The next couple of days passed quickly. The weather was clear and dry, and there were no additional stops to make before reaching Tendal, which happened without event.
“Darius, Royal Commander of Rising, is hereby welcomed by Governor Jess of Tendal.” A lone deeri spoke with Darius just outside the gates of Tendal. He alone had walked out of the gates to meet Rising’s procession. It was a strange sight, to see a single person exiting the gates, the entirety of the city behind him. The walls were still there surrounding Tendal.
“Thank you. Are you it, to welcome us?” Darius asked.
“Sorry sir, it’s been, well, you understand, I hope. We cannot make much fanfare right now,” the deeri replied.
“Acknowledged. In fact, that’s what I was hoping for, it’s only right that we scale back anything unnecessary. Can you bring us in?” Darius asked. The deeri bowed, then went back to the gates. The gates opened fully, and the entire procession from Rising entered.
The boys entered the gates, led by Var. Va’il noticed that the walls were extremely thick, much thicker than the walls that Rising had. Guard towers were every fifty meters, and three guards were always on duty. The walls, as thick as they were, did have one problem, which Va’il completely overlooked. On the outside of the walls were several small dents in the stone. But Va’il would learn, soon enough, the reason those dents existed.
Tendal looked like it should have been a very calm city, but the tension in the air was easily felt by the children whose natural instincts informed them of everything that went wrong around them. Even Pete, who didn’t notice things the same way as the three descendants-of-hunters did, could tell that something was wrong. Walking through the streets, none of the locals smiled or ran. Everyone had a determined look on their face and calmly but briskly walked from one place to the next. More noticeable than that was the lack of children.
Var took them to an inn, where they were confined to a single room upstairs. It was large and had four beds, and every hour a pretty lupus girl would enter the room and see if the boys needed anything. Food, drink, and a warm place to sleep were all provided to the group.
“What do you think, Kelin?” Zeick asked the lupus who was sitting upright in a bed, reading.
“About what?” Kelin asked with an exasperated tone.
“That girl, pretty, isn’t she, for a lupus? Looks like someone we know, right?” Zeick asked with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk.
“Not really,” Kelin replied.
“Right, right? See, she’s just about right. She’s been looking your way each time, too.” Zeick spoke with a smile, and had his lip twisted in one corner; something was stirring in his head.
“You sure you want to be tempting him? After all, his one true love still awaits him at home!” Va’il said.
“That’s enough!” Kelin said with a howl. “I swear I’ll bite off a finger or tail if one of you mentions it again!”
“Oh, but hear me out first,” Zeick said with a whine. His persistence and feline nature were showing. “I’ll just start it off when she comes next, you just follow along. Trust me!”
“Start what off?” Va’il asked.
“You’ll see. Kelin just needs to follow along for a bit. You’re quick; you’ll see where I’m going with this soon enough. Besides, this late at night, she’s probably only coming in once or twice more.” Zeick finished, and the group silently acknowledged his unspoken plan. Kelin’s interest was piqued by Zeick’s words, so he didn’t object to what Zeick wouldn’t reveal. The boredom of the day was wearing on his already trip-weary mind.
There was a knock at the door after another hour had passed. The boys were seated in the middle of the room, playing with the cards that a previous patron had left. Zeick got up and walked over to the door. He put his hand on the handle, and then turned to look at the rest of them. He nodded once, and the other three boys nodded as well.
“Come in,” Zeick said as he opened the door. He held it open very wide as he moved with the door. He stood with his other arm outstretched, inviting the lupus girl in. She had green eyes and straight brown hair down to her tail. She walked in with a slightly confused look on her face, but she didn’t hesitate because she had always walked in before. Unexpected though, was the door closing behind her.
“Hello again. Are you all in need of anything?” the girl asked. She sounded very earnest and polite.
“Just another player, our fourth just left,” Va’il said while looking over at Zeick, who was still standing at the door. The girl looked back at him.
“Aren’t you sitting?” she asked Zeick.
“Why don’t you have a try, do you know how to play?” Zeick smiled and put out his right hand with the palm up.
“I know, but I’m a little busy,” she said.
“Just one game, we’d all be quite pleased if you would. Especially my friend here, since I was his partner till a moment ago.” Zeick walked behind Kelin and put an arm on his shoulder.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt. I’m not very good though,” she said as she picked up the cards.
Twenty minutes passed as she played two rounds of cards with them. She and Kelin won each round with significant margins over Pete and Va’il, which made her quite happy. After the second round ended, she very quickly stood up, and said with a straight face, “I must work! I will play with you again later. A little while, then I’m free!”
“Ah, she ran off,” Zeick said as the door slammed behind the bouncing girl.
“She’s a bit…” Va’il started.
“Straightforward,” Pete finished. The two of them laughed.
“She just completely relaxed once she started playing. She’s a very single-minded person, isn’t she?” Zeick said.
“Hmm, I like that.” Kelin said with a thoughtful look on his face.
“Mr. Complicated likes a direct girl, how ironic,” Va’il said. He was feeling very self-satisfied to be able to tease Kelin.
“Well, it matches him well. Who really wants someone who thinks the same way as they do anyways?” Pete asked.
“You,” the other three boys said in unison. Pete leaned back a bit as they all peered at him knowingly.
“Well, maybe it would be nice to have someone who knew how to cook and liked to eat. She should be intelligent, too. Huh, you’re right.” Pete closed his eyes to think, and the other three sighed.
“And if she is humble, then you’d both be a complementary match. Though I wouldn’t want to take you out to eat.” Va’il smiled as he spoke to Pete, who laughed at his words.
“Humble, I’m humble! But I don’t need to be around you three! Arrogance incarnate, mischief maker, and a trickster, what am I?” Pete asked.
“The token nice guy,” Kelin said with a straight face. The other two nodded in agreement.
“Token? You’ve been reading too many strange books again,” Pete said indignantly.
“Oh, but somehow you really fit the part, Pete. The single person who is nice and calm in a group of wild people, the voice of reason in the eye of a storm, the character type that is required just simply to fill space and to balance an otherwise top-heavy group out.” Zeick’s speaking was stopped by a swine jumping on him and pinning him to the ground.
Thus, the wrestling match began. The boys all wore smiles as they tussled, knocking each other back and forth. The first thing that happened after Pete jumped at Zeick in a belly-first manner was Va’il and Kelin moving things out of the way. Zeick had managed to throw the large swine up and onto one of the beds, and at the same time Va’il and Kelin finished moving everything to a safe corner.
Zeick had jumped and landed on Pete. Pete grabbed Zeick’s leg and tossed him towards the next bed over. Zeick landed on his back then quickly turned over. Kelin and Va’il watched as the two boys continued with the tossing and jumping.
“You want to join in, right?” Kelin asked Va’il.
“Yeah, but we can’t,” Va’il said, dejected.
Va’il and Kelin had a certain trait that wouldn’t let them join in this particular fight. Claws didn’t lend themselves well to childish playing. The chance of poking an eye or otherwise seriously injuring another was one they couldn’t take with their friends. At home, Pete’s ever-understanding mother had made strong leather gloves for the boys, ones that wouldn’t let a claw through even on purpose. It wasn’t an item that either expected they would need on a trip such as this.
The scuffle continued for quite a while and ended with a thump. Zeick had thrown Pete towards the door from across the room with the most strength he could muster as a half, which resulted in Pete hitting the ground quite hard. Zeick jumped across the room and landed on him.
The thump was the sound of the door hitting Pete’s head, twice. The second time, the door stopped moving and the girl from earlier was seen.