Punishment.

Walking into the pub he had found, Rhazin took a seat at the bar.

The pub, named The Desert Flower, was quite large for a village of this size. Usually, desert villages had very small pubs, but since this village seemed more popular, it wasn't surprising to find a good sized pub. All around the pub were men and women of all types. Four men stood out, though. Not because of their size - there were many large men on the Isle of Murdos – and definitely not because of their looks. No, it was the symbol on the largest man's shoulder.

It was the symbol of the late king of Faerein's family.

Immediately, Rhazin accessed his Void mystic and Negated the other voices in the room, leaving the man with the Frae House Symbol the only one talking. At least, to Rhazin he was the only one talking. To everyone else the pub was still lively with the laughs and voices of several other men and woman.

“... and the idiot tells me I should return!” the man said incredulously, as if he couldn't believe something. Rhazin watched as he listened to someone else. The man with the Frae House symbol wore a dark blue cloak covering blue and white armor, similar to the hulking armor Monstroth always wore. He had swept back short silver hair, which was obviously oiled, and had the face of someone carefree.

“Well, see,” the man continued, “I don't care about my uncle's death, nor about that kingdom. For all I care, the entire place could be taken, so long as Monstroth is safe. That rockhead is the only one I consider family.” He laughed before taking a big drink off his beverage.

A tap on Rhazin's shoulder caused him to lose focus and miss what the man had been about to say. Turning, Rhazin saw a silver haired woman, hands crossed beneath her chest.

“What is it you want?” she asked, annoyed. Rhazin apologixed and ordered a Heron's Brew. It was light enough to keep him from being drunk. Rhazin had had bad experiences with alcohol before.

“Excuse me, Mistress,” Rhazin said to the woman as she gave him his beverage, “Do you know who that man is?”

She looked to where Rhazin pointed and laughed. “Yeah, that's Exceed Frae. Says he's cousin to a prince, or something. He comes in every year for a week, before heading to Murdos City.”

“Why Murdos City?”

“The Great Race, of course,” she said, handing another man his drink, “Poor guy has almost died the last three times. I think he got his legs broken by the HighKing last time.” She continued to work when Rhazin said nothing.

The HIGHKING had broken both of the mans legs? How ruthless was that man? Rhazin had thought him laid back and kind, if strangely so.

“So, you know me, now who are you?” a voice said behind Rhazin. He jerked around, finding Exceed to be standing right behind him. How had that man heard him?

“If you're going to use Void, make sure you don't make it obvious, friend,” Exceed continued. Rhazin was stunned. Who was this man really?

“Rhazin is the name,” Rhazin said, immediately cursing himself for telling his real name.

“Ahhhh, I know you!” Rhazin prepared himself for a fight. “You're that guy that Monstroth writes me about!” Rhazin relaxed, a feeling of relief washing through his body.

“Yeah, sorry,” Rhazin said, trying to resist the urge to leave, “Seems like, I don't know about you until now...”

“That's ok!” Exceed yells patting Rhazin on the back, “You can get to know me now!”

A few moments later, Rhazin found himself slightly drunk at a table with Exceed and his friends. They were all people he had just met, but he acted like he knew them his whole life. Rhazin had ended up telling Exceed he was doing the Great Race.

“Hey!” Exceed yelled, clearly drunk out of his mind, “You should be my partner this 'hic' year.”

Rhazin laughed. “I could use the help, but I need a strong partner.”

“Well, how about a drinking contest to see who is stronger?” Exceed replied standing up shakily.

Rhazin accepted and stood up just as shakily.

The night went on with Rhazin only remembering moments of it. Him drinking some unnaturally large drink, Exceed trying to dance to music by himself, both of them trying to hit on a pubmaid, and so on. Rhazin loved the carefree feeling, though he knew he shouldn't have been drunk. It seemed like time had no meaning, like Rhazin hadn't done any wrong, like the Darkness didn't existed, and even like he had nothing that he needed to do. Why didn't he do this more often?

-

Rhazin awoke in pain. His head felt as if it were going to split in half, his body had aching pain all over it, and his stomach churned in a sickly manner. It was a reminder as to why he never drank.

Rhazin stood shakily and found that he was outside in the intense heat. If it hadn't been for his pain, he would've noticed earlier. Beside him was one of the men that he had drank with, along with a woman Rhazin didn't recognize. On his other side was Exceed. The man's hair was messed up, the oil making it stand up strait in places, and his cloak was ripped. Rhazin sighed and stood slowly. No need to make himself feel worse.

“So, you're awake?” a woman's voice said. It was the same woman who had worked at the bar the night before.

“Yeah, sorr-” Rhazin's eyes went wide as he remembered something. “Valeria!”

Rhazin jolted away from the area, which turned out to be the back of the pub, and ran to the inn. He ignored his aching body and sick stomach. They could wait. Right now he needed to check on Valeria. Rhazin cursed himself over and over. Monstroth would have done the same. He was, after all, the worst person when it came to kids.

The inn wasn't far away, luckily. Rhazin stopped at a stand that sold sugar lilies, a candy made from cactus flowers and sugar, and bought one. Hopefully it was enough to get forgiveness from the girl. She had grown confident in the last few days, or just grew use to Rhazin, so she had an attitude. She cared and was still the same sweet girl, true, but she saw what she could get away with and took advantage of it. It was almost funny to Rhazin, who had done the same thing to his Orphanage Matron.

Reaching the room, Rhazin opened the door to find Valeria, along with several other little girl's, playing some sort of game with an elderly lady. They all looked at him when they came in. The elderly woman, unlike the rest of the girls, looked very angry.

“Well, he's back,” the old woman said accusingly, “and he looks like he had a good night.”

Rhazin was confused and concerned, but more ashamed than anything else. “I... I'm sorry...”

“Sorry, he says,” the old lady continued, “Girls, what do you think we should do with this neglectful brother of our friend Valeria?” All the girls started yelling out things, some seeming pricey. Valeria, though, just looked at Rhazin. In her eyes, he saw pain.

Rhazin's heart dropped. He had messed up.

“That's a good idea, Cynthea,” the old woman said to a white haired girl, “Don't you think Valeria?”

She looked to the old woman and nodded ferociously. “Yes!”

“Alright then, Rhazin,” the woman said, smiling wickedly, “You have to play hide and find with these girls.” Rhazin started to protest, but stopped.

Around the woman was a snake made of water, a small flame floating in the air, and a floating rock. To be able to use multiple mystics at one time was a sign of great power. This woman was threatening him.

“But....” Rhazin stuttered. He was silenced by the old woman's piercing glare.

And so Rhazin spent the better part of an hour playing hide and find with several girls. The old woman followed him arounf, obviously for the sake of the girls. Rhazin found out she was a sort of caretaker of kids for the Inn. Valeria had wondered downstairs the night before, worried about Rhazin, and been sent to the old woman.

The first few girls were easy to find, but as he went, Rhazin had a harder and harder time. Some of the children, sadly, had been left behind by parents who just didn't want them. They were fed leftovers and packed into a small room that the old lady had managed to permanently buy after years of working at the inn. Rhazin wished he could do something for them. Maybe, after the Great Race, he could ask Murdos to send money. Maybe she was kind, unlike the rumors suggested. Rhazin could at least ask.

He found another little girl and waited for her to climb from the cupboard she was in before tagging her. The old woman, who followed him everywhere, smiled and told the girl to head back to the room and play. She ran off and Rhazin realized Valeria was the only one left. Where was she?

“By the way, Matron, why are there only girls who were left?” Rhazin asked. The old woman just looked at him strangely. Had Rhazin missed something?

“Those who live on the Isle of Murdos want boy children, so they can join the Great Race.”

“But I thought that women could join the Race, as well as men?”

The old woman sighed and folloed Rhazin as he set out to find Valeria. The girl was smart, so it was no wonder she was the last one.

“Women of high standing are allowed to, yes, but not of low standing.”

“Oh, so they get rid of their girls since they have no High blood,” Rhazin said. He noticed the old woman's mouth twisting in anger. She was right to be angry, though. To leave ones child behind just because they were female seemed wrong on too many levels to Rhazin. He had felt bad for leaving Valeria for one night, and he wasn't even related to her.

“Sorry to bring it up,” Rhazin said. Where was that girl? They had been looking for almost ten minutes since Rhazin had found the last girl.

The old woman smiled and looked past Rhazin. When Rhazin followed her gaze, he found Valeria walking toward them, Drakmor in her arms. The rabbit had another tear, it seemed.

“I got bored, so I came to find you,” she said innocently.

Rhazin just laughed. “Guess you win, then.”

Half an hour later, Rhazin and Valeria were gathering their belongings. The old lady had told Rhazin he had paid his debt and left them to pack. Valeria said she forgave Rhazin as well, so it was slowly turning into a brighter day.

They headed out and bought their supplies. Rhazin made sure he had his Void mystics blocking the heat, for earlier, when he had woken up, he realized just how hot it was. Exceed had apparently already headed out. He told the pub owner to give Rhazin a note. Rhazin, instead of reading it, just pocketed the parchment before heading out, Valeria and Drakmor following behind. Rhazin had stitched the stuffed rabbit up and told Valeria to be more careful. Rhazin knew, though, that Drakmor would cause him more trouble in the future.

Sighing, Rhazin headed back into the sea of sand that was the Caino Desert.

The End

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