The James River basically separates Dogwood from Vesper. Sort of. It’s a natural border and demarcation line, at the very least. The forces of both cities have been arrayed on either shore for the past few weeks but trade still continues. It has to – both cities rely on each other for certain things.
War. Whilst it looms, is the last thing both nations want.
Stella Bridger has been contracted by House Taniguchi to collect certain goods from a tannery in Vesper and deliver them to the manor. A certain Cyborg might have been asked to go along with her to provide extra support. Seems the Estate Manager is a little concerned about a Hunter Demon that’s still on the loose.
They’ve not long ago made the checkpoint at the Dogwood/Vesper border and have stopped at a tavern just inside the Dogwood border. There’s tables out the front and sitting at one set, off to the right are three people. In the Graves family colours.
There is only one reason he’s doing this, and that’s because he wouldn’t want Natsuki to think bad of him for not wanting to go on this run. It’s no secret he harbors certain apprehension when it comes to anything having to do with Vesper. And of course, with there being the tension of yet another war hanging over them, it makes the cyborg even more uneasy about things, even though he’s heard that people are more laid back about strangers in V-town than up in Dogwood.
Needless to say, it’s still not something he looks forward to. He’s been downright antsy since they’d set out, and it’s probably a welcome break for both himself and Stella that they’re here for a pitstop. For someone who neither eats nor drinks, Baldur visibly cheers up at going to a bar. It even sounds like he’s whistling as he makes a show of dusting off his clothes and adjusting the wide-brimmed hat he wears over his metal noggin before sauntering towards the tavern. A casual nod is given to those present and seated.
He knows they probably won’t be here too long so he’ll just have to enjoy it while he can.
In all honesty, Stella wanted to keep going straight through back to the Taniguchi Estate, but there was just no way. She had to stop to refuel her truck. Might as well get something to eat while they’re stuck waiting.
As soon as they put her truck in queue to be refuled and start for the tavern proper she recognizes the colors of the people at that one table over there, but she makes a point of not letting on. Because. She even tries to steer Baldur clear of them, which is probably just going to make matters worse. But she can at least try.
This is really really bad timing. Leo can’t have the war start. Not yet. It’s not in his plans. He’s not prepared. There is still so much to do before he can allow a war between the two cities! It’s why an ironmonger of his reputation has been doing everything he can to help stop it from happening. In this case, it’s the trade of raw materials. Namely tempered alloy plating and premade explosive putty compounds, basic refurbished circuitry, prepacked ammunition, the basics to life really.
It’s been Leo’s experience that if you want to help slow down aggression, you give everyone the scariest weapons they can have, then let them all realize the other people have guns just as big as yours. Then let them crunch the numbers. As suicidal as the species tends to be, they often surprise a cynic like Leo and opt for staying alive by resorting to snide diplomatic insults once they realize that they’re not the only ones with heavily armed armies. In this case, that means Leo is selling copious amounts of low level weapons material to the enemy. To help stem the tide of violence. Also… added bonus, he gets richer. Which honestly has been going swimmingly for him as of late. So much conflict, so many armies needing outfitting.
No wonder he’s behind on his plans.
He enters the tavern, brushing dust and mud from the leather apron of many pockets that he wears seemingly all the time, and looks around for Stella, instead he finds familiar colors and he in place.
Leo won’t recognize the people in Graves family colours. They’re bannermen and young. Younger than Leo, to be sure. Though at least one of them sports the Nordic looks of the Graves family. Probably a cousin or younger daughter.
And it’s probably a coincidence that Stella and Baldur have sat down not far from them. Coincidence. Totally.
It’s also possible to hear some of the conversation from where the trio are sitting. “Baronet Graves has received our marching orders.” The nordic blonde woman is telling the other two. “We’re to report to the Southern border. We’re on rotation. How are you adjusting to your implants?”
For Stella and Baldur, this is nothing out of the ordinary. They’ve been hearing these types of conversations for the last few weeks. Dogwood is mobilizing. The Nobles being called to furnish troops. The tension is certainly growing.
At the bar though, is a young man, in his mid twenties. When he spots Baldur and his Taniguchi colours, he makes his way towards the table. “Ye’re a Taniguchi man? Is what they say about the elf true?”
Stella looks up at the young man when he approaches and opens his mouth to stir shit. “Kid, just keep walking.” She stares at the kid to add a silent warning to her words. He … REALLY … needs to turn around and walk away. And possibly as a quiet warning to not react, she puts her left hand on Baldur’s arm and squeezes.
She’s got an eerily strong grip.
If the lady wants to sit elsewhere, then they’ll sit elsewhere. Baldur allows himself to be shown to a table, and although he expects to be given an odd look, he’ll gesture for a drink. And if asked, he’ll just tell them to bring an empty mug. He can go through the motions, at least!
His orange optics tick this way and that as he take in the surroundings. It’s a bit quiet for a tavern, but who’s he to complain? He glances at the young man that enters not long after them, but other than the unusual choice of garb (speak for yourself, Bal), nothing seems to catch his interest.
He taps a metal finger against the table, now and then casting a look towards the table of those dressed in Graves-colored livery. He doesn’t seem too particularly interested in what they have to say. His head lifts as they’re approached, however, his drumming fingers halting abruptly in a single *thrrup* on the table top.
If he were really paying attention he would have found it interesting that despite his make he can still feel a pressure from Stella’s grip. That can’t be normal for sure. But at the moment, he’s fixing the young man with a Look. The normally bright glow of his optics has lowered just slightly. He starts to rise from his seat, and might just drag Stella along with him so he can properly stare the man down.
“…I’m not sure I think you know what you’re talking about, son.”
Leo tilts his head to the side for a moment as he stares at the Graves’ colors, putting his innate faculties to use. Memorizing faces. If he doesn’t recognize a Graves, then they’re small fish, but if they’re being sent to the front, then they’re being sent either to die, which means potential asset, or to prove themselves, which means he should know who they are now.
He plasters a grin on his face, there’s a chance it’s supposed to be disarming but the fact that it’s less grin and more predatory snear makes that – Um – Unlikely. “Walking?” he says as he makes his way over to their table, “You can’t expect him to actually walk somewhere. To much like work, that is.” He offers the weaponized smile up at the offending nobleman, “Might get himself a blister and we can’t have that. Next thing it’ll be callouses.” Leo does a little shudder at the thought.
He shouldn’t be doing this. He knows he shouldn’t. It’s bad for the Plan. But sometimes he really cannot stop his mouth. No. Seriously. Cannot. Physically. It’s a whole thing.
“I’m still having trouble with some of the neural connections. I know you said they were leading edge and no other house has them.” One of the young Graves men is saying. That might be of interest to Leo, after all. “But I would like not to feel like there’s a thousand fire ants marching down spine from time to time.”
What is it that the Graves have been working on?
The dark haired young man, looks at Stella and then at Baldur “Oh, so it is true. She does spread her … favors … around. Do you both get to share her then?”
Baldur had warned that Natsu had a reputation. He’s even seen how the nobility respond to her – even though it’s a mild thing. Most Nobility or Corporate classes don’t openly disparage her – she is a noble after all. Just sometimes, one of the younger ones gets a little drunk and well … this.
Maybe this was one that Natsu had rejected.
“Watch who you’re talking to, sir!” he sneers at Leo “I am perfectly capable of walking wherever I want.”
“I got this,” Bridge tells Baldur after he drags her to her feet by standing. She steps around the robot-looking cyborg and snags the boorish young man around the back of his neck with her left hand, squeezing just enough to get his attention. “It’s time for you to leave.” She then starts to lead the young man away from their table and toward the edge of the tavern’s property, planning on leaving him standing out there where she’s less inclined to lose her patience. “And I plan to put your face on the Transporter Guild roster as someone to NEVER do business with.” She’s not sure if this kid will understand or even care what that means, but for anyone that does, it’s a very valid and effective threat.
“Stella, ‘s this guy important? Or can I take him outside to grease the axles on your truck? -then again, I don’t think you’d want this on your truck.” Warning or not, Baldur doesn’t care to hear such things from snot-nosed kids. Never mind that he’d probably joined the army about that same age. But then he doesn’t remember a whole lot about things seventy-plus years past.
When Leo joins them, the cyborg looks down at him, and it almost seems like he’s smirking at the words the technowizard puts in. More so with the response from the young man in turn.
Except then Stella moves to drag off the guy. “Aw… I was about to give this place a new doormat!”
Leo continues to look up at the nobleman, even as Stella starts to move him away, “Oh I’m no sir,” he says evenly, and his smile grows wider, less… stable, “and I question your assertion to the contrary because, trust me on this, you want to walk away right now.” His reputation in Vesper is usually enough to make people head the obvious warning signs, outside of town however he’s not so well known, at least not as anything more then a top notch ironmonger. “Maybe get yourself a salami and some hard cheese, they do good cured meats here, pair it off with a beer and not be the idiot boy that fired the first shot of a war? Seems like that’d be the smart play to me, but hell, what do I know, I’m only a fuckin’ genius.”
“Urk…” the lad stiffens as Stella grabs his neck in an iron grip. They’ll all note that he’s dressed in the colours of a lesser House, crimson and yellow adorns the tunic he’s wearing. Baldur might recognize as House Thorpe. Maybe Stella will too. “I don’t want salami and hard cheese…”
At the same time, Stella is met by two of his ‘friends’ who have decided that enough is enough. “Come on, David, let’s go get you sorted out. No need to report him, Miss … ” They’ll look after him and clearly they don’t want any trouble.
There’s a clunk on the table behind the group as the miscreant is led away. The blonde Graves woman has placed some drinks “How about a drink instead of a making him a door mat?”
With a nod, Stella lets the Thorpe moron go into the hands of his ‘friends’ and turns back to her table and to Leo. She nods as the Graves woman offers them drinks and returns to her seat. She pulls drinks over for herself and presumably Baldur. She has noticed that he doesn’t consume food or drink at all, and has been meaning to ask what his power source is. You know, just in case.
“Thank you,” she tells the blonde woman, continuing to behave as if she does not recognize the colors of the woman’s livery.
“Oh, but you see. I was really. Really. Looking forward to that door mat.” Still, it seems Baldur will finally let it slide as he doesn’t spare the Thorpes a second glance. Rolling his shoulders, the cyborg turns to reclaim his seat, hand scooping up the mug and raising it in something of a toast, although that’s as far as he goes. But you can bet that Stella will be getting a quick refill once she’s emptied her’s, since he’ll be looking to dump the contents of his mug somewhere.
He kicks out another chair, presumably for Leo. No idea who the self-proclaimed genius is, but Baldur already likes him better than the so-called nobleman that had made a poor choice at conversation.
Leo shakes his head as the young man is lead away by his buddies, “You really do.” he offers before shooting Stella a look, “I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good cured meat? Heathens. That’s who.” he turns to look at the table as the thunking sound is made and he eyes the drinks and the company, “Aaaaaaaand on that note, I just stopped in to let you know I’m gonna crash out a bit early,” this is said mostly in Stella’s general direction, “so don’t be surprised if the back of your truck is snoring, just me sprawled atop two hundred pounds of high explosive.” you know, how you do… And then he’s off, headed back towards the outside, perhaps a little bit faster then he needs to. He certainly doesn’t stick around to plop a seat in the chair just proffered for him, but then Leo’s general disdain for authority figures is well known and there’s a LOT of Houses representing in the bar at the moment. Maybe he’s just not comfy inside right now… least, not as comfy as he’d be sleeping on almost twice his body weight in explodables.
There’s some Houses represented in this tavern. Then again, there’s a lot of troop movements, so there’s that.
“Doormat is too good for his kind…” The blonde snorts in Baldur’s direction. “And if you don’t drink, that’s ok. Not all do, I’m aware of that. Those two are only some of what our Guild House does. I’m Gretchen Graves, but you can call me GeeGee.” she watches as Leo leaves and snorts at his update. “Heading to the front are you?”
She seems ok. This Gee Gee. Just making conversation and being friendly.
Stella hefts her drink as well to thank Gretchen and takes a small swig. She usually tries to keep the alcohol in moderation while on a transport run, but there are times when drinking anything else is just plain risky. “No. Transporting some necessary goods through and helping the businessman out with his deliveries as we go.” She really isn’t too keen on having explosives in her truck, but she’d be even more worried if Leo were out and about in a far less secure vehicle.
And, now that one might be paying attention, she and possibly Baldur are likely in the minority currently, wearing no affiliation colors at all. Well, at least she for sure isn’t. Though if pressed, she’ll go to her truck and get out her Guild insignia.
Baldur seems to be a bit more possessive about his mug at that. “I don’t,” he admits, “-but doing nothing but sitting around staring at people just gets weird.” Although Leo does get a stare as he goes tromping back out. He flicks a quick look towards Stella. “Know him?” What do they do with him when they needa leave?
It’s almost comical at how subtle the cyborg tries to be in tipping a bit of his mug’s contents into Stella’s, especially when she’s only drunk a little thus far. “A pleasure, GeeGee. I’m Baldur.” He doesn’t see any harm in introductions, and this woman hasn’t thought to insult him first thing. “Nah. Running an errand,” he says before nodding at Stella as she explains much better their task.
“Heh. I know what you mean.” Gee Gee snorts and raises a mug to the Cyborg “Bottoms up then…” She seems interested in him but given Guild House Graves is into Advanced Cybernetics, that might not be such a surprise. Come to think of it, she’s giving Stella good look, too. The woman did rather make frog-marching that kid all rather to easy.
“An errand. Right. Your House has been supplying food to the effort, I thought you might be on your way there.” The blonde raises her mug and takes another swig “Be careful though, mmmm? There’s been a Hunter Demon sighted. Waylaid the Factor of the Guild House Geerson on his way home, just yesterday.”
Geerson. Stella and Baldur have heard that name and recently. Natsuki was meeting with one of them. Something about another deal for House Taniguchi. Baldur knew she had a meeting with the Geerson Factor a few days ago.
Also – waylaid? Not attacked?
It might seem odd to Gretchen that Stella is completely unperturbed by Baldur’s sneaking his drink into her mug — it’s almost like he’s done it before. At the obvious cyborg’s question about Leo, she merely nods.
“Giving him a lift the rest of the way,” she explains shortly to Baldur. It’s one of the other reasons for stopping here. She looks back to GeeGee then and has to ask about her phrasing. “Geerson, waylaid?” It’s better than being eaten, she supposes inwardly.
She glances at Baldur. “We had a similar run-in with a Hunter not too long ago, it left us be after chewing on my truck a bit.” There’s probably still visible evidence of the attack on the truck’s front end, but it WILL be repaired once the Guild’s stand down orders are lifted.
Baldur’s used to being a point of curiosity or interest that he doesn’t think too much for it. And given the earlier line of subject that they’d been speaking about, the cyborg’s not surprised. He’s an old model, a Mark V as Gabrielle Trent had identified him as, although House Paltreth had long since been acquired, and even that information, Baldur had not been aware of. So long as he functions, he’s satisfied, and if he’s got something to put himself to good use towards, then that’s all there is to it for him.
“Ah, that thing.” He seems to scowl, his optics flickering in tandem with the interior light emitting from the back of his throat. “Whereabout did Factor Geerson run into it? Do you know?”
“You know of it?” GeeGee raises an eyebrow and looks between the two of them. “It stopped you too? Interesting.” She takes another swig from her mug.
“Apparently the Factor was out heading from Dogwood towards the Western Marches. I don’t have all the details, just scuttlebutt as the warning is being passed around.”
Western Marches. Where the Taniguchi lands are. There are a couple of other Holdings out that way as well.
Draining her mug, GeeGee stands and offers her hand “Well, we better push off, they’ll be expecting us soon. Nice work with the kid. Even if your Estate Manager is a D-Bee, a noble house deserves more respect than that.”
So close. They came THIS close to having an entire conversation with GeeGee without a single derogatory term about D-Bees. Stella’s expression immediately goes flat and unimpressed with the blonde woman.
“The kid was talking disrespectfully,” she agrees by reiterating. But the fact that she didn’t reiterate the rest of the woman’s statement might be telling.
Is the refueling done yet? Please let it be done already.
“Took a few shots at it but it didn’t have any interest in fighting back. Didn’t stop none either,” Baldur says offhandedly, gesturing with his mug. The liquid sloshes over the side- he’d forgotten there was actually something in it.
He wonders if it’s the same Hunter or if there could be more running around. Hopefully not the latter, the one seemed troublesome enough. But what was it looking for?
The fingers of his free hand absently drum at the table again at GeeGee’s words. “No even’s about it,” he mutters, his mug being lifted to his mouth, tapping against where his lips would be. His optics flicker in mild annoyance as he sets the mug down with a thud before he accidentally does something like short himself with a drink he can’t have. Not that he thinks he’ll short out so easily.
It’s not likely to be another Hunter but it would indeed be worrisome. And yes, what was it looking for?
“Disrespectful yes.” GeeGee doesn’t seem to pick up on the correction, or chooses to ignore it. With a nod, she heads on out.
Bridge’s truck is ready to go and it seems that these two have something to think on.
While making a pitstop from a delivery run, Stella and Baldur run into some rather opinionated people from Dogwood. And Leo.
August 05, 2410
Border of Dogwood and Vesper