Wilfred, a vivid blue and green Beggardle, wriggled in his spot guarding the entrance of the hybrid camp. He was strikingly different from his assigned partner, a bland grey Grimwulf with scarlet feathers adorning her shoulders. He knew that her name was Roxanne, but he called her Roxy because it got under her skin and was one of the few things that could break her serious concentration on her job as a guard.
Stretching languishly, Wilfred began whining at Roxanne for the millionth time that day. “Uhg it’s so boring out here!” Rocking back on his ass, he cupped her face with both hands, smooshing it as he spoke. “I really thought that there’d be more adoring fans lined up to try to poke and prod at the participants this year, and that I’d get to be all tough like, ‘Ha! Get back you foul fiends!’” slumping forwards, Wilfred sighed. “But only my mom showed up with some lunch!”
Roxanne was silent; it was getting perpetually more difficult not to snap Wilfred’s pompous neck for his constant rambling.
After not getting a response, Wilfred fully flopped over onto his back, flailing his limbs and whaling, “Roooxyyyy!” until the Grimwulf finally snapped, her teeth bared only a few inches from his face.
“I’m boooored!” the Beggardle chided, seemingly oblivious to how close he was to having each of his tail feathers, which Roxanne knew he bore much pride over, torn out.
“For the 47th time, I don’t care.” Roxanne turned away, shaming herself for giving the huge fool the time of day. By the time she’d composed herself and looked forward, there was a grinning Arsocrux fewer than five feet away. Roxanne tensed; even though visitors were to be expected, she immediately didn’t trust the sleazy grin of the ‘crux who had now stopped, casually leaning his hips and tail to look casual on the spot.
“Wilfred,” she said sharply through the side of her bared teeth.
“Oh, changed your mind about having a decent chat, have y--” as soon as he tilted his head forward, Wilfred sprang to life. “VISITORS- I uh, I mean stay back foul defilers, of this magnificent gathering of horrid hybrids!” Wilfred wiggled his fingers in the air for effect. Roxanne had to steel herself against sighing in disgust. Then it hit her; visitors, plural? She scanned the red Arsocrux again and realized that there were two trolls huddled behind him; what appeared to be an Alarmatoad and a Snipe.
“Who are you, and what business do you have here?” Roxanne said with a serious, harsh voice.
“Well my kindly lady, and sir,” the Arsocrux emphasized with a slight bow towards Wilfred, who nearly broke his tough facade to clap in delight. “My name is Pele, and I’m here to pay my homage to this wonderful culling of filth. Bring it forward,” Veles motioned leisurely towards the two behind him.
Squawking, “Right boss!” the Snipe nudged a hesitant Alarmatoad forwards. The scrawny thing, with an admittedly attractive purple hue, seemed to cower under the unimpressed gaze of Roxanne. The Grimwulf had to smack down Wilfred’s paw as he was reaching to poke the little trembling Toad. “What purpose does this weakling serve here, Pele?” the way Roxanne said the fake name was piercing, as if she knew, inherently, that it was a lie.
“Why, it’s a contribution!” Veles announced with grandeur, refusing to be intimidated. He leaned forward and lowered his voice, making it seem as though he didn’t want the younger two trolls listening in. “I know that hybrids don’t just materialize out of this air. Something has to...” Veles made suggestive gestures with his forelimbs. “Make them.”
Roxanne mirrored Veles’ disgust, and Wilfred cooed out a, “Oooh you’re so dirty mister Pele!” under his breath.
“What’s the Snipe for?” Roxanne, the distrust lessened but still present in her voice.
Veles grunted and rolled his eyes. “Oh, her. A pair of Shrikes wanted her to get training in my line of work,” he said as he motioned to the purple alarmatoad. “Picking out quality stock and all.” He leaned in again, glaring a bit at the Snipe, who seemed blissfully unaware of what was going on as she pecked at the Alarmatoad for any unwanted motions. “And you know how Shrikes can be. It’s hard enough building up a reputation as a ‘crux, but with a pair of Shrikes on your back? Forget it”
Wilfred nodded, trying to look sagely and understanding of the problems that Arsocruxes faced. Roxanne just grunted. “Fine,” she said shortly. “But if your little visit doesn’t seem right when we report it to our lady Serract, you can be sure there will be hell for you to pay,” the Grimwulf said, making one final intimidation.
Veles had to keep malice from creeping into his grin; his group had already had an altercation with the so called “Lady of the Mountains”, and despite Leomis’ battle ending in victory the stability of the group had suffered afterwards. “Of course; I always obey the will of the regional power with the greatest of respect,” Veles purred with grace. “But, if you could kindly direct me to where I may leave this little whelp...?” Veles left the question hanging as he motioned to the Alarmatoad with an apathetic wave of his tail.
Wilfred jumped in, happy to have something to do. “Yes, yes, let you me show you in! I’ll have to let the other guards know to leave you be,” he said as he ducked into the cluster of cages. “Don’t get too close to the bars, mister Pele; some of these louts have nasty, grabby claws!”
“Thank you, I will keep that in mind.” Veles said as he nudged Leomis in front of him with one of his rear legs, the two working together to make it look like a painful kick. “Move, you!” Veles spat out. Kevin joined in, parroting, “Yea, move, move!” as Leomis squeaked meekly in mock terror. Wilfred waved as the trio disappeared into the maze of hybrids, happily returning to his post after he could no longer see them.
After Veles thought that he’d be out of earshot, he cautiously whispered for Kevin to settle and shut up. Casually peeking over some of the shorter cages, Veles could only see the Grimwulf standing guard in the front. She was somehow even more intimidating than Ace, his group’s own ‘wulf, and the sight of her worried Veles. “What now?” he whispered down to Leomis.
“I think we should smash all the locks open!” Kevin said, right before a set of claws caught her tail. She had to choke down a yelp as several of her tail feathers were snatched away before she could flee farther ahead, her sense of nobleness gone.
As Leomis watched Kevin quietly berate the troll that had snatched at her, from a safe distance, she tried to regain some of her injured pride; panicking was in her nature, but she’d like to think that she seldom cowered as openly as she’d just done to convince the guards to let them pass. “Now,” she said in a hushed, stony voice to Veles, “we get some of as many hybrids out of here as possible.”
Veles could tell that Leo was upset, and he’d hoped that his performance hadn’t been too good; he didn’t agree with the treatment of the hybrids either, but had found long ago that voicing that opinion was dangerous. “Where do you want to start?” the sarcasm was barely masked in his tone as he motioned around with his tail. There was absolutely no way they were going to get every single hybrid out of this place; hell, they’d barely get out five if they wanted to remain discreet.
Strolling along, Leomis looked at the yowling faces through their ramshackle bars, until she came to one still, silent cage. Within it there sat a tattered troll, stubbornly facing away from the strangers. Their beak was poised in the air as if, despite being caged, they were still above everything going around them. Leomis sat in front of the hybrid’s cage and morosely pointed. Veles nodded, then beckoned Kevin. “You still have them?”
Kevin chirped cheerily as she released several sturdy looking sticks and a couple of decent sized rocks that she’d kept tucked above her feet. “Thought you’d never ask; those weren’t comfortable, all up in my--”
“Yes, yes,” Veles cut her off as he gingerly grabbed a stick and a rock. Wedging the stick in between the door of the cage and the frame he waited for Leomis to nod before he went at it, hammering away until the cage’s door fell loose. All three of them were surprised by a few things; how flimsy the cages actually were, why the trapped hybrids hadn’t already tried to escape, and why the hybrid that was now free hadn’t budged an inch toward their newfound freedom.
“Uhm,” Kevin tried. “Hey, you.”
The hybrid merely glanced at Kevin from the corners of its narrowed eyes, not even turning their head.
“Hey, wouldn’t you like to go?” Kevin squawked obnoxiously before Leomis and Veles could shush her. In a storm of annoyance, the hybrid wheeled at Kevin and nearly smacked her straight on the snout.
“I will go at you if it means shutting you up!” the hybrid shrieked as it lunged at the group.