By the time we reach the other side of the cavern, where the exit is, both Noel and Karlisle are panting. I don't slow down a single bit.
The scouts guarding the door stand up when they see me approaching, a few gathering their equipment to go out with me. I slow down at last and stop in front of one of them.
"How long are you going out for, hunter?" She asks, shooting glances at the Suthers.
I wave the nuisances to come closer with a sigh. "I'll be out for about an hour. I'm only going to be wandering the surface camp, so I won't need any guards." The few who had been preparing to leave begin reversing their preparations, settling down again. "And yes, these two are coming with me."
The scout looks skeptical, but she shrugs and steps aside. The other scouts do the same.
As an afterthought, I address the scout again. "Also, there is no need to post any guards at the entrance. These two won't try anything."
She scoffs. "I doubt that, but if you say so, hunter."
I thank her and continue up the stairs, the two Suthers apprehensively passing the scouts and hurrying to catch up to me.
I shove open the heavy door and step outside, pausing with my hand resting on the door to take a deep breath.
"Ooh, I love the outside air." I sigh, a smile flitting across my face.
Karlisle and Noel slide out behind me, gazing around at the clear, blue sky.
I continue towards a tree that wooden boards, nailed onto it as a ladder, go up on. At the top of the ladder is a platform covered by a tarp, sort of making it a tree hut.
I begin to climb the ladder, gesturing for Karlisle and Noel to stay on the ground. Once I reach the top, I see Jacob, the leader of the scouts, sitting at a desk listening to a report from three scouts. They look like they've been running.
Jacob spots me immediately, preventing me from eavesdropping, and waves the scouts away. I walk past them and notice that their breathing is still heavy. They must have only recently gotten back.
"What was that about?" I ask as I stop in front of the desk. Jacob sighs and shuffles papers around on the desk, putting a stack away as if he doesn't want me to see it. Although suspicion blooms in my chest, I shove the feeling aside and focus on my plan.
"It was nothing. Now, what do you need?" He puts the topic to the side, speaking a little quickly for it to be nothing. He picks up a mug that sits on the corner of his desk and takes a long drink.
I sigh. "I want to gather about ten scouts to go investigate those tracks we discussed earlier. I suspect it could be a week-long trip."
That apparently was unexpected. Jacob inhales abruptly, also taking in his drink. He spits it out, coughing, his face noticeably paler than it was before I said anything about a trip. He tries to say something but a new bout of coughing stops him.
He waves away my attempt at helping him and takes several deep breaths. "Why- where did this idea come from so suddenly?" He asks breathlessly.
I shrug. "Well, those tracks could belong to something dangerous. I need to know what they belong to and if we need to hunt it, or replace the potential trails."
He clears his throat, recovering. "Um, I don't think we have the supplies for that."
I cut him off. "Yes we do." He's lying. Why? Why did he react like that when I put my idea forward? My eyes narrow, though he doesn't seem to notice. "I've seen the stores. We have plenty of supplies for a week-long trip."
He seems taken aback. "Um, I- I was not aware of that. The last time I checked the stores, there was only enough for a two day hunt."
My suspicion simply grows. "Well, now there's more. I want you to find at least ten scouts who are willing to go with me. Also, make sure they're aware that Karlisle and Noel Suthers will be going with us."
He sputters in shock. "I thought-I thought you were going to send them on their way soon."
I cross my arms. "I realized that we can extend the trip to take them back. No point in getting on the Iron Haven's bad side by letting their leader's children die."
He sputters some more before sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Alright, I'll let the scouts know. Any particular deadline for leaving?"
I nod my head. "I'll be leaving tomorrow."
Jacob gapes at me. "So soon!?"
I just stare at him. I think he might be planning something. But why? And what?
He blinks several times before sighing with his eyes wide. "Alright. I'll go ask around." He shuffles a few more things around, his eyes remaining wide, before he gets up and walks past me, disappearing down the ladder.
I stand there, pondering whether or not I should search his desk. Deciding not to, I return down the ladder. I almost start speaking when I realize that Noel and Karlisle have disappeared.
"Hey, where's you two go?" I ask, my voice raised and carrying pretty far.
"We're right here." Karlisle's voice comes from the bushes and he crawls out, along with Noel.
I look at them dubiously. "What were you doing in those bushes?"
Karlisle looks embarrassed. "Um, that scary dude was coming down the ladder, and I hid without thinking about it. Noel just did what I did."
My dubious look turns into a 'what the heck?' look. "And… why?"
He looks down, puffing his lips. "I… don't really know."
Noel clears her throat. "While we were hiding, I heard him mutter something about something needing to happen very soon."
I shrug. "He was talking about me wanting ten scouts to leave tomorrow with me to investigate something and to take you two home."
They're stunned, their mouths dropping open.
I shrug again and start walking away, towards the meat processing area. Most of the meat from the last hunt has already been processed and dried or is marinating in sauce for tonight's meal, but some of it hasn't been processed yet.
There are a few people sitting on stools while they work, finishing up the last of it. One of them begins to stand to greet me, but I wave him back down.
"What do you need, hunter?" He asks, starting back at his work while paying attention to me.