Chapter 3 - Deals and Dilemmas

A few weak rays of light seeped through holes in the tent. Bowynne sighed and slumped further down in the chair he was tied to. His muscles ached in protest of movement, they were worn out and in many places, bruised. A large burly figure burst through a flap in the tent, he was holding a three-legged stool in his hand as though it weighed nothing more than a twig. He set the stool down in front of Bowynne and sat down, his face inches from Bowynne's. His squinty mousey eyes looked far more human than anything Bowynne would have expected from an Opal Soldier but didn't dwell on this for long, as his attention turned to the sharp looking knife the man was tossing from hand to hand.

"All your friends have been asking me exactly the same questions, so I'll save your breath," Bowynne sighed melodramatically, "I have no idea who the boy you're asking me about is. The stuff I was carrying wasn't for him and I certainly don't know where he is now."

The man grabbed Bowynne by the collar and pulled him forward with such force, the back legs of the chair were lifted off of the ground.

"Listen up, you smart-mouthed dirt-crawler. They call me The Boulder for a reason and I'm going to make you say what I want to hear." And with that, he released Bowynne and stood up. Without warning he launched a fist at the side of Bowynne's jaw. Bowynne decided that his name was apt as it did, in fact, feel as though a boulder had collided with his face. He spat out a bloodied tooth and gently tongued the bleeding socket.

"I'm telling you," he sputtered through already swollen lips, "I don't know anything." The Boulder seemed to find this unacceptable and cracked his neck and knuckles,

"That's fine with me, I'd much rather do this the hard way," he said, advancing menacingly.

Blearily, Lue opened his eyes. The grey-green tree tops and sky overheard blurred seem to spin and blur together. Disoriented and in pain, he tried to haul himself up to a sitting position, but found he couldn't move his hands from behind his back. Panicking, he writhed on the ground before realising his ankles and wrists were bound with rope. He froze, took a few deep breaths to calm himself and drew himself up. The action made his head swim and throb and he recounted his last memories of the strange boy and the blow to his head. He wriggled over to a tree and leant against it for support and tried to get his bearings. It was hopeless, the surrounding bush was unfamiliar and the throbbing, coupled with his parched throat, made Lue's thoughts slow and foggy.

He licked his cracked lips and half heartedly looked around for a source of water. There was no sign of any water or his pack. It began to dawn on him that whoever had captured him must have decided he was of no interest beyond his pack and had left him for dead. He gritted his teeth and began tried to escape his bindings by sliding his hands under his feet so that he could untie the rope with his teeth. It was proving impossible with his ankles tied together, though, and he toppled over instead.

"Careful!"

a smooth voice hissed. Lue froze, unsure whether he'd imagined the voice of not. He rolled over onto his back and sat up again, looking around. A girl with dark hair had seemingly appeared out of thin air, several feet away from where Lue lay. She took a canteen from around her neck and uncapped it as she approached him. Lue squinted at her and decided her grey-green tunic must have camouflaged her and she'd been hiding somewhere, watching him struggle. She knelt down beside him and brought the canteen to his lips. He sat up again and without thinking, he drained the whole thing with large desperate gulps. The girl had an expression of annoyance mixed with amusement.

"I guess I'll have to go and refill it," she muttered. Lue looked at her blankly and opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't choose one of the multitude of questions swirling in his brain to ask first.

"Did you capture me?" he asked finally.

The girl could barely contain a smirk. "Of course, you didn't really think you could out smart me, did you?" Lue looked at her even more blankly, much to the girls annoyance.

"I'm pretty well known, you know, but I guess a human idiot like you wouldn't know the name Oblinnia," she said, puffing her chest out a little. Lue looked her completely dumbfounded, he opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water. Oblinnia looked at him impatiently

"Human?" he sputtered, "I'm not full human."

Oblinnia planted her hands on her hips, "I thought you'd be more co-operative, now that you're captured. Do you not get it, did that blow to the head make you lose your memory?" she rapped her knuckles on the side of his head, making Lue wince.

"I was a threat?" said Lue, completely at a loss of what this girl wanted from him.
Sighing in frustration, Oblinnia unsheathed a dagger from her belt and cut Lue's hands free.

"Do it," she commanded, "Show me your 'great power'."

Lue stared at his hands like he'd never seen them in his life. He looked up at her with an expression of complete bewilderment before lunging at her, catching her completely by surprise, knocking and pinning her to the ground.

"I don't know what sort of game you're playing with me, but it ends here," he growled, "Explain everything."

She wriggled an arm free and grabbed Lue's bicep. The next thing he knew, excruciating pain was shooting down to his hand and up to his shoulder. His arm stiffened and relaxed, spasming uncontrollably. Oblinnia wriggled free and Lue rolled onto his back, clutching his arm. They lay there, panting and staring at each other, Lue's eyes as wide as saucers.

"What are you?"

Canatika saw Mafi approaching from the scrub and threw down Lue's map in frustration for the upteenth time that day.

"It's useless, Lue's the only one who can make sense of these old things," she huffed. Mafi plopped down next to Canatika and fished a handful of assorted leaves and nuts from her bunched up skirt.

"I thought our first priority was finding the others, not getting to Beacon's Quarry," said Mafi, her eyes wide with concern. Canatika said nothing and Mafi looked down to her lap. Despite trying not to notice, Canatika saw a few tears fall. She gritted her teeth and decided that between a human brat and dealing with Mafi being upset, the human was the preferable option. She let out a big sigh of frustration and turned to Mafi.

"Why don't we get to know our human friend," she said, gesturing to the nearby tree where Niles was tied, struggling to contain her disdain. Mafi immediately brightened and wiped away the few tears she had shed. Distracted by curiosity, she bounced over to him and dragged him back over to Canatika by the wrist. She then sat down again, pulling him with her. He sat cross legged, looking from girl to girl with a puzzled expression. Canatika could have sworn he was trembling and felt a small sense of satisfaction. After a few minutes of intent staring on Mafi's part and awkward silence on Niles' and Canatika's, Mafi finally broke the ice.

"So, boy, tell us about yourself," she said as casually as if there were at a dinner party and not, as they were, complete strangers surrounded by bushland.
Niles eyed her warily and fidgeted with the tattered bottom of his left trouser leg.

"I'm Niles," he replied in a near-whisper, "What are you going to do with me?"

Canatika snorted, "Sell you off to the highest bidder, I suppose."

Niles stiffened and Mafi frowned,

"Cee, maybe he can help us find Bow and Lue, they're far more important than coins," she suddenly looked thoughtful and began to fiddle with her plait, "Bowynne said to me a while ago that he reckons that our cargo is from El Gaia. Maybe Niles can tell us if we're getting ripped off and if he can get them to work, they might be a lot more valuable." She looked at him with eyes as round and bright as the moon. Canatika looked up to the darkening sky and bit her lip.

"There's an idea, let's see what you have in your pack."

Mafi jumped up and pulled the bag containing their delivery from her pack. She seated herself again next to Niles and began pulling all sorts of curious looking devices from the bag. She piled them on her lap and started pawing through them. After some rummaging, she pulled what looked like two metal spheres joined by a spiral of rusty wire coils.

"What's this do, Niles?" she asked, handing it to him. He ran his fingertips over it before gently tugging and twisting the bizarre object.

"I haven't got the faintest clue," he confessed.

Undeterred, Mafi kept rummaging as Canatika watched on, bemused.

One after another, Niles poked and prodded curious objects like shiny discs wrapped in wires, rectangles of metal with bands of different colours and substances across their surfaces and something that looked like a chunk of luminescent rock melted to a tiny metal framework. Again and again, he'd shake his head sadly and admit he had no idea what they were, what they did and worst of all, what they were worth.

"I'm sure they're from El Gaia, though," he said, feeling bad at the sight of Mafi's fading enthusiasm, "Let's try one more." He plucked a metallic sphere with three rings of metal around it from her lap. "I've seen something called a gyro-spinner similar to this, I used to play with one when I was little," he said, looking up to Mafi with a hopeful expression, "We just need something to mount it on, it looks like it's broken," he noted as he turned it over in his hands, stopping when he found a slot on the outermost band. He pried a thin piece of metal from under the melted rock and jammed it into the slot.

"Ah-haah!" he exclaimed excitedly, holding the object by the metal he'd just added. Mafi clapped her hands together and giggled with glee while Canatika merely raised an eyebrow.

"Does it actually do anything?" she said and Niles's shot her a smirk.

"I'm getting to that. It's not like everyone's after me for no reason, you know." Canatika furrowed her brow,

"So much for endearing yourself to us," she huffed. Niles either didn't hear her or ignored her, instead he gripped the bottom of the piece of metal he'd added so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He screwed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw. Mafi withdrew her hand like Niles had bitten it,

"Are you ok?" she said shakily. He didn't respond, his breathing was laboured and beads of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead. Ever so slowly, the metal rings began to twitch and move, Mafi and Canatika stared, utterly speechless. Inch by inch, the bands rotated around the sphere in a strange pattern. They got faster and faster, whirring around the sphere, Mafi could have sworn the sphere was rotating too. As suddenly as it started, it stopped and Niles opened his eyes, a smile spread across his tired face.

"How did you do that!" exclaimed Mafi. Canatika pursed her lips and looked Niles dead in the eye,

"It's almost as though you used magic," she said dryly. Niles nodded,

"Not almost, exactly. Now, you can either hand me over or I could use this device to find your friends," he said with a cocky expression. Mafi's eyes suddenly brimmed with tears,

"Really? You can do that?" she squeaked, her voice jumping higher and higher. Canatika scowled; he may have earned Mafi's confidences, but it was going to take more than that for him to be worth more than a bounty to her.

Bowynne wriggled and squirmed uncomfortably in the chair he'd been bound to all day, he had a terrible itch but no hope of scratching it. He sighed and squinted around the dark tent through painful black eyes for something to distract him, but the moonlight was too dim to make out anything. He pursed his lips and tried to whistle, but no sound could escape his swollen lips and only a dribble of blood came out. Out of sheer lack of stimulation, he began to doze off. Without being able to see the sky, he had no idea how long he's been asleep for but he found himself suddenly awake when he heard someone enter the tent. He gritted his teeth and tried not to think of the terrible reason for someone visiting a poor, bound prisoner in the dead of the night. As his eyes adjusted on the figure, he wondered if he was still dreaming because before him was a young woman who he may have considered beautiful, if her appearance had not been so bizarre. She wasn't tall, but Bowynne could see that her limbs were disproportionately long when she extended her arms from under her dark cloak and began to untie from the chair. Bowynne jumped involuntarily as her fingertips brushed his arm and she shrank back a little, having obviously been under the impression he had been asleep. They froze for a moment, staring at each other like scared animals. Her eyes were abnormally large and reflective, adding to the strangeness of her appearance.

"You still look a lot nicer than the last person who visited me," mumbled Bowynne through bloodied lips.

She slipped the hood of her cloak off of her head and despite the swelling and darkness, it was still immediately obvious to Bowynne that she was a lot less human than anyone else he'd ever met. He raised his eyebrows, there certainly weren't a lot of people like her around anymore, he wondered what she was doing in an outpost in the middle of nowhere.

"I beg your pardon?" She whispered, her long pointed ears twitching in his direction.

"Don't worry about it. Tell me, what exactly is it about me that brought you so far from home?" He replied, throwing in, what was in his opinion, a 'winning' smile for good measure. She gave him with a look of horror mixed with pity,

"You poor thing, I can not understand a word you're saying. Do not worry, I'm Zarina and I'm here to rescue you. I'll explain later when we have more time." Bowynne frowned a little, but said nothing as she untied his bonds.

"Let us leave now, before we're caught," She whispered, fear showing clearly in her voice.

"I can't get out of here soon enough, but let me do one thing first," Said Bowynne nonchalantly. He ripped off his left shoe and scratched at his foot madly, sighing in relief.

"Much better, we can go now."

AN: Hmm, I was really excited to write this chapter because the plot starts unfolding, but once I got started I found it more difficult than I expected. Please let me know if there were parts that didn't flow well, even better if you have any ideas on how I can tweak them to flow better! I think I'll put a poll up because I'm extremely curious as to which character people feel is their favourite. Once again, thanks for reading and reviews would be very much appreciated (and returned!)

-Love, AA