“A drink for my good man, the Hero of Athos!”
The bartender looked at me, my unkempt hair obscuring his vision but I nodded and he poured me another glass of kanar. The jubilant man clapped me on the back, extolled his admiration and thanks for my heroic actions, and moved back to his friends.
My cup was never empty; not when the fools of the Empire kept it overflowing with their false praise.
They were cowards, they were…
“I’ve never seen you speak.”
I’d completely missed her approach. My nostrils flared to catch her scent, to test for her fear or excitement. My ears strained to listen for her breathing, to gauge her size and preparedness. Leef weren’t know for their bold confrontations. At least not anymore.
I took another drink, drained the cup, and rapped it on the metal counter. The bartender topped me off and glanced at my new companion with his yellow eyes.
“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” she said.
Kats made good barmen. They didn’t care where you were from or what you, or your people, had done. They just did a little trade and made a little coin on the side. It’s why I frequented this place, nestled in the foundations of a superscraper. Those who were sober enough to recognise me had forgotten all by the time they left.
In a room of forgotten memories, I could forget my own.
“Why thank you,” she said, accepting the glass of dark liquid and swilling it around. She sniffed at it, her furry nose wrinkling at the smell, but didn’t drink.
“Gauis,” she said, using my creche-name. No-one had called me that since… heh, I smiled, my creche. “Or do you only respond to the title the People have given you now?”
I took another drink, letting the rich liquid settle on my tongue, the way a Nor’prince had once taught me. The liquid was like icy fire, seeping into every inch of my skin and numbing the tongue.
“I want to tell you a story,” she said.
I shifted, my legs ready to kick the stool out from beneath me, but her grip was swift and strong and I stopped in a heartbeat, my eyes locking with hers. Any other creature and I would have cut it’s head off, but this Leef stared at me with such determination I came up short. No, not determination. Desperation.
“I want to tell you a story, and if at the end you want to leave, you can.”
I sat back down. She lifted her glass to her lips, took a tentative sip, sucked in her cheeks and downed the whole thing leaving only a beading of red on her white fur. For a Leef, she took it well.
“There were once three factions; the House, the Empire and the Clan.
“Oh the Clan, they were old and they were many. They had grown from the forest-worlds and knew only peace in the ‘Verse. The House had seen much change within it’s ranks, noble families come and gone in the breath of a single generation. They knew the ‘Verse and they knew order.”
She sipped again. I waited, trying to steady my breathing.
“The Empire was new. Oh they rose so fast,” she lifted her glass, “and all that they saw they claimed as their domain.” She slammed it down, the kanar sloshing over the side and running into her paw.
“The Empire. Hew-mons,” she spat. I tensed, but her rage passed.
“The First House met with the humans and began their negotiations. But the humans were far too tricky. The Second House had already sent their proposal, offering to split the lands of the First between themselves and the humans.
“And the humans used the infighting. They set the houses against each other, playing them off for land and trade. Not even the Lower Houses survived the fallout. A thousand-score generations, gone in the blink of an eye because of the corruption brought about by the humans.”
She drained her glass, called for more.
“The Clans watched the Houses fall. We,” she scrunched up her snout and began again. “They saw the humans and all they had done and vowed to stand united. Leef and Vulpines and even the Bes. And when the humans came, and wanted what was in the ground and the air and the sea, they spared no thought for our kind.
“And on the top of Mount Athos, where the young had fled to escape the fires of the lowlands, the humans enacted their greatest victory.” Her claw scratched at the glass and I realised just how young she was. “The Empire excised the future of the Clan.”
I stood, leaving a still full glass. The door approached too fast, my legs shook and I all but fell through into the night. The perpetual rain filled the puddles, but I wasn’t seeing straight. My breath came in ragged gasps. I collapsed against a buildings incinerator, the heat creating a steady haze of steam as I heaved over and over.
“The Hero of Athos.”
She stood behind me, framed by the lights of the bar and the skylanes above. In one paw she held a cheap framer, the gun woefully big in her small grip.
“You killed my entire family. You gave the order to open fire. Five humans against a nursery and the brothers left to defend them. My brothers took the lives of your men with them as they fell, giving their own lives for the pups, but you survived. You alone walked away with blood on your hands. You killed a lot of innocent children that day.”
I heaved again. What was wrong with me? Six years. I had gone to the home of every man I lost that day and extolled how virtuous their deaths had been. They were the heroes. They had claimed their place in the Ever for the sake of the glorious Empire.
I screamed and screamed at the sky. I pulled my own framer, the weapon locking onto the Leef in a heartbeat and felt my finger tense on the trigger. She stood. Silent. Still. And my mind flashed back to that day. I fell to my knees.
“You think you know the story behind the legend?” I asked her. “You think you know the story and how it ended. Whatever it is you think you know about me and my story fails in comparison to the truth.”
She came closer, dropped to one knee and took my hand in her paw. I could feel her hot breath, panting with trepidation and fear but an earnest desire to hear me out.
“We reached the acropolis just before dusk. The Bes had fled at the first sight of our approach. Your brother-kin fought well but we killed them all without taking a single hit.”
She cocked her head, pulled in closer, her pert ears catching my loose hair.
“There were seventeen pups. We lined herded them into the middle.” She tensed, but squeezed my hand and I continued. “One of them broke free. He ran for me, but I was frozen. He was so small. He clamped onto my leg and wouldn’t let go. Oh gods, he trembled so hard. Mikzal laughed, he thought it was hilarious.
“Kruger grabbed one of the bitches and stamped on her paw until the one on my leg let go. The whining. They were whining so hard and this little dog looked at me, and it looked at its littermate howling and it just sat there, letting go.
“I shot Kruger.”
The Leef gasped and fell back, pushing away from my hand as if suddenly burnt upon hearing these lies. This heresy. She, and everyone else had spent the last six years believing otherwise, and now a drunk veteran was destroying her view on reality.
“Mikzal, Kapo, Bridge. They were still grinning when I shot them. Pop pop pop pop,” I said, mimicking my sights moving along, left to right as I killed the men I had sworn to protect.
“The truth,” I said, grabbing the Leef by her throat and standing up to my full height, until her legs dangled uselessly, her tail curled between her legs, “is that I killed my men and they gave me a medal for it.
“The truth is I sacrificed my own kind for a litter of pups I’d never met before and now my own kind treat me like a saviour while yours see me as a monster. Everyday I look into the eyes of a grimer or a waitress and you know what I see in your furry little faces?”
She whimpered as I tightened my grip.
I dropped her to the ground and she scampered into the corner, the heat of the incinerator pressing against her.
“Hate,” I repeated.
Prompt originally posted by Michael_Darkaito_ on reddit and received 2 upvotes.