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trollthumper

The Straw Death [IC]

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

11 PM

Summer was coming to Freedom City, and you could feel it on the Boardwalk. The night breeze drifted in from the Atlantic, cool and rimed with salt, dancing across the warm spring air. Below, families, couples, and gamblers all danced across the walk, splashing in the night surf, partaking of the food stands, or seeking a kiss from Lady Luck in the casinos. Any other Saturday night, Cannonade would've been happy to be down there with them. But not this night.

The Yellow Kings had been bringing a new product into Southside, the kind of thing that delivered visions that could either bring you closer to God or make you try to take a butter knife to your eyes. After keeping his ears to the ground -- and having a "friendly discussion" with a few dealers -- he'd managed to tie the operation back to a disused apartment building a few blocks away from the main boardwalk. He looked down on the building from a rooftop across the street, studying it for signs of movement and watching for new arrivals.

I should probably just charge in, he thought to himself. Then again, who knows what they've got up? Last time I went into a place the Kings made theirs, I had to deal with giant puppets and creepy gods. I just gotta make sure they don't have anything heavy duty set up this time. How the hell do I do that, though? Make sure they don't have to wave a chicken's claw around before they enter the front door? He kept his eyes on the building, trying to find some sort of sigil or disturbance that indicated arcane activity. But if there was one there, it wasn't visible to his eyes.

This is ridiculous. I should just get down there and figure out what -- His thoughts were cut off, however, by the sound of screeching tires. A black side-panel van came barreling down the road and pulled into position right in front of the apartment building. The doors flew open on both sides, and three men, clad in brown and tan desert camo and carrying assault rifles, came streaming out. Before he could even move, they were charging up the stairs. One took the lead, kicking open the door and dashing in, followed by his compatriots.

Cannonade was on the ground in a flash, running after the soldiers. "Jesus," he said to himself. "Just what I need -- a hit squad!"

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Thrude rode across the Freedom City sky on a half-invisible horse made of the very wind itself, bent to her divine will. Thunder rumbled in her wake. Her keen ears just barely picked up the squealing tires over the thunderclaps. She pulled on the ephemeral reins to halt the stallion's charge.

[bg=#000080]_Warriors, obviously, carrying the bows and spears of this mad new world._[/bg] Doktor Archeville's introduction to modern society, brief and vague though it may have been, allowed the goddess to interpret, at least in part, what she saw. [bg=#000080]_But they bear not the heraldry of this city's sanctioned protectors. They are no doubt common brigands, raiding the home of innocent civilians for provisions and plunder!_[/bg]

Taking note of which door the men forced open, Thrude pulled on the reins of her horse and kicked her feet against its ribs, signaling it to dash straight toward an adjacent window. She crashed through the glass astride her spectral steed, which reared up menacingly before evaporating in a brief cyclone that blew chill winds in all directions.

[bg=#000080]_"You'll seize no spoils this day, Brigands! Put up your swords, and state your business, or else flee the way you came and leave these people in peace!"_[/bg]

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Cannonade burst into the building just as he heard the shattering of glass.

"What the hell is that?" came from down the hall.

"Intruders! Raise the wards!"

Yup, they've got magic. Cannonade leapt away from the door just as it began to shimmer with a sickly yellow light. He could feel the power coming off of it, like sitting next to a generator. He knew there was no way he was getting out until the Yellow Kings were down.

There was a brief feeling of the universe settling, and there they were. Two men in yellow, tattered robes... and under the robes, strangely enough, Nikes. Well, that'll be easier than I thought...

Thrude, meanwhile, felt the same force pour over the window she'd just come through. The men in fatigues turned at the sound of her crashing in.

"It's a hero," one of the men said. "This is the last thing we need."

"Just stand down, lady! This is our fight!"

"Such bravado." The soldiers turned; two men in yellow robes stood in the doorway, their hands crackling with cold flame. "I wonder how quickly you'll break, once you see with our eyes."

The apparent leader of the warriors took point, aiming his rifle at the man in the yellow robe. "For glory!"

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Thrude raised her hand above her head. Her absurdly large battle axe slid free from the baldric strapped across her shoulder, levitating up into her waiting grasp. Sparks danced along the haft as the blades melted and morphed into a double-headed sledge hammer. Steam poured out from the striking faces, which glowed with a pale blue light like the afternoon sky.

[bg=#000080]_They are mere mortals. I must check my swings, lest I tear them limb from limb._[/bg]

The goddess mused grimly to herself. [bg=#000080]_Difficult though it may be to believe now, you will thank me for this on the morrow, when you risk losing only your freedom or your life to the laws of the land, rather than your very soul at the hands of dark gods you cannot possibly comprehend._[/bg]

[bg=#000080]_"YAAARRR!!!"_[/bg] The Daughter of Storms dove into the middle of the formation like a hurricane. The soldiers barely had time to bring their rifles around before she slammed them off their feet. The massive hammer swung almost weightlessly in her hands, from one soldier to the next in the blink of an eye.

[bg=#000080]_"BY the ALL-FATHER! I'll build a COTTAGE in HEL before I see Midgard overrun by the FOUL TAINT of the UNSPEAKABLE Ones! CEASE your insane conjurings AT ONCE, or suffer the wrath of the Aesir!"_[/bg]

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There was a crack like thunder from the next room over, causing the Yellow Kings to turn their heads. That was likely what caused Cannonade to miss the blast; ghostly tendrils went lashing out at him with the force of snapping cables, tearing into the wall right next to him. There was the scent of spoiled milk, and the Yellow King was gone. Cannonade turned at the sound of settling wood; the guy was right behind him.

"Thought you'd be the kind to stab a guy in the back." Cannonade swung a blow at the man's gut, but he managed to dodge it with ease, the air swirling around him from where it had been recently disturbed.

"I'm not," said the King. "My friend, however..."

Before he could turn around, Cannonade felt something like a rusty hook, tearing at the corners of his mind. He struggled under the onslaught, eventually kicking the crude influence out of his head. Goddamnit, do I hate these supernatural screwjobs...

The sound of gunfire erupted in the next room, followed by the rending of walls. These guys don't seem like the type to pack heat. What the hell's going on over there?

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Andy Guerrera had fought he'd seen a lot. He'd been at Basra, at Tikrit, at Fallujah. He'd done the kick-down-the-door raids before, and while he was expecting overwhelming odds in this case, he certainly wasn't expecting this. He wasn't expecting guys in ratty yellow ponchos throwing down with Viking women. He hadn't been expecting said Viking woman to take Simmons down with one blow and send Abel to his knees on the rebound. And he really couldn't have foreseen one of the guys in yellow hitting the woman with... were those tentacles?

"You speak like one of the Aesir," said the creep. "Interesting. Perhaps once our master is done making war on Heaven, he will bring the glories of Carcosa to the halls of your hallowed city."

Some part of Guerrera tried to tell him this wasn't his fight, that he should walk away. He knew that voice well, from all his time in the field. He tried to shut it down. Survival wasn't the goal tonight.

"Hey, ugly!" He opened fire, and wasn't surprised that not one of the bullets seemed to hit the guy. "That's no way to treat a lady."

As he expected, retaliation was swift. Another invisible burst flew out from the palm of the creep's buddy, sending him flying against the wall. "The fool wishes to die, then," said the other King. "Let's oblige him."

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The runes of protection etched into Thrude's mithril armor flared to life as the spectral tentacles poured forth from the sorcerer's hands. When they lashed against her body, blue bolts of lightning arcked between the runes, and the tentacles shattered like glass against the breastplate.

The goddess shouted a warning to the soldiers. [bg=#000080]_"Take cover, Mortals! You are no match for dark powers such as these!"_[/bg] But the words left her lips too late. Watching the chivalrous loudmouth get knocked across the room opened a floodgate within her. Her good eye bugged open, while the other, hidden beneath a blue silk patch, twitched halfway closed. Her nostrils flared wide. As she slipped into the berserk state, she whipped her arm in a downward motion. More lightning arcked along the ebony haft of her great hammer, which then extended by a couple of feet. She screamed [bg=#000080]_"AZZZGAAAARDDD!!!"_[/bg] and ran at the sorcerers, swinging Vendrvapn with wild abandon, seeking a target, any target.

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The blow caught the Yellow King right around his stomach, sending him flying into the wall. He broke through the crumbling plaster and old brick with stunning ease, the merest of grunts the only sign of his discomfort. But then he caught on the air, as if held by some invisible force. That yellow, shimmering light returned, and he looked upon it in mortal fear. A strange, twisted light played across his body, causing it to distort and shift like fabric. The air was filled with the scent of rotting flowers, and his screams were drowned out by the sound of an orchestra playing broken instruments.

Finally, he hit the ground. His body appeared whole, but his face was frozen in an expression of fright. Guerrera was frozen in place. "Jesus Christ," said the soldier.

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The strange show of sound and light from the wards echoed throughout the building... and in the front hallway, one of the Yellow King snapped to attention, distracted by the harrowing might of the spell. "Something's triggered the wards," he said to his ally. "Southwest quadrant. Go."

The other King nodded, and vanished with a smell of fresh pennies. The sorcerer returned his attention to Cannonade "So, I gotta ask," said the hero as he dodged a bolt of withering energy that made what was left of the wallpaper smolder, "these bathrobes of yours. They only come in yellow? I mean, it goes with the name, but you've gotta have something that doesn't look your dog went on it."

The King stared down Cannonade. "They represent the light of the King," he said in a voice tinted with holy fervor. "The light that reveals and colors and shows the true shade of the universe. They are nothing like piss."

"Yeah? You keep telling yourself that."

---

Abel was coming to again. Before that freight train of a blow had hit, he could've sworn he'd seen a Viking woman come bursting into the room. No, wait, she was still there, and she'd just sent one of the weird gangbangers in a yellow robe through the wall, and then... things got weird. It must've been the blow; he'd seen some weird crap after the IED had gone off in Kabul, too. He readjusted his grip on his rifle, when --

"You!"

Another gang banger had just shown up out of nowhere. He thrust his hands at the Viking woman... and an end table in the far corner of the room exploded. "What are you doing here? I will -- "

Abel knew how to respond. He steadied his rifle, sighted the target, and opened fire. Though his bullets never seemed to pierce that strange robe of the gang banger, it danced about like a marionette in an unsteady grip. When it stopped twitching, it hit the ground, moaning in pain.

"Hoo-ah!"

"That was unwise." He turned; the other guy was still there. "Allow me to show you... the magnitude of your mistake." His hands glowed with a strange fire that zoomed out towards him like a rocket...

Yes...

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Without a second, or even a first thought, Thrude leapt into the jet of eldritch flame, shielding the soldier with her own body. The runes on her armor sparked to life once more as the fire washed over her. The goddess gritted her teeth as she felt the unnatural fire trying to boil her blood and sap her essence. Her skin blistered in a few places, but her soul remained intact.

Thrude lashed out at the sorcerer with a series of frenzied swings, seeming to aim high. Reckless as it was, the maneuver was an attempt at misdirection, one the sorcerer saw right through. He saw it for what it was soon enough to know what was coming, but not soon enough to avoid it.

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The goddess brought her great hammer down in a sideways arc like a pendulum and slammed it into the sorcerer's leg. Vendrvapn hooked around the back of his knee, and Thrude yanked up, knocking the sorcerer's feet out from under him. His back hit the floor with a THUD! He didn't have time to notice what color the ceiling was painted before the goddess pressed her advantage, gripping her great hammer with both hands and slamming it down onto her fallen foe's chest. Sparks flew off the hammer and a thunderclap echoed off the apartment walls. The floor disintegrated under the force of the blow, as did every floor below it. The ground shook several times as the sorcerer's body plummeted to the basement, blasting a hole in every ceiling and floor in his path.

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The blow from the next room over shook the very foundation of the building. In the main hallway, the Yellow King besieging Cannonade was thrown off his footing by the impact, causing his spell to punch a hole through a wall a good foot away from the hero. "Man, your discipline sucks," he said. "This your first time at the rodeo?"

"My mind has been opened to sights both wonderful and harrowing. My discipline is --"

Cannonade took advantage of the moment to drive his fist right into the King's stomach. The air went out of him instantly, resulting in a choked-off gasp. His knees gave out, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

"-- real crap. Yeah, I know." He turned and ran, charging through the open doorways and wending his way down the halls. "Now, what the hell's going on down there?"

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Meanwhile, as Thrude watched as her quarry went plummeting into the depths of the building, Abel and Guerrera were adjusting to the aftermath of the onslaught.

"How's Simmons?" asked Abel. Guerrera kneeled down to check the fallen soldier. He placed his fingers to the soldier's neck, then grimly shook his head at his colleague.

"He's still here."

"Damnit," Abel muttered. "Figures we'd go charging in and there'd be heroes here." He took another look over Thrude. "Wait a minute... she looks like she'd understand." He raised his assault rifle and sighted the hero. "You! Viking lady!" he called out. "You must know the ways! I challenge you to a fight to the death!"

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Thrude turned at Abel's challenge. Sparks exploded from her one sky-blue eye and danced along her face. She closed the distance between them in half an eyeblink. She roared, hefted her great warhammer for what appeared to be a killing blow...and slammed the rifle out of his hands. Her face was mere inches from his.

[bg=#000080]_"You seek an honorable death in battle?"_[/bg] she hissed. [bg=#000080]_"Then you are not mere brigands after all. This was no accident. You knew these foul sorcerers were here. You knew what dark powers they serve. And you must have known how ineffective your pathetic weapons would prove. Yet still you charged into the fray!"_[/bg]

The goddess grinned and slung her great warhammer back over her shoulder. [bg=#000080]_"If you defend Midgard from The Unspeakable Ones, then we fight for the same cause! And I'll not shed the blood of an ally."_[/bg] She pointed at the fallen Yellow Kings. [bg=#000080]_"Help me secure this place, and then let us find a tavern and celebrate our victory over a pint of ale! Or six! Who knows, the three of you might even drink some!"_[/bg]

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Cannonade dashed down the hall towards the source of the disturbance... and paused when he arrived at the door. A woman in Viking garb was holding a hammer the size of his spinal column, and had just used it to knock the assault rifle from a soldier's arms... but she made no move to attack him. His buddy, on the other hand, had his gun trained on her, and looked to be approaching a breakdown.

"You think I haven't tried that?" he was yelling at her. "It doesn't work! It just brings it all back! There's just gonna be something, waiting, to drag me back there! I can't take it anymore!"

That sounded like a cue to Cannonade. He barged into the room, his footfalls distracting Guerrera in the half-second before he hit him like a freight train, bringing him to the ground. He wrapped his arms around the soldier, keeping him down but unharmed. "Y'know," he said, "I was wondering why you guys would wanna charge in against a bunch of magical gang bangers. Thought it was suicide. And I guess I was right."

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Abel ignored the pain in his hands from the impact of the woman's weapon on his rifle. He quickly scanned the room, finding where his gun had been sent flying. He went diving for it, but the pain from the earlier impact flared up. He wrestled for control, his rifle just inches from his hands. "Listen," he said. "We don't know who the hell the Unspeakable One is, or why the hell these guys would drink his bathwater. We just heard the kings were packing some serious hardware. We just wanted to go out swinging."

Guerrera struggled in Cannonade's arms, but somewhat futilely. "None of us were getting back in the field," he said. "If it wasn't injury, it was disorder. We tried, we really goddamn tried, but... what happened over there broke us. The shrinks didn't understand it, either - I mean, how could they? The only one who did was her. She told us what we could do to get it back."

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The goddess let an exasperated sigh slip past her lips as she walked across what was left of the apartment's carpeted floor, toward the traumatized soldier. [bg=#000080]_"I've seen this before. You aren't the first soldier who couldn't leave the battle on the battlefield."_[/bg] She knelt down and reached out to snatch Abel, but he crawled and rolled and squirmed out of the way. [bg=#000080]_"Damn it all to HEL! If you won't let me get ahold of you, then get ahold of yourself, Man! You are a Warrior! A defender of Midgard and its people! There's no honor in death from battle with your own allies!"_[/bg]

She turned and looked over her shoulder to Cannonade. [bg=#000080]_"An Achaean? I thought the Saxons ruled this land. And you're too fast, too strong to be a mortal. An Olympian demigod, then? One of the Storm-Lord's bastards?"_[/bg]

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Cannonade was temporarily caught off guard by the big scary Viking woman asking if he was a bastard of "the Storm-Lord," whoever the hell that was. "I like to think I'm an all-right guy," he said as he tightened the hold on the soldier, "and I'm pretty sure my folks got married before I ever came on the scene. Mind telling me who you are?" He looked down towards Guerrera. "And whoever this 'she' is, you really need to get a second opinion. You guys once joined up because you believed in something. But you're here trying to drive out the Yellow Kings just 'cause you think they're gonna kill you fast -- and when that doesn't work, you just round on the next guy? I mean, how's it gonna end? Begging people for a goddamn bar fight?"

"And what the hell would you know about it?" shouted Abel. He had just reached his rifle, and gotten it back into his hands. "You guys just had bullets bounce off your skin like rain. You throw cars like paper airplanes. I doubt any of you know what it's like to be in a Humvee, trying to drive fast enough not to be caught by an ambush but slow enough not to trigger an IED. I bet you've never seen someone cut down next to you. I bet you don't know what it's like to get pulled out of Hell and hear one of your friends bitching about road work outside his place."

Guerrera struggled some more, but it was futile. "This isn't our place," he said. "Don't know if it ever could be. She was the first one who really understood. Do you know what it's like to find someone who doesn't look at you like you got broken? Who thinks they can find a way to make things fit for what you've become?"

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The distraction from Cannonade was all the advantage Thrude needed to get ahold of Abel. She snatched him up by his collar, then pinned his arms against his sides in a bear-hug and lifted his feet up off the floor. [bg=#000080]_"These cultists would not have given you a quick death, Fool! They would offer you to their Dark Lord, and It would consume your soul! There would be no rest for you! No peace! Only oblivion if you were lucky, and eternal torment if you were not!"_[/bg]

The goddess turned back to Cannonade. [bg=#000080]_"I'm understand your words, Warrior, but not their meaning. My apologies. My grasp of this tongue is still incomplete. But you speak like a Saxon, not a Greek. And now that have a moment to study, you look more like a Celt. I'll take thee for a native son, then. As for myself, I am Thrude! Child of Thor Storm-King and Sif Harvest-Queen, grandchild of Odin All-Father and Gaea herself, the very land upon which you tread all of your days! I am the Daughter of Storms, Chooser of The Slain, Princess of Asgard, and sworn protector of Midgard and its peoples!"_[/bg] As she spoke, thunderclaps echoed across the sky outside.

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Cannonade paused, both at the rampaging storms and the mention of "Thor." Wait... that Thor? Guy who fought for the Nazis Thor? She's his daughter? And I'm supposed to trust her?... Then again, she hasn't done anything too weird yet, and it could be one of those redemption things. I'm just gonna hold off for now.

Abel and Guerrera likewise paused, both at the words of Thrude and the fury that backed them up. "...we didn't know," Abel said. "We'd heard rumors about the Kings throwing around power, but we didn't know they were into the really weird crap. God damn. She didn't tell us about that."

"Okay, start from the beginning. Who the hell is 'she'?"

"Dr. Suez," said Guerrera. "Our psychiatrist. The VA referred us to her after the other shrinks got nowhere. She was... the first one to treat us like we weren't something delicate. Everyone else tried to 'fix' us, tell us we could be normal; she was the one who understood this was normal for us now. And she said... with the right preparation, we could get that feeling forever. The thrill of battle."

A groan went up. Simmons, the first soldier, was slowly coming to. "Are we dead?" he asked.

"No, sir."

"Well, why the **** not?"

"That's a very good question," Cannonade said. The soldier looked over to him, then to Thrude, and just decided to lie down a bit more and deal with his concussion. Cannonade turned to Thrude. "By the way, my name's Cannonade. Doesn't usually come with theatrics when I say it, but I can make some if you want."

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Thrude saw the look in Cannonade's eyes when she listed her pedigree. It was the same look she'd seen a hundred times already since her return to Midgard. The goddess sighed, then stood up straight and met the hero's gaze fiercely. "Yes, Thor! The mightiest of all the Aesir, god of the thunder and the lightning, who defended Midgard for so many centuries before his foolishness and his weakness allowed the swine among the Thule-Gesellschaft to bind his power as their own. Power they then used to slaughter countless innocents in his name. In our name. Thor Odinsson, whose foolishness and weakness led to the exile of my people from Midgard, led them to abandon this world in grief and shame. I am his get, risen from his seed planted in his wife's belly. His power is mine, and his sins are mine to atone for."

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Cannonade felt shame and just a little bit of fright under her gaze; even though he hadn't said a thing, she must have read his face like a book. "Look, I'm sorry," he said, his voice wrought with honesty. "Didn't mean to slam you, it's just... well, the name goes to a lot of weird places these days." He locked eyes with her. "And I gotta say, I've been mistaken for a Nazi a few times myself. And trust me, I've got plenty of reason to hate them."

Simmons was slowly getting to his feet. Cannonade turned to the rising soldier. "As for you," he said, "listen to the woman who knows. This isn't brave, this is stupid. You don't know what you're getting into, and there's a good chance you could hurt others if this spills over. What's to say these guys won't think you're a hit squad called in by some other gang? Isn't a soldier's job to protect? You really wanna risk setting off a powder keg 'cause you wanna take the express elevator to Valhalla?"

Simmons didn't answer. He just stared down Cannonade.

"Yeah, you think on that. So. Anyone mind telling me where this Dr. Suez's office is? I feel the need for a late night session."

"350 Miller Street." Cannonade turned back to Simmons. "She works out of her house."

Cannonade turned back to Thrude. "So, wanna help me figure out what's up with this shrink's prescriptions?"

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"Look, I'm sorry," he said, his voice wrought with honesty. "Didn't mean to slam you, it's just... well, the name goes to a lot of weird places these days."

"You owe me no apology, Mortal. My father earned your scorn, and by taking up his legacy, I have pledged to endure it."

"And I gotta say, I've been mistaken for a Nazi a few times myself. And trust me, I've got plenty of reason to hate them."

"You all do. Seventy million reasons, if I remember correctly. Old news to you, but the revelations are still fresh in my mind."

"So, wanna help me figure out what's up with this shrink's prescriptions?"

"Aye. But there is another matter to attend to first." Thrude released her grip on the soldier, and addressed the trio of shell-shocked veterans. "You fought bravely, and with honor. If you truly wish for an honorable death in battle, there are other causes in need of a few extra swords. Follow me." The goddess walked out into the hallway, down the stairs and out into the open street. "Gather 'round."

When the soldiers had clustered around her, Thrude raised her massive hammer above her head. The men smelled a faint trace of ozone, and then a blazing column of lightning crashed down from the sky, directly onto Thrude's head. Right before it struck, the bolt split into several branches, lashing out toward each of the soldiers.

"I lack the power to mend your souls, Warriors. But I grant thee what aid I can."

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The lightning struck out at the soldiers, and they flinched as it arced off towards them. As it touched, however, it didn't seem to burn; under the light of the heavenly bolt, their flesh seemed to knit and their bruises vanished. When the bolt eventually vanished with a clash of thunder, Simmons and Abel - who had been limping as they left the building - stood upright, almost at attention. "Th-thanks," said Abel; now that the rush of battle and the disappointment of failure had passed, the awe of being in the presence of one of the Aesir was starting to take effect. "I... guess I can see what I can do. It might take some time getting over this, but... well, guess it's the only way."

Simmons clicked the safety on the rifles and loaded them in the van. "We may wanna get rid of this stuff," he said. "Dr. Suez managed to arrange for the arms. They're definitely not street legal, though, and last thing we want is to get caught carrying."

"Your doctor usually move a lotta guns?"

"Only these... I mean, as far as we knew," Guerrera said. "She offered to set us up with whatever we needed, but told us it was better to face death evenly matched. Wouldn't put it past her to get some explosives. That woman's got... a kinda magnetism to her. Main reason she was able to get through to us."

"So, now I've gotta check the office for mines. Great." Cannonade looked over the soldiers. "Like I said - I can't imagine what you guys have gone through. But you're soldiers. You've faced worse odds. You can beat this, and when that happens... if you still wanna go out in a blaze of glory... then you'll find a way to do it for a good reason."

"You're right," said Abel. "You don't know what we've gone through. But... you did keep us from going through something stupid. That definitely counts for something." He nodded to the hero. "See you 'round." With that, the soldiers got into the van and tore off into the night.

"That's one way to make a difference," he said. "Now let's see if this shrink keeps late hours..."

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The address of Dr. Suez was decidedly more upscale than the Yellow Kings' current lodgings. The cottage-style house was just a few blocks off from the main boardwalk; Cannonade could smell the night surf on the air as he looked over the building. At this distance, the din of the crowd and the casinos was certainly lively, but not earsplitting. It formed more of a pleasant susurrus rather than a discordant mess. The house reached two stories, but was rather free of decoration. Its walls were egg-white, and nothing hung in the windows. The lights were off, and there was no sign of movement within.

"Guess we should ring the doorbell," Cannonade said to Thrude. "I mean, I'm all in favor of beating the door down, but... this might bear a bit more decorum. 'Sides, last thing I wanna do is find out the hard way if she keeps a Claymore behind her door."

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