Getting Captain Kennedy situated had taken a bit of time, as well as the scientists that Ardul and Hunter had ‘rescued’. There’s now a small colony of Iyesgarthians in Saren’s Rest. Colony? Flock? Gaggle? Hunter doesn’t know what the proper term is. Whatever it is, there’s a lot of them now.
Hunter is back at his desk working with some of the wolfen technology the scientists had recovered. Images keep appearing on the holo screen near him. Other wolfen, and a few canines that don’t look like wolfen but look similar. Slightly shorter, broader muzzles, finer face fur, thicker hair.
Hunter is quiet and somewhat solomn.
Rescued seems like a stretch. Taken custody of? Perhaps that’s marginally better. Either way Artur Kennedy was esconced in the tender care of the other Iyesgarthian and perhaps … flock … is the appropriate collective noun.
Ardul had spent time gathering supplies for the growing flock, dealing with questions that she might prefer not to answer and generally getting them settled. They’ll need work, she knows that, if they’re going to keep eating.
It’s a quiet, introspective Valkyr that enters their apartment and starts to remove the armour she wears. There’s almost a ceremony to the way she does it – despite being oathsworn, the armour still means something to her. It’s the images of the Wulf that catch her attention – “What are you looking for?”
“Logs of survivors.” Hunter says quietly, cycling through what appears to be a crew manifest. “Seeing who survived the crash.”
It bears remembering that Hunter knew a lot of these people and odds are good that not many were placed in cryo-sleep as he was. So even if people he knew did survive, they’d be long dead. Perhaps he’s been collecting their stories on his journey.
“Are our new guests settled? We’re going to have to do something with them soon.” The trouble is as soon as they start taking work they expose themselves to potential spies and make themselves a target for Hyfil’s people. Doubly so if Nina is spotted. If they don’t, though, they starve. No good choices, really.
Ardul winces as she places her armour carefully and turns to face the Wolfen as he works. “I’m … sorry…” she says, moving to stand near him, placing a hand on his shoulder as she looks at the holodisplay he’s reviewing. “This … can’t be easy. I would have it any other way, if I could.”
She doesn’t ask what he’s found. Not yet. That will come. Maybe he’ll share before she prompts. “As settled as they can be. They are curious about … us, unsurprisingly but they are anxious about their future. Which I can’t really fault on them. Most just want to return home.”
And yes, if they take work, they risk more exposure but the options just really aren’t tenable.
Hunter cycles through the images a bit more, then reaches forward and shuts down the holodisplay. “I am too.” Sorry that is. Three hundred years is a long, long time.
//Hello Hunter. Hello Ardul.// The noise of plucked strings sounds behind them. Hunter is almost not surprised… almost. Every other time that Kazue has showed up, Kaji has been present. It is a bit odd that it would appear without the young human.
“Hello Kazue.” Hunter half turns in his chair to see the fox-being floating with the koto nearby.
//You seem sad. Don’t worry. You won’t be before now.//
Now Hunter has a headache. Again.
Ardul draws in a deep breathe as Hunter shuts off the display. Maybe he didn’t find anything but memories. He lost his family and anyone near to him when he was placed in cryo-sleep. “Did you f—-”
The sound of plucked strings has the Valkyr tensing, fingers tightening on Hunters shoulder for the moment. “Kazue. Kaji isn’t here at the moment …” she starts, turning with Hunter but not moving from his side “but I wanted a word. So it’s good of you to drop in….”
Hunter reaches up and places his hand briefly on Ardul’s reassuring. He’s suspicious of this foxlike being that seems to pop in wherever it wants and knows so much of Ardul’s people.
Kazue tilts her head slightly and floats down a little closer to Ardul. //You have questions? You have heard something. Something you did not like. Something that has made you doubt.// Either it knows what she heard or Kazue is very good at reading Ardul.
//What did you wish to say?//
Ardul is very hard to read. She’s had a lot of practice at maintaining her poise and masking her thoughts. Life in court, even as a soldier, teaches you that and Ardul was raised there.
“Doubt? What would I have to doubt, Kazue?” the blonde says cooly. “You’ve been open and informative all the time.” There’s a dry tone to the words “I was just wondering why certain of my people would wear pins exactly like the one you gave Kaji and wield, what my people would call, unnatural powers.” It’s blunt and direct but she’s not making accusations at the moment.
“Perhaps you could tell me more about the pin and how you came by it…”
“Did you give those pins to Ardul’s people?” Hunter suspects the pins are more than just simple pieces of enameled metal. He saw how Kazue created the one that Kaji has. They’re marks, but of favor or of something else that he doesn’t know.
//Not everything in the universe is freely given, and magic may be seized upon by those hungry enough to do what is necessary to take it.// It’s not a specific answer but the fox-being is clearly hinting at something. //There were those in Iyesgarth who wished for power that science could not give them. In their frustration, they looked for another way.//
“Speak plainly, Kazue.” Ardul says, her tone becoming cold and implacable.
Both she and Hunter have suspected for some time that the Horatio, or Horatio’s faction, has colluded with another power to gain the technology to what they’ve done. But she hadn’t suspected this. Perhaps she should have.
“Who gave those pins to my people?” Kazue can hint all she likes but Ardul doesn’t have time for puzzles.
//No one gave those pins to your people Ardul. They took them.// Kazue’s large vulpine eyes focus onto Ardul. //Your people are savage, implacable warriors. You know this. When in your history have the strong ever not taken what they wished from whom they wished?//
“They… took them from you? Don’t you have to create them?” Hunter cants his head slightly.
//Yes. And yes.//
“… took them….” Hunter will feel it, the way that rocks Ardul, her fingers tightening on his shoulder. It might be painful. “… we are not savage …” The last is a denial, spoken hoarsely. Ardul might be fierce but savage? No one could ever accuse her of that.
Maybe historically they had been. The Iyesgarthian’s that is. Nomadic avians where flocks fought each other and took what they needed to survive. But it hadn’t been such, not in many centuries perhaps longer. The blonde just stares at Kazue in horror.
The news … had broken her poise.
“How… when…” she swallows and tries again. “How did they take them from you?”
//Are you not? Did not your civilization rise by conquest, built on the bones of the defeated? Did not your present ruler murder his brother and try to murder his niece in order to attain power? Did not he have the backing of many of your people? Is that not savage?//
Kazue’s string plucked voice remains soft but there is power in it. It almost //feels// harsh. Condemning.
“Did you tell them about other worlds?”
//They knew. They hungered. They found me by trickery many years ago. They studied me to take my power, to use it to find other skies to plunder.//
Ardul doesn’t know about those who supported Horatio. Whether they did it freely or if there were other considerations. Some must have but did all of them? These are questions that she might have been avoiding asking herself. “No. Nina’s father died of natural causes …”
More denial for the blonde Valkyr because the alternative – if Horatio //had// murdered his brother then Ardul and the others had failed before they began.
“What we once were is not what we are. You must know that, Kazue… People change and so do their do civilisations.” But Ardul can’t deny the truth behind the Kitsunae-like beings words. They had once been savages and Horatio’s actions have been … barbaric.
“What do you mean they studied to //take// your power? Did you live with them?”
//Mortals do not change. They can only be what they are.// Kazue says. She does not challenge Ardul’s denial. The fact that she has asserted it will make the winged woman think and possibly question… everything.
//Does a prisoner live with her captors? Does a lab specimin live with the scientists?// More allegations without the actual words. //They took what they had the power to take. And now that they have more power, they will take even more.//
“Of course they do, Kazue…” Ardul says faintly, holding Hunters shoulder to keep herself upright. Her entire foundation, everything she believes in has been rocked with these admissions and, although Kazue isn’t saying things directly, the implications are chilling.
“Prisoner? They … captured and … studied you?” For a moment she feels like a child again, back in school and failing to grasp what others see as basic concepts. “Hunter, do you understand any of this….” it’s a plea to the Wolfen to tell her that she’s not really hearing what they’re hearing.
“So you gave them the power and now they’re like children run amok. How can we stop them, Kazue?”
Hunter squeezes Ardul’s hand. “Just what she’s saying, yes.” Kazue’s implications are quite clear. He does notice that they’re only implications but it’s difficult to draw other conclusions from what is being said.
//I did not give them power. They took it. And yes, like children now they smash anything that catches their eyes, looking for monters under the bed and candy in every jar. Horatio thinks that he will take his people to rule new skies, that the power he may lay hold of is limitless.//
“How do we stop them, Kazue? They’re using your power ….” Ardul frowns as she realises something and thinks she’s going to regret asking the next question “How did you escape them, Kazue? You must have had help …”
“We must stop Horatio, Hunter, before it’s too late …” the words are murmured but he had to expect this. Maybe it is already too late …
//I have not yet had help…// Kazue plucks at her koto.
“You mean you haven’t escaped. They’re still drawing on your power.” Hunter looks at Ardul. He knows she’s right but they’re still on the steps before stopping Horatio and as far as they know Horatio is on the homeworld, far away from here.
//I am trying to help you stop them. Stop Hyfil first. Stop them from expanding their power.//
“Then ….” Ardul shakes her head trying to understand this. “… how are you here? If you haven’t escaped …” Magic. She really doesn’t understand it.
Helping them? Ardul wants to rail at the fox-being and tell her she isn’t – but she has been helpful in her own cryptic way. She helped them find and restore, Nina after all.
“How do we stop Hyfil, Kazue. If he’s using your power, is there a counter?”
//I have escaped. Eventually.// Kazue says serenely.
“Time…” Hunter feels that headache coming back. Time manipulation exists but it is generally something that is the province of very powerful magical beings. And Kazue seems to be doing that here.
And has been for some time.
//Hyfil does not have my stolen blessing. He was not one of Horatio’s chosen. He wishes to earn his way to that. He collects things that his master will need. His technology bends people to his will… but it can be broken.//
They already have a counter to the nanites. They just need to shut down Hyfil’s operations in Clearwater.
“You …” Ardul doesn’t try to understand that, just glances at Hunter with a look of despair. Time manipulation – she hadn’t considered it really and has managed, so far, to gloss over it with Kazue. Now she’s confronted with it and violently.
“Well that’s something and we do have the counter to the nanites.” At least they aren’t going to face Kazue’s magic head on. At least, not yet at any rate.
“And why did you come here today?”
Hunter shakes his head. Don’t try, would be his advice. Don’t try to understand it’ll just make your head hurt. The Wolfen is trying not to think of it himself.
//I came to bring you… grave news. Hyfil knows you’re here. Horatio is tired of your opposing him. They’ve decided to use their technology upon those who would have the most knowledge of you, those who have known you since you were a child, and turn them into hunters to find you and bring you in.//
“Bring me in? Or kill me?” Ardul doesn’t even blink at that news. In many ways it had been expected and Ardul almost welcomes it. It means they’ve pressed the other side hard enough for them to show their hand. This, she can work with.
“He’d already turned my own people against me, that he’s resorted to my childhood nestmates doesn’t surprise me.” beat “When you say technology, do you mean just Hyfils or are they deploying Horatio’s … ‘technology’ … against me?”
This is a cold and calculating Valkyr. One who is suppressing any emotion associated with the news.
Hunter might want to address that. Later.
//It would be the same. Death, or obliteration of the self.// The nanites could probably do that. Turn someone into a blank slate, beyond any hope of recovery. //But it is the technology you already know…//
“Surely they’ve been improving it.” Hunter murmurs. They’ve already seen evolution in the nano-technology in a relatively short period of time. It’s indictive of someone rapidly understanding how this tech works. Which is frightening.
“Then it is something I can deal with …” Ardul murmurs. She’s already been infected by the nanites and it’s not something she wishes to experience again and she’s not sure what the nanites have done to her. She’s noticed changes, physically at least and psyiologically? Who knows what they interpreted.
“It’s possible Hunter but we have what we have and we need to move, quickly, if we’re going to stop this.” She looks to the foxlike-being once more, fingers still curled on Hunters shoulder. “Is there anything you can tell us?”
//Nothing more than what you will already know.// A mist obscures Kazue and when it blows away she’s gone.
Hunter blows out a sigh and looks up at Ardul. “They’ve taken your family, haven’t they?” He’s not sure what kind of family she has on Iyesgarth but he’s also not surprised it’s come to this. Tyrannical governments often resort to this kind of thing.
Ardul stands there, fingers digging into Hunters shoulder, long after Kazue has left.
he Wolfen can feel her breathing, deep breaths in, long slow ones out. Finally… “In a way, yes. My parents died some time ago. But there are those I grew up with. Trained with. They are dear to me.”
“They’ve probably had them held since Nina and I escaped two years ago.” She sighs. “I had hoped … ” Ardul doesn’t finish the statement knowing how foolish that had been. She had hoped they’d be safe and distance themselves from her – and they might have. But with Hyfil’s technology …
“They are the perfect ones to hunt me. They //know// me.” Or at least, they knew the Iyesgarthian she’d once been. How much has changed since she came here? How much has she changed because of Hunter and the nanites? Maybe, it will give them an edge.
“Then we will have to prepare.” It’s been a little while since Hunter and Ardul have faced assailants here in Saren’s Rest but it seems likely to happen again.
“I need you to tell me everything about what you had learned. We will need to make sure what they find is not what they expect.” The wolfen finally stands. “But right now I need food. Come, we’ll go to Rousseau’s.” At least if they’re attacked there, the bald elf will likely assist.