Chapter 2:

The Town Beneath Awareness.

Me and The Hero Parted Ways

Change hadn't been really foreign to me at the time though. One big event came as the destined successor of the one prior.

This caused our lives to be turbulent in a sense that was very characteristic of growing up.

"And you're saying that you don't really regret it?"

"Not a second of it. Well, maybe the fact that the metric wasn't a bit larger so I could say I didn't regret a minute of it!"

"Well yeah I can't really find myself blaming you for that part!" I loudly closed off with applauding laughter as I wheeled my head back into the smell of sea salt.

The boat quietly slanted in approval as well.

"I feel like we've had this same conversation before but then you hit me with a different reaction every time and it never fails to throw me off. Well, I guess it does keep one of the highlights of my life from seeming any less than what it seemed looking back at it now." opened once more the old stagnant horse of a man as he sat in his subdivision near the stern, pining for affection on his lonely fishing rod.

"The fact that you're catching on to lazy patterns might be "THE" sign that we've been out here too long. Time been running so many embarrassingly slow laps around you so it's no wonder you caught on." I pincered back to quickly poke holes into another slowly inflating recycled conversation.

"So you think it's the look; closing off the day with what we got?"

"The look?? We barely got room for two! When will you ever learn to be satisfied?" I couldn't even snap back at him with direct eye contact because of the wall of fish between us.

"Alright. Alright." he surrendered, finally opening the way to a solid retreat back to land. "Y'all young ones will never know the appeal of the gentle tug of the line because you all have never left your hook out to soak after the first reel." he continued murmuring disgruntledly.

"You and these fish are neck and neck in getting my lunch to come out and play." I said after unconsciously unmasking the true sentiment behind that last sentence of sheer habit.

It was just a little close to sunset and we had turned our eyes back to the bay with today's haul as company.

As soon as our keel began to kiss the outer shore, I immediately plunged into regret for not prolonging our stakeout.

"How's the upstream Mr. Magoh?"

It wasn't in Daymiard's nature to give us time to breathe.

"Baking. Hoping a little birdy was right about this being the fastest turnover in weeks." the old horse snapped back.

"Yeah. Any religious man would hope a little birdy would tweet a little softer for you."

My eyes twitched slightly from where I was anchoring our float by the outskirts of the pier.

"Appreciate you crossing your Ts over there by the way Syalmm! Definitely wouldn't want the turnover going away any quicker than it already is!"

I silently took his advice by tying the knot as if it were a noose around his neck. He wouldn't let the chance die to poke at the fact that, due to that old horse's mishap a few days ago with the anchoring of our boat, the movement of the waves caused our vessel to crash into his, damaging it just enough that we have to split our catches with him for the rest of the month.

He also liked poking at the fact that this particular old horse didn't have much poking left as well.

"Listen, I know this new agreement has gotten you both very enthusiastic in both the right and saddening ways, but you both should channel that properly because this week is looking up!"

"You mean the birdies were right?"

"As rain my friend. So good that faith has allowed you to do God's work to overshadow the devil's shortcomings because this week would've been such a slouch for me otherwise!"

The exchange of both plain optimism and backhanded flattery eventually held my intrigue as I had finished fasting our boat.

Curiosity demanded that I had to close in on the flappers of both the slumped old and towering young fishermen ahead of me.

"Am I missing something? What's going on?"

"Trust me we can both account for the fact that you aren't missing anything worth mentioning. You were just left out of the blue with the town lippings because you spend too much time out at sea with your ear selectively closed."

"Huh? So how does Gramppy know and not me?"

"I wanted to, unlike you."

"You know what? Bite me. You can both keep that gossip among yourselves. The effort's killing my need to know anyway."

They both sniffled with masked laughter as I fanned off their riddles. Seemed like the only thing Daymiard found more joy in than belittling Grampy was using him as a prop to annoy me.

"Oh don't be like that Syal. News just floats around more when I'm going around town trying to get the catch off my hands. And plus you seem too focused to care about that type of thing anyway."

"But not focused enough to give me the work around with your pointless ramblings apparantly." Daymiard started grinning to himself when I said pointless.

"You both should stop distracting yourselves with this pointless information war or else the visitors might snoop right past you both even knew they were here."

"Wait, that's what the fuss is about?" I asked after Dayimard finally threw me something resembling an answer.

"Why else would the docks be so empty on a day like this? Everybody's less worried about building up a higher catch and more about how best to sell what they have at the most reasonable ripoff prices to these passersby."

"Hmmmmmm, how stacked and dumb are talking?"

"Royal escorts who have never been to this side of the country. You tell me."

A haggler's grin polluted my face.

"Now it's making more sense why you both kept this tucked in until now. Not like it will make a difference though. My share of the profits are secured as long as this gets to Oq's ears which half the city already pays for as is. Any idea what's in the air though?"

"Only what's immediate. Could be anything really. There have been talks of old Bluir getting bought out of her seat for some time now. Surprised it took so long to really become obvious."

"Say what you want but that old borne is the only one that keeps the royal family from stretching over the line to strangle us with taxes. She even got a lot of execution sentences lessened, altered or levied to save our asses."

"Mr. Magoh could definitely say amen to that."

And just like that he had soured our back and forth instantaneously.

"You really have a lot of growing up to do. It's almost kind of sad really."

"You have no idea how inspiring that is coming from you. Truth be told, I always saw you as my superior in mental age so feel free to point out any of my other shortcomings while you're at it."

"Whatever. You know what they say: can't teach an old dog new tricks so it's easier to just hang them with a fishing rope."

"Huh? What was that last part???"

I left him there to ponder on that closing remark. It was about time I left for home as well, seeing as he and Grampy would be sitting there for hours negotiating how today's catch would be split. I used to hang back and give my input but neither of them really cared much about my inputs regarding matters of serious business, so I marked it off as a waste of time.

"Go home and get some rest. You deserve it." Grampy would suggest at times.

"Or better yet, doesn't Oq's body require your services around this time of day?" Daymiard would tack on near the end causing me to storm at him ready to lay the hammer down.

I had decided to take the longer day home that day in light of the situation in progress for the city.

Usually, I would've crept along the connecting alleyways and slipped over a few low roofs until I had made it back home in order to avoid the main streets and familiar but at times not so friendly faces that might come with it.

I felt like deviating slightly that day in order to get a dash of limelight into my evening. As I traversed the stone patterned streets, I saw the wooden cottages that came with our town become littered with decorations designed to reel in ignorant tourists.

The aura of festivities quietly simmered in every interaction I saw from the housewives gossiping inaudibly by the front porch of Mrs.Auudman's bakery to the kids playing diplomat and escort carelessly running through open spaces the lumbermen were forced to work with as they made renovations to the more aged buildings in the area.

These little details made my detour all the more worth it. The atmosphere helped keep me in touch of a time I was much fonder of. A time little before, where I was a bit more aimless in my wondering as I could always depend on my parents to call me back. A time where I was even less preoccupied with the happenings around me, as ironic as that is.


Suddenly, this lonely outburst had interrupted the energy that had been flowing through the town.

"Aren't you all ashamed of yourselves?" The disturbed coarseness of his voice and his unapologetic brassiness that characterized his usual delivery made it easy to identify the source of the disturbance.

Marien Dame quickly took all the eyes in the area onto himself with just a single outburst.

"I can't believe what I am seeing, honestly. All of you are so quick to get cheek and tongue as soon as you all hear that some skinheads are coming to town just to spit where y'all eat. Did any of you stop to ask yourselves this: where were they three years ago, huh? When death hits our rivers hard, wiping out entire households? When the body count was stacked up so high that we had to be burning our brothers and sisters alongside their babies? When fishermen were being tortured and killed by grieving survivors because they unknowingly brought death beyond the shorelines right onto our doorsteps? That's right! Cooped up at the capital fortifying themselves as they heard the gossip from the dipshits that watched it happen from a safe distance beyond the line! No doubt they were watching to see if maybe, just maybe, if the plague could not be put under control to send their little nation cleaners to put us all to sleep for good! You're all putting on makeup to kiss up to our executions if our fate were written down in darker ink!" he continued, blasting the townsfolk with his voice slightly cracking near to the end.

No one had the strength to really interrupt him at any point during the speech. If anything, we all unwillingly lent him our ears. It was only natural though. How could our minds have resisted the call to drag us back down the putrid path of history we had to walk as a community to get us back to this point?

Even the kids who would have not been old enough to remember had temporarily ceased their mindlessness in order to pay their respects to the current atmosphere.

That was the rippling effect of the words incanted by the man who sat crossbody by the edge of his window on the second story of his property looking down in disgust at the rest of the populace.

From where I stood in the emerging alleyway a bit down the street from the property, I could tell that this man was not completely with us. Not just in an ideological sense. He was still stuck in a daze. A daze caused by being absolved by the repugnant fumes that emerged from the tenderly burning flesh of his dearest friends. He stared down on us as if he were watching the crisp skin quietly strip from sizzling faces, breaking them down to crackling bones that went in rhythm with the flames. He was still lost in this sight.

His stare also felt loaded with jealousy.

"And your suggestion is just for us to waste away because we are what remains." a vigorous snap back echoed from out the wooden windowpane of the bakery.

Mrs. Auudman had vocalized her disapproval with the lonely sentiment.

"Guessing they got you for your ears and soul on the nicest bargain they could afford. You've become a very selective listener ever since the second half of that bakery got hit with his own medicine. Birder would be ashamed!"

"I've always tried to look at you through the lens of a grieving father, but don't you dare...!" with her anger stirring flavorfully she snapped back once more. The tearful vein in her voice was all the more evident in this response with her throwing the sentence out into the wind to prioritize holding back tears.

Marien merely clicked his teeth in response. Perhaps even with all his bitterness, he still felt it would be distasteful to prolong this back and forth any longer.

He then murmured something beneath his breath before retreating off his windowpane back into his abode.

"I don't get it. Why stay here if you can't help but project your survivor's guilt onto everyone else trying to move on with their lives? It should be easy enough to just leave." Mrs.Auddman's interruption had broken the tension Marien's earlier uproar had created. This caused the observers to regain their voices for gossip.

"Yeah, with his warm and pleasant demeanor he'd be welcomed right at home anywhere else in the country!" they soon exploded into laughter with this follow up acting as their cue.

They had also neglected to mention how hard it would be to travel anywhere with only one good leg. They were always known to never stress the most important details in situations such as this.

Unbeknownst to Marien, he had aided in lifting the moral for this visit. With him being the poster child for the vocal minority, his voicing of his opinion and getting shutdown by one of the known voices of the people, an Auddman, any objections or misgivings regarding the visit had been projected into his speech so that the air could be opened for them to be registered as "addressed".

Now everyone could move forward into the festivities with a more "positive" attitude.

I shuffled at this and moved along through the town.

If I were to pinpoint the real reason for the excitement among the locals, it be due them finally being able to get a grasp of their current standing with the rest of the nation after being kept in the dark for years. Even if this trip is fueled by a strong political agenda, they could still find joy in our town being useful for at least that. Any attempts to get the town in shape was most likely done underneath the guise of mere classism.

The people were possibly just desperate to have their worth safely reevaluated after surviving such a dreadful ordeal.

Survival isn't worth anything if it doesn't last long.

Most of the properties were being renovated with the intention of being sold off and everyone was practicing their bootlicking to see if they could wiggle themselves into the capital or one of the neighboring cities. Even the level of craftsmanship displayed in the renovations themselves were an example of how hard some of the tradesmen worked to upskill themselves in order to face a better shot at being propositioned for contracts further into the country.

The town was being positioned as a stable platform for some of the residents to have steady footing to pivot on to something more "secure".

The sentiments echoed by the parade of gossipers were nothing more than a poor attempt to externalize their true agendas.

This was also why Marien's bickering was effortlessly halted by Mrs. Auddman's faint emotional tug. Most of the pull that snapped his rope full of resistance was done apathetically by a populace that had given up on the town's future.

Death has that special charm of making everything a little less attractive. The exclusionist culture that helped to mold our town into what it used to be was no exception to this.

With all this in mind I strolled on, rubbing shoulders with the townsfolk through phatic exchanges. I could've used the openings to probe for information on the visit, but I decided to preserve some of my ignorance in order to get everything from a more reliable source.

My walk had brought me to my desired destination. An abandoned fairy church that had been able to evade demolition over the years as it was hidden between two apartment districts.

As I approached the monument, the vomit that polluted the old water fountain just before it told me all I needed to know.

Another party. The unemployed were like magicians sometimes being able to make money appear out of thin air when it's time to mess around.

"Guessing the old shitbag cut you an early shift today?" opened an audibly hungover voice as it peered through the front door.

"And I'm guessing the gambling became uncontrollably violent at the eleventh hour?" I said in response, acknowledging the newly dried bloodstains on the door she used to anchor her unsteady figure.

"It was actually a case of double timing gone wrong. Some uncalculated cheat had his chest peeled open by a sharpened family heirloom of a saber. That seems to be what is in season these days. Cheaters getting cut." she responded, debunking my assumption.

"It's a hot topic for sure. First Dayimard, now you. Even though his wound has healed, the memory stings like a fresh cut for both of you."

"It probably stands out because it's the first time those high lipped bastards have been amusing on purpose. Can't say I'm too thrilled about all the murmuring it has caused by the fruit stall though."

"Is that why you've confined yourself here instead of helping out Ol' Ma down there? Is this how you show your appreciation to someone taking you in despite how much times you have crossed them?" I used the waning small talk as a chance to cut into what was really on my mind.

"Gotta say, you've become a lot more annoying to talk to recently. You just keep recycling the same material."

"That's because I have yet to be met by a reasonable answer."

"Well, you kind of got a point there. In that case, why don't you try asking me in a different way?"

"What is it that you have shoved all the way up your ass that it has left so little space for responsibility and gratitude?"

"Well, I'm not so sure but Syal but we could definitely work together to find out." she smirked while slightly loosening the strings around the ample bosom of her blouse.

"Tempting but that would distract too much from the actual reason I came here." On a good day I would've taken her up on that quest, but I was really worn down from doing my hours offshore.

"So, you didn't come to check up on your dear old Oq?"

"I think you'd fair better with less checks from me. I actually came to see if you had nothing on what everyone's preparing for?"

"Nobles are coming. Everybody's trying to use them as a ticket to leave. What's there else to know?" she said dismissively.

I just stared at her in response.

"Well sure there's who exactly is coming, what's the purpose of the visit, the route they are taking, what valuables they'd be carrying, the length of stay and what exactly it means for the future of this town, but what makes you think I would know all that?"

"Because you get paid to."

"Yet here you are trying to get this out of me for free. It really is true what they say about those closest to you oftentimes growing to respect your business the least."

" I'd say I just don't respect the methods you use to get the information."

"You speak as if I'm getting this information through skin trade."

"Honestly, I'd be able to push my eyes a bit past that. What I can't look past is the fact that you are getting this info in exchange for using this holy ground turned den as a warehouse and marketplace for weapons, drugs and stolen valuables under the guise of it being a party spot. Not to mention you also suggest to them sections of the town that would be ideal for unlawful activities!"

"Relax, the fairies have stopped offering their blessings to this spot ages ago. If it makes you feel any better, I stay as unbiased as possible. If passersby, few as they come, approach me with the right amount I'd suggest to them to stay away from these spots."


"Say what you will, but I chose this in a heartbeat over playing good girl, suckering up to those hypocrites that have come to laugh at Lady Magoh because of that embarrassment she chose for a spouse."

"Hmph. So, it was pride that you got stuffed up there after all." I spoke astoundingly.

She scuffled at my remark. "Turns out, the cunt that got his chest opened was actually a guard for our native high lips that came to me looking to peddle some info on these visitors to get me to stash some jewelry he nibbed from the treasury." she opened up while signaling to me to come inside the church to prevent further leakage. I followed suit.

"According to him, our visitor does not officially hold a seat in one of the noble houses but is actually a very high ranked knight. He will carry with him a chest with an item straight from the royal treasury that will assist with...and this is the crazy part.....finding a hero in this town." she continued beneath her breath after we got inside to the corridors of the church.

"A what?! Here? Of all places? And for what?" I commented, baffled at this new development.

"My exact reaction. Because we are a lifetime away from the main cities and we have had our own problems to deal with, we wouldn't have the chance to find out that an ancient calamity has befallen this country. Apparently, only a hero can vanquish it. As for why they are under the impression that they would find them here, I honestly couldn't say."

"Hmmmm. More on this calamity though. What exactly is going on up North?"

"I'm here wondering the same thing. No one has made the journey up there in years. We still have yet to hear back from anyone who attempted the journey to escape the plague back then either. Communication between us and the Mainlands hasn't reopened since we shut them down to prevent the spread of the plague after the plea for assistance was denied. I bet Bluir held off because she didn't want to send tax reports to the crown so she and the high lips could get a bigger piece of the pie we baked for them."

"These days it almost feels as if most of our problems stem from them up top being self-interested or our efforts to remain an independent colony all these years. It's way too late to do anything with these observations now." In that same breath I had cursed the generations before us that saw these issues and decided to do nothing except scuff and murmur.

"I think it's way too soon to say. For all we know, us being secluded might've prevented whatever might be terrorizing the mainlands from really affecting us. Imagine the catastrophe that would have befallen us if we had depended on the other colonies for trade. We're blessed to have been situated among the sea, populated woodlands as well as gifted mine shafts. I sometimes found it puzzling how so many common born folks were able to settle here with so little prosecution from the crown or how we were even able to secure this area in the first place. Now things make a bit more sense." Oq's optimism when discussing troubling situations always made her ideal to discuss them with.