Man In The Box

The upright stared into the flat sun of its scrying disc. It wavered in the sickly blue glow of its magics, humming and chanting soft curses to the spirits.

"Shit, what is the DPS on this thing? We've been spamming this Fire Ent with ice bolts for six minutes and it's not even down a quarter health."

A fury of clicks filled his twitching ears. He woke with a sneeze. Striped Paw got up from the blanket and stretched his front legs. When he was done, he stretched the back ones. His tail switched expectantly as he dropped down before the upright, and rubbed up against its legs.

"This fucking staff is bullshit. Legendary weapon my ass."

Striped Paw trilled his song of greeting and rubbed his head against the upright's shin, thrumming with the gentle purr of anticipation.

"Does anyone have some AoE? Pillars of Decay has a five minute cool down. I'm getting wrecked by this mob."

Striped Paw flopped onto the feet of the upright. He sang up to the foodgiver and batted his eyes.

"Not now, Neko. We've almost finished the raid. I'll feed you later."

Striped Paw objected and kneaded the upright's clothed paw, jingling his collar in dismay.

"What? No, it's my cat. Can someone rez Fenris? I told you guys that rangers make shitty tanks."

Striped Paw curled around the upright and shut his eyes. He would warm it with love until it brought prey into the bowl.

~

Dawn peeked out from under the slotted blinds of the window. It was blue gray, with the hint of sunlight. The feathered food quailed their fear of Striped Paw. He is a great predator. When he is free of this dark prison, he will feast upon their hollow bones.

Striped Paw looked up from the bed. The upright still sat before the scrying panel. This time the creatures it watched did not run or tumble or explode in violent light. Instead it was a large white canvas, filled with alien scrawl.

"Assholes."

The upright still muttered its hexes, its paws clacking with agitation across the black slate that controlled the scrying panel. Striped Paw yawned with indifference. He would strike the enemies of the upright, suck the marrow from their bones, bury them beside feathered corpses.

"Code of conduct? Come on."

Striped Paw jumped onto the plateau where the upright kept its magicks and purred contentedly. He rubbed his face against the panel. Stomped the slate with the same agitation the upright had shown. If Striped Paw showed the same dedication as the upright, perhaps they would share the pate of a gutted tin.

"Cat! Neko! Not now. Why do you always do this?"

The upright was not pleased. It scooped Striped Paw within its arms and dropped him to the floor. By it's clothed paws were the remains of an army of unlucky creatures. The empty husks of sugar water. The crumpled skins of salted disks. Striped Paw found the orange dust of the fat worms and began to lick it up. His rough tongue squeaked along the smoothed metal siding of a discarded cocoon. It was not a filling meal, but he purred nonetheless.

~

For hours the upright peered into the void, seeking dark secrets and unseen enemies among the flashing lights of the scrying panel. It clattered upon the slate and its nails slammed into the dead rodent it whipped about in play. Day had gone to night and come once again, yet the upright was unwavering. His foes challenged him and he knocked them down from within the screen of lights.

Striped Paw watched this with fascination. His head tilted and rolled with each slide of the dead rodent. His eyes widened and narrowed explosively in light and change of day. The upright did not eat or drink as it once did. Rarely went to the litter box. Its lips cracked and its breath went foul.

It relinquished the bed to Striped Paw. He enjoyed this new domain. The grasses upon it were bunched and warm like fur. They yielded when he sank his paws into them and yet returned with softness. But there is something fetid about them, as if a death has crept into them.

Suddenly, a high pitched squeal startled the upright. It reluctantly moved from the panel, released its death grip upon the rodent. To its side, something glittered brightly and shuttered with a violent lurching seizure. The upright took it up in its paw, and began a new chant.

"Hello?"

Striped Paw watched. This was an powerful artifact. Rarely used, it usually brought much rage and plaintive crying.

"... Hi."

Striped Paw got up and stretched, trilled the song of greeting. The upright did not notice. The artifact had ensorcelled it. Striped Paw dropped down to the floor and sniffed among the graveyard of sweet water and salted disks, but found no adequate leavings. He left the room to hunt for better prey.

Down the narrow place, past the uprights litter box, was a little used cavern inhabited by pate cans and kibble pouches. There was also a small pond where Striped Paw took a drink. He inspected his bowl. Nothing edible had been left for him there in some days.

There was a padded mountain, which in distant days the upright spent much time before a different scrying panel. Underneath, at times, Striped Paw had found small creatures that he could hunt. Some were dead, stuffed with cloth and grasses which he could not eat. Others, however, writhed with fresh life for the taking.

Striped Paw batted many of these around before he determined that none would yield food.

"I'm fine. I'm fine. They just kicked me out of the clan."

Something creaked in the walls. Ears perked, the great hunter stalked along the baseboard looking for a breach into the nest.

"I don't want to talk about rent. I have grandma's money... Some left."

Striped Paw walked over to the great portal and rubbed against the jamb. The door did not yield. He pawed upon its panels and sang the song of wanting, but the upright did not hear, was not summoned. The clever sneak slipped his paw beneath the door and sank claws into the other side. He pulled in quick, short bursts, hoping to dislodge it.

"I don't need a job. I can auction loot. Loot... You wouldn't understand, but it makes money. Yes, it's very popular."

The great portal yielded, but its stocks had waned. The homes of the sweet waters and salted disks were empty, their clear coverings torn by some ravaging beast. Many of the plateaus are simply empty. Striped Paw jumped to the lowest one. On it lay the pouch of kibble. He rubbed it with his face. It crinkled with delight. With the swift bat of his paw he knocked it over, spilling its guts upon the floor.

"Yeah, I go outside plenty. What? Neko is fine. He's around here somewhere."

There is less spoil than in previous hunts. Striped Paw ate voraciously. Though he might spit some up later, there's no knowing when he'll next eat.

"I'm fine. I'm fine! Ok! Good bye!"

When Striped Paw returned to the den, he saw that the upright had thrown the artifact on the ground. It had been a successful battle, and the upright had triumphed over the flashing and the rumbling. Striped Paw tried to sing a song of victory, but the upright was in no mood for celebration.

"Shut up! Go away!"

It returned to its scrying, slamming on its panel and scraping its rodent and not speaking a word of spells.

~

Striped Paw did not notice when the upright stopped its struggle. When he woke up, it was no longer moving, its head rested upon the slate. Striped Paw dropped onto the floor and sauntered over to its legs, rubbing against them in friendly greeting. He chirped his song of greeting, purred his affection for the triumphant upright.

It was very still in the room.

Striped Paw jumped up on the desk and head butted the scrying panel. It was cool and blank, the light of its great powers having gone out. He sniffed the dead rodent and found only the smell of sweat and sticky sweetness. He walked across the slate of power without any shouted objection, his feet stomping upon it with their own violent intention. The enemies of the upright were the enemies of Striped Paw.

The upright did not notice or stir.

Striped Paw stepped over the head of the upright. He sniffed its ear and its hair, inspecting the scent of grease and wax for any change. Its pores oozed a salted breeze, the same noisome stench of litter. Striped Paw began licking the upright on the cheeks. He purred fiercely with the pride of the kill, hoping that there would be some share of the spoils.

It breathed heavily, slow and sonorous and without waking.

Striped Paw nuzzled the upright once more. Licked its nose and bit its earlobe. It did not stir, for it had gone to the great darkness of dreams. Seeing the upright in such repose, he knew that there would be no spoils now. There had been battle, maybe victory, but the prize won had been meager. And because there was no one there to recognize it but he, Striped Paw sang the song of his people, low and sad, ringing with pride and the promise of new hunts to come.

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MauricioWan
Created by MauricioWan

Originally Created: 23/04/16