Shizzal’s heart was pounding, but in a pleasant, exhilarating way. He had gotten out onto the right portion of the docks, ducking behind crates and crawling under fishing nets, once diving into an open clothing chest when a sailor had stomped past. This last stretch of the docks had an animal smell to it, for the ships that docked here mostly traded in livestock. The bleached wood decks were splattered liberally with old white dung, and discarded feathers swirled in the wind coming off the ocean.
Shizzal picked his way through the refuse warily. Beady eyes peered at him from behind cage bars, and something with big teeth gnashed threateningly as he passed. He finally spotted the lockbox he was after, tucked into a series of crates and chicken cages.
“Ka-crow!” called one of the chickens, and Shizzal almost jumped out of his skin. He looked up to see one of the birds peering down at him from a cage above the lockbox.
“Shh!” said Shizzal, putting his finger to his lips and glaring at the chicken firmly. The chicken merely twisted its head to preen its back.
Shizzal swallowed and knelt by the lockbox, sticking a lockpick into it and prodding around. The lock only had three tumblers, but one of them was stuck fast, and sweat dripped into Shizzal’s eyes as he nervously pried it open.
“Ka-crow?” asked the chicken above him inquisitively.
“Shh!” Shizzal repeated.
One of the chicken’s neighbors decided to join into the conversation, and began gabbling at him like a brothel girl. The one above him puffed out its chest authoritatively on the subject, and crowed.
“No, no, shh! SHH!”
The chicken turned its head to glare at Shizzal with one red-gold eye. The intruder dared speak at the same time as its feathery lord! Opening its beak wide, the chicken squalled its indignation at the top of its little lungs.
Shizzal lunged for it. He tripped over a coil of rope and stumbled forward, knocking the cage from its crate. It hit the deck with a metallic bang and burst open.
“Oh no,” said Shizzal.
Squawking angrily, the chicken extricated itself from the cage and strutted around peevedly, shooting Shizzal insulted looks. The bird was quiet now, but not taking chances, Shizal dove behind a crate to hide. With bated breath he waited, but the only thing that moved was the chicken, pecking around the rope coil for bugs. It got closer to Shizzal, jerking its head up to examine him with one eye.
“Please be quiet,” Shizzal whispered to it.
The chicken seemed to glare at him.
“Please go away?” Shizzal added when it didn’t move. “I don’t want to be caught.”
That decided the chicken. The insolent intruder must be punished. “Ka-ka-ka-croooooow!” The chicken threw back its head, and Shizzal had an excellent view down its bright red gullet.
“Sep cursed bird!” Shizzal hissed. He ducked behind another basket deeper in the pile and tried to make himself even smaller.
“Hey, what’s all this noise?” came a deep-throated cry from the other end of the docks. A burly, ebon-skinned Redguard strode into sight. Shizzal went still, not even daring to breathe as the sailor took in the scene.
“How’d you get out?” muttered the sailor to the chicken. He bent down to catch it, hands inches away from Shizzal’s own.
But the chicken had other ideas, pecking the Redguard viciously and scrabbling for cover. The human took one long stride forward in pursuit, caught his foot on the cage, and fell over. The chicken jumped over him, feathers flying as it sped about, letting out squalls as if a Daedroth was molesting it. The others took up the cry, beating their wings against their cages like rioting prisoners.
The ruckus made excellent cover, Shizzal realized. The lockbox he had been after crashed down a few feet away, the lid banging open. If Shizzal could just reach it, he could take the coins and run.
He snaked his hand out, but then snatched it back when the Redguard let out a howl and rose to his feet, shaking his dreadlocks like a mastiff shook its jowls. With agility surprising for such a big man, he sprang at the chicken. With a last surprised squawk, the chicken disappeared under the sailor’s bulk.
The sailor’s lunge had knocked away the basket Shizzal had been crouching behind. Shizzal froze, heart in his throat.
The sailor cursed, wriggling as he got a firm grasp on the chicken and rose to his feet. His eyes met Shizzal’s.
Shizzal’s eyes met his.
Shizzal pointed behind the sailor, let out a yell and threw the basket at him. The sound of swirling feathers, screaming chicken and screaming Redugard erupted as Shizzal stumbled to his feet and fled.
He was almost home free, the end of the deck and the glittering blue sea a few feet away. Shizzal shook off his boots in preparation to dive into the water, when a hand with an iron grip closed on his wrist.
“Gotcha, you little fetcher!” The chicken glared at him angrily from under the Redguard’s armpit, and the Redguard’s own expression was anything but welcoming. “You and the port authority are going to have a little talk, young man.”
Shizzal swallowed and was meekly dragged away.