“Two just exited,” Ash says, watching the distant cave through the scope of their rifle as two of the tall Pajonian men exit. The two engage the others already standing outside the entrance, exchanging greetings and quickly falling into jovial conversation.
“Only two?” Bri asks.
“Yeah. I have four at the entrance; the two guards and the two who-” Ash stops as they notice further movement at the entrance of the cave. “Hold on.”
Another Pajonian exits the entrance pulling a rope. They’re followed shortly by a small swarm of short, hairless creatures all tied together by leashes.
“Those are funny looking critters,” Ash snickers over the radio. “Are those the ancients?”
“Yes,” Bri answers.
“It looks like they’ve got a bunch of them. What you need so many ancients for?” Ash asks.
“They have powers,” Cub responds.
“No,” Bri says. “They don’t. That is a myth.”
“No, really,” Cub insists. “I heard they can speak to each other across long distances.”
“Like what we’re doing?” Ash asks.
Cub doesn’t respond.
It takes a while for all of the hairless creatures to exit. They’re followed by four more Pajonians, then several seconds of nothing.
“I only see eight,” Ash reports.
“Nine went in, right?” Cub asks.
“Yeah,” says Ash.
“We’re missing one,” Bri states.
“What do you want to do?” Ash asks.
Bri doesn’t respond immediately. Ash has come to accept that Bri does not like to make rash decisions and will take her time to consider possible actions and reactions before giving orders. The Pajonians don’t seem to be in any rush as they all gather around the group of Ancients.
“Hold positions,” Bri says.
Ash watches the men gather several yards from the cave. The two guards who stayed outside move closer to the group of bound, hairless creatures and begin to poke at them. Ash couldn’t blame them, the creatures were curious to look at. If they were that close, Ash would probably do the same and try to pet them.
Several minutes pass as the Pajonian’s stand around conversing. One of them breaks from the others and returns to the cave entrance where he seems to yell into the opening. Another minute passes and one of the men raises a hand, swirls it in the air and then points towards the woods. The others begin collecting their bags and gear.
“They’re moving out. What are we doing?” Ash asks.
“I don’t think the ninth is coming,” Cub says.
“Alright. Let’s do this,” Bri says. “Eyes on me.”
Ash turns their scope to the cave entrance, then up to a rocky cropping of low shrubs above it. A figure covered in dark fur emerges slowly from the bushes on the hill above the cave and moves, crawling low, almost on their belly, to the edge. Ash zooms in on Bri.
“Got you,” Cub says.
“Ditto,” Says Ash.
Bri raises a furry hand, showing three clawed fingers.
She raises from her belly to crouch at the edge. Two fingers.
She draws her dagger. One finger.
She closes her hand into a fist just as she leaps from the ledge.