The Crumpled Horn — it’s one of many watering holes found in Vesper, nestled among the narrower streets and buildings that seem to curve without toppling over. Its reputation isn’t outstanding, but there have been claims its beverages are known to satisfy even the driest of mouths.
The warmth of the afternoon slowly fades into evening coolness, quietly urging customers inside to take a load off their weary feet. It is also here the traveling doctor, Felipe, stops in after a day’s work at the Restorium.
But unlike the others, food and drink are a secondary item on his mental list. The first is simply business.
Dark eyes dart about the room as he settles into the scene, weaving around tables and pushing stools out of whatever walking space there is available. “C’mon, guys, you know this is a safety hazard,” he mutters to himself, finally ending up at an empty table. Although he has a landing spot, his eyes still wander, almost as if he’s trying to find something.
Or someone, for that matter.
Seated in the corner of the bar, a guitar resting on her lap is a tall blonde who’d nearly pass for human, except for the wings on her back. She’s strumming the guitar, quietly, a mug of something sitting on the table in front her. No armour this time, just a tunic and some leggings. Clearly, she’s off duty.
Noting Felipe’s journey through the bar, she raises a blonde eyebrow and inclines her head towards the empty chair at her table. It had been tense when they parted last – she’s not sure how that will taken.
The drinks of Vesper are wine and beer. Wine is by far the more common because wine doesn’t take wheat that could be made into bread and turn it into alcohol. Harder liquor is much more difficult to come by but in that department Vesper does better than Dogwood because Vesper can trade interdimensionally.
In any case, that’s the reason Hunter is sitting not far from Ardul drinking wine. Wine is not really his drink. But it’s what they’ve got here that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Catching the eye of the familiar winged-woman, Felipe’s brow lifts. His hand relinquishes the table he stood by to go sit with them.
“Hey, fancy meeting you two here!” he greets cheerfully upon his approach, dragging the chair out partway before settling into it. “I guess I lucked out this time. Almost didn’t recognize you there, Ardul. And you,” he continues, letting the smile pull into a smirk at the Wolfen, “Hunter — just the Wolfen I wanted to talk to.”
The /only/ Wolfen he knows, in this sense. Details, but talking will be another thing entirely if they get past this part.
“How long have you two been in here anyway? It’s not even full yet.”
Ardul casts Hunter a look as Felipe takes up her invitation. The discussion the pair had in the Sarens Rest Marketplace still ringing in her head and the way the last mission ended still wearing on her.
“Felipe. I do go without my armour from time to time.” the winged woman answers, still strumming that guitar but ceasing the tune she had been humming. “Just long enough to start this …” she motions to the mug. A mug of wine.
That the Doctor is looking for Hunter gets another raised eyebrow. This … should be interesting.
“Doctor.” Hunter sips his wine out of a wooden goblet and watches Felipe. His tone is even. Not particularly friendly but also not particularly unfriendly. Just kind of… there. “I haven’t been here long.” His speech is clear, not slurred. Of course… does Hunter get drunk? Hell do Wolfen get drunk? Has Felipe traveled long enough to know?
“Do join us.” Felipe already has, Hunter notes somewhat wryly.
Keywords being ‘may be.’
“Hear me out,” Felipe says, lowering his voice a little as he drapes his bag over the backing of the chair. “I don’t know if we were all busy with work or purposefully trying to avoid each other ever since that last mission ended, but I’ve had a little trouble getting into contact with you.” He pauses, nodding in Hunter’s direction as he meets his gaze. “You, especially, because I have some questions that never got answered. Think you’d be willing to answer them, or do I have to buy you another round of drinks?”
“Mmmm…” Ardul stops strumming that guitar and places it on the floor next to her. It’s treated like a prize possession, placed carefully, regardless of it’s somewhat used look. “Another round of drinks is probably in order.” she says quietly, grey eyes fixing Felipe.
“I’ve been busy. Lots of patrols and escorts needed. I haven’t been deliberately avoiding you.” Nor had she actively sort him out, so there’s that. “Will you have another drink, Hunter?” she asks her companion. They both seem to be somewhat at ease with each other.
The questions seem to be for Hunter and although the Valkyr is curious, she keeps her peace.
“That…” Hunter punctuates his sentence with another long drink of wine and then sets the goblet down with a muted thump. “… depends entirely on the questions.”
Had he been avoiding people? Well he’d been busy with work, so there is that element to it, to be sure. But the entire affair had left a bad taste in his mouth and he hadn’t been particularly eager to repeat any aspect of it. So there’s that as well.
Felipe tries smiling, but it feels like he puts in half of the effort once he hears both answers. “I’ll take that as a warning, then,” he replies dryly, maybe even hesitant when he adds, “because this is related to what we’ve seen during the mission.”
An afterthought makes him flag down the nearest server to order that round of drinks. Just in case this doesn’t go so well.
He closes his eyes, drawing in a breath, exhaling as he looks back in Hunter’s direction. “When we first saw that shrine — the ancient ship, I mean — you spoke briefly about its history,” he says calmly. “I wanted to know more about why it was important to you and why you didn’t want it to be there in Saurian possession.”
Ardul knows that Hunter can be imposing. She had to deal with that the other day. There’s a slight look of sympathy given to Felipe as he starts in.
A look that soon changes to a wince when he mentions the shrine and the altercation. “Might have been an idea, Doctor, to ask that at the time.” She murmurs even as she casts a look to Hunter, shifting slightly. She’d spoken at length to the Wolfen about it, after.
“For several reasons.” Hunter says, business like. “First, it’s a relic of my people, and it may contain artifacts of my people. It almost certainly contains the remains of my people. One does not fall out of the sky in a metal hunk that large and not have wolfen die. It may also contain dangers. The drive core may still be active. Or there may be armed weapons still in it. Or it might, I don’t know, leak some kind of radiation even after all this time.”
The wolfen pauses. “More than that… ruins related to the original Wolfen arrivals here have been behaving… strangely of late.”
He shares a look with the winged woman, but he keeps that level of professionalism in play. “I would’ve tried, Ardul, but…” He shrugs a shoulder. “You knew it wasn’t really the best of times to ask…”
The reply he gets from Hunter sort of surprises him, but some relief spreads across his features. It’s certainly enough information to understand where the Wolfen is coming from, and he has some solid reasons as to why it’s even there in the first place. With every word spoken, Felipe listens, nodding as he leans back, folding his arms across and over his chest.
“No, those are…those are really good points,” he says after letting it all sink in. “The last part is definitely worrying, though.”
He sits there for a while longer, mulling over it as the drinks finally get to the table. And then he holds up a hand, pointing his index finger in the air.
“…So what would you think if I proposed I go and try to get the vessel back?”
“Maybe.” Ardul murmurs to Felipe, taking a sip of her wine as the other two talk. She hadn’t said anything to either Felipe or Pegi, but they might have asked themselves why both Ardul and Hunter were defensive when they found the wreckage. That she sought Hunter out afterwards to discuss, was something else.
Still that’s water under the bridge so to speak.
Felipe’s question manages to get the blonde blinking “You want to do what?” She had already told Hunter they could go back and liberate it. She wants to hear what the doctor is proposing.
“You go?” Hunter cants head. “I’d been considering returning myself. Why is it that you want to go, Doctor?”
It’s probably a good thing that Felipe caught them here. Because Hunter’s approach would almost certainly not have been diplomatic. Unless Ardul convinced him to be. And would she?
That’s up to Felipe to decide. Either way they want to hear his case.
“–Go and get the vessel back, yes,” Felipe repeats, taking a sip from his cup before continuing. “The reason I ask is because I’m sort of doing this as penance for all of the crap we went through.” Both hands fly up as he shrugs. “And I just can’t leave things alone — it’s a bad habit.
“I had a hunch you were going to try it eventually, but I wanted to take a shot at retrieving what should be rightfully yours,” he adds, letting his hands drop lightly onto the tabletop. His fingers twitch. “I just didn’t want to try it at the time because one: we had some angry Saurians pointing arrows at us, and two: Pegi was already wanting to leave once things escalated as they did. Third thing is if we leave that there, nothing gets resolved.”
Another look is given to both in succession, quite serious. Oddly pensive. “I was able to talk to them before. If I can talk longer than five minutes, it may be possible to work something out. Worst-case scenario is I get shot full of holes and Pegi, while calling me dumb, stays sad forever.”
Ardul would have tried to convince Hunter to be diplomatic at first. In her books, it’s the best way. But if that failed, she’d go in … guns blazing, so to speak. She agrees that it’s too dangerous to let it stand.
“It’s not a bad idea, Hunter.” The blonde murmurs to her Wolfen companion. “I believe the Saurians took a liking to the doctor.” her grey eyes fix on him “They gave you something as we leaving, did they not?” She pauses then considering “And if they refuse to part with it? What then?”
“Well if that’s the worst case scenario…” Hunter says dryly again but his humor seems to be coming back. “Alright. We can go back. Will you want to bring Pegi? Or will you want to leave her behind in case this goes poorly?”
Will Pegi allow herself to be left behind? And what will she think of this? She’d not been pleased with the wolfen at the end of proceedings last time either.
At Ardul’s prompting, Felipe digs into his inner coat pocket, feeling around for the charm he’s kept on him ever since that day. Pulling it out, he holds it up for the other two to see. “If they don’t wanna give it up,” he says, remembering how hostile the Saurians were, “then I’ll bargain.”
He huffs a laugh himself, letting his grin falter as he thinks about his adopted Saurian sister. “If I tell her, she’ll want to go with me. I mean, I can tell her to stay behind, but I don’t think she’ll like that.”
“And if bargaining doesn’t work?” Ardul gives Hunter a sideways look that has a small amount of humour in it. She’s relaxing a bit, it seems. “We won’t leave it, you know that, right?”
We. She said ‘We’.
“If Pegi comes, she has to understand that, Doctor. I don’t want to be mediating again…”
“What, out of curiosity, makes you think you’ll be able to bargain?” Ardul has already made the point he was going to make, so instead he asks about Felipe’s strategy. Going in to talk is one thing but you have to be reasonably certain that the others will entertain talking.
He’s human, and he has a Saurian with him. That may help. They seem to have particularly disliked Hunter and not just for his personality. That may not.
During the pause, the doctor holds Hunter’s gaze before dropping one word.
He explains, sounding much like how he diagnoses a medical problem. Except with less medical jargon. “If I recall correctly, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m full of myself here: I wasn’t actively trying to attack anyone during the standoff.” And if his memory is wrong, his weapon wasn’t really engaged for an actual gun-and-arrow fight. “I may not know everything about Saurians, but it’s a solid fact these guys don’t like strangers crossing their paths. Plus you three are more the type to jump at the chance for violence out of instinct. Much like Ardul here, I don’t wanna be the lone restrainer if things go awry.”
His eyes then flick over to Ardul. “And if /that/ doesn’t work, we settle things without spilling too much blood — one-on-one maybe, their best against ours.” No hesitance is found among the words Felipe chooses. The firmness in his manner is guided with a steady yet respectful hand, leaving no room for any further discussion. “I’m calling that our ‘last resort’ option while trying to think up something else that can replace it.”
Shifting back into a more casual stance, he presses his fingertips against each other. “None of us were prepared for how bad things would get when we were out there, but if we play this right, we at least have a better chance at a small victory.” He sounds sure of it. Very sure.
That sureness trails off as he contemplates that last bit, brow furrowing again as he replies. “…Pegi may not look or act like it, but she’ll understand. From what I’ve seen, she’s a fast learner.” A quiet intensity looming in the look he gives to his tablemates. “Can I get the both of you to promise me you’ll have the patience understand her as well?”
“If you can’t convince them to allow me access to the ruins, I will move them off by whatever force is necessary up to and including lobbing missiles into their village until it isn’t there anymore, just to make our positions clear. So long as that is understood to be the case I’m happy to let you talk to them for as long as you think you have a chance to succeed or as long as they are willing to listen. I am even willing to talk //to// them though given that they spent the entire encounter calling me ‘dog-demon’ I don’t think that’s likely to do anything you want it to do.”
Hunter glances over to Ardul. “I suppose, Doctor, it depends on what you’re asking me to understand about her. The last time we spoke she’d risked my life, her life and the life of a hostage held at gun point so that she could… I’m not entirely sure what. And then had the temerity to be upset with me for being upset. So perhaps you’d better elaborate.”
Ardul looks at Hunter as he asks that question, giving him the smallest of smiles. It was a good question and he makes even better points. She’s had time to speak with him at length on how he feels about this.
“Not out of instinct, Doctor.” The blonde says quietly “Experience. A lot of experience. Most … beings respond to power and dominance before they’ll accept anything less.” There’s a shrug at that, the light catching the scars on her shoulders.
Scars that Felipe would have seen when he tended her wings. Scars that she’s thankful he didn’t comment on.
“We can try it your way but as I’ve said, if it doesn’t work – even one on one – we’re not leaving without that vessel in our control.” The words are quiet, but sure. She’ll give his plan a go, it’s a good one and might just work.
As to Pegi, the Winged Woman snorts softly “Pegi is a young warrior with all the freshness that goes with that. I believe I understand her well enough. The problem, as I see it, is the lack of experience and that lack … gets people killed. When she acts as she did, it’s not just her life she risked. It was yours, Hunters, mine and those of the hostages.”
Scars. Scars weren’t shocking for Felipe to see, being a doctor and all. But they did raise questions. But in the moment, it was more of a priority to patch up the wounds than it was to ask about them. In the moment, they all wanted the mission to be done with. No one argued that point.
Arguing on Pegi’s behalf, however, is another matter entirely — one that will probably go in circles the longer he sits with the unlikely duo. Friendly banter? Actual criticism? It’s more of the latter, more of the first impressions than anything else.
He may as well go down with a few ‘love taps.’
“Well, Hunter, I don’t know how else to say this — you’re not the nicest Wolfen anyone can meet, but there’s plenty of others around here who’d act the same way as you do. I’ve noticed you don’t tend to consider the feelings of those around you, but I can get that. The job is important. Any distractions, any spontaneous actions can get someone killed. That’s what we don’t need.” He nods his head, more toward his own train of thought than to anyone else’s. “Emotionally raw — both of you are alike in that respect. Which is sort of scary, now that I think about it…”
A hand lifts to rub his temple. He continues, squinting a little as he does. “Thinking’s something she /does/ need to work on, but she acted the way I would have if I had her strength and skillset. Which I don’t. I can also get that experience from hunting is much different than the experience in killing sentient beings. Being a warrior herself, she hasn’t shied away from it.
“And I know you can understand her, Ardul, I do, but can I just say this? I feel like you have a bias set in place every time something comes up with Hunter.” A quick gesture is waved between the two, back and forth, hands resting again on the table seconds later. “Because I’d do the same for Pegi. Since that’s already obvious.”
After a long silence, a tight smile crosses the doctor’s features. “As long as we can agree on one thing, that’s fine by me,” he replies promptly, reaching for the cup of wine to take one last swig. It is then set back down with a sigh. “You want the vessel. I can’t keep you from taking it by any means necessary if doesn’t go as planned.”
“Experienced. I think that’s what you mean, Doctor.” Ardul speaks quietly. “I’ve lost people, I won’t deny that. I’m strong and I’m quick. Stonger and quicker here, than I was on Iyesgarth too. The difference is, I will consider my actions before I do anything regardless of how strong and quick I am.” beat “As a younger warrior, I might not have.”
A bias. That stops Ardul for the moment and those grey eyes rest on the Doctor. There’s nothing to respond to, in her mind. In their own ways their both soldiers and you watch the back of your squad mates. It might have been said of her though – she could be eerily loyal when pushed.
“We can agree on the latter, Doctor and you’ll have my support for your plan. I do prefer to avoid bloodshed when I can.”
Hunter shrugs. He’s not the kind to take insults where none are intended and clearly the doctor does not mean to be insulting. He’s just calling it likes he sees it. That’s the kind of thing he can generally respect in a man, whatever else he may think.
“I don’t, Doctor, really consider other people’s feelings. They’re not part of the job. People hire me either to get something dead or to keep things alive. That’s what I do. That’s all there is to it when I go to work. I have emotions. You can see them when, say, someone does some fool thing and risks my life along with theirs. If you’re looking for warm and fuzzy, I hear there are some nice comfort dogs in Vesper.”
Hunter tilts his head one way and then another to crack his neck a little bit. “If you had done the same thing, to be clear, I’d have been upset at you. It was the wrong move. If someone makes a wrong move and puts themselves in danger, well hopefully they learn from it. Put me in danger, or put the job at risk and that’s a different story. Not many people have earned that right. So if my reaction seemed extreme, it was. But then, it was an extreme mistake.”
The grey furred wolfen pause. “We can probably agree on one thing. What is it?”
So long as they understand.
Without even saying anything more, he can see they can; they know what to expect, know what to do now that they’ve been through it once before. So long as they know, and so long as they understand. The things he has brought up have been discussed, each with their own perspective that merit attention and validity to the circumstances they have and will face again. And that’s about all he can do on his part.
He nods. “That we want to get your vessel back,” Felipe answers Hunter, sliding his chair back as he moves to stand. Some coins are produced from a pocket, counted out to leave on the table. “I have one in accordance with the idea of no blood shed. Once I have your approval, I’ll go and tell Pegi.”
He then shrugs, averting his gaze as he picks up his bag with his other hand. “Although I’d like it if you guys can talk with Pegi, too, but…maybe at another time.”
“You have accordance on the fact that I’ll support your plan, Doctor” Ardul is still speaking quietly as he gathers bag “right up until it doesn’t work. Then, I will readily use force as necessary. I prefer to avoid bloodshed but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it, if the situation deems it necessary.”
Maybe she is emotionally raw.
The blonde looks to Hunter for his final agreement. She’d already promised him they’d go back for the vessel. If this makes it easier, all good and well.
“Should Pegi wish to speak to me, I will do so, Doctor. I bear her no ill will. She’s more like one my recruits than anything.” The winged warrior might go look for the Saurian, just … not now.
Hunter nods. “That’s fine Doctor. Better for everyone if there is some agreement.” That’s why he hadn’t set a time limit. So long as the doctor thinks there’s a chance of success, talking will be fine.
Unless something changes that. An outside force. Hunter hopes and prays that whatever it is that he’s been following around doesn’t catch up with them here. It’d be a bad day to find out what’s been killing people at these wolfen sites.
All the more reason to bring his bot along. He won’t mention that to Felipe, though. The man has enough on his plate as it is without worrying about phantoms that don’t even have names yet.
Hopefully it won’t come up.
Several bar stakeouts later, Felipe finally catches up to talk business with Hunter. And Ardul.
March 30, 2410
The Crumpled Horn, Vesper