Sharp fangs greeted the morning sun, the feline yawned long and wide to the point his jaw hurt. Stealth flopped back in bed, he commanded his body to rise but it wouldn’t so he settled for randomly stretching his legs and tail out before him. As the morning compelled him, the keeper’s body and bed seemed to work as a collective to preventing him from beginning the day.
A prisoner to warmth and comfort, it was the truth, but one that wouldn’t suffice with his superiors. Stealth forced his lethargic, lean body out from under the sheets. Even as he began to separate himself from the cocoon of warmth, bed and body still resisted. His legs began to entwine in the sheets, his arms caught on them too as a dewclaw firmly lodged itself in the covers.
Everything but the cheetah’s head and chest remained in the bed, the former fell out and landed on the cold, hard stone floor. Stealth tried to move, his body still struggled but his eyes didn’t; looking about the floor he spied a cockroach staring back, in front of his nose.
The cat shouted out in alarm and squirmed before the insect which promptly scurried up his nose, face, neck, back... it crawled all the way down his tail before he finally broke free of the bed in a panic. Just as the cheetah kicked himself free of the last of the sheets, he saw the roach still clambering down the tip of his tail and into his bed.
“No, no, no...” He glowered and rose to his feet.
Stealth hastily pulled the bed apart. Blankets, quilts, pillow case, the lot (and he had lots of winter sheets) it all got pulled out into a heap on the floor but no bug was among it. The feline scoured painstakingly but to no avail. As the sun rose higher in the sky the cat eventually gave up, tired. Now he wanted a nap but the bed was a mess... and he was late for work!!!
“No! No! No! Damn it! Damn it all!” He hissed to the rafters and dressed in haste before a frantic departure. And he’d never found the cockroach.
“He bit me!” Stealth said standing in the doorway to Misha’s office.
“Who bit you?” Misha asked.
“He bit me!” The cheetah shouted and pointed behind him.
“He bit you?” Misha asked in a surprised tone pointing to the person Stealth meant.
Madog sat on his haunches and tail wagged. “Hi Papa!”
Misha knelt in front of the automaton. “Madog, did you bit him?” the fox scout asked.
“Yup, Papa.” The automation answered, “Bit spots’ tail! Chomp! Chomp!”
“Oh! You bit him on the tail. Here I thought it was serious,” Misha said in a relaxed tone.
“What!?” The cat demanded, “He bit me!”
“And who has bitten ME on the tail so many times?” Misha continued as he stood up.
“But I was a cub at the time!”
“Well Madog is a child at heart,” Misha said calmly. “And it’s not like you haven’t tried to do something mean to my tail at other times.”
Stealth’s glare became a big grin, “But your tail is just so big and juicy...” He answered and lunged with his fangs.
“Madog, doesn’t Stealth’s tail look so tasty!”
The feline recoiled and grabbed his tail, “You vulpines win this round...”
“Chomp! Chomp!” Madog said and snapped his jaws shut several times.
Stealth growled under his breath.
“Now get going; that clock won’t deliver itself!” Misha ordered cheerfully.
The cheetah glared and left the room.
“I do good Papa?” Madog asked.
“Yes you did!” Misha answered cheerfully. “And here is your reward!” He took a pair of gold coins from his pocket.
Madog snapped up the coins eagerly.
Misha laughed and pumped his arm. “Revenge at last!”
The street was crowded. Euper was a busy town and the streets were always humming with activity. But today they were even more crowded then usual. Two caravans had arrived at the same time and the streets were filled with wagons, carts, horses, oxen, mules and people of all ages.
Stealth had to swerve and dodge all these obstacles as he raced up the road. After what seemed an eternity the cheetah turned a corner and found himself on an empty street. He gathered his strength and took off down the road using all the speed his full animal form allowed.
He was halfway down the street when he saw two people standing off to the left. One was a short and stocky looking man. He seemed to be totally engrossed in shouting at a shopkeeper. He was screaming and waving his arms. Without looking around he stepped backward and right into Stealth’s path.
Stealth hissed and tried to stop but he was moving too fast! The cat slammed into the man sending them both tumbling to the ground.
The two lay there for a moment in a tangle of arms and legs. The man smelled heavily of old food and sweat. It was clear he hadn't bathed in a long time.
"YOU STUPID PEASANT!" the man screamed as he started to get up.
Stealth slowly stood up shaking his head to clear his thoughts.
"You filthy beast, can't you watch where you are going? Look at my tunic. It's filthy!" he screamed as he brushed a few specks of dirt off his clothes.
Stealth didn't speak but just stood there with his ears down and backed away from the man.
"What is it? Are you too stupid to talk!?" the man shrieked.
Stealth pulled back his lips revealing his teeth and he snarled at the irate nobleman.
The man's face turned white and he took a step back. "Are you threatening me!?" he shouted. "Are you, a stupid peasant, threatening ME, Sir Malric of Tanburn!!?"
Stealth simply bolted up the street without looking back or slowing down. Behind him the man was still screaming and waving his arms.
“Hello my good friend. Why so gloomy a disposition?” Edmund asked Stealth. The cheetah courier was seated at a table in the Deaf Mule.
“Huh?” The feline mumbled as he looked up, “Ed, talk normal.”
Edmund sat down next to his friend. “Are you drunk?”
Stealth fished his fingers out of a bowl of nuts, “No, Ed, sorry I’m just, I’ve just been, I, you know...”
“Having a bad day?” Edmund asked. “Things can’t be that bad.”
“I fell out of bed this morning.” He mumbled.
“That’s all?” The paladin asked.
“I landed face to face with a cockroach.”
Edmund shivered a little. “Nasty! Vile little things.”
“This one was quite fond of me. It climbed up my face and into my bed. I never found it... It’s probably still there!” Stealth pouted. “I searched for it until I realised I was late, I had to get to work. Then Madog bit me!”
“Madog bit you? I find that hard to believe! He is usually so sweet.”
“He bit my bloody tail!” The feline exclaimed.
“Why did he bite your tail?” Edmund asked.
Stealth’s answer consisted of only one word uttered in a cold tone, “Misha.”
“Oh!” The paladin said in a soft voice. “All those times you bit him when we were cubs.”
“Oh boo hoo. Take it from me, I’m not done with him. He’s gonna wish he never had a tail.”
Edmund shook his head. “You never learn do you? Misha is an expert at revenge.”
The cheetah sighed, “I’m just frustrated. After I left I was still sore and still late...” He hesitated for a moment, “I had an accident.”
“Oh? What happened? Were you hurt?”
“I ran headlong into a noble in Euper. He was so mad... He was screaming and screaming at me.” Stealth answered with folded ears.
“Some people can be such fools over a simple accident.” Edmund said shaking his head.
“It’s not just that. It was his fault!” He seethed, “It was HIS fault, not mine! And he went off at ME over it...”
Edmund put his arm around Stealth’s shoulder. “Some people seem to be naturally mean.”
“Not everyone...” Stealth whispered and petted the paladin’s hand, “How have you been Ed? How have you been faring?”
“I am finally over that influenza bout I had earlier.” The paladin said in relief, “What happened with that merchant?” Edmund asked.
“Merchant?” Stealth blinked.
“The merchant I was supposed to meet with before I became ill.”
A look of terror crossed Stealth’s features.
“What’s wrong?” Edmund asked worried. “What happened to him?”
“Ed... I’m sorry, I’m really sorry... I have something to tell you.”
“What’s wrong?” Edmund repeated.
“It’s big... It’s really big.” The feline said and cowered.
“Tell me please!” He asked. “Tell me.”
Stealth took a deep breath and looked at Edmund dead square in the eyes, “I impersonated you.”
“You did what?” He asked surprised. “You impersonated me?”
“I wore your clothes and met the merchant.” Stealth said, trembling slightly, “I told him I was you, I talked to him about Eli and answered questions he put forward to me.”
Edmund looked at Stealth surprised. “You did? How? I mean, what did you tell him?”
“...I can’t really remember precisely, he asked me about Eli and religion... I think I said heretical things about a priest.”
He slowly nodded. “Which priest? Can you tell me at least a little of what you said?”
“Bishop Brehany, The merchant said he claimed to know Eli’s plan, I said he’s mistaken, I said the canticles were written by people like him.”
Edmund nodded slowly. “Well I trust your judgment on this.”
“You shouldn’t.” He said in a guilty tone, “I got angry, I forgot about your mannerisms and told him what I thought – on your behalf.” Stealth whimpered.
He laughed. “Your emotions got the better of you? You told him the truth? What did you tell him?”
“Everything that I just told you. I defied the Elecsia and the canticles.”
Edmund shook his head. “I find it hard to believe you would do so badly. How did the merchant take it?”
“He... fell for it.”
“Was he happy when he left?” Edmund asked.
Stealth shrugged, “I’ve no idea; they hustled me out of there right after our meeting. You’ll have to ask the duke.”
“I see.” He sighed, “My friend, he must have been happy or you would have known it.”
“It doesn’t matter, I’m a fraud, I told someone I was you and spoke as you... to secure a trade deal.” He grimaced, “Ed, I’m so sorry, I hope you can forgive me.”
Edmund hugged the cheetah. “Forgiven. You did what you thought was good.”
The feline groaned like an old man as he lowered himself into bed. He never did make his bed... he was too tired to care. Stealth let out a long, deep sigh and blew out the candle. It made no difference as his night vision took over; if anything more of the room was illuminated. His sensitive ears were doing their job too and... he could hear the cockroach scurrying!
“Where are you? Where are you?!” He demanded into the sheets, sniffing about at random. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of a large bulbous thing and quickly snatched it!
“Yes! I’ve got you! I’ve...” The insect squirmed about like a bar of soap. Stealth lost his grip and it dropped back into the bed. The escape was short lived as the cheetah recaptured the vile creature and wrestled with it some more until it broke free of his grip again... and landed in his mouth.
Stealth stood frozen for a moment with his ears folded, eyes wide and mouth agape as the cockroach scurried about on his tongue. At that moment he didn’t know what exactly happened, why or what, if anything, he was thinking but he just did what he did,
“Say... that’s quite good.” He noted in surprise and licked his jaws free of substance. Stealth serenely lay back in his bed feeling strangely content and peacefully went to sleep.