What a pair of schmucks. Two 'warlords' bickering like a couple of kids in the middle of a battlefield. Calvin wondered if their troops would be so quick to follow them if they realized their leaders were a gamer geek and a bookworm. Much like Jonathan, Conan and Mihrimah looked completely different now as opposed to their appearance on the airplane. Calvin could tell that back on the plane “Conan” had the physique of your average gamer geek while Mihrimah had stood perhaps five feet tall and weighed around a hundred pounds. He still wasn't sure how he did it, but he wasn't about to question it. Knowing their ‘true form’ was a fair bit of insight, but Calvin needed more intel. Maybe a peek through Conan's camp would give him a better feel for the blowhard? Cyan and Donovan made the perfect distraction. While they held their meeting, no one would be paying attention to the skinny guy popping up here or there near the outlying tents. The few guys wandering about would be easy to navigate around. At least that was the idea.
As he approached the first few tents, Calvin realized just how huge Conan’s army was. As far as he could see, there were rows and rows of canvas tents. To him, it looked like the encampment could be larger than the city of Virava (which had a population of what? 10,000 people?) For anyone else, searching this place would take forever. Good thing Calvin didn't let a thing like time hold him back. As he headed off down one lane, he took note of what was going on. Not much of interest. It was mostly a bunch of worn out soldiers doing their soldier thing. Tent after tent of hairy, sweaty, men milling about in armor who probably haven't had a bath in days. No sooner had Calvin started to regret walking down one lane than one of the aforementioned rough types decided to question what the skinny guy in odd clothes was doing snooping around.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" was the best the brute could come up with. As if Calvin hadn't heard that one a thousand times.
"Don't mind me, I was just leaving." Calvin said with a smile.
About five minutes ago, he thought about trying again. "Ya know what?" he said to no one in particular, "New plan." In no time, he had found a small chest to carry around. No one questioned a guy who looked like he was doing whatever it was he was supposed to be doing. With this many soldiers in a functioning military encampment there had to be plenty of people simply moving things from here to there. Just part of the scenery, he reasoned. "Now let's see what's down aisle number two"
* * * * *
In the time it takes to sneeze, he had casually traversed most of the complex, one trial run at a time. Or was it all at once? It was getting hard to gauge actually. Redoing the same five minutes over and over again tended to mess with one's definition of 'now.' Realistically, he could only be in one place at any given time, right? On the other hand, he had walked down every single line of tents and started at the same time each time he did it. So it could be argued that he had walked the whole thing all at once. However, if Schrödinger’s Principle were to be brought up and Marcus were to start babbling on about Novikov's conjectures....
Hello? What's this?
Before Calvin had time (what a thought!) to start questioning what he was doing, he walked up to the what had to be the center of camp. There was a large open area, bordered on three sides by pavilions. The back wall was formed from a humongous tent, bigger and grander than the other two, covered in banners and trophies and what-not. This had to be the personal pavilion of Lord-High-Muckety Conan himself. What self respecting game-store-wannabe-turned-Frazetta-painting would settle for anything less grand? Should be something worthwhile near here. Best to case the place before going in.
Still carrying his "box of 'I'm not suspicious, really.' +1", Calvin casually walked past just to see if there was anyone to notice. Sure enough his thoughts were rewarded. Two guards in full ceremonial armor stood guard out by the front flap. Naturally. On the other hand, there were a bunch of guards keeping an eye on the smaller tent right next door. Four stood watch at the front while several pairs patrolled the general vicinity. "Hmmm. Calvin-sense tingling!"
* * * * *
It stood to reason that whatever had the most guards was the most important thing in camp. That or Conan just didn't want a bunch of dudes standing around his personal space. Either theory worked for Calvin-logic, but today he'd be focused on more guards equals more goodies. Now what would be the best plan to get in there? The direct approach? Sneaking in through the back? Meh, details. If one didn't work he could always try again.
As he approached the four guards at the front, he handed the box to the one who now had a bewildered expression on his face. "You gents wouldn't happen to know where the nearest latrine is would ya?"
The four men merely exchanged glances before summoning a pair of their compatriots to cart away the guy who brought them an empty box. Direct may not be the best course.
* * * * *
Maybe on the back of the tent there would be a loose seam or something? As the patrolling guards turned around the corner, Calvin made his move. Right in the middle of the back wall was a single seam running from the top all the way to the ground. Grabbing either side, all he needed was a good hard tug and... nothing. Once more should do the trick. Another hard tug and the fabric held firm. "Man, they make this look easy in the movies." Once more with feeling.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing? That’s forbidden!" came the shout before he was dragged off again. Maybe the knife would work next try?
* * * * *
The patrol turned the corner the same as his last go around. About sixty seconds before they come back, Calvin figured. Okay! Now to business. He reached the center seam like last time, and then went for the knife. His hand moved to his belt where he usually kept his trusty knife. The same trusty knife he left back in the cart with his sword. Son of a bitch. And from around the corner came that familiar call of "Hey! What do you think you're doing? That’s forbidden!"
* * * * *
In front of the tent in question, a small box sat where it had been left a scant two minutes before. If it had ears, it would have heard some shouting around the side of the tent regarding the goings on of one who should not be trying to dig his way under said tent. If it had eyes, it would have seen a skinny man being dragged off by the arms by two very large soldier types. If it had a mouth it probably would have laughed at seeing someone fail at the same task over and over again.
* * * * *
A soldier in obviously oversized armor walked around the corner from Lord Conan's tent. As he approached the two guards he gave a quick semblance of a salute. "New orders, men. You are relieved for the moment to partake in tonight's feast."
"Aren't you a little short to be a sergeant?" the guard said as he removed the helmet from the newcomer. "So, what do you think you're doing?"
"Don't you guys have anything original to say, ever?" Calvin screamed as he was dragged off.
* * * * *
As usual, going for style over substance wasn't getting him anywhere like it did for Edward. The solution was simple. He just had to Bamf in there the same way he flitted throughout the markets in Virava. How did that go again? Oh yeah! Concentrate and....
Like water being flash-frozen, all movement around Calvin slowed down to a crawl before stopping completely. It was like when he would draw an image in his head. He had to capture the moment as it was, completely still, and put it on paper. Things were easier to draw when they didn't move around so much. In his usual casual manor, Calvin walked into the tent unopposed, but not before having a little fun at the guard's expense. Normally, one would want buckles to be fastened. Pity really.
As time got it's act together and started to flow like it should, he was inside the tent only to find another layer of material separating him from whatever was inside. Maybe it was best if he stuck his head under the edge to see what was inside to investigate. He didn't need to run into more guards who only had one line of dialogue. Crawling under the edge of the silky fabric, Calvin had to let his eyes adjust to the dark confines of the interior. There was definitely movement inside.
"Well, aren't you a brave one?" purred a distinctly feminine voice.Calvin's ears suddenly perked up. "Don't you know you'll be killed if you're caught in here?"
Calvin slowly turned his head to see who owned the sultry voice. Lying resplendently on her side was one of the Furred people Cal had first seen in Virava. Her svelte, supple physique was covered from head to toe by a fine coat of soft black fur. A pair of cat ears nested within her long black hair, while the matching tail curved around from her...holy crap she was nude. A quick glance around the tent revealed that she wasn't the only female with a distinct lack of clothing. I must be in the harem tent... Jackpot!
Her yellow eyes never left Calvin as he tried in vain to come up with a response. "I usually make it a point not to get caught." he stammered.
"Well, such bravery should be rewarded. Tell me, do you play chess?” She rolled on to her back giving Calvin a better look at her breasts. He quickly swallowed whatever noise his primitive hindbrain had been about to make. “If you do, and you manage to beat me..." she continued, arching her back seductively.
In all his years, Calvin had come up with many terms and descriptive phrases for a woman's chest. While this new specimen was hardly well-endowed, the term 'ample' seemed most apropos. He could focus on that later. Right now, he was being propositioned... challenged, err..asked to play a game.
"I really should be going. I mean, I'm supposed to be... " Stop lying to yourself. "Aw hell. Game on!"
* * * * *
This had to be the best and worst way of playing chess ever devised by the mind of man. Fortunately, Captain Jiranee had taught him the basics of the game back in Virava. The board Sanura (the Furred Person who’d originally challenged him) had set up used slightly different pieces, with slightly different names, but they all still moved the same. Which was good, because Sanura was a fairly capable chess player (there apparently wasn’t much for the girls to do in the harem tent and chess was a popular way to wile away the hours) and if he’d had to learn new moves from scratch she’d probably have wiped the board with him, time shifting or no. As it was, his ability to replay every move over and over (and over, and over, and...) meant he was holding his own. Hell, he probably could have beaten Bobby Fisher back in the day, except...
Calvin was willing to bet Bobby Fisher never had to play chess while surrounded by a gaggle of laughing and giggling nude women. Sanura, at least, was used to it, and mostly ignored her self-appointed ‘assistants.’ Calvin however, had to deal with bare breasts pressing up against his back, possible moves whispered in his ear, and feminine hands squeezing his leg after every capture. Worse yet was Kateena, his supposed chess coach. She was a slender red-skinned Farming Person with hair so long she didn’t really need to wear clothes. And she kept suggesting moves that made no sense—until Calvin tried them. She was apparently the acknowledged master of the game and at times seemed to be doing some time-shifting of her own, based on how she read the board. Or she was just that smart. Calvin felt he outta introduce her to Marcus some day. His eyes flicked to her well-proportioned physique. Then again, Marcus might take one look and suffer a cerebral short-circuit.
* * * * *
“Check and... mate.” Calvin tipped over Sanura’s king with his queen.
“Well done!” The girls, there were now at least a dozen ringing the chess board, all applauded and cheered. As for Sanura, she stood up and sashayed over to where he sat. “The game is yours, Master Calvin,” she purred as she settled into his lap. “So here is your reward.”
Her lips were soft, her tongue slightly rough, an interesting sensation. Calvin ran his hands down the smooth expanse of Sanura’s back, reaching her buttocks and stroking the length of her tail, marveling at the sensation of her body pressed up against his own. Say what you want about Jonathan’s tastes, but he might just be right about girls who come with their own fur coats.
* * * * *
“So, how exactly do you play that?”
Such a simple question. Which is how Calvin found himself sitting cross-legged on the floor with Damini kneeling behind him. She was a Leaping Person, with light gray fur, floor-length black hair (most of the women in the tent had really long hair—it seemed they rarely, if ever, were allowed to cut it) and proportions that were not what one expected from the normally lean and supple members of her race. She was also a musician, skilled with something that Calvin thought of as a sitar and she called a ‘long-neck’ (well, that’s what her name for it translated to, anyway.) True to its name, it had a neck several feet long and Calvin was trying to finger the frets while Damini guided his other hand over the strings. Yeah, there might be better ways to learn how to play, but he doubted they were this much fun.
* * * * *
“Fingers here and here.”
“Now blow. Not to hard now.
“Not too hard? That’s not what you were saying a little while ago!”
Tarra’s ears went down and she shot Eithne a withering glance. “Oh shut up.”
It hadn’t taken Calvin long to realize that a bunch of women, especially a bunch such as this, kept cooped up and in a perpetual state of undress, could be just as full of catty comments, not-so-subtle innuendo, and ribald jokes as any bunch of frat boys on a three-keg bender. It certainly was educational.
"That's alright. You wouldn't be the first lady to help me with my fingering." Calvin smirked. "Certainly the most lovely, though." Now if only he could get this flute-ish (flute-y? flute-ical? flute-tine?) instrument to sound like Jethro Tull.
* * * * *
“Who is this?”
Calvin leaned over to look at his sketchbook as Ayna held it up. She was a young and very lovely Farming Person who had been an apprenticed scribe before her city had been sacked. As Conan apparently rewarded soldiers who brought him women worthy of the honor of joining his harem, she’d been captured, stripped naked, and then forced to parade around in front of the Warlord. Now she was flipping though one of his sketch books while he captured her likeness in a second. She didn’t even mind the fact she was nude—several seasons in the tent tended to do that to a person.
“That’s Captain Jiranee, the Flower of Virava.”
Ayna glanced back at the sketch, one Calvin had done while Jiranee was taking a bath in front of the fire. “She’s…” Ayna glanced down at her chest and back at the drawing. Calvin suppressed a grin. “She’s…”
“Tall,” Calvin filled in. “She stands around six foot six, almost as tall as the Warlord, I think, and certainly taller than Sakina, ears and all.”
“Ears and all? Say, are those really her ears? I’ve never seen anyone with ears like that!”
“Yeah, they are. She’s what we call an elf.”
“A Short Person?” Ayna looked confused for a moment, so did Calvin.
Right, she’s ‘hearing’ the meaning of the word, not the intent. “Oh, my mistake. She’s a… a… Fairy Person.”
Ayna blinked. “A Spirit Person?”
Where’s Marcus when I need him? “Close enough.”
Turning the page, Ayna came to a portrait of the good Captain, one of Calvin’s favorites, as he felt it caught her likeness well, showing her strength of character and noble outlook. Ayna bent down to examine the drawing closely, her hair falling across her shoulders to form a tent around the sketchbook. Dear Mom, I’ve met a cute colored girl you might like. She has violet skin and lavender hair. I hope you don’t mind.
“What does this say?”
“Eh?” Calvin realized he was being asked a question. “Oh, that says ‘Captain Jiranee Jenvirava, the Flower of Virava.’” He pointed to each word as he read them off, Ayna following along raptly. “Do you have a stylus?” she asked when he was done. “A stylus? I… yes, here, try this.” He handed her one of the rollerballs he used to take notes with.
“May I?” She’d turned to a mostly blank page. “I want to show you my language.”
“Okay, now, repeat that again, slowly. Captain….”
“Captain Jir-a-nee….” Calvin watched as Ayna started to write, ignoring her exclamation of delight over how smooth the rollerball put ink on paper. He’d only seen a few written languages in the Well—the angled runic writing of Fyrkat, the vertically aligned-script of Virava, and now this, which reminded him of Arabic… or Hebrew… or both. Ayna wrote slowly, putting artistic flourishes into each character and repeated the sounds he made as she selected the characters best suited to represent them.
* * * * *
That had to be the best night Calvin had had since the crash. Well, almost. Dancing with Jiranee was fantastic. He'd often wondered how long it had been since she had actually enjoyed dancing. Now he wondered how long it'd be before these girls enjoy themselves again. Time stood still around him as he made his way back to where the others were.
How long had he actually been in there? The sun was just coming up, so it was at least overnight. It had felt a lot longer than that, though. Speaking of things taking longer than usual, he was standing right next to Marcus before he realized that time hadn't caught up to him yet. Nah, couldn't be. He just needed sleep. That's it. A long night of partying had tired him out. And what a party it was. Wait 'til they hear this one!
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