(from an exteded arpee with K&K -)

 

A few weeks after Klarrp and Co had their meeting with Klounni, the Asuran rep of the Vanguard made a return to her lab.

Ah, the lab.

Klounni’s lab is Lab 17, an abandoned complex at the edge of Metrica Province, left fallow since the early days of the war on the Death Dragon. It shows it, too – the building’s not in great shape, the power supply (newly connected) is unreliable due to decaying traces in the walls, and most of the old lab equ8ipment is just broken pieces and worn out golems left to rot and rust away.

And yet – there is still one good lab space, with chemistry and alchemical gear of mismatched but decent vintage bubbling away, a decent storage facility, though one very low on supplies, at the moment, and a good workbench space and holographic computing matrix – still displaying schematics for that odd plant.

Klounni works today at that holoterminal, wearing an older work-apron and very much a battered coverall, a pair of goggles perched high on her head and with the shadowed eyes of the Greater Unslept. A strange tea that.. er.

… it glows. Orange.

… sits at her right hand. The smell from it is floral, but the consistency is thick and viscous. That’s some serious tea.

 

Klarpp steps into the mostly dilapidated entryway of Lab 17. The well-dressed Weaver walking in and admiring the space. Mostly what Klounni had done with it, longsword tucked in its scabbard with a dagger sheathed across his back, handle sticking out from the other side. With his light robes and complex aetherotech gauntlet on one hand, he almost looked like a duelist and less like an accomplished Asuran scientist.

He didn’t plan to stop here today, in fact, he didn’t even have a way to start a conversation. He knew he just wanted to check in on her.

A light, gentle clearing of his throat before he stepped into view. “Good afternoon, Klounni. Hope I’m not interrupting anything too delicate.”

 

“Aaaaaaahblewha?”

The startle turns into ‘tea’ getting knocked over, flailing to try and catch it, and what I arguably the slowest mess to come out of a broken cup on record.

While the cup-shaped pseudofluid debates spread out on the desk amid the shards of the cup that once contained it, Klounni wheezes, hand on chest, and shoots Klarrp a wide (glowing) eyed look. “Knocking. Knocking is good!”

 

Klarpp shot upright, wincing and waving his hand, water swirling out of nowhere around it and he does his best to use it to scoop the liquid and the cup back upright. “I mean I would, but your lab doesn’t exactly have a door!”

 

“I’m getting one!” Well, that’s defensive.

Uh. The not-tea seems to be mildly hydrophobic.. and stubborn. And.. she was drinking it.

“Careful of the terminal!”

 

Klarpp holds a hand up and nods, his other hand now wrapped in air, the combination of them enough to get the not tea back into the glass, and leaving nothing left on the table. That was a skill she’d not seen him pull off before.

“I’d say to be careful of the drink as well. What is that?”

 

“Nutrient stimulant gel. Jasmine flavored.” She crosses her arms. “Don’t you change the subject. I am being agitated and I am not finished with agitation yet. Also, don’t put it outside.. it makes a decent herbicide and paint remover. Uh. Here.”

She collects a rusty basin and holds it out. “This will do.”

 

Klarpp gives a patented toothy grin and nods, depositing it into the basin, and then dusts his hands off. “Fair enough, I should have been more forthright upon entering. My apologies. I just happened to be in the area.”

 

“No one ‘just happens’ to be here. That is the point of this location.” She crosses her arms again. “No peacekeepers this time?”

 

Klarpp shakes his head. “Not this time. Just an old schoolmate wanting to check-in.”

 

She… finally uncrosses her arms, and drops into her chair again. “… of course.” Klounni shakes her head.. then rests her elbow on the workbench and her chin on her hand. “I think Talik figured out who was willing to supply me. All the shipments I’ve been expecting haven’t shown up – I don’t suppose you have news? You had mentioned looking into them – ” A pause. “No. You’d have led with that. But.. I still should ask, shouldn’t I?”

 

“I wouldn’t blame you for asking. We’re still investigating. Granted I’ve heard my guild was in a bit of a dust-up recently with some folks we’ve been tangling with so I”m a bit behind on intel. Nasty stuff.” He finds an empty stool and hops onto it, feet hooking onto the bars between the legs, those three-toed feet always quite dextrous.

“But lots of odd things happening.”

 

“… of course. Tyria exists in interesting times. Isn’t that the old curse?”

Klounni eyes him – suspicious. “.. if I ask you want you /really/ want, would you be mortally offended?”

 

Klarrp smiles. “Not at all. Just don’t be offended when I say I wanted to see you. It’s been a long time and it was refreshing to collaborate.”

 

“Oh.”

Klounni tilts her head then, “Well. That’s… refreshing. Your reputation will likely suffer if this gets out to the Council.” She sighs – “… to be honest, I can’t do much without those shipments. I’m at a dead-end in my research and without filling those orders, I’m not sure I can really do anything at all. I suppose it is time to lock everything away and go see what’s happened to them.”

“Thankfully, my patron has not approached me looking for results. As kind as they can be… well. I would not like to see them angry.”

 

Klarpp smirked. “Oh trust me it’s only publically that I’m liked. I’m an adventurer and part of a mobile and somewhat well-regarded Guild that’s been involved in several large-scale conflicts.” He looked her over as she talked about the missing shipments. “If you want I can check and see if I’ve missed any updates.”

 

“… please?” Her smile, while appreciative, is tight. “… I do not exactly have a great deal of paying work at the moment. It would be a very great favor – for what little that is worth.”

She drums fingers on the workbench top. “Thankfully, even if I’m a bit overdue, neither of them has come looking for what I have promised. That’s a stroke of luck – one of them, at least, as kind as she’s been, has the demeanor of someone who would be less than appreciative of that missed deadline.”

“Anyway – have you had time for research?”

 

He smiled and nodded, pulling up the holographic display on his gauntlet pinging the home server for a response. It would take a while for a response. “I can also help with the paying work if need be, my offer from before still stands.”

“As for research, it’s all been short-term, acutely specific applications to help defend against Dragon Minions.” He splays his hands out and shrugs. “Not exactly groundbreaking, but extremely helpful.”

 

“…. weapons research?” She seems.. startled. “I didn’t think that was really your area of interest.”

 

“It’s not, but trying to convert energy is. Trying to help dampen some of the ecological damage the dragons caused. Lots of areas have been carved up by them. Have you ever been to the Brand?” He leaned forward on the stool, almost hopping a little on it as he got into the type of discussion he loved.

 

“No. I.. ” She frowns – “You know, I really haven’t traveled very far. I never… it was always the work. That’s.. in the east, right? Where the crystal dragon’s breath left an ongoing storm in the earth?”

 

Klarpp nods. “It’s gotten bigger. Kralkatorrik flew south from there, all the way through Elona. Thousands of miles of Tyria were marred just by the passage of that Dragon. Who knows how long it will take to heal. But if we can maybe help? They’re still working on Cleansing Orr of Zhaitan’s taint.”

 

“Perhaps. I do not have a great deal of experience in dragon-magic, especially not in crystal thaumaturgy..”

She sighs. “I would like to see it, one day. Perhaps once I have..”

The researcher looks at the battered lab, and her fists clench. “… I can’t publish. That’s what you want, isn’t it – you know I’m desperate, so you’ll offer a project, and then it’ll all seem perfect until your Krewe’s name ends up on all the work. You can just use anything I find until you’ve got enough and then I’m starting over again.”

Her jaw clenches.. and that mind of hers connects things. “You showed up with the Peacekeepers – and I haven’t seen a shipment since. They won’t talk to me at all – but there are extra patrols out there – and have been ever since you and … all of your friends came. Is that what this is all about? ‘come work on my Brand project’… were you going to have me arrested?”

 

Klarpp smiles softly. “Not at all. If you did take up our offer, all of the work you did would be properly credited. I’m not interested in any sort of published fame. I haven’t published anything in years. That’s not my focus anymore. It’s on protecting the people and races of Tyria. We came investigating smugglers, yes, but that’s not why I’m here today.”

He pings her terminal. And images show up, the image of the man delivering her shipments, of his arrest in Divinity’s Reach, and subsequent escape and disappearance. Drawn references of Dasha and Maya. Holographic recreations of Shadowy Knights and then finally, images of her ex-husband’s raided lab.

“I didn’t want to lie to you, but we had to do more research first.”

 

She… looks to the terminal, confused. “… I don’t understand. Wait. Smugglers? … you /were/ coming to arrest me!”

Klounni looks stricken. “That’s what this is?” She watches the images go by – “I know Miss Evergreen and Miss Sita – they’ve been very generous. But.. what are those … and the lab.. what is the Inquest doing involved in..”

None of it seems to form a coherent picture for her.. so she tries, “Please explain?”

 

Klarpp nods. “Miss Sita and Evergreen have been working for a being we’ve classified as the Fragment King. A reincarnation of sorts of the Ascalonian King Adelbern. He is currently obsessed with righting the wrongs of his failure to wipe out the charr. They were using part of your research in the Charr flu and also the workings of an Inquest team Talik led, and combine them to create a plague to wipe them out.” He paused and checked some data on his gauntlet.

“We weren’t coming to arrest you, specifically. We were following up on a lead, and based on our conversation, I knew you weren’t aware of the actual aim of what you were commissioned for.”

He sighed softly. “Most of Talik’s krewe didn’t make it after that raid. Which meant their work was done. We stopped the smugglers, but… the leader escaped and has vanished into the wilds, probably embedding deeper with them.”

He frowns softly before he speaks next.

“They were using you, trying to make your research part of their attempt at genocide. Maya and Dasha, their first names, are under an influence, my Commander believes. He’s trying to save them, and stop this Shadow King.”

 

Klounni stares at him. “… oh.”

And.. she slumps in her chair, slightly. “… so that’s it. That’s why everyone was so.. tense.”

And.. she laughs, a sad little sound. “… And that’s why you’re taking pity on me. Got it.” She looks up at the flower that still rotates in the corner of the lab. “So that’s what I’ve got left. A pity research project or .. what. Complicit in a conspiracy to .. do something horrible.”

She is silent for a long time, then – “… I have a counteragent. You can probably synthesize a formula in bulk -… I need a day to finish a few things.” She turns… and picks up a newer, slender red volume – likely her current notes. “… Give me that long. When you send the Peacekeepers, I kinda want to fix things before they get here?”

 

Klarpp smiles widely at her. “Peacekeepers were told that you’re not part of it. You’re not even being looked at anymore. They’re looking for more smugglers. And it’s not Pity! You’re brilliant!” He pauses for a moment as he taps his gauntlet again and pings her console again. “You’re right about one thing, you do need to see more of Tyria.”

On her console would be a job offer, long term, regular pay, and state of the art facilities, with the agreement of all work done in said facilities would be solely credited to her. Contracted.

“I told my Commander of your work with the flower. Of the potential of your work. He would like to see you expand your scope. Your choice of hires too. You’re brilliant, Klounni. You always have been. And it’s not pity, it’s networking.”

 

“… Expand… my scope. What… what’s going to happen to Miss Evergreen and Miss Sita?”

The asura looks seriously to Klarpp. “Whatever else, they’ve been kind to me. Dasha brought me back notes I’d thought I’d never see again – Maya would stop in and just.. share tea. They trusted me. It wasn’t.. ”

She looks down. “They didn’t have to be kind.”

 

“That’s because they are. Our Commander, Riathan Bordren, has been trying to recover them. Get them away from the magical influence, we believe that’s turned them to work with this Shadow King. They were trying to get Commander Bordren to rejoin them. He himself was abducted by the King and forced to work for him before we retrieved him from this shadow realm the King is building his forces in.”

He pauses and adds. “My job can be very weird.”

 

Klounni’s luminous eyes… flare. “… you believe it is a thaumaturgical intervention?” She hmms. “Any sort of auric influence leaves a residue, and that residue often tracks not only to a point of origin but a signature – usually unique to the originator of the thaumic form. There’s some promising research that indicates you could theoretically isolate magical threads based on that signature – using an alchemical filter.”

She considers. “Does this .. Commander of yours exhibit signs of prior control?”

 

Klarpp pauses. “Actually yes. One of my associates ran a taste and there is a scar of sorts on his life force. Recently the king knocked him unconscious with it and tried to establish a link with him.”

“You remember your Synergetics coursework – ” She rolls her eyes at him. “Magical effects require an ongoing source of power. If you want to avoid violating the laws of exchange, you have to link your ongoing magical effect to the innate magic of your subject. I /know/ you never paid attention in Biothaumics, but honestly – ”

She sighs, exasperated. “The first rule: magic is energy, and is subject to entropy, especially when it intersects a living form – this is why magical diseases and effects cannot endure. Second – if you want an enduring effect, it has to be fueled by the native magic of the subject. And third – equivalent exchange applies.”

“… in other words..” She gestures at Klaarp, expectant.

 

“The commander could influence the King. He could use his own magic to maybe break the other’s hold!” He bounced excitedly in his seat. “I doubt he’s ever even considered using the link that way. By the eternal alchemy that’s brilliant.”

 

“… well, yes.” She literally leans up and thumps his ear. “But /think/. If you could isolate the signature on this commander of yours – and then /compare/ that signature on one of the others you think is tainted, not only could you prove the taint, you could find the common characteristics between both and isolate the signature. And an isolated magical signature is one you can manipulate. It’s when it’s all tangled up in your magic that it’s hard.”

 

Klarpp laughs as his ear is thumped. “Ah yes, that granular genius of that wonderful cranium of yours. But still, brilliant, amazing.” He rubbed his ear gently and looked at her. “You know you’re worth so much more than what you’ve been dealt, Klounni. You need room to stretch that brilliant mind of yours.”

 

She moves from smiling to wounded in a moment. “… The moment your commander takes me on, your entire Krewe will be a laughingstock. But.. ” She takes a breath. “I’ll help. You. With .. all of this … mess I helped create. Then.. maybe, we can talk?”

 

Klarpp nods. “Let’s start there then. But I think we’ll be okay as far as laughing stocks go. Remember how I said I’m only publicly liked?”

 

“… you don’t understand, Klaarp. It would cut you off from… everything. Unless…” She grimaces. “You could always hire me to clean up around the lab.” Dryly. “That’d make you friends.”

 

“I haven’t had anything published in years. My focus on helping Tyria has caused me to be a bit of a pariah.”

“My only leeway comes from being a member of the Vanguard.”

 

She makes a noncommittal noise. “… okay. What happens next? How do I help?” She stands. Dusts off her coverall. “I can work on that counteragent, but I’ll need a few things?”

 

“Just tell me and we’ll get it. The guild has regular supply caravans and a dedicated waypoint. We can get you whatever you need pretty quickly.”

 

“…. I’ll give you a list. You.. connected me to your systems, didn’t you?” Klounni looks back at her lab. “Klaarp – I’m sorry.”

 

He tilted his head, looking at her. “You have no reason to be sorry, Klounni.” He says quietly, “And yes, I absolutely already did.”

 

“… yes, I do. I knew I was making a weapon. I just didn’t.. .think about it. And if Miss Evergreen hadn’t changed things..” She bites her lip. “… she saved them, you know. All of them. I was close.”

 

Klarpp raised his eyebrows even more. “Perhaps she had reservations she couldn’t admit.” He gave her a smile still, that boundless optimism. “Just means you have a more vested interest in helping me fix all of this. And save Miss Dasha and Maya.”

 

“… I will. Anything.” She sighs – “I’ll… get started on that list.”

 

Klarpp gave a large grin and nodded. “Excellent! I’ll inform the commander to get the lab powered up and ready for you!”

Author Aunne
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Comments (1)

  • November 6, 2021 at 12:15 pm
    This is the quality Asura Content I come here for. It's also harrowing to see Klounni's perspective to see that she was part of something that could have been catastrophic, and would have been none the wiser until it happened. That's some guilt to wrangle with.

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