Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 4

Ravenswing was one of the largest wing cities in existence, meaning that it had a population of a thousand. Before the Burning Era, this would have classified it as a decent sized village, but now it made it into a bustling hub of civilization. And it was very, very bustling... just not entirely with people. Attendants were everywhere, fixing things, cleaning things, moving things, packing things. There were even attendants cooking, babysitting, and keeping watch, chores that had all been assigned to the kids when Alex was growing up.

But times were different. A brilliant (or more likely, exhausted and delirious) golem designer had stuck the core components of a drone into a knitted doll, and to everyone's surprise, it had worked. Really well, in point of fact, which quickly led to a frenzied production of animated knitted designs, which were eventually dubbed 'attendants' because that was what they were ideally suited to. There were little knitted attendants that existed simply to find dust under furniture, attendants that organized closets, attendants that led people around hallways. They were nice in that they had a friendly, well-meaning demeanor that drones were decidedly lacking, and they were easy to implement if you knew your steps. People knitted attendants of every shape imaginable, and if the drone programmers could figure out how to explain their duties to them, they would perform them until they were destroyed.

Which was easy to do, unfortunately. The attendants were quite flammable and easy to tear asunder, and when faced with a malignant force, such as a Print, they were useless. Making matters worse, attendants could not be mixed with any kind of vocal magic (neither could drones), which meant that in order for them to even communicate danger they needed tools such as bells or writing utensils. It had therefor become tradition (and essentially law, because people were very uptight about it) for all attendants to have a pen of some kind integrated into their design or in their possession at all times. For the attendants that were designed to be human-shaped, this usually took the form of a pen hold back their hair or behind their ears. The more common, comically proportioned attendants tended to have pens strapped to their backs like little swords.

Alex eyeballed the quill sticking proudly from the right shoulder of their guide. The little guiding attendant was barely a foot tall, with nearly half that height being taken up by his head. The designer apparently thought that huge heads and uncontrollable hair were cute, and the attendant clearly thought so too, as it marched cheerfully down the hall with Ani and Alex close behind. Alex smiled a bit to himself, thinking Well, at least one of us looks happy.

The attendant paused, spun around on one stubby leg, and gestured grandly at the door to it's left, a huge grin on it's knitted face. Ani nodded to the attendant once and walked through the door, her boots rapping against the metal floor. Alex had to smile again as the little attendant hopped up to the shelf to hang out with the other government-issued attendants.

Once he stepped through the door, Alex's smile faded quickly. The place was a licensed armoury, which meant that it was drowning in every weapon you could ever want, and then a couple of meaner, sharper versions of all those weapons. People with missions they needed done typically met prospective teams here, so that they could see exactly what kind of gear the team had, and whether it was up to the task. It was also a place that adventurers hung out, looking for teams that were down a man. It was almost like the store sold swordsmen alongside their swords.

Alex hated being in these places.

Ani, however, wasted no time in figuring out what she wanted. She went straight for the Climber's section, a towering wall of chains and spikes. She coughed into her hand once on the way over, a gesture that Alex alone was able to interpret- she was checking to make sure that her voicegear would produce a tolerable accent. Stopping a couple of feet from the wall, she leaned back a bit and glared upwards.

"Hey! Any ov you lot lookving vor a job? I am in need ov a mid-to-high level Climber!"

There was a long pause as the climbers on the wall looked at each other. An employer asking for a midlevel straight up was generally a sign of very high-risk mission. Most of the climbers went back to what they were doing, but one shrugged a bit and jumped down in front of Ani.

Ani sized the man up. He was very tall naturally, at least 6'6", and his height was increased by another 1'6' by his foot and hand augmentations. The man had massive bloodred locks of hair that swept in front of his eyes and down his shoulders in thick cords. An exceptionally long chin stuck forwards, emphasizing his every word. Though Alex could not see the man's eyes, he could tell that a razor-sharp gaze was taking every inch of him in.

<I am called Chase Chaskis, do you speak Frostbite?> he asked in the crisp, rapid language local to the northern peoples. Given his clothing, which currently just consisted of well-worn loose pants and his augmentations, it was unsurprising that he hailed from the north. <I am afraid I am quite unable to speak your language, though I understand it well enough.>

Ani nodded, though it clearly took her a second to figure out what some of the clicking consonants strings meant. Frostbite was not a hard language to learn, because it contained relatively few words and rules, but that meant that common words in other languages were represented in Frostbite by a lengthy string of base concept words, and when these were strung together by rapid strings of clicks, they could be quite difficult to interpret.

Feeling useful, Alex flipped open his waistbook to one of his most used pages: two complex circular designs with a blank rectangle in between them. The opposite page had the outlines of a thumb running across the top and bottom, with a solid block of tiny script running in between. Alex gripped the book so that his thumbs were over the outlines, with his first two fingers of each hand supporting the other half of the waistbook. He held the book out in between Ani and the Climber.

The Climber made an appreciative gesture with his very expressive mouth, and folded his arm extension back so that he could place his real thumb on top of one of the circles. Ani removed her glove so she could do the same, and Alex spoke some quick parameters to the block of text between his hands. There was a small flare and the circular run designs began to swirl around, runes moving in and out of circles in an irregular pattern. Ani smiled a bit, realizing that Alex had intoned her native language rather than the international standard.

Ani began speaking, and the words were translated into written characters made of smoke that rose from the rectangle in the middle of the page. Alex squirmed slightly as he felt the magic reach into his brain and steal the translation. Even though he had written the spell, it still felt invasive, and it had the additional problem that it made it very difficult for him to follow the conversation, because his translation was literally being snatched out of his brain.

Ani was giving her credentials, and asking for the Chase's. He responded that he had served as a messenger in the northern mountains for ten years, which was how he got his last name, before they had gotten connected to the Oracle networks. After that he had changed his name and joined the Clear Skies, a group that tattooed themselves blue and hunted down Prints in the mountains. When the group headquarters was annihilated a couple of years ago, Chase had started taking odd jobs as he found them, which had brought him steadily farther south.

How long was he in the Clear Skies? asked Ani, somewhat confused on his numbers. Sixteen years, he replied, and grinned a bit: I've been around a while.

Ani chuckled a bit, clearly surprised. There were very, very few people still living that were born before the beginning of the Burning Era, which Chase clearly was. It was surprising, he certainly didn't look like he was in his forties. Probably because all you could see of his face was his mouth and chin.

Alex lost track of the conversation as objectives and pricing were discussed, which annoyed him somewhat, because he was still a bit in the dark as to what he had signed himself up for. But trying to translate the numbers and contractual obligations accurately consumed all of his attention, so he let it slide, resolving to ask Ani about it later. It suddenly occurred to him that if they were hiring a Climber, whatever they were doing was going to involve caves and/or cliffs. Alex hated cliffs.

Ani finished identifying their Angel, and pulled her hand off the book. There was a small jolt as the runes ground to a halt on the page, and the characters written in smoke dissolved at an accelerated rate. Chase took his hand off the book as well, unfolding his arm extension in one quick jerk. <I will see you in a few hours then> he said, flexing his toes.

"Yah," replied Ani, looking at Alex. "Come on, Alvex, ve have to get some vood now."

"Good, I'm dyin'." Alex flipped his waistbook closed and put it back into it's pocket. "We got any other errands to run before we eat?"

"Sternum said he'd run most ov them, so I just need to ask some questions when ve get our vood." Ani pulled he glove back on with her teeth, picking up her bag with the other hand. "Oh, and I have to drop this junk ovv at the monastery. Maybe they can ansver my questions there."

"Maybe," replied Alex. "If we're lucky they won't even get on us for showing up covered in brimstone grit."

Ani snorted. "They alvays get on me about that. I stopped listenving long time ago."

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A few things that I should clarify here. In the first chapter, Alex could have translated what Ani and Ixion where saying to each other, but he was too tired. Have you ever tried to translate a language you haven't heard in years, after running for your life and being on the fringe of civilisation for weeks? Thought so. Also, a note about how I will do foreign dialog: whenever Chase talks, it will either be tagged and intalicized like above, or he'll speak through a translator like above.

Another thing I should note here. The Burning Era is now in its 41st year. There have been two full generations within that time: due to radically shortened life expectancy, a generation is measured at about 20-22 years. So the third generation of the Burning Era should be arriving any time: but as you'll see in the next chapter (I hope), that may not be happening quite as expected.