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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Fanged Frog - Chapter 8

Battle Royale


Duval popped his head back up and turned around in time to see the toad roll into Miranda.


The toad!  Flies and crickets, Duval cursed to himself, how did he find me?  Duval thought he’d left Lucian behind in Transylvania along with all his other enemies.


Lucian, back on his feet again, chuckled softly, setting his vocal sac rippling.


“How very clever,” Lucian said.  “A boat to the New World.  Did you really think you wouldn’t be seen?  It only took me a couple of days to find a very tasty grasshopper who saw the whole thing.”


Lucian took a small leap closer to Duval.


“And why did you leave, Duval?  Oh, never mind,” Lucian said, smiling broadly.  “I already know.  You were afraid.”


Duval seethed.  Afraid?!  The idea was absurd.


“You shouldn’t have followed me, Lucian.”


“I won’t be staying long.  Only long enough to put you to sleep.”


The toad darted forward and lashed out with its tongue.  Duval dodged right, but not quite fast enough:  the tongue bit deep into his side, leaving a thin trail of blood.  He answered with his own tongue-lashing, but managed only to graze the toad.


Lucian circled right, forcing Duval to hop the body of the man lying in the alley.  The body was a very unwelcome reminder to Duval that, much as he hated to admit it, Lucian was probably right.  Lucian was well-fed and strong; Duval was all but starving and weak.  If he didn’t think of a way out--and fast--Lucian would put him to sleep.


Duval knew without even glancing at the sky that dawn was approaching.  He doubted that Lucian had been in the city long enough for his body to completely adjust to the time difference between Transylvania and the New World.  For a fleeting moment, Duval thought he might have a chance.  If he fought hard enough for long enough, Lucian might not notice the rising sun until it was too late.  Then it occurred to him that the sun would put him to sleep, as well.  If they both lost, no one would win.  Somehow, though, that sounded like giving up, and Duval knew it wasn’t in his nature to surrender.


Lucian leaped high over the body on the alley pavement.  Duval turned to his right, hoping to hop out from under the attack, but he’d no sooner launched himself into the air than Lucian slammed hard into his back and forced him down again.  Knowing what was coming next--Lucian’s fangs sinking deep into his skin--Duval pushed as hard as he could with his left leg.  As he toppled onto his right side, Lucian lost his grip and fell off Duval’s back.  Rather than leaping to safety, Duval attacked, slashing at Lucian’s exposed belly with his fangs.  He cut a gash through the soft skin and was rewarded with a croak of pain from Lucian, who scrambled quickly away.


Duval pressed his advantage, flicking his tongue at the retreating toad, opening cuts across his back and hindquarters, which by now were slick with blood and slime.  He stopped only when he began to feel sick to his stomach.


Lucian turned and watched Duval carefully.  He was surprised that Duval had continued to attack with his tongue.  Perhaps the frog had forgotten that toads could squeeze poisons through their skin.  Now that absentmindedness was taking its toll.  Lucian wasn’t sure it was possible, but if he wasn’t mistaken, Duval was slowly turning an even darker shade of green.  It was more than Lucian could have hoped for, and he smiled wickedly as he began to move in for the final blow.


Duval saw him coming.  His breathing had become shallow and his stomach felt as though it was doing flip flops in his belly, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off Lucian.  Weak in body, weak in mind, Duval thought.  How else could he explain not recognizing the slime on Lucian’s skin as the poison it was?  But it wasn’t going to be the poison that did him in; Lucian wouldn’t stand for that.  He’d want to deliver the last blow himself--with his fangs.  Despite everything, Duval felt a chuckle deep in his throat:  wouldn’t Lucian be surprised when he found out Duval was nearly bloodless.


The poison had by now worked its way far enough into Duval’s system that his muscles began to twitch.  He could see them jumping under his skin.  His whole body was beginning to shake.  In a weird way, Duval welcomed the seizure:  it almost took his mind off the somersaults his stomach was doing.  Is this what sleeping feels like? he wondered.


It was Duval’s last thought before he lost control of his body completely.  His legs kicked convulsively, flipping him up and over, so that he landed flat on his back.  Sensing the end, Lucian dove toward him--just as Duval’s stomach finally gave up the fight.  The frog’s vomit splattered heavily on Lucian’s face, blinding him momentarily and sending him slightly off course.  His belly dragged across Duval’s vocal sac and mouth.  The already jagged end of the gash Duval had earlier inflicted snagged one of Duval’s fangs, opening the wound wider.  Blood spilled from the slash, splashing onto Duval’s skin.  Croaking in intense pain, Lucian rolled off of Duval and dropped upside down on the pavement beside him.


Duval, meanwhile, felt strength returning to his body; more importantly, control.  The more blood his skin absorbed, the better he felt.  Not that he felt good, but at least the shakes were over.  When he tried to roll himself back onto his feet, he was amazed he succeeded.  First a short hop, then a longer one.  The effort exhausted him.  Once more at a safe distance from Lucian, he turned around.


Lucian was also back on his feet, his eyes aflame with pain and hatred.  Duval knew perfectly well he hadn’t absorbed enough blood to withstand another of Lucian’s attacks.  But, he thought, Lucian doesn’t know that.


“Wait!” Duval croaked.  “Look.”  Duval tilted his head up at the sky without ever taking his eyes off Lucian.


Lucian hesitated, then glanced up quickly.


“You see?  If we continue fighting, the sun will put us both to sleep.  It’s nearly dawn.”


Lucian crept forward a couple of feet.  Duval could see that he was about to jump.


“And anyway,” Duval said hurriedly, “I didn’t know you liked humans so much.”


Lucian stopped.  “Like them?” he spat.  “I despise them.”


“So why are you helping them?”


“What are you talking about, Duval?  Why are you stalling?”


“I’m not,” Duval said, surprised to find that he really wasn’t.  “Those three we chased off earlier?  They know about us.  They have ankhs.  And they’re clever.  They want us to fight each other.  Look at us.  Whoever wins this battle won’t be in any shape to defend himself when they return.  And they will return, I can promise you that.”


Duval saw the toad’s muscles relax slightly.


“So what are you suggesting?” Lucian asked.


“A temporary truce,” Duval said.  “You and I may hate each other, but we have a common enemy in the humans.  I say we take care of them first.  Then we can settle our own affairs--and survive to tell the tale.”


I will, anyway,” Lucian said.


The joke meant Lucian had already agreed.  Duval smiled, and kept his thoughts to himself.  Once he’d fed and regained his strength, he’d put Lucian to sleep once and for all.


“Let’s go,” he said.  “The sun’s almost up.  I know a place we can rest.”