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Posted 8/21/09 , edited 12/22/09
The Last of the Lions

One-

Today was cold. Freezing cold. The kind of cold where you just want to sit around a tavern, drinking and complaining about the cold with your best pals.
Especially that drinking part! The bartender thought gleefully.

Yes. It was definitely cold today. The blizzard outside roared continually, the sound bringing a chill to already freezing bones. Luckily, The Lame Deer tavern was full of men making merry, laughing. Joking. Arm wrestling and good-natured arguing.
And drinking! The bartender reminded himself again.

This particular bartender’s name was Oro and it was a fine day to be a bartender! The tavern regulars were just getting around to one of their favorite drinking songs. There were no real rules on who sung, what they sung when they did, or whether they drink or not for singing. It mostly just involved this group singing as lustily as they could, about anything or nothing, and drinking as much as they could hold.

These were his best patrons by far!

No… Five of them seemed to be missing…
Mitch, Slim, Horcac, Kenny, and Dorm.
Where are they, though? Oro thought to himself. He scanned the room’s tables. There they were, sitting in the far corner. Oro shook his head, sadly. He knew just what those men were discussing.

Taxes have been rising and rising for the past year. There wasn’t any reason for it!
Some had gone to the Town’s aristocrat leaders to inquire about and debate the taxes. Coincidentally, many of those who did were soon found unconscious and bloodied in a ditch.
The last straw for Dorm and his group was when Millar, a friend of theirs, was found dead after an inquiry with the leaders.
And on top of that, last week the chairman of the town council: Himtroph gave a speech to the mining town of Briggs that the ever increasing taxes were being dealt out by the ruling House itself!
It didn’t take long before Dorm and his gang began plotting a scheme of their own.

Oro didn’t like it. Planning an action against the Royal Family? The most worrying part was that they were gaining quite a following when the workers weren’t getting drunk on their drink savings.

Oro’s thoughts were disrupted when the door to the tavern flew open, letting in a blast of icy air. A figure toppled in right behind the swinging door. He scrambled up and with encouragement in the form of long streams of curses from the inhabitants of the tavern, managed to finally close the door.

The cloaked figure slumped against the door for a moment in sheer exhaustion, but as the warmth of the room slowly filled him, he got up and shambled towards the bar. The rowdy inhabitants had forgotten about this stranger the minute he got the door shut and paid him no mind as he made his way through the room, a few even patted him on the back for no real reason except maybe for the joy of life, song
and beer.

But a five pairs of eyes never left his back as he stepped up to the bar.

“So, stranger, what’ll ya have?” Oro said good-naturedly, though shrewdly examining the cloaked and hooded figure before him. He noted that for seeming a little out of it because of the storm, the man held himself tall. He also noted that the figure wore a slightly large broad sword across his back.

“Brr! Something hot!” The man said, shivering, voice slightly higher pitched than Oro expected from a man his size.
“Hot whiskey sound good then?” He asked, reaching for a pot simmering on the stove.

The man’s shoulders shook, laughing. At first Oro was annoyed, but then the customer flung his hood back revealing a face that couldn’t be older than 17. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of some hot cocoa!” The boy laughed.

Oro couldn’t help it, he began chuckling himself. “Well, lad, because of the present crowd, I don’t have any made up right now, but I can fix it up in a jiffy!” He said, revealing a distinct highland accent.

“That would be amazing!” The teen-aged man exclaimed. “Bring me like a whole pitcher and a cup like…” He took a moment to glance around the room. He pointed at some men chugging their beer down out of huge cups. “That big!”

“All rightie, then!” Oro laughed, realizing that the boy was obviously freezing. “You just sit down by that fire there and I’ll have one of me daughters bring it out to ya! That’ll be five coppers.”

The newcomer thanked Oro as he paid him and turned to find his way to the seat when Oro called him back over. “Lad,” He said in a low voice. “If you can play that guitar any good and entertain these people, I’ll give you your money back plus extra!”

Oh! The newcomer had forgotten all about that instrument strapped on his back. He quickly agreed and went to his seat by the fire. There he immediately set to work on retuning his guitar. The cold weather was absolute murder to the strings and it took him a good while to complete it.

He then searched his memory for an appropriate song to warm himself up with. When a fun and easy drinking song popped to his head, he started right away. The room fell deathly quiet for a second, eyes turned to the lad. He carried on, though, knowing how these

audiences react from prior experiences.
As soon as the occupants realized what he was playing, they burst in to follow him. Albeit not very well or on key, but joyfully. When he finished the song, his drink was brought out to him. The crowd dispersed and let him drink a while. The hot cocoa started working instantly as he felt a warmth in his belly spread to the rest of his body.

Two-

The warmth of the fire and the hot drink had done its trick. The newcomer sat huddled up in his booth, sleeping.
Of course before that he had played a long slew of songs and had a real great time.

But now it was time to rest.

Dorm and his group had watched him the entire time. Suspicion and distrust etched into their faces. Now, though, the traveler was asleep. They left off keeping a watch on him and resumed their planning.

Dorm spoke up then, debating with another about the size of their force compared to the Grazton Palace Guards’. “We may not have many, now, but once others see how fast are forces are growing, they’ll be encouraged to join our revolt!”

No one had seen any movement, so it was a shock to the five at that table and a few others around when a fist slammed down onto the table top. “What’s this talk of a rebellion, now?”

It was the newcomer.

Dorm rocketed up, hand reaching for his long knife. “Who the Hell are you?!” He growled at the intruder.

The boy twitched his head, moving a bit of dirty blonde hair from his eyes. He hunched over, closer to the assembly as he pulled a pocket watch from his pants pocket. Grinning, he held it up beside his face revealing a crest of a golden dragon in front of a shield.
“I’m Kale Lockey. Envoy of the Royal House of Rastor!”



Three-

All four of other the men burst from their seats, gripping their weapons.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Kale said with an exasperated face.

Dorm loomed over the 17 year old, who wasn’t actually all that tall in the first place. “And why’s that, you little rat?” He growled as he
slowly began drawing his blade.

Rat? Kale thought, is he insinuating that I’m short?! “Because,” Kale started, “One, I could kick all your asses right here. Two, if I don’t report in by the end of the week, you’ll have yourself one heap of a problem here!”

It was a standoff for a moment. Then Kale said “Alright, you have a couple of options here. You can keep on planning your little rebellion. If you choose that, I have the authority to call in a whole army. How does that sound, eh?”

The men seemed to inwardly flinch.

“Or,” Kale continued, grinning confidently and pulling up a chair, “we can sit back down and have a nice little discussion.”

Dorm sat his massive self back into his seat. “And now you’re threatening us?”

Kale leaned his chair bake, wearing an astonished face. “Threatening you? No! What I mean is I want to find out why you would want to rebel and see what I can do to fix the problem.”

Everyone at the table seemed to deflate a bit.

“So, why don’t you guys tell me just what your little issue is?”




Kale strode towards the town treasurer’s office. He remembered last night’s conversation with Dorm and company. He would have started to work then, but he needed sleep and the blizzard was still going strong.

He glanced down at the snow crunching under his feet. “Gah!” he groaned. “If I didn’t have an image to maintain now, I would so deck someone with a snowball!”

Though he was walking, the sword on his back seemed to shake just a little too vigorously at that statement. There was no wind.

Kale grinned just a bit just before he got to the door. He reached for the handle, adopting a businessy look for his face and straightened his belt. He marched through the door, up towards a counter.

An old, friendly looking man sat behind it. The man greeted Kale politely and asked if he could help him.

“Actually, I’d like to see the tax records for this town.”Kale said, glancing around the well furnished office.

Chuckling, the man told him that, well, he couldn’t just give anyone that information. “Right, of course!” Replied Kale pulling out the pocket watch and showing it to the old-timer. “Will this get me the records?”

The old man began laughing quietly to himself. “Son, that there will get you just about anything! Just give me a moment.”

Kale thanked the man and a minute later, he was handed the document. Kale didn’t really have anywhere to go at the time, so he asked if he could stick around for a while till he was done. That man didn’t mind so Kale pulled up a chair and began reading the large paper.

Just as I expected, everything looks perfect. Kale thought.

The old man heard a scraping of metal behind him and turned around. He was a little more than shocked to find the point of a blade against his throat.

“Now,” Began Kale, smiling pleasantly “why don’t you go ahead and give me the real paper?”


Within minutes, Kale, Dorm, Mitch, Slim, Horvac, Kenny and a few others including Oro were huddled around a bar table studying the tax document. Helpless to stop it, Kale burst out into laughter.

After a short couple of moments, he was silenced by the hard stares of his companions. Once back in control of his voice he managed: “Well no wonder you guys were planning a rebellion!” He managed. “You guys are being charged an average of 250 Graztets each month.” He explained as he pointed to the paper. “But for the size of this town, the average tax should be around, um, I’d say 50 give or take.”

At that there was a thunderous exclamation of shock.

“Sooo…” Kale said, doing a few mental figures in his head, “guess where all that extra money is going? And by the way, it’s not to the Royal House!”

Four-

Baldric was enjoying his evening.

The aristocrat sat in his oversized armchair facing the window, looking out onto the town. He sipped a glass of wine, remembering back to when things finally turned his way.

About 50 years ago, there were skirmishes with Krokoa, a small neighboring country over a stretch of land about 20 miles from here. The work in this iron mine exploded.

A weapons factory was assembled as well. To keep order in the town, now flooded with soldiers and workers, Briggs was placed under military government. That was where Baldric’s father came in.

He held a respectable rank but he was kept out of any action on the front, even when the battles began nearing the town. Baldric’s father didn’t appreciate this, but he accepted it and did his duty.

When Krokoa finally gave up on the land, and both sides demobilized their troops, Baldric’s father was left in command of the mining town.

There were no complaints. After all, it made sense. Krokoa left on bitter terms, you never knew when another small scale series of battles might take place. Then there was the economy. With the mine now being run with military discipline, income increased dramatically.

15 years ago, Baldric attained his father’s position. That was also when the mine showed signs of depletion. Iron ore was becoming harder and harder to dig out and it was costing.

Baldric brought the declining economy back to a reasonable level. The town would never be the same, but eventually, a new economical source would develop.

It wasn’t until five years ago that he began raising the taxes.

But he had saved this town economically! Didn’t he deserve some of the wealth?

As he pondered this, there was a knock at the chamber door. One of his servants.

“Visitor, sir. He says he’s an envoy of Rastor…” The servant’s voice carried in with an obvious disdainful doubt.

“Well, show him in,” Baldric sighed, leaning back in his armchair sipping his wine.

The thick wooden door opened and a blonde haired teenager stomped into the room backwards pointing between his and the servant’s eyes with his two fingers in an ‘I’m watching you!’ gesture.

Envoy of Rastor? I’m sure. Baldric thought scathingly watching the boy turn and marched towards him.

Kale reached Baldric and held out his hand. “I’m sure you heard that guy, so let me get straight to the point.” He paused as Baldric took his hand and shook it. “ I’m Kale Lockey. And you’re a greedy ass.”

Five-

Baldric leaned back in his chair. “Well I’m sure I don’t know what you-“

“Oh yeah, I’m sure you don’t.” Kale said sitting down in a smaller chair next to the aristocrat and holding out the tax records.
Baldric glanced at the document and sighed. So he’d been found out. His arm reached out for a tasseled rope hanging from the
ceiling. “Well, we can’t have this…” He pulled the rope sharply.

Kale flew from the chair and stood behind it casting a frantic look around the floor. “Tell me that’s not for a trap door!” He cried in alarm.

Baldric blinked at this strange kid. “Uh, no. We haven’t gotten those installed yet, actually.” At the relieved look on Kale’s face he smiled villainously. “Actually, it’s calling in a few more guests!”

Curtains on the surrounding walls were thrown open by rough looking men, swords drawn. They leered at Kale, smirking. Only oe this time. This looked fun.

Kale turned watching the men step out of the entryways. “Oh,” He said “One of those pull ropes.”

Baldric made an unhurried retreat as the men began to close in on Kale. The young envoy watched the man’s departure through the wooden door and heard the distinct click of a lock. “Alright, then… Can’t we just work this out peacefully?” Kale implored the obvious leader of the assembled rogues who carried a spear carelessly over his shoulder.

The tall, black-haired man spat at Kale’s boots. “What?! And miss out on this?” He grinned devilishly, revealing an array of truly rotten teeth. “It’s not often mayor Baldric lets us play with a little runt like yourself!”

It was only years of survival experience that allowed the man to block a sword stroke that would have cleaved his head in two. “Woah, now!” he cried, knocking Kale backwards.

The man began laughing heartily. “Well now… You’re good! Oh-ho ho! This will be fun, boys!”
The surrounding men sneered at the lone kid. Then, a larger of the men, directly behind Kale lunged at him with a hand axe.

“Stay here.” Kale muttered to his blade, driving it into the floor. Using the sword as a base, Kale swung up into the air, pushed backwards and kicked the attacker in the face. This shocked the rest of the surrounding thugs to rush in for the kill.

Still holding himself in the air with the blade’s handle, Kale launched himself at the closest attacker, slamming his fist into his nose. In a blur, Kale ran back to the blade and used it as a step up to bring down two others while falling.

In short succession, all the rest of the men were on the floor moaning, except for the leader, who Kale knocked unconscious with a bash on the head with the sword’s pommel.

Glancing out the window, Kale saw Baldric on the ground floor, rushing across an enclosed courtyard. On the street, outside, a steam carriage was sitting, obviously waiting on the aristocrat. He just had to go through that small building first.

Without a second thought; made easy since he didn’t have much of a first, Kale rushed to the window, picking up a dropped hand axe along the way, and leapt out into open space.

“Oi! Baldric!”Came Kale’s shout… Following the hand axe which lodged itself into the door, less than an inch from Baldrics face.
Baldric fell almost into a feint and slid down the door his head resting on it.

Kale on the other hand, was still in the air, now fully realizing that he had just jumped from a third story window.
“Aww, shi-“ Kale’s drawn out curse was never finished because he had to concentrate on rolling once he slammed into the ground to avoid dying.

A hand gripped the still in shock Baldric and twisted him around. “Hello, Sir Baldric!”

The last thing Baldric remembered seeing was a fist slamming into his nose.

Six

“No, no, no! Seriously, don’t assault him, alright!?” Kale responded, rather frantically to a joke from Oro, the bartender.

The large man (all the men in the mining town, Briggs seem to dwarf average men) simply slapped Kale’s back and handed him his guitar with a wink.

A few thin clouds blew quickly by over head. The frosted ground crunched under any step one could make. A fog of mist filled the streets today. Not because of the weather, but because nearly everyone in the town had come out and see the young envoy off and the buzz of conversation spawned such a cloud that it was almost hard to see further than 15 feet away.

Of course it was cold. Kale had to retune his instrument five times in between songs with the people of Briggs this morning. He’d be lucky if a string didn’t snap.

“No! Seriously!” Kale repeated.

Dorm dropped his massive hand onto the boy’s shoulder, nearly knocking him down. “Don’t worry, we’re angry with him, but we’re not savages.” His deep voice cutting through the fog.

Only somewhat reassured, Kale managed a grin. “Well, alright then. I’ll take your word for it!”

He took a few backwards steps away, breathe clogging his view. “Okay, well, there will be a escort of soldiers to take Baldric for a military trial within the week, so you don’t have to worry about taking care of him much longer. Hmm, you’ll also need to set up an election process for a mayor…” There he trailed off, losing his train of thought. He hated all this official business crap.

Oro took a step towards him. “Come now, why don’t you stay a little longer? You can have free board!”

The boy let out a short, grateful laugh. “Sorry, but I need to head on out before my luck catches up with me! Look! It’s already started!” He chuckled, lifting his right leg which was bound to a light splint.

He hadn’t escaped his three-story leap completely unscathed.

“Well you just be careful, alright?” Oro relented, shrugging his shoulders. “The weather this time of year can change on a whim.”
“I’ll keep that in mind!” Kale then pulled at the heavy cloak he had received as a gift. “Heck! I’m not even that cold right now, so I think I’ll be fine.”

With that, he waved to the populous of the mining town and set off down the main road, towards the surrounding forest.

A great cheer from behind him caused Kale to turn around. He waved once more and set off again. “I might like to live there someday…”

Kale reflected, in a murmur. A chinking sound from the sword on his back alerted him just in time to look at the tree as he walked into it.

At least he was out of sight of the town…

Seven

Deeper into the forest, the cluster of trees allowed the snow to form in great drifts. For some lucky reason, though, besides a thin coating, the road itself was relatively clear. Kale marveled at this as he walked; only a slight limp from his hurt ankle impaired his pace.

Often, he had to gaze upwards at the top of these drifts.

A little further down the path, the space between the trees decreased, leaving him in a small clearing.

Kale glanced around hopefully, looking to find some kind of wild life. Strangely though, there was none to be found.
“It’s not like I’m some kind of giant walking through here…” Kale muttered under his breath, disappointed, “Animals usually don’t mind me much…”

He sighed and picked up his pace only slightly.

The gaps in the trees gave birth to a clear view of the skies. While the sun still shone down brightly, dark, worrying clouds were racing across the sky.

“Damn, I hope I don’t have to try and survive another blizzard!” He groaned, shivering at the thought.
As he reached the center of the clearing, a loud chink emitting from his blade brought him forcibly back to reality.

There was an explosion of snow on both sides of the road.

In a blur of motion, Kale’s sword was out and holding back a viciously swung spear.

Arms straining, knees bent, Kale stared into the face of his attacker.

The rogue leader grinned wickedly as his fellows closed in. “I don’t think we properly ever introduced ourselves!”

Eight

Steadying his breathing, he replied: “Oh, in that case, I’m Kale Lockey. Last name-bearer of the clan. Ever heard of them?”

The rogue put on extra pressure with his spear, holding Kale there for the moment. His smile widened, revealing many more of his rotten teeth than Kale would have preferred to see. “Oh, aye! I’ve heard of the Lockeys! They drove my clan out of power in this land one thousand years ago!”

With that pleasant sentiment, he swung his weapon around, sending Kale away, his boots skidding on the frosted ground.

“Ah!” Exclaimed Kale with an excited grin. He swung around, smashing the hilt of his blade into the skull of a rather large and fat thug advancing upon him from behind. The brute crashed to the ground, causing the earth to shudder. “You’re a Kento! You do have their crooked nose!”

“Too True!” Shouted the adversary. “Sowmin Kento! It will be an honor and a pleasure to kill the last bearer of that damned name!”
Sowmin rushed Kale, swinging the blade-tipped spear at his head.

The spear stopped dead, held at bay by Kale’s sword, which he held with only one hand on the grip.

“I realized something,” Kale said, easily holding this position, despite the force exerted from the opposing end. “That, in the excitement, I didn’t quite finish the introductions.”

In response to the confused expression from Sowmin, Kale tapped his broadsword, a smile playing on his face.

“This here,” he started, tapping the blade again “is Gregor.”

Nine

As Kale finished, a force exploded outward from him, or rather the sword. Sowmin was pushed away a good five feet.

Most of the others surrounding Kale were too stunned by this to move.

“Was that…”one of the men stammered, “Magic?”

“This kid can do that?”

“Rush him!” another shouted and five of the braver surged forward.

The first to get within Kale’s reach found a boot in his face. As he fell backwards, Kale continued that leg’s motion, bringing it towards the ground swiftly and hooking it around the back of the next goon’s leg.

The man fell and Kale dropped with him, slamming his other leg onto his chest.

Kale slashed the front of another’s ankles with his blade and stood back up, breathing a little heavy.

The rest of the men were eyeing him with a nervous air. Where was Sowmin?

Kale leapt to the side just to avoid being speared in the back.
His right side under his arm was bleeding though. Kale chuckled nervously to his attacker.

“Looks like you got me there.” Kale stated redundantly.

Sowmin pointed his spear at the Lockey and grinned.

Kale spat to his right side and glared at Sowmin seriously. The spear was suddenly struck by a powerful blow, knocking it downward. Then again, knocking it skyward.

Sowmin stared at the attacking Kale with an odd expression. He managed to keep a grip on his weapon until the third blow sent it to the side, flying into a tree.

Sowmin’s expression didn’t change as a part of his ear was chipped away or even when his leg was slashed shallowly, forcing him to his knees.

What just happened? His eyes seemed to ask.
Kale drove the blade into the ground right in front of his ambusher and leaned on it, over the man, a pleasant, dangerous grin playing over his expression.

“Now see hear, Kento.” Kale said, pointing at the injury on his torso “That’s a pain, but not too much of a problem. But you’re an ass.”

He punched the man in the nose, breaking it for what looked like the fifth time in his life. Kale pulled the stunned Sowmin back up by his dirty collar. Kale now pointed up to the sky. Clouds were now heavy and the air was thick with a oppressive chill.

“That there is a problem.” Kale dropped Sowmin and slammed his fist into the face of one of Sowmin’s men, dumb enough to think he could get the drop on Kale. The man was out cold before he hit the ground.

Kale pulled Sowmin back up by the collar. “You’re also pathetic. You’ve wasted valuable time for me. I might not get to the next town down the road before the next blizzard hits. Now, I’ve left you all intact so pick yourselves up and crawl back down into whatever hole you crawled out of.” There Kale picked up the spaced leader and slapped him once or twice until he stood on his own.

Kale then led him over to his men and motioned carrying them back.

When Sowmin seemed to wake up enough to stare indignantly at Kale for all this, Kale walked off down the road.

“Don’t look so down and outs!” Kale called out over his shoulder. “With any luck, I’ll die in this blizzard!”

With that, he let out a sharp bark of laughter at his own joke and sheathed his sword, Gregor, and waved a hand over his shoulder.

Kale grinned grimly as a gust of wind seemed to blow right through his thick cloak.

“Shit.”

Sowmin was carrying one of his men when he turned again to glare at the retreating figure in the distance. He glanced up at the sky and then back at the lone cloaked figure. He continued onward with a smug grin.

Ten

The road was gone. Any indication of where it is had been blanketed by snow within the first ten minutes.

The blizzard struck like running into a brick wall. Kale barely kept his footing, lucky because he might not have made it back up.

The cold was intense. Kale was forced to pull his scarf to his mouth and nose as soon as the icy gust struck his lone figure.

The wind seemed to blow straight through his thick cloak which had been so warming back at Briggs.

The gale also enshrouded Kale’s vision to where he was forced to walk one hand stretched out in front of him and the other over the upper portion of his face in a vain attempt to ward off the cold.

The intensity of the cold terrified Kale. It instantly caused his limbs to cry out in pain.

But what scared Kale more, was the new lack of feeling in his outstretched arm as he stared at the quickly freezing blood oozing from a
hole in his hand where it had impaled itself on a sturdy, frozen branch.
The freezing had stopped the bleeding within seconds so Kale trudged on. If he stopped and tried to weather it out, he knew that next spring he’d be discovered in whatever embarrassing position that he managed to fold into before freezing over.

The snow was up to just below his knees now, but he continued on doggedly.

He realized that his teeth had stopped chattering. It wasn’t until a minute of contemplation later that he found his scarf had simply frozen, holding his jaw in place.


Kale eventually discovered that he had stopped moving and was face first in the snow, his arm outstretched ahead like it was reaching for help just out of reach.

At first he couldn’t comprehend why in the world he was on the ground until he tried to stand up and found his right knee was frozen stiff.

His left was following quickly.

The roar of the blizzard seemed to die down now. The freezing pain that had enveloped his body diminished.

This is surprisingly comfortable, Kale thought as his vision dimmed.

Just like falling asleep……

Eleven

Food.

That was the first thing to spring to Kale’s mind.

“Why the Hell am I thinking about food in a time like this?” Kale wondered, then paused.

Wait, I spoke? Aren’t frozen? Upon thinking about it, Kale realized that he wasn’t all that cold. It wasn’t numbness either.
He could feel he was lying on his back. In fact, he was under a sheet as far as he could tell.

Kale decided that opening his eyes might be a decent plan of action at this moment.

He found himself staring at a thatched roof supported by wooden beams. He turned his head and saw shelves lining the clay walls filled with what he could only guess were herbs.

Someone had found him and brought him back here.

But where was here?

By the look of the building, it could be a small out-of-the-way village. Straining his ears, he could make out some conversations and cheerful laughter outside.

Okay, right. Definitely a village.

So, what was it that woke him up again?

Then he smelled it. Food. Stew, to be exact.

Kale sat straight up. He was beyond starving.

The sudden movement sent a searing pain throughout his chest and he broke out into an excruciating coughing fit. He began to panic when he couldn’t stop. Even more so when he found he was coughing up blood.

Over the ruckus he was causing, Kale heard someone rush into the room with him.

Whoever it was pushed a cup of some liquid to his mouth and forced it down his throat.

Almost instantly, Kale’s coughing died away, but his vision was dimming too.

Before he was out again, he saw someone else enter the room and the one that helped him stated in a woman’s voice, “I told you someone who shouts out swear words while in a fever would go and hurt himself before he can even sit up right…”

Kale didn’t hear the reply to this because he was already unconscious. But he noticed something odd about the pair, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was…

Twelve

Kale opened his eyes again and once more saw that same thatched roof.

“I trust you’ve learned your lesson, right?” Said a voice near him on his right side. There was the woman, whom he guessed, was the one that helped him before.

“No more sitting up like that, right?”

Kale grimaced and scratched the left side of his chest. It didn’t help. It itched on the inside.

He sighed, wincing a bit. “So, was it you that helped me?” He asked glancing at her.

She was occupying herself by grinding up some herbs and she didn’t interrupt her work by looking up as she replied. “No, you were just frozen. You got back up and walked here.”

Kale tried to not chuckle. “I’m in your debt.”

This time she did look at him, revealing sharp, red eyes. “You have no idea.” She said plainly then continued grinding the herbs in the bowl.

Kale let her work in silence for a little while.
Red eyes.

Not nearly as abnormal as her ears. Dog-like ears.

Dark hair, speckled with gray.

“Wolf-Peop- er, I mean, Okami, correct?” Kale said, glancing back at her.

“That’s right.” She said, staring back at him. She then shook the pestle she was working with at him. “Good save, by the way. We don’t oblige to being named as lesser to humans.”

She resumed her work and muttered something about the name ‘Wolf-People’ under her breathe.

Thirteen

“Well, I can sit up, but that’s about it right now.” Kale grunted.

“Well, don’t strain yourself. We don’t want you lying around, immobile for longer than you have to,” Ash growled, handing him another cup of tea.

It had been a week now. A whole week of staying in bed, nearly dying of a coughing fit every couple of hours, only to be mellowed by a cup of Ash’s special brew of tea.

Ash, Kale’s canine savior. But he could never call her that… that’d be suicide.

Her tea was extremely potent. It could knock out Kale’s cough and soothe the pain in his chest.

Kale downed the cup he was handed. Plus, it didn’t taste half bad!

He scratched his chest as the pain died away.

The cold feeling remained, though. Not so much a physical thing, as a silent dread.

All but his ankle, which the combined effects of his fight with Sowmin and the blizzard had messed it up bad enough that he would
require maybe a month of healing, and his right lung were healed of frostbite within the week, thanks to the prowess of Okami healing techniques.

Everyone that visited him to relieve Ash for a while was completely confident about his ankle.

It would heal.

But they almost seemed weary when it came to the subject of his lung. Severe frostbite.

Normally, they could heal it, but his lung only healed to a certain degree and then stopped.

An Unheal-able. He had heard some mutter.

Rarely, some wounds have been documented throughout history that would not heal.

Sometimes, an Arch-Mage that specialized in healing could do it, but individuals such as those are elusive at best.

Ash had predicted that at best, the symptoms Kale could look forward to could be like a permanent pneumonia.

Not a pleasant prospect in any way.

“Has Gregor talked to you anymore?” Kale asked Ash after a long stretch of silence.

Ash glanced up at him, grinning slightly. “Yes, actually. Grazton sounds like a interesting city, if not a little too crowded for my tastes.”

“Gah.” Kale groaned, scratching his head. “I swear that damn blade’s spoken to you more than he ever has me.”

Propped up near the door in the room, Kale’s sword shifted where it stood.

“Gregor, don’t mock me!” Kale said, beginning with a shout, but ending with a pained croak.

“Take it easy, Kale.” Ash groaned, her face in her palm as she handed him another half cup.

She was grinning about Gregor though.



Fourteen

Over the next couple of days, Ash showed the village to Kale, who followed her around with the aid of a crutch.

It was a pleasant village. All the buildings were little cottages no bigger than the one he was living in for treatment.

Only one was larger than the rest. It was in the center of the village. It was slightly taller as well.

When Kale pointed it out, Ash merely stated that that was where “Sis” lived. She didn’t stop or slow down for Kale as she replied and left the task of keeping up with her to him.

They passed by a pathway leading west and Kale looked down it as he went by. Or rather up it, since it led uphill.

At the furthest point he could see, he made out a man wearing a brimmed hat. No other details were visible except he was in all brown attire.

“Hey, Ash,” He called, pointing towards the figure. “Who’s that?”

Ash actually stopped this time. “Up and about, eh?” She mumbled to herself before glancing back at Kale. “I’ll tell you about him later. Come on!”

They finished their tour as the sun was setting. She led Kale back into the hut and had dinner.

Ash didn’t talk to him at all though. She was busy scribbling on a piece of paper.

Kale attempted to read it but she turned in her chair and continued writing with the paper now set on a short cabinet, out of his view.

He gave up but eventually heard her muttering the names of a few herbs which he recognized.

Kale figured that her store must be low and was preparing to stock up before winter REALLY set in.

He shivered at the thought.

Ash turned to him, looking almost surprised. “What? You’re still up? Off with you! Off! You need to look somewhat in shape so Sis doesn’t think you’re a TOTAL waste of time!”

She practically shoved him into the spare bed and threw the sheets over him.

“Sleep!” She barked, commandingly.

‘Well, look who’s wearing the pants in this relationship!’ Kale thought sarcastically to himself.

Gregor shifted in a laughing way.

“Shut it.” Kale groaned, only to have a sizable book chucked at his head, effectively knocking him out.

Fifteen

“Wake Up!”

Kale rolled over.

“Wake up!”

He shifted just a bit.

Next thing Kale knew, he was tossed out of bed and was being half-dragged to a shower.

Now finally completely awake, thanks to the extremely cold water, Kale dried off and dressed in the clothes the village had donated to
him. He looked a little ridiculous though, since the pants required an odd-colored patch to cover the tail-hole in the rear.

He found Ash sitting at the table. She tossed him an apple and got up, indicating that he follow her outside.

Kale pulled on the cloak he had been given in Briggs, grabbed his crutches and followed her out.

Once his eyes adjusted to the light from the rare cloudless day, Kale trailed behind Ash to in front of the larger of the buildings.

They stood there a while but nothing happened.

Kale glanced around and munched on his apple. The inhabitants were going about their regular business, but their ears were all turned towards where he and Ash stood.

An Okami, dressed differently than the rest bustled out of the hut. He was growling about something under his breath and didn’t bother
to greet, let alone cast a glance at the pair waiting near the door.

A few seconds later, Ash stepped out of the door to watch the retreating figure.

‘Wait, that can’t be right…’ Kale thought to himself, glancing swiftly beside him.

Ash stood next to him, also watching the wolfen figure.

He stared back at the Ash near the door, then back at the one beside him.

Just as he opened his mouth to question this strange event, the Ash beside him spoke up.

“Heh. Sure showed him, eh, sis?”

Kale looked back at towards the door. ‘Oh. Sis…’

Sixteen

Kale and Ash now sat in ‘Sis’s’ home. They were gathered around a short table that they had to sit on the ground by.

Kale wasn’t quite used to sitting like this and soon became a little sore, but that was easily endurable for him.

What wasn’t easily endurable was the Okami code of etiquette when sitting with the Alpha of the pack.

Before any conversation, the guests must sit quietly, drinking a cup of tea.

For a good 15 or so minutes. Sitting there. On their butts. Drinking tea. Quietly.

Needless to say, it was driving Kale mad.

Luckily, he was trained to be able to live through the obstacle course of death known as etiquette.

Suddenly, Ash’s sister leapt up, stretching mightily. “Alright! Well I guess if he could sit and stand that, he’s rather well trained!” She cried as if referring to a dog.

‘Ironic’ Thought Kale.

“Stand up! Stand up! Let’s go sit at a real table! I can’t stand that little thing! It’s for business. Just wanted to see how you’d react. Come on!” She laughed.

Kale was hauled to his stiff feet by Ash who quickly caught up to her sister.

They exchanged a grin and Kale could’ve sworn he saw a knuckle-touch.

They sat down at a good sized table now. There was a small bit of food set out but Kale didn’t have the chance to touch it.

“Just who are you? You know you’re literally eating up valuable supplies? Are you worth all that?”

Ash’s sister was glaring at him over her hands, which she supported her chin on.

“I’m Kale Lockey, ma’am. And I really hope I’m worth-” Kale started, but was interrupted.

“Lockey. That name is familiar.”

Kale sighed. “It should be. I’m of the Lockey clan.”

“Yes, and isn’t that clan in somewhat of a shortage?” She asked, leaning forward more.

Kale visibly flinched, but he kept an impassive expression. “Aye. That’s one way to put it.”

“And I heard that number was reduced in the Great War. But I can’t seem to recall that final number.” She said, staring at him calculatingly.

Kale’s fingers dug at the table then went calm again. “Yes. My parents were killed in the Great War. I was ten when I got the news. That
leaves me as the last to bear the name.”

He clenched his hands into fists on the table but his face still remained calm. “I’d appreciate to know the name of who’s asking me these personal questions.”

It wasn’t a request.

“Or did you have anything else to ask?” He questioned, leaning forward, matching her gaze dangerously.

She held Kale’s glare, coolly. Then she leaned back in her chair with a slight smile.

“Kale Lockey, last of the Lockey clan, I am Yuki, Alpha of the Okami Pack, Shimo. I apologize for those questions, it must not have been
easy to resist throwing that knife near your hand there. I wanted to see how you would react”

Kale nodded, sighing somewhat understandingly.

Yuki sat a little straighter. “Now, down to business. Kale, something you need to know, in our pack, we take debts very, very seriously.”

Seventeen

“Very seriously, eh?” Kale repeated.

That doesn’t sound very good.

Yuki nodded in a business-like way. Ash leaned forward in her chair.

“Yes, Kale. Let’s say you accidentally broke a shelf full of herbs and they were all spoiled.” She started, miming something falling and spilling.

“That would mean you would owe me all of those herbs, plus the shelf if it was damaged. You’d have to help with the replacement as well. You can’t just pay for it.” Ash continued.

That was when Kale got a cold feeling in the bottom of his stomach.

“And since you saved my life, I owe you my life. Which means…” He trailed off.

“Which means:” Yuki carried on his sentence, standing up to walk over to Ash. “That you belong to her now.” She said, patting her sister’s shoulder.

Ash grinned at Kale “That means that from this moment on, you have to do everything I tell you!”

Kale didn’t quite know what to say. So he decided his best plan of action would be to sit there dumbly with his mouth slightly ajar.

“Well, I think that concludes our business, don’t you, Sis?” Yuki asked, stretching.

“I think so, Sis!” Ash said, stretching as well.

Kale was not stretching, though. He was somewhat balled up in a cocoon of nervousness and self pity. But the end of this transaction without any say from him startled him to alertness.

“Wait, how am I supposed to pay off this debt?” Kale stammered.

“Well, you could always die for me.” Ash said, cocking her head at Kale.

‘As if…’ Kale thought silently.

“Or until Ash here decides to release you.” Yuki offered.

“As if…” Kale heard Ash mutter under her breath.

Eighteen

Finally.

Kale’s ankle was all better.

The ankle that Kale had aggravated in the fight with Sowmin and his cohorts, the ankle which the blizzard caused even worse damage, was now free of the splint that had supported it for the past week or so.

Kale couldn’t resist rolling his foot around, simply for the joy in doing it.

He stood up, somewhat overwhelmed by his emancipation from the crutches.

So overwhelmed that he found nothing really out of the ordinary when Ash practically threw his coat at him and told him to put it on.

Nothing special about her handing him a canteen, telling him it was full of that tea of hers for his cough.

Nothing of any sort crossed Kale’s mind when she handed him a straw basket.

When Ash told him they were going for a walk, however, he was ecstatic.

The pair left the village, Kale carrying the basket by his side. He now noticed the forest.

He realized it looked a lot nicer now that he could stand on both feet and look at it.

His breath came out in clouds in front of him and the snow crunched under his feet, but he wasn’t the slightest bit cold.

Kale had nearly forgotten about the basket he was carrying until Ash dropped something into it.

He glanced down into the thing. Some kind of plant. He stared at the ground by where Ash had been.

Some of the snow had been dug up.

“Hey! Keep up!” Ash called over to him, slightly agitated.

Once Kale reached her, she dropped a handful of little plants into the basket.

“Ah! So we’re getting some herbs, eh?” Kale asked, almost in wonder.

Ash gave him a sideways glance chock full of scorn.

She shook her head and set off in another direction.



Three hours later, the incredibleness of walking had run out.

Kale now shuffled after Ash who didn’t seem one bit tired.

The basket was about full. The wet on the herbs, combined with the little bits of dirt that came up with them and the strain from carrying it for three straight hours was wearing on Kale.

Ash stood up, releasing another clump of plants into the pile.

She glanced around and sighed. “Well, that should be enough for today. Let’s head back.”

Grateful, Kale put up no argument.

Once they arrived back to Ash’s hut, it was snowing lightly and Kale was starving.

He set the basket onto the table and began glancing around for food.

He heard a thumping noise behind him and found that Ash had dumped the contents of the basket onto the table top.

To his despairing expression, she replied “Hey, I’m hungry too. Let’s get these sorted into piles and we’ll go have lunch. I’ll introduce you to somebo- er,someone you haven’t met before.”


Half an hour later there were several piles stacked around the hut of different herbs.

“Good job. Follow me.” With that statement, Ash exited the house.

She led Kale through the village to the hill leading west.

They proceeded to climb the path up the hill. Kale smelled a campfire.

As they reached the top of the hill, an amazing view of a lake spread before them.

Kale managed to pry his eyes from the view to see a man huddled on a log beside a fire.

He was wearing a trench-coat and a brimmed hat.

The layer of white on either indicating he hadn’t moved from that spot for a while.

“Hello, Ash” The man said, looking away from the pot simmering over the fire.

The man then glanced questioningly at Kale, revealing grey eyes.

Ash waved Kale over, who needed no second urging because whatever was cooking in the pot smelled good. “So who’s this?” Kale asked.

“Kale,” Ash said, pointing at the man on the log. “This is nobody.”

Nineteen

Kale stared dumbly at Ash.

“Um… That’s a little rude, isn’t it?” He asked.

“Not really.” The man muttered, poking the fire with a small branch.

“Kale, Kale, Kale.” Ash said, walking over to stand in front of Kale.

Very close.

Her face a few mere inches from Kale’s.

In fact, she was standing with one foot on Kale’s, leaning on it with an incredible force.

“Do you really think I’d be as rude as that?”

Kale held back a smart comment only because it was waiting in line behind a stream of curses.

Needless to say he was biting his tongue.

Ash leapt back and was leaning on the man’s shoulders from behind.

“So, tell us, just who are you?” She asked the man.

The man turned his head to look at Kale. His face was unemotional but gave off the distinct feel that he’d rather be aimlessly tending the fire.

“I’m Nobody.”

‘Wait, how he said that sounds like…’ Kale stared at this man for a moment. “Wait, that’s your name?”

“No.”

Now Kale was even more confused.

The silence stretched on for a minute, Ash’s gaze flickering between Kale and this ‘nobody.’

The man rummaged around beside him and procured three wooden bowls, two of which he passed to his guests.

As he poured his soup into their bowls, he must have decided Kale’s silence meant he wanted an explanation.

“I don’t have a name,” He began, first pouring the steaming broth into Ash’s bowl who proceeded to blow on in lightly.

“I am nobody. So that is what i’m called.” He poured a serving into Kale’s.

“Nobody…” Kale repeated quietly.

The man nodded and gave himself a helping of the broth.

Kale held out his hand to shake. “Nice to meet you, Nobody.”

Nobody grasped his hand and shook. “The same to you, Kale. Lockey, i presume?”

Kale nodded enthusiastically and tucked into his soup.

Ash had watched this exchange and bobbed her head in approval.

So there they sat, around a campfire. Eating soup and bread as the snow fell around them.

A lost royal envoy.

A wolf-girl.

And a Nobody.

Twenty

In the following days, Kale’s indenturement was under full swing.

Today’s task was rationing stocked firewood to the rest of the pack.

In a snow storm.

He wasn’t alone though, every couple of trips from the supply shed to the buildings, Kale’s timing would match Nobody’s.

“Why is it that you’re working here anyways?” Kale asked on the second time they met.

The question hadn’t formed in his mind until the night after he had met the cowboy on the hill.

He never had the chance to ask till now.

“Do you owe a debt too?” Kale managed over the gale.

Nobody shook his head, and then paused. “Yes and no. You’d get a better answer from Ash. I’m no good with stories.”



Kale burst into the hut with his and Ash’s ration of firewood.

He trotted to the fire, dropped the wood in the pile next to it and placed his nearly frost-bitten hands near the fire at a suitable distance for warming but not roasting.

“You got everyone?” Ash asked him.

“Yeah, figured I’d finish here so I could just sit and be done.” Kale replied, exhausted.

Ash stretched in her chair and yawned. “Next time, start here. I don’t want to run out of fire when you’re out delivering to everyone else!”

Kale sighed and extracted his hands from the warmth. He took a swig of Ash’s tea from his canteen, imagining that it must be nice to have someone to give irrational demands to.

“Did Nobody go back to his place?” Ash asked.

Kale paused before answering. The name still threw him for a loop.

“Last I saw, yeah. Hey, speaking of him,” Kale started.

“Ah, you want to know his story, right?” Ash interrupted, glancing at him with her red eyes.
Kale nodded.

“Well, I don’t know anything before he arrived here, so that’s where I’ll start:

A few years ago, late in fall, or pack was preparing for winter.

One day, in the middle of preparations, a man begins walking through our village.

We don’t usually mind visitors in our territory, but he came out of nowhere, straight into the middle of our village.

A few of the more hot-blooded younger males actually tried to fight him, thinking he must be a threat.

He dropped them before they realized they were within striking distance. Just knocked them out though.

He then just kept walking until he got to that hill overlooking the lake and sat down.

Snow-- Kale, you realize she doesn’t look that much like me. She has more white in her hair.”


Kale had made an odd face when Ash mentioned her sister. He still had a bit of trouble distinguishing the two.

“Right, so Snow went up to talk to him, ask him if she could help him.

He replied no.

So we left him.

And he sat there.

And sat there.

He didn’t move for just short of a week. Must have figured he needed to eat, drink and, well you know.

Half a week later, Snow gets fed up and tells him that if he’s going to sit around, enjoying our territory, he had best contribute.

So he said okay and he’s been accepting any odd job anyone asks him to do.”


Kale thought it over. “Well, he’s a little odd, isn’t he?”

“Does that even deserve to be a question?”

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19 / Desert Bluffs
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Posted 8/22/09
yay!~cooooooool story!~
&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
GWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA 1ST POSSSST
Posted 8/22/09
I stopped readin bcuz of laziness/

These were his best patrons by far!

thats where i stopped
lol ill read all of it wen im not so lazY owo
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Posted 8/22/09
lol, I wonder when the usual Kale-ness will pop in and get him into a heap of trouble XD

Pretty good so far :3

ONE QUESTION :3
What genre should this be under in the Story list? Keep in mind if the genre isn't already on the list, I can add the right one :3
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Posted 8/22/09
i'm not quite sure what genre it is...
maybe like adventure? if you don't have that, hmmm... we'll see.
i have in mind that this will be like a traveling kind of tale
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Posted 8/22/09
Adventure it is then :3

Should I include comedy, since this is Kale we're reading about?
XD
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Posted 8/22/09
Uh, i'd say that should be a safe bet!
it'll probably be a bit different than him on the rp tho, sinse i'm trying to keep it sensical
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Posted 8/22/09
Oh, of course :3
You can still be funny with nonnonsensical things though ^^
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Posted 8/22/09
I plan to! :3

Part two (because i dont feel right calling them chapters) is short!
But I wanted it to be that way so it's alright!!
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Posted 8/23/09
Ahaha, they BUSTED!
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Posted 8/25/09
Hahaha they called him short :3
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Posted 8/29/09 , edited 8/29/09
hmm... thinking about this
earlier in, i made Kale seem kind of tall...
but lately i've been playing with the idea that he is just a little short, not much, just a little.
Maybe he just seems tall until you get up close?
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Posted 8/29/09
Ahaha, nice.
You know, I think you would LOVE this guy named Sam Vimes.
He's a character in some of Terry Pratchett's books.
Some of the things Kale does makes me think of "Sir Samuel" XD
You'd probably get a kick out of Guards! Guards! Great book ^^
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Posted 8/29/09
i should look it up if i ever think about it!
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Posted 8/29/09
yup, yup, and if you ever get around to reading it, tell me what you think ^^
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