- “I left Nox because I wanted something more exciting. My dad had always told me stories about lands across the sea, monsters, soldiers, and heroes. He told me about people with dreams of saving the world, or finding a lost loved one, or coming home to their village to see their families again. I tried to have adventures on the island, some with friends, some by myself, but they were never enough. They were always short and I never got the feeling I’d been searching for. Never felt really accomplished or proud of myself. It was boring on Nox, and the only way to find anything interesting was to leave. No one had left Nox for thirty years, but I thought with everything I’d learned from my father’s stories, a good sword, and a lot of hope, I’d be the first one to make it out.”
- Galen sat up, switching to a cross-legged position, and laid his arms over his legs. Heat leaked from the fire before him, soaking into his legs the most, though he could feel it’s pressure on his chest and face as well. His eyes watched the tips of the fire, too bright to stare directly into, trying to find familiar shapes in the flickering flame. Sybyll kept quiet as he explained, attention always on his face, as if he were giving information which could save her life. He imagined her ears twitching like Seira’s, even though they remained still. A breeze kicked up, tossing the fire from Galen’s gaze and sending a shiver down his spine. The night still saw fit to remind him of the chill he took shelter from.
- “So you’re here for the excitement? Have you not already found enough of it?”
- Galen smiled to himself. “Yeah, I’ve found plenty, and I don’t know how much more I care for, but I’ve found more reasons to continue. I think if I hadn’t, I might’ve stopped back in Fullsburg.” His eyes sharpened. “I need strength. If I went home now, I’d never be able to recover. Back on Nox, we didn’t really have things easy, but life wasn’t so bad, either. There was safety in the cycle of seasons, in how each year was predictable. There are practically no monsters on Nox, and none that tried to interfere with our village. There’s no armies, no great storms or any colossal act of nature that might sweep everything away. I never realized how secure, how strong I felt there.” He paused, taking a deep breath and blowing it out like he might push the flame away. “But here on the mainland, it took less than a day for me to face a problem I truly couldn’t overcome. I fought with Seira and she took me down without breaking a sweat. I didn’t really realize it then, but she could’ve drained me, then taken me away as a captive until she got bored, which might have not been for the rest of my life. Then the next day, I came across a trio of lamia who beat me within an inch of my life. The rest: the encounter with the orcs, the ordeal in Fullsburg, and everything after you already know about.” He finally met Sybyll’s gaze. “Sybyll, I’ve never felt more helpless in my life than I do right now. The only power I can use kills whoever it touches, and I don’t even know how to use it properly. No matter how hard I fight, I end up losing in some way. Even with…” His next words caught, but after forcing a swallow, they came out. “Even with you guys. You and Seira used to talk, but now I feel like you’re suspicious of her. Seira still hates Mino and I don’t know if she ever won’t. Mino I feel like is too scared to really talk with anyone besides me, and even then, I can’t tell if she is angry with me or not. I’ve completely lost control of everything. Even myself, sometimes.”
- “And you want that control back?”
- “At this point, I don’t even think I need control. I just want to feel like I have it.”
- “Have you considered you may never obtain it? That you were raised with a blindfold, and now that it has been removed, you will never be able to unsee the things you have witnessed?”
- His eyes turned to the ground for a moment. “More than once.” Warmth and a wave of tingling rose up his left arm, like his blood had begun to boil inside. When he looked at his arm in concern, he found his hand had curled into a fist, one clenched so hard it had become numb. “But I can’t stop,” he said, his voice raising. “I can’t spend a single moment doing anything other than moving forward with all my power. There are answers and solutions out there, I just need to work for them.”
- “I see.” Sybyll clasped her hands together and rested her head in such a fashion it looked like she was kissing them. A log collapsed in the fire, throwing a fresh salvo of sparks into the air that lit up in Sybyll’s eyes like a hundred fireflies. Galen rubbed his leg where the heat had almost become too much. He didn’t pull back, however, preferring an uncomfortable heat over a piercing cold.
- Sybyll’s silence began to nag at him. “Well?”
- “What is it?”
- “What do you think? You asked that question to make some kind of judgement about me, right?”
- Her mouth tilted, as if she was considering a smirk. “In matters such as this, I do not think one can decide whether there is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ answer. Your motivations simply are.” She raised an eyebrow. “And I believe any decision I might make would have no effect on your actions in the end.”
- “Heh.” Galen scratched the back of his neck. “I guess so.”
- “As it should be.”
- “Okay!” Galen landed a hand on his knee with a smack. “It’s your turn.”
- “Ah.” Her hands dropped to the ground. “My story.”
- “Yup.” Straightening his back, Galen leaned forward. He hadn’t forgotten what Cea had told him as they parted, but he found he wanted to hear this more for himself than anything.
- “I am afraid I might disappoint in certain areas.” Her eyes narrowed. “It has been… a very long time since my childhood. I do not remember many things.”
- “Then just what you can remember. What’s important.”
- “I--“ She paused, her mouth hanging open, as if some last ounce of resistance was still telling her to stop. “I was born in a village of entirely lizardmen in the floodplains far north of Fullsburg. For your reference, about another day’s journey north of where we met Cea.”
- “Aww, we shoulda stopped by there!”
- Sybyll shook her head. “Even if there are remnants of the village, everyone living there would have departed across the Great Blue Divide many years ago.”
- “But don’t you want to see your childhood home again at all? Even if no one is there? There’s got to be some value in that.”
- “I do not see it.” She held up a hand to stop Galen’s protest. “Let us not digress. You wanted to hear about my younger years, correct?”
- He grumbled an agreement.
- “Communities of lizardmen have always--ah, I suppose I don’t have the authority to make that statement any more. Communities of lizardmen DID always segregate themselves from humans and other species. It was not uncommon for lizardmen to live with their mates, but human males were often minor contributors to the community. In many cases, a lizardman taking a mate would live away from the village or leave her mate behind. While lizardmen are generally cautious to appraise a mate before copulating, that did not mean a fondness or other strong attachment would follow.
- “I have some impression of how human children spend their early years, and I do not believe mine were terribly different. My mother was strict but not unreasonable, even if I gave her reason to be.” Sybyll cleared her throat. “As I told you when we first met, I was a touch rebellious. Callous in many things. All lizardmen were taught to fight, not only to protect themselves, but the community as well. I paid attention only as far as it served me, opting for a more haphazard style of fighting. I learned proper discipline later. My preferred places to… play were the harvest fields and among the floodplains, especially after the river had just receded. I enjoyed the mud. I think.”
- Galen nodded, leaning further forward, awaiting the continuation of Sybyll’s story, but all she did was turn to him and say, “That is most of what I can remember.”
- He gaped. “What? Really?”
- “It was a very, very long time ago.”
- “C’mon, SOMEthing else must’ve happened! Something important!”
- “The were the blacksmith and mages that came to search for a proper candidate for Tellus, but I told you that story already.”
- Galen scrunched up his face. He knew there was more; Cea had told him as much. ‘Her greatest contradiction,’ that item she kept tucked away under her armor, had to have a story behind it. He’d been hoping Sybyll would come forth with it on her own, but even now she remained silent. What was she hiding and did Galen have the authority to force it out of her? Rubbing under his nose, he kept looking between Sybyll and the fire. He had to decide. Let he hide behind silence, continue the trek carrying that weight by herself, remain in the safety of solitude, and come forward when it suited her, or spill her precious memories before him, perhaps hating him for it, but also perhaps gaining something else. Eh, what was he thinking? Of course he’d have to bring it up. He’d never be able to live with the silence.
- Now if he could just nail subtlety.
- “I noticed you touch your thigh when I asked about your childhood. And that’s not the first time I’ve seen you do it. Is there a scar there? Something else?” He kept his face as straight as possible.
- The intensity of Sybyll’s stare could’ve knocked a lesser man down. From the way her claws squeezed and her muscled tightened, Galen could tell she had no expected that. Or, at least, had not been ready for it. “It’s--it’s not a scar.”
- “Then what is it?”
- “Did Cea tell you about it?”
- Galen flinched. So much for subtlety. “It doesn’t matter, does it? You said you’d tell me about your younger years, and if that’s part of it, then you gotta tell me.”
- Her head lowered, gently lowering her gaze to the object her claw now covered. The way she stared at it, Galen expected the thing to strike at her. Could it be a weapon of some sort? A painful reminder of someone she lost? A diary, even?
- A great breath filled her lungs, puffing out her chest like she was trying to swallow all the air in the world, then drifted out between her lips in a loud, drawn-out sigh. Her fingers played with the object, scratching through her armor. Her other claw began tapping against the ground with a ticking barely loud enough to hear over the popping, dying fire. For what felt like hours she stared at it, expression threatening to change but never following through. Galen kept silent, opting to watch instead. He’d put enough pressure on her; she could come forward with her story when ready. Only when his patience begin to waver did she slip her claw under her armor and withdraw the object.
- Galen’s eyes widened with anticipation. Her claw held the item gently, like it might shatter if she squeezed too hard. It was difficult to make out in the weak orange light of the fire, but Sybyll extended it toward Galen as far as her arm would go, allowing him to begin to make out the details. He dared not touch it himself. The first thing he noticed, quite obvious even in the light, was the gold glint that seemed to follow his eyes, no matter the angle he looked at it from. It fit easily in Sybyll’s grasp, as large as Galen’s palm but half as thick as his pinkie. Grooves ran from the center to the edge of it’s circular shape, and in the center a detailed etching of a lizardman’s head, facing Galen’s right. Above and below the engraving was writing, but he couldn’t make it out. Had he better light, he might be able to soak in the craftsmanship and skill to make such a thing, and had he not felt as if he was staring right through Sybyll’s soul, he might have the bravery to dare to ask to do so.
- “Is that gold?”
- “Yes. A fairly pure grade, too.”
- Galen’s mouth hung open. That much gold could buy, well, more than he could imagine! Years of food, a enormous boat, heck, maybe even part of a city! And Sybyll had been hiding it under her armor this entire time! He unconsciously rubbed his chest right beneath his neck. How much did it mean to her that she would never sell it?
- “It’s amazing. Absolutely incredible. How did you get it?”
- “I earned it.” She withdrew the object, closing her fingers around it so Galen could no longer see it, and stared into her hand. “It is a medal. An award for what the community felt was an exemplary deed. I was not the only one to receive one during my time with the village, but the awarding of such a thing as this was exceedingly rare.”
- “And what did you do?”
- Her fingers grazed over the engraved side of the medal. “I said I enjoyed spending my time in the floodplains, didn’t I? I enjoyed the mud most of all, and it was best during or immediately following rain. The more rain, the better… but after so much rain, the river would begin to flood. I knew this and understood the risks, as did everyone else in the village. Such a thing was made abundantly clear to everyone, and my mother, knowing my rash habits, was sure to warn me.
- “One day during my adolescence, amongst a heavy, relentless rain, I was cavorting about in the floodplains. The river had indeed begun to flood, but I was sure of it’s course and kept my safe distance. This did not stop me from getting as close as I possibly could, however, and as I walked the river’s edge I came across a pair of lizardmen in dire straits. They had been on the far side of the river, likely checking crops or some other such duty, and had been caught by the rapidly-rising river. They attempted to cross where they thought it was safe, but had been swept away and were currently trapped on a log lodged between rocks. Their sanctuary lay almost mid-river, and with the rain as heavy as it was, soon would be swept away.” Sybyll glanced to Galen. “I had no time to return to the village for help or supplies. I had to make a decision and act straight away.”
- Galen covered his mouth, his face betraying his interest. As horrible as the story sounded, his curiosity hungered for more.
- “Lizardmen are, in general, fantastic swimmers. Both myself and the stranded pair could swim, but our muscles were nothing to the raging current. Swimming out to them would only put me in the same situation or worse. However, a short ways upstream were a boat and some rudimentary supplies--the most important of which was rope. I hastily fetched the rope, anchored it the best I could, then tied the other end to my waist. I gave myself just enough slack to make it out to them. However, with the strength of the river and the weight of a lizardman, it would not be safe to take more than one lizardman across at at time.”
- “Oh no.” Galen couldbn’t keep the words to himself.
- Sybyll gave a slight nod in recognition. “One of the lizardmen was very old. I did not know her age, but she explained that she should be the second one to save, as the other was much younger. Not too far from my own age at the time, in fact. A youth I’d had encounters with before, but we were hardly friends, and our interactions lacked the politeness to even call us rivals. The youth had begun to protest, but the elder silenced her. I’d already begun my swim across, anyways. There was no time to allow for pride. As I expected, the current swept me up in no time at all, but I had begun my swim a fair amount upstream from the stranded lizardmen, and the momentum from the dive in gave me just enough forward speed to make it directly upstream of the lizardmen. As I approached their place, I opened my arms and allowed the younger one to jump toward them.
- “At that precise moment, three things happened. The force of her jump knocked the log loose, the rope pulled taut, and, with the elder’s foothold gone, she leapt forward into the river as well. Within my reach.” Her speaking slowed, each word coming out as precise and punctual as a hammer falling on a nail. “I was given a choice. I could rescue the younger one, almost an enemy of mine, as had been planned, I could rescue the elder, or I could attempt to rescue both. The rope seemed rather strong; I had only told them one at a time for safety. It might have no trouble with three lizardmen at once.
- “What do you think I did?”
- The question came so suddenly Galen’s mouth clamped shut. “What I think? Well…” Biting his lower lip, he sized Sybyll up. Pride never seemed to be a problem with her, so she’d certainly have no issue rescuing the younger one. As far as rescuing one or both, well, she often played rather safe than sorry. When he thought about it, only rescuing one was the more prudent choice too. Why risk two lives for one? “I guess you would only rescue the younger one.”
- “So I did.” Her hands went slack and she tore her eyes off the medal. “You are correct. I watched the elder get swept away in the current. The rope held, even as much as the river punished it, and guided me and the other lizardman to shore. We returned to the village to report what had happened, saying nothing to each other about the incident until several days later when I was presented with the medal and a thank you from the one I had saved. I never asked if she was angry with me for failing to save the other lizardman, I never spoke with her about what thoughts and emotions might have been rushing through her head, about what it was like to watch another die when you felt there was something you could’ve done. We both understood the reality of the situation, I think. The harsh things life sometimes brings down upon us.” A dark smile grew in the shadows the fire threw upon her face. “I did find one thing humorous about the whole thing.”
- Galen released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Humorous? What could’ve been humorous about that?”
- “The inscription,” she said, holding up the medal again before reading it off. “’For duty and wont of self’. How true is that, I wonder?”
Great [Monster] Journey 31
RSanon May 3rd, 2014 1,528 Never
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