Prologue: Pandora's Bones

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Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Sorrel on Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:32 pm

He loved stage left. It was his own little bubble of darkness and quiet, a place where the chatter of the auditorium was muted, muffled, distant. A place where he could take a deep breath and order his thoughts. A place that hid him from the sight of jostling reporters and cam-scrolls.

Dr. Cayo Adanza straightened his posture and adjusted his tie, peering out into the crowd from behind the safety of the curtain. "Does my hair look alright?"

"Like a bad toupe, doctor. You'll be fine." Dai-Jin stood a good half foot taller than he, which reinforced the almost big-sisterly air she exuded as she gave his appearance a once-over. The tigress smoothed the lapels of his suit and gave him a hearty thump on the shoulder. "It's not as if you're the one who has to break the ice. And Gianne has the press kits ready in the lobby, she just left a message for you."

"Good, good." He checked his watch. "Ah, look, it's time. We made sure the newsfolk are set up alright, correct?"

"Made the rounds five minutes ago. The man from Scrynet News wanted a better view of the podium, so I had Lucas cordon off a section of aisle D for him. Other than that, everyone seemed well situated."

He felt his shoulders relax. This was going about as well as he could have hoped so far. Everything had gone off without a hitch -- the news release was printed and ready, the reporters had all checked in and had their places, even that one representative fellow from Sabbaton had shown up on schedule. "So far so good. Excellent work, Dai, couldn't have organized all this better myself."

Dai nodded. "That's why I'm here, doctor."

Somewhere in the distance, the great clock of Talocan University's academic hall boomed its declaration of the hour.

Adanza grinned. "Showtime. Knock 'em dead, Moderator Huang."

Dai rolled her eyes but gave a good-natured smirk. Then she straightened, smoothed the folds of her borrowed suit, and calmly stepped out into the light.

Cayo's eyes followed her, trying not to take note of the seemingly endless sea of faces and the flashes of datapads snapping pictures. It was hard to make out much detail with the stage lights shining away from them, but it didn't matter -- he knew who was out there. Reporters from La Opinión Pública, Scrynet News, even The Tower Times had shown up to cover the press conference as requested. Grads and undergrads from Talocan University's history department were there in droves. He'd even heard of some grads from other district schools showing up, the ones pursuing a career in archaeology.

He watched the tigress grip the sides of the podium and address the assembly with head held high. "Good evening, everyone." Her voice rang through the cavernous hall, clear and strong, and a collective good evening rumbled back. The auditorium's acoustics were top-notch. "On behalf of Dr. Cayo Adanza and the Talocan District University, it is my pleasure to welcome you to tonight's event. I would first like to thank our honored guest, representative Achille Russo of Calypsa, for being with us this evening."

Someone stood in the crowd and bowed amidst a round of applause.

"And I would also like to extend our sincerest gratitude to members of the press, without whom we would probably have to do all the talking ourselves." A few polite laughs. Adanza grinned. "Ladies and gentleman, we live in an age of forward thinking. Technological innovations and social reform have improved our lives in ways our ancestors could never have imagined. Much of this is due in large part to the vision of those in elected office, and those with the resources to reinvent and revitalize old ideas, or to blaze entirely new trails where none have dared tread."

A pause for effect. Good girl.

"But this vision does not spring forth from the ether. One cannot expand on what has already been done without a firm knowledge of those who have already traveled these roads -- their trials, their failures, their successes."

Adanza took one last steadying breath. They had practiced this a hundred times. He straightened, mouthing the words as they were spoken, and awaited his cue.

"It is for this reason that history and its preservation remains a vital part of our society. To understand the people of the past -- their culture, their social structure, their trade and exploration -- is to understand ourselves. Yet it remains one of the most neglected fields of modern study, an issue that our speaker for tonight wishes to remedy. May I introduce our host, renowned scholar and chairman of Talocan District University's history department, Dr. Cayo Adanza."

He stepped into the glare of stage lights amidst a soundtrack of thunderous applause. Dai stepped aside as he approached, giving an encouraging thumbs-up where the audience couldn't see, and seated herself in one of the two chairs on his right. He strode up to the podium and scooped up the cordless microphone with practiced casuality.

"Hello there, everyone! Good to see so many people out here tonight."

Thus began the usual ramblings of a speaker's statement. Thanks for coming, a few light jokes to ease the atmosphere, some relevant rhetorical questions, blah blah blah. The more he talked, the more he relaxed -- if there was one thing he could do exceptionally well, it was talk people into believing things. This was his element.

He laid bare the simple facts of his argument: history was important. He pointed out the various parallels between well-known past events, like the High Houses and their similarities to Queen Animrast, or the methods of violence present in both the Last War of Powers and the Extollo Wars. He highlighted the fact that many of Anduruna's greatest calamities could have been smoothed, or even prevented, by learning from the mistakes of the past.

He then called upon scholars' curiosity about Anduruna's own mysteries, like the origins of the different districts' varied cultures and the strange events that had brought them together from far-flung lands. Such puzzles might be solved someday if anyone actually made the effort to find an answer. Which was, of course, what he and his colleages specialized in.

And that brought him to the main point.

Adanza pulled a remote from his pocket and aimed it at the huge presentation infoscroll behind him. It flickered to life and displayed a detailed map of Anduruna, from the Dune Sea to the Cliffs of Ekklesia, and from the Alcheran coast all the way through the Starfall Mountains -- and beyond. The left half of the screen was mostly blank, save a few rough indications of foreign landmarks. A red line began in the city, leaped over the mountains, and meandered around the strange formations until it reached a bright X.

"This is why I plan to lead an expedition into those regions beyond our borders, in search of any artifacts that can help us shed light on how Anduruna came to be. This map is based on the observations of a number of my contacts, as well as my own excursions over the years -- another goal of this team is to produce a more accurate map of the land here."

He strobed through a slideshow of strange objects, some hewn from stone or bone and others of gold and gems, some simple and some wonderfully ornate. There was even a small idol painstakingly grown from flo-wood. "The main purpose is to uncover things like these, artifacts of the cultures that migrated into the area thousands of years before the Silent Centuries. Even shards of pottery or crumbled foundations will be useful, as they track the movements of these ancient peoples."

He went on to explain the proposed team's safety detail, the hazards they could expect to encounter, and the lengths he had already gone to in order to minimize risk. He outlined the various jobs that needed filling and the requirements for those seeking to fill them. He went over the kind of pay his team members would earn from these jobs.

The whole affair took a little less than fifteen minutes, and he concluded by thanking the audience for their time and passing the mic off to Dai, who opened the floor for questions. Dozens of hands shot up -- mostly students, but reporters as well. Hopefully some of them would let his words escape unedited. At the very least, La Opinión Pública would probably let his crazy scheme pass in a favorable light. They were usually good to Talocan natives in the news.

He answered their questions as thoroughly as he could, and prayed that this televised press conference, or the ad campaign to follow, would actually draw in enough volunteers to make the expedition a reality.

There it was, that news report about the expedition again.

It had been all over the datascroll sites lately. Some professor had cobbled together a team of experts and was looking for people to go with them into the wilderness outside the city. It was a funny thing -- no matter how edited-down the reels were, or how much the media tried to spin his words and make him look like a nutcase for trying something like this, he never came off as anything less than professional.

Passionate, maybe a little too optimistic, but professional. And the pay would be good, and the requirements were something you knew you could meet.

You were drawn to this project. Maybe you weren't sure why -- could be the money, could be the change of scenery, could be the prospect of escaping the things that dog you in daily life -- or maybe you had twenty good reasons to contact this professor and see if he'd sign you up. Whatever the motivation was, you wrote out his information and put it to use.

If only you'd known how that would end.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby RedFox on Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:26 pm

On a quiet, empty street in the Talocan district, dust whirled about aimlessly and a wooden sign swung on creaky hinges above a very narrow, two story building. It read:

Lüt & Flunder

Inside, Sufjan Flunder was watching a small datascroll set up on a couple wooden crates. He lounged in an old, dilapidated armchair hammock-style, his legs hanging off the end. He took a big bite into a less-than shiny apple and leaned over to click the channel button on the scroll.

It was a particularly boring and lazy day at the shop. Sufjan and Lüt's last job was over a month ago, and their extra cash was starting to thin out. Another click of the datascroll. Nothing. Just some press conference; probably for some politician he didn't care about.

"...plan to lead an expedition into those regions beyond our borders, in search of any artifacts that can help us shed light on how Anduruna came to be." The datascroll said.

Sufjan's ears perked up and he raised his eyebrows as he sat right-up in his chair and turned the volume up. A history professor had a huge map on display with plans to go into uncharted territory...just for the sake of going into uncharted territory, really. The professor went on to mention he needed several expedition members...for hire.

"Lüt!! You're gonna wanna see this!!" Sufjan called up the stairs as he turned up the volume further.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Chemical Cutthroat on Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:22 pm

There it was, playing on the info-scroll set into the wall of the large, open office. Sun streamed through the window-slats on the second story room of the old building, ignoring the fact that the purpose of said slats were to keep the sun out. Overhead, a fan swung it’s blades in a lazy arc, pushing a gentle breeze across the equally lazy Cameron, who was reclined in his chair, feet propped up on his heavy wooden desk. Not flo-wood, real, heavy, hard to work with wood.

He had spent the past couple nights grabbing drinks with old colleagues and board members, trying to get a vibe for how the whole thing was going to go down, and if this was going to be as serious as they projected. Dr. Adanza wouldn’t be able to just come out of nowhere with this announcement, he had to plan ahead, get donors and other folks to back him up. And of course… people talked. So he wanted to see if this was legit, or if Dr. Adanza was just blowing smoke.

Smoke… the old dog pulled a thin silver case from the jacket that hung on his chair behind him, and pulled out a thin red stick. He fumbled for a second before finding his lighter, and in a few clicks the cigarette smoldered to life. The room was filled with the scent of cinnamon and cherries, with that rich tobacco undertone. It might have had one or two more interesting Andurunan herbs mixed in there as well. His well worn chair squeaked a little as he adjusted a little, blowing a little trail of smoke into the air that was slowly buffeted by the unmotivated fan.

Was he just getting old? Or was he starting to be legitimately lazy?

He eyed the info-scroll again. Watching the doctor give his speech, though he had the volume down so low it was barely audible. Lüt leaned over and picked up the thick folder that was on his desk and dropped it into his lap, flipping through the first pages idly. Dr. Cayo Adanza, it said on the front. What followed were pictures, articles, reports, profiles… it looked almost like a criminal record.

In part, it might have been.

But Lüt had read through all that stuff before… many many times. He had worked with Adanza before, and though a little eccentric, the man was always professional. Lüt got the job done, and Adanza paid. More importantly, Dr. Adanza never questioned Lüt on how he got the job done, and the aging treasure hunter respected that more than anything else.

He pulled to the last thing in his little dossier, a copy of one of the press kits. He thumbed through it for the umpteenth time, as though turning the pages would move his brain along as well. It was only by the time he was halfway through his cigg, and halfway through the booklet, that he realized he was just wasting time. He knew he was going on this expedition… and he knew he wanted to. It spoke to that spirit that just wanted to get out and find something nobody else had ever found. That was the little fire that was burning in his chest.

As opposed to the hangover.

So he was waiting. Not to make up his own mind… no, he was going to make sure he was on this trip. What he was waiting for was his partner to get back from… he rubbed his forehead and squinted… whatever it was he was doing.

He took a long drag of the spicy cancer-stick and tapped off the ash. He knew the kid would want to go, there was never any doubt. So now came the inevitable wait… where the much younger, louder, more energetic being would crash through the office with that one-single-thing in his mind.

Lüt blew a smoke ring up at the fan, and placed the dossier back on his desk.

Nope… for now, he was going to enjoy his peace and quiet. For however long that lasted.

Lüt!!! You’re gonna wanna see this!”

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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Devious_Psychopath on Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:54 pm

Sara bounced into the tent she lived in and shared with her sister. "Jess! Jess!"
The bright purple-eyed tan otter girl held a carrier bird in her hands. "Dr. Adanza wants to hire us again. Message came just a few minutes ago!"

The other girl, Jessica, took the message from the bird as her sister started pulling out essentials for their trip with Dr. Adanza. Her muted-purple eyes flicked over the letter in a slow manner, digesting every sentence. "Hm... Seems like this is a big expedition to him... We won't be the only ones with him and his assistant this time." Jessica glanced at her sister. "You didn't read the whole letter, did you?"

Sara blinked. "Um... I don't know what you're talking about" she said as she packed the ammo for her sniper springer rifle."

"Then you know the trip isn't until next year?"

Sara coughed. "O-Of course I do."

Jessica gave a rare small smirk. "Then why are you packing?"

A duffel bag went flying at her face.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby RedFox on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:32 pm

Sufjan jogged up the steep steps to their office and poked his head up on the top of the stairs.

"That Dr. Adanza's at it again, Lüt, the crazy old *******! He's looking for-" He stopped short as he and Lüt locked eyes, his partner's infoscroll playing the same broadcast as the one he was just watching.

"Oh. You already knew that." Sufjan coughed awkwardly and stepped up the last few stairs into the room, his snout scrunching lightly at the smell of fruity tobacco. The jackal stepped over to the desk, watching the press conference as the professor took questions from students and reporters. Sufjan's eyes fell on an unusually thick folder with Adanza's name on it.

"Huh. Haven't seen that thing in a while." He said to himself and scooped it up, idly flipping through it. Lüt haven't moved much, just finishing the last of his cigarette.

"Did you hear what he's offering? One hell of a paycheck, huh? Not for another year though...can't do much about that; and we're running out of spending money" he speculated. Sometimes talking to Lüt was like talking to a brick wall, if brick walls grumbled out sarcastic retorts.

"We need another job." Sufjan sighed and glanced at his partner.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Chemical Cutthroat on Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:12 pm

Lüt only half looked up from his smoke before he said quietly, “We're already there.”

His partner looked over at him, face wrinkled with a bit of disbelief. The older adventurer continued... he leaned over and flipped to the last section of the folder, the fresh press kits sitting bright and shiny, some of them still gleaming with the words from the meeting.

“I've known about this for a while now. You can't plan something this big without trawling for the big bucks to back it.” Lüt took a long drag of his cigarette, blowing a tall plume of smoke into the office, the sickly sweet smell flooding the place, “We're going on that expedition. It has a chance of being the most important outing of the next hundred years... maybe more. We'd be damned fools not to be going.”

He smiled a bit, but it turned a little sour, “But we'd be longer lived fools not to go at all.” He leaned over towards his desk, flipping towards the back of the folder. A series of charts and statistics displayed in a neat, recently printed sheet of paper.

“Survivability ain't the best on runs like these Flunder. We're more likely to end up in the pincers of a forty foot scorpion than make it back home. I just... we've been through a lot, but I've been following up on this plan, and it's... aggressive.”

Another smoke ring puffed it's way towards the fan, floating past Flunder, “I already see it in your eyes. We both know it isn't about the money. You want to go as much as I do.”

He reached down, finally pulling his feet off the desk and putting them on the floor as he rummaged through a drawer. After some shuffling, he pulled out a sealed envelope. Very old-school.

“I want you to go find Dr. Adanza and deliver that to him. It might be a little hard considering the... scrutiny he'll be under. But I know you'll manage.” He grinned up at the younger adventurer, “I'm going to have some other things to take care of to seal our end of the deal.”

He chuckled, “And try to keep on the 'friend' side of his assistant.”
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby RedFox on Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:18 am

The old ******* had him again. Sufjan chortled just a tiny scoff. It was all about the expedition itself. Talking of money was just a funny way of dancing around the matter, a way to talk about it; to get excited for it. It was about the adventure, the danger, the uncertainty of what would happen next.

"Survivability? That's a statistic now?" Flunder joked as he took the envelope, setting it carefully into his hip-satchel. "Hard to find the doctor? Hardly." Flunder pointed at the infoscroll "I know where that is; not even a half-hour's walk away. I'll catch him coming out of the conference!" He smiled confidently and started down the stairs before Lüt chuckled.

“And try to keep on the 'friend' side of his assistant.”

"Oh, you know me. The lady-killer." Flunder left on the sarcastic note and slapped his goggles over his eyes. Soon, he was running down the streets and through alleys; over roofs and under tunnels. He knew the district by heart; his playground.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Sorrel on Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:32 am

Talocan University's campus was an orderly arrangement of relatively orderly buildings -- strewn with very un-orderly decorations, courtesy of the students.

Brightly colored cloths and streamers billowed from windows and rooftops, and lines of Spirits' Eve lights leaped the gaps between buildings like glowing spider webs. The effect was one of happy chaos, albeit a chaos sharply curtailed by maintenance staff once it reached the grounds. The connecting sidewalks, modeled after Anduruna's layout, were impeccably clean, as was the miniature model of the Sabbaton Towers that rose like a monument at their nexus.

The monument pointed straight toward Adler Hall, the main academic building and seat of most public functions. A fair crowd trickled through the great double-doors into the open air. Many of them, obviously young enough to be students, dispersed toward the other buildings. Some beelined for the campus gates and Talocan proper, conversing animatedly. Some, clearly reporters from their sound and recording equipment, hung back for last minute questions with name-tagged university staff.

Inside the building, Adanza smiled for the cameras and practically stormed through the halls to his office. He knew enough of the press to bulldoze through them before they could get him stopped and talking for hours. Fortunately Dai was doing a very thorough job of "no comment" duty, and so far there hadn't been any real problems.

He slipped into his office, waved her in, and closed the door behind them. And locked it for good measure.

And then flipped the light switch and collapsed into his rolling chair.

"Spirits above, that took an eternity." He stretched his leg to rest his feet on the desk, but it was too far away. A few awkward scoots brought him a little closer. But then the tigress wheeled him up to it and mercifully tugged his shoelaces loose.

"It was only half an hour, doctor." She scooped up a stack of papers from his inbox and flopped them down on her own desk, a smaller construction in the corner. Lowering herself onto her decidedly less-comfy wooden stool, she plucked a red pen from a drawer and set about her task of grading them. "I thought it went by rather quickly, all things considered. The media didn't even throw you any curve balls."

"Details, details."

He lay there for a minute and let his mind relax. The office, like stage left, was dark and quiet. Eventually he managed to put the conference behind him and trawl through the day's primary to-do list -- most of it completed, but still a couple things outstanding.

Ugh. Must get to it.

He glanced over at his assistant, buried in papers. "Oh, right, the term tests. Listen, before you get to all that..." Adanza righted himself in his chair and scooted over to a filing cabinet. It was full of folders and folders of articles, lists, charts, pictures, service prices, notes. After a moment of rifling through their contents, he withdrew a manilla envelope with a pre-addressed label. "You remember those two contractors we work with?"

Dai's pen stopped. And then stabbed out the final letters of a correction, carefully slow. "You mean those girls in the Dunes?" She didn't bother looking up, content with fixing a subtle scowl on the page. "Eidetic memory, Cayo, I couldn't forget them if I wanted to."

"No, no, not the Lealtàs. The other two." He fingered the envelope. "Big older man, enthusiastic younger partner."

Dai blinked. Her head turned a fraction, just enough to see him from the corner of her eye without neglecting her work. "Ah, yes, Lüt & Flunder. Acquisitions. What for?" She nodded toward the envelope. "Something for them?"

"Yes. I was wondering if you could deliver it before you get sucked into those tests."

"Mail or personally?"

"Personally. Either Lüt or Flunder may receive it, I'm not too picky this time."

She raised her eyebrows with a silent ah and stood, neatly stacking the papers and straightening her pen collection before relieving Adanza of the package. "Any particular reason?"

He fixed her with a don't-question-me-now look. "I want them with us. Badly."

She took a moment to look over the envelope, testing its weight. She held it up to her ear and shook it gently. Something rattled. She considered it, and nodded. "Very well. I'll be back in half an hour, try not to set fire to anything."

"Wait! Before you go -- where'd my translation notebook run off to?"

"Filing cabinet, top drawer, under the T's."

"Much obliged, my dear."

He looked up to find the door clicking shut behind her.
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby RedFox on Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:24 am

Sufjan was sent on quite a little goose chase. He arrived, out of breath at the convention center where the conference had taken place. He asked the remained reporter staff and employees about Dr. Adanza, and they pointed him in the direction of Talocan University. Well...balls.

He took a short break at the center, taking a drink from a fountain for several minutes to quench his parched throat. Then, off across the district. Again.

Flunder eventually found himself on campus grounds. He chuckled at all the wacky streamers and lights hung up everywhere from All Spirits Eve and found himself in front of Adler Hall; the main academic building. Up the steps and into the front doors, Flunder took his goggles off and rubbed his eyes. He would have to loosen those later.

He took the envelope out of his pocket and headed up toward Dr. Adanza's office when he saw the professor's assisstant, Miss Dai-Jin walking down the hall the opposite direction.

"Hey there, Miss Dai-Jin, I just have a delivery for Dr. Adanza. Is he in his office?"
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Re: Prologue: Pandora's Bones

Postby Sorrel on Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:48 am

"I just have a delivery for Dr. Adanza. Is he in his office?"

Dai slowed and cast a backward glance over one shoulder. A lanky, begoggled walking scruffball approached with a lively spring in his step. Speak of the devil.

"Good timing, Sufjan Flunder. I have a delivery for you and Mr. Lüthervane." She held up the manilla envelope. "Care to trade?"
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