We had made our way to Cantal the next day. It smelled of cumin and garlic, a combination that made me gag. It had been five years since I set foot in this town, and I had hoped I'd never half to again. Fate seemed to be cruel to me lately.
We had met up with Hensworth and the rest of the unit. Upon making it back to the camp I practically fainted from exhaustion, earning me a few hours in Jonathan's medical tent. I groaned at his lecture about running off with no regard for safety. I told him rather crudely that he could go fuck himself and if he didn't want people to run away, it may be in his best interests not to lie to them. He shut up after that.
Marie came to say how happy she was that I was okay. I sat and nodded as she went on and on. All I could really think about is how many times she had wished for me to disappear as a child.
Hensworth had come to visit as well. "You shouldn't have run off," he said, and then proceeded to tap me on the nose. We went over what had happened, how I didn't get a good look at the cloaked man. I left out the part about Everett's Lycan state. Eventually, I had wormed my way out of that blasted infirmary, only to be tackled by Henry. He had started to sob, telling me how worried he was, especially after the unit had passed the scorched land. I apologized for the worry I had caused him, the only thing I felt truly guilty about.
I walk through the camp. I see Mincer running around, playing with Loto, Labella's ferret familiar. The golden rodent was fast and energetic, much like she was. It seemed a perfect fit.
I see Everett. I wouldn't quite classify him as a familiar, but something within the same realm. A protector had never been a being with human consciousness. It was a rather unique predicament we found ourselves in.
"I'm taking the day off," He says as I approach him. "We are leaving Cantal tomorrow, and with Fredrick here, I can manage a break."
"Fredrick can do your job?" I ask.
"Believe it or not, he was a soldier in his youth," Everett says. "and still holds an active rank in the military."
"I would have never guessed." I imagine the rather charming but inappropriate man. He took joy from annoying others in an almost childish pleasure. It didn't seem like a good fit for the military.
"I was wondering if you would like to come into the city with me," he says. "I think there are some things we should discuss."
I inhale. "That's fair."
We walk to Cantal. It's a small town, the one hero's long to leave in fairytales. It has a high rate of army enlistment. There was money in the army, and it seemed like a better, more romantic option, then being a farmer for the rest of one's life. If it wasn't for the black mark this place bore in my memory, I would've preferred living here. A nice quiet life seemed respectable, peaceful even.
Reality rears its ugly head when I feel a small blunt impact on my upper back. Every town has a dark side. Celesda has greedy nobles, Leona has artists who don't care for the rest of the country, Gracewin is filled to the brim with ambitious men who will trample anyone to build a shipping empire. Cantal was filled to the brim with hate.
"Get out of here you, dirty sandskin."
I turn around to see the culprit. He's a young boy. His eyes are filled with utter disgust. He throws another small rock. It hits my shoulder, but it's not forceful enough to do any damage. A few bystanders look on but don't do anything. Even the town guards ignore the illegal act.
"Donavan!" A woman shouts.
She runs up to the little boy. Pulling his arm back as he's about to throw another pebble. She looks up to see me and is slightly taken aback. Any Asamonians with Ashvian descent learned to move to the big cities, especially Marica. Smaller towns with higher military enlistment seemed to have a burning vendetta against Ashvians. It led to systematic hate, as the only Ashvians ever seen were fighters in a war, and most often on the enemy side.
"Go inside," she whispers to her son. He runs into a small store, most likely owned by the family.
She stalks up to me, holding a firm, respectable posture. Everett's about to step forward, but I put my hand out, stopping him.
"I'm sorry about my son's behavior," she says. "but he is right, you're kind aren't welcome here."
"My kind?" I ask.
"Yes," she harshly spits out. "and if you were smart you would've stayed in your desert wilderness."
I exhale roughly through my nose. My hand balls into a fist, but I relax it. I didn't need to do anything stupid and prove their false hate correct.
"And if you were smart you would teach your son not to break the law," Everett says. "Assault of a cleric is punishable by death. Though at his age he'd probably just get twenty years."
She turns to him and starts to laugh. "If a sandskin's a cleric, then I'm the queen of Asamona."
Everett steps close to her and I'm reminded how tall he is. He is no longer awkward or gentlemanly. There is a type of anger I've never seen before on his face.
"I'd appreciate it if you left my mother out of the conversation," he says.
He opens up his jacket. On his belt, a visible sigil of the royal family shines in exquisite gold. The lady looks down at it and swallows a lump in her throat. Everett was protective of his family. It was the first thing I learned about him.
"Your Highness," she says, her eyes not daring to meet him. "I am so sorry if I caused you any offense. Please don't punish my son, his father is at war, and he tends to act out."
"Thyme," he turns to me. "What do you wish to do?"
The woman looks at me, terror and fear in her eyes. There is no guilt. She believed what she said without a doubt. That I was some dingy creature that should stay far away from her precious town.
I scoff. "let them be."
Everett smiles. It didn't matter how much that boy hated me, he was still just a child. It wasn't his fault that he was stewing in the hate of others around him, marinating until he caught the same flavor. Everett knew what I would choose. He wanted them to see my mercy.
"When you tuck your boy in tonight, remember it was an Ashvian who showed him mercy."
He walks away, grabbing my shoulder and pulling me along. I could see from his face that rage-filled his being. I wish I could say the same. I had been used to this since I was a child. I knew what Cantal was at its worst. I pull him to the side, into an alleyway.
"Stop it," I say. "Stop being mad."
"Why aren't you mad?" He questions. "They called you a sandskin, that boy threw pebbles at you. They hated you just because-"
"Because I'm Ashvian," I finish. "I'm used to it. A pebble to my back and shoulder is far from the worst thing anyone's done to me. It's not worth it to get outraged anymore."
"If you're not outraged, then who will be?" he asks. "Who will stop people like them from being so hateful?"
"Why does everyone expect me to help better the people who hold me down underneath their feet?" I ask. "It's not my job to remove the poison from venomous creatures."
He puts out his arms, wrapping them around me. For all his time in the Military, or gala's in the capital, he missed out on parts of the real world. Cruelty was expected in war, not civilian life. It was an ugly sight, a scarred reality, and often it was swept under the rug.
"I'm sorry," he says, shaking.
"It's fine," I say. "Just don't do this, "I'm the king's son, don't disobey me,' act again."
"Well she was the one who mentioned my mother," he laughs.
I roll my eyes, weakly hitting his chest.
"Let's go find food," I say. "I'm hungry."
We sat down at a small café. The occasional person would stare or scowl at my appearance, though nobody dared to say anything. Everett had ordered some coffee, which we currently are waiting for.
"So, you wanted to talk," I say.
"Yes," he replies. "I figure that you, being a cleric of Ambara, might be able to tell me more about this deal I made, that I don't remember making."
Yes, the deal. Ambara never fully fleshed out the terms of a deal when she made one. That being said she never truly lied either. She never cheapened out. If you were expecting something from her, she delivered, just not always in the most traditional of ways. That being said, bargaining with a god was always a dangerous game, and while I understood why he made the deal, it may have just been better to lay yourself to rest.
"When I was...sedated, she showed me a vision of the deal you made," I tell him. "You didn't want to die, you refused it. So, she sent you back to protect me, to pretty much play the role of a familiar."
"So, is that why I'm a Lycan?" he asks. "Do I have to be part beast to be familiar?"
"You're not a familiar," I clarify. "Humans, even altered ones, can't be familiars. Ambara doesn't agree with them anyway."
"So, what am I then?"
"I don't know."
He sighs, leaning back in his chair. It's not the answer he wanted, but I didn't have any other answer. A god had never given a cleric a human protector. There wasn't a name for such a thing.
"Do you at least know why she changed me into a Lycan?"
"Yes actually," I reply. "Despite what people tell you, gods don't have boundless power. Only Salvitas and Plastus can bring humans back from the brink of death through healing. Ambara can bring a human back, but only as a creature within her domain."
He clenches his jaw as he absorbs this information.
"Were there any better options then Lycan?"
I think for a minute. It had been a long while since I had gone through a bestiary. There were quite a lot of creatures, but I couldn't remember all the ones that Ambara specifically controlled.
"If I can remember, maybe a vampire, a banshee, a striga, and a fae," I say. "Although you couldn't be a striga or a banshee, those can only be created from a female form."
He furrows his eyebrows for a second, then says, "a fae sounds a tad better."
I shake my head furiously. Fae were mean little things that liked to nip off the tips of people's fingers. They always had the intense need to play cruel tricks on people as well. Not to mention the ones under Ambara's domain tended to be rather unappealing to look at.
"Trust me, a wolf was the kinder choice. More fit for protecting as well."
"Is there any way to turn me back into a human?"
His eyes became deadly serious as he said it. This was the question that meant the most to him. I wish I had a better answer to give him.
"The only thing In existence that could possibly change your back is Platus."
Platus was the god of all humankind. He molded men from molten lava. When the rain fell upon the first man, he came to life. Platus was by far the strongest of the gods, being the father of three other gods, including Vestana and Ambara. He also was the least cooperative. At any given time, he only had ten clerics, and they were extremely restricted in the spells they could perform, often paying penance for something as simple as purifying water.
"You mean a cleric of Platus," he says.
"No, I mean the god of life and light. No cleric could possibly help you, there isn't a spell for it. Gods tend not to let us undo their handiwork."
He sighs, and I do something rather unexpected. I reach out and take his hand. I felt my heart pound in fear, fear of what this was. What we were. For the majority of my life, I've had people at a distance, even my family. In two short weeks, I have let Everett closer to me than most people in my life, and he has shared a great deal with me as well. I don't know what was scarier, the fact that my wall had broken so quickly, or that I didn't want to build it back up.
"Your coffee, sir," a waiter says.
I look up, and horror fills me. The man is in his late twenties. He had a crooked nose and brown messy hair. He has grey eyes with full eyelashes. He's rather hefty but in shape. He's missing an arm, and it's my fault.
"Thyme," he says. "didn't expect to see you here."
"I...I," I try to speak, but no words could come out. What do you say to the boy who you crippled?
"It's been a long time," he says, an asymmetrical smile forming on his face. It had been five years. Five years I had avoided the possibility of this moment. Of course, it would happen the one time I stepped into Cantal.
"You two know each other?" Everett asks.
"Yeah," he replies. "I thought she would have mentioned me, considering I tried to kill her."