Supply Run: Chapter 1

Published Jun 9, 2022, 5:21:25 PM UTC | Last updated Jun 9, 2022, 5:21:25 PM | Total Chapters 1

Story Summary

James is assigned to test and judge two young wannabe agents using a grueling test of endurance, strength, and navigation.

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Chapter 1: Chapter 1

New recruits to train was not something James desired. He’d already seen so many of his students perish before they were even officially past AREO’s field training, so when two young and eager Rhkaos showed up asking for his assistance, he was less than thrilled. Still, the massive gryph rolled his shoulders and accepted the challenge. It wasn’t as if he had much of a choice.


Now they were standing at the beginning of a grueling trail. It was a difficult trek even for him, but then he was a flier and not a runner. The piebald female and the ruddy orange male had an advantage in that regard, though it was made much more difficult by the cargo that would soon be upon their shoulders. “Now,” James stated firmly, “Once you’re suited up, we’ll be making our way halfway up the mountain, through the forest. There will be an agent waiting for us once we reach the checkpoint. He’ll take our goods and bring them to the safehouse nearby.” He raised a wing when Dingo - the male - appeared to want to ask a question. “Wait until I’m finished, please.” He then began to heave backpacks filled with various weapons and supplies over Piepklein’s - the female - back. She helped him tighten the straps and secure it properly, as her wings were much more nimble than his own. “Although it’s unlikely that we’ll run into any trouble, we’ll want to reach the safety of this spot as quickly as possible once the supplies have been delivered.”


Whatever question Dingo had, it had either escaped his mind or been answered. “Alright, would you help me with this?” he asked. He’d manage to pull one backpack strap over his shoulder, but could not do the same for the second. James sighed and was about to assist when Pie moved to the other bird and looped the other strap over Dingo’s other shoulder, connecting the buckle between the two which fastened the whole pack firmly to him.


“There. I think we’re all set, sir,” Piepklein reported to the gryph. “Permission to proceed?”


“Denied.” James answered quickly. “I have to review your equipment before we leave. If you lose any piece of it, it will reflect poorly on your overall score. If you intend on getting through as a field agent, you have to both prepare and carry your packs correctly.” He stepped beside Dingo. The blue-beaked rhakos looked anxious as he usually did. Already James could see that one portion of his backpack had been poorly packed. The gryph wanted to point it out to the young bird, but now was the true test of endurance and preparedness that a young agent had to prepare for.


Satisfied with his assessment of Dingo, he looked to the piebald Stryx. She was much more confident, with a lean build which showed clearly the strength beneath her feathers. There were areas where she could have packed the goods better, but as long as she was careful it was unlikely that she would lose much if any of the items packed away during the journey. Luckily, the supplies for the safehouse weren’t of dire need. Those that were more critical - as well as more fragile - had already been delivered by agents in the days prior. James himself had extra rations in a bag nestled between his shoulders. If something were to go drastically wrong, the agents and informants hidden away in the safehouse would be set for a few extra days without support so long as that which he carried arrived safely.


“Alright. I am not to interfere unless real and violent danger is presented,” James stated with a nod of his head. His white face shone down on the two rhakos with nobility and high expectations. “You’ll be on your own. If a fight breaks out between the two of you, neither of you will pass this test.” Dingo and Piepklein looked at each other. As their eyes met, a silent agreement to cooperate to the best of their ability was made. Neither had any ill will towards each other, but now more than ever they had to work together. “Get going, you know the route.” James extended a wing and shooed them off.


Both rhakos began their journey. The first stretch was relatively simple, as a deer trail had been gradually widened into a road by travelers. Dingo led the way, having been through this portion of the mountainous woods prior to this exercise. Pie was only shortly behind. They were unlikely to run into trouble, but while Dingo walked ahead, she kept her eyes peeled. Paranoia filled her head quite often and no dark corner or shadowed clump of foliage was benign in her viewpoint. There were enemies lurking at every turn.


Dingo, meanwhile, was strolling without concern. The equipment on his back was heavy, but the trail was simple… that was, until they got to the turn which went straight into the heart of the coniferous forest. He stopped and looked around, second guessing as to whether or not this was where they were supposed to turn. James was watching keenly from above. Both rhakos were aware of his gaze piercing through their hides, even if he had miraculously managed to hide himself. How it was possible for a gryph of his side to hide so thoroughly, neither of them knew.


“Is this the right way?” Piepklein asked aloud. She kept her voice down just to be safe, but placed one feathered arm on Dingo’s shoulder. She offered a smile of encouragement. 


The sand bird hesitated, looking back into the forest. “I think so. It gets harder from here… but this is the right way according to the map.” He sighed, then took a step forward. “Okay, let’s go.” As they stepped together off the trail, dried pine needles crunched beneath their feet. There was no way to make their approach silent, but it would have to do. After all, this exercise was only to test their endurance and preparedness.


From in a particularly large pine, James watched. His feathers fluffed up to keep himself warm, as the temperature had already begun to drop as the sun sunk below the peak of the mountain. Thus far, the journey was a simple one. Dingo seemed to be taking the initiative of guiding Piepklein, which was good. Even though the rhakos had already lost a few small items from his pack while walking the simple part of the trail, he was doing well. Unfortunately, he could see that the piebald terrestrial Stryx would need more work on navigation… but that would be a lesson for a different day.


The further away from the trail they got, the harder it was to proceed. Piepklein took over the lead position, now. She’d produced a knife from her pack and gripped tightly it with her singular wing finger. Foliage that she could not brute strength her way through, she hacked at. The trees were getting more dense, making the journey a confusing and distressing one. All this combined with the growing incline of the mountain slowed them down significantly. This side of the peak was cast in dark shadow. It was getting cold. The packs on both Dingo and Pie’s shoulders were feeling heavier by the minute.


Still, if they wished to assist AREO, they would have to keep going. Unfortunately, Dingo’s unsecured equipment had been discarded along the way as branches dragged across the pack. It made the blue-beaked bird have a much easier time traversing the difficult terrain than Piepklein. He could squeeze through tight spots without cutting through foliage as she was doing, but he was completely unaware that much of his cargo had been lost. The decreased weight on his back wasn’t even noticeable to him.


James had been collecting it once they were too far away to notice him, not wanting the money and supplies to be wasted. Still, he kept a close eye on his pupils. He could sense that they were growing weary, but they had to break through the confines of the wood and out of the tree line. It wasn’t going to be easy.


Piepklein’s body ached, but most of all her feet. As the elevation increased, so did the angle of the slope. As the slope increased, it grew harder to climb. Both birds were struggling not to trip on rocks that began to jut out randomly from the earth. Dingo, however, had the advantage of being able to watch his friend and avoid those obstacles which she struggled with. “Do you need me to lead?” he asked after a fall left the pied female bleeding at the ankle and several small items from her supplies on the ground.


Pie winced, but nodded. “Maybe for a little while.”


James flew ahead of them, keeping careful watch. He smiled at the comradery between the pair. It was as he was briefly contemplating on their execution of this trek thus far that he heard something moving somewhere nearby. It was a soft sound, like muffled steps and rustling leaves… and it was a familiar sound. His keen eyes swept over the landscape. He could see his students heading towards him, approaching the tree line… but he spotted something else, too.


A cougar.


The beast was crouched in a tree, watching the birds carefully. Although only a fraction of their size, it could see that both Pie and Dingo were tired from their climb. With the right plan of attack, it was possible the mountain lion could bring one of them down. Even if it did not manage to kill one of the rhakos, it could very easily mortally wound one of them.


The muscles on Jame’s shoulders tensed up. He wasn’t allowed to intervene unless absolutely necessary. It was certainly possible that the cougar would decide the risk was too great and seek out other prey, but he didn’t want to chance that assumption. If an attack did take place, he was ready to leap into action.


Pie and Dingo drew unknowingly closer to both bird and cat, helping each other climb the steep portions. The trees here were growing sprace, which allowed them more room to maneuver. Dingo was completely oblivious to any danger. Piepklein kept her eyes open. The one place she didn’t look, however, was up. At least, until she heard the sound of bark creaking above her head. It was the only warning both she and Dingo had before the massive predator dropped down from its perch.


Dingo felt himself shoved to the forest ground with such a force that the wind was beaten right out of his chest. He had no idea what was going on. Terror flooded through him, however, when he heard Piepklein let out a loud bellowing screech of alarm. The cougar was silent as it attacked, gripping onto the pied rhakos and biting at her throat, making every effort to tear through her feathers and rip open the skin. Pie was overwhelmed, but the pack that was strapped firmly to her back saved her the sheer force of the cat’s claws.


She let out another scream of pain as those teeth found their mark, but just as quickly as the cat had jumped them, it was off of her back. She was swept onto the ground by a powerful force, landing roughly on top of Dingo. Blood stained her light grey and white feathers, but she got up as quickly as possible. Dingo wasn’t too far behind, though he winced as he tried to place his full weight on one foot.


Both rhakos looked over in the direction that the force had come from. James had silently swooped down, claws extended, and pinned the cougar. The cat, previously dead silent, was now hissing and growling. The fight between gryph and mountain lion wasn’t long, but it was vicious, and both animals sustained injuries. Fortunately, the predator deemed the hunt a lost cause. It wriggled out of Jame’s fury and fled.


The gryph looked at his students, worry written over his face. “Are you injured?” he asked them both. It was clear they both were in some form, but how severe the wounds were remained to be seen. He rushed over to inspect Pie’s bleeding, disturbed that the cat had broken through her skin. She leaned her neck down to let him see. Thankfully, the wound wasn’t deep… but it could have been far worse. James pulled out a bandage from his supplies and quickly wrapped it tightly over the wound. It wasn’t what he considered proper medical care, but the moment they arrived at the checkpoint, they could ask for the safehouse’s assistance.


When he’d ensured that Piepklein was safe, he shifted his attention to Dingo. One of his feet was bruised and bloodied and small scrapes ran across the side he’d fallen against. Apparently, he had slid some distance down the mountainside. It also didn’t appear to be a severe injury, but whether or not he’d broken bones remained to be seen. Unfortunately both of their heavy packs had been damaged, but to all three birds’ surprise, little was lost in the scuffle.


“Alright… we have just a few more minutes of walking before we have reached the checkpoint,” James stated. He hated making the two young rhakos continue on in this condition, even if the shock and fear was the primary result of the attack.


“We can do it,” Dingo assured him, trying to stand taller and appear less shaken. Both he and Piepklein could tell that James was struggling to make them continue. Even though they were both shaking, they steeled themselves and stood strong. “It’s just a little further.”


“We’ll take temporary refuge at the safehouse,” Jame stated with a sigh. “The journey back can wait until you are both medically cleared to do so. You’ve both done well.” He scooped both rhakos gently into his wings, hugging them softly. It surprised the younger birds. Their mentor hardly ever expressed himself like this, but they welcomed it regardless.


…or, Dingo welcomed it. Piepklein appreciated the sentiment, but scrambled out of the hug the moment James began to fold his wings once more over his back. “The test isn’t over,” she said firmly, “and we need to get going before that cougar comes back.”

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