Roscoe had his pre-oral cavity filled with food when the whiny tiger morph started calling out for him, so he couldn't answer the summons right away. Not that he was obligated to, he was the jailer here, after all. He was in charge. It was a bit ironic, however. In a way, Roscoe was no less a prisoner here than the two tigers currently residing in the dungeons of Metamor Keep.
At least the two tigers had a day to look forward to when their sentences would be lifted. Roscoe was a cave scorpion morph, sensitive to light and painful to look at. His humanity did not lend itself prettily to his cursed form, and the odor of sulfur and rotted flesh that was his own natural perfume did nothing to endear him to other Keepers. He'd heard others joke laughing that his body odor had cause a greater reduction in the crime rate any single thing Captain Eindah had ever done.
Despite the Keep's low criminal activity, criminals made up the large part of people he spoke with. Sometimes Prince Phil or Charles Mathias came to spend a few minutes with him, but the conversation would begin to feel strained after a bit. Most of Roscoe's old friends from before the change had either become women become children.
Of his friends who become female, he noticed that they had easily fallen into two groups within a short period of time. Cleanly half of them threw themselves into their jobs with a fervor, clinging to what remained of their former lives to the exclusion of all else. The other half started lives anew, as if the curse was a second chance for them, and they seemed to wander away over the years... some in service to the Keep... some in shame... some with great hopes and dreams of a life beyond the Keep walls.
Of the friends who had become children, they too, had wandered away. His best friend and life-long confidante, Pike Shoemaker, had only visited him once in his seven years stuck in the dungeon. He'd been reverted to an age of ten by the curse and seemed to sometimes confuse the present with the past when he was ten. The conversation was difficult at first, but Pike opened up and it was if the years had melted and they were both children again. They talked for hours, playing guessing games, and then suddenly Pike became confused when he recalled that one of his new friends was actually his 10 year old son and he began crying... lost and confused.
Not knowing what else to do, Roscoe had leaned forward to put his hand on the boy's shoulder... forgetting that he had no hands to speak of. And Pike screamed in horror and he kept screaming. He'd rather have had a knife stuck in his heart, then to be forced to watch Pike's last threads to reality snap. Pike blocked the door as he screamed, threw himself into it repeatedly, as Roscoe could only watch horrified. No one came to help.
It was a dungeon, after all. Screams were expected.
He had no idea where Pike was now. Roscoe was glad to hear that his son had joined the Watch, following in his father's footsteps as it were. He didn't want to know which curse had claimed the boy, preferring to remember Carnegie as he had last seen him. Tanned as dark as shoe leather, with hair as dark as the night, always eager to hear a story from his "Unca Rescue," always ready to top that story with one of his own... he had loved that boy like his own... the kind of child that Anna had promised to give him.
Roscoe slammed his claws over his prosoma, unable to close eyes he did not have, unwilling to see the image of Anna before him yet unable to avoid it. Bits of crushed food fell from his mouth. It been a year or more since he'd thought about her, but the image came back to him. Her beauty and grace still moved him, even deformed and unmanned as he was. His antenna fell to the floor limp and lifeless and he felt his exoskeleton become tighter.
He must be getting ready to molt again, just like any other scorpion... nothing like a man. His ichor made him moody when the molting began. He needed to calm down and take control. Over the years, he had gotten calm down to a science. "Roscoe!"
That was Henrik again. Roscoe was annoyed and yet grateful for the distraction at the same time. His chelicera began pushing his food out of his pre-oral cavity rather than towards his "mouth." It wouldn't taste any worse if he came back for it later. When the cavity was empty, he morphed into his slightly more human form.
This form allowed Roscoe to talk but not to eat. As a scorpion morph, he didn't have enough saliva to spit. He could, he assumed, probably choke something down like this if he had too, but he'd actually taste it and, with his diet, that was a luxury he could not afford. He couldn't even drink a thimble of whiskey without risking becoming drunk within seconds. Ah... the wonders of biology.
Roscoe pushed out of his room and walked up to the Henrik's cell, his eight legs scuttling along like a drumroll before an execution, which, of course, matched his mood exactly. "What is it, Potter?"
The cell wasn't well lit, but then it didn't need to be for Roscoe. He "saw" with his antennae that a week alone had left the white tiger a shadow of his former self. He was losing weight and beginning to pick at his fur. The tiger also "tasted" wrong. It was obvious he was sick, but it was nothing Coe had been able to help him with. Roscoe had seen it a thousand times before; it was simple depression. It was nothing more than a complete and total refusal to accept their faith, they raged against their keepers but sooner or later, they simply gave up and let themselves go, denying reality until they faded away.
Of course, Roscoe had never seen anyone fade this fast before. Still, he had little sympathy for Potter. The man had driven away everyone he loved, and the one he hadn't driven away - Wicker - he dragged down with him.
The tiger seemed confused by the shape at his cell door, trying to make out a face that wasn't there. "Has my wife come to see me, yet?"
The loneliness in the tiger morph's voice was enough to soften Roscoe's shell just a little. If the tiger was lonely, he might want to talk. Roscoe was willing to listen to anything short of verbal abuse, anything at all just to hear the sound of another voice, to make him feel like he wasn't living a hundred miles away from the nearest soul.
"No," the scorpion morph said, "Josie hasn't been by, yet, Henrik."
The tiger nodded in the dark. When Henrik started getting in trouble, Josie always came by sooner or later, and Roscoe was beginning to think she wasn't ever coming to visit her husband. The tiger started drifting away from the door, his head shaking slowly at his own dark thoughts. Roscoe decided that Henrik needed to talk.
"She always used to visit when you were here." The scorpion said softly. "What happened?"
"She hates me," was all the tiger-morph would say despite the jailor's gentle prodding.
"My mother had an affair and he confronted her about it. She left. End of story." Roscoe's antennae jumped at the sudden voice and his stinger suddenly became alert, pulsing dangerously. This was the closest Roscoe could now come to actually flinching. He spun around to face the young tiger in the cell behind him, not that he had much of a face to work with.
Roscoe's antennae focused on Wicker. For a moment, it almost seemed that the boy was on the wrong side of the cell door and Roscoe was more than ready to see if his stinger was a match for the tiger's strength. Roscoe's pectines flew open, tasting the air, getting a better idea where the door ended and Wicker began. The image map in his mind came into sharp focus and Wicker was then clearly where he belonged. The youth was large and still, seeming to blend in with the door. Had Roscoe still had anything resembling skin, he would have gotten goose bumps from the experience. "I wasn't talking to you." Roscoe said in an effort to retain some control over the situation.
Wicker seemed to smile at him. "I thought you wanted to know why my mother hasn't been by." Unlike his father, Wicker did not seem uncomfortable with his extended stay in the prison cells. In fact, he seemed pleasantly amused by the whole experience. In the Watch holding cells, he'd been told Wicker was uncontrollable, even going so far as to steal food from his own father. It was a completely different Wicker Potter than the one that Roscoe was responsible for. "My dad had always known she had strayed once, that one of us wasn't his, but he never knew. Never cared, I think. My mother was so pretty before she became a monster like us. He could have forgiven her anything, I suppose. It's funny how beauty can make people stupid, isn't it?"
Conflicting emotions danced in Roscoe's head. This was more than Wicker had said at anyone time since he'd been remanded here, but he had the distinct sense that each word had been designed, researched, and crafted for some hidden purpose. The tiger's words were bait, the jailer knew, but there seemed more to it than the typical "let's be friends with the guard and maybe we can get something out of it." Roscoe studied the youth more closely, but he was just waiting...
"Your mother was always beautiful, Wicker. The curse didn't change that."
"She was a monster, like us, Roscoe. What kind of beauty could she have?"
All this talk about beauties and their being monsters was starting to upset Roscoe, but he needed to talk to someone and if Wicker was willing, he couldn't bring himself to walk away. "There are all kinds of beauty, Wicker. Your mother possessed beauty in spades."
Wicker seemed to smile in the darkness. "Yes, there are all sorts of beauty, Roscoe. Both of us are even beautiful in our own ways, but my father... my father is too human... too limited to see how beautiful my mother had become."
Roscoe was aware that every sentence that came out of Wicker's mouth had either his name or the word US in it. It was sad to be so lonely that one was willing to listen to even the honeyed words of a viper as it nipped at your heels. "Your father's just drinks too much sometimes."
Now, Roscoe was sure Wicker smiled at him. "My father is a very bad man, Roscoe. You shouldn't feel sorry for him."
Roscoe wondered if Wicker knew he could make out his smile. Colours were a half forgotten abstraction to him now, sight had become pain, and vibrations and chemical scents had become his way of seeing the world. "I don't feel sorry for him," but that was a lie. The second he had heard the loneliness in the tiger's voice, he had felt a little sad for the tiger. Loneliness was something he was all too familiar with. "But he is just a man, Wicker."
Wicker nodded in agreement. "Exactly, which is why he's got to die."
That stopped Roscoe cold, his antennae suddenly frozen upright. "What did you say?"
"I said my father has to die." Wicker leaned into the door further, seeming to merge with it. As if on command, his musk suddenly became stronger, and to Roscoe it was almost as if Wicker's head was coming through the door as if it was so much mist. "He has to die so I can show you something."
"What?!" Roscoe's tail sprung forward and slammed into the door. The false image of Wicker vanished in the breeze of the stinger's act, even as pain jolted down his telson, its sharp edge gouging a bit of the door. Behind the door, the jailer could sense Wicker stepping back with a raised eyebrow, yet there was only the mildest of surprises in his scent. Mild surprise and amusement. Roscoe was anything but amused. "What the hell did you do?!"
"I want to help you find your humanity, Roscoe," the young tiger said with complete and total sincerity. "I want you to find your humanity again, so you can give it up."
Roscoe scuttled backwards down the corridor. Had he only two legs he would have fallen on his ass any number of times. As it was, he scraped the exoskeleton on his tail pretty badly. When the awful tiger's scent faded, he called out. "I still have my humanity!" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded like a little child's. Calling out that he wasn't afraid, not now that he was no longer too close to the bully who wanted to beat him up. Then in a lower voice, the scorpion sighed and said, "I know I still have my humanity, because I can still feel pain."
"You aren't feeling nearly enough pain, yet, Roscoe." The voice was calm and almost seemed caring. He stepped beyond the other bars and headed as far up to daylight as he dared. "But you will."
His mind was awhirl. The cells were all warded against magic. The boy couldn't... not even if he knew magic... he wanted to take a deep breathe and clear his head, but the sun was up and his insect lungs could draw nothing but slow shallow breathes. At the top of the steps, he rang the bell to summon Kilroy at his leisure. He could have rung another bell below, but that would have started a panic, that bell reserved for emergencies.
This wasn't an emergency. This was just a bit... unsettling.
Wessex turned to Roscoe. "I've used my magic sight and the only magic I can detect are the wards on the cells and furnishings." He shut the door to the scorpion's office/sleeping chambers and sat in a chair Roscoe himself could never use. Like Pike, Wessex had been age regressed by the curse of the Keep. Unlike Pike, Wessex had maintained his adult bearing and fortitude as well as the vast mystical knowledge that made him one of the most powerful wizards in the Keep. If he said there was no magic, there was no magic, but Roscoe recalled that not too long ago, Prince Phil had been the victim of subtle magics that had escaped the faux youth's notice for weeks. Wessex, thankfully, did not need to be reminded that he was not infallible. "Tell me again what you saw. Be specific."
Roscoe's antennae whipped at the air in irritation. One brushed up against Wessex and the mage cringed on reflex, despite the lightness of the touch of his sensing organ. Roscoe's internal image map suddenly brought the boy-mage's shoulder into sharp focus, which slowly faded back to rough outline that he usually "saw" things. "I don't actually see anymore, Wessex. I sense movement, textures, sounds, and something like taste to build an image of what is around me. What I 'see' now is usually very accurate, unless it is very windy."
Wessex nodded. "What did you sense, then?"
"He came through the door, his head on the bars and then his head came closer to me, as if the door was an illusion made of smoke. I actually felt fear like it was a living thing tapping me on my shoulder. If I still had a bladder, I'm certain I would have emptied it right there. My tail shot forward and stung the door where his head was and then it... broke up and blew away like so much smoke. And he laughed at me, Wessex. He laughed like he knew what it was I saw."
Wessex sat thinking in the dark with Roscoe, despite the smell. Perhaps he used a magic spell to make it easier on him. Perhaps not. Roscoe didn't want to know. "Is there a chance there was a stray draft might have... transposed the scent and taste sense you use...?"
Roscoe shook himself back and forth, the closest he could come to shaking his head no. "No, my antennae would have caught the breeze and compensated. I would have to be very tired before that would happen." "Were you?" Wessex asked. "Very tired, I mean."
"No..." The scorpion morph drummed his feet the way a normal man might drum his fingers. "I do have to admit to being a bit put off just before this happened. The boy was talking... funny... it made me uneasy."
Wessex leaned forward. "Did he sound like he was casting a spell?"
"It felt like spellcasting, but it wasn't. He was talking about... how his father was going to die... how he would have to die. That he wanted to help me find my humanity. I know it sounds like he was babbling, but... the way he said it... it almost made sense."
Wessex nodded sagely. "Sounds like more Hokum than Hex," the Mage said from behind steepled fingers.
"I'm afraid I don't know what Hokum is, Wessex. Is it bad?"
Wessex smirked, the first childlike expression the jailer had seen on his face. "Hokum and Hex, it's what hedge wizards and carnival barkers use when they put on their little shows. Hex is, of course, magic, be it true magic or trickery. Hokum, is a bastardization of 'hook them.' If a barker is really good with his Hokum, he can build up such expectations..." Wessex shook his head. "Back in the day when I was really this age, a traveling circus came to our village. One of my brothers took me to see the attractions and I stood outside with him listening to the barker boast to the crowds. His voice fell and rose in such a way, you could actually almost see the crowd rising and falling with it. He promised such sights and wonders and my brother nodded with the crowd. Two headed dragons. A man who was also half woman. A sword swallower. A man with rubber skin. A bearded lady."
Wessex sighed and gestured with his hands at all the things he did see so many years ago. "After a bit, the doors open and we enter the tent and my brother's eyes go wide. It wasn't well lit, but the stuffed two headed dragon was obviously two dragons fused together by some drunken taxidermist. The man who was also half a woman, wore only half a dress. The sword swallower, well, that looked real, but the man with rubber skin and the bearded lady were just some plain folk."
Roscoe waited a beat before saying, "You lost me, mage."
"The whole time, my brother had this silly grin on his face, I was, of course, terribly disappointed. When we got home, my mother asked how it was and my brother suddenly came alive and pretty much repeated everything the barker said, but he added and embellished things. My brother, pragmatic as he was, had fallen under a spell of words... simple, well-chosen words, spoken in such a way to evoke a response... but, still, just words. Words that get in your head."
The scorpion raised and lowered himself, nodding. "My father used to say as much of some priests, but I... don't know."
"If you feel strongly about this, I can suggest to Kilroy ask the Lightbringer to come around and see if she can find anything." Wessex wiggled in his seat. Roscoe wondered if that was boyish energy held in place too long or if the mage was no longer able to stay in the room with him. As if noticing the droop in Roscoe's antennae, the boy leaned forward. "You're a Follower, right?"
Roscoe nodded again. He then added, "Yes," since the mage could not see him in the dark. "I am reluctant to go to her with this. But there is more going on here than I 'something I only think I saw.' I suppose we should."
Wessex nodded. "I believe you." The boy sat in the darkness for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. "Roscoe, did you get to meet the Pontiff while he was here?"
Roscoe held perfectly still but his antennae flicked about rapidly for a full minute before he answered. It was a rather stupid question, but Wessex was too well-respected within the Keep for Roscoe to point that out to him. "No. There would have been no point, Sir, would there?" He felt bad about his tone, but he couldn't imagine why Wessex would even bring up something like that.
Wessex looked straight at him as if seeing into his soul. For all Roscoe knew, the magic-user might very well be doing that. "When was the last time you had a day for yourself, Roscoe? When was the last time you left... this place?"
"Days and me... we don't agree anymore, Sir."
"You know what I meant."
"Do I?" The scorpion morph shifted, his tail curling and uncurling in the darkness. "What exactly do you mean, Sir?"
Wessex sighed. "I'm just trying to say that there are other ways of being tired. This fall has been pretty hard on Followers, too, what with your Pontiff's death." He waved at the walls hidden in the darkness. "Places like this, tend to weigh down a soul before too long."
Roscoe took a moment and forced himself to calm down. The mage was in the same boat as Roscoe, after all, as long as the boy was plagued by nightmares from Hell. The magic wards on the prison cells kept Wessex from going insane at night. But each morning at dawn, Wessex would leave this place whistling like a boy without a care in the world. "There are some burdens you can't get away from."
Roscoe slept during the day, but he slept lightly.
Something woke him at one point. It was the sound of one chess piece being moved. That was his first thought, but as he struggled from sleep the scorpion morph had to wonder why the simple click he heard reminded him of a game he himself rarely played. Something felt wrong.
He opened the door and stepped into the dungeon proper.
Something was wrong, all right. The guard assigned to this shift was not at his post and down the corridor was a large reptilian creature Roscoe could barely make out. Stepping forward silently, Roscoe could hear it talking with Wicker Potter. He wanted to hear what they talked about, perhaps that would help explain what Roscoe had seen before, but the words escaped his questing ears.
Suddenly, the dragon noticed Roscoe and glared at him. Roscoe responded instinctively, raising his deadly tail, ready to strike a fatal blow if need be. It would take several stings, he realized, as the creature seemed to grow before him. Giant wings seemed to fill the corridor behind the dragon and then something scratchy brushed up against Roscoe's mind.
Something scratchy brushed up against his mind and the walls of the dungeon seemed to fade away.
Something scratchy and dragon eyes brushed up against his mind.
Something scratchy and red and silver. Red and silver. Red and silver eyes casting a crimson glow where color was unknown. Red and silver filling a seven year void of darkness with a quiet rage. Visions of ruby landscapes with quicksilver streams and a brotherhood of those hiding in the deep scarlet shadows. Tall burgundy trees and a shiny, liquid metal impala leaping through the forest of his mind with a grace and beauty that invited you to reach out and taste it. All you had to do was take it.
Roscoe snapped awake from his dreams of meat and mirrors into a darkness so complete, he thought for a moment he was dead and buried.
Panic gripped him for a second and as his antennae whipped about him wildly, the image map of his room slowly came to him and only then did he remember that he no longer had eyes to see with. He gathered his wits, trying to recall what it was that he'd been dreaming of. He'd dreamed in color, that much was sure, but even the dream colours were fading to him. What kind of hell was he in that would let him glimpse color only to take it away from him.
A knock at the door pulled him out of his self-pity. "Roscoe? Are ye awake? T'was the dinner bell that did ring." Obviously from the tone, it was not the first knocking the day guard had done on that door. There was some concern in that voice, but more like as not, it was concern that his belly might go unfed that night if Roscoe did not awaken to relieve him. Lord forbid anyone should enter his office to make sure he was alright.
"I'm just fine. I'll be out in a moment." His normal "morning" grooming consisted of brushing his antennae with some giant goose feathers one of the Keepers had been kind enough to donate and taking a gentle cobbler's hasp to the place where sulfur stains sometimes accumulated beneath him. If he did not do these things, his brimstone-like musk would become overpowering very quickly. In the midst of this daily ritual, his dreams began to fade away like the bad memories they were, but the disquiet they had brought with them lingered.
It took ten minutes, but he, at least, felt more presentable. He scuttled out of his office/living area just as Kimberly from the Duke's kitchen was handing the snake-morph on duty the simple meal the prisoners needed to survive. Kimberly started slightly at his entrance and then smiled. It was a sincere smile; Roscoe knew she was just a very nervous person. The scents from the two large cats detained here probably did not make matters easier on the unassuming rat morph. She greeted him warmly enough. There was relief in her taste and stance that the monster in the dungeon was "only him."
Roscoe found this annoying for some reason, but decided not to pursue it. He knew she was a very nice person, in any case, and a lady-friend to Charles, so that said something about her. It was the guard he stared at, if it could be said he was still capable of staring. The reptilian guard had wronged him in some way that Roscoe couldn't remember. Somehow, Roscoe vaguely remembered that the guard had left his post sometime during the day.
But that was ridiculous, and even if the guard had, how would he know it? He had slept the day away.
Both the guard, his name was Earl Something, and Kimberly was staring at him oddly. "Roscoe?" Earl asked, startling the scorpion morph. His funk retreated and he "smiled" for them, clicking his claws as if nothing was wrong.
"Sorry, I did not sleep well," He hadn't wanted to admit that where the prisoners might hear him. It might encourage them to have false hopes. Every prisoner dreams of the guard falling asleep on duty. He greeted Kimberly and asked after Charles, who he hadn't seen since the Pontiff's death. They exchanged some minor gossip, the female rat too polite to engage in the truly interesting gossip. The kitchen staff took turns bringing meals to the dungeons; once Tommy's turn came, the dung beetle would catch him up with the questionable news Kimberly and the others would sometimes leave out in their rush to get away from him.
He swapped her his empty dinner basket for his breakfast basket. Down here, the time the rest of the world was on hardly mattered. The prisoner's already having been fed, Kimberly curtsied unnecessarily and left the two guards alone with their prisoners. "Have they given you any trouble, Earl?"
"The older one did a lot of moaning... the kit slept all day. Ah t'was beginnin' to think 'e might be sick, but 'e just woke up an 'our 'fore the dinner bell. Seems fine. Chipper, even."
"Great, Earl." For the first time in a long time, he could look forward to talking to somebody all night. Ironic that it would be the first prisoner Roscoe could honesty say that he was afraid of. "I was hoping for a quiet night."
Earl nodded. "Yes. Ah 'eard the kit did give ye a bit of a spookin', 'e did."
Roscoe sighed his antennae drooping. "I suppose it's all over the Keep, by now."
"Possibly," the snake morph agreed. "It's just a wee bit funny, Roscoe, don' ye think? Ye are pretty 'spooky' ye'self... no offense meant, but even ye 'ave ta admit, ye do your share of startlin' folks."
"I can't argue with that," the scorpion said, his antennae lying limply on his back. Startling was a nice word for the effect he had on people. What he really did was scare people. He scared enough folks to outlast his lifetime. Children probably fell asleep to stories of what Awful Roscoe would to them if they didn't behave. It wasn't the legacy he had wanted to leave behind. "I startle everyone."
He morphed down to the form he used to eat, bringing his oral cavity forward and losing the ability to speak, as well as a little mass. It was filthy magic, but he needed to do this to survive. He picked up the maggot laced lamb chop and began to strip it in his pre-oral cavity with his chelicera, letting a few maggots fall as he did so.
Earl slid back two paces as Roscoe munched away. Roscoe never ate in front of any one. Never. His antennae danced sardonically over his head after Earl finally turned away. Guess he 'startled' poor old Earl, he though evilly. If he could whistle, Roscoe would have as he scuttled down the hall to check on his prisoners.
Henrik Potter vomited on himself when Roscoe looked in on him. The tiger shook with embarrassment and tried to clean himself up with his blanket. That was going to be a problem... for the tiger. He would need that blanket as the sun set. He had another evil thought. Now he wouldn't be the only one who smelled offensively.
Roscoe turned to look at the other tiger, Wicker. Wicker sat on his bunk in the dark, his hands on his lap and a pleasant smile on his face. He looked at Roscoe through the bars of his doors and his smile got wider.
Just seeing Wicker Potter smile ruined his whole day.
Day. Night. Whatever. That smile made Roscoe realize how spiteful he was being. That was not the type of person he wanted to become. The curse could warp his body all it wanted to, but his soul was still his, and he was damned if he gave up on trying to be a good man.
Good men don't make their friends, or their charges, feel uncomfortable on spiteful whims.
He finished getting most of the edible stuff out of the rotten piece of meat in his pre-oral cavity and then pushed it out into the basket. He could nibble it all night if he wanted to, until he was bored with it.
Roscoe morphed back to what passed for "normal" for him and scuttled back to Earl. As he got close to the snake morph, he apologized by saying. "Ignore me. I'm not myself today, ok?"
Earl looked down at the scorpion and smiled. "Bit stir crazy, are ye? Ye should git out an' about afore the winter sets in, Roscoe. Folks like us, when the winter comes, we might as well be locked up down 'ere, for all the freedom we 'ave."
Roscoe's antennae stopped waving. He WAS locked down here for the rest of his life and here was yet another Keeper saying they were like him. It angered him. No one was like him. He was all alone. He had fair weather friends, but no one to hold him when he cried; no one to confide in. There was just him and the scum he was charged with keeping out of sight of the normal folk.
It was the same way he kept himself out of everyone's sight.
Roscoe caught himself and marveled at his growing anger. He made a conscious effort to move his antennae casually, and his focus on Earl ebbed back to normal. His stinger twitched and he took a moment to relax that, too. Earl relaxed, apparently having noticed his telson ready to sting him. "'Ey, ye are as tense as a violin string, aren't ye?" The snake seemed to look down the hall where the stench of Henrik's vomit was coming for them. "Ye want Ah should fetch Coe th' 'ealer for the that one? Mightn't be a bad thing if 'e took a look at ye, too, whilst 'e t'were at it."
That was a very good and sensible idea. Roscoe didn't like it at all. "I'll be fine, that kid just filled my head up with nightmares. That's all. I always get like this when I lose sleep." That wasn't exactly a lie; he hadn't really lost any sleep. Nor were they quite nightmares. If anything, he felt recharged and full of energy. "As for the prisoner, he isn't sick. I've seen his act before."
Earl nodded and smiled weakly. "If ye say so." He seemed to think about something as he watched the scorpion morph quietly. "If ye would like, Ah could stay 'alf a shift and let ye sleep a bit more."
"I'm fine. You'd think I wasn't entitled to be a bit crabby from time to time."
Earl sputtered for a moment and then looked at the scorpion askance for several long seconds. A smile slowly growing on his face. Roscoe snapped his claws with false cheer. He didn't want Earl worrying about him, it seemed to grate on his nerves today. The reptile meant well, but all Roscoe needed was some quiet time.
"Crabby, eh?" the snake chuckled. "Ah'll leave ye, then, and 'ope ye feel better, t'morrow."
The snake tossed a set of huge keys that Roscoe snatched out of the air with his white crab-like claw. "Good night, then Earl," he said as the Earl dragged his 20 foot long body up the stairs, with no more noise than a slight scratching. When the last of his tail vanished, Roscoe let his antennae relax against his back in his own version of a sigh.
"Shut up, Wicker." Roscoe whipped the air up with his antennae and pulled a very detailed contour image map of the dungeon corridor out of the ether. The corridor was empty of all but dim torches. There was nothing there.
A chuckle squeezed between the bars on the door of Wicker Potter's cell. "You going to start feeling sorry for yourself again, or are you going to let yourself get angry?"
"Getting angry wouldn't solve anything, now be a good pussy cat and go back to sleep."
A single finger poked out between the bars and wiggled at him. "That doesn't really answer my question, you know."
"I don't have to answer any of your questions, Potter. Now sleep. And, if you can't sleep, be damned quiet."
There was a chuckle. "You might as well get used to answering questions, Roscoe. When they see you let my father die, there's going to be questions."
Roscoe skittered down the corridor and looked into Henrik Potter's cell. The older tiger morph had done his best to clean up his spent stomach contents with his shirt, but the smell was still pungent. Henrik sat on the cot, shivering with wide moist eyes, as if really afraid that he would die because Wicker had said as much. He clawed at the bed with his hands nervously and he ignore Roscoe's presence for half a minute. Henrik started as if only now noticing the monster at his door. He smiled weakly after starting and asked if his wife had come by yet.
The faker. The writer's guild would sick Zhypar Habakkuk on any hack who tried to slip that old escape ploy into a story. He was damned if he was going to fall for it. "Your father's not sick."
"All the same," Wicker said pleasantly, "he's going to die tonight, just to prove a point to you."
Roscoe spun around slowly, sure that it was the Keep moving about him as he did so. He did not believe Wicker for a second, but all his sense told him Wicker was serious. Serious and sincere. "You're daft."
"I understand... everything, Roscoe." The tiger said with that gravity young men sometimes find when they are deathly serious. "Everything. That might drive any other man to madness, but me, my mind is young and flexible."
Roscoe stepped a body length away from Wicker's jail cell. "If you've the power to do that, why kill your father? Why not kill me?"
"Why not kill the Duke?" Wicker chuckled. "I've no more need for my father. Besides, you're the one with the keys. And, I want to be your friend, Roscoe."
"You're daft!" With that, the Scorpion morph skittered away.
"I answered your question, Roscoe. My turn to ask you one."
Roscoe ignored him and picked at his breakfast. "Quiet down there, or I'll have Wessex put a sleep spell on you."
The threat didn't impress Wicker. "Roscoe, why can't you go out in the sun?"
Roscoe shifted down to eating form and gnawed at his lamb chop. He wasn't going to be drawn into the big cat's mind games. My rear end he's only 14, he thought sullenly.
There was exactly 60 seconds of silence from the Wicker's cell, when he began to answer his own question. "I mean, I know you think it's because you can't. But you can."
Roscoe clicked his claws in a sour chuckle and continued to gnaw the maggot rich flesh in his pre-oral cavity. Fluid dribbled from chelicera as he had already extracted all the fluid he needed for the day, but he paid the dribble no mind. He was grateful Wessex had pointed out the way carnival barkers talk as an example. He could almost hear the hooks in the tiger's voice as it rose and fell. It just might be very lulling if he wasn't aware of it, and wary of it.
Silence seemed to encourage Wicker. "I'm sure it really hurts and everything, but the light isn't cooking you. It's penetrating your exoskeleton and attacking each nerve, but it's only pain. It's amazing how much pain the human mind can take, if you know it's all in your head. And even if it wasn't, there's this amazing new invention.
"They call it clothing."
Roscoe released the compressed nugget of mutton and let it fall to the floor. He morphed to his speaking form out of angry reflex. "Clothing did nothing." Roscoe said. This know-it-all was test from either god or the devil, but he was getting tired of him either way. "Some light still gets through."
"There's magic, you know," Whicker paused and Roscoe could hear him smiling from where he was. "Oh, but, magic is evil, isn't it?"
"Yes," he growled and he waited for the argument to come. He used magic to change to eat. The counter spell is what gave him back his humanity. The Keep had a magical shield they all huddled behind during Nasoj's first attack, if it was evil, why didn't he step out of the shield? He had heard all before, after all, he was a Follower within a keep full of Lightbringers.
The argument did not come. Instead, Wicker spread his hands in a gesture of acceptance. "Perhaps you're right. After all, it was magic that made me the way I am today. Magic that makes you hide here in the dark."
"I am not hiding." Roscoe said without raising his voice, although he dearly wanted to shout at the young man. "They all know where I am. They can come and find me whenever they want to."
"You see, they have to FIND you."
Roscoe tossed his leftover piece of meat into the basket Kimberly had brought it in. "That's enough nonsense out of you for one night."
Silence filled the dungeon for an hour or so before a gentle sobbing caught Roscoe's attention. He skittered down the corridor and tracked the noise to Henrik's cell. The tiger had wrapped himself into a ball under his cot and was sobbing into his feet. It was an odd position to be in, and it looked uncomfortable. Roscoe wondered if he should call Coe, after all.
"Don't you dare feel sorry for him," the voice behind him sounded as if the cowering creature in front of them wasn't a man, but a farm animal raised for slaughter. "He is not a good or kind person and his is not worth your tears."
Roscoe had no tears for anyone, not even himself. It was one of the crueler aspects of his curse. "He's sick."
"He's sick, alright. Do you want to know why he should die?"
"He's not going to die from a belly ache, Wicker."
"True," There was a chuckle that would have given the scorpion Goose bumps had he skin for them to crawl upon. "That's true, he isn't going to die from a stomach ache. He's going to die for what he did to me."
"What do you think he did to you, oh wise one?"
Wicker lost his smile and fixed his eyes on what passed for Roscoe's face. "He did THIS to me. He made me a monster."
Eyes or no eyes, Roscoe stared at the younger tiger in awe. He was shocked any one could be so stupid. "You should set your sights on Nasoj, then, Wicker. It was he who cursed you; he cursed us all. Not your father."
Wicker shook his head. "Have you heard of my brother, Clay Potter?"
Roscoe was ready to say no, but Tommy had been down last week to bring his food. One of the things that had been mentioned was a shouting match between a stable hand and Mong-Ho. Tommy had been deliriously happy to report that they were fighting over the stranger that Potters had beaten up. "Oh, and did I neglect to mention that stable hand was Clay Potter...?" Tommy's voice had trailed off meaningfully as he looked down the corridor where Henrik and Wicker Potter were locked up.
"Just the usual gossip," Roscoe said, curious as to where this would all lead.
"You know how the curse works, of course."
"Of course," Roscoe said with an edge to his voice few had heard over the years. He held up his claws, clicking them with a mocking, forced laugh. "The curse and I are old friends."
Wicker chuckled ever so softly, "Then you know that every young Keeper falls to the Keep at fourteen. If the child was here for the Battle of the Three Gates, or if he here long enough afterwards... he changes. When Clay was 14, my father was too drunk and mean to do anything and he didn't really have to, because Clay was making all the money we needed. He was making money we didn't need, to be honest, and my loving parents had made jobs for themselves of spending it.
"My father threw the money at Freddie Book-maker and my mother doted on Tin, who was now Tina the daughter she always wanted, buying her dresses and perfumes. They all forgot about me, it seemed, but they hadn't. I wish they had, but they hadn't. I was just eleven, for Christ's sake."
Roscoe thought he heard the first honest emotion from the young tiger and said nothing. This rant was fascinating and the jailer had to admit to being very curious as to what the point of it all was. However, he did not want to encourage Wicker to talk to him nor to use the Lord's name in vain, even if it was a little used version of Yahshua's name.
Silence seemed to compel Wicker to explain further. "I was eleven and Clay was fourteen, and my father went to my mother and asked her what she knew of magic. She had an affair with some mage or wizard before she had wed my father, and I guess he expected her to pick up a trick or two. She had nothing for him, of course, the affair having been nothing more than some rutting fling. He didn't even bother going to Posti or Magus; it was obvious they were useless when it came to the curse. So, he went elsewhere... to the Daedra."
At the mention of the dark gods, Roscoe took an involuntary step back. He didn't believe in them, but he looked upon that black pantheon as the worst things that magic could do collected together, with demons from hell taking credit where none were due and enticing good men to throw themselves away less than nothing.
"When Clay was 14, he didn't change. That year, I changed instead. I took the curse meant for my brother, he was supposed to become this monster, not me." Wicker hissed. "My father stole three years of my life... three years of my childhood, Roscoe, so that Clay could make his pretty little things for money. They gave Clay my humanity and then they squandered it on making money!"
Roscoe stood there with his mouth open, such as it was, his giant claws were open two with shock. There had been rumors that one of the town folk had hidden an unchanged child, but he had written that off to wishful thinking. If Wicker was telling the truth, then Henrik was guilty of not only selling his soul to the devil, but selling his sons'. But it seemed so far-fetched.
"The Lightbringer would have..."
"Raven? She was new and untested, she was never supposed to have that job. She was supposed to go off someplace and pump out babies, but Nasoj changed all that. She missed it. Or maybe she wanted to see what would happen; they've been known to make deals with the Daedra before. Do you think she'd hesitate to make a deal with Klepnos or Ba'al if it meant transferring the curse to, say, an equal number of Lutins?"
Roscoe's felt the walls begin to close in on him. Tight dark places had become very comforting to him over the years, but now the feeling of claustrophobia was upon and it was laced with panic. The boy had his hooks in him again! He forced himself to slowly move away. As Roscoe moved, he looked in on the man who supposedly done this and the tiger was sobbing openly now, as if hearing this story was all too much for him.
It was horrific, what Henrik had done, but was it really so wrong, aside from going to the devil for it? Many transformed parents used transformation potions on their children at a very early age, to spare them the trauma of changing when older, or so he understood. But Wicker would have been old to experience that trauma, an event he wouldn't have been ready for three long years.
"Oh, my father felt bad for what he'd done, all right, and he tried to make it up to me. You see, he never really thought I was his. Mother had strayed once before they were married and I guess he never really trusted her after that. But when he saw that I was a little version of him, albeit orange, he swore he'd make it up to me."
Roscoe was surprised to discover that he had stopped in his tracks. "Henrik isn't orange?" Henrik was a tiger, of course he was orange.
"No, he's black and white, like Freddie." The big cat paused, as if surprised that was the one thing he had said that caught Roscoe's attention. "Roscoe, are you blind to color?"
Roscoe skittered close enough to look at the tiger crying on the floor of his cell. He didn't see in color. He didn't see anything. What he thought of as seeing was an illusion his insect mind had created for him out of heat, taste, scent, and that odd, hard to describe spatial sense that his antennae gave him. He missed color dearly. He missed seeing things as other did. He never even knew white tigers existed, nor did he understand why a zebra morph was different than a horse morph, they pretty much smelled and tasted alike.
He'd lost so much, how could he face that.
Suddenly, he had the answer to Wicker's question. Why didn't he go out in the sun? Of course, it would hurt, but the reason was that, for that he might train himself to bare the pain, it wouldn't make the least bit of difference to him. He was a creature of darkness, now. Everything would, now and forever more, be dark and black to him.
He would be alone in dark for all the world to see. They would think him free of his exile and pat him on the back and welcome him back to the world at large, but it wouldn't be his world. Not the world he had left and not a world he could be a part of. He'd rather remember the world the way it was. He'd rather remember the way he was.
The way Anna was.
He backed slowly into his office and shut the door behind him.
Roscoe often sought comfort from his family's Canticle of Eli. The pages were worn and familiar, thick but supple gold leaf paper. A red ribbon that had been his mother's marked the ending of his favourite tale, the Ark of Life when the dove returns. A scrap of paper that was his first pay voucher from the Keep's paymaster, he had never turned it in for his silver, happily using it to mark the section where Yahshua gives advice about taxes. A lock of Anna's hair marked her favourite story that most scholars agreed indicated that magic was evil and that the only good magic came from Eli, or, in the blessed union between man and woman.
The hair was as blonde as the day they had exchanged locks of hair, a poor man's engagement ring.
At least, in his mind's eye it was blonde.
He could no longer be sure. It had been seven years and he could barely remember what it felt like to stand on his own two feet, much less the color of his eyes.
Maybe the lock of hair was light brown. And the red ribbon? Was it really as red as he recalled. He had trouble picturing it in his mother's hair, if only because he had forgotten what color his mother's hair had been. The scrip he remembered as being almost a creamy white, but now it smelled of acid and rotted clothe fibers. It must be some sort of shade of yellowish brown by now, and the ink may have even faded, but would the weight of the great book have stopped it from browning too terrible? Was the ink still legible? Or had it faded away? He didn't know, there was no way from him to know.
The weight of the book in his median claws did not comfort him now as it had done so in the past. He opened the Canticle to the section marked by the possibly red ribbon and stared at the blank pages there. He flipped to the section marked by the scrip and stared at the empty pages there, trying to recall the words that had once defined his service to the Keep and to Eli but could not. He pushed the pages, ripping at some in his haste, until the lock of Anna's hair lay open in the tome his mother had once hoped he would pass onto his children. That one piece of Anna sat limply between the gilded leaves that held no words or comfort to him.
It wasn't that the text wasn't there, but the wisdom and guidance it offered were forever denied him except that which he could recall. He had no eyes to see the words handwritten by monks over 100 years ago, and that was not his only loss.
His fingers were gone, replaced claws designed to rip and shred.
His legs had been replaced many times over with oaken spikes that moved of their own accord. In fact, he held the Canticle in his footpads, which he had to train himself to do.
He had no one to love, and no way to be a proper husband if he had. He could father no children, the curse had seen to that. And, if he had, what kind of life would he be condemning them to? Had suicide not been so clearly a sin, he would have ended his own miserable life right after Pike's... fit.
He threw the useless book across the room and felt his face try to bend. He wanted to cry so badly but his face was as fixed and unmoving as a stone gargoyle's. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. He had lost everything and now he was losing faith in his savior and god in heaven.
A man should be able to cry about that. He should rail at the sky begging god to reach down and take him to his bosom or show him some sign or some blessed relief. Roscoe could do none of these things. He was so angry, Roscoe was sure he must be glowing red, casting his room in a crimson glow.
That damn cat had done this to him.
Filthy magic or not, he was going to demand Wessex magically mute Wicker or he would turn the youngish mage away and let him deal with his nightmares elsewhere.
Roscoe did not like feeling these thoughts in his head, but he felt as if he was going to explode. He hadn't felt this way since the week after the Battle of the Three Gates. It wasn't like him. This was not the kind of man he wanted to be.
With an effort, Roscoe stopped himself, suddenly aware that he'd been turning in slow circle about himself. That was an odd behavior and he tried to pin down how he felt. He felt angry and aroused, although that was a hard thing to pin down in this horrid body. Roscoe felt very aggressive, too. In the old days, he would have dragged Pike into the forest and tracked down a huge boar. But now... but now... that was forever lost to him. He wanted to hurt something. Anything.
And suddenly, Roscoe thought. Why Not, Whicker? Let Him Reap What He Sowed. That much he could remember of the Canticle.
When Wessex slept in the dungeons, his cell was the furthest one in the back. It was the quietest cell, as well as being the least offensive to smell. Roscoe charged past the two caged Tigers and went directly to Wessex's cell. The faux-boy had yet to retire for the evening.
Roscoe skittered back to Wicker Potter's cell. "To answer your question, BOY, I am not color-blind, but BLIND! I can't see colors because I can't SEE! I have other senses this damn curse thought I might need as a bug, since it was going to keep me from ever being a man again!"
Wicker nodded smugly and that angered Roscoe to the point of breaking. There was just something about that nod that, blind or not, made Roscoe see red. He screamed and jabbed his stinger forward at the bastard's smiling face.
Wicker grabbed it.
Wicker grabbed his tail before it struck at the door with an almost gentle but iron grip around the telson, the thick fist of the tail that housed the stinger. The stinger pulsed in anger and rage, in the tiger morph's right hand, as Roscoe pushed and pulled against the rough stone floor with his all too numerous legs. The scorpion screamed in rage, daring the tiger to rip the ugly thing from his thrice cursed body, hoping that that would finally end his miserable existence.
Venom began to pool on the tip of the stinger as pain and rage drove the aculeus to continue trying to puncture the smirking cat's face. The entire universe narrowed down to that moment and that struggle, and Roscoe would finally cross the line and learn what it felt like to puncture flesh and deliver his fatal poisons to a warm body.
Wicker slowly brought the stinger up to his face and stuck his face up to the bars in his door. Roscoe knew the tiger was going to bite off the stinger and he braced himself for the pain that would be coming, but his heart was racing and he hadn't felt this alive in years. Wrapped in the center of all this was the knowledge that he would probably die soon after and take Wicker with him. He'd join Eli and Pike and all the friends he'd lost to Nasoj and then... he would be whole again.
The moment came and Wicker squeezed his telson mercilessly, until Roscoe could almost feel the exoskeleton cracking under the cat's evil strength. Wicker pushed his towards the stinger and open his jaws slightly, turning his head as he did so.
Roscoe could see the red venom as it pooled at the base of the stinger as Wicker's tongue shot forward and began lapping at the poison slowly and gently, his rough tongue cleaning that which Eli never intended man to carry through his life . Wicker turned silver eyes towards Roscoe as he went about this task. "Welcome to the fold, father."
Wicker let go of the tail and Roscoe stepped back, beyond horror and disbelieve as the door between the two of them had vanished at some point. "No,"
"Your humanity has shriveled to nothing here in the dark, father. It's nothing but an anchor, dragging you down-"
"He is my anchor," Roscoe muttered desperately, yet the words sounded hollow and without meaning. Something he knew only by rote. "He is my rock." "He is a rock tied around your neck. As long as you hold onto to him, you will be stuck in shallow waters. Let me show you life, father. Your life."
"He is my rod and my staff. He is my sword and my shield."
Wicker spit back into his cell and then laughed. "Father..."
Roscoe felt incredibly dirty and he could not move as Wicker squatted down in front of him. His poor abused tail stood frozen behind him, impotent. He had no fight left in him, having surrendered to his fate only moments before. Roscoe could only wait for Wicker to kill him.
"Father, I meant what I said about helping you. You're not dumb, I know that. These people have abandoned you, left you to suffer here in the dark. You think the mage is a good man? He's an expert on the enemy's magic; that makes him a necromancer, doesn't it?"
"Stop that," the scorpion spat. "He's a good man... he talks to me. You won't bad mouth him."
"You like it when people talk to you, don't you, Father? Even Lord Loriod. I'm talking to you... does that make me a good man?"
Roscoe felt his exoskeleton grow tighter as his blood pressure increased, and he took slow gulps of breathes trying to calm down. It was several moments before he could talk, but his rage still squeezed his shell painfully. "Why do you keep calling me that? I am not your father."
Wicker looked sadly at him. "Well, I don't want to be an orphan, Roscoe. You'd take me in, right? That would be the Follower thing to do, wouldn't it? Teach me to repent? Teach me to forgive when you can do neither. The son you never had and all that. Show me the glory of your Eli."
"You're mocking me. I know what you are doing."
"You don't even know what you are doing," Wicker countered quite reasonably. "As a man, even you have to admit that you're... lacking. As a monster, you'll finally be free, Father. Free to be who you are... to let yourself go. But mocking you? No, I'm just trying to help you, Father."
"Get back in your cell, boy." Roscoe stepped closer to young tiger morph, although moving his legs properly seemed to be a greater task than it ought to have been. He glared up into Wicker's silver mirror eyes, catching tiny reflections of the albino monster that he'd become. "Escape attempts will only gain you 20 lashes, lad. Get back in your cell."
"I'm not escaping, Father. I'm here to help you."
Roscoe felt the fear growing again. "Don't make me hurt you, Wicker. Get in your cell!"
Wicker stood up as his red tongue flicked across his cheek. "My brother killed his lover for me. Or maybe he did it for Thalberg. Doesn't matter. The man only survived because Henrik couldn't bring himself to kill, and Clay was cleaning up Daddy's mess, like he always did. I need a killer, Roscoe. I need my father to be a killer. You are a killer. You want a family. I don't really see the problem."
Roscoe felt his tail begin to twitch again as the boy's crazy speech unnerved him further than he was comfortable with. "Aye, I've killed! But only because I had to... not because of the sick games you and your father played. I've killed because I had to! Now get in your cell before I'm forced to do so again!"
The tiger morph smiled as Roscoe advanced towards him. "Even little Pike Shoemaker? How did you HAVE TO kill him?"
Roscoe froze, his stinger twitching as if urging him forward. The pressure beneath his exoskeleton held him in place as surely as if he'd been chained down, yet, oddly, he felt suddenly cold and exposed. "I didn't kill him. He's not dead."
Wicker stepped sideways and Roscoe's tail followed the young tiger morph, ready to strike. Roscoe could not find words as he wondered who might have mentioned his old friend's name to this monster! Wicker smiled, as if he could tell the scorpion was close to having a stroke. "A lot of the age-regressed that first year had a little trouble with the counter-spell. He was confused... childhood memories intermingling with the present making the lose of his manhood so much harder. And poor Pike was always so proud of his manhood, wasn't he?"
Roscoe circled the tiger as the tiger circled him. The pressure was so tight, reddish dimness narrowed his vision until all he could see for sure before him was Wicker's mockingly concerned face. He could think of nothing to say that Wicker could not turn to his own devices. Instead, he simply clenched what few teeth he had in his mouth and said nothing. If only he could spit. If only he could express that one sentiment, but he couldn't. He rage increased as he realized that he'd lost even that little bit.
Wicker stepped in front of his closed cell door, ending their short dance. "He somehow screwed up the courage to see you, Father. He'd come to visit an old friend who had the worst curse of them all save perhaps Laracin. He was afraid of what you would say, he was afraid you would hate him for still being human. The two of you talked, played games, and for one brief shining moment, you allowed yourself to hope that things might not so bad. Maybe, you even felt human again just before the screaming started."
If Roscoe had still been human, he would have shaken his head. Instead, he could only rocked back and forth in denial. He had no idea where this was heading, but he knew the tiger was reeling him in like a price fish. "Get back in your cell, you bastard!" He wanted to shout, but the words came out like a growling plea. His own voice threatened to leave him at any moment. "Shut-up and get back in your cell or else I'll kill you myself!"
Wicker gave him a gentle sigh, as if convincing an elderly grandfather to take his tonic. "Father, you need to hear this. You need to realize."
"Get back in that damn cell, you filthy stupid cat!"
"Pike screamed and ran to the door, Father. He kept throwing himself against it, against a door that needed to be pulled. You went to help him..."
"Get your mangy tail into that cell you mother-raping bastard!"
"You stepped forward to help him and he screamed some more and he kept throwing himself into the door. You reached for him to hold him, to calm him, Father. You reacting to him like he was a child. Him reacting to you like you were a monster. What an all too human comedy that must have been, Father. Father. Father."
Red coloured everything except for the cat's silver eyes. Roscoe's voice deserted him completely and his mis-shapened mouth moved in silent rage as an image formed in his mind of that night almost seven years ago. Pike looking up at his monstrous friend, as his child-sized bladder empty onto the floor of the cell. A moment of clarity passed over the child's eyes as he made a simple request. Roscoe couldn't remember what that request was.
Roscoe didn't know where Pike was now.
Roscoe didn't know where Anna was, now.
He refused to remember any of it. But the evil demon continued to talk so plainly, there was no denying the truth of it. "How long did he beg you to kill him before you snapped his neck against the stone doorframe?"
"NO!" Roscoe screamed and slammed his tail forward into the tiger's red face.
His stinger met no resistance, impaling the cheek. Wicker seemed to smile as his face flinched and that pushed his keeper over the edge. "NO!" Roscoe screamed and stung the tiger's face again and again.
The red fringes of rage began to fade and a solid door seemed to appear between the tiger morph and the scorpion guard. Wicker's face seemed to age as the swelling began. The tiger morph's silver eyes lost all color before he was unable to support himself by the bars in the cell door. The tiger staggered back a few steps and then fell completely out of view with a heavy thud.
Roscoe took in air as best he could with his book lungs. Had he eyes, they would have been wide with disbelief. The bastard had never left his cell! Somehow, the young tiger had gotten into his head and toyed with his senses. His claws snapped shut slowly as he felt his ichor return to manageable levels. He remained focused on that door, waiting for Wicker to sit up and say something else. There was nothing alive behind the door, but he waited for a sign of life, stretching his senses forward.
The taste of bile coated the air with sickness as the tiger's fingers played out the last twitches of death, as if already clawing at the roof of his coffin. But there would be fire, not a comforting grave, waiting for this one. The thought of graves made him think of things he would rather not think of.
The important thing was that Wicker Potter was dead and that he had somehow, by the grace of Eli, escape the clutches of such an evil young man. "Our Father, who art in heaven-" he began.
Roscoe jumped and skittered to face the voice behind him. Staring out from the bars of his father's cell, Wicker pressed his furry face as far through the window as he could. He smiled proudly and gratefully as Roscoe messed himself with the sulfur paste along his bottom shell. "Thank you, father. Thank you. You've answered my prayers and now I have my vengeance."
The scorpion could not believe his senses. They couldn't have switched cells! Not when he had the keys. Not when the wards were set so strongly against magic. In panic, he turned down towards Wessex's accommodations and saw his office door instead. He spun around twice more before he'd realized that he'd gotten turned around.
It dawned on him that he'd been sleep walking or under some sort of spell. He turned to Henrik's cell and his heart sank as he realized what had happened. "Oh, my... oh, how will I tell Josie?"
"Don't worry about Josie, Roscoe. Get your Canticle, Follower." The tiger said with a firm kindness. Drained, the scorpion saw no reason to resist. He crawled to his room and found the most holy of all books right where he had thrown it. He flipped dumbly through its mute pages, unable to believe there could be a god trapped within it's leaves. He would have cried if that hadn't been denied him. Roscoe stepped out of his office and stood looking down the same corridor he'd looked down for seven years now.
"No," he said quietly. Not to the tiger pulling his strings but to the dungeon. His place of imprisonment. His living crypt. But no more. No more. He turned and began to climb the steps up towards the stars.
His antennae fondled the small tombstone. "Belov'd Husband ov Grace, Pike Shoemaker" the inscription read. "Born 680- Eschaep'd te Curfe 701(?)" It had taken almost all night to discover which grave was Pike's. He really hadn't known where Pike was. He held the Canticles of Eli out to the tiny rectangle. "Pike, I think I just lost my soul tonight. I just killed one of my prisoners in my sleep... I've been having nightmares and I've been sleep walking... I think the devil's finally come to claim me for what I did to you, Pike."
Roscoe turned his entire attention overhead. The night sky was cloudless but if there was a single star above, he could not see it, or sense it. He was so alone without even a star to point him north. "I'm going to go to hell, Pike. Hell. And, you know what? I'm relieved."
He dropped the holly book in the dirt. "I just wanted to say goodbye. I'm not going to see you in the afterlife, as it turns out, buddy."
The scorpion spun around at the voice, his tail quivering at the huge figure in Watch garb. For a moment, he thought it was the ghost of Pike, come for him, to save him from the path he seemed destined for. But the watchman before him tasted of bear spore... "Go away!" He had no need for another morph's pity!
"Uncle Rescue? It's me," the bear morph said. "Carnegie Shoemaker."
Roscoe moved his claws to cover his face in shame. This seemed to amuse the young morph. "What are you doing? You're not going to scare me. You're family."
"I...," Roscoe's mind whirled. "I can't find your Aunt's grave."
The bear morph nodded. "Anna? She's with my mother's family over here." Carnegie marched off towards a row of wooden crosses with the scorpion morph walking a few steps behind. "She's right over here," he said after awhile. Roscoe's senses drew a mental contour map of his friend's grown-up son. In shape, he was very human, tall, without much of a muzzle, but he was covered in thick fur. Without being able to see the color of the fur, he had no idea what kind of bear Carnegie had become, but it most have be the biggest bear there was.
"Her name's painted on," Carnegie mentioned as Roscoe turned his attention to the cross, "that's why you couldn't find it."
"Nothing else? I know she had a psalm she really liked."
"There wouldn't have been much room, Uncle Roscoe. There was only room for 'Died defending the Keep at the Battle of the Three Gates, Anna Chandler. Wife to Roscoe.'"
Roscoe's antennae shot straight up. "That's not..."
The young Watchman nodded. "No, that's her. My idea... you were to get married soon enough, and you were in soul, if not in fact. I wanted to have an uncle."
Roscoe was flattered but he felt strangely detached, staring at a cross declaring his greatest dream as fact while knowing that six feet below his feet the corpse of his lovely Anna lie rotting. "You knew I couldn't see the writing?"
"I know. We researched you, Uncle Roscoe. The predators of Metamor Keep do not invite just any monster into it's fold. You have to be family. You have to be a Raver."
"We're going to Hell," Roscoe said, surrendering. "We're going to burn in Hell." If even little innocent Carnegie could be walking down this path, what chance of escaping did he have?
Carnegie reached down and rubbed the slick surface of Roscoe's exoskeleton. "If we go to Hell, we go to rule! I just need one thing from you, Roscoe." Roscoe blinked, his antennae twisting into each other for a second. He'd killed and was going to be locked up. He'd never be trusted around prisoners again. What did he have that anyone would want? "What?" he asked, afraid of the answer.
Carnegie grabbed the base of his antennae and pulled painfully on them. Roscoe found himself screaming in agony as red fire and molten iron poured directly into his brain. "I want you to admit that I'm your son."
"I want you to admit that I'm your son, that you mounted my mother while her husband was on patrol and that you studded her until she was heavy with me! Tell me that that stupid crying baby was never my father. That I'm yours not his!"
In searing torture, Roscoe screamed, "YES!"
"Repeat what I said!"
"I... mounted you mother... studded her! I'm your damn father, Carnegie! Not Pike!"
"Say that stupid crying baby was never my father! Say it was all a lie!"
Roscoe tried to move away, but the pain held him fast. "That stupid, crying baby was never your father! It was a freaking lie!"
"Swear to god."
Without hesitation, Roscoe screamed out an oath swearing to god as his witness that Carnegie Shoemaker was his child and no other. As soon as it was out of his mouth, he knew beyond any doubt that he was damned. It was like having a bucket of cold water upturned on him.
Carnegie released his sensory organs and Roscoe thanked Eli that the pain was gone, but a coldness greeted his silent prayer and he knew that he'd been forsaken. All his sweet memories would forever be corrupted by the lie he'd just swore to.
There was just no hope for him not any more.
"Father," Carnegie said after a moment. He seemed close to tears. "Wicked was right. He was right. You're my father. Let's go. We have so much to do."
"Call me Carnage, Father."
"Carnage... I killed somebody. I... am going to be caught."
"Henrik Potter? Don't worry about him. They'll be too busy tomorrow to figure out what happened."
Roscoe followed the Watchman automatically, like a dog on a tether. "Why? What happens tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow's Sunday. Big things happening tomorrow," Carnage said airily as he headed towards Euper.
"What's happening?" Roscoe found the sensation of walking on dirt so odd, he fell behind his false son for a fear minutes before a sharp whistle made him skitter quickly to catch up.
"I have no clue," Carnage admitted. "But the stars are never wrong."
Roscoe turned his attention skyward once more and stared at the bleak and empty expanse of his eternal darkness. "No, they never are."