Ch4.10 Fatal Prophecy

“So, you just found them lying on the street like this?” Cala asks, looking at the two pitiful figures now safely deposited in the chairs of the little reception area on the ground floor of the Guardia station.

“Sí,” Nataniel replies, sitting on her desk. “Must have not come from far away. They could barely stand, let alone walk."

“Look, look! It's so pretty!” the young man currently identified as one of the seemingly nameless kitchen staff of the Singing Cockroach says, pointing at a far corner of the Station and gawking, his mouth opening and closing slowly like that of a particularly lethargic fish. His eyes shine in glassy fascination.

Nataniel sighs with a knowing, commiserating glance at Cala. “There’s nothing there, amigo.”

“What’ya mean?” the young man insists, salivating. “Look at the fountain! Mmm... chocolate…”

“Is he saying there's an invisible chocolate fountain in here?” Aliyah asks, leaning over her desk to peer in the general direction being pointed. “Cool! Where?”

“Right there, Miss!” the young man exclaims, leaping to his feet and running to look something currently and most definitely not occupying the corner. “And look, there’s hippos swimming in it!”

Aliyah rises from her chair and walks over to where the man is standing and pointing excitedly. She looks and looks, even tries to touch the seemingly invisible fountain with her hand, only to finally give up and stomp her foot on the wooden floor in frustration. “Aw, man! I wanna see it! Where did you get those powers?”

“Aliyah, they don't have powers,” Cala scolds her. “They are hallucinating.”

“Aww, they have a baby floating around!” the young man by Aliyah’s side coos. His brow furrows. “At least, I hope that's a baby…”

Aliyah looks from him to Cala, to the corner and back to him, and finally decides to go with what she knows.

“All right, then. No hippos at the station. Check!” she says, walking back to her desk. “So what else have we got?”

“Llamas! Llamas everywhere!” comes the cry of the owner of the Singing Cockroach.

Aliyah’s head shoots up. “Llamas? Really? Wow!” she exclaims excitedly, only to turn to Syro almost immediately. “What's a llama?"

Syro explains in a patient tone, “It’s a Camelid characterized by its adaptation to life in high altitu…” he trails off, catching Aliyah’s look of utter confusion. “It’s a bit like a tall sheep with a long neck and an unusual tendency to spit.”

“Oh... Kinda like Aunt Cora, then,” Aliyah mutters.

Sitting by Cala’s desk, the owner of the Singing Cockroach beckons to the Constable, leaning towards her in that complete disregard for the concept of personal space that severely drugged or drunk people seem to share.

“Pssssssst! They want me,” he whispers.

“Who wants you, Felix?” Cala asks.

“The llamas,” Felix whispers, his words carrying throughout the room, much in contrast with the supposedly expected effect. “Look at them! It’s in the eyes. They want to…” His eyes widen in terror. “...breeeeeed with me.”

“Well, at least someone finds him attractive,” Alyiah mutters.

“No! Not the bells, not the bells!” Felix yells, climbing onto Cala’s desk and curling into a fat, greasy ball of sheer horror.

“You got some serious problems, my friend,” Nate says, tapping the terrified man on the shoulder.

“And now they're eating all the crickets!” Felix whimpers, pointing meekly at the floor. “Stop them!”

“Nuh uh! No way I’m getting near those llamas!” Aliyah says, shrugging. “They sound nasty.”

“Aliyah…” Cala softly admonishes as she stands up and rolls up her sleeves. “Right, let’s get these two in a cell where Syro and Nate can examine them safely and you and I can go feel the streets for these new drugs.”


Ch4.09 Fatal Prophecy

Dion flexes his knees, lowering his center of balance against his shorter opponent. As they grapple, shifting grips on each other's uniforms, Dion senses a brief opportunity to gain advantage. As he shifts, he quickly discovers the trap and loses position. The inevitable occurs, as it has the previous five matches, and Dion finds himself airborne briefly before slamming to the mat.

His opponent, Grand Master Pak, quickly pounces on the prone Dion, placing him into a debilitating arm lock. Dion, frustration building over the last five losses, lets his internal anger overcome him and begins to raise a magical spell to turn the tables.

“You raise magic against me now, Guardia, and I break your arm,” the master snarls. “Use what I taught you!”

Dion, gaining control of his anger under his master’s admonishment, cancels the spell and reviews his situation. Leveraging his size advantage, he flips to his back, taking his smaller opponent with him. The move causes Pak to lose his grip, allowing Dion to roll and again achieve parity in the ready position.

“Good, Guardia. Very good,” the grandmaster approves.

Backing away, Dion bows and resets. As they re-engage, Dion begins a conversation.

“Master, in that first night, at the bar, I faced a kunoichi. What do you know of her?”

Pak shifts his grip, forcing Dion to react, and both combatants fall to the floor, searching for advantage. Breaking free, Dion rolls, again at the ready, and both reset their holds.

“I know some of this kunoichi,” Pak responds, breathing heavily, hands still shifting on Dion's uniform. “But, she came from a school I do not influence. My understanding is that she is without family and has found a gang to be one for her.”

Again an aggressive move by Pak causes a scramble and reset. The master continues. “You seemed to have no difficulty with her. Why the question?”

“I had a second encounter with her later. Although I had removed the love enchantment that I had cast on her earlier, there was...an event.”

Pak’s eyes narrow as he again adjusts hand placement. “So, you use love magic to bring your women to your bed?” he asks.

Almost in a blur, Pak shifts and lifts Dion off his feet, throwing him a full four body lengths before slamming to the mat. Dion, stunned, looks up at the master standing over him.

“Get up!” Pak growls.

Dion, staggering slightly, gets back to his feet and is immediately engaged by the grand master.  

“No, master,” Dion continues the conversation as he wards off multiple shifts of Pak’s movements.  “I honestly will state that I have never brought a lady to my bed unwillingly through magic.”

Pak, continuing his assaults, responds, “Yet you found it important enough to learn this subterfuge. Most dishonorable,” and again Dion finds himself launched in the air, landing hard.

This time, the grand master does not re-engage, but stands glaring at the god, his eyes containing fire. “Guardia. Somewhere in your upbringing I feel that you have confused love of a woman with only that which is physical. Until you learn that love is spiritual, you will never know love. You will only be animal.”

Turning his back, Pak begins to walk towards his living quarters. “We stop here today. You will reflect on what I have said, and then we will discuss more next time,” the grand master says as he exits.

Later, back in his room, Dion notices that Geryon has yet to return and takes the opportunity to soak in a hot bath. Although the heat provides soothing relief to his aches from the training session, the look on Dion’s face does not show the comfort of the bath. Rather, his demeanor is troubled as he reflects on the master’s words...and then on those of the Oracle.


Ch4.08 Fatal Prophecy

Three Rats is, for lack of a better description, a mishmash of cultures and places and people, all cooped up together in something that could only be described as the masterpiece of a particularly evil-minded maze-designer. Fraught with poorly lit, narrow alleys that unwind and give place to even more dark, dangerous alleys, the whole ward seems intent on staying well away from the sun’s unforgiving light, lest the petty criminals and unintentional murderers be disturbed in their daily comings and goings. Organized crime has been the main career path for most sons of the ward for decades now, which is all well and simple compared to the hassle that freelance criminals must endure in order to survive and do business in a territory crisscrossed by a myriad of invisible feudal borders painted in gang colors. Needless to say, it is not a very promising career in the way of longevity or financial security but considering what is happening to the poor fellow on the other end of the transaction, probably a better one than “professional innocent bystander”.

The old and the weak are common victims of such tragedies. Although illness and hunger may claim their fair share of lives, many deaths in the ward can easily be attributed to acute intoxication with the rusty steel of an ill-kept blade or the “accidental” repeated tripping of incredibly clumsy people into doorknobs and carefully misplaced clenched fists. Many have learned the basic arts of wound stitching and dressing, also referred to as “Three Rats Haute Couture”, but only a very rare few have actually benefited from any kind of medical training.

He is one of the few. Doctor Nataniel Santiago y Santamaria, rescued from a life devoid of proper education by the Guardia’s scholarship programs, is a rare case of a poor man free to follow his calling as a healer, repaying with his work the education he couldn’t have afforded otherwise (while effectively managing to avoid any real Guardia duty). But still, he wishes he could do more.

And that is why he keeps staring at the old abandoned barbershop, with its tiled floors and mirrored windows, every time he walks by it in his wanderings through the ward.

“That would be a good place,” Syro says conversationally, wrenching the good doctor from his daytime reverie.

Nataniel shakes his head, half-startled, half confused. “For what?”

“Your clinic,” Syro replies as if reading his thoughts. “Isn’t that why you keep staring at the building?”

Nataniel smiles bitterly, looking at the abandoned shop one last time before filing away the dream of a neighborhood clinic one more time. “Sueños, mi amigo,” he sighs. “I have no money to make that happen.”

Syro merely shrugs. “Shame. Although, I still don’t see why you believe you are wasting your skill. Your work at the Station has never been questioned.”

Nataniel nods slowly. This is an old discussion, had and buried countless times. His dreams were never, after all, a secret. A child of poor parents, raised in a low-magic ward ravaged by disease, Nataniel had always dreamt of becoming a healer. Like Three Rats, his home-ward, a Fourth Ring area called Torre de la Tierra, is a poor one, although considerably less urban than his current address. Land of cattle and cattle ranches run by rich breeders with considerably less-wealthy employees, where the knowledge of animal healing is far more valued than the healing of humans and creatures alike, Torre holds a wonderful reputation for its tasty, healthy cattle, while secretly hoping no one will notice the scrawny, chronically ill (ill-fed, ill-washed, ill-payed, pretty much just ill) people who tend to the magnificent beasts. And, without magic,  the people need more... empirical ways of healing. They need people trained in the arts of a kind of medicine that goes beyond sun-dried cow-dung infusions (which is good for pretty much anything, by the way). Nataniel had set out to be that person, very much against his father's wish that he learn how to heal animals.

That is where money can be made, mi hijo, he had said. Working for all the big rancheros. You can’t make a living out of healing people who can’t even afford to be sick.

Wise words for Torre de la Tierra. Completely wasted on Nataniel, though. One day, the Guardia recruiters had stopped by, promised him an education in return for his service and that was that. Except that now, years later, he is no more of a doctor than he was back at his home-ward. Sure, he has all the diplomas and certificates but most of his work consists of stitching up officers (and the occasional criminal) and autopsying dead bodies, which in turn also results in some more stitching, down the line.

Nataniel sighs again. It is just not enough.

“I want more, Syro,” he states. “I want to do something good for these people.”

Syro looks around at the landscape of faces darting in and out of side alleys, of people talking to each other in that shouting manner that politely allows neighbors in adjacent buildings to gossip and spy without leaving the comfort of their windowsills. His eyes soften at the sight, glimmering with the broken compassion of one who contemplates lives he can pity but not understand.

“Yes, they always do seem to be falling apart…” he barely whispers.

Nataniel walks the next few steps in silence, listening to the sound of his own footsteps on the old, damaged, frequently absent cobblestones.

“Anyway…” he finally speaks. “Why the sandias?”

“The what?” Syro queries, raising his eyebrows at the unknown word.

“The…como se dice?... the melancias, watermelons,” Nataniel explains, lifting the two cloth bags he has been carrying for the last twenty minutes, each of them filled with two good-sized watermelons bought, after much bargaining, for half price on the basis that most of the fruit is made of water and water, as everyone knows, is free of charge pretty much everywhere in the Insula.

“Oh!” Syro exclaims, looking at the fruit-filled bags he too is carrying almost as if he has just now noticed their existence. “Well, they are a vital part of my next trial in the field of applied physics.”

“Applying physics to watermelons,” Nataniel chuckles. “You mean you squash them?”

“No!” Syro exclaims immediately. He thinks about it for a moment. “Well, I mean… Not squash them per se…”

“Then will there be juice or not?”

Syro nods reluctantly. “If all goes well, yes. It may be splayed a bit all over the walls, though.”

Bueno…” Nataniel idly rubs his thumb against his forefinger. “What in the Isla are you testing, then?”

Syro’s face lights up, as it always does at the chance of a dissertation on one of his complex theories and experiments. “I wish to test the propulsion and behavior of particles when moving at high velocity between two points in space.”

Silence falls between the two, marked by the almost audible churning of Nataniel’s mental gears as her deciphers his friend’s words. “You’re going to shoot something at the sandias, then.”

“Yes. Pretty much so,” Syro concedes.

“And why are you doing it?” Nataniel inquires with a mixture of dread and curiosity.

“I have developed a new, more efficient way to neutralize potential criminals that I am pretty certain is both practical and non-lethal as per my calculations and preliminary tests,” Syro says brightly.

Muy bien... Why shoot it at fruit, then?” the physician insists. “You would be more certain if you shoot it at a living target.”

“Like… you?” Syro asks with a glimmer of hope in his eye.

“No!” Nataniel nearly shouts, immediately attracting attention to the odd pair. His next words come out in a hiss. "No, no, no, no, no. No hay manera! Virgen… No, I mean like… a god. We have some of those walking around now.”

Syro looks disappointed. “Yes, I tried to convince that nice gent… Dwayne? Dimi?”

“Dion,” Nataniel offers, caught in macabre fascination over how that conversation may have gone. “You asked Sergeant Dion if you could shoot at him.”

Syro looks at his friend, nodding energetically, seemingly unaware of anything strange with this. “I showed him my calculations and explained the manner of functioning of the weapon. He seemed quite impressed and interested in it but, alas, he also seems to be a very busy man… well, god.” He shrugs. “A shame, really.”

“A loss for science, mi amigo,” Nataniel chuckles.

Syro hangs his head low and shakes it slowly, sadly. “And people wonder why we remain so far behind in relation to this whole ‘magic’ business… As if the secrets of the Universe could be reduced to a quick gesture and some colorful puffs of smoke.”

“Speaking of colorful,” Nataniel comments jutting his chin at two reclining figures sitting in the cool shade of a filthy gutter. “Those two seem to be enjoying the pretty colors right now, no?”

Syro takes a better look at the two men, one in his thirties, thin, coarse, black hair over tanned skin, the other already in his mid-fifties, too heavy for his height, pale skin permanently tinged with lobster-red rosacea, the remnants of what was once red hair fading away into gray. “Don’t those two work at the Singing Cockroach?”

“Work? One of them is the patrón!” Nataniel cries.

They cover the distance to the reclining pair, setting down the bags of fruit at a safe distance from what may just be two cases of alcohol-induced bad mood waiting to happen. Currently, however, only the young man seems restless, while the older gent smiles beatifically.

“Crickets!” he moans, gesturing at the ground around him. “Look, crickets! Sooo pretty…”

“Aaaaaaaaaargghhh!” the younger man screams, trying to melt into the wall behind him while slapping random body parts. “Get’em off me! Get’em off, get’emoffget’emoff!!”

“Hey, compañeros!” Nataniel greets them, crouching by them. “Que pasa?”

The owner of the Singing Cockroach, possibly the worst, most cutthroat pub in the ward, pulls the good doctor to him, grabbing him by the sleeve of his shirt, a massive hand holding Nataniel’s shoulder while the man asks in an almost childish tone, “Can I keep the crickets, mister? I promise they’re just for keeping.”

He brings his face very close to Nate’s, whispering in a drunken drawl. “No stealing food so people will buy mine more expensively this time.”

“So that’s what happened three months ago…” Syro mutters.

“Fire! Use fire!” the young man keeps screaming. “Aaaaaarrrrrrgghhh!! NOT ON ME, DAMMIT!!”

“I think they’re delirious,” Nataniel notes, examining both men intently. “May be some drug,” he offers.

“Your hands are so soft,” the older man goes on in a scary-sweet voice, his hands locking around Nataniel’s and forcing them against his reddish, stubbled cheek. “I like a man with soft hands. R’minds me of my mammy.”

“See?” the physician says, struggling to release himself. “Delirium.”

“I don’t know,” Syro hesitates. “Your hands are quite soft.”

“Stomp on them!” the young hallucinating man screams, kicking wildly. “Don’t stop ‘til you hear the crunching!”

“Well, that’d be a perfect waste of a good pair of surgeon’s hands,” Syro admonishes him.

“Soft…” the owner of the Singing Cockroach carries on, stroking Nataniel’s increasingly sweaty hands. “Like the hair on granny’s back.”

“Syro, they’re not talking to us,” Nataniel says while using his own sweat to finally free himself from the man’s iron grip. “They’re both under the effect of some strange drug. We should take them in and examine them better.”

“Yes… Maybe we should,” Syro concedes.

“Can we bring the crickets, mister?” the older man pleads, eyes wide, lower lip pouting like a six-year-old, while Nataniel holds his arm and help him to his feet. “I wanna train them to ride the llamas.”

“Uuhh… Por supuesto que sí, hombre!” Nataniel agrees, on the basis that crazy people are not to be contradicted. “Bring the crickets.”

“But Nataniel, where are we housing the llamas?” Syro asks, worry tinging his voice as he helps the younger man up.

Nataniel looks at his friend and shakes his head in confusion. “Llamas? What llamas?”

As if on cue, the younger man jumps and grabs Syro, screaming and flailing madly, trying desperately to climb into his arms. while pointing at something invisible right next to him. “Keep it away from me! I’m allergic to wool!” He suddenly stands very still, his expression locked in deep disgust.

“EwewewewEWEWEWEW EWWWWWWWWWW!! It’s licking me!!!”

“See? Llamas,” Syro says, impassibly, ignoring the young man and picking up his bags of fruit. “Here, hold that,” he adds, handing two of the bags to the man, who clutches them like some sort of makeshift shield.

Ay, Madre Virgen…” Nataniel sighs while helping the older man along, who keeps trying to hold the good doctor’s hand and skip merrily alongside him. “This should be interesting.”


Ch4.07 Fatal Prophecy

Leaving Sky’s office, Dion returns towards the bar and his pocket-universe home within the kitchen, a copy of the draft report under his arm. The revelation about the Bunnies being somehow targeted by the Council greatly disturbs his thoughts. His uncle had never mentioned anything about Bunnies to him, and everything that he has seen of them would never lead him to suspect that they would be dangerous to anyone.
That thought continues in his mind as he crosses the breezeway to the annex and bar. The combination of voices that reaches his ears quickly forces a reevaluation of their dangerousness.
“Oooh! Just scratch a little higher…Oh, that’s the spot!” the familiar voice says to the now recognizable laughter of Cherry and Merri.
Entering the bar, Dion sees Geryon, still in his smaller, cute, adorable form, the size of a small leopard rather than his normally huge leonine shape, being straddled from behind by Cherry and having the back of his head scratched.
“Does the birdie like scritchies?” dark Cherry asks as if talking to an infant, as she leans forward, brushing the back of his head against her chest, while pale Merri sits before the gryphon, his lion paws resting on her thighs, the Bunny marveling at how large and strong they are.
Geryon, his eyes closed, pushes his head further back into the dark bunny’s bosom. Rolling his head as an excuse to adjust Cherry’s finger massage around the feathered head, but more importantly to better enjoy the feel of her breasts, he moans, “Oh, birdie does indeed like this.” Merri squeaks as he extends his claws slightly and barely pricks her delicate skin.
“I thought you were going to stay in my home,” Dion states flatly.
Both bunny bartenders turn and recognize Dion standing in the doorway for the first time, while Geryon opens one eye to spy his friend. “I got bored, and decided to see what is so interesting in this place to keep you entertained. I ran into some new friends here, and Cherry was demonstrating how wonderfully strong her fingers are.”
Again rolling his head back into the dark bunny’s cleavage, the gryphon closes his eyes and begs. “Please continue and try not to let my stoic friend there interrupt.”
Cherry laughs and resumes her massage, eliciting moans of delight from Geryon. “Dion! Where have you been hidin’ this cutie?” she asks. “He’s sooo soft and pettable.”
“Yes. You may think differently under other circumstances,” Dion notes, thinking of Geryon’s other form.
“Nonsense!” Geryon states to quickly change the subject. “I think birdies and bunnies go very well together, yes girls?” he asks, again getting laughs and a hug from behind from Cherry.
“In the outside world, birdies devour bunnies,” Dion responds.
“Well, we haven’t quite got to that yet, my friend,” Geryon responds in a tranquil voice, and then switches to a seductive tone. “But, some forms of devouring may be quite pleasant. Am I right, girls?”
The girls laugh again, and Merri adds huskily, “Yer friend here is a real charmer, Dion.”
“Yes, he is indeed,” Dion agrees dispassionately. “Did the ladies happen to mention that their creator is Sergeant Alma?”
Geryon’s eyes snap open and pierce Dion. “The Death Clan goddess?!”
“That she is, and extremely protective of her children too,” Dion adds.
Leaning his head away from Cherry’s chest, Geryon’s tone suddenly changes. “Wellll, look at the time! Sorry ladies… Got to run! Come, Dion! Let’s go discuss that...thing we were supposed to discuss!” Geryon says, quickly stepping away from the bar and towards the kitchen.

“Awww!” both bartender bunnies say in unison. “Come back soon and visit!” Cherry shouts as Geryon swiftly exits that room to the back.

Dion smiles, shaking his head. “Sorry, ladies. I suspect Geryon will be returning home soon,” he comments and then follows the gryphon to the kitchen.

Entering the pocket universe, Dion sees Geryon already morphed into his normal, much larger form.  

“Whew!  That was close!” Geryon says, pacing back and forth nervously. “I’d rather avoid any unpleasantries with Death Clan members.”

“Generally a good rule,” Dion agrees. “Although, I find Sergeant Alma different in that regard. She seems more...well...passionate.”

Geryon snorts a laugh down his beak. “Passionate?! Sure, why not? Fantasize all you want on that, my friend, but I would not get within cuddling distance with any Death Clan member, regardless of her beauty.”

Dion sets the draft report on his desk, shaking his head. “Regardless, I have an appointment with Mr. Lee’s master, and need to depart.”

“Grand Master Pak is out here?!” Geryon asks, incredulous.

“Yes. I met him quite by accident. He assisted me in a minor bar scuffle during my first day here.” Dion quickly sits at the desk and pens a note. Sealing the note in a magically bound envelope, he turns to the gryphon.

“I need to ask of you a favor. This note needs to be delivered to my Uncle. Given my earlier experiences, I do not trust any common service to deliver it and would ask your assistance to take it to him directly.”

“Sure. I am, after all, everybody’s favorite carrier pigeon,” Geryon responds sarcastically. “Fine. Go have your fun with Master Pak. It is probably best that I scoot for awhile too, or I’ll just stay here and wonder why Fate would put two lovely, bird-loving ladies outside the door and tie them to a clan that gave me nightmares as a child.”

Dion chuckles in baritone. “I thank you for the service. If it wasn’t something of high importance, I would not think to ask.”

Geryon takes the note and stuffs it in his satchel. “Yes, right. If I find out that this is an inquiry about the whereabouts of some lady friend, I am going to be pretty irritated though.”  

As the two step through the portal, Dion responds. “I can assure you that the note has nothing to do with any romantic involvement. I just need some critical guidance from Uncle Math.” And waving his hand, the god reestablishes the pantry.

“Oh, you know I can’t say ‘No’ to your requests. If I could, I probably wouldn’t be staring down a beak at you right now. If it is that important, I will run your note and get you an answer,” Geryon quips and then the two part company at the door.