My father was one for the history books. Which is to say that four hundred years from now if you were to crack open a school text book on the Piscean crown you'd find him. Probably smiling smugly back at you as if he knew that even in the deep past, he was capable of buying and selling your family. He wasn't a terrible dad and I would have never called myself emotionally neglected. But he wasn't ever going to win a father of the year award or own a "World's Greatest Dad" t-shirt. It wasn't hard for me to imagine he felt the same way about my grandfather. It seemed to run in the family as far back as my history tutors could examine. All the way back to the Cataclysm.

Kyle, he'd told me on occasion. You shouldn't be so concerned about me. It's lonely at the top. You should get used to that. Bond with people your own age. Because you're going to need to know how the average man thinks and speaks if you're going to rule over them someday.

So it was strange that I found myself hiking through the woods on a breezy summer evening. He lead the way and seemed to know exactly where we were going, even though we left our wagon, body guards and pull birds an hour prior on some forgotten back road. The Royal Artificer, a big burly man who seemed lost in thick tangles of black body hair followed me. The ride had been a tense one, only rarely punctuated by orders my father occasionally barked at our body guards.

I had disappointed him earlier in the week. It turned out that I didn't much care for what the "average man" thought. I had clobbered one of my school mates when he had made a snide remark about one of our less popular classmates. I didn't particularly care for her habits myself, so maybe I had done it out of an over abundance of testosterone. My excuse sounded noble enough, but dad wouldn't hear any of it.

No, son. He said after the boy's father, a trade minister, had finished groveling about how his son should have known better. What kind of respect are you going to have if you just bludgeon those who disagree with you? So he hurt someone. Think of how many hammer strikes it takes to cut a tachi from a block of steel. That little girl is going to have character, strength and a wit to match when she grows up. I had rolled my eyes. But won't Ken's nose be stronger when he's an adult, because I broke it? Heavens, father. His collar bone will be made of adamantine. His testicles will be studded with diamonds and rubies! I said as my little sister Celia winced at me from across the reading room. He glared and cuffed me hard on the back of the head. Irony, it turned out, was a subject my father had never been especially well versed in.

When I felt as if I might pass out from exhaustion he rose his arm.

"This is the place. Harold, set everything up."

The Artificer nodded obediently and by the dim light cast by his lantern he began to unpack his rucksack. We were in a small clearing and perched on the precipice of a small cliff. Crickets chirped from the direction from which we came. The night had closed in around us several hours prior, so I couldn't make out more than a few details. My father stood with his hands on his hips heroically on the lip of the chasm below.

It didn't take very long for our hiking companion to set his machines up. They didn't look like much more than boxes of crudely pounded metal and weather proof paint. But I knew the arts the burly man dabbled in. The strange gears and optics that turned silently in those modern containers were of ancient origin, salvaged from the wastelands of the Fire continent.

He handed my father a spyglass at the end of a mess of bound string. He looked through the eyepiece and looked over the lip of the cliff into the chasm below. By the faint light of the stars and The Artificer's lantern I could see a small smile crease my father's face.

He stood like that for a long time. With little else to do I watched him look wordlessly into the dark as Harold twisted knobs and carefully red twitching dials. Eventually my eyes unfocused and I thought of girls. No one in particular, but I was just a boy.

"Kyle," he whispered at me through the night when my imagination was just getting ramped up. "Quit thinking of what I know you're thinking of. Come here. Quickly. Now."

I stood and the second I was close enough he thrust the spyglass into my hands.

"Look." He ordered curtly in a tense voice.

The strange art that Harold used was a strange one. He was always enthralling my father and Celia with contraptions that defied common logic. I was as most boys of that time were, disinterested and more concerned with sport. I found his ability to make glass shatter without touching it or his disappearing act with an apple as an unwitting subject novel, but otherwise useless to me. But as I put the spyglass to my eye everything changed.

Suddenly the veil of night was lifted and everything in the chasm below was painted in a ghostly green light. I must have gasped because I heard my father and Harold make smug sounds. See, we've hooked the boy.

It was amazing. We were at the lip of a cliff, not very far above a fire bamboo grove. I moved my cone of vision around and the strange and beautiful sight burned itself into my mind. It was as if I was standing there in the middle of it all. I could see the curve of leaves. No nuance eluded me.

"Now you understand why Harold is so well paid." I didn't know that, but I said nothing as my father's chest slowly pressed up against my back. His arm moved over my own and he guided my sight to the far edge of the grove.

"You see him?"

I strained my eye, but I could detect movement. It was a big, thick creature. When I saw the white spots on its head I instantly recognized it.

"Oh, yes. I can." I had whispered. It was a saber panda. His long, curved teeth and his sleek body moved through the fire bamboo soundlessly, like it wasn't even there. He was a bull, too. Bigger than the one at the Aquarian National Zoo. But this one wasn't an over weight, docile cage bound creature. No, he was wild and lean. Free to go where ever he pleased.

"Why is he there?" My father whispered to me.



Harold must have flipped a switch or turned a knob. My focus tightened. I looked ahead of the saber panda and saw more movement. A lone land otter was rooting at the ground, probably digging up a grub or tuber. I watched breathlessly as the panda slowly approached him through the fire bamboo. The poor otter had no idea he was moments away from becoming dinner.

"I see him," I reported back. "A Land Otter." As I paid closer attention I could see a gaping wound on the otter's hind quarters. There were dark splotches on the bamboo from the direction the saber panda stalked. No doubt the two had a previous encounter earlier in the evening.

"He's hurt."

The a gentle breeze hit my face and I could smell the bamboo. It had the scent of a stove, woody and dry. In the wind it swayed, long stalks clapped together.

"The otter is a wise creature," my father said. "He knows the panda will stop at nothing to have him. Even while he bleeds in the face of death he still seeks out what he needs the most. He does what is most familiar to him. He feeds."

The otter froze. Either the scent from the panda had been carried to his agile nose, or the sound of a dinner plate sized paw crunching a twig had been carried to his tapered ears. He tried to rise to his hind legs to look out over the bamboo, but he failed due to his wounds.

With the breeze growing stronger the scent of the grove over came me. But beneath the woody, hearth smell was something else. That of decay, the smell of something left to dissolve in the harsh sun. Perhaps the otter and panda caught the whiff as well, because they both seemed distracted from their original goals.

Suddenly the saber panda roared. I pulled the spyglass and focused on him.

"Focus!" I snapped. Harold obliged wordlessly. I felt my father's muscles tighten.

His furry face was contorted in an expression of agony. With teeth bared he shook his head head back and forth, snapping stalks. I didn't see why at first, but then I caught it. A stalk of fire bamboo erupted from the ground, tearing through his abdomen. He howled in pain as his blood began slick the bottom of the stalk. Then it happened again again, in rapid fire succession. Each time the poor creature screamed into the quiet night. The breeze that caressed my face brought the smell of fire. I could feel the heat the grove gave off as it butchered the saber panda.

It didn't take too long for the panda to grow silent. I watched him fall to his haunches and rest on the ground as the grove's spears raked his body. Eventually he stopped breathing, but the grove didn't seem concerned with the fact.

I pulled the spyglass away from the grizzly sight and looked for the otter. It had presumably escaped into the night just as its stalker had succumbed to the grove's trap. My heart was pounding against my chest as I pulled my eye away from the spyglass, disgusted. The light from the contraption left me blinded in the moonless night. My face felt wet.

Slowly my father's face resolved from the inky black. His expression was grim and determined.

"The otter got away, didn't he?"

I nodded, a lump having formed in my throat. Rarely did he attempt to teach me a lesson that didn't involve a slap against my backside. It caused my to pay attention.

"Power is subjective, Kyle. No matter how strong you are, there is always something stronger. No matter how wise you think you are, there is always something wiser. If you only learn one thing from this old man, let it be this." He said simply, filling my world.

He slapped my shoulder. Up until then he only did that with ministers. I felt strange being included in that group.

"Now come on. Let's go home. You have an apology to make in the morning."


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