|A view of the throne room of Faq. Near the top a bat hovers. A trail of discarded clothing leads from the throne to the bottom of the frame, where Duncan can be seen from the shoulders-up. He is shirtless.|||
Vinny didn't really mind working alone. He took it as a point of pride that Don King would send him out solo, that he trusted him to protect Transylvito's interests without too much hand-holding. But when you did these diplomatic assignments by yourself, there were a coupla traps to watch out for.
First, you could go crazy. Other sides were different. Without anybody from home to keep you grounded, you could start buyin' into some other side's nuttiness and drama. This was especially true around Queen Jillian's Faq.
Second, you lost track of what everybody back at the Palace was thinking. The mood. The ideas. The situation. Vinny still didn't know what Caesar's "plan to conquer" order was all about, but he'd followed it to the letter. He drew up a battle plan for taking out Faq; a bribe to the Giants, a cheap bat-blitz, and a couple of warlords was all you really needed. And as requested, he'd sent it by hat to the Chief, not to Don.
While Jillian was still out in the field, it would've been an easy operation to pull off. And if they were gonna do it, it should've been done before she got back and popped an heir. So every turn, he kept expecting the order to come. He'd work up his nerve all morning, waiting for the alliance to suddenly break. If it did, he would be the only warlord on the ground in an enemy city, and he'd have some real nasty work to do.
But now that she was back, he couldn't take this city alone. That was kind of a relief, and at the same time kind of scary, because maybe they were gonna want to do it anyway. There were at least two reasons he'd never want to fight Jillian. For one thing, he still cared for her, as mean and crazy as she might be. And also, she could kick his can pretty good.
So while he didn't think anybody at home was dumb enough to hit Faq while it could put up a real fight, he didn't know that for sure. He wasn't home. He didn't know what they were thinking back there.
And Queen Jillian was home. And Queen Jillian had come home without her true love. And Queen Jillian...was not presently speaking to him.
He could go eat with the grunts, but they'd be afraid of him. He really needed a commander to fill him in on stuff. So he floated down through the crooked maze of corridors, and made his way toward the big Throne-slash-War Room that they'd decided to call the "Grand Chamber." Chief Duncan might be in there. He'd probably want to catch up on his maps.
These jagged passages of buff-colored marble, with their intentional dead ends and traps, were meant to confuse an invader. He'd made sure to include a detailed map and directions on getting through the defenses in the plan he'd sent to Caesar.
He didn't feel too good about it, of course. But he also knew what side he was on.
Don King has set up Faq, and Don King could knock it over if he wanted to. Considering Jillian seemed to've left a key battle at a crucial tipping point and come home in defeat, it wouldn't surprise him to hear that Don had gone sour on her. The way Bunny told it, she gave up everything to get Ansom, and then lost Ansom on the way home. No wonder she didn't want to talk about it.
Losing the prisoner was a real shame, too. Vinny'd been looking forward to seeing Ansom again. He wanted to find out what his deal was...being alive at all. And being Chief of Gobwin Knob. That didn't really fit with the Prince Ansom he'd known and called a friend, but there was always a story.
The big iron-bound doors to the Grand Chamber were closed (which wasn't unusual) and unguarded (which was). He floated there for a minute and listened, and thought he could hear someone's voice inside.
It was a woman's voice. And that voice was moaning.
The good kind of moaning.
He raised an eyebrow.
From a strictly diplomatic point of view, his duty in this situation was clear: turn around silently in mid-air, and head back to his quarters. But his mission did also have (as Don put it) "an intelligence gathering component." And that component of his duty dovetailed neatly with his duty as a man right now.
Just barging in there was out of the question. As a foreign agent, he had to be granted permission to enter the Grand Chamber each and every time. Pounding on the door would only give the moaners (and there were definitely two; he could hear an occasional masculine grunt punctuating the wordless feminine sentences) time to make their escape.
There were lots of ways to escape the Grand Chamber. Jillian had made certain of that. But this was the fact that led him to his course of action.
He only had one bat in the city airspace right now, but it happened to be on top of the tower. He reached out to Bat 1, and ordered it to fly over to the edge of the vertical escape shaft. The Queen had put in a landing pad big enough for four gwiffons right there in the Chamber, just in case she needed to bolt to the airspace in a hurry.
The bat was able to perch on the lip of the shaft and peek down. The Grand Chamber was four floors below, and the only view was of the empty landing pad. They weren't doing it there.
Taking control of the bat with his full attention now, he had it hop into the air and hover slowly down through the hole. It was technically still in the airspace and not entering the Chamber this way. Not technically. If the bat was spotted, he didn't expect that technicality to count for much.
The bat could hear the mystery couple much better than he could from the hallway. They were keeping a rhythm; no sign they'd heard the bat's flapping over their own. His view descended until he could just see where the shaft ended, at the edge of the Chamber's ceiling.
Carefully, precisely, he let the bat dip down into the room.
By whatever Luckamancy or blessing the Titans chose to bestow on his little spy mission, they were erotically arranged so that neither of them was looking up. It was one of those two-back stacks, on the carpet in front of the throne, between the map tables, facing the big doors. The lead unit in the formation was blonde and shapely, and the one taking the rearguard was definitely Chief Duncan. Vinny made an involuntary fist.
Vinny exhaled. He put his mind fully into the beating wings of Bat 1, and flew it gently and deliberately back up the escape shaft. When it was all the way back up on its perch, he floated himself around and went to find a nice, safe perch of his own. Safe from the dangers of Faq.Nuttiness. And. Drama.