The Foozle Dance

Sep 26th, 2013
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  1. "SAPIENCE!"
  3. The Rajamala winced at the high-pitched, girlish shout as it reverberated through the continent with Divine power. "Probably figured out how to put voyria in ice cream, knowing Her," he muttered to himself. With a shake of his head, he propped his legs back up on the cherrywood table and turned the page of the manuscript in his paws.
  5. "I find Myself bored. -Bored-, I tell you. This won't do at all. Entertain Me!"
  7. He listened, half in faint amusement and half in vague annoyance, as sycophantic calls of encouragement and agreement began to arise from all corners of Sapience through ram's horn or Dragon strength.
  9. "Kiss me, Lady Pandora!"
  11. "Throw a pie at the Dawnlord!"
  13. "No - make an exploding cookie in Cyrene and feed it to Chomps!"
  15. He shut his eyes as he groaned aloud, the sound echoing in his small cabin. How had any of these people survived the Trial of Rebirth?
  17. "Funny! But no, not good enough. I don't like any of these ideas." The bright voice fell silent for a moment, apparently thinking.
  19. Pandora, thinking? He rolled his eyes briefly. This is going to end well...
  21. A cacophony of giggles shook the firmament, evidence of the prankster Goddess's amusement. "I know what I want! I feel like watching you dance, mortals. I want to see you scurrying all over Sapience, hunting your little toys!" She delightedly exclaimed.
  23. "A Foozle it is!"
  25. He sat up straight at that, his interest piqued, as ragged cheers and groans filled the air. Many thought it a frivolous pastime, but being an avid explorer, he had always enjoyed the activity. A proficient Foozler had to possess an unrivalled familiarity with geography, flora and fauna, as well as denizens of note - and on top of that, be uncommonly fleet of foot. He revelled in pitting both his memory and his speed against the other intrepid explorers of Sapience, the fierce satisfaction of completing a full card, that adrenaline rush from racing to collect that final entry before time ran out.
  27. Grinning widely, he set his manuscript down carefully and uncurled himself from his chair, stretching as he stood up.
  29. This would be fun.
  31. ====================================================================================================
  33. "Let's make it interesting!" Pandora's laughing voice rang out as he sauntered down the gangplank of his Seastrider. "The -city- that performs the best for Me will earn a token of My favour for excellent entertainment!"
  35. He shrugged briefly, closing his eyes as a salty sea breeze whipped at his white fur. Prizes weren't his motivation, but incentive was always appreciated. He wondered idly what it would be - hopefully not apple-green puppies, though no doubt some Eleusians would adore them.
  37. "Now, who will dance?"
  39. He added his voice to the clamour. "I, my Lady."
  41. A flash of gold, and a strange-looking contraption materialised in his paws - a wooden box with all sorts of irregularly-shaped levers and buttons. He looked down at the raised panel upon the top of the box as he weighed its solid bulk. It was a fair weight, to be sure, but he was used to it - it would not hinder him too much.
  43. "Let's begin!" She cried.
  45. "One..."
  47. He tensed, his tail flicking agitatedly behind him.
  49. "Two..."
  51. Adrenaline coursed through his system, and he felt his heart rate speed up in anticipation.
  53. "THREE!"
  55. Cacophonic laughter shook the world as his dark eyes flicked to the wooden panel again. As if written by an invisible hand, golden lettering began to materialise upon the panel, spelling out a variety of words and their values.
  57. "Elk, mhun, eel, glubber- ugh," he groaned aloud, "Ugrach." The Lord of the Underworld was an almost impossible figure to approach safely, and attempting it would mean almost certain death.
  59. Still, the rest of the card was quite easy - the Northreach Forest, Moghedu, Green Lake, Enverren...all possible routes were already being calculated in his mind as he slipped the box in his satchel and took off at a run, white sand flying up into the air in his wake.
  61. Eleusis, he was sure, would not lose this one while he was around.
  63. ===================================================================================================
  65. CLICK! *whrrrrrr*
  67. He smiled in triumph, bubbles escaping his lips as he stared at the pudgy, clueless glubber in front of him. His first card submitted, and it wasn't even two minutes into the game. A pity about Ugrach, but he might be luckier with the next card.
  69. Watery shadows rippled over the golden words as they appeared, making him squint slightly as he tried to decipher them.
  71. "Hound...lady...pyrapede...king...slave? Easy," he muttered, even though no one could hear him but the blank-eyed glubber - and he wasn't even sure if the glubber understood the mass of bubbles coming out of his mouth.
  73. Nonetheless, he gave it a wink - just because - and began to stroke strongly towards the surface.
  75. ====================================================================================================
  77. "I'm sorry, adventurer, but my hound was slain," sighed rotund Lord Adryn, wringing his hands in despair. "I can't think why anyone would do such a thing. Poor little dog, and it was such a good hunting dog of mine..."
  79. The Rajamala resisted the urge to groan, instead patting the distraught lord on his fleshy back. "My condolences, my lord. I'm sure you'll find an equally well-trained dog soon."
  81. Where else to find hounds...
  83. "Oh, but I couldn't possibly. Where?" moaned Lord Adryn, taking a handkerchief out of his pocket to dab at his watery eyes. "No dog was as well-trained as my Speckles."
  85. "Well, I hear Daveed in Thera-" Sudden inspiration struck as the image of a docile Siroccian hound surfaced in his mind, lying quietly next to a wooden counter. Of course!
  87. "Thera, my lord, go search there. Good luck!" With a hurried wave, he dashed out of the keep and over the drawbridge, leaving the confused man to stare after him.
  89. "What a strange adventurer...and dripping wet, too, of all things. I wonder if they're all like that..."
  91. ====================================================================================================
  93. The door to the shop burst open, startling both the shopkeeper and his dog, who jumped up from his spot and began to bark loudly at the intruder.
  95. "Aha!" The Rajamala cried in return, one clawed digit extended directly at the furious dog. "I have been looking for you!"
  97. "Sir, that...that dog's not for sale," ventured the shopkeeper, frozen behind his counter as his eyes took in the peculiar sight.
  99. "Oh, no, I don't want to buy it! I just want to..." Bending down, the Rajamala took the strange-looking box from his satchel, staring intently at the apoplectic dog as he pulled a hidden lever.
  101. CLICK! *whrrrrr*
  103. Scared by the sounds, the dog yelped all the louder, fairly jumping off the ground with the force of its barks, but the Rajamala only laughed. "Thank you, shopkeeper!" he cried, before he vanished out the door.
  105. Despite the shopkeeper's admonitions, the hound insisted on running after him and barking furiously for a good ten minutes more, just for good measure. Just in case that large scary cat didn't know what was good for him.
  107. ====================================================================================================
  109. "Slaves...slaves. Hmm."
  111. He stood at a fork in the dusty roads, frowning down at the last word on his box. A dilemma presented itself: he could run far north, to the underground settlement of gnolls called Manara, or he could take the shorter - and more dangerous - route west to the Northern Vashnars, where the city of Evil resided. There was a slave camp there, he knew, but there were also Mhaldorians, and he was a sworn enemy...
  113. "Meh." He shrugged, stowed the box away, and began to ascend the winding mountain road, a red miasma threatening to blanket the sky beyond.
  115. He'd never been afraid of a little red fog anyway.
  117. ====================================================================================================
  119. The stench hit his sensitive nose long before the slave camp ever came into sight, and he wrinkled it in distaste as he walked into the courtyard. If he had more time, he would have made a detour to kill the slaver and set these poor saps free of their torment, but he was a little short on time as it was.
  121. After, he promised himself as he walked over to the yard, pressing his lips together as he noted the sad, broken expressions on the slaves' faces, forced to sit in their own filth. He -would- come back for them. Almost reluctantly, he took out his box...
  123. A whisper of movement sounded beside him just as the box clicked and whirred, and he whipped his head around, senses on high alert as he scanned his surroundings.
  125. All he saw was the slave yard and the blank-eyed slaves, but there had been something...
  127. Frowning, he tugged another lever and the words vanished.
  129. Maybe it had just been his imagination.
  131. ====================================================================================================
  133. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. He panted quickly as he ran, loving the feeling of moving across the earth as quickly as his legs could carry him, urging them to strain harder, go faster, go further. Running was such a simple pleasure, but it was one of his greatest joys in life.
  135. "I -do- so enjoy watching you scurry like little ants!" came the shrill exclamation. "You might want to know that Ashtan is in third place, Eleusis is in second place - well done, well done - and...oho!"
  137. What? He almost tripped over his own feet in his shock, only managing to right himself without breaking stride through years of practice. Eleusis and Ashtan both had the largest collection of famous explorers he knew - if not them, then that left what - Hashan, Cyrene, Targossas, and...?
  139. "You won't believe it - I almost don't believe it - but Mhaldor is barely leading, and time's just half over! I didn't know the fog-breathers were so fond of dancing!"
  141. He almost fell over again. -Mhaldor-? Of all the impossible things...
  143. He redoubled his speed, moving so swiftly over the Savannah that the long grass bent forward in the slipstream he caused as he blew through them.
  145. Eleusis was -not- going to lose, and most of all, wasn't going to lose to -Mhaldor- of all cities.
  147. "Not in this," he growled under his breath.
  149. "This is mine."
  151. ====================================================================================================
  153. He'd seen something.
  155. Many adventurers were racing across the continent to amuse the Lady Pandora, but this one - whoever or whatever it was - was fast.
  157. He'd seen it already at quite a few improbable places - the ruins of Phereklos, Ulangi, Tasur'ke, the caverns of Nusukwe - most people didn't even bother to venture to places as far as those, preferring convenience over a full card and hoping to recoup the loss in points with a better card.
  159. But he kept seeing it, that shadow slipping through the trees in the forest, the sudden rapid patter of footsteps behind him, the whisper of wind as something moved. Granted, he hadn't actually -seen- it, so it must be - a Serpent, perhaps, he thought. Something just like him.
  161. He knew it was a participant too, for he heard the faint click and whirr when it was nearby - Mhaldorian? he wondered. He shook his head, pointing the box at the sanguine buffalo in front of him, lazily chewing upon a mouthful of grass.
  163. It didn't matter, he thought determinedly as the box clicked and shuddered in his paws.
  165. Targossan, Cyrenian, Hashani, Ashtani, Mhaldorian - he would beat them all.
  167. ====================================================================================================
  169. One more card submitted, a full one at that - he must be doing quite well now, surely?
  171. He squinted at the panel, using one paw to shield it from the harsh sunlight in the middle of the Mhojave Desert.
  173. "Yudhishthira. Really?" Because the legendary dragon of Polyargos wouldn't just swallow him in one gulp, of course not. How was anyone actually expected to survive that?
  175. "Time ends soon! Five minutes!" cried the Prankster, peals of delighted laughter accompanying Her announcement.
  177. "Run faster, little Ellodin Longshanks-" he started as he heard his name in Her vibrant tones, "run faster...Jurixe isn't far behind!"
  179. Jurixe. He narrowed his eyes. Now the apparition had a name.
  181. "We'll see about that," he muttered, taking off at top speed as he plunged towards the verdant forests of the Ithmias, telepathic calls of encouragement from his citymates ringing in his ears.
  183. "Let's see you try to outrun me, Naga."
  185. ====================================================================================================
  187. A last word remained on his box as the contraption flashed and whirred, and he scanned it quickly, for by his estimate this would be his final chance.
  189. Lamassu - easy, he thought in triumph, recalling the dark forests of the Northern Ithmia, cradle of Hashan. The dance was as good as done - assuming she didn't have any more cards than he did.
  191. Navigating the dense greenery might have been a chore for some, but was easy for him - his long hours of patrolling had paid off. He knew almost every tree and rock, leaping easily over the hidden streams and dashing with sure steps over the tiny trails.
  193. The only problem was, he couldn't predict where the lamassu would be, strange creatures that they were - they wandered everywhere, and sometimes they would be hunted for the fonts, what if someone had decided to hunt them just then-
  195. "Ten!"
  197. He didn't look up, but his ears folded flat back in alarm. Already?
  199. "Nine!"
  201. No, no, there had to be one somewhere-
  203. "Eight!"
  205. The back of his neck prickled - something was hurtling through the brush too, something that wasn't him-
  207. "Seven!"
  209. Could it be her? Was she looking for the same thing too?
  211. "Six!"
  213. He had to find it before her, he thought frantically, dark eyes scanning the forest, hoping for that one glimpse-
  215. "Five!"
  217. Where -were- those thrice-damned things- wait, was that-
  219. "Four!"
  221. Movement in the shadows - the rustle of wings - yes, yes, -yes- -
  223. "Three!"
  225. He burst through the trees into the clearing, the lips of the beautiful woman parting in surprise as her panther's body leapt back in alarm-
  227. "Two!"
  229. Something -else- burst out from the opposite side, the lamassu jumping another foot in the air to avoid the cloaked creature that materialised from nowhere-
  231. "One!"
  233. CLICK! *whrrrr* *flash*
  234. CLICK! *whrrrr* *flash*
  236. "Time's up!"
  238. For a long moment, the only sound that filled the air in the secluded clearing were the harsh pants for breath, both figures trembling from their exertions, steam almost visibly rising from their figures. The frightened lamassu had long plunged into the forest now, trying to put as much distance between the two strange intruders, but neither of them followed.
  240. He watched her as he panted, sure she could hear his heart thumping in his chest. He couldn't see much of her face, covered by a long, hooded cloak, but she was tiny - he wasn't tall himself, but she seemed especially so, cloaked in the darkness of the forest.
  242. "Such a lovely dance, -such- a lovely dance!" Bright laughter cascaded over the heavens, and the skies flashed red-yellow-green-blue for a moment. "That was -so- very entertaining! So, so delightful. I always knew you mortals were a riot!"
  244. Come on, he silently urged the Goddess, get on with it. Had it been enough?
  246. "Sad effort, Targossas, in last place - you lot really aren't very good at this Foozle thing, are you? Hashan was only slightly better...tch. Not bad, Cyrene, not close, Ashtan, but missing Paine, I think..."
  248. The tension in the air between them seemed to thicken imperceptibly as the cities were announced in order of placing.
  250. "Now...the moment you've all been waiting for, no doubt..."
  252. He clenched his paw into a fist, gripping it tightly. Surely not...
  254. "Mhaldor..."
  256. No, wait-
  258. " sad, you were nearly there! But tis Eleusis that wins My gift this day - a drinking fountain!"
  260. Flocks of startled birds flew into the air, spiralling over the treetops of Eleusis as a raucous cheer sounded from the forestal village. Mental shouts of congratulations and celebration thundered through the various channels in his mind, and he couldn't help a grin as he lifted his head to look at her.
  262. "Well done," he said, his voice suddenly loud in the oppressively quiet clearing. "You did well."
  264. She said nothing for a moment, and he almost thought she would leave - but then pale hands reached up out of the cloak to pull her hood down, revealing a pale face with sharp features, and a faintly amused grey stare. "Not as well as you, it seems."
  266. He shrugged and flashed an easy grin again, his breathing slowing down to a comfortable level now. "Still. That was...a challenge, for once. You represented your city well."
  268. She quirked a dark eyebrow, a corner of her lips curling in response. "It was quite the chase indeed, Ellodin Longshanks. We shall dance again, you and I." She drew up her hood.
  270. He chuckled softly, shutting his eyes for a moment as he tilted his head back, allowing himself to savour his victory for a brief instant. "Maybe we will."
  272. Only a brief rustle answered him, however, and when he opened his eyes, she was gone.
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