Thursday, June 9, 2016

Strike Three, You're Out

As Yuri made his way down the side of Talbot’s Peak, Zhere Ghan made his way to his office. There’d been some kind of snafu with the security system—alarms silenced, lights malfunctioning. His team was working on it, but they insisted their lord retreat to his office until they issued an all-clear. A threat of attack by the Seven was nothing to sneeze at. The sanctums of Ghan and Tasman were considered the safest rooms in the manor.

With the exception of the women’s quarters, of course. Ghan snorted. “Safe” was a relative term where Kali and her moods were concerned. He’d rather face the Seven than deal unnecessarily with his senior wife.

He stepped into his office and shut the door. He didn’t bother locking it. Bad enough his guards insisted he hide like a woman just because the alarms had gone dead. If an enemy made it this far he’d dispatch them himself, and then deal with his staff’s carelessness.

The room remained dimly lit by whatever moon- and starlight could squeeze through the curtains. The lights should have come on automatically. He tried the switch and got no better results. The power in general was probably out as well. So much for getting anything done.

What was that odor? It smelled like … lanolin?

Not so unexpected. The butchers had made a delivery just this afternoon. Along with the sides of beef and venison the driver had presented the kitchen with a live sheep, and produced the proper paperwork to account for it. Someone must have had a yen for mutton. One of the women, no doubt. The girls did so enjoy playing with their food.

Odd that the smell of wool should be here in his office, however. Unless Guri had discovered the sheep and decided to play one of his infantile jokes. Time for yet another stern talking-to. Would his youngest cub never mature?

Someone giggled in the room, and not in Guri’s voice.

Ghan went still. As his tiger’s eyes rapidly adjusted to the gloom he became aware of a hunched silhouette that didn’t belong among the clean, straight lines of his mini-jungle by the window. It spread its legs slightly. He heard a familiar tinkling sound, and smelled the plant-edged stink of herbivore urine.

“About time you got here,” the figure said. “My own fault, really. I came up early. It’s no fun being a sheep in a kitchen, let me tell you. The way the cooks kept looking at me … ” The top of the hunch turned toward Zhere Ghan. The weak light glinted off unnervingly bright eyes. “Sort of the way I’m looking at you right now. Fledermaus said I was just supposed to deliver a warning, but I was hoping we’d get to play.”

The tinkling stopped. The figure’s arm moved.

Just in time, Ghan dodged aside. A kitchen knife whizzed by his head. The assassin ducked between the plants and lost himself amid the fronds and leaves.

“And who might you be?” Ghan said coolly. He slid behind his desk. “You’re definitely not Stefanya.”

A titter answered him, with only flecks of sanity in it. Now his office smelled like pissy wool. Pinpointing his attacker’s scent would be difficult. No doubt what the assassin intended.

Wanted to play, did he? With a tiger? Very well. Ghan quickly shed his clothing and shifted. Member of the Seven or not, the intruder was as good as dead.

He padded toward his jungle in a silent hunter’s crouch. An herbivore. A sheep. They’d sent a sheep to kill him. Had Stefanya lost her mind? And Fledermaus. Stupid little rodent. What had he been thinking, to challenge the Ghans?

His ears picked up the whisper of a rustle in the leaves. He leaped.

Right into a banana-cream pie.

The assassin’s maniacal laughter rang out over Ghan’s outraged roar. “My compliments to your dessert chef,” the sheep said. “Come on, little kitty cat. Catch me if you can.”

Ghan swiped cream from his muzzle. The dratted stuff had got into his eyes and nose. He had only his ears to guide him now. I will shred you like a cheap sweater, he vowed. His claws came out. And then the other six.

For fifteen tense minutes he hunted the assassin. Several times he came close, missing by inches. “Kitty kitty kitty,” the sheep taunted him. “Puss puss puss.” The voice came from among the plants again. Hah! Got you cornered now, Ghan thought, and rushed the dwarf bamboo.

Again the assassin was ready. He clouted Ghan on the skull with a heavy earthen pot. The tiger reeled, snarling, disoriented.

“Bored now,” the sheep announced. Ghan heard a crack, one of his trees being snapped in half. Then the sheep kicked him in his throbbing head. Ghan stumbled and fell on his side with part of his belly exposed.

He felt more than heard the assassin approach him. “We weren't supposed to kill this time around,” the sheep told him. “Screw that.” The silhouette that stood over him now held a length of slender broken tree in his hands. “Not as pointy as I wanted it, so this is going to hurt. Tough titty, kitty. Say g’night.”

To be continued …

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