Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Winding Road: Steak

 by Frank Gori
 
The undead boatmen walked in perfect step with an oppressive silence as they lead the seventy eight survivors of the jailbreak. Beetles the size of dogs soon flanked the group, letting off a weak yellow-green light adequate for those who saw poorly in the dark. After a few minutes the wide sewers narrowed into tunnels and the beetles took to the ceiling. It was crowded and the ceiling above barely cleared Dab’s horns.

Before long there was a set of double doors flanked by a pair of misshapen looking humanoid pikemen. One seemed to have no neck and his skin was jaundiced and erupting in boils. He was also bigger then Dab, and had enough ogre in him to be recognizable as such. The other guard looked to be a draconic reptile of some sort.The doors opened of their own accord and the pikemen stood to attention and stepped to the side in unison displaying discipline and precision. Beyond them was a well-lit throne room.

On a throne made of coprolite sat what looked to be a cross between a rat and a dwarf wearing a tall crown of amber, within which was frozen a white rat. A necklace of diamonds and teeth adorned his neck and in his hand was a scepter with a skull head. His face elongated like a rats and whiskers protruded from below his nose. He had a long beard that had been dreadlocked and his scalp was shaven. Amber gems replaced one of his eyes, which judging by the claw marks had been gouged out.

Like the others, who all followed Mal’s lead, Dab bowed his horned head slightly. Non-kindred rightly understood it as a measure of respect. but often missed the threatening tone. To a minotaur the gesture said, “my best bet might be to lower my horns and charge you now.” It was appropriate.
When Dab first started pit-fighting it was a desperate move to earn money. As a young bull he assumed that was why everyone fought in those pits. Dab was a veteran of a lot of fights now and knew better, some people had an urge to do damage and were willing to take a beating for that chance. Weak looking opponents sometimes had this trait and they could really hurt you if you under estimated them.

Dab had never understood that mentality until now.

The self proclaimed Sewer King offended something deep inside Dab. Were there not others to consider Dab might be more inclined to follow that ruinous urge. The Sewer King clearly commanded power and trying to charge him down would in all likelihood end poorly. Yet something inside Dab would gladly take that chance.

A voice inside of Dab stoked that fire inside, he was near snorting, thinking violent thoughts throughout the Sewer Kings introductions. It took Laz stirring still in his arms to snap Dab out of his hate filled reverie.

As impossible as it was, Laz seemed to be coming out of despair already!

“Ah so the traitor is waking up I see,” the Sewer King said in his vitriolic high pitched voice.
“Laz ain’t no traitor” Dab said in a low grumble. He did snort this time and stamped his right foot reflexively. Bellany’s delicate hand touched his shoulder in a gentle gesture of restraint. It was soothing and Dab managed to gain control of his inexplicable desire to attack.
Dab looked at the King again and saw it. There was a slight smirk on his face betraying his intentions, he wanted Dab to attack. 

Dab then remembered the blood Mal had spilled in oath. The Sewer King wasn’t concerned with Dab at all, he wanted Dab to attack so he could use Mal’s oath against him! 

Shame acted like a drift of snow over the fires of Dab’s anger. He had almost put Mal in a bad position after all that had been done to save him. Dab also realized that everyone was watching him now, he had been bull headed and now he needed to do something to make amends. He looked around for a moment then dropped to one knee and bowed his head more deeply in a genuine gesture of supplication.

The Sewer King let out a delighted laugh of triumph thinking the gesture was for him. Dab made eye contact with Mal and the look was enough to convey what lied between them. Verbal sparring and negotiating was not a battlefield Dab belonged on.

Mal started to speak and Dab stood in silence, uncomfortably aware of all the beady little rat eyes watching him from all around. In the court of the Sewer King, a minotaur pitfighter would quickly become steak.