Sweating hands like fire, and flames,
Burn my thighs, spread in sacrificial rite,
The hallowed altar burns my flesh
once more tonight."
"Suite Sister Mary"
Robert shot out of bed, panting hard and sweating, both paws dug into the bed. He didn't scream like he did the last two days, but the visions were the same. The gray fox body slamming into the deck, and he didn't survive the strike. It wasn't just a dream, it was going to happen. Robert knew it. And it was going to happen tonight.
Abacus woke up seeing the cat panting hard. He sat up and held Robert close to him, reassuring him. They sat in silence for a few minutes, until the raccoon nuzzled the tabby gently. "You dreamed again?"
Robert nodded. "He's going to die tonight." Robert said, his eyes watering up. "I've seen it, he's going to die tonight."
"Who is?" Abacus asked.
"Silver." Robert said, crying to himself. "And I can't stop it!"
Abacus held Robert in his arms, and rocked him gently back and forth. "We'll try, my love." he said gently. "We'll try."
Silver and Sharpeye woke up together in the morning. Wordlessly they both nuzzled, and licked each other's muzzles. Silver rested his head on Sharpeye's chest, and took in a deep breath of Sharpeye's scent, gently murring to himself.
Sharpeye ran his paw across the gray fox's ears. "Good morning to you too!" he said with a smile. "I hate to make this an early morning, but we've got a lot to do today."
Silver nodded, his eyes still closed. "I know." he said gently. "Just a few more minutes, and I'll be ready."
Sharpeye ran his paw over Silver's fur gently. "Well…" He rumbled slowly. "Normally I wouldn't, but I think this time I can make an exception."
Eric couldn't sleep. It was partially the lingering pain from his piercings, partially the electricity he felt from the power in his new form, but mostly he was looking forward to pounding the snot out of that damned fox. Vermin gave him this body, and he felt vibrant and alive. It was only a matter of time now.
On the deck, Red walked up to Belfry and put his paw on Belfry's shoulder. "Anything out there?"
"Nope." said the bat. "Nothing that I can sense." He turned to face Red with a grin. "Then again, I haven't seen anyone on this ship since I've been here."
Red laughed to himself. "Well, I think you're doing a good job on the night watch Belfry."
The bat snickered. "Considering my last position in life, this is a definite improvement. So how's Dice?"
"He's fine." Red said, extending his telescope to look at sky. "I don't like the look of the horizon."
Belfry turned the same direction, opened his mouth, and waited. His ears twitched a little bit as he let out the call a second time, and twitched his ears again. "What color is it?"
"Burnt red." the setter said sadly. "Why?"
"I'm catching a hint of storm clouds ahead, but it's faint." the bat said. Red shook his head, and Belfry looked towards him. "Have I ever been wrong?"
"No." Red said. He looked into the black orbs that were the eyes of the bat. Belfry was blind when he came on board years ago, but ever since his change he had become an asset to the crew on night watch. Red rubbed Belfry's shoulders, which brought the bat to contented groans of pleasure. "If it gets bad I'll tell the Captain. I've got the watch."
Belfry nodded. "It's all yours." He extended his wings, stretching the skin out. "But, if it's all the same, I'll stay here until you think I'm relieved." Red snickered, and used his claws to remove the dead fur from Belfry's back. The bat melted into the irish setter, his whole body relaxing into the dog
Eric paced around in the sleeping area f the jackrats. Until, finally, Vermin came for him. "It's time." Eric nodded, and followed his Master up the stairs.
Silver stayed in the mess hall talking to Smoke after breakfast. Sharpeye had to get to his work, excusing himself early. After some time, Silver went up to meet him. On the top deck, his path was blocked by a few rats. He tried to step around, but they shifted to block him.
"I have to get to navigation." Silver said.
"You're not goin' anywhere." a voice said. Silver turned around to see a very large jackrat. He was naked, and extremely muscular. "I've got a message from Vermin."
Silver swallowed his fear. "The message is?"
"Hold still, I'll give it to ya." Eric made a swing with his fist, which Silver dodged. Eric cocked his fist back, and Silver tucked his body, somersaulting between the rat's legs and coming up behind him. "Dammit! Get your ass back here!" Eric snarled.
"Gotta catch me first!" Silver said, prancing with his feet to keep moving. Silver felt a slight electricity to his movements, a fluidity that somehow came naturally to him. All around the deck activity stopped to watch this mismatch. As Eric tried to connect a punch, the crew members started to cheer, and made bets as to who would win.
"The fox takes him!" one said.
"No way!" came a reply. "I'll take yer bet! Loser gets his tail in a sling for an hour tonight?"
"ON!" The dogs shook on it, both secretly hoping to lose.
Eric grabbed a wooden pole from the deck and swung at Silver. Silver jumped onto the ship's rail as Eric made several wild swings, finally connecting a strong blow to his right leg which sent Silver falling towards the sea. He bounced off of the air, still standing on the rail, and staggered back towards the ship.
"Have another one!" Eric yelled, making one more swing. Silver leaned into it, catching the end in his ribs and throwing his arm down to trap the pole. Silver let out a loud grunt when he caught it, and used his right paw to bat the pole down. Eric wasn't ready for this, and the pole dropped to the ground.
Silver looked over Eric's shoulder, and saw the path to the climbing net was open. He put all his strength to jump over the large rat man, but didn't have the height. Eric caught him, and held onto him. Silver did the only thing he could do. With his free paw, he grabbed at the large nose ring, and pulled on it for dear life.
Eric screamed in agony as the ring came loose but not out, and he dropped the fox. Silver landed on his feet, and staggered back trying to catch his breath. Three other rats jumped on him, and grabbed him by the arms as Eric shook his head violently. He looked over to Silver, a fire in his eyes. And as the other rats held onto Silver's arms, Eric stood in front of him, panting hard. The crowd quieted down, sensing the fight just escalated.
"Perhaps I should introduce myself to you, fox boy." Eric said. "So you know who's the boss on this ship." Eric cocked his fist back, and was about to drive forward.
"You're right." said a voice. Eric felt someone grab his wrist with a very powerful grip. He turned to see who it was, and looked right into a very large and very muscular bull terrier's face. "Hello. My name is Dice. Welcome aboard the Maria." He smiled a sadistic toothy grin, and with all his might buried his other fist into the nose ring of the rat.
The door to Navigation burst open, and a squirrel ran in. "Where's Cat'ain Yars?"
"Not here." Sharpeye said. "Why? What's wrong?"
"There's a fight on the main deck!" Kyle said breathlessly. "The Jackrats and the Howlers again."
Sharpeye rolled his eyes. "Well, they waited until after Christmas at least. Who's in it?"
"I don't know." Kyle said. "But they started attacking some gray dog down there and…"
"There's no gray dog." Sharpeye said. "Not on this shift. Unless…" He thought a moment, then threw down his compass. "Silver." He ran out of the room, followed by Kyle.
On the deck the fight had broken out into full open war. Claws, Fists, poles, anything not nailed down was picked up and being used as a weapon. Dice was enjoying every moment of it. And he was going after the largest rat there, Eric. Dice felt another one of the rats jump on his back, and try to hit him. Then, after a forceful blow, the rat fell off. Dice looked behind him, and saw Red there with a broken bucket. Dice winked to his mate, and Red pointed to Dice's front as Eric slammed his fists down onto Dice's shoulders.
Somewhere on the outskirts, Mutt was just fighting to get out of the way. He made a run for a door frame, tackling three of the rats in his way to get them down and get him out of the melee. He dove into the doorway, and saw another rat. Mutt balled his fists in reflex, ready to defend himself.
"WOAH!" the rat said in a panic, hands up at a defensive position. "I'm not fighting!"
Mutt cocked his head to the side. "Chris?" The rat nodded. "Whazzit all about?"
"Vermin made Eric yesterday." Chris said, backing away from the fight, and motioning Mutt to follow. "Has a real bug up his tail about that fox." Once they were out of the main melee, Chris continued. "Look, I don't want to get hurt today either. I thought Vermin just wanted to put a little scare on Silver and that would be it. I didn't know he was a Howler or I'd have said something to stop it."
"He's not a Howler." Mutt said. "He's our friend."
Chris shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry Mutt." Chris sat down on the stairs. "I'm really sorry. I should have said something."
Mutt sat down next to Chris. "Sokay. Wanna sit this one out?" Chris nodded, putting his head into his claws in disgust. Mutt hugged Chris gently. "That Christmas offer still stands." Chris nodded, but didn't say anything. The two sat on the stairs quietly.
Silver was fighting for his life when two rats grabbed him, one tried to get him into a headlock as the other tried to hit him with a broken chunk of wood. Suddenly, the second rat was taken down as a white blur tackled, straddled and began to hit the rat in the shoulders and belly in fast punches. Silver brought his forearm up, and between the legs of the rat who had him in a headlock. The rat shrieked, and let his grip go. From his first victim, the jack russel terrier jumped onto the now hobbled rat and slammed him to the deck. Silver staggered back a step, and into the body of a dalmatian.
"And good morning to you too!" Duke said. "You met Bullseye yet?" Silver never finished the thought, as another rat took a swipe at Duke. Duke took the brunt of the blow, lurching to the side. Silver retaliated with a kidney punch to the rat. The rat stiffened up as Duke slapped the rat in the nose. All across the ship's deck the fight raged on.
A gunshot sounded off. Everyone froze in place. Standing in the doorway of the command cabin, Yars was holstering his ball pistol. He let the moment linger. "I don't care who started it this time. I'm finishing it. I want Vermin and Ironbar in the captains office in five minutes. And until I get an explanation, the Jackrats and the Howlers are confined to quarters. Violators will be whipped until I'm satisfied they're punished sufficiently. Dismissed!"
Duke helped Silver up, and then helped Bullseye to his feet. "Good meetin' ya." Bullseye said to Silver quietly. Silver nodded, and quickly limped his way to navigation. All around him, the dogs and the rats were picking each other up off the deck, and helping the badly injured back to their quarters. Silver got to navigation, and looked at Sharpeye who was standing there.
"Are you ok?" Sharpeye asked. Silver nodded. "What happened?"
"I'm not really sure." Silver said, favoring his left side. "That big one said that Vermin sent him, and he came after me. I almost fell off the ship there." he pointed to the railing of the ship. "I guess Maria threw me back into the fight."
Sharpeye nodded, helping Silver to lay down on the ground. "You should heal up in about an hour." he said. "That's normal after these fights."
Silver looked up to Sharpeye with a shocked look. "You mean this is normal?"
"No." Sharpeye said. "Captain Yars usually lets it go. I believe he's in a foul mood this morning."
The tiger sat behind his desk, looking at the two in front of him. He leaned back in his chair tapping his index fingers together. "Well?"
"We were defending our own." Ironbar said. "Nothing more."
"Who? The fox? He's not a Howler." Vermin said. "You're making an excuse to get into a fight. Besides, I know nothing about why my latest recruit did that. He acted alone."
"He's your recruit?" Ironbar asked with some disgust. "You mean you just took one of the prisoners without asking?"
"Oh, so we're counting them now?" Vermin spat back. "You know I get a percentage!"
"GENTLEMEN!" Yars said aloud. "And I'm beginning to reconsider that label, this is getting us nowhere." Yars stood up, and adjusted his coat as he spoke. "If I need to I'll start making the shifts all one or all the other, but I don't want to do that. Either get over your differences, or I will be forced to make a decision that you will both hate me for."
Vermin sneered. "You're only being nice to the dog because he's letting you fuck him."
Yars growled to himself, and leaned over his table. "And I'm only being nice to you because I feel sorry that I didn't finish the job I started, or should I get the next one on board to cut your other one off?" Yars made a snipping motion with his fingers as Vermin sneered. "I know you don't want to be on this ship, just as I know they love being on this ship. I'm not expecting you to change overnight, but I am expecting you to deal with it in a non destructive way."
Vermin growled to himself. "Is that all?"
"Yes." Yars said. "You're dismissed."
"You're not my captain." Vermin spit out, "I'll choose when I stay or go." and stormed out of the room.
Yars shook his head as Ironbar cleared his throat. "You know he doesn't take that well." the dane said. "Why do you try?"
"Old habits die hard." Yars said with some reservation. "I can best deal with these outbreaks as I've been trained to. It works, for a while at a time. He'll get over it." Yars shook his head while sitting down. "Besides, isn't it your turn to fuck me?"
"I've lost track." Ironbar said with a quizzical tone. "We'll figure that out later."
Yars shook his head. "I know, you have your men to tend to. I'll keep the peace as long as I can. I'll lift the confinement in an hour, so everyone can get back to work. Hopefully, we can put this behind us by then."
Ironbar walked around to Yars and kissed him on the forehead. "I appreciate that." Yars smiled a little himself, and with a grin motioned for Ironbar to go. Ironbar did, and headed down to the Howlers quarters.
The day passed slowly. By mid-day the deck was cleaned, with only minimal signs of a struggle. The crew was quiet through their shifts. In the crew quarters the Howlers were quietly congratulating each other with gentle licks of the muzzles and passing around Maria's rum. Down below the water line, Vermin was stewing. He had already forcibly taken a few of his Jackrats from behind, but that wasn't helping his mood.
Red knocked on the navigator's door at the end of his shift. "Can I bother you?" He asked
Sharpeye nodded. "Not a bother. How may I help you?"
"There may be a storm rolling in from where we're sailing." Red said pointing forward. "We may be best to sit the night."
"How bad can it be?" Silver asked.
"Something tells me it won't be a pleasant ride." Red said. "I also recommend shutting the ship down."
Sharpeye looked at Silver, then back to Red. "We will pass it to the Captain." He said. "And tell him your recommendation." Red nodded. "Oh, and tell Dice I said thank you, but not officially." Red nodded with a smile, and headed out to the main deck. Sharpeye looked at Silver. "Have you met the Captain yet?"
"No. Well, umm, no, I haven't." Silver said.
"It's about time then." Sharpeye said. "Come on, I think we know where in the ocean we are." They two put their tools and books away, and went to the Captains Quarters. When they got there, they could hear howling coming from the inside of his cabin. Deep, powerful howls combined with loud yowls of feral lust. Silver looked to Sharpeye with some confusion, and some amount of fear. Sharpeye sat down in the hallway, and patted the space next to him. "They'll be a minute." he said. "Always give them a few minutes"
"Them?" Silver asked, sitting down.
"Yars and Ironbar." Sharpeye said. "For starters it's rude to walk in on the captain when he's enjoying himself. The other thing is that the two of them have a passion that… well…" Sharpeye looked for the words. "I think you'll know it when you see them together sometime. You know, I think it's a good thing that Rev came on board. The two of them were miserable without the other."
"So they've been together a long time?" Silver asked.
"As long as I've been on the ship." Sharpeye said. "I remember when Ironbar began his full change with Yars. It was…"
The door opened, and Ironbar was standing there wearing only a pair of pants. "A long time ago." he completed the thought. He offered his paw to both foxes, and helped them up. "But I'm not complaining. Captain Yars is… getting prepared to meet you both. Come on in." The pair walked in, and Ironbar closed the door. "You keep forgetting I have good hearing, Sharpeye." he said.
"Oh, I remembered." Sharpeye said, waiving a finger. "It's why I didn't knock. I also have a keen sense of smell too, and I know what you've been doing." Ironbar smiled wide. "I would say shame on you, but I'm not much more innocent." Ironbar twitched his ear, and looked quizzically at both foxes.
Yars came in from his sleeping quarters also only wearing pants. "What brings both of you here?"
"Captain, this is my apprentice Silver. He came on board with the Jezzibelle. He'll be helping me with navigation." Sharpeye said.
Yars eyed the silver fox and looked him over once. "A pleasure meeting you." Yars said. "Are you the silver fox that started that fight?" Silver's eyes went wide, and he nodded slowly. "I heard the whole story from a few sides. I know you're not the guilty party."
"Thank you Sir." Silver said around the lump in his throat.
"Is that all you came here for?" Yars asked sternly.
"No Captain." Sharpeye said. "It seems we're heading into a storm. The lookout recommended we raise sails and wait for it to pass."
"Who was the lookout?" Ironbar asked.
"Red." Sharpeye said. "The source is reliable."
"Then we will do that." Yars said. "I'll put out the order now."
"You might want to put on a shirt first." Ironbar said with a smile. Yars stopped his step, and looked down to his striped torso. He shrugged, and went back to his sleeping area. The two foxes tuned to leave when the dane cleared his throat. "Silver? Did you really stand up to Vermin? Did you really spit in his face?"
Silver looked at Sharpeye, who motioned with his paw towards Ironbar. "No." Silver said. "I just wanted to know if Rev was in the room or not."
Ironbar leaned into Silver, and put a finger on his muzzle. "Don't tell anyone else that. You're gaining a small reputation as someone not to mess with after today. Vermin thrives on creating fear."
"So does Yars." Silver said quietly.
"No." Sharpeye said tersely. "He gains respect. You get more from respect than you do with fear."
Ironbar nodded. "And I know the Howlers respect you, because you stood your ground. You didn't ask for help, you were going to handle it on your own. We were going to host a howl tonight, and I would have invited you both, but it seems the weather may not cooperate."
"What is a 'Howl' anyway? I've heard everyone talk about it for the last few days and…" Silver asked, looking at the great dane. Ironbar smiled, and patted Silver's cheek ruffs twice. "Oh, it's one of those come and see it events, isn't it?" Ironbar nodded. Silver sighed, and left with Sharpeye.
"I can't tell him!" Robert said, at the door. "I thought you said you would help me!"
"I said I'd help!" Abacus said, his voice raising. "But sitting here and doing nothing is not what I consider helping!"
"Do you have any better ideas?" Robert demanded.
"I told you mine!" Abacus snapped back. "It’s not my fault that what you think you see in the future is set in stone!"
"You don't believe me!" Robert said, his eyes watering up. "You never believe me when I talk about this curse I have!"
"I believe what I can see, or touch." Abacus said, putting his finger on his paw pad. "And I can't understand what you think you see."
"Then you don't understand me!" Robert said, throwing the door open and almost bowling over a wolf in the hallway. He ran down the hall crying.
"Robert!" Abacus ran to the door and yelled out to the hall. The wolf looked at the raccoon with a dazed expression as Abacus tried to look for his mate. He cursed at himself while closing his door, and running down the hall.
Yars passed on the order to raise the sails, and they were all tied off in preparations for the storm. Yars walked up behind Belfry who was standing at the bow of the ship, his paws on the railing, scanning the horizon. "How bad?"
"Bad, Captain." Belfry said. "I'm staying down here tonight. I don't trust gliding down from above with that storm coming in."
Yars nodded. "We'll tie everything down then."
"Oh, Captain?" Belfry added. "It's good to see you're back with Ironbar."
Captain Yars rolled his eyes. "Word travels fast."
"No." the bat said, twitching his nose. "I can smell a canine scent about you. And the only one I know you've ever been with was Frank. So put them together, and there it is, the only conclusion."
Yars looked at Belfry. "Are you sure you're blind?"
"As a bat." he said with a straight face.
Yars shook his head, trying not to laugh. "Sometimes I think you see better than some of the others on this ship."
"You better get that sail up." Belfry said. "The storm will hit us in an hour or two."
Last Chapter (Christmas)
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Being a work of fiction, none of the characters herin
are based on a real person (Save the narrator and one other person...)
And similarity to any person alive, dead, undead or unalive is coincidental,
totally. However, if you see yourself or someone you know in a character
be honored. You've been immortalised.