Zanth and the Treasure (free short-short story)
Celta, 406 Years After Colonization, Summer
Zanth's whiskers twitched. The smell was incredible. Incredible and wonderful and with the scent of great Flair magic.
He padded warily through the night and the bushes that rose high above his head. He'd never been out of the city of Druida before. Here on his FamMan's southern, overgrown estate there were creatures that might try and make a mouthful of him. But he was a canny and clever cat, the pre-eminent cat of Druida, and therefore, of course, the whole world of Celta.
The bushes loomed and rustled with animals and midnight noises. He placed each paw carefully, flexed his claws.
There was treasure up ahead and he meant to have it.
Slithering under the rusted greeniron gate, he wallowed for a few instants in the dirt and dust, spreading his own scent. Notifying all in the area that the mighty Zanth was on the prowl, that this estate, once abandoned, was now his.
He sniffed luxuriously. No celtaroons. He'd cleaned out two nasty nests in the few days they'd been here. There was wolf, far away, but the pack was made of low, unintelligent creatures and no match for Zanth.
He was a FamCat of the highest order, of the greatest nobility. Now he was pampered, Absolutely his due. He'd found the boy child in the slum of Downwind and cared for him, let him love him and be a Fam. Then they grew big enough to walk the Vengeance Stalk. They'd killed those men who'd murdered the Ash Family. Zanth had gotten his Residence and his room and his bed and his velvet pillow.
And his chef.
It was a lie that he was soft and fat. He could still take any feral tom in Druida.
The tantalizing scent came from beyond the ragged gliderway...it came from the road. Not a big road, but one with lots of odors of stride beasts, llamas, a horse or two. And low predator and prey animals and carrion eaters.
The lake to the south ladened the air with rich smells of fish and small prey and his favorite, sewer rat.
But even wet rat didn't smell as good as this human-Flair-made-thing.
He sauntered out, nose lifted, reveling in all the excellent new smells, the slight breeze sliding against his fur, the beingness in a new place just waiting for him to put his paw prints all over it.
In a few bounds he found the sphere. Glass with interesting-unique-special stuff floating inside. It smelled of woman and strange places beyond any Zanth had experienced. There was a little tang of the Great Platte Ocean that he recognized, and of Gael City where he'd been, and even a icy wind that caused him to shiver and his hair to raise, the far north. More recently was the gaminess of the Hard Rock Mountains. Slightly buried in dirt, he pawed it out, grinning as his claws dug deep in the rich earth of this new place that would know him.
He rolled the sphere a little way, watching something sparkle inside it. Tasting it, his tongue absorbed some of the Flair that created it and emanated from it and he purred. It made him feel better. A treasure indeed.
**That is *MINE.** The snarling shout – mental and physical – stopped Zanth in his tracks. He rolled the globe behind his front paws. It felt good against his heart.
A scrawny and scruffy fox slipped onto the road. Not much like those aristocratic foxes in Druida City. Zanth was as big as this one and had more muscle and mass.
But the last time he fought a fox his emerald stud had been ripped from his left ear and lost. He'd also teleported home with a broken hind leg.
FamMan T'Ash had sworn and had taken a long time to make the new stud.
FamWoman Danith had cried.
**Mine!** the fox yelled again.
Zanth didn't run from fights. He could win against this dog fox. The fox lifted his lip, showing teeth, and Zanth growled back, packing it with power. The fox set his paws and hunkered, ready to fight.
**Go away!** Zanth demanded. **This is my place and all here belongs to ME. All prey, all leaves to chase, and essspesssially this THING.**
The fox barked challenge. Zanth hissed and growled until he could only hear himself. Then he grinned because the fox hopped backward. Still there was something in the animal's eyes that told Zath the fox might pounce if he turned his back, or took his gaze off the fox to enjoy his new treasure.
**Leave the sphere,** said the fox.
The sphere sent warmth into Zanth's middle. He wanted it. He would have it. **This Thing is Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine!** Zanth switched his tail. That was that. Six "mines" and that pointy-nosed creature should know it was his. Cats never backed down after six "mines."
The fox snapped out a bark. **That landscape globe belongs to my FamWoman. She made it.**
Zanth sniffed. **Then why doesn't she have it?**
**She makes them and lost some. I have gotten two.**
Zanth saw in the fox's mind that there had been three. He reverted to the slum speech of his kittenhood. **ME HAS THIS ONE!**
Again the fox showed a lift of upper lip and muzzle, growled again. This time the toughness of battle reflected in his eyes. **Del made it with sweat and blood and Flair.** A shifting of balance of the paws and tail. The stringy fox would fight.
With one strong kick of a hind leg and a demonstration of his own fabulous Flair, Zanth sent the "landscape globe" soaring back into the estate, between the rails of the green iron gate.
The fox narrowed his eyes, flexed his dark, dirty claws.
Zanth matched glares. **I am Zanth, and the bauble is Mine. I will win.** He swaggered forward and his very presence made the fox step back.
**Zanth. I have heard of Zanth,** the fox said.
**Of course.** Zanth smiled with all his teeth. **I have killed many sewer rats, many celtaroons, sired many litters.**
With a long stare, the fox looked Zanth from tooth to tail tip. **You are uglier than I thought.**
Zanth curled his lip. **You are so ugly the twinmoons hide.** They'd gone behind a cloud.
**You are FamCat to T'Ash,** the fox said.
It was a rare fox who could match insult with insult and this one obviously wasn't so smart, though annoying all the same. **T'Ash is MY FamMan.**
Then the fox darted in and swung a paw. Zanth hopped aside, then hissed and surged forward, back arched, all his hair out. Yes, he was more muscular, thicker than this stupid, scrawny fox.
It hunched it's back and screeched so Zanth had to flatten his ears.
**I WILL fight you!** Even as he rumbled a growl deep in his throat, Zanth's thoughts sped.
In a fight he might lose his emerald ear studs and his collar. FamMan refused to fix them again or make him more. FamWoman would be sad. Tears might drip down her face and onto Zanth's fur like the last time he came back bloodied. That made him feel almost worse than losing his gems.
But he extended his claws. He let battle anticipation sit on his tongue before saying, **I am Zanth and I will win this battle, as I win ALL My battles.**
He paused. He was so clever. He said, **But...**
The fox snapped up Zanth's bait. **What?**
**I could pay you for the landscape globe with rabbit.** In Zanth's experience foxes loved rabbit.
His adversary's tongue rolled out and a string of drool hung to the ground. **Real Earthan rabbit or the Celtan mocyn?** The fox asked.
Snorting, Zanth said, Rabbits. **Two. Freshly killed and put in a cold spot where I can get in with my Flair.** A neighboring farmer had done the killing, but Zanth didn't care. If it was available to him and no one guarded it from him, it was his.
Done! cried the fox, and he was equally irritating as he kept up with Zanth on the run to the neighbor's cold shed.
Feeling magnanimous, Zanth showed the creature how to manipulate the latch with Flair. The fox took both rabbits while Zanth sat and groomed his paws. The treasure was his and it would last a lot longer than a couple of rabbit meals. Besides, he didn't like rabbit.
Once they were away from the shed and the road, they eyed each other, then the fox nodded and said, **I am Shunuk.**
**I haven't heard of you,** Zanth said.
The fox's tail bristled and flicked, then he was gone in the night, nearly as quiet and stealthy as Zanth himself.
Zanth hurried back to his estate to claim his treasure. He stared at it and for an instant in the twinmoons' light and an image solidified inside the sphere – Zanth's Residence and room and his velvet pillow. He lipped up his treasure and grinned around the globe.
He was the strongest and cleverest and best FamCat – FamAnimal – on all of Celta. Naturally.
Life was good.