Chapter 43
by JonSpikeWho

Animal voice: "Ooooook."

An animal's moan echoed from a nearby alleyway, stopping the young woman in her tracks. A moment before, while she was still a few yards further away, several giant crashes had come from the same alley. This was a bad part of town, at night, and she should probably get out of here. The street light that flickered on the corner offered little consolation.

In one flash she had in her hand a small rod-shaped contraption with a pair of copper prongs protruding from one end, concealed but ready under her thick wool greatcoat. A second flash and she was at the mouth of the alley, peering in. Curiosity had always been one of her weaknesses.

From a shadow opposite the alley, two tall, cloaked figures watched the girl's cautious approach.

Girl: "Hello...? Who's there?"

From under the brim of a gray wool beret, which was a matched set to her greatcoat, all she could see was normalcy. The strangely plain wrought-iron dumpsters, which starkly contrasted the Baroque, almost over-decorated look of the buildings outside the alley, the stacks of paper trash bags, and various other unwanted or lost bits of refuse. It was the fallout from a city undergoing incredibly rapid growth, but it was all supposed to be there.

Girl: "I said who's there!" The girl called into the darkness.
Man's voice: "Uuuuuug." This time, a more human moan answered her question.
Girl: "Are-are you alright? Have you been mugged?" She moved further into the alley. Yup, she thought idly, curiosity and foolish compassion, my two biggest weaknesses. Just as a precaution, she kept the intricate, copper-tipped stun rod poised for action. It perched in her left hand with a practiced, almost deadly ease.
Man: "Not mugged, per say... But pretty roughed up all the same." What looked like a small lemur staggered drunkenly out from behind one of the dumpsters.
Monkey: "Ooooook," it moaned, peering through glassy eyes.
Girl: "Your pet monkey looks drunk." The woman was somewhat taken aback.
Man: "Acts that way too, a lot. Not my pet, though." The lid to one of the dumpsters flipped open, and out popped the head of a middle-aged man. A thick black beard covered most of his face, and his own eyes, deep-set in his head and partially obscured by bushy eyebrows, were just as glassy and crossed as the chimp's. "I will admit, that magic spell had one heck of a kick."
Girl: "I should say, you look somewhat worse for wear, too." To punctuate the comment, the monkey stumbled and fell flat, drooling. "Does your, um, the monkey need help?" The girl cautiously held her distance, less sure than ever about how smart it was to help a drunk out of the dumpster he'd wound himself up in. The man shook his head vigorously.
Man: "Ugh. One heck of a kick alright. But don't mind the chimp. Me either, really; you look way too scared. 'Name's 'Bartender', and I'm harmless." The girl wasn't so sure about THAT. He hoisted himself over the rim of the dumpster in a single motion that should've been fluid and graceful but wasn't, a victim of fuzzy motor control.

The woman's breath caught in her throat when she saw how this 'Bartender' was dressed. No waistcoat, pressed white shirt, black tie, or hat of any sort, and certainly no black dress slacks. In their place the burly man wore a small leather vest, and a wide-necked shirt that had probably actually been white at one point. What caught her eye most, however, was the fact that he was wearing pants that appeared to be made from animal fur. Most certainly old-fashioned attire, so old as to be ancient.

Bartender: "Where are we?" the bartender muttered to himself, staring up at the once ornate, now run down buildings that rose ten and twenty stories above the cobblestone-paved alley. Above the third floor, all the windows that weren't already broken were opened to let in the meager cool of night after a sweltering day. Rising above them like a spider's web, bathed in the dim ambient light that fills all cities during the witching hours, rose a network of twine and rope that, by day, would hold the drying laundry of countless tenants. Right now however, it was deserted, a hazard against looting by those poorer than even the tenants. Out in the street something on wheels bounced and rattled past under it's own power, belching black smoke into sky as it went.

Bartender: "So where are we?" he asked again, not muttered this time, but directed toward the girl in the gray greatcoat. "My guess is that we've come quite a distance. This certainly doesn't look like any of the towns in the Rhiona Province that I'M familiar with..."
Girl: "Rhiona?" The girl was again caught off guard. "That was part of the ancient kingdom, wasn't it?"
Bartender: "Ancient? I was just there!"
Girl: "I... I was working on tuning the Skimmer when something from outside the lab shot all of my tools to hell! Did you come with some sort of time-travel magic?" she looked over his odd clothes suspiciously, curiosity burning in her eyes. "That kind of power is almost unheard of these days!" She couldn't believe it, what an interesting night this might turn out to be.
Bartender: "Time-travel magic? Oh heck. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what that "Master" character resorted to."
Girl: "The Master? Oh wow, you really *did* come through some kind of time portal, didn't you?" All hints of fear or caution were gone now, pushed rather forcibly aside by an insatiable inquisitiveness, and she approached the large man. "My name's Carrie Mac Elling, pleased to meet you." She offered her hand easily, a friendly smile playing on her face.

In her voice there was the slightest hint of what someone from her time would've called a Scottish lilt, and the Bartender found it so incredibly and unexpectedly adorable that it took him a moment to recover.

Bartender: "Good to meet you too." He shook her hand heartily.
Carrie: "He he," she giggled, almost girlishly, "The Master, huh? You're talking like you're straight out of one of our fairy tales. Why, The Master has been--"

A mysterious woman's voice: "I must say, this visit is quite a surprise." Carrie and the Bartender spun around as the new voice echoed from the mouth of the alley.

Silhouetted in moonlight there stood two figures wearing long black robes of the sort that someone might employ if they didn't want to be seen while out at night. The woman who spoke, for she had the hood of her cloak drawn back so that you could see her identity, was slender and regal looking, probably at least six feet tall, with a face that was almost motherly with age. Her thick mane of blond hair glowed white in the moonlight. She was staring steadily at the Bartender, as though she almost couldn't believe who he was.

Beside the regal woman stood a man who seemed to tower over even her, though there was so little of him, he was so gaunt, that one got the impression that he was only half-there. His long face broke into a smile when he saw Carrie.

Yet another mysterious person: "'Evening, Miss Mac Elling," he grinned.
Carrie: "Mister Marlinspike!" she beamed back at him happily. They had a joking habit of greeting each other far too formally.
Mysterious woman: "Hello Carrie," the regal woman turned to look at the girl briefly, before fixing the Bartender in her gaze again. The man was visibly nervous. There was something about her eyes...
Carrie: "Milady Eleanor," Carrie bowed deeply, and Milady nodded politely in return. Both newcomers strode down the alleyway.
Milady: "Cerberus, how interesting it is to see you here!"
Bartender (or should we call him "Cerberus" now? He he): "Who are you, and how did you know that name?" the Bartender managed. This lady was creeping him out. "I hated that name, I had it changed the moment I was old enough!" She laughed, and it was a surprisingly pleasant sound.
Milady: "I attended your funeral, of course. They used your given name there (and I hate to say, half of us couldn't help but chuckle). And I was at Warteen's, and of course Bob's as well. But that was so long ago. I miss those old days..." Her eyes suddenly acquired a far away look, and were for a brief moment a good deal less alarming.
Bartender: "Who ARE you?" Despite the change in Milady's countenance, the Bartender was more freaked out than ever. She smiled again, her eyes back in the present.
Milady: "You don't know me quite yet, it seems, and I suppose that's fortunate. The me you would've met in your time isn't really all that pleasant. But we shouldn't stay here. Could you lead us back to your master's lab, Carrie? We won't have to guard our backs from thieves there, and we can sit down as well, I'd imagine."
Carrie: "Yes, milady."
Milady: "Oh, and Carrie, you can put your stun rod away now." Carrie raised her left hand out from behind her cloak, only to jump when she realized that she still had the device clutched in a white-knuckle grip. It had been completely forgotten.
Bartender: "Yipe!" The Bartender jumped back a foot when he saw what she held. Even though he didn't know quite what the gadget did, it still looked nasty enough. "You had that thing ready all the... One false move from me, and you would've..."
Carrie: "This?" she lifted it up into a stream of dim light. "Would've made you pretty crispy, all right." She flipped the off switch, twirled it, and dropped it back into a leather holster that hung at her hip. "And y'know, I should be mad at your for messing up my work and all my instruments with that spell you rode in on." She poked him in his sizable stomach with her finger, at which he winced visibly. "But this has been a far more intriguing event than an annoying one, so don't worry." She grinned and walked off. "It's this way, Milady." She gestured breezily to the Bartender when he hesitated. "C'mon, you."

The Bartender, having little other choice, jogged to catch up to his three new companions, scooping up the still-stunned Monkey as he went. Carrie was speaking quite animatedly with the incredibly tall man, so he sucked up his courage and strode up next to the one whom everyone was calling "Milady" and "Eleanor". He had some questions that desperately needed asking.

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