Newly arrived in Thoth, the adventurers grappled with several difficulties: Shastapsh was in rebellion, cutting off their obvious route back to Syrtis Major; with dwindling funds, food, room and board, and booking passage might prove difficult, particularly if a long, torturous route north was required; and finally, Thoth itself seemed full of the resentment for the Red Devils that threw Shastapsh into chaos. Despite a warm welcome at the cozy Rumpled Ruumet Inn, owned by the doughty Charles Long, the group began to worry about “getting out of Dodge” at the earliest opportunity. Mr. Wallace learned that a British cargo kite was due the next day, so the group descended upon the docks en masse to greet it.
Fortunately, the massive cargo vessel was not only flying the Union Jack, but belonged to Majestic as well. The Somerset, captained by Clive Wentworth, came with plenty of room (and funds), but in addition, a new mission: Majestic looked to make inroads into the lucrative trade to the east, particularly the pekaay spice trade. The puppet Martian government of Hecate Lacus—and by extension, the majority shareholder of the Imperial Trading Company of Mars, the Czar Alexander III—was looking to expand south to the city-state of Styx, home to rich merchants and a figurehead princess. Rumors linked the Heir-Prince of Hecate Lacus, Thimmajoun to the Princess, Ppaatira as a potential target of dynastic union. The adventurers were to make their way to Styx, present a magnificent music box to her as a gift, and ingratiate themselves to the merchants of the city-state, all in an effort to counter the influence of the Russians on their southern neighbor.
With the except of the Navy man, the group was then thrilled to take their first aerial vessel ride to Styx, and compared to the ether flyer trip to Mars, Somerset’s open decks, rushing winds, and (relatively) copious space made for a pleasant journey. A week later, they had landed in Styx and were installed in a local hotel, but learned that yet another competitor was involved: the Hesperian Basin Trading Company had dispatched a representative, one Richard Hollings, via steam launch. Mr. Allen and Mr. Hollings sized each other up during a brief encounter, and decided to meet for dinner two days later. “Cheyenne” Jack and Miss Pierce tried their hand at winning over the Martian crowd at a seedy bar (despite speaking no Cebreni), and met with a modicum of success until a drunken lout decided to shut up the showy Red Devil. Although this thug pushed past Jack’s defender’s, a warning shot from Miss Pierce’s revolver brought a quick resolution to the confrontation.
The group had a relatively successful parlay with the leader of the Stygian Merchant Council, the ostentatious Dezhonbizh, and gained some advice on how to deal with the Princess. Moving to retire to their hotel, Miss Walker discovered one of her acquaintances from the Arikaani tribe in town, and learned that their warlord Karkem Kubla was in town, also to negotiate with the Princess.