A Renewed Mission

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It was on the morning of the second day that the two operatives first found any sign of civilization.  It was as they broke their own camp that van Joss caught a whiff of wood smoke, from a fire burning cured and seasoned wood, unlike the green wood they had used for theirs.  Longspear also smelled it and both operatives fell silent as they completed packing their gear.  Shouldering their packs, they then went back into the forest, now green with Spring’s first kiss, making their way towards the source of the smoke.

Keeping a nose to the wind, it didn’t take the two humans long to work their way through the thick trees to the smoke’s source.  Cautiously poking his head through of a final wall of greenery and bush, van Joss caught sight of a tight knot of Fisted, working around a small hole in the ground.  Just behind them he spotted three small tents, with a smoldering fire in front of them.  It only took a look at the golden fur that covered their faces and bared arms, as well as the thick reddish brown braid that went down each back to tell him who they were.

He pulled back and looked over at Longspear, who had been silently waiting.

“Ryon,” he mouthed to stay as quiet as possible and hopefully undetected.  “Braided and wearing royal crests on their tunics.  I think I spotted Miners’ Guild patches as well.”

“A prospecting party,” Longspear, also mouthing her words, concluded with a nod of her head.  “Are you sure there wasn’t an unbound mane among them?”

“Positive.  Not a warrior in sight.”

“Then we must be deep in Ryon territory for them to be so confident.  Mining parties are always under attack, allies or no!  The Protectorate needs raw materials as desperately as the Golden Kingdom, if not more so.  They are just as likely to steal from each other, as from us.”

Van Joss nodded as he leaned back against a tree trunk.

“That was my conclusion as well, captain.  Now, we just have to find out exactly where in the Golden Kingdom we are!”

Feeling much more at ease with knowing that they were so close to home, Longspear grinned roguishly.

“We could always just ask one of the prospectors.”  She suggested and van Joss's expression tightened slightly.  Having spent the better part of a year with him, Longspear had learned to catch those subtle shifts in the lean operative's expressions and to use those shifts to figure out he was thinking.  And this shift told her he disapproved of her suggestion.

Longspear shrugged as her playful grin disappeared.

“Hey, it was just a suggestion,” she mouthed in the way of defending herself.

“A better one would've been to steal their map and make our own determination,” the lean operative retorted, easing up to his feet.  Longspear frowned.

“And how are you going to do that without getting caught??" she wanted to know, earning herself another tightening of van Joss's expression.

“You should know by now, captain, that I'm not fond of explaining myself or outlining my methods.  However, perhaps this is an opportunity for you to learn something about being a true operative."  As Longspear frowned at that, van Joss went on, apparently oblivious to her own change in expression.

"As you've already noted, captain, these miners are deep within Ryon territory.  Therefore they are relaxed, unsuspecting, and less on guard against intrusion.  Especially from a human, which is supposed to be hundreds of kilometres west of here!"  He paused to glance into the camp where a number of items were strewn about the tents in a careless manner.

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