Leaves of red and yellow layer along the trails. The weather cools and the trees begin to go barren. The wind blows softly through the falling forest. All is quiet, and has been for the many years since the great burning.
A male hoofling sits on the root of a large tree, grounded beside a sizable lake. He was shining his sapphire hooves while humming a familiar tune. His eyes closed as he let out a sigh and relaxed, lounging back to lean against the trunk. The sun shined between the leaves that still rest upon the branches, the light glistening off his small white horns.
The hoofling’s eyes shot open. With a quickness, he jumped from the root and climbed up the branches. Once at a safe height, he keeps silent and looks to the ground. A faint mumbling from the distance slowly grows louder and more distinct. It was the multiple voices of a couple of men traveling through the woods. They were chattering about the conviction of a hoofling who had been hiding around the town and scrounging through trash like a peasant.
“So when is this hoofling suppose to be hanged?” asked the man with black hair who was wrapped in a dark green cloak.
“They said it was to take place tomorrow night,” responded the blond-haired man wearing a blacksmithing uniform.
“If you ask me, a hanging is too good for them.”
“Well, that’s the council’s decision.”
The male hoofling hiding in the trees leaned forward to try to get his ear closer. A slip of the hand nearly causes him to fall from the tree. He lands on his stomach on the branch to catch himself. The motions caused the branches to rustle and drop leaves. The men stopped. “Did you hear that..?” said the dark-haired man, slowly turning his body to look towards the falling tree petals. His feet move with a quiet slowness as he surveys the land. An eerie hush shrouds the recently lively woodlands.
Everything is at a stand still, both parties refusing to move. The hoofling’s heartbeat increases as he begins to hold his breath. There lingers inside him a fear of just one simple movement revealing his hiding spot. Just after closing his eyes, the ground leaves begin to shuffle once more. The men walked closer to the tree.
“Who’s there?” called the blond haired.
“Show yourself!” yelled the other.
Still, not a sound was made. The hoofling began to breathe slowly to mask his presence. Gradually opening his eyes, he could see the man with the sword lifting the blade into the tree, brushing it across branch after branch. The sword moved each limb gently, avoiding any noise except for a soft swish. “Hm,” stated the man who was digging into the timber. The sword retracted. Their focused eyes turned to look at each other in perplexity.
“It was probably just a bird,” the man in the cloak said as he began to walk away. The acquaintance walked beside him and nodded in agreement. Their chattering continued as they marched along out of the woods. A heavy sigh of relief expelled from the hoofling’s lips. His heart was still racing during his extra time of laying on that branch with the horrific incident replaying constantly in his head. He had just barely made it high enough for the blue colors he bares to not be exposed in the midst of the search. Surely, he thinks himself lucky.
By the fall of night, the men were way beyond gone. It was now that the hoofling finally regained enough courage to scale back down the tree and onward to the nearby town. Eavesdropping on the conversation had given him a new drive to find out what was happening to his species and why they believed that they were so bad.
In the time it took to reach the end of the tree line, the sun was already beginning to rise. Ahead stood a large stone walling blocking an internal city from the external plagues of the world. The entrance to the city was locked up with a set of three ironclad gates hoisted up and down by chains and guarded with two armored guards a gate. A sign laid upon the bricks above the passage that read ‘Calobrine’. It was a city rumored to be the biggest trade town in all of Verice. Many treasures are told to be secured behind those doors, treasures of which the highest of kings would have no word of even existing. Priceless items filled with magic and knowledge. The largest known collection of artifacts to ever be recorded up to this present time. Such a place would bring quite the crowds.
He had made it. This was the town which held the public hangings of his kind. As busy as this city was, the guards were very vigilant and kept security by stopping all carriages and suspicious figures in order to catch any monster trying to sneak in. Such a shielding would make it nearly impossible for him to get through.
The gate started to lift, startling him and resulting in him ducking behind some bushes, shortly afterward poking his head out to observe the opening. A group of crop carriages was being let into the city along with a few new guards and a handful of citizens who were returning from a nightly hunt. Some of the townsfolk held rabbits and squirrels in their arms while a couple others were dragging in deer carcasses. Alongside them, the carriages were hauling in wheat, berries, and gemstones. As the hoofling surveyed his surroundings, he noticed the carriage of gems being the last one in the line to enter the town.
As the guards began to poke around the wheat cart, everyone’s attention appeared to be diverted. He decided to take that chance. He galloped from behind the bushes and towards the wagon. His hooves kept quiet across the wet morning grass. As he approached the carriage, his speed slowed to a cautious trot. Just when he got his hand onto the cart, it started to move. The guards had finished with the wheat and were moving on to analyze the berries. From this movement, the hoofling toppled and hit the ground. “Oof,” he said before quickly shuffling back up to his feet and jumping into the stones. Unfortunately for him, before he disappeared into the jewels, a woman from the crowd had heard the noise. She turned just in time to see his sapphire hooves vanish into the wagon. With a startled mind, she turned her head back and continued on into the town.
The guards began to take out some of the rocks inside the cart. The more they lifted, the heavier they felt. The weight began to tire them out. In a huffing breathing, one of them saw the sapphire hoof of the hidden creature. He proceeded to the driver and congratulated him on such an amazing haul. The rest of the guards started to put the gems back into the carriage, too exhausted to keep it up.
“Alright, close it up!” shouted a guard. The gates began to close as the carts advanced down the trail. Suddenly, the movement came to a halt. The hoofling stuck his head out of the stones to see what was going on. They were stopped in an alleyway, giving him the covered advantage to escape. Exiting the cart, he hears a voice. He jumps into the nearest doorway, keeping as close to the door as possible.
“Hello?” called a soft voice. “Is anybody there?”
Her words were answered with silence.
“I saw you out there,” she continued. “I saw you come into the city.”
She continued to try to coax him out. “Please show yourself,” she asked politely. He still kept quiet. Her words were making his heart pound out of his chest. She could very well cost him his life, and here she was calling him out. In a fit of panic, he ran out from the doorway and continued farther down the alley. The woman jumped back at the sight. She didn’t expect to actually find someone. There was a nagging urge in her chest that was breaching through the fear. She picked up her feet and ran after the man.
After just a few turns, the alley turned into a dead end. “Why would they even make a town this way?” Spoke the hoofling, turning around to try to find another exit. The woman stepped out in front of him, blocking his escape route. He mumbled under his breath and jumped back into the shadows.
“Who... Who are you?” she asked him, her body beginning to shake.
“I am no one. Please go away,” pleaded the hoofling.
“N-No. I... I won’t go away.”
“Please. You have to.”
Her mood instantly changed. “What do you mean I HAVE to?” she asked him sternly as she began to approach him. Her forward steps made him walk backward, edging unknowingly closer to the light.
“Please stop,” he stumbled. Another step, he falls down onto his hindquarters. The light reveals his true nature in front of the woman. She could see his royal colors displayed. As he pulled his hooves closer, she noticed the sapphire that caught her eye outside the wall shimmering. She could make out the white lines which were scattered across the royal blue of his fur and saw that his horns were white instead of blue, indicating signs of not being of pure noble blood.
She reached her hand out. “Need some help?” she asked. The hoofling backed up further.
“I won’t hurt you,” she told him as she crouched down towards him.
“You’re... not afraid?” he asked as he lifted his head.
“Well of course I am. But I’m not acting on it.”
“But you are.”
“Not like the others would,” she extended her hand to him once more, this time with a smile. He reached out with hesitation. His gaze shifted around behind her, then to her face. There was no one around and her eyes were filled with sincerity. Their hands clasped together and she helped him back onto his hooves. Delight softly expressed itself upon his face. A genuine heart shines brightest in the most obscure moments.
“So what is your name?” she asked him. “Mine is Cadence.”
“Aronin,” he told her, looking away.
“Why do you turn from me?” she said to him as she gently placed her hand under his chin and lifted his eyes back to hers. With a sweetness, she gives him a peck on the cheek. He flinches so harshly he dives away. Cadence jolts in surprise, then starts to giggle. The smile set on her face could not be wiped away.
A few minutes passed and the streets began to fill with bodies eager to arrive at their destination. Their murmurs grew louder with the increasing numbers that flooded the market. Merchants were shouting their products for advertisement. Buyers were arguing and screaming for auctions. Coins would fall to the ground and children would laugh as they played pirates down the street. It was a trader’s paradise coated with noise and wares. On one side stood booths carrying fruits, jewelry, flowers, and pots. Across to the other side sold weapons, clothing, baskets, and bread. Stores lined up this way as far as the eye could see, all selling their own kind of goods.
Cadence pokes her head outside the alleyway. She notices the clothing store just a few steps away. Jumping into the crowd, she makes her way to it with discrete determination. As she steps up to the counter, she can see a cloak of gray hanging over the salesman’s shoulder. “How much for that?” she inquires while pointing at the garment. The shopkeep hears her words and turns to the cloak. Grabbing it down, he holds it out to her and responds.
“7 coins,” he says.
“7 coins?” she replies. “Surely a make of that color isn’t worth some 7 coins.”
The merchant looks back at the cloth. “6 coins.”
She sighed. “Alright. 6 it is then,” she said with a defeated look on her face. She handed him the money and took the cloak, throwing it over her shoulder. With a twist of her head, she returned to her previous state of scanning. A separate clothing store caught her attention, but it appeared to be even farther down the road. In a huff, she stumbled her way back into the ever-moving sea of people. The vast horde of customers was so great and wide that she needed to push and shove her way through and nearly missed the booth.
In the midst of her panting, she exchanged more coin to the new shopkeeper in return for a pair of pants and a pair of boots. After thanking the seller, she turned around. The sight of the mass crushed her spirits. It wasn’t understood how dreadful this street was until it was endured. With one big step, she went with the flow until she reached the alley and stepped right back out. She placed the clothing into the arms of Aronin before sitting down on the ground and leaning against a building.
“The struggle...” she uttered. “You don’t even know.”
Aronin smirked. He put on the clothes he was so graciously gifted, then took a seat beside her. Looking her over, he could see she was worn out. Her eyes were closed, her breathing was heavy, and she wore an extra light coating of dirt which was not there previously. She leaned over and rested against him, laying her head on his shoulder. The connection surprised him but he didn’t move. Instead, he closed his eyes and relaxed. There, in this moment, he had found that one soul. The rare soul unsoiled by life’s discrepancies. The one who may one day turn the world on its head.