- another bit of random writery... For whatever legal issues might arise, all original characters and character names, place names etc. mentioned in the following text are copyright Jon Brumby/Ian Brumby/Fenris Games, and of their original conceptor(s) where relevant.
Chapter ? : the fool of the world and the flying ship
Quinn found it hard to believe his eyes, but there it was - an inn, apparently in the middle of nowhere in particular. The slightly lopsided sign, swinging and creaking in the light breeze, bore the title, ‘The Halfway’. Sounds and smells from within showed it to be - first of all - real, and also actively occupied - always assuming he wasn’t just experiencing a really lucid mirage.
It was a large, two-storey building, the upper-floor rooms presumably serving as accommodation if the inn was living up to the letter of its description. The façade was a little bedraggled, but nothing that a lick of paint and a bit of pointing wouldn’t fix. He wasn’t too surprised that he’d understood that thought without knowing why.
A sizeable plank-faced outbuilding stabled a collection of various pack-animals and riding-beasts, mostly reptilian in nature but with one or two birds and at least a couple of creatures of somewhat indeterminate species. None of this was as interesting as the smells of cooking from inside though, and, unable to resist the lure any longer, the cat opened the door and strode in.
There were maybe a dozen or so customers giving the inn their patronage, at least on this floor. Quinn noted that for the most part the current population held an almost equal balance of cats and dogs - or variations on the theme of them, at any rate: there were a couple of notable exceptions, who seemed even less like they belonged here than he did - he was at least amongst the same broad spectrum of the species, where this pair weren’t even related to each other: but otherwise, like the rest of the clientele, the gorilla and the rhino regarded Quinn with only brief interest as he first stepped inside, then quickly returned to their own business - this particular pair being engaged in an overly loud and animated discussion at their station by the bar.
The caracal left them to their discourse as his eyes scanned the rest of the room: at the end of the bar was a large and slightly tipsy-looking tiger, slumped on his stool, regarding the arguing animals with heavy-lidded eyes; meanwhile the stern-looking wildcat behind the counter kept a close eye on all three of them. Most of the rest of the customers kept to their own regards, whether singularly or with others of their own species, only one table being occupied by a mix of the two orders - engaged, as seemed to be fitting, in some sort of card game - an almost guaranteed source of fight-starting if ever there was one. Quinn rolled his eyes, expecting trouble any moment.
Nevertheless, the overall assembly seemed to be occupied peacefully enough in their eating and drinking, though the cat definitely sensed a lurking, low-level tension in the place. His earlier encounter with dog-types had taught him well enough of the innate distrust between the two ‘tribes’, so he was surprised to have found this common haven where they were (at least ostensibly) able to make a pretense of civility toward one another. Quinn didn’t doubt that the peace was held at least in part by the mere presence of the wildcat at the bar, a scarred and ear-bitten old bruiser who looked more than a match for any of the patrons; but as well as that, spreading some sort of serenity as she bussed tables and tankards, was the beautiful she-cat who carried a smile to every customer, and left something of it with each of them she served. She moved gracefully, almost dancing among the stations; her coat was exquisite, something part tabby-cat and part serval, and an admirable marriage of the two; she was elegantly made but strong-looking, with a full and expressive tail that twitched and ‘talked’ spiritedly as she engaged with the inn’s clientele.
Quinn was so taken with her that he almost didn’t realise she was striding straight towards him, her smile already working its spell. He grinned nervously as she stopped in front of him, staring straight into his eyes.
“Heyyy, fella”, she purred, “ ‘you looking at me that way, or does your tongue always hang out like that?”
She smirked, and Quinn squirmed, his face-fur bristling with embarrassment.
“I, uh - ”, he faltered.
“Relax, relax,” she chuckled, touching his arm gently. “I’m flattered, honestly. Name’s Briana, call me Bree. You’re chasing the wrong breed of butterfly I’m afraid, but I am flattered.”
“ - wuh?” he spluttered.
Bree smiled, and hooked a thumb towards a puma lounging suggestively in the window-seat across the other side of the room.
“See her?” she asked.“…you think she’s attractive?”
Quinn gulped hard and peeked over the she-cat’s shoulder. The puma was - well, he guessed he’d say…very nicely ‘carved’. He nodded, to avoid saying anything that might seem...unseemly.
Bree raised an eyebrow knowingly. “ - of course you do. And so do I.” She tipped her head and waited for this to sink in.
Quinn looked back to the puma and then again to Bree, still feeling a little dazed. He looked her up and down, started to say something, then looked back once more to the other cat. His brain turned slowly over in bed, fumbled for a candle, and then finally struck a match in the darkness.
His fur bristled again. “Ah …oh. Uhm, I was only -”
“Never mind, mister swifty,” she offered. “You lot are always a little out of it for the first day or two, ‘til you get to grips with the world…”
“ - eh?”
“ - you are one of them, aren’t you? I can tell - something in your aura, I dunno, but it stands out a mile to me. That, and the disorientation, obviously.” She saw Quinn looking even more confused. “Poor kitty, you’re just brand new, aren’t you?”
Bree widened her eyes, seeming to stare straight into Quinn.
“Wow,” she enthused, “it’s a rare thing to see one of you guys, never mind two at the same time - ”
Quinn held up his hands to stop her chatter. He was playing catch-up here, but was already way too far behind.
“Please - ” he began.
“Sorry hun”, the she-cat relented. “Too much too soon, huh? You really are fresh out of the stone.”
Bree paused, watching his stunned reaction.
“You clearly don’t know it yet,” she continued, “but you’re one of the Created.”
“One what? What’s - ”
“Carved in the cavern, that sort of thing?”, she offered.
Quinn nodded, but was still bewildered. “ - but - isn’t everybody? ”
The she-cat shook her head and smiled again. “Oh no, no.”
She leaned closer, adding almost conspirationally, “…most of us these days are made the new-fangled way - it’s a whole man-woman thing that goes on - ” she rolled her eyes and dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. “ - not my cup o’ tea, of course, but I understand it’s quite the popular thing.” Her smile faltered, a shadow of sadness passing across her features. Quinn reached out uncertainly to offer reassurance.
“What’s the matter?”, he tried.
“ - that’s how I came to the uurth,” she sniffed, a tear at the corner of her eye. “But my mother...” she slowed, her voice cracking. “…I never knew her, but I miss her just the same.”
Bree checked herself, blinking away the threat of tears.
“ - sorry,” she offered. “I don’t know why all of that came out, I don’t normally... ”
she paused. “…it must be something in the magik of you, I guess.” She sniffed again and wiped her eyes.
“Can I get you a drink?” she rallied, back in business mode again. “Something to eat?”
Quinn hesitated. “I…don’t have any money.”
The she-cat put up a hand and shook her head. “It’s on me,” she insisted. “ - for your trouble.”
The caracal was reluctant to accept, but agreed. His grumbling stomach and parched tongue would’ve been greatly at odds with him otherwise. He gestured towards the surly wildcat now cleaning tankards at the counter.
“Well, so long as the barkeep will serve them to me, anyway - I got the distinct impression when I came in that he didn’t take to me very well, though maybe it’s just because he’s such a miserable-looking old sod.”
Briana grinned widely and patted Quinn softly on the hand.
“That miserable old sod,” she cooed, “is my father.”
The caracal winced and buried his face in his hands, fur bristling afresh, as the she-cat turned, laughing gently to herself.
“You just like to open your mouth to switch feet every now and again, eh hun?” she finished, smiling warmly as she departed. Quinn watched with great interest as she glode gracefully away, then remembered the whole wrong butterfly thing and figured he’d better fix his attentions elsewhere.
As he slowly scanned the room again, it struck Quinn that he’d just missed something - what Bree had said about seeing two of the ‘Created’ at one time. Somebody else here was…like him! He studied the inn’s customers much more keenly now, seeing if he could sense something of what Briana had referred to, trying to determine if there was anything that particularly marked out the Created-kind as being especially different to the norms: nothing very much seemed to be presenting itself though; for all he knew, maybe even one of those bandits - or maybe all of them - had been Created-kind, and he simply hadn’t spotted anything special about them - after all, it would be hard to pick up on something like that in the middle of fighting them off, wouldn’t it? But otherwise it would surely make some sort of sense for him to be able to tell, one way or another, if he was in the presence of others like himself? Frustrated with his lack of success, the cat let it go - guessing that maybe he was trying too hard, and that such sensings might arise on a more subconscious level.
Briana had by now sauntered over to the reclining puma, and the two were clearly exchanging pleasantries, smiling and chuckling softly together. Even casual observation of their behaviour made it plain that there was more passing between them than the mere interplay of words. Quinn looked away quickly as Bree repeated the thumb-hook gesture in his direction, and he felt his face bristling yet again as the two of them looked his way and giggled, the puma offering him a fingery wave and a saucy little wink.
He turned to come face-to-chest (and to a broad chest, at that) with the tiger he’d seen earlier, who seemed several sizes larger than he had when he’d been slumped at the bar. He stood nearly two feet taller than Quinn, and was of a considerably sturdier build. His massive mitt sat with menacing promise on the pommel of his sword.
“You gettin’ stupid ideas about that female, boy?” he growled. Quinn stared up into angry golden orbs, pupils focused to furious fullstops. He could somehow feel other eyes on him too now, the various cats and dogs - and other species - having ceased the undertaking of their own diversions in favour of this new entertainment. Quinn thought better of telling the tiger the somewhat pertinent facts that would render any ideas stupid in regards to those two particular females, guessing that that would be a fairly stupid idea in itself.
He grimaced weakly and muttered, “ - erm, no? ”
The tiger grinned horribly.
And then the roof caved in.
Something looking not unlike the prow of a ship crashed through the first floor of the building, raining destruction down among the inn’s clientele. Some of the more nimble-footed had scattered at once, escaping through the doors only moments before the opening was blocked by the massive bulk of the vessel; but at least three tables, and their occupants, were horribly crushed under the weight of the intruding hull and the falling debris. Those remaining were either concussed or simply confused, and all of them easily captured by the peculiar crew that poured down from the thing, looking for all the world like…giant insects. In a mass of many-limbed forms they dragged unconscious animals back up to the ship, otherwise grappling with those still able to resist, for what little time it took to overcome them.
Quinn had lost sight of Briana and the puma when the bow of the ship had obscured them from his view; he lost consciousness too as a heavily-armoured beetle fetched him a hefty crack across the skull, the screams and shouts around him fading into silence as darkness rushed to engulf him.