Absentmindedly, I gently scratched Thornfang behind his ear as I sat on my bed. Glix’s krewe had managed to empty one of their bedrooms-turned-storerooms so that I had a place to sleep. Sure, there were quite a few crates and bags still piled up in one side of the small room, but I had enough space to crawl onto the bed. Especially now that the only content most of the crates had were the empty sacks.
Two days ago, I had shut down the forge. Oh, yes, there were many things still that needed making, but we no longer had the materials to make them. What was worse, was that the already meager supply of food was dwindling to critical levels, even though I did join Dumm on a scavenging mission yesterday. With nothing to do due to lack of supplies, and an imminent food shortage, tension was at an all-time high. The only one inside this complex who still knew how to smile was Kaya.
Who, coincidentally, stood in my doorframe.
“Good morning, Kumara,” she spoke softly with a smile.
“Well, it’s a morning,” I replied with a sigh, “can’t say it’s any good, though.”
Her big eyes regarded me for a few seconds, leaving me clueless to whatever might be going on behind those large amethyst orbs.
“Independent of the quality of this day,” she said matter-of-factly, without losing her smile, “Glix has asked for your imminent presence.”
“I have to be where?” I couldn’t help but blurt out.
Kaya’s smile widened. “They are having a discussion about further actions.”
“And they need me for that?” I replied, nervously scratching my chin.
“Yes, you do know a lot about our environment and, well, living outside.”
For a second I just stared at her.
“You have way too much confidence in my abilities,” I stated.
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “We are in quite the predicament, though.”
“Fine,” I said with a sigh. “I will go see Glix, but you take care of Thornfang in the meantime.”
Thornfang silently stared at me and Kaya raised her eyebrows.
“Sure,” she said surprised, “but why? Would you not prefer his presence?”
“I would,” I said reluctant, “but it would be unwise. Most of your krewemates seem to get skittish with him around.”
“True,” Kaya said, stifling a chuckle.
“Ah, marvelous to see you could come expeditiously,” Glix said as I entered his little office; a room that branched off the main hexagonal room much like the forge did.
Although the seasoned krewe leader wore a smile, it was obvious he felt no joy at all. Apart from me and Glix, there was one other present in the room. Marn and I only briefly exchanged a glance. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him.
Glix, aware of our cold exchange, sighed softly.
“Marn, I asked Kumara to come because of his knowledge of herb lore and his experience in scouting. Kumara, Marn is here because he is the head of our lab’s logistics, until—“
“Until that got rudely interrupted!” Marn said with over obvious anger, shaking his little clenched fist in the air.
“Wait a minute,” I said slowly. “Glix, what makes you think I have any experience in scouting?”
This time, when Glix smiled, there was some actual mirth in his eyes. If I had learned one thing about asura so far, it is that they enjoy nothing more than pointing out their superiority—supposed or real, although some were better at masking that than others.
“Well, our very first encounter, of course!”
I raised my eyebrows, purposefully taking the bait. The little guy could use a bit of glee.
“It was quite shocking to see a charr enter, of course,” he continued, his eyes now sparkling. “And there was literally no way we could not have observed your sudden entrance. However, when Marn and I had our little… disagreement—“
Marn grunted in displeasure, rolling his eyes.
“—we only noticed that you had moved towards the forge because you spoke up. Now, nobody in the lab mentions this, of course. I mean, really, a whole lab of geniuses failing to see a charr move along our wall is terribly embarrassing. Still, that told me you must have experience with moving around unseen or unnoticed, leading me to think you were a scout.”
“Huh,” I replied, slightly dumbfounded. It took me a handful of seconds before I could say, “That is actually correct.”
Glix grinned broadly, exposing his pointy teeth. Marn only grunted some more.
“So,” I said, loudly clearing my throat, “why did you send for us?”
His face became suddenly stern again; his elbows were on the table and his fingertips were pressed together.
“In short: our supplies.”
“Yes,” Marn interjected, making himself sound important. “Our supplies are precariously diminished due to the fact that we have not received any supplies in a while now. We expected a dolyak almost two weeks ago!” This last word he accentuated by slamming his fist onto the table. “We just do not know why they have stopped coming.”
“I thought the Inquest blocked it?” I replied, confused.
“The Inquest?” Glix said, knotting his brow. “What makes you think that?”
“Ehm, Dumm told me?”
“Dumm!” Marn exclaimed, snorting. “That short-eared fool blames the Inquest for everything!” He made a dismissive gesture.
“That is true,” Glix said pensive. “Although, in this case, he might just be right.”
“Doubtful,” Marn said pointedly.
“So, what do we do now?” I asked. “Gather more food outside?”
“Can you procure enough to feed the whole krewe?” Glix asked in a soft tone.
“Well… not likely, no,” I confessed with a sigh.
Glix nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Then I only see one possible avenue of advancement.”
“Which is?” Marn asked.
“We need to send a small scouting party to find out what befell our supply route,” Glix said, looking expectantly at me.
The sound of the birds was slowly fading away. A cloud, visible through the canopy, was washed in the pink light of the setting sun. Each breath I took steeled my resolve.
It was good to be back outside.
The sound of hurried steps coming up the stairwell made me turn around. Gasping for breath, Dumm burst out of the entry to the lab.
“I’m here!” he wheezed.
“Finally,” Kaya sighed, a shallow smile on her lips.
He’d had to go back and grab some more clothing in preparation for the coming night.
“I hope you can quiet down once we start moving,” I replied, not too amused by our belated departure.
Kaya rolled her eyes as she stepped away from the wall she was leaning against. Where Dumm was wearing much the same as he did normally—with the exception of a dagger at each side—Kaya looked quite different.
She now wore a leather jerkin painted dark green and a piece of cloth covered most of her face. A belt ran diagonally across her body, starting at her waist, looping over her shoulder and ending at her waist again, connecting to her normal belt. Small throwing daggers were clasped onto that belt, and at her side she had a small pouch, filled with various round objects unfamiliar to me.
She, too, had two daggers.
We were to scout out what was ahead of us. Although we would be mostly relying on stealth rather than force, we all carried weapons. In anticipation of what was to come, I had waxed the string of my trusted longbow and sharpened the edges of my sword. I clasped my paw around the hilt of my blade, remembering where it had come from. Remembering Kára.
Once again I found myself leading others into possible danger.
“We’d better get going,” I said.
“Indeed!” Dumm piped. “Where to?”
“Kaya, do you know the way to the supply route?”
“I do,” she said softly. “Follow me closely, or you might lose sight of me,” she added with a wink.
Kaya, Thornfang and I picked our way through the jungle with relative ease, passing by like shadows: unseen, unheard. Dumm, on the other paw, apparently managed to find every branch and twig (snap), every bush (rustle) and every tree (ouch!). It took all the composure we had not to tie him up to a tree and leave him. I even toyed with the idea of gagging him and carrying him on my back.
In front of me Kaya suddenly stopped in her tracks and stuck up her right hand. It was clenched into a fist. I turned around and gestured more elaborately to Dumm that he had to stand still and stay silent. Once I was sure he understood, I crept up to Kaya and peered past the tree she was hiding behind.
“Look!” a squeaky voice piped. “More free materials!”
“Silence, Blaf,” another, surly voice scolded. “We paid for this in blood.”
“Oh, aren’t you poetic,” a third voice chipped in.
A torch held by one of the creatures who were talking had blinded me for a moment. Once my eyes finally got used to the new light, I could see that they were asura: clothed in black and red robes. The first two were holding rifles whereas the one holding a torch also held a sword in her chubby hand. They were standing around a very frightened pack dolyak. There were also two asura lying close to the beast. There was no doubt in my mind that they were dead.
I glanced over at Kaya, who had crossed her arms in front of her: a predetermined sign. Inquest. I nodded at her to show her that I understood, after which she signed again.
We can take them.
I slowly shook my head.
Kaya was obviously puzzled, so I gave her a different sign.
She stared at me for a moment—the Inquest were still chatting carefree—before she gave a slow nod. Then, as if recalling something, she pointed at a spot behind us. I glared over to see a very nervous Dumm, fidgeting with his fingers.
By the steel claw of the Khan-Ur, how were we going to follow the Inquest without Dumm tipping them off? Slowly, I walked over to the little runt and brought my snout to his ear.
“We are going to follow the Inquest.”
“Are you mad!” he whispered hoarsely. “They will kill us!”
“We have to see what this is all about.”
He was silent for a few seconds, pondering.
“But…” he hesitated. “I make too much noise…”
I could do nothing but agree. “You do. That is why I am going to carry you.”
Both his eyes and his mouth opened wide in protest, but it was too late. I snatched him up from the ground and put him on my back. To his credit, he did not make a sound. His stumpy little legs were dangling over my shoulders and his arms immediately clasped around my head. It was a good thing he was so small—even for an asura—still, I think we were both grateful that nobody besides Kaya was around to see it.
End of Part 3
List Of Recurring Entities:
The following is a list of characters—apart from Kumara and Thornfang—who have made an appearance before this part, sorted by order of appearance. With all the different stories on CoT, I understand it is hard to keep track of all the characters.
Kaya: An asura member of the krewe who, apart from always carrying a smile, seems to like Kumara.
Glix: Asuran krewe leader and head of this lab. Accepted Kumara because they needed his skills.
Marn: An asura in charge of the lab’s logistics, formerly also in charge of the lab’s forge. Royally pissed-off that Kumara has taken his place.
Kára: A norn that helped Kumara after his flight from Ascalon.