Maurlynn paced behind a low-standing table holding the lifeless, winged lizard. Cursing under her breath, she created various concoctions of blood and scales which would be heated intensely before being injected into the veins of the creature.
Adruh sat next to two wolves against a wall near the entrance of her chamber. Silently watching her work, they patiently awaited their next orders. Their leader was clearly stressed. Since she had left the Designer’s side, much of her work was trial and error, and lacked prior research.
The pressure of keeping her creations head and shoulders above those of her antagonist caused her to work with reckless haste. These rushed practices had resulted in quantity over quality, and many new species were immediately deemed unfit to leave the ‘nest’ that was her gruesome dungeon. Failed projects were disposed of, never to be mentioned again.
Water dripped from the ceiling to the cold stone floor. Maurlynn’s shadow cast across the cave walls, projected from dimly-burning torches. Her shoulder blades pushed her skin in an alternating pattern as she paced back and forth, monitoring the winged lizard. Adruh lightly clicked his largest talon against the rock floor, sending an echo throughout the room.
Maurlynn took her focus from the hopeless reptile to stare intently at the bird.
“I just wanted to let you know, Miss, that my intel has provided me with information about the group’s shift in position,” Adruh said softly.
“Just the four animals, right? I don’t care about them. There is no point in going after them if he is not with them,” Maurlynn replied sharply.
“I felt him there that day. I am sure. I didn’t see him, but I’m almost positive he was in their company,” the eagle said.
Maurlynn let out a roar-laced laugh from her chest. “I thought you birds were known for your vision. Maybe you should get your eyes checked.”
Adruh clicked his beak shut and narrowed his eyes on her, unimpressed with her comic relief.
“We are not going after the animals,” she said. “We are going after his tree. I know that he hasn't left that place since I resided there. I leave sentries outside for a reason.”
“No predator has been able to enter the tree,” one of the wolves protested.
“I know a way in…” Maurlynn purred.
“And when we do gain access?” Adruh asked with a slight hiss, tightening his grip on the stone perch. His talon dug into the rock, causing small bits of rubble to tumble to the ground.
“Slaughter what stands in the way, but do not kill him,” she said sternly.
Adruh’s chest fell as his eyes widened.
“Why would we kill him? He designs our food! No, no – we just have to damper his new defensive traits. I’ll need access to his table, if only for a moment to remove physical features such as the thumbs and upright positions from DNA strains. Maybe even get rid of horns while I’m at it.” Maurlynn scoffed.
“Keep plenty of food on the planet for ourselves – things that still run, mate, and populate every environment. That are, however, completely defenseless!” she said, followed by a low growl from the back of her throat.
Adruh spread his wings and clicked his beak in excitement. Hackles of the wolves raised as they tilted their head back to release a haunting howl.
Days had passed as the group of unique herbivores made their way back north. Luckily, sun-light hours were only growing longer, and nights warmer. Various fauna they passed were generally unapproachable, due to the nature of the Guardian’s stature, and peculiar make-up of their party. The Designer was pioneering a new breed of herbivores, and the other species living in the forest and plains had not gotten the memo.
“Maybe these, Bren,” Festelda mumbled to the moose, her voice muddled by distance and sharp wind that had picked up, passing through lush alder leaves.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Brenloru replied, accepting the combination of soft, moisture-rich plants she offered. “Non-abrasive, lush. Needs some sort of binder, though. To adhere to flesh…”
Festelda had clearly grown bored with the repetitiveness of the landscape they crossed. Only discovering new species of berries and fungus kept her focused on the journey. Names unknown, she mentally logged location, time of day, surrounding environment, and present precipitation. Edibility, however, was also unknown, and Dahj was not willing to be a test subject for mysterious fungi again anytime soon.
Their voices were obscured further as Dahj gained distance on them, but he was happy to see Festelda branching out of her expertise to assist Brenloru with his studies. While bouncing ideas off each other, Dahj observed various species for newly-acquired traits that would reflect the carnivore designer’s influence. Aside from boars and bears, most herbivores appeared to be diligently sticking to their dietary restrictions.
“See anything noteworthy?” Reblex asked over his shoulder. The prompt-less question startled Dahj.
“No, not yet,” Dahj replied with a glance. “You’d be the first to know, Reb.”
“The teeth on that squirrel,” Reblex commented on a passerby. “Have they always hung that low? They seem so… exposed, now.”
“Straight and flat, just like ours. Nothing to worry about.”
“Wouldn’t say straight,” Reblex argued. “Slight curve to ‘em. He works at it enough, and they could become sharpened…” The ram had yet to take his eyes off the critter that did not return the attention. It held a branch it its paws, carefully turning it to gnaw and extract seeds.