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Chapter 3


Arco The Fox

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Looking up from one of their many books, Black watched as Night entered the room in silence. “Well, how is she?”

            “Alive.”

            “That it?”

            Night let himself drop to his chair, his voice dejected. “The pain finally put her under. Don’t we have any more shots?”

            “Used the last on you a week ago.”

            “Damn. That amputation is worse than anything we’ve ever suffered.”

            “True. Did you find her clothes.”

            “She refused. Said she wont wear anything until she has clothes of her own.”

            “What about a privacy garment?”

            “I did talk her into that. She’ll make it from one of our rags when she can.”

            “At least she’ll be decent, unlike you were when you met her.”

            “Hey, she quickly came down to my level.” Night threw his arms behind his head as he laughed and thumped his feet onto the low table. Black let out an impressed whistle.

            “Fates! Night, why didn’t you tell me about that?”

            “What?” Taking the paw Black had indicated he inspected the pads. “I’ll be right back.” He collapsed in the chair, eyes closed.

            “Stop that, you.” Black threw the book he was holding into Night’s chest.

            “Oof! You know, I wouldn’t have gone out earlier had I known I’d step on some glass, use my arm as a pain stick and bet smacked in the chest with a damn heavy book. What is this one anyway?”

            “Hey, keep focussed. I’m going to have to treat that foot. Out to the pool with you.” Black pulled the stoat from his chair and dragged him out to the water’s edge. Collecting the first aid kit from the wall he stripped off his shorts before jumping into the pool.

            “You could have had a swim without me being here you know.”

            “If I don’t treat this foot right, you could end up like your feline friend.”

            “Rraji.”

            “Thanks for telling me. Now get that foot in the water, and don’t make any sudden moves.”

            Night obeyed the instruction as he pulled out the wooden stick from the kit placing it between his jaws, ready for the pain.

            Black submerged and made Night roll onto his belly. Examining the paw Black brushed off the surface dirt before surfacing to retrieve a pair of tweezers. He looked at them sceptically. “You think these’ll do the trick?”

            “Just do it.” Night managed to say around the stick. He was sure he new why Rraji had said just that, the anticipation was far worse than the act.

            Black went under once more, turning the paw to catch the light he saw the glass. Careful not to make it shift, he placed the tweezers around it. Grabbing hold as hard as he could he squeezed Nights ankle to warn him before yanking the glass from the wound.

            Night could help pulling his foot from the water, his yell muffled by the stick. Letting it drop from his mouth he turned around and looked at the now gaping wound. His head was swimming as he could hear heart pounding. Black surfaced with the palm-sized piece of glass in his hand. “That is some wound you managed to not notice. Umm, Night?” the stoat swayed for a moment before falling on his side. Black poked him experimentally. “Night?” He didn’t move at all. “Aww crap.”

            Pulling himself from the water, Black bandaged Night’s paw before dragging him to the comfort of a chair. Dropping back into his own he let out a sigh while watching the ceiling. “Why, after two months here, do we get burdened like this just two days from going home?” Reaching to the table he plucked the book he had thrown at Night from the top and began to decipher more of the information within.

            He was glad he had found this book intact. For it seemed to give instructions on how to use the folding machine. As he wrested meaning from each line a thought struck him. Putting the book aside he rummaged around for a while to find the ingredients he needed, some sheets of blank, yellowing paper, and a pencil. Sitting back down, he placed the book in his lap and began to translate what he could into Clawmark.

            A couple of hours had passed when Night stirred. Opening his eyes he saw Black hard at work, multiple sheets now covered in writing. An almost inaudible whistle reached his ears. “Dust storm?”

            “Yeah, started five pages ago.”

            “And how long is that in real time?”

            “No clue, been busy working.”

            “Working at what?”

            Laying down the much shorter pencil, Black rubbed his eyes and actually looked at Night. “I was tired of trying to remember what the more complicated words meant, so I’ve been translating this book. I’m not that far into it, but far enough to know how to turn that thing on.” He indicated the thin folding machine. “Find somewhere to connect it, if you can.” He added as he saw Night wince upon putting his foot on the floor.

            Night waved off the concern, “I can do it. There’s a free socket in the next room, I’ll bring a cable in here though, don’t want to risk that thing near water.”

            Hobbling out of the room, Night was soon back, with cable in hand. Black had already taken the devices own power cable and connected the two. Pushing the plug into the socket they waited for a moment.

            “So, what now?”

            “A symbol should appear in this little window,” Black indicated a small display just above the keys, “that tells us it is receiving power.” As he finished speaking the symbol appeared beneath his claw. “And this button here, should activate it.” Pushing the silver button they both waited. “This may take a while, as it’s so old.”

            A noise distracted them from the waking display. In the entrance stood the snow leopard, “I called, but got no response.”

            Night was up and under her arm before she could blink. “You shouldn’t be moving around right now,” he admonished her.

            “I needed a drink. That pool you have is quite refreshing. What happened to your foot, stoat?”

            “Trod on some glass up top.”

            “A sympathy wound?”

            “Not really, I suffered it before I found you, I thought it was only a scratch.”

            “Oh. What were you guys doing in here?”

            “Learning,” Black interrupted Night’s reply.

            “May I learn too? I’ve always wondered about these ruins. My clan actively discouraged such learning.” a note of bitterness showed as she indicated the furless scar running down her left side. “Please teach me.”

            Black scrutinized her face a moment before nodding. “Alright, both of you take a seat. I’ll use the floor.”

            “I’m fine on the floor Black.”

            “Night, take my seat, don’t try being gallant. You’re wounded, I’m not.” Once the two were seated Black faced the feline. “This artefact is what we were after when your clan ambushed us.”

            “What is it?”

            “That’s what we’re finding out.”

            Turning to the device, Black saw the screen was still, a pale blue covered the background while a small box sat in the middle of the screen. Examining the word for a moment he realized what it said. “This may be as far as we can get, it wants a passcode, so we must know that code before it will let us do anything.”

            “What’s a passcode?” Rraji asked.

            “A combination or words or numerals that gain you access to security areas,” Night responded.

            “Exactly,” Black confirmed. “We don’t know that code and the book tells us that we only have three tries to get it right or we can’t get in.”

            “I might be of help there.” Both rat and stoat looked stunned at the comment.

            “How?” Black asked.

            Rraji fidgeted under their scrutiny, wishing she had put on something more than a pair of trousers. “I used to go to that building a lot. It’s why I was given that scar. A couple of those devices had markings scratched into their surface, the same markings each time. I memorized them, I thought they might mean something. Do you have something I can mark with?”

            Night threw over the pencil Black had been using while the rat pulled a scrap of paper from a pile. Taking the items Rraji closed her eyes before drawing the markings. Black watched her, the markings were definitely the text of the ancients, but they didn’t form any word either he or Night knew.

            When Rraji passed the paper back, the two other scrutinized it. After a while Night sat back with a heavy sight. “It’s just gibberish, a random collection of lettering and numerals.”

            “Not helpful?” Rraji asked disappointed.

            “It may be,” Black said.

            “What? How?” Night sat bolt upright at his partner’s comment.

            “For one thing, Night, what would be the most secure passcode? One that was difficult to remember! Some of the Ancients in that building possibly had a hard time remembering the code and so scratched it into their machines in order that they would always be able to enter it correctly.”

            As he had been speaking Black had been searching for the matching buttons and pressing them. Once finished he sat back, absently scratching behind his ear. “Pass me my translation, I can’t remember how to make it accept the code.”

            Night placed the pages in his hand. Passing through them, Black found the section he wanted. With a quick action he tapped the large, L-shaped button. Instantly the screen changed, replaced with an image of the city before its decay. Symbols appeared on the picture, naming text underneath. All three through were more impressed with the image.

            “I know we can photograph such things, but that is impressive. How did they take the image from that location, there is and was no building that high in that region.” Black was astounded.

            “The guys back at ARF are going to love this. What are those Icons?”

            “I don’t know, ignore them for now, we got this to see if it could read those disks.”

            Night was up and collecting a pile of disks before Black could move. “Night, could you please keep off that foot of yours. You’ll damage it even more.”

            “Alright, I promise, that’s the last time I get up until we leave.”

            “This was your idea, you put it in.”

            Night carefully lifted the top disk from the pile and placed it in the drawer that Black opened. Sliding it shut, they were pleased to see a light blink in recognition of the draw being full. A hum began and the screen changed once again. Going black for a few moments before astounding them with video and a terrible racket.

            They ignored the noise. “Are those Ancients?” Rraji asked, astonished.

            “Yes they are, though we’ve never recovered video of them before.” Black responded. “I want to know what those marked words in that…” he broke of his sentence as another video began, speaking words they recognized.

            The three creatures exchanged glances before Night spoke up, “I always knew that legend was true. We speak the same language, we only write it differently. Anthros had to exist alongside Ancients at some point.”

            “I have to agree with you on that, Night. So many will have to change their views. Especially if all these disks can be understood.”

            “It looks to be waiting,” Rraji indicated the screen, now showing a still image with words surrounding it, one word highlighted with a red box.

            Black reluctantly pulled his hand from the controls, “I think we need to take this with us when we go back. I’ll continue translating that book so we can better know how to work this thing. I don’t want to break it. To be honest we, no I was reckless to have us even do this.”

            “I didn’t exactly try and stop you did I? We would both have been to blame.”

            “Alright, now if this device works sensibly then we should just have to remove the disk to make it stop.” Putting action to his words, Black opened the disk draw. The screen went blank save for some text in the centre.

            As Night put the disk back in its case and returned it to the pile, Black deciphered the text. “Return to previous… play list, I think. I don’t want to do that, I want to turn this off.”

            “What’s that red box with the cross?” Rraji asked.

            “I’m not sure. But I don’t want to touch it, red usually means danger.”

            “To us,” Night interjected. “What about this sign.” Digging around in the pile the stoat pulled out an octagonal red sign, a single word written in white across it. “This says stop, and is red. Maybe that’s what that cross means. There’s not enough space to actually write the word, so they had so show it somehow.”

            “You’ve got a point night. Thanks for pointing that out Rraji.” Slowly, Black rose a finger to the screen and touched the small box, jumping in surprise as it responded. “I didn’t think that would actually work.” Experimentally he touched one of the icons now visible again. A faint blue-filled box surrounded the icon. “You touch the screen to do things.”

            Night snatched the rat’s paw from the screen. “No more, right now. We don’t want to break it.”

            “Sorry, was getting carried away.”

            Night pushed the power button, the screen went blank almost immediately and he folded the device closed. “Right, let’s get working on that translation.”

            “Could I help with that?” Rraji asked uncertainly.

            “Do you have any knowledge of the Ancient’s marking?” Black asked in return.

            “No.”

            “Then I’m afraid you can’t.”

            “Though you could watch us, and see as we mark in Clawmark, what the words mean. That can be a start to you understanding the written language. If you’re certain about joining our team,” Night offered.

            “I’m certain.” The snow leopard had just crawled into a position where she could watch when a clanging, hooting alarm sounded in the main room.

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