Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Eighth Day

I almost didn't write tonight. Too tired.* But getting started is the worst part. Once I get going a little bit it's usually fun to finish off a short chapter's worth of ideas at least.

* So tired that I apparently got the day wrong. It's the eighth day, not the ninth. Fixed now.

Chapter 10

Ixy didn't quite know why she was dreaming so often these days now, but it was a nice change at least. She also didn't know why she inhabited such a strange body when she did dream. But if she were going to make a list of all the things she didn't know, she could start now and not finish until yesterday rolled around again. Might as well just make the best of it and explore. She was nothing if not curious.

Balancing on two legs was a bit tricky at first, but luckily the body she was in knew how to do it, so she got used to it fairly quickly. The weight of her oversized head was counter-balanced by her tail, so that was good. It wasn't entirely clear what point there was to her bitty little arms with their two claws each. She could scratch her nose with them if she bent her neck and pulled her chin as far in as possible, and she could tear at the tie around her neck until it came off, though another one always appeared in its place. That was about it. She liked her new teeth though, and her hind legs seemed nice and strong, and well-clawed. So it could have been worse.

When her dream began, she was lying on a straw pallet under a thin, somewhat ragged, blanket. The room was small, with a cold stone floor and few furnishings. There were some candles on a table, a few bones scattered here and there, and numerous small knives, bits of chains or armor, and other similar items collected haphazardly, as if by a covetous magpie. Ixy rooted around amongst them for a bit before cutting herself on a broken blade, then decided to find out what lay beyond the door.

The door had a simple latch that was easy to operate, even with her small arms. She inched it open and peered out cautiously. There was a narrow hallway, scattered with a few other doors similar to her own, and dimly lit by flames from occasional torches spaced along the walls. The torches were burning low, and one or two had gone out. No one else was in sight and all was quiet.

Ixy slipped out and left the door open just a crack behind her, so she could spot the right one if she needed to come back. She tried to sneak quietly down the hall, not wanting to attract attention until she had a better idea of where she was, but her claws clacked annoyingly on the stones with each step. She couldn't figure out how to retract them, which was rather frustrating. She did her best to be silent, though.

Her hallway was short, and fed into a larger one lined with tapestries and suits of armor. It had other halls and doors and stairways leading off of it. Ixy kept to the shadows by the walls, staying behind the suits of armor or anything else that offered a bit of cover.

One of the doors along the hall was open, and spilled flickering light and raucous laughter out into the corridor. Ixy crept behind the curve of a marble stairway roughly opposite the door and peered in. The figures inside were grotesque, some scaly, some hairy, some fanged, some winged. She was glad that she had seen them first. It looked as though they were all half again or twice as big as she was, and not the sort you would want to run into unawares.

They wore a ragtag collection of helmets, breastplates, chain mail. and other pieces of metal that could be attached to their bodies either as decorations or as armor. Wooden tankards sloshed ale from a cask and large, unrecognizable chunks of meat lay on platters on the tables. Harsh voices jostled one another over the sounds of drinking and chewing. A deep and far off bell tolled twice.

"Two bells!" roared one of the larger demons over the others. "Who's got two bells?"

"It's Shandag's shift! Get out there, Shandag!"

"No it ain't! I did me rounds not two hours ago!"


A short and hairy creature with a Viking style helmet leapt upon a lankier one with a snake like face, knocking plates and tankards aside. They tumbled onto the floor striking and snarling, but were interrupted in their epistemological discussion of Shandag's veracity. The larger demon had taken his own scaly tail in his hand and lashed it out at them like a whip.

"Break it up now, break it up!" he snarled. "And just for that ye can both go on the bleedin' patrol together. So get yer scabby hides out!"

Another couple of lashes and the two disputants were shoved roughly out the door, buckling on their knife belts, glaring at each other, and muttering.

"You and yer big mouth, Vormas. Always makin' things worse'n they were before."

"Perhaps if you didn't have grog for brains, you would remember when your own shift is."

"Well, perhaps if you— hey! What was that?"

"Well, well, well. Look who we've got here."

The two had turned to face the stairway and Ixy had noticed and ducked down farther behind it, but a fraction of a second too late. The guards sauntered over, smirking, seeing that she was blocked from escape by the stairwell. The tall, reptilian one leaned over here.

"My, my, if it isn't little Malcolm. And what are we doing out of bed so late tonight, eh? Potty break?"

Ixy cowered slightly and trembled.

"What's the matter?" sneered Shandag, "Cat got yer tongue?" He barked a harsh laugh. "C'mon Vormas, can't waste our time on a runt like him. Let's go tuck him in, shall we?"

He slapped Ixy across the flank with the shaft of his spear, and she jumped. Vormas kicked her and she took off running down the hall. This body she was in wasn't much for speed, though, and the larger demons kept up easily, laughing and jabbing at her until they reached the turnoff for the smaller hallway from which she had come. They gave her a shove down it in the right direction, then continued on their patrol, their spirits restored their entertainment with a mutual victim.

Ixy found the propped door leading to her room, let herself in, and lay down on the straw pallet. She would have to be careful around this place on further explorations.