The boy disengaged himself from the conversation once more, only pausing to roll his eyes slightly as his tone of voice had to be explained. He wasn't sure if he would ever want to trust his life in the hands of this woman, if it came down to it. Looking out the window he noticed the pavement beginning to rise a bit into a very gradual hill. The crossroads was on the other side likely, only a mile or two away now. He'd gotten a bit of a break earlier, longer than anyone else anyway, so stopping wasn't a huge deal, but it would still be nice to stretch his legs for a bit. For lack of anything better to do, he raised the question in case anyone in the vehicle had forgotten about it, "We're still stopping up here, right?"
"Thomas nodded, "yeah. There's a small outpost up here, not a town, really." He admitted. "But it's got some hostels and hotels, a few bars. Just enough to provide rest for truckers, stuff like that."
"We should get the kid a drink, and maybe a tattoo." Aya said, glancing back at Scept with a predatory look.
Vesper laughed lightly, her expression still somewhat embarrassed about not recognizing Scept's sarcasm. "Aya, we're not getting him drunk, and we're not allowing your tattoo fetish to come out right now."
Aya sniffed imperiously. "All the boys and girls in my unit have 'em. It'd be a good bonding experience, I'd get one too, if it made him feel better."
Last Edit: May 3, 2012 18:28:31 GMT -5 by Steinerman
Scept cracked a slight grin at Aya's words this time; he wouldn't mind a drink, even if it was in strange company. In light of actually finishing this little mission and getting on with his life, though, getting drunk right before going to the Lightning Temple sounded like a good way to get killed. As for the tattoo... well, "No need for that. I've already been tattooed once, if you can call it that. More like a branding, if anything." It was not a particularly fond memory, being serialized and included into a massive databank by the Taron Magi. According to them, no mage ever left their order, only the presence of the order. If Scept ever appeared before an official Stamarian Court, he would be treated as a Taron Magi, with all the advantages it brought forth. He could also likely be tried for treason to the Magi itself, but that was another thing entirely.
"And that's why we're all glad you didn't join the Taron, Vesper. They don't ink their kids, they brand them. Like cattle." Aya said, her voice seeming offended by the news of what the Taron had done to Scept. "Kid, believe me, it feels different when it's your choice."
By then Thomas had taken the well-worn exit into the small outpost sitting at the middle of the crossroads. He pulled their vehicle into one of the many parking lots that seemed to dot the sparse town (almost all of the lots were devoid of vehicles), and shut off the engine with a flick of the keys.
"Right, let's stretch our legs. Need to see if any of the usual information sources are still around, I hate operating blind." He said as he opened his door and stepped out onto the cracked and sun-baked pavement.
Scept didn't bother to respond to that, merely shrugging and keeping his silence. One needle or another, it was all the same for him. It was a nice enough reminder of his past; kept him on his toes with anyone who might try and stuff him back to Minervum and all. The side comment from Aya, though, was surprisingly calming. It sounded almost sincere, that she was glad Vesper didn't have anything to do with the Taron. Could these people really not be affiliated with them after all? Maybe they were and maybe they weren't, it still didn't make a drop of sense to Scept. As the jeep came to a halt, though, the boy found himself climbing out of the vehicle for the second time in not-too-long, idly glancing around and wondering if there was anything interesting to be done in this place.
Vesper took in a deep breath of the hot air, sighing happily as the warmth of the sun stretched lazily over her body. "I wonder when we'll get to come back here, again." She mused out loud, her voice touched with sadness. "It feels like forever since I was last here. And it might truly be forever before I get to come back."
Thomas glanced around once, his organic eye blinking in the bright sunlight. "It does bring back memories, eh?" He questioned. "I used to run messages for a small group up here. Stopped by this crossroads a lot."
Aya hopped out of the vehicle, her movements tense. "It's too open." She complained quietly.
"We're fine, Aya. The Outcasts started out in Zailleon, and near here to boot. Not much danger for us here."
"Yeah, but it was founded over half a century ago, Thomas." Aya shot back. "And the Empire is crazy sometimes." She nodded towards a pair of vehicles in a lot across the street. "This a merc watering hole? Those are Hell Legion trucks." She indicated a few other vehicles spread around the area. "Some regular Stamarian patrol vehicles, and utility units. But I count four different merc insignias, and those are only the ones I can see."
Thomas nodded in agreement. "Hell Legion, Blake's Ironhands. And those bikes over there look like Vere's Velites. Also some BlackBlades."
Aya cocked her head to the side suspiciously, "the Ironhands and Blackblades I can understand, they've been Stamarian lapdogs ever since that nasty work in Cher Plek. Hell Legion, though? And the Velites? That's odd, seeing them here. Especially the Legion. The bulk of their forces stay in Kemei."
Even Vesper seemed unsure of the scattered vehicles. "If things get nasty with the other groups, we can only really count on the Legion to back us up. The Velites have hated us ever since we got that Viceroy contract in Tsuminar."
"And the BlackBlades never liked us to begin with. They've got old Regal's blood in their ranks." Aya added on softly. "And Robert messed the Regals up bad, forty years back. Want to just skip this place?"
Thomas shook his head, taking in all the information. In this time of constant wars and conflicts, mercenaries made a good living. So seeing so many groups in the same place wasn't quite so odd. But still, the mercenary world was always shifting as friendships and loyalties were made and broken. Some of the units they'd spotted weren't on friendly terms with each other, or the Outcasts. And it made little sense why they'd choose the same small town to sleep in unless they had business with the other units. And mercenary diplomacy, Thomas thought with a grimace, was just as easily carried out with guns as with words.
"I'd like to find out what's up. The BlackBlades and and the Ironhands work together a lot. But the Velites and especially the Hell Legion . . . Also some Stamarian regulars for good measure. This little town has way too many guns in it all of the sudden." He stated, his tone curious. He glanced back at Scept, "We're not going to try to start any fights, but if something does go badly, remember, the big guys with the flame insignia are friends." He indicated the bar closest to the Hell Legion trucks, "Let's go find out what's been happening in dear old Zailleon." And with that, he led the way across the street and towards the bar.
Last Edit: May 4, 2012 1:49:53 GMT -5 by Steinerman
As a particularly warm gust of wind shot through the little crossroads, Scept found himself suddenly glued to the ground, hairs all over his body standing up for a moment. Someone else was here, beyond those Thomas had just named, and he could feel it through and through. Like an icy hand resting slowly on the back of his neck, the tattoo burned suddenly, and the boy grimaced. The tattoo was just ink, nothing more; never before had it ever acted as an alert or a signal, and he was sure it wasn't any sort of tracking device or he would have long since torn the skin apart. He didn't know how he knew, but he certainly did.
Thoughts flooded his mind at the idea almost instantly. Why had they brought him here? Why would Taron be here? How did he know?! How many were there? Did they know he was here already? He shot a quick look at the rest of the group, suddenly anxious, and the cold, familiar ball of fear nestled itself in his stomach. He wanted to tell them that there were Magi here, but what if they already knew? Would that be better than walking into a trap? He couldn't trust them.
Running away in this place would be impossible, as would hiding. He couldn't use magic until his cover was blow either, so no hope in that. He had picked something up in Newdam, though, that might be a buffer for the time being. Retreating to the jeep quickly, acting like he had forgotten something, Scept found his bag and pulled out a long, hooded, brown cloak, unmarked and indistinguishable. If he was going to be caught, it wouldn't be by his face.
Pulling the cloak over his head, the world immediately became quite a bit hotter, though the boy did his best to ignore it. Making sure his face was completely darkened by a quick look into the side-view mirror of the jeep, he took a few quick stride to catch up most of the way to the group he had arrived with, careful to trail behind by a bit anyway. Things could certainly get very interesting very quickly.
Aya turned and glanced oddly at Scept as he retrieved the hooded cloak. "Is there a reason behind your sudden urge to get a sunstroke?" She questioned, her eyes quirked slightly to the side in amusement.
Thomas and Vesper paused as well, turning back to glance at Aya, then to Scept, trailing a little ways behind him. "Scept, you okay? Don't let the other mercs frighten you, the only ones in this bar are likely to be Hell Legion, and they're a great group."
"If a little rowdy." Thomas added on with a half-smile.
The boy shook his head from beneath the cloak, responding with intended annoyance, "Just fine." If they truly had no idea the Taron were here, Scept figured he would probably look like quite the fool. However, the fact of the matter was that the Taron were here, and whether his supposed 'allies' knew about it or not, Scept had no plan on being taken by his old company. If they did know, though... The mage swallowed hard; there would likely be no easy leaving this place, one way or another.
Aya's jaw clenched as she bit back some sarcastic retort, making an attempt to be less confrontational. "Well, I guess you'll be fine once indoors." She relented.
Thomas shrugged once and led the way into the dimly lit bar. It was mostly empty except for the barkeep, a pair of serving girls, and a full twenty heavily armored soldiers sitting around a trio of tables that had been dragged together. The men were mostly sitting and talking quietly amongst themselves, though a few plates and glasses showed evidence that at least some of them were eating as the rest discussed.
The Outcast's entrance into the mostly empty bar was easily noticed by the soldiers. Several of them glanced up, their golden-red Legion armor showing duly in the dim surroundings, matching their wary eyes and expressions. Almost immediately, however, a chorus of smiles broke out as the men recognized friends, rather than expected foes. Thomas and Vesper both smiled in return. "Barkeep," Thomas shouted. "A round of drinks for my good friends from Kemei."
A roar of greetings and excited noddings followed those words. Thomas moved closer to the group and pulled up a chair, "Now what in the world are you sorry louts doing all the way over here in Zailleon, did you run out of undead in Kemei?"
Still standing just inside the door, Aya glanced over to the hooded Scept, who suddenly seemed edgier than usual. "Relax, we're among friends. Hell Legion and the Outcasts go way back, Robert and their head family have known each other for quite a long time."
Friends. Who's friends? The thought chilled Scept, and he remained silent. Part of him wanted to be interested in the activity with these "Hell's Legion" mercenaries, but the majority ruled against it; there could be too much danger in this place. It was clear, now, though, that the Taron Magi in this location weren't in this bar specifically, but for how long? Stamarian Patrols were nosy, to say the least, and they might come investigating this bar and consequentially the unmarked newcomers at any time. Scept didn't know if the Taron here were directly linked with those Stamarian patrols, but he had no false impression of who's side they would be on if a fight broke out.
What if he simply told Thomas that they should leave at once? No, he couldn't do that. If they were really here to set him up then any indication that he knew could cost him the small advantage he had. Quiet as ever since leaving the jeep, Scept found a chair located away from the majority, sitting down to try and figure out what he was going to do.
Thomas and the rest of the Outcasts sat down as space was made at the table. "Who commands here?" Thomas questioned, tossing a bag of coins to one of the serving girls as the drinks were brought.
A small wiry man almost opposite Thomas across the table nodded his head once, "That'd be me, 'gov." The man replied politely. "Special Centurion Thaddeus Wilbers."
Thomas pushed across the first drink to the Centurion. "My compliments to the Hell Legion, Centurion Wilburs. It's always good to see familiar faces."
Vesper grinned brightly at the surrounding soldiers, most of whom had taken a keen interest in her. "What're you boys doing all the way over here?" She questioned with goofy giggle.
It was quickly explained that a contract had gone out against a notorious biker gang in the area. Normally such a contract wouldn't be offered, but the Order of the Blade, who normally patrolled the highways, was off in Teradia and only now starting to return. Four different mercenary units had sent small bands of their men to vie for the contract and the money that came with it. But the bidding was concluded for the day, and all the units had retreated to bars on opposite corners of the block for deliberations.
Thomas nodded along with the words, so that was the reason behind so many mercs in town. "What about the Stamarian patrols? They normally stop off at that little outpost of theirs up the road, not in this miserable excuse for a town."
Thaddeus shrugged once, "Don't know, 'gov. They've kept to themselves, besides a few sneers at us mercs. Though that stopped after one of the Velites bit a trooper's ear off in a barfight. Now they just hang around the government offices in town."
One of the other Legionaries took notice of Scept, sitting a little ways off from the rest of the group. "That kid with you?" The man questioned curiously.
Aya, who'd taken up a seat at a table that was between the others and Scept, nodded once. "Yeah, he's with us. Contractor we're doing a job with. Ignore the cloak, he suddenly felt a chill."
Several raucous jokes were then made about how Scept should join the Hell Legion down in the Wastelands near Pharos and Galsia, that'd get the chill right out. But otherwise, the soldiers simply continued to trade information with Thomas as they all drank their newly gifted beer.
Catching a glimpse through the shades covering the window, Scept's hair stood up even further. It hadn't taken long for them to want to know what was going on, and now was the time for the mage to do something. Time for Thomas to put his money where his mouth was, he supposed. Without a word, Scept stood up and made for the bathroom, face still covered, though it didn't really matter anymore, it seemed.
Not a moment after Scept had disappeared into the other room, though, the door to the bar slammed open again, a dozen Stamarian troopers filing in and suddenly making the room feel much smaller. Clad in huge suits of power-armor, every single man was quite sufficiently armed to the teeth. After the troopers, though, a single man in a robe followed them in as well, his fair skin marking him from Allondell, and his ring marking him with the Taron to a man with a good eye.
His clear but nasally voice filled the room very quickly, "Rykaar, check the woman's papers. As for the rest of you... I count one missing." As a large, imposing Stamarian went off to confront Aya about her legality, the Taron looked around the room with austerity in his eyes, quickly singling out Thomas. With a sneer, he questioned the man, "You. Where is your fourth? I saw him enter."
For a mere second, the mercenaries all glanced up at the newcomers, and then as a one, seemed to come to an agreement, and continue talking, albeit they lowered their lone a little. Their lack of concern for the Stamarians a clear sign of disdain.
Thomas took a few extra seconds to drain his glass, then turned and gave the Taron the full stare of his electronic eye, quite an unnerving sight, to most. "Omega Saint, of the Outcast mercenary unit." He greeted icily. "Our papers are in order, and you're interrupting our reunion."
He snapped his fingers, and Aya produced a paper booklet from her pantpocket, then tossed it contemptuously to the nearest Stamarian. "You boys should know better than to question a merc's papers, this isn't the old days." Aya added on. "We're by the book, ask your viceroys."
Throughout the momentary exchange, not a word had been spoken of a fourth companion. Though by the icy grin Aya sported, and Thomas' hard expression, it was evident to them that their lack of an answer would be noticed quickly.
As Thomas had been speaking, Vesper had slowly made her way over to the barkeep and ordered another drink in a quiet voice. She also waved over one of the serving girls and exchanged a few words, then patted the girl lightly on the shoulder and went to sit back down, keeping her head low. Things, she decided, were about to get truly messy.