Jul. 6th, 2011

It was a lovely starry night, but the Zkarben atop the Highwatch of Vlad's castle didn't care. Zkarben weren't creatures of aesthetic refinement. They had very basic wants and desires – serve Vlad; kill intruders; torture the weak. Admiring the stars was simply not on their priority list. The Zkarben kept their eyes where it mattered – on the ground. Invaders of the castle were unlikely – it hadn't happened in a long time – but if they came by any of the approaches up the glacier, the Zkarben would see them and sound the alarm.

This meant it was a good thing the Zkarben weren't watching the stars, because as it happened, that was the direction the invaders came from.

Or, rather, a single invader. The first warning the Zkarben had was a kind of rustling sound from the direction of the Valley rim. They had been looking in the other direction, down towards Stuvitze, because there was some unusually close suncalf activity down there. The Zkarben had been just about to yell down to the barbican to blow the Horn of Vlad so they could watch the suncalves bleat in fear and flee, when the fluttering sound from behind them made them spin about.

Both Zkarben gaped at what they saw – a woman in brightly colored clothing floating in midair. She soared up towards the edge of the Highwatch, a forty foot stretch of open catwalk joining the two tallest towers, and lightly stepped onto the parapet. The Zkarben saw she was wearing a heavy belt of sorts, but couldn't see that it was actually a black-dyed rope that trailed over the wall and downslope. They also couldn't see the bladders from the balloon trees floating up and out of the oxygen well, where they would eventually pop in the high atmosphere.

"GIRLFOOD," marveled one Zkarben.

"MAGIKSNACK," pronounced the other, its huge wet tongue licking its lips from hip to hip. The two guards advanced down the Highwatch at their leisure.

The woman on the wall assumed a graceful pose, flaring her silks dramatically, and rang tiny chimes on the tips of her fingers. Her hips began to make tiny circles while her mysteriously swathed upper body stayed perfectly motionless. The Zkarben arched their eyebrows, then grinned, and then their grins faded as their eyes glazed over. They were utterly transfixed by the woman's dancing.

She advanced, her pointed shoes shuffling, her hips writhing suggestively, silks swirling and swishing to the beat of the tiny chimes. One of the Zkarben gurgled in the back of its throat. The woman playfully whisked one of her diaphanous wrappings under the noses of the Zkarben, and her perfume only deepened the enchantment.

The woman stepped in closer, almost touching the Zkarben, and undid the rope/belt from her waist. Tantalizingly, she wrapped it around one of the guards.

"URHURHURHUR," it chortled.

"METOO METOO," gurgled its mate.

"Yes, you too, you too," purred the woman, sinuously putting a loop of the rope around the other Zkarben as well.

Still dancing, Esmer cinched the ropes tightly around the guards, then whirled away from them, spinning on one toe to the beat. Pulling a yellow scarf off her shoulders, she raised it high over her head.

"FUNSHOW FUNSHOW!" crowed one of the Zkarben, clapping its hands despite the thick hawser knotted above its eyes and under its armpits.

"Boys," said Esmer, "show's over." She dropped the yellow scarf.

"Signal, Bobo," said Hodo.

"Roger, Hodo," said Bobo, yanking the chock blocks out from under the runners of the sled. It was full of rocks. The sled took off downslope at a mighty clip, dragging the thick rope behind it. The slack of the rope was quickly taken up.

Still dazed from the performance, the Zkarben had no chance to react. They both made a brief "WHOOPWHOOP" when they were yanked off the wall, but no more noise than that. They plummeted to the slope and began cartwheeling head-over-heels with the heavy sled pulling them.

"Think that'll kill 'em?" asked Korvina, watching the tumbling Zkarben approach.

Ispil gauged the rope hissing under the huge fallen log next to him. There was only about six inches of clearance under it. "That'll do," he said confidently.

Janosh nodded and whistled. Further down the slope, Georgi heard and began to pipe.

A brilliant light dawned over the castle, but nobody saw it.

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September 2012

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