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Frontier Town Mayoral Residence – Ground Floor

Suspicious, were they? Bellatrix trotted like nothing was wrong or amiss. "Perhaps you could show us some of these chokepoints so we know what to look out for," she said to the pawn. "What do the servants wear to differentiate themselves, anyway? So you can tell them apart from the unsolicited guest."

Perhaps if she was able to disguise herself as one after a sufficient enough distraction...
"Easy to tell servants from guests," scoffed Pawniard. Then, after a pause, "Blue sashes, gold emblem. In case you can't." They eyed Mhynt. "Don't trust dogs to be disciplined. Don't trust rats to be tough. Don't trust you at all."

Their scraping-metal laugh could have been banter. Possibly.

The servants' passages were not especially remarkable in security terms. Although one could think of countless possible means of entry and exit, there was no telling what was elementally warded, or a wooden facade over solid stone, and the challenge was in successfully getting out again if you ever drew the attention of the guards. Or the servants, assuming any of them were loyal enough to mention outlaw infiltrators to the chief steward, or a guard.

With the reception areas and the servants' spaces covered, that really just left upstairs, which was supposedly off-limits.

"Hey!" Laura waved to the pawn. "There are so many big pictures hung up all over; they must be valuable. Are you supposed to guard those as well, or are you mostly keeping an eye on the guests?"

"What?" Pawniard's attention switched to Laura again. "Stupid question. Guarding everything. Hard to steal giant paintings during a party, though."

"What's this one of?"

"I'm not a tour guide," snapped the tour guide. Then, after a pause, "It's what this hill looked like. Before the house got built here."

It seemed like Laura had plenty of unimportant questions for Pawniard, now that the other two had more to work with.
"Mm. I suppose I'll have to demonstrate trustworthiness once the job is done so you can look a fool for being so discourteous to coworkers."

So far, Mhynt hadn't found any particular hidden passages, and she was wondering if she wouldn't get a good opportunity for anything just yet. Instead, she glanced at her Zorua companion, then at Laura for distracting them, even if it was brief. But that brief distraction was only going to allow so much...

Elemental warding would prove Teleporting difficult. However, if it wasn't warded, she would be able to get in and out freely... but it would have to be fast.

Too bad she didn't find any hollows to investigate yet, even if it was only for a second. If this kept up, she'd have no choice but to act natural and make it like this was a perfectly normal survey by the end of the tour.
Bellatrix gave Laura an approving nod and a look that said keep them distracted.

She gave Mhynt a knowing look and when the pawniard wasn't looking, hid her scarf and gauntlets under an illusion, replacing them with the sash and emblem the pawniard described. "Upstairs, quickly," she whispered to the treecko, attempting to extend her illusion to apply a similar looking sash. She then turned towards and made her way up the stairs.
The upstairs were much more promising. The patrat on guard were not nearly so vigilant or hostile as the pawns guarding the ground floor entrances, and either ignored the two 'staff', or gave them friendly greetings.

"Hey, aren't you gals two of them strangers from that dungeon thing?" asked one. Then, before either could reply, "Nice one getting a job here so fast. I bet the mayor's buddies tip well!"

So much for fame.

In any case, Mhynt's hollow-finding finally met with significant success on the middle floor. A conspicuously pointless corridor adjacent to a moderate void in the floorplan turned out to have a private hallway behind a particularly large framed painting. Never mind a small gap; this was enough to fit several people.

Besides that, it seemed that crawlspaces on the upper floors were substantially more common than the well-reinforced walls at ground level. It made one wonder whether airborne infiltrators weren't taken nearly as seriously as burrowing ones, or whether it was considered an acceptable oversight.
Their time was limited, so Mhynt made her questions simple and cordial, in reply to the general nature of their friendliness.

"We're here for an initial survey of the area," she explained, frowning and gesturing pensively to the side. "Is there a reason the walls here are thinner? I can hear some hollow compartments this way and all over. Thieves may hide here trivially."
Bellatrix greeted the guard and looked around for a brief moment, allowing Mhynt to do most of the talking. Still, she asked, "Following up on that, where do these lead? What would happen if someone somehow ended up in there?"
"Do I look like an architect?" huffed one Patrat.

Another gave her a look and a light nudge in the side. "Ahem. Uh, I guess it's for maintenance? There's modern electric lightning – ah, lighting – in the mansion, and the wires gotta go somewhere. Don't think it's secret passages or nothin'."

He looked over at Mhynt. "No idea why it's hollow over there. Maybe... Chimney flue?"

The hidden hallway Mhynt had found was much too large to be a chimney flue.
"I see. Well, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place so grand," Bellatrix replied, making a mental note of the response and the sound of the hollow. Pausing for a brief moment, she began to realise that there was a strong chance they wouldn't get much further than this unless they wanted to break their cover completely and they couldn't have that. It seemed like a job to save for the gala. Besides, Laura couldn't keep playing the part of distraction forever. Sooner or later, the pawniard would notice their absence and raise the alarm.

Nevertheless, they'd learnt a fair amount of invaluable information that would be incredibly useful in deciding a course of action. She looked at Mhynt. "Perhaps its best we get going. There's several things we need to sort out on the lower floors," she said. "Best to not keep the guard waiting."
Laura had, somehow, managed to keep the Pawniard's attention for the several minutes Bellatrix and Mhynt had needed.

"—so interesting! And can I quote you on that?"

"Uh. Sure. You can quote me."

"Can I use your name, or would you prefer to remain anonymous?"

"Hngh. Pawniard names... We keep our names private. Until we evolve."

"Just 'Pawniard', then?"

"Hmm. Yeah. Okay."

Laura visibly relaxed as her allies came back within line of sight.

"Well, thank you so much, you've been a great help! Could you show us out? I think we've seen everything there is to see ahead of the event!"

"...Yeah. Sure thing."

It seemed like Laura had figured out that at least this particular Pawniard would do as they were told by anyone projecting enough confident authority. They showed the trio out, eyes down and silent, perhaps from the creeping realisation that they had no idea where the lizard and the fox had been for the last while.

They could have learned something they weren't supposed to.

[Ch01] ~ Looking to the Future
The Grand Frontier Gala! A Starlit Soirée that Looks to Future Fortunes!

Mayor Ignatius had outdone himself, as promised and advertised. The reception areas of his ostentatious home had been filled with serving staff offering refreshments, buffet tables, wine coolers, and the like. A small band played music in the ballroom, and the mayor himself drifted from group to group, speaking in ears and making diplomatic wing-shakes.

Some guests were local great-and-good types, others were newly in town having ridden or driven or even flown in from nearby, and some had arrived earlier in the week and taken rooms in Sun Stone or elsewhere for their stay. Many wore jewel necklaces, gold bracelets, fine satin sashes, dinner jackets, silk gloves, bow ties, lace ribbons and whatever else would distinguish them. They gathered in standing groups to discuss gossip, business, and politics. They drank wine by the bottle, they dipped berries both mundane and uncanny in fondue, they nibbled at plates of hors d'oeuvres, they made toasts, they even danced.

Some guests, though, were heroic spirits. Either attending as interested guests, or as guards against uninvited intruders.

Where are you? Can you hear me?

No sign of any just yet, though.
Mhynt stood by with the other guards, eyeing the place cautiously, doubting whether or not this was going to be as simple as she thought or otherwise. Something still felt odd.

I can hear you, Mhynt called back. Who is this? Are you... the cloud?

That was a good enough codeword.


But there was someone else in the gala that was... unexpected, all things considered.

Gerome, the gigantic Tyranitar, sat by one of the tables with his little bowtie pinned to his chest this time around. It was his fancy mode of wearing his attire, even if it was smaller than his claw. He held a tiny glass that held an even tinier amount of alcohol and offered little more than a nod and glance to anyone who acknowledged him.
It would have been a relatively normal smattering of guests... if Nova had indeed stayed away as he originally intended. But that wasn't happening any more. And the null didn't believe in arriving anything less than fashionably late to an event. As far as he was concerned, arrivers were overeager try-hards and the punctual folks always had sticks up their asses.

The other advantage that offered was that people were already engaged in... galaing. Whatever that implied. Nova had never gone to any sort of festival as a guest. Always as enforcement looking to put an immediate end to festivities. So, everyone not dropping what they were doing and either heading for the hills or engaging him in battle was quite the different sight.

... It also meant Nova had absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. Were these seats assigned? Was there a receptionist? Maybe Nova should have read his invite more carefully.

At least he had a tiny voice in his head to accompany him. You sound a bit too meek to be my conscious. You our summoner?
Beyond a mere flick of the ear, it seemed that whatever whisper had gone unheard to Bellatrix. She watched the hall diligently, hoping that things would go smoothly this night that letter being her last attempt to bring the rest of her squad on the same page. Hopefully, Laura and Odette would know what to do, wherever they were.


Meanwhile, several maus from the haus were wearing tiny, formal hats and taking sips from tiny wine glasses. They spoke to each other and greeted anyone who paid them any heed with a formal sounding squeak. It seemed that the things they were discussing were of upmost importance.
Gods, he was going to be surrounded by stuffy, insufferable snobs all night long, wasn’t he.

At least Mr. Ignition Vulture hadn’t forced them to wear stifling suits or something equally ridiculous. Wes was mildly surprised that all he’d required of them was a badge, but he wasn’t about to complain. He kept it pinned to his brace’s strap that ran across his chest and made a mental note to remove it as soon as this night was over.

He remained at his post, running over the words from Bellatrix’s letter and going over their plan for at least the fourth time in the last hour. Relax, he reminded himself. Don’t look too tense or you’ll draw attention to yourself.

As if right on cue, that damn voice sounded in his ears, nearly making him jump. He raised a paw and flicked his goggles down over his face to obscure his eyes, and responded with a low growl in his head.

I thought you could only speak to us in dreams. Who the hell are you, really?
Archie paced the floor of the ballroom, generally making lazy circuits around the perimeter while doing his best to stay out of the way of the guests. Advertising Lorenzo’s wares was one of the reasons he was here, after all, so the Oshawott had decided to pick a place with a high infusion of guests to start his night off. He’d likely be moving on before too long though, off to poke around some of the more unoccupied areas of the house, looking for places the bandits might decide to make their move.

His ear twitched, and the Oshawott stopped mid step to look around. He’d thought he’d heard a voice, but even a cursory glance around the room was all he needed to confirm no one had said anything to him. But, his patrol interrupted all the same, the Oshawott took a moment to look over himself. He’d rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows, and his tie likely wasn’t as tight as the people here might’ve liked, but, overall Archie thought he’d cut a perfectly professional image…

Man, he really hoped Corey and Tarahn weren’t getting into much trouble. The Oshawott sighed to himself, and he resumed his route.
Just act casual. Koa pushed out his worries, instead focusing on his job as staff for now. He mentally did his best to make note of any of the other 'heroes' he saw around, as well as the exits and layout. Just like memorizing a battlefield in preparation for a battle, right?

His nose wrinkled as he spotted Wes from a distance. Great. Rolling his eyes, he kept his distance. Best not to stir anything up before something happened, although he'd have to keep an eye on him. He didn't see Leaf yet, but he did spot a strange Zorua he reocgnized, the Treecko, and an Oshawott. he really hoped Leaf would be here...

He delicately picked up a tray of food, carrying it around the ground floor, making rounds. Then the voice sounded. He flinched, but kept his balance.

You're back. If you can hear me, we're at some kind of gala in town... Are you okay?
Corey, clad in his fancy new attire, courtesy of Lorenzo, stood by the entrance of the estate, calmly pacing from one side to the other, using his empath skills to sense the intentions of each passing guest... for as much as emotion alone could pick up such things at least. He'd come to the gala with Archie and Tarahn, though it had been suggested they split up to cover as much ground as possible. The Oshawott had gone off to inspect the ballroom, whilst Corey wasn't sure where the Toxel had made off to...

The rest of the patrol unit were likely here and there, everyone had a general plan in mind it seemed... and yet Corey remained ever nervous. It was one thing, talking about this whole event, but now that it was happening, well... he was reminded why he'd never taken any kind of security job as a human. Danger could come from anywhere at any time... and knowing just how suspicious the mayor was being with his plans, it also meant it could come from either side as well!

He'd hoped to catch a glimpse of something resembling a clue, but so far nothing really stood out behind all the glitz and glamour... Likely nothing would make itself known until either the Ignatius willed it... or that Floragato sprung into action. His concerns were far too great for him to really pay attention to a faint voice that briefly passed through his head. For as far as he knew, said voice could've just come from someone close by, or he was just hearing things. No time to fret over either option, he needed to remain ever-vigilant... It was only a matter of time...
Nova was quick to spot the electrike that had mouthed off to several of the group who had been discussing the whole bandit situation. Did that mean he had offered to join the people helping the mayor?

Not worth knowing. What Nova was here to do was figure out who the potential problems were. Which, from the sound of things, would be people looking to pledge their support to the mayor.

So, the null began to walk around, looking for the more... aristocratic of the attendees. And trying to listen in on conversations. Not that a big beast like Nova could be stealthy. But it was easy to feign ignorance, at least. Maybe. Hopefully.
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