Prompt #14 – "werewolf" (Adventure/Supernatural)
The man in ragged clothes ran as fast as he could along the wall's base, doing his utmost to keep his steps light. Already, he could hear noises from all directions of the courtyard - metal boots pounding down stairs, doors opening and quickly closing, shouts, beckons, orders. He ducked behind the idiotic ornamental shrubberies at the edges of the walkways, then held his breath as still as his body.
The troops stampeded past, hailing the castle as they approached. None looked around or slowed.
As they receded, Hitoshi cautiously stood up and continued creeping along the wall. The clouds shut out the light, but he considered himself pretty good at seeing in the dark. From this vantage point, he measured the opposite wall's length, again going over the message in his head.
"Your appeal will fail, and you will be convicted of treason. The master has need of your services. If you wish to escape a life sentence, you must follow these orders."
Of course, he had heard of Kubota; anyone with any eye on politics knew him. He didn't trust the man any further than he could throw him, but seeing as the message was delivered verbally by his cell's guard, Hitoshi figured the man stood a fair chance of springing him.
Granted, he hadn't expected the alarm to go out quite so soon. The guard's lockpicks and information on the rounds had worked fine, but obviously he wasn't getting any extra room to breathe. He'd had to sneak attack a guard with his chamber pot to clear that one hallway. But now, all that stood between him and his new job was a courtyard and a rope hung from a specific guard tower.
His target should be… there.
A quick glance around, a deep breath, then he broke cover and dashed across the lawn. Almost there…
He heard the clank before he saw the shape. A guard, one single scrawny frigging guard, lumbered out of a doorway. The man stumbled in his own armor but was closer to the rope than he was.
For a split second, their eyes met. Damn it all… If that guy so much as yells, "Help," I'm screwed!
The next instant, the guard narrowed his eyes and charged him.
It took one instant more for Hitoshi to get over his surprise. Then his hand flitted to a pocket and pulled out a knife, a souvenir from his castle escape. Even my Climb skill won't outrun his yell. So let's shut him up. He sprang forward, knife lashing out, but the guard tackled him with both arms, pushing the wrists up and away. Hitoshi countered by falling back and spinning, diverting the guard's momentum around him.
The man tumbled to the grass with a muffled clank but immediately pushed himself to his hands and knees, spinning to face his target before springing to his feet and charging again. Unfortunately, he'd lost his helmet in the process, so when Hitoshi repeated the maneuver, the impact shook him up much worse. Still, he got back to his feet, just in time for the blunt helmet to swing and smash him in the nose. He staggered back quite a few steps, clutching his skull and wincing horribly.
Hitoshi switched the bulky weapon to his off hand, readying his knife to finish the job. He smirked to see the man that hadn't even armed himself. Even the moon was out from the clouds, so he had a well-illuminated view of this idiot, reeling and utterly helpless.
Then the guard stiffened, gritted his teeth, and opened his eyes.
That glare stopped the rogue cold. What… what the hell is happening to his face?
The guard's shoulders and arms seized up and started twitching. His nose and mouth began jutting out from his skull, and he grunted with a strangled voice as his teeth lengthened and sharpened in his gaping mouth. His fingernails grew into points while his fingers shrank, and he staggered back and forth as he grew taller. His legs and arms lengthened, becoming leaner and sharper.
Hitoshi sweated and grew nauseous. Twelve Gods, what is he… knees are not supposed to bend that way!
The creature's tongue began lolling from his fanged mouth, and his hair went lighter, then spread across his face, hands, and arms. His armor began creaking, then suddenly, it burst at the joints, and his clothing ripped at every seam. With a snarl, the giant wolf dropped to all fours, only needing to raise its head slightly to glare into the eyes of its prey.
Teeth chattering, Hitoshi became aware of a couple of thumps, metal onto grass. Oh right… I had weapons in those hands. Crap.
The wolf howled, sprang once, and tackled the human, flying through the air and slamming him to the earth in a full-body pin.
The man felt the warm breath blast across his face, a barrage of growls and barks deafening him, his eyes crossing to see the yellowed dagger-like teeth inches from his face, and vaguely aware that some poor bastard was screaming at the top of his lungs.
The captain on duty dashed down the hall. "Prisoner escape! Gatekeepers, lock down! Squadron eight, you're with me!"
A set of soldiers readied their halberds, then fell into formation.
Directing them at a run to the nearest gate, the captain spied one extra soldier lumbering down the hallway, clanking in his armor. "Sentry, get to your post!"
The man looked up in a panic, mouth moving but not replying.
"You're just coming onto duty? You're late, but–" The distant yells became louder and more rapid, and the captain spat, "Damn it. Here's your new shift, rookie: follow me to reinforce the castle!"
The assembled troops charged through the now-unlocked gate without looking back. The guard wavered, then ran in loping strides after them. He tripped and fell almost immediately.
A FEW MINUTES EARLIER
The man slunk along the lengthening shadows of the courtyard, clutching a cloth around his naked waist. Clothing? I need some of that, right? Then I can return and look for him. He ducked into the first doorway he found.
Fortunately, most of the guards were manning windows that faced outside the walls, and only a few were wandering the corridors and joking around.
He did not stop to listen, although his nose twitched continually as he crept and darted through the hallways. Finally, he found a room. Weapons? Indeed, it was the armory, and someone had left behind a shirt and pants among the sets of armor. Rather than puzzle out their purposes and separate them, the man put on one of everything, then left the room.
Nose twitching again, the man traveled just far enough to realize he was lost when the alarm went out.
Argent bounded after the tiny white housecat scampering across the lawn. Inch by inch, he closed the gap until finally, he dipped down his nose and thumped the kitty in the back.
The cat fell to the ground, then got back up, meowing energetically, but Argent had already begun running elsewhere.
With the chase reversed, they zigged and zagged across the courtyard, leaping the bushes, weaving around trees, veering along the base of the castle itself—
The crash sent Argent stumbling head over tail. There was no telling from how high up it had fallen, and something dark and sticky was already spreading from his head…
Pushing his giant two-part cart on wheels, a man in a ripped and stained uniform entered a workshop full of beakers, cauldrons, and giant books of runes. He ignored all of them, wheeling the squeaky cart alongside the stone-topped benches. With his back popping, he fished out a bucket of assorted trash and dumped it into one half of the cart, then swapped it for the bucket of paper, which went to the other half.
Squeaka, squeaka, down the line, trash and paper, trash and paper, trash and—
Tarnation! This bin felt too heavy on one side, and he fished out a bottle full of a navy blue potion. Its stopper held tight, but the man scowled anyway. Good-for-nothing ingrates… Can't even empty out their own castoffs, and this is the last time I'm gonna let them put glass into this bin! I could've done sliced my hand open for all they care!
He stalked over to the highest surface he saw – at least, one he could reach. In this case, it was the windowsill. They think this all just does itself? See how they like it, they can dispose of this on their own, don't see me messing up their work, if I ever caught my kids pulling a stunt like that…
Grumbling to himself, the man coaxed his creaking cart back out of the room. Back at the open window, the wind began to pick up and whistle along and around the occupied sill.
The apprentice in sky-blue robes scurried into the laboratory. His eyes darted across the benches, then he started pulling open cabinets. Digging out a pair of gloves, goggles, tongs, a metal frame, a funnel, and a bottle with stopper, he carried it all in a heap to the burbling beaker sitting over a slow flame.
He strapped his goggles on tight, then pulled on his gloves. Taking his time, he inspected the bottle for cracks or spots. Finding none, he set it in the frame, bracing it upright and adding the funnel. Staring at the beaker, he counted the seconds between each bubble, then extinguished the small flame. Gingerly, he clamped the tongs around the beaker. Squeezing just firmly enough, he lifted the glassware, carried it to the bottle, and ever so smoothly tipped it to a gentle incline.
The blue liquid fogged up the bottle a bit as it poured, but every drop slid into the glass gullet. Seconds passed… then more… until finally, the beaker hung upside-down and empty.
He set the beaker down on the bench evenly, then tried not to jostle the frame as he unclamped the bottle. Picking up the stopper in slow gloved hands, he ran through the mental checklist. Temperature, color, viscosity… Half-consciously, he leaned over the neck of the bottle, inspecting it from above. The potion really was smoking—
His eyes screwed up, and he sneezed. He snorted his nose a bit, stopping himself from wiping on his sleeve, and then his eyes widened. The bottle of potion was now fizzing a bit and was glowing a slightly brighter shade of blue.
The call echoed through the doorway. "Hurry up, boy! It's just one Polymorph potion!"
Rapidly, he looked all around him, stopped up the bottle, then dashed over and crammed it into the depths of the fullest trash bin he could see. "It's not here, Master!"
"What?!" The bald, portly wizard waddled into the lab, then saw the empty beaker alongside the burner. (The apprentice tried to not stand too close to the cabinet that suddenly held the goggles, tongs, and all the rest.) "But it was just here, how could it… Onoda! I knew that lowlife got into my potion stores! I'll fix him!" He strode back out, the other one swallowing, lowering his head and scurrying after.
ACTUALLY A BIT LATER
Hinjo always enjoyed the view of the castle when he entered the inner courtyard, beholding its lofty yet solid towers and walls. Standing tall yet forthright and firm, as the lord of Azure City should be. Hopefully, he could fulfill that duty one day. For now…
"Mr. Scruffy welcomes you back, Hinjo!"
He sighed to see his elderly uncle clutching his white cat. "Good evening, uncle. Are you prepared for the inspection?"
"Eh, what? Inspection? Mr. Scruffy thought you were coming to play with him!" The cat sat up a bit straighter, trying to not show interest.
"Uncle, we do this every month. Please, just this once, can you—"
"Oh, now you've made Mr. Scruffy sad." Lord Shojo held his cat up to his face. "Are you sad, Mr. Scruffy? Are you sad that Hinjo doesn't have time to play with you tonight?"
With a sigh, Hinjo replied, "Uncle… Here, I cannot spare the time personally, but perhaps I can make amends for having to cut off our last meeting so quickly." He called, "Argent, I choose you!"
The dire wolf appeared from thin air. At the sight, Mr. Scruffy sprang down, meowing eagerly, and Argent grinned and moved to lick the cat, who dodged and scampered around the wolf's heels.
"I have my doubts about leaving them alone together, but we must meet the warden in five minutes."
"Oh, don't you worry so much, Hinjo," said Lord Shojo, steering his nephew inside. "It won't do any harm at all."
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Still pinned to the earth, Hitoshi half thought he could count the massive wolf's nose hairs. His throat had gone silent from hoarseness, and through the beast's low growls, he could hear the tramping of hurried metal boots and calls of men.
He was glad of it. Already, his temples were wet with tears, his face was sticky with warm saliva, and (he just realized) his upper legs were warm and wet with something else.