“He’s... stocky, short... hmm,” The vulpine scratched his head, “I think.”
“Fat?” The cat asked.
“Fat.” Misha agreed. “From what I’ve heard.”
Stealth nodded, “A fat merchant, who would have thought.”
The cheetah had been going about his tasks when his name had been called out from afar. Even in the din of the town’s noon day traffic Stealth could make out the voice and its location, he was being summoned to the Jolly Collie.
He couldn’t be bothered replacing his clothes but nether did he remain an animal. The feline entered the compound of the inn in the form of a taur. He was both relived and disappointed to see his friend, the fox scout had done the same anyway.
The two taurs sat at a chair-less table in the Collie’s commons, pondering a usable description of their quarry. Misha knew the merchant was in the valley and had something he might fancy but hadn’t had time to follow him up, until now. And due to the curse he’d already began his departure.
“I’ll track him by scent.” The cheetah boldly claimed.
“Ah... do you know what he smells like? I don’t think his letter has enough scent, its back in Long House anyway.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything specific,” Stealth countered, “I just need clues to narrow the search in a crowd.”
He could suddenly see the metal fox sitting in the corner of the room. Madog opened his muzzle briefly and then closed it again. Stealth’s ears folded and he glared at the automation.
“He smelt like... lemons and wheat... oh! And the tang of copper.” The fox recalled.
‘Food and coins...’ The cat mused, “Don’t worry, I’ll find him. He can’t have gone further then Lorland, I’ll ask around, look at the wagons or something, I know his name.”
“Hmmm.” Misha’s ear folded, “If you find him,” The vulpine handed over several gold coins, “Give him these for the package ONLY if he presents and offers to sell it.”
Stealth rolled his eyes as he placed the valuables in his backpack, “I’m not stupid... just worry if I get ambushed...” He seethed, “Again.”
Padding down the main road south, a gleam in the corner of the feline’s eye turned his attention to the tree line. Fearing an ambush, Stealth prepared to bolt when a strange shape emerged from the brush. A metal fox looked back at the cheetah.
Stealth narrowed his gaze at the automation, “Why are you here?”
“To help.” He answered bluntly.
The feline tilted his head, “I don’t need help.” He took off at a sprint, leaving Madog far behind.
After a dead run, Stealth suddenly slid to a halt. There in front of him sat the automation.
The cheetah bolted again, past Madog. He ran for a good minute before stopping to rest and pant for breath. Looking up from his fatigue the feline could see none other then...
“Help me with what?!” The cat demanded.
The mechanical fox tilted his head and then licked the cheetah’s nose. “Me help!”
He found the merchant on a tip off. His small carriage had already departed south from Lorland. Stealth had been eager enough to jump in front of the slow moving cart or jump in the back, anything to get it to stop so he could get that phantom package. Given that he was too tired, he settled for padding along side and hailing the driver, who was mode then a little spooked to see a talking animal. To the feline’s angst, the package cost him all the gold Misha assigned; he wondered if the price was preset or of he’d been obliged to barter, either way he procured the small item, what ever it was, and headed back north.
Along the way, Madog paid several more visits. The cheetah became so flustered that he lost time and arrived late. Why did that metal fox have to keep spawning? He didn’t even have time to shift, just sat on his haunches in animal form, in the foyer of the Jolly Collie.
“Misha left some time ago.” The inn keeper said.
Stealth snarled to himself yet managed to mumble his thanks before departing. Outside he found the main and only gate into the large inn to be obstructed by something. A carriage broke down in the street, it slanted dangerously on it’s side and a large cargo of barrels spilled everywhere.
“Wonderful.” The feline sneered. “They’ll be cleaning that up for hours!!!”
Stealth turned back the way he came, to the antechamber of the Jolly Collie. Once there he began climbing the steps up to the next floor up and then the one after and the one after that until he finally made it up to the roof of the fortress-like inn. He’d intended to only find a window to leap from but remembered that the only windows faced inward, to the enclosed compound. Nevertheless he could still jump... to the next building. The streets and alleyways of Euper were very narrow, leaping to a roof next door should be easy, aye, what a good idea...
The cheetah spotted what looked like some sort of residence dating back a ways but long since falling into disrepair. It had a balcony a few feet lower then the Collie’s roof and only a few feet spaning between them. Stealth stepped back a few steps and then made a running jump. He cleared the gap with no effort as predicted. However, in his flight his forepaws nicked a slab in the far side of the balcony. He fell forward, down a flight of stairs.
At the bottom the cat landed upside down on his back, his hind paws poking his muzzle. He ached all over... and he still had several more flights of stairs to descend to the bottom. In front of him he peered into the muzzle of a metal animal.
“Hi spots! Why you jump off roof. That dangerous.”
The magic of his amulet was wearing off so the cheetah barked unintelligibly at the metal fox.
“You silly cat! You no jump off roof.”
Madog was answered with another bout of rare feline barking.
‘rawwwww... rrr..rrrr’ Stealth yawned and scratched an itch. Before retracting his hand, the feline licked it and rubbed his hand back across his face, he then cursed; accidentally grooming himself now and then never sat right, no matter how many times it happened... at least this time it wasn’t in public. Lying in bed, his eyes still closed, Stealth comforted himself in the thought of his privacy. When he finally opened his eyes it took a good few moments to register what he could see in front of him.
“Ma... d... og...” He mumbled.
The automation tail wagged.
Stealth yawned and looked about the room, the door was still locked. His eyes drifted from the door to some leather bands streamed on the ground. They were the harnesses for the back pack in full form but they looked incomplete somehow, the metal components were missing!
“What happened to my bracers?” He asked and looked at the metal fox.
Madog licked his lips.
The feline glared.
“Spots take too long to wake up!”
The feline glared for a moment longer until he sighed and fell back in bed.
“Spots tired?” Madog asked, “You feel sick?” he asked concerned.
“No I don’t feel sick.” Stealth mumbled through one hand clasping his face, “What happens to all that metal you eat anyway? It's not like you ever go to the toilet.”
“Me digest it. You eat food for power to live. I eat metal to live.”
Stealth pinched his nose bridge and sat up, “Madog, why are you here?”
The cat rubbed his eyes, “whu?”
“You sad.” The metal fox repeated.
‘nom nom...’ suddenly echoed through Stealth’s ears. Okay, he’d been bitter at the automation, is that why Madog was appearing everywhere? What was he trying to achive?!
“You sad, me cheer you up! Let’s play!”
To the cheetah’s confusion and alarm the automation dropped a solid looking object on the bed, between Stealth’s legs. Due to the object’s weight it sank a ways down into the sheets and the mattress. Stealth mumbled and fished for it, batting his tail out of the way to search until he lifted up a metal orb.
Stealth held up the orb, “You want to... play?”
Madog nodded eagerly, “Play! Play!”
Outside the apartment Stealth nosed the door closed. He didn’t wear his amulet; he’d never restored its limited manna since yesterday. Madog yipped once, his eyes wide and tail wagging eagerly. With a mental smile, the cheetah raised his forepaw and batted the metal ball down the hall. The metal fox was already hot on its tail.
Stealth sighed to himself before running to catch up, ‘To be a cub again.’