There’s a lot happening at the Taniguchi Manor, Bannermen are preparing to head out on a trip, escorting Natsuki and Jericho to meet … a psi-stalker. Baldur’s been told that he’s to accompany them, it’s in the direction he needs to head for that other little job he has to do.
The part-elf is at the front of the house, speaking with the House Captain as they watch the Bannermen prepare.
Baldur might have concerns about the fact they’re meeting a psi-stalker.
The news has had him concerned, yes, and not a little confused. If they were meeting with a psi-stalker, then why were they asked to go on some secret reconnaissance mission? Baldur does have a few ideas to it, but they don’t exactly put him at ease for the meeting. He’s never actually met any psi-stalkers- that he knows of, anyway, and he knows that Kai had a rough time in their territory not long before he ended up being frozen in sleep for over half a century.
Orders are orders, however, and as a soldier, he’d been taught never to question them. Besides, he likes his new employer, and the last thing he wants to do is make her upset. And if he’s got a job to do, then he’ll do it.
The cyborg makes his way out front, only interrupted from giving his brand new hellboar tusk a good polishing. It’s going on his trophy shelf. He’s making one. It might actually just become a general ‘stuff’ shelf because now he has his own real place to store things.
“‘ey~” he greets as he spies Natsuki and the captain, tossing off a two-fingered salute.
Given that Baldur is new to the House and Natsuki’s not been speaking about her troubles, it’s not surprising the Cyborg is confused.
“That will be all be Captain, we’ll leave in the next day or so. Make sure we make a good showing.” Natsu turns and smiles at Baldur “My, that’s a big tusk you have …”
“Very good, Miss Taniguchi. We’ll be ready. I’m assigning Baldur to your personal guard though, till this business is over. You hear that, Baldur? You’re to stick with her and keep her safe.”
Safe from what exactly?
His metal jaw parts in that way of his to suggest he might be beaming, accented by the blue glow from within. “They were pretty generous. I figured they’d give me like a tip or something,” the cyborg chuckles, hefting the thing up before he tucks it under an arm. It’s like walking around with strange objects is not an unfamiliar pastime with him.
His optics flicker in something of a blink as he glances between Natsuki and the captain. “Buh? Guard? Um…sure, yeah. You got it,” he says as he tries to keep up with a conversation that he had no hope of doing so with in the first place.
“Soooo…just to make sure we’re on the same page an’ all, just what am I keeping her safe from?” he asks after a bit of an awkward pause.
Natsu smirks and the House Captain sighs as Baldur responds, “Don’t give her an opening, she’ll take it.”
“Now Captain, don’t give Mister Baldur the wrong impression of me.” Natsu grins some more as she eyes the tusk.
At the next question, the Captain looks to Natsuki.”I’ll let Miss Taniguchi explain. I’ve got things to be doing.”
With that he’s off, leaving the pair alone.
Drawing in a deep breath, Natsu glances around. “I take it, Mister Baldur, you’ve heard that I’ve been targeted by someone claiming to be my admirer. They’ve tried shoot Mister Trent and attack me.” Baldur’s certainly heard about it, it’s no secret that it’s been occurring. But he might not know the full circumstance.
Sometimes Baldur wishes he still had eyebrows. They’d be arched high up right about now as he looks at the House Captain. “You’re telling me that?” he asks almost incredulously. That’s practically his own motto. Maybe they don’t know that about him. Erm. Well then.
He watches as the man goes off before turning to face Natsuki. “Yeah, heard something about it. Crazies are the worst for it.”
“Jarvin Owens might be crazy, but he’s crazy like a fox.” Natsu sighs. “An artist I met when I was younger. He was … pretentious, but I went to one of his shows and bought a piece. It was before Lady Zelda called me to service, I was an aspiring artist myself living in Dogwood.” ‘aspiring’ might also mean she was a starving artist. “He took a liking to me, called me a few times but he wasn’t … my type. Eventually, he stopped. I thought it was over.”
She’s watching Baldur as she’s talking. Something he just said has her thinking.
“Anyway, recently he’s decided that we should be together and will remove all obstacles in his path. He’s not be very successful about it.” That last is said dryly. “The last attempt was a contractor, a Techno Wizard, who tried to kill Mister Trent and take me. For a number of reasons, we believe that his next attempt will be far more direct. Which is why we’re going to see this psi-stalker.”
There’s a number of implications here. One is that Jarvin has money to do all of this. If he’s an Artist, it’s unlikely he’ll have ready funds. So where are they coming from.
“Jarvin Owens,” Baldur tests the name, tilting his head before he shakes it. “Can’t say I’ve heard the name. But I’ve never gone to any fancy art places. So this guy’s been pining all these years for you or something set him off?” It seemed a little strange to have such a lull, unless he’d been plotting all that time. That possibility makes it even creepier. The cyborg shakes himself out in something of a shudder.
“I guess if it were that easy to settle you would’ve already gone to see him and give him a smack upside the head or worse by now.” It’s probably more complicated than that. It usually always is. “Although I’m not sure I see how a psi-stalker fits into all this.”
“He’s not all that famous.” Natsu shakes her head. “And I don’t know whether something set him off or it’s been a slow burn. And honestly? Whilst we know it’s Jarvin, there’s no proof. He’s done everything through proxies and there’s no payment from him to them.” Those dark eyes look at the cyborgs optics “Believe me when I say we’ve checked.”
It’s such a twisted thing. “There’s a mine in Vesper that has a Rift open within, gems line the side of it. It’s dangerous, but we believe he’s using that to pay people. Currency that’s not traceable.” She shakes her head again “I’m going to buy that mine but given his agents have magic that gets them close to me, Mister Trent suggested that a psi-stalker contact of his would be able to give me some protection.”
Which might explain the trip, but might not explain the pomp with which she’s travelling.
Ah, and there comes the complication. The cyborg nods slowly. “Figures. Crazy and smart are terrible, dangerous combinations.” That made matters no less of a pain.
He pauses just a tick longer than might be comfortable as Vesper comes into play, snorting lightly as he resumes thought and response as though nothing had been the matter. “Dangerous is an understatement when rifts’re involved. Guy’s gutsy to be going through something like that. He must really want you bad.” The glow of his optics seems to dim a little, about as close an approximation to a glower as he can pull off. “Mister Trent sure knows some interesting people. But okay. So we go talk to this psi-stalker. It’s not going to be as simple as walking up to their front door or whatever, is it?”
“As I said. Crazy like a fox.” the slightest of frowns mars Natsu’s brow and the optics glower and Baldur falters. “It’s just the edges of the hole the Rift made when it formed, but Mister Trent and I saw what comes out of it. It’s dangerous near, but he seems to be doing it.”
“We’re not going to their front door. The psi-stalker’s that is. They’ll be meeting us on the border of our lands. As with most things, a show of strength will put us in a better negotiating position. Hence all the preparations. I must admit, I don’t quite know what to expect. For obvious reasons, I try to avoid them.”
There’s a pause as the part-elf considers the Cyborg. “Forgive me for asking, but your dislike of Vesper. It seems to run deeper than most. May I ask why?”
“Oh, well. This’ll be fun,” Baldur mutters. “I guess that’s better than outright heading up into their territory, at least.” Naw, that’s for later. All sneaky like.
The question that follows is one that the cyborg’s been anticipating, or rather comes to anticipate at some time or another. He absently taps at the point of the tusk, his metal finger tracing its curve. “Figured you’d guess as to why,” he says, although he doesn’t leave that as his only response. “I know the things that happened ‘tween us and V-town’s ages past, but there are things you just don’t forget. War’s hard to forget. I know who we fought. I saw my friends die by things that shouldn’t be possible. I was on the receiving end of it too. Those scars run deep. Can’t just shake it off and pretend none of it happened.”
“I’m not sure about fun, Mister Baldur. I …” Natsu lets out a long slow breath “… would just like to put this behind me. I’ve not seen anyone but Mister Trent and Greg in some while. Partially because I don’t want to risk anyone else.” Clearly there’s more there, but she shakes her head and looks at the metal-man.
“My grandfather, when he was alive, would tell stories of that time. We don’t have to speak of it, if you would rather not but I admit I am curious.” Moving her hand in a sweeping gesture towards the path that winds around the house, Natsu glances at Baldur again “Shall we walk a little? You must have seen a lot of change since the end of war and now.” She’s assuming, of course, that he’s been active for all this time.
“Wouldn’t blame you. How long’s this been going for you? Wonder if it wouldn’t have been worth it just to tell ‘im ‘take me, I’m yours!’ and then put a bullet through his head personally. Oh wait, did I say that aloud.”
His optics shifting to glance away awkwardly, Baldur pulls out the boar tusk again, turning it between his hands slowly. “Anyway, I’d say I’m used to being at risk so if you need company anywhere, um. Yeah.”
At her gesture, he nods, letting her start along before he falls in step beside her. For some time he doesn’t say anything as he turns over things in his head, the tusk in his hands. At one point he lifts it up, struck with the thought of maybe fashioning it into some sort of hat or helmet. He lowers it again, deciding maybe that won’t quite work after all.
“It’s tough, you know? Everything you know just kinda fades into the background or disappears completely. All the people you know change, they have families, they live regular lives, do different jobs. You can’t talk to the survivors, the people you knew. You don’t wanna make them remember the things they’ve moved past. At least some people should be happy.
Natsu chuckles “We considered that, Mister Trent and I. Or something similar at least. But trained as I am, shooting someone in the head ….” Natsu shivers. She’s not sure she could do it. “And honestly, Mister Baldur, he’s not my type…” The tone for the last is light. “And yes, yes you did.”
“I can only imagine, Mister Baldur. I wouldn’t think there were many survivors left. Mister Mars and yourself are the first I’ve that I met in person.” She’s quiet for a bit, leading them along the pathways. Being the Manor, there’s even a garden. It’s quite pretty and the bushes and flowers are starting to bloom.”It sounds to me like you remember and remember it all,” she adds quietly.
At least Natsuki could still keep her sense of humor despite everything. “I’ll shoot ‘im if you want,” he offers, jokingly. Or maybe not. His tone makes it difficult to tell if he’s serious or not.
Baldur nods slowly as they go along. “Not many. Might still be some from my second team, but I ain’t seen ’em since the war’s end. Not that I knew them all too well. Kai though… That was a surprise. It’s good to see him around again. Also sad. I think he’s lost a lot more. Now he’s just trying to find a place to belong again.”
He falls silent, distracted by the surroundings. It’s springtime, and there’s an array of colors that he’d usually never get the chance to appreciate. Weren’t many fancy gardens in the areas of the city he hung about in.
“…eh, it comes and goes,” he replies after a moment, once Natsuki speaks up again. “I remember flashes, impressions. Things’ll remind me. But I remember some things better than others. I mean, I remember what bacon tastes like but I can’t even remember what color hair I used to have. How does that work?”
It’s a small luxury the Taniguchi’s allow themselves. The garden. Most land is used for production or storage. “I love this garden.” the part-elf murmurs, maybe she noticed the Cyborg’s distraction. “We didn’t have anything like this when I lived in Dogwood proper. Much like you I think.”
“Well hopefully Mister Mars will find a place with us.” That’s all she’ll say on Kai. If she’s questions about the mercenary, she’ll ask him directly and prepare to be rebuffed, as it were.
Baldur says some interesting things then and the part-elf looks over to him, consideringly. “Well, bacon is delicious, to start with. So I’m not surprised you can. I like to think you remember what was important. So maybe Bacon was and your hair wasn’t. May I ask … what happened?”
She means his conversion.
“…it’s nice,” the cyborg comments, perhaps caught in the act of reaching out to lightly touch one of the flowers blooming closer to the walkway. It’s certainly different then seeing walls and roads everywhere you turned. Nice. He’s a little sad that it’s the only word he can come up with, but it sums it up for him.
Nodding, Baldur doesn’t say anything more on the matter of his friend. Still, he hoped that this stint with the Taniguchis would help. Maybe help them both.
Natsuki’s thoughts get a laugh out of him, genuine laughter out of amusement. “Maybe! Maybe. Always did enjoy a good meal. I think, when you’re put through training to be a soldier, you don’t care how you look so much as being able to have something good in your stomach and a decent night’s rest.” The chuckle that follows isn’t nearly as amused. Wistful, perhaps. After all, those two things are amongst what he no longer had to care about.
The silence to follow is almost heavy as he regards the flowers again. “…I was dying. Got ripped up pretty good by some magic assault. I don’t even remember what it was. Don’t remember much of that time except the pain, the anger, the fear. You know you’re signing up to die when you become a soldier, or you may as well be. We all know it. But then you see your comrades falling around you. Then you know you’re next.” It’s not so obvious with eyes such as his, but his focus has gone beyond the flower, beyond the garden. “But all you can think is that you don’t want to. You’d do anything to cheat death.”
Natsu pauses so Baldur can look and touch the flowers, watching the Cyborg carefully. It might not show in his eyes, but she can hear it in his voice and just knows he’s not really there with her. He’s been transported at least for the moment.
“…” she swallows when he finishes speaking “I’m sorry.” That doesn’t seem to be anywhere near enough but it’s all she’s got. She’s had a few close shaves, but nothing like that. She doesn’t say anything more though, waiting for him to return, or to continue.
He does continue, after a moment. “Honestly, I don’t remember much of the transfer. Body was all shot to hell. The only thing left of me’s up here,” he says, tapping at his forehead. “You want another chance at life? they asked. You want revenge for those we’ve lost? ‘course I said yes. I still ask myself if it was worth it, sometimes.”
Baldur’s optics flicker in that blink of his, looking at the flower he’d been admiring. His fingers had closed over the petals too tightly, marring the soft, waxy color with lines that already start to brown. His hand tenses, and he draws it away, murmuring an apology.
Natsu watches the flower being destroyed, eyes moving between that and Baldur’s face. When he withdraws his hand, she reaches out and picks another bloom, handing it to him, when he’s ready. “Don’t be sorry. I asked …” she says quietly.
Was he really given a choice? She wonders about that.
“And since the war? What have you been doing?” It’s such a long time and it must have been lonely.
That had been unexpected. Baldur looks at the flower that’s offered to him, forcing his hand to ease out of a fist before gently taking it between his metal digits.
“Eh, wasn’t much that someone of my line of…work could get into at first. Actually, once the war was proclaimed over or whatever, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Didn’t really wanna go home, I’m sure they were told I died bravely in battle. It would’ve been a mess to explain otherwise.” The sound he makes could have been a laugh. “I did some training, a little mercenary work here an’ there, demolitions for old buildings- that was kinda fun. Odds and ends of jobs- mostly to pass the time,” he says, sighing. Carefully turning the flower between his fingers, he shrugs. “And otherwise being a general nuisance around the bars in the Billet.”
There’s a gentle smile as Baldur takes the flower and Natsu adds quietly, “Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the beauty that surrounds us.”
She doesn’t comment on whether it was all worth it or not. She’s positive there are days that it doesn’t seem like it.
“I’ve seen you making a nuisance of yourself in the Billet. You’re quiet effective at that.” The tone is lighter again, as Natsu tries to raise his spirits. “Well, you’re hired with us for now and you get to keep an eye on me. I’m assured I’m not that easy to keep track of.”
“I hear that.” At least here, it’s easier for Natsuki’s advice to be put into perspective. But then Natsuki had already been that door, and right here, Baldur could see her as the prettiest flower in the garden. He wouldn’t say that though. It just sounds really cheesy in his head.
Instead, after looking at the flower again, he turns a bit towards her, lifting it to tuck into her hair, over a delicately pointed ear.
Chuckling, the half-elf’s efforts do seem to work. The heaviness of his earlier mood dissipates easily. “Ah, that wan’t nothin’. I can be worse.” His orange optics absolutely gleam at that, a mischievous twinkle if ever there was one. He readjusts his arm around the hellboar tusk, resting his free fist against his hip.
“Ooh, is that a challenge? I like a challenge. Although wouldn’t that be counter-productive to having a guard?” he asks, head tilting upwards slightly. “You plan on getting in trouble, you let me know so I can help.”
Natsu tilts her head so Baldur can place the flower, chuckling lightly as he does. “Well, I’m sure you can. I saw what you did with that hellboar.” She nods to the tusk at that.
“It was a challenge, but not like that.” Natsu laughs “But I’ll let you know if I’m planning trouble.” He’s likely to be there when she does.
“I need to be getting back to things, will you work with the House Captain and get us ready to roll out?”
He’s doing that grin of his again. “See that you do.” Getting into trouble can be an exciting pastime! Some might say he needs a new hobby.
The cyborg’s nodding before he pauses, eyeing Natsuki again. “Yeah, sure I- Waaaait. This a test? I’m not gonna get yelled at by the House Captain for not being with you, am I?” He’s joking.
Natsu might just Baldur a new hobby. “Uh, on second thoughts, follow me. It’s going to be a little boring while I go over Estate accounts, but I don’t want Captain Hopstead having another talk with me.”
Cause yes, Baldur might be yelled at but Natsu would get the lecture.
The part-elf leads them onwards to the house. She’s got work to do.
Natsuki shares a bit about the problems with her admirer and Baldur shares a bit about his less than glamorous past.
May 20, 2410
Taniguchi Estate, Dogwood