Archive for June, 2012

On Inconvenient Lizards: Post 2 Screenshots

30 Jun

(I figured I’d just throw these up as a separate update, since I didn’t have time to upload them with yesterday’s episode.)

"Did you hear that? It sounded like the triumphant scream of the hunter unchained, baying into the empty and complacent skies that they might tremble in fear of the culling that is to come--a culling as inevitable and unstoppable as death itself. It was probably nothing."

 

"My only regret is that I have but one life to give to the cause! And I guess all that treason."

 

"Oh my god--there, on the horizon! The great black wings and horned skull warned of in the legends! It's probably nothing."

 

"Your political system is flawed and imperialistic!" "That's a fair point, but your tactics are uncalled for and unrepresentative of the will of your people!" "What? I'm sorry, I didn't hear your dissertation over the screams of that guy getting eaten by the dragon."

 

So it turns out that bringing leather chest-straps to a dragon fight is not only fashionable, it's a really bad idea.

 

 

On Inconvenient Lizards: The Redemption of Cahmel (Let’s Play Skyrim, Part 2)

30 Jun

(This is the first half of today’s update. The second half, and the screenshots, come later tonight.)

“Did you hear that?” someone asked.

“It’s nothing,” said the Imperial in charge, regarding the prolonged primal shriek that had echoed across the plain like the splitting of a mountain. “Carry on with the executions!”

The first of the terrorists was dragged up to the block and plopped down. Say what you want about these Stormcloaks—and I will, more or less nonstop, whenever the opportunity presents itself—they weren’t whiners. Honestly, with the possible exception of Captain Bitchwizard, he seemed like the only person happy to be there.

On his knees, he yelled, “My ancestors are smiling on me, Imperials! Can you say the same?”

So apparently the educational system wasn’t very good in this part of the world, or he wouldn’t be asking, “Hey, you think previous generations of a race colloquially referred to as ‘Imperials’ would approve of imperialist behavior?” Either way, he was given a graphic lesson in ethno-political autocracy when the axe of fascism cleaved straight through the neck of being a pain in the ass to fascists.

And then it was my turn. I could have turned and ran for it like that other guy, but it occurred to me that this would only result in one of two outcomes, that I

a.)    get shot in the back with a dozen arrows, or

b.)    escape to live a new life in Skyrim

and that getting my head chopped off was probably less painful than either.

There was another hideous shriek.

“There it was again.”

“It’s nothing!”

“That might be the least nothing thing that has ever been a thing,” I said to no-one in particular, but they weren’t listening. They just pushed me towards the block. I was guided to my knees, face turned sideways to watch the executioner lift the axe.

My life flashed before my eyes in sharp, sharp detail. All in all, my life could have been a lot worse. For example, it could have been longer.

At least I was getting some small measure of satisfaction from the deal. It was pretty typical for Cahmels to die unnatural violent deaths—a family tradition, really—and as far as these went, death by chop was pretty tame. No live weasels. No spontaneous combustion. No explosive interaction of scrib curry and colonic parasites. Just a simple, impersonal, practically anonymous execution that nobody would write home, let alone a song, about. That put me over more than half of my line. You just had to accept the small victories in life.

And then, sometimes, you had to accept the massive gobsmacking defeats followed by Life doing a hip-gyrating victory boogie right in your face. Like when fate dropped everything it was doing and threw a goddamned dragon at me.

Time slowed down. Faced with an immediate and extremely pressing crisis, I plotted and executed a brilliant escape plan one step at a time. Phase One was a tactical retreat from the situation. Once I had that underway, I started to run away, until I’d put enough space between myself and the dragon that it was possible to flee. I then threw off my pursuer by switching from fleeing to legging it before proceeding to amscray.

At some point, the slackjawed Imperial who’d passed me along to my execution earlier noticed that I hadn’t been toasted yet. “Still alive, prisoner? If you want to stay that way, keep close to me!” Which made perfect sense. Because so far, this guy’s sole motivation in life had been to keep me safe, and now that there was a massive flying kill-lizard attacking and I was bound and defenseless, that only left him with more incentive to babysit me. We ended up going in the same direction anyway, and we soon crossed paths with a Stormcloak. The Stormcloak and the Imperial stopped in the middle of the courtyard and exchanged pissy words with each other, which I personally saw as an impressive gesture of dedication to their respective moronic causes.

My cause being “Let’s Not Get Roasted Right Now,” I followed the one guy around who had a track record of not being nearly executed.

 

World Creation III: More Questions, Answers

27 Jun

Don’t worry, there’ll be Cahmel and other stuff before the week is out, but I just thought I’d punch out answers to these last couple questions.

Zagzag asked:

I’ve really loved what you’ve written so far, and there was one thing that I wanted to ask after the information we’ve been given so far: what caused Britain and France to become so close that they joined into one country? I’m presuming (probably incorrectly) that you are basing The Great Empire off Britain and France’s involvement in the real world First World War, but in real life a war between Britain and France seemed almost certain in the early 20th Century, rather than the eventual war with Germany. It was only a rather bizarre series of events involving a royal visit to France that actually reduced the tensions. In the real world Britain and France never even had a formal military alliance, even during the First World War, and I’m curious as to what happened in this setting to bring them so much closer together that they become effectively an extended Britain.

The joining of Britain and France into a single Empire was not a particularly amicable process, nor is there much in the way of unity or love between the two peoples. The individuals who took charge of Britain after the Dream were hard, bloody-minded industrious men who decided the best way to survive the loss of half of their colonies to devastation and the radical alteration of the world’s makeup was to grab as much of the world as possible. It was Britain who managed to get back on its feet the fastest of any nation, in part because of powerful leadership, in part because of its stiff-upper-lip pragmatic approach, and in part because it had just the right ratio of available casters to environmental hazards to best take advantage of the new power sources. Many other nations were busy grappling with creatures of Nightmare, opportunistic bandits, and sociopolitical upheaval. France had things particularly bad for a variety of reasons, and the power centers of France, facing a breakdown of law and order, ended up taking a deal that merged their nation with Britain’s. The truth of the matter is that France is a glorified colony of Britain now, and that most Frenchmen frankly revile the unification as a betrayal of their heritage and people.

Dovius asked:

And when you say that the other continents vanished, do you mean that in the sense that the New World is basically the current globe with everything besides Europe and Asia being turned into water, or that a Discworld-esque shard of the planet containing Eurasia is all that remains?

That’s an interesting question, because one thing I determined early on is that nobody in the setting actually knows. The standard methods of extrapolating the Earth’s shape are obviously still possible, but the individuals performing these experiments unaccountably get different results–in fact, the same scholar may receive different data every day of the week, suggesting that the Earth is round or flat or the same size or a hundred times larger.

Ramsus asked:

So does this mean that a Bugman would not be a viable character choice?

It does.

Rolf Andreassen asked…well, his comment is multiple parts and would be a bit clunky to quote, so I’ll just use it as the jump-off point for an explanation that should stand on its own.

The massive vagrant class in London is a relatively recent development–Smith & Rayl have required human workers to supplement their animations throughout most of their history, but have, within the past ten years, perfected the use of intelligent automatons to the point where humans have been nearly phased out in their London factories. This generates an impoverished class with few options. Certainly service individuals are still in demand, and–as in areas of real-life poverty, such as Mumbai–in some cases the ingenuity of the desperate creates brand-new service positions found nowhere else in history, but subject to the vogue of the wealthy. But the fact is that even then there aren’t enough jobs to go around for everyone.

Some of these impoverished individuals do leave London, but for most there’s the issues of:

1.) How do you leave? Relocating somewhere else, especially with a family, takes finances. It might be hard to scrape up enough money to get by in London, but it’s even harder to scrape up enough to supply yourself during a trip, acquire transport out of the city, and stabilize yourself until you can find work somewhere else. It’s not a matter of not wanting to leave, it’s a matter of not having the wherewithal to leave. What’s more, a good percentage of the poor owe debts to criminal classes who wouldn’t be happy to see them pick up and leave–loan sharks can always find some way of extracting a payment, even if it’s in labor rather than capital.

2.) Where do you go? There are more opportunities in other cities, to be sure, but most of those places aren’t keen on the idea of a bunch of London refugees flooding in and taking all of their jobs. You’re always going to be competing against the natives for work. As for the country, enough farmers already exist to feed just about everyone in the country. You can’t just wander into a field and start a new life there, especially if, again, you’ve got a family.

And then there’s the issue of how Smith & Rayl makes its profit and what it’s used for. This is a large question, but the bottom line is that while there are still plenty of people to sell things to in London, most of their money is made from exporting their goods to other cities and nations. Their capital is then turned towards expansion into other markets, political favors, land purchasing, and investments.

 

World Creation III: Questions and Answers

24 Jun

This is the reader question hour, in which I answer questions submitted by the sapient ant-men I grew in my junk drawer and taught to impersonate regular readers of my site. My ant-men have grown to reject their slave-names, so out of respect I’ll just refer to them by the names of the posters they’ve mimicked.

Ant-PossiblyInsane asked:

How does sea travel work? Are the oceans much the same as ever, except for the point of no return, or are they plagued by the same nightmare and fantasy hotspots as the rest of the world is? How exactly have expeditions far into the ocean gone awry? Do they simply disappear?

As the continents outside of Europe and Asia have vanished, there’s little reason to travel by ocean. Navies exist, but don’t venture too far from the coast–ships that’ve gone out to explore the deep ocean sometimes don’t come back and sometimes come back with shellshocked crew, all gibbering to anyone who will listen about they horrors they saw, each man’s report different than the rest.

Ant-Sydney asked:

What is magical versus…(what word have you chosen for non-magical?)…warfare like? Conventional weapons were already quite effective by 1915, and even the most combat-focused magicians in this universe don’t sound like they’d have much to say in response to a machine gun.

It certainly sounds like the magicians have the better of it, but…how?

As warfare looms and Nightmare threats are plentiful, conventional weapons are every bit as well developed in my 1915 as they were in real 1915. Even magicians focused on hurting other people are armed only with directed assaults, not with defenses, and so a magician is every bit as vulnerable to arms fire as anyone else.  In fact, two of the Black Barons were killed with  conventional arms–a recent one named Peter Mills was shot in the back by a Prussian spy, and the first Black Baron, Chester Norwick, was famously beheaded by a cannonball.

Ant-Thanatos5150 asked:

Similarly: Is there any sort of quantifiable anti-magic? Psychic nulls, blanks, witch-hunters, effective witch-hunting techniques, straight-up allergies to the magickal arts, government-sponsored witch-hunting campagins/corps?

I made a conscious decision to include nothing of the sort. Anti-magic always smacks of D&D-esque gameishness. Besides, it allows magic to be checked, and a major theme of the campaign is that magic can’t be conclusively checked is consequentially extremely destructive.

Ant-Andrew Stiltman asked:

What are the costs of using magic? What (apart from laws and practice) is going to stop someone from continually using their magics?

Nightmare magic carries side effects both obvious and unobvious. The direct effects are escalating mental tolls, starting with temporary headaches, escalating into muddled and unclear thinking, and culminating in serious mental problems over sustained long-term usage. Even light practitioners go a little mentally quirky after too long, though.

Fantasy magic has similar effects. The effects mirror the stages of intoxication, starting with a light haziness, escalating into irrational thinking, and culminating in an unpleasant stupor. Like intoxication, long-term usage tends to burn someone out.

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On Inconvenient Lizards: The Redemption of Cahmel (Let’s Play Skyrim, Part 1)

20 Jun

(Screw it, I’m throwing this up early. By the way, regularly scheduled stream is being subbed out for the L8D thing. Consult http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=16285 for details.)

Skyrim is a finely-polished blockbusting life sucking crowd pleasing showstopper RPG representing over half a decade of careful balance and design, and one of the most widely captivating artificial worlds crafted in the 21st century. I’m not crazy about it.

Now, all I just said notwithstanding, there’s nothing unusual about not being a fan of Skyrim. I estimate that at the time of the game’s launch, about a third of all gaming related posts on the internet run along the lines of, “Am I the only one who isn’t crazy about Skyrim,” “Am I the only one who hasn’t forfeited my worldly possessions to that fund proclaiming Todd Howard to be King of All the Land,” “Am I the only one not willingly impregnated with Skyrim’s aethereal godseed,” “Am I the only person who like storming into forums and poo-pooing this game like it’ll cause the music to stop with a record scratch and people to do comic spit-takes,” and so on. There existed what us savvy internet types who’ve created entire vocabularies around things that don’t matter like to call a hype backlash.

Not liking the game in the face of other people liking the game gives me no satisfaction, on account of not being a goddamned churl, but it does mean I feel the need to figure out why I don’t like it. Whenever I find myself an outlier, I find it’s a productive exercise to determine why.

The thing is, I can’t find fault with the game design. I like the fiddly petty-choices more-arbitrary-numbers-than-an-episode-of-Numberwang approach to RPGs as much as any hopeless grognard, but the more understated system Bethesda installed still works, because it still gives you enough cool choices at every interval to make you feel like you’ve got a hand in your character building. The crafting is nice, the bladework is nice, there are little improvements to almost everything that didn’t work in Oblivion, and—though I was skeptical going in—it turns out that nixing stats and putting more focus on skills works perfectly well. In fact, almost everything mechanical about the game works like a mule supporting a family of twenty. I like playing the game. I like all the things that make up the game. It’s just that whenever I stop playing it I never feel like picking it back up again.

So what don’t I like?

Well…I don’t like Skyrim. I guess.

That’s a start, anyway.

All of this is by way of introducing the new Let’s Play, but don’t think this series is going to be an itemized list of everything I don’t like. I’d actually say that list is a lot shorter than it was for Oblivion. It’s just that I’ve traditionally started my LPs by giving an idea of my general impressions about the game, and I see no reason not to blindly hew to that tradition once again. So let’s get started.

(A note for anyone who hasn’t read my previous Let’s Play series: these Elder Scrolls travelogues tend to be narrated in a peculiar style. Unlike Shamus, who speaks primarily about the universe and his choices in-character and speaks about the game in out-of-character asides, I tend to mix both voices together. As a result, there might be an in-character narrative segment right next to bitching about the interface or something. Just roll with it, and I think you’ll find it’s straightforward enough.)

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World Creation III: Two-Moon Circus

20 Jun

I’ve mentioned that a couple stripes of magic, like healing and illusion, aren’t legal within city limits–but like anything people want, they’re available if you’re willing to pay the price. If you’re wealthy, you might have a few talented individuals on retainer in private boltholes, or, just as probably, you might have a family member who’s been openly practicing magic since she was old enough to say “privilege.” For the average plebeian, the only reliable source of Fantasy magic can be found in the smoky tents and guarded wagons of the Circuses.

Circuses are mobile societies that hop from town to town, and often across borders, to glean a living. They offer a way for a company of men and women to make a reliable living in a world stricken by rampant unemployment. Partially their continued existence is due to the fact that entertainers can always find an audience somewhere, and partially it’s due to the fact that not all of a circus’ profits come from tickets, or even from legal sources.

Circuses hire performers for a weekly wage, but they also take on “travelers” who get permanent spots on the caravan, food, and protection in exchange for a monthly rent. Circuses tend not to ask where this rent money is actually coming from, and, not coincidentally, tend to move from city to city a lot.  A disreputable circus company may consist of one third employees and two thirds pickpockets, grave robbers, resurrectionists, gamblers, housebreakers, livestock thieves, slave traders, gin runners, fugitives, and con men. It’s unsurprising that the circus coming to town is viewed as a mixed blessing at best, though many hold themselves to a higher standard.

But even the better class of circus will have a few specialists in Fantasy magic aboard. Individuals who need special healing or who want to avail themselves of Dream go to these places looking for the right tents. Constables know better than to try to sting traveling magicians, firstly because it’s a bad idea to attack anyone magical and secondly because declaring war on a circus has gotten at least one city burned to the ground.

The Gypsy tradition has largely been folded into the great traveling circuses. The terms “gypsy” and “circusman” are often used interchangeably.

A town like London can expect a new circus every month. The great circusmasters have long since formed committees to ensure nobody steps on each others’ toes, and any circus not big enough to attend these meetings knows better than to pick a fight with a circus that is. Sometimes a few minor caravans will show up during the same offseason lull, and what follows ranges from an uneasy truce to open warfare–and if it’s that last one, then the townspeople are really in for a show.

A few of the legal delights commonly available:

  • Acrobatics
  • Specially-crafted animations
  • Freakshows (containing a healthy mix of humans and animals afflicted by nightmare, humans and animals with regular birth defects, and good honest fakeries)
  • Boxing matches
  • Magic acts (almost never real magic)
  • Clowns
  • Plays and comedic performances
  • Live music
  • Technological wonders
  • Games of skill and chance

And a few of the gimmicks that define specific high-profile circuses:

  • One Nightmare-themed circus has mobile trailer-based “lumeal manses,” which are something like walk-in haunted houses.
  • At least one circus is staffed almost entirely by animations and humans disguised as animations (except for the travelers, of course, who are all unabashedly fleshy).
  • Vera Dogshead’s circus has no actual physical setup. Even its legitimate performers are buskers who rampage across the city, terrorizing neighborhoods into paying them and visiting bloody reprisal on anyone who raises a hand against them.
  • At least one circus is based entirely around artistic acrobatic spectaculars themed around Nightmare and Fantasy.

For those of you who’ve been following the series so far, throw any questions about the world down into the comments and I’ll answer ’em next week.

 

Week to Come

18 Jun

Finals are over and things have stabilized, so let’s break down the schedule for this week:

Wednesday: World Creation/Fiction/Joshstream Upload

Thursday: Stream (Special?)

Friday: Blackchapel Updates

Now if you’ll excuse me, Oliver Cromwell’s Chronoshifted ghost is trying to goad me into a nunchuck duel and I need to dig up the number of that SCA-orcist.

 

 

Joshstream Apocaganza

14 Jun

The stream for Thursday, June 14, at www.livestream.com/chocolatehammer, has been moved from 5:00 PM PST to around 4:15 PM PST. Its regularly scheduled content–my playing Shivering Isles out loud for thirty minutes of profanity and ill-advised fashion odyssies–has been changed to Josh failing out loud while I try to restrain him.

See, at some point in the last week or so, Josh managed to backtrace all of those hilarious cake-with-a-turd-in-the-middle care packages I mailed him through my pseudonym Hank Dixie. The result is that he’s headed for my town with a twelve-gauge and a box of venomous rodents, both of which he’s going to introduce to intimate portions of my anatomy…unless I come up with a clever plan. Or else just try to distract him with a stream-of-consciousness first-person RPG. Stream will consist of audio and a desktop feed that will be minutely relevant.

In case you miss a single-action packed second–or indeed, several seconds together–I’ll be recording the whole thing for the HewToobes. See you all there.

 
 

World Creation III: …Like a Great Black Pit…

12 Jun

In 1915—the “present” year that I’m operating from—London is a seat of power, a social capital, an academic hub, and the staging grounds for one of the vastest and most productive industrial setups in the world. For ninety-five percent of its population, it’s a living hell.

London faces three severe crises.

Firstly, there are a few little pockets of persistent Nightmare affliction scattered around. They manifest through spontaneously-generating todflies (large insects that lay eggs in human flesh), aggravated bad dreams, increased rates of illness, increased rates of insanity, and a textbook’s worth of lurid birth defects. Naturally, these pockets are located on the poor side of town. The one Nightmare zone that wasn’t already a slum is one now.

The second problem is that law enforcement is currently in a transitory stage. Due to job hazards and low recruitment figures, beat constables are deployed only to middle-class areas, such as commercial districts. The poorer areas are patrolled by animated constables, lamppost-like walkers that are autonomous, barely sapient, and can only respond to crimes they actually see occur. The richer areas have private guards. The result is that the middle class are the only people who’d have trouble getting away with a crime, whereas crafty crooks a fiscally-endowed gentleman could literally get away with murder.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the biggest factories in the city are run by Smith & Rayl Industries. Further explanation is required to accurately convey how much this screws everything up.

Back in the early days of UnNight, an American refugee (John Smith) and a British magician (Thomas Rayl) teamed up together to explore the possibility of creating permanent, subservient labor animated through Fantasy magic. The two purchased a poorly-performing textile mill, fired all of its human workers, and retrofitted the machines to fit a few specially-prepared constructs. The factory’s high output made up for its middling-quality goods, and soon the two men had made enough capital to expand. Soon, Smith & Rayl owned three-quarters of London’s business.

It’s difficult to overstate the dire consequences this had on the city. By the time the Dream occurred more than half of England’s population was urban, and the reason for this was that the city offered plentiful factory work for unskilled laborers. By replacing human employees with automatons that never eat, sleep, or draw wages, Smith and Rayl were reaping massive profits while eliminating over half the positions for poor workers in the city. Not every job was eliminated, but the pool was made significantly shallower. If Smith and Rayl didn’t make so much of their profits off exports to other cities and countries, it’s probable they would have folded up along with the local economy.

Smith and Rayl are figures of much controversy. Some believe that animated employees should be illegal, and that the factories should be reformed or shut down. A growing neo-Marxist faction argues loudly for a campaign to replace all applicable labor with animations and abolish currency instead, envisioning a world of plenty where no human need lift a finger. This vision is complicated by the fact that permanent animations are presently expensive, difficult-to-make investments that only the already rich can afford, but that will pay for themselves in the long or even medium run.

Demographics are particularly bleak in 1915 London. Significantly less than one percent of the population consists of its elite, the aristocrats and industrialists at the top of the food chain. Beneath these are the middle class—bankers, shopkeepers, traders, tradesmen—who represent about five percent. Sixty-five percent of the population are its laborers, who have the good fortune and occasionally the illegal connections required to get a job, and the remaining thirty percent of the population consist of impoverished vagrants and desperate criminals.

 

 

Doctor Lee’s Circus of Sin: Introduction

09 Jun

Doctor Lee’s Circus of Sin: Introduction

 

They all went through the grey bright head-rush when you wake up from a faint and can’t remember who you are or how you got there. Then they remembered what their names were, and that they could move and speak and even open up their eyes, and as they did that enough of their wits returned that they realized they were baking alive.

Even with eyes wide open they couldn’t see much, because the windows to the carriage were shuttered up, but they could see they weren’t alone. They were seated three on either side, facing one another, slumped into the seats at first but stirring as one creature.

Everyone looked at each other, and nobody said anything, and all they could hear was the wheels treading dirt and rock beneath.

The one with the funny hair and the suspenders giggled.

“Hold on, now,” said the fat aging woman with the pair of spectacles. “What’s the meaning of this? Who are you people?”

“Yes,” said the old worn-down man. “What’s going on? Does anyone know?”

Wheels rattling. Heat and silence.

“I demand someone explain this instant,” said the fat woman. “I don’t find any of this amusing. You can’t treat me like this…”

“Quiet, lady,” said the one-eyed woman with the crushed hat and jacket. “I don’t know you either.”

“Well, whoever’s behind this needs to speak right this instant!”

The sharp-dressed man with the suitcase in his lap raised his hands up so everyone could see them, at least indistinctly, and said, “Hold on, now, let’s all pull together here.”

“Someone here is responsible for this!”

“You don’t know that’s the case,” said the old man.

“Right,” said the hat man. “Now, me, I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on and I think if anyone here did, they’d have said so, isn’t that right?”

More silence. The wheels sounded like they’d slowed down.

“Hmph!” said the fat woman. “I never. Those weasels can’t get away with this. I have rights, you know! Whatever else they think they can get away with, they can’t move me around as they please!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” asked the woman in the hat.

“Patience,” said the old man. “I believe this man here is correct, and that if we’re all straightforward things will be a lot simpler.”

“That’s exactly right,” said the man in the hat. “Cooperation, see? Basis of civilization. Elevates us over monkeys and the Spanish.”

“So let’s cooperate. Now. I don’t state this proudly, but because I imagine it will contribute to proceedings I will admit that last I recall I was in jail. I’m not certain how I came to be here, but there you are. Is this significant to anyone else?”

“Yeah,” said the woman in the crushed hat immediately. “I was in jail too. Santa Alma. I guess they’re moving us.”

“Santa Alma?” said the man in the hat. “Where’s that?”

“East of San Francisco.”

“In California?”

“What? Yeah, in California.”

“Are you sure?” asked the old man.

“That’s preposterous,” said the fat woman.

“Beg your pardon?” asked the hat woman.

“I myself am located in Philadelphia, and could not have possibly been moved so far. I will graciously assume that you are not lying, which might just be unwise of me, but you are most certainly mistaken.”

The last word was more scream than conversation, because the hat woman snapped up out of her seat so fast she knocked it over. Everyone in the carriage moved too, backwards or upwards out of their seat, and the carriage rocked a little on its wheels while the old man and hat man both sluggishly interposed themselves  between the two women.

“Damnation!”  said the old man, who’d reached out and seized the hat woman’s wrist. Her hand was stuck into a jacket pocket and had wrapped itself around some kind of handle. “Calm down!”

“I ain’t never cut up a woman before, but you just try to stop me and I’ll cut you all the same!”

“Stop her!” shrieked the fat woman.

“Oh, my,” said the weedy man in the jacket that no-one had noticed yet.

The hat woman pushed at the old man, who doubled his grip on the wrist and leaned into it. “Let go, lady! Let go and calm down!”

“Hold her back!” cried the fat woman, who was trying to thrust herself into the wall. “They’ve locked us in with a madwoman!”

“Ain’t this carriage got no horses?” asked the man with the wild hair.

Everyone quieted down to figure out what that meant, and then they noticed it too: the sound of creaking wheels, and of nothing else.

“Alright,” said the old man, still holding back the knife hand, still crouched to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. “How about we step outside and have a look. Hm?”