PART 6 - NO REST FOR THE WICKED
A cold breeze rustled the
curtains of the convalescent ward, as a prim, red-haired stoat nurse
dressed in a crisp blue and white uniform walked briskly down the
aisle, pulling the curtains between the beds, waving her dark tipped
tail behind her as she hummed softly to herself. As she did, she took
a solicitous look over her three newest patients.
The huge, heavily muscled canine simply laid there with his hands folded across his chest, a bandage across the crest of his broad nose, his eyes closed and a serene expression on his face.
At the next bed the little female recoiled at the glare of the feline occupant's slightly unfocused orange eyes, staring into space as if he meant to set fire to whatever he was looking at with his gaze. His head and face were heavily bandaged, his right hand encased in a plaster cast, his chest bound to stabilize his broken ribs, and he lay stiffly on his side, his short, black tipped neko tail splinted straight and jutting awkwardly out of the open back of the thin cotton hospital gown that wrapped his shivering, scrawny frame.
She paused at the third and shook her head, tsk tsking in pity. The bed's occupant probably was a fox, for all that could be told from the bandage and plaster swaddled figure that lay sprawled with his limbs splinted and elevated.
His single, bloodshot eye focused on her and a plaintive, muffled sound came from his tightly wrapped muzzle. "Nnsss?"
She walked over to his side, her heels clicking on the linoleum floor, as she replied in a faint Highlands brogue. "Aye?"
He strained to turn his head to no avail. "Whh cnnuh mmhhh mhhh mfff?"
She gave him a regretful smile. "I'm afraid your jaw's been wired shut, dear."
A faint sound of weary understanding came from him. "oh… Whh cnnuh mmhhh mhh mms n llmms?"
The female mustelid sighed. "You're in a full body cast, dear."
Another faint sound. "oh… Eenn mhh tnll?"
The nurse nodded. "Especially your tail, dear. It was broken in five places."
The patient squirmed feebly. "oh… Whh dhh mhh pnnunnh fffnnn funnnun?"
A faint blush came to the stoat's features. "We had to put a catheter in, dear..."
After a long pause, he responded. "oh… Mmmh fuhhuhh..."
The corners of her eyes crinkled as she gave him a smile. "I'll be back with some water fer ye in just a minute, dear."
With that she turned and click clacked away as he slouched with a feeble sigh in his cocoon of gauze and plaster.
A stealthy figure pulled herself up and over the window ledge into the ward shortly after the stoat had vanished around the corner. She stepped into the light, revealing the wolf Ravenholt's female canine maidservant. Her hair and fur were disheveled and bristling, reeking faintly of diesel fuel and dirty water, and her dress was still not quite dry, clinging to her muscular body as she shivered in its clammy folds. The dim lights above reflected dully off of the lock of her collar, matching the gleam in her grey eyes.
The female canine walked purposefully past the first curtained partition. She stood at the foot of the hulking dog's bed with her hands on her hips and called to him in Steppesprecht. "<Zoltan! Are you finished slacking off?>"
At the sound of her voice, the huge canine's eyes snapped open. With the barest nod, he reached up and threw aside the covers, kicked his legs over the side of the bed and stood facing her. The flimsy cotton of his hospital gown was stretched across his hulking frame, and his bare arms and legs were a mass of bruises under his drab fur. He gazed down at her impassively, and his voice came as a soft rumble. "<Vhat happened to you?>"
She pursed her lips, glancing at the ridge of fur around his neck that marked where his missing collar once was. "<There have been setbacks. His excellency is most displeased. If he sees you vithout your collar, he will surely give you correction with a lead pipe.>" He reached up and absently felt at the worn down patch with his fingers, then lowered his hand with a shrug. "<It feels like I have already taken such correction, but if that is his pleasure, so be it.>"
The female let out a small sigh of exasperation, and beckoned him to follow her with a jerk of her head.
They stopped at the foot of the bed where the neko lay. His orange eyes widened to see both canines looming over him, and he began to stammer in Usagineko.
The drably clad female gave a perfunctory nod and pointed at him. "<His excellency still wants that one. Take him to the boat. Keep him quiet.>"
Zoltan nodded and stepped
forward, grabbing the lower part of the terrified feline's face in
his broad palm, silencing him. A low rumble came from the hulking
canine's throat. "Be quiet, or I will crush your face."
At this, the trembling neko bit his lip so hard a small, spreading stain of red blossomed on the bandages across his chin. The canine hefted him over his shoulder, the hapless cat's splinted tail and posterior jutting into the air in a thoroughly undignified manner. The dog strode with his terrified cargo over to the window, and the sill creaked under his weight as he planted his huge foot on it and ducked through. The cat clenched his teeth and covered his mouth with both hands to suppress a scream when his bandaged tail rapped against the window frame as they passed. As he vanished over the edge, the neko's last sight was the female walking around to the foot of the heavily bandaged fox's bed.
He looked up at her with a wide, twitching eye, as she cooly regarded him back. With a soft sigh, she reached into a pocket and pulled out a black leather case, from which she produced a syringe.
The stricken fox began to tremble, feebly thrashing in his restraints. "Mmmnh! Nnnnh! Mmmhh! Nhh! Nhh!"
She flicked the side and squirted a few drops to clear out any air bubbles, and leaned in close, whispering softly to him with a sad look in her eyes. "I'm sorry."
With that, she jabbed the needle into his neck and pushed the plunger home as a ragged moan arose from his throat. His chest began to rise and fall with increasing rapidity as his eye rolled back in his head, and a fountain of foam began to bubble out from the front of his bandaged muzzle. Shaking her head slightly, the drab furred canine folded the case closed around the syringe and hurried off as she thrust it into her pocket. She planted a hand on the window sill and leapt lightly over it
The fox's body began to convulse violently as the click clack of the petite red headed stoat nurse's return echoed in the empty space. She stopped short with a gasp as she saw him, as she dropped the tumbler of water and straw she carried and spun on her heel, rushing out of the room. "Doctor! Oh doctor, come quickly!"
In the ships' anchorage off Casino Island a small freighter sat among others of it's kind, bobbing gently on the swells of the lagoon as the beneath the starry sky above. A crudely painted black dragon underlined its name in Westcommon, the Hei Long, over a row of Eight Kingdoms kanji script. Outwardly it was peaceful as any of the boats that were anchored around it, like tethered cattle milling in a placid field.
Below decks, the silence
was more strained in the well appointed quarters of the bedraggled
wolf who now crouched in a rattan chair, wrapped in a terrycloth robe
with his family crest emblazoned on the pocket, a raven perched atop
a triangular mountain, marked with a runic R. His amber hair was a
disheveled mess, sticking out in points between his locked back ears.
A look of black, bottomless anger contorted his features as he glared at the shivering neko who crouched before him on the carpet, his plaster encased right arm held awkwardly to his heaving chest, ragged puffs of black fur bristling from between the wrappings around his splinted tail. Beneath the bandages that covered his face, a newly made black eye was already beginning to swell painfully.
To either side of the wretched feline, the wolf's two servants stood, eyes downcast and arms behind their backs. The hulking Zoltan now stood in a garish souvenir lava lava, a pattern of bruises and bandages overlaying his broad, muscular upper torso. A new spiked collar had been fastened around his thick neck, its dull points gleaming in the light of the ornate continental chic lamps that burned in the elegant room.
The fuming wolf snatched a glass of cognac off of the table beside him and drained it in one gulp, tossing it aside to shatter on a nearby bulkhead. With a tiny nod, the female dog walked over and began picking up the fragments.
Her master ignored her, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his fingers interwoven, as his gaze bored into the cowering neko. "You have failed me twice, vurm. I'm of a mind to skin you and send your miserable pelt back to your masters in Kokoro in hopes they might stuff it vith something more useful. Although I suppose ve can't really expect much better from a bunch of veakling cats claiming to be tigers."
In spite of himself, the neko bristled and half made to rise, his claws popping from his fingertips. He stopped, instantly abject, at a low growl from Zoltan, and after a moment's fearful consideration, prostrated himself on the floor. "I... I will not fail you again, Herr Ravenholt."
A sharp, cruel bark of laughter sounded from the wolf. "HAH! "Again", he says... As if I vould trust a hapless idiot like you vith any task harder than pouring vater out of a boot vith directions on the heel."
The feline stiffened, his left hand claws clenching on the carpet as he touched his bandaged forehead to the floor. "Very well. If you would please to contact my superiors, and pass along my request for permission to end my life and atone for this dishonor."
The wolf rolled his eyes and slouched back in his chair with an exasperated sigh. "Alive or dead, you're still just vorthless slit-eyed alley trash to me." His eyes narrowed as he considered the groveling neko, and presently he gave a diffident shrug, tossing a hand in annoyance. "But fine, if you're going to throw vun of your kind's suicidal tantrums, I vill give you vun more task."
He met the cat's gaze as the Shintora agent looked up with a single orange eye, the other the barest red sliver in a swelling mass of purple tinged flesh. The wolf pointed a grey furred finger at the cieling. "Go above, and gather some of the rabble ve call a crew, choose vuns who have a taste and talent for rough vurk. Lead them to Berth two- forty-three on Pier Seven. There is a blue seaplane I vould see sent to the bottom of the lagoon in pieces, along vith whoever you find in the adjoining building. Do you understand?"
The neko drew himself up and gave a sharp bow. "I understand, Herr Ravenholt!"
The wolf steepled his fingers in front of him and glared at the cat as he climbed painfully to his feet, slightly off balance from his crippled right arm. The grey furred aristocrat curled his lip. "If you fail this time, cat, I vill see to it that your death will be neither easy nor honorable..." He snapped his fingers and pointed toward the door. "Now go!"
The neko cringed, and gave a nervous bow, before turning and fleeing the room.
Ravenholt turned his attention to Zoltan, barely glancing at Marta as she returned to her place beside the hulking male, ignoring the a bleeding cut in her drab furred hand that was already vanishing.
The wolf sneered at the towering canine. "<So... Vhat do you have to say for yourself?>"
The dog maintained an impassive expression as he spoke in his deep bass voice. "<Ve encountered unexpected resistance, if you please, your excellency.>"
The wolf grimaced. "<You vere sent to search an unoccupied hotel room.>"
Zoltan kept his eyes lowered. "<The room vas not empty, if you please, your excellency. There vere... rabbits.>"
Ravenholt tossed his head in annoyance. "<Yes yes, the neko's fantastical qvartet of naked boxing bunnies.>" His lip curled back venomously. "<You disgust me Zoltan. That for all your vaunted strength, you could be overcome by four female rabbits.>"
The dog let out the smallest of sighs. "<There vere many more than just four, if you please, your excellency.>"
The wolf snarled. "<And vere did this unstoppable army come from, you huge lump of offal? That vorthless little vun eyed red saw VUN rabbit enter the hotel, and I vatched the same rabbit leave vith my own eyes. Tell me vhere they came from!>"
A slight frown creased the edges of Zoltan's mouth. "<I... I do not know, if you please, your excellency.>"
The wolf rose from his chair, shaking with rage, and reached back toward the wall between his seat and the side table. He drew forth a thick oaken stick, with a number 1 embossed in the handle beneath a lanyard, and raised it over his head as he crossed to where the dogs were standing.
With a flick of his wrist, he snapped it across the unmoving male canine's face. "<You are an idiot!>" He lashed the impassive dog about the head, striking to emphasize his words. "<A useless... stupid... brainless... misbegotten... vaste... of.. meat!>"
A trickle of blood flowed down Zoltan's cheek as he kept his back straight and his eyes lowered. The wolf glared at him for a moment, then turned and with bared teeth, swung the stick and struck Marta across the shoulder, prompting her to let out a yelp of pain and clutch involuntarily at the point of impact.
As the female at his side recovered her composure, the hulking dog's eyes flickered under his heavy brow, and for the first time his eyes rose to meet the wolf's.
The faintest edge crept into his rumbling voice as he spoke. "<Vhy did you hit Marta?>"
The wolf reared back indignantly at being spoken to out of turn, clenching the stick in his hand. "<Because she has the sense to cry out vhen I strike her. And because she's a useless idiot like you!>"
The dog maintained a smoldering gaze at his grey furred master, a look of such intensity that the wolf quailed slightly in spite of himself. He half raised the stick to strike, then lowered it and turned, clenching his hands behind his back and rocking on his heels. "<Enough! Get out of my sight.>"
The two canines bowed, and quietly left the room, closing the stateroom door behind them.
Outside, Zoltan and Marta made their way down the hallway in the bowels of the ship, each headed for their separate quarters. The female looked over with her clipped ears pricked in surprise as the soft sound of a sob escaped from the throat of her towering companion. He stopped, and slumped against the metal bulkhead, his shoulders shaking convulsively as he bowed his bruised head, tears flowing down his broad, blunt muzzle.
Without a word, she leaned against him and laid her head on his shoulder, gently stroking his broad back.