Two weeks have passed since I left Silias’ tavern behind. Every time I was done resting for a bit—I was in no hurry to get anywhere—I picked a new direction. I was not heading in any specific direction, as long as it led me deeper into the jungle. I often encountered little streams where I could drink, and there was more than enough food in this jungle, if you knew where to look.
Wandering about without a specific goal, and without worrying about food and shelter, my mind finally got the time to rest and to give all the events that happened a place: my flight from Ascalon, the battle with the grawl, Graymane’s death.
However, it was also boring.
Sitting with my back against the tree, I closed my eyes to listen to the wind playing with the leaves. The continuous rustle was both soothing and… unnerving. The sound was restless, as was I. It was time I got going again.
“Thornfang,” I called.
Two ears pricked up from what looked like a large pile of leaves. As usual, he was laying a short distance from me, so he could bathe in the warm light of the sun whenever I chose to cool down in the shadow.
With surprising speed, the wolf got to its feet and came towards me. I got up as well and we took of once more. I could not remember where exactly we came from, as I intended, so I picked a random tree to move towards. After that, I chose a new tree to go to, and then another. I gently let my claw brush over Thornfang’s head, after which he looked at me with vibrant, wide open eyes.
Without realizing it, I found myself in asura territory. One of those runts waddled through the undergrowth, hacking at the low hanging branches with a dagger. He was obviously agitated; his strikes were wide and inaccurate, not to mention the fact he was muttering beneath his breath. Taking cover behind some foliage a little ways away, I could not understand what he said; I could only hear that he was angry.
His verdant eyes grew wide as he caught sight of something. With unexpected speed, his little stumpy legs hurried him towards a shrubbery and he sighed in relief when he fingered the bright red berries. My breath caught in my throat; this asura was being reckless. Not only did he fail to stay aware of his surroundings, he was about to eat deadly berries.
Without thinking about it, I drew back hard on my bow and released an arrow. The projectile whizzed past his head, cleaving through the bush mere inches away from his fingertips. As the arrow pierced into a tree, the asura fell backwards, his eyes opened so wide, I feared they might roll out. Staring at the bush, he did not see that I stepped out into the open towards him.
His mouth was half opened and his face was still locked in terror when I reached him.
“Are you crazy?” I yelled at him.
Slowly, he turned his head towards me. His eyes scanned me from horn to claw, and slowly, a bit of color came back to his already pale green skin. As if somebody jumped onto a bellow, a fire exploded behind his eyes.
“By the Eternal Alchemy! Has your sorry excuse for a brain turned into a non-coherent matter? What were you thinking, fetid feline?” he screamed at me as he crawled back onto his feat.
“You are the one to talk, pocket-sized problem,” I sneered back at him.
“P—pocket… Pocket-sized what?” He stammered, clearly taken aback by my retort.
“You should thank me, actually.”
“Thank you? You nearly shot me!” he said almost hysterical, wagging a finger at me.
“And you nearly ate venomous berries. Considering your size, they would have certainly kill you.”
With a loud clap, his jaws shut tight and he stared at me for a whole minute. Only then did he notice Thornfang at my side and he took a cautious step back.
Looking me in the eyes, he fumbled his hands. “Forgoing the jab at my height… poisonous, you say?”
“And you are certain of this?”
“Yea. I’m trained in herb lore, and was taught in this area.”
The asura was now nervously shuffling his feet, diverting his glance from me and staring at the berries. “So you have knowledge on which flora is edible and which is not?”
It was obvious he was pondering something, but he was hesitant to speak.
I decided to help him along. “Why do you need to go out and pick berries? Don’t you asura have labs?”
“I assume these labs have supply routes, right?”
For a handful of heartbeats, he stared at me, indecisive. Suddenly, the asura threw his short arms in the air and screamed in frustration.
“I should be in the lab, by the Eternal Alchemy!” he shouted. “Instead, they sent me—me—out here to pick berries! A full and total waste of my genius! If it hadn’t been for the blasted Inquest blocking our supply route, I could have been a master in my field by now!”
So that was what was going on. I heard rumors about the Inquest before, but knew little about them. Never had I imagined that I could one day run into them.
I turned my attention back at the raging asura. “So your lab now relies on foraging to stay alive?”
“Don’t be silly! A lab does not eat! My krewe, on the other hand…” his voiced trailed away.
“Tell you what, pocket-sized problem; I’ll help you gather food for your… krewe. And, if you are willing to learn, I’ll teach you a bit about the plant life around here. How does that sound?”
He snorted. “Stop calling me that!” In a low tone, he added, “Why would you do that? What is in it for you?”
“Not much,” I said with a shrug. “I’m just bored.”
He let his fingers run through his sleek, black hair which was tied up in a knot on the back of his head and fastened with a golden clip. Pondering, he stared suspiciously at me.
The little asura carried more bags than I had initially thought. Where I first saw only his backpack, he quickly produced more packs from that backpack. When all the bags were filled with fruits and roots, he discovered he had gone a bit overboard and he could not carry them all. Unwilling to leave all the food—and the bags—behind, he grudgingly asked me to accompany him.
It took quite a while before we arrived at his lab. The entrance was triangular and carved out of stone. The amount of detail put into the carving surprised me, especially because the entrance appeared to be overgrown and hidden by the jungle.
“We had to let it get overgrown,” the asura sighed as he caught me staring at the vine-covered stone. “It gives us a small amount of optical camouflage.”
The entrance led to a stairway that led deep into the mountain. At the end of the stairs, we stepped into a large hexagonal room with lights so bright, it blinded me shortly. Once I could see clearly again, I saw that the room had a walkway going around it, but the larger part of the room was lower and held many workbenches. In the middle of the room, the floor was made out of something transparent and a bright light emanated from below.
It took a while for me to notice that the silence surrounding us was not natural. In fact, all the asura who had been working had stopped the moment I entered and now just stood there, gaping at me. The asura who led me here shifted his weight nervously as another asura moved towards us.
A bit taller than the asura next to me, this one had dark green skin, bright yellow eyes and spiky grey hair, popping up from behind a white headband. His broad nose, wide cheeks and chubby physique made him look rather friendly. Even so, the way he looked and walked emanated a sort of control, demanding respect.
Much like my mother.
“Dumm, why did you bring this feline here?” he said slowly, casting an uneasy glance at Thornfang who stood at my side.
The asura next to me stiffened before answering. “He, well, I was— then he. Eh. You see, sir, well…”
“Come on, speak up!” the asura demanded.
“He was picking poisonous berries,” I broke in, “I helped him gather edible ones.”
The asura who apparently was called Dumm looked at me in shock.
“I see,” the other asura said ponderously. “That was… kind of you.”
I gave a shrug, not sure how else to respond.
“If we were not so desperately in need of sustenance, I would have had you dematerialized on the spot. Now, however, leaving would be best—“
Before he could finish his sentence, a loud curse echoed through the room cutting him off, followed by the sound of a metal object slamming into stone, and then this object bounced several times before skidding to a halt. Another asura emerged form a room to the right, furious.
“I was never meant to be a smith!” he shouted, shaking his fists. “But how do you expect me to work with this good-for-nothing equipment, Glix!”
Even before Glix turned from me to the newcomer, the other asura froze upon seeing me. Frowning, he turned his attention to Dumm.
“What has short-ear brought back this time?”
Dumm seemed to shrink from the verbal onslaught hurled his way, but Glix raised a hand.
“Simmer down, Marn. You’re burning fiercer than that forge.”
“Exactly!” Marn shouted, remembering his anger. “How do you expect me to work with that thing!”
Rubbing his temples, Glix sighed. “This is hardly the time to complain about this.”
Using the fact that the asura now had more attention for this argument than for me, I slipped away from Dumm and Glix and inched over to the forge. Before they realized I had moved, I was standing at the doorway and staring at their device. Marn turned his fierce eyes my way.
“What do you think—“
“The forge looks fine,” I interjected. “It’s a high quality device, just not stoked well.”
Mern was speechless and obviously furious, but the moment he saw Thornfang beside me, he took a step back. Glix however, quickly moved to my side and let his eyes glide from the forge to me and back again in a seemingly endless cycle.
“What do you know about forges, charr?” he said after a while.
“I have worked with them for years. They didn’t call me L—“ I swallowed back hard. I barely managed to stop myself from telling them my warband name. “In my warband, it was my task to forge the weapons and armor.”
“Let me get this straight,” Glix pondered, “you are specialized in herb lore and smithing?”
“Yea, although the herb lore is a more recent thing.”
Dumm walked over, looking at Glix. “He said he helped me because he was bored.”
“Bored?” Glix said with a chuckle.
“Yea, wandering the jungle is fun for maybe a week, at most.”
“I see,” Glix said thoughtfully. “So, do you feel like lending a… claw?”