@Kia @Deathbloke it's here you can stop writing poems now All the groundwork is finally laid! Now, it's time for the mystery to reveal itself... * KINGSGUARD Chapter 59: Ears on the Ground March 18th, 2256. 7:41pm. Squad Grinnington are waiting for Hercules and Fourth. “Come on, guys! Keep running!” Judge cheered, watching the dots on his GPS tracker moving forward at breakneck speed. “You’re almost there! One last push!” “I’m glad you’re taking this mission seriously, Judge.” Eve said, rolling her eyes. “Miss Jackson. I assure you, I’m not here to mess around.” Judge replied. “But tightening up benefits no-one.” As Fourth and Hercules’ dots entered the building’s elevator, Judge nodded to Chirch, Rose and Hope. Acknowledging the signal, the girls raised their guards, their hands hovering over their weapons in case of an ambush. Hearing a knock on the front door, they poised themselves, ready to attack. Grinnington stood up and opened the door to see a panting Fourth and Hercules on the other side. “Haa… haa…. Sorry we’re late… We ran all the way here….” Hercules panted. Grinnington turned to the group in the room. “We’re safe.” The girls lowered their guards and returned to their seats. Hercules and Fourth entered the apartment and slumped themselves on the sofa, still catching their breath. “I’m impressed, boys. You’ve managed to run 3 and a half miles in twelve minutes. It seems you value your lives.” Judge joked. “I see you’ve got yourselves makeovers as well. Very chic.” “Hey… Thanks.” Hercules replied, exhaustedly raising his hand in acknowledgement. “Wait. How did you know where we came from?” Fourth asked. “That’s my secret.” Judge replied, winking. “Anyway. It seems you’ve had a good look around the area. Get up to anything fun?” Hercules pulled Eleazar’s business card out of his pocket. “We met this guy selling weapons at the side of the road. He said we can be his bodyguards and stuff.” Judge chuckled to himself as he inspected the card. “Ha ha… I’m starting to think you two coming here wasn’t just some dumb coincidence.” “We’re not traitors, I swear!” Hercules yelled, throwing his arms up to shield his face. “Not in that way.” Judge replied. “Lark was one of the guys I was going to get in touch with after this mission briefing. He may sell his wares off some banged-up cart, but he’s one of the best craftsmen around these parts.” “You know Mr. Eleazar?! But how?” Hercules asked. “Ah. You weren’t there for my backstory. Guess it makes sense that you don’t know.” Judge then went on to explain his background to Hercules and Fourth, who listened intently to every word. “…Lark used to work at my dad’s lab. I learnt a lot from him while I was growing up. I suppose you could call him my mentor?” “Your mentor, huh… He must be some kinda super genius, then.” Hercules replied. “Ha ha. Maybe so.” Judge chuckled. “Anyway. That makes forming our strategy a lot easier.” “So now those two are caught up, should we get this meeting started?” Grinnington asked. “Right. Let’s get going. Take a seat, everyone.” The group gathered around the glass coffee table in the centre of the living area. After a few seconds of fiddling around, Grinnington managed to get the table’s built-in electronics started. A holographic screen appeared in front of the group. Judge began to summarise the available information. “Now. Based on the information Mr. Pink and I have managed to gather so far, our opponents are most certainly aligned with Persephone’s faction. After reading through a few theft reports from some of my father’s men, the thieves are not only experts in infiltration, but ready and willing to engage in combat. Amongst the breaking and entering, there have been a small number of casualties and a much larger number of serious injuries sustained when fighting these break-ins. Unfortunately, witness accounts reveal very little regarding their identities, however they do reveal that most of these break-ins were usually completed by a one or two-man team. Based on this information, as well as the nature of the break-in that happened in our own lab, which, injuries aside, left a similar lack of evidence, it’s a guarantee that we aren’t just dealing with a couple of middle-grade thieves. The group we’re up against are likely some of Persephone’s strongest men. My immediate suspicion is that the group responsible are a group known as the Eight Beasts of the Underworld. Of Persephone’s groups, they’re the most notorious in the underground scene, as well as the most feared. However, if we’re up against these guys, then… It means at least one member of the Eight has infiltrated the Kingsguard. Now, our mission is not only to recover our stolen parts, but to uncover the identities of the moles within our ranks. To do this, we’re going to need ears in as many locations as possible. That’s where Grinnington’s work comes in.” As Judge stepped aside, Hercules gave him a quiet clap, only stopping when the others glared at him. Grinnington stepped up to the table, ready to explain the plan. “From the time I’ve spent down here, I’ve learnt one thing. People down here know a lot more than you think. Anyone with even an iota of involvement in this weapons trade warfare could tell you its entire history, and give at least one important name away. However, their willingness to share this information is low. They’ll only share it with someone they trust, or with someone they think they can gain something from. Whilst Judge and I both have in-roads to powerful people down here, the same can’t be said of the rest of you. And whilst we have in-roads, those roads have their limits. So, to maximise the potential of the connections we already have, as well as find new ones, this is the plan. Hercules, Fourth, work alongside Lark. As a weapons manufacturer, he’s likely got a range of suppliers selling him parts. Finding out more about his supply chain may lead us to an important name, and may even help us recover some of the parts we’ve lost. Jackson, you’ll be working in my underworld lab, alongside a new apprentice of mine that I’ve picked up. We’ve already seen the power that a skilled weapons manufacturer has in the underworld through Lark; as you gain a reputation down here, not only will powerful people come to you to buy weapons, they may come with custom requests as well. It’s possible that a stolen blueprint or two may find its way into your hands… And last but not least, Chirch and Rose. We’re going to need you to be our ears on the ground. There’s an overwhelming demand for female servers in pretty much every restaurant, bar and club across this city. When you’re on the job, you might come across a few members of Persephone’s faction who’ve had a little too much to drink. If they start getting a little too loud, listen in closely. They might have some useful information for you. Hell, if you catch their eye, you might be able to squeeze a little more out of them. But if they’re getting too pushy, don’t hesitate to kick the crap out of them. You might even be able to beat a few more nuggets of info out of them if you scare ‘em enough. You’re strong enough to handle yourselves out there. Do whatever’s necessary. That plan making sense to everyone?” The group, save for Eve, nodded in approval. Eve raised her hand. “What will you, Hope and Judge be doing?” “Well, Hope and I will be in and out of the lab. I’m a man in demand in these parts, so I’ll be out for the odd meeting. As for Judge… Just like he has been already, he’ll be taking the lead in uncovering the identities of our enemies, and identifying the traitors in the Kingsguard ranks. This may be Squad Grinnington, but his connections make him the backbone of this operation.” Eve smirked. “It’s not like you to acknowledge anyone but yourself as number one. That’s real character growth there, Grinnington.” “Well… Even the mightiest of men can suffer humbling defeat.” Grinnington replied. “So, everyone’s happy with the plan. We start tomorrow. Make sure you get some good rest. We’ll meet up again like this in two weeks’ time.” Judge said, bringing the meeting to a close. * March 19th, 2256. 11:30am. Chirch, Rose and Eve’s Apartment. Chirch has just woken up. Chirch walked out into the living room, yawning and stretching. Despite their instructions to get a good night’s sleep, she had been restless for most of the night. As she headed to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee, she noticed Rose, wearing a white tank top and underwear and holding a mug, looking out of the window. As she turned the kettle on, she struck up conversation. “Everything okay, Rose?” she asked. “I’m just admiring the view.” Rose answered. “Did you manage to sleep?” “Barely. My mind’s been in overdrive all night.” “Mine too. Where’s Eve?” “She left a couple of hours ago. Grinnington came to pick her up.” The water boiled, Chirch took the instant coffee out of the cupboard and put it into her mug. “Looks like she’s already starting. We should make a move soon, too.” “We’ve got time,” Rose replied. “Given our role, we’ll probably be in action at night for the most part. We’ll have a walk around in a little while and see if we can get in anywhere.” “Sounds like a plan.” As she finished stirring in her sugar, Chirch walked over to Rose, and the pair looked out of the window. “You know… Whether it’s night or day, this place looks exactly the same.” Rose said. “The only way we know which is which is by looking at the time.” “I wonder if there’s any place where these guys can see the sun.” Chirch pondered. “Somehow, the people down here aren’t all super pasty.” “If we get time, we should try find out about that.” Rose answered. * 12:15pm. Grinnington’s Underworld Lab. Grinnington and Eve are busy making weapon parts while Hope plays videogames. “Do you think we could get some of these materials to work with after the mission is over?” Eve asked. “I’m working on that.” Grinnington answered. “I’d certainly like to, though. It’s better than working with adaminium every day of the year.” “Didn’t you build my main body out of adaminium, Grinnington?” Hope asked. “Are you saying I’m inadequate?” “Not at all, not at all. Adaminium’s probably the most versatile metal I’ve worked with. It’s highly durable, malleable, has a relatively low density and it doesn’t readily oxidise. In any country besides Hiraeth, where it’s naturally abundant, it’s widely sought after. However, after working with anything for too long, the challenge disappears. Working with new materials with different properties keeps the creativity flowing.” Grinnington answered. “Good answer. I suppose I’ll let you live a little longer.” Hope replied, returning to her game. “By the way, where’s this apprentice of yours? You had me come in early this morning, but he’s still nowhere to be seen.” “He’s on the way. He stopped to pick up lunch for us.” Grinnington answered. “… Acceptable.” Eve replied. She could do with a bite to eat. As the pair continued to assemble weapon parts, a knock was heard at the door. “Come in!” Grinnington shouted. The door opened. From around the corner, a tallish boy with shaggy brown hair and glasses shuffled in, holding a large brown paper bag in his hands and carrying a backpack on his back. “Sorry I’m late, Mr Pink. The queue for the burrito stand was super long today.” “It’s alright. Miss Jackson, this is my new apprentice, Zeta Sagittirii. He’ll be working with us for the next few months. Zeta, this is Miss Jackson.” Zeta placed the bag down on an empty workbench and walked over to shake Jackson’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Mr. Pink has told me about your talents.” “It’s nice to meet you too.” Jackson replied. Zeta then walked back over to the paper bag and began distributing lunch. “Mr. Pink, this one’s yours. Minced beef, extra onions, just the way you like it. Hope, this one’s yours. A chicken burrito, with extra-extra hot sauce. And, Miss Jackson… We haven’t met, but based on what Mr. Pink told me about you, I think this burrito suits you best. Chicken, guacamole, medium salsa and sour cream.” Zeta said, handing out a burrito to each of his co-workers. As Jackson took a bite, she thought for a moment and shrugged. “I’ll give you an eight this time,” she said to Zeta. “An eight?” “I like my burritos with extra cheese.” “Ah. I’ll remember that for next time.” Zeta replied, pulling out a notepad. “Hey, you don’t need to write that down.” Jackson replied, suddenly feeling a little guilty. “That’s one of Zeta’s quirks.” Grinnington explained. “He’s meticulous to a fault.” “I can see why you’re so drawn to him.” Jackson joked. “Anyway. What have I missed this morning? I’ll try catch up as quickly as possible.” Zeta asked as he unwrapped his burrito. “As usual, the projects we’re working on are on the board.” Grinnington answered. “Most of these orders aren’t due until later in the week, so we’ve got time. More importantly… Did you find any useful scraps?” Zeta flicked to an earlier page in his notepad. “Let’s see… I found a cyborg arm that looks like it’s made of a titanium alloy, a pistol with no ammo in it, and a few broken metal fragments that I couldn’t identify.” “Huh. We’ll run analysis on them later. Nice work, Zeta.” Grinnington replied. Hearing the usually egocentric Grinnington handing out praise so readily and comfortably made Jackson uncomfortable. Was this persona part of the disguise? As Zeta finished his lunch, he walked over to the workbench and began to study the blueprints. As he read, he said something to Jackson. “By the way… I had a chilli bean burrito.” * 2:30pm. The streets of the underground city. Chirch and Rose are walking around the bar district, learning their surroundings. “There’s some cool-looking bars down here, huh…” Rose said as she looked through the windows of each establishment they walked past. “Maybe on a night off we should all go for a drink around here.” “I don’t think Hercules is old enough to drink yet.” Chirch replied. “… Somehow, I don’t think this place has strict drinking laws.” Rose answered. “Seen any nice-looking places that are hiring yet?” Chirch asked. Rose shook her head. “Most of the places looking for girls seem really seedy. I mean, I’m all for this mission, but… I’m not willing to strip.” Chirch shrugged. “Your butt looked good this morning, I’m sure you’d do well.” “That’s not the point! There’s no way I’m-” Before Rose could finish her protestations, a middle-aged man with Oriental features approached the girls in the street. “Excuse me, girls in the lovely kimonos. Are you looking for work as waitress?” “Yes, we are.” Chirch replied. “You girls ever been to Ganqing?” the man asked. Chirch looked confused. “To where?” Rose quickly interjected. “I went once with my family. I was only small, though.” The man smiled. “Good, good. You girls like Ganqing food?” A lightbulb suddenly went off in Chirch’s head. “…Ah! That Ganqing. There’s a really nice takeout near our place.” Rose giggled. “Trust you to catch up the moment food is mentioned.” “Look. I have job for you two. Some of our waitress just quit, say they want job that pays better. We need new bar staff for the dinnertime shift. You interested?” the man asked, a cheery smile on his face. “We… Get to keep our clothes on, right?” Rose asked. “Of course! We’re a restaurant! Not some kind of naughty place…” the man replied. “Come, come. Try our food, free of charge. I’m sure when you eat it, you will want to work for us.” * One hour later. The Ganqing Restaurant. A pile of plates towers in front of Chirch and Rose. “I’m glad you enjoy our food… I just hope we have enough ingredients for the dinner service.” “That was delicious, thank you.” Chirch replied, bowing her head. “By the way… Since you’re going to be our boss, we should introduce ourselves. I’m Ginger, and my friend over there is Betty.” Rose replied. “Nice to meet you… You can call me Mr. Win.” Mr. Win replied. “Anyway. What do you think about my offer? We’re still a small business so the pay is low, but we sell cheap alcohol, so we have lots of customers at night.” “I’m in.” Chirch replied. “I also volunteer to take home leftovers at the end of my shift.” “Well, it looks like both of us are sold.” Rose answered. “Besides, after you and your wife cooked all this food for us it’d be rude to say no.” “Very good. I look forward to working with you.” Mr. Win said, grinning. “By the way… Sometimes we get very aggressive customer… If anything happens, you tell me and I kick them out.” “Thank you, but I think we’ll be able to handle ourselves.” Chirch answered. “Well. If it’s okay with you, can you start tonight at 9 o’clock? The waitress uniforms should be ironed and ready by then. My wife and I will handle early dinner, so you two will do the late service and then run the bar.” Mr. Win explained. “Sounds good to us. We’ll see you then!” Rose replied. The girls then helped Mr. Win wash the plates, and then returned to their apartment to take a nap before the night shift. * Time: ??? Hades’ Manor. Judge and Hades are talking. “So… Your mission is underway, then?” Hades asked. “Yeah. Hopefully it won’t take too long.” Judge answered. “Excellent. I’ll continue to provide you assistance in any way I can. Are your Kingsguard friends satisfied with the lodgings I have provided?” Judge nodded. “They’re thrilled.” Hades smiled. “Excellent. Now, Judge. I don’t mean to pressure you, but… Once this mission is completed… I would like your assistance with something.” “… I know what you’re going to ask, Father.” “And?” “Once the time is right, I’ll set it up for you.” “Wonderful. I’ve heard he’s built a reputation around these parts for being a tough negotiator…” “If it’s on friendly terms, I’m sure he’ll be agreeable. Besides, you have something I’m sure he’ll want.” Judge answered. “Well then. I suppose all I can do for now is wait. But I must admit. I’m most excited to come face-to-face with the eccentric genius of Arthur Grinnington.” END Characters Debuted: Zeta Sagittirii - @miss_SMP 's creation. Likes: chilli bean burritos, taking notes. Mr. Win - A restauranteur in need of staff.