He glances at her as he’s pouring the wine, noting how she flicks her hair out of the way of the fork without thinking, and how her eyes glint with mischievous amusement as she notices his gaze.
“Wh^t is it, Kriocc?”, she says, grinning at him.
He smiles back, entirely unsure of what to say. He hands her a glass and sips from his own, stalling a little before speaking.
“Just admirring you, my Llady. That is a fine outfit, it complliments you nicelly.”
She smiles, and for a moment he is stunned, unable to think about anything other than the shape of her lips, and how they curve perfectly. The moment passes, and he returns to eating, still at a loss for anything to say without the comfortable fallback of politics to rely upon.
He does his best to hide his relief when she offers a topic of conversation for him, and nods along as she speaks. He’s completely out of his depth when talking to her, and yet it’s more relaxing and pleasant than dealing with other, less interesting, trolls.
I could do more things, as time went on. At the start it was just a slight change in facial expression, a nudge towards things. The subtle stuff. I was an inner poultergeist, you could say.
I could have kept on at that forever, I suppose. Subtly creeping her friends out by tweaking one corner of her mouth upwards whenever she talked to them. You’d be amazed the fun you can have, playing around with faces and body language. Like my own private movie theatre, showing the Gradual Breakdown of the Life of Elizabeth H. Pearson, a major motion picture coming soon to cinemas near you.
That said, the subtle stuff gets boring eventually. There’s only so many times you can (metaphorically) grin at someone’s unease, as their friends smile is just a little too wide for comfort.
I began leaving hints, pushing at urges. Definitely more fun. Over the months I think her control began to slip, or I might just have been getting better at subverting it. Either way, the range of things I could do magnified, and it was magnificent. There really is no feeling quite like seeing someone panic, from the best possible vantage point, as they try to comprehend just how that knife went through their palm.
By this point, as you might have guessed, she could hardly even be called the ‘owner’ of this body. Don’t you like what I’ve done with the place?
Everyone else disembarks the plane normally.
You can’t help but shout “DYNAMIC! ENTRRRRRYYYY!” as you hit the rogue mech with enough speed to crumple the armour around its midsection and send it reeling, stabilisers whirring as it attempts to keep its feet.
It fails, one leg collapsing with a shriek of strained metal as the 9-foot tall mecha topples over, cracking the pavement slabs and sending up a cloud of brown-grey dust.
You grin as you stand up, brushing dust off your shoulders. The very picture of the Implacable Man.
“Another one bites the dust, eh?”, you wink at one of the formerly-fleeing civilians, flashing a trademark smile as a followup. Never gets old.
You are on the verge of stepping forward and asking for autographs when something catches the corner of your eye, giving you just enough time to stop yourself looking shocked before a giant metal limb swats you into a nearby building. Damn. Single-hit takedowns were always major crowd-pleasers.
Thankfully the concrete didn’t twist enough to trap you, and you pull your arms free from the man-shaped imprint in the apartment block, lifting the rest of your body out before dropping to the pavement.
Face set in what should be a visage of Courage and Heroism, you sprint towards the limping mech, rolling under a scything limb and coming up just in time to slam your shoulder into the partially-buckled leg, sending the mech once again into the concrete of the road.
This time you wrap your legs around its midsection, and start rummaging for wires, doing your best to rip out anything that looks important. The mech smacks you a few times with flailing limbs, landing glancing blows to your shoulders, not enough to knock you off of it.
After one particularly important looking bundle of circuitry is removed, the mech’s arms and legs stop straining, though it’s cycloptic eye continues to rotate in the recess that approximates its head.
Took long enough.
You untangle your legs from the robots torso, and kick a stop sign until the pole breaks, which you then use as a haft to dismember the mecha. Upon severing the head the eye ceases its whirring, and the orange glow fades. Tenacious bastard.
Looking up, disaster. The general public fled during the further struggles, and now there’s no-one to look good in front of. Well damn. You give the robot torso a spirited kick, then settle down to wait for the other members of the team to arrive.
There was a device, that much was certain. The dust had been disturbed a good deal, but the cleanest spot was most certainly in the middle of the pillar, a small patch of pristine marble a few inches across.
Archaotech, aka several tonnes of trouble inbound directly towards Memphis. Given the sparse look of the chamber it was nothing too big, so the continent was probably safe enough. The last thing the world needed right now was another Antikythera war.
Still, a legitimate threat. Were I the empathetic kind I’m sure I’d feel worried for the citizens of Memphis, now potentially at risk from some loon with an irregular-shaped device of unknown function. Who knows, it might be an ancient multi-tool?
My lack of thoughtfulness was promptly rescued by Vant, who had been doing something useful and examining the various markings scattered around the place.
“What do your machine eyes see, Vant? Anything interesting? Nope?”
The mech almost looked hurt, if optical lenses could convey that sort of thing.
#Interesting? Yes. Useful? No. I understand nine different languages, Detective, but Hellenistic Greek with Chickasaw influence is not one of them. I assume it’s Chickasaw, I could be wrong. Might also be Shawnee or other influence. You perplex me, Bruce.#
“What do you mean?”
#I can read you like a book and you still make no sense. I do not need to be humbled, I know my place.#
“Vant that’s not what I meant at all.”
#Like so, Detective.#
Sometimes I feel a little depressed that a person made of sparks and aluminum has more empathy and social aptitude than I do. Where does that leave me?
“So you can’t understand any of it, Vant? And there aren’t any operation manuals lying around? What about those scrolls we found?”
#Not really, no. The scrolls were badly sealed, but I had them passed on to forensics for translation of the fragments remaining.#
“Okay, case closed, let’s move on.”
“Fine, we’ll go interview the witness and ask around the local area, you can do your social thing where you look at people with your blank metal face and they tell you all their secrets.”
I sometimes wonder, when I remember other people exist, how odd a couple we look; The persuasive metal man, and the young detective who might as well be made out of metal for all the emotions he shows.
Good god we’re almost like a comedy duo.
The prince that needed saving.
There are surprisingly many princes that need saving. Of course, sadly, most of them need saving from themselves or politics or other such things. Honestly? I think saving a prince from that sort of thing is a bit boring.
Which is of course why I’m going to tell you the recent story of Prince Barba;
‘Dragons can’t swim can they?’ was the question echoing through the young prince’s head as he frantically pushed the boat into the lake, not giving two shits about the exorbitant cost of replacing his fine hunting leather. Well okay, maybe caring about that a little, but getting mauled by a dragon would ruin them just as badly if not worse than getting them wet would.
I don’t think Barba would count himself a coward by any means. He’d probably have had a shot at killing a bear had one interrupted his solo deer-hunt (I don’t count I’m just a bard). But kill a dragon? With a piddly wee bow? Hahaha no he fucking pissed himself ran like anyone with a brain would when a multi-tonne scaly beast crashed through the treeline and started making a beeline for him.
So anyhow the prince is about halfway out into the lake in a tiny rowboat - having left both myself and his horse behind (presumably to distract the dragon the selfish prick) - and is looking intensely relieved, despite his ruined leathers, leaf/twig infested hair, and general sweat-covered state of exhaustion. The dragon is of course just sniffing around at the lakeside around where Barba pushed off in the rowboat. It’s a pretty huge beast, a wingless lindewyrm - huge serpentine body, two front legs to pull itself along a bit faster and to claw things. Pretty old, judging by the size of the thing (hard to tell with it never lying out straight, but I’d say about 18 strides long or so?) and the multitude of dull scars along it’s verdant-scaled hide.
Now I’m not going to lie. I would have fought the dragon myself, using only a battered old lute, and all I ask in return, is to have had close up view of the Prince’s face when the scaly beast just slides into the water and starts snaking towards him like an elongated crocodile. I saw it from afar and I am certain I will take his expression with me to my grave, and the memory of it will entertain me for years to come.
So anyhow the best part is, while the prince is frantically paddling away from the dragon (and generally making a hash of it and getting nowhere slowly), this woman comes up to the bank. I didn’t get a good look at her face, but she was wearing basic mercenary/lone traveller gear; hardwearing clothes, bits of metal reinforcement in a few places, hair tied back. Pretty tall.
So she just strolls up to the lake bank and yells at the dragon, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” or something along those lines, before diving into the lake. Now she must have grabbed the dragon’s attention, because it stops chasing the prince and turns towards this woman who is swimming straight towards it, completely unafraid. I’m not entirely sure whether I was expecting the dragon to just bite her in half, or for her to walk on water and smite the dragon with a sword.
So the dragon reaches her… and turns around, upon which this woman climbs onto its back, stands up, and stays there while the dragon swims over to the dumbstruck Prince’s boat. I won’t fault him for that, I was pretty dumbstruck too. So this woman, standing on the back of a dragon, just grins at the prince and says to him “So, Princeling. How much are you worth?”, before leaping into the boat, tying the prince up with some rope, and then having the dragon tow it off to one side of the lake.
So anyhow, there’s my story of the Prince that needed saving. Speaking of which, a penny for Prince Barda? In return for the right to tell you this story, and to teach his son a lesson about ‘Responsible Hunting’, the King is taking donations towards the ransom. Oh yes he’s still in need of saving, the woman sent us a letter by courier, Tita Macha I think her name was.
Anyhow, some coin for a story well told, if not for the Prince then for me? C’mon.
I used to be an adventurer like you...
…before I took an arrow to the everywhere. Sweet jesus do you know how much it hurts to become a human puncushion?
I forever earned the nickname as the porcupine for that, ignore any rumours that it’s secretly a reference to my temperament, damned lies spread by thieving bastards who never did give back my Jove-blasted shield.
Anyhow, I expect you’re here for another of my war stories? No. Well fuck you then. Stop sighing, no it doesn’t involve me fighting off a century of men on my own. It was only twenty. No! No! Fine. It was three and one of them only had one eye. Yes it actually happened fuck you very much.
So what I did was, see, I speared one in the back before he noticed me- What do you mean that doesn’t count? Of course it fucking counts! It was my mastery of stealth that stopped him from noticing me!
So disregarding your idiotic opinion, that left me against the blind man and the cripple…what? Oh fine then. Tell your aunt I’m doing fine, seeya next fortnight. ‘Night Theo.
'When they ask how I died, tell them 'still angry'.'
I used to wonder whether or not people in ages past had something akin to action movies, and this discovery certainly answers that question.
It appears to be some sort of archival text, preserving a particularly famous saga of some ancient hero, written entirely in AD100~ Latin dialect. The title, roughly translated, reads “The Ballad of Manlius Manlius”.
Manlius is described as being pretty much similar to Samson of Biblical fame. Tall, flowing hair, clean shaven all the time, and able to walk through walls through sheer
strength and manliness.
The tales within the archive are all quite similar; Corrupt Tribunes are twisting the will of the people, a damsel is carried off by Gothic/Gaullic hordes (or assorted other ‘barbarians’), and Manlius is called upon to fight some foul underhanded threat to society.
One particular quote has become quite famous among the interns here, from “Manlius Manlius and the Sex-armed Demagogue”;
“When they ask how I died, tell them ‘Still angry’.”
In a stunning twist Manlius went on to actually die in this story, his liver punched clean through by the Demagogue. Of course he then proceeded to revive through anger, manliness, and the sudden disrobing of a nearby woman, pronouncing the hole in his abdomen to be “SED CARNUM VULNERARE” before punching the jaw off the Demagogue, rendering his honeyed speech useless.
I would certainly recommend the translated manuscripts, whether as an insight into the public entertainment of ye olden days, or as light reading. (
My god it’s like a Bruce Willis and Conan the Barbarian hybrid who speaks only in terrible sex puns.)
Phrase - "That poor child, did you hear..."
“That poor child, did you hear? Fell in love with a soldier boy.”
“Now in what way is that news? Not exactly uncommon. Didn’t you have that lad of your own, Renny?”
“That wasn’t so much love as a fiscal arrangement, thank you very much.”
“Fine, fine, you’re always tetchy about bringing it up. So what sort of soldier boy then? Hastati? Triarii? How good is he with a spear?”
“Nah, none of the common muck. She’s landed herself a proper officer boy!”
“Wet behind the ears and laden down with gilt shoulder-things?”
“Chevrons, dearie, chevrons is the term. But that’s about accurate, yeah. A pretty face and not much else I’d say, besides a large-ish inheritance.”
“You mean you actually learned something from your tryst with whassisname, Astius? And I thought you’d have been far too busy for any kind of talking.”
“Here, I thought you said you’d drop that? Anyhow, in my experience there is always one thing every soldier boy is good at.”
“Soilin’ their tunics when the fighting starts?”
Optio Marcus Tullus gently edged his way out of the bar, making sure to keep out of sight from the pair of hysterical women who had so far out-drank every soldier who had tried to match them.