When Talking Isn’t Enough

Chapter Three, When Talking Isn’t Enough

Even though Prairie, by this point, was nearly impervious to Jessie’s long diatribes about duty and business in the city it never managed to entertain her, doing her kingly work. It was always a long discussion followed by another long discussion accompanying paperwork, then another long line of long discussions with matters brought in front of her from the people staying in the house, and visitors from her section of the city. This was the only part that caught her attention really, as it mattered to her what the people thought. The rest was just red tape.

After her sessions at court were finished Prairie bent herself over the front of her throne while staying seated. After arching her back and getting it to pop a few times she sat up and sprung from her seat, stretching her arms and legs. The sight never got old but if she ever worried about being ladylike you generally didn’t witness it coming from Prairie.

“With matters settled for now I think I can take care of the rest of today off. What do you think you’re going to do? You’ve free time as of now.” Jessie asked, checking his watch before beginning to sort out papers that were placed beside the throne. Prairie, while still limbering up, considered his question. “What else should a girl do? I’m going to go play I think.” she said, turning to look at Jessie with a genuine smile. It didn’t even waver with the condescending look Jessie was giving her. As Prairie moved briskly for the door, still rotating her arms, she also added, “And I suppose I might as well get some options ready for the banquet. It’s going to be a grand affair this year I bet.” Jessie smiled at the thought of his king’s enthusiasm, but reminded himself while the beast was away the butler would play. Right after he put those papers away he had a bottle of scotch from his own world with his name on it in his quarters.

Prairie exited into the daylight with an excited yawn, her limbs finally loosened up enough to say she was officially alleviated of work for a while. Considering she’d already done her rounds in the gray district today she went off along one of the roads leading away from the main commerce areas and towards the green district. If she didn’t stop into Cardinal’s home for a while every once and again she was afraid he’d get bored and transcend the plane. And while she may have been a beast to the rest of the city, she didn’t have much liking of toys, so the idea of losing one of the people she resonated with was a lot more effective in compelling her not to let them disappear. The sad reality of this world, of course, was the fact she knew she was just kidding herself, but if she let it get her down she’d be throwing away everything she’d managed to be taught by Ariadne.

Of course her reminiscent meandering was interrupted just as she was going to enter the green district. On her right she spotted something she was never tired of seeing. Currently wandering one of the parks was one of the more wholly unique individuals that Prairie had decided to collect for herself. Going by the name of Nannii, as his real name couldn’t be pronounced, he tended the trees and plants that were put into the city. While it rebuild its own damages, and never let one alter the structures of the stone, it had been Nannii that was the focus of, and the beneficiary, of the decisions to move dirt and plant things inside the stones of the city’s limits. The plants didn’t repair themselves or regrow that easily, and that’s what he’d made his job.

From the waist up Nannii was built akin to any human, his skin a pale green and brown, and hardened over like tree bark. His four eyes, embedded into the wood of his face stuck out like big bright marbles that all moved in unison to focus on what they were looking at. His pupils were white, while the rest of his eyes were an amber color so dark it might as well be black. His hands were quite normal save for the fact that all but his pinky and ring fingers were roughly three to four inches longer. They were good for grasping tree branches, which apparently had been beneficial to his kind, but were sensitive enough to pick flowers with the greatest of care, curling like long vines around and amongst the smallest and most fragile of branches. Though for the soft spoken, slow moving, but undeniably intelligent Nannii, such haste was uncalled for and unkind.

Prairie especially liked the areas below the man’s waist. Legs were replaced by a tangle of thick, root like vines that moved as easily in concert as Prairies knee caps did with the rest of her legs. They would dig into the ground and plunge deep, stirring the soil, then as they were lifted away and moved forwards they unconsciously resettled the grass and dirt. Nannii glided across the ground like he’d never disturbed it in the first place, but changed things for the better with every inch he traveled. It was only a sad coincidence that without the dirt to walk on, their people would perish mere minutes after they stepped onto something they couldn’t root themselves into, quite like drowning. It was still interesting to hear Nannii talk about how they built walkways over entire mountain ranges or used giant roots to grind them apart to create tunnels.

“There are no better tenders that my eyes have witnessed.” Prairie called out. Nannii, petting the leaves of the tree he was next to turned his head slowly, and offered an even slower “Hmm?” in response. “Ah. The young g-g-gray walker.” Nannii’s words were slow, his syllables stretched out, and of course the stutter. Nannii hadn’t been what you would call the finest example his race had determined, but Prairie didn’t mind. To her, he was a wonderful thing. It was nothing more than a language barrier. “W-w-what brings you to these gardens?” he inquired, slowly lowering his roots from their high perch and coming back down to Prairie’s level.

Prairie offered him a grin. “Time off. I have officially absolutely nothing on my plate.” she said, dusting her hands off like she was discarding the matter. “Is it that time of the week already? For you to visit my gardens?” she asked, moving to the tree he was tending, touching the bark and looking up at the vibrant green of real leaves. The memory was silly, and there were still remains of it in the city to this day, but when the residents had thought some greenery would do the city good it had attempted to do so on it’s own which resulted in big, plastic looking stone trees. Most weren’t even detailed, or stayed dead the year throughout, but all of them simply looked silly, and the grass that had been around was hard as well. Ariadne used to entertain her with the stories about them.

“R-r-real plants greet their visitors.” Nannii said, he too looking up. “B-b-b-but I suppose--” he placed a hand onto the girl’s shoulder and smiled widely, the wood of his face cracking, but the unmistakable warmth of a person behind it. “I a-a-am an exception.” he would laugh, which actually sounded somewhat like a woodsman cutting him down at high pace, then turned to tend to another bush nearby. “I’m s-s-sure the plants in your world were kind. It m-m-makes me happy to be able to work again with my hands. B-b-but.” his head turned over to glance at what could only be described as a large, round, empty planter, which the residents had been using as a method of transporting Nannii around the city so he could tend to his work. “S-s-some things remind me it will be d-d-difficult to see the plants of my h-h-home.” With that he would smile helplessly to Prairie and turn back to his work.

But Prairie shook her head. “Every tree and bush in my gardens has been made to look like the plants of your home. Even if we all know different plants there’s no need to feel bad about not seeing the ones from our own worlds. I miss the long grass and the spiraling trees. But I look at these.” she said, waving around at the plants as Nannii looked back to her. “And the only thing I see, are the plants Nannii tends to. Nannii’s plants.” Nannii’s smile came back once again and as he turned towards his work again Prairie could already notice the amber tint finding its way into his green skin, the perfect blush for a man that was half tree. “T-t-.... Thank you, Prairie. It’s all I can do.” Nannii ran his hands over the ground on an open patch of dirt. The more he rubbed the more seeds were slowly coaxed into the soil, and soon enough sprouts began to pop up rapidly, compelled by Nannii’s touch to grow and take in the sunlight. “Byron a-a-always get’s anxious watching me work. He c-c-can’t sit still. R-r-wrings his hands.”

“I can’t imagine a man like Byron sitting still for more than a minute or so before he get’s the feeling his hands aren’t doing enough.” Prairie said, rubbing her own hands together in imitation. “And he always speaks with his hands.” she said, waving them around. Nannii simply laughed again. “P-p-people who did that in my culture were considered strange for tree tenders. M-m-myself included.” But Nannii held up a hand from Prairies protests and praise. “So it’s not s-s-strange for me to think like this. I can t-t-take my time. O-o-others may be more swift than me, but the flowers take more time. And e-e-even we, as tree tenders, grow slowly. Their h-h-haste is proof we mean well. I am not r-r-removed or pruned from my people.” Nannii’s smile was bright and genuine. “I am j-j-just as I am.”

Nannii and Prairie spent the next hours simply discussing anything that came to mind. She explored his society through his words, and his people through his work. Nannii didn’t have much interest in the politics of the city despite living in the green manor’s gardens. To him, it was just the animals amongst the trees doing what they were intended to do. Nannii was likely one of the only truly neutral people of the city. Every day he moved to another section of the town to tend the plants there, moved in his personal planter, so he made friends with everyone who met him. People figured he was slow, or mentally challenged by the means in which he acted and spoke, and even Nannii himself didn’t deny he was different than others amongst his people, but neither did he accept that as reason he should do anything different. A monster of another color of fur nestled in the same city as the gray beast, only this creature was a far gentler one. The comparison wasn’t lost to Nannii either, and that’s how they formed their friendship and understanding.

Prairie lifted her hand to wave gently to Nannii after he had climbed into his planter and was carried off by “Byron the Motivated” himself not even requiring the help of others who had come to walk with them both. Prairie looked at the sky, starting to run on in the afternoon. Cardinal, the old codger was probably already getting himself ready for bed. For all the life in that man he sure acted his age to the best of his abilities. He’d led a hard life by his make, so now he simply enjoyed forced retirement. That being the case though, Prairie left the opposite direction she had arrived in the park and decided instead it was time to make good on her promise of finding more options for the banquet, which led her back and directly towards the red district instead. It was time to see what Reddle was up to.

While Prairie might not be the most welcome person to the red manor, when no one was around who would point it out, the people of this district were also quite friendly. Akin to Byron, the people in this district disliked sitting still or having a lack of things to do. Rather than provide oddities like the gray district, or creature comforts like the green, here in the red district no one was happy unless they were fashioning something real and useful. They also officially housed most of the people who went down to the rural district to farm and process what they pulled up. You’d see tools and machines occasionally come out of the district meant to help others continue the balance of the city, but Prairie came here for one reason only. Notably, Reddle was a machinist who lived in the red district. He came from a world very similar to Prairie’s in that technology had taken a few odd routes to make it where it was, and as described by Reddle unfortunately meant development in weapons technology more than anything else.

The reason it was unfortunate was spelled out as Prairie approached Reddle’s shop to the sound of a series of explosions and a large plume of smoke coming out of the metal front door, currently closed with an “open” sign hanging on it that looked too royal for the location or its contents. When Prairie swung the door open to let some of the smoke out and shine some light into the room, Reddle’s voice, hoarse from the smoke cried out to her, begging with “The vents! The vents!” Stepping into the room and waving smoke away from her face she flipped a switch and heard the buzz of fans near the ceiling pulling the smoke outside instead, via a small vent shoved out a window. Of course, when she spotted Reddle, her face immediately filled with mirth and she held back her laughing. Head to toe in his customary coveralls, belly hanging over the tied sleeves at his waist, and those goofy goggles he refused to work without, stood Reddle as amusing as he ever looked with the addition of rainbow colored smoke stains that had literally exploded in front of him by the looks of it.

Reddle took a bit of time to clear his throat, but he was still tinkering with whatever it was that had blasted him in the first place in one of his hands. “Thanks Prar.” he called out after a few minutes of cursing into his screwdriver for answers instead of rethinking the process. The way he said it made her name come out sounding like prayer which always made Prairie take on a face, one without description but in the general area of dislike. “Why do you always say that. That name. Not hard to add the rest.” she said, her hands coming up to her chest as she stuck her tongue out and shook her head as if getting rid of a bad taste.

“Just don’t think twice is all. Us Americans tend to shorten or shrink anything we can get our hands on. Well, except maybe vehicles.” Reddle replied, immediately cursing as he heard the sound of the screw he was messing with snapped and took its own head off. Reddle moaned and dropped the invention onto his workbench deciding anything he could frustrate himself with now could be frustrated over later instead. Spinning on his stool to stare at Prairie, goggles and all he spoke up “So what can I do for the famous... Hey stop laughing.” His finger came up, jutted at the girl as she once again tried not to laugh about his ridiculous appearance. “If technology had gone my way in your world you’d be looking at the same things! It’s not impossible. So don’t toss aside my science!” He declared, crossing his arms and looking away. Reddle had a way of speaking that made his position seem even more ridiculous. He spoke proudly and confidently, and put people down like Solomon only he didn’t put any weight or hate behind what he said. People around town called him the prince with the tin crown, aiming at his goggles. But Reddle was of a more self deprecating style of humor. His enigmatic and esoteric personality made him perfect to be an inventor, specifically, the person who couldn’t sit still. Of course with a belly like that he clearly hadn’t spent his time hauling fish on ships like Byron was always quick to tell people.

“My science doesn’t involve exploding usually.” she retorted, to which Reddle sniffed loudly and made sure his arms were crossed as resolutely as possible. But then he dropped the act with a calm smile and reached into his refrigerator, the only one in the city that ran off a hand crank and a clockwork that slowly lowered how much air was inside. Prairie thought it beat an ice locker for sure. “You spend your time making things. Things that keep food fresh, or cook it. You made those talking things.” Reddle interjected “Walkie talkies, radios, but until I get some more materials and a good power source those won’t be useful. Well that and better antennas. Or hell, any antennas worth a damn.” Prairie nodded. “Silly name all the same. You even made that thing that makes ice. We usually just used magic for these things.” she said, nodding confidently.

“Feel superior all you like Prairie. Back where we came from there was no such thing we couldn’t equally make with my little machines. And you happen to be looking at the most brilliant one in his entire world!” Reddle declared, then laughing like he’d won something. “We mastered the bending of metal to the splitting of atoms. And we managed to turn our knowledge into vast cities, communication across the world in nearly an instant. You know me and Cardinal are basically from the same world right? Near as I can figure it he was from ahead of my time as well.” Reddle, finally done digging through his fridge pulled out a bottle past all the cold stored items he needed for inventions. He took it and popped it into another invention of his. With a loud clicking noise and a very clear pop he reached in for the bottle, now opened, and drank from it. Prairie could only chuckle. “Clearly.” She thought Cardinal was merely humoring him.

Reddle looked at his overly complicated bottle opener, then to the bottle, and shrugged. “I like the way systems work. Intermingling parts and systems. Like a clock. I love clocks.” Reddle nodded resolutely, ignoring the fact the statement was obvious considering how many he’d managed to hang on his walls. It was an old joke that when he arrived he made clocks to pass time and convince himself he had gone nuts. It was only when Prairie pointed out that none of his clocks actually worked to keep time properly that he had gotten the picture. Now he simply had about three dozen of them hanging on the walls of his shop. “Genius shouldn’t be contained just because the idea sounds silly. Silly and small ideas turn into penicillin and nuclear bombs.”

“Both things I’m sure are quite deadly.” Prairie objected, waving a hand to dismiss Reddle from naming more things she’d never heard of. “The banquet is tomorrow Reddle, we won’t be seeing you on our side will we? I promised I’d see to a few matters while I was out in the the city.” Reddle scoffed. “To that handsome fop butler of yours I’m sure. Sorry to say I won’t be leaving the shop tomorrow. Every time you people call the banquet all I have to do is look up and I get nauseous. Besides I finally got a few more parts together for my truck. Was going to see if I could get it started tomorrow, God willing. If so that’d help me out a handful. Not to mention I could get a certain stiff friend of ours around the districts easier. Now I just have to find a jet ski floating out in the wastes.” Reddle said excitedly, crouching and hopping in place on his stool, like he was riding a horse. “That’d be something.”

Prairie just shook her head and laughed at him now hopping around the room making motor noises. Turning to view the clocks instead she laughed to herself. “You’re just like a grown child.” Then Prairie heard a crash and looked over Reddle’s direction. Still crouched and looking like he was holding onto something, he looked at her just as confused. The second crash told them it was coming from outside the door. Reddle shrugged. “Better go check it out.” he offered, but then he moved to his seat and began tinkering with his newest invention again. Prairie stared at him and waved her hand towards the door. “You mean me?” she asked, clearly amused Reddle had left it to her. Pulling his goggles up off his eyes with a smile Prairie noted if he were more fit he’d probably be more attractive. That and a good shave would probably help his chances too, as Prairie doubted the beard the man was growing would ever look bushy or fall in line. Reddle waved his hand at her. “I couldn’t be bothered to concentrate on things like accidents.” His goggles came back down and he looked over his item. “Besides, not a fighter. Never have been. You know that too.”

Shrugging helplessly, Prairie would smile and make for the door again. “Well if it is trouble I’ll just have to remind myself to toss it into the door later.” Reddle waved his hand idly and didn’t look up from his work. “Take pictures.” he cooed, clearly already thinking about what he’d have to do next. The scene that greeted Prairie outside was a little more unusual than you’d find in the city. A man she knew, a tall dark haired sack of meat who went by the name of Renard was standing over someone with his hands on his hips and his lance clearly in his hand. He sucked up to Solomon so well he’d managed to weasel his way to the top, and everyone knew that if you dealt with Renard anywhere in the city it was going to be an unpleasant experience. Loyalty only convinced strangers so much.

“Don’t just lay there.” Renard’s voice was as easy to spot in a room as he was. You could practically taste the slime in the air. He wasn’t the worst of people, but he certainly had a mean streak when it came to dealing with anyone other than Solomon. “Get on your hands and knees and tell me how sorry you are if you really are!” Renard’s boot came up to push lightly at his victim’s shoulders. “Have some pride!” With a roll of his neck Renard spat onto the paving stones next to him then crouched down to get right into his victim’s face. “You scuffed my armor and all you give me is an “Excuse me”? Do you know who I work for? Huh new guy?” Renard’s voice was starting to raise as the man couldn’t respond correctly, all the time Renard’s boot grinding down into his victim.

“Didn’t you work for an ugly over saturated sense of self accomplishment covered in brass?” Prairie called out, now standing in the middle of the road and watching things progress. Renard stood up and yelled her direction after her retort. “Don’t you talk about King Solomon like that! Even you!” he said, his tone changing. He was wary of Prairie, but as so far he’d never seen her in action, so his tone stayed the same as it always was. “It’s better than being some mindless gray monster.” Renard’s thumb came up to his nose and he flicked it, looking superior.

Prairie took a deep breath and tried to rub the strain away from her face. She really didn’t want to exercise too much the day before the Banquet. It typically complicated things when you were too low on energy, or restrained from participating because you accidentally brutalize an opponent before it’s official. In her head she was already weighing her options, but when it came right down to it she should at least make it sound official. Her eye opened again and she looked to the man Renard had been shoving around. With a single smile from Prairie, he got up and began to run away. “Hey! Don’t think you’re getting away!” Renard yelled, turning to watch him go. But then he felt a chill run along his back, as if the world had suddenly changed seasons.

The world around Prairie was starting to look more muted. The colors bled out of things and small items on nearby shelves began to vibrate, a clear representation of the power she was getting ready to unleash. Renard, feeling it and suddenly remembering he’d angered someone he was warned about, turned to view her and slowly tightened his grip over his lance while Prairie began straightening her cuffs. “Disturbing our city’s peace. Harassing a civilian. Bearing a weapon at a king. Insulting that king.” Her arms fell flat to her sides as she chuckled and she stared at Renard dead in the face. His own nervous expression and the sweat slowly creeping onto his skin were no comparison to the person Prairie was right now. The energy gathering around her began to crack like a whip, wild distortions of the air bending the visual space around her. It was as if the only thing standing between him and a black hole was Prairie herself. As she took a step forwards and the presence grew, Renard wasn’t even sure he saw things return to normal after they were warped. “These are your crimes, if picking a fight with one of the top fighters of the city already isn’t. Funny enough I don’t believe I’ve done most of those myself. Haven’t had the time.” Prairie said, settling her mind. She stopped walking and out of her sleeve came a long cylindrical metal rod, it’s broken cross guard and remnants of a blade landing heavily on the stone and ringing out clear and malevolently. “Gram, the shattered blade.” Prairie introduced most of her maneuvers and tools while fighting. In fact she was regularly mocked, but she believed in properly naming things. No bard ever wrote songs about nameless heroes and nameless artifacts. One day when Jessie asked her about the habit, all Prairie could respond with was “I’m hopelessly addicted to it.” and since then Riley hadn’t been able to restrain herself either. “You’re just like a hero!” Ever since then Prairie just kept finding books entailing heroic tales and adventures, filled with idealistic words and grandiose magics and lavish names. No one let her fool them into thinking she didn’t read them either.

Prairie took a deep breath and the energy flowing around her person became even more agitated. “Surrender.” It would be his only offer. But Renard, despite how frightened he was in this situation slowly got a grip and instead pulled his shield down from his back, then getting ready to fight. “I-- I can’t back down, not from a fight for House Red!” he said, but he nearly choked on the end of his sentence. Prairie had taken off from her spot fast enough to crack the paving where she had been standing with nothing but force. The sight in front of Renard just after he’d gotten ready for a battle would be the sight of Prairie, feet away from him already, bringing her rod down against his shield. His teeth gritted with exertion, but his eyes were wide and terrified, because staring right back at him was Prairie with a mad red glint in the back of her eye, her face painted with an expression that was far from human. Like all the reality, civility, even beauty had been completely disguised by a look of stoney blank rage and glee as that crimson light crawled up from deep inside her.

But Renard didn’t have time to think. After the rod came down against his shield and forced his body to react, then came the rest he wasn’t prepared for. He could feel the shock wave, sheer power, ripple through his arms into into his rib cage from the weapon, causing his heart to skip a beat as he was torn completely from standing and launched ten feet onto his back after his arm crunched against his chest with his shield. After his tumble he strained but got to his feet again, pulling his shield up first. Again he could feel his heart skip after he looked at the woman in front of him. People were already scrambling behind walls and street corners or into their homes to ensure they weren’t caught in the middle of it. Prairie was standing in the street as she had started, standing straight, arms at her sides, Gram hanging limply in the fingers of her left hand. Her right hand was slowly flexing open and closed, hearing the joints pop wildly, a wild and crazy grin on her face as she stared at the sky. Renard was cooked fighting against a king. He was simply too proud to hear anything of it.

“I let him get away!” Renard stated, spitting the words out and finally getting Prairie to look at him again. “No, I let him get away.” she stated, then with one lurching footstep forwards, the energy surrounding her became livid. “Then you picked a fight with a king.” she stated, taking another step. “Then you insulted that king, to her face.” This statement got a rather wicked laugh out of Prairie, her free hand raising to her good right eye and rubbing at it. The more power she added, which she didn’t have any control over really, the redder her eye became, seeping out from the iris in the center and slowly making it all turn the color of blood. Her behavior swiftly followed the same path. Suddenly, her mirth was gone, and more red surged in. She once again decided to stare Renard down. “There’s no tension in this fight. You’re boring me.”

Renard’s grin was less than confident, but he’d held up against her strike well enough. It wasn’t in his character to let the smallest of things slide. “You take one swing at me and give up? Are all of your followers the same?” He chided, trying not feel the numbness starting to settle into his hands as he picked his lance off the ground. He slapped his shield with it then and came a step forwards. “Come at me! I won’t let you ge...” But Renard’s words were interrupted as Prairie lifted the rod once more and thrust it across his shield, barely grazing it. It wasn’t the sudden attack or the sparks that startled Renard however, but the fact a long and fine cut had appeared along his neck in the same direction of the hilt, behind his shield! Prairie barely turned the handle, letting the blood trickling from the man’s neck stretch out over an invisible blade. Renard’s eyes took that in first, then turned to Prairie, unable to reply.

Prairie slowly slid Gram back up her sleeve where it disappeared. “You’re not a villain. You can hardly be labeled a toadie.” The disgust in her voice, uncharacteristic as it was, was ripe and biting and bleeding up from the dark pit inside her. Every time she spoke Renard could feel another piece of himself get cold inside. “What hope do you have against me? What could you possibly bring to the table that would even sway my hair?” The energy gathering around Prairie had become visible ether, swaying back and forth, then snapping and cracking at random under her command like black lightning.

“You do harm to the innocent rather than fight those worth standing against. You sniveling ingrate. You’ll swing anything around, your name, your word, your weapon, but in the end I know what it is you’re trying to display. Who could outmatch the famed red king and his house of venerated soldiers!” Prairie threw her arms high and wide, declaring it to the city itself for all she cared. “Believe what you want about me, but do not spit on the name of the Noble Gray Mane Beast! I stand by my men, they stand by me. My name shall not go unloved in this city, my city, my home. And why do you think that is?” Prairie could feel the pulsating in her head as her eye started getting more discolored. Renard was already besides himself, but he just gripped on his gear tightly. “I’ll put an end to you once and for all!” he declared. “I don’t care how many people you’ve had to crush. I will not surrender.”

Prairie laughed once again, her arms flung back and rotating forwards, the sounds of all of her joints popping, causing Renard to back away several paces. She had to give him credit. Despite the fact Renard was a slimy waste of good armor, he was still devout and loyal to the red house and he wasn’t retreating. To the people in the streets this was a performance, another meaningless showdown between two houses. Truth of the matter was Renard wasn’t shy of a fight any more than Prairie was. The pair were just boasting. It was also one of the most foolish things Renard could have done at the moment. Prairie’s hands came to her mouth and she bent over forwards slightly. The ether trailing around her body began to wind and twist then surged over her hands as they met her face. From the sounds that followed Prairie began to breath that energy in, the cloud slowly disappearing into her body. Then came the sounds of her teeth grinding. Loud, disturbing. Prairie’s face slowly distorted and stretched against her hands, then with one final, deep inward breath she opened her eye to reveal it fully red, the focus of it keenly on Renard and the now empty street, causing him to back down once again and raise his shield. “No bone, no blood, no ash. Devour it all.” Her presence had doubled, even if the energy flowing around her had disappeared, something truly dangerous was coming. People vanished behind buildings and fled the scene. Looking around Renard didn’t see anyone in the street, but hadn’t come to a decision on running yet, even while Prairie’s warped voice ground its way into his ears. He couldn’t back down! Could he? Maybe this was a bit much to hold to over only his pride. Maybe if this had been Jessie he’d stand more of a chance. “Fine then!” He wasn’t getting away, but with a deep breath he instead began to charge, raising his shield up and leveling his lance Prairie’s direction.

Prairie spoke a single word, but her voice had warped. “Grim.” then snapped her hand away from her mouth, now an elongated razor toothed maw, and she opened wide. It was like an explosion went off around Renard, vibrating his bones and taking him from his feet, but then the wind came, and the world suddenly changed quite dramatically in the next few seconds. As if a giant bullet had cleaved its way through the town the ground in front of Prairie warped, cracked, and caved in, starting down the street and quickly making its way towards the dueling pair at Renard’s back. Then came the debris, large stones and items crushed or torn out of the walls in the path of the attack as they exploded outwards and slammed into his back. Renard, too busy focusing forwards felt all of crashing in on his back after his feet hit the ground and began skidding along, trying to hold his ground and not move any closer to his assailant as a great wind forced everything towards Prairie’s mouth. Before he knew it he couldn’t even see any longer, his vision twisting and flying just like everything else that had collided with his back. His shield and lance were torn from his grip, pieces of his armor bashed clean off by flying stone. Every impact against his back blew the wind from his lungs, every blow to his head stole another piece of his vision. His muscles were burning and his head spinning, and he couldn’t even breath. Prairie was inhaling everything in her path, and he was spinning in the vortex.

The next thing he knew Renard was gasping for the breath that had been torn out of him and he couldn’t find his weapons. He spiraled through the air and slammed hard into the ground. He continued groping for his equipment, but instead his hand found Prairie’s boot and he looked up at her as she chewed the last of the debris she had devoured and her head returned to normal. Tilting her head back and rolling her neck, more pops ensuing, she looked down at him and adjusted her eye patch to once again hide the gaping hole she had in the side of her face. She rolled a stone around in her mouth and then spat it out onto the stones next to Renard. Her hand came down and gripped the man by his tunic, then tossing him several paces away on his feet. “T... That power. And that hole.” he declared, pointing at Prairie’s face, his hand shaking at her eye patch. He looked around as if to find someone to agree with him, but instead his eyes got stuck down the street. Prairie had caved in and devoured at least a half mile walk up the street. It looked like a giant cylinder had all at once disappeared from the center of the city, shaving almost a foot off the walls surrounding it. Taking it all in she simply tied her eyepatch back up. “A demon! You’re some undead monstrosity!” he declared again.

Prairie, getting a hold of herself began to dust off her clothes as the color bled out of her eye. She managed to look completely nonchalant while Renard had his breakdown, picking a loose rag off her shoulder and tossing it aside. Even Reddle peeked out of his door and down the street a bit to the pair having their scene. All he could do was smile and go back inside. As far as the residents were concerned the fight was over, so slowly they began creeping back to their places, giving impressed or scared looks Prairie’s direction. “I am a king!” Prairie declared, silencing Renard’s protests. “I fight when it becomes necessary. I protect those who rely on me.” Her hand went out to crowd. “And I protect those who have nothing to do with me. I don’t care if I’m the gray beast or the gray king or just myself. This is my city. My place. My home. My world.”

Prairie brought her hand up to her face and felt over her eye patch. “It’s not a big surprise anyways. This is how I died. I ripped open a new vision of hell for the people who stole my life from me. I don’t recall a lot you know.” Prairie reached out and grabbed hold of Renard’s tunic by the neck and tossed him again, pushing him away. “They shot my father and me in the middle of a field and drove away. They were probably surprised when I returned for my revenge.” Prairie tilted her head back and tunneled into her memory. “All I can recall are the flames.” Her tone became distant as she recalled it, Renard used the opportunity to collect his gear and beat a hasty retreat. “I can understand why someone would want to put a beast like you down!” he spat, sticking to what made him Renard. But he paused after his own statement and looked back at Prairie, who was staring at him with a real condescending expression, including her typical devious grin. “Caught it eh? They were probably surprised when I returned for my revenge.” Prairie took a step forwards, Renard one backwards, so she stopped right there and just laughed.

Renard was almost besides himself. He’d been a crusader, a fighter for justice and God. Judge him however you like when it came to who he actually was, but he stood against things that were unnatural. All Prairie was doing was yanking his chain, he knew, but the thought she’d been shot... But then he grinned and regained his footing. “So you’re nothing but a petty freak. They shot you and you fought past the bullet in your gut to get revenge, commendable.” He began laughing, but he stopped. Prairie was already shaking her head.

Her hand reached up to her eye patch once more and put a little pressure on it. “I felt it rattling around in the front of my skull. All the pain, the noise, the feelings put behind a tiny piece of metal. And as the capital burned it started to hurt less and less. I didn’t shoot out my own eye.” she laughed again. “What a ruddy joke.” Her attention turned back to Renard. “That same bullet killed me after I put it back in the gun and told it to do the job right. Beyond my rampage I understood one fundamental thing. I don’t know what that is yet. But whatever it was made me do it. I fought for what was on my mind until a bullet went through it.” Prairie mentioned it idly. “So I’m not an undead monster. I’m not an ungodly abomination. I’m no force of good or evil.” She curled her hands up, letting them pop again. “I’m a beast. A beast that had no place in her own world. And animals never give up a fight.” This thought made her scoff.

Prairie steeled her posture and stared Renard right in the eye, looking confident and strong. “So I won’t turn my back on a single one of you, not even my foes. If I could so easily sacrifice my enemies I’d find the same easy to do when it comes to the helpless, even my own friends. Ariadne taught me that. I’m sure she taught something to Solomon when she was around as well. The beast’s hide was dyed gray by the people. This city is too important to do away with.” She thought about her final statement carefully, Renard looking so ashamed he’d been beaten she couldn’t be sure he’d learn anything from it. He had no rebuttal except for his own duties doing the same thing. But she reminded herself what the people did in books. So she spoke her mind, and be damned with the consequences.“Save everyone! Every last one! That’s what makes me a hero!”

Her declaration rang down the street, then she offered her hand to Renard, smiling confidently. “Every color is what makes a gray. The beast is no different. This city is no different. And here, you and I are no different.” Her hand swept towards the city instead. “I suggest you hurry to discover what memory you’ve lost Renard, to hasten your escape. I can only imagine what repugnant thing you had to do to get stuck here in the first place. My record is filled to the brim with bitter, and it’s just waiting for me to drink it.” Prairie straightened her cuffs and turned to leave, figuring the day was winding down, and she had somewhere to be.

Renard decided to escape Prairie as promptly as she’d suggested, but even his own mind betrayed him as easily as his mouth usually did. “If you’re nothing but a walking disaster, what crime do you imagine you yourself have committed? What great discovery keeps the beast chained to Cie?” Prairie stopped to look at him and consider his words, but after a second, she just smirked and turned away to think about it. It was all the denizens had to pass the time on their own, figuring out the great secret. But she didn’t think much on it. “Every time I remember more about my past it’s just another face and name and place they betrayed me. Every time I can feel the black peel away from my brain, the pain, the emotional suffering coming with it. No one here is different, even if they don’t express their memories in the same way.” Prairie looked skywards. “Not a single pleasant thing to be remembered. That’s my guess.” she looked back at Renard again. “But those are the sins I committed in another world. That’s my punishment I think.” Prairie began to walk away. “To never be bound by my sins in this life, but to recall them until I feel like leaving. Then again, to them, it’s all just a show, isn’t it?” she laughed. The thought had crossed her mind many times. Shackled to a city she’d fallen in love with, until the sins from her past life stole even this place from her. As Prairie walked the evening streets to think about it, she couldn’t think of a more cruel thing to happen. But the good thing was that come tomorrow, with the banquet and all the business to attend to, she wasn’t likely to ruminate on it long. Mere minutes later she was already thinking on it, and the serious look on her face turned into one of excitement.

Next Chapter: The Droning of Friendly Insects