In Pursuit of a Thief

       Gareth grinned, his ugly teeth as white as stolen ivory, "Oh, you think I killed your parents? I'm a thief, not a murderer!" There was a tone of amusement, and I assumed he was toying with me.

       I grimaced, "You saw you slaughter the elephants!"

       "Fine, not a murderer of women and men."

       I twisted my hand from man into beast, and held a claw at his throat, my ears now pointed with the black tips of a lynx. Clenching my teeth, I raised my upper lip menacingly. And through them, I growled, "If you didn't kill them, who did?"

       He lay toppled against me, his hands at my throat. And, somehow, nothing had yet soiled his ostentatious robes. They flaunted his wealth, and his supposed success as a thief. Gareth smiled smugly, as if my claws twisting around his Adam's apple were not there. "My partner. She's a mercenary. I have absolutely no control over her."

       I do not know what came over me then. Some might call it mercy. I would hate to have to call it that. I let go of his neck, and in that same instant, he let go of mine. And I let my anthropomorphic body resume the fully human shape of a man. And I made sure to mold a loincloth into my shiftings, so as not to give that thief the wrong impression.

       "You've got me beat!" he admitted. He opened his robe, and pulled out six ivory tusks, tied together in a bundle. He grinned, as he tossed them to me. "That should cover the cost of your livestock."

       I stopped, bent low to count them, "There were four elements. Eight tusks."

       However, Gareth had run off. He left me alone, orphaned, on the forest floor. I, Cecille of Garignon, held six large elephant tusks. They had been masterfully cut, and would fetch a fine price on the market. I owe it to those elephants, to put this wealth to good use.

       I untied the tusks, and noticed an emblem on the rope. The royal seal of the Empire. I was baffled. I could not fathom why the Empire would send a thief, wielding fiery magic, and a mercenary assassin to burn four war elephants at a modest ranch, and kill the ranch's eldest caretakers. My parents! Dead...

       Now that the physical threat to my life was over, the grief washed over me. I cried, for hours, in that glen. I remember a young war elephant, orphaned as well, coming over and comforting me with his trunk. However, my oath of vengeance remained thick with blood. A debt of blood.

       The young war elephant, Finos, eyed me with a lonely gaze. They were empathetic creatures. They had to be, to carry on a mental link with their riders. And, they were lithe. At least, more agile than most other varieties of elephants.

       Let me navigate, I urged him with my mind. We will get our revenge.

       The creature acknowledge that it understood. There was something bestial about the concept of revenge, and thus it did not surprise me that this creature understood. I hopped onto its back, and sent him a series of thoughts. They were images, in my mind, visualizations of land marks in the forest. And the path to the city.

                                                    ~

       Finos had passed many of my guiding landmarks, and was now at a crossroads. He had questioned me, in pure thoughts that existed without language. And I knew not where to go. I lay, curled on his back in the form of a lynx. And he sniffed around, his trunk grazing the forest floor. It passed over a footprint, that neither one of us noticed. And Finos picked up a scent.

       And then, he continued to trot onward. And I began to nap. I was sad, and distant. Vengeance was on my mind, but I also needed time to grieve. No matter how violent our past, we shifters sometimes struggle with grief as much as any soft-headed human.

       And, as I dreamed, I reckon I was picking up Finos's thoughts. Because, though Gareth was likely not the murderer of my parents, I had a dream of killing him. Without even bothering to ask the whereabouts of the mercenary, who I will likely hold accountable. Though, really, I knew, I should hold the one who hired the mercenary, and ordered Gareth, accountable for my parents' murder.

The End

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