They did indeed bathe and break the bad news. The guilt overwhelmed the human boy, so Shahira told the mother. It was awkward for her. She didn't know what to do when the older vixen started crying. So she just patted the woman on the shoulder and left. She told Zariah to stay back at the camp and wait for her to find a job. She went through town and offered her services. Many were intimated. She was used to it. She was a solid brick of muscle, and she carried a sword. She was over a head taller than most men. She was strong, proud, and stubborn. Something that was needed to survive in these times. People didn't appreciate that.
She wandered about town, stopping by any shop she could and talking to anyone willing to talk to her. She needed money. She had a mere 10 gold pieces, and now that her expenses had doubled it wasn't going to cut it. She walked into a shop, and two lizards were arguing quietly behind a counter. One was a woman and one was a man. They could have been married, or teenagers. She never could tell. There were too many of the damn scaled creatures for her to keep up with all the different kinds, too. When they noticed her they stopped bickering, and put on fake smiles used to comfort customers. The male one spoke.
"Good morning, miss. How can I help you?" Shahira walked up to the counter, keeping eye contact.
"I'll be blunt. I'm looking for work. I'm strong, athletic, durable, and handy with a blade. I'm only in town for a few days. I'll take any kind of work that isn't sexual. I have a partner. While not as strong as I am, he's young and energetic. He's good with people and subordinate. Do you have anything to offer?"
The two lizards looked at one another, and nodded. While Shahira was intimidating and blunt, she had a lot to offer. They knew it.
"Well, we were expecting a supply of goods not more than three days ago. It's never been this late before. We wouldn't be so worried, but the townspeople grow anxious. They need food - we all do. They're hungry and we fear they'll grow desperate. They might even blame us. We'd go ourselves, however, with all the bandits lately.."
The pantheress nodded. "I get it. You're scared, you're busy, whatever. I need the work and I'm willing to find out. Just tell me where to go, and what to look for." She rubbed her forehead with her thumb and finger and clenched her jaw. Shahira hated all this beating-around-the-bush crap. She wanted to get to the point, do her work, and get her money. The two lizards stepped back, a little fearful that she might snap.
"They usually travel from the road to the east. They have a big caravan. Multiple races. You can identify them by the black leather suits, and the symbol they wear on their chest. Bronze arrows crisscrossing over a bronze leaf." The lizard made an x over his heart. The pantheress nodded.
"Is there anything else I should know?"
"Not that we can think of." She looked at them, studying their eyes and body language. She looked over their simple clothes. Shahira was searching for any hints of deceit or dishonesty. She determined they were telling the truth.
"I'll be off then. "
As she left, she thought about what it must be like for them. What it's like to live in a town that normally has so much security, a place where people never had to worry before, and then to suddenly be torn from that. She had never had that. She'd never known safety, she'd never known being weak. She couldn't understand it, and yet she pitied it still. But that's not why she was doing this. She was broke. Her coin purse was less coin and more purse than usual. She needed payment, especially now that she was taking care of the human. He was like a child. Not she could blame him. The poor guy was brought up as a slave. No one cared to teach him how to behave. Most slaves are children, anyways, because of reasons she didn't want to think about. Once they got older, they were generally forced or sold into the army. The only reason he was kept was because he was human. So children would have been who he spent the most time with. At least, the most free time with. She chuckled at the thought of that. Me, with children? Now there's a joke. Still, she couldn't deny that she was worried about him. She hated to just leave him alone, but she knew he needed to grieve. The job would be easier without him..
After he had watched Shahira leave, Zariah lied on his blanket, staring into the sky. He felt broken. He couldn't get that image out of his head. Why would anyone do that? He'd seen so much, and never had a chance to do anything about it. He saw children, his friends, beaten and abused. He'd even gone through it himself, and sometimes forced to do it to the others. Especially once he was older. All of it crept into his dreams, and his thoughts. He could see them when he closed his eyes. He didn't cry. He was beyond tears. Tears didn't bring relief anymore. That hadn't in a long time. But, this time was different. He wanted to stop it, stop the cruelty. He wanted to change something and to protect someone. He failed. For this, he sobbed. For her -that little girl - he cried. He cried until he couldn't anymore. Then he sat up and wiped his eyes with his palms, and then he screamed. He let out all his rage and hatred, screaming at no one and everyone. Then, he sat there calmly. His face was red and his heart was beating. At that moment, in the woods, he realized that he was free. He'd never felt more free, actually. It washed over him. His mistake was his own, he was completely alone and able to do what he wanted. He wanted to take a walk. And so, he did.
Zariah was a confused mess. But he was optimistic. Despite it all, he still had faith. It was all he ever had; it's what gave him his humanity and his sanity. He clung to it, and in turn it clung to him. Faith was the only thing that stayed with him through it all. He had buried himself deep in his own imagination and hope in order to escape the terrible things that happened to him. Now, he felt free of that. And he decided that it was only because of hope that he was still alive. He felt joy as he walked, barefooted, through the woods. He felt the earth under his feet and the wind on his skin. His sorrow for that girl was deep, and he had broken the first promise that he had made as a free man. That he would carry with him forever. I can't just give in, though. This is my life. I can't be overrun with depression, or grief. I have to keep moving forward. He walked through a stream and felt the water moving rapidly over his feet. He tapped his toes on the bottom, letting them squish into the mud. He sat down in the water. Zariah let his mind go blank as he stared at the water. He just watched it swirl and move. He listened to the sound soft sound of the running water. It soothed him. He wasn't sure how long he was there, but the sky was starting to darken when he felt read to go back to camp. On the way back, he realized how much he missed his savior and new acquired companion. He hoped she would come back soon.
The panthress had been walking for a long time. As far as she could tell, there were no tracks on the road to prove that anyone had travelled it recently. She was bored out of her mind with the continuous walking. The fact she hadn't run into the caravan had proved that something probably did happen to them, though. She had her hand on her blade, just in case. It was getting dark. She was hungry and tired, but she needed to get the job done. Her pace was slowing with her lack of energy.
She was coming up to bend, and around it she could see light. She smelled smoke and knew it must have been the caravan. She readied her sword, and crouched. She was ready for action. She crawled on all fours, her body low to the ground. She slowly approached, peaking around the corner, prepared for battle. She saw the fire, and men around it. Two carriages sat on the road side, missing wheels. There were no horses, either. She examined the men; they were wearing black leather... with bronze emblems on the chest. They were the ones she was here for. They were alive, thank god. She wasn't really in the mood to fight. She relaxed and stood up, walking toward the men.
"Men," she nodded, "I've come from a town that's very curious as to where you are right now." They looked at her, eyeing her up and down. She could only guess what their minds were on.
"We were jumped. Killed a few of us, but we defended ourselves pretty well. They got away with the horses, some of the supplies, and broke the carts here. We were just resting and gathering energy to carry the supplies the rest of the way by hand." She saw there were only seven of them. They would take a while getting back.
"I was hired to find you, and bring any supplies back. I guess that includes carrying this damn wagon." She half growled and half grunted, and kicked the nearest one. "Well, let's not waste any time." She reached down and lifted the front end of one, beginning to pull it by herself. She stopped a few feet away and looked back and roared, "Come on then!"
The men looked at one another and got up to start dragging the second one. The carts slowly moved down the road. As they did, two men lingered behind. They waited to be out of earshot to talk to one another. Their whispers were quiet, and hurried. They quickly agreed to something, and shook hands. As they did, they formed slow, dark smiles -dangerous smiles.