The group all return to the shelter and find unexpected guests.
As I healed, the weather grew colder. Every cloak, every cloth that was capable of holding heat, became precious. Storm and Scout spent less and less time in the village, as they needed to go further and further to hunt. And in the meantime… Rune was making plans on what we could do when we went back out to keep doing his research. This time, he said, he was going to stick to his plan of researching using plants. It would be simpler to do. If everything went according to his plan. We’d leave the moment I was able to go out to hunt again, he said. Though I ended up going out hunting a few times before we left again- Rune kept panicking and saying he wasn’t ready. He needed to make sure he’d be able to follow his plans to the letter.
But… the moment we arrived near the shelter we had built, we knew something was… different.
There was movement in our shelter.
Scout heard it first, and we lingered far from the shelter at first, trying to determine what it was… if it was a threat to us. And we had our answer soon enough. Three humans- a short man and two younger women- walked out of our shelter, looking around it. They all had long, pointed ears that I hadn’t seen before- they were human-like, but strange. Somehow, I felt even more threatened by them than I would have if they looked like regular humans.
My eyes locked onto them, and suddenly, I felt the flame in my veins return. I could feel Rune’s fear… Storm’s fear… and Scout’s fear… and I let a bestial snarl out of my throat.
Immediately, the humans turned, wide-eyed with fear. I wanted to charge at them, chase them off, but Storm suddenly grabbed me, and dug his feet into the ground.
“Don’t do it, Gray.”
Irritated, I growled. But Storm and Rune had placed themselves so that I couldn’t charge without hurting them. And Scout was in front of me, blocking my path even more.
“...Who are you?” I heard Scout, but he sounded harsher, almost hostile to them. The humans were completely silent for a long moment. “Well? Speak. You’re clearly interested in using the shelter we built for ourselves.”
“I’m- I’m sorry, sir,” the male human said. I heard the two girls move behind him. I could smell the fear of all of the humans. “We’re… We thought that this area was completely abandoned, and we were just looking around because it seemed too… new…”
Scout nodded. “I see. You haven’t answered my question.”
“I- I apologize, sir. We are from the kingdom of Akalai. And… may I ask if you all are citizens of Lassania?”
“Absolutely not.” Scout was quick to respond. “We are not friends of Lassania, or anyone else. And I find it… highly surprising that people from Akalai would be here. It’s unbelievable.”
“Should I show them my family’s royal seal…?” One of the girls spoke up. The man hesitated, before looking at Scout.
“Would seeing the family crest of Akalai mean anything to you?”
Scout hesitated. “No. It’s been too long for me to know if it’s real.”
The man winced, and nodded. “Well… I don’t know how to convince you that we’re telling the truth, other than by telling you why we’re here and what we noticed, what brought us here…”
“Then say that.”
“Well, I’m sure that you already know about the war, but… well, some of our scouts noticed that this area is covered in a dark cloud constantly, that seems to engulf the whole region. And… well, spies were also reporting that this region was the source of many fears, and that nobody in nearby towns would go near this region. Our spies tried to get closer, but… well, they’ve claimed to have seen… well… monsters.”
“...Hm.” Scout sounded less hostile, but still harsh. “I would recommend that, in the future, your spies stay far away from this region. It’s sheer luck that they were able to return to your kingdom.”
“Sir, what do you mean by that…?”
“Many things. I’m not sure we have time to discuss the issues fully out here.” Scout turned to look out over the ocean. There was a faint sheen on the water, that seemed to stick to the boat on the shore like oil.
“What is that…?” The man asked.
“It’s dust. The bane of our existence here. We should get inside.”
The humans looked at each other. The taller of the female humans looked panicked.
“The others are still out there…” she said softly.
“Others?” Scout asked, sounding impatient. “How many others?”
“Three,” Harold said. “Our… our guardians.”
“Where are they?”
“We… don’t know, they went to scout out the area.”
Storm and I looked at each other. Some “Guardians” if they weren’t even present. Scout closed his eyes and shook his head. “They’re as good as dead if we can’t find them.”
“Do we really have time?” Storm growled, glancing at the ocean.
“We have to,” the shorter girl said. “I can try to find them…”
“Don’t be a fool,” I said, glaring at her. The dark magic had almost faded, but I felt more irritated and exhausted than before. “You know nothing about the dust.”
“Then let us learn like we want to,” the girl said. I saw the fear in her eyes, but she didn’t back down from me. She took a step forward so that she was next to the man.
“Rune and I can go looking for them,” Storm said. “The rest of you need to prepare the shelter for the storm…”
“You’re not leaving me behind,” I hissed.
“Damn it, Gray, you were barely fit to leave the village…”
“That was just caution and you know it. I’m feeling better. I’m going with. We don’t have time for this.”
“And I’m going with too. Our guardians won’t believe you unless one of us is with you as well. I can help.” The shorter girl walked to us before we got a chance to tell her she shouldn’t. I had to withhold my irritated snarl. The girl was clearly not a fighter; she was thin, with not enough muscle to survive our region. She had carefully groomed black hair, and her clothing was far more clean and had more decoration than was practical; and her skin, while a little darker than mine, looked like it would melt the moment the sun touched it. But there was… perseverance in her dark brown eyes, behind her fear and desperation. I looked away from her.
“Then we should all get going. Now.”