The Brimstone Doctrine
Chapter 6: Saffron
I duck just in the nick of time, quickly folding in on myself, pulling my limbs to the center of my body, and throwing all my momentum forward. I miss the Full’s claws and roll straight into his legs again while he’s still mid-lunge, and this time my aim is right on target.
He goes down, hard, in the same pile of mud I’d encountered earlier. But unlike me, he lands on his back and doesn’t have time to react before his head smacks the ground. In a daze he begins to slowly pull himself back up to sit, And I don’t waste a second of his stupor. I run forward and launch myself straight at him, sending us both rolling.
We stop when we hit the trunk of a tree. The Full ends up on top of me and quickly shoves his knee into the soft, lower part of my chest, just beneath the sternum. I inhale sharply and he flashes a terrible grin, adding more weight.
The amount of fights I’d been in were innumerable. It pained me to think that the bulk of Serrin’s childhood consisted of me telling him to run and then coming home an hour later covered in blood with a body to bury (or multiples, hey, It’s happened). Typically I was a contender, but there’d been a handful of fights I’d had to run from, causing Serrin and I to go into hiding for weeks at a time, often without food. I try not to think about how much I’ve hurt him, damaged him, and that despite it all he still loved me. I especially didn’t want to think of how he’d feel when he woke up this morning and I wasn’t beside him, and when Oravin would tell him I wasn’t coming back. I’d become pretty skilled at ignoring pain of all kinds over the years, but times like this made it hard. I’d fought Fulls before too, there were plenty of them that had tribes established just outside the Human lands and everywhere around them, but this one was over two feet taller than I was and outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds, and I wasn’t exactly the epitome of small. All his weight on my chest hurt like utter hell.
All of a sudden there’s rustling from the bush where the little halfy resided, and a flash of blonde hair slowly creeps its way into my peripheral vision. He was peeking out, exposing himself, leaving himself wide open for detection.
The Full forgets his efforts with me for a moment and snaps his head toward the bush. He saw it too. The halfy squeals and retreats back into the cover of the branches, and the Full gives another twisted grin. He begins to raise himself up, and my entire body floods with relief at the release of some of his weight. Although I was smaller than him, I was the smarter fighter. I knew this because he’d just committed the number one offense, the one thing you never do in battle: ignore your opponent.
In one quick move, I sock him in the windpipe. Instantly both his arms fly to his throat and the rest of his weight comes off of me as his momentum is thrown to one side. I pounce at the opportunity, propelling myself straight at him. His head smacks the ground again and this time I’m on top. As hard as I can I punch him in the nose, and I keep it up until blood is running into his mouth. He opens his mouth up wide and what comes out isn’t a howl, but a scream- a loud one.
Fearing the rest of his tribe would close in if he kept it up, I mash one hand over his mouth and pinch his nose closed with the other, twisting it sharply. He wrenches his eyes shut and bows his back, pain evident in the troubled features of his face and in he muffled screeches he produces under my hand.
Panic sets in quickly for him when he realizes he can no longer breathe. His eyes grow wide and he squirms violently beneath my grasp, using both arms in a desperate attempt to pry my hands away, to no avail. Tears begin to gather in the corners of his eyes and he moans some more, thrashing side to side to try and buck me off or find an opening for escape. When he can’t get anywhere with that, he stays still and looks up at me with an empty gaze. Very slowly, he nods his head to me.
I move my hand away from only his mouth and he immediately falls into a fit of gasping and coughing, sputtering blood everywhere as he does so. After he’s recovered enough to speak, he utters just one word in a quivering, but steady voice.
“Seeda!” The demon word for stop. “Seeda! Seeda!”
Before I let go of his nose I lean in close, locking eyes with him. This time, I’m careful to use demon.
“If you call the rest of them here, I’ll kill you,” I tell him, and then I get off of him and let his nose go. “Get up and run.” He jumps backward as far away from me as he can and then shakily gets to his feet when he feels he’s far enough. He doesn’t have to be told twice: he charges away and plunges into the deep woods. I watch him until I can’t see him anymore.
Suddenly the little halfy runs out of the cover of his bush and wraps his arms around my torso.
“That was so cool!” He chants, smiling up at me. “How did you do that? You’re so strong! How can you-”
He stops and snaps his head to the side and looks toward the area where the devious mud puddle resided. Coming out of the woods were dozens of Fulls, each with a different size and appearance. The halfy squeals the same way he did earlier, and runs behind me.
Oh, son of a Human biscuit.
“So, what do we do now?” One of the shortest of them asks, looking directly at me. Red hair the same color as his eyes hung loose just over his shoulders. He had a short, scruffy beard to match.
“Uh, what?” I respond.
“Well, you made our leader flee into the woods for his life,” Another one of them with a much deeper voice explains as he steps out from the cover of the trees. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means.”
I think for a long moment and find that I don’t. Mom had prepared me for so many scenarios but not all of them, and If I didn’t say the right things they’d know I wasn’t a Full. I had to tread carefully and play it smart, or I could kiss making it into Narath goodbye.
So I quickly create a plan B, tilt my head to the side, and set a hand over my hip. The halfy behind me grabs fistfulls of my shirt and squeezes them tight, like I’d been his protector his whole life.
“I’m sorry,” I say, matching the Full’s accusatory and brash tone. “I’m a Homeland demon. I’m more concerned with finding Humans to torture than understanding the tribal rituals of you Natives.”
Lies. All lies. But hey, they were good ones!
“It’s not a ritual,” The one with the beard growls, narrowing his red eyes to slits. “It’s tribal law that when a Full is killed or forced out of his territory, the one that causes it inherits his tribe and territory. Simple as that. You drove Eli away with his tail literally between his legs, so congratulations, new leader. You got a name?”
Despite the shock of his revelation, it spills out of me automatically.
“Herron,” I reply. The Full with the deep voice gives me a smile, and it was kind of unsettling. Very unsettling, actually.
“Not your alias,” He tells me. “We’ve all got things to hide, that’s why we have them. But we only use them around Humans or halfies or Fulls in high ranking. When we’re with each other there’s nothing to hide. Plus, what happens in the tribe stays in the tribe. That’s code, and code is law.”
I don’t say anything, or give him my real name. I know better.
“Well, fine,” He tells me. “If you insist on keeping secrets from your tribe, I don’t care. But you’ll have to learn to be more trusting eventually. I’m Gallegher. And that’s, you know, my real name.”
He wraps an arm around a smaller male Full right next to him and shakes him so hard he loses his balance. “This here’s my baby brother, Terezzi,” Terezzi glares at him.
“I’m older than you, you idiot.” He says, and somehow the tribe seems much less imposing.
“Ah, who cares about specifics? You sure you won’t tell us your real name, squirt?” He says to me.
I think for a moment. I didn’t want to reveal my real name. What if one of them knew my Father? Or worse, what if they knew Nevvy? But at the same time, I had a cover to uphold. I could mask my scent as much as I wanted but if I wasn’t believable, I didn’t stand a chance. So reluctantly, I say my real name for the first time in what seems like years, and what probably was years.
It felt foreign.
“Pleasure to meet ya!” Gallegher says, offering me what appeared to be a genuine smile. He shakes Terezzi again and Terezzi punches him in the side. “Now if you’ll allow me- I should really finish our kill. We’ve got a score to settle with that little blonde behind you. Hey Hakku, you still got that dagger I lent you?”
“Yup.” Another Full at the forest’s edge answers, tossing a short silver blade to Gallegher. He catches it with ease, and twirls it around and around in his right hand as his red eyes train their focus on the halfy behind me. I prayed he had enough sense to stay still and quiet, but of course, he didn’t.
He screams at the top of his lungs, runs out from behind me, and charges back underneath the bush.
“Come on out, you pest!” Gallegher chants. “I just want to play!” When he gets no response, he begins walking toward the bush, kicking his feet into it’s underbrush. My heart skips a beat when after only a few seconds, he collides with something that isn’t brambles and there’s an audible squeal, again. He grins wildly. “There you are.” He growls.
In one deft swoop, he plunges an arm into the bush and drags the little halfy out of it by only his hair. He throws him to the ground afterward.
“Think you can steal our food and get away with it?” Gallegher yells. “Stealing from another tribe is punishable by death. We’re all hungry out here. Just because you don’t have your own food doesn’t entitle you to take what we’ve rightfully earned!”
“I’m sorry,” The halfy says tearfully. “I didn’t mean to, I was just-”
“You didn’t mean to. Ha!” Gallegher mocks. “There’s no excuse for half-breed scum like you. Lights out, Goldie-locks.” He growls, raising his dagger and readying it to plunge.
In an instant, every hair on my body seizes and stands on end, nothing but pure adrenaline igniting in my chest and coursing through my veins.
When he lunges forward, I snap my entire arm downward and twist my hand, feeling the heat gather and take its shape. His dagger collides with a sword of my own, and It’s small metal blade snaps in half, the top segment falling to the ground with a soft “thud.”
“Leave him alone. He hasn’t done anything wrong.” I say. Gallegher looks at me, dumbfounded.
Damn it! What had I done?
“You’re a Manipulator!” Gallegher exclaims, dropping the rest of his dagger, forgetting about the halfy altogether. “I thought they were a myth! Our leader is a Manipulator!”
I open my mouth to respond, but Gallegher rushes up to me and shoves a filthy finger into my lips.
“Shh,” He says, grinning. “Don’t speak. Let’s just enjoy a moment of silence for how much cooler you are than Eli was. Terezzi! Can you believe how cool this guy is?”
Terezzi rolls his eyes. “Can’t believe it. Hey pal, you should probably boil some water for your mouth. He never washes his hands.”
“You shut up! I wash them at least once a day!”
These were the Fulls Mom had warned me about? I didn’t sense the threat, at least not with Eli gone. Maybe they were different the further you got from the Human Lands.
Suddenly there’s a gentle hand on my back. Gallegher drops his finger from my mouth, stands up straight, and quiets down immediately. I turn around and come face to face with an old, heavily wrinkled female Full. She smiles at me warmly and winds her arm into my own.
Where had she been all this time? Did she see everything?
“Gallegher, keep everyone in line for a moment. Our new leader and I are going to go into the next clearing to chat a bit.”
“Yes, elder Mary.” Gallegher replies.
Elder Mary lets her arm out of mine and takes my hand instead.
“Come on.” She commands, leaving no room for argument. She pulls me toward the woods, and for some reason, I let her.
AUTHOR NOTE: Sorry for the extended hiatus! College and work life are crazy. I will make a greater effort to update more regularly. As always thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the story so far! What’s waiting in Narath? 😀