Jeon Smythe & 'Melvin'
Collapsed into a heap the two warriors lay on the ground and struggling to gather themselves.
Despite all of ‘Melvin’s’ efforts to protect Jeon and repulse dangers the truth was the environment was growing increasingly dangerous. More Draconian men were spilling from the vortex, ever escalating the numbers of both sides – and eventually it was going to lead to a tipping point which could easily be not in Jeon nor his companions’ favor.
Self-defense was only going to reward ‘Melvin’ for so long, its calculations quite capable of putting the odds together and seeing the increasing danger of the overall situation.
Melvin's hands lashed out at the two Draconians, ending their struggle. Turning, it regarded the portal seriously.
It needed superior weapons to end this threat. Instead, it had a surgical suite, a fully kitted out pharmacy, a smattering of survival gear, some groceries, some homemade Molotov cocktails and a Zayan strapped to an examination table.
Somehow hurtling the doctor at the portal didn't seem like a good answer.
Magnesium. Its right hand returned to normal as several magnesium fire starters were deposited in its pocket, followed by a Molotov cocktail. Using its bladed hand, it shaved down the magnesium into shavings, which it then poured into the bottle and resealed.
It then lit the rag and hurled it through the portal. This was going to cause massive casualties on the other side, and hopefully block any more from entering for now.
Another Molotov was tossed down the stairs to deter any more Draconian interference. Six more arced overhead, along the Draconian line.
The Probe sighed as its shell rippled and stretch, turning itself into Jeon. Reaching down, it easily hefted the ballista bolt the doctor had been struggling with earlier, and loaded it in place. Time to bring out the heavy artillery.
And the doctor was going to be the one who got all the credit for it. Life wasn't fair.
The chain of chaos was tantamount catastrophe. On the stairs of the great fortress gate men Human and Draconian burned, in the battle the Draconian mass merged with the forces of Mankind shared the taste of the flames as the scaled fighters rolled their burning bodies into them.
With all the battle distracted by exchanging strikes and flame ‘Melvin’ was able to turn the ballista to face within the city and load it. The black bolt fiercely pointed to the purple vortex. Unleashing the artillery bolt there had been no Draconian to meet it, yet instead the bolt flew through the vortex surely giving those who were burning a crueler fate.
From above where the clash of bright energies changed hands like leaping stars the Draconian wizard from above looked down to see the mess of things. ‘Melvin’ wasn’t fortunate as the wizard sent out a purple shot of energy straight into the ballista at lightning speed. The black artillery piece shattered thousand-fold becoming shrapnel where it had once been. By the kinetic force of the blast ‘Melvin’ was sent falling off the gates’ bits of metal lodged into its form from thigh to head.
Impacting on the grass and snow before Whitebar’s gate the Zyan robot was knocked out for the conflict until it could get back in!
An artificial weak spot ruptured the shell's cranium skin, bleeding copiously and looking very much like a head wound. Which, ironically enough, was what the blood pack was supposed to do.
Inside the Probe's bubble, the structure rang like a giant cathedral bell. Overhead, the ceiling lights in the surgical suite flickered and went out, to be replaced by emergency lighting in the shade of mauve, although the cluster over the table illuminating the doctor were white.
"Melvin?" Jeon called out from the examination table, "Medbot? What's going on?"
The various waldo arms that had threatened him hung limply from the ceiling. Perhaps...?
He felt for the restraint bands, and found they were loose. Pulling them off, he sat up and grinned. "Alright! Time to explore and maybe find some answers!" Jeon boomed. A frown furrowed his brow. "Hope I don't run out of air!"
The probe's primary habitation sphere was several miles in diameter, in truth the size of a large metropolitan city but in three viewable dimensions. Air was not going to be an issue for him. Several decks below, in the Command Stalk, the emergency generators kicked in. Boot circuits for the probe's computer and control systems powered up, initiating the start-up routines.
And while the internal world of 'Melvin' was a vast maze for Jeon it was the probe who still had the responsibility in this world to take action. War was breakout with the gates, its volume pouring over the walls upon him. He needed to find a way back inside or he wasn't going to be able to contribute in the clash.
The gate was at least thirty feet tall, the dark gray stonework spotted with snow clinging to its surface. What was Melvin going to do?
Inside, the lights flickered on, making Jeon stop pilfering the drawers and look around warily, but at the moment, the waldo arms were still lying limply, not moving.
Unit Designation: O-13927-S "Melvin"Shrapnel studding the Probe's shell shifted and was pulled inside as the surface seemed to ripple. It opened its eyes and sat up, taking in the snow-covered gate.
System Integrity: Restored
Mission: Observe subject Jeon
Occupation: Medical Doctor
Special Instructions: Render minimum assistance as needed; do not remove subject unless there is an imminent threat of death. Once removed, subject Jeon is to be returned to Zaya
Subject Location: Internal Examination Room One.
Extraction to Zaya: Not possible - remedial action required.
Minor penetration - absorbing foreign matter and restoring shell.
Palm tractors - damaged on impact, replacing.
Drug dart launchers - damaged on impact, replacing.
Kneeling slightly, it jumped, landing on top of the gate it had been blown down from minutes before. It went to the edge to look down at the Draconian portal that it could "see" but not sense - it was a violation of science.
If runes were being used to construct it, it could see no sign of them from here.
However, the ones using it had no choice but to obey natural forces.
"This is going to suck," the Probe spoke, mimicking Jeon's voice with a slight grin. This was also going to get messy. And showy.
Within the shell, more tractor emitters took position in its hands and feet, while it dilated its N-Gate once more, addressing one of the orbiting storerooms, while fabrication units began to churn out pikes and a couple of swords of shell-material.
The Probe leapt high into the air, then positioned itself to fall directly in front of the Draconian portal, hand and feet firing repulsion blasts from the tractors at the cobblestones as it fell.
There were easier ways to dig a trench, but few faster. And hopefully the dirt and rocks being blasted out would help obscure its actions.
The consequences were numerous. As the mundane, privileged apothecary fell from the sky those nearest the conflict on each side shifted view in horrified awe.
The conflicting mages, swirling, a blitz of dazzling colors delayed their spellcasting to see Jeon perform feats unseen on their world. A wave of dirt and snow blew through violet vortex, a tidal wave of earthen force. Unceremoniously the magical hole in reality ceased the moment it was disturbed, gone in an instant.
As the vortex vanished, the Probe paused its efforts. Apparently the trick was not to attack the insubstantial vortex the Draconians were using, but the ground in front of it. Was the ground an important link in this magical circuit?
Cheers, gasps, hisses and roars exploded through the inner city conflict. Then in a storm of violet hues and thunderous fury the Draconian wizard reacted with arcane rage. O'doln conjured a thin layer of ice blue magical energy but it was quickly shattered and a bolt of violet energy struck in the side. Terribly burned, his side was partially blown open, his blood spraying some of the men below before he began falling. In gritting pain he held his side, swirling his free hand and with a flash of arcane symbols about his person vanished from the battle.
Now 'Melvin' had a new problem.
The Draconian magic user suspended in the air was beyond reason, exerting himself with a frenzy that was bound to change the favor of the conflict if not stopped. Violet lightning bolts were striking the ground, favoring the Humans as its prey but occasionally the unfortunate Draconian was rendered to ash as friendly fire. Worse yet as the Draconian mage was emitting these from his body his hands were in a flurry of finger movements, tongue speaking yet too far to hear.
The Draconian mage was a threat. In his place, it would probably try to reestablish the portal. So it was necessary to interrupt the spell casting. From its pocket, the head of a pike slid out, which the shell gripped and waited for another to appear.
Its material was unlike anything in this world, would the wizard be able to affect it? There was only one way to find out.
It threw the first pike at the flying wizard, then snapped out a second shot. The wizard might take out the first one, but maybe they would miss the second?
With herculean strength in the eyes of everyone else a Jeon cloaked 'Melvin' tossed the two spears to champion a charge against the Draconian magician.
In an instant the first met with the eldritch clawed hand pushing a purple electrical force. By speed challenging 'Melvin''s feats it was rotated to point back at the robot and vault towards it. Super charged by the electric magic it zoomed beyond reason. To the fighting men spectating the clash of these dangerous arts the fight as a bloody draw: 'Melvin' stabbed wholesale through the torso and sending the man cloaked robot pinned to the ground; and the Draconian coughed blood as a the second pike plunged into his lungs, the dying wizard descending from the sky gracelessly.
The enchanted pike pinning Melvin to the ground held it not only by the mechanical pressure of having moved through its body but by the purple magical energy shocking the robot. The entrance and exit wounds were melting and fusing with the pike, 'Melvin''s entire calculative system being infected by a sort of electricity which bowed to no mundane limitation of damage. Its energy discharge caused the robot's figure to flail and sizzle, cooking even the extra dimensional recesses within its body in a prolific violation of 'Melvin''s being. Yet it was over in several seconds as the dying Daconian landed dead on the floor below.
Purple energy surged through the N-Gates - the energy flaring and crackling in the Internal Examination Room One as well around the storeroom the Probe had connected to the other gate to take in the dirt and soil that hadn't been sucked into the Draconian portal.
"What the hell is going on?!?" Jeon screamed, taking shelter under the table.
Protective relays kicked in, routing the strange electricity away from the command section. The arcing energy was shifted to an emitter on its primary habitation sphere and shot out towards the storage room, now isolated.
Could humans do this back on their world, it wondered? Perhaps its masters were right to isolate themselves.
The spot of impact and exit were removed of their illusion, giving the Jeon form a bulbous robotic section of the torso, melted metal bulbous around the impact sight on both sides, lodged in.
All the battling men were transfixed on the dead Draconian. 'Melvin' had moments to react without eyes on it.
There was no choice. The reserve N-Gate dilated, spitting out a pike and swallowing the impaled shell whole, depositing it in Internal Examination Room One.
Jeon looked around the end of the table and gaped in astonishment at the sight of his body, oddly distorted lying there with a pike run through it. No, fused with it! He clambered to his feet, then took a step towards the body.
"We have a problem."
"What?" Jeon demanded, stepping back as he looked wildly around. Large ovals appeared on the giant face plate screen, focusing his attention when they appeared to blink.
"We have a problem," the screen repeated. "Actually, there are several problems, but the most immediate one is that this shell was struck by a pike and has become damaged. I was forced to retrieve it."
"Retrieve it?" Jeon asked, glancing down at the shell. "Does this mean we're cut off?"
"No, I still have a fix on the tarot cards your companions have. I do need to know your relationship with them?"
"Relationship?" the doctor demanded. "I never saw them before in my life!"
"And yet you have a connection to them. Do not deny this. Explain."
"I.... I can't. I can feel them, somehow," Jeon flounded. He spat, "Don't ask me to try and explain it, you daft machine! I just don't know!"
"Have you felt this attraction before?"
"When you disappeared for approximately seven seconds at the System Health Organization building. When you had reappeared, you had aged noticeably."
"No, I don't remember what happened then," Jeon sighed, shaking his head - then glanced down and pulled out the book from his pocket. "I did feel a connection to this book. It was in the room when I woke up."
"So you felt an attraction to this book and to your companions. No others?"
"Well, to Kevin. And the Council," he added. "And to the king."
"The king they asked you to kill."
The screen fell silent. Jeon glared at it uneasily for a long moment, then barked out, "Well?!?"
"I hate magic."
"You can hate, can you?" he chuckled in surprise. He hadn't expected that. "So what do we do?"
"I cannot obey my primary directive, to return you to Zaya.”
"Zaya?" he interrupted. "Where the bloody hell is Zaya?"
"That is classified," the screen said.
"Okay, why there?"
"It is your home."
"Wot?" the doctor demanded, staring up blankly.
"They sent me to watch over you."
"Watch over me? And you could have taken me back at any time?!?"
"The political situation on your planet is complicated," the screen said calmly. "I had my orders to watch over you without interfering unless your life was in serious jeopardy."
"What kind of crap rescue mission is this?"
"A painful one."
The waldo arms came alive and grabbed him, returning him to the examination table where the straps wrapped in around him.
"Let go of me, ya mechanical menace!"
"I cannot, I have my orders. A new shell has been crafted, I will return you to your companions."
"And how are you going to manage that with me all trussed up here?"
"Please relax," the screen said as a waldo arm injected him with a sedative.
"What are... you.. going to..." Jeon managed before blacking out.
"I'm sorry about this," the screen said slowly as another of the pikes was delivered to the examination room. "I wouldn't do this if it wasn't necessary."
The tarot cards vibrated in the pockets of their holders, bearing a message.
"Jeon has been injured. Where are the healers at?"
And for now, as the first minute passed there was radio silence.
Unit Designation: O-13927-S "Melvin"
Damage Report: Shell Transfer Node Alpha destroyed.
Shell Transfer Node Beta destroyed.
Shell Transfer Node Charlie activated.
Activating Shell Transfer Nodes Delta-Michael.
Construction of new primary shell, completion 5 minutes
Construction of secondary scouting units, completion 4 minutes.
Construction and implementation of additional isolation buffers, completion 2880 minutes.
Replacing Shell Transfer Nodes Alpha and Bravo, estimated time of repair 5760 minutes.
Analysis of Shell Transfer Node Alpha estimated time of completion 10080 minutes.
Analysis of Shell Transfer Node Beta estimated time of completion 10080 minutes.
Recommendation: Avoid destructive magic.
It really hated magic. It had suffered enough damage today just from trying to rescue Jeon.
The first response came from the Gina channel, she was clearly in conversation with someone, but before she 'closed' the channel, she managed to pass on that the healers were outside, which it already knew. It just didn't know where Lynia and any other healers were working specifically. Clearly not in the castle near her and her companion, or there would be more panic.
It put a noise damp on Gina's channel, squashing all sound as it shifted the two of them into new channels, hopefully undamaged by the draconian wizard's magic. Now it was completely deaf on Gina's channel until she tapped the card again.
Although, it reflected, it seems that this world's magic did not seem to extend to the ability to project voice over long distances? A rather curious omission.
Finally a second response came vocally, the airy young voice of Panos' scathing words came into earshot "How does this thing work? What is your location?! This is idiotic" Panos asked while trying to use a device he was foreign to.
It was the excitable and rude young man on the second channel.
Words appeared on the face of the card.
Panos, we were at the gate. Jeon is injured. Where are the healers?Could the human read?
The words vanished, to be replaced with a picture of Lady Lyina and a question mark. Panos scoffed at the card, “Is this the freakish mute boy?” The teenager’s voice snipped with sharp tongued inquiry.
“By Dionisius,” he sighed with more worry to his voice “Word will be sent for her. I’ve not an idea when she’ll be able to get to you. She’s somewhere back in the castle.” He explained in a hushed tone, as if hiding his conversation with the card.
Back at the castle, where Gina was? The main hall, perhaps? Or in one of the many rooms to tend the mage privately?
Thank you, it sent.
The scans of the castle were incomplete, mostly thermal imaging for people. It could try opening an N-Gate on the roof, then try to slide down a chimney before bringing Jeon out, but who knew where it would come out?
Meanwhile where Jeon once had been was now teeming with the amazed attention of soldiers who saw vacancy where the body had been. While the battle resumed, the Draconians putting up a bitter fight to the last, it was evident others were fleeing the conflict while shouting about 'the Apothecary is a magician' or other nonsense which may become greatly damaging if allowed to reach others...
At the top of the gate where Melvin in the guise of Jeon had stood, the air hazed, not unlike hot air over a sun-baked sidewalk. Several small bodies dimpled the shimmering air, bursting out as ravens. Some of them circled above the fighting, watching, listening, while others headed towards the castle.
Inside them, a tiny N-Gate relayed everything they heard and saw back to the Probe.
They had been useful when Jeon was a boy, to keep track of him, but they had been inactive for months while he was on board the shuttle heading out to the mining station.
With the conflict, it was doubtful anyone would notice the birds. Against the possibility of magic, it was keeping their channels isolated from the others, resorting to the most basic of precautions by relaying them from a newly formed module orbiting its command center.
The irony that it could create the module faster than it could repair its internal damage was not lost on the Probe as the castle-bound ravens began their search for the healer, Lyina, or tents where wounded men were being brought to, as well as one to track Gina.
The fame this world's Jeon had apparently extended far beyond treating feminine issues, if even the common soldiers had recognized him, to judge by all the yelling. It couldn't help but wonder if his fame as an assassin was well-known, as well? Unfortunately, it couldn't substitute a wounded Jeon for another shell.
The birds flew on unnoticed by those below. Their view was riddled with blood and falling bodies, those of the Draconian. In greater number they were falling, the battle was over and now it was a matter of laying down the remaining enemy. The ravens to the castle cut through the air, the cold unmoving for the artificial constructs. From what they could observe the camp that was with men had the company of mundane medicine men and women – ointments and bandages being the prime tools of their craft.
The tricky challenge was how to get into the castle. The secondary gate proved no challenge but the stone fortress had no wall entrances other than the opened front gate and the small courtyard. While both were very public the birds were going to have to pick which way to fly in to begin their search.
Mundane medical treatment would have to do.
From of the looks of things, they could do with some more supplies. It's supply system began assembling canvas bags with basic medical supplies, while a leather satchel was outfitted with the sort of medical and survival gear that Jeon would be familiar with. There was no telling how long they'd have to live among these people before whoever or whatever got around to sending them back.
The ravens outside the castle received new orders - locating transportation, preferably a wheelbarrow or cart, currently unattended and between the gate and the camp where people where being treated.
For the ravens trying to check out the castle, it sent them looking for windows, concentrating on the area where Gina last transmission came from.
The ravens keeping above the medical tent were fortunate enough to spot a wheelbarrow with some hay in it abandoned closer to the tent formation yet along the stone walkway, out of any direct interaction of people who were busy elsewhere.
With the ravens on lookout and providing contact coordinates, within moments the air took on the same heat shimmer on one side of the stone walkway, then Jeon appeared, stripped down and redressed in a gambeson, in the arms of the probe's Young Jeon shell. A spare holographic AnySuit that the Probe burned out and attached some surgical tractors to was then put on top of the gambeson and given a light dusting of burnt dust, then the robes were put back on over that and also dusted with burnt dust. The Probe then impaled the robe about the same area so that it nicked the AnySuit underneath and electrically fused them together. The result was that Jeon appeared with a pike sticking out of his side but without any sign of blood. He would have a mild burn on his side under the gambeson, but aside from the memory wipe, no lasting harm done.
There were also two bags, one a canvas seabag, the other a leather satchel. Dropping the seabag, it swept the wheelbarrow clear with one hand, then carefully set the Zayan doctor inside. Picking up the seabag, it laid it gently on Jeon's other side, then pulled a cloth from its pocket to wrap around the pike where it stuck out of Jeon's robes.
It then picked up the handles and began huffing and puffing as it rolled the wheelbarrow towards the medical tent.
Trying to get a specific pinpoint of Gina's contact was more difficult as it ought to be, some sort of force fuzzing the signal. On the west side of the castle the black birds honed in, but it did not narrow more than somewhere along the third floor. The ravens had to pick between eight closed windows.
The handful of ravens landed on the roof, except for one, who landed on the first window sill. it stared inside to see who was there. For the raven's eyes lay only a dark, empty guest room. However it does notice a flame coming from the window to the right.
Pushing over the bumping stone Jeon's ride is horrendously shaky, the pike waving each direction 'Melvin's' little hands found themselves going as the wheelbarrow rolled over rock after rock. The tent had a strange energy, one it knew to be magic as they drew within several feet of it. The air grew comfortably warmer, the space around the tent becoming a bit of a pain for 'Melvin's' senses as it was perceiving bends in universal laws yet again.
Sensing the interference, the Probe switched the shell's command lines over to the same orbiting module the birds were using, causing the shell to stumble slightly. It couldn't risk more wide scale damage to the command core. While a replacement core could be put in place, it would be down for several hours, perhaps days. It didn't want to consider how many times Jeon could kill himself.
Switching to a secondary would severely limit its response as well.
Under the leather stitched, taunt, tent were several rows of men being bandaged by men and women. Luckily 'Melvin' did not see any of the primitive bloodletting practices but their skills were not beyond the mere tools of ointments, bandages, and stitching.
"Wha... What's going on," Jeon groaned, slurring his words. The Probe scanned him and nodded. "I was in the airlock...? When did we get to the Renaissance Fair?"
His eyes suddenly focused on the pike waving in the air as the wheelbarrow rolled. "What the hell is this?" he demanded, grabbing hold of the shaft.
"Stay calm," the Probe replied, sounding like Jeon's youthful self as he gently lowered the wheelbarrow and came around to the side. "You're not bleeding, but you took a nasty jolt. Do you know who I am?"
"I've got a bloody spear jammed into my side and you want to know if I remember you?"
"Well, you don't seem like you're hurt. Is there any pain?"
Frowning, the doctor began checking himself. "A little. It doesn't feel like it's in me. Where am I and how did we get... here?" he asked, waving his hand about.
"I don't know," the Probe admitted, leaning in close to whisper, "but there are others like us somewhere around someplace, just play this by ear for now."
"What's your name?" Jeon demanded crossly.
The shell sighed, then facing the Zayan, admitted, "Melvin."
"That's a terrible name. Someone should have slapped your parents for giving you that."
"I'll keep that in mind," the Probe nodded gravely. He looked around at the people working and asked, "Is there someplace I can put him? It's not as serious as it looks."
Charlie's heterochromatic eyes settled on Gina with concern. Drawing her out of the torture chamber he replied with a quiet voice.
“Then she lied?” he asked, Gina able to tell that the otherwise polite and accommodating man was taking her accusation with potent seriousness.
“Possibly.” Gina whispered back with a nod, happy to have the adviser onside.
Adviser Charlie pressed his lips together and raised a hand to the stairs before them.
“Down here is no place for one of your sex. It is an astounding thing to realize a girl your age is responsible for that debauchery of death sealed away down here, please.”
He insisted for them to go up the stairs. At the same time Gina saw the guard which had seemed unimpressed by the two ladies now coming back down the stairs, without Troa.
Gina spread her arms, incredulously. “Don't tell me you just let her walk away?”
The man seemed readily available to dismiss Gina until he noticed the Adviser next to her. His eyes set on him, studying.
"Well?" Charlie asked softly, accented by a disappointed sigh.
"The young woman said she needed to return to her mistress."
Charlie raised a black brow, searching from the guard an answer. The man paused, rummaging through his memory.
"Lady Leean Lucilda." There looked to be a concealed discontentment with the woman but the young man was disciplined enough to keep his mouth shut.
"Great." Gina hissed, biting down hard on the word.
She wanted to rage, to rail at the guard for being such a fucking idiot. The furious tension gravitated to her right hand, flexing the fingers into a fist and out again. She could feel the zodiac marks burning against her arm.
With a supreme effort, she kept a lid on her anger. Leean's room, she told herself. Guest quarters, east side of the castle like Troa said. At least she had been right about one thing: there weren't many places in this castle to avoid someone.
She turned to Charlie and managed a more civil tone. "I'll get the king, sir. He matters more than my delicate senses."
With her head and heart both pounding, she was stopped by the guard grabbing her by the arm. Charlie nodded and rubbed at a temple for a moment while she was restrained. Gina was not going to be allowed freedom of movement no matter how many times she insisted or dove for it, so it seemed. And you thought Alfred was bad, Gina.
"I will fetch our lord, young lady." Charlie ruled.
Gina exhaled, slumping her shoulders as her lungs deflated. She offered him the demurest nod that she could muster. "As you wish, sir."
Charlie once more made eye contact with the guard, and turned to go into the torture dungeon.
"Sir?" Gina hailed Charlie again before he could disappear back down into the ugly dark of the torture chamber. She lowered her voice. "Maybe you could bring Bonroe up too, I've got an idea."
She glanced back at the guard who was still holding her wrist.
"He'll be able to tell us if Troa was lying. If he thinks I'm her friend, maybe he'll say something he wouldn't say in front of the king?"
Charlie looked down to her thoughtfully, with an attentive ear.
"Very clever young lady, I will discreetly inform our lord." he reassured her before going into the chambers downstairs.
After that there was not much to do but wait for Charlie to return, under the stoic eye of the guard.
"You can let me go now." she prompted him sourly as she eyed him back. "I promise I'm not going to run off anywhere."
She was tempted to congratulate him on being out of a job as soon as Cal the marchioness got back, but venting that particular comeback might have been more trouble than it was worth.
Where are they? she wondered, biting her lip as she listened to the muffled yell and crash of battle piercing through the windows.The singular fact Gina was able to hold to was her extraordinary sense of her companions, no matter how far away, were still alive. Nothing else in the cold, blood scented space she occupied was warming, the cold man unrelenting his hold on her.
Minutes passed and soon the scraping thud of the door being opened preceded footsteps, and more than two sets. For the first time she saw Bonroe in detail. A light skinned young man with a strong build under plainly dressed brown cotton clothes, oddly sweet black coils reaching his ears in contrast to his morbid mind they framed. From his expression it was clear to Gina the young man was under a lot of stress, perhaps soon to break.
Charlie smiled patiently at Gina, then set his eyes to his king. Sharing non-verbal agreement King Kinglos eyed Gina and the guard holding her. The mere power of his stare had the man free Gina's wrist moments before Bonroe saw Gina.
"Who is she?" he asked, evident he felt lost from how thinly he spoke.
"Someone who insisted to speak with you, young man." Charlie weighed in with emphasis, conveying a weighed emphasis silencing Bonroe. "Think carefully." he added with a stinging, polite smile. He gestured with his hand and the two teenagers were led to a nearby room, let in and the guard closing it. With a quick tap he let them aware he was keeping station at the door.
The young man paced once and crossed his sturdy arms, his height of 5'9 utilized as he stared at Gina expectantly. She could see a bead of sweat forming over one of his black brows.
"Good grief, you look terrible." Gina said with an air of concern, and did her best to guide the apprentice over to a threadbare chair that sat next to a writing table stained by runnels of candle wax. "Why don't you sit down for a minute?"
Disarmed by uncertainty, Gina found the young malleable and thus cowed into sitting down effortlessly.
She knelt down beside the chair and cast a glance towards the door.
"Councillor Hedspeth sent me to help." she whispered, "What's going on?"
Her admission jolted surprise and confusion as she witness him look her direction.
"What?" The young man opened, "She is the cause of this! I was lied to!" Like a torrent the confusion transformed into anger, face reddening after Gina had poked the defensive shell of the man's heart.
“Okay, slow down.” Gina soothed. “Who’s the cause of what, and what did they lie to you about?” A tense silence was made between the two of them. Bonroe was close to telling everything, she could see it in his face but he looked to be readying himself. He seemed still hesitant especially after the blurting out.
A vibration, one Gina could feel tucked in her feminine layers, entered the conversation, rubbing against her. Bonroe looked around confused.
"What is that?"
“I don’t know.” Gina covered, cupping her hands over her belly and looking around. She got up and made a show of checking around the walls.
Looking up and down the weathered stone, she waited until her back was to Bonroe before sliding the card half out of her sleeve and glancing down. When she saw the text, her heart skipped a beat.
Oh shit, oh no...
She bit down hard on her tongue and hid the card once more, tapping it twice through her sleeve as she completed her circuit.
“Maybe it was a fly...” she suggested, frowning uncertainly as she returned to Bonroe. “Tell you the truth, I’m a bit on edge - even though the Drakes are stuck outside it’s hard to feel safe in here...the marchioness is out there fighting, the healer’s out there somewhere too...”
She tapped her sleeve three times, as if in thought, then shook her head.
“Never mind me. What were you saying, who’s responsible?”
Bonroe settled down, slumping shoulders and staring to his hands. Eyes shifting to the girl and back to his hands, doubt surrounded his person.
“She didn’t care that he died.” Bonroe explained, foot slowly tapping. “We gave her everything, listened always…” The young man said bitterly before trailing off.
"Who died?" Gina asked, gently.
The question touched upon fresh wounds, as with her softly spoken questioning tears rimmed his eyes.
“My…brother.” One of his thumbs began rubbing his hand in a self-soothing manner.
Gina let her face crumple. "I'm sorry..." She reached out tentatively to take hold of the boy's scrabbling hands, taking over the soothing brush of thumb against knuckles. "And who didn't care?"
There was a gritting tension on his face. “Calamity,” came from him, rich in thinly concealed fury and notably without any respectable title, “Sent him to die fighting those forked tongues! She didn’t even have the respect to say a word to me after he was gone…and…”
He trailed off into silence, leaving Gina perplexed. Much like his master, she would never have guessed that this ordinary, hurting boy plied his trade in thumbscrews. But then all the prisoners down there were Draconian, and he really hates them... The dissonance of the automatic empathy she felt for the boy's tears sent a shiver down her spine.
"And?" she prompted, squeezing his hands gently.
“Troa said there was a way to get back at her…”
And there it is. Gina's heart began to beat faster out of tension. She gave Bonroe a moment, still cradling his hands, before lowering her voice to a whisper.
"Did...did she say what she was planning to do?"
His eyes lingered over Gina's touch. His lips were pulled in while rough but young fingers touched hers, rubbing over the middle knuckles.
"Sorry...don't really know a woman's skin...wanted to feel it before...Calamity would torture me...set my teacher on me. If I say everything I ask you to beg the Council to grant me a swift death..." Eyes raised to chase after her empathetic gaze, "Please?"
Poor kid. The dissonance was almost too much. Poor kid who’s learning to become a torturer...
“I promise.” Gina said gently.
With a bit of luck, she could do better than that. It was to Bonroe’s benefit that the original Calamity was AWOL and had been replaced by Gina’s less psychopathic friend. Maybe if she told him she was sorry for his brother...and if he remained a threat then at worst they could just banish him to Greywall, hopefully to take up a different apprenticeship.
It was a decision for later, she decided.
“Troa told me her mistress had Arcanium on her. At the time I didn’t ask why but when the prisoner was captured Leean said to lace the claws. I knew it would be dangerous but she told me the Draconian would be of such a frenzy it would search for Calamity and strike her down. I…never knew the thing would do something as devious as this…” The young man shared with a complete loss of self confidence as it fell away from his face.
"You're making things right now." Gina reassured quietly. She squeezed his hands again and rose to her feet, letting them go. "I'll do what I can. Stay here until then, and don't talk to anyone else."
She hovered for a moment, still meeting the young man's eyes and trying to reconcile the soul behind them. Eventually she turned and knocked on the door for the guard to let her out. Kinglos and Charlie stood outside with questioning looks on their faces. Gina beckoned them a few steps along the corridor as the door thudded closed once more.
"I think we should keep him here under guard until the marchioness can decide what to do with him, my lord." she whispered to Kinglos. "He says it was lady Leean who came up with the plan to plant arcanium on the prisoner and let it escape - her servant told him about it."
Both men looked at the young woman, astonished. A fiery glint of pride in the king's eye and his small smile rewarded Gina, but that quickly ended while he turned to his adviser.
"We will have to inform the Emperor." the king confided into his confidant, before Gina. Though the heterochromatic eyes set on the king were supportive at first, the shift in emotion made them show concern.
Gina stood back for a second, waiting to see which way things would go next. It was the first time she had heard an emperor being mentioned, and it knocked her confidence yet again that she really knew anything about how this world worked. Troa knows who I am, does this lady Leean know me too? A merchant daughter from Qwen...where even is that?
Since the alarm had been raised of the Draconian attack, events seemed to have taken on their own savage momentum, a headlong forward rush where she had to fight to keep her head above water.
I need to get home to my friends. To get my new friends home.
"Lady Leean is staying in one of the guest rooms, m'lord." she said, recalling Troa's words. "On the east side of the castle. What should we do?"
The Adviser of Culture tugged at a sleeve of his overcoat, taking a moment to gather his thoughts.
"We ought to put her under guard for this time until the conflict could be settled. But she may prove yet a great danger if she owns more arcanium..."
King Kinglos places a hand on Gina's shoulder, a touch with squeezing fingers and warm, fleshy palm. From the piercing stare he was giving Gina could tell the king was soon to rope her into more trouble, "Will you meet her in her quarters and see if she possess any of the dangerous reagent?"
Though he asked, Gina knew it was wise to assume it was a command. She swallowed.
"I can do that." she said cautiously. "Maybe if the guards are close but out of sight..."
She paused, and looked to Charlie.
"Um...what does arcanium look like exactly? A loose powder, you said?"