Looking across the camp, Ane can see the two figures cast in the fire’s glow. The callosian covered in protrusions is gathering up portions for them, while the mass of wings mostly just… Well, flaps, as far as she can tell.
She heads out towards the pair with long, determined strides. About halfway through, Ane catches herself — she smooths her fingers through her dark hair, softens her shoulders, and eases herself into a casual saunter with a faint sway of her hips. It’s a subtle change, but one that at least helps her and Vasht avoid looking like they’re marching into an inquisition. As much as she’s pushed to take things slow and be friendly, it’s difficult not to charge ahead like a gurran down a thoroughfare.
What the Void is Jarrik up to?
Vasht takes a similar tack, adopting one of his casual swaggers. He has about six of those. Three of them are more like brooding-in-motion, but he has one that’s normal, one that’s cocky, and one that’s completely inappropriate here. He’s going for the normal one.
On the inside, he similarly wants to know what the Void Jarrik is doing.
When the two of them arrive near the cooling food cauldron, the two new arrivals are finished scooping out their own portions. Neither speaks.
“Hello,” Vasht greets them warmly. “I saw Jarrik walk you in, so I figured I’d come welcome you too. The name’s Vasht,” he says with a genuine smile.
“Ane,” Ane says, following his lead. She offers the pair a bright smile and an extended hand, on the off chance either are in the position to shake it. She’s not sure, but it seems remiss not to.
The two of them exchange glances, then look back at Vasht and Ane. The callosian doesn’t move, but the mass of wings — a tzuskar, in reality — reaches out and shakes Ane’s hand. It’s hard to tell if the person inside is tall or short, thin or fat, male, female, of the Skrajjic third-sex, or something else entirely — the wings all over their body are similar in size to the ones on their back. Even up close, you can barely see a face through the gaps.
“Lurim,” the tzuskar answers evenly.
“Pimsun, or just Pim,” the callosian answers. Vasht begins to offer him a handshake, but the callosian politely waves it away. The many craggy mounds on his arms seems to make moving them unpleasant, and even shifting his weight is accompanied by the sound of creaking and cracking carapace.
“Nice to meet you both,” Vasht says amiably. “I’m the knife thrower, and she’s the fortune teller. We do a lot of the odd jobs around here, taking care of the caravan,” he says, by way of explanation. “So if you two need anythin’, don’t hesitate to ask. Right, Ane?”
“Right,” she nods, “You picked a good time to come — we’re actually getting ready to roll onward. Do you both have a place to stay?” With some effort, she manages to keep the question breezy and nonchalant.
The callosian, Pim, murmurs in thought.
“Somewhat. The talkin’ man said we got one,” he says gruffly, looking dour under the scale-mound erupting from his left-brow.
“Stuck us in the scullery wagon,” Lurim chimes in, in a nasal voice. “Not that either’a us can cook, or that there’s a bed or anythin’ in there.”
“Mm… Yeah, space is a bit dear at the moment, I think,” Ane apologizes, “But I’m sure we can try to find some bedding between us and the other caravanners, at least.” A beguiling expression of feigned perplexity crosses her face, even accompanied by a faintly pouting frown. “Though, if Jarrik doesn’t mean for you to cook… It’s odd he’d put you there. What did he have in mind?”
“The fop didn’t say,” Pim says glumly. “Said we’d get to travel, get away from S’varga.”
“Oh, he had a whole schtick about helpin’ the downtrodden,” Lurim says, with a fair air of cynicism. “When I asked ‘im what we gotta do, he just said…”
“Perform, if you like,” says Jarrik’s voice, coming out from under those wings. The tone is flowery, flattering, unctuous. Typical Jarrik.
Vasht jumps a bit, and Lurim chuckles under the burden of feathers.
“Sorry, gets people e’rry time. I’m a skil’t mimic, for sure.”
Ane raises a brow.
“Impressive,” Vasht appraises. “Quite a talent.”
The callosian chuckles sullenly.
“Not one we bein’ hired for. People don’t exactly buy us on for our cheery wit, if you get my meanin’,” he mutters, shrugging a crag-cracked shoulder to demonstrate.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find something to fill your days with,” Ane says brightly, “At least, when you’re not doing what Jarrik hired you for..?” She trails off, adding an uncertain rising inflection that turns it into almost-but-not-quite-a-question.
So, Jarrik didn’t say anything to them about requiring them to perform, and they want to leave S’varga. He’s trying to play this off as a charitable endeavor, but he’s so full of shit I can smell it from here.
“Oh, prob’ly,” Lurim agrees. “So long as I ain’t gotta cook. Do you know what happened the last time I tried to cook?”
“It was like twenty burnt vlearks, and all of em’ were silly-mad,” Pim adds helpfully.
Vasht nods in understanding.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem… We all take turns when it makes sense. Even so, there are caravan followers,” he says, vaguely flapping a hand at the latter half of the wagon train. “No one’s gonna make you cook, and they’d get an earful if they did.”
“Eh, well enough,” Pim says agreeably. “That said, you mentioned a bed?”
“I need a fluffy cot, I do. Big, downy pillows,” Lurim says wistfully, almost fantasizing. There’s a smile of wonder somewhere on there, audible in their voice.
“Bit ironic, idn’t it? But that’s ‘is thing,” Pim explains.
“Feels better on me tail, too,” Lurim adds helpfully.
“I don’t know if we can scrape together a bed on short notice, but hopefully there’re some blankets and pillows to be had.” Ane turns to Vasht with a cant of her head. “What d’you think?”
“Yeah, I’m sure we can pull together some extra-fluffy pillows,” Vasht agrees easily. “A mattress will take more time, but when we’ve got something, you get first pick.” He smiles, his visible eye crinkling with amusement. He probably thinks the bit about the tail was a joke.
“Mighty squiffy,” Lurim says with approval. Neither Ane nor Vasht knows what that means, but it’s the tone that seems to matter.
“I’m not much for fluffy stuff… but I’m gonna need salves soon, methinks,” says Pim, scratching at one of the peaks on his arm. “Get mighty itchy, ‘specially if I’m gonna be paid to get gawked at. Gawkin’ makes me itchy.”
“Oh, we’ve got those. I still have to make some, but Dynkala — the klorrian herbalist, she’s usually in her wagon — or Vaidna, the other herbalist, should have something that can help,” Ane says, with an airy wave of her hand. “Void, we’ve probably got the ingredients to compound you some, if there’re any salves that’ve worked well for you in the past.”
Pim starts to open his mouth to reply, before Lurim promptly moves an arm(?) to cover it.
“Nunna that, don’t be givin’ her a list right now. The day’s late.” There’s a muffled noise. “No, no, I get it. The chopon dung is impor- no, don’t give me that look. Stop sulking. Stop- Arright, nevermind,” Lurim says, uncovering Pim’s mouth and absolving themselves of responsibility.
“That’s a lotta healers for one group,” Pim says, with some astonishment. “May get some relief yet. Thank ye.”
Ane nods. “No problem. We take care of our people,” she replies, “As best as we’re able to, anyway.” The grin that accompanies her words comes only with effort — thus far, Jarrik himself does not have a stellar record as a provider for his employees. She has no doubt that, were either of these two any worse off, they’d be in the same position as Thelorn.
“Well, yer both a kind sort,” Lurim appraises. “More’n that weird fop. Anyway, thanks for all the trouble,” they say amiably.
Pim nods simply. “Been a pleasure,” he says, raising his bowl.
“Yeah, we’ll let you guys relax. We can bring stuff by the wagon later,” Vasht replies. “Enjoy your dinner and whatnot.”
“Yeah, we’ll see what we can do,” Ane assures them. Once the pair has nodded their farewells and returned to eating, she shoots Vasht an uneasy hum. For all their guarded questions, it doesn’t seem like they’re much closer to an actual answer. Vasht returns her glance and nods solemnly. When both of them are far enough away, he grumbles.
“Yeah, same deal. No real request for work, no explanation.” He shrugs his shoulders. “Alright people, though.”
“Yeah, they seem friendly enough… Hope we can find a bed for them, eventually. For now — do you have any spare pillows or blankets?” She hooks a thumb into the waist of her trousers as she walks, with her hum turned on the spongy ground as she makes a mental inventory. She has a few pillows, mostly of the decorative sort. She might be able to find some spare sheets, but they aren’t much good without anything to put them on.
Why did Jarrik think he could just make them sleep on the floor?
“Yeah, I’ve got some spare pillows, and a quilt,” he answers, similarly pensive. “Don’t know what to do about the ‘bed’ part, but with enough pillows, we can at least give them something while we figure it out,” he strategizes, though he doesn’t seem completely in it. Mostly, the dilemma of how they’re being neglected — and yet not asked to work — doesn’t quite make sense to him. He takes a pause from his thoughts to glance up at Ane, donning a slight smile. “I’ll go scrounge some things up. Meet you at their wagon?”
Ane nods pensively. She’s as lost as he is — is Jarrik just collecting people? Why? He obviously isn’t putting any thought into their care, so he isn’t treating bringing them on as an investment in the caravan’s future. It seems like he couldn’t possibly care less what happens to them once they’re here.
None of it makes sense.
“Sure, sure,” she answers with an absent murmur. A furrow creases her brow as she looks over her shoulder, stealing one last glance at the pair before she turns to go to her wagon.
The two of them are still sitting by the waning fire, eating their meal as they were. They seem like a fairly companionable pair — not gleeful, by any means, but happy enough. They sometimes move their arms slightly, subtly, as if gesturing while exchanging idle banter.