As the Chasing Oblivion sailed down the East Stromm, Torix decided it was time to have a little chat with Crow's Nest Moe. After climbing into the crow's nest, Torix told him how they had met elf triplets by the names of Farid, Wahid and Khalid, who claimed to have sailed with Prospero, along with other up-and-coming Westhaven pirates including Black Henry (although he was just Crazy Henry at the time) and Mad Seamus.
Unfortunately, it turned out Crow's Nest Moe was not one of the pirates in this group, and had never heard of Prospero van Rijn. If the siblings wanted more information on their father's history as a pirate, they'd have to wait till they ran into Mad Seamus again. Torix then asked if Crow's Nest Moe, having grown up in Westhaven, ever knew a child named Vincent Violet. Torix was sure to mention the fact that Violet had some advanced skills with knives.
Although Crow's Nest didn't remember ever hearing the name, he did remember meeting someone who fit the description. The memory was a rather bitter one, as it turned out, seeing as the kid snuck onto their ship to assassinate Captain Black John and took out multiple crew members, and Moe's left eye, in the process. Torix now knew that when the time finally came to face Kaiser Violet, it would not be easy. Also, Crow's Nest Moe's enthusiasm for their mission had increased twofold. Torix returned to the deck, where Mara and Meursault were having a rather one-sided conversation. The brothers wanted to find out more about the crew's adventures during their absence, and Mara wanted a break from Meursault, so they decided to go below deck and chat with Mueller. Unfortunately for Mara, Meursault joined them. Mueller told them of their escapades, but it wasn't anything the brothers didn't already know. Mueller was more interested in what TnC had to say, and after the usual comments regarding elven women had been exchanged, the conversation turned to the number of people the siblings had killed.
They estimated the number to be roughly 220 humans, though they also killed several desert elf bandits. Something about the talk of butchering reminded the siblings of their long-term goals. They knew what they wanted to achieve in Dverrzistan, but pure, unrestrained violence did not feel like the proper strategy, especially with the opportunity presented by the fact that Sly Eddy and Brutal Mark were now masquerading as the Butchers. Meursault proposed that now was the time to switch tactics, and use the existence of the Savage Lands to their advantage.
The siblings greatly approved of the idea, and Mara even felt that perhaps she had been acting more coldly to Meursault than he deserved; this was quickly proved false when Meursault threw her a suggestive wink. Within the next hour, a plan rapidly unfolded. The siblings would play the roles of ambassadors from the fictional city of Kallipolis, which had established a powerful empire in the Savage Lands under the rule of a demigod known only as Bernard. Together, the siblings brainstormed several customs for this constructed society, the most important being the addition of "peace be upon his name" after every mention of His Excellency Bernard. With their new outfits finally done, the illusion was complete, and just in time— up on deck, the rising smoke of Zaitsag could be seen in the distance. Mueller and Crow's Nest stayed on the ship while Torix, Constantine, Mara, Meursault, and Fletcher, now known as Sebastian, Fritz, Milo, Jerome, and Ernest, walked to the city of Zaitsag.
They found the supposed residence of the city's Boss easily enough, but it was completely fenced in. Two humans guarded the entrance. Mara, acting as leader of the Kallipolisian expedition, approached the guards and introduced themselves as emissaries of the Great Port City of Kallipolis, sent by Bernard, peace be upon his name, who now possessed an extremely long title. There was much skepticism at first, but apparently the siblings were naturals at playing foreign diplomats, and had soon gained access to Boss Zaitsev's compound.
They met two belligerent human guards, Sergeant Hansson and Corporal Francis. The trio confused and guilt tripped the soldiers, using their fake history. When they were done, the sergeant agreed to speak with his commanding officer, Officer Rand, and leave them with the Corporal.
Francis: So…what's it like in Kallipolis?
Constantine: In the great port city, all is as it should be. There is no crime, there is no poverty, everyone and everything flourishes in the light of his Excellence, Bernard.
A cascade of "peace be upon his name" followed.
Francis: Sounds a lot like Eisenreich.
Mara: You flatter yourself, soldier. We know all about Eisenreich, and it is nothing compared to Kallipolis.
Franics: If you say so.
Torix: We do say so. The light of Bernard – peace be upon his name – will wash over this continent and reform it in a way that none of your leaders could possibly imagine.
Corporal Francis looked really weirded out, so he stopped talking.
They could see Sergeant Hansson coming over to them, so they started to close the distance. He told them that he would take them up to the office, where they would meet with underboss Minsk. Mara and TnC pretended to be insulted by having to meet with a political lesser, but went along anyways. The officer left them at the door to the office because no humans were allowed inside. Mr. Tchaikovsky met them at the door and escorted them to the underboss. The underboss was smoking what smelled like opium. They had to reiterate the story of Bernard and the Kallipolisian empire to him.
Underboss Minsk, in his thick south Dverrzish accent, explained that was little they could do diplomatically in the colony of Zaitsag, and that if they wanted to get anything done they would have to go to Osk. They said time was of the essence, so he offered them transportation at a price: he would arrange a steam wagon for them if they took a few especially belligerent prisoners off his hands.
When they said they'd be happy to take some prisoners, Minsk paused for a moment. He tried to explain just how bad these guys were. Little did he know that those were just the kind of people the van Rijns were looking for. The Underboss told Mr. Tchaikovsky to tell Officer Rand to gather up the five worst prisoners he could find, all in Dwarven of course. Constantine and Mara didn't let on that they knew was was being said. The Underboss then dismissed them.
As they exited the building, Officer Rand was just finishing up the round up. The trio approached it. Before them stood four men and a dwarf, some of whom had familiar faces. Hadrian Redding, the crazy man from the forest, and Arnie Hoffman, the merchant in Westhaven to whom Torix had sold swords, were both there. Rand introduced the other two men as Puggy van Bastian and Ichabod Sykes, and the dwarf as Liev Bronstein.
Ichabod was a gaunt, sociopathic looking man. He looked like a serial killer, and as it turned out, he was in Zaitsag for multiple murders of women and children.
Puggy was a large man, built like a lifter. He had a round stomach, but looked incredibly dense. He had five o' clock shadow and long, brown, dirty hair. Rand explained that he had gone awol after being posted in Dverzzistan with the human military and had been kiliing guards and other inmates.
Liev, the dwarf. had a shaven head and an angry face. He could have been an underling if it weren't for his strong build and deep jaw; his beard was little more than stubble, much like Puggy's. He had been an underling sympathizer and had shaved his beard repeated to live among them, earning him much disrespect and finally a sentence to the work camp. However, he proved difficult to contain as he killed one of his would be executioners by reaching down his esophagus and tearing out the lining of his stomach. He had the acid burns on his right hand to prove it.
Arnie was here for large scale fraud in West Hommeland. Hadrian was in Zaitsag with little to no explanation – the Kaiser had simply asked that he be placed there.
After reviewing the five inmates briefly, the trio asked to have a few moments to deliberate in private. Officer Rand granted their request. They decided that it would be best for each of them to choose one to look after and train. Torix wanted Puggy, a military man he could relate to. He might also have useful knowledge. Mara wanted Liev because she thought he would be useful to leave behind as permanent resistance. Constantine decided that Arnie Hoffman, with his financial skills, would be an appropriate way to round out their selection of "recruits."
They returned to Officer Rand with their decisions. Mara went over to Liev and was careful not to get too close. She looked him in the eye and told him that he was worthy of Bernard's blessings. He spat at her feet. Constantine walked over and nodded to Hoffman, who leaned back on his heels and pulled his collar forward in satisfaction. Torix walked parallel to the remaining three and drew his longsword. He looked right at Puggy and pointed the sword at him. Torix them flipped the sword so that the handle faced Puggy's chest. He nudged him with it. As Torix was putting the sword back, Puggy headbutted him. The deserter said that he wasn't afraid of any pansy men like Torix (or Sebastian in this case). Torix laughed genuinely at the irony.
The three diplomats asked to have a word with the rest of their crew before heading off to Osk. Rand let them go.
Torix: Okay, first things first. We're not ambassadors.
Mara: At least not ambassadors of peace.
Constantine: We're agents for Kallipolis. We're here to assess the situation after we heard about the change in government.
Liev: So why did you take us?
Mara: We might need some help "assessing the situation", and we thought that people with your kind of skills would be helpful.
Hoffman: Whoa. Okay I know that these guys have fighting experience, but I'm just a merchant. Why me?
Constantine: You never know when someone that's financially savvy could come in handy.
Liev: So you guys kill people?
Torix: I know we look like ambassadors, but…
Liev: Heh. We'll see.
This seemed to establish that the newly released criminals were in on the plan to subvert authority. The eight of them walked to the Chasing Oblivion, and talked to Crow's Nest and Mueller about the situation. By now Crow's Nest and Mueller had made fake names for themselves: Crow's Nest was James White, and Mueller was Morrison White. They had all grown attached to the Oblivion, so they didn't want to just leave it out in the open. Crow's Nest took advantage of the fjords in the area to hide the ship in a place nobody would stumble upon by chance. The ten of them headed back to Zaitzag.
Constantine made the introduction of the other two crewmen, and Officer Rand showed them to the steam carriage. It was a strange sight for them, but they trusted Dwarven engineering. As they went to board, they were introduced to Mr. Mig, who told them that there was only room for six on the carriage. There was space on the roof however. They all boarded.
They went about a week before arriving at a military checkpoint. They were stopped and ordered to exit the vehicle. They complied and lined up outside the vehicle. The officer introduced himself as Brigadier Hermann Machtblitz. He asked who the leader was, and Mara stepped forward. Machtblitz laughed, but told her and the brothers to join them. They walked into a small office, and Machtblitz closed the drapes. Not eager to get caught again, Torix started sizing Machtblitz up. They were about the same size, and Machtblitz must have done some fighting to earn the rank of Brigadier.
Machtblitz: So, who are you. And why is a woman leading you?
Mara: I am leading an expeditionary group from the Great Port City of Kallipolis to establish diplomatic relations with the nations of this continent.
Machtblitz: What is this place, Kallipolis?
They gave him the long version to be more convincing.
Machtblitz: I see. Well if you want to earn the trust of Kaiser Violet, I know the key to success. Two keys, actually. There are two men, brothers, that Violet would do anything to have.
Constantine: Really now? Why exactly does Violet want these…brothers?
Machtblitz: They have committed a number of crimes against Hommeland, I have a poster, in fact…
He pulls out an updated wanted poster of Torix and Constantine and does a double take.
Machtblitz: This is interesting. You two look very much like Torix and Constantine.
Torix: It must be a coincidence. Let me see.
Machtblitz: (hands them the poster) Normally I would say the same, but the fact that you are travelling together makes it seem suspicious.
Constantine: Am I to understand that you are accusing two men who come under the banner of peace of being criminals and hated enemies of your nation? Such gall would be rewarded with death in our land! For future reference, you will keep your suspicions to yourself lest you wish to have a formal reprimand placed on your record for SHEER STUPIDITY!
Machtblitz: (stunned) I, I never…I apologize. You three may go about your business. We're done here.
The three walk away and look disappointedly at Machtblitz. Torix holds on to the poster. When they come out, Mara goes over to Fletcher, who's been making flags of Kallipolis during the spare time, and asks for one. He gives it to her, who in turn gives it to Brigadier Machtblitz. She instructs him to fly it below the flag of Hommeland and Dverzistan on the flag pole. He complies, and they leave.
They continue to plan on the steam wagon. Fletcher makes more flags. Osk appears on the horizon, and they can see it's strangeness. It's not as big sideways as Eisenreich, but it probably has the same amount of people. It was probably made as several tall buildings, but over time it was connected together by bridges, and things were built on the bridges, so the city looks like a big city-box from the outside. Mr. Mig lets them out, and he gives them the location of a few places to go. Mara, Torix, and Constantine ask him to fly one of their flags on his steam carriage. He tells them it will cost 50 gold pieces. They look at him, slightly offended. He tells them it's from Boss Oleg, who told him to charge 50 gold pieces to people who want him to do advertising. They pay up.
The ten of them get out of the vehicle, and start asking around for information. They hear that Osk is a total of 60 floors high, with 20 of them below ground. A large part of the 25th-35th is controlled by Boss Yeltsin, and are sometimes called Yeltsograd. The top five levels contain government buildings and the human embassy. The 15th-20th floors contain a lot of scientists doing administrative work, while much research goes on underground.
They hear about a group called "The Union", which is analogous to the Book Club. They also hear about someone called Viktor Krushchev on level negative 17, who is the main go-to guy for just about everything information-wise in Osk. While asking around they get asked about as well. They establish that they are from Kallipolis and explain their mission to most people. Whenever someone asked why they were just walking around, they said that they wanted to get a feel for the place outside of the governmental level.
This takes a day. The ten "Kallipolisians" head out for level negative 17. They can't find it: the floors go right from 16 to 18. They walk around level 16 and ask a dwarf with green lanterns braided into his beard where they would find level negative 17.
Dwarf: Ha ha! There is no level negative 17.
Constantine: Why not? Why just skip an entire floor?
Dwarf: Well when the tunnels were built, they just dug down and divided the space between the bottom tunnel and the surface into twenty floors. There never was a negative 17, just in theory.
Constantine: Oh. Huh.
Dwarf: Why are you all so well dressed down in the tunnels?
Torix: We were looking for someone on level negative 17 and decided to come here for directions.
Dwarf: Ah. When someone tells you that something is on level negative 17 it means you can't find it. Who were you looking for by the way?
Mara: Viktor Krushchev. Do you know where we can find him?
Dwarf: I'm Viktor Krushchev.
Surprised looks all around
Mara: No way. We have some questions for you.
Krushchev: They always come to me with questions. Let's get out of these tunnels, shall we?
They proceed over to an elevator and go up to a coffee shop on one of the first few levels. Krushchev tells the ten of them that he's heard their story. Fortunately he seems to believe it. They start by asking him the details on the bosses. While there are around thirty, he gives them the details on the major bosses. Oleg, Yeltsin, Zaitzev, Misha, and Kramer. He says that Misha rose pretty recently into significance, with Kramer on his coattails. Krushchev thinks it has something to do with the Kaiser getting someone onto the Board of Osk. The Board is the government of the Dwarves, and is comprised of only the most powerful bosses.
Torix: Our mission here is to make contact with the Board to work out a formal diplomatic agreement of non-aggression. Can you tell us where they are?
Krushchev: Unfortunately I do not. It is a floating meeting, and changes location every day. You could try to talk to the Union, but I could get the information for you also.
Constantine: Okay, then, we'll wait for you to get it for us. We'll be around.
Krushchev: Actually I want you to do something for me.
Mara: What would that be?
Krushchev pulls out a small bottle with a liquid in it.
Krushchev: I want you to give this to some friends of mine, scientists. They should be on level negative ten or so. Doktors Cerenkov, Molotov, and Pavlov. It is very important.
Torix: That shouldn't be too hard.
Krushchev: Don't open it, and don't give it to anyone else or lose it. If you do…hmmm. I don't know, maybe I'll slander you. Just don't mess up, okay?
Mara: Deal. We have some more questions for you however…