It was the twenty-eighth of March, two days after seeing the bull at the Town Square. I returned there on patrol the next day and the day after.
Yesterday had been a dead end, despite patrolling the same area for the whole of the afternoon. The bull simply didn’t show up and I spent a fruitless patrol in the safest part of Keeptown. This irritated me so much that the next morning I went on a fruitless patrol between the main and market squares, this time bringing Remmie with me. No one can accuse me of lacking perseverance.
The day was cloudy and cool but it hadn’t rained yet. I don’t mind the rain in the summer but any other time it is unbearable. Every rumble from the clouds filled me with dread.
“I like days like this.” Remmie said, “The rain keeps the crooks inside. No crime, easy time. And it’s fun to get some fresh air.”
“If you want fresh air you can join the Long Scouts.” I said, scanning faces as we walked. Humans and animals crisscrossed in front of each other but none was the animal I was looking for.
“I’m no good with a bow.” Remmie said, “I’d not be a good scout, I like being a Warden.” I kept a firm countenance but inside I smiled at this. “Who are you looking for Janie?”
“Corporal, remember that, Remmie, while we are on duty.” I said. “When did you realize I was looking for someone?”
“This is the third time you’ve worked the main square in three days so I was kinda curious.” Remmie grinned, “Who? Is it a guy? Someone you found sexy?” I rolled my eyes.
“I wouldn’t waste the time of the Watch on a personal errand Warden.” Remmie shrugged.
“You got the power, I’d use it.”
“I know.” This was Remmie, everything about her in a single conversation. Her ability to observe surprised me and her willingness to abuse her position as a Warden frustrated me.
She will make a very good Warden eventually. I watched Remmie readjust her belt. I have to train respect for the Watch into her. She does not realize how important her position here is.
“I hope it doesn’t rain.” Remmie said, “Patrolling in the rain so sucks.” I nodded. “Question, tomorrow your day off? Someone said it was.” I sighed.
“Yes Warden, tomorrow is my day off. I will be spending the day with my son and not on patrol.” I thumped my tail against the ground. “I wish the others wouldn’t discuss my personal life. Since you’re curious though, I’m going on a picnic with Kaysar.”
“A day off?” Remmie whistled. “It’s been like months since I had a day off. I need one so badly; my scales ache from this tabard.”
“You’ll get used to it.” I said, choosing not to mention that my muscles burned non-stop for my first year on the Watch. “Days off are few in number, we’re undermanned as it is.”
“Why do you get one and I don’t?” Remmie asked,
“I’ve been longer without one and I have a higher rank.” I said, my thoughts now shifting towards tomorrow. “I’m…I suppose I am very excited.”
“Suppose? You gotta be thrilled! I’d be!” I was thrilled to be spending the day with my son. I wasn’t thrilled to be away from my town.
I actually quite enjoyed my position on the Watch. The Watch is structured and consistent; it is about keeping and having order in your life. Metamor Keep needed order and I was privileged to provide it.
When I wasn’t working it wasn’t so easy. I’m used to taking orders, I’m very good at carrying them out but I’m not so good when my day has no structure.
As Justicar I’ll be ordering the whole of the Watch. I had best get used to it. I straightened my tabard. It’s a day with Kaysar; it’s a chance to unwind. Just being with him will be good enough. But I’ll miss a day of looking.
My thoughts started to drift back to the bull. Remmie now distracted me with another worry.
“Is it true you gotta meet with the Lieutenant today?” Without her around I might be able to relax while on patrol.
“Yes our Lieutenant is asking to speak with all corporals.” I said, “It’s not very important I suspect, since he didn’t single me out among the others. Probably wants to tell us about some new policy change.”
“Why not let Tibble tell you?” Remmie asked, “Kinda weird isn’t it?” I shrugged.
“It’s not my concern.” A bush dog woman struggling with two arms full of parcels walked past us followed behind by a human male trying to conceal a knife in his hands. The woman’s moneybag hung tied around her waist near the back of her dress.
I moved in fast. The human male went for the bag and I responded with a fist to the side of his head. The human slammed face first into the ground, only to be stepped on by a black tayra male (I know every species in Metamor Keep) with his muzzle buried in a book. The tayra took a glance \at the human and then me.
“This poor fellow slipped.” I said. The tayra nodded and went back to reading. Remmie sidled up beside me.
“Should we take moron boy in?”
“Until he’s actually committed a crime, this falls into the category of mean justice.” I said. “Let him rot on the ground, he wont try to cut any more purses so long as we’re here.” We resumed our patrol.
“So meeting with the big boss don’t make your nervous?” Remmie asked. “I’d be scared to death; it’s the only thing I’d think about all day.” Now my stomach began to churn but I kept my face neutral.
“I can’t let things like this bother me.” I said. “It’s just life, part of my job. I’m not being fired or demoted; I’m just having a meeting with a superior.”
A Lieutenant is usually the highest ranking superior most people in the Watch ever seen. Above them are the three Captains, who we never see, and then the Justicar.
These are the ranks I would have to ascend. For now I needed to focus on just being a good corporal.
“You seem tense.” Remmie said.
“I don’t know why you think that.” I said. “Warden, I will tell you who I am looking for if you will look for them as well. But you must promise me not to tell our superiors?”
“Eli knows I keep secrets from you; that’s no problem.” Remmie giggled.
“You keep secrets from me?” A very drunk water monitor stumbled between the us and made a beeline for the well. I yanked him away and let him vomit on the ground. When he finished, I laid him against the well so he wouldn’t be stepped on. He could still be robbed but it was his fault for public intoxication/
A large part of being a Warden doesn’t involve arresting criminals. It’s just keeping people from being hurt. You never get thanks or attention but you’re not supposed to.
If you want people to sing songs about you, join the Long Scouts.
“I keep things from everyone, even the other scalies.” Remmie said. “It’s just something you do, you know?”
“I don’t keep things from my comrades.” I lied; glad Remmie couldn’t Tap me to see the truth. My powers had to remain a secret though, at least for now. As Mr. Sotto made clear, our abilities were largely unknown to other people. People respond badly to what they don’t know, so they had to remain hidden.
“Well I do!” Remmie chirped. “Who are we looking for?”
“A bull.” I said, moving out of the way for a large pony morph to walk by. “Beyond that, I don’t know anything about him. He was carrying logs.”
“Could be working for Tathom maybe?” Remmie asked.
“Possibly but I don’t think so. I think he’s a day laborer.” I frowned. “Lack of things I’d expect from a woodsman, no ax and why would he be carrying his own wood he chopped? No he was paid to bring it.”
“Have you asked around any?” Remmie asked.
“Some. Not gotten anywhere. The problem is I lack the time to go out on my own investigations.” I sighed. “Warden I…I may need to ask a favor—
“Find the bull? You got it!” Remmie laughed. “I wanna help my friends Janie, you’re my friend. You’re one of the only scalies I know outside the Fellowship.”
“Please don’t call me any of those things while we’re on patrol.” I said.
“You’re too stiff.” Remmie smiled at me, her pea-green eyes lighting up. “I’m going to make it my mission to get you to lighten up some.”
“I don’t need to lighten up.” The Watch is not taken seriously as it is. Having a silly attitude will make the problem worse. “We have to remain serious.”
“How can you take anything we do so seriously?” Remmie asked. “We live in a city of fuzzy animal people.”
“We live in a city of dangerous criminals; we have to be firm in our attitudes.”
“No one here is that dangerous.” No sooner had she spoken then three white blurs shot by, followed by a burst of screaming behind me. Eli has a sense of irony; I believe He uses it frequently in our lives.
“Again! That’s three times! Three times you’ve done this!” The screaming I recognized as from a capybara named Gregor. Gregor is usually calm, cheerful and pleasant, possibly the nicest pagan I’ve ever met. Now he was frothing mad, which meant either a close friend had been killed or…
“Those idiots did it again.” I sighed. “Keep patrolling Warden Remmie, I won’t be long.”
“Kay.” Remmie didn’t even look up. We both knew who could have sent Gregor into a rage. I took off running after the blurs.
One benefit of joining the Watch was I was provided with a special designed set of boots. These boots cushioned my feet and held up on long runs. I needed them; in the Watch you do a lot of running, usually after morons who think a stolen apple is worth a chase across the city.
I already knew which morons I was chasing, and morons they were. I’d personally hauled them in seven times, but I knew of at least twenty-three other times these three had been brought in.
“Run faster!” The blur on the left cried. I had gained enough distance though on him to reach and yank his goral tail hard. He yowled as I pulled him down, sending up a puff of flour.
“She’s gaining!” The little blur cried out to his human companion. The two were slowing down already though I was not. The human I hit first, tripping him as I passed by.
The tiny brown pika was the only one still running, but he was huffing and dragging by now. I snatched him by the cuff of his tunic and lifted him up. He grinned and giggled.
“Corporal…Janelle was it?”
“Hello Tamir.” I said. “Long time. It’s been almost three weeks since I had to arrest you for something.”
The flour-streaked fuzzball was a brown pika named Tamir, a former shepherd and full time pain. He barely came up to my waist, a wide ball of fuzz in a frayed blue tunic. He had light gray fur on his face, round ears with a nick on the left.
Tamir’s fur was soft brown but now coated in flour. His paws were hairless pink things that reminded me of a rat, but his legs were more like those of a rabbit. I glanced occasionally with envy at his tailless backside.
“What did you get into this time Tamir?” I asked.
“What makes you think I did Corporal?” He feigned innocence. I noted the claws on his feet clench and unclench as he spoke to me while his ears flicked back. I Tapped his mind.
..was too upset anyway, we didn’t want to make a mess out of his bakery, we’re on the right track this time!
“You broke into Gregor’s store room again didn’t you?” Tamir’s muzzle dropped. “Come on; let’s get you back to the other fools.”
The first fool was a human male, former female, trying to push himself up. He was a burly man (formerly a reed thin woman) with a head full of the tightest blond curls I had ever seen. He was rubbing his forehead from where it had smacked a rock.
He wore a tight brown tunic and dirty woolen breaches. His shoes were old leather and falling apart. He glanced up at me, brown eyes full of confusion and red lips twisted into a frown.
“You kicked me, it wasn’t nice.”
“Neither is breaking into someone else’s shop. Now get up.” The man was named Adleburt, formerly something else with an A but I didn’t know what. The clothing he wore fascinated me, because Adleburt came from a fairly wealthy merchant family. He could dress nicer but always wore rags.
Usually people dress according to their rank. I will never fully understand the behavior of people. The third idiot was a goral named Kuno, sitting on his bottom and rubbing his left horn. The right was broken off, had been as long as I knew.
He had gray-brown fur and big black eyes. His fingers had thick black hoof nails. His tail went down to his knees and was flat, covered with loose hair. He wore an old doublet and black wool pants, torn on the left knee. Kuno stood as soon as I approached.
“Hello Corporal.” He said, “We were—
“Kuno say nothing!” Tamir snapped. “We will not be treated like criminals! We are the Metamor Keep Pathfinders Guild!”
“You are going to shut up and you are going to march. Now march.” Kuno and Adle walked with their heads down while Tamir squirmed every second. Tapping his mind only rewarded me with a wall of rage.
I returned to find Remmie missing but Gregor waiting for me. The large rodent was almost uniform white in flour, arms crossed, foot tapping and ears pulled back in anger. His eyes grew wider as he saw the three I was bringing back.
“Were these the men who broke into your storeroom?” I asked Gregor.
“How did…yes they are. This is the third time they’ve done it, third time! I’ve got flour on the ceiling!” I glanced at Tamir.
“How did you do that?” Tamir spit on me. I let it roll off. “I would suggest all three of you apologize to Gregor.”
“Never! We apologize for nothing!” Tamir screamed. The other two stammered out hasty apologies, never looking up. “We had to break in you bloody fool!”
“I can’t use any of the flour they spread everywhere.” Gregor said, “That’s all gone and at cost to me.”
“They will be replacing it sir.” I said. Gregor gave a slow nod. “I understand you have an apprentice.”
“Yes but he’s not working today.”
“Well then, could you use more help though?”
“To clean the mess they made? Absolutely.”
“Then in my capacity to dispense mean justice, I give you these three as unpaid laborers for as long as you see fit.” Gregor grinned while the other three’s faces dropped.
“Never!” Tamir said. “The MKPG is what we are! We will find hidden rooms and caches of power! They have to be hidden in the Keep!”
“Stop yelling you twit.” I said. Tamir kept yelling anyway, now everyone was looking somewhere else.
The Metamor Keep Pathfinders Guild is not a guild. They’re three idiots who have a tendency to break into buildings and claim that they’re looking for something. Or rather Tamir does, the other two just follow him. As I previously mentioned, I will never understand people.
What they’re looking for is always the same. Tamir got it in his fuzzy head that there are rooms holding either great treasure, wells of power or unspeakable evil and they’re hidden in the Keep. Their goal is to release whatever is hidden. I have very little sympathy unsurprisingly.
“Just let them work with you and if they don’t do a good job, tell me.” I said. Gregor nodded. “Now you three wait here, if you run again you will be in far worse trouble.”
“We have done—”
“Shut it!” I snapped. I dropped Tamir onto his tailless bottom. “Now stand there and do not look at us.” Tamir made the figs but turned away from the two of us. Adle and Kuno just mumbled thanks. I sighed and returned to Gregor, “I am very sorry about this.”
“It’s not your fault Warden.” He paused, “I’ve seen you before…your name is Janelle right?”
“Janelle yes.” I said. “I’m actually a Corporal. I know you are a baker, your name is Gregor and your baked goods are considered the best in the Keep.” This made the capybara blush through his flour. “I was hoping I could acquire bread from you.”
“You want me to bake you a loaf of bread? I’d be honored War-uh Corporal.” Instantly all the anger he had shown melted and Gregor was bursting with joy. “If you need it fresh for tonight—
“Actually I need it for tomorrow.” Gregor gave a bemused smile as his eyes examined me.
“It will be a little hard but that should be fine.”
“I have to leave early tomorrow, no time to get bread in the morning.” If I stayed in the Keep, they might try to get me to work on my day off.
“Okay, okay no problem” Gregor’s whiskers twitched and sprinkled flour around. “I can have your bread ready this afternoon; I just need to start baking again.”
“Thank you.” I said. “Now I have to get back to my patrol but I will come by here after I finish my shift.” Gregor nodded.
“Alright, I’ll see you then.” He smiled, “Thank you very much…Janelle. Come along you three.” I shot them another glare and forced them to march behind the baker, leaving little white steps along the way.
I rejoined Remmie, walking towards me. “So Warden, what were you doing?”
“I found some crazy man in a dress screaming about stuff.” Remmie said. “He was yelling and acting like a jackass. I told him to move along.”
“Good for you Warden.” I scanned behind us, looking through the crowd. I quickly spotted the aforementioned man in a dress, a scowl and scales on his face. “How odd.”
“I think he’s a scalie like us.”
“Please do not use that deplorable term, thank you.”
“You need to lighten up.” Remmie said. I began to respond only to hear more shouting and screaming. We looked to see a bear morph and a human woman shouting at each other. The bear prepared to strike her when the two of us ran in.
“Eleven counts of mean justice and three of low justice.” I recounted to my sergeant. Tibble scratched away in his ledger. “Busy day.”
“Very, Corporal.” Tibble said. My mind drifted while he wrote, I focused on the flickering of his candle. The flame flicked back and forth, the dull orange light consumed my field of vision.
“Janelle? Are you listening?” The voice echoed from the recesses of my mind. I let it wash away the office, my sergeant, my upcoming meeting.
Instead I was back outside. I was young again, tightly bundled against the cold air. The fire was pitiful and barely warmed me. But I didn’t mind.
“Of course I’m listening to you.” I smiled, “Why wouldn’t I be?” Mr. Sotto nodded.
“You seemed to space out is all Janelle.” He fingered his wooden flute that he always carried. “I want you to relax but not so you fall into the fire.”
“I’m not that tired.” I pulled my cloak a little tighter. “Just…never thought I’d be here…”
“Camping outside with a man ten years your senior?” I shrugged. “Life is full of surprises Janelle, I can tell you that.” I felt him brushing against my mind and I Snapped him out. “Very good.”
“Do you have to do that?” I laughed. “Come on, we’re tired, let’s not mess with our brains for a few minutes!” Mr. Sotto blew into his flute, sending a piercing note through my skull.
“Janelle the point of our training is to strengthen your natural talents.”
“You told me to relax!” I said.
“Do you think you will never be attacked when you are relaxed?” Good point. Sotto resumed playing his flute, this time actually playing instead of just blowing. I hummed along with it.
I’d live in this moment if I could. Above me the moon was full, cold white and bathing us in pale light. I can’t…
“Our training will not last much longer.” Sotto said. “I brought you to teach you how to use your powers. But you’re nearing the limits of even my abilities Janelle.”
“That doesn’t seem possible sir.” My hands slipped out to tug on my long braid of red hair. “I mean…you’re so strong…”
“Corporal?” The memory shattered and I snapped to attention. Tibble cocked his head. “Is everything alright?”
“I’m sorry sir.” I said. “Just my mind is elsewhere. Tomorrow is my day off.” Tibble nodded. “I plan to spend it with my son.” He nodded again, then made a note in another book.
“I’m marking you as a last priority to call in, just in case they need to call you in tomorrow.” Tibble smiled. “Enjoy the day with your son, Corporal.”
“I will sir.” Tibble closed the book and stuck his quill in the inkwell.
“Now the Lieutenant is waiting for you.” I didn’t make a move to leave. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing to worry about. He’s asking to meet with all Corporals on active duty.”
“I’m not worried sir.” My voice quivered for a second but I recovered. “I would like to get this meeting over, though.” Tibble nodded.
“Well our Lieutenant is waiting for you. Dismissed.” I nodded and started up the stairs.
The second floor of the Watch House was reached by one narrow wooden stairway. It was dusky, unlit and always dark no matter what time of day. At the top was a heavy wooden door that opened into a badly cramped hallway.
The hallways had nine doors, four on both sides and one at the end. The first eight doors were offices, record rooms, and a room for Wardens on the night shift to grab rest. The door at the end was the one holding my attention, the Lieutenant’s office.
I tapped once on the heavy oak. The door muffled all sounds but a second later I heard a voice: “Come in.” I swallowed and pulled the door open.
“Corporal Janelle reporting, sir.” I took my place in front of the heavy wooden desk. Behind it sat a narrow and bleary-eyed opossum man. He had a narrow face and crooked teeth with his left bottom fang broken. His great coat was green with white trimmings, the sign of his rank as a Lieutenant.
His claws were chipped and his hands had ink stains on them. I could hear his tail scraping along the floor, probably curling and uncurling. Upon seeing me his muzzle and his ears flopped forward swung up into a smile.
“Ah, good to see you Janelle, come on in.” He gestured at the only chair in front of his desk and I took it. Unlike Tibble, the Lieutenant’s desk was clean and organized. He had one ledger in the center, one lit candle on the right corner with no dripping wax. His three quills were lined up in a row without a single stray ink dot.
The building was a series of oak panels that always felt stuffy to me, each one cleaned and polished to perfection. Candles along the side walls gave the room a flicker that bathed everything in shadow.
Behind my Lieutenant was a cold and unlit stone fireplace. Two windows, both with the curtains drawn to add to the stuffiness, framed it. There were no shelves, no boxes, and no places to put files. This was the office of a leader, a man in absolute control.
A Lieutenant runs every Watch House. Mine was run by an opossum Lieutenant named Triche. I met Triche a couple of times before this, once before I had even become a sailfin lizard. It had been his prompting that got me to look at and eventually join the Watch.
Despite this I didn’t really know the man. The Lieutenant spent all his time locked in the office; I had seen him three times at most since joining the Watch. Now as I sat on the stool anxiety clawed at my stomach. My body remained still and never showed a tremor.
You can never let people see fear.
Triche’s eyes studied me. He tapped his fingers and leaned back in his chair. Thank you Eli for giving me a stool to sit on instead of jamming my tail through. My tail thumped against the ground.
“I am relaxed sir.”
“You’re a bad liar Janelle.” Triche said. “But I’m not here to judge you on your capabilities as a liar.”
“What are you here to judge me on sir?” He tapped his fingers and his black eyes never left my face.
“How would you feel about a promotion to Sergeant?” All blood drained from my head. If it weren’t for the stool I would have fallen over. “Something wrong Janelle?”
“That’s…one way to begin a conversation sir.” Triche laughed.
“You’re very frank, I appreciate that.” He flipped open the ledger on his desk. “You have also twice been given commendations for your conduct, you have been thorough on your patrols and when assigned investigations you have an above average clearance rate.”
“You have all of that in there?” I asked.
“I keep information on all my subordinates.” Triche said. “And you more so than most others. Janelle you were promoted within two years of joining the Watch. And you would have most likely been promoted again had there been an opening before now.” I nodded.
“And there is an opening now?” I asked.
“There is about to be.” Triche said. “Our Sergeant Whitney, one of our investigators, is preparing to leave the Keep and the Watch. When he does so, the position will be open.”
“It will be…” I swallowed. “That’s…that is…I’m at a loss for words sir.” Triche nodded and shut his ledger.
“Do you know what is needed for a promotion to Sergeant?” Of course I did, I had gone over it several times already in my head.
“A commendation, a recommendation from a superior and passing the Sergeant’s exam.”
“Very good Corporal Janelle.” Triche said. “I’m asking all Corporals who have received a commendation up here to find out who is interested in being promoted.”
“Who wouldn’t be sir?”
“More than you think.” Lieutenant Triche said. “I take it though you won’t be one to refuse it?” I nodded. “I suspected as much. I asked you up here to see if you were interested and to schedule an interview Janelle.”
“I will be interviewing every Corporal who agreed.” Triche said. “The one who I feel is the most qualified will get my recommendation to take the Sergeant’s exam.” I swallowed and nodded.
“I am…I am very interested in this sir.” My mouth had gone bone dry. “I’d like to receive your recommendation.”
“And you will get your chance.” Triche said. “Janelle, I said I could find a Corporal from this Watch House to promote, that you all are the best in Metamor. Do you know what I think of the current justice system?” I shook my head.
“I don’t think it works. Mean justice, low justice and high justice? No, justice is universal!” He slammed his fists down on the desk to accentuate the point. “I believe this Corporal and I want it to change. What do you think Corporal, do we need change?”
“I know it sir.” Triche nodded again.
“Well then, dismissed Corporal.” He smiled, “You’ll do great.” I forced a smile and turned around.
As soon as the door shut I braced the wall. My legs wanted to buckle but I kept myself standing. The hallway, already to small, felt like it was about to crush me. I forced myself down the hall, the stairs and out of the Watch House.
“Sergeant Janelle.” I whispered it to myself as I began the slow walk toward Gregor’s bakery. “Sergeant I’m going to…I’m…Did I agree to try?” I stumbled to a stop. “I forgot to Tap his mind.” Anxiety had made me forget.
“I want to train that bull.” My tail thumped against the ground. “I need to raise Kaysar to be a good man. I need to be a mother to my son and a mentor and how on Earth…stop.” I stood up straight.
“You will be professional. You are doing a job; you will not let your fear consume you.” I resumed my march but every step was now labored.
When I made it to Gregor’s the three twits were hard at work polishing and cleaning. Despite this there was still a level of flour on everything.
“How did you get flour on the ceiling?” I asked, looking up. Tamir mumbled a profanity to me in response. “Glad to hear it.” I wiped some flour off of my tabard and from the palm of my hand.
“Warden Janelle?” The backroom of the bakery opened, sending up a white cloud. The capybara emerged, a smile on his face and all the flour cleaned out of his tan fur. His apron looked much cleaner than I had last seen it, still streaked but at least not coated in dust.
“I wanted to thank you for the help in cleaning my shop.” Gregor said, his eyes lighting up. “Today I was all by myself.”
“No doubt why those idiots chose to attack you.” I said. All three diverted their eyes to the tile floor they were trying to make shine. “Now about that fresh bread.”
“I was already baking today but these three interrupted that.” Gregor said. “But for a member of our Watch, I could bake something fresh. Is their anything else you wanted besides bread?” I crossed my arms.
“I’m…not sure. What’s good for a picnic? Aside from the obvious?”
“I have fresh cinnamon rolls.” I shrugged.
“Never been much of one for sweets. They don’t fill you as well as bread.” Gregor scratched his whiskered muzzle.
“May I ask who is going with you on this picnic? Someone special?”
“Yes. My son.”
“Ah!” Gregor strolled into his backroom. Before I could protest he returned with two cinnamon rolls. “Please, take these and the bread, I’ll make it a discount and I promise your son will love them.”
“I’m not sure…” The two rolls probably smelled delicious. The problem was that as a sailfin lizard I had almost no sense of smell. To me they looked like sticky messes I’d spend an hour washing out of Kaysar’s fur.
“Please.” The baker was insistent and now I was curious how they tasted myself. Kaysar would love one. One sweet roll won’t make him fat. The thought of my son’s smile finally convinced me.
“It’s going to be a special occasion, why not? Wrap them up with the bread, I’ll take both.” Gregor’s face lit up in such a way, I almost immediately felt better.
One of the reason’s I joined the Watch was to make people happy. Generally through protecting them but if I could do it in another way I would. When I became Justicar I’d have to remember moments like this.
“I hope you love them Janelle, in fact I’m sure you will.” Gregor said. “And please, come in any time, you’re always welcome.”
“Thank you baker Gregor.” I gave the idiots one last glance before heading outside.
Now the sun hung low and I had baked goods for tomorrow. Kaysar was waiting for me, so my thoughts about the day vanished as I took off for home.
Kaysar sleeping allowed me to light a fire in our fireplace. Nothing quite feels as good as roaring fire on cold scales and aching bones. This I never realized as a human but now I don’t know how I missed it.
Not only that but the wood you burn feels different every time. A hickory fire like I burned tonight burned long and sent up a faint scent that calmed my heart. Ironwood, though, is the absolute best to burn, giving off no scent but lots of heat.
These are the things you start to focus on as a lizard; heat becomes so much more important for you. By comparison, food becomes something that you only indulge in because you have to, not because you care about any particular taste.
In general as a lizard, what you focus on is function rather than feeling. Those things that serve a function now have a kind of luster to them. For me the change had brought on an increase to my sense of sight and an increase to hearing. I could recognize individual heartbeats now, I could tell Kaysar’s from out of a crowd.
I wish I had heard the bull’s heartbeat. I waited for the ink in my journal to dry. That would have made my whole day easier. My claws scraped at the wooden surface of my desk. Sergeant Janelle, I could be Sergeant Janelle before the year’s end.
My tail thumped on the ground as I started on the next page. As a Corporal I usually went on patrol but occasionally my superiors called me on to investigate specific crimes.
As a Sergeant I would investigate exclusively. This meant shorter hours but at the same time more work. As a Corporal, my work stayed at the Watch, when I left I was off duty. If I got the green coat, it meant I was on duty even when not at work.
Eli I don’t know what to do. I dropped my quill and buried my face in my claws. Do your will Eli even if it isn’t mine. I know though what you want for me. You want me to fix the system, I’m sure of it. I have to be Justicar, if there is any chance to fix this broken system I will do it. So this is the start.
The fire began to go dim so I dropped another log in. As I watched it burn, my thoughts switched to Triche. At least I’m not the only one who recognizes it.
Triche was not what I expected, not in the least. I expected someone bureaucratic and disconnected from those who actually went on patrol. Someone who didn’t know their ass from they’re tail in all honesty.
But he knew that the three justice system doesn’t work. I sat back down but left my journal untouched. And… “And can I help fix it?” I glanced back at the door to my son’s room. “Can I help to fix a system that doesn’t work?”
And mentor that bull in the use of his powers? I remember how long it took Mr. Sotto to train me, now I’m going to do it myself. Five years, five long years of intense training to get my abilities to where they are.
Five years living outside of society, staying hidden from people and training in the woods. Five years of deliberately channeling spirits into my body and forcing them out, having to get Mr. Sotto’s help to remove them.
Five years when I was never sure I would get back to Metamor alive. I was younger then, not employed and…
“I can do that…” My voice wavered as I spoke. “It’ll take longer, won’t be as intense but I can do it.”
And can I still have the focus to raise my son? I swallowed. “Of course I can, I can do all these things. I’ve been trained…”
I’ve been trained to be a good solider, a good Warden but there is only so much I can do… I shook my head.
“I can be all these things at once and survive. I can be a Sergeant a mother and a teacher.” A statement of fact that was firm as iron.
“You’re only human Janelle.” Mr. Sotto said to me in my mind. “Don’t ever forget that, there has to be more to your life than just what you are doing now. At the same time you can’t let long term goals consume you.”
“But I’m not.” I said to myself. “I…I’ll pray on this. I’ll let Eli speak to me.”
Most Followers have spiritual councilors, people they can speak to about their problems and get advice. But I have no one, just my faith and hope for a better future. That’s all I need though.
The morning of the 29th of March the sun hung high. Unlike the day before the clouds had parted and it was unseasonably warm. Bad for many but fantastic for me, I could lay and bask all morning.
For now I had set up a large blanket on the least rocky section of grass. The blanket was an old and ratty cream thing that smelled of various animals. Instead of my uniform I wore a relatively clean mustard yellow tunic with a leather belt around my waist. My knife also was strapped to it because you should never go anywhere without a weapon. My pants were ugly brown britches with a button up behind to fit my fin through.
Behind me the Keep rose up, imposing and eternal, seemingly growing out of the ground. I didn’t have to worry about it, though, for now it was all about my son and me.
While I sat on the blanket Kaysar ran through the grass. A single beige tunic almost tented his tiny form. It didn’t slow him down, though. Pure energy carried Kaysar as he chased things.
He’s so small. Kaysar leapt and cupped his hands over something. He landed on two legs and his claws dug into the dirt. He looks so fragile but he isn’t. He’ll grow bigger in time.
“I got a butterfly!” Kaysar chirped as he ran over to me.
“You did?” I smiled. “Come on, show me.” He came to me with his hands cupped together. As soon as he opened them a yellow and black butterfly fluttered away. Kaysar watched it and laughed. “Guess you’ll have to go get another.”
“Kay.” Kaysar took off, tail twitching with joy as he leapt and hunted those (to him) accursed butterflies. I lay on my side at a short distance from him. He looked so happy.
“Was I ever able to be that amused?” I shifted on the blanket in an attempted to get blood flowing into my tail. “It would have been a long time ago.” Kaysar stumbled and fell. Before I could get up he had recovered and was back to running.
“Good boy Kaysar.” I started to smile. “He’s resilient, I need to not worry…growing his first spots…What do I do when he finally grows up?” My heart began to pound in my chest. “I can’t think about that right now.”
So instead, I let Kaysar play and thought of my other problems. The sun seemed to shimmer above me.
There was still a white light in the sky. But now it wasn’t the sun. No it was the full moon. The cold white moon that bathed me in icy light that night so long ago.
“You’re slipping Janelle. You need to keep your body still at all times.” I stood on a stump, half awake with my arms outstretched. I was holding something, rocks? Maybe it was buckets of water; my mind had long since gone numb.
“I’m trying.” My body wasn’t the main problem. No the problem was my mind.
All across my body spirits scraped at me. The forest we stood in was reputed to be haunted and I could now confirm it. Exhaustion threatened to knock me down but I fought on, standing up straight and proud.
I could no longer see Mr. Sotto because my eyes had quit processing. My tunic clung to me and my skin shone with sweat. Yet I held the position that Mr. Sotto ordered, I had no choice. This was the training I had to strengthen both my mind and my body.
“I can feel one trying to force his way in.” I stammered. This new spirit drilled at the back of my skull. “I’m so tired, please can we stop.” My legs had begun shaking.
“Janelle if you sleep here a spirit will get into you while you sleep.” Sotto said. “We will go someplace else when we are done. But you are going to hold that position for twenty-four hours.”
“Haven’t I done that?”
“Almost.” Twigs snapped as Sotto moved around. “Remember, the point of this training is to strengthen your abilities in resisting the influence of spirits. Your mind and your body are tied together Janelle.”
“You never had to do this.” I grumbled.
“I did it to myself Janelle. You forget; I wouldn’t do anything to you that I couldn’t do myself. Now hold steady” Using what little willpower I still had my arms stopped trembling. “Good girl.”
“No problem.” I forced a smile. Can you see me smiling? Just for you. I felt his hands along my arms, against my cold skin. They fell away. Come on, I’m smiling for you.
“Remember to Snap when you feel a spirit trying to penetrate your mind. You can keep them at bay even when exhausted.”
“I just don’t know why I have to be exhausted to do it.” Above us the stars had blinked out but the moon still floated. It wasn’t hazy or blocked, I could see it perfectly. Since I had lost Sotto to the night I focused on the moon.
It looks like it did back in Metamor. I have to go back soon…
Then I had been eighteen and it was eight years ago. I had been in training since Sotto had found me at age thirteen and in a few months I would return back to Metamor. Every day that rattled through my mind and the dread was growing stronger.
What will I do there? Will I know anyone there? I shifted on my stump. What do I do for work? I can’t tell them about my abilities. No one would want to have a Loony around.
“This exercise we do will help you in multiple ways, keep your knees steady.” I pulled them back together. “Your body will remain steady and people will see that. They will not see the anxiety you feel.”
“I can bluff them.” I said. My face felt like there was a sack pulled over it. I keep it as blank as possible. “My everything is in pain.”
“You’ll get used to it.” Sotto said. “Remember Janelle, I won’t always be here. I’m training you so that when you’re on your own you will be alright.” I nodded, letting my hair flop about. Oh how I miss that feeling.
There’s nothing quite like having a head full of hair and then losing it to scales. Now I have only faint memories but sometimes I can still feel my red hair fluttering behind me.
“We’ll rejoin the other three in a few days.” Sotto said. “I’ll present you to the other as a fully trained one of our number.” He began to play his flute again, pausing occasionally to talk. “Janelle tell me, how do you spot a new one of our number?”
“They’ll begin Tapping unconsciously.” I said. My arms burned and were about to collapse. “We know how it feels and can identify them by being Tapped by them.”
“Very good Janie. I’m still working on a better method but for now this is how we find others with our-cough-our gift.” Sotto began to cough uncontrollably but I didn’t turn around. I had been told not to move so I wasn’t going to move.
“After we meet with the others again you will have to return home. Our training is almost at an end, there is nothing more for you to learn. You are a very good student Janelle.” I held firm.
“I can’t believe it’s almost over. I just can’t.” A spirit slammed into my mind hard enough to almost send me off the stump. I Snapped it out with a single blow, keeping my mind clear.
Most people aren’t naturally susceptible to spirits without inviting them in. Because my soul is partially unstuck in my body, they can force their way into my mind at any time.
Snapping is the way you keep a spirit out if you have my abilities. As one of Mr. Sotto’s other pupils described it, it’s like using your will power to palm strike a spirit and knock them away.
This ability unsurprisingly is a lot easier when you’re wide-awake. I knew Sotto was right; I wouldn’t always have the option to be well rested. I had to be ready any time. I just wish he had selected a place with fewer spirits for me to test my Snapping.
“We’re almost done Janelle. You’ve done a magnificent job.”
“Thank you sir.” I could hear him sit down on a rock behind me. His eyes bored into my back until they stared at my soul. “How long has it been since we were with the other three?”
“You don’t need to call me sir.” Sotto said. “At least not while we’re training, save that for later.”
“No problem.” I stammered. No the only problem was keeping still as my head began to swirl.
“It’s been more than a year at least.” Sotto said as I Snapped at another spirit. “The four of you are the beginning of my mage clan. You know that of course.” I nodded. “You’re the beginning of our clan, like those that are so old they have no records of their beginning. They started like we are now.”
“But they have knowledge of their abilities, they have years of tradition and they are established.” I swallowed. “Do you think we’ll be like them?”
“Eventually yes. Though none of us will live to see it.” I nodded. “That’s your responsibility Janelle. In fact it’s the responsibility of all four of you. You must find others with our abilities and recruit them. After I die, you will have to train them.” My heart froze in my chest.
“Are you ready for that Janelle?”
“Always…I’m always ready.” The moon rippled above me and turned back into the sun. I re-emerged into the day, with the same arms and legs but a new tail. “Always ready. Yeah right.”
Kaysar stumbled into a summersault. In seconds he was up and running again. I smiled. “No, this is the moment I’d live in if I could.”
My son has always enjoyed any time we can spend outside of the keep. Just running through the grass in the sun brings a smile to his face. I used to panic any time he fell over until I realized he enjoyed it.
“He’s a tough little civet.” I mumbled. “A lot tougher than I was at that age.” Now Kaysar had run over to a tree and was attempting to climb. But there were no branches and his little claws weren’t helping him.
Still, watching Kaysar cling to the bark was hysterical. I wish I could capture that moment and pull it out anytime I feel bad. My son, framed by light and with a huge grin on his face.
“I have to make this work somehow.” Kaysar leapt off and landed on all fours. Back to running after whatever held his attention. “A Sergeant and a mother will be hard and I’m going to add training someone to that list? I can do it, I can do anything.”
I reached out and Tapped my son’s mind as he ran. No thoughts came back to me, at least not coherent thoughts. Instead I caught snippets of words and a wash of emotions. The biggest ones were happiness at being outside and a burning warmth that flowed into my mind.
“I haven’t screwed him up yet.” I smiled at Kaysar. “He loves me, I am his mother and I’ve not messed up in that role.” I sat up with my tail sticking straight out behind me. “Kaysar! It’s time for lunch.”
“Comin’ mamma.” Kaysar ran towards me and switched between four legs and two. I wonder if he feels drawn to four legs, I more wonder if he cares. Kaysar scrambled onto our blanket as I pulled out our meal.
Meats, bread and a medley of collard and mustard greens Mrs. Aubrah fixed and none of this food made by me. I left the sweets in the basket. Kaysar began to devour it greedily. I ate much slower.
This doesn’t seem too hard to make. I glanced up at my son who had fragments of food sticking to his fur. He’ll eat anything I bet. I bet he likes my cooking.
“Kaysar,” He looked up, “The last time your momma made soup, did you like it?” He giggled.
“It was bad mamma!” I guess that answers my question. Kaysar had almost finished his lunch and had completely ignored the vegetable medley Mrs. Aubrah fixed. I took a bite of it myself.
“Pretty good. Kaysar eat the vegetables too.” He whimpered.
“But they bad mamma.”
“Eat.” I said in a stern voice. That got him going. They vanished into Kaysar’s rapidly moving maw. I stroked the fur on top of his head. “That wasn’t too bad now was it?”
“Nah.” Kaysar looked up at me. I smiled. He licked my face. Something else I’ll have to try and understand.
“Kaysar, do you like being out here with me?” Kaysar nodded rapidly and his little eyes never left my face. “You know your mamma loves you very much.”
“I know mamma.” His face lit up in a massive smile. I pulled him against my chest and stroked his fur. “Mamma?”
“Just know I love you.” I said. “And if your mom has to work more or is a lot busier that doesn’t mean anything’s changed.” Kaysar kept smiling and obviously didn’t understand. “I just might be busy soon. But I still love you.”
“I love you too Mamma!” My mask of serenity shattered as I blinked back tears. My son nuzzled into my chest. I stroked down his back and let my claws pull knots in his fur loose.
“Well I’ve got something special for you.” I said as my son looked up. “Gregor the baker told me,” I reached into the basket, “that you would enjoy this.” I handed one cinnamon roll to my son. Kaysar’s eyes lit up.
“Now eat it slowly.” Kaysar’s little paws sunk into the roll and oozed frosting over them. He started licking at it as fast as he could. “Yep you are getting a bath tonight.”
Kaysar ignored me and instead buried his muzzle into the roll. I picked mine out and took a big bite. My heart skipped a beat. Even at half a day old this was delicious. “We’ll have to thank Gregor.”
“Kay!” Kaysar’s fur was streaked with frosting and his little body looked sticky. I just laughed at it.
“If I were a cat myself I suppose I’d lick you clean.” Kaysar went back to devouring. I kept every spot of frosting from falling onto me as I ate. Soon we both finished and my son was licking his fur.
“Stop, stop!” I laughed. “You’ll give yourself a bald spot.” Kaysar looked up with his tongue out. I laughed again. “You enjoyed it?”
“Yeah! I want more!”
“Maybe later.” I said. Kaysar nodded and nestled his sticky head against my chest. I stroked his fur down to his back and we watched the valley together. More butterflies fluttered by. My son watched and I watched him.
“You want to see one?” I asked.
“Yeah!” I kissed the top of his head and felt his tail thump against my lap. “I didn’ catch.”
“I know.” I said. “But your mom, she’s a little bit special.” Mentally I reached out from my body and brushed against the insect.
Janelle there are many ways you can use your power. And there are many ways you can abuse it. One yellow and brown striped butterfly snapped to life suddenly, wavering back and forth in mid-air.
“Come on now.” I whispered. The mind of a butterfly is not so much a mind as it is awareness. The butterfly did not think but felt things and went with whatever feeling was strongest in its mind.
I Burrowed into this with my mind. I could manipulate what it felt with little effort and soon had it turned towards us.
Towards the living one of the worst abuses you can do is take control of their mind Janelle. To manipulate the emotions and thoughts of your fellow man is to serve the Daedra.
The butterfly was essentially my puppet. I had to be careful though because if I caused it to panic I could kill it. No I needed it over here.
Slowly the butterfly fluttered over to us. Kaysar watched in silence as it landed on his chest. He looked up at me and I smiled.
“Go ahead, be gentle though.” I soothed the butterfly’s mind, keeping it calm even as my son reached towards it. Kaysar very gently touched it’s antenna with a little finger. Sorry Sotto but I want my son to have a good time. I Released the butterfly.
Suddenly it sprung back to life and fluttered away. My son laughed and tried to grab it but missed. I let out a deep breath as my heart began to race. Manipulating the mind of something so small seems easy but it isn’t.
I have next to no experience with doing this and that’s a good thing. Mr. Sotto is right that it is an evil action. But today I needed my son to have a good time so I did something wrong.
I’ll confess about this later. Do you need to go to confession for mind control? Probably. Kaysar gave another laugh that caused his frosting coated fur to shake. But look at my son’s face. He’s so happy. Is their anything wrong with doing good like this? Especially when it hurts no one?
In hindsight I see how arrogant I was to ask that. It can hurt people and I would learn that soon. But then I couldn’t see it.
All I could see was my son. I love you so much Kaysar.
How easy is it to wash frosting out of your son’s fur? The answer is not very. When I started bathing my son his wash tub was relatively warm. When we finished it was ice cold and I had finally given up.
Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and say good enough. Especially when you have an excited and splashing three year old to wash. Then you get the pleasure of trying to dry him as he won’t hold still.
I know it sounds like I’m griping but I still smile when I think of bathing my son. He was a ball of energy back then, always running or climbing onto things. I got to spend this time chasing a streaking civet through our little home.
You never know how much you miss those moments until you look back on them. They’ll never come again.
After the bath I dressed my son in a dry red tunic and lead him back outside. He gripped my hand with his tiny paws as we walked through the Keep. Kaysar’s little body stayed against mine at all times. He gripped my hand a little tighter any time someone he didn’t know got to close.
“It’s okay.” I whispered. “Mamma’s here, I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.” Kaysar’s big black eyes looked up at me. He huddled a little closer anyway. “We’ve just got to go thank someone Kaysar.”
“Because when someone does something or gives you something you like you thank them. It’s the polite thing to do.” I said. “And you liked that cinnamon roll your mamma got you?”
“Well we’re going to thank the baker who convinced me to buy it.” I tussled his guard fur. “You can tell him thank you yourself Kaysar.”
“Kay.” I also wanted to check on the three morons and verify they had done their job. Even on a day off I am on duty. I suppose that’s just the way I am.
Gregor’s bakery was exactly where it had been yesterday. It’s sad I have to confirm that. The door was open when we arrived but no customers were inside. In fact for now no one was inside but I could hear voices from the back room.
“Smells good.” Kaysar chirped. He raised his snout and deeply inhaled. His whiskers trembled and his eyes drifted shut. I could smell faint bread but nothing like him. Sailfin lizards don’t have a good sense of smell.
“Hello?” I called out. The tiled floor and wooden ceiling shone so bright I could see our reflections in them. Kaysar waved at his reflection in the floor. “Good job guys you finally fixed your mess.”
“Hello? Ah Warden!” Gregor popped out of the back room, wiping his hands on his apron. “I’m surprised to see you today.”
“Well we finished our picnic and thought we’d come and thank you for the cinnamon rolls.” I said. “I also wanted to see if the three I sent to help you had done a good job.” Gregor shrugged.
“They cleaned alright but I had to arm twist the little one into doing anything. He seemed to revel in ignoring me.”
“That’s Tamir.” I said. Kaysar had by now let go of my hand and exchanged it for my leg. His fuzzy head drifted out occasionally to look at the Capybara. Gregor’s eyes focused in on him.
“Hello there! Who is this?”
“This is my son Kaysar.” I said while gently nudging my son loose. “Kaysar, this is Gregor.”
“Hi Kaysar!” My son didn’t say anything. He just watched the baker with wide eyes. “What’s the matter?”
“Oh he’s a little shy.” I smiled. “Kaysar this is Gregor, he baked you that cinnamon roll. Tell him thanks.” Kaysar’s ears fell back.
“You made it?” Gregor nodded. “Thank you!”
“It was my pleasure Kaysar.” He said. Kaysar finally came free of my leg and stumbled over to Gregor. Without a word he hugged the Capybara’s leg.
“He can be friendly also though.” I said.
“I can tell.” Kaysar let go and smiled at Gregor.
“I wanna another!” I suppressed a laugh at this.
“You’ll have to ask your mother.” Gregor said to Kaysar. My son spun towards me with a big smile on his face. I shook my head.
“Sorry Kaysar but one is enough for now.” Kaysar whimpered and his fur raised on the back of his neck. Despite this he came back and grabbed my hand. “Thank you again Gregor. I’ll make sure to come back around here sometime.”
“I’ll look foreword to it.” Gregor said. “You’re welcome here any time.” We thanked him again and headed back outside.
The sky was fire orange and every building drenched the ground in shadow. Kaysar yanked on my arm so I kneeled and let him climb onto my shoulders.
“Thanks mamma!” His little claws held onto my neck. “I wanna picnic everyday!” I reached up and scratched his back, getting his tail to stick out straight.
“I wish we could Kaysar. I wish we could.” We walked back to our home, my son beginning to yawn along the way.
Kaysar slept early that night after a day full of activity. I had to stay up though; there was still a journal entry I needed to write. So my candle was lit and my quill was scratching away.
The words flowed from me but I did not see them. In fact I was no longer in this room but with my son still having fun. And I was with the bull who I still wasn’t sure I should train. And I was with Triche accepting the chance for promotion.
“And I still don’t know what to do.” I rubbed my aching temples. “Kaysar thinks I can do anything. I wonder what he’d think of his mamma now?”
For a few brilliant moments I had forgotten all about my dilemma. I had been a mother to my son and not a Corporal or a Loony or anything else. When would I have that option again?
If I started training the bull or became a Sergeant those would become my time sinks. Could I still be a mother to my son?
“I’ll have to try.” I closed my journal. “Not getting anywhere with this tonight.” I thumped my tail against the floor. “I become a Sergeant, what is the positive?
“Answer, I make a lot more money and I am one step closer to being Justicar. I want to fix the justice system in Metamor and this is how I’ll do it. I have to start somewhere, this is my chance.” I nodded to myself.
“Negatives though? My son is young and I’m taking up work that’ll give me less time with him. I can still become a Sergeant later…” I sighed. “But I want this now though. I want to train that bull also.”
Then just do it and stop worrying. It’s not impossible. I can do anything. I looked at my room where my son slept.
“I can do anything.” These words sounded hollow but I said them anyway. “I can do anything and I will.” My mind was made up. I could do it all.
The next day my hunt for the bull would continue. But more on that later.