Chapter 10 – Questions of Importance

“What would you do in my place?” 

It was something of a rhetorical question, of course, since it was being asked of a statue and lumps of stone were notorious for not replying to questions asked of them.

Tobias stood in the near empty plaza and glared up at the statue of his erstwhile friend and mentor, Acheron Zelazny, wondering what to do. A mystery lay before him and he had no idea where to begin unravelling it. The fact that it was a mystery in which Acheron seemed to be partially involved only made it all the more difficult.

Even though the two of them had always been close throughout the time they had known each other, Tobias had to admit that the white tiger had never said much about himself, where he came from, who he really was, and he’d never found the heart to ask. He’d assumed Acheron would give up his secrets when he was good and ready.

But the day of Acheron’s departure had come before that could happen. In the years that followed, he’d always had the questions at the back of his mind at who his greatest friend had really been, but he’d learned to live with the fact that he wouldn’t be getting any answers to them.

Yet now… now it felt that those answers were close, wrapped up in the mystery of Royce and his connection to the founder of the Brotherhood. Royce himself was another matter entirely. It was his assignment to find a way to convince him to join the Brotherhood. Do whatever is necessary, Oberon had told him…

Thinking of Oberon made him remember that day forty years ago, and some of the advice Acheron had given him before his disappearance. He could still hear the white tiger’s distinctive voice…

“And under any circumstances,” Acheron had told him, “do not place any trust in Oberon Kane. In the long run, no good will come of it. I wish I could explain why, but even you would not believe my reasons…”

It was advice Tobias had kept to throughout the years, even though he didn’t fully understand it.

It was getting late. Perhaps some sleep would help him get his head around the facts so that he could start piecing them all together. He wandered back through the gardens towards the castle. It was probably best he stop off and check to see how Royce was doing.

He wandered through the corridors of the castle, drifting off in his own thoughts, considering possible approaches to take in trying to convince Royce to join up. It was the raised voices that drew him out of his reverie as he approached Royce’s room.

“I’m telling you it was him!”

“That’s ridiculous! You must have made a mistake!”

Tobias frowned as he entered. “What’s going on in here?” He demanded.

Armin and Royce were stood in the centre of the room, each angrily trying to face down the other. They both turned to look at Tobias as he closed the door behind him.

“Royce here apparently had an hallucination that’s got him all worked up.” Armin explained dismissively. “Probably brought on by exhaustion while wandering the castle halls when he should have been resting.”

“I was not seeing things, you spotted idiot!” Royce snarled. “I saw him and he was real!”

“And I keep telling you it’s not possible!” Armin snapped back.

“Calm yourself, Armin.” Said Tobias reproachfully.

The leopard took a deep breath and stepped away from Royce. “Sorry, sir.” He said.

“Now, who do you think you saw, Royce?” The old wolf wanted to know.

“I saw Thorne, Nomack’s puma assistant.” Said Royce.

“But that’s impossible!” Spluttered Tobias. The very thought that someone associated with that monster Nomack could be here…

“Exactly what your lackey here said.” Royce spat. Armin looked as if he only just managed to bite back an angry response.

Tobias sighed. “Why don’t we just calm down and you tell me more about what you saw?”

Royce, feeling a little weak again, sat down on the edge of his bed. “There’s not that much to tell. I was taking a look around the castle, getting some exercise, and heard Thorne’s voice. I looked around a corner and there he was, talking to someone who called him ‘Mallory’…”

“Mallory?” Said Tobias, recognising the name. “I’ve heard of a puma by that name. Part of the intelligence division of the Brotherhood, if I remember right, doing undercover work. As I recall, he was recruited by General Warrick, back in the old badger’s days as a recruiter.”

“I overheard him saying he’d returned from an assignment.” Said Royce. “Perhaps Nomack was his assignment…”

“That is a ridiculous notion.” Said Armin. “If the Brotherhood had an undercover agent so close to Nomack, we would have been informed when we were assigned to recruit you, considering your past history with him.”

Tobias was thoughtful. He wasn’t as sure as Armin was on that point. There was so much that they apparently hadn’t been told about what had been going on, it was entirely plausible that an undercover Brotherhood agent was something else that had been kept from them.

“I can assure you, Royce, I will look into this myself.” Tobias said. “You should get some rest now, you’re still recovering from those injuries. And tomorrow, we will need to start discussing your future in more detail.”

“I can tell you now that I have no desire to join this Brotherhood of yours.” Royce stated.

Tobias simply nodded. “As I said, we will discuss it tomorrow. Come on, Armin.” He sighed.

The young leopard followed the wolf out of the room, leaving the tiger to get back to resting.

“Sir, are you seriously going to look into his claims?” Tobias asked, following his captain away from Royce’s chamber.

“I said I would, didn’t I?” Tobias answered. “Or would you prefer I make a liar of myself?”

“But surely there can’t be any truth to what he says?” The leopard said.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Tobias shrugged. “But I’m tired. I’ll see you tomorrow, Armin.”

“Goodnight, sir.” Armin nodded, heading off for his room.

The old wolf trudged off in the direction of his own chambers, pondering Royce’s claims of having seen Thorne. A new piece had been added to the puzzle he was trying to solve…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Royce took a deep breath of the crisp early morning air.

He was stood at the window of his room. From where he was, he had a good view of the gardens below. He could spy a few gardeners tending to the grounds.

Thoughts of his future whirled through his mind. He was still at a loss as to what he should do with himself. Sure, he was safe and well for the moment, he was certain he’d be allowed to hang around here until he recovered more fully from his injuries. Then it’d likely be a case of join up or get out. He had tried breaking down his options, but that approach didn’t help much.

The first option was that he could just join up with the Brotherhood. But that wasn’t what he wanted, to become a cog in the machine of this big organisation, expected to take orders and do as he was told. He’d be safe and secure, but the price was something he wasn’t sure he was willing to accept.

His second option was to leave and try to build a new life. However, that path would lead him to a life of fear, constantly looking over his shoulder in case Nomack should reappear to re-enslave him. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

The third and final option as far as he could see was to try and find some way to exact his revenge on Nomack before building a new life, find some way to eliminate that damn wolf once and for all. But while that was the option that was the most appealing by far, he had no way in which he could do it. He couldn’t touch Nomack. The thought of hiring someone to do it for him had come up, but there was no way he was going to get the kind of money that would be needed to hire a truly professional assassin. All he’d ever be likely to be able to hire were simple thugs who wouldn’t stand a chance against Nomack.

And even if he did somehow manage to get some cash together to hire someone skilled, what were the chances that Nomack was already expecting such a move? His tormentor had predicted every other move he’d made so far, why not this one as well? It was possible he’d retaliate, re-enslave him sooner than he might otherwise have done.

The tiger turned away from the window angrily. His thoughts were running in circles without coming up with anything useful. He needed to come up with some idea of what he was going to do…

There was a knock at the door. Royce ignored it at first, wanting to be left alone. But the knocking persisted, as if whoever it was knew he was there and wasn’t about to go away.

“Come in!” He called out.

A tall black panther stepped into the room, gently closing the door behind him. He looked distinguished and wise as he smiled warmly at Royce.

“Greetings!” He said, pleasantly. “You must be Royce Herrick.”

“Who are you?” Royce asked.

“I’m General Oberon Kane.” The panther told him. “Head of the Brotherhood. I just thought I’d come by and say hello.”

“And try to convince me to join up, I suppose.” Said Royce.

“Not at all.” Oberon reassured him, strolling over to join the tiger by the window. “That’s Captain Clandrell’s job and I simply wouldn’t dream of doing it for him. I know how much he likes his job. No, I just wanted to introduce myself. I hope the good captain has been taking care of you.”

“I’ve no complaints.” Said Royce. “Everyone’s been very hospitable.”

“Well, we in the Brotherhood tend to be very hospitable.” Said the panther, glancing out the window at the gardens. “If you have any questions about the Brotherhood, I’d be more than willing to do my best to answer them.”

“That’s a nice offer,” Royce said, “but I think I know enough already. And I think it’s likely I won’t be joining your organisation.”

Oberon glanced at Royce suddenly, and the tiger was certain he caught a glimpse of an icy look in the panther’s eyes. But it was only a split-second before it was gone. “Oh really?” He said. “That would be a terrible shame. I must say I think you could fit in very well with us.”

“This just isn’t for me.” Royce shrugged. “It’s not what I want.”

“I see.” Oberon nodded. “And just what exactly is it that you do want?”

Royce’s first thought was revenge against Nomack. But that wasn’t possible, so not worth bringing up. “I haven’t figured that out yet.” He admitted. “I just know it isn’t the Brotherhood.”

“Well, if you’ve made up your mind on that point,” Oberon said, sadly, “then it is not my place to try and persuade you otherwise. But now, I must be getting on, Brotherhood business to attend to. Furs to meet, things to do. Farewell for now, Mr. Herrick. I hope we get the chance to talk again sometime.”

Royce nodded in response and the panther walked to the door. As he reached it, he turned back for a moment.

“I will say this before I go, Mr. Herrick.” Oberon said. “We in the Brotherhood are capable of a great many things. So search your heart for what you truly want. Maybe the Brotherhood could make it happen for you. If you were one of us.”

The panther opened the door and departed, leaving Royce alone. The tiger returned to staring out at the gardens. His conversation with Oberon had sparked off an idea...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So Mallory is here in the Haven?” Said Tobias.

The elderly weasel looked up from his desk testily. “That’s what I said, isn’t it? He came in yesterday, just finished some assignment…”

“What assignment?” Said Tobias.

“Does this look like Central to you?” Said the weasel, motioning to the small collection of rooms and offices around him that made up the administration centre of the Haven. “How should I know? All sorts of agents come through here, stopping in to rest or send a report to Central and await reassignment, I don’t go inquiring as to what assignments they’ve been on because frankly, its not my business. I just give them a room and whatever help I can…”

“Then can you tell me what room you gave to Mallory?” Tobias asked.

The weasel glared at him. “If I tell you will you stop asking silly questions and let me get back to work?”

The wolf captain smiled at him. “Certainly.”

It wasn’t long before Tobias was wandering through the east wing of the castle where Mallory’s room was. There were quite a few guest rooms in this part of the Haven, although many seemed to be empty and unused at the moment. He hadn’t been to this part of the castle very often, so was having a little trouble finding the right place.

A glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye suddenly drew his attention. A puma passed by a junction in the corridor off to his left, gone from sight in a split-second. He quickly jogged in that direction and peered around the corner.

It was Mallory, strolling leisurely along the corridor, probably headed for his chambers. Tobias decided to follow discreetly, and then confront him in the privacy of his room.

The puma turned a few more corners before arriving at his destination, a room in a fairly empty part of the castle. Tobias watched as Mallory stepped inside and then crept to the door. He paused as he reached it. He could hear the puma inside, talking to someone…

“I must say it’s a surprise to find you waiting here for me, sir.” Mallory was saying. “I guess you received my request to speak with you…”

“You should not have come here!” A strangely familiar voice hissed.

“But, sir, its standard procedure to report in after completing an assignment.” The voice of Mallory complained. “Preferably at the nearest Brotherhood post. That was here. I completed my assignment, doing everything you ordered, sir. After Nomack had me slip Herrick the antidote to the drugs he’d been using on him, I left Nomack’s company without explanation. And I stayed in the area long enough to make sure Captain Clandrell and his lieutenant made contact with him and found Herrick...”

“Herrick is here!” The familiar voice said. “That idiot Clandrell saw fit to bring him in without authorization. If he recognises you, it could be disastrous…”

“I’d heard some talk of an outsider in the Haven, but I didn’t believe it!” Mallory sounded surprised.

“Well, it’s all too true.” Said whoever was inside with Mallory. “If you are seen by him, it could lead to some very awkward questions. I want you to depart for Central within the hour, and keep a low profile around here until then.”

“Of course, sir.” Mallory sighed. “But I still don’t understand why this assignment has been so shrouded in secrecy. I don’t understand why Captain Clandrell couldn’t know about me, or why I couldn’t let Herrick know I was with the Brotherhood. And I don’t see why you insisted that the note I left for the captain and his lieutenant back in Pyre so that they’d know Herrick was still alive be kept anonymous…”

“I know it doesn’t make much sense to you here and now.” The other soothed. “But I see the bigger picture, and in the long run, your exemplary work on this assignment has been very important. You will have to trust me on that point I’m afraid.”

“Sir, I trust no one more that I trust you.” Said Mallory. “So I will leave as soon as possible.”

“Very good.” Said Mallory’s mysterious companion. “I will see you at Central. I have business to deal with before I leave here though. In fact, I have to be getting on. Furs to meet, things to do. Farewell for now, Mallory.”

“Thank you for your time, sir.” Mallory replied.

Footsteps approached the door. Tobias backed away quickly, ducking into the empty guest room opposite. He left the door open so as not to attract suspicion and pressed himself against the wall just inside doorway.

The old wolf listened intently, hearing the door to Mallory’s room open and then close. Curiosity getting the better of him, Tobias chose that moment to sneak a peak at who had just been talking to Mallory.

It was a heavily built bear with black fur, wearing simple casual clothes, black boots, brown trousers and a grey tunic. Whoever it was, Tobias didn’t recognise him. That in itself was unusual. Tobias had a very good memory for faces and knew most of the Brotherhood by sight, even if he might not be able to put names to all the faces.

But this bear was new, someone the wolf had never seen before. The very fact he was here in the Haven meant he had to be part of the Brotherhood, but who exactly was he and why had his voice seemed so familiar when Tobias was certain he’d never seen that face before?

To be honest, when he’d heard Mallory saying how much he trusted whoever he was talking to, Tobias had naturally assumed it must have been General Warrick, since experience had taught him that many in the Brotherhood implicitly trusted the one who had recruited them.

The strange bear padded away along the corridor and soon disappeared around the corner. Tobias stepped out from hiding, staring after him. He knew he should talk to Mallory; see if the puma would give up any information about what was going on. But he couldn’t take his mind off that unfamiliar face. He had to know who it was. Mallory could wait.

The old wolf set off in pursuit of the bear, slipping silently along the corridors, keeping pace with the heavy footsteps of the ursine a short distance ahead, using the sound to follow him and stay out of sight just behind him. The chase led him through some of the emptier parts of the Haven.

And then suddenly, the footsteps stopped.

Frowning, Tobias crept forward to the corner he’d glimpsed the bear disappearing around a few moments before. His quarry must have stopped for some reason. That was the only way to explain the disappearance of the sound of his footsteps. But when he looked, there was no sign of the bear. He had vanished.

The old wolf spent the next ten minutes or so searching the surrounding corridors, but to no avail. The bear had eluded him.

Eventually, he had to admit defeat. The question of whom that bear had been preyed on his mind, another mystery to add to an ever-increasing pile. He made his way back the way he’d come. Perhaps Mallory could provide some answers to this one.

He arrived at Mallory’s room to find the door open. A quick glance inside confirmed his fears. It was empty, devoid of clothing and possessions. Mallory had already left. The failed pursuit of the bear had taken up more time than he’d realised.

The wolf turned and sprinted away through the corridors. Perhaps he could catch the puma before he left the castle.

He arrived at the stables out of breath and headed straight for the young coyote who was tending to the riding lizards.

“Hayes!” Tobias gasped. “Has Mallory been through here yet?”

“Captain?” The coyote was startled by the wolf’s sudden appearance. “Who?”

“Mallory.” Tobias explained. “Tall puma, would be setting out for Central.”

“Oh him.” Said Hayes. “He came and took his mount and left about twenty minutes ago. He’s long gone.”

Tobias thanked him for his assistance and left. He silently cursed himself for letting his curiosity get the better of him. He should have talked to Mallory while he’d had the chance, rather than going after the bear. But it couldn’t be helped now.

Besides, it wasn’t as if Mallory had eluded him forever. He’d catch up with him eventually and get some answers. For the moment, it was time to get back to dealing with Royce.

The tiger’s room was empty. Royce had gone wandering again. He eventually tracked him to the gardens, where he found the muscular tiger lazing on a bench.

“You’re looking thoughtful, Royce.” He said as he approached.

The tiger merely nodded as Tobias sat down beside him on the bench. He was leaning back, enjoying the sunshine and fresh aromas of the gardens about him, while going over his thoughts. His room had been getting a little stuffy, so he’d decided a little fresh air in the castle gardens might help him reach some decisions.

“Thinking about your future, I hope.” The old wolf hinted.

“Among other things.” Royce replied. “Like Armin.”

That took the wolf by surprise. “Armin?”

“Long story short, I had intended to apologise to him.” Royce shrugged. “Instead we ended up arguing and calling each other names.”

“Well, here’s a strange idea.” Said Tobias. “Why not just apologise next time you see him?”

“I’m not sure he’d listen to me.” Royce sighed. “He seemed completely unwilling to listen to what I had to say about Thorne, or Mallory, or whoever you want to call him.”

“Well,” said Tobias. “That was a matter concerning the Brotherhood, so I daresay that Armin felt he knew better than you if something like this whole Mallory business were possible.”

“It is possible!” Royce hissed. “I know what I saw! You said you were going to look into it. Did you find anything?”

Tobias faltered, unsure of how much to reveal at this point. He wasn’t exactly sure himself what the situation with Mallory was, what exactly the puma’s mission had been. The identity of that mysterious bear was likely the key to figuring it out, but he’d been unable to find him…

“I’m still looking into it.” Said Tobias, since this was essentially true.  “But I do believe you, and I’ll let you know when I’ve got to the bottom of things.”

Royce stared at the wolf for a moment. “Very well.” He said, eventually.

“We also need to start talking about your future, Royce.” Said Tobias.

“I believe I’ve actually reached a decision about that.” Said the tiger.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Said Tobias. “And what is your decision?” He was actually a little anxious about what the tiger might say next. Oberon had ordered him to do all that was necessary to recruit Royce, but if he decided that the Brotherhood wasn’t for him…

“I will join your Brotherhood.” Royce revealed. “But on the condition that you help me with something first.”

While a part of the old wolf was delighted at this, the ‘condition’ sounded a little ominous. “And what is it that you need help with?”

“Nothing too much.” Said Royce. “I just want you to help me get something I want very much. Do that, and I’ll join up with your organisation.”

“You’re stalling.” Tobias observed. “That makes me feel I’m not going to like what you’re about to say…”

“You probably won’t.” Royce admitted. “What I want is revenge on Nomack. But thanks to what he did to me, I can’t kill him. So I want you to do it for me.”

“What?” The old wolf spluttered. “You want me to kill for you?”

“Yes.” Royce nodded. “I’ll join the Brotherhood if, and only if, you help me track down and kill Nomack first.”

“You put me in a difficult position, Royce.” Said Tobias. “I can’t just go out and commit murder for you!” But then, he caught himself thinking, Oberon had said to do whatever was necessary…

“Then don’t think of it as murder.” Said the tiger. “Think of it as giving a taste of justice to someone who sorely deserves it.”

“It’d still be murder!” Tobias protested.

“I don’t see your problem with this!” Said Royce. “We’re talking about Calhoun Nomack, someone as close to a monster as you’re likely to get!”

“It’s not down to me or you to decide who lives and dies in this world!” Tobias argued. “And the simple fact is that cold-blooded murder is only ever an option when there is no other way!”

“Well, if you want me in this Brotherhood of yours, then there is no other way!” Royce said. “And that’s all there is to it!”

Tobias decided to back off, not wanting things to degenerate into an argument. “I’ll have to think about this.” He said, getting to his feet. “In the meantime, I’ll have Armin come by and take you to see the Haven’s tailor to get you some proper clothes made up. It’ll also give you an opportunity to make that apology of yours.”

“If he’ll listen to me.” Royce muttered.

“Give him a chance.” Said Tobias. “And he will. You might find that the two of you have more than a few things in common.”

“I already know that we do.” Royce said.

Tobias didn’t add anything to that, he simply nodded. “I’ll see you later.”

The old wolf wandered away through the gardens. This latest development in his assignment had complicated things much more than he would have liked. Oberon had ordered him to do what was necessary to recruit Royce, but he somehow doubted that extended to murder.

Of the limited options open to him, the best that he could see was to go talk with Oberon. As much as he may personally distrust him, the panther was still the head of the Brotherhood. He should talk to him; see if there was something that could be worked out regarding his assignment. There had to be some other way to do this without resorting to murder…

A few inquiries in the administration centre as to General Kane’s location led him to a small collection of rooms in a disused area of the castle. He found the door on which hung a hastily painted sign identifying it as ‘General Kane’s Office’. He knocked and waited for a call from within before opening the door and stepping inside.

“Captain Clandrell! What a pleasant surprise! Come in, sit down!”

Tobias closed the door behind him and glanced around the small room Oberon was apparently using as a makeshift office. It was small and sparse, just a basic desk and some chairs. The black panther was seated and cleared away some papers and documents as the old wolf sat down.

“So, captain, what can I do for you?” Oberon smiled.

“I’ve run into a bit of a problem with Royce.” Tobias explained. “He has said he will join us, but only if a certain condition of his is met.”

“I see.” Said Oberon. “And what condition might this be?”

“He wants me to help him find and kill Nomack.” Said Tobias.

“Well, I’m glad you came to me with this, captain.” Said Oberon, suddenly smiling again. “I’ll be able to make the necessary arrangements for you immediately.”

Tobias frowned. “Arrangements, sir?”

“For the expedition to find and eliminate Nomack.” Oberon said. “I can have it all arranged by the end of the day. No point in delaying, is there?”

“But sir!” Tobias protested. “I came to see you because I don’t think there is a way to recruit Royce any other way and wanted to seek your advice!”

“If there is no other way, then this is what we must do.” Said Oberon. “You have my full authorization to proceed.”

“You want me to proceed to committing pre-mediated and cold-blooded murder?” Tobias was shocked that the head of the Brotherhood could be suggesting such a thing.

“Come now, captain.” Oberon grinned, leaning back in his chair. “Its not as if the Brotherhood hasn’t engaged in such actions in the past. Some even performed by you, I might add.”

“Only when there was no other way for the Brotherhood to complete its goals!” Tobias stammered. This was definitely not the conversation he’d been expecting to have when he came here. “Such actions were only ever sanctioned as an absolute last resort! That’s always the way Acheron himself wanted things!”

“Ah yes, but Acheron isn’t here.” Oberon shrugged. “And hasn’t been for quite some time. And the simple fact is that times change, and the Brotherhood must change as well.”

“So you are sanctioning murder?” Said Tobias. “Simply so that a recruit will join our ranks?”

“Captain, I realise that such a course of action is distasteful for you.” Oberon soothed. “I don’t like it either. But try looking at the bigger picture here. This will remove the monster that is Nomack from the world, thus saving all those who those who ultimately be destined to suffer at his hands. At the same time, it will gain us a very promising new recruit.”

“But murder…” Said Tobias.

“Try not to think of it as murder.” The panther suggested. “Think of it as doing what is necessary. Which I know from your long record of service you are more than capable of doing.”

“But still…” The old wolf sighed.

“Tobias, we are talking about a monster here.” Oberon said. “I am familiar with the intelligence on Calhoun Nomack. He is a most despicable creature the world will be a lot better off without.”

Tobias resisted the urge to ask why Oberon was familiar with the intelligence on Nomack. Did the panther know about Mallory and his assignment? The wolf decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to give away just how much he knew.

“Very well, sir.” He sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Very good, captain.” Oberon beamed. “I expect you’ll want to get going, get yourself ready to depart once Royce has regained some more strength. I’ll make all the necessary arrangements.”

“Yes, sir.” Tobias nodded, getting to his feet. “Thank you for your time.”

“Not at all captain.” Oberon grinned. “It’s been a pleasure.”

Tobias left the panther’s office, not looking back as he headed off through the castle, his mind a whirl of thought.

He still couldn’t believe it. The head of the Brotherhood sanctioning cold-blooded murder so easily. The thought that the idealistic organisation he had devoted so much of his life to might be degenerating into a gang of assassins tore him up inside.

Sure, he knew that on occasion it was necessary to kill, he had done it himself, just as Oberon had pointed out. But it had only been after all other options had been exhausted, when there had simply been no other way. A healthy respect for the value of life had been at the very core of the Brotherhood in the beginning, Acheron had made sure of that. Now it seemed Acheron’s values were being tossed aside.

He would go along with things for the moment, but he knew one thing with absolute certainty. He was not going to murder Nomack unless there was no other option.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Royce rummaged through a pile of clothes that lay on the bed of his room. He and Armin had just returned from the Haven’s tailor, and the tiger was taking the opportunity to try some of the garments that had been made to measure for him.

“These are pretty nice.” Said Royce, slipping on a shirt. It fit perfectly. “That tailor of yours does good work. And quickly too.”

“The Brotherhood takes care of its own.” Armin commented from where he stood by the window, watching.

“I’m not one of the Brotherhood yet.” Royce pointed out. “And still may not be.”

“Fine.” Armin shrugged. “I’ll leave you to your clothes.” He turned to leave.

“Wait.” Said Royce. “There’s something I want to say.”

“And what would that be?”

“I want to apologise.”

Armin stopped and looked back at him, surprised. “Really? You’re actually going to admit you were wrong about Thorne?”

Royce was slightly taken aback. “No, of course not, I was right about that!”

“I see.” Armin hummed.

“I’m talking about before that.” Royce explained. “When I claimed you couldn’t possibly understand me. You showed me I was wrong about that and I think I owe you an apology for being so arrogant on the subject. So, I’m sorry.”

“Well, I must admit I’m surprised.” Said Armin. “I honestly didn’t think you had such an apology in you. I’m glad I was wrong.”

“In fact,” Royce went on, “I don’t mind admitting that it is a little comforting to know that there is at least someone who understands me.”

The leopard returned to the tiger’s side, joining him in sitting on the bed. “I think you’ll find that there are plenty who understand you, if you just give them a chance.”

“It’s something to try, I suppose.” Royce muttered.

“Trust me, it’ll be worth it.” Said Armin.

Royce suddenly found that he did actually have a degree in trust in the leopard. Despite his first impressions of Armin as being smug and arrogant, Royce was starting to actually like him. He guessed the discovery of all they had in common probably had something to do with that.

“If you think I can do it,” Royce shrugged. “I guess I can give you a try.”

“All it’ll take is a bit of effort on your part.” Said Armin. “After all, I was able to do it, and I was worse than you.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Said Royce.

“Really?” Armin grinned. “Someday, ask Captain Clandrell to tell you about the incident at the brothel in Cascade Falls involving the beaver and the seven watermelons.”

The tiger frowned at the leopard beside him.

“I’d tell you it now myself,” Armin winked, “but there is no way you’d believe it coming from me.”

Royce couldn’t help but let out a little laugh.

“You know,” said Armin, “it’s good to see this side of you, to see there is something underneath that stubborn exterior of yours.”

The leopard placed a reassuring hand on the large tiger’s leg. It felt nice, and Royce saw that Armin was smiling warmly at him.

Inexplicably, Royce found himself smiling back…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

General Gunther Kimball looked himself over in his mirror, making sure he was presentable. He always liked to look his best when he was meeting with General Kane. It was simply a matter of pride.

He headed for the door and opened it. He was about to step out into the corridor beyond when Tobias was suddenly there, having just arrived.

“I need to know, Gunther,” Tobias demanded, storming in without waiting for an invitation. “Did you know about Mallory?”

“What are you talking about?” Said the lion, closing the door.

The old wolf looked into his eyes thoughtfully. “You really don’t know, do you? Now that is interesting…”

“Tobias, please, what are you talking about?” Gunther wanted to know.

“Do you remember Mallory?” Tobias asked. “Puma, works in undercover intelligence?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Gunther replied. “I think I’ve met him a few times here and there. Why?”

“I’ve discovered that he’s recently been on an undercover assignment.” Tobias explained. “He was posing as a Mr. Thorne, assistant to Calhoun Nomack.”

“But I would have known about such a mission!” Gunther spluttered in surprise.

“The only way you would think that,” Tobias interjected,  “is if you already knew Nomack was involved in all this before you despatched Armin and I to Pyre. And yet Nomack’s involvement was suspiciously absent from the information I was given.”

“Yes.” Gunther admitted. “I knew Nomack was in Pyre when I had you sent to recruit Royce. But I had no idea what he might have been planning, or that we had someone posing as his assistant. That is the truth!”

The old wolf looked into his friend’s eyes. “Either you’ve suddenly become very good at lying, or that really is the truth.”

“It must have just been an administrative error that I wasn’t told…” Gunther murmured.

“Do you really believe that?” Tobias asked.

The general shook his head sadly. “No.”

“Well, here’s something else you won’t believe.” Said Tobias. “General Kane has just sanctioned murder. And just so that Royce will join up.”

“What are you talking about?” Said Gunther.

“Royce has said he will join up if I help him track down and kill Nomack.” Tobias explained. “And Kane authorised it. Without hesitation, I might add.”

“I don’t believe it.” Gunther muttered.

“Secrets and lies.” Said Tobias. “Murder authorised without hesitation. The core values of the Brotherhood are being discarded, Gunther! What do you have to say to that?”

“It’s necessary, Tobias!” The lion said, even thought he himself didn’t seem too convinced. “You don’t know the reasons…”

“Only because no one has seen fit to tell me!” The old wolf growled back. “Are you seriously going to try and argue that it has become necessary to discard the values upon which the Brotherhood was founded? Values I went to great pains to teach you when I recruited you all those years ago? Whatever the reasons, this is a step too far!”

The general sat down and sighed. “I know you’re right. Murder… General Kane is going too far. But you really have no idea of what’s going on…”

“Then why don’t you tell me?” Tobias demanded. “You know me, I’ll figure it out eventually. Why not just tell me and save the time and trouble?”

Gunther looked thoughtfully at his friend. “Very well,” he sighed, “I suppose if you’re going to be expected to commit murder, you should be told the reason.”

Tobias thought it best not to mention that he had no intention of going as far as to commit murder, He was just glad some answers were finally coming.

“But it can’t be now.” Gunther added. “I’m expected in a meeting with General Kane in a few minutes, he’ll get suspicious if I’m late. And this will take some explaining.”

“I’ve waited this long, I can wait a little longer.” Said Tobias.

“Meet me back here later tonight, after nightfall.” Said Gunther, making to leave. “I’ll tell you everything then. And we should keep this to ourselves. Warrick would have my hide if he knew anything about this.”

Tobias nodded. “I agree. I’ll see you later then. And Gunther…” He patted the lion on the shoulder. “Thanks. For agreeing to give me some answers.”

“Hey, you know me.” Gunther smiled. “I can be a hard-headed idiot at times, but I usually get over it.”

“Yeah, I know that all too well.” Tobias chuckled. “You’d better get going. We’ll talk more later.”

“Later it is.” Said the lion, and then he was gone, off to his meeting in a rush. Tobias watched him go and then headed off himself. He could be a patient for a little while yet. The important thing was that some solid answers were not too far off…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tobias approached Royce’s chambers. He’d been putting this off, even resorting to wandering in the gardens for a while after seeing Gunther. But it had to be done. It was time to let the tiger know that they’d be setting out again once he’d regained some more strength.

It wasn’t something he was looking forward too as he’d have to be very careful with his words. He didn’t want to lie to Royce at all and tell him he intended to kill Nomack for him. But there could be trouble if the tiger suspected that murder was not on his mind.

He knocked on the door briefly before stepping inside. He found Royce and Armin sitting side by side on the bed, talking amiably. At least Royce seemed to have apologised, Tobias thought.

They both looked toward him as he entered. Armin nodded respectfully.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” The wolf asked, moving toward them.

“Not at all, sir.” Said Armin, carefully.

“I bring news, Royce.” Said Tobias. “You’ll be glad to know that after discussing things with General Kane, an expedition has been authorised to find and deal with Nomack.”

“You mean kill him, right?” said Royce.

The old wolf remained silent. He really didn’t want to have to lie to the tiger…

“The Brotherhood doesn’t commit murder lightly, Royce…” Armin tried to explain.

“And I’m not asking it to.” Royce grumbled. “All I’m asking is help in exacting some justice upon the one who did so much to me.” Armin looked disgusted at this.

“I said that we would deal with Nomack.” Said Tobias tactfully. “And that is exactly what we will do. If it comes down to killing him in the end, then so be it. Now, do you have any idea of when we should begin looking for Nomack?” Tobias asked.

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Said Royce. “Pyre.”

“And there was me hoping I wouldn’t have to go back there any time soon.” Tobias sighed. “Can you be certain he’ll go there?”

“Yes.” The tiger nodded. “I know Nomack. Much more than I’d prefer. He likes to check in on all his business investments from time to time. And I know he now owns part of the Stone Walls Arena in Pyre. He’ll show up there eventually. And besides, I have business I’d like to take care of back in Pyre.”

“More revenge?” Said Armin, distastefully.

“Perhaps.” Royce replied, solemnly. “We’ll see how it goes when we get there.”

“You and I,” The old wolf began, “are really going to have to talk about…”

A frantic knocking at the door interrupted him. A second later a badger burst in, out of breath.

“Captain Clandrell!” The new arrival gasped. “I was sent to find you! You have to come at once!”

The old wolf leapt to his feet. “Why? What’s going on?”

A look of sadness crossed the badger’s face. “There’s been a terrible accident, sir. General Kimball is dead…”

To Be Continued…


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Raging Tiger/Kuman the Barbarian/Mitchell and Michael/Going Under/Beware the Transformer/Servus Inc./Farewell to Free Will

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