let fly with it.
A gun that size, fired by a tiny person? On solid ground, she’d be hard-pressed not to get knocked on her keaster by the recoil. Balanced on furled canvas? Not a chance. A bang, a huge flash of light, and a thin, high-pitched scream…and everyone saw, through the spots in their eyes, a figure in a white dress plummeting towards the mountainside, hundreds of feet below…
But only Dr. Blackpaw, with his acute eyesight, noticed that the figure was neither flailing her arms and legs in panic, nor limp with unconsciousness, but completely stiff, like some kind of mannequin. And then he caught a glimpse of white hair and a huddled form under a fold of canvas on that undersail.
Clever girl. Clever, clever girl. This was the escape plan she’d been setting up, but hadn’t been able to use yet.
Lord Sintallon was clearly furious, but he kept himself calm. There was no point in spending any time on the small fry, he reasoned. They had to get after the other girl. He and his men withdrew and faded into the woodwork.
With just barely enough time to conceal their involvement in what had happened, the PCs turned their attention to the other docking station, where the String of Pearls…had already set sail, hours before.
Well, Captain Swan and Engineer Thunder set about refueling and reprovisioning, while Randolph Ash went looking for word of where the Pearls had gone. After chasing few rumors, he found someone who’d happened to overhear that they were going to make for Helium City to restock on lifting gas.
So off Our Heroes went, seeking the String of Pearls…which they found sooner than expected.
East of the Sierra Nevada, in the midst of the desert formed by the mountains’ rain shadow, they found the still-burning wreckage of the Pearls strewn across the sand. Sprawled bodies dotted the sand, and the only sign of life was the pack of scimitar cats that had followed the smell of human blood.
A volley from the Fortune Hunter’s cannons dispersed the ‘cats, at least for the time being, allowing them to search the wreckage. Even the cannon-fodder crew were dumbstruck with horror at the sheer brutality what they found. Those who’d died in the attack were the lucky ones; the rest were killed and half-eaten by desert beasts.
Holly Jolie’s body was not among the dead; the only survivor was Valentina Soixante-Neuf, a fine-quality doll now damaged to unconsciousness, but not quite beyond repair.
With a heavy heart, Captain Swan ordered the wreck stripped of anything usable — cannons, coal, powder, food, etc. — and a funeral pyre prepared. Afterward, Tiberius managed to tinker Valentina into consciousness; she told them of an attack by a black airship, a boarding party of masked men in black armor led by Sintallon, and of the new albino girl being dragged off alive and everyone else killed.
Ivy was extremely upset about this, but not just because of the likely fate of her sister. After some hesitation, she decided to tell the PCs about her origins, even though this was forbidden in her home city.
Ivy and her sister hailed from Hyperborea, an isolated community that avoids most contact with the outside world. They were in contact with a hidden ground-based community; a mining village named Stiller’s Notch. The latter trades raw materials to Hyperborea in exchange for finished goods — mostly windup toys that they trade with others (notably the NeoBedouin Turtle tribe).
One night, they noticed one of the Turtles — at least they thought that’s what he was — sneaking off into the woods with a hooded lantern to signal someone. When he caught them, he quickly rendered them unconscious; they awoke in a locked wagon, being taken by some Turtles to sell at a slave market. From there, they were acquired by the PT Bridgeport, and that’s more or less where the PCs came in.
The mysterious NeoBedouin was, of course, Lord Sintallon, though his disguise was so good that the sisters didn’t suspect he was anything other than what he seemed. If he had returned to reclaim the Jolie girls, it could only mean that he’d learned their origins and was seeking Hyperborea, and judging by his behavior so far, he wasn’t looking to borrow a cup of sugar.
Having broken her people’s laws by telling outsiders about them, Ivy now begged them to take her to Stiller’s Notch so she could try to warn her people. Fortunately for her, the PCs and their expendable crew were all fired up for some revenge on the mysterious Bad Guy. Off they went, threading their way through the Rocky Mountains and seeking a hidden mooring.
Not long after, they were leaving their ship in a high mountain valley and making their way through the wooded foothills surrounding Stiller’s Notch. Ivy knew all the call signs and recognition codes, but when she used them, she got no reply — until nets flew out of the shrubbery, and archers in the trees drew back on their bows, ready to fire.