The Prisoners: A Tale of Fulai

by Jason Brown, AKA "VeryGnawty"

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This is my world. I want to share it with you.

For Atomic Dog

Marek slouched in an old wooden chair. He leaned back, the unsteady chair creaking with age. Pounding his fingers impatiently on the armrest, the young man rocked back and forth, the ancient chair groaning in agony. Finally he stood up, dusting off his blue tunic. Combing his short hair with his hands, he watched the spiders scurrying around the stone walls. He brushed his finger across a filthy wooden table, watching the motes of dust float through the air in swirling suspension.

"I can't take it anymore." He walked over to a nearby prison cell, clanging his sword against the iron bars. "I finally get a task, and it is guarding you: a job that any fool can do. You don't do anything. You don't even blink! You are the most boring thing I've ever seen."

He peered through the bars at the Dracis. The creature was like a large crocodile. The dim lamplight muted the green scales which covered the creature. Bony ridges protruded from the beast's back. It had a sloping triangular shaped head, and a large mouth. Its thick tail lie across the ground, motionless. It sat there, not even blinking an eye. Did it even blink at all? It didn't do anything. It didn't even look alive.

"Ugh!" Marek kicked the stone wall, the dull thud of his boot barely disturbing the silence. "I can't believe this. I'm guarding some stupid creature which couldn't possibly escape while all the veterans are out doing the important work of securing the borders."

He sat back down in the chair, pounding his fist on the table. The vibration disrupted the spiders which called the prison their home. Baby spiders came out of hiding, wondering what had entered their domain.

"Oh great." Marek watched as the spiders crawled across his hand. "Even the spiders are more interesting than you. I can't believe I'm posted to this dusty dungeon with nobody to keep me company."

Marek rested his head against the back of the chair. It was completely uncomfortable, but he had nothing else to do. Closing his eyes, he waited away the long hours by imaging that he was somewhere else.

After what seemed like eternity, he could hear the creak of the hallway door. He jolted up, his face covered with relief "Barkley! Is something finally happening? Tell me what's happening."

The much older Barkley twitched his moustache, running his hands through his long blonde hair. He stood smartly in salute, bowing elegantly, "This way, Marek. Your orders are to come with me. Bring the offender."

"Oh boy," Marek replied, fumbling with the metal keys. "This must be important."

Barkley sneezed, the dusty room upsetting his nose. He wiped his nostrils with his decorated sleeve. "As important as anything else around here. Now let's go."

Marek opened the creaking cell door, prodding the green Dracis to follow. But it needed no prodding. The large reptile followed them dutifully.

Marek couldn't contain his excitement. "Finally out of that old dungeon. Can you believe it in there? It's just cobwebs and dust. I bet it hasn't been used in three years!"

Barkley smiled at the young cadet. "You should have seen it in my day, young lad. It was full of the prisoners of enemy tribes. You should count yourself lucky. Now the only thing we have to worry about is the odd one of these every now and again." He nodded towards the lizard creature between them.

Marek waved his hands excitedly. "That's true. But there's still a threat, right? I mean, there's always a threat. There will always be knights fighting for justice."

Barkely laughed. "You've worn me out already, young one. Speaking of fighting and justice. Full of grand ideas. You remind me of myself when I was young."

They continued down the dark corridor, ancient wall torches sputtering with their last flame. The old hallway was rarely used, and it showed. As they entered into the main part of the castle, things became brighter and more colorful. The main courtyard was filled with noise and candor. Soldiers and civilians bustled about on their own business. Pushing through two large doors, they entered the royal chamber. Large stone columns towered toward the arched ceiling. Long red banners draped down above them, depicting ancient battles and monsters from long ago. Knights in uniform stood in salute, their detailed cloth patches indicating their rank.

An old man sat on an intricate throne, his hands curved around the sculpted armrest. He held out his hand for silence. "At ease, gentlemen. We have come here to conduct an order of business today. Colonel Barkley, display the prisoner."

Barkley stood aside to reveal the Dracis, whom was standing prone, its reptilian eyes watching the proceedings carefully.

The old man stood up behind a large podium, his long white beard draping itself across his robust chest. "As you all know, this creature was found trespassing on our domain. A sentence has been decided. It shall be punished, and sent back to its ilk to remind them of what happens to those who break the agreements. Its wounds shall always serve as a reminder. And the punishment that has been decided is: twelve lashes!"

A guard walked into the center of the great hall, handing a long tapered whip to Colonel Barkley. Barkley nodded, "I will proceed, Sir Tyler."

Barkley reared his arm back, hearing the slight swoosh of the whip as it passed his ear. Before he had a chance to strike, he heard a commanding voice.

"Wait!" Sir Tyler walked out from behind the podium, a strong intent showing through his wartorn features. "Let the lad do it. He's been sitting around in the dungeon for hours. Give him something to do."

Barkley held out the whip to Marek, who took it willingly.

Marek grabbed the whip nervously. He was sweating. This was his first important assignment. The thought produced a twisting feeling in his gut. Pulling his arm back slowly, he began shaking. "Come on," he thought to himself, "you can do this." It was just a simple punishment, after all.

He stared into the eyes of his victim. Cold, reptilian eyes. He saw sadness in those eyes. And then he knew that he couldn't do it. He couldn't carry out the sentence. He dropped the whip, trembling.

Sir Tyler straightened his back, sticking out his chest. "Are you refusing to obey and order, soldier Marek?"

Marek shook noticeably, his nerves failing him. "I can't do it, Sir. It's not right. This creature hasn't harmed anyone."

Sir Tyler puffed out his chest further. "I say what goes on around here. The beast must be punished. Have you forgotten the last time their kind attacked our people?"

Marek pleaded with his superior. "That was over six months ago. Please Sir, don't make me do this."

The old man walked around the courtroom, lecturing. "Our society has thrived because we live by rule of the law. Nobody is outside the law. The law is all we have." He snapped his fingers at some nearby guards. "Guards! Return the creature to its cell, and Sir Marek as well. Hold their meals. We'll see if Marek changes his mind when he is devoured by this ravenous beast." Sir Tyler turned his back to the proceedings, dismissing the court with a wave of his hand.

Marek returned dejectedly back to the prison, as the two guards roughly pushed him ahead. He stepped into the cell, the Dracis creature following closely behind him. The guards locked the cell door, leaving the room. Their footsteps could be heard receding down the long hallway. Marek sat slumped in a corner against the stone walls.

"Thank you."

Marek looked up. "What? Did you just say something?"

"Thank you." The creature replied sheepishly. "I'm Llana. Thank you for saving me."

Marek glared back down at the stone floor. "I didn't know you talked. Why didn't you tell me you talked? Does anyone else know?"

"We don't talk to…vicious beasts." She scratched the floor shamefully. "That's why we don't communicate with you."

Marek stood up, surprised. "But Sir Tyler. You could have talked to him. Surely you could have done something?"

"We tried that." Llana lay her head against the cold floor. "A long time ago, we tried that. All your people understand is war and violence."

"That's not true!" Marek yelled defiantly.

Llana accused him. "And yet just earlier all you were interested in was swordplay and fighting."

"You're right." Marek kicked at the dusty ground. "I was. But when I saw you in the throne room, something came over me."

"You have compassion." She replied, rubbing her belly against the stone floor.

"Are you okay?" Marek puzzled.

She continued scratching herself against the walls. "It's this room. The dust isn't good for my skin. I'm accustomed to being in the open air. Could you scratch the back of my neck? I can't quite reach it."

He held out his hand, tentatively scratching her scaly hide. Small white flakes collected under his fingernails as he massaged her. He replied curiously, "I see what you mean."

Llana wondered. "Did you ever want to get away from it all? I mean really get away? One time I thought of going out to the desert. You know, just me and my wits, pitting myself against the elements in a game of survival. No more societies, no more wars, no more rules."

"Not really." Marek lie against her, using the creature's backside as a pillow. "I mean, all that we really have is rules."

She grabbed him with her strong tail. "And yet you're stuck here with me, and according to your rules I'm supposed to be eating you!"

Marek gulped nervously. "You're going to eat me?"

She released him. "Of course not. You helped me avoid a violent torture. Even Dracis have morals, you know."

"So what do we do now?" He pondered.

"We sit." She sighed, emitting a guttural sound from her deep throat.

And so they sat, thinking of rules and laws and morals and tribes and all sorts of circumstances to keep their mind busy. They lie against each other, keeping each other warm. Llana curled around the young human like a blanket. She thought about getting away. But what was even more strange was that she thought about getting away with him!