Mountains and Trees
A narrow path winds upwards through the country for men who wish to see the world from a higher viewpoint. Scrubby bushes and tall pine trees cling to the rocks for dear life, like survivors who refuse to turn the countryside over to the mountain completely.
After his victory over the Clockmaster of Chronotopia, the great fighting Kiriga, Master Long Tooth, journeyed towards where he thought was Titania. At least it was the direction people pointed him in when he asked.
The tricycle given to him by the Gallisians has proven to be a fair mode of transportation, although the front wheel catches his beard from time to time and it can be a pain whenever he needs to go uphill. Still, at least he doesn't have to feed it oats or shovel coal into it.
The cities of Chronotopia soon gave way to rocky forests. Unfortunately from there on in the ride was completely uphill.
We find the old master partway up one of what seems like countless inclines, all strewn with rocks which, if Long Tooth's muttering is any indication, were all placed specifically with malicious intent against him and the elderly. As he has done more often than he's been riding, Tooth stands near his trike, trying to boost it over a clump of stones that have caught the front wheel much like the front wheel has caught stray white whiskers. The ancient reptile seems in a foul mood indeed, and with not a drop of liquor nearby to lighten it.
A breeze blows down from the mountaintop and whisks a piece of paper from higher up on the path across the treetops. It lands with a crinkly *spat* right across the Kiriga's nose.
"Stoopid rocks … Chronowhatsians don'tah got respect enough foh eldahs to puttah road in … hrnf!" The paper causes the Kiriga to set his trike down abruptly. There are a few pops as one of the rear wheels adds another kink near the end of his tail, but he doesn't pay it any mind right away, instead choosing to rip the paper from his face and glare at it as though deeply offended by its existence. He then realizes people often write things on paper, and squints more closely at it.
Upon the paper is a drawing of some goofy looking fellow with wrinkles on his face and shaggy hair growing from his nostrils and eyebrows. It looks familiar somehow… although the most interesting thing is that there's a few big numbers written underneath it and a picture of some horrible looking dessert made out of whipped cream and tentacles.
The old master glares at the visage sneering back at him. "Pah! Dis issah some ugg-lee fellow … oh, but I haffa dis befoh. Mmmm … squahmy dessaht." He looks up and around expectantly, hoping to see an eatery that has perhaps been built in this rather unlikely out-of-the-way area.
"Hey! You 'zere! Zhat does not belong to you!" a high pitched voice yaps down at the old master.
"Eh?" Long Tooth starts to turn around, then realizes his tail is still stuck under the trike wheel. He gives it a yank, and it comes out, leaving a few stray hairs from his tail tuft floating on the breeze. He looks up this time, peering out from beneath shaggy brows. "Who speak?" he rasps.
"Just a moment! I vill come down!" the voice barks back. "Do not go anywhere until I have had a chance to yell at you more!"
The Kiriga shakes one bony fist at the treeline in whatever direction he thinks the voice is coming from. "Jou cannot jell attah me! I ammah Old Mastah Long Tooth!"
A few minutes later a creature that looks a bit like a tawny rat or a Gallah puppy with a head two times too big for its body rushes down to meet the Kiriga master. "I *puff* am *puff*… " The dog's tongue lolls out of its mouth. "Give me a moment. I do not run so well."
Tooth folds his arms patiently, grimacing at the strange ratdog thing. "Hmph."
The Chihuahua pants a bit more and pulls a frilly handkerchief from his pocket, daubing at his head. "Now zen … where was I?" He looks up at the Kiriga. "Would you mind bending down so that I do not have to shout upwards at you? It is very rude to be taller than someone you know."
The Kiriga obligingly squats down to see "eye-to-eye" with the Gallee, his face pinching when something in his back cracks loudly. "Whatchoo got to say to Long Tooth dattah jou come alla way outta heah? I busy! I haffa go find Crunch andah Shikouju, andah beatah dem senseless. I nottah getting youngah, jou know?"
The dog puffs up. "I am Atilla! Master of the Trapjaw Technique! I am on a very important mission to apprehend a tricycle thief from Gallis!" He peers at the Kiriga's own mode of transportation, back up at the Kiriga, and down at the three-wheeled contraption again.
"Feh! Den catcha him andah mind jou own business!" grunts the old master, turning back around the mind the trike and try to boost it over the rocks. "Canchoo see I busy? I haffa notta seen any othah triseekos! Now go 'way!"
"Nobody turns zheir back on zhe great Atilla!" The little Gallisian's voice actually gets even more squeaky as he gets angry. "I where did you get zhat cart?"
Long Tooth waves a gnarled paw dismissively, swinging his kinked tail back and forth as he sees to heaving the trike out of its jam. "I eatah someting dattah Gallee giff me, annah he chahge me much money. I not haffa money, so I do jobs foh to pay him. He giffa me trike, annah I go bring weiahd stinkyfood to Gen'ral Densch. Job done. Now I go findah Crunch andah Shikouju, andah stop wasting time!"
Several incomprehensible barks issue from the tiny canine's throat. "Thief! And you wash dishes badly too! Defend yourself!"
Tooth suddenly feels something rather sharp and impressively strong clomp down on his waving tail-tip. Yeowch.
Tossing his paws in the air, the Kiriga starts to turns around, looking exasperated. "Whatchoo talking 'b OUCH!!" His eyebrows shoot upward so fast, the long tips actually flick out to the sides. "NNNNnngh!" Tooth stares incredulously at his tail-tip.
Dangling from the appendage is a little glaring bug-eyed Gallisian. He growls a few things at the Kiriga but it's hard to make out through his jawfull of Tooth-tail. Obviously he wasn't taught not to talk with his mouth full… how rude.
The old master grabs his tail and lifts it up, letting the Gallee dangle from it. Choking and sputtering, the supremely insulted reptile points a quivering index finger at the dog with his free hand. "Jou… ! Jou … Whatchoo tink jou ?! Letta go!! Rightah now, I wahning jou!"
"MrrrghrRRRRrrrrh!" Atilla replies, shaking his finger right back at the Kiriga.
Though not able to understand just what that was, Long Tooth feels quite certain that was an even graver insult. "Jou askah foh dis!" Hefting his tail up, the old master tosses it over a handlebar of the trike, letting Atilla hang from the tip. With a look of disapproval on his face, he begins drubbing away at the Gallee like a boxer at a speedbag. Thuddaddathuddaddathuddaddathuddadda…
Each blow yanks the little Gallee backwards and causes a twinge of pain from Tooth's tail, even moreso as the little bugger starts to bite down harder to keep hold of his grip. Meanwhile the tip of the Kiriga's tail starts feeling numb.
Tooth slows down as it feels like he's tightening a vise on his own tail-tip, biting his lower lip, until he finally breaks off. He glares at the little beartrap-like creature. "Still notta letting go, ah? Do I haffa resoht to de really hahsh treat-u-ment?"
The little canine puts his hands up to his ears and crosses his eyes at the Kiriga in the classic "neener-neener" face.
"Fine! Jou leaf me no choice!" He gets his face up close to the tiny dog, glaring into Atilla's eyes before reaching up to grasp the end of one of his eyebrows. He pokes at the dog with the tip, first at the stomach, then under one of the arms, then at an ear…
"Sank… snik… " Atilla flinches and swats at the Kiriga's eyebrow, then actually manages to grab a portion of it and give the hairy appendage a good hard yank before chomping down on Tooth's tail even harder. It looks like part of his tail is going from orange to blue…
Fuming, and rubbing at his slightly sore eyebrow, the reptile flips open a box on the trike, digging around in it with a paw while still glaring at his canine foe. "Well, iffah jou likah taste off my tail so much… how 'bout I SEASON ittah foh jou?!" The gnarled paw returns, clutching a bright red bottle. On the label is a picture of what could probably be a Nohbakim. Whatever it is, its head is tilted back, and flames spout from its mouth while tears shoot from its eyes. The old master uncorks the nozzle of the bottle, and…
… with fiendish glee, jabs the nozzle into one of Atilla's nostrils, letting a gout of the screaming-red sauce squirt from the bottle!
The Chihuahua's eyes widen, then start to water. His tiny hands clench into fists and his bite increases even stronger as the little dog tenses up. Then an instant later he lets go as a sharp howl bellows from his too-small lungs. One would almost think that smoke was issuing from his throat.
The old master sticks his leg back as the poochy warrior drops off his tail. With a howl of his own, and a meaty thud, he launches the dog with a long-distance punt that brings his foot right up next to his face.
A golden glow starts to form over the side of the cliff and takes the shape of a familiar serpent's face. "Master Long Tooth is victorious against Atilla, Master of the School of… YEOWCH!" The little Gallisian sails straight through the apparition, which diffuses and fades out like so much smoke.
The unconscious Gallisian manages to hit a tree higher up on the mountain and stick there. Well, he's probably sticking there at least since there's no sign of the little dog rolling back down.
Dusting off his paws, Master Long Tooth inspects his tail for signs of re-oranging, then strolls in the general direction of Atilla's flight, grumbling to himself and looking up into the treetops.
The Kiriga doesn't know his own strength, apparently. It takes a couple of orbits up the mountain path before the tree the little dog landed in comes into view. It's some kind of fruit tree with fermented bits of rotten orangish looking things hanging from its branches. One of the things seems to be stuck to an unconscious Gallee's foot as he dangles upside-down from a branch.
Finally spying Atilla, Long Tooth crouches low, and with a grunt, springs upward, a small puff of dust spreading from where he took off. He reaches out to grab hold of the unconscious Gallee.
A couple of fruits fall lose as the tree shakes from having the little dog plucked free. Hmm, they smell like some cheap wine the Kiriga had once.
Atilla is out cold, although panting rather loudly and still watering from the eyes.
With the dog safely tucked under one arm, the old master sniffs the air. "Ah. He fine. I gettah him tellah me what going on. … Hm!" He sniffs some more, then stoops with a creak to take up one of the fallen fruits, and take a deep breath of the aroma.
Rotten… probably sour… but most definitely fermented. Yes indeed! The little orange ball must be 70 proof if anything.
"And someday no head vhill be higher Zahn Atilla's!" the dog mumbles as he dangles from the Kiriga's grip. "Zhe emperor will grant me my wish… "
Long Tooth's whiskers rise up happily. The first good thing to happen all day! Truly and literally a windfall! He gathers a few up, then pauses as he hears the Gallee under his arm. "Huh… wiffa bruises andah hot sauce… he needah dese moh dan me." The Kiriga carefully tries to pry open Atilla's jaws.
Despite his diminutive size, the little Gallisian can swallow the fruit impressively well. His ears and nose flush red after getting a couple of the things down, but the goofy grin slowly spreading across his face hints that he's probably doing better than before.
Satisfied, Master Tooth directs his attention to the tree, and gives the trunk a few light thumps with the meaty (relatively) part of his palm.
Several dozen more of the golden fruits tumble down from the branches, some of them exploding the moment they touch the ground, but most survive the fall relatively intact. In their current condition, what's a bruise or two?
"Ahh!" Letting a long thin tongue loll out, the Kiriga gathers up as much fruit as he can carry, immediately munching on one, and stashing some in the open front of his robe where it's tied beneath with his sash. He ambles contentedly back to the trike, upon which he seats Atilla.
Several more orbits up the mountain and Atilla slowly wakes up although he's much friendlier now and annoyingly chatty, insisting on telling the Kiriga about his big plans to win the fight tournament and have his wish granted… his wish that no head in the Nagai Empire will be higher than his own.
Ten bends and three fruits later, a somewhat pickled Long Tooth nods agreement at the Gallee in the driver's seat as he gets the trike to hobble along the rocks. "Jah… jou fightah hard, andah jou hic 'scuse me. Jah, you … what we talk about again? Gah, moh rocks… curse jou, Shikouju… "
Atilla taps his overly-large head, "And zey tell me zat Emperor will probably put my head on a pike on zhe top of his castle. Isn't zat silly?" His tongue lolls out, appreciating the ride (and the fact that the driver's seat adds a couple of feet to his height.)
"Eh? Why dey mumble tinka Empahroh putchoo head on pike?" The slightly skewed reptile considers this for a moment, then finally laughs. "Oh, I geddid! Pah heh-heh grunt Jeh, silly… " The Kiriga clears some stones and maneuvers the tricycle around them, only managing to roll over one of his feet once.
Atilla scratches his head. "By ze way… do you remember why I was here? Zhey gave me a piece of paper to remind me, but I seem to have misplaced it." The dog pats his pockets down, burps, and then erupts into a giggling fit.
"Hmmmmmmm… " The Kiriga scratches his head, deep in thought. One can almost hear the gears grinding in his sloped skull, with the alchohol not making much of a grease. "Jou wassa… uh… hmm. I tink jou was a membah offa da Compass Rose, andah jou went to fightah Lohd Calderas… No, wait… issa jou name Palao Alto?" He pauses again to push at the trike as it snags on some pebbles, then grunts, "Lohd Calderas stole jou tricycle, andah jou, Palao Alto, wanto make him dessaht datta look like squid. I tink."
The dog squinches his face up in thought, although it looks like every time he gets close to something a bump in the road jolts him out of it. "Tricycle? Ah… so zis is mine! Good… zhat means I don't have to take zhe airship at the top of zha mountain!"
"Ahshup? Ayshap?" The Kiriga thinks long and hard. "Fwasheep? Ahship. Wheh dissah ahship go, Palao?"
"Zhat vhay!" the Gallee barks, pointing straight upwards.
Tooth scratches at his beard thoughtfully, letting the trike settle to a stop, and leaning against it to puff a bit. "Whew! Hmmm… to fly be fastah den to trike cycle… right? I flying right now, but dissah actually make me go someplace. I giffa jou triseeko, andah fly. Jes! Jou be tall, Palao! Tall like dah triseeko!" The old master, inspired, clenches a quivering fist as tears spring to his eyes.
Atilla stands in the seat and puts a fist to his chest, equally moved by the Kiriga's words. The trike seems to be somewhat moved as well: as it happens to be standing on a downhill slope and isn't being held onto anymore, it slowly starts to squeak backwards.
"Goodbye! Seekah jou fohtune, Palao!" The teary-eyed reptile waves a bony hand as the trike rolls away. "Goodbye! Be strong! Be tall!" Unable to stand the alchohol-induced bittersweet sorrow of seeing the scrappy Gallee heading out to fend for himself, he turns away and wipes at his eyes with a sleeve of his robe. "I mustah go… to dah fwasheep. Ahship."