Chapter 3: A Ganbury Stroll

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CHAPTER 3: A GANBURY STROLL

A creature like you bound to the dirt can never know how liberating it is to fly. I don’t mean something so pedestrian like riding a machine or mount, but to only need one’s own power to soar. The sun had set, unraveling the sky into a night bejeweled of five full moons. The ringed giant Drazar, along with her smaller siblings, the pearl like Choros, the clay red Ravak, and tiny Shin and Aylon, cast their light over the land, illuminating any places the thieves might hide. My old friends the wind and sky seemed almost eager at my return, wooing me with the fresh pine scent of Foster’s Wood. This of course did little to shield my nostrils from the Flatlander’s stench.

“Mind telling me where we’re going yet?” the Flatlander asked.

I didn’t answer right away. In my naiveté I assumed the boy would cease his inquiries.

“Look, you kidnapped me. Least you can do is tell me where we’re going.”

“We go where I say. Got it?” I said.

We’d flown for some six hours and six hundred miles before the lights appeared on the horizon. They appeared out in the west, a small string of fireflies where the sky met the land.

“Is that a city?” the verd inquired.

“That it is.” I answered. “Flatlander, welcome to Ganbury.”

Never-Heroes-Background

Ganbury was a busting abode, and one of the nearest large ape settlements to my lair. It was also, according to Sparks, one of the stops along the thieves’ route.

I descended towards the trees of Foster’s Wood. Cutting into them was the river known as Sallah’s Drink, a bustling watery rope that flowed right towards the city.  It spilled over the side of a cliff overlooking the town. It was as perfect a perch a Saar could ask for, made better by the waterfall muting my approach. These Ganburians didn’t suspect a thing.

I set the Flatlander down and was immediatly assailed by his. I ran my hand over the falls in hopes of cleansing it.

“When was the last time you bathed?” I asked as I dropped the Flatlander.

“Last good bath I got was from mom.” he answered.

“Come now.” I sneered. “Surely you’ve cleaned yourself since then.”

“Last time I tried, I got stabbed.” he said. The Flatlander lifted his tattered shirt, revealing a scar on his side about the size of a kitchen knife..

“It was this inn with a tub of dirty dishes out back. I guess the lady really liked her dirty water.”

He explained it like most would recall stubbing their toe. Did this whelp lack luck as well as brains? I turned back to the town because looking at him was just too depressing.

Ganbury was spread out beneath us. It was contained within a high guarded wall, broken only by three gates and a few small draw bridges that spanned the small lake surrounding it. At its center rested its defining monument, a high reaching tower garnished from base to summit with weapons and shields. It glistened brighter than the surrounding lake. The top of its steeple rose above all other buildings in Ganbury, dwarfing even the castle where Ganbury’s lord lived.

“Nice building.” The Flatlander said.

“That, Flatlander, is the Every War Tower.” I said. “It was erected around a fallen soldier named Foster Wish, liberator of the humans and dwarves from their elven slave masters. Its been  decorated with artifacts from every war hence. Just the kind of idol the war-hungry people of Ganbury would revere.”

“War-hungry?” he asked.

“Ganbury is a city of warriors. Those who die by blade stroke are celebrated here, and those who survive find sanctuary. Even former enemies can find camaraderie within these walls. It is a celebration of savagery.” I said.

“Sounds to me like they celebrate courage.” the boy countered.

“Courage is a myth, verd.” I said.

Thus was the day wasted in Ganbury: sparring, sharpening and smithing. Whatever scatter brained conversations could be heard dealt with war and combat. The guards on the surrounding walls and towers talked of bigger, better acts of guarding, with not even the slightest attention given to the sky.

“It seems they were too preoccupied to see us coming.” I said before poking the Flatlander in his belly once more. “I’m going to see if my little friends stopped by here. Don’t bother running.”

I hoped my demand would intimidate the child. In the end it only confused him. He took a brief look around before asking, with an unsettling sincerity “Run where?”

Up until then, the boy was a stranger. By that one question, I knew him. So desolate was his life there was no point to run. He had nowhere to go, no one to go to, which gave him no reason to try.

“Clean yourself while I’m gone.” I ordered. “I’m going to ‘ask’ if my thieves have been through here.”

Before I could take to the air, however, the little runt stopped me.

“Hey, wait. Let me go.” the boy said.

“Why of all the krakens in the Kraken Sea should I let you go?”

“Maybe I can…I don’t know…help you out a little.” he said.

“Help me?” I said. “You help me?”

I laughed. Billows of flame and smoke shot from my mouth and nostrils in a fit as uncontrollable as I’d ever had. Help me? As if bringing a casual cataclysm onto this little town would be anything more than a slight inconvenience. This Flatlander was proving to be most amusing.

I let my hand out to the town below. “Okay, Flatlander. Why don’t you talk to some of the shops?”

The soiled creature froze. He looked out to Ganbury as if I’d just suggested he walk barefoot over a bed of hot coals. Somehow, he seemed more frightened of this city of strangers than he was of me.

“What are you waiting for, runt? Entertain me.” I said.

Only at my behest did he force himself down the cliff. His climb was swift, to his credit, and it didn’t take long for him to walk through one of Ganbury’s gates. Though he stepped through it as if he were marching to the gallows. I’d not seen the boy among his own kind before. Seeing it now, one thing became undeniably clear.

He didn’t belong here.

The behavior of his fellow apes betrayed it as much as anything. Some openly mocked him with laughter they didn’t care if he heard. Most greeted him with casual disregard. What few seemed to posess compassion lacked the will to extend it, lest they suffer the burden. The Flatlander heard every whisper and felt every stare. All he could do was keep his eyes on the street, the only thing not judging him. It was really quite remarkable. I’d watched these creatures for centuries, and seldom could tell you one apart from the others, but this painted with a strange kind of otherness.

The Flatlander walked near two children as they sparred with wooden swords.

“I’m Foster! Leader of the Slave Resistance!” the boy shouted.

“No you’re not.” the female countered. “Foster was a girl!”

“Oh yeah?” the young boy growled.

“YEAH!” The female answered.

The female’s victory was cut short when her mother caught sight of the Flatlander.

“It’s time to go inside, Anya.” the mother said as she hastily gathered her child.

“Oh come on. Can’t I just…” The girl began.

“Right now.” the mother said as they hurried away.

The Flatlander drifted past a little clothing shop, aptly named Clo’s Things. With a name like that, it was thankful the proprietor never tried their hand as a jester. The boy considered looking inside when he spotted a far more promising mark named Yandru’s Weapons and Wares. It was headed by a gray haired woman who was working through both a customer and a handful of chewing herbs. It was just the place for the thieves to go to refine or replace their gear.

The boy didn’t approach it yet. Assaulted with dirty looks, it was only natural for the boy to cleans himself. Behind a small tavern named Spirit Pints, a barrel of soapy water sat temptingly near the back door. It was likely as good tub as the Flatlander had found in years.

The patrons were distracted by a curious dwarf specimen out front. If his drinking was any indication, his liver was more worn than his armor. He wore a curious necklace of bones, including a human finger whose segments were linked by twine. At first glance I thought his red beard was graying with age, but closer inspection revealed it to be the fizz of his beverage. His wooden chalice hung lazily at his side, spilling its contents to the ground.

“I tell ya boys, Compton better stop pesterin’ me about this business with his arm.” the dwarf said. “Shackle mate or no, he’ll hafta kill me if he wants my tongue in a knot.”

Dwarves, like humans, were once slaves to the elves. During the First Great War they fought for their freedom, only earning it by the sacrifice of Foster Wish. Due to their short stature, many dwarves struggled to find work in labor, unless a human was doing the hiring. It was a cross-generational favor as their ancestors were bound by the same chains, hence the term ‘shackle mate.’

“I tell ya though, he can throw a mean blade at a target.” the dwarf continued. “I betcha if I took both arms he could throw it just as well with his teeth. I don’t expect ma chances in a fight with him to go well. He kicked my ass well enough when I had three arms to his one.”

“You had three arms?” asked a voice.

“Yeh. Two of mine and one of his.” The dwarf laughed.

The Flatlander approached barrel of soapy water, something that to him was surely a luxury. He looked to the dust sullied arms and hands, more ashamed of himself than I could ever make him. He thrust them into the barrel, washing away the dirt to reveal a golden tan.

The boy was caught in a rare moment of contentment, one that ended when he saw his reflection.

Never Heroes River Cover illustration

Now, appeaser naturally ugly, but don’t tell them that. So you can imagine my surprise when the boy reacted to his own avatar with the same revulsion I’d known for ages. It was as if the boy had a chance meeting with an old enemy. The only one that looked more revolted than he was the hostess of Spirit Pints. The woman dropped her load of emptied chalices at the sight of the boy.

Crash.

“Hey!” she cried. “What you think you’re doing? You trying to get my patrons sick?”

The Flatlander walked away, but that wasn’t enough for the woman. She picked up one of her dirty wooden chalices and threw it. The dwarf from earlier arrived just in time to see it strike the back of the Flatlander’s head. The demitasse of wood bounced off his skull, propelling him face first into the street.

“What you ‘hic’ goin on about, Mariel?” the dwarf asked.

“This urchin was cleaning himself in the vat, Harad!” the woman said.

“Oh come on now. Ya don hafta be so rough with the spud.” the dwarf, Harad, said. “Ya need only smack his fanny fer him ta get the message.”

“You’d say that after that last time I smacked you.” the woman, Mariel said.

“Fer the last time, I thought the barrel was the toilet. Besides, felt good to have yer hands on me ass even if it was fer a beatin’.”

I half expected, perhaps even hoped this Harad would rush after the boy and console him, but he like all the rest had more important matters at hand, like further damaging his liver. The Flatlander just went on, wiping the blood from his lip as if he’d expected this all along. He arrived at Yandru’s Weapons and Wares just as the gray haired woman spat out her mouthful of herbs, though it was only to make room for the next handful. She snatched the herbs from a bowl on the countertop with one trembling hand, and slid a bag of gold to her latest customer with the other.

“Thanks for your business.” the woman said, just as the timid Flatlander approached the counter.

“I..uh…I’m looking for someone.” he said.

“They got names?” she asked. She didn’t bother looking up from the rubies she’d just been sold.

“I don’t know them.” the verd answered.

“What they look like?” she asked.

“Hcraa!” I groaned. In my haste, I’d forgotten to describe my plunderers to the child, just like in his nervousness, he’d forgotten to ask.

So it seemed we’d resort to my original plan after all. Now there was just the question of how to approach Ganbury. Using fire to flush out the thieves would likely give me more grief than gratification. Ganbury was also a good deal more prideful than most cities. They would defend themselves to the last charge. I’d probably wind up stepping on a third of the populace, and I wasn’t keen on wading in gore.

But life is not always filled with pleasantries.

I stepped over Ganbury’s wall in the midst of a friendly dispute between little Anya and her mother.

“But I want to be a warrior.” Anya said,.

“Your father and I did our duty so you wouldn’t have to.” the mother explained. “Besides, there’s more ways to bring honor to this family than spilling someone’s guts.”

“How sweet.” I grumbled as I stepped over them.

They didn’t scream as I passed by. To tell you the truth, no one did. They just looked up unbelieving, as if I were but a vivid dream. Harad and his cohorts were still talking as I walked by Spirit Pints. The dwarf fiddled with the finger bone on his necklace.

“Gotta tell ya boys. It’s good ta have a good luck charm. That’s why I always carry this, to remind meself that I took Compton in battle. He was generous enough to let me keep this even though he wanted the rest of it back.”

“Let me guess which finger he let you keep.” chuckled one of his fellows.

Their conversation stopped as I walked past. One look at me and Harad quickly turned his full pint into half of one.

“This is one helluva drink.” he said.

The owner of Yandru’s Weapons and Wares was too busy pressing the Flatlander to see me coming.

“Listen boy. If I don’t have a name or a description, I can’t help you find these two.” she explained.

No sooner did she say that then I leaned to her window.

“Perhaps I can be of assistance.” I said.

“Yes si…” She began. Then she stopped. Her panic took a few moments, enough for the Flatlander to complain.

“You didn’t tell me what they looked like.” he said.

“You didn’t ask.” I countered.

The smith cried out in terror. “Dr…dr…DRAGON!”

At that cry, the gray haired woman called the entire town to arms. Those not fleeing the battle were rushing to join it. They came out of their houses with whatever bows, blades, or cutlery they had handy. One fool was so starved for glory he dug an old rusted kitchen knife out of the bottom of a water barrel. As if to accentuate the comedy, Harad sprayed his beverage all over his fellows.

“Wait, that thing is real?” he asked. Harad drew a large crossbow from his back and raised it high in the air. “Lord Compton Blaine! We’ve been besieged by a cloud cutter!”

“Always hated that name.” I groaned.

Weakly fired arrows and bolts came at me from all directions, all harmlessly bounding away from my hide. Two of them struck the counter of Yandru’s, dangerously close to the Flatlander.

“Verd, get behind the counter, will you?” I asked the boy.

The Flatlander hopped over the counter, landing right alongside Yandru’s frightened owner. It was not a moment too soon, for that was when Ganbury’s spell casters decided to get involved. Three robed blood drinkers approached me. I could still smell the blood of Saar that stained their lips. They held their staffs forward, cold water vapor gathered at the tips. Their snow white hair told me they were a good deal more seasoned than Sparks, and whatever blows they dealt would be deadlier.

I ignited my furnace, just as the three cast forth a choice spell for fighting the Saar.

“LACIOUS!”

Beams of ice leapt from their staffs, but my fire was quicker. The blaze washed over the ice, evaporating the spells into harmless steam. The three wizards lobbed ice bolt after ice bolt into the cloud, unable to hit what they could no longer see.

“Lahaar’rie’vrrickii!” I roared.

I roared through the steam, unleashing my inferno upon the wizards once more. They’d no time to avoid it. All they could do was huddle close and invoke the one spell that would save them.

“Marumous!” They shouted.

A barely visible shield sprang around them, just in time to deflect the fire. The smoke cleared to revealed a charred street, with the three unscathed wizards in the center. It was just as I intended. Marumous just happens to be a very costly spell, and though the flames were now gone, Arcane Fatigue had set in.

“Lacious!” one of the wizards shouted feebly, but the significantly weakened bolt merely shattered on impact.

“Please. I’m ticklish.” I said.

Harad’s eyes grew wide with shock and fear when he finally realized just who I was.

“That’s not just any cloud cutter. That’s the Big Red Sunuvabitch!” he shouted.

The Major was right about the name the dwarves gave me. It did keep things simple.

Just then, another player entered the fray. The human was in obvious disarray, still adjusting his armor suit as he ran towards Harad. He sported an enchanted gauntlet that replaced a severed left arm. He tried desperately to not trip over the red cape trailing behind him.

“Compton!” Harad shouted. “What took ya so long, ya big goof?”

“Like you say Commander Harad, I may be late for the party but I know how to finish it.”

“Give me more lip and I’ll take yer other arm!” Harad threatened.

The dwarf then fired his crossbow at my face. I easily caught the harmless projectile between my teeth.

“By Foster’s Blade. Is there anything we can do to stop this beast?” replied Compton just as he unsheathed his sword.

“Maybe we can beat ‘em to death with yer other arm.” Harad said.

In spite of how ineffective his crossbow had proven, Harad began to reload it. As if the next shot had any hope of being truer.

“What do you expect do do, harlak?” I asked. “Your wizards are all but spent and all of your heavy artillery is trained outside of your city’s wall. Whatever toothpicks you shoot and carry wouldn’t so much as put a dent in my hide. What can you possibly do to me?”

Compton and Harad looked to each other, it only then dawning on them just how off guard I’d caught them. They could swing every blade and fire every bow, but none would be enough.

“Do not attack, but stand at the ready!” Compton cried out.

Only by his order did Ganbury manage to calm themselves.

“And who might you be?” I asked the robe wearing rrut.

“I am Compton Blaine, lord of this city for the world’s braves.” he said. “At my side is Commander Harad, bravest soul I know. Why do you come to our city?”

“Well, since you ask-.”

I let loose a great thunderous roar that shattered. The windows of a nearby shop shattered as everyone in the immediate area fell to their knees. The cry left some whimpering and all deaf for a few moments. When I was sure their hearing returned, I finally explained myself.

“Someone has stolen from me! Pray your city is not their harbor!”

I turned back to the frightened owner of Yandru’s Weapons and Wares. Her chin and the front of her shirt were stained from the herbs she’d just spit out. In her hand was clutched a pitiful dagger more suited force cutting bread. Though useless, she refused to drop it.

“Forgive the interruption, my dear. I seek a woman soldier and an elven wizard. You shouldn’t have had too much trouble spotting them. The woman wore a curious armor suit adorned with an emblem showing a raven on a wolf’s head, and the elf’s hair was made up to look like a skunk. The woman was named Major Arietta and the elf was named Sparks. Have you seen them?”

My question confused the gray haired woman, not due to her ignorance. Quite the contrary. She knew exactly who I was talking about.

“Wait. You’re the one they were talking about?” she asked.

I shoved my head through the front of Yandru’s. The woman backed against the wall, reflexively grabbing her tin of chewing herbs as she went.

“Did they speak of me?” I asked. “Please, do tell.”

During this, the Flatlander just sat below the counter, still calm in spite of the preceding chaos. He covered his ears to spare himself more noise, but there was no panic in him as I talked to the gray haired woman. The same couldn’t be said for her. The flustered creature grabbed another handful of herbs and shoved them in her mouth. Her cheeks budged outward from the sheer amount of her chew, which she somehow managed to speak through.

“Yes. Yes, I saw them. They flew in this morning. On Griffins.” she said.

In her haste, she accidentally swallowed some of her herbs, launching into a coughing fit. Though this did not annoyed me for I was pleased. I hadn’t told her about the griffins. Of course this may have been a lucky guess. I deliberately neglected to tell her everything.

“Describe more about them.” I demanded. “I want to be sure you’re not a liar.”

“Lady had a suit with a segmented chest plate that lets you bend easy.” the woman answered through her coughs. “Emblem with the raven and the wolf means she’s of the Paladin’s Guard. Raven had an emerald eye. That mean’s she’s a Major. The elf’s hair was streaked with white and treated like a lions mane. I’ve seen the style around a few places. His staff was just a pruned tree branch that sparked when he walked.”

“Very good.” I soothed her. “Now you said they spoke of someone?”

The gray haired woman nodded. “They said someone would come asking for them. That I’d know when I saw them. I guess they were talking about you.”

“Where did they go?” I asked.

“Glass Desert.” The gray haired woman said. “A couple miles from here. They told me because I was wondering why they wanted all that padding for their feet.”

This latest tidbit interested me. “Padding? Didn’t they fly?”

“They swapped their griffins for provisions after some of our guys flew with them out there. Said they would be needing the beasts anymore. Got them all chained up in the stable.” she said. “They said they were going to wait for someone at this old temple down there.”

I needn’t ask her precisely which temple she spoke of, for I already knew.

The Glass Desert took its name from the melting of its sands. The fires of the Saar would oft blast the sediment into sheets of melted glass, sometimes as far as the eye could see. The Saar frequented this place once upon a time, all for doing business at the very temple the gray haired woman spoke of. It had been centuries since I’d seen the temple last. I tried to forget it, both it and the horrible thing that happened there of which even the Black Wyrm swore not to speak of.

My secret.

I pulled my head out of Yandru’s Weapons and Wares, ’accidentally’ catching the roof on my crown.

“Oops.” I said.

The Flatlander climbed from under the counter right after.

The Flatlander. During this entire debacle I’d paid him little mind, but now with my attention freed that horrible odor of his plagued my nostrils once more. I was far from done with him, but for his company to at least be tolerable, something had to be done about that stench.

I soared from the front of Yandru’s out to the top of the Ever War Tower. The entire structure quivered as I landed on its steeple. The entire tower sounded like a giant chime as every weapon and every shield clanged together.

“By Foster’s Blade, the Tower!” Harad cried.

“I’m grateful you would aid me in finding those who plundered my mountain.” I raised my hand.“However, since I feel your treatment of me was most rude, I am owed some compensation, wouldn’t you agree?”

“What kind of compensation?” Lord Blaine asked.

“Oh, I can think of a few things.” I said, turning my head towards the aptly named Clo’s Things.

“Head of the clothing shop. Come out.” I ordered.

“Don’t go out there, Clo.” cried one of the patrons.

Lord Blaine immediatly protested. “This must not be! I am the lord of this town. If you wish for a sacrifice, then you take me…”

“Shut up.” I told their lord. “You there…Clo.”

It’s always amusing to watch an ape react to their name spoken by a Saar. This Clo character was no exception. They left the front door of their shop as a quivering mass of jelly. The creature presented himself with very flamboyant dress, with a brightly colored suit, pants and curled green shoes. He was just like the sun. He was bright, and it hurt to look at him.

The owner of the shop grinned nervously. “Well I guess this is the part where you eat me.”

“Blech! Don’t make me vomit. We’re here to discuss compensation.”

He nodded. “Of course, red lord. You are truly a divine being and must be treated in accordance with your divinity.”

“Which is why I come to your little establishment.” I said. “Little Clo, what’s your best clothing for outdoor travel?”

In all my centuries of gliding across this continent and burning the pillagers that pestered me, I’ve never seen a rrut more confused than the proud owner of Clo’s Things at that moment.

“What?” he asked.

I pushed myself off the Tower and landed in front of his shop. My landing shattered the front window of his shop, but little Clo was still somehow able to keep standing.

“Are your ears clogged? I want your best clothing for outdoor travel!” I shouted down on him, showering the creature with smoke.

“Please, just a moment!” he begged. “Please understand, you’re my first customer of such a large persuasion.”

“Thank you.” I grinned. “And while you’re back there, fetch some soap. A strong one.”

The quivering, gelatinous Clo crawled back through his shattered window. He darted from shelf to shelf inside his shop, grabbing one article of clothing after another. He grabbed a pair of deer skin stalkings, a pair of bovine hair woven pants, a hide stretched shirt, and a pair of strapped boots that rode all the way up to the knee. He hastily dropped the artifacts to my feet.

“Here! These have been done by our finest tailors. Perfect for hunting, traveling through mountains and…”

“I’ll take your word for it.” I said. “How about a good holster for a large Morningst-?”

Before the words even left my lips, Clo tossed a holster out the window onto the pile. The treated leather smelled of fresh finish, a substantial improvement over the stink I’d had to endure these last six hours. Barring it masking the stench, it was a good sheath. The over the shoulder sleeve was built to last, and more than durable enough to hold the boy’s impressive weapon.

“Oh, and uh…” Clo produced a small purple flask that smelled of wildflowers. He placed it on top of the pile like a very on a sundae.

“I hope these items suit your needs.” the owner said nervously.

“They’ll do.” I assured him before scooping the artifacts into my hand. “Thank you people of Ganbury. Perhaps I shall visit you agai…”

A sudden blur of motion dashed between my feet. It was little Anya. She’d torn herself from her mother’s arms and ran into the front door of Clo’s Things. Her father apparently was inside.

“Anya!” he cried.

I stumbled in my attempt to avoid the child, burying my elbow in the front wall of Clo’s Shop. I don’t know how I managed to avoid stepping on the child, but there she was in the shop, cradled safely in her father’s arms.

Anya’s mother tried to join her across the street, but when my eyes fell upon her, she went still. I stepped over to the creature, looming high over her as she quivered in place.

“Mother! Don’t hurt my mother! Leave her alone!” Anya cried.

“Anya, don’t! Stay here, sweetie!” her father argued.

“Mom! Mother!” Anya shouted.

I brushed fragment’s of Clo’s front wall off my shoulder.

“Do you care about your child?” I asked.

“More than anything on this green world.” She said.

“Then watch her like it. Idiot.” I snarled.

Without another word, I gathered up the Flatlander, and sailed beyond Ganbury’s wall out towards the Glass Desert.

“Shit!” the boy cried as we sailed off to the night.

“Your tongue is as foul as your stench, Flatlander.” I said.

Ganbury’s cries faded to a whisper as we left the left the town behind us. We traveled along Sallah’s Drink, beyond Foster’s Wood and out onto the prairie. About ten minutes from the city I found an overhang of rock, a perfect place to rid myself of the Flatlander’s foul garments. I landed on the water’s edge and dumped the Flatlander’s new clothing on top of him.

“I’ll not have my senses ravaged any longer.” I ordered. “Out of those filthy rags at once.”

The Flatlander looked back and forth between me and what I’d given him, somehow unable to make the connection. I was not one to blame him. Receiving anything but death from a Saar is something of a rarity.

“Wait. These were for…” he trailed off.

“Unless I was an aspiring finger puppeteer, who else would they be for?” I asked.

He looked down to the mound of rumpled clothing the same way I looked at my hoard, as if I’d given him the world’s greatest treasure. It only made him stink that much longer.

“Move it, verd!” I ordered.

“Stop calling me that? I have a name!” He shouted.

“Well, then. What is it?” I asked.

Only in retrospect did I realize how strange it must have been for the boy to once more hear his name. He’d no family nor friends to greet him with it, and no enemy that challenged him would ask it. To hear it spoken then may well have been the first time he’d heard it in as many solitary years. It was a most interesting name. The Flatlanders often took their children’s titles from animals or landmarks that somehow aught their essence. For him, this title seemed strangely appropriate.

“River.” he said. “My name is River.”

River.

“Ah.” I said. “Such a curious name…Flatlander.”

There were but two reasons for a Saar to address an ape by their proper title. One was to strike terror into their heart, and the other was a sign of respect. The former had no use here and the latter would never happen.

“Well maybe I should just start calling you ‘dragon.’ Would you like that?” He asked.

“Ha!” I shouted. “That is a comment on rrut intelligence that you can’t even call our species by the proper title.”

“Whatever, Zhyx.” the boy groaned.

The Flatlander proceeded to remove his tattered shirt. It had grown so degraded that the boy tore it off in pieces. He slowly exposed his back to me one strip of eroded cloth at a time, laying bare the scars beneath.

Scars. Horrible painful scars. They sliced into his skin deep and long, the unmistakable marks of a whip. Eighteen lashes adorned his back leaving it with little flesh to spare. There were small pock like scars that surrounded the lashes, as if the whip that struck this boy was barbed, an extra spice to an already excessive display of cruelty. And his palms…they bore horrific, boiling burn scars as if he’d grabbed onto something scorching and refused to let go.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

The boy glanced over his shoulder, back to the scars and all the memories they brought with them.

“Oh…Slight…Slight, he….”

The Flatlander said no more.

“Clean yourself up, verd.” I told him.

The child complied. He waded out into the water and allowed the rest of his shirt to wash off his body. He seemed somehow smaller that most humans I’d seen, even more so than ones his age. It wasn’t by size, mind you. This was something else. In these last few moments the creature seemed strangely more fragile. So helpless was he that I wondered what kind of beast this Slight, this ‘Sir’ Fairborn must have been to even think of brutalizing him.

As River poured the soap over his back, he muttered something under his breath. He likely didn’t know I could hear, but as we’ve established, my hearing is most acute. River made an utterance that none had ever said to me before, one I’d no desire to ever hear again.

“Thank you.”

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