Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Three)
Chapter Twenty-Three In Which A Maid Breezes Through Excitement
Elizabeth Darkwater, as usual, performed her duties as a servant with excellence. The staff of the temple who were charged with the bulk of the cooking, cleaning, and general temple upkeep didn't know what to do with her at first when she first suddenly appeared doing some of their chores. But they decided that it was better to just leave her alone, especially when she was doing such great work, which was a load off of their shoulders.
It was a bit hard to approach her anyway, being such a quiet and stone-faced girl. She made no time for small talk. She showed no interest in anything other than completing her chores. And whenever anyone tried asking if she needed anything, the answer was always "no". Just "no".
Elizabeth was in the middle of preparing tea for the scholars in the headquarters room that the temple had provided for them when she heard a explosion coming from outside. She walked past the simple wood furnishings towards the open windows where she saw smoke rising from the gateway, and a four-legged battle tank climbing up the stairs, boring holes into the stairway. The churning of the tank's gears could be heard all the way in the room Elizabeth had been furnishing for the past half-hour. Armed men started flooding in, but they were soon met with resistance from members of the temple brandishing staffs and other kinds of wooden weapons. The maid recognized some of them as workers in the kitchen.
After taking a moment to watch a bit of the battle, she turned around and resumed setting up tea time. Of course she would. One of the lessons from the Academy of Royal Service for maids was: in the case of a siege, as long as it seems like the enemy won't get in, resume work. When the guards finish with their duty of protecting the grounds, they're going to need some refreshments for their hard work. It didn't look like there was anything to worry about. The arms of the invaders were non-lethal, and the temple's people were trained fighters, far more so than the invaders if appearances were anything to go by.
However, as Elizabeth continued preparing the tea, she heard the loud clapping of boots from outside. She could tell from the sound that there were several people outside. As far as she knew, only the scholars she worked for, some alchemist and his wife who happened to be world-renowned heroes, Sir Geoffrey, and his bodyguard would wear boots. Jane wouldn't wear anything except high-end fashionable shoes, and her attendants wouldn't have any business here. Everyone else in the temple had on sandals which made shuffling noises. The number of boot pairs she got from her hearing outnumbered Sparrow and his circle of friends. And there was the heavy stamping of metal against stone and wood, accompanied by the grinding of clockwork gears. From that, Elizabeth guessed that there must be at least more than one automaton with the invaders.
So the frontal assault was just a distraction, Elizabeth thought. They must have snuck in from somewhere else. But that shouldn't be possible, unless there was a traitor.
There was no time to waste. Any minute now, those intruders were going to bust into this room and capture her.
Another lesson from the Academy of Royal Service: in case someone manages to break into the palace in which one worked, if one hasn't been found yet, find anything that could be used as a weapon and hide it somewhere before one is found. Weapons might come in handy later.
Elizabeth slipped a butter knife into her sleeve. She hid a fork in her bonnet. And she poured some really hot tea into a thermos that someone had left behind before hiding the thermos too.
She had just finished arming herself when the door was kicked open and men in armor, accompanied by, just as she had thought, two automatons flooded in. Elizabeth recognized them as the temple's worker machines. Well, they've already been taken over a couple of times already, so it shouldn't really be a surprise to see them working for the bad guys right now.
"Don't move!" one ordered, pointing a blaster rifle at her face. Judging by the yellowish glow from the barrel, a stun stone was used as ammo. Special energy stones with different colors are the ammo of blasters and blaster rifles. Blaster weapons may have the appearance of flintlock weapons from Gaius, but they need not gunpowder, nor bullets.
Elizabeth screamed at the top of her lungs. Third lesson from the Academy of Royal Service: if someone manages to break in, pretend to be either a frantic damsel in distress, or a helpless, weak whelp, and scream as loud as possible. That way others will be alerted to the danger.
"Quiet!" the man barked.
Elizabeth quickly complied, breaking out in tears and sniveling. She hoped that she was being convincing enough. Crying on command was not her best subject, after all.
"Hey, metal heads!" the man shouted. "Take this maid to the others."
So others have been captured as well. Elizabeth was not surprised. After all, considering how big this temple is, a whole army would be needed to take it over.
"By the way, why's there maid in a temple, anyway?" asked one of the masked soldiers as he bound her hands with rope.
"I heard she came with a group of scholars who're here doing scholar stuff," said another.
As the soldiers talked among themselves, the automatons, bulky, six-foot tall humanoid machines, herded Elizabeth out of the room and into the hallway. Elizabeth kept the frightened little girl act with the occasional sniff and wheeze until she was certain that there was just her and the machines. Then she sprung into action.
While shuffling through the halls, Elizabeth used the butter knife she hid in her sleeve to cut herself free. She kept the rope pinched between her fingers to keep them from falling off, to keep the automatons from noticing anything. When the time was right, she let the rope drop to the ground, pulled out the fork from her bonnet and spun around to face the clockwork machine behind her.
Elizabeth jumped up and jammed both knife and fork into the glass eyes of the machine and ducked down as the second lunged towards her, alerted by the electronic wailing of its counterpart. Blinded, the first machine flailed wildly.
By now, dear reader, you must be wondering what kind of school is the Academy of Royal Service where Elizabeth received her maid training. Well, exactly as it sounds, it's a school that trains its students to become servants (maids and butlers) for the government leaders of the Vaian Republic. But the job of government leader could be a dangerous one. There are always villains who want to take over or topple the country by attacking them, or steal from their houses, or kidnap them to hold for ransom. And that also usually meant their houses, the houses where the servants would work, could become dangerous places. So, in addition to the usual cooking, cleaning, and other servant stuff, The Academy of Royal Service also had emergency first aid lessons and military combat training.
Elizabeth ducked down just as the blind robot struck the second in the face. Cogs and coils loosened and flew as a deep dent was left on its face. She stepped behind the blinded machine as the second fell down, pulling out the thermos of hot tea as she did so.
After removing the cap, she poured at least half of the tea down the nape of the machine's neck where there was a vent. As she hopped back away from the machine, sparks popped from its joints and it collapsed from its core being unable to handle the heat.
Even before the first machine hit the floor, Elizabeth was already upon the second one. Although that punch it received made it look like it wasn't going to move anytime soon, Elizabeth still poured the rest of the tea down its vent. One of the most important lessons of the Academy of Royal Service was that a servant must always be thorough with their work.
She took a moment to make sure both machines were out of commission. Closing her eyes, Elizabeth strained her ears for the sound of gears. Apart from the noise of battle outside, and some shouting and screaming a couple of feet away, there was nothing else. There was definitely no sound of gears from a human-shaped machine turning. Confident that the machines weren't going to move anymore, she left.
With the automatons out of the way, she now had to figure out what happened to the children and members of the temple. She could always run away, of course, and try to get help. But that would take too long. And knowing Sparrow, even if she went to warn him of the danger, he would still come to the children's rescue. Despite his claims of otherwise, he had the attitude of a hero, which was pushing even Elizabeth's patience to the brink. If she wasn't there to watch over her cousin, it was a guarantee that he was going to get himself seriously hurt one of these days.
And so, she came to a conclusion. She would have to take care of this invasion all by herself. How did she come to this conclusion? Right now, all the heroes who could deal with this sort of thing as easily as polishing silverware were away. They were with Sparrow, so there was an upside to this. Once the protectors of the temple realize that the children and non-fighters were captured, they're sure to surrender to the invaders' demands to make sure the hostages were safe. That just left Elizabeth, the only one still inside the temple who wasn't captured. And she will defeat these villains and rescue everyone, staking her good name as a member of the Darkwater family. But, maybe that could wait until right after these soldiers go away. It was a good thing she was striking a heroic pose right by an art studio when they showed up.
"Seriously," said one, shaking his head beneath his helmet. "Who puts a sculpture in the middle of the hallway?"
Elizabeth had a lot of practice standing still while playing the tree or statue in some school plays as a child, and during the final years of her advance schooling. And according to school lore, she was the best tree-slash-statue in the history of the school's theater.
"More importantly, who would make something so ridiculous as a maid posing like a hero over fallen robots?" added another.
"Some people just don't have any artistic sense," said a third. "At least make her smile! This one here looks more like a stone cold machine than those pieces of junk lying at her feet."
"Maybe that was the point," said the first. "That's probably the hidden message in the sculpture."
"Well, leave it to the art master to find the hidden message," said the third. "Seriously, you should not have quit the art world."
Not realizing that Elizabeth was a living, breathing human being, the men continued to talk about art as they moved on. She could hear their voices carry over through the halls as they turned left at the end and disappeared.
Thinking that they would lead her to the hostages or their base of operations, Elizabeth followed after them, keeping a distance out of their sight. She used her hearing to keep track of them. With the soldiers being such a loud and talkative bunch, it wasn't all that hard. And she was able to learn a lot, so it was like catching two birds with one net.
"It's a big surprise how smoothly the operation's going so far," said one soldier.
"Yeah," said another. "If it weren't for our inside man, I'm sure the guys at this temple would have wiped the floor with us."
So it was thanks to an inside man that they were able to sneak in with such success. Well, that was no news to Elizabeth. It was obvious that there was a traitor. How else would those men have gotten into the temple so easily?
"It's thanks to him that the Crimson Storm and the Pink Lotus aren't here right now," said the third. "If those two were here, this operation would be over before it even started. Just thinking of having to face those two in battle sends shivers down my spine. I heard that they were pretty dangerous kids. Who knows how dangerous they are now that they're adults?"
Too true, Elizabeth thought to herself. She had observed the two mentioned heroes training their powers several times, and thought that they were the closest to being real-life Titans. Period.
"Oh! We're here."
Elizabeth risked a peak over the corner and saw the trio she was tailing giving a high-five to a reptile man in the same armor as they were wearing.
"Status report?" the reptile man said.
"Sir!" the soldiers saluted. "All clear on the west side, Sir! We checked every room, corner, and cupboard, Sir!"
The reptile nodded with satisfaction.
"Good," he said. "I guess that means we've rounded everyone up. And even if we didn't, there are enough hostages here to make sure no one does anything foolish."
So, behind those doors must be where they're keeping the hostages. She would like to spring into action right away and save the people inside, but she held back. As one of her teachers from the academy always said, "Haste is the leading cause of anyone's downfall." This was where and when Elizabeth had to be patient. Now, she had to wait, see, and listen.
"Say, speaking of our inside man, where is he right now?" asked one of the soldiers.
"Oh, he's still with those heroes and those kids playing detectives," replied another.
Wait, what? Elizabeth nearly lost her footing from the shock. The traitor was with some heroes and kids playing detectives. In other words, the traitor was with Sparrow and the others!
"I heard the signal was sent to our inside man to begin the next phase of the operation," said the lizard man.
The next phase? That didn't sound good.
"So, with this, there'll be no one to get in our way, right?" said one of the soldiers.
"Exactly. The treasures here will be as good as ours!"
The soldiers laughed at their impending triumph. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has heard all she needed to hear. Forget about saving the whole temple. Sparrow was in trouble. She had to get to him and the others before it's too late. Even if this'll get Sparrow wanting to play hero, it'll be better than him walking around with a traitor who could strike at any moment.
"Well, well," said a voice from behind. "What do we have here?"
Elizabeth slowly turned around to find a trio of soldiers aiming their weapons at her.
"Playing hide-and-seek, are we?" said the leader.
Elizabeth played through some options in her head before picking the best one. She raised her hand and in that same soft, monotone voice of hers, said: "I surrender."
Great, she thought as she was escorted into the room with the other hostages. Now there was no way she could help Sparrow. All she could do now was have faith in him, and the heroes who accompanied him.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Two)
And the search really begins.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Four)
In which there is betrayal.