Monday, February 6, 2017

Pueris Problematis

     Standing in the foyer of the Chief Justice’s Chambers, Moira Thibodeaux once again stared at the depressing painting of the wrecked ship being pummeled on the rocks which served as its cause of destruction. “Osborne, do you think this place would make a good museum?”
     The young ensign looked at her quizzically, shrugged his shoulders and answered with, “yes ma’am, I believe it would. Might even quiet the rumors about it.” He smiled. “You do know your refusal to live here will cause an uproar. The papers will go nuts.”
     “I certainly hope so,” she said approvingly. “I’ve always been a simple, practical woman. I see nothing sensible about this,” she circled her forefinger, “palace.” She sighed. Turning away from the painting, she walked over to the door through which they’d originally entered. “When we get back to my house, I should like to speak with Colonel Dagon. Can that be quickly arranged?”
     “I’m sure it can, though I can’t say if it’ll be quick or not,” he half-heartedly lifted the corner of his mouth.
     “That’ll do,” she nodded. “Young man, when is the last time you had a good home-cooked meal?”
     “Food, Ensign. Not that crap they serve in the Dining Hall. Real home-cooked food.”
     “It’s been ages. Why?”
     “Because I’m hungry and I plan on making something delicious to celebrate my new position. I can neither imagine eating alone nor forcing you to suffer the enticing aromas.”
     The shit-eating grin consumed his face, to hell with protocols, he thought as he said, “what do you have in mind?”
     “Depends on what is in my kitchen. Shall we investigate the matter?”
     He pulled open the doorway leading down to the Antigone Courts, “absolutely.”

     “Chista, please tell Preston lunch was great!” Archel said to the servant girl as she cleaned the table of the meal he’d almost shared with Cassie.
     Baffled by the direct address and open praise, the girl paused, plate in mid-air, “my liege?”
     “Lunch,” he said as he patted his belly, “was great.” He stretched in his chair, then stood up.
     The girl bowed before him, nearly dropping the stack of plates in the process.
     “Hey! Look out!” he rushed to her and steadied the dish tower. “What are you doing? You don’t have to do that.” Taking the plates from her, he carried them to the bin, set them in it, and then returned to the table to finish clearing it.
     Watching in awe, the girl stuttered, “my li-iege. S-stop. Y-you can’t!”
     “What?” he asked her, “why not?”
     “Because!” she declared, “you’re king!”
     He flinched at the accusation, whining, “Chista!”
     “My liege!” she bowed again.
     “Just stop it! Three weeks ago you chased me through the Gardens. Do you remember? We got in so much trouble!” He laughed at the memory.
     Lowering her gaze, she struggled to withhold the plethora of emotions that raged through her. She fought the smile that rose at the thought of the hilarious expression on Magistrix Anna’s face when she caught them pissing on the roses. “I remember,” she managed to stifle her laughter.
     “And…and two months ago…‘member?”
     Though her head was still bent, she raised her eyes, a slight smile curled her lips as her cheeks reddened. She nodded once.
     “We were almost caugh—”
     “Shh! Don’t say it!” she glanced over her shoulder toward the door to the Kaiser’s Chambers.
     He giggled, “kissing.”
     She grew instantly serious, stating, “everything’s different now,” in a swirl of movement, she grabbed the dish bin and fled to the door which she flung open before running out.
     “Chista!” Praeceptor Archeleus Imler bellowed from where she’d left him standing.
     Thrice came the knock on the open door, “my liege,” Ensign Ford asked, “shall I bring her back?” Waiting for an answer, it occurred to him that the Messenger wasn’t at the table. He knew she hadn’t left from the front door; after all, he would have seen her go. Secret passages all over this place. That’s what they say. Shrugging to himself, he sighed and watched the young griffin prince sling himself onto a dining chair.
     “What’s the use?” Archel groaned, “she doesn’t like me anymore.”
     In that instant, Ensign Ford recognized what he’d just witnessed. If the boy had been his little brother, he would have told him to give chase. As it stood, there were definite rules of conduct and acceptable behavior for royalty and chasing after servant girls was absolutely against them. He bit his lip as he struggled for any piece of advice he might be able to offer. In the end, he settled for saying, “sire,” before backing out of the entry and closing the door.

     The black and white tuxedo cat hid in the bushes on the edge of the clearing that surrounded the Heart of the Seven Faeries fountain. He was absolutely exhausted from following the Inquisitor around Ambrosia City for the last two weeks. That he’d even happened across the bastard talking with Clara Darin had been sheer luck; he’d been on his way from Sentinel Cemetery to Merc HQ, using his little cat legs—the far faster mode of travel—when he’d stumbled upon the two whispering under the watchful gaze of the Pissing Puppy statue. Since that day, Commander Samuel Felis had resisted every urge to transform, grab the sick fuck by the throat and choke slam him into unconsciousness. If he didn’t get some answers soon, he might as well say goodbye to his military career. Colonel Dagon and Kaiser Rudolpho had always understood the usefulness of his unique Versicatus skill set. But, two weeks without reporting in? That was a new record. Don’t worry old boy! They won’t court martial you when they find out what you’ve been doing. He sighed, kicked his back leg up and scratched behind his ear. While in that ‘impossible to appear dignified’ position he watched the Inquisitor and the kidnapped security guard disappear into the Heart of the Seven Faeries. For the umpteenth time since this little excursion began, Felis found himself wishing for his pants. No one ever took the naked guy seriously. As he contemplated the virtues of transforming, his breath caught at the sight of the two men, he’d repeatedly seen with the Inquisitor, approaching the Heart. What are you boys up to now? he wondered as they suspiciously stood on the opposite edge of the clearing, their heads darting every which way as they both checked that no one saw them. Once they’d determined that the path was clear, they jogged across the clearing, and then began making a slow circuit around the fountain. Even with his exceptional auditory capabilities, Felis could barely hear them:
     “Dude, you remember which one?”
     “Uh…” the slightly larger man, paused before each faerie, studying them carefully. “Nope,” he said as he shoved on the hilt of the blade nearest him. “Not that one,” he muttered, before pushing the next. His compatriot took the clue and followed suit with an immediately satisfactory result.
     “Ah, don’t be mad, Vorant,” the man said, “I’m good-looking and lucky.” 
     “Lucky you landed in a bush when I hit you.”
     He stopped one foot in the air, turned and dropped it back on the grass, stared at his compatriot and said, “and you’re lucky I didn’t kill you when I came to.”
     “Man, you really wanna play that? Who’s the butcher?”
     “The baker and the candlestick maker. We’re late. Let’s go before someone shows up trying to make a wish in this well.”
     “First smart thing you’ve said in weeks.”
     “Hey, listen…I’m serious, Dude. Shit ain’t right with this job. Think about it. Mythical creatures. Magical bracelets. Disappearing kids. We got followed by a fucking bird. Half the team’s locked up. Our shipment took off. The Inquisitorlost his shit back there on that judge. We’re about to go to prison,” he tapped his head, “think. Six years we been at it. Never fought each other until now. Six years. You ever see it go this far afield in all that time? No. ‘Cause for the last six years we never did a job without a clear-cut plan. Six years. A plan. Last two to three weeks: no plan. We gotta watch our backs, Vorant. And, you know it too. I seen it in your eyes.”
     “I got opinions. I keep’em to myself. Don’t forget Silverstein. Plans get fucked. That’s life, death, and the crazy shit we’re into. Get me?” 
     If they said anything else to each other, Felis didn’t hear it. The second they disappeared under the fountain, he crept out from the bushes and began cat creeping across the clearing.

     Angrily shutting the Antigone Passdown Log, Cassie pinched the bridge of her nose. Her head ached from reading Adonis’ crappy handwriting and self-absorbed drivel. And, though she hadn’t been hungry while she sat with Archel, her stomach had begun growling 5 pages earlier. What is it with this place and the lack of food? She wondered. Standing up from the table, she stretched her back, popped her neck, and looked around the lounge. “I still can’t believe people used to work down here,” she mumbled to herself. Though tempted to look through the cabinets, she knew they were bare; that night they’d opened them all and found spider webs. She shuddered at thought. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted her rucksack laying against one of the chair legs. She did a little dance, “I knew I left you in here!” Ripping the bag off the ground, she tossed it onto the table, opened the flap, and then dug through it. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but was relieved to have her bag again.
     “Okay, girlie! Let’s shove these books in here, and then go raid the kitchens,” on the last word, her stomach grumbled, “I know. Hold your horses,” she said as she patted her belly. She tried to recall the last thing she’d eaten, but could only remember the last time she’d hugged porcelain. Her stomach flipped at the thought, “oh no you don’t!” She organized the Log books into a stack and jammed them into her bag. It took her a moment to maneuver them, she had to reach a hand in and lift up some of her stuff. She gave the drawstring a tug and knotted it. Putting the now quite heavy bag onto her back, she weaved under its weight, “sheesh. I don’t remember it weighing this much last time,” she muttered. Looking around the room, she realized that the hiding spot was still wide open. Cassie crossed the lounge, kicked at the safety pin, and nearly losing her balance in the process. The heavy stone fell into place a split second after she got her foot out of the way. She should have taken the bag off to push the massive chest back over the stone, but she didn’t.
     With the lounge returned to its original condition, she ran her thumbs under the straps of the heavy rucksack, concentrated on her growling stomach, and thought of food. It took a moment for her to really focus on the kitchens, to see the place she wanted to be, but once it had formed clearly in her mind, the bright green light flashed.

     “Did you hear that?” the Inquisitor asked his prisoner. The corridor wasn’t brightly lit, but was illuminated well enough that he could see that the woman’s eyes had widened at the sound, so he didn’t actually expect her answer.
     “Yes,” she whispered.
     “What in Iphi’s name…?”
     The question wasn’t meant for her to answer, though she whispered, “I don’t know.”
     Before either could say or do anything else, they heard the deep rumbling of two men chatting and walking towards them. With nowhere to go, save the Interrogation Room, and expecting his men, the Inquisitor pushed the woman in front of him, pulled out his knife and held her steady, “don’t move,” he ordered in her ear.
     When Jougs turned the corner, the Inquisitor relaxed, sheathed his knife and called out, “about time you two showed up.”

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