“Brother Deacon, are you sure this is the right place?” The small, dark-haired man queried, looking about the crowded taproom.
“C’mon Guiren, I resigned that role a damn year ago.” You chuckle. “It’s the place, I just hope…” You trail off, peering about the room, giving a wordless cry of triumph as you spot a single island of calm in the milling crowd.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Guiren demands, pushing his way through the crowd to stand beside you. “Why are we even here?”
“Because I owe something to an old friend…” You reply, grinning maniacally as you push through the final bodies and into that circle, a Jinko with white and charcoal markings sitting at a table in its precise centre, sipping almost delicately at her drink.
“Gudday.” you drawl. The Jinko’s golden eyes focus on you, before widening in recognition.
“Adam. Sifu.” She states politely, inclining her head. “Has been many years. How I can…” Her voice trails off, her paws trembling as she notices the shorter man at your side. “G-Guiren?” She whimpers, as if scarcely daring to hope.
“No!” Guiren gasps. “It… It can’t be!”
“Guiren!” Chun-Hua cries again, gripping the table as if it were her only anchor to reality.
“Chun-Hua… They… They said you were dead… They said you were…” The Aestenlander resonant babbled, staggering towards her, his mouth hanging open in utter amazement.
With a wordless cry, the Jinko vaulted the table, collecting the Resonant in her paws and bowling over a few less attentive patrons. Crying openly, she clung to him, Guiren’s hands on her cheeks, peering at her in amazement as if he still scarcely believed it.
“Chun-Hua… I’m so, so sorry! If I had known… Merciful Tyris, if I had known!”
“G-Guirennnn…” Chun-Hua wailed, tears of utter joy streaming down her cheeks.
“Do you understand now, Brother?” You ask, a soft smile on your face.
“More than anything.” Guiren grated against the emotion building in his chest. “Hurry. Go to her, and Tyris speed you on your way.”
“…No word of a lie. They actually can’t turn left!” You jest, slapping your knee as the brown-skinned teamster hoots with helpless laughter, his Bungarra scrambling along the packed dirt road which leads across the pitiless expanse of Nulla’s Line.
“Master Adam, no more, I beg you.” The teamster pleads, holding out his hand beseechingly. “Me poor old guts can’t take it.”
“You’re a good man, Frankie. Thanks for the company over the last few weeks.” You smile sincerely.
“We got a bit to go yet!” Frankie declares in puzzlement.
You shake your head. “Not for me. This is where I get off.”
“You mad, Master Adam? There’s nothing but scrub and desert for miles in any direction!” Frankie gasps incredulously.
“I’m mad for ever leaving… necessary though it may have been.” You admit, almost as much to yourself as to him.
“I guess when Tyris maketh a place for a man to die, he directeth a man’s wants to that place.” The sun-browned teamster intoned philosophically.
“Why not?” You shrug, hopping down off the wagon. “Tyris go with you, Frankie.”
“And with you, master Adam, I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for out there.” The teamster calls after you as you trudge out into the scrub. You walk for what feels like hours, the seemingly unchanging scrub all around you. You smile, spotting all the tiny telltale markers that escaped your notice all those years ago. Reaching into your tunic, you pull out the worn rooster-spur totem, its familiar carved length resting against your chest.
Something gives you pause… a sense, an instinct, something familiar, almost deja-vu. You turn, yet are taken aback with surprise when you spy the familiar looking, athletic form of a tawny haired kobold, her obsidian-tipped spear pointed directly at your chest.
“Blue?” You blurt in shock.
“How do you know that name? Who are you? Why do you have the mark of a Pack-Friend?” The Kobold demands, and you begin to notice subtle differences in the Kobold… It wasn’t Blue… but…
It couldn’t be…
“I am Pack-Friend.” You assure the Kobold, trying to control the shaking in your hands. “And I need to speak to your Matriarch. It’s… very important.” You insist.
“Follow.” The Kobold sniffs. “If you get lost, you’ll die.”
You smile at her back, not bothering to tell her that such would be completely impossible. She leads you into the caverns, and occasionally the querying and speculative looks of the Kobolds in the den change into puzzled expressions, as if they almost recognised you…
…Your heart quickened as you approached the beaded hide partitioning off the Matriarch’s chambers. ‘Mum’ would know where Blue was… After so many years, it was almost finished…
Your guide gestured for you to wait outside, pushing aside the hide and entering ahead of you. You heard the murmuring of conversation, and then the hide was pulled back, and you were gestured casually forward with speartip. Entering the chamber, your heart churned as you spied an unexpected figure atop the throne. Unexpected… But familiar…
“Welcome to Nulla’s Line, Pack-Friend…” Blue intoned in a bored monotone, not looking at you “…What aid can we…”
“Blue…” You choked. The Kobold atop the throne sat up as if she’d been physically struck. She stared at you, her heart in her eyes, scarcely daring to believe…
“A-Adz?” She whimpered in a small voice.
“Love… I’m here…” You choke, your throat thick and your vision blurred. You almost don’t see her move, she is so quick. Between one heartbeat and the next she has abandoned the throne and flung herself into your arms, crying unashamedly for sheer joy.
“Oh pup…” You sob “…Oh Love… I missed you so, so much.”
Blue can’t manage words, seemingly content to wail, alternating between clinging to you and beating at your chest with a tawny paw.
“Mother!” Your guide cries in alarm, bursting into the chamber, spear at the ready. “Are you alright? Who is this?”
Blue drags herself back to equilibrium through sheer force of will, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “Well Adz, I guess you’re only seventeen years late… Meet your daughter.”
“My Daughter…” You gasp, and suddenly you couldn’t believe how you were ever ignorant of the fact. “…What… What did you name her?” You choke, not trusting your feet to approach the young Kobold
“Hope…” Blue smiled, beckoning at her. “…come meet your Daddy.”
“Daddy?” Hope whimpers, her eyes going very wide.
“Hope…” You entreat, opening your arms to her. With a wail to echo her mother’s, your Kobold daughter runs into your arms, and the three of you cling together as if you would never be parted again.
“Calliope, M’lord Baron, Handmaiden of Hell’s Throne, on behalf of the Council of Matriarchs.” The Director of Ceremonies recited, his voice reflecting his obvious surprise. “Well bugger me if this ain’t a pearler…” The assorted Landholders murmured in likewise surprise, parting for a pair of Koala as they walked towards the Baron’s High Seat, Their diminutive statures contrasting almost comically with the weight the title bore. The Baron sat up straighter in his seat, his brow furrowed, his lips behind his greying beard pursed in thought.
“Madam, be most welcome to Kalbarri.” The Baron intoned. “Forgive me, but have we… Met?”
The elder Koala laughed, her voice rich and musical. “Baron Chad, have the years changed me so?” she asked, examining a lock of hair, its mousy blonde now closer to the grey fur atop her stubby, rounded ears
Recognition dawned on the face of the Baron, and he laughed delightedly. “Cally! Of course! The caravan to Thealiss… I wondered what had happened to you, once that crazy git from Gibson and I bumped into each other again. You’ve been well?”
“Maou has not left me wanting, My Lord.” Cally replied diplomatically, gesturing to the Adolescent Koala standing somewhat awkwardly to her side. “My daughter Adelle, she is learning what her future role will require of her.”
“Be most welcome, Adelle.” Chad declared kindly. The Adolescent Koala shuffled her feet, ducking her head in an awkward half-bow.
“M’lord…” She mumbled, blushing at the unfamiliar attention.
“So…” the Baron continued, smiling indulgently at Adelle’s awkwardness. “…What brings you to me? I hardly think nostalgia draws one to cross the continent.”
Cally pursed her bowlike mouth. “A potentially delicate matter, M’Lord. If I could indulge upon you?”
“Let it not be said that Kalbarri does not cooperate with the Council…”
“…Issues pertaining to the Murchison Kobolds aside…” Cally quipped.
“Do you disapprove, Madam?” Chad asked with a level gaze.
Cally smiled. “Quite the opposite.”
“Glad I am to hear it. I command all but the Privy Council of the Landholdings of Kalbarri to retire.” Chad ordered presumptively. “Master of Ceremonies. Summon the Commander of the Baronial Waylanders. She’ll likely want to hear this.”
“At once, M’lord.” The silver-haired man replied, ducking his head and signalling to a courtier.
Cally paused, waiting for the rank and file to leave the court, before puzzlement furrowed her brow. “…She?” she queried, before a gold and brown blur bowled her off her feet.
“Mum!” Adelle shrieked, looking on in shock as the Griffon clad in Waylander’s browns held the matronly Koala off her feet, cuddling her close, her short legs entirely off the ground.
“Cally!” The Griffon shrieked joyously, cuddling the Koala fervently.
“Bella…” Chad chided. “…Official business.”
“Glad to… see you too Bella!” Cally panted as the Griffon relaxed her talons’ crushingly enthusiastic grip, allowing the Koala to resume her feet.
“Prithee, forgive me. Yea, was I so caught up in the joy that once again mine friend and boon companion hath indeed, though hazard and duty doth render inclement…” Bella gushed breathlessly.
“Commander… if we may.” The Baron prompted delicately, cutting the Griffon’s verbose greeting short.
“Certes, My Lord.” Bella ceded, bowing her head.
“My Lord…” Adelle ventured hesitantly. “…You have a Mamono commanding your Waylanders?”
“We’d have her on the bloody throne if we could get away with it!” One of the councillors stated with a belly laugh. “Chad had more money though and we were a bit skint.”
“Bella is something of a hero here in Kalbarri, young Adelle.” Chad explained, flipping a rude gesture at the councillor. “I’ve managed to avoid armed insurrection by those who idolize her by making her Commander of the Waylanders… as well as the Barony’s standard.”
“The Griffon in Her Piety…” Cally mused, looking at the stylized standard hanging behind the High Seat. “…Well I suppose that makes sense.”
“Thou all indeed, do make too much of m…” Bella chides with a blush.
“Bugger that!” Another councillor interjects. “Yer Handmaidenship, you won’t BELIEVE the shit she’s managed to accomplish over the last fifteen years or so!”
“Be that as it may…” Chad interjects, rapping a gavel against the arm of his chair to bring attention back to him. “…I believe you had something you needed to discuss with me?”
“Jubjubs, My Lord Baron.”
Chad frowned. “Jubjubs? What in the name of Tyris are Jubjubs?”
“That, My Lord Baron…” Cally sighs with a wry grin “…is our first issue.”
“Certes, I cannot believe thou art… here!” Bella gushed as the Koala relaxed in her quarters. “It bringeth me joy indeed. I only hope that…”
The door suddenly burst open, and a griffon child threw herself across the room and into Bella’s lap, sobbing uncontrollably. “Michelle!” Bella exclaimed in surprise. “What posesseth thee…”
“G-Grace s-said daddy doesn’t l-love meeeeee…” The Griffon sobbed “…T-that’s why h-he doesn’t l-let me watch him worrrrrk!”
“Michelle…” Bella shushes the young griffon softly. “…Thou art speaking nonsense. Thy father loveth thee e’en as I do, my treasure. Thou art letting thy sister bait thee. Thou must hold thyself strong, my beautiful one! Do not let doubt and fear overcome thee.”
“Because thou art ten years old, my treasure, and Court art not a place for a child to be. Weighty matters of great import must be decided. Sometimes, it can be such that thou shalt not understand.” Bella explained.
“I shall deal with thy sister. Run along now. Thou art seeing thy aunt River at the gorges on the morrow, aye?” Bella asked, kissing the child softly on her head.
“Y-yeah… River said there are cliffs there nobody’s ever climbed…” Michelle smiled through her fading tears, hugging her mother briefly before running into the rear of the dwelling.
“If thou wilt excuse me…” Bella stated primly, heading outside. The two Koala jumped slightly as a shrieking snarl of “GRACE! THOU WILT ATTEND ME. NOW!” rang out.
“Is she always this scary?” Adelle murmured to her mother.
Cally smiled a soft smile, squeezing her daughter’s twin-thumbed hand in her own, but said nothing.
Grace sobbed sulkily against the side of the building, her wings covering her face, her tears dripping off her talons with a soft plik-plik on the stone below.
“H-hi…” A hesitant voice ventured. The adolescent griffon looked up to see a short, furry-eared Koala girl standing in front of her, wringing twin-thumbed hands nervously.
“Who’re you?” Grace demanded sulkily, her dark-brown wings parting as she stood.
“I’m Adelle. My mum and your mum are… friends or something. They thought… you know what mums are like ‘Go run along and play!’ like we’re still kids.”
“So uh… your little sister…”
“She’s such a brat!” Grace screeched, as if that hesitant statement was the crack in the dam inside her. “She rubs it in every day! ‘I’m going to see Daddy! I made this for Daddy! Daddy blah blah blah’. Yeah well great. You know who your father is, news flash, gull-chicklet, some of us abide by the fucking Pax and not because some Finance Magnate keeps the fucking word down. Some of us… Don’t ever get to know.”
“Yeah.” Adelle sighed in agreement, sitting down next to the Griffon and putting a clawed hand on her shoulder. “I never got to know my father either. Mum tends to dodge the question. I know his name was Adam, and that they used to travel together, and that there was some heavy stuff that went down…”
“Huh.” Grace sniffed “My dad was named Adam as well… And… yeah.. Well, as far as I can follow mum from one end of a sentence to the other, it was kinda similar.”
“That’s so weird!” Adelle giggled. “Wouldn’t it be freaky if we were like, half sisters?”
“Hah. My mum’s the Waylander Commander and your Mum’s like, a Handmaiden or something from the other side of the continent… That human must have balls made of meteor iron and wings bigger than mums to seduce both of ‘em.” Grace scoffed.
“Yeah, pretty unlikely.” Adelle conceded.
“Hey, do you like watching the Militia recruits train?” Grace ventured.
Adelle frowned. “I… Can’t say I’ve ever done it.”
Grace smiled, wiping the tears from her face as she offered a talon to the Koala. “Want to?”
“Thou wert indeed right about their quick rapport.” Bella remarked, watching as the Koala and Griffon teens headed towards the Militia barracks.
“Trouble loves company.” Cally smiled.
“Thine vexes thee on occasion also?” Bella chuckled.
“Only every other day.” Cally quipped lightly. Bella laughed, putting a talon about the Koala’s diminutive shoulders and hugging her close. The two friends remain thus briefly, quietly enjoying each other’s closeness.
“Parfay, I do dare to surmise that both of them doth receive their willful nature more greatly from their father…” Bella begins suggestively.
“Couldn’t make that singular any less obvious if you tried…” Cally drawled cheekily, looking up and wrinkling her nose at the griffon in whimsical amusement. “…Adam?”
Bella shifts her wings slightly. “Aye. Thee?”
Cally nods affirmation. “By the time I realized I was already in New Botany and on my way north to the Sanctuary. Couldn’t exactly turn around and try and find all of you out in the desert.”
Bella nods, looking off into the middle distance. “Chad and I had lain together some few times… Until she was born I could not be certain ‘twere one or the other.”
“How’s that going, by the way?”
Bella gives a laugh tinged with bittersweet nostalgia. “He art a man married to duty. Though we share admiration and affection for each other, his one true love will always be the Barony. Nay… ‘twere ne’er to last betwixt us.”
“Pity that…” The Koala sighed. “…Have you… heard anything?”
“Nary a whisper. Thee?”
Cally snorts in amusement. “Exactly the opposite. He’s wandered out into the desert. He’s been sighted in the Grand Lodge of the Resonant in Magisterium. He’s threatened to cut the bollocks off three continental Barons. He was in a pitched battle with an IMFC Manowar, a pack of Kraken, and an angry Leviathan and surely drowned. He’s bullying the guards at the Gates of Hell itself…” She breaks off her tirade, taking a deep sobering breath. “…Blue was acknowledged as Matriarch after her Mother passed. Apparently she’s quite the little ball of spite these days. And we know she’d never leave his side willingly.”
Bella makes a noise of agreement. “Hast thou seen her?”
“Nulla’s Line? Apart from the fact I’ve been trying to re-naturalize a WORLD for as close to the last two decades as not, it’s the dictionary definition of ‘Inhospitable’. I wasn’t going to put Adelle at that kind of risk on a possibility. I loved that man… still do if I have to be honest with myself, but I’m not wasting my life chasing after ghosts.”
“Thou wert always sensible.”
Cally sighed heavily. “I wish I hadn’t been sometimes. She wants to know. Wants to know more than I have the words to give her, even in my native language. How do I even admit that I was the one who left? That he ASKED me to stay and I said no?”
“Aye, certes… How dost I say that she art my most precious treasure, yet admit her conception was born of thoughtlessness?” Bella agreed. “That I knew it would not work. That I could not… nay… WOULD not share him were he mine alone.”
The sound of a throat being cleared discretely made the pair of Mamono turn, revealing a Human clad in Waylander’s browns. He scratched self-consciously at the back of his neck, lurking in the doorway to the balcony where they both stood.
“Commander.” He ventured, sketching a rude salute with easy familiarity. “Got a bit of a curly one…”
“Aye Garret? What troubles thee?”
“Well, we caught a Resonant on the docks. Says he’s on his way back to the Aestenlands but can’t produce proof-of-passage. IMFC ain’t saying shit on account of we rolled that smuggler last week.”
“A Resonant in the Australs not actively in-transit to elsewhere is in defiance of the Dominus’s edict. The penalty remains six months hard labour. See him arrested.” Bella replies, her golden brow furrowed. “How is this beyond thee, Garret?”
“Well one, he’s a Resonant…” The Waylander admits.
Bella frowns. “He hath done violence towards thee?”
Garret shook his head. “Him? No. Very eager to see this put to bed peaceably… The Jinko though…”
“Wait, Jinko?” Cally interjects, her eyes wide with concern.
“Yeh Madam. Snow and Charcoal and bloody fury that one. Says if we go near him she’ll… well… it’s a horrible thing to threaten a man with.” Garret winces.
“I’ve met this Jinko before I believe. Chun-Hua.” Cally states soberly. “If you have a way to leave this alone I suggest you take it.”
Garret sucks air through his teeth with a grimace. “See what with Nautilus on the upswing in the Ningaloo again, I really wish we could, but we’re right out in public and all… S’gonna be seen as an open invitation to have barony resources filched.”
“Once more into the Breach…” Bella sighs indulgently, rolling her eyes.
“Thankee, Lady Bella… er… Commander, I mean.” Garret quickly corrects himself. The griffon shoves him good-naturedly with the knuckles of a deadly talon.
“Can I come?” Cally asks, grabbing Bella’s coat insistently. “If it is Chun-Hua, I may be able to… Eeep!” The Koala’s explanation is cut short as Bella presumptively scoops up the Koala into a talon, bearing her bodily skyward.
The Gawping crowd shys back slightly as Bella’s wings kick up a cloud of dust and debris from the docks. The Griffon pauses, setting the Koala down and studying the scene before her. A group of waylanders bearing assorted weapons of varying lethality. A green-tuniced Aestenlander, his dark, angular eyes pleading as he held back the unmistakable form of an enraged Jinko, entreating her in the Tonal language of his homeland.
“Maou…” Bella breathes eagerly “…Such a one would be challenge indeed.”
“Bella!” Cally chides. The Griffon manages to look slightly guilty. Dusting herself off, Cally walks towards the snarling jinko, her claws extended like deadly knives.
“Hello Chun-Hua.” Cally remarks conversationally. “It’s been a long time.”
“Cally.” Chun-Hua snorts, seeming to relax slightly yet still not retracting those claws. “Sifu send you? Chun-Hua kill them too. Me and Guiren go home! Enough time! Enough!”
“Nobody sent me.” Cally assured the Jinko “It’s just… Your companion, Guiren is it? He’s Resonant, they’re… not supposed to be here right now.”
“Hah!” Chun-Hua chuffs. “Then why Sifu-Adam bring Guiren? Why he go into desert?”
“Chun-Hua… That’s… a very old rumor. Adam’s not in the Australs.” Cally sighs dejectedly.
“What crazy you catch that three week mean very old?” Chun-Hua exclaims in shock. The dark-haired resonant visibly winces, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Chun-Hua… We weren’t supposed to tell them that.” He sighs resignedly.
“Three weeks…” Cally gasps. “…You’re sure?”
“Chun-Hua SEE him, Cally. Close as you are to me. He here.” Chun-Hua declares, ignoring her companion’s lament.
“Bella…” Cally pleaded, looking at the Griffon.
“The Law is the Law.” The Griffon replied, then in a softer tone “Prithee… Prove me wrong…”
Cally ponders for a moment, before a faintly naughty smile spreads across her face. “House arrest?”
Bella’s replying smile is like the sun coming up.
“Listen to me Chun-Hua…” Cally begins in the Tonal language of the Aestenlands “…We’re going to make sure you get out of here, but you need to trust me. You need to pretend to submit.”
“How stupid do you think I am, Cally?” Chun-Hua replies.
“Please. I’ll put myself beneath your claws. I promise. Neither you or Guiren are in any danger so long as Bella and I are with you.”
Chun-Hua chuffs again, straightening and putting one paw in the cup of the other in that strange salute. “Submit to Griffon-Waylander.”
The replying cheer from the crowd is thunderous. Bella approaches the pair, putting a Talon on both Human and Jinko’s shoulder after waving the other Waylanders off.
“I shall deal with them myself. Prithee, continue thy duty, that Law may be kept throughout the Barony, as is the Commandment of the Pax.”
“The God Wills it.” The Waylanders reply as one, saluting sharply before dispersing the crowd.
“I thank thee for thy deference and thy Trust, Madam.” Bella murmurs softly to the Jinko as she leads them towards her dwelling. “I did not foresee a simple victory had thou chosen to fight.”
“I know Griffon.” Chun-Hua replies with a brief, tight grin. “Great Warriors, Much Honour.”
“W-What?” The Griffon gasps, her eyes filling with unbidden tears.
“Mountains of Aestenlands. Many Aerie. Sometimes hunt together when Chun-Hua was kitten. You come someday. See for yourself.”
“Steady Bella…” Cally murmurs softly, putting a comforting hand on the Griffon’s back.
“Praise the Gods…” Bella whimpered, barely keeping her balance on leonine paws. “…Praise the Gods…”
“I fear thou shalt have to remain herein, lest the sight of thee at liberty draw loose tongue to gossip.” Bella apologised to the Jinko and Resonant, ushering them into the comfortable if humble room within her spacious dwelling. “We shalt release thee under cover of night that thou mayest return to thy ship.”
“Waylander should lock door. Be extra certain to keep up appearances…” Chun-Hua suggested, looking hungrily at the Resonant next to her.
“Oh, Certes. A most wise and prudent suggestion!” Bella agreed, barely suppressing a wicked smile.
“Tyris preserve me…” Guiren sighed, raising his eyes to the heavens.
Bella closed the door, pulling the bolt with a solid ‘click’. To say that the sound of body impacting upon body was instantaneous would be a falsehood, but not by much. The question of who the aggressor was, known only to the Gods.
“That’s so sweet…” Cally gushed, wiping an unbidden tear from her eye. “…Did Adam ever tell you about them?”
“He did make mention, yea… I do not think he ever went into detail.” Bella admitted, walking with Cally into her sitting room, a large, airy, comfortable space. “Prithee, I wonder if he dragged Guiren here by the scruff of the neck or if he came willingly?”
“Knowing Adam, he probably made something up and blindsided Guiren with it at the last possible moment.” Cally chuckled. “He so did like leading people into happy surprises. It was one of his most endearing qualities… Ahh… Anyway, did you manage to make contact with the person you sought?”
“Sugar you’re just the sweetest but there ain’t nothin’ wrong with my legs…” A woman’s voice chided in a broad Westerland accent from without the door to the building.
“I know Ivy, just… in your condition…” a male voice objects.
“I’m Pregnant, Y’big goose, not sick.” The woman retorts, as a knock sounds at the door.
“Prithee, enter, Miss Ivy, I hath awaited thy arrival.” Bella called clearly.
The door opens, the frame filled with a broad-shouldered Human, rich, brown beard falling to his chest, his solid body moving aside to deferrently allow the entry of a VERY heavily pregnant Taurean. Spotting Bella, she smiles sunnily.
“Well howdy Commander! How y’all doin’?”
“I am passing well indeed, Miss Ivy. Prithee, be seated, compose thyself in what comfort I can offer thee.”
“Well thankee hon…” Ivy replies, making her way to a cushioned chair and sitting with a sigh. The man pulls a footstool from beside the chair, setting it under the Taurean’s digitigrade hooves. “…John-boy, you done spoil me too much.”
“Never.” The man replies with a soft smile.
“Ooh! My stars, we ain’t properly introduced ourselves!” Ivy declares, spotting Cally. “I’m Ivy, Trade Factor for Tenno and Goldstein, and this here is my attache, John of Red Rock Holding.”
“Madam.” John murmurs, tugging a forelock at Cally.
“Freeman.” Cally responds with warm politeness.
“John-boy here done runs a lot of the more standin’ up side of the business on account-a I’m carryin’ a bit extra around. He also ain’t a half bad apothecary and cook, not to mention…” Ivy began.
“…He’s the father of your child.” Cally remarks simply “Just to get that out of the way.”
“Madam!” John blusters. “I don’t know what you’re…”
“Oh sugar hush yo’ mouth. What’d I tell you about tryin’ to bamboozle a Mamono about stuff like that? We all know how it works behind closed doors, am I right girls?” Ivy chuckles conspiratorially.
“Well…” John murmurs, staring at the Taurean with eyes full of love and devotion. “…Can you blame me?”
“Parfay, not one bit.” Bella assures him with a wave of a talon. “But ‘tis not what I hath requested thy presence for.”
“Mmm?” Ivy queries wordlessly.
“Adam of Gibson Holding. We hath come into information that he may have returned to the Australs. We would seek confirmation of this claim.”
“Golly-gee… Now that sure is a name I ain’t heard in some years…” Ivy admits. “Sugar? Can you done run through the list and see if that brilliant lil’ ol’ brain o’yers can’t dredge something up?
“Of course Ivy.” John agrees, squeezing the Taurean’s shoulder before his eyes go distant, the lids flickering rapidly.
“What is he doing?” Cally asks in confusion.
“Searchin’ through the transaction records. He done got an eidetic memory. Part o’what called me to hire him in the first place. That and he’s hung like a…”
“Found it.” John interrupts. “He made a number of transfers back to Gibson Holding prior to its closure from the office in Magisterium. Miss Tenno herself verified them… His remaining funds are… quite humble in comparison… Wait. A note… Port Fremantle, Cicerello’s Hotel, Four weeks ago? It could be a mistake…”
“No…” Cally whimpers, her mouth suddenly very dry. “…That’s him. Cicerello’s was… somewhere special for him.”
“What dost thou wish to do?” Bella asked gently.
“Miss Ivy. I shall require funding sufficient to contract a suitable wagon for a trip to Nulla’s…” Cally began.
“Nay.” Bella interjected.
“Bella, The Council will cover my costs.” Cally retorted.
“Nay. I wilt bear thee. Grace shalt bear Adelle. Together, we shall go, we four, and do what we should have those years hence.” Bella stated in a tone that brooked no disagreement.
“Well I declare…” Ivy replies in surprise. “…Tell him I said howdy, I s’pose.”
“Mum…” Grace laments as they land on the flat plain, barren of all but low, tough salt-scrub “…There is NOTHING here.”
“I don’t want to complain, what with Gracie carrying me and all, but we flew for three days… for this.” Adelle adds.
“Sorry it’s not to your standards…” A voice quips mockingly, the four Mamono turning to see a youthful Kobold in her late teens, leveling an obsidian spear at the group, a snarling band likewise armed behind her. “…What do you want?”
Grace gives a hissing screech, spreading her wings and talons instinctively. Cally holds up a clawed, twin-thumbed hand. “Hold Grace.”
“Must she so quickly assume an attitude of repose?” Bella asks, near-swelling with pride to see Grace’s willingness to fight.
“Bella…” Cally chides, failing to suppress her own amusement.
“As thou wilt, Handmaiden.” Bella sighs. “Grace, abate thou for a moment.”
The Griffon teen relaxes, if somewhat reluctantly, as the Koala begins to speak to the Kobold in their harsh, guttural tongue. The young Kobold at the van starts, barking a few obvious questions, then laughs delightedly. “Come! Come Pack-Friends all. Mum’ll be STOKED to see you again!”
“Mum?” Bella echoes confusedly, as the Kobolds Beckon them into the rude entrance of a cave, until then hidden by masses of shrubs and dead vegetation.
The four were led through dim passages, Kobolds staring at them in open curiosity as they passed. They paused at the young Kobold’s signal before a beaded-hide curtain, separating a cavern from the passage they stood in. The young Kobold headed inside, and dim sounds of speech could be heard within. Cally’s grin grew broader with each passing moment, until the curtain was pulled aside, the young Kobold beckoning them within.
The Kobold on the hide and wicker throne grinned expansively, squirming in her place. “Can we agree, ladies…” She began. “…That I was all proper and noble and shit?”
Cally smiled openly, opening her arms to the Kobold. “Of course Blue, we wouldn’t tell a soul otherwise!”
“ADORABEAR!” The Kobold shrieked, bowling the Koala over in her mad rush, showering her face with kisses. “AND FEATHERS!” She continued, vaulting at the Griffon, collecting her about the waist and almost bearing her to the ground with the effusiveness of her greeting.
“Maou be gracious…” Adelle sighed, putting her face in her clawed hand and shaking her head helplessly “…Our mums are so weird…”
“You think you’ve got it bad…” the Kobold who had guided them remarked, leaning on her obsidian spear.
The teens giggled at their private joke as the three friends tearfully embraced, relishing in the closeness the years had so harshly denied them.
“So…” Blue gasped, wiping her eyes. “…What can I do for you?”
“We heard Adam had returned to the Australs… We have… News for him.” Cally explained delicately.
“Oh?” Blue remarked in surprise, before her eyes panned over the teenagers. “OH!” She remarked, giggling uncontrollably.
“Wait. Did she say Adam?” Grace demanded, her talons trembling and her eyes wide.
“Matriarch!” A Kobold cried from beyond the curtain. “The Master returns.”
“We will receive our Husband…” Blue declared with a haughty affection, before devolving into giggles once again.
“Blue, why are the girls actin’ so bloody weird, and what’s with…” A familiar voice grated as a man entered the chamber, his hair bleached from the sun and his beard wild and unkempt. He paused as he saw the gathering, rubbing his eyes as if he scarcely believed what they told him. “…Cally? Bella?”
“Hello Adam…” Cally smiled warmly.
“Prithee, dear, dear friend.” Bella added “It is most welcome to see thee again.”
“Mum…” Adelle cried in alarm, gripping Grace by the talon in nervous unwillingness to believe what her intuition told her was true.
“Mum?” Adam echoed dumbly? “Cally? Bella? These are your daughters?”
“Dad…” The young Kobold whuffled, rolling her eyes as she put familiar paws around the shoulders of her fellow teenagers. “…How many bloody sisters are you gonna surprise me with?”
“Hope, what in the name of Tyris are you…” Adam began in puzzlement, before the other shoe dropped with a near-audible ‘thunk’. “…Oh.”
“S-so… the whole weird thing?” Adelle ventured, smiling shyly at Grace.
“Y-yeah…” Grace replied, not trusting herself to look at the Koala
“I-I’m… I’m okay with it, if you are.”
The ghost of a smile grew on Grace’s face as she raised her eyes to look at her friend… No… Her SISTER. “Y-yeah.”
“Girls… Am I gonna have to do something drastic to get a bloody hug right now?” Adam chuckled helplessly, as the trio of teenagers flew into his arms, bowling him bodily to the stone floor.
“Well that went well…” Cally remarked, dashing unbidden tears from her eyes as she was embraced by Griffon and Kobold on either side.
“What HAPPENED to you?” Cally demanded, relaxing against the hides their daughters giggling as they discussed the secret business known only to teenagers on the cusp of womanhood.
“What fuckin’ DIDN’T happen, Cal.” Adam sighed, tearing the white, moist flesh from a bungarra bone with his teeth and hands. “Bloody Lodge did to me precisely what they did to Rhaziael. Put me in a fuckin’ spot where I had to choose between the world and me own bloody desires.”
“Prithee, they doth seem most capable in that regard…” Bella hiccuped, tossing a cleaned bone into the merrily crackling fire.
“Not fuckin’ wrong.” Adam agreed, patting the Griffon absently on the head.
A snarl interrupted them as a Bull Kobold began pacing around the fire towards the trio of teenagers.
“No! Bad Jimmy!” Hope snapped chidingly. The Bull ignored her, flexing its muscular torso and bearing frightening teeth.
“Sit DOWN, Fuckya!” Adam roared at the Bull in an unmistakable tone of Authority. The Bull instantly cowered, scrambling back around to the other side of the fire, hiding itself behind a group of chattering Kobolds who largely ignored its presence. “Fucks sake… Just when you think you’re starting to make progress with the cunt.”
“Yours?” Cally asked delicately.
Adam snorted derisively. “No, thank Tyris. That’s Rey’s boy. She came here pregnant after Gibson folded. Still, he’s me nephew… And by The God I WILL civilize him, even if it kills me.”
“Parfay, I am sorry to hear of the demise of thy family holding.” Bella replied sympathetically.
“Cheers Bel, but it wasn’t as bad as it coulda been. After Dad passed Simmo was doin’ alright, then you got a couple of big concerns managed to rip all the money outta Bungarra… Gibson just… couldn’t pull its weight any more. Helped out as much as I could from Magisterium but a few Solar Marks only goes so far. Simmo and Skye went over east, breeding consultants on a farm outta Wagga from what I hear. He’s makin’ enough coin to keep ‘em goin’. Seems happy enough.”
“And his son?” Cally prompted.
Adam laughed helplessly. “You won’t fuckin’ believe it right? So young Harry shows a talent for numbers. ‘Course the first thing that happens is Juni the Danuki snaps him on up. Now. I ask you. What’s the LAST thing you’d think a Faith Militant-centric Abbey would teach?”
“Adz…” Blue chides, cuddling into the Resonant’s side. “…Just tell them so they can laugh too.”
“Yes Matriarch… ya pushy bitch…” Adam retorts in a warm, caring tone. “…Dancing.”
“Prithee, I fear I heard thee wrong.” Bella remarks in confusion.
“Tyris as me witness. Dancing!” Adam snickers. “So Juni’s fuckin’ tryin’ to pull everything she pulled on me and more, and fuckin’ Harry, The God fuckin’ bless him, just holds out his hand and spins her around the office until she’s a drooling, quivering fuckin’ mess. What I hear he’s answerin’ to Goldstein directly these days, and Juni’s never been so fuckin’ happy. The way shit works out, yeh?”
“Mmm…” Cally muses, chuckling helplessly at the thought. “…Oh! Ivy sends her regards.”
“Yeh? She’s doin’ orright? We kinda left on less than ideal terms as I remember.” Adam asks sincerely.
“She has a man who positively worships the ground she walks on, and is, from what I can see, deliriously happy.”
“Well I can’t blame HIM.” Blue remarks. “I mean… The ARSE on that woman!”
“You’re a fuckin’ satyr love.” Adam chides.
“…But I’m glad she’s happy.” Blue continues after absently punching her Resonant lover. “…She deserves a little happiness after everything.”
“Mum, Dad?” Hope ventures, wandering up to the four adults, Grace and Adelle in tow. “The wisps are running tonight… can… can we go?”
“Ladies?” Adam grins, looking at each in turn.
“Shit yeah!” Blue remarks. “If I wasn’t so comfy I’d fuckin’ come with!”
“Oh… Oh dear.” Bella chuckles. “Grace, my treasure, possess thine heart in moderation. Yea…”
“Muuuuum…” Grace groans, rolling her eyes and shifting her wings.
“If you get mana-head…” Cally remarks simply to Adelle, before expanding her gaze to encompass the other two “…I shall bully you relentlessly.”
“She’s not kidding.” Adam assures them all. “Be safe, have fun. Love you.”
The Adults watch in silence as the teens scramble from the cavern, a few of the more adventurous Kobolds following in their trail.
“Fuckin’ Hell…” Adam chuckles.
“There are going to be some very sore girls tomorrow morning.” Cally laughs.
“Certes.” Bella agrees, expanding her wings to encompass the group.
“I was thinkin’….” Blue ventures.
“S’dangerous.” Adam quips.
“Adz!” The Kobold laments in objection. “I mean… I miss you girls. Like… I MISS you girls.”
“What, you’re thinkin’ one more for the road pup?” Adam chuckles disbelievingly. The crackle and pop of the fire meets the Kobold’s silence.
“Well…” Cally muses thoughtfully.
“It hath indeed been… some time…” Bella admits.
“Is that a yes?” The Kobold presses, a thrilled grin on her face.
“Oh, Maou hang it, why not.” Cally smiles, grabbing Blue’s paw in a twin-thumbed hand. “Why don’t you show us where you two go to be alone?”
“Hey there!” Hope greets the young boy, who puts himself in front of the Emerald and Violet Lamia protectively.
“Awww… Did you two get lost?” Grace asks meltingly, taking a knee on leonine paw and folding her wings behind herself.
“What’s your names?” Adelle encourages, smiling warmly.
“I-I’m Bruce…” The boy offers hesitantly. “…And this is Sharaya. Youse don’t have any water do you? We’re real thirsty.”
Against all expected odds, a raven caws in the star studded blackness, a shape moving against the pinpoint stars as it fades into the ebon sky above…