After returning to Sarens Rest, Princep-Elect Nina Edwards had been a given an apartment in the same building that Hunter and Ardul lived in. Not in their apartment, but the one right next to it – it’s easy like that in these ruins, to squat. She been told to sleep and that they would all talk in the morning.
Her exhaustion and the return of her memory hadn’t been quite enough to distract her from casting looks between Ardul and Hunter. But she’d held her questions and, perhaps wisely, hadn’t tried to give Ardul any direct orders. Something, she senses, had changed.
The tall, gaunt, blonde with wings that match the colour of her hair is standing on the balcony of the apartment watching the sun rise over the water and the city below. The wind plays with her hair and ruffles the feathers of her wings. She supposes she should go and find the others. In just a moment – after she enjoys this moment of peace.
“Settling in, your emminance? Or… whatever your title is. Ardul didn’t speak much of it.” Hunter has changed out of his muddy clothes and is now in a sleeveless vest and pants. No boots. He doesn’t wear boots indoor, he odesn’t need them. So it does tend to make him look rather like he’s standing on his toes.
“Ardul is showering.” She probably won’t be along? She might be but she had told Nina to rest.
Nina turns, her wings as blonde as her hair – as different to Arduls as can be. Well, as Arduls were – now they’re even more different. “Hun … Hunter isn’t it?” she says quietly as she takes in the Wolfen “You may call me Nina. My title is of no importance here, or at the moment.”
Brushing a strand of hair back from her face, the woman looks younger than Ardul. She might well be. “I was going to come and see you both after I had enjoyed the sunrise… I must thank you for my rescue. I’m … not sure what happened….”
“As near as I can figure out you had your memories removed by a being called ‘The Croatoan’ which has been on that island for centuries. Exactly to what purpose I don’t know but it definitely didn’t want you to leave. Anyway it was mostly Ardul and Kaji’s doing.”
The big question in Hunter’s mind is how Kaji knew from reading Nina’s back how to call the wind’s name. There’s a possibility that it was all set up by the infuriatingly timeless Kazue to begin with but he doesn’t like to think on that too much. Temporal mechanics give him a headache.
“But yes. My name is Hunter and you are safe for the moment. How long that moment will last I cannot say. Your uncle is nearby, unfortunately…”
“I’m trying to patch together what happened. How I got there, everything is so patchy and fragmented.” The other Iyesgarthians had given something on that as Hunter may recall, though it was vague as well. “And I’ll be sure to thank Kaji and Ardul when I see them, but you’re here now and from what I understand, you got them there…”
She frowns as she remembers awakening from that nightmare – her memories returning as Kaji broke the spell.
“My uncle is? On this world?” There’s almost a panicked look at that. “That’s … not good. I … remember he was planning something…” beat “Did any of my people make it to safety? Or are Ardul and I the last ones?” Her green eyes light on Hunter as she mentions the Knight Commanders name. She knows there’s something there, that something has changed with her kinswoman and she’ll get to that in a moment.
“A few of them. According to them there are more, though I don’t know how many. They’ve been surprisingly cagey on that.” Hunter can’t really blame them for being untrusting, not given what’s happened to them and given how they were found. It’s unfortunate but it’s quite natural.
“But a great many of your people are… compromised by some manner of nano-technology including what Ardul describes as most of your palace guard.”
The wolfen sighs and runs a hand through his mane before tucking his thumbs into his gun belt. It gives him a… sort of casually dangerous look.
“Well that’s something at least. To know that we aren’t alone and that my people survive.” Nina sighs as well, folding her hands in front of her. With the wings and the pale hair, it gives her an almost serene look. Unlike her cousin, who just looks severe.
“Nano technology that we banned decades ago. Horatio continued the research in secret it seems. It makes sense he would infect the Royal Guard and place tham under his thrall. Most of them were my Fathers soldiers and they swore to me just before the coup…”
“We must discuss Horatio and his plans and I’d like to see my people soon, if I may. But right now, I’d like to know about my cousin and … you.” She’s not missed the dangerous look about the Wolfen but she had seen how Ardul … responded to him.
“What in particular about your cousin and me?” Hunter leans back against one of the walls, making him look even more relaxed but there is that gun he wears. Even if Nina doesn’t recognize it she can’t mistake what it is. She may not know that he always wears it, that it’s always something he has on him. It’s not an implied threat. Well, not anymore than it would be under any other circumstances.
“We’ve been together for quite a bit now. There’s some history. I’m the one who found her when she emerged from the rift.”
Nina doesn’t move. She’s well trained in statecraft, Hunter can see that and from what he saw the other day, she can handle herself in a fight. Maybe not like Ardul and certainly not like him but well enough. There’s just the faintest movement of her wings – which he’d miss if he didn’t know Ardul so well.
“Been … together. She named you Companion when she introduced you, that is not something she would … do lightly. There were many vying for that title back in court and none caught her eye enough for her to bestow it. I would know, please, what is between you.” She’s polite, knowing that here she isn’t the supreme ruler of all and yet … her lineage and training still shows.
“We are in a…” Hunter considers his words carefully, uncertain how Nina might react to them after everything she’s been through.
“A long term stable relationship according to the ancient traditions of my people. You could fairly equate it to a marriage though the human word does not quite describe the relationship.”
There are other terms Hunter could use but he’d just wind up explaining them. This is probably the best he can do… diplomatically.
“I think, perhaps, she wasnot suitably impressed by any who tried before.”
That causes Nina to blink and her wings definitely move. Hunter has taken her by surprise with the answer. “She … married you?” It’s almost disbelieving. Which might say much for how Ardul was viewed on her world. It’s not what Hunter had said, exactly, but she gets the general implication. Also – her disbelief isn’t about Hunter, not at all – this is about how she views her cousin.
She recovers quickly enough though and looks at the Wolfen “Congratulations, then. But I think there is more, is there not? At home, even if she had taken a Companion, she would still be a sworn woman, mine alone to command. That’s not the case now though, is it?”
“That is not… according to our ways. Or the circumstances of our joining.” That’s Hunter hedging slightly. He’s not sure how Nina would react to Ardul having been compromised by the nanites. Would she view what she’s done as also compromised? Would she try to ‘free’ her cousin. If she told her supporters to try to do so it could make things awkward. And violent.
“Your world had similar customs once I imagine.” He imagines. Actually he’s been told.
Nina snorts and looks at Hunter “You’re a warrior, aren’t you? There are things you are not saying in your saying.” She pauses again, looking at the Wolfen before taking a seat. It’s an oddly informal thing for her to do. Perhaps it’s a signal of sorts. “I do not want to know about the circumstances of your joining…” Is she … teasing a little? Hunter might imagine Ardul rolling her eyes at that.
“Our world did, long ago when Iyesgarth was comprised of individual flocks. When a warrior was stolen by a warrior of another flock, they would swear fealty to that warrior. I suppose what you’re not telling is … something like that.”
The door to Nina’s apartment opens and Ardul enters, hair still damp from her shower and she looks between Hunter and Nina before making her way across the room and taking a knee. “Princep-Elect…” she says quietly.
Hunter quirks a brow but doesn’t actually interfere with her doing so. For one thing it’d be rude. For another he doesn’t want to. Ardul has dedicated blood, sweat and tears to finding Nina and now that she has she’s due a little satisfaction from that. And yes, he does think it’s satisfying for Ardul to kneel to her Princep Elect because of everything that the both of them have gone through.
After a moment the wolfen takes a chair, reverses it and sits so that he can lean forward onto the chair back.
“Couldn’t wait, huh?”
It’s just a knee and not her wings. Something that Nina notes with a quirk of her own brow. “So it’s true, your allegiance has shifted, Knight Commander…”
“It is true, Princep. I am foresworn of my oath to you.” It seems that Ardul hadn’t expected Hunter to interfere either and she turns her grey gaze up to his as she rises. “What have you told her? And I knew you were here.” As she moves, Hunter can Nina can see her wings shimmer. Still feathers, but there’s a definite metallic sheen to them.
“You were explaining, I believe, that you have claimed my Knight Commander in an ancient custom. Just what, do you think Hunter, am I to do about that?” There’s no anger in the tone. There might be some amount of amusement, which is supported by the look she bends on Ardul. “You couldn’t have chosen one of our Warriors? You never did anything the easy way, did you?”
“I don’t know what you are to do about that, your highness.” Hunter says dryly. “I have a fairly good idea what you CAN do about it…”
Nothing. Not at the moment anyway. She’s not on her world and Hunter is a very formidable being as Ardul found out early on.
“I hadn’t told her too much. Mostly that you and I are… linked.” He’d been rather delicate about it, he thought. All things considered.
“I was your companion, so no. I never did anything the easy way.” Ardul deadpans, but a slight smile tugs at the corner of her lips. Hunter might get the impression they talked like this a lot. “What //are// you going to do, Cousin?” Cousin, not Princep or Majesty.
Nina turns clear green eyes on the Wolfen, but her next words are for Ardul “Is he always like this?”
“Most of the time. There was a reason he was able to claim me…” Ardul looks at Hunter and nods “That explains the questions, then.”
“I think you might be wrong, Hunter…” There’s more Nina can do than ‘nothing’ at the moment but her choices are rather limited. “If I release her from her pledge, she won’t be oathsworn. Before I do, though, I want your word that you’ll care for her as I have. She is a strong sword to have by your side…”
“Nina!” Ardul hisses only to be waved to silence by the other blonde.
“I can confidently promise that I will care for her in ways that you have not.” Hunter says, drier yet but much more amused. If Nina made Ardul hiss then that might make her sputter. “Is it customary on your world to barter off your cousins? I might have a few I want to get rid of.”
The irreverent wolfen laughs at his own joke for a moment and then rolls his shoulder. “In any case you have my solomn word. I’d give you an oath but… such things have power.”
Magic. Hunter is quite used to it. Nina is probably… not. Ardul still seems uncomfortable with it.
“I would hope you can …” Nina smirks, looking younger than her cousin. “I didn’t think she was interested in //anyone// to tell you the truth. Ask one day about the name she’d been given …”
Ardul sighs. Loudly.
“Barter? I rather you think you stole her, before I could do that. But dynastic marriages aren’t unknown. If you want me to consider your cousins, I can.” Irreverant. She might try to match him for that. “But I only asked for your word. I … don’t know how … but I understand more could be dangerous.” Uncomfortable, yes. But practical it seems.
“Now, let me be the first to say Congratulations and turn our attention to how I might deal with my Uncle…”
“I think I will…” Ardul gets a sly, sidelong look from Hunter and the Wolfen smirks. Oh yes. He’ll ask about the name she got. Something like ‘Ice Queen’ he imagines but much more inventive. She did seem rather formal and cold when he first met her. That’s… rather changed about her among many other things.
“Your uncle. Don’t know where he is. We’re not entirely sure he’s on this planet. We DO know where his lapdog, Marshal Hyfil is but have… thus far not mounted a full assault on it… largely because there are people there who might object if I just tried to stomp a huge combat robot on top of it.”
“Hyfil. The snivelling cur …” Nina hisses, much like Ardul had done not moments earlier but with far more venom. “Wherever he is, Horatio won’t be far. He will make fine bait.”
She considers Hunters words and looks to Ardul who nods “We know where Hyfil is and we have a small band of loyal Iyesgarthians to support us. But, from what we understand, he’s got a large force of nanite controlled warriors with him. We’ll be fighting our people and those of this world, if we aren’t careful…”
“Then what is it you suggest? I want my fathers throne …”
“I suppose it depends on what you want.” Hunter nods toward Ardul. “As she says they have a substantial force and the ability to coopt the local civilian populace. Any attack we make risks ourselves and our allies so if we want to get him, we need a way to disrupt or reverse the Nanite tech they’re using and… we have a lead.”
He pasues. “Didn’t Nina’s supporters say they had a potential countermeasure to it, Ardul? If not that we could try praying to your new patron god for aid…”
“A Companion and now a God, Cousin?” Nina’s eyebrows rise. “I didn’t think you were the devout type?”
Ardul growls at Hunter but shakes her head. “Long story but not of my choosing. This world is different and dangerous. But yes, they said they had a countermeasure. Gretchen and Ioan are in Vesper speaking with the Restorium and the Academy to discuss a delivery mechanism and way to replicate it. I’m expecting them back tomorrow, all going well.”
“What I want, Hunter…” Nina nods slowly as Ardul answers “… is to return to Iyesgarth and take my throne back. What I will settle on being able to return to Iyesgarth to fight for my throne. But I have to wonder what Hyfil is doing //here// at all and with my Guard at his back. So let’s start there – capture the blackguard and get a better picture.”
Hunter had once said to Ardul that it was likely the fight to win the throne back would take time and Nina seems to grasp this already.
“From what I’ve seen of the nano-technology I suspect it has been hybridized with technology not of your world. And Horatio clearly had ways of… breaching time and space to get here, possibly other places. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that there are allies involved.”
Hunter runs his hand through his hair and moves over next to Ardul. “I don’t think they came entirely to chase Ardul, or you. But I suspect that the significance of the presence is related to yours. In short, they want to catch you, but I think they hope to get more out of it. More technology to reshape your world and people, perhaps.”
In truth, it might have started that way. The initial scouts, that targetted Hunter, were sent to retrieve the Knight Commander. It had changed though – perhaps when they saw what Rifts Earth had to offer. Or perhaps when approached by someone else. They won’t know that till they question at least, Hyfil.
“We had Rift technology, but it was rarely used and held only by the highest ranking in our Court.” Nina shakes her head “I suspect you are correct. Horatio might be a gifted Scientist but not this gifted. He’s in this with another party, I’m sure…” Nina watches as Hunter moves next to her cousin and watches as Ardul loops her arm through his. It makes her smile a little.
“What do I need to do to mount an offensive on Hyfil?”
“A group of people willing to follow you, a location and more courage than sense at a minimum.” Hunter murmurs, drawing Ardul close. “But if you want to do it with any chance of success you’ll need a countermeasure against the nanites at least for your own people and ideally one that can be used on the ones who have already been subverted. Addtional help wouldn’t be a horrible idea.”
The wolfen looks over to the grey winged woman beside him. “Can you think of anything else?”
“It’s a good thing then,” Nina responds brightly “That I have all three of those. Four, if Gretchen and Ioan have success in this … Vesper. Would … you and Ardul be prepared to fight with us?” She hasn’t taken it for granted they would. “What of the people in this location? The ones who would object to a combat bot stepping on them?”
Ardul moves close to Hunter and thinks for a moment “I will fight with you …” she looks up at Hunter – not //quite// seeking permission. The nanites hadn’t rewritten her so completely, thankfully. “… Kaji might and if you can raise the funds, you can hire mercenaries.” Mercenaries like them. And funds wouldn’t be hard to get – the Iyesgarthians just need to head into Vanished Point. “But nothing else, no.”
“The city they’re in is populated and I don’t think the local authorities know – or right now much care – who really is doing what there. If you go in hot there might be a response. It’d be best to secure their coopration but doing so risks alerting Hyfill to the fact that you know where he is. Your call on that.”
Hunter pauses and nods to Ardul. “We will, of course, fight with you. For the time being, anyway.”
For the time being. The answer isn’t lost on Nina and she nods, mouth twisting in a slight grimace at the realisation. “If you think we can speak to the authorities in the city, I would prefer to do that. I would rather not be fighting a war on two fronts.” She pauses and looks out over the city again. The sun has now risen and even where they are, they can hear the sounds from below.
“Would we be able to break our fast soon? We can talk more of plans soon. I need to think on all you have told me. And I would like, very much, to see my other people.”
“Yes, there’s always food to be had here in Saren’s Rest. If you’re not going to sleep I’ll take you to get some.” Her and Ardul both. They’ll get looks. Not all of them will be savory but he figures Nina can handle it if she’s anything like Ardul.
“A couple of your people are not here but we can call on them… at some point when it’s light out. Which at present it is not. Shall we go to Rousseau’s Ardul?”
“Rousseau’s is good. Food is excellent, company …” Ardul slides a look to Hunter “… tolerable. And we might get some information on Lynchburg.” Rousseau is, after all, rather well connected and they’ve got the credits to pay him.
“Come along, Cousin. Let us show you the sights on our way. We can plan more and we’ll take you to meet the others tonight.”
They might have found Nina but this isn’t over yet.