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Tyler

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  1. Tyler

    Grumble.crk

    Please read: The Cursor @AhaTheCursor • 6 minutes ago Replying to @Ancalad Well, if we're gonna talk about range... Ain't no one got THIS kind of range! AHA! REPLY GRUMBLE LIKE SHARE Meanwhile, in the Abbadon Triumvirate Base... A few hours later... Rodan Allagi @TheMutator • 1 minute ago Replying to @TheCursor Kid, put the silly plastic wand away. A real master practices their craft... "hands-on". 😉 REPLY GRUMBLE LIKE SHARE
  2. “What’s a nuke?” one of the militiamen asked. “It’s a really big bomb that can level a city,” the leader replied, “The Terrans have them in their military arsenal. Scary shit.” “We don’t have anything like that, magical or otherwise,” Valarie added, rubbing her forehead still, “Even if we did, we wouldn’t use it on our own home.” “The plan is just to get out of the city and avoid getting sent off to some prison camp,” the leader explained, “Maybe we can gather followers and form an underground resistance or something. With the mayor though, we might have more sway. Who knows, maybe she can petition the Terrans to intervene.” “You guys are waaaay too trusting with that information,” Layla scoffed, “We should just gag her with all the others and get going.” For a moment, Clive’s call did nothing but echo through the vast, steel and concrete chamber that lie behind him. But then, the sound of scuffling footsteps reached his ears, and he saw a figure emerging from shadows. At first, the dark clothing and general physique appeared to be that of Colonel Krieger, but when the man finally stepped into the light, and the dim light of the stairwell illuminated his face, it became clear that he was not. It was one of the other mercenaries, breathing raggedly and bleeding profusely, yet still alive and still more than a little crazed. He had a large handgun in his right hand, which he was holding just above his hip and pointing at Clive. “Heh heh… heheheh… did you think you’d just… get away?” he hissed, eyes bulging as he raised the pistol up higher to take better aim at Clive, who was not really in a position to shoot back, what with carrying another man, “Heheh, bu-bye cowboy.” *BANG* The single gunshot shattered the silence, echoing back into the main chamber and up the stairwell. The mercenary’s eyes remained wide and mad, and the sick, but pained smile remained plastered on his face. But no flash had ever emitted from his barrel, and after a moment, blood began to roll down his lip. After that, he simply tipped over and crashed to the ground, dead. Again, there was a brief silence. But it was again broken by footsteps, but this time it was the sound of jackboots, moving deliberately and with conviction. Not in Clive’s direction, but back into the chamber. Then, suddenly, a voice. “Nu-no! Please don’t!” the mercenary that had been hiding from Clive suddenly began crying. *BANG* Silence again, followed by the bootsteps resuming, this time heading for Clive’s position. Just as the silhouette of the figure became visible, Krieger’s voice called-out. “Still alive, mercenary? Good,” he said, not in a friendly tone, but in the tone of a man taking inventory of his available resources. He then stepped into the light himself, ignoring the dead thug in the center of the room as he approached the stairs. The colonel didn’t exactly appear unscathed himself, as there was blood running down his face from somewhere just above his hairline. And he was otherwise quite covered with the stuff. Then again… perhaps most of it was not his own… “If that soldier is unable to walk, then leave him. Our first priority is the Grand Executor,” he stated coldly as he came to a stop before the cowboy, “He appears to have managed to reach the upper level; we should proceed there at once.” Mara exhaled a bit this part of the Tin Man’s little speech. She was certainly conscious of the limitations that had been imposed on her so long ago, and she remembered the first few years after the accident, an innocent-looking, blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager, crying herself to sleep at night over the loss not just of her existing family, but any hope she had of every making one of her own. But her quest for justice, or maybe it was vengeance, slowly hardened her heart to those feelings. By the time she left Norkotia and first visited Hell’s Gate, where she eventually learned it was possible to have the primitive Norkotian machinery replaced with better technology, she realized that raising a family was simply something she could never do now, even if she wanted. “Ah, well, you could say I’m also not heartless,” she began, the briefly distant look in her eyes refocusing on the Tin Man, “I’m not so cruel as to bring children into the world with myself as their mother, what kind of life would that be? With all the people that want me dead? And even if not; romances... relationships… encounters… all unnecessary distractions for one in my line of work. A good way to let your guard down and get yourself murdered in your sleep, really. Nah, I think I’ll pass.” She flicked away the limp cigarette that had already smouldered and died in the unseasonable rain, her eyes remaining locked on the powersuit in front of her. “What’s more, you are mistaken; I am no mercenary. I am a bounty hunter, my job is to collect payment on the apprehension, or eradication, of wanted criminals. You think I agreed to this job because I just wanted to protect Mister Tynes? Hmhm… That’s just the bonus payment.” She frowned at that point though, her stance actually relaxing somewhat. “But then again, the mark of a successful entrepreneur is the ability to adapt to changes in the… what do the suits call it, “economic climate”? Heh, something like that. Perhaps once you have concluded your business with the executor here, we could discuss more of the details on the trip out of town?” Tynes remained silent throughout this time, a small part of him wondering if Mara was serious about taking up the Tin Man’s offer. He couldn’t entirely blame her if she did, there seemed to be no way to get out of his current situation alive… at least not yet. But if the personnel profile on the woman was even remotely accurate, then he could feel assured that she was ultimately just playing the game, but still had no intention of ultimately defecting to the Tin Man’s side. He hoped, anyway. The cyborg was his last best chance, as whatever Redbridge managed to rustle up likely wouldn’t have the firepower necessary to kill the Tin Man or his android. He only hoped she had managed to figure out a way to pull it off...
  3. Hey everyone, so I know you've all heard this from me before, but this time I'm afraid I'm pretty serious.

    Some of you may have seen a related statement or two from me already, or may just have noticed my general inactivity, but to make it clear to you all, I am ending my involvement in Canon Valucre. For one, I have largely lost interest in the canon world and process. My factions have gone as far as they're allowed to go (be it by the setting or my own personal limitations), and my characters either reached the end of their progression, or lack any avenue to be useful or interesting in the world going forward. And I'm just simply not interested in all the grind and post count requirements needed to adapt everything again.

    But more importantly, I just don't have the desire to devote the time to it anymore. The first time I tried to "leave", it was because I thought the situation at work was about to change and that it would affect my ability to RP reliably... well, things did change, only not in the way I expected. Rather than things suddenly getting busier and me being unable to find the time, COVID came around and caused our office to shift everyone to work-from-home (a change I absolutely love, by the way). As it turns out though, this change has sapped my RPing reliability considerably, but not due to lack of time or access. Rather, the availability of other activities to conduct in my free time has all but quashed any desire I might have had to try and rekindle the dimming fires of my canon characters and plots.

    That does not mean I have lost interest in RPing entirely. But the type of RPing I enjoy, the kind I cut my teeth on if you will, is not viable with the canon setting. I am in discussions with another person to set up an RP in the alternative section, and I have otherwise devoted time to doing quasi-tabletop/DnD type RPs in Discord servers. It is my plan to focus on those things with what time I allot to RPing.

    I only have two active RPs left here (and one inactive), and I fully intend to conclude them. For any of you who may have still been banking on any future plans with me though, I apologize. Hopefully I'm not leaving anyone high and dry, but I'm thinking I've already had discussions with anyone who I had any imminent plans with. Maybe I'll end up RPing with some of you again in the alternative RPs if they happen.

    Was tempted to wrap up the message all formal-like... but it's not like I'm leaving the site (at least not yet), so I'm just gonna leave it that.

    1. amenities

      amenities

      You've always been a pleasure to have around! May all your future endeavors be fruitful, my friend ❤️

      Edit: It's not goodbye, it's just good luck!

    2. Dolor Aeternum

      Dolor Aeternum

      Understandable. You'll be missed but hopefully we will see you around. It has been a pleasure collaborating with you and sharing this hobby. You can ping me any time if things change or just to catch up. Hope you enjoy whatever you decide to devote your time to in all things.

  4. So, I was kind of just waiting until someone brought it up and forced me to respond, since I just wanted to leave things go as long as possible in case I changed my mind, but basically I won't be participating further in Ursa Madeum, despite semi-recent commitments to the contrary. I had fun here at one time, but the only path I see ahead of me is one of work and grind, not necessarily much fun. My apologies to @Csl since I think you were excited about me participating in UM again, but circumstances just have me no longer interested in the exhausting effort it takes to write for Canon Valucre. No fault of your own; it pretty much applies to everything here. Regardless, thanks for the invite @Die Shize, I'm sure it would have been great writing with you again. But I'm afraid I'm just kinda done here, so I won't be starting anything new (at least not on the canon boards). I guess this means you guys can just strike Karradeen from the books. Say they left the country like Dali did or something, I dunno.
  5. Hi, I think I'm going to drop out at this juncture. I just haven't been feeling this plot anymore, and... well yeah, basically that. Sorry I had said I was gonna see this through to the end, but it's just taking too long and I guess I just don't have that drive to act these characters of mine anymore. Good luck to everyone who remains!
  6. Or maybe I'll just get it done in a half-hour instead. lol
  7. Taylor wanted to feel reassured when Quill said this wasn’t the worst mess she and Maat had been in. Maybe that was the case, but maybe Quill was only saying it to try and reassure the others. Or maybe she was underestimating the potential severity of the situation, who knew? Either way, Taylor was not near as convinced that things were under control as Quill and Maat were trying to portray. Whether she liked it or not, she was increasingly convinced she had stepped right into a horror story, and she wasn’t very confident that she was the one with plot armor. At that moment, something caused Quill to perk up. The feline humanoid then got up and headed for the door, putting a hand up to it, before thinking twice about what she was doing. Taylor wasn’t sure what Quill had been thinking at that moment, or why she came up short, but she was more than a little relieved that she hadn’t abandoned her and June here with Cecil. Taylor’s gaze turned toward the dark hallway, a chill running up her spine as she stared into the shadows. She wasn’t sure what there was to be afraid of back there, or behind the door, but she began to tense-up nonetheless. The prospect of clean, dry clothes was a pleasant one, but so had been the prospect of a usable bathroom just minutes before. Even so, there seemed no logical reason not to go into the backroom, what with the others busy elsewhere and there being nothing else to do in here. If there was a killer (or worse) hiding in that room… maybe it was better they faced it now than sit here going mad with fear over the possibility. “Let’s do it then,” Taylor nodded, digging into the back of her mind and reminding herself that a quaking, terrified girl was not who she wanted to be, and to herself she said, “Let’s kill the fucker if he’s in there.” Of course, it wasn’t like she’d be able to do that with her bare hands if the killer was a physically powerful individual. She needed a weapon of some sort. Alas that there were no guns, knives (save for the fishing knife that she was not about to touch with her bare hands), swords, bows or baseball bats to be seen. But she did remember seeing an isle with a few tools, maybe there was a hammer or something she could grab. Luck didn’t appear to be on her side though, as there didn’t appear to be any hammers, or crowbars, or really anything large enough to be useful. The best she could find was a mid-length screwdriver, which she supposed would be enough to stab somebody’s eyes out, but wouldn’t be much if the other person had a longer reach. Her bulky flashlight would have to do as a club if it came down to it. “If there’s another body in here...” she began to say to Quill as they entered the blood-stained hallway, the sight of the footprints and the feel of her feet sticking the floor causing her to wince, “...then we really need to convince Maat to let us leave.” As the cat-woman went to insert the key into the door, Taylor took a step back and braced herself. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but for those few seconds, all she could do was whisper silent prayers that it wouldn’t be any of the things streaming through her mind at that moment.
  8. Right, sorry! I will start on it tonight and hopefully I'll have something by tomorrow.
  9. Some time passed, but as the hours of the day went on, Abigail began to grow impatient as she waited for Holly and her entourage to return to the ship. While she could easily sail away using the shanghaied remnants of Da Villa's crew to man the higher-tech freighter they had hijacked, the airship itself was not accessible to the folks left on the shore. Abigail may have been a harsh, often cruel individual, but she was not going to allow a fellow noblewoman be left in some dank cave on the mainland without a way out. As such, she was soon heading back inside, a small compliment of marines with her. When they arrived in the horde chamber once again, one of the marines spotted the bodies and rushed forward. "Your grace, over here!" he exclaimed, pointing-out Holly. Abigail approached and crouched down to check the pulse. "She's still alive," the duchess noted, "Get a medical team, quickly!" "Yes ma'am!" Abigail rose to her feet and glanced about the chamber. Something had been here recently, something ancient and sinister. She recognized its presence as bearing a faint similarity to the power in the Soul Speaker, yet she herself was not familiar enough to know what. Whatever had been here was now gone, but its damage had been done. The matter of what it was could be left for another time. For now, it was time the nobles and their people to return home...
  10. Most of the militia people were in dead silence in response to Zack’s outburst, save for Layla, who started snickering. “Heh, he pissed your pants, Val.” Valerie’s (or rather, Zack’s) eye twitched at both the seeing the wet spot and at Layla’s completely unnecessary need to poke fun at it. But the others seemed more interested in something else that had been said, specifically about the mayor. “That whole story sounds like a load of rubbish to me,” the leader responded. “To be fair, I did hear a lady’s voice shouting something at us earlier,” the guy inhabiting the Norkotian captain’s body piped-up, “Was hard to make out though.” “Doesn’t matter, I don’t see the mayor here, so unless you have some better proof than that…” the leader continued. “Hold on, that one’s face is covered,” one of the others pointed-out Cordoza(‘s body), which did indeed still have a facial covering to protect her identity. The leader swiftly moved toward her and pulled the mask off, revealing a familiar, yet dirty and ragged face to the rest of the militia. That prompted a murmur among them as they found themselves rather shocked by this revelation. “Tha-that is her… But how? Why is she…” the leader was confused, “Wait, who is in there now?” Cordoza’s face had been pretty blank at first, but after the leader ask, a rather dumb (and/or creepy) smile formed on her face, before she spoke very simplistically. “Am woman. Is nice.” “Ha! It’s Brutus,” Layla remarked. Valerie facepalmed, but it may have been due to an ache in her head as much as it was in response anything else. “Well, whatever! The fact is that we now know that the mayor is here, and at least some of what Va-- what the kid was saying is true. This is perfect, actually. If we can manage to pull off the plan, we’ll be able to evacuate the mayor from the city as well. That, in and of itself, should be a major victory for our side,” the leader mused. It was uncertain where the guardsman was when the frag went off, but he had likely found cover far enough from the blast radius to remain unaffected. The same could not be said the mercenaries, as a couple found themselves blasted by shrapnel at close range, while the rest dove to the floor and avoided most of the damage. Clive’s aim in the dark was apparently not as good as it could have been, as all of the mercs, save the two, were soon getting back on their feet, most of them still combat-ready. “Move it! We’re almost there--” one of the mercs barked, turning around to look at his comrades, before the sight of a huge, glowing, orange mass caused his eyes to widen and his jaw to go slack, “--EEEEEIYYAYAAH!” A frag grenade is not a particularly powerful explosive when it comes to penetrating armor. In truth, its main purpose is ripping through soft, fleshy material via tiny fragments of metal shrapnel. Against a tank, or even against a solid building, the blast would not be of much concern. And in this steel and concrete-reinforced mecca of molten metals and heavy machinery, Clive’s concerns over structural damage would actually have been pretty meritless. Would have, we should say, if not for the fact that many of those machines had soft, fragile hoses, control panels and other elements that were not simply solid chunks of cast iron or forged steel. One piece of the frag had severed a hydraulic hose, causing it to come completely loose and spray its contents all over the floor. But more importantly, the huge vat of molten lead that it had been holding over a firepit was no longer being held up the way it was before (for lack of a better way to describe it). Suddenly, that vat had been allowed to come tumbling down, tipping over and spilling its contents right into the midst of the charging mercenaries. Two of the goons were enveloped almost immediately, their bodies fried to a crisp and buried under what would eventually cool into a huge blob of solid lead. Three more caught on fire as the superheated heavy metal reached their boots and pants, causing one to trip and splat on the floor, where he was overtaken like the first two. The others kept running and burning. The rest of the mercs managed to avoid the hazard, but it had taken their focus off of Clive and left them solely worried about self-preservation. In the meantime, the chaos caused by that situation had given the guardsman enough of a distraction to continue his flanking maneuver. He had managed to cross to their side of the building, and was moving in for the kill. But unfortunately they didn’t remain distracted forever, and just as he got into flanking position, they noticed him. There was a burst of automatic fire as all three guns went off at once, spraying bullets in nearly every direction, and ricocheting them into the rest of the directions. In the chaos, all three men were shot, but only one died. The two who lived, the further away of the two mercs, and the guardsman, both bleeding and with dry clips, stood still for a moment and stared at one-another in what instantly became a tense standoff. Both had secondary weapons; the guardsman had a pistol and a combat knife, the mercenary had a machete. The mercenary had been nicked in the head and blasted through the left arm. The guardsman had the earlier wound in his shoulder, plus a limp from the car crash, and now sported a new wound in his lower abdomen. Was it fatal? Not immediately, but he would likely die from blood loss in a few minutes, at the most. However, he was the one who still had access to a gun, and the merc knew that he wasn’t going to be able to just wait it out, not when he had the disadvantage in secondary weapons. All it would take is the guardsman to pull his pistol and he would end up being the last man standing, to die at his own leisure. That is… if the merc didn’t chop the soldier’s head off first! “RAAAAH!” the merc charged forward, whipping his blade out of its sheath mid-run. The guardsman drew his pistol, reactions a bit slow thanks to blood loss and fatigue. A shot was fired, but it went whizzing past the merc’s head. There was a slash of a machete, and the pistol went spinning across the room and into the wall with a loud clank. A couple of fingers went with it, prompting a pained scream from the soldier, who had lost a little too much of himself already. And yet, he was not dead yet, as he spun clockwise as the merc’s momentum had left him off-balance to the soldier’s right. This allowed him to twist around to the merc’s side, while drawing out his combat knife with his left hand, which was numb from the soldier injury, but functional enough to complete that one task. Adrenaline dulling everything else, the soldier placed both injured hands together and drove the knife forward, straight into the merc’s chest as the latter tried to pivot to face the guardsman head-on. “URK!” Both men were now face-to-face, once more staring each-other in the eye. The merc’s eyes bulged in shock and hate, while the guardsman’s were nothing but stone cold conviction. The merc then went limp, slumping forward into the guardsman’s arms, as though falling into a hug, though that was hardly the case. Nonetheless, the guardsman caught the dying thug, and with the last of his energy, backed them both into a nearby wall and slid to the floor. And there they stayed... Mara had to divide her attention between listening to what the Tin Man had to say, and trying to reason-out what exactly she was seeing coming from both the armored merc and his android stooge in infrared. When the Tin Man spoke Korzuc’s name, there was notable activity and reaction from both individuals, which left Mara with more questions than answers. The android appeared to be some sort of… swarm. Perhaps some sort of nanobots? She’d spent plenty of time in Hell’s Gate off and on over the years, so she’d heard of the concept, whereas she doubted Tynes would be as familiar with it. If that were the case, killing Kurzac would be extremely difficult, if not impossible with the technology available. But if she could manipulate him somehow… “Aw, I’m flattered,” Mara responded in a playful voice, “Just make sure you don’t mess up my hair.” She flicked her hair in a mockery of femininity, as was just about everything about her person. She liked to act the part to mess with people, but the reality was there was relatively little woman left within the outer shell. Everything below the lunges had been gutted after her accident years ago, but only the essential parts had been replaced. All dear Doctor Engel had done for Mara’s womanhood was to install a synthetic organ to provide her with the necessary hormones, but the rest of what made her female was deemed “unnecessary” and disposed of. It was sad in a way, but then, who’d have wanted to have kids with a half-machine like her anyway? “Maybe you do have a heart after all,” she continued, speaking to the Tin Man even though her eyes rested on Korzuc, “You actually care about poor Korzuc getting lonely.” She watched intently to the android’s reaction to his name being spoken, wishing to see how different it was when she spoke it in comparison to when the Tin Man did. Perhaps it was nothing to do with his name, but rather it was simply a coded command transmitted from the Tin Man’s helmet. But either way, she didn’t have enough information to determine anything yet. “It’s so sweet of you,” she cocked her head to the side afterward, eyes flicking back to the Tin Man. Tynes wasn’t sure what Mara was doing, but he didn’t desire to interrupt it. His attention was more focused on the passage of time. He wasn’t sure how or in what form the response to his request would come, but he could only hope they arrived in the allotted frame. If not, and the Tin Man saw fit to incinerate him, then he could only hope that his advisor would know to level the entire city block with everything he could call up, just to make sure the Tin Man and his goons did not get away.
  11. Fair enough, Quill (cat) and Cecil (elf) might hear, but Taylor and June are baseline humans.
  12. By the time Maat started prodding the corpse, Taylor had finally got a hold of herself and was no longer panting or breathing raggedly, though there was a still a shiver in her movements, both due to cold and adrenaline. If she had sounded like she was crying earlier, that was only because of how shaky she was. Any tears were only from wincing so hard at the putrid stench emitting from the bathroom. Crying was something reserved for hearing sad music playing in a funeral home, not for a moment like this. She was not sobbing... but she was panicking. Luckily, in the company of the larger group, she felt safer, and began to calm down. Once June finally let go of her, she stood nearby and watched with bated breath as their unofficial leader began to poke the body. She half expected it to suddenly stand up and roar at them, but nothing of the sort happened. It was perfectly, naturally dead, and had probably been killed by some perfectly normal, natural person; albeit a very strong one. As strange as a world of elves and cat-people was to her, she did not want to let her imagination go so wild that she expected everything to be a demonic monster that wanted to rip her throat out. Even so, her eyes kept darting around the room, watching not just the people, but the shadowy corners and the rain-splattered windows. There was a tension in the air that was simply unbearable, and the fact that she didn't so much as have a pocket knife with-which to defend herself only served to heighten her growing sense of dread. Oh, what she'd give to have a gun or two (or five) right now... "It's a bus, isn't it? You should be able to fit seven people," Taylor pointed-out, "I'll ride in the trunk if I have to. Better than staying here, especially if none of us are armed! It's just... a bad idea." She thought about whispering to either Maat or June that she thought one of the others might be the killer, but that might only further convince Maat that they needed to stay here. After all, why would he want to bring a potential killer with him on his bus? Though, even if one of them were a killer, it would be better for them to start heading back to civilization, where they would be safer, rather than remain out here in the middle of nowhere. The killer wouldn't be able to do much in a crowded vehicle, and if it wasn't any of them, then they would simply get out safely and could send a police team back here instead. But it looked like Maat was resolute about staying here and figuring out a way to get into the nearby town. It was dejecting for Taylor, but she wasn't craven enough to go outside and steal someone else's rollerbus and leave them behind in such a situation (tempting though it was). She'd have to steel her nerves and endure both fear and physical discomfort until either they found a way across the river, or until Maat finally figured out that it was a better idea to leave. In any case, Maat was soon out the door with Lumina, off to find Iohmar. That left Quill and Cecil here with her and June. Quill seemed like a tough, street-smart kind of person, which was reassuring. But the person who had murdered the poor store clerk appeared to be quite the physical specimen, which just left Taylor to wonder if anyone here would be capable of countering them. It also left her wondering if she was wrong to suspect Cecil, as the elf did not appear to be strong or vicious enough to have committed such an act. Then again, she knew nothing of elven biology, and perhaps they were much stronger than a comparative human. Or even worse, maybe he was on some sort of drug that gave him ridiculous strength, but was the cause of his jitters and paranoid behaviors. In order to calm her nerves, she grabbed another wrapped-up snack from the shelves, tore the wrapper away and began munching on it. Eating was a comfort for her, and right now she needed a little comfort. Especially since trying to dry herself off in the bathroom was now out of the question, as was (apparently) any hope of hopping into a warm vehicle and driving back to the safety of civilization. To hell if junk food was bad for her, it seemed to be her only connection to the reality she knew right now. Even so, if she was gonna be forced to stay here, she wanted to know why. What was so important that they couldn't just leave? "Why do you guys want to get into the town so bad?" Taylor finally spoke again, in a voice steady enough finally to get the words out with no stutter, "We're only here because this is the first shelter we could find. I don't know a thing about this place." The question was directed at Quill, but she was curious if Cecil would answer it as well.
  13. I'm gonna assume that we can't hear the shouting in the store; we have two walls and a fair distance between us and Iohmar, and it is raining heavily. So between the terrain and the conditions, especially if we shut the door after Maat and Lumina left (logical, to keep the wind and rain out), I would think we wouldn't be able to hear.
  14. Abigail glared back at Holly, a flash of anger in her eye. But at last, she adopted a more neutral expression and nodded in acceptance. "Very well. I offered you a reward and shall honor that commitment. But if this dragon in any way threatens the security of House Karradeen, I will have her put down." She turned her burning gaze toward Nikki for emphasis, causing the dragon girl to nod meekly. "I promise, I won't hurt anyone." "I didn't say I didn't want you to hurt anyone, you just can't hurt anyone I don't want you to hurt," Abigail corrected, "Now if that is quite all, I suggest we depart this dreary lodging and return home, before something else happens." With that, the Karradeens headed back up the tunnel to the surface, one crown and one dragon richer than they had arrived as. Shane remained with Holly though, not really wanting to hang around the duchess any longer than she had to. "So, what is it you are intending to do down here?" she asked.
  15. The charges had been set, but Zack’s nervous warning came before the men could position themselves for the breach. Tessa didn’t visibly react much to the suggestion, but she saw it was a fair point, and after seeing how the militia made-up for inferior numbers and training with disturbing resourcefulness… “It’s worth considering, captain,” she turned her head slightly toward the commanding officer. The captain’s eyes shifted from Tessa, to Zack, to the men standing by with the detonators in hand, ready to activate the charge. Breaching and entering was the fastest way to get things moving, and if the enemy was in some way off-guard, or escaping, then hitting them hard now was the best bet. But all signs pointed to this being a trap, and if the enemy hadn’t bothered to shoot at them on the way in, it could mean they had already escaped somehow, which would make a bomb a no-risk scenario for the militia, with the potential for a big payoff. “The detonators ain’t got much transmitting range, so we can’t go far. But since they ain’t shootin’, I guess it won’t hurt nuthin’ if we back the main squad off a bit,” the captain agreed, likely to Zack’s surprise. At the captain’s orders, three men stayed relatively close to the door, though they were still about ten to fifteen yards away and behind what cover they could find. The rest backed-off even further, keeping their weapons trained on the door. On their commander’s mark, one man activated the charges, which were enough to blow the door off its hinges. There was no follow-up explosion, so the other two men tossed hand grenades inside the door, then waited for detonation. Outside of the loud bank and flash created by the grenades, there was no further explosion, nor evidence of a trap. Perhaps there was no trap after all? Seeing as they had gotten this far, the captain then ordered everyone up and toward the door. He led the way personally, with several of his men, as well as Tessa, Private Westfold, Zack and Cordoza, though the latter four stayed at the rear of the squad. Another squad of similar capacity held back at the entrance just behind them. The building was pretty well-trashed, especially the entryway, thanks to the grenade. There were a couple dead bodies that looked like they’d been shredded and charred by the explosives, though they looked like they might have been dead even before the grenades got to them. Various tables, chairs and furniture had been moved around to brace doors and windows, and there were abandoned weapons and empty ammunition cartons everywhere. Light in the room was dim and came only through the narrow windows, which had all been knocked-out so the defenders could fire out of them. The main room looked like it had been a lobby of sorts, while there appeared to be three rooms in the back, a restroom, a mechanical room and a small office. The doors were removed from all three rooms to be used as bracers though, so each room could be easily seen into from a distance, revealing little of interest. All-in-all, the entire operation looked like it had been pretty low-budget even before the war. By the look of it, the militia had long-since cleared out, as the only other sign of them was a third body covered by a stained sheet near the bathroom, a bloody rag in a bucket lying next to it. All the radio equipment was piled up near the entrance to the office, having been moved aside because it was not needed, save for one radio station that appeared to still be hooked up to the wires leading to the roof. It looked functional enough to serve their purposes. “Check them back rooms tuh be sure,” the captain barked, then questioned aloud, “How’n hell’d they manage to slip outta here past us?” “Keep clear of the body,” Tessa pointed-out the corpse covered by the sheet, “Just in case they rigged that too.” The soldiers checked the rear rooms, but found there was nobody hiding inside. But what was more baffling was that there was no sign of any secret exit that the militia could have used to get out. There were only two entrances: the front door, and a second one at the rear of the mechanical room, which was barricaded shut from the inside. And both doors were in view of the Norkotian lines, meaning there was no way they could have exited through either of them. The windows were also far too narrow for anyone to slip out of. “Collins, Jones, check the roof,” the captain directed two of the soldiers, “If there ain’t nobody thar, radio-in and stay put. Keep a lookout fer trouble.” The two soldiers nodded and headed for the mechanical room, where there was a ladder that accessed the roof. In the meantime, Cordoza, who had hidden her face again just in case the Tin Man’s goons were lurking about, headed for the radio equipment. She was not sure how to use it though, so Westfold decided to help her start it up. “This is Collins, all clear up top,” a voice came over the captain’s walkie-talkie. “Roger that Collins, report anythin’ immediately and standbaih’,” the captain answered. Tessa didn’t like this at all (and your humble narrator can only speculate as to how much less Zack was liking it), but there was simply no sign of any sort of trap, nor of where the defenders might have gone. Maybe there had only been the three of them all along? Not likely, unless the captain and his men were just that inept. They had to be somewh-- Suddenly, the white-haired soldier froze in-place, her black eyes widening at the realization of what she had just heard. It had come from behind her, but she knew well enough that there was nobody standing behind her. Collins and Jones were on the roof and the noisy hatch had not been opened since, the captain was across the room, Cordoza was at the radio equipment with Westfold, the three other soldiers were all in her field of view, and Zack was standing just a few feet away from her. The only thing behind her was… The body under the sheet. “Shit,” she hissed, whirling around and raising her weapon, “This one is still alive!” “Do it now!” an unfamiliar voice immediately wheezed in response, its source clearly coming from the direction of the covered corpse, which visibly stirred as it spoke. To the shock of everyone in the room, seven figures suddenly snapped into view, a dissipating sparkle of magic accompanying their arrival. Or rather, their reveal, as they had been in the room the entire time, cloaked from both sight and sound by a magic spell. They looked a bit drained from the ordeal though, but that didn’t stop one of them, a wizard by the look of him, from quickly springing into action. He had in his hand a staff, which he raised to the ceiling immediately, while shouting aloud: “Corporis-translatione-granditer!” At the same instant, there was a flurry of sound, as soldiers shouted and fired their weapons, though all was overcome by a blinding flash of light. The flash almost immediately halted all the sound of shooting and shouting, and when Zack’s eyes finally recovered, he found he was still staring into a sea of white… only it was a darker white. Actually, it was more of a grey, and he could feel that the sea of grey was pressed against his face. Wait… was that a sheet? Come to think of it, he realized his entire body was covered by a sheet, and what’s more, he no longer felt the pain or soreness from his numerous injuries. His cuffs were also gone, but it would be hard for him to tell that, as the next thing he realized was that he was really, really, really, REALLY freaking exhausted. It was as though all the energy had been drained from his body, making it so that he could barely move. He had about five very long seconds to take all this in, before there was a sudden clamour of noise once again; a befuddling mix of scuffling, thudding, cries and shouts. Some of the voices were familiar, some were not, but the two closest ones he could seemingly identify. One was Tessa’s voice, the other was very familiar, and depending on how often Zack had heard recordings of himself, he may recognize it as his own. “What the heck? Why is this guy cuffed!? And why does he feel like he’s been run through a meat-grinder?!” was what he could hear his own voice say. “Meh, whatever,” Tessa responded, a slight strain in her voice, as though she was performing some sort of physical task, “Sucks... to be you, I guess.” A second female, one with a younger, higher-pitched voice, could be heard choking and gagging nearby as well, in the same general direction as Tessa’s voice. “Gods Layla, don’t be so rough on your own body! You’re gonna kill it!” Zack’s voice cried. “I can do whatever I want with my body, thank you very much! And I’ve always wanted to do this…” Tessa answered. “Stop being so immature! If you don’t-- Oh gods! They shot Gustov!” the person with Zack’s voice exclaimed. “Shut up you two!” a third voice snapped, “Get into character, now!” Several gunshots suddenly rang-out, causing most of the noise to die down, before the captain began shouting. “Alrighty, ya’ll! That’ll be ‘nuff-a that… dat… stuff. Ya’ll are prisoners of us’all Norkotians, and if any of ya’ll say anything without asking for my permission, I’ll shoot ya’ll in the head lickity-split!” “Uhhhh… everything okay in here, captain? We heard shots...” a male voice called-in from the other side of the room, near the entrance. “Just fine soldier!” the captain called-back, “They tried to ambush us, but we handled ‘em! Ya’ll get back to your posts outside! We’ll be bringing them out in a minute once we um… process them!” “Right… um… yes sir...?” the confused soldier replied. There was the sound of several sets of boots leaving the building, before the captain breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, they’re gone. I can’t believe that worked,” he sighed. “You did a fine job Harris. Is everyone accounted for?” one of the other Norkotian soldiers, one who Zack did not know the name of, spoke-up. “Yes, but you got shot, and I’m still bleeding out from the grenade. Even worse, they shot Gustov too,” the captain answered. “Oh, that’s just lovely!” the soldier spat, “We need to work fast and stick to the plan then. Valerie, whichever one you are, go get your body. I want all of them in a circle in the middle here.” By now, either Zack had figured out what was going on, or he was more confused than ever. Some further clarity was provided when the sheet was pulled off of him, revealing two people standing over him. One was Tessa, the other was himself. “Pfft, he hasn’t even moved,” the person who looked like Tessa scoffed. “I had to hold that magic cloak up for fifteen minutes,” the person who looked like Zack answered, “I’m lucky I didn’t kill my body doing that.” “Nothing wrong with that…” “Shut it, Layla!” the person inhabiting Zack’s body growled, before reaching down and helping Zack to his feet, though he found it very difficult to stand with how drained he was. The act of standing up caused several strands of reddish-brown hair to fall in front of Zack’s face, and were he to look down, he’d quickly figure out that he was inhabiting a woman’s body. Probably in her thirties or forties, but the look of it, though he probably couldn’t be sure until he saw it in a mirror. All around the room he saw the familiar faces of Cordoza and the Norkotian soldiers that had accompanied him inside, but there was a foreign look in each of their eyes. Lying about the room and being dragged toward the middle were the unconscious forms of the militia ambushers. There were a trio unremarkable-looking men, two of which were wounded (one by shrapnel, the other by a bullet), a remarkably attractive blond woman, a kid who looked barely fourteen, an absolute hulk of a man, and a teenage girl with dyed hair and goth-like apparel. At the moment, it seemed that Zack was the only one conscious. “Why are you in cuffs, kid?” the person in Zack’s body demanded, then paused in uncertainty, “He is a kid right, I can’t tell from here.” “Yeah, pretty much,” the guy inhabiting the captain’s body confirmed. “Looks like a real punk to me,” the person in Tessa’s body remarked, looking over Zack’s body, “I like him.” “Nice,” the person in Zack’s body rolled their eyes, then focused back on the actual Zack, “Well, answer me! I want to know why you’re cuffed and beat up! Are you with the resistance?” Clive was a lucky man that he caught the guardsman as he was reloading his SMG, or else he would have wound up a smear on the side of one of the iron vats. As it was, he nearly ended up getting a knife in his gullet as the guardsman dropped his weapon and drew out a combat knife for close-range defense. “Dammit! You are lucky, mercenary!” he stated the obvious thing that your humble narrator literally just told you, “Even if you had a uniform I couldn’t see it in here.” “I owe you a drink when we get done wit' all this.” “There’ll be a lotta drinks flowing when we’re done,” the guardsman replied, “I counted three left in this area--” Just then, Clive raised his pistol and blind-fired over the barricade, dropping the panicky thug to the floor to die a slow, painful death. “Two,” the guardsman corrected himself, pounding his clip into place. Those two mercs immediately started screaming for reinforcements, which drew away most of the men swarming Krieger. They’d be in on Clive and the guardsman’s position soon, and Clive pointed-out as much. "Think that's our cue to get movin'. Got a plan?" The response was a small, heavy cylinder shoved into his hand. It looked to be a type of grenade, though not a traditional fragmentation grenade. Even so, it was rather ironic that explosives had been presented right as Clive was having worried thoughts about the destructive potential of the mercs using explosives in this building. “Flashbang, drop in front of the reinforcements, then make sure you look the hell away.” He then pointed to the right, switching places with Clive in the process. “I’ll flank this way and draw the fire of the other two. No time for more, let’s go.” Despite his injuries, the guardsman ducked out from cover to the right, firing a suppressing spray of bullets toward where he suspected the enemy to be. This drew their attention, at least at first, though they were keeping to cover and not presenting an easy target. All the better then, as they were also not getting many decent shots off, and that would allow Clive to slip out as well... Monologuing. There was no other word Tynes could use to describe what he was listening to right now. It was as though a villain straight out of a black and white movie back in Norkotia was talking to him through the silver screen. Tynes had to admit, he saw the appeal; there was no doubt a certain amount of boasting and self-satisfaction to be had in what the Tin Man was doing right now. But the great downside of such things were that they tended to give out a lot of information that could be taken advantage of, while at the same time distracting the person spewing the exposition. Hopefully that was what was happening here, but Tynes could no longer see his rival’s face to judge the look in his eyes. Vocal and body-language cues were all he had for now. He didn’t say anything, there wasn’t much to say besides simply nod and acknowledge the points being made. It was true enough that the Tin Man had superior technology and firepower, a natural result of him having far greater access to it. Norkotia’s technology had lagged behind for years, due to a variety of factors, including isolation, lack of large-scale infrastructure, and lack of pressing need. Tynes had taken actions that pushed Norkotian technology years ahead of where it had been, but it was still not enough in the face of enemies like this one. The Tin Man was putting on a pleasant face now, but the fact of the matter was, he only needed Tynes up until he had what he wanted, which was Cordoza. Once he had her, what reason did he have not to kill Tynes? Clive had been remarkably spot-on so far, which meant there wasn’t much reason to doubt the rest of what he had said. The moment Tynes surrendered his only leverage, this whole charade would be finished. “Same goes for you, Mercer. One of these days you're gonna run into something much sturdier than that alloy skeleton. You'd be wise to choose your allies accordingly before someone cashes in on that bounty you got in the Underground,” the Tin Man had now turned his attention to Mara, allowing Tynes more time to observe and think. “I have a bounty in the underground? Cute. I should collect it on myself,” Mara remarked, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it, despite how quickly the rain was soaking everything. At the same time though, the part of Tin Man’s statement that was lingering in Mara’s head was not the part about the bounty with the underground, but the comment about running into things sturdier than her. The thing was, running into things that were sturdier than where was not the way she did business. “Which brings me to my next question. What've you been up to these passed few years?” “Oh, the usual,” the bounty hunter let out a weak billow of smoke from her lungs, “Putting assholes behind bars or under dirt piles. Decidedly more of the latter these days. Guess it’d be polite to offer you my condolences for killing your pal Kenny the Butcher, but I think we both know you don’t have pals, and I’m not actually sorry for killing him anyway.” As she responded, there was a subtle flicker in her eyes, obscured mostly by the smoke she let out of her mouth at that moment. Her vision switched to infrared, as she gave both the Tin Man’s battle suit and the body of the android a good once-over. “Nothing’s that sturdy all the way around; not unless it’s a block of solid titanium,” she thought to herself, “Let’s see where the seams are.” It’d take something pretty damn high tech to not let off any heat at all, and if it even let off just a small amount, it had to come out somewhere. Wherever that spot was, it’d be the spot Mara would remember when the moment was right....
  16. Abigail looked between Nikki and Holly several times, not sure she was fathoming what was being implied. "You want me to take care of this creature for your reward?" she asked incredulously, "Surely you are jesting." Nikki squirmed in embarrassment at being the center of attention here, especially being in the form she was in now. This was all too new and sudden for her, given she was still getting used to the changes, having only be conscious during them for a few minutes in total.
  17. "Thank you," Nikki said softly, "I only hope I can return your kindness." "You could start by handing over the crown," Abigail reasserted herself into the conversation. "What crown?" "The True Crown of Ursa Madeum, the one you stole from Da Villa," Abigail growled. "I... I don't remember. My memories of everything that happened since I changed are... foggy at best. But I will try to help you look for it," Nikki offered, turning toward the mound of treasure. Ironically, the crown was visible at the top of the mound, for anyone that had actually been looking for it. "Um... is this it?" Nikki nuzzled it with her nose. "That's it," Abigail muttered, then gestured at one of her marines, "Fetch it for me." The marine nervously edged his way around the dragon, not wanting to share the same fate as some of his comrades had. Nikki saw how afraid he was of her, so she backed away to give him space to recover the prize. Quick as he could, the marine snatched up the crown and returned it to Abigail, who took a moment to observe the object of her quest. "So much for such a small thing," she mused, "Ironic, when you think of it." Manners, duchess. "Your assistance has been invaluable, Lady Sheathe," Abigail finally looked away from the crown to lock gazes with her fellow noble, "You have House Karradeen's gratitude, and you shall be rewarded well for your efforts."
  18. Initially thinking to check in the back, Taylor instead decided to begin her search for the bathroom key behind the counter. She had just looped around the leaky beverage machines when Lumina burst into the room with a shout, nearly causing Taylor to jump out of her skin. "Don't do that!" she snapped, then calmed down enough to realize it was her own fault for being so paranoid, "Sorry, just... this place unnerves me." She then proceeded to the area behind the counter to begin to hunt for the key. It was a mess back there, and so she found herself shifting through all sorts junk, from cigarette packs and tins of chew, to magazines and receipts. Finally she found the register, but she didn't immediately think to look in the register for the key. In fact, she had been expecting to find it under one of the counters, in a cabinet or something. When that failed though, she just passively decided to open the register, curious if any money had been left inside. There was a little, but not enough to be of much value. She almost immediately forgot about it when she noticed there was a key inside the register, seemingly completing her mission by accident. With a shrug, she snatched up the key, recovered the towels and such that she had set aside, and began to head back to the bathroom to give it a try. As she crossed the store again, she noticed Quill attempting to go down the dark hallway which likely led to the backroom. She didn't think much of it until she was nearly at the restroom door, at which point she faintly heard Quill say something about not liking the look of something, and avoiding the door. This caused Taylor to hesitate for a moment and look back toward the others. Quill apparently was referring to the door in the hallway though, not the restroom door. Even so, this left Taylor pondering whether she really wanted to open the locked restroom door while everyone else was across the room and she was over here alone. An involuntary fit of shivers, seemingly because she was still wet and cold, changed her mind. She needed someplace private to strip and try to ring out and dry her clothes. Even better if there was a blow-dryer inside and someone could get the power reactivated in the next few minutes. As such, with the towels tucked under her arm, the big flashlight in one hand and the key in the other, she finally moved to unlock the door. The key fit and turned, indicated she had found the right one. However, the second she threw the door open, Taylor recoiled backward and let out a sound that was somewhere between a gag and a gasp. The smell was the first thing that hit her, that whiff of putrid odor that only those with the strongest of stomachs could withstand without reaction. It took nearly everything the young woman had not to hurl on the floor right then and there. When she finally recovered enough to actually focus her eyes ahead, she realized what her flashlight was shining on. "EEEIAAAYAHH!" she shrieked, jumping backward and crashing into a cardboard display, sending it and its contents all over the floor. What she had seen was only a fragment of the whole, but it was enough cause her troubled mind to jump to some terrible conclusions; imagery from horror movies, games and internet searches she had exposed herself to over the years were all being instantly dug out from the recesses of her mind. In that fraction of a second, her imagination had pieced the outside stimuli together with her internal memories to conclude that what she was seeing was some form of undead horror, and her first reaction was the assume it was about to charge forward and attack her. In reality, she had only seen part of a face, but it had been enough. The bulging, lifeless eyes, the slack mouth pooling with blood, the sickly green-white skin and greasy hair, it was enough to convince her, if for just a moment, that she had encountered some abomination straight out of a dark fantasy game. But a second or two removed from the revelation, and she was able to see more clearly that the thing she was staring at was truly and completely dead. Stepping back to the door, she moved the flashlight up and down the body briefly, enough to see that it was a human male, pinned to the wall by a fishing knife through the throat. The throat wound had been bleeding all over the place, as nearly the entire floor of the bathroom was covered in blood. That was enough for Taylor, who didn't need to see any more. Lunging forward, she grabbed the door and pulled it shut, then stood there a moment to catch her breath and let her heart slow down. "Sh-shit... shit, shit, shit, shit, shit..." she whispered to herself, realizing the implication of a murdered man in the building. Though all of that had occurred in a matter of less than ten seconds, someone else had surely noticed her antics by now. Whether they did or not though, Taylor was not about to be shy about announcing what she had found. "T-Th-There's a dead man in the restroom!" she blurted-out, barely able to speak with how shaky her entire body was, "Someone killed him!" There was a murderer loose, that much was certain. The man in the bathroom hadn't kill himself, nor was the victim of some sort of accident. For him to be pinned like he was, someone had to have stabbed him with enough force to penetrate the wall behind him with that knife. In addition, Taylor was not well-informed enough to know how the body acted after death, so the fact that it was still bleeding seemed to indicate to her that it was relatively fresh. Not too fresh though, as obviously it had been in there a few hours at least, given how oppressive the smell of decomposition was. Either way, all indications where that a killer had been here within the last few days, possibly the last few hours, had murdered this man, and that no authorities or next of kin had arrived to claim the body and give it a proper burial. Normally Taylor might have left her mind open to the possibility that the man inside had been killed in self-defense, but with how paranoid she was feeling right now, the thought never reached consideration. Instead, she immediately began to worry about the possibility of the killer coming back, or perhaps still being here somewhere. What if it was one of the very people she had entered the store with? It was certainly possible. She trusted Maat, despite herself, and by extension she deduced that Quill and Lumina must be okay, since they arrived in his company. And June was her friend and had arrived with her, so she was clear. But Iohmar and Cecil were entirely different matters. Iohmar had arrived at the same time as June and Taylor, also out walking in darkness and rain. While June and Taylor were lost and had no choice, Iohmar seemed at least a little more like he had arrived her on purpose, which begged the question of why. What crazy reason would one have to be attempting to hike to this town through the rain? Still, Cecil was the truly suspicious one, as he had only emerged from the shadows after everyone else was assembled. The fact that he had a bike with him only made him seem more out of place. Who rides a bike in the rain? Nothing added up with him unless you assumed one of two things: either he was hiding something, or he wasn't all there in the head. Both could be true, and both were good enough reasons to suspect him. Maybe he had been lying in wait for more people arrive before revealing himself. Maybe he had been inside the building, but saw the headlights from the rollerbus, prompting him to exit out the back way (and forget to lock it, which would explain how Maat got in), so that he could then approach the group and make it appear like he had also just arrived. Or maybe he had killed the man, then attempted to flee the scene, but got caught in the rainstorm and realized he had no choice but to return to the only shelter in the area. Any of these were reasonable assumptions in her mind, and after all, it was pretty damn convenient that four completely separate parties happened to converge on this spot all at once... Wasn't it?
  19. Absolutely planning on checking out the bathroom when I go to post! Hopefully tomorrow if everything cooperates.
  20. Nikki was silent, Abigail's harsh words being no match for the even harsher judgement she was already rendering upon herself. Stupid, selfish, weak, wild, monstrous... she couldn't seem to run out of negative adjectives to describe what she thought of herself now. But in the midst of her internal court trial, one where she was ready to condemn herself and announce to Holly that the sentence must be death, an image popped into her head. She could see someone, probably Sera, arriving at her parent's cabin out in the woods, carrying a lock of blue-dyed hair and a bloody dragon tooth, then going on to explain to them, in crass and undiplomatic terms, what happened to their daughter. Her mother would be distraught, her father would be crushed, her siblings would forever stare off into the woods, wondering when big sister was coming home. That line of thought only made Nikki choke and cry harder, causing Abigail to turn away in disgust. After a few seconds, Nikki managed to get a hold of herself long enough to be able to choke out her reply to Holly. She wasn't sure what she was getting herself into, but she knew it was her only hope to ever see the family she selfishly abandoned again. She couldn't just accept death knowing how much it would affect them. "I'll... I'll do whatev-ever you say. P-please though... if I serve you, can you help me be human again? Please..." Shane sighed as she watched the whole thing unfold, feeling a certain kindred spirit with the poor dragon-girl-thing. Except Nikki had it far worse. At least Shane was still human and had full control of her faculties... mostly.
  21. I think everyone is posted up!
  22. As Zack attempted to deduce the reason for the militia's silence, Cordoza was silently rehearsing the cease-fire speech she planned to give once they actually took the radio tower. Or she had been for much of the trip here, though now she was thinking of what she’d try to say to the militiamen inside to try and persuade them to lay down their weapons and allow the Norkotians to take the building without further violence. “...it seems like they’re fightin’ extra hard over here, saving their best men and tricks for last. Their Aces in the Hole, so to speak?” Cordoza blinked and turned her head slightly to meet Zack’s glance. The terminology was deliberate, meant to suggest that the young mercenary suspected the men here were using the artifact to defend the building. Nothing could be further than the truth, of course, though Zack had no way of knowing that. Only Cordoza and a few members of the city’s inner-circle even knew of its existence (which only made the Tin Man’s knowledge of it all the more baffling to her), and even within that tiny group, fewer still knew what it really was. “No,” she wordlessly mouthed in Zack’s direction, with a brief shake of her head. “Ya could say that maybe,” the captain drawled, clueless as to what Zack had been implying, “That or they’re juss that blasted desperate. This is wunna the last holdouts up top here, after all. They got nowheres else tuh go. Was thinkin’ of just calling in artillery or an airstrike or somethin’ thuh. This place ain’t worth gettin’ more of my boys killed over.” “It’s a good thing you didn’t then,” Tessa squinted at the structure, which was made of concrete and looked very sturdy, “Or we’d have to go way further to find another suitable facility.” “Whaddya mean?” “We’re here to help you secure the radio tower,” Tessa deadpanned. “Oh? Ohhhhh… is that so?” the captain pivoted to face the newcomers fully, “The Colonel only said he was sendin’ some people tuh me, but he neglected tuh say anythin’ more, “‘cuz them Gaian’s is a listenin’ and the radio ain’t safe” or somethin’ like that. If’d he’d a told me that, I’d-a told him to send a brigade of tanks instead!” “We need the building intact,” Tessa groaned, then pointed at Cordoza, “That’s the mayor of this fucking town, and we need to get her inside so she can broadcast a cease and desist and for-the-love-of-the-Divine-stop-shooting order. She might be able to convince the people in that building to surrender too.” “That so?” the captain said again, eyeing Cordoza, “Fine then. Better work, 'cuz if it don't, we’ll be givin’ up the element of surprise.” Tessa then nodded for Cordoza to act. The battered mayor stepped forward, though she stayed out of the line-of-fire, and began calling toward the building, hoping someone would hear her. “This is Major Nina Cordoza, can anyone hear me in there? If you can, I hereby order you to cease all hostilities! A truce is to be put in place, but I must be allowed to try and broadcast this to anyone else who may still be fighting!” There was no response, however; which prompted Cordoza to try again. “Hello? Is there anyone over there?! Please answer me! You are ordered to answer me!” Still nothing. “Damn it!” the captain spat, even more irritable than he had been previously. “We have to take it by force then, if they refuse to surrender,” Tessa sighed. “Right, but if we’re doin’ this, then I’m plannin’ the attack. Ain’t letting ya brown-nosers decide how me and my boys go about gittin’ ourselves killed.” the captain growled. Tessa was already quite done with this whole situation, so she didn’t bother to argue. She was just a corporal anyhow, so her opinion truly didn’t matter compared to a much higher-ranking officer. Even their escort squad had at least three people of higher rank than her. Thus, they allowed the captain to have his way with the planned assault. * * * However, fifteen minutes later, when the men came out of their positions and charged the tower building, they found no resistance. The various groups of soldiers, positioned according to some plan your humble narrator has no interest in trying to cook-up and explain, were soon nearly at the building’s walls. “What’s going on? Are they sleeping?” a soldier wondered aloud. “If that’s the case, then keep quiet,” Tessa hissed, sticking close to Cordoza and Zack, who she viewed as her ticket to getting out of this stupid war. The soldiers made sure to avoid the windows, pressing their backs against the concrete walls and watching every opening in the building for signs of counter-attack. But the interior of the structure seemed dark, and no enemy fire came. A fire team, just ahead of Cordoza, Zack and Tessa, assembled at the main entrance and prepared breach charges to blow-open the door. As the men braced themselves, grenades ready to hurl inside and guns ready to roll, the four survivors of the lift incident couldn’t help but sense that there was something off here… Fortunately for Clive, while Krieger had already moved out of range of being able to help, the guardsman was still nearby. After having fired the initial burst that drew most of the enemy fire, the man had been shot a couple of times in the shoulder and was forced to take cover and attempt to field-dress his wounds in the shadows. Krieger had been on the opposite side of the mercenaries as him, and had avoided most of their wrath initially… at least until he started following and harassing them as they chased Tynes. However, Krieger’s pursuit and Clive’s reemergence had proven beneficial to the guardsman, allowing him adequate time to dig any bullets or shrapnel out of his shoulder and tie-off the wounds with a makeshift bandage. Unfortunately, though it had been his left shoulder which was less important, the lack of strength in his left arm meant it was going to be very difficult to control the recoil of the magnum-powered submachinegun the man wielded. But guardsmen were the best of the best that Norkotia had to offer, and regardless of his physical injury, the man knew his mission was clear: Kill any hostiles still in this area, then attempt to reunite with the executor. As the situation grew more desperate for Clive, with mercenaries using the covering fire of their comrades to duck to-and-fro from cover-to-cover, slowly tightening the noose around the cowboy, a sudden burst of automatic fire echoed through the dim steel mill. One of the mercenaries, who had been trying to move up at that moment, was promptly splattered all-over the massive steel cylinder behind him. The guardsman continued, using controlled bursts to force the other mercs back behind their own respective covers, giving Clive the moment of initiative he needed. There was a hint of wistful disappointment on Mara’s face as the mercenary who had been taunting her was incinerated before she could so much as take a single action against him. The Tin Man’s appearance, rather unexpected given this was the roof of the steel mill, had quickly changed the balance of power. Even if Tynes managed to kill a couple of the goons, it was very unlikely that Mara could kill fifteen-to-twenty or so mercs and the Tin Man, all at once. She would normally have tried to bottleneck them in the stairwell and hold them off, which probably would have let Tynes reach the roof without any risk from the mercs, but it would also have left him alone with the Tin Man. It was probably best that she was here with him, even if the situation was still untenable. As for Tynes though, the appearance of the man who was mucking-up his carefully-laid plan to assert Norkotian dominance over the Plateau of Zuhl caused his heart to race with anger. This was supposed to be the coming-of-age moment for his rule and for the army he had created, and yet here stood a foreign mercenary with all the power and leverage. As the Tin Man spoke though, Tynes had to force himself to breathe deeply and not lose his temper. “Mercer. Gotta say, that explains a lot. You and that PUNK been f***in’ up everything. I hope you’re at least here for money,” the Tin Man briefly turned his attention to the cyborg. “Weyall, if I weren’t here for money, that'd make me an awful poor mercenary, wouldn't it?” Mara responded with a smug grin. Mara’s brief distraction was enough to give Tynes time to clear his mind and consider the situation. Negotiation was their only option, as the numbers here were just impossible to overcome. It was unlikely they’d get any help from Krieger or the guardsman, who were probably dead by now. And with the Tin Man holding them at gunpoint, calling in reinforcements to save them would surely be impossible. “I’m offering you a choice, executor. I leave and I take my men with me in a non-violent fashion IF you do one thing for me. Tell a small squad of your men to bring Cordoza here in the next twenty minutes.” Or was it impossible? “You do that? I’m gone. Refuse? I do what I have to do.” The wheels started turning in Tynes’s stragetic mind. The Tin Man needed Cordoza, which meant the Norkotians still had custody of her, which was good. Why he needed Cordoza and not Tynes remained a mystery, as there seemed no obvious reason why the mayor of a town that was about to be placed under Tynes’s control would be of more value than the man who was taking over. Even so, the need for Cordoza was an opportunity, and while the Tin Man was resourceful, Tynes had his own resources up his sleeve. Mara had already given Tynes the information he needed when she first arrived. “What guarantee do I have that you will leave?” Tynes inquired, his mind already made-up that he would, in fact, accept the offer, but wanting to make his response seem more natural. Unless the Tin Man gave a very poor answer, and truth be told, even “you have no choice but to trust me” was a good enough reason, the next thing the executor would do would be to reluctantly accept the proposal. “Very well, I accept your terms. I will radio my men to bring her here.” Mara was a little surprised at the capitulation, though she realized it was the only choice that could be made right now. Still, she stayed on alert as Tynes pulled out his radio transmitter and adjusted the frequency. After a moment or two of working out the static, he began speaking into the device. “Sheriff 1 to Toolbox, Sheriff 1 to Toolbox, come in Toolbox, over,” Tynes spoke, using his designated radio codename to identify himself. “This is Toolbox,” a monotone voice answered on the other end, “Go ahead Sheriff 1, over.” Mara immediately realized what Tynes was doing the second she heard the voice on the other end of the radio. It was a fantastic risk, but it could very well work-out perfectly. She just had to continue to play her role as though she had no idea what was going on, while Tynes laid his trap. “This is Sheriff 1, there has been a change of plans. Have Cordoza moved to the Carl J. Duggert Steel Mill in Sector 6. This is a Priority Echo operation, so keep everything strictly confidential. Send only a minimal escort, no more than one truck. Repeat, this is Priority Echo, keep it quiet, minimal escort. The escorts must only approach the mill entrance if I am visibly present. Over.” “Copy Sheriff 1,” the response was prompt, “Estimated time of arrival is twenty-five minutes. Over.” “You have fifteen, over.” “Acknowledged, Toolbox out.” And with that, Tynes had made perhaps the largest gamble he’d ever make in his career. He had to hope that the Tin Man was not privy to the Norkotians radio callsigns, but that was an unlikely scenario. The greater risk was Cordoza, who’s current whereabouts were uncertain. Hopefully she was being kept in a safehouse somewhere, out of sight and well-guarded, awaiting further orders from the executor. Tynes had no way of knowing that the colonel in charge of the lifts had arbitrarily decided to forgo waiting for command, and had launched his own operation to try and broadcast the surrender. If word that Cordoza was not on her way reached the Tin Man, the entire plan would fail miserably. But as it was, if Cordoza’s true location remained a secret for long enough, the trap could still be sprung. “Toolbox” was not a military commander, rather, he was Joseph Tynes’s chief advisor and spymaster, Diric Redbridge. The Vulk (a species of elf native to Zuhl) was the one who had done his research on the Tin Man and concluded that the risk of betrayal was high, and subsequently shipped Mara in as one of several contingencies. The Priority Echo code did not mean the operation was top-secret, but rather that the executor was in mortal danger and needed help at all cost. Redbridge was the epitome of logic, and he would be able to immediately deduce the situation and respond appropriately. What Tynes had done was give his most trusted lieutenant a location, time-frame and priority, all under the auspices of complying with the Tin Man’s demand. Now came the most dangerous part: Surviving the fifteen minutes it would take for the trap to the be sprung..
  23. Abigail raised an eyebrow at how Holly appeared to desire to recruit the dragon rather than kill it, not to mention the fact that she seemed to know it by name. But the duchess was getting used to the weirdness of Lady Sheathe and her associates by now, so she just decided to keep quiet and see how it played out. She did come for the crown after all, so the dragon's life was inconsequential. For Nikki though, this moment of realization was enough to make her go mad in and of itself. She had never fully had a chance to accept herself as this mocking approximation of a wyvern, nor had she had time to fully consider all of the further implications, before her human mind had been overridden by the beast. She was only getting faded, foggy memories of those long months as a marauding monster, though what she did remember horrified her. Even more horrific was the fact that she felt a still living man squirming around in her belly, trying desperately to stay alive. It was making her sick, which on a positive note, probably meant there was a lot of human still left in her. "Working for you...?" she repeated Holly's last line, not even having realized what was being asked of her. The girl-turned-monster's mind was still flooding with thoughts and memories, of Marigold and Laughingstock and Anima and Knoles and Nu Martyr. Then of her long treks across Terrenus, of the battle against Ragnar in the dark forest, of her decision to leave home and embark on this foolish adventure. "No... No, I... I deserve to die..." she sputtered, fatalistically coming to the conclusion that she had brought this upon herself, and that everything she had done and everyone she had harmed was her fault. "Wow, this is the most pathetic dragon I've ever heard of," Abigail finally couldn't resist commenting on the matter.
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