The floor's vibration brought back Sitar's attention to the here and now. He watched the two fugitives eat a very frugal breakfast, where Hitler complained about the paucity of the meal.
"Complain as much as you want, but it is all you will get. We have a long day, or should I say night, ahead of us and being full of food will make you less alert. We have to escape the watch, and I am sure your, our disappearance has been noted and our description posted with a 'shoot on sight' label. Now, be quiet!" replied the Prelate acidly.
"How can I complain silently?" grumbled the Arch-Prelate, looking at his companion with murder in his eyes.
"Cut the Puppy look, it does not work with me!"
"Puppy look? I was trying to give you a death stare!"
"Death stares are more in the range of the Imperial Family than yours. That guy Harp, he killed a guy with one."
«Hey, Harp, who did you kill with a glare?»
«Oh, quite a few. Why?»
«One of the guys we are tracking just said he saw you kill with a glare.»
«We might get a name. Let me check, there are a number of circumstances in the data bank. Timor? Did you copy? I want a cross-reference of all circumstances where I killed with a glare with staff present. It must be a magical being, given the Prelate does seem to show a minimum of Magic. But he must have a weak sensor capability for others or else he would have detected Sitar.»
«Working on it!»
The two fugitives slowly stood up and the Prelate opened the door to listen outside. There were steps coming up the stairs so he closed the door gently and leaned back on it.
«Timor, Sitar here. Add 'low Magic' and 'unable to seal a door'.»
«Done. We still have 620 names. Harp seemed to appreciate cooking competition.»
«It is impressive, and usually, people lose any interest in resistance after a couple of carbonised meat pies.»
«Jokes apart, anything else you can tell me about the guy, if it is a guy?»
«It is a male, five two, a bit overweight...»
«Okay... That cuts the number considerably. Two names. And one is on the 'dismissed for improper conduct' list. The other is currently with Dad, so it can not be him.»
«What name do you have?» asked Sitar.
«Wood, given name is Stiff, middle name Morning.»
«You are not serious? No wonder the guy's a rebel. The parents should be beheaded! Calling their Son Stiff Morning Wood is criminal!»
«Right! I can just imagine! Even without the middle name, it is embarrassing. Can you imagine the feeling he must have had being called during roll call: Mister Stiff Wood... I am sure some idiot called him Stiffy thinking it would be funny.»
«So, what else do you have on Mister Wood?»
«He's been a troubled kid from the start. Set his parents on fire, that is how we noticed he was magical... at four. Specifically on his birthday. Got placed in an orphanage... and promptly collapsed the ceiling of the refectory, killing 16 residents and four caretakers... Mind you, he simply converted the cornerstone of the ceiling arch to sand, and everything followed. Was taken in by a volunteer team whom tried to teach him self-control. The issues escalated from there. He ended up in the hit-squad, but kept attacking everyone. The slightest comment warranted a hex or something worse. Got to attacking an upper officer who reprimanded him for assaulting a team-mate. Court-marshalled. Expelled five years ago. Disappeared off the map. Magic got binded before release to civil duty, otherwise he used to be a level 6 Mage. The binding is keeping him at .5, giving him barely enough to survive in Thebes.»
«Okay. I am sending a memory of his face. Validate if it is him for sure.»
«Okay. It is coming in. MMMM! It fits. The hairline is quite similar. Hair colour has changed. Ears are the same, so is the nose, except it seemed to have been crocked, probably in a street brawl. I can't see the eye colour. No known tattoos, but those can be added.»
«And he wears that ridiculous robe. That thing could hide a Whale.»
«It is not needed for what lies between the legs. Medical shows he has, adult, a 0.5 inch long stiffy, and the balls are hidden inside the body. Apparently, they never dropped, and his parents never bothered, nor did the orphanage staff, to bring him to medical.»
«Apparently. By the time he was diagnosed, the damage was done. Ah yes, there was a lot of ribbing from others. The Officers tried to halt it, but they cannot keep an eye on someone specifically. Quite a few severe punishments were dished out, but it only pushed things underground. Psychiatric evaluation came to the conclusion he could not be controlled and was getting beyond aggressive. He got thrown out for inciting others to revolt.»
«I see. Has someone wiped his memory?»
«Let me see. Yes. But it did not last. The whole thing surfaced back later because the cause was not gone. He became highly revolted after that and that is when he assaulted an Officer and got his Magic bound.»
«They are on the move, Lord of the Hunt.»
«Okay, Bite of the Night. We better let them take some distance. I do not want them to be alerted by unexplained dust falls.»
The two Mambas eyed the two runners (as if, with a grounded Whale, thought Sitar!) make their way to the edge of the next step in their foray. They resumed their climb, reached the roof, and the Prelate used a quick unlock spell to release the lock.
"Hold this lock! Do not drop it, we need it!" ordered the Prelate.
"Do you always ask stupid questions? I need to make anyone following us have issues. Locking the trap door from the outside will help in that endeavour. Grow up in the brain department instead of in the flab one!"
"I am not growing in the flab department! In fact, I am losing my robes. I have been forced to tie the belt one notch tighter in the pas two days!"
"Finally? You have been dumping water and fat from all the exercise. Maybe, if we survive, you will rediscover your dick!"
«I doubt he will survive long enough!» commented Sitar, from about 20 yards.
"Climb after me. Be careful not to make noise! That stairwell is a drum!"
The Prelate pushed the trap door up slightly, eyed the roof from the slight opening to assess the presence of anything, and seeing it clear, pushed the door further open. The Orichalque plate was heavy, and it was a miracle he did not drop it on the roof. Once the door was fully open, he climbed out and signalled the other to do the same.
After some serious huffing and puffing, the Arch-Prelate made it out and lay on the open trap door. Sitar inter-wined with Bite of the Night and ported them on the roof from the last flooring.
«That gave me an idea of the roof thickness and allowed me to adjust the port. The Whale's breathing hid any noise we made when I slightly overshoot the rooftop.»
«The Whale sure huffs and puffs!"
«And cannot even blow the house down.»
«I shall endeavour to explain a children's story we recovered from the Earth's history, called The Three Little Pigs.»
«You might as well do it now. The companion of the Whale is trying to make the Whale move and he is not successful.»
«That is an understatement! He just pissed in his face to wake him up and the guy did not even react. I hope he is not dead.»
«Not with that breathing. Anyway, the story?»
Who knew Mambas were so enamoured with children's stories! Thought Sitar.
«Okay. So, well, one of my cousins had a bad reputation. He was even called the Big Bad Wolf and was proud of it. He wanted Pork chops for lunch and decided to blow their houses down. Actually, he got the idea from being allergic to Hay, and getting in a severe coughing fit while stalking the first one. But, you know, it is the victor that writes the story, and well, he claimed he had the idea on his own. Anyway, to make a long story short, he decided that since it worked with the hay house, it might work for the matchbox wood house. So he claimed he huffed and puffed and blew the house down, getting his second pork roast in the process.»
«The only thing it proves is that he was a big wind bag and that he did not smoke!»
«Maybe, and then maybe not. After all, #2 got roasted in the house, and no one was able to explain the fire except there was a cigarette top nearby. Who knows? It only takes a single match. He also blew up the brick house. I think he cheated and supplied the joint for the bricks with way too much sand in the mortar. Also, the bricks had not been cooked properly, and he waited for the first big rainstorm to bring the house down. He got a few toes crushed from falling mud bricks, but got his meal.»
«Conclusion: verify a building company's references before having it build your home?»
«True, and make sure the dynamite is all accounted for before building the house over the basement!»
«Why didn't the first one make a run for it?»
«He had porcine flu. The cousin was sick for a month after eating the dirty bastard. That is what you get from eating undercooked meat, I guess.»
«Funny children story. No wonder your people are nuts.»
«Who said it was true? Who knows? Maybe the story had another totally different underlying meaning? Language is tough like that. Blow jobs also imply eating something after all.»
Bite of the Night was totally lost but decided to cut his losses there and not enquire further.
«The Whale is finally standing up. I wonder what will be their next move?» noted Sitar.
They watched as the Prelate moved to the edge of the building, overlooking a huge gap between two towers.
«That is the park. There are patrols everywhere tonight. I think the Hulgraes have found their smell and are tracking them. Not good... for them! And for our hunt as well. I might have to protect their escape!»
As they watched, the Prelate lay on his belly, with the Arch-Grump beside him. His whispers could be heard clearly by the two Snakes.
"Damn it! These horrors have found us! Luckily I locked the trap door at the top of the stairs and they will have issues climbing the ladder and need the help of a Monkey or two to climb to the roof!"
"One of the many varieties of bipeds with opposing thumbs, you idiot! And the Hulgraes hate Monkeys so it is very likely negotiations will take a week or two... if they ever succeed. Now. To get across... Help me pull that thin black rope. Be very careful. If it breaks, we are dead! I was hoping we could make it across on the ground, but with this situation, it is high flying time. When shit hits the fan, it spreads out far and wide!"
The two began pulling slowly on the fairly thin rope. It tensed and could be seen disappearing in the darkness.
"Careful now! I oiled up the pulley a few months ago, but it still is somewhat noisy. We do not want it heard from below and Hulgraes have devilishly good hearing!"
Sitar had moved, along with Bite of the Night, in the gully, and watched the work.
«There comes a bigger rope! But it is way too small for them to even hang on and make their way across!»
«Maybe there is more, Lord of the Hunt?»
True to the Mamba's suggestion, the bigger rope called up an even bigger one, and, after four more of these increases, a very narrow rope bridge came into view. At first, it did not look much, but, after the Prelate had tied the base to two hooks, and installed a slide pole on the guides, it became apparent it could be walked upon rather slowly if not securely. The night wind, even slight as it was, kept pushing against the rope bridge to the point it kept swinging from left to right.
"You want me to walk across that?" asked an incredulous Arch-Prelate. "I will puke!"
"Why do you think I kept you on nothing tonight? You will have nothing to throw up! Anyway, remove your robe. You are now going to go bare. It is not the time to have pieces of tissue falling down!"
"That is indecent!"
"What is indecent is your existence. Now strip! Count yourself lucky!"
"If I could gut you without you yelling to bring Haven and Hell on us, I would do so! You have proven to be a liability and you are running on borrowed time! Your noise, and the odour of the blood would make the Hulgraes go nuts and alert the Imperials. They, contrary to these Demon Horses, can climb on the roofs and look up!"
The Arch-Prelate did as ordered, whiter than a fresh parchment.
"Roll your robe in as tight a bundle as you can and use the belt rope to tie it up. No! Not like that, you fool! It will unroll in a flash. Lay it flat. Fold it across the length twice, and roll it! Can't you even use your eyes? I am showing you how with my own!"
After grumbling even louder then the Arch-Prelate with suggestions of teaching the lard how to fly without landing lessons, the Prelate finally accepted the bundle was reasonably folded and tied up.
"Now, tie that bundle around your neck with the rest of the rope. Make sure it does not move. You do not want rope burns."
After tying his own bundle, the Prelate eyed the ground below.
"We are in luck, the night is relatively dark, and the Hulgraes are making a raucous trying to figure out where we went. It will hide the cracking of the ropes while we cross."
"What will you do with that? It will stand out during the day!"
"Oh? You finally found your brain cell? Where did it get lost? As for the bridge... Do not worry! I have my ways!"
Standing up the Prelate added a cross-bar to the top ropes of the sidings and pushed it forward, opening the bridge in a V, with the main call rope acting as the bridge deck.
"Okay! Here comes the fun! Grab the bar and hold it tightly! Ensure that the bar stays perpendicular to the siding ropes at all costs. Step on the rope at the bottom of the V slowly. Take three steps and stay put."
"Just do it!"
The Arch-Prelate slowly stepped on the rope, which tensed under his weight.
"Good. The rope holds. Add a step!"
"Now wait and do not be surprised. I am joining you. I am tying the back bar under my armpits. This will help stabilise the bridge and ease its collapse to its folded form!"
"Collapse?" whimpered the Whale.
"Yes. After all, I will need to fold the bridge once we are across to hide it, you useless use of breathing air!"
The rope swung slightly as the Prelate made his way to stand on the big rope, and then slightly more as he made the ropes of the sidings slide together to close the bridge. Then came the difficult part: turning around while sliding the poles around his torso under his arms. It took him a gook five minutes before he succeeded. By then the Arch-Prelate was rather green at the gills!
"Okay. We are ready. One step, left feet! I said left feet! We must be synchronised like in a military march or we will step on each other! Left! Right! Left!..."
From the gully, Sitar watched the process, amazed at the engineering marvel the rope bridge represented. As the two made their way further, Sitar moved to the bridge roping.
«Luckily, we are Snakes. We will follow.»
«Can we not just port across?»
«I can not see clearly, and I do not want to give them too much latitude. They can not turn around and see us. We might as well stay within eyesight. Once I have a clear view of the other roof, we merge and I port us.»
It took the two Prelates the night to make their way across, much to the despair of the guide. The Snakes made their way by porting about half-way through the crossing, thus giving them ample time to find a hiding place. Sitar quickly realised that the cable would show in the early dawn, and the men below would add two and two. He told Bite of the Night to keep watch and ported below, converting back to his human form once on the ground. Spotting a patrol, he attracted their attention.
"Decurion! Come here!"
"Who? What are you doing in this section? It is dangerous!"
"For those that attack me or disobey my orders! Now, get that big mouth of yours quiet! I do not want to attract the attention of our prey!"
"Who do you think you are? I am a Centurion, not a Decurion!"
"The one that will feed you to the Hulgraes if you do not lower your voice!"
"Centurion! Shut up! That is the God of War!"
"Ah! Someone with the eyes aligned with their sockets! Once your shift is done report to the Legion Headquarters. You just got promoted, Legionnaire! It takes guts to tell a superior to shut up, and I like people with guts! As for you, loud mouth, you are degraded to Decurion as of now! Harp is right! The bigger the army, the more idiots get promoted!"
Sitar snapped his fingers, more for show than anything, and the ex-Centurion found himself with Decurion marks. As for the Legionnaire, he found himself with Centurion marks.
"Look up! See that rope and the two shadows? These are our preys. Let them do what they need, even if it is blindingly clear they are as visible as the nose in the face! I need to track them to the higher-ups in the rebellion! Is that clear?"
"Yes, your Highness!"
"Spread the word! Quietly! And at the shift change, do the same at the Legion! Here! This validates the order!"
Sitar generated a parchment with the order and the Seal of the God of War on it.
"I have to go back up to my watch. Do not fail me!"
"At your command!"
Sitar silently popped back on the roof and moved to lay beside Bite of the Night.
«How are things?»
«They are slowly getting closer, Lord of the Hunt. They should reach the edge in an hour.»
The hour was another long wait, but finally, the Arch-Prelate mad it to the last step.
"Now, getting off the bridge is easy... Just bend under the separator and walk off. Slowly! I do not want to fly off!"
The Arch-Prelate did as told and the rope resonated like a violin string. Fortunately, it was morning hubbub and the noise was masked by the hoofs of Hulgraes on the streets. The Prelate barely managed to hold to the bar freshly released by the Arch-Prelate. After a few choice words, he made the last few steps to leave the bridge and release the dorsal bar.
"I will never do this again... with anybody! Now, lay down, you Whale! Do you want to be seen?"
Ignoring his companion, the man released cross-bars, tied them to the cables, and released the hook that tied the base cable to the building. Then he began pulling the underside guide cable that activated the pulley at the other end, bringing in the base cable, and the progressively smaller guide cables into place. Once the smallest one was in place and tightened, he pushed the entire mechanism against the side of the tower, making it invisible.
"Finally! The Legions must be getting lazy! I was sure one or more of them would have looked up by now. Well, never look a gifted Horse in the mouth, especially a Hulgrae."
"We find some shade, drink and eat, and rest. I can barely feel my legs."
"We barely have any water left!"
"If you had not drunk all of it before the crossing, we might have some, Lard!"
"It is Lord!"
"Not for you, Swine!"
«What is so funny?» asked a confused Snake.
«Lard is the fat of a Swine, also known as Pig or Pork. And he looks like a bipedal type of that species.»
«So many names for the same thing! I am wondering why it is so?»
«We might as well find some shade too. I do not want to boil on tar.»
«Given their smell, they might have issues.»
«You are right. Let me think. They are so thirsty they might not make it through the day. I can create a leak on that water tank and I am sure they will find it shortly. Ah! The joint is rusty... Leak, here you come! We might as well drink some as well, while we can!»
«Nothing wicked about that leak. It is a good way to keep our prey nearby and, more importantly, alive!»
It took an hour for the Prelate to notice some birds drinking water from a pool that had accumulated on the roof. Some backtracking and he had found the leak. He began licking the water directly off the wall, ignoring the rusty taste of the nectar of life. After ten minutes, he called his burden to the place and indicated to the man to lick the water seeping between the joint.
They managed to survive the day and not eat each other, or at least the Prelate kept the Arch-Prelate at bay with a well-directed kick in the genitals.
"Come near me and I will eat that sausage, raw!"
"You, yourself, told me it was not even a bite!"
"True, but I could do with a raw pig!"
«I do hope they will not go at each other.»
«As long as the Prelate survives, I do not give a damn about Mr. Melting Whale.»
The 'Sun' went down and the two runaways from justice slowly made their way across a series of roofs again.
"Stop asking the same question or I push you down!"
"But I am tired!"
"I am doubly so! From the walk and from you!"
The exchange continued for a while, guiding Sitar and Bite of the Night along the way.
"Ah, here is the trap. That one is a bit special."
"Look at the hinges. They can be pulled out."
The Prelate then demonstrated by pulling the two hinges out and opening the trap.
"Here is the lock. A little bit of Magic, and bingo, we now have a removable trap. Now, I close it, and reset the hinges. Then open the trap using that handle. And now, you get down slowly. Make no noise. Contrary to the last one, this floor is occupied... by Legionnaires!"
After following the Arch-Prelate down, the Prelate closed the trap, placed the lock in the eyes and set it back in place.
«What do we do?»
«We wait for them to leave the level and I port us across. These building all got drawn by the same architect, my brother Paschal. So they follow the same rules.»
After fifteen minutes, Sitar figured the two fugitives were down so he ported himself and Bite of the Night on the landing. The targets were already down five levels, so Sitar made short work of catching up with them, leaving a landing between the Snakes and the runners.
"Okay. The further down we go the riskier things get. So be quiet! Our contact is in the adjacent building. We have to reach the ground floor, make our way out, cross, get in the other building and climb up to his landing. All that, without arising suspicions. Given our clothing, or more to the point, lack thereof, that will call for a lot of stealth. Now, whatever happens, act like everything is normal. These guys have seen a lot of things, and probably will assume wrong. Let them!"
«Interesting. I did not know my Legions were so blasé!» muttered Sitar.
The two men made their way down, and almost reached the ground floor before meeting someone.
"Hey! You two! Where are you going?" asked an insomniac. "Going out for a swim?"
"Yes! Do you want to join us?" replied the Prelate.
"No, I have to be at the canteen shortly. I am on potato duty. I hate peeling potatoes!"
The Prelate grunted, and moved past.
"You, better not jump in the lake. I do not want a tidal wave to flood the mess barge!" noted the Legionnaire as he spotted the walking Whale.
"He can not, he would get stuck in the bottom. Too much draft!"
The Legionnaire snickered at the comment and made for his cubicle to get ready.
"Why do you keep laughing at me?"
"It serves its purpose."
"Had I known you thought of me like that..."
"I know, my bones would have joined those in the back alley of the Temple. Too late. You were proud, but forgot to keep fit to fit the image. Be quiet, the next difficulty is on the horizon. A patrol. Stay hidden until they pass."
Ten minutes later, the two made their way on the grass, in the bush, and reached the other building, body lacerated by thorns.
"Who cares, It will help us play the 'early morning swim' role to get into the building. They have hoses along the wall to water the grass, bushes, and gardens. Get wet! From head to toes, you idiot. Even your underwear needs to be wet, as if you had put them on without waiting to be dry!"
"Are there no doormen?"
"Yes, but their role is to keep intruders out. I will ring the buzzer to our contact and that will solve the 'intruder' issue for the doorman."
After a few yelps, and a resounding smack on a wet underwear, the two made their way to the building entrance. Sitar and Bite of the Night right on their heels.
"What's the big idea coming all wet in the doorway!" hollered the doorman on duty, who had just taken his station to replace the night shift.
"We forgot our towels!" replied the Prelate with authority, while pressing on the button to get his contact to open the door.
After a brief exchange, the door was rung open, much to the displeasure of the doorman that wanted some action for once. As the two companions pressed on the elevator button to reach their destined floor, Sitar made his presence known.
"I have a meeting up. Open!"
"It is none of your business."
Using Magic, Sitar quickly unlocked the door and made for the elevator bank.
"I shall call security!"
"Sure. This is just the right thing to do to end up doorman for Hell. Shut up. If I ever hear anything leaking from this place, even pee, I will make sure you get to meet the Grim Reaper! Anyway..." Just as the door of the elevator closed, Sitar erased the past 10 minutes of memory off the guy, thus covering both his and his preys' passage.
"Ah, sixth floor. We get out here. I am changing my looks to a fancy Woman. As for you, a lap Dog will do fine. Snakes are not customary pets around here, Bite of the Night. Just stay quiet, and growl if they try to pet you."
«Or snap at their fingers.»
As the door opened, a well-shaped lady made it out of the elevator, carrying a miniature ugliness that resembled a failed Dog mix between a Poodle and a Chihuahua. The two made their way past the flat just as the man opened the door to let in the two unexpected guests.
«Now, to listen in without arousing suspicions. We can not stay in the hallway in any form whatsoever. There are other flats but all are occupied. Let me search. Okay. That one is alone, and still in bed. We port in, hide under the bed and listen in. It is not too far for me to do so.»
Sitar reconverted both to Snake form, and then ported them right under the bed.
«That guy's Wife wants to divorce him because he's a Pig. No wonder. There are enough dust Bunnies here I would sneeze if Snakes could!»
«Dust Bunnies? Where? Are they edible?»
«When was your last Rat?»
«Seven Sunrises tomorrow.»
«We will try to finish that part of the hunt today then.»
«What is that racket?»
«The box springs. He is mating the mattress.»
The image of little spring-like Snakes exiting the box made Sitar almost blow his cover.
«Keep that up, Bite of the Night, and we will get caught! Ah, the civilities are over. Let us listen in.»
What Sitar learned while reading the mind of the contact made his blood boil. There would be a blood bath of planetary magnitude. Corruption was endemic, people acting like they were occupying their station by the will of Gods abounded, and quite a few acted like they owned their position and could sell lower ones to the most willing to dish out favours. That would be brought down, if it was the only thing Sitar did in his eternal life. Using direct contact with AI-5, Sitar created a catalogue and a tree of corruption that spanned Thebes from top to bottom.
«When I think that guy is a low-level operative in that system! He barely controls ten cells. That organism will have the runs! Paschal!»
«Prepare for War. I declare Alpha-Omega One!»
«Shit! I am contacting the Emperor!»
«Tell Dad to call a Family Council. We have assumed everyone was worth saving. Today, we begin the cleanup. Open the Imperial Council War Rooms for occupation. I will have a complete tree of the corruption to present by the end of the day. Progress can be found in the growth of the tree under encrypted file Omega-one. Tell him to use Imperial Override. Make sure the maps of Thebes are up to date in the archives. I noticed some discrepancies while tracking those renegades. That rope bridge is probably not unique.»
«Okay. That in itself will take some time. Can you feed what you noticed?»
«It is done. I am currently releasing AI-1 to do a systematic deep-searching of the minds of every member of society, to make sure we miss nobody. I will recycle that search after each purge. Who knows? There might be some that would tick on the side of rebellion after a sweep. Better break the eggs before the omelette matures.»
«Is it not the chick?»
«A chick is an overripe omelette.»
«You have images...»
«Lord of the Hunt, the one mating with a box spring is crawling out of his resting place.»
«Finally. Keep an eye on him while he is in the room. I am not done searching the tree.»
«Searching the tree? But you have not even moved!»
«It is a figure of speech. I am linking all members of the revolt via an imaginary tree, until I find the root and can bring it down.»
After a few minutes, the Mamba commented further.
«He is searching in our den!»
«Make sure he does not grab you.»
«He takes his feet coverings.»
«The sandals. We might find it easier to breath shortly.»
«He is leaving. I have not found these Dust Bunnies yet. Are they small?»
«It depends on age, like anything. Ah, the resident has left. We can leave this place.»
«Has the prey left?»
«No, they are asleep. The owner has left for his shift. It is the time to strike.»
«How do we proceed?»
«I port directly in the living room and bite the Whale at the jugular. He will die instantly. After all Black Mamba venom is deadly. He will not wake up. The other, I will let live... for a while.»
After a few minutes, Sitar moved into the living room of the target, and slithered silently toward the Whale, who was laying down on the couch, while the other Priest was sleeping (snoring) in a lazy-boy. Climbing on the couch back, he slid along the top and dropped his head just near the neck. He then gently bit on the carotid, injecting the entire contents of the venom bags in the artery. He then retired to watch the effect. It took less than five minutes for the Whale to die. He then ported back out. The Snake bite was invisible, hidden in the folds of the neck, and making a cursory diagnostic difficult at best.
«Now we wait. I want to see where that guy goes. I suspect he will not stay around for the autopsy and he will kill his contact. It makes sense to cut off all links and he is rather intelligent. I wonder if he will interrogate the guy first. We do not need it but he does. That is what I would do.»
It was late afternoon when the resident of the flat returned from his day shift. His walking in woke up the Priest, who looked around bleary-eyed.
"What is up? I was expecting you later."
"It is later. I finished my shift half an hour ago, and took a pint at the mess before coming back. I was hoping you would have left before I made my way home, as we had discussed. Wake up that tub of fat, eat, and leave. You are expected. Here is the path to the contact. Memorise it, I will burn the parchment before you leave."
"Are you stupid? No. Another cell. My contact would kill me if I sent you. Your group's action brought the idea of an underground to the attention of the Emperor and we all know how effective they can get when they are pissed. They want to bury themselves, not show off, you idiot. The principle is to undermine the Imperial authority, not kick the Wasp nest, which your group did! Now, get that garbage off my furniture. He smells worse than a wet Wolf!"
«Greywolf would bite his family jewels off for that comment!» said Sitar.
«Nothing stops you from biting them to poison him. Slow, painful, long death!»
«You did that?»
«To a buck that tried to tramp me. Unfortunately, a Dragon flew overhead and shortened the trashing agony and my fun. I wish I could have told the damn Dragon my way of thinking.»
«Remind me to never get on your bad side.»
«Anyway, do you still need them? If not, we might as well deal with them while they are still grouped.»
«Actually, I have been thinking. No, we do not. I have the whole trash tree in storage by AI-1. And, come to think of it, they might raise alarms in the tree too early if it became known that the Whale is dead.»
«We better move, then. The owner of that flat is coming back. I can hear him play with his keypad.»
The Mamba quickly wrapped around the Snake form of Sitar, and they vanished into the nearby apartment just as the flat owner opened his door, collapsing, drunk, on the floor.
«What was that smell?»
«Bite of the Night, that is puke. He is drunk, and probably walked on all fours to reach his door. We are having more and more issues with alcohol within the Legions. I will put an end to it. The Imperial family drinks juice, water, and nothing else. We will not put up with impaired members of society.»
«Habits die hard.»
«Drunks will die harder! They will end on the granite slab. I have no objection to a glass of wine, for others, but there is a difference between a glass and a couple of bottles of spirits. They will be in spirit for drinking too much spirits!»
«Hey, look, that guy is trying to wake up the dead.»
«So he is! Shaking the cold corpse will not be of help! We might as well kill them quickly. No need for neighbours to be alerted by a hysterical scene. Deal with the one that went in the kitchen to prepare dinner, I will bite that one.»
Bite of the Night made his way to the kitchen and sneaked on the busy cook. A quick study showed the man was still wearing his uniform, which made the potential biting areas restricted to the neck. How to reach that without being seen? That was the question.
Meanwhile, Sitar made his way under the couch, whose frame was near breaking point from the Whale's dead mass. I hope I will not get trapped!, he thought.
"Come on, wake up, you useless piece of walking shit!" hollered the Prelate.
"Keep that up, and the patrol will hear you from the street!" answered a well-known voice from the kitchen.
"I have been shaking him and he does not respond!"
"That's the earthquake that has been rocking my apartment?"
"Earthquake? We are on the sixth floor!"
Bite of the Night made his way to the store room and crawled up from shelf to shelf. The task was easy, as most shelves were empty, except for empty beer bottles in a couple of them.
«I think I found how to get that one to bend over for a bite!»
«Good! I am almost in position to behead his baby maker Snake.» replied Sitar.
«Oh? What species is that? I never heard of the Baby maker. Is it venomous?»
«I am ready when you are!»
"That piece of lard is cold! I cannot even move his arm!" clamoured the Priest.
"Cold? Rigid? Test for a pulse!" replied the one in the kitchen as he moved toward the exit.
«Glass rain required!» said Sitar.
At the same moment, a dozen beer bottles came down, crashing on the ceramic floor and breaking into a myriad of shards. A couple even managed to survive the dive relatively intact.
"What the Hell!" said a voice from the kitchen. A few quick steps were heard, followed by the crunch of glass under the boots. Suddenly, another crash accompanied by a yell of pain was heard, along with the boom of someone falling on the floor.
"Gods be damned! That hurt! Oww! Oww! Oww!"
"What happened? Requested the Prelate as he spread his legs to stand up from bending over the Arch-Prelate's body. That was the movement Sitar had been waiting for. He struck quick and hard, taking both balls in an expanded mouth able to swallow a Rat whole, and clamped down, hard!
"Oww! Damn it! Oww!" hollered the Priest as he tried to pull the Snake off his sensitive bits.
"I stepped on a bottle of beer and it rolled under my foot, so I sat down, or more like fell down in the glass shards. I am trying to stand up using the shelves, but my hands are slippery from blood. What is the problem your end?"
"I... got... OWW... bit... ten..."
At that moment, the soft perineum skin tore and released Sitar's bite... And the two nuts that got torn off. The Prelate fainted from the pain and crashed on the floor. Sitar ported behind the couch, out of sight.
As the contact tried to make sense of the last bits of information before the crash, his neck rose just above the shelf where Bite of the Night waited, spiralled on itself and within easy striking range. As soon as its thermal sensors noticed the pulsating blood vein of the neck. It struck, and sank its teeth to the roots. The man fell back in shock, slipping on another empty bottle of beer. Bite of the Night used the inertia to let go an fly right out of the kitchen and land on the carpet of the living room.
«We are done. Do we wait for them to be dead?»
«Yes. I want to make sure no one makes it to this flat before they are cold.»
Five minutes later, the two targets lay still, not breathing.
«We are done. I just ported the walking brewery into his apartment and closed the door, locking it with Magic. Two problems removed. And that one might well die of overdose of alcohol. I would not complain. We leave.»
Sitar made a body change to look like the contact, and picked Bite of the Night, wrapping it in a side-bag.
"We leave as this piece of shit. The Guards will not find it abnormal, since he usually leaves for dinner around this time. Off we go."
«Are we done with the hunt?»
"Far from it, very far from it. However, these must be left as is so the alarm is not given to the rebels. Finally! The nosy neighbour is back in his apartment. This is what I hate about these things. You piss and everyone hears you ten flats around in all directions. And dare not flush or everyone in the block knows!"
«They will be found sooner or later.»
"True, but I added a poison and some food in their stomach. The pathologist will conclude food poisoning. And since the venom will have dissipated and the bite marks vanished from the bloating skin, he will have no indication of foul play. Now, out we go. No opening the door. It is cranky. In fact, I will fly-walk above the carpet so as to leave no footprint."
Sitar made quick work of bringing the two to the elevator bank. However, he decided to port on the roof of a descending elevator as it passed by on its way to the ground floor. Once it was empty of its passengers and the door closed, he ported inside and then triggered the sliding door, walked out on the landing, and finally on to the front of the building.
"Home we go. You are coming to the Imperial Suite, Bite of the Night. We got to give the Emperor our report."
"Why bother about all that?"
"Enquiries will be made, and I want the doorman to report he saw that piece of shit leave. By the time the smell becomes overpowering, we will be well on our way to cleaning up the revolt. There is a good chance they will find the wine barrel of a man first, thus delaying by a week or more the realisation that there are three more cadavers rotting away."
Silently, Sitar made his jump to his personal suite in the Imperial Complex.
"Home! Do you need your Rat now?"
«I still can hold a day.»
"Good. Imperial meetings can put a blood-thirsty Mosquito to sleep. Wrap around my neck. We will walk to the Imperial Council War Rooms. Given Paschal's customary efficiency, everything must be ready."
"Hey Sitar! How was the hunt?"
"Productive, Harp. Is everyone present?"
"Yes, except for Paschal, who went to pick up Zen, who was on an external mission. He should be back with the Royal Cobra shortly. Talking about Snakes, who is your friend?"
"Oh yes! Bite of the Night, Mamba, may I introduce Harp, Prince of Magic, my Brother?"
«It is an honour!»
«It is so for me as well. Rare are those that impress the God of War.»
«Come, Bite of the Night, it is time to introduce you to the leadership of this world. It will take time, and by then, my other Brother will be back with Zen. I have a big family.»
«The poor female must have had big clutches then!»
«Our females lay one egg at a time.»
«So do ours, but one after the other. Is there another way?»
Enron, who had been following the discussion from behind, began snickering uncontrollably.
"You explain, asshole, if it is so funny! By the way, Bite of the Night, that loony bin is King Enron, an Elf and the Imperial Ethologist."
"Oh no. You walked in that shit, wipe it off your feet."
Just then, Paschal popped, carrying Zen around the neck.
"Hey Sitar. If you can wait a few more minutes, the two pranksters will be here. I updated their genetics and refreshed their cells in the same process. The two Australopithecus were getting old and needed refurbishing."
"I just hope their refurbishing did not include bringing their minds back to their youth! They were terrible! I am not ready to forget their creaming my keyboard with Cow cream and claiming they had done the deed on it. I almost cut their balls off!"
"Hey! Ever heard of Bulls?" said Jerry, as he hopped in the room.
"GRR! I shall skin you alive!"
"Before they die, Bite of the Night, may I introduce Tom and Jerry, two irreverent Australopithecus Regressi pranksters, also known as the Royal Pains in the Arse," said Enron.
After nods of acknowledgement, introductions continued.
"And, to my left is Prince Paschal, the Royal Architect and designer of just about everything here, including Thebes itself. And, around his neck, looking impressive and yet friendly, is Zen, the King of Snakes, also a member of the King Cobra species, and an a full-fledged member of the Imperial Family. Zen, this is Bite of the Night Mamba, the one that helped our Brother Sitar in the Hunt for the rebels."
A few hisses were exchanged, and then the Emperor made his entrance.
"Finally, my Dad, the Emperor, and the Empress..."
After the last presentations, the Emperor slapped his hands together.
"Let us move to Imperial Conference Room One. I am waiting on the reports," ordered Harold.
Everyone quickly moved to their designed place, the two Snakes each occupying a hot rock.
"Sitar, you first!"
"I tracked the leadership of the revolutionaries. Further mind search revealed this was the tip of the iceberg. I ordered AI-1 to do a global mind search and cross-reference all branches of the rebellion. I disposed of the current cell leadership and of their comptroller. The comptroller has a meeting with one cell in a month. That leaves us some time to clean up things somewhat. I want those removed so they have no time to move and disappear in the masses."
"Sitar, I confirm your declaration of Alpha-Omega One. You are released to do what is necessary."
"AI-1 has been feeding me information. So far, there are 35 independent revolutionary structures within the population, ranging from civilian trouble-makers to seditious military units. I will clean up from top to bottom striking each one without mercy."
"AI-1, how goes the mind search?"
"At 20 % of all intelligent life-forms, and progressing, your Highness. I will be done in ten days."
"Do you have a trend?"
"A trend, your Highness?"
"Yes, who is more likely to be a part of a revolutionary group?"
"Ah. Yes. 80 % of the revolutionaries are Human, 15 % are Elves, and 5 % are others."
"We target Humans then Elves and finally the rest."
"Does everyone agree with AI-1?" After a silence, "No opposition?" Still silence. "Implement it, AI-1."
"May I add a comment?"
"There is something fishy here. No, AI-1," as the Artificial Intelligence sputtered, "I have no doubt as to your numbers or impartiality in this, but something is ticking behind my mind, and it unnerves me."
"I did not think less of you for this comment, Lord of the Elves," replied AI-1. "You are well-known for your intuitive thinking. Far from me to deprive us of that asset because I do not have it."
"Thank you. Please bear with me while I think this out aloud."
After global nodes around the table, Enron began speaking slowly, weighing in each sentence.
"We have these numbers as basic facts. I, personally, do not expect them to change much. However, what do they really tell us? That Humans are more susceptible to revolt?"
Nods followed this remark.
"Tell me, AI-1, are there other revolutionaries in bipeds?"
"Cross-referencing. Confirmed: a group of Australopithecus, a couple of groups in Orcs, three groups in... Hey! All groups originate from the Earth!"
"So, if I get the picture right, AI-1, all bipedal species originating from the Earth have at least one revolutionary group in activity?"
"Yes. But there is also one exception, one herd of Centaurs. But that is the only exception, so far."
"So, if my image of the situation is correct, one – all revolutionaries are from the Earth, two – almost all are bipedal; three – the only quadrupeds were genetically derived from Humans well after the current Human species evolved."
"Correct, your Highness."
"I am seeing something here, a sort of pattern. And I do not like the picture one bit."
"What is it, Enron?" asked Annabelle.
"The common factor between Humans, Australopithecus Regressi, Centaurs, Elves, Orcs, and what not is..." Taking a deep breath, Enron continued: "Genetic manipulations."
"But it was not the same that did these manipulations!" exclaimed Harp.
"No, but consider this: Humans got manipulated by the Soul-Eaters to act as renewable food supply. We, meaning our ancestors, came in, smart-ass Atlanteans that we are, mate with Humans, and got our own genetic pool contaminated by those manipulations. Then Elves pop in, get caught in the same net, and so do the Orcs; then some jerk derives the Centaurs from the contaminated pool, and Australopithecus Regressi drift from Humans. And we also find some other species, all got contaminated one way or another by these manipulations. AI-1 probably has not found any in Ogres, Dwarves, Goblins, Fairies and Trolls because his sampling of these species is limited as yet. What do we get?"
Silence followed that question as everyone pondered the implications. Enron resumed his exposé:
"We get a gene that is dominant across species to incite rebellion and revolts, thus feeding the Soul-Eaters their daily dose of emotions and misery!"
A long, very long, silence followed that conclusion. Finally Harp asked the question everyone wanted to ask:
"What do we do?"
"I plan to do a complete cross-map of all species originating from the Earth. Every member is to supply a sample. All species that might have been in contact with the Soul-Eaters, whatever the origin. We must consider the entire Earth genetic pool contaminated. That will require huge resources, a lot of work, and the design of a program to match each gene to each behaviour, cross-species, and referenced."
"And what will that give us?"
"A means to remove the gene or genes from the Earth genetic pool. We are in luck, somewhat."
"No interplanetary cross-breeding has occurred. It does not, in any way, remove the fact that other life-forms may have been contaminated by the Soul-Eaters. After all, they roamed the Galaxy before getting trapped on the Earth. I will expand to include those species, after we deal with the more pressing issues."
"Does it change my program, Dad?"
"No, Sitar. The only added request is systematic genetic sampling immediately after death. Additional genetic material may speed Enron's research."
"Anything else about this issue? No? Good. I am hungry. We reconvene to deal with the other issues after lunch. Dismissed."