“You don’t know? But you knew everything else! Wait, who are you, why do you know all that?” Kelin asked. Va’il and the rest were still incredibly confused.
“I should clear that up,” Geon said. “I’m from a small tribe that keeps knowledge of the maroon alive. Though, since it’s been thousands of years, we can only guess at the cause of the maroon waking, and we don’t know what the item is, exactly, anymore either. But because of what we do know, I’m sure that the reason they are doing this is exactly what I’ve said.”
“That inspires confidence,” Kelin said sarcastically.
“And that’s also what they say when I speak with them, for part of my duty is to be a communicator with the maroon,” Geon said.
“You communicate with those things? Then why do they attack the city? Didn’t they tell you what the item is?” Va’il asked.
“My xylophone lets me,” Geon said. “They communicate by resonating via various sounds and vibrations. But unfortunately, they are simpler, and don’t understand when I say the item isn’t here. They think much too slowly, and it takes me a few hours just to convince them to stop attacking. Lately I’ve been quicker, but I doubt they will listen to me much longer. They also aren’t able to describe the item. Their way of communicating is too different. They can only think of it as what it is, but are unable to describe it. It’s the same as trying to describe a color to a man blind from birth.”
“So, in other words, you’re not much help,” Zeick said bluntly. There was much disappointment in his voice.
“You’re probably right,” Geon said. He sighed, and then continued. “But that’s why I need to go to Rising and meet with the king. The king would be able to conduct a full-scale search for the item. The maroon are headed that way, so the item might be in Rising’s territory. I’m sure I could explain it to him. Unlike this governor, whose guards wouldn’t let me have an audience at all. And now his city is about to fall.”
“You think you can explain it better to the king than you did to us? Will that really be useful?” Va’il asked.
“I’m sure of it. Definitely, something will work out. And the library that the king of Rising has access to is supposed to be the greatest. Something might be there. That’s all that I can hope for, at this point. Do you believe me?” Geon asked.
“Believe? I’m still unsure of what’s going on. But we saw what those things were doing. And now things are starting to make a little more sense. This is why our soldiers were sent here,” Va’il said.
“Yes,” Geon said. “We were notified a few days ago that a group was coming from your city to take refugees. The way it looks now, the entire city might have to move.”
“What?” a startled Teena asked. No one had noticed her open the door. She had failed to knock either.
“Yes, the city is going to fall either way,” Geon said without thinking.
“I knew it,” Teena said in a surprising twist, “especially when the soldiers came with all those supplies. So, who are you?”
“Let’s say he’s a friend, for now,” Kelin said.
“Fine. Well, he’s welcome to a meal, at least,” she said with a faint smile.
The group thanked Teena, whose curiosity was peaked. They explained, as best they could, everything that had happened. Eventually, they realized just how late it was, and turned in for the night. Va’il shared his bed with Geon, since he was the only one that could. Sleeping in the same bed as Pete was just a bad idea. Zeick didn’t want to turn Geon into a scratching post. And no one asked Kelin to share his place of sleep.
“One, two, three, four, and, oh, five. Well, get up kids,” Var said while standing in the midst of the room. “Must have miscounted before. I could have sworn there was a different number.”
The five boys woke up to Var’s huge frame standing amongst them. None of them were awake enough to realize just how little sleep they had received, though the fog in their minds gave them some idea.
“Just five more meat buns,” Pete said sleepily, “and tartar sauce. Mom?” Pete woke when he realized his pillow was not edible.
“I said get up!” Var roared. He was extremely loud, and within seconds all five boys were wide awake and standing up. Var smiled at this. “Great. Now, baths. Then, we go. Back to Rising, young lads. Commander is getting us out of here as soon as possible. Be glad, you’ll see your parents soon enough.” Var left the room after that.
Teena was already up and about, serving food and helping other people in the inn get around. Her hair was braided in back and messy in front. She still smiled, though she looked very tired. The boys, for their part, summoned enough strength and willpower to eat, shake out their clothes, and bathe. All of which were temporary solutions to their recent hygiene. When they had finished bathing, Var was waiting for them. All of them, including Teena, were grouped together by Var.
“You’re Teena, right? Innkeeper told me about your situation. You’ll be in the first group to go. That all right by you?” Var asked.
“Yes. I prepared my belongings already in preparation for this. Thank you, Sir Var.” Teena did the same curtsy she had done before. The boys were confused at the meaning of the exchange, as usual, but were nonetheless happy that Teena would be coming with them.
“So, we won’t ask,” Kelin said abruptly, “instead, play with us. I guarantee you I will win over you at this one game. It’s cards, but your reflexes will be challenged.”
“You’re on,” she said with a mischievous smile.
Time passed slowly while they traveled. The cards the boys had taken from the room saw a lot of play, but soon they ran out of games they could play without going crazy. Pete and Zeick were nursing some punctures on the back of their hands, a result of playing games with several lupus. Geon kept quiet for the majority of the time, and sat at the back of the cart looking out. He’d play on the xylophone from time to time, but he never stopped having a melancholy look.
Eventually they found out that Teena was with them because she had no family. Her parents had died, which everyone had guessed long before she said it. The innkeeper took her in soon after, and she had been working since then. She said it happened long ago, but otherwise she didn’t expand on the details. It was enough to appease everyone’s curiosity. In like manner, Va’il talked a bit about how he only lived with Mai’ou, and never knew his father.
Zeick also picked up on the mood, and decided to talk about his situation as a half as well. This was surprising, since the other boys didn’t know much about his situation before this. Zeick explained that the man he lived with was not his father. His mother had fallen for a felis man, even though she was married at the time. His father was always concerned with prestige, so at times his love was lacking. Things happened, and the felis man disappeared soon after. Zeick was born a few months later. He had human ears and hands, which his parents considered divine providence. When he was younger, his teeth were human at first. When his second set started to come in, fangs appeared, and the idea to file them down was considered by his parents. They did not attempt it. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief at that, since just the thought of having their teeth filed was maddening. Especially to the three lupus, each of which felt twinges of pain at the thought of having filed fangs. Va’il was proud of being lupus, even if he didn’t have as many fangs as Teena and Kelin. Zeick went on to explain that the reason he was kept by his current father was because of prestige and status issues. Zeick said he still doesn’t know exactly what Kelin did to allow him to stop hiding his identity, and Kelin wouldn’t speak of it either. No amount of prodding by Teena would reveal it.
Several days went by as the trip went on. They stopped briefly in Nopass, where another hot meal awaited them. This time, Var kept a close eye on the group, though it wasn’t really necessary. Teena got to sleep in a bed, and the five boys slept on a floor. It was far more comfortable inside a house and on the floor than camping outside.