Tolerance and Consequences
|Story Copyright (C) By: Strega
2002 - All rights reserved.
Story not to be reprinted, or redistributed,
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Tolerance and consequences
It was five in the afternoon when Yain found himself sitting across from the lion, charcoal stick in hand. As much as he hated writing 'help wanted' notes, there was no point delaying things.
At times like these, he half-wished his little inn was in a proper
town. White Rock was hardly more than a wide spot in the caravan trail,
one inn, one blacksmith, a church, a couple of farmhouses, and the toll
There was the fox family down the road, the Todds. Maybe that daughter of theirs could fill in again. And maybe someone from the next caravan would answer his ad. There was one due when? He checked the corkboard next to the door, and found the notice. Three days until the next one came through.
Three days of double shifts, and probably no one to bus the tables but him. It almost made him regret hiring the two of them.
"She's going to eat him, you know."
Yain slapped his palm on the bar, glass-cleaning cloth still in hand, and looked sideward at the wolf at the end. The dog was almost, but not certainly, too drunk to have heard. "Barrow, you have to keep that down."
"She is." Barrow, his cleaning-man, table waiter, and all-around handyman (handy-collie, in this case) turned to look at the corner table. The only one sitting there was an impressive specimen of a Khardak lion-man, one so tall he'd had to duck to fit under the almost seven-foot doorway. His black mane was braided back into dozens of stiff little tails that rattled when he laughed.
He was laughing now, because Ria was over there, struggling under a platter of beer and plates. The little raccoon-woman was no more than half his height, but she wasn't the least intimidated and giggled back at him as she finally managed to get the tray up onto his table.
"He doesn't see it coming. You wouldn't, would you? There's this friendly little barmaid. She's very friendly, and she thinks you are handsome. You're only here for a little while, but you're wondering if she will come to your room ."
"Barrow." Yain was not big for a badger, but then, badgers don't have to be big. "I don't know what your problem is with her--"
"What my problem is?" At least the collie had his voice down now. "You were there with me when I opened the door to her room that one time. 'Have you seen the scout from the caravan,' I went to say, and there was the otter's tail sticking out of her...out of her "
"She brings them back." Yain polished a glass sedately, but his ear was cocked at the wolf down there at the end. He could hear soft snoring. It should be all right. Should be. "I don't know how she does it, but she brings them back. They don't remember, well, not much anyway."
" And she slurped his tail right into her sex and he was gone. She was stretched like a balloon, a furry balloon, and it took her two whole days to digest him or whatever it is she does. She was still fat when she came back to work the third day!"
"Damn it, man." The bartender set the glass down and reached for another. "Look." He didn't point, but directed his eyes at the far table, and the collie looked too. Ria's hand was under the table now, and the lion was struggling to keep his composure. Ria was a little thing next to the cat, but she had a way of letting someone know she was interested. Now the lion's gaze met Yain's, and the badger nodded fractionally.
Barrow looked back at him as the lion rose to his feet. The cat gathered up the tankard of ale and shoveled most of the ribs onto one plate for easy carrying, and came over to the bar.
"I think I will eat in my room." A purring rumble, that voice, and Yain didn't say a word as the cat put a gold Noble on the bar. That was, right there, three times the cost of the meal and the room together, and the cat waved his hand when the badger went for change. "Keep it."
The lion had had a few drinks already, and Yain said " If you change your mind in the morning --"
"I won't." And with that they were watching the muscular back recede. The cat had to turn a little to get through the door, to clear the plate of food and the axe hanging at his side. Ria was, naturally, right behind him, her muzzle no higher than the root of his thick tail.
"He won't, because she is going to kill him. You know that." Barrow was whispering now, and Yain leaned in close to keep it that way. "She will let him screw her, and he will be astonished that his no doubt impressive dick fits in, and then she will show him just how impressively she can stretch. She will do to him what she did to the otter, and that leopard, and probably that elk who went missing and showed up later with 'vague memories of a little raccoon miss who was very nice'."
"Barrow, if she was ki-, if she was hurting them in some permanent way I wouldn't let her work here."
"--If she were worried about you, you would already have gone into her belly. She's a monster. A demon, a succubus, I don't know, some predatory, hideous thing --"
They should have known better. The lion's room was the first in the corridor, and he had to set his plate and drink down and fumble with the lock. His bulk blocked the hall, and Ria had to stand right at the entrance to the main room. She did not waste the time; her hand was under the lion's loincloth, letting him know how pleased she was to meet him, but even while doing that she could hear what was happening out in the main room. She might even hear a whisper, if she listened hard.
"Barrow, she isn't a 'monster'. She is sweet, and friendly, and yes, she is a bit loose. All right, very loose. But she isn't evil or cruel. She just has a, a what is it, an eating problem. Look, you think she's eating people, but maybe she just holds them in there and then lets them go. They always show up again, right?"
"You're dreaming." The collie's voice rose a little. "How long have you let her work here? Three years? How many people have 'gone missing' for days? Are they the same person afterward, or are they something she makes so she can get away with it?"
"They are the same person," Yain said firmly, but Barrow was already turning toward the door.
"I think I'll talk to the pastor about this tomorrow. What do you think he will say about her? That she has an 'eating problem'?"
There was nothing the badger could do but watch the collie go into the hall. He could follow, try to reason with the dog but no. He'd wait. Maybe Barrow would cool down with a good night's sleep.
But what if he didn't? What would the pastor say? Yain could say he was never really sure what was happening, and that the 'victims' always turned up safe and sound. Would the priest listen?
He was cleaning glasses furiously when a furry hand slapped the bar. "Bartender, a drink. I've had enough ale, I am for something stronger."
It was the lion. The cat hadn't been out of sight for more than fifteen minutes, twenty at the outside, and that wasn't like Ria at all. "Of course, sir. Shall I send someone to fetch the dishes from your room?"
The lion grimaced. "No, I haven't eaten it yet. I was talking to your barmaid and she suddenly felt ill."
One advantage a badger (or most other morphics) had over humans was a sense of smell that made certain things impossible to conceal. Things like the scent of saliva, and of certain other bodily fluids. And yet, here the lion was.
"Sir," Yain said, lowering his voice, "I don't want you to think that she was toying with you. She wasn't. If she said she was ill, she was. On the house," he finished, plopping a generous portion of forgetfulness in front of his guest.
"She wasn't toying. She was being right friendly, but only for a few minutes, and as soon as we were done talking, she signed that she felt sick, and left. She seemed really sorry about it."
"Sick you say." It didn't take much thought. If Ria had really been ill, she would have let him know before heading to her own room. Unless she didn't want him to know she wasn't in the lion's room. Unless she needed a few minutes out of sight.
His hand had already found a note pad, and he sat down across from the lion and found a charcoal stick as well.
"What's that?" The big cat nodded at the pad as Yain began to write.
"Well, I had a little trouble with an employee tonight. I'm afraid I may have to hire another one."
-- Help Wanted:
"Not the little miss I hope. I thought it was all right to --"
"No, not her." Because if Ria didn't want him to know she had gone, it meant she was doing something she didn't normally do.
-- Help Wanted:
He hadn't told Barrow that he, Yain himself, had been 'into' the little raccoon. More than once. He didn't remember everything that happened, but unlike most of her meals, he knew it had happened. She did digest her prey, but somehow she recreated them, and she tampered with their memories when she did so they just remembered 'A nice little raccoon who was very friendly.'
That's what Yain had remembered the first time he had taken little Ria to his room. It was bad practice to fool around with the help, but she had been so willing, nay, so eager. The second time he remembered a little more, and by the fourth or fifth he knew what he was getting into. She didn't seem to mind that he did, and she was very gentle, if very insistent when each time came.
-- Help Wanted:
'Very friendly', and very, very hungry. The lion was spared that fate tonight, which meant that she was still hungry. And she didn't always recreate her meals. If someone made her really angry, she might not. Barrow's room was right down the hall from hers .
-- Help Wanted:
Yain shrugged and walked over to the board. Top center he pinned the note. If Barrow showed up tomorrow morning for work, he could take it back down. But he was almost certain Ria would be laid up for a couple of days, and just that certain he would never see the collie again.