This time it was going to be for real. This time this wasn’t just one of her nightmares. An increasing tremor crept over all her limbs as adrenaline flooded her system. Her mind screamed at her body, ordering it to run away and fast, back through the old factory. But her body reacted in a different and odd way. Her eyes watered as her hand reached for an iron bar standing next to the crate.
I just can’t go hit anyone? Can I?
And then, for some unknown reason, those boots stopped half way down that last stairs which lead to the darker sunken floor where she sat crouched near a crate. She could now see the lower half of the man’s body, but not his torso or face. Big-eyed her gaze shifted to his hands. In one he held nothing, his other however carried a lengthy, razor-sharp curved sword. She saw how he seemed to balance and weigh the weapon, squeezing away at the hilt rather determined. This very instrument of death was clearly an extension of his arm, and she would have no chance against it.
It looked like a very good weapon too. The sleek and almost silvery metal had likely been heated in a controlled way in various parts of the lengthy body for maximum strength as well as flexibility, right before it must have been passed on to the polish worker to achieve that gleam with specialty stones. The outline of that hardenened zone was a fascinating piece of art. And the longer she considered that sophisticated mark of identification, the more she became convinced she was looking at some specialty weapon, one that was uncommon to the region.
It was almost strange to admire and appraise a piece of equipment in a situation like this. And likely it this was just her way to distract her mind from her inescapable fate. Doing something she was rather good at, or something she liked to do, helped her divert her mind and to find a sense of calm. Stopping her panic attack in all its tracks wasn’t possible, but she did feel like she was grounding herself a bit. It was also because that guy didn’t seem to step down any further. Perhaps he had encountered the source of the noise? That broken valve not so very high above her. Juniper squinted up. It looked as if it had stopped entirely with releasing hot air. Maybe he was now just investigating that.
Likely. It will be fine, Juniper. You’ll see.
She remained hidden behind the crate, and as she gradually became aware of her own heart again, she closed her eyes and drifted into a state of almost semi-consciousness. And she sat there waiting like that, until all of a sudden a hand slipped over her shoulder and mouth, albeit not with force. Her eyes flew open wide, but she calmed down when she saw Pixel’s face before her. Her sister’s lips were moving, but Juniper couldn’t hear what she was saying, so she just shook her head, and she shook it again, and then at what may have been another question she just shook it once more.
Pixel looked to her left, and motioned at someone to come closer. Bodago quickly joined them and seemed to examine Juniper before he nodded once at Pixel. Juniper sensed a hand on her head again, this time over her ear. And then another over her other ear. The gnome had taken her head between his hands, and moments later warmth and a familiar type of energy filled her ears. Magic, divine magic, and Bodaga was using it to… calm her? No… wait… he was restoring her hearing.
“… you hear… now… Juni….?” I
Her silent world with this dull beeping in the background was now interrupted with voices that first sounded deep like the ocean, but gradually became clear and comprehensible. She nodded at Pixel.
“… is… big relief… need… get out here… Can… walk?” Her sister inquired as she offered Juniper her hands.
She was pulled back to her feet, and as soft as possible she asked. “Where did he go?”
Pixel looked at Bodago who shrugged, right before she turned back to her sister, frowning. “They left about an hour ago. Didn’t you see?”
An hour!??? Holy Gond!
“Uh… no…” Juniper frowned as well. “Maybe I passed out a little?” She blushed.
Pixel smirked a bit as she hugged her sister briefly. “A little? Not sure how you can pass out just a little. Anyways, we need to leave, and we need to consider what to do with our information.”
“Boy, you really passed out, didn’t you? We think these guys are smugglers.”
“Smugglers?” Juniper felt like as if she had just missed quite the adventure. “What were they smuggling?”
“Toxic waste. Likely illegally dumped here from alchemists’ labs who are trying to dodge the processing fees and taxes. They had a wagon full of barrels, and one of those was leaking some of its content.” She held Juniper at arm’s length. “Are you sure you are alright?”
“Just a little bit uh… disorientated I think. Where you think they are taking it?”
Pixel rubbed her chin. “Well… I’m guessing to the southern island.”
“Yeah, and from the shore straight into the jungle I’m betting.” Bodago filled in.
Meanwhile the other two gnomes had joined them as well. “We should go see on which ship they are loading this stuff.” Spring, the youngest and smallest suggested. “That will give our story some extra credibility. Though, it’s not a very unlikely thing to happen around here. And of the southern island it is common knowledge that outlaws tend to operate there more than here.”
“Plus, the Copper Brigade’s arm doesn’t reach that far.” Bunk said, absently rubbing his brash fist pieces. It was clear the gnome was eager to teach someone a lesson with those.
Pixel, sixteen years old and otherwise the most adventurous one of them, shook her head. “We’re not going after them. Not really. My sister still has to recover a bit, and I don’t want us to be in danger. However, I like the idea of tracking down that ship. They haven’t seen us, they don’t know us, so we could be just a group that is strolling about the quays. And we still have a few hours left before it’s dark, so we don’t look any suspicious.”
Three gnome heads nodded, meaning they agreed. Then, they all looked at Juniper.
The red-pink haired girl was briefly looked around and then back at them, blinking. “Uhh…”