Time had no meaning in the cage.
Minutes, hours, days. All of it merged into a long string of boredom that further deteriorated Scratch-Ear’s mind and wits.
During the first few days of his incarceration Scartch-Ear had tried to communicate with his fellow prisoners, those who hang in the cages next to his. It proved limited in the way of being enlightening.
From what little information he had gathered the vile Cali who stole Sydney’s things had been busy burning and expanding their territory.
He received no facts but inconsistent rumours from individuals who had lost everything.
They spoke of fire, they whispered their kind being sacrificed to dark and terrible gods, and they drove themselves into fits of demented muttering about a monster when asked about Scratch-Ear’s village.
The only way the Damu-Sarmi could accurately measure the passing of days was with his meals and was when she showed herself.
At first Scratch-Ear thought she was some vengeful ghost, a lingering nightmare come to torment him. But after the guards beat him on her behalf a few times Scratch-Ear came to the conclusion that the disfigured Damu-Sarmi was terribly real.
Quickly becoming a ritual the ancient and scared woman stood below Scatch-Ear’s cage, her elderly body tired and swore.
“Let me see the prisoner.” Burned-One rasped.
Still suspecting that he was being confronted by a deranged spectre, a filthy Scratch-Ear took a seat by the far corner, his eyes full of expression, most of which was fear.
Always, the words are the questions are the same.
Where did he disappear to? Why was he so young? What did he know about the war chiefs. What was Maverick?
Only this time, there was a new question on Burned-One’s scared lips.
The elderly feline observed Scartch-Ear through the bars, “Where did the snail take Maverick and Incisor?” Burned-One asked.
Merely looking at the old woman took courage. Her burns mutilated much of the woman’s appearance and her half dead eye was like a spear through Scratch-Ear’s nerves.
“Let Scratch-Ear be spirit. Why do haunt Scratch-Ear so?” Scratch-Ear said.
There was a silence for a long time and just when Scratch-Ear thought this scared woman had died with her eyes open, she spoke. There was more than a hint of bitterness in the old Damu-Sarmi’s words. “Why did Scratch-Ear have to chase that damn deer?”
Taking what courage he had by the tail the young hunter moved forward.”Scratch-Ear tried to feed village.”
“Scratch-Ear tried to feed his pried.” Burned-One countered, showing only hateful scorn for the sad child in front of her. “Scratch-Ear caused hunting group to be captured. Scratch-Ear allowed the Cali to go through the air puddle. Allowed the birth of the War-Chiefs.”
Confusion spread across Scratch-Ear’s feline features. He had heard from the other prisoners only faint murmurings about these War-Chiefs.
The so called assholes who stole Sydney’s things and had this habit of conquering and enslaving most of the jungle.
Scratch-Ear had no desire to to be reintroduced to Tabore. Scratch-Ear could not imagine any Damu-Sarmi successfully duelling that savage.
Burned-One lowered her head and her extended claws scraped along the dirt at her feet. “They followed Scratch-Ear through the air puddle. Came back with great gifts from their dark god. Cali War-Chiefs did many bad things.” She looked back at her mutilated shoulder and Scratch-Ear could see a life time of grief in the old woman’s good eye.
Confusion spread across the young feline’s face. He knew the Cali had a chief. A savage brute called Kaluge but other than that small note of knowledge all Scratch-Ear knew of his blood thirsty enemies were that they were accused of cannibalism. “Who are War-Chiefs?”
Burned-One lowered her head as if in shame and her extended claws scrapped along the dirt at her feet. “They followed Scratch-Ear into air puddle. Came back with great gifts from their dark gods. They did many…” A shudder shot straight through the old cat like a morning chill. “Bad things.”
Gifts from Dark Gods indeed, the liars.
Scratch-Ear lowered his own head in thought.
Having seen an image of the impressive Spear of Orga, Scratch-Ear could imagine its owner being a powerful threat, but there was still time. Time to evacuate the village and hopefully gather a party to rescue his friends from the Cali.
“Elder-Sister.” Scratch-Ear said softly and then raised his voice. “We need to save Elder-Sister. Black-Paw. Free-Fang. Scratch-Ear begs you, warn Damu-Sarmi village.”
Though in his opinion Scratch could do with losing either Black-Paw and Swift-Claw, Elder-Sister would be sad if they got eaten.
Perhaps there was still time to save them all. Enough time to form a rescue party and stop the War-Chiefs before they strike out with their new armoury.
There was a sad amusement to Burned-One’s expression. “Elder-Sister. Burned-One almost forgot about her.”
“Burned-One knows Elder-Sister?” Scratch-Ear’s voice showed wonderment.
Communication with the outside tribes were rare and almost always resulted from individuals trespassing into each other’s borders, which, depending on the offence lead to execution.
Burned-One herself looked to be nothing more than a elderly Damu-Sarmi. An mean and intimidating crone of a Damu-Sarmi, but one none-the-less. There were also subtle hints that Burned-One came from Scratch-Ear’s own tribe.
Yet, as Scratch-Ear pondered this he came to the conclusion that Burned-One coming from his little village would be a remote possibility. He had never heard of a Damu-Sarmi of any kind living amongst the Gapachu.
He wanted to know what this woman’s story was but doubted she was the type that spoke anything but promises of physical warm.
A dark expression filled Burned-One’s face, “Elder-Sister is dead. Swift-Claw is dead.” Her rotted teeth were exposed as the old woman snarled. “War-Chiefs killed them.”
The old cat’s one good eye locked onto Scratch-Ear and her next words mirrored the hate she felt to this troublemaking kitten. “Scratch-Ear killed them.”
“Scratch-Ear dose not understand.” Scratch-Ear said
Fed up talking to her prisoner, Burned-One turned to face the exit, “That has never changed.” she said.
Wanting answers Scratch-Ear held the bars. “Tell Damu-Sarmi. Tell tribe Elder-Sister and kits are in danger.” Scratch-Ear yelped in pain as the tip of a spear jabbed as his leg, a warning for him to be quiet.
“Silence prisoner.” A guard shouted.
An uncertain amount of time passed in the prison: it could have been a handful of minutes, a few hours, or perhaps an entire half a day. It was all the same to Scratch-Ear, who felt he would go insane if he did not get out of the cage.
Swearing his eyes had been closed for just a second, Scratch-Ear nearly jumped when he heard the sound of two heavy bodies hit the solid ground.
He sat up quickly and gazed out across the pit of spikes to witness a Gapachu stalk out of the entrance, while the guards who were meant to be watching over the captured spies and renegades were snoring.
This Gpachu’s judgemental eyes stared at Scratch-Ear.
It was a hazy memory but Scratch-Ear knew who this particular Gapachu was. She had been the warrior who had been the one to initially capture him.
The guards on the ground twitched and snored. On closer inspection Scratch-Ear could see a bone dart sticking out of their necks, proof of them being drugged.
Confused, Scratch-Ear enquired, “What is Gapachu doing?”
Incisor held an expression like one does when they know they were about to do something they were going to regret for a long time. “Not helping Scratch-Ear escape.” Incisor said.