"We're nearing up on Karhand! No time for naps, Mr. Buford!"
Bird Von Wall shouted behind her.
Lucas shook off the remnants of sleep and took a deep breath of
the tea-soaked air inside the caravan. He'd wished to sleep through
G'ald St'at when they left Conwell. He turned to check that his
satchel of script-scrolls was still by him, and then turned to see
his current pride and joy, Adele.
She had her black dress and sun hat on and was in a meditative
position, simply awaiting their destination.
Lucas crawled to the front and climbed out into the daylight.
"Good morning to you, old chum. Have you slept at all?"
"Power nap in the city, had Adele keep watch. Good thing too,
woke up to a bloody scene. Surprised you slept through it."
"Been insomniatic for so long, must have caught up with me.
Where'd you say we were?"
Bird pointed to a sign as they passed it, "The town of
Karhand. This is where we're meeting the contact."
Lucas looked as the approaching city grew larger. He'd never been
to the Prush lands before. It'd actually only been the second time
he'd visited Conwell. This was all new to him. These lands were so
close, yet so foreign to him. All he knew about the place before
recently was that they fought with Antiford over the canyon rights.
He could remember the worried looks upon all the people in the castle
he once called home.
Here he was, now, travelling to help re-seat an emperor. He
learned through some research that the Northern country, the
Confederacy, adopted a government similar to Antiford's with
similarly corrupt rulers. This saddened him, because it weakened his
argument with Phin over whether the system or the individuals running
it were to blame for the tyranny in Antiford.
"Hey," Bird said, snapping Lucas back into the moment,
"grab me that notebook, would you?"
"Sure, this?" Lucas said, holding up the closest thing
"Yes, that one," she said quickly grabbing it and
flipping it open with one hand.
On it there were some sketchings of a map.
Lucas was curious, "They don't have proper maps around here?"
"Hardly, I mean, there's plenty of official ones, but they're
never any good. Sometimes it's best just to do your own
"We're going to a place called 'Die Zweite Augenklappe'."
Lucas said, recalling his correspondence with the rebels.
"What? Do you know the place?"
"No," she said trying to compose herself a little, "It
means 'The Second Eyepatch' !"
They both laughed heartily as they rode through the town.
They rolled into a guarded parking lot and battened down the
"Bird and I are going to meet someone, you're going to stand
outside and guard the caravan." Lucas told Adele.
He filled up her boiler, wound her springs tight, and installed
the guard mode script he'd written.
They walked out to the exit and Lucas paid the guards.
"Thank you for trusting the guards only so far as Adele. I'm
not sure I trust anyone out here."
The town was less packed than the Gh'ald St'at, but still lively.
Women and children were shopping at an open air market, men were
conversing over newspapers at coffee shops, but everywhere you
turned, there was at least one armed soldier.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"
"Yes, it's a different world down here. This province hasn't
been ruled by the rebels that long; They're protecting their
victories until they can push further into the country."
The location they were to meet was a pub, of course. Die Zweite
Augenklappe was filled with jovial sorts. Several of the men did, in
fact, have an eyepatch, but none doubly so. Their entrance did not go
unnoticed, and they were wet with staring eyes.
Bird walked up to the bar, "What's the strongest thing you've
A few of the men snickered. If the whole bar wasn't watching
before, they now were.
Lucas wasn't sure what to do, so he sat at the seat next to Bird
and stayed quiet, observing.
The bartender smiled, "Well, what do we have here? Some
Antifordian dry asshole?"
"Just a thirsty patron."
"Fine, Ein 'Mördervogel', coming up!"
The bartender slapped a glass down, threw some ice cubes in it and
grabbed several tiny bottles from under the cabinet behind him and
poured them all in equal amounts. A thin mist skated on top of the
liquid inside the glass.
Lucas gave the bartender quite a few marks.
Bird grabbed the drink... and gave it to Lucas.
Lucas' eyes grew wide, "What?"
Lucas grabbed the drink, braced himself a moment, and threw back
the drink without attempting to taste it. His head started to swim.
He'd never felt a drink hit so quickly. He exhaled some of the icy
Bird walked him back to a table and sat him in a chair. She sat
next to him, pulled out her pistol and began polishing it.
The crowd, so intently watching the strangers slowly started to
return to their conversations.
A man in soldier's uniform walked over and pulled up a chair,
"Nice show, dryers. We were right to have you meet me first.
You're far too conspicuous."
"So, you're supposed to be the contact?" Bird said,
still shining up her gun.
"Yes, put that away, I'm not wasting my time."
"I apologize, corporal."
"We are to move out in exactly twelve minutes to meet the
glorious Emperor. The trip will take a day or two, as we cannot
travel a direct route, you understand."
"Clearly," Bird affirmed.
Lucas was trying to catch the conversation, but he was doing his
best to stay upright.
The soldier continued, "Good, meet me by the southern limits
of the city with your vehicle."
When Lucas awoke, he was back in the caravan. An awful headache
rang through his skull. He managed to open his eyes, and there, Adele
was holding a pitcher of water for him.
"The things I do for business," he complained to
The water didn't quite go down right, his throat feeling sore, so
he tried filling his cheeks and swallowing in batches.
"How are you little moon?" he signed to Adele. He was
thankful he didn't have to talk aloud with her. It had been quite an
education, building a Claurussian sign language automaton.
"The trip has been quiet and long," she replied via her
"Have there been any fights since I was awake?"
"Thank you, little," he said patting her on the head.
Bird called from the front, "Are you finally awake?"
"Not so loudly, Bird," Lucas said, " how long have
I been out?"
"Again, most of the trip."
Lucas climbed up to the front and sat next to Bird, "Why did
you make me drink that unorrly concoction?"
"Mostly, just to see if you'd drink it; Partly, because the
locals were looking at us funny."
"Well, I'm sure I didn't miss much."
"I figured not. The fun doesn't start until we stop
zigzagging across the plains. They've been intentionally
disorienting, but I think my map has our current location."
Lucas looked at another notebook with a dotted line drawn to
represent their strange route, "We're almost in the next
"Yes, I didn't think the rebels had pushed this far yet.
You've got to hand it to them, they've got guts."
They reached the other side of the hill and a valley revealed
itself. Many tents had been set up, and plenty of soldiers were
standing guard and doing drills.
Buford's heart raced. This could be the biggest sell ever, or at
least the most dangerous. He was nervous. He climbed back into the
caravan and outfitted Adele with a variant of the combat script that
waited for his command before attacking. If things went poorly with
the Emperor, they might have to make a hasty retreat. He was glad to
have both Ms. Von Wall and Adele with him.
The Emperor was a bold man. He was calculating and boisterous. His
smile hid a thousand stratagems, and his words were ever motivating.
He'd spent years in exile now, planning the return of the
"legitimate" empire. He'd finally felt like he had some
strength and power now that Outerford was under his control, an army
was in his command, and Sharpwich was close to returning to it's
rightful ruler, himself.
A masked lady, an automaton, and a businessman walked into his
tent. A soldier who led them inside walked up to him and saluted.
"The president of Buford Automaton is here to see you, sir!"
He stood up. "Ah! Mr. Buford! Welcome to my camp. Sorry for
the difficult trip, but you understand. My enemies are everywhere,
but they will never best me!"
Lucas offered his hand to shake, and the strength and vigor with
which the Emperor shook made him glad it was mechanical and not soft,
"So, you are interested in automatons?"
"Yes, your mechanical robots interest me greatly."
"It's a bit of a barbarous term, I'd much rather call them-"
"I call them robots if I like, Mr. Buford! What is this you
have brought me?"
"She is here to show what's possible, but she is not for sale
"I wish for no such... girlie machine. I need soldiers with
guns! robots that strike fear in the enemy's heart!"
"Give me a gun," Lucas demanded.
The Emperor smiled behind his dark goggles, "Private! Give
him your gun."
"But sir!" the man said.
"Don't worry, I trust the businessman," the Emperor
ensured as he sat on his large chair.
Lucas handed Adele the riffle and walked behind her. He pulled a
lever, unscrewed a key and removed the script that was in her
scrollbox. He put that script into his satchel and rummaged around
for another. Pulling out a script, he double checked the label on it
and inserted it into her back.
The emperor was leaned over, looking to see what exactly was going
Lucas screwed the key back in and lifted the lever flush with the
mechanism. Adele straightened herself, and held the gun properly, but
against her shoulder.
Lucas signed to Adele, who nodded, and then took out a deck of
"What did he just tell her?" the Emperor asked.
"No idea, your excellency." Bird replied.
Lucas threw the cards up into the air, and Adele shot at it. The
deck of cards fell to the floor and Adele tossed the gun back to the
soldier. Surprised, he clumsily caught it. Lucas turned to the
"And what of the deck?" the Emperor demanded.
The soldier ran over to the ground and picked up the deck, She
"You think me an idiot!?"
Lucas replied with a blank tone, "No, sir."
"Bringing your girlie dresses and poor aim. Don't oversell
Lucas grew cold, "You are either interested in purchasing a
lot of standard, unintelligent models that simple raise and fire
their guns, or you are only interested in risking the lives of your
men. She was not brought here to showcase super-human abilities. I
could neither produce full humans, nor would you be able to afford
The Emperor looked at Buford a moment. Something had changed. This
was no longer a sales pitch or a performance, but a serious
individual, "Finally, we see the real Mr. Buford. I was
beginning to wonder why an Antifordian was trying to do business in
these serious lands of war."
"We both stand to profit here. That is why I'm here."
"Well, why don't you take a seat so we can talk the order and
payment," the Emperor said, hand gesturing to a table at the
edge of the tent."
Lucas handed Bird a script to put in Adele, and they left the
The Emperor paying partly on promises, partly with opium poppies.
Strictly speaking, his books would not mention the drugs. Dealing in
the raw opium was illegal in Antiford, but massively profitable.
Lucas would be receiving payment from Ms. Cormac of the Order in
exchange for the ingredient to many of her dastardly concoctions.
Of the things that was promised to Buford industries was a large
stretch of land that Bid noted was rather inhabited. When asked about
this, Von Kresser simply laughed and replied "not for long".
Apparently it had been converted into a military base by the
Confederates, in a part of the country the imperials did not yet own.
None of the contract was strictly done in marks, as Buford
wouldn't trust the currency to exchange favorably, nor was it done in
Ciams, as the Emperor had none of Antiford's currency. It was the
strangest deal he'd ever made, and if not for talking it over with
Abigail, it would never have happened.
He especially wanted a bit of approval for a possibly political
action. This will most certainly be spun in the media as his company
endorsing a rebel faction, or at worst, a terrorist.
So they argued over terms and numbers of automatons to be
delivered, and even conjectured about the possibility of non-humanoid
war machines Buford could build with script-scroll technology. An
armoured land-ship with a dozen script-scroll slots piqued his
imaginations in particular. He tried to make only promises to
research these, as adamant as the Emperor was about them.
All in all, the talks and contracts signed went on for hours and
exhausted the two men until the final line was signed and night had
The stars were shining bright over by the caravan. Bird was lying
down, looking up, when Lucas returned.
"How'd it go?"
"Rather well actually. Von Kresser is an amusing man, though
not always easy to please, he certainly likes the idea of a factory
building his soldiers."
"I have to admit that is a scary thought to me."
"I'm of two minds about it myself, but the business either
grows or it dies, so I'm not sure how much of a choice I have."
"So you'll gladly take his money, and are trying to ignore
the moral aspects of it? Doesn't seem right."
"I'm not sure it's so simple," Lucas laid down on the
ground next to Bird, "Imagine if wars were fought with machines
instead of people? It's always the more strategic or wealthier nation
who wins anyway, but imagine if no human lives had to be shed for
"Sure, but that's a bit pie-in-the-sky don't you think?"
"Yes, For now it's going to be my machines attacking humans."
"That might not be such good publicity."
"Yea, I'm not sure I'm going to be placing my logo on these
They stared at the stars in silence for a while.
"I hope you don't mind my prying into your affairs so"
"No, not at all. It's always better to get outside opinion.
Opinions of trusted individuals," Lucas said, "So what's
next for you?"
"Yea, what's the plan for Ms. Von Wall?"
"Well, I thought I might go around the coast selling teas
again. Too many tour and guard jobs in a row. Shooting people is fun,
but I'd like to just adventure without a contract for a little bit."
"Oh? Where've you gone adventuring, then?"
"Well Island was an interesting place."
A chill went down Lucas's spine, "Don't tell me you've been
to that dreaded place, too."
"So you know the place?"
"As little as I can. I have some... obligations... that have
taken me through the wells on occasion, keep that between us, mind
"Looks like we all have secrets. Here I was thinking you were
a rather transparent individual."
"Enough about me, seriously."
The fires went out one by one, until there was nothing but the
darkness and sleep.
When Lucas awoke, he could only see the caravan behind him. The camp he'd been plotting and selling at all night was gone.
Bird peeped her head from around the corner, "I'm right here!"
"Where on orr have all the imperialists gone!?"
"I was just grabbing my spyglass," She said, climbing on top of the caravan. She looked around in all directions for any sign of people, "There's no one in sight, Buford. It's as if they blew away with the dust and sand."
"Do we have all of our stuff?" he said getting up to check the caravan.
"Looks like we've been restocked with water, actually."
Adele was there, their important paperwork was all put away, and everything as they left it.
"Let's get the hell out of this country, Von Wal."