Chapter 82: House Arrest

Chapter 82: House Arrest

In Which Soquan Is Just Evil.

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Yazeth: ‘Sore’ was a mild way of putting it. The next morning Jozra feels incredibly stiff and sore to the point where most movement is painful. Provisions are suddenly an issue with only Zander on the lookout for food. Soquan is not to be seen outside the hovel and Jozra’s many heavy bruises keep her from skulking about at night.

Only a day’s worth of lying low is plenty for the ferret and otter, however. The next few days find Soquan nearly obsessively tidying the place just to have something to do and Jozra stretching and massaging what muscles she can reach to try to work the stiffness and soreness out.

Zander isn’t seen much as he spends most of the day searching for food to feed the three of them. And every day the three expect a knock – or a kick – on the door alerting them to the presence of the commander but it never comes. By the end of the fourth day, the three are almost convinced that it never will.

Arrin Woodgreen: The dawn of the fifth day, finds the otter pacing restlessly in the small house, grumbling irritably to himself while moving this way and that in preparation of their small morning meal.

Yazeth: Jozra joins Zander on the roof once again, finally feeling fit enough to perform the entire series of morning stretches unlike the abbreviated and easier version she had been doing for the past two days.

The few days before that she was too beat up to even make it out the window. She’s pleased with her recovery time, though, compared with the last time she was incapacitated.

Arrin Woodgreen: It’s not long until Soquan does as usual and pokes his head out the window, calling the two down for breakfast before setting their small table.

Yazeth: The woodrat and ferret hold their handstands a moment longer and then roll out, Zander leading the way back down to the window. Not once since their previous conversation has Zander brought up the topic of assassination but he doesn’t really need to.

The sad stories he brings home at night of other creatures living in the slums are more than enough. And Jozra has the words of the hare guards to add to it. She didn’t let it show at the time but the behavior of the jeering guards was nearly all of the convincing the ferret needed. Particularly their sly hint of what went on in the camps.

Arrin Woodgreen:  While the ferret and woodrat both make their way into the hovel, Soquan brings in the last of their breakfast dishes, placing them on the table along side the crude cutlery. On his way to his plate, the otter’s vision decides to go haywire. The suddenness and severity of the blurring and unfocusing is enough to unbalance the otter and he stumbles a bit.

Yazeth: Jozra notices Soquan’s stumble as she enters through the window and it’s enough for her to be concerned. The otter is usually quite steady on his feet, likely due to a necessary confidence in where he steps due to his experience with blindness, and the sudden stumble seems wildly out of place. She rushes to his side to help steady him. “Are you alright, Soq?”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter stiffens slightly. He hadn’t told Jozra of his lapses in sight, not wanting to place more worry with the ferret on top of living in this hellhole. He phrases his response carefully, knowing either way, Jozra would be upset with him. “I’m fine, my vision just blurred for a second there …again.”

Yazeth: The ferret’s brow wrinkles in concern as Zander frowns to himself in worry. “…again?”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan nods hesitantly. “It’s been happening for a while…” He pauses. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

Yazeth: Jozra can barely think of a response to this. Finally she does the only thing that seems to be right to her and she hugs the otter tightly.

Arrin Woodgreen: The ferret’s sudden motion of affection startles the otter, and it takes a moment for him to respond, wrapping his arms around her to return the hug. “It’s okay Joz, I’ll be okay.”

Yazeth: The ferret nods and then sighs, almost inaudibly. It’s difficult having your friend lose something again that means so much.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter rests his head on top of the ferret’s with a sigh. What he says next is quiet, and almost frightened. “I don’t want to be blind again.”

Yazeth: Jozra nods slightly. She can’t even think of what to say except… “I’m here for you, Soquan.”

Arrin Woodgreen: “Thanks.” Soquan releases the ferret and after a gentile squeeze and quickly wipes his eyes with a free paw, he ties to grin slightly. “I suppose we should eat before breakfast gets cold eh?”

Yazeth: Jozra grins sadly. “Yeah, I suppose we should.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter finishes the few steps to his seat and eases himself to the ground. He looks up at the somber faces of the woodrat and ferret and grins a bit brighter than before. “C’mon, you two look like I’m gonna die or something. Dig in already!”

Yazeth: Zander chuckles a little and Jozra blushes slightly as she takes her seat. The woodrat throws Soquan a cocky salute. “Yessir!”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan merely rolls his eyes at the woodrat and settles into the meal happily, the somber mood forgotten.

Yazeth: Presently the three finish their meal and push their plates away. Zander looks towards the door and then shrugs. “I’m starting to wonder if that hare even told his superior what he told you.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter gives a short, humorless laugh. “I’m starting to doubt it, probably just wanted to scare us.”

Yazeth: The ferret nods. “I wouldn’t be surprised. And if he did, I bet the commander thought it wasn’t anything worth dealing with.” She shrugs a little. “He seemed to be very busy.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan snorts, “Probably capturing more ‘vermin.’”

Yazeth: Zander rolls his eyes, “Or tormenting anyone that even looks at a member of the guard the wrong way.”

Arrin Woodgreen: He growls impatiently and thumps a fist against the table. “Gods damn him, forget about getting out of this hell hole, I just want out of this damn hovel.” He sighs, “I’m starting to get an idea of how you felt back in Kodan, Joz.”

Yazeth: Jozra smirks a little. “I’d make fun of you but I’m stuck here with you.”

Zander looks back and forth between the ferret and the otter. “So you never did tell me what happened in this Kodan place.” He grins slyly, “Or is that classified information?”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan grins a bit and motions towards Jozra, “Little miss Southie over there decided she’d throw herself into the Steamspring river.”

Yazeth: Zander cocks an incredulous eyebrow at Jozra, shaken for a second but his fears turn to curiosity as she makes a face at Soquan and shakes her head. “I slipped. It was muddy and I was trying to bushwhack back to the road.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter raises an eyebrow at Jozra then turns to Zander, motioning back to the ferret. “See what I deal with?” His attention returns to the ferret. “Don’t forget who hauled you out of there.”

Yazeth: The ferret laughs and pats Soquan’s arm. “Well you, of course. But I thought that went without saying, water-dog.”

Zander chuckles at the exchange.

Arrin Woodgreen: He leans back slightly, arms crossed. “True.” He cocks his head to one side. “Do you remember much about what happened after I doubled back for the supplies?”

Yazeth: The ferret furrows her brows a moment, trying to think back to that rainy day. After a moment she shakes her head. “No, not much at all.”

Arrin Woodgreen: A slow, mischievous grin spreads across the otter’s face, which he turns towards the ferret. “So you don’t recall how you made it though the night?”

Yazeth: Jozra looks puzzled, and a little suspicious of Soquan’s grin. “…no?”

Arrin Woodgreen:  Soquan looks down to inspect his claws. “Tell me then, m’dear. Without proper medical treatment, what’s the best way to help treat hypothermia?”

Yazeth: The ferret looks perturbed, and even more so when Zander throws his head back and laughs heartily.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan claps the woodrat heartily on the shoulder. “You’re familiar with the technique then? Wonderful.” He turns back to the ferret. “Let me tell you how it’s done then. First step is you need to get all wet articles of clothing off, second step is to make up someplace that will be warm. Third…” His previous grin returns, “Share body heat.”

Yazeth: Jozra puts her face in her hands and shakes her head. “You’re just evil, Soquan.”  Zander chuckles, “Oh sounds like you had it coming if you weren’t watching where you were going.”

Arrin Woodgreen: He shakes his head, “That’s not the last of it, I had to haul her back to the town, which was a day’s walk away.” He motions to Jozra. “Sleeping Beauty there was too lazy to wake up.”

Yazeth: The ferret merely grunts and rolls her eyes in response.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter rises, only to plunk back down beside the ferret, draping an arm around her shoulders. “Aw c’mon Joz, you know you love me.”

Yazeth: Jozra looks at the otter and then back over at the woodrat, jerking a thumb in Soquan’s direction. “You see what I have to put up with?”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan merely rolls his eyes and gives her shoulders a slight squeeze before rising and picking up the plates.

Chapter 81: The Beating

Chapter 81: The Beating

In Which You Can’t Stay In, But You Can’t Go Out.

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Yazeth: Slum life is difficult and often boring once immediate needs, such as where the next meal is coming from, are met.

The curfew is strict and easily enforced since there are few candles and torches to light the way of any beast living in the slums if they wished to venture out after dark. The tall buildings block most of the moon and sunlight, leaving the slums a dull gray most of the time.

Jozra is no closer to determining if she can, or will, do what needs to be done but the rift between herself and Zander has largely mended. In the meantime, Soquan and Jozra try to fill the days waiting for Zander to ‘find an assassin’ by taking evening strolls and trying to engage others living in the slums in conversation.

Arrin Woodgreen: Four days after Soquan and Jozra’s little ‘moment’ the two find themselves strolling the streets as the afternoon wore on. The two chat quietly to each other as they weave through the buildings. In a quiet moment, Soquan stops to inspect some edible looking herbs growing by an old, rundown building, unaware the ferret hadn’t noticed his pause.

Yazeth: The ferret enters an intersection of streets, more alleyways really, lost in thought before she realizes Soquan has fallen behind. She frowns at herself for ‘losing’ him though she knows he’s quite capable of taking care of himself. She turns to look back for him when she notices a patrol of hares marching down one of the side streets.

Arrin Woodgreen: The hares spot her and they advance at her quickly with weapons drawn, shouting obscenities all the while.

Yazeth: Jozra freezes for a moment; her instinct is to make an escape or at least fight back but it occurs to her before she decides on either that both would probably ruin the chances of getting her friends out of Afrin. She looks back towards Soquan and decides surrender might be best for her friends, through perhaps not for her ribs.

Arrin Woodgreen: It takes Soquan a good ten seconds or so from the moment the scuffle starts for him to notice Jozra missing. He hazards a quick peek around the corner, and does not like what he sees. Quickly, he pulls up his blindfold, picks up his staff and rushes to aid his friend, quickly jumping into the fray.

Yazeth: The hares don’t seem inclined to give Jozra a break for good behavior. If anything, her submissiveness elicits more jeers from the guards and she’s soon knocked to the ground, suffering from heavy kicks delivered by the hares’ long legs. She’s able to curl up in a manner that protects important things — internal organs for example — from the worst of it. With a worried sense of relief she catches a glimpse of Soquan jumping into battle.

Arrin Woodgreen: Staff whirling and striking, Soquan stands protectively over his companion as he uses his staff to create some space between the hares and themselves. “Back off y’gods-damned speciests!”

Yazeth: Unprepared for the otter, several of the hares receive heavy blows before they back off a little to regroup. They look about ready to jump back in and take on both the otter and the ferret but one of the hares stops them.

“Wots this now? A blindfolded otter with a filthy ferret, eh? I think the commander said sommat about these two.” The speaking hare has stripes on his shoulder that Jozra recognizes as a sergeant from their previous run in with hares. “Said sommat about th otter being evaluated and the filth here helpin him out cuz he’s blind. Eh? That right?”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter bares his teeth and growls at the hare in reply, his staff still aimed towards one of the guards.

Yazeth: A few of the hares glance back and forth between the otter and the sergeant, unsure of what to do next. Jozra takes note of this. Apparently the guards aren’t encouraged or taught to think independently. The sergeant settles back and eyes the otter and ferret. “Guess ‘e must be blind, eh boys? Though mebbe ‘e’s been convinced it’s night like ‘e’s been convinced to associate with that scum, eh?”

Arrin Woodgreen: He continues growling softly, perching lightly on the balls of his feet. “Convinced? Nah, Ah’ve done so willingly all mah life. ‘Least Ah’m not some, dull-witted, narrow-minded, inbred, speciest.”

Yazeth: Jozra hisses just loud enough for the otter to hear and surreptitiously pokes his foot with a claw. No need to get them in any more trouble. The hare merely laughs.

“Aah, no wonder ‘e’s in ‘ere.” The sergeant folds his arms and casts a critical eye at the pair. “’s far as… assessment… goes I think you fail. Th’ commander will hear about this, certainly. Until ‘e decides what to do with you, you’d better stay in whatever hole you’re staying in.”

He makes a nasty face at the ferret. “Course, if I had my way, that scum ‘d be in the labor camp digging… ditches.” A few of the other hares snigger nastily at this comment and Jozra gets a sudden sense of what actually happens in the camps.

One of the other hares pipes up. “If I had my way that filth would just be killed on sight!” His comrades shush him up, though it seems like a sentiment many agree with.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter’s teeth expose themselves again as he snarls slightly. “You better watch what you say about her in front of me.”

Yazeth: The grin quickly fades from the sergeant’s face. “And you’d better go back to wherever your staying and don’t come out until th’ commander pays a visit. We won’t be so nice if we see you ’round before then again.”

He sneers. “You can keep y’r pet for now, though. Just make sure sh’ don’t let out of line again. …I sugg’st a lead.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter’s hackles rise as he bites back a retort, and he manages to stay silent, other than the low rumble in his throat. From his slightly crouched position, he easily picks the ferret up off the ground. He turns to leave, Jozra still in his arms, but pauses, as if remembering something. If he could, he would glare at the sergeant, instead, he spits at his feet before disappearing around the corner.

Yazeth: The sergeant smirks and the guards watch the pair leave. Jozra probably could walk on her own, run even if need be, but she’s in enough pain that she’d rather not. She excuses her concession to weakness by telling herself that they’ve got to keep up appearances for the guards.

Arrin Woodgreen: Once out of sight he still doesn’t put her down, instead, he heads towards the place they’ve been calling home for the last week and a half. “Let’s get you back to the ‘hole’ and fix you up, alright?”

Yazeth: The ferret nods. “That… sounds like a really good idea.”

Arrin Woodgreen: He climbs up the steps of their building as smoothly as he can, careful not to jostle the ferret around too much. “They get you pretty bad anywhere?”

Yazeth: The ferret shrugs a little, unsure as she hasn’t quite had the time to assess the damage. Her ribs feel sore and she tastes blood but she soon tracks that to a cut on her lip.  Zander must have seen them coming from the window because by the time Soquan reaches the hovel the door is wide open and the woodrat is setting up a bed to lay the ferret on.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan sidesteps through the doorway with the ferret and into the small room. Carefully, he lays Jozra down on the bed Zander had just made up. Once he has her settled, he steps back slightly, eyeing her. “Alright then. Where does it hurt?”

Yazeth: Jozra props herself up and wiggles her toes and then tests the cut on her lip with her tongue. “…If I said ‘all over’ would you worry too much?” She grins a little and proceeds to sit up all the way.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter quirks an eyebrow at the ferret. “Need I remind you when the last time was that you ‘hurt all over’ was?”

Yazeth: The ferret grimaces at the memory slightly as Zander looks on curiously.  “Yeeeeaaah.  I think… I’m alright. Just bruised and I’ll probably be sore for a while.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan grins toothily, “Feel free to relax until dinner then. We got enough food today.”

Chapter 80: Ghetto Life

Chapter 80: Ghetto Life

In Which Things Don’t Always Happen Immediately.

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Yazeth: As the week grows older, Soquan and Jozra learn their way around the slums. Zander’s unvoiced concern that three mouths would be too hard to feed proves to be unfounded, as three eyes searching turn up more than he had before.

…and there’s the added bonus that Jozra soon decides not to play by the rules of the city and under the cover of darkness she begins leaving the confines of the slums to forage in the more prosperous parts of the city.

She always has an excuse for what she’s found, she isn’t about to let Soquan know that she has the skills to do what she does. She avoids the center of the city for the first part of the week, but eventually curiosity wins and she begins scoping out the palace and the movement of the city guards. She’s only able to catch glimpses inside the camps, guarded as they are, but what she sees she does not like.

The three settle into a routine, though Jozra avoids Zander as much as possible under the circumstances. Soquan notices the distance, but doesn’t push the ferret for an explanation. On their eighth morning there, Jozra can’t take the strain between herself and the woodrat any longer. As Soquan cooks breakfast, she climbs up to the roof to join Zander as she hadn’t done since the first morning there.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter takes note of the ferret’s disappearance and says nothing, returning to his cooking. He pauses for a moment as his vision fuzzes and unfocuses a bit, shaking his head sadly while he reaches a free paw to rub irritably at his eyes. His vision had been coming and going this way since their second day in the city. He hadn’t told either of his companions of his problems, whatever was going on between the two was enough; he didn’t want to add to it by worrying them. Besides,  serves him right for getting his hopes up, it had been too good to be true.

Yazeth: Zander twitches his ears as Jozra approaches but he doesn’t spare her a glance until he rolls out of his handstand. The ferret doesn’t want to talk right away, though, and she joins in the series of stretches where Zander left off. After a moment, he continues.   Several minutes later, the series of stretches is over and Zander sits quietly for a moment as Jozra gazes over the landscape. “I’m sorry, Joz. I seem to have offended you but it’s true. You’re the only one I know and trust enough to do this.”

Yazeth: The ferret puts her face in her paws for a long moment. Sighing, she finally answers the woodrat. “Zander, I don’t know if I can. Ostoria… it did something to me.”

She looks away for a long while but Zander waits patiently. Finally she resumes. “When we were attacked by the hares I hesitated. I don’t know if it would have made a difference then but for this…” She shakes her head in shame and frustration.

Zander shifts awkwardly, wanting to put a hand on the ferret’s shoulder as a friend but feeling unsure now that he’s fairly certain that the ferret and otter are an ‘item’, even if Jozra won’t admit it. “I think Ostoria changed all of us.”

It could have been a snide comment about his leg, but Zander said it gently. “I had nightmares about it. And then I came here where it’s a nightmare just to try to live. It needs to be done, Jozra. We’re here to back you up.”

He tries to catch her eye but fails as she keeps her gaze focused on the surface of the roof. “All you need to do is get in and get out. Once everything’s in disarray, Soquan and I can organize everyone. There’s still your other friend you told me about, and Azrun, on the inside. They can help us once they’re free.”

The ferret shakes her head and gets to her feet. Zander frowns and casts an almost pleading look in her direction. “At least think about it. There are families here with children that are wasting away from the lack of food. They can’t hold out much longer.”

She glares at the woodrat, frowning on his tactics of trying to guilt-trip her into the ‘job’.  He raises his paws in an apologetic manner. “Sorry.” He watches her head towards the edge of the roof, check the street below and begin climbing down back to the window.  “Jozra…”

She pauses a second with her head just above the roof ledge. “…did you find where they keep everything they’ve confiscated?”

She looks away for a moment and then looks back. She may not be happy with Zander at the moment, but she’s more unhappy with her entire situation than with any one beast. No point in lying to him. She nods her head definitively and then continues the rest of the way down before he can say anything else.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan looks up from his preparations as the ferret hops into the room. He pauses as he catches the look on her face and quietly asks her. “Are you okay Joz?”

Yazeth: The ferret pauses just inside the window. She wants to tell him that everything is fine, but he’d know it was a lie and she’d told him too many of those already. She shakes her head and then smiles wanly. “I’ll be a lot better once we’re out of this stink-hole.”

Arrin Woodgreen: He nods and finishes setting out the plates and pats the spot beside him gently. “C’mere.”

Yazeth: She nods and approaches, sitting in the spot the otter indicated.

Arrin Woodgreen:  Once seated, Soquan carefully wraps an arm around the ferret’s shoulders, hugging her gently. “Things’ll be alright soon enough.” The otter doesn’t say anything more, but his arm remains around her.

Yazeth: The corners of Jozra’s mouth turn down a little but she rests her head on Soquan’s shoulders, wanting to believe his words. From what she’s seen so far, just ‘getting in’ as Zander put it could be a huge problem. If she fails…  Jozra squeezes her eyes shut for a second and wonders when she became so pessimistic.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan keeps his silence for the moment, allowing the ferret to have her thoughts while he remains as he is, more than happy to provide some form of comfort for Jozra, however long she may need it.

Chapter 79: Conspiracy

Chapter 79: Conspiracy

In Which Plans Are Make To Break Out Of Afrin.

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Yazeth: Night comes early to the slums and with a cowed and poor population, the night is dark and quiet with no lights or festive beasts to make it otherwise. Jozra sleeps uneasily, concerned about Holstadt and Azrun but fortunately it’s a dreamless sleep.  Morning comes, washed out and gray, the sunlight absorbed by the more prosperous part of the city.

Arrin Woodgreen: Having woken up much earlier, Soquan’s bed is empty. Upon further inspection, he can be seen perched in the open window, balanced neatly on the wide ledge as he looks out over the slums.

Yazeth: Jozra rolls off her mat at about the same time Zander rubs his face, yawns and props himself up on his elbows. Jozra blinks at the otter. “G’morning, Soquan.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan glances over his shoulder briefly at the ferret and gives her a small smile before turning back to the city. “Morning.”

Yazeth: She stretches a little as Zander begins clambering out of his box-bed. “so, what was that about breakfast?” Jozra ruefully puts a paw over her grumbling belly.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan answers absently from the window as he climbs down. “I could probably whip something up.”

Yazeth: Zander nods. “That sounds like a good idea. If you need me for anything… I’ll be up on the roof.” With that he glances somewhat meaningfully at Jozra and then makes for the window.

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter gives a smile to the ferret as he passes her on the way to the kitchen. “Go ahead, go catch up with your friend.”

Yazeth: Jozra smiles back at Soquan. “Okay.” She heads towards the window where the woodrat exited and looks about, puzzled for a moment, before finding the handholds in the side of the building. With a twist and a little shimmy Jozra pulls herself out the window and onto the handholds, after checking up and down the street to see if anyone was watching, of course. At the top, she finds Zander beginning the Scorpion’s version of the sunrise stretches. After a moment, she joins in.

Arrin Woodgreen: While Jozra and Zander busy themselves with stretches, Soquan moves around downstairs, using what supplies they have to make a small breakfast.

Yazeth: Zander and Jozra finally roll out the last of the stretches and sit quietly for a moment, looking easterly. Here on the rooftops, sunlight is easier to get to. After a moment, Zander speaks. “I had something for you… You left it behind but they took it from me.”

He smiles briefly and sadly. Jozra merely gazes seriously at him for a moment. “We all thought you were dead.”

Zander sighs a little and then chuckles. “I thought I was too.  I don’t know when I came to, but when I did the rest of you were long gone, and I couldn’t make any sense of your tracks. So I started to head back towards the original mission.”

Jozra looks at the woodrat in concern. “You weren’t… sick at all, were you? We scattered to the wilderness for two weeks, to make sure we hadn’t caught the sickness.”

Zander’s gaze hardens a little. “…I’m not entirely that’s what it was anymore.” He stares Jozra in the eyes.

She’s incredulous, for a moment, and then thinks about it. “I have my doubts too.  Especially…” No, she doesn’t want to even mention that, even while she’s sitting in warm sunlight. “We have to deal with this first, though.”

Zander nods. “I’ve been scouting and there’s some key things you should know. First, they keep everything they confiscated in one building in the compound. It’s impossible to get to from the front, too heavily guarded. But…” the woodrat’s eyes twinkle, “…they never look UP! Because, after all, the only things that climb are squirrels right?”

Jozra snickers. It’s a relatively true assumption until you get to Scorpion training on the sheer cliff walls overlooking the Ravine River. That could make an expert climber out of a mole.

Zander chuckles as well. “The other main thing is that this… this machine runs quickly and efficiently, but only on what orders they have. Anything out of the norm they have to go back up to the top to find out what to do. Meaning,” Zander gives Jozra a very pointed look, “…meaning it’ll all fall apart without the guy at the top.”

Jozra narrows her eyes but nods in understanding.  Zander hesitates a moment before continuing. “…another thing that I don’t want to think about but have to add. They say that the camps started in mid-winter, that the catalyst was a band of vermin destroying a colony of ‘good beasts’ up North.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Having cleaned up the small home and set up a makeshift breakfast table, Soquan pokes his head out of the window and calls up to the roof. “Breakfast’s on when you two lovebirds are ready.” He pulls his head in quick before any retaliation can be made, and seats himself at the table.

Yazeth: Jozra’s quiet contemplation of what Zander has told her is broken by Soquan’s call, and she shakes herself out of her unpleasant mood. She tries to smile and gets it right on the second time. “Let’s go. You haven’t tasted it yet for yourself but Soquan’s cooking is excellent.”

Zander smiles a little as well. “I’ll just have to see about that.” He leads the way back down and through the window.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan gives a wave as he spots them entering. “I hope you like oatmeal.”

Yazeth: The woodrat glances at Jozra with an eyebrow raised. “Oatmeal? I thought you said he was a phenomenal cook.”

Jozra laughs. “You haven’t even tried it yet!”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan pouts at the woodrat. “Hey! I only had so much to work with!”

Yazeth: Zander mock-rolls his eyes and sits at the table. “Alright, alright… I’ll give it a try.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter swallows a mouthful and grins at Zander from across the table. “That’s the spirit!”

Yazeth: The woodrat looks at Soquan somewhat dubiously and then tries a taste. He rolls it around in his mouth for a moment and then looks back at the otter. “…that’s actually really good. I’m sorry I doubted your cooking prowess, Soquan.” He digs in.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan pokes at his meal a bit. “I don’t blame you for not trusting me. It does look kinda dodgy, doesn’t it?” He takes a spoonful and swallows. “I guess one thing about not being able to see, is that you don’t know what your meal ends up looking like.” He turns a grin towards Jozra, “Remember when I first tried to feed this to you?”

Yazeth: The ferret chuckles a little sheepishly. “Yeah. That was before I learned to trust your cooking, though.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan laughs, “I swear, you were going to throw it at me.”

Yazeth: Zander snickers. “Really now… You should know better than to throw food at a cook, Joz.”

The ferret rolls her eyes. “Well I know NOW.”

Yazeth: Zander snickers and winks at Soquan. Breakfast is soon finished and the three set to cleaning up the small hovel. Dishes are cleaned and the ‘walls’ are re-hung and when all that is done, the three stand around for a moment, looking at each other, wondering what to do. The moment doesn’t last long, however. The facts of living in the slums soon assert themselves and Zander gives Soquan and Jozra a crash course in living there. Food is hard to come by as the only store in the area is badly stocked and yet more expensive than most beasts living in the slum can afford. Bread lines are infrequent and they run out quickly. The small community garden is often trampled when the hares do their frequent patrols through the slums.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan sits quietly through Zander’s ‘lesson’ and afterwards his brow furrows in thought, however the scowl that had found it’s way onto his face during the discussion remains. “There’s no marketplace or trade house?”

Yazeth: The woodrat shakes his head. “Not as such. I’ve told you already that most of the beasts here are highly distrustful. Some of them are here because they are ‘vermin sympathizers’, others are only here because somebody didn’t like them and simply accused them of being sympathizers. There is some trading, but it’s largely underground. And often for items not quite as mundane as food, such as medicine.”

Arrin Woodgreen: He gives a nod. “So either of you have any idea how we’re going to bust out of here?”

Yazeth: Zander eyes Jozra for a moment and then looks back to Soquan. “Ah, right to the point. Good.” He smiles a little. “I cannot in good conscience just escape and leave all these creatures who have it as bad… or worse…. here without some plan to get them out too. I think the best way would actually be a mass breakout. We’d need a fairly hefty distraction to begin it, though. Something that would focus the attention of the guards elsewhere while we free everybody. I have a few ideas for that distraction but I don’t know where we could go that would shelter so many beasts.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan goes back into ‘thinker mode’. “Good question.” He remains silent for a good minute or so, before turning to Jozra with an odd mix of expressions on his features. Hope, unease, worry and just a dash of smugness. “A place for those who need help and have nowhere else to go.”

Yazeth: Jozra looks at Soquan, her brow wrinkled in thought. “But where?  …ooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” She scratches absentmindedly behind her ear. “I don’t think the safehouse could manage that many people, though. Unless… unless you mean the whole town.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan beams at her. “Of course I mean the town, but the safehouse can help a lot probably. Sound like a good idea?”

Yazeth: The ferret nods. “I’m not sure if they’ll necessarily be happy about it, especially Kirrian, but I think they’ll offer whatever help they can for a few days. At least it’s a destination.” She thinks a moment longer. “And… if they’ve fixed the bridge, it would be pretty easy to get there quickly and then defend until the hares find another way across.”

Arrin Woodgreen: His brow furrows. “Unless we mix ‘em up. There’s that big log remember. We can split everyone up, the hares won’t know which way to go.”

Yazeth: Jozra nods thoughtfully as Zander looks on. “I think the bridge is the more direct route, and the log is treacherous but if we took enough beasts that would be able to cross the log… they would probably be fit enough to double time to the log and back. It would at least make whoever ends up trailing us hesitate, at best they’d split their forces up.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan nods as well. “Once we’re in Kodan, we’re home free.”

Yazeth: The ferret nods somewhat hesitantly and Zander catches her eye for a second. “It’s only a temporary solution, though. Kodan can’t take care of that many people forever. The city’s going to have to grow quickly or they’ll have to find a better solution. But for getting people out of here, it works.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan gives a sigh and leans back. “Alright, now on to the hard part, how are we going to distract all the guards enough to free everyone?”

Yazeth: Zander shuts his eyes, leans back and rubs his face as he sighs, trying not to give Jozra a pointed look. “I’ve given this a lot of thought and so far I have no best solution, just a lot of ideas. We need something that will confuse the guards and direct them away from the slums and the camps. I’ve seen them in turmoil when one of their Corporals was killed but as soon as there was a promotion and somebody giving orders again, they were back to being the machine you know.”

He rubs the corners of his eyes near the bridge of his nose. “They wouldn’t care about anything happening here in the slums. There was a riot a few weeks ago but they stopped it rather efficiently because they don’t care about the people in here. A fire in the main city perhaps. A large enough one that all of the guards would be needed to attend to. Or a manhunt. I observed them as being disorganized when they tried combing the city for an escapee. I think the most sure-fire way, though, is to take out a high ranking officer. …or even better. The beast in charge of the city. They take all of their orders from him.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan scratches absently at his chin. “That last one sounds like the best way to go, but it seem to be the hardest as well.”

Yazeth: Zander chuckles a little, though more in surprise than in humor as Jozra avoids his eyes. “I must confess I expected a little more of a… moral objection to that idea, though I suppose with what you’ve seen of this place…” He trails off and gestures around a little.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan shakes his head a bit. “I don’t have too much of an objection to getting rid of the beast that thinks its okay to treat beasts like this.” He gestures around as well.

Yazeth: Zander nods firmly. They understand each other. “The problem, as you said, is that it is difficult. I don’t know very much about the city proper. I do know that this ruler… He calls himself ‘Mayor’ though I’m more inclined to call him a warlord…. Mayor Astor lives in a small mansion in the center of the city. I don’t know how well it’s guarded.” A moment’s thought and Zander quirks an eyebrow. Soquan isn’t ‘in’ on the Scorpions. He wouldn’t know… “And, of course, we’ll have to find someone to do the deed.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan turns towards the window. “Know anyone, or have any beast in mind? If not, I guess we need to keep our ears open on the streets.”

Yazeth: Zander smiles grimly as Jozra glares at the woodrat from the corner of her eye, her back to the otter so he can’t see their interaction. “Indeed. I know of a couple of possibilities but that’s all they are. Possibilities.” He stretches and then stiffly gets to his feet. “I propose for now we keep this between us and try to find something to eat for dinner.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan nods and stands slowly, picking up his staff from the wall he’d been leaning against. “I’ll go have a poke around the area for anything being distributed tonight; it’ll let me get to know the area better.”

Yazeth: The woodrat nods. “It’s probably best if we all split up, actually. There’s a lot of ground to cover and not too much danger, despite the squalor. Though Jozra might not want to be seen wandering the streets alone.” He frowns. “A ‘vermin’ roaming free would be rather suspicious to any patrols.”

Jozra interjects before either Zander or Soquan can say something else. “I get it, I’ll lay low.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan grins at both of them before exiting the small home and making his way onto the street. “Stay safe, both of you.”

Yazeth: As soon as the otter is out of earshot, Zander turns towards Jozra. “Actually, you’re my only possibility. I can move fast in a pinch but with this leg, I think my days of stealth are over.”

Before the ferret can object, he snatches up his cane and hobbles out of the house and down the stairs. Fuming, Jozra glares where the woodrat had been and then, after checking out the window again, she makes her way up to the roof.

Chapter 78: Zander

Chapter 78: Zander

In Which Old Friends Can Be A Help. …And A Bother.

———————————————————————————————

Catamount: The slums are crowded and filthy as the pair soon find out. The first order of business is to find a vacant place to stay until they can find out what to do next, but step one was proving to be harder than expected. And the beasts living in the slums are tight lipped and keep to themselves.

The sun is setting as the two turn yet another corner, though the slums got dark early considering how closely spaced the ramshackle two and three story buildings are.  They’re about to continue on when a voice calls from a second story window, “Jozra?!”

Arrin: Soquan’s head jerks up at the sound of the unknown voice and instinctively grasps his staff a bit tighter. “Who’s there?”

Catamount: Jozra whips around in the direction of the voice, one hand moving automatically to where her long knife no longer is, the other moving towards a concealed knife that is there. And then she stops when she recognizes the face that the voice belonged to. “Zander?!”

Arrin: Soquan’s head whips towards the ferret at an almost painful speed. “You know each other?”

Catamount: The ferret nods, as at this point denying it would be a terribly obvious lie.  “…he lives, or lived, I guess, in a village near the one I grew up in. All us kids would hang out on market and fair days.” It’s a plausible explanation. And she makes sure to say it just loud enough that the rodent named Zander can hear it as well.

Arrin: Soquan nods. “If you trust him, then that’s alright.” He gives a small smile and turns his head upwards towards the rodent. “Happen to have room for two more up there?”

Catamount: Zander grins. “Sure do! Come on up and tell me your story! Stairs are right there.” He points to a narrow, shadowy alcove below and to the left of himself. “The door’s open.”

Arrin: “We’ll be right up!” The otter nudges Jozra gently. “Lead the way.”

Catamount: The ferret does so and leads the way through the trash and rubble that clutters the street and into the graffiti stained stairwell. They soon arrive at the door to a small, one room apartment. It’s neatly kept with curtains made of carefully stitched together pieces of fabric to partition the room. Zander is waiting for them just inside and he embraces Jozra as they step inside. “Welcome! Who’s your friend here, Jozra?”

Arrin:  Soquan removes his blindfold and gives his eyes a quick rub before offering a paw. “T’name’s Soquan.”

Catamount: Zander shakes Soquan’s paw warmly. “Zander… though, I suppose you already know that.” The rodent looks like a mouse, but he nearly has the size of a rat. He motions the two of them into his humble apartment. “I’d offer you a place to sit but as you can see… furniture is a little limited.”

Arrin: Soquan looks around slowly. “Looks better than what I’ve caught glimpses of.”

Catamount: Zander blushes a little. “I try my best.” As he moves to twitch a curtain aside that leads into a make-shift kitchen, Jozra notices an obvious stiffness in Zander’s leg. Looking about, she notices a cane propped near the door.

Arrin: Soquan notices the rodent’s gait and asks in a concerned manner. “Did they rough you up when they caught you too?”

Catamount: Zander pauses in his retrieval of a couple of crude cups. “…this? Ah… not exactly. But I’m sure they made the old wound worse.” Jozra tries to hide her puzzlement. Frankly, she was convinced Zander was killed in Ostoria, but now was obviously not the time to talk about that.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan gives a sort of half-grin, crossing his arms over his chest. “I guess everyone gets mixed results coming in here ‘eh?”

Yazeth: Zander chuckles. “Yeah. They weren’t sure if they should beat me for being a rat or welcome me for being a mouse. Apparently, deermice are confusing enough that those hares didn’t know where to put me.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter shakes his head slightly. “Said Joz here, and the other we were traveling with were ‘obviously violent.’” He barks a laugh. “They’re the ones who attacked in the first place.”

Yazeth: The ferret grins in amusement at her old friend. Zander pours some water from a corked container into the two cups. “Just water, I’m afraid. It’s clean though, and that’s sometimes hard to find.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan nods and accepts the cup gratefully, taking a small sip. “Thank you.”

Yazeth: Zander shuffles back into the other ‘room’ and pulls a couple of crates away from the wall. He chuckles a little as he does so. “My chairs. My place is your place, now. I doubt you’ll find somewhere else to stay anyway.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter grins from over the top of his cup and motions out of the room towards the street. “Not really a helpful bunch out there, are they?”

Yazeth: The woodrat shakes his head as he settles himself down on a crate-chair. “No. They’ve already lost their freedom and most of their possessions. What they have they don’t want to share as they’re afraid they won’t get anything in return, or that the patrols will decide that sharing’s a crime.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan harrumphs, muttering some choice words under his breath about speciests. “So is there any other sorts of beasts we should watch out for? Or are the hares it?”

Yazeth: Zander shrugs a little. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell. ‘Vermin sympathizers’ get thrown in here as well so I can’t say beware of all squirrels, mice and moles. A good rule of thumb is someone well dressed walking down the street with several guards.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan mulls this over in his mind, nodding slowly. “So do you know how all this started?”

Yazeth: Zander shakes his head as Jozra takes her own seat and a sip of water. “Well, not exactly. I have my theories and I’ve heard some rumors…” He glances briefly at Joz. How much could he tell without giving anything away? “As I understand it, the latest ruler of Fifer is not at fan of so called ‘vermin’ and had been imposing restrictions based upon species whenever he could get away with this. Naturally this elevated tension between species and he ended up with more and more excuses to for more restrictions. Why that makes any difference here, I’m not sure. It seems Fifer has a huge influence on these surrounding cities.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan looks disgusted. “So there’s more places like this?”

Yazeth: Zander nods. “At least, that’s what I heard. What’s perplexing is how fast this all happened. I’ve been talking with a few of the beasts in here that have lived in the city for years and apparently this ghetto and the so-called work camp have only existed since about mid-winter.”

Arrin Woodgreen: “Soquan’s expression turns troubled, and his brow furrows. “Do you know much about the work camps?”

Yazeth: The woodrat shrugs helplessly. “I’ve tried to find out as much as I could about them… I have a friend in there as well. They’re heavily guarded, though, and it’s very difficult to get close to them with the many patrols. They’re prisons, that much I know for sure.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan growls and grips his cup tightly. “We need to do something about all this, it isn’t right. None of all this seems right.”

Yazeth: For a moment, Zander stares at Jozra very seriously as he quietly replies, “Yes, we do.” He turns to look at Soquan again. “I have been trying to find out some information that might be useful, but it’s difficult to organize when your neighbor might be a spy.”

Arrin Woodgreen: His anger subdued again, Soquan is back to nodding as the woodrat speaks. “Understandable.”

Yazeth: Jozra sits uncomfortably for a moment, knowing that Zander has things he can’t tell her while Soquan can hear. Zander breaks the mood by clapping his paws and rubbing them together and then stiffly rising to his feet. “We can talk about this more later. I suspect you’re both very tired. Lets see if we can’t get a few more beds set up, shall we?”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter rises to his feet. “Sure thing. What do we need to do?”

Yazeth: “Well…” The woodrat hobbles back over towards the door and retrieves his cane. “I see you both have large cloaks that could work as blankets so we can use those. We can take down some of the walls to make mattresses. They’re just hooked up there, Joz, they come down easy.” He adds this last bit as Jozra moves towards one of the blanket walls.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan eyes up the walls and looks back at the ferret. “I’ll get one, you grab the other? Or do you want to grab the things from our packs?”

Yazeth: The ferret nods. “Sure.” Meanwhile, the woodrat reveals the crate bench in front of the small window to be the narrow frame for a bed filled with straw. He chuckles, “It itches and it’s hard to get out of but it’s pretty soft. I don’t mind if either of you wants to take it instead.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan waves a paw absently from here he is removing the ‘walls’. “You two go ahead and pick whatever, I’ll use whatever’s left.”

Yazeth: Jozra grins slyly at Zander. “I think you need the softer bed… old man.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan releases both walls with a dull ‘thump’ on the floor.
“Now Joz, is that any way to thank Zander for taking us in.” He grins suddenly, “Remember what we leaned as young-uns. Respect your elders.”

Yazeth: Zander gives them both a dirty look as he unfolds a threadbare blanket from where it was tucked into a crate. “I’m barely older than either of you.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan tisks softly and turns to Jozra with a wink. “Looks like some beast’s getting cranky ’cause he’s been up too late.”

Yazeth: The ferret chuckles as Zander rolls his eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t have much to feed you. There’s a few shriveled potatoes and some stale bread which we can either have for dinner or wait and eat them for breakfast.”

Arrin Woodgreen: The otter thinks this over for a minute and turns to Jozra, his brow furrowed. “Did the hares leave us anything?”

Yazeth: Jozra turns back to their packs from where she had been spreading out their cloaks. After a little rummaging she comes up with some odds and ends. “Not much. They left the flour, took the scones. There’s a little cheese left.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan gives a half grin. “We’ll leave food for tonight, and why don’t we see if we can scrounge anything up tomorrow?”

Yazeth:  Zander nods. “Sounds like a good idea. Especially since there won’t be enough light to see with soon. Candles are also short in supply.”

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan nods in understanding and looks around the small room. “So where are we crashing for the night?”

Yazeth: Zander gestures about. “Anywhere you can find the room to, really. I like to keep things tidy during the day but at night, especially with the walls down, it doesn’t really matter.”

Arrin Woodgreen: “Alright then.” The otter hands the ferret her wall and motions for her to go ahead.

Yazeth: Jozra folds the patched together blanket together until it becomes a rectangle just large enough for her body. She sets it over near one of the room’s actual walls and then drapes her cloak over it.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan mimics her movements with the blanket and places his near the ferret’s, although not close enough to raise any questions with the woodrat.

Yazeth: Zander sets his cane on the floor near his make-shift bed and rolls in smoothly. For a rodent with a stiff leg, he’s otherwise rather fit and agile.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan hunkers down on his mat and curls up within his cloak. “G’night both of you, see you in the morning.”

Yazeth: The ferret slips under her own cloak and pads her head with her paws. She smiles a little at Soquan’s comment and adds her own goodnights.

Arrin Woodgreen: Soquan lies in the darkness for a time, letting his brain slowly seep in today’s information as he drifts off into a light sleep

Chapter 77: Sight

Chapter 77: Sight

In Which Even The Darkest Clouds Have A Silver Lining.

———————————————————————————————

Arrin: Sometime later, the otter’s consciousness slowly returns to him and his eyes flicker open. The smell of musty straw fills his nostrils as he slowly takes in surroundings, a few things catch his eye; the important thing in all this being of course, that he can see them. With his eyes!!! Spotting a very familiar looking ferret and fox not too far away, he calls out hesitantly, “Joz, Holst?”

Chris: Holst sits upright, popping his neck in a few places. He begins to wipe the dried mud from his face in a bit of disgust.

Catamount: The ferret stands stiffly at the only view outside of the cell, trying to peer around corners to get a sense of the place. “I’m here, Soq.”

Arrin: Soquan blinks slowly, trying to reassure himself that he’s not dreaming. Slowly, he replies, “I know… I… I can see you.”

Chris: Holst stops wiping and cocks an eyebrow. “Soq are you alright?”

Catamount: Jozra’s brow furrows in surprise as she wonders if she heard the otter right. She turns her head slowly to look at him.

Arrin: Soquan sits up gingerly and returns the ferret’s questioning gaze with a slight grin. “My head hurts like hell. Other than that and a few bruises, I’m fine.”

Chris: Holst merely looks to Joz with slightly widened eyes.

Catamount: The ferret finally releases the bars she had been hanging on to and slowly walks towards the otter. “But… you can see.”

Arrin: The otter’s grin remains. “I know. Something must have knocked back into place when they hit my head.”

Chris: Holst thinks for a moment. “I don’t know much about biology. I just know that that’s a great thing, Soq.”

Arrin: Soquan, if possible, beams even more and gives a somewhat happy whoop, bounding to his feet and scooping Jozra up in a tight hug the next moment. “I can see!”

Catamount: The ferret laughs, caught up in Soquan’s excitement. “That’s great Soq!”

Chris: Holst stands and offers a hearty pat to Soq’s back. He pauses in thought. “So wait… you’ve never seen either of us, or just me?”

Arrin: Soquan laughs and holds the ferret for just a few moments longer before releasing her after Holst questions him. “I’ve been blind for the last five years now. I have never seen either of you.” His brow furrows. “Funny though, you both look how I pictured you, and I swear I recognize you both from somewhere…”

Catamount: The ferret chuckles, not paying much attention to the comment about recognizing the two of them. She’s more amazed that her friend has his vision back. And it is in the midst of this that several guards march up to their cell, serving as a protective escort for the lean commander from before.

Chris: Holst scowls and absentmindedly reaches for his chain, his paw merely grasping air.

Arrin: Soquan’s laughing stops the moment he hears the guards and he quickly goes to move his blindfold over his eyes, whispering quietly so only the two of them can hear, “Don’t say a word about me being able to see.”

Catamount: The benefits of the small black blades were that they were sharp, deadly and could be easily concealed. The hares had found most of Jozra’s but there were three that they had missed. The ferret kept her paws from straying towards any of them, though. She didn’t want her remaining weapons removed.

Chris: The commander raps the cell bars loudly with his baton upon seeing Soquan whisper. “Conspiracy with vermin is prohibited otter. I’m finding myself inclined to consider you a traitor with all I’ve seen thus far.”

Arrin: Soquan turns towards the source of the voice, slightly more comfortable in his sightless state. “Conspiracy? Vermin? What the hell is going on here?”

Chris: The commander narrows his eyes and questions the guards around him. “Was this otter wearing that blindfold in the altercation?” Several nod in agreement. He looks to Soq. “I assume you’re blind?”

Arrin: Soquan forces himself not to lace his words with sarcasm as he waves a paw vaguely in front of himself. “Of course I am, either that or someone has been playing a very cruel trick on me for five years.”

Catamount: The ferret has to bite her tongue to keep from snickering. The otter seems to be doing quite well speaking for the three of them. She has no desire to draw any attention to herself and try to speak on their behalf instead.

Chris: The commander smirks. “So you know nothing of these vermin standing beside you?”

Arrin: Soquan attempts to look warily at the commander.* I trust both these so called ‘vermin’ more than yourself or any other beast nearby at the moment, and if your ‘welcome’ is anything to go by, I’m right to do so.”

Chris: The commander smirks once more. “Well, your misconceptions as to our intentions aside, no vermin are ever to be trusted or conspired with. It’s law, but it’s also just good sense. Which leads me to believe you are sympathetic to their cause.”

Arrin: Soquan can help but laugh at the statement. “Oh gods, you have to be kidding me, right?”

Chris: The commander remains stern. “I’ll give you a few more iterations otter. I’m growing tired of giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

Arrin: Soquan sighs tiredly and rubs his eyes though the fabric of his blindfold. “Look, I realize that you have LAWS here concerning those stereotypically… vermin…” Soquan practically spits out that last word in distaste and continues. “You must realize though, that these laws don’t extend the whole country. Where I come from it’s not a crime to ‘conspire with vermin’ and trust me, if I knew it was like this here, we would have steered clear.”

Chris: The commander sighs, flashing a fanged smile. “I’ll ignore that last part.” He becomes a bit more stern. “Considering that the circumstances of your capture were questionable, this is what it will be: You will be transferred to a vermin ghetto which you are not to leave the boundaries of. The female will remain with you at all times as your eyes until it is determined you are self sufficient. You will be evaluated on your ability to enter civil society for a period of time. After a probation period it will be decided whether you are to be set free. While I am loathe to see an obviously violent vermin not be put into a work camp, I am also loathe to wasting a member of my staff. The male will be immediately transferred to a work camp.”

Catamount: Jozra can’t help but breathe a little sigh of relief that she’ll be kept with Soquan… and in what sounds like a less heavily guarded area. She casts a worried glance towards the fox, however.

Arrin: Soquan gives a soft sigh and turns back to Holst and Jozra for a moment, as if contemplating his decision before turning back to the commander. “Fine.”

Chris: The commander laughs. “You’re under the impression you had a choice?” A few of the guards snicker as the commander selects eight to enter the cell and restrain them. “All said and done, effective immediately.”

Arrin: Soquan bares his teeth slightly as he anticipates the guards. “No need to bully us about, we’ll go quietly.”

Chris: Holst has no friendly feeling towards the commander, but he’s more cold and calculating than rash. Doing anything would only make it worse. If it were only him he’d risk it… he wasn’t used to liability and the moment he had it; he hated it. Holst nods at the guards and goes peacefully. His eyes betraying the cool resolve his face wore.

Catamount: Jozra has been planning during the whole exchange and at this point her plans involve playing the part of a very subdued ferret. Anything else would draw too much attention to herself and she needs time to regroup and assess the situation… from outside of a ‘work camp’. She too, goes quietly with barely a look at the hares, making herself seem like a crucial tool for Soquan’s navigation of the world.

Arrin: Soquan easily slips back into the poor blind otter persona and makes a show of feeling around before settling his paw lightly on Jozra’s forearm. “Where’s my staff?”

Chris: The hare captain smirks as the guards pair off to escort Holst and a few escort Joz and Soq. Holst chances a look back as he is lead the opposite direction from them.

Catamount: Jozra tries to surreptitiously watch where they’re taking Holst while replying to Soquan. “They’ve taken it, Soq.”

Arrin: Soquan stays in character. “But how do they plan on me finding my way around myself without it?”

Chris: The commander sighs and realizes how much time he’s wasted thus far. He nods to a hare that produces Soq’s staff and hands it to him. The commander whispers a few orders to one of the guards and begins to walk off.

Catamount: The ferret continues leading Soquan, though she quietly thanks the hare for the staff in a very subdued manner.

Arrin: Soquan nods his thanks as well and says no more, subtly giving Joz’s arm a slight squeeze as they follow the hares.

Chris: They’re lead to an ancillary room where, after a brief rummaging the travelers packs are returned.

Catamount: Jozra helps Soquan into his pack straps and then hefts her own.

Arrin: Once all settled up, Soquan looks towards the hares and asks hesitantly. “So where exactly will we be staying?”

Chris: One of the hares, a sergeant by the stripes on his shoulder, gives a not-all-that-comforting laugh. “You’ll see.” A couple of the guards snicker and it takes a moment for the sergeant to realize. “Or maybe you won’t!”

The sarge gives a hearty laugh as he shoves the two forward through a door that exits the complex.

Catamount: Jozra suppresses a scowl and then blinks in the sudden sunlight. The complex opens into a small courtyard surrounded by a fence and guarded with a small guard platform. Beyond are the slums. The ferret begins describing it to the otter in an undertone.

Arrin: Hearing Jozra’s descriptions, the otter growls low in his throat and spits out in the lowest of undertones. “Bloody speciests.”

Chris: The hares escorting them both give them less than gentle nudges at their conversing. They’re led to a small gate in the fence. The sergeant addresses them. “Alright, this is where our care of you ends. You two are lucky the commander was in a good mood today.”

Soq is shoved down through the gate. “Especially you ferret.” The sarge does the same to Joz and the gate is slammed shut behind them, the echoes of the hare’s laughter ringing along with the metal of the fence.

Chapter 76: Capture!

Chapter 76: Capture!

In Which There Are Hares.

———————————————————————————————

Chris: Holst opens his eyes to the bleak morning light, wiping the cold sweat from his forehead.

Arrin: From over by the remains of their small fire, Soquan turns towards the source of movement. “Morning.”

Catamount: From her vantage point, Jozra’s ears twitch back towards the camp. She sheaths her weapon, finally feeling familiar and comfortable with it again after it had felt so alien when she had taken it back from Holstadt. She stretches a little and meanders back into the camp proper.

Chris: Holst nods at the both of them and packs up his bedroll. “I assume watch was alright?”

Catamount: The ferret stoops to pack up her own share of the load. “Nothing worth mentioning, unless you count that strange looking moth.”

Arrin: Soquan snickers softly at the ferret’s statement, and is quick to send Jozra’s breakfast towards her, in projectile form.

Chris: Holst merely cocks an eyebrow as he slips his gloves on with the characteristic creak of well-kept leather.

Catamount: Jozra grabs quickly, the flying method of meal delivery was rather unexpected. She stuffs it into her mouth and mutters a ‘thanks’ as she finishes up her packing.

Arrin: Soquan sends a “You’re welcome” towards the ferret before turning to Holst.
“Hungry?”

Chris: Holst shakes his head.

Arrin: The otter nods and rises while closing his pack. “Right then. Should we head out?”

Catamount: Jozra swallows the last of her breakfast and pulls her pack strings tight. She hefts it onto her back and resettles the sheath at her hip. Only a few days traveling together and already the three had gotten into a slick routine in the morning. The camp was gone. “Yeah, let’s go.”

Chris: Holst grins at the two wryly. “Just one minute…” He adjusts his collar, settles his chain across his shoulders, and smoothes his neck fur. “Alright, let’s go.”

Arrin: With that motion from the fox, the trio set into motion for the day, traveling most the time in semi-comfortable silence, with a few bouts of conversation. Finally, just before lunch, hints of a town can be seen ahead.

Catamount: Jozra is having a hard time hiding her apprehension as they approach the town but somehow she manages it. A road sign not too far back had confirmed ahead of time that this was the same town Azrun had left a message about.

Chris: Holst breathes a sigh of relief. “Finally some civilization. Decent bedding, decent bathing, hustle and bustle. I don’t know how beasts live without it.”

Arrin: Soquan shoots the fox a grin. “I do it all the time.”

Catamount: The ferret peers up ahead at a building standing apart from the city. “Looks like we need to go that-a way if we want to actually enter the town.”

Chris: Holst nods and begins to notice the demeanor of the guards as they approach the building. The stout hares didn’t appear too happy to see the trio. Normally, he would’ve brushed that off as normal. His gut didn’t feel right, though. And in his experience that had more bearing than any of his other senses. He begins to mutter, “Guys…”

Catamount: Jozra’s gut is telling her the same thing, though in her case she has Azrun’s message to add to the feeling. They need to check out the town, though. “Maybe they just got a pay cut today?” Her excuse for their demeanor sounds lame even to her ears. Focus, Joz…

Arrin: Soquan subtlety changes his grip on his staff as he hears his companion’s statements, quickly trying to cast his hearing towards the group of guards. “What’s going on?”

Chris: Holst notices one of the guards nod, but he was looking beyond the trio. In his periphery, dark, menacing shapes emerged from the foliage. The other guard’s steely gaze bore into Holst as he grips a short sword. Holst’s paw begins to tighten on his chain as he pulls it free from his shoulders.

Catamount: Jozra’s brain whirrs as she takes all of this in. Azrun’s message had been vague enough that she wasn’t expecting obvious hostility from the city’s guards. Her right paw slowly strays towards the long-knife at her hip but it is her left that already has a weapon in paw. One of the small black throwing-knives has been concealed within very easy reach.

Arrin: Soquan slowly adjusts his stance and grips his staff tightly, his companion’s silence to his question is more than enough for him to realize there’s trouble.

Chris: Holst spins around, pulling his whirling chain out deftly as he surveys their ambushers. Ten so far, weapons drawn. There was no choice. Holst whispers to his companions, “Go.”

Catamount: The hares were quick. They had already been prepared for a fight before the three realized what was going on. “GET. THEM.” Jozra’s right paw darts the last few inches and frees her blade whilst her left plucks the black blade from its hiding place, her wrist coiled ready to fling when… she hesitates as memories from Ostoria come flooding back.

Arrin: The otter’s staff moves quickly at the fox’s word. The otter moves his weapon in dizzying patterns and blurs as he takes down his opponents. His ears perk up as he hears more paw steps and shouts a warning to the ferret a few feet away. “Behind you, Jozra!”

Chris: Holding it with both paws, Holst swings his chain across the face of one of his attackers. He lets one end go full circle to wrap around the neck of another as his paw reaches for his dagger. He pulls the hare forward, the blade finding a home between the hare’s ribs.

Catamount: Jozra jerks her head to the side at Soquan’s warning and, reflexively, the little black blade spins away from her paw, embedding itself in the windpipe of one of the hares approaching from behind. And then, they’re in the midst of it. She brings the hilt of her blade up sharply, connecting it with another guard’s jaw.

Arrin: The chaos of battle very quickly becomes too much for the blind otter to handle.  While his senses are sharper than most beasts, they fail to keep up with his needs and the otter is steadily overwhelmed. Soquan falls to the ground from a hard hit to the back of the head.

Chris: Holst’s ears pick up the solid thud minus the clank of armor. He attempts to reel around, forgetting the dying, blood-sputtering beast he’s holding. The hare’s sheer size knocks Holst off-balance. Shortly, he’s panting with half a face in mud and three hares pinning his paws behind his back.

Catamount: Jozra sees the blow that felled Soquan from the corner of her eye and, in a rage; she lunges for the hare that did it and stabs him through a chink in his armor. She whirls and catches another a heavy kick to side of the head as she jerks her knife back out but then notices the arriving reinforcements and the three pinning Holst. A fist swings from the side and nails her in the jaw.

Chris: As the three are restrained the noise dies down and an authoritative voice is heard over the dying din. “Enough!” The hare’s grips tighten on Holst and Joz, but surprisingly the hares restraining Soq move away as a tall, slim, commander walks up and looks down at Soq. “We don’t know his motives yet.”

He looks over at Holst and Joz. “Put them all in A-cell, I’ll talk with them later.”

Catamount: The ferret scowls as they’re hauled off bodily, though at least the hares seem to be treating Soquan with some care. She’s surprised at how upset she is that her blade has been removed, though. She started out with two, now she has neither.  The commander watches the three as they’re taken away and then turns towards the task of having others clean up the battle field.

Chapter 75: Warning

Chapter 75: Warning

In Which A Cryptic Message Is Discovered.

———————————————————————————————

Arrin: The three continue along the better part of the week, casually bantering amongst each other and forming something along the semblance of a friendship. Finally, on the fifth day, as evening grows closer and the sky begins to darken, Soquan turns to his two companions. We should start looking for camp.

Catamount: The ferret nods, searching around for a suitable camp. Away on the left is a small rocky outcropping while a little further ahead and to the right is a small stand of trees. “Two choices,  one’s closer the other’s about another thirty minutes worth of walking.”

Chris: Holst shrugs. “Either.”

Arrin: Soquan thinks for a moment. “Tell me about them.”

Catamount: Jozra pauses for a moment, scanning across what has since changed from forest to scrubland to now near grassland. “The closer one’s a ridge of rocks, looks pretty sheltered and out of the way enough. There’s a couple old trees around. The other looks like it may be near some more water. Denser trees too, though it’s a bit more off the trail than the first.”

Arrin: The otter nods. “I vote for the further one. Softer ground.”

Chris: The fox nods and a short time later he’s placing his satchel near his chosen spot.

Arrin: Soquan places his pack on the ground and stretches out his back. “Why don’t I start making dinner. You wanna go look for firewood Joz?”

Catamount: The ferret dumps her own pack on the ground and rolls the slight stiffness out of her shoulders. “Sure.” With her long knife at her hip, Jozra makes her way back around the way they came, looking for dry wood.

Chris: Holst gets a few things out for Soq and places them within paw’s reach. “So what’s it tonight?”

Arrin: He settles on the ground. “I was thinking of cooking up that pheasant we found today. There’s no use in lugging around that carcass for long before it goes bad.”

Catamount: The ferret makes her way towards the path, away from the source of the water that lets such large trees grow in grassland. The firewood pickings are slim, it looks like the wooded area has been picked through several times before. Here and there she finds a few limbs that have been downed but aren’t soggy. Obviously she’d have better luck at the dead trees further away.

Chris: Holst leans back and lets the otter work his cooking magic, constantly scanning the trees and listening for incongruous sounds.

Arrin: Without fire, the otter can only do too much, and for the time being, he busies himself with preparing the unfortunate bird.

Catamount: The way out is a lot quicker than the way in as she is unburdened without her pack. Across the path and back the way they came a little, Jozra comes across the scattered stand of dead trees. She starts collecting what branches have already been felled, looking for something that might be easy to drag back to camp.

Chris: Holst blinks as he watches Soq. “Might as well do something productive…” He pulls out flint and tinder and nurtures a small twig fire along.

Arrin: Soquan pauses in his task to grin at the fox. “Thanks Holst.”

Catamount: Working back towards the camp, Jozra has nearly an armful of moderately sized branches and is dragging one that’s too long to fit in the crook of her arm when she runs across a large snag quite near the trail. Evidently she wasn’t paying nearly enough attention when they passed this particular tree the first time otherwise she might have had a hard time hiding her astonishment at finding a very specific symbol burned into the trunk.

Chris: Holst cocks a crooked grin at Soq. “Hey-now, don’t get any warm fuzzy ideas. I gotta eat, the fire just helps that along.”

Arrin: Soquan continues to smile. “As much as your fire helps. I can’t go any further until Joz comes back with more wood.”

Catamount: As it is, she drops her bundle of lumber and then realizes how obvious that would look to anyone on the path. Fortunately, there’s no one but she covers it anyway by faking as though she had stumbled over a rock. Of course, what with that symbol on the tree — cleverly disguised of course, any non-Scorpion would consider it just a fire scar — there was bound to a rock somewhere around here. Probably a flat one, palm sized or so…

Chris: Holst’s eyes turn cold and logical as his mind ticks a logic process over to a conclusion. He piles a good amount of twigs on his embryonic fire and stands.

Arrin: Soquan starts to hum softly to himself, clearing away the “extras” in the preparation.

Catamount: Aaaah… there it is. The river stone was placed in a rather unobtrusive spot near the roots of the tree. Jozra chances another look around, though there is nobody to be seen for miles out in the open grassland, and flips the rock over, reading the encoded message there left by one archer fox called Azrun. The ferret frowns severely but after reading it a second time, she uses a piece of charred bark to sketch in her symbol and replaces the stone.

Chris: Holst turns and looks in the direction Joz headed off in. “I’m gonna see if Joz needs any help. He begins walking off.

Arrin: The otter gives a wave. “Alright then.”

Catamount: Lost in thought, the ferret gathers her bundle of wood back up and exchanges the branch she had been dragging for a far more suitable one. Now the question is how does she convince her companions of the need to go to Afrin? Because there was no question of the urgency in Azrun’s message.

Chris: Holst peers through the trees as he pads through them softly, staying the clinking of his chain.

Catamount: Jozra is soon back on the path, though moving slower than before and not just due to the weight of the branches.

Chris: Holst breaks out of the forest onto the path and spies Joz. “Oh there you are.” He eyes the load. “You got that?”

Catamount: Jozra isn’t exactly surprised by Holst’s appearance, though she does feel as though she’s been rudely jerked back to earth. And then she realizes she’s been dawdling.  “…um, yeah. Though I won’t object if you want to carry some.”

Chris: He grins and takes a good chunk of the load. He’d learned there was a fine line to walk with Joz as to whether it was generous or belittling to offer help.

Catamount: With a lighter load — and her head out of the clouds — the way back to the campsite goes much quicker.

Arrin:  The otter’s head turns towards the pair as they approach. “Ah, back then?”

Chris: Holst dumps the wood and feeds his almost dead fire. “No worse for wear.”

Arrin: It’s not long before Soquan has the meal going on a makeshift spit above the fire, and soon, he turns towards his companions. “Dinner!”

Catamount: Jozra diverts her attention back to her companions at Soquan’s call, having let her mind wander again. “Smells good, Soq.”

Chris: Holst pounces over.

Arrin: The otter beams. “Eat up both of you, I don’t want to have to continue to lug this bird around.”

Catamount: Jozra takes her own portion and a somewhat absent minded bite. Of course, after that first bite, her undivided attention is focused upon her meal. “’s delicious!”

Chris: Holst shows no mercy to his meal.

Arrin:  Soquan digs in with gusto, and discreetly removes some of the meat for a nice lunch for the trio the following day.

Chris: Holst leans back with a full stomach. “This otter knows how to cook.”

Catamount: The ferret polishes off her own meal and chuckles at Holst’s comment. “That he does.”

Arrin: Soquan gives a sleepy, yet satisfied noise and begins to pack away supper things. “I don’t know about the two of you, but I’m ready to clink out right here.”

Chris: Holst nods and looks to Joz. “I can take first watch if you want you want some shuteye now.”

Catamount: Jozra lends Soquan a hand with packing things back up. She shrugs at Holst, distracted by her own thoughts once again. “Sure.”

Arrin: Once things are put away, the otter begins to settle down. “You feeling alright Joz? You seem a bit off tonight.”

Catamount: Sands! She’d forgotten how perceptive Soquan could be. Spreading out her blanket the ferret shakes her head. “I’m fine. Just… Thinking about home.”

Arrin: He gives a slight nod and brings his cloak over himself. “Alright.”

Chris: Holst’s eyes harden while he’s on watch. They always came back at night. He sighs, another long night.

Catamount: The ferret sighs almost inaudibly and beds down, still turning Azrun’s message over in her mind.

Chris: Nightfall on the travelers’ camp pads in on velvet paws, a cloak of cloud cover dulling the glinting stars and cooling the night air.

Catamount: Jozra had finally drifted off to sleep, thoughts of Azrun’s message still on her brain. The symbol on the tree kept flickering behind her eyelids and no wonder, it was a symbol that was easy to disguise but it meant that a terribly urgent situation had arisen. Of the kind that threatened everything about Oparanth.

Arrin: A few feet away from the ferret, Soquan struggles to slip into slumber. Somehow he knew the ferret was being less than honest with him, and while it bothered him that she didn’t trust him enough to confide in him, he realized that the matter shouldn’t be pushed, just like the other times.

Catamount: Had anyone actually been inside Jozra’s head to observe, the distinction between her preoccupation with the day’s discovery and the dream would have been very hard to make.

The flickering gradually became more pronounced until it was obvious that it was caused by an outside source. Azrun flung the torch he was using to scar the tree at a snow-dusted, thatched roof and quickly knocked another arrow as Jozra backed him up, stabbing the tree — which had somehow become a squirrel — with twin long-knives.  It was the usual nightmare, until a pack of hares ambushed the fox and carried him away before the ferret could react.

Jozra spun, ready to give chase to aid Azrun, who between cries of help was divulging state secrets to the hares, notably the location of their desert home. Her way was blocked by a certain otter who looked at her expectantly at first, and then with disgust and horror. A heavy paw landed on her shoulder and she whirled again to face The Badger whose face was marred by the hilt of one of her knives protruding from an eye socket.

Shrieking, she stabbed at it with her remaining knife as other members of the ill fated colony of Ostoria jarringly grabbed at her with disjointed and blackened limbs while above it all, Azrun still pleaded for help.

It was one thing to battle beasts, quite another to battle those that were quite obviously dead. Fighting desperately to save herself, Soquan and Azrun, she’s thrown completely off guard when a chain wraps around her neck and jerks backwards, pulling her off her feet and making her fumble her knife. She gurgles and then, catching her breath as she fumbles for her knife by her side, she lunges up towards her adversaries, screaming out her fear, pain and frustration.

Her scream rings out through the waking world as she jerks up, slashing at the night air, knife in paw.

Arrin:  Soquan is snapped quickly out of his lightly sleeping state, and after a brief struggle with freeing his legs from his blankets he makes his way over to her. Miraculously, while doing so he manages to somehow avoid the knife in her paw and while he gathers the trembling ferret close to himself he moves to gently disarm her while attempting to calm her.

Chris: Holst’s ears perk up as he’s ripped away from his thoughts by the shriek. He pads over swiftly, the weight of his chain gaining rotational momentum in his deft paws. He arrives expecting to draw blood, but his face contorts upon arriving. He tries to form words to express this, but Soq and Joz merely receive a blank, puzzled stare.

Catamount: It takes a moment for Soquan’s attentions to fully wake the ferret and when she does, she drops her blade, horrified that she actually drew it in her sleep.

Arrin: While Soquan continues to comfort the ferret, making soft shushing noises as he holds out the blade towards Holst, hoping the fox understands to hold onto the weapon for the evening.

Chris: Holst pauses, the chain slowly loosing its rotational momentum. His mind clicks.  He pads forward and grasps the blade’s handle. He begins padding away. Stops, another pause. Thought. His padding continues off into the trees.

Catamount: The ferret shudders, the smoke from her nightmare slowly fading away and clearing her mind. She grits her teeth and squeezes her eyes tight for a second, still terribly disturbed and now angry at herself.

Arrin: The otter continues to hold his companion close to himself, rocking her slightly. Unable to really think of how else to comfort the poor ferret, he finds himself murmuring quietly to her. “Shhh, it’s alright Joz, you’re safe. I won’t let anything hurt you.”

Chris: Holst leans against a tree a little ways away. Absentmindedly testing the balance of Joz’s blade with twirls and spins. So I’m not the only one…?

Catamount: Dammit, Jo, get a handle on yourself… She tries controlling her breathing first, letting herself believe Soquan’s words in the meantime. There was something to be said for siblings, even annoying ones too close to your own age: they had an uncanny way of snapping you out of ‘it’, even if it was just the memory of their voice and that look they’d get on their face.

Arrin: Soquan continues to hold her a bit longer, and once he feels Jozra start to relax in his arms, he pulls away a bit. “Better?”

Catamount: Jozra heaves a sigh and then nods. “Yeah…”

Arrin: The otter gives her a bit of a squeeze. “That must have been one hell of a nightmare, I was sleeping close and everything.” He hugs her again. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Catamount: Jozra shakes her head. She’d truly like to talk about it. There’s just so many secrets and lies to cover those secrets exposed by the nightmare that even just thinking of telling a vague version feels like treason to the ferret.

Arrin: Soquan nods slowly and nuzzles her gently. “Do you want me to stay here for the rest of the night?”

Catamount: The ferret rubs her face and responds somewhat hoarsely. “I’m okay, Soq. I think it’s time for my shift anyway…”

Arrin: Soquan rises with a nod and heads back towards his ‘bed.’ “Alright, but I’m here if you want to talk.”

Chris: Holst remains leaning against the tree, Joz’s blade now still in his paw as he’s receded deeper into thought.

Catamount: Jozra nods and stands, her knees ever so slightly wobbly but she soon brings them under control as well. She’s about to set up watch near where Holst had been keeping watch when she realizes she’s missing something she’d like to have, just in case they did happen to get attacked.

Jozra quickly picks up on Holst’s trail, automatically falling into a silent, stalking mode. She realizes this before she gets too close to the fox and she purposely makes some noise as she approaches.

Chris: He tenses momentarily before realizing that it’s Joz. He turns, holding out her blade, grip first to her.

Catamount: She eyes the fox warily for half a second before accepting the blade back. “…thanks.”

Chris: He gives a crooked grin but his eyes betray him. He begins to speak. “Uh…” But a sigh and a couple pats on Joz’s shoulder as he walks away are all he has to give.

Catamount: The ferret puzzles over the fox’s actions as he walks away. Evidently she isn’t the only one hiding something. She re-sheaths her knife, feeling acutely the missing weight of its twin on her other hip, as she heads back towards the sentry spot.

Chapter 74: The Way To Afrin

Chapter 74: The Way To Afrin

In Which The Trio Get To Know Each Other A Little Better.

———————————————————————————————

Chris: The fox lets his satchel down as he hunkers to sit in a bed of comfy loam.

Catamount: The ferret shifted her shoulders under her pack straps, pausing as the fox stops. She glances at him and quirks an eyebrow. “Everything alright?”

Chris: He nods. “Just pretty tired is all. I’ve had a few rough nights this week.”

Arrin: Soquan stretches a bit and begins to shrug off his pack. “Good idea, we should rest up a bit. Neither of us should be pushing ourselves too hard.”

Catamount: Jozra frowns at this a little. She was actually feeling pretty good. Finally they seemed to be getting somewhere and the warm air helped her lungs. But she seemed to be outnumbered. She sighs and then sets her own pack down.

Chris: Holst can’t escape that odd feeling in the back of his mind. Who were these two? “So, I assume there’s more than names to you guys?”

Arrin: Soquan stretches out on the ground and begins to unpack something to munch on, tossing Jozra a share. “What do you want to know?”

Chris: Holst cocks an eyebrow. “Just the interesting stuff, if there’s enough of that to be told.”

Arrin: He chews his food thoughtfully for a moment before swallowing. “Not much to tell really. Joz here saved my ass further up North not too far from Donfin. We wandered towards there and after a few adventures I guess we decided to stick together.”

Chris: Holst’s cocked eyebrow accentuates a bit as he turns to Joz. “So you risked your own life to save a stranger?”

Catamount: The ferret shrugs and nibbles a little on a piece of bread. The fox’s prying questions make her feel a little uneasy, but she doesn’t let that show. “It was just a handful of thugs beating up on a blind otter. The sort that run away as soon as somebody else shows up.”

Arrin: Soquan shoots Jozra a wry grin, “Run away? Was I imagining that dead body and blood smell then?”

Chris: Holst allows his fangs to show in his grin. “So you are a killer…”

Catamount: Jozra stiffens a little, first at Soquan’s comment, then at Holst’s. On the spot, suddenly, the ferret has a hard time keeping the fur on the nape of her neck from bristling. She glances at Soquan, surprised. “I… didn’t realize you noticed that.”

Arrin: He reaches over and squeezes her shoulder gently. “Hey, they would have killed me if you hadn’t showed up. It’s okay.”

Chris: Holst is content to smirk.

Catamount: Keeping an appropriate expression on her face is tough, particularly with the fox and his knowing looks. Of course she’s a killer, she’s a Scorpion. But that’s not who she’s supposed to be right now. Jozra scratches behind her ear; what’s an appropriate response?

Arrin: Soquan responds, trying to break the thick tension. He smiles. “Nah. Joz wouldn’t kill a fly unless, of course, that fly happened to be deadly.”

Chris: Holst nods. “And you two are from what regions?”

Catamount: Jozra nearly choked when Soquan said what he did. She cleared her throat a little and focused on the fox. “I think I already mentioned I was from the South… What about you?”

Chris: He nods. “South, city dweller mostly. I’m only up here on special detail, but it’s been months since I’ve heard anything.”

Catamount: The ferret smiles a little, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I went wandering up North seasons ago, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard anything too.”

Chris: Holst nods at Soquan. “And you, otter?”

Arrin: Soquan begins to pack up the remains of their light lunch. “First off, I’d appreciate it if you called me by my name, not my species. And secondly, I’m a Northie. I grew up in Donfin.”

Chris: Holst shrugs. “Don’t meet many Northies down here. I assume you wouldn’t have much to leave behind if you were willing to travel so far?”

Arrin: Soquan continues to busy himself with packing up. “If you don’t mind, that’s a rather personal matter I’d rather not speak about.”

Chris: Holst sighs a bit. “Well this has been more entertaining than I expected.”

Arrin: Soquan stands and offers Jozra his paw to assist her to her feet. “Let’s just get moving again.”

Catamount: The ferret nods, almost relieved to be moving again. She almost doesn’t take Soquan’s paw, but no, that would be rude and the otter didn’t deserve that. She lets him help her up and then she hefts her pack back up onto her shoulders.

Chris: The fox stands and stretches a bit as he picks up his satchel. “How long ‘til the next town?”

Arrin: Soquan’s brow furrows in thought. “Whaddya think Joz? A few days? A week? somewhere in there?”

Catamount: Jozra shrugs and then catches herself. She’s supposed to have come this way before. “It depends on how fast we travel. I wouldn’t say more than a week, though.”

Chapter 73: Holstadt

Chapter 73: Holstadt

In Which A Ferret Happens Across Some Robbers.

———————————————————————————————

Catamount: The road south from Doxfron is somewhat better kept than on the road in. It’s evident from the width of the road and the small trails that frequently branch off to possible farms or even small communities that this area of the world is a bit more populated than the forests Soquan and Jozra had been traveling through.

Chris: It’s been a day or two. He doesn’t know, he didn’t really sleep. It was time to meet them. Holst takes a small path leading to the one the travelers are on and tries to time it as best he can.

Arrin: Soquan, at that moment, leans over from his strolling gait alongside his companion to murmur quietly to her. “You hear something?”

Catamount: Jozra’s ears perk up as she strains to pick up on what Soquan is hearing. Once upon a time she would have felt insulted and incompetent as a Scorpion to have someone else notice something before her, but she’s long since learned to trust the otter’s far superior hearing. “No,” she mutters, “but where is it coming from?”

Chris: Holst pads his way to the arterial road with a nonchalant gait. What should he say?  Why was he doing this? Why did he abandon his post?

Arrin: The otter’s ears swivel, and he listens for a moment. Not wanting to give away the element of surprise by pointing, he murmurs quietly again. “If we were heading north, its west-northwest.”

Catamount: The ferret nods, more to herself than for anyone, especially Soquan’s, benefit. “So, behind us…” she says under her breath. Really, it could be anything.

They hadn’t seen very many people at all since the tavern but that didn’t mean they weren’t out there, traveling and going about their day. Still, she surreptitiously touches the hiding place of a small yet wicked black knife, reassuring herself of its presence.

Chris: Holst breaks step onto their path, inwardly cursing himself for showing up behind them.

Catamount: At this point not looking would be suspicious, so Jozra hazards a casual glance over her shoulder and manages to size up the fox in the process, noting the chain.  It’s just a glance, though, as the two continue walking down the path.

Chris: He curses again, he didn’t think he’d have to break the ice too! “Excuse me…?”

Arrin: Almost casually, he goes to look over his shoulder at the fox. “Yes? Can we help you?”

Chris: Holst’s eyes flicker, there was something about these two. “Oh, no not really. Just wondering where you two were headed and if maybe traveling together might be wiser?” That’s the best I can come up with?!

Catamount: Jozra had actually turned to talk to the fox. And to be prepared for anything… sudden. But that was a given. “We’re going South, to visit my family.” Where was she ‘from’ again? Oh yes… “…Bracate.”

Chris: The fox nods. “I’m heading that direction if you wouldn’t mind a third beast. Got my own rations and I’m trained to take a watch.” He was too tired to be cool and confident, he just wanted a soft place to close his eyes.

Arrin: Soquan shrugs his shoulders at his companion. “S’up to you Joz, I’m just tagging along too remember.”

Catamount: Jozra eyes the otter at that comment but quickly resumes looking at the fox. She’d say no for many reasons, all of them practical and very good reasons but… there was something about that fox. Something familiar.

“Well… If the rumors I’m hearing about the South are even the slightest true, it would be nice to have a third.”

Chris: He nods. “I’ve heard them too.” He laughs a bit, lying through his teeth. “That’s actually why I asked to join.”

Arrin: The otter, half turned to the fox, flashes him a smile. “Welcome aboard then I guess.”

Chris: The fox cocks a crooked grin and extends a gloved paw to the ferret. “Holstadt.”

Catamount: The ferret takes the paw and gives it a shake. “Jozra.”

Arrin: Soquan gives a kinda half wave in greeting. “Soquan.”

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