Gorgon- a fantasy novel

A different take on a fantasy story.

GORGON

Nayda lay on the edge of the large gray stone that jutted out into the water.  She looked down into the crystal water waiting for her meal.  She could see clearly the yellow stripped fish that swam around beneath the surface.  Nayda could also see her own brown scaly face and large yellow, slit eyes.  The snakes that covered her head held steady in anticipation of the strike.

She had to time her strike just right and compensate for the way the water made things look like they were in a different place than they really were.

When the time was right, she shot her snakes down into the water.  She felt the small jaws of her snakes grab hold of the fish and yank it out of the water.  It was a big one!  Her snakes were usually relaxed and resting, but when they had to, they could move with blinding speed.

She dropped the fish into her scaly hands and jogged back to her fire.  Her bare feet barely felt the tough rocks as she ran.  She loved fishing.  Even more, she loved eating.  She hadn’t eaten all day because she got distracted by exploring one of the old ruined buildings that covered the island.  Her mother had told her how this used to be a human city, far out in the sea on this island.  Now she was hungry and she was feeling sluggish.

Nayda had never seen a human and wondered what they were like.  This stone city, grown over with vines, plants and trees, was full of pictures and statues of humans.  She knew kind of what they looked like, but having never seen one she still wondered.

Mom had told her to stay away and avoid humans no matter what.  What made them so dangerous?  The pictures looked like her and her mother, but they didn’t have snakes on their heads and their skin was different.  They had hair like one of the rats that lived on the island.  How strange.

She stoked the coals of her fire and put on some wood.  She had to keep the coals alive at all times so she kept her fire deep in the middle of what mom called a “church.”  The church, where she usually slept, was filled with statues and pictures that told stories.  Mom used those pictures to tell her those stories.  She knew the story of St. Alacius and how he stopped a big fight between humans.  The pictures were very detailed and had things she had never seen in real life like wagons, markets, castles, and kitchens.

Mom spent a lot of time telling her about things that she’d never see.  She was always curious about it all, but she liked her home on the island and didn’t need to leave.  She had her friends as well.  There was Tisha, a red and yellow bird that lived in the old church, there was Neba, the mouse that came out of its hole to accept scraps of food from her.

There were the books as well.  Mom had found the remains of a library with many books that were still readable.  Nayda had read them all several times.  There were about fifty of them and she loved them all.  Her favorite were the story books, but once in a while she liked to relax with a book of poetry.

Once the fire was going, she cooked the fish until it was golden and then ate it down as fast as she could.  The bones she put into a pile that, once large enough, she would throw them into the sea.

Now that she was fed for the day, she ran back outside into the delicious sun.  It felt so good against her brown scaly skin.  The island was alive with green growing things and it was all her’s.  She ran by the huge stone head and waved as she passed.  She ran to the giant tree that was up a big set of broken white steps.  Toppled houses lay in a circle around the tree.  It was the highest point on the island and from there she could see forever.  On clear days she could see the land where the humans lived.  At night the glows from their fires could be seen like a tight cluster of bright stars.

Nayda scrambled up the familiar branches and made it to the top.  She looked around the sparkling blue ocean and took in a deep breath.  She loved the smell of the air up here.  She quickly stuck out her forked tongue to smell whatever the wind brought to her.  On days like this she could smell the strange things coming from the human land.  Some of it she recognized as fire and cooking meat, other smells she couldn’t identify at all and the curiosity was getting to her.  If mom were still here she could tell her what the smells were.  She used to live in the human land and knew all about it.  She said it wasn’t a place she wanted to visit again.  It did smell wonderful though.

Then she saw one of the human boats.  It was slowly making its way away from the human city, black smoke chugging out of it.  What was all that smoke from?  Were they cooking a lot on it?  Some boats had those smoke belching things, others had big white sails and some had both.  She’d love to get a closer look at those boats because they were beautiful.

She climbed back down and went to the basement of a large house she discovered that morning.  There was a door in the floor that had been covered by a fallen stone wall.  There were barrels of red liquid that smelled awful.  She didn’t dare try it.  It stung her nostrils and tongue and she couldn’t get near it.  She had never smelled anything like it before.

She spent a long time down there, looking around at the broken, rotten furniture.  There were crates of kitchen stuff like plates, bowls, cups and knives.  The knives were all rusty, but the plates were all shiny and new.  She could decorate with them.  They were pretty enough.

When she finally emerged from the basement, the sun was close to the horizon and the sky was growing purple.

“Who are you?”  A strange voice suddenly said from behind her.

Instantly she turned around to see where the voice came from.  For a brief moment she saw a human.  It was a real human with hair on his head, strange skin, and dot eyes instead of slit eyes.  He was ugly and smelled.  He was wearing strange clothing and carried the largest knife she had ever seen.

Then, before she could even realize it was happening, the man’s eyes went wide and he suddenly grew still.  Starting from his eyes, gray spread all over him in a second he had turned completely to stone.

She fell down and scrambled away.  Mom had said that would happen, but it all happened so fast!  She didn’t mean to!  It was the first human she had ever seen and she had accidently turned him to stone.  It wasn’t her fault; she didn’t know what was happening.  She hid in the nearby bushes and waited to see if he would come back to life and get angry.

Once she calmed down, she approached the statue and took a closer look.  Was he dead?  Had she just killed him?  How did he get here?  Were there more of them?  She had to be careful in case his friends were around.

She stayed hidden as she searched around the island looking for more humans.  She found the small boat he came in on and only one set of tracks.  He had been alone.  Her one chance to finally meet a real human she had killed him.

Nayda felt her chest tighten and her bottom lip quiver.  She cried until the sun came down and went out in the sea.  She didn’t sleep well that night.  That man might have had a family and they’d miss him.  She knew what it was like to miss someone.  When her mother died it was the worst feeling she had ever felt.  She didn’t want anyone else to feel that pain.

Would people be coming to look for him?  Would they be angry with her?  She didn’t want people to be angry with her.  She remembered how awful it felt when mom was angry with her.

Nobody came the next day or the day after that.  His small boat lay exactly where he had parked it on the beach.  She had never had a way of getting to the human land before, but now that she did, she found that she didn’t want to go.  Mom had warned her over and over again not to go there and now she wondered if it was to protect them from her.  She didn’t want to turn anyone else into stone.

She looked at the pictures of humans in the church over and over again comparing them to the human she saw for a brief moment.  Some of the pictures were closer to what she saw, but none of them had it right.  The real thing was so much more than the drawings.

On the third day after she had seen and then petrified her first human she heard more voices.  She was out catching birds to eat with traps she had made when she heard what sounded like three of the humans walking down the path.  She was up in a tree and out of sight from them.

She stayed motionless and waited for them to come into sight.  Finally, she saw them.  They were dressed similarly to the first man.  None of them were women because they didn’t have long hair and dresses like the pictures showed.  She only wore a simple one-piece cloth dress and belt.  The dress and belt they found in a crate that had washed ashore.  She had several similar dresses.  These men had the very large knives like the other man, but these three also had metal shirts.  They carried long tubes of metal and wood.  She didn’t recognize what they were but all three were carrying them so they must have been important.

“This island is only so big, where could that weasel be hiding?”  A man with hair on his face said.  Why was there hair only on certain parts of them and not all over like rats and cats that lived here?

“He’s here, that’s all I need to know.  We’ll find this whore’s son and get our reward.”

They were looking for the man she had turned to stone.  Were they his friends then?  Family?

Nayda followed them as they searched around the island.  It wasn’t long before they came to the spot where the petrified man was.

“Hey, Jax, I see something ahead.”

All three of the men pointed their metal and wood tubes and began walking slower.

“Wait, it’s just a statue,” one of the men said.

“What in Tiani’s name?”

The three men lowered their tubes and walked up to the statue.

“It’s just a statue,” the bearded one said.

“No, wait a second…”  The thinner man looked at the statues face for a few moments.  “This is him.  This is Royer.”

“What?  Someone made a statue of him?” The bearded one said.

“No dung heap, this is Royer.  He’s been turned into a statue.”

“Wait a minute that’s…wait…are you saying…”

All three men quickly raised their tubes again.

“Nyrulths cursed name!  There’s a damned Gorgon here!”

“Let’s get out of here.”

“I think I have to agree with dung heap.  Now would be a good time to leave and call it even.”

“Not a chance.  We came to find him and we did.  I’m bringing proof that we found him.”

The young man then pushed the statue over and took out a hatchet.  Then he began hacking the statue’s head off.  A part of her was frightened of these men, but a bigger part wanted to know everything about them. All her life Mom had taught her to avoid humans because they were wicked and dangerous.  Still, she had never spoken to one.  They couldn’t all be bad.

“What’re you doing?”  She asked from the tree.

All three men spun in her direction and pointed their metal tubes where she generally was.  They clearly didn’t see her though because they kept their eyes down to the ground.

“Who’s there?”  The bearded one asked.

“I’m Nayda.  I’m sorry for you friend there.  I didn’t mean to hurt him,” she said.

“You turned him into stone?”  The young one asked.

“Yes.  It was an accident.”

“That’s alright, we know you didn’t mean it.  I’m Staven.  We don’t want to harm you.  Why don’t you come out where we can see you?”

“But I don’t want to turn you into a statue,” she said.

“We won’t look at you directly, we’ll keep our eyes on the ground.”

“What are you doing?”  The bearded man asked.

“Quiet and do as I say.  Trust me on this.”

She had to think about this for a moment.  If she didn’t do it, she’d wonder all her life.  If she went out, she could learn about them.  If she needed to she could protect herself.

“I’m coming out.  Careful,” she said.

She jumped down from the branches and walked out into the open area under the huge tree circled by ruins.

“Nice to meet you Nayda,” Staven said.

“Sorry about you friend.”

“It’s okay.  He wasn’t our friend.  He was a bad, bad man.  We came looking for him.  We’re good men.  We were going to punish him.  You stopped him from doing bad things again.  I wanted to thank you.”

“Thank me?”

“Yes!  We were afraid this man might hurt us or other people.  Is there anyone else around here?  Anyone like you?”

“No, I’m alone here.  Mom died many years ago.”

“You’re all alone here then?”

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“Hmmm…I think eighteen years old.”  She had stopped paying attention to her birthday when Mom died and that was roughly three years ago.  She didn’t see why age mattered.

She ran her hand over one of the metal tubes the men were holding.  They were cold and hard, but the way they clung to them made her even more curious.

“It must be lonely out here all by yourself.  I’d like to thank you, Nayda, by taking you back to where we live and buying you a lot of food.  Would you like that?”

“What kind of food?”

“Any kind you want,” Stavan said.

She thought that maybe these men were good, but a whole city full of humans had to have some bad people.  If she went there, she could be in danger.  Or what if she went there and she hurt more people?  She couldn’t live with herself if she petrified anyone else.

“I don’t think I should.  It could be dangerous,” she said.

“Of course you can!  It’s perfectly safe.  We’ll protect you.”

“I mean I might be dangerous to others.”

“Nonesense.  We’ll make sure you don’t turn anyone to stone.  Where we’re going we have five different types of meat.  Would you like to try them?”

“Yes!  I would like that!  But can you be sure that I won’t hurt anyone?”

Whatever wonders they had wouldn’t be worth it if she had to hurt someone again.  Anything but that.

“I can guarantee it.”

“Alright then.”

“You’ll come with us then?”

“Yes!  Sounds fun!”

“Great.  Let’s go back to our boat and head back to the city.”

“The city just across the sea?”

“Yeah, that’s right.  It’s called Richport.  Not a very good name, is it?”

“Sounds good to me.  I’ll go, but I need be back before night.  I don’t want the fire to go out,” she said.

“No, we don’t want that at all.  We’ll have you back here before night,” Staven said.

She followed them as they began walking back to the beach.  She stayed in the rear to be safe.  She didn’t want to hurt any of these nice, but strange talking men.  There was a lot that they said that she just didn’t quite understand.

“What is city like?  Lots of people?”  She asked.

“Oh, yes.  Richport is full of lots of really nice people,” Staven said.

“And lot’s of food!”  The third man said.

“Sometimes I smell the city and it smells good.  I want to try the food!”  She said and clapped her hands.

As they got to the beach the men began preparing the boat to leave.  She looked back at her island, covered in white stone ruins and beautiful green trees.  The city couldn’t be more beautiful than her island.  Nothing could.

Suddenly everything went black as something came over her head.  Several hands grabbed her and held her tight.  She tried to struggle but men were too strong.  They tied her hands and feet.  Her snakes were held tight by the bag and there was nothing she could do as she was lifted up from the ground and thrown into the boat.

“What are you doing?”  She screamed at them.  All they did was laugh.  “What’s going on?  Why?”  No matter how much she screamed and cried they didn’t answer her and only kept laughing.  They kept talking about a “reward,” but she didn’t know what they meant.

Why were they doing this?  This didn’t make any sense!  They were nice men that were going to give her food, how could they do this?  What were they going to do to her?  Humans didn’t eat Gorgons, did they?

She tried to wriggle out of the boat and get away, but one of the men hit her in her stomach.  White pain shot through her whole body and she crumpled up on the floor of the boat.

“Mom!  Help me!”  She called out but there was no answer.

Chapter 2

The three men talked about money the whole trip to the land.  Mom had told her all about how humans use money to get things and by what they said, it sounded like they were going to sell her.  She tried to stay still because every time she moved, they’d kick or hit her.  They hit hard and it hurt more than anything else she had felt.  She was crying.  She didn’t want to but she couldn’t help it.  This was a nightmare, too crazy to be real.  If she could get a snake free, she could poison them.  Mom said her poison was very deadly.

Eventually they got to the human land.  Her whole life she had wondered what it was like and now that she was here she couldn’t even see it because she was a prisoner.

“What if she starts screaming?”  She heard the bearded one say.

“Good point.  We got to do something.

Then she felt something hard and sharp press against her neck.

“I got a knife to your throat girl.  If you even move a little, I will cut your throat.  I’m going to move the hood and put something in your mouth to keep you from screaming out.  It won’t hurt.”

She felt the hood loosen and come up to her nose.  Then some cloth was rammed into her mouth and the hood was pulled back down.

“Did you see those fangs?”  The Bearded one said.

“A gorgon’s bite is poisonous.  Handle her with care and don’t relax for a moment.  She looks cute and innocent, but she’s more deadly than any of us combined,” Staven said.

“I know about these Gorgons.  I know a guy back in the 32nd that saw one.  It was a bodyguard for some foreign king.”  The third man said.  “They’re stronger and faster than they look.”

“Good to know.  Let’s put her in the crate and get her to the garrison’s commander.  He’ll love to have a look at this,” Staven said.

The next thing she knew she was being stuffed into a wooden box.  She scraped her arm on the wood but they didn’t care.  Then the box was picked up and they were carrying her.  She could hear the sounds of people all around them as they walked.  She heard strange voices shouting, talking, and laughing.  Was she the only one crying?

This was why Mom told her to stay away from humans.  They were evil, wicked things!  How could they sell another person?  They were taking her by force to sell to someone else.  In her books she had read about slavery, but the reality was so much worse.

It was a long walk before they came to a stop.

“What’s all this then?”  A deep male voice said.

“We have something your commander will want to see,” Staven said.

“What’s in the box?”

“That’s for the commander’s eyes only.”

“Show me or you aint getting in,” the deep voice said.

“Very well.”

She heard the wooden lid of the box being moved off.

“What the blood thirsty gods is this?”

“Look at her.  Scaly skin, hood.  We have to keep her head covered because it’s a Gorgon.  We found her running wild.”

“Close the lid!  Quick!”  The deep voice said.  “What you got that dangerous thing for?”

“To show your commander.”

“Uh…right.  Follow me then.”

The box was picked up and they were moving again.  They stopped again and she heard a knocking sound.

“Yes?”  Came a muffled voice.

“Sir, I have three gentlemen that would like to see you.  They brought something important,” the deep voice said.

“How important?”  The muffled distant voice asked.

“Very, sir.”

“I trust you’re not wasting my time so come on in.”

There was a creaking sound and then they moved a short distance and the box was put on the ground.

“Who are you?”  The now clear and close voice said.

“We’re mercenaries from the High Castle Company.  We found this on a nearby island while looking for something else and we figured you might want a look at it,” Staven said.

“Very well, open it up.”

The lid came off again.

“Oh my,” the new man said.

“Impressive, isn’t it?”  Staven said.

“Very.  You found this on a nearby island?”

“Yeah, the island of Torchlight.  She was just wandering around.”

“My, my.  And why bring it here?”  The new man asked.

“Because I figure you might want to buy it.  Turn this in to your superiors, say you captured it and that’ll look really good on your files, yeah?”

“I’ll give 3,000 for it.”

“Please sir, I’m not an imbecile.  I know the worth of something like this.  Ten thousand.”

“No.  Eight Thousand.  I cannot pay more because anything more will be much too noticeable.”

“Very well captain, eight thou.  We have a deal.”

There was some movement and other sounds she didn’t recognize.

“There you go,” the new man said.

“Pleasure doing business captain,” Staven said.

Then she heard them leaving and only the deep voice and the captain was there.

“Guard, go get Andracus, he should have a look at this.  Hurry,” Captain said.

The guard left in a hurry.  It was silence until two people came to wherever they were.  She had no idea if she was outside or inside.  Without being able to smell or see anything, she was lost.  At night time she could see heat well enough to get around and her smell could always tell her what’s around her.  But the hood and gag kept her from the world.

“Why was I summoned here like some servant?”  A new voice asked.

“Take a look in the box and you won’t blame me for bringing you hear so suddenly,” Captain said.

“I can’t imagine what…”

“See?”

“Captain, do you know what this means?”

“A rare find indeed.  The general will love to have this.  I bought it from some mercenaries for only eight thousand.  They had no idea what they had.”

“A Gorgon.  They could have sold it to the criminal lords for three times that amount.”

“I know.  Fools.  Patriotic perhaps, but still fools.”

“I’ll go get my things.  Don’t touch it until I get back.  One has to handle these things carefully.”

“I would imagine so.”

A few, very long minutes of silence later the box was picked up again and there was another uncomfortable and long journey.  When it came to rest she was sore, scratched up, and still crying.  She heard the sound of scraping metal and a loud bang sound.

Then Nayda felt hands remove the head that was over her head.  The hands also removed the gag from her mouth.  She quickly sat up to look around.  She was sitting in a rough wooden box in a dark stone room with metal bars at one end.  There was a man standing in the room wearing thick clothing that covered him completely.  He was looking through mirrored glass goggles.

She looked right at him, but he didn’t turn to stone.

“Sorry child, my goggles keep you from turning me to stone.  Disappointing, I know.  Also, your fangs won’t be able to penetrate the suit I’m wearing, so no luck there either.”

“Why are you taking me?  What is this?”  Nayda screamed.

“Calm down, I won’t hurt you.  The fact is, we’re reclaiming lost property.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Long ago, our country made your kind to be the most lethal killers possible.  Somehow one of you got away and we’re taking back what is ours.”

“I’m not yours.  I’m not your property.”

“You are now and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Try to resist and it will only end in pain for you.”

“Let me go!”

“No.”

“Evil man!”

“Evil is a relative term.  You will serve the Republic and defend our land from our enemies.  If I have to inconvenience you, then so be it.  It’s an insignificant price to pay for the security of our country.”

The man looked at her through those black tinted circles.  She could make out his eyes barely.  Then the man held up a similar set of goggles and a circular metal band of some kind.

“These are to protect us from you.  You will wear these goggles to keep us from being petrified and this band will keep all those lovely snakes in order and out of the way.

He moved closer and she tried to get away, but she was still tied up and in the box.  He reached down and began pulling all her snakes back behind her head.

She screamed and tried to claw and bit him, but it was all useless.  Her fangs wouldn’t go through his suit and her hands were tied.  It hurt when he pulled her snakes back but she kept trying to struggle.  He clamped the metal band around the snakes and now they all hung behind her, unable to do anything from the weight.  Then he forced the goggles over her head.  Lastly, he cut the ropes that held her hands and feet.

“There.  As long as that all stays on, you shouldn’t have any problems.  I’m warning you though, if you try to escape or hurt one of my guards, you will absolutely regret it.  You will feel pain like you never knew existed.”

“What do I do?”  She asked.  She didn’t know what they wanted or why they were so interested in her.

“You wait here quietly until we move you.”

“Move me?  Where?”

“Somewhere else.”

The man then left through a door in the metal bars.  She was left alone in the small dark, wet room.  She was cold, hungry, and she hurt in several places.  Mom had warned her and she didn’t listen.  Mom was smart and she turned out to be stupid.

She curled up on the dry grass on the stone floor and cried some more until she went to sleep.

When she was awakened she didn’t know when it was because she couldn’t see the sun.  She only knew that it was a meal time when a large ugly man threw in a plate of some kind of food.  He was wearing the goggles like the other man had been.  He left without a word.

Nayda scrambled over to the metal plate and sniffed it.  It smelled awful and she couldn’t even recognize what it was.  It was a soft brown thing in a puddle of chunky liquid.  Is this what they ate?

She tasted it and it was as bad as it smelled.  She was so hungry however that she ate every bit of it.  Without food she got so tired.

As she sat back, disgusted at the food, she wondered how long it would be until she could go back home.  She wouldn’t be able to take much more of this.

*

The next four days were all the same.  She had no idea what time of day it was and could only keep track by time between disgusting meals.  She felt a little sick and was starving to see the sun again.  Her brown scaly skin was a little duller than she remembered.

On the fifth day the Captain came in.

“We are taking you to Tight Water.  It is a five day journey.  Once there you will be delivered to the Army where you will be put to use.”  He then waved for two of the large men to come in and grab her.  They picked her up and took her through the building.  She only had seconds to see the building where she had been imprisoned.  Strangely, it was made out of wood.  She thought humans built buildings out of stone.

They took her out and directly into a cart.  She recognized the cart from the pictures in books because it had two wheels and pulled by horses.  The second-long glimpse of horses that she got filled her mind with the memories of the pictures back in the church on her island.  They were magnificent.

Then she was thrown into the back of the car that only had two small windows to look out of.  At least she got a little light and she was now able to look out and see the human world.

The cart then lurched forward and she had to hang on to keep upright.  They went through the stone streets of the city.  Everywhere she looked she saw people.  So many of them and so different.  They weren’t just different from her, but they were very different from each other.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, ugly beautiful.  Some had light skin and hair, others dark.  The streets were stone, but all the buildings were wood and looked nothing like the ruins on her island.  She never knew that there was this many people.  If this was only one of many cities, how many did they have?  It didn’t seem possible that there were that many.

Everywhere she looked she saw red flags hanging from every building.  They had symbols that she recognized from the pictures back home.  It had something to do with their country.  The doors back home were arched at the top, but all these doors were flat.  Instead of round windows Richport had square windows.  She had expected to see more of the same.

Despite the fact that she was being towed away as a prisoner, she couldn’t help but stare out as the city streets passed by.  No two people looked alike at all.  She had no idea that humans came in such variety.  The smells were so much closer and stronger here.  She passed by a place open to the street where the large man was cooking some kind of meat.  It smelled wonderful.

All too soon her cart was out of the city and open land was all she saw.  It was flat green grass wherever she looked.  Occasionally there’d be a tree or small house.  Such vast, flat, open land made her feel vulnerable, like any enemy could see them.  They were exposed with no place to hide, not even from the sun.  This definitely wasn’t a good place to be.  She wasn’t meant to be in a place like this.  No protection, no friends, and no food.

Chapter 3

On the fifth day the wagon finally came to a stop.  She could see a city in the distance, but it was a ruined city like her island.  The difference was that this city didn’t have plants growing all over it.  It was fresh ruins.  Columns of smoke rose from the distant ruins and she wondered if people were doing a lot of cooking.

The sky was gray and drizzling.  She loved the smell of rain and it filled her nostrils and tongue.  The problem was that she was cold and hungry.  They gave her a few scraps to eat now and then when they remembered.  The cold was starting to get to her.  She was huddled up in the corner with her arms folded.  She rubbed up and down on her arms to try to get some warmth.  It wasn’t working.  None of the humans seemed bothered by the cold, but they had thick clothing on.

None of the books she had read had prepared her for any of this.  She knew a lot but reading about things and seeing them was completely different.

She heard talking outside but couldn’t make out what was being said.  Then she saw several soldiers surround the wagon.  They had metal shirts, pants, hats and masks like the soldiers in the church pictures, but they didn’t carry spears.  They carried those strange wooden and metal tubes which she now suspected were their weapons.  Their metal clothes didn’t look shiny and good like the pictures and stories described.  These men’s’ armor looked dull, dirty, and mean.  Their dull gray armor matched the gray of the sky and the puddles in the mud that reflected the sky.

It reminded her of the ocean during a rain storm and how everything was just a vast and endless expanse of beautiful gray.  The smell of rain and the salty sea came to her mind.  The gently rolling, yet choppy waves and their variety of different shades of gray filled her memory.

She wanted to go back home.

Then the wagon began moving again and the soldiers walked along with it.  She watched as they passed a gate and a wooden wall.  Soldiers and tents were everywhere.  She was in a military camp of some kind.  Most soldiers had that heavy metal armor but a few only had metal in some places and their weapon tubes were much longer.  Was longer better or worse for those things?

The military camp was much quieter than the city, but there was still the occasional loud yelling or laughter.

In the distance she heard thunder, but she didn’t see the flash of any lightning.  Strange weather to add to all the other strange things around her.  It was more than just strangeness.  The men around her felt like predators.  They gave her the same feeling that the small tree cats gave her when they kept their eyes locked on her.  She was unprotected and vulnerable to everything around her now.  She was the small mouse here.

When the wagon stopped she was yanked out by the biggest man she had seen so far.  He was wearing metal armor and those goggles that kept her from turning them into stone.  If she could, she would have.

The man picked her up like she was a fish from the sea, just as light and just as hard to keep a hold of.  Another man came up and tied her hands behind her which was very uncomfortable.  He held her by both of her arms and took her into the largest tent in the camp.

Inside the tent was a warm fire in a metal box.  A tube let all the smoke rise out the top of the tent.  Clever!  The men here had clean armor with white stripes or gold spots on the shoulders.  There was soft cloth on the ground and maps and weapons all over the place.  In front of her was a large wooden table where five men in decorated metal suits stood.  They watched as the large stinking man brought her in and placed her down on the ground.  He still held on to her though.

“So it’s true,” the man with the shiniest metal suit said.  “They found a Gorgon living in the wild.  It’s not unheard of, but still…”  He walked up to her and began looking her up and down.

“Does it speak?”  One of the other men asked.

“I speak,” she said.

“Do you know what this place is?”  General asked.

“An army camp,” Nayda said.

“Good.  You speak quite well for someone that has been in the wilderness.”

“I had books.”

“We are at war with the Kingdom of Sernan.   The Republic needs your abilities.  You now belong to us.  You will do as we say, when we say it.  Understood?”

She didn’t respond.  She wasn’t going to agree to something as crazy as that.

Before she knew it, his hand came up and slapped her across the face.  There were flashes of light in her vision and pain shot through her whole body.

“You will respond when I speak to you.  You are a weapon to be used, a tool of the Republic.  You will do everything you are told, understood?”

“Understood,” she whimpered.

“Good.  This is excellent gentlemen.  We have a Gorgon now.  Once she gets trained she will be an invaluable asset to our forces.”

“I’ve only seen one once before, but it was adult and she was green,” another metal man said.

“The sorcerers that made them used different kinds of snakes,” General said.

“Why are they always female?”  Another man asked.

“I don’t know.  This is just a young one but she’s still extremely dangerous.”

“Her skin is strange.  From a distance or in the dark it could almost pass as skin, but up close it’s obviously scales.”

One of the men pulled up her dress for a minute.  If her hands were free she wouldn’t have pushed her dress back down.

“Look how her front, her belly, chest, and neck are paler compared to the rest of her.  Like a snake’s belly,” a dark haired man said.  He walked up to her and touched her shoulder.  She didn’t like him touching her.  She wanted to run away but she knew that was impossible.  “It’s soft, but definitely scaly.”  He ran his hand up her neck and then down her back.  “The back is a little tough.”  Then he ran his hand up and down her belly. This made her recoil away from him.  She wanted nothing more at that moment than to sink her fangs into his throat.  “But her belly is softer than the rest.”

“Finally, some good luck.  I believe we could use more of that,” General said.  “Guard, take her to Chief Handler and tell him that I want her trained and ready to go as soon as possible.”

“Yes, General.”

Three guards in metal suits pushed her out of General’s tent.  She was outside and she could feel the wind on her face again.  She could smell the air and the camp and feel the ground between her toes.  Then a guard pushed her hard and they began walking.

Everyone stopped and stared at her.  It appeared like they had never seen a gorgon before.  She stared at them as well.  Everyone looked dirty and miserable.  So, this was how humans lived.  She didn’t like humans at all.  She wanted to kill them and run back to her home.

Then Nayda heard a terrible, unnatural scream.  She ducked her head and looked around.  That was when she saw it.  It was a giant metal beast belching out black smoke like she had seen the distant ships do.  It wasn’t an animal, but like the ships it was something humans had made.  It rolled on huge wheels and was slowly coming to a stop.  It pulled giant wooden wagons behind it.  There was a small wooden building where the giant metal thing stopped and soldiers instantly began gathering around it.

“First time seeing a land train, eh?”  A guard said, then all three of them laughed.

“I think she’s scared of it!”  Another guard said.

“At least the mail got here.”

They continued through the camp where people kept staring at her.  She hated the feeling of so many eyes on her.

Finally they came to another large, but much dirtier tent.  It was actually several tents lined end to end.  When she went in, she was instantly blasted with the horrible smell of dung and piss.  She kept her mouth closed to avoid smelling it as much as possible.  There were two little spots on the roof of her mouth where her tongue would touch to let her smell.  She didn’t want to smell any of this place.

A large, dirty man approached them.  He was wearing a thick cover of dried animal skin in front of him that had smears and stains all over it.  He had thick black gloves and goggles on his forehead and a mask hanging from his neck.

“What is this?” The man asked in total surprise.

“What’s it look like Handler?  We brought you a special prize.  The general wants her trained up as fast as you can.  We need her out on the front lines.”

“Oh, yes, of course.  I’m just surprised to see such a prize.  Where did it come from?”

“They said it was roaming around on its own or something like that.”

“I’ve never had the chance to work with a Gorgon before!  How beautiful it is!”

“Whatever man, just get her ready for combat quickly or the General won’t be happy.”

“Naturally.  You may leave now,” the goggled man said.

The three guards turned and left.

“Do not think about trying to escape.  I’m faster and stronger than I look.  I’ve dealt with all manner of beasts and you’re no different.  I can and will train you to fight for us.”

He then grabbed her by her snakes and yanked her to the ground.  Pain shot through her head and then her knees as she hit the floor.

“You will not do anything unless I tell you!”  He shouted painfully loud.  “You will not eat, you will not sleep and you will not take a piss unless I tell you!  Understood?”

“U…understood.”

“Now get up!”

She tried to scramble to her feet.

“Not fast enough!”

He hit her in the stomach and she crumpled back down to the floor.  The man grabbed her by the snake hair and began dragging her along the dirt floor.  She was being dragged down a row of cages.  Most of the cages were empty but some of them had strange people she had never seen or heard of before.

One cage had three small, green people with large pointy ears, round eyes and small tusks.  Their large yellow eyes followed her.

Another cage had what looked like a cross between a bird and a woman.  She had the torso and arms of a woman with long black hair parted in the middle.  She had a large nose, pointy ears and sharp teeth.  Her legs, were covered in feathers had an extra joint and ended in bird-like talons and her skin was more brown than the other humans.  Large black wings were folded up on her back and she was wearing some kind of leather harness that covered her chest, but just barely.  For a moment, their eyes met.  The bird-woman’s large black eyes and her goggled brown eyes.  She saw what she thought was a sadness in the bird-woman’s eyes.  Then the woman looked away.

The other cage that was occupied was the largest person she had yet seen.  He was covered in hair and had a head with giant horns, snout and sharp teeth.  His legs had hooves and his arms were massive.  It kind of looked like the picture of a bull that was in one of the large houses back home.  All the other people here had black metal collars.  The bull-man didn’t look at her as she was dragged into one of the cages.

The cruel man dumped her there and closed the door behind him as he left.

“This is your new home.  I have to go get some things.  When I return we will start your training.”

The man then left.

“What’s your name?”  One of the small green people asked as soon as the man had left.  He had a scratchy, high voice that spoke very fast.

“Nayda.  I don’t understand what’s happening.”

“Well,” the bird woman said, “you are now part of the Dethos Republic Army.  They’re in the middle of a war and now so are you.”  Her voice was soft, smooth and musical in a way that Mom used to sign.

“They want me to fight?”  Nayda asked.

“Yes they do.  You’re a living weapon to them.  They don’t care about you.  They only care that you do what they tell you to do.  He’s going to fit you with one of these collars.  They’re magic.  If you don’t do as they say, the collars will cause great pain,” the bird-woman said.

“What’s your name and what are you?”  Nayda asked.

“Tremela.  I was a member of the Moon Raven Clan of Harpies.”

“Grys,” one of the green people said.

“Yurk,” another green person said.

“Nos,” the final green person said.

“We’re brothers,” Grys said.

“What are you?”  Nayda asked.

“Goblins of course.  Never seen a Goblin before?  You live in a cave or something?”

Then Nayda turned to the very large bull-man.

“I am Nayda.  What’s you name?”

“Krotek.  Minotaur,” he said in the deepest, rumbling voice she had yet heard.

“You were all taken here by force?”  She asked.  They all nodded.  “Forced to fight?”

“I scout out enemy positions,” Tremela said.

“We make things,” Yurk said.

“Like bombs,” Nos said.

“And rockets,” Grys said.

“You?”  She asked Krotek.

“I fight.  Where are you from?  I thought all gorgons were controlled by the governments.”

“I come from a small island in the sea.  I was born there.  It was me and Mom, then she died.  Then men came and promised me food.  I went with them, but it was a trick.  They kidnapped me and brought me here.”

“Humans have no respect for anyone that isn’t a human.  They are spreading and taking more land,” Tremela said.

“How can they take what is not theirs?”  Nayda asked.

“Because they have power and that’s all they need,” Tremela said.

Tremala was very beautiful.  She had a long, thin neck and large shining eyes.

“Who are they fighting?” Nayda asked.

“The Dark Elf kingdom of Sernan.  They’ve been fighting for three years now and the humans have been slowly driving Sernan back.  When the war first started, the humans thought the war would be over before the Feast of Saint Cryostium.  They called the Dark Elves effeminate girl men,” Tremela said.

“The girl men have been giving the humans a hard time lately,” Grys said.

“They’ve been fighting over this ruined city for five months now, constant back and forth,” Tremela said.

“Why?”  Nayda asked.

“Because it’s there.  Because it crosses a river,” Tremela said.

“Because they only know how to fight,” Krotek said.  “They think power is only thing worth having.  They like power, yet none of them face me one on one.  Weak cowards.  I’m constantly surprised at their institutionalized hypocricy.”

“So…they take people by force and make people fight.  This is evil,” Nayda said.

“Yes it is,” Tremela said.  “I keep praying that my gods will come down and smite them, but they don’t hear my prayers.”

“My ancestors don’t hear me either,” Krotek said.

“Gods and spirits never help folks,” Yurk said.  “If we could just sneak in some of our little creations, then we could escape.  Blow a hole in the camp walls, set off some rockets as distractions.  Oh yes, we could do it.”

“You couldn’t do it.  Maybe I could, but not you,” Grys said.

“My rockets would do better,” Nos said.

“You’re rockets are junk,” Yurk said.

“At least they go off, unlike your bombs,” Nos said.

“His bombs do go off, just not when you want them to,” Grys said.

“Oh, gaining up on me, eh?”  Yurk said.

Then the human man came back in and everyone instantly fell silent.  He opened her cage, grabbed her by her snakes and took her back outside.  She struggled to keep up or he would hurt her.

The human man took her to a tent next to the big tent.  It was round unlike all the other rectangle tents.  There was metal and animal skin suits, like the soldiers wore, all over the tent.  There were weapons of all kinds; long spears, big knives, and those tube weapons she still didn’t understand.  He untied her hands.

“I’m warning you, if I ever see you with those goggles off, you will regret it.  I’ll be keeping mine on just in case.  Now take off your clothes.”

She was about to refuse and ask why.  Mom said that they weren’t animals and so they covered themselves.  She said no one should see her naked unless she loved them and wanted to make babies.

But then she thought of the pain the man could cause her.  She didn’t want to be hit again.

So, she slipped off her little brown dress.  He began to laugh.  It wasn’t a laugh that she liked.  It was not a good, funny laugh.  It was a laugh that turned her stomach.  She didn’t know why it was such a bad laugh, but she felt that something was definitely wrong about it.

“You’re flatter than the Desolate Plains!”  He continued to laugh as he grabbed a pile of clothes.  His eyes stayed on her as he grabbed a few other things from around the tent.  Then he dumped the pile in front of her.

“Put the clothes on first,” he said.  She obeyed willingly this time.  The feeling he gave her as he looked at her was very uncomfortable.  She put on a strange pair of pants and then a loose shirt.  All of it was black like the soldiers were wearing under their armor.

Then the man handed her one of the metal shirts.  She tried it on but it was much too big for her.  He gave her a smaller one and it fit tightly on her body.

“Good.  That seems to work.  Keep the clothes but take the breastplate off,” he said.   She assumed “breastplate” was the metal shirt.  She quickly took it off.

“You’ll be wearing this armor every time you go out to fight.  It’s heavy but you better get used to it.  When bullets start flying at you, duck, but if you’re too slow, this should stop it.”

Then he took her back to the tent and tossed her back into her cage.

Chapter 4

Nayda fell into the mud of the practice pit and wrapped her arms around her stomach.  If she had eaten that morning she would have been throwing it up.  The handler was standing over her.

“Get up you cold blooded wench.  Get up and stop crying to your momma.”

She got up, still a little dizzy from the last blow.  For the past two day she had been doing non-stop exercises that drained her of all strength and left her weak and sore at the end of the day.  She didn’t understand why but he kept making her do “pushups,” “situps,” and running.  Whatever he thought of, she had to do it instantly or she’d get beaten.  He avoided hitting her face and she suspected it was because he didn’t want to damage her goggles.

What the exercises she was doing now were, she had no idea.  They seemed so confusing and random.

She was starting to understand how these humans were.  They understood cruel brutality and little else.

“Now, when I say, look to your eleven O’clock, I mean it.  I don’t mean look to your ten or twelve.  I told you how it’s like a face of a clock.  There’s the drawing of a clock.  Memorize it!”

It was a circle with numbers along the edge.  Over and over again he called out direction by using the name of a symbol and she had to face that way.  The purpose of it escaped her completely.

The sun was out, beating down upon her and it felt good.  She felt a little better for it, but it wasn’t enough.  Her body hurt all over and her stomach rumbled from the terrible food that she still couldn’t identify.

She looked over the other fenced-in mud hole and saw Krotek there.  He was surrounded by five men wearing armor.  He had a pole wrapped in cloth and he was fighting the five men.  It didn’t seem fair, five against one.  Still, Krotek was a good head and shoulder taller than the tallest human and he was much more massive.  He was holding his own against them.

Krotek swung and knocked one of the humans against the wooden fence.  One of the other humans hit him in the back and Krotek let out a furious roar.  His head went back and his mouth opened wide showing rows of thick fangs.  The power of his roar was shocking.  She could feel his roar in her lungs and ribs.  For a moment she stood there in awe, staring at the raw power coming from Krotek.  Even the humans training with him stood back, stunned.

Suddenly Krotek launched himself at the five humans and began batting them around like they were made of straw.

“He has it in him when he’s angry,” the Handler said.

She looked over to him and saw that even the Handler was in awe of Krotek’s power.  Then he turned back to her.

“Three o’clock!”  He shouted.

Her training went on all the rest of the day and when it was time for dinner she was led back to her cage and given a plate of muck to eat.  She collapsed to the ground and buried her face in the plate.

“Tired?” Tremela asked.

“Very.”

“There are worse things than training.”

Nayda couldn’t think of anything worse than this life, but she no longer doubted that humans were capable of more terrible acts.  She didn’t ask for details and she didn’t think Tremela wanted to go any further into it either.

A little while later Krotek came in escorted by four men.  He was panting, but he didn’t look angry anymore.  He was also less dirty than she was.

Once the men left and they were all left alone she moved over to the bars that were also a part of Krotek’s cage and put her hand on his furry shoulder.

“You alright?”  She asked.

“Yes, I’m well,” he said, but she could tell that he wasn’t.  How could he be alright if he was in this prison?  “How are you?”

“Dirty.  Muddy.”

He laughed a little.

“I can see that.  It helps to not think of the future or even tomorrow.  Just think of today and the moment.  Nionidus the great philosopher once said, we must endure all our trials for as much as we endure, the stronger we will be.  You must endure Nayda.”

“I can do that.”

“What did they have you three do?”  Tremela asked the goblin brothers in her musical voice.

“We made some hand grenades and rockets.  Nothing out of the ordinary,” Nos said.  “What about you?”

“I did a quick fly over of enemy positions.”

“Sounds nice!  Wish I could fly,” Nos said.  “I think I’d poop on their heads.”

“It’s not so great.  I can fly and see my freedom, but I always have to come back here.  It makes it worse.  Besides, you know what else I have to do.”

“One day, we’ll kill him Tremela.  We’ll plant a bomb in his bed,” Grys said.

“He’ll die really, really messily.  We promise,” Yurk said.

“Guts and brains will fly everywhere!” Nos said.

“Make sure I’m there to watch,” Tremela said.

There was an anger in her voice that Nayda could hear.  Tremela was kind and beautiful, but she was covering up a lot of anger.  She knew some reasons for the anger.  This place was what Mom called “Hellas;” a place of pain and suffering.

Nayda curled up in her pile of straw and tried to sleep.  She couldn’t help it but every night she thought of home and cried.

“Nayda,” Krotek’s soft, deep voice said.

“Huh?”

“Don’t cry little one.  You have friends here.  We’ll watch out for you and protect you, no matter what,” he said.

She rolled over and looked at his dark silhouette.  All she could see was his dark form, but it was now a familiar form that brought comfort.  She could hear his heavy breath and smell his fur.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t want you to worry for me,” she said.

“It’s my honor to do so.”

“Thank you Krotek.”

“Now sleep Liesha.”

“Liesha?”

“It means little one in my language.”

“Beautiful,” she said as she drifted off into troubled sleep.

In the middle of the night something woke her up.  She crammed her head to look around.  It was so dark, but she could see everyone’s heat.  Krotek was lying in his usual spot and the three brothers were all huddled up where they usually were.

Then she saw something strange.  The Handler was in Tremela’s cage lying on top of her.  She could hear strange sounds coming from them.  What was going on?  Were they wrestling?

Whatever they were doing, they eventually finished and the Handler left.  Tremela lay there, breathing heavily and crying softly.  She wanted to call out to her, but then she realized that everyone else was awake as well.  They all remained completely silent so she kept silent as well.

During breakfast she tried to think of something to say, but what she saw was something she didn’t think she was supposed to see.

“Tremela, we’ll kill him, I promise,” Krotek said softly.

Tremela nodded but didn’t say anything.  Krotek then looked over at Nayda.  There was sadness and worry in his eyes.  It was as if he wanted to say something, but he kept silent.  She wanted to whisper to him and ask him what happened, but she didn’t feel that he wanted to talk about it either.

Something very bad was happening here with Tremela, but she didn’t understand what it was.  She wanted to help her, but she had no power to do so.  The humans had all the power and left nothing for everyone else.

She stayed silent and went off to training.  It went as horribly as it usually did.  She was hit a little less than usual, but by the end of the day, her body still hurt and she was miserable. When she went back to her cage, it was only her and Tremela there.

“I didn’t see Krotek today,” Nayda said.

“He’s out on the front lines.  They had a small offensive today.”

“Offensive?”

“The humans launched an attack.  I was flying around all day and bringing reports.  The attack ended around noon.”

“Where is he then?”

“He’s probably on the way back,” Tremela said flatly.

The three brothers came in a little later.  The guard that brought them in literally kicked them back into their cage.  Poor guys.  As soon as the guard left the brothers cursed at him.

“How was your day?”  Tremela asked, smiling.

“Eh, same, same,” Nos said.

“Make bombs, rockets, made a special gun for a captain,” Yurk said.

“I pray that it backfires and kills him,” Tremela said.

“As long as it can’t be blamed on us!” Nos said.

“They’ll just blame it on you, Nos,” Yurk said.

“What about you Nayda?” Grys asked.  “You learn enough to act like a human?”

“Running around, jumping, going with soldiers to do play fighting.  They play fight and I look at the enemy but not at the soldiers.”

“They’re getting ready to put you on the front lines,” Tremela said.

“To fight, yes.”

It wasn’t until after dinner that Krotek came back.  He was covered in dirt and what smelled like blood and gunpowder.  She knew the gunpowder smell from all the soldiers practicing.

“Krotek!  You alright?”  Nayda asked.

“I’m well and uninjured.  Tired in body and soul, but well.”

He was escorted into his cage and the soldiers left.

“I was worried about you Krotek,” Tremela said.

“I saw you flying around and it made me feel better.”

Tremela smiled and rested her head against the bars.  Krotek lay down on his pile of straw and closed his eyes.  All his movements were slower and he was clearly tired.

“Rest,” Nayda said to the sweet Minotaur.

In moments Krotek was sleeping.

“Poor man,” Tremela said.

“I’ll be doing that soon, yes?” Nayda asked.

“Yes you will sweety,” Tremela said.

Nayda was awakened earlier than usual.  The Handler came in and pulled her up onto her feet.

“Wake up you little lizard.  We got serious work to do,” the Handler said.

She knew that this wasn’t going to be training.  She knew this was something different.  She stayed silent and allowed her to be pulled out of the tent.  In the distance, above the ruined, smoking city, the sun was rising orange and purple.  It was a cool morning and winter was coming.  The ground was cold and she kept her feet off the ground as much as possible.  He took her to the round tent and put her armor on.  This time he also strapped metal plates on her arms and thighs.

“You will be assigned to the 34th 3rd platoon and you will go along with them during their assault.  You will do as you’re told.  If they say to look at your one o’clock, you do it.  You will petrify every Dark Elf you see.  Am I clear?”

“Clear,” she said.

He took her to where a large group of soldiers were readying their equipment.  They were tightening their armor and checking their ‘guns.’  The guns had a lever with a lit wick on it.  They pulled a lever and the wick came down and set some black powder off.  Somehow that shot a metal ball out.  It was the oddest idea of a weapon she had ever heard of but apparently it worked.

“Lieutenant, this is the Gorgon that will go along with you.  Please don’t let her get injured.  She’s extremely valuable,” the Handler said.

“We’re the best at this stuff.  We’ll bring it back in one piece,” the lieutenant said.

“See that you do.  The general will want a combat report about the Gorgon as soon as you return.”

“I know.”

The lieutenant waved over some soldiers and then they all began walking toward the city.  The closer they got to the ruins, the more gates, walls and towers she saw.  She also saw things that looked like guns, but much bigger.  They were all facing the ruined city.

“Okay gorgon, listen up.  You do things our way.  You do what we tell you when we tell you.  Do not slow us down.  If you get one of my boys killed, I will put a bullet in your brain and tell the general it was the enemy.  Got it?”

“Got it.”

It was almost comical how all these army humans had the same way of talking.  Force and intimidation was their language.

Finally they passed the final gate and they entered the city.  There were several other ‘platoons’ of soldiers by the large gate, all waiting for something.

Suddenly the loudest thunder she had ever heard tore through the air.  She quickly covered her ear holes and looked around.  It was a clear day!

“Over there moron,” one of the soldiers said.  She looked where he was pointing and saw that the thunder was coming from the incredibly large guns.  They were shooting into the city.  It sounded like the thunder she had heard on the day she had arrived.

“Okay men, here we go!”  One of the soldiers said.  The double wooden gates opened and they all began running into the city.  She easily followed along.  She had two soldiers that seemed to stay with her at all times.  They were probably ordered to escort her around.

They stayed close to the ruined walls of the city and never ventured out into the open.  The armored soldiers had their helmets on that covered their faces so she couldn’t tell one from the other.  The helmets had slit eyes and holes to breathe through.  It all looked very uncomfortable.  The backs of the helmets came out, almost like plates, to protect the back of the neck.  They all moved with their guns up to their shoulders, ready to shoot anything that moved.

Then a shot rang out and one of the soldiers was knocked over.

“Sniper!” Someone shouted and she was pushed into the nearby ally.

“Anybody see where it came from?”  Another solider asked.

“Not a clue.”

“I think it came from the three story brick building at the end of the street.”

“Certain?”

“Pretty sure.”

“I thought we were supposed to get a sorcerer for this.”

“He’s on his way.  Should meet up with us soon.”

“Why are there always delays when we need them the most?”

“It’s magic, sir, we can’t possibly know the complexities.”

“Shut up Satori.”

“What?  I was just saying what one of those whore sons said to me.”

“Platoon Asha, move up using the side street over there,” the lieutenant motioned with an armored hand. “Platoon Thesa, move up from the west street over there.  We’ll stay here and provide cover and draw their fire.  Flank them and kill them.”

They all grunted and were on their way.  She watched on as soldiers fired at the building.  The loud cracking of their guns hurt her ears.  The soldier that had been hit had a dent in his breastplate, but was perfectly alright.  A few shots came back at them, but no one else was getting hit.

“Welcome to Tight Water City,” one of the soldiers laughed.

Chapter 5

The platoon Nayda was with today was hunkered down in the ruins of a large stone building.  What it once was, was impossible to tell.  They were eating their hard bread and salted meat.  Despite the fact that they were in the middle of a battle, they were laughing and joking.  She found nothing funny in any of this.

It had been three months since she started fighting in this broken city.  She had no idea how many people she had killed in this long time.  Her soldiers would attack a building occupied by the Dark Elves and some would poke their heads out to take a shot, see her and never move again.  Just with her being there prevented a lot of injuries on the human’s side.  She learned that her gaze was effective as long as the victim could see her eyes clearly enough.

“Hey, you gotta tighten you armor up a bit,” someone said.  She looked over and saw that it was one of the soldiers.

“Huh?”  No one ever talked to her except to yell orders at her.

“Your armor’s a bit loose.  Down there.”  He pointed to his side.  She looked down and saw that one of her straps was indeed loose.

“Thanks,” she said.

“No problem.  I know that this is awful for you, but you do realize that its necessary.”

“I don’t realize that,” she hissed.

“If we didn’t use everything we had to fight, they’d push us back until we had no land left.  It would be the end of our country and freedom.  We’re fighting for our survival.  Once things get back to normal, we can go back to how it was.  Free and equal.”

“Free and equal?”  She wanted to laugh but she felt more like biting him with every snake she had.

“They attacked us first so we had to fight back.  Survival.”

“So you’re invading the Dark Elf country?”

“We have to ensure our safety.”

The soldier then went back to eating his salted pork, content that he had convinced her.  When they were resting like this they flipped their visors up or took their helmets off altogether.  That was when she got to see the faces of the people she was fighting with.  She’d like, at least once, to fight alongside Krotek.  She wanted to protect him.  That was something she’d gladly fight for.

As it was, she was fighting a war she wanted nothing to do with.  She didn’t know these Dark Elves and she wished she didn’t know the humans.

Was this what mom had know of humans?  Did they make her do this?  If so, that means she escaped and hid on the island.  If Mom could survive, then she could.

The only thing she knew of the Dark Elves were that they wore black and gold armor, had long skinny guns, and their hair and skin had no color, but could range from pure white to coal black.  Sometimes all she saw was their yellow or red eyes through slits in their helmets.  Sometimes she caught sight of their whole faces right before they turned to stone.  Whoever they were, they didn’t deserve this.  No one did.  At night those faces came to haunt her like the ghosts from Moms stories.  She remembered every person she killed.  Usually the soldiers would break the statues just for fun.  It was sickening.

In the distance she could hear the cannons going off, blowing up an already blown up part of the city.  War seemed so pointless.  She couldn’t imagine anything that could justify this.

Then an explosion went off just a few paces from the building they were hiding in.  Everyone threw on their helmets and dropped to the ground.  She covered her head with her armored arms and wished the enemy cannons to shoot somewhere else.  She felt the small pebbles from the blast hit the back of her breastplate causing little “pling, pling” sounds.

“Okay men, let’s get out of here!  They got us sighted it!”

At that they all picked themselves up and ran out of the building.  They were following the officers.  The platoon split into three squads and found shelter in smaller buildings.

“I thought those enemy artillery emplacements were supposed to have been knocked out by now,” one of the soldiers said.

“Maybe we should take them out.  Hellas, we’re close enough.”

“I say we do it.  Let’s show them gray Elves that they can’t expect to get away with this.”

The three squad leaders had a quick chat and then the platoon moved out again.  She followed, escorted by two soldiers as usual.  Sometimes it was three.  She was just a weapon to them, something to point at the enemy and make them die.

They made their way through the rubble filled streets of Tight Water.  She tried to imagine the lives of the normal people that lived here before the war tore this place apart.

“How far?”  Someone asked.

“Just three blocks north.”

Then there was a blinding flash and everything went silent.  It was a few moments before she realized that she was now lying on her back looking up into the sky.  When she sat up there was a pain in her left leg and right arm.  She was bleeding slightly from both spots.  Nayda looked around and saw that a cannon blast had landed right in the middle of her platoon.  People were scrambling and running around.  Some were lying where they fell, not moving.

Another explosion erupted in the middle of the street sending bits of stone flying in all direction.  Her ears were ringing and she retreated back into the ally, away from the bombardment.  Her two escorts were lying on the ground.  She hated to admit it, but she didn’t care if they were alive or dead.

For a moment she stood there wondering what to do.  No soldier was watching her.  She could run off, maybe make it to the Dark Elf lines.  This could be her chance at escape.  Freedom was just a few blocks north.

But then she remembered Tremela and how she got to fly free every day, but it was just an illusion.  The heavy collar around her neck was enough to keep her from running.  The Handler used it on her once just to show that it worked.  The pain paralyzed her.  It was as if she was being stabbed by large needles on every inch of her skin.  If they thought she was missing, they’d use it.  The Handler said that was on a low setting and that the pain could be much worse.

She had to stay exactly where she was.

She waited for the soldiers that were still able to, to get back up and come back to their senses.  Two of them ran over to her and grabbed her.  Idiots.  If she could have run, she would have already done it.

Three of the men did not get back up however.  One of their legs had been torn from his body and was lying a few feet away.  The remaining twenty seven soldiers gathered in a nearby building.  She of course, was dragged along.

“What do we do now?  They know where to hit us.”

“Yeah, them gray Elves know exactly where to hit us.”

“They got to be using magic to sight us in.”

“Why don’t we use some magic of our own?”

“I think we have to.”

“I’ll send a runner to ask for support.”

“Do it.”

They sent their fastest man back to the rear.  At first, when they mentioned magic, she thought that they were talking about her, but she quickly realized that they were talking about the sorcerers.  She still hadn’t seen one of these magic humans.  What she did know was that they weren’t treated any better than her or her friends.  They were slaves to the human army.

They sat there, waiting for about an hour.  Humans had to divide the day up into sections to keep track of everything.  She still wasn’t good at knowing their measurement for time.

Eventually the runner came back and reported that a sorcerer was on the way.  All they had to do was sit back and watch.

A few minutes later they saw another squad running up the street toward their position.  In the middle of them was a shirtless, hairless human.  Every inch of his skin was covered in strange marking, almost like numbers.  As they got closer, she could feel something odd.  It was like a pressure in her head.  She knew the sorcerer was causing it.  It made her feel sick.

“My gods, I hate these guys,” one of the soldiers muttered.

“They’re freaks.”

“Not any more human than snake girl here.”

Despite all their lives that she saved, they still had no respect for her.  The fact that she was born what she was, was enough for them to hate her.

The approaching squad continued to march up the street.  As soon as they had passed her platoon fell in line behind them.

“They’re searching us out,” the sorcerer said.  “They have magic to locate threats.  Their sorcerer tells them where to aim and they do.  I am trying to cloud his thoughts.  It isn’t working.  Duck.”

With that, everyone hit the ground.  She was pulled to the ground by her two escorts.

This time she actually saw the artillery shells coming in.  The two black dots were heading right towards them.  In a second they’d be on top of them.

The two cannon shells exploded above them as if they had hit an invisible ceiling.  She looked over to the sorcerer.  Red trails of smoke was pouring out of his eyes and his mouth was contorted into a look of pain.

“Here it comes,” someone behind her said.

“He’s about to go crazy.”

“Good.  Less work for us to do.”

Suddenly a red mist formed around the sorcerer.  The man slowly lifted into the air like he was a puppet.  He let out an agonizing scream and the red mist shot forward and down the street.  A few seconds later they heard an explosion and then saw smoke rising from a few blocks away.

Then the sorcerer gently came back to the ground and the red smoke in his eyes went away.  He now looked exhausted.

“The mortar position is taken care of.  I need to rest,” he said.

“We’ll take you back now.”

“Thanks for your help,” the Captain said.

“No problem,” the leader of the sorcerer’s escort said.

She had never seen such a display of power before.  It was the first time she had seen actual magic.  Somehow he had protected them from the enemy cannons and then destroyed them in turn.  They were far more dangerous than she was.

As darkness came down on them her platoon headed back to the rear.  Their daily patrol was done.  As they marched back to the rear she thought about what she had seen.  Magic was raw, destructive power.  Couldn’t that power be used for something better?  Like her, the sorcerers were just living weapons to be used, no different than the cannons that faced out toward the ruins of Tight Water City.

Everyone was already in the tent by the time she got back.  Her plate of muck was already waiting for her.  Now it was cold muck.

“How did it go?”  Nos asked once they were all alone.

“I saw a sorcerer today.  He destroyed an enemy mortar position all by himself.”

“They’re very powerful, aren’t they?”  Tremela asked.

“He also stopped two cannonballs from hitting us.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  I can’t believe what they can do!”

“Frightening aren’t they,” Krotek said.

“I felt sorry for him,” Nayda said.

“He’s only a little better off than us,” Tremela said.

She ate her muck and then lay down.  She was tired.  It wasn’t just the physical stress that was getting to her.  It was everything.  How much longer could she go on like this?  She was tired of the killing, death and destruction.  She was also tired of worrying about her own life every day.  Each time she went out into the city could be her last.  She tried to keep it in the back of her mind, but it was always there, pushing at her.

“Get some rest Liesha,” Krotek said.  She liked it when he called her that.  It reminded her of Mom.  She’d say sweet things like that.

“I will.”

She had moved her pile of straw over to be closer to him.  His massive furry form was one of the few comforting things around here.  She knew she had little to fear when she was near him.

“It’s funny, but when I look at you Liesha, I see my own daughters,” Krotek said.

“You have daughters?”

“Somewhere.  Two of them.  I also have two sons.  I don’t know where they are.  You’re much smaller than them of course, but you still remind me of them.”

“I never knew my father, but I hope he was like you.”

“What was your mother like?”

“She was nice and warm.  At night I would cuddle up next to her and she would tell me stories.  She always was smiling.  I think she was happy to be free.”

“You think she escaped from a place like this?”

“I think so.  I think back to all the things she told me and now I know it was because she had lived like this.  I don’t know if it was like this, but something almost the same.”

“You’re talking much better now by the way.  You’re accent has lessened,” Krotek said.  It had been a surprise to learn that she had an accent.  She hat thought that everyone else talked strangely.

“Thank you.  I’ve been trying.  Mom taught me all that stuff, but I never got to practice speaking much.”

“Sounds like your mother was a wonderful person.”

“She was.”

“What was her name?”

“Misha.  She told me only once.”

“Well, we’re all your family now,” Tremela said.

“You’re our sister, even if you’re not green,” Grys said.

“Not as pretty as us,” Yurk said.

“And you’re taller than us,” Nos said.

“Not as tall as Kro,” Yurk said.

“Thank you everyone,” Nayda said with a laugh.  The Goblins teased, but they weren’t as mean as they pretended to be.

The three goblins went to squabbling over who had the best plate of muck like they always did.  It seemed that they couldn’t do anything without fighting.

She fell asleep and morning came much too early.  By sunrise she was back out with another platoon patrolling the rubble filled streets.  Soldiers got days off but she didn’t.  Every day, without rest she was out there.  When a firefight erupted, she’d cover her ears and try not to get shot.  She’d hide behind something and stick her head out when she thought the enemy might be in range.

Enemy.  That was a strange thing to call them.  They weren’t her enemies.  Humans were her enemies yet she had to help them.

Every day the gray armored men and their matchlocks would pour out of the camp and look for enemy patrols.  Rumor was that the General had to send a lot of his soldiers over to help another general.  That made it so he didn’t have enough men to launch a large offensive to retake and hold the city.  So, they were holding on until they could get support.  Why fight over a ruined city anyways?

She listened to the rumors and stories the soldiers told.  She listened for clues to the outside world.  She wanted to know if life apart from the war was any good.  She wanted to know if there were good humans out there.  Mostly they talked about women and doing strange things to them.  It sounded like what the Handler did with Tremela when he was drunk.  He would come into the tent, smelling foul like those barrels she had found in the basement back on her island.  When he had a lot to drink, he would stagger in and lay with Tremela.  That was what Tremela meant when she said there were worse things than training.

She also listened as the soldiers talked about the war.

“We’ll have this won by next year,” one of the soldiers said.

“That’s what they said last year.”

“Yeah, but I heard that the Elves don’t have the factories like we do.  They can’t keep up!”

“They invented the steam engine.  You don’t think they know how to make more of them?”

“That’s why we had to attack them, before they over ran us.”

“It seems like every non-human country is against us.”

“Because they are.  Why do you think we don’t trust the ones that live here?”

“What about you snake girl?  You’d rather kill us than them, right?”

Of course she would, but saying so would probably just get her a fist to her face.

“Why do you all hate non-humans so much?  We’re just as alive as all of you,” Nayda said.

“We hate them because they hate us.  If we try to get along, they’ll stab us in the back.”

“Right!  They want us dead, so its only fair that we return the favor,” another soldier said.

“Why hate me then?  I don’t belong to any other country,” Nayda said.

“Long time ago, humans created all non-humans.  You’re all just tools to be used.  It’s the way things are.  We’re the masters, you’re the animals that only act like humans.”

“So, because you think you should rule over everyone else, you think it justifies all of this?”  Nayda asked.

“It’s for their own good.  We’ll bring them our better way of life.  They’ll thank us.”

The crack and smoke cloud the guns made no longer frightened her, but she knew that on the other end people were dying.  She knew that she probably killed just as many people.  If the enemy got too close and merely caught a glimpse of her, it was enough.  Several times she saw flintlocks raised up to fire at her, only to be turned into stone before they could pull the trigger.

Day after day she would go out into the warzone and follow the soldiers.  She’d hear the sound of marching boots, the clanking of their armor and smell the breakfast fires of the men that got to stay in the rear.  It was a pointless existence.  This pile of rubble wasn’t worth all these lives, not even the humans’.  This was all so obviously pointless.

Chapter 6

Nayda had learned to bring some cloth to put into her ears when fighting broke out.  A squad of five men rushed up and all fired at once.  There was a platoon of enemy Dark Elves held up in an old theatre.  They couldn’t get close enough for her sight to have any affect so she stayed hidden behind the corner of one of the few buildings that still stood.

All day it went like this, shooting at fleeting targets and bullets slamming into armor or flesh.  By the end of the day, five soldiers were wounded but no deaths.  No one could guess how many Dark Elf casualties, but judging by their lack of rude jokes, she doubted they accomplished much at all.  Inside she smiled about it.  She was glad that they had a bad day.

If Krotek had been there, he would have taken the Dark Elf position easily.  She had seen him in battle only once, but it was all she needed to see to know that she would never want to be facing him in combat.  He wore thick, heavy armor and carried a giant gun, more like a small cannon.  He also carried two short swords for when he got in close.  She watched as he charged forward roaring like rage itself, bullets ricocheting off his armor.  The enemy squad broke and ran.  She would have ran as well if he charged at her.

When they got back to the rear she was shoved back into her cage and the soldiers left.

“How was it?”  Tremela asked.

“They didn’t do very well today.  Fought all day with nothing to show for it,” Nayda said.

Krotek quietly chuckled.

“We heard the Dark Elves were getting reinforcements and that the general isn’t very happy at all,” Yurk said.  The brothers all laughed.

“What a shame,” Tremela said.

“I fought a squad of them today.  I knocked them out and down, but I don’t think I killed any of them.”

“So, a good day then?”  Nayda said.

In the middle of the night she awoke when she heard the Handler stumble in, humming some nonsense tune.  Poor Tremela.  No one as sweet and beautiful as her deserved this.  She knew what the Handler was going to do.  From two months of being around soldiers, she knew what was going on and hated it more than anything.  How Tremela managed to keep a smile every day must have been a heroic effort.

But as she watched his heat in the dark, he passed by Tremela’s cage and stopped in front of her’s.  Mom, help her!

The Handler fumbled with his keys and opened her door.  He closed it and put his keys back on his belt.

Krotek snarled.

“Stay away from her or I swear I will kill you!  I don’t care what consequences happen!  Krotek roared.

The Handler lazily took out a small stone with glowing magic runes on it.  He touched one of the runes and Krotek crumpled to the ground in agony.

“Stay like that until you learn some manners,” the Handler said in a slurred voice.

The goblin brothers were shouting curses and threats but he ignored them.

“Please don’t,” she managed to gasp out.  In several months of fighting, she had never been this scared.  He had his goggles on and her snakes were tied back in a metal band so they couldn’t strike at him.  He also wouldn’t be dumb enough to let her bit him with her own fangs.  Without those, she was just a weak, scrawny girl.

“Shut up snake.  I do as I please.”

He kneeled down in front of her and began undoing his belt.

“Why don’t you come over here?  I have something special,” Tremela said in a voice that was shaking.   The Handler ignored her and drew closer.  Now she could smell the booze on his breath and shirt.  She couldn’t look at him.  She turned her head away and held her arms out to keep him away.

He hit her upside the head and when her snakes hissed a warning, he grabbed the metal band and slammed it hard against the ground.  The band bent slightly.

“Keep your freakish snakes under control or I’ll chop em off.”

Next door she could still hear Krotek struggling against the agony from his collar.  Tremela was crying and the brothers were still cursing at him.  He grabbed her hands and pinned them to the ground.  He then began kissing her cheek and neck.  Revulsion crept up from the pit of her stomach and up to her head.

“Stop!”  She screamed, but he didn’t.  Instead he slapped her face and then continued to undo his pants.

Then Nayda felt one of her snakes getting loose from the metal band.  When it was bent, it made some space to maybe let a snake wiggle out.  All her focus went to that one snake.  Usually they just did what they wanted, but if she concentrated, she could control them and even see from their eyes.  As he began pulling up her shirt she ignored it and kept trying to get her snake out.  It was a tight fit and the snake’s head just wouldn’t get passed the edge of the metal band.  Since one of her hands was free she slowly moved it up and began pushing the snake’s head.

As the Handler started kissing her chest, her snake slipped past the band and came free.  Faster than even she could see, the snake struck out and bit the hand that was holding up her shirt.

He shrieked and fell backwards, grabbing his hand.  Now it was his turn to crumple on the ground in agony.  He was having trouble breathing and he couldn’t do a thing as pain racked him in waves.  They had made her test her venom against a captured Dark Elf and now it was his turn.  It took about a half hour to die from it, but he’ll be wishing he were dead long before then.

Quickly she grabbed the magic stone and looked for the rune that would stop the pain.  She touched it and Krotek began to breathe normally.

“What’s going on?  What happened?”  Tremela asked.  She couldn’t see in the dark and probably had no idea what was going on.

“One of my snakes bit him.  His suffering from poison now,” Nayda said.

Tremela let out a sound that she couldn’t tell if it was laughter or sobbing.

“Thank the Great Crow,” Tremela said.

“You alright?” Grys asked.

“I’m fine,” she said.  She was shaking and wanted to cry herself, but they didn’t have time.  She reached in the human’s pocket and grabbed the keys.  After letting herself out she went and opened everyone’s cages.  As soon as Tremela’s cage was open, Tremela rushed over to where the Handler was still moaning on the ground.  She crouched down beside him, looking down at him, not saying a word.  She watched in stony silence as he suffered, staring into his tortured face.

No one said anything.  They all realized that they were all in great danger, but they also understood that Tremela needed this.  They all watched until the Handler finally let out his last, pain filled breaths.

“We can go now,” Tremela whispered.

“We need to get to the round tent next door.  We can get our equipment and supplies,” Nayda said.

“How are we going to get out of here?  We’re in the middle of the camp,” Yurk said.

“It’s the middle of the night, only the night watch will be up,” Krotek said.

“But if we alert them, they’ll wake up the whole camp,” Tremela said.

“I’ll disguise myself as a human.  I’ll wear a helmet and pretend to lead Krotek and the brothers.  I’ll act like a handler.  Tremela, you go ahead and fly above us out of sight.  If we get caught, no sense you being caught as well.”

“But what if we do run into trouble?”  Nos asked.

“Exactly.  It would be useful to have a few toys,” Grys said.

“While you’re getting dressed up, we’ll go to our work tent and grab a few things.  Tremela could carry some bombs and if need be, she could drop a few.”

“I like it,” Tremela said.

“It’s a plan then,” Krotek said.

Then suddenly Nayda was grabbed up in a hairy embrace.  Krotek held her tightly to his chest.

“I thought the worst was going to happen Liesha.”

“Don’t think about it Kro.  We’re safe.”

She was trying hard not to think about it herself.  She felt that if she let it, all the possibilities would flood in and overwhelm her.

Then Tremela hugged her and the three brothers hugged her waist.  She wanted to thank them, but her throat tightened up and she felt like crying.

“Come, let’s go,” Krotek finally said.

The brothers ran off to their work tent and everyone else went to the supply tent.  Krotek began putting on all his massive armor.  She strapped on her comparatively light armor and put on a helmet.  She also grabbed a pistol belt with two pistols and all the balls and powder it needed.  Then she grabbed a backpack and filled it with supplies and a blanket.  Krotek was doing the same.

Once they were done the brothers came back in.  They also had backpacks but she didn’t think they were filled with rations.  They handed Tremela a bandolier of grenades and a lit wick to light them.

“Are we ready?”  Krotek asked.

“Ready,” the brothers said in unison.

“Ready,” Tremela said.

“Good.  Nayda, hand me the stone.”

She gave him the stone that controlled the collars.  He pressed a rune and Nayda’s and Tremela’s collars came off.

“Tremela needs to fly free and you need to look like a handler.  Ours have to stay on but at the first sign of trouble, think of our collars and press that rune there,” Kortek said, pointing to a white glowing rune.

With that, they headed out.  Tremela flew off and she followed the Minotaur and Goblins like she was controlling them.  She held the stone in front of her as if she were ready to cause pain on a moment’s notice.

“Whatever you do, don’t look at me,” she said.  She then flipped her visor up and pulled her goggles down around her neck.  She’d have to keep her eyes down, but if she needed it, she could look the threat in the eyes.  The last thing she wanted however was to petrify one of her friends.

“I suddenly feel very nervous around you,” Krotek said.

“Just don’t look at me and you’ll be fine.”

“I sometimes forget how dangerous you is,” Grys said.

They continued walking through the camp.  Everyone was asleep except for the occasional guard wandering around.

“Hey, what you doing up so late?”  A guard asked from off to her right.  She looked over and saw a soldier walking toward them.  He came up and stood there with his hands on his hips.  She looked up at him through the narrow slits in her helmet and their eyes connected.  He didn’t move after that.  His clothing and equipment were all normal, but his flesh was stone.

“We should hurry,” Krotek said.

They picked up the pace and marched to the gate.  There were ten guards there, all talking quietly.  Five of them were huddled around a fire and five others were on the walls and guard towers.

“What do we do?”  Nayda asked.

“Tell them that you’re taking us to Black Heath, it’s a town not far from here,” Krotek said.

“What for?”

“The garrison there needs special training against non-humans.”

“What if it turns out badly?”

“Then we fight.”

She didn’t like the sound of this at all.  She took a deep breath and approached the gate.  The guards quieted down and waited for her to come closer.

“What’s all this then?” A guard asked.

“I’m taking them to Black Heath.  The garrison there needs special training.”

“Do you have orders?”

“Yes, from the general himself.”

“No, I mean, do you have a signed order form?  Without papers you can’t just walk out of here.”

She then did two things at once.  She looked the guard in the eye and pressed the rune to release Krotek’s and the brothers’ collars.  Krotek raised his mammoth hand cannon and fired a load of shot at the four other guards that were around the fire.  Hundreds of small metal pellets struck the guards all over, knocking them back to the ground.  Most of the pellets hit their armor and went no further, but enough found their ways into unprotected areas.

The three brothers then pulled out their lit wicks and began tossing grenades at the towers.  Then the remaining guards on the walls realized what was happening and began aiming their guns.  They aimed at the biggest most dangerous target, Krotek.  Fortunately the humans had spent so much time and effort to make him an unstoppable killing machine that their shots did nothing against him.  They bounced or ricocheted off his armor.  One ball however, nicked his horn.  Kroteck picked up one of the dead guard’s guns and shot at one of the guards on the wall.

Then something blew up a large section of the wall where two guards were standing.  The explosion ripped one of the soldier’s arms off and sent him flying off the wall.  Wooden shards shot through the other soldier and he fell back over the wall and out of sight.  Nayda looked up to see Tremela tossing grenades down.

“We need to run for it!”  Krotek shouted.  He ran forward and opened the gate by lifting a heavy beam from the door.

“You two keep going, we’re going to stall them,” Yurk said.

“How?” Nayda asked.

“Just run you idiot!”  Nos said.

Krotek grabbed her arm and pulled her into a run.  The forest was about a mile in front of them.  There they could hide and get away, out in the open they were easy targets.  She knew she was capable of short bursts of speed, but she had never ran a mile before.

She looked back to see the goblins setting the whole gate on fire.  Good thinking.  That would prevent anyone from going through it.  They’d have to use the south gate and that would take time.  As soon as the gate was in a blaze, the brothers started running.

Krotek was huge, but he was also fast.  He kept a steady pace that she could match easily.  His bull legs and hooves seemed to be made for running.  Her legs and lungs were starting to get tired before they were even half way there.  She didn’t see Tremela, but she knew she was flying around somewhere above them.

It seemed forever before they reached the halfway point.  By then she was wheezing and almost out of breath.

“You must keep running,” Krotek said.

“Horses are coming out of the south gate!” Tremela said from above.

“How long do we have?”  Krotek asked.

“A few minutes.”

“Pardon me Nayda,” he said.  Then he scooped her up in one arm and began sprinting even faster.  She could feel his muscles straining and hear his breath growing heavier by the second.  Behind them were the goblin brothers.  They were falling behind.

“I’ll go see what I can do,” Tremela said.

“Be careful!”  Nayda shouted out to her.

A minute later she saw the flashes and fireballs of grenades going off.  She must have dropped the entire bandolier on them.  She couldn’t see the cavalry but she heard at least two guns going off.  She hoped that they were just shooting wildly and not directly at Tremela.

Krotek then reached the woods.  He slowed to a stop and put her down.   He leaned against a tree and tried to catch his breath.  She scurried behind a tree and looked out towards the military camp.  She could see the heat forms of the three brothers running toward her.  In the distance she saw the heat from the fires the grenades caused and three horses with riders milling about.  When she looked up she saw Tremela approaching.

“You made it!”  Nayda called out to her.

“Of course I did sweety.”

When she looked back she saw that Krotek was loading his giant gun.  She took off the helmet and strapped it to her backpack.  Then she put her goggles back on.  She might need the helmet as a disguise later on.

When everyone was gathered again Krotek motioned for them to follow him and he began jogging through the woods.

“They’re going to come looking for us,” he said.  “They’ll bring dogs that can track us and I’m not hard to track.”

“We can lay some traps for them,” Grys said.

“They’ll be so busy following our tracks that they miss the boom booms.  Kaplow!”  Yurk said.

“Could make ‘em think twice about following us,” Nos said.

“Good idea.  Get to work,” Krotek said.

The three goblins began assembling something as they ran.  It was amazing how fast their hands and fingers could move.  She was feeling dead tired and low on energy.

“We made it,” Tremela said.

“Not yet, they can still catch us,” Krotek said.

“I’m not going back.  I’d die first, but at least I’d die free.”

“Hop on my back Liesha,” Krotek said.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.  You’re barely standing.  Get on my back.”

He was right so she did as she was told.  She wrapped her skinny arms around his thick neck and her legs under his armpits.  He was everything she imagined a father could be like.

They ran through the night.  She didn’t know for how long because she passed out soon after getting up on Krotek.

Chapter 7

Nayda held her head over the stream trying to grab the little fishys.  She was so hungry and needed something to eat.  She hadn’t had fish since she left her island and she didn’t think she’d every get to feel the joy of fishing again.

One of her snakes snagged a fish and she jerked it out of the water.  Without cooking it she began chewing on it.  She ate raw fish sometimes.  It was pretty good when she was in the mood.  Right now she was just too hungry to care.  After last night, she needed to get back every bit of strength she could.

“They’re coming!”  Krotek whispered.

Tremela sat up and looked around.  The goblin brothers scrambled for their packs where they had their grenades.  Nayda stuffed the fish in her mouth and hid behind a tree.  Krotek was hiding as well and he had his cannon ready to go.

An hour ago they had heard the sound of one of the brothers’ traps going off.  The explosion traveled far in the quiet woods.  It had woken her up.

Then she heard the sound of horses running.  They were definitely coming for them.  Of course they would.  They escaped, killed soldiers, and blew up a gate.  They wanted their ‘property’ back.

“Get ready,” Krotek whispered.

Tremela grabbed a spare rifle and flew up into the trees.  The green brothers all hid and readied their grenades and pistols.  She took out her flint and lit the two wicks on her pistols.

Then she saw them.  Eight armored riders coming straight toward them.  One of them was bald and covered in strange writing.

“A sorcerer!”  She shout/whispered to everyone.  This wasn’t looking good.  She had seen what they could do.  Compared to them she wasn’t much of a threat at all.

“Wait till they pass!”  Krotek said.

As the armored cavalry rode up on their position, Krotek charged out from behind cover and shoulder rammed the second horse that passed by.  He slammed into the horse and rider with such force that he knocked them both down.  Without missing a beat he reached over, grabbed the head of the next horse and threw it and its rider against a tree with such a terrible force that it broke the rider, horse and tree.  All of it happened before she even stepped out from behind cover.

When she did emerge she fired a pistol at the nearest rider, but missed.  The rider turned around with his short rifle and saw her standing there.  A wave of gray washed over him and he turned into a statue.  It fell from the horse and broke apart.

She never thought about it until then, but she had never turned an animal into stone.  The horses clearly saw her but they didn’t turn to stone.

Another cav soldier saw her and was petrified.  His statue managed to stay on the horse. The goblins began tossing their grenades, laughing with glee as they did.  Suddenly everything was confusion.  There was smoke and shooting and yelling.  Tremela was up in the trees shooting down at them and the goblins were now firing with their pistols.

Nayda pulled out her other pistol and saw a heat shape of someone in the smoke.  It was obviously a human so she aimed and fired.  This time she saw the figure stagger and hunch over.  A second later the enormous shape of Krotek rushed him and stabbed one of his short swords into his back.  When he pulled it out she saw a spread of heat fly out from the wound.  She hurried over to get a smoke-free view.

That was when she saw the sorcerer.  His eyes were glowing read.  He had two soldiers behind him, guns at the shoulders ready to fire.

“Hey!”  Nayda shouted.  One of the soldiers looked over to her and turned to stone.

Krotek emerged from the smoke, cannon in hand.  One shot would take both of the humans out.

Then the sorcerer shot a thin stream of black mist out that extinguished the wick on Krotek’s gun.  Without it, he couldn’t fire.

Krotek roared that chest shaking roar and charged forward, hefting his cannon like a club.  The sorcerer had a moment to register shock before Krotek’s cannon smashed into him, sending him flying into a tree.  She could hear the sound of bones snapping.

The remaining soldier fired, but he was so startled by the ferocious charge that his shot flew high and hit a tree.  Krotek back handed him, denting his helmet.

Nayda looked around and didn’t see any humans still standing.

“Everyone, report,” Krotek said.

“Here,” Tremela said from up in a tree.

“Here!”  The brothers shouted in unison.

“Here,” Nayda said.

“Any injuries?”  He asked.

No one had any.  Then they began searching the bodies for anything useful.  They took weapons, balls, powder and rations.  She found a nice knife with a snake’s head handle.  Clearly it was meant for her.  The three brothers began peeing on all the corpses and laughing while doing it.

“Krotek, that was frightenly impressive,” Tremela said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nayda said.

“You’re a scary guy,” Grys said.

“Scary to people I don’t like,” he said.

With him around, she knew she didn’t have anything to fear.

“Now we have some horses,” Krotek said.  They rounded up five.  One was dead and two others had ran off.  “It doesn’t help me that much, but you and the brothers could ride them.”

“We could also sell them.  Military horses like this will get a good price,” Tremela said.

“Good idea.  It would help us get established.”

“Established?  Where are we even going?  What’s our plan?”  Tremela asked.

Nayda hadn’t even thought about it.  She had been so worried with getting away that she hadn’t thought about where she was getting away to.  She was thinking a little more clearly now that she had something in her belly.

“It can’t be anyplace near here.  They’ll be looking for us and offering rewards for our deaths or return,” Krotek said.

“In small towns we’d get noticed too much.  We don’t exactly blend in,” Tremela said.

“But we could blend in,” Grys said.

“How?”  Nayda asked.

“In big human cities there are districts just for non-humans.  We’d blend in nicely there,” Nos said.

“Non-human districts?”  Nayda asked.

“Yup.  The humans take land from everyone.  Different races are all shoved in one area in city.  A District.   A few creatures like us won’t be noticed,” Yurk said.

“We used to live in one,” Grys said.

“Which one?”  Tremela asked.

“Groten, the western capital city.  Biggest city within two hundred miles of here.  They’ll be searching for a long time to find us,” Yurk said.

“What about your home, Krotek?”  Nayda asked.

“It’s on the far side of the Republic, by the Eastern ocean.  It would take me months to get back there and I’d need money for a journey like that,” he said.

“And you, Tremela?”

“I don’t have a home anymore,” she said and didn’t say anything else.

“Alright then, Groten it is,” Krotek said.

“I would suggest my island, but it’s not very big and they could find us there easy,” Nayda said.

“Might be one of the first places they check,” Krotek said.

As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t go back home yet.  She wanted to feel the wind from the sea again.  It would have to wait.

“How far is Groten from here?”  Tremela asked.

“A week away, maybe a little faster with the horses?”  Grys said.  Grys scratched his chin and looked at the horses with his large, round yellow eyes.  “I never tried riding horse before.  My people ride war dogs into battle.”

“Dogs?”  Nayda asked.

“Big dogs,” Grys said defensively.

They collected the horses and Krotek helped her and the goblins on their horses.  The brothers shared a horse and she got one to herself.  Kro was too big to ride and Tremela preferred to fly.  She couldn’t blame her.  Nayda would love to fly.  She had seen how humans ride and she tried her best to imitate it.  They would go slow at first.  The horse was a powerful animal and she was afraid of riding on such power.  They put their packs and anything else useful on the other horses and they began to walk in the stream to cover their tracks.  Dogs wouldn’t be able to track them and their tracks would be washed away.

They walked in silence.  She imagined that like her, they had a lot to think about.  She tried not to think about what could have happened.  She tried to keep the memory of the Handler hovering above her out of her head.  She could still feel his hands and lips on her.

After five, long, terrible months she was finally free of that place.  It was hard to believe.  She felt that she’d wake up any minute and find herself still in that stinking cage.  Was this the world that Mom knew?

She had never seen a forest before and it was very beautiful.  Different from the trees on her island.  These trees here were much straighter, and some didn’t have leaves at all, but needles instead.  The sky was clouding over and it looked as though it was going to rain.

Around noon the rain finally started coming down.  They were out of the creek by then but still traveling along side it.  She pulled out a poncho and put it over her head with the hood up.  They all took out ponchos.  Even Tremela came down, crawled up onto a horse and held on for dear life.  She didn’t ride high but practically laid on the horse with her arms wrapped around the animal’s neck.  She couldn’t fly in the rain like that.  So she donned a poncho and rode a horse like the rest of them.

“I hate the rain,” Tremela said.

“I love it.  It’s so pretty,” Nayda said.

“I can’t fly in it,” Tremela said.

“But you can still appreciate its beauty.”

“You have scales.  I have fur.  I don’t like getting wet,” Krotek said.

“Never thought of it like that.”  She wondered what it would be like to be covered in fur.  At least it would keep her warm, but what about hot weather?  She’d have to ask him about that.

Then she turned towards them and looked at them as they slogged along in the rain.  They had all made it.  She didn’t need to worry about what happened next because now she had her family and they all had their freedom.  They were free again.

“What’s wrong?”  Tremela asked.

“Nothing.  I was just thinking how lucky I was to have met all of you,” Nayda said.

“We’re the lucky ones Liesha.  Without you, we’d still be slaves.”

“I owe you my life,” Tremela said.

“But now I have a family again,” she said.

Krotek barred his teeth which she understood to be his smile.

“You’re such a sweet, innocent young thing.  I’ll stay by you until you’re home and safe,” Tremela said.

Her small island my not be safe ever again.  Now that the humans remembered it, going back might be impossible.  Did she even have a home anymore?

“Hey, look up there!”  Yurk said.

Nayda looked where he was pointing and saw a top of a hill where a lone house stood.  There were no lights or smoke coming from the chimney and it looked old.

“Abandoned?”  Tremela asked.

“Looks like it.  Let’s go check it out.  It has to be better than walking through all this rain,” Krotek said.

They marched up the hill to where the trees stopped and stayed hidden in the tree line.

“We can go scout it out, make sure it’s safe,” Yurk said.

“Alright, but be careful,” Krotek said.

The three green, big eyed, big eared goblins scampered on all fours up to the house.  They split up and began looking in windows and cellar doors.  After a complete check of the place they came back with big toothy grins.

“Abandoned, no one around,” Nos said.

“Clear and checked,” Grys said.

“Alright then, let’s go get dried off then,” Krotek said.

They hurried inside and closed the door.  The room once had been painted, but only slivers and specks of the white paint remained.  The floor was covered in dead leaves and needles and old cobwebs hung in most corners.  The house was intact though and the fireplace was on the far wall.

Broken furniture lay strewn about the place and they split up and searched the house for firewood.  After gathering enough broken wood they lit a fire and they all sat back to relaxed.  She lay next to Krotek on her sleeping mat and Tremela was next to her.  The brothers were on the other side of Krotek.  For a while they all lay there in silence listening to the crackling of the fire.

“This is better, isn’t it?”  Tremela asked.

“I haven’t gotten warm beside a fire in over a year,” Krotek said.

“Great Crow has it been that long?”  Tremela asked.

“It has.  You arrived just a month after me,” he said.

“We got there seven months ago,” Yurk said.

“Now look at us, roaming free and warming up by a fire,” Tremela said.  “I really thought I was going to die there.  Sometimes I wish I had.”

“Life will be better now,” Nayda said.

“Thanks to you.”

Tremela moved closer and put her head on Nayda’s shoulder.  She used to do that to Mom. When she felt scared or upset, she’d cuddle closer to Mom.  After everything that Tremela had been through, she could use some comfort.  She hugged the harpy and squeezed her tightly.

“It’s good to be alive,” Krotek said.

“Shri-Shrik, god of travelers is watching out for us,” Grys said.

“I think someone is,” Krotek said.

“You know, for a big guy, you’re not so bad Kro,” Nos said.

“You’re not so bad for a little hairless guy,” Krotek said.

“What am I then?” Nayda asked.

“Umm…you’re a skinny snake girl,” Yurk said.

“And what am I?” Tremela asked.

“An angel,” Krotek said.

Chapter 8

Nayda woke up and for a moment she didn’t recognize where she was.  Then she remembered the house and the warm fire.  She looked over and Tremela had an arm draped over Nayda’s body.  She could hear Krotek sleeping on the other side of her.  The three goblins were snoring quietly.

She carefully slithered out from under Tremela’s arm and got up.  The sun was rising and she heard birds singing in the distance.  There were a few coals left so she threw some more wood on and brought the fire back up.

Her stomach told her that she needed food.  She was feeling weak and sluggish again.  She didn’t have any traps so birds and rodents were out of the question, but there was the stream.  She, after a couple of tries, got on the horse and went back down to the large stream.  After finding the perfect rock she waited patiently and started fishing.  It took longer than she would have liked, but she eventually caught enough fish and headed back.  She had her snakes hold the fish in their jaws which left her hands free to ride the horse back to the house.  Her butt and thighs hurt from riding it all day yesterday so she figured she’d put a blanket down for more padding.

When she got back to the house they were all awake and packing their things.

“Where did you go?” Krotek said in a serious voice.

“To get breakfast, see?”

“You got to be careful Liesha.  They could still be tracking us.  A new rule; nobody goes off alone.  It’s too dangerous.”

“I’m sorry Kro,” Nayda said.

“It’s alright.  Good job getting breakfast.  It beats those Army rations.”

“Thanks Nayda,” Tremela said.

“We’ll cook.  You catch, we cook,” Grys said.

The brothers got busy cooking the fish while they finished packing.  As soon as they were done eating, they headed back out.  They were going generally west, but until they came to a road or major landmark, they were just guessing.

“What were you before you were captured by the Army?”  Nayda asked Krotek.

“I was a teacher,” he said.

“What did you teach?”

“I taught children a little of everything.”

“You were school teacher?” Grys asked.  “I would never have guessed.”

“Did you like doing it?”  She asked.

“I loved it.  One day I will do it again.”

“What about you Tremela?”  She looked up to see the beautiful black bird flying low but still within earshot.

“I was one of my clan’s hunters.  I was also a songstress.  I wrote songs that we’d sing on holy days.” Tremela said.

“You wrote songs?  Amazing!  Can you sing one for us?”  Nayda asked, holding her hands together like she was begging.

“I haven’t sung for a long time.”

“Please!”

“Very well.  Let me get warmed up first.”

She began humming and singing a few tunes without words.  Then she cleared her throat to show that she was ready.

When she began singing, it was the most wonderful thing she had ever heard.  Tremela’s voice was so soft, yet powerful at the same time.  It was clear, sharp and soft.  Tremela was singing in her own language so she didn’t understand what was being said, but she felt a definite sense of sadness and loss.  The song was so obviously sad that she had a hard time not crying.  It made her think of Mom and those peaceful days where she would tell stories, sing songs and teach her how to fish.  It made her think of all those things that she had lost.

She looked over and saw that water was coming from Krotek’s eyes.  She had heard the soldiers talking about crying and how water would come out.  Did the song make him think of something he had lost as well?  She held her tongue.  It wasn’t nice to pry into something that could be painful.  He was probably thinking of his wife children.  He missed them.  It had been many years and she still missed Mom.

When the song was over they were all silent for a few moments.

“Beautiful,” Krotek said.

“Made me think of home,” Nayda said.

“Same here,” Krotek said.

“Made me think of a girl I once knew.  She had the largest ears and teeth, but her eyes…” Grys said.

“What’s the song about?”  Nayda asked.

“It’s an ancient song.  It’s about a harpy maiden who lost her lover in a war and is mourning that they will never finish their lives together.  She talks of the future they will never have.”

“Thank you for the song,” Krotek said.

“It was beautiful,” Nayda said.

“I didn’t understand a word of it,” Grys said.

“At least the sun’s out,” Nayda said.

“It’s not as warm as it used to be.  Winter’s coming fast.  Soon this whole area will be covered in snow,” Yurk said.

“Snow?”  Nayda asked.

The three goblins all turned to look at her.  She quickly felt to make sure her goggles were on securely.

“You don’t know what snow is?” Nos asked.

“No, should I?”

They told her all about snow as they continued to ride.

They rode all day, talking about nothing important.  She told the all about her simple life on the island and Krotek talked about teaching the children in his village.  The goblins told funny stories about some trickster from their religion.  Apparently they had a god of pranks and jokes.  Tremela stayed mostly silent the whole time.

That night they slept in the woods.  They built a small fire and ate their hard bread and tough pork.  Krotek was cleaning his armor.  It had gotten very dirty the last few days.  After that he began cleaning his gun and made everyone else to the same.  She had never been taught how to use one so he sat down with her and told her some safety rules and how to disassemble it.

She didn’t sleep well that night.  Images of the Handler on top of her still filled her mind.  She curled up next to Tremela and tried to go back to sleep.

The others talked of gods and how they could watch over them.  Mom never mentioned anything about gods except in stories.  She had assumed that they were imaginary.  If there were any gods, she prayed that they were watching over her little family.

“Can’t sleep?” Tremela whispered.

“No.”

“Me neither.”

“Do gods really exist?”

“Of course they do.  They sent you to set us free, didn’t they?”  Her smooth, sweet voice made her almost believe anything she said.

“I don’t know.  It could have just happened.”

“Nothing ever just happens.  Everything happens for a reason.”

“You think me being captured happened so I could help you all escape?”

“Yes I do.  I used to have ten sisters.  I don’t know where they are or if they’re still alive.  I’m sure some of the aren’t, but you’re my new sister.  I never had a brother, but Krotek is now my brother as are Grys, Yurk and Nos.”

“I feel the same way.  You guys are now my family.  Ten sisters and no brother?”

“A harpy male is rare.  When one is born, they belong to the clan.  He must help with breeding and that is his duty.  Wars are fought to secure more males.  Everyone helps raise the children, so the clan is one huge family.  Then the humans came to our mountain and took our homes.  We fought back and I was captured.  I don’t know what happened, but I know many of my clan has perished.  I believe my home is now an iron mine for the humans.”

“Are there Gorgon males?  I heard someone say that there are only females.”

“That is true.  Long time ago, humans used the darkest magic to twist and combine humans and animals.  That is where the different races come from.  They wanted to create slave races.  But then the different races rebelled and the entire civilization collapsed.  The races each took a piece of land to call their own.  But a few centuries ago, a sorcerer was trying to recreate that spell and made Gorgons.  You’re not a true species like the rest of us.  Gorgons need to breed with humans to create offspring.  If it’s male, its human.  If it’s female, its gorgon.”

“You’re saying my father was a human?”

“Yes.”

She wanted nothing to do with humans and now her father was one?

“Does that mean I have that same darkness within me?”

“The darkness does not come from being human, but by the choices we make.  There is none of that darkness within you sweetie.  Believe me with this.”

“Still…That means my father might still be out there somewhere.  Is he in the military, fighting and killing?  Is he a good man?  I don’t know if I even want to know.  I hope he’s dead.”

“You don’t know what he is.  Your mother may have mated with him because she loved him.”

“Or he was another Handler.”

Tremela kissed her forehead and patted her on the cheek.

“Don’t need to worry about it now.  Go back to sleep.”

She went back to sleep wondering if Mom was forced to mate with someone like Handler.  If Handler was her father, what did that make her?

The next day didn’t have a cloud in the sky.  The stream turned south and they kept heading west.  Around noon the forest started thinning out and an hour later they came out into an open field that extended beyond the horizon.

“I’ve never seen so much flat, open land before.  There’s nothing here!”  Nayda said.  What a strange place.  How could there be so much of absolutely nothing?  There were no trees, no streams, no mountains.  Except for the sun there was no way to know where you were.  There was no place to hide.  She was out in the middle of nowhere completely exposed.  What was there to eat out here?  How could she hunt?

“I don’t like this place,” Nayda said.

“Welcome to the Desolate Plains,” Grys said.  “The animals that live here are small and hide, fly, or run really, really fast.  Goblins don’t run that fast.  I don’t like the plains.”

“I think it’s amazing,” Krotek said.  “It almost makes me want to run.”

Tremela was flying high above them; too high to hear what they were saying.  She had the best view of all.

They rode all day without seeing a single thing of interest.  The world was huge.

At night they decided against having a fire.  Out there it could be seen for miles and miles away.  There also weren’t enough dead bushes to keep a good fire going.

That night her dreams were about Mom and the Handler.  She didn’t sleep much at all.

About an hour after they braked for lunch, Tremela came swooping down and landed in front of them.

“I see something.  North of here.  Looks like it could be a caravan of some kind.  Maybe merchants,” Tremela said.

“Humans?”  Krotek asked.

“Can’t tell.  Should I risk getting closer?  If I’m close enough to see that they’re humans, they might be able to tell that I’m a harpy.”

“You’re eye sight is much better.  Get in close enough to tell and then head back,” he said.

She nodded and leapt up into the sky.  Physically it didn’t look like she should be able to fly, but she could.  Maybe it was some sort of magic built into them, like how she could petrify.

She was an imperfect experiment.  She wasn’t a natural creature like everything else in the world.  Gorgons were artificially created as assassins.  Her father was human.  There was no Gorgon village somewhere with others of her kind.  Maybe she was just a weapon after all.

Tremela’s black and pale form flew off and almost out of sight before she turned back.  She landed in front of them again with a smile on her face.

“It’s a caravan of mostly Orks.  I saw at least one centaur and a few other non humans,” Tremela said.

“Which way are they heading?”  Krotek asked.

“West.  Same way we’re going.  If we hurry we can intercept them.”

“This could be very good news actually,” Grys said.

“How so?”  Krotek asked.

“To get into Groten we have to pass by guards.  They search everything and everyone.  We could sneak ourselves with these Orks,” Yurk said.

“Either way, let’s go have a talk with them.  They might have something useful to tell us or maybe something to trade,” Krotek said.

They picked up their pace and hurried to meet the Ork caravan.  She didn’t know what an Ork was or what they looked like, but she didn’t want to sound stupid so she kept her mouth shut this time.  As the Ork caravan approached she saw brightly painted wagons with green skinned humanoids, kind of like goblins but much bigger and with more muscles.  They had shorter pointed ears, smaller eyes, bigger tusks and stubby noses.  They wore clothes decorated with patches of bright colors, feathers, beads, and animal bones.  Their wagons were painted with so many different bright colors that they were almost hard to look at.

“These are Orks then,” she said.

“Not quite,” Krotek said.

“Then what?”

“These are actors.  It’s a troupe of Ork actors.  I assume you’ve never seen a Ork play before.  It’s something to behold,” Krotek said with a hint of humor in his voice.  What was so funny about this?

The caravan didn’t stop but a group of riders came up to them.  The largest had a funny fur hat that had flaps that stuck out to the sides and a large spear on his back that had a blade larger than a short sword’s.  The blade was curved for slashing.  A slashing spear?

“Greetings,” the largest Ork said in a deep, rough voice.

“Greetings.  We were wondering if you were heading toward Groten City,” Krotek said with a low bow.

“Yes we are.  We are the traveling performers of Kryshag.  I am Rorsht Who are you?”

“I am Krotek, this is Nayda, Grys, Yurk, Nos, and up there is Tremela.”

“Where do you come from?  You mercenaries?”  He pointed at their guns.

“Actually, we escaped from the human’s army.  We were forced to fight for them.  A few days ago we escaped and we are now heading towards Groten.”

Why did he tell them the truth?  He should have made up a story!

The Orks just started laughing.  The big one got off his horse and walked over to Krotek.

“I like you.  You have a big gun and an honest tongue.  You are welcome to travel with us.”  He slapped Krotek on the shoulder and mounted his horse.  “Come!  Ride with us, tell us your story.  We’re always looking for new stories.”

As they rode and Krotek walked, Krotek told them everything that had happened.  The whole time Rorsht kept looking back toward her.  After Krotek finished his tale Rorsht pointed to her.

“A real Gorgon, ya?  Can’t have her walking around.  Disguise is what you need.”

“We’ll need something indeed,” Krotek said.

“We got just the thing,” the Ork laughed.

Chapter 9

The caravan stopped for the night and drew up in a circle.  It seemed that everyone had some kind of assigned task.  Some began to cook, others cared for the horses and others watched the children.  There were many children and Ork kids were adorable.  They had pudgy faces, big black eyes and short round tusks.  Some of the Orks were rehearsing and she wanted to see what this was like.  She had never seen a play before.

She sat down with some of the youths to watch three adults rehearse a scene.  There was a female and two male actors.  The males had strange, complex looking armor that she knew couldn’t stop a bullet.  The female had a thick dress with wolf fur over the shoulders.  One of the males walked up to the front, cleared his throat, raised his huge curved sword and began yelling.  She almost covered her ears but didn’t know if that was considered rude.  The actor was yelling some horrible gibberish for a while, then turned to the male and female and continued yelling.  Then the other male began yelling and after a while the female began yelling.  They’d occasionally beat their chests or stomp their feet but the meaning escaped her completely.

Then, without warning, the two males began fighting.  They were swinging their curved swords at full speed and she almost covered her eyes a few times because she thought one of them was about to be decapitated.  Their fighting was almost beautiful in a way.  It was like some kind of dance.  The skill they showed was beyond anything she had seen.  So this is why people watched Orky plays.  Violence.

Nayda then felt someone tapping her on the shoulder.  She turned around to see what looked like two goat women.  They had horns and legs like a goat but their arms, torsos and heads were human. Their eyes were like goats as well.  They were young, maybe around the same age she was.  Their human hair and goat hair were all a brilliant white and they were shockingly beautiful.

“You have to come with us,” the slightly taller one with lighter brown eyes said.

“Where are we going?”  Nayda asked.

“We have to disguise you up!”

They pulled her to her feet and dragged her to an orange, yellow and red wagon.  It had a door in the back and looked like a small hut on wheels, complete with a metal chimney.  Inside was full of clothes and costumes of all kinds.

“We’ve been told to make you look like something beside a gorgon,” the shorter one said.

“But…how?”

“You’ll see.”

Then the two goat-girls began stripping her armor off.  They removed her breastplate, gun belt and then began pulling off her pants and shirt with one working on the pants and the other on her shirt.

She tried to cover herself but the two goat-girls were working all around her, measuring her and holding different colored fabrics up to her.  Then they began forcing different dresses on her.  They tried several different strange dresses before settling on one.  What made it better than the others, she had no idea.  She had never worn a dress like this before.  It was thin, delicate and a dark, dark red. The belt looked more for decoration than actual necessity.  Then they slipped black boots on her feet.  She had never worn any kind of shoes in her life and now she knew why.  Her feet felt like they were imprisoned.  They put black gloves on her hands, necklaces around her neck and then finally, they put a cloak with a hood and a veil that covered her face entirely.  She could barely see out of the veil, but she didn’t know if it would keep her from petrifying people.  How would she find out?

“Take a look!”  The taller one said.

“What do you mean?”  Nayda asked.

“In the mirror of course.”

The two girls held up a tall, oval mirror and looked away.  She looked in and only saw a veiled, hooded figure.  Then she lifted the hood and saw herself clearly for the first time.  In the water she often saw her reflection which gave her a general idea, but now it was like she was looking at herself face to face.  Every little detail of her scales was visible.  Every tiny speck of color in her slit eyes.  Now she realized how different she looked from humans.  Her nose was smaller and her eyes were bigger.  She was also more slender than the humans she was used to seeing.

She looked like Mom.

“What do you think?”  The short one asked with her eyes closed.

“I’m actually pretty.”

“No, the dress!  We already know you’re pretty.”

“I like it!  It’s so comfortable, loose, and beautiful.  I love it,” Nayda said.

“Knew you would.  We used the costume as an evil sorceress last spring.  It’s very dramatic, isn’t it?  I think so.”

“Yes it is,” Nayda said.  She loved how it looked.  She looked beautiful which was something she had never suspected.

“Okay, let’s put the veil back on now,” the taller one said.

“Oh, yes, sorry.”

She put the black veil down and the two girls opened their eyes again.  They looked right at her without turning to stone.

“Great!  Let’s go show the others,” the short one said.

They grabbed her now gloved hands and pulled her outside.  They took her across the noisy camp to where Krotek and Tremela were talking to Rorsht.

They all fell silent when they noticed her approaching.

“We present to you, the masterpiece of our craft,” the tall goat-girl said.  The two girls then bowed and stepped back.

“Beautiful,” Tremela said.

“I don’t recognize her at all,” Krotek said.

“That’s the idea,” Rorsht said.  “It conceals her face and looks very striking.”

“I don’t like the boots.  I feel trapped,” Nayda said.

“You’re just not used to them,” Rorsht said.  “You better get used to them ‘cause not many folks go around with scaly feet.  Kind of a give away don’t ya think?”

“I suppose,” she said reluctantly.

“What do we say she is?”  Krotek asked.

“We say she is an Elven maiden on a pilgrimage.  No one is allowed to look upon them while on their pilgrimage,” Rorsht said.

“I’ve never heard of this,” Krotek said.

“Because there’s no such thing, but humans won’t know that.  Elves have more holy days than days in the calendar.  Who’s to know?”

“She’s slender and tiny like an Elf,” Krotek said.

“She’s also graceful like one,” Tremela said.

“And you Harpy, we’re going to disguise you as a faun,” Rorsht said.

“But how?”

“We’ll attach fake horns and give you a big dress that covers your legs.  It’s easy.  Making folks look like something else is what we do!”  Rorsht then let out a large laugh.

“Why are you helping us?”  Nayda asked.

“Honey, that’s simple.  You fight against humans.  That makes you friends.  They take our land.  One day we take it back,” Rorsht said.

“Until then, we fight in secret,” the tall goat-girl said.

“You guys fight?”  Nayda asked.

“We deliver messages, news, supplies and people under the noses of the humans.  It’s lucky we stumbled upon you,” Rorsht said.

“It’s not luck.  It was meant to happen,” Tremela said.

“You Harpies are a religious lot.  Our gods kind of sit back and watch the world from their feasting tables.”

“Then why worship them?”  Tremela asked.

“Cause if you don’t, they’ll get pissed and bring thunder on your heads,” Rorsht said.

“Terribly unhelpful,” Tremela said.

“That’s the world, aint it?  Tough and uncaring.  The gods sit back and watch good people die horribly all the time.  The good suffer, the wicked get rich.  It’s life.  It’s bad.  But how we take it is how we are judged.  It’s like taking a punch.  If we fight back, knowing we’re going to loose, that’s how we are judged.”

“I worshiped Maaba, god of wisdom,” Krotek said.  I believed rationality and logic could change the world for the better.  Emotions are what have ruined this world.  It was emotions of anger and hatred that caused the humans to invade, not necessity.  Controlling our emotions on a personal level is how we can conquer our inner demons.”

“Inner demons, I’m worried about the outer ones,” Rorsht said.  Then he turned to Nayda.  “What about you Gorgon?  What do you believe?”

“I never was taught or believed in gods.  I don’t know what to believe.”

“How sad,” Tremela said.

“Why sad?”  Rorsht asked.  “From her eyes, the world is a series of terrible, random moments with no connection.  What evidence is there that a god or gods are watching over us?  As an outsider it must look pretty stupid.”

“I wouldn’t say it looks stupid, I just don’t know.  I’ve never really thought about it.”

“I promise you it’s not stupid.  The gods do watch over us,” Tremela said.

“They watch alright.  That’s about all they do,” Rorsht said.

Both sides made perfect sense to Nayda.  Each one seemed so equally true that she didn’t know which one to believe.  She would have thought that something so important would have more definite answers.

“Back to the mortal realm, please,” Krotek said.  “Once we sneak into the city, we need to know who to trust.  Where can we go for help?”

“That’s easy.  I’ll give you all the names and places to go.  When I say you’re one of us, I don’t mean an actor.”

They bedded down in the circle of wagons, looking up at the stars.  The sound of the harsh Orkish language was heard telling jokes and laughing.  The Satyrs were in their family groups whispering and smiling quietly.  Tremela was cuddled up next to her, her arm draped over Nayda’s waist.

“I’ve never met an Ork before.  I like them,” Tremela said.

“I thought you were arguing with them.”

“I was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them.  Humans consider Orks to be stupid barbarians.  Fools.  I found that I enjoy their company a great deal.”

“Did you see their plays?”

“Quite the fighters, aren’t they?”

“I can’t believe they could do that without slicing an ear off.”

“It takes practice and skill.”

“I also can’t believe that there are people willing to fight the humans.”

“Why can’t you believe it?  You’ve done it already.”

“But I didn’t have a choice.”

“Sometimes they don’t have a choice either.  Some people can’t allow their lands and way of life to be swallowed by the invaders.  They don’t see any other possibility than to fight back.”

She thought about that for a while.  Did she really have a choice with the Handler?  Once she killed him, she had to flee or stay and die.  There didn’t seem to be any choice involved at all.

She wanted to talk about something more pleasant.

“I really liked those pretty clothes they’re letting me borrow,” Nayda said.

“I liked them as well.  You were stunning.  Tomorrow they’ll have my disguise picked out for me.”

“I can’t wait to see you as a Satyr.”

“I wonder what I’ll look like with horns.”

“I’m wondering how they’ll hide your wings.”

In the middle of the night she woke from bad dreams.  Tremela was sleeping quietly and Krotek was snoring.  Then she noticed Grys standing over the fire.  Him and his brothers were usually heavy sleepers and had to be kicked awake.

She gently moved out from under Tremela’s arm so as not to wake her and walked over to where Grys was standing.  He only came up to her belly.  They were the only people shorter than she was.

“Can’t sleep?”  She asked, making sure her goggles were on.

“Just been thinking.”

“Like what?”

“Before the humans took us, me and my brothers had a shop.  I wonder if its still there.  Abandoned?  Burned down?  Used by someone else?  I don’t know.  I grew up there, but now I don’t know if I’ll recognize it.  I wonder if people will recognize us and I wonder if that is even a good thing.  Do we want to be recognized?”

“You know the city better than I do.  What you think?”

“I think we should lay low until I get a feel for things.  Maybe a lot has changed, maybe nothing has.”

“Did you have friends and family there?”

“A lot of friends, but somebody told the humans that could make things that go boom.  Somebody sold us out.”

“Who would do that?”

“Somebody that needed money.  Somebody the humans were threatening.  I don’t know.  I hope I’m not going down wrong street.”

“I trust you.  You say we can blend in, then we can.”

“The city’s a dangerous place Nayda.  It’s very different than anything you know.  It’s not simple like army.  Not peaceful like island.  It’s loud, crowded, everybody only cares about themselves and everybody wants something from you.”

“Doesn’t sound very nice.”

“It’s not, but its home.  Only home I know.”

“I’m afraid I’ll get spotted for what I am or kill someone on accident.  At least you don’t have snakes growing out of your head.”

“True, true.  At least I don’t have that.  Hard to blend in like that, yes?”

“I’ll have to be covered up completely every time I go outside.  That doesn’t sound like fun.”

“There are worse things.  You could be stuck in a cage.”

“There’s always that.  At least I’ll look pretty.”

“And that’s what’s important, yes?”

“Yes it is.”

Chapter 10

Nayda saw the city from several leagues away.  It was a big dark thing sticking up on the horizon.

“How does a city live out here?  What do they eat?”  Nayda asked.

“Two things,” Grys said holding up two fingers.  “One, they have a river flowing through the middle of the city.  Travel and food.  Two, cattle.  People from hundreds of miles bring their cattle here where it gets shipped out on river or train.  It doesn’t have a lot of neighbors, but it’s a pretty busy town.”

“Trains.  Those things are amazing.  How can humans build things like those?”  Nayda asked.

“Despite their flaws, humans are ingenious with machines.  They use a magic stone that creates an impossible amount of heat, then they add water and the pressurized steam moves the machine,” Krotek said.

“I don’t understand,” Nayda said.

“Don’t worry about it now.  Maybe I’ll get a chance to build one,” Nos said.

“Shouldn’t you go into the cart and get ready?  We’ll be there in an hour,” Krotek said.

She nodded and rode to the wagon that had her costume.  She dismounted, tied her horse to the wagon and then went in to change.  When she was done she came back out, every inch of her covered.  Freshly veiled she rode back up to the front where the others were.

Tremela was in a wagon with the other Satyrs.  She had to keep her talon feet under the big dress so the less she walked the better.  She also wore a backpack that hid her wings.  Their military gear was stowed in the prop wagon.  With luck it would all blend in with all the fake weapons.  Non-humans weren’t allowed to possess weapons of any kind.  It was easier to control an unarmed population.

The three brothers were hidden in a supply barrel, a roll of cloth and a chest of clothes.

When they finally reached the opened city gate they stopped in front of twenty guards.  Rorsht had said to expect a lot of guards.  A lot of caravans came into the city and they needed a lot of guards to search them efficiently.

The guards had a bored, uncaring look about them as they questioned, searched and let people through.  There was a smaller caravan ahead of them and they had to wait their turn.  She hated waiting like this.  If they got caught, they really didn’t stand much of a chance.

When it was their turn, the caravan moved up to the gate and stopped.

“Alright, everyone off your horses.  Who’s the leader here?”  One of the guards said.

“I’m the leader,” Rorsht said.

“What’s your business here?”

“We’re a troupe of actors.  We’ve come to entertain in the District.”

“Great, Ork plays.  Just what we need, more yelling.”

He then made Rorsht fill out several forms of paperwork telling how many people they had, what they were carrying and how long they were staying.  They wanted a list of names of everyone in the caravan.

One by one the guards began pulling people off to the side to check them with the list of names and to search them.  Krotek was ahead of her.  They didn’t do a very good job of searching him.  He didn’t have anything on him, but he could have snuck a barrel in his clothes.

When it was her turn Rorsht hurried over.

“This is an Elf Maiden on the holy pilgrimage of Tishanli.  She is not allowed to show her face or part of her skin,” Rorsht said in pretend reverence.

“I don’t care if she was the Elf queen herself, she’s getting searched.  He then began patting her down.  He was as sloppy as he was when he searched Krotek, but unlike with the Minotaur, he squeezed her but.  She jumped and turned to him, but kept her mouth closed because she sounded nothing like an Elf.  They had said that her voice was far too scratchy.  The guard just laughed and moved on to the next person.

Other guards were searching the wagons.  She kept on eye on the one that had Tremela.  She held her breath when the guard went in.  Any minute he would run out yelling that he had found something.

A few minutes later the guard emerged and she tightened up her fists.  The guard looked bored and moved on to the next caravan.  She let out the breath that she had been holding.  She wasn’t any good at this sneaking stuff.

Quicker than she would have guessed, they were ushered inside and through a secondary gate that led directly to the non-human district.  They had to follow a walled off street all the way there and they weren’t allowed to leave the district for any other part of the city without special permission.  The street here was dirty, covered in trash, lichen and poor nonhumans begging for food or money.  The place smelled and was cold and damp, like a prison.

At the end there was another gate and they passed through into the District.  The houses were made of wood, but most looked like they needed repairs.  Tiles on roofs were missing, windows were cracked and planks were falling from the walls.  The buildings here didn’t have that neat, organized look like the other cities did.  Instead the buildings looked thrown together and piled on top of each other.  There was a large open field for caravans and they pulled up into a line there.  Past the slightly overgrown field were the houses and main street.  The houses were at least three stories built close together making the streets very narrow and dark.  The whole place had dreary, lingering feel to it.

As soon as they came in children of several species came running up to see who the were.  One little Ork boy came up to her jumping up and down.

“Who are you guys?”  He asked.

“Were actors.  We put on plays,” she said.

“Plays?  Wow!  I gotta go tell my parents!”  He then ran off as fast as he could.  The caravan stopped and they dismounted.  They had finally made it to their destination.  She was glad to finally be off her horse.  She hurt in several places from riding that beast for so long.

The troupe began to unpack and she walked over to where Tremela and Krotek were talking to Rorsht.

“Well, we’re in,” Nayda said.

“Yes, and now we have the rest of our lives to figure out what exactly we’re doing,” Krotek said.  She would have thought that he’d be a little happier.  They were safe for now and that was as much as they could expect.  If the Army came looking for a Minotaur, Harpy, three goblins and a Gorgon, they would be disappointed.

“I couldn’t breathe in there!”  Grys said as he emerged from the barrel he had been hiding in.  The two other brothers emerged and stretched out.

“We have horses, weapons and armor to sell.  We should probably get to that.  Sooner we get money, the better,” Nos said.

“Agreed,” Krotek said.

“Where’s the market, guys?”  Tremela asked the brothers.

They all pointed down one of the streets.

“Think there’ll be a demand for these horses?”  Tremela asked.

“Sure.  Some species love to eat them.  Meat is a rare here.  Others will want to use them as transportation and a status symbol,” Yurk said.

“Well, let’s get them up there and see what we can get,” Krotek said.

“I’ve told you everything I know,” Rorsht said.  “I wish you luck.”

“Thank you so much for your help.  We’ll come see your performances,” Nayda said.

“I hope you will.  Remember, keep that disguise on.  Don’t let anyone know what you are,” Rorsht said.

They grabbed all their equipment and packed them on the horses.  Then they waved goodbye and they headed toward the market.  As they went down the dark, narrow streets they saw people looking out of windows at them.  Some hid in alleys and others came out to get a look.  They passed one place that had guards at the door, two Ogres.  The Ogres watched them carefully as they walked by.  She didn’t know what was in there but she was sure it was a place she didn’t want to visit.  As they passed one alley, she saw some Orks beating up someone.  She didn’t see who the poor soul was.  It was just a flash of an image and it was gone.

In the background, coming from every direction she could hear noise.  There was yelling, screaming, laughing, crying, and a whole concert of unrecognizable sounds.  Grys had been right, this place was noisy.

If she thought the backstreets were noisy, she was unprepared for the market.  They came out into a large city square packed with stalls selling everything imaginable.  There were vegetable stalls, wheat, flour, clothes, trinkets, flowers, perfumes, spices and cloth.  The vendors were yelling and the customers were yelling back.  She had heard of this.  They were arguing about prices.  There was a word for it but she couldn’t remember it.

Then she saw something that made her stop what she was doing.  Her eyes fixated on the sight through her black veil.  There was a stall in the middle of the market that had people up on a platform.  The vendor was selling people as if they were things.  She knew too well what it was like to be treated like an object.

“Grys, what in Hellas is going on there?”  She asked, pointing a gloved hand.

“Slave market.  It’s one of the bad habits we’ve picked up from the humans.  If someone can’t pay a debt or his taxes, he’s sold.  That or he gives up his children for sale.”

“Give up their children?  How could somebody possibly sell their own child?”  Nayda asked.  She couldn’t imagine her Mom giving her up for anything.

“Desperate people do desperate things.  It’s the way here.  You do what you can to survive.”

“What’s the point of surviving if you have to live like animals?”

She kept her eyes locked on the platform where an elf male, an Ork female and a child that was lanky, green and had claws.

They found the area where animal purchases were carried out.  A fat Minotaur was there standing in front of the pens where pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, a cow and two horses were.

“What we got here?”  The fat Minotaur asked.

“Five well fed, strong, and healthy horses,” Krotek said.

The Minotaur walked around the horses, inspecting each one.  He felt their hair, looked at their teeth and felt their legs.

“My, my.  These are some unusually healthy specimens.  How much you asking?”

Krotek looked over to the brothers.

“One hundred per head,” Grys said.

“One hundred?  I thought you actually wanted to sell them.  No one around here going to pay that much,” the Minotaur said.

“Then I guess no one around here will have best horses.  Look, these aint scrawny, half starved things you’re used to.  These are purebreds,” Grys said.  He pronounced ‘purebreds’ with particular attention.  “Strong, durable, won’t get sick every week.  Something I doubt this town has seen in long while,” Grys said.

“I can give you eighty and that’s literally as low as I can go.”

Grys looked up at Krotek who nodded.

“Eighty it is,” Grys said.

“I say go for ninety,” Yurk said.

“Eighty,” Nos said.

“Eighty,” Grys said.

They shook hands and did the exchange.

“Where abouts you from?”  The Minotaur asked Krotek.

“Milas,” Krotek said.

“I have family there.  At least last time I checked I did.”

“What’s your family name?”

“Torren.”

“I knew a Worlan Torren, a butcher.”

“Aye, that’s my nephew!  Good to see a friendly and better looking face around here,” the Minotaur said.

“That it is,” Krotek said.  They went a little distance from the market and sat down on the steps of a large, dark gray, stone church.

“So, we got Four Hundred pieces,” Grys said.

“Is that a lot?”  Nayda asked.

“Yes and no.  It’s enough, but it won’t last forever,” Nos said.

“What do we do with it?”  Nayda asked.

“I say we get a house where we can all live.  One that’s out of the way.  We’ll have to get jobs and earn money though,” Tremela said.

“I need money if I’m going to make it back to Milas,” Krotek said.

“We’ll pool our resources for now,” Tremela said.  “Eventually, we’ll all have to figure out what we want to do.  Krotek wants to go home.  I don’t know what I want.”

“Neither do I,” Nayda said.

“We want to get our shop back,” the brothers said.

“We have plenty of time to think about it,” Tremela said.

“First order of business; get a house,” Krotek said.

“Then look for jobs,” Tremela said.

“What am I supposed to do?  I can’t really wander around,” Nayda said.

“We’ll think of something,” Tremela asked.

“Where do we go to find a house?”  Krotek asked Grys.

“I have a good idea.  Follow me,” Grys said.  He took them through the winding narrow streets and didn’t pause to get his bearings.  He knew this place well.  She was already lost and had no idea which way back to the market.

Then he stopped in front of a building that still had all its glass.  A sign on the door said “Rooms for rent, plots and houses for sale.”

“Here we are,” Grys said.  “We can find house here.  Good house.”

They walked in and she saw that the person behind the desk looked like a goblin, only human sized and a little more yellow-ish.

“What’s that?”  She whispered to Tremela.

“Hobgoblin.  Bigger, meaner relatives of goblins,” she said.

The Hobgoblin looked up from his book and lowered his glasses onto his short, upturned nose.

“What can I do ya for?”  The clerk asked.

“We’ve come to rent a house,” Grys said.

“You do look familiar.  I’d say that you were Grys, but he’s off in a dungeon or prison or something like that,” the clerk said.

“No, no.  We’re back and we need a place to stay.”

“What ya looking for?”

“A house that can hold all of us and is out of way,” Grys said.

“That’s also cheap,” Krotek threw in.

“Afraid no house is cheap around here.  Space is hard to come by.  They got us crammed in her like dried fish in a barrel.  I’ll see what I can do.  Follow me and I’ll show ya a few.”

The clerk grabbed a set of hanging keys and walked out the door.  Grys shrugged and they followed the old Hobgoblin.  He took them down the street to a small house on the corner.  They spent the next hour looking at four other houses.  Most of them were too expensive or too small.

They huddled together out of earshot of the Hobgoblin.

“What do we think?” Tremela asked.

“I like the last one,” Krotek said.

“Me too,” Tremela said.

“It’s not noticeable, it’s cheap and it has enough room for everyone,” Yuk said.

“Not everyone’s going to get a room, but we’ll live with that,” Nos said.

“I like it,” Nadya said.

“It’s settled then?”  Krotek asked.

“I think so,” Tremela said.

“We’ll take the last one,” Grys shouted out to the Hobgoblin.

Chapter 11

Nadya looked around her new home.  It was covered in dust and cobwebs and the wood in the house was obviously old.  The floor and stairs creaked and the house made strange noises.  There was the ground floor with a kitchen, living room, and storage room.  The upstairs had three rooms.  Tremela and Nadya would get one, Krotek would get one and the brothers would get one.  There was also a tiny back yard that was against the wall of the city and had walls on either side.  The outhouse was there.

“The houses in the human districts have indoor plumbing,” Grys had said when she first saw it.

“What’s plumbing?”  She had asked.

Now they were all working on getting the place livable.  They still had plenty of  money for food and furniture.  The chair they had bought for Krotek was made out of an entire stump.  Anything with legs wouldn’t support him.

By the time night fell, they had a reasonably comfortable place to live.  They had mattresses on the floors to sleep on, a table to eat at, utensils, plates, bowls, and a fire going in the fireplace.

Nayda looked around the small old house and decided that she liked it.  It wasn’t what she was used to, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  The house was cute and warm and everyone she cared for was there.  She didn’t know how long she’d be there, but for however long that is, she wanted to make sure everyone was happy.

They bought a chicken, potatoes and some spices to make a stew.  It was a celebration.  They talked about staying up all night, but after traveling for so long, they wound up in bed a few hours after dinner.

Tremela and her curled up next to each other on their mattress and got comfortable.

“What do you think you’re going to do to earn money?”  Nayda asked.

“I don’t really know.  I can try to find someplace that needs a singer.  Harpies are always wanted for entertainment.  At least that’s what I’ve heard.  Other than that, all I can really do is hunt.  I’m not much good at anything else.”

“I don’t know what I can do.  I don’t want to be stuck inside every day.”

“You’ll have to be, for now at least.  There has to be something for you, its just not going to be obvious.  There’s a reason you’re here Nayda.  It’s just a matter of having enough faith until you find it.”

“Faith in what?”

“Do you believe that your mother watches over you still?”

Nayda thought about it.  When she did something well, she believed that Mom was watching and was proud.  At nights she could feel Mom’s arms wrapping around her.

“Yes.”

“Then have the same faith in yourself that your mother had in you.”

She was thinking about faith long after Tremela drifted off into sleep.

After breakfast the next day she followed Krotek and Tremela to find this contact in the resistance that Rorsht had told them about.  She trailed behind them trying not to draw attention which was hard to do while completely covered with a veil.  No one else was going around with veils and it would only make people curious for what was underneath.

They hurried through the streets until they came to the address.  It was a drinking tavern and not a very busy one.  Through the windows they saw a fire going and only a handful of people.

“This is it,” Krotek said.

“Who are we meeting?”  Nayda asked.

“We’re looking for someone called Noodeen.  He’s high up in the resistance here.  He might be able to help us,” Krotek said.

“We get out at the first sign of trouble,” Tremela said.

Krotek then opened the door and went inside.  The ceiling was low, the wood was dark, and beside the grimy windows and fire, there was very little light.  There was the bar, four tables with only three seats occupied.  An elf and a Hobgoblin were sitting it the far corner and another Ork sat by himself.  The bartender was a Dark Elf with long stringy black hair and light gray skin.  His red eyes stayed on them as they walked over to the bar.  The Dark Elf didn’t even greet them or ask what they wanted.

“We have something to show Noodeen,” Krotek said.

The Dark Elf’s eyes narrowed.  It was something more than annoyance.  He was angry.

“Never heard of him,” the Dark Elf said.

“He really would want to see this,” Krotek said.

“I’m sure he would, but I don’t know who this Noodeen person is.”

Krotek tapped his fingers on the bar while he thought.

“Rorsht sent us,” Krotek said.

“Rorsht, huh?  That’s an Ork name, right?”

“Damn it, man!” Krotek’s patience had run out.  He reached over and pulled Nayda’s hood down to reveal her head of snakes that had been pulled into a tail.

She heard the Dark Elf recoil back.

“Holy Madras!  Cover that up!  Quickly!”

“The subtle approach wasn’t working.”

“Okay, wait right here,” the Dark Elf said.  He was avoiding looking at Nayda as he left through a back door.  She almost laughed at how frightened he looked.  Usually she didn’t want people to be scared of her, but he had earned it.

She looked over at the three people in the tavern and realized that they had tensed up and were watching them.  She guessed that they were security.  She could see one of them holding a pistol under the table.

It was a few minutes before the Dark Elf returned.

“Follow me,” the Dark Elf said.  He waved them to follow through the back door.  They followed him down a camped hall to a door at the end.  Posters of plays, musicians and dancers lined the hallway.  She could tell that Krotek was tensed up and ready to fight.  Tremela had her hidden dagger in her belt.  She just had to take the veil off and make sure not to look at her friends.

They went through the door and came to a room with a door and a staircase that led up.  There were tables and crates everywhere.  Four people stood in the middle of the room and a fifth person stood behind them.  There was a Troll, Minotaur, and two Ogres, all wearing makeshift armor and carrying swords and axes.  The person behind was what looked like a woman mixed with a lion.  She had a lion’s body, woman’s head and breasts covered by colorful scarves and white bird wings.

“What are you doing here?” the lion-lady asked in a smooth, soft voice like calming music.

“We have come for aid and to offer our assistance,” Krotek said.

“What aid?”

“We have escaped from the military camp at Tight Water.  I believe that they will continue to look for us.”

“What assistance can you offer?”

“I’m a well trained soldier.  The Harpy is a scout and master sharp shooter.  And we have a Gorgon.  We also have three Goblins that can make explosives, grenades and rockets.”

She really didn’t have any skills that were slightly useful.  She would only be important to the resistance because of what she was, not who she was.  It bothered her, but she understood it.

“And Rorsht recommended you?”  The lion-lady asked.

“That is correct,” Krotek said.

“I’ll send a messenger to ask Rorsht.”

The lion-lady waved a paw and a small person, no more than two feet tall, with insect wings buzzed out from behind a pillar and flew out a small hatch in the far door.  There were so many species that she had no idea even existed.  Why, with so many different types of people, could one type, humans, become so dominant?

“Tell us your story while we wait,” the lion-lady said.  “Start with your names.”

He introduced everyone by name and then went into how they were captured and forced to work for the humans.  He left some of the more unpleasant details of their escape and then ended with them arriving at Groten.  The lion-lady sat stone faced as she listened.

The little winged girl came back in and landed on the lion-lady’s shoulder and whispered into her ear.  The lion-lady nodded.

“Domo Rorsht has backed up your story.  Come, sit down.”  She waved her paw at a large table surrounded by wooden chairs.  At the head of the table was a large pillow where she apparently sat.  They each sat down as the other bodyguards wandered off except for the troll.  He sat down next to the lion-lady.  Apparently they still didn’t trust them.

The troll’s head nearly touched the ceiling of the room.  His arms hung down to the ground and ended in large black claws.  He head and shoulders were stooped and his long jaw was lined with hundreds of crooked, sharp teeth.  Sickly black hair hung down from his head and his ears were long and pointed like a Goblins.  Unlike a Goblin however, he had a long thin nose and small black eyes.  The muscles of his arms looked more like knotted old trees and his skin was scaly, almost like her’s.

“My name is Noodeen.  Welcome to the resistance,” the lion-lady said.

“I’m glad somebody is standing up for what’s right,” Krotek said.

“We’re trying, but to be honest with you, we’re not doing a very good job.  The local Senate has spies here in the District.  We can’t trust anyone.  About a year ago, they arrested almost half of our people in one night.  Somehow they knew exactly who and where they were.  We’ve taken precautions, but it’s also left us on the defensive.  That’s no way to win a war.  We’re not entirely alone, but we can’t rely on any outside help.”

“What do you need from us?”  Krotek asked.

“The Gorgon, Nayda, can be helpful, but not as helpful as you think.  We are not fighting one tyrant here who can be assassinated.  We are fighting against an entire system.  There is the Senate, the courts, and the bureaucracy that supports them.  It’s hard to fight paperwork with guns and swords.”

“Also,” the Troll said in a gravely, booming voice.  “If they know it was us that stuck against them, they punish the whole District.”

The lion-lady nodded.

“So you see our dilemma,” Noodeen said.

“So, we’re stuck,” Krotek said.

“That’s about it,” the Troll said.

“I was hoping for some better news,” Krotek said.

“May I see your face, Nayda?”  The big green Troll asked.

“Of course.  I’ll close my eyes,” Nayda said.

She closed her eyes and pushed back her hood and took off her veil.  Then she reached into a pocket of her robe and pulled out her goggles which she then put on.

“Don’t misunderstand us,” the Troll said.  “We can use you, but we just have to be careful how we do so.”

“I understand,” Nayda said.

“Would you all like something to eat?”  The Troll asked.

“That would be nice,” Tremela said.

“Good.  Let me prepare something for you,” the Troll said.  He got up and left the room.

“He’s quite good.  He’s our unofficial cook here.  Though he does tend to make too much and too spicy.  He sometimes forgets that we can’t all eat as much as he can,” Noodeen said.

“What’s the situation here with the district?”  Krotek asked.

“It’s been quiet for a while.  We haven’t had any problems.  Two months ago they took some of the District people to go work on some river irrigation project.  We still haven’t heard from them.  They usually leave us alone.  We do what we can when we can, but most of us live peaceful lives here.”

“We still have to do something,” Krotek said.

“True statement, but we have to be cautious.”

They talked about senators, tax collectors and unfair laws.  They gave the lion-lady directions to their house and passwords to tell the other if it was them and if it was safe or not.

When the Troll finally came in he was carrying two huge bowls with steam pouring out of them.  The Dark Elf passed out bowls and spoons for everyone.  The Troll then placed the bowls down in front of them.  One looked like a mixture of a little of everything and the other was rice.

“Put rice in bowl first, then scoop stuff on top,” the Troll said.

“You’re going to enjoy this!”  The lion lady said.  “I warn you though, it’s going to be spicy.  Troll cooking is always spicy.”

Once Nayda had everything ready she tried a small spoonful.  It was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten.  She had no idea that food could have so many flavors at once.  She didn’t recognize any of it, but she loved it.

Then it hit her.  The burning in her mouth started slow but with each bite it grew more and more.

“What do you think?”  The Troll said.

Nayda clenched her fist and hit the table because the burning was getting too much but it was so delicious that she didn’t want to stop.

The Troll took one look at her and started laughing.  Nayda looked over and saw that Tremela wasn’t faring any better.  Krotek looked unfazed.

“I did warn you, didn’t I?”  The lion-woman said.

After they finished eating and they said good bye they headed back home.

“What was that lady?” Nayda asked.

“She is a Sphinx.  It’s a rare species, especially up here in the northern continent.  They’re philosphers and scholars.  Man’s empire hasn’t reached there yet.  Human and non-human live in peace,” Krotek said.

“So it is possible,” Nayda said.

“How was the food?”  Krotek asked.

“I’ve never had something so pleasant and painful at the same time,” Tremela said.

“I know!  I didn’t want to stop,” Nayda said.

“He’s an excellent chief.  Troll cooking has some similarities to Minotaur cooking, but ours isn’t as spicy.”

“Any more spicy and it would be a poison,” Nayda said.

“What do you think of the situation?” Tremela asked Krotek.

“It doesn’t’ look good.  They’re stepped on, but not enough for the people to do anything about it.  There has to be more to do.  I can’t sit by and watch the humans take everything over with slow death.”

“We’ll find a way Kro,” Tremela said.

Chapter 12

After three weeks in Groten, Krotek had found a job working down at the river docks.  It required him to have identification and be searched every time he left the District and came back in.  The brothers, despite their constant quarreling, had managed to scrape together enough nick-knacks and inventions to have a booth in the market.  Tremela was a performer at a club in one of the human districts.  She hated the constant searching and checking of her papers.

Nayda however, stayed at home.  She was trying to learn to cook, she cleaned, and she was learning how to read.  Still, she felt useless and bored.  She wanted to explore, walk around, see what there was to see, hunt and fish.  She was growing crazy from being locked inside all day.

They still had plenty of money left over, but they were being frugal and saving as much as they could.  Their meals were simple and they didn’t build fires unless necessary.  Winter was coming and they were trying to stockpile wood and food.

She needed out, even if it was for a little while.  She was used to going around the house dressed in just a simple, sleeveless dress, but now she put on her hooded robe, boots, gloves and veil.  Then she went outside and took a deep breath to capture all the unique smells of the city.  Everyone else was off working and she was left alone.  No one would know that she had left.

She began walking around and looking into the shop windows and watching the children play.  There was something reassuring in watching all the children play.  She could hear their laughter and know that somehow, things were alright.  If they could laugh, then so could she.

She aimlessly walked through the winding streets that had no order or reason to them.  It was as if they simply built houses where they wanted and the streets trickled through like streams of water in rocks.

Then she came to a part of town where many of the houses were boarded up.  The streets became less clean and people less friendly.  Up ahead she saw one building in the rundown section that had bright signs and guards standing outside.  There were large windows so she went closer to take a look inside.  The two Ork guards eyed her but didn’t say anything.  She looked in the large window and saw that there were women of various species sitting around with very little clothing on, just enough to cover their secret spots.  Mom wouldn’t approve of this.

What was this place about?  If it was a shop, what were they selling?  There were three women in the window.  One was an Ork.  One was an Elf and the other was something she hadn’t seen before.  It looked kind of like the fairy she saw with Noodeen, but this one was bigger, had a pale blue skin, dark rings around its eyes and dark blue hair that was waist length and hung down straight in all directions, almost covering her face.

The blue fairy’s eyes slowly looked over and saw Nayda staring at her.  Her eyes looked almost dead inside.  All the fairy would see was a petite, veiled figure.  When the fairy looked at her, she saw pain in her eyes.  It was almost like Tremela’s eyes when they were still prisoners of the Handler.

Nayda put a hand up to the glass and the fairy lethargically brought her hand up to meet hers.  The fairy pressed her forehead against the glass and silently pleaded.  She knew that look.  She wanted out.  Nayda nodded that she understood.

Nayda then walked over to the guards.

“May I come in?”  She asked.

“Of course,” one of the guards said with one of those false smiles that were unfortunately so common.

She opened the door and passed through a curtain of brightly colored beads.  Inside the room was decorated all in purple; the carpet, the walls, the couches.  There were sticks burning at the ends that let off strong and stinging orders.  She had to keep her mouth closed to keep from gagging.  There were more useless decorations here than she had seen anywhere else combined.  She didn’t like it at all.

Then a Hobgoblin woman came out in the ugliest dress she had ever seen.  It was red, orange and pink.  It hurt her eyes.  Nayda didn’t like her either.

“Welcome, welcome.  I’d say that I haven’t seen you here, but I can’t see your face,” the obnoxious woman said.

“And you won’t,” Nayda said.

“We value privacy here of course.  Nature of the business.”

“What is the business here?”

The ugly woman laughed.

“You are funny.  What is the business?  What have you come here for?  What kind of pleasure?  Big man?  Woman?  Let me guess, you want Elf man?”

“Want Elf man?  Um…no.”  She now understood exactly what was for sale here.

“Elf woman then?  Tired of husband?”

“I’m curious about the fairy in the window.”

“Ah!  She caught your eye then.  Very pretty, isn’t she?”

“How long has she been here?”

“We bought her about six months ago.  Why?  You want fresh girl?  We can arrange that for a price.”

“How much did she cost?”

“Well, her father used her pay off a loan.”

“How much to buy her then?”

“Love at first sight, eh?  Don’t want to try before you buy?”

“How much to buy her?”

“Three hundred.”

She didn’t have that money.  As a group, they only had about two hundred left over.  She didn’t know exactly how much they were making individually, but she doubted that they could spare that kind of coin.

“Three hundred?  That’s too much.”

“She’s rare species.  Eastern Blue Fairy.  She is investment on our part.”

“Two hundred.  You can find more where she came from.”

“But not Eastern Blue Fairy.”

“Very well.  I’ll consider your offer.  I’ll be back soon.”

“Please do.  Do you want to look at any of the other girls?”

If she did, she’d only get angry and could do something very foolish.  As it was, she wanted to lift her veil and turn this hideous woman to stone.  Instead, she bowed and left.

She walked back home trying to think of ways to earn money.  Money was a new concept for her and she didn’t know how people exactly went about getting it.  She understood the basics; go to work, get paid for how much one worked.  But how could she get a job?  She was a unique and dangerous person that had to stay hidden.  Perhaps the resistance folks knew of a way.  Right now, she’d do just about anything to get that poor girl out of there.  Now that she knew such places existed, she had a new enemy.

At first she was going to go back home, wait for the others to get back and then ask them.  They were all doing their part to make a living here.  They were independent and doing things their way.  She was doing nothing.  It was time that she started doing something as well.

Instead of heading home, she went to see Noodeen.  The Dark Elf escorted her to the back room where Noodeen was talking to the Troll.  The Troll was sitting down on a pillow and hunched over with a book in his large claws.  When she came in they became silent.

“What is the purpose of this visit?  You came alone?”  Noodeen asked.

“Yes, I’m here on my own.  I want to know how I can earn money.”

“I thought your friends were going to help support you.”

“I need money for something else.”

“Like what?”

“I saw a girl for sale today.”

“Really?  I didn’t know you were that type.  So, you were playing innocent then?”

“What?  No!  I want to buy her so I can free her.  It’s horrible what goes on here!  How can people let this happen?”

“Republic law allows slavery and servitude.  So, people can get away with it because the law won’t stop them.  People are weak.  Without a major motivation, they will maintain what they have, regardless of how bad it is.  If it will make them significantly more comfortable, then they will.  If it makes them uncomfortable, they won’t.  Simple as that.”

“So, no one cares about right and wrong?”

“They care, just not enough to do anything if it involves discomfort.  How much do you need?”

“Three hundred.”

“That’s not cheap.”

The Sphinx looked up to the Troll and they exchanged some kind of expression that she couldn’t understand.

“We’ll discuss this and get back to you.  If there is a way to let you earn that money, we’ll find it,” Noodeen said.

“Thank you for whatever help you can give me.”  She then bowed and left for home.

She went home and couldn’t think of anything else other than that poor girl.  She couldn’t clean and she even forgot to keep the fire going.

The brothers were the first to come home, but they were so busy arguing about prices at their stand that they didn’t notice her odd behavior.  It wasn’t until Krotek came back that someone noticed.

“Liesha, what’s wrong?”  Krotek asked.

“I took a walk today.  I know, I’m not supposed to, but I had to get out of the house.  I wandered around and found a place that sells women against their will.  They mate for money.”

“Yes, such places exist.  I wish they didn’t, but they do.”

“I saw the prettiest, saddest girl in the window.  I wanted so bad to help her but the horrible owner lady said that if I wanted to buy her, it would be three hundred.”

“Wait, buy her?”

“I want to buy her so I can free her.  I wish I knew of another way.”

“We can’t spare that kind of money.  I only get ten Soldi a week.  I have to save up enough to go back east and find my family.”

“I know.  I wasn’t going to ask you for the money.”

“What will you do then?  I know you’re not the type to give up.”

“I went to see Noodeen.  I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to earn money.  She said that she’d look for something.”

“You shouldn’t wander around alone and you definitely shouldn’t go to Noodeen’s by yourself.  I trust them, but it’s still not a safe place.”

“I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I can’t and won’t stop you.  This is something you decide and you alone.  We can’t help you here.  As it is we’re going to have a hard time getting enough firewood for the winter.  Firewood is scarce because they’re allowing less and less supplies to come into the District.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know if it’s intentional or negligence, but it’s happening.  They call it ‘more secure protection.’  Acting as if they really care about us.  The human bosses that watch over us while we work certainly don’t care about us.”

When Tremela came home Nayda told her everything.  She agreed that if she felt she needed to do it, then she should do it.

“It’s just one person.  You can’t save them all,” Grys said.

“Why bother?”  Nos asked.

“I was just one person once,” Nayda said.

That shut the brothers up.

For two days she stayed in the house, cleaning and reading a book Noodeen let her borrow.  It was a history book about the Republic.  The early history sounded more like myths than history.  The idea of flying machines that could go around the world in a day and weapons that could destroy whole countries was ridiculous.

The weather was starting to get chilly and she couldn’t go out to the walled-in back yard without something on her feet.  Winter was coming and it had her worried.  She seemed much more affected by temperature than the others.

On the third night there was a knock at the door.  Krotek grabbed his short sword and went to the peephole at the door.  His tensed muscles relaxed and he opened the door.  Noodeen and the Troll came in.  The troll was wearing a long coat so maybe he didn’t like the cold either.

“Sorry to come unannounced but this is important,” Noodeen said.

“Of course, come in,” Krotek said.  They offered the Troll Krotek’s heavy chair and he seemed glad that they had a chair he could sit on.  She imagined that he stood or sat on the ground a lot.

“There’s a shipment of weapons coming to the city garrison tomorrow night,” the Troll said.  “That’s normal.  They get supplies all the time.  What’s different is that these are new weapons.  I don’t know anything about them but somehow they’re better and more advanced than the matchlocks we use.  The humans search the District now and then to look for weapons.  They haven’t taken all our weapons but we don’t have enough.”

“Also, if these weapons are more advanced, we could use them instead of the humans,” Noodeen added.

“You want us to ambush and raid the supply caravan,” Krotek said.

“No.  It’s coming by train,” Noodeen said.

“One of those huge metal monsters?”  Nayda asked.  “How we supposed to stop a thing like that?”

“No matter how big a creature is, they have a weakness.  The knees.  Hit the knees and the whole monster comes crashing down.  In this case, the rails.  Knock the beast off the rails and it will crash everything.  I’ve seen it happen on accident once.  Terrific sight,” the Troll said.

“This sounds a little too bold.  Won’t this come back on us?”  Krotek said.

“Not if we make it look like Dark Elves did it,” Noodeen said.

“How do we do that?”  Tremela asked.

“We’ll take care of that,” Noodeen said.

“Then we should start making something big enough to knock a train over,” Grys said.

“And big enough to tear up the rails,” Nos said.

“Biggest bomb yet!”  Yurk said.

Their yellow eyes grew wide with excitement as they contemplated their next creation.

The Troll pulled out a map that showed the location of their ambush.  For the next few hours Noodeen and the Troll discussed how the ambush should go.  Krotek came up with most of it, but the Troll was surprisingly good at planning.  His mind was sharper than he led on.  There was a lot more to him than he led on.

“What’s your name?”  Nayda asked during a short break.

The Troll looked down to her with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m just a lowly servant of the resistance,” he said.

“I don’t believe that for a second.”

“Zanzin,” he said he said with a toothy smile.  He was beautiful in his own way.  The only race so far that she had found to be ugly were the humans and that was because of what they did, not how they looked.

“Are you the real leader here?”  She asked.

“It takes most folks a lot longer to figure that out,” he said.

“Do you really think that we can make it look like the Dark Elves did it?”

“Yes.  That won’t be a problem.  They won’t be able to trace it back to the District.”

“This is a lot of specific information.  How did you get it?”

“That’s a secret.  I trust you, but this secret is too important to tell anyone.”

They had to have someone in the military giving them information.  Was a human actually helping them or some non-human servant?  It didn’t matter as long as the information was correct.  Still, she liked to think that there was a good human out there that wanted to do what was right.

 

Chapter 13

 

 

Nayda watched from the tree line as the train came rumbling toward them.  It was after midnight but there was a full moon.  She could see the heat coming off the train in waves.  The others were all lying down out of sight, waiting for the moment.

She held two matchlock pistols, but they were back up.  Her real weapon was her eyes.  She had her old armor on as well as the hood and goggles.  Krotek was beside her with his cannon and Tremela was up in the trees somewhere with her long gun.

Right now though, it was the brother’s big scene.  They were near the tracks in three separate locations, ready to light the fuses as soon as the train got to the right spot.  She was curious as to what the brothers had cooked up.  They were excited to try it and wouldn’t tell anyone what they had planned.

The strangers however, were the surprise.  Besides a few other non-humans from the District, there were also ten Dark Elves.  They were Sernan soldiers but they were hiding out in human territory trying to disrupt the Republic from within.  They had cloaks and hoods that were colored to blend in with the surrounding woods.  Even their normally black armor was painted to look like forest.  They waited with a silence and stillness that spoke of training and discipline.  She could see in their faces that they were trained killers.  Their guns had long spikes at the ends to use as a spear.  That was a clever idea.

At least she knew one source of help to the resistance.  The Sernan Kingdom was secretly aiding them.  She felt a little better knowing that they weren’t completely alone.

Then she saw the three shapes of the brothers running up the hill toward their position.  They had lit the fuses and now all they had to do was wait for the show.  She kept low to ground, hiding by the thick, gnarled roots of a tree.  She counted the seconds as the train grew closer.

When the train came within range, there was a sudden bright light, a flash of fire, and dirt, rocks and twisted metal rose up into the air like three enormous geysers.  The explosions were so sudden and fierce.  She had seen artillery fire before, but these dwarfed anything shot from a cannon.  It was almost like the eruptions of dirt and fire were in slow motion.

The train was violently knocked off the tracks and slammed into the ground, kicking up waves of dirt and digging a deep trench as it kept moving forward.  The other explosions had knocked different parts of the train off the tracks, guaranteeing that the whole train was completely derailed, crashing out in different directions.

“Now!”  Zanzin shouted.

All thirty of them jumped up and ran out of the woods and down the hill.  She followed closely behind Krotek.  He had on his full armor so he was a moving metal wall to protect her.

She saw a soldier crawling out of the wreckage.  He looked dazed and dark blood was coming from his ears.  He staggered around until he stood up.

Suddenly a Dark Elf ran up to him, speared him in the throat and moved on to look for more survivors.  The man grabbed his throat and fell down.

Six soldiers in armor came out of the next car down.  Five of them had guns and the other had an officer’s sword.  They weren’t as bad as the first man, but she did see that they were dazed.  How couldn’t they be after a crash like that?

Krotek spun towards them and leveled his cannon.  She felt sorry for the men.  He fired and the iron balls of his shot shredded three men in several places.  It was like hundreds of tiny explosions all over them.  Blood splattered all over the top of the train wagon.  Only one had a helmet on and she knew that enough shot got through to put him on the ground for good.

Before the others could react Krotek and Zan charged into the middle of them.  Krotek swung the butt of his cannon and knocked one of the men clear off his feet.  He went sailing and hit the top of the toppled train.  Zanzin grabbed one of them and swinging him over his head as if he were a sack of grain, he slammed the man into the last human.  Nayda heard the wet crunch as the two men’s bodies broke.

“Go look for survivors.  We can’t let them recuperate,” Krotek said.

She then heard some shooting from further down the train.  She saw Dark Elves firing at some soldiers that were scrambling out of the train.  Some of the soldiers were firing back.  She kept her hand up on her goggles in case she saw someone.

Two arms grabbed her from behind and lifted her off the ground.  They were armored human arms.  She couldn’t get a look at the man but she had other weapons.  Her snakes pushed down her hood and instantly struck the man in the face.  He dropped her, yelling in pain from at least five snake bites.  He wouldn’t last more than a few minutes.  Poor man.

She couldn’t waste time thinking about him, though she knew she would later, so she continued on looking for more survivors.  She passed a few survivors that were so wounded they weren’t a threat.

Then a soldier crawled out from the train, gun ready.  She quickly ducked behind a smashed crate that had been thrown out from the crash.  She readied her pistols.  It was dark in the shadows of the overturned train and she didn’t know if her gaze would even work.

She crept out from behind the box while the man’s back was turned.  He was raising his gun toward the group of Dark Elves that were in the middle of a firefight with some soldiers.  She snuck up closer and aimed her pistol at the small of the man’s back where there was no armor.  She fired and the man crumpled to the ground.  Smoke billowed from her gun and from the man’s wound.  She had fired so close that he had scorched powder burns where she had hit.

The man was screaming in pain and she covered her ears so she wouldn’t have to hear it.  She just wanted him stop suffering.  She needed him to die, but his pain was not something she wanted.  She quickly crouched next to him and flipped him on his pack and moved her goggles up.  His eyes met her’s for a second.  Then he was stone.

There had to be a better way than this.  Humans were capable of seeing logic and reason.  Why couldn’t they all come to some agreement?  Was reason and compromise so unattainable that killing each other was the only answer?

To keep from crying she quickly began reloading her pistol.  It was better to take some time now and reload so she could have both pistols up than get into trouble and not have both.

Krotek came up behind her.

“Coming from the rear,” he said.  She quickly remembered her goggles and put them back on.  She turned around and saw that he had blood splatters on his breast plate and face.

“I had to poison one man and petrify this guy.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll dispose of the statue.  They won’t know you were here.”

By the time they got to where the Dark Elves were, the fight was finished.  The Dark Elves were going around to each human, wounded or not and stabbing them in the heart.

“Wait, why are they killing them?  They’re no longer a threat,”

“Because we don’t want any eye witnesses to tell them the Dark Elves didn’t do it alone,” Zanzin said as he walked up behind them.  “We can’t have any evidence that we were here.  It’s kill them or risk the entire District.”

She nodded.  It made perfect rational sense, but she still didn’t like it.  What choice was there though?

As they were killing all the soldiers, she began to go to each one; searching them for any money or valuables.

“We’re not thieves!”  A Hobgoblin said as he walked up to her.

“I need the money for something important.  I have to do it.”

He shrugged and walked over to where the Dark Elves were.

Tremela came flying down and landed near her.

“Everything’s going well I see,” Tremela said.  “Where’s the cargo we came for?”

“I have no idea.  I’m looking for money.”

“Of course.  You keep at it.  I’m going to go help look for the cargo.”

She went from one body to the next.  Few of the soldiers had anything more than a couple of Soldi, but some had a lot more.  They were the ones that had either saved or just gotten paid.

As she rolled one soldier over to get to his coin purse she heard him moan and move his arm.  He was still alive.  He wasn’t conscious but he was alive.  Had he seen them and then gotten knocked out or was he unconscious from the crash?  If he lived and saw them, he would be rescued and he’d tell his officers who did it.  As much as she hated it, she couldn’t risk everyone’s life.  She put her pistol to his forehead, closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.  There was a loud ‘crack’ as her pistol fired and she felt something warm and wet hit her face.  Nayda quickly wiped it away.

Once she was done collecting she had a small sack of coins, rings and necklaces.  This had to be three hundred.  She looked over and saw that everyone was gathered around in a circle.  She tied up her sack and ran over to see what they were looking at.

They were gathered around several open crates.  She looked in and saw guns, but these guns were different.  Instead of the lever that held a wick, it had a small lever with what looked like a piece of flint.

“These are the new guns?”  Nayda asked.

“Yes.  I’ve never seen anything like them,” Krotek said.  He picked one up and turned it around.  He pulled back the striking lever and pulled the trigger.  There was a brief spark as the lever hammered down.

“Clever,” Zanzin said.

“No more burning wick then,” Tremela said.

“Look there,” Krotek said.  “A crate of pistols.  With these you can carry them hidden and ready.”

She picked up one of the pistols.  The pommel was round and looked like it could club someone pretty good.  The wood was higher quality and the metal work was prettier than the military matchlocks they were carrying.

“But will this flint system work as good as the matchlocks?”  One of the Dark Elves asked.  He was holding one of the new guns and aiming with it.

“I would assume so.  This is high quality flint and with the powder they’re using, it has to be more reliable,” Grys said.  He was crawling in the crate that had the powder and balls.

“Grys, Yurk, Nos, do you think you can reproduce this flint striker?”  Krotek asked.

“Absolutely,” Yurk said without taking his eyes from one of the pistols.

“Look at these ones,” Tremela said.  She held up a rifle that was longer than the others.  “There are grooves inside the barrel that spiraled down further.  I wonder if they go all the way.  What’s the purpose of that?”

“We’ll be taking two examples of each weapon,” one of the Dark Elves said.

“Please do.  We can’t let them get this kind of advantage over you,” Zinzan said.

“Now for the hard part.  Covering our tracks and making it look like we weren’t here,” Tremela said.

Aside from the weapons they also took a good deal of military rations, clothing, blankets and other equipment.  They had brought carts for this.

They spent the next two hours cleaning every trace of their movement.  Krotek and Zinzan moved the statue she had created into the woods and smashed it into unrecognizable rubble.  With the man that had been poisoned, they burned him because the snake bites were obvious.  Once that was done, the Dark Elves began making new tracks and left clues.  They left a button, some white hair and a knife.  She didn’t think that would be noticeable but they assured her that they would be found and lead to the conclusion they wanted.

Once all was finished, they went back to the city and went in through an underground tunnel that led to the “Sphinx Tavern.”  They had to load the crates in one at a time because the tunnels were small and Krotek, Zinzan and two Ogres were the only ones strong enough to carry them.  They stored most of the weapons there but they all got to arm themselves as they saw fit.  Tremela kept the long rifle, Krotek only took a flint, powder and balls, and the goblins took pistols.  She took two pistols.  Once they had what they needed, they walked back to their house.  They didn’t talk until they got back home.

Once they were safe inside their house they relaxed and began examining their new weapons.

“Kro, why didn’t you take a rifle?”  Grys said.

“Because I’m going to use the same barrel, but I want you three to make one of those flint hammers for it.”

“Oh, very easy,” Nos said sarcastically.

“Only make whole mechanism from scratch,” Yurk said.

“That all,” Grys said.

“Guys, do you know what this spiral pattern is in the barrel?”  Tremela asked.

“I’m not sure,” Nos said.  “It could be way to make stable and make it more accurate.  I heard of something like that from other Goblins.”

“Longer range, more accurate.  My kind of weapon,” Tremela said.

“I can conceal these in my robes.  Now I can be safer if I need to go out,” Nayda said.

“Oh, those humans really came up with something nice here,” Krotek said.

“It’s almost like they have goblins working for them,” Yurk said.

“Almost,” Nos said.

“I still say a goblin invented the magic powered steam engine,” Grys said.

“Trem, there is device that let you see farther.  I might can fix one up for you new long gun here.  Not just telescope.  Sturdier and adjustable,” Nos said.

Tremela’s eyes went wide.

“You could do that?”  She asked.

“After all this long time you still don’t believe us?  If we say we can do it, we can.  I don’t know how long it will take, but we will do it,” Yurk said.

While they talked of weapons, Nayda went upstairs to her room and poured the contents of her sack out onto her mattress.  Carefully she began counting every coin.  Once she finished she counted again.  Three hundred and twenty two soldi.  That wasn’t counting the rings, necklaces and other nick-nacks.

She then put all the coins in the sack and put the other stuff in a cut in her mattress.  She’d save that stuff for an emergency.

Then Tremela came in and got under the covers.  Nayda blew out the candle and crawled in as well.  When she wore pants and shirt she simply wore those to bed.  When she wore the robes she wore a thin, sleeveless short dress.  She hated wearing them to bed, but she hated wearing them at all.  Clothes never felt comfortable on her but Mom said not to let anyone see her nude unless she was going to mate.  But how literal was that really?

“We were lucky this time,” Tremela said.

“I thought so too.  I saw a soldier come out with his rifle.  He didn’t see me.  I snuck up and shot him in the back.  I can still hear his screaming Trem.   I turned him into stone just so he’d stop suffering.  I couldn’t stand it.  As much as don’t like them, I don’t want to see them suffer.  Maybe I’m not cut out for this kind of thing.”

“None of us are.  Some people hide it better than others.  I don’t think anyone gets used to it.”

“I hope I don’t get used to it.  But at the same time I hate feeling like this.  I should hate them, but I don’t.  It would be easier if I did.”

“It would be really easy for me to let myself fall in that pit of hate and become swallowed in it.  Every time I see a human I have to struggle to keep my hate down.”

“You’re stronger than me then.”

“Growing up with all my sisters, we had a small, cramped part of the cave.  Every night we’d all cuddle up like this.  All eleven of us.  It’s familiar and comforting.  Every night I need to feel someone beside me in bed.  It makes me think of home where I was happy and safe.  Without that, I don’t know where I’d be.”

She had no idea that sharing the same bed meant so much to her.  She had thought it was just to stay warm.  It was amazing how little she knew about the people she cared about.

Tremela eventually faded into sleep but Nayda stayed up. The look of pain on the man’s face kept staring at her.  She wondered if the man had family.  Did he have a wife?  Children?  A mother that loved him?  She never wanted to see that again.  As it was she knew she’d be seeing this man’s face for the rest of her life.

Was she turning into a bad person?  She had always thought of herself as good, but was she really good anymore?  How many people had she killed?  Too many.  She couldn’t kill that many and still pretend to be innocent.  She was falling farther and farther from what Mom wanted of her and what she wanted for herself.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Nayda put on her robe, hood and veil, then put a flintlock pistol into the large pocket of her robe.  In the other pocket she put the sack of three hundred Soldi.  Once she was ready she left the house and walked to the disgusting place.  She had told everyone that morning what she was going to do.  They knew it already but she wanted to get one last reassurance that it was alright with them.

She had been doing unpleasant things lately.  She had killed thirty two people so far in her life and she had never wanted to kill anyone.  If there was something she could do that would actually make the world a better place then she was going to do it.  She couldn’t sit by and hope others did the right thing for her.

When she got to the place the blue fairy was still in the window.  She looked sicker and sadder than before.  He silver dragonfly wings twitched slightly as the girl noticed Nayda.  Besides that there was no other reaction.

Nayda hurried inside and found the wretched owner woman again.

“Three hundred Soldi.  Now give me the blue fairy,” Nayda said as soon as she saw the woman.

“I’m afraid the price has gone up.”

This woman was disgusting to a level that hadn’t known existed.  She was playing with a girl’s life.

“The price is three hundred.  Now give me the girl.”

“The price is four hundred and you can’t take her without paying.”

“Yes I can.”

“And how are you going to do that girl?”  The Hobgoblin woman was chuckling slightly.  Her upturned nose and toothy mouth looked down on her as if she were nothing.

“I can kill you, your two guards and anyone else that tries to stop me.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“You really haven’t wondered why I wear this veil?  You really think I hide who I am because I’m shy?”  She didn’t want to reveal what she was, but she had to have something intimidating to tell this horrible woman.  She then remembered a villain from one of the books she read back on the island.  “Do you want to see human patrols through the District?  Do you want them to search this building?  How much illegal contraband will they find?  What if I have them just burn the place down because I don’t like you?  Give me the fairy and take your three hundred and be glad I don’t bring my guards with me.  I can make this place known to the guard captain.  He’s a very pious man.”

She hoped the woman didn’t notice how hard she was breathing.  She was furious and scared at the same time.  She had never spoken so angrily to another person before.  Her heart was beating hard, almost out of her chest.

“How about you take the fairy and keep your money as a gift of good faith.  We don’t need to trouble the guard captain with this, do we?  Perhaps you can come back any time…for free?  Whenever and whatever you like,” the Hobgoblin woman said.

“Thank you.  You’re very kind.”

The woman went over to an Elf girl and told her to fetch a dress for the fairy.  They got the fairy dressed and Nayda took her out of that sickening place as fast as she could.  She took her by the hand and led her back to the house.  The girl just followed along quietly.

Once they got back to the house she closed the door and finally allowed herself to relax.  They were free of that place.

She then looked at the fairy who stood there in an ugly gray dress that only went down slightly below the knees.  She was barefoot and standing there with her hands folded in front of her.  She was looking toward the ground, her dirty blue hair hanging down around her face like wild vines.  The look on her face wasn’t the dead one she had given in the window.  There was something else in it now, a fierceness or anger.  She looked the size of a fourteen year old girl and only came up to Nayda’s chin.  Her face was Elfen, delicate, and ageless.  She couldn’t tell if the girl really was ten or thirty.  She had never seen a face like that.  Her jaw was narrow and long with high cheekbones and ears longer even than the goblins.

“I’m going to take off my veil now.  Don’t be alarmed,” Nayda said.

She turned around, took off her veil and put her goggles on.  Then she turned around and pulled down her hood.  The fairy glanced up and went wide eyed.  Her mouth stayed closed but her eyes said that she was scared.  She stumbled back a little, but then stayed where she was.

“I’m not going to hurt you.  My name’s Nayda.  What’s yours?”

“Sanav,” she said quietly.

“Sanav, you are now free.  You are not my slave or servant.  I have no power over you.  You may do as you want now.”

Sanav stood there looking confused.  That wasn’t the reaction she had hoped for.

“I bought your freedom Sanav.  This isn’t some trick or cruel joke.  This is real.”

“What for?  I have no where to go.”

“You don’t have a home?”

“My father sold me.  I have no family anymore.  I have no money, no shoes.”

“You can stay here if you wish.  We have room, food and clothes for you.  If you stay here, you are an equal and you take no one’s orders.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why help me?  What do you want from me?”  There was a slight touch of anger in her voice.  So that was what she saw in her eyes, anger.  She had a lot of anger under her surface.

“I don’t want anything from you.”

“You’re not doing this out of the kindness of your heart.  What are you getting from this?  Is this some game?  Are you going to seduce me or force me later tonight?  Or are you working for someone else that wants me?  Are you going to make me work without pay?  Do I sleep outside in the outhouse maybe?  This is all pig dung!”

Sanav was now looking directly up at her from under her furrowed brow.  Her gray eyes held anger and pain.  There was also fear in there.

Nayda reached in her coat and pulled out the flintlock pistol.

“Here, take this.”

“What?”

“Take it.  If you fear me then take it.  With this no one can force you to do anything.”

Sanav slowly reached out and took the pistol.  She looked at it for a few moments before putting it down to her side.

“Let’s get you some clothes.  You can borrow one of my dresses for now.”  She only had two dresses, a dark red one and a black one.  They would be big on her but it didn’t matter for now.  She took Sanav up to her room and gave her the dress.  Then she left the room and waited.  A minute later she came out wearing the dress.

“It’s too big.  If you have needle and thread I can make a temporary fix,” Sanav said.

“I’ll go get some.”

They sat at the table while Sanav made the dress and sleeves a bit shorter.  She seemed oblivious to anything around her as she worked with the needle.

“Stay here as long as you want.  This is your home.  I live here with a few others.”  She went through and explained it all to her.  She didn’t tell how they had escaped the military or were helping the resistance.  No need to let her in on that just yet.

“What are you?”  Sanav asked.

“A Gorgon.  No one can know that I’m here.  That is the one rule I have.  You have to keep my existence secret.  That’s why I wear the hood and veil.  Without these goggles, my eyes would turn you to stone.”

She just snickered.  Sanav clearly didn’t believe her.  Were Gorgons so rare that people hadn’t heard of them?

Tremela was the first to come home.  She rushed in the door smiling.  She was still wearing the semi-transparent scarves, cheap jewelry and flashy makeup from her performance.  It was a bit too seductive looking for Nayda’s likes but Tremela said that she didn’t have a choice about it.

“Did it work?  Did you rescue her?”  Temela asked.

Nayda pointed to the table where Sanav sat with her needle and thread.

“Welcome to our home!  My name’s Tremela.”

“Sanav.”

“You’re welcome here as long as you please.  Consider this your home.  If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to tell us,” Trem said.

“She could use some clothes that actually fit,” Nayda said.

“Tomorrow I have off.  We’ll take her shopping.  Now let me go get changed out of this ridiculous outfit.”  Tremela literally flew upstairs and into their bedroom.

“Well, the others should be coming back soon.  I better start thinking about dinner.  Do you have a favorite?”

Sanav shook her head.

Nonsense.  Of course she had a favorite but if she didn’t want to tell then she didn’t have to.  Nayda wasn’t much of a cook but she could at least get some things done in the kitchen before the others came home.  She put some rice and water in a big pot and got out a bag of beans.  She could at least get those things going until the brothers arrived.  They were the unofficial cooks.  Sometimes Krotek cooked on his day off.  Tremela and she were pretty useless in the kitchen though.  All they had back in their homes were cooked meat and other simple things.  She was good at frying a fish or a bird, but that was about it.

Then the brothers came in arguing about some technical specifics of a machine.

“Grys, Yurk, Nos?  This is our new guest.  Meet Sanav.”

They all fell silent as they looked at the blue skinned girl that was just slightly taller than they were.  As short as Nayda was, she now had a lot of people around her that were much shorter.  It made her feel like a giant.

“Greetings!” Grys said.

“Welcome!” Nos said.

“Make yourself at home!” Yurk said.

“If you need something, tell us,” Grys said.

“I was hoping she’d be green,” Nos said.

“We’re still the shortest ones here,” Yurk said.

“We be in our room working on Trem’s…telescope,” Grys said.  The Goblins then hurried up to their room and closed the door.  She could always hear the sounds of them working on things when they were home.  She had seen the inside of their room once and it looked like a huge collection of bits of junk.  How they had managed to gather so many parts in such a short period of time was beyond her understanding.

An hour later Krotek came in looking tired.  He hadn’t had much sleep the night before because of their little ambush on the train and then he had to go straight to work.  He worked so hard to earn so little money.

Then she remembered the three hundred soldi.  With that he could go back east and search for his family.  What would that mean for her though?

Krotek noticed Sanav immediately.  Sanav gawked up at the hairy giant.

“So our guest has arrived,” Krotek said in a calm, cheerful voice.  “I hope they’re making you feel at home.”

“Uh…yes,” Sanav managed to say.

“Good, good.  Oh, Nayda’s trying to cook?  That’s not so good.”

Krotek walked over to where Nayda stood by the iron stove.  He gently pushed her aside by simply stepping up to the stove.

“I’ll take it from here Nayda.  See to your guest. I’ll make a good meal that’s proper for a celebration.”

“One of these days I’ll learn to cook and then I’ll be kicking you out of the kitchen and you’d have to go.  You may be bigger than me, but I can turn you to stone.  Tell Sanav that I can to turn people to stone.”

Krotek looked over to the small blue girl.

“She can definitely turn people to stone with her eyes.  In all seriousness, don’t ever look at her without her veil or goggles on.”  Then he turned back to the cooking.

Tremela came out of the room looking normal again.  She flew down the stairs and took her place at the table.

“Oh, dear.  We’ll need a new chair,” Tremela said.

It turned out that they didn’t.  The brothers grabbed their bowls of Krotek’s cooking and ran back up to their room/workshop.  It was the four of them for dinner then.  Despite his size and bulk, Krotek served them with smoothness and refinement.  He placed bowls and spoons in front of everyone and then a loaf of bread in the middle.  Finally he sat down, dwarfing all others at the table.  Even his bowl was much bigger than theirs.

Clearly Sanav has had a rough time and Nayda didn’t want to ask her about her past.  It was too early to talk about her future too.  The poor girl had had a whirlwind of a day.  So they talked about a new Ork play in town, the coming winter and anything else that really wasn’t important.  Sanav stayed silent the whole time, only answering direct questions with one syllable responses.

As Tremela was talking to Sanav about her home village she went up to Krotek as he put the dishes in the washing tub.  She took a deep breath before speaking.

“Krotek.  I need to speak to you.  It’s a long story, but I didn’t have to pay to free Sanav.  I have the three hundred.  I want to give it to you so you can go search for your family.”

Krotek stopped what he was doing and turned to look at her.  He was so massive that she felt like a short Goblin compared to him.  Just one of his arms had more mass than she had in her entire body.

“Three hundred?”  He asked.

“That’s correct.”

He folded his arms and thought.  She could tell when he was deep in thought because he ground his teeth together when he did.

“It’s a five week journey from here to Milas.  Winter will be here within a matter of weeks.  If I’m to leave before winter I have to leave now.  Otherwise, I’ll have to wait until spring.  Traveling alone in winter would be suicide.  I don’t even know if they’re still in Milas.  Let me think about this until morning.”

“Take all the time you need.”

“Time is one thing I don’t have.  I have to decide now.”

“You’ll make the right decision.  I trust your wisdom.”

“Me wise?  If you think I’m wise, they you must be a fool.”

“If you agreed with me, then I would have doubted it myself.  Didn’t you say that before?”

“So I have. Thank you Liesha.”

He patted her on the head and went upstairs to his room.  He needed sleep and she didn’t want him staying up all night thinking about this.

Nayda then went back to the table.

“I was just telling Sanav how you like to catch fish,” Tremela said.

“I use what I have,” Nayda said.  “If you had snakes on your head, wouldn’t you want to put them to work?”

“Time for bed now,” Tremela said.

“Where’s she going to sleep?” Nayda said.  Then she remembered that they had bought two mattresses, but they only used one of them.

“I guess I’ll have to double up with you.  I hope that won’t be a problem,” Tremela said, obviously trying to sound normal.

They went upstairs and got Sanav’s bed ready.  Tremela wore a tight, open backed vest that let her wings move freely.  She usually wore that to bed as well.

“And that?”  Sanav asked, pointing to Tremela’s long gun that was standing up in the corner.

“Oh, that.  Well, I’m a hunter.  I use that to hunt,” Tremela said.  She was an awful liar.

“And the armor?”  Sanav pointed to Nayda’s armor in the corner.

“It’s a dangerous world.  We spent some time in the Army.  I didn’t tell you because we escaped.  We came here to hide,” Nayda said.

Tremela cast a serious look at her direction.

Sanav merely shrugged.

“That’ll be your bed,” Tremela said, eager to change the topic.  Sanav looked down at the mattress and nodded.  Then she took off her dress revealing the black underwear she head been wearing in the window.  It didn’t cover much and didn’t look practical at all.  Nayda didn’t like it one bit.

Sanav took the pistol from the pocket in the dress and got into bed still holding it.  Tremela shot Nayda a glance as if to ask her about the pistol but Nayda held up her hand and nodded that it was alright.

In the middle of the night Nayda woke up.  This time the dream had the man she had shot at the train, but he was back in Tight Water City along with several other people she had killed.  She sat up and rubbed her eyes.  The first thing she noticed was that it was much colder than usual.  Then she looked over and saw Sanav standing at the open window.  She just had her underwear on and the pistol in her hand.

Nayda got up and went over to her.

“You alright?”  Nayda asked.

“You shouldn’t have given me the pistol,” Sanav said.

“Why?”

“This whole time I’ve been wanting to use it on myself.”

It was a few moments before Nayda even knew what to say.  She hadn’t ever considered that she’d want to kill herself.

“I’m sorry,” Nayda said weakly.

“Don’t worry.  I won’t shoot myself now.”

“I’m glad.”

Neither of them said anything for a while.  They just looked out the window while Nayda shivered.  When she looked over to Sanav she saw that she was crying.  Her shoulders were shaking and her face was contorted into a look of unmistakable pain.  Nayda quickly wrapped her arms around her and held her tightly to her chest.

“It’s okay Sanav.  You’re safe.  No one’s going to hurt you.  Don’t think about the past.  You’re starting a new life now.  Tomorrow is the first day of your new life.”

She held her there for a long time while Sanav cried and shivered from the cold.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

Nayda looked up at the hairy Minotaur that stood by the door with a large backpack.  The sun was barely up and he was already packed to go.  She doubted that he got much sleep at all.

“I have to go Liesha,” he said.

“You trusted me to do the right thing so now I’m trusting you,” Nayda said.

“Go find your family Krotek,” Tremela said.

“May Dyrisk, god of travel aid you,” Grys said.

“I made this for you,” Nos said.  He handed him a modified flintlock pistol that had a larger and thicker trigger guard that came down to the end of the pommel.  But what really caught her eye was the blade that had been attached under the barrel, effectively turning it into a short sword.

“When you told us you were leaving last night, we hurried and made this for you,” Yuk said.  Krotek took it and felt its weight.

“Thank you.  I appreciate this,” he said.  Then he turned toward everyone.  “I’m not good with goodbyes, so farewell,” he said.

Tremela and she gave him a hug and then he was out the door.  Just like that, he was gone.

It suddenly felt so much lonelier here, like the house had lost half the people in it.  The brothers wandered back up to their room and she wandered to the kitchen.

“You go sit down.  I want an edible breakfast today,” Tremela said.

She didn’t argue.  Sanav and she sat at the table while Tremela made eggs and potatoes.  It felt strange to act so normal because she felt anything but normal.

The Goblins went up stairs to get ready for the day.  They’d argue over what new piece of knick-knack they’d bring to the market.

“You were friends?” Sanav asked.

“He’s like my father.”

Sanav nodded and leaned back in the chair.  She didn’t have very good posture.

“What do you do?”  Sanav asked.

“I clean, I read, keep the fire going and go out of my mind with boredom.”

“What does Tremela do?”

“She sings at a tavern in one of the human districts.”

“And the Goblins?”

“They own a booth in the market.  Come to think of it, I’ve never actually been there.”

“When we go shopping, we’ll go take a look,” Tremela said.

After breakfast Nayda got on her full hood and veil and they headed out to look for some clothes for Sanav.  She didn’t like stomping around in her over sized black boots.  It felt more like something Krotek would wear if he had feet instead of hooves.  At least the hooded cloak hid the pistol she was carrying.  The gloves she didn’t mind because they were thin and actually kind of pretty.

They went into a woman’s clothing store where a female Satyr was reading a book behind the counter.  The Satyr was dressed in a flowing light blue dress that looked like it was made of air.  None of the other clothes in the store looked that nice.

“What have we today?”  The clerk asked with a giant smile.

“We need some clothes for our friend here,” Nayda said, pointing to Sanav.

“It’s not every day we get one of the larger species of fairy here.  I have a section for smaller clientele, but don’t worry, it’s not a children’s section.  You look so young, how old are you?”

“Twenty one,” Sanav said.

Nayda was surprised.  She didn’t think Sanav was older than her.

The clerk took Sanav and quickly measured her.  The whole time the clerk kept suggesting, light material in bright colors.  The outfit that Sanav finally picked out was a heavy black dress in an Orkish style that fastened in the front with buckles and went up to her jaw almost.  She also got black riding boots similar to Nayda’s but smaller and a red scarf to go around her neck.  The clerk didn’t seem at all pleased with Sanav’s choices.  The Satyr did do an excellent job of sewing in buttoned flaps for Sanav’s wings however.

Once they were out of the store they headed toward the market.

“Why black?”  Nayda asked.

“Because I feel like black,” Sanav said.  She looked like a pretty girl, but she was anything but on the inside.

They got to the market and quickly spotted the three brother’s stall which had a sign over it that said “The Three Brothers’ Mechanical Marvels.”  Krotek had come up with the slogan.  They were there shouting out what they had for sale.  There was a smaller sign that said they also repaired machines.  Their handwriting needed improvement.

“Come to see what we have?  Finally got curious?”  Grys said as they approached.

Their booth was covered in more strange things than their room.  She didn’t know what half the stuff was, but she recognized a telescope, a pressure cooker, and several clocks.

“Like the new look!” Nos said, looking at Sanav.

“I didn’t want to look sexy,” Sanav muttered.

“Not as revealing as what you wear to work, eh Trem?” Yurk said.

“Shut up,” Tremela hissed.

The Goblins laughed but Nayda didn’t find anything funny in the situation.  She had never seen Tremela get mad like that.

Then she heard some shouting.  Nayda looked over and saw a squad of armored soldiers marching in.  They had three men with pikes and three with matchlocks.  The officer followed behind with a sword.

“What’s going on?”  Nayda asked.

“This isn’t good.  Humans in District always mean trouble,” Grys said.

“We all need to go now,” Nos said.

“Let’s go,” Tremela said.

Then the officer started yelling something as his soldiers moved out and began grabbing people.

“Attention, occupants of the sub-human district.  Last night there was a crime.  A nobleman was murdered in his sleep.  We suspect the culprit came from the District.  Please do not interfere with our investigation,” the officer shouted.

“They need people to hang for a crime!”  Nayda said said.

“One non-human is as good as another, right?”  Tremela said.

They all began running away.  They weren’t the only ones running.  She looked back to make sure soldiers weren’t coming after them.  The soldiers had grabbed some people and weren’t going after any more.

She stopped once she got into an alleyway and turned to look back.  The soldiers, having gotten their “culprits” were turning back toward the gate that led to the human districts.

That was it then.  Some crime happens to a human so they round up the nearest non-humans and punish them.

“I hate humans,” Sanav whispered through her teeth.

It sounded so strange coming from someone else’s mouth.  She had wondered if she hated humans, but now that she actually heard someone say it, it sounded wrong.  She didn’t hate humans.

“Krotek said that they were allowing less supplies into the District.  Do they do this kind of thing often?”  Nayda asked.

“You mean round people up?  Yup, yup.  When humans have big to-do, they grab nearest monster.  Never see them return,” Grys said.

“I not hear nothing of train wreck,” Yurk said.  Grys quickly hit him in the head.  They weren’t supposed to talk about the resistance in front of Sanav.  They couldn’t trust her yet.

“What train wreck?”  Sanav asked.

“Nothing important,” Tremela said.

“Let’s get home before they decide to find another crime to blame on us,” Nayda said.

The brothers stayed with their booth.  There was a warehouse where all the booths were rolled into at night, but they didn’t want to close down shop when it was so early.  The three women then went back to the house.

Sanav stayed fairly quiet for the next few days.  She didn’t see any crying or anger, just a cold, emotionless mask.  She never did anything with her hair and just let it hang where it would.

Even worse, without Krotek there, she was beginning to grow sad.  “Sad” was the only way she could describe it.  Things started to loose their meaning.  She slept in longer even when she couldn’t sleep, which was growing far too often; she just laid there for hours.  Whey they were up Nayda would teach Sanav how to read and that at least gave her a small purpose.

Two weeks later they had their first snow.  It was only a light sprinkling that was melted away by noon, but it was the first thing in a while that actually made her excited.  She had never seen snow and it was as pretty as she thought it would be.

She and Sanav had stood next to each other in the window looking out at the falling white flakes.

“I’ve never seen snow before,” Nayda said.

“Never?  Where you from?”  Sanav asked.

“I grew up on a small island south of here.  It was just me and Mom for a long while.”

“I wish I could get away from all of this.  I hate it here.  I hate being treated like animals by the humans.  I hate being treated like an animal by desperate people.  I wish I could just go somewhere far away where nobody knows me.”

“Why do you hate humans?”

“My father worked for one, but instead of earning money, he somehow got into debt with them.  So he sold me to the humans.  When they got tired of me, they sold me to that brothel.  They ruined my father’s life and mine.

“What do you think of the resistance?”

“I think they’re not doing enough.”

“Would you join them if you had a chance?”

“Only if they actually did something instead of sitting around.”

“I wish they did more too, but the situation is more complex than that.”

“How?”

“If the humans know people from the District are fighting them, they will punish the innocent people of the District.”

“They’re being punished already.  The problem isn’t that they’d be punished.  The problem is that they’re innocent.  They shouldn’t be.  They should all be doing what they can to fight the humans.  We had this land first.  We should take it back.”

Maybe Sanav was ready to join.  She legitimately hated the humans and non-humans that worked for them.  She also didn’t sound lukewarm in her opinions.  She needed to talk to Tremela and the brothers first.  After all, it wasn’t just her life at risk if they couldn’t trust her.

“Come.  Let’s go get some firewood,” Nayda said.

They were out so they had to go to the market.  Once she was covered head to toe, they went out into the cold, gray day.  The thick clouds were like a heavy blanket draped over the world.  There was no telling where the sun was.

When they got to the market, the booth that had wood was almost empty.  The Troglodyte lizard man at the booth just shook his head.

“Sorry, but we haven’t had a new shipment of wood in a week.  Apparently it’s all at the dock, but the human agents won’t let it in.  They’re not letting anything in.”

“Why would they do that?”  Nayda asked.

“Because they can.  They don’t want us to live here.  They don’t care if we suffer or die.  They’d prefer if we just disappeared,” the lizard-man said.

“They want to starve us out,” Sanav said.

“Looks that way.”

“They’re always doing things like this.  They’re killing us slowly.  Every year they make stupid laws that hurt us.”

They returned to a cold house and sat on their mattress huddled in a blanket.  The little wood they did buy they didn’t use.  They’d have to use that for cooking.

“You and Tremela always share a bed?”

“Yes.”

“I think she views you like a little sister.  She watches over you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen the way she flinches when you drop a knife in the kitchen or when she helps you lift something.  She’s worried about you getting hurt and not just physically hurt.”

“I haven’t noticed.”

“You’re very naive.”

“I am not.”

“You are.”

“I’ve seen and experienced terrible things in my short life.  I’m not naïve.”

“You are about some things.”

“Maybe.”

“Definitely.  You’re not as happy as you let on.  You hide sadness.  Why are you sad?  You miss the Minotaur?”

“That’s part of it, but there’s more to it.  Every night I see the faces of the people I’ve killed.  I can’t sleep at night and every day I care less and less.  I don’t know what’s going on with me.”

“You’re suffering.  That much is clear.  I know a little about the subject.  My mother died when I was young and it was just me and my father.  He was an Elf living here in the District and he was always drunk.  He hated who I was and he hated that he was stuck with me.  His debt with the humans didn’t help the situation.”

“I’m sorry.  I want to help you, but I don’t know if I can.”

“I know you want to help me.  It’s hard for me to believe, but I do.  I know I’ve been acting strange but I can’t help it.  I’ve been trying to think of a way to thank you, but I can’t.”

“Just be happy.  That’s the best thing you can do.  If you could smile, that would make everything worth it.

Sanav couldn’t manage a smile.

When Tremela got back, they had to explain about there being very little firewood.  Without wood, they couldn’t stay warm and they couldn’t cook their food.  If they were in this situation then there’d be a lot of people like this.

She took Tremela into the storeroom so she could have some privacy.

“Trem, I think Sanav is ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready to join us, the resistance.”

“I think so as well.  Let’s take her to see the Sphinx and Troll.”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

They led Sanav through the narrow streets toward “The Sphinx” tavern.  It was a cold night and the wind was going through her robes like they weren’t there.  There were few things she hated more than cold.

“Where are we going?”  Sanav asked for the fourth time.  She apparently didn’t like the cold either.  Her wings were fluttering to try to keep warm.

“You’ll see, but I think you’ll like it,” Nayda said.

“We think you’ll appreciate it at the least,” Tremela said.

“I have my pistol with me,” she said.

“You won’t need it tonight,” Tremela said.

Nayda was glad when they finally entered through the door of the tavern and closed out the cold.

“They’re expecting you in the back,” the Dark Elf said.

“Thanks,” Tremela said.

They went through the narrow hallway covered in posters and knocked on the door at the end.  The little hatch flipped open and a red eye looked at them.

“That’s the new one?”  Zanzin’s voice said.

“Yes it is,” Nayda said.

“Bring her in.”

The door opened and they came in.  Noodeen sat on her large pillow wearing several thicker winter scarves.  Her brown almond eyes looked Sanav over and then waved a paw for them to come closer.  Again she was pretending to be the leader but now Nayda noticed her constant glances over to Zanzin.  She sat there looking as beautiful as ever.

“Do you know who we are?”  Noodeen asked.

Sanav looked over to Nayda, slightly confused.

“I don’t.  Who are you?”  Sanav asked.

“We are members of the resistance.  Our struggle is against the human Republic.  We’ve been told that you share a like mind.  Tell me, what do you feel should be done?”

“We need to fight back!”

“How?”

“They need to see that they can’t hurt us without being hurt back.  They take us, treat us like dung and we do nothing.  They’ll keep doing it until they get hurt back.  We need to fight and maybe they’ll stop,” Sanav said.

“Or fight us even harder,” Noodeen said.

“Then so will we.  It can’t be worse than slowly dying day by day.  I refuse to be forced to do anything!  Make the people in charge suffer.”

Noodeen smiled, showing her fangs.

“So, you think we should assassinate their leaders?”  Noodeen asked.

“I do and not just that.  I think we should do something to the city’s garrison.  Blow up their armory, kidnap their captains, make them fear us for once.”

“What you’re suggesting will lead to many deaths on both sides.”

“I know.  I’d rather die than live like a slave.”

“Do you consider your goals realistic?”  Zanzin said.

“I do.”

Zanzin then laughed.  His laugh shook the room.

“I like this girl,” Zanzin said.

“I’m not a girl.  I’m twenty one,” Sanav said.

“Excuse me,” Zanzin said.

“I’m not sure I agree with your approach, but it is worth thinking about,” Noodeen said.  “What do you two think?”  She looked up at Tremela and Nayda.

“I don’t know.  There has to be a way to do this with less death,” Nayda said.

“I just don’t know,” Tremela said. “I don’t like the hatred.  Hatred won’t help us.”

“It’ll motivate us.  I have it so I might as well use it.  Don’t be such a weakling,” Sanav said.

“Well, we have to do something.  They’re preventing necessary supplies from coming into the district.  If we don’t do something, people will freeze and starve,” Noodeen said.

“We have the tunnel out of the city,” Zanzin said.  “We might have to use that for a flow of firewood.”

“At what point do we say that it’s alright to openly fight the Republic?”  Nayda asked.

“Before we’re too week to fight back,” Sanav said.

“How many of the people here will actually fight back?” Nayda asked.

She didn’t know if Sanav was wrong but she wanted to know all the options first.  She didn’t have a better idea anyways.

“I don’t know.  Probably not enough,” Zanzin said.

“Welcome to the resistance,” Noodeen said.

Sanav smiled for the first time.  It pricked her heart that she couldn’t make Sanav smile.

“Do you have any experience in combat?”  Zanzin asked.

“Only getting hit,” Sanav said.

“Do you have any useful skills, abilities, contacts?”  Noodeen asked.

“No.  I can cook, clean, and I’ll do whatever it takes to kill those bastards,” Sanav said.

“That’s a start,” Zanzin said.

“We’re planning on doing some training, especially with marksmanship.  Obviously we’ll have to do it out of the city.  We want you all there,” Noodeen said.

“Of course,” Nayda said.

They sat down and talked to her about what they’ve done so far and about the train they had hit.

“How are we getting this information?”  Sanav asked.

“That’s a secret,” Noodeen said.

“Well, tell your secret to find out who’s ordering the guards to prevent supplies coming in,” Sanav said.

“I’ll see what can be done.”

Out of all the guns in their armory, she chose a wide bore shotgun.  It spread its shot out so wide that even someone with her lack of experience couldn’t miss.  The only problem was that she was so small that the recoil would be a serious consideration.

Sanav attached a leather loop on the end of the buttstock so she could sling it and let it hang down.  Then she slipped the shotgun under her coat and they walked home

Once the house door was closed behind them Sanav began laughing.

“Feeling better, Sanav?”  Tremela asked.

“More than better.  Not only do I get a chance to hit them, I also have to tools to do it!  Finally, there’ll be justice.”

“You sure it’s not revenge?” Tremela asked.

“Same thing in this case,” Sanav said.

“Well, we’re glad you’re here.  We need all the help we can get, especially since Krotek left,” Nayda said.

“Thank you guys,” Sanav said with a real smile.  She then pulled out her shortened shotgun and looked it over.

“Don’t worry, we’ll teach you all about how to use it, but not right now.  It’s bed time,” Tremela said.

The next week didn’t see a single shot fired in anger.  Instead they snuck out of the city everyday to help the resistance chop firewood for the people.  Neither of them were very effective with an axe, so they set both of them on a double saw and they sawed already downed trees to make them more manageable.

The entire week was filled with sawing trees.  Her arms and hands hurt, but she was glad to be out of the house and doing something that actually helped people.  The problem was, there just weren’t enough of them to supply the entire District with what they needed.  Krotek would have been very useful at chopping wood.  Zanzin was splitting logs with one shattering chop.

After the seventh day, they took a break and had shooting practice.  They had to take wagons far enough from the city walls so their gunshots wouldn’t be heard.  Tremela made sure to have that day off.  The Brothers had finally finished the aiming telescope on her long-gun.  Zanzin was calling it a “rifle” because the grooves were called “rifling” and it was there to stabilize the ball and make it fly straighter.

By the end of the day Tremela was hitting targets much further than anyone had thought possible.  Sanav wasn’t a natural shot, but she was determined and she kept at it even when others were taking breaks.  She practiced the loading and firing drill again and again.  The recoil pushed her back a good ways, so she had to lean forward and put her entire bodyweight into each shot.  Nayda trained with the rifle but spent most of her time with the pistol.  She practiced drawing it as quickly as she could and hitting the target as accurately as she could.  They all had to stuff cotton in their ears because those guns were very loud.

As the sun was going down and everyone was packing it up to go back to the city, Noodeen came up to them.

“We asked about who was pushing to freeze out the District,” Noodeen said.  “It’s a senator.  They’ve voted to put in a warehouse district where we all live.  They want us out and so they’re going to starve us out.  Our contact said to expect raids by the city guard to increase.  This isn’t looking good.”

“Do we know where this senator lives?”  Sanav asked.

“We do.”

“Are we going to do anything about it?”

“We’re working on a plan right now.”

They got back in the house around midnight and they all crawled under the same covers.  It was freezing outside and they didn’t have enough wood to keep a fire going.  So they huddled together for body heat.  Since Nayda was the most susceptible to cold, they kept her in the middle.  Also, Nayda suspected that Sanav didn’t like Tremela.  They were always arguing about what was the right thing to do in regards to the resistance.

Just before dawn Tremela got up and got dressed for work.  She put on her strange top that barely covered anything, then the several layers of semi-transparent scarves.

“I hate those clothes,” Nayda said.

“So do I, but this job let’s me hear many things.  The humans there don’t pay attention to me, just my singing.  What I learn there, I pass to Noodeen and the others.”

“But is it worth it?”

“They look at me is all.  It’s against the rules for them to touch me.  They touch me I’ll claw out their eyes.”

“Be careful.”

“I always am.”

She kissed Nayda on the forehead and then left for work.  They had their own work to do.  In an hour they had to be at the tavern to sneak out and chop more wood.  She usually let Sanav sleep till the last minute.  She looked so peaceful when she slept.  She’d do anything to make Sanav happy, but she was so filled with hatred that she didn’t know if she could get through.  Times like this she wished that she was an artist.  She would draw Sanav sleeping.  It seemed that every line of her face and curve of her jaw was a masterwork of poetry.

A half hour later Tremela came back in the house and stomped upstairs.  When she entered the bedroom her mouth was curled in a snarl.

“The guards at the gate said that no more non-humans were allowed outside the District.  No more work for us!  What do they expect us to do?”

“Starve,” Sanav said with her eyes still closed.

“Half the District works as servants and laborers outside the District.  No reason was given, but they said it was absolute.  No one leaves or enters the District.  They really do want to kill us off!”

“Do you believe me now?”  Sanav asked.

“Doesn’t look like I have a choice,” Tremela said.

“I wish I could say that this was a mistake or some misunderstanding, but even I’m not that naïve,” Nayda said.

Tremela changed back to her normal clothes which now included fur lined sleeves and a fur hat.  When she changed she never seemed to have a problem with showing herself nude.  Nayda tried not to look, but Trem’s breasts were so much bigger than her own or even Sanav’s.  The soldiers had always talked about how they liked big ones.  Did that mean she wasn’t attractive to the soldiers?  Why would she even want to be?  She knew what she thought was beautiful, but she didn’t think it was the same for others.  She liked her own chest and thought larger breasts would just be a hassle.

“I’m going to go make breakfast,” Tremela said and stormed downstairs.

“You were looking at me while I slept,” Sanav said.

“Oh?  Um…sorry.”

“Why?”

“Well, I think you’re very pretty.”

Sanav opened her eyes.

“You are naïve,” Sanav said and got out of bed.

“What am I naïve about this time?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said with a faint smile.

After breakfast they all went to the Tavern.

“They’ve stepped up patrols along the city wall,” Noodeen said.

“We can’t sneak out during the day because the tunnel comes out close enough to be seen from the walls.  Tomorrow we’ll have to start before dawn,” Noodeen said.

“I thought they wanted us out,” Nayda said.

“They also don’t want us trying anything,” Noodeen said.

“How are we going to strike back?”  Sanav asked.

“We have other ways into the human district,” Noodeen said.

“How?” Sanav asked.

“There are certain, ancient, unused sewer tunnels that can be used to sneak in.  I’ll talk to our contact today and hopefully tomorrow night we’ll be able to do something.  This has to be answered.  We have to let them know that if they want to hurt us, they won’t do it without a fight,” Noodeen said.

“Keep in mind though, that if we do this, there will be blood,” Zanzin said.  “We’ll need to use you on this Nayda.  That means we’ll show our hand and they’ll know that we have a Gorgon.”

“I understand,” Nayda said.

“Are you sure?”  Tremela asked.

“I’m sure.  I do one thing very good and I need to do that thing to help us,” Nayda said.

Sanav reached up and patted her on the shoulder.

“Thank you Nayda,” Sanav said.

“Tomorrow night, meet back here prepared for some serious work,” Noodeen said.

They left the tavern and went to the market to talk to the brothers.

“We need you to start making…what you make best,” Tremela said.

The three Goblins looked at each other.

“You mean, there’s another party soon?”  Grys asked.

“Yes.  Can you make Sanav a breastplate as well?”

“We started yesterday.  Without blacksmith shop, we can’t do what we could do.  It not be pretty, but it’ll work,” Nos said.

“I don’t want it to look pretty,” Sanav said.

“Good, because it’s ugly.  Well, if we going to make treats for party, we better pack up shop.”

They helped the brothers get everything packed away into the warehouse and they went home.

Tremela and Sanav began taking leather straps and pouches that the Goblins had been collecting and made ball and powder pouches that would fit tightly to their bodies.  They made Nayda get on her armor so they could measure where to put them and how big.

By dusk of the second day, Nayda had her armor on, two pistols on her thighs, and a belt with ammo and a bandolier across her chest with leather powder bags.  They all had similar gear.  Sanav’s body armor looked thick and heavy, but she didn’t seem to notice it.  It looked to be made of several pieces and there was a ridge running down the middle.  Grys had said it was to help deflect the bullet.

Once thy got their weapons and were ready, they put on heavy long coats to cover up and hurried to the tavern.  They carried three backpacks of the bombs and grenades that the brothers had made.  When they got there Zanzin was strapping on a breastplate and Noodeen had a Hobgoblin putting her armor on.  She wore a fully enclosed helmet, light armor and gauntlets that had mean looking blades on them.  Nayda didn’t know that Noodeen fought as well.  There were others there as well.  The Dark Elf was putting on the armor of a Sernan Kingdom soldier.  So, he was more than a bartender.  They gave them each a bandolier that went across the chest that carried two more pistols.

“Are we expecting this much of a fight?”  Nayda asked, suddenly getting much more nervous.

“We sincerely hope not, but we need to be prepared,” Noodeen said.

Once everyone was ready, they left the tavern and into an abandoned house that had an entrance to the old sewer system.  Nayda looked down into the black hole and swallowed hard.

 

 

Chapter 17

 

 

The ancient sewer tunnels were wide enough for four people to stand shoulder to shoulder.  The water was ankle deep and the vaulted ceilings were decorated with important looking people that looked like Elves.

“Are those Elves?”  Nayda asked.

“Yes.  This city was first built by the Elves a thousand years ago.  During the Gosha War, the Humans occupied it and haven’t left.  Most of the city was burned down so they remade it.  Goten is a corruption of Gosha, the former name of this city,” Zanzin said.

“How do you know so much about this?”  Nayda asked.

“I read books.”

“He’s always reading,” Noodeen said.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard any of that,” Sanav said.

“Because the humans don’t want to educate non-humans.  They don’t want us to know how powerful and proud we once were,” Zanzin said.

“Now they call us ‘monsters,’ and even worse names,” Noodeen said.

The soldiers used to call her a monster.  She hated that term.

“Quiet now, we should be under human territory now,” Zanzin said.

They made their way deep into the human city.  Nayda didn’t know how far, but it felt like a long ways.  She kept checking her gear to make sure it was tight and secured.  Her armor felt heavier than usual.  She had gotten out of practice wearing it.  There was the formed plate that covered her upper chest, the plate that covered her belly, her thighs and upper and lower arms.  She took off her boots once she found out that they’d be going into water.  If she was going to be wet and cold, she might as well have free feet.

After having gone at least two miles, they came to a rope ladder that looked fresh.  It was attached to the top by thick nails into the stone.  Whoever put this there put it in from up there.  That had to have been their contact.  Clearly this contact had access to the palace.

The Dark Elf went first.  He moved silently up the ladder and waited.  Maybe he was listening.  Then he lifted the round door and crawled out.  Next was Noodeen who made it up surprisingly easy.  Her body was like a lion’s, but her paws had opposable ‘thumbs.’  Next Sanav went up, but she flew up to the top and then crawled up.  Her flight wasn’t so much in her wings, but in the magic that was somehow apart of her, like Nayda’s eyes.

Once they were all up, they found themselves in a storage room full of barrels.  One wall had a honeycomb rack of bottles.  It was dark and only a little light from a crack in a door illuminated the room.  She could see the heat from people but she knew others couldn’t see that well.

Then she noticed that one of the people in the room hadn’t come with them.  A man in full armor stood near the door.  She was about to draw one of her pistols, but Zanzin went up to him.

“I’ll check to see if it’s clear, then I’ll show you the way.  I can’t go with you though,” the human male said.

“I’ve studied the maps.  Just tell us where to go and we’ll continue from here,” Zan said.

She wanted to know who this human was and why he was helping them.

The human lit a small lantern and Zan unrolled a map on top of one of the barrels.

“Right there is the senator’s room.  There is the garrison’s barracks and there is their armory,” the human said.

“First we hit the barracks while they’re all asleep then we’ll blow up their armory,” Zan said.

“I’ll take a small group to take out the senator,” Noodeen said.

“Nayda, Tremela, Sanav, follow Noodeen,” Zanzin said.  “Everyone else, follow me.”

Zanzin’s team of ten people left first then Noodeen left.

“Good luck,” the human said as they left.  She turned to look at him, but he was already heading away with his back to them.

The hallway she now found herself in had thin red carpet and paintings and tapestries hung on the walls.  The roof was rounded and decorated with geometric patterns.  So this was the palace.  It was impressive in a cold, soulless kind of way.

They passed several closed doors and hallways.  With each corner they stopped and made sure the way was clear.  The plan said that they’d get to the senator first and after they finished with him, they’d quickly head toward the barracks and armory in case trouble had erupted.

Occasionally they’d see a lantern of one of the guards and that made them easy to avoid.

Suddenly a door opened in front of them and a man in fancy clothes walked out.  He looked up from where he was fastening his belt and saw them.  Before Nayda could raise her goggles up, Noodeen struck him in the face with her bladed paw.  The three steel blades slashed the man’s throat, stopping him from yelling out.  A second claw slashed across his face, splattering blood and one of his eyes against the wall.  Noodeen was inhumanly fast.  Nayda and Sanav pulled the body back into the latrine that he had emerged from.

They continued without a word.  Finally they came to the final corner.  Noodeen peeked out very quickly.

“Two guards,” Noodeen whispered.  “It’s your turn Nayda.”

Nayda walked out from behind the corner and headed straight toward the two guards like everything was normal.  She had her snakes pulled back in a tail so in the dark she would appear to be human.  She had left all her equipment behind but kept a pistol in her belt at the small of her back.

“Hey, who are you?”  One of the guards asked.

“The senator sent for me,” she said.  Sanav had told her to say that.

“He didn’t tell us,” one of the guards said.  The other guard then lit a lantern and held it up.  As the light brought her face and eyes into view, they had just enough time to register surprise before they were turned to stone.  Their clothes and everything else remained normal; just their bodies were petrified.

She hadn’t realized that she had been holding her breath.  She took several quick breaths and put her hand to her chest to feel her heart pounding.

“Excellent work!”  Noodeen said as she came up from behind.

They brought up her things and she quickly put her harnesses and armor back on.  Tremela tried the door.  The knob turned.  She slowly opened the door and Sanav and Noodeen went in first. Nayda went in next and Tremela stayed at the door as watch out.

Inside was the largest bedroom she had seen.  The senators all had huge mansions, but while they were in session they stayed in the palace complex.  They had offices, rooms and every other comfort of home.  Zan had said that the senators had started out as being no better than the common people.  They had fallen far from that ideal.

The bed was on the far side of the room and the senator was snoring quietly.  There were windows that looked out over the city but Nayda didn’t have time to enjoy them.  There was a giant desk and wardrobe as well as several book cases.

They silently snuck up to the bed and put their pistols almost against his head.  Noodeen then woke him up with a push of her paw.  He opened his eyes but it took him a second to realize what was going on.  His face went white.

“Good, you know not to make a sound Consul Praetus,” Noodeen said.  “As you can see, we could have killed you, but we didn’t.”

“What do you want?”  Consul Praetus whispered, barely getting the words out.

“Why are you trying to starve and freeze us out?  We’ve lived here just as long as you humans,” Tremela asked.

“Who cares why?  He’s a human that hates us.  What more reason does he need?”  Sanav said.

“I’m sorry!  I’ll take it back!”  He said.

“Not good enough I’m afraid.  When you proposed the law that you wrote to restrict us to the District, and without food and wood, you knew exactly what you were doing.  Stand up,” Noodeen said.

The senator stood up shaking.  He was a skinny, bald, middle age man.  He didn’t look like what she thought an evil tyrant looked like, but he was one nonetheless.

“You don’t think we deserve to live.   You think we should be silent slaves to live and die at your command!”  Sanav said.

“At ease,” Noodeen said.  “If you do as we say, we won’t kill you.  Understood?”  The consul nodded.  “Good.  Now I want you look afraid.  Cower.”

The consul did it very naturally.  Then from behind the senator, Noodeen nodded to Nayda.  She knew exactly what she was doing.  The man wouldn’t suffer, but she still wasn’t going to enjoy it.  Nayda then stood in front of him and lifted up her goggles.  He instantly became a horrified statue.  She didn’t think she was going to loose any sleep over this man however.

“Okay, now we have to take him two doors down,” Noodeen said.

Tremela and Nayda then began dragging the statue to the door.  It was lighter than stone, more like the coral from around her island.

“Where are we taking it?”  Tremela asked.

“To the senator that is next in line.  We’re going to leave him a little message,” Noodeen said.  Sanav chuckled.

They went out the door, past the other two once-living statues and to the next senator’s bedroom.  This door was locked.  Sanav ran to the guards and found a key ring on one of their belts.  With that they opened the senator’s door and went in.  This senator had a woman in his bed that looked too young to be his wife.  They stood the statue up at the foot of his bed and Noodeen placed a small wooden sign with a letter nailed to it.

Noodeen then led the way out and closed the door behind them.

“What did that letter say?”  Sanav asked.

“It was a warning about what happens to people who refuse to acknowledge the rights of others.  We told them that they can’t control our lives,” Noodeen said.

“Let’s hurry back to the others now,” Nayda said.

They made their way quickly back to where they had emerged from the sewer.  That was when they felt the building shake from at least five different explosions followed by the sound of gunfire.  Dust fell from the wooden support beams at the top of the hall.

“It’s started!”  Noodeen said.

They began to run toward where the barracks were.  As they ran through the halls they saw three soldiers ahead of them, also running toward the sound of fighting.

Sanav ran up behind them and fired.  The recoil of the blast almost knocked her down but two of the soldiers fell down with wounds all over their backs and heads.  The third spun around and Tremela shot him in the shoulder.  He dropped his halberd and fell to his knees in pain.  Nayda ran up to him and her snakes bit him in the neck.

They ran on.  Then they came to a corner.  They looked around and saw ten soldiers firing into a doorway.  That was the armory and Zanzin and the others were probably still in there.

They each took out a fresh pistol and fired at the same time.  Two soldiers went down, but it looked like one was just knocked down because the shot deflected off his armor.

Four soldiers turned around and charged their position with halberds.  They pulled out more pistols and fired again.  Two went down, one cleanly shot in the head.  She hoped it wasn’t her that was missing every time.  As they got close Noodeen jumped out and pounced on one of the men.  She was a flurry of claws and flapping wings.  The soldier pulled out a knife and tried to stab her, but it only struck her armor.  He didn’t get a second chance.

The remaining soldier swung his halberd at them while they were grabbing another loaded pistol.  His swing made her jump back and she dropped the pistol she was trying to get.  Tremela clubbed the man in the head with the pommel of her used pistol but his helmet protected him.  He grunted and jabbed her with the butt of his halberd.

Then he swung at Sanav.  It happened so fast.  The edge of the small axe blade slashed her downward across her face.  She screamed and fell backward.  As she landed she pulled out her last pistol and shoved it in the man’s groin.  She fired and there was the flash of powder and smoke.  The man fell over and Tremela smashed his exposed face with her pistol.

Nayda quickly crouched down beside Sanav and looked at her face.  The wound went down from her forehead, across her eye, and down her cheek.  Her face and especially her eye was so covered in blood that she couldn’t tell how bad it was but she knew that the eye had to be dead.  Nayda grabbed a bandage from one of her pouches and hurriedly wrapped Sanav’s eye.  Sanav was clenching her teeth and was holding back a scream.

“Let’s get out of here,” Nayda said to her and helped her to her feet.

She looked over and saw that the other soldiers were dead and Zanzin was coming out with seven others.  He began running toward them.

At that moment three other guards came around a corner carrying pistols and swords.  They saw Nayda and Sanav standing there at the corner.  The guards aimed their weapons and fired.  Nayda quickly threw Sanav to the ground with her on top.  Before she hit the ground she felt a stabbing pain hit her in the arm.  She screamed and landed on top of Sanav.

Zanzin came around the corner and fired a pistol in each hand.  His pistols were cut down long guns.  Both shots hit a soldier in the chest, penetrating his armor dead on.  Then he dropped the pistols and charged two remaining soldiers.  Zan grabbed the man with both his massive clawed hands and in one smooth motion, tore the soldier’s head off.

The remaining soldier turned to run but Zanzin’s long green arm shot out and grabbed him by the arm.  Zan’s other arm flew over his head and crashed down onto the soldier’s helmet, smashing it into a crumpled, bloody mess.

Noodeen hurried over to them.

“Are you alright?”  She asked.

Nayda looked down to her arm and saw two bloody holes where the ball had entered and exited.  A Hobgoblin crouched down and looked at the arm.

“Gather all the weapons!”  Zanzin said.  The pistols and powder bags went into an empty backpack that Noodeen carried on her.

“The bone isn’t broken.  That’s good.  He quickly bandaged her and pulled her to her feet.  Then they ran to the sewer entrance.  An Ogre carried Sanav along.

“How long until the bombs in the armory go off?” Noodeen Asked.

“Not long!  I’d hurry if I were you,” Zanzin said.

They crawled down the hole and began running as fast as they could down the tunnel.  It was hard with the wounded that they had.

A few minutes later they felt the dull ‘thud’ of one massive explosion going off.  Dust from the ceiling was knocked down and Nayda saw the wave in the water that the explosion caused.  They had blown up most of the garrison’s store of powder.

 

 


3 Responses to “Gorgon- a fantasy novel”

  1. Epic.

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