Stone Soup

Bonehead let out a low whistle as they entered the library proper. Polished stone floors, expensive looking rugs. Shelves of books arranged not just in orderly rows, but along shelves of varying lengths in such a way that the shelving helped guide the flow of traffic, shortening to prevent sharp corners, sections splitting from lengths of singular shelves to two or more to make room for spiral stairways.

Ally would, as the suit of armor acting as their guide continued walking, reach out to touch one of the book cases. Then just as quickly draw her hand away as if she had touched an open flame. "It's... alive?"

The armor merely gave a hollow grunt. "These things are beyond my sphere. Please do not wander."

Stone Soup would look back to Ally before moving to match the elven woman's pace. "Hey, you OK sparkle?" her voice soft.

"No," Ally's own voice was just louder than a whisper. Something feels off about this place." She paused before adding. "Not Bad, just. Off."

As the pair walked, letting Ishida and Bonehead stay between them and the suit of armor, they looked about. Warm light cast from glow-stones set high in the walls. Vaulted ceilings with styalized paintings of the night sky. That had both Dungeoneers frowning. "Campbell, any of that mean anything to you?"

"Hrm." Stone Soup looked up and squinted. There was a frown. "Gemini." The next vault, "Sagittarius." The next. "Pisces." She shook her head when she saw Ally was going to speak. "Dunna ask love. Memory across incarnations is a tricky business t'begin with. Not t'mention across Ages."

The pair hurried to catch up to the other half of their group. "Ishida. You seeing the ceiling art?"

A nod from the stone woman. "I do, and I have questions."

"As do I." Stone soup agreed.

The Knight stopped walking, turned, then walked backwards until it stood inside an alchove seemingly made for it or another of its kind. the group looked about the room, seeing this was not one of books, but several large chairs, all overstuffed wing back seats in front of a large desk.

The three members of the party sized for the seats cautiously sat. Stone Soup looked from everyone else, to the chair that sat too high off the ground for her to sit on and maintain any sort of dignity. Ishida and Ally both sighed before each looked for something that could serve as a step and each settling on grabbing at dust covered overly large tomes to set down, allowing Stone Soup to maintain at least an amount of pride as she settled into her seat.

For several long moments the group sat there. Then the soft click of footsteps on stone. Bonehead took advantage of what he was to turn his head around. The newcomer was an automaton of sorts. Each movement accompanied by the soft wrr of gears and cables. The mechanisms hidden by a lithe vaguely feminine shell. His head tilted to one side. The woman walked with a staff in her right hand yet did not seem to need to lean on it. Her clothes suggested both a want to maintain range of motion, and a formality backed by an embroidered stole draped around her neck.

"Hello, I am-" The voice sounded far more natural than it had any right to. For three of the party members it was maddeningly familiar.

Yet only one of them had both spent time enough for familiarity, and hadn't had new lives to cloud memory. Ishida's voice was questioning when she turned in her seat to their apparent host. "Naoko?"

"Ishida?" The Automaton's voice was curious as she approached the group. She would pass the group and seat at the other side of the desk. "I..." Solid green crystals set in her face as eyes wavered, too-subtle movements showing her mind at work trying to piece together what she saw. "Our last reports had spotted you under Kronos's leash. yet considering how your group came here, and you have both Lonely Hill's guard-captain in your party as well as a pair of dungeoneers."

"It is a long story we don't exactly have time for." Ishida was blunt as she looked across the desk at the other woman. "Me, You," She gestured to Stone Soup, "Uchiumi."

"Stone Soup this spin 'round." The Dwarf clarified.

A nod from Ishida, "Kronos was Fuzen." She pointed to Bonehead, "Noodleguy."

Naoko's gears wirred slightly louder as she stared unblinking at the party. "That so many of us are here can't be coincidence." Then a pause, a too-smooth motion as her head turned to Ishida. "I notice you said 'Was.'"

"Subsumed. Dead. Gone." There was a grim sort of pleasure in Ishida's voice. "We finally got him."

"Great Maker willing, he never comes back." Naoko's own voice was soft at that declaration.

"Amen," Stone Soup's own voice was hard. Then she looked Naoko over, nodding at the suit she wore, "Head Librarian I assume? As representatives of the dungeoneer confederation Ally and I are obliged to ask what happened." Her voice softened an extent. "As your friend, if now isn't the best time I'm willing to not invite trouble. We've enough on our plates."

Naoko nodded, "I assume you are here about the creatures that passed through here."

The group stayed silent for a long moment before Stone Soup spoke up. "the third member of my party, a goblin named Lutz, is currently suffering some sort of infection one o'them gave as a partin' gift."

The glow of Gemstone eyes wavered as Naoko considered this. "They are of a Dungeon that has called itself Midori and has been rapidly expanding on the other side of Stroadsborg, now taking up a full third of the city proper.

Charlotte took that moment to climb out of Bonehead's ribcage and jump on the table. Naoko paused, hand freezing in mid motion to crush the overly large spider as the rest of the party looked to Bonehead.

He merely shrugged. 'She asked for my discretion.'

"Wait, you can understand her?" Ishida looked to the skeletal guard-captain. "best I'd ever gotten was half-understanding generalities when she dances around."

'Sorta kinda.' Bonehead gave a soft chuckle before pointing to the spider. 'Does bossman know you're here?'

The spider pointedly turned away from Bonehead to look Naoko over before raising a forelimb to wave at the automaton.

"Well hello to you too miss." The librarian looked to the spider. Her lack of mouth or muscle for expression limited her to gross body movements. Yet the automaton positively radiated curiosity. "As big as you are for a weaver, you're still pretty easy to overlook. I would be willing to ask the council if you could stay for a little while."

Charlotte bobbed up and down as a sort of nod, or possibly agreement.

Ishida looked to Naoko pointedly. Her voice growing louder and angrier as she spoke. "And that's lovely and grand, but we're here because someone's dying, and possibly getting turned into a puppet for something you say owns a full third of the resources this place has."

Both Bonehead and Stone Soup looked torn between trying to reach to calm her down, or to speak up t otry smoothing over her anger.

Instead, Ally was the one to speak. "You spoke of a council. We haven't time for the full history lesson, but I am working on the idea this is who runs things here?"

A nod from the automaton.

"And that you are aware that if this Midori is willing to trespass through your land now, he won't respect any claims of neutrality or that you don't have a dungeon core."

Another nod.

Then Bonehead spoke up. "If you are willing to help us argue a case for an alliance, I'm effectively as good as talking to the lonely hill dungeon itself on matters of self autonomy, assistance defending this place, and-" He leaned forward, shadows drawing forward to give an impression that he was grinning to the head librarian as he leaned in close. "We're working on networked communications using copper lines jacketed in woven and enchanted spider's silk coated in pitch to provide weatherproofing.

Naoko's eyes glowed as bright as twin stars as gemstone eyes stared directly into hollow eye sockets.

⁂ ⁂ ⁂

Hours later the quartet was in the process of leaving the audience chamber with packs full of texts and maps. Naoko walked with Charlotte perched on her shoulder. "You were right to bring the matter of networking to their attention. Even if we are currently restricted to either a primitive switchboard phone system, teletype, or something similar. That still dearly streamlines communications throughout the campus."

"You really think this is such a big deal?" Ally's voice was questioning. "Sounds like the system that's replaced pixie couriers in larger cities. Though not needing expensive machines at each end does seem to be quite interesting."

"Oh, the tales I could tell of what networking did to change the world that was miss Starsong." Naoko's voice was light and cheerful as the party approached the entry hall.

There was an automaton similar to Naoko herself dressed in black. Its vaguely feminine form went still at the sight of them. Head turning to look at Ishida. Gemstone eyes brightened as she addressed the group in general, and Ishida in specific. "...Papa?"

Ishida and Stone Soup both froze at the voice. Recognition was immediate and hit both women like a sledgehammer. Both of them tried to speak, but words refused to come.

The Automaton sprinted to the pair, hugging Ishida's neck tightly, hugging her close. "Papa!"

"It's me." Ishida's own arms held the mechanical girl close. "I'm here."

Ally looked confused as Stone Soup joined in on the hug. Bonehead gently tugged at her sleeve before gesturing that they should leave the three in peace.

"Just how many of you people should I be expecting?" Ally's voice was somewhere between exasperation and confusion.


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