Word Count: 1343
It was a battered, exhausted and dissheveled Professor Craxtus that embarked from the airship that had just docked at Elata Spiritus. He’d been in the midst of a violent conflict and seen first hand the sort of people with whom TorBru worked. It had been a lucky thing that he’d managed to escape with his life, so Craxtus was fairly certain that everyone thought that he was dead. He wasn’t even sure where any of his former companions had ended up.
Aeria had been pardoned and was considered by some to be a hero. Quaestor Laermont’s whereabouts were a mystery. Craxtus had left the metal man in the southern jungles and wasn’t sure if he’d made his way out and back to the world at large. The whereabouts of the velen who’d been at Aeria’s side, Diamantus, was also a cipher to him. It was an isolating feeling, to say the least.
His first priority was to seek out someone who could help him. Someone who wouldn’t just help to find Aeria, but someone who had the clout and the ability to pull other strings. He’d been away too long and too much had happened that he wanted to fight against. Perhaps, on some level, his journey south had been about running away from that which he couldn’t face in Terminus.
There was one stop that he would make before that though. He had enough exa to hail a steam dray that chugged to a halt in front of him. Requesting one of the higher-end addresses had the cabbie staring at him in surprise. With his scraggly beard, filthy clothes and battered face, he hardly looked like someone who’d be going to the premiere district of the city but his exa was as good as anyone’s, so the cabbie took him where he wanted to go.. Standing outside the towering mansion, no one paid much attention to someone who looked like a beggar.
Craxtus went around to the tradesman’s entrance. He was met by the house’s underbutler who, despite his beaten and filthy appearance, recognized him at once. No questions were asked as he was taken in, ushered up the stairs and into the lushly appointed sitting room where he waited until a graceful elderly woman with silver hair appeared and stood, staring in surprise at him.
“C-Craxtus?! Is that you? Vis….what happened to you?!”
Craxtus couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face.
“Somehow I survived everything, Yulia. What about you? I see that TorBru couldn’t completely crush you.”
The woman smiled ruefully.
“I am not normally someone who uses blackmail, but I found that in this instance, it came in handy. I knew too much about TorBru’s operations and I’m too prominent in the city. If Mercuti had me killed, he’d have to answer quite a few uncomfortable questions.”
Craxtus simply shrugged.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. We are all forced to do things we find distasteful in order to survive. It’s good that you’re around. I need your help!”
The silver-haired scientist regarded her wild-eyed, wild-haired companion calmly with the vague hint of a smile on her lips.
“I would say that’s pretty blindingly obvious. Now how about we get you a nice hot bath, some decent food and a good strong cup of tea before you tell me what’s going on. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re dirty and hungry.”
In spite of his eagerness to tell Yulia the whole story and request her assistance, the professor had to concede that she was right. He was not in any shape to think clearly or parse out the implications of what he’d learned and what he needed to do. He nodded his acquiesence and waited until the bath was ready.
Afterwards, he felt clean and nearly human again. The mug of strong, sweet tea that he was sipping further fortified him and his time soaking in the hot water had allowed his thought processes to work properly. Yulia sat across from him, waiting until he had taken another sip before catching his gaze.
“Alright. Now you can tell me all about what happened and what you need from me.”
Composing himself, Craxtus shut his eyes and tried to sort out the best way to tell his story. It was going to take some mental organization. He ran through the fight he’d been involved in, why Laermont was in the southern jungles with him and how they eventually became separated.
When he was done, Yulia let out a low whistle.
“That’s quite the tale! So TorBru have found some sort of device in the jungles huh? It seems as if they’re closer than ever to helping The Outside Ones achieve their goals. You also mentioned some sort of mercenary corporate organization that you ran into down there?”
Craxtus nodded his confirmation.
“Yeah. I don’t really know much about them other than the fact that they appear to have mining interests, violently beseiged the military camp we were part of and nearly bloody killed me. They took me prisoner and it was only through a rather daring counterattack by some commandos that the military unit had called in that I was freed. I don’t know where the hell Laermont went, but I do know that things are getting ugly out there and TorBru is in the middle of it all again!”
Yulia sighed and rubbed a hand across her face as she listened to what the professor was saying.
It seemed that her old employers were up to their usual tricks.
“Of course they are. They’re always in the middle of things whenever it gets messy. I wonder how this other group relates to what’s happening with the Outside Ones. We know what TorBru’s interest is but I think we’d better learn more about the organization.”
Craxtus raised a shaggy eyebrow at her.
“I would love to do that. Do you, by any chance, have any information on whether or not Quaestor Laermont made it back into the city? I haven’t heard a damn thing about him for weeks.”
The silver-haired, regal woman shook her head slowly, but replied in measured tones, “I think we can find out fairly readily. I’ll put one of my people on it.”
“Good. If he did make it back, I can put him on the trail of this other group and see where it leads.”
Now that the professor was done telling his story, Yulia had a few things of her own to tell the man. She took another sip of her herbal tea, set it down and clasped her hands in her lap.
‘Your friend Aeria’s in more danger than she knows. I’ve heard all kinds of rumors through my contacts that, in spite of her pardon and the heroism that she showed at the Black Portal, TorBru is willing to take the risk that her disappearance might cause a reaction and get their hands on her. They still want you, Achille.”
Now the professor leaned in, eyes wide and face serious.
“You know where she is? I have to see her, Yulia!”
The woman held up a hand.
“It isn’t safe for you to go meet her. I’ll make sure that she’s brought here. You can’t be in the same place as her. It’s for both of your sakes. Let me help bring you together.”
Craxtus sighed but ultimately settled back into the chair. He looked over with a slight smile touching his face.
“You’ve got a sensible head on those shoulders of yours, Yulia. You’re right. Besides I know that they can’t touch you. I’m sure you’ve got all sorts of contingency plans and that they’re aware that you have some of them.”
The ex-TorBru head of research grinned at him.
“You know it, old man. You know it.”
In spite of his age, in spite of everything that Craxtus had been through and in spite of his best efforts, he still felt a surge of joy rising in him that he’d get to see his much-missed former student again.