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An Intimidating Specimen

Mozenrath tried to squeeze hard enough to bend the metal of his gauntlet. He couldn't, of course, he knew that. But the effort relieved his stress, somewhat, not that anyone in the room could tell that he had even been slightly put off by Xerces comment. His carefully controlled facade gave nothing away. It was a look polished in countless schemes while cavorting with criminals and double-deals with dark devils. It was a front as cold as a desert night and his command of it deflected any and all question as to how he was controlling the Greek god of the nether realm and leading this band of evil doers on this plane. Sheer force of will. It had gotten him everything he'd ever desired and it would hold him steady through this quest as well.

"How many?" he asked. He allowed one eyebrow to raise at his familiar. Control involved a little movement; restraint. To go completely poker-faced would give away that he was hiding something.

"I know of only the two at the moment," Xerces said, his voice quivering in the face of his Master's calm. "But there are reports around, on the little squawking boxes of the guards, that say mischief is afoot. They must be linked."

A velvet baritone voice slithered across the room. "We need to know how many there are and decide what to do about them. Just because they're here doesn't mean they've discovered us."

"Jafar, please!" Hades said, finally sitting up from lounging on a floor pillow. "They took out one of the Arawak bravos. Now the Arawaks think they're us! They're on alert! Whoever these 'magic beings' are, they've blown our cover! We've got to catch them all in their beds tonight. Maybe slip some cobras in on 'em, eh, Jafar? Eh?"

"Quiet!" Mozenrath commanded, yanking his glove backward and choking up on an invisible chain around Hades' neck. "I make the plans, Hades. You are here as a tool and nothing more."

"Yeah, maybe," Hades said, gasping for breath. "But I'm not the only tool around here. AAAAAGGGHHH!" Electricity shot through the chain and Hades.

Malificent, meanwhile, finally broke her trance. "I have someone who may be able to help us. He is a capable hunter and can certainly ascertain the threat these newcomers pose to us."

"I can just send Flotsam and Jetsam into the waterways," Ursula said, coiling and uncoiling her legs in a corner. "We can spot them from there."

"Everyone send out whatever eyes they can along with Malificent's hunter," Mozenrath said before somebody else decided they were in charge. "We can get immediate reports that way."

Hades rubbed his neck. "Can't I just make you a bottle of destruction, leave it with you and go home? MYAAAGCK!"

*****

He liked being taller than everyone else in the room. And broader in the shoulder and more narrow at the hip. He liked being manlier, tougher, stronger and, most of all, more handsome. Yes, it was good to be the best. It was good to be Gaston.

He walked up to the bar and put his arms around two women in day-glo shorts and tank tops. "Three summer blonde lagers!" he yelled over the music and din of conversation. "To match the honey hues of these fair maidens' fair hair."

The girls giggled and squeezed Gaston's massive forearms. "My my," he thought. "What impeccable taste these women have." Even if he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and white slacks.

Suddenly, he felt warm breath on his neck and the sweet scent of roses wafted to him. Before he even turned around, he knew that this was the most beautiful woman in the world. Which meant, of course, that he would have her.

The pale faced, raven-haired amazon beauty behind him took his breath away. Her long, loose locks danced across her shoulders and her tank top accentuated every single thing it claimed to cover. Wonderfully curvy hips, flawless legs and tiny feet... Finally deciding to check out the face of this heavenly creature, Gaston found himself smirking into unimpressed, heavy-lidded eyes; eyes that would, under any other circumstance, be sultry if they weren't perched over a wrinkled nose and snarling ruby lips.

"Force the blood back into your head, Gaston. You have work to do."

"Well, I see my reputation precedes me Miss..."

"Mal. Mal-e-ficient."

Gaston's face dropped and a cold chill ran down him. He shuddered involuntarily, knocking the two blondes away from the bar, spilling their beers in the process. They squealed, but Gaston didn't notice.

"Muh, mah, Malificent. I didn't know this was you. I mean... wow. But. No. I mean. Great big-uh, NO! Great disguise."

If it was possible for the evil sorceress to look any more disgusted, she made such evidence plain before turning and walking out of the Tiki Room. Gaston followed, envisioning snowy hillsides and icy baths with his naked grandmother.

"That did it," he said to himself.

"What?" Malificient asked.

"Nothing. You, ah... have work, you say?"

She hadn't planned to take him to the cavern, to face the group before he knew what he was in for, but she changed her mind now. Somehow, the idea of watching Gaston wet those slacks in sheer terror filled her with giddiness.

*****

Dusty pored over a guest map of the Magic Kingdom as Anita led him around by the shoulder. They were looking for the rest of the group. Or some of the group, at least. The idea of being isolated with a cannon-toting mouse after them didn't sit well with them, naturally. Dusty insisted, though, that they needed to decipher the column as quickly as possible before Mickey gathered reinforcements and met them at the next marker.

"I don't see anything like that anywhere," Dusty said. "Slow down. Stop for a minute."

"No way. As long as we're moving, we're harder to find. Besides, maybe you're wrong. Do you have any psychics in that group of yours?"

"We used to," he said off-handedly. H kept talking before he got wistful. "But I'm sure Silence can find four rings, seventy two feet apart from each other."

"Why would something like that even exist now? It's only been five hundred years, you know."

"The column was still here. And if this used to be swamp, then the rings were probably high points. Disney probably used them the same way it used that room."

"Well, that would be convenient. Not to mention easy."

"Yeah," Dusty said dramatically. "Too easy."

"Stop that."

"All I really know is that the number of men's feet versus the number of women's feet is the exact number of women's feet in one ring out of the four. Seventy-two."

"You started like you were going to tell me something, Lover, and then you spoke in a different language."

Dusty filed away the nickname for later reference. "The men only have enough feet for three rings. The women have enough feet to fill four. The difference is seventy-two feet."

"So what?"

"Exactly. So... what? Maybe there's some place here with four rings."

"Or seven."

"...Maybe."

"I'm reminded of an old story about a needle in a haystack."

"Well, we're in luck, then. That's my specialty."

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