The games That we play

A short story

Published by Mythic Delirium Books

The Dog-King is not quite what Yavena expects.

He is physically imposing, of course, military upbringing exposed in the thickness of his musculature, the midnight fur sliced close to his hide.

But where Yavena anticipated the flatness of a killer’s regard, there is a penetrating curiosity instead. A scholarliness amplified by his chosen garb — the earthy, flowing raiments of an academic — and the small amber glasses crouched precariously atop his muzzle.

Nothing Hahvah prepared her for.

“Ah.” His voice is warm and younger than the striations of white in his pelt suggest, boyishly pleased. The Dog-King slinks away from a desk piled high with official-looking documentation.

“Yavena, was it? We’re charmed.”

Yavena traps fist against open palm, bows almost low enough to tempt accusations of impudence. Beside him, her sponsor — Hahvah, the little Gak with a wailing laugh — crumples into an exaggerated kowtow.

“This one is honored you recognize her face,” declares Yavena, her command of the Gak’s growling, liquid language impeccable. With monarchs, subservience is never inappropriate. “This one begs an audience from the Scourge of Kyonadrila Valley, the Conqueror of the Ten Thousand Colors, the Lord-General of the Gak, the — ”

“‘This one’,” A youthful playfulness thrusts through the Dog-King’s voice. “is overwhelmingly polite. We’re amazed that you resisted the temptation to call us the Dog-King. After all, is it not our name among those of Ten Thousand Colors, our most treasured of vassals?”

Yavena snaps her head up, guilt blooming. Words could be schooled, but thoughts have always enjoyed a rebellious autonomy in her head. “This one would not dare! This one — “

“We would have you address us as peers, Yavena.”

A beat. “My lord.”

“Good enough, we suppose.” A broad hand, caged in iron rings and steel-grey bangles, is flapped delicately.

Yavena unbends but finds herself unable to loosen the knot of tension crushing her lungs. She is disarmed, robbed of equilibrium by the Dog-King’s frictionless affability. The Ovia folds her arms behind her, adopts the posture of a soldier at rest. As she does so, she captures the sliver of a smile on the Dog-King’s mien, its meaning impenetrable.
Unbidden, her gaze jumps back to Hahvak next, but she finds no reassurance there, only slyness, a wheedling humor. Yavena stiffens further, elegant in defiance.

“So,” The Dog-King begins, as he mounts the steps to his throne. It is an intimidating structure, mythic in proportion, cobbled together from the bones of thousand devoured Mothers. “What is it that you wish to ask from us, Yavena?”

“This one — “ She stumbles, words snagging on ceremony. “I mean, I wish to play a game with you.”

Available as part of Clockwork Phoenix 5.