Tall And Strong

17 minutes read

07-06-2023

A man wandered the paved street of his town, his back straight and his head held high his plated armor glistened with the blood of his most recent victim. He looked down on all who passed, his head sitting a head higher than all of those around him. He carried his great sword out of the sheathing because the warp in its form made it impossible to put away. Slung over one shoulder was the head of a large reptilian creature. Its face was scarred and bloodied from the recent battle. An old, hunched man limped up and slapped the man on his back before spitting at the bag.

“Stupid creature who think they are civilized; glad we have you here, Nezoc.”

Nezoc smiled down at the man, his sweat dripping from his thick black hair.

“All in a day’s work, putting these animals back in their place is just what I do.”

The old man scoffed and nudged Nezoc with his elbow.

“As corny as ever.” The old man’s eye caught the sorry state of Nezoc’s blade. “Big brutes, ruining a perfectly good piece of metal. I don’t know why you use the blacksmith that you do. If I was you, I would run him out of town.” The old man lifted his cane and started stabbing in the air.

“I would love to, but they are registered. So that one is protected, but I get the feeling his primal tendencies are going to be coming out soon, making his registration invalid.” Nezoc shuffled the bag on his shoulder and grinned at the old man.

The old man looked at the bag and gave a knowing wink, waving his hand as he continued his way.

Nezoc continued his way, being stopped by a woman with two little kids.

“Nezoc, glad to see you have returned, and with a prize nonetheless.”

“You know me, ma’am, I never returned empty-handed.” Nezoc looked to the kids by the woman’s feet.

They hid themselves away shyly as they looked up at the bag. Nezoc lowered it to the ground and let the kids look inside.

“Ew, what an ugly thing.”

“It is stupid looking.”

They both spat at the creature’s head and kicked the bag. The mother smiled, and she, too, spat at the creature’s lifeless decapitated head.

“We are just off to see my husband; he has picked up even more work than usual. Tonight will be the third night in a row he will be working well into the night.”

The mother looked around her to make sure no one was near. Leaning in close to Nezoc, she drew his attention in, and he leaned down to her level. The metal plates of his armor slid over one another, letting loose a scraping sound.

“I am going to be home alone tonight for the third night in a row. Maybe you could come over, and I could tend to your body. Make sure you are paid back for your fine services.”

Nezoc took the opportunity to grab the woman around the waist and whisper back.

“I have had so many offers to help me relax this night. But I think you are the one I am fondest of.”

The woman blushed and pulled away.

“My name is Lilith; I live in the artisan square. House with the red clay roof. Impossible to miss; I’ll leave a lantern on.”

Nezoc stood as tall as he could, slinging the head back over his shoulder; he gave his most charming smile before moving along.

Lilith ushered her children along with red cheeks and heavy breath.

Wandering down a dingy alley, he came across a large blacksmith; it had high walls all around it with a reinforced gate at the front with a sign attached.

‘Gates close in the afternoon; no evening work is to be done on the premises, or fines will be issued.’

Nezoc gave the sign a gentle nudge with his fist.

“Thank you.” He muttered to himself as he wandered into the storefront. Behind him, he spied two old gentlemen approaching the gate; stopping, they pulled out tools and started striking the gate. Nezoc smiled and turned away. “Nothing to see there.”

Inside, the warm glow of the furnace spilled out into the courtyard, the yellow light from the sun being pushed back by the orange of the flames. Nezoc could feel the warmth before he entered the smith’s workshop. Entering the store, he heard the heavy hammer falls as they collided with metal out the back. Nezoc looked around the items on display and spied an ornate dagger in a silver-lined case. He picked it up and marveled at the fine craftsmanship; the smooth lines and even levels impressed him so much that he attached it to his belt as if he owned it.

“Fits like a glove. Clearly, I was meant to have it.” Nezoc smirked as he admired his new dagger.

Looking up, he realized that the smith had stopped hammering but was still nowhere to be seen. He could hear hissing and the strange sound of heavy scales and claws colliding with the stone floor.

“Come on, oaf, you have a customer. If this is how you treat everyone, it is no wonder you get no work.” Nezoc slammed his weapon on the countertop, knocking several other weapons to the floor while covering an opened ledger with blood and dirt. The sounds of clawed feet made their way around the corner as the hulking form of a Tuataran made their way to the front counter.

“By the gods, your species are slow; Tectproed, you really need to work on your haste when it comes to customers. I feel as if you have wasted a lot of my time; maybe I should get a discount.”

Tectproed was hunched with his large reptilian head lowered, chin lowered as close as he could to his chest. He walked with bent legs, and still, his head was only just lower than Nezoc’s.

“I am sorry; I guess I don’t understand everything yet.” Tectproed said shyly, keeping his voice down.

“You are lucky. I pity you enough to come to your store; I need this fixed. It is a little out of shape from my last tussle.” Nezoc gestured to his warped blade.

Tectproed looked at the blade for a mere second before cautiously raising an eye to Nezoc.

“This blade cannot be fixed; it is beyond repair. You will need a new sword.”

Nezoc slammed his fist into the countertop, leaning over to Tectproed.

“That is funny because I said I needed it fixed. I don’t want to be upsold to buy one of your shoddy-built blades. I spent nearly a hundred gold on this blade from Stybander; you know him, right? Of course, you do, it must be hard to miss the only other blacksmith in town.”

“I am sorry, Nezoc, but this blade was forged wrong; that is why this part here gave way.” Tectproed pointed with one of his large clawed fingers. “If he had used better metal and worked it right, this wouldn’t happen.”

“Are you trying to tell me that my friend sold me something not worth the gold? Not only that, but his store is currently bustling with customers. How many people even know that this place exists?”

Nezoc kept trying to look into Tectproed’s eye, but he kept shying away. Turning his gaze to the ground to avoid confrontation.

“I guess I was wrong.”

“No, we don’t guess, we know.”

“…I was wrong. Let me repair this for you.”

“You better hurry up too because it is getting late. I would hate for you to incur a fine for late hours of work.”

Tectproed grabbed the sword in his hands, dwarfing the blade with his huge fists. Slowly he moved back into the forge; hidden behind a wall, he stretched out his legs and straightened his back. Returning to his normal stature, he looked over the blade. Burying it in his furnace, he worked the bellows till the blade could be ripped from the handle. Throwing the old blade to the ground, he stomped it with rage in his eyes. The red hot blade warming his tough hide. Hissing, he reluctantly fitted the handle with a new blade. Fitting it in place, he tested the sword to make sure the blade would not fall out when swung.

“I am going to come back later; I have work today. There is a bad smell in the air.” Nezoc yelled as he looked at another Tuatran approaching the forge. He, too, had a hunched form and crouched low to the ground. Nezoc walked out of the store and left through the alley. The newcomer heard a roar and the clanging of dozens of blades bouncing on stone. They entered the store to watch an anvil fly across the room into the opposing wall, shattering the rock it collided with before thudding into the ground.

“Tectproed, you need to calm down.” The newcomer hissed out, his deep voice echoing through the store.

Tectproed stormed around the corner of the forge, his head scraping across the ceiling of the workshop.

“He came over with a damned Stybander sword.” He yelled, holding up the warped, still hot blade. “It doesn’t even melt right. It is somehow worse than pig metal.” Tearing the blade in half, he roared again. Scattering the two halves of the blade to opposite ends of the store. “Now I have to use our people’s metal to fix his shit for a fraction of the price it is worth, let alone the labor.”

He paused for a moment tensing his fists in the air in frustration.

“You know the only reason Stybander gets so much work is because he uses terrible metal, and on top of that, he isn’t even strong enough to press the metal properly, so his fixes fail. If I sold something that broke, I would get a damned fine. If not worse.”

“You need to stay calm; we can’t afford to be heard by the humans.” The newcomer said, slowly lowering his tone.

“I know.” Tectproed yelled. “I know, but I am going insane. Can’t go out after dark, can’t walk in pairs, hell forbid we breed. Because that is clearly us becoming an infestation that needs to be culled. Not that we will ever have that issue, Drora.”

Drora laughed, which slowly infected Tectproed. They walked to one another and held each other in a warm embrace. Their tails slowly wrapped around and intertwined with one another.

“It is so hard acting weak and stupid to these apes when I could probably conquer this whole town by myself.”

“Tect, you can’t say that. Not even when we are alone. It is too dangerous.”

“I know…”

The two remained within each other’s arms, Drora pushing in deeper.

“You are so lovely and warm. I love coming to visit you at the forge.”

Tectproed opened his eyes just in time to see the flicker of firelight.

“Quick, you have to hide in the forge; I’ll be sure to lose the forge if we are seen together this time.” Tectproed said, pressing his face against Drora’s. He ushered him into the back of the forge.

“How does he work back here? It is so cramped.” Drora said to himself as he tucked himself as far behind the wall as possible.

Tectproed watched as Nezoc stopped at the entrance to his forge. Staring at the sign, he sighed and shook his head. Slowly making his way in, Tectproed noticed the sack on his back, then realized he was still standing tall. He quickly lowered himself. Hunching and avoiding eye contact, he rushed behind the counter, in a slow waddle. Nezoc entered the store, and the first thing to catch his eye was the anvil lying askew on the floor with a crumbling wall decorating it. While Tectproed noticed that his ornate dagger was adorning his hip.

“You were not long, must not have had that many chores.”

“You do realize that your declaration of work sign has been removed… I am going to have to report that, and you will be charged for replacing it. Your really not that smart; just because the sign is there does not mean that you are not bound by those laws.”

Tectproed looked to the gate with annoyance in his eye.

“I am an idiot. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Nezoc smiled slightly, then grinned deeply.

“Also, I don’t like how you accused me of having no work to do. I am just very efficient. Not that you would know that; your race walks as slow as a slug. Hopefully, you work faster than you work because I need that blade back.”

Nezoc waited patiently as Tectproed disappeared behind the wall. Drora extended his arm and grabbed Nezoc’s sword, handing it over to Tectproed with a smile. Tectproed received it with one, then returned to Nezoc.

“Here it is, all new.”

“New? Do you have no ears, lizard?” Nezoc laughed and tapped the side of Tectproed’s head. “I mean, I can see you have no ears, but surly those stupid holes pick up sound. I am not paying for a new blade; I only wanted a repair.”

Nezoc snatched the sword and scattered a few coppers across the bench.

“I am sorry, but this is not even enough to cover the costs of the metal.”

“Oh, isn’t it. Looks like you are being overcharged because this is how much I pay at Stybander’s for a repair. It is either that or you are trying to swindle me?”

“No sir, I would never, but…”

“Don’t you get your metal from the Tuatran mines? You stupid lizards overcharge your own species; no wonder you are still classified as an animal.”

Nezoc turned his head to ignore the ramblings of textured; looking across to a shield, he saw the reflection of Drora.

“Are you hiding that other lizard in here?”

Tectproed looked up with horror in his eyes as he watched Nezoc walk into the forge. Staing Drora down, his face was carved in half with a malicious smile. He walked out of the store without saying a word, leaving the other two standing in shock. Tectproed scrapped together the coppers that were thrown down and followed Nezoc out on all fours. Staying as low as he could to the ground.

“Please, Nezoc, you don’t need to tell anyone. Take your coppers back. I know it is not much for someone like you, but giving this up means a lot to me. I want to show you that I value you as a customer.”

“Come now, friend I know that. Come follow me.”

Tectproed looked back at his store, then slowly followed behind like a pet limping after their abusive master. When they got into the street, there was already a crowd that was slowly dispersing.

“Everyone, come look at this stupid lizard. He broke the law and tried to buy me off with a handful of coppers.”

Nezoc pushed tectproed to the ground. Everyone around looked on quietly, holding papers in their hands. Nezoc pulled the Tuatran’s head from his sack and waved it in Tectproed’s face.

“I killed this little fella before coming to your store. He was the one that bent my sword. But thanks for a new one.”

Nezoc drew his sword and aimed it at Tectproed. The water in the puddle below tectproed started to vibrate as a roar welled up in his throat.

“Are you threatening me, lizard?” Nezoc turned to the crowd. “Under the king’s law, an animal has threatened me and has been hiding other animals in their store. I am now under the right to slay the wild beast.” Eyes full of hate, he stared down at Tectproed, who still lowered his head. “Which is what I intend to do.”

Nezoc looked up to see people looking on in shock. Scanning the crowd, he noticed one of the king’s messengers standing in the town square, eying up Nezoc. He walked forward with intent and stood on the other side of Tectproed.

“By declaration of the king, the race known as Tuatran is not recognized as civilized. Since the increase of mines and high-end blacksmiths, and soldiers, they are now an official race of Dolor. This means they are covered by the law that protects all from senseless crimes. This law was enacted a full term ago. All crimes committed towards them are now punishable under the king’s law. While there is a list here, I shall just mention the ones that I feel are important for the moment.”

The messenger looked to Nezoc, locking eyes, he read without consulting his scroll.

“If a Tuatran is killed, they have the right to enact the law of return. Meaning that the murderer in question and the creature enacting this law fight to the death.”

Nezocs smile turned to confusion, then to fear as Tectproed stood up. Hiding the messenger behind his hulking form. He extended his legs to their full extension, flexing his shoulders out wide. He raised his head and stared down at Nezoc, standing nearly two full heads higher than him. The roar in his throat resonated through his whole body, vibrating his thick scales as they clicked together. Nezoc swung his new blade with all his might just to have it stopped by Tectproed’s grip.

“I feel as if my job here is done; please continue to hand out the posters; it is your duty to keep all in your town informed of the new change.”

The messenger hopped onto his horse and made his way out of town. Dropping more posters on the ground behind him.

“You think you are tough for killing a child of my species? By the look of your ,armor you didn’t even kill them quickly.” Tectproed gripped the blade, blood dripping from his hand. He flexed his wrist and snapped the blade. His voice is deep, carrying a weight that pushed against Nezoc. Crushing him mentally. “Run, little man, I’ll show you the speed of a Tuatran. You will see that the only reason your race sits on top is due to numbers and technology.”

Nezoc dropped what was left of his blade and started to run through the town. Tectproed lowered himself to all fours and roared, his neck expanding as he took a breath in and slowly deflating as the roar began to end. Satisfied with the distance Nezoc had made, he lurched forward, sprinting with the prowess of an apex predator hunting its prey. Nezoc dived through narrow alleyways, watching behind him as Tectproed had to go around. Dodging him between alleys and shortcuts, he made his way to the artisan quarter. Running straight to the house with the clay red roof. He slammed into the door tugging at the handle. His eyes quickly trained on the piece of paper that was pinned to the door, a poster with the law change. He looked to the nearest window to see Lilith close the covers. Thinking again, he started to run. Tectproed clawed at his heels, only jogging while Nezoc was running as hard as he could. He toyed with him until he fell in front of Stybanders. Crawling and struggling to stand, he made his way into the forge. Tectproed walked behind him, his breath as even as when he started to run.

“Once again, you come crawling back to Stybanders. Like all of you, but you know the problem with Stybander?” He turned, waiting for an answer. “He is not strong enough to forge metal; he can’t press it right.” Grabbing Nezoc by the back of his armor Tectproed lifted him over the forge. “That means he has to re-heat the metal.” He slammed Nezoc into the embers with each statement. “Over and over again. Meaning your metal gets weak and brittle.” Lifting Nezoc, he ripped the armour from his burning face and arms. Crushing it beneath his feet. Everyone nearby jumped in shock.

“So who here wants real metal forged by a real blacksmith?” Several people took their goods and started to make their way to Tectproed’s forge. He looked back one last time to see Stybander loosely holding a hammer. Tectproed encompassed Nezoc’s head, muffling his screams before silencing them by tensing his grip. Making sure to maintain eye contact with Stybander. Letting the corpse drop to the floor, he made his way back to his shop.