Rudy and the Crocodile

Bonus Chapter from Pride Fall

This chapter takes place hours after Thomas and O’Meara head to Shangra-La, leaving Rudy in charge.

I watched Shina lead Thomas and O’Meara through the portal from the comfort of my throne on Coraline. Thomas’ eyes were so moony that if he were any more in luv with the lioness, he would have floated. I knew as soon as he mentioned the trip there’d be no talking him out of it. Coulda shout into his earhole all day and night, and all I’d get back would be the echo of my own voice bouncing around his empty feline skull. He’d decided. Once that cat decided something you’d have an easier time prying a pitbull off a mailman’s leg than convincing him to undecide it. No worries though, he’d come home with a broken heart and his tail on fire.

There was a cashew butter lining to all of this. I was in charge…of everything. In charge! All that really meant was all the useless paperwork that O’Meara and Thomas usually handled would be gathering dust in my email until they got back. That and there was NOBODY for the customers to complain to if I, say, decided to take a souped up RC cycle for a spin through the ventilation shafts in the middle of the night.Nice not needing to think up a half clever excuse like I had been mapping out the future mass rodent transit system. Which would be a bad idea anyway because then I’d get even more unsubtle visitors from the New York Warren. Dang punks are going to get the entire Warren ground up for Tass if they ain’t more careful. Not that I could entirely blame them for showing up to watch the fight, but if they sing that song again my next act’s going to stuff them all in a rocket ship. They can start a warren on the moon.

I had been on my way somewhere important, not cruising around randomly through the building because I was avoiding a four-digit pile of unread messages when my ear caught the light doppling sound of a personal ward beneath me. Curious, I popped my head out through the nearest ceiling vent and had a look-see. I found Farah and Smiley strolling through the hallway. Peanuts. Nothing nefarious about that. I knew the tones of Riona and Namoi’s magics but Willow and Farah’s were still new to me.

The pair had that distant look that magi and familiars get when they were more in each other’s heads than in the world around them. I made note of the floor to come back and get the cycle. I’d lost a few of them in the past month to the labyrinthine ducts, that or some sort of duct monster had a taste for cycles. Then I dropped down onto Farah’s wide shoulder. “Hiya Short Stuff!” I declared the instant before I landed.

With a scream of surprise, she jerked away, hands moving to swat me. Humans are so slow; I hopped down her back to avoid the blow. “Ooooh good reflex. Almost got me.” I praised her before popping back onto her shoulder.

“Rudy?” She exclaimed as I heard her anchor yawn open and then shut.

“Get yer claws off my bond ya ver-rodent” Smiley growled. He’d turned remarkably fast for his size. Interesting, I didn’t know crocodiles could growl. As a rule, most were the bite first, threaten later variety.

“Aww don’t shed your skin on my account. Just saying hi.” I shot him a grin. Mine’s not as impressive as the gator’s but I work with what I got. “Ain’t bosses suppose to… drop in sometimes? And I’m the boss.”

The reptilian eyes narrowed, “Only until Thomas gets back. What you want?”

Oh, we had a Thomas fan on our hands, did we? The Gator witnessed my buddy’s last tangle with Oric and had come away impressed enough to switch sides. You’d think he’d have more appreciation for the pilot of giant robots.

“Ah come on, like, chill out both of ya.” Farah’s sunny voice put an end to our stare down. “What can we, like, do for you, Rudy?”

My tail fluttered. “Just checking in on all the newbies. Surprised Smiley hasn’t dragged you out of the city yet to hunt up recruits.”

“He’s totally trying, but we, like, have so much to do here first. O’Meara’s put up all these, like, very thick wards on the building. Not bad but they’re inefficient. Not very green.” She shook her head and gazed up toward the ceiling at the wards overheard. “And why’s there’s such a high impact threshold on the top of it?”

“Hey, hey! Don’t touch the impact threshold on the roof!” I said. Otherwise Thomas and O’Meara would faceplant into it when their vacation went sour.

“But why?” Farah protested. “It’s like a gap in your defenses. It’s not obvs but it’s not hard to find either.”

“There’s a reason for it. You’ll-,”

“Quiet.” The gator interrupted me. “Somebodies testin’ de wards.” He wasn’t looking up at the ward above us, but had his long head cocked to the side, one eye staring down at the floor.

“I didn’t hear nothing.” My tail went stiff and I strained my ears.

“Follow me.” Smiley grumbled, his crystalline teeth twinkling as he set off down the hallway. Farah picked up her skirt and followed. The croc bodyslammed open the door to the stairwell and surfed his way down two flights of stairs, with Farah pounding after him to keep up. Then I heard it, a whispered tink of a very subtle spell. Smiley bent his long body away from the door on the landing for Farah to catch up and open the door. Then he pushed past her like a snake and, lifting his entire body from the floor, galloped down the hallway at a speed I thought only dinosaurs could handle.

“Ow, like, watch your claws.” Farah said as she hurried after Smiley.

“Stop bouncing so hard then!” I countered; the Dwarven princess had a jarring run that threatened to send me head over tail if I didn’t hold on. It wasn’t my fault if the fabric covering her shoulder was paper-thin. Humans are so wimpy.

She slowed with a huff. “Go ride on Smiley then!”

I hate it when the humans have a point. “Fine.” Crocs can’t reach their backs, right? One way to find out. I bounded forward. Up ahead, Smiley had stopped in front of a door to one of the rooms near the end of the hallway. Mentally plotting the floor plan of the building, I guessed this room would overlook the strip.

Landing right between Smiley’s shoulder blades drew no immediate reaction from the reptile. He remained still; snout pressed up against the crack beneath the door. Inside the room I could hear the tiniest little spell crinkling like a foil ball as it tapped directly on the base drum that was the ward that mostly fended off Oric’s artillery assault a few weeks ago. I was about to listen deeper, try to figure out what that spell was doing exactly, when the scales beneath me shifted.

Smiley opened his mouth and slipped his lower jaw beneath the door; not far, only a few teeth. Those diamond teeth of his hummed ever so briefly and with a violent snap he tore off the bottom third of the door. Good thing I had latched onto his hide because he shot into that room like a giant green bullet. He didn’t stop to look or take in the scene of the two human occupants in the room; he simply moved, clamping his teeth on the leg of the nearest and breaking it like a twig. The other person sat cross-legged on the bed, a bug-eyed pug facing him across their spell circle.

The second man’s little spell popped, and he reached into his jacket in the classic reaching-for-a-gun maneuver. Dumb. I use the croc-mentum to launch myself into the air. Spreading my limbs and using my tail like a rudder, I hit his hand as the pistol’s barrel cleared his lapel. I didn’t bother being careful with my claws and dung my bark piercers straight through his skin. Usually this produces the human withdrawal reflex and the gun would comically twirl out of his hand as we began a game of “can you slap Rudy off of you before I jabbed out your eyeballs”. But this punk must have been a stone-cold killer because he squeezed the trigger instead. The gun popped, recoil ripping the skin beneath my grip. The dog yiped as the bullet punched through the headboard three inches to the left of his bug-eyed noggin.

A quick tail flick for some momentum and I flipped around his wrist, jumping right for his peepers. I watched his eyes round up with panic as I grabbed that large snoz of his. It made a perfect springboard to jump up onto the top of his head. Oh, never stay on a human’s face for long because as soon as you touch it the hands launch themselves at it. Sometimes they drop what they’re holding onto, sometimes they don’t.

This guy wasn’t so lucky. He smashed his gun into his nose and it barked a bullet into the ceiling.

True genius.

Still, the dude had tenacity. He didn’t even wobble as his other hand’s dirty fingers had the nerve to brush my tail as I jumped off his head.

I would have totally had to muck him up for that, but Smiley did it for me. He got half turned around when two diamond-toothed jaws appeared on either side of the goon’s head.

“Uh-oh.” I said, thinking the cleaning bill for this room was about to get really high as those jaws clamped over the dude’s noggin. I can’t say how Smiley got the lift with those little legs of his, but he jerked himself backwards so hard that the stone-cold goon was lifted clear off the bed and body slammed onto the carpet. The gun finally went tumbling out of his hand.

I looked at the pug. The dog’s bug-eyes stared uncomprehendingly back at me. “I hope you ordered boom service.” I told him.

The dog blinked. The goons groaned.

Farah opened the rest of the door. “Who wants to tell, like, who sent ya. First one to speak up, like, don’t have to dance with the crocodile again.”

“Dunno,” moaned the goon with the floppy leg. “Hired via a drop.”

The other one said something, but the voice was muffled with his head halfway down Smiley’s throat.

“Maybe we should, like, ask the dog?” Farah looked across the room at the pug. “Poor guy.”

“That probably won’t be useful.” I said.

“Why not?” She asked. “He under a pain lash bond?”

I shook my head solemnly. “He didn’t laugh at my joke. Must be brain damaged.”

Smiley tried to say something but his mouth was full.

The pug suddenly barked, “Boom service!” And fell over giggling.

I stood corrected. He was a completely normal, ‘intelligent’ pug. A good ole boy. A lap behind, but with good recall. Maybe we could get something out of him after all.