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A Trickster's Tail - Part 11

Copyright (c) 1997 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

For those of you who may not have been eligible to read Part 10 (due to youth or delicate sensibilities), here's a brief summary: Kickaha and Keith go to a bar. Kickaha has fun. Strange and wonderful things happen. They leave. They help Tabitha Wilkins to kick her drug habit and quit prostitution, through innovative and adult-oriented means. Kickaha has more fun. Tabitha's "employer" has an unfortunate encounter with law enforcement. Kickaha... well, you get the idea. It's now sometime in the afternoon of Monday, November 4. We now return you to regular programming.

{So, do you think she's okay?}

{{Considering she probably hasn't even made it to the airport yet, I'd have to say yes. Of course, it's been five whole minutes since you asked that last; anything can happen in that kind of time...}}

{Phbbbbbbtht. Can't a guy do a little good-natured worrying around here?}

{{You worry enough for ten of us. Now could you concentrate?}}

{I've been concentrating.}

{{Well, do it some more.}}

{Oh, sure. "Concentrate," says the strange voice in my head.}

{{You're in a lousy position to be calling other people "strange," you know...}}

Keith had never been a fan of taking Mondays off. For some reason, no matter where he was, or how much fun he was supposed to be having, he always felt like he'd rather be at work. Things always went wrong for him on Mondays when he wasn't on a project.

This one was going worse than usual.

They'd retreated to a patch of forest on the east side of the lake. There was one advantage to it being midafternoon on a Monday; at least fewer people were out and about. Keith and Kickaha had the place to themselves. Not that it was doing Keith any good.

As promised, Kickaha was trying to teach Keith the finer arts of magic. And "trying" was about as far as they were getting. If the magic was simple, and if it only involved their body, then Keith could generally pull it off after some effort; when he tried shapeshifting a hand to a paw, it was no problem at all. But anything outside of that--even the trivial trick of making grass grow, which he had pulled off on the night of his transformation--seemed to be beyond him now. He could feel the power in him, but he just couldn't focus it; it was like it evaporated as soon as it left his body... if magic was something that could evaporate. He'd even tried tapping into Kickaha's magic again. No luck; he couldn't do it.

{{Well, this is a bummer and a half,}} Kickaha finally said.

{This is nuts,} Keith fumed. {Last week, I didn't even think magic existed. Now it does, and it's not working, and it's pissing the hell out of me!}

{{The whole thing is kinda weird,}} Kickaha agreed. {{And I say that as an expert.}}

{You said that you didn't think my magic was the same type. Maybe the rules aren't quite the same either?}

{{Yeah, I guess that could be it. I sure as hell hope not, though. 'Cuz if it is, I sure don't know what to do about it. Look, maybe we're banging our head against the wall for nothing here. Maybe it just takes time. Or maybe if you Sing again something'll shake loose; it was sure weird enough the last time...}}

{Not right now, okay? I'm tired, and I'm frustrated, and I'm ticked. I just don't think that's the right frame of mind.}

{{Gee, that's usually when I enjoy it the most. But suit yourself. Mind if I go ahead, though?}}

{Fine. I'll watch your back.}

{{My back is fine. Watch for other people's backs.}}


{{Juuust leaving.}}

Kickaha only took a minute or two. Keith felt the incoming rush of power, and it was bittersweet--so close, so far away. He briefly thought about changing his mind and Singing too, then decided against it. There'd be time later. Time seemed to be one thing he wasn't short of.

They drifted back downtown, checking out of the Hilton; after the "events" of last night, it seemed prudent to change. Besides, with those magic pockets in Kickaha's cloak, they didn't exactly need a place to stash their stuff--a fact that Kickaha demonstrated by loading them up with all the toiletries from the bathroom, only stopping when Keith drew the line at the towels.

Rush hour was coming closer, and the traffic on First Street was just starting to get interesting. Kickaha stood on a corner, tapping his claws against a building, idly watching the traffic work its way through the light. Well, not exactly "idly." People who ran the light or blocked the intersection mysteriously found themselves dropping their lattes on their immaculate floor mats; pedestrians who crossed against the red were splashed by a puddle that never quite seemed to empty. A cop working the corner didn't quite know what to make of his unexpected bounty--nobody seemed to notice him until it was too late. Keith found himself cheering up; he may still have wished that he was in that commute instead of watching it, but that didn't make it any less fun to watch.

Then a bolt of cold fire hit him in the chest.

For a moment, the world seemed to dissolve; Keith saw nothing but blue, heard nothing but a roaring in his ears. Then the fog cleared, and he stood stunned, looking down at the sidewalk, waiting for the pain that he was sure would be coming. Waiting for Kickaha to do something.

Someone screamed.

{{No power... run...}} The voice in his head was muted, distant.

Keith ran, not sure which way to go.

The second bolt hit him in the back.

Keith howled in pain as his skeleton lurched, convulsed into another shape. As he crashed face-first to the sidewalk, he dimly felt the weight of the cloak disappear from off his back, coalescing into a ring around his neck, choking him. He picked himself up, on all fours this time, whimpering in pain, running again.

Something poked into his hindquarters, throwing him off stride. He tried to recover, and managed a few more loping strides, but his hind legs weren't working right; he couldn't feel them anymore. A wave of numbness ran up his right side; it reached his forepaw, and he collapsed to the sidewalk again, panting, too weak to whine. Something lifted him off the ground, just as the nothingness reached his head, and everything went dark.

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