An Exotic Pet [sci-fi/humor; mature content]


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    An Exotic Pet [sci-fi/humor; mature content]

    Planet Doz Kharag

    Skargh Empire

    Sometime around year 2630




    The arid world of Doz Kharag was called that way for a reason. Roughly translated as "raiders' camp" in the Baharti dialect of the Skargh language, Doz Kharag was the staging ground of many a raid into Federation and Sidh space. Sometimes the raiders were met with stiff resistence and wiped out, the few survivors returning in disgrace, if at all. Most of the times, however, the raiding parties returned with a bounty of slaves and loot. To every young Skargh man in these parts of the great Empire, Doz Kharag was therefore a sort of pilgrimage destination, a place where every boy hoped to go one day to prove himself a man. Especially the younger sons of the large Skargh families sought passage to this fabled world to seek out a warband to join. With any luck, they would come home with a small fortune to call their own and a decent rack of enemy skulls and other bloody war trophies to please the gods, but more importantly, to impress the fathers of potential brides with. With any luck, they would leave a sufficient impression to marry a wife of their liking and start a family of their own. With a lot of luck, they could even hope to impress a lord and be granted a permanent place in his retinue, or even an elevation to lesser nobility - which usually came with a nobleman's daughter's hand in marriage and modest fief as her dowry. And in the very least, if luck did not favour them at all, they could hope to fall in glorious battle and ascend to Dregrath, where brave warriors would battle in the host of Dregruk, the terrible god of war, by day and feast in his halls by night until the end of time.

    For the numberless prisoners taken during these expeditions, however, Doz Kharag was merely the first stop in a long road of misery and torment that usually ended in the mines or plantations of some remote Skargh world. The ones sacrificed on the altars of the bloodthirsty Skargh gods could consider themselves lucky, being spared the short, wretched and brutish life of backbreaking toil, malnourishment and constant terror under the whip of a cruel Skargh overseer. Even death would not spare these unfortunates from further indignity, as their bodies would be unceremoniously ground up and boiled into broth to be fed to other unsuspecting slaves who would in time share their fate. Those who were spared the fields or the mines fared hardly better if chosen as house slaves by Skargh lords, as they would be subject to every whim of their masters who were notoriously short-tempered even with their free-born Skargh servants. Those who had demonstrated some combat skill before capture could look forward to eventual relegation to one of the Empire's many Janissary regiments of predominantly-human slave-soldiers - provided they survived a season in the gladiatorial fighting pits first. That too was hardly a good fortune, however. Even while the Janissaries were granted privileges beyond the wildest hopes of any other slave, they were still just that - expendable slaves, cannon fodder to be thrown at their former compatriots to soften up their defenses and deplete their ammunition for proper Skargh warriors to close in and finish the job in close combat as was their habit and custom. Sidh captives who tried so hard to set themselves above Mankind in their free lives ironically found an elevated status and privilege even in slavery. Because of their extensive augmentation and martial habits along with a strict code of honour that proclaimed death as preferable to enslavement, the Skargh generally deemed the Sidh far too troublesome to bother breaking in. At the very best, they would kill themselves, but more often than not attempt to escape or attack their captors at every opportunity, usually succeding in taking one or more with them before being put down. The reason Skargh warriors even bothered with taking Sidh prisoners was the generous ransom they could extract from their compatriots for their return. The Sidhae generally looked out for their own much more than humans did, and would gladly exchange 50 or more humans for one of their own, either selling off human POWs to Skargh slavers, or simply rounding up the necessary numbers in their Imperium's extensive human ghettos.

    As well as hosting the largest slave market this side of the galaxy, Doz Kharag was also a magnet for merchants of the more ordinary kind. All the raiding parties brought in vast amounts of exotic goods, Skargh and alien merchants alike flocking to buy them in bulk to be sold further at a vast profit. Raw materials, industrial goods, technologies, weapons, alien cultivars and livestock - everything with the potential to be monetized could be found here for the right price. Sometimes, the desire to possess a new and unseen curiosity could even spark conflicts that devolved into violent skirmishes and even long-lasting blood feuds between the involved Skargh.

    ---

    "A very peculiar creature. What does it do?"

    "Well, it eats, it sleeps, it jumps around a lot making funny squeaking noises from time to time, and shits almost constantly..."

    "I get that it does what every creature must, but what does it do?! What is it good for?!"

    "I have no idea, Your Lordships! It is the first time I find myself in possession of such unusual beast."

    "It looks somewhat like a q'wong, only with a long bushy tail... Does it breed like a q'wong too?"

    "Again, my lords, I have no idea! The warrior who sold this creature to me had only one in his possession, so I have never had the opportunity to observe its mating habits. I don't even know for certain what it eats."

    "Judging by the looks of it, it seems to favour the hay that you have furnished its cage with, merchant. Did its previous owner happen to state where this creature might have come from?"

    "He did not, my lord, but he bore the emblem of Lord Azahar's war-host on his armor. They usually raid in the human Federation."

    "Then it must probably be a Terran beast, from the human homeworld."

    ---

    The conversation took place in a busy marketplace, one of countless such places on Doz Kharag. The three Skargh conversing were an exotic goods merchant and his two high-born customers, both noblemen of some status, as their retinues of bodyguards and servants standing behind them attested. The object of their conversation was a cage housing a small grey-furred creature with a bushy tail.

    Zar'kesh the merchant who operated the exotic wares shop had procured the creature two days ago, when the war-host of Lord Azahar, a powerful and infamous local Skargh warlord and raider, had returned from their latest expedition in the Federation of Mankind. Among the spoils taken, one of Azahar's footsoldiers had come in possession of this small creature. Being too furry and small to eat even by human standards, the animal apparently had no culinary uses and was kept by its previous human owner for purposes unknown. Since the human in question was now dead and hence unavailable for questioning, the utility of keeping such an animal eluded its new master. Oblivious to proper keeping of such creatures and hoping to make at least something of it before it died of unintended neglect, the warrior in question had opted to sell his trophy to Zar'kesh who was known to deal in all sorts of exotic curiosities including live beasts. Now Zar'kesh was stuck with the creature, equally ignorant of what to do with it besides giving it water to drink. Thankfully, the little beast had resolved its feeding problem by consuming some of the hay put in the cage for its comfort and hygiene. Zar'kesh had tried feeding it some meat just in case, but the animal had ignored it entirely, evidently being a full-on herbivore.

    His two customers who were now examining the strange alien beast were lords Nazdreg and Ghub'lok. Both were minor warlords of some renown, each having a modest warband and several starships to their name.

    Lord Nazdreg belonged to a lesser cadet branch of the Great House of Ythrengaar, currently most powerful noble house in the Skargh Empire. This fact alone filled him with immense pride, as it would have anyone, even while Nazdreg was but a minor warlord amids thousands of others like him. Still, for all his minor influence, he formally still belonged to the Geshir caste - the upper nobility, which only further fuelled his pride and arrogance.

    Lord Ghub'lok, from a minor branch of House Orotar, was essentially the opposite to Nazdreg in that he belonged to Arghlar'kar Keshreth caste - the relatively-new class of merchant-knights who had bought their way into nobility by financing the traditional military aristocracy. Although the immense wealth of the larger merchant-knight houses like House Orothar rivalled that of the greatest traditional noble houses, the merchant-knights were despised by the military aristocracy for their lowly origins and unwarriorlike way of attaining rank and standing - a disdain also no doubt fuelled by their oft-extensive debts to merchant-knights. Even though Lord Ghub'lok had his own warband at least as powerful as Nazdreg's, the latter's constant condescending attitude in spite of the fact irritated him to no end, so the two lords harbored an intense rivalry.

    For now, they seemed to have set their usual quarreling aside as they examined the strange alien creature with unbridled childlike curiosity.

    "If this beast originates from Old Terra, maybe one of the human slaves will know more about it..." Lord Ghub'lok mused, fiddling with one of the thick golden rings set in holes drilled through his prominent tusks.

    "Of course!" Nazdreg immediately seized upon opportunity to prove his servants more useful than his rival's, having just made a fresh purchase of slaves taken on Lord Azhar's raid, "You there! Come here!"

    One of Nazdreg's accompanying men-at-arms immediately pulled a miserable-looking young boy that his lord had pointed at from the flock of battered, quietly-sobbing slaves that his retainers were guarding.

    "Do you know anything of this creature, slave?!" Nazdreg bellowed at the boy, "Speak!"

    The only response elicited from the young slave was terrified cowering and trembling, a pool of urine spreading around his feet. Growling irately, Nazdreg raised his clawed hand to deliver the worthless cur a lesson in obedience, only to realize that the slave most probably hadn't understood a word he had roared in Skargh.

    "It seems your slaves are yet to learn words in our tongue," Ghub'lok grinned widely and turned to his own servants, a well dressed bunch in gilded slave collars who dutifully awaited their master's command, "My servants, on the other hand, have already been trained and can break word in Skargh as much as their inferior voices will allow. You!"

    "Yes, master?" the indicated human growled in what was a hilariously high-pitched and slurred but nontheless understandable speech to Skargh ears.

    "Come and tell us if you know anything about the creature inside that cage!" Ghub'lok commanded.

    The slave approached but seemed confused.

    "Apologies, master, the creature you speak of seems to have concealed itself," he stated. Indeed, the small animal had apparently retreated inside the box provided for its rest, apparently agitated by Nazdreg's bellowing.

    "Then make it show itself again, merchant!" Ghub'lok commanded. Merchant Zar'kesh complied without further ado, vigorously shaking the cage and causing the animal therein to emerge again from its den, visibly distressed.

    "This one is called a chinchilla, master," the slave explained, visibly delighted at the sight, "It is a popular pet among my kind."

    "And what uses does this "chin-killa" have?" Ghub'lok questioned, struggling with the alien name of the creature in his mouth.

    "In ancient times, precious coats were made from its pelts," the human explained, "Nowadays, it is easier to just grow the pelts in flesh-vats. It also makes for a pleasant companion, provided one takes proper care of it."

    "See, wasn't that hard, good Nazdreg!" Ghub'lok grinned at his rival, "Perhaps you would do well in keeping more servants well-versed in our language in your presence."

    The remark drove Nazdreg in a fit of murderous rage.

    "I SPENT 500 SETEK FOR THIS USELESS MEATBAG AND IT DOESN'T EVEN KNOW PROPER SPEECH!!!" he roared loud enough to be heard at the far ends of the vast marketplace, pulling his favoured bozar gun-axe from the sheath across his back and bringing the heavy blade down onto his terrified slave, cleaving the poor boy in two from shoulder to hip much to the terror of his remaining slaves, "Men, take what you find useful from this one! And bring the rest of its worthless carcass to Varl'zag and see if he'll pay at least a few coin for it!"

    Visibly delighted, his armsmen drew their wrist-blades and proceeded to gleefuly carve up the dead slave much to the horror and disgust of the rest of the captives. Having no taboo or qualms about eating sapients that weren't their conspecifics (or even, for that matter, were), the Skargh were notorious among their human and Sidh rivals for treating battlefields and slave pens like AYCE buffets. While such habits inspired horror and revulsion in their foes, the Skargh themselves were baffled by such squeamishness, seeing dead enemies and slaves simply as meat too good to waste by burning or burying and letting it rot. To Nazdreg's warriors, their current activity meant only a free ration of fresh meat at their lord's expense, so they carved up the slain boy enthusiastically and stuffed the remains in a bag to be delivered to a certain Varl'zag - the beastmaster in the local fighting pits who would pay a few coin for deceased slaves to be chummed and fed to his war beasts.

    While his men took to the grisly task and silenced the remaining slaves with cracks of whip, Nazdreg turned back to the task at hand - examining this new exotic beast before him.

    "Tell me, slave - what does this "chin-zilla" eat? What does it like?" he turned to Ghub'lok's slave.

    "It mostly eats dry grass, lord," the human servant spoke after throwing a careful glance at his master and seeing no objection, "It enjoys seeds and nuts, and dried fruit especially, but they should be given in moderation, lest it suffers indigestion. It likes to chew things, run and jump around, and it mostly does so at night. It is very curious and likes to explore, but also very cautious and easily startled. It doesn't like heat and should be kept cool at all times."

    "Why does its nose twitch all the time?" Nazdreg questioned after leaning closer to examine the chinchilla.

    "It is how it smells the world around, lord."

    "And those... long bristles on its snout? What are they for?" Nazdreg continued, unfamiliar with the anatomy of Terran creatures because most beasts of his homeworld could be described as reptilian.

    "Those are called whiskers. Many Terran beasts have them to feel their way by touch in narrow and dark places," the slave explained.

    The Skargh lord carefully opened the cage and reached inside slowly to examine the chinchilla. Apparently accustomed to attention, it responded by curiously sniffing the Skargh's scaly hand.

    "Fine pelt and clawless paws it has," Nazdreg figured, "How does it defend itself with no claws?"

    "It has teeth to bite, lord," the slave explained, "But it is a fearful creature and prefers to hide in narrow places whenever it can."

    "Craven beast..." Nazdreg scowled with disdain, "But I can see a certain appeal in its timid qualities. How much do you want for it, merchant?"

    "I dare not name a price before Lord Ghub'lok has made his offer," Zar'kesh spoke slyly.

    Nazdreg paused to think, fiddling with one of the leathery dreadlocks cut and shaped from strips of his own scalp that were the mark of a warrior and which the Skargh were fond of arranging into colourful and outlandish "hairstyles". In light of the fierce competition for prestige between the Skargh lords especially of the lesser variety, every little thing mattered, sometimes even as little as possession of an exotic alien pet that others did not have. Being the first on this entire planet to possess a pet "chin-zilla", Nazdreg could no doubt intrigue many to take note and pay visit to him to see the strange creature, every such visit bringing a potential ally or business contact to his residence.

    "I'll pay 500 setek for it!" he announced out loud.

    "550!" his rival Ghub'lok immediately countered.

    "600!" the bidding was on.

    "650!"

    "Feh! 800!"

    "Oh no, you don't! 1000 setek!"

    Merchant Zar'kesh looked on with increasing disbelief as the two lords bargained over possession of a small exotic rodent. While maintaining his composure at first, even he began to gawk openly by the time the price had reached 5500 setek, more than even a highly-skilled slave was worth. Although the price was exorbitant by any standard, both lords deemed it a matter of prestige to win the bidding. In the meanwhile, the chinchilla who was the object of this heated argument was completely oblivious to it, sitting in its cage and indifferently chewing a straw.

    "7500!" Nazdreg shouted, "I'll pay 5000 up front and throw in all of these slaves worth 500 each!"

    Ghub'lok grinned widely again, the visible reluctance of his foe in making the last bid having revealed the limits of his wealth.

    "8000!" he countered, deliberately raising the price by the cost of the slave killed earlier and giving a triumphant glance to his foe for having fallen one man short to meet his bid, "Straight up front!"

    If Nazdreg's scaly green skin could flush, it probably would have been tomato-red from anger right now. The skin-dreadlocks adorning his head almost seemed to rise on end as his face began to twitch.

    "I invoke the Thagr!" he roared, "By ancient right of custom, I, Nazdreg son of Kal'ith son of Bor'gorn of House Darlok of the Ythrengaar challenge you to single combat over the possession of this chin-zilla in a Rite of Possession!"

    Invoking the Thagr, the traditional code of ritual combat, was no laughing matter - any Skargh who called himself a nobleman was obliged to accept a challenge once issued, however ludicrous the cause, just as any issuer was obliged to honour it. The penalty of refusal for either side would be demotion to commoner and banishment from reputable society.

    "And I, Ghub'lok, son of Ghur'lok son of Tharak of House Falak'zun of the Orotar, accept your challenge!" Ghub'lok responded, not intimidated in the least and actually happy that a chance to teach his hated rival a harsh lesson had finally presented itself from his own mouth no less, "Name the terms of the Rite of Possession!"

    "We shall battle inside a circle on the ground ten paces across, to the death or until one yields!" Nazdreg gritted his teeth viciously and snarled, "Whoever yields shall forefeit possession of the chin-zilla, and become the victor's prisoner to pay whatever ransom he shall deem appropriate, or forfeit his life! Whoever shall drop out of the circle or fall unconscious will likewise forfeit the Rite and suffer the same! What say ye to these terms, Ghub'lok son of Ghur'lok?"

    "Your terms are satisfactory, Nazdreg son of Kal'ith!" his foe affirmed.

    "Then name the weapons of the Rite of Possession!" Nazdreg invoked.

    "We shall battle with rashyyk, as was the custom of our forefathers! No man shall use guns, swords, daggers or any other arms but the sacred Blades of Dregruk! What say ye to these terms, Nazdreg son of Kal'ith?"

    "Your terms are satisfactory, Ghub'lok son of Ghurlak!"

    "The word has been spoken, may the deed now be done!" Ghub'lok concluded the ritual challenge with the prescribed customary formula, his foe repeating the same words to finalize his approval and consent, "Men, draw us a circle ten paces across and prepare to witness glory!"

    The armsmen of both lords immediately set off to measure and draw a rough circle in the dirt next to the exotic wares stall while the arms-bearers of the two lords attended to preparing their masters for combat. Spontaneous duels fought to resolve personal disputes weren't an uncommon sight wherever Skargh made home, especially in places like Doz Kharag, and invariably attracted many spectators, who also flocked to the scene now.

    The two rival lords had agreed to duel with rashyyk, the traditional Skargh wrist-blades that had been a mark of the Skargh warrior since times immemorial, much like the sword symbolized warriors in human cultures. While coming in diverse forms, the most common design of rashyyk had the main hand mount two or more blades with edges perpendicular to the arm, and the off hand sporting a single large blade lying flat against the arm, often fitted with an additional shorter blade pointing backwards and covering the elbow, and a small buckler further reinforcing the wrist brace. A third blade would often be strapped to the tip of one's tail for surprise jabs and thrusts, something that humans and their Sidh cousins found especially inconvenient to counter in battle.

    As the contestants entered the makeshift arena, many among the spectators were already making wagers on the outcome. Seeing how Nazdreg belonged to the old warrior nobility and was hence deemed more trained and experienced in the art of war, more placed their bets on him. Others, however, argued that the merchant-knight Ghub'lok had more to gain in defeating Nazdreg, and would hence strive harder to win.

    "Witness me, Dregruk!" Nazdreg roared towards the sky with arms theatrically raised, "Today, I will shed blood in your glory!"

    "Heed him not, Lord of War!" Ghub'lok responded to that, "For it is he whose blood will quench your thirst today!"

    The latter comment prompted peals of laughter among the crowd and also signalled the beginning of the duel as Nazdreg bellowed in rage and charged at his rival like a bull, determined to teach the impudent upstart a lesson in humility before his betters. Steel rang loudly as blades clashed, Ghub'lok dodging out of the opponent's way and parrying the first series of his blows effortlessly before delivering several of his own.

    Growling angrily in frustration, Nazdreg renewed his attack, parrying a blow from Ghub'lok and making a jab for his face that the opponent narrowly dodged. After dodging a counter-swipe, he rushed forwards in an effort to dive under the reach of his opponent, but was thrown back by a kick. Ghub'lok immediately followed with a counter-attack, making a series of jabs and swipes to distract Nazdreg until finally landing an overhead "scorpion" thrust with his tail on the opponent's shoulder. The strike drew blood, emerald drops falling in the sand as the crowd went wild.

    Infuriated by the injury, Nazdreg responded with a flurry of blades, intently leaving his guard open. Just as Ghub'lok tried to exploit it with a mighty right hook, Nazdreg dived under his swing and delivered a spinning swipe of tail to his legs, knocking the opponent down on dirt. Several jabs of tail followed, skillfuly avoided by the merchant-knight who almost managed to sever the opponent's tail tip with one of his counter-blows. Finally, Ghub'lok rolled out of reach and jumped back to his feet. A sudden wave of dizziness and weakness overwhelmed him, but he shook his head vigorously to keep focused.

    "You fight well," Nazdreg snarled, "For someone who bought his way into ranks of proper warriors!"

    "You likewise - for someone who had to poison his father and sell his sister for the noble name of Ythrengaar!" Ghub'lok returned the insult. Many of the spectators who knew what he spoke of laughed out loud, and Nazdreg began to shiver in anger. Although House Darlok was generally recognized as "old nobility", their relation and ties to Great House Ythrengaar were strenuous at best and oft-questioned by detractors. Only after Nazdreg succeeded his late father Lord Kal'ith as the head of the house and married off one of his unwed sisters to a scion of the Ythrengaar proper were the Darloks formally and indisputably registered into the Empire's peer list as a branch of Ythrengaar. Vicious rumors no doubt spread by enemies of House Darlok widely attributed the sudden demise of Lord Kal'ith to his ambitious son and claimed that the marriage of his sister was arranged solely to secure the formal recognition of House Darlok as part of the Ythrengaar. Naturally, these allegations irritated Nazdreg to no end, so hearing them thrown into his face in public sent the already notoriously-short-tempered lord into berserk rage.

    Roaring loud enough to be heard over the engines of a merchant lighter passing low overhead, Nazdreg threw himself at Ghub'lok with reckless abandon, pummeling his hated foe even as he managed to land another two injurious blows. Soon enough, Ghub'lok had a deep triple gash across his chest and his left eye was rapidly swelling shut. Grunting in pain, he slashed his own face in a brief moment of respite to let the blood run off and open his eye again. Then, Nazdreg threw himself at Ghub'lok again, and the merchant-knight felt he couldn't keep going like this for much longer. A furious blow finally knocked him on his back, and Nazdreg's wristblade was at his throat the next instant.

    "Yield! Not only you shall pay me a ransom worthy of a king, but also apologize on your knees in public for your filthy utterances, or Dregruk be my witness, I shall claim your head and tail, and eat your flesh!" Nazdreg roared. His threats were indeed terrible - a Skargh whose head was taken by an enemy would have to appear headless before his ancestors in the afterlife and suffer their ridicule, the added loss of one's tail being even more insulting. The worst of all, however, was the threat to be eaten, as it implied being turned into excrement.

    "Never!" Ghub'lok roared back and flung a handful of dirt into Nazdreg's face, prompting angry roar from many in the crowd.

    "He cheated! He cheated! Cheater!" they started to shout, only to be ignored by the two fighters, with Ghub'lok now seizing back the initiative. Struggling to see with sand in the eyes, Nazdreg could parry only with difficulty. The two warriors entered a pitched clinch, and moments later, Ghub'lok's right-hand rashyyk found its way knuckles-deep into Nazdreg's side.

    The crowd fell silent as Nazdreg coughed up blood and fell to the side, but even in death a sinister grin did not leave his face. Only now as the rush of combat subsided did Ghub'lok's eyes widen as he finally noticed Nazdreg's tail-blade stuck deep into his gut. With his last strength, Nazdreg tore out the jagged blade, cutting his opponent's stomach open. Roaring in agony, Ghub'lok collapsed next to him, holding his stomach to keep his innards inside as emerald blood gushed liberally from the wound.

    "When we will finish this in the afterlife, I will piss in your skull..." Nazdreg chuckled, coughing up more blood.

    "I... will... yet live!" Ghub'lok groaned as the retainers of both rushed to the aid of their masters while angry arguing between spectators erupted behind them.

    "No, you won't," were Nazdreg's final words, said with an even more sinister grin. And indeed, only moments after he had breathed his last, Ghub'lok joined him with a mix of agony and shocked revelation frozen on his face.

    Ghub'lok's retainers were visibly surprised about his sudden demise - for all the bleeding and pain, an open stomach wound wasn't usually lethal this fast. Suspecting treachery, his chief bodyguard rubbed Nazdreg's bloody rashyyk blades with a finger and sampled a taste, only to spit out in disgust and anger.

    "Scantid venom! The other bastard cheated all along!" he announced.

    Such discovery threw the entire crowd of spectators into an angry argument. By law and custom, fighting in a Thagr with envenomed blades was forbidden, just as throwing dirt in opponent's face. Now the onlookers and especially the loyal companions of both dead lords were hotly divided on which of the two was the worse cheat. Some argued that Ghub'lok was the first to throw dirt and hence deserved shame and disgrace to his name, while others countered that Nazdreg had fought with poisoned blades all along so the disgrace was his. Since many had placed their bets on one of the fighters, both sides now demanded to cash in only to be rebuked since none had emerged alive to triumph. Ghub'lok's retainers threatened to avenge their lord and called Nazdreg an honourless scoundrel and coward to fight with poisoned weapons, while Nazdreg's men called their chief a liar, their late lord an honourless scoundrel himself, and threatened to teach them a lesson of their own. Voices elevated with every passing second, insults being exchanged all around, and shoves began to be traded. Sensing a massive brawl was about to erupt, merchants around hastened to cover up their wares to protect them.

    And indeed, soon enough a gunshot rang out in the agitated crowd. Who fired it, would never be known, but it mattered not to the incensed mob. An instant later, the marketplace was engulfed in a general melee, dozens or even hundreds of Skargh furiously trading blows and shots. Being a warlike people almost instinctively drawn in by conflict, more Skargh who didn't even know why the fight had started gleefuly joined the fray, often after noticing personal rivals in the brawl and finding it an opportune moment to settle old scores. Slaves scattered and scurried to hide under merchant stalls to avoid being cut down or shot in the heat of battle. Sensing opportunity, weapon merchants refused to hide and cover, instead loudly touting their wares and charging premium from every willing fighter who found himself short of a weapon. To some their greed backfired badly when their customers felt the price demanded was too expensive and decided it cheaper to simply loot the merchants' shops, leading the angry arms dealers to grab whatever was left of their own wares and join the fight in an effort to reclaim their stolen goods.

    "You must truly be a beast of Dregruk to cause such a battle over yourself, creature!" merchant Zar'kesh grumbled, covering the precious chinchilla cage with his body, the resident of which was hiding inside its den, distressed by the noise of battle around. He glanced to the side, only now noticing two terrified human slaves who were hiding amongst his wares. Moments later, an angrily-roaring brawler crashed into Zar'kesh's stall, spraying his merchandise and the two slaves liberally with blood gushing from a rashyyk wound across his torso. Zar'kesh grumbled angrily and unceremoniously ejected the intruder back out into the brawl.

    ---

    The fighting subsided after an hour or so, when word of the riot reached Lord Azahar who ruled over this part of Doz Kharag and he dispatched his warriors to restore order, which they promptly did in the usual heavy-handed Skargh manner. After firing off a few volleys of automatic gunfire into the rampaging mob of combatants failed to persuade them to disperse and only invited many to attack Azahar's warriors, the attackers believing they too had arrived to join the brawl, Azahar's men brought up the heavy equipment. After two tanks fired beehive rounds into the crowd, obliterating some 200 rioters and scores of merchants, slaves and other bystanders caught amidst them, two dozen Woggo slave-enforcers were sent in to spearhead the suppression effort. Cutting down scores of rioters with gunfire from their oversized auto-blasters and crushing any who still stood in their way with giant power hammers, the hulking orangutan-esque Woggos finally drove the point home, their Skargh masters from Azahar's war-host adding emphasis with liberally dispensed beatdowns and summary executions. Faced with such overwhelming and organized firepower, the belligerents in the marketplace finally starting to reluctantly disperse in the interest of their personal safety, only a few dozen pairs of the most passionate combatants remaining in the field to be put down or arrested by Azahar's men.

    When merchant Zar'kesh finally dared to emerge from underneath his half-wrecked stall, the market was largely quiet, looking more like a battlefield of legend. The place was scattered with the fallen, some wounded crawling around and moaning amidst wrecked pavillions and merchant stalls, some of which had been accidentally set on fire. Their owners, if they were still alive, were now struggling to extinguish them, with looters taking advantage to steal from others while Azahar's enforcers were looking away. Some of them had run out of luck today, as the agonized roars in the distance attested - those caught looting by the enforcers were skinned alive on the spot before beheading, their bloody hides and heads being promptly put up on stakes as a warning to others of their sort. Meanwhile, the Woggos had laid down their arms and been put to the grisly task of cleaning up the aftermath of the brawl. Zar'kesh looked up to see one of the lumbering apes plod past his stall with several dead Skargh slung over his massive shoulders, dragging another two indignantly by their tails.

    "What a mess, all for one little exotic pet..." he grumbled, setting to the task of bringing his wrecked stall back in order, "You, chin-killa, must truly be favoured by Dregruk to bring about such an act of glory!"

    The chinchilla who now felt safe to leave its den again sat in its cage oblivious and indifferent to the carnage around and chewed a straw.

    As Zar'kesh set to fixing his stall, the slaves who had taken cover there finally felt safe to emerge. Zar'kesh recognized the servant of Ghub'lok who had identified his exotic possession as a chinchilla.

    "Your old master is dead," Zar'kesh spoke to the slave, "Do you know who is entitled now to possession of you?"

    "I believe it would be one of my master's fifteen sons, lord," the slave answered, "Now that Lord Ghub'lok is dead, they will no doubt do battle for his inheritance, the sole survivor claiming possession of all his servants and estates."

    "It will be some time until they are done fighting. In the meantime, servants like you will need a place to stay until your new master comes to claim you, and the communal slave barracks are nasty place to live in," the merchant spoke, "Besides, I am in need of someone knowledgeable about the keeping of chin-killas. You could stay with me until then - the work is easy, and if you serve me well, I will offer your new master double your original price when he comes to claim you."

    "I would be most honoured, lord," the slave humbly responded, and quietly added, "I doubt you would be much harsher master than Lord Ghub'lok anyway."

    "I am no lord who can afford to beat and kill his slaves as fancy takes him because he shits coin," Zar'kesh grumbled, "But with that said, don't presume I let my servants slack! Steal from me or try to run away, and you will know the sting of my whip all the same!"

    "Where else would I go, lord?" the slave shrugged, "You are the first Skargh to even ask for my opinion regarding my service. I endeavor to serve you well."

    "It is settled then," Zar'kesh nodded with satisfaction, "You can start your service by helping me bring my stall back to order, and when that is done, I want you to see that my new pet's every need is properly attended to. I think I am not going to sell it after all - a beast who can inspire a battle such as this is surely bound to bring good fortune to me. I think I could make a lot of coin charging folk for seeing it once word of its power spreads. By the way, how do I call you? I cannot keep calling you "slave" because I have several."

    "I am called John Derreck, master," his new servant introduced himself.

    "Well met, Jhun Der-ek," Zar'kesh nodded, struggling to pronounce the alien name, "I am Zar'kesh the merchant. Serve me well, and if you prove your worth, I might consider letting you buy your freedom one day!"

    "You are yet to buy me from my lawful master, one of Lord Ghub'lok's sons, master," John pointed out as he took to collecting his new master's scattered wares from the ground.

    "All in due time," Zar'kesh spoke, "Tell me, how do you know so much of these chin-killas?"

    "I used to own one before I was captured, master," John explained, subtly grinning about his constant mispronunciation of "chinchilla" that every Skargh trying to utter the word seemed to make.

    "Then you will teach me all about keeping them, and I will put out word that any other chin-killas found by raiding warriors should be brought to me and will be generously paid for. When word spreads of their power to inspire men for battle, lords far above your former master or his rival will pay fortunes to have one in their possession. With Kesh's will and blessing, I will be a rich man, and you, Jhun Der-ek, will be my High Chin-killer!"

    "As you say, master..." John agreed, concealing his grin, unsure whether he found the merchant's belief in the supernatural power of chinchillas or his penchant for mispronunciation more amusing.

    The two returned to work in silence, merchant Zar'kesh already picturing himself as an exotic pet magnate and forging detailed plans for his to-be business empire, while his new servant wondered if his new employer really meant it when he mentioned letting him buy his freedom sometime in the future. After all, even the exalted titled of High Chinchiller couldn't be as tempting to a slave as the simple name of a free man.

  2. #2
    oooh, someone has been a busy little writer!
    This made me feel like I was visiting ancient Rome, but it was populated by aliens.
    Good imagry, sounds like you have plotted out a pretty solid world in your mind.

    Seemed a little rough still tho. Was this a rough draft?
    Feedback:

    "pilgrimage destination"
    You mean "Rite of passage"


    Be careful to avoid overly long sentences. You had a few where you took it just a bar too far, making the sentence klunky. Sure, they are technically correct...but this isn't journalism..it's commercial fiction. Here is one example where you could improve it by clipping the tail off:
    "
    For the numberless prisoners taken during these expeditions, however, Doz Kharag was merely the first stop in a long road of misery and torment that usually ended in the mines or plantations of some remote Skargh world"


    Put some more latitude between these names, it was confusing:
    Skargh generally deemed the Sidh...

    Mainly, look at either trimming the fat off the over-long sentences, or turn them into 2 sentences.
    Tis a good effort tho.

  3. #3
    It was a rather quick idea for a short story set in a sci-fi universe I've been developing for over 10 years now. I intend to write some more in the same setting in the coming weeks.

    I suppose it could still use a few extra touches, such as addressing my penchant for long sentences.

  4. #4
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Oh I absolutely loved this! I could feel the heat and dust of the market-place, picture the weird aliens (yes, John Carter of Mars sprung to mind) and I love the way the first set of dialogue was used without being attributed to anyone initially. When it was then explained, it was easy to see who had said what, and where it wasn't, it really didn't matter. I love the humour in it - grown men fighting over a furry pet (which I at first thought might be a squirrel) - and the usage of green blood was an interesting touch. The depiction of cannibalism was gory but not overly so, and justified really well, the mispronunciations clever and funny, and the general melee at the end just hilarious. I'd read more of your work, that's for sure.

    Negatives? Not really. I kind of hoped the chincilla might escape during the battle, leaving them all feeling and looking a little foolish. Other than that, pretty much first class from where I stand.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  5. #5
    I can't really find much to criticize here, aside from the occasional run-on sentence. Like you other story "Scions of the New Age" made evident, you have a real knack for creating a setting that feels real. Little details, offhand comments, and small bits of lore really help tie everything together. Do you have an idea for a big, overall story in this universe, or are you just into little ones as they come to mind?

  6. #6
    I've been developing this universe mostly through short stories like this one for over 10 years now. I have a couple short novel-sized ones in my native language, a sizeable joint project with a couple other guys that started off as a crossover RP, an ongoing RP-style project with another WF member which you can check out in the forum's RP section, and numerous short stories such as these.

  7. #7
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Love it! Love the world you've created, the distinctly Nordic alien reptilians with their Valhalla, complex social structure, and easily recognizable habits.

    As usual, a few very minor proofreading comments (beyond the already mentioned long sentences).

    brutish -> brutal?

    "The latter comment prompted peals of laughter among the crowd" - why is that a laughing matter? I could not see any humor in that exchange.

    "pummeling his hated foe even as he managed to land another two injurious blows" - it is not immediately obvious who "he" is in this sentence and why there is "even", I had to re-read it and get through the next sentence to figure that out.

    "charging premium from every willing fighter who found himself short of a weapon" - I can hardly imagine this race's warrior venturing out - and especially to this marketplace - without a whole arsenal

    I find the use of human terms "reptilian" and "orangutan-esque" a bit detracting to your world-building. In a way, these descriptions feel "too easy" to me as a reader, if you know what I mean. They're more of a "tell", as opposed to "show".

    "the exalted titled" -> title?

    Throughout the text, the characters alternate their mispronunciation between "chin-zilla" and "chin-killa". If this is intentional, I couldn't figure out any discernible pattern behind this. Is there supposed to be one? If not, this may be more confusing than helpful, especially when the same character uses both distortions at different times.

    At the general level, if you'd like to position this as Sci-Fi humor, consider emphasizing that aspect a little more. As of now, it may be a bit too subtle.
    I mean, I get the irony, even absurdity, of the situation devolving into having a chinchilla revered as an animal devoted to the war god. But if it weren't for the topic's title, the text on its own doesn't give me an identifiable humor vibe.
    Does my rambling make any sense?

    Overall, very solid! I'd want to see more of this world too!
    Last edited by KHK; January 11th, 2020 at 05:42 PM.

  8. #8
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Oh, forgot one more thing: if you're intentionally making a play on words with "chin-killer", I don't think it works well. After all, I doubt it would be the same pun in the Skargh language...

  9. #9
    Since there is no word for chinchilla in Skargh (as evidenced by their unfamiliarity with the creature), Zar'kesh probably used (and mispronounced) the English word for it (John Derreck presumably being an English-speaker).

  10. #10
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Yes, but the conversation is happening in Skargh, and it's Zar'kesh who says "I will be a rich man, and you, Jhun Der-ek, will be my High Chin-killer!"
    Is the "killer" pun implied here? It cannot be made by Zar'kesh in his language, can it?
    Even if through some linguistically miraculous coincidence Skargh speakers can form the "killer" form as the minder of "killa"-s, it's unreasonable to expect that word to have the same meaning as in English.
    That's what I was alluding to.

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