Kelsandra: Human Ranger, Chapter 1

1325 AE, Township of Claypool

 

Kelsandra leaned forward from her sitting position in one last hopeful attempt. She snatched up the book she’d almost finished and slipped through it to the end. Then she swore and lay down on her small bed, placing the book on her stomach. On her first and last visit to Divinity’s Reach, an asura managing a book cart had told the 24-year old that there were pirates featured in the book. For the past two days, she had been poring over it, waiting for the moment they’d swoop in and do something interesting to save the dull plot, but the merchant had clearly been lying.

Behind her, there was a soft scraping sound, and Kelly sat up and looked. An ashy green river drake looked at her guiltily, the worn leather strap of Kelly’s large satchel in its teeth.

“Sterjin,” Kelly groaned, frustrated at herself.

He shook the strap out of his mouth.

“You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

Sterjin stayed quiet, staring at her. Kelly looked out the window at the foot of her bed and realized how close it was to sunset.

The human lived on the only room of the third floor. To the left, almost right below her, she often watched visitors to the Township learn and practice using a shield. It was a strange thing for her to watch, for she never used one herself, at least when practicing against other people in melee—which had been her only combat experience. Beside that was the giant wooden eave overhanging the Master crafters, cleaning their stations for the night.

The view Kelsandra had overlooked virtually the entire town she lived in, which made her feel strangely claustrophobic. It was far from being all there was in the world—she knew that—but every time she lost herself in the view of the town square, how little of it there was, how many travelers constantly passed through, using this place as a stop on their way to something much more exciting, it was as if they were perpetually permeating barriers she was too scared to cross for more than two days at a time.

 

Sterj, sensing that she wasn’t angry at him, gave a high growl that was almost a whine. Neither of them had had a proper meal all day, but Kelly hated roaming the Township of Claypool and running into travelers all day. After sunset was when the residents seemed to truly come alive, leaving their homes to eat at the inn or along the walls inside the town’s entrance. The advantage was that Mylia, the innkeeper and her guardian when Kelly was a teenager, would be out with a friend—most likely her favorite spot: under the tree. Mylia hated seeing Sterjin around, so after sunset was the perfect time to sneak him out for a swim and a meal.

Kelly’s pet was clearly restless, though. As usual, he made her impatient, and so she decided to take her chances. She stood up and brushed the forgotten book onto the bed.

Only one step was necessary for her to reach the bag Sterj had been gnawing on. The room she’d lived the last decade in, almost continuously, was extremely small. All of the rooms were like that in the building. Kel grabbed the bag.

“Come on,” she said.

Sterj followed her as she pulled open the door with a low, quiet creak. She faintly heard Mylia speaking loudly to a boisterous group of travelers right outside. Sterj did too, and it was why Kel found herself at the top of the stairs without him having left the room.

“Come on, Sterjin.”

She put the bag over her shoulder and tried to walk down the stairs as normally as she could, though with Sterj’s pitter patter sounding behind her, she knew that Mylia must have been feeling a sort of dread—well, more so than usual.

“Currently, yes, we’re full. No shortage of—adventurers here.” Mylia’s voice, much clearer, rang through the open front door of the inn as Kelly and her pet reached the bottom of the stairs. It was a common line, but the added dryness when she said “adventurers” told Kel that the innkeeper knew the two of them were about to head out. There was no point in sneaking around her now.

She pulled the door open farther and jumped off the side of the short, narrow staircase. Her drake followed. Mylia turned to glance at them but gave no other acknowledgment.

Kelly, after little hesitation, walked briskly to the right, sidling the fence around the archery training area. Sterjin broke into a waddling run; he knew exactly where they were going. She ran after him, self-conscious about Mylia possibly staring at them, and wondered what she could be thinking—wondering how Mylia had always thought of them.

Admittedly, the innkeeper had been quite agreeable at Kelly’s longer-than-anticipated stay. Having been an old friend of her late mother, she took Kelly in as a teenager at a reduced price, less than half of what she usually charged. Kel had always looked up to Mylia, seeing her as a mentor and almost a parental figure, but as the years went by, she became a lot less naïve and could properly read the irritation in her words that she couldn’t process before. The woman was tired of her, and it had been like that for much longer than it should have taken Kelly to realize it.

It didn’t matter. As she followed Sterj down the path and out the Claypool entrance, she thought of their reasons for leaving the next day—well, her reasons—and whether they were based on childhood fantasy or adult desires.

As soon as she saw the river, Kelly frantically looked to the left and right for hostile drakes and other creatures. Sterj usually sensed them, and could defeat them pretty easily, but she was always worrying about her pet. There were no dangerous creatures visible at the moment—a rare occurrence. When she looked back to the drake, she almost cried out. He was attempting to chew loose one of the crab traps Will set out every morning.

“Stop,” she said. “Stop, stop, you can’t do that, Sterj.” She bent down beside the trap and straightened it. There were two wriggling crabs inside, and Sterjin stood next to Kel, looking down at it hungrily. She looked at him, then—

“Well, alright. If we’re going to join the pirates, then we shouldn’t be too averse to theft.” She cocked her head toward the water.

Sterjin dove in. She lifted the door of the cage and as the crabs made their escape, her drake caught both with his front teeth and jumped back onto land to enjoy his meal.

Kelly patted his back leg. “Face—face the hills. From the back, you could be eating fish.” Sterjin spun a few degrees and she looked down as he tore the crabs apart, not wasting a piece.

“Join the pirates?” said a voice behind her.

She turned. Colm Thompson, a pale, clean, expensively dressed man who considered himself a hunter was standing in front of the crops nearest the river. He was the sort of person who carried himself well, but one often felt like they were walking on eggshells when talking to him, for fear of wounding his dignity. His “high talk” also made it easy to make fun of him.

“Although I have never seen you as dignified, I don’t understand how you could find the appeal in that.”

Kel turned back to the river to roll her eyes and tried to ignore him. Of course he wouldn’t.

“Mylia wouldn’t like that very much,” he said, a little louder.

“She’s not my mother,” she quickly called back.

Kelly then heard him walk away. What was he hoping to gain from bothering her? As scared as she was of leaving the predominantly human communities, their actions did get grating at times. Always having to be in each other’s business. There were bigger things happening. It didn’t matter if joining the pirates meant becoming the problem; at least it was something other than—this.
She sat down in the grass as Sterj finished the crabs. He ran into the water and lay idle underneath. Kelly watched the bubbles form on the surface and yet couldn’t clear her mind. She never could, not here in this town.

“Is he gone?”

Kelsandra turned. Mylia was standing right where Colm had been, her expression soft, though the setting sun shone right in her face. “He’s under the water,” Kelly said. The bubbles had stopped, and it was quiet now.

“You’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?” Mylia said, unmoving. Kelly wondered if she should ask her if she wanted to join her beside the water, but perhaps she didn’t want to be surprised by Sterjin springing out of it once he was done with his swim.

“Yes. As early as possible.” She tried to sound eager. There was something in her that was excited for the next day, but it must have been anxiety, because she was so afraid.

“I’ve already packed up your things. Nicely folded up in a new satchel I’ve bought for you.” It was getting colder now, and Mylia crossed her arms.

Kelly liked to think that it was a defensive stance, that she knew how incredibly rude that was and didn’t want to show any regret for it. “Thank you,” was all she said.

“Don’t stay out too late,” Mylia said without another pause, and walked off.

Kelly rubbed her face with her hands. It was almost like a dream, as if she had just realized how little people wanted her here. She stood up and fitted her bag around her shoulder; at that moment, Sterj launched himself out of the water, possibly with the intention of startling her.

“Stay here,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” Then she made her way back to the inn. Behind her, there was another splash as Sterj went into the water again.

As usual, Mylia was at the tree, having a small meal with a few friends and their children, who laid on their back to watch the men light the lanterns now that night had fallen; afterwards, she often came back to the inn to have dinner on her own or with her patrons. By then, Kelly and Sterj would be gone.

She was leaving tonight.

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