Tuesday 23 April 2024

Lanthanide Horizon Vignettes

This is a draft trade - my mangled document of halfbaked gun rules for two vignettes set in Archon's wonderful megastructure setting. I wrote the third of these, to complete the post.

Art by Calder Moore

In a dark room, lit only by a single spotlight, is a clear plastic box. Inside that box are tunnels. Inside those tunnels are people.

They drink from a spring in the lowest sections, and use its water to grow grains and leaves. They sign to each other (as the walls do not permit sound) and chisel histories and myths into the walls with bone tools. Private places are coated in mud and surrounded with curtains.

You can see in - the spotlight ensures that. They can't see out - the darkness ensures that. And, indeed, they are seen. Cameras watch their signed conversations and read their legends. They measure who has died, and when. How many are fed, and how well. When the people are angry, and when they are happy.

Above this dark room is another. And another. And another. And another. And another.


A plate a mile wide, patterned with holes, is lowered into a machine.

It is cratered with ponds, filled with moss and crawling things. Around you, your fellows pack them into bags.

A wire like a telephone pole is drawn up through one of the holes.

The top of the wire, stories above you, rains down water. The wire glows, and then moves. It is time to leave.

It cuts through the plate in a thousand places, sending pieces down some immeasurable depth.

You are already gone, to share the harvest. There will be another one soon, you hope.


Ten days from home. The plain stretches mirrored and vast. Not quite soil - dust that reflects, shiny, glittering as it falls from above. Your language does not have the word snow - and snow is not so hard, sharp, toxic, or invasive.

You walk. The dust falls.

The shrine is dragged by friends and relatives, unrecognizable under their protective cladding of thick plastic, bunches of wires tying off the crude garments. Your people were very sedentary, and very peaceful. In the days before the foreigners came, you had not even weapons. Now, armed with long swords, clad in thick green plastic, you march across the endless dust.

Heads down. Dragging the shrine by cables.

You walk. The dust falls.

Home is where you lay your head down. Your home is in the vast emptiness given to you by the taking of your old home, where water fell from above. On the ground, the water settled into green plants, not the harsh mirrored infinity that beckons you, beckons you. To have nothing is to be offered everything, but seeking everything leads quickly to nothing.

Priests take measurements. The journey continues.

You walk. The dust falls.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

All Are Welcome (The Oak Tree Hotel, Penny Dreadfuls)

 March 15th, 1860

It has been quite a long journey, but you’re finally here, at your journey’s end - it’s just a shame that the end of the journey is London. Still, if one can stand the rain, the smog, and the English, there are some lovely places to visit - and lovely hotels to stay at. One such hotel is the Oak Tree. It has been 250 years since the opening of the establishment now known as the Oak Tree Hotel (it opened two days after Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius) and, while the form of the building has changed a great deal in the intervening time (and intervening kings) the service has remained consistently excellent.  

Tucked away on Chiswell Street in Islington, not too far from Whitbread Brewery. Seek a narrow alley only visible to those with the right sense for things. There are other doors on this hidden alleyway, but the one you are interested in is dark wood, with many little windows of green glass, shaped like an oak tree’s leaves. 

In five or so years, Moorgate Street Station will open very nearby, and the peace will be shattered in exchange for convenient transport links. 


You will encounter the proprietor of this establishment set up at her desk, inside the dark vestibule beyond the door. Only the great mahogany desk is here illuminated by a single argand lamp. Papers, stamps, bells and other accoutrements pile high on the surface. 

This hotel is owned by one Mrs. Mary Copestake, who, to visual inspection, appears to be in early middle age. Dark brown hair, round glasses, prim and proper. She dresses in dark colours, in styles often a little archaic, and favours a shiny pocket-watch with careful attention. She is soft-spoken, eloquent, fastidious and precise. She is a sorceress also, though not of any specific discipline - she prefers the approach of Johannes Factotum, as it were. 

Every choice of decor in this place is deliberate and precise, and every choice is hers - let this inform your assumptions of her general character. She always knows the right room to assign any guest, and can smell trouble nearly a week before it starts. 

Above and behind her comfortable chair, a shadowed alcove holds a statue of Terminus, marked CONCEDO NVLLI. 

One ought never leave one’s threshold unguarded. 

Through the hallway, door lead off - to the old-fashioned, faded opulence of the smoking lounge, or to the pristine and bright hotel library, where the more intellectually minded clientele can find multiple translations of the Emerald Tablet, the Necronomicon, the Black Pullet, the Greater Key of Solomon, and, of course, the Holy Bible (King James).

The next set of doors go left to the dining hall - checkerboard-tiled, with many tables secured in curtained nooks, dimly lit by gaslamps. Beyond that, the pristine kitchen, which is the domain of Louise Claxton, indomitable cook of the hotel, who guards the pots and manages the pans like Caesar. Small alabaster busts of the nineteen previous cooks stand in a stern, watchful row above the range - Mrs. Copestake takes good cuisine very seriously.

Two other doors lead off to myriad staffrooms and laundries, and doubtless to the cellar, but guests are not permitted, so who can say what’s truly down there?

The porters are gnomes - not in the garden sense, but in the spirit-of-elemental-earth sense. Neither has a name a human mouth can pronounce, so they’re nicknamed Bill and Ben. Their wages are paid in whisky, which is normally hard to get as a rock. Copestake has given them human suits - square-jawed, grey, heavy of limb, sluggish of step, helpfully strong. But, really - the suits are very ill-fitting - when they stop paying attention, pebbles fall from their mouths, or their hair becomes full of dust, or flawed sapphires replace their eyes…  

They’re rather annoyed about the recent fad for gnomen-figuren coming out of Germany - they’re discovering what it’s like to have the etymological rug pulled out from under you. 

In the meantime, they linger at the bottom of the stairs that ascend from the end of the hall - standing still, as rocks are wont to, until impelled to convey. 


Up the stairs, to the first landing - the Oak Tree puts its best foot forward. Three doors stand, decorated with polished metal, and a potted miniature oak-tree overhangs the balcony. Bright beams of sunlight plummet down from the skylight far above. Overhead, an oaken serpent of immense proportion (that is, the staircase) coils this way and that - irregular-like, to confuse angels of retribution, as a courtesy to customers.

Room 1 - Sol

The door is decorated with gilding in the shape of chestnuts and their leaves, and has the alchemical symbol for gold placed on the centre. The handle is crystal. 

The room smells of paper and roses. It's very brightly lit by large windows, plushly appointed with a large bed, two chairs, a table with a chess set, a bookcase (mostly full of geographical texts) and a little drinks cabinet, refilled regularly. 

Room 1 is currently unoccupied, being as it is reserved for any royalty who would desire to stay at the Oak Tree. 

The most recent guest was a serious young woman called Lata Hagavane, whom Mrs. Copestake gladly booked in, once she figured out what a “peshwa” was. She left in a hurry recently. 

Room 2 - Selene 

The door is decorated with hawthorn leaves and berries, in silver, and has the alchemical symbol for the same placed on the centre.

The room smells of primrose and yarrow. It's dimly-lit, shrouded by gauzy curtains, and quite quiet, with thick walls papered in two-parts, grey and blue. A huge writing desk occupies the far side, larger and better appointed even than the narrow single-bed. 

Room 2 is currently occupied by Michael Fingerling, a Londoner and occultist in the tradition of Dee, who makes his money translating things into Adamic and Enochian, which he learned to speak from an angel. Michael is reclusive, shy, laconic and poetic, rarely raising his voice above a whisper. He is, visually, remarkably unremarkable - a very forgettable fellow. He eats his breakfasts and dinners in peace while the other guests argue around him.  He spends all of his free hours in the London Library, or the hotel’s own, smaller equivalent. 

Mr. Fingerling would make a respectable sub-Librarian, or even a poor devil of a sub-sub-Librarian, if he spoke French, Mandarin or Portuguese - but, instead, he translates grimoires for madmen, fairies and witches. 

As the normal, god-fearing son of a middle-class family, Michael occasionally suspects he ought to be more alarmed about all of this.  

Room 3 - Sidera 

The door is decorated with polished steel, in the shape of rowan leaves and berries, with a space devoid of a symbol in the centre.

The room smells of blood and belladonna. It is dark, even at midday, save for the gleams by tiny twinkling white gems set into the goblets, the upright iron sarcophagus, the iron chandelier, the metal caskets, and the writing desk, reinforced on the corners with cold steel. 

Room 3 is currently unoccupied. It is designed precisely and totally for the comfortable habitation of visiting vampires. 

The most recent guest was Elizabeth Bathory, in 1833. She left a terrible mess. 

Past the oak-tree, and up the stairs, around a dogleg to a darker, more shadowy landing, decorated in red carpet. Three doors stand here, each decorated with a leering face. Room 4 and 5 stand at the near end, very close, as if crowding away from the large, dark door to Room 6, that loiters threateningly by the stairs to the next floor.

Room 4 - Impetuous Grin The door is reddish wood, carven with a horned head twisted into a smug smirk. A pair of hands are carved either side, raised in the universal gesture of - "who, me?" The room smells of cinnamon and myrrh. The walls are a dark red, and all the furniture and fittings are shaded, reddish, gauzy and plush. Some of the carvings on the bed or the armoire are toeing the line of acceptable for 1860. There’s a secret sitting-room, just big enough for an armchair and a window, behind the back of the armoire. Room 4 is currently occupied by Petunia May, a young American socialite, whose father is buying property in London - he has allowed her to stay at the Oak Tree, after much persuading. Ms. May is a fox-shapeshifter. She is not, to be clear, a kitsune or a huli-jing - Reynard the Fox is her great-grandfather, and she wears a black key to the sally-gate of Maleperduis on a necklace. She is greatly enjoying pestering the other guests insistently at every available opportunity. Petunia is the occult equivalent of a nepotism baby - born into powerful influences, but currently lacking in practical skills of her own. Her neighbour, Mr. Ingegneri, is a particular target of her badgering, since he’s about the same age, but much better versed in occult politics (and he’s Italian and handsome, too). She likes to poke holes in his newspapers and peek through them at breakfast. She sometimes breaks into chicken-coops when she’s drunk. Room 5 - Silence is Golden The door is light wood, carven with an apple-cheeked face, with a finger to his lips in a gesture of hushery, and a biretta on his head. The room smells of frankincense. It is quite spartan, decorated somewhat like a monk’s cell, with an iron crucifix, plain walls, and a firm, ethically-certain bed (which does not concern itself with trifles like comfort). The accoutrements are in tones of wood and ash. Currently occupying the room is Amerigo Ingegneri, a Niçard Italian sorcerer - he has a spellbook written in old Marsian, and an axe to grind (literally, he has an axe in his suitcase). Storm-tossed, with calloused hands. His hair is dark and his spectacles are round. Amerigo was formerly a sorcerous dogsbody and ritual assistant, in the household of a wizard called Anonyme Dupont, who lived wealthily in Nice. Amerigo was educated in many kinds of ancient linguistics at Alma Mater Studiorum (or the University of Bologna), and found himself rather insulted to be the downtrodden manservant of an elderly French drunk. So, he learned the basics, stole a spellbook, and fled Nice in a cloud of shadows and scandal. Dupont’s association, La Maison Bénie, would like the book back. He reads the papers in the dining room with intensity, drinking coffee after coffee and trying his best to ignore the very pretty American distracting him from POLITICS - he tries very hard to be mysterious and serious, you see, but he lacks the critical element of detachment - you can read all of his emotions on his face. The land he left was Piedmont-Sardinia, but precisely a week from now it will be the Kingdom of Italy (despite the fact that Nice will not, eventually, be part of it.) Room 6 - The Green Man The door is dark wood, with a foliate head carven into the centre of the door. Water seeps under it, every so often, because it lacks a threshold. The room smells of moss and damp. The room has deep green walls, and a plush (but always-cold) carpet. You can hear water dripping somewhere. The furnishings are not intended to suit a human, and they don’t - a massive cracked mirror, an empty birdcage, a chair made of rusted swords, and a bed of nails.
6 is currently home to Winkle-Picker, a very old, nasty fairy with cold, wet hair, black eyes, and an inhuman aspect. He wears black clothes that feel like the skin of a leech. He is paying for his comfortable, entertaining stay by keeping out the fell and poorly-phrased curses of the London Black Mass. The LBM are a huge coven of amateur townie witches, who hate Mrs. Copestake with a passion for rejecting membership.

Entering Winkle-Picker’s room unannounced is a good way to get your kidneys stolen. Winkle-Picker originally lived in Lyme Bay - while Mary Anning was digging up fossils, Mary Copestake was tempting him out of the cold saltwater with gin.

Continuing up the stairs, Room 7, Room 8 and Room 9 are each at the end of their own overlong corridor, running parallel from the landing. The corridor to Room 7 has cloud-patterned walls (which, on stormy days, move and roil in sympathy with the weather), whereas the other two have dark, plain wallpaper.

Incidentally, there’s a huge Swiss carriage-clock on a mahogany table, with an arrow shot through the clockface - appended is a helpful label imploring guests to leave the arrow where it is.

Room 7 - Taranis

The door is dark wood, with a large wheel-design carved into it.

The room itself smells of ozone and petrichor. The decor is sky-blue and slate-grey - austere, simple, and proud. A large globe occupies one corner, helpfully annotated with all the places missing from conventional atlases. The glass of the light fixtures are all a bright lightning-blue. 

7 is currently occupied by Akwenye, an Omuwambo diviner from what is vaguely known in London as Ovamboland. He’s an incredibly tall fellow, somewhere north of forty, with short hair, a soft, pudgy face and a very sad look in his eyes. He divines in fires and the movement of animals. He has also bound to himself a spirit-creature that resembles a gemsbok - however, something about London has damaged(?) the spirit, giving it a Cockney accent, and a habit for calling itself Big Namib. This produces in Akwenye a quiet dismay. 

He learned English by divining the time he will later spend learning it. He moves with unflappable grace, unperturbed by any occurrence (because he’s been perturbed in advance, and already reacted). He likes to try and strike up conversation with a different guest every evening, in the haze of the smoking lounge, and is careful not to foresee the results - a little surprise is good for a man. So far, he’s got on well with Rozen, Fingerling, Wedderburn and Jayasuriya, and quite poorly with Cloch, Trollsen and Walton-Cable. Tomorrow, Mr. Mountjoy - or perhaps Mr. MacGregor. 

Akwenye is a peaceable, contented man, burdened with a responsibility to war and history he’d rather not have. He has divined that his homeland will be conquered in 1884, and he is travelling the world searching for ways to oppose the bloody Germans. He misses his home, but he must leave it to save it. 

Room 8 - Crom Cruach

The door is dark wood, with a circular gold plaque surrounded by twelve smaller plaques of bronze. Something about it is inexplicably and specifically unsettling to Irish Christians. 

The room is windowless, narrow - it feels half like a prison cell… and the other half like a prison cell. The walls aren’t papered or painted, just bare plaster, and the mattress is thin. The window isn’t curtained, and the Sun’s rays can barge in whenever they feel like it. There is one stool, and nothing else besides it. Remember - the service at the Oak Tree is always excellent. Sometimes, this is what a guest wants - or even what a guest needs. 

Room 8 is currently home to Simon Mountjoy, an unusual man - he goes hatless and coated, when he appears every so often for a meal in the dining room, which is rather unusual. He is delicate, slightly frantic, beautiful like a pane of stained glass, looks like he doesn’t sleep or eat enough, because he doesn’t. He was born in Gloucester, his mother was Romani and a painter, and his father was known to society as a deacon, and there’s a story there, but he’ll never tell you it. He was living in Gloucester, writing poetry diligently, until the dreams of dead times and dead places began to assail him - he went to London for oneiromedical treatments, but they failed, and now he is stranded here. 

He is an adherent of the Cataleptic branch of Orphism. He inherited this from his father, in the same way he has his mother’s eyes. For him, London is the underworld. He is currently undergoing his katabasis, into the Oak-Tree. Some days he knows it, some days he denies it, and some days he writhes on the narrow bed as if a seizure has taken him. 

His room is full of butterflies. 

Room 9 - Manannan

The door is a dark, grey wood, always cold and salt-smelling - the tree it was made from was cut down in Tír na nÓg in 1456, and bought from the sailors in 1710, when they sailed into port, lost in time. 

The room itself smells always of the sea. The floor is tiled in dark slate, and the walls are papered a grey of the same colour. There is a pool of sourceless seawater in the corner, and dim bluish lamps designed like jellyfish barely throw back the shadows. Somewhat unexpectedly, the bed is a huge, plush four-poster, with a blood-red duvet. 

Room 9 is currently inhabited by Cloch. Her name means “stone”, or “gem”, or maybe “castle”, if you stretch the translation. They said she was fated for the clochar, the nunnery, but as much as she likes St. Brigid, she decided to become a danger to everyone, instead. 

She’s a young woman, at a glance - blonde, wide-eyed and large eared, always barefoot, dressed in a messy combination of second-hand modernisms and dark, homespun garments. Everywhere she goes, she has six leather suitcases shipped along (which hold far more space inside than you might suspect). Inside, there are no spare clothes - there are weapons. Thousands of them, from all around the world, a dizzying collection of points and edges. 

Cloch is from Hybrasil, which is currently under the sovereignty of the British Empire, because they’ll even colonise a mythical land if you fucking let them. She speaks a dialect of the Gaelige laced headily with fairy-words, Basque and Mi’kmaq - English is like a block of wood on her tongue, and she doesn’t enjoy speaking it. She is here for mercenary work.

The Peerage Obscure would class her as a “druidic seditionist”. The suggestion that she is a draoidh would offend and shock her - she knows no sorcery, and traffics with nothing of the sort - she kills people with knives, chains, guns, labryses, ciupagas, grenadoes, hooks, yataghans, composite bows, petards, earspoons, slings, lances, yumis, arbalests, shamshirs, misericordes, garrottes, iklwas, wakizashis, fire-lances, daos, halberds, voulges, zweihanders….

You get the point. She’s a fighter, and a scary one at that. 

Halfway up the next staircase, a very small, circular landing, with a bowed-out balcony, allows space for a singular door. Copper birds decorate the walls either side of the door.

Room 10 - Stymphalia 

The door of this room is covered in copper decoration, resembling olives and their leaves. An alchemical symbol for copper marks the centre of the door.

The room is small, comfortable, and oval-shaped. It has a double-bed, two chairs, two cabinets, two small desks, and two round windows, arranged symmetrically along the middle of the room. 

The most recent occupant was Mr. George Repton (alone), a member of the petit-bourgeois from Derbyshire who (to the shock of this portly, middle-aged banker with asthma) has recently discovered that he is, in fact, a werewolf. He was here seeking treatment for this development, but found nothing that didn’t seem lethal or useless, and has since left for New York, braving the seas despite the recent disaster of the SS Austria. The Atlantic has been eating people for as long as there have been people. 

Past the small balcony, and up to another trio of doors, arranged so as they are very brightly lit - this landing is oddly uncarpeted, and the floorboards by the doors are very creaky. It’s impossible for anyone staying here to sneak out without half the Hotel knowing about it.

Room 11 - Iona
The door of this room is walnut wood, carven with a pair of heraldic whales.
The room smells faintly of varnish, as if newly put together. The furnishings always seem fresh, are as modern as can be for 1860, always clean, and very brightly lit with gaslamps. There is a bookshelf full of texts on chemistry, physics, and many volumes of scientific journals, (including the venerable Medical Essays and Observations).

Room 11 is currently inhabited by Ruaraidh MacGregor, an old Scotsman, dour and bristle-bearded, clad in a huge jacket and a thoroughly crumpled chapeau-clique. He eats his breakfast in utter silence at 5:45AM sharp, before anyone else is awake, to the disdain and frustration of the staff.

He is an agent of the Rosicrucian Society of Edinburgh, an unusually powerful little club, despite its small membership. They’ve sent him here to try and get into Parliament to nick the original copy of a few of John Dee’s books, as a bargaining chip. 

He speaks the Beurla-reagaird, the secret cant of the Highland metalworkers. He learned it, and the secrets of metal, magic, and metal-magic, from a wizened old Highland traveller, when he was only sixteen, living in Killin, in deep Perthshire. Now, fifty years later, he has never reached the level of his teacher, and never quite got the hang of any metal but tin - so he carries around a lot of tin.

If anyone tried to assassinate Mr. MacGregor with a tin bullet, he could do something very impressive, but sadly, most bullets are lead.

12 - St. Michel
The door of this room is hickory wood, graced with a calygreyhound, rampant.
This room was, for a period of five or so years, home to the cold-hearted Baron Aubrey de Vere, who betrayed King James for William and Mary (and also betrayed his first wife) and supposedly died in 1703 - he stayed here from 1705 onwards, but let us not examine him any farther. The room was plushly appointed in his day, and has remained among the most comfortable, opulent, and thoroughly English chambers in the hotel up until modernity.

An English gentleman called Thomas Wedderburn, who appears every day at breakfast dressed sharply, is a perfectly well-mannered, handsome, and utterly false. Nobody in the Hotel likes him, because they know it’s all a cynical front. Thomas is shaped like a university rower, with bright blond hair - you’d suspect he was picked deliberately to play the role of some kind of nonspecific occult businessman, because he was.

A polite agent of the Weishaupt Library for the Invisible Sciences, who are a member organisation of the group known as the Illuminati. They’ve made excellent headway into Europe and Brazil (the Masons are still holding fast against them in the smoky backrooms of the Americas, for now), but Britain is a sort of wet, miserable enigma. Wedderburn is their attempt at breaking the code of London and the Home Counties - a Buckinghamian key for the Anglo-lock.

Has dinner with MacGregor and the Bevans, most nights, making jokes about the presence of the three parts of Great Britain. None of the three know of the others’ secret society connections, so they are all speaking a little too freely.

Room 13 - Lindisfarne
The door to this room is plain, save a pair of squares planed into the surface.
This room always smells of freshly washed linen. Two iron-framed beds with off-white bedclothes are placed as physically far from each other as they can be, partially obscured by the bend in the room. Between them, a little table with two wickered dining chairs, and a selection of books (all Aristotle and pseudo-Aristotle).

Room 13 is currently-occupied by a secretive, sleepy-eyed Welshman and his sister, who is a canoness (not a nun). The two of them have a lot of disagreements about life, and you can hear them arguing through the walls in Rooms 12 and 14.

The brother is an agent of the Covert Circle, a burgeoning occult association based in Cardiff, who are valiantly questing for relevance. They’re a little cringe, at the moment, being as they’re uninitiated in all the important mysteries and mostly only have Welsh nationalism to go by. 

He’s here on a fact-finding mission, to size up the competition - carefully but fearlessly (or perhaps carelessly but fearfully, depending on the day). His codename is Maelgwn Gwladig, after an ancient ruler, but his real name is Dafydd Bevan. On very dark nights, when he hasn’t had a drink or read anything good that day, he desperately wishes he was someone else.

His sister is called Irene Bevan, and she is specifically a Canoness Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, and disapproves of all of this with a very stern, piercing manner. She regularly heckles her brother on the subject - that’s why she’s here, to preserve his immortal soul, as he goes tromping around Lloegr spying on sinners. Everyone in this Hotel gives her a horrible feeling, save the Rabbi, who at least prays to somebody! 

She was surprised to see a copy of the Good Book in the library - nobody here has ignorance for an excuse, not least her fool brother. People rush so hastily to damn themselves - not least her fool brother.

Farther up, you find a landing with two doors standing side by side, like weary warriors, their doorframes leaning into each other, ever so slightly.

Room 14 - Wayland
The door is light wood, marked with three swords in silver.
The room smells of spent gunpowder and winter air. The furnishings are robust, practical, unadorned, and metal where they can be - Mrs. Copestake expects Caesar or Napoleon would be perfectly comfortable in this general’s tent - if they happened to visit.

Room 14 is currently occupied by a Sinhalese man from what the occupiers call Ceylon, named Khadyot Jayasuriya. He will punch you in the chest if you mispronounce his name, or give him a nickname - the Hotel is divided into linguists and the recently-punched.

He left Sri Lanka after the failure of the Uva Rebellion, and drifted around the world. He is a fighter of unbelievably dangerous calibre - unfortunately, there’s only so much one man can do against Empire. He is fiery, bold, impatient, possessed of a powerful visual calculus, was simply born without fear, and has, before, slain a dragon and a hydra. In short, he is a hero, and were he born in an earlier era, already songs would be sung of him.

He has precisely one sword, which was placed on his tiny hand around three seconds after he took his first breath. It is basically his brother. His family have had this tradition going back a long time, back before the development of writing. His sword is a kastane, small and light, which looks like an inefficient tool for mayhem - until you see him employ it.

He likes to play chess with Cloch, on days when the rabbi and the lord aren’t using the board. They recognise themselves in each other - she is the exception to the rule, and calls him “Caddy”.

He also likes to doze in the smoking room - no he likes to pretend to doze. He is watching the people in the room move around, through his eyelids, like a lion watching chital deer.

Room 15 - Vortigern
The door is dark wood, marked with a round boss in the middle, like a shield.
A big bed with wooden doors on the frame, a massive block of a desk with twenty-drawers, made of hickory, with feet of polished granite. Everything in this room is heavy, or heavily built. If you let someone loose in here with a hammer and some unusual instructions, it would be minutes until they’d done any damage. The inkwell is a pound of solid lead, to the amusement of many guests.

Room 15 is currently home to Celine Simard, a French woman in command of a powerful fiery spirit. The fire spirit lives in a flat-wick lamp that she carries around in a special reinforced case (you don’t want your fire spirit spilling out). She is stout, short and broad, with wildly-curly hair that she’s given up on brushing, and a starfield of dark freckles.

She is part of a secretive cult, called the Reclusive Sisterhood of Vesta Cistercium, who are plotting to restore the Roman Empire. She’s here to have a look at Colchester and London, and to start working her way into the backrooms of Britannia’s politics - she’s here specifically, because of Lord Walton-Cable in Room 19.

She also works for La Maison Bénie (keeping her oar in), but for the La Rochelle branch, and doesn’t know anything about Amerigo Ingegneri’s conflagratory exit from Nice. In fact, she regularly discusses Plato with him, over a folded copy of the Daily Telegraph and two cold cups of tea.

The next landing up has two strange doors at either end, facing each other like thorny old foes.
The centre of the landing, here, where the butterflies land, is a powerful ritual space, helpfully roped off to stop guests wandering through and getting put into a state of oneiric transcendence.

Room 16 - Cocidius
The door of this room is made entirely of black horn, puzzled together from various animals.
The room itself smells of copper and leather. The decor is mostly maroon and red, and forms a perfect mirror with the arrangement of Room 17. There is a long narrow bed, a tall armoire, a basin on a stand, and a large, comfortable-looking chair.

The current occupant of Room 16 is a hairy, staring giant of a man, referred to only as The Moldavian. Crumpled bowler, chequered waistcoat, fierce unibrow, and a few silver teeth. The Moldavian has been punching and kicking and spitting and biting his way through the enigma known as “Life” for 33 years, ever since he was kicked out of Iași at age 10 for just being too damn mean.

Well, if you listen to him, anyway. He’s also been punching his way across the enigma called “Europe”, having been kicked out of Vienna, Berlin,, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris and La Rochelle for also being too damn mean. After the Londoners get sick of him, maybe he’ll find somewhere quiet to curl up and die in New York.

He serves as a relentless enforcer and legbreaker for the dregs of invisible society in the capital, and also for the London Black Mass, who call him Moldy and throw lumps of paraffin-wax chewing-gum at the back of his head. If the money wasn’t good, he’d kill ‘em all.

But the money’s good.

The Moldavian is a big man, and he carries around a big, wicked knife, but he’s not a fighter - he keeps well clear of Khadyot and Cloch, because he recognises they are of a sharper kind than he - the Moldavian’s specialisation is in saying that people “have a really nice place here, it would be a shame if something happened to it”, and familiar numbers to a similar effect.

He believes (incorrectly) that he is the largest man staying at the Oak Tree.

Room 17 - Belatucadros
The door of this room is made entirely of white ivory, puzzled together from various animals.
The room itself smells of iron and smoke. The decor is mostly white and yellow, and forms a perfect mirror with the arrangement of Room 16. .

The room’s inhabitant is called Øyvind Trollsen, who is, as the name may indicate, the son of a troll. Large like a barrel is large, bald, with a prominent and reddish nose. His beard is wild and red, and his eyebrows are too. His eyes are a purplish slatey colour, with great dark pupils - his father’s eyes. He wears a large crucifix around his neck, made of pale glass-green wood from Yggdrasil - he harvested it himself, with an axe, climbing spikes, and bloody-minded determination.

He only mostly turns to stone in sunlight, which gives him immunity to knives in exchange for delayed-sunburn the night after.

In service to the Secretive and Perpetual Order of St. Olav, Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae. The general mission statement of the Order of St. Olav is to stoutly oppose anyone in service to Woden and Thor, and protect Norway from waking jotunn - or any arctic demons coming through Spitsbergen that the Inuit exorcists miss.

He likes to walk to St. Olave’s Church on Seething Street (the priest there knows him, and knows his order, and performs for him a special, secret mass, that really emphasises that Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter).

Like many with trollish blood - he has a terrible fear of hammers.

He believes (incorrectly) that he is the largest man staying at the Oak Tree.

Up the next staircase, you’ll find a pair of unmarked doors, on a landing unremarkable, save for the large couch - perhaps a mercy to those climbing all the way to the upper floors - respite on the peakside. 

Room 18 - Cissonius

The door to this room is made of pale pinewood - if you dig a knifepoint into it, it’ll bleed sap, and in spring, it has leaves. 

The room always smells of lilies and beeswax, and consists of a large sitting room connected to a small, snug bedroom. Anyone sleeping here has powerful, pleasant dreams, and… 

Room 18 is currently occupied by a polite old rabbi from Manchester, who is also educated as an engineer and as an architect  His name is Leonidas Rozen (his father was a fan of the classics). Despite his namesake, he is a very unwarlike man, and prefers study and intelligent conversation. He is in London to visit friends, but, as is his habit, he is making friends, too, with nearly everyone he meets. While he’s here, he’s looking for a copy of a book by one Joannes Daubmannus - have you heard of it? 

He speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish and a little Turkish, and writes books and poems in all of them. 

He is unassailably holy, to the point of unconsciously foiling spells he walks past. The wizards would hate him if not for his social grace, warm demeanour, and excellent sense of humour. 

He plays chess with Lord Walton-Cable, in the library every other night, and otherwise reads, prays, or takes guests in his room. 

Room 19 - Toutatis

The door to this room is made of dead black poplar, carpented with some struggle into a serviceable but otherwise plain door. Was it worth the effort?

This room always smells of ink. It’s spacious and very comfortable, but unremarkable in furnishing - what can be said of it, that the general colour of the place is green? There’s a table? What Room 19 is really good for is having guests, while you, yourself, are a guest - there’s a pair of spare beds, an adjoining small private dining room (with dumbwaiter to the kitchen) and a bar-cabinet, regularly stocked. 

Room 19’s current inhabitant is the respectable Lord Walton-Cable. Trimly-bearded, greying, darkly suited, but otherwise oddly hard to remember, clad in a sort of gentle, bureaucratic shadow. Obviously, he is a wizard. He speaks nine languages, two of which, nobody else living speaks. 

He is the reason that Thomas Wedderburn’s job in London is fruitless, carried out the spiritual component of defeating the Uva Rebellion personally, is working against the Vatican in the matter of Italian Unification, has killed many members of La Maison Bénie in anonymous occult combat, is well aware of the Reclusive Sisterhood of Vesta Cistercium’s plot,, signed off on the invasion of Hybrasil in blood, is helping prop up the Ottoman Empire (half to spite Gladstone) - and a few other things. 

In short, his life is in significant danger if anyone realises anything - which is half the fun of staying at the Oak Tree. 

Lord Cable always stays in the Oak Tree when he is in London (his usual residence is on his estate, which is not technically either in England or Heaven, but on a piece of, you could say waste-ground, between the two). He is a member of the Peerage Obscure (or the Enlightened House), the third, invisible House of Parliament that deals with laws written in blood and meteor-iron ink. Much like the other two Houses of Parliament, there are a great many irrelevant old men dozing in the benches. 

Lord Walton-Cable is the Chairman of Ways and Means, for said House, which gives him immense control of the occult economies of the United Kingdom, and lets him amend the budgets of the mundane government, too. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, finds him terribly disagreeable. 

Take his hand, that smells of roses, adorned with rings and stones. He has a ring for commanding immaterial spirits of air, because he fancies himself a Solomon, and it seemed the done thing. Almost all of his life has been dictated by done-things and precedents, but, now that he seems to be dying, he is considering doing undone-things, and attempting the unprecedented. 

He’s a patron of one Charles Baverstock, a demonologist, because one should never deal directly with devils, but instead have an unimportant member of the minor gentry do it for you. 

He plays chess with Rabbi Rozen in the library every other night, and otherwise smokes in his own booth in the Dining Room, consuming a fearful amount of tea and tobacco as he takes visitors from the government.

This man is not Walton-Cable - this is his nominal boss.
The Prime Minister, Henry John Temple (3rd Viscount Palmerston),
Whose name Walton-Cable endeavours to remember most days.

Up the next staircase, four doors stand together on a landing decorated with potted bamboos and ficuses. 

Room 20 - Cambria
The door to this room is ajar, and decorated with a red dragon holding a spear, coiling on the pale wood.
The room smells of vetiver and sea-air. The walls are dark grey, with a fossil-patterned wallpaper, and the furnishings are angular, dramatic, and generally red-coloured. There’s a harpsichord in the corner of the room, but you won’t be able to hear it outside of Room 20.

Room 20 is currently unoccupied, though Mr. Wedderburn and Ms. Simard have both popped in through the ajar door, to play the harpsichord, letting its dissonant notes drift down the stairs.

This room is still awaiting the occupant for whom it is intended - Mrs. Copestake has waited a little longer than she expected to, in that regard.

Room 21 - The Fen
The door to this room has a pair of heraldic theows carved onto the greyish wood.
The room smells like a freshwater marsh, which isn’t half as unpleasant as you’d think. The walls are decorated florally in blue and green - the furnishings are dark and slightly amphibian. As of the inauguration of the recent fad, Room 21 has had an aquarium installed on a large table by the window, where little fish flit back and forth, back and forth.

Room 21 is currently unoccupied.

The most recent occupant was John Lancet, from Herefordshire, who happened to currently possess two professions: he is a sin-eater, and he is also a resurrection-man (that is, a graverobber). One leads naturally into the other - a soul goes on to heaven totally unburdened by sin or by flesh, after Mr. Lancet’s work is through.

He believed (incorrectly) that he was the largest man staying at the Oak Tree.

Room 22 - Cairngorm
The door to this room is decorated with a large design of a unicorn, gilded against the dark wood of the door.
The room smells like autumn and rain. The wallpaper is in colours of amber, gold and yellow, in a Paisley pattern. The furnishings are austere, dark and simplistic, though there's a large desk loaded with watercolour supplies. 

Room 22 was most recently occupied by an Icelandic pain mage who goes by “Hrami”, though that is not his real name. He gave up his real name, in fact, to a fairy that lived in a geyser, because he was being pursued - by people who wanted to learn his art, or kill him for it.

Pain mages are feared for being able to turn pain into things - their own, or someone else’s - Hrami has learned how to turn pain into water, electricity and light, which are all very useful, if quite fearful.

He’d prefer to be a healer. Even London didn’t have the anonymity he desired, however. Oslo, perhaps, then on, if that fails, to Russia.

Room 23 - The Channel
The door to this room has a decoration of three heraldic sea-serpents, and is made of solid teak.
This room smells of sea air and chalk. The furnishings are pale blue, and the wallpaper is white. It’s fairly unremarkable, save the very large painting of a sinking ship dominating the wall opposite the bed.

Room 23 is currently unoccupied.

Most recently, it was occupied for three nights, by the visiting Lord Ivory-Montacute, the Shadow Dragon Secretary (that is, the opposition-equivalent of the actually-important Secretary of State for the Draconic Department). His title is far more impressive than his job, which mostly involves hearing about what dragons have done a week after it would be relevant.

Ivory-Montacute is a member of the Clupeum Rubei, a decoy occult parliament set up at Colchester in 1804, to help absorb and redirect the barrage of pro-Napoleonic curses and spirit assassins firing over the Channel. The CR was staffed with wizardly rejects, the already-cursed, and a few Irishmen and other colonials to give them the mistaken impression of increased control over government, along with three fairies (or four, depending how you classify the third), to do the actual hard work.

Now, in the 1860s, the task of decommissioning the CR and dispelling all the built up curses and trapped sylphs with knives of pure Reason is becoming difficult. This is primarily because the dissatisfied members of the CR have decided to become a real participant in the invisible government. Now the former talking-shop and literal stalking-horse is making moves… ill-considered ones.

Montacute was here to provide terms to Walton-Cable, and was thoroughly upbraided, scolded, and dismissed back to Colchester with as much force as Lord Walton-Cable could muster within the bounds of gentlemanly behaviour.

As such, a very stupid civil war is now in the brew - England, of course, has never had any other kind.

Halfway between that landing and the next, a door set by a little stone ledge, by the side of the staircase.

Room 24 - Carneddau
The door to this room is dark wood, marked with a black dragon carrying a scroll.
The room smells of oranges. The furnishings, too, are orange, with gauzy curtains, a comfortable bed, a novel doubles-sided desk, and a few musical instruments scattered hither and yon. The walls have many paintings depicting mountains and burial cairns, and the chandelier (with candles) looks like a cloud of moths.

Currently home to a man pseudonymously known as Al-Iksir, a Damascene doctor, linguist, philosopher and wizard. He is descended from the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, via a very long and complicated genealogy that he is rather tired of explaining - so he just won’t mention it. He’s a prince of pauciloquy (and also a literal prince, as we just established, but please don’t make him explain it).

He is here with his wife (pseudonymously known as Rayyan) for whom he is a massive wifeguy. Rayyan was born very poor in Aleppo, in cursed circumstances and hounded by demons, but now she dresses in silks and drinks wine, and she helps others where she can. She too is a powerful practitioner of magic.

Both of them have walked in other realms, and both of them are healers - they’re philanthropists, doctors, sickeningly-sweet with each other, and intensely private with everyone else.

They seem to present a charming, Ottomanesque mystery for a few of the other guests, who continually attempt to pry (Rabbi Rozen politely, Wedderburn subtly, Walton-Cable haughtily, Bevan inexpertly, Cloch sharply, and May puckishly), to the continual irritation of the two of them - eventually, they’re going to have to get Mrs. Copestake to ward off the curious guests, or give up on this holiday entirely.

Up, and up, to a pair of rooms on another quiet landing, dominated by an impressive (and very clean) Persian rug.

Room 25 - Stibium
The door is polished, varnished birch, with a little antimony medallion set into it, with a sagittarius symbol on it.
The room’s furnishings are humble, comfortable, and neutrally-toned, all neatly fitted into an L-shaped chamber with a small round window and a very soft carpet.

This room is not currently occupied.

Mrs. Copestake would like everyone to know, however, that this room’s claim to fame is a week of habitation by Robert Boyle, famous alchemist and member of the Invisible College (whom history has christened the first of the modern chemists).

Room 26 - Status Quo
The door to this room is marked with a symbol you recognise as the Wand of Merlin - a length of wood, rough-hewn, with two leaves on shoots. It will later be the star of the Ace of Wands. For now, just the door.
The room smells of yew-wood and sap. It is spacious, comfortably furnished, and features a massive Cernunnos mural on the far wall (which, in 1860, registers as comic).

This is your room.

It has a large bed (plainly appointed, but surely comfortable), a globe of the Earth (with only the mundane places), some little wooden statuettes of dogs scattered around the place, and a bookshelf (Entirely chansons de geste and chivalrous romances).

Past your room, the great stair’s head enters into the upper part of the building, leaving the sunlight, and concludes at a broad room with a grandfather clock, a gigantic door, and a narrow stair going farther up. This place feels slightly beyond the bounds of where the guests are meant to be.

Room 27 - Styrian

An absolutely huge door, solid oak, reinforced with iron pins. A large aries is painted on the door, carefully, in white paint.
The room always smells faintly of summer grass. This is the most spacious room by far, triple the size of the dining room all on its own. Three sheep roam this room, the pets of the inhabitant.
It has bright green wallpaper, large windows overlooking Chiswell Street (not visible from the outside), a soft tawny carpet, big wooden pillars whittled into spirals, and the largest bed you have personally ever seen - fourteen feet wide and eighteen long, with the massive duvet and the mountain of pillows rising to seven feet off the floor. The bed is a custom piece for the inhabitant, purchased from the Worshipful Company of Carpenters’ specialist workshop in Stratford.

The inhabitant is Cornish, but more importantly, he is a giant. Not the largest of them, “only” eighteen feet and change in height. 

His name is Marcus Bolitho, he is an old friend of Mrs. Copestake’s, and he lives here full-time, in his old age. He speaks the Kernewek, Cumbric, Cymraeg and Gaidhlig, but found English unpalatable and difficult even before they put all this French in it.

When he was a young man, he was a soldier for the King, a drunken lout, a firefighter, and a dabbling wizard in the sorts of arts one can learn from the Sea with a careful ear. When he was an older man, he was a smith, a hermit, a castle-builder, and still a firefighter. When he was a little older than that, he became a friend and companion of a young travelling sorceress - now, she owns a hotel, and he lives in this tangled city that sprang up like fungus on a log.

He’s dour and huge - his beard goes to his waist, which means that a short man could hide in it entirely. His hair looks like silver wire, and is as tough as silver wire, too. As sometimes happens to old men - he has thin shoulders, but a fat gut. Well, thin for a giant - his bones are still stronger than any metal humans have managed to produce. All of his teeth are molars, and his eyes are sunken between an aquiline nose, and an immensely protuberant brow bristled with two silvery eyebrows like huge caterpillars. He’s usually perched in his gigantic armchair by the windows, whittling wood and bone. He rarely comes downstairs.

He is a little afraid that someone is going to try and poach him for his bones, again. Five years ago a young Brazilian man with a fancy gun tried to kill him in his room, to harvest his precious femurs (all the best dragon-killing-swords are of that make). Unfortunately for the young hunter, he had incorrectly assumed an elephant gun would be of a high-enough caliber, and found himself shipped back to Brazil with his gun tied in a knot around his broken legs.

Mr. Bolitho is absolutely the largest man in London, nevermind the Oak Tree.

Marcus is the guardian of the long, uncarpeted stair that goes past the door to his room. It creaks like nothing else, so he always has time to get to the door (it takes him one and a half strides) and dissuade any visitors from going up to that dusty old attic.

And yes, up there is an attic - dusty suits of armour, furniture under sheets, paintings depicting forbidden subjects, the chest of spare cutlery - and also, a door:

Room 28 - Pandemonium

The door is solid black iron with the alchemical symbol for sulphur scratched onto it. It sits right at the end of the hall on the top floor.
The room smells of brimstone and tobacco. Sourceless music plays throughout.

A room with a black-and-white checkerboard floor and a window looking onto endless fire. The walls are adorned with gold-and-copper baroque decorations, and a bent iron crucifix.

Beneath those, the walls are papered a sooty black - the paper is covered in ink-black, near-imperceptible, full-realism drawings of naked, faceless humans, engaging in twisted versions of religious ceremonies.

The furniture consists of a four-poster with drawn black curtains, from which emanates spectral giggles and improper sounds, and a dark red chair which you cannot bring yourself to sit in.

28 is Reserved for the Devil, by ancient contract, should he desire to pass through. Mrs. Copestake is no servant of his, but in matters of sorcery and illusion, one should never fail to make accommodations.