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Walter Gudmunzsun
Mysterious Figure


Posts: 7339

PostSubject: The Tale   Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:01 am

Part the Prelude; The Bartender's Tale



A winter's day.

A little, old-fashioned town.

The snow-covered square, with an old, proud bronze statue holding its weathered trident aloft.

Lights in the windows of the crowded storefronts along the square.

A noisy, packed, cheerful local bar.

Inside the bar.


>><<>><<>><<>><<



The grizzled bartender wiped the glass with an old, soft white towel. Today was a good day for business inside the Roaring Log bar. All kinds of people had come in for a drink or a meal to avoid the cold outside. And it was unseasonably cold, as if the winter had lost control of the snow. But he had no quarrel with the weather, and he gave an imaginary tip of an imaginary hat to the cold to thank it for his good earnings.

He scratched his unshaven chin and looked around, noting that a few of the people filling the booths and barstools were apparently travelers, judging from their thick bundles of clothing and the several bags they had. A few caught his eye more specifically; a smiling man in a turban being served shepherd's pie by a waiter, and three hooded people in traveling cloaks. The bartender always liked to hear a good story from the occasional far traveler. Since the first man was deep into eating his pie, the bartender hurried over to the group of three.

"Can I take your coats, please, or get you something to eat or drink?"

A voice he had not expected came from under the hood of the middle person - bright and clear, with no familiar accent. "We'll keep our cloaks for now, but thank you. I'll just have water, please."

The bartender tried not to stammer. "Of course, madam. Um, sirs?"

"Strong coffee, if you have it," came a clipped male voice from the person on the left.

"Chinese tea, if you please," muttered the hooded man on the right, sounding ill.

The bartender nodded and hurried off. It was a short while before he returned with the drinks, cursing his dwindling supply of Chinese tea. "Sorry to be late, sirs and madam. We haven't had many of Chinese traders this way this winter."

"'S alright. Thanks," murmured the man on the right, guzzling the hot tea. The other two accepted their drinks quietly.

The bartender asked if they were ready to order, and all three replied in the affirmative, seeming not to need a menu to choose. But the bartender hung back by their table after they ordered, just for a second, unsure how to phrase his question. Usually the words just came to him, but not this time. Finally he settled for "Would you mind telling me of your travels?"

"We will," said the bright voice. "Just be warned that it's a long story."

The bartender reached to pull up a chair, but the man on the right held up a finger weakly. "After we get our food, if you please."
The bartender nodded self-consciously and hurried off to the kitchens.


--------


"That was good," mumbled the man on the right, mopping up his plate with a crust of bread. The man on the left agreed.

The bartender nodded. "Our cook is good, the best in town. I hope you're not too full for your tale to be told?"

The man on the left laughed abruptly, throwing his head back for a second so that the bartender caught a glimpse of lime-green eyes and perfect teeth. "Couldn't be put off our story, then."

"After all, we are such interesting people." said the bright voice, with a smile in the words. "But it does begin with you, Mo." She nudged the man - Mo - to her left.

"Don't call me that," grumbled Mo. "It's like calling Wally, I don't know, Gudmunzsun or something. Or you by your full name."

"Oh, Mo, we know you don't mind," said the man on the right - Wally - with a small laugh.

"You'd be wrong." Mo shook his head. "But all right, fine. I'll begin."

The bartender leaned forwards as Mo began his part of the tale.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:08 am

Part the First; Maestro's Tale


A summer's day.

A bright, sunny beach.

Areas of shade under the tropical trees farther up the beach.

An extremely large palm tree.

The patch of shade it casts.

In its shade.


>><<>><<>><<>><<



It was a fine, hot day on the nameless beach, as usual.
What was not usual was that people, armored people, moved among the bases of the trees in the shade. Despite this, the gulls had chosen to ignore them, and the fish crows didn't even acknowledge them by ignoring them.

It was understandable. The armored people weren't doing much except moving harmless (if strange) supplies around, and drawing lines in the sand. They were supposed to be planning the area for a fortress, but they really weren't doing much.

Off to the little group's left, a man leaned against a palm tree, resting in its very large patch of shade. He watched a young woman in purple armor direct the others in the little amount of work they were doing, and he smiled a perfect, slightly mocking smile. He turned his head to watch the gulls instead, the sea's reflection shining in his lime green eyes.

After a few minutes of happy contemplation, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned slightly to face the purple-armored lady, who had left the rest to their own devices.

"Not going to help, GT?" she said with a laugh.

"Is that possible?" said the man - Maestro - with another perfect smile. He glanced towards the little group again. "You know, Slushie, they probably need your help to figure out what help even means."

She grinned and started back towards the others. Maestro smiled for another second and turned back toward the ocean.

After another minute or so, a fish crow seemed to decide that there must be some reason for the oddball visitors, and hopped towards Maestro in the shade.

"Hello, little master." Maestro bent down to the crow. "I imagine you're here because of us?"

The crow bobbed its head in what could have been an affirmative or a negative, and poked Maestro's pack, which he had set on the ground.

"They are - we are - all quite odd, true," said Maestro, glancing back to the group.

"Quite true," said the crow hoarsely.

"Slushie wants to call the place 'BIONICLE Advanced Wars: Energized Protodermis Encounter'," Maestro continued, quite unfazed that the fish crow had replied. "Too warlike, I said. Too long, and weird. Still, she gets her way. It was her idea to make it anyhow."

"Too warlike, long, and weird." The crow rummaged through Maestro's pack.

"Yep, exactly." Maestro stood back up and leaned back against the large palm tree again. "You know, I met a man in the Outlands today, while the rest were eating."

"A man in the Outlands..." The crow snapped up some crumbs from the bottom of Maestro's bag.

"Yes, very weird. There isn't supposed to be anyone else out here besides us, and the people in the established Fortresses. But he wasn't even building his own fortress, just wandering. Where did he leave from?" Maestro stared into the cyan sky for a second. "Maybe this world is bigger than we all think."

"This world is bigger than people think," noted the crow. "There isn't supposed to be anyone else out here, but a man was long wandering in the Outlands. Very odd."

Maestro stared thoughtfully at the crow for a second. "You're only using my words, aren't you? Have you heard anyone speaking my language before, besides me? How do you make sense of grammar?"

"Yes," the crow said. "Besides you, there wasn't anyone speaking the language. And the man in the Outlands."

"What did he say?" Maestro leaned towards the crow.

"Only 'stupid' and 'idiots'," rasped the crow. "And 'water'."

"Water... oh, right, would you like some water?" Maestro pulled a bottle out of his bag.

"Yes, quite." The crow bobbed its head.

Maestro took out a dish and poured a generous amount of water into it; the crow guzzled the bowl's contents.

"Sometimes I wonder how far we'll get, though." Maestro glanced back at the group. "Slushie's vision can only take us so far."

"You're supposed to be your own master, yes?" croaked the crow. "You can leave your people. Always remember that."

Maestro looked at the crow for a second. "I haven't said 'remember' or 'that'."

The crow wiped its beak on the palm trunk. "Oh, it wasn't you. The Outlands man."

"Ah." Maestro nodded. "And what you say is true. I'll remember that... and you." He put his possessions back in his pack and hoisted it. "Goodbye, little master."

"And you." The fish crow watched him walk back to his group.

"Though you are the Maestro, after all, and I'll be seeing you again," it added when he was out of earshot. The crow gave what could have passed for a chuckle and flapped off, a metallic silver speck falling from the eddy of its wake.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Wed Apr 21, 2010 1:13 pm

Part the Second; Maestro's Tale


Midsummer Day.

A dark, rocky beach.

An area of weak sunshine along the water's edge.

The brightest spot of sun therein.

A man, sitting within that brightest spot.

The reason he remains there.


>><<>><<>><<>><<



Maestro sat on the beach with his chin on his knees, idly drawing symbols in the sand. It felt like the first time all over again; he could only hope that this time would be better.

He stayed and brooded in the weak sunshine, thinking thoughts of what he had left behind to come to this bleak spot. He - and his companions, he had to remind himself - had spent less than a year in the place they had ended up calling BIONICLE Advanced Wars/EPE, the clunky name they had eventually agreed to use. It had felt like a paradise for the time they had been in it. But they had all woken up one morning to find their unofficial leader Slushie gone and a fire raging through the fortress.

Eventually, after putting out the fire and saving the books, the companions straggled away from the fortress to go their separate ways. But they had not been dispersed for long when they were brought back together once more by Slushie, who reappeared without warning and rallied them to found a new incarnation of the former BIONICLE Advanced Wars. Most of the companions expected to return to the sunny, sandy beach that had been the home of BIONICLE Advanced Wars/EPE, but instead she brought them to what some of the members (i.e., only the caustic Maestro) called "EPE's evil twin" - a dark shingle beach, overcast with storm clouds when they reached it.

There were a few doubts, but it was agreed to build a new fortress on this rocky beach. Yet another clunky name was decided on, for "old" time's sake: BIONICLE Advanced Wars/Destiny Arena. Work had begun on the new Fortress, with only Maestro still alone with his misgivings, not helping his fellows. It was true that some of the original members had left quietly somewhere along the way, but there were many new recruits, and Maestro hoped that that meant something good. In any case, he had been offered the post of administrator, and he had quietly accepted.

"Er, Trakky?"

At the sound of his abbreviated alias, Maestro turned to see a member approaching him. It was a new member who he recalled was named Aneroth - a young man with a shock of white hair and dull grey armor streaked with eye-searing orange. Maestro thought he worked as an artist, at least before he joined. He made a mental note not to let this newcomer use his nickname; that was for his closer friends.

"Yes?" replied the newly-made administrator with a small internal sigh.

Aneroth nodded. "Why aren't you working right now?"

"Oh, just taking a short rest," said Maestro, even though he had not worked at all on the Fortress.

Aneroth raised an eyebrow superciliously. "Okay. Just make sure to come back. I hope you’re fine?"

Maestro offered him only a pale smile, and did not move. "Quite sure. Thank you. You may go."

Aneroth seemed about to say something else, but turned around and headed back to the unfinished site of the Fortress after seeing the look on Maestro's face.

"Heh." Maestro smirked a little and turned back to the ocean. He was, after all, the administrator. He could enjoy small luxuries such as this.

But after contemplating the choppy waves for a little while longer, his thoughts were interrupted again.

"So I am to understand that you are Maestro."

"If you're not a higher authority than I am, I have no reason to answer." Maestro didn't even look up.

The voice crackled, first with laughter, then with what sounded like static. "Oh, I'm an authority where I'm headed. Look up."

Maestro glanced back, then scrambled to his feet and backed away several steps. "What are you?"

The source of the voice proved to be some kind of hologram. It flickered slightly, but showed its subject well enough: a figure with a wide-brimmed hat obscuring most of the face, two white eyes glowing out of the darkness of the upper face, a thin smile, a leather coat, spiked leg armor and gauntlets, and metal shoes. In his right hand he held a long quarterstaff. His left hand he held out to Maestro, making the sign of the opening fist that signaled friendship.

Maestro shook his head and drew his beloved lime green katana. "Prove your friendship."

"I am Walter M slash G, fifth and greatest of the D-"

Maestro cut him off. "You are stupid indeed to think that a name constitutes the beginning of trust. I said, prove your friendship."

The mouth of the figure - Walter Morpheus - twisted from a thin smile to a barely-visible sneer. "I don’t need to. When you lose your job, come to this spot again. I'll be waiting."

Maestro stared at him. "I don't intend to lose my job... Mr. M/G."

His sneer grew a little wider. "Please, call me Wally. And I'm pretty sure you won’t have any say in the matter. When it happens, be here. I'm counting on it, Maestro."

"But I -" Maestro started to argue, but the hologram of Wally flared and was gone.

Maestro looked around a few more times before concluding that Wally really was gone. And just how had he known his name, anyway? He narrowed his eyes and sheathed his sword before sighing and beginning the trudge back up to the future site of the BIONICLE Advanced Wars/Destiny Arena site.

Wally's mystery could wait for another day.


--------


Within a few hours, Maestro had forgotten all about the bizarre hologram he had talked to. Someone - maybe Kome - had finally gotten him to work on some of the actual building. But he hadn't forgotten that he liked the old place better, and he had a few tricks - namely, master stone-carving tools - up the sleeves of his robes. The “foundation” brick he had laid had been given an inscription by him, one that no other member had noticed. He smiled at his own audacity.

The stone read:
"Here lies upon the land a blight.
You have arrived at the center of the dark.
Heed not lightly my words, but from them the truth learn.
There exists no point to this site.
From its shores you shall only disembark."

He placed it directly under the gate, to one side. Having thus hidden his doubts in plain sight, he felt at ease. The only thing that then ruined his mood was something that surfaced in his mind a few days later, something he couldn't get rid of but didn't know where he had picked up, like a small cockle-burr: the lingering fear of losing his job, which always came back to haunt him.


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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu Apr 22, 2010 8:09 am

Part the Third; Maestro's Tale


An autumn's day.

A dark, rocky beach.

An imposing but precarious fortress.

The fortress's gates.

A commotion at the gates.

The man the commotion involves.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Maestro stood just outside the gates of the finished BIONICLE Advanced Wars/Destiny Arena fortress, feeling uncharacteristically disappointed and displeased. He had just learned that he was being immediately demoted from his post of administrator, by Slushie herself. He could not fathom the reason for the timing - he had grown tired of the demands placed on him, true, but he hadn't told anyone that. He’d had major disagreements with a couple of members. But no one else would tell him any reason for his demotion - whether because they didn't know or refused to say, he didn't know.

So it was that he faced a small crowd at the gates of the fortress, aiming a narrowed gaze on the other members and forming his left hand into the rigid claw that signified reproach. "What is the meaning of this junk?"

Slushie cleared her throat and stepped forward - rather uneasily, Maestro noted with a brief glance. "You have been found guilty by investigators of demoting two of our senior staff, the Archons -"

Maestro spat in the black dust. "What kind of investigators would find that? I already gave all necessary explanation. You have one last chance to explain to me how the color of their displayed title is relevant." Something flickered erratically, dangerously, in his lime green eyes.

Someone in dull armor - Aneroth, Maestro noted with a careless look, a new look for him - stepped forward. "You have been convicted by a court in private session."

"And I did always hate lawyers," muttered Maestro, not loud enough for anyone to hear.

Emboldened by Aneroth's lack of fear, Slushie nodded. "Overall, it wasn't working out. It had to be decided."

Maestro's eyes flickered again, more strongly. "Care to tell what exactly that means?"

Slushie looked into his eyes, then away. "You can stay on as a member, if you like... But you’ll give up your right to administrator power here."

Maestro was mildly surprised that she couldn't simply take the power from him. But then, he had never really thought about losing administrator power.

Most administrators and even regular members knew that administrative power could be stored in special armor. Indeed, Slushie had had her own armor fitted to be able to serve as a reservoir of power.

But Maestro had been experimenting, and just over the past few days he had realized that he could actually store the power in his regular-looking traveling cloak, with a certain amount of effort. No one else at BAWDA knew that even the small amount stored in hisow much power he had siphoned. And what better time to show the last of his power off, he now decided, than on the eve of his demotion?

"I refuse your... kind... offer," Maestro said, his tone becoming cordial. "But I don't think I'll be changing just yet."

Slushie shook her head. "I hoped I wouldn't have to do this. Goodbye, Maestro."

She clapped her hands once, and the fortress rumbled to life with a blaze of purple light. Whole sections of wall broke off, grew long spines, and slid toward Maestro, forcing him towards the exit.

"All so very pretentious. You forget, I think," said Maestro, still with a friendly smile, "that I have given up nothing."

He snapped his fingers, and as the sound rang out, there was a blaze of lime green light and the spiny walls crumbled before him. He snapped his fingers again, and whole sections of the fortress caved in with more and more flashes of the same lime green energy.

"Now, I know you control the fortress completely," Maestro said lightly. "But I am the maestro here. The fortress only will obey you if it still exists."

"No!" Slushie yelled over the horrible cracking and crumbling din. "Do what you wish! Just leave the fortress alone!"

A cold look lit Maestro's face. "Very well." He snapped his fingers once more, and the fortress fell silent - roofs hung at impossible angles, ruined walls frozen in mid-fall, but all stayed as they were. "The only thing I desire is to leave quietly with all of my notes."

Slushie shook her head, still slightly shaken. "Sorry, we need those topics."

Maestro shook his own head mockingly. "Sorry, I think not." He snapped his fingers again, and stacks of paper flew from rooms all over the fortress into his cloak, somehow all fitting in. He dusted his hands off.

"I will be leaving now." He spared a last cold glance for all the members. "There will be consequences from this. I bid you farewell for now."

He turned on his heel, walking out the still-open gates. As he left the fortress, he heard someone coming after him. He smirked despite the circumstances and snapped his fingers, siphoning the last spark of his BAW-derived administrator power.

The gates slammed behind him, and he heard a muffled thud as his pursuer collided with the gates. He smiled wider.

He began to make his way up the rocky shore when he saw a spot where a weak ray of sunshine met the ground, filtering through the cloud cover. He recalled sitting in that very same spot when he had first arrived on the beach, and felt unfamiliar nostalgia. He walked over to the spot and sat there for a second, remembering better days and enjoying the light.

That was when he heard a voice. A familiar voice.

"So, I see you remembered. Design or accident, you kept a promise you didn't make."

Maestro turned to see -

... a figure with a wide-brimmed hat obscuring most of the face, two white eyes glowing out of the face, a thin smile, a leather coat, spiked leg armor and gauntlets, and metal shoes. In his right hand he held a long quarterstaff. His left hand he held out to Maestro, making the sign of the opening fist that signaled friendship -

... and Maestro remembered Wally's hologram.

"Why are you here?" said Maestro dangerously, once again drawing his lime green katana. Letters gleamed faintly, carved shallowly around the polygonal hilt: Sparrowhawk.

"Because," said Wally patiently, "I can offer you more than lording over a bunch of hooligans."

"Who-" began Maestro.

"I told you I'm an authority where I'm headed, and I don't intend to share anything with ingrates." Wally ignored Maestro's interruption. "Come with me, and you will gain more than you lost. Go by yourself, and you will sink into your past and never emerge. Your choice."

Maestro looked around him - at the dark and rocky beach, at the precarious BIONICLE Advanced Wars/Destiny Arena fortress, and back at Wally. His administrator power was gone, his post taken from him. And that was all there was to consider now.

"I... accept," he said cautiously.

"Then let's be off," said Wally, walking away. And that was when Maestro realized three things.

That Wally, not his hologram, was really there;

That Wally had no shadow;

And that Wally made no sound as he walked.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu May 06, 2010 12:37 pm

Part the Fourth; the General's Tale



Maestro finished the first part of his tale, jaw clenched slightly. "I'd forgotten how hard it is to tell that… Here, you can read the next section from the General's journal. He gave them to me later on... it might tell the story better than me."

The bartender nodded, carefully taking the offered pages from Maestro's hand. "Thank you."

He sat back in his chair and began to read the old journal pages.

>><<>><<>><<>><<



The General's Journal

Novǽmber Twentieth

Usually, I do not take the time to perform sentry duty. As we have had no visitors and have had no reason to expect any, the Librarian and I have not been watching from the tower regularly. In any case, I took the time to do so today, and of course saw nothing in particular. Perhaps I should watch for happenings in the future anyway.

Also: Have rescued a tome entitled "EX SCIENTIA, POTESTA" today from collapsed shelves 12 to 20 in the restricted section of the old library this morning. Librarian is working to decipher and restore it. Tried to restore some glyphs this afternoon. Nothing else unusual.

Novǽmber Twenty-First

Looked again today for anything unusual from the Great Spyglass Tower. Only saw what looked like people off in the distance. Must be travelers, but strangely were approaching from the north. Cannot make out details.

Also: Have rescued a tome entitled "Portraiture: the Art, the Legacy" from collapsed shelf 12 of the old library this morning. Librarian is working to restore it. Managed to restore some glyphs this afternoon. Some plants finally growing in the old courtyard. Nothing else unusual.

Novǽmber Twenty-Second

With the aid of the Great Spyglass, I have determined that the people in the distance both wear dark clothes and appear to be heading in our direction. I cannot see much else of them, and they are still far away.

Also: Have rescued a tome entitled "The Survivor: Why the Great Fortresses Remain Great". Librarian is working to restore it. Working to decipher a strange journal. Restored some glyphs this afternoon.

A crow that landed in courtyard acting very suspicious. Unsure of species identification.

Novǽmber Twenty-Third

People very far away, but closer. No more details yet.

Received one of our irregular visits from the Horoscope Man today. Quickly became irritated with him, as usual. Smug little leech. Told us that we would have visitors, but couldn't or wouldn't tell us who. Obviously the people in the distance. No idea how Horoscope Man got here, and ahead of them, without being seen by us. Told us to "beware the blue fire" and "watch the standardbearer,". Load of idiotic claptrap. He left randomly as usual.

Also: Have rescued a tome entitled "Defenses". Librarian is working to restore it. No progress on journal's code. Restored some glyphs this afternoon.

Crow still in courtyard, did nothing while I watched. It reminds me of something I read once. I cannot remember what.

Novǽmber Twenty-Fourth

People far away, but still closer. One slightly taller, holds unadorned staff. Other shorter, in long clothes (cloak?). No more details yet.

Asked Librarian where crows or fish crows appear in popular culture or literature. He cryptically told me to "go fish". He must have gotten that expression from the Horoscope Man. Sighed and asked again. Librarian said that crows appears in innumerable nonfiction books, a good many fiction books, most encyclopedias, but rarely in popular culture or culture in general. It did figure in a myth about a constellation, the Southern Crow. Librarian mentioned it also appears on a flag - was told one was used by a conquering army as the standardbearer, flying above the troops. Said he can't remember what army it was, but heard about it back at BZPower. I will have to find out.

Also: Have rescued a tome entitled "1337: 7h3 d3f1n171v3 921d3". Librarian is working to decipher and restore it. In journal, sections are coded, and code appears to be different from section to section. I deciphered a section in easier code; in that section, a compendium of insults. Restored some glyphs this afternoon.

Crow still loitering in courtyard.

Novǽmber Twenty-Fifth

People finally close enough to make out details - and for them to see our fortress. Made much progress on their way yesterday, it appears. One appears to wear a broad-brimmed hat, dark jacket, spiked armor, and quarterstaff. Second mostly hidden in a hooded cloak. Estimate they will reach us in two days.

Also: Have rescued a tome called "The Immortal Idea: The First Fortress, and What it Meant". Librarian working to restore it. In coded journal, no more progress. Restored fewer glyphs than usual this afternoon. Used extra time to look for mentions of a fish-crow-standardbearer, but no luck.

Crow itself still lurking in courtyard. Is it waiting for something - or someone?

Novǽmber Twenty-Sixth

People nearly to us. Librarian and I are in a combined frenzy of simultaneously building up our defenses and weaponry, and preparing to graciously receive guests. One never knows what might happen.

Also: Had time to rescue a tome entitled "Emotions and Emoticons: a Complex Relationship". Librarian will work to restore it later. No time to look through coded journal. Restored few glyphs this afternoon. No time to look for fish crow in books.

Even the crow itself got into the spirit of agitation today - flying laps around the courtyard and croaking.

Novǽmber Twenty-Seventh

Late this morning, the people reached us.

They were only looking for a place to stay, as it turned out, on the way to another fortress. The first called himself Wally; he was the taller one, with the hat, jacket, armor, and staff. The shorter one, in the cloak, turned out to be our old moderator Maestro. Apparently he was one of the original members who made it to some new incarnation of BIONICLE Advanced Wars. There, he was also apparently promoted, then demoted. Can't seem to find out anything about Wally except that he's a wanderer, and he's taking Maestro to another fortress.

Maestro has requested permission to stay here at our ruined fortress while Wally goes on an errand. I have agreed. Whether Wally's intentions are good or not, Maestro would never, from what I remember of him, go along with them.

Also: Had no free time to rescue books. Librarian and I were speaking to and making arrangements for our guest for most of the day. No time for coded journal either. No time to restore glyphs. No time to look for mentions of fish crow in books.

Crow in courtyard was careful to stay out of sight while Wally and Maestro were present - definitely actively avoiding them. I cannot fathom its reasons.

Novǽmber Twenty-Eighth

This morning, Wally left before we awoke. He did seem eager to be gone.

Maestro was subdued for most of the morning; this ruined fortress seemed to bring back memories. He helped us with the restoration and such, but his heart was not in it.

Also: Rescued two tomes, entitled "The Horned God: Cernunnos and his Legacy" and "10,000%: Why Everyone Makes Mistakes". Librarian and Maestro working to restore them. No more sense out of coded journal. Found no more mention of fish crow in books.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


The bartender finished reading the pages and looked up expectantly, but Maestro shook his head.

"Those are all I have," said the former BAW/EPE moderator. "The General saw no point in giving me the rest."

"Then what is next?" The bartender prompted.

"Ah, for that," rasped Wally's once-great voice, weakened by recent blood loss, "you will have to turn to me."

The bartender once more listened, spellbound, as Wally began a new part of their Tale.


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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sun Jul 04, 2010 11:23 am

Part the Fifth; Wally's Tale


A winter's day.

A sandy desert.

A blue spot of brightness against the afternoon-lit mountains.

The blue spot, revealed as the Great Triple Fortress of BIONICLE Zone Power.

The towering Gate of BZPower, thronged by those coming in for the night.

A single dark figure among the throng.


>><<>><<>><<>><<



Wally waited in his coolly calm way for his turn to get through the Login Guards. His mission wasn’t urgent - well, only urgent in that it should be finished before the end of a day. He could wait, as long as he was able to find what he wanted quickly.
Though many a head turned to stare at his glowing white eyes and spiked armor, he paid the jostling crowd of the lines around him no heed. After all, his hat was wide and stiff enough to shove people out of his path for him, and he could use his quarterstaff if necessary.

Sooner than Wally expected (he was almost unaware of the fact that people avoided the hard edge of his broad-brimmed hat after bumping into it too many times), he made it to the handsome blond-wood desk of a Login Guard automaton.

"Hello, mister." The Login Guard greeted him with laconic cheer. "A BIONICLE Zone Pass, please, or exact change to buy one."

Wally handed over his BIONICLE Zone Pass to the guard facedown. The guard took it and was about to flip it over when Wally tapped its wrist with his right index finger and spoke for the first time since arriving at the Gate of BZPower.

"Anonymously, thank you."

"No problem, mister," said the mechanical Login Guard amiably, scanning the code on the back of Wally's pass without scanning or looking at the front.

Words flashed on the screen of the Login Check Computer as Wally received his card back and walked into the heart of the Great Triple Fortress.

>>Anonymous user
>[CLEARED]


But as the Login Guard swiveled to face the next member in line, it missed nine out-of-the-ordinary words that blinked on the screen and were gone:

>>>Account Name: OVERLORD
>>Status: Inactive, ROGUE
>Pass Genuine? UNCERTAIN



--------


As he made it into the Middle Section of the BZPower Triple Fortress, Wally's fingers relaxed, the only outward sign of relief he let slip. He hadn't been sure if even such an excellent forgery of a pass would work. But it was the final confirmation he needed for the validity of his mission. If he could get through with a pass that both belonged to someone else and was forged, then the person who made it - the person who he sought - must be talented indeed. Or talented enough.

He refused to think about the only other option - that the security had become yet more lax.

In any case, the person for whom he was searching would most likely be located in the Left Fortress. There were, of course, three sections to the BZPower Triple Fortress: The dusty tan Left Fortress, where the reference materials, records, and old dwellings were located; the vivid blue Right Fortress, where the main forum was, and where most members lived and worked; and the glossy black Middle Fortress, which linked the two other fortresses, and housed the staff and administrators.

The Middle Fortress was the only route Wally could see to get through to either of the other sections, and though he tried to navigate through the tortuous entrance passageways, the signposts for the entrance to the Left Fortress were fewer and more faded than those for the Right Fortress.
Eventually, he realized he must have taken a wrong turn, for the signposts to the Left Fortress were no longer appearing at all. He tried to turn back and retrace his steps, but obviously took another wrong turn, for he found himself in an atrium. The hall was deep within the Middle Fortress, corners shadowed by the late afternoon light, and Wally looked around with desperate annoyance for the door from which he had come.

"I can take you there."

Wally twitched, the voice breaking his urgency. "What? And just who are you?"

A figure began to emerge from the opposite side of the room. "Who? Call me Toggle, though I've worn many faces."

As the person came towards him, Wally stared. The so-called "Toggle" appeared to be a BZPower Food Preparation Officer, wearing a white chef's hat, a stiff clean white uniform, unassuming white running shoes, and a flat expression.

"I can take you where you meant to go." Toggle stared back expressionlessly, off-colored eyes partly in shadow.

"And where is that?" asked Wally skeptically.

Toggle simply moved past him smoothly and disappeared through a doorway that Wally hadn't noticed a moment before. Wally decided his course in a second and ran soundlessly after Toggle.

The first thing he noticed when he emerged from the door into another hallway (besides Toggle's presence ahead of him) was the fact that there were actually signposts for the Left Fortress again, and light streamed in through glassless skylights in the roof. Wally glanced even farther ahead and saw the distinctive tan gates that marked the old entrance to the Left Fortress. He started to run towards them, almost passing Toggle, but the bizarre chef stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"I'll need to open them for you." Toggle glided ahead to the gates.
Impatiently, Wally followed close behind. Who’d ever heard of a food preparation officer having to open the Left Fortress for a member?

Still, Toggle was faster, and Wally never could later remember exactly what Toggle did in order to undo the tan chain that spiraled up the gates, locking them together. All he could see was that a moment after Toggle stood in front of the gates, the chain twisted around one of the gates, unlinking from the other, and the gates clicked open. Wally arrived a moment or two later.

"We're close," said Toggle, the nebulous path of his gaze seeming to barely meet Wally’s. "Just follow me now."

Before Wally could snap that he had already been doing that, Toggle moved away and down the wide, dusty central boulevard of the Left Fortress. Wally sighed and continued to trail noiselessly behind Toggle, holding his quarterstaff just off the ground. As long as he was in the Left Fortress, he could always find his own way.

After taking an exit off of the main avenue, the way Toggle led Wally along was unremarkable. Similar house-like record halls lined every edge of every street, all of them a dusty tan. Wally supposed that they had entered the area of the records that was most rarely visited, containing outdated versions of overviews of various storylines that were debated in the Right Fortress. They traveled a while without stopping, and Wally's mind wandered, his polished thoughts escaping the monotony around him.

But finally Toggle halted and extended an arm forwards, pointing towards a courtyard that lay ahead. "And there you are."

Wally moved past Toggle and peered ahead. And yes, ahead of him, was the very person he was looking for - the talented forger who so often concealed herself in the forgotten depths of the Left Fortress, the person he had determined to find. He was about to walk into the courtyard when he remembered his manners.

"Toggle," he began, turning around -

- but Toggle was not there.

Wally looked around with suspicion, but there was no doubt that Toggle was not there.
Had the chef ever been there? Wally knew he might never find out. But right now, his quarry lay before him.

He walked into the courtyard, and in doing so changed a life forever.


--------


Toggle stood brazenly on the front battlement of the Middle Fortress, his uniform barely moving in the whiplashing wind.
This was his favorite place, or rather the only place he seemed to enjoy, in the whole of the Triple Fortress. It was a place where he could defy the wind, the heat, the sand, and the administrators of BIONICLE Zone Power. He was unnoticed for the moment - unaffected by the breeze, untouched by the disappearing sunlight, the sand bending around him and disappearing. As the sun began to fade beyond the horizon and the stars became visible, one by one, he seemed to dwell passionlessly on some hidden thought.

He remained there a while before he felt gentle claws on his shoulder and a wing brush his ear.

"The light is flickering, Kolenece Keykeeper Malevolence," he said formally.

"And is not the shadow rising in its wake, Horoscope-Man Toggle?" said the crow perched on his shoulder, with a glitter in its dark and darkened eye.

"It is true. After all, it was I who said it." Toggle hissed a cold sigh. "Today is no more an auspicious day than any other for their reconciliation."

"You have your small successes."

"Yes," Toggle said. "Now, we should be off. It does not do for the wicked to rest."

A shout came from their left, from the front battlement of the Middle Fortress.

"Halt there! No members are allowed on the battlements!" A tall, pale, deathly figure with dark hair ran towards them, a dark red cape billowing behind him and a grey padlock clenched in his hand.

"I rest too often to be considered wicked,” muttered Kolenece Keykeeper Malevolence, winking one black eye.

And a chef and a crow disappeared without a flash, leaving only a silver grain of metal sand on the battlement for an irate Kex to find.


-|W|[BIOMANCER]|G|- ~~ GT/^\TG

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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sat Nov 20, 2010 10:57 am

Part the Sixth; Overlord's Tale


A winter's day.

Afternoon-lit mountains, jagged and proud.

A dark green smudge faintly outlined against the flank of a mountain.

Again, the smudge, really a coniferous forest.

A single tree, on the lower edge of the forest.

A black-clothed person, sitting under the tree.


>><<>><<>><<>><<



"Well," the man in the turban said to himself. "This is a nice sort of place."

And after all, it was, for him. It was quiet and cool in the understory of the montane forest, oddly untouched yet by the coming winter, with mushrooms and berries still growing all around.
Of course, it also helped that there wasn't a single giant spiderweb to be seen. Life in fortresses had not helped to accustom him to the wild, and vice versa, but this seemed to be the best of both. And it was the closest place to his original home that he could easily reach.

He glanced to his far-distant west for a moment and caught a glimpse of off-tinted blue in the afternoon sun. For a moment, he wondered vaguely what might be happening in the Triple Fortress, then dismissed the thought. He'd be seeing it again soon.

But while he was here, there was one thought he could not dismiss: the thought of the past.

Unlike so many others, he had not been born in this strange world of fortresses and nomads, but somehow arrived from another planet. He remembered most of his other life clearly, if not exactly how he was transported to this world. But when he asked others about his native planet, he was always met with a blank look or a refusal to speak about it.

In any case, one day, the man in the turban had arrived in this strange world, however it actually happened. He had awoken to find himself lying in springy moss at the foot of a tree, alone, on this very same mountain. After the shock of being in a completely unfamiliar and unexpected place wore off, he had hiked his way completely around the mountain, as it seemed to be the last in a range.
After having emerged on the other side, he had seen a strange fortress, far off in the distance, along the opposite side of the mountain range. He knew then that there would be dangers associated with walking up to a lone fortress in an uninhabited land, but when he arrived, he was greeted with no misgivings - and found that he had just seen one side of a triple fortress. He was informed at that point that he had come to the Great Triple Fortress of BIONICLE Zone Power, which would be happy to accept him as a member.
And so it was that the man in the turban came to live in the Triple Fortress, where his fellow members studied lore of a civilization of biomechanical beings, which reminded him of something he could not quite remember from his own world.

But naturally, he was not content to remain a member in the Triple Fortress forever. He had a life to live, back home. In any case, almost no one was a resident of only BIONICLE Zone Power - there were so many other fortresses in the world - and he was sure he would have to venture out into the greater world to find a way back. But he had no information to start from, or even to know where his home was, until one grey, cloudy day.
Just before a large thundershower arrived over the Triple Fortress, he met an older man who confided to him that he, too, had come from another world. The older man, however, had discovered a few damaged scrolls that displayed partial maps of the world and hinted of ways to travel back. The scrolls said that a weapon that had been brought through both worlds had the power to unlock so-called "world gates" that might lead back to the world of the man in the turban, said the other man. But the old man had never found such a weapon. He gave the man in the turban the scroll that he had learned from, as well as a scrap of a map, and went inside to get out of the rain.

The man in the turban never saw him again.

But now he had the information he needed. And so the man in the turban trained to be stealthy, and to observe what people carried with them. The scrolls told him that he would simply know when he saw a weapon from his world that he needed, though it would probably be just a fragment (and he needed the entire weapon).

In several years of scouring the Triple Fortress, the man in the turban had only located one small fragment of a sword blade, which he had had to confiscate without its finder’s knowledge. But he was not discouraged too much by the lack of finds, for he still had patience, and he would know when he found what he needed. He also learned that he could travel away from the Triple Fortress for up to two years at a time without losing his membership there.

And so he began to make use of that leave time, traveling for months and searching the wilderness for artifacts from his world. Even then, the vacation allotment was never enough time for him to truly travel far from the Triple Fortress, or to comprehensively search a huge area. But he had found another small fragment of a sword blade, which to his delight seemed to fit with the one he had found before.

Now he was returning to the Triple Fortress from his latest foray, fairly content for the moment with his small success. He would soon be back to his profile-room, and he would now have an eighth of the sword blade altogether.


--------


The man in the turban woke early the next morning under the mountain trees' canopy, but took his time in the morning as he descended the mountain and traveled west through the scrub. He knew that if he reached the gates of the Triple Fortress in the midafternoon, there would likely be a smaller crowd at the entrance.
Sure enough, when he got there two or three hours after the Divisor time of midday, he saw only about ten other members and a handful of bright-robed staff members checking in.

He walked over to the nearest Login Guard and handed over his BIONICLE Zone Pass smilingly. "Anonymously, if you please."

"Thank you, sir, and a good F.D. to you." The Login Guard nodded pleasantly, studied his face for a brief moment, then glanced cursorily at the information that flashed on the screen on its blond-wood desk for a second after scanning the pass.

>>Anonymous user
>[CLEARED]
>>>Account name: OVERLORD
>>Status: Reactivated, MEMBER
>Pass Genuine? YES


The man in the turban - Overlord - accepted his pass back and continued on through the shortcut entrance to the blue Right Fortress, where his profile-room was located in the 94000 block.
He walked down the carefully placed geometric streets, the familiar dramatic pillars and arches on the buildings accenting the blue walls, dotted in places with rust on the underlying steel supports or painted-over flaws on the façade parts of the walls. On every building hung a blue banner, showing a strange mechanical face with a crown made of gears and watchful red eyes, and printed simply with the word “BZPower” in a metallic script. Behind him, next to the entrance, lay a giant wall adorned only with titles of recent news and events, and next to that was a sign listing the popular discussion topics of the day and their locations.

On every numbered block, members’ profile-rooms sat interspersed with roomy discussion halls. Most discussion halls were linked with skybridges that arced over the walking-paths below, forming superhalls or great-forums. But the administrators had carefully ensured that no buildings were right next to the walls of the Right Fortress, so that no member could access the walls (at least without using a glider or breaking into the Middle Fortress). No one was really sure why, but it didn’t matter - there wasn’t anything on the walls except the moderators, who went on watch duty in shifts.

Overlord simply walked by all the immense architecture. He had seen everything before. Besides, his one true home in this strange world awaited him ahead.

He finally reached the building that contained his profile-room. He, like every active (and like many an inactive) member in any fortress, owned a room that contained all their basic membership information. In the Triple Fortress, each profile-room had a very small atrium with a bulletin board where other members could leave comments or a record of their visit. On one of the walls would be a record of all the most-recently-started topics by the member, although Overlord’s list was getting quite old. A door off each profile-room atrium led to cramped living quarters for the member who owned the room.

Overlord walked into the atrium of his profile-room and unlocked his comment box. He had chosen to approve any comments he received before other members posted them, so they were deposited in a little locked metal box instead. He scanned the new comments before tacking them above the older comments on the wall of the profile-atrium. A few new records of visitors were next to his comments, some of them simply being the records of the commenters.

Finally, he opened the door to his living quarters. He was pleased to see that there was very little dust on the few belongings he had left behind. Though he didn't expect any, he looked in the black mail-slot that funneled in messages from the atrium, and of course found no new ones. He still missed the days when he received a few messages from friends, other than comments. But many of his few friends had left the Triple Fortress, and several more had gone to found their own fortress. Sometimes, he regretted not going with them, but he needed to find a way home just as much.

Everything was in order in his profile-room, so Overlord decided to visit the Left Fortress, as he often would when at the Triple Fortress. After piecing together the two sword-shards and beginning to perfunctorily unpack, he departed his profile-room and walked back through the ornate avenues on the same route as before. He glanced at the Hot Topics List and News Wall on his way out of the Right Fortress, but there was nothing terribly important to him, so he moved on. There was only a short, albeit tortuous passage through the dark stone Middle Fortress before he emerged at the arching tan gates of the Left Fortress.

Overlord heaved the tan chain that linked the gates off of the left side, squeezing through the narrow opening. It was always difficult to get in, and he was sure that that didn't help raise the number of visitors to the reference fortress section. But as he walked through, he noticed footprints in the sandy dust at the gates, something fairly unusual in the late afternoon. He shrugged and continued down the unremarkable tan central street. If there were visitors, it wouldn’t be the first time.

But he heard distant voices ahead of him, something that happened even more rarely. Almost everyone who entered the Left Fortress was going there for the records, not conversation. Overlord sped up, making an effort to remain stealthy. It was better not to be noticed, if only for practice, even if there was nothing wrong.

He entered a building adjoining the courtyard from which the voices emanated, and crept his way to a window on the second floor. Below him, a man with spiked armor, a broad-brimmed hat, and a quarterstaff was speaking to a woman in dark red robes who wore a pointed insignia. Overlord didn’t recognize the man, but knew the woman was a forger and editor, who traveled almost as much as himself. The man was showing the woman a BIONICLE Zone Power Pass and asking her something about it. The pass was face-up and clearly displayed the name “OVERLORD”, but that detail and the conversation below escaped the real Overlord’s notice.

His eyes were fixed on the man’s quarterstaff.

Overlord knew, somehow but intuitively, just as the scrolls the old man gave him had said he would know, that the quarterstaff before him was a weapon-fragment - the largest he had ever seen. He would - as he had to - acquire that staff.
But how? For a moment, he considered running back to his profile-room to get a weapon, or the glider-wings he owned. Below him, the man with a hat and the forger were beginning to walk out of the square.

Overlord decided he would indeed go back to get his supplies - all of them. In that moment, he knew he would follow the pair below him until the time came that he could take the quarterstaff.

And in that moment, his fate was sealed.


-|W|BIOMANCER|G|- ~~ GT/^\TG

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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Mon Feb 07, 2011 1:14 pm

Part the Seventh; the General’s Tale


The General’s Journal


Novǽmber Twenty-Ninth

Checked on Wally this morning with Great Spyglass. Appears to be heading straight for the Triple Fortress, and should make it there late this afternoon - going extraordinarily fast. Must not be the fortress he intends to take Maestro to, or else he wouldn’t have left any of his gear behind.

Also: Restored some glyphs, and appear to be making some overall progress on the library with Maestro’s help. Rescued two (odd) tomes, entitled “A Guide to Trap Cards” and “Crossover Memes”. Librarian and Maestro working to restore them.

Light rain showers, but not enough to worry about the damp affecting the books. Winter is certainly arriving again though.

Novǽmber Thirtieth

Checked on Wally with Great Spyglass in morning. Couldn’t see anything – Triple Fortress is too far away to be visible in any detail. But checked on him again in afternoon, and saw that he is returning with a dark-red-clothed female. As I recall, she’s a forger. Have only seen her once, though Horoscope Man once mentioned her as well. Idiotic Horoscope Man.

Also: Restored more glyphs. Rescued two (apparently related) tomes, entitled “Anatomy 101” and “Anatomy 404”.

Sunny today again, and most traces of rain showers are gone. Wally and forger woman should be here tomorrow morning.

Descénbar First

Wally and forger woman did indeed arrive this morning. Her name is Azure or something like that. Didn’t quite catch it when she said and didn’t ask afterwards. Wally, Maestro, and forger make bit of an odd group. Apparently, all three of them will be departing for some other fortress altogether tomorrow.

Also: Restored a few glyphs. Just had time to rescue one tome, entitled “Guide to Selected Megafaunal Fossils”. Librarian working to restore it.

Slight fog in the early morning, dissipated quickly. There was a single unfamiliar footprint in the courtyard after Wally and forger woman arrived - from a person certainly, but does not match the shoeprint of anyone here. Most likely just a distorted print, but it does not hurt to be cautious - for first time in months, am carrying my old dagger around with me (concealed). Saw nothing else unusual, though.

Descénbar Second

Wally, Maestro, and forger departed in the midmorning. Still couldn’t divine where they were going. At least Maestro earned keep for all of them while they were here, however short it was. From the way Wally mentioned their destination fortress, I wonder if we shall be seeing them again if they make it there.

Also: Restored some glyphs this afternoon. Rather than rescuing tomes from the front sections, I began excavating the ash from the entrance to the sealed-off back sections, so we will be able to access those sections soon. Librarian is finishing restoring other tomes.

No more unusual footprints. I wonder if some stealthy individual was indeed around, perhaps following them. In any case, they are all gone now. It may well be a relief when the Librarian and I can simply go back to our routine of restoration tomorrow.

Descénbar Third

I checked on the progress of our old moderator and company with the Great Spyglass, intermittently. They seem to be well on their way, heading northeast of here. It appears that they are skirting the Triple Fortress. By late afternoon, as before, it was impossible to see them with clarity, for the distance.

Also: Restored some glyphs after the trio disappeared, as there was no more point in looking for them by then. Rescued a tome entitled “Prototypes for Amateur Vehicle Projects”. Librarian working to restore its surface - we both realized that the book, despite some ash damage to the cover, doesn’t seem to have ever been read, nor do we recognize the vehicular designs inside. We may attempt construction of one of these vehicles.

Appears to be a mild thundershower system passing by overnight. Have made sure that all tomes and metal tools are indoors for the night. Rain should help plantlife.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


-|W|BIOMANCER|G|- ~~ GT/^\TG

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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:51 am

Part the Eighth; Overlord’s Tale

A winter’s day.

Sand-blanketed sun-blasted desert, open, vast, cactus-spotted.

A dark dot against the tan landscape.

The dot again, revealed as three dark figures traveling east across the desert.

A sandy blur behind the dunes they pass.

The person the sand conceals.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


There were three dark travelers - one in spiked leathery armor, one cloaked in black, one with robes of blood - walking resolutely through the Psarakam Desert. They had to be a hardy sort, to endure the sudden winds and constant sunlight entailed by traveling through the desert Outlands during the day, and without even the benefit of a transport to hitchhike on.

Yet they could not match the patience of the other man in the desert.

“Funny, isn’t it,” said the murmur in the sand, far behind the three. “Dark red for Azure.”

The dune shifted slightly, exposing the hard forward edge of an old tan hat behind it, just for a moment. “And they take no notice.”

There was an unusual gust of high wind, and a tan blur of moving sand swept off the dune, weaving about several cacti before coming to a rest nearer the three travelers, who had continued walking throughout the duration of the gust.

“I… suppose you thought ahead, with that hat, W,” remarked the traveler in bloodred robes, rather hesitantly.

“I suppose I did, K,” said the armored man with the quarterstaff and black hat. He pushed forwards with his quarterstaff, moving slightly ahead of his two companions.

The blood-robed forger looked down, as if to hide a small smile. A strand of turquoise-tipped copper hair escaped the carelessly positioned cowl of her robe.

Behind them, a tan-barreled crossgun was barely visible at the base of the waxy cactus where the sand cyclone had halted. But it was the wrong moment, of course. Always the wrong moment. A safety catch on the crossgun reengaged, and it was withdrawn.

Another tan blur. The man wearing the flat, battered tan Medora hat emerged briefly, peering around a cactus directly behind the travelers, and was gone from view again. It might end up taking him a very long time to acquire the quarterstaff that the armored man held, he knew, and his quest for it could take him far from the Triple Fortress. But he had been aware of that from the beginning. It would be worth it, as long as he did get the quarterstaff - it could be his way to his true home, his own world. He missed the blue-green planet, and the peculiar pattern of its continents, and his own country and home.

It would be a long way back to it, but the means were clear - he would get the quarterstaff, whatever it took, for it was a key to the doorway he knew he must go through.


--------


Eventually, the three travelers halted for the day. Overlord was mildly surprised, watching them from the safety of a dune. It took them a short time to set up three improbable tents, using a multitude of snap-together rods and bits of cloth taken from the pack of the armored man, and settle in for the gathering night.

But before he could join them in rest (or, rather, keep watch on them more closely), he pulled his large tan traveling bag out from behind a cactus and changed into his usual choice of clothes for such an occasion - entirely black, with a black turban. He would need to remain stealthy during the night, even if he couldn’t possibly enter the camp or steal the quarterstaff from the armored man’s tent.

Overlord took out his usual choice of weapon, as well - a salvaged prototype Phraxic Gyroplasmic Nonlethal Longpistol, built by another in bygone days. The PGNL had been invaluable to him in the past, and it would be so again.

He finally took up watch near the camp. None of the travelers were asleep yet, but he could at least find out who the cloaked man and the armored man were - he at least knew of the forger, Kaze Azure, if not why she was with them.

But it appeared that Kaze was organizing her tent, and the cloaked man and the armored man were arguing about whether to use a contained-fire cooking device that the armored man was holding.

“Well, I already told you we can’t restock up on the right stuff to burn in this desert, Mo,” said the armored man with mild apology. “We’d just use up -”

“I have had enough of nicknames. I am Maestro,” said the cloaked man. Something odd was boiling in his lime green eyes - disappointment, or contempt, perhaps. “We will have time to restock later, and a heated meal would be nice for –”

“‘Hot air does not a campfire make’,” quoted the armored man – Wally. “That’d just mean we’d have a cold meal tomorrow.” He stowed the contained-fire device back in his pack with an air of finality.

The cloaked man - Maestro - raised an eyebrow and turned away arrogantly, altering the conversation as he went. “How long should I expect to wait to arrive at this fortress of yours, again?”

Overlord, concealed behind his cactus, had been trying to spot the quarterstaff among Wally’s belongings, but his attention turned to Maestro when he heard the query.

“Less than two months.” Wally dusted off his gauntlets and shrugged. “But we’re going a circuitous route, then oversea, to avoid being followed.”

At Wally’s matter-of-fact statement, Overlord tried not to laugh. Someone already was following them.

“…so why was it that you want that stone figure, er, forged?” The blood-robed forger - Kaze, of course - emerged from her plain tent, changing the subject slightly. Her dark red cowl was pulled back, and her copper hair gleamed even in the disappearing light.

Wally pinched the opening of his dark pack shut, only glancing up and grinning after a moment. “It’ll surprise you when we get there.”

Kaze shrugged nonchalantly and sat down. Maestro wore a look of supreme dissatisfaction at Wally’s pronouncement, and seemed about to say something suitably derogatory, but the armored man didn’t acknowledge either of them and began to pull out supplies for dinner.

Behind his waxy cactus, Overlord huddled down slightly more, and extracted some dried meat and fruit from an outer pocket of his dark robe. It would be a long watch for him. With any luck, he would be able to sleep at some point, but carefully, and not for long.

He idly watched Wally handing out food to Kaze and Maestro, but in the back of his mind, Overlord was mulling over what the armored man had said. He would be able to follow them along any circuitous land route; it would even give him more time to take the quarterstaff. But how would he follow them oversea? Would they go through the Delta Towns? Would he need to take them in a boat of his own, disguising himself as a waterman? He was sure that they wouldn’t book passage on a boat large enough for him to conceal himself in a crowd. Would he even be willing to pursue the quarterstaff that far?

But there were simply too many questions to answer yet - he resolved that it would be better to simply get the quarterstaff before then.

He spread his cloak out around him, blurring his outline, and settled in to wait the night out.



-|W|BIOMANCER|G|- ~~ GT/^\TG

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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sat Mar 26, 2011 4:36 am

Part the Ninth; Maestro’s Tale

A winter’s day.

Sun-blanketed sand-blasted desert: expansive, extensive, cactus-interrupted.

A shadowy point against the pale land of sand.

The point once more, shown to be three shady voyagers walking northeast through the wasteland.

The darkest of the figures, cloaked completely.

The thoughts he speaks.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


It went without saying that Maestro was feeling suspicious.

But he was growing even more suspicious. He had been content to accept Wally’s direction of travel - there were surely some interesting sights and lands along the northeast coast. But actually going out on the Rebrolan Sea, especially very close along the northeast coast, was inadvisable in the winter. Sudden thunderstorms and even snowstorms were rumored to rise over the water, making most boating miserable or impossible. Such storms could surely smash a boat against the sea-cliffs. And if Wally then continued north after that, into the unknown parts of the north…

Maestro would wait it out until then, though. He could be patient when he wanted to be.

Maestro came out of his reverie and glared out from under his hood. Kaze and Wally were trudging alongside him vaguely to his front right. Behind him, he heard sand swish against a cactus. The sun beat down from above, softly harsh, and a rough-scaled orange lizard scuttled away in front of him. The familiar weight of his Sparrowhawk Katana pressed against his left leg as he made his odd way through the sand, adjusting his feet differently from the others to avoid getting sand in his sharp shoes.

It occurred to him as he continued through the annoyingly shifting sand that it was odd that they were traveling through the Psarakam Desert on foot. Despite its emptiness of fortresses itself, the desert was fairly well-traveled. Surely Wally knew that they could simply take a caravan through to the east side before having to continue by walking? Kaze had probably traveled that way before.

Unless Wally wanted to shake off pursuers, and in that case, Maestro was still puzzled as to why he would. If their destination truly was a new fortress, wouldn’t it be good to lead more people there? And indeed, their destination really couldn’t be anything but a fortress.

Maestro glanced out from under his cowl again. For a moment, it seemed to him that Wally’s blank cold white eyes changed color under the huge-brimmed hat, but the morphing vanished immediately.

Wally had to know more than he was telling Maestro, quite obviously. But there were only two more days of this desert-trudging foolishness.

Then it would be time for answers.


--------


It was nearly high noon on the sixth day of traveling through the desert outlands when Maestro sighted the gaudy fortress ahead. It almost looked like a mirage, but Wally told them otherwise.

“Looks like we’ve gotten to Bricklink. We’ve made good time to get to good times,” said Wally, looking amused as they drew nearer to the blue-and-dark-green fortress.

Bricklink, the armored man explained briefly, was a large and labyrinthine home for those who bought and sold LEGO bricks. Kaze mentioned that she remembered them from her childhood near the NGHUIDRCFG, but seemed slightly surprised that they were such a lucrative market.

Maestro was silent while the others talked. He remembered little of his childhood - fragments, sounds. It was odd how little he recalled, but he accepted by now that he simply had a poor memory. But though his first memories were from the age of thirteen, he knew he still had some LEGO parts from that age and earlier. Not many by now – and they were probably all stored in one pocket or another of his greatcloak. He was fastidious and adept enough at packing that his week’s worth of clothes didn’t take up too much room, and he rarely opened most of his pockets, so he hadn’t seen his LEGO things for a while.

And then they were at the gates of Bricklink.

Strange Login Guards, shrewd-eyed and with sharp-beaked parrot heads, manned the turquoise front desks, and one motioned them to come forwards. Wally obliged, and Maestro and Kaze trailed him.

“You may look at the wares and stay a while,” their surreal coppery clerk admonished, ushering them through with a visitor’s permit, “but you will have to report back to another Login Guard before you buy anything.”

But Kaze didn’t seem to be listening. As soon as they entered the main gates, she seemed mesmerized by both the variety of wares and the opportunities of vending LEGO parts.

“I could make a fortune on these sorts of things. Small, expensive pieces…” she said raptly, cutting through a line of tourists to gaze around the buckets and glass cases of pieces in one seller’s tent. The oddly flat-expressioned proprietor of the tent himself seemed happy to oblige her, although he stole the occasional glance at her from under his tall hat, apparently checking that she wasn’t taking anything.

Maestro tagged along behind Wally and Kaze for a while, but ducked his head deeper into his cowl when Wally started on an embarrassing monologue on how sellers should get the difference straight between transparent medium blue and transparent light blue. Spotting an unusual tent like a fabric-walled gazebo, the cloaked man ducked inside its silver entrance.

When he straightened up, he saw that the back wall was covered with small hanging masks, just like the ones that many members at the Triple Fortress collected. The owner of the tent sat on a rickety honey-colored stool, but smiled and got up when Maestro entered. “Can I help you with finding anything in here today?”

“Not specifically. I have to report to a Login Guard before buying,” said Maestro, still staring at the mask wall. “However, I would like help identifying some of your masks… I may have some myself, but I’m not sure which, as I can no longer remember their names correctly.”

“Sure, no problem.” The seller gave Maestro’s immensely pocket-lined cape a long look. “But say, I might be interested in buying, too.”


--------


When Maestro finally emerged from the tent to rejoin Wally and Kaze, his cowl was up again, but he wore a sharp grin underneath. He had made some good deals, he was sure - he had managed to sell some of his own masks (for he had indeed had some in one of his pockets) to the vendor in the tent. Now he had a small stash of money, if he needed it.

After searching for two minutes, Maestro spotted Kaze down a side alley at a booth specializing in misprinted parts. He cut in front of a small group of suited buyers and sidled under the awning of the booth. “Where did Wally run off to now?”

“I don’t know,” murmured Kaze distractedly, eyeing an orangey miniature ghost shroud. “He said he’d check out the smaller stores down by the South Wallside first.”

Maestro left Kaze to her price-checking and strode glaringly down one of the many sinuous alleys that led to the darker wallside. Why Wally would go off that far on his own when the supposed administrator hadn’t even gotten permission to buy something, he didn’t know. But though Wally could take care of himself, he couldn’t take care of everything.

And sure enough, Maestro swept into a tiny dark wallside courtyard to find Wally backed against a building, battling someone. The foe could not be seen very well - a dark blur here, a strangely dealt blow with a flagpole there - but Wally appeared to be fighting fairly well, raining back strikes with his quarterstaff, which was glowing faintly for some reason. Maestro hesitated for a second, but drew his Sparrowhawk Katana in another moment, and dived at the still-unseen enemy.

Yet the attacker held off both of them. Now the flagpole was shifted to its left hand, blocking Maestro’s slashes with the katana, and some dark metal object with an angled handle was in its right, oddly enough parrying Wally’s quarterstaff effectively.

It was clear after a short time that Wally was beginning to tire, though he still gripped his staff tightly. It seemed that he had been fighting for a while already. Finally, the administrator aimed a particularly clumsy blow at their opponent. It missed, but hit the flagpole at its very base –

– and the dark figure was gone, blurring away in a sweeping run. The flagpole clattered to the ground, the black awning above them creaked, but there was no other sound or movement to indicate anyone nearby.

Maestro picked up the flagpole to examine it, but a flagpole was all it was. There was nothing special about it, except marks from the Sparrowhawk Katana – and apparently from Wally’s quarterstaff. The dents from the quarterstaff looked almost charred.

“No, I don’t know what all that was about,” said Wally, pushing away from the courtyard wall. All traces of fatigue were gone from his demeanor, and he pulled his hat down at a jaunty angle again.

Maestro was even more suspicious. “Well, more importantly, were you not using administrator power?”

Wally sighed. “Yes, obviously. There’s much more I can do with it, too. But that’s not the point. I –”

“What is the point, then?” Kaze ducked into the courtyard behind Maestro, who sidestepped the entrance to let her in.

Wally pulled his already-low hat down. “The point’s that we were being followed.”

“You can’t be sure of that.” said Maestro flatly. “And where’s your quarterstaff?”

Wally smiled smugly. Maestro was unsure what exactly the armored administrator meant by it, but it was still annoying.

“Yes, really.” Kaze looked at Wally, puzzled. “Where is it?”

“I was just telling Mo here that there’s much more I can do with it.”

“The quarterstaff or the administrator power?” Maestro was growing more irritated. Wally was just aggravating them on purpose.

The administrator’s grin, incredibly, grew even smugger, but this time he walked out of the courtyard. As Kaze and Maestro ducked out to catch up with him, the armored man said, “Who wants to know?” without looking back at them.

It looked like Maestro was in for another afternoon of enduring Wally’s terrible jokes.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Tue Sep 27, 2011 5:57 am

Part the Tenth; Maestro’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A large dark spot against the desert landscape, at the end of a dark line.

The dark spot again, shown to be a strange hexagonal fortress, stony and unyielding.

The gates of the hexagonal fortress, hexagonal themselves.

The metal desks at the gates, manned by Login Guards.

Three of the figures who arrive at the desks.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


The sun blazed silently, the desert glittering tan and white next to the great hexagonal train fortress. It had taken Kaze, Maestro, and Wally slightly more than a day of travel to reach the dispatch fortress from Bricklink’s East Gate. They had decided - or rather, Maestro thought stubbornly, Wally had decided for all of them - that Kaze would purchase a medium-class ticket, befitting her relative affluence as a forger, and would sit in a different section on the passenger locomotive from the other two. Maestro was certain that splitting up was ill-advised, but Wally insisted it would draw less attention, and the choice of two lower-class tickets would save them money for later.

Wally and Maestro stood in line at the front, with Kaze nearer the back. The armored man counted out six bowl-shaped iron coins, proffering them in his left hand to the Login Guard at the metallic counter. “Two one-way tickets to the final station of the line, please. Not high class.”

“Two passes, one-way to the North Station, rear aisle seats.” The dark-plated Login Guard placed two coarse-papered tickets in Wally’s right hand with its left, and withdrew the iron coins from his left hand with its magnetized right. The miniature metal bowls attached to its palm briefly before it deposited them in the safebox. “The train north will be arriving soon, and should be departing within the hour. It is 10, PD, currently, so if the train makes its normal 33-hour trip, you should arrive at the end sometime around 13, PD, tomorrow.”

“A’ighty then.” Wally handed one ticket to Maestro and gave the Login Guard a specific nod for greeting and thanks. The two moved aside for the heavy-featured blond man behind them. Maestro led the way through the small hexagonal doorway of the station fortress, glancing back at Kaze as he entered.

Inside the almost-grandiose hexagonal train dispatch fortress, it was much shadier. The soaring roof, essentially hexagonal, pointed upwards in the middle. A few dozen hexagonal skylights, each about the size of Wally’s hat, were set together in a regular pattern that allowed a comfortable amount of light to illuminate the rest of the station. A tight weave of dull metal bars surrounded the entirety of the tracks that lay inside the station, though there was a gate at a gap in the bars where passengers presumably entered the train itself. At the far left of the station fortress, huge sheet metal crank-operated doors sat closed and momentarily idle, though three Login Guards with the same dark armor as the gate guards were oiling the axes of the handles in preparation to reopen the way for the incoming train.

As Maestro glanced around, Wally wandered over to the far right of the partially shaded station. After taking most of the sights in, Maestro looked over again to see the armored man reclining against an unoccupied elongated bench, right next to a hulking potted tree fern. His white eyes seemed to be shut under his hard-brimmed hat, and his quarterstaff was nowhere to be seen. The pack he carried sat badly camouflaged next to him on the bench.

Maestro suddenly realized that he was still blocking the entrance, and hurriedly swerved aside to allow the heavy-faced blond man to enter through the small door and continue to the north side of the station. The blond man didn’t acknowledge the erstwhile administrator’s move, and stalked purposefully off.

The cloaked man waited for several more minutes, glancing around every once in a while and watching the handful of other passengers filter in. Most went to sit along the east edge of the station. At the north end, the blond-haired man reached a bench and sat lopsidedly, immediately beginning to rummage through his stiff-sided travel bag.

After a short time, Kaze entered the half-lit station behind a man with short grey hair. The other man moved off to the east side to occupy another bench, but Kaze grinned at Maestro before going to look at the potted plants near Wally’s seat. Maestro smiled back briefly before returning to his attempted observation of the Login Guards’ opening of the gates.

The third Login Guard finished assisting the two who would soon be opening the great doors for the incoming train, and it left through a small service door in the northwest part of the station, taking the oilcan with it. But as the others pushed slightly on the crank handles, testing how fast the doors would open, the blond man yanked an ugly neon-yellow hammer out of his travel bag and lunged at them, aiming a wild swing at the handles themselves.

Maestro, startled, began to sprint to the north end of the station, blindly expecting to apprehend the man. Before he had gotten more than halfway there, the Login Guard on the right had plucked the hammer from the man’s hand and the one on the left had used the man’s momentum to slam him bodily into the metal of the massive door.

As the stunned blond-haired man was hauled out through the service door by the left Login Guard, the cloaked erstwhile administrator halted bewilderedly for a moment, his dark cloak thumping into his back, and paid no attention to the people who were now striding through the main station entrance in ones and twos. It wasn’t the calm strong-arm approach the Login Guards had taken that surprised him. He had just never seen an attack in progress by the idle saboteurs, known as Interrorists, that sometimes showed up to vandalize the various fortresses in the area.

“Mo,” muttered Wally, who had arrived noiselessly at his shoulder. “Let’s sit down ’til the train gets here. We probably don’t want people getting suspicious.”

Maestro said nothing, but adjusted his cowl and went back to the bench where Wally’s pack lay. There was really nothing else to do for the moment.

After only a surprisingly few monotonous minutes, the cloaked man heard and felt a smooth shuddering vibration emanating from the huge north doors. If the Login Guards were opening them, then the train was quite close. He pushed back his hood slightly and stood to watch the immense weathered traincar’s approach. It slowed as it reached the station and rolled into the wheel-locks at the indoor end of the tracks.

Unsurprisingly, the Login Guard responsible for the passengers was prompt in its reaction, motioning the people onboard to file out the train’s single civilian entrance as quickly as possible. The traincar was apparently not completely full, and after only about three dozen people walked down and left through the same door Wally, Kaze, and Maestro had entered, the Login Guard began to call up the passengers.

Kaze ascended the short steps into the train first, as she would have one of the higher-class seats in the upper level of the train. After the handful of other upper-level passengers got in, the rear aisle seats were next to be boarded, and Wally and Maestro were ushered in.

As they reached the end of the train’s hallway and took their flimsy seats in the back, positioned in a slight alcove, Maestro stared out the window, eyes fixed for a second on the expanses of hot sand and scattered cacti.

Across the aisle, one other passenger dressed in simple red-and-orange civilian clothes took one of the two remaining aisle seats, setting his rather large tan pack and hat on the other. Soon after, Maestro felt the traincar lurch, and his Sparrowhawk Katana bumped against his leg. The ordinary compartments must have boarded more quickly than the upper parts.

Well, now for a long journey, reflected the cloaked man, sitting back.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Tue Sep 27, 2011 5:58 am

Part the Eleventh; Maestro’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A tiny elongated spot against the landscape, moving along a dark line.

The spot again, shown to be a traincar barreling along its tracks to the north.

The back of the traincar, slightly streamlined, with windows looking out.

The four seats lining the aisle inside.

The people who occupy the seats.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Maestro woke slowly from an uncomfortable sleep.

It had been about sixteen hours since they left the station fortress, the train speeding along the tracks and crunching the occasional grains of sand all the while. With little else to do in the times when the scenery outside was unbroken cactus-laden desert or rolling endless grass, the cloaked man had thought about his purpose on the journey again and come to an irritable conclusion.

“It’s time you told me the destination.” With his abrupt remark, he straightened up completely and glared at Wally, pulling out his thin-bladed pale green Sparrowhawk Katana and beginning to tap its unevenly pointed tip at sudden irregular intervals on the dark carpet of the train.

Wally, slumped in his own flimsy temporary seat, enunciated three syllables, sleepy but sharp. “Maybe Not.”

Maestro pushed the carpet down again with the katana, like a hawk restraining prey. “I never really agreed to go north.” The imperious impatience in his voice deepened with the dent in the floor.

“You agreed to come with me where I was going,” murmured Wally, tugging at his leathery shin armor. “Didn’t think cardinal directions mattered.”

“The far north is unknown,” continued Maestro, raising an eyebrow at Wally’s comment. “It seems too far for another fortress, does it not? But it wouldn’t be hard there to kidnap someone, perhaps to enslave them and ship them away. Especially someone far out of the eyes of the public, like me. And would you not need a -”

“Would I bother with just one, Mo?” The armored man pulled down the hard brim of his huge disclike hat, interrupting Maestro gently. “Just one bothersome, irritable, amateurish moderator?”

The former administrator hesitated, still leaning on his lime-colored sword. “Only you can answer that. Perhaps you would bother. I do not know. And I should.” He lifted the sword slightly, the bladed edge facing towards the other man.

And then there was a tan-plated Login Guard in the middle of the aisle, sudden as the mood of the cloaked man. “Any problems here, sirs?”

Across the way, the red-and-orange-suited civilian jerked open his eyes briefly, looked lazily around at the others, then seemed to go back to sleep.

“You could say that.” Maestro continued staring at his seated comrade, annoyance lining his eyes now like the edge of a variegated leaf. “When is this traincar’s next stop?”

“It will be only a metaphorical moment, sir. The next station is for some southern divisions of the various fortresses devoted to gardening, and will be coming up soon.”

“There’s your answer,” said Wally mutedly, finally looking up to address Maestro. His eyes under his giant hat were faintly luminescent, wide open and bright white. “But enough theatrics, just have a seat…”

Maestro narrowed his eyes reluctantly, but pulled his wobble-legged seat sweepingly into a different position and sat down. As he leaned back, he could see that the train Login Guard was already gone. He did not, of course, really want to disembark at any of the south gardening fortresses. He would wait, for now.

Opposite, though the cloaked man did not see, the civilian finally closed his eyes firmly.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu Oct 27, 2011 2:05 pm

Part the Twelfth; Wally’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A small blot on the cold tan landscape.

The blot again, shown to be a complex of minor fortresses.

The plaza in front of the fortresses, beside a resting traincar.

A path to a small dirt clearing away from the station.

The dirt clearing, surrounded by grass, a pool in its center.

The three people who are arriving there.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


The blue-gray clouds scudded stickily over the sky like a taunt to the dry grass, not leaving any rain in their wake. The wind that herded them seemed to be fiercer at their level, far above the ground, but its gusts still pierced many of the passengers disembarking at the North Station.

Wally clambered down the stairs fastened next to the train on the floor of the station, jumping from the final rung. He stood stolidly for a moment, taking in the sight of the great rippling grassland beyond the insecure hulking gardening fortresses, which clustered together around the sinuous river weaving through the plains. Maestro walked down and paused just away from the armored man, shivering slightly in his shady cloak.

After another second, Wally began to walk levelly away from the other departing passengers of the traincar, and Maestro followed obliquely, not associating with the administrator too closely. Kaze soon emerged behind them, wearing a pointy-collared flannel jacket instead of her usual blood-colored robes, and followed at a still farther distance.

The North Station itself was little more than a covered platform that provided shelter from heavy rain and a place for the traincar’s attending Login Guard to watch the people from. Beyond it, however, there were small rustic open courtyards with pools of somewhat-clear water ringed widely by benches.

A tan sparrow drank cautiously from one of the ponds, then reluctantly turned and flew into the surrounding grass with its ocher-colored head feathers raised when Wally approached. Farther away, the orange-suited civilian from the traincar and a gardening assistant in a tan smock disappeared behind different fortresses’ walls.

“So,” Wally began aloud without turning around or waiting for Kaze or Maestro to reach him. “It’s time to depart from this northerly route and go east again. You do know we’re going overseas, right?”

“You told us,” said Maestro irritably, stalking into the rudimentary courtyard.

“Come on, Mo, be cheerful.” Wally began to scratch a laughably crude map of the continent into a small patch of dusty ground with his quarterstaff, which had suddenly come into view in his hand. “We might see some alcids by going out on the sea.”

“What are alcids?” Kaze looked slightly perplexed as she approached.

The armored man kept drawing. “Seabirds… like auks and stuff. Anyway, we need to cut through some grassland - not literally or anything - to get to the coast. Once there, though, we’ll need a ferry or a boat to hitch a ride with… we’ll look for that down by the Delta Towns at the end of the Theijn River.”

Maestro shook his head. “Of course, you are assuming that any sea captain we find will then be perfectly willing to row us up the coast through violent winter storms and along jagged cliffs.”

“I’ll will PROBABBLY conivince them.” Wally grinned a sideways, smirking grin.

“What?” The cloaked man was amazed that Wally would draw on “literal mispronunciation” for a joke.

The armored administrator shrugged and finished his map with a random flourish of his staff. “So anyway, I intend to make our way to the Theijn River’s delta along the river itself, though we may make some side trips into the prairie. At the river mouth there should be a few boatmen or captains waiting to take people south, and like I said I’ll probably convince one to bring us north.”

Kaze, who had been silently studying the horrible map, spoke. “I hope we’ll make better progress on the ocean than we have been on land. So I guess we’re going to that inlet far north of here?”

“Yep.” Wally nodded and stepped back. “The boatmen usually don’t ask too many questions, but I think they’ll believe me if I say I’m going to found a fortress.”

“Because it is the truth?” Maestro inquired, showing no special enthusiasm at the idea.

“Because it’s as close to the truth as possible,” Wally grinned. “I’ve already found a fortress.”

“What do you mean?” Kaze gave him a suspicious look. “I don’t know of any fortresses in the far north… are we breaking into one?”

The administrator shouldered his pack, the fabric strap fitting into a gap in the rudimentary spikes on his armor. “Exactly, and no. Let’s go.”

“If we’re not breaking into a fortress, what do you mean, ‘exactly’?” Kaze hurried after the departing administrator. Maestro, taken by surprise, started out of the small dirt courtyard after them.

Wally shrugged casually again, not slowing his pace. “If you prefer ‘exacactly’, I can say that instead.”

Maestro didn’t ask. Apparently the cloaked man had decided not to bother asking Wally any further questions.

Kaze opened her mouth but glanced away and closed it again, looking irritated. It would seem that she was doing the same.

“Sorry for the secrecy.” The armored man looked back at his companions as they passed the eastmost of the gardening fortresses in single file. “But much of my plan involves you actually seeing what I’m talking about. Both for safety and the fact that you might not believe me until you do.”

He plunged into the edge of the tall razorgrass prairie, and the others had no choice but to follow him.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu Feb 09, 2012 6:12 am

Part the Thirteenth; Kaze’s Tale

A winter’s day.

Tall, waving razorgrass prairie, endless-looking alongside a great sinuous river.

A section of the river, less curved, the water rippling much like the grassland alongside.

A disturbance in the grass by the river, three relatively small patches of darkness.

The dark disturbances again, shown to be a giant broad-brimmed hat and two hoods.

The wearers of the headgear.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Kaze shouldered through the thick grasses beside Maestro, wondering why she was even there.

She wasn’t just concerned about her pay - although as Wally had already produced amounts of money to pay for her trip on the train, she guessed that he would be perfectly able to keep his prior promise of payment for her eventual forging job.

But though the job Kaze inferred from his actual words was only to forge a key for an abandoned fortress, and however persuasive the administrator managed to be whenever she talked to him, she suspected that Wally intended a greater role for her than simply a locksmith. Why else would he be dragging her and Maestro along such a circuitous route to throw off pursuit? Normally she would have departed already just in case her intended role was something sinister, but if necessary she was confident that she could escape.

She tucked her turquoise-tipped hair behind her ears and stared forwards through the mid-height razorgrass again. Luckily the waving blades were not entirely true to their name, and though she was still careful to wear work gloves while shoving through it, the grass seemed quite brittle.

It was the second day of their journey down the Theijn River. Kaze estimated they must be about halfway to the delta, so it would probably be another two days before they got passage on a ship to go north. Unlike in the desert, they had the river to guide them and could travel during dusk, but Wally kept calling a halt whenever he spotted a bird…

“Wait, hold on. Just saw something, looked like a pipit.”

Kaze sighed and halted - again. Wally was out in the front, his hat clearly visible over the neck-high grass, staring out into the grasses on the other side of the river with his binoculars up to his luminous white eyes.

“… Never mind.” The armored administrator took the binoculars away from his face, clearly disappointed. “Couldn’t tell once it went down into the grass.”

When they entered the grasslands two mornings ago, Kaze might have been more sympathetic. But Wally’s frequent stops to catch glimpses of the grassland birds had delayed them to the point that they would probably only reach the Theijn River delta quite late in the evening, a day later than expected. At least it would be too late to immediately get on a ship, which was probably a good thing… Kaze was more than a bit worried that a storm would blow up during the night. But still.

The forger grimaced to herself and shoved on through the dull-colored sharp-edged blades of razorgrass.

--------

It was nearing nightfall, unsurprisingly, as the trio reached the cleared outskirts of the nameless sprawling port towns. The boundary between the unmanaged, uninhabited upstream portion of the river and the fingers of water used by the boatmen to take their loads of fish onto land was very clear, Kaze noted as she emerged from the mid-height grass. It wasn’t so much because of the water - which looked about the same everywhere she could see - but because the razorgrass was carefully trimmed up to a very particular line.

“It appears that most of the people here are subsistence fishers rather than shippers or traders,” said Maestro, factually breaking the silence as the three continued into the populated part of the towns.

“Yeah, I don’t see a lot of speculative romance or LEGO parts here,” muttered Wally with complete incongruity.

Kaze ignored the administrators and twisted her neck to look around at the lit-windowed buildings, most of which were on stilts and placed in less-marshy areas. It looked as if many of them were plated with salvaged aluminum sheets, but some were simply constructed from wood or waterproofed woven grass. Along the well-worn piers were multitudes of small ships of various makes, empty while their owners were inside for the night in their houses.

“Good lard, where even are the inns or something?” Wally looked around with an uncharacteristic bit of irritation. “There aren’t even any signs. SIGN.”

Kaze wasn’t looking forward to missing a proper stay at an inn, but of course they’d had to sleep outside the last few days anyway. “Maybe the larger buildings closer to the water will have some. Or are some.”

“PROBABBLY,” said Wally with smug emphasis, and sped up into an exhilarated run, his trenchcoat swishing heavily.

Kaze glanced at Maestro, who just shrugged back at her.

Perhaps Wally knew a hotel after all.


--------


Or not.

When Kaze and Maestro caught up to the armored administrator, a good ways northeast of their entrance from the razorgrass, he was frowning up at a dilapidated stilted boxlike building at the end of a row of houses. Its windows were dark and washed with a veneer of grime, but otherwise the wood and the structure seemed sturdy and well-kept, unlike some rotting fisherman’s shack left abandoned for years.

“I could have sworn that this was some kind of inn…” Wally walked around the front in a crescent-shaped path, leaving no footprints as usual. “Or that’s what it was last time I was here. Which was a while ago…”

Maestro wasn’t out of breath enough not to let out a chagrined sigh. “It would have been prudent to ask someone about it before we got here.”

“We’ll find somewhere else to stay, anyway.” Wally didn’t appear very disappointed, although his apparent lack of expression could have been because half his face was in evening shadow. No discernible expression ever seemed to touch his glowing-white eyes anyway.

But as the other two were about to continue past the building, someone hailed them all. “Hey, uh… Wait!”

Turning, Kaze was surprised to be able to see the approaching man in the dusk, even if he was wearing mostly bright clothes. Though the man’s gait and posture straightened quickly, he had evidently started to draw near with the movement of a man accustomed to stealth, which contrasted bizarrely with the stark midnight-and-white garb of an old-fashioned sailor that he was wearing.

“What.”

That was Maestro, ever terse. Kaze rolled her eyes just as Wally began to speak in turn from behind her.

“How may we help you, or whatever?” The armored administrator stepped forward.

“You were looking for the Sandmanager Inn?” With a shrug and a rather stony expression, the sailor gestured at the vacant stilted building. “It closed not too long ago… pending repairs, I think. You’ll need another place to stay -”

Maestro swiveled, his thick-soled shoes squelching against the soggy ground. “Yes, we will. Thanks.”

“No, er.” The sailor held up a hand, awkwardly making the gesture pleading an audience. “… I just wanted to offer… You can room in my house, for the night. For a small fee.”

Still expressionless, Wally seemed to consider it, stroking his chin with almost-mock pensiveness. “You own a house, in the main part of the Delta Towns?”

“Yes… well, I can only afford to rent. Plus it’s better-maintained that way,” said the sailor, slightly sheepishly.

Wally nodded. “Alright. We’ll pay, say, three-quarters of a month’s rent?”

“I’m thinking more like a whole month,” said the sailor. “No hotel rooms would come cheap around here, either.”

“Three-eighths of two months?”

“One whole month.”

“Three-fifths of one-and-a-half months?”

“I’ll lower it only as far as six-sevenths of a month.”

Wally shook his head vehemently. “FAR too odd. Five-sixths of a month.”

“I was thinking more like nine-tenths of a month.”

“Seven-eighths of a month, and that’s my final offer.”

The sailor smiled suddenly, the stiffness in his face (if not his pseudo-uniform) starting to dissolve. “Done!” He stepped forward and shook Wally’s unexpectedly ungloved hand.

Kaze almost laughed at the abrupt deal, but thought better of it. Better not to risk causing more negotiations; it was already getting late and dark. And a proper night’s sleep, in a proper bed, awaited her.

As the sailor began to lead the trio to the southeast, closer to the coast and the much-busier center of the Delta Towns, a crow briefly flew overhead and was soon lost in the gloom.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:18 am

Part the Fourteenth; Overlord’s Tale

A winter’s night, dark and calm, slightly lit by the moon and stars.

A sprawling splotch on the coastal landscape, barely visible by its scattered lights.

The splotch, in reality a conglomeration of fishing towns.

The merged center of the towns, built entirely on large reinforced high platforms.

A certain residential section of the center, the rented houses packed tightly.

A particular rented house, its water-impermeable lacquered wood very slightly glinting.

The renter of the house, at the door.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Quite naturally for his position, Overlord was a tad nervous.

The previous night, he’d had a hand of good fortune dealt to him. The trio he was tracking - the forger Kaze, the former moderator Maestro, and the apparent administrator Wally - had happened to arrive at a time when the Sandmanager Inn was closed for cleaning. And they had agreed to pay him for a night’s stay at a house he legitimately rented.

But now he had the slight problem of continuing his mission, which was continuing to stay near Wally until an opportunity to seize the quarterstaff he needed. Even now, in the middle of the night, Overlord suspected it would be a bad time to try to steal something from the administrator.

As the party of three would be going north over the Rebrolan Sea, Overlord would have to get in a boat to follow them, whatever their exact plan. And he was sure that taking them in his own boat would work best.

So it seemed he would have to “cash in a saved ticket”, so the saying went, to actually acquire a boat. Or maybe that was a “saved favor”? … it didn’t matter.

Overlord stopped planning and closed his rented house’s door behind him. Wally and Maestro were sharing the room with two beds; Kaze got the second bedroom with the single bed. All were apparently asleep, although he couldn’t afford to check at the moment. It was 3, P.D. He would give himself two hours to do what he had to.

He broke into a padding westward run through the avenues of the platforms, the occasional rebuilt day-charged solar lamp flashing by above him in the overall darkness. All the houses were dark - it would be a little while before the sailors started preparing for the day, and after all this was only a residential district, not for business… or anything else that took place in the Delta Towns.

Mentally, Overlord double-checked his materials list as he ran onward. What would he need if his first stop didn’t have everything? Oars… No, wait, sails too. He could probably find those at Retro Fitters. Waterproofing would probably be there too. But it was always best to check first choices first, and Retro Fitters was not his.

With a short leap and twisting roll, Overlord made it onto an unconnected lower boat-building platform. Unfortunately, he knew, he was out of practice: had he just been a deadly situation, a good sharpshooter could have injured him during that bound. Never being shot at was practically the good life for some people, he thought with a grimace, and he should count himself lucky.

And then he was there, his destination before him. He halted his run without the least skidding on the lacquered boards of the slightly lower platform. Before him, the cavernous partly-indoor boatwright’s yard was mostly dark. It looked just the same as he remembered. There wasn’t any need for further ado.

“Thasos!” called Overlord, stalking in. “Is the shipwright Thasos here!”

Unsurprisingly given the time of morning, there was no particular reply. A dull suggestion of an echo came from the darkness – probably reflection off a ship-in-construction. The water lapping at the eastmost post far under the platform was the only other sound.

The dark-garbed man called out again. “… Lix Thasos.”

And a dozen meters away or so in the dark, there was an intake of breath.

“Hmm.”

“It’s me,” said Overlord. “‘Again’.”

Something rustled… then there was the unmistakable approaching clap of Roman-style sandals on the boatyard’s floor, accompanied by a short yawn. “Well, Overlord. WONDERful timing as usual. It must be 3 in the morning…”

“Certainly.” The dark-clothed man smiled, stepping forwards. “I just thought it’d been too long already.”

Lix Thasos emerged into the relative brightness of the night sky and immediately pulled Overlord into a quick embrace. “You’re still so stiff even with friends.”

“Maybe a bit.” Overlord laughed softly and released her, looking her up and down. “…You look well. Always young, of course.”

She grinned slightly to the side, briefly running a narrow hand over her white-and-maroon hair, trying to shape it up into its usual spikes despite their being flattened by sleep. “I just look the same, that’s all. People like you and me, we don’t change easily. Not that we’re old anyway.”

“No, not at all,” said Overlord, grinning. “How’s work and all?”

Lix shrugged. “’Bout the same. Other than the occasional custom order from some hotshot mogul weirdo, it’s mostly repairs, refittings. Where’ve you been around?”

“As you might’ve guessed, the same. Staying around the Triple Fortress mostly, but traveling and searching a bit too. Like now.”

“Have you - heard anything interesting?” asked Lix, cautiously.

“Not really.” said Overlord. But he paused for a long moment before going on. “May… I ask whether you’ve heard about, you know…?”

Lix looked down, suddenly just as uncomfortable as the dark-garbed man, awkwardly crossing her bare arms. “No, no, it’s the same… Nothing. - I don’t know, can’t know, whether he’s able to come back now.”

“Well… knowing him, Vol would come back for you. Even if he did have to get through an entire army to do so.”

The ship architect raised her head and looked at Overlord again, and he was saddened to see that she looked even more tired than him.

“Yes. He would… And I’d send word when he does, anyway.”

Overlord nodded, accepting her reply, and after another long pause, changed the subject. “In any case… I hate to arrive here and immediately ask a favor, but I have to ask for something.”

“Hmm… Name it.” Lix rested her chin on her fist for a second.

“- I’ll need a boat. Either four-person to five-person, or a fast one-person. A sail and oars, anything to propel it.” The dark-garbed man was almost embarrassed. “If you can spare it, of course. I can pay you back on almost any schedu-”

“Overlord.” She looked at him carefully. “What are you doing, going out on the ocean like this? You hate seafaring.”

“Well, I don’t necessarily hate it,” he demurred. “And you know I’m capable of handling…”

Lix straightened to her full height and glowered at him, and he swallowed involuntarily, knowing what she would say just by the set of her narrow shoulders.

“You’re looking for weapons still, aren’t you, Overlord?” The ship architect had a livid gleam in her eyes. “I don’t know why you’re going sailing to do it. But I know you. And you would never just let your past rest.”

“But Lix. I don’t have a home here.” The dark-garbed man looked at her, not quite straightly. “There’s nothing to tie me here forever. I have a life back home… If I finish a weapon, I can go back there, and I might be able to visit this world again.”

“Was that life back home so much better? You had a steady job, that was all. You could be happy in this world if you wanted - find yourself some work, settle down, SOMEthing.” She seemed a tad bitter.

Overlord shook his head. “You know that Vol agreed with me. You two… You loved each other, if ever I was able to tell that kind of thing. Just like me, he wanted a real home, but for both of you. And he was willing to pay dearly for it. I want to go back to my world because I think, that’s what I think is home for me.”

For a long moment, Lix was silent. Then she spoke again, haltingly. “- I… Vol might have agreed.”

“- Meaning you don’t?” Overlord smiled, knowing he didn’t look remotely happy.

“I think… you could make something of yourself in this world. But you aren’t going to give up on looking for a way back, are you?” The ship’s architect sighed and backed into the darkness of the covered shipyard platform behind her, vaguely trying to fix her bicolored hair again. “I’ll get you your ship, Overlord. But you can’t just leave if you find what you’re looking for on this voyage. Come back and visit properly next time. Maybe Vol’ll be back.”

“I will, Lix.” With a glance over his shoulder, the dark-clothed man followed her into the shadows to acquire his ship. “Trust me.”



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sun Mar 11, 2012 9:50 am

Part the Fifteenth; Maestro’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A sprawling splotch on the coastal landscape, the color of wood.

The splotch, in reality a conglomeration of fishing towns.

The eastmost of the towns, long ship-jostled piers extending into the water.

A particular lengthy pier, mainly hosting smaller ships.

The soon-departing passengers of one of the ships.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


The lime-green-eyed man blinked once, staring around the weakly colored sky. Despite the flush of pink and the sunlight overlaying the seasonal pale gray, the time of morning felt much too early.

Still, when sailing out on the Rebrolan in winter, it was best to get going while the going was calm.

“I think we’ll have a good time of it today,” said Wally matter-of-factly. The armored administrator was kneeling on the pier, coiling some of the rope for the five-person ship they were about to leave on. “Before you guys came down here, I bought some leftover fish oil, for attracting procellariiforms and allies once we’re out on the open ocean.”

“And that won’t exude a foul stench at all,” said Maestro with mock annoyance. But he didn’t mind too much, for some reason. The day seemed to promise about as nice weather as one could get in the northern ocean in early winter - any storms seemed far away.

Kaze stepped closer to both of them, and muttered, “I still don’t know about traveling with this sailor. Renting rooms from him for a night was fine, but… we’re going to be sailing with him for two or three days now.”

Wally only shrugged, grabbing the looped rope and pushing himself to his feet. “His rates really are cheap. And most of the rest of the people around are only willing to head south. If necessary, I think I can defend us from his… uh, horribly dastardly schemes.”

“Whatever,” said Maestro, rolling his already-narrowed eyes. “But you can’t protect against every contingency, you’re not Doctor McFa-”

“Alright then!” The sailor emerged from below the deck of the ship rubbing his hands together, unwittingly interrupting the cloaked man. “It seems we’re quite ready to go. Can I help take your things onboard?”

Maestro looked around. Wally had the one large pack, Kaze seemed to only have the one bag, and of course he himself had almost everything inside his compartmented pocket-lined cloak.

“We should be alright, thanks.”

“Then let’s embark,” said Wally, and he jumped down onto the deck of the ship, about as gracefully as was possible with his spiked armor and back-mounted pack.

Kaze swung herself down more carefully, using the ladder on the side of the pier. With a final glance along the pier at some of the fishermen also leaving, Maestro followed suit.

“Untie us, please, Wally,” called the sailor, already walking into the steering cabin in the middle of the ship.

Wally grinned oddly. “Sure.”

And to Maestro’s only-slight astonishment, the armored administrator waved his hand and the rope untied itself from the pier and fell onto the ship’s deck.

“You really oughtn’t to do that.” Maestro shook his head briefly.

“Uh, dude?” said Wally. “Whatnever.”

Kaze turned to look back at the Delta Towns for a moment, and Maestro had the distinct impression she was hiding a smile. Of course, the difference between her and him was that he didn’t need to look away to hide his own smirk, because he wasn’t smirking anyway.

The entire ship lurched suddenly and began to move away from the pier into the open water. Wally, still standing by the side rail of the ship, looked over the side and grunted. “H’m. Looks like we’ll be under oar power until the wind kicks up out farther…”

“Wait.” Maestro looked up suspiciously. “How is there oar power? Are there rowers below deck?”

“Um, well.”

“I was about to ask the same thing.” Kaze arched an eyebrow.

Wally made a hand gesture indicating his lack of particular knowledge. “I’m guessing this is one of those clockwork-powered ships. The oars are operated by gear motion… but the engine itself might be more carefully sealed in case of hull leaks. I don’t know though, I wasn’t some kind of mechanical or phraxic engineering student.”

With a shrug, Kaze walked over to lean her back against the wooden section of the middle cabin. “I suppose the specific means won’t matter much, as long as this keeps us going north whenever we need it.”

“Maybe,” said Maestro ominously.

Wally, unexpectedly, was silent.


--------


It was past the midday Divisor (and the midday meal) before Wally spotted his auks.

The sailor was inside the cabin navigating the ship, and the other two were leaning against the starboard rail. Quite idly, Maestro was remarking to Kaze, “It’s a very balmy day for wint-”

But in the middle of the cloaked man’s sentence, Wally came running from the other side of the boat, around the glass-fronted cabin in the center. “Hey, there’re some Curve-billed Murres out there!”

Kaze raised both eyebrows, but Maestro just looked highly annoyed… as usual. “Wally, we don’t have binoculars. You cannot expect us to see them properly.”

“Nah, they’re approaching the boat, you can see them fine,” said Wally, unconcerned. “Come take a look. I’ll go get the fish stuff, hold on…”

As the armored administrator disappeared into the cabin to retrieve the covered buckets, Maestro carefully paced around to the other side of the boat in spite of himself. Kaze was right behind.

And sure enough, a small raft of chunky achromatic birds was approaching the port side of the boat. The cloaked man squinted, but couldn’t make out much detail other than their direction of motion. Maybe Wally’s fish leftovers would draw them in… but Maestro couldn’t be sure, as he knew he knew little about alcids.

Kaze joined him at the port railing, but she seemed lost in thought. After a moment, the cloaked man heard Wally kicking open the cabin door to make way for the buckets of fish, and soon enough the armored administrator made his way over to the two of them.

“Our designated driver says it’s okay to dump some of this out for the birds,” said Wally, setting down the containers. “He doesn’t care. I’m just trying to recall if murres like this stuff… I don’t think so though, and I should have remembered that. Whatever, at least I know we’ll get some shearwaters and fulmars in to eat it if we’re lucky.” With that, he opened one of the non-frozen buckets and hoisted it to slop some fish oil overboard. The mixture splattered against the water just away from the ship’s side.

Maestro hastily turned away in case the oil still smelled, and once Kaze looked down, she also backed off. “Wally, warn us before you do that.”

“Hey, I said I was going to put some out.” Wally shook his head. “Come ON.”

The forger shrugged, resigned. “Whatever.”


--------


Over the next two hours of slow and steady sailing, Wally’s putting-out of fish slop eventually attracted a panoply of shearwaters and smaller storm-petrels. Kaze and Maestro watched with mild interest as the armored administrator identified the gathered birds - the forger leaning on the rail and asking questions, the cloaked man with his arms crossed, quietly enjoying the spectacle and listening in.

The sailor rarely emerged from the main cabin, apparently having to fine-tune the steering for most of the day. When he did, he never stayed out long, despite showing much interest in the species of seabirds Wally had attracted. During calm periods, the cloaked man surmised, the sailor might nap, in preparation for a sleepless night.

For a brief time, too, Maestro wondered if he’d met the sailor before. Something about the way the sailor tilted his head sometimes reminded the cloaked man of… something. But after a while he forgot the feeling, and it didn’t come to mind again.

Evening arrived slowly, first heralded when Wally stopped feeding the birds. (“Have to save the rest of the buckets for the next couple days,” said the armored administrator, covering up the one he’d emptied and lugging the others back into the cabin.)

But of course, after a while, the darkness of night became noticeable. Kaze soon excused herself, and went belowdeck to claim her hammock. After a few minutes, Wally quietly followed suit, seeming more tired than he’d admit.

It was Maestro who surprised himself, staying out late on the deck until the stars became visible. The distant yellowed skyglow of the Delta Towns was falling behind to the south-southwest, but though it was visible, its hue made little difference in the overall sky.

The sailor eventually emerged from the cabin, apparently having decided it was calm enough for the moment to pause his navigation.

“Do you see the Southern Crow, Maestro?”

“I know the constellation.” The cloaked man made a shrugging gesture with his hands. “And there’s the South Star in it… The entirety of it never did particularly strike me as looking much like a crow, though.”

“Passing fancy of a long-gone mariner, no doubt.” The faint starlight glinted off the sailor’s eyes. “There’s a myth about the constellation… it goes that one of the First Administrators was a crow that tried to emblazon its image on the sky, but even with all the power of a First Administrator, the crow could not move the stars, and had to settle for naming a vague preexisting pattern after itself. The moral was supposed to be that even the mighty have no bearing on the ancientness and indifference of the celestial bodies.”

“Nice parable,” said Maestro, cryptically.

“Hm.” The sailor turned and reentered the cabin. “Well, it can be navigated by.”

After another minute of watching the sky, the cloaked man decided to head in for the night. As he went into the cabin and started to descend the ladder to below the deck, he paused and looked up at the sailor, who was again staring out the cabin windshield, keeping track of the course.

“What was the name of the… crow First Administrator?”

“I’m not sure,” said the sailor, not looking back at Maestro. “It’s the same situation as with Doctor McFacepalm… with some of them, nobody ever referred to them by their real names, so no one remembers. The crow was called KKM, but like I said… might not be a real name, at least not in that form.”

“All right then.” Maestro resumed his descent of the ladder to the belowdeck. “Thanks, I suppose.”

“No problem at all.” The sailor hadn’t stopped looking out ahead. “Good night.”

Trying to be quiet, Maestro made sure to avoid any dubious-looking boards as he walked down the narrow belowdeck aisle formed by the barrels of food and water. Scattered sealed lanterns cast flower-orange light and charcoal shadows over the containers. In the back were the cloth sleeping hammocks, separated from each other (and slightly insulated against noise) by large temporary panels. Maestro could still see the others through the gaps, and he tried not to stare - it was impossible to tell if Wally was asleep when he had his hat over his face, and also it would probably be rude to look in at Kaze, who was asleep.

It took him little time to change into a nightshirt (retrieved from one of the pockets in his cloak), and only slightly more to fall asleep. The last thought he had was that the day had been awfully uneventful for a sea voyage in winter.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Sat Mar 17, 2012 7:49 am

Part the Sixteenth; Kaze’s Tale

A winter’s day.

The ocean, endlessly blue and green in every direction.

A section of the ocean to the northwest, nearing the coast.

A dark spot on the semi-cerulean sea.

The object again, shown to be a midsize and sophisticated boat.

The passengers and pilot of the small ship.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


With another glance at the textureless, pale-lavender-clouded skies, Kaze restlessly leaned on the rail and stared out again over the surface of the ocean to the west.

It was the third and final day of boat travel, to her slight relief. The whole journey had been remarkably uneventful, aside from Wally’s daily dumping of fish byproducts to attract seabirds, and a bit of turbulence (and thus seasickness for Kaze and Maestro) on the second day.

Today, though, the clouds had rolled in. Though their sailor pilot was sure he would be able to get them to the mouth of the Crabsclaw Inlet, close to their destination, by late afternoon, he had also told his three passengers matter-of-factly that it would be a bad sign if a storm arose from the clouds while they were near the rocky coast.

On the starboard side of the boat, which faced out to the open ocean, Wally was still slowly emptying the contents of his final bucket of fish. The armored administrator had apparently purchased one bucket for each day, plus extra fish oil to draw in the seabirds in the first place. Maestro was watching the spectacle as always, but Kaze was on the port side of the boat for the moment… she was a bit too concerned about storms to enjoy watching the seabirds.

But after another hour, the tediousness of the unchanging cloud cover prompted her to give up watching the monochrome sky. She walked around the back of the cabin to the starboard side, where shearwaters were squabbling over some half-frozen fish chunks Wally had just tossed overboard. The administrator himself, however, seemed to be reading a book, and Maestro was staring off into space.

“You didn’t tell me you had something to read, Wally,” said Kaze with feigned reproach, leaning against the cabin’s semi-lacquered side next to the armored man. “I’d have borrowed it already.”

“It’s just a field guide.” The armored administrator held up the cover of the small book so she could see: Vancph Tanurax Compact Field Guide to the Known Avifauna of the Northeast Sea Coast.

“Wonderful name.” Maestro looked over at Kaze. He had evidently seen Wally looking through the guide before.

“But how’d you get a Vancph Tanurax guide?” Kaze had heard of the community of academics before - what connected person hadn’t? Not many people ever went there, though, and no one really knew where it was. “I thought only their staff were given them…”

With a shrug, Wally closed the guide and put it in a compartment-like pocket in his pants. “I used to live there, at Vancph Tanurax. I got this as a gift from the Pr-… someone I knew. It’s probably not a complete book, the guide, but it’s the best there is for now… Anyway, I was looking up one of these shearwaters I didn’t recognize, that dark one on the left there.”

“And it is…?” Kaze waited.

“Oh,” said Wally. “A Short-tailed, apparently. Uncommon to rare around here, so that’s neat. I hadn’t expected one.”

Maestro made a twisting, shruglike gesture with his hands. “These seabirds can turn up pretty much anywhere anyway.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Wally pulled out a small notebook from his pocket and flipped through to the most recently written-on page. “I haven’t seen anything too rare yet for sure though. It’s all mostly what you’d expect around here, with lots of Cape Shattered Fang Shearwaters.”

Kaze shook her head slightly. “Maybe you’ll see something interesting if a storm rises…”

“Maybe,” said Wally, “if it comes to that.”


--------


It was only hours later that the thunderstorms caught up with them.

By then, the sailor had already brought them in near the coast, close enough to see the dark, jaggedly rocky sea-cliffs. The Crabclaw Inlet was just out of sight ahead, and Kaze leaned on the port rail, looking out for it. Wally had stopped trying to attract the seabirds because of the boat’s proximity to the coast, and Maestro was leaning against the cabin with his arms folded as usual.

And then the dark clouds rolled directly overhead from the southwest, bringing high winds and torrents of rain.

Kaze was taken by surprise at first as the gusts started, but as the entire sky darkened and blowing water began to lash at her blood-colored robes, she broke into a brief run, retreating quickly to the main cabin. Maestro reached the door before her, and swerved in first.

“That was… sudden,” said the cloaked man, but there was no expression of surprise on his face.

The sailor, still not looking away from the view out the reinforced windshield of the enclosed cabin, nodded. “That’s storms for you.”

A minute passed with only the sound of rain thudding against the cabin’s outside. Realizing something, Kaze started to ask, “Where’s Wa-”

And then Wally finally barged into the cabin, kicking open the door to make way for the empty bucket in his right hand. The bottle of fish oil was in his left. “I guess the shearwaters’ll be fine. So. How are we doing in terms of time to our destination?”

“Not especially excellent, as you can see by the storms’ rising.” Still unperturbed, the sailor finally glanced over his shoulder at his three passengers. “I think I’ll probably have to… there’s a place where I can drop you off.”

“Drop us off?” Maestro frowned.

“Yes,” the sailor said. “You see, although you may not have noticed it much, we’ve been blown east by the winds during our entire trip. The west winds have only strengthened now, and I’m afraid that if I actually enter the Crabsclaw Inlet, we’ll all be dashed against the rocks on its northeast side.

“So I’ll drop you at this series of caves that will lead up through the cliffs… you’ll be able to get to the North Harbor Town before I do. The way into the caves might be slick before you reach the inside, but it’s better than being shipwr- Ah, here we are now.”

Kaze and Maestro walked over to squint through the windshield at where the sailor was pointing, and as they saw their dropoff point, the cloaked man took in a slight sharp breath.

Ahead lay a large stone natural bridge jutting out into and above the water, barely visible in the storm, made of the same dark rock as the cliffs they could see far to port. It looked worryingly slick, if quite stable, and at least seemed to lead into an opening in the cliffs to a cave… if that’s what the hole in the sheer face was.

“And that’s where we’re going?” Kaze hoped her voice sounded steady enough.

“Strange as it may seem,” the sailor said, “that is the safer route. I can’t stay by it in a ship, however, so you’ll have to jump as we pass it… at least it is quite wide.”

They were nearing it already. Maestro crossed his arms and bowed his head. Kaze just shuddered.

Wally did absolutely nothing to show his state of mind, other than stowing the bucket and fish oil in an alcove, but spoke up. “I suppose we’ll go out on deck, if we’re this close.”

“Good luck,” said the sailor briefly. “I’ll see you.”

The armored administrator opened the door and ushered his companions out into the near-evening dark. Kaze clutched her travel suitbag and bent her head against the huge drafting raindrops as she went to lean on the port rail for the second time that day. She wished she had worn something different… her forger’s robes were whipping around slightly but annoyingly with the force of the wind. Not that robes weren’t normally fine, but they would be heavy if they got too wet.

Wally, who always wore his heavy armor anyway, looked unworried. “Alright, we’re getting near, so look carefully. Kaze, you’ll be first, then you, Maestro.”

They both nodded numbly. Kaze looked up slightly, trying not to lift her face directly into the rain too much. The boat was closing in on the stone bridge.

And then they were there. As the boat stalled for a moment, Kaze clambered onto the rail and leaped. The rock was noticeably slick, and the impact of landing jarred her, but she caught herself with her hands and quickly moved away from the end to make way for the others.

Maestro’s cloak didn’t billow during his leap as Kaze’s robes did during hers, probably because of all his belongings packed inside it. He landed perfectly on his feet, and motioned for her to keep moving. As the two backed away, Wally jumped last, landing slightly awkwardly because of the greater weight he was carrying overall.

Somehow, it seemed the sailor knew they had gone, because the small lacquered ship immediately began to veer away from the cliff, fighting the gales of the west wind with its clockwork-powered oars. Kaze looked away from it and began trying to gauge the distance on the natural bridge to the cave opening.

Maestro impatiently began, “We really ought to ge-”

But when Kaze turned to see why he had cut off, she was horrified to see that the cloaked man had slipped on a curved portion of the stone and was falling off the bridge’s north edge. She ran a few steps and grabbed for his black-clad arm, but he was already plummeting toward the scything waves of the dim ocean below.

“Catch, Kaze. And go.” In a smooth motion, Wally tossed her his suddenly-visible pack and quarterstaff, and dove off the bridge into the ocean with his full armor still on, following Maestro’s trajectory.

As both the others disappeared beneath the water, Kaze sat up on the stone bridge, stunned, gripping her own bag and Wally’s, barely able to take in what happened. Were they…

But she eventually stood up, mutely, and started to make her windblown way towards the cave, taking care to watch her own step on the stone surface of the unprotected bridge. There was nothing to do but trust Wally at this point.

And a minute later, in front of her, Maestro shot out of the water from far down to the right and landed, spread-eagled and coughing, squarely on the bridge. His clothes were almost entirely soaked. Kaze knelt and helped him rise to his feet.

“Wally,” the cloaked man choked, trying not to lean on the robed forger. “He’s…”

“We can’t help him right now, we need to get to the cave. Come on.”

Maestro straightened, slightly unsteadily, and silently struck out ahead of her, evidently trying to get to cover as quickly as possible. With a final glance at the sea below, Kaze hurried to catch up.

The two of them reached the darkness of the cave without further incident, feeling their way along the left wall to the shadowed back. Maestro slid to the base of the stone and sat slumped, but Kaze just leaned back against the wall while standing and stared out of the entrance, her eyes unfocused. The sound of the rain spattering the stone outside was lulling, if not comforting, in the half-dark.

Neither was sure how much time passed before a cold-toned bolt of bluish lightning arced out of the ocean and hit the bridge just outside the cave opening.

Kaze blinked frantically, nearly blinded by the brief burst, and Maestro raised his head and squinted heavily. All they managed to see in those few seconds was Wally’s silhouette as he walked painfully through the entrance.

“Miss me?” said the armored administrator, his voice ironically rhetorical but catching slightly.

Finding her voice, Kaze strode over to him. “Wally, your arm…”

“… this?” He pointed his right elbow forwards. There was a small but heavily bleeding gash on his right forearm, from just below his shoulder armor to above his elbow.

For a second, Maestro remained still, then awkwardly pulled his cloak around his side and yanked a thin and soggy first-aid parcel out of one of the bottom pockets. “You’ll need treating…”

“A fruit freeze would be a nice treat,” said Wally, but he meekly sat down, pulling his sleeve away to let Kaze disinfect and Maestro bandage the wound. It was the first time they could physically verify the armored man’s existence by touch, Kaze realized rather distractedly. When weakened, Wally actually seemed more real.

When the other two were finished seeing to his arm, Wally stood up again, rather abruptly. “We’ll want to get farther into the caves for the night. This is too close to the ocean… too exposed.” His hand lit with unmistakable administrator power, he haltingly led them on through the caves along a tunnel to the right, then another short side passage where he stopped them for the night.

The tunnels couldn’t even compare to the simple sailor’s house they’d stayed at in the Delta Towns, thought Kaze. But as she spread out her paltry blankets away from the other two and laid down for the night, she knew she should be grateful to be on land at all… and not still out on the ocean, like their sailor pilot.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:58 am

Part the Seventeenth; Overlord’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A weak pale-skied morning along the northeast coast.

A particular stretch of the rocky coast, composed of pebble beaches between cliffs.

On a specific pebble beach, a specific honey-colored splotch.

The object again, shown to be an advanced model of small ship.

The small ship’s lone occupant, inside the glass-and-wood abovedeck cabin.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Overlord finally woke as the filtered sunlight began to wash across his closed eyes, rousing as slowly as a southern tortoise.

He reached out a hand to feel the hardwood floor beneath him, and groggily wondered if he’d fallen asleep in the Delta Towns somewhere - his house, maybe a boatyard, though even in his sleep-clouded mental state he knew the latter was unlikely. Unless it was Lix’s, but still unlikely.

And then he opened his eyes and saw the sailor’s hat that had fallen from his head the previous night, resting against the opposite side of the ship cabin. Now he remembered… unfortunately.

His greatest bluff in years, masquerading as a sailor to bring the three travelers into his grasp as he and they headed north on the Rebrolan Sea, had paid off well. Wally, Kaze, and Maestro never saw through his guise; his limited experience with sailing ships had sufficed, and he even kept control of the situation when a large storm finally arose.

But now Overlord finally cursed himself, muttering words aloud as he pushed himself up off the floor in the morning light - because his actual quest had not gone well. He had lost another opportunity to take what he now knew were two weapons that he needed, Wally’s quarterstaff and the strange lime green Sparrowhawk Katana, because he could not overcome his cowardice at the possible strength of Wally’s administrator power. He should have just taken the weapons, dived overboard in his water suit with his gear, and left the three of them with the boat. But he never brought himself to do so.

Instead, the previous evening, Overlord parted ways with the three travelers - his passengers - and the trio departed at the mouth of a west-leading tunnel route that snaked up through the cliffs to the North Harbor Town.

The duration of the rest of the previous night, as far as Overlord could remember, was spent frantically trying to bring the ship in to a suitable stretch of land. In the darkness, rain, and eventual lightning and thunder, the false sailor had barely managed to avoid wrecking on the sharp rocks, and finally beached the ship on an area of rounded pebbles instead. In his exhaustion, he had just lain down on the floor of the closed cabin after that, and slept.

And now that it was morning, Overlord realized to his self-satirical chagrin, the fact became apparent that he had absolutely no idea where he actually was, other than on a pebble beach. Time to rise and shine.

He decided to go belowdeck first, and scrambled down the ladder after grabbing his sailor’s hat. The few barrels of supplies were more or less getting empty, and he ate some salted meat, washing it down with some of the remaining fresh water. Few other things in the belowdeck area were his own possessions. He pulled out his tan sack of personal food and clothes from behind a spare panel, bundling the three traveler’s hammocks and his sailor’s clothes into the “to-wash” compartment, and changed into his all-purpose black clothes.

In the other, sealed portion of the belowdeck area, though, all was not entirely well. Overlord unlocked the simple door to find that one of the oars powered by the engine had apparently splintered against some obstacle the previous night, leaving the valve through which its paddle reached the outside of the boat open to seawater. Taking in a long breath, he set his travel sack down, feeling along the floorboards. Some areas were damp, but not terribly so… and to his relief, the wood around the clockwork engine was dry. The large wooden rim on the ground had probably helped some, if water had simply sloshed in weakly.

As he picked up his sack again and exited the engine room, locking the door, he mentally thanked Lix Thasos’s design. She evidently underestimated her own boats’ architecture.

After ascending the ladder into the cabin again and taking Wally’s bottle of fish oil, Overlord took a deep breath and pushed open the cabin’s door. Outside on the not-quite-level deck (the boat itself seemed a bit askew, unsurprisingly for such an unceremonious beaching), the weather seemed ordinary and comfortable enough for a northeast-coast morning in winter. It was cold, yes, but there was no more-chilling precipitation. He opened his bag to retrieve his turban and wound it securely onto his head before looking around further.

The pebble beach where he had managed to land in the night was quite long and sloped, with most of the individual small rocks looking the same as the stone of the cliffs back near the Crabclaw Inlet. At least, they looked just as dark in this pale light. He looked out to sea to see quite a few large and jagged natural monoliths, and wondered how he managed to avoid those.

In any case, it seemed he had been blown to the southwestern edge of Cape Shattered Fang, judging by the monoliths’ presence. He thought for a moment… wasn’t there a lighthouse out at the end of the headland, even though most ships avoided the cape altogether? He was sure he had heard that. And since his ship was beached until further notice, he would need someone to help him push it back into the water, and thus get him on his way to the Crabclaw Inlet again. The keeper of the lighthouse was as likely an source of help as anyone.

Not that there was anyone else out here.

It was decided, then.

Overlord swung himself and his sack down from the ship carefully, meticulously descending the few rungs on the side before having to jump down. The sides of the ship still looked much like they had when he first took it out of the pier east of the Delta Towns. Even after the storm and unceremonious beaching it’d endured, the wood didn’t seem scraped - and, of course, it shouldn’t be, were he actually a good sailor.

Turning away to the north and shouldering his tan travel sack again, he began the gradually-sloped ascent up the dark pebble beach towards the dry-grayish grassy dunes. The winds were mild this morning, certainly slight compared to the previous night’s gales.

As he continued to trudge upward, nearing the high-tide line of the coarse beach, Overlord began to scan the horizon for any sight of the lighthouse. It would be somewhere to his right, he knew, perhaps even to his back right, since he was currently heading north while still west of Cape Shattered Fang. Of course, he wasn’t sure what color lighthouses were in this world. Would they be bright white? He supposed that would be logical, but shades could fade anyway.

And then as he pushed himself to the crest of a high dune with his right foot, he saw it: The lighthouse, in all its inconceivable wrongness.

Almost the entire eastern horizon and much of the land just north of Cape Shattered Fang’s tip was occupied by an unrealistically massive cannon-like ship, metallic grey in color - which looked like a spaceship, Overlord realized, though there shouldn’t be such a thing in this world. The white Cape Shattered Fang lighthouse itself was at a crazy angle, the sturdiness of its foundations near-fatally challenged by the front end of the ship, which had apparently hit the lighthouse before being halted.

Overlord continued to the northeast down the grassy back slope of the dune, shaking his head at the sheer size of the strange vessel. Its thick back portion, possibly the cockpit, had sunk at a low angle slightly into the semisoft ground, but still could be seen to be the size of several buildings combined.

Well, if he wanted help from the lighthouse keeper, then he would have to get closer to the ship. He sped his step a bit in hopes of reaching the lighthouse by the afternoon. Otherwise, he’d have to spend the night out on the open ground of the headland.


--------


To his relief (and exhaustion), Overlord reached the lighthouse and… gun-ship… just in time. Judging by the lighting of the sky, the day was turning from afternoon to evening.

By then, the wind had picked up slightly, but was to his back. He looked up at the lighthouse and wondered when it had last been used. There was no light in the top - possibly because it was daytime, but probably because it simply wasn’t safe to walk up through. The bottom entrance was out of the way (barely) of being pinched at the hinges by the end of the unfathomably large cannon-ship, but Overlord didn’t really feel like trying to open it anyway. He started to turn -

“Yes, it’s a bit precarious to enter,” said a stiff voice.

As Overlord finished pivoting, he found himself facing a bizarre figure. The person was hooded, which was normal enough; the semi-stiff dark grey cowl shaded their face from the low-quality white light of the sky, darkening their features to the point of obscurity. Their rather plain clothes were the same grey as their cowl, and overall nearly the color of the gun-ship looming behind them. But much more strangely, they also wore an impractically narrow and slightly shiny grey cape on their back, which was only the width of their torso, and rippled in the wind like a silken flag.

“Wh-… Um.” Few people ever startled him, but for once Overlord was a bit taken aback. “Sorry. Are you the lighthouse keeper?”

“You could say that.” The figure shrugged. “I don’t do much lighthouse-keeping anymore, now.”

“Hm.” Overlord nodded. Well, now he knew there was a lighthouse-keeper now, and that she was female - when it came to Cape Shattered Fang, no one seemed to know much. He was about to ask about the cannon-like ship, but the lighthouse-keeper spoke again first.

“I’m guessing you need help with something. If you’re coming from due west… you must be needing help with your boat, rather than directions?” She straightened slightly and crossed her arms, her long narrow cape falling still for a short interval.

Again, Overlord inclined his head, displaying no surprise on his face. “Yes. In the storm last night, I had to land my ship on part of a pebble beach, but of course it’s stuck now. I’ll need help getting it back into the ocean.”

“Well…” The figure paused. “Is it damaged in any way?”

“The boat?” Overlord shrugged very slightly, the casual motion out of place for him. “The sides are only scraped, but there is a small hole in the side of the hull where one of the oars broke. It’s a clockwork engine that powers the oars. As long as I get the boat in the water, though, I can probably make it to North Harbor Town without mishaps and get it repaired there.”

With an odd turn of her head, the lighthouse-keeper leaned back and placed one grey-shoed foot against the curved metal of the gun-ship’s barrel. “I don’t know about that. If there’s a breach leading to the engine section, it’s never totally safe to go out on the main ocean with it there. … May I come and see your ship, actually? I might be able to repair it myself, it’d be good practice.”

“Well,” said Overlord, keeping doubt out of his voice as best he could. “Of course it’s a bit late to be going back out that way right now. I suppose you can come see it tomorrow. I’m not sure it’s fixable without replacing the oar, though.”

“If that’s the case, and the boat doesn’t seem seaworthy, you can actually borrow a small ship that’s lying around here. It was always kept with the lighthouse, but I haven’t had much use for it… you can use it to get to the North Harbor Town, and maybe come back for this ship once you find a repair expert or something.”

Overlord had to feel a bit suspicious at the lighthouse-keeper’s helpfulness, but he thought the plan seemed sound. If he was very lucky, he would even be able to take the weapons from the travelers while in the North Harbor Town, then make it back to Cape Shattered Fang and leave on his own repaired ship… or possibly change his plan altogether. “Well… I can’t thank you enough, then. Especially if it all works out.”

The lighthouse-keeper grinned briefly and pushed away from the side of the gun-ship. “It’s no problem. Not much to do out here with this gunship ruining my lighthouse.”

Overlord smiled before bending over to retrieve his folded tent from his bag. “I suppose I’ll set up for the night then, if you don’t mind my staying near here.”

“It’s alright if you do, I’m camped farther north along the side of the gunship.” She turned to leave.

It was only then that Overlord realized something else. “Oh… I never asked. What’s your name?”

The lighthouse-keeper turned back to him for a second, and though the black-clothed man couldn’t see her face, he was sure that she seemed strangely wrong-footed in the face of the question, if only for a moment.

“… You can call me Torēs.”

As she departed north along the west side of the gunship, towards her hard-to-see grey tent, Overlord watched her with narrowed eyes. The name wasn’t familiar. But in any case, something about the lighthouse-keeper and her reaction made him think of someone eccentrically powerful but out of practice, like some injured athlete… or retired administrator.

There was more than that, though: it felt like he was being lured into a plan-turned-trap, because he wasn’t supposed to be there. Maybe it was just paranoia, but he would keep both eyes out for anything.

“Until tomorrow, ‘Torēs’,” he mumbled uneasily to himself, starting to stake his tent to the ground. And not that he’d give it, but she hadn’t asked his name in return.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:15 am

Part the Eighteenth; Wally’s Tale

A winter’s day.

Off the northeast coast, dark rocky cliffs topped by half-dead grass.

A particular cliff, bordered far below on its north side by a saltwater inlet.

The top of the cliff, a ways inland, short grass barely speckled with snow.

A place on the cliff’s inland top, with a dark tunnel entrance emerging obliquely.

The trio emerging in single file from the tunnel.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Wally crawled out of the darkness of the stone ahead of his companions, the chill from the dusting of snow on the dead grass starting to seep into his hands just before he pushed himself up to his feet.

As the sailor had promised them, the tunnels that they had camped in the previous night did indeed lead from the ocean’s edge through to the top of the cliffs. Several correct routes upwards were marked on the walls by scrawled signs left by previous travelers. The only problem was that after the first stretch of more-than-head-high passageways, any way upward consisted mostly of tunnels that had to be navigated on hands and knees.

For the other two, it was just an inconvenience, but crawling around put stress on the armored administrator’s arm. For most of the day, he’d simply gritted his teeth, not complaining much, and reminded himself that there would be a proper doctor at North Harbor Town.

Now, however, they were out of the cliffs for good, and he appreciated that if nothing else.

“Sign.” Wally stretched and started westward haltingly, his legs stiff. “We probably have another day ahead of us before proper food and medical treatment and lodging.”

“At least it won’t be traveling through TUNNELS,” said Kaze irritably, pulling herself out of the tunnel mouth behind him.

The administrator shrugged the shoulder of his good arm and kept walking. “Yeah.”

As Kaze moved on, following Wally, Maestro finally emerged wordlessly from the tunnel, bringing up the rear.

After a silent while of continual walking, much like the leg of their trip through the Psarakam Desert, Wally shut out the somewhat monotonous view of the grass and cliff edge and focused on actual planning. He still hadn’t come up with exactly how or what he would explain to Maestro and Kaze when they all finally reached their destination. His “job offers” to each of them had been intentionally simplistic on his part - Maestro probably expected a favored position of moderatorship on track to an administratorship, and Kaze likely still thought that her only purpose was to forge a key to an otherwise-impenetrable steel gate.

What would he end up telling them, though, about his plans for the forum? There wasn’t much of a scheme yet for the actual part where the members would stay. Perhaps they could help him with the process of designing… he wondered for a second if the other two had any plans for their own lives, but their ambition, unlike his, didn’t seem to extend very far into the future.

Anyway, he had the rest of the day to think about the matter.


--------


The next morning, Wally woke with a strange feeling of burnout. He pulled a water bottle out of the pack next to him, relying on feel to open it in the semidarkness of his tent. He sat up to drink, squinting at the vertical needle of light scattering through his tent’s entrance.

After a few minutes more of sitting in the dark, he knew it was probably already time to get up, and reluctantly pulled on his basic dayclothes and boots. There’d be no need for his armor yet, at least not until the others were ready to pack up camp.

Straightening as he emerged into the coolly lit openness of the clifftop, the armored man immediately spotted the others. Off to the right, Kaze was sitting on a rocky portion of the edge of the cliff itself, her teal-tipped copper hair half over the collar of her slaty flannel shirt, her shoulders arched uncertainly and hands gripping the stone.

Just ahead of Wally, in the northwest corner of the “camp” of three tents, Maestro had his arms crossed and was staring off into the distance of the northern clouds, either lost in thought or not thinking at all, though his gaze kept briefly flicking towards Kaze as if he were worried about her or her precarious seat.

Wally halted, hesitating. Even after traveling with them so closely, he still knew so very little about what they thought, what they felt. That wasn’t so different from most of the other people he “knew”, admittedly. The fact that he remembered the feeling again was what disconcerted him. But in any case…

“Hey, um, guys.”

At the sound of the administrator’s voice, both Maestro and Kaze started, and the latter swung her legs back onto land, pushing herself to her feet.

“We should- do you think we should pack up now?” Wally switched to the form of a question midsentence. “We’ll probably be able to reach the North Harbor Town in midafternoon… I can get my arm treated, and I hear there’s a bar there with good food.”

Kaze smiled. “That would be nice. I suppose we’ll get going.”

Maestro, unsurprisingly, only concurred with a restrained nod. The cloaked man didn’t like long days of travel, even when necessary.


--------


True to Wally’s word, North Harbor Town was in sight by the middle of the afternoon. The journey to it was easier than the armored man had said or expected - the land slowly sloped downward from the distant headlands at their back all the way to the sea-level elevation of the town itself.

The wind was dying down by the time they reached the outskirts of the town itself, passing between the fields that ringed its south-southwest edge, and cottony pale snow was starting to drift down onto the rooftops. Soon, the chill penetrated Wally’s armor, and he shivered in a strange brief jolt that startled a brown-clad man passing by.

“As it doesn’t seem nearly close to dinnertime, we should most likely begin looking for a doctor,” said Maestro, glancing at the armored administrator.

“Probably, yeah.” Wally made an effort to pay attention to the street shops and people more closely. Most of the buildings looked residential, and many were also joined into what he might describe as block-spanning wood-walled malls. There was probably a more concise term.

No one on the street struck him as a doctor - a toque-wearing chef who hurried into a doorway, a swarthy jacketed man writing something in a notepad, a girl wearing a long insignia-embroidered scarf and surveying a nearby courtyard with cold eyes.

But unexpectedly, Kaze moved away from Wally and Maestro, approaching the jacketed man. “Hi, uh, could you tell us the way to the nearest doctor?”

Wally watched the man look up with a slight frown that evaporated quickly. “Oh… Yes, right. Are you looking for a specialist?”

“No, just a… general doctor. My friend has a cut arm.” The forger seemed unsure, and Wally surmised she had never thought about types of doctors before.

“Hm. The only ‘general’ doctor that I know of near here is Dr. Charlesson.” The jacketed man indicated a northerly direction with his ink-stained left index finger. You’ll want to take a right at this courtyard up here, go maybe halfway to the water? then go left at…”

Though Wally still hung back, Maestro had stepped forward next to Kaze and was taking down the jacketed man’s short string of directions on a scrap of paper retrieved from the lining of his black cloak.

“Thank you,” said Kaze as they started off on the route he had indicated.

“No problem at all.” The eyes of the jacketed man lingered on Wally for a second.

The armored administrator walked away unperturbed. Let people think of him what they would. The doctor was his priority right now.

It turned out to be a short (albeit tortuous) walk to the office of Dr. Charlesson, and the stark white sign above the door was easy to find anyway. Wally approached the doorstep, but paused before entering and turned to the other two.

“So, I don’t know how long I’ll be in there. Have fun without me, I’ll come and find you when I’m done.”

At this, both Kaze and Maestro looked slightly surprised (or rather, Wally noted, Kaze raised her eyebrows while the ghost of a frown passed over Maestro’s face).

“Are you sure you’ll be able to find… you’ll be alright?” The cloaked man looked ill at ease.

Completing his turn towards them with a melodramatic billow of his trenchcoat, Wally smirked down at them from the top step. To his own surprise, though, he decided to morph it into a relatively tranquil expression, almost approaching a gently understanding smile for once. “Yes, I think you’ll be alright. I trust you two to take care of yourselves.”

“That is nowhere near my meaning,” began Maestro.

But by then Wally was already disappearing inside the doorstep of Laurence Charlesson, M.D., leaving the others outside.


--------


Under 45 minutes later, the armored administrator stepped down from the doorway - his arm was bandaged, and a smile ghosted back onto his face.

It was snowing already, the chilly dusting making the white-and-wood colors of the building-framed streets seem photogenic in a crooked way, and not for the first time Wally wished he had bothered to take art lessons at some point in his life. His various jobs had always gotten in the way…

And speaking of jobs, it was time to find Mo and Kaze.

He descended the steps, his usual affectation of walking slightly above the ground unchanged. Even if there was no one around, why not look impressive?

The forger and erstwhile moderator couldn’t have gone too far, even if they had wanted to shake him off. Though the streets were empty, Wally also doubted they would have gone into any building that lacked storefront windows. With a shrug, the administrator began down the street. Maybe he’d head towards the town square. It wasn’t so far awa-

Halfway through a step, he was buffeted from behind, nearly toppling over with the odd force of the blow. As he whirled and opened his mouth to warn away his assailant, he felt a bizarre shift in his control over his stance, and fell face-first into a pile of snow that he was sure hadn’t been there before.

“I apologize.” A close-by voice, its tone distant. “State your name and profession, please.”

The armored administrator lithely pushed himself upright, still choking on the snow. He knew he had swallowed some, but for some reason his throat felt horribly scratchy, like he had inhaled dry salt or sand instead. “Why am I being asked this?”

“Your irritation is, perhaps, understandable.” Snow from the limestone-gray sky swirled around a blurry-edged figure swathed in a blue-black hooded robe, whose face remained unobservable under a heavy cowl. “Excuse my loss of power control and answer the question.”

Wally straightened to his full height despite being firmly grounded, and glared with perplexity at the individual, whose form was still ill-defined and as hard to pin down as an unfinished sketch. “Walter M. slash G., administrator. What are you?”

“A mage,” said the other, biting off the end of the word. “So you are an administrator now.”

“I’m still trying to do science,” Wally admitted suspiciously. “I became an admin to study the dynamics of adminship itself. Who are you?”

The supposed mage turned away. “Consider yourself lucky to remember me. I have business in this town. Do not ever mention this crossing of paths.”

By the time the armored administrator gathered his thoughts and rose above the ground again, the figure of midnight was gone, having slipped away down a sidestreet.


--------


“The first impression one has is often the best impression, it seems.”

“Yeah, I remember when I first saw the Triple Fortress, it looked-”

“Hey guys.” Wally unceremoniously cut into Maestro and Kaze’s conversation as he approached the wood bench where they sat. The forger jumped slightly and stopped mid-sentence.

Maestro skipped an awkward pause. “Your wound has been treated properly, I take it?”

“I’d hope so. As long as I c-” The administrator shrugged and started to flex his right arm, but broke off with a rasping cough. “-can use it to -”

“Are… you alright?” Kaze stood up and gave him a long look. “You sound parched.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said Wally, his voice scraping. “Let’s get something to eat, though. I’ll get a proper drink. There’s a nice bar near the ackh- town central square. Lead the way.”

Maestro frowned but nodded, and struck out in front towards the central square. With another look back at the armored administrator, Kaze followed the cloaked man.

Though the snow was falling faster and Wally’s hands grew numb from the cold (he preferred to conserve his administrator power for other purposes than heating and he couldn’t have been bothered to bring gloves), the route to the central square was short. The administrator looked up and smirked at the trident-wielding metal statue in the Town Heartyard. He couldn’t recall if he’d ever found out who it was supposed to represent.

But a welcome sight among the bright-windowed stores on the right-hand side of the square was a different icon: the distinctive wooden sign and familiar façade of the Roaring Log. The very first time Wally had come this far north, when he was still a wandering student, he had eaten and lodged there briefly… Perhaps the bartender would remember him?

Or maybe, he thought, his smirk widening to a sideways grin… maybe he would only remind the bartender in due course. A raspy voice, whatever the cause, might be the basis for an entire disguise.

As Kaze and Maestro approached the Roaring Log’s entrance, Wally hung back at the edge of the square, quickly removing his spiky shoulder armor and leg plates. The others had their hooded robes on again. Wasn’t imitation a form of flattery?

The administrator pulled on a dark green hooded cloak, stowing his armor awkwardly inside his pack. The others were already pulling open the door, and as he hurried after them, he couldn’t suppress a slight thin laugh.

There was nothing like a bit of subterfuge to put you in the mood for telling a good tale.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:11 pm

Part the Nineteenth; Overlord’s Tale

A winter’s day.

A bleached-skied morning along the northeast coast.

A stretch of the rocky coast, nearly entirely occupied by a dark metal form.

The form again - a grounded ship, resembling a massive cannon.

To the east of the gun-ship, on the headland of Cape Shattered Fang.

The figures traveling across the windswept ground.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


Overlord hefted his tan sack, transferring it to his other hand, and squinted into the sky.

It was one of those mornings with a strangely bright-white sky, hazily uniform, with no sun to be seen and no rain to be gotten. The wind was still a noticeable presence, but not a hindrance. Although of course he didn’t much like wind.

Torēs, the lighthouse-keeper, was still unusually enthusiastic about the prospect of having a boat to fix. It was likely just the restless energy of a moderator out of a job – though Overlord wondered if she would ask to be taken to the North Harbor Town too, at least to get someone in to look at the damage to the lighthouse. He would just have to see.

At the moment, she was far ahead of him and hard to see, traversing the grassy headland with ease. She had exchanged the strange grey garb that she had worn the previous evening for prairie camouflage, exactly the sort of clothes that sandpiper hunters wore.

“Do you know where we’re headed?” called Overlord, already guessing that she might.

She turned around to face him, continuing walking backwards. “More or less. There are only so many beaches where you could land a ship safely, and I think I’m familiar with all of them.”

“Then lead the way.” Overlord fell silent, still thinking.


--------


It was at least noon when they reached the pebble beach and the borrowed ship.

Overlord was still quiet, thinking through various plans in his head, when Torēs called out to him over her shoulder, from far ahead.

“Looks like a nice make.”

The man in the turban snapped to attention, watching her carefully. “Yes. About the top of the assemblage, I think, if there’s such a thing. I got it from a friend in the Delta Towns…”

“Hm” was all Torēs said, although she looked mildly impressed as she approached the rubber seals in the hull through where the oars protruded.

After a moment, Overlord followed her towards the ship. “I do have at least one spare valve, but it’s not much use without the rest of the broken oar. I need some way of sealing it off or replacing the oar.”

“Something to seal it is easy, but it needs to stick in place.” Torēs stood on tiptoe to examine the aperture.

“I don’t suppose you could…” Not entirely sure whether to ask, Overlord halted his sentence for a long moment. “Whether you could assist me with sailing to the North Harbor Town?”

“Perhaps.” The camouflage-garbed lighthouse keeper turned halfway towards him. “You’re intending to stay there for some time?”

Overlord knew that he couldn’t know the answer to that question. There was still information he needed – where was Wally taking the others? – and yet more questions depended on those unknowns – how long would it take Overlord to acquire the weapons, and could he reach a portal to home in good time? But he would have to reply.

“I think so.”

Torēs nodded. “If you’d trust me with the vessel, I could return it to the Delta Towns for you. I’d be headed there after the North Harbor Town anyway.”

“That would be convenient for me, yes,” said Overlord. He was reluctant to let the ship out of his sight – what kind of way to repay Lix’s favor would losing her boat be? But he had lost ground already, and if he didn’t catch up to Wally and Maestro quickly enough, he might never find where they were going with the weapons. There was not enough time to return Lix’s ship in person.

“I suppose we have an agreement then.”

With a shrug, Overlord made a vague motion towards the ship. “As long as you can keep the engine hold sealed, then we should be set.”

“Let’s go.” Torēs raised her head to look at the ladder that led onto the ship’s deck, and for the first time Overlord caught a glimpse of dark green eyes under her patterned hat.


---------


When the turbaned man disembarked from the boat, snow descending onto his shoulders from the bleached sky, a trenchcoated dock guard was waiting for him.

“Good divisor, sailor.” With its metal hands tucked in its pockets, the posture of the dock Login Guard could have passed for one of nonchalance, but its burnished eyes provided a jarring and strange contrast.

“Good divisor, guardian.” Overlord reached the bottom of the boat’s ladder and turned to face the tolltaker. “How much does entrance cost for an immediately-departing boat?”

“We have had a number of sailors attempt to do this recently,” remarked the Login Guard impassively. “It will cost you the same as one night’s stay with the boat.”

“… Right.” The turbaned man pulled out a diminutive money pouch and retrieved four iron bowl coins, holding them out and hoping that he’d chosen a reasonable amount.

The Login Guard accepted all four coins and waved him on his way. “An excellent stay to you, sailor.”

Overlord smiled and started to turn away. “And a good day to-” Then he saw his boat departing from the dock, the side with the absent oar facing towards him.

Or the side that was supposed to have an oar absent -

- but there wasn’t an oar missing.

The turbaned man gaped at the impossibly whole ship, which was already rapidly passing through the gates that led to the open ocean. How had Torēs replaced the oar? The lighthouse keeper had had neither wood nor lacquer with her, and the original oar been custom-made to fit the boat. She would’ve had to have made a new oar out of materials inside the ship’s belowdeck - wouldn’t she?

“- you.” Overlord could do nothing about it, and he finished his salutation to the Login Guard, backing away along the dock towards the North Harbor Town as he watched his inexplicably altered boat sail away.


--------


Half an hour later, still brooding over the fate of his ship, the turbaned man reached the central square of the North Harbor Town.

The lighted windows of shops and restaurants at least caught his gaze, and he paid them some interest, looking away from the metal statue in the middle of the square. There was a butcher’s, a small attorney’s office, a slightly crowded bar, and so on. He mentally read off the signs that hung over some of them: Olavmark, RB/SKV, the Roaring Log, Lantern & Group, Vitalias...

Out of the various places he could properly see, he decided that the Roaring Log was the likeliest place to find a good meal. He still hadn’t eaten anything today… And he might as well get inside and order a hot meal, as it looked like it was just about to start snowing again. The flurries when he’d been out on the ocean couldn’t be the only precipitation for the day.

Head down, the turbaned man followed the north edge of the square, approaching the door of the bar. If he was lucky, he might be able to watch for the weapon-carrying trio out the window.

More importantly at the moment - would the Roaring Log have shepherd’s pie?



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:48 pm

Part the Interlude; The Bartender’s Tale


A winter’s day.

An old-fashioned harbor town.

The snowy central square of the town, the proud old bronze statue in its center holding a trident aloft.

The lighted windows of the various storefronts, people visible in most of the buildings.

A particular wooden storefront façade, of a packed and cheerful-looking local bar.

The inside of the bar.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


“And so here we are,” finished the raspy-voiced man in the dark green cloak.

The bartender blinked and nodded slowly, taking his time to absorb the entirety of the tale before sitting back farther in his chair. The story was certainly one of the longest he’d heard in a while, if not the most complicated. After all, stranger things happened than simply an administrator showing hired helpers the way to his fortress - for that was really all it boiled down to.

After a minute more, he nodded. “I have to say, not bad, Wally.”

“Thanks, I think,” said the dark-green-cloaked administrator.

“Well, it’s not bad for a wandering school dropout.” With a near-imperceptible wink, the bartender straightened up.

“Man, he knew me after all,” muttered Wally, removing his hood. By the turn of their heads, his companions seemed confused, the bartender noted; even the turbaned man sitting by the far wall looked over at the group, but soon went back to eating his shepherd’s pie.

The black-cloaked man - Maestro - turned his cowled head towards Wally. “He knows you? Is it simply that your reputation spreads before you, or have you been here before?”

“I’ve been here.” The administrator snorted, a smirk appearing and disappearing at the left corner of his mouth. “When I was younger. I stayed here back when the rooms upstairs were lodging owned by the bar… they’re in private hands now, so no, Kaze, we can’t stay here.”

With a half-shrug, the forger leaned back. “I wasn’t asking.”

“It’s been good seeing you, Wally -” the bartender broke through the pause awkwardly, looking over his shoulder at the bar “- but I probably have to get back to the bar now.”

“The barflies are waiting?”

“Indeed, and I need to relay some orders to my chef.” With a smile at the unhooded administrator, the bartender withdrew. “I’ll be seeing you sometime, I hope.”

“Yeah.” With a nod, Wally turned back to his companions and started to drain his tea. “We’d better find some lodging when we’re done with our drinks here.”

Only partially hearing Wally, the bartender crossed the room to slip back into the area behind the corner-spanning bar, and walked behind the entire length of the counter, unobtrusively checking the status of the people’s drinks. One young man, his fingers interlaced and his gaze not directed at anything, seemed to have sat down at the bar recently.

“What can I get you, sir?” said the bartender, hoping his mild query was enough.

It was. The man - he couldn’t have been more than 22 - started, giving the bartender a sudden stare with startled tawny-flecked bright green eyes. “Uh… yes, umm. I’ll- What do you have?”

Finally, a chance to use one of the old menus. The bartender pulled one out from the second-highest shelf built into the back of the counter. “Right, here’s a menu. It’s a bit outdated, but it has the basics. Call me when you’re ready.”

“What should I call you?” The young man fired the inane question at the bartender distractedly, smoothing his dark overshirt and glaring down at the menu.

The bartender walked backwards away down the line of the counter toward the kitchen door, his smile opening his mouth at one corner as if in a sneer or a simple laugh. “I’m the bartender. Just press the bell.”

And as the bartender backed into the kitchen, the turbaned man at the far corner of the room gulped down the last of his mug of water and got up to pay for his shepherd’s pie, watching the cloaked trio of travelers out of the corner of his eye.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:29 pm

Part the Twentieth; Maestro’s Tale


A winter’s predawn morning.

The outskirts of a chilly harbor town.

A whitish line between empty pasture fields, leading away from the town.

The line again: a frosty footpath, with three dark figures treading it.

The dark figures, two hooded and cloaked, the third armored.

Their spoken thoughts in the chilled air.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


“If ever there was a ‘home stretch’ of this endeavor, I would venture to guess that we are in it.” Maestro spoke for only the second time in the morning, his breath of words lingering behind him in diffuse clouds as he kept pace with the others.

The only response to his pronouncement at first was a slight nod from Kaze, but after at least another minute of crunching along the frost-packed farmyard path, Wally finally replied. “There never really are home stretches of anything, but we’re in the last part of our journey for sure.”

“As in, we’ll get there tomorrow?” Kaze folded her hands into the pockets of her mottled winter robes.

Wally shrugged his modified jacket-collar higher past his chin, muffling his voice. “Yes.”

Maestro got the feeling that Wally was just too weary and wary of questions to qualify his answer with muddying details. It was not like the armored administrator to give a simple “yes” when something like “pretty much” could be said instead. But the cloaked man stuck to his own usual, and said nothing at all.

Everything else was quiet, too; only the faint strains of sparrows’ songs and a brief far-distant swish were audible. The spiky touch of frost veneered every surface, and the groundward hem of Maestro’s cloak had already picked up some crystals as it brushed against the grass at the path’s edge. Glancing sideways, he noticed that Kaze’s slicker-edged robes didn’t seem to gather the same coating of frost – and of course Wally’s aboveground shoes were nearly spotless.

The expanses of the vacant pastures around them were strange to see in the predawn twilight: vast, their grass cropped short by the livestock that no doubt would be let out to graze later in the day. Other than the handful of huge fortresses Maestro had seen in his life, and one place he could barely still recall from his fragmentary childhood memories, he simply didn’t encounter any large areas that had been transformed by people. No one really lived outside fortresses…

And again, the cloaked man’s mind reluctantly returned to the real problem, the one he’d brooded over for so long now. What did Wally truly want from him (and Kaze), and why? Was there any reason at all? The armored man had hinted that he had found rather than constructed a fortress, but there were no fortresses in the northern swamps; he had clearly intended for Maestro to hold a moderating job there, but how could there be members to manage, and what other role for a moderator was there?

Maestro looked over at Kaze, his line of sight only obliquely catching her from beneath his hood. Her role was even less clear, though he tried to give less thought to the matter than he ever managed to. Unless Wally simply had no regard for how much time she was having to spend, there was no reason he would require her to travel all the way to his mysterious fortress simply to forge a new key… unless it was for some kind of massive weapon, and Maestro was sure such things existed.

But here he was, straggling along with Wally and Kaze on a frosty morning, too far north to bother backing out. He’d let himself doubt his own doubts too much.

And yet…

Though he rewound his thoughts repeatedly, the cloaked man couldn’t think of anywhere he would rather be.


--------


Maybe Maestro was just happiest beyond civilization.

He sat against an arching birch, one eye still sleep-bleary, looking out along the murky flatness of the swampland that lay ahead. Wally sat in the lotus position a few bio to his right, and Kaze was slumped a ways to his left. It had to be about 8:45 PD – later than Wally usually woke them up, certainly later than their predawn departure yesterday – but it was still just before sunrise, and the clear sky was a strange powdery blue from the sunlight filtering from below the horizon.

“You can see it now,” said Wally, and the sound of his voice crashed Maestro’s thoughts.

“It?”

The armored administrator got up unsteadily, bending his legs oddly to unlock them from their crossed position. “You couldn’t see it last night, but now you can. Silver on the horizon. Where we’re headed.”

Maestro didn’t argue, and straightened his back to squint at the horizon. There was certainly a dull silver object there, but it was hard to tell what –

As he was about to look away, the sun finally caught the side of the silver object, and a brilliant beam seared across his eye. He choked down a yelp and leaned away. “Yes, it is certainly there.”

“You think we’ll get there by the afternoon?” Kaze didn’t look up.

“If we start soon, yes.” Wally pulled his quarterstaff into view and slung his arm through one of the handle loops of his satchel. “I’m guessing you don’t have anything to pack up if the tents are already put away, so right now would be a good time.”

As Maestro swept to his feet, Kaze stretched and slowly pushed herself upright. Wally was already striking out ahead of them, cautiously and continually probing the swamp ground with his quarterstaff as he had the previous day. Maestro was about to follow him when Kaze spoke from close behind.

“Are we sure?”

The cloaked man halted and twisted slightly at the waist, just enough to show he was listening. “About him?”

“Yes.”

“No.” Maestro turned away again and began walking, following Wally’s trail. “I have never been certain. I am no guide.”

It was several more minutes on the swamp path before Maestro heard Kaze catch up to him again, and he marginally shortened his stride, but she didn’t speak again.

Apparently the last partial day of travel would be a quiet one.


--------


The sun was precariously close to falling behind the western left horizon when the trio reached the silver object, though the shining bulk of the thing had long since become completely obvious.

“Behold,” said Wally, turning to the others and spreading his arms wide. “Codrex Magna.”

As Maestro (and Kaze beside him) slowed down to take in the sight of the immense metal sphere more fully, Wally’s smirk broadened into a smile, then a grin. The armored man hadn’t answered any of their questions all day, even as it became apparent what his supposed fortress looked like, but he seemed to finally be willing to talk.

“So, what d’you think?”

“Well, it really isn’t a fortress.” Kaze edged rightward without looking at her footing on the swamp ground, staring up at the sheer curved sides of the sphere – Codrex Magna. “What kind of key would open this up, or what kind of lock would keep it closed?”

“The only lock that seems possible is that opening.” Wally pointed up at the side of the sphere. Far above them, higher on Codrex Magna than the sphere’s maximum circumference, was a figure-shaped indentation recessed about a dozen centimeters into the metal side.

Maestro glared up for a second, then switched his gaze to Wally. “An impossibly lofty hole that you intend to fill with a stone figure.”

“So, that’s the stone figure,” said Kaze. There was a frown implied in her voice, but she didn’t look down from the supposed lock.

Wally’s grin faded to a smile again. “That, Kaze Azure, is what you’re here for. Tomorrow will be our start of work… oh, and for you too, Mo. We need plans.”

“Plans?”

“Work?” Kaze said at the same time.

“I’ll bring you up to see the exact measurements of the figure, and we have to plan forum structure and possible member recruits.” The armored administrator pointed his index finger at the two of them in turn, his thumb deliberately outstretched at a near-right angle. “But now, we rest.”

Exhaling in resignation, Kaze pulled her traveling bag off her arm. “Set up here?”

“Indeed,” said Wally, and backed away to yank his own satchel out of its invisible place on his back.

Maestro turned his back, partly to hide his expression, and began to stare around in the failing postdivisor light for a solid patch to place his own tent. So they were here. Wally’s fortress was a seamless metal sphere, with a forged stone figure to be its key… and the real work, the moderation and advising he was actually here for, would begin tomorrow.

The cloaked man pulled out his tent bundle. Perhaps this bizarre place, this Codrex Magna, would finally be a home for him.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:28 am

Part the Twenty-First; Maestro’s Tale


A winter’s morning.

A grand swamp, vast and graying.

A higher area strangely without trees, a towering silver object in its center.

The amorphous clearing around the silver sphere.

Three small figures at the sphere’s base.

The work they begin.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


“Well, today’s the day.” Wally grinned at Kaze and Maestro, who finally seemed fully awake and ready to listen. It was a clear morning, a cloud or four sliding across the sky, and even the muted greens of Codrex Magna’s fieldlike clearing and the surrounding swamp seemed vibrant enough – though nothing shone brighter than Codrex Magna itself.

“So,” he continued, gesturing toward the sphere, “who wants to start first? I didn’t think this through too well – I can’t work with both of you at the same time, at least not at first.”

Maestro spoke up first. “It would likely be advantageous to be able to enter the… fortress before planning forum structure. I suggest I go second.”

“Sounds okay to me.” Kaze glanced at the cloaked man before turning back to Wally and shrugging. “So, how are we going to ascend?”

Wally gave her an oddly humorless look. “There’s only one way to climb this thing: don’t climb it. Step forwards, please?”

“What -”

And then, to nobody’s surprise but Kaze’s, she and the armored man began to rise in a near-vertical path, following the curve of the sphere.

“Knew that,” muttered Maestro, folding his arms and stepping back. It would probably be a while before they came back down – they were not ascending very fast, and Kaze would have to measure the figure-shaped keyhole very exactly. He could relax for a bit.

Turning away, the soon-to-be moderator reached one hand into the right front edge of his cloak, pulling out the pages he’d retrieved – not stolen, as they were his own – from BAWDA. Most of them were unwrinkled, though there was water damage at the edges of a few… probably from the night he fell into the Rebrolan. His cloak pockets were luckily waterproof.

He flipped through the top few. There were a few of the private messages he’d received there, and he skipped those, looking farther into the stack for the topics he’d made himself. So many things to regret… and yet he found he still had a small smile for the sight of some of his old posts.

Distantly above him, Wally and Kaze continued to inspect Codrex Magna’s figure keyhole. After another minute, the cloaked man stowed and sealed the first stack of pages back into his cloak, and reached for a different pocket to retrieve some other ones –

Something hit him in the small of his back, and as he toppled forward, there was a yank at his belt.

Maestro snapped his hand into a fist and swung it backwards, feeling it connect as he caught himself with his other hand. Good. He scraped his boots forward and sprang spirally up to aim an unbalancing kick at his assailant’s hand, spiking the Sparrowhawk Katana out of the reach of either of them – but both the cloaked man and his camouflage-clad attacker dove for the green weapon as it skidded to the border of the grass and the swamp. In the back of his mind, Maestro hoped Wally or Kaze would notice the movement – it was near the edge of the fieldlike high ground that surrounded the Codrex Magna sphere.

His lunge was not quick enough. Maestro got to the Katana second, but slammed the side of his hand down on the flat of the blade, using it as a pivot to sweep his right leg towards the camouflaged assailant. The figure flipped over top of the attempted swipe, letting Maestro’s movement finish its followthrough, but the cloaked man ended up on his feet, gripping the lime green weapon.

The combatant was wrapped in an amorphous mottled costume that mimicked the cold gray-green-brown of the swamp surroundings. No other details of its appearance were obvious or describable other than a strip of shining foil around its head, apparently concealing its eyes, and a leathery glove on its left hand.

“You won’t answer my questions.” Maestro raised the Sparrowhawk Katana defensively. “But please, do get out of here.”

It was a second before the figure reacted with a charge forward, and the cloaked man was not prepared for the movement, stabbing back clumsily – only to have the lime green katana wrenched out of his hand, the assailant pulling it away by the blade with their gloved hand. Dumbfounded, Maestro managed to knock the Sparrowhawk Katana out of reach again with another kick, only to see the camouflaged figure perform an arcing dive to catch it as it spun into the swamp.

Another second passed before a slash of blue lightning crackled down from above, hitting the swamp like a gunshot and sending the assailant tumbling farther away, out of sight.

“Did he take anything?” called Wally, dropping hastily through the air. Beside him, Kaze looked nauseated by the speed of the descent and hunched her shoulders.

“The Sparrowhawk Katana,” said Maestro irately, and started to sprint towards the swamp.

Wally finally hit the ground, ending up stably on his feet, and raced to catch up with the cloaked man. “Wait, wait – they might be gone already. From what I saw, they looked already prepared for traveling the Great Northern Swamp. They were fast too.”

Maestro slowed down a little, reaching the edge of the field. “You cannot expect me to leave my weapon in the hands of a thief.”

“Well, unless the thief can use it themself, they’ll probably have it confiscated by a Login Guard. All I can think of is that a thief would only sell it…” Wally halted at the edge of the Codrex Magna field. “I probably should’ve asked you when I first saw it, but does the Sparrowhawk Katana actually do anything? Like, does it have special properties?”

“It is an excellent conductor of administrator power, unlike many lesser weapons. One can tell there is something unusual about it simply by seeing it, but I know of no other special uses for it.” The cloaked man glared out into the swamp, searching for a sign of movement.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I have a poor recollection of it,” said Maestro, hating to admit his lack of early memories. “I believe it belonged to my mother’s side of the family, but I know nothing beyond that detail.”

Wally shrugged and turned back to Codrex Magna, putting his hand on the back of his neck. “Personally, I think it’ll show up in the hands of some Login Guards not too long from now, probably down in the North Harbor Town. They have a knack for knowing things that’ve been stolen. We can go looking for it in a few days, after we open this place up.”

“And yet your confidence fails to reassure me.”

“Come on, Mo.” The armored administrator swiveled, facing Maestro and walking backwards with a smirk. “If it makes you feel better, I guarantee on my administratorship that you will be reunited with your Katana. Let’s get planning – you have all the measurements you need, Kaze?”

“I think so,” said the forger, looking up from her tools on the ground. She still seemed queasy. “I only have small chunks of stone to work with, though.”

“Hm. Maybe try an interlocking design with several pieces first? I can always get a stone out of the swamp somewhere.” Wally nodded to himself. “Good luck for now though. Mo, shall we get started on our own designs?”

Turning without answering, the cloaked man followed Wally over to where they’d earlier set their traveling bags. It would be difficult for him to force himself to plan out fortress divisions now. How could Wally dismiss the theft of the Sparrowhawk Katana so easily?

At least, Maestro knew, the armored administrator was now accountable for his promise.

And Maestro would hold him to it.


--------


“Nearly there?” said Maestro, and wondered if his voice carried up to Kaze and Wally.

Four days had passed since they arrived at Codrex Magna – he was finally beginning to think of it by the name Wally had given it, rather than as “the sphere”. They’d planned forum structure together, and even Kaze had offered some input on the internal layout, at least until Wally asked her to get back to work on the key figure.

Now the forger and administrator were suspended far up by the keyhole again, supposedly on their last trip. Kaze had expressed confidence that the figure she had finished would be good enough to open the fortress, but Maestro still had doubts about the multiple-piece construction of it. Would several “key stones” really be accepted by the Codrex Magna lock as one key? The cloaked man watched as Kaze and Wally slotted together and pushed in the stone key figure, far above him.

There was an immediate response to the key’s insertion: a brief blaze of bluish administrator power sheeted over the keyhole like a door, closing off the indentation. No other reaction seemed forthcoming from the sphere, though, and Maestro craned his neck to stare further before calling up again. “Can you see any other evidence of a change?”

Wally’s response drifted down. “Nope.”

“Well then, I shall–” Maestro lowered his gaze only to see that a circular doorway had opened up in front of him. “Hmm. A way in has opened.”

“Where? Right by you?” Wally turned to gaze down, and started dropping himself and Kaze into freefall towards Maestro.

The forger was unprepared for the plummet, and looked away from the distance down to the cloaked man. “Wally.”

“Right. Yeah, sorry.” The armored man slowed their fall. “Mo, is there a hallway behind it? Is it lit?”

“Yes, it does appear to be lighted.” Maestro peered at the hallway, not approaching any closer. “Would this hallway be the logical path to take, or might the sphere deploy a trap or another lock first?”

Wally reached the ground and immediately strode past the cloaked man to the entrance. “There’s not really any way to find out besides going in, right? So let’s go.”

“Right,” said Kaze, first to voice doubt for once. She glanced at Maestro before cutting ahead to enter through the door with Wally.

Quelling an urge to draw his Sparrowhawk Katana despite its absence, the cloaked man followed. It seemed to him that the lock Kaze had opened was enough of a defense – Wally hadn’t been able to open it upon first finding the fortress.

And sure enough, the hallway sloped up into a low-ceilinged metal room, with a few more doors lining its circumference. Maestro edged around Wally and Kaze to look more closely at the walls, checking for anything that might not belong. There were a few recesses and alcoves, inexplicably placed, but otherwise the continuous curve of the perimeter wall was uninterrupted.

“Obviously this can’t be the main forum area,” said Wally, glancing up at the ceiling. After taking in the sight of the entire empty metal room, he walked over to the right-hand part of the wall, opening the unmarked closest door.

Kaze moved on tentatively, approaching the farthest door, which was marked with the shape of the stone-figure lock on the outside of the sphere. “Uh, Wally, it’s probably this one…”

“It may be prudent to inspect all of the doors prior to taking the expected route,” said Maestro. He was reluctant to offer up any support of Wally, but certainly there had to be some merit to looking behind the multiple scattered doors.

But as the three of them went in silence to the walls and checked each of the doors, it soon became obvious that every one of the entries led into an upwards staircase. None of them were well lit, and in a few cases Maestro’s eyes were met only with darkness, but all seemed usable.

“This place must be pretty labyrinthine.” Wally shut the last of the unmarked doors, perplexed. “We’ll go with the obvious choice then. Can’t be sure where the rest of these go.”

Maestro moved forward smoothly to walk by Wally’s left. “I assume you have previously acquired a power convertor for administration?”

“Yeah, for my armor. You might’ve guessed. I went with Forumotion.”

Kaze caught up on Wally’s right. “Oh, the construction company? I’ve seen some of their work but never really dealt with them directly.”

“It’s a pretty impersonal thing. You never really deal with them.” The armored administrator pulled open the figure-marked door to reveal a cramped room with no other exit.

Ignoring the others’ surprise, Maestro leaned forward to look at the back wall, which had a set of robust dials and buttons marked with circular symbols. After a second, he spoke up. “I recognize the printed numerals – there appears to be no further information depicted here.”

“But what is it?” Kaze stared at the other, blank walls as if they were sheets of strange paper.

“A lift,” said Maestro automatically, then regretted saying so.

“What.” Wally walked into the boxlike area, looking up at the lit ceiling then down at the controls again. “So you’re saying this is like some kind of elevating room or something?”

“Nothing is truly impossible in the wider world.” Entering, the cloaked man cut in front of Wally to inspect the top set of buttons more closely. “Each other door simply led to staircases, and I suspect this area will rise to the next-highest level no differently. Are you going to come in, Kaze?”

The forger shrugged and stepped over the threshold gap. “I suppose I am. I’m not really sure what I’m still here for.”

Wally leaned back against the right wall. “Well, beam us up, Mo.”

“Hilarious.” Maestro pressed the top-row button third in from the left, and after a slight tremor, the room began to rise. The open side of the room was soon closed off by the smooth side of the silver shaft they were rising in, but almost as soon, their rise slowed and they came to rest at another opening.

Outside the lift was a vast central plaza, shiny and circular, its walls curved but lacking the same tilt as the lower entrance floor. Wally stepped out and the overhead ambient light brightened, its radiance’s hue just like the sunlight outside.

Silently, Maestro and Kaze walked out of the lift and veered in opposite directions. Kaze’s eyes immediately drifted quizzically to the several door lining the sides of the great space, Maestro noted, but he himself moved on to glare around the entire circumference. How much space did he estimate there was, where to place forums’ areas, whether to simply use partitions to separate them, whether personal weblogs would have a place in the main area…

“Right, guys,” shouted Wally from across the space, his voice barely outrunning its echoes to reach Maestro. “Before we get started on anything…”

The cloaked man broke into a run, his heavy cloak barely billowing. Behind him, Kaze crossed the metallic expanse doubtfully.

Wally was standing by a shallow opening in the wall, and closed the panel as his companions approached. His grin and blank white eyes seemed more luminous than ever, and he’d taken out his quarterstaff, which blurred at the edges with something like a heat haze.

“So, Maestro, I won’t make a big deal out of this. You’ve been waiting. Are you ready?”

“Certainly.” The cloaked man dipped his head, impassive. “Read out the offician form, if you are using one.”

With a flourish, Wally pulled a neatly flattened piece of green-headlined white paper out of his pack, and read out the terms. “‘With this, you agree to take on the title and duties of an administrator of Codrex Magna, and administer to the forums of the fortress for the benefit of its members and future. By the wishes of forum founder Walter M slash G, you are also asked to surrender your name in favor of a title to be known by.’”

“You are assuming I ever wished to be known by my name.” Maestro knelt. He knew what was coming. “‘I accept and concede to the terms set forth, and all shall know me as Maestro.’”

The armored administrator stepped forward with one foot and touched one end of his quarterstaff to Maestro’s shoulder. “‘Then you are accepted into the administration of this fortress. You are encouraged to charge your store of administrator power now.’ Okay, go ahead and use the charger behind the panel, Mo, I hooked up the converter. Kaze, come here for a second.”

Maestro rose and walked around Wally to open the panel, but waited to turn to the charger, instead watching Kaze as she came near.

“I’m not sure what I’m here for.” The forger looked back at Wally, nearly expressionlessly. “You’re in. I’ve seen you through the successful entry to the main part of the forum here… now you have Maestro set up. Are you going to pay me?”

“Yes. But I’ll be clear.” The armored administrator seemed oddly serious. “I still want your help. I want this place to be able to emulate the great fortresses, even if our structure is only basic, and you can help me do that. If you don’t want to stay any longer, you can take your payment for the figure and go. But I’m inviting you to help finish the job of making this fortress something special.”

Kaze swallowed and glanced sideways at the floor, considering. “I don’t know. I never expected to stay any longer, but then I never expected to come quite this far in the first place. … I’ll… stay, I think.”

“This isn’t too binding, but like I said, you’ll be able to help me – us –” Wally looked back at Maestro – “make this into the fortress it ought to be. You heard the phrasal template for your response to this thing?” He waved the sheet of paper with Forumotion’s terms printed on it.

“Yes.” Kaze straightened and waited as Wally read the terms, then knelt. “‘I accept and concede to the terms set forth, and all shall know me as Kiyos.’”

Wally tapped her shoulder lightly with his quarterstaff. “‘Then you are accepted into the administration of this fortress. You are encouraged to charge your store of administrator power now.’ And here’s your payment.”

Remembering that he’d yet to charge his own, Maestro hastily lifted the metal-tipped corner of his cloak to contact the charge adapter port attached to the wall. In his peripheral vision, he saw Wally counting out a jumble of golden bowl-shaped coins for Kaze, and after a minute the armored administrator looked up.

“Right, maybe no hurry there, Mo – Kaze, do you have something to use as an admin power store at least temporarily?”

The forger took the coins to stow in her work bag. “I had to work near running admin power once – I have some copper gloves.”

“As long as there’s a bit of fabric on the inside, those’ll do.” Wally nodded. “Alright then.”

Maestro stepped away from the charger, letting his cloak fall, as Kaze pulled on one of her copper gloves to charge. “For how long can you foresee us having to structure and alter the forums before it becomes prudent to allow members in?”

“Maybe a couple of months.” Wally shrugged. “Not sure yet. Kaze, how long are you staying to help for?”

The forger looked back from the charging port. “I suppose only a couple more months or so, maybe ’til Jaunýrar.”

“Then let’s make those two months count. Mo, I’ll run some member-recruiting ideas by you in a couple of weeks or so… we’ve got plenty to do first though.” Clasping his hands behind his back, Wally began to rock forward.

“Then I presume we should begin our work immediately,” said Maestro with a shallow shrug, and snapped his fingers, lime green administrator power flickering briefly in the air in front of him. “We have our task before us.”



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu May 16, 2013 10:36 am

Part the Twenty-Second; Overlord’s Tale


A winter’s day.

An expanse of great swamp.

A fieldlike area within the swamp, a shining sphere in its center.

Beyond the sphere to the north, an area of frosty scrub not yet thawed in the sunlight.

A particular clump of multistemmed birches.

The figure in the birches’ midst.


>><<>><<>><<>><<


After all his years in the desert, it seemed it might be the cold that killed Overlord.

He grimaced without showing his teeth, staring out into the jagged ice-spiked mess of the swamp. It helped that he was finally armored in the suit he’d cobbled together to brave tundra regions – though he’d never used it in the field before, it was as insulating as he expected – but he’d put it on late, more than a bit late. Now that he was chilled to the heart, as the saying went…

Really, the situation wasn’t that dire. It was probably the first true killing frost of the winter here, and his tundra suit was more than sufficient to keep the cold out. But the white of the suit’s armor was less than camouflaging, and he needed a plan before he did anything further. For the moment, he would have to stay within the cover of the birches.

More than ever, the turbaned man doubted himself. What was he doing, stealing these strange weapons? Did he have any business becoming a petty criminal to get home? He looked down over his shoulder, and his eyes caught the gleam of the lime green Sparrowhawk Katana in the bag behind him. Yes, he had the Katana, but somehow in its entirety it was only a fragment of a weapon – even as a complete blade, it was only one piece of something. It felt incomplete… worse, it was incomplete. It was only a component of something, and it could not get him home by itself.

There was, of course, another weapon still up here in this swampland. But Wally, the strange armored administrator who seemed to be its owner, had taken that quarterstaff with him upon entering the Codrex sphere, and it seemed unlikely that he would emerge from the spherical “fortress” again anytime soon.

So where did that leave Overlord?

The turbaned man leaned back against the nearest birch trunk and stared into the distance without sight, brooding. There were options, but no good ones…

It was a few minutes before he became aware of a rustling over his head.

Overlord turned and stepped backwards to look up, and saw a crow in the overhead branches. The noise was just the bird preening its wing, to the turbaned man’s relief, and his gaze drifted back to the metal Codrex sphere. Perhaps th-

“Vision can only take you so far, for this world is bigger than you think.”

Stifling a cry, Overlord spun back to face the crow again. It was staring straight down at him, its head cocked measuredly as though it was waiting for a distant answer.

“You’re worried only that they’re watching, aren’t you, man of the turban? They aren’t. Each one is asleep. Shall we talk?”

“And how can you KNOW that from here,” hissed Overlord, trying to regain his composure. How was this crow managing to sound so coherent without parroting phrases? “It’s possible they cannot see me now or from inside, but it is morning, and they will wake up.”

There was a glitter to the crow’s eyes, and it raised its feathers, partially puffing itself up. “If you wish to be hidden while we speak, Master Turban, you will be.”

“Then what are you?”

“No different from me.” A third voice came from the other corner of the birch-bordered swamp hollow, and its owner soon emerged into view.

Overlord stared back at the figure. “As if I knew you well.”

“Well enough not to ask questions,” said the Horoscope Man, and tipped his symbol-printed top hat.

Above, the crow hopped down to a different arched branch. “So, Master Turban. We have only a shared destination, so I hope you don’t think we’re here to bother you specifically. With your larcenous victory this week, it’s pretty obvious you’re here for something else.”

“If you’re not here to bother me specifically, why bother me in general?” Overlord folded his arms. “I’m not a defector, and… - unless you need my help.”

“Someday, perhaps.” The crow bobbed its head. “But for now, we just want to make you aware. Don’t get yourself hurt in the path we may take. You wouldn’t want to lose more.”

What?”

“Our way is harm’s way. Best not get in it,” said the Horoscope Man. “In fact. You may be interested to know that there are known parts to your… current quest.”

Overlord kept himself from showing interest, but they had to know he would be intrigued. “What do you mean?”

“You know the Sparrowhawk is not all there is to have.” Above, the crow bent its head to look directly at the turbaned man. “It was not a katana, you see. There are two disjunct pieces left of it that you do not know of.”

The Horoscope Man stepped forward, interrupting Overlord’s next question. “As you know, we are interested in having you out of our way, but there is no way you would go simply any way. I offer you a map for the divergent path forward.”

“And despite this being from the Horoscope Man, that does mean a literal map,” said the crow.

With a nod, Overlord extended his hand. “Good, then. If you have options, I am willing to take them.”

The Horoscope Man barely raised his arm, the sleeve swishing, but two tightly-folded sheets of paper appeared in Overlord’s palm. “What you are given, I hope you use.”

With a shrug at the apparent sleight-of-hand, the turbaned man pocketed the maps and backed away. “I hope I can trust you at this juncture. And I will find you again if it turns out I can’t. Good day, Horoscope Man… KKM.”

An historic fortune upon you, turbaned one.” The crow rasped a laugh and shot into the sky.

“Luck is all well for your present future.” The Horoscope Man whirled and disappeared through the birches.

After a moment, assuring himself they were gone, Overlord knelt to open his travel bag and retrieve clothes to replace his tundra suit. Obviously neither the crow nor the fortune-teller were to be trusted, but what choice did he have? Even assuming the crow wasn’t actually the KKM of the First Administrators, the turbaned man's luck in the north seemed to have run out. The Codrex Magna sphere couldn’t be besieged by a loner, and Walter M/G would almost certainly not allow the quarterstaff out of his white-eyed sight. Nor was it a simple sort of weapon – Overlord had taken the Sparrowhawk Katana at exactly the right time, just before Maestro re-acquired administrator power. There was no such advantage with the quarterstaff, which was probably now charged with power (knowing Wally, overcharged).

But where was he being told to go by the Horoscope Man? He took out the maps and unfolded them on the pile of clothes in his open bag.

One of the maps was quite bizarre, almost homemade, more a stylized picture than a guide for travel. It indicated places in the northwest – far from Overlord’s familiar haunts. He narrowed his eyes and refolded it. That would take a while…

He checked the second map. This one was apparently a cheap “roadmap” produced by the eBay fortress to guide buyers and sellers to their western coastal location, and obviously the Horoscope Man would’ve had no trouble obtaining it – Overlord realized there was probably one of the same type of map in his own profile-room at the Triple Fortress. But it seemed the Horoscope Man had annotated it, the handwriting obtusely runic in looks but linguistically ordinary. And more importantly… Overlord recognized one added-in fortress specifically marked by the Horoscope Man. He had been there before, and not long ago either.

Perhaps one step in completing the Sparrowhawk Katana would not be so difficult after all.

“To the ruins we go,” said the turbaned man into the silence, and closed the maps.



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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Thu Dec 05, 2013 4:50 pm

Part the Twenty-Third; Wally’s Tale
 
 
A winter’s morning.
 
A vast swamp of the north, extending east and west.
 
A great sphere in a meadow, surrounded by the swamp on all sides.
 
The cavernous inside of the sphere, light streaming in through a translucent area of the roof.
 
Three figures slumped along the wall of the centralmost space.
 
The lone figure who seems awake.
 
 
>><<>><<>><<>><<
 
 
Wally ran his right thumb lazily over the ends of his other nails, humming to himself and thinking of the future.
 
He was sitting with his back against the metal inner-atrium wall, gazing tiredly up at the opposite half of the upper arc of the ceiling.  It couldn’t’ve been later than 9 PD in the morning… and if he was still sleepy, then the others probably weren’t awake at all.  Somewhere to his right was the quiet sound of Kaze’s breathing, filtered but magnified by her tangled sheets, and somewhere to his left Maestro lay silently.
 
The end of the year was crawling nearer with each day, and though it had only been a week and a half since they arrived at Codrex Magna, Wally could already feel the time constraints weighing on him.  He’d vaguely planned on sending Maestro south again soon to recruit members from BAWDA, within the next few days, and then of course Kaze had said she’d probably only stay through Marígndar.  Sure, Maestro would be back in a month – if the cloaked man was quick about it – but Jaunýrar might be the last Walter would ever see of Kaze Azure.
 
For now, the best he could do was try to rush their proper setting-up of the main forum interior.  He glanced left and took in the space barriers they’d arranged over the past few days.  The first few forum-areas seemed well-placed for the moment, though there would have to be more to come.  Luckily, there was little actual renovation of the central part of the sphere that needed to be done, though the various smaller rooms off the encircling hallway might need work… none of the three administrators had taken much of a look through them.
 
Given the opinionated type of people Maestro might tend to recruit, Wally suspected that the future of Codrex Magna might lie in personal discussion – web-logs, the arts, and so on.  Still, there had to be a concrete way to start things off, and for the time being he thought he should go with what Maestro’s recruits would be familiar with: the biomechanical discussion typical of BAWDA and the Triple Fortress.
 
Wally sighed briefly, and sat up straighter to cross his legs under him, putting one hand on his quarterstaff to his right.  What would Vancph Tanurax think of him now, planning out a small forum like any mundane founder?  Here he was, anyway…
 
Far overhead, light was seeping in through the translucent part of the sphere, and the armored administrator had the thought that it would be a beautiful morning outside.  He considered for a second, then shifted himself again to stand up.  It seemed his companions were still sleeping, so maybe he could wander through the birch thickets outside for a bit and see the end of the sunrise –
 
“So you do think you can get things going smoothly?”
 
It was Kaze’s voice that caught him quietly, and Wally turned back, surprised. “Here…?”
 
The forger was sitting up against the metallic wall on top of her sheets, knees bent up in front of her and hands interlaced over them, her tunic and worn pants slightly askew. “Yes.  It just seems… far out, and contained too.  I know you’ve probably thought about it, but how will you manage?”
 
“Supplies will be from the North Harbor Town.” Wally shrugged. “There’s not much else to need.  Plenty of power here, and the members can come and go without too much fuss.”
 
“It just doesn’t strike me as being a large forum, potentially.” Kaze made an odd expression, somewhere between a wry look and slightly pained indifference. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work out.”
 
“Between the three of us, it’s going to have a good enough foundation. I think we all have our way of making things work.” With a smirk, Wally turned. “Besides, when you and Maestro go, I’m relying on you to spread the word a bit.”
 
It took a second for his meaning to register. “When we go…? oh, right.  Of course I will…” Kaze yawned. “Thooough that’s what he’s going out for anyway.”
 
Wally looked over his shoulder at her, lowering his voice. “He’s hardly going to bring in much traffic from his old site.  Spread the word, Kaze Azure, and don’t mind the rest of us.”
 
As the forger blinked at his statement, Wally moved on, striding through the newly-arranged forum walls and across the vast fortress floor.
 
 
--------
 

 
Marígndar the 20th.  Deep in the winter season.
 
What few days had been left for Maestro's departure were up. The three administrators stood morosely together, a short ways out from the snowdrift that almost closed off the entrance they’d just come out of.  Off the top of the Codrex Magna sphere, there was a glint of the unrisen sun, but the road south was lost in a colorless expanse of snow.  Among the shadowed whiteness rose haggard forms of leafless birches and spirelike evergreen naizes.
 
“You should keep an eye out for ptarmigans,” said Wally to no one in particular, squinting southward.
 
Maestro didn’t even glance over. “If that is possible.  I believe the task of traveling is more important in this weather.”
 
“Just be careful,” said Wally and Kaze, almost in unison, then turned to glance at each other.
 
“Obviously.” The cloaked man folded his arms, hands gloved. “Perhaps I should be going with the short day.”
 
Wally shrugged. “All boring moments must come to an end.  Right then, Mo.  We’ll miss you.”
 
“Mainly me,” said Kaze with considerable emphasis, stepping forward to hug Maestro briefly. “I might not see you again for months.”
 
Wally laughed quietly and shook Maestro’s hand when Kaze stepped away. “So we’re a proper team now, are we.  I’ll see you in a few weeks, Mo, if the weather’s good.”
 
“Thank you both.  I shall return.” Maestro turned away, his terse goodbye said, and pushed south through the unbroken snow.  It was a few minutes, his black cloak receding into the distant whiteness, before the other administrators silently retreated into the metal Codrexian sphere.
 
Time to prepare for the first members.
 
 
 
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PostSubject: Re: The Tale   Wed Jan 01, 2014 2:39 pm

Part the Twenty-Fourth; Overlord’s Tale
 
 
A winter’s day.
 
An expanse of great swamp.
 
A fieldlike area within the swamp, a shining sphere in its center.
 
Beyond the sphere to the immediate southeast, a grove of hoarfrosted evergreen naizes.
 
Among the naizes, a crooked shaded corridor allowing passage southward.
 
The figure on the path.
 
 
>><<>><<>><<>><<
 
 
Pausing to raise his head for a moment, Overlord took in the sight of the spire-tops of the trees that surrounded him.  They were dark against the overly-blue sky, the streaming sunlight illuminating them… a welcome contrast to the path of frozen mud before him.  Another reminder that he was merely the traveler among the resident trees.
 
“Gray Naiz,” said the white-armored man to himself, trudging on. “Aticatus palustris.” He had been a botanist, and though he didn’t have time or resources in this world to study or collect, he still took pride in knowing a few of the vast number of new plants he encountered.  If only he could stay…
 
He’d wrapped the maps from the Horoscope Man within the traveling bag slung over his shoulder, and he shifted its weight gingerly.  Of the two supposed locations of the remaining components, one was in a familiar region, a few days southwest of the Triple Fortress.  Although the destination was not a printed fortress on the cheap Pedmap itself, according to the Horoscope Man’s leggy pointed handwriting, there was a small ruin along the coast – that of a place called BAWEPE.  Overlord had once passed through the place… there was a small library there, run by two of the former fortress’s old members.
 
Presumably, one of those two – the Librarian or the General – owned the weapon fragment the Horoscope Man indicated there.  Perhaps Overlord could simply trade or pay them for the fragment.  It was exciting to think he could acquire it honestly.  The guilty burden of the Sparrowhawk Katana and the two palm-sized sword fragments would weigh on him for a long time yet.
 
And yet… if only he had been able to take the quarterstaff from Wally, too.  He glanced back north again, his visor dulling the acute gleam of the Codrex Magna sphere through the trees.  Yes, he had a sinking feeling that the quarterstaff would be important.  And there was nothing he could do about it.
 
Overlord turned and headed south.
 
 
--------
 
 
“And here’s your soup, sir.”
 
The turbaned man looked up from the paper in his hands as the bowl was carefully slid in front of him. “Thank you, maestro.”
 
His server, the graying-haired bartender, laughed. “‘Maestro’!  Ah, you must be from the south, begging your pardon for the assumption, sir.”
 
“Yes, I’ve been living south of here for… quite a while.” Overlord folded up the Pedmap and nodded. “Of course I wasn’t born there, but language rubs off.”
 
“So it does, so it does…” For a moment, the bartender eyed the soup bowl, stroking his muttonchop sideburns. “Might I ask if you came through this way a month or two ago?”
 
“I did,” said Overlord, wary.
 
With a smile, the bartender turned to head back to the main counter. “I thought so!  Hardly forget a face like yours… Turban too, of course.”
 
Overlord smiled in return and nodded to himself.  Yes, in truth, people remembered attire better than faces.  He counted on that.
 
Taking a spoonful of the lamb soup, he leaned on his elbow and stared out the front window, past one of the fireplace mantles.  The North Harbor Town was all wrapped in white, the unusually bright gray of the sky painting the snow drifts a correspondingly pure hue.  It would not be the easiest journey back through the latitudes… no one would be willing to take him by ocean at this point, and he would have to take his chances overland, perhaps just west of the seacliffs.
 
He unfurled the Pedmap again with his left hand.  The Horoscope Man had not marked it with routes, just with labeled locations, which was not particularly helpful except for the sake of his eventual destination.  But the real problem was that pedestrians didn’t usually take the land route that Overlord was intending.  People simply didn’t travel in temperate climes in the winter, and even in favorable conditions, not many people bothered going through wilderness routes.
 
Vague biomes were indicated on the Pedmap, though, probably as a result of Tanuracian expeditions.  Overlord took another spoon of soup and glared absently at the paper.  Cypress mounds and savanna… could be easy enough to traverse.  Or it could end up being like that windswept time he went south of the Delta Towns…
 
There was nothing to it, though.  He would rather take his chances heading south than with heading west… although either way would be taxingly cold.  With a shudder, he turned his head back to his soup, gulping down several more spoonfuls.  Speaking of cold, he wasn’t about to let his soup go that way.
 
Nor was he eager to head outside again.  Overlord morosely raised his gaze to stare into the gleaming snow filling the Town Heartyard.  It was quite possible for him to freeze to death if he overspent his strength out there, let alone if he didn’t insulate himself well enough in the night.  Even upon arriving back in the North Harbor Town, he’d considered spending the night, even though he arrived in the midafternoon and would normally push on.  But the chill of his previous day of travel, heading away from Codrex Magna, had gotten to him…
 
He turned back to the Pedmap, gazing down at the Horoscope Man’s most important scrawled location: “EPE Library, Knife belonging to General, get it Overlord”.  Even if he had to steal rather than ask for the knife, the south sounded nice at the moment.
 
The turbaned man would just have to navigate the depths of winter to get there.
 
 
 
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The Tale

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