Inside Junction proper, the streets were bustling. People of all shapes and sizes moved around the cramped alleyways and larger, but less well-kept, streets. Clotheslines crisscrossed through the air, displaying their colorful shirts, dresses and trousers like pennants. Children shouted, running from one another and tormenting the street dogs, some of whom playfully barked back and others who growled menacingly – to the children’s fascination. Fierce smells competed in the air; the comfort of fresh bread, the smothering smoke of burning wood, and the sharpness of blood and meat from the butchers and hawkers that lined the streets. Of course, there was the ever-present odor of humankind, the foul flatness of body order that hung over the city.
Sights, sounds and smells all danced and fought for the attention of the residents in a great cacophony of the senses. The city, with its vibrancy and sense of motion was a welcome change of Jarious’ wolflings -- all except Morrow.
Jarious took it all in, enjoying the first minutes of being back in the middle of human civilization. “It’s good to be home,” he mused. In a few short days, he would grow tired and complacent with the constant press of humanity in the city. Shortly after that he would become agitated and anxious to get back into the field. But for now? Now he enjoyed the bustle of the world around him.
A door to Jarious’ right swung open violently, unhinging it at the top after which it hung awkwardly like a rag doll. A man burst through the doorway at a full sprint. His momentum carried him forward into the street and in front of Torrain. The stranger was dressed in a simple white shirt and brown cotton pants. He was unarmed, but he carried a bag tucked under his left arm, straps unsecured and flapping behind the man as he ran.
Torrain’s instinct were as quick as ever, in the blink of an eye he dropped into a defensive stance – legs steadied under him, knees slightly bent to offer maximum speed and mobility, and hands at chest level. In those hands were two of Torrain’s serrated combat knives. He was ready. The other wolflings also prepared themselves.
The man from the house slowed his sprint as he turned away from the wolflings and deeper into the city. His eyes watched Torrain as he readied himself, but as he made the wide turn, his eyes slid off Torrain and to the streets ahead of him. After the momentum-defying turn, the man took a few steps away from the wolflings, indicating he was lining up for a straight run down the street and into the heart of the city.
From behind him in the ruined doorway, a woman emerged. She held her left arm with her right hand. Hand and arm both stained crimson with blood. Her clothes were ripped and her hair was simultaneously unruly and unkempt. “Help. I need help. He took our things.” She stared forward at nothing in particular. Her gravelly voice was barely above the loudness of her normal talking voice.
Torrain was the first to look to Jarious. Torrain’s eyebrows were raised, he had not moved and remained in the poised position he took earlier. The other men in the unit followed suit. Morrow was curious but undecided, like Torrain. Grawfn pursed his cheek, shaking his head in the negative. Morrow gave a small nod, with a slight eyeroll - approval with a bit of annoyance - imperceptible to everyone but Jarious.
This wasn’t just about his decision. It was never just about him. This was about gauging his men and weighing the risk with the rewards. Jarious’ men would broadcast their wants and desires just as any human or dwarf did, and Jarious knew the telltale clues to look for. A twitch of impatience here, a last minute glance to the right to avoid eye contact there. Jarious took the vote instantaneously and knew the wolflings were of one mind on this, some more than others, but there was no doubt about the consensus.
He gave one short, curt, nod of approval to Torrain.
Torrain smiled his thanks, and burst into a full sprint as he chased the escaping thief. His knives seamlessly moved to positions with the blades at the base of his hands, ready to take the fight to his prey. His legs loped in long strides. Torrain was not a tall man, but he knew how to run. It was a predator’s run this time, the same smooth strides of a carnivore using its final burst of stored energy to bring its chosen prey down.
Torrain, as good as he was, should not be left alone. Jarious pointed to Arrious. “Go to the Red Banner Inn, we’ll catch up.” Then the commander took off at his own top speed, following Torrain, not the thief.