“I bloody knew it!” Leon shouted in anguish as he saw Val and her allies boarding his ship. “If ya had told me you were bringing a beast aboard I would have readied the cages up for you”

“She’s a diplomat en route to the capital. It’s his job to protect her.” Val clapped Kyron on the back pushing him forward, “I’m just tagging along.”

“And doing all the heavy lifting.” Kyron grimaced as he stumbled forward, “I mean if she hadn’t come along I’d be dead. And the shark saved my life. I owe her safe passage. I’ll do all I can to ensure she gets it.”

“Listen, I’m moved by all your honor. I really am, but folks around here don’t like chondricthians, and no amount of duty or honor is going to change that. I don’t want a mutiny on my hands, so she’s going to have to ride as a prisoner.” Leon explained sternly. “You both can ride as her guards, or as passengers. I’ll leave it up to you.”

Val thought for a moment before answering. She had no desire to stand watch the entire boat ride, but if Leon was being truthful about the displeasure Srough’s presence would bring then she would have to be near the shark to make sure none of the crew tried to attack their escortee. “I’ll stand watch over her.” She confirmed coming to a decision. “We’re bringing her aboard so she should be our responsibility.”

“That’s kind of you to accept. If I’m being honest I was planning on throwing you in the brig with her for the trip if you didn’t. Just makes everything simpler if you’re all in one place.” Leon said in a chipper tone, causing Val to give him a dirty look as she became suspicious of his intentions.

“That’s real nice of you.” Kyron rolled his eyes, “I mean, at least now I know you really don’t put much faith in people paying you money.”

“You’re not completely wrong. I just don’t put my faith in anyone lad. Been let down too many times to risk it. I’ll trust ya when you prove you’re worth trusting.” Leon said with a nod before turning to face the rear of his ship. “All passengers are aboard! Push off!” He then turned back to face Val, “You three head on down below.”

Val felt the boat shift suddenly beneath her as the vessel finally began its voyage upriver, causing her to stumble as she began to head below deck. She looked back at Kyron and Srough motioning for them to follow her. When they were safely out of Leon’s earshot she drew them in close, “I don’t trust that man one bit. Keep your guard up.”

“You really had to say that to me?” Kyron smirked back at her teasingly, “Come on, let’s go put our ward in her cell.”

“Speaker Srough does not mind riding in a cell. All that matters is that we get to the capital.” Srough spoke uncharacteristically focused. “This vehicle feels unnatural, the sooner we are off of it the better.”

“Thought you’d feel more at home on the water.” Kyron mused aloud, “Guess you’re just not used to riding something instead of being in the water directly huh?”

“Defender Kyron is correct about this matter.” Srough started. She seemed as though she was going to continue in more detail on the subject before Kyron interrupted her.

“What’s the whole Defender thing about anyway?” He raised an eyebrow looking at her quizzically, “I mean why do you always call yourself by your full title in the third person?”

“It is your language that makes it sound weird. The common tongue of man doesn’t allow for the verbal finesse that choxan does. Your language is clumsy much like your bodies. In choxan, it is considered both polite and mandatory to address anyone by their full title even yourself. If you do not you risk drawing the ire of your audience.” Srough explained in short.

“But you don’t always do it. Are you trying to insult us when you don’t?” Val tipped her head over to the side. “That seems a little too subtle for you.”

“When I speak without your full title, it means that I’m familiar with the concept I’m addressing. That is done in an effort to match your dialect more correctly. When I’m not familiar I have to translate the thought more literally. Most chondricthians lack the ability to translate as fluently as I do, hence my title of speaker.”

Kyron and Val nodded in understanding, before the young archer spoke up, “Huh, guess not all chondricthians are as dumb as they say.”

Val glared at him, wanting to chide him for such a cavalier remark, but Srough spoke first, “While it is true that my species lacks the natural intelligence that the Cephelo’orua have, I do not appreciate you speaking poorly of them when they are counting on your help to save them. If your apathy were to cause them to go extinct even though you swore to aid us how would you feel?”

Kyron found himself speechless and the trio fell into an uncomfortable silence as they led Srough to her cell. When they let her in Srough sat heavily on the deck and closed her eyes as she leaned up against the wall. The cell door swung shut with a resounding clunk signaling the door was locked in place.

“Kyron,” Val began once it seemed Srough had fallen asleep, “How many other races have you met? And I don’t mean just in passing. Like actually gotten to know?”

“Well, other than Srough,” He whispered to her, “I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting a few of the shifters that live near the capital. Those guys creep me out.” Val recognized that he was talking about the Vincoral, a race of androgynous humanoids that subconsciously changed their appearance to make themselves more pleasing to the people they were talking to. “Why do you ask?” Kyron asked added on.

“It’s just all we’ve ever really known is chondricthians, and the occasional diplomat from the Cephelo’orua.” Val frowned

“Yeah and those arrogant head-tails never wanted to talk to anyone other than the higher-ups.” Kyron interjected.

“That’s not the point. It’s just weird to me that the only race we’ve consistently interacted with are our enemies that we’re now trying to save. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad to help them if it will stop the fighting. I just sort of feel like it will make Brackshore a little lonely.” Val laughed gently, “Guess I’m just used to the fighting is all.”

“Pfft! Don’t be silly, you’ll find something else to fight I’m sure of it.” Kyron chortled, “You couldn’t stay out of trouble if your life depended on it.”

“It’s not my fault I always run into monsters when I’m running around. I mean come on, it’s not like I fell in a plague nest or anything.” Val smiled apologetically, “Besides I always took care of it on my own. So, in reality, I was just doing your job for you!” She nodded still smiling. She knew that she worried everyone when she got into trouble, but she couldn’t help herself. It was like something inside her led her to the danger, daring her to vanquish it.

“Yeah, I know. Still, did you tell anyone else why you were running out of town?” Kyron grimaced, “They’ll be worried sick if they don’t hear from you.”

“I didn’t have time. I had to make up for lost ground to save your sorry butt.” Val lightly punched Kyron’s shoulder. “Hopefully they’ll just assume I couldn’t stand to be left behind and ran after you. If we make them worry, they’ll just be borrowing tomorrow’s problems before we’ve solved today’s.”

“Yeah it’s probably for the best no one knows what’s going on. Especially your old man. He’s always worrying about you the most. He definitely thinks of you as his own.” Kyron’s voice carried a gentle tone on the air. He knew that Val had been adopted, but she never talked much about how it made her feel.

“Come on we should get some rest.” Val interrupted his train of thought directing him to the cot across the hall, “I’ll take first watch. You’ve still gotta recover don’t you?” Kyron nodded and winced as he tenderly held his shoulder where the arrow had pierced him.

“In the morning can we see if the doctor on the crew knows biomancy? I really don’t think I’ll be much help if I have a bum arm the whole journey.” He asked as he laid down on the cot trying to get comfortable.

“Why are you asking me? I’m not your keeper.” Val smirked playfully, “Just go see if he’s available right now if it’s that bad. I’ll be fine here on my own for a bit.” Kyron simply grumbled in response and stood back up to leave Val in solitary watch over Srough.

As Kyron rounded the corner and went back above deck, Srough stirred and grunted quietly, “You two have been friends a long time. It’s obvious he trusts you with his very life.”

“Yeah, but sometimes too much if you ask me. I end up having to cover his back while he lines up a clean shot.” Val grinned widely, “Though it is nice to know he trusts me that way. The battlefield is a good place to find out how genuine someone is.”

“Tell me, Val. Why is it that you always fight? I don’t have an appropriate title for you yet. Kyron says you are too young, and that the elder humans in your village wish you would stay out of harm’s way and yet you defy them. Why?”

Val stumbled over her words for a moment caught off guard by the question,“I don’t know really. I guess, because I can I feel like I should? Besides, if I’m not using my strength and talent doesn’t that just mean I’m being lazy?”

“Interesting.” Srough said plainly. The single word in response to Val’s uncertainty only served to make her even more uncertain. Of course, when her friends depended on her she was there to help them, but that was in no small part due to her desire to feel the joy she received from garnering their praise.

“Why do you care about the reasons I fight?” Val defended herself, “I’m fighting on your side now, isn’t that enough?”

“No. It isn’t. If you’re only fighting to fulfill your whims and desires then you’ll cut tail and run the moment it becomes dangerous or you grow bored. I need to know why you’re helping me, so I know if I can count on you. I sincerely hope I never have to refer to you as Coward Val. You have talent, but I don’t know your character well enough yet.”

Val turned away from the cell with anger on her face. Her? A coward? Never! Val couldn’t believe the audacity of the chondricthian woman to insinuate that she would run from a fight. But even still the doubt remained and Val began to wonder what it would take for her to turn from a fight. She was planning on joining the royal military when she was old enough, but was that simply to make sure she had someone to hold her accountable to her own power?

It was at this moment as Val began to lose herself in her inner thoughts that a voice brought her back to the surface, “You’ve got that look again. I told you doubt doesn’t suit you, Val. I think you’re gonna need the rest more than I do now.” Kyron smiled flexing his newly healed shoulder. “I talked to the captain on the way back, and he says the winds are favorable, so we should be able to shorten the trip to the capital by at least a day. If we’re extremely lucky we’ll be to Daksalnir port by the time you wake up.

Val heeded his words and went to the cot he had been resting on. It was then that an answer came to her. She wouldn’t abandon Srough and her people’s plight because it was the right thing to do. She was a good person, and that meant she performed good deeds. She knew the answer was childish, but it served to calm her mind enough for her to begin drifting to sleep. She knew that when the time came that she would know why it was that she felt compelled to fight on others behalf and she knew she wasn’t the kind to call it quits until the job was done. In the end, the why of it didn’t matter.


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