Teller of Tales

by Beestie

Part TWO -- Rumble In the Alley

As a fight worth watching, the spectators later would say, it left a lot to be desired. One after another, the Pixies were swatted away by massive paws -- some to instant death from their necks snapping on impact, others to die a slow, lingering death from massive internal injuries. Oh, sure -- for many a year after there would be one person who would bring up that one poor Rakshasa who had his tail burned off by a Pixie's fire spray spell -- and there was that other Rakshasa who died from a well used wand of dragon breath. But what were two losses to the fifty or so Pixies who twitched out the end of their lives impaled by Rakshasa talons?

     "Unca, my tail hurts," whined Kirrsh as the two Raks walked over to the charred remains of old Umtokh. Their feet sounded as if they were walking over dried leaves from all the Pixie wings scattered on the ground.

     "Next time a Pixie casts a spell at you, you'll remember to dodge, eh?" chuckled Beestie. He toed Umtokh's body. It had been burned so thoroughly it had become a stiff, blackened mass of charcoal. "Poor old-timer," Beestie said. "At least he went out fighting like a Rakshasa should!" Several of the other Raks came over and began to wrap Umtokh's body in linens.

     "Is this yours?" a female lioness asked Kirrsh. She handed him a burned-off tiger tail. The left side of her face was missing most of its fur and there was bloody patch on her muzzle where her whiskers had been ripped off.

     "Uh, yeah," muttered Kirrsh, his nose pinking in embarrassment.

     "I think a stubby tail is kind of, oh I dunno..." She rubbed her body up against him as she slunk by him. "Interesting," she finished, strutting off with a wink. Kirrsh's nose turned bright crimson.

     "What are you, stupid or something?" said Beestie. "Follow her!"

     Kirrsh shook his head. "No Unca. I'm staying with you. I want to learn how to fight like you did back there. That was amazing!" He dug the claws of one foot into the dirt while Beestie rolled his eyes.

     "I think those silly Pixies burned off the wrong piece of you." Beestie smiled at Kirrsh, showing off a full set of razor sharp teeth in the process. Kirrsh muttered something under his breath. "Eh? What was that, cub? Speak up -- I didn't quite catch that."

     "I didn't say nuffins," mumbled Kirrsh. He hung his head.

     "Though so," chortled Beestie. "Fine. You want to be my apprentice. So be it. Lesson one -- until you graduate, all treasure you get from your kills is mine. Lesson two -- when we kill to eat, I eat first, you get anything left. Lesson three -- if I ever turn around in battle and find you hanging back, I will kill you." He paused to let those points sink in. "Think you can remember those first three lessons?" Kirrsh nodded. "Good." Beestie looked around on the ground at the shredded and mashed Pixie corpses. "Lets see if we can go find a foe that is more of a challenge!" He turned and strode towards the New Verden gate house, his long, steady stride making Kirrsh double-step to keep up.

     "OK -- that's a shrieker. Once they used to shriek so loudly as to knock you out. I don't know what has happened lately, but now it's just a large mushroom. But it can still hurt you with the spores it puffs out when you attack it, so watch yourself." Beestie pushed Kirrsh towards the large, grayish-white fungus. "Hit it on top so the spores fall to the ground."

     Kirrsh took a tentative swipe at the shrieker. Tonk went his paw on the crown. A cloud of brownish-black spores wafted out from under it and fell in a billowing cloud to the ground.

     "Ah! It burns!" cried Kirrsh as some of the spores hit his feet.

     "What part of, 'it can still hurt you with its spores so watch out,' did you miss, cub?" Beestie asked. He fished a vial of water out of one of his bags. "Here, splash this on your poor, widdle paw-paw," he sneered, tossing it to Kirrsh.

     "Will it help?" asked the cub, biting the cork out of the bottle.

     "I have no idea. I was never stupid enough to get that stuff on my feet." Beestie sat down and pulled out a pipe. Stuffing it full with the contents he pulled from a small, green pouch attached to his belt, he cast a spark cantrip on the contents and began to puff contentedly.

     "Aren't you going to help me kill it, Unca?" asked Kirrsh.

     "Yes. I'm going to help by staying out of your way. It only takes one Rak to kill a shrieker. Hopefully you'll learn how to become a Rak before that shrieker kills you." He continued to puff on his pipe as Kirrsh's nose turned purple in shame. The cub shrugged his shoulders up, twisted his neck around and around, cracked the knuckles on his forepaws, and tore into the shrieker again. It took only four more hits until the shrieker was scattered in pieces across a ten foot area.

     "I did it, Unca! I killed it!" Kirrsh began to dance around. Beestie knocked some ashes out of his pipe and stuffed it into his belt. Walking over to the pieces of shrieker, he knelt down and sorted through them. One paw came up with a few tattered remains, which he tucked in one bag. "What was that, Unca?" asked Kirrsh.

     "Shrieker heart. Think of it as the most tender, flavorful mushroom you have ever eaten. It makes any stew taste better, and there are many cooks who will pay top gold for it." He licked the tips of his paws off. "Mmm -- even that little taste is wonderful." A small bit of drool formed in the corner of Kirrsh's mouth.

     "Can I taste it, Unca?"

     "What, you want to suck on my paws? I don't think so." Beestie grabbed Kirrsh by the shoulders and spun him around. "Your lesson continues." He pushed the cub deeper into the dungeon they were crawling around in. "Where there are shriekers there are bound to be slimes and molds. Step carefully."

     Several green slimes, a brown mold and one violet fungus later, Kirrsh's stomach was audibly growling. "Unca, I'm hungry," he whined.

     "So eat some rations," said Beestie.

     "What rations?" asked the cub.

     "You mean you didn't bring any rations with you?"

     "No, Unca. I usually eat what I kill -- but you've been eating everything we've killed so far." Kirrsh braced himself, waiting for the blow to come. But Beestie never struck out at him.

     "You're right. OK -- the next thing we kill, you get to eat it." Beestie lashed straight out with one paw, causing Kirrsh to duck. Smiling, Beestie snapped the neck of the stirge he had plucked out of the air. It had been inches away from plunging its long, thin beak into Kirrsh's neck. "Eat up, cub," Beestie said, tossing the limp form at Kirrsh. As Kirrsh tore into the stirge, Beestie turned and took a step. Creak went a board that was spiked into the dirt beneath his feet. Beestie froze in his tracks.

     "Unca, what is--" began Kirrsh. Beestie cut him off with a wave from one paw and a hiss.

     "Silence cub!" His ears were perked forward, straining to hear.

     "Unca, what is it?" whispered Kirrsh.

     "I don't know. But I know from past experience that the sound of metal spikes creaking in wood brings nasties out of the shadows." He turned to glare at Kirrsh. Kirrsh cringed beneath the glare.

     "I'm sorry, Unca," he whimpered. Beestie waved a paw at him.

     "It's not your fault, cub. I should have been watching where I was walking." He sniffed the air, his ears still swiveling around, trying to pick up the faintest noise. "I think we got away with it this time," he said. He took one step.

     Pap! A brilliant light blinded both Rakshasas. "Magic trap!" howled Beestie. "Prepare to fight!" He lashed out blindly, swinging one way, then another. He could smell the musky odor of the huge minotaur long before his paws finally made contact. Where there's a mino, he thought, there's also a titan. And behind that titan will be...

      An acrid smell began to burn his sensitive nostrils as his ears picked up the sound of tentacles slithering across the ground...

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