In and Out with a Modicum of Adventure
by Judd M. Goswick
My plate mail itched. Plate mail always itches. It's those coats you have to wear. Coats that keep the edges of the seeming three tons of metal you are wearing from cutting into you. Those coats are made out of the toughest stuff they can weave-- and that means the itchiest materials known to sorcery, science, or plain old knitting.
I tried to ignore the irritation and concentrate on the target. I was in a Shadow known as "Liraglee" in Special Services, but likely called "the Universe" by its inhabitants. I would not think of correcting that belief for them. The target was a dinner party going on inside the manse I was walking up to. I was in the form of a noble of the Shadow and he had an invitation to the party. Everyone who was anyone in Liraglee was there-- thus I had to be as well.
Special Services had chosen me to make the infiltration because I was the only agent alive who had seen Bakaris Stovill, the infamous sorcerer and political dissident. Several of my fellow agents (of lesser skill and class) had seen him recently in attempting to steal a gem from him. The gem contained the plans for a new spell that would hide ships on the sea from the probes used by our outbound stations to prevent infiltration. With it, Bakaris and his lackeys in the "Expansionist Collective" movement could threaten Outer Houses at will and could build slow but steady power in those places. We wanted it for tow reasons-- we wanted to end their chances of stealthy piracy and balkanization of the Outer Houses and we wanted to use it on our own fleets who faced similar probes "out there".
The guards at the gate met me with pageantry and grace, I assumed that they were getting quite bored of the whole affair and would not notice several devices I had secreted on me. If they did notice, I readied myself to make them forget what they had seen. Failing that they would be added to the list that most Shadows have of people who were just never seen again. I try to avoid loud violence outside of dinner parties and I arrived last to the party, so their vanishing would not spark notice for quite some time.
The guards were, as I suspected, very much bored with the process and merely checked my invitation, took my offered sword into their custody for the evening, and then waved me inside. I chalked this up to the awe inspired by my large butterfly wings. The guards had moth wings that they dusted with glitter on occasions like this to give the impression of gold. The two hours it took me to get the wings to comfortably fit through my metallic sheath was justified by the fact that societal status in Liraglee was determined by the wings the people there had. I was a monarch butterfly-- rare and powerful. It was a disguise with two advantages-- I could go where I liked socially and I was expected to be somewhat enigmatic. Enigmatic people are not spoken to very often. This I learned from a Vorgon with whom I once spent time. (Note: Do not confuse Vorgons with Vogons, as either side of that confusion will be offended by it!)
My wings getting me passed in without difficulty, I made my rounds in the party. I drank a few sips of the appropriate nectars. I ate several of those worms these people like. I then excused myself to the men's room to wash off the stain of a bit of Churis dip I had allowed a lovely lady to get on me. I don't think she saw how little choice I gave her in positioning myself so she would collide just so. She had offered to make it up to me. When the mission was done, I would let her.
Once in the hallway, the Logrus whisked away the stain to another sad fellow in Shadow's coat as I made for the door to Bakaris' study. It opened (with the aid of a Logrus tendril) and I was inside in a short interval. I took the device I had gotten past the guards and placed it on Bakaris' desk. It was a small affair with two disks connected by a chain. The whole thing was made of a glowing green metal that I was worried would attract the guard's notice, but I suppose Alberon thinks of these things.
Alberon had met me a week before in the Special Services Weapons Development cache he ran in a centralized Shadow to the places I was most often assigned. Alberon, an old and very wise demon with a penchant for gimmickry, was in charge of developing and manufacturing the devices that my fellow agents and I used in our missions. He was a skilled engineer, conjuror, and madman. His skill in making devices vital to Chaosian security had earned him a respect beyond the standing usually afforded demons.
"Greetings, Lord Lorgath, I want to show you the latest we have worked out for your next jaunt," he began as I strode out of the array of scanners in his entrance hall that verified my identity. We shook hands and he led me to the table where he had the device that would copy the gem of coded information. I tried it a few times to make sure I knew how to use it in a pinch, made a comment about how a girl could clone a few of her "best friends" and we shared a mutual smile.
Alberon then showed me several other secrets he had cooked up for me... but THAT would be telling.
The gem with the spell hovered and spun over one of the plates of the device. The other plate was spinning another gem out of strings of matter that lifted like smoke trails from the disk. It was like watching a cotton candy machine make an emerald right before me. I waited the long and silent minutes it took for the process complete while checking windows and exits for signs of guards or any discovery. Minutes later, the device stopped and the two gems gently landed upon the plates. I took the original and placed it in my pocket while I placed the clone in the drawer that had contained its originator. I did this in case the device was faulty (unlikely, but even genius has its bad days). I did not feel like having to do this all over again and I wanted to make sure my version worked-- damn his version.
Once done, I replaced the device in my hiding spot in my armor and returned to the party. I mingled a bit before I was to make my excuses and go "home", but that moment placed me in a very precarious situation. I was speaking with my stain-causing maiden, arranging some rendezvous where she could avoid staining my clothes (as there would be none involved). Suddenly, Bakaris was beside me.
"Greetings, Lord Torvo," he beamed at me and patted me on the shoulder, "I had hoped you would be hale to come to my fete."
"I wouldn't dream of missing it," I returned with the somewhat ominous voice of my alter ego, "I enjoy the company or your friends and thank you for the invitation." I was hoping I had gauged the relationship of Bakaris to Torvo and was thinking rapidly of ways to get away from this situation.
"It is a rare thing for a Monarch-wing to come to a party. I am glad it was mine that brought once of you out into Society." He bowed at this and I curdled inside that I had slipped in my impersonation of my "host", Lord Torvo. "Now that you are here, I would like to look upon your true face." His hand flew up in an arcane gesture as a power overcame me and my form relaxed back into my normal human form. He smiled. I leapt. His guards tightened on him and thus missed me-- as I leapt out the bay window of his house.
Once you have what you come for, there is no need to stick around and fight, I reminded myself from decades of service with Special Services. I ran like the wind with guards on trail until I reached my steed. Two guards were quick on my heels and I would not get mounted before they overtook me. I reached up to the saddle horn of my steed and pulled back. The guards froze for a moment as the saddle opened up and my arsenal concealed INSIDE the steed unfolded. The shock this caused in the guards bought me the time I needed to draw a fresh sword and charge into them. They dropped in swift succession and I closed my steed up and mounted it before the other footmen caught up. It was then that I heard the coaches coming after me.
My steed was a special design. It was clockwork, making use of the hollow area for storage was a simple idea, but I smiled at the reaction the guards had to it and the advantage it had given me. One of the other advantages of this artificial steed was the speed it was giving me as I fled the two oncoming coaches.
One of the coaches was coming up on the side of me, and I saw a guard within loading a wicked-looking crossbow. I moved swiftly to counter the gain and deny a shot to the well-armed guard. My steed increased it throttle as I brought it around in front of the lead coach. The man riding beside the coach was also holding a wicked crossbow, so I pressed a stud on my saddle and released a smoke screen from the back of my horse. (I caution you to avoid improper thoughts at this-- I was in danger!)
The smoke not only caused the crossbow to miss me as I swerved, but my timing had left the coach headed on the wrong approach for a bridge we were coming up on. When the smoke cleared, the coachman was unable to stop his steeds before they drug the coach, with it passengers leaping out of every exit, into the swift river below. I was over the bridge in a flash and the remaining coach was able to find his bearings well enough to give hastened chase.
I was not yet far enough away from the manse of the sorcerer that he would not be able to follow my movements in Shadow if I used the Logrus for extraction. I had to find a way to lose the current coach as well. I stopped my steed's gallop and turned it swiftly to face the oncoming coach. My Logrus was able to catch the bolt that came at me from the topside guard. The coachman looked like he was going to run me down and wrap me in the flesh of three beasts-- a prospect he surely thought would kill me. Agreeing, I pressed another stud on my saddle.
My steed belched a long, focused torrent of fire right at the oncoming coach. I quickly pulled my unflinching steed to one side as the beasts pulling the coach veered in a panic to the other. The beasts had little to fear-- I am no monster. My aim was directed at the two men on top. They were burning and running in a desperate hope of getting back to the river. They did not make it.
I turned the steed and made for the road out of town. I would ride for two more hours and meet the other agents on this case. We would each take a copy of the jewel and try and get it home intact-- each going a different way. Those two agents would be killed by Bakaris or his henchmen as they tried to get home. I would end up stuck in small port town in the Golden Circle trying to offload the gem to an agent there-- an agent turned to the other side. I would, naturally, get away, get the gem back, save (and seduce) the Princess of a Golden Circle Shadow, and still get the thing back to Command to save the day.
How? That is another tale for another day.