5 Days after the Battle of Kirikuu Ranch
Where Dallas tries to take control and Valériane is named the acting Knight Commander of Azalea.
Valériane stumbled into the camp of the Azalea, her head held down and her green hair messy and disheveled. She stared up at the gate guards when she entered and gave them a slight nod before proceeding inside of the camp. The diminutive Huoshio walked slowly through the gate of the camp and intent on finding Lukina, Thaddaeus, REIA, Brigid, and Mizuki.
"Wait, explain this to me again. Slowly," Bob asked. behind her was a chitin armored monstrosity with a cowboy hat on top of its hardened carapace. The human-turned-sutakame had been pestering her for details after the worst of it had died down. If she didn't know better, it was concerned or at least worried about what was going on. "Shouldn't we call someone? You said there was someone important?" the thing mentally prodded her again. For what was supposed to be the terror of the Sector, people in the camp had stopped taking him seriously very quickly.
Valériane turned around and stared at the somewhat annoying and overly curious monstrosity who seemed to follow her everywhere these days.
"Creature was beat by a cop, arrested, and thrown in jail like a street kid. Does that help?" Valeriane responded in exasperation. "But since, you're here, Bob, I guess you could be useful. Text Lukina, Mizuki, Thad, REIA, Brigid and... any other officers and tell them that I need them in the command tent. If they refuse, threaten to tentacle them or something. I'll be waiting in the tent."
With that, Valériane walked slowly towards the tent, holding her left arm and coughing as she went.
"...only if they're consenting," the Sutakame replied. "I mean, it's not like I want to tentacle everyone. Well, maybe sometimes," it offhandedly remarked. Refocusing itself, Bob reached for the messenger bag it wore, a tentacle slipping in to pull out a Data Jockey. Radio interfacing with the little device, it quickly did just that, and sent word; the Huoshio Knight was calling up her closest and finest.
Lukina had left the day before on a strange looking ship to another system to upgrade her kit and get a new leg. She had instructed them to contact her if anything happened while she was gone.
Thaddaeus was inside the camp training his team of shield wall units. "Put your backs into it, push like you're making babies. They break our line and your team mates behind you are dead," he yelled as he paced beside the two teams pressing into each other.
Valériane stepped inside of the tent, which was vacant for the moment. She had to at least look authoritative and confident for the meeting, even if she did not feel up for the task of leading.
The petite Huoshio took a stool and dragged it towards the head of the table, moving it out of sight from her officers. They all knew that she was short, but at least she would look like a competent knight.
She stood on top of the stool, which made her look taller by a foot.
Thad burst into the tent. "The hell is all this talk about Creature getting roughed up by the law. I thought he was the law," he asked in a serious tone.
"Be quiet and wait," Valériane stated simply. "I need everyone here." Hearing this, the cowboy hat wearing Sutakame floating inside the tent only waved at the ogre with a tentacle, but kept silence.
The officers of the Azalea slowly filed into the tent after Thad. Valériane kept a solemn expression and funereal expression on her face, which seemed to prevent anyone from asking any more preemptive questions regarding the circumstances of the meeting.
When the tent was full, Valériane stepped down from the stool and violently kicked it aside. "Creature has been arrested by Dallas McClosky," she stated. "That is all."
"I can file a petition to delay the proceedings until I return from 605. What were the charges?" Lukina's voice came over Valériane’s communicator.
"That is all...what you mean that is all? We are in the middle of a war and they get the bright idea to lock up our leader!" Thad said beating his fist on the table.
"Murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, war crimes, violation of the Kowloonian Charter, and the assault of an Kowloonian marshal," Valériane answered in a solemn tone. "The trial is scheduled a week from now, before a tribunal."
"Violation of his charter? Were you all made aware that Creature's charter was recently changed? I implore you to hold for the time being. There are some legalities here and I can stall for time. I don't know when I'll be back," the half-elf knight's voice was calm, though it sounded like she was pacing wherever she was.
"I say we burn the jail he is in, leave black knight bodies and return the favor to these marshals. Creature has a war to win that has us fighting a foe that gives shit about laws." Thad protested.
"That's not a bad idea - why not dress up as some of those Black Army people?" the floating xeno turtle suggested. "Loot some of their bodies, wash out the blood, make sure things fit. Bam! We'd be good to go. Though, long term consequences, I got no clue about." Amusingly enough, to make sure Lukina could hear him, the sutakame was speaking through its Data Jockey. Telepathy didn't work on machines after all. "Ok, maybe it's not such a good idea," he sighed.
"I'm not familiar with Kowloonian law," Valériane responded to Lukina. "The Black Army thing...no...as for the legal stuff... Lukina, what do we need to do?" She asked apprehensively.
"The Order of the Knight Marshal is meant to police the free companies to ensure that they are functioning legally and are acting within their charter in service to the Mikado. Creature was named Lord Creature du Rochon by Her Highness, the Mikado, Bhelith of House Arliegh, Duchess of Piyapon and Lord Empress of the Free Companies for his service and actions on behalf of the departed Lady of the Lorani Province at the Battle of Kirikuu Ranch. His old charter was invalidated with the death of the Lady. My Lord and I were witness to the signing of the new charter," Lukina's voice was authoritative.
"Let me get this straight. They make him a lord which puts him under their rule then come and arrest him. I am not saying this was a setup but it sure looks like a setup to me," Thad said in disbelief.
"I'm not a lawyer unless the video I'm in calls for it, but did they grab him thinking he was under the old charter, or the new one?" Bob began to ask. Suddenly realizing something, it waved a tentacle around in the air like someone trying to shoo away a fly. "Wait, no, isn't there bail or something? I don't know if they said he was a no-bail case or not," the once-human's voice filtered through the Data Jockey's little speaker.
"Anyone within a Free Company, even a peerage leading a Free Company is under the jurisdiction of the Order of the Knight Marshall. A lord, a peer, holds governance of a region. But Creature's new charter is still in the process of being put on file. I was unconscious for several days but my issuance satchel is still there in camp, if Creature didn't lose it.
But his new charter is there in my duffel. If they have not seen the new charter, which I suspect they haven't, then they would be remiss to accuse him of not following something they know nothing about.
A knight commander has less authority than a Lord. I advise you to not attack the Knight Marshalls. It is their job, no matter how annoying, to attempt to enforce Kowloonian law," Lukina replied. She queued up a projection of what her issuance satchel looked like. It was a small leather satchel with the symbol of House Arliegh embossed into it.
"Since the Lord is being detained, the authority to lead the company falls to the knights within his charter," Lukina continued.
"Bunch of cowards, instead of fighting our foes they are fighting the people trying to do good. I got our bail right here." Thad put a grenade on the table. "Perfect for a remodel or blowing open a wall." He said with a laugh.
Thad thought for a moment then looked over at Valériane. "Sounds like you just got promoted."
"The knights that are under Lord Creature du Rochon are the Lady Ser Valériane and the Lady Ser Kamilla Starfall," Lukina's image shimmered on the projection. She was wearing an unfamiliar black uniform with a red stripe down the side. She was looked over something on a projection on her side. "He has appointed... fucking Saule... Lady Ser Lukina Aleksasha Petrora as his knight commander and still maintains himself as the Knight General in charge of the Azalea Free Company."
"The issuance satchel was confiscated along with his other possessions and sent to evidence processing," Dallas said entering the tent.
Thad grabbed the grenade and popped the pin. "Got some balls coming into the lion’s den there buddy." He said standing up, towering 6'6" looking at the uninvited guest.
"NO. You will not attack the Marshal. Marshall Dallas McClosky, hear me now," the half-elf's voice spoke over the tiny device. "I am Lady Lukina Aleksasha Petrora acting Knight Commander of the Azalea Free Company and chartered in service to Lord Isil Ithil of the Lán sè Province, in service to Her Highness, the Mikado, Bhelith of House Arliegh, Duchess of Piyapon and Lord Empress of the Free Companies"
Dallas nodded to Thaddeus. "Well that's nice, son. But I am here by taking command of this company until a proper Knight can be appointed to manage it. Since Lady Lukina isn't present and in person, that means I am invoking my authority as a Marshal of Kowloon to take temporary command of this company," Dallas replied and sternly gazed at Thaddeus. "However, I can make arrangements for you to rejoin your so-called lord." He flashed a wide smile at the taller half ogre. At the same time, the sutakame did something completely unexpected, and hid behind the big man.
"You will let me finish Marshal. By subsection, 98 of paragraph 2038 of the Kowloon laws governing the issuance of authority from the Mikado to the Free Companies of Kowloon, I do hear-by appoint Lady Valériane the authority to act as Knight commander in my stead. I also invoke the Order of the Knight Marshall article 350, subsection 56 and paragraph 560 to request a delay in the tribunal proceedings as a character witness on behalf of Lord Creature Du Rochon while I am acting on official business on behalf of Her Highness, the Mikado, Bhelith of House Arliegh, Duchess of Piyapon and Lord Empress of the Free Companies in 605. Any actions to revoke this authority will be acted in great prejudice and will be brought before the Empress of the Free Companies, Lady Bhelith Arliegh, personally as an affront to her supreme authority and her will," Lukina's voice was clear. "Lord Creature Du Rochon's new charter is at the office of the Order of the Knight Marshal for processing."
"Well, section 104 clearly states: Any free-company found in violation or under investigation by a Marshal, is under the jurisdiction of the Kowloonian Marshals. Ergo, me," Dallas interrupted.
"Unless superseded by orders being executed under direction of authority from the Empress of the Free Companies, Lady Bhelith Arliegh," Lukina snapped.
"The empress has, thus far not set foot in this camp. There are no records, cameras, or any paper work other than his appointment to lord - which is questionable and under a pre-trial investigation," Dallas retorted.
"Are you really so sure of your facts?" The half-elf knight pressed.
"Positively," Dallas said calmly. Dallas nodded. "Y'all do what you want, but I am going to inform the rest of the camp." Dallas then stepped out of the tent.
Valériane's eyes widened when the words "Knight Commander" left Lukina's mouth. She quickly opened her mouth to speak, but remained silent, still shocked at the revelation that she was to lead the Azalea Company.
Thaddaeus walked after the Marshal. "Hey Dallas, I am not all up to speed on the rules here but you’re going to have a hard time convincing people of your authority just by saying it. You might not have gotten the memo but Val is kind of a legend around here. How about you show you're fit to lead." A tentacle reached up from behind the burly ogre and held him back however.
"Let's not do anything hasty here - I've seen enough chest thumping to know where that's heading," the floating monstrosity spoke up over its Data Jockey. "I mean, this is a lot of black suits and sunglasses lawyery stuff," Bob added, adjusting the cowboy hat sitting on top of its chitinous shell.
The voice of the Lady Bhelith filled the tent from Lukina's feed. "Then please take this down; Indenture between Bhelith, Duchess of Piyapon, Lord Empress of Kowloon, the Mikado - you can write the rest of it, if your hand does not hurt terribly, about Liang, and Xia, and so on - and Lord ... Lord Creature du Rochon to serve the Duchess in peace and war, from this day until the end of days and the light of the last star's dying, and to go with her to war whenever she wishes, with an esquire, company, or - you know the appropriate wording I gather - to be fielded from a percentage of revenues from the province of Lorani, in Piyapon, as others of his rank, which shall be maintained in good faith with consideration for those people who reside therein, and to have wages, and food, at court, when sent for, as other bachelors - and so on..."
"For equipage and provision lost in the Duchess's service, to be compensated at the beginning of the year, for prisoners of war and other booty taken by himself or his men, and for the freight of himself, men, equipage, the duchess to do for him as for others of his rank..." The recording ceased as suddenly as it began.
Lukina called after Dallas, "Are you so sure now, Marshal? I have already filed a grievance with the Order of the Knight Marshal, your proceedings will be stalled until I return and you will not TOUCH the Azalea Free Company."
"You need to submit that as evidence at the trial," was how Dallas responded. "We will talk when you get back, and at the Trial, until then. There is a war going on. The Marshals have priority in these matters and you know it." Dallas looked to Thaddeus. "Son, I intend to. That's why we are about to move out."
It killed him. The pain in Valériane’s eyes. The stern look of betrayal in Lukina's. But this had to be done. That Gartagen "lord" was a danger. He murdered children. If no one else would stand up for those innocents then Dallas McClosky would, goddamn it!
"When I return. There is a war going on. If you truly wanted to see why heartbreak comes with the job, you picked the wrong Knight commander to toy with. Valériane, the company is yours. All of you, stand down. There will be hell when I get back," Lukina's jaw was angrily set. "Be ready to go to war, of one sort or another."
Thad's eyes narrowed. "I am not your son, my dad died a hero instead of locking people up to steal the fame." He spat at the ground near Dallas as he tossed the live grenade high and deep in the woods outside of the camp. A loud bang echoed around the camp. Several more tentacles - like strong, fleshy, warm vines - started wrapping themselves around the hot-headed ogre.
"Bruh. Let's not turn this restraint into anything more serious," Bob's voice spoke from the Data Jockey. A hard sensation prodded Thad from behind; it wasn't a gun, the man knew, and the beady black eyes were unblinking, and quite serious. "This is above our paygrade man. Let it go."
Thad reached up and patted the tentacle. "Aye... we will let battle decide who should lead." He said as he relaxed. "Where is Mizuki? I need a quicky," he said with a smile, looking over his shoulder at Bob. The floating creature slowly let go of him, but that hard, heavy something from behind stayed right where it was. Like a loaded gun, it made it clear. No sudden moves.
"What the fuck was that?" Mizuki said as she stormed over to the group, almost as if she was summoned by Thad's words. "And why in the world are people saying that Creature got arrested?"
"I... I accept this responsibility," Valériane said solemnly, her voice shaking quite obviously as she spoke. "However, I understand that this position is temporary. Until the trial...whenever that is, I am ordering all marshals out of this camp. The war effort will not be hindered by bureaucrats or police figures. That is final," Valériane finished as she took a deep breath.
"Dallas McClosky," she started as she took a deep breath and paused for emphasis. "You...you...will leave the camp of the Azalea immediately. If you refuse, you will be escorted out by force. Is that clear?"
Thad walked over to Mizuki, a lustful look in his eye. "He got his butt tossed in the slammer for crimes that may or may not have happen. If you ask me I think Dallas is just butt hurt and found a way to cook the books to get him locked up."
"Uh huh," Mizuki said, raising an eyebrow. "And the explosion thing? Just throwing grenades around for fun?"
"Yup, Dallas walked in suddenly and my cat like reflexes kicked in. It’s all good now, no harm done. He lives to jump on a grenade another day to be a hero," Thad said with a grin.
"Don't make me take the grenades away from you," the Kowloonian said, poking him in the stomach as she returned the smile, "Can't have the new recruits following your example."
Thad put his arm over his chest of bombs. "Not my toys!!" He said in protest. "If you ask me, everyone should be like me and not follow the false knight Dallas. Valériane is ten times the knight he will ever be." He said loudly so others could hear it.
At the edge of the camp, as Dallas McClosky and his Marshalls filed out in their various states of array or, in some cases well-being, Valériane found that a darkly cloaked guest had joined her.
Lord Isil, the very same knight that had previously appeared behind her on a jumping stag, that had helped win their turbid battle upon the planes, was a woman of what might be an average height to a human. She had long hair the color of obsidian in good lighting, and wore a cloak lined with white fox fur.
She had skipped the meeting and seemingly avoided Dallas altogether, and she had never met the knight before but when she spoke, the Lord did so with easy familiarity, unhurried.
"You are Creature's squire?"
"I am his second in command and former squire.", Valériane answered, her tone sounding low and reserved. "I have been promoted to Knight Commander of the Azalea in his stead, for the time of his imprisonment."
"Congratulations.". The elf put a little lilt on the word, and quirked an eyebrow. "I had not known. Many of your species seem to choose more peaceful lives, but you are quite the shot."
It was perfunctory, but the compliment did not seem backhanded. The elf turned to her more fully, and though the cloak hid her form the way it draped from her shoulders, she could tell that she gave the slightest of bows in acknowledgement.
Valériane looked up at the elf and let her words hang in the air before she spoke again.
"Just a few days ago, I spoke to a group of my people who had arrived at the camp to join the company. We are not passive or weak, and I would advise that you get that notion out of your head.", she stated with a deadpan glare. "You haven't done me the favor of introducing yourself. So, I will ask once: who are you?"
The elf seemed more interested in her glaring than rebuffed. It was a curiosity perhaps born as much for all Huoshio, as for her personal comportment. Whatever she thought about it, she answered smoothly.
"Lord Ithil, of Lán sé. I am fighting, for a while, along with you. Lukina is one of my retainers, and you are well familiar with her, I think."
The petite Huoshio gave the woman a sharp stare. Valériane's disposition appeared to be serious and grim, in part because of Creature's recent capture at the hands of a man that she had placed her trust in.
"I am familiar with Lukina, yes. However, I am uncertain as to your relationship with Sir Creature.", Valériane replied, her voice sounding slightly confused. "I should make it a habit to question people as to their motives for fighting with the Azalea, so that I won't get betrayed again,", she mused.
The dark-clad knight, with her strange gold eyes, smiled just faintly at her. "That? Because I wish to do so. Though, if it would sate your suspicion, when the city is retaken I have been promised asylum in your Lord's estate."
"That reason sounds awfully to the ones I hear about from the regular footmen," she answered, her tone sounding slightly suspicious. "It's always something about money or a place to stay, but you...you look like you have plenty of both. Why are your reasons the same as that of a footman?" Valériane asked, the pitch of her voice rising as she spoke.
The lady elf chuckled faintly. "Perhaps because they are similar. I am not under my own banner just now, though I could be What answer do you wish?"
"I want the answer that will give me enough sense of security to allow me to turn my back to you, without fearing that you will stab it.", answered the green-haired Huoshio coolly. "You are a Lord, and that may account for your wealth, but your motives don't line up with what I expect," Valériane responded.
She gave Val a keen look, the golden eyes narrowing just ever so slightly. The elf held that sharp look for a moment before replying, "I rather like you. A shame I had not found you first. It is as I say. If I divulge further, it might be that your suspicion brings you harm, where there would be none otherwise."
"If you're a marshal, or a marshal in disguise, then I will ask you to leave the camp. At present, I judge your motives to be insufficient to relieve my sense of security, and therefore I do not trust you," Valériane spoke harshly.
"To tell you the truth," the much taller companion confided, "I was never fond of their coats."
The elf let that soak in for a while as she looked back out over the field at the retreating Marshalls. She moved some of her dark hair out of her face, revealing a tight, high density mesh bodysuit beneath her cloak, along with a wide arming belt. She was armed with an old service pistol, the sort that lacked a safety, and with an ornately fashioned hilt that lacked a blade. Odd, at the very least.
"Would it be sufficient if I said that I advise your Lord, and removing me would displease him when he returns? I gather that despite your appearance and skill with that rifle of yours that this is your first time leading in battle."
The elf glanced her over again, and then back to the camp. "This is true for most of you. War has changed again, it seems. But, battle is my own life's work."
The green-haired woman appeared to look somber as she listened to the elf woman speak. Although her expression remained equally serious, Ithil's words moved her.
Valériane turned away from the elf woman and started out at the field. The weight of the rifle felt particularly heavy on her back, especially when the woman mentioned that it was Valériane's first time leading in battle.
"Damn it, Creature..." Valériane muttered under her breath before turning to face the elf woman once again.
"I never asked to lead this... outfit into battle. I never wanted to, damn it. Creature said it himself, the coffins are nigh empty, winter is coming, we still need to retake the city, and I'm the one in charge?" She replied in an exasperated tone.
"The damn marshals come in and hinder the war effort, when we're already stretched thin as it is, and suddenly someone decides to appoint a person who was a pleasure slave not even a year ago into command?!", Valériane said incredulously.
She found that she had gained a follower in the quite literal sense. When she had turned, Ithil had been right there.
"It would be nice if people just asked," observed the elven noble. After a pause for the laugh that did not come she said, "money is just time. Age to age you find the poor are more than willing to donate time. You are far from qualified. Yet, here you are. The answer is always the same. Why fight?"
They had stopped. The elven lord had returned to her wolf's weathered look, examining Valériane speculatively. It didn’t seem a rhetorical question.
"Don't ask me questions that I don't know the answer to," Valériane snapped impatiently.
"Surely you know the answer. What is your own reason?"
"It was so much simpler just...fighting and training..." Valériane mused softly to herself. "I could be training right now, becoming stronger and more resilient...but instead I had to hold a meeting," she said, raising her hands to her head in exasperation.
The elf smiled at her. It was a kind smile, but a little mischievous. "If it is simply for the joy of fighting, I could teach all manners. But, it is often not so simple a reason as you say. For instance, now your gun is someone else's life. Why did you fight before? To become stronger?"
"I trained to fight so that I could have...purpose and direction in my life," Valériane answered. "Creature told me that he was a knight... but then he wasn't... but... he became a real knight... and... now, I'm leading a company..." Valériane ranted to herself. "I... I don't know what to do?!" Valériane continued, visibly blushing and nearly hyperventilating.
The elven Lord stepped a bit closer, and dipped her head slightly, to view the woman's condition. Then, after a moment of thought, she asked, "What did you do before?"
"I was a w...w...waitress," Valériane stammered nervously as a few tears began to fall down her cheeks. "I was a... slave for a year...and now this?!" She screamed, as more tears fell down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry...but...I'm not doing this..."
The diminutive Huoshio turned away from the tall elf woman to leave. This time, she found a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. Despite the slender appearance of the elf, it was like being caught by a hunting cat.
"I will paint you a different picture of what I see in you."
The elf turned her around, solidly, and her expression was as solid as her grip. The golden eyes bored into her soul like razor wire.
"You were nothing. You were less than nothing. But that beast of a Lord you squired for saw something in you beyond a sheathe for whatever Gartagens use as a dick. You saw something too, worth picking up that gun of yours for.
"Take a hold of yourself. You have seen what battle is. You have known loss and suffering. You know the answer to my question; even if this was the path of least resistance for you. Even if you stumbled into this. You know what shall happen if you flag, fail, or waver. There is no place to hide, in this universe, from the shame you would feel for betraying his trust and the trust of your friends who look up to you. You are better than this, and if you are not yet, you shall be by the end of it.
"You are a Knight of Kowloon, and even if he stuttered, or refused to say the words to you, whether he didn't know them or he or lied, or cheated you, you know that these people will look up to you for it. People who were waitresses themselves, who were taken from their homes, who want their vengeance, they look to you not as some coward, but as someone they are inspired by. You of all people should know their suffering, feel it in your bones. You do not have to be perfect. You are not. But you must be brave. I would trade a hundred skilled soldiers for one brave enough to risk their life, however inexperienced or undeserving, because it is the bravery that matters."
Valériane felt the hand of the elf woman lock her in place. She did not turn to face the elf as she spoke, but she listened intently, her fuzzy ears shifting as she stood. When she was done, Valériane let her words hang in the air before she turned back towards the woman.
"You speak of bravery and leadership as if they are the same thing. I've fought and bled for Kowloon. I am already brave. I want to strive and struggle, and... continue to be brave! I don't want to sit in a command tent and... hold meetings...and maneuver people and their lives like pawns in some stupid and... cowardly game! If anything, I want to meet the enemy face to face, and not tell other people to do it for me!"
Valériane spoke with passion and fire in her voice, her form shaking slightly as she did. The elf would see how firmly set Valériane was on her own ideals, despite her testimony.
"Don't call me a coward, because I don't want to sit in a command tent," she said with simmering anger in her voice. "Thank you for your help, Lord Ithil. But, I have my own business to attend to."
Without another word, Valériane abruptly stormed off into the distance.
Lord Ithil watched her go, this time, her cloak thrown back over her shoulder and her hand on the empty hilt of her silver sword for purchase. Though, after a few moments, when she was sure that the girl couldn't see her doing it, she didn't fight off her brief, self-satisfied smile.
She went back to camp, knowing that, if nothing else, at least Valériane would fight.