the morning dew twinkled on myriad emerald leaves as the sun climbed her
way up the sky, as clean as a freshly washed milk jug. Eavin tiptoed, not
wanting to wake up the whores as they slept, their perfumed stench wafting
out from the rough-hewn bluestone that served as their place of business.
Prua slipped in a puddle left between cobbles by last night's downpour.
"Watch it honey! Don't wanna disturb that Madam Meerkatze," Eavin stated
the obvious. The madam was as crazy as a fox as any meercat could be without
actually being a fox. She believed that the well was residence to someone,
or something, she referred to as "The Shading", an entity of some kind
that only the madam could see or communicate with.
Not that anything spooky had ever happened regarding the well, but the
madam was definitely mad, and her rantings about it were enough to keep
most people away, although she rarely left the brothel these days except
to go down the backyard and converse with The Shading.
"Eavy, my butt's all wet now! Not to mention my tail!" Prua whispered in
annoyance. The chill of the morning started to penetrate her rear end.
Eavin didn't respond: she wasn't that keen on using that well to collect
water from, but since the river had been taken by those bandits, those,
those...well, her mind wasn't always on her friend's misfortunes. Right
now she was mainly concerned with staying silent while they got their daily
water ration from the mad meercat's well, and remembering now what lay
waiting down at the bridge did not help at all.
pushed open the brothel's back gate gently, wincing at the slight *creeaak!*
A few mornings before, she and the light-fingered stoat-youth Veliz had
come to fetch water and the creaking gate had brought out Madam Meerkatze,
a-ranting and a-raving about The Shading. The crazy old madam had almost
scared the fur off both of them and they had fled back to their house without
Eavin and Prua padded across the backyard, the soft laugh of women lilting
down from the bathhouse. "Must be the early morning shift." the cat-girl
murmured to her companion.
On their way back from the well, the two encountered one of the older 'working
gels' coming to the bathhouse. Dark circles under her eyes indicated a
sleepless night and out of politeness, Eavin commented on how tired the
old vixen appeared.
"Yesh," the vixen replied with a lisp, "Madam hash been going on how the
Shading ish going to rishe and shhow ush all... you know how shhe getsh
"Iya..." Eavin said, shaking her head and biding the whore farewell.
To their disgust, the others had not risen by the time they returned to
their plain, but roomy one-room abode. Eavin and Prua stood over them,
neither of them very amused. The fire should've been lit by now, and breakfast
at least begun. The day was wasting...
Gently Prua pulled off the quilts that covered the sleepers. Not a soul
stirred. Grinning evilly, Eavin scooped a cup into the bucket of cold water
and tossed the contents of the cup over the bodies on the bed.
Stoat, vixen, cheetah, rabbit, lioness and tiger howled, roared or yelped
as they tumbled over each other and out of the bed, each dripping from
their liquid wake-up call. Eavin shrugged and went on with the morning
chores. "It was time for you lazytails to get up anyway. We have work to
Kezly and Warren, dressed in old, but still bright costumes, had found
a corner of the Square that was not currently being used for much.
They cleared away their fellow street urchins and began performing. Before
long, their tumbles and somersaults had caught the eyes of the passing
shoppers; and a short time after that a respectable-sized crowd had gathered
round to watch.
The others were at work as well. Moving in pairs, they melted into the
watching crowd, moving here, moving there. Moving close enough to reach
into bags or pockets, then move on again. It was always a male-female working
pair; no-one but they knew of the very deep pockets the female had in their
Today Eavin worked with the cheetah Haiyashi. As usual, Haiyashi stood
near an overfed dog-man distracted by their friends' performance, then
tugged gently on the purse hanging from the man's belt. It came off easily
enough. Eavin was a few feet away, redistributing some oranges from a fruit
stall to down the front of her blouse, the corset she wore stopping them
travelling any further than her breasts.
Haiyashi, purse in paw, edged away backwards and was slipping the purse
into one of Eavin's pockets when the man reached to his hip and found nothing.
"Hey! Thief!" the dog-man yelled.
"Ah crap." Haiyashi swore.
Eavin and Haiyashi looked at each other and ran in opposite directions.
Eavin scrambled up the nearest drainpipe and sprinted over the rooftops
of the city, towards the general direction of the river. She was in such
a rush, she failed to see the rooftops stop abruptly and she sailed over
the edge. Eavin, being a cat, landed on all four paws.
"Hey, Dajil, look what just fell out of the sky!"
Eavin looked up from where she crouched into the face of a dolphin bandit...
at the square corner, Eavin and Haiyashi's companions had not failed not
to notice the commotion. Veliz and Nes swiftly pocketed their latest 'acquirements'
and melted into the shadows around the corner, waiting.
As Cannium and Kezly tumbled acrobatically, paws over ears with each other,
the tiger whispered to her harshly "Keep dancing, don't look suspicious!"
The lioness jumped up onto his shoulders with unnecessary force, deliberately
yanking his luxurious fur.
"I knew that you fool!" she spat back as she sailed through the air over
his head gracefully.
When the dance finished and they had graciously accepted the meager contribution
the wealthy shopper's had given them for their performance, they joined
the stoat and vixen around the corner.
"Eavin and Haiyashi haven't come back yet" Warren stated once he got his
"Well that's obvious," responded Kezly sarkily, watching Cannium's whiskers
move angrily out of the corner of her eye. Prua was about ready to intervene
before a fight broke out when the cheetah thief came careering from the
shadows at full speed to join them.
"Made it!" he grinned demurely.
"Eavin hasn't come back yet," Warren said yet again for the cheetah's benefit.
"She probably just found a rich Bag to steal from. She'll be back." Nes
said confidently, and the others nodded their agreement. Eavin wouldn't
get caught; she was too smart and quick.
After a long while though, the companions began to grow restless.
"Where is she?" Veliz yawned rhetorically.
"I think we should look for her," Kezly said. "It's not like Eavin to disappear
for ages like that" she started to rise but Cannium pushed her back down.
"We wait!" he growled.
"I say we should go find her," the lioness frowned, her hands firmly planted
on her slim hips.
"And I say we wait!" replied Cannium fiercely, the back of his paw swinging
around to fall heavily on the side of Kezly's muzzle.
dolphin snickered, a strange sound, sounding more like a gurgling squeal.
He toyed with the rusted dagger that hung at his hip. "So missy, got something
for me...its the toll y'know." He licked his lips.
Eavin crouched, fur bristling and considered hissing at the dolphin. He
looked far too young and fresh to be even half menacing. Eavin glanced
behind him, that Dajil chap stood a little way off to the left. She glanced
right. A sheer brick wall loomed high there.
other dolphin laughed. "Leave her alone Zineej - you're terrible at being
He strolled over, lent his spear against a bale of trading goods, and grinned
down at the cat. Her expression froze in surprise. "Hello, pretty kitty.
Are you going to stay down there all day or are you going to stand up and
Eavin scowled - eyes and pupils narrow - and after another wait stood slowly,
brushing her dress of rooftop dust and dockside grit. She trembled with
the effort of maintaining her dignity in front of her former lover. Most
Balaan ab Dajil grinned again, eyes blatantly sweeping, admiringly, up
and down her body. "Didn't expect to see you again, kitty." His fingertips
brushed a bruise above his left eye, purple and swollen against his blue-grey
skin. "You were a bit cross with me when I left. If I recall correctly."
The cat bristled anew, and bared her teeth ready to spit a spray of new
invective. It choked in her throat as a much larger shadow smothered the
three of them.
She looked up. And up. An orca, at least twice as tall as her, gazed down
at her, eyes utterly impassive. Against the sun, she could make out the
shape of armour, and a spear tipped with four savage prongs.
The shape rumbled. Eavin knew enough of the Undine language to catch, "*You
know the rules, Dajil*. *No fraternising with the city people*. *Not during
negotiations*" She edged along the wall... orcas had an old reputation.
A reputation that involved more than a few missing persons and the orcan
Dajil's grin gleamed. Eavin glowered. At least she knew his full name now.
Should have some value in libel and slander, anyway.
"Don't worry about it, Gryce. She's just a local girl. Fun, but not very
Eavin's eyes bulged. Gryce? This was the woman her Balaan had abandoned
her for? She stared up at the orca, who still studied her with its dark,
dark eyes. It *was* female. Then she realised the rest of what the dolphin
had said, and exploded.
KILL... YOU!" Eavin screeched as she pounced at Dajil, her razor-sharp
claws extended, hissing insults in the ancient cat language her grandmother
had taught her in her kittenhood. She only managed to leave a deep claw
mark across his face before the orca grabbed Eavin by her long frizzy red
hair and yanked her backwards.
Gryce lifted Eavin up by her hair and held her at arm's length, watching
with a mixture of amusement and disdain as the cat-girl tried to kick and
scratch in mid-air. "Shall I hurt her now?" the orca-female asked, slipping
into the Common Language.
"No." replied Dajil. "Let's bring her back to the base."
He grinned at Eavin wickedly. "I can think of better ways to play with
soup pot bubbled as the night grew deeper. Everyone in the room turned
to look at the door as it opened and Nes and Warren staggered in with a
laden water bucket. Both were visibly shaken; both were the toughest in
their small gang.
"What happened?" asked Prua meekly.
"Crazy ol' Meerkatze's at it agin." Nes said, eyes wide. "She rekins she
cin tell us where Eavy's iz."
A few of them let out a small gasp. They hadn't told anyone about Eavin
"How?" Haiyaishi asked sorrowfully. He still blamed himself for not sticking
with his working partner.
"She rekins the Shiding cin tell us."
a dark dank room nearby, that seemed a world away from the cosy cottage
where Eavin's friends worried and waited for her return, the sun trickled
from a small barred window high up near the ceiling. Cockroaches scurried;
a dark figure muttering and mumbling as the smell of simmering soup wafted
in from next door.
Knock, knock. Timid, yet forceful, a small buxom water rat pushed the heavy
wooden door that kept the room so dank open slightly. The light behind
her outlined her hourglass figure, the corset pushing her breasts up and
her waist in.
"M..m..madam," she ventured. Huge muscular bears and tigers were no match
for her in the boudoir, but the tiny whore hated working in the mad meercat's
house. Still, in this town it really was the safest way.
Especially with the town's latest arrivals.....she shuddered and pushed
the door open far enough to allow herself and the tray she carried through.
"Keera prepared dinner early since she has an um...appointment...with the
mayor at 7pm. His wife back tonight, you know." She stopped; if she continued
rambling like this she knew the madam would turn and begin ranting at her.
Taking a step forward, careful to avoid the rancid puddles tracing the
cellar's cobbled floor, she put the tray down on the sparse room's only
small table and stepped back as she had come in. As she was about to turn
and exit the room, the madam loomed out of the darkness. The madam's hands
came towards the water rat and grabbed at her shoulders, her breath enveloping
her as she raved.
"Mmoida!! Mmoida!! If it be duk it be loit, if loit it be duk...but ze
chat can zee in eeder!! Shhwem!! Shwem! Ze varter be cauld, ze oil be haht,
but vere be ze foir?"
The whore, ready to wretch at the madam's foul stench, tore herself from
the wiry grip and scrambled back up the stairs. At the top she met Keera's
"That bad was it Sylkin? Didn't know she was a gourmet," Keera demanded.
While she earned her daily bread in the sack, the ocelot's ambition was
to actually make bread - well, to be a blue ribbon chef, and therefore
had to know if there was a reason anyone, even the madam, didn't like her
food. But she knew it wasn't the food, as the madam's ravings could still
be heard behind the hastily shut door, as they could almost every day and
night now. The whores tolerated her purely for the fact that they needed
a house to work in, and truthfully they had been able to get away with
paying the old meercat less and less these days.
"Bloody light, dark, oil, water - do you have a clue what the old bag means?
Something about a cat, too..." Sylkin shook her head and took a few deep
breaths to clear herself of the awful stench. "Honestly you'd think she'd
wash her underskirt occasionally," she outwardly wished.
"Mmm...I heard her raving about something regarding a cat to one of those
acrobats from next door," Keera offered. "She went out to the well to visit
"Shading," Sylkin corrected her, with a smirk on her face.
"...of course, Shading, and found the girl-fox out there with the boy-rabbit...she
gave them a good rave and sent them on their way."
"You know I've often wondered how I would go as a travelling performer,"
Sylkin wondered. Her stature was small, true, but she was flexible and
had always been good at tumbling and flipping. It was one of the reasons
she was so popular with the younger clients. The older ones had trouble
keeping up with her, usually.
"You'd be great honey, but you'd have to give up your shopping habit,"
Keera encouraged. Herself, she'd love to travel, but her only two talents
were food, and of course, sex.
"Damnit," Sylkin smiled at her friend, "Hey, isn't Mayor Kwembo due here
Her reminder was abruptly interrupted as she was bowled over by a rush
of grey rags, yellow, stained teeth and flailing, withered hands. In the
depth of their conversation they hadn't heard Madam Meerkatze come up the
stairs in a renewed flight of madness, but were now fully aware as the
madam flew out the door, eyes bulging and ears flapping as she rambled
down the street. Sylkin picked herself up and followed Keera out to the
front porch and watched mothers pull their children into their skirts.
Keera put her hands to her cheeks. "Oh my god, she's headed for the bridge."
can feel them. So many. So very many. Up there, far from the darkness
and the fire. Each so alone and distant. So ... compartmentalised. Inside
and out. I get inside them. Between the cells. Between the nerves.
has been too long. Too long since the scaled ones were burnt and buried.
Since I was lost…Scattered? Is there more of me, lost down here
in the darkness and the fire?
them drink of me.
them part of me.
Shiding? Ohh...The Shading." Veliz frowned. "What is it anyway?"
The companions murmured and shrugged.
"No idea," Warren said slowly and carefully, thoughtfulness apparent on
his face even though his facial expressions were generally idea.
Kezly raised an eyebrow then winced as it pulled the skin on her muzzle
taut. A large scratch ran down the side from her argument with Cannium,
and more than half her face was bruised and swollen under her fair tawny
"I still think we should have gone and looked for her," the lioness said
sulkily. That ugly old meercat slut wouldn't have a clue."
Nes looked up at the small gang, her eyes serious.
"I dun know abit that Kez..."
dark when a grey cloud swept over the sky, blanketing the small town in
climatic gloom. A willow swayed gently to and fro'; Eavin knew it was a
willow by the sound of its branches rushing the water in time with the
wind. The sound also told her she was somewhere very near the exact place
she had been dreading — the bridge.
She tried to sit up, but quickly realized her hands and feet were bound
to what appeared to be a stretcher bed roughly made from branches of ash.
The strain made her back and legs ache; her head began pounding. Moving
her head as little as possible, she opened an eye and made out what she
could in the darkness.
Remnants of a fire. Smell of smoke. Tipi-style frame inside stretched skin.
A large cauldron — no, a wash basin. A big wash basin. Shells, crusted
with old fish. The smell made her taste buds tingle, realizing how hungry
And then it came back to her: the dance, the take, the run, the fall, and
was Balaan doing over this way? She had first met him in the West Isles,
on "holiday" after what had been a crazy idea to begin with had gone totally,
totally sour. A heist that sounded so easy she should have known straight
away; but no, her eyes had gleamed with the stories of adventure and glory
and she had ignored those feelings inside that told her the weasel Kimrold
was just that: a weasel. She had ended up on a clipper heading west, nursing
her bruised ears and broken tail in a hold designed to keep fish, cold,
wet and very sorry for herself. The crew had found her when they had docked
into Jamakan, capital of the Isles, tossed her out onto the wharf with
a few dubloons. She had staggered, pulled herself to the nearest bar, drank
those dubloons until her ears hurt no more and then gone home with the
biggest man she could find. That had been Balaan.
And now here he was, on the outskirts of Brindall, with that...creature...Gryce...and
the other one, and god knows how many more. She knew Balaan was not stupid
enough to leave his camp unattended, so she guessed there were at least
five of them. Great, Eavin sighed inwardly. Where was Haiyashi and why
hadn't he followed her?
my dear, that feels *wonderful* Simply wonderful" the mayor sank back further
into Keera's embrace, as she kneaded the muscles of his broad shoulders,
and forgot the platters of food arranged on the low table next to them.
His closed his eyes and sighed deeply, snuffling a little in his pleasure.
Keera pressed close, stroking her fingers down the boar's chest, and playing
with his fur. "What's the matter, Master Kwembo?" she breathed softly against
his ear. "You're so very tense tonight..."
He sighed, this time less contentedly, and turned to face her, patting
her paw. "Keera, my dear, it's nothing for you to worry about. Just business..."
He sighed, his eyes red with sleeplessness, and his face sagging, "that's
all it ever seems to be, these days... business."
The boar attempted to change the subject. "Anyway, my dear, how is your
mistress these days? It occurs to me that I haven't seen her in weeks."
clung to the curved and split boulders marching out into the river. Beneath
her, the river fled invisibly between the stones (flowing). Above,
the beams of the bridge eclipsed the low and sullen clouds, silent and
damp with the river air (liquid).
She panted, feeling the pressure behind her eyes as her claws scrabbled
for a hold on the next stone. Across the water (...flowing...)
she could see the shape of the island against the far shore. It would
take time...crossing the bridge underneath (down in the darkness)
would bring her to Eavin (coming together) and then... well, then
the Shading would tell her what to do.
Cat! Wake up!"
Eavin woke with a start as dolphin hands grabbed her and dragged her out
of the tent. She looked up with a mixture of grogginess and hunger into
the grinning face of Zineej and another dolphin male. "Dajil wants to see
you." Zineej smirked.
Before Eavin had the chance to react, her arms and legs were bound behind
her and a hessian sack tugged roughly over her face. Bound like pig for
roasting, she was slung over the shoulder of one of the bandits - most
likely the other male... Zineej looked like such a weakling that he probably
couldn't even pick up a small sack of potatoes.
Before too long, Eavin heard the creak of a heavy door and she was suddenly
cast onto the floor. Two sets of footfalls left the room and the door opened
and closed once more.
The sack was ripped off her head. "So, you like your room? We've 'borrowed'
it from the bridge keeper. You better, because you're going to be here
for some time."
Eavin blinked at the sudden brightness assaulting her eyes. The voice was
unmistakable. She threw another string of cat-curses at Dajil, which roughly
translated as 'may you and your family become pigfood, you bastard fish'.
The dolphin tittered, shaking his head. "You forget you taught me many
of the cat insults when we were together, Eavin. I know exactly what you're
Dajil crouched down, running the tips of his blue-grey fingers over her
jaw line and over her bust. "If I remember correctly, I've seen you like
this before... you were quite enjoying yourself, weren't you?"
Eavin's reply was to try and bite his arm. Dajil drew back his hand, then
slapped her. Hard. "Bad Kitty!"
sat curled between two massive roots of an oak tree in Yuellia City Park,
one of the areas of Yuellia that had been protected against the ever-growing
city of Brindall. And Haiyashi was miserable.
You see, ever since Eavin had gone missing, he felt it had been his fault
that it had happened.
"I shouldn't have split up with her like that!" he had moaned to the others.
"How could you have know what would happen?" Prua had said gently; and
the others had agreed.
But he still thought it was his fault.
If /anything/ happened to Eavin...lovely Eavin...beautiful Eavin...he'd
never forgive himself. If she died, well life just wouldn't be worth living,
"You look so sad."
A voice startled him from the other side of the huge old oak. Haiyashi
turned and saw a very short, but very pretty water rat shyly poke her head
around the tree.
"I saw you crying and had to see if I could help...can I?" The sweet-natured
Sylkin had to know if there was any way she could get to know this handsome
young cheetah. She hadn't seen him in the brothel before, only hanging
around the urchins in the cottage next door.
"Well..." Haiyashi hesitated. Wasn't this one of Meerkatze's whores? He
thought he had recognised the face, and as she came out from behind the
oak he also recognised the brocade corset, edged with velvet, the style
that the younger whores preferred. Cannium wouldn't like him talking to
her, would accuse him of lechery and all the rest but hadn't Kezly or Nes
said the meercat said something about Eavin?
"...actually maybe you can...my cat-friend is missing,. Haiyashi began
moved away from the fires. Even for one as painfully skinny as he, it was
too hot, here above the water. He looked out at the water, away from the
city on the far bank. He really didn't like it here — as loyal as he was
to the pod, and as much as he understood the opportunity they were here
to seize, he would much rather be in the cleaner waters around home.
He fumbled for his knife as somebody loomed out of the darkness, and didn't
relax when it was Gryce. She was far more serious about things than most
dolphins — probably why she was here in the first place. Even the most
'civilized' of dolphins would find it difficult to resist adding a touch
of mayhem to the situation. Even one as important as this. Especially when
they were bored.
"Watch the bridge" she rumbled.
The youth stood to attention, and peered out along it's length. He couldn't
see anything. He was pretty sure their wouldn't be anything. The city people
wouldn't try anything, would they? He hoped they wouldn't... he didn't
want to hurt anybody.... despite his efforts to seem as dangerous as the
pod needed to be.
He fidgeted, and tried to bite back his questions.
She answered them anyway. "Something is happening. I can taste it in the
water." She rested a hand on the carved post beside the bridge, and clenched
it hard. She didn't like this situation. She seriously disliked the feeling
of toying with the city people for the wrong reasons.... and Dajil's woman
was an added complication. She frowned. The cat's jealousy could endanger
the meerkat crept onto the island, with something ancient looking out from
inside her head.
was in a fix.
She and Dajil had parted on very bad terms, but even until the very end
the passion had been there... oh the passion. Dajil had been her best and
her body remembered that *very* well. The dolphin bandit now ran his fingers
lightly over the rest of her body, knowing exactly what spots on her would
tease a stifled moan of pleasure from her clenched teeth.
Her body was on the verge of mutiny against her brain and it scared her
nine lives out of her that he could still make her desire him, even though
she loathed him.
"Yes, you /do/ like that. don't you?" Dajil said dryly as he watched her
trying not to writhe.
From their time together before, he knew he had worked her into a state
where she would gladly sell her souls to be satisfied.
He chuckled to himself as he picked her up by still-bound paws; carried
her back to the tent they were keeping her in and threw the cat-girl in.
Yes, playing with Eavin was /most/ satisifying.
chat wit zalt, zays I. Zalt and oil and varter and ze chat plays all free
in ze city, oh yes she does."
Eavin started, and clipped her head hard against the floor. When her vision
cleared she saw a madly grinning meercat, sodden and stained with grass
and earth, and gripping a boning knife in a fist that trembled with the
strength of her hold on it.
The meercat's grin split her muzzle in half - she could barely see in the
darkness but she could hear where Eavin lay. She crept forward, joints
protesting at the exertion - urged on by the voice inside her mind. "Shading
tells me vere ze chat be. Bring out of ze darkness, yes?"
Eavin nodded, neck creaking. She couldn't say anything. Just struggled
to roll over and offer her wrists to the knife...she felt ill with fear
and relief. What if the dolphins heard her? Had seen her neighbour's arrival
and were just toying with them? She didn't even want to think she was a
game to them.
She risked a whisper "Did...did you come here with anybody?"
Meerkatze shook her long muzzle violently as she sawed at the bindings.
"Ve two are ze important ones. Mama Meerkatze feex you up good now, liddle
chat," patting her on the shoulder, endlessly, as the last bindings parted
and she pushed the cat towards the hole in the floor.
Eavin struggled to squeeze through it - the old woman was much skinnier
than she, and her arms and legs stilled ached with pins and needles.
Meerkatze pushed at her from behind, her voice a loud conspiratorial whisper.
"Ve haf lotz to zay, yes? Of ze dukness an important ones."
Eavin emerged into the night and shook sand from her ears...and froze at
laughter somewhere nearby. Despair rose in her throat... were they toying
with her after all?
"<And what did they do then?>" she heard. She didn't recognise the voice,
but it was the dolphin language.
"<Drowned of course. City people can't swim worth a jellyfish's testes.>"
The cat came close to collapsing with relief.. Every limb shook...and tears
welled in her eyes. It wasn't anything to do with them. Just bandits laughing
at someone else's expense. She jumped as the meercat prodded her rump,
and whispered something about important ones moving their big behinds,
She clung to the shadow of Dajil's tent. She dreaded looking around the
corner, but she couldn't even tell which way the bridge was. The whore-mistress
emerged grumbling beside her, and poked a skinny finger into her side "Ze
chat can zee in the duk, yes? Zo move it, missy!"
Eavin swallowed her fear…and her tail bristled...she might be free of the
tent, but there were still at least four dolphins around. And probably
that orca bitch too. She turned around to snarl at her rescuer.
She was gone.
Eavin clawed at the corner, uncertainty burning her heart. Fear and the
feeling of being helpless and alone renewed.
"Hey! Fishies! Wanna kiz ze meerkat,.hey?"
The other woman was capering in plain sight. Dancing from foot to foot
any flashing her bare fur at the group of utterly startled bandits.
"Zen kiz zis!" and she turned, raised her skirts, and leapt laughing away
into the willows. The dolphins swore and peeled off in pursuit.
Eavin fled... ears flattened. It wasn't far to the bridge. She had to make
it. She had to.
turned, head swinging back towards the campsite.
She'd been right. All five dolphin spearmen were running off into the trees.
She clutched her trident and gritted her teeth. Fools. Couldn't they recognise
a distraction when they saw one? She snapped an order to the other dolphin
to stay where he was, and moved like a mountain towards the tents.
She needn't have bothered - Dajil's catwoman almost ran into her - confused
by her outline and colours, probably. Or possibly just panic. Easy prey.
The whore stood suddenly from a bush behind the monsterous orca.
"Ooooh, *noizy* chat, yes?" She laughed, tossing her knife into her other
paw - and rammed it into the orca's back.
"Run now, hey?" as the orca reared upright and turned clumsily, raising
Orca, eyes bright with bloodlust.
The bridge running beneath her feet. Eavin could only run, and run, and
And the meercat died.
Her blood ran like water.
soon as Haiyashi had related to Sylkin the events of the day before, she
grabbed his wrists. “C’mon!” She urged him almost manically.
"What the...?" Haiyashi hesitated; he wasn't sure he cared for the look
in her eyes.
"C'mon! I don't know, it may not mean anything but...we'd better find her!"
"...?" Haiyashi's eyes boggled. He knew some of the whores got into the
forest 'shrooms from time to time, and he didn't like to think what was
on, or in for that matter, the water rat's mind.
His staring face finally caught Sylkin's attention. "Look, Meerkatze disappeared
yesterday too, and I may have a clue where to find her," she assured, gently
tugging his hand.
Haiyashi shook his head and began to follow her, slowly at first.
"Well hey, what does that have to do with Eavin? And how does anyone understand
that mad meercat?" he asked, still confused. Sylkin was trying to pull
him along faster.
"Keera said she said something about Eavin. Oh, yeah, and I saw
her headed for the river. But noone understands her. Not really."
"Well, that'll do me." Haiyashi broke into a sprint, and Sylkin found herself
suddenly pulled off her feet as they made their way riverward.
around the bend was when they first saw it. They had smelt it soon after
leaving the outskirts of the town, but it was only when the clouds came
billowing from somewhere below the cliff face that they realized the extent
of the fire. But that didn't explain the sound, above the crackling of
timbers and snapping of twigs being consumed by flickering tongues, above
the rushing water echoing up the chasm, like some ancient kraken in the
final stages of a maddening, disemboweled death. Haiyashi stopped with
a jolt, grabbing Sylkin by the waist as she skidded past.
"You hear that?" His voice sounded truly spooked. She trembled, nodding
her head the minutest amount. They both sidled slowly behind a patch of
brush; neither turned their heads away from the direction of the river
and the fires.
After a time Sylkin gasped; she had been holding her breath and hadn't
noticed. Haiyashi turned to her and made signals with his paws. OK? She
nodded. Let's go, that way. Slowly. Quietly. He cupped his paws over his
ears in the sign for 'be quiet'. Together they inched down the side of
the track, keeping to one side and as out of sight as possible.
They darted into a crack between two boulders, backing in so as to keep
an eye on the path. Haiyashi, behind Sylkin, nestled into the crevice,
and froze. His back bristled; was that fur his tail brushed against? Not
wanting to alarm Sylkin, he turned his head slowly. A rock had fallen over
the two boulders, creating a natural roof which kept it fairly dark further
between the rocks. Two eyes gleamed, reflecting what light did fall in.
Haiyashi cracked. "Get out, get out!!" He hurriedly pushed Sylkin out of
the opening, half hopping as he reached for the fishing knife he carried
in his boots. Turned, alert and eyes gleaming. Waiting for the terrible
enemy, knife held erect. A low growl came from within, deep and gutteral.
Sylkin, short of breath from the commotion and constricted in her workday
"Oh, jees, didn't want to scare her that much!"
And out stepped the familiar face of Cannium, followed by Nes and Kezly.
The tiger shook his head as he examined the water rat. "She's not your
usual type, Hai," he remarked casually. Nes grinned, while Kezly looked
seriously at Haiyashi.
Haiyashi stepped up to Cannium, wobbly-kneed. "I would prefer it if you
did not do that to me today, Cannium." Though visibly shaking, his voice
was calm and even. Today was not a day he wished to be played with.
Cannium, usually dismissive, bowed his head. "If Eavin were here she'd
have thought it was funny. And then so would you." It was his way of apologizing;
her absence was clearly getting to them all.
Nes was kneeling now beside Sylkin.
"Me ma always esked for the salts when she felt fent," she murmured, dark
eyes now as serious as Kezly's.
"Well do we have any, do we?" Haiyashi was hopeful; she wasn't his type,
sure, but she was their best chance of finding Eavin so far.
"Oh yeah, I'll just open up my portable chemist, shall I Hai?" Cannium's
momentary lapse of disdain returned in fine sarcastic form. "Leave her,
she’s only a bloody whore."
Kezly frowned at Cannium. "Do you have any compassion at all?" He really
made her angry sometimes, although she knew *most* of it was an act. Nes
was fanning the water rat's face with one paw, fumbling for her water bottle
"We need her, Cannium. She knew Eavin was missing, the madam told her.
She said she was headed for the river." Haiyashi turned his back to Cannium.
The clouds were rising higher, the wind carrying them towards Brindall.
trembled - pebbles shaken free and bounding down the slope like fleas off
Such was not unusual along the river - but the fires amongst the brush
at the base of the cliff most definitely were. Houses along the cliffline
erupted into panic when their fireplaces erupted - tongues of flame suddenly
running across floors and up the slope outside, to ignite the dry aphacia
plants clinging to the stone.
The householders, beating out the flames behind their homes, froze in the
heat. The stones were talking - a sound like water rushing through the
cisterns of the city, running through the bones of the earth and up the
bones of their legs. Only for a minute - but some remembered the tales
of their childhood. Maybe, in the morning, they should leave the city for
a few days...and take their families with them.
the sun went down, a long brown face peered from a window on the upper
floor of Madam Meerkatze's brothel. A paw drew the curtain closed, hiding
from the sun as it fell lower, turning the clouds a peculiar shade of purply-green.
Billowing clouds came in lower over the forest, but the stoat knew they
were not the same clouds blanketing the sky above. She could smell it,
and she frowned. Sylkin had gone for a walk after lunch and not yet returned.
It was not like her; she was saving to get out this hellhole and had not
missed a shift in months.
She paused, perching on the edge of her bed and studying herself in the
mirror. Her paws came up to her breast, pulling at the ribbon that tied
her bodice. It came undone, loosening, and her chest heaved slightly as
she drew in a deep breath. Her other paw came up, tugging at the cords
methodically from breast to waist, then pulled the corset over her head.
Next she loosened the laces of her boots, straightening her leg as she
pulled them off in one smooth movement. Standing in front of the mirror,
she put her hands behind her back and untied the sash that held her skirt;
it dropped to the floor revealing long, toned legs that met at a velvet
ribboned satin triangle, covered by the sheerest of silk stockings. Keera
touched her thighs, nimbly thumbing the clasps that held the silk, automatically
rolling them down in a motion so seductive men returned for that alone.
Removing her suspender, she stood and regarded herself for a moment; she
was pleased with what she saw.
As her work gave her all the exercise she needed, she only ever bothered
with her daily walk to the market. Yet she still had the same body as when
she had left her parent's home as a teenage stoat. Pert breasts that stood
out under the light cotton blouse she still wore, a well-toned but feminine
belly and legs to die for. She smiled. Opening the cupboard, she tossed
in her skirt and underclothes then grabbed a pair of leather pants, boots
and a studded belt that held a small knife, given to her by her father
on the night before she had left. It seemed so long ago, now. She shook
Dressed, she pulled out the knife from its sheath and ran it along her
forepaw. Returning it, she glanced over her shoulder, then slammed the
door as she left. She had to find Sylkin.
By the stir of activity around him; and the pinkish streak on the horizon,
he assumed dawn was not far away. He settled down on a level rock, his
rock - he had been coming to this spot for as long as his memory stretched.
The boar had been, what, eight? Nine? When he first discovered this rock
and the view of the city and river and it beckoned him back like one with
an addiction. He sat under the trees high above Brindall, the cliffs the
result of the titanic earthquake scores of years before his grand-sire's
time. These bushlands he loved more than the perfectly manicured and tortured
gardens down in the city, where every blade of grass had a specific place
to go. Here the flora was wild and everywhere. Here there were no restrictions
- you could grow as you pleased.
As he watched, birdsong grew louder, each feathered creature competing
with the next for the world's attention. The pink streak grew brighter,
redder, as it washed over the land, up the cliffs and over the boar. Bliss.
Again he sighed. He really couldn't stay here much longer: he hadn't gone
home since the previous morning and Doalia would be fretting about his
whereabouts. He smiled, remembering when they were courting. They had come
to his rock many, many times. It had been this rock that witnessed his
entry into manhood, and Doalia's loss of virginity...Her father, bless
his soul, would have had a stroke if he had known his pure, darling little
girl hadn't been so pure the day they married. Doalia would understand.
This business with the dolphins was getting quite out of hand...he had
to stop it. Somehow. But that he would worry about once he arrived home.
He stood, and followed the path he had trampled into the ground in the
years he had been visiting his rock. His track joined a wider, more defined
path that would lead him to the gentle sloping way down the side of the
cliff and away from the copse.
A figure, blue dress torn, dirty and dishevelled, stumbled through the
undergrowth. She followed the path up, up seeming the only safe place to
*away from the dolphins... water... too far...*
The bushland was further than the dolphins would go, her mind told her.
Too far from clean water. The only water here was a small pool under the
rocks, brackish and undrinkable.
Kwembo strolled down the trail, the early morning sun pushing its way through
the treetops. He felt somewhat less tense than when he had come up here
a few hours before, perhaps today would see some change in his problem.
He stopped, closing his eyes, taking a deep breath of the sweet smelling
eucalyptus tree scent.
OOMPH! When Kwembo opened his eyes, he was on his back, looking up at the
sky. A frenzied cat-female tried to claw her way over him.
"Let me go!" she cried in terror.
Kwembo held her by the arms, helping her to her feet as he stood up.
"What's the matter, child? I won't hurt you!"
The feline stared at him out of her shock of wild-red hair. She managed
to squeak one word before going limp in his arms. "Dolphins..."
Mayor Kwembo looked at the girl with a sinking heart. The bandits were
playing up. Again. But the more pressing question was - what was he going
to do with the girl? He couldn't well take her home, Doalia wouldn't understand.
She didn't even approve, entirely, of his visits to Meerkatze's establishment
- of course! The brothel!
bring myself together. Pooled, *I* can feel myself stronger,
collected, warmed and added to by the chemistry of my hosts.
tremor through the darkness.
feel my host die - no longer does my substance rush through it's
permeating the organs and the flesh.
slapped the broken body of the brothel mistress against the table. "See,
fool?" she snarled, muscles corded in her fury. "Your cityfolk BITCH has
caused this." She rounded on Zineej, nervously trying to stem the bloodflow
from the deep stab wound in the orca's back. "RUNT!"
The youth fled - the orca was beside herself with rage, and dolphins knew
full well the history of the two races.
Dajil chose his words carefully. "Gryce... she's not a soldier," picking
gingerly through the bloodsoaked rags and checking to see if he recognised
her face. "She probably wasn't even in her own mind - nobody sane would
have come down here - not with the stories the city has been saying about
us. *Especially* not with you here."
The huntress slammed both fists against the tabletop. Dajil winced - the
orca was covered in blood almost to the elbows - orcan hunting weapons
did horrific damage to their victims. He supposed it was a small mercy
she hadn't used her teeth.
"EUNUCH! LIMP, USELESS *FISH*!" she roared. The dolphin coloured. He considered
himself to be a particularly good lover. "And when your furred *slut* tells
the city why we're REALLY here? What will you, little fish, DO?"
"She doesn't know. She doesn't *know*" Dajil gazed up at his latest partner,
eyes utterly calm, expression carefully blank "Calm down, huntress. Your
duties here are clear, and your loyalties respected."
The orca trembled... but she smothered her rage. She snapped a final insult
at her lover, and turned into the night. Outside, she squeezed the shaft
of her spear in her hands until the metal squeaked. Didn't the fool realise
how important the plan was? Didn't he realise how *valuable* the artifact
could be? She glowered out at the city, dark against the cliffs, and licked
at the blood on her fingers.
It tasted of metal.
potter grumbled as he swept the floor of his stall - the tremor the night
before had been a particular strong one, an entire rack of freshly made
bowls and serving trays (already glazed, at that!) destroyed. He grumbled
at his son, and the young badger hurriedly left to prepare the clay for
the day's batch.
The elder badger rested a moment on his broom - a boar was carrying somebody
up the street. A cat, by the look of it. He raised an eyebrow. Kwembo?
Unlike him to be visiting the Meerkatze place this early, and he didn't
recognise the girl... The potter shrugged - Kwembo was the most honest
and popular city leader in living memory - the best ever, as he continually
impressed on his son. He certainly didn't begrudge the boar
relaxation - and it did their generation proud if his stamina had outlasted
He returned to his sweeping - that was the important thing. Clay and glazes,
kilns and clay.
again the morning light streamed into the rough but clean room where the
urchins lived, but it was weaker than it had been the morning before, as
clouds of smoke still hung over the town and filtered some of the harshness
from the light.
Kezly wouldn't have cared if the noon sun was shining into the room, she
hadn't slept at all. Even after Sylkin had woken up, she was exhausted,
and they had decided to wait until morning before continuing the search
The lioness was worried about Eavin, and the current situation that didn't
give her the leeway to do anything frustrated her. She wanted to do something...anything,
rather than this sitting around waiting for everyone to get their act together.
She didn't blame the whore for needing a rest, but it was morning, and
as far as she was concerned, time to go.
As probably the strongest of the female urchins, Kezly looked out for the
other girls, especially the beautiful Eavin, who never went far without
a small following of male and female furs who wanted to bed her. The lioness
had an image in her mind that she couldn't shake: Eavin was lying face
down in a pool of turbulent water, her dress torn and body ravaged.
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Kezly tried to push the image from her
mind and looked around the room. The whore, Sylkin, lay with her back to
the wall, her head resting on Haiyashi's shoulder. To her mind, they looked
almost comical; the little, curvy water rat and tall, lean Haiyashi's.
Ever since the whore had come out of the faint she had stayed with the
cheetah, but so far he had seemed oblivious to her advances. Prua, Veliz,
Warren and Nes all shared a ragged blanket, their small bodies intertwined
together for warmth. Cannium slept at their feet, a blanket barely covering
his larger torso. Kezly walked over to near where he lay, and watched him
sleep, a wistful sigh involuntarily escaping. Though she would never admit
it, she knew that she actually liked the tall, arrogant and sarcastic tiger.
He acted thoughtlessly and bossed everyone around, especially the girls,
but for reasons she couldn't explain she wanted him more than anything
else she had ever wanted in her life. But she also knew that the type of
females Cannium normally bedded were petite and flirty, the type of girls
who giggled and wore pretty dresses. Kezly was pretty enough, lithe and
strong, with amber fur, red-gold locks and eyes the colour of good ale,
but she was as far from the furs Cannium liked as well — day from night.
Sighing again, she stood and stretched, then went down by herself to get
Acrid smoke still hung in the air from the day before, and Kezly shuffled
her way barefoot though a light covering of ash on the path to the well.
When they had felt the earth shake, Cannium had dragged them away from
the hovel to see what was happening. She hadn't been surprised when they
found Hai in the park, that's where he always went to be by himself, but
the whore who new about Eavin's disappearance had been a surprise.
There was little activity around at the moment, but through the haze to
the southwest she made out a figure hurrying towards her.
out of the tunnel she had last seen the tiger and his two companions exit
through, Keera saw that the sun had already begun another day. She found
herself on a path that led down to the river, quickly deciding if Sylkin
hadn't made it home while she had, apparently, been knocked out, then Keera
would have to raise some help.
Trotting as fast as she could on an empty stomach, Keera went over the
afternoon before in her mind. On reaching the edge of the forest, she'd
seen a large male tiger up ahead of her, hurrying along a fox and a slightly
smaller lion. Recognising them from the cottage next door — an old servant's
dwelling she had always assumed, from when the brothel had been an estate
manor, now no more than a hovel — she had been intrigued when the tiger
suddenly ducked between two rocks, followed by the other two, and disappeared.
Figuring it as good a place as any to start looking for Sylkin, and anyway
unable to ignore what looked like a good adventure, she had followed.
first it had been so dark she had had to stop and let her eyes adjust.
The tiger and lion, eyes adapted, led the fox down what seemed at first
to be an ancient rabbit warren, from when animals still lived in the ground.
Her mother had told her of these as bedtime stories, and now an image of
giant naked rabbits digging with their paws popped into her mind. Opening
out into a larger area, Keera padded along quietly, making out rough-hewn
rocky walls, areas covered in green slimy moss, others in what seemed to
be very old spider webs. Careful not to make a noise, she followed the
trio as the area narrowed again and went down, down and down. Keera had
never had much sense of direction but as the air grew more humid she knew
they were either coming close to the river or at least the water table.
The tiger had stopped first, putting out his paw to stop the other two
from passing him. Keera had noticed arrogance, no it was more than that
— superciliousness, really — in the tiger's attitude towards the two females,
as she now saw they were. Keera sidled in behind a jutting corner of igneous,
watching and listening. All thoughts of finding Sylkin now vanished, as
she peered around the rock to get a better glimpse of what was happening.
"OK, Nes, Kezly, I need you both to go back there and watch out for me..."
"What the hell is it that we're doing here Cannium?" The lioness, who seemed
to be losing her patience, threw her chin and breasts towards the tiger
in what looked to Keera like a fighting stance.
"Yeah, Cann, how is Sylkin going to be down here?" The fox piped up now,
having taken the lion's lead. Keera could see her point: they were at the
end of this tunnel, which stopped strangely in a sheer wall of rock different
to that she now hid behind. There was a small impression near the top left
of the wall; she didn’t think the fox or lion had seen it, attentive as
they were now to the tiger.
"Look, there could easily be dolphins following us...do you want to be
caught?" He stood over them both now, in an intimidating manner. Keera
saw the lion bristle. Cannium, the tiger, saw too, and backed off a little.
"I heard Eavin showing this tunnel to Haiyashi one day," he lied, "so just
go around the corner and watch out won't you, like a good little vixen
The lioness backed down, turning and trudging towards Keera, the fox once
again taking her lead. Keera tiptoed backwards, turning and saw a small
niche a little further back. She figured she could see the tiger from there,
and possibly still hear if the other two were returning.
"There's more to this than looking for Eavin, I'm sure of it Kez," the
vixen whispered as they passed Keera.
"You go a bit further Nes, I'll stay and watch him." The lion was definitely
the leader of the two. Keera stayed in the shadow until she was sure she
could peek out safely again. In the meantime, she listened. Fins. History
my arse. Cover the basket? Had she heard right? None of three had been
carrying anything. The tiger was whispering quietly to himself, examining
the impression that Keera had first noticed on the endwall. He pulled something
out of a waistcoat pocket and held it up to the hollow. A barely audible,
but low grinding sound could be heard for an instant; Keera looked back
to see if the fox or lioness had heard it. All was quiet: they must've
gone further back down the tunnel.
But then Keera heard a pattering, and a then rush of amber and honey fur
blurred past. In a skid, the two females were at Cannium's side. They had
just been hiding a little past where Keera was herself. Keera wiped her
forebrow, glad she hadn't been detected.
"What was that Cannium?" The lion was again between the tiger and fox,
in fighting stance.
"Must've been the start of another earthquake"
"Well I didn't feel anything. Only heard." Nes, the vixen, sounded very
unsure of herself.
"It was a small one. Come on. She's not here." The tiger turned and fumed
down the tunnel. The vixen and lioness looked at each other, then followed.
Keera had dutifully come next, not wanting to get lost in this underground
maze. They were almost out, she now remembered, when she had become unconscious.
She had seen the three duck into another tunnel, narrower again, that seemed
to have some light seeping down it, when there really had been another
earthquake, and, she now assumed, had been hit on the head.
now it was daylight again and Keera was almost home. Just another corner,
"My dear Keera you really should watch where you are going!" Keera blinked
in the sunlight. A pink round frill outlined the face of her dreaded Aunt
Drosophilia like a tatted and daisied halo. "And I don't suppose you have
yourself a job yet?"
Keera grimaced. All she wanted to do was get home and see if Sylkin was
there. Her Most Honoured Ladyship (as Keera called her privately) had no
idea Keera was one of the town's most popular working girls, and tempted
as she was, she wasn't going to tell her now. Her parents may not live
here but they would hear. Drosophilia would make sure of that.
"Why Aunt, did not you hear? I am now apprentice to the baker in Yuellia!"
Keera replied, putting on her best enunciated voice. She knew Her Ladyship
would never even try to ascertain the truth of that, her hatred of Yuellia
and its people as illogical as the original War had been, in Keera's opinion.
As she turned down the lane to the brothel's rear, she could hear Her Ladyship
calling after her; Keera ignored her, although she knew it would cost her
a visit from her parents. Well, she'd love to see them, she thought, and
anyway where was Sylkin? Traipsing up the whorehouse stairs, she pushed
open the French double doors that divided the large sunroom from the back
porch. Bathe, sleep...but first check Sylkin's room.
back was creaking with the effort — the girl was light (so terribly thin!)
—but he wasn't as strong as he used to be, and the effort of carrying her
down the Aphacia Stairs and Swivel-gun Lane was starting to tell. His breath
wheezed and little spots were starting to dance in front of his eyes by
the time he reached the Meerkatze establishment. The boar leant her up
against the rails and stood, half crouched, as he tried to regain his breath.
He was glad he'd tucked his walking stick into his sash — at this rate
he would be needing it to walk as far as the markets.
"Miss..." he croaked. He wiped his brow on his forehead. He hoped that
there was some of that delicious wine left...he really wasn't up to this
sort of physical exertion anymore. Careless of him — he should have asked
for assistance. Lots of people around here. Plenty of help. He waited till
his vision cleared and he was breathing a little easier.
"Mistress Meerkatze! Open up! It's very important!"
"EAVIN!" A shriek enough to make his ears ring.
"Eavin! Warren! Cannium! Eavin...Eavin!" Another cat — no, a lion this
time, was trying to shake the girl awake. He patted her on the shoulder,
murmured, "Careful girl, she's not well...treat her gently."
Kez stared — the *mayor* had Eavin? At least she hadn't drowned like in
her dreams — or worse. She couldn't even remember how to curtsey — everything
depended on Eavin being well — she was her friend!
Cannium snarled, stripes bristling. "What did you do to her, old man?"
He had his claws out...Kez's heart flew to her mouth...if he clawed the
The old boar was visibly shaken. "Me? Young man, I just carried your friend
from the Aphacia Stai.."
"Mayor?" Now the door was open — Keera was standing, eyes wide. Kwembo
was starting to feel dizzy — a gaggle of children, an unconscious cat-girl,
two ladies of the night. He sat down, hard.
you feel me, Eavin? *I* am here, inside you.
will preserve you.
are precious to me, my host.
was late. The business with cats and rabbits and mice left him no time
at all. Not a chance for a nap, he thought, as he trotted up the stairs
before the Chamber of Commerce. He groaned inside as he recognised the
stoat waiting for him. He truly did his best for the city, but women like
the Lady Crocus made it difficult to concentrate on the wider picture.
"Well met, Lady," he ventured, "I hope that you haven't come to see me,
especially, as I have pressing engagement –"
"What, sir, do you intend to do about the Yuellians?" she snapped.
"Lady? I was unaware of any situation regarding my other constituents?"
She didn't take the hint — she never did. "This very morning, the *tradesmen*
refused to complete my garden. The refused! Said that they wouldn't stay
in the city if the stones were speaking, and..." she was shaking and white
with indignant fury, "...especially not for a woman of Brindall. My family
have lived in the city since the time of Dricus the Hero, and he must be
rolling in his grave now to hear his descendants insulted by rabble from
that...that cesspool –"
Kwembo clashed his tushes together. "Lady Crocus — as a member of an old
family, I would have thought you would know better then to resurrect memories
of The War." Still, he would have to look into this, if the old prejudices
were coming to the surface again. "I would appreciate, Lady, if in future
you would not provoke the same sort of situation with comments of that
The stoat was taken aback, and clutched her parasol like a two handed sword.
"Well! And I suppose you will do nothing when dolphin bandits murder us
in our beds?"
A voice behind her piped in cheerily "We wouldn't do that! Not without
ravishing you a few times first, anyway."
Lady Crocus went a rather remarkable shade of purple, Kwembo noticed, as
he tried to keep a suitably severe face. The stoat, clearly not trusting
herself to speak, straightened her back and stomped, rather heavily, down
the slate stairway.
"Well, only the more attractive ones, anyway," continued Dajil, glancing
after the stoat. "Who was that old prune?"
"Drosophilia Crocus, Mr Dajil. A member of one of the oldest families in
"She certainly looks it. Running late I see? Your friend from the Council
of Historians is already here – I think my orcan associate is scaring him."
was toying with one of her knives. The rabbit from the Historian's Council
was hovering over near the furthest door, with a goblet of chilled rainwater
from the Chamber's supply.
"Gentleman? Ma'am? If you'd like to be seated?" The boar murmured his orders
to the Day Officer — with the doors sealed and the Day Officer standing
guard outside, no-one would overhear the negotiations.
"Your friend here confirm our claim, has he?" asked the dolphin, gesturing
towards the rabbit. Kwembo noted that the bruise on his forehead still
hadn't faded — uncharitably, he found himself wishing whoever had made
the blow had made a better job of it, and saved him the decision he feared
he would have to make.
The historian was looking rather ill. "Ah, I consulted the surviving texts,
sir, ah, and it would seem that the artifact, ah, is indeed part of the,
ah, Covenant Casket, sir."
The bandit grinned. "Just as well...wouldn't want to think we'd come all
this way for nothing."
Kwembo pinched the bridge of his nose, and peeled the wax off his sealed
document case. "And your demands?"
"Pretty reasonable, I should think. Complete freedom of the West Isles
from Brindallian influence. No embassy, no taxation, no tariffs. *Very*
cheap considering what it would cost your city if we, say, showed off the
casket in Chapel Square?"
"And who knows you have it?" demanded the Historian. It must be galling
indeed, thought the boar, to learn that not only might his entire profession
be rendered obsolete, but also the means to do so was in the hands of barbarians.
Dajil grinned even more broadly. "See Gryce, I told you they’d ask that.
Before you think about some sort of naval attack on the Isles, the answer
is – most of the Pod Matriarchs, everybody who helped us dig it up, a good
number of our friends here," gesturing to the sullen huntress, "and anybody
else we happened to tell about it.
"But don't worry, we'll all be much happier to see the city out of our
hair," he smirked, "rather than put Brindall and Yuellia in another civil
war and have to deal with whoever survives. Assuming the gods don't wreck
the cities with an earthquake like they did last time."
Kwembo clutched at a final straw. "And if you did try to bring the casket
into the city…?"
"You couldn't spot us — you'd have to search every ship, every coracle
and raft, without explaining why. And we could always bring it in underwater
anyway. Who knows, we might even have it here already..."
Gryce glared at him. "But if we didn't, and you stormed the island to try
to, ah, talk it out of us...welllllll, the pods back home wouldn't be very
happy with the city, would they?"