Exposure

Gohama walked up the stairs to the top of the wall of Ikalga. Once there, he stopped at the parapet and glanced into the distance. The land outside the walls was in a peaceful state, opposite of the city itself, whose insides were burning. The police force would soon be on their way to subdue the fire and placate the citizens, if they weren’t the ones responsible for the uproar. Gohama frowned as he patrolled the wall, doing his best to ignore the bright orange blazes spreading from hut to hut below him. He believed in the cause, but these particular methods utilized by the force turned his stomach. His grip on his saber tightened as he forced a smile and a nod at a passing officer. Gohama’s fellow officer returned his smile, saying, “Good riddance to those hybrids, eh?” At least he didn’t say unnaturals… Gohama thought.

Ever since the appointment of King Acetate, officers had been increasingly bold. They had at least once pretended to be unbiased protectors of society but now, despite Acetate’s urging for acceptance, the entire force had become emboldened by hate. Fortunately, most hybrids still resided in the three settlements, very few having successfully snuck into Ikalga. That didn’t stop his coworkers from torching random houses though. Gohama would have figured they’d limit the amount of houses they burned to those only housing the suspected hybrids but as Gohama looked on the city, he saw every third house burning.

Gohama reached the end of the wall section of his patrol. He hopped over the parapet and force-changed into his Gorilla form landing loudly, but uninjured, at the bottom of the wall. This part of the patrol was through the woods surrounding the city. It was his favorite. He could mostly forget about his stress as he made his way, occasionally climbing a sturdy tree on the route. He would often stop near the top of the tree, watching the happenings around him. His fellow officers had suggested he stop this practice, especially as he neared the entrance to Ikalga.

The gorilla wondered if being chosen to serve with the police had slowly turned individuals into the monsters they were. Sometimes he thought he was the only one with any remorse or conscious. Watching a handful of officers bring in two prisoners, Gohama was reminded of the time he took out two guards to free a hybrid. He couldn’t sleep for weeks after that, afraid his actions would be discovered. The positive effect that freeing the hybrid had on his conscious had almost been worth it, but he hadn’t done it since.

Before coming down to finish his outer perimeter patrol, he began to realize what had changed with the force. It wasn’t that Acetate had become King like Gohama had originally thought. No, it must have been the subtraction of Acetate from captain of the police. There was an interim captain in his place, but he had no control; he couldn’t keep them in line. It was no wonder the force had become more cruel, much like the officers that had been patrolling the routes between the settlements. The police in the wild already had a strong detachment to authority and Gohama could see that same detachment growing within the city force as time went on without a true captain.

Gohama jumped out of the tree and proceeded back into human form while he approached the handful of guards he had spotted before.

“Catch two new ones?” Gohama asked.

“Yes sir, found these two just over the ridge,” one of the men pointed.

“Taking them to a cell? We’re almost full…” Gohama asked.

“Nope, when the authority is away we will play,” said another of the officers.

The men continued dragging the two hybrid prisoners through the city entrance. But, before disappearing inside the city, Gohama overheard one of the men chuckle and say, “If by play you mean gut them, then sure.”

“Well, did you want me to say that in front of Gohama? He probably…” And then their voices faded.

Gohama crossed his arm and pursed his lips, doing his best to resist the temptation to go after the officers. Instead, he wondered who the authority was that they had referenced. Was the King gone? Or the interim captain?

Regardless, Gohama made his way back through the gate and into the city. He crossed through a back alley, changing back into his gorilla form, racing out of the alley and through the streets, ignoring any protests or weird looks. Changing in the city streets was not seen often by the citizens, so all eyes continued to follow his movements. He stopped as soon as he turned down a street, having coming face to face with a black bear. Judging by the slight scar on its snout, he could tell it was Bamudo, one of the more prejudiced members of the force. Bamudo held up a paw, indicating that whatever Gohama was going to do, it should stop now. Gohama stepped forward shaking his head, unleashing a punch to the bear’s gut and then a swift hook across the bear’s head. Bamudo collapsed and Gohama continued down the street, running faster now that he’d instigated the bear.

Gohama finally made it to the prison, a building that was bigger than most. It housed every criminal that was caught in Ikalga, from Lilypad smugglers to innocent hybrids. Gohama kicked the door down and tackled the guard in the front lobby. Having noticed the guard was not one of the rare few with a soul, Gohama had opted to snap his neck. He knew that there would be another officer in the back, near the cells so he proceeded, this time with more caution. Gohama stepped into the cell area and noticed the officer on duty was Clay Despier. Gohama changed to human form.

“Gohama, what are you doing here?” Clay stood up with alarm.

“The hybrids don’t deserve this,” Gohama said frantically. “We are just wasting space, pouring hybrid after hybrid in here just because of who their parents were.”

“I… well, Gohama, you know I sympathize with you, I really do. But there’s nothing we can do…”

Gohama turned and began walking toward the cages. He stopped at the first cage where a small dark-skinned girl sat. “Change!” The girl backed up from the cell bars, frightened. “Do you want to get out of here? Change!” The girl force-changed into a small jaguar. Gohama unlocked the door.

“I won’t stop you, Gohama… Good luck,” Clay said as he left the room, returning to his desk.

Gohama didn’t have time for words, although he did appreciate Clay not interfering. Gohama moved from cell to cell, not having to yell as the prisoners caught on to his plan. The hybrids force-changed once Gohama reached their cell and he quickly let them out to flee. He left the “pure-blooded” individuals imprisoned; those were the people who deserved their place here.

Once all the hybrids were free, Gohama stopped by the supply room, picking through the new equipment hoping to find an additional covelt backpack and outfit. He luckily found one, stuffing it full with provisions before leaving through the front door. In front of him sat the small girl. She had changed back into her human form. Gohama picked her up, running into the nearest alley.

“Why aren’t you running?” Gohama huffed.

“I don’t know where to go…” the girl replied.

“Okay, just follow me.”

The girl changed back into her jaguar form. Gohama picked up her clothes and placed them into the covelt pack before changing back into his gorilla form. He felt the covelt fabric expand over his back, the items inside now bulging against his back; he hoped the pack would hold. Gohama and the girl took off through the city streets, keeping to the ones he knew would be abandoned.

As the two crept through the city streets, Gohama silently thanked Clay for delaying on the alarm. Once someone else arrived at the prison, the alarm would eventually be sounded – this head start was vital. Gohama looped around the city, in an unpredictable path, managing to stay as close to the fires as possible. A few blocks from one of the gates, Gohama had peered around the corner just as a cheetah jumped into the street, head twisting from side to side, looking for the rogue officer. Gohama slowly backed away, motioning for the girl to follow him. They were now one block away; Gohama could see the exit. There were at least a dozen changed officers blocking the path ahead of him, with Bamudo in the lead. The prison alarm rang at that moment and Gohama knew he’d have to be out of there soon. He looked around and thought of climbing the wall, but he knew he couldn’t do that with the hybrid girl accompanying him. He kept looking until his eyes fell upon a structure that had been built against the wall. Gohama took off toward the building with the girl in tow. Once at the bottom, he stopped to pick up the girl in his arm as he jumped onto the building and began his ascent. Near the top, he looked down to see that Bamudo had spotted him.

Bamudo pointed at him and yelled a command as an archer loaded his bow and others force-changed, running into the base of the building. Gohama was nearing the roof, from where he could hopefully reach the top of the wall. He resisted looking down as he heard several of the animals beating on the structure. A sharp pain stuck him in the shoulder, but he kept climbing. Gohama felt the arrow wiggling in the air as he pulled himself onto the roof, only to see another arrow hit the roof where he had just been. Fire spread to the rooftop from a neighboring structure and Gohama hustled across the wall, jumping over the flame before it became impassable. He cradled the girl in his arm and reached for the edge of the wall with his other. He grabbed the edge of the wall with one hand, using his feet to pull himself up and over. Gohama was on the other side before another arrow could be shot. He raced toward the cover of the forest. Archers appeared on the wall behind him, shooting wildly at the fleeing large animal.

Gohama reached the forest, untouched by any further arrows. He adjusted course and made his way to the North Settlement travelpath. He’d find help there, if they made it…

Exposure
Overworked

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