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the lonely murloc -chapter4

2005/06/25 Sat

the lonely murloc /CrazyHorseIV The cobblestone streets were treacherous to my thin hooves, but I pounded on through the night after the swift jungle cat. I’d thought I’d lost it several times, but it was always there, coming back into view a moment later, before disappearing around another bend. The streets were mostly empty, except for a few late walkers coming home or going out. There were guards in this part of the city, standing at ease every couple of blocks. This part of the city could afford them. As we ran on, towards the mountains at the back of the district, the fine row houses gave way to larger houses, with back yards, and to mansions, with the mountains as their back yards. The flat lands gave way to sloping hills, which gave way suddenly to the mountains, a wall of barely climbable rock and grass. The cobblestone road we were on ended abruptly in front of the last, largest house, a columned mansion, which appeared to be built right into the mountainside. Over the eaves of the great building, some four stories high, I could see a great, brightly lit glass dome. There was a gate in front of the great mansion, and on the other side of it, a long driveway and a cul-de-sac in front of the mansion’s front doors. Off to the side was a lot full of carriages, and a line of horses tied up. My friends (my stomachs knotted a bit again at the thought) were constantly scrimping and saving in the hopes of some day owning their horse. They were jealous of me: I could just become one, as long as no one was looking, and if someone was, I could go that fast just getting down on all fours and running.A human ghost, dressed in a ghostly cummerbund, walked out from the gate-house, inside, and passed gracefully through the bars. “Hello, M,” he said, with dignity, to the cheetah, who mewed shortly in response. “The horse is your guest?” The cat nodded. “Very well,” he said, with dignity, and with a gesture from the ghost the gate creaked open. Still dressed as a horse, I followed M up the long driveway towards the mansion. I whinnied at the horses tied up half way along the drive, and one of them tossed his head and whinnied back.At the cul-de-sac, instead of going to the brightly lit front doorway, we went around to the east side of the house. Some light filtered in from the distant street, but my horse eyes were nearly blind in the dark. My hooves sunk into the grass, moist with evening dew. We sunk into the shadows, the cat’s spots and my gray coat blending in with the night spirits. The cat stopped there, in the side yard shadows, and turned towards me. Suddenly, its body began to swell, and its legs grew longer and thicker. It rose up on its back legs, its paws turning into hands and hooves, its face lengthening slightly, and its forehead sprouting horns. Moments later, a tall, strong tauren stood before me, with a thick, spiked mace hanging at his side and a long, dark blue cloak and hood with holes for the horns. “It’s you!” I said, unintelligently, having shifted back to tauren as well. “And, you’re a shape-shifter, like me!” “I’m a druid,” growled the mysterious tauren from the bar the night before, “and so are you, even if you haven’t used the word since you left your home.” “I’m a shape-shifter,” I said, somewhat sullenly. “And, you have a name!” “M is an honorarium, and it’s what you’ll call me when you honor me, which is always,” growled M. His mace was bigger than mine, and I couldn’t think of any other reason to disagree, so I nodded. “Follow me,” he growled.The smells of roasting quail hit me hard, and I started salivating. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We were in the kitchen, and some orcs were bustling around in aprons. They didn’t look at us, and we went through to a narrow set of stone stairs. They spiraled up, and doors opened every rotation, into hallways and foyers and sometimes into solid brick walls. At the fourth such opening, we left the staircase and moved into a low hallway. We had ascended the stairs briskly, and I was out of breath. M wasn’t. We walked north along the hallway, and I felt the temperature start to drop. I noticed that we were no longer walking in a hallway built of stones, but a hallway carved out of solid stone. “Are we in the mountain?” I asked. M growled something which I decided was probably an injunction to silence. We stopped finally in front of a low, wooden door. The obvious trappings of wealth had long since disappeared, and the door had nothing but a simple wooden handle. M knocked heavily on the door, which sounded quite solid. A familiar voice said, “Come in, quick-like.” M pushed the door open and we both ducked inside. Fang was sitting at a desk, next to the door, clutching a pen and scrawling on a disheveled pile of papers. He looked up and smiled toothily at us. Across the wide but bare room, under a dangling light bulb, were two beds, one with blue dressing and one with green. “Hi, Katy,” he said to the other tauren. “Hello again, Horse,” he said to me, “welcome Inside.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it was the same sort of things they'd said when they'd initiated me into the Scarlet Resurrection. Friends of the Murloc. I was honored. And several other adjectives besides. “Drop your pack here, this is where you’ll be staying tonight. Take the green bed,” he continued, looking back down and beginning to scribble again as he talked, “as the blue one is mine. Not that I’ll be using it.” “They say the Long Fin of the Law never sleeps,” I quipped. It was true. They did say that. "You think you're kidding," muttered the Murloc, and it seemed to me that he was grumbling. Gone was the aura of power, the pretension with which he had talked down to me the long days ago in his office. I wondered if I really was in the in crowd now. And I wondered, in what crowd. So far being Inside had only given me questions.I dropped my bags on the green bed. The other tauren stood still, watching Fang write. "They found your body," I ventured into the silence. "I know they did," Fang muttered to his letter. "I put it there myself." He glanced up at me. "Who'd you hear from?" "A bartender," I said. "Rumor's spreading well." "Good," he muttered. Fang finished the letter, picked it up and bit it, then passed it to M, who pressed it between his thumb and forefinger and began muttering. There was a bit of a glow from his hands, and then he set the parchment back down on the table. It was now sealed. Fang turned around in his chair and looked at both of us. “I take it you’ve met, but I’ll bet you’ve had a hell of a time getting Katy’s name. Right?” He smiled toothily and looked at the bull. M grunted unsmilingly. Indeed. “So you know all about me, and have been planning my life for years, and M won’t even tell me his name,” I said. It came out a bit more petulant than I'd wanted it to. There was a brief but uncomfortable pause. Fang inclined his head towards me slightly. “Katy M’s a female,” he said. “Oh,” I said. “Oh. Oops.” Tauren females have udders. I gave up and moved on. “Okay so…” Moving on failed. I realized I was staring. The tauren standing opposite me was most definitely a male. And, rather glaring at me. I moved on. “Okay, so, I’ve left my home, I’ve brought a bag with everything I own. I’ve done everything you’ve asked, including spreading rumors and lies to my best friends, and I have no idea what I’m doing here.” “Patience,” said the Murloc. “All will become answered in time. Katy,” and he stood up, gathered his papers, and turned to the bull. Cow. “We have business. Crazy, please stay in this room and please don't make any loud noises. If you will excuse us.” Katy M turned on her hoof, opened the door, and the pair of them disappeared into the hallway.An hour passed. I pulled Ajax’s carrier out of my bag and opened it up. He jumped out onto the bed, looking around, a little spooked by the new digs. He hopped cautiously off the bed and onto the stone floor. He trotted over to the door, first, and sniffed around the crack at the bottom. Apparently satisfied, he turned right along the wall, leaping lithely onto the desk chair and then to the desk itself, now clear of papers. He perched on it, and looked over at me, then stretched as high up the wall as he could. He unsheathed his claws against the stone, and scraped them down. He glanced over his shoulder to see if I was wincing at the sound. I was. He turned around and sat down on the desk, looking expectant. I got up, and walked heavily over to the desk. I gripped him, with my thumb under one ear, a finger under the other and a finger wrapping almost around to his belly, and then began wiggling my digits in his short, orange fur. He purred madly. I looked at the stone wall where he had been scratching. It seemed bare from a distance, but up close, I could see faint markings. I could barely make out roundish symbols, which appeared to be arranged in columns. It looked like a language, but it was too faint for me to make out. I put my free hand up to the wall, tracing their edges, leaning in, squinting. The door opened, and I straightened up. Fang stepped in, smoking a cigarette. I looked at him, and the friendly had left him again. He stood and acted casual, still, but he wasn’t welcoming me In any more. I was to do as I was told.“Your presence is required at a meeting.” Yes sir, Murloc sir, I will present myself at said meeting. “Who's meeting?” “I’ll explain what you need to know on the way,” he said, and walked back out of the room. I crated the cat and followed the Murloc. “Your former employers, the Scarlet Resurrection, believe that the end times are near,” he began, “and that they will result in supremacy for the Scarlet Resurrection. They’re idiots.” We were walking briskly, and judging by the walls, we had left the mountain and reentered the mansion. “But surely you’d figured that out. “They’re right in some ways, though," he continued. "Things are in motion now which will change many balances which have held for hundreds of years. Many people that had power will no longer, and many that do not will ascend.” He pulled hard on the cigarette, and the cherry blazed red. “Calling it the end times is a little dramatic. But it’s a pretty similar idea.” I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t known what to think before, and the feeling had only intensified. “So to answer your question very roughly, we are now going to a meeting with, and you are now working for, a group that whose goal is bringing about the End of Times.” He exhaled smoke, and it made a ring around his head. It dissipated. He sounded quite serious, and I began, for the first time in at least an hour, to get nervous. “Lastly, you should know that you are about to see a group of men and women, of all nations, who, utterly apart from political ties, are interested in the betterment of the world at large. Questioning motives in this place is forbidden. There are no enemies here.” He glanced at me with a look that made the statement a warning. It sounded horribly naïve. But this was the Murloc, the Tooth of Storm City talking, and naïve was not a word that the populous used to describe their late Godhead. No enemies, I thought. The free people of the world united. As long as there were no damn dirty zombies.“So who am I meeting?” I said. “The Law?” He glanced up at me again. “You would do well to not talk about such things in this place.” “You’re kidding,” I said. I’d been playing along, following along, doing what I was told this whole time, without question and with less trepidation than I should have, because I thought I was getting inside the Law, inside something bigger than mere mortal organizations. Sheer, blind curiosity. I had been essentially blackmailed, but I had played along like a good initiate. If I was being red-handed, scammed or kidnapped, there would be many heads stomped before they took me down. I contemplated shape-shifting and running away, as hard as I could, but we were deep in a different part of the building, now, and I had no idea how to get out. I must have been breathing hard. “Patience,” hissed the Murloc. “Have patience.” We arrived at last at the end of our current hallway, a much higher and more ornate one than before. There was red carpet, and paintings on the walls. The lighting was stead and warm, rather than flickering and chilly. In front of us were a pair of doors in an arch. Fang walked boldly up to them, grabbed a doorknob in each fin, and pulled. “Welcome," he said, "to the Argent Dawn."

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