What fate has befallen our dear otter at the paws of the Corgi? :O
Adept Paws 9: Dragons
by Tempe O'Kun
Madness followed Alaster's abdication.
Royal advisors emerged from the ether to decry the succession. Servants opened the windows to clear the spores and cleaned up the mess from the incursion. Courtiers floated in and provided their commentary until they were shooed out by guards. The guards themselves accepted these events with no visible dismay, though they kept a watch on the villagers.
Toskun stood like a stone against the constant stream of silk-clad advisors, though nobody paid him any attention save Rin, whose tail swished in intrigue. Tara walked in arcane conversation with Eilwen of the Corgi, the adepts trailing behind like ducklings. Jax's father shadowed them.
Unable to keep up with the eldritch jargon, Rea followed near to Jax, carving part of a broken table leg. No one had noticed her retrieve her small knife, probably mistaking it for cutlery. [i]Or me for a servant.[/i]
She put the finishing touches on a miniature shield and handed it to Chib-bib. The faerret looped and squeaked, flaunting it to his fellows. Cooing with envy, they tested their weaponry against it.
Jax let himself slip back from the flock, apace with her. "Rea?"
She lifted her ears, putting her knife away.
The young cat glanced to make sure Tara wasn't watching. "Thanks for coming to my rescue." He kissed her.
Rea tittered, smoothing the ruffles it had put in her tail. "S-sure."
The other adepts descended into whispers. The feline's father chuckled from behind them.
The vixen felt heat rush under her fur. "So, what were they talking about? Guild magic?"
"There are three types of magic in the world." He held up an orange-furred finger. "Dragon magic, that's what they call ours. It comes from willpower and meditation." Another finger. "Blood magic, that's what the bats use. It requires sacrifices." A third finger. "And Guild magic."
The young fox blinked. "How's that different?"
"It comes from a single gem belonging to the Guild. Their magic is for sale."
"You can buy magic? Why bother?"
"It's easier than training to work it. With the right talismans, you could be casting spells in an hour. Well, not anymore..." He shrugged his orange shoulders.
Rea pondered this for a second, but the tickle of a lost thought lingered in the back of her mind. It's almost as if I've forgotten something-- "By my tail!" She gasped. "Flots!"
"Huh?" Jax looked around in mild panic. "What are flots?"
She turned to the faerrets, who were tangling in a cloud beside her. "Please, find him. We have to make sure he's okay."
Chib-bib banged his fork against his shield, then saluted. "We will find the otter-giant, no matter where he has otted to!"
The faerrets scattered in a burst of giggles, twirling away on their quest. Rea dashed after them, Jax's paw still in her own. The feline paused for a moment, then allowed himself to be dragged into the maze of hallways.
The robed Corgi watched them vanish with ear-cocked curiosity, while the villagers' reactions ranged from amusement to resignation.
* * * * *
Flots, Tale Seeker, lay in a boneless sprawl along the mattress, belly up and eyes on the Corgi. One hind paw toyed with the curtain. "...and that's when the badger decided to invade this place. I came along of course: wouldn't do to miss the climax of the story."
Gwen, Corgi acolyte, sat cross-legged, upright and proper. A polite distance from him, she listened with interest at his fabulous tale. "No, I expect not." A smile graced her lips. "But isn't your invasion going on without you?"
"Nah. Exciting parts over. I can piece together the rest later. Besides..." He eeled forward, resting his head on her lap. "I think a story's starting here too, don't you?"
Gwen stiffened, the movement traveling up her back and raising her ears before she relaxed, exhaling. "I-I think it just might." Without a thought, her paw stroked his tiny ears, that seeming the obvious thing to do.
His pleased hum tingled through her palm and right into her soul. They shared a smile.
The door creaked open. A lime-green faerret head peeked inside, quirked sideways, then retracted. "I've found him! Some dog-giant is grooming him!"
* * * * *
"How did you end up here?" She swept a paw at the Corgi. "Who by the moon is she?"
Flots flowed to his feet. "I was scant moments from certain doom, when this fine canine snatched me away."
Rea gave him an incredulous stare. "Into her bedroom?"
"We just were exchanging stories-- she's a Tale Seeker too!" He glanced back at the stubby tail above her rump. "Err, well..."
The pretty canine laughed, mirth lighting her small face. "You are correct, in both senses. I seek both tales to hear and a tail to wag."
Rea rolled her eyes. "Great. This one speaks faerret."
Jax elbowed the vixen to silence, but Chib-bib nodded in approval, brightening to a sunny yellow. "Good-good-good, better to be faerret-fast than giant-slow! She saved both him from trouble and us the trouble of saving him."
Flots bowed in deference to the fey and kissed the Corgi's paw. "With a captor this charming, stoat-or, I wish never to be saved."
Gwen's ears twitched in a shy fashion, though she did not pull away. Her eyes found Rea and Jax. "Is he always like this?"
Rea shrugged. "I assume."
Jax giggled, his paw still locked on hers. "Otters..."
* * * * *
Rea padded down a staircase of the Citadel, of which there were many, followed by a small parade of faerrets, which consisted of seven. Jax, Flots, and that young Corgi weren't far behind. Her ears perked up at the edge of a conversation below, toward the stables. Looks like that canine lord really is coming with us.
One of the blue-garbed soldiers stood beside his lord. "Majesty-- err... Sir, I must insist you allow some great falcons to carry you--"
"And pull a dozen knights off messenger duty? I think not." Alaster waved a paw at the guard. "I am no longer king and deserve no special treatment. My old riding lizard will do fine."
He watched the servants saddling the green-blue reptile. The great beast stomped in defiance and shook its crimson frill, but otherwise allowed the stable-hands to cinch the various belts and harnesses atop its wide back.
The former lord heard soft footsteps behind him and turned. The elder Corgi stood before him, her ears coming up to his muzzle. She wore her orange-patterned traveling bag on her shoulder.
He regarded her with a smile, ears lowering a hint in respect. "Eilwen, I cannot ask you to go with me."
"On the contrary, Alaster, all you could ever do was ask me. I was never one of your subjects." Her smile carried more devious pleasure than Rea thought fitting for a monk. "By the same token, you cannot order me to stay."
The brindled shepherd dipped his muzzle in deference, his chuckle smooth as polished bronze. "Once again, you teach me, old tutor."
Her lips curled in amusement. "I am not the only one getting on in years, Alaster. Perhaps I shall call you 'old' as well."
Rea yipped at an unexpected poke to the ribs. She jumped up from the railing she leaned on to find it was only Jax. I come all this way to rescue you and you poke me. Ingrate.
The orange feline gestured down the stairs. "Come on..."
The vixen padded down the last spiral of the staircase, ahead of Jax, allowing her tail to sway upward and brush against him now and again. Completely by accident of course. If he couldn't help but giggle when the white tip of it tickled his muzzle, that was his own fault.
They arrived to find the rest of the villagers gathered before the stables. Their own mounts, far less colorful than Alaster's, had been saddled as well, having at some point been brought from a nearby inn.
The young vixen strode up to the monarch. "So you're coming with us?"
A flicker of sorrow flickered from the brindled canine's muzzle, leaving only polite reserve. "I am, dear vulpine."
She crossed her arms. "And if we don't want you?"
"Rea!" Jax's urgent whisper brushed her ear. His tail and ears dropped. "Don't talk to him like that! He's a king."
"Was." She stood taller, half a step closer to the canine. "Now he's just a dog."
Her tone put just enough acid on that last word to draw paws to sword, but not swords from scabbards. Not too far...
Alaster, unfazed, waved the guards to ease. A tilt of his muzzle locked his gaze with the old badger's. "Tell me, Constable, how many of the young women of your village are like this?"
"One too many." Toskun scowled so hard it was a wonder he didn't tangle the stripes of his muzzle. Green sparks sputtered from his claws.
She returned his look with a sweet smile, tail swaying. "I'm right, though, aren't I? We don't need to bring him with us." This is for buying Jax from those bats like some cheap bauble.
"Enough teasing, foxling. We needn't offend our new friend." Rin emerged from the stables with Tara. The adepts trailed behind, watching the great lizard in fascination. The leopard wore a more jaded look, though her gold eyes flashed at Rea. "We have no small distance to travel. A shame if you had to walk to exhaust your spare breath, eh?"
Rea's muzzle opened against her will, then closed with all of it.
Hovering nearby, one of the faerrets changed her pelt to leopard-spots, delivering a mock lecture to her theatrical, fox-patterned fellows. Chib-bib's tiny paws clapped together as he applauded from her shoulder.
The leopard ignored this performance, checking her mount's tack with grace and ease. The others busied themselves in similar ways. Even the guards seemed eager to move on from the trouble she'd wrought, though Rea swore she saw a few smiles exchanged now that she'd been put in her place.
The young vixen's ears laid so flat against her skull it was a marvel they didn't singe her fur with the heat of her embarrassment. Jax placed a paw at the small of her back, causing life to be not so very bad. At least she'd made her point. Now if they could just get home so she could find some real time alone with him...
"Sire!" A spindly greyhound in a page's outfit loped down the stairs, yowling. "Sire!"
Alaster sighed. "I've told you before, I'm no longer--"
"Sorry, sir, but you must know!" The lithe canine bowed, then gestured toward one of the great windows. "A dragon approaches."
* * * * *
The flying porches Flots called "lifts" had been repaired. Rea had to dislodge her claws from the railing before she could step off.
At a dizzying height within the Citadel, Alaster led them to a great open balcony. All around, blue-uniformed guards scrambled into formation, spears held at attention. It spoke volumes as to their discipline that they managed to look so serious while half their number had purple dots staining their pelts from the faerrets' berry attack.
Chill wind cut through Rea's fur, rifling through her clothing for scraps of heat. She shivered. Jax padded up next to her, wrapping his tail around her. She returned the gesture. Together, they ignored the giggles of the other adepts and the amused looks of everyone else.
The gold-encased canine appeared. Jaith: that was his name. Though otherwise confident, he fiddled with the heavy signet ring on his paw. No doubt there'd be some elaborate coronation, feasting for days, that sort of thing. Crowns, scepters, silks: city-dwellers lived for costumed buffoonery. No one in Lagan would bother having an entire suit of armor gilded, though Rea felt certain her parents could manage it if the need for such opulence arose.
Rea watched the new king take up a position beside his uncle. The elder canine nodded at his approach, but otherwise kept his eyes skyward. She followed his gaze.
At first, she saw nothing save the grey on grey of an unsettled sky. Thin clouds threatened a drizzle. The sun blurred to a glowing smudge, as if viewed through sheets of wax paper.
Then she saw it.
Great wings. The powerful, sinuous form she had so often glimpsed above her village.
It's really a dragon! A dragon is landing here! Her tail curled tighter around Jax.
The great creature grew closer, closer, escorted by a brace of those great birds she'd seen earlier. Seated atop the silver dragon, defying the wind and cold, a dark canid spoke words to her mount the young fox couldn't hear.
What kind of person rides a dragon? Or would even be allowed to?
At last, with a thunderclap of wings, it landed on the great stone balcony. Heavy talons drummed against the rock as it trotted to a stop.
The guards made no move, holding to their perfect rows. Toskun and Jax's father crouched, wary, paws caressing weapons. Tara stood flanked by Corgis, and shared their calm. Flots danced from paw to webbed paw with fearless delight, no doubt already spinning this story under his stubby little ears.
The dragon regarded the gathering, then strode forward with purpose. Even in the grey light, its scales shone with an unearthly illumination. As it moved, light glanced off its hide as if off rippling water.
From the saddle, higher than Rea's ears, leapt a tall vixen in a shining breastplate. No, not a vixen, one of the maned wolves. Rea had seen one travel through Lagan on the way to the mountains, an envoy to the rabbit tribes, years ago.
Magic shimmered off the blade at her hip, warping the air like a blast furnace's heat. Her mantle rippled in the wind, though strands of magic hung unaffected, trailing after her only as she stepped forward.
The dragon bowed. In a voice resonant and feminine, it spoke. "King Alaster Raynalt, I present to you Her Majesty Queen Ryssia, Hero of--"
"Enough, Ar." The maned wolf patted its wing, as if calming a friend. "We haven't the time."
"Yes, Majesty." The dragon closed its eyes and nodded in deference.
Who talks to a dragon like that?
For a moment, silence.
This Champion Queen, or whatever she was, barked a laugh. "Majesty Alaster! Are you not going to bid me welcome?"
The brindled canine exchanged a look with his nephew, nodding in the Queen's direction.
Clearing, his throat, the younger dog moved closer. Dipping his muzzle, he regarded the visitor. "You are welcome as always, Majesty Ryssia. I am Lord of the Citadel now."
A lightning strike of shock flashed over the Queen's muzzle, gone just as fast. A breath later, she planted her paws on her sword belt. "I need to speak with you. Both of you."
Jaith looked to his uncle as if for permission. Alaster lifted his paws in a shrug.
The younger dog straightened. "We'll talk in the-- err my throne room."
Together, the three canids strode off toward the stairs, tailed by the shining dragon. The big horse guard whinnied a command, and in smart rank and file the blue-uniformed troops turned on a hind paw and marched after them. Though Rea held most other finery in low esteem, rows of canid soldiers marching past, armed to the fangs, caused a prickle of fear in her fur.
Toskun grunted a scoff, rolling his eyes at the display. Jax's father had slunk well back from the dragons' path, though he kept his eyes on his son. Jax himself watched with serene interest, but first an ear then a head swung in Tara's direction. She was beginning a lecture on dragons, the Corgi scholars piping in now and then with intellectual tidbits. Flots drifted well ahead of the group, torn between following the dragon and the conversation.
Rea nibbled a knuckle in thought. All the dragons vanish, and now one appears here. As a mount, no less! What can it mean?
Lost in her thoughts, she followed the others out of the cold of the aviary, as she had heard one of the guards call this space. So distracted was she, she failed to notice the ancient badger until he settled a heavy paw on her shoulder.
The young vixen yipped in surprise.
Constable Toskun gave her a stern look. Tiny flecks of magic crackled behind his eyes.
Rea forced up her ears, swishing her tail in defiance. "Are you going to lecture me?"
He growled, his black lips thin lines against whitening fur and whiter teeth. "Should I?"
"I don't see the point. You know I'll just do it again."
"Reckless kit." He snarled.
"Dusty old brock." She flashed a toothy grin.
He studied her, as if deciding just how far to throw her.
She felt a spike of mischief rise from somewhere deep inside her. A chuckle.
His eyes narrowed to slits. "What?"
"You ought to put a little more stock in reckless kits like me."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Is that so?" Her steps bounced against the stone floor. "Well, then I'm sure you've noticed Rin never came out here to see the dragon land."
Toskun's tiny ears flicked. He blinked, tight jaw working. The other villagers paused their conversation and, in almost perfect unison, looked to her, then around for the leopardess, as if she might have slipped into a shadow.
The young vixen grinned, tail fluffed out in pride. Rea took Jax by the arm and led the others inside, rather enjoying being smarter than everyone else.
* * * * *
Once back inside the Citadel proper, where solid doors barred entry to the wind, the villagers discussed how to find their lost leopard.
Toskun grunted. "The dogs may have taken her captive."
"Captive?" Jax's father wrung his white paws.
"Why?" Tara's soft ears swayed.
"Information." The badger nodded, assured of his wisdom in the way the elderly often were. "Or leverage."
Rea, instantly weary of planning, began carving rude pictures into an expensive door frame with her whittling knife. She allowed boredom to radiate from her, though her thoughts were thick with smug vulpine chuckles.
"Pardon me." A pair of brown ears drew everyone's notice, entering the room at eye level and attached to the elder, white-browed Corgi. She stood a little ways off, her long robes and quiet wisdom belying her shortness, fingers interlaced. "If you like, I'll summon the guards to look for your companion."
Toskun took a breath. "That won't--"
"That would be helpful, thank you." Tara bowed to the short canine, then glanced an apology to the Constable. "This place is large and we need their aid."
He crossed his thick arms. "Very well."
The little dog bobbed politely and trotted back into the hall.
Toskun spread his wide paws. "We'll split up. The adepts will search the lower level and stables. The cat and I will check the upper rooms and work down."
Jax's father whipped his tail. "I'm not letting my son out of sight, Toskun. Not after all that's happened."
"Bring him then. Let's move."
"Wait." Rea stepped in the badger's path. "Where should I go?"
The old Constable pinched the white stripe at the bridge of his muzzle, as if struck with a headache. "Out of earshot."
"Fine!" At this, the vixen turned with a huff. Jax reached for her, but she stormed out of the room, tail lashing. "I'll find her on my own!"
Once in the hall, she slammed the door for added effect, the noise covering her snicker. Of course, I know where to look... more or less.
The fox returned to the open central column of the Citadel. Riding the lift several levels down, she eased it to a stop outside Alaster's great hall. Well, Jaith's now. Damn. That is a bit confusing. A scattering of silk-draped foxes drifted past her, chattering like jaybirds. Various breeds of canine trotted by in royal colors, couriering missives and memoranda. Few paid her much mind.
The guard outside the great hall did, however. Standing before the heavy, locked doors, his swollen lip marked him as the horse Rin had knocked around during the initial invasion. The war hammer he'd shattered against the feline's enchantments had been replace with a small, still intimidating one.
One look from him caused her to spin on a hind paw and pretend to be going elsewhere.
With no other clear way into the great hall, Rea contented herself with leaning against a column, slipping a small block of wood from her belt, and whittling. Outside of the horse guard's line of sight, of course. She could make out only muffled voices through the heavy door.
I saw Rin take the other lift on purpose, getting off with a pack of the guards. She saw me looking, too, or she was smiling at nothing. She had to have figured she could spy on Alaster better from somewhere around here. She glanced around the landing. But where?
A Dalmatian maid paused to look at her accumulated shavings with scorn. Rea flipped the knife backward and saluted with the hilt of it, but the spotty broomdog turned up her muzzle and continued on her way.
Must be more urgent sweeping elsewhere.
Stiffness crept into Rea's legs. The wood block had eroded into a passable maned wolf, complete with sword. The vixen smirked and blew some loose shavings from the figure.
The doors rumbled open behind her.
They're done already? Back home, the Mayor would still be reading her notes. Rea flipped the little knife away, setting the new carving down as she peeked around the pillar. Sure enough, the trio of canids emerged, followed still by the steel-scaled dragon. A half-dozen guards moved with them, sniffing out danger. With a casual stretch, the vixen made sure to be on the opposite side of the column as they passed.
"I know this isn't how you'd have wanted to deal with matters, Majesty Ryssia." Sorrow tinged the edge of Alaster's tone.
"This is hardly about what I'd have wanted." The Champion Queen strode past, scabbard clattering against her greaves. "All we can do now is try to get your... emotional decision to work in our favor. I cannot stay to help you."
"We can handle matters, Majesty Ryssia." That gold-clad brindle again, a little too eager. "I can have a flight of knights ready within moments to escort him."
"That would be unwise." Alaster's voice faded as distance grew between them and Rea's pillar. "I'll leave as planned and slip away with a few select friends. The less attention we attract..."
The vixen padded over to the now unguarded door. As she slipped inside, prudence provoked a backward glance. No one looked her way, though the silver dragon stood examining a small wooden figurine between two powerful claws.
The great hall loomed twice as tall as the Lagan town hall. A symmetrical forest of stone pillars supported the ceiling with flying buttresses, each with a banner. At the far end, a throne sat atop a raised platform, surrounded by an arrangement of long tables stacked with papers. Lesser doors allowed access at intervals on one side, while high windows granted entrance to a diffuse illumination. All in all, the hall stood empty and spartan, the glow added by small fireplaces fading as the walls swept high the arched and cloud-painted ceilings.
Not many places to hide. Probably on purpose.
A rustle of cloth. Rea looked up.
A mass of shadow gushed down from the ceiling. It landed in a pile before her. From the blackness a figure boiled up, towering over the vixen.
Rea yelped in terror. "Tails of the gods!" She staggered back.
Strips of darkness uncoiled, unravelled, piece by piece, revealing a spotted golden pelt. "That's some greeting, foxling." A purred laugh.
The stray strips of shadow bloomed into color and giggled.
Now uncovered, Rin turned to the faerrets. "Thank you for hiding me, sprites. When we return to Lagan, I will tell stories of your length and wit."
Chib-bib fluttered forward, chittering as his pelt became a proud violet. "Yes-yes! A fair trade, cat-giant."
Rea regained control of her tongue. "I knew you were going to spy on them!"
"Yes. Dangerous, but worth it." The leopardess stretched with feline suppleness. "I've found out where the dragons went."
There you have it, folks-- Chapter 9. ^_^ Glad to be working on this series again. Let me know what you think!