The Taura-Naji Camp
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Soul and Habanero settle down during a lull in the activity. Although the Taura-Naji camp is a welcome place to rest, both Stryx and Kukuri are suspicious of their hospitality.
As the final tendrils of daylight slipped beneath the distant horizon line, a tyto had awoken from his slumber. The camp they had settled down into was a welcome break from the stressful and tedious work of scouting the volcanic landscape. It was most certainly a relief to know Spook had been captured and that they were returning back in the direction of Sol. The snow Stryx slowly got to his feet, forgetting about the tiny Kukuri nestled among the feathers of his shoulders. She began to tumble, only managing to cling to Soul’s wing at the last second. “Ow!” he hissed, though was glad she wasn’t hurt.
“Hey you’re the one who didn’t warn me,” the feisty miniature Kukuri hissed. Fascinated by the ongoing events, she’d traveled to these parts to investigate. She was both a fighter and a healer and her name was Habanero. Soul had to admit that the name suited her. She was as sharp as they came: intelligent, cunning, and skilled. Though only a fraction of his size, the dove had more courage in one of her tiny fingers than he had in his whole body.
“I was getting hungry. It’s night, so they’ll probably be cooking up something for us nocturnal folk. You wanna come with me?” Soul asked. He helped her slide to the ground safely. “My sense of smell isn’t very good but I think someone might be smoking venison.”
Appearing to be instantly awake at the mention of food, the little Kukuri nodded eagerly. “Are you kidding? Let’s go get some grub. Uh… but would you mind carrying me? I hate thought of depending on you - no offense - but I also acknowledge that this camp is pretty big and you’ve got a longer stride. Plus you can fly.” She winked one bright red eye.
“Sure. Um… go ahead and hop on.” He shifted his tail so that it formed a ramp of sorts for her to climb up. She scrambled up onto his back again, situating herself at the very top of his head. It was a balancing act for both of them, but for now Soul didn’t mind. They were on the outskirts of the camp, feeling safer to keep their distance than to draw attention to themselves in the middle of the more or less temporary city. Still, there was a warm aura around them as they approached the tents. Indeed, as they got closer, Soul did confirm that the delectable scent wafting from the center of the camp was deer meat. Stryx working directly with the Taura-Naji were just rising for the night or finally settling into bed. The Taura-Naji themselves had begun to build a bonfire which was rising higher every second, excited chatter running through their numbers. Spook’s capture had eased everyone’s minds considerably, even with the threat of more corrupted runners breathing down their necks.
Habanero pointed to a Stryx who was helping build a new tent. He was plucking feathers from his own body to adorn it. “Why’s he doing that?” she asked. “It looks painful. I know the aerial Kuku I’ve interacted with hate removing their feathers.”
“Oh… that’s an old Stryx custom,” Soul answered. He gave a friendly nod towards the harpia, who returned the gesture. Although the exchange was brief, it eased the tyto’s fear of the camp. “We-”
“Hello! Are you here for a meal?” a friendly raptor asked. She pointed in the direction of a nearby tent. “It’s that way. I know you two are new. You don’t need to say anything. Just go ahead and walk up to the open kitchen and you’re welcome to grab a bite. We appreciate that you’re helping to take care of the corruption that’s afflicting this land.” Despite the friendliness on her face, Soul was uneasy. He glanced up towards Habanero, though could only see her snout peeking over his head. The small shudder she gave, however, confirmed that he wasn’t the only one who felt off about the whole situation.
It was the little raptor-like creature atop his head that spoke first. “Oh, thank you! That’s indeed where we were headed. That’s good to know.”
“My pleasure.” The raptor Stryx dipped her head, then hurried off.
“You don’t think they’d poison us, do you?” the Kukuri whispered into Soul’s ear. “I don’t think they would but she was weird. She sounded… hollow.”
Soul stopped himself before he shook his head, not wanting to dislodge his friend. “It’s probably just stress. If it were poisoned, you’d probably be able to smell it. I know your species has a better nose than mine does. Besides, everyone’s been run ragged… and everyone’s afraid of these new Stryx too. I know I haven’t exactly been acting normal myself,” he suggested.
Whether or not they trusted the people who had taken them in, Soul and Habanero stepped into line of other people and animals waiting to be served. A friendly Taura-Naji smiled warmly upon seeing the tyto Stryx and the expression only grew in size when he spotted the little Kukuri riding him. “We have two options tonight: a leek soup or some well smoked venison. What would you like?”
Soul blinked in surprise, not expecting the humanoid to speak directly to him. He spoke in an older dialect than he was used to, but the bird could nonetheless understand. “Uh… a helping of venison for myself and my friend here,” he answered. He was unsure if the Taura-Naji could actually understand the strange tongue Stryx spoke, but hoped he might.
“Right away.” The humanoid walked away only to return with a large calf of a deer, cooked and seasoned to perfection. “I hope this is enough for the both of you. If it’s not, come back. We’re rationing servings until the evening hunting parties return. They should be back soon.”
“Thank you.” The tyto dipped his head and grabbed the leg in his mouth. Although he didn’t intend on eating anything until Habanero was full, he could already feel the saliva forming in his jaws. It wasn’t long before he’d set the meat down and settled into laying before the flickering, warm flame of the bonfire. It was really going now, its flames casting out embers into the night as it reached for the sky. He lowered his head to allow Habanero to step off of it. “You go ahead and eat first. I know you Kukuri can’t go for quite as long as I can without eating.”
The miniature beast looked up with him, disgust and confusion over her face. “Who told you that?” she asked pointedly, “because we’re actually quite good at surviving without food. Still, are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Soul nodded, settling further into his spot as the small Kukuri began to eat. It wasn’t long before music danced through the air. Although neither creature could be sure what the instrument was, it was beautiful… and relaxing. Even the ever suspicious Habanero started to feel safe.
She just hoped it would last.
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