1. First Impressions

Chapter 1

First Impressions

I had a bored look on my face as I stared down at the man, pressing my boot further into his guts. He whimpered in pain, no doubt because he was sore from all the kicking I just did. I didn’t have any sympathy for him though- the man was by no means defenseless. He was well muscled and had a dark tan that indicated that he worked outdoors. There were numerous tattoos on his arms and legs, each one depicting a sea god or some obscure quote. His off white shirt was torn at the sleeves and purposely parted in the middle to expose his well-defined chest. His shorts were also tattered, but beneath that the material itself was pristine.

To top off his good looks, he also had a red bandanna on his head to hold back his raven locks, though some still managed to escape and frame his impossibly blue eyes. He was a scalawag- and a no good fake to boot. He came in acting like a pirate and started wooing the lasses. How could I not get pissed? So I’d made good and sure that that gorgeous body of his had numerous welts and bruises before I drew my sword for the coup de grâce.

Oh, I wasn’t planning to kill him. I just thought it would be an improvement on his character to lose an arm. After all, the bilge-rat wanted to be a pirate so bad…

“N-no!” he gasped when he realized what I was about to do. “H-have mercy! I have a wife and three children!”

I paused at that. He must’ve been fibbing. What kind of married man would visit a tavern and hit on the bonnie lasses? Humans were such dishonorable creatures. It made me ashamed to be one. I let out a hiss of displeasure before I drew back my sword and sheathed it. If he were telling the truth, then I wouldn’t want to burden the missus and her brats. If she had to be married to a no-good scum like him, then she must’ve been depending on him. A capable woman could do so much better than that.

Instead, I kicked him sharply in the groin before I backed off. He didn’t need to feel anymore pleasure, let alone bring any more brats into the world. A father like that would only teach them to follow in his footsteps.

“If ye be tellin’ the truth,” I began in my thick seafarer drawl, “Then ye should devote yer life to yer lass. Yer disrespectin’ her by playin’ ‘round here.”

It had been a long while since I’d last spoken like that. Even if he was a fake pirate, it still brought back painful memories. I had spent six years of my life trying to lose that old accent, and the bilge-rat had ruined it all in a matter of seconds.

I glanced around the tavern and realized that I had garnered a lot of attention. The patrons and the bartenders were staring at me fearfully, shocked that such a wee lass- pardon- a young lady had the capacity to be so violent. I knew it was a matter of time before the authorities would arrive to investigate, so I left some money on the counter next to my unfinished drink and stepped on the man on my way out.

“Touch me bum again, and ah’ll teach ye the meanin’ o’ nightmares,” I growled before I pushed through the double doors.

Once I was clear, I quickly walked away from the establishment so that I would be as far away as possible for when the authorities arrived. Normally I didn’t give a rat’s ass over being caught, but it was a bit too early today to be thrown in jail. I’d promised to meet with Cegil after noon, and he would be pissed if I had gotten into trouble already. Well… ‘pissed’ enough. He didn’t express much- always wearing that stoic face of his. I could tell when he is disappointed or upset though. But even though I’d been with him for so long, I’d yet to see a day when he was actually happy.

Cegil was unlike other men- in fact, he wasn’t even human. He was a falucite- a demon in human form, possessing strange and mystical powers. Generally the falucite were evil creatures that liked to torment humans, but there were some who were good and preferred to come to their aid. He happened to be one of the soft ones.

So unlike most of his kind, he tried to limit his powers and pushed himself to live more like a human. He fought with swords and favored walking over teleporting (or whatever magicks those creatures used). For as long as I’d known him, he’d devoted his life to saving towns and villages from either other falucite or marauding human invaders. He was a hero to many – a legend to others – but to me he was a second father. I wasn’t sure why he chose to help me, the favorite scourge of the earth, but he pretty much saved me from what was sure to be a horrific fate. And I felt devoted to helping him ever since.

The town we were currently in… well I hadn’t bothered to learn its’ name, but it was a small place that bordered a large wasteland. To the far west was a large mountain range that was so tall that eastbound storms couldn’t pass over. After so many years of intense drought, the ground had all dried up into a hardened, rocky desert. It was possible to live in the Wastelands near the Eastern edges where rain could still form, but it was impossible to start a town any further in. For the most part, the Wastelands was simply a flat plain of yellow-brown earth, but to the north were some neat rock structures and canyons.

In the case of this town, it was still close enough to the grassy plains outside the Wastelands to receive more than enough rain to survive. Their dirt roads had plenty of greens lining the edges and the cobblestone paths that led into town had a few weeds poking through the cracks. Thanks to their wells and fountains, the ground was softer than what was found further west. But if a drought should suddenly befall them, the ground could shift and turn into one large sinkhole. It hadn’t happened yet though, so it wasn’t my problem.

Most of the buildings in town were made of wood and were in the style of the old, shoddily-built shacks that were supposedly good structures out in the Wastelands. The only difference was that these colors stayed vibrant and whole while the Wasteland versions quickly turned grey and brittle after years of sand damage. These days, with the invention of steam engines and other time-saving tools, larger cities and popular towns started making sturdier buildings and streets to make life more convenient. That didn’t seem to be the case here, though- everything still had a handmade charm to it.

I sighed as I reached what appeared to be the town square with no trouble. Apparently Cegil had some business to dredge up here and I was left to my own devices. I didn’t mind though, since I usually wandered off anyway to spend some time alone. But he never let me go with him when it came to business. I simply followed him in his travels and stood by his side when he needed to fight. I wasn’t expecting him to be done so soon, but as I traveled deeper into the more crowded part of town I noticed he was already waiting for me.

Cegil was a large man. He stood nearly eight feet tall and I could easily pick him out from a crowd. He was more lean than muscular, like a skinny giant- and that wasn’t the only feature that made it obvious he wasn’t normal. His hair was of a light lavender color and it fell in thick, straight strands down to his lower back. Even his eyes gave away his falucite heritage- a light, cinnamon brown with just enough of a red tint to seem unnatural.

He had high cheekbones, a strong chin, and a perfectly sculpted nose, giving off a superior and handsome appearance. Falucite tended to be better looking than humans, being higher up on the chain, so it was no wonder that he had such an ethereal appearance about him. But his size and the fact that he never smiled made him seem rather intimidating. In fact, because of his lack of emotions and his rather pale skin, he seemed more like a creature of the undead. Albeit a very handsome one.

By human standards, he would appear to be in his late thirties, having a few faint lines on his forehead and around the corners of his mouth, but he still seemed young for that human age range- probably because falucite couldn’t grow beards, so his skin looked really smooth. Falucite actually lived a lot longer than humans do- they could get up to a thousand years, so he was really somewhere past the three hundred range. I’d have never actually asked him his age, so it was only an estimation- he could be much older, though with that face, who could really know?

Of course, he didn’t stand out as much as he used to, now that there were new inventions that could make humans change their hair color into something as odd as a falucite’s. It was getting harder and harder to tell them apart nowadays, unless they used their powers. Unfortunately for Cegil, he was still too noticeable to be dismissed as a regular human- and it was probably going to get a little rough since we were drifting into territory where humans didn’t know him as a hero.

“You walk with haste, Dantia,” he noted when I approached. “Did you cause trouble again?”

“Aye,” I replied before I coughed and repeated myself, “I mean- yes, I did. There was a man that deserved to be beaten half to death, and I was more than willing to oblige. But I spared him further torment when he claimed to have family.”

He nodded approvingly over my choice to spare him, but he didn’t hide his disappointed look quick enough. I knew that he didn’t like it when I picked on humans- one of the many things he taught me was to spare the weak and the innocent. If they couldn’t defend themselves, then I had no right to harm them. As for that man- while he looked plenty strong enough, he had dependants, and I had no right to take away their protector. That was how the falucite functioned in their society. The strong, if corrupt, must be challenged, and the weak must be cared for. However- almost all had a superiority complex over humans, so naturally they were free game.

There was many a time when Cegil had had to fight weaker members of his race when they’d attacked humans and that had earned him the ire of many falucite clans. It was against their laws to harm one weaker than themselves, unless they were directly challenged. But then- those who chose to be nice to humans were considered unusual to begin with. Something told me that Cegil was hated long before he decided to fight his brethren.

…In fact, I could almost swear he had a personal vendetta against the falucite he’d attacked- given the way he’d strike suddenly and without mercy, without so much as a warning to them. He definitely gave the vibes of malice during those times- though as I was supposed to be hiding, I wasn’t supposed to know.

“Then we shall depart now. We are to head to the west, into the Wastelands,” he announced before he turned to lead the way. He moved slowly, a habit he’d picked up when I started traveling with him- since his legs were so long, he would quickly outpace the younger me. When I had first joined him, I reached only to about his waist, but now my head almost crested the underside of his chest. I didn’t mention his kindness though, just falling in step beside him. I was much faster now than I was as a child, but I still had to run if he had to walk at his normal speed.

“What’s in the Wastelands?” I asked my guardian, once we were away from the noisy crowds.

Cegil remained silent for a long while, and I almost thought he hadn’t heard me- an impossible feat. I walked quietly though, waiting for him. Eventually he opened his mouth to tell me, but he almost seemed hesitant about speaking. “…We are to go beyond the Wastelands to my motherland. It seems there is an unfortunate dispute between my clan and another that I must tend to. I have no heart to involve you in my personal matters, so I will arrange for you to stay in a village near my ancestral home until the matter is resolved.”

I perked up some at this. I’d only heard a few vague stories of his family before, and had believed that he’d severed all ties with them. The fact that he was going to visit them was a surprise. But what was more shocking was that he intended to make me sit it out. Not that I minded, but he doesn’t trust me on my own for too long- my tendency to cause trouble to my fellow man often had me arrested. I almost always needed him to get me out of prison when that happened. Though if this was a village located close to a falucite homestead, then there were either no humans there or they were domesticated by the falucite. I’m sure I could get along just fine, if I wanted to. But still…

“I was hoping to meet your family someday.” I pouted some. Ever since meeting Cegil and discovering that there was more to the falucite than being bloodthirsty monsters, I’d grown curious about his culture. I already felt like I belonged with them more so than with other humans, though I knew they wouldn’t readily accept me unless they all shared his compassion.

“Someday, little falcie, but not while there is still turmoil in my clan,” he replied with a small trace of fondness hidden in his tone. ‘Falcie’ was the term for falucite children. Since I was centuries younger than he was, I was nothing more than a baby to him. But more importantly, after seven years of knowing him, he’d begun to see me as his falcie, and I was more than happy to be considered his adopted daughter.

********************

When I was ten, I was found on the shores of Port Sibest, washed up on the beach after a terrible storm. Those who had found me thought I was a miracle child- later on, I was more of a curse. At first the people of the small port town were nice to me. They wanted to name me ‘Anatil’, after the beautiful goddess of the sea breeze- but once I requested in a kindly tone that I wanted to be called the ‘Tiny Corsair’, they knew exactly what I was. I was the filthy brat of a pirate.

From that day on, they called me ‘Evora’, and treated me like I was some kind of disease. Evoras were actually vile sea creatures that could walk on land for short periods of time. They had grotesque, slimly, green scaly bodies with short limbs that resembled the legs of a horse. Their mouths were filled with three rows of razor sharp teeth and their jaws allowed them to open those weapons wide enough to swallow small animals whole. They’re known to crawl the beaches at night and try to eat small children, if any happened to be out. Children my age avoided me because their parents convinced them that I would eat them too if they were not careful.

I actually had a name before I washed ashore, but I didn’t want to remember it. I was named after the body of sea that I was born on, but that was all I was willing to admit. No one ever really asked me for my real name- and they didn’t really care, so I had no choice. I accepted the evil name and lived through the torment of being in Port Sibest until I was fifteen.

On my fourteenth birthday, I was allowed to visit the town Oracle to hear about my future, and what my involvement would be in the community. The crusty old bat knew who I was and didn’t even bother to look into her crystal ball. She wrinkled her nose at me before tossing some old bones unto the table. That form of soothsaying was generally reserved for kingdoms preparing for war, so they would know what to look out for on the battlefield. Other times, it was to predict the fate of criminals- I wasn’t surprised they were for the latter.

After a few agonizing minutes, the diviner said unto me ‘You will be mated to a monster’. I told her she was full of shit and she promptly threw me out. I knew she said it just to get rid of me. Immediately, when one hears the word ‘monster’, ‘falucite’ come to mind- so when that cheap tart of a fortune-teller told the whole town my reading, the town elders sought to offer me as a sacrifice should one ever come to terrorize the town.

They thought the prediction would come true soon, but after a year they were losing hope. On the day they were contemplating selling me to a slave trader, Cegil came to town. He wasn’t the ‘monster’ they were hoping for, but they decided to foist me on him anyway. By that time, I was being a little monster myself against the townspeople. I’d stolen weapons to practice my (lack of) fighting techniques with, and even practiced my old ‘pirating’ routines by stealing from the wealthier families of the port town.

Back then, I didn’t really understand it, but I remembered one fat bitch of a woman mutter how perfect it would be if Cegil decided to mate with me. Something about our vast difference in size, and how he could’ve easily torn me asunder… Everyone wished the worst of me, though not once did they ever try to take my life. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I suppose in hindsight, that’s what made it hard for me to kill anyone out of malice. I had no trouble slaying those who attacked me, but I couldn’t bring myself to murder someone in cold blood.

Of course, at first Cegil wanted nothing to do with me. He told them he was only passing through and he didn’t need a mate. They tried to tell him it was my destiny to go with him, but he didn’t buy it for a second. It was only until they gave up and started considering the slave trader idea again that the falucite relented and allowed me to follow him. He asked me for my name and when I told him I didn’t have one, he named me Dantia- a falucite moniker. After that, I never saw Port Sibest again.

We never mated- he wasn’t interested in a child like me. He’d tried to leave me behind in other villages, but he quickly found that I was socially inept. My upbringing wasn’t exactly normal, and spending five years as an outcast turned me into something of a sociopath. I hated everyone. I’d never received kind words or any form of encouragement from other humans, so why wouldn’t I? I was only beaten over and over again, physically and emotionally.

But Cegil was different- he didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. He once mentioned in passing that I reminded him of one of his brothers, and from that point on, he treated me as if I were a falucite too. He’d noticed my potential with the sword and gave me formal training. He’d even taught me the laws and practices of his people.

But he’d also tried to teach me that not all humans were the same. While there were many bad ones out there, there were some who were good- kind of like how humans viewed the falucite. He couldn’t really dispel my hatred for humanity altogether, but I had at least learned to respect my elders and give compassion to the weak- both revered falucite characteristics. Though he did nothing to stop me if I happened to encounter an arrogant human who needed to be brought down a few pegs.

Almost every night I felt the need to remind humanity that they weren’t anything special- that they were no different than the stray dogs they kicked on the streets. It always made me so angry to see some idiot parade around like he was someone important- perhaps it was because I saw a little of myself in him and I loathed it. Still- not many liked my opinions, and fights often broke out. More often than not, I found myself spending the night in the local prison- at least Cegil came to pay my fines in the morning.

When I think back on it, I believe he wanted me to learn from my actions, and that was why he allowed me to do as I pleased. He must’ve given up completely when he realized that I didn’t view being thrown in jail as a punishment. I knew he would always come back for me, so I ended up never learning my lesson. At least I did my share in earning the money used to pay for my bail- and I was always grateful to see him.

I was twenty-two now and I had forgotten most of my short time living in that awful port town. I was happy traveling with Cegil and I believed that I would continue to do so until I was an old woman- or until a stronger enemy managed to slay me. So much for that ‘fortune’ the old Oracle read to me. I ended up living a better life than anything those awful townspeople were hoping for.

I had begun to believe that fortunes were just made up, generalized stories designed to condition a person in to believing what They, the Fates, want. But nothing was set in stone- it was up to the individual to decide his or her own future. I chose to shun humanity and travel around with a falucite. I’d chosen my own path, and the Fates couldn’t do a damned thing about it.

But then he came into our lives, and I wasn’t sure what to do anymore…

********************

We were in the scorching heat of the Wastelands, and I was tired. Cegil and I had to keep up with a tight schedule of waking up very early in the morning and traveling as fast as we could to the next town over. Traveling during the peak hours of the day was suicidal, so we had to get as much rest and hydration as possible whenever we could. Since I was regrettably human, we had no choice but to go at an excruciatingly slow pace so I wouldn’t die from the heat.

My eyes were trained on the horizon before us, blinking every now and then as the sleepy feeling refused to go away. I couldn’t wait to reach the next town- I intended to sleep most of the day and then see what mischief I could cause at night. Sometimes I couldn’t believe people actually chose to live in sun-parched places like this, but then I had to guess that they only did it so that travelers would have a place to rest. In a way, that made their ancestors seem like rather thoughtful people.

It was almost the noon hour when we reached the next town. It was called Ranosia and it was a fair sized town, but a little empty. The wooden structures appeared a little ragged from the constant wind, and the paint was mostly chipped away. For the most part, the town was just one large street with buildings lining either side. I caught glimpses of smaller buildings between each business, so I assumed those were the residential areas of the town. It was likely that even further out were some pastures for any livestock, and maybe some attempts at a garden if they could get enough water.

We moved out of the way of a wagon traveling in the road, making a beeline for the side. The boarded walkway in front of the businesses was thankfully shaded by awnings hanging from the buildings, leaving a nice cool area for traffic. They didn’t provide too much shade though since they were the same aging planks as everything else. The sun easily peeked through the wide gaps between them, but it was better than being completely exposed to that blasted fireball in the sky.

The residents and whatever travelers already here were hiding inside to stave off the heat. I spied a saloon as we passed, and made a note to come back for something to eat. Cegil, on the other hand, didn’t eat human foods. I wasn’t sure what falucite ate exactly, but I had never seen him eat anything in the seven years I had traveled with him. If anything, I would guess that he didn’t need to eat as much as I did, and just grabbed something here and there when I wasn’t around.

My stomach growled, and I sped up slightly- the first thing we always had to do was secure a room at the inn. Unfortunately, this town had no signs that indicated what building was what, so we had to look around and hope we found something that looked… inn-like.

I followed closely behind Cegil as I glanced around the quiet street we were on. I finally spied some humans, but before we could call out for their help, they only ran past us in a panic. First it was two men, then more began flooding past us while screaming in terror. I quirked an eyebrow at the strange behavior, but didn’t question it since Cegil wasn’t bothered to it. He seemed to think nothing was wrong, so I did the same. He knew best after all, he was the one with better senses.

The flood of screaming people disappeared as quickly as it came, and soon the streets were empty again. Looking for whatever had them panicking, I noticed a lone figure slowly making his way towards us. I tilted my head a little as I tried to examine the newcomer, but for the most part he was still obscured from the rising heat. He was an averaged sized man though with a toned, thin body. As he got closer, I noticed he was also wearing clothing similar to Cegil’s.

Falucite of Cegil’s standing always wore high-end clothing. My guardian wore a white high collar dress shirt with a muted grey-green vest and a black puff tie. His trousers were dark grey and his knee-length frock coat was black. I was secretly jealous how he never seemed to dirty his clothing or need to change his clothes, but I figured that was just another falucite secret.

The stranger’s clothing was only a little less formal than Cegil’s. His black frock was shorter, to his mid-thigh, and he had it buttoned all the way to his chest. Other than his black trousers, all I could see was a dark red ascot around the collar of his black shirt. He seemed to favor the color black more than anything. But his most intriguing accessory was the wide brimmed gambler’s hat that covered the top of his platinum blond hair.

There was nothing in particular that made the hat special, but the way he had it almost cocked over one eye made it seem rather…spiffy. From that moment on, I couldn’t help but call it an über hat. Why ‘über’? I wasn’t sure. It just felt like it should be called that. His head was tilted downward to where his blond locks and most of his über hat was covering his face. I was able to see that he had long hair that was braided down to his lower back, much like how my hair was.

I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t seem all that uncomfortable despite the heat, proving to me that he was no human. Cegil and this man could survive the heat completely covered up, but I sweated like a swine in my clothing. Since I wanted to look like a presentable (enough) lady while traveling with a falucite, I stubbornly wore a sage-green long-sleeved dress that buttoned up from the high collar to the hem of the skirt.

But since I refused to conform to ‘proper’ lady fashion, I only buttoned down to my waist and wore light grey trousers specially made to fit my feminine form. A black belt that held my sword in the back completed my look. Thankfully, my barrel cuff sleeves had slits on the inside and buttons at the cuffs so I was able to roll them up and cool off a little.

It was obvious the stranger had business with my guardian, but he paused and faced me with curiosity. A black gloved hand came up to hold his über hat in place as he raised his head and looked at me with a serene smile. His eyes were of the same rust color as Cegil’s, but they appeared much more demonic against the white-blond of his hair. They almost seemed to be the color of freshly-spilled blood.

“I haven’t seen you in fifty years, and yet here I find you with a human girl,” he said to Cegil, his eyes never leaving mine. He appeared friendly, but I could feel every nerve in my body scream a warning to me. He definitely wasn’t a nice falucite, and he was most likely the reason why the humans were terrified.

His serene smile suddenly widened into something far more sinister before he turned his attention back to Cegil, “Is she supposed to be a snack? Or is she more your pet?”

Before I could blink, he was suddenly in my face and all I could see were his eyes. Since it was a bright, sunny day, his pupils were contracted into cat-like vertical slits to protect them from too much light- it made him appear all the more threatening. I was probably supposed to back away, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I refused to back down to anyone and it wasn’t in my nature to let anything, human or monster, intimidate me.

“She is a pretty thing, but she seems to be just as emotionless as you. Always the boring one, aren’t you?”

“Careful, I bite,” I said blankly when he wouldn’t move away. The fact that I could speak must’ve shocked him, as he pulled back for a brief second.

“Is that so?” he drawled as he tried to move closer to me. I responded by opening my mouth and snapped it shut just a hairsbreadth away from his nose. The man laughed as he jerked away. His arm soon found its way to my upper back as his lips brushed against my ear.

“I bite too. Hard,” he threatened in a rather jovial tone.

Cegil finally had enough and stopped ignoring the man. “Leave my charge alone.”

“Charge?” the man said incredulously, obviously stunned. I took the opportunity to step back when he loosened his grip. “You’re protecting this human like a falcie?”

“Why are you here, Satel?” Cegil sighed, ignoring his question.

Satel, as the man was called, gave a grin as he adjusted the über hat on his head. “This is my territory. The better question is why are you here? Come to stir up trouble with the clan?”

“Difficult as always,” Cegil muttered before glancing back at me for a brief moment. “We shall not be here long. Just one night and then we will depart.”

“On whose authority? I don’t recall giving you permission to stay here,” the blond man snapped in a snooty tone as he crossed his arms. Cegil ignored him again, this time causing a stormy look to take over his face.

“Come Dantia,” my guardian ordered. I let out a grin as I pushed past this ‘Satel’ man and followed after him. I wasn’t sure what history those two had, but it was clearly not a friendly one.

“So who is that guy? Your arch rival?” I wondered, knowing from previous experience that the über hat man could still hear me.

“Something like that,” Cegil replied over his shoulder.

Satel didn’t like that and chased after us. He pulled me back so he could get behind the larger falucite and touch his shoulder.

“I’m hurt,” Satel pouted mockingly as he held the other to his chest, “Is that any way to treat your ‘baby’ brother?”

Brother? Upon further inspection, I realized that there was a slight resemblance in their facial features- but since Satel smiled so much, I didn’t really see it at first. It was difficult to tell a falucite by age since they could live for several centuries, but if he was a ‘baby’ then he was probably at least past one hundred. Appearance-wise, he looked no older than a twenty-five year old human.

The giant falucite suddenly stopped walking, and a long pause stretched out between them. Satel had shifted nervously before Cegil finally replied, “…I was under the impression that I was no longer welcome as a member of the clan. You should not call me ‘brother’ anymore.”

“Things have changed since you left. The elders have forgotten the incident and want you back. I’m telling the truth- I swear,” he insisted after Cegil gave him a look of faint disbelief.

“…We shall talk later,” he muttered before ending the conversation and turning on his heel. I was about to follow after him, but Satel stepped in my way and grinned down at me.

“I suppose that means I will be seeing more of you. Can I see get smile?” he asked in a sickening babyish voice, no doubt to mock my youth. I allowed my lips to quirk up in a smirk that eerily resembled the one he gave me earlier.

“Oh, so she can smile,” he purred to himself, to full of himself to notice that I was up to something. Idiot man.

One thing about me was that I made lasting first impressions- too bad they were always bad ones. I grabbed the nearest object, which happened to be some trinket from an old elixir stand, and threw the small bottle at Cegil’s back. No worries- I knew he would sense it and dodge before it could hit him. My hand was behind my head by the time the glass shattered on the ground, and I had the most innocent look on my face.

Cegil’s eyebrows were furrowed slightly as he glared back at us.

“Don’t look at me. He threw it,” I replied quickly as I stepped around him and hurried to catch up with my guardian. I reveled in the grunt of surprise I heard from behind me, while Cegil just slowly shook his head and resumed walking. I wasn’t sure if he believed me or if he truly thought Satel threw the bottle. Either way, I was more impressed with myself that I’d managed to pull one over on a falucite.

But, in hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have smiled at him either…

********************

I wasn’t sure what was happening in Ranosia, but it seemed everyone believed they were safe as long as they were indoors. It wasn’t true, since Satel could easily get inside anywhere he wanted with his falucite powers, but whatever helped them sleep at night. The inn was completely abandoned though, since travelers refused to stay. I was fine with it- no innkeeper meant we got to stay for free.

Once my things were discarded on my bed, I gathered up my money and headed over to their ‘saloon’. It was a silly word for a pub- landlubbers could make me laugh sometimes. Luckily it hadn’t gone out of business too, since it seemed most of the men in the town hid inside it like cowards. They probably sought the comfort of alcohol to ease their fears. Everyone paused and held their breaths when I pushed open the double swing doors, but then let out a collective sigh of relief when they realized I was no threat. Best to let them think that for now…

The tavern wasn’t all that fancy, but it seemed to be better kept than the rest of the town. The walls were off-white with dark brown wooden panels. The golden brown hardwood floor was scratched up from the many years of chairs and tables being pulled around on it. On the right side of the rather large room was the bar, while the tables and chairs were shoved over to the left side. Against the furthest wall from the entrance was a raised platform for musicians to play and the center of the room was left empty so that people would have room to dance if they wanted to.

The bar didn’t stand out too much in the room, as it was the same color as the wood paneling. It was fairly tall, coming to just below my chest were I to stand next to it. There was a line of five stools in front of it and a tall man with broad shoulders behind it. Since he was polishing the shiny surface of the counter, I figured that he was one of the servers.

The bartender narrowed his eyes at me as I approached the bar. “I don’t serve to children.”

“I’m twenty-two, you jackass,” I sneered angrily. I wasn’t sure what it was about me, but I appeared younger than I was. Most people thought I was actually seventeen, and often treated me as if I were still a child. Someday when I’m in my forties, I’ll appreciate that, but right now, it only caused me trouble. I was old enough to have alcohol, but it was nigh impossible to get a bartender to believe me.

The man gave me a look that said I was full of shit, but I wasn’t deterred. “I’m not here for a drink anyway. Does this dump serve food?”

“Do you have the crijok for it?” he asked me with a raised eyebrow. I held up a bag that was half-full with the precious stones. It was a good thing we’d earned some local money before wandering into this Maker-forbidden wasteland, else it would’ve been murder trying to find work in this heat.

“I have the crijok,” I confirmed.

“We don’t have much, but I can scrounge up something- for ten stones.”

“If you don’t have much, then it’s probably stale or almost rotten- five,” I bartered as I approached the bar. The man appeared a little offended as he shook his head.

“We’re in a food shortage because of that monster terrorizing us. Some of us are going hungry- nine,” he amended.

“If it’s really that bad, then money would do you no good. You’ll probably give me less food than you usually offer. Five,” I insisted as I placed five multi-colored stones on the counter. I was actually being generous. Whatever he could offer was probably worth three stones. The man growled before he snatched up the crijok.

“Fine.”

I pulled myself up onto a stool and waited for my order to arrive. Even the stools were taller than norm, but at least I was even enough with the bar to be able to eat comfortably. The conversations started up again as the cowardly men finally got tired of watching me. Thank the gods- you’d think they’d have never seen a woman before. When the bartender came back, he dropped a plate with three different chunks of cheese, two mid-sized slices of dried meats, and a slice of almost stale bread. He then gave me a cup of water to wash it down. I figured this was really the best he could do and refrained from complaining.

The plate looked a little stained and there were little chips in the edges, leaving me to hope that it was still safe to eat off of. I carefully examined one chunk of the hard yellow cheese to make sure it was safe to eat before putting it in my mouth. It was dry, but still good. The man finally took a good look at me while I ate before he went back to cleaning some mugs.

“You have a sword. Don’t tell me you’re actually the falucite hunter we’re waiting for?”

I perked up at that. I suppose Satel had been haunting the people so much that they had to seek help to get rid of him. There were some humans that could actually fight falucite, but I doubt they had the skill and ability to fight someone like Cegil. Something told me that whomever they hired probably couldn’t handle Satel either. Knowing most falucite hunters, they tended to ask for hefty fees upfront- so unless Satel killed him off, the town would most likely end up in debt. I almost felt bad for shortchanging the guy for the meal…

“Not even close,” I replied flatly before I tried some of the dried meat. “I’m just a traveler passing through.”

“By yourself?” the bartender inquired in a stunned voice. He shook his head and said a prayer to some god for my safety. “It isn’t right for a young maiden to travel alone in this barren wasteland. Just be careful while you’re here- the falucite doesn’t really bother the women-folk, but I wouldn’t risk anything.”

It was kind of him to warn me, but I knew I was in no real danger. Cegil wouldn’t let another falucite harm me. I was going to tell the man off, but some moron threw open the doors and announced his presence in the most obnoxious way possible. The newcomer had several knives and swords on his person and seemed to have a healthy physique hidden under the tattered leather suit. I guessed this was the hunter.

“I am Leilos! I am a professional falucite slayer and I have dealt with thousands of falucite monsters. Some have even sworn their loyalty to me in exchange for my sparing their lives,” he boasted proudly as he walked in. He certainly looked the part, but he didn’t sound very authentic. I wasn’t sure if his loud exaggerations were intended to garner attention and popularity, or to reassure the townspeople.

I just continued to chew on my meager portions while the men stood up to greet the stranger. This hunter wasn’t exactly bad looking, but his annoyingly loud voice prevented me from forming even remotely nice opinions about him. I had to sit through mind-numbing boasts of his past accomplishments and ‘riveting’ stories of his travels as I finished eating. I knew I had to leave soon- the man was so full of it that I was afraid I was going to lose my lunch.

“But of course…” Leilos’ voice suddenly grew louder and I knew he was facing my back. With me being the only female in the saloon, I was bound to get some attention from the ‘lady-killer’ moron. Before I knew it, one of my hands was captured in his and he kissed the back of it. “I will make sure to defeat that monster so you can live in peace, my brown-haired goddess.”

I sighed and looked up at the idiot, getting my first good look at his face. It was the chiseled face of a man in his late thirties, and he possessed dark brown hair that was slicked back under a wide brimmed leather hat. His skin was a little leathery and darkly tanned and he had a set of deep hazel-green eyes under really thick eyebrows. He was a perfect example of a handsome, rugged man, but he was also an idiot. No thanks.

“What do I care what happens to this town? I don’t live here!” I growled as I yanked my hand away. He seemed stunned at my behavior, but then his eyes lit up in a child-like wonder.

“So you’re a traveler? From where do you hail and where are you going? When I am done with this minor task, I shall escort you,” he offered, acting like he was doing me a favor. The man hadn’t even asked for my name, and yet he wanted to travel with me. He must’ve been the type that fell in and out of love too easily. Or he was one of those sappy dreamers that had to cry themselves to sleep.

I closed my eyes and held in an irritated groan. I considered my options- but the last thing I would ever tell him was where I was going and who I was traveling with. I highly doubted this Leilos character had any real ability to slay falucite, but I didn’t want to take any chances in him confronting Cegil. He’d probably assume I was some pathetic captive or something. Instead, I forced a sweet smile.

“How well do you take rejection?” I inquired in the sweetest tone possible. I wanted to know what level of subtlety I needed to use for him to get the message. Leilos looked at me with confusion.

“Pardon? What do you mean by that?”

Right. He’s an idiot and extremely dense.

“Let’s try this then. No, I do not want your presence on my journey. I have absolutely no interest in you. If you can’t wrap that around your head, then try drowning yourself in a well somewhere. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other places to go. Good luck with the falucite, even though you’ll have your ass handed back to you.”

Jaws dropped around the room, and then the men started howling with laughter at my feisty rejection. I ignored them all as I jumped down from the stool and walked briskly out. Just as I pushed the double swing doors out of my way, my sensitive hearing picked up Leilos’ determined announcement.

“I understand what is happening here! She is testing me. The earth-born goddess wants to see if I am worthy of her. Fear not delicate maiden! I will prove myself and win your affections!”

I continued to storm off until I couldn’t hear his annoying voice anymore. I wasn’t sure why he referred to me as a ‘goddess’- I knew I was pretty, but I wasn’t that pretty. I didn’t try to make myself appear stunning like other women did. I had to guess Leilos was either very desperate for a woman, or thought I was very easy. Both choices pissed me off.

I slammed though the front door of the inn and stormed my way up to the room. The two occupants inside instantly stopped talking when I entered, and I got the feeling I barged in on something important. Oh well- I was a bit too ticked off to care.

Cegil was sitting on his bed, which was always the one closest to the windows. Mine was usually located closest to the door or the bathroom- and there was an annoying bastard currently laying on it, toying with the über hat on his chest. I schooled my expression when I first saw them, but I had to strain not to show a fresh rush of anger when I found he’d shoved all my stuff to the floor.

I couldn’t tell if he was trying to test me or if he truly didn’t care about anything that belonged to a human. I decided to ignore him and his childish behavior and simply picked up my bag and the things that had fallen out of it, placing them on the small table in the corner opposite the beds.

“Don’t mind me,” I announced when I grew tired of being watched, “I’m going to take a nap. I probably won’t understand the conversation anyway.”

I approached the bed and wondered if I could get Satel to get off. “May I have my bed, please?”

“There’s enough room for two.” He snorted dismissively. I glanced at Cegil, who was sitting on the end of his bed with his back facing us. He had been looking out the window when I came in, but I caught him sighing and shaking his head at Satel’s behavior. I honestly didn’t know if he could force his brother to move, but I didn’t want to ask to borrow his bed. I knew he would move if I asked, but I didn’t want to burden him.

“Fine,” I muttered coolly before I headed to the side he wasn’t occupying. “But stay on your side.”

I then made sure to jump as hard as I could onto the mattress, hoping that the backlash force from the springs would throw him off… no such luck. I caught the grin he gave me before I rolled to my side, back facing him, and closed my eyes. He probably knew what I attempted to do and was mocking me for my failure.

I wasn’t sure what possessed me to share a bed with a falucite. I never shared with anyone- not even Cegil. I suppose I just wanted to rain on Satel’s parade and prove to him that he couldn’t intimidate or bother me in any way. Since Cegil was in the room, I truly wasn’t bothered by his brother’s presence, and didn’t feel the need to be cautious of him.

It was silent for a long while before the men decided that I was truly sleeping and continued their conversation. I tried to block out their voices, since it was obvious Cegil didn’t want me involved, but it didn’t seem to matter much- I’d missed out on too much of the conversation to really understand it.

“I can’t believe there are rumors like that floating around,” Satel eventually said with a sigh. “There is something going on, but it’s not as bad as what you’re hearing.”

“That is why I am here. Our clan is much too powerful to be intimidated by the likes of them. I fail to see why they would resort to such…politics.” I’d never heard Cegil sound so concerned before. It made me wonder what was going on.

But I couldn’t completely focus as Satel stirred behind me, and I soon felt gentle tugs every now and then at the back of my head. It took me a while to realize that Satel was idly playing with my braid. Did he think I was some toy for his amusement? If it weren’t for the fact that he continued to talk, I would’ve thought he was doing it on purpose to annoy me. I assumed he was only doing it out of boredom.

“I see. So you’ve come to check out everything from a distance. It’s probably for the best. I think someone must be spreading those rumors on purpose. …Maybe it’s a lure to bring you back,” he guessed as I continued to feel more tugs. I frowned when I felt something tickle my cheek. Was he really trying my nerves by tickling me with my own hair? I could hear him stifle a laugh as I moved my head out of the way. …How juvenile.

I reached back and snatched my hair from him so he couldn’t bother me anymore. That earned me more stifled snickering. Cegil didn’t seem to notice what was going on behind him and continued to discuss whatever problems were going on with his clan.

Who would want me and why? I also still do not understand why the elders would suddenly forgive me for my ‘crimes’. There is much of this that does not make sense.”

I never knew why Cegil left his family, so hearing that he committed some crime was actually surprising to hear. Since he was what humanity would consider a ‘good’ falucite, maybe his elders disapproved of his lifestyle and exiled him for it? No…it had to be something else- falucite didn’t care about humans, so Cegil’s behavior probably wasn’t the cause. …Maybe whatever he did in the past was the reason he was good now. Perhaps he was trying to atone for everything and his elders noticed?

Bah. What was the point in trying to guess? It wasn’t my place to know. All I needed to do was follow him and fight by his side. It didn’t matter to me where we were going and why- I was just happy being with him. I was about to nod off to sleep when I felt Satel shift behind me. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but I decided to ignore him. He couldn’t possibly have the patience to pester one human for long.

“I’m not so sure that whoever is baiting you and the issue with the elders are not somehow related. But you know my standing in the clan. I’m much too young to be trusted with intimate knowledge, so you won’t get much out of me,” Satel replied, his voice sounding much closer than before.

I nearly jumped when I felt his hand casually rest in the valley between my chest and hip. Just what was he doing? But soon, I realized that I couldn’t sit idle when that hand began moving lower to my rear…

“Gah!” My victim gasped out in surprise, or maybe pain, when my boot forcibly came into contact with his shin. Before I knew it, I was forced onto my back and was staring up at his angry features. I didn’t know if I could actually hurt a falucite, but I at least managed to get him to stop. So what if I were in a worse position now?

“Why you…!” he sneered at me, but then paused when he glared down at my features. I wasn’t sure what made him stop, but I could see the look of contempt briefly cross his expression before he stared at me thoughtfully. I knew then that I was in some serious trouble. Damn I was going to be his favorite victim from then on, I just knew it. I could easily see in his smirk that he was vowing to get revenge on me.

“Do you mind? I’m trying to sleep,” I growled as I glared back. Satel opened his mouth to retort, but Cegil was up in a flash and had his hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“Leave her alone,” he ordered sternly, “You baited her to the point of attacking.”

I tried not to narrow my eyes at him- he knew what Satel was doing. Why didn’t he speak up or make him stop? Then again, Cegil was probably letting me handle my own problems, only intervening when he thought I was in danger. He liked to encourage me to be independent.

Satel let out a huff before he rolled to his feet and placed his über hat on his head in one fluid motion. “Fine, I forgive her.”

That tone was way too sweet. Had I been an average human, I would have been shivering in fear. He was probably going to attack the moment I was away from Cegil. That was fine with me- I would gladly deal with him later.

“Since I have nothing more to say, I will just let myself out. Have a nice day,” he purred before he vanished before my eyes. He’d used his teleportation magicks to leave. That must be so damned handy.

“Satel is nothing more than a trickster. I doubt he would harm you, but you should be careful around him,” my guardian warned, returning to his bed.

That was his way of saying ‘stay away from him’. I had no intention of disobeying him, but it wasn’t like I could avoid a falucite who could pop in and out at a moment’s notice. Still, Cegil didn’t have much to worry about- I knew my place. I was a human and there was no way I was ever going to challenge a falucite. Satel couldn’t harm me otherwise.

Though I felt rather lucky. After all, Satel should be too busy with that stupid falucite hunter to bother with me for a while. …Come to think of it, the least I could’ve done was warn him about the moron. Oh well, Leilos was full of it, and I seriously doubted he could defeat the likes of Satel.

…But it should still be fairly fun to watch.

To the Next Chapter

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