In a dusty room with hole ridden floorboards lay a boy, sleeping among various dirtied blankets thrown atop a mattress with springs sticking out. The morning light streamed in through the slightly cracked open window, yet it somehow managed to just miss this boy, leaving him in the blissful slumber of darkness.
Outside, the sounds of people chatting and working could be heard, a low murmer of the start of the day. The boy turned over in his sleep, his mouth falling open in a full snore.
In that moment, a flurry of red and gold momentarily blocked the sunlight's path through the window. A brightly plumaged bird appeared on the window ledge. At first, one would say it was a phoenix. However, as the creature regained its balance post-landing, one of its feathers fell off, revealing the true black beneath.
"Drat." grumbled the crow, attempting to cover up the mistake. Finding little success, it let the false feather fall and began to examine the window. It forced its head through the small opening and pushed upward, the window squeaking in resistance, until the bird could finally squeeze its whole body into the room. With a slight caw it finally released itself from the tight grip of the window, and violently shook itself, more colored feathers falling around it in a great flurry. The bird looked about the room until its black eyes fell upon the sleeping boy. It cocked and bobbed its head repeatedly, cooing slightly. The boy was still fast asleep.
The bird opened his beak and started to sing, or at least squawk to some sort of melody.
TIME TO GATHER SEED OF NIGHT
FEEL THE WARM DAY LI..."
"SHUT UP!" yelled the boy. He jumped out of bed, tripped over the blankets, and stumbled towards the window. He shoved the bird out as it squawked in protest and he slammed the window down.
"AND STAY OUT!" he shouted, the bird flying away screaming to all that would listen.
"Stupid bird." The boy grumbled. He blinked his eyes, groaning, suddenly aware of the bluriness of the world. Forcing the bird out of his room was a well-learned habit that required no vision, but now that the excitement was over he became acutely aware of his near blindness.
He edged about the room, arms outstretched, looking for his assistance. His foot managed to land squarely on a misshapen piece of metal, leading to an eruption of swearing and hopping. As he hopped, his elbow banged against the corner of his drawers, on which sat his dusty mirror and, incidentally, his glasses, which fell to the floor.
In dealing with all these new pain stimuli, somehow the familiar sound of glasses falling reached his ears, and after the pain had subsided to a mere throbbing he reached down and picked them up with relative ease.
As he stood up, he put on his glasses and looked in the mirror. He could now see himself clearly, his reddish brown hair and dark brown eyes being the first traits to come into focus. His skin had a smooth pale olive tint, a skin that did not often see the light of the sun.
Currently, he was also in his pajamas, a set of gray patchwork rags that he had attempted to sew together himself. Painfully reminded that his skill was not in sewing, he walked over to his dresser. It wasn't quite a dresser in the usual sense of the word, in that in was a set of wooden boxes stacked atop one another and labled with such things as "socks" and "pants". He pulled out his folded clothes from the necessary boxes and pulled these clothes on himself. He straightened his clothes and glanced at the mirror again. He now wore a soft striped shirt that was ripped and patched in several places and pants that were made of a burlap-like material, a popular item in the town.
"Neatness is not mutually exclusive to a specific environment." He chanted, smoothing down and adjusting his shirt. He sighed, bringing his shoulders up to indicate strength. "Well Mitch, time to face the day." He said to his mirror image. "I'm sure we'll get the ice machine working today! Yup. That's exactly what's going to happen."
He smoothed down his hair, turned, and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him with a slam. From his bedroom he walked down a flight of creaky, rickety stairs into the long hallway. Before him was the front door, and to his right was his main room whicn included a few wooden chairs and table to indicate a dining room and a lead into the kitchen. On his way to the kitchen he stepped over various contraptions left scattered about the previous night. Wires and gears were splayed across the floor; nuts and bolts littered the ground. In the distance, something whirred.
The kitchen was dusty, like the rest of the house, but had brighter lighting. Here, more parts lay strewn about the wooden floors. There was a small solar stove, shiny and mostly functioning, beneath the picture window. Next to the stove were some tables that served as counters, and next to this an old fashioned icebox.
Mitch approached the icebox, examining the front of it. On the counter by the icebox sat an open book, stuck on a page reading 'Outer World Technology and what it means to YOU' in bold letters. A ripped out page lay beside this, displaying a picture of the icebox with lines, numbers, and etchings of internal gizmos drawn all around it. Lying atop the page were several screwdrivers and hammers.
Mitch peered at the icebox. Installed at the front was a small keypad made of slightly rusted metal, out of which stuck a few untamed wires. Carefully, so as to avoid being shocked, he typed in a few numbers on the keypad.
He heard a beep as the display above the keypad booted up, cycling through randomly generated green characters. The display finally settled on a message:
"Temperature: 277.59 Kelvin
Water Dispenser: INACTIVE
Ice Dispenser: INACTIVE
Estimated Food Quantity: 0"
"What?" Mitch muttered, his brow furrowed. Just yesterday there had been plenty of food. He wrenched open the door, staring around with wide eyes, then hung his head. Rats had eaten through most of the food in the middle of the night, and what remained he couldn't even consider. Little droppings were everywhere, and there was a small hole in the side of the icebox.
"No…" he groaned, raising his face to the skies. He knew what this meant. There was no other option. He had to go to the market. And possibly reinforce the icebox with stronger material.
He walked down the hall and tripped. After catching himself, he looked down to see one of his fautly contraptions, a small one wheeled mechanical item, moving randomly and beeping slowly at his feet. He kicked it, sending it spinning off into the hall, and flung open the door.
Mitch paused, blinking, his eyes not used to the sudden influx of light. After the adjustment he walked down the street of dirt, hearing the crunch of small rocks shifting beneath his feet. The sun glared down at him, and he could still just barely see. Houses with thatched roofs loomed over him, their windows glaring with disapproval.
He looked back at his home for a moment, wondering if he had locked his door. His home was a building, far more worn down than any others on this block. Boards were falling off and hanging by rusted nails. The small window just above the door had been broken and shoddily fixed. A sign attached by only one chain swung in the breeze, reading "Repair Shop".
He turned away, figuring he had locked the door, and looked around at the town in which he lived, the small Southlands town of Jun-Yar. People were leaving their houses as they did every day to walk and work in the ever-blistering heat. He too began to walk, feeling the sun beat down on the back of his neck.
Jun-Yar was a town trapped in history, specifically the poorer country section of the Dark Ages. Or, well, that's how Mitch would think of it, remembering the stories he devoured as a child, stories of maidens and monsters and ancient, unknown ages. He looked down the street, at the horizon, and he imagined a looming gray castle blocking part of the sun. This castle, he figured, would be the home of a great yet paranoid king who would lock away dissenters at the slightest word, and there was soon to be a hero to release these prisoners and show the king the error of his ways, and the kingdom would rejoice. He blinked, and in the reality the castle was omitted, as was much of anything else in the distance besides the odd crackled bush.
An old woman worked at a small stand, set up by herself, and she stretched out an arm toward Mitch. Surprised, Mitch stopped for a moment, seeing in her wrinkled hand she held an equally wrinkled tomato.
"Fresh tomatos for half price of the market!" the woman proclaimed. Mitch looked at her, smiling slightly, and she peered back. Instantly, she snatched the tomato away.
"Not for you." She snarled. Mitch shrugged, waved a little, and briskly jogged a small distance away.
The streets that the people walked were made primarily of dirt sorted into different types and colors and named for such. Mitch lived on the corner of 'Red' and 'Rock' road, and he walked on Red searching for 'Green Road', a road he had chosen to never research.
The houses above him as he walked were made mainly of rickety wood. They leaned in on the streets, nearly coming together to form a perfect arch of living spaces. Mitch shuddered, feeling slightly claustriphobic. They were mishmash due to many years of additions and modifications, and many of these homes would not be able to survive in a non-magical climate. The houses were topped with various roofs, from the dried straw thatch to the laid out animal skins of various compliant species.
As he turned onto Green Road he saw a small group of boys, aged 12-14, a big younger than himself, but some of them seemed a bit larger. As he saw them, his heart sank in dread. These kids were strapping brutes, the degenerate sons of the various lawkeepers and blacksmiths of the town. They were raised above the law, and above others, and so they acted. They were grouped around each other just off the road making smokes and testing their product. Mitch kept his head down and began to walk a little faster.
"They won't notice you, they're far too busy." He muttered to himself as he approached them. They were chatting heartily, using a tough language of their own invention. As he walked past them, he heard their conversation cease, and he could see out of the corner of his eye that they had stopped their rolling.
He walked past them, his heart beating fast. They didn't say anything, and for a moment he felt he could breathe.
"HEY FREAK BOY!"
This was exactly why he hated going outdoors.
"I SAID I WANTED A CABBAGE!"
It was a busy time in the Jun-Yar Food Mart. The mart was an open establishment filled with fruits and vegetables stored in display boxes and sample hunks of meat hanging from ceilings. There were even long rows filled with jars of honey from all over Arkinda. Customers of some variety were currently lined up past the entrance at the busiest time of the day, ready to pay for their meats and vegetables and various commodities. But right now, at the front of the line, a customer had gotten the wrong food item, and that was a tragedy.
This customer appeared human, a rather attractive face to much of the local female populace, if you asked their opinion. But right now, the cashier could only see the fact that his face was slowly turning a maroonish color as he screamed his lungs out at her.
This particular cashier was doing her best not to look too frightened. She was a tall young girl, possibly around the age of seventeen, with dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She had fairly nice looking features, though they were hardly noticeable under her rather unkempt and stressed appearance.
"I SAID I WANTED CABBAGE!" screamed the customer. "YOU GAVE ME LETTACE!"
"Right sir. That was a mistake, sir. I shall correct the order immediately, sir." said the girl robotically, trying to appease him.
"I don't WANT to hear your little EXCUSES!" yelled the customer. "I mean, LISTEN TO HER." he said, laughing and turning around to look at the other customers, as if waiting for them to agree with him. Several did, due to his face being a recognizable one about town as one of the more boisterous Lawkeepers. He turned back around. "Well, get me my damn order, CLEN..."
The entire crowd began laughing and stomping their feet at the seemingly appropriate use of this crude descriptor. Some of them shouted further insults, some further back in the line screamed out about how they had to get some place or another in some small amount of time.
The clerk gulped. This full out mutiny had not been expected. She wrote something out on a piece of paper and passed it to a fellow worker nearby.
"Get it and get it quickly." She muttered. The man, a young new hire, nodded and ran off to the other side of the shop. She stood and waited as the customer stared her down.
"Your food will be here shortly, Mr…" the girl waited for the man to complete her sentence.
"You don't even have my NAME? What kind of a FOOL…"
"Sir, you never told me your name. I intend to write it down on your reciept so you may have a record of this transaction."
"Turm Junz, you little idiot!" the man snarled. They waited another while. The girl felt her heart pounding. The new clerk wasn't back yet, and her eyes darted about the mart quckly.
"Well, where is it?" Junz suddenly demanded.
"I... I'm sorry sir, but I can't just generate food from thin air!" stated the girl with shock.
The man leaned in, his eyes narrowing.
"Well, learn how to."
Mitch continued to walk, the shadows of the gang stretching over him.
"HEY TOXIC WASTE! I'M TALKING TO YOU!"
"If I just ignore it…." he whispered under his breath "…they'll get bored and go away."
Just as he finished this thought, he heard a whizzing noise and felt a sudden sharp pain in the back of his head. He whipped around to see the boys reaching for several stones on the ground.
The gang began to laugh, picking up more stones off the ground and tossing them at Mitch. They were bad aims, but they threw many shots, ensuring at least a few hit their mark. One rock slammed into the back of Mitch, and he decided he didn't need to stand and watch anymore.
He turned and ran down the street. He could hear them yelling, the sound of heavy footsteps scratching the dirt, the stones still coming. He dug into his shirt pocket, searching a moment, his face lighting up when his hand reached what he desired. He pulled out a small silver device and he pressed a button. There was a zipping noise and a small translucent barrier appeared over him as he ran.
For a moment, Mitch felt safe, and began to breathe his second sigh of relief, which was interrupted by the smack of a rock against his back. He looked up to find the barrier was slowly fading, and the rocks were flying through it as if it were merely light.
"Stupid thing works in testing, and it fails now?" he growled, before increasing his speed.
There were people traveling across the street pushing carts and carriages with various wares. Mitch stopped for a moment, seeing his path was blocked. He looked behind him to see the gang was still hot on his trail, and he took a deep breath and dashed into the fray. He nimbly leapt over a cart full of orange beans and heard the lady pushing it scream as the gang behind him simply plowed through the cart. Orange beans flew everywhere in a great shower, and people shouted at Mitch. Hoping the boys were at least slowed by this rubble, he continued pushing through crowds of shocked and confused people, and yet he could almost feel the gang breathing on the back of his neck, feel their energy behind him…
He saw a large crowd of people standing in a line. A hanging sign read 'Food Mart'.
"At least I'm here." He said, panting and leaning on his knees for a moment. He glanced at the front of the shop. The line went out past the door.
"THERE HE IS. GET YOUR FACE BACK HERE!"
Mitch chanced a glance behind him. Those kids were catching up fast. He looked at the shop, at the borderline beyond it. He couldn't go past the Mart, it lay right on the border of Jun'Yar, past which only lay the vast empty wastelands he didn't want to think about.
Mitch took another deep breath, closed his eyes, and dove into the crowd, grabbing and pushing until he had finally squeezed his way into the shop.
The store was chock full of customers. It was soon to be the winter season, and it was only natural that the entire town would want to stock up on food that would soon not be on the shelves. The girl was exhausted, continually trying to fill orders, some of them bordering on the ludicrous.
"No sir, we do not in fact have Heart of Unicorn." she mumbled to a dark skinned man who appeared to have some elf blood. He wore a hat to poorly disguise his slightly pointed ears.
"Are you sure?" he asked, looking at her with questioning yellow eyes. "It's not actually the heart of a unicorn, you realize. It's a plant…"
"Oh pah, move it Knife Ears, we humans have important things to get here!" yelled a pot bellied woman in the back. The man furrowed his brow in anger and left the shop quietly.
The girl sighed, rubbing her eyes, trying not to think of her growing stress. The run in with the angry customer earlier was still on her mind, and it was dark inside the store. It had been some time before she had seen some decent light.
"Boy, that guy was sure an as…" the new hire started.
"Shsh Lentrop." The girl said, putting out a hand.
"Why?" he asked. "It's true, he was."
"That was Trum Junz, he's a Lawkeeper." The girl hissed. "If word got out that you badmouthed him, it could be very bad for us…and for you."
"He's a Lawkeeper, he's supposed to keep the law, right?" Lentrop asked. "I don't know of any which law that allows someone to make someone else disappear."
"It's the law of his own personal enforcement." The girl stated. "Don't question it."
"Whatever you say Kulina." He said, shrugging. "I'm gonna go stock the berries, someone tried to shoplift them and ruined a whole batch."
"Jerk." The girl growled. The next customer approached, holding a large bag bursting with carrots as Lentrop left.
Suddenly, there was a scream in the crowd, as well as a shout of "QUIT CUTTIN' THE DAMN LINE". The girl's head shot up, and she tried to suppress a grin. Chaos, finally, a reason to move.
She quickly leaned through the doorway leading to the backroom. "Cover for me, Aerold! There's an emergency in the shop!" she shouted. A sandy haired man reading a paper in the break chair looked up from his study. He grinned, nodded, and sprang up. She looked him over before sighing with exasperation and walked out the door. It wasn't professional or sane to wear jungle camoflauge to work, but she never argued with him.
She walked away from her post and rushed into the crowd, towards the source of the commotion. After pushing back the pot bellied woman and a small group of Liner Men out for their Sunday dinner, she finally came upon the troublemaker attempting to squeeze between two large, slightly Orcish customers, their backs toward him.
"You ain't getting past, that's cuttin' the line." The large, green skinned woman stated.
"That's barbaric, that is." The green skin man stated.
She grabbed the struggling boy's shoulder and wrenched him toward her.
Mitch's glasses had come askew in the commotion, and he stared at the girl, slightly dazed. He could barely make her out in his once again blurred and confused vision.
"What are you doing?" she hissed. "Get back in line!"
The boy shook his head. The clerk looked him over, trying to see if she knew him. She figured he looked only a little older than she did by human standards. He also was wearing a small belt, on which were a number of strange metal things. This she recognized, remembering stories and rumors she had heard in the shop. She looked at his face again. He did not speak, but only looked towards the door.
There was more commotion, and the girl could now plainly see a gang of boys coming through the store, each holding onto a large rock. Nobody was making any motion to stop them. In fact, most of the customers were parting to allow the boys through. The girl looked at the gang. Then she looked at the boy. Then she understood.
"Come with me." she said, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him through the crowd. There were more shouts behind her, indicating they had been noticed, or pointed out. She opened a door in the back and walked Mitch through.
Mitch raised his arm in the sudden influx of light. The girl beamed, feeling the light on her skin. She then shook herself back to reality. She was here to help someone as best she could.
They were now behind the store, beside a number of giant storage containers made of a thick wood. The girl opened one of them and shoved the boy inside.
"Just stay in here and no matter what happens don't run out until I say, got it?" She said quickly.
"But..." began Mitch.
"I can handle it." she said before slamming the door and turning around.
It wasn't long before the gang of boys finally made their way to the storage area. They forced open the back door to find the girl leaning against a storage container, reading an inventory list.
The girl looked up over her paper at the boys, trying to appear calm. They were all confident, and that wasn't good. Confidence meant that they might have a Plan B, and Plan Bs were the most dangerous plans of all, especially when the other party had no Plan B of their own.
"Open the door." said the biggest of the gang. He was huge, fat, and muscular all at the same time. He looked like the type of person who would snap you in half and toss you to his pet crocodile if you failed to give him his birthday present. Of course, this was only a general statement. He might have a pet alligator instead.
She straightened up to her full height, gave the gang a glare, and spoke.
"No. I can't do that for you." She said calmly. "You will have to talk to my manager if you wish to examine these contents. Are you inspection workers?"
"We're looking for a little someone, and we think you may have him." Said one boy sauvly. "You could say we're…inspection vigilaties."
The girl tried to surpress a giggle at how tough the boy attempted to act.
"I'm really sorry, bit I'm afraid I've never heard of inspection vigilantism…"
Suddenly, the first boy grabbed the girl's shirt and shoved her against the door of the container. She could feel that her feet were no longer on solid ground.
"Open the door clen." He growled, glaring into her eyes. The rest of the gang chuckled nervously.
Clen. The same name Junz had called her earlier. She was still not quite sure what it really meant, but she knew it was a word meant to spit at someone, meant to degrade one's very existance. She knew exactly what she had to do.
Her eyes narrowed, and her mouth suddenly opened in a shout, revealing jagged teeth that hadn't been jagged before.
"I. AM. NOT. A. CLEN."
The large boy dropped her in shock. She stood up again, staring the boys down. The rest of her began to change. Her face became scaly and black. Her nose became two slits in her face. Her hair shrank back into her head, to be replaced by yellowed horns. The jagged teeth became long fangs, slowly growing out of her mouth.
She stared at the gang.
"No." she said, her voice coming out in a deep rasp.
"DEMON!" the boys screamed in unison.
The boys stampeded the other way, screaming all the while. The girl grinned as she watched them fall over each other and crawl on the ground in their desperation to get away, with the leader shoving the others behind him. Finally, they managed to push their way out of the door. Screams could be heard from the customers outside the room, and soon those too faded.
The girl paused, and the horns and fangs jutted back into her head, becoming her human teeth and dirty blonde hair. The scales were replaced with tanned white skin, and the slits jutted out into a normal, round nose.
She took a look at her reflection in a nearby curtained window to make sure she was completely normal before opening the storage room to let the boy out.
"You alright?" she asked.
"I've been better." said Mitch. He rubbed the back of his head, then looked at his hand to see blood. He groaned and stepped forward, only to slip on a small fish on the floor.
"Oh, let me help you out with that." said the girl, holding out her hand.
Mitch took it and steadily climbed out of the storage area, jumping onto the solid ground. The girl let go of the boy's hand and both stared at each other, an awkward silence between them.
"Kevocea Laquir." said the girl, holding out her hand. Mitch instinctively looked to see if there was a stone in it.
"Uh, Mitch." He said, taking it. "…Filantrop."
"Yeah. The inventor guy, right?" Kev asked, slightly eager. She had always been curious about the inventor in the town.
"Right." said Mitch, narrowing his eyes.
"Uh, I was just stating a fact." said Kev quickly, looking down in shame.
"Yeah, well, it's not a fact I'm that happy with at the moment." Mitch grumbled.
"I guess not." said Kev, looking at him. He was covered in dirt. Spots of blood were on his shirt.
Another awkward silence fell between them. Mitch couldn't help noticing something odd about the girl. He definitely sensed something different, a different level of energy, something stronger than what he could see in normal people.
"Do you…oh, you do, you need some sort of medical help." Kev muttered, reaching out toward his head.
"I can handle it myself!" Mitch said quickly, backing away, knowing exactly what sort of medical treatment was readily available to most of the Jun'Yar population.
"Are you sure? We have an emergency pack in the back, I'm sure Aerold could patch you up."
"I'm perfectly fine." Said Mitch quickly. He looked at Kev, who seemed to be rather sad now.
"But thank you." He said quickly. She still remained silent, looking down at the ground.
"So…how did you get them to go away?" he asked, trying to change the subject. "I couldn't really hear anything that was going on in here."
"I made a scary face at them." Said Kev, looking up and smiling. "They're really more cowardly than you'd think, and I'm quite good at making scary faces."
"I'm really sorry about all this." Said Mitch, looking at his feet. "Will you get in trouble?"
"Trouble? No, it'll be fine. We know those kids, they always come in here trying to stir up trouble. We have ways of handling them." Said Kev professionally.
Another awkward silence permeated the area. Kev berated herself internally on being unable to carry on a conversation with a human.
"Uh, well..." said Mitch, finally breaking the silence. "I was coming over here to get some supplies... rats ate my food and all, so..."
"Oh, sure." said Kev, turning towards the storage area and reopening it. Lifeless fish eyes stared back at her. Decapitated chickens hung from racks. A pig head sat at the end of the hall.
"Wow I'm hungry." she muttered, licking her lips.
"Wait, what?" asked Mitch.
"I didn't say anything." said Kev quickly.
"You sure? I thought you said you were hungry. I understa…"
"I didn't say anything." Repeated Kev.
Kev walked into the shed. The smell of some bloodied meat in a far corner perked up her senses, but she knew she would have to look disgusted rather than hungry.
"Anything in particular?" she asked, walking deeper into the shed.
"Just… anything." said Mitch, waving his hand. "I need to get home."
Kev was by now reaching up to one of the higher shelves, attempting to pull down a small object. Mitch couldn't tell what the said object was, since it was so dark in the storage room. He decided to make further conversation.
"So... your name's Kevocea." he said. "That's an interesting name."
"Oh, my mother wasn't exactly on the right side of the fence." she said, pushing back a few fish to see nothing but a single, moldy cheese to greet her. "She numbered all…I mean…" Kev suddenly stopped moving. Her eyes grew wide in fear.
"What?" asked Mitch.
"My…my mother was odd, so she gave me an odd name.." she said, not looking back at him. "You can call me Kev though, most do."
"Alright." Said Mitch. "You have a family? Do you visit them?"
"No, not really." Said Kev quickly. "Here, take this."
Kev walked out holding a huge basket of food. It reminded Mitch of those Cornucopias served at the tables of Centropolis. Fruit, meat, vegetables... he couldn't even get a good look at the types. All he knew was that it was a lot of food.
"How much?" he asked weakly.
"Free. On the house." said Kev, grinning and wiping some sweat from her brow. "You've been through enough trouble as it is."
"Uh… thanks?" said Mitch. He had no idea how to respond to this situation. Should he offer to pay anyway?
"I have mon-"
Kev thrust the basket in his hands and skipped back through the shop door. Mitch stood for a while, feeling her energy fade as she left. He shrugged and walked around the shop, back into the street beyond.