24th of 5th Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate
My search for the missing reporter Adella Chatelaine has thus far proven to be…less than smooth.
I won’t go into detail about having to make my way through Crowndon. They view me as some sort of bogeyman there, so it goes without saying that most of that particular leg of this journey was spent sleeping in out of the way flea-bag hotels and ducking into alleys at the first sign of, well, anyone.
However, by the time I arrived on Waystation Echo I thought I might be in the clear. A large oversight on my part, I must admit, given the majority of people on Echo hail from and are loyal to Crowndon. Within half an hour I was set upon not only by Crowndon soldiers, but bounty hunters looking for a quick pay day. I’d hoped to get passage on a nice passenger ship, spend the week long journey to New Crowndon sleeping on a velvet pillow and stuffing my face with strawberries for a long overdue change of pace. Instead I found myself stowed away in the hold of a cattle barge, stuffed into a tiny nook to avoid the hooves of my new bovine companions.
So it was that I arrived in the colonies smelling like hay and manure, with a crick in my neck that felt as though someone had stuffed a metal rod down along my spine. It all led to me having a nasty disposition, a disposition exacerbated by the fact that I’d now arrived in yet another territory controlled by Crowndon. Luckily for me, the people of the colonies think of themselves as something unique, if not entirely separate, from their Empire of origin.
Still, I didn’t know that when I stepped off the ship to find a group of New Crowndon officials waiting for me. They offered me a job of utmost importance. I’ve taken it, seeing as how I need the money after leaving most of my things on Waystation Echo…but that is an entirely different story.
This story is about finding Adella.
Once I’d taken on his job offer, Governor Ancroft was most amenable to help me with my task, pointing me in the direction of certain inns and other places where Adella and her expedition had been spotted. The first place I went to? New Crowndon University, to speak with the imminent Professor Barnaby Joplin Oates.
The University was rather sparsely populated when I arrived, with most of its students enjoying a week off for a local holiday celebrating the anniversary of some founding of a thing or some battle or other. These colonials are always finding ways to shirk work.
Understandable I suppose, since they never seem to stop working otherwise.
Thus it was that I had some difficulty locating the University’s Archaeological Department, having no one to guide me. And with no one to guide me, I had no one to announce me. Which probably played a large role in how I came to stumble into my next precarious position.
It started, as always, with the echoes of voices made murky and looming by distance and the marble floors of a long corridor. I followed the sound, thinking I might ask for direction.
However, as always, proximity offered clarity, and I came to realize that the voices were rather threatening.
It’s never easy, is it?
I softened my steps and approached the only door in the corridor with a lamp on. The door had a name stenciled on it: Professor Oates. It seemed I had found my man, and my man was currently engaged with some rather unsavory sounding callers.
“Look, old man,” a gruff voice said. His accent betrayed him as hailing from Salasan, in Monteddor. “This is what we want, in plain and simple terms: testimony saying that the site in Lelina is of no great importance, at least in comparison to the dangers of the region.”
“B-but, that just isn’t true!” Another voice said, I’m assuming the professor. “My academic integrity denies…”
“Your ‘academic integrity’?” A third voice, female, with hints of Nor Easter weaved with the local accent. A traveler, then. “Your ‘academic integrity’ has already led two teams to their deaths, professor, and I’m sure more than a few members of those teams were people you claimed to care about. Do you really want to send more people, more of your students, to die?”
“You seem awfully sure of their fate,” the Professor said. “I’m thinking these dangers you people speak of are yourselves.”
“That’s partially true,” said the Monteddorian. “We are a danger. But hardly the worst thing in that swamp. Look, old man, we’re trying to help you, whether you believe it or not. But we can’t do that with a bunch of eggheads running around the swamps getting snatched. So, call off your expedition, release a statement saying that the University of New Crowndon has discovered insufficient evidence to warrant continued interest in light of the danger. Simple.”
“If only that were so,” the Professor said. “The expedition has already left. They have a week’s head start.”
This was followed by a pause, and then things started to get ugly.
“You decrepit old FOOL!” the Nor Easterner shouted, and I heard something that sounded an awful lot like a fist hitting someone in the face, followed by pained moaning.
“Bianca, stand down,” said the Monteddorian.
“I will not! Don’t you get it? Every person this idiot sends is more blood on our hands. It makes our mission harder, and it increases the threat of exposure. We’re already going to have to kill the old codger. Why don’t you let me get a few good whacks in first, to work out my frustration?”
Well, I’d heard enough of that. It was high time to make my grand entrance. I reached into a pouch on my belt and pulled out a small device of my own making (though, I must admit that I had some help with the timing mechanism from a certain somebody whose name rhymes with Rigel Rinkenbach, as much as it pains me to say it) and opened the door.
“Professor Oates?” I said in my best naïve student voice and peeked my head in the door. All three of them craned their heads to look at me. I took in the scene as quickly as I could. The professor, sitting behind a desk with a ribbon of crimson red running down the side of his face; the Nor Eastern woman, ‘Bianca’, standing beside him; and the Monteddorian sitting on the front of the professor’s desk. Both of the Professor’s guests wore dark blue, high necked uniforms and gun belts.
“Oh! Excuse me,” I said. “I didn’t know you had guests.”
The guests looked at each other. I used the split second of confusion to trigger the device and rolled it along the floor toward the desk. This curious action bought me another second of confusion.
“What hell…?” Bianca said, and the device opened and released a compound of Tinnigan’s Weave and Fiorgorite…guaranteed to cure insomnia in an elephant. I pulled back out of the door and held it closed. Fits of coughing came from inside, then panicked gunshots. Two bullets ripped through the wall to my left.
One of them made it to the door and started trying to pull it open. I braced against the threshold, holding it shut with my weight. Judging from the cursing coming from the other side of the door, it was Bianca. Lucky for me, because the Monteddorian had been twice my size. Still, she put up quite the fight. It surprised me a bit that she was even still awake.
She got smart in the end and shot through the door’s window. Luckily, I had already lowered my center of gravity to keep the door shut and the bullets went over my head. With the window broken, I no longer had need to hold the door closed, so I let go and rolled away.
Bianca lunged out through the broken window, coughing. She hit the floor, looked at me, and raised her weapon, a silver revolver. She fixed me with eyes like a mad dog’s. I thought I was done for.
Finally, she passed out. I crept forward slowly, anticipating a trap. She was out cold. I kicked the revolver away and turned her over on her back. How had she been able to withstand the sleeping formula?
Her eyes were sunken and purple. I examined them closely and found evidence of injection. An addict, then. Probably hopped up on some sort of stimulant. I tied her up first, as securely as I could, with double knots.
I moved into the office, holding my breath, and retrieved the Professor. He’d have a headache when he woke up but he’d live, assuming I got him somewhere safe and we didn’t run into anymore of his friends. I set him down outside in the hall and then took care of the Monteddorian. Once that was taken care of I took a moment to catch my breath, looking at the three unconscious bodies at my feet.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
Well, Pixie, you really are off to a good start this time, aren’t you?