The week has not been a pleasant one for Francisco. Although his gut had healed after stealing the life-force of Rache, daughter of Avram the Zolk Merchant, nothing had been done for the wound on the back of his neck. In an attempt to see if that could be cured as well, he found some poor old drunken sot in Darkside, and tried the "life force drain" trick. It was a very invigorating experience, truth be told … but the wound still did not close.
And then … it's as if the fox lost control of himself. His memory of what exactly happened next is a bit foggy, but when he "came to", he felt very powerful, his shirt was slashed up quite a bit … and the scene around him was one of carnage. There's no telling how many people died. But then … they were just street trash. Who's going to notice? And still that pesky wound on the back of the fox's neck remains. So, at last, the Kitsune has made his way to Freedom Park, and Roho's clinic.
The inside of Roho's Hospital is far from the lavish treatments that the expensive Temple hospitals get. But it's clean, tidy, and well-equipped. The bare wooden walls have a few paintings hanging from them, some of which were given by patients as payment for treatment. Directly across from the main door is an island-desk, behind which a receptionist can sometimes be found, between his trips to the various treatment rooms. The treatment rooms themselves can be found down a hallway to the left of the desk. To the right of the desk is Roho's office, and next to that is a stairway leading up to the ward, or at least so the sign indicates.
The door of the hospital opens, admitting a tallish Zerda holding a rather unimpressive looking staff. He wanders over to the reception desk and asks the Rath'ani there, "Excuse me?"
The Rath'ani looks up from some paperwork she's filling out with a quill. She's probably the nurse here, judging by the bloodstained white smock she's wearing over her blouse and long skirt, the effect of which she overcomes with a bright smile. "Hello! How can I help you?"
"Oh, well. Yes. I'm looking to see the doctor?" the Zerda asks.
Naomi, as the name embroidered on her smock identifies her, shakes her head apologetically. "I'm afraid he's not in at the moment, sir. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Oh could you?" the fennec asks. "I've got this… oh, thing on the back of my neck. I've cleaned it out, kept clean bandages on it. You know, that kind of thing. But whatever I do, it just doesn't seem to be getting any better."
"Oh, dear!" The Rath'ani stands up, setting her papers off to once side to come out from around her desk. "Step this way sir, and let's have a look at it. That's a bad sign, you know! The wound not healing, I mean. It'd be silly if my leading you to the examination room was a bad thing, wouldn't it?" She laughs airily to herself.
The Zerda chuckles a little, and follows the nurse. "Oh, yes. I could see how that could be bad, yes."
It's a short walk to a room full of cabinets, jars of gauze, and medical implements. Naomi gestures at a table with a clean cloth on it, and unrolls a scroll near the doorway. "Please take a seat on the table there. What's your name, sir? I should enter it on the patient register."
"Name? Oh, yes… My name's Cravit," the fox says, sitting down on the table.
Scribble, scribble, scribble. "Cravit… with a 'k'? Or… Oh, never mind. You can correct me after I have a look at that wound. I'm just terrible with names, don't you know!" Naomi finishes writing, then rolls up her sleeves and begins washing her paws in a basin of clean water. "Where on your neck did you say this was?"
"With a 'C', actually," Cravit replies. "Oh, where is it? Ah, pretty much right smack bang in the middle of the back of my neck there." He tries to reach around to point to it.
Cravit helps by pulling down the collar on his shirt a little, showing the dressing he put on.
Naomi's nose twitches, as if something disagreeable wafted across it suddenly. "Goodness… I thought it might have been something back near the infirmary, but… this must be bad… " With a clean knife, she gently works at removing the dressing, to examine the wound.
The fennec winces a little at being poked in that area, which is pretty sensitive at the moment. "That bad, huh? How bad is bad? Just bad, or very bad?" he asks.
"Uhlk!" This noise comes involuntarily from Naomi. The insides of her ears have a greenish tinge. "Oh… oh… oh my Star and Anchor. This… um… this is very, very serious, Mister Cravit. I-I'm just a nurse; I don't know if I'm qualified to deal with it. I'm going to apply a disinfectant broth, then we're going to have to get you to the infirmary. You must lay down. I don't know how you even managed to get here."
Cravit replies, "Well, I just walked here, really. Oh, where do you want me to lay down? Here on this table?"
"Yes, yes please, lie down. I don't think we should move you." The flustered nurse waves her paws around worriedly, knocking over a few bottles in her rush to get some disinfectant. Her voice wavers as she applies something from a pungent bottle to a wad of gauze. "Um… this will sting a lot, Mister Cravit, but you need it. I'll need you to lie back after I apply it, then hold the compress. I… I'll have to fetch the doctor, th-this is an emergency if I ever saw one."
The fennec "ohs". "'Very bad' then. Oh my," he says. "Well, uh, go ahead then."
Naomi wipes gingerly at the wound, then brings the Zerda's paw around to hold it in place, gripping it by the wrist to press the hand against the gauze wad. "You have to hold it like this, and be sure it doesn't come loose! It's supposed to stop disease from getting in. Have you got it?"
The fox grimaces at the stab of pain the swab causes him, then nods. "Yes, yes, I've got it."
Cravit presses the gauze to the back of his neck, and promptly grimaces again.
"Okay… hold it there! And for the Star's sake, don't move!" Naomi's ears are decidedly pale now, and several times, she raises a paw to clap over her muzzle, making an occasional strangled noise in her throat. "I'll get the doctor right away!" With that, she rushes out of the room so fast, the scroll hanging by the door stirs slightly, knocking the doorjamb a little.
After a moment, the fox stops his facial expression of pain. "Oh, no… Yes, of course not. I'll just hold it right here and not… " He watches the nurse run out of the room. "… move?"
The vulpine is left alone on the examination table, as the raccoon has swiftly departed.
The fox waits quietly on the table, though he props himself up on his elbows and looks around the room, then sighs. "Not even an out of date magazine to read," he notes to himself.
Time passes. It's quiet. Even boring. At last, though, heavy boot-steps can be heard just outside the examination room.
Outside the room, the sound of a wagon rolling down the street can be heard. Through a window, it can be partially seen, pulled by a couple of old Dromodons, with a diminutive driver on the seat.
Cravit perks an ear up at the footsteps. Even though his ears are not really that of a fennec's (they just look like they are), he doesn't think those footsteps would belong to any doctor… and it's doubtful they'd belong to the nurse, either.
More scuffling and boot-steps can be heard, passing the door … though it sounds like maybe someone in boots stopped right outside the door as well.
The keen ears of the 'fennec' can catch some sounds just outside the door that sound like whispers.
The Zerda swings his feet off the table and gets up, moving over to the window a little bit just in case. However, he strains his hearing to see if he can possibly make out what's being said before whoever it is enters.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Zerda can spy the Skeek driver getting down from the seat of his wagon. Wait a minute … That is definitely a familiar mouse. It's Yosah, the merchant mouse who has regularly stuffed a certain multi-tailed fox with food from his booth. It looks like he's unloading some boxes perhaps some food supplies for the hospital?
The fox watches the mouse out of the window, periodically glancing back to the door to this room, staying where he is for the moment.
The Skeek finishes taking some boxes somewhere outside of the fennec's range of view, tips his hat to someone unseen, then heads back to the wagon. Just then … the door bursts in!
"Drop to the floor!" barks a Jupani Temple Guard, armed with a large chitin sword. Several other wolves can be seen just outside, to either side of the door.
The Zerda doesn't do this, staying with his back to the window, but instead asks, "Uh, is there a problem?"
The wolf winces visibly, as if he's just caught some horrible smell. He has several things dangling around his neck … some pouch talismans, what looks like a holy symbol, and a string of garlic bulbs. At his belt, an odd addition to Temple Guard equipment, can be seen a wooden mallet and a few wooden stakes, and some pouches of who-knows-what. The pungent smells of herbs of unknown varieties reach the fennec's nose.
The Guard steps inside, letting two of his companions file in as well. "DOWN!" The way he brandishes that sword, it looks like he's fully expecting to use it.
Wrinkling his nose a little at the smell of the herbs, the fennec still declines to obey. "I might consider doing so, if you'd tell me what the problem is?"
The Guard doesn't repeat his request. He swings his sword at the fennec, and it looks like the others are about to join the fray!
Fortunately for the fennec, the sword misses, as vulpine reflexes come into play. The heavy blade arcs over and past the fox, and it looks as if it will take precious seconds for the wolf to try again for another blow. The other wolves all but guarantee that an exit through the door would be costly.
Cravit glances behind him to check if the window is still clear to make an escape from. It's pretty clear that these guards aren't up to explaining their actions.
It seems that nobody has bothered to try to secure the window yet. It's probably the best means of escape … and one just a tad too small for the armored wolves to try for themselves perhaps explaining their oversight.
Taking the window option, Cravit practically dives through it to outside, and rolls out of his landing on the ground. Once on his feet, the fox pauses briefly to look back at the window and the guards within, before turning tail and heading towards a crowd of people to lose himself.
Unfortunately, the crowd of people don't look like they're anxious to let the fennec lose himself in them. They're holding torches and talismans and holy symbols of various types. One of them is holding a small Gooshurm, oddly enough. "There he is! VAMPIRE! MURDERER!"
The mouse on the wagon looks quite alarmed at the sight of the fennec. He blinks, then says, "Uh? Who yee?"
The fennec looks around on the verge of panic, trying to find a way out.
Well, the fennec might either try diving back into the hospital (with obvious risks), commandeer the wagon (which the mouse might protest against, seeing as he has no way to know that this is Francisco instead of some strange 'vampire murderer' fennec), or maybe everyone would kindly pause while he performs a ritual.
But then … the fennec does feel like he has an awful lot of power inside him. And then, there's that staff. Maybe he could do something. But, of course, everything's a gamble, and some gambles don't pay off all that well in the long run.
"Look!" cries out a bat from the crowd. "He's carrying the Demon Staff!" My … Word must have gotten around about this thing. Either that, or the commoners have vivid imaginations.
Seems like time is running out…
"Burn the Guy Fox!" shrieks a Kavi from somewhere in the crowd. "See if he'll blow up!"
The scene doesn't look pretty. On a side-street beside Roho's Hospital, a crowd of angry torch-waving citizens has gathered, blocking off both ends of the short avenue.
In the middle of the scene stands a fennec, who seems to be the object of attention. Several wolves and Zelaks can be seen congregating around the hospital itself. Near the fennec is a mouse merchant on a wagon, who seems to have had the misfortune of being there to unload some supplies when this came about.
"Yee Fahnceesko?" squeaks the Skeek, looking confused. "Yosah theenks yee no look leek Fahnceesko. Yee een trouble?"
A carriage rolls up through Freedom Park, and several more Jupani and Zelaks get off from it, as a Korv flaps off of the roof. "*KAW!* There he is! ILLUSION! He is disguised!"
The fox looks around to face the mouse. "I'm… I'm not myself," he replies. "And yes, I guess I'm in one heap of bad trouble."
Yosah gasps. "Oh no! Fahnceesko, Yosah heelp yee! Hop on wagon … Yosah take yee to Colleege!"
A white Rokuga unloads himself from the carriage as well, pouring himself from the side to stream toward the crowd. He begins speaking, a harsh note of authority in his voice. "Temple sanctioned official. Stand aside! Make room, rabble!"
A gray rodent in blue robes follows behind the snake, hands in its pockets.
The fox climbs up onto the wagon. "Thank yo- Oh no," he says to the Skeek as he spies Qing heading this way.
Those in the crowd don't aren't too terribly ready to move aside for the Rokuga, but the Zelaks and Jupani Guards accompanying the mage provide the needed persuasion. The Rokuga is able to slowly make his way up toward the front of the crowd.
Yosah snaps his whip. "Hyah! I seev you, FAHNCEESKO!" he shrieks very loudly. He charges his Dromodon-pulled cart toward the crowd … and since Dromodons aren't the fastest things in Rephidim, the mob has enough time to clear out of the way.
The serpent turns his head this way and that, his tongue flicking several times as if searching for something… and zeroes in on the fennec, which he immediately points at with one pallid hand. "Zelaks! Detain that Zerda! Guardsmen, disperse this crowd!"
The gray rodent from the carriage grabs the Rokuga's shoulder and hisses something to him in Nagai.
The snake's jaw tightens momentarily, and he hisses something terse back, slithering toward the carriage again. "Guardsmen, reassemble. Fall back! We must fortify a position."
Francisco looks at the way the wagon is going (however slowly) and glances around at the guards and snake-like thing approaching them. Closing his eyes, he considers something for a moment, then looks back at Yosah. "Hurry, please."
The carriage barrels through the city of Rephidim, Yosah squeaking at the top of his lungs for people to get out of the way … but the sound of drumming hooves is plenty to warn the unwary to get clear in time. Still, several carts are capsized and baskets toppled in the panicked rush through the streets.
A shadow passes overhead … It looks like a Korv … maybe the one from the carriage the Rokuga came in? He is clutching something in his foot-claws a box of some sort.
Francisco looks up at the Korv, trying to figure out what he's up to. Is he the same one as was with that crowd? If so, could he be following them?
Yosah looks up. "Oh no!" he squeaks. "Eet ees an attack! Beerd ees carry magic powder! Ah! Weet! Yosah heev anteedote! Rub thees on Fahnceesko's heed!" He digs through a satchel, and pulls out a plugged flask of some sort of fluid. Smells like herbal tea.
Meanwhile, the Korv has released his cargo … which arcs down on what might very well be a collision course with the carriage … and it's too narrow of a street for the Skeek to try heroic swerving maneuvers without toppling over or trampling someone in the process.
The Zerda/Kitsune looks at the mouse oddly, and shrugs, taking the flask and applying its contents.
The liquid smells sweet and is faintly syrupy. Man, this has really got to rot out your teeth if you drink this regularly! But then, maybe Skeeks go for that sort of thing.
As the box continues to fall, a cloud can be seen pouring out of it.
Ahead, the buildings clear away, and the edge of the campus of the Collegia Esoterica can be seen ahead. "Theer eet ees, Fahnceesko!" squeaks the Skeek, sounding positively overjoyed. "We keen make eet!"
Francisco still continues applying the mixture to his head. "Good… I think," he says, then asks, "What is magic powder?"
Just behind the wagon, a carriage comes into view. A Rokuga can be seen in it, as well as a rodent clinging madly to the edge, along with a few Zelaks and Jupani. A *crack* echoes through the air, as a Jupani fires a flintlock!
"Oh!" squeaks the Skeek. "I been … heet!" The wound isn't visible … but that's no matter. The mouse tumbles off of the side of the wagon, landing in a pile of refuse!
The Dromodons, mindless of the loss of their driver, are still barreling forward in a panic. Best hope they don't decide to change course … and head opposite directions or anything like that.
Francisco glances back briefly, and then hops over into the driver's seat and takes the reins to hold them on course.
The pale serpent shouts something inaudible from where he is, pointing at the fleeing, and now driverless, wagon. Another pair of arms reach out to try hauling the Skreek on the side into the passenger area.
The box crashes to the street, missing the wagon. The cloud that came from the box seems to be slowly descending, and weaving back and forth, as if it's chasing the wagon. No … it most certainly is chasing the wagon!
Alas, the Dromodons don't take well to Francisco's handling … and they abruptly shy to one side as they approach the campus gates. There's only a split second to react … but vulpine reflexes carry the fox again, as he manages to leap free just in time! The wagon topples, wheels breaking off, and the Dromodon team breaking free, galloping away in full panic. The carriage, meanwhile, is closing in quickly.
Cursing, the gray Skreek shouts angrily to the Skeek in the refuse pile, before tumbling into the carriage.
Picking himself to his feet once more, Francisco starts heading towards the gates again.
As the carriage closes within range, Qing's shouting throaty over his usual hiss can be heard. "Francisco Azinsan! Stay where you are, and surrender the entity quietly!"
The carriage rolls past the fox, keeping a wide berth … and then comes to a stop, blocking the gates to the Collegia Esoterica, before the vulpine can make the final dash.
Wolves and Zelaks pile out of the carriage. They seem to be similarly attired with bulbs of garlic, talismans, holy symbols, wooden stakes and mallets inaddition to their Guard uniforms and chitin blades. Furthermore, there's an infernal buzzing noise coming from somewhere down the street.
Considering that, right now, Francisco doesn't even know what he's going to say to the folks in the College once he gets there, the Kitsune/Zerda stops his running, pausing where he is for the moment.
"I repeat, Francisco. Surrender. There will be a lot less pain involved for everyone if you do. You have crimes to answer for," hisses Qing, standing to his full height in the wagon. His arms begin waving in strange, rhythmic, oddly graceful patterns around him.
"Fine… have it… your way," the fox pants, not looking up at the Rokuga. His attention is sort of sidetracked by the staff, which somehow he's managed to unconsciously keep a hold onto, vibrating in his hands.
The Skreek watches warily from inside the wagon. The sunlight causes her gray eyes to glow icy blue. She hisses again, ducking down.
The wolves and Zelaks start to spread out, forming a wide circle to enclose the fox, though keeping a fair distance.
Francisco is too sidetracked by the staff to notice his being surrounded. "Just what is it with you?" he asks it.
The staff doesn't seem to be very conversational. All it seems to have to say would be the names of various dark gods inscribed upon its surface. Dagh, Sunala, etc., etc.
"Guards. Confiscate the staff the fox is holding." With that, the reptile begins droning in an even tone and rhythm. "Towers of the Overworld, Cyan Spires of Purity, I call upon you with the authority of he whose coils encompass all, within whose belly lies the freedom granted from all misery… "
A large red Zelak lumbers toward the vulpine, mandibles clacking, talismans and holy symbols dangling almost laughably around its neck.
"Make sure he doesn't drop it or make any sudden moves with it," the rat inside the wagon adds. A clump of black hair falls across her face.
Francisco's ears perk instinctively at the sound of the Zelak, and he looks up wide-eyed at the giant bug, almost falling backwards as he realizes what it is. "Stay… away from me," the fox says shakily, gripping the staff in a way to try and ward off the Zelak.
The runes on the staff begin to glow red. The Zelak, oblivious, lumbers toward the fox, reaching out to try to snare the staff, though not doing so very quickly.
The rat starts to make several loud clacking noises, waving her hand away.
The Zelak pauses, and retracts its claw. It starts shuffling back from the staff-bearing vulpine.
"Bring the taint, that which is not flesh, into the blinding light of day… purge of the material the essence of spirit… I, Fang of the Great Serpent, cast you out, never to return to the corporeal vessel you held." A chill wind begins whipping around Qing, wrenching his mantle about him, the black symbol on his chest writhing as if alive.
The fox moves back and keeps at the center of the circle surrounding him, keeping a close eye on the Zelaks in the crowd, still holding the staff threateningly.
Biting her lip, the Skreek climbs out of the carriage and walks towards the fox. She bundles up her cloak in her hands to keep from touching the staff and tries to reach out for it. "Here, I called off the bug. Just let me have the stick, nice and easy… "
The sigils writhe on the staff … giving it the appearance of being alive, in some mystical way.
Francisco narrows his eyes at the rat. "Who are you?" he asks.
"My name's Willow," she answers, turning her head slightly to show five stripes of black under her right eye. "I'm with Qing."
The Jupani Guards clench their swords, looking quite ready to spring into action. The Zelaks … well … look like Zelaks normally do.
The Rokuga's chanting, meanwhile, draws to a close. "The Serpent's will be done." All three pairs of hands come together with a combined clap… and thunder rolls from the sound.
The Kitsune/Zerda looks around at the folks surrounding him, looking like they're really hoping to get some action. He closes his eyes and sighs for a moment, then holds out the staff. "Take it then," he says.
Darkening clouds ripple menacingly, drawing inward so slowly swirl around a vortex centered far above the fennec's head.
The staff crackles with red energies.
Carefully, the rat reaches out to the staff with her robe. She looks ready to jump back from the thing at any moment as she attempts to wrap it up in her cloak.
An angry buzzing gets louder and louder. It seems as if a dark cloud is slipping down the street, heading toward the gate.
At the moment the Skreek touches the staff, red energies course out from it, lashing at the rat's eyes, nose and mouth!
Francisco tries to pull the staff away from her. He didn't for a moment think that this would happen, instead hoping that somehow things might get set right if he handed it over.
The Skreek lets out a shriek as the energies touch her. She claws at her face as though it were on fire! She staggers back, collapsing against the stones and lying there, unmoving.
At that moment, the Rokuga's spell buffets the area around the fennec, and the red coursing energies immediately disperse from around the staff, and dissipate from the rat. The "fennec" illusion vanishes in a blink of the eye, revealing the true nature of the multi-tailed Kitsune.
A rank odor of decay, intermixed with a sickeningly sweet tang, fills the air. The guards start to shout and lurch forward … but the black swarm from the street is faster. It's a swarm of bugs … all sorts of bugs, and they alight upon the fox's head, and start covering his body.
Francisco shrieks! and starts to try and brush the bugs from off him.
The Kitsune frantically tries to sweep off the bugs. "Get them off! Get them OFF me!!" he wails.
Shrieks and moans fill the air, and wispy apparitions blink into existence here and there, then just as quickly fade away.
The snake flicks his tongue several times, as if looking for something… and looking increasingly frustrated when he doesn't find it. Reaching into his mantle, he draws forth two vials of syrup, and hurls them down the street, over the heads of those gathered. "Where is it, Francisco? Where is the spirit you allied with?"
"She… It… Aie! They're all over meee! Ahhh! She's GONE! Waahhh!!! Left me!" the fox replies, still furiously trying to fight against the insects.
As the vials of syrup hit the ground, some of the insects are drawn to them as well. There are still plenty to plague the fox, however.
The Rokuga slithers down from the carriage, reaching into his mantle again to draw out a small cloth pouch. He holds it above him in the air, and begins gliding toward the swarm clustered over Francisco. "Where did she go? What was her name? One of you guards… check on Willow. Now."
One of the wolves dashes forward, and grabs hold of the rat, dragging her back away from the fox and the swarming bugs.
The Kitsune, though now having less bugs to deal with, still is frantically trying to get them off like he's allergic to them or something. He just manages to mention the name "Amaranth" amidst his panicked wailing.
The pungent scent of strange herbs wafts from the pouch clutched in Qing's raised hand, and he takes some flakes of it with his other, to toss a sprinkling at the vulpine. "Where?" he hisses insistently.
Where the flask's contents sprinkle on the vulpine, some of the insects reluctantly pull away. The Rokuga's elixir appears to have a repellent effect on the pests.
The reptile's head quirks to one side suddenly at the word "Amaranth", sliding his dark glasses down his nose for a moment to look around. "Two of you Jupani… restrain the fox, and keep him out of harm's way. Apply however much of this pouch is necessary to drive the insects away, then return it to me. The rest of you… guard the staff. Make sure NO one touches it, and don't touch it yourself." He begins slithering up the street a short distance. "Amaranth! Return! Face me!"
"I… I told you," the Kitsune stammers, still fighting with bugs on him, "not with me… not here… "
Two large Jupani slam into the bug-covered fox, and shove him roughly down to the cobblestone street. The bugs angrily buzz about, but they seem to be keeping clear of the wolves … who might have a bit of that repellent applied to themselves.
A third wolf stands ready over the staff, looking quite prepared to cleave it in two with his sword if it moves or transforms or does whatever cursed staves do.
"But I… feel something." The Rokuga lowers his bowl hat over his face, his head slowly turning from side to side. "You there." Qing points at a guard. "Go into the Collegia, and fetch Dean Faust. Tell him the staff is in our possession, and the fox is in our custody, but there is no sign yet of the spirit, whose name is Amaranth. I need someone here that can move this staff someplace safer, it's still dangerous." A separate arm points at the wolf standing over Willow. "How is she?"
The guard replies. "Alive, but not good, sir."
A disembodied voice laughs on the winds. "Well, well. This was fairly disappointing, really." It sounds female … and vulpine.
"Get her to a doctor, guardsm " The Rokuga freezes, then rotates smoothly, lowering his dark glasses to peer around with ruby eyes. "So… you've returned."
"Sumimasen, Francisco-san. I'm afraid I used you. And, alas, this story doesn't have a happy ending," whispers the disembodied voice.
"I doubt there's a happy ending for anyone involved in this. Regardless, it shall end." The snake draws a fist-sized lump of amber from his mantle, holding the translucent golden chunk over his head with two hands, and begins chanting.
Francisco raises his head from looking for more bugs on him, tilting it a little in bewilderment.
"Sayonara, Francisco-san," hisses the disembodied voice.
"Castles of the Infinite Plane, Lords of the Beyond, I geas thee, cast into my prison one of your own… Amaranth."
The five-tailed fox's body suddenly convulses. The two wolves cry out in alarm, as bugs start pouring out of the wound on the back of the Kitsune's neck.
All Francisco can do is scream.
And the scream fades away into the sounds of droning insects, as the form of the Kitsune collapses, and dissolves into nothing but vacated clothes.