The port and waterfront area of New Albion was a good place for a stray dog. There was plenty of fish and chaos. Fish were dropped about as boats loaded and unloaded, and no one cared or minded if a hungry dog took care of cleaning up a few. All sorts of food came in and out, and while sailors ran the gamut from sentimental to homicidal, many a drunken sailor could be very kind and affectionate to a stray who happened to be occupying the same alleyway where they decided to to have an over-inebriated sit down.
Pepper did well, as far as being a homeless stray went, and in the evenings would often hang out outside a port side tavern, Cthulhu’s Tentacle. Most nights, at closing, a particular sailor would stumble out and give Pepper a nod and a generous slab of jerky. It wasn’t beef or turkey or anything Pepper had ever tasted before. It was a very specific meat that came from the sailor’s homeland and while Pepper couldn’t quite identify it, it was delicious.
One night it started raining. Pepper squeezed into an door front as the sailor stumbled out into the downpour. He stood for a moment in the rain staring at the dog and then glancing up at the stormy clouds.
“All right then,” he said and gave a nudge of his head for Pepper to come along with him. And that is how Pepper came to be with Kai Talimer.
Kai was a rugged seaman from a island called Umberland. Umberland was a paradise and its denizens considered it a desecration to build anything man made on the island’s sunny topside. Thus, their entire town was built in the caves beneath the island, which extended far down into the sea and was vaster than the actual land on top. As much as Kai loved his homeland, he had longed to see the wider world and so one day he hitched a ride with a passing ship, working for his food and board, learning the ways of the nautical profession until he arrived at New Albion. New Albion wasn’t a home exactly, as most of his life was spent aboard boats, but it was where he resided in between journeys and where most of his business contacts lay. And since he made a good bit of side coin as a small smuggler, he had many, complicated business contacts.
Pepper learned to deal with being aboard ships and became a well loved sea dog. She saw lands far outside of New Albion and some strange sea monsters that few land lovers would ever believe possible. But, like Kai, she always returned to New Albion.
Kai’s hobbies included drinking brown alcohol, white alcohol, beer, and wine, as well as chewing that mystery meat jerky of his. It also included sitting by candlelight and writing in small journals he always kept around. When he would finish a journal, he would pack it in his coat and head down to the tavern. For a long time Pepper hadn’t been allowed in the tavern, but after a few voyages enough sailors were able to speak up on her behalf that she was let in. A proper sea dog was always welcome at Cthulhu’s Tentacle as long as you were vouched for. Pepper would take her place on the floor at Kai’s table as he’d meet with the odd denizens he did business with. Meetings which involved these journals tended to be about once a month when they were residing in New Albion.
An odd, eccentric character would shuffle in that Pepper now knew as Nathan. Nathan had the look of a mad university professor who had probably been kicked out years ago for unmentionable violations but had never lost his zeal of forbidden knowledge and arcane histories. Nathan would sit with Kai and they’d have a drink together, usually absinthe, chat amicably and Kai would slide whatever notebooks he had finished across the table. Nathan would pick them up enthusiastically and promise to copy and archive them appropriately. Before he left he would always exclaim “Hail Discordia!” Kai would roll his eyes, sigh and mumble “Yeah, yeah, hail discordia” back. Nathan would shuffle out, Kai would shake his head, and the evening would progress.
Kai had two other contacts of note. The first was a series of men who all seemed to be connected to a youngish red haired man who Pepper strongly disliked. The red haired man almost never actually showed up to deal with Kai though. Usually he sent some thugs who never the less carried that scent on them that Pepper knew came from the red haired man. All of them were arrogant, brash and had the air of impending violence. Kai never tussled with them, simply had conversations, either agreed or refused their request, and some time later, if he had agreed, would hand them something he had procured in a far away port and kept hidden in his quarters on board the ship. As first mate, he had very small but ultimately private quarters aboard the ships where he and Pepper traveled.
The second contact of note never came to the bar. And it wasn’t a him or her so much as a plural they. Kai had lately been doing a lot of tasks and errands for them. These errands involved hanging out in bars in far away ports, waiting for odd people to give him little packages which he smuggled back to New Albion. Then, one night, before heading to the pub, he would go to a remote place where sewer entrances lay, and go on in. Pepper hated going in but would not leave Kai to face danger alone. Kai didn’t mind at all. He had been raised in underground caves and felt completely comfortable.
Once far enough into the underground tunnels, Pepper would hear noises as they approached. Several albinos would appear. Nathan would hand them the packages and they’d hand him something. Sometimes it was money, but often it was some artifact or piece of writing he would then pass on to that odd Nathan bloke.
Thus it was that one night Kai, despite preferring to spend the evening drinking in the pub, set off first to the tunnels. Pepper was not happy. For many reasons but mostly because there was a sailor in town with a sturdy German shepherd named Swiftpaw, and Pepper was looking to get some.
“We gotta do it, girl,” muttered Kai as they walked. “Don’t worry, you’ll get laid tonight. We’re close to finishing our business with the albinos anyway.”
Pepper stopped and growled. There was a group of men around and she smelled the scent of the red haired man.
The red haired man was not there. There were a few of his thugs, led by an older man, the red haired man’s Uncle, who was escorting a scrawny, scared looking teenager.
“Well well,” he said, stepping out of the shadows. “If it isn’t out good friend Kai.”
Kai cursed quietly under his breath.
“And Kai is our good friend, isn’t he, boys? Aren’t you Kai?”
“Come on, “answered Kai,” can we not do a whole drama. What does the Son want? I delivered the last package in perfect condition, on time, just like always. It is disrespectful to put on such airs.”
The uncle gave the teenager a hard nudge. “Well, get out there and start talking. You’re gonna have to learn the trade. Be a fucking man, you little pansy.”
The teenager stepped forward. “Uhm… uh, Mr Kai, my, uh, my older brother sends his greetings and has a proposition to ask of you. He has, um, heard on the, the, grapevine that your ship has been delivering components for a.. uh, a..”
The uncle interrupted “A generator. Some big, fancy, underground generator they’re lookin’ to build. Word is, some egghead scientist convinced the council that steam power’s only got another 20 years and then things’re gonna shift. And this generator is a, whachamicallit… PRO-to-type and they’re collecting pieces to build it and your ship is what’s been delivering those pieces.”
“Word is ALso, that them… them underground freaks… YOU know who i’m talking about, them that live under the city, they got an interest. And that makes US REAL interested too.”
Kai shrugged again. “I don’t know anything about any of that and even if i did, i do not discuss one client’s business with another.”
The Uncle frowned then smiled. “Oh, see, right there. That is not what we would call a very good answer, is it Alexander?” He nudged the kid.
The kid responded dutifully. “uh, no.”
“We need to know what the albinos are planning and if they’ve asked for anything pertaining to this generator. We will handsomely reward this information and even more to the so reward VERY handsomely if anything they ask for comes to us first.”
“I will keep that in mind,” Kai said.
The Uncle started using his threatening voice and at this point Pepper started growling. The situation tensed up but eventually the Uncle and his thugs shuffled off. Kai and Pepper kept on, although took extra pains to lose any tails. Eventually they arrived at the sewer entrance and begrudgingly Pepper followed Kai inside.
They arrived at their usual meeting spot and soon enough the sounds of the albinos approach echoed through the tunnels.
“You have brought the module?” a voice spoke from the darkness.
“I come to deliver what you have asked for, on time as usual.” Kai answered.
“Good. Our thanks and gratitude.” An albino stepped out from the dark, took the small package and shook Kai’s hand, despite not being comfortable with the ritual of the handshake, something only surface dwellers did.
“There is only one more component. Then the thing that we must secretly add on to their strange machine will be ready. We will add it into the very guts of the machine and then we have done our task for this time period. She will come. Only ten more years. Maybe a little more, but she will come.”
Another voice whispered from the darkness “She is sacred.”
Another voice “She is marked.”
Another: “She must never be touched. Stay away.”
“Only a decade more. Maybe two. Not long now.”
“We have kept the tale since ancient times. The lost princess returns.”
“She is holy.”
“She is desecrated. ”
“She is marked by the Angels.”
“She will come.”
Pepper would think back upon these two meetings for the rest of her life. She didn’t understand the words but she understood that this was important to what happened months later.
She and Kai sailed away and at a foreign port Kai met with a bald metallurgist who gave him a small gold object. He had given Kai other objects that Kai had delivered to the albinos so Pepper knew where this thing would end up. Eventually she and Kai sailed back to New Albion. Kai was antsy and nervous and obviously wanted the object out of his hands as soon as possible. Thus he left his small dingy, rented, port side flat to deliver it, but this time did not get far at all. On the street just a block away the Uncle and thugs approached him.
They demanded the object. Kai refused.
Thew drew pistols and swords.
Kai drew his sword and Pepper growled.
It was over within seconds. The Uncle shot Kai before anyone, even Pepper, could move. He walked over to the dying sailor, took the object from his coat and held it up.
“This all coulda played out differently, sailor boy. You shoulda rethought your allegiances. Shouldn’ta decided them albinos were your first loyalty over us.”
Kai lifted his head. “My first and only allegiance is to one group and one group only.” He spat in the Uncle’s face. “Hail Discordia.”
The Uncle shot Kai in the face while holding the object out with his other hand. This was a mistake. Pepper now knew the Uncle was her blood enemy and she must avenge her fallen friend, the human who had been her true companion and friend for the last two years. But she also understood that Kai’s wishes would be first and foremost to not let him win by stealing the object. So Pepper leapt and snatched the object out of the Uncle’s hand with her teeth, then ran as fast as she could.
The Uncle howled in fury. “GET THAT FUCKING DOG!”
There were gunshots as the men chased her. But Pepper could outrun these men, although it proved to be more difficult than she had first thought. For one thing, they were really, really persistent. Still, thugs cannot outrun a canine. The bigger problem was wherever Pepper ran more thugs showed up. They popped out of the woodwork, all of them scrounging the street for signs of the dog. A couple times she was spotted by men she didn’t even recognize but who had that red haired man’s scent and off she ran again through block after block of the city.
Finally, exhausted and desperate for shelter she crawled up to a giant, gothic building whose function she couldn’t even guess. An odd squirrely woman with black hair and huge glasses walking out and saw her. Pepper could hear footsteps running a few blocks behind her. She took in the woman’s scent, decided she liked it, and gave the woman a few whimpers and a look of desperation.
The woman looked at Pepper closely. She lifted her head and took in the sounds echoing the street around them. She took in several other things not so easily described. Finally she said “Hello there, Pepper. Whose a good spicy pepper puppy? Come on inside. I’ll take care of you. My name’s Agatha.”