The ragged vibranni girl, tail clutched nervously in her small hands, cowered in the corner of the alley. With a satisfied sneer the bobby raised his truncheon. She shut her eyes against the inevitable blow...
Earlier that day, on the other side of Gearford, a slave watched her daughter playing with the other children of the Vibranni ghetto. They ran between shacks, dilapidated yurts, and makeshift tents. The slave smiled sadly. They were, for at least these few precious moments of innocence, oblivious to their destitution in a way they would probably never be again.
From the edge of the camp, she saw an imposing figure approach. She recognized him as the slavemaster and foreman, a human employee of her owner. Standing over her, he parted his lips in a yellow grin. “Call the girl over. She’s nearly old enough to start work and the master won’t have her seen in his home with that demon tail.” The woman shuddered and felt the old itch in a tail that hadn’t been there for decades. She swallowed the scream of rage that threatened to boil out of her and called her daughter over.
“Elspeth! Come here.” The girl, laughing at her playmates’ antics, turned her attention to her mother then to the awful man. She frowned and walked over. “Yes, Mama?” As the large human reached for the girl, her mother snatched her in a sudden embrace. The man gave her an impatient look and sucked his teeth. Elspeth hugged her back, confused until she heard her mother whispering. “I love you, little one, but you must never return here. Head north; find a caravan if you can. Never bow to a human and never let them take your tail.”
The slave’s grip on her daughter eased. The grubby man reached once more, but never closed his hand on Elspeth. Suddenly on his back, his vision exploded with light and pain. When he could see again, there were only the violet fists of the enraged slave, recalling hunter’s instincts from long ago.
Part The Second
She'd rarely ventured outside the confines of the vibranni ghetto, but Elspeth knew North. Skirting the area where the ghetto gave way to factories and mills, she scurried between alleys, knowing a vibranni child in threadbare sack cloth would draw no undue attention.
In this way, despite her lack of familiarity with the specific area, she evaded notice, for at this point it was obvious that the constabulary were after her. She heard their shrill signal whistles and even overheard one officer give her description to a group of mill supervisors taking lunch.
“Pale demon girl. Per’aps twelve er thereabouts. Mother beat a man nearly to death. Lookin’ ta bring ‘er back to ‘er owner.” One of the other men glanced toward the pile of crates. Elspeth watched the exchange, sure the man knew where she was. She strained to hear over the thundering pulse in her ears and did her best not to breathe too loudly. After a pause the man gave the bobby a thoughtful look and pointed. “Fink I seen ‘er ‘eaded toward the desert.” The policeman tapped his helmet in brief salute and hurried west.
After releasing the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, Elspeth crept around the crate to the group of men and thanked them. “No ‘arm done little miss, but you’d best be off afore-” Another bobby rounded the corner from behind the factory, intent on joining the search party in the desert, and locked eyes with the girl. He blew his shrill whistle and the chase was on.
In her panic Elspeth bolted toward Saks, the group of pursuing constables growing in her wake as more joined the chase. She dodged shoppers, ducked beneath stalls, and once managed to lose her pursuers by charging into a parade of royal military drumming up support against the technocrat rebels. In the end, however, she ran down a dead end alley, cornered by a single constable who’d managed to shoulder through the crowds.
The ragged vibranni girl, tail clutched nervously in her small hands, cowered in the corner of the alley. With a satisfied sneer the bobby raised his truncheon. She shut her eyes against the inevitable blow.
Part The Third and Final
Elspeth heard a dull thud and quiet grunt, then realized she’d felt no blow and the grunt had not been her own. She opened her eyes to see the bobby crumple limply to the ground.
A man stood behind the fallen bobby, dressed in formal clothing, all collar and cravat and crisp white shirt under burgundy vest with trousers pressed smartly enough that one might cut themselves on the creases. He looked like one of the rich people she’d seen when she’d gone to the master’s house with her mother, only he was wearing a plain black robe, open in the front; a robe which he was now using to polish a scuff mark from the head of his cane.
She looked at the cane warily. The man noticed the hesitation in her expressive violet eyes and leaned the cane against the wall, stretching out his hand in greeting. When Elspeth lifted her gaze to his she saw only kind greeting and was momentarily surprised at how young he appeared to be.
“How old are you, mister...’ She surprised herself with her own boldness, but soldiered on. “... and why did you stop him?” He laughed, crouching to her height though she was only an inch or two shorter than him. “I’m nineteen, and I rendered that man unconscious because striking little girls with heavy batons is bad form no matter what uniform one is wearing.”
He approached her and removed his robe and cravat, tying them about her like a cloak and head scarf to cover her clothing and ears. Elspeth chewed lightly on her tail spade, a nervous habit since she was a baby, and looked down before lifting her gaze to his again. “Thank you. My name’s Elspeth. Who are you?” The man took her tail out of her hand, tucked it under the cloak, and patted her shoulder reassuringly.
“I am Leopold Phillip Featherstonhaugh, and you are very welcome, young miss.”