Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chapter 16

Malcolm awoke to a kick in the ribs.

"Oi! What're you doing 'ere, yeh little blighter? Who let you in?"

Malcolm opened his eyes and saw the twisted form of the steward standing over him, about to deliver another kick. He tried to curl up tighter, and the kick landed on his tail. Ouch. That was going to leave a bruise, and on one of his favorite vertebrae, too.

"You in 'ere trying to nick somethin', eh? What did ya get? Turn out yer pockets!"

Malcolm realized where he was now, but had no idea how he had ended up falling asleep in the collection room. He only had the one shirt pocket, which he timidly presented, empty, for inspection. The steward grunted at it, and roughly searched over the rest of Malcolm's shirt and tie, looking for another hidden pocket somewhere. But there was nothing, and aside from his clothing, a small Tyrannosaur does not have a lot of natural hiding places for stolen valuables. The steward grudgingly gave up the search and began hauling Malcolm towards the door.

"Jus' because I can't find anything don't mean yeh ain't guilty," he snarled. "I'd report yeh to the Master this instant, if I weren't afeard o' losing me own job fer letting yeh in. But I warn yeh," he bent down to glare straight in Malcolm's eye, "if I find anything missing in 'ere, then yer in for it, no mistake."

He threw Malcolm out into the corridor and slammed the door.

Malcolm picked himself up gingerly from the stone floor, wincing as he felt the aches and bruises beginning to form. He stood up as straight as he could, dusted himself off and straightened his tie. Really! This was no way to treat one of the Master's most faithful servants. As if he, Malcolm, would ever want to steal from the Master! It was unthinkable. The steward's behavior was uncalled for and it would simply have to be reported, that's all there was to it. Malcolm wondered if he had the authority to do that.

He looked around and thought for a moment, to get himself oriented, then trotted off down the corridor in what he hoped was the correct direction. Rounding the first bend, he was bowled over by another demon coming the opposite way. A large, clawed hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him easily off the ground, leaving his feet dangling.

"You got business down here?" Lotzi growled. Built as large and powerfully as Bratch, the other demon captain, Lotzi had no wings, but a long, lashing tail and fearsome fangs. Not the sort you want to run into unexpectedly.

Malcolm had no specific business there, regrettably, but was it so inconceivable that the Master should send him on an errand there? Surely Malcolm was above suspicion.

"Some of my lads say they been finding you out prowling around these last nights. Shandag says you led him and Vormas on a right nice little chase."

Malcolm knew nothing of this. Why would he be out prowling around? Especially without his own knowledge. There must have been some mistake.

Lotzi dropped him and gave him a thwack on the rump with the butt of his spear.

"Off with you, now! There's a patrol due on in two minutes, and if they find you here, they have my full permission to skewer you to your own bed to keep you out of trouble."

Malcolm took off. Who did that Lotzi think he was, anyway? Still, you don't argue with a demon three times your size and carrying a spear. The big bully.

As the corridor slanted upwards and approached more familiar territory, Malcolm slowed his trot to his usual bird-like walk. He found himself passing the entrance to the Great Hall and saw that the door was open slightly. The cleaning staff had probably not closed it all the way. He poked his head in.

He had always liked the Great Hall, such a regal place. It was still empty this early in the morning, and the tapping of his claws echoed off the marble pillars and cavernous ceiling as he crept inside. There was a throne on a dais at the opposite end, and Malcolm went up to it to admire it. He didn't usually get to come this close to the throne.

In fact, as long as he was here…. Malcolm took another careful look around the Great Hall. Definitely empty. He hopped up on the throne and surveyed the room. What a view! And how well the throne suited him! Then he spotted the small purple carpet leading up the steps to the throne. He hopped down again, grabbed the ends of the carpet, and wrapped it around his neck like a cape. Beautiful! He hopped up on the throne. He wished he had a mirror: he must look fantastic. Well… he looked down and straightened his tie with his claws. Yes, fantastic. Very regal. Just look at that! That puts the Rex in Tyrannosaurus Rex!

When the soft voice sounded behind him, he nearly jumped out of his shirt.

"Malcolm," said the Master, warningly.

Before you could say Struthiomimus, Malcolm had leapt up out of the carpet and off the throne and had taken cover, quivering, behind a nearby marble pillar.

"Come here, Malcolm," the Master's voice never raised over its soft murmur.

Malcolm inched forward, bowing and keeping his eyes fixed deferentially on the ground. There was an art to groveling, he knew, that was lost on most of the Master's attendants. He, however, was an expert, and he was sure this made him stand out favorably in the Master's opinion.

"Malcolm, Lotzi informs me that you have been acting oddly of late. Sneaking around corridors after hours, turning up in places you have no business being in. Is that so?"

It most certainly was not. Malcolm was a model of respectable behavior. Even now, he had just been testing the Master's throne to make sure it was in suitable condition. Why should he want to go lurking and prowling around where he shouldn't? No, no, not Malcolm. He shook his head earnestly.

"Are you quite sure there isn't anything you would like to tell me, Malcolm?"

Quite sure, yes. Malcolm wasn't about to admit that he had woken up in the collections room for no apparent reason that morning, or that he thought he had been sound asleep when other demons claimed to have seen him up and about, or that he had been having strange dreams running around as a toy cat and hunting small animals. Things like that weren't normal, and he didn't have a good explanation for them. Better just to let it all go and not mention it. It would all sort itself out in the end.

"Very well, Malcolm." The Master gave him a long, cold look that gave Malcolm the shivers and made him clutch nervously at his tie. "You may go. And no more of your little games."

Malcolm scurried backwards towards the door, head still bowed. Then, realizing that it really was quite a long way down the Great Hall just to get to the door, he simply turned tail and fled. He decided it might be best to just go hide in his room for a little while. It had been a rough morning. Really, he didn't deserve all this.


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