Caulder did not like shopping in public. He disliked having to walk everywhere. He did not enjoy being surrounded by large crowds of strangers. He did not find the endless noise and motion pleasant in the slightest. So when he stepped into a quiet, smoky building with worn pastel wallpaper peeling around the door frame, he was quite relieved. The place was practically empty, his sensors told him, with only four heavily armed individuals on the floor above and two in the room in front of him. That was a lot more reassuring than the endless throng outside. He didn't spend any time pondering on how strange that should be.
Between his two bodyguards, who each seemed thoroughly bored, a very slim man reclined on a puffy cushion easily twice his size. Dressed all in flowing reds and purples and long, breezy fabrics, he seemed very much at home in the den. His attention was on Caulder from the moment he crossed the threshold. His guards didn't bat an eyelid.
"Caulder! My friend! It's been a long while now hasn't it." The man greeted him jovially, though he barely shifted in his seat, never one to compromise his own comfort.
"Servi, you grew your hair out again. It looks good." It looked ridiculous; a great jaunty mass erupting in curved spires all tangling and meshing with each other that near doubled the size of his head. Stray bits floated about in wispy tendrils around his face in a manner that Caulder knew was designed to distract and disorient. It was working. "I hope you have been well, I hear there has been some turmoil on Rieppelonne."
"Bah, the Homeworld is always in one turmoil or another." Servi's eyes narrowed in a way that made Caulder certain there had actually been an issue this time. "One house rises to the table while another is swept off with the leavings of their once-peers. Things would be different if house M'Garen held the chair, but I suppose that is not something that will happen any time soon. Not without considerable investment, I suppose."
"Val'Uri is not going to provide any assistance in your endless attempts to take the throne, Servi. Alren cannot get involved, you know that." Caulder nearly made a point of sighing, but having to do so consciously took most of the point out of it. "He can trade with you, but not much more than that."
"Always taking the joy from my life, you're such a sour one these days." Servi sulked, though he perked up very quickly "But I do suppose we should get to the point, I have a great deal of preparations to make ready for this upcoming tournament. Lots of money changing hands, and where wealth flows we must make business. So what business are you after this day, my friend?"
"Your old favourite, we need guns." Caulder replied, "Some body armour, utility equipment, maybe some light vehicles, but mostly guns. I am trying to outfit a mercenary faction that fell on hard times, we need some basics to get us going and some bigger sticks for the big events."
"Mercenaries? Goodness, you do like to get your hands dirty. I take it this isn't just some little backwater smattering of vagabonds, or else you'd not trouble me with something so unkempt." The man in red and purple leant back further into his cushion for a moment, thinking aloud in an alien tongue before slowing returning to the conversation. "I do hope you have a ship, at least? I am not in possession of too many good blockade runners these days."
"We have a ship, and we have plenty of hands, with room to recruit more. We just need armaments. I have a list." Caulder held up a PAD, the screen flickering for a moment as he interfaced with it, uploading the list. Servi motioned for the guard on his right to bring it to him, and he did, though with some hesitance. He glared at the guard, taking the PAD, then began skimming through the contents.
"... Very neat, I would expect nothing less. It is so hard to worm a profit from people who know exactly what they want." Servi complained, lounging back again, and Caulder found himself wondering if Wraith had left any messages in the list this time. He would have thought to ask later, but he knew he'd never get an answer. "I suppose this is something I can help you with, though you will wait until after the tournament. I only have so many hands, and cannot move so many things at once." He shrugged widely, setting the PAD down on a table beside his cushion. "You will have your armaments though, if you are patient, this promises house M'Garen."
"Thank you." Caulder nodded deeply in gratitude, things rarely went so easily with Servi, this was a pleasant surprise.
"You are most welcome, just be sure to remember that gratitude in the times to come, you and your mercenaries may soon be receiving a number of calls for work." The look Servi gave him made Caulder certain that he had just been volunteered for something worrying. He would definitely need to talk with Wraith when he got back, but for now there was no point in overthinking it. "Now, is there anything else I can do for you? I really must get on with my preparations."
"No, that is everything. Thank you again, old friend." Caulder gave a short bow.
"Well then, I wish you safe travels, and thank you for your business. I do hope you and your mercenaries will at least watch the tournament, if not compete. I assure you, it will be a great deal of fun."
"I am certain that at least two of them have already signed up. Good luck with your Homeworld turmoil."
"Dammit!" Raine swore, recoiling from the blow to her side. She hadn't ducked low enough, and instead of passing over her head the hard shell of the Metran's fist had caught her right under the shoulder. She shuffled back to give herself some space, moving her arm back to cover her ribs as the flesh healed and bones popped back into place. Another swift strike came from the left this time, though she was able to knock this one aside with her own plated arm, and lash out in retaliation. Edda leapt backwards gracefully, clearing a good distance between them and dropping back into a low stance immediately.
Raine met Edda Skarnour the previous night. While the others had been drinking, she'd been off sulking around the station, looking for something to break. She had seriously doubted that anything they served at the bars here would be able to even slow her down, so when a very drunk Metran had called her out from a nearby bar and challenged her to a drinking contest, she'd thought nothing of throwing her weight around a little. It didn't take too long for them to start getting along quite well.
Edda ran at her again, the same lead, a high jab followed by a quick sweep. Raine pushed both aside then pulled back a step, knowing better than to fall for this a third time, striking out now would only get her punished, even if she was expecting it. The Metran was quick. Very quick. And she knew how to fight. It was all Raine could do to keep up with her at first, but she was slowly starting to gain ground.
No biomorphing, and no draining, they'd both agreed before they started sparring. The were only allowed to rent out this room of a local fitness centre on the condition that they didn't cause too much damage. It was built to cater to people well-above baseline abilities, but all the same they both agreed it would be more fun this way.
Raine waited for the Meran to step towards her before pushing back, opening into a punishing series of punches, her left cross catching Edd a little harder than she'd expected, and the following right straight broke her guard entirely, forcing her to retreat again.
"You'll never get me to quit if you keep running away." Raine taunted, she hadn't had this much fun in what felt like far too long.
"Don't knock it, you can't beat down what you can't catch, and there's no way I'm standing in front of you for too long with a swing like that." Edda retorted, maintaining her distance. "You rely far too much on being the stronger one though, I wonder what you'll do if you ever come across something bigger than you can be, princess."
Edda was something of an outcast, Raine had learnt, which explained her very casual demeanour towards someone she's immediately identified as an important member of and enemy race. Technically the Tyrans and Metrans were still at war, after all, but that hadn't stopped the two from finding common ground in a great deal of things they both agreed were stupid. It didn't take long for boasts of strength to follow, and here they were, hours later and verging dangerously upon completely sober, beating the crap out of each other to prove another stupid point, but having a great deal of fun doing so.
"I don't intend on ever being smaller than my opponents, if I can help it. Whatever will you do if you can't run away from something?" Raine grinned through the banter, she was trying to get a response out of Edda, and the other woman knew it, her guard didn't lower an inch. Raine rushed forward this time, putting all of her weight behind her.
It was hours later when the two finally called it a draw.
"If I'd been able to biomorph, you wouldn't have stood a chance." Raine grumbled as she pulled a chair out to sit on. They'd long since left the centre to be cleaned up, and had found themselves a quiet cafe to eat at. "Would have been an easy thing, to rip you in half."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm sure it'd be no problem for you at all, if you could catch me with those big, clumsy fists, that is." Edda teased back, and Raine couldn't help but notice how much smaller she looked without most of her natural amour all stacked up. She wondered for a moment what it would be like if she wasn't able to morph her own armour up around her at will, or what it would be like to be stuck with it once it was there. "Hey, you should enter that tournament they're advertising, I think you'd do pretty well in it."
"Hm, I dunno. I'd probably win by a landslide if I prepared for it, and I don't really feel like limiting myself so much again any time soon. Next time I fight it's going to be all out, or nothing at all." She needed to work on her forms as well, that battle with the metal monster on the Realm had really given her some perspective. She needed to be able to deal with things like that, or else she'd only be a burden to the Realm's crew, and she'd never find out who this 'Jayge' was if she wound up dying in battle.
"Take the opportunity to let loose then! I'd say you could use it. I'm sure you'll have fun." Edda urged. "You never know what kinda people will turn up for this kinda thing. Plenty of strangers to beat to pieces. Maybe even some of your crew will join in, and you can show them a piece of your mind?"
That did sound at least a little enticing.
"Maybe, I'll think about it." Raine smiled.