Storm of Fortunes: Part One
Much thanks goes to Kristykimmy. Without her help, this story may never have been published.
The screen flickered into life. A Kougra stepped back into view, anxiously wet her lips.
"I'm sorry, Wolf," she said in a hushed whisper. "I've failed. They still have them. It's... look at this."
She held up a sheet of paper. A jumble of seemingly random numbers and letters had been haphazardly scrawled on it. She kept it there for a few moments, before drawing her paw away and proceeding to tear the sheet into shreds.
"Remember," her voice trembled, "the bit in the middle is the most important. Get it to Clark."
There was an explosion, and a shrill scream, and then the screen went black.
Tyson hated travelling.
He sat by the carriage window, grim faced, trying not to feel nauseous. Beside him hunched Wolf. For its part, the wraith Korbat seemed unaffected by the constant shuddering of the vehicle as it rolled amongst the mountain's foothills. Then again, Tyson wasn't even sure if wraiths had stomachs with which to feel nausea, or indeed any internal organs. Certainly- from what of the creature wasn't concealed beneath its tuxedo- it seemed insubstantial, with little more to it than smoke and shadows.
In any case, Wolf was probably preoccupied with other matters. Early that morning, its position had been compromised and its mission partner killed. Wolf had been forced to flee without... whatever it was that it had been sent to retrieve.
"So, Mister Wolf, can I ask you a question?" Tyson asked, in an attempt to break the tension.
Luminous eyes turned towards him. "Yeah."
"What was...?" Tyson checked himself, and lowered his voice so that the driver wouldn't overhear him. "What were you trying to find?"
Wolf picked a loose thread off its sleeve. "I can't tell you that."
Tyson settled back against the window, folded his arms, and pressed his forehead against the cool glass. Some travel companion Wolf was. Then again, the wraith had already been through a lot that day. Maybe it was just worn out.
Tyson must have fallen asleep because, the next thing he knew, he was waking to Wolf's voice.
"We're here, Mister Tyson," it said, and stepped out into the street.
Tyson followed, thanking the driver as he passed. The pudgy Pteri grunted a reply, then turned away without another word and fumbled with something on the ground by his feet.
Wolf watched him from the footpath. "I don't trust that guy."
"Me neither," Tyson, in general, had a strong dislike of rudeness; but the driver was more than just rude. Why was he so interested in the floor?
Wolf grabbed Tyson's sleeve and led him around the nearest corner, before turning back towards the Bori.
"Did you get the codes?" Wolf asked.
Well, at least he was speaking now.
"Yes. The first part is basheek. So is some of the middle, but the end is karn. She's good."
"Yes, she was," murmured Wolf. "Anything else?"
"Um, there's quite a lot of hehant. But shouldn't we discuss this inside? Maybe people...?"
The wraith made a small sound, which seemed to Tyson to be very like a contemptuous snort.
"This area, of all places, won't be compromised."
"If you say so."
Tyson glanced back around the corner. The carriage was gone.
"Should we go inside?" he asked.
Tyson followed his companion up a short flight of steps and into a gloomy foyer, lit only by the dim bulb hanging above the receptionist's desk. The receptionist in question was squinting rather dramatically at a brightly coloured magazine.
"Excuse me." Wolf rapped on the desk.
No reply. Tyson took the opportunity to examine the room. If not for the poor lighting, it would have seemed quite a welcoming place. He moved over to look at a picture hanging on a nearby wall. It was of a beautiful old boat, all black and gleaming, like a pirate ship. Tyson resolved to find out its name. He liked boats. His grandfather had owned a few yachts when Tyson was a kid, and they'd taken them out almost every afternoon in the summer time.
"Excuse me!" Wolf was growing impatient. He leaned over, waved a hand in front of the Gelert's face. She flinched back.
"Geez, dude. No need for that," she grumbled, putting down her magazine.
"Miss White, we need to see Mister Clark."
"Well, sorry." She flicked some crumbs off the counter top. "He's in a meeting."
"A meeting? He never..."
"Yeah, well, I dunno. Tell your friend to stop eying up the décor. We don't welcome thieves."
Wolf whirled around. "Tyson, get over here now."
The Bori scampered over, smiling apologetically. White sighed.
"You'll just have to wait. Sorry, kid."
Wolf blinked. "Don't you 'kid' me. Miss White, this is important. The mission failed."
"The mission, White."
The receptionist still looked uncertain.
"Um, okay. I'll tell him you're here."
Wolf went and took a seat on a worn leather couch. After a moment of pretending not to be contemplating the artwork on the walls, Tyson went and joined him.
"Have you met Mister Clark before?" Tyson asked.
The wraith nodded. "I work closely with him."
"Oh." Tyson wrung his paws, carefully framing the question in his mind before he posed it. Then he looked up, to see that Wolf had turned away from him.
"Excuse me, Mister Wolf?" he ventured.
"I hear Mister Clark's kind of... angry. Is that true?"
Wolf quite possibly smiled. "No. You want to hear the truth? He's like a child. He can be petulant and selfish, but he's got a good heart."
The Bori settled back into the seat, just as White re-entered the room.
"Turns out he's not in a meeting," she announced. "He'll see you now."
"Thank you, Miss White."
"Just move it, Wolf."
Vira settled back into the chair, arched an eyebrow.
"Did you find anything on her?"
The nearest of the trio, a red Poogle, shook his head.
"No, ma'am. It's all in code."
She growled irritably. "Well, decode it."
"The thing is, I can't. It's nothing to me. It's not based on any language I've ever seen."
"Well, maybe I need to hire someone else."
He nodded, and she turned to the Eyrie at his shoulder.
"Eischelswa? What do you have to report?"
Eischelswa dipped her head. "Well, madam, nothing was stolen. As far as we can tell, that is."
With a sigh, the Acara straightened up and got to her feet.
"That's one good thing. Eisch, take Cartel and see what you can find out about that wraith. Meske and Heira should be back soon- see what they can tell you. Vaughn?"
The Poogle raised his head.
"You'd better decode that thing, Vaughn, or you'll be out of a job. Then where would you be?"
Vaughn nodded. "Understood, ma'am."
As Tyson had heard, Clark was a green Kyrii. What he hadn't anticipated, though, was how slender- almost feminine- he looked.
Clark's expression, at present, was grave.
"Why didn't you contact me?"
"I had to leave the transmitter behind. I had to leave quickly. Sir..."
Wolf hesitated. Tyson looked at him. His eyes were downcast, and his mouth had reduced to a narrow slash.
"What is it?" Clark rose from his chair.
"Wolf, what is it? No. Not... Stone?"
True fear entered his gaze. "Wolf, not Stone. Please."
"They're worse than we thought."
Tyson thought he heard Wolf's voice shake ever so slightly but, as he looked up, his expression was one of perfect composure.
"They found out. Stone contacted me. There was an explosion."
"Oh, no." Clark rubbed his forehead. "Wolf, I'm... I'm so sorry."
"Why? She was the best for the task. You're no more at fault than Tyson here."
He gestured at the Bori, who blinked and frowned. He wondered anxiously if Wolf would mention the coded message. Otherwise Tyson would have to, and he would rather not.
As though he could read his mind, Wolf took the receiver from his pocket and held it out towards the Kyrii.
"Here's her last message. Tyson managed to decode most of it."
Clark took the device, and placed it on his desk.
"I'll watch it later. Mister Tyson, what did she have to say?"
Tyson nervously removed a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and laid it on the desk. He smoothed it out best he could, cleared his throat, and began:
"She says that 'they' are being sent on a mission, or raid. It's either a lower case 'L', or a '1'...."
"Go on," murmured Wolf.
"Well, the most important part is..." Tyson halted, put off by Clark's probing gaze.
"Tell him, Tyson."
"Okay. It's... they're training them to kill."
"What's in that sandwich?"
Meske blinked. "Cucumber and cheese. Any luck, Heira?"
"Nothing," she sighed, and sat down across from him. "He's like a ghost."
Meske snorted softly, his gaze focused on something in the distance.
"Fitting, isn't it? Wraiths, ghosts... they're all the same."
Heira shook her head.
"No, that's not true. They're not at all alike. Wraiths have form. They can be tracked."
"If you say so. Come on, we're not going to find anything here. Let's make our way back to the castle."
Heira hesitated, and then conceded. "Okay. Let's go."
Silence ensued. But something had piqued Tyson's curiosity. He nervously turned to the wraith.
"May I ask you a question, Mister Wolf?"
Wolf glanced at him. "You may."
"Who are 'they'?"
The wraith shook his head, almost imperceptibly. "You don't want to know."
Tyson looked hopefully at Clark, but the Kyrii had nothing additional to contribute. He simply nodded.
"Wolf's right, Mister Tyson. Don't ask again."
To be continued...