There’s a knock on the door that leads to Hunter and Ardul’s shared apartment. This building HAD been fairly empty but with the flock of Iyesgarthians taking up residence in it, it’s increasingly not so. That means they do occasionally get visitors, though usually those meaning business and not people just dropping in for a bit of, you know, fruitcake or something.
Not that Ardul makes Fruitcake.
“Ardul, would you mind getting that?” Hunter is at his desk with a delicate tool and a delicate wolfen device.
It’s probably good that people don’t just drop in for a cup of tea and cookies. These are not stores that the Iyesgarthian blonde keeps on hand. Well, she might keep the tea or something akin to it. But there’s little in the way of ‘snack food’.
“And if I did?” She asks the Wolfen as she makes her across the apartment. She’d been cleaning her armour – again – making sure it gleamed. “I suppose whoever it is would think we weren’t home. Are you sure you want me to answer this?”
She’s already pulling the door open as she says that.
“I’d ask you to do it anyway?” Hunter laughs from his desk. He’s still tinkering. “But yes I’m sure.”
Sure as he’s going to get anyway.
There’s unsurprisingly an Iyesgarthian on the other side. It’s Nina. “Ardul.” Not Knight Commander anymore though there’s still a fondness in the way she says it. “May I come in? There’s been news.”
“Ask, is it?” Ardul shoots over her shoulder before turning to look at whose knocking. “Cousin.” The warmth is there, in her voice and those grey eyes of hers. “It’s always good to see you.” She hugs the other woman, drawing her into their apartment.
“Hunter.” He might want to stop tinkering for the moment. “What news, Nina?” There’s some hesitation as she asks the question. Good news or bad? Nina hadn’t said.
Hunter turns when he sees Nina come in and carefully sets down the device he’d been working on.
“I’ve been contacted by a member of what appears to be a resistance movement on Iyesgarth itself. They claim that Horatio has left the throne-world and journeyed… off planet, somehow. It’s caused a bit of chaos in the power structure. We haven’t been able to corroborate it yet but if that is true then we might have an opportunity.”
Ardul probably doesn’t need Nina to spell out what that opportunity is. In the Iyesgarthian capital Horatio is hard to get to. Travelling… he might not be.
Ardul moves next to Hunter, resting a hand on his shoulder as she does. “What … appears to be, Cousin? How good is your intelligence on this? Clearly, if you’re bringing this to us, you must have certainty about it.”
It shouldn’t surprise either of them that the blonde’s first concern is security. Whilst Horatio being off-world is a big opportunity, there’s also the possibility that it’s the bait to a trap.
“It’s an opportunity if you know where he’s gone. Do you?”
“The source is Hararda, my father’s old, retired Chancellor. We haven’t been able to independently verify what he claims, but we did verify that he was free of nanites. It’s… possible that he’s sold us out, but I cannot believe that of him.” Nina says.
Hunter drums his metal hand on the desk. There are reasons very honorable men sell out but he doesn’t mention them yet.
“And supposedly, Horatio has come here, to this very world, to treat with someone or something called ‘Naruni.'”
“The Naruni.” Hunter finally speaks up. “They’re interdimensional conqurerors and… arms dealers. The scale of their empire is rather massive. It spans the multiverse. If he’s treating with them… he might be trying to prepare for conquests of his own.”
“Hararda.” Ardul says quietly, considering that as she does. “So much has changed in the time Horatio rebelled and overthrew you, I don’t know if I’d trust anyone.” Even the Iyesgarthian’s here were treated with suspicion, held almost as prisoners until the blonde could be sure of them.
“Hunter, what do you think?” About Hararda, well not him specifically, but the general concept.
As to the Naruni, Ardul had heard of them. Working with the Guardsman of Vesper had proven educational. “I’m not surprised. They were using nanites here. To test them, I’m certain. But there was more behind it. With the amount and type of arms and the nanites, conquests would be … easier.”
“So we need to find him?”
“If we can find him we can end this in a single stroke…” Nina sounds… almost eager. Ardul knows she’s a tempered woman but she also knows that Nina has been frustrated by her inability to strike directly at the source of her problems and her people’s problems.
Hunter looks up at Ardul from where he’s sitting. “It’s a big opportunity if it’s true but for that reason I am wary. There’s too much here that we can’t verify…”
Doesn’t mean they can’t check it out though.
“Did Harada say where Horatio was going?”
“He didn’t know specifically. Only that it was somewhere his people had made secure.”
Hunter frowns. “We don’t know how many locations they have here.” He points out to Ardul. “But we do know where one of the main hubs is. We could certainly see if we can use that to find out.” But it’s risky. Very risky.
“Nina. Remember your lessons with me.” Ardul murmurs at the Valkyrs eagerness. “The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Do not be so eager to forget that.” She clasps the other womans shoulder though, in a gesture of comraderie. “We may yet end this in a single stroke, but it will be done with precision. Yes?”
Ardul must have been a terror to her recruits.
Hunters words have his Valkyr looking to him with a smile. “And we can’t verify the voracity of Harada’s information. He may be loyal but to whom?” To Nina, hopefully. But that’s not something the blonde will bank on.
“We know of this Lynchburg or Clearwater as it’s called now. We’ve been meaning to scout that for weeks. Perhaps now would be the time. I could contact Yaren, if you like …”
“We believe that Hyfil has a base of operations, possibly a command center there. We’ve avoided going there before now because it has the potential to be a major confrontation but this might be the time to try it.” Hunter informs Nina who nods.
“There’s one other thing, Ardul. Harada said that Prince Delgren is with him.”
Delgren is a cousin from a different branch of the family, closer to Nina and therefore the throne. He was… once considered a potential match to Ardul.
“I think it is and we have the means to get forward intel before we take a scouting band or bigger in there.” Ardul adds. She’s thinking. Like Nina, she too is eager to confront Horatio. The scars she bears are from him. Maybe not directly but they were earned on his order.
“Delgren? Why would Horatio bring Delgren with him? With you missing, Delgren has a strong claim to the Seat. He’s not much of a soldier and less of a tactition. It makes no sense.” Ardul sighs and looks at Hunter “He was one of that offered for me. He couldn’t best me in a fight, I wasn’t interested.”
Hunter is learning that seems to the pattern that was set by his blonde.
“Is that all I had to do.” Hunter smiles mildly.
Nina snorts. “I’m not sure, Ardul. His family wasn’t a huge supporter of Horatio’s. He might be a hostage. Or he might be… compromised.”
Then again Delgren might have individually supported Horatio. But a prince of the blood, that has to mean something. Perhaps they’re trying to get under Ardul’s skin.
Seems unliklely but the possibility exists.
“Depends on what you wanted.” Ardul shoots back with a smile.
“I know his family wasn’t, Nina. Even if he is compromised, it makes no sense to have him with them. Delgren is liability as I look at this. Let’s work this through. Horatio knows I live. Along with Hunter, I’ve been enough trouble for his nanite enhanced Warriors.”
She gestures vaguely in the direction of the rooms where they are keeping the recovering Iyesgarthians.
“Horatio’s not stupid, so he must believe you live given he has no body to prove otherwise. It’s possible, I suppose, he thinks I’m noble enough to try and liberate a Prince of the Blood.”
And she would have, not so long ago. Well, she still will but her thinking is slightly different now.
“Do you think, he might be bait?”
“If he’s not bait of some manner then he’s a participant of some manner.” Nina says, thinking it over. “It’s odd. Delgren was never particularly ambitious. I never had problems with him during my ascension. Perhaps he’s changed his tune… or had it changed for him.”
If the princes of the blood have shown their wings to Horatio it DOES strengthen his claim on the throne and that perhaps of any dynasty he hopes to found. That has to be on the man’s mind.
“Does Horatio have any children?” Hunter asks, appropos of nothing. He looks between Nina and Ardul. He imagines both know but Nina is caught a bit off guard by the sudden question. “Er…”
“Let’s assume it was changed for him. That he’s infected with nanites.” Ardul follows up Nina’s thinking. “And let’s assume that he didn’t put the rest of the Blood to the blade because he could control them. They show their wings to him, strengthening his claim lessening the need to fight a civil war back home.”
Which means he can turn his attention to Conquest.
The question doesn’t really catch Ardul of guard but she looks at Hunter and sighs. “No. He doesn’t. He never married and there were never any rumours of Natural children. There were whispers that he couldn’t father children and that was why he remained unwed.”
She frowns though. “What has that got to do with Delgren? You think he might be using to … sire a dynasty? On who?”
*** OOC Time: Sat Sep 15 17:50:55 2018 ***
“If your culture is dynastic…” And it’s something that Hunter has had to read up on, his never was. “… then it’s possible Delgren is a bargaining chip to gain the support of ambitious lessers. Marry them closer to the throne. On the other hand, perhaps Delgren is inconvenient and Horatio means to be rid of him, either by posting him to some distant place with new ‘allies’ or by simply killing him where none can witness and argue that it was just a terrible tragedy.”
Pack politics back on Hunter’s homeworld were brutal. Hunter’s homeworld because it’s not… entirely clear what the Wolfen Homeworld is, or where. Much like humans, they seem to get around.
Nina nods toward Hunter. “Both possibilities. I think the biggest question with Delgren himself is whether we rescue him or simple dispose of him.”
It would be hard to read up on Iyesgarthian culture and Ardul shakes her head slightly. “Maybe that’s it. Horatio has changed many things in his short time on the throne. We won’t know for sure until confront him and even then, the answer will be dubious.”
Nina’s answer draws a sharp look from the grey eyed blonde “Well cousin, these are the decisions a Princep must make and those decisions will define your reign.” Clearly Ardul is //not// going to weigh on the decision, falling back on her role of advisor and mentor. “To make that decision, I would think you need more information. Information that we can’t get here. Is he doing this of his own free will and is he redeemable are just two of the questions I would be asking.”
Ardul personal feelings don’t seem to play into this. She might not think highly Delgren but that doesn’t mean she’ll condemn him to death.
“I think the better question is really what choice is more inconvenient for Horatio.” Hunter is brutally pragmatic about such things. It’s probably a good thing that HE isn’t the advisor to the princep.
“I’ll think on it…” Nina murmurs, clearly considering the implications of the question she just asked and the answers she just got.
“If you two think you can carry out the reconissance of Clearwater, I’d be very much obliged to you both. Of course neither of you are mine to command, and I’m in no position to reward the assistance, but…”
“That’s one of the questions, yes.” Ardul smiles at her Companion and slides her arm around his shoulder. “But how you achieve that inconvenience is also part of it.” She’s aware the Wolfen is rather … ruthless and has learned to temper it, a bit. “You might also be able to use him as an example.”
What she means by that isn’t clear but it could be taken a number of ways.
“Hold your reward, Nina. I do not need it. I am still an Iyesgarthian, proud and true.” Is she? Is Ardul really after the nanites started their work on her? Or is it what’s in her heart that matters?
“Give me a chance to even the score with Horatio and Hyfil. That will be enough.” And yes, she’s speaking for Hunter.
Hunter growls slightly and Nina looks askance first at him then at Ardul. They are a warrior race, the Iyesgarthians but the feral, ferocious nature of the Wolfen is alien to them. Just as well, perhaps, that the only one they really know is Hunter himself.
“Then I shall leave it in your capable hands, Cousin. And thank you.”
She turns to go and then pauses to look over her shoulder. “Will you join us later for dinner? The rest of the resistance is quite curious about the… both of you.”
The growl has Ardul looking at Hunter and cocking her head. There might be a reckoning for her speaking for both of them. She’s not sure.
“Your welcome, Cousin.” Ardul hugs the other woman before she turns to leave. The question has her looking at Hunter, a slight smile on her lips. “That would depend on … my Lord … and if he wishes it.” Oh yeah, she’s teasing him.
When Nina leaves, after receiving Hunter’s answer, the blonde turns to him “Did I misspeak?”
Hunter stands, placing his tools aside. “Hrm? Oh! No, no. You didn’t. I’m just not pleased at the thought of either Hyfil or Horatio.”
And that makes some sense. Hunter has plenty of reasons to dislike both not the least of which is the fact that Hyfil and via him indirectly also Horatio, have tried to kill or compromise him several times.
“I’d love to have a chance to settle with them as well. Did you want to go to dinner with your cousin? I’m sure we’ll get lots of looks and questions.”
“Then it is well…” Ardul draws closer as Hunter puts his tools away, not so close to touch him again but close enough. “I thought I had misstepped in speaking for the two of us.”
It’s an interesting dynamic in their relationship.
“I … yes, I would like to sup with my people. Of course they will have questions for us, for you most specifically I think. But they are curious how you managed to … catch me.” From all Hunter can tell, Ardul hadn’t been interested in ‘settling down’ back home. A career soldier for want of a better word.
“Maybe I’ll keep them guessing.” Hunter smirks. “What shall I tell them. That I defeated you in a chess match? That I tricked you into promising yourself to me for a year and a day? That I impressed you by killing a fury beetle bare handed and fashioning you a hut out of the corpse?”
He’s in fine form today, clearly… in a teasing mood.
“So we’ll go then?” Ardul asks, rolling her eyes at Hunters teasing. “If you tell them it was a year and a day, they’ll try to take me back …” she smiles.
She trusts what he chooses to tell them. He handled Nina well enough and the Princep hadn’t pushed for more details.
“And they won’t believe you bested me in a chess match.” The blonde sighs and looks out the window of their apartment “Are we going to scout Clearwater, ourselves? Or send Yaren?” They’ve worked with the D-Bee previously to gain information. He’s at least familiar with the city as a result.
“Do you not play chess?” Hunter teases a bit more. Maybe he’ll tell them the truth. Well, not the truth but maybe he’ll tell them something close to it. Either way.
“I’d like to have him along but that depends on catching him and I don’t think we should delay. We’ll make plans to go without him and if we find him so much the better.”
They won’t take his bot. Not this time. Maybe if they come back he’ll bring the big stompy avatar of fiery perforated death.
“Hunter …” Ardul turns back to the big grey wolfen, her skin gleaming slightly as the light through the window catches it. The nanites had done something and she’s definitely changing, if slowly. “… you know very well I play chess.” And she might be almost better than him at it.
“I’ll leave a message for him, then and let him know where he can find us. Going into Clearwater is going to be dangerous for us, isn’t it? Do you think they’ll be expecting us?”
If it were her, her plans would include the possibility of a ‘visit’ but she’s not sure with Hyfil or Horatio. They have seen quite sure of themselves.
“Oh so you do.” The wolfen grins slightly and glances over toward their room where his gunbelt is. He’ll need that for their outing, so he should make sure everything is in order.
“I suspect it will be difficult for us. We have to assume that they they’ve planned against the possibility that we’ll locate their base.”
The fact that they haven’t moved from there as far as they can tell means that something important is there. Something they can’t get anywhere else and that gives Hunter and Ardul the advantage.
“I’ll put some feelers out to a couple of friends there and see if we can get any intel before we go. How much time will you need?”
“Yes. I do.” The blonde says flatly, but it’s tempered with a smile. She sees his look and without thinking goes to fetch the belt. How had she known? Was it just familiarity with the Wolfen, or is there more at play?
Handing the belt over, she’s thoughtful “They must know we have, Hunter. We’ve captured enough of their agents to at least suspect where it is. We’ll just have to be careful then, won’t we?”
“I’m ready to go when you are? I’ll send the message to Yaren today but apart from supplies for the journey, there’s nothing holding me here.” Her grey eyes meet his “Perhaps we should have that dinner with my cousin, first though.”
If they don’t make it back, at least Nina will have that.
Hunter takes the weapon belt and fishes his weapon out. He opens it, checking that it’s unloaded even though he knows that it is. After verifying he takes the cylender out so he can clean it. It’s pretty clean already but it can’t hurt to go over it again.
“We’ll go tomorrow, then. Give Yaren time to respond. We’ll go to Vesper tonight. Make sure we duck out of our dinner early enough to catch the last ferry.”
They CAN make the thirty mile trip in his bot if they run late but that’s probably not the best or safest of ideas.
“That’s very early, Hunter.” To duck out she means. The last Ferry tends to leave just before the sun sets – the water is too dangerous to traverse at night. “But we’ll make it work. They’ll understand, I’m sure.”
Her armour is neatly piled near them and she’s already checked her weapon – as much as it can be checked, really. “And just how are we planning on getting there? I mean, I could fly but not if I have to carry yu.” She could carry some distance but the whole thirty miles in one sitting.
“Without the bot, I was going to get a mage to help us. Drop us within a few miles and then cover the rest of the distance on foot. Clearwater is walled but I think I can get us in without going through the main gates. That will eliminate one way of detecting us at least. After that… well, we’ll want to arrange a quick exit before we go looking.”
Beyond that it’s going to be very… improvised. They need to look and deal with what they find and leave anything too big to when they can come back with help.
“A … mage…” Hunter had to expect that would be Arduls response. The blondes wings move slightly, the only sign of agitation she gives as she lets out a sigh. “I suppose it’s as good way as any…”
“If you’re looking for a quick exit, would the same mage not be useful?” She’s not quite worked out how the Rifts and portals work here. “Your plan is bold, Hunter and there are many holes in it. But it’s better than anything I have …”
They need to do this, she knows this. But she doesn’t have to like it. “I should go … and send the message to the Yaren. Pick up some supplies to take with us.” They’ll need food and water and Rousseau is good for that.
“Alright. Don’t be too long. And be careful.” Hunter leans over and steals a kiss. They can work out more of the details when she has gear. Some of this they’re going to be, ahem, winging.
She should be good at that part at least.
Hunter turns to start cleaning his weapon. In a way it focuses him, little rituals like these. And he’s going to need all the focus he can get.