Cont. on Pg. 13
rating: +12+x

It's times like these that I chide myself for getting greedy. I didn't do my due diligence as a good citizen and research the illegal drugs I was about to consume. The last time I forwent the ever-important step of looking at what I put in the appropriate orifice, I went on a stitch-bend for around a month; 'course it was longer than that for me. That bender was life-threatening in more ways than one, but this might be worse. If I couldn't pay, MC&D (Moody, Crummy, & Dreary) would skin me alive and resell my scales as a wrapping for journals at a steep but competitive price. With my luck, it would end up being filled with the crap R'lek writes.

I looked back towards my babysitter, and discovered I was still feeling the after-effects of the punch those flies delivered, since he had definitely been talking, but all I was hearing was a muffled chittering.

I grabbed the bug and pulled him behind a conveniently placed column as discreetly as I could, and smacked him across the face.

"Get it together you mook! I've pulled greater heists in the name of journalism, and I won't let this be th-" I was cut off as R'lek knocked me over the head with one of his forelegs. Normally I'd be mad, but this actually brought my hearing back so I elected to ignore the slight against me.

R'lek repositioned his scarf in a huff. "No wonder they had to call me in, you're quite literally trying to get yourself killed and turn it into a preaching session every week."

I felt like that was uncalled for, but for now we had to let cooler heads prevail. I hushed him, then said, "Yeah, yeah sure it's not preaching but whatever, think what you like. Listen: we've still got some time until the end of the auction, we have to come up with a plan so we don't end up the next hottest taxidermies."

I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. The only eyes on us was the anartist who's piece I had just won the privilege to pay for. Mildred? Moxy? Mary? Close enough. Something about their eyes, as they looked upon two journalists with hardly any pocket cash between them, was almost pleading. The dark circles under the pitiful eyes, the unkempt hair, it was almost as if they wanted us to break the rules. That, or they really wanted us to pay up so they could eat tomorrow.

I turned back to R'lek, who I had been purposefully ignoring this time. I caught the tailend, something about talking it out and being sure they'll understand our predicament. That'll have to be Plan Z, since there's no way in hell it'll work. If anyone wanted to represent the Man, the merchants would love nothing more to fulfill that role.

"Here's the plan. When the auction ends, we walk out with the other broke bastards, make it back to our Way, and be home before anyone realizes they're missing a sizable amount of cash."

My ‘partner’ groaned. “You can’t even listen to someone. I just said the exact same thing.”

“You’re lucky I’m not writing you out of my report entirely.”

"That's a twisted definition of luck."

"I'll twist you, you sack of-"

The presenter interrupted our whispered argument, similar to how I wanted to interrupt R'lek's life processes at the moment, exclaiming, "Alrrrrright folks! That is all we have for you today. Any of you who did not manage to snag a piece are welcome back anytime, and those lucky winners who did win should head backstage immediately."

We would have to insult each other through the op-ed section (one of my favorite pass-times) later, for it was then the time for action. We waited for most of the crowd to reach the doors before making our move, doing what any anartist under the thumb of MC&D wished to do, and escaped the main auction house.

Going out the way we came in was the worst option, there were plenty of side doors and hallways to lose any prying eyes, but as we made our way towards the security guard, a faint funeral dirge marching away in the back of my head, I didn't see a single way out. Guards doing their absolute best, and by that I mean absolute worst, to look like regular people were milling around the only other exits in the greater atrium. There was no way out, at least no way except for where they wanted the guests to leave. It was times like these I missed Helena.

To my horror, R'lek approached Mr. Vaso, who had been heading towards one of the halls. This was it, he would buy his freedom by selling me to the fishbowl so it can take revenge. I was almost proud of him, I'd do the same if the opportunity presented itself. They seemed to have an animated conversation. Maybe I would be forced to make shitty art to pay my debt instead of being outright murdered.

The two turned and walked towards me, where I could actually hear the conversation.

R'lek wrapped his arm around my surprise bidding nemesis, and said, "Well Vaso, it's very kind of you to do this, especially for the one who outbid you for the pistol." The bug winked at me. What had he done?

Bubbles formed at the bottom of Mr. Vaso's fishbowl and rose to the top while he talked, which sounded closer to a refined gurgling. "Ah, it's no trouble my friends, truth be told I couldn't afford that price tag after it passed two million. I just was having some fun."

Before I had time to process that this asshole had been playing the same game as me, and had won, R'lek interjected. "So! Now that that's settled, shall we make our way to your room?"

"Room? Why would he have a room at an auction house?" is what I remember thinking, and then immediately putting all the pieces together. This whole building wasn't an auction house, it was too grand, too much for the actual auction room to take up such a small amount of space. If Mr. Vaso had a room, then that could mean… we're in a hotel. I looked at R'lek's smug face. He knew that I knew R'lek had just found us a way out of here.

He would never let me hear the end of this.

The plan, to my increased chagrin, worked like a fucking charm. Vaso got by the guards with his room keycard, convincing them we were just friends going to drink after a long day of auctioning. Once out of view, R'lek and I said our goodbyes and took the nearest exit.

As we rushed through the crowds, R'lek cleared his throat and looked and pointedly at me. "Is there something you want to say?"

There were plenty of things I wanted to say. I wanted to philosophize about the crushing weight put on the artists of our community. I wanted to say various curse words. These are both things R'lek did not want to hear.

"Ech, fine. You did good. You'll find a way to fuck it up soon enough though, so I'm not worried."

"See? If you had done the proper follow-ups before going to report, you would've known this was a hotel, and you would've known that Vaso has been a friend of the Planasthai for eight years. He was actually trying to make our story more interesting."

"Dammit man! Who cares? I don't need a lesson on how to do my job. Let's get out of here before they realize what we've done."

Too late.

The emerald eyed security guard rounded the corner just ahead of us. For just a moment, we all paused. The bustle of Backdoor SoHo flowed around us, but we were frozen. Maybe emeralds can't see movement.

Spoiler alert: She could definitely see movement.

Our duel lasted for three aching seconds. Her hand shot to her earpiece, but I had the better draw, as I hucked the empty bug jar in her general direction and didn't wait to see if it hit. R'lek and I dashed to the right, the guard close behind.

The crowds were suffocating. R'lek scrambled up a wall along the walkway, skittering over the crowd horizontally. I ducked and weaved, taking almost as many elbows to the face as a certain concert.

A glint of green to my left caught my eye. An emerald ball, just about the size of an eye, swerved around disgruntled passerby, locked on me. I stole a glance behind me, and sure enough, past her tinted glass were two empty sockets. R'lek had just noticed his new companion as well, and was swiping at it, to no avail.

I picked up a T'monian (real small bastards) passing by, and threw it at the guard. Not only did that slow me down, she spun away from the squealing creature just in time. The eyes were a problem.

R'lek threw himself off the wall ahead of me, dashing to the left. More MC&D agents turned the corner he had just been on, certainly called by our tail. I cut through the road, cars shrieking to a stop before they created life-size roadkill. I'd hate to be in that pile-up.

This road was a full-on performance art, a fantasy medieval market all run by an anartist collective. And we fucking destroyed half of it. R'lek and I clambered through a stall of wheat and grain, fruits, and veggies. The guard vaulted through the entire stand in one leap, her eyes boring holes into the back of our heads.

We collapsed tents, capsized carts, and capitalized on every way we could to lose her, but it was no use while she could react to our every move.

The market's "town guards" distracted her for just a moment, as they charged at us with their crudely made swords, but in that moment I swiped a pot of stew set over an open fire. I dumped the stew out, quickly pivoted, and slammed it over her eyes, trapping them. Without her sight, we quickly lost her in the market, especially when she ran head-on into a stack of pumpkins. We never slowed down, not even as we approached the Way, not even as R'lek frantically hummed the melody to a song that hadn't been invented yet in this universe, only when we slammed into a shelf in some corner of the Library as we passed through.

As we caught our breath, R'lek slowly rose his eyes to meet mine. "Fuck you Duke."

"Fuck you too pal"

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