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"Fsst! Out, wench!" the innkeeper shouted. With a shove, he sent the tan, seal-pointed she-cat sprawling in the mud of the filthy, rain-soaked alley.
"Mrrroooowwwwrrrr..." the she-cat replied groggily, her stained garments now smeared with mud. She blinked for several seconds through the light drizzle that fell from the overcast skies, staring at the innkeeper with bleary, sapphire eyes. "Mew... Do not cast me out, innkeeper... I have no money, but... Perhaps I can pay, in other coin..." the she-cat whimpered, clumsily pawing at her dress to bare a scarred leg in a pathetic attempt at seduction.
The innkeeper, a smoke-gray tom, snorted in disgust. Once, perhaps, she might have been beautiful - but no more. The creature that lay sprawled in the mud before him was a pathetic wreck. Her lavender robe may once have been fine and expensive, but was now little more than rags. She was utterly filthy, and stank. She had the vacant, vapid gaze of a catnip addict, and above the stench of her filthy fur, he could easily smell the cloying scent of catnip smoke. More, nearly every inch of her fur that the rags of her dress concealed was speckled with small burn scars, making her filthy pelt even more repulsive. Where she had come from, no-one knew - though her accent marked her as being from the west. When she had first come to his inn three months ago, she had quickly established herself as a cheap whore, and at least managed to pay her rent that way. Now, her addiction had taken it's toll, and only the lowest, most desperate of toms bothered to come up with the small pittance it took to hire her 'services.' The innkeeper hawked and spat. "Fsst! I'd sooner couple with a pig!" he replied, and stepped back inside the inn, slamming the door.
The she-cat hung her head for a moment, and simply lay there in the mud. It was a moment for tears, perhaps - but she was long past tears. No, all her tears had been wept months ago, in the throne room of the Shazad. She had none left. Yes, the sad, pathetic creature that lay in the filth and mud, the slow drizzle from the skies above the city of Raldad soaking her to her scarred skin, the creature who had once been known as L'Valin T'Masa, found that her soul was hollow and empty. She had no tears left.
L'Valin's eyes widened, and she clapped her paw to her side reflexively. "Mrowrrrr... Gone!" Frantically, she searched about in the mud. After a moment, she found it. With a sigh of relief, she lifted her catnip-bag from the mud by it's slender thongs. Heedless of the mud dripping from it, she held it to her muzzle, her nose tucked into the opening, and sniffed gently. Slowly, she began to smile again.
The finely shredded weed could be sniffed, eaten, or (as many users preferred), smoked. To the other races of Oerth, it was nothing - merely a weed. Yet, to a cat, it was a powerful drug. It's weakest form, the form preferred by 'responsible' users who did not wish to become addicted, was when smoked. It's most powerful form was to simply to sniff the shredded weed, letting the tiny flakes line the mucous membranes of the nose.
L'Valin lowered the muddy bag, blinking against the drizzle as she clutched it tight to her chest. She sneezed, the tiny flakes of catnip tickling her nose, then again, and again. Slowly, her smile broadened as the drug filled her soul, blocking out the pain, blocking out the memories...
Heedless of the mud that dripped from it, L'Valin tied the thongs behind her neck and slipped the filthy little bag beneath her dress, between her breasts.
L'Valin slowly pushed herself to her feet, then staggered to the nearby wall of the alley, and leaned against it for a moment. She had sold her pipe and tinderbox the other month, as she had slowly sold everything she owned. She no longer needed it, anyway - catnip lasted longer when sniffed, and it's effects were stronger. And it was the strongest effects that she craved - the blotting out of memories, and the gentle way it filled her empty soul. As the drug's effects took hold, she felt her thoughts sharpen. "Mrr... So, you would toss me out into the street, would you?" she muttered at the closed door. "Fsst! Well, good riddance, then! I was once someone great... You should be honored I even walked past your dingy little place!" she hissed, and spat. Yet, there was no real emotion behind her words. Inside, she felt hollow and empty. Her words were merely words.
L'Valin pushed herself away from the wall, the mud of the alley squishing between the clawed toes of her bare feet. She flicked her muddy tail out, and tried to walk off with her head held high. After a few weaving steps, she found she couldn't, and looked down to the ground to make sure she wouldn't trip.
L'Valin staggered out of the alley, nearly bumping into a snarling constable. She recoiled in fear, her eyes widening as she stepped back and leaned against a nearby wall. Had she done something wrong? If she was arrested, they would surely take away her catnip - the drug was not permitted to prisoners, though it was not illegal. It was with some relief that L'Valin finally realized the constable wasn't snarling at her.
"Mrowrrr! But, constable! I need this horse! My djuducu-bird took ill and died! I need to earn the money to buy another! Besides - he's a runaway slave, what does it matter?!" the cab-driver protested.
L'Valin looked, blinking her eyes into focus. Before her, a local cab driver stood, arguing with the constable. His cab, a two-wheeled cart with a shade to protect against sun and rain, stood nearby. Harnessed to it was a black stallion, shivering slightly in the rain.
He was, in a word, huge. Over eight feet tall and weighing nearly six hundred pounds, the harmless giant towered over the cabbie and the constable like a quiet, black mountain. Massive muscles ripped across the stallion's enormous frame as he shivered in the rain, his black mane plastered to his forehead and neck. He was dressed only in the simple garment of his people, wrapped about his waist and between the twin tree-trunks that were his legs, the ends dangling in front in a manner similar to a loincloth. His tail, pulled through a small hole in the back of his garment, hung low and sopping wet, dripping rainwater from the slow but steady drizzle. A hard, wooden yoke attached him to the cab, and he wore the yoke about his neck and shoulders with the resigned air of one who had been yoked before - perhaps all his life. In his left ear, a silver ring with a small tag proclaimed his original owners - one of the larger clans in the southwest, though L'Valin couldn't remember the name at the moment. All she could recall though her mental haze was that their main source of revenue came from logging. He held the poles of the cart up with his fore-hooves curled beneath them, and his heavily-muscled arms did so with an ease that showed L'Valin he probably was once a logging-horse, his vast strength and bulk built through years of being harnessed to harvest lumber.
"Fsst! For the last time, cabbie! Lord R'Narr rules these lands, and he his edict is that all escaped horse-slaves from the west be sheltered, then sent on to the lands of the mus! Now, un-hitch him and let him go, or I'll arrest you for breaking the edict," the constable snarled, crossing his arms beneath the maroon oilskin cloak that both marked his office as a city constable and protected him from the chill drizzle.
For a moment, L'Valin felt fear. 'The secret!' she thought, trembling. 'They can read minds, but none know save we Mentalts! I must protect my secrets!' L'Valin struggled to fill her mind with rage and anger, attempting to block the stallion's abilities, but found she couldn't. Her soul was empty, her mind hazed. She simply stared numbly at the horse while the constable snarled at the cabbie. She was, in truth, no longer a Mentalt - her will had been shattered and destroyed six months before, in the Shazad's throne room, at the paw of the Royal Torturer. L'Valin had nothing left, anymore. She was, in the end, a mere shadow of the person she once had been - less, really.
Slowly, the stallion turned it's head, and gazed back at her. Their eyes met.
L'Valin had never seen such sadness in her life as she saw in the stallion's gaze. His dark eyes seemed to contain all the sorrows and pains of the universe - even hers.
L'Valin, for the first time in months, felt real emotion. She was deeply moved by his gaze, and for a moment, was lost in his eyes. The chill rain fell, yet L'Valin could hardly feel it anymore, so powerfully was she moved by the sight of his eyes.
'It's the catnip...' L'Valin thought, struggling to tear her gaze from his. 'That's all it is... It's the catnip... Nothing more...' Perhaps it was, yet L'Valin still could not tear her gaze from his.
"Mrowrrr... Alright, Constable. I'll do as you say." the cabbie replied, bowing his head and turning to loosen the straps of the harness. "Mrow... But who will shelter it?" he asked, and at the constable's gaze, he blanched. "Fsst! Not me! I've already fed it for three days, that's enough for me! If I'm ever going to get another bird, I'll need to save every penny - and he eats an enormous amount!"
"Mrr... I will..."
The constable stopped in mid-snarl, and turned to look. The words had come from L'Valin's muzzle almost without her consciously knowing. The constable looked her over. "Fsst! You?! How could street-trash like you shelter this thing?"
L'Valin continued to gaze into the stallion's eyes. "Mrr... I shall, somehow, constable..."
"Mrowl... Well, he also needs to head east. His kind aren't permitted in these lands - the edict says we shelter them, and keep them moving. Can you do that?"
"Mrr... I will take him there myself..."
"Mrow? You?" the constable replied, and chuckled. "Mrr... It's hundreds of leagues! How is a little bit of street-trash like you going to make it?"
"Mrr... I will, somehow..." L'Valin replied, here gaze still lost in the stallion's eyes.
The cabbie waved a paw, and the stallion bent down, breaking eye contact with L'Valin. The cabbie reached up, and slipped off the yoke. He was free again. L'Valin blinked, and paused a moment. 'Did I really say that? I will help him? How?' she wondered.
The constable looked the black stallion over, and shook his tawny head. "Mrr... As for you... You're the second horse-slave I've seen make it this far. The word's gotten out about Lord R'Narr's decree, I take it."
The stallion nodded quietly. Like all his people, he was mute.
L'Valin leaned against the wall behind her and looked down at her muddy foot-paws. In a sudden rush of thought, she realized what she had just agreed to. She had nothing - no money, no place to stay, nothing. And she had agreed to help this stallion, to care for him, shelter him, and see him on his way to the lands of the mus. 'I... I can't! It's too far... What was I thinking? It must have been the catnip...'
"Mrr... Well, perhaps if Lord R'Narr succeeds in this campaign and manages to seize the throne, even more of you shall be freed. For now, keep moving east. We don't want you here."
The stallion nodded again, and L'Valin lifted her eyes to look at him. He was huge - intimidatingly so. Yet, she knew he was harmless. The horse-slaves simply couldn't injure anyone. Then, as she gazed at him, the same feeling overcame her again. He wasn't looking at her, but instead was stretching, massaging his forearms with his fore-hooves, and tipping his head to work the kinks out of his neck brought on by the yoke. As she watched the massive muscles beneath his ebon pelt ripple, a thought crystallized in L'Valin's mind. 'He needs me... Someone needs me...' The black stallion turned his head, and gazed at her again. As she looked into his eyes, L'Valin again felt that his dark eyes seemed to contain all the sorrows and pains of the universe - even hers. 'And somehow... Somehow, I think I need him, as well...' she thought.
The stallion took a step towards
her, and held out a fore-hoof. L'Valin took it in her trembling
paws, and the stallion drew her close. L'Valin gripped his thick
forearm, and used it to support her unsteady steps as they walked
away. Whether he was leading her, or she was leading him, L'Valin
could not say.
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