The Other Way Around -8-

A sort of beginning and a sort of end.
ah, beginning?
Unpolished anyway.

And as they say "here there might be thygers"
0r misspellings :)

(Cleaned it up a little now.)
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The next time we talked, I swore to myself, it would be in our cabin with a big ‘No Smoking Allowed’ Sign in glaring red, hanging on the wall. Let us see him try to fool us then if he could. I found Puss in the cabin. His hue had gone back to normal but he was still groggy from the aftereffects. ‘We should have let him light that one when the armada were here instead.’ He growled. ‘We would have won hands down!’ I laughed and gave him an affectionate box on the shoulder. ‘You old pussycat you, I said. Can’t even take a little smoke!’ ‘You’re welcome to get back down if you like?’ Puss rumbled. I lifted my arms in mock surrender. ‘So there’s two of us who can’t take it then. Satisfied?’ Puss snorted. ‘Oh, I could take it boy’ he said contemptuously ‘but someone had to show you the way out!’ He snorted again. I started to laugh so hard that I had to sit down on my bunk. ‘all right, you old Lion you. You win, and thanks for showing me the way out. And so many times too.’ And here we both bent over in helpless laughter. If you never have seen a big mountain lion bent over in helpless laughter, well, then you've missed something.

And on that note we went to bed.

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A Study of Brimstone

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The morning after our escape we found ourselves in a different universe. It shouldn’t be possible but space had changed color. It now was much darker and touched with a few glowing red dots intermingled with the ordinary white ones. I didn’t know what to make of it so I asked one of the crew if this was a normal sight. He stared straight ahead avoiding eye contact, then he said. ‘Ask the Captain, mate’ and walked away. I went looking for him and found him on the bridge. ‘Captain, what is it with the sky? I’ve never seen such colors in space before’ Crator shook his head. ‘it’s unnatural, I know.’ he said. ‘There are strange forces in this quadrant of Chmeer. Even before the wars this region were a place most traders stayed away from.’ I stomped my legs as to get some warmth in them. 'I’m ready for our talk now Sir.’ I said. ‘So you would like to know who I am then, boy. Don’t you know already? A friend of Master Pillar, and yours too now. As for what I’m doing here, you already know, same as you boy! Smuggling!’ He threw his massive head backward as he let out a great bellowing laugh. I took a step backwards. Was he going mad? ‘Relax Laurel, I’m not mad. Not yet. I can tell you this. I’m getting paid not only for smuggling, also for keeping an eye on what’s happening here. But now it seems as the secret is out. Why else would the red armada hunt me?’

Maybe we weren’t to smart in following Master Crator I thought to myself, but I still didn’t know were to search for that lore that would help me to find Mouse. I studied Crator and decided to take my chances. ‘We’re searching for the cult of Beliam, I need to get their lore to accomplish my task, and we also need to find out why they were going to impersonate My Lady Emilia’. I gave him our story as concise as I could and I saw that he became very interested. ‘That must have been one of their war priests!’ he said when I described the voice and the parasitic vessel. When I told him of Mouse and her Universe he seemed to shudder and I heard him mumble ‘Is it already time?’ and after I had finished he seemed troubled. He stared at me hard and made his decision. ‘Boy how good are you with your magic?’ ‘I don’t truthfully know Sir,’ I answered. ‘I learn new things every day about myself.’ He moved restlessly ‘We need to find the renegade,’ he said, ‘can you do that for me boy?’ ‘I’m not sure Sir, let me think about it.’ He nodded decisively ‘Do that boy.’

I went down to wake Puss. He was snoring loudly as I came in so I took my pillow and threw it at him. Those mountain lions really have impressive reflexes, he had moved out of the way of it even before I had let it go, so as I saw it sail through the air he already was standing beside me, watching it too. ‘So you're tired of your pillow then, little brother?’ he said. ‘Good, I have use for it.’ That said he calmly went back to bed, to continue his sleep. I went over to him and shook him. ‘Puss, we need to talk. I’ve seen the Captain, and he want’s us to find the renegade. Come on Puss, I need some help.’ Puss opened one sleepy eye ‘Why? Can’t you smell him?’ Smell him? Oh yes, Puss had said that the book smelled didn’t he. If it were a devotee of Beliam here, perhaps he would smell to? ‘Puss?’ I said, ‘Have you noticed any strange smelling men in the crew?’ He opened the other eye to. ‘Ooh little brother, so many strange questions suddenly. They all smell.’ Did he mean what I thought? ‘Puss! Are you telling me that they all belong to Beliam!?’ What should I do? ‘Beliam?’

Now at last Puss was fully awake ‘Are they!?’ He growled. ‘I will tear them to pieces!’ and his tail started to swish in a very menacing manner. I looked at him dumbfounded. ‘It was you who said that they smelled! Like that book, remember!?’ Puss cooled down some ‘No, little brother. It was you who asked me if the crew smelled, and they do, as you too.' muttering 'The only one here who keeps himself clean is me!’ Puss disdainfully turned away as he daintily started to lick his left paw. Aw sh.. I thought, ‘But Puss, do you think you could do that? Smell a disciple of Beliam?' Puss thoughtfully scratched the floor with his claws. ‘They grow so fast without prey’ he growled to himself. ‘Maybe,’ he then answered. ‘It depends on who he is. To us Evil and corruption have a special smell, little brother, and we recognize it easily among our selves. But with you Humans it’s different. When you believe what evil you are doing to be good, then it be hard for us to smell the wrongs in you. Humans are very good at deceiving themselves.’

I thought about what he had said. He knew it to be so, and now I knew it to, but would the renegade know? Maybe we could fool him. ‘I talked it over with Puss and he agreed to try. ‘Just don’t get your hopes to high, Little brother.’ He growled. I made him promise not to say a word about what he had told me to anyone. I then went to the Captain and informed him that I had found a way. I told him about Puss and the book, furthermore I explained to him how easily the mountain lions could smell corruption among themselves. The captain looked pleased. ‘If you inform your men as to your suspicions and what we are going to do, and then call up your men at dusk we will find it out, I said, trying hard to sound self assured. For this to work we had to have every one believing in Puss abilities.

Next I found a silent spot and started a little mental wildfire of my own, I directed it to the crew, it was a sensation of insatiability, of nervous anticipation, and I let it build ever so slowly. At dusk the crew stood assembled at the fore-deck. Night time approaching some of the humidity from the day had settled on the deck, making it quite slippery. We left them standing there, waiting for a bit, and then I came up, alone. I looked at them before I started to speak, in my most solemn vice saying ‘soon we will know if there are traitors amongst us!’ Then came Puss, claws out leaving screeching paw-marks on the wet deck as he growling majestically, ah, strutted to his chosen spot, well, that's the best word I can find for it actually. I then instructed the crew to come forward, one at a time, to let Puss smell them. It was a surpassingly clean crew that we now found standing in line. As soon as they had heard the word from their Captain, all seemed to have found the time to wash, some of them for the first time in years I guess. As we didn’t want to let on that Puss was sentient, planning to use the added shock to our gain, we had agreed on letting the captain come forward first.

They were stupefied when Puss opened his gaping mouth filled with gleaming white teeth, to utter his first verdict. ‘Nayye, little brother, the man is clean.’ The crew was now in a state of almost religious fear. One after another they had to step forward to get their own verdict. Those who were ‘clean’ now watched their mates sharply. As the line grew smaller the tension raised, at last there were only four men left. The one who was going forward suddenly stopped. ‘Come and let him smell you.’ said I. ‘I can’t’ answered the man, ‘I’m terrified of Lions’. ‘You have no choice’ said the Captain and ordered him forward. The other three men had now started to whisper amongst each other. Suddenly one of them threw a strangely formed object at the Captain. Luckily I had came prepared for just that sort of occasion. That’s why we all stood together at the same spot. Around it I had created a simple repellent spell. It didn’t do anything much, just repelled whatever, magic or otherwise, forces that would come with the exact opposite one.

The object obediently turned back on the three men, then it went of in their midst with a ear deafening explosion. Shortly, we found ourselves with three corpses on the deck, and the man who had been scared frozen, still standing there, now with some wounds at his back. Puss raised himself and went over to sniff him. He then turned to us saying. ‘It’s true, this man has a deeply rooted fear for us felines. And he’s not clean.’ Now the man fell into a dead faint. ‘He needs to change trousers before he ever can call himself clean!’ growled Puss as he came back. Everybody started to laugh as they got the joke. That is, all except the Captain, who with a face seemingly carved in stone, stood staring at the dead crewmates. At last he gave a deep sigh and then called his men to clean up the fore-deck and get rid of the dead. He took Puss and me with him down to his cabin. This time he didn’t order any food. The man cooking was still in a dead fright of Puss and refused to come near him.

‘Cooks are sensitive beings.’ Crator said musingly. ‘In a way, the best of them deserves to be called artists. And your remark about his trousers didn’t go too well with him Puss.’ He looked down at the table, slowly driving his hands through his wild grown hair. ‘Those were three of my best men,’ he said silently. ‘Men I believed to be trustworthy and honest.’ He shook himself. ‘Waters under a bridge, heh? They were disciples I suppose. Can you see my trouble in trusting to anyone while in this kind of work, lads?’ He studied us silently for a while. ‘I hope the rot is gone now’ he continued silently. ‘And I want to thank you for helping me. I will do my best for you the time we’re together lads, I promise.’ Puss growled. ‘I had a premonition yesternight. It smells to me as time is running short. We need to find our prey soon.’ ‘Yes Captain’. I said ‘We need to find where the disciples of Beliam reside. It’s only there we can begin our work.’

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The Road

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The Captain rubbed his eyes wearily. ‘Look here lads, what you’re planning to do are dangerous, more so than you know. The war priests will not give their secrets up easily, and they have ways to turn even the staunchest men around. If you want to go to their Temple you will have to have a very good cloaking. They can see through your disguises easily if there’s the slightest suspicion. To travel as a trader in old books and antiques will only get them interested in you.’ He rubbed his hands energetically. ‘I think we will have to find you two a new profession.’ He studied Puss, and me, and one could almost hear those small wheels and cogs turning in his head. ‘How’s your swordplay boy?’ Then he shook his head.’ Dumb idea.’ He muttered to himself. ‘How about doing spice trading?’ I asked. ‘You would only loose your money, boy. No, something else? …Yes! Perfect disguises for you two!’

He smiled at us. ‘You boy, will be a beggar, or if you like, an artist. And you will be his main act Puss . Furthermore.’ he stopped momentarily to scratch a fleabite upon his wrist. ‘ Such folk’s are known to be flighty and unreliable, therefore to be avoided. and that me lads, that brings you further degrees of security methinks. Yes lads, a most proper profession.’ He smiled at us benevolently.’ Puss growled sarcastically ‘From a pet to a circus act. My mother would be proud.’ I laughed. ‘It’s a good idea Puss. Nobody will suspect you of being sentient here. And we can make some awesome foolery with the marks, sorry, folks I meant. Crator nodded. ‘You just need to get your act together lads. I will bring you into harbor of Gerak in three days time.

Gerak is a border Planet right next to the domain of Beliam, so you must take great care with what you do there. From there you will have to travel by other ships to the Temple. We have to dress you up properly and you will need the right kind of currency to, but I’ll take care of that. Just get your acts together.’ With that he left us to our planning. I knew that i would have to leave most of my books behind but I decided to keep the manuscript. There was something strange hidden in it. Puss and I decided that as long as he didn’t speak people would be astonished whatever we did, but we agreed to work in some silent signs in the act to. We could have used mind speaking, but that was too dangerous with war priests around. Crator stood true to his word, I got some strange garb to wear of a drab and cheap quality, and some local currency to. ‘This should be enough to take you to the Temple and back again,’ Crator said.’ I will try to make harbor at Gerak as often as I can. There is a tavern where you can leave a message if you need to get in touch with me.’

The next morning we made harbor at Gerak. This world was hot and dry, people were small and wiry and seemed bent under untold toils, but they still seemed to make good trading.. There was little laughter to be heard in the streets though. Crator blamed it on the wars. ‘To much fighting, and your sense of humor will wither.’ He sad at the tavern were we was. He introduced me to the owner, telling him that I was going to the temple to make my fortune. I saw the owner knock to his head looking at Crator, when he thought I was otherwise occupied. Crator smiled at him and shrugged. ‘He might change his planes later.’ He said amiable. ‘If so, could you give him a hand until I come back?’

The man took a draught from his tankard. ‘Well, I suppose I could have some use for the Lion.’ He said doubtfully. ‘As for the boy? I will feed him if it is that you want Pilot. But I will expect a return.’ The bargain made he left us to take care of business. Crator and I went out to shop for a map. ‘You need to know where you are boy.’ And other stuff we might need while sleeping outdoors. There were not many inns that would accept Puss inside Crator said. And they would not like to have him in a stable either, so we had to make other arrangements. We made him a simple kind of harness with our stuff evenly displayed on both sides, It had the quality of making him a little bit less intimidating to the people we meet, but I could hear him mutter

‘From a pet to a circus act. And now this! What am I, A donkey?’ Puss muttered sourly. The last thing Crator did was to show us were to buy our passage to the planet of Beliam and the Temple. ‘I don’t like to go near that place.’ He confided in us. ‘It gives me the creeps.’ Now it had became evening so we went to the inn to wait for the morning, Puss and I. I didn’t fancy trying to sleep outside, not when I could warm myself against the oven and have a beer or two. Puss on the other hand seemed to think the opposite. ‘This is no place for a self-respecting feline.’ he growled. ‘But it’s warmer.’ I answered, and that was the truth. It got surprisingly cold when the sun had gone down out there. The morning came and we went down to buy us tickets. There was a small queue and for the first time we saw a priest of Beliam. He was dressed in a red robe with a hood drawn over his head, He seemed arrogant as if we others were lesser beings, not worthy of his interest.

He did stare at Puss though, and when Puss deliberately yawned at him he took a step back. ‘Keep hold of your pet boy!’ he said to me. ‘Yes Sir’ i answered. He seemed suddenly curious. ‘Where are you going with that animal boy?’ ‘To the temple good sir. I have heard that there are many pilgrims coming there, and I hope to make some money, and see the temple off course. Good sir’ He sniffed disdainfully. ‘First of all boy. I’m not a Sir! I’m a ordained Priest of Beliam, and as such you address me as Your Highness, do you understand?’ ‘Yes, Your Highness, sorry Sir.’ He muttered ‘imbecile’ under his breath and then carried on ‘Secondly, what can you do? We will have no loitering around the Temple!’ Now seemed a good time to test our act. So I lifted of Puss harness and said. ‘I will show Your Highness what my clever Puss can do.’ We then continued to titillate the crowd that had gathered under our conversation with seemingly magic tricks, Like counting and playing dead and similar tricks. Out of the side of my eye I could see as the Priest bored puckered his nose at our antics.

But when he noticed that no magic or charms was involved he seemed to become slightly more impressed with us. 'Perhaps, perhaps you do have a future at our temple.’ He grudgingly conceded at last. ‘A good animal trainer will always make money.’ I answered somewhat pompously. He studied me for a moment, then seeming to make up his mind he remarked ‘You will have to buy a license though boy. And don’t forget that, the guards will check all entertainers for their license.’ Having said his piece he gave me a curt nod and left for the Ticket office. It had just opened and after he had booked his first class cabin for himself, me and Puss bought a pass for a deck passage. ‘And you better keep that animal leashed, boy.’ Was the priest’s parting words as he went aboard. The crowd had thrown us some money so I went to the stands situated at the docks to buy us some food and watered wine for the journey. The salesgirl told me to steer away from the priests, ‘They are having a ceremonial celebration for Beliam this week. You better keep away from it. I’ve heard,’ and here her voice sunk to a whisper, ‘that they perform blood rites.’ As she studied me with grave concern I tried to give her my most assured smile. Thanking her for her concern I left her to board the ship.

It was of an unusual design, bulbous and heavy, it seemed very slow and clumsy. The color of it was a dark red almost the same as the priests color, and with a double fore-deck on stilts leading to a an wheelhouse overhanging the stern. There were a kind of stable or cattle pen arranged on the lover foredeck but otherwise all cabins seemed to be below. From some posts canvas had been drawn slanting toward the high foredeck. That was obviously meant to give some roof for us traveling on deck. I was glad that I had bought thick blankets when night came. It was extremely cold, the water in the animals pails freeze out, so the stable boys had to hack out chunks of ice before getting to the water there under. But Puss and me, we bundled up together and kept warm that way. As we had some alcohol in our water it didn’t freeze, but we sure did when we tried to drink it. The days became hotter and hotter as we neared the south, even though the nights kept their cold.

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