Genro Dakes didn’t like strangers. Greenest was a fine town for the people who lived there, but it was big enough as it was. Between the halflings, the dwarves, and the few elves in town, he wondered if there was going to room for the humans if more folks kept moving in.
He’d kept those sentiments to himself, but he still looked at any of the new arrivals, especially ‘the weird ones’ with an unfriendly eye. You never knew what sort of trouble they were going to cause, just that they were always going to cause some problem or the other.
He was getting ready to close up his shop after a decent enough day when the latest batch of strangers rolled into town, and sure enough, they brought trouble with them.
The dragon that soared past the rooftops brought terror and panic in its wake. Genro felt his bowels turn to jelly as every muscle except his heart locked into a rictus of fear.
As the dragon flew farther on over the town the mystical grip of the fear it brought faded, but the terror it planted in Genro’s heart bloomed forth like a garden of kudzu.
He watched helplessly as men in battle hardened armor, backed by yipping kobolds and lizards the size of a pony ran screaming into town.
He hid behind counter in his shop as the mercenaries kicked down the door and began grabbed everything valuable off his shelves and stuffing them into giant sacks.
Only when they left did his thought begin to stutter forward. His wife? His children? What had happened to them.
He raced out into the street without thinking and stumbled on a strike team of mercenaries and kobolds. The lead mercenary growled an order that sounded like it came from a dragon’s throat and two kobolds swarmed forward, moving like something out of nightmare.
Along the edge of their rusty blades, Genro saw the severing of his life, but before their blows could land, Quenlin Graymist, one of the newly arrived elves that he trusted the least, was there, interposing himself between the two kobolds and Genro.
“No more slaughter, you won’t have him!” Quenlin said, parrying their blade with a fireplace poker.
The fight was brutal and short. Both sides lost blood, but the kobolds lost more.
The mercenary was about to release the drake when two armored members of the town guard arrived. Genro saw the mercenary scowl and start forward, but then think the better of it. Instead of attacking, the mercenary chose to flee with the loot he was carrying. Genro guessed it was better than risking a confrontation which had already cost the mercenary two expendable minions.
“We have to get to the keep!” Lofstrad, one of the guards, said. His eyes were as wild and terrified as Genro knew his own were.
“He’s hurt,” Genro said, afraid to go near Quenlin, as though the dagger wounds the elf suffered were contagious.
“I can carry him,” Gium, the other guard, said.
“I would be much obliged,” Quenlin said, standing with a pained wince and leaning on Gium’s shoulder.
“I can’t go with you,” Genro said. “I have to find my wife, and my children!”
“Ulsana was in the keep this morning,” Lofstrad said. “She should be there still I think.”
Genro knew that was right, despite his mind having been wiped clean of the information by the dragon fear. His children were another story though.
“Ok. Ok. But my kids are with the Southerner, Abujai,” Genro didn’t know why Ulsana trusted the elderly Abujai to look after their children but he couldn’t imagine the old man would stand up for children who were not his own.
Not being able to imagine it though, did not prevent him from praying for it fervently.
“Go with him,” Quenlin said to the two guards. “I can make it to the keep on my own.”
He stepped away from Gium, but sank to his knees after two steps.
“No, stay with him,” Genro said. “He saved me. Save him.”
Quenlin had seemed so suspicious before but, from the moment he stepped in front of the kobolds, Genro knew him. Knew Quinlin was one of the good ones.
“Get your kids and get to the keep as fast as you can,” Lofstrad said. “Governor Nighthill said they’re keeping the gate open as long as possible to give people time to take shelter. As soon as they see a sizeable force coming to lay in a siege though they’ll have to bar the gates.”
“I’ll bring them as fast as I can,” Genro said. “Tell Ulsana, I’ll get them there!”
“Be safe, and may the changing fates change in your favor,” Quinlin said, rising again with Gium’s help.
They left at a hobbling run, and Genro dashed in the other direction as fast as he could.
He was too late though.
By the time he arrived at his house, Abujai and the children were being lead out on leashes, held at swordpoint by a sneering human who commanded a half dozen kobolds and two of the massive drakes.
Genro stood frozen, unable to think, or act, or even breath, as the children were marched past the monsters.
As Jilina, his youngest, walked past the second drake it snapped out at her, ready to rend off a bite to satisfying its wicked hunger. From the size of its jaws, it could easily had torn off a limb, or more, but Abujai, even with his grey hair and failing eyesight didn’t let that happen.
“No!” he shouted and kicked the lizard’s snout, knocking it off course so that it snapped on empty air.
The drake’s handler jerked back on its leash, confirming that the prisoners were supposed to be off the menu.
Or at least the ones who behaved.
Genro darted forward without thinking about it or meaning too. Maybe he knew what was going to happen, but if so, he wasn’t fast enough. With a casual flick of his wrist, the mercenary stabbed Abujai in the back and kicked him as he fell to the ground.
The message was clear. A rebellious prisoner was a dead prisoner.
And that’s what Genro was.
He’d run too far forward to hide, and he couldn’t fight. Not with one of the kobolds holding it dirty knife right against Jilini’s throat.
Genro slumped. They’d defeated him without even swinging a single blow.
“Take them back to the camp,” the mercenary said, dispatching three of the kobolds along with the drake, which didn’t need to be on a leash, to escort Genro and the children away.
Away to what though? Raiders didn’t take prisoners for a simple exchange later did they? Were he and his children going to be slaves now? Or worse?
As they left, Genro heard Abujia moan. The old man wasn’t dead yet. Genro hoped for a miracle but knew none were coming. Abujai had been another good one. It was agonizing knowing that only after Abujai had saved Jilini. There was so much agony in his children’s tears though that Genro couldn’t feel any of it. The only sensation he could process was a terror that went deeper than the dragon fear had reached.
There was no one to save them. The future might hold an unimaginable fate. Or not. Maybe the raiders wanted to sell the people back? Maybe Governor Nighthill would strike a deal with them and they could all live?
Or maybe all that awaited them was being fed to the dragon.
Genro wanted to turn and fight. He couldn’t let him children be eaten by monsters. The moment he tried to protect them though, he would lose them. They would bleed out in front of him and no one would would care about their fate in the midst of the storm of chaos that was threatening to blow Greenest off the map.
Behind him, the drake sniffed and growled.
Genro turn to look, hoping to shield the children if the drake was going on the attack.
But it wasn’t the drake who was attacking.
One of the kobolds was dead.
An arrow had come from nowhere and smote the creature like the hand of a just and benevolent god.
No. Not a god. A man.
By the side of the house they were passing near, Genro saw the changeling Dale nocking another arrow in his bow.
Genro hadn’t been able to conceive how someone could ever trust a changeling. A southerner like Abujai was weird, but Dale was literally inhuman. Genro wasn’t even sure if he was supposed to know what Dale was, or if what he’d overheard was entirely true. All he knew was that it was impossible to trust someone who could appear as anyone else. You could never know what kind of person someone like that could be.
Except Genro knew exactly what kind of person Dale was.
Dale was the kind of person who would step into a fight to save three kids and a man who couldn’t protect them.
Dale was definitely one of the good ones.
Or maybe even that was wrong.
Quinlin, Abujai, Dale. They weren’t ‘the good ones’. They were just good people. Like all of the other people who wanted to call Greenest their home could be.
In that moment, the terror that froze Genro’s heart melted away. He wasn’t alone in a sea of chaos with his children. He was a part of Greenest, and a part of something even greater than that.
There were ‘good ones’ throughout the world. Even when you didn’t know where to look for them.
Genro knew he couldn’t fight. He wasn’t strong enough to be anything more than a liability in battle, but there were things he could do. He could keep the children calm and quiet. If they made it to the keep, he could help shore up the defenses, and work together with his neighbors, new and old, to protect them all. He could be one of the good ones in his own way, by giving as much as he could to everyone.
They were all in this together after all.