Pepper the dog was now a homeless stray. Despite what you may think, one of the worst places to be homeless and hungry is in a very upscale neighborhood, and the district where Edgar had built his mansion was fast becoming the signature wealthy district in New Albion. The board of Edgar’s company and most of his business partners had all bought homes in this district and even now they were passing laws that would make it almost impossible for non wealthy people to live there. Most of these men also belonged to the same exclusive lodge, and over expensive brandy, in their secret little clubhouse, they were also working to drastically change divorce laws in their district to heavily, heavily favor the husband.
Not that much of this mattered to Pepper. All Pepper knew is that a stray, homeless dog stood out like a sore thumb and was not wanted. Pepper had absolutely no experience being homeless and hungry and little idea of how to survive or to proceed. She settled on the only logical plan her sweet little doggy brain could devise, which was to pick a direction (one that sometimes in the deep of night had the faintest smell of fish) and just keep heading in it.
Her ability to forage for food was amateur and the high class district had so little garbage laying about, so after several days Pepper was slowly starving to death. She did learn to recognize the wheels of the dogcatcher carriage, which were sneaky, as the dog catcher was very good at his job. Two doggies Pepper had befriended for a day and who had shown her a park which squirrels frequented, if you could catch them, were picked up by the dogcatcher who appeared out of nowhere. He was trying to capture all three of them but Pepper escaped, much to his chagrin and he vowed to hunt her down and put her where she belonged. He used an enchanted talisman to aid him in his work, which, while not the greatest, did give him an edge.
The dog pound was a dingy place and dogs were given a probation period to be claimed or adopted. This period was exactly 72 hours, after which they were executed with an injection of lethal poison.
Pepper was nearing the edge of the upper class district when the dogcatcher appeared again. He knew this was his last chance to catch Pepper and he did not intend to let the damned mutt who had foiled him get away. He gave his horse a wild yell and a crack of the whip and they barreled towards the weak and hungry dog. Pepper had enough strength to run past the border that separated the upper class district from its vastly more blue collar neighbor. But the dogcatcher did not bother to respect the invisible border line. In these days such lines were less trouble then they would be in later years. Thus, far into the next district the dogcatcher chased the poor dog, who panted and tried her very best to keep running. He used his whip, cracking it at her, even striking her with it twice. She yelped in terrible pain and tried to keep running, but starvation had caught up with her. She simply couldn’t run anymore and toppled over, veering off the street straight into a cheap wooden fence that lead to the small back yard of a lower class terrace house.
The dog catcher, delighted, climbed out of his carriage and practically danced mockingly up to Pepper, whip in one hand, net in the other. He decided to give her one more thrash with the whip before dragging her weary, whimpering, starving body back to the pound. He raised his whip but before he could crack it he was struck in his forehead with a rock.
The rock actually clocked him quite decently and he looked around in rage.
A girl, somewhere around 10, had appeared from the other side of the fence and nailed the dogcatcher with a rock. She had another one in her other hand. As he glared at her and raised his whip she stared him straight back in the eye and raised the hand with the other rock. They stood for several seconds in this pose as he debated whether to just do it and teach this girl a lesson. The only thing that stopped him at first was the look in her eyes, which was oddly intense for some puny little girl, but as he stood paused he started to hear the sounds of the neighborhood around him. He slowly started to glance around. A few of her neighbors had taken note of what was happening and were starting to inch over curiously. An old grandma had a skillet in her hand and when their eyes met she suddenly broke into a wild, almost maniacal smile, as if she wanted nothing more in the world for him to whip this little neighborhood girl so she could finally have an excuse to violently let loose on someone with this skillet and pummel them to death in a circumstance that would guarantee no jury would ever convict her.
The dog catcher quickly turned and climbed back aboard his coach. The little girl took the poor frightened dog behind the fence into her backyard.
“I’ll get you some food,” she whispered to Pepper. She ran into her house and collected a bunch of things.
“What are you doing?” her mother called out.
“I’m just playing tea party!” the girl called back.
She appeared minutes later out the back and set up a table with two chair, a tea pot, two tea cups and a bunch of food which she tossed to Pepper.
As Pepper ate ravenously the little girl chattered away.
“My mama thinks I just play tea party with nice people. But my tea parties are the best. This isn’t just a tea party, it’s a goblin summoning!” And with that little girl held the tea pot up with both hands towards the sky and let out a horrifying noise. She then did an utterly silly, tribal inspired dance in a circle as only a maniacal little girl could come up with, all the while whooping and making atrocious noises. When she was done she looked at Pepper and smiled from ear to ear. Without a further word she came up and hugged Pepper with both arms, full and tight, her eyes closes in loving bliss. When the embrace was done she studied the dog curiously.
“What’s your name?” She asked, her brow furrowed. “Hmm, you look like a… Pepper. I’m going to call you Pepper.
She petted the dog some more. “You can call me by my name. I’m Jackie!”
Pepper’s stay with Jackie was short lived. It lasted about 3 days until her brother, Johnny, caught Jackie with Pepper in the tool shed and tattled on her to their parents who promptly booted the dog from their yard. Despite Jackie’s broken heart, Pepper was now in decent shape. She had fattened up quite a bit and regained her full strength, and continued her trek through the blue collar district to the next district that would be her home for a spell, the waterfront.
New Albion was not built on a river. Indeed, there had been no river there when the first street that was to become New Albion was hastily thrown together. There had been a healthy stream not too far off, and as the collection of rag tag streets and building grew into a vibrant town, discussions emerged of how to turn this stream into a river. The mightier the river the more potential growth for the bursting town, as it could import and export along river routes.
The obvious solution was to build a tributary running from a major river about 70 miles away and run it down to another major channel another 50 miles to the south. The larger, the better. There were several ways to do it, the usually being for a team of men to simply dig one over the course of however many years it took. And it would take more than a few.
The town council, who were also keen to promote innovation and technology, decided to offer a hefty contract and investment rights to the winner of a contest of who could come up with the best technical solution to this task.
Several aspiring young inventors came to New Albion to compete for the prize and the glory (several of whom stayed which the council had hoped would be the outcome), but only James Cryptid walked away with the prize. James had devised an giant, larva shaped digging machine that could do the job in about a single year, as long as everything went smoothly.
The machine was a garish monstrosity on paper and required an enormous sum of money to build, which the council, borrowing heavily on credit, supplied. The god awful behemoth was thus erected and one fine day began its laborous process. It was such a spectacular site that it made all the papers on the continent and James soon found himself quite wealthy as other towns looks to acquire the patent rights.
Thus, a few months into the dig, James took all the money he had made and went to a very revered Cunning-Woman who lived on the outskirts of town. He gave her everything she had when she told him that yes, she could fulfill his greatest wish in the world, which was to become a female on the outside to match James’ inside.
The process took a week and James was confined to a small hut on the Cunning-Woman’s land while the macumba based process occurred. Finally, at the end of the week, Jane Cryptid stepped foot from out the hut and heading off to make sure her digger was healthy and on schedule.
The problem was, when Jane appeared at the site, no one believed she was James. They were wiling to believe she was his sister or cousin, but that didn’t entitled her to enter the site. They were all concerned James hadn’t been seen in a week, but they weren’t going to let some greedy relative of his sweep in and start trouble. So Jane was barred from the site of her own invention.
This lasted a few weeks until one day, the massive digger broke down. Teams of engineers tried various methods to fix it, but no one could make the thing work properly again. In swept Jane, still a little pissed off, but willing to let bygones to be bygones. She promised she could not only fix the behemoth but improve on it. In return she wanted a new contract, a greater share of shares and a few other tidbits of a more eccentric nature. The town council tentatively agreed assuming that she could deliver.
Deliver she did. The digger was fixed and revamped and completed the job in a year an a half. Jane bought a gorgeous piece of land some ways away from the new river and built a majestic house with all sorts of crazy rooms and laboratories and ballrooms and garden mazes. Her home was so admired that as time went by other wealthy denizens bought land nearby Jane’s and built themselves palaces too. Centuries later this very land was to become the upper class district where Edgar and of course, for a little while, Pepper would live.
Thus it was that to the waterfront district where the river ports lay, Pepper arrived one evening.