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Paragon Ruin, Chapter 7


The caravan carts lurch and rock as they bumble off the road, pulling into a circle inside the clearing. The horses huff and swing anxious heads side-to-side because they know what this means.

Elven scouts slither into the woods to establish an outer perimeter behind those sent ahead hours ago to make sure this camp was secure. The wagons complete their circle and I, with the rest of the caravan guard hired as an extra ring of protection, re-position outside the wagons, facing the trees while the caravan attendants unhook horses from their carts. The attendants swarm like a rushing school of fish inside the ring of carts as they warm old fire pits, cook, feed, and water the horses, and bathe in the stream. I’ve traveled with the caravan for fourteen days and still haven’t earned the same speed and efficiency.

“I don’t know why the Nightmares want the caravan goods anyway,” Sycain says behind me as he walks around his wagon for his preventative maintenance routine “Unless they’re crazy about coloring their hair with the seadweller shampoo.”

“We carry weapons and armor, too.”

Sycain grunts as he crawls under his wagon. “I, for one, am crazy about shampoo, though. Ah, look at that. A loose bolt.”

“Do you think the extra caravan guard is enough to deter the Nightmares?” I ask, facing the tree line. Not a trained fighter, only given brief instruction by Aunt Mordabur on the pair of knuckles she gave me, I’ve been thinking the last two weeks on many imagined scenarios and compiling how I will react to each of them. I have, so far, planned reactions that will not require me to use Dusutri Rage. I cling to the hope that since I’ve never used the Rage in eighteen years, it’s vanished from my instincts and won’t ever be triggered.

“No,” comes his muffled reply amid the thumps of wood while he retrieves the tool kit from under the wagon. “The Caravan Master needs to park it and wait for the conflict to pass. But she won’t. Would be like asking Torc Thoraus to move out of his castle.”

I watch the dark trees, the violet moonlight beaming off sheens of frost on the trunks and giving me a nice, deep view through the otherwise dark. I see a male elf crouched against a trunk, bow in one hand, arrow in the other, his green and brown clothes blending so well I would not have spotted him except I watched him enter the forest to that spot.

I even know his name — Athandryl — know the shape of his laugh and the sound of his crescent-shaped eyes. I don’t think any race, both common and uncommon, remains unaffected by elven beauty. If I attained boldness, I’d enact a gamble and express my affection to him knowing he’d turn me down. Elves sometimes marry humans, but I’ve never known elves attracting to dusutri, likely first because such attraction would ignite treason, and second because dusutri claim no more attraction than dwarves.

“Understanding your relationship with Kitannia is none of my business,” I say to Sycain, baffled by the relationship they share since even Forever Ice knows well Kitannia’s harsh personality, “but I’ve noticed she won’t call you by your name.”

“I won’t call her by hers, so we’re equal. She’s trying to keep her distance from me and that’s one way she knows how.”

“Why not fire you if she hates you that much?”


He takes so long to finish I look over my shoulder at him.

“That’s the mystery.” His wink gives it away.

“She likes you.”

He twists his head back beneath the cart.

“And hates you?”

“She doesn’t like,” comes his voice with a thunk of tool on wood. “She just hates you more or hates you less.” After too many grunts and groans, he slides out from beneath the cart and rolls to his knees.

An ecthore approaches me with a square of paper sticking out of his teeth. I take it.

Sycain stands behind me. “Caravan news. Falkons deliver the news to the Caravan Master who reads them first, then she passes them down the line. What is it?”

“A Want.”

“Let’s see.” He snatches it out of my hand. “Ranique Roque. Leader of the Entangling Crow. wanted for…” He mumbles the violations. “Male. Thirty-two years old. Five feet eight, around a hundred and seventy pounds. Blond hair—hey, that’s me!” Sycain holds the Want above his head, waving it to those trying not to give his absurdness any attention. “They described me! Reward: two cent five links. Holy Astorous, I’ll turn myself in right now. Hello? Isn’t anyone going to grab me, hold me down, and tie me up? No one? You’re right. I agree. It’s a bunch of trash.” He mashes the parchment, crumpling it into a ball before hurling it into the trees.

“That Want has been out five years.” He walks back to his cart. “Really? Blond hair, facial hair, five foot eight? That describes my mother.”

“You’re right,” says a voice. “It does describe you.”

A dwarf astride a pack mule approaches, his harsh face chiseled into a permanent frown, and red hair bristles from his head and beard like brittle grass. Kitannia adding double her usual employ, promoted this dwarf to Caravan Assistant to control and manage the new caravan guard — my direct boss. Sycain calls him Caravan Ass behind his back.

“Hiya, Hindor Kila Adept Centurion Caravan Ass…istant,” Sycain says the full dwarf’s name and title with a bow. “How can I be of service? Do you need your beard set on fire? Your ears notched? Perhaps a healthy punch to the throat?”

Hindor Kila’s eyes, the same color of stone, bore into him. “I said the Want describes you.” Even his voice rolls like rocks in a polishing tumbler. “Just need to verify the tattoo. Take off your clothes.”

“The Want describes you too. You get naked.”

“I’m a dwarf, you malfunctioning piece of biological engineering. The Want is for human.”

“You could be a human impersonating a dwarf. The Want said the Entangling Crow are known to impersonate.”

Hindor Kila summons the nearest falkon over to him. “Please get the Caravan Master.”

“Why,” Sycain says, “have to have mommy take care of your bullies for you?”

Hindor Kila blisters on the back of his mule, not taking his eyes off Sycain as Sycain walks about the wagon getting his bed made. I keep my gaze on the forest. Unable to abandon my post, I still wish Sycain and Hindor Kila would take their squabbles elsewhere. I don’t like Hindor Kila either, but Sycain taunts the dwarf for reasons even the Paragons can’t divine.

“What is it, Hindor Kila?” Kitannia asks behind me.

“Caravan Master, Sycain is being—”

“Guard! What are you doing? Put your pants back on!”

“Hindor Kila asked me to get naked. I waited for you to make sure you saw me obeying his command.”

“Hindor, explain.”

“I—I…Caravan Master, he looks like the description on the Want. I wanted to check for the Entangling Crow tattoo. You said yourself you don’t trust him.”

“You both planned this on purpose to embarrass me. Guard, you will pull both your and Mianda’s shifts tonight. Hindor, you’ll tend the laundry cauldron tonight since you have this sick fascination with clothing.”

“But Caravan Master,” Sycain says, “did you see how muscular I am?”

The following silence must mean Kitannia left.

“Hindor Kila, do you like my muscles?”

The dwarf and his mule snort in tandem. Thumping hooves declare their departure.

Sycain has, thankfully, dressed when he walks around to face me. “Guess I’ve got your shift. Sleep extra deep for me, will you?”

“Why do you act so…so crazy? Aren’t you afraid of your reputation? What kindred think of you?”

“Are you asking why I’m original? Creative? Unique? Writing my own story? Have a voice? Are you saying I should be like you? Quiet, reserved, staying too safe, afraid to speak too loud, have original thought?”

I hiss.

He puts an arm around my shoulders and pulls me close. He drops his voice. “I didn’t say that to be hurtful, Mianda. I care about you. I like you. You act timid, but I see you go beyond timidity. It feels like you’re smothering yourself. Smothering your personality, smothering your voice.”

“I’m not smothering anything.” I don’t know why his false observations make me insecure and naked. What he said isn’t true. I am timid.

“Mianda, you’re half dusutri. You instinctively have this need for victory over self and enemies. But instincts aside, you’ve lived with dusutri for two years and you know, and now I know, that you’d have to intentionally prevent yourself from acting on those instincts. When you wanted to join the caravan and the Caravan Master turned you away, you didn’t fight. You obeyed. This goes against what I know about dusutri, but you are half human and I know that runs through your veins as well.

“And then five…six campfires ago Sobbanraa snapped at you for over-salting the pot, and instead of telling her you’re tired of hearing her complain all day every day about the temperature, the wind, the firelight glowing too bright, the ground packed too hard, that she can never keep her scales polished with the dusty road, and the intermittent muscle spasm in her left ass cheek…you apologized and got her a bowl from another pot even though everyone else thought you’d seasoned the soup just right.

“But that, still, by itself, is not telling. I see your mannerisms: head bent as you walk, retreating from conversation because you’ve run out of things to say.”


“Listen to me.” He drops his arm and faces me dead on. At eighteen, my dusutri half grew my bones to five feet eight inches and I look Sycain straight in the eye. For all his ridiculous nonsense with Hindor Kila, I recoil at the scalding seriousness he refuses to release me from. “I care about you and it’s tearing me seeing you holding yourself back.”

“I’m not holding myself back. I am who I am and there is nothing wrong with who I am.”

I say it with so much conviction, I touch that dusutri victory over self Sycain mentioned. I lift my chin higher.

Sycain presses his lips into a hard line. “Always be proud of who you are.” I don’t understand why he stressed the word are. “Here, let me take your shift now. Enjoy the rest of your night off.” He turns away from me, walking toward the tree line.

His raw observation still riddling through me, I turn away feeling naked and hyper-sensitive to the judgments of my fellow caravan kindred. I grab my bed roll out of the wagon and carry it to the nearest fire. Hindor Kila stands a couple fires over, stirring laundry inside the cauldron with mechanical repetition, not blinking even once as he stares at Sycain on the other side of camp.

I set my roll next to a pegasi, human, and Sobbanraa in common-form. She runs a course horse hair brush over her yellow dragon scales, not giving me any attention as I lay out my bed.

“Cold tonight,” Sobbanraa says to no one in particular. The human seems intent on not tearing his focus away from what he’s writing, and the pegasi turns her long white neck away and stretches out her brown wings to cover her eyes.

“What is that noise?” Sobbanraa scowls at the next campfire where a dwarf, falkon, and seadweller sing out their cheer in sync but off-key. “Uh, they’re just terrible, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” I agree, then catch myself. No, I don’t think they’re terrible at all. Well of course they sound terrible, but I love the happiness those three share together, the happiness they fearlessly share. Loud. Uncaring of opinions. Happy despite the unknown machinations of the Nightmares, happy despite Eloshonna’s disquiet future, happy despite the racial conflict rivening through the Kingdom. These three: dwarf, falkon, and seadweller sing together because they don’t see skin, they see hearts. A burst of fire erupts in me to jump up and sing with them. I ache to share in their joy.

I don’t get up. Neither do I rescind my agreement with Sobbanraa.

I do nothing.

I sit there silent.

Just like Sycain observed.


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