The drifting smoke settled between shallow gasps of breath; shiny yellow particulate matter flittering through the air, dusting every available surface as gravity dragged it downward. A pair of hands pulled through the air as if drawing back two halves of a semi-transparent shield, and the dust obeyed the motion, swirling to the sides on currents of air.
Another pair of hands mimicked the action, with less positive results. Because of the parallel position between the pairs of hands, the dust collided, causing it to swirl back into the face of the creature. It coughed, which brought the dust back into a whirling fury.
"Quae." The first Cavolon began drawing its hands through the air quickly, patting the air with its palms, "Don't move. Don't cough."
Quae grunted, its skin having taken on a distinct chill since the particulate's explosion into the air. Its mind mentally checked back through the steps of the experiment, its eyes attempting to dart through the dust to locate the pile of equipment on the table.
"I-" Quae murmured, the beginnings of a sentence quivering at the edges of the Cavolon's mouth.
"Don't." The other Cavolon hissed, piling the dust onto the kye root serving as a table. With a quick motion, the Cavolon swept the dust into the mouth of a hide bag, drawing the vine tight around the opening.
Quae sighed, relieved, and approached the equipment. "Jume, I know what happened."
"Doesn't matter. Already happened your fault." Jume's jabbed a long spindly forefinger at Quae, accenting its words. "Besides, the product might be useful."
"Or it's just a pile of dust," Quae sneered, attempting to match its manner to Jume's. The Cavolon's eyes drifted over to the tubing. The interior was coated with a thick red liquid that almost looked black at the bottom of the tubes where the concentration was heaviest. Changing its tone, the Cavolon spoke again, moving toward the table while brushing the dust from its shoulders. "That's it?"
Jume's eyes narrowed. "Wouldn't know. No one's ever managed an extraction of this sort before, right?" Jume picked up a small, squeaking ball of fur from a high-sided box and pulled the tail off with a practiced jerk of its fingers. Jume dunked the tail halfway into the vial. Quae watched, its eyes tracing along the maze of equipment and finally settling on the vial. Jume nodded. The tail writhed, its colour changing from a light brown to a charred black, finally ceasing its motion when the black had spread down its length.
'That's before the distillation, Jume." Quae had placed its palms on the table, its disbelief evident in the spread of its fingers.
"Exactly. And from supposedly dead organic matter." Jume's eyes glittered, in a way reminiscent of the yellow dust.
"But that means-" Quae lifted its fingertips, tipped with the yellow color.
The season's heat had been storing itself near the tops of the trees, warning the Cavolon of what was to come. Upon its decent the bukau mold gave spores, and the fights broke out as workers fell prey to the malevolent influence of the particulate. Work still had to be done. The patrols began then, with ceremonial-sashed Cavolon reminding workers that energy was best conserved. Most pointed to the large-limbed trees of the region for relief as the heat only partially filtered through their feathered leaves. Many of the workers just moved their spore-fueled fights to those areas, but a few joined the patrolling Cavolon peacekeepers in morning and evening meditation. Just-spawned Cavolon played in the swamp and mud pits, flinging dirt and water at one another with slimy tentacles. The air and light beamed too brightly for Cavolon surfacing from their labs; they lurked in the heavily-forested areas or refused to set a tentacle outside their doors before the cover of night.
The growl of several disgruntled Cavolon broke the peace of the ger plants being pulled smoothly from the soil. The roots released with a quiet pop, even as the growling grew louder.
Nox was straightening its sash. Its eyes looked back to the tree on which it had been leaning, surprised to see the bubble windows filmy face polluted with a strange yellow substance. The Cavolon was puzzled, and for a moment taken with the swirling colors in the bubble windows surface. Absentmindedly, Nox let a soft hiss slide from its lips. A few snickers from the harvesting crew and Nox quickly remembered itself. It stayed the workers with a harsh gaze, and, after indulging in a few more moments of teasing, they returned to work. Noxs hands smoothed the plant fiber that composed its sash, tentacles tapping the ground anxiously. Nox became nervous that it gave itself away. Once all the workers were busy again, Nox turned to re-examine the bubble window to Jumes laboratory. As it did so, Nox noted a large ungainly Cavolon standing beyond the group of workers. The newcomer was definitely a local, and it wore a simpering grin that let Nox know right away how it felt about Faction peacekeepers.
When Nox turned his back on the local, the Cavolon gave a loud snort, determined on making its contempt known. A few of the workers exchanged furtive looks as they worked. Nox breathed steadily and bit its lip. I dont need this right now. Nox had to keep a level head. Its role in the operation demanded it. Posing as a peacekeeper, Nox could do nothing that might prove inflammatory, no matter what. Of course, thought Nox, this local scum knew that all too well.
For the operations sake Nox decided to forego the surveillance of Jumes lab for a while and focus on the harvest at hand. Nox whistled to the captain of the work group, an old Cavolon dappled over with a patchwork of different swamp muds. Nox jerked its head back and opened its hands. The captain threw Nox a ger plant. Nox caught the root between its palms. Flipping it over, the Cavolon examined the leaves with a practiced hand, tearing the outer leaves away from the stalk and discarding them into a pile at its feet. The younger leaves still clinging to the stalk were revealed, shredded into small fibers that clung together as if for protection.
Nox flung the plant to the ground, whacked it with a tentacle several times, and lowered its gaze to the group who stood among the rows of ger still in the marshy ground.
Nox huffed. "This wont do at all. The heat-"
Nox's words were cut short by a small chuckling from the fringe of the Cavolon workers -- it came from the same direction as the snort had previously. There was something in the laugh that gave Nox pause, something knowing about it. Nox turned to the local Cavolon. "Yesss?" Nox hissed, its tongue partially out of its mouth. Its neck twitched slightly as it spoke.
The Cavolon local looked down at the ger plant lying at Noxs feet. A tongue extended from its tentacle and snatched up the plant, bringing it to the Cavolons hands.
You think this is a problem, Nox? The Cavolon brought a sneer to its face. Nox shifted the position of its tentacles, fingering the sash again. Nox didnt know how the Cavolon knew its name, but it wasnt about to give the stranger any satisfaction. Nox knew about the importance of its role here to the plan, knew about the effect of the bukau mold, knew he couldnt indulge his urge to let this rustic know exactly who he was talking to. Again, Nox held back.
If youll excuse us, good citizen, the Atriarchs crop is to be attended to as his officials see fit. The words came cool and even, although they were instantly betrayed to all watching by Noxs quaking brow and razor sharp gaze. The unknown Cavolon stared back, just as cool, just as steady. Then it smiled. It rolled the ger plant back. The root tumbled along and settled between Noxs tentacles. Just make sure you know, Nox" the Cavolon turned and slithered off, hands behind its back. "Make sure you know for certain."
Nox stared aat the receding figure. The captain ordered the Cavolon back to work. Nox's tongue clicked against its lips. What is this, now? He thought. The Cavolon knew something didnt he? Perhaps it was just a local, who knew exactly what kind of potential the ger plant has. Noxs innate paranoia took over and its mind was off chasing every thread to see where the possibilities led. Was that Cavolon from the Atriarch, sent to watch Nox? The Cavolons brow furrowed deep.
A muffled boom from one of the underground labs brought Nox back around, and the Cavolon composed itself. Nox turned to observe the workers. They seemed busy enough. Nox began to slither back up the road, which, incidentally, would take him back past Jumes lab. The Cavolon sighed. Quiet acceptance always seemed best to make other think you were in on top of the situation.
The old captain watched Nox fade into the distance. When Nox was gone, the elder Cavolon peered into the thicket, where it knew a pair of eyes was watching, and nodded.
Last updated: December 26, 2001
All Content © 1998-2006 World Fusion®
Atriarch is a registered trademark of World Fusion®