The Reza remained silent. They stared at Lana, questioning her words. This new girl, this creature they called kin, cursed at them. Degraded their entire existence with that word. how could she? Was she so offended by the birds’ little playings that she was so crass?

“Waste Beast?” Mister Clops said. He shook his mane once, and turned away. He snuffled, and wheezed. “Is that what you think we are?”

Lana tensed. Of all the self-styled Heroines, Lana was the youngest by a full year. And thanks to Mel’s and Sela’s kind actions, she remained the least experienced with the world. She did not know how to best understand certain emotional reactions when they were directed at her. Joy, exuberance, sorrow, sympathy. Pity, she knew that one well, as well as a mocking laughter.

But the one she most knew was quiet rage. That cool anger that simmered right below a calm countenance. Looking at Mister Clops’ still face, Lana recognized what she had seen, and experienced, all too often.

She wanted to fly away. But there were birds, and it was daylight. She would be seen anywhere she went, easily tracked. She had no choice, but to answer.

“I-it’s what they call us,” she stammered out. “Everywhere, people say we’re Waste Beasts. Isn’t that right?”

Mister Clops’ face softened. He bowed his head, and nodded. This wasn’t a cruel girl. Just one so used to misery it was natural to her.

“Are we Beasts, child?” he asked. “Animalistic things, that can do no more than snarl and rut?”

“What’s…” The horseman’s face told her she shouldn’t ask.

“We know what we are.” Mister Clops said. “Children of the Folly. The great bombs that fell on greater cities, poisoning the world with a need for death. And we came, crawling out of radiation, a union of magic and destruction.

“But we are not just this!” Mister Clops bellowed. “We are carvers and artists! We are lovers, fighters, warriors for Gratitude!”

The call was answered. Goats bleated, the birds cawed. Even Nahc crowed to the skies, flying up in exuberance. The Reza weren’t beasts, and they weren’t humans. They were better! And soon, they’d prove it the only way they knew how. By showing the world their worth.

Lana understood. Mister Clops was their leader, and protector. He gave them hope, a purpose, a path forward. Perhaps, he might even give her some of her own.

But… Lana looked out the gate. Somewhere out there were Mel and Sela. Her two friends, her cohorts. They were probably looking for her, worried sick. They were a team, and needed to be together.

Mister Clops leaned forward. “You have friends?” he asked.

“Out there,” Lana said.

“Not like us?”

“No. but they’re my friends,” Lana said. “I need to find them.”

Mister Clops nodded, and pointed through the gate. “The guards will let you through, but they will expect you back before sundown. Another way we pay for human weakness.”

A large, callused hand lay on Lana’s head. “When you come back, you’ll find us a welcome home. And your friends, if friends they are to the Reza, will be welcome here as well.”

“Thank you.” Lana said.

She turned, and went to face civilization once more.

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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