The Shield of Tau Pt. 1

Jace tossed his dice down into the little patch of an alley that the kids had cleaned out. He watched as they clattered to a stop and cursed. Then he looked around to make sure that his parents or grandparents were not anywhere around. If they heard him curse he would have a lot more to worry about than losing a game of Dragon’s Teeth. Still, when he looked up into the grinning face of Sachi, the anger rose and he could feel his face get red. He hated to lose and he had not yet figured out that he was kind of bad at Dragon’s Teeth. Now came the part that he dreaded. The part where he had to part with the money he had earned from doing his chores. This was the last of it, too. He suddenly felt very foolish and emotional but he put on a brave face, trying not to lose his cool.

“Pay up, Jacey,” Sachi bellowed, tilting his head back like a crowing rooster. “Time to pay up!” Jace clenched his fist and gritted his teeth.

“It’s only fair,” Karn said. Karn was always the peacemaker. “You owe him.”

“I know I owe him,” Jace said, accentuating each syllable. “That’s not the issue.”

“Then what’s the problem, Jacey?” Sachi asked with that horrible grin on his face.

Jace stood from kneeling one knee and got into Sachi’s face. He was a few inches shorter but he still stood so that their noses were almost touching. He glared into Sachi’s face and found himself breathing hard. Both fists were clenched and he felt like the dam, holding the waters of his anger at bay.

“What is the problem?” Jace said. “The problem is that my name is not ‘Jacey’. My name is Jace, Son of Tusa and Cole, Shield of Tau!” He glared up at Sachi and practically snorted with anger.

Sachi did not take the bait and instead just burst out laughing. “Shield of Tau? You? You’re in your tenth year, pintsize. You could hardly shield a sick dog.”

“I may be small,” Jace said. “but I have sworn to defend this city just as my father’s father swore.”

Sachi’s eyebrows went up. “You are too young for the pledge,” he said.

Jace shrugged. “My pledge was somewhat unofficial,” he said. “I swore in front of Karn and my sister.” Karn nodded at that, confirming the story.

“Your tiny sister, eh?” Sachi asked, musing over this new information.

“Watch what you say about my sister,” Jace warned.

“Calm down, little one,” Sachi said with a smile. “I would not badmouth your little sister and I respect your pledge.”

“We all do,” Karn said with a solemn nod.

“Thank you,” Jace said and he backed up but puffed out his chest a bit. He was proud of his aspirations of being a fighter like his grandfather. Not just a fighter but a defender, a true Shield of Tau.

“But that doesn’t stop me from collecting what you owe me,” Sachi said. “Pay up, Shield.”

Jace grumbled and reached behind his back. For a moment, both Sachi and Karn tensed as Jace could have been reaching for the stick he had tucked into his belt. Instead, Jace pulled out his money pouch and made a show of dumping out its meager contents and holding it out to Sachi. “I am a man of my word.”

Sachi smiled. “A boy of your word, at least,” he said with a chuckle. He reached out slowly and took the coins from Jace’s hands. He smiled and turned and left without another word.

Jace sighed and breathed again as he calmed down. Karn stood by shaking his head.

“You need to calm down, Jace,” Karn said. “That almost became a fight.”

“I will continue to prove myself,” Jace said.

“Picking unnecessary fights over legitimate winnings in Dragon’s Dice is proving nothing,” Karn said. “We’re still little, there is no need for anybody to fear you.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Jace said. His shoulders sagged a bit as he thought about that.

“You don’t want to get in trouble, right?” Karn asked.

“You are definitely right about that,” Jace said. “My mother swings a wooden spoon harder than most warriors swing a sword.”

Karn laughed at that. “Mine too,” he said. “Speaking of, we should go home. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Jace said. The two shook hands and each headed towards their own home.

That is when the screaming happened. It was not the screaming of somebody chasing after a cutpurse or the screaming of a parent whose child took a tumble. This was screaming from all over the city. For a moment, Jace was caught in the middle of that screaming, not knowing which way to go. Then he pulled the stick from his belt and charged toward what he judged to be the nearest screams. As he rounded a corner, he saw little Lita and Miza running with tears in their eyes. Lita was in Jace’s year and he knew she wished to study the magic arts in the future. He could not see what threat they were obviously running from but they were definitely running from somebody or something.

“What is it?” Jace called out to them and they looked behind themselves and then slowed. There was nothing behind them so they looked around with wild eyes.

“A blink dog,” Lita said. “I don’t know where it went.” She and Miza were definitely out of breath.

Suddenly, the blink dog appeared out of thin air and its teeth caught the edge of Miza’s dress and she barely got away. Jace charged at the thing, swinging his stick hard as he got between it and the girls. The thing vanished just before he made contact and he stumbled a bit as he lost his balance on the swing. He spotted the dog running a few feet away and then it vanished again. He heard Lita cry out behind him and he whirled around just in time for the thing to reappear, lunging for Jace this time. He barely had time to wind up his swing but when he let loose he put everything he had into it. This time he heard the impact and then he felt and heard the stick break against the dog’s face. However, the force sent the stunned dog sprawling. Lita uttered some words and gestured toward the dog and a candle-sized flame arced out and lit the dog on fire. The dog panicked and lunged again at Lita but Jace moved fast and tackled her out of its path. As he did, two crossbow bolts hit the thing in its side and its neck and then it slumped to the ground, still burning. Jace looked and saw two Shields of Tau approaching.

“You saved us!” Lita cried out and then both she and Miza were hugging Jace and he was grinning from ear to ear.

Of course, that smile faded when Jace looked at the two Shields who still looked worried. “I’m not so sure.”

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