This is the last of the Dustpaw stories. I wrote it a good year after the others and it does not have the usual header graphic as I had deleted my source Photoshop images by then.
Because it ends with the same words that the first story ended with, it represents the final published story of Dustpaw
I had stopped playing EQ2 to try WoW for a while then returned briefly to EQ2 just before selling my PC and buying my first Mac. Since at the time I did not know about running Windows under Bootcamp, I un-subbed from EQ2 and stuck with WoW which had a Mac native port available.
Since I was not a Guild Member any more, I just pottered about on my own and spent a while gathering interesting screenshots for my "Diary of a Dustpaw" scrapbook project and happened to bump into Tchtchkir who remembered me.
Tchtchkir was a hardcore role-player. Her Deep Tunnel Ratonga Inquisitor (priestess) had mid-grey fur and she had picked the red albino eyes as well as the rather unpopular facial markings that added dirt and blood to the eye area. She looked a little... odd.
She explained this by saying they were her "Tomorrow Eyes"... that she could see into the future as a Seeress. She was popular on the server as a good roleplayer. She walked everywhere unless she needed to run. She was always in character.
She also did a weekly sermon in Temple Street which is where she saw a familiar face in the crowd...
===PART 1 : The Smallest PlaythingPART 2 : The Gate of FearPART 3 : Meeting the FamilyPART 4 : Making a Man...
PART 5 : Face in the Crowd
Posted with kind permission of Tchtchkir. Belaska look over you.
This early on a Steelday morning there was always a group of Ratonga standing round the small red-robed figure outside the defiled Temple. The crowded district of Temple Street had taken its name from the largest and least dilapidated building, but it had been decades since any God had been worshipped there.
Standing on the chunk of fallen masonry under an archway that both served as her pulpit and sheltered her from the perpetual drizzle, Tchtchkir once more cast her eyes over her flock. She came here first thing every Steelday to talk to the Ratonga about the Path of Belaska. Few enough of them listened to her once and even fewer listened twice, but there were always some who came and waited for her every week. It was usually the very old who came for what little spiritual solace her talk offered and the sick too in the forlorn hopes of cadging a little healing. There were usually a couple of ratlings who stayed to listen so that their mothers would not find chores for their idle paws. Not many mothers allowed their ratlings to listen, however. Belaska was a figure of the Deep Tunnel Ratonga faith and as such, was not approved of by many of the dwellers in Freeport. Few Ratonga understood the reason why they should keep their fur “shiny, like Belaska” and almost none could perform the “Dance of the Ancients”. Though she was saddened that so many Ratonga had turned from Belaska, still Tchtchkir came and talked of the old ways.
Today, the group in front of her seemed a little larger than usual. She recognised two of the ratlings as those who had asked her questions last week. Why does Belaska not have a Temple? Why are your eyes like that? Are you sick? She had tried to answer honestly, but the subject of her “Tomorrow Eyes” always confused people. The price of being able to see into tomorrow, she had said, was a little discomfort and difficulty seeing into today. Still, they were here again today and she was pleased. There was old Mister Weavetail, too. Not long for this world, she thought. Those lungs of his won't survive another Freeport winter. He so much enjoyed her talks and she tried hard to ease his discomfort. The grey-furred Longear sisters, twins and spinsters never missed a talk either.
She looked over the rest of the group quickly and tried to remember where she had got to. “Pulse for pulse, when the rhythm is in yus blood ands heart, it gives yus speed ands grace.”
A stranger... a face moving in the crowd. A face she almost... almost recognised...
Her voice faltered as her eyes sought the stranger. “It gives... um, it gives yus stealth, yis.” He had moved and now was behind Mister Weavetail, almost out of sight. Always wary of spies, she carried on with her talk, but kept more than half an eye on the stranger. Young adult, she thought. Male, dark fur... very dark fur, in good condition. Shiny. Like Belaska. His clothing was... yis, slightly foreign. His posture was alert. He seemed aware of everything going on around him. He was calm as he listened. Focused. Like Belaska. Pretending to draw breath and think of what she was going to say next, Tchtchkir paused, half closed her eyes and slipped inside her mind, listening for that place where the rhythm of the world danced. Everything around her seemed to fade to grey. The rain seemed to fade away, the group of listeners seemed as insubstantial as ghosts. The building behind her still exerted a weight on the world that she could now feel. There were no worshippers in that Temple now but it remembered when there had been. Alone among the listeners was the stranger. Solid. Real. Balanced. Like Belaska. In the half-light where the music of the world could be heard, the stranger smiled.
Returning quickly to the here and now, Tchtchkir fumbled for the small wooden bowl that hung on her belt. “Who are yus?”, she thought. “Why do I's know yus, yet not know yus?” Hoping that her regular listeners would not mind her talk being cut short, she handed out the bowl to the nearest ratling.
There was a custom. It was said that a good Seer could read the mood of the crowd, could read the future even, by gazing into an offering bowl. As the wooden bowl came back to her, she looked in and realised that once again she would not be getting a good breakfast. A small crust of bread. Mister Weavetail. A piece of cheese so hard you could shave with it. The grey ratling. Two copper pennies. The Longear sisters. A fine steel needle worth a good seven coppers, nine if she haggled hard. Fedul the Fence. A small, beautifully wrapped packet of foreign tea... The dark stranger, walking away. Graceful. Like Belaska.
Looking up quickly, Tchtchkir caught a glimpse of him just as he passed out of sight to the left of the Temple. “Who are yus? I's has to know!” Dipping a paw into her pocket as she hid the bowl, she stepped forward to Mister Weavetail and deftly handed him a small vial of a tincture that she had made. “For yus chest. Think of Belaska as yus drinks it ands it will help yus.” she whispered. Raising her voice, she addressed the dispersing group. “Thank yus. Thank yus all. I's will see yus next Steelday.”
Turning quickly, she hurried along the edge of the defiled Temple. Her heart sank as she rounded the corner when she realised she had already lost sight of the stranger. The muddy path divided into three here. To the left was the Bank of Temple Street. Ahead was a warren of slums, a dangerous place controlled by one of the gangs. To the right was the clearing in front of the gate to South Freeport. Which way to go? The slime and mud underfoot here offered no clues. Crouched in the lee of a doorway was a ratling urchin, its fur plastered to its pale skin by the incessant rain. Clutched tightly in a scrawny paw was a bread pocket stuffed with greens and cheese. A bread pocket not sold in Temple Street, Tchtchkir realised. Only the street vendors in the cleaner areas of town sold those to passers-by. The filthy ratling looked up quickly at her then paled in terror when it realised who she was. “The dark-furred Ratonga. Which ways?”, she demanded, gently. The ratling raised a trembling paw and pointed to the South Freeport Gate. It tried to speak but only a frightened squeak came out. “Goods ratling. Belaska look over yus.”, she added before straightening and heading for the courtyard and gateway.
The huge no-fur gate guards looked warily at her, but yielded when she showed her Citizen's Pass. “I's don't know why theys bother with these silly pieces of paper.”, she thought. “Theys can't tell most of us apart anyways.” Ahead, the road sloped down and curved to the left. The rain had made the cobbles slippery and there were a few traders making their way to the docks. She hugged the inside curve of the wall and made her way as quickly as she dared. “Don't run. The no-furs will stop a running figure.” There he was! Almost at the bottom of the hill already. He had paused, apparently glancing up at the Vermin Guildhouse on the left, but Tchtchkir wasn't fooled. She could see a smile curl the corner of his muzzle. “He knows I's is following him.” She slowed her approach.
As she drew nearer, she got a good look at him at last. A young adult. His clothing was plain but well made, in a foreign style, high collared at the neck. His only concession to a weapon was a thin knife at his belt with a curved blade. Well muscled but a little soft, perhaps? Dark fur. So shiny! So dark and shiny it was almost blue. This was a young Ratonga who was not weighed down by the rigours of the Adventuring life. His was not the way of the warrior or battle-mage. Whatever he did, it was not wrestling demons or dodging bolts of fire. He was well fed and healthy. He was living somewhere sheltered. He had money and security. At peace. Like Belaska. He turned to face her, eyes wrinkling in amusement.
“Who... who are yus?”, she asked. “I's knows yus... yet I's do not know yus. I's must know...”
The stranger smiled calmly and met her gaze. Calm. Like Belaska.
Standing this close to him, Tchtchkir let her nose help her. “Who is he?” Yes, there was something... familiar about him. She last remembered this scent around the Guildhall about half a year ago... on a dark, thin ratling... no, on a young adult Ratonga. Again, she asked... “Who are yus? Tell I's...”
When he spoke, Tchtchkir could feel the rhythm and music of the world dance through her feet in time to the sound of his words.
“Dustpaw. I's Dustpaw.”