Where did the time go! Francis only meant to be there for a couple minutes, an hour tops, but then Beatrice, that conniving harpy, went to retrieve another starter deck, then one with the color they were missing. She made sure to give him a taste of every part of that color pie, even if he didn’t want to. He was fine with black, content with red, even enjoyed green, but white and blue can go straight to Hell. There was something... cathartic about using the big creatures of green to stamp out the tiny humans of white and the rush goblins of red, but nothing... nothing... nothing in the known universe will ever come between him and his gilfs. They carried him through the worst of hands, saw him to victory so many times –for she made sure to face him with every color as he ran black, as well.
So many hands, so many “decks”; by the last hand -his last- he stretched his arms, popped his back, his neck as he looked around, and saw that the room was empty save for the three of them. Wesley was grumbling, cleaning up the far left corner. What was he bitching about? At least Garret’s friends were kind enough to roll him out. Why couldn’t Fangs learn to keep their mouths shut? It must be hereditary, that, after you gain immortality, you think you are invincible. No... it doesn’t make you god, nor does it make you unable to feel pain. What it does do, though, is make you even harder to kill. Unless he choked on his own excretions, he was going to live, but God forbid He do Francis any favors. He would live, and others would be justified in calling him a shithead.
Sadly, it seemed his lovely hostess’ mood only grew more sour with each passing hand. Not because she lost them all, no; that would be silly. By that last hand, she was ahead of him. By four games. Because blue sucks. Instead, it most likely had to do with his response to her offer. Offers. She didn’t hide her intentions as they played, always revolving back to it, even if she tried to make it subtle. What really did it, though, was the comment on the worker’s permit, and how he needed to wait until Monday to even consider her offer. And that it was still a big, “If”... in both regards.
She wasn’t without reason, though, (or tact), so, before the final round -when he stated it would be the final- she sent Wesley upstairs for a small, steel chest. It sat by his arm, opened, showing three rows lined with felt. There were separators, those colorful plastic plugs holding firm by that liner alone, each one matching the colors of the decks inside –save for black; it had a purple separator. She even sent him to retrieve some half-packs of sleeves, also color coordinated, which she helped him sleeve in between turns, with the last of his black cards, one of his favorite hos, being sheathed in purple as he gave her one last tap for the night before stowing her back in the box.
Beatrice sighed, slipping on the last, green cover of her “deck”, and placed it in the box, as well, clacking it shut. The box had three latches on it, and she started on the left as he clicked the right closed, both of them meeting in the middle. They tittered, fighting with each other over that latch until they came to an understanding. He would finger the hole and lift it up for her while she worked the locking mechanism, plunging it down and sealing the deal together.
“I must admit, you have a talent for the game,” she said, though her voice was still a bit haughty. “I have never seen someone pick it up so fast.”
“What can I say? I had a good teacher,” he chortled, and started to stand- regretting it. The world spun, and he crashed back down into the chair, holding his head. “Jesus... How long have we been sitting?”
“Not long. It’s only 9.”
“Oh, goodness no... P.M.”
“We’ve been playing for over sixteen hours? I’m not even upset; that’s impressive... If that’s the case, why is Lanky here?”
“Wesley? He graduated last year.”
“Yes, but why is he here? Still. Shouldn’t he have gone home?”
“I did,” Wesley grumbled. “I just got back on the clock.”
“B...but weren’t you... the blood and-”
“That was last ‘night’.”
“Where did the time go?” Francis groaned, laying on the table... his hands just grazing by Beatrice’s chest. He was on eye-level with those beauties, still in that red dress, still fighting against the white ruffles above that were being torn at by her black plumage. They jiggled and rustled as she tittered at him, patting the top of his head... which he wasn’t against at the moment. Now that they stopped, he could feel how tired he was, how hungry... how thirsty.
“Oh dear. I think I wore him out,” she said, cooing, and ruffled his hair. “As I said, it is my passion.”
“Apparently... I’m a bit annoyed, though.”
“Plank never showed.”
“Plank- oh. Right. You brought her up. Professor Dweiler.”
“Eh? She told me her name was-”
“I know. She started doing that spiel a year before I graduated. She is absolutely nuts about that series, but no. Her real name is Penny Dweiler.”
He chortled, but it was lost to a yawn, his eyes fluttering shut as she continued to toy with his hair.
“No wonder she wanted to hide it. What a dumb ass name... Then again, one to talk. Francis Ulrich Conner.”
“Ulrich? That’s quite unique.”
“Not from where I’m from.”
“A family name, then? Where are you from?”
“From ye olde PA, and supposedly it was my mother’s grandfather’s name.” He groaned as she stopped rubbing his head, and shot her a dirty look through his half-lidded eyes. “Hey...”
“Now now. Off with you for now lest I start charging you by the hour. You can always come back later when you are fed and rested.”
“Fine. Yeah. Sure. Throw me out, why don’t you?”
He yawned through most of it, all one, long slur, then tried to stand again. This time his legs did hold, but the trouble became when he picked up at metal case. It had a handle, but even that bit of extra weight at the moment threw him off-kilter. If it wasn’t for the harpy, he wondered how he would have made it up the steps, but he did. She opened the door for him, and waggled her fingers for a different reason, waving him off into the dusk. He lumbered up the concrete slabs, his palm meeting the next two up far too often for his liking, yet found his way to his apartment. He didn’t even bother to unlock it, crashing through the wooden blockade; the fairies would fix it so who cared. He yawned again, almost throwing him completely back, but clawed at the arch into the kitchen, holding him into that onslaught passed. He took a deep breath after, and focused, shambling through the entry, the living room, and into the master bedroom, throwing himself onto the bright green bedding and dozing off into the lavender-scented throws.
He was out and gone seconds after, welcoming the darkness behind his lids. He could still feel the harpy’s hand, though. He could still feel as it pulled and tugged and teased his hair, soothing him even as his mind continued to slip further and further away into that veil. If only... if only...
If only it remained that peaceful.
He hissed as he stirred- jumped out of the bed. The green quilt huffed... then hissed under that stinger, a brighter shade of green oozing down into the quilt and burning it away. Smoke rose from it into the purple-painted room, lit by the wire lamps on simple, modern nightstands, gleaming off the rows of metal masks on the walls. There was a TV and chest of drawers, placed exactly like his back home, but given the layer of dust on the front, it hadn’t seen much action.
For good reason!
“What are you doing in my house!” The manticore shrieked, stabbing with its tail again. Francis’ back popped as he arched it, watching as it flew over and struck the wall. It didn’t stay there long, leaving a fine trickle of that sickly green gel behind, hissing and smoking- and dribbling as it passed over him again. His heart skipped as he dropped and rolled under the bed, hoping, praying none of it seeped onto his muumuu- but had bigger problems as she flung the bed across the room, blocking out the sun streaming through the window. Her large, amber eyes burned like a pair of suns, gleaming off her long incisors in her feline-shaped face, but she was lacking more of her... cat-like attributes. She had the whiskers, the claws and even bottom paws of a feline, down to having pads, but everything else (that he could see) was more human... save for her scorpion-like tail and leathery wings- AND roar. “Well!”
“Hey hey! Take it easy,” he said, getting to his feet. He wiped off his front... but also took in more of her details. She didn’t wear shoes, but she also didn’t wear pants. Instead, she had on a red leotard to hide her true pussy. Her legs, instead, were covered in a soft, black fur, which changed to stripes than solid yellow as it went up. She wore a coat over her shoulders, an old, beat-up denim jacket, which did little to cover for her chest and its six pert tips pressing through. The top two were easily DD-cups, and they got two cups smaller with each pair down. She started to growl, her tail “rattling” behind while he did, a bright red tip at the end of a striped length, matching her folded, purple wings. “Whoa I really overslept.”
“Well? I’m waiting!”
“Okay! Okay... Shouldn’t you be overjoyed to have a hunk like me in y- kidding! Kidding.” He yelped, dancing around that slashing tail. “I just stumbled in here last ‘night’ after a long night at the hobby shop and passed out. That’s all- oh thank God.”
He huffed, panting, leaning back against the wall- stopping himself. He chanced a look back, and saw the array of hissing, slimy holes that were left in her tirade. And how quick the the venom ate through... Francis cleared his throat, smiling at her again, and held up his hands.
“So I’m Francis-” He started.
“Get out of my house!” She shrieked.
“And that would be?”
“You never know- again kidding! Good lord, woman. I thought I was stab-happy! Damn... My room is 312.”
“Well this is 321.”
“Ah. So that’s what happened. I got the numbers crossed-”
“How did you even get in here? I had the door locked. I swear if all keys were on the every lock, I am fucking suing.”
“Oh. No. It didn’t... I crashed through the door.”
“Then how was it fixed when I got back!”
“Would you believe fairies?”
“Fairies! What shit have you been smoking? Do you have any idea how much it’s going to cost me to have this wall repaired... Get out. Just go, you fucking asshole.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sure. I’m the asshole. I’m the one that perforated your wall like it was swiss fucking cheese... I have an idea. Let’s go eat breakfast –or I guess for you it would be dinner. I’ll cook.”
“And how will that solve all this!”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, given everything, but I just need you to trust me... okay?”
She growled, crossed her arms... but looked to door, pouting.
“As long as you’re cooking. You leave right after, though!”
“Fair enough. What’s your name, sweet thang?”
“If it’ll get you to never call me that again, it’s Jessica.”
“I promise nothing.”
She hissed, but let him pass. Now that he was more conscious of his surroundings, he was surprised he made it as far as he did. This house was a complete pigsty –no offense to the resident porker. In fact, he bet even (actual) pigs would find this sty repugnant. There was a single couch, compared to the three in his apartment, and it was filled to the brim with take-out containers, opened and glazed with old sauces. They rolled down to the ground, a waterfall of styrofoam, where it met the lake of soiled napkins, of old plastic cutlery, and various other rubbish. He could feel the maggots through his eyes, the flies that swirled around it all, but at least it was only in front of the TV.
“Shit, they’re lazy,” he grumbled, walking passed that oasis of refuse.
“What? Did you just call me lazy?” She shrieked.
“No. The fairies... Then again, with a mountain like that and everyone else-”
“Are you knocking my trash?”
“No! No. I can imagine you live a busy life-”
“I do. In fact, I am due for my job in five hours, so I would very much like a nap. Now!”
“I’m going, okay! We’re almost in the... kitchen.”
The kitchen, for the most part, was in stark contrast. In fact, just like the TV in her room, it seemed as though she never entered it. Proven as he opened the fridge... and was hit with the stench of rot. There were even more styrofoam containers in there, which, given their coloration, he surmised they were there even longer. It didn’t matter, anyways. She didn’t even have butter in the fridge. He feared the worst when he opened the freezer... but was thankful to see packs of actual food, sectioned and ready. He checked the spice drawer, and, as he suspected, was never even touched.
“How long has that been there?” Jessica blurted.
“No idea, but I found it in mine when I moved in.”
“When was that?”
“Roughly two days ago... What sounds good to you?”
“Anything but chicken.”
“Ah, a woman after my heart.”
She growled, and slunk her way passed, sitting at the table. Francis did offer, after all, so he was fine with her simply staring daggers into his back. He preferred it that way, anyways; he loved an audience, watching him do that voodoo that he do. Today, he would make her a crowd favorite: overcooked burgers smothered in worchestershire and black pepper- which became overcooked meat patties in a brown gravy sauce when he realized she didn’t even have bread. After a reduction in grease, he added the brown gravy mix, then pulled out a pair of brown ceramic plates and forks, handing her one loaded with the steaming abomination.
He sat across, picking at his meat puck, watching her scrutinize over it.
“Just wanted to say. Your kitchen didn’t give me much to work with,” he said, muffled by a mouthful of meat- damn; was only slightly overcooked. He could still taste the beef.
“Still better than what I can make,” she grumbled, and finally found the courage to bite into it. Exclaiming. “Wow!”
“I know. Not my-”
“Well... thank you.” She didn’t hear him; how could she with how she tore into those poor meat patties. She growled more while ravaging those than she did trying to kill him. He needed to stand up and beyond the stove and fridge to avoid the “splash zone” as she dove her entire face onto the plate. “Slow down, speedy. This isn’t a race.”
She pulled her face away, covered in gravy... and was she purring?
“It’s been so long... Far too long since I had a home-cooked meal.” She sighed... turned to a growl as she leered at Francis again. “Are you single?”
“Why is that a question?”
“Why are you even asking?”
“You’re right. Why am I... Anyways, you said ‘fairies’ would clean up my room?”
“Give them another minute. Just in case- OR, at least give me time to finish eating.”
“Oh, so sorry I didn’t have self-control like you! It’s not like I get this kind of food all the time... I want more.” Her eyes glittered, widening. Her growls softened to mewls, and he could swear she was shaking her rump in her chair while looking at his plate... turned to a trill as he handed it to her. “Thank you!”
“Just like a real cat,” he muttered, hidden under her returned ravaging. Didn’t matter; he ate the one he wanted. How she could stand it- well, it isn’t surprising. Anything would be an oasis in a desert. He waited for the carnage to die down, for the plate and fork to stop screeching against each other, and saw that her face was completely brown now, and heard her purring away. “So. How did a manticore end up at VNA?”
“How did a drachen?”
“I got arrested.”
She shot out of her seat, her once white irises reduced to slits.
“You’re a con?”
“No, thankfully. They had me dead to rights for so many charges-”
“Like what?” She purred, slinking up to him. Her tail twitched, her wings ruffled, eyes caught in a constant flux of widening only to shrink. “Have you killed a man?”
“Stolen? Razed? Raped?”
“Can’t rape the willing, and each one was.”
She trilled, rubbing, scratching at his arm.
“A suave man. A dangerous man. A man who can cook... Why haven’t you been taken?”
He chortled, rubbing her arm, smirking at her.
“Many have tried.”
“They can’t handle me.” He put a finger to her nose, pushing her face away as she leaned up for a kiss. “Go take a shower. You’re a mess... I need to return to your room-”
“Like hell!” She yowled, and tried to stab with her tail again.
Caught. At the base of the stinger.
He felt it tremble through his grip, saw how her breathing turned to heavy panting, how her eyes glazed over as his fingers stroked it... returned to normal, if a bit indignant, as he let go.
“Just like a cat,” he repeated, and turned around. “I left my case in your room.”
“You mean that steel suitcase? I found it by the door.”
“Great! Where is it?”
“I... sort of threw it outside.”
“How far outside?”
She chuckled, looking far too sheepish for the crazed psychobitch she was a moment before, and he opened the door. He stepped out, looked over the railing... and saw the case in the middle of the parking lot. Thankfully, it didn’t seem many people noticed yet, but poor Wesley was not having a good day. He was there, still holding the trash from the shop, face down on the heating pavement with that steel shell resting on the top of his (somehow) greasy head.
Francis ran down, his muumuu whipping against his legs, and only took him five bounds to reach the case and Wesley. He picked it up, looked it over... and sighed, relieved that the naga’s blood didn’t stick to it. The latches held firm, as well, not even loosened by the impact, still steadfast.
“Thanks, Wes,” he said, shaking the limp naga’s hand, and let it plop back onto the ground. “You’re a lifesaver.”