Work comes and goes in the mercenary life, and in a way Stella and Baldur both are mercenaries. The Transporters guild has been engaged to ship a large amount of raw materiel to the Trent factory on Taniguchi lands. The nature and amount has a lot of chatter going, but it can really only mean one thing… a massive military buildup.
Which is also what brings Baldur here. To what is really an odd sight. The delivery point is right on the outer border of Dogwood where, just outside, is pitched what can only be called a tent city. Well ‘tents’. Huts of stretched animal hide. And populating it?
Psy stalkers. Lots of psy-stalkers.
“Cor…” A spaniel in a loud shirt is saying looking over them. He’s standing next to a really nice hover car. Actually a trio of them. With three of the best, most annoying drivers there are.
“Look at all of them…”
Stella’s truck pulls to a stop next to the three hover cars, because of course she recognizes them. Them and their drivers are rather unmistakable. Getting out of the truck, she looks at the spaniel and somehow manages to refrain from rolling her eyes. She can think of SO many quips to toss at the other Transporter, but she won’t. He gets razzed on enough by the other two.
Speaking of, she’s almost afraid to wonder where they are. Doing something seriously ill-advised, no doubt.
Baldur’s hardly one to complain about any job shuffled his way. It’s something to do, and it beats sitting around at a bar trying to corner some hapless victim into listening to fragmented war stories. He whistles a jaunty tune, or rather emulates the sound of such as he twirls one of his pistols in hand.
“Eeesh,” he says, hopping out of Stella’s vehicle. “I’m sure glad they’re on our side.” The group he’d escorted had been much smaller, hadn’t it? Guess they called in their buddies once negotiations went down or something. Even as he tries to play it cool, he still keeps his gun out, going through the idle motions of spinning it in hand, backwards and forwards, catching it by its grip in between. It helps keep his nerves settled. Wiring. Whatever.
“I wonder what that Baronet is doing about now?” Jacob Vale, a shorter and rather annoying kind of man says idly. “Oh look who it is. Hello Bridge.”
“Hello.” Says the spaniel and the larger of the two human drivers, waving to both Bridge and Baldur as they emerge. There’s a lot of people here. Guild House Trent and House Taniguchi are both hiring assets of all kinds.
“I might be doing Baronet things.” Comes a voice from behind them that Bridge well knows. Cough. There’s the Facto – er – the Baronet now. “Here for the contract on military goods and raw materials, Bridger? Hello Baldur. I don’t even have to ask why you’re here. Natsuki asked for you by name.”
The group of psi-stalkers that Baldur had escorted had been much, much smaller. The ‘village’ that’s been raised looks more like a … well … village. There’s children playing in small groups, looked over by mostly older adults with men and women working and training in groups.
And there’s a few of them. More than a few.
Natsuki strides beside the Baronet as he approaches. Dressed in a flight jumpsuit of all things. The bracelets she wears, with the chains joined to a ring on her finger, catch the light as she brushes a strand of hair behind her ear.
“There you are, Baldur and you too Miss Bridger.” The part-elf smiles. “As you can see we have visitors. Jericho will explain a little more in a moment, I’m sure but I was hoping you would run some patrols with the House Guard on our western borders.”
Bridge nods to each of the other two Transporters as they arrive, then to the Baronet. She’d find it weird to think of him that way, but she’ll work to put that aside as he managed to finally get that obnoxious chunk of scrap to stop trying to infiltrate her brain through her neural interface.
As Natsuki explains why they’re here, she nods, even if running patrols isn’t her usual wheelhouse. “Simple enough.” She looks over at Baldur, presuming he’ll be in on that, and watching the pistol for a moment as if trying to figure out why the cyborg is doing that.
Gotta keep his skills up, Bridge’! The cyborg raises his free hand to wave back at the other transporters, catching his pistol firmly by its grip once again as he turns to glance back at the former Factor. Or is he still a Factor? Factornet? Barator? …right, he’ll just…go with Baronet. Ah, and there’s Natsuki.
His orange optics brighten at mention of being called in at Natsuki’s behest, but he doesn’t go so far as to- okay, no, he’s totally preening about it. While he can’t really change his expression, set in metal as it is, the parting of his jaw sure does convey a big ol’ grin.
“Always glad’ta be of service,” he says, giving an exaggerated bow towards the two, going so far as to remove his hat, battered but still somehow having held up all this time.
“Patrols, eh? Yeah, no problem there. We expecting trouble or we just playing it safe as usual?” That’d help a bit in determining how many per group and how frequent a rotation.
Amongst the various transporters and laborers is a bronzed-skinned, dark haired, Hispanic woman. She’s casual, really, entirely casual about it all. She’s, at this point, more or less having blended in. Observing. Paying attention, and keeping mostly to herself.
That final bit, though, is sure not to last long.
“I’m actually glad you’re here, Stella.” Jericho says. He is for anyone on the outside looking in, clearly the man in charge. The cut of his clothing and the way others respond to him says it but more than both those things… the way he carries himself.
“I need an expert in… logistics. And to answer your question, Baldur, I think we’re about to find ourselves with a bit of a mess on our hands. A big, nasty, demonic mess.”
“Demons?” Vale looks a bit nervous. “What kind of demons? The, you know, snappy growly kind that are about Barnaby’s size? Or the big ‘rawr’ kind that… well… you know…” He makes clawing motions with his hands.
Jericho sighs and rolls his eyes, looking to Natsuki. These people.
Natsu smiles as Baldur grins and gives him a wink. She is rather fond of the cyborg, after all. “Expecting trouble, really” the part-elf answers as she slips her arm through Jericho’s when they stop. With her other hand she gestures to the psi-stalkers that are quite clearly living on her land “The psi-stalkers have been driven from their home by … something. Jericho and I did an expedition up that way with his CorSec and a hunting group. What we found wasn’t good. Something is pushing down from mountains and leaving nothing behind.”
That’s … got to be a worry. Something that can chase psi-stalkers from their homes must be powerful. Psi-stalkers eat magic and psychic energy for … breakfast, ahem, so something like that must be very powerful.
Seeing Jericho’s look, the part-elf smirks and gives Bridger a consipiratorial grin. “No, Mister Vale. Tiny little ones that I’d put on my Christmas tree for decoration …” beat “… that’s why we’ve asked for assistance. I’m starting my planning early.”
Recognizing the part-elf from a previous encounter, Dice stops a moment, studies her. There’s something in the way she doesn’t blink quite as quickly as she ought to for a moment, but then, it’s not as if that sort of unusual thing is going to be all that super attentiony. She stops when she hears a comment about the psi-stalkers. She’s compelled, it seems, to shamelessly eavesdrop.
Baldur’s eyes dim a bit, flickering in that way that gives the impression of a narrowing gaze. “Yeuch, demons,” he mutters disgustedly, tugging his hat back into place before he shoves his gun into its holster. “So really, battle-ready patrol units.” Not that the House Guard isn’t battle-ready or anything. But there’s a difference between just keeping an eye out for fishy business and expecting to deal with possible demon raids.
His gaze drifts towards Vale. “You make them all sound cute or somethin’,” he says, shaking his head before he looks back towards Natsuki and Jericho. The implications however aren’t very good. He’d seen psi-stalkers eating demons for dinner, so whatever was coming must really be big. A nod.
“I’ll start working with Captain Merriwether on things ASAP.”
“Do that. And if you have contacts I’d appreciate you contacting them in the mercenary community. This isn’t a dispute between houses we’re talking about here. This is a potential invasion from the mountains.”
Anyone who has lived in Dogwood for any length of time knows that invasions from the mountains are bad. usually they’re a question of psy-stalker tribes attacking and taking anyone and anything with a hint of magical energy. This… doesn’t sound like that. An army of demons? Demons often swarm but it’s unusual for them to be organized enough to be an army.
Jericho’s eyes drift over to Dice and he notices her watching. He gently nudges Natsuki and nods toward her. “Friend of yours? She seems quite interested in the conversation.”
“I think Jericho will also be sending his CorSec out and it’s possible you’ll encounter other tribes of psy-stalkers. If you do, treat nicely with them. I rather think they’ll be more worried than anything.” beat “And yes, if you could deal with the other mercenaries and see who might be interested in work, we’ll be forever grateful.”
Given Natsu’s wearing a flightsuit, that can really mean only one thing. She’s decided to take an interest in the mechs that they drive . Does that mean she’ll be out in the field like her cousin? “Will you need anything for the patrols, Baldur? A new hat perhaps?”
As Jericho nudges her, Natsu frowns in the Hispanic woman’s direction and then back to Baldur “Not … a friend exactly. She was working at a holding some time ago and provided some assistance in getting one of the pieces machinery working. Do you remember, Baldur?” He’d been there as well.
“Dice isn’t it?” she says to the woman, indicating she should join them. “What brings out this way?”
“Day laboring with the transporters. That’s right,” says Dice, taking a step closer, giving a nod towards Natsu’s words and throwing her own dark hair back over her shoulder. She begins to retie it into a pony tail a moment later, absently.
“One can’t be blamed for paying attention,” she adds, thoughtful, a little halting.
Baldur nods at Jericho, then at Natsuki. “Got it,” he says, saluting in a motion that has him brushing the brim of his hat. “I’ll poke around the Billet and see if anyone’s up for joining us.”
Maybe he’s not too surprised to see Natsuki delving into piloting mechs. She already loves to drive, even if he might be one of the few who actually enjoys riding along with her when she does so. At her question he flattens his hand over the top of his hat almost protectively. “What’s wrong with this one?” Short of it being disintegrated, he’s not parting with the thing. Natsuki bought it for him after all, and it’s been one of the few things he’s been gifted in a long time.
“But maybe I could look into some new firepower, depending on what we expect to be running into. And a nice sharp knife or somethin’ in case things get too close for comfort. -don’t get me wrong, all intent will be to make sure they drop well before they get within armslength but hey.”
The cyborg looks over at Dice as the attention of both Baronet and the half-elf shift. He blinks. “-oh yeah. Her, she helped with the, er, the thing-a-magig, um, um….” He snaps his fingers a few times as though it’d help jog his memory. “-yes, exactly,” he says on the heels of Natsuki’s naming the woman. He knew that.
“Whatever it is, it’ll be big. Like… Nat’s new cat, big.” New cat. Jericho means the new robot she’s piloting. The one that doesn’t appear to want to let him pilot it. It does rather have a mind of its own.
“Pleased to meet you, Dice. I’m Baronet Jericho Trent. Are you here for the labor or for the more militant side of things?”
She doesn’t look it, really, but you never really can tell with people. Well, you can more around Dogwood. In Vesper it gets weird.
Baldur’s comments on upgrades get a sly grin from the Baronet and he glances back at Nat. “I’m sure with the right contract we could agree to upgrade him pro-bono…”
Stella nods while the other Transporters — Vale, really — voice concerns about why they’ve been asked out here. It not that she’s any less concerned about demons running about regardless of size, it’s more that she knows that Jericho and Natsuki wouldn’t ask for them to be there if their presence wasn’t crucial.
“Have you been able to narrow down where the attacks are starting?” Maybe if they can point to a specific starting point, they can stop the attacks at the source.
When Jericho mentions the cat, she looks at them both for a moment before nodding again. So, the demons are more the ‘clawing motions’ type. Lovely. Maybe they won’t make her take her truck for this. She remembers the damages from when a particular cat was roaming about unsupervised.
“I mean, I can handle a gun a little bit,” replies Dice, with some thought on the matter, “If an extra hand is needed, I kinda wanna see this.” Why is she doing this? She’s not sure, not completely. She’d much rather get back a less dangerous job. Yet, she’s offering anyway. Stupid programming.
“Your Cat …” Natsu corrects and squeezes Jericho arm. She feels bad, the Puma had been meant for him but somehow it had ‘taken a shine’ to her. “But yes, that big, maybe bigger.” Clawing kind, maybe. Rip your head off and drain you of life? Yeah, more like that. “The two survivors we found spoke of big things. One of the villages we inspected, they said their people had been turned against each…”
That should be worrying all on its own.
“There’s nothing wrong the hat, Baldur. It’s rather charming, actually. I just thought you might like some variety.” Maybe she’ll find him another one, anyway. She remembers how he responded when she gave it to him.
“Right contract, Jericho? What would you want of me?” Natsu gives the Baronet an impish smile. She’s teasing again, flirting shamelessly. “Would you like that, Baldur? It’s entirely up to you.” The cyborg is, after all, a free agent – but she’d pay for the work if he wanted it.
“No real idea, Miss Bridger. But we have locations where they’ve been seen. Villages that have been abadoned and the people moved her. Maybe that’s of use to you?” The part-elf’s attention soon turns to Dice though “We’re hiring, as I’m sure you just heard. But you do know that it’s going to be dangerous, right?”
Orange optics stare at Jericho. “Whoooooa, wait- hang on there. That big metal kitty?” -Natsuki’s? Okay, save that for later, first–
“That big?? …yeah, I think I’m gonna need bigger guns.” Or at least have some mechs in whatever squads they set up, patrol-wise. …although he wonders if he should regret mentioning anything after seeing the Baronet’s expression. “Er, wait, what about upgrades?” Or rather what kind, he might ask. He hasn’t had an upgrade since…well, okay, never.
“That big and that powerful. As Nat said they turned people against each other. Villagers who’d known one another all their lives. And we think there may be more.” Four, he thinks. There may be four. But they can’t be sure of that yet, they haven’t seen them all.
“Upgrades, Mister Baldur, we do make cybernetics. Only force fields you’ll find within five hundred miles too.” Trent specialty those.
“They’re moving toward us, too, Bridge. Hence the logistics. I need to be able to supply a large number of people. I’d like to do the fighting as far away from Dogwood as possible. If an army like that gets here…”
Well the King would call out his own army but things would get ugly.
“You want to see this Dice? That can be arranged… there’s hazard pay.” Beat. “You might need it.”
Baldur gets another smirk from Natsu and she nods. “Mmmhmm. The big metal kitty that we took down. It’s decided that I’m it’s pilot. ” Because Cat. It’s made the decision, not the other way around. “Jericho’s been teaching me to drive it. Well, Jericho and the onboard training system.”
With Jericho providing more details, the part-elf falls silent. Listening to what the rest have to say.
“I’m aware of the danger, anyway. I mean, it sounds dangerous. It also sounds like there’ll be a lot of people who’re heavily armed. I still want to see it. Promise I can handle myself.” Hazard pay? Yeah, okay. Money is good. She needs more money. Even if she doesn’t eat. Or sleep. She wants to be able to PRETEND to do those things, see. She flashes a grin towards Nats afterwards. “Okay. Okay. Count me in.”
“Well, I guess you’d know what you’re doing for upgrades, at least. There’s some delicate hardware in here, yeah?” Baldur says, tapping a knuckle on the side of his noggin. Fair enough to be concerned about any sort of modifications when the only part of you left from your meat days is your mind. Also he likes the sound of force fields, especially if he might be going up against something that can potentially swallow him whole if so inclined.
Turning people against each other though? That’s just plain dirty. He scowls.
“Alright, well stick around then Dice. There’s temporary barracks being erected and we’ll be mustering our ‘volunteers’ soon.” Baldur could stick around too but Nat was thinking of having him bodyguard again and Jericho doesn’t think that’s a terrible idea so he might be sticking around the Manor and not the Factory.
“Oh, and try not to get into any fights with the Psy-Stalkers. They’re allies and we’re still working out how to feed them.” Beat. “Can you think of anything else Natsuki?”
“Drop by the admin office, Dice and we’ll get your paperwork in order.” Natsu murmurs. She seems to be taking an active interest in the Trent business. As much as she does in the Taniguchi.
“Captain Merriweather will be looking for you, Baldur and you’ll know where to find me.” she shakes her head at Jericho’s question “Not right now, Jericho. I think we’ve covered it all.”
“If that’s everything, then…” Baldur nods again, first at Natsuki and then at Jericho. “By your leave.” He gives a brief tip of his hat, although with it wedged as it is over his metal head, the most that moves is its stiff brim.
“Welcome aboard,” he tells Dice, and offering another nod to her before facing Stella. Welp, time to make himself useful.
“Cool,” says Dice.
“Super cool. Just tell me where to go! I’ll be there with bells on.”
And she will. She will totally wear bells. They’re groovy, you know. She looks up towards the sky, her brow furrowed.
Wait, what’d she just agree to?
Fighting. She agreed to fighting. Jericho just snorts in an amused fashion, offers his arm to Natuski and turns to head back to his business. “Then in the mean time eat, drink and be merry…”
He’s several steps away before he adds over his shoulder.
“… for tomorrow we die.”
With concerns of demons coming down from the mountains soon, Jericho and Natsuki gather trusted associates to talk of preparation.
July 20, 2411
Outskirts of Dogwood