Once, while walking home after working twenty hours straight, I saw a rich man driving around in a steam-carriage (this was a couple of years ago, and back then only the truly rich could afford one), accompanied only by his dog. Now, this dog had its head stuck outside the interior, nose pointed into the breeze, mouth open and tongue lolling out. Whether or not the man was enjoying himself, for that dog, it looked like there was no place else it wanted to be in this world. It truly seemed to be happy and content.
Right now, I really envied that dog. Because, even after an hour of sticking my head out the window like it did, I still was miserable and felt like I wanted to sick up. Unlike that driver from all those years ago, I had no doubt in my mind that Dorf was truly enjoying himself. He couldn’t stop grinning, and every once in a while I would hear him let out a whoop of exhilaration. At least he had stopped trying to engage me in conversation, I thought bemusedly. Thank the Gods for small favors.
There was one good thing about being out of the city and travelling through the country. The air was so clean and clear. I guess I had taken it for granted that air wasn’t supposed to be sooty or tainted with smog. One bad side effect of all of our science and industry was the byproducts of all that advancement. Personally, I worried if everyone breathing in all that pollution all the time wasn’t going to have adverse consequences further on down the line. And, from small hushed talks I had had with other casters, I knew I wasn’t the only one with concerns. But, any time anyone brought it up, they were shouted down as being “too weak” or “not supporting our fair city” or “against science” or other garbage like that, and so we all kept quiet.
The nearest village to Aerendor was about an eight hour walk on foot, or about a four hour ride via horse; by steam-carriage it was just less than two hours. You definitely couldn’t say that science didn’t have its uses; after all, I had no desire to walk eight hours to chase down a lead. And even though I would have loved to take a horse out for a ride, I knew that Dorf wouldn’t have went for that –not only would he have gotten sick, but most horses wouldn’t be able to support him. Me either, to be fair; I am quite an imposing figure, and usually have to ride a certain type of horse called the highland horse, because they were used in the highlands and were very big and brawny. All of which lead to my willing compromise to travel in his baby, as he was wont to call this infernal machine.
Another weird thing was that our city was constantly lit. Even at night, it was never truly dark. Out here, away from the city, I knew that at night it became pitch black. Fitting, since my partner had already tried and convicted the Ronan of multiple crimes he had no proof of, only rumors and heresy. Dorf bought into all those nasty things that were said about the Ronan, and the first half of our trip he had brought them all up and listed them, trying to convince me how evil and criminal these people were. After listening to them all, I’d said I needed some air and stuck my head out the window. If only he knew it wasn’t just for some fresh air, but to avoid having to get into an argument with him over all of that stupid shit he had just regurgitated.
I could tell we were getting close to the village –named Aerdale, if I remembered the map correctly- since I could smell the livestock most of the farmers kept. Inside the city proper, the only animals allowed to be raised there for food were chickens and goats. So everyone was used to eating chicken or eggs, eating cheese made from goat’s milk, or having lots of fish (we were a port city, after all). If you wanted something like a steak or cow’s milk, lamb chops, or this wonderful thing I had once called bacon, you either had to pay a fortune for it or make a trip out to the country to get it. The average citizen had probably never had ham, or could even recognize a pig if someone pointed it out. That part of this trip had me excited. Hey, what can I say? Orcs (and half-Orcs) love to eat.
“Holy shit, that smells like a lot of…well, shit!” Dorf exclaimed loudly, trying to be heard over the steam engine. “We must be getting close, partner! How’re you feeling?” I knew he meant to slap me on the back in a comradely fashion, but it almost made me lose my lunch. Not trusting myself to speak, I just gave him the thumbs up, and I heard him chuckle. “You can make it, Jonas! Probably about another five minutes or so. Do you think they know we’re coming?” Pretty sure they knew we were coming for the last ten minutes or so, since this damnable machine is so fucking loud, I thought miserably, but I kept my opinion to myself. Not because I was scared of what Dorf might say or that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but because I didn’t want to vomit all over him.
Me personally, I liked the earthy smell of a farm and the musky smell of livestock. It reminded me of growing up with my parents, living off of the land and taking care of ourselves. Say what you want about civilization, but there’s something honest and refreshing of being out here, in the wild. I know, that sounds like my Orc heritage talking, but since generations of farmers –most of them Human- also don’t care for the city, I would say it isn’t just a racial thing, but a certain mindset that some people get and understand. Dorf definitely wasn’t one of those people, and that was OK with me. It takes all kinds to make this world go round.
Finally, we came over a hill and we could see the small village laid out before us. Since he didn’t want his precious steam-carriage getting dirty (and not trusting those dirty Ronan around it, he had admitted), Dorf pulled over off of the road, engaged the parking brake, and shut the engine off. The silence and lack of vibration was so blissful that I almost started crying. Even though I know that Dorf really didn’t want to leave him behind (he called it a him), I was more than eager to escape from the confines of his machine and to walk the rest of the way into the village. Putting action to thought, I opened the door and excavated myself from the interior, taking in very deep breaths and enjoying the freedom as I stood up straight and eased my back.
“I really hope we didn’t waste our time coming all the way out here,” Dorf practically shouted as he climbed out of his side of the steam-carriage. I knew that after driving in it for so long, both of our hearing was shot and would be for a little while until we recovered. “Hey, do you think we’re in time for dinner?”
“Not sure if they have inns or pubs like they do in the city,” I basically bellowed back. “But the only way to find out is to head down there.” And so, my partner and I walked the next few minutes until we entered the village. As we walked, I kept an eye on Dorf since he’d made it clear what he thought of it out here. “You’ve never been out of Aerendor, right?” I guessed.
“As much as this may surprise you, I did a stint in the military when I was younger. My form of rebellion against my family. It’s funny, most kids when they rebel they start hanging around another race, doing drugs, things of that nature; me, I signed up to have some asshole scream at me that I was a maggot and that I would never make it in the army. Hells, I could have stayed at home for that,” he chuckled softly, proof our hearing was returning to normal.
This was news to me. I had always known that Dorf was third generation police, but I honestly thought after he finished basic schooling he would have went straight into the Academy. Whatever discipline the military had instilled was long gone, and if you had bet me money that my partner was former military I would have laughed at you, sure I was about to make a pretty profit. “So, what happened?” I queried. It was rare for him to talk about his past before the police force, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about it.
“You would have been just a kid, but there was this conflict we got into with the Afrikk nation over them raiding our merchant vessels. Diplomacy failed, and so the army was sent in to ‘negotiate’ the ceasing of all hostilities,” Dorf looked like he was missing his old pipe passed down from his grandfather right about now, but he had been off of it for almost two years. Gregory didn’t like how the smell of it got into everything they owned, and so to make his husband happy my partner had given it up. But during times like this, when he was stressed, I knew that he missed having that comfort the Cherrywood pipe gave him.
Yeah, I may have been a kid, but even I had heard of the Afrikk situation. Calling it a war would have been too generous; the races of Afrikk were the Cathan, a race of feline humanoids that lived in the plains, and the Roccan, a race of avian humanoids. Neither race were very advanced, but what they lacked in technology they made up for in ferocity and sheer numbers. And, since they were very primitive (by our standards, anyway) they had no desire for steam-carriages or steam powered pistols or anything like that, just the basic things like cloth and spices. It made it difficult to try and negotiate a peace treaty, from what I had heard years later.
“I remember hearing something about that; but what part did you play in it?”
My partner sighed heavily. “I didn’t really play any part at all. Except for the fact that I was one of the soldiers sent to accompany the eggheads when they tested out their new weapon. I was on the airship Burgundy Brigade on Jurgen 13th, 908.” I couldn’t help but gasp. Everyone knew that day. It was the day that, to end the conflict with the Cathan and the Roccan people, our scientists dropped two massive bombs on their lands. Not only were those bombs filled with explosives, but they were also filled with capsules containing various diseases that our scientists had guessed they had never been exposed to, and therefore had no resistances built up to help them recover. From what I had heard, those who weren’t killed immediately by the detonations were killed days or weeks later by sickness. Supposedly, that was why most other countries that came into conflict with our fair nation tried to resolve things peacefully before they ever escalated to that point again. Just thinking of it sickened me.
Sneaking a peek at my partner, I was saddened to see a single tear trickling down his cheek. “I was lucky. All of my protective gear worked. Some of my unit had earplugs that failed, and they went deaf; or their goggles weren’t tinted right, and they went blind; Hells, there are some that say that their gear was specifically tampered with so the eggheads could study the effects on our own people!” He shook his head angrily, as if trying to banish those memories. “That was enough for me. My tour was ending a week later, and I didn’t reenlist. Instead, when I got back to Aerendor, I joined the Academy before I had even changed out of my black and white uniform. And I’ve never looked back since.”
Turning to face me, I saw a brief glimpse of the horrors Dorf must have experienced that day projected in his eyes before he blinked and he was back to his old, dour self. “So yeah kid, I have been outside of Aerendor. This is my first time outta the city in over 15 Cycles though.” I was the one who looked away first. Even though I’ve seen some shit, I didn’t want to try and compare them to what my partner had seen. He would win, hands down.
Finally, we arrived at the village gate, part of an encircling wooden fence. Reading the welcoming sign out loud, I said, “Welcome to Aerdale.” Looking at Dorf, I gave him a wink. “Let’s see if that’s true.” Ringing the announcement bell by the sign, we entered the village.