Word Count: ~4500 (out of ~10,200 total) (I suppose by "quick" I mean that this felt like it was really fast to write.)
The target swung lightly with the wind. Its bright red paint stuck out among the green foliage to everyone but Rokag. It looked just as muddled tan, blue, and yellow as everything else. The target was custom-made for orc eyes, and had bright yellow stripes in each of the concentric circles, to help make up for her poor color vision. Several arrows littered the ground around it, a tree off to one side, and only one stuck in the target itself. A songbird fluttered overhead as it landed on a branch, but otherwise, she only heard the breeze and the sound of her own breaths. Her uncle Tabris sat behind her, watching her closely. She drew back the string on her bow and squinted one eye.
“No, no—both open,” Tabris said, his voice hardly a whisper. “It’s a myth that squinting helps. Which is your dominant eye, anyway?” Rokag blinked and looked over at him.
“Dominant eye?” she said. “Like a dominant hand?” He nodded. He was much shorter than her, and overall smaller as well. Lithe. A human through-and-through. Yet as a child, he discomforted her. Something about his eyes looked oddly blank, as if nothing existed inside him. The mauling scar on the left side of his face, too—and the others on his body, for that matter—disturbed her, even if her own fathers were equally marred. That, and—she could hardly recall why, or when, or how—she remembered that one day, he suddenly changed into… this. Her earliest, vaguest memories of him seemed to be of a different person entirely. Someone who smirked, someone who spoke with life an energy. Someone just like her dad. Then, when he returned after an absence, stoicism. As if he forgot he had a face.
It took a few days for Rokag to even approach him when he came back after that. His smiles looked forced, his voice monotonous and sterile. With her papa away and only this… stranger caring for her, she grew to trust him. He cared for her for a long time, too. Her memory went fuzzy, and she forgot why Tabris suddenly disappeared, or what his connection to her fathers was. Most of her memories blurred together like this, and she could recall little from her life before she turned eleven or twelve. Her dad told her that she was once enslaved, and Finn rescued her. Painful as it was, she acknowledged that those memories of life during and before slavery were likely gone forever, repressed deep into the back of her mind so her emotional health stayed intact as she grew. She could remember two loving orc faces, at least. Hazy as they were, she imagined that those were the people who cared for her—her first parents—before they died, or before she was kidnapped, or whatever. Trying to recall a name, or a place, or a more detailed image never worked. But regardless of the state of her memories, she loved and trusted Tabris the same way she did her fathers.
When Tabris did see her again after a few years, she only remembered him a little. And he’d changed yet again. His smiles were true, and something shined in his eyes. A light like nothing else. He had a musical voice unlike either of her fathers’. Sometimes she mistook him for an elf with the way he spoke. He kept his wavy hair long, too, and tied in a low ponytail. He was quiet and friendly, and Rokag always assumed he was just a peaceful wanderer, until she overheard him talking about his encounters with Agrat and Finn. Their private meetings always seemed tense, and he described things to them she didn’t want to imagine. Creatures that roasted people whole, beings that skinned people alive, demons and devils that collected bones and whispered diseases. Of course, this was before he retired from “hunting,” as he called it, after losing his right arm and leg. These days, he spent his time cultivating plants. He still traveled to collect samples from other regions, and lived a peaceful life. But she still couldn’t imagine how he slept after seeing—and killing—such things.
Tabris pointed to his left eye.
“Yes, just like having a dominant hand, you prefer one of your eyes over the other,” he said. “Mine is my left, same as my dominant hand. Here—do this.” He stretched both his hands out in front of him—his right was made of a light, sturdy metal frame with a wooden hand—and made a triangle with his fingers and thumbs. “Choose something to focus on, and make it so your hands border it. Now, close one eye after the other.”
Rokag followed his example and focused on the bird in the tree. It preened its yellow feathers. She closed her left eye, and nothing changed. She closed her right, and her hands suddenly covered half its little body.
“I think my better eye’s my right,” she said. He nodded.
“Good that you’re holding the bow in your left hand, then—I found it easier to aim when I’m holding it in my off-hand,” he said.
“So, why should I know which eye is my better one if I’m keepin’ both eyes open?” she said.
“You think you’re concentrating on your hands and your target, but that’s not true—you’re focusing on your entire body,” he said. “Eyes included. Knowing which one you prefer helps with the process. You need to be one with everything. Be aware of your breathing, your stance, your sway, your eyes, your environment, and even the divine. Come on, I know Finn’s told you the same thing. He uses a similar method to how mine worked.”
“The divine?” Rokag said and smirked. “Dad never mentioned th’ gods.” Tabris chuckled.
“Of course he didn’t—should’ve known,” he said and shook his head. “Well, how about papa?”
“Papa talked t’ me about Sarenrae,” Rokag said with a shrug. “He prays every day, and he’ll lead other people in prayer to her.” She smiled to herself and looked up at the bird in the tree, and felt the breeze on her neck. The leaves whispered and the insects interjected with their own commentary. “Me, I believe in the life I see around me every day. You don’t need gods for that.”
“Well, I suppose it’s not that important,” Tabris said, nonplussed. He pushed back his bangs and for a split second, he looked more familiar than usual. “Anyway—take aim at the target again. Breathe in, and breathe out before you let your arrow go.”
She drew back her arrow once more, keeping her eyes open this time. She almost squinted, stopped herself, and fixed her arrow’s tip on the circles in the distance. She breathed in, breathed out, and let go. It pierced the air with a twang and a wshh, past her left hand and towards the target. It flew, flew, flew—and lodged itself in the ground, just short of the sandbag. Rokag glared and huffed, and Tabris chuckled.
“Your dad’s right—you’ve got no talent for this,” he said. She tossed her look at him and he just laughed openly. “It’s alright. You’re good enough with a sword, and maybe you’d be better suited with a crossbow.”
“Well, maybe,” Rokag said. “Still would be nice t’ be able to put some space between me and a target, you know?”
“Yeah, that’s useful,” Tabris said. “There’s a reason why I preferred weapons with range to them.” He looked towards the horizon and sighed through his nose. “Well, we ought to be getting back. It’s quite dark.” She put the longbow over her shoulder.
“I always forget that you can’t see in the dark,” she said. “And your leg, too—I’m sorry. We should’ve left earlier.”
“It’s fine, we’re both capable individuals,” he said. They turned and began the short walk back to her home. Her fathers sat outside on the porch, Agrat with his pipe and Finn with a steaming cup of tea. Their usual evening ritual. Finn held his cup in his metal left arm—a gauntlet of sorts, permanently attached, covered his hand and forearm up to his elbow. His movement didn’t suffer from it—the armor was sleekly-constructed and bent fluidly with the natural movement of his body. Pipe-like components dipped into and out of it, arranged so they wouldn’t interfere with his wrist when it bent. Rokag suspected that they went directly into his body somehow, but she wasn’t sure how or why. Whenever Finn left the house he wore long-sleeves and gloves to cover it. A few times, she’d seen him go off to confront lingering threats outside the settlement—worgs, bandits, and so on—without a glove over it. She couldn’t imagine why he had such a thing, and why he only seemed to use it for fighting. Neither Agrat nor Finn made a fuss about it, so she never bothered to ask.
“How was shootin’ practice?” Agrat said with a grin.
“I sucked,” Rokag said and flopped onto the bench next to Agrat. He and Finn looked to Tabris, who nodded.
“She sucks,” he said. Finn smirked and stifled a laugh.
“I dunno what the problem is,” Rokag said. “It just doesn’t click.”
“Well, whatever. You’ve got yer swords, yer faster’n either Finn or me, so you’ll do fine,” Agrat said. “I fought with nothin’ but an axe for many years, and I’m still kickin’, hm?” He wrapped his arm around Rokag’s shoulders and she lied on the bench, using him as a big pillow. She avoided bumping his upper chest, near his heart. An especially horrible scar, worse than any of the others on his body, marred Agrat’s skin and made it painful.
“Bullshit,” Finn said and poured tea for Rokag and Tabris. “I distinctly remember you using a crossbow at some point. With some damn powerful bolts, for that matter.”
“For oh, ‘round a month or so,” Agrat said. “Drop in th’ bucket. Besides, thing came in handy eventually. Glad I lugged it around for so long.” Finn shook his head.
“You still have that crossbow, don’t you?” Tabris said. Agrat nodded.
“It was a nice one, made by dwarves. Y’ don’t just get rid of things like that,” he said.
“I thought perhaps Rokag might be better with a crossbow than a traditional bow,” Tabris said, and sat next to Finn.
“I’ll dig it out,” Agrat said. “It’s a big thing, but not quite as unwieldy as, say, a longbow.” Finn rolled his eyes and Tabris covered his mouth while he laughed.
“You’re one t’ talk,” Finn said. “You want to talk unwieldy, let’s talk about that axe you used for many years. I have no idea how you swung it.”
“And swingin’ it around gave me these,” Agrat said, and flexed his free arm. “Which you so adore, darlin’.” Finn put on a mockingly lovey expression and fluttered his eyes at him.
“Oh, dear—you’re sending me into throes,” he said. He leaned over and passed a cup to Rokag, who sipped from it slowly and rolled her eyes. While Finn and Agrat kept making vaguely lewd jokes at each other, she noticed something she hadn’t before. Finn and Tabris looked similar, as if someone had taken a half-orc and made a human copy, or vice versa. Even with the scars and the different haircuts and skin color, their face shape was the same. Finn’s brow was a little heavier, his jaw a little stronger, but their noses, eyes, lips, and chins looked alike. She raised an eyebrow while she looked between the two of them and Tabris met her gaze. He raised his eyebrow right back at her and she quickly reset her expression.
“So, you’re leaving tomorrow?” Finn said to Tabris, who nodded once.
“Right. I’m heading out early so I can catch the ferry,” he said. “Thank you both again for putting me up these past few nights.” Finn shook his head.
“It’s no problem,” he said. “You’re welcome to visit more often.”
“Yeah—we’d be glad t’ have you,” Agrat said. Tabris smiled again.
“Thanks again,” he said. As the sun set, they yawned more, and finally shuffled inside. Agrat and Finn went up to their bedroom, while Rokag went into the living room and sat on the couch. She insisted on letting Tabris use her bedroom while he was over, since he rarely got the chance to sleep in a real bed. Before going up, he sat in the worn, empty chair and she glanced at him. His right knee creaked as it bent.
“What’s up?” she said. He rested his chin in his hand and he shrugged.
“It’s probably nothing, but you gave Finn and I an odd look earlier,” he said. “Mind if I pick your brain?”
“Well, you said it,” she said. “It’s probably nothing, but I just noticed it. You and dad look… a lot alike.”
“I am your uncle,” he said.
“You’re still clearly not related to either of them,” she said.
“You’re human. Obviously.” He chuckled.
“You’re right,” he said. “Your fathers and I were traveling companions for a long time—especially me and Finn. That’s why I’m your honorary uncle, I imagine.”
“That doesn’t explain why you look like him,” she said.
“Does there need to be an explanation?” Tabris said. “We just happen to look alike, I suppose. I, personally, don’t see it.” He smiled, clearly not believing even himself, and stood. “I’m off to bed. Thanks again—I know it’s inconvenient for you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said as she lied back on the couch, waving him off. They wished each other goodnight, and he headed up the stairs. She kicked up her feet on the other arm and crossed her legs at her ankles. The warm weather meant she didn’t need a blanket, but she used one anyway. She could never sleep without one.
Rokag set her jaw and wracked her brain for more memories. Bits and pieces came to her—Agrat guiding her closer to Finn, and her own confusion. She remembered sleeping under Tabris’ arm, but for some reason, she was convinced—even now—that this was her father’s arm.
Another image of Finn’s face came to mind. He seemed… indescribably sad, and said something to her, a question, maybe. But she didn’t remember it.
Nothing more came back, so she flipped onto her side and closed her eyes. Irritated as she was by her nagging concerns, she fell asleep without a problem.
As usual, when Tabris set off, he rode on his gorgeous, massive horse. Its white fur seemed to shimmer in the morning light, contrasting with everything about him. He lived thriftily and kept his clothing simple, and any gear he still carried for self-protection was worn. His prosthetics had also seen their fair share of wear and tear; he usually arrived missing a finger, or with a stiff joint, which Finn helped him repair. All Tabris’ mauling scars made him look absolutely ragged, too. Rokag wasn’t sure what stuck out more, the horse, or the fact that Tabris was its rider. He thanked them again, wished them well, and rode towards the next town over.
Rokag watched him go before returning home and helping Finn wash dishes left from breakfast. He kept a big leather glove just over his left arm, mostly to prevent bits of food from getting lodged in its pieces.
“Agrat’s looking for that old crossbow of his,” Finn said. “You and I can go practice with it later, if you’re still interested in learning to use something with range.”
“Yeah,” she said while she dried the clean dishes he passed to her. “We have bolts for it, right?”
“Most likely,” Finn said. “I don’t think anyone’s used it in a long time. Hopefully it’s still in good working order.”
“Do you know how to fix crossbows up if it does?” Rokag said. He shrugged and chuckled to himself.
“How hard could it be?” he said. “I know how to take care of my own arm, and Tabris’ prosthetics, too, for that matter. They’re all sort of mechanical, aren’t they?” He scrubbed away at a dish and Rokag eyed him.
“So,” she said and looked back to her work. “How’d’ya know uncle Tabris, anyway?”
“We were traveling companions for a while,” Finn said.
“I know—I mean, how did you two actually meet,” she said. “You and papa are from Ettinsmoor, so why would a half-orc and a human be travelin’ companions?” Finn seemed to glare just a little.
“He’s not actually entirely human,” he said.
“Oh? What is he, part elf?” Rokag said. All she knew about Ettinsmoor was that orcs had it rough there. But maybe all non-humans got along?
“Of course not,” Finn said with a scowl. “He’s part orc.” She stifled her laugh.
“Tabris? Seriously?” she said and grinned. “Fooled me.” Finn shook his head and scrubbed harder.
“Well, it shows—at least I think it does. And so does your papa. His ears are a little pointed, and he’s got little tusks, too. You know how orcs have twelve teeth—not counting tusks—on our lower jaws to make room for our tusks? Humans have sixteen teeth. Tabris also has twelve, like you and me and Agrat. Here, hand me that pot.” Rokag imagined Tabris’ face while she passed him a dirty pot that had been sitting since last night. Come to think of it, a couple of Tabris’ teeth did stick out a little—they could hardly be called “tusks,” though. She looked at Finn with a raised eyebrow.
“Wait—how in th’ world do you know how many teeth he has?” she said. She grinned. “Was he your boyfriend before papa?” Finn frowned deeply, widened his eyes, and shook his head. His expression treaded that border between discomfort and amusement.
“Gods, no,” he said. “That’d be… bizarre. I just asked him one day.”
“But he’s basically human,” Rokag continued. Finn shot her a glare.
“Where he’s from in Ettinsmoor, he’s not,” he said. “Things were much, much worse there for orcs than you could imagine, and even the slightest orcish blood made you an outcast among humans.” Rokag just nodded and they went back to their work. Finn sighed and looked up past the ceiling at nothing in particular. “Of course, the human blood made you an outcast among orcs… but anyway, that’s why all us half-orcs got together.”
“A bunch of half-orcs travelin’ together sounds suspicious,” Rokag said and glanced back at him.
“Of course. We wore disguises. Your papa used t’ go everywhere with a hood to cover his ears, and a scarf to cover his tusks. But we earned enough to get by. I—Tabris was the face. He got us jobs, since he looks so human when you don’t know about his heritage,” Finn said.
“Then how’d you get by?” Rokag said. “You’re green—there are brown and black humans, but I’ve never seen any green humans.”
“I just stayed especially hidden and didn’t go out much,” Finn said.
“Alright, alright—so how did you meet him?”
“By accident,” Finn said. “Your papa, Graguk, Cagul and I had been traveling for a while together, and we ran into him.”
“How long had you and the others been traveling?”
“Oh, four years or so. Could you put this away?” He handed her the now-clean pot and she held it a moment, frowning.
“Four half-orcs traveling for four years together, then you meet your face?” she said with a raised eyebrow. Finn looked up out the window a second, then looked directly into her eyes. He nodded.
“Yes,” he said. They stared at each other for another second. “You do know where that goes, right?” Rokag sighed and shoved it into the cupboard with all the other cooking pots. It clunked something, toppled a precariously stacked tower of more pots over, and she shut it so none would fall out. Finn groaned at the inconvenient mess.
“Rokag, could you—?”
“I’m gonna see if papa found that crossbow,” she said and ducked out of the kitchen before he could finish. As she went upstairs, she heard Finn shuffling the pots around and muttering to himself. She opened her dads’ bedroom door and saw Agrat pulling things out of a big chest. He’d already searched their other storage chest up here, found nothing, and had not yet put everything back. He looked over his shoulder and grinned at her.
“I’m fairly sure that crossbow’s in this one,” he said and went back to digging. “Probably at th’ bottom, th’ old thing is.”
“Want me t’ help?” Rokag said. He shook his head.
“No, no—jus’ sit on th’ bed or somethin’,” he said. She stepped over and between the old trinkets and items that littered the floor. Three crystals that seemed to glow ever so slightly, a broken wooden figure with a staff—its head was missing—a quiver of crossbow bolts, an old breastplate, and lots of clothing. She wondered just how much these chests could hold, but then, Agrat had a tendency of throwing stuff into a chest or bag and forgetting about it until much later. Rokag bent and picked up the crystals.
“What’re these?” she said. Agrat looked over his shoulder again.
“Ah, those’re yer dad’s,” he said. “He’ll be glad I found ‘em. They… I dunno what in th’ world they do, but he used to, used to…” He waved his hand next to his head, groping for the word. “Used t’ meditate with ‘em. That’s it. He told me they’re good in a pinch.”
“How can crystals be good in a pinch?” she said. He shrugged.
“No idea. Yer dad’s got some sorta-magical abilities, so I’m sure he’s right that they’re good t’ keep around,” he said. She scrunched her nose.
“Magical?” she said. “Like when you heal people?”
“Not quite,” Agrat said. “Alright, imagine Finn’s fallin’ from some high spot.” Rokag nodded. “He can… slow himself down, that make sense? Like he sorta floats down instead of droppin’ like a stone. And—you’ve seen him do it—when he throws five, six punches an’ a kick in five seconds. Plus, he’s a quick bastard out in th’ field. We met another fellow who could do th’ same things—he called it usin’ his ki, so perhaps it’s like that.”
“Alright, alright,” Rokag said. “But that doesn’t explain th’ crystals.”
“Like I said, I’ve got no clue what those are for, specifically,” Agrat said. He pushed stuff around in the chest—it sounded like something was rattling around the bottom and he was just moving small things around.
“Why’s he always hiding stuff about himself, anyway?” Rokag said. Agrat paused.
“What’dya mean?” he said.
“I was chatting with him earlier,” she said. “He’s a terrible liar.” Agrat sighed through his nose.
“He’s got his reasons, I’m sure,” he said. “What were you talkin’ about?”
“How you two met Tabris.” Agrat stopped digging and nodded to himself.
“Hm.” She waited for an elaboration. He took a small stack of books out from the chest and set them aside, not meeting her gaze.
“So, how did you meet Tabris?” she pressed. Agrat flipped through the books to see what they were.
“Well, we met him in Solva,” he said. Rokag’s eyebrow twitched, but she said nothing. “We jus’ sorta ran into him. Yer dad and I took a likin’ t’ him, saw his abilities fer ourselves, so we became travelin’ companions for a time.”
“Huh,” Rokag said. “In Solva, so there was no… issue with him bein’ human, and you and dad bein’ half-orcs.”
“You bet,” Agrat said. “Tabris doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He’s a good man.”
“So, that was after you and dad left Ettinsmoor.”
“Oh, gods yes,” Agrat said. “We’d been in this part of th’ world for, oh, about a year and some months. We were separated from Graguk and Cagul at that point, too, so we needed th’ extra help. The other folks we were around… well, most were reliable, but let’s jus’ say I wouldn’t trust some of ‘em as far as I could throw ‘em. Which is, granted, pretty damn far.” He rubbed his chin and chuckled at the idea.
“Alright, gotcha,” Rokag said, feeling her face heat up. Agrat closed the books and pushed them away. He took one last look in the chest, moved around some things with one hand, and sighed.
“Well, it ain’t in here,” he said. “Wonder if I gave it t’ Graguk, actually.”
“So, why’re you lying to me, too?” Rokag said. Agrat looked up and chuckled.
“I’m not lyin’,” he said. “Why would you say that?” She glared at him.
“Dad said you met Tabris in Ettinsmoor, and that he was the face for you all when you were lookin’ for work!” she said.
“Woah, woah—I must’ve misspoke,” Agrat said and held up his hands. She stood with her hands fisted.
“No, you didn’t! And dad tried to convince me that Tabris is actually part orc, and that you all met him after four years of travelin’ together!” she said. “What’s the big deal? Why are you and dad keeping this so… secretive? Why are you so secretive about everything? Is he a fugitive or somethin’? Are you fugitives?” Agrat rested his elbow on the open chest and rubbed his forehead with his hand. He closed his eyes and sighed again. For a moment, Rokag just scowled at him, and he said nothing.
“It’s nothin’… nothing that still matters today,” he said. “None of it has any significance t’ how we live these days, so it’s not like we’re… in danger, or anythin’. It’s just complicated, is all.”
“How complicated could it possibly be?” Rokag said. Agrat opened his eyes and looked at her. It was morning, but he looked like he’d been out working all day.
“Very, very complicated,” he said. “We’ll talk t’ you about Tabris, but later.”
“Why?” she demanded. “So you and dad can get th’ story straight?”
“No, we’ll tell you th’ truth,” Agrat said. He pointed his finger at her and glared. “But not all of it. And that’s how it’s going to be—there are things we want left in the past. Understand?” Rokag glared. She wanted to accuse him of cowardice, of lying by omission, but she bit her tongue. She got up and skulked out of the room.
“You both drive me insane!” she growled. On her way out of the house, she grabbed her sword—a gift from Tabris—and headed for a practice dummy out back. Broken arrows stuck out of it, mostly all of them in its head, and some lodged deep in its chest. She threw herself to the ground, imagining herself dodging around it in the middle of battle, jumped to her feet, and slashed at its back. The more she moved, the less her anger bubbled over.
Continue to part 2 here.