They, if they were being completely honest, never thought that it would end up like this. Almost a century of running, trying to hide and survive despite their curse and the bounty over their head, and for what? This is how they deserved to go out. Their chest stung with every breath, the bars of the cage they were locked in felt more and more claustrophobic with every passing second. Everyone they’d met over the decades they had hurt. They were a pacifist, a code they’d stood by since their creation, and even then they’d destroyed so much. The wanted posters, the citizens, even the governors had been right all along, and they’d never realized. Until now . They were truly a bad person, and no amount of “helping” would ever fix that, no matter what.
As they’d regained memories, even that word stung in their mind. They—the Nomad—weren’t even real. They were a puppet, a scarecrow just meant to be a bodyguard, nothing else. Their humanity only meant something in the eyes of Melinda and her father, and both of them were gone. All that was left was a monster, an inhumane creature without so much as a brain. Only a magical, artificial soul. Now the Nomad could understand why the world hated them so badly.
They were a monster . That is true, right? Posters litter the world of their face, wanting for their arrest or murder. They want them dead. Even El Rey found them to be terrible. The only one who cared was Skout, but...Nomad knew well that Skout probably thought them to be disgusting too, now that she knows what they are, what they look like. And that is their greatest fear of all.
Melinda wanted the pain to hurt less; that’s why she’d erased their mind. She hadn’t accounted for them getting those memories back, and thus, this was why Nomad felt so much pain. They hated it. They want to be a human, but that was an impossible dream. If they could speak, if they could be free , they would only apologize. To Skout. To Toth. To everyone who had risked it all because of them. They were not deserving of such a fate. Only the ‘Dreaded Nomad’ was. They could not cry. It’s not a matter of not wanting to, Nomad was not human, they were not a real thing, just a puppet. Their head pounded.
A metal CLANG shot the Nomad out of their own misery, their head shooting up in shock in fear as they instinctively shielded their face, whimpering.
“Ooh,” a snarky, nasal voice cooed in a taunting manner, “Were you crying ?” As Nomad lowered their arms, recalling that they could not get hurt whilst in the cage, they saw the face of one of the men leading the search of the Nomad masked with faux sympathy for only seconds before the man burst into a fit of laughter. “ Hah! What in the world am I saying? Puppets can’t cry! ” the Don—Don Paragon, was it?—continued in his own humor before straightening his posture, one hand behind his back as he cleared his throat, growing serious despite the smirk still evident on his face. “So you’re awake,” Don Paragon said, his voice dripping with venom. “ Good. Don’t get too comfortable, you’ll be staying here a bit longer while we decide what to...do with you.”
Nomad stood with their best efforts, looking as if they were trying to tell the Don something. Don Paragon raised an eyebrow, his eyes narrowing as he watched with great intent on what the Nomad was trying to do. But, before Nomad could act, his chest gave a weak magical sputter, the glow blinking rapidly before Nomad let out a clear wince of pain, collapsing and hitting the bars of the cage.
The sudden action made Don Paragon stumble back. Shit , he thought. The Nomad being injured may be that, in the event of it dying under the care of the Oasis, the governors and maybe even El Rey would be extremely disappointed. Well…”Disappointed” is quite the understatement. Don Paragon rolled his eyes, letting out an exasperated sigh before snapping his fingers. “Guards!” he commanded as two men stepped into the room, “Take the Nomad to one of the private rooms in the infirmary,” he ordered, “Keep Red Manuel away, he’ll probably shoot it to pieces before the Nomad can answer any questions. As for the Dandy Lions, I could care less if they visited. Just get it over with.” As the cage was opened, the Nomad carried away, Don Paragon grit his teeth, letting out a noise akin to a growl before he too stomped upstairs.
In a meeting room by the infirmary, one girl sat alone, her arms crossed on the table in front of her as she buried her head in them. Oh, she was a failure . She wanted to try and go back home, and that was a failed plan. What was she supposed to do here? The Don didn’t know that she was a traitor, none of her former coworkers cared for her, and the Nomad...the Nomad could be dead. Maybe she could escape while she still had time, get home before anyone even realized that she was missing.
Skout didn’t lift her head at the sound of the voice, knowing who it was but not wanting to respond. She gave a grumble as a reply.
Toth sighed, nervously rubbing the back of her neck as she looked her former cohort up and down. Skout was a mess . Maybe she was too hard on Skout. However, that thought flew from her mind once she recalled something she overheard Red Manuel bragging about to the rest of the Dandy Lions earlier.
“It was hysterical,” Toth recalled him saying, “Just like that, the spittoon girl tried to protect the Nomad. So I tried to shoot her, but—get this —the Nomad jumps in front of her and and gets shot instead, hah! She’s lucky I didn’t tell the Don about this. I suppose watching the Nomad get taken down is punishment enough.”
Just those words alone sent a shiver down her spine. Red Manuel was willing to kill Skout without any remorse, and found the Nomad getting shot hilarious. Not even Toth would stoop that low. Despite this, she shook her head, making her way over to Skout and sitting down. “Skout…” she said quietly, putting a gentle hand on Skout’s back. But, to her surprise, her hand was slapped away, Skout glaring at her while she did.
“Don’ touch me, Boss,” Skout hissed, her voice cold. This wasn’t like her. “I don’t care what you hafta say anymore. I’m surprised you didn’t finish the Nomad off yourself.”
Toth winced. “Listen—“ The slamming of a door hitting a wall made them both flinch, turning their heads to the now open doorway. Null stood there, just as stoic as ever.
“You two are on guard duty for the Nomad,” Null said, his hands folded behind his back. “Infirmary room 103.” Without waiting for any reply, Null turned and left without another word. Toth and Skout shared a confused glance, before they silently made a beeline for the infirmary wing.
They were met with silence as they walked on. The Nomad didn’t have any medical equipment attached to them, only a thick bandage over their torso, nothing else.
Toth watched as Skout made her way over to Nomad’s side, brushing her hand against their face with a sad look in her eyes. Toth winced. “They don’t even treat the Nomad like a human , that’s not good moral code at all…” A thought struck in her mind, and she opted to put it into words. “Because they don’t find them to be human.”
But Skout was focused on something else. “Because they ain’t—“ She was cut off as there was a violent banging at the door, not giving any of the three any sort of reaction time before it was kicked open, the lock shattering against the force of the door hitting the adjacent wall. Not only had the sound awakened the Nomad, but Skout and Toth both had reared back, whipping their heads over to the now open doorway in shock. Standing there were both Don Paragon and Governor Toro himself . Both looked absolutely furious.
“ Traitors! ” Don Paragon snarled, shaking a finger at the three of them as he stomped his foot on the ground, akin to the mannerisms of a stubborn child. His accusation prompted a varied response from each of the room’s inhabitants: Toth grit her fists, a cold glare in her eyes as she shot daggers at her employer; Skout nervously rubbed her palms against one another, looking concerned and guilty; and the last, the Nomad, was horrified , though one could not fully see the emotion on their face. The Don ignored this, narrowing his eyes. “You have disrespected the Oasis for the last time .”
He nodded to Toro, who stepped forwards. “And we can’t let anyone else know about this,” the Governor hissed, sniffing. Toro lifted his weapon, striking it down towards the Nomad with nothing but burning hatred in his eyes before someone screeched “ NO! ” and a forcefield flickered around the Nomad. Both leaders and Toth turned in shock as they focused on Skout, who looked just as surprised as they were with her hands raised and magic energy crackling around it. She blinked in surprise, mumbling something under her breath before letting the magic calm, magic still apparent on the Nomad.
Don Paragon was furious . “ Another magic-user?! I’ll have you exiled! Killed! ” While he turned his back, conversing with Governor Toro, Toth slowly turned to Skout.
“What was that? ” she said slowly, each word with a growing intensity. Her eyes burned. Skout flinched away.
“I-I, ah, I don’t know, B-Boss,” Skout forced out, wringing her still-glowing hands nervously. “There was someone in my family long ago with magic, I haven’t seen her in a while, but—“
“I trusted you, Skout!”
“Ya had a funny way of showing it, Boss.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with magi—“
“THAT’S ENOUGH! ” Toro’s voice cut through their chattering. He aimed a gun at Skout. “You’re out first. I can’t have anyone being ‘protective’.” Toth stood in shock, and Skout closed her eyes, bracing for the pain.
The click of a gun, then—
Skout blinked, opening her eyes shakily as she noticed a beam of glowing light streaming past her. Powerful, uncontained, and freezing the two men in front of them. Both Toth and Skout turned to see the Nomad enveloped in light, their arms in front of them as they attacked. Their eyes were narrowed—as if they were clearly straining themselves.
Toth was at a loss for words, her eyes wide and pupils contracted. “W—“ she stammered, “Why—how—why did you—what—“
The Nomad shook their head, turning to Skout with an unseen determination in their eyes. They were trembling. They nodded towards the now-open entrance. Skout tipped her head in confusion, before it hit her. They wanted her to run . Nomad copied the motion to Toth, who blinked at him in confusion. Skout rolled her eyes. “Toth!” She hissed. “We have to run!”
Toth stared back, conflicted. “But—the magic— “
Skout grabbed her hand. “Let’s GO!” She screeched, filled with adrenaline as she sprinted through the halls, dragging her boss along. They would not stop running, Skout taking every back entrance she could find.
A pang hit her. She knew where to go.
As the two made their escape, Nomad could hold the time magic no longer. The spell broke, and the Don and the Governor were ready to unleash their wrath on the Nomad.
Not before Nomad and Skout’s combined magic on the Nomad sent the traveler into overdrive…
It was nightfall when the pair reached their destination. Toth cocked her head in confusion. “...Bramble Forest?” she quipped, blinking at Skout.
Skout let out a defeated sigh. “The Nomad can find us there if we escape, and I feel...I feel like I knew someone who done lived there.” Toth frowned, her face hardening.
“Lead the way, then.”
Skout gave Toth a tired glance before pulling a pocket knife out of her pack and beginning to rework the path in front of them.
It had felt like hours when the two finally arrived. Toth stepped into the clearing first. “So, what’re we gonna do?” she asked, an exhausted tone to her voice. “Build this place back up?”
“That’s the plan,” Skout blankly replied without hesitation, walking forwards before heaving up a stack of wood and gesturing to Toth to assist her. The two worked in silent tandem, patching up holes, Toth later standing guard whilst Skout put her best efforts into tidying up the interior of the cottage. The sun was rising over the peak of the thorns when Toth and Scout had finally finished making what they assumed was the Nomad’s home habitable. Toth sighed, collapsing into one of the wooden chairs and wiping sweat off of her brow.
“We did good ,” she huffed out, her voice hoarse. Skout did not turn to look at her, but gave a thumbs-up as she finished setting up the beds. Two beds were set up, with a third sleeping bag just in case the Nomad showed up.
At this point, that did not seem likely.
Toth stared at Skout, her eyes filled with conflict and worry. “What should we do?”
Skout let out an emotionless sigh as a response, walking over to the rusty stovetop. “Rest and eat, I guess. Unless you wanna go explorin’ the forest.”
“...I’ll take up that offer.”
“...Stay safe, Boss…”
Toth winced as she grabbed her axe, walking out. Skout suddenly calling her “Boss”...it hurt . Sure, Toth could understand, and she did have some regret, but at the same time, Toth was still torn. She cared for Skout, but Skout was a witch. At this point, she did not know what to feel anymore.
It was nighttime. Toth sat on a bed, yawning as she cleaned her axe. She hummed a tune to herself, something she’d overheard in one of the towns they’d scouted through weeks ago. Damn, she thought to herself, It feels like forever ago. When things were...normal.
Skout’s voice cut through the silence. “I know you don’ trust me or the Nomad,” she said quietly as she cut one of the vegetables she had stored in her bag. Toth’s head shot up.
“Excuse me?” she said, her voice thick with disdain. Skout shot a glare to her boss.
“Do I needa repeat myself?” she snapped harshly, “You saw us use magic to try and help and you immediately jump to conclusions because we use magic! You’re no better than El Rey!”
Toth shot out of her seat. “ Don’t you dare speak to me that way! ” she hissed back, gritting her fists tighter. “I am your boss! ”
“A real leader wouldn’ treat her cohorts as pawns when they mess up!”
“ SHUT UP! ”
Toth flinched, stepping back as she tried to recover from the fight. Skout had never yelled like that before. Looking at the woman in question, Skout grit her teeth, before taking a deep breath and sitting on the other bed, her head in her hands.
And that was when they heard a knock at the door, prompting both to look towards the source of the noise.
It was a weak knock, forced, as is someone was trying their best and could barely muster up the strength. The duo exchanged a confused glance, before Toth let out a shaky breath—which was out of character, yet understandable given the current situation—and grabbed her axe, making her way over to the door before swinging it open.
A heavy form let out a choked gasp, falling from their place in the doorway straight into Toth’s arms. Toth stumbled, dropping her axe and staring in complete bewilderment. It wasn’t just some random stranger, it was the Nomad. They looked...more shadowy than usual, but didn’t show any signs of injury. Yet. Toth heaved them up, setting them on the bed. “Let me check your face,” Toth said, speaking slowly and trying to keep her voice as calm as possible. The Nomad looked frantic, shaking their head, but Toth paid no mind, pulling off their hat whilst simultaneously yanking off the scarf.
Her breath caught in her throat.
Skout stepped closer, not being able to see what Toth was staring at. “I was tryin’a tell you, the Nomad ain’t human—”
“Skout,” Toth said, her voice nearly inaudible, “Come and look at them.”
Skout raised an eyebrow, walking over before she, too, froze. “They’re...they ain’t…” Skout couldn’t put the words together; she was too utterly shocked to form a response.
To put it bluntly, the Nomad was human.
Skout stood. “Toth,” she said, fighting to stop her voice from breaking, “Keep ‘em calm for a sec. I’ll go get the first-aid kit.” Toth nodded wordlessly, putting a single hand on the Nomad’s shoulder, not surprised to see them flinch before guilt flashed across their face.
Toth tipped her head. “Do you feel... guilty for what you’ve done or something?” she asked, a concerned edge to her voice. The Nomad opened their mouth (which they’d only realized existed hours prior) to respond to the general’s question, but was cut off by Skout making her way over, her boots loud against the wood and mortar floors.
“I have the first-aid kit. Toth, can you, uh, move over? I want’a bandage them up, jus’ in case, you know, Governor Toro and Don Paragon did anythin’...bad to them.” Toth blinked, standing up and pulling a chair over to them before sitting down, not saying a word as she looked the Nomad over. Skout opened the box. “Okay, Nomad,” she said softly as she pulled out a roll of gauze, “Can you take of your shirt for me? I want to tend to those injuries first.” As she spoke, she gestured to the gunshot wound still visible through their shirt and the various torn areas. The Nomad flinched, looking upset, but they obliged. They tugged off the gloves, which now had metal prosthetic hands in place of the stubs that were there before. Next, they unbuttoned their vest, neatly folding it and putting it to the side (Toth took notice of this). Finally, the Nomad made a final hesitation, before removing their undershirt.
They were wearing a binder.
The Nomad looked nervous, but Skout smiled at them. “Don’t worry, Nomad, you’re okay! Now, sit still, I need to bandage these wounds.” As she worked, starting with the gunshot wound just below their collarbone, Skout and Toth both were able to get a better look at the Nomad.
They had dark skin with tons of freckles littering their arms, reminding Skout of the Lone Ranger. Their eyes were close to a silvery white, which Toth assumed was a magical side effect; after all, the Nomad never showed any signs of being blind. Their hair was what caught both of their eye, though—it was fluffy and long, darker in color, but had mottled streaks of ginger in it...just like Skout’s. Weird. Once Skout was done, she sat back. “Okay, Nomad, you can get dressed again. You ain’t too badly hurt, don’t worry.” The Nomad followed her instruction, not putting the gloves back on. They blinked down at Skout, narrowing their eyes.
“Me...linda…?” they whispered, voice weak. Skout’s eyes widened, and she stood up.
“Ya know my grandmother?” Skout gasped, staring at the Nomad in shock.
Toth blinked, confused. “Skout—What—Your grandmother? Who? ”
Skout whirled around to face Toth. “My grandma, Melinda! She’s the Governor of the South! Though…” she tapped her chin, “...Magic does explain why she still looks so young.” She turned back to the Nomad. “We can go see her! How do you to know each other?”
Nomad frowned. “Family,” they said quietly, nothing more. Skout put a hand over her mouth. “ Oh, ” she said after a moment of silence. “Well, let’s head over to her home!” She tugged the two of them up, throwing the Nomad their hat and scarf and making her way towards the door, slinging her bag over her shoulder and looking towards the others.
Toth stared at Skout. “Are we really fit to go towards the South so soon?” She asked, and Skout noticed that when she said “we” she gestured towards the Nomad.
The Nomad, who looked shaken, gripping their sleeves. Skout stepped forwards. “Uh...Nomad? Are you okay?” Nomad winced.
“‘M...scared. She doesn’t...want me,” Nomad forced out, making it evident that they were struggling on speaking well, which was completely understandable—they couldn’t before. Skout gave a sympathetic smile.
“Ah’m sure it’ll be fine, Nomad!” Skout replied, straining to stay as positive as she possibly could despite the fact that they were all registered fugitives. She extended her hands towards both of them. “Whaddaya say, partners?” The Nomad and Toth both shared a glance before nodding, taking Skout’s outstretched hands and standing up.
As they ran out, Skout took out her map, taking the lead. Toth quickly followed, but heard a noise behind her.
Gods, the Nomad could barely stand, she thought to herself as she watched the Nomad stumble and grip the doorframe. What did Don Paragon and Governor Toro do to them?! Toth rushed over, leaning down. “Climb on my back,” she said quietly, her voice shaking. Deep down, she still was partly afraid of the Nomad. “You aren’t strong enough to walk.” The Nomad flinched, looking up at her, but climbed onto her back, Toth holding their legs. As Toth broke into a steady run, catching up to Skout through the thicket, she noticed how light the Nomad seemed to be. They never needed food until now.
The three, once out of Bramble Forest, made a break for it.
It was likely that days had passed before they finally reached the land that housed the Governor of the South. The three slowed to a walk, staring up at the pristine, dark walls of the residence.
“This is... something, ” Toth gasped, her eyes wide. “It’s been years since I’ve seen somewhere like this that wasn’t the Oasis.”
“Well, thank the stars we ain’t allowed there anymore, huh?” Skout replied, stepping up and knocking on the huge gated doors. A woman stepped out.
“Greetings, welcome to the Residence of the South. Why are you—“ the guard stopped, her gaze focusing on Skout. “Oh, relatives. Well, come in.” As she opened the gates, she stared intently at the Nomad before ushering them in.
As she guided them through the plaza, she told them about the place. “My name is Avya, I’m head of security here. In the Residence of the South, all is welcome to stay, but...seeing you three, and the fact that you’re family, I’ll let you in on something. This place hides training magic users .” Skout and Nomad shared a glance, a spark in both of their eyes that neither Avya nor Toth caught. Avya continued to drawl on until they reached the manor. Avya led them inside. “I am also the Governor’s advisor.”
She knocked on the door to the study. “Governor,” Avya yelled, “You have visitors!”
A voice could be heard inside, shifting around before a heavily accented voice called “Come in!”. Avya pushed open the door, stepping back to invite them in. The Governor had her back turned as the three walked in, the three marveling at the simplistic luxury. Once the door had closed behind them, she turned.
She still looks the same.
“Greetings. How may I servi—“ the Governor froze, locking eyes with the Nomad. She stepped forwards, trembling. Nomad did the same.