It was March 22nd when I first saw him. I was on duty and about to come back from my lunch. I saw him first, a youth, maybe an adult but not acting like one.
“I hate this place.” The male said. I heard him and could see him from my place in the crowd.
A falconry glove? I frowned. Why would a lizard need that? Scales on his face said he’d be a lizard and his common gold eyes proved it. Mine unlike his were a vibrant blue. That’s the advantage of being a Sailfin Lizard; you have beautiful sapphire eyes.
My name is Janelle. I am a corporal in the Metamor Keep Watch, one with unique gifts and decent observation skills. And this was the first time I saw James, when he was James.
But that’s not the story I want to tell. Instead let’s talk about the second time and the day it happened. This story is a single day in my life, one I hope you will find entertaining my dear listener.
I ask before we proceed to pass no judgement. Our lives in Metamor Keep are hard enough even without the judgement of others. Just remember, everyone I tell you about is real. Their lives, their hopes and their fears are real, but I only get to see brief glimpses of it.
We must remain unbiased when we approach an event. That is the nature of justice and of the Watch.
This place again.
I stood up. It was dark. I could see.
The edges of the walls glowed a dull white. There seemed to be nothing above me, just an eternal void. Looking up at it, I felt my feet begin to lift up. “No! No! NO! I’m not floating! I’m on the ground!” I closed my eyes. “This is the ground and I am not floating.” I opened my eyes.
Still on the ground. I let out a sigh of relief. “This is where I’m in control. I have control here.”
“Do you?” A chill ran through me. I forced myself to walk down the hall. The air stuck to my scales and pulled each one upward. It stuck in my nose, my lungs burned when trying to breathe.
“Is anyone here?” The words fell to the ground like stones in water. The air thickened, but I pushed myself forward. The walls were formless, endless. Where did the floor meet them?
I could feel the floor under my feet but my tail wasn’t dragging on anything. My tail is the size of a log. Why isn’t it dragging? I looked up again. The eternity had grown a little closer
The air needed to be forced apart now by my body. But I could see something. It was a dull glow that was gaining brightness; a light in the distance. Every time I had this dream the light appeared now. “I need to get to that. Got to get there.”
My mind returned to my early days in the Watch when I was still on my feet after twelve hours. Little water, lots of running and burning muscles. But the end was in sight then.
The only thing in sight for me was the light. It winked in and out, the air wanted to choke it. My muscles screamed for me to start. I never got to where I was by being sensible.
“Stop Janelle.” I froze. “You can’t undo this if you make it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Turn around Janelle. Go home.” The voice came from where I stood. Not under me but almost echoing from the same space.
“I have to move.” I growled. “I’ve got to reach the light.”
“Do you know what you’re doing? You have to stop.” I started walking again. Like I was up to my waste in water with rocks around my ankles. I stopped again, coughing out thick air.
“This isn’t right. This isn’t—
“No it’s not.” The voice returned. “Go home.” I looked around.
“That’s not it either. The problem is what is holding me?” It yanked on my scales, each one individually. “It’s the air…but not the air? Something…it can’t…” I could see it now.
Hands, hands made out of air and darkness were gripping me. Thousands of inhuman hands trying to hold me in place. I screamed; it didn’t pierce the wall.
“You can’t escape us all Janelle.”
“You couldn’t save us.” A new voice spoke.
“You can save yourself.”
“Let go of me!” I took off into a run. Now they pulled harder on me but my blood rushed through me. I felt them pulling on my scales, my fin, my nostrils and my jaw. I swung my arms in a futile attempt to pull free.
“Stop yourself Janelle!” The three became one, joined by thousands of others in a damned chorus. “Turn around.”
“I can’t!” The pain was overwhelming. I pushed foreword. “I have to know what’s in there. What is past the light.” They gripped harder but it didn’t matter. I was going foreword.
Left. Thud. Right. Thud. I couldn’t breathe. Could barely see. I kept going anyway though.
“We will stop you.” The dammed chorus shouted. “We will turn you back.”
“No you…won’t.” I grit my teeth and pushed. “I have to save them!”
“Why Janelle?” I fell into a pant. “You couldn’t save us. You can’t save everyone.” They were right. I knew it of course.
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t try.” I said. “I can fix everything. I can change this! I swear to Eli I can change this.” Change what? What am I doing here?
The hands fell away. The voices went silent. And again I was alone. I crossed my arms around me, trying to hold on to any heat I still had.
“I don’t want to be here.” I looked foreword. The light glared at me, begging me to move. “I…have to do this.” The light shone brighter. “I have to.” I took off running into it.
“I have too.” It consumed me. “I have to save—
—I…I…” I pulled myself up onto my knees. “I’m…alive.” I lay on my bed, as I always do, on my side. It’s the only way to sleep with a massive sail fin tail. My only bed sheet was kicked off as always.
The room was silent except for the sounds of gentle snoring. My son Kaysar, never disturbed by the nightmares of his mother.
“Same nightmare.” I swallowed. “Why don’t I remember?” I whispered to myself, mindful of the other sleeper. “Why don’t I remember?”
The stone floor is always cold but when you are a reptile it hits you like an arrow. I brushed it off. The tiny window (the only one in my dwelling) showed the sun beginning to rise.
Time to get ready.
Every morning while I wait for my son’s nanny, I look at myself in the mirror. Every day I see the same thing. I see a blue pebbled head with ocean-colored eyes and spines creating a crest down the back. I see dull front teeth but sharp back teeth, a reverse of human mouths.
I see a clean blue tabard and cloak, though both are beginning to show their age. The white lantern in the center is stained despite many cleanings and there is no way currently to acquire a new one.
I see a massive tail that my legs can’t hide. It always sticks out straight like a rudder and from it comes a fin. It cuts up my tail like a blade and tapers off at the small of my back.
After this I give my thanks to Eli, for the chance to do what I love even in this form and to live as a Follower in relative peace. It’s helpful to remember not everyone has it as good as I do.
As a member of the Watch (official name is the Wardens but no one calls them that) I have to work and watch over one specific area in theory. In my case I work in Keeptown, under two sergeants and one lieutenant.
I know what you’re thinking my dear listener. “Keeptown has a police force?” Yes as a matter of fact all parts of the Metamor Valley are supposed to fall under the protection of the Watch.
The Seneschal (called Justicar by everyone) controls the Watch, and the Watch supposed to provide order. The problem comes from lack of funds, lack of manpower and no lack of work.
“When I become Justicar I can change that.” I adjusted my cloak. “The Watch needs more exposure.” The most frequent thing I say in life is “When I become Justicar”, it’s a reminder of the future I’m working towards.
My home is a two-room dwelling on the second story of a dingy stone building near the Shoeshine Inn. It’s not much of a place to live, but it’s snug for both of Kaysar and me. Above all else it’s cheap. The stairs to my home are on the side of the building. Every time I step out, I’m greeted by the dawn sky.
Today was purple. For a moment I just stood there taking it in. The air was cool and the breeze gentle.
“Good day today.” I stretched my neck. “I have a lot of work ahead of me.” I took a moment to verify I had all I needed. I had my belt, my short sword, my club and a coil of rope. “Perfect. Let’s get going.”
One joy of being a Sailfin Lizard is the fin makes it impossible to bend my tail straight up. I can bend it sideways and that’s the only way to lift it off the ground. When I walk on stairs that doesn’t help, each step smacks me on the way up or down.
As I walked down the rows of buildings, I kept my mind open. No emotions or thoughts Brushed against my mind. All quiet. I feel jittery. Something will go wrong today.
When you’re a member of the Watch you think that every day. Today is the day someone will finally push a sword into your gullet. Stop. It’s the nightmare. Every time I have that nightmare I get this way.
I was distracted enough by my thoughts that it only took a strong burst of outside emotions to shake me free. I glanced up. I’m in the market square? How did I get here?
Keeptown does have its own market of sorts. It’s a small area near the town square, with a well and lots of dirt. Everyday different people pull up carts and set up booths to peddle overpriced wears.
It was still early so the market was almost completely empty save for an okapi woman in a belted brown dress with an apple cart and a figure in a gray cloak with his back to me. I could feel fear radiating off of the okapi as she undid her coin purse. Nonetheless I reached out and Tapped on the gray cloak.
Before I go on, let me explain a bit about myself. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have a few unique gifts; talents that belong to me and a select few like me. I don’t know how to describe it other than my soul is partially unstuck in my body.
This means that I can reach out from my body and “feel” spirits. I can pull them into my body, this is Channeling. It lets me draw a spirit into me, gaining things from the spirit depending on how far in I pull them.
But I can also reach out to living people. When I do this I brush against the surface of someone’s mind. If I lightly touch it, I can see the thoughts currently at the top of their mind. This is called Tapping.
Tapping is the most basic level of my magic applied to a living person. The deeper in I go, the more I can affect their mind but the more they will feel it. Tapping is easy and tells me all I need.
Stupid, stupid bitch! Just give me your coins! Gotta go…Gray cloak’s mind was a storm of panic. I pulled my club free from my belt and moved in.
“Give me your coins!” Cloak snarled to the Okapi, “Then I’ll—”He turned around just as I swung at him. Cloak jumped back, revealing a weasel inside. He held a knife in his right hand.
“I am Corporal Janelle of the Metamor Watch.” I said. “You are under arrest for attempted robbery.” Weasel cloak swung at me with the knife but he moved like a sloth. He thrust like an idiot from a story, which I easily dodged.
“I ain’t getting arrested.” The Okapi watched both of us but did what she should have, stayed away. The weasel wasn’t a threat to me but if she interfered it could be trouble.
“You’ll have to—” I swung again, this time connecting with the side of his head. A spray of spit and a tooth came out of his mouth as he collapsed in a heap at my feet. I pulled the short length of rope from my belt and tied his hands together.
When I joined the Watch there was discussion about creating cuffs for each Warden. They’d magic ones that could adjust to the size of the criminal and would stop someone from turning feral. This never happened and I’ve found a club to the head to be more effective.
I made sure that the ropes were tight. The weasel was out cold but he’d be fine. I turned back to the okapi.
“Did he hurt you?” I asked. “I’ll be taking him in for this; you will need to accompany me to give a report.” The okapi’s snout had contorted into a look of pure rage. Her eyes, though, were fixed on me. “Is something wrong?”
“Yeah something’s wrong.” She took an apple from her cart and flung it at my head. This one I couldn’t avoid. “This is the fourth time I’ve been robbed!”
“I’m sorry for you.” I rubbed my forehead and kicked the apple away. “I was not there for those; I was here for this one.” As a Warden, you learn being honest and calm is the best option. No matter what you feel, keep your tones neutral or warm. Keep eye contact with the victim. When they lash out at you, forgive them.
It’s going to happen a lot.
“Why wasn’t anyone here the other three times?” She hoisted her skirt over her right leg, revealing a thin white scar. “You see this? This happened last time, then they stole my purse. Why weren’t you there then?”
“I’m sorry for you.” I pulled the weasel up to his feet. “But this time I was here.” The okapi snarled more profanity at me but I ignored it. “I need you to come with me to file a report.”
“You kiddin’ me?” She barked a laugh. “No. I gotta sell apples, I don’t sell I don’t eat.”
“Okay then.” I swallowed. “How about this, I will come back later when on patrol to take your statement. That way you can stay with your cart.” I could feel the anger radiating from her but she nodded.
“I’m sorry you feel the Watch has let you down.”
“Ha! I don’t feel it; they have let me down. They let everyone down. When was the last time you saw a Warden here?”
“Right now ma’am.”
“Why even bother warden? You can’t change shit. You think you’ll solve all the crime? You’re wasting your time.”
“I’ll be back later.” I pulled the moaning weasel to his feet. “Have a nice day.”
From the moment I put on my tabard until I take it off again I am on duty. Every action and every interaction I make reflects upon the Watch.
The Metamor Keep Watch should have membership numbering over a thousand. If there are five hundred people in the whole Watch it would surprise me.
The Watch is in desperate need of people. Since we are so undermanned, every Warden matters. Every Warden must reflect positively on the Watch. Their actions may be the only actions most people see from the Watch.
That okapi saw nothing. I dragged the weasel that was dead in my hands. I did everything the way I should but she is mad at us. And she’s right, though, the Watch is undermanned. How can I fix anything?
“I fix it one person at a time, one crime at a time.” I pulled him up to two legs. “This is not the time to worry; this is the time to act.” The anxiety retreated. I shook the weasel awake.
“Time to shine.” I said. “We’re here.”
Here was a featureless long two-story building. It had a big wooden door on the front. That door away always locked and wouldn’t open to anyone except a Warden with a key.
The real way in was through the back door. Inside you’d find a maze of cramped hallways, overstuffed rooms, six holding cells and a mass of Wardens.
The main HQ of the Watch was in Euper. The problem is that crime doesn’t happen exclusively in Euper but all throughout the Keep and the Valley. So what do you do?
The Watch set up a series of Watch Houses, places run by a Lieutenant that Wardens work out of. Watch Houses are unmarked, unassuming buildings that most people would walk by a thousand times without noticing. They’re designed to not be found by people, if you need the Watch speak to a Warden on the street. As I approached one of these houses the weasel in my hands began coming back to life.
“What the…where are we?”
“Shut up.” I dragged him in through the wooden back door, making sure to not bang him against the doorway. “I am advising you not to struggle. Attempts to do so will be hazardous to your health.”
“Eat me!” The hall we entered to was cramped and poorly lit. The gray stone walls were filthy and the wooden ceiling was too close to both our heads. The only light came from small lanterns mounted along the sides. This gave the hallway a striped feeling as we moved in and out of the light.
The problem with having groups of Wardens stationed outside of inconspicuous buildings is that they have to be inconspicuous. So making them large is impossible, they have to be small. Dragging suspects through them can be a task itself.
“Hey Janie.” A blur in a blue tabard said to me as I passed a doorway.
“Hello Ian.” I dragged the suspect past the only staircase in the building until I reached an alcove beside a door. The alcove had a mass of green with tusks sitting behind a desk, working on a leather bound book. The weasel was beginning to squirm now so I used both arms to move him.
“Hello Sergeant Tibble. Bringing this one in for attempted robbery and murder.”
“Cell’s are all empty, will stick him in the first.” The drooping mass working on a ledger was my superior Sergeant Tibble. Tibble was a dark brown boar whose great coat barely fit. His left tusk was broken and his left partially cut off, with a scar leading connecting them.
His remaining ear drooped, as did his tufts of fur. His brown eyes were red rimmed from exhaustion. Were I still a mammal, my eyes would look the same. We were all tired and it wasn’t getting better.
The Watch needed manpower.
I rarely saw Tibble outside of the alcove. Most of the time he was keeping records of which prisoners were brought in, sorting out patrol details, recording who got assigned to this House and how much Mean Justice was dispensed on any day.
My Sergeant is a good man, no matter what I thought or how annoyed I might be. We needed someone to keep track of all the records and incoming prisoners. Tibble was good at it but there was so much work to do, this was all he did. I don’t think he remembered the last time he lead an investigation.
Tibble stood up and moved his shaggy bulk over to the door. The only key was on his belt but our Lieutenant also had a copy. He opened the lock and let me scoot inside, following right behind.
“Lady I am going to get out of here” The weasel snarled, “And I am going to kick your ass!”
“Attempted murder falls into the category of Low Justice; you will be tried and punished accordingly.” The stone hall held six rooms with mesh iron doors. We tried bars once but a rat slipped through them so they made mesh doors for us.
“Gonna kill you all.” I untied the rope and pushed him inside. The weasel stumbled about as Tibble relocked the door. “Do you think you scare me? I ain’t scared a shit! I am—
Tibble shut and locked the main door. “Good job corporal.”
“Thank you sir.” He returned to his alcove, pulling out another identical leger from his oak desk. Now he was panting.
“You’ve got a few choices for patrol today.” The big distinction between a warden and corporal is a corporal has a bit more choice in their daily assignment. They can choose from a selection of places where they go on patrol. That might not sound like much but wardens always get to patrol the worst parts of the Keep.
“Is the market square area available sir?”
“Yep, yours.” He scribbled that into the ledger. “Warden Remmie is with you this morning, you know the drill.” I sighed.
“Yes sir.” I saluted and went to find my partner for the morning.
“What do you do for fun?” I frowned.
“Fun. Janie you’ve been training me for three months now and I’ve never seen you outside of work. You do have fun right?”
“It’s Corporal Janelle while we are on assignment Warden; you need to maintain your professionalism.” I gave a small smile. “When we are on duty we have to be professional at all times.” Remmie tried to roll her eyes, except her eyes were two massive speckled pea green orbs with pupils that looked like knotted ropes. Eye rolling is impossible when your eyes are always looking out.
“You don’t find this fun do you?” She gestured to the Market Square. “I like the job too but it’s work.”
“It’s an enjoyable kind of work.”
“I guess.” Remmie mumbled. My partner for the morning was a blue-spotted orange gecko. While the Curse had given me a little height (and more muscle mass), Remmie had shrunk to little taller then an anthro rat.
Her scales were a light blue that almost matched with her cloak and irregular splotches of unnaturally bright orange broke them up. Not only that but they looked loose on her body, like she was wearing a poorly fitting lizard suit.
Remmie had been in Metamor for a little over a year and had been a full warden for about two months. Why a stranger to this cursed valley would choose a line of work that involved protecting that valley still confuses me.
In the Watch you’re supposed to spend three months as a cadet and six months doing supervisory work. Remmie had been a cadet for one month and been supervised for another month. After the Assault the Watch needed anyone who could volunteer, so she became a full Warden in January.
Remmie would be a good Warden, like all those who worked on the Watch. I could tell she was tired, we both were tired. I don’t think Remmie had taken a vacation day since starting. Her crisp uniform was showing the first signs of sag, her chipper expression drooped a little.
As Justicar I’ll find a way to relief our workload. I frowned. I’m not Justicar yet though.
For now we patrolled the Market Square and the connecting streets, over and over in an endless loop. That doesn’t sound like fun because it isn’t; it’s tedious and boring. But it’s necessary; we stop the highest number of criminals on patrols.
“When you’re off work what do you do?” Remmie fell behind me the longer we walked and had to sprint to keep up. Her walk reminded me of a bowstring being released. “I mean, I know you never are off but you’ve got to stop working at some point right?”
“I go home. It’s been a long day and I want to rest. I recommend you do the same.”
“I find a pub.” Remmie said. “I like talking to other scalies.” Why on Earth some reptiles insist on calling themselves scalies I do not know. I do not like the term and you will never hear it from me.
“I have a son.” I said. “He needs his mother.”
“Most scalie kids I know are independent.” Remmie said. “Besides, can’t you find someone to watch him for a night?” I sighed.
“Warden I appreciate your attempts to get me to open up but I am not comfortable discussing my personal life, especially on patrol. I am asking you to please let this drop.”
“Yeah, yeah I bet.” She said dismissively. “I’ll figure out something fun for you to do. You can’t spend every night taking care of a kid, you need to go out and get a drink sometime!”
“I don’t drink.” I said. Remmie would improve but it would take time. A Warden needs to pick up on signals when speaking to someone and they need to not ignore when someone tells them to shut up. They also must remain impersonal at all times.
I learned that the hard way. I hoped Remmie wouldn’t.
We turned back onto the Market Square. Now the sun was up and the little square was packed with carts, stands, bodies and scents of all kinds.
“I have apples and quinces!” “Finest in all the Keep!” “Discount just for you!” “Lemons and oranges!” “Beautiful cloths!” “Fresh vegetables!” “Come buy from me!” “You can’t do any better!” “Everything you’ve ever wanted!” “Will put years back on your life!” “My personal guarantee!” “Come buy, come buy!”
“The Assault left the Watch in pieces and smashed the Keep but it never even slowed down the Market.” I smiled. “It’s wonderful.”
“Oooh! Bullaces! I want some!” Remmie ran over to a mud-splattered stand with a male ox manning it. The Ox had a gray head with two long straight horns and beady black eyes sticking out of the mass. He wore a barely fitting green tunic belted over bulging grey pants. The fur on his body was black and knotted with dirt caked into it.
Behind him was his musty looking wooden cart with the right wheel cracked, loaded with wooden boxes of fruit. Remmie began pointing and jabbering faster than I could keep up with.
“Remmie we are on duty.” Remmie ignored me and purchased a full box of bullaces. I sighed. “Remmie you know you’re going to have to carry that all day right?”
“May the gods bless you Warden.” The ox said.
“No problem.” Remmie giggled, taking her box. Her smile wavered when she saw my expression. “He hasn’t sold a single box and I need fruit, it’s a win win for both of us Janie!”
“Corporal Janelle.” I said. “Remmie our job is to patrol the Market, not to buy fruit.” Admittedly that was a bit cold but it was still true. Carrying a box of fruit around will not make your job any easier. Still, that’s a positive moment this vendor had with a Warden. I must encourage that.
“Yeah, yeah, well I’ll carry them.” Remmie said. The two of us resumed our slow patrol around the Market. The Square is small but it’s easy for cutpurses to work here. As the okapi said earlier, the Watch had little presence in the Market, something I was now all the more aware of as people thronged about.
“Warden may I have a word!” A boney hand gripped my arm and tried to pull me away. I humored the individual and moved with them. Said arm belonged to a woman, a bony and pale thing. She had a dark brown cloak that covered her skeletal form almost completely. Her hair was wispy gray thread on her skull and her teeth were stained brown. Her eyes matched her teeth and they never blinked while focusing on me.
“I couldn’t help notice you are your partner browsing for things to purchase and I was hoping to interest you in my wares.” The woman tried dragging me to a stand holding knick-knacks and various overpriced trinkets.
“I thank you but I am not interest.” I said.
“Your partner just bought fruit, can you really say no until you’ve seen what I’ve got?” Damn it Remmie.
“I promise you I am not interested.” I said, yanking my arm free. “Now I’m afraid I must—
“Hey what’re you guys doing!” Remmie came skipping over with her spotted eyes lit up. “Oooh you’re buying something too Janie?”
“No in fact I was telling this fine merchant that the two of us are working and in fact have no time to buy things. We are busy with our patrol.” Remmie went back to ignoring me and now was investigating the woman’s trinkets.
“I’ve not had a sale all day.” She said to Remmie. “I’m going to be broke very soon.” I Tapped her mind, to see what thought was on the surface. I could hear the Merchant’s thought: Do you really believe this line?
This is going to change soon for Remmie. I frowned. She doesn’t listen to orders and she’s too personal. She’s going to be hurt. I need to make sure she doesn’t lose this love for the work.
The Market Square was above all else two things, cramped and loud. All the buildings surrounding it were shops and in between shop doors you would find a merchant trying to sell something overpriced. A good rule of thumb I find for merchants is they are always looking to sell you the worst product for as little money as possible.
I also love the Market though. It never slows down, it never lets a threat frighten it into submission. If people want things they come and get them, they aren’t afraid to display their animal forms or new genders.
As Remmie and I made our patrols I kept my eyes focused on the Square as best I could. Merchants aren’t in danger of being robbed at the busiest part of the day but rather when opening or closing shop. Instead the customers were in danger, especially those with loose hanging coin purses.
A black haired human was bent over investigating a table selling some kind of leather goods. From his left a canine of some kind (dingo I think) with yellow fur and in a green cloak approached, hood up and head down. I stepped in front of him, causing him to bump against me.
“Hey watch…” His eyes widened when he saw the lantern of my tabard. “Uh hello Warden.”
“Good day to you.” I said. He grinned and took a step back. I didn’t break eye contact until he turned tail and left the Square.
“Was that guy a thief?” Remmie asked as we resumed our walking.
“Most likely yes.” I said. “In the Square people come and go. They’re all funny people; you have to be suspicious until you determine their intentions. The longer they go without making it clear what they want, the more suspicious you should be.”
“Janie if you think like that you gotta be suspicious of everyone.” Remmie said. “That’s no good. We’ll catch the bad guys and if we miss a few it sucks but it happens, you know?”
Why even bother warden? You can’t change shit.
“For me that’s not good enough.” I said. “One criminal escaping is one too many.” And no price is too high for safety, I believed that absolutely.
“Maybe for you.” Remmie shrugged. “I wanna believe that people are good. Even the mammals.” I frowned. Odd that she singled them out.
“Warden! Uh Warden.” We turned to the voice, coming from an open door. The emblem on the sign above it identified this place as a cobbler’s shop, or at least one that did work with shoes. The speaker was a female gray furred something in an ill fitting and dirty linen cloak.
She was a massive woman with a cloth tied to the top of her head and red ears poking out. Her face was filled with confusion and her fur jiggled with each step. “Uh Warden can I uh get some uh help?” She managed to scoot between two tables and as she came closer I realized she had nothing under her cloak.
“What species are you?” Remmie cried out. I cringed.
“Excuse me?” The cobbler’s black nose began to tremble.
“Species? You look like a living fur ball.” Damn it Remmie.
“I got a problem and you asking about my species?”
“I really have to apologize for my partner.” I stammered. “She’s not great with people and we will—
“Don’t you recognize a colugo when you see one?”
“Stop!” I shouted. All eyes turned towards me. I swallowed. “You have a problem you need assistance with?” The colugo paused and nodded.
“Yeah, yeah. I got a room above my shop, you can see it.” She pointed to a window above the sign, grimy and dark. As I observed it flashed purple. “I think that’s not normal.”
“We need a mage.” Remmie said. For once I was in agreement. The way the Watch was supposed to work was on patrol each pair would have one magic user and one without magic. Except that didn’t happen, as previously mentioned the Watch needed bodies now and couldn’t be picky. I have a kind of magic I use; it was a secret from my co-workers and not magic as most people think of it.
“First let’s survey the situation.” I said. “Then we decide the appropriate course of action.”
“Are you crazy? We don’t have magic.”
“I know.” I lied. “Come on now.” I lead my protesting partner through the shop and up the stairs. Of course the criminal would be on the second floor, why wouldn’t they be? “I hate stairs.”
The door at the top was a flimsy wooden thing with purple light pouring from it. I gently touched the light and felt nothing. “Alright, get your axe ready.” Members of the Watch carry whatever weapons they can acquire on their own. For Remmie it was a hand axe and a short sword like mine.
We forced the door open and stumbled into a single room with the bed, table and all furniture pushed against the back wall. The center of the room was bare except for an open book with purple light pouring from it and a figure sitting behind it.
“You’re too late. The day of my triumph is at hand!”
“Janie who is this?” Remmie asked.
“Not a clue.” The figure was nude; of course they were nude, and male. He smelled like a wine bottle that had been left in the sun to long. Big black ears, a thin blunt muzzle (with an arrow-shaped pig nose) and bulging green eyes popping out of white fur. He’s an Aye-Aye! He’s so cute!
“Yesterday no one knew my name but when I finish this summoning everyone will know!” He cackled. “Everyone will appreciate me and I will make them lay prostrate before me! Including those jerks who wouldn’t let me into the Long Scouts!” On the one hand this individual had declared his intentions to destroy us all, but he just looked so adorable.
It was like being threatened by a stuffed animal.
“Janie am I the only one noticing nothing is happening but bright light?” Remmie whispered to me.
“No.” All of the light came from the book, none of it from him. The aye-aye stood. I kept my gaze on his upper body.
“I want you to bow before me!” He thrust his bony finger at me. “You will know my name! Soon I will be overlord of the Keep, I will be the new King of the Midlands! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” I Channeled from the book, trying to feel if anything living came from it.
“No you’re not.” I walked over and kicked the book shut. Instantly the purple light vanished.
“Hey no fair!”
“Yeah this book has nothing in it.” I said. “Not sure why it’s full of purple light but there are no spirits in this.” The book was black leather and gold etching all across it. From what I felt, there was nothing in it. Maybe you could use it for magic but if so the Aye-Aye didn’t know how to do anything but make pretty lights.
“You dare to stop my ritual!” He cried. “For this you must—
I interrupted him with an elbow to the solar plexus. The Aye-Aye’s gagged as the wind was knocked out of him. He stumbled then collapsed on his face. Remmie began clapping.
“You kicked ass Janie!”
“Remmie we’re going to have to discuss how you speak to me.” I roped his arms behind him. “One thing you need to remember, most emergencies involving magic end like this. Magic is dangerous if you know how to use it. Many don’t.”
“I wanna punch someone now. Can you teach me how to hit people like that?” The shop-owner colugo emerged in the doorway.
“You get it?”
“Yes.” I said. “Do you have another cloak? Something we can cover this man with.”
“Uh yeah sure.” The colugo said. “I gotta say, I didn’t know he was like this. I wouldn’t have let him rent my room if I did.”
“Right!” The colugo scrambled off. I returned my attention to Remmie.
“I need you to stay here while I take this individual in. For now all he’s guilty of is making vague threats and owning a purple light.”
“Mean Justice covers that?”
“We might get a fine out of him. They’ll question him when he wakes up, then we can find out if he’s guilty of anything else.” I’ll create a harsher punishment as Justicar. I hoisted the Aye-Aye up. “Now back to patrol Warden.”
“Can I knock off early?” Remmie asked. “It’s almost lunch.” Almost time for me to visit Marnie.
“No.” I said. “It’s only a little while more.” Remmie gave an exaggerated sigh but went back out. The colugo came back and helped me cover the Aye-Aye. I thanked her and dragged his semi-conscious form to a holding cell.
The best part of being a reptile is you can go further on less energy than a mammal. I eat twice a day, once for breakfast and once for dinner yet I still have a lunch break. For a reptile it is redundant, so I instead put the time to better use.
“Marnie I know you’re in there.” I knocked on the door again. “It’s Janelle, open up.” I could hear a heavy iron lock slide out and the door cracked open. A black eye darted from just beyond the edge of the door.
“It is you Janie.” She let out a sigh of relief. “I thought it was someone else.” The black eye belonged to the cone shaped face of Marnie, a pangolin and a friend. “Come in come in.”
A long time ago I Tapped the mind of Charles Matthias (and I don’t believe he noticed) mostly out of curiosity. At the time his mind had been occupied with visiting a group of rats who lived out of sight of the rest of the Keep.
When I did this my impression of most other Keepers was that they were ignorant, self absorbed and needed the Watch to hold them together. Seeing a selfless act showed me I was the one being ignorant and the Watch needed a bigger ideal to strive towards.
I was a Warden then and one whose patrols gave me an odd opportunity. It’s not just rats who are ashamed of themselves, there are other cursed people, some as animals but some also who lost there age or gender. They would lock themselves up inside their homes, safe from the world.
Every time I see my son I understand that mindset. I also know how futile it is, you aren’t safe but in a prison. The longer I went on patrol the more I learned from speaking to people or knocking on doors just how many people are imprisoned.
So I make it a point that during my lunch hour I go to visit these people. One per day, on a rotating schedule. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s my way of changing something, bringing the outside world to the homebound.
“I was wondering when you’d be back by here.” Marnie shut the door and set the lock. “You’ll have to excuse me, the place is a mess.”
“It’s fine Marnie.” Marnie was the only pangolin I knew, a rather odd species. Her face was a light tan cone shape with a slightly red tinge and a snout nose. Starting from between her eyes (forming a V) and running down her body were a series of deep brown plates.
These plates resembled oversized scales and felt like soft fingernails but they coated Marnie’s body except for her face and hands. Her whip like tail she always kept coiled against her body as if trying to hide the appendage.
“No one came with you right?” Her eyes fixed themselves on my feet. “No one saw you?” Marnie dressed as she always did, in a square cut fine dress (this one blue with fringes of gold across the chest and bands on the wrist), a black girdle and metal rings on her soft pink fingers.
At first this seemed normal until you took a good look at it. Then you noticed the square cut neckline was frayed and coming apart. That their were dark spots along the hem of the dress. That the rings were not gold or silver, but metals meant to create the illusion.
That Marnie’s plated body had cuts and bruises and that her left eye was slightly swollen and probably had been far worse a few days ago. As she swept across the floor her dress swished up so I could see a bad scabbed wound on her lower right leg.
“Please take a seat,” Marnie said, gesturing to her pristine kitchen table in front of the fireplace. “I know you don’t eat and I finished my lunch but I have water if you’re thirsty and I want to be a good host because Roddy says I’m not a good host and how are you?” She sniffled, I could see a rawness around her nose and eyes. She had been crying, quite a bit by my guess.
“I’m fine Marnie.” I smiled. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing.” She nodded and took a seat herself, careful not to so much as wrinkle her dress.
“I’m sorry for the mess I’ve been busy all day and I haven’t had the time to clear.” There wasn’t a spot of dust in this room or a single item out of place. The fireplace was ash free and the small iron she had sitting on it shone. “Roddy says I’ve been letting this place fall apart and I still need to fix it all up.”
“There’s nothing wrong.” I said. “Marnie, how is your brother these days?” She swallowed. I took this opportunity to lightly Tap her mind. A loud scream and slap knocked me back.
“Roddy is is is…” She swallowed again. “Fine. He’s been working hard, he works on the docks you know and he’s still not happy he has to live with his sister and he started saying he’s going to leave Metamor again and I-I really can’t have that.” I reached for her hand but she pulled away. “I’m glad Roddy doesn’t know you’re here.”
“As am I.”
Roddy had been Marnie’s sister once a while ago. The curse gender swapped her into a tall and strong male with a temper. I had met Roddy twice in my life, both encounters that I regretted. He was a big blond moron with a short temper and big fists that he liked to use.
“Marnie I can see your brother has hit you again.” I said. “I can have him arrested for assault if you’re willing to admit what he has done.” This was the fifth or sixth time I had attempted to get Marnie to testify that her brother was hitting her.
“Janelle nothing is wrong and Roddy is my only family.” Marnie said. “He wouldn’t hurt me because he loves me, I trust him.” I used this chance to Tap her mind again. This time I saw Roddy, his narrow face and platinum colored hair. His eyes were a paler blue then mine, his lips ruby red and contorted into a snarl.
“This is my fucking dinner? I’m out working on the docks and this is the best you can making you fucking loon?”
“It’s all I had.” Marnie whimpered. She squealed when a plate crashed beside her head. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“Why won’t you just get out and go to the damn market!?” He flung a bowl, this one knocked Marnie to the ground. “It’s your fucking fault I’m stuck here. Your fucking fault!”
I let go of Marnie’s mind when I saw him prepare to kick her.
“I’m glad Roddy is here though.” She said. “I can’t go outside and I can’t be alone. Even if he’s a bit brusque with me at least I’m not alone. Roddy is a good person.”
Roddy is a bastard.
“You deserve better than what you have Marnie.” She looked away from me. “You can leave this room. Do you really believe people will think you’re a freak? You’re speaking too the only sailfin lizard in the Keep.”
“I can’t go back out there.” Marnie pulled on the skirt of her dress. “I can’t because if I do I’ll get hurt and I’ll die or maybe I’ll turn into a feral animal and no. No no no no no no it’s much better for me in here, I am safe in here.”
“You aren’t living in here!” I froze. “I mean…I am sorry, I lost my temper. Please forgive me.” A Warden must have control of their emotions at all time.
“I can’t go out.” Marnie swallowed. “I’ve been here since I first grew a tail and I can’t leave. I just can’t Janie, I’m a monster and I belong in here away from everyone else.”
“Your brother really is poisoning your mind if he’s feeding you a line of crap like that.” I said. “You’re kind and unbelievably forgiving. Marnie people aren’t ashamed of being cursed anymore, they’re proud to be part animal. I’m not saying you should but you shouldn’t feel ashamed of who you are, you’re a wonderful pangolin.”
“Please don’t say that.” Marnie whispered. “Don’t call me that. I don’t-I don’t want to be an animal, I want to be human.”
“There’s no way for me to change that.” I said. “They might figure out how to make you human again one day but not now. You can rot away in this room or you can go outside and live your life.” She looked up at me.
“What do you want?” I rubbed her hand.
“I want you happy. I want you to live your life.” Marnie smiled and shook her head.
“I am happy here.” Why even bother warden? You can’t change shit. I sighed. “You don’t have to believe me but I’m happier in here. I don’t like being an animal Janie. You don’t understand; you were happy when you changed.”
“I was indifferent when I changed.” I said. “Life moves on whether I’m human or not so I moved with it. I adjusted and you can if you’re willing.”
“There’s nothing to adjust to.” Marnie sighed. “I’m cursed. I can’t be uncursed, I’m always going to be a monster.”
“You’re going to be unhappy then.” I said. “And I am sorry Marnie. I truly am. I want to help you but I don’t know how.” The most frustrating part of being a Warden is this moment. You know an injustice is happening and you know someone is in pain but you can do nothing for them.
They have to be willing to help you. If they aren’t then you have to pick up and move on to someone else.
“No one needs to help me.” Marnie said. “I’m happy here, can’t you believe that?” I didn’t need to Tap her mind to know this was a lie. I let her have it, though, she can delude herself.
“Can I at least give you some advice?” I asked. “For dealing with Roddy. And don’t tell me there is nothing to deal with, I see your bruises and I know he’s been hitting you. Just because I can’t arrest him doesn’t mean I don’t know.” Marnie kept smiling but didn’t say anything.
“Stand up for yourself Marnie. Show him you can get loud or mad too, that it’s not just him who is suffering here. You’re in pain, show him your pain. And don’t let him lay a hand on you.”
“That’s really great Janie.” Marnie said, her expression serene. “I’m okay though, Roddy won’t really hurt me.” I sighed.
“Yeah I’m sure.”
“Janie…” Her tone dipped for a second. “Lately Roddy has been threatening to leave because he’s still human and it’s my fault we’re trapped here.” Bastard. “I won’t…I won’t be alone will I? I can’t I can’t be alone.”
“If he runs off I will be happy beyond words.” I said. “But no you won’t be alone, I’ll make a point to visit you. Maybe you could even get out of this room at long last.” She gave me a queer smile.
“I’m so glad you came by today Janelle.” Marnie said. “I-I would like to see you again soon. If you can?”
“Yeah I’ll be around. See you later.” I left Marnie alone in her kitchen to stew over what I told her. Nothing for me to do now but get back to work.