Author's Note: Here's chapter four, finally. Updates will probably be very slow now that I am focusing more on my artwork. But I am still going to do what it takes to finish this story. Please, if you're reading this, drop me a line! I'd love to hear feedback. It gets a little lonely in here when no one is reading. D;
Chapter Four - Assistance
Vula couldn't understand Varg.
For the ten short years she had known him, he was just a puzzle she could never figure out. When they had first met, Varg had been nothing short of an asshole, refusing to speak frankly with her and almost virtually ignoring her. Even when they had returned to the village after rescuing the queen, he had still been rather secretive. However, he'd warmed up considerably after Casey had gone into the birthing cave for the last time.
She remembered that evening. The drones had all gathered outside the cave, waiting patiently for Big Face to call them in. She found out later he'd gone in before the others to make sure she was ready. This was long before she herself had taken over all queen-related matters. In the beginning, she'd thought the shaman was some kind of womanizer or a pervert, but this turned out to be completely untrue. In spite of his occasional babbling, he was a hard-core spiritualist.
When Varg and the other drones had exited the cave, Vula was rather appalled to see how relieved they looked. In fact, she was so disturbed she located Big Face and asked him just what had transpired. He had of course told her, which bothered her even more. But it had done one important thing - because of that knowledge she now held, she no longer envied Casey for being queen.
She had lucked out too. Because Vula, like Casey, was female, the two had become very close. This relationship shifted between professional and personal, and although the two occasionally argued, things were rather stable. She liked her position, although it was rather stressful. She had become Casey's representative because the queen herself could not leave that cave. This was largely why, when any issues related to the village were brought up, she was there.
"Hey," said a masculine voice, startling Vula out of her thoughts. The female Mudokon shoved the scroll she'd been staring at up her loin cloth and turned to face Varg.
Varg raised an eyebrow at the way she was standing. She was holding her legs together, clutching the front of her loin cloth, and smiling in the most innocent way she could manage - or as though she'd just won the Nolybab Lotto.
"What..?" Varg asked after a moment, unable to stand the silence.
"Nothin'!" Vula piped. "What'cha want?"
Well, okay then. "Ran into a Mud named Lou on the way back from ... Jarlonia. He was on the way back from Jarlonia, he said." Varg's sudden sentence morph surprised Vula. Or was it an accident?
"Uhm.. where is he?" Vula asked.
Varg pointed back behind him. "Down at the lines. You should've seen his Elum. We had to practically carry her back home."
Vula winced. She hated animal abuse of any kind.
"She's fine, just getting some water. But Lou says he'd like to see you." Varg folded his arms over his chest and backed away. "And do you have to go or something?"
"Nope! I'll be there in a second, hahaha!" Vula managed to force a laugh out.
Varg rolled his eyes and walked off, feathery hair flowing behind him.
Vula, who had stopped outside the Monsaic Lines to answer the questions of a few young, curious Muds, spotted Mel, their newest arrival, sitting outside as well. Once the younger Mudokons were satisfied, she decided to take a moment to approach him.
"How've you been?" she asked.
Mel, who had been trying and failing to meditate, sighed and looked up at her. She noted that he'd had his stitches removed. "Fine.." Finally, he was unable to contain himself. "What's.. what's with you?"
"I was gonna be a queen, but I can't be." Vula cut him off and asked, "So uh, can you tell me about just HOW you got here?"
Mel stood, dusting off his loin cloth, and inched closer to her.
"Well.. these weird guys came.. guys in hoods or somethin'. One was real short n' the other was bigger'n' me. Killed off the slig escortin' me an' one of 'em brought me here," Mel finished, shrugging.
"Oh? Well..." Vula licked her lips and thought. Maybe.. "Did they say anything to you?"
"Uhm.. one of 'em mentioned something about a ..flower or somethin'. But I don't remember anything else."
"Alright, well, good luck," Vula told him, walking back into the large, open cave. A flower...? No, it couldn't be that. That had to be some kind of symbol for something.
Her thoughts shifted as soon as she saw Lou. He looked exhausted, dirty, and on the verge of collapse. But still, he was standing. Or rather, he was leaning up against another Mudokon.
"Lou!" Vula shouted. "News?"
"They're coming," said Lou. "It'll be a day or two, but they're coming and they'll bring some good carpenters and... uhm.. can I go nap now?"
"Oh, and one more thing... said they were bringin' the key to gettin' Casey out of the cave."
"Okay... did you um... did you see Drog?" Vula asked timidly.
"Uh.. which one was he again?"
Vula thought a moment. "Uhm.. the younger one." She barely remembered Grob, but Drog's image was still fresh in her mind.
"Y-yeah, he wa-"
Suddenly, Varg gave Vula a gentle thwop on the head. "We don't have TIME for that. Let's get the message to the queen - NOW."
"Vula, have you ever heard of the Mudoncho tribe?"
"A little, but isn't that a rumor?" she confessed, staring at Big Face's masked figure. The older Mudokon was propped on one elbow, regarding her.
Abe was seated beside Vula, also having been summoned. It was becoming a regular thing these days.
"Not at all," Big Face replied. "A long time ago.. if I remember correctly, the Mudoncho tribe, also known as the Mudameechee. They worshipped the Meech and were considered to be the black sheep of our tribe."
When the others remained silent, he continued.
"This led us to some disputes with them, and eventually, they left their native grounds.. and now they reside far to the northwest. I was still young then, but they were said to be driven in a river city deep underground, near the Mongo River."
"Why are you telling us this?" Vula asked.
"This is the only safe place I can think of for the queen. You must hurry though - the stress of traveling could kill her."
"Why do we gotta run?" Abe groaned. "I'm sick o' runnin'." He slapped a large hand to his face.
"If you must fight back," Big Face said stiffly, "Then do so. But not until the queen is out of their reach. If you have something to protect, it can make you stronger."
Vula and Abe exchanged rather skeptical glances.
"So you're telling us to to take her to a place that MIGHT exist?"
"It is our only hope. Staying here is suicide."
"And so is running!" Vula spat. "We'll be sitting MEEP out there!"
"But there is a chance," said Big Face, "That they will help you. Our tribe alone will not stop them - you know that. Our shamans are no match for their guns, and not in this place."
Vula stood slowly, as it seemed that Big Face wasn't going to say anything more.
"But," Big Face said finally, "There is one last thing.. I haven't told you about the River."
"And that is?"
And so Big Face told them his secret. When they heard it, their eyes widened considerably.
"That particular location can be your trump card, but only use it if there is no other choice. Understand?"
Tom and Vula worked together over the next day forming the blueprint for the caravan. It took them several hours to settle upon a design that would be both large enough to house the queen and easily able to move over the rough terrain. Tom even developed a prototype of a shock absorber for the caravan.
However, when they showed the design to the rest of the tribe, the response was mixed.
"How are we supposed to build somethin' like that?!" one of the Muds shouted. "You think we got the skills fer that?"
Tom stood stiffly, pointing at the map.
"You can't be serious!" he retorted. "You're not even gonna try, are you. I can explain it all to ya - how the shocks work, and everything!"
"Look, man," said a Mudokon. It was Alf. "We wanna help - we really do, but you gotta figure - we ain't got the tools to build that stuff, and half the crap here was built by our ancestors! And not to mention - " Alf pointed out- "Considerin' we got less than a month to get this thing built - and who knows where we're gonna go - how are we gonna get it done in time?"
Alf stood toe to toe with Tom - but he did have a point, and Tom knew it. As many Mudokons as they had, not all of them could just stop whatever they were doing to build Casey's caravan. There were hunters, foragers, those who were responsible for taking care of Casey's eggs, patrol Muds, and shamans. And each of them had to do their own jobs or the village would fall apart.
When Tom didn't answer him, Alf spoke yet again, "Well? I've got a rehab to run and patients to take care of. How about you?"
"Alf!" Vula said quickly, "Did you ever think maybe we're all making sacrifices to get this done?"
"Well, of course!" Alf replied. "I wouldn't be here otherwise. I'm sure we'll help if we can - what I'm sayin' is - how can we get it done in time with our limited knowledge, experience, and resources? Ya gotta think these things through!"
"Well, a-at the River City--"
"You can't TELL me Big Face is spoutin' off his crap again!" Alf groaned. "The guy's gettin' old, and no disrespect - but he's been sayin' this stuff for a long time. We've been all up and down that river - there ain't no 'river city!'"
Vula fell silent. Oh, where was Abe? Probably helping Varg - or maybe Varg had gone on one of his wild escapades again. He'd become increasingly unreliable lately.
"So what are we supposed to do?" Vula asked at length.
"How about stop shittin' yerselves and lettin' us help?!"
The coarse voice was so familiar that it was like a dart had struck her right in the chest. She snapped her head up to see none other than Drog. Beside him was Grob, and behind them, was at least a dozen creatures of all shapes and sizes. Most of them carried bags, boxes, and other tools. Varg stood with them, apparently having let them in.
Oh, how Vula wanted to greet Drog as she had before, but something held her back. Maybe it was that they'd grown too far apart. Or maybe it was the way Tom didn't seem surprised at all to see him. Drog had changed - Vula could see that. She remembered the slig beside him, but only just, and the two steemed strangely confident - even when surrounded by their natural enemies.
In fact, Drog hardly seemed to notice that she was there. The group was invited into the Monsaic Lines, were the entire tribe mingled. Once it was decided they would begin construction the next day, Vula left to go find Casey. She was feeling utterly troubled.
"So," Achsah hissed, "That's where the entrance is."
She would've grinned if she could. Beside her, Toast merely stared down into the valley.
"Mfmmm, mff," he grunted, watching her inquisitively.
"Easy," she sneered. "We should've hopped that ride with all those travelers, buuuut." Then, Achsah began to laugh. "They've got tools... oh yes, they must be going to try and move the queen. What idiots."
"I get in," said Achsah, "By blending in. We're not going to defeat them - even if we suddenly ambush them while they're on their way, there's no guarantee we'd avoid stressing the queen to death. We can't have that. So."
She sat back, readjusted her goggles, and stared at Toast.
"Hit me," she said.
"Mm?" Toast looked confused.
"Ugh, you're hopeless." Achsah rose slowly, brushing herself off. "We'll wait until they set out. THEN!"
Achsah shifted, pointing a short finger into Toast's chest - "Then, we're going to do things MY way."