12 Ring, 6099 RTR (15 Sep 1999) Willow visits Gallis, and avoids becoming roadkill.
(Airship) (Gallis) (Nordika) (Willow)
The Merryweather is an outdated sky ship by most standards, having the elongated "zeppelin" envelope design and sails, yet rarely having an air mage to provide the propulsion to justify such features. The hanging gondola "sea-vessel"-style undercarriage would be an open invitation to winged boarders, according to modern air combat specialists, as well. But, somehow this ship still gets by, with patches, replacements and scars here and there as souvenirs of the scrapes it has survived so far.

The Merryweather, rather than jogging into the Wandering Roams, cut around to the south and west – going around Bosch, of course. The airship stopped by assorted Nordikan settlements in areas not claimed by any kingdom or country large enough to be bothered with on a map. Amazingly, Willow hasn't yet run into any more religious fanatics, murderous cultists, demonic entities, pirates, or any of the like. It's been rather … mundane, really. Normal, even.

In between stops, Testament-Blaze – the strange old "priest" cheetah – has been well playing the part of Willow's slave, but he isn't nearly as strong as Burr, he isn't quite as handy as Morning-Mist, and he's nowhere near as cute as little Thorn. He's no slacker, and he eats meager portions (quite possibly a bit less than he really ought to be eating), but this latest addition to Willow's "party" could be pushing her resources (and the captain's "good will").

The Captain has been none too pleased about how things went with the Titanians. He may have gotten a pretty good deal out of it by most standards … but the Captain seemed to be certain that he was going to strike it rich … and in his own mind, he has turned any difference between his expectations and his actual profits into a loss.

It wasn't enough to have him take Willow up on her offer to get flogged in front of the Titanians. However, toward the end of making up for those losses, he's confiscated the robes, the armor, the "garbage" and all the little books of the cheetah "priest", and it's no secret that he plans to sell off the cheetah as soon as they leave Nordika and hit a port where slaves can be sold. (Gallis may not outlaw slavery outright … but they consider the practice barbaric, and place prohibitive taxes on the sale, trade or other transfer of slaves. Why have a spotted cat for a slave, when you can have a Gallah mutt as an indentured servant?) At least Willow got a token recompense for her troubles: a little disc-shaped spool of coiled wire – or cord, really, since it doesn't seem to be made of metal. No telling what it's made of, but it's narrow, tough … and nigh-impossible to cut, which limits its utility somewhat.

The cheetah priest, therefore, has been wearing simple work clothes, usually with a towel wrapped around his head. This curious behavior has made him a natural magnet for pranks from crew-members, who delight in stealing his towel, pinning him down, then seeing his ears turn the most amazing shade of red when Morning-Mist walks past. The pranks have slowly been getting more mean-spirited, as the other day, the priest came in with large welts on his back … from having a young (and still living) waashu shoved down his jerkin.

In other news, Willow's bones have been healing – as slowly as would be expected. It's going to be a long time before the casts can be removed, and longer still for muscles to readjust and the bones to fully recover. The fracture in Willow's right ankle wasn't as severe as the breaks in her left arm, so it's most likely that the ankle cast will come off first – but that still won't be for some time yet.

Gallis is quite a change from the pip-squeak fiefdoms and independent settlements that have been visited by the Merryweather lately. The airship has made its way to Fauxpas, capitol of the land of the Gallees and Gallahs (and a few well-to-do Kujakus), and a major trading center (rivaled only by Fleaufille). Grand architecture, flowered parks, monuments and carefully arranged streets can be admired from the air.

But the Merryweather isn't going there. Much to the frustration and humiliation of Captain Merryweather, a Kujaku "greeter" flew up, gave the ship a couple of glances, and informed the captain that he couldn't land in the nice, safe, wealthy port of the Purebred Quarter, the Kujaku-dominated Peacock Quarter, nor the mediocre accommodations of the docks in the Public Quarter. No, it would be the dirty, dingy and dangerous docks of the Mongrel Quarter. Fat chance of finding a poodle eager to spend a small fortune for a genuine Abaddonian artifact, or a fair price for more mundane goods.

Still, the Captain's hopes went up when he saw a fair number of tethered balloons floating over the Mongrel Quarter – balloons owned by aristocrats, of course, who just might be in the mood to buy something, and who just might have more shekels with which to do so than the average Gallah mutt.

Toward that end, the Captain has sent out a few crew-members to see if they can catch the attention of some of these pampered poodles and coddled collies, and see if there might be a chance to turn a tidy profit after all.

Mongrel Quarter
In Fauxpas, capitol city of Gallis, there are stark divisions between the brighter, shinier, cleaner parts of town … and here. Gallis is a mostly canine country divided between the purebred Gallees (and the unrelated but still well-off bird-like Kujakus), and the mongrel Gallahs. It needn't actually be written into law, but there are certain places in the big cities where a Gallah can and cannot live. This run-down slummy section of town comprises the area where Gallahs can, do, and barely live. Two- and three-story buildings crowd each other out, and there's no room for the stereotypical dark alleyway. (Most of the streets are narrow enough to be mistaken for alleys anyway.) There are no true stores, per se, though a few enterprising Gallahs post hand-written signs in their windows advertising services and home-made goods – some legitimate. The Gallisians have little shame, and one must watch out for garbage falling from upper-story windows,and be careful about the color of the puddles one steps in.

Events must be a little out of the ordinary today, as a large banner sweeps across between two buildings, reading "Miles Mortant". Gallisian happens to be one of the languages known by the Skreek known as Willow. This name roughly translates into "Death Distance". Lacking proper context, it's hard to make any further sense of it with any certainty. A hot-air balloon can be seen peeking over the buildings, its gondola large enough to hold several dogs – of pure-bred lines, of course – who seem to be out sporting today … though they can't really get all that far, what with the balloon being on a tether like that.

From the gondola fly four silken pennants, each of a different color: Red, Tan (or perhaps bronze), Opalescent White, and Pink. The balloon itself has what looks to be four pictures – one on each side – embroidered into sections on its envelope, each side a different color, and each image surrounded in an intricate "frame" of scrollwork, depicted as being held aloft by Gallisian "cherubs" (bare-bottomed, rosy-cheeked poodle pups with wings). The balloon is currently rotated such that the red side of the balloon shows, and the image is that of a foppish Gallisian gentleman in bright red attire, riding on the back of a Himaatian vanderat, on a scenic country road.

Flashes of reflected sunlight from the gondola hint at the presence of spyglasses held by the airborne dogs. Occasional shifts of wind carry the sounds of shouting from the balloons … but too indistinct to be understood. By most ears, that is. With Willow's keen ears, she could probably catch a snippet now and then, when the wind is favorable, but only if she really focuses on it.

It's late afternoon, not quite sundown, though the shadows are getting long. It's well after lunch, a bit before dinner, and hopefully one of those times of day with a minimum risk of having garbage dumped on one's head from a window. A skinny blind mutt with floppy ears and a shaggy muzzle sits on the corner, holding out a wooden cup that has bits of trash stuffed in it, and no sign of any shekels. Three ruffians bound the living daylights out of a fourth mutt across the street, right there in the open. No sign of any local constable who might come strolling down the street to stop them, after all. A tired-looking female dog with a pup chewing on the hem of her skirt sits on the front steps of a narrow house. A sign in the window reads, "Room for rent." By the way the female is made up, it looks like that's not all that's for rent. All in all, this looks about as depressing as Darkside … only that the seedy sorts don't wait until night to come out.

The rat's eyes study the balloons overhead, partially wishing that she could soar above everything so easily… but the practical side to her looks at the scenery around her. "I suggest that if you can find a ride out of town from here, then do so, Testy. Otherwise, we'd best find a score around all this garbage big enough to make Cap's tail wag hard enough to propel the ship itself." She looks away from the mob-attacked Gallah, knowing better than to intervene or even pretend to notice.

Testament-Blaze signs to Willow, "That's one thing I wished to ask you about. I thought I overhead the captain telling his first mate to make sure that nobody let me off the ship. But that was about the time we were already heading out. And it seemed a bad time to bring it up, what with us trying to avoid those ruffians who probably wished to mug us and all… "

A horn blares somewhere in the distance, elsewhere in the slums, but not on this particular street.

The Gallah ruffians drag their "friend" out into the middle of the street.

Willow's ears perk up and then droop again. "Well, he should have informed me about it, then. As far as I'm concerned, he didn't say a thing, and I don't feel obligated to take anything I heard second-hand as the honest pure truth, considering what he told me Savanites were and all that." She shuffles to the other side of the street, closer to the beggar. "So, you still think this is the Star's wish… ending up as a slave, or on the lam, running for your life in a country that would rather turn you into a pulp as much as look at you?"

Testament-Blaze looks at the beggar's cup, and digs through his robes – about in the place where he kept his metal "garbage" – but, of course, there's nothing there any longer. He shrugs apologetically and silently to the beggar – a vain gesture if ever there was one. To Willow, he signs, "The way of the Star is beyond all of us. I have committed myself to serve the Star … and I did not do it with the intent of living a life of comfort or ease. Perhaps I shall be in the right place to give aid to someone. I must be open to the Star's guidance."

Sparkling points rain down from the sky, and patter on the street. It's like rain, at first … except that it's a very short shower at best, and there's not so much as a cloud in the sky. Gallah ears perk up at the noise – After all, it doesn't really sound like water.

Rather, it sounds more like …

"SHEKELS!" barks a Gallah with a spot over one eye. He dives into the street, snatching up ceramic coins. He's soon joined by others who do the same.

Willow backs away into the shadows a bit. "T.B. … get back. Hide. This smells a bit nasty."

Testament-Blaze nods, looking alarmed – and glancing up at the heavens. But all there is to be seen there is the sky, and a balloon peeking over the buildings.

The pup up on the steps next to the "innkeeper" barks in delight. Despite the protest of his mother – "NO! Philippe! Come back!" – he dashes into the street, grabbing up a nice shiny coin.

The ruffians forget their battered comrade, as they join in the coin-grabbing frenzy, fighting each other over a copper they've discovered. Their fellow slowly tries to crawl off, unnoticed.

The sound of a bell rings out, somewhere down the street. Willow's keen ears pick up the sounds of rolling wheels and stampeding hooves.

The rat's eyes go wide. She looks up towards the gondola. "Test, try to drag the fellow that got pounded into the alley behind the beggar. I'm going to grab that pup."

Testament-Blaze sprints out into the street, dashing for the battered dog. The pup, meanwhile, is standing out in the street, proudly showing off his coin to what presumably is his mother on the steps, while she just screams at him to come back.

Wincing at her protesting limbs, Willow dashes towards the puppy. She tries to grab him and roll off into a pile of garbage to hide until the hoofbeats pass.

The pup yelps … but even with one arm in a cast, and a foot as well, Willow is more than strong enough to grab him up and roll out of the way. As she crashes into the garbage, though, her limbs belatedly scream in protest at the abuse.

In the confusion, Willow loses sight of the cheetah and his target. All that she can see is the sight of a big frilly pink carriage rolling down the street, drawn by a team of frothing pink Drokars. A glamorous-looking lady poodle with a well-powdered wig and a beauty mark on the side of her muzzle rolls up the street at break-neck pace on the fancy – but sturdy – carriage.

In her wake is a second carriage, this one decked out in red, drawn by scarlet Himaatian vanderats. Seated on the carriage is a fop of a collie who seems to be having an absolutely jolly time, as his carriage bumps up and down, running over a few of the Gallahs who had the misfortune of being too focused on shekels in the street to notice stampeding and rolling death coming their way.

Willow buries her face in her arm, choking down on as much of the pained scream as she can. She watches the caravan pass, still clutching the puppy as tightly as she can. ( This is worse than Darkside. At least the nobles stayed out and left folks alone there for the most part… )

As the lady poodle's carriage rolls by, Willow catches sight of the three ruffians. One of them triumphantly holds up the copper piece he grabbed from the others – not realizing that his victory came only because his companions noticed the carriage a split second before, and gave up the battle. The chihuahua-terrier-husky mix turns just in time to see the oncoming carriage. He screams as the teams of Drokars pass him on either side … and then he falls forward into a contraption mounted on the front of the vehicle. As it rolls past, he is firmly wedged into position … and a guillotine blade snaps down.

Dogs from the gondola of the balloon overhead cheer, and throw confetti to rain down on the street. The lady poodle blows a kiss to her adoring fans from on high … as the bodily remains of the mutt ruffian twitch and roll, coming to a stop in the middle of the road. The red carriage bumps over the body as well … and the collie driver pauses to toss a flower that lands on the prone body, waving with a handkerchief to all the survivors as he rolls away.

"Monsters," the Skreek chitters. She pulls herself to her feet and starts to limp towards the "Inn", clinging to the puppy by the scruff of his neck.

The female dog is not on the steps. Willow's keen eyes soon pick out her location, though … She's lying in the street. It looks as if she'd dashed out about the same time Willow did … but not so quickly.

The puppy's eyes are wide with shock, and he just whimpers quietly, at first, shaking in fear.

The cheering from above has ceased, and it sounds like someone is shouting something out through a voice-trumpet. It's not angled downward, though.

Across the street, Testament-Blaze staggers up to his feet, having landed in some garbage as well. The battered dog with him gets up as well. He catches sight of his beheaded attacker … and starts laughing loudly, pointing at the corpse. Testament-Blaze looks positively aghast, and starts signing something to the dog, but the dog isn't paying attention.

"… for a total of three hundred and sixty points … " comes a voice from above, briefly heard on the wind. It must be from the dog with the voice-trumpet.

"Easy there, lad. I'll try to help your mum." Willow's ears prick at the noise above her head, as she forces herself to mechanically see to the puppy's mother.

As Willow checks on the puppy's mother, she can see that she must not have actually been run over by either of the carriages, or trampled by the beasts. Rather, it is more likely that she took a glancing blow. Still, she's badly hurt, and the shock has knocked her unconscious. Bandaging the wounds is straight-forward enough. More work will be needed to examine for other injuries, but a quick check reveals no broken bones.

As Willow works … several more of the fine citizenry rush out to the street … and loot the bodies of the fallen. One scraggly mutt even dares to come over to where Willow is working. "Get away, Skreek. You don't belong here."

Above, the announcer blares, "… and that puts Lady Antoinette and the Crimson Pimpernel well into the lead, by meter and by score … but … aha! The Bronze Belle is not far behind, and the Pearl of Fauxpas – our native son – is quickly gaining, making up for that spill back near the start… "

The Skreek pulls a small glass vial bound in cotton from her pouch and snaps it open, waving it under the woman's nose. "I'll be gone soon enough. The more you stay out of my way, the faster I'll be out of yours."

The dog that Testament-Blaze dragged aside is back out with the looters, having grabbed the copper shekel from the dog who was previously attacking him.

Testament-Blaze tries to sign to the dog to (loosely paraphrased), "stop this madness", but the dog probably wouldn't even listen if the cheetah could speak his language. Testament-Blaze gives up, and rushes back over to Willow.

As soon as Testament-Blaze comes back … the mutt harassing Willow just tosses a Gallisian foul word at her, then heads off to easier pickings. Not that Testament-Blaze looks like he could put up much of a fight, but neither does the mutt.

The female dog slowly stirs. "Philippe," she weakly cries out. "Run! … There are two more … "

The pup's nose wrinkles at the smell of the vial. Must be strong stuff. But he barks happily when he sees his mother coming back to consciousness.

Foxfire frowns and drops into Gallisian, "Philippe is your name? Come on… we need to get your mum into a bed. I'm sure she has one here."

"… Ooo! That has GOT to hurt! Well, Belle just rung up another score … and the judges give her a fifty point bonus for style. She's rounding the bend… Oh! It looks like one of the Pimpernel's scores is actually still alive, being tended to by a dirty foreign Skreek. But let's see if the Belle can make up for it… "

The pup nods, and "helps" Willow get the mother up off the street. Testament-Blaze does likewise. Not having two casts to deal with, he actually proves to be useful in this regard for once.

"Into the inn NOW," Willow snaps and grabs the pup's scruff again. "As useless as half my limbs are right now, I'd rather they not get hacked off anytime soon."

The pup yelps … and as the sounds of stampeding hooves can be heard again, Testament-Blaze at last catches on to what's about to happen … and in a burst of adrenaline, gets the mother off the street. Willow, having a lighter load (but a heavier handicap), gets to the steps at about the same time.

She doesn't even get to see what transpires on the street behind her. It's enough to hear: a stampeding of hooves, the bonging of a loud bell, a female dog's voice calling out "Viva la Revolution!" and laughing maniacally, accompanied by the screams of the trampled – and the cheers of airborne observers.

Willow focuses on the puppy's mother again once the door to the "inn" is closed. "Hey! Wake up!"

The mother comes to. "Oh? I … Philippe! You're alive!"

The rat feels her blood boiling. "What in fires were you doing out there?!? You probably bloody well knew there was a hunt going on, and you felt the need to risk your pup and your own life on a shekel or two? Well I hope he got a gold for you… If you care so little about his life, maybe you could sell him off to someone and make a few more coins!"

"… and Bronze Belle did a lovely job of cleaning up the street, hardly leaving a thing left for the poor Pearl. Oh! It looks like he's run into a snag. Oh! He's going again … And just in time! Looks like the citizenry is being nice enough to go out into the street again… "

The mother protests, "But we were not going to go into the street – We were only going to watch! There would be plenty left after all four carriages pass."

Testament-Blaze just looks incredibly lost. Apparently he doesn't share Willow's experience in the Gallisian tongue.

"… Ah yes … a fifty point bonus for that score! Only the Pearl could actually make a score on someone sitting on a balcony! It looks like importing those selonas from the Nagai Empire is finally paying off!… "

"And maybe you could have used that money to buy a gravestone for your son! Feh, I suppose that if something happened to him, you could have always popped out another one in your line of work. You'd make a wonderful Skreek." Willow shakes her head and pulls herself up. "Come on, T.B. … That beggar probably doesn't even know what's going on. We should probably get him off the street."

Testament-Blaze looks out the window at the beggar. Sure enough … the beggar is just sitting in the same spot on the side of the street, at a point further past the inn. The cheetah runs down the street, headed for the beggar. Meanwhile, however, Willow's keen ears pick up those dreadful sounds again. They're a bit different … but it's definitely another carriage coming this way, from up the street.

The Gallah mother, staying inside the house, doesn't bother to give Willow any sort of retort.

The Skreek holds her new Titanian-created staff out to the beggar as well as she can manage. "Sir… we don't mean any harm, but the carriages are on some kind of hunt right now. Do you have a home near here?"

The beggar smiles up at the Skreek, showing as many teeth as gaps between them. "Right there." He points at a pile of garbage wedged in a corner formed by the steps leading out from a ramshackle-looking building. With a bit of imagination … it might be possible to seek shelter in that pile, yes.

Testament-Blaze helps the beggar up … but the beggar protests, "Hey! I'm just minding my own business. Not causing any trouble. You aren't going to rough me up, are you? I don't have any shekels, honest! Haven't had a clink in the cup all day!"

"Lovely… " Willow grits her teeth. "Whoa! Easy there. My friend here can't talk; he's just trying to help you up. One of the carriages is coming, and unless you'd like to get your head lopped off or run over, it might be a good idea to let him help you."

The sounds of the carriage are getting louder. It should be rounding the corner any moment now…

The beggar says, "Aw! I should be safe here on the side of the street. Those primped poodles' Drokars would bust a hoof if they went off the pavement. That's why they throw those coins out there. Of course, I know how to count, and have sense to wait until Number Four rolls past before helping myself… "

"Hurry!" the Skreek snaps, repeating her word in Standard for the Savanite. "I doubt I can fight my own against a battle wagon with a bum arm and a bum leg." She glances back at the beggar. "They have a selona cart – the kind that can climb walls. Tell you what… I'll give you two tenners if you hide. How's that sound?"

The beggar barks, "Deal!" Then he yelps, as Testament-Blaze roughly hauls him up a set of steps.

A white carriage comes into view now, drawn by two pale, bouncing selonas. The selonas have decorative chitin "barding", with spikes sticking out every which way. The white of the selonas and the cart is besmirched with spatters of red here and there, and occasional scraps of clothing. As for what else might be stuck to the wagon, it's best not to look too closely, and there's hardly the opportunity to do it safely anyway.

On the driver's seat is a dandy-looking rottweiler – dressed in white, as befitting the rest of his scheme.

Willow limps behind and tries to bury herself in the garbage as best as she can. Just in case, she pulls out a bottle of rubbing alcohol. She remembers it making skin feel cold when touched by the stuff. It might drive warm-craving lizards away in a desperate pinch.

"… and – aha – will he get there before the foreigners can get that beggar off the street? Oho! Those steps won't provide much protection. Looks like we've got another score coming up… "

Bounce, bounce, bounce. The selonas look so deceptively harmless and even cheerful as they gleefully careen along, drawing the rounded carriage behind them, their dapper gentleman driver barely keeping in his seat, save for some sort of harness he has holding him in place. He cracks a whip on occasion, though it's probably more for show, given the inclinations of selonas.

The driver turns – and catches sight of the cheetah struggling to find some way to open the door to the ramshackle house and trying to squeeze the beggar into the small depression of the doorway. He doesn't seem to pay any heed to Willow in the garbage pile just yet.

"Great. Just scruddy great. Test, try to get that door open. I'll do what I can from here." The steel gray rat steadies herself on one crutch and focuses on the lizards, aiming carefully.

"… and just what is that little rat trying to do? Perhaps a valiant – but vain – attempt to distract the Pearl? Oh, this is going to be grand!… "

The driver now notices the rat … and somehow he manages to get his selonas to alter course just a little bit, turning more toward the Skreek … though he'll still be in line to get the cheetah and the beggar.

A quick glance reveals that Testament-Blaze has stopped pounding on the door. It's obviously locked. However, he's crouched down, holding tightly onto the beggar … like he's about to do something. But there's no telling just what … or whether it's a good idea or not.

"Well, I may get to find out if there's an afterlife or not soon enough." Willow swallows, raises her arm, and hurls the bottle at the lizards as hard as she can.

The bottle shatters as it hits one of the lizards – the one on the right. (It can't very well hit both of them, after all.) The lizard jolts suddenly at the shock of the alcohol, which quickly evaporates off of its scales, leaving the sensation of cold – and selonas don't like cold.

The driver, to his credit, realizes that something's amiss fairly quickly, as the carriage suddenly veers off course.

One of the selonas, after all, is happily charging at full pace … while the other is reacting to the alcohol. The sudden lack of balance in pull causes the vehicle to turn back toward the street … missing the Skreek and the steps on the left side.

"… Ah! Looks like he missed it … but wait! What is he doing? Oh ho! Our Pearl is not so easily foiled … He's sacrificing further his chance at regaining the lead, but it looks like he's going to turn about and have another go at it!… "

Foxfire swallows hard and reminds herself to breathe. She pulls out her second and last remaining bottle of the stuff and hefts it, focusing in and aiming again. "Priest… find something to duck into! Even a sewer grate would work! I've only got one more bottle!"

It'll be a bit before the selonas are close enough to hit – and the driver will be upon Testament-Blaze and the beggar before they reach that point. But Willow most certainly has the cheetah priest's attention, and he seems to have figured out that the steps may not afford much protection from bouncing lizards.

The cheetah hauls the beggar down the steps. "Where are my two tenners?" howls the dog, as he is hauled along. That's in Gallisian, though, and the cheetah only nods dumbly in reply, as he casts about for some sort of grate. However, it looks like the Gallisians haven't bothered with a sewer system for this filthy place. Fouled water just runs through the gutters, going who-knows-where. Testament-Blaze is a fast enough cheetah that, alone, he could probably dodge the selonas indefinitely … but the burden of the beggar is another matter.

"Get behind me! Maybe the Inn is open, unless that fool woman locked the door on us… although that might mean she locked it on her customers as well." The Skreek limps forward and drops back into Gallisian, "You'll get your money soon enough – and you can pick my corpse for whatever else you find, if I get mowed down."

The Skreek gets to the door, about the time that the wagon turns about. Sure enough … it's unlocked. Testament-Blaze sprints his way up to the steps, bodily hauling the beggar. He's visibly wearing down.

"Just a few more steps, Priest. Selonas can move, but they can't climb through houses. HURRY!" Willow swallows and peers down the street for the cart.

The priest sprints the rest of the distance … then trips up the steps, landing flat on his face. The beggar staggers to his feet. "Ah! I smell cooking." He sniffs, his nose leading in the direction of the door. "Uhm … no … old food, actually. But a pleasant scent nonetheless!"

The cart is now bearing down the street, aimed for the Skreek and her perch on the front porch. The rottweiler's fangs are bared, frothing just the slightest bit, while his selonas look to be perfectly vacant-minded as ever, gleefully bouncing along as intended.

"And your money. I'll be with you in a moment." Willow drops down and grabs the cheetah's arm, trying to drag him into the house before the cart hits.

The beggar heads on into the house, and the cheetah tries to stagger back to his feet, breathing heavily, and having bloodied his nose during the fall. At that instant … the selona cart is nearly upon the Skreek and cheetah.

Willow swallows and throws her second bottle, aiming for the lizard on the right side of the cart.

The bottle smacks the right lizard right on the head – the same lizard that got hit earlier. It has much the same effect as before … perhaps a little worse, considering that this time it's a full bottle of rubbing alcohol … and this time the right lizard happens to be on the building side, not the street side.

Rather than bringing the cart to veer out into the street … this time veering to the right brings the carriage squarely into the buildings. This wouldn't normally be a problem for nimble selonas, except that one is distracted by cold sensations on its head. The carriage turns, upturns, twists, and crashes. The rottweiler, held firmly on top of the carriage by his harness … is still there when the carriage rolls.

( And now you'll get to feel what those little spiky prizes on your cart do to the garbage you hunt. ) The rat looks at the balloons overhead, spits in the direction of the cart, and then focuses on dragging the cheetah through the door again.

Having more than split seconds to work with now, the process of actually getting into the door is a whole lot easier. Outside, the carriage rolls back to an upside position. The two lizards struggle to untangle themselves … and as for the driver … well, it's not really at all surprising just what happened to him. Suffice it to say that he is out of the race. Permanently.

Foxfire slams the door closed and locks any latch-like mechanisms she can find on it, before sinking to the floor and resting her ear against the wood, listening quietly to the play-by-play outside. ( I wonder if the loss of one of their own is as meaningless to them as the loss of some street garbage. )

The Gallahs can be heard rushing out to the street, gathering up coins. But then … there's the most curious thing. Some of them start wailing and howling at the sight of the dead driver. A few of them, however, cheer, making it clear that not everyone has succumbed to some sort of mass insanity. The play-by-play is hard to make out above the ruckus outside, as the mutts start prying metal pieces off of the wagon … and it sounds like someone's slaughtering the selonas. Mmm, mmm … fried selona.

"… It is a tragic day indeed, as we bid farewell to a fine gentleman and sportsman, the Pearl of Fauxpas … the guard will be sent in to carry off his mortal remains and to deal with looters … "

"Now, about those two tenners," reminds the beggar. "Not to be ungrateful or anything – but I am shameless."

"You should have stayed on Abaddon, Priest. Sinai is full of demons and monsters. No benevolent god would let what happens here occur. I learned that lesson when I was a seventeen year old pup and had to eat a wiggling vermite to stay alive." Her hand drops into her coin pouch and she pulls out two wire-rimmed coins. "Don't spend it all in one place."

Testament-Blaze holds a rag to his nose. When it looks like his nosebleed has stopped, he signs, "Never have I witnessed such depravity. Surely this land is in the hands of the Darkness."

The beggar nods his head to the Skreek as he palms the coins. "Many thanks." He bumps into the door. "Ah … mind if I go out for a breath of fresh air? Now that all the carnage has passed, that is."

Willow shakes her head, "If you don't mind the local guard knocking your skull in when they come to pick up their friend. Otherwise you should stay put for a bit." She massages her leg above the cast, trying to ease the pain a little. ( Maybe the waashu fellow that tagged the spotty ended up in this as well. Might have given him a good taste at what it feels like to be kicked around by folks that feel superior to you, and maybe the Captain won't be as prone to sell him if he loses a few crew members while in port here. Beh… they probably only let us dock here so they could hunt us. )

The beggar ponders this. "Ah. Good point. This isn't the usual way things go, after all." He then finds a chair and sits down on it.

Testament-Blaze signs, "As for the matter of the Star allowing this to happen … what I have seen is no act by the Star. This is an act of men upon men. We were created with free wills. We are all capable of great good … but also of great evil."

"So when does the good start?" The Skreek shakes her head.

"With us," signs the cheetah. "If there is Darkness, then those who wish for good must be a Light in the Darkness. Every act of love is such a Light. It is not to be done with the intent of getting good in return. But, Star-willing, people will see that the Light is better than the Darkness, by the example of those who show love … and will wish to do likewise."

"This is not always the case," adds the cheetah. "Some mistakenly believe they benefit from the Darkness. They think they are strong. They will fight the Light, thinking that it challenges their strength. Doing what is right is not always easy."

Shutters close, and doors slam, as trumpets sound. Must be the local "guard" arriving.

The Skreek drags herself up on her cane and limps over to a seat. "Right. Like this beggar will strive to not pick corpses bare next time the wagons roll by… and that pup's mum won't be right outside waving her tail at the next group of bruisers… and that fellow you dragged out of the street won't decide to return the favor to folks someday. Fires, right now I'd settle for a score for the captain. Something we could find for him so he'd stop looking at us as a liability."

"Then I shall try to help you find this 'score'," signs the cheetah. "We can't assume that one act will change lives. That pup may forget about us. Maybe the others, too. But maybe one life will be changed for the better. And once the fire starts, it will spread." He pauses, then signs, "What do you have in mind for this 'score'?"

The beggar pipes up, in Gallisian, "You're not from around here, are you?"

Outside, armored dogs on barded Drokars stampede past, driving off those few looters left who haven't the sense to get clear. Orders are barked out. "Seal off this street! Find … find the rest of the Pearl! Get to it!"

"Maybe something for the beggars, although they might not have all that much money to spend. We might be able to sell that iron we scored to the nobles, but they'd have to want to talk to us first." The rat taps the end of her staff against the ground and eyes the beggar. "We're from a merchant ship. Came here to find business and found the carriages instead," she replies. Her squeak sounds a bit more nasal as she tries to imitate the Gallisian accent.

The mutt nods. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. Copy's my name. Doing nothing's my game. Ever since the Suprier le Chien gouged my eyes out, that is. A bit hard to find forgery work nowadays."

Testament-Blaze looks as if he's about to sign something, but opts to hold his hands still, rather than make the rat field two conversations at once.

"Suprier le Chien?" Willow squeaks. "Who's that?"

"Ah. You really are out of these parts. Well, you see, he's the closest thing we have to royalty in the Mongrel Quarter. I mean, he's not official or anything … but what he says goes," whurfs the mutt.

The rat clucks her tongue in thought. "Does he do any work with traders? I don't suppose you're on good terms with him… "

The mutt laughs. He points to his eyes. "No, I don't suppose I would be on good terms with him. But … yeah, he does plenty of trading – and not a cut of it goes to the Marquis, either. No doubt, the Marquis would like to see Suprier le Chien's head on the chopping block … but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Besides, if Suprier le Chien were gone … there would just be another one to take his place. Rule of the strongest."

The mutt sniffs at the rat. "Hmm. You don't smell like a Gallah. Let me tell you one thing … stranger. In Gallis, the pure-bred Gallees are on top, and the Gallah mutts are on the bottom, with the Kujakus having enough money to be well off without fitting into the equation. But no matter how low a dog is, he always thinks that dogs are best. Unless you can pass yourself off as a Gallah, Suprier le Chien won't even listen to you."

"If the folks in the carriages were with the Marquis, then I'd want him to take as few cuts as possible; seems like he cuts too much in here already." Willow's voice finally loses a bit of its tense edge. "I think I can handle the Gallah part; I'm a Skreek… but the fellow that handles my ship's trading is a Jupani. Gallah enough for him probably. How can I go about arranging a meeting this person?"

"Well… " ponders the mutt, as he rubs his scruffy chin. "The clumsy way would just be to find someone and try to make a sale. Word would get out, and Suprier le Chien would show up eventually … but that's the messy way of meeting him. Hmm. Well … actually … I might be able to introduce you to someone … maybe … it can be kind of … expensive… "

Testament-Blaze looks back from the window. He makes a hand-wave, then signs, "The armored canines are headed this way. A powdered canine was pointing in this direction."

"We have iron to trade. Tell you what… the guards are coming this way. We keep you from getting your head bashed into a pulp, and perhaps you could get us a bit of a discount?" The Skreek pulls herself to her feet. "Hopefully there's another exit in this building. Most places of this type have back doors just in case the wife decides to go sniffing around the front." She nods to the cheetah and takes the beggar's hand.

"Yes, that's a fair bet," offers the beggar. He gets up, following the lead of the rat. "Oh. Yes. I suppose offing one of the racers might cause them to have reason to 'question' you… "

There's a loud rapping on the front door. Well, at least they were nice enough to knock first.

"We're full!" barks the mother dog from upstairs. "No more rooms!"

"Open up in the name of the Marquis," barks a voice from the other side of the front door, "or we'll have to let ourselves in!"

"Hssst! Is there a way out of here besides the front?" Willow calls out softly, her eyes looks around for an alternate exit.

The beggar shrugs. "I've no idea." The female dog upstairs likely doesn't hear Willow's question, over all the pounding, either. However, there's nothing quite like looking around for yourself. So far, though, nothing is popping up.

The cheetah signs, "Maybe I could distract them. They might rough me up a bit, but they'll probably just think I'm a simple idiot. I seem to give that impression."

"If not… then you can run. Just blast you don't get yourself killed, or in casts like me." The Skreek shakes her head and walks deeper into the inn, continuing to look for a way out.

This time, she finds a door that should lead out the back. It just took a few seconds to get to it in an unfamiliar and poorly laid out building. It has several dead-bolts and latches locking it shut … but those are on the inside, so it's not like this will provide but a few seconds' delay to get open.

Meanwhile, though, the front door can be heard smashing open, and guards pour into the main room – out of line of sight, thankfully.

Testament-Blaze signs, "In case we do not meet again … may your walk bring you to the Light." He makes the sign of the Star on his chest … then ducks out of the room, back toward the front of the makeshift inn.

A dog's voice can be heard calling out, at about the same time, "Hello! Foreigner Skreek, show yourself! You did quite admirably against the Pearl. I just wish to talk with you. I think we might have an opportunity for you."

Willow's hands fly across the locks as quietly as she can manage as she tries to slip outside with the beggar in tow. "Don't make a sound," she hisses.

One of the dead-bolts seems determined to give the rat a heart attack by not sliding open right away … but at last it yields as well. The door pops open … revealing a wretched, garbage-laden back street. There's a headless Gallah lying out there, and a couple of trampled bodies.

As a doctor, corpses are nothing new to the rat. She carefully pulls the beggar outside and starts to sneak back to the ship. ( Take care of yourself, Priest. )


GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 6 days before Midsummer's Day, Year 28 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6127)