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the lonely murloc -chapter1

2005/06/25 Sat

the lonely murloc /CrazyHorse


I It was a long hallway with flickering lights and offices on either side, where probably nothing more exciting than an affair with a secretary had taken place for years. One door stuck out: a dusty sign hung over it in the hallway, no color on it or pictures; just the words "Fang, Public Tooth" scrawled on it in something that looked like dried blood but surely wasn't. The door itself was the half-wood half-window kind, and there were no lights on inside. I eased open the door, hunched through the annoyingly human-sized doorway and let myself in. Of course it was human-sized. Everything on this continent was. The Tooth was known, and feared, here in Storm City as the go-between (and chief enforcement), the fin to talk to if you were in trouble with the Law, or if you thought the Law oughta be different. It wasn't so much that he had the power: he just controlled access to it, which wise pandas say is the real power. Then, a week earlier, someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew Fang had started telling everybody that the Murloc had hung up his mithrils and called the donkey business quits. One rumor had it he'd run afoul of the law, and they didn't like him any more. Another one said he had gotten lonely at the top of the civilian chain of command and the bottom of the law's. Another one said that someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew Fang didn't know much of anything at all, and that the silence was just a precursor, that the Law was preparing a major push out into the slums and we would all have to fight for our rights and lives. All anyone knew for sure was that the Murloc's office had been dark and empty for going on ten days. It was common wisdom that you didn't get into the Tooth's office unless the Tooth had seen you coming and knew what you had to say. I hadn't noticed any queues, though, and I hadn't had to fight any locks. The complete lack of security unnerved me, and I pawed about at knee level for a light switch."Got a light?" I jumped, but of course I had expected someone else to have come to check out the Murloc's apparently abandoned office. Great minds think alike. I wasn't expecting it to be the Murloc, though, and I hadn't known that the Murloc smoked. "Sure thing," I said, and pulled a matchbook out of my large brown sack. Fang was lounging in his office chair as though he lived in a different world from rumors and rumors. He was smaller than I'd expected. We'd all seen him before, of course, but it was mostly from afar. His fins flipped a bit as I handed him the matchbook. "Thanks," he said, raspily, and lit the cigarette he'd been holding. "My name's Horse," I said, and was casting about for something to follow that up with, but I didn't need to. "I know who you are," he said, blowing smoke out his gills. "It's a funny name for a cow." Never heard that one before. "I'm a full bull, thanks, and I can turn into a horse on command," I responded. Normally it would have been icy, but it was the Tooth I was talking to. "It's a trick I learned somewhere." Fang nodded. "So... I don't suppose you also know why I'm here...."A little bit about myself, I guess. I'm still pretty young, although I've got a chip or two in my horns. I was born a shape-shifter across the pond on Kali. Never was much good at anything at home, and couldn’t abide by the incessant nature-worship, so I got down on all fours and ran away from home. Orcmar was my first stop-off, and I learned a bit of the ways of the real world, the one where you don’t get away with things by saying the father wind spirit moon mother came to you in a dream. Orcmar’s changed a bit, they say; Thrall the Fair founded the place, but the Shadow was its foundation, and the foundation survived. I ran up some nasty debts on the Drag, pulled up roots again and flew to Storm City. Of course, a seven foot bull doesn’t blend in well in a human town, and I got noticed by the right people – and the wrong people – real fast. The law had files on me right away, as did the power players of the undercity: the nasty Storm City world of crime bosses and cults. I fell into a good group right away; a human magician girl whose eyes glowed and who never showed more skin than her face and hands, and an orc that could do things with lightening that would make a giant mad. They showed me the ropes of the place, and advised me who to stay away from. The latter was a surprisingly short list: Stay away from the law. If you’re feeling brave, send your letters to the Murloc. Don’t ever attempt to directly contact the law.So being noticeable helped me get noticed, and being able to change into animals helped me get places I couldn’t have gotten otherwise. I joined up with a cult called the Scarlet Resurrection: I didn’t know much about what they wanted, but for me it translated into running on ridiculous, insignificant errands, in exchange for money and protection. It was also a good experience, of course, getting to know the lay of the city, and I managed to start saving some coins up in a little bag I’d found on a dead kobold. That was all three years ago. My first experience with the Tooth of Storm City was about a year after I'd arrived on the Eastern continent. I had been tasked with delivering a letter for a Scarlet higherup to another Scarlet higherup in a different part of the city. It would have been a straightforward delivery, except that there had recently been some changes in the law, and not everyone had liked them. A gang had formed outside a nondescript building along the road I was supposed to be delivering my sealed letter to. The gang was shouting nonsense up at a window, shouting in what must have been seven butchered languages. I squeezed into a shadow that was much too small for me, closed my eyes just long enough to turn into a scruffy cat (I’d never learned how to get rid of the horns), and began prowling the back edge of the crowd. I should have been moving on of course, as duty should come before curiosity, but aside from self-protection and gambling, curiosity had always been my strongest instinct.Most of the shouting was in tongues, though I could make out some of it, in a couple of the languages that I had – against all odds – managed to learn. The mob was shouting and braying, and I suddenly noticed that the window it all seemed to be aimed at had cracked open. The mob noticed too. Of course, I knew about the Murloc, but I’d never seen him. He appeared, snout first, then the rest of him, at the window. His scales were almost all a deep, cerulean blue, patterned with a deep sea green and some yellow. His eyes were red, and his entire body swelled noticeably as he breathed. He seemed shrunk by distance, but I felt as though in person he must certainly be enormous. He stood at the window, silent and listening. People shouted their grievance, once, and drifted away. I watched, and in a matter of minutes, the crowd had dispersed. I stood alone in the shadows of the empty street, looking up at him. I felt the heckles on my cat neck prickle, and I was sure he was looking back at me. He blinked, once, then disappeared back into the building.I learned later that this royalty-pop star act at the window was what he did when the queue to get into his office to see him individually grew too long, usually in the days following a change in the law. He would take down his sign, lock the door, go to the window, and listen to the rabble en masse. They said that if you shouted from that crowd, he could hear you, remember what you’d said, and remember who’d said it. If you were a lucky shouter, a few days later, you’d get a slip of paper in your mailbox with an answer to your grievances. There were parts of the City where amassing these papers was a symbol of status, and even there, at my first mob, listening in Orcish and some Common, I could tell that many of the shouters were looking for little more than a status slip. Others, I thought, were yelling just to yell.If you were an unlucky shouter – or a belligerent, or a fool – you disappeared in the next few days, killed or worse. There were those that swore that you didn’t need to even be yelling, or at the window, that if you said the wrong thing about the Law anywhere, the Murloc would hear, and you’d disappear. Some said, all you had to do was think it. The Tooth was what you scared little children with to make them go to bed; he was the excuse for the unexplained. In his way, I thought, he was much like a god. (I didn’t much believe any of it. My two closest friends – Rhy, the emaciated human girl mage, and Tidus, the magical orc – and I often sat around the kitchen table in their apartment late into the night sharing flasks of volatile rum and loudly talking no good of anyone, most especially not the Law.) So when the rumors started running that the Tooth had closed up shop, an immediate sense of unease spread over us, the City’s rabble. Existing daily, fearing to anger the Murloc, was a familiar state of mind for the rabble. Not knowing who might be listening, where or when, or whether anyone might be listening at all, seemed to be worse. Fear with a face had been much preferable.My shape-shifting, a rare enough ability in the east that I hadn't met a single other shifter since I'd gotten here, had let me be useful to my superiors in the Scarlet cult, and I was starting to get an inkling for what it was they were doing. Besides making money off of converts, they seemed primarily interested in a series of mystical questions, the answers to which would bring about the apocalyptic ascendance of the Scarlet leadership to power in the world. I’d told Rhy and Tidus, and we’d added it to our list of things to drunkenly disrespect late at night. A few weeks later, when rumors of the Missing Murloc had begun to swirl, my immediate superior, a slender man named Jonathan Trent, called me into his office. “The Tooth’s office has been locked for nine days,” he said curtly when I’d sat down in the office’s tiny human-sized chair, “but his sign is still hanging in the hallway.” I nodded. “Find out why. You will receive eighty silver.” I nodded, and left. So that’s how I found myself standing in Fang the Tooth’s office, handing him a light, and wondering why on Az the Law’s Longest Fin needed my help.I glanced around the office, trying to take in as much as I could. It wasn’t for the purpose of detective-work, so much as to hide the fact that I had no idea what else to do. “You need my help?” I said stupidly, for the same reason. The walls of the place were bare, except for a round, painted portrait of the Tooth himself hanging over the fireplace. It was framed in an ornately carved, golden frame, which on closer inspection appeared to be a dragon holding its own tail. The opposite wall had a bookshelf, filled with tomes whose titles I couldn’t read. There was a desk, and a chair in front of it, and a high-backed chair behind it, and Fang the Godhead of the Law, blowing smoke rings out his gills and staring at me. He blinked, with translucent membranes sliding in sideways from the corners of his red eyes. I shivered involuntarily.“Need might be a bit strong of a word,” he said. “For the time being, we would greatly appreciate it.” “Who’s we?” I said. “The Law?” The Murloc laughed, and it was an unpleasant, half breathing, half hissing sort of noise. “Not yet, kid. I know you, but I don’t trust you yet.” Fair enough. “First thing’s first,” he continued in his hissy, raspy voice. “The rumors of my disappearance need to become the rumors of my death.” “If I claim I found your body, they’re gonna want to see the loot,” I said. He shook his head. “Not my body, just my blood, and some scales. Tell your superiors at the Scarlet Resurrection,” a word which he spoke with disdain, “and anyone else you possibly can, that not only was my body missing, but you were chased out of my office by my own ghost. You saw signs that a cleanup had already begun by forces unknown to you, and of course by the time your superiors send anyone to confirm your story, my office will look –,” and he gestured around, “– pristine.” “Do I get to know why you need to have died?” I asked, out of curiosity as much as anything. “No,” he said. Not to overstate it.“So, without justification, you want me to tell an elaborate lie to the organization which has kept me safe for three years, with no evidence and, conveniently, no way to verify the truth. The most believable part of the whole thing is that you’re haunting your office.” Carefully avoiding actually saying no. Carefully avoiding angering the Murloc. "The Resurrection, protecting you." He hiss-laughed again. “I won’t take offense at your gross ingratitude,” he said, “since you had no earthly way of knowing. Although, I don’t suppose it ever seemed strange to you that despite the fact that you have told the organization which you say protects you nothing about your, let’s say, reasons for expatriation, you have never in three years had to deal with your Kali creditors? Or, more recently, their bounty hunters?” My bovine eyes widened in surprise, then in uncertain fear. It hadn’t occurred to me at all. I wanted the amphibian to be bluffing, but as he said it, it began to seem strange that a seven foot bull had managed to disappear perfectly into the largest city on a continent. My debts were not insubstantial. I could feel my nose go cold. “Do as I request, and they will continue to not be able to find you.” I nodded, and backed towards the door. “And don’t worry about repercussions within the Resurrection. They’re not worth your time, and you won’t be working for them much longer anyway.” I nodded, and reached about behind me for the doorknob. “One more thing. Make peace with your friends and allies. Assuming your actions build your reputation with us, rather than destroying it, you’ll be leaving the City soon. I have no reason yet to believe that the tasks I will be asking of you will be mortally dangerous, but also I have no reason to believe that they won’t be.” He motioned me out of the room, and I quickly turned to leave. “Don’t come back here. We will contact you,” he said, by way of farewell.






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