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"Clouds of Tyranny"

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The Coal-Mining Town of Sangrohl

Run, Run, Run! She kept screaming it in her brain to herself, If you want to live you’ll run like you’ve never ran before…RUN! The trees, although several yards from one another, appear to fly by like a fence as she runs for her life. She ignores the dangers of the thorny branches and prickly sticks as she races along the forest. Her legs are scratched, her left cheek suffered a deep gash just under her left eye, and she cringes as she keeps up the pace to escape the threat of death.

She ran faster and faster despite that fact that she was already exhausted. Sweat dripped down her forehead, burning her eyes and the stinky juice soaking her cheeks. Her bare feet ache as their bridges are stabbed by jagged rocks and her heels are coated with dried mud that feels like clay. She dares not look back for she has already seen them when they began chasing her.

There were five of them with rifles and dress daggers that showed up at her home. Something inside of her said to flee, a voice she could not explain. It scared her but she heeded its warning; a sign that would save her life. She had always been an agile young girl, and the babbling creek that was ahead she knew she could clear with a single leap. She could see it quickly approaching, signaling to her to pick up the pace and…

“Ahhh!” screamed the scared girl.

A piranha flew out of the water and slipped through her silky hair: the creek was known for a leaping piranha every so often.

“Just my luck,” she said aloud as her legs instinctively slid out from under her and she slipped feet first along the moist dirt shoring of the creek.

She wanted to spring to her feet, but was too exhausted and just stared into the sky at the sunset’s fire piercing through the leaves causing her vision to blur. Her spirit was diminishing; she was caught, maybe doomed to die by these imperial soldiers whom she had only heard about until now. She breathed heavily as she heard the men approaching nearby, with too many footsteps to count. Her eyes began to tear; the water filling her lashes as she wondered what would become of her. Nineteen and doomed to die.

“Ugh!” she heard not thirty feet from where she was lying on the cold dirt.

She could hear a large thump on the ground, maybe a body, and then a series of moans, grunts, and wild gunfire. She rolled onto her side and looked towards the shadow-covered ground beneath the towering oak trees and saw the last thing she expected.

From the darkness emerged a soldier, a soldier crawling for his life. As the oak’s shadow passed his head she could see him holding his throat, but the blood pouring from his jugular was too much for him to contain; he was a doomed man. She had caught her breath, yet her heart beat even harder than at the height of her dash for life. She could faintly hear a single set of footsteps; it was either over a hundred feet way or he was light-footed. It was then that she saw the man, who was obviously not with the corrupt and tyrannical Empire; as he was much too dirty.

He emerged from the shadows appearing to be about six feet tall with dark brown hair coming down past his ear lobes. His eyes were dark and narrow and he wore a slight scruff coating his jaw from ear to ear. He wore gray cargo-pants with patches on the knees, a vest with five palm-sized pockets, and wrist and knuckle guards on his hands to protect against broken fingers. A blue bandana was holding his hair from his eyes. She recalled hearing of the blue bandana, but the meaning behind it eluded her memory.

He stood there looking at her straight in the eye, but all her focus was drawn to his arms, to his side where a sword hung, and to the throwing daggers attached to him at various points. She found she couldn’t move and she was holding her breath.

“Name?” he said, his voice was tough, with a firmness that commanded attention without volume.

He projected calmness and although he appeared quiet, his eyes betrayed his ever vigilance, giving the impression of an alpha wolf. He was in total control.

“Speak! I won’t hurt you, unless you give me a reason to,” he yelled across the fifteen yards separating them as his fingers tightened their grip on the sword strapped to his left side.

“T-t-t-tara. I’m not armed,” She exhaled noisily as her words escaped her throat.

“From what I hear, you are always armed,” he said as he approached her.

As she tried to back away, Tara fell heavily on her rear and immediately raised her hands up, showing her surrender.

“No, please?” she pleaded.

He could see the submission in her eyes, the trembling of her body, and eased his grip on his blade as he looked at her in mild pity. She was a young girl, not more than eighteen or possibly nineteen, with a red ribbon in her long tangled greenish-brown hair. She was dressed demurely in a white tank top with a parsley green skirt draping to her knees. She looked very innocent and definitely nothing like what he had heard of her, especially with her gold anklet of angels holding hands around her right ankle.

“Stand!” he commanded as he panned around the forest for further threats.

She complied, rising to her feet as she brushed her skirt off. Her actions allowed the skirt to unfurl to its full length down to her ankles, demonstrating a modesty. As she stood before him, the terror in her eyes was apparent, she shivered despite the warm air had yet to dissipate into a cold evening.

“W...ell?” she said, unable to keep her voice from trembling.

“I’m here to save you. You can never be too careful these days and I never let my guard down. I’m Lock, and I have come from the Returners,” he looked at the lifeless corpses of his prey, “Judging from your current company, we should probably go.”

“Returners?” she retorted confused.

She had heard a little about his group, mostly rumors and such. They were rebels to the Empire. He turned as she spoke and looked at her closely. The intensity of his stare belied the sexual nature such a look normally would imply.

“Yes,” He paused before continuing, “Well?”

She stammered a bit and finally replied.

“Oh, sorry...um...Lock. I am Tara…Tara Bordague. A pleasure…I guess.”

He nodded before responding.

“We should really go,” he said looking around for anyone else that may be local to their current location.

Tara looked around the glade.

“Go Where?” she asked knowing that she obviously couldn’t return home at this time.

“I have a safe house in Sangrohl, follow me and don’t stray.”

He began walking without her. She stared after him a moment and then followed, though she did not know why. He scared her but it was apparent she could use the protection, and she had no one else to take on that task.

Lock ventured through the trees pushing branches from his path not looking back to see if Tara was clearing them as well. After two hours of that sort of forest travel they finally reached a green field that led to their destination; the coal-mining town of Sangrohl.

Lock stood looking towards the sunset in the west; too bad we’re not going west, he thought. Several seconds later Tara staggered out towards Lock, tripping over a log. He managed to catch her by the waist and kept her from falling to the grass. She straightened up and now her natural height was obvious; they’d be of equal height if not for Lock’s heightening combat boots. Without looking at her, he pointed north.

“Sangrohl, that’s where we’re headed. I’d say we have a good…”

“Thirty minutes…” interrupted Tara as she looked up at him.

“Funny, you don’t seem like that would be an often visiting sight for you.”

She sneered at him, seeing it as an insult.

“Never been there, but I know it’s up there.” she growled back at him.

“Ah,” replied Lock.

Just because I’m a young girl, that doesn’t mean I am weak, she thought as she quickly strode past Lock heading north.

“Comin?” she said without looking back.

Lock shook his head as he followed her.

Twenty minutes of fast-paced walking through the high grass brought them to Sangrohl. Sangrohl had a long and desperately disappointing history behind it, including death, destruction, and invasion. The town itself was situated within a large canyonesque crevice separating the Sangrohl Mountains on either side of the town. Some of the neighboring kingdoms called it the ‘town of climate separation’ due to the fact that the surrounding mountain ranges differed in weather from one another.

The range to the east of Sangrohl is wrought with deadly, steam filled cavernous mazes throughout its interior. They were filled with Grohlrats, a large fanged rat the size of a Saint Bernard, among other dangerous creatures that enjoyed the humidity of this side of the climate border.

To the west lies the other range. Blistering cold covered the range, so cold it would bring a man to his death, should he unwisely venture too high up it unprepared. It was rumored to house a dragon, though no one had ever actually seen it. Although the town itself is made up of poorly constructed shacks and plywood homes; Sangrohl is unofficially part of the Empire territory. Nobody dares to be caught outside after dark because Empire law deemed that to be punishable by death.

Lock grabbed Tara by her arm before she could get into the front corridor leading to the town.

“Hold on a minute,” whispered Lock through his teeth.

“What is it?” she replied, looking at his hand that was wrapped tightly around her forearm trying to signal for release.

He released her once he realized how tightly he was gripping the girl and he saw the marks fade into her pink flesh. He looked into her eyes and explained himself.

“This place is dangerous, stay close behind me…quietly.”

She nodded with cautious, blank eyes, still wondering if he could be trusted or if he was leading her into something she had no interest of being a part of. He crept into the town slowly with Tara on his heels, looking into every section before continuing forward.

As they walked through the dirt street of the town to his safe house they only saw one living thing: a mangy cat that once was a beautiful orange tabby. Now it dawned a coat that was a dirty grapefruit-like color with patches of hair missing. It trotted in front of them and with a passing glance it ran by with a squirming field mouse in its drooling maw struggling to get away. As it ran in front of Tara, it made eye contact with the single eye that was still intact. She sighed a consolable breath, was this cat the one that had run away over a year ago? I hope not, she thought.

At the far north corner of the town, atop a series of wooden stairs, were several small shacks made up of sheet metal and large debris hanging loosely against the wall of the mountain. After ascending the steps, Lock stopped at one of the thick steel doors. He slid it open as he looked at Tara to enter, which she did after great hesitation. Inside she noticed that the interior of this specific domicile seemed to match the town, which wasn’t flattering by any means. Lock entered himself and slid the door shut and quickly engaged its series of five locks.

He walked past Tara into the living area which housed an old chair that could barely contain it’s stuffing as several springs popped out, a brown cloth couch with a green and a gray pillow, a glass coffee table with wooden trim, and a book case. The book case held many books such as: a Bible, “History of Brahm”, “World Encyclopedia 2500 – 2600”, and lots of recipe books for various things like medicines and tonics. On the top shelf there were cabinets with glass windows revealing vials of colored liquid and cloth pouches about the size of a fist.

Tara seemed to get the impression that this is where Lock came to lick his wounds. During their walk to Sangrohl she noticed old forgotten scars on his body; especially a large one on his neck that was painfully obvious.

“Have a seat,” ordered Lock as he entered that back of the shack and went behind a curtain.

She looked around…Where? She thought. She wiped crumbs and a dead bug with its legs up in the air from the couch and sat down over her skirt and crossed her ankles in front of her. She sighed as she looked around that room. Lock returned with a chunk of bread and a dirty glass filled with a dark green liquid.

“Here,” he said while handing her the items.

She took the bread and hesitantly took the glass as well. She took a bite of the bread which was surprisingly good and questioned Lock with her eyes about the drink with a bizarre look.

“It’s a vitamin mixture, it’ll give you nourishment and help you sleep,” he answered being less than nurturing to her situation.

“Hmm,” she said before taking a drink, “Hope it is better than it looks.”

“Many things are,” he retorted, “You’ll be safe here and I will be back soon, get some rest, we leave at dawn.”

She was eating so fast that her only response was to nod her head in his direction.

“Where you going?” she said before taking a drink of the strange liquid.

“Got an errand to run,” he said as he prepared to crawl out the window, “There’s a snub-nosed revolver under the couch, lock the window.”

“Not bad,” she said after swallowing the liquid, “Okay.”

He shut the window behind him and crept back down the stairs the way they had come. She got up and tightened the latches on the bar-covered window, then crossed to the curtain blocking the next room. Pulling it aside, she entered and looked upon the dishes that lay strewn across the counter and within the sink.

Everything looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned in ages. She took a quick look around to see if she was being watched then went and looked in the mirror resting on the wall adjacent to the sink.

The gash below her left eye made her cringe at the sight of it. She took the middle finger of her right hand and slowly glided it across the wound. As it passed over the wound, it appeared to vanish with no cut or scar visible. All that remained was a streak of dried blood on her cheek.

She smiled at herself in the mirror and turned away to grab a rag from the shelf overlooking the dirty sink. On the floor there was a bucket of clear water. She balled up the rag and dipped it in the water. After wringing out the cloth, she proceeded to wash her face and clean her dirty, bruised leg.

She felt better now, but was suddenly very tired. A true testament to the power of that drink, she thought. Tara walked back into the room with the couch and laid down with her back to the room. She curled herself into a ball for warmth using her skirt as a blanket on her ankles and feet. She slowly drifted away as the sandman brought dreams of happier times.

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