Following is the fourth in a series of cuttings from my short stories book,Tales of the TREVEL.

Viral, -part 2            {That next moment}

The startling fresh face of a teen boy washing dishes in the kithen of the Rusty Rabbit Tavern questioned Mason,

“What’s got you so chipper?”

Mason grinned and crypticaly responded,

“Fhell picked up a virus this morning,” then he began bottling up the experimental brew he had just tried on his mate.

“Contagious?” Asked the young teen, tossing back his shock of white hair that kept blinding his ridiculously blue eyes.

Mason paused and looked at the boy bursting with male promise and continued his cryptic response,

“Give it a few years, son, then you might be in danger of contracting a fatal illness in that vein.”

At fourteen years, Roland knew better than to try to understand all the convoluted wisdom of his mentor and just nodded in assent,

“Whatever.”

Mason had every right to confuse the teen after taking him in freewill when he found him as an urchin boy in a rather compromising position.  Roland continued washing dishes, remembering that fateful evening of a year ago:

“If you’re going to nick alcohol, kid, you might as well take the good stuff.”  A man with long black hair and thick black mustache pointed to the top shelf behind the young theif.

The street bedraggled urchin stood still in the unfamilar cellar he’d just broken into, and glanced at his escape route nervously.  The man, Mason, laughed at him,

“What?  You think I’m going to be able to stop you escaping?”

The kid sized him up.

Mason was a wiry fellow, tall with bulky clothes hiding what might be a slight, but powerful frame.  His waist length black mane flowed in the breeze of the broken window as his dark eyes twinkled, his moustache twitched and he offered,

“I’ll make a deal with you.”  He sat at a small table and drew up a stool for Roland.  “I’ve been watching you and all the other urchins running havoc through the city.  You can’t expect to get out of this hole doing what you’re doing right now.”  He poured a shot of whiskey for himself.  “If you are anywhere near as ambitious as I’ve seen you are athletic, you might actually have a chance to get out.”  He poured a second shot and placed it in front of the empty stool.  “But not without help.”

Roland unconsciously licked his lips as he looked at the free shot of drink and retorted,

“What can the barman of a dung heap like this do to help me?”

“For that, you’ll need a little imagination.”  Mason opened his arms wide, “I have imagination.” He brought his arms together and pointed at the young boy.  “You have a choice.”

Roland was listening.

“Either, I hit my secret button that brings up the window bars and traps you in here until the Strategists come to collect your hands for their thief collection, or, you sit down and go shot for shot with me, winner takes all.”

Roland surveyed the room carefully.  It was possible that the barman had a spring trigger.  It was also possible he was bluffing. The urchin inched closer and sneered,

“Takes all . . . what?”

“If you win, you get all the free alcohol you can carry with you.”  He gestured to the fully stocked cellar.  “If I win, you give me your free and enthusiastic servitude equal in years to the number of hours for which you are passed out.”

Roland laughed.  He’d been raised on beer.  The thick black sweetness had been rotting his liver since he first sucked it out of his baby’s bottle.

Roland swaggered to the table and sat,

“You’re on.”

They drank.

Soon the little cellar was full of the local drunks that frequented the Tavern upstairs.  There was much cheering and much money passed around in bets.  The little table was stacked full of shot glasses and both drinkers were looking bleary.

Mason slurred,

“I’ll have you know I’ve owned this bar for twelve years and have never lost a shot for shot drink off.”

Roland responded swaying,

“That’s grand.  I’ve been running these streets since before I could walk and the only sanitary drink in a crap hole like this is beer.  That’s at least fourteen years . . . I’ve got two whole y . . .”

Roland collapsed under the table.
The crowd burst into cheers.  Mason stood much clearer than he’d let on. He nodded to the man next to him,

“Carry him upstairs to my quarters.”

The neigborly drunk said,

“You want us to tie him up?”

Mason wiped his moustache and looked at the young figure, skinny but full of youthful strength.  He shook his head.

“That won’t be necessary.”

When the boy finally awoke there was a school uniform laid out by his bed and a trunk full of books beside it.

Staggering down on what eventually became his bottom that hit the cold stone floor in the back kitchen of the Tavern, the urchin found Mason smoking at the table with is best mate and neighbor, Fhell.

“I see you’ve contracted a nasty virus, Mason.” Fhell looked the lad over with a sneer, “Charity in these parts will only make you ill.”

“Possibly,” Mason puffed his hand rolled cigarette, “you didn’t do so badly, but it is an illness I hope will become contagious.”

“Wha’ in all bleedin ‘ell ar ya’s goin on about?” the still slightly drunk and hungover boy staggered to indignent feet, “I aint no disease, my name is Roland.”

Mason smiled and pointed to his mate,

“Told you that one had some connectors firing upstairs.” He tapped the side of his noggin then stood and put a hand on the half starved shoulder.

The kid pulled away roughly and ran for the door.

Fhell easily snatched his arm and held him firmly ignoring the wriggling, and complained,

“It stinks.”

Mason gestured toward the fire where a large metal tub sat with foamy bubbles steaming on top,

“We can’t have that now, can we.”

With a clear toss, Fhell and Mason landed the squirm with a hearty splash and stood by while pointing to the soap and scrub brush.  The boy tried clamboring out but found four hands eager to secure him in the confines of sudsiness.

“What ‘re ya tryin ta do, drown me?” the boy was indignant toward any style of cleanliness.

“Nah” said Mason, “that’d be a waste of time, money and Energy.”

“Whaty ya mean?” said the boy resiging himself to just looking confused at the scrub brush.

Mason and Fhell resumed their comfortable seats smoking at the table and watching the local Laray sports review on the flickertube, Mason told Roland,

“I’ve put too much effort into getting you accepted to ANA on an athletic scholarship.”

ANA?” thought the boy as the table conversation continued.

Mason chatted mildly with Fhell,

“I always thought the flicker recordings of the public streets worthless.”

Not, Atlantis National Academy?” thought the boy sitting quietly in what began to feel deliciously warm.

Fhell agreed with his compadre,

“Too right. But who’d have thought a street chase between one urchin and thirty Strategist could make such an impact on the Senate?”

The boy stared at the scrub brush in disbelief and continued wondering in silence,

“ANA was the most exclusive school in all Trevel and the only school the National Laray Sporting League scouted and pulled directly from every year!”

Mason smoked quietly and continued his musing,

“I’m not so sure it was the Senate that took the most notice.”

Roland thought, with a tiny glimmer of hope,

“Keeping three bands of Strategists at bay was easy as he’d been running from them all his life.”

Fhell nodded to Mason puffing,

“I do seem to recall the Laray Scouts watching that flicker with extra attention.”

Roland got to scrubbing.

“All I have to do now is learn how to ride a harnessed Sting-ray.”

One year later, now scrubbing the dishes and still working his drunken debt off in the kitchen of the Rusty Rabbit Tavern on weekends, Roland earned his keep eagerly under Mason’s twinkling eyes, and he had already learned how to ride Sting-rays.

Actually, what he had learned at registration for ANA on the first day was that the reason his scrawny body had such athletic alacrity was due to his hidden Energy ability in Fauna, that is, animal connections.  Not only could the boy take on animalistic tendencies of any creature he studied, such as rats and cats, but he also had a remarkable ability to communicate with animals, Sting-Rays not withstanding.

Needless to say, when ANA’s Mistress of the Stables, Ms Suzie Bore handed him the reigns of his first sting-ray, they quickly became fused one in heart and mind and the creature and rider took to the Laray obstacle field as if they’d been running the gauntlet together all their lives.  The National Laray League scouts patted themselves on their backs that night heavily drinking around their secret meeting table in the dubious Rusty Tavern of the lower levels.

The Tavern’s proprietor was given much financial opportunity to continue his viral generosity toward the immediate needs of other urchins lost in the streets for a long time after that.

Back in the Temple, she breathed deeply and opened her body wide in a stretching yawn.  Sitting up slowly, the Oracle surveyed the room of heavy luxury, the air was close with the smell of incense and she requested that the blinds be drawn back and the windows opened wide to let in the glorious morning.

Her private staff bustled about hopeful that she had good tidings.  The woman hummed quietly to herself as the morning routine of bathing and personal recording of the nights musings passed with purposed deliberation as was her custom.

She descended to the receiving room where those who waited had come to her the evening before with petitions of how best to handle the down turn of economic trading the City had undergone in the last few years.

“I bring you good tidings this morning my Senators,” the old men sighed in relief through their arthritic and catatonic imaginations, and the new Priestess of Atlantis continued her encouraging prophecy, “It would seem there is a contagion moving slowly through the dark lower circles.”

There was a stunned pause and one of the most stiff ancients grinned in his innocent evil,

“Then we should fumigate and exterminate.”

The Oracle rose to the fullest authority of her height and spoke with clarity,

“You shall do nothing of the sort.”

The Senate continued confused, as was their habit.

The Priestess continued,

“I intend this virus to do its contageous work on its own.”  Then she stood to take her leave.

“Where are you headed M’Lady?” her Aid bowed in readyness.

“I’m off to the Royal City of Lemuria to give his Majesty King Darsaldain the good news.”

Finis

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