The Dark Empire, Page 17-20 by Wolfenshire ()
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The Dark Empire, Page 17-20
Roael dropped a ladle of oatmeal in a bowl and put it on the tray of the next hatchling in line. Boae then deposited three raw fish on the tray next to the bowl, and Sern filled two wide cups with water and added to the tray.
“The hatchling wrinkled her nose and asked, “Which am I supposed to eat, I think the raw fish looks better than the oatmeal?”
The cub next to her bounced up and down excitedly. “The fish is mine, gimme gimme gimme.”
“Keep moving,” said Moeth, trying to keep order in the line. “Take your breakfast outside, and don’t forget to bring your dishes back. If I find one dish left outside, everyone will have extra chores.”
Boae retrieved three more fish from one of the buckets at his feet. “This isn’t enough calories for the tigers.”
Roael nodded. “I know, and the kids can’t live on oatmeal forever. I like being off the grid here, but we’re going to have to move on if we can’t figure something out.”
Casath and her Darai Rider, Liaem, Lilaena’s younger brother, pushed in front of the next hatchling in line. The protests were immediate and brought a cascade of cries. “Hey, no cutting.”
“I’m not cutting in line,” Casath snapped back with a growl, then looked up at Roael. “Grath is missing, I’ve looked everywhere.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” said Roael with a reassuring smile. “He’s probably just outside playing.”
“Grath doesn’t miss breakfast, ever,” said Casath.
“Roael, Roael,” a voice shouted over the chatter of the hatchlings in line. Roael, and everyone else, turned to see Tomaes pushing his way through the crowd, with Grath right behind him.
Roael gestured towards Tomaes with the ladle. “Well, there you go, mystery solved.”
Casath turned toward Grath. “Where have you been, I’ve been so worried.”
Grath lowered his ears, and mumbled, “Sorry.”
Tomaes was out of breath and put his hands on his knees. “Roael, you have to come right now, I have to show you something,” said Tomaes between gulps of air.
“Slow down and get your breath, then tell me what happened?” said Roael.
Tomaes stood up straight and put his hands on his hips. He took a deep breath and began. “I took Grath out to go potty last night, then we went to get a drink of water from the creek, then we walked down to the end of the beach, then on the way back Grath fell in hole, but it was too deep to get out.”
Roael held up a hand. “Why didn’t you come get help?”
“I…uh…I fell in the hole too,” said Tomaes. “It was dark so we just waited until someone came to find us.”
Roael could see the obvious lie. Tomaes hadn’t fallen in the hole, he had jumped in because it was dark and he hadn’t wanted to leave Grath alone, but to say it out loud that Grath had been scared would set off a round of teasing from the other cubs and hatchlings. Roael’s opinion of Tomaes just went up.
“Continue your story,” said Roael.
“We fell asleep and just woke up, but we didn’t see it in the dark,” said Tomaes. “There was a ladder built into the wall, so I put Grath on my back and climbed out. But there’s something else there also, you have to come see, I think our enemy is here.”
Saem, standing nearby rolled his eyes. “Oh please, he’s obviously lying,” said Saem. “You want us to believe you carried Grath up a ladder.”
“He’s not that heavy,” replied Tomaes. “My dad’s a carpenter and I had to carry bundles of wood all the time for him.”
Roael believed that was true. Tomaes might be short for his age, but the boy had broad shoulders. He was likely raised doing heavy chores. There was a hidden strength to Tomaes the others couldn’t see.
“He’s lying,” insisted Saem.
“Enough,” said Moeth. “I am not convinced of Tomaes’ story either, but we can’t afford not to check it out. Roael, Boae, you’re with me. Sern, you and Saeber get everyone back on the train. Jasai, get the train started and be ready to go. Raen, I want you and Koael in the air and search the island and get a good look at the ocean around us. If you see any threat, get back to the train and take everyone somewhere safe.”
Grath ignored Moeth when she told him to stay on the train, which was very much out of character for the small tiger. Tomaes tried to tell Grath to go back, but he stubbornly refused and stayed defiantly next to him.
“Grath, go back to the train,” ordered Moeth.
“Let him come, I think their adventure last night made Grath’s mind up about who he wants as a Rider,” said Roael, coming to the little tiger’s defense. “Anyway, if it comes to a fight, Grath is still sixty pounds of teeth and claws.”
Moeth glared at Roael. “Saem will make a much better fighter, but we don’t have time for this right now, if he’s coming then he’s your responsibility.”
Roael decided not to argue with her, he would have to have a long talk with her later. He knew she cared for the cubs and hatchlings, but she was causing as many problems as she was fixing. She didn’t really understand the Sherata culture. Roael followed as Tomaes led the way through the palm trees to the hole.
“Down there,” Tomaes said, arriving at the hole.
Moeth did something nobody had seen her do before. She reached under her cloak and retrieved her Needle Rifle from its holster. She saw the surprised expressions on Roael and Boae’s face. “The enemy has already proved to have advanced weapons and we don’t know their disposition,” she explained. “This is now the appropriate weapon. Stay here, I’ll call if it’s clear.”
Moeth jumped into the hole and landed lightly on her feet. The hole was perhaps ten feet deep and widened to around fifteen feet across at the bottom. She saw the ladder Tomaes had used to escape mounted against a concrete wall, and adjacent to that was a door similar to an airlock hatch one might find on a spacecraft. Inscribed on the door was an upside down triangle, or pyramid, with a squiggly line that could have been the universal symbol for water. It was the same symbol that had been on the wagons that attacked them.
She laid her hand on the door, it was cool to the touch and no visible alarms went off. “Boae, come on down. Roael, remain on egress overwatch.”
Boae jumped into the hole and landed silently next to Moeth. Moeth reached under her cloak again and retrieved another weapon even more illegal than a Needle Rifle – a Sliver Pistol. She handed the pistol to Boae. “Have you used one of these before?”
Boae looked at the gun. “I don’t need a firearm.”
Moeth frowned and put the gun back inside her cloak. She backed up to the far wall, slightly off center of the door, and knelt. She pointed her rifle at the door and clicked the safety off. “You’re not invincible, I hope you don’t have to learn the hard way. Go ahead, open the door.”
Boae wasn’t going to argue, not yet, but soon. He pulled the wheel left and it rotated without resistance. “The Creators really knew how to build stuff to last,” noted Boae.
“Or it’s been regularly serviced,” whispered Moeth. “Now concentrate, if there’s someone on the other side of that door, this could go bad quick.”
Boae continued to turn the wheel. He watched as Moeth’s body faded into the shadows. Boae was impressed, she would be a great Shadow Master someday, but she had a crack in her armor that needed fixed. The wheel clicked and Boae pulled the door open a crack, then faded to a shadow and slipped through the barely opened door. This is what Moeth just refused to accept, Boae was already a Shadow Knight, which was a Shadow Master. She had only trained for one winter with a Shadow Master, but Boae had trained for ten years with one.
Moeth cursed under her breath. “Is everyone going to defy me today, why am I even here?” She rushed forward and pulled the door the rest of the way open. There was a dark hallway beyond with open doorways set at intervals along the wall. Boae was nowhere to be seen. She moved to the first doorway and looked inside, it looked like it might be laboratory. She saw a shadow at the end of the hall moving back and forth from room to room – it was Boae clearing each room. She walked along the edge of the wall until Boae came out of the shadows and stopped next to her.
“Nobody has been here for a very long time,” said Boae.
Moeth’s lips were pressed together in anger. “Showing off gets you killed.”
“So does underestimating people,” replied Boae.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” asked Moeth, her voice low and deadly.
Boae gestured back at the door. “Tomaes and Grath could have guarded the egress.”
“You’re mad because I left your brother to guard the entrance?” asked Moeth.
“You’re constantly looking down your nose at me and my brothers, I’m getting a little tired of it, and the way you questioned Grath’s decision to choose Tomaes was insulting. Tomaes has a hidden strength of character you refuse to see. You practically called him a liar in front of everyone. You know, I was small for my age too, but look at me now.”
That took Moeth back for a second. Boae saw himself in Tomaes and that was probably what he was really angry about. “It was not my intent to insult Tomaes, or Grath, or you and your brothers.”
“I’m going to go get Jasai and Sern, they have the most experience with Creator tech,” said Boae. “We need to find out what this place is.” Boae stepped around Moeth and headed towards the door.