There’s a lot happening on the Dogwood Borders. West and South. And there are rumours. Rumours that Vesper is massing an army. Rumours that somethings preying on people, leaving nothing behind or just ‘husks’ of people. What isn’t rumour are the demons that keep attacking the Western Border. In all in all, it’s a hell of a time.
Duchess Elsinore Brandt, Duchess for the South, has already ordered her vassals to assemble their resources and in the West, House Taniguchi has sent representatives to The Billet, where mercenaries can be found, to find additional help – they’re spread thin as it is.
In addition to that representative, a certain fair haired man has just arrived at the entry and has a sense of purpose about him. Certain people might recognise him. Greg. Agent of the Crown. Not that the title or position is widely known.
It’s been a while since he’s done anything formally for anyone. While The Billet is nowhere new, having been his usual haunt up until recently, coming here with an actual purpose rather than mill about and try chumming around with people in the bars is unfamiliar territory. Baldur can’t help but wonder why he’s the one doing this instead of his buddy, Mars.
Oh, that’s right. It’s because the pretty elf lady’d asked.
The full-metal cyborg absently straightens his hood over his chrome dome, having forgone the hat today. He wonders if perhaps he’d be better received if he’d worn his new clothes, but he hadn’t wanted to get them all dirtied up on a stroll around here. Kind of regretting that decision now, seeing as how he’d been outright ignored at the last several bars he’d poked into. That’s nothing new, and usually he doesn’t get so annoyed at it, but back then it was different.
“Aw, c’mon..! Anyone? Anyone. I know you guys can’t possibly be busy if you’re sitting around here-” Abruptly he ducks out of another doorway, dodging a mug. “That was totally uncalled for!” he shouts behind him, turning to shuffle back out onto the main street.
“Hello Natsuki.” The fair haired man says as he approaches the elf woman. “Good of you to meet me. The less I’m seen at Taniguchi Manor right now the better, I think you’d agree.”
New of Natuski’s recent problems has reached him and while he can certainly take care of himself Greg is definitely of the mind that trouble is best avoided if it can be. “I was hoping I might prevail upon you for help with some…” The noise from down the street cuts him off and gets him glancing over in the direction of the metal man. “Well as I live and breathe…” he mutters.
Bridge has been trying to avoid Dogwood as much as possible lately, which makes getting income problematic. She’s out of money, though, so here she is. She’s being as mindful as she can of who’s around, the thought always in the forefront of her mind that that stupid piece of scrap could decide to latch onto anything or any one at this point.
Having stopped to get something to eat, she’s about to enter the doorway that Baldur was just chased away from. She sidesteps as he shuffles in her direction, not because he’s different (gods no, that isn’t it), but because he’s metallic, and she doesn’t want to have to deal with another ‘incident’.
“Greg.” The dark haired woman with slightly pointy ears smiling warmly at the fair headed man, holding out a hand to him, even as she goes to kiss his cheek. Dressed in the dark blue of House Taniguchi, Natsu’s wearing a cheongsam, and her hair up – highlighting her heritage as she always does.
“Of course. I warned you about being seen with me, didn’t I? Don’t think you’re safe here, either.” She doesn’t mention Jericho and how he’s been targeted. It’s bad enough as it is.
At the sound, she turns and lets out a sigh. “That… is one of mine. He’s supposed to be helping me. Mister Baldur. Attend if you will.” beat “And hello Miss Bridger. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Ooh- sorry there, man,” Baldur says as he catches Stella out of his peripheral. He spins around a full three-sixty, backing into a nearby wall. “-er, ma’am, that is.” Whoops. Emitting a ‘cough’, he starts towards Natsuki as he hears her call him over.
He brushes off his sleeves as though stepping into the bar had made him grimy, not that doing so makes much of a difference for his worn attire, but it makes him feel better. “This is harder than I thought it’d be,” he informs Natsuki with a mimicked sigh of his own. “Oh, hey guy.” That said to Greg, accompanied with a two-fingered salute.
“Hello. Baldur. I’ve heard that name before… ah yes. You’re a Black Sun. Interesting that you actually have time to take side jobs what with things being the way they are.” The Black Suns, of course, have a direct contract with the Crown, but do often hire out or subcontract with other mercenary units that pass through the area for additional work.
“Miss Bridger.” Greg remembers her from ‘way back’ which is to say from several months ago when he and Nat ran into her and a man with a very strange accent in Richmond.
“Call me Greg.” He looks at Nat. “They might be perfect.”
“It’s never easy, Mister Baldur…” Natsuki says dryly, slipping her arm through Greg’s. Whenever they’re seen together, this is what it’s like. It fuels rumours, to be certain but Natsu has a reputation and people see what they want.
“This is Greg. We’ve known each other for years. Since I was a teen, in fact.” the Agent of the Crown gets a sideways look from the part-elf “Do you think so? You better not keep them in suspense. They like to cut to the chase. What do you do two know of the army that Vesper is massing and the reasons they’re giving for it?”
There’s certainly been enough rumours. Soulless and an army that’s situated in Richmond would be the most common.
Those glowing orange optics settle upon Greg for a moment before the cyborg begins to shake his head. “N…o, actually. Not Black Sun- or at least, not until recently. Been more of a …freelance, b’fore then.” He’d purposely been avoiding joining up with an organization out of the unwillingness to be pulled into things. Of course, that sort of reasoning was decades old, and it’s only because of Kaius Mars come back from the dead (or may as well have) that Baldur had even considered joining now. Maybe he’s realized he’s not getting any younger. It’s been a weird sort of perspective of experience, being in a body that doesn’t change much while the world around you went on.
“-nice to meet you, Greg,” Baldur resumes, holding out a metal hand wrapped in a fingerless glove to shake. He looks at Natsuki again, his gaze lingering a bit upon the arm she weaves through Greg’s. “Oh yeah? That long, huh,” he replies distractedly, and then, “-perfect for what?” just as Natsuki nudges things onward.
“Oh, that. I’ve heard a grab-bag of rumors. Not sure how serious to take ’em. I’ve heard some say they’re up for starting trouble, and others about undead things, and still more about demons.” He shakes his head, setting his fists at his sides. “Sounds like the world’s gettin’ crazier out there, every day.”
“The world often does.” Greg says smoothly. “It’s the job of the Agents of the Crown to keep an eye on it. And right now all eyes are on the army in Vesper, which means that those same eyes are not looking elsewhere. We’ve been hearing persistent rumors of a warlord uniting the Psi-Stalker tribes to the west. The last time that happened it was three years of war and raiding. We need to know the truth of the matter. If Dogwood is to be assailed from two fronts we’ll need as much warning as we can get.”
The agent of the crown pauses and smiles ruefully. “Sadly some of the most efficient intelligence services Dogwood has aren’t under the Crown.” That’s an oblique reference to one such service that Natsuki knows of that gave the Agents trouble recently.
“That long… ” Natsu smiles. One day someone’s going to ask her directly about the relationship with Greg but right now, she really hopes her stalker hasn’t decided that removing Jericho from her life isn’t enough. She really doesn’t want to be answering questions posed by the King or his agents as to why one of their own was attacked.
Greg’s reference has the Asiatic woman glancing over to him. She’s as tall as him, if not taller. Another part of her heritage. “That’s true. They aren’t and when Greg asked if I knew of anyone who could … help out. You and Mister Mars, and Miss Bridger here, came to mind. He wants to recruit you to do some nosing around.” She won’t say discretely, though that would be perfect, because … well, Baldur.
One of the nice things about having a metal frame is that one can’t tell if you stiffen a bit from some reaction or another. Actually it also makes for a great pokerface…if you were any good at gambling. Baldur hears those four particular words and suddenly he’s just a touch warier of Greg’s company. Still, if he’s been an acquaintance or more of Natsuki’s for so long, then maybe he’s all right. The cyborg sure isn’t going to envy Greg’s position.
“Eeeesh, psi-stalkers, huh…” he mutters thoughtfully. Yeah, don’t that just sound like fun times. “Well, it’s sure nice of you to think of us, Miss Taniguchi! I mean, me an’ Kai ain’t been under employ all that long and already you’ve got something in mind for us! ….you’re not just trying to get rid of us, are you?”
And hey! He can be perfectly discrete! He’s not the one with the giant mech! …okay yeah, actually, he’s pretty terrible at subtlety, truth.
“Are you?” Greg teases Natsuki. He knows that when she wants to get rid of people she’s quite resourceful but she doesn’t generally pay them to get rid of them. Well, there was that one time…
But that was a special case.
“Kai… Ah. The former Lord Mars, you would mean.” Greg appears to be up on all the gossip and news. Which is not surprising considering what his job is. “But yes. Psi Stalkers, in all their hundreds of thousands.”
“I think he’s sweet on me. Why would I do that?” The Nat almost purrs at Greg as he teases. And yes, there was that one time though she prefers not to think on it. There are other ways to be rid of trouble.
“Not at all, Mister Baldur. It comes down to who I think I can trust and as Greg will tell you, my instincts are rarely wrong.” she nods at Greg’s next words “Yes. Kaius Mars. He doesn’t go by the Lord anymore though. Won’t be drawn on the matter, either.”
At the mention of psi-stalkers, the part-elf shivers a little. Being what she is, psi-stalkers are an uncomfortable topic but still, it reminds her. Jericho and she need to go meet one. And soon.
Baldur eyes Greg at that. “You want us to go or not? Because that’s not the most encouraging way to do it,” he says, flatly. At Natsuki’s response he shuffles his feet a little, ever the fount of unusual positions and actions one might otherwise never expect to see coming from a virtual robot.
When it comes to the subject of Kaius Mars, the cyborg refrains from comment. That’s Kai’s business, so far as he’s concerned, and he’s not about to add anything to it. Knowing only so much as his friend’s told him, Baldur can’t blame Mars for wanting to skirt the topic when it comes up.
“Ahem.” Yes, he actually says the word as he tries to get back on track. “So, psi-stalkers. Anything else you can tell us about what you expect us to look out for? Any…oh, I dunno, hostile activity we should know about that’s concerned them, lately?”
The Agent of the Crown makes a one shouldered shrug. “Well his fief was reassigned decades ago…” So technically he’s not a lord. There are ways to fix that though. The Crown could make a grant though doing so is highly unusual. More likely, he could compete in the yearly Tournament, where new knights are selected. He’d have a massive advantage, being a former knight himself. He’d be starting at the bottom again, as a Questing Knight based in the city, but it wouldn’t be nothing.
Then again, the former Lord Mars likely knows all this. What he will try is largely up to him.
“Well the psi-stalkers themselves are by turns friendly and less than friendly so your most likely point of contention comes from them. But the Appalachians are rife with D-Shifting zones, demons and monstrous D-Bees. There should be ample opportunity to get into trouble. If you’re asking for the information we’re after, though, we’ve heard that the leader of the Iceni tribe is uniting the greater portion of the local tribes under his leadership. If that should happen it means war in the Appalachians, and if he emerges victorious from that, likely war for us as well.”
Natsu hasn’t pressed the issue any further with Mars. She has checked the records though, of course. “We’re trying to set up a number of ‘trading posts’ with the psi-stalkers. It’s taking a while to achieve due to all this kerfuffle, though.” There’s several things that seem to have the tribes in a tizzy.
“As to hostile activity. You’ll be heading into the Appalachians and we’re seeing a lot more demonic attack come from there. Finding the tribes will be as much of a chore as speaking with them.”
His arms folded across his chest now, Baldur drums his fingers along his arm, listening almost anxiously as Greg comments about how Mars might be able to reestablish his title. He’s not sure where his friend’s thoughts are along those lines, but he imagines that isn’t something that the man would let go of so easily. Well, maybe he’ll ask him. You know. All discrete-like.
“This just gets better and better,” the cyborg mutters, his optics twitching upwards in the closest approximation of an eyeroll that he can manage given his facial arrangements. “Guess we were already expecting some trouble with demons and unstable areas. Basically you’re saying we’re playing hide-and-seek in the worst place ever. So…” His eyes track from Natsuki to the Agent of the Crown. “…do you just want confirmation, oooor do you want this Iceni leader guy to disappear upon that confirmation?”
“If you do confirm it and think you can, be my guest.” Greg says with a shrugging gesture. “But not meaning any disrespect to your abilities, Baldur, that’s not something I’d ask any small group to accomplish. Even if you do manage to find him with few of his followers around… he’s a psi-stalker and a formidable one at that. Rest assured he’ll be no mean combatant even for someone of your obviously augmented nature.”
The reason, in fact, that both Vesper and Dogwood leave the psi-stalkers alone for the most part aside from their numbers is because they’re so very good at keeping the monster population of the Appalachians in check.
“Yes. That’s what we’re saying.” Natsu won’t sugar coat it. The situation is bad but it can get worse and it’s something the part-elf would like to avoid. Partially because the Taniguchi lands would be one of the first to be affected and partially because war is never good.
No matter that Dogwood can’t stand her and her kind.
“As Greg says though. My preference is to have you all come back. In one, operating, piece. With the information, we can plan the next step.” Brushing an errant strand of hair from her face, hooking it behind a pointed ear, the Estate Manager looks to Cyborg “You will do it, then?”
“Just thought I’d ask,” Baldur replies, giving a shrug of his own. “I mean, usually all the jobs I get sent on end up with me having to shoot something…” He likes shooting things. He’s a soldier, not a politician.
“….but that is a very good point. Better we not start up a whole mess up there to give ’em real cause to come out and start something up with us here.” As much as he’s a soldier, he knows firsthand the effects of war, and wouldn’t wish one up again either.
…although maybe if Natsuki and Greg had heard of Baldur and Mars’ little stint taking out those drug dealers the other day they might reconsider their options.
Drawing himself up as if taking a big breath, the cyborg sets his fists at his hips again, just above the holsters of his favorite guns. “Well. Since you’re asking nicely,” he says, looking almost shyly at Natsuki. “I’ll see what Kai says. He might not be too crazy about heading right into psi-stalker territory, but if it’s what we gotta do…”
“Wonderful. Miss Taniguchi will see to the arrangements of your compensation.” Which is as it should be since they’re working for her. Of course Greg will make sure the Taniguchis are in turn compensated, so everything will work out. It’s best to keep the agents ‘official’ involvement in these things to a quiet level, after all.
The shy look from the Cyborg has Natsuki’s eyebrow rising. “I’ll speak with Mister Mars when I return to the manor but I think you’ll have more success than I.” The part-elf smiles, hopefully winningly. “And you’ll all be well compensated for your troubles.” Stella included.
“Speaking of compensation. You owe me lunch…” Nat teases Greg. Perhaps that’s how they keep these arrangements quiet. It certainly looks like the rumours about them are true.
Maybe Natsu’s just a good actress.
“I shall see you back here in a few hours, Mister Baldur.” For now the Cyborg can have some ‘down’ time. Or whatever it is that he does.
He’s just being dumb, don’t mind him. “Couldn’t hurt, I think. I’ll give him the rundown and you can handle the formalities. Maybe fill us in more on this Bridger we’re partnering up with,” Baldur suggests. He nods, both at Natsuki and Greg. “Ooh, compensation. Can’t forget that.” Somehow he can suggest a smile even with only his jaw being able to open and the brighter glow of his eyes.
“Well, you two enjoy yourselves, and I’ll um…be around!” he says with another bob of his head. He sure doesn’t know what he’ll be doing in the meantime, but maybe he’ll try his hand at recruitment again. Or accidentally start a bar fight. Could be one and the same.
Natsuki and an Agent of the Crown decide to enlist in the services of certain individuals to investigate cause for growing concerns regarding the amassing Psi-Stalker tribes to the west.
May 12, 2410
The Billet, Dogwood