Kal peered into the darkness near the back of the chamber. Five young men sat heaped on the ground, hands bound, their faces set with fear or blank numbness. One of the smugglers loomed over them, holding a pistol in his folded arms. Kal held his breath. Obrin’s parents had shown him a painting of their son. He checked each prisoner’s face against his memory of the likeness. Not that one, or that one. Not that one either. Back in the shadows, yes! It was him. The young man was bruised and ragged but very much alive.
Humans were the most common folk on the western side of Elarin, but they were by no means the only sentient species. Obrin was of the Noldan people. They were similar in shape to humans, but taller and somewhat heavier of build. Noldan grew no hair on their scalps, and their skeletons were partially made of stone. Kal could see the rough outlines of bone just beneath the young man’s slate gray skin, especially along his heavy cheek lines, pronounced brow ridge and hard jawline. Kal rubbed his hand subconsciously. A few years ago he’d tangled with a Noldan bounty hunter. During the scrape, he’d punched the man in the face, broken his own hand and learned a valuable lesson. The young Noldan at the back of the cave bore a long scar just above his left ear. Moreover, he had his father’s oval face and his mother’s dark green, almost black, eyes. Kal bit back a sigh of relief. Obrin was here, and he was alive.
Obrin was sitting with his back against the cavern wall. He glanced up as Kal walked across the cavern. Kal wanted to give him a nod, some kind of sign, but ignored him. It wouldn’t do to let Gara know he was after Obrin, not just yet. If the smuggler had time to think, he might try ransoming Obrin and extorting as much money as he could demand, money that Kal and Obrin’s parents just didn’t have.
Kal was escorted to the middle of the cavern. The sentry grunted and hooked his thumb towards a wiry man who was examining a pile of charts and ledgers heaped on a crate that served as a makeshift table. Kal cleared his throat, and the wiry man glanced up from his charts, a cautiously curious look on his face. Kal blinked. He didn’t recognize this new person, but he did look vaguely familiar. Kal wracked his brain but couldn’t place him. Whoever he was, he wasn’t Gara.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Gara anywhere since he’d entered the cavern. What in the Many Worlds could draw a ship’s captain away when his crew was so close to sailing? Surely nothing good. Kal’s stomach fluttered slightly. The situation had changed, he only wished he knew how.