Chapter three: The start of servitude
And so, I was now with the diety Goddess, in her service and unknowingly in her shadow. That's the thing about dieties: they make all nicey-nice with you, but most of them are pompus and anal-retentive on the inside. It doesn't matter who you are, they're always better, and they're never wrong. Things are always their way. Goddess didn't seem to be this way. She was very kind to me as we made it back to wherever it was she lived (which I later found was a pocket of forest that existed outside of the planet's reality...don't ask). She talked to me quietly and soothingly, and I soon began to feel more sure of myself, as if things weren't as bad as they seemed. Yes, my family, friends, even my town were gone...but Goddess was here to take care of me. Goddess would always take care of me, and all I had to do is love her like any of her children. She explained this to me when I offered to wait on her hand and foot in return, but I didn't listen.
Remember this always: Gods and Goddesses LOVE reverse psychology. Half the time if they say something, they mean the complete opposite. Do yourself a favor and just avoid talking to immortals (but we Espers are okay).
Goddess' home appeared to fit right in the middle of a storybook. A neat, thatch-roofed cottage seated in the middle of a forest glade, right next to a small brook. Animals stood near it unafraid as we approached, watching us with their small innocent eyes. Birds that had quietly chattered in the trees earlier sang joyously as Goddess approached with me in her arms. I took all of this in while in a daze; I had fallen asleep during the walk here, and had woken up when we had already reached the forest. I didn't exactly know where "here" was, but I figured that's how Goddess planned it, and why I fell asleep.
We walked up the worn dirt pathway up to the front door, which was a deep brown color, although I didn't have a clue what sort of wood it was. The same goes for the rest of the house...it was made of a tan wood that seemed as if it should of been bleached by the sun and weather, and yet it seemed to be freshly cut, if not still alive. The best way I can think of describing this cottage is to say it was like the Seven Dwarves' cottage, but made of living wood. I know it sounds crazy, but strange things happen around Gods.
"Should I get the door for you, Goddess?" I asked politely. I probably would of had considerable difficulty opening the door considering my current form, but it didn't occur to me. I just wanted to help my savior.
She laughed that light little laugh of hers. "Nay, good Tritoch. Rest in mine arms for a while longer...the door shall open for me." She stepped up to the door, and it swung open quietly on its hinges. I blinked in surprise, not at the fact that the door had opened up by itself, but because of the interior of the house.
It was definately not small. It wasn't even large. Grandose, immense, and impressive are a few words that came to mind when I saw the inside. It wasn't a quaint little house....it was a paradise inside. The floor was zig-zagged with white marble pathways, laid down in red dirt. Various plants, trees and flowers spread their branches and petals towards the light streaming from above. I looked up to see the source of the light, and saw the largest window I've ever seen in my life. "window" wouldn't be the right word, neither would skylight. The entire ceiling of the huge atrium was made of glass, set into intricate patterns like a stained glass window, but completely clear. There was a flurry of colorful movement in the taller trees, and my eyes strayed towards them instinctively. Tropical birds of all colors and sized flitted from tree to tree, chittering and singing happily.
Goddess set me down on a bench that sat next to rows of tropical flowers. "Remain hither for a bit." she said. "I shall find accomidations for thee. Excuse me." With that she turned, walked down one of the many pathways, and disappeared into a doorway that lead who knows where. I was alone again, but I didn't mind as much. I knew that she would come back. I looked around and watched the birds as they went about their avian business, wondering how much I resembled them. I knew that I was freakish, but I didn't know how much. I touched my beak, which was fully-formed at this point, and considered it for a while while watching the birds.
Suddenly, everything froze. The birds stopped flying in mid-air, water stopped dripping from the condensation on the glass dome above, and even the faint breeze that passed through the room discontinued. I looked around, confused. "Uh.....Goddess?"
"She's busy right now." A voice said from a tree. I looked up to see a small gold dragon seated in the branches, his eyes fixed on me. "Don't worry, I'm just playing." The young dragon jumped down and flexed his wings. "But you have to admit, it's always cool to make 'em stop in mid-air like that."
I stupidly looked at the dragon, who was slightly larger than I was, and by his voice, perhaps a few years older. He grinned at me. "You don't have a clue, do you?"
"I uh...just got here. Who are you?"
"Me? Harsghalt. One of Goddess' many servants." He bowed. "Oh yeah, and the only Esper with time-altering magic." Harsghalt walked up to a bird that was frozed in the air like a photograph. "Isn't it pretty?"
He turned his attention away from the bird to frown at me. "What are you, new? Oh, that's right....you did just get here. Yeah, time magic. Haste, slow, stop, things like that...what kind of magic do you have?"
I shook my head. "I don't have magic. I just turned into this...snakey bird thing a few hours ago, and I'm still trying to adjust."
Harsghalt made a vague gesture, and time took on its normal flow. The birds continued to fly about as if nothing had happened. "Snakey bird thing, huh? You look like a wyvern to me."
"I thought I was a wyvern, but the more I think about it, the less I seem like one. Wyverns are dragons...and I'm not a dragon."
He sat next to me on the bench. "Nope, they're not really dragons. They're more birdlike. And they usually have a head crest and horns like you too."
"Head crest? What are you talking about?"
He sighed. "Kid, have you even looked at yourself since you transformed?"
"Well, not really."
He pointed to a pond. "Go look at your reflection."
I slid off the bench, and slither-crawled my way to the pond, since I hadn't gotten the hang of moving about yet. I heard Harsghalt laugh at my means of locomotion, but I didn't say anything. He was a dragon bigger than me, and I was...
I was impressive. I looked down at my reflection in awe. My eyes had changed, instead of being their normal blue, they were black. Not just the irises...my entire eyes. I blinked, and noticed that a second eyelid slid horizontally across my eyes just as my normal ones closed. It was unusual. With one of my three-clawed hands, I reached up to touch the faint nubs of horns that were forming on either side of my head. The head crest was just odd, but when I touched it, it seemed to be real bone and horn material. My feathers were green and blue, and they seemed to change color back and forth as I moved. My neck and chest were covered with flexible gold plates that had a faint red sheen to them. My multi-color wings loomed behind me, situated behind my four arms. However, what I noticed the most was my beak. It was a beak like a falcon's, but it was just as multicolored as my wings....with shades of red, blue, green and yellow.
Harsghalt came up beside me and pointed at himself. "For future reference, this is a dragon." He pointed at me. "And this is a wyvern. Got it?"
"I uh...yeah. I get it."
"Good. What's your name, anyway?"
"Well then, Tritoch, I'll see you later. Goddess is coming back, and I don't want to get in her way." He moved off and disappeared into the trees.
I turned to look for Goddess, and found her just as she entered the room. She had a small girl with her, who had gold and purple wings emerging from her brown hair. Yet another Esper, apparently. "There thou art, Tritoch." Goddess said. "'Tis time for you to get settled in. I would like you to meet this fine young girl. Her name is Siren.
Yes, Siren and I go back a long way. She wasn't too bad as a child, actually....but when she grew up that's when things started getting interesting for me.
Siren gave a little curtsey. "Hello. Aren't you a weird one?"
As you can see, Siren and I never started out too well. "You're no prize yourself. Can you fly with those wings of yours, or are they just weird ears?"
Goddess crossed her arms. "Children, I did not bring thee here so thou couldst bicker." She gave Siren a gentle shove forward. "Show him to his room, make sure he bathes and eats, and then take him to meet the others. I have business to attend to."
My heart dropped in my chest. "You're...leaving, Goddess?"
Her smile was more beautiful and warming than a sunrise. "Only for a short while. I intend to seek out more that were damaged by mine sisters' squabbles. Be well whilst thou doth settle in, Tritoch; after a few surprises, I do think thou shalt find a perfect home here. Goodbye, until later." Then she vanished.
Siren folded her wings beneath her chin, on her collarbone. "Sorry if I came on strange....it's just that I've been cranky lately.
"That's okay. So you're Siren?"
"Yep, and you're Tritoch. For some reason Goddess really has some interest in you."
She nodded as she examined one of my stiff-feathered wings. "Yeah. Maybe because you're more interesting than most of the Espers here. Not to mention you're one of the youngest. She says that you're 12."
"Right, whatever. I'm 13, and Harsghalt who's hiding in those trees there is 15."
There was some rustling sounds behind me and a mumbled "...wasn't supposed to see me here..."
"Well anyway Tri....mind if I call you Tri?" She didn't wait for a response. "Good. Let's get you cleaned up, and then get some food in your stomach. I bet you're starving."
At the thought of food, my stomach began to dance in circles. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and it was many many hours later. "That sounds good. Please, lead the way...oh, and excuse me if I can't keep up to well. I lost my legs today, and I'm still figuring out how to get around."
Siren giggled. "No problem. At least you're a nice guy, four arms or not. All right, this way then." She lead me down one of the many winding paths, and over a small bridge. I peered down at the water, and found some goldfish swimming about in the water, minding their own business. The only thing is that these fish were not only the color gold, but they shone gold. No, not light reflecting off of them, they actually glowed as I looked at them.
"You can look at the fishies later, Tri." Siren said a bit impatiently. "Right now we've gotta set you up with a room and a roomate."
"I have a roomate?" The concept of sharing a room was unknown to me...everybody in my family always had their own bedroom.
"Yeah, that way you have somebody to talk to, and you can help each other out when you have to train and study and stuff. It's not as bad as you think, you get plenty of privacy."
We continued on, out of the large greenhouse and into a hallway made of dark wood and white marble. I looked around in awe; I had never seen such a beautiful place. Siren kept a slow pace for sluggish me, and smiled occasionally, flicking her gold and purple wings. We went up a winding staircase, and came out onto a nearly identical floor. We stopped in front of what appeared to be a completely random door, and she took out a small clipboard. "Hm....nope. I don't think you wanna bunk up with Iffie."
"Iffie? Who's she?"
Siren giggled. "Iffie's a he, silly. And his full name is Ifrit. He's not too bad of a guy, once you get past his temper. But since you're new I think you'll want to avoid Ifrit for now, since he's something of a bully. I think we'll just put you in a few rooms over and get you a roomate later on." She checked her clipboard again, and lead me three doors down. "Here we go...this'll do." She opened the door for me to see. "Home sweet home."
It wasn't as opulent as it was functional. Four walls with a doorway to what was obviously a bathroom, an arched ceiling painted white, and a large oriental rug on the floor. There was two beds, a table near a small fireplace with two chairs for eating, and a desk with a stool. There was a shelf on the wall with bookends on it, but it was unoccupied by any books. "It's not much, is it?" I asked.
"Of course not...this is just the basics we all start out with. You're welcome to add whatever you want....just don't draw on the walls, don't have fires outside of the hearth, and don't prop open the window with anything. Those are the basic rules. Meals are served to your room just after dawn, just before noon, and at dusk....but the kitchen is always open in case you need a drink or a snack. The library is back downstairs, through the atrium, and to the left of the main doors. And then there's the "meeting room". It's sort of a play area but it has tables and chairs too....and that's to the right of the atrium. There's more too, but that's just a start." She opened the door to the bathroom, to reveal the white-tiled interior. "Set up just like an Inn, except you get your own bathroom for each room. There's soap, towels and a brush...well, you don't need a brush...but anyway, I think you should take a bath. Your pretty wings and tail are all dirty, and Goddess doesn't like dirty Espers in her nice clean palace." She smiled. "If you need anything else, I'm in room F7. Your room is M12, so remember that. I'll have a late lunch sent up to you so you can eat after you bathe. When you're done in here, you should either go to the meeting room or the library to get to know some of your neighbors." She curtsied again. "If there's anything else, just ask. We're all friends here." She then left the room, and closed the door behind her.
Siren wasn't that bad a person, until she finished puberty. Then all those hormones kicked in, and all the male Espers fled in terror, including me.
Siren, if you're reading this, you KNOW you deserved that.
I slithered over to the window, and opened it. Outside it was comfortably warm and sunny, with a faint breeze. The forest that we had walked through was outside, and we were clearly on the second floor. The walls of the building I was in still appeared the same as the cottage: pale-colored wood. Yet I knew that the cottage only appeared to have one floor when I first saw it. I shook my head and closed the window, trying not to think about it. Apparently magic took a large part here, and I didn't want to think about magic currently...not after what happened to me, Fenrir and Nartch. I made my way into the bathroom, and found a pair of oil lamps on the wall, and a pack of matches on the sink next to some soap and a hairbrush. I took the matches and after a few tries, lighted the lamps. Then I turned to look at my reflection in the reasonably-sized mirror hanging over the sink. I still couldn't get over how odd and yet how interesting I looked. I opened my mouth and made a hissing sound, trying to look threatening, and absently noted that my tongue was now pointed like a bird's. I lowered my feathered brow and snarled, showing curved teeth inside my maw, and then laughed. How ridiculous; I was a little snakey bird thing, not some huge malevolent dragon. I probably couldn't scare a fly. I stuck my pointed tongue out at my reflection, then got my bath ready.
Bathing with feathers is interesting, to say the least. While the water completely slid off my wings, it soaked my somewhat fluffy body feathers, making myself look even more like a snake when I looked at my reflection afterwards. Not only that, but I smelled....odd. Clean was one of the smells, but the other one was clearly the smell of wet feathers. I sighed, made my way over to the window, and sat on the windowsill, fanning my wings to dry.
I was still sitting on the windowsill when there was a polite knock on the door. I turned towards it, but remained seated. "Come in."
The door opened, and it appeared that Death himself was carrying a covered tray. I recoiled slightly in horror at the bony appirition in front of me. The adult Esper carrying the tray set it down on the table. "You afraid of me?" His voice wasn't as intimidating as his looks.
"Well, you DO look like the Grim Reaper..." I admitted.
"Yeah, I know....but I'm not a bad guy." He folded his bone wings against his back and extended a skeletal hand. "My name's Lich."
I tentively reached out and shook his hand. It was warm, not cold like I expected. "Tritoch."
"Yeah, the new kid. I'm the head of the kitchen, and since the rest of the kitchen staff are on a break, I decided to just bring you lunch myself." He lifted the lid, and some very delicous smells wafted towards me from the tray. "Here's some pea soup, a slice of bread, an apple and a glass of milk. If you need more, you can come down to the kitchens and ask. But don't be a total pig, we don't want you to get fat." One of the vacent eye sockets winked at me, and the grinning skull seemed to grin more. "Enjoy your meal. I'll probably see you around."
I pulled myself over to a chair at the table, and hauled myself up into it. "Thank you, Lich. You're right, you seem to be a nice guy."
"I wouldn't lie. You seem to be good at getting past apperances, which you definately need to do while living here. When you're done, bring the tray down to the kitchen. It's next to the meeting area. I have work to do....so I'll see you later."
I eagerly took a bite out the bread. "G'bye Lich, and thanks." The bread was delicious, and still warm. I had no problems eating the bread (although figuring out chewing with my new mouth took some time) or the apple, but the soup and especially the milk was a challage. I couldn't neatly pop the spoon full of soup into my mouth and slide out out between my lips like I used to, seeing that I no longer had lips. I tried licking the soup off the spoon and even directly out of the bowl, but that didn't accomplish anything, and I knew it looked stupid. I finally figured out a way to eat with the spoon properly, and after some tries, managed to find a safe way to drink the milk without spilling it on myself. I completely cleaned my plate and sighed happily. Good cooking and nice people....maybe this place wasn't going to be so bad.
Just as I was thinking this, my door burst open. I looked up from my empty plate to see a boy about my age standing in the doorway. A boy, that is, with a somewhat doglike muzzle filled with needle-like teeth. He had brown fur covering his body, a mane of red hair, and delecately swept back horns that shone a dull black. He didn't wear anything aside from a pair of shorts. "So, you're the new guy?"
"Yeah. Who're you?"
He smacked a clawed hand to his forehead...or at least where his forehead should be, and layed his pointed ears back. "Man, how could they leave me out? Didn't they tell you that I'm the boss of this floor?"
I blinked my black eyes. "Uh....no. Should they have?"
He thumped over to the chair opposite me and sat down uninvited. "Hell yeah. I gotta have a word with 'em about that." He looked at my empty plate. "Like the soup?"
"Yeah, it was really good. Um....what's your name?"
"Ifrit. Everybody calls me Iffie, though....your name's Triwalk or something, right?"
"Tritoch...it's Tritoch." So this guy was the bully. I hated bullies, but maybe I could get on this one's good side. Ifrit was slightly larger than me, and even though he was young he had arms that were already muscular. I didn't want to find out how strong he was.
"Fine, Tritoch...in that case...I want you to remember something. If you do anything wrong, or get in my way, I'll fry you. And if you make me mad, I'll pound you."
I looked at him with a flat unemotional stare. "I'll be sure to remember that. Is there anything else you want, or can I go about my business?"
Ifrit stood up and flexed his muscles. "You didn't say "sir", you know. That's not good for you."
"Oh gee, sorry "sir"." If I was going to get pounded, I at least wanted the satisfaction of knowing that this guy wasn't going to get me to bow and scrape to him. "In that case, is there anything else you want "sir", or can I be excused, "sir"?"
His red eyes seemed to glow. "Get off that chair!"
I crossed my arms defiantly. All four of them.
Ifrit made a growling sound. "I said, get off that chair, and I mean NOW."
"You didn't say the magic word."
That probably was the dumbest thing I could of said. He backhanded me straight out of the chair, knocking one of my pointed teeth clear out of my mouth. I could taste the salty blood in my mouth as I sat up just in time to see him aim a kick at me. I covered myself with my wings, brushing them up against him as I did so. I then heard a howl of pain from him, and raised my head above the tops of my wings. Ifrit had several of my feathers stuck in his leg, in the midst of some gashes that looked like they were caused by blades. He pulled out one of the daggerlike feathers that had wounded him, and stabbed me in the arm with it. He ripped the rest of the red feathers out of his leg, and punched me upside the head. I fell and everything turned white around the edges.
"You little shit..." he said through gritted teeth. "You dare hurt me like that again, and you're dead. Deader than dead...and Goddess can't do anything about it either. Got it?"
I nodded mutely, laying on the floor. I watched as he picked up the feathers, and my curved tooth. Then he walked out the door and shut it behind him as if nothing had happened. I whimpered at pawed at my aching beak, wiping away the blood that was mixed with tears. I hated bullies. I really hated bullies. I decided that the first thing to do after I got settled in here was to put Ifrit in his place.
And that would take me longer than I thought.
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