I want to but I can't. I have 2 20 page reports, 1 ppt, 1 term paper and 3 finals left before graduation that is in two weeks. I need to finish it all!
I will get sleep once school is over, gonna sleep for like three days. So I"m finishing up one of my 20 page reports tonight (I'm like three pages away, conclusions will be the death of me) so then I have one less thing to do! Got my twizzlers, my energy drink and some nice piano music. :) ( I will live by taking naps, I like naps, naps are good)
YAY! Ryills speech was awesome! happy dance
Raziah fell in step with Ryker as the band of corsairs took the winding path uphill. The Palace's white walls and columns seemed to cover the whole hilltop. There was a sun-bleached flag wafting gently from a flagpole, but other than its gaudy colours, the fortress seemed stern and plain, with flat roofs and arched windows.
"You are young, to be leading these beasts. This is good. Pantaleon likes ambition," Raziah said conversationally. She looked over at Nerissa, who was walking nearby. The mysterious corsair's gaze seemed to be taking in the vixen's rather embarrassing furcut, her hooped earrings and colourful corsair's clothes. "He also likes dancing. Do you dance, pretty maid?"
There was something rather playful in the ferret's tone, but neither the gold eye nor the real one was giving away anything. They were close to the Palace gates now. The heavy doors were propped open, but guarded by Trident Rats.
Nerissa thought about replying, but remained silent. She had caught the ferret's tone, and the words 'pretty maid' sounded mocking to her ears. Instead, she simply adjusted her hood in silence so it covered even more of her head as soon as the ferret turned her back on her. She tilted her head forward a little as well so the brim of the hood covered her eyes. She had to remember to ask Ryker to punish her amateur barber…
The lead rat stepped in front of the group, and held up his paw. "His Grace commands that each captain only bring one guest to dinner."
"Then I pick this one," Raziah said immediately, pointing to Nerissa. "Though, I do not know her name. I am Raziah, of the Smiling Seductress."
"The floating bordello," Nerissa explained none too quietly to Matlock. It had been a good call on the vixen's part that she adjusted her hood the way she did. Otherwise every beast on the scene would have caught the expression of wide eyed shock on her face. It had not lasted long though before it turned into a tight jawed expression of silent, seething anger. So she was going to do this to her? Take her into the palace just so she could taunt her for no explained reason for as long as she could? Even the cats didn't go this far.
Not this time though, not this time. The cats could get away with it, they were many, well armed and almost her size, this ferret may be well armed, but she wasn't as strong as the cats were and she was only one bullying ferret.
Ryker never thought he could be so on edge in the past, but here he was. Feeling like his soul was trying to explode out of his own body, trying to escape what would be a none-too-pleasant ending to his attempt to retrieve his close friend. Abandoning ship…
His mind raced through the options. It was too late to turn back now, or to try a different approach. All he could do now was play along and hope for the best. Ironically, the authority was his only chance now. If Perrin was okay and not guilty, he could walk back out without trouble from the guards, but what if he was still out of it? What then?
He realized his flaw, he was thinking too far ahead. He still had to get into the palace and he could only bring only one beast with him. One!
He raced through the few options. Ranjit was a great fighter, but no. It was amazing sparks didn't fly out of his mouth every time he talked, because he lit up trouble whenever he did. He would get them both killed the moment he opened his big mouth! He also realized he never had the time to get to know the other beasts. Oh, he talked to them every now and than and remembered a few by name, but he didn't know any of them well enough to know how much use they would be in this situation...
Matchlock, or whatever his name was. He was the only logical option, though Ryker hardly knew him anymore than most of the other beasts, he obviously didn't get his position by doing nothing. Laverna sure found him more useful than the other slaves.
He casually pointed a claw at the fox. "I'll take my old friend here with me. Me and him have been shipmates for a long time." He hoped for once it was a good choice on his part.
"Aye, where'd you be without your old messmate Matlock," Matlock said with a forced grin. He had lost count how many times the cat had forgotten his name, or given some variation on the syllables that never quite matched. Ordinarily the big fox slave was unconcerned with what the knights and lords called him, so long as they didn't call him too often. But right now, it was important that Ryker remember, to keep up the act.
Wordlessly, the guard rat stepped aside to admit the guests. However, once the four beasts were inside, they found themselves flanked by more Trident Rats, to escort them directly to the Emperor.
Laverna was afraid. This wasn't just butterflies in the stomach before a social engagement, like all the boring weddings and parties and occasions that she had avoided as a younger wildcat. She was still young even now, she could see it had surprised Pantaleon that she had commanded a ship. The exile from the North had forced her to grow up rather quickly. Now here she was representing her house in a foreign land, with customs she barely understood.
Meeting Pantaleon had done little to soothe her anxiety. Whilst on the outside he presented a veneer of good manners, charming smiles and civil conversation, she had a feeling in her gut that there was some barbaric, savage side to the pine marten she had yet to uncover. His paws were soft, his words eloquent and perfectly pronounced, but this supposed genteel beast was the sole ruler of an island of bloodthirsty corsairs, propped up by the labour of hundreds- no, _thousands_ of slaves that would work until they dropped dead. How long had Pantaleon been Emperor of this grisly monument to decadence? Twenty years? More? This empire of his was held afloat in an ocean of blood, sweat, and tears.
Laverna had bathed, and was getting ready to dress for the evening. Pantaleon had loftily granted her a room to stay for as long as she was on the island, insisting it was no trouble. The wildcat had not been expecting the 'room' to be the size of a small feasting hall by Northlands standards. It seemed equipped for wildcats too, with an appropriately sized bed, chairs, dressing table and full length mirror. Laverna could only guess that the pine marten was used to playing host to all kinds of beasts. It was actually starting to make her feel homesick - she hadn't been in a proper home for months now. She had mostly been living in a tent, or in the cramped captain's quarters of the _Bloody Barracuda_. She supposed she ought not complain too much about that though; her crew had no personal space at all.
The wildcat put on the clothes the slaves had laid out on the dressing table. It seemed there would be no call for a corsair's disguise this evening. They had selected for her a rather martial looking white tunic, with gold piping, lace and epaulettes. A belt around her waist was fastened with a gold hook, and she tucked the pair of decorative white gloves into the belt, along with a curved sabre Pantaleon had insisted she have as a gift to wear this evening, instead of the heavy cutlass she had brought. The pine marten had mentioned that it was acceptable to wear her weapon to dinner - every other beast would be, anyway. It surprised Laverna how different it was to Northern customs, where wearing weapons to a feast indicated distrust and bad manners. She supposed there was very little trust to be had when all the guests were corsairs.
There was one final touch left. Somebeast had left a five-pointed white flower on the table. It was a Hellebore flower, Laverna's namesake and the sigil of her house. Pantaleon hadn't just been idly boasting about his gardens then, she supposed. She smiled faintly and lifted the flower, being careful not to crush it in her strong paws. She put it neatly in her headfur by her ear, and looked at herself in the mirror. A young noble wildcat looked back, her militaristic appearance tempered by the delicate flower. Laverna smoothed the tunic of any creases, straightened her shoulders, and strode to the door. It was time to meet Sampetra's elite club.
The dining hall's size and grandeur seemed to accentuate the fact that there were not very many guests. Laverna could see that the arrangement of chairs and silverware around the long table were spaced quite apart, and she could tell from the way the guests acted that they were not expecting too many more arrivals. They were loud, large, and full of their own egos, laughing and chattering away as slender slaves slunk between them holding silver platters on which wineglasses were balanced delicately. The hall was held up by white marble pillars around the edges of the room, and by each pillar stood a Trident Rat in polished armour, their weapons gleaming.
"There, see what a beauty she is," a familiar voice said. Laverna had only just stepped through the double doors, and there was Pantaleon already, having changed into what seemed an even more extravagant outfit, a circlet of gold olives perched on his head. Beside his was a slim stoat, who stood with his shoulders back and his chest out, his right paw resting on his hip, and his left daintily holding a silk handkerchief. Pantaleon smiled at Laverna, and gestured at the stoat with one paw. "May I present Achenar, my… majordomo I suppose, or castellan, or steward. I've never quite decided what his official job title is. Suffice to say he's my right paw beast, and looks after my household. Achenar, meet Captain Laverna Hellebore, of the ancient Hellebore wildcat clan."
Achenar bowed with a flourish, and Laverna gave him a short curtsey back. Pantaleon was not done making introductions it seemed, He steered the two of them from one member of his council to the next. Laverna met the Imperial Physician, a kindly looking old vixen named Desmora, who proudly informed the wildcat that she had been looking after Pantaleon all his life, and his father Pantelis before that. Laverna also met Deke, a bumbling fat searat who looked ready for a heart attack any moment.
"I'd also like you to meet the Imperial Spymaster, if he obeyed my wish that he be here," Pantaleon told Laverna, as they crossed the mosaic tiled floor, mingling with the guests, whom all nodded respectfully as he passed. A hint of irritation crept into his voice, and he shot a look at Achenar, who smirked.
"I'll see if I can find him skulking about," the stoat said slyly, and slouched off, his tail flicking jauntily. It seemed to Laverna that the Emperor's majordomo was looking forward to informing the Spymaster of the Emperor's displeasure.
"You summoned me, Your Grace," a deep, quiet voice spoke from behind them. "I am yours to command."
Laverna whirled around in surprise, but Pantaleon merely chuckled at her alarm. The wildcat's eyes went wide with astonishment. There in front of her, was a real, living Marlfox. He had thick mottled fur in shades of grey from near white to black, his eyes were pale blue, and his figure fine and lithe. He wore clothes as dark as the dappled greys of his fur, save for a blood-red sash and cream-coloured neckcloth.
"This is Kawldkan," Pantaleon said with a mischievous grin. Laverna could see the pine marten had enjoyed her surprise immensely; he loved showing off, and this was one of the rarest beasts in the known world. "If Achenar is my right paw, then Kawldkan is my left."
"I have already heard much of you, Captain," Kawldkan said with a short bow of his head. "It is my job to hear things, after all."
"What things have you heard, sir?" Laverna asked.
Kawldkan gave her a thin smile. "I'm not a knight, no need to call me that. If you are looking for a knight though, I expect Sir Ryker will join us in good time. A shame his friend Perrin will be unable to attend."
"Perrin? What's happened to Perrin?" Laverna looked from Kawldkan to Pantaleon, a note of worry creeping into her voice, her brow furrowing. It seemed everybeast knew what was becoming of her crew better than she did herself. "Did you find him?"
Kawldkan give Pantaleon a meaningful look. "Veska."
"Ah," Pantaleon nodded. "There's no need for alarm, Captain, I sent my Monitor Lizards to bring your missing crewmembers into custody. They will not be harmed; Veska follows my orders to the very letter. Please, let us be seated."
Slaves filed into the room as the guests took their places, holding large platters covered by silver lids. Everybeast seemed to know exactly where they sat in the Emperor's hierarchy. The more powerful the beast, the closer they sat to Pantaleon. Laverna was not sure what was safer, being closer or further away from the pine marten. It was only when most of the guests were seated that she realised she had a place of honour, a seat near the Emperor at the head of the table. There was an empty seat beside her, so she had nobeast to talk to but Pantaleon. Achenar sat opposite her. She looked around for where Kawldkan had been seated, but she couldn't see the marlfox at the table anywhere. Had he disappeared from the gathering already? The pine marten seemed unconcerned by this, so the wildcat put it out of her mind.
"I insist you let me begin the dance with you," Pantaleon was saying airily, in a way that seemed to prohibit any protest. "I haven't danced in the Northern style for seasons. We might as well show something new and novel to my more Southern guests, don't you think?"
Laverna was about to reply when the double doors at the end of the hall opened. She looked around, down the table, to see a familiar lean figure approaching, flanked by corsairs. The rat at the door banged his trident down, the noise of metal striking tile echoing over the chattering guests.
"Acting Captain Raziah of the Smiling Seductress, and Sir Ryker, Knight of House Hellebore," he announced in an ostentatious tone. He glanced at Matlock and Nerissa as they tagged along, and cleared his throat, adding, "and two guests."
The unfortunate two 'guests' were waved by the Palace slaves into chairs at the very foot of the table. Ryker and Raziah were directed further up, seating the corsair cat with Laverna, and Raziah beside Deke, the Lord High Treasurer.
"Don't worry," Laverna said, leaning close and giving her trusted companion a small smile. She knew the amount of silver cutlery in front of him looked very daunting. "Just start from the outside, and work your way in."
Pantaleon tapped his wine glass with the tip of his two-tined fork, and the slaves leant forward. In unison, they pulled off the silver lids on the platters, revealing the decadent, exotic meal. Smiling, the pine marten skewered a piece of lobster, and delicately closed his sharp teeth over it. The feast had begun.