"I thought you told me the local tribe was peaceful?" Jackson asked Iris while he slowly raised his hands up. They had journeyed many miles into the forests of Haven, guided by the directions of their employer, Midhat Pasha. They had been told a structure from the World Before lay hidden deep into goblin tribe territory. Finding the place hadn't been too difficult, but landing had been a bit of trouble, luckily Tailla was able to find a spot close enough to the Temple where they wouldn't have to walk too far. Everything had been going well, and Jackson dared to believe that this mission would indeed be as simple as Midhat had promised. That belief seemed very ridiculous now that he and Iris were surrounded by a dozen or so armed tribal goblins. Covered in warpaint and animal furs, their shimmering skin seemed to rotate between the colors of red, magenta, and violet. They only had makeshift spears and bows, but a sharp object was a sharp object.
Iris had said the tribe closest to the temple was one of the Nature Aspects. Goblins could morph and blend in with their surroundings better than any other creature in the Blue. Because of this, some believed it was their duty to protect the land, while making as little impact as possible. This was called the Nature Aspect, and compared to the War Aspects and the Shadow Aspects, it was the most peaceful of Goblin tribal societies. Of course, when they began to consider valuable landmarks as worth protecting, they became a major problem for any outsider.
They had opened the temple without incident, and their third member had decided to go in first to check out the place. She would motion for Iris and Jackson after making sure it was safe. They had been waiting for that signal for several moments before they realized they had been surrounded. So good was the goblinoid camouflage that only Jackson's magical senses had picked them up, and by then it was too late. One of the warriors pushed the tip of his spear toward Jackson's neck as he tried to take a step forward. He turned to Iris with a look of exasperation.
Iris took a deep, slow breath, her hands still in the air, then looked at the goblins, her blue-grey eyes scanning over them with an almost calculating kind of look. When she spoke, the words were slow but not halting, almost as though she were reading something only she could see. She hated speaking Goblin; to call the language slippery only touched the outside edges of the problem. It barely shared any concepts with anything even she might have been used to. They had no concept of ownership, or at least, not in the way that the human mind did. A goblin did not own something, no equivalent of "the goblin's boots" existed. The fact that the goblin had boots, linguistically, changed the entire nature of the goblin, and everything else that might have been connected with him. The sliding, liquid syllables flowed past her lips, so alien that Jackson couldn't tell whether the words carried the woman's strange accent. At length, she paused, and swallowed hard, hands still raised.
This seem to have a calming effect on the tribals, and they slowly began to lower their weapons. Jackson lowered his hands and rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck. He didn't like the idea of killing natives, or running the risk of losing any of his crewmates. He was glad Iris had been able to diffuse the situation, but was surprised that she had been able to do it so easily. Again the quirky engineer he had picked up years ago proved reliable in an awkward situation. He remembered the day she had approached him on Harper's Ferry, and told him that his ship needed a new engineer. Jackson already had some kid from Olympia on his crew taking care of the engines at the time, so he told the girl to get lost. She told him that he would probably regret that very soon. Upon attempting takeoff the next day, a malfunction occurred that almost blew off The Owls entire backside. After firing the kid from Olympia (who Jackson didn't even remember the name of) he had crawled back to Iris and said, "I hear I'm looking for an engineer."
"What did you tell them exactly?"
"A lie," Iris said, as she heard the scraping of boots on stone steps behind her.
The Goblin leader, who wore the biggest headdress made of what seemed to be Elk fur and antlers, stepped forward with his weapon lowered and hand stretched out. His skin seemed to morph away from the red colors, and took on orange and gold hues that seemed out of place in the brown and green forest. He spoke in a broken and simple version of the Olmpian Language, but Jackson could understand him. "Sorry for scare, we fight robbers, didn't know you..." Before he could finish his sentence however, Henrietta emerged from the depths of the Temple. In her arms was the golden disk that Midhat had sent them down there for, and on her face was a smile that had made more than a few gamblers shuffle uncomfortably in their seats when playing against her.
The good doctor had joined up with Jackson several months ago. While she was the newest member of his crew, she had already gotten close to Iris. Jackson remembered meeting her in some backwater Worldshard. The Trade Union had a pretty tight control on gambling in the Freeworlds, but a few places were able to get by without too much oversight. Jackson had been invited to a private house game after completing a job for the owner of the Black Jackal. Bugsy Seagull was a ruthless man that had a lot of Union and Imperial officials in his pocket. Jackson was very much expecting to lose half his payout to the fat bastard at the card table, when Henrietta walked in. At first he figured she was one of the other players girls, with her refined looks and expensive dress she wouldn't have looked out of place at an Imperial dinner party. As she took a seat next to the players though, Jackson realized that she was joining the game. Placing down three bars of pure Malachite, she bought herself into the game and prepared to clean the rest of the men at the table out. Bugsy simply smoked his hookah pipe while he lost a small fortune to the young lady. Jackson simply smiled throughout the whole thing, knowing he would have lost money anyways, he would rather it be to a lovely lady than Bugsy. As the game came to a close, Jackson followed her out of the casino. At first she had been very reluctant, thinking he simply wanted to get his money back. As soon as he showed her that Bugsy had men waiting to capture her at various places around Worldshard, she had agreed to follow him on the condition that she was allowed to hold a gun in his back. The greetings she got on the Owl from Iris and Tai put her at ease, and instead of getting off at the next stop, she decided to stay on. For however long, Jackson cannot say, but he believes she is slowly getting attached.
"Hello Jackson, who are your new friends?" Henri cheerfully asked, making a quick effort to hide the rather inconspicuous and unwieldy disk she had discovered within the temple behind her back; though the effect was perhaps less than satisfactory. Standing in the open she appeared to be taking the new development in strides, even offering a mischievous wink or two in the direction of several goblins who had turned to face her with looks of confusion on their faces. It seemed that they had not expected yet another intruder, particularly one coming from within their temple, which most had assumed was sealed. A fact which seemed to amuse the woman even further and she turned towards where Jackson and Iris stood still surrounded shaking her head slightly in a theatrical gesture of mock frustration.
Not waiting for the goblins to register what was going on, Jackson lifted both his arms and began to channel essence to his hands. An invisible glow seemed to radiate from his skin, and the area around him appeared darker than usual. From his hand, a sphere of compressed air began to form until it was about the size of his head. Pointing it in the general direction of the goblins, he sent it hurling toward them with a blast that sounded like air shooting through a pipe. The strong gust of wind hit the goblins hard, and many of them went flying into the air, while some were shoved along the ground away from the tomb raiders. Dust and dirt flew up in the air as the crew from the Owl scrambled down the temple steps and ran into the cover of the forest. The sound of yells and cries could be heard as the goblins gave chase.
"My dear Captain, you could have told me beforehand that you intended to parley with some of the locals," she began in an admonishing tone of voice. "After all, had I known I was expected to attend a social function of this magnitude I would certainly have worn something suitably charming and ensured that we were far better prepared for the occasion...perhaps we could have brought a cannon or two? Incidentally, I happened to stumble upon a certain circular and assuredly valuable object which that insufferable Midhat contracted us to recover and though I hate to spoil this quaint social gathering, I do believe it is well past time for us to depart."
"Iris shoot the flare!" Jackson yelled while motioning for Henri to throw him the disk. The doctor tossed the artifact toward her Captain and quickly reached for her pistols. Behind them in the forest, the Goblins were hard to see as their skin morphed to blend in with the leaves and bark. Henri was one of the best shots Jackson had ever seen in his life though, and the moment she saw the outline of a goblin moving, she fired.
"Well, so much for the diplomatic approach," Henri said with a sigh, though she appeared if anything quite pleased to have some excitement. "I don't suppose they will be willing to talk about it after this."
Just then the flare Iris shot flew above the branches and into the evening sky of Haven. In the distance Jackson could hear the engines of The Owl revving up, they were close, but it wouldn't mean a damn if the ship got overtaken before lifting off. He was glad Tailla was always ready when they needed a quick exit, and while she was still very young, he trusted her with the Owl over any other pilot. He found her during a job in Nightport.
It was during the Arcadian Blitz, and gun running was very profitable. It was also very dangerous, and while flying a sky-chariot to a secure meeting, Jackson was ambushed by a rival smuggler, hoping to kill off competition. The pilot, some nobody who had been hired to chauffeur Jackson to the meeting, was surprisingly nimble with the chariot. She was able to avoid the gunfire, while navigating the dark mazelike alleyways of Nightport. Jackson stayed in the back, firing lightning bolts back at his attackers, and holding on for dear life as the pilot made more daring and dangerous maneuvers. When they finally lost the pursuit, the pilot revealed herself to be a teenage girl. She tried to apologize for not breaking away from them faster, but a surprised Jackson could only shake her hand firmly before asking, "How would you like to pilot a real ship?"
Since that day, Tai has been an invaluable member of the crew. With Jackson no longer having to take the helm all the time, he is able to keep the Owl out of dock more often, as well as have it ready for pickups when missions go awry. Like right now!
Finally breaking out of the tree line and into the clearing where the Owl sat, Jackson could see how many goblins now chased them as their camouflage morphed to take up the features of the open field. What had been no more than a dozen now number upwards of thirty tribals. Each tossing spears and firing arrows. Henri fired her last few shots into the mob, taking one down with each bullet, before having to reload. Iris who ran ahead of them both, turned for a quick peek at the mob, and her usually stoic face broke into a look of surprise. Jackson tossed her the golden disk and pointed at her to continue running while he turned back toward the mob. Rubbing his hands together to build up some energy, he began to chant the phrases he learned at the Military Academy to help him concentrate on manipulating the essence. After finishing, he raised his fingertips to the attackers, hitting the closest with arcs of lightning that quickly dropped them to the ground.
Henri had reloaded by then and was firing quickly, even as the two began to fall back. Spears thrown by the mob began to get closer, and as Jackson launched another bolt toward the mob, he felt a sharp pain at his side. A spear had hurled past him, slicing through the side of his stomach but not impaling him. It was a shallow flesh wound, but it hurt like hell. Jackson clutched his side and began to stumble back before Henri realized what had happened and grabbed under the shoulder. The wound was small, but the pain Jackson felt was a burning sensation, like poison. The muscles in his legs began to spasm uncontrollably and he lost all feeling on his left side. Looking up to Henri, he tried to say something but couldn't as his dry throat simply let out a wheezy cough.
"Jackson! What's wrong with you!? Come to your senses!" Henri exclaimed casting a brief glance at the wound on Jackson's side, as she dragged the weakening man onwards. "This is no time to rest! We have to keep moving! We'll get back to the ship, then we'll see about your wound."
The mob was getting closer, and Henri couldn't fire her other gun with her arm around Jackson. Before they could surround the pair though, a mechanical clicking sound echoed through the clearing, and then explosive shots from the Owl's only armament began thunder across the forest. Iris must have gotten to the gun, and thanks to the angle of ground in the clearing she had a clear shot at the mob. Not wanting to kill them outright, she mostly did warning shots that sent them scattering and running back toward the forest. This gave them enough time to reach the ship and begin to take off. Henri yelled over the intercom for Tai to go.
"Going! Hope every used the bathroom before leaving, 'cause we won't be stopping for a while. Hang tight, guys!"
But a week was a week, and who could sit still that long? Besides, Zoe had a broken wing, and Wash was worried. So Tailla had to go out and search the Hivemarket. Just for a few inches of leather. And maybe a job or two. And a present for Jackson. A book, maybe. He liked those things. Tai had long since given up on trying to figure out why.
Tai had never been good at sitting still. From the moment she'd left home, to the first time she'd ever climbed into a sim cockpit, she'd been itching to move, fly, run. Just waiting did not sit well with her. It was why she'd started building her little scrap metal dragons to begin with. The names had come later, and were of little meaning, but the figures themselves were special to her. It was partly the idea that she'd built them with her own hands, and piece by piece, they functioned as a moving scrapbook of all the jobs she'd run on the Owl. The others would leave her waiting with the ship--which was just fine, as that was where she loved to be--and she'd get bored and go around the landing site, collecting bolts and gears and screws, and over time, Zoe, and then Wash had come into being. They'd grown and changed in the years, going from wingless lizards to hulking winged beasts half a foot tall. Tai was determined to find working parts for them so they could fly one day, but that was for later.
In any case, the fact that her little toys kept her sane while she waited at the helm for signs from her crew mates was negligible. At least in comparison to her real, if unrecognized reason, for building them.
They were just the sort of thing Aidan would have loved.
Tai knew it was time to move when she started thinking about her errant baby brother--who would have been going on ten now--so after two straight days of keeping the helm to herself, she struck out. Well...almost two days. While the helm of the Owl was her favorite place on and off-Shard to be, just sitting without flying made her a little crazy. So, she'd started sleeping and taking meals at the helm. The rest of the time was spent cleaning the cockpit, making sure every button, lever, bell, and whistle moved without so much as a creak...while her own bunk grew somehow dirtier with misuse. Or else, she'd check in on Henri and Jackson, or visit Iris--which was her favorite thing to do. She didn't know the young engineer well, but she was absolutely enthralled by the other girl's knowledge of ship parts. For all that Tai knew about flying, her engineer know-how was severely stunted. Even what she'd accomplished with Wash and Zoe had been mostly luck. And a lot of trial and error. So, Tailla spent her free minutes in the engine room, pointing to any- and everything and asking Iris, "What's that? What's it do? Can I have it if it breaks? Hey, you know what might work? Making it bigger. I'll help!"
But even bugging her crew mates could only fill so much time and the second dawn after they lost Jackson, Tai could no longer stay still. She told Henri and Iris she'd be leaving--back at night to check the ship and son on--and she disappeared into the Hive.
Finding work hadn't been hard. Tai found staying too long in one place made her anxious, a thick, nauseous feeling that rose in her belly and stopped her eating and breathing. That first day, she almost didn't make it back to the Owl caught up in a series of short runs from Last Legs to surrounding regions. By day three, Tai was doing jobs just to be in the air. It had been nearly a week now, and she'd long since found more than enough to repair Zoe's wing.
She'd just been about to return to the ship, bringing a piteously empty sack of Old World fruits (even small and overripe, the three apples and a plum she'd purchased had cost two days' work), when she ran across a cart, full of bright fruit. It wasn't organic, she could tell by looking. Nothing grew that big or bright on its own anymore. But it was pretty. And Tai hadn't had an orange in years.
The vender was not terribly forgiving.
"If you ain't gonna pay, put it back. I don't tolerate stealin'."
"What about smellin'?" Tai was largely incapable of hurting so much as a fly, but her light tone tended to get her in trouble more often than one might think. The ruddy, bearded seller behind his cart, piled high with fruits that were now called 'exotic', but were really only half-true and double expensive, reached over and snatched the orange out of Tailla's hands. It was a gesture that would have ruffled anyone else's feathers, but Tai just smiled longingly.
"So...no on the smellin'."
"Make yerself scarce, girl. No one wants yer gob pressed up aginst their food, and if y'ain't got money t'pay--"
"I do," responded the young pilot politely. "But I wanted a hat." She gestured brightly to her head. Tailla wasn't prone to spontaneous buys, but she was often overcome with childlike spending sprees--in this case, a new leather flying cap and goggles. Her curly bangs dangled right in her eyes, and the rest of her unruly mane of hair fought against the cap, earflaps and all. She loved it.
"No hats here. Away with ye."
Tai was already walking, happily taking in the scent of dust and sweat here in the thronging center of the Market. Aside from the fruit and her remaning coins, she'd brought a few little trinkets for the others back aboard. Tai tried to save her money, but it was easy to get discouraged when you couldn't see what you were saving for.
Back at the ship, Tai tugged her new cap over her head and slung the remainder of her purchases into a sack on her shoulder. There were a good many passengers to be picked up here, if Jackson decided to spring for it. That would be fun. Until then...
"Henri!" Tai jogged up the gangway double quick. "Iris! I got a new hat! And goggles! With flowers! Look!"
Iris had been on her way out of the ship when Tai ran up, wearing her new aviator's cap. She had enthused briefly with the pilot over it, and told her that it looked well on her, which, in truth, it rather did. Still, she had been forced to swallow down suggestions for improvements - better stitching, stronger glass, a stronger cord to hold the earflaps together - having learned that these things were better to parcel out over a period of time. She still remembered the time she'd accidentally made a passenger cry by suggesting, perhaps a little forcefully, how much better their harp could have been made.
She stood now in a busy street in one of the nicer parts of Haven, in front of a stately home. It seemed somehow out of place among the throng of stalls, shops, and never ending flow of people, like a manor house from closer to the Empire's seat of power. Its heavy front door had been swung wide, a man standing in the door, Iris on the stoop.
"Any why would Council Member Barron want to speak to you?"
Iris sighed, and looked the man up and down again. He wore a long, red velour coat trimmed in silver and blue, hanging over an expansive paunch and an elaborate, emerald-green waistcoat, all of it without a speck of dust or without the slightest sign of wear. His bright, patent-leather shoes gleamed in the afternoon light as he rocked back and forth slightly, with the condescending air of someone speaking to a child. His face, ruddy and heavy, wore an expression of beatific imbecility, as though he hadn't a care in the world, and that even if he had found some, Iris' concerns would be the very least of them. Iris couldn't help but be impressed; as a way to keep people out of his office, his way, and his life, Barron could not have done better.
"Because," Iris replied in her odd accent, consonants clipped and precise, vowels broad, "The…artifact he's got, it may be dangerous. I'm an historian, and from the description-"
"An historian?" The man said, cutting Iris off, an amused expression crossing his face, "Not an 'old war buddy,' or a 'museum curator,' or…" he reached inside his jacket, pulled folded notepaper out and consulted it, "A long-lost sister?"
"That wasn't one of my better ones," Iris admitted.
"Miss…Tarrel," the man said, almost certainly deliberately mispronouncing Iris' last name, "Councilor Barron is a busy man. There are things he has time for, and things he does not. You, certainly, are one of the latter." He leaned forward on his desk, clasping his hands in front of him, "Now, if you don't leave, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call the constable."
Iris pulled in a breath as though she would protest, then a thoughtful look came over her face.
The constable, she thought, now there's an idea…
She huffed the breath out, nodded at the man, and took her leave.
Night, and some parts of the city had gotten rowdy; others, where a semblance of respectability still hung in the air, had become quiet, as a gentle rain had blown through, not doing much more than damping down the dust for the evening. On this street, though, the night had also gotten a little darker than usual; half a dozen of the gas lamps along one part of the street were out. Iris dropped down from one of them, landing with a thump on the cobbles, her hands dusted with soot. She looked up with a certain satisfaction at the other darkened lamps, then looked over at the other woman standing in the closing darkness.
"Iris…why am I here?" Henri said. The night had gotten cold, and she rubbed her bare arms impatiently, "There's a table with my name on it, and the players have been drinking their luck."
"Because," Iris replied, looking up at the high, rough stone wall of Councilor Barron's estate, "When I get thrown in jail, I'm going to need you to break me out."
"What, again?" Henri said, an exasperated note in her voice, and put one fist on her hip, "You still owe me for the pistol I lost the last time."
"I made you a new one," Iris seemed distracted as she looked up, her grey-blue eyes roving over the stone, "I put it in your black leather holster."
"My…what? I don't have a black leather -" Henri began, sounding confused.
"I made you the holster, too. Haven't you looked in your closet lately?" Iris put a hand on the wall, her fingers finding good holds. She tugged at her grip, and made a satisfied grunt.
"Iris…that's where my dresses are," Henri said, in a long-suffering voice, "When, lately, have I had a reason for fancy dress?"
"It's a fancy holster," Iris said as she found a foothold.
Henri let out a frustrated sounding sigh, crossed her arms and shook her head, then spun on her heel and stalked away from Iris, her boots clicking on the glistening cobblestones. As she did, Iris pulled herself up a couple of feet, her free foot and hand sliding carefully over the rough stone, fingers hooking into another handhold, and she pulled herself up again. The woman moved in a peculiar silence, every motion made with an almost uncanny, nearly-perfect coordination. The muscles on her bare arms bunched and she rose another few feet, a breath gently blowing between her lips as she wriggled to find another good hold.
On and on she went, up three stories of the old stone house, occasionally using vines or a dark windowsill for additional support. At length she came to a larger, more grand window than the ones on the lower floors. A large, clear pane stood flanked by two enormous stained-glass windows, hundreds of tinted shapes forming what looked like a pair of coats of arms. Iris didn't know what their significance may have been, and they weren't what she had come for in any case. Heavy, dark wood framed the clear part of the window, with two bright brass hinges at one side, their barrels pointing out toward the street. Iris got her fingers on the outside ledge of the window and shuffled over, her clothes rustling against the stone and flapping in a sudden breeze. Goosebumps rippled up her arms, and she suppressed a violent shiver.
Right, then…she thought, and reached up to tug at the window frame. Her fingers slipped the first time, and she took several moments to regain her balance before trying again. She didn't get a very good grip this time either, but enough to feel that the window had been locked. The fine frame rattled a little, then caught with the distinctive thud of a hook-and-eye latch. With a grunt, Iris, gave the window another tug - in case the hook hadn't been settled into the eye very well - then let go, making her way a little higher on the wall, closer to the gleaming brass hinges. She got two good footholds and worked her fingers behind the moulding for one of the stained glass windows with one hand; mortared in and plenty strong. Carefully, Iris moved her free hand to her trouser pocket, then pulled out a steel pry bar about six inches long, its end cut a little wider than the usual nail-pulling implement. With deliberate movements, Iris stretched over her head and, with a few painful moments of fiddling, got the flared end under the head of the topmost hinge pin. She twisted her hand, then jerked straight down on the pry bar, using the hinge barrel as a pivot. The heavy pin shot out, a brass glimmer in the darkness before clattering against the roof above. Iris grinned to herself, then shifted position a little and wedged the pry bar into the second hinge. A twist, a pop, and the second pin came out, but without as much force. It arced through the air and pinged off the glass of a second-floor window with a loud bang.
Iris winced and held her breath, then felt her heart speed up as light welled up from the window. With quick, deft movements she brought the pry bar up again, then drove it into the side of the window frame with the hinges. It slid into the gap between the window and the frame, and Iris jerked on the bar again. The bar bit into the wood a little and sent a couple of splinters pinging off into the night. With almost comical slowness, the window began to tip outward and toward the street, its hinges sliding apart without their pins. Iris snatched her pry bar away just before the falling window would have torn it from her grip, and held it by one end, tightly in her hand. The window slowly, slowly pulled out of its frame, the latch making a cracking noise as it pulled out of the opposite side. Then it tumbled free of the building, a breathless, crystalline moment and it fell toward the street. It hit with a deafening sound of breaking glass and shattering wood, and during that moment Iris hurled the pry bar into the night, the sound of wherever it hit drowned out by the sound of tinkling glass and the abrupt opening of a dozen different doors. Then she swung herself over, grabbed the edge of where the window had been, and pulled herself inside.
She landed in a crouch on a thick, burgundy rug, inside what looked like some kind of office or study. The walls were lined with rich, dark, figured wood, and sturdy shelves stood irregularly, filled with books. A fireplace still held glowing coals, but no lamps or lights were on. Iris prowled over the floor until she came to a large desk made of some kind of veined, green stone. It felt cool under her fingers, but nothing in the desk interested her at the moment. She had come for what lay on top of it, on its own little wooden plinth.
About the size of a well-filled knapsack, the thing on the desk looked somehow out of place. It looked almost like a strange kind of coin chest, but with every surface flat, meeting one another at an angle like an enormous cut gemstone. Dark, matte metal seemed to drink what little light made it in from the missing window, and it was entirely featureless, save for a thin band of polished material, more like glass, that ran around where a coin chest's lid-seam would be. Here and there it had been scarred or scratched by something, and it seemed very old indeed. There seemed to be no writing, no symbols on the thing; or if there had been, they had been worn off long, long ago.
Iris sucked in a breath, and her features took on a calculating look. She glanced up at the door to the study and saw that light had begun to filter under the door. She looked back at the thing, and raised one hand, palm out, and touched a spot on the top near the right edge, apparently no different from any other space.
The dark band band of glass faded into sapphire light, pulsing gently. Iris touched another couple of spots on the top of the object, and the band pulsed a few more times in a complex pattern. Then, with a sound that was almost like a gentle sigh, the band flared into brilliance for a split second before fading. To either side, a slow, gentle helix of what seemed to be glowing vapour breathed out, and when Iris held her hand about a foot off the top of the box, the wisps of light began to revolve around her outstretched fingers, twining over her wrist and up to her elbow. The light reflected off of Iris' eyes as she watched them, waggled her fingers, and a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. After several moments she sighed, turned her hand palm up and curled her fingers into her palm. The wisps of light faded away like steam from a kettle, and the band of light on the box went out.
And instant later, the door to the study banged open, revealing an elderly gentleman with a side-by-side shotgun in his hands. He carried it as though it might explode at any moment, without either of his hands anywhere near the triggers. He looked around the room, wild-eyed, and saw Iris standing by the desk. The man gawped, and seemed at something of a loss for words, not even trying to shoulder the shotgun. Iris sighed, made sure both her hands were clearly visible, and as the slow wailing of a constable's steam car grew nearer, slowly raised them to either side of her head.
"What the devil is going on?" Came an all-too-familiar voice a moment later, and a familiar, heavy-set man bustled into view behind the shotgun wielder. He had traded his red velour coat for a fine ivory dressing gown, and still managed to be perfectly coiffed and presented despite the late hour. His features darkened as he took in the room, the missing window, and finally, Iris, standing almost meekly with both of her hands clearly visible.
"You!" He barked, and a scowl added twenty years to his features as he turned to shout at someone behind him, "Arrest that woman!"
Feel that irritation under your skin? Yeah, guess who...
A while ago. Near some low-life infested shit port in the one of the shittiest cheap-ass places in Haven: the shitty, seedy, smelly and sinking float bar called Damino's.
Everyone knows Dammy's. It's that dive; that teetering, tottering and turning one, but just not wanting to just fucking die yet one at the corner ends of Timming's Boulevard and Rue St. Katarina. There, at the fourth seat from the end of the musty and mouldy bar counter is the big hazel-eyed woman, bloodied, blackened yet still bad-ass. No, Ollie has not bathed yet but she still looks like killer goods even without the 'proper womanly attire,' fuck you very much. She is wearing her familiar brown suede hat with a new yet familiar set of goggles adorning her hat's band. Soon after she had sat down she had lowered her respirator that one needed to breathe out here at the corner ends of Tim's and Katy. She reeks of something burnt, something dead, and has a certain air about her. She has that dead air of something you just do not want to fuck with right now. But, of course, Damino is fucking with her...
“Listen up, Kitten...” Merde. He was was trying to sweet talk her. Kitten? Usually he called her 'Alley Puss.' Or sometimes just 'Pussy.' “... no, for the last time, I told you... I don't have your money. I said that your pay was upon completion, right? Your actions that just attracted that fucker into our neck of Haven is NOT completion. Do you know what kind of heat you've brought us? Can you say non-sanctioned, off the radar, Trade Union customer service rep? This isn't a regular fuck-up, Kitten... Mr. Anderson is not a person to fuck with and you brought him--”
Ollie's eyes, coloured the hue of don't-fuck-with-me-right-now twinkled in the dancing soft orange tinged lights of the hissing cheap-ass lanterns and a smirk lilted up at the corner of her mouth. That killer smirk cut Damino off.
The fat, balding Manorite in his plaid apron and bowler's hat did not realize that the cigar stump smouldering at the corner of his mouth had just dropped from said mouth and into the rock's glass in front of him. The dying orange tip of that cheap-ass stogie and the chapped and blistered lips of the crusty bar owner released a hearty hiss at the exact moment when Ollie pulled something burnt, something dead, from out of her pack and raised her bloodied leather gloved hand.
“'Was,' Dammy. Monsieur Anderson 'was' not a person to fuck with, gros-pute. And yes 'Kitten' did bring him...” Ollie tossed the round, sloppy black, pink and purple, somewhat hairy thing at Damino and the fat, balding Manorite screamed. The machine-hearted woman flashed a wicked white grin before her husky, soft-spoken voice continued to taunt and tease. “Well, actually, just the part of him that is salvageable... still has that fuckin' cocky-ass grin attached to it too comme toujours, mon ami.”
Dirty, bloody, soot and Haven grimed leathers creaked as Ollie rose to all six foot and-then-some of murderous, cranky weapon-with-a-vagina and leaned in over the patched up cheap-ass bar counter, complete with mismatched and undoubtedly repurposed, unsanded and unstained wood.
“You think they follow Ollie, peut-etre? They follow Ollie all the way here to your sinking shit hole, Dammy? They know who Ollie works... pardones-moi... 'worked' for, Dammy? You want to keep your 'island paradise' all clean and free from the parasites of 'The Agency?' Then you give me my fuckin' money, mon ami. Donnes-moi mon argent. Maintenant. Right fuckin' now, Dammy... unless you want 'Kitten' to give you some good claw...”
The sound of weapons raised, cocked, locked and ready to unleash bullet and metal hell into the back and head of the machine-hearted woman sung out and stilled the air with butter-thick tension. They knew all too well about the 'Kitten's claws' all right.
“Get out. Now, Ollie...” he tried to sound intimidating with his throaty growl and low-boiling voice. But she could hear that which lay quivering all blubbery and gelatinous-like underneath it all. She could even see it glisten upon his brow, upper lip and fat layered excuse for a neck. “I loved you like my own kid, Kitten... like my own fuckin' daughter! Fuckin' hell, Ollie! And this is how you repay me! Get the FUCK out! Now!!! Only chance... I give you this chance because of everything we went through together... TO-FUCKIN'-GETHER, you ungrateful, bitch--!”
Ollie's eyes, coloured the hue of don't-fuck-with-me-right-now twinkled in the dancing soft orange tinged lights of the hissing cheap-ass lanterns and a smirk lilted up at the corner of her mouth. That killer smirk cut Damino off.
“Quel beau chapeau, mon cher...”
Dark lashes fell slowly over those predator eyes like a lush red curtain falling upon the stage after the final act.
It did not have to end this way but it did.
Even further back than a while ago. At the Western Crossing Ports. More accurately, at the docking bay where she should have been aboard the Crimson Kiss on the 2:21 Haven to The-Fuck-Away-From-Here express line into the Wild Blue. Instead she found she was just meandering about on the 2:37 TheFuckJustHappened?! still here, still stuck in Haven. End of the line. It did not have to end this way.
No, it did not have to end this way but it did...
Ah, le feu. Fire was so beautiful in the night. The warm flickering caresses of oranges, yellows, reds and blues danced brighter than any gas-lamp anywhere. Oh but they held a beautiful death grip upon the melting and screeching dockside wreckage that used to be a ship. Black plumes of smoke billowing up like the feathers of a giant prehistoric bird of prey, highlighted in greys and blues as the bird's flowing body continued to rise skyward above the flames, the heat, the destruction and the spilt blood. Embers and sparks chased her ascent before dying out, blackening into the night sky, fading out from view. Fading into dust and falling back to earth like the dreams of a woman who laid all hope in a single roll of the dice. And like dust she was to lay down low as worthless refuse; she was rolling nothings here and nothing she would remain in Haven.
A slow lowering of dark lashes over hazel eyes was all she could do in the moment. Those shifting irises now the colour of golds and greens, held captured for several beats of her bastard heart. A dark leather gloved hand wiped away at the shattered glass of her goggles before ripping them off her face, a pale bandit's mask leaving its mark, pure and clean unlike the rest of her bloody and sooty visage. Into the fire did she toss those broken things, remnants of a life of violence, a life of a predator. Perhaps it was meant to make her feel a bit better, but it little to sate son couer, her heart. But her heart was unlike any other; it was inhuman, machine and flesh forced to work together to keep her alive. And oh the secrets that heart harboured.
That blood, coolant and oil pumping thing was a unique bastard with no father. Marti inhaled deeply, eyebrows slanting away in despair and sadness letting the sinking feeling in her belly calm the empty pang in her heart.
That cogged and flesh-tissued thing was a driven bitch that just would not stop like a bad-ass mother. Ollie exhaled a long, unshaking breath, eyebrows forced in the opposite direction, a scowl of roiling anger that made her pink lips tremble into a sneer painted by a murderer.
She had killed again and nothing was left. All alone with only the recent dead to stare accusingly at her.
It did not have to end this way--
Baisez les toutes. Fuck it all and a half. It always ended this way.
Away from real time and even further back than even further back than a while ago. And now into someplace better than this. Some other place with someone else. Some other time...
Who the fuck named their kid: Tyler-Anita? Parents who did not really want a daughter, that's who. And as messed up as her name was, so was her life. Ty-Ann (she was also known as T&A, which was a pet name and her stage name) grew up in the dark alleys of Haven, scrounging out a scrawny life with all the other misfits, outcasts and runaways; the children and street urchins that infested the abandoned buildings and docksides. But actually, most of these refuse youths did not have it as good as Ty-Ann. This young lady actually made a decent living as a 'dancer' in the 'XXX-ertainment' District. You know how shit your life is when you are considered lucky to be a pimped out whore and stripper in a shit pile converted warehouse at the corner of Worthless and Loser. But hey, at least she was not a drug addicted, beaten pimped out whore and stripper. At least. Baise-moi. Whatever. Ty-Ann was her friend.
Back then, Ollie was still doing bad things and things got really bad. A fire-fight between Imperial shock-troopers and some rebels with nothing to lose. Ollie found herself right smack fucking in the middle of it while on a job. Several bodies spilled onto the cobblestones later, Ollie and Ty-Ann found themselves nose to nose. Another chick stuck in between hell and fuckin' hell.
The skinny, big-breasted young woman reeking of 'good-times,' dressed to the nines in straps, chaps, leather, feathers and frills and thrills really was an unexpected turn on considering the situation, but Ollie had considered a better use for the little shit other than a really good time. Meat shield was a better use. Sans aucun doute. No doubt.
“Nice hat, my dear...”
But little did she know that Ty-Ann was made of full on tenacious bitch. Against all odds, the pretty big-blue-eyed, busty blonde managed to squeak that tiny, yet round biteable ass out of there. With Ollie's help of course, but still, you had to be une demoiselle dure to keep it together in that kind of shit. And so a lucky whore and stripper just got even luckier; a massacring machine of a woman had her back from that day on... and it also really, really helped that Marti had a huge crush on the ever-smiling blondie as well. No one fucked with Ty-Ann as long as Ollie was in the neighbourhood.
Ollie shook her head, clearing her mind of the fond, yellowed memory. It was dark and she was on her earth-rumbling, white-wall footed beast, tearing down the mainway at an obscene speed, trying to outrun the past. She had to rid herself of it and leave it behind. She had only one friend now: Bebe. A twist of a knob, a stamp on a pedal, a yank on a lever and she kicked her only friend into a roaring higher gear. More black spewed from Bebe's smoke stack as her pistons pumped even harder than need be. Ollie yanked tight the final strap on her leather jacket and readjusted the driving goggles over her eyes as Bebe chugged on, screaming through the night, like a demon escaping hell. And dragging behind Bebe was something she needed to bring back to Dammy; dragging behind her like some kind of still-born freak still attached by the umbilical cord, placenta torn open, flapping and scraping along the way. What would have Ty-Ann thought should she have seen what Ollie had done in anger and rage? So unlike Ollie...
Oh but it was only a short time ago, that she held Ty-Ann for the final time. Her limp, bullet-ridden body lolled like a rag-doll as Ollie marched up to the raging inferno at dock side. The machine-hearted woman tossed Ty-Ann into the fire and stayed only long enough to catch the scent of her burning perfumed hair agitate her nose. Ollie sneezed, sniffled then turned away. That was all. There was no more need for Marti to feel sentimental or weak. One of only two people Ollie trusted in all of the WorldShards was dead. It was time to move on or end up like Tyler-Anita. And so Ollie had straddled Bebe,kicked her two-wheeled mechanical monstrosity of a girl alive and rocketed away towards Damino's at the corner end of Tim's and Katy, dragging Monsieur Anderson's still live body behind them, tied at the screaming head . The dead would not mourn her departure and neither would she mourn theirs. Cold steel dead, emotionless and easily forgotten in the end were the residents of Haven. No one spoke up here anyways in this low-life infested shit-port part of Haven. Sans voix, sans choix.
No voice, no choice and better off dead. That was the Haven she knew. And besides, no matter who she got close to, they all seemed to die around her.
Baisez les toutes. Fuck it all and a half. It always ended this way.
A little time forward in a while ago. Still in the the shitty, seedy, smelly and sinking float bar called Damino's. Just a little time passing forward , but enough for the machine-hearted woman to lay out all her cards. She had played her final hand. All chips in. This was supposed to be her Ace in the hole. The final payout. Ollie was not the best negotiator, fuckin' hell, not even close, but she was one sly bitch. The scum, the losers, the killers and the desperate, they all had one thing in common when it came to Dammy: he owed them all dead cold hard steel cash...
And so all Ollie had to do was bring it up. Why the hell were they working for Damino for free? It was time to cash out. Damino was shredded, holey all-saturated-fat meat in a few heartbeats after that; did not even have enough time to let out his familiar catch phrase: “For the fuck-of-fuck!”
The interior was still hazy and spent gunpowder grey, parlour echoing death when they tore the place apart looking for it all. Upstairs, downstairs, attic and sub-basement... and would you not just know it? It was right there in front of them all along. The safe was in that cheap-ass bar counter, complete with mismatched and undoubtedly repurposed, unsanded and unstained wood.
Two heartbeats after Jeannie found it... then it was a fuckin' blast-at-anything-that-moved-free-for-all. Four of them were left standing in the bar, wading in blood and coughing from the gunsmoke; One sallow goblin that could crack that safe. One single-eyed woman that could clean those bills in the safe. One stiff suit collared male that could clear things up with the local constabulary regarding those missing bills in the safe. And one slick, brown suede hat-wearing bitch that could kill any of the others in a heartbeat while wearing a killer smirk; yes, that bitch. And so finally they had it open. And so after all the bullshit, blades and bullets, they had finally found what they deserved and what they were owed.
After all the bullshit, blades and bullets...
They found the bills of a fat, balding, plaid wearing Manorite that smoked cheap-ass cigars, drank and sold cheap-ass booze in a cheap-ass establishment at the corner ends of Tim's and Katy, all right. They had handfuls of bills. Handfuls of bills past due, that was, of a fat, balding, plaid-wearing Manorite that smoked cheap-ass cigars, drank and sold cheap-ass booze in a cheap-ass floating (and blood filled, bullet-holed, smoky and now ownerless) establishment at the cheap-ass corner ends of Tim's and Katy.
Nothing deserved plus nothing owed still equals nothing.
“Basiez-moi... baisez-moi et demi...”
She was dead cold hard steel broke and had no one else here she knew she could trust in this fuckin' Haven. No place to call home, no where to go. There was no way she was getting off this Shard.
Yes, it just had to end that way.
Away from real time and even further forward than a little time forward in a while ago. And now into someplace better than this. Some other place with someone else. Some other time...
She was not really an Admiral but for what she had managed to get away with, then she could bloody well call herself whatever she pleased. The Storm Surger was the handle of the vessel and she was deemed a derelict Imperial ship. But Admiral Elena knew the truth about the supposed abandoned ship and so she took the vessel and all the riches aboard; riches that were meant to reach the port of certain pirates and pay for certain pirates to do certain bad and horrific things to certain rebel forces.
For a time, Admiral Elena was the most desirable head to have on a platter served to the Empire. And for a time, Admiral Elena lived like an Empress. But Admiral Elena was more about keeping her head and so she swallowed her pride and paid her way to keep said head from ending up on a platter. But there were some people who were still not satisfied with how things turned out and did not care about putting a swindling pirate's head on a platter and just wanted her plain cold steel dead and dumped into the wild blue. One of Ollie's former employers was one of those that wanted Admiral Elena cold steel dead and unleashed the bitch on the red-headed, one-eyed spitfire. La Salope Rouge, Ollie called her and Admiral Elena would laugh.
The second last time she was on the deck of the Crimson Kiss (formerly The Storm Surger) she had whipped out Les Griffes de la Diable, the wicked foot long blades hidden in her left forearm had Admiral Elena dead to rights trying to abandon ship to save her little red-headed ass. Ollie easily caught her mark and held that frizzy red mane and asked Admiral Elena to apologize to Ollie's employer as was requested in the contract. She would be killed anyways, but an apology would mean a non-long-drawn-out-and-screaming-till-raw-horrible-death.
Then the hat and wig came undone from 'Admiral Elena's' head.
“Quel beau chapeau... nice hat, my dear...”
After the heartbeat of shocked silence, the imposter forced a laugh. Ollie glowered. And out of nowhere, the imposter red-head began to sing. Slowly and ragged at first, but soon enough, it was a one woman musical show. Singing, dancing and some shitty, corny yet unbelievably clever dialogue performed as if on stage warmed that cold machine-heart of Ollie and Marti began to giggle.
The talks were now open.
Over dinner and several drinks, Ollie found that it turned out that 'Admiral Elena' was actually several women. This particular Elena was the lover of Captain Munroe of the HMSS Realigan. This particular Elena kept one step of the Empire by having an insider constantly satisfied with her 'insider techniques.' This was not the Elena Ollie was looking for. And besides, Marti was really taking a shine to this particular Elena. They really were having a good time singing, dancing and making up some shitty, corny yet unbelievably clever dialogue perform on stage. Marti and Elena somehow ended up as part of some fucked up improv-burlesque show. Le meilleur temps jamais! EVER!
But Ollie's blades still needed to make a body dead and return it to her employer. Simple solution. Kill someone else and put the wig on them. But who? Ollie's eyes twinkled and that killer smirk lilted up at the corner of her mouth when they agreed it should be no one else but Ollie's employer. Soon to be Ollie's former employer a few days before she met Damino.
Ollie shook her head, clearing her mind of the fond, yellowed memory. It was still dark and again she was on Bebe, tearing down the mainway at an obscene speed, trying to outrun the past. She had to rid herself of it and leave it behind yet again. Oh how it was beginning to sink in that Bebe was her only friend now. A twist of a knob, a stamp on a pedal, a yank on a lever and she kicked her only friend into a screaming higher gear. More black spewed from Bebe's smoke stack as her pistons pumped even harder than need be. Ollie yanked tight the final strap on her leather jacket and readjusted the goggles over her eyes as Bebe chugged on, roaring through the night, like all hell chasing a fleeing demon. And behind them was the cobblestoned highway leading back to the burning wreckage that was Damino's at the corner ends of Tim's and Katy. Even further behind them was the burning wreckage that was the Crimson Kiss. Even further behind them were the burning dead bodies of both Tyler-Anita and Admiral Elena.
It was supposed to be simple. So fuckin' simple. Call in a favour from Admiral Elena, grab Ty-Ann and get the Fuck-Away-From-Here, into the Wild Blue, navigating the Remnants. They would have be nothing, have nothing; nothing but the clothes on their backs, adventure in their hearts, off to find the only one that could fix Ollie and make her Marti full-time: The Toy-Maker.
But no, they were all dead and burning.
Fuck no, in fact, for they burned like the threads of hope and freedom as they always seemed to burn for Ollie. Nothing but a life lead by cold dead hard steel into nothing. The life of a machine-hearted bitch called Weapon: 13-Song. Nothing deserved plus nothing owed equals nothing. No choice, no voice and better off dead, fuck you very much. Now that Marti was done feeling sorry for herself, time to move on and find for Ollie another place to find things to kill and for Ollie to burn more things to burn down...
It just had to end that way...
No. Ollie was done.
Further forward way the fuck beyond a while ago and into the right time, right place in the here and now. Way the fuck away from some low-life infested shit port in the one of the shittiest cheap-ass places in Haven. Way the fuck away from the shitty, seedy, smelly and sunken former float bar called Damino's.
Into the recesses of her mind, she has flipped the switch. The thaumaturgic telegraph waves are pulsing and in a few days time they will reach back to home to Hephaestus. They will be read by the deviant Mind-Bending Blooded. They will know where Weapon: 13-Song's final place intact was; right at the place where she first landed in Haven. That's right, Marti is saying good-bye and Ollie is going to kill herself.
She is straddled upon Bebe, leaning down low, wind snapping at her leather outfit and goggles, black smoke streaming behind them as good ol' Bebe chugs along at an obscene speed, trying to outrun the past and drive head first into oblivion. Bebe is Martine Nannette Olivier's only friend and she will take her into the Wild Blue grave with her. More black spews from Bebe's smoke stack as her pistons pump harder than ever before. Ollie yanks tight the final strap on her leather jacket and readjusts the goggles over her eyes...
“Baisez-moi... Bebe! Qu'est qui ce passe?!” Ollie yelped as the two-wheeled mechanical monstrosity coughed once, lurched then ceased its chugging roar, “'The fuck is happening girl?! What the-- Baisez-moi... baisez-moi et demi...! For the fuck-of-FUCK--!!!”
With a thunderous crack, metal and steam broke free from within Bebe and the ol' girl seized up and sent Ollie flailing like a ragdoll and swearing like a Manorite sailor. The monstrous white-wall tired machine tumbled once, then twice before sliding sideways along the old and worn stony concourse and straight up the gang plank into the belly of the old and worn Sky Hauler C9 class skyship, retro-fitted with top mounted cannons. Wheels spinning freely and sparks on the ground chasing it was the last thing Ollie saw of Bebe before the fire started.
Ah, le feu. Fire was so beautiful even in the day. The warm flickering caresses of oranges, yellows, reds and blues danced to rival the brightness of day. Oh how they would hold a death grip upon the soon-to-be melting and screeching dockside wreckage that used to be a ship--
Internal systems rebooted and Ollie was up again, leaping towards the water-replenishing connectors. Huge, powerful muscles made even more huge and powerful by Hephastus mad science bulged as the machine-hearted woman pulled up the one-foot diametre hose and sprinted back towards the C9 class ship. Like a strange, musclebound, leather-wearing, ballerina, Ollie kicked out a foot behind her, toes reaching out. With an eruption of beatifully hand-stitched foot wear, the foot long blade sprung from the tip of Ollies foot. With a brutally graceful stamp downwards, the blade skewered the ground and the freakish ballerina was locked in place. One arm still strangling tight the red and white striped water hose, the other yanked hard on the the release lever. Ollie braced herself, all enhanced muscles burning, foot blade quivering in the ground, husky voice screaming a scream as ungodly amounts of cool liquid hell was unleashed into the flaming belly of the C9 and quenching the fiery lust that was Bebe. “Ah merde, Bebe... Ma pauvre, pauvre Bebe, ma seule amie...”
The lever was pulled closed and it was over.
Nothing deserved plus nothing owed... that is over too.
Ollie stared up at the drenched, caramel-skinned, pilot-type looking woman as her hazel eyes twinkled and that killer smirk lilted up at the corner of her mouth.
“Quel beau chapeau, ma chere... Nice hat...”
Dark lashes fell slowly over those pretty eyes like a kid-gloved hand covering up the giggles of a little girl.
It did not have to start this way but it did.
Baisez les toutes. Fuck it all and a half. It just had to start this way.
Last edited by inDefiance; 01-05-2013 at 12:10 PM.
Leaving Iris to her mischief Henri made her way back towards the Owl, passing through the now largely emptied and darkened streets. Quiet save for the noise and light from the bars, restaurants and theaters which now plied their trade. An unwelcome reminder for the young woman of the poker game she was missing. She felt a tinge of irritation and couldn't help but slightly begrudge Iris as she mournfully reflected on the sum of money that the woman had likely cost her.
Returning to the dock, where the ancient ship was moored, she patted the side of the large metal craft fondly, it had grown on her, cramped and ancient as it was, after all it had saved her skin on more than one occasion. Entering through the large hatch leading into the cargo hold, she moved past the infirmary(which she kept in a surprisingly pristine state), climbed up the ladder to the second deck and entered the small room she and Iris shared in the crew berth's.
Closing the door behind her, she disrobed, neatly arranging her clothing in a pile on her bed, before stepping into the wash, and filling the simple but functional bathtub residing in a corner of the room with hot water. Lying down in the welcoming warm water, she sighed contently, it had been some time since she had been able to enjoy a proper bath without the threat of pirates or worse the Imperial Navy showing up to ruin her momentary peace. However, recalling the enigmatic women who she considered one of her few friends and the woman's current situation she shook her head slowly from side to side and rose to a sitting position beginning to carefully wash her body with a bar of soap smelling lightly and sweetly of rose. It was hard having friends like Iris, Henri mused, but at least it kept life interesting.
Finally clean and feeling much refreshed she stepped out of the bathtub, drying herself with a nearby towel. Standing in front of the small sink which stood in the room, she looked into the small mirror which hung above it. Selecting a beautiful looking bottle of perfume, glass carved with an intricate pattern of flowers from a the metallic shelf which extended beneath the mirror, she dabbed a bit of perfume on both her wrists, her throat and neck, slowly letting her hands drift across her chest. Returning the bottle to it's former place, she paused for a moment, considering her large collection of lipsticks before selecting a tantalizing shade of light green and a matching deep green eye shadow to go along with a touch of rouge.
Unabashed she stepped out into the crew berth, approaching a the heavy chest which stood next to the bunk and spending a moment searching before finding a sufficiently elegant pair of undergarments with a slight grin. Approaching the rather large closet that was hers, she pushed the sliding door to one side, before returning to the bed and sitting down with a philosophical look on her face as she examined the multitude of clothing, mostly dresses which filled it to the brim.
Finally coming to a decision she took began to slowly dress herself. Over a tasteful black petticoat she donned a long flowing, dark green gown with an intricate blue lining. A chemise of a matching color was worn underneath a black corset and Henri fashioned her hair into a chignon; pinning the voluminous mass of ash-blond hair into an elaborate knot at the nape of her neck with a set of ornate, silver hairpins. Complimented by an equally pretty looking pair of earrings and a simple looking necklace, with a thin silver chain ending a beautiful emerald that rested just above her bosom. Completing her formal look, she put on a pair of long silk gloves and small black hat, which rested at an angle on her head as a light black veil fell in front of her face.
From deep within the closet, she withdrew an ornate sun umbrella, it too a dark shade of green and blue. Satisfied, she cast a last glance in the small mirror, smiling to no one but herself and offering a mock bow, it was time to help a friend and break the law...again.
"Tai?" Henri asked as she climbed up to the cockpit of the Owl, despite the inherent challenge of performing such a feat dressed in formal attire, however it was the one place where Henri was certain she would find the young pilot. She heard a loud *thud* as Tai fell out of her hammock with a look of surprise and glee on her face, scattering the two metallic dragons which she had clearly been playing with across the floor. Though she appeared no worse for the wear and recovering admirably Tai soon stood in front of Henri with a silly grin on her face. A leather flying cap and goggles which Henri couldn't recall having seen before, barely managing to remain in place following the woman's aerobatics. Tai's cheerful manner and boundless energy seemed as always contagious and Henri found that she couldn't help but smile back.
"Oh, you have a new cap, how lovely." Henri finally offered as she gazed approvingly at the ornately carved metal flowers adorning the design and resisted a deep-seated urge to reach out and touch or rather readjust the wayward curls of hair which struggled to escape from beneath the aviator's cap. "It definitely suits you my dear."
Tai beamed. "You noticed! I didn't even say anything, and you saw! And I was--oh," Tai stopped abruptly, realizing she was rambling. Again. "I mean, you look very nice, as well. Are you off to visit a man, Henri?" Tai's grin was cheeky to the utmost.
"Now, now, a lady doesn't kiss and tell... But tell me, how do I look Tai? Fit for an Imperial dinner ball perhaps?" Henri asked, spinning in a slow circle.
The young pilot giggled. "Any man should be well happy to have your hand," she said, perfectly rehearsed in a perfectly non-Tai way. She tilted her head to the side, examining the fine gloves, then shook her head. "Oh. Wait. Where's Iris?"
"I recall she said something about exploring the town," Henri replied without missing a beat, "but I shouldn't worry about our lovely engineer, she is quite capable of taking care of herself. Ah! Before I forget, the ship is in a ready state is it not?"
"As always," she answered brightly. "And I even--heeeey...why are you asking? Is something wrong?"
"No, merely curiosity on my part," Henri replied though her mouth had formed into a worryingly mischievous grin as she spoke.
"Well...okay," Tai said suspiciously, before changing gears altogether, as per her short attention span. "Is the Captain doing any better? I feel like we've been mucking about here for half a lifetime," she added with a pout.
"I wouldn't worry about Jackson, my dear, he is tougher than he looks. In fact I spoke to Dr. Thompson this morning," Henri began. "He was quite pleased to notify me that our beloved Captain is well on his way to making a full recovery and in this matter I am inclined to trust Mr. Thompson. He is a consummate professional with a talent for strange and exotic ailments if an exceedingly droll fellow. Although of course, I happen to be ever so slightly better as a physician, still it is hard to compete with a specialist in their chosen field," Henri added not quite able to hide her professional differences with the man.
Tai made a face. "I doubt even a specialist could do your work, Henri, but I wouldn't be much keen on sitting about, either." She grinned wryly. "Especially since you're off to break hearts at some super secret ball or another." She giggled. "I'll keep her ready, anyway. She's itchin' to move. Have a beautiful day, Henri."
"Oh, I shall indeed. Try not to get into too much trouble when I'm gone," Henri added with a wink.
Stepping off the owl, Henri grinned mischievously, she was enjoying returning to Haven already; though she wasn't sure how long her welcome would last. She approached a gathering point near the docks where several steam cars of varying state were lined and waiting for potential patrons. Raising, the ornate sun umbrella she carried, she gestured towards an attendant of some sort, dressed in respectable looking suit and wearing a rather interesting hat which seemed at first glance far too small for his head. He approached quickly, perhaps surprised by her extravagant manner of dress and clearly sensing a potential for profit.
"Evening Miss, how can I be of service?" The young man cheerfully offered.
"I need a discreet driver for a quick job, nothing illegal of course, but I need someone who can forget names and places," Henri added slipping him a heavy gold coin.
"Certainly, I know just the man for the job, Miss. Follow me please." The valet replied flashing the white of his teeth as he escorted Henri to a waiting steam car, greeting the driver who was leaned lazily against the side of his vehicle enjoying a quick smoke from his pipe. The valet exchanged a quick series of words with the man before the pair shook hands.
Emptying and then pocketing his pipe the driver held the door open for Henri, nodding to the valet as the other man returned to his post. Starting the engine of the vehicle to a loud burst of smoke, the driver addressed Henri, "So, where can I take you Miss?"
"The local Constabulary, please." Henri replied without missing a beat.
Showing no reaction to the peculiar nature of the request, the driver simply nodded as he began driving. Entering into the district the houses of the rich intertwined with those of the poor, the wealthy wanted to be seen after all and the establishments followed suit.
"Tell me driver, you are from Haven are you not?" Henri asked, breaking the silence.
"Born and raised ma’am." The driver answered without taking his eyes of the road.
"Then you do know of the local officer of the peace?" She asked curiously.
"Sure, Miss,” The driver replied, “Constable Greene has been in charge here since I was a child, a bit of an odd bird they say. I heard he was some sort of professor before he joined the Force. Tough as they come though, he has managed to last longer than most men do in his this district, even manged to bring some law and order with time. Good man...for a constable." He added hesitantly.
"Sounds like quite an interesting fellow,” Henri kindly offered, letting the conversation come to an end as the driver returned his full attentions to his driving.
"Well then, here we are miss." The driver finally indicated as he brought the steam car to an abrupt stop in front of a small squat, wooden building, a large sign resting over front of it reading simply “Eden Park Constabulary”.
"Perfect, oh, do you mind waiting here for me? I'll only be a moment and I will pay extra of course."
"No skin off my bones," the man offered shrugging his shoulders.
Entering the small jail, she saw a weathered old man hunched over a large wooden desk, pouring over an impressive stack of papers piled in front of him.
"Mr. Greene, I presume?" Henri offered, smiling broadly at the elderly constable who rose to greet her.
"How can I be of assistance Miss....?" The old man began casting a suspicious if kind eye over the well-dressed woman that had just appeared in his office.
"Lady Campbell," Henri indicated, smiling charmingly at the constable, "I trust you know my father."
The face of the man paled slightly as he recognized the name of one of the leading noble families on Haven and suitably(for Henri's purposes) one of the largest. The elderly Campbell, having married some four times over the years and a proud father of no less than fifteen children.
"I should like to see a particular guest of yours, recently arrived as it were. I have been led to believe she calls herself Iris..."
"The burglar," Constable Greene offered before catching himself. "Beg your pardon Lady Campbell but the women you mentioned was caught attempting to burglarize the estate of a local councilman?"
"Burglar, yes, I suppose some would call her that," Henri began, offering a sad sniffle before continuing, "however, I tend to simply call her Margaret or "Sister" in private."
"Damnation," Greene offered as the color drained from his face.
"Quite." Henri agreed, shaking her head from side to side and doing her best to look sad.
"Mr. Charles,” Greene shouted, as a younger constable appeared, "Escort us to the accommodations if you will."
"Certainly, sir!" The other constable managed to finally mutter as he led Henri and Greene through a long hallway and opened a heavy metal door leading to the two large cells which were housed inside the Constabulary. Stepping into the room, Henri smiled as she saw Iris behind the bars of the smaller of the two cells, sitting quietly if perhaps a bit impatiently on the simple bed provided to prisoners. She winked mischievously at the other woman before speaking, "My dear sweet sister, a pretty little bird told me you were here. Oh, how father worried when he learned that you had run into some trouble again. You know that you shouldn't go off exploring on your own."
Iris arched an eyebrow as Henri spoke, the expression dubious. Fortunately, since the other woman had shown up wearing her finest noble lady's layer-cake, the constables, at the moment, only had eyes for her. Iris, by contrast, in her button-down shirt stained with the grime outside Barron's house and her hair tousled and messy from the wind on the climb up, looked at best bedraggled and at worst like a madwoman. Still, Iris' eyes flickered over her friend and she made a few small adjustments to her posture - a straighter spine, knees closer together, hands resting less limply on one another. If she were meant to be a noble's sister, little things could sell the story.
"Well then constable," Henri began as she turned to face the elderly policeman. "I think we've had enough excitement for one day, so you if you would be so kind to release my sister into my custody, I am certain that you will be well rewarded for you vigilance and discretion."
"Release her? Lady Campbell, I am afraid it is a bit more complicated, you see Council Member Barron himself reported this crime. I can't exactly make such an accusation disappear you know."
"Constable Greene,” Henri began sharply,"If you think that the Campbell family will allow our reputation to suffer so grievously, then I am afraid you are very mistaken."
"Are you threatening me?" Greene asked as his face began to turn a light red and his fist clenched into a tight ball.
"Of course not, my dear constable, I am merely suggesting that it would be in all our interests if this incident were to simply disappear," Henri answered, offering only a wicked smile.
The elderly constable, swore lightly to himself, letting out a frustrated sigh as he ran a weary hand through his hair. "Alright, alright, Mr. Charles fetch me the key."
"Sir? We're letting her go? But she was caught in the act, she's as guilty as they can be. I mean...errr...Sir...what will the Councilman say?"
“Mr. Charles, I am certainly not a hero. If you want to last in this career, you have better learn when to look the other way. Council Member Barron may be important but he is no imperial noble. Now do as I say!"
Stammering a reply, the young constable disappeared into the first room and returned with a heavy set of keys which he handed to the older man before standing aside.
"I'm sorry for the trouble we have caused you Lady Campbell," Constable Greene politely offered to Iris as opened the door to the cell to release the woman.
"You are in the service of the rightful law," Iris replied, "You need not apologize to me."Her words came out as though on some kind of automatic pilot, and a look of shock and dismay flickered over Iris' features faster than a lightning bolt. Her accent, of course, sounded nothing like Henri's. She had never managed that art.
The two constables shared an incredulous look of confusion but before either could mention the strange dialect with which Iris spoke, Henri had rushed forward and held the other woman in a tight embrace. "Poor, dear," she muttered dramatically, "this poor ordeal has left you positively shattered. But you needn't worry anymore, I am here to take you home and then we can have a nice cup of tea. You would like that wouldn't you?"
Shrugging his shoulders, Greene, coughed politely into his hand before interrupting the touching moment, "Will you be needing a carriage?" He asked Henri, not quite managing to hide the irritation which showed clearly through his features.
"No, no, I happen to have my own driver waiting outside and we should enjoy a nice tour of the district shouldn't we Margaret?" She added smiling warmly towards Iris.
As the pair exited the jailhouse, Henri practically threw herself over Iris, linking arms with the engineer almost as if she was fearful the other woman would try to escape her clutches.
"Now my dear, I think you owe me a drink, maybe dinner even at some pleasant restaurant; somewhere with class mind you," Henri said positively purring. "Besides I haven't even had a chance to use my gun yet..."
"I think we've had enough criminal activity for the evening, don't you?" Iris said, wincing as the car bounced over an uneven piece of road. She stayed quiet for a few moments, before leaning against the doorframe and turning her eyes to Henri, "Sisters? I suppose that one is at least plausible. The last time…" She shook her head, "Well, let's just forget that one happened."
The car trundled along, the hiss of its steam engine punctuating the silence at regular intervals. After a little while, Iris leaned forward and tapped on the driver's glass.
"Chateau de Varenne, please," Iris said, her accent mauling the words, "It seems I have a date."
In case it isn't obvious Naril wrote the portion of the post concerning Iris and DotCom wrote the dialogue for Tai.
Iris stayed quiet for the rest of the carriage ride, closing her eyes in exhaustion. The engine chugged, its one steam-powered piston cranking over with a deliberate but inevitable speed, moving the cab with a deceptive speed. The engineer couldn't help but notice that it had been a while since the seals had been inspected, and on each third revolution it lost about ten percent of its actual power. At least the cab wouldn't break down on the way to the restaurant, unless the cabbie decided to circumnavigate the continent first. Its springs squeaked in testament to too-infrequent oiling, and a particularly hard bounce over a broken cobble made them squeak in brief torment. Iris shifted in her seat, the leather creaking, the padding a little flat. Nothing out of the ordinary for something as hard-used as a cab, but her workman's pride itched at it, just a little.
She looked down at herself. Dirty, stained with grime and the slurry of rain and soot that every building on the shard had daubed over its surface, and with her shirt torn and a button missing from the night's adventures. She idly played with the hole, just above her breastbone, while she looked out the window. Henri's intense grey eyes, filled to bursting with curiosity, had not escaped her notice, but Iris didn't feel like answering any questions right at the moment. So the time slid by, and the evening's rain began in earnest as the car pulled up in front of a very fancy restaurant indeed, its clientele dressed more like the gunslinger and less like her companion.
"Come on, lazybones," Henri said, prodding her friend with a gloved finger, "You aren't getting out of this with a morose look."
"You're lucky they gave me my coin purse back," Iris said, and levered herself out of the cab. She moved around to the other side and held the door open for her friend, helping the woman and her layers of skirts down from the cab. Iris looked positively bedraggled compared to the ornate gown Henri wore, but she didn't seem to be fazed by it in the slightest. Even with quite a close look, it would be next to impossible to tell if she actually didn't care…or perhaps, even, if she were aware of the conventions.
"Eugh," Henri said, her voice frustrated, "Let's get out of this rain. It'll ruin the lace." The gunslinger took her friend's arm just as before, and made her very firm way toward the restaurant's doors. She took prim, even steps across the shallow puddles, her daintily-heeled boots barely seeming to touch the ground as she glided along. Iris kept pace, her much heavier boots making even less of a splash, every step made with a casual, unthinking grace.
Henri pulled the door open, her dark blue gloves standing out against the bright brass of the handle. Inside, the place sparkled with a thousand tiny points of electric light, their warm glow filling the space with the glow of hardwood, silk, glass, and money. A man, dressed in a suit so sharp it could cut the bread stood to relaxed attention at a podium just inside the door, his mustache perched over his lip with a geometric precision even Iris couldn't help but admire. His green eyes sparkled with a certain pride as he watched the guests, both arriving and departing, and he heaved a deep sigh of contentment as a particularly well-dressed couple left, glowing with wine.
His expression did not twitch one iota, remaining the pleasant smile of a man who would like to take a lot of money from you as Henri led the way to his little podium. His eyes did, however, briefly rove over Iris and the state of her outfit. Iris, for her part, seemed a little distracted, as though listening to something only she could hear. She took a couple of brief, sharp breaths in through her nose, like a man testing a perfume for the first time, and a dark eyebrow rose the tiniest amount.
"Welcome to Chateau de Vaarenne," he said, his accent smooth as oiled butter, "And how are we this evening? Would you like to make a reservation?"
"No, we'd like a table," Henri said, smiling the kind of smile that makes flowers bloom and the sun feel warmer, "For this evening. For right now, in fact."
"I'm sorry, madam," the man said, "But we are booked solid for the rest of the night. And…well, the restaurant does have an image to maintain."
"Pardon me," Iris said, "But if I remember reading the newspaper right, your restaurant prides itself on how advanced the kitchen is, with special materials in the stovetops to even out heat transfer and gas-powered fans that pull smoke and steam out, right?"
"But of course," the man said, his chest puffing out a little, "We take great pride in that."
"And you have it in no small part because your head chef is enormously picky about the quality of his equipment?" Iris continued, her voice quiet but rather serious, "Famous for it, as I understand. That he's threatened to walk out because he found a spot of corrosion on one of his favorite sauce pans?"
"Well, yes," the man said, with a helpless but not feigned shrug, "One must make allowances for genius. We don't' mind."
"In that case," Iris said, "I'm going to make you an offer."
"Oh?" The man said, a smirk pulling up one corner of his mouth, "And what is that?"
"One of the clockwork smoke extractors is about to fail," Iris said, "The mainspring is getting uneven, and I'd say within the hour it's going to snap. And you're doing…" She sniffed theatrically, "Some kind of rum flambé, by the smell of it. Got to have that extractor running, or the chef's going to get upset, isn't he?"
"Well, now - wait, how do you know?" The man said, a little taken aback.
"I can hear it. Can't you?" Iris replied, "And I'll wager you a table for two, tonight, that I'm right. If I'm wrong, I'll pay you the cost of the dinner anyway and leave you in peace."
The man's eyes arched up. A meal at the Chateau cost not just one, but a whole handful of heavy coins, and the prospect of getting the payment for one without doing any actual work added up to something the man couldn't resist. Maybe the owner would even let him keep it. It would buy something nice for the wife, and there's no time when a gift isn't a good idea. After a moment or two, he came to a conclusion and nodded, the smile blossoming back onto his face.
"Right this way, Miss…?" he said, stepping out from behind the podium. He gestured to another man, in a suit not quite as nice as his own, who took up the position, hands folded politely behind his back.
"Tyrell," Iris said, and turned to Henri, "I'll be right back. If you play dice with anyone, at least leave them enough for a tip?" She smirked, the expression pleasant on her face, then turned to the direction the man indicated. They disappeared behind a paneled oak bend a moment later.
Henri rolled her eyes and within a few seconds had her feet tapping on the ground. Nobody in the restaurant seemed interested in meeting her eye, which meant no opportunities to relieve anyone of a few jots. She had just been about to ask the man behind the podium if he would like to play a game of cards, when a loud bang came from the direction of the kitchen, along with a long-drawn out grinding sound. The kind of noise a dying machine makes, with a lot of rattles and clanks followed by, inexplicably, a parp sound of something deflating. A moment later a man's voice, shouting in the universal language of chefs, came bellowing through a nearby duct, along with the sounds of something crashing to the floor.
The sounds of mechanical mayhem stopped, and a voice that could only be Iris' filtered through, sounding reassuring and firm as she always did. There were a few more clanks, followed by a loud bang. There were a few murmured voices, and a few more sounds of machinery, quieter and more controlled this time. After another few minutes of this, a low, dull hum started, and then quickly faded away below the ambient background noise.
Not more than a minute later, Iris came back out, even more disheveled than before. One arm of her shirt had nearly been torn off, the black fabric of her bra visible underneath. She had one hand clamped around the opposite forearm, as though she'd been hurt, and wore an expression that was one part smugness, one part scowl, a not-inconsiderable feat of facial movement. Something fairly violent must have happened in the kitchen, her escort had three whole hairs out of place on his perfect coiffure, and he looked a little startled. His hands shook a little as he gestured for the other man to leave them be, and with the silence of an automaton, he moved away to some other part of the restaurant, presumably to look polite and official somewhere else.
"Well…" The man said, brushing the front of his suit, "It would seem that we have a table for you," He looked pained as he said, "And…at the chef's compliments."
He cleared his throat and continued, "But Miss Tyrell, we really would prefer you not to have to dine in such a…condition. Happily, the owner maintains an apartment above, and I am sure he would not mind if you perused the closet. Here is the key," and here he handed over a small, bright brass key, "Up the stairs, and to the right. Take your time. And as for your companion, we are familiar with Miss Caldwell - I am led to believe you won quite a lot of money off of one of our waiters earlier in the week. If you would follow me, please."
The man turned to lead Henri away as a pair of bustling white-and-black dressed waiters busily prepared a cozy, intimate table within a dozen paces of a large and crackling fire. Iris turned and made her way upstairs, a little nonplussed. She had expected just to be allowed to eat, but there were proprieties to be observed, apparently. The stairs emptied onto a surprisingly large door with an ornate brass keyhole, but Iris could see from the key that the lock behind it was decidedly pedestrian. She could have probably picked it in her sleep. Still, it turned smoothly enough, and she pushed through into a comfortable apartment, busy with paperwork.
She made her way to what looked like a bedroom and slid the closet open on one side of a large, double bed, and perused the contents in a desultory manner. With a sigh, she crossed the room, and did the same again.
Some time later, Iris made her way back down the stairs, tugging at her wrists to get the last details of the outfit she'd chosen into place. She moved more easily than she had expected, but perhaps that had been an effect of having an opportunity for a good wash and to run a comb through her hair. She looked, if not completely like someone who should be at the Chateau, at least not out of place enough to warrant a third look. A waiter bowed and gestured to the table where Henri sat, and the pair walked over.
Henri had managed to get bored again while she waited for Iris, and even the wine she'd ordered hadn't taken much of the edge off. Her eyes widened as her friend sat down in a chair pulled out for just that purpose, completely failing to hide her surprise. Dark blue glinted at Iris' wrists, sapphire on crisp white, a perfect counterpoint to the dull grey of her many ear piercings and her dark hair. She daintily picked up her napkin and laid it on her leg, the bright white square a sharp contrast with the dark silk it lay over.
"I will let you…ladies peruse the menu," the waiter said, only the tiniest hesitation in his voice. He turned away and bustled over to another table, his smooth, reassuring voice almost like that of a wireless announcer.
"Iris!" Henri hissed from behind her menu, "Why the devil are you wearing a man's suit? You even have cufflinks!"
The meal passed in companionable comfort, the two talking and laughing as any other couple might in the restaurant. The food, predictably, was excellent, and the wine even more so. By degrees, the tables around them and the staff grew accustomed to Iris' unusual choice of outfit, and the night wore on pleasantly. The fire crackled, and a waiter added more wood. More people, couples, groups, individuals, filtered in and out, the conversations all around like a vast and endless ocean, not unpleasant or overwhelming. Only a fact of life in this place.
At length, the pair were handed two tall, narrow dessert menus, filled from top to bottom with the kind of food that would delight every one of the eater's senses. Chocolate creme, frozen fruit, and even alcoholic confections tantalized Iris' mind.
"So," Henri said, making a show of looking at her menu, "Are you going to tell me exactly what you were looking for in Councilor Barron's office? Why you put both of us to so much trouble today?"
Iris sighed, and kept up her own show of looking at the menu. The question was not as simple as Henri might have guessed, and some part of Iris felt bad for it. Friends trusted one another, didn't they? Didn't she deserve to know? Then again…
A thousand thoughts shot through her mind with the speed of a lightning flash. Possibilities, consequences, paths of logic and reason and sentiment. She opened her mouth, took a breath, ready to explain exactly what she had been doing, what it had meant, and why she had been so insistent on getting access to an ancient lump of metal.
Then her eyes caught a bright flash of brass buttons, and she turned to look toward the restaurant's front door. Two burly members of the constabulary stood there, bright buttons against dark blue uniforms, and they were talking to a different man behind the little podium. They looked mighty annoyed, one of them with the kind of fierce eyebrows that storybook wizards might have. The man behind the podium was scanning the room, and pointed out Henri and Iris with a lazy flap of his hand, looking pleased with himself. The two constables nodded, and started to push their way through the still-crowded restaurant.
"Oh dear," Iris said, and she folded the menu casually, "I think it's time to go."
"But dessert-" Henri began, and turned to look in the direction Iris' eyes had swiveled, "Oh. Damn."
"Mm," Iris said, and she dabbed at her lips before tossing the napkin onto the tabletop, "Back door onto the porch, over the fence, back to the ship?"
"You'll owe me for missing dessert," Henri began.
"I'm missing it more than you," Iris finished, "You'd eat protein powder mixed with whiskey if nobody stopped you." She said the last with a grin and stood, offering her arm to Henri, "Shall we?"
"Can I shoot at them?" Henri said, her hand hovering near the right side of her skirts.
"No," Iris said, her voice firm, "We had enough of that last time."
"You're no fun," Henri said, a mostly-faux pout on her pretty lips.
"Ready?" Iris said, turning towards the back door, arm in arm with Henri.
"Let's go," Henri said, and the two, without ceremony, bolted.