Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 175




The Master’s massive claws seemed to flex along his paw as the soldier laid his hands once more upon the offending thorn. Bulat cleared his throat. An idea occurred to him but he wasn’t sure at all what his best course of action should be. “Do your… Can you… Your claws, do they…”

A hot-breathed snarl of air enveloped the soldier’s face. “Spit it out, man,” snapped the beast.

“Can you… retract your claws… at all?”

The wolverine narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth, black lips drawn against white fangs. On the ground, his one dug into the earth, while the paw in front of the soldier, nearly as large as the man’s chest, shivered as the bladed digits pulled back. A hiss escaped the Master’s mouth and Bulat clenched the wedge of wood all the tighter. “This might hurt, but I think – ” he began to say as he wrangled the thorn like a lever.

With a roar the Master swatted him away and for a brief moment Bulat thought how pleasant flying must be, which was more or less the point when he landed on the ground in a crash of armor and weapons.

“Well done,” said Mr. Stonechat in his ear.

“Oh, yes, very well done, indeed,” echoed Mrs. Stonechat on the other side of his head.

The soldier snapped alert from the haze where he lay. “I’m not dead, then.”

“Oh, no,” said Mr. Stonechat.

“Not hardly,” said his wife.

His body ached all over, but especially along his chest and side. He discovered his arms worked and he ran one against his side, gentle as could be. He gasped in sudden pain. “I think I may have a broken rib or two.” He considered the darkness around him. “And I may be blind.”

“How can you tell in the middle of the night?” asked Mrs. Stonechat.

“He must be very clever indeed,” said her husband.

“He did do the Master a favor,” she said.

“Oh, yes, and grateful he is, too,” he answered.

“How long have I been lying here?” asked Bulat.

“The sun is down, so several hours I would say,” went on Mr. Stonechat, switching conversations with speed and alacrity.

“Hours, yes, hours,” agreed his wife.

“I think I may lie here until morning,” considered Bulat. “I am rather sore.”

Mrs. Stonechat continued almost as though he hadn’t spoken. “Rest you may, but certainly no later than dawn, for we have instructions to guide you to where you may be cared for so that your injuries do not worsen.”

Mr. Stonechat chimed in, “Thanks from the part of the Master.”

“This is thanks?” asked the soldier with the broken ribs. It hurt to breathe.

“The healing, not the swatting,” said the husband.

“He swatted me? That was a swat?”

“You’re lucky that’s all he did,” said the wife. “I believe you caused him a great deal of pain. He made a great noise.”

Given what the soldier was currently experiencing, he found this difficult to imagine. “I caused him pain? I can scarcely credit that possibility.” Perhaps if he breathed more slowly. Or through his teeth. He was glad he wasn’t blind, at least.

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