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  1. Silver1
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    Monkeys and Magic (4,044 words)

    Discussion in '"Consequences" Short Story Contest' started by Silver1, May 14, 2008.

    "Take him to Ceiro's workshop. Cell Block E," the guard captain said to the two minions at his side.

    They hustled to obey him, like good minions do, and then paused when confronted with the pair of hands Cabel thrust forward. "This isn't a hero is it? All we have are hero issue chains."

    Cabel leered at them. "No, I'm not a hero, but I'm expecting one so keep your eyes peeled." Ha. Losers. By the time they realized he didn't have a hero, they'd have shot and narrowly missed every unidentifiable stranger in their path. Guards were always so fun.

    "Just hang onto him," the captain said. "He's not going anywhere. Look at him, he can barely stand."

    There the captain was wrong. Cabel had rather big plans for where he was going, and none of them involved Cell Block E. Besides, he could stand just fine. It was the floor that didn't want to stay where it belonged.

    "Just a minute, I wasn't finished yet," he mumbled. "Dirt, grease and scum...what was I sayin?"

    The captain gave him a shove. "You're lucky to be alive, wolf-man. If it were me, I would have cut you down where you stood."

    Cabel giggled. “Dirt, grease and scum wad. That was funny. If I were there all over again do you know what I’d say? I’d lean right over and shout, ‘B—“

    The captain rendered him silent with a forceful blow to his jaw. "Do not mock the king in his own hall!"

    The floor made an unseemly motion under his feet, and before he knew it he was tumbling head over heels. "Ow! What'd you do that for? I didn't do nothin."

    The captain kicked him. “You think you can badmouth the Shadow King in his own land and not pay for it? You think this is a game? Let me tell you something. You’re not going to a nice little dungeon cell to sleep off the results of your excesses. You’re going to Ceiro, and when he’s through with you, it will be the king’s pleasure to command your drugged-out wolf tongue to lick his toilet clean every day for the rest of your miserable life.”

    Cabel pulled his tongue as far to the back of his mouth as he could manage and sneered at the captain. “You’re wrong about ol’ Scummie. See, he only leth…les…lets his personal favorites do somethin like that. Me, he’ll prolly send to the gallows. Don’ worry though. I got a plan. I'm gonna escape.”

    The captain pulled his foot back for another kick, and Cabel scrambled to get back on his feet. It was harder than he expected. The hall kept spinning, and try as he might he couldn't seem to get off the ground. The movement had to stop before it made him throw up. He winced, swallowed, and decided four legs were safer than two. “Ugh. Stop the room. I want to get off.”

    “Enough,” the captain said. “We’ve been order to deliver you to Ceiro. The king didn’t say you had to be in one piece when you got there.”

    Cabel opened his mouth to retort, gagged, and pushed at the first door he saw in hopes that it would open to a bathroom, or at least a dark place where no one would notice the results of his weak stomach.

    "The fool! Someone catch him!" the captain cried.

    Cabel felt a prickle of wolf hair run down his back in response. He hadn't known he was getting away until they’d said something. He laughed to himself in triumph as he flung open the door, stepped through, and discovered the true meaning of their words. There was nothing past the door, not even a floor.

    Cabel’s victory laugh morphed into a long wail. One of the minions snatched at his tail as he hurtled over the edge, and slowed his impetuous only slightly before losing his grip. The ground rushed up to greet him, too fast for his eyes to adjust. He hit the hard-packed dirt nose first, slid an inch or two, and then slammed into what felt like the side of a wood pile.

    "Medic," he groaned, but the guards were too busy laughing their way to the janitor's tunnel to pay him any attention.

    He gave himself a few moments to let the world stop spinning, and when it didn't, he sat up anyway. The dark surrounding him scared him more than the prospect of a broken bone. What if there was a reason for the pit? What if there was a monster? What if it was slavering over him, ready to devour what meat was left on his poor thin body?

    Light! He had to have a light. He pawed through his robe, dug out a match and struck it against a hard canine tooth. Its brief irruption of light lasted only a moment before it burned him so bad he had to drop it, but it revealed much about his surroundings in the process.

    Long spears black with blood lay neatly stacked in the corner, most of the tines broken. Here and there a few pieces of the shafts still clung to holes in the dirt, but they were far from where he had landed. A small sign revealed why he had not joined the thousands of victims-not-expecting-a-hero on the lethal spits.

    "Out of order," it read. "Please try again later."

    Great, the pit was a broken death trap, and not a monster cage. Never mind that. Time to find out if the handy trap door left for victims meant to live happily ever after still worked. He sniffed around until he found it, set his shoulder against the door, and heaved. The door refused to budge. "Wha? It's for the good guys, it's supposed to work!"

    The door evidently hadn't gotten the memo. He pushed, grunted, screamed, and clawed until the sound of the guards approaching made him glance around for a hiding place. There were enough broken spears to hide behind. He could become one with the ground, silent, an immovable shadow that not even torchlight would reveal.

    He hiccupped, and then hiccupped again in what promised to be a long succession of them. He did his best to cover his mouth and looked around for a different option. It was so hard to think just now. Why did everything have to be so complicated? A brief glimmer of light from the torches of the approaching guards revealed another sign, and since he was out of other ideas he read it.

    "Oh! Pull!"

    He hooked a paw around the door handle, yanked it open, and threw himself into the tunnel. Fresh air flooded his nostrils and light in the far distance made him squeal in delight. He could see light from the end of the tunnel. He was almost free. He scurried around a corner, and skidded to a halt at the sight before him. The tunnel led to Cell Block E. He was sort of hoping for, you know, an exit.

    He peered around to make sure no one was looking, and squeezed out of the tunnel. It was a bit tight with the tall racks of cages filled with every manner of creature, but at least they screened him from view. As long as they kept quiet, he would have no problems sneaking past the guards and escaping.

    He carefully edged past a lounging griffin, tail tucked between his legs, and froze when he came to the end of the aisle. Cell block E was filled with people. It looked like every merchant in Lokeli had crowded into the dungeon, and each person standing there had a minimum of two animals with him. He followed the train of people down to their source, and shivered when he saw the dour old man who sat there.

    He didn't need to read a sign to tell him it was Ceiro. The elaborate costume the wizard wore did nothing to hide the wrinkles in his skin, or the corruption that oozed from his pours. He cradled in one arm a small silver vixen, her teats swollen with milk. The screams she made were enough to sober anyone as she bit at Ceiro's hands and fought for her very life. The old man paid her teeth no attention as he sat, feet tucked underneath him, and a long tattooing needle in his free hand.

    She struggled right up until the last jagged edge of the lightning bolt inked into her shoulder was in place. Then Ceiro spoke a series of words over the tattoo, and by his command it let out a puff of CieroVin.

    The fox quivered under the power of the drug-filled tattoo, and her small tight body relaxed in Ceiro's grip. Ceiro patted the fox, and put his needle away.

    "Sit up," he commanded.

    The once wild creature sat up, tolerantly allowed a ribbon to be tied around its neck, and allowed itself to be placed in the hands of a waiting child without fuss.

    The whole process lasted only a short time, but those few moments were long enough. Cabel took a deep breath when a wave of the smell it released washed over him, and felt the gentle contentment it raised seep into his pours. It would be so easy to just lay down for a little while, and get drunk again. It was so easy to get drunk on Ciero's magic. It was like a good pint of ale, only better.

    "Gotcha!"

    Cabel yelped as a gauntleted fist dug into his scalp. He twisted around in the guards grip, snarling fiercely, and bit. He almost broke a tooth off on the solid metal plating, but one of his teeth managed to sink down into the joint and help him pull the gauntlet off.

    The guard was not so keen on keeping his arm out unprotected. The secret door slammed shut with a vibrating clang that instantly gave Cabel a headache. He slumped against the door. Why did these things always happen to him? He was single, hung-over, being chased by guards, and out of ale. What could be worse? He hadn't even done anything wrong. After all, the king really was a dirt, grease, and scum wad.

    The door he held closed bucked as the guards tried to push it open. He struggled to hold it closed and frantically looked for a way of holding the door shut. He had to get out of there, to blend in with the crowd somehow.

    He stared at the griffin across from him, and then gave it a cheesy smile. "Heeey big guy, feel like doing me a favor?"

    The griffin stared at him, unimpressed.

    "Wiggle your cage over. When the door pops out the guards will fling themselves into it. You can have a lunch! A big meal! Do you understand big meal?"

    Cabel took a deep breath and morphed back into human form. "Please don't eat me," he pleaded as he grasped the cage by its back bards and tugged with all his might. The cage slid surprisingly easily towards the door—and towards him. The griffin got to his feet, tail lashing.

    "Aaaah!" Cabel screamed as the griffin swiped at him. He gathered up his robes and flung himself out from behind the cages. The crowd opened up to admit him, mostly because he would have made tracks up the backs of the other merchants if they hadn't.

    He found a place in the line waiting for Ceiro and tried to imitate the bored stance of the merchants. Standing in line, he looked just like all the other merchants and travelers. At least he hoped so. He'd lost his pants somewhere along the way, but he still had the robe fashionable among merchants, and with any luck, no one would be looking at his ankles.

    A monkey howled in outrage as it was given to Ceiro, and Cabel looked away. It was better the monkey than him. He knew where Ceiro got his energy from, and he didn't want to be taken to the front of the line to have his moon-magic stripped and his own mind-mushing tattoo put in place.

    There was no convenient opening for him to slip through, and he was forced to stand for several minutes before he saw an opportunity. The crowd parted, and all that lay between him and his freedom was another Wolf.

    She stood at the side of the merchant who owned her, acquiescent not from drugs or threats, but because she was Wolf, and knew how to bide her time. The hair that ran soft and human down his back bristled at the sight. She was a vision. She saw him too. Her vibrant gold eyes searched his flat, human face, and he could tell she saw the wolf within. A gentle quiver from her nose confirmed this as she took in his scent, testing, hoping.

    He licked his lips and grinned at her. "Hello, baby" he purred.

    She blinked at him, and her lip lifted just high enough to reveal a sharp, pointed tooth. She didn’t quite sneer, but the opinion was there. Typical woman. There was nothing he could do. He was almost home free anyway, and there was nothing he wanted more than to save his own skin. Not even a pretty girl. A very pretty girl. She'd just looked at him pointedly and then away. Was that a sign? Was she flirting with him? Maybe he should try again.

    "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?"

    Now she was sneering, and on top of that, the merchants were staring at him too. His cheeks warmed. "I'm sorry. It's just that, um, it's such a pretty wolf."

    The merchant's eyes narrowed and he stepped forward to examine Cabel more closely. "You look familiar. Aren't you the farmer from Laslow? The one who grew barley. Yes, farmer—" He stopped short when he got within a foot of Cabel and began to fan the air around his nose. "How much have you been drinking?"

    "What's it to you how much I've had?" Cabel growled, his hand going defensively to the flask strapped to his side. "Just cause I've had one or two pints—"

    The merchant waved him away. "Get to the back of the line. No one wants to hear your story or anything else about you either. Keep away from me wolf too. Ye look like you'd try to eat her."

    The she-wolf sniggered and turned away from him, but he could see the disappointment in her posture. He hesitated, than retreated to the back of the line when he heard the jingle of armor. The guards had gotten through, and soon there would be a search.

    He reached for the canteen of ale atypically at his side and balled his hand into a fist when he realized what he was doing. He wasn't a drunk. Not the way everyone was accusing him. Besides, it was empty anyway.

    The guards began going down the line of patrons, stopping every merchant with a wolf. They didn't kill the wolves, as he thought they would, but merely checked to see if the wolf was a true wolf, and not a son or daughter of the moon.

    The she-wolf was watching, her keen eyes taking in every movement of the guards. He frowned. Did her merchant not know what she was? He saw the man tighten his grip on the leash as she turned to snarl at him, her words lost to everyone but him. "You fool!" she snarled. "You have ruined everything!"

    He shrugged. He hadn't done a thing to her. She was just jealous because he'd gotten free and she hadn't. He didn't owe her anything. In his shoes, she'd have done the same retched thing. He felt a bubble of fear rise in his throat as he saw them approaching her, and reached deep into his pockets in search of a coin. He had to have one. He needed a drink. As soon as he got free, he would get one.

    The she-wolf turned her eyes to him once more. He swallowed, and pulled his hands from his pockets. He didn't want her to hope. There was nothing he could do. He was almost home free, and there was nothing he wanted more than to save his own skin. Not even a pretty girl. A very pretty girl. The guards were almost on her. He snarled in frustration, and then he did the only thing he could think of to buy her all the time he could. He turned the monkeys lose.

    Having that many monkeys bent on utter destruction all in the same space is a disaster. Cabel hid under the table. After all, he wasn't a hero. The guards weren't prepared for that kind of dungeon revolt, but the merchants filled the gap in nicely. They screamed, they stabbed ineffectually at monkeys, and most of all, they tried to find the person who turned them lose. It was Ceiro who finally did. He probably didn't want to. He wanted to hide under the table too. There were monkeys in his workshop.

    He'd brought an eagle with him, and from the way he moved his hands and lips, Cabel could tell he was invoking a spell over it. Cabel didn't know what it would do once invoked, but he guessed it was bad. He whimpered and glanced out at the she-wolf as she raced past in pursuit of a guard. She looked busy. Did that mean he had to be the hero?

    The tattoo peeking out from under the eagle's shoulder feathers pulsed a strange green-gold, and the bird turned towards the magician, as if listening. Cabel forced his hand to move towards the tattooing needle, and then retreated a little. He could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. He needed another drink. He wwas definitely running low on liquid courage. Why did it have to be him?

    Ceiro pulled the hood off the eagle, and prepared to send it off. Cabel felt his stomach drop, but he reached for the needle once more. If he could just reach it, he would have a weapon. More importantly, Ceiro would have one less. A wave of CiroVin rolled off of Ceiro's musty clothes as he brushed past it, and forced Cabel to a halt. It was so tantalizing. He could feel the warmth of it spreading through him, like the finest gin. Liquid courage! He had found it after all.

    "You're Wolf," Ciero whispered in surprise.

    Cabel's hand jerked back. "Am I wearing a sign?!" he demanded.

    Ciero didn't laugh. He simply set the flustered bird on the floor beside him, picked up his tattooing needle, and plunged it through Cabel's robes and into his side. The pain sent him screaming and caterwauling through a gaggle of monkeys to the Lady Wolf's side.

    The merchants took advantage of his distraction to surround him with spears and knives. It was just them then. Cabel, Lady Wolf, and a spider monkey he'd accidentally stepped on in his flight.

    "Do something," he whispered to Lady Wolf.

    Her eyes flashed, but she made no move against the spear-wielding merchants. She couldn't possibly expect him to do all the work, could she? He'd gotten them this far, it was her turn to do something.

    "Give me the needle,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

    Cabel felt around in his robes until he found the needle and pulled it from his side. Oddly enough, there was no pain where the needle had been. The scent of CiroVin, light enough to be merely pleasant and not intoxicating, curled from the small green dot that marked the needle's passage.

    The merchants stilled as the needle appeared, mixed expressions of disgust and horror on their faces. The wolf merchant was the only one to move, raising his spear till it came level with Cabel’s heart. “Put that magic down werewolf, you don’t know how to use it.”

    "Gentlemen, please," Ceiro interrupted. "The Wolf is our friend.” He stepped from the safety of his hiding place, his fingers working at the top of a jar of CieroVin. “Put down your spears. The Wolf won’t attack you, it’s not even close to full moon. Isn’t that right Jonathon?”

    Cabel felt his heart lurch at the name. Christ, he needed a drink. “Stay away from me,” he snarled.

    “Of course, we won’t come any closer to you or little Laura. We don’t want to be bitten either.”

    Cabel stared. “Laura?”

    “Yes. You had two children, remember? One of them you bit. One of them you didn’t. Would you like to know where Thomas is?”

    “No.”

    “Yes you do,” Ceiro cracked open the jar. “Thomas is a very old man now. You’d recognize him, if you stopped calling him by a different name.”

    “No!”

    He held out the can, letting the scent of CeiroVin wash over Cabel, numbing him.

    "Take it, and I promise you’ll forget.”

    Cabel let the needle fall to the floor. It jingled there, flashing in golden beauty before disappearing into a crack. “I’m not going to forget.”

    The wizard’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and before the spearmen could react, Cabel had picked up the spider monkey at his feet by the tail and flung it into Ceiro's face. No, at Thomas. At his son.

    The monkey bounced off the head of the wizard and began climbing upwards swiftly, but Cabel did not care where it went after that. The important thing was the monkey had knocked the jar out of his hands and he was vulnerable. Cabel didn't need to go for it, Lady--Laura had her teeth ready, and she went for the throat.

    None of the merchants went after the wolf. They were all staring. Staring up. When Cabel looked up to, he saw what they were staring at. The monkey had climbed all the way up to a lever on a small upper level of the dungeon. It had its paws on the auto-destruct lever. You know, the one that says "Never use" directly under it in big bold letters? Well the monkey couldn't read.

    Cabel could sum it all up with the word "KABOOM!" or so he'd been told. All he could remember was a whole lot of black.

    When he woke up, he was covered in seeds, and thorns and he had rug burn on one side of his body. Apparently Lady Wolf had dragged him all the way from the dungeon rubble to the nearby woods. "You're an idiot," she informed him as soon as he woke up.

    "My head," he groaned. "What a hangover. Do something."

    "You deserve it."

    "Even my hair hurts."

    "Wuss."

    "Do you have anything nice to say?"

    She tilted her head, considering. "No, not really. You almost got us killed."

    He sat up and examined the painful scratches on his side. "I saved your life."

    "No, you attempted to save my life and nearly blew us up instead. Can you do anything right?"

    He glowered at her. "Yeah. I can eat, I can sleep, and I can drink anyone under the table. What more could you want?"

    "Sobriety. I hope you learned something from this."

    "Yeah. If you're gonna get drunk, don't top till you're passed out. We're free now so quit complaining." He rubbed his head and checked his hand for blood. "What do you want to do now that we are free?"

    She thought it over. "We are two free wolves, and full moon is far away. Let us celebrate," she paused. "And find a boy. I have a message to send to the king."

    They did find a boy, by the way, and he carried for them an elaborate scroll to the king. The kind that is bejeweled, and sealed, and tied up with so many ribbons that no one ever bothers to check if it's something the king wants.

    When he opened it, he found himself confronted with twelve simple words.

    "You're still a dirt, grease and scum wad.

    Sincerely,

    Jonathon & Laura
     
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