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Complete Dragons and tigers and ...? Oh, my

Discussion in 'Pandora, Year 1 - 7' started by Hime Yarizakura, Jun 15, 2018.

  1. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    June 5th, Year 7
    @The Governor

    It was a bright, warm day. The good kind of day where the children living at Pandora's Home for Wayward Orphans could frolic about under the sun and forget the painful reality of being separated from their families, at least for a little while. Hime was still trying to get over that reality herself, but when it came to the kids, she could at least put on a smiling face for them. After all, how could she ask them to be brave if she didn't live by her own example?

    The younger children had always tended to be drawn to Hime moreso than the older ones. Not much had changed there, even compared to home. Maybe because she wasn't nearly as mature as she tried to seem sometimes, and the kids could sense in her a kindred spirit.

    Naw. Surely it was her mayoral charisma.

    "Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack... All dressed in black, black, black..."

    Jump rope was the game of the hour. Up and down and up and down it went, skirting the playground floor as the kids hopped and shrieked and sang.

    "With silver buttons, buttons, buttons... All down her back, back, back..."

    Hime's arm was getting tired. She'd wanted a turn herself, but the kids had said that because she was a 'grown-up'—or close enough to one—it wouldn't be fair. So Hime resigned herself to rope handling duty, bouncing gently on the balls of her feet as she rhymed along with the children.

    "She asked her mother, mother, mother... For fifteen- Ah!"

    Something collided suddenly with Hime's back. She paused, as did the kids, to stare at the small girl whose arms were wrapped tightly around the scarf-clad teenager's waist. Hime patted her on the head, at first confused by the random gesture of affection, before her confusion morphed into concern. The girl was crying.

    "Jody?" Hime ventured. "What's wrong? What happened?"

    The small girl just hiccupped. Too clogged by snot and tears to speak, she pointed off into the maze of alleys behind the playground.

    ------​

    Ravi had wandered into the sewer tunnels. How he'd managed to find the open pipe was one thing; why he'd thought it even remotely advisable to go walking into it was another matter entirely. Jody finally managed to squeak out between sobs that she'd tried to stop him, but Ravi had ignored her with a 9-year-old's headstrong confidence and disappeared into the rank darkness. Now it was long past the time he should've returned.

    Hime peered down the entrance, wrinkling her nose. It smelled like ripe death in there, an unholy marinade of summer heat and certain waste products she didn't want to think about. It smelled like somewhere she didn't want to go. But what could you do? Duty called, and sometimes, duty stank.

    "Is he gonna be okay?"

    A small crowd of the kids had gathered by the pipe. The air hummed with their worry, and Hime felt her own heart squeeze in her chest. She turned to them with a brilliant smile, unraveling her scarf from around her neck and folding it carefully into a square.

    "Of course! I'm going to get him right now. By dinnertime, you'll all be eating at the same table again. Here, hold onto this for me."

    She wasn't about to let whatever was in those sewers touch her precious scarf; who knows if it would ever wash out. One of the boys, Marco, took it from her with wide eyes. He hugged the garment close, eyes going wider still as his gaze fell onto the crescent of pale, ridged skin now visible across Hime's throat.

    "Wow, that scar! Are you like, super tough, Ms. Hime?"

    "Tough as a dragon!" She grinned. "So there's no need to worry. Be back soon."

    Only once she turned away from the kids and took the first squelching step into the muck-lined tunnel did Hime let her expression fall. Really, there was no way she could tell them the truth... That she had no idea how far Ravi had gotten, or if he was safe. Or if she could even find him at all.

    But she didn't plan on coming back until she'd exhausted every inch of the place. Taking a deep breath—and immediately regretting it as her lungs filled with thick, fetid air—Hime turned on her flashlight and swept the cone over growing heaps of shiny, slimy unidentifiables. She followed the wall into the sewers, the broomstick she'd borrowed from the orphanage resting on her shoulder.
     
    #1 Hime Yarizakura, Jun 15, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2018
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  2. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    [​IMG]

    The Tigernor crept through the long, dingy tunnel, careful not to brush the slimy walls with any part of his body. He didn’t much fancy licking that off during one of his intensive cleaning sessions. Shame he couldn’t stop his bare paws from coming into contact with the wet, sticky ground, viscous substances squelching between his toes mercilessly. He’d have to dip those in a stream or somethin’ afterwards.

    Philip didn’t usually venture this far into Pandora Town, particularly not in its sewage system, but he’d wanted to check out the orphanage from the network of alleys and shadows. He was desperate to see his little girl again, but had no clue where she’d wound up after Apollo had brought her to him all those months ago, after he’d turned her into a fawn, after he’d tricked the Tigernor into thinking he’d… No. He couldn’t bring himself to flash back to the memory.

    He’d checked Paracelsus’s research facility, but there’d been no sign of either one of ‘em. A knot of alarm kept tightening in his abdomen, images of Penny dead or imprisoned tormenting his mind. He had to remind himself that Anna would never let Penny, never let any child, get hurt. Anna had beat that trust, that loyalty, inside him.

    Sticking to the shadows, the stinking bins, he’d come across the two young kids in the alley. One of ‘em, a boy, had slipped inside the sewer’s gawping maw, vanishing down its dingy throat. His companion, a girl, had begged him to stop, to step back into the sunlight, but there’d been no reply.

    After the girl had left, Philip had crept out of his hiding place and strayed into the reeking tunnel, hungry to add to his list of good deeds. Maybe this boy even knew Penny. Maybe when Philip guided him back into the open, she’d get to see him as a hero, instead of a monster wanting to tear the flesh from her bones and lap up her blood.

    Everybody loves a hero…

    * * * * * *

    Time passed and he slowed to a stop, recognizing the faded squiggle of graffiti on the slick wall ahead of him. Goddamn. He was going around in circles again. Before the exasperation could sink into his flesh, his limbs, he heard the muffled slap of footsteps, saw a faint flicker of light. Was that the boy? Had Philip found him?

    He burst into a sprint, leaping around the corner of the tunnel to spot… No. He’d come up behind the taller and more feminine shape of a young woman, a broomstick resting over one shoulder like a holstered rifle or shotgun. Word had spread about the boy already? She part of the search party? Or part of the clean-up crew? It’d take her a helluva long time to tidy up this dump.

    The Tigernor threw out his legs to cut off his gallop, flinging drops of gelatinous liquid against the walls. He didn’t want her to think this was an attack. He’d lived in this world long enough to know that even the most innocent and unassuming people possessed powerful skill sets. He would prefer not to get blasted to pieces by a magic broom.

    She hear the wet pounding and thumping of his paws? Perhaps he could slip off before she noticed him? He hadn’t made any effort to keep quiet, though…


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  3. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    Whoever built this sewer system, Hime really had to hand it to them. If they'd been going for the 'mysterious underground labyrinth' sort of design... Well, they'd succeeded. There was very little down here that she could use for waymarks, but happily, having patrolled the streets of Sakurashin on a daily basis since she was sworn in as mayor, Hime had become very good at mapping out routes in her head. As long as the tunnels didn't do something as ridiculous as rearrange themselves when she wasn't looking, she was confident she could retrace a path back out.

    That was apparently something that happened in Pandora—roads and buildings sometimes changing places overnight. The residents who'd lived here awhile had told her as such.

    What was it like to have that happen while you were still standing on said road or in said building? Hime hoped she wouldn't ever find out.

    As it was, the darkness down here wasn't absolute, for every so often she'd come across a grate that opened up to the street above. The noise of the outside world echoed back down to her position, bouncing distantly off into the shadows, and the thin slats of light that fell through cast an ugly gray sheen over the muck on the ground. She even came across a ladder leading up to a manhole, and wondered if Ravi could've found another way out. It seemed too heavy for a young boy to be able to move by himself though, and the layer of grime still coating the rungs suggested no one had been this way in some time.

    Hime had just backtracked to the main tunnel when a different sort of sound reached her ears. A squishing sound, like hasty footsteps. They were coming her way... No, wait. They'd stopped.

    "Ravi?" she called. Hime followed the noise, sweeping the flashlight down the tunnel. "Is that you, Ravi? It's Hime, I'm here to-"

    The beam caught something low. Low and furry and large. Jerking to an abrupt halt, Hime tilted the flashlight up. A squeak of disbelief emerged from her throat when she saw what was revealed from the shadows.

    To be completely honest, she'd half expected to find something like giant rats living down here. Maybe a giant snake, or even an alligator. But a tiger? That just didn't strike her as a sewer kind of animal. Maybe it was lost, too?

    Hime's eyes bounced from its face to its paws. They were big. They were sharp. 'Murder mittens', Kotoha called them once. The term stuck in her mind like the unspeakable gunk that was stuck on the bottom of her shoes, and with it came another, more horrifying thought. Her gaze came up to rest again on the tiger's face, her expression full of concern.

    "Say, you haven't, uh... eaten any kids lately, have you?"

    If not for the whole business with being an avatar of a dragon, and fighting off similar monsters numerous times before, Hime might've been scared. By all rights, being scared would've been smarter, considering the crazy powers some people (and creatures) had around here. But in this moment, any consideration for her own safety was eclipsed by the gut-wrenching possibility that poor Ravi had met his demise at this tiger's very hands. Paws.
     
    #3 Hime Yarizakura, Jun 18, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2018
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  4. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    [​IMG]

    No luck. The woman, the girl, had seen him. He figured she was a teenager at the most. A young adolescent. She was probably stuck in that orphanage until she hit adulthood.

    He couldn’t sense anyone else down here in the sewer with ‘em, so figured she was on her own, tryin’ to hunt down the boy. She keep the incident quiet, not wanting him to get in trouble with an adult?

    As usual, he found himself wishing like hell that he could speak, that he could ask her a question in that vein. Or at the least, assure her he wasn’t gonna rip out her throat, rip out any other part of her body. Just as long as he kept himself under control.

    He heaved out a sigh at the question, managing to make it sound indignant. But she wasn’t wrong to assume somethin’ like that of him. He had a goddamn tiger brain in a goddamn tiger skull. Only reason he wasn’t spending the rest of his life in a steamy rainforest, oblivious to the human world, was ‘cos of Penny. She kept him fighting back those tiger instincts.

    He’d sure as hell worked up an appetite wandering around those stinking tunnels, though… A defenseless human girl or boy would sure hit the spot right about now…

    Goddamn.

    The Tigernor made a big show of moving his head from side to side slowly, both telling himself no and the girl. He hadn’t and wouldn’t eat any kids. The human gesture must’ve looked pretty surreal on an animal. He hoped it’d make her more comfortable around him, ‘cos he figured he’d better tag along in case she needed his help. Two potential good deeds.

    A dry scratching noise had him swivelling one curved ear in the direction of a bending passageway. He turned his head to look, but saw only the passage curving out of view. A feeling of unease tightened up his muscles when he heard more suspicious sounds… Somethin’ coarse scraping against the ground… The crunch and crack of what could possibly have been twigs…

    Emphasis on possibly.


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  5. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    Hime hadn't really expected the tiger to answer her. Actually, she'd expected the tiger to either pounce forward with all the might of its enormous murder mittens, or slink off in another direction after deciding that she wasn't worth its time. Instead, it—he? Somehow she felt the tiger was a he—shook his great furry head with vigorous, almost adamant denial. It couldn't be a coincidence; he understood what she'd said to him.

    He had to be some kind of magical animal, then! A magical... sewer-dwelling tiger. Just another one of those different, special creatures that lived in this different, special world.

    It was hard for Hime to express skepticism at the notion of a tiger with human levels of intelligence when she was a walking supernatural oddity herself.

    There was no sign that he planned on attacking her, so Hime moved closer, holding the flashlight slightly upwards so as not to shine the beam into his eyes. The stone walls glistened eerily as the light passed over them, and Hime narrowly avoided sinking her foot into a pile of disgusting black softness as she came around to the tiger's side.

    "Aw, you're a friendly guy, aren't you? You're so fluffy! And your coat is so pretty! I've got a scarf with the same colors, but I left it outside 'cause I didn't want to drag it through all this crud."

    To hear her talk, you'd think Hime was fussing over a large kitten. In fact, she was one motion away from scratching him behind the ears before she got a better look at his face.

    "Oh, you're missing an eye."

    He must've lost it in a fight, or sacrificed it to the gods, or something like that. The one eye the tiger had left made his gaze seem even sharper, like he could somehow read your soul. Hime pondered it for a moment.

    "Missing one eye... Just like Date Masamune, the old feudal lord from the Sengoku period. Hm..." Her face lit up; Hime snapped her fingers, the broom tucked safely in the crook of her arm. "I got it! I'll call you Masatora. How's that? I'm Hime; nice to meet you, Masatora!"

    So captivated was she by the tiger that Hime had momentarily forgotten why she was down here in the first place. Nor did she notice the tiger's unease, brought on by the faint sounds that echoed from those tunnels that were still firmly shrouded in darkness. Small, scrabbling feet; the grinding of hungry molars; the whisper of furred bodies moving hurriedly over the ground. Something was coming... many, many somethings.
     
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  6. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    [​IMG]

    He chuffed softly at the girl in acknowledgement, inwardly grimacing at the way she fawned over him like he was a tiny cub. Well… Now… That wasn’t entirely right… Part of him enjoyed the attention, the affection. Most folk didn’t react that way to him. They were either hostile or scared or wary. If they knew who he was under the fur and fangs, there was also an extra element of disdain, disgust, detestment.

    She took it upon herself to name him, which provoked an amused snort. He’d never heard of this Date Masamune guy, but he sounded pretty distinguished and influential. Feudal lord, hmm? The Tigernor guessed it was better than Fluffy or Spot.

    He made a show of nodding his head to indicate his approval, figuring it was good she didn’t know his real name in case she went around later telling everybody that a tiger helped her find a boy in the sewers under Pandora Town… Assuming the boy wasn’t dead.

    Damn. The dark, slimy stone of the sewer and the cloyin’ stink really got to you after awhile and filled your head with gloomy thoughts. He kept picturing the boy slowly drowning to death in a lake of thick, black human filth, one delicate hand stretched out feebly.

    Now that Hime was standing next to him, he had an opportunity to note the scar running across her neck, which gave him a funny tingling sensation in the tips of his claws, his fangs. She must’ve got cut by a weapon some time ago? By what exactly? By who?

    Philip was forced to shove the questions to the back of his mind as the whispered scuttling grew in volume and intensity. He froze in place as a thick, gray wave of rats came dashing around the bend in the passageway, their wormlike tails scraping against the ground. They poured over his paws, his legs, almost rising up over his back.

    He expected ‘em to bite and scratch, devour him alive with countless tiny mouths, but they carried on scampering down the passageway. What the hell? Was like they were running from-

    A loud, prehistoric screech echoed around the dingy tunnels. And then a huge rat emerged from the bend in the passageway, its thin, transparent ears brushing the ceiling, its bristly black sides scraping the walls, creating a dry, nasally noise like sandpaper rubbing against steel.


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  7. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    She got a nod from the tiger in return, which widened Hime's smile another proud couple of inches. He liked it! And when it came to animals, liking a name you'd given them was basically the same thing as granting permission to sweep them up in a great big hug, right?

    She was halfway through reaching down to wrap Masatora in her arms when the tiger suddenly went as stiff as Touka did that one time Akina complimented her cooking. Hime froze as well, the spell of cuteness proximity broken, and now she heard it: a swelling roar coming through the tunnel, like a crashing wave or an approaching stampede.

    Rats. So many rats. Hime yelped, dancing frantically in place, trying not to step on any of them while also making sure none ran up her legs and into her shorts. But the rodents didn't seem to care for any of that; as quickly as they'd come, they were gone in a whirlwind of squeaks, leaving a disheveled and confused Hime to stare as the last of the scurrying bodies vanished back into the shadows.

    "What was-"

    Screech. Hime turned, bringing the flashlight with her. The beam landed smack dab in the middle of a wall of coarse, black fur. She canted it up and discovered a pair of big red eyes, whiskers like whips, and incisors that looked about as long as a grown man's hand.

    "... that."

    That was more in line with the kind of creature she'd expected to find in a creepy sewer maze.

    The monstrous rat charged—though 'charged' was perhaps generous. It squeezed, more like; the sheer size of the thing was such that there was hardly a finger's width of space between its body and the wall on either side. Still, Hime wasn't about to turn coward over a rat, no matter how large. Dragons did not run away from rodents. It was that simple.

    She took hold of the flashlight in her teeth, her now freed hand joining the other around her broom. Her grip went tight, then Hime lunged. Her shoes slid over the ground, its viscous coating of slime threatening her balance, but Hime held herself firm as she twisted her body sideways. She brought her arms up behind her. The end of the broom swung from ground to ceiling in a fierce arc, the blow birthing a powerful gust of wind that roared down the length of the tunnel, distorting the air.
     
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  8. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    [​IMG]

    Wrinkling his face into a snarl, he crouched low to the ground, but not too low, preferring to avoid smearing that foul stinking gunk across his chest, his abdomen. He coiled up the muscles in his hind legs, preparing to launch himself at the huge rat. If he’d been able to read Hime’s thoughts, he would’ve added that tigers also didn’t run from rodents. Hell. Neither would any other self-respecting member of the cat family.

    But he froze in place when Hime performed a bizarre gesture with the broom, close to slipping on her ass ‘cos of the slimy ground. She wasn’t gonna try to fight off the monstrous rat with a household implement? He considered launching himself at her instead, carefully taking her sleeve between his teeth and guiding her away from the massive rodent, back out into the sunlight. She didn’t belong in this sewer if she thought she could take it out with a broom.

    He’d got it wrong.

    She’d summoned up a burst of wind, which ruffled his fur and roared rowdily down the stretch of tunnel, slamming into the creature like an invisible truck. It was thrown out of view, its impromptu departure marked by a loud splash.

    The Tigernor was glad that he’d played nice with the girl. He figured she must’ve been a witch, using that broom of hers to hurl around spells. Was she gonna climb on top of it next? Fly after the rat, finish it off properly? Nothin’ tended to surprise him in this life now.

    Philip stuck out his neck, giving her a wary, thoughtful look, before tearing off down the dingy tunnel, his paws slapping wetly against the ground. He swerved around the sharp bend, jerking to a stop when he found himself in an enormous open chamber with decorative pillars and elaborate stonework. There was no sign of the huge rat... No sign of any other living thing.

    If he’d carried on running hard, he would’ve gone pitching over the edge of a stone platform into a wide canal of viscous black fluid. He figured the creature must’ve sunk like an anvil to the bottom... Or maybe the fast flowing current had dragged it off through the sewer network...

    He padded up to the edge of the platform, staring down at the polluted water and churning foam.


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  9. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    Hime brought the broom back into a ready stance, the shaft held at waist height with the end pointed forward in case the giant rat came charging back. But it didn't. She paused another beat or two, waiting, blinking expectantly with the flashlight still clenched between her teeth. Still nothing. There was no sign of an angry overgrown rodent in either the flashlight's area of illumination or the shadows around it.

    Huh. For a monster born from the writhing darkness of the town's underbelly (or maybe from munching on some combination of toxic and magical waste), their foe had been kind of... weak?

    She wasn't sure if it was safe to relax. But Masatora seemed to think so, rushing off down the throat of the tunnel, striped tail waving like a flag. Not wanting to be left behind, and also assuming the tiger's senses had detected something she couldn't, Hime spat the flashlight back into hand and followed.

    It wasn't far before the grimy ground opened up in dramatic fashion... Far more dramatic than Hime had thought possible for a sewer network. She waved the flashlight from side to side, from floor to ceiling, marveling at the details in the stonework. They were comparable to pictures she'd seen in her history textbooks of the 'Ancient Era'. Carthage, Rome, Egypt. Places like that. What was any of it doing down here, though? Either the town's urban planners had an unhealthy love for architecture far removed from modern settings, or the metaphysical nature of Pandora was loads weirder than Hime had given it credit for.

    She tried not to let it distract her too much as she reached Masatora's side, and wrinkled her nose as she pointed the flashlight down. A black river of sh... stuff cut through the middle of the chamber, an amazing 'trash bin on a summer afternoon' smell wafting from it. There didn't seem to be a way across. Hime might've been able to reach the other side by jumping, but Ravi certainly couldn't. There was also little chance he'd tried to swim his way over. (Or at least, she hoped he'd be smart enough not to wade into that crap. But who could say? Kid had walked into a sewer.)

    Anyway, there wasn't much point in continuing if Ravi wasn't here, and it looked like their ratty friend had retreated before Hime's excessive show of force. She turned the flashlight elsewhere, looking for more tunnel entrances.

    "So, do you live down here, Masatora? I'm looking for someone... One of the kids I work with at the orphanage. His name's Ravi. Black hair, has a baseball cap he wears everywhere. Heh," Hime gave a thin chuckle, a poor attempt to hide her worry. "He even wears it to the dinner table, no matter how many times we tell him not to."

    Beside them, the dark depths of the river started to churn. Hime, having pointed the flashlight away now, and too busy speaking to Masatora, didn't notice.

    The massive black shadow that erupted out of the water caught her off guard. The monstrous rat, back for round two. She raised her broom a second too late. A powerful paw caught her in the side, launching Hime into one of the stone pillars with a crack. Bits of fabric stuck to the beast's claws, similar shreds torn from Hime's shirt fluttering in the air, mingling with the water and dust. No blood, however.

    As the creature hauled itself out of the water, its tail whipped around for the tiger, heavy and thick as a bridge cable.
     
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  10. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    [​IMG]

    Hime joined him by the edge of the stone platform, Philip shaking his head vigorously at her question. He didn’t want her associating him with a goddamn sewer under Pandora town, under any settlement. Although he’d seriously consider living here if it brought him glimpses of his little girl whenever he went out on the prowl, assuming she had been taken to the orphanage after that whole terrible deer thing with Apollo.

    He rumbled and moaned at the suspect witch, wishing like hell he could tell her that he’d seen Ravi enter the sewer firstpaw… Firsthand... That he’d ventured inside afterwards, hoping to track him down and guide him back into the warmth and safety of daylight.

    His frustrated snarls and lamenting whines bounced against the stone pillars and columns. The less fearsome noises in his vocabulary always pinched at his gut in shame and embarrassment. He sounded like a goddamn cow with its stomachs tied up in knots.

    The Tigernor swivelled a fuzzy ear towards the platform’s edge as the water began to lap and churn more noisily… More frantically. He fell silent, turning his broad head to look.

    A black, dripping mass erupted from the viscous water and struck out at Hime with a huge paw, batting her into a pillar as though she was a baseball. He let out a surprised yowl, which provoked more of his embarrassment. Goddamn. The rat must’ve hit her as hard as a wrecking ball. Was she awright? He’d heard a sickening crack.

    He would’ve leapt over to Hime to assess her condition, but the rat’s scaly, giant snake of a tail lashed across his striped legs, sending him flyin’ off the side of the platform. Philip caught a glimpse of the slimy hulking creature advancing on his new ally, before he hit the water with a deafening splash, the surface closing over his skull, sealing him up in a moist, oil black tomb.

    The Tigernor had to squeeze his eye shut against the mixture of water and what his pride would prefer to think of as stinking mud, the inside of his nose burnin’ as it invaded his nostrils. He tried to swim, but the polluted water was as thick and heavy as quicksand. He’d run outta air before his head was able to break the surface of the rancid liquid.

    This was how he was gonna die then, huh? He’d always pictured himself being overwhelmed by a herd of biters or stabbed or shot by a member of Rick’s group. Instead, he was gonna drown in human piss and shit. He bet the people who hated him the most would’ve applauded this death. Thought he deserved it one hundred and ten percent.


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  11. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    For one wild moment, as Hime slammed into the pillar and heard the terrifying crack of damage cutting through the stone, she was afraid that the whole thing would give, causing a chain reaction of structural failure and bringing the chamber's ceiling down like a closing mouth. It just seemed like something that would happen, an expectation that she'd later blame on reading too much manga.

    In reality, nothing really dramatic happened. Chips of stone flew off and a circle of cracks marked where she'd collided with the pillar, but that was the extent of it.

    Hime slid down onto her butt at the pillar's base. She coughed; pain pulsed through her side with every breath, but nothing seemed to be broken. Most likely she'd wake up tomorrow with some big bruises, and the children would poke them and ask her if she'd fallen down the stairs.

    Unfortunately, when the rat had surprised her, the blow had also knocked both the broom and the flashlight out of her grip. Where the latter ended up was easy—its illuminating cone sat some thirty feet away, pointing off in a direction almost parallel to the black river, motes of nastiness dancing in the light.

    The broom was the problem. Hime had no idea where her weapon was.

    She was vaguely aware of a splashing noise from somewhere in the darkness, but without sight to help her, Hime couldn't be sure what was happening. What she did know was that the giant rat was still coming for her. The ground quaked as it approached, its angry screech reverberating through the chamber. Hime scrambled to her feet, listening harder than she'd ever listened in her life, then tucked into a forward roll. A whoosh sailed over her head—the thudding passage of claws or tail raking through air instead of into her body. She came out of her dodge unharmed, only to bump up against something immense, furry, and stinking of spoiled meat.

    Bingo. Hime shifted one step back, drew in a deep breath, and shoved forward sharply with both palms. A surprised howl filled the suddenly empty space in front of her, and the sound of a large body skidding over the ground echoed away.

    Hoping the rat was appropriately distracted for a few seconds, Hime fell into a crouch and searched the floor with her hands, hoping to brush against a familiar wooden pole. No luck. She kept trying as she began to crab-walk backwards towards the flashlight.

    "Masatora! Help! I can't find my broom!"

    Where did the tiger go, anyway? The rat couldn't have gotten to him already?
     
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  12. The Governor

    The Governor The Walking Dead
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    His flailing hind legs came in contact with the base of the sewage holding channel, which confused the hell outta him. He’d been swimming upwards. In other words, away from the ground.

    The Tigernor’s confusion grew as the bottom began to rise rapidly, viscous fluids churning around him. Concerned about being dragged off by the raging current, he sunk his claws into the ascending ground, noticing that it seemed to twitch or flinch beneath him. It wasn’t hard like asphalt, but soft. Soft as… Well… Now… Soft as flesh.

    Philip broke through the surface of the polluted liquid, squinting his eye open a crack. He was crouched on top of a giant rat, both of ‘em covered from head to tail in dark muck. A bystander might’ve mistaken him as a black leopard. No way was his tongue gonna come into contact with that crap. Somebody would have to hose him down after they took out these rats.

    Long as they didn’t damn well die from their efforts…

    As he caught his breath, he spotted Hime on the platform, edging over to her flashlight. She’d managed to put some distance between herself and the other rat, which had paused to rub at its translucent ears and dense bunches of whiskers with its pink paws. From his high vantage point, he also saw that she’d been separated from her broom. He figured she was gonna need that to cast some spells against these overgrown rodents.

    The Tigernor sprang off the rat, slipping and skidding frantically over to the broom, flicking some of the murky goop off his tail and legs. More of the nasty mixture slopped down his sides and belly of its own accord, leaving dark little puddles on the ground. The stagnant, gassy, sour smell of clogged toilets, overflowing drains, broken pipes full of rotting leaves dominated his sense of taste and smell. He was gonna need somebody to hose out his nostrils, too.

    Without altering his gait, he snatched up the broom handle between his dripping jaws, dragging it over to the girl. He let the broom clatter at her feet, aware of both rats advancing on ‘em.

    Rumbling out a snarl, he launched himself at one of the rats, biting down on a striking paw, delicate little bones breaking like dry old kindling between his teeth. The creature uttered a shrill screech, rearing up on its hind legs. He dangled from its paw, his body swaying in the air like a pendulum, more viscous liquid trickling off him and splattering against the ground.


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  13. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    She was almost at her flashlight when the sound of moving liquid came from somewhere in the shadows, a heavy and deliberate noise more akin to a sploosh than a splash. Hime's eyes swept across the black in front of her. She could swear she'd knocked the giant rat off in the other direction, so... What was going on now?

    The moment she was close enough, Hime reached out and swiveled the flashlight where it sat on the ground, turning the cone of light towards the canal. The situation came into abrupt clarity—not one but two rats now, their beady eyes throwing back the light, their shapes massive and menacing as they bulled forward.

    A clatter at her feet brought Hime's gaze briefly downwards, and her face lit with relief. There was her broom! Masatora must've grabbed it for her; yes, that seemed to be what had happened. Smudges of smelly gunk dotted the handle, more of it practically coating Masatora in a layer so thick she almost couldn't see the orange parts of his fur anymore. The poor tiger looked like he'd gone for a reluctant dip in the river of crud. After this was all over, she'd have to offer him a bath or a shower, something as thanks. The other orphanage staff would understand, surely.

    Hime left the flashlight where it was. No way she'd put it in her mouth again, not after it had touched the ground and its millions of germs, and it was impossible to wield her broom the way she wanted to if one hand was occupied by something else. A deft kick with her foot brought the broom into her hold—an awful squishing sensation pressed under her fingers, under her nails, but she ignored it—and Hime closed the gap to their opponents.

    The second rat, the one without a tiger flapping from its paw, reared up to meet her. It rocked forward like a great pine felled by a lumberjack's axe, and its full weight came crashing down on top of Hime with such force that waves of foul dust were sent billowing all through the room. Even the shadows twitched as the flashlight back there teetered to and fro, disturbed by the blow.

    The rat's eyes narrowed, pleased with itself... then they widened, confused. Its body began to move in a vertical fashion, lifting off the ground.

    Beneath it, flat on her back, one arm and one leg braced against the rat's massive belly, Hime's teeth snapped together with determination. She shoved; the rodent flailed, squeaking with alarm as it was flipped like a turtle. She wasted no time in coming back onto her feet. The broom came with her, moving with vicious speed. The lines of the teenager's body became a blur as the end of the stick arched up and then back down, delivering punishment into the rodent's torso. Its eyes rolled back; the ground beneath it broke, cracks spreading like a spider's web. Another wave of dust blasted through the chamber.
     
    #13 Hime Yarizakura, Jul 21, 2018
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  14. The Governor

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    The other rat landed on top of Hime like a felled oak, potentially squishing her against the hard, gunk splattered ground. Shock shot like lightning down Philip’s spinal cord. If she was dead… Mashed up brutally… Then there went a potential good deed.

    There went another little girl he’d failed to protect.

    He let go of his rat, but not before taking one of its fingers with him, which uttered a brittle twiglike crack as it broke and separated from its hand. The Tigernor hit the ground on all paws, spitting out the tiny limb and darting back from the two squealing rats.

    Damn. He’d lost Hime to these ugly yahoos. They outnumbered and outsized him. His best chance at survival was to run, to beat a hasty retreat.

    Before he could tear off back down the grimy tunnel, he was left frozen in position by both a bizarre and amazing sight. Hime was arwight. In fact, she must’ve been better than awright ‘cos she used one arm and one leg to flip the hulking rat off her like it was little more than a plush toy. What the hell? Some kinda spell that’d made her strong as an ox, a dragon?

    The miracles didn’t stop. She became a damn blur as she got to her feet, driving her witch’s broom into the rat’s bulging belly, the ground breaking beneath its bulk.

    Letting out a shrill squeak, the other rat whirled around and tried to run from ‘em, its progress slowed as it struggled to navigate its huge body around stone columns. No way was he letting it get away so easily. It might pluck up the courage to come after ‘em again once it’d finished licking that ragged stump on its hand. Or maybe it’d bump into the lost boy, kill him in hunger or rage or frustration. Best to end the threat now. Right now.

    He barked out a roar and charged after the rat, biting and scratching at its squirming worm of a tail, as well as the fleshy soles of its back feet. Philip managed to hug hold of one of its bony hind legs, sinking his claws into its tender flesh to get a better grip. It squealed out in almost a pleading way, laboring to drag itself far from the young woman.


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  15. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    As the dust settled, and pebbles broken from the floor clattered to a rest, Hime took a moment to survey her handiwork. The rat lay totally motionless, not even a squeak coming out of its open mouth. But she knew it was still alive. It was still breathing, just very much unconscious. When it woke up again it'd probably think twice about attacking the next person (or tiger) it met in the tunnels.

    Satisfied that she wouldn't have to worry about a retaliatory strike, Hime straightened, then lifted the hand holding her broom. The top third of the pole dangled from the rest of it by a sad strip of splintered wood. Her stomach dropped at the sight—destruction of workplace property. This was coming out of her paycheck.

    Then the floor shook again. Not from more rats this time, but from Masatora lunging after their second foe, striped limbs pumping with savagery. He found his prey, and the frightened cries that spilled through the room made Hime wince. She never liked seeing a living creature suffer, even if it had been trying to eat or kill her a moment ago, and even less if said creature clearly didn't want to fight anymore. It just seemed so underhanded to keep laying into an opponent that had essentially surrendered.

    The rat was obviously terrified. Hime felt awful, like she was somehow the bad guy here.

    She jogged towards Masatora, reaching out a hand. In her other, the broken end of the broom flopped all about.

    "Hey, Masatora, it's okay. You can let it go. I don't think it's going to want a round two."

    And if it did... Well, she still had two-thirds of a broom left.
     
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  16. The Governor

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    Hime jogged over to him, the end of her broom splintered and flopping around like a chicken head on a broken neck. He tightened his grip on the rat’s leg, biting down on the bony, hairless place where it met what passed as its thigh. Its shrill, strident shriek could’ve shattered windows. He figured he’d rip its leg off first, then take advantage of its lameness to reach its head, sink his fangs into its throat, put it outta its misery.

    Her words had him freezing up around a mouthful of warm meat. Let it go? Like a fish… Just throw it back into the sea. But this was no salmon, no mackerel, no halibut. This was a shark, feeding on folk who strayed too deep. They had to end the threat, before it ended them.

    He snarled his disagreement, tearing into the skin and muscle of the rat’s leg, flattening his ears at each one of its piercing squeals. There was an unmistakable scared and pleading edge to the sounds, to the way it writhed on its belly, the bristly fur on its face impossibly damp with… Damn. This wasn’t gonna endear him to the girl, wasn’t gonna build trust between ‘em.

    The Tigernor rumbled out a sigh, releasing the rat. Its blood tasted bad, anyhow, like dirty coins. It didn’t hesitate to scramble away from ‘em, dripping blood on the slimy ground.

    He gave Hime an uneasy and doubtful look, before padding over to investigate the other rat. It lay as still and quiet as a giant plush toy, but its breath stirred his bunches of whiskers and tickled his pink nostrils. The doubt, the unease grew in his stomach like a malignant tumor sped up by some cruel hand. They couldn’t turn both of ‘em back to the sea. That doubled the risk of one of ‘em attacking again. Of killing somebody.

    Philip positioned himself in front of its head, the exposed throat, peering at the girl, silently asking her a question. He figured he already knew what she was gonna say, though.


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  17. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    Oh, right. There was the other rat. The other rat that was out cold, unable to follow its friend in judicious retreat. Hime supposed she should just be glad that Masatora was listening to her, was looking for her input before taking any drastic actions. At least, that's what he seemed to be conveying with the way he looked at her, those golden eyes mysteriously bright in the dark.

    Hime sighed. She brought the broken broom up to rest on her shoulder, her other hand scratching her head.

    "I know how you feel, but we're the ones who barged into his house." Hime's tone was the quiet, patient one she used when talking to the younger kids at the orphanage, and with the smaller children who'd greet her during daily patrols back in Sakurashin. "I don't think we could've avoided a fight, but I'm not okay with killing someone who can't defend themselves, either. Come on, I'll put him somewhere nice and safe and let him sleep off his headache."

    She retrieved the flashlight, then came around to the rat's side, setting it and the broom down as she thought about the best way to pick up their unconscious former foe. Maybe dragging the creature would be good enough?

    Hime reached into the mass of black fur at random. Her fingers slid over slime and grime, chunks of gooey material she didn't want to think about. Hime made a face. It seemed the giant rat didn't care much for grooming itself; aside from being horribly matted, the thick coat was tangled with all sorts of debris that had accumulated in the tunnels—wads of gum, broken bits of plastic and metal, scraps of filthy cloth. Hime did her best to get a grip somewhere that wasn't covered in garbage.

    Once she thought she was ready, Hime gave the great furry body a tremendous heave. The rat began to roll like an ugly bean bag, limbs flopping. Hime pushed again—and almost slipped as her shoe came down on something that wasn't the ground.

    "Whoa! What the?"

    Hime lifted her foot and peeled the offending object off. It was a... baseball cap?

    A chill came down her spine, sudden dread closing like a fist inside her chest. Abandoning the rat, Hime scrambled back towards the flashlight and dropped to her knees. She turned the cap inside out, holding the tag towards the light. Written in thick black marker was a name—Ravi.

    Maybe he just dropped it?

    No reason to think that Ravi had been eaten. No reason at all. Just because his favorite cap was trampled and dirty in the belly of giant rat-infested sewers didn't mean he'd...

    Right?
     
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  18. The Governor

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    He grumbled softly at Hime’s explanation, her patient tone making him feel like a demanding child or misbehaving pet. By “nice” and “safe”, he hoped she was gonna throw the rat in the contaminated water and let it sink to the bottom like a rock.

    The Tigernor gritted his teeth, the tips of his canines and great carnassials tingling at the wrongness of her decision. She should’ve been helping him to end the threat, not rolling it across the sewer like a misshapen slab of carpet. His whole life had become a damn comedy.

    Before he could force himself to help, she came to a halt to investigate her foot as though she’d stepped in a steaming pile of tiger dog shit. Instead, she picked up a ball cap.

    Stomach as heavy as lead, he edged over to Hime to get a better look, although his sloppy manimal brain was incapable of reading the word or name scrawled on the tag. He figured it was Ravi’s judging by Hime’s reaction. Damn. What the hell’d happened to him? He slip on the greasy muck, fall over the edge of the platform and drown? Or maybe one of the rats had eaten him?

    Philip eyed the unconscious creature accusingly, hot rage flaring up in his belly like dyin’ embers that’d been revived by a scraping poker or coaxing breath. He let out a low, gutsy growl, drawing himself up into a crouch, his ears flattened against his skull. That monster had cost him a good deed. He’d wind up spending an extra day, an extra week, perhaps an extra month trapped this way ‘cos he’d been unable to save the boy. More time separated from Penny.

    He bared his fangs, his growls prehistoric and sepulchral in the stony chambers and winding tunnels of the sewer system. He’d tear this rat limb from limb. It’d never eat anybody again.

    “H- Hel- Hello?” a faint voice drifted out of one of the closest tunnels, cutting him off mid-snarl. He tilted his head to listen, his teeth gleaming in the poor light. “Stay- Stay away if you’re mean! I’ve got a big sword! It’s the one Saint George used to slay the dragon!”

    That sounded like a boy…


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  19. Hime Yarizakura

    Hime Yarizakura Yozakura Quartet

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    The leaden growl that rumbled through the darkness had Hime jump back onto her feet. No.

    Masatora couldn't kill the rat. Sure, maybe the big rodent was the reason why they still couldn't find Ravi. But, maybe not. Either way, taking a life wasn't supposed to be as easy as this, as simple as deciding someone deserved the final punishment and then carrying it out. It was still murder. It'd make them as awful as the monsters people believed all youkai to be.

    Besides, Ravi's well-being had been—still was—Hime's responsibility. If anyone had to bear the blame, shouldn't it be her?

    Guilt sagged her shoulders, a sickening sense of failure forming a knot in her throat. Hime twisted the baseball cap in her hands. She shook her head.

    "Wait, Masatora..."

    It was a good thing her words came out small and weak, otherwise Hime might not have heard the other voice that wafted through from one of the chamber's connecting tunnels. She snapped her head up, eyes wide, freezing for just a moment before she burst into motion. The flashlight almost dropped to the floor in her hurry to grab it, and Hime slipped again on an unseen puddle of grime as she hurried towards the source of the noise. Hope bloomed, sharp and bright and just a little bit painful.

    "Ravi?... Ravi!"

    "... Ms. Hime?"

    The flashlight's pale cone landed on the missing boy, huddled in a dead end closed off by a large grate. His dark hair was tousled, cheeks smudged with dirt, scrapes on his knees where his shorts weren't long enough to offer protection. Weirdly enough, Ravi did have a sword in his hands, and not one that looked like it was made of plastic or foam. Seems there was no limit of weird things you could find in Pandora.

    Hime didn't care. She didn't even care that he'd mentioned slaying a dragon.

    Ravi squeaked as Hime all but tackled him in a hug.

    "There you are, thank God! How'd you even get this far into the sewers? Did you know there are giant man-eating rats down here? I thought you... No, it doesn't matter. You're okay now, you're safe, no need to cry!"

    "But I'm not crying?" Ravi squirmed under the strength of her grip. "You're the one who's crying..."

    As the boy struggled, a shuffle of movement drew his eyes to the shadows. To the tiger. Ravi made an alarmed noise and tried to wave the sword, though with a weepy teenager draped over him, it wasn't very effective.

    "Behind you! Ms. Hime, look out!"
     
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  20. The Governor

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    The Tigernor padded after Hime silently, keeping a respectful distance from the kids during their reunion. It put the squeeze on his heart a little to see her hug him, to see her tearful. It would’ve stung him more if the boy’d been a girl. A girl called Penny.

    He flashed back to his wife’s pregnancy, remembering how tense he’d been when they’d gone to an ultrasound to find out their baby’s sex. Philip’d hoped like hell she’d give him a boy. He’d been crushingly disappointed when it’d wound up being a girl. He hadn’t slept that night, his jaw aching from the time he’d spent gritting his teeth forcefully, grinding ‘em.

    But when his little girl had been born… He’d looked down and seen that delicate little mouth, those tiny hands, all disappointment had fled him. He couldn’t believe he’d ever wanted a boy.

    Penny was perfect.

    Ravi distinguished him from the dark, cryin’ out and struggling to wave around a sword. A real sword. The Tigernor huffed out a sigh, weary of folk reacting that way to him. He didn’t dare try to prowl closer to ‘em, concerned about getting cut up by that weapon, or maybe Hime or Ravi would wind up hurt by accident. Best not to frighten him more than he was already.

    He realized too slow that the boy wasn’t just warning Hime about him. A hissing snarl came from the dark of his blind side noisily, hot air ruffling the fur on his face and neck. He reacted before he’d fully engaged his brain, leaping away from the primal sound. A sharp, definitive snap came from the place where he’d been standing obliviously.

    Philip snatched a glance at the source of the sounds, seein’ a huge alligator stretched out across the grimy ground, knobbly ridges running down its broad back. It wasn’t a giant, like the rats, but those long jaws full of sharp dinosaur teeth were bad enough.


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