As promised, a herd of bumblers comes rolling into the village of Fakalienstadt on the third day. Razorback dismounts as soon as he is in sight of Greenwater’s home, looking around carefully and scenting the air in search of a potential trap.
Whiptail follows along keeping the herd in check. As they reach the village, he brings his mount to a stop and surveys the village in a similar manner, his eyes looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Fluffpaw follows the herd from the rear, her namesaked fluffy paws looking a little droopy and dusty. Her ears flick back and forth anxiously, every now and then turning to look behind her but instead just urges the bumblers onward. Once they’re all milling around lazily, she slowly nudges her mount forward, toward the rest of the group.
Whitepelt tracks along a short time later, tossing one of his daggers skyward, catching it by the hilt, over and over. He has little to say.
Razorback approaches Greenwater’s home and gives the door a knock, his ears canted alertly forward.
The door opens just a crack. Greenwater peeks through. “Yes?”
“Mr. Greenwater…” Razorback says, gesturing behind him towards the bumblers, “Your herd…”
The farmer opens the door further, looking out at the bumblers munching on the dusty grass outside. He looks at Razorback, then at the other wranglers. His eyes return to the Cliffwalker. Tears glisten. “You saved my family. My village!” He looks at the ground. “I can never repay you.”
“Well, t’weren’t nothin'” Whiptail says. “Anythin’ to put that Coldstar in her place, I’m all fer it.”
Fluffpaw’s ears flick back and forth as she inches forward. “What’s gonna stop them from coming and taking the herd again as soon as we’re gone?” she wonders aloud.
Razorback still seems agitated and alert, his ears swiveling around. He nods in agreement with Whiptail. “Some of us could use a warm meal and a bath, most likely,” he says, “But nothing beyond that.” Glancing behind him, he turns towards Fluffpaw. “The original herd was sold to compensate for higher taxes from the Coldstars,” he says, “And if that continues and the underclassers do not push back, and the surrounding nobles do not aid them,” he glances over at Whitepelt, “this will all fail.” (edited)
Greenwater opens the door further to grant entrance to the group. “You are welcome in my home, of course.” He bobs his snout in the direction of a human male sitting on a hide-covered couch in the common room. The man wears a dark suit that seems untouched by so much as a grain of sand. “I think you know Mr. Colclough.”
The Consortium Intelligence agent nods at Razorback. “Indeed.”
Whiptail looks between the human and Razorback. “What in tarnation?” he says, his tail twitching a bit in anxiety. “Somethin’ goin’ on here I should be knowin’ about, young feller?” he says to Razorback.
Fluffpaw is last one in and so she’s trying to peer between the furry bodies of her comrades to see who is getting gestured to. And her gaze goes between Whiptail and Razorback, tail lashing anxiously based on the tones going around. “What’s wrong?” she queries of the older Demarian.
The Cliffwalker is taken aback by this, his eyes narrowing, somewhat. “So it would seem,” he says to Whiptail in Demarese, a faint hint of a growl in his voice. “Mr. Colclough,” he says, switching to his heavily accented Terran, “I feel now as though I should have expected you. What draws your attention to this small village.” He scents the air more carefully, searching the house for evidence of any further surprises.
Colclough gives the faintest of smiles to Razorback. “This small village may well be the epicenter of recent problems in this planet’s capital.” He looks toward Greenwater. “I have been associated with this fellow for some time. He has provided significant information about the activities of Lady Coldstar and her minions.”
Whiptail raises an eye ridge at this. “So… you sayin’ we’re all on the same side here?”
“Who are they?” Fluffpaw queries. “Are they going to hurt the herd?” She clearly has her priorities and they have very little to do with the people inside.
“Of course you have,” Razorback rumbles to Colclough, “Two of my comrades died fighting something you could have put a stop to at will.” He glances over at Whiptail with a nod. “Indeed. For the moment at least,” he says before turning back to Fluffpaw, “Mr. Colclough works for the Consortium Government. He likely has no interest in the herd.”
“True enough,” Colclough replies. “My interests are of the bigger-picture variety. Specifically, I have reason to believe that Lady Coldstar and her allies played some role in the recent plot against the Consortium president.”
“Say what now?” Whiptail says. “I thought we were jes gettin’ a herd, what’s this all about tha President?”
A low rumbling growl builds up in Fluffpaw’s chest. “Why would anyone care about your President here? All we cared about what finding the herd.” She pins her dark stare on the client. “Why would you get mixed up in things that don’t matter?”
“There is some sort of effort being made to destabilize relations between Demaria and the rest of the Consortium,” Razorback explains to the others, “Including a conspiracy to use a Demarian assassin to kill the President.” He looks to Colclough, his ears tightening a bit. “Though what Coldstar has to do with that, I know not.”
“Her brother with the scar might’ve been able to tell us more,” Colclough replies. “He had some communication – encrypted, we’re still trying to break it – with the agent who assassinated our friend aboard Galactix. And funds from a Coldstar-owned offworld company may have been transferred to the agent’s family after her death. Hoping to confirm that soon.”
Whiptail listens to this, and his eyes narrow. “Sounds like Coldstar jes ain’t our problem…. that pile a’ bumbler shit is a bigger threat than even I figgered.”
“I do not believe the scarred one survived,” Razorback rumbles quietly, “Though I doubt this is new information to you.” He sighs, glancing out at the herd for a moment as his tail twitches faintly behind him. “I do not suppose you would be interested in helping me compensate my companions,” he says, gesturing towards the other Demarians in a way that includes the biker outside, “If what you aim to do will help rid these farmers of their oppressor, I will aid you. But I can ask no more of these folk than they have already given.”
The Consortium agent quietly studies the companions for a few moments before returning his attention to Razorback. “Up to them,” Colclough says. “If they’ve got an interest in working against Lady Coldstar, I can see that they’re paid.”
“Ye got my support, young’un.” Whiptail says. “It’s time ta clean house.”
“Indeed,” the Cliffwalker says in agreement with the wrangler before turning towards Colclough, “How can we be of service in this matter?”
“You won’t like it,” Colclough assures Razorback. A taut smile, then: “We need to return to Alhira. The inspector wants to follow up on that interview.” He regards the others, adding: “And, of course, Senator Sandwalker should meet you all.”
“Been quite a spell since I’ve been to tha big city.” Whiptail says. “Wonder how it all looks now.”
Razorback’s ears flatten at Colclough’s pronouncement, a faint growl of irritation escaping him. “You are correct,” he grumbles, “I do not like it.”