It had taken some time to get the last of Avians rounded up and moved to a secure location.
Ardul had been kept busy with that and had only seen Hunter briefly when he bought his bot forward to collapse the tunnels.
Tensions were still running high. Pegi and Felipe were wary of Ardul and possibly not a little afraid of Hunter.
Things have settled enough to let the blonde depart the caves, leaving the other two to tend to ill.
She’s sitting on one of the ‘cliff’ edges, cleaning up her helmet as best she can. She’s still wearing her armour – she won’t take it off, out here.
There’s a bottle of something and two mugs set out on the ground beside her. Perhaps she’s expecting someone to join. Perhaps she’s hoping someone will, because she sure as hell isn’t certain where he is at the moment.
It’s about an hour to night and the sun is starting to dip low over the marshes. It’s quite pretty out here – if one doesn’t consider the flora and fauna that might want to eat you. Speaking of, there are calls echoing across the marshes … things starting their evening forage and hunt, perhaps?Where Hunter had been is a good question. He’d been beyond furious and had refused to talk to anyone. She hears his booted footfalls in the distance. They stop somewhere behind her and no sound comes for a good couple of minutes.
“I don’t really feel like drinking.” The wolfen says quietly. Okay. He’s still upset. Hard to blame the man all things considered. His travelling companions have worked quite hard at pissing him off.
Although Ardul doesn’t turn to look as the footfalls draw closer, there can be no mistaking that she’s alert. Alert keeps you alive, she learned that early in her career. Pity it didn’t help when they came for her and Princep Nina.
She’s not opened the bottle or poured anything yet, she’s been busy polishing her helmet. Watching her, it’s clear that she gets some form of relaxation from the activity. “I always found that when my officers were stressed or pissed off, a quiet drink watching the sunset helped.” she says equally as quietly “Not that you’re one of my officers.” She knows he’s pissed off. How she feels about what happened, isn’t clear. Maybe she’s used to having to deal with these types of things.
“It’s beautiful out here. I hadn’t expected it to be so.” She’s twisted her hair up into a messy bun, it’s hot and humid in the swamp. Hunter can see the telltale stripes of the scars that cover her shoulders and disappear down her back. Well, he might imagine they do. She’s rarely without her armour, so it’s hard to tell.
“The Avians are secured. Those healthy enough have been contained in a cell ready for transport back to Vesper. I rather imagine though, you’d like to deal with *them in a different way.” It’s not phrased as a question, but it is… delivered as such. “Things were different for you, weren’t they?”“Depends on what you mean by different. Are there any who cannot be secured in some manner?”
Hunter hasn’t moved any closer and he’s clearly not in much of a mood to talk. That he’s talking probably says more about Ardul than anything else. It’s instructive to note that he hasn’t changed out of his armor either. It’s a lighter set, designed in part to help keep a bot pilot cool in the literal heat of mechanized combat.
“Quiet drink watching the sunset sounds like the luxury of a peacetime army.” Hunter doesn’t know that for certain of course but it’s hard to imagine any other time when that would be possible let alone safe.
“No, there aren’t. They’re all secured. I’ll be wanting to move tomorrow morning and return to Vesper with them. The Armsmen will be able to deal with them.” She hasn’t looked in his direction but she can tell he’s not moved any closer. “From what you’ve said and what I’ve seen, you’ve come from a place where ‘tough justice’ seems to be the rule of law. I’m not sure if that’s what you’d call it here. Vesper is similar, the Justicars don’t seem to get too involved if altercations between individuals that result in death are in self defence. Though people seem to be … careful there not to get on the wrong side of them.”
His other observation has her snorting “For the most part, you’re correct. We were more peacekeepers than anything. War, large scale war, wasn’t something we saw often. My Grandmother was the last of our family to serve in any large conflict.” she falls silent for a moment and a roar echoes out over the marshes. Not too far from them, a dinosaur lumbers out the shrubby trees on their across the marsh. Searching for something? Maybe. “Well, we were Peacekeepers till the end. Then Nina’s uncle decided he wanted the throne and threw the Nation into civil war. You’re right, there wasn’t much time for such luxuries when that happened.”“Here?” Hunter gestures around them. “There is no law here. People do what they want, and they’re able to and they’re only stopped by other people strong enough to stop them. In Vesper you’ve got a government. You’ve got Justicars. You’ve got a whole society that agrees that things should be a particular way. Even in Saren’s Rest you have the dragon’s rules: Don’t burn down the city and pay your taxes. Out here? There’s not even that.”
The wolfen glances away toward where the captive avians are held. “It’s a day and a half back to the Vesper border if everything goes well and hours after that to get to the city itself. Not many of the original caravan are left. We’re running a pretty big risk with our safety and supplies taking them with us.” Clearly he very much disapproves of this course of action.
“And that’s what I meant by different.” Ardul focusses on her helmet, working at one of the more intricate pieces of metal work with the cloth she’s holding. “You live by the rule of might, more than anything. It’s your go to action – be the bigger … wolf … with the louder growl and the bigger teeth. I can see how that serves you out here.”
She’s certainly not disagreeing but she comes from a society where the rule of law was everything. Her role, apart from keeping Nina alive and advising the woman when appropriate, was to enforce those laws.
She glances back to where they’ve secured their prisoners. There aren’t many. Five. The other six were all ill and being tended by Felipe. “I’m aware of that, Hunter.” she says quietly “And with the sick, the danger is increased even more so.”
Now she does look at him, holding her helmet loosely in her hands as she does, the polishing and cleaning forgotten for the moment. “You don’t sound like you think we should try transporting them back. What would you do, then?” She’ll listen. She might not like what she hears and she might not agree with it – but not everything she does is to her liking.“Kill them.” Hunter says without a moment’s thought. “Can’t leave ’em. If we do they’ll find another place to hide out and be raiding caravans again inside a month. If we take them with us we risk running out of food or water on the way, plus the vastly increased chance that one of them will somehow get loose and kill some or all of us in our sleep. That crawler is going to slow us down pretty significantly and it looks like the avians were planning on hunting for their food or raiding it from a nearby tribe. Most of the food here will spoil inside a day if we take it with us. Not a whole lot of it is preserved and ready to move.”
Hunter looks very seriously at Ardul. “Mercy is not a trait that serves travellers well out in the wild. When you’ve got plenty of backup, guns, food and water you can afford to be merciful. This? This is just asking for trouble, moving their sick and wasting medicine on them. Slows us down, makes us vulnerable and it has nothing to do with what we came here for.”
And Hunter hasn’t mentioned that whatever had afflicted the other Avians was spreading. The ones that aren’t sick now, most likely will be within another day or two if what Felipe and the caravan medic were saying was true.
Ardul sighs, grey eyes clouding with consternation at his recommendation. Turning from him and looking back out over the marshes, the Winged Warrior is quiet for a very long time. He might think she isn’t going to respond given how long she is quiet for.
“I know.” she finally says. “It’s been exercising me. I haven’t spoken to Pegi and Felipe about it, I rather suspect they’ll argue to keep them alive or try to stay here with the ill until reinforcements can be sent out to them. Pegi will say she can hunt, I’m sure.” beat “Is it mercy to try and take the ill and make them suffer?”
“It will crush the other two, if I do this…”“To an extent, whether or not we //can// keep them alive is immaterial. There is no way for us to do that without taking extra time and risk here in the swamp and she’ll be trying to feed another more than a dozen extra mouths. She’d have to bring down a dinosaur to do that and we’d spend half a day butchering it and cooking it.” Hunter points out. He’s being rather coldly pragmatic here.
“There isn’t any help that’s going to come to us, I can say that with near-certainty. Vesper won’t send armsmen or justicars out this far just for this. We could try to raise the merchant company and get them to send mercenaries to help with the escort but they’re not going to want to haul these bird brains back any more than I do. Less, when you consider that they killed some of their friends. So either we haul them back with the people we have now or we kill them. Cutting them loose is too dangerous.”
Ardul may not make a decision right now and she’s probably right that Pegi and Felipe won’t support anything but bringing them back and trying to treat them. The practicalities of the matter, though, make it near-certain that trying to do so will not be a simple matter.
“Also, I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to remain. I didn’t sign up for this.” And there’s a lot of ‘this’ going on that he didn’t sign up for, Ardul will know.
It’s likely the caravan medic who was held as a hostage won’t support anything but taking the sick back.
Ardul shakes her head though “We can’t cut them loose, I agree and reinforcements, there was a reason the Armsmen sought out contractors like ourselves.” The blonde is quiet, not looking at the Wolfen. He might be coldly pragmatic, but that doesn’t make him any less right and she damn well knows it.
“I’ll think on it. I have a few hours to make the decision and tell the others.” And it will come down to her telling them how it will be and weathering … what comes next. If she makes the decision, she’ll carry out the task. She’ll likely send the others on ahead and catch up with the group. A little dangerous, but …
His last statement gets the most response he’s had from her in the whole discussion. Her wings flex in a reflexive twitch and her back stiffens. “You’ll make whatever decision you need to make.” She says, even more quietly than before. “You signed up to find the caravan and return it, though. We’ve found the caravan, it is yet to be returned.” She knows he’s not been happy with how the group has been behaved and she can’t entirely blame him, but the job is not finished.
She won’t push the issue though. Unhappy squad members make for poor situations. “When will you know if you’re staying or not?”“I signed up to find a missing caravan and return it. I did not sign up to haul back a dozen extra mouths to feed who might cut our throats if we don’t watch them carefully enough. Job’s changed or at least so long as half the team insists on this insanity it has. So at the end of the day either I get paid a //lot// more, or this contract is void.”
Hunter’s got a personal quest to see to and a bot to keep operational. Ardul should know pretty well that he doesn’t do either of those things by taking bad contracts, or working for charity. “I’ll know this evening.”
“Very well. If you decide to stay, you can have my share of the remuneration. I’ll negotiate the rest when I return to Vesper. There’s not much I can do out here.” Ardul doesn’t even really think about it before the words leave her mouth.
There’s nothing more for her to say to that, it’s a bad deal for her either way it falls now. She’s still got the caravan to escort – with or without Hunter. Without Hunter, it’s a damn sight more dangerous. With Hunter, it’s just expensive. She’s running at a loss until she knows that the Armsmen will pay more because the job changed. If it has.
They probably will but she’s learned not to gamble. The last time she did, that’s where the scars came from.
“I’ll leave you to it, then. I’ve security rounds to complete and thinking to do.” she says as she collects the items around her. “Be well, Hunter.”“Don’t think you can really afford my rates, Ardul. I’ll take it up with the Armsmen directly. If I decide to stay.” This will very likely result in some unhappy armsmen or at least some armsmen who are unhappy with specific people. Hunter’s been around long enough and has enough of reputation to know names.
How exactly that might play out with the other members of the caravan… remains to be seen.
With the Avians secured, Ardul seeks some quiet time and speaks with Hunter about the options to getting back to Vesper. The tense situation continues.
March 10, 2410