ALLYBOT pt24: 1 Week Ago

an image of a dark cavern
taken from deviantart.com

ALLYBOT

1 Week Ago

David took the evening watch so he could greet his scouts as they came in. He was excited to see what they’d learned about their newest target. Since Jake’s death, he’d only accepted jobs he thought were the safest. This attitude didn’t at all please the aristocrats who came to commission them. Even some of his own lieutenants were worried that he was playing it so safe he’d get them all killed.

The sun was setting quickly now, and the Mannah fell all around him. Those who would be enjoying hot food were already holed up in the main camp. Tonight, David would sleep outside with the scouts who came in late. together, they would enjoy hot food tomorrow. That’s what jake would have done, he thought. He fingered the lapels of the red vest as he did so often when he thought of Jake. Despite being of light, sturdy material, the vest often felt heavy on Jake’s shoulders.

As the sounds of singing and laughter came flowing from the main tent, David looked over the camp worried resolve. Since he’d inherited it, the camp continued to grow in number, accepting people from all age groups now. Despite their varying ages, no one had ever challenged who were the ones in charge. Almost all of the newcomers took to their new tasks in earnest, happy to be receiving regular food and pleasant company. How will I keep them all safe? David worried.

Only two troupes remained in the field, and David could just make out one of them through the alien mist. He recognized Mitch’s group and hopped down from the boulder he was keeping watch from. Meeting them as they approached, David said, “How did everything go? Are you all good?”

Diamun was dark-skinned with long brown hair. Her skinny frame belied her sturdiness and she was one of the most capable with a spear. Everyone accepted her as Mitch’s group’s unofficial spokesperson. “The caravan is right on schedule,” Diamun made a motion with her hand that wasn’t holding a spear that suggested cutting through an obstacle. Even the colorful fog couldn’t detract from her wide smile, “It wasn’t a troublesome journey, but we’re happy to be back.”

David noticed that the happy grunts and shifting of the others reflected their spokesman’s homesick joy. The charms hanging from Diamuns bracelets jingled softly as her hand dropped back to her side, “Are you waiting for anyone else?”

David nodded, “Caleb’s group hasn’t made it back yet.”

Diamun’s free hand came up again as she closed her fingers together and absent-mindedly twirled her hand in the air. The Mannah near her hand danced along in concurrent swirls until she opened her fingers and flapped lightly at the air. The Mannah dispersed to fall into whatever pattern would bring them to rest for the night. Rest,” David said, “You guys better get some rest. I’ll wait up for Caleb’s tea-“

“David!” Diamun extended her spear to point off in the distance. A bold, blue light cut through the fog from the east. Mitch and David exchanged glances.

“Oh, great,” David murmured, “what do they want?”

. . . . .

Jake had taken David several times to meet with their potential employers. They were always demanding and short on patience. Jake always seemed to take the meetings in stride but now that he had taken over, David dreaded the meetings. The local aristocrats always seemed to believe that each of their priorities mattered more than anyone else’s – even each other’s. While many of the group’s leaders worried that David took their demands too lightly, David himself worried that he was losing patience with the entire arrangement altogether.

The meeting place was a cave whose entrance was hidden in a cluster of hills. When one of their snobby patrons would appear, those guarding the meeting place would shine a bright blue light signaling the leaders. David entered the cave to find the guards sitting opposite a quattour he’d never seen before. It resembled an albino lioness, but it’s fur was streaked with every color of the rainbow. It looked as if someone had decorated a lion with confetti. The fur was too long and fluffy to make any sense and David imagined it felt quite nice to sit on. Someone paid a lot of money for this luxurious beast! David thought as he approached.

The tanned man with short-cropped blonde hair sat astride the lioness sipping something steaming from a small cup. He looked profoundly content with one hand holding the teacup to his lips and the other holding a saucer. Both of his pinky fingers were extended as if his hands had confused them with antennae.

“Thank you for making the trip out here,” David began, “but we’re all booked up at the moment.” The man neither looked up nor made any indication that he’d heard David. As if nothing had happened, he brush some invisible dust from his well-tailored white suit. For a moment, David wondered if the man was deaf. “We’re in the middle of planning a job, now. If you’d be kind enough to visit us later, we’d be happy to…”

“I’m the one who commissioned the job.” The man sat the cup on the saucer and slid down from the quattour. A deck opened under the fur, and the door swung up until the man placed his dishes in a small compartment. He brushed his hands together as if he’d just accomplished some noteworthy task as the deck closed. “I’m taking over from your previous handler,” he walked over to stare David in the face, “I felt he wasn’t… up to the task.”

While the two of them were the same height, David suddenly felt dwarfed by the air of confidence and danger coming from the man. “I…see… So, you’re just checking up on-“

“When were you planning to complete the job?” the man interrupted.

“Ahh… The week after next, when the caravan is close enough to-”

The man turned away from David and waved a dismissive hand in the air, “That won’t work. Get it done by the end of this week.” He walked back to his quattour as if preparing to leave.

“Excuse me, Sir, but we just got this job. We only started our surveillance this week. There’s no way we could-”

“The conditions for completion have changed. One of the trucks towards the front will be carrying a small safe. I don’t care what else you take from them but I want that safe. I’ll be back at the end of the week to collect it.”

David had had enough, “Now Hold on! I don’t know who you are or what you think goes into this kind of work but I can’t do my job with unreasonable conditions! This job will continue as planned like we agreed! If you want it done faster than YOU rob the caravan!”

The man hesitated before climbing onto the lioness and turned to regard David, “Poor boy. The only reason you have a business is that I allow it. The only reason the wealthy come to you with jobs is that I don’t seize their belongings, have them executed, and sen a troupe out to slaughter you all.” Through this entire trade, the contented smirk never left the man’s face.

Sora wasn’t what one would call a good fighter but her eyesight was among the best in the entire group. That’s how she got the job of cave guard. She could see a quattour coming from further away than anyone and she loved standing atop the high boulders and looking across the landscapes that had been abandoned to nature. The man snatched Sora up from her seat on a rock and chopped her on the shoulder with the side of his hand. As her body went limp, he slung her over the quattour’s back. This all happened so fast that none of them in the cave had time to react.

“As for working conditions, I’ll be keeping this desert runt,” he patted the unconscious girl on her behind, “until I return at the end of the week. When you give me my safe, I’ll give her back. Now,” The smirk finally fell from his face and was replaced with the most menacing glare, “do you have any other complaints about your working conditions?”

The other two guards charged at the man with their spears in a thrusting position. The blonde aristocrat danced around them like he was rehearsing ballet. He gave them each casual a push as he passed the guards. In response, the first guard suddenly left the ground and flew deeper into the cave, while the second seemed to trip backward over nothing. He slid along the cave floor until he crashed against its wall.

David lunged forward but a graceful swing of the gentleman’s foot pushed him off the ground and floating backward like a phantom. Aristocrat continued his dancing as the guards charged him again. He almost politely chopped the shoulder of one then pushed the other to the ground in a sitting position with a soft kick. It was clear to David that the man was avoiding hurting them. Such control, David thought, who is this man?

David strode carefully toward the gentleman as he was finishing a graceful spin. The man extended his arms and held his hands high as if expecting a standing ovation. The two of them gazed at each other for a while before the aristocrat suddenly turned and made for his quattour. The sudden movement caused the guard on the floor to flinch violently.

“Till the end of the week,” the man called to David. His quattour had just been sitting there, watching the events with apathetic, unblinking eyes that glowed a dark red. Its master having jumped onto its back, it stood and made for the cave’s exit. Its master glanced back at David, then begin to whistle a charming tune as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

chapter 23 < > chapter 25

Special Author’s Note

It’s probably not hard to guess who the aristocratic man is, but that raises so many questions. Who really wanted Leah to retrieve the stone? Why does everyone seem to be using such cumbersome routes to retrieve it? What good will a relic from the past, albeit a powerful one, do to all the people who are after it?

After this, there’s only one more flashback chapter involving David. Will challenges will his group have to face to accomplish their task under these new circumstances?

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