Chapter 11 – Recollections and Revelations

“Stop! Thief!”

The teenage wolf swore under his breath and broke into a run. He risked a glance back and glimpsed the shopkeeper pursuing him. He swore again as he noticed a few city guards, who had happened to be passing, also joining the chase.

He focused on his escape, dodging along the narrow and crowded market street, ducking past merchants and vendors selling their wares to regular customers and gullible travellers alike. He was quick and agile enough to avoid colliding with anyone as he ran. He left that to his pursuers. It would slow them down.

As he passed a fruit seller, he crouched and kicked out one of the supporting legs of his stall in one fluid movement before leaping to his feet and continuing onward. He even managed to grab a few apples as he did so and slip them into a pocket. Behind him, the stall collapsed, sending a flood of apples and oranges spilling across the street. Chaos ensued as those chasing him stumbled and fell.

The wolf paused for a moment to look back and smile, before turning…

…and running straight into another city guard.

The armoured fox grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and sneered at him. “Going somewhere, cub?”

The wolf looked his captor up and down, looking for a weak spot to attack. Only the face was unprotected by armour. Without hesitation, he leapt upwards at the fox towering over him, ripping free of his grip and clamping himself onto the guard’s chest plate. He threw his head forward, head-butting the fox solidly in the face. The guard cried out and stumbled backwards as the young wolf jumped clear, scampering past him and away.

The city guards were always the same, so sure they could capture him, so certain that a young street wolf in ragged clothing like himself couldn’t possibly do anything to hurt them. He always enjoyed proving them wrong. In all his time on the streets, just over four years now, the guards had never come close to catching him.

He ducked into a narrow alleyway. There, he came across a door and shoved it open, quickly making his way up through the abandoned dwelling beyond until he emerged on to the roof. From there, he leapt across the small gap to the building next to it and padded along a series of rooftops, jumping across gaps here and there. He knew exactly where he was going. He knew this city inside and out, every street and alley, every single shortcut and secret way imaginable.

Suddenly, his instincts kicked in and he skidded to a stop, looking back and surveying the vista of slate roofs and brick chimneystacks behind him. He’d had the sudden feeling he was being watched. But he knew that was impossible. The rooftops had always been his domain, there was no one who knew them as well as he did. It would be impossible for someone to follow him unseen. But he couldn’t help what his instincts were telling him.

“Looking for me?”

The wolf spun around to find a figure was sitting cross-legged directly ahead of him, having got there without making any sound to alert him. He was a muscular white tiger, dressed in loose casual clothing. He was smiling pleasantly.

“I must say, you’re quite a nimble little thief.” Said the tiger.

The wolf didn’t stay to find out whom he might be. He turned and ran, vaulting across the rooftops. He knew a thousand routes across the city. There were plenty of alternatives to get where he wanted to go. Let the tiger try and follow him. He could lose him easily.

He decided to go down to street level for the moment, and flipped over the edge of the roof he’d been running across, grabbing the drainpipe he knew to be there as he fell and sliding down it. He hit the ground and didn’t even pause, barrelling off through the labyrinth of shadowy alleyways that made up the part of the city he was now in.

A few locals called out greetings as he shot past. He was a well-known sight in these parts, and had a lot of friends.

Eventually, he had to stop to get his breath back. He leaned against a wall, panting and wheezing. He vaguely wondered who that white tiger had been…

“Yes, very nimble indeed.”

The wolf looked up. It was him again! The tiger was standing a short distance away, still smiling. The young thief shot off again, annoyed with himself that he hadn’t managed to lose the large feline pursuing him.

A few alleys way, he dived through a broken window into the empty storage house beyond. He sprinted across it and kicked his way out the door on the opposite side, emerging into a busy street. He weaved his way through the furs making their way through the city. Never one to miss a good opportunity, he secretly snatched a few money pouches from the richer-looking furs as he passed them.

He reached an alleyway on the other side of the street and dived into it, running along its length to the street on the other side. He was heading away from the crumbling city slums and his destination, but he wanted to try and lose that damn tiger before he doubled back.

The wolf took a long winding route through the city. He caught no glimpse of the white tiger on the way, and so made his way back toward the slums. He felt a sense of relief as he approached the run down buildings and unkempt streets. The whole city may have been his playground, but the slums were his home.

He turned down an alley and padded up some steps to a small flat. He knocked on the door and went inside, entering a room full of old furniture that had seen better days. He heard a coughing from the bedroom next door. He followed it and found who he was looking for.

An elderly koala was sat on the end of the small bed, one hand clutching an old walking stick and the other covering his mouth as he continued coughing.

“Are you alright, Mr. Palmer?” Said the young wolf with concern, rushing to the koala’s side.

“I’m fine, I’m fine…” The bear protested.

The wolf placed a hand against Palmer’s forehead. “You’re still feverish.”

“So I’m a little under the weather.” The koala shrugged. “I was just about to go for my afternoon walk.”

The teenage wolf sighed. Getting Mr. Palmer to admit it when he was ill, let alone take things easy, was always an uphill struggle. “Why not just have a little rest first?” He suggested. “And I picked up something for you.” He reached into one of his many pockets and pulled out a small bottle. He’d wrapped it in wool so that it wouldn’t get damaged.

“This is some medicine.” He explained, uncorking the bottle. He helped the old koala sip some.

“It tastes foul!” Palmer complained as he swallowed.

“Yes, it probably does.” The wolf agreed. He slipped the cork back into the bottle, rewrapped it, and returned it to a pocket. “But it’ll make you feel better.” He helped the koala lie down to get some sleep, making sure he placed the walking stick within easy reach for him when he woke up.

The young wolf pulled out one of the money pouches and counted out three gold coins. He pressed them into the koala’s palm. “When that landlord of yours comes by later,” he said, “give him these. It’ll keep him off your back for awhile.”

“You were always such a good cub, Toby.” Said Palmer, sleepily. “It was a terrible shame about your parents, I always said so…” And then he was asleep.

A dark look crossed the wolf’s face at the mention of his parents, but it quickly passed. He left one of the apples he’d stolen on the table beside the bed. He also pulled out a small loaf of bread he’d picked up earlier and tore off a chunk, leaving it beside the apple.

He left Mr. Palmer to rest. He’d check back on him later. Right now, he had a lot of others to visit before he could rest.

Some hours later, he arrived back at the small room he called home. It was located in the uppermost storey of a dilapidated building in the middle of the slums, furnished only with a bunk and a few other basic possessions. One wall had partially collapsed years ago, exposing the room to the open air. But he didn’t care, he liked the view it offered him.

He sat on his bed and emptied his pockets. The medicine bottle was now empty, it’s contents hadn’t gone as far among the local residents who were sick as he’d have liked. He’d have to go steal some more tomorrow. Illness was always a major problem around these parts.

He pulled out the money pouches, also empty, and tossed them aside. The money had been a real unexpected bonus. It had been able to help a lot of furs in the area.

He dug in his pockets one last time and brought out what was left of the food supplies he’d acquired that day. It was just a small piece of bread. The rest had been shared out among the poorest of the local residents. He sat back and closed his eyes, chewing on the bread.

“Now, are we going to be able to talk, or are you going to run off again?”

The wolf opened his eyes. It was the white tiger again. He was stood by the hole in the wall, looking out.

“Who are you?” The wolf demanded, angry at this invasion of his home.

“My name is Acheron Zelazny.” The white tiger explained. “I’ve been watching you for a few weeks now, cub. Ever since you picked my pocket and stole my money.”

“Hey, if you want your money back,” said the wolf, defensively. “I don’t have it.” He didn’t particularly remember taking this tiger’s money. But then, he picked so many pockets he couldn’t be expected to remember them all.

“Don’t worry.” Acheron chuckled. “I’m not here seeking repayment. I just thought it was time we talked. It’s been interesting to find someone with such a strong sense of moral obligation.”

The teenage wolf looked at him blankly.

Acheron sighed. “You seem to like helping those around you.” He clarified.

“Somebody has to.” The wolf shrugged. “I don’t see anyone else volunteering for the job. Nor are they likely to.”

The white tiger flashed the canine a broad grin. “I agree. There are so few willing to do what they can to try and make the world a better place. Which is why you are such a rare find, my friend. I think we’re going to get on very well. What’s your name?”

Despite the strangeness of this white tiger and how little he knew of him, the wolf’s instincts were telling him he could be trusted. And he had learned over the years to always trust his instincts.

“I’m Tobias.” He answered. “Tobias Clandrell…”

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

Tobias looked up from the camp fire, wondering how long he’d been staring into the flames, reliving old memories. He glanced about. Royce and Armin were still off gathering more firewood, so it couldn’t have been too long.

The old wolf had found himself reliving many old memories recently. Ever since Gunther’s memorial service in fact. He’d found himself remembering and examining the choices he’d made in his life that had led him to where he was now.

He was aware that his current mood had Armin quite worried. After all, it had been four days now since the memorial quickly followed by their departure from the Haven. Four days of being interested more in the contents of his memory than what was going on around him.

But he couldn’t help it. When it came right down to it, he was certain that his good friend Gunther had been murdered. Based on all he knew, it was the only real conclusion he could reach.

Of course everyone had said it was just a terrible accident. How Gunther had happened to be in the stables when one of the riding lizards had gone mad, reared up and clawed him viciously across the skull. But why had Gunther been in the stables in the first place? And why had the lizard gone mad? There was going to be an investigation for certain, General Kane had given the task to General Warrick before setting out to return to Central. But since Tobias suspected that either Kane or Warrick, or maybe even both, had been involved, he didn’t expect the investigation to find anything suspicious.

While Tobias was capable of accepting that coincidences sometimes did happen, he didn’t accept this one for a second. The mysterious ‘accident’ happened to occur just as Gunther was going to fill him in on what was going on? It couldn’t have been an accident. Gunther’s intentions had been uncovered, so he had needed to be silenced.

By extension, though, that meant that those highest up in the Brotherhood were murderers, willing to kill to keep their secrets. That thought filled him with disgust.

He had believed in the Brotherhood, its ideals and its goals, ever since Acheron had first conceived of the idea all those years ago. Now, the Brotherhood he knew and loved was gone, corrupted at the core. How had it got this far, become so bad? And how had he not noticed until now? Perhaps he hadn’t wanted to see, so had blinded himself to all the signs and indications.

He blamed himself for what the Brotherhood had become. As the oldest member of the organisation and close friend of Acheron himself, on some level he’d always felt the Brotherhood to be his responsibility, that it was down to him to make sure it carried on in the spirit of Acheron’s original intentions. It was now apparent he had failed.

And now he was trawling though his memories, and he knew why. He was trying to figure out where exactly he had gone wrong.

It was also his way of avoiding the obvious and difficult question of what he should do about it. Because that was a question he did not know how to answer…

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

“I’m worried about him.”

“I know. You’ve only told me several times.”

“But I really mean it!” Armin protested. “In all the time I’ve known him, the captain has never been like this, so quiet, so withdrawn. I fear something is seriously wrong.”

Royce kicked idly at the small pile of firewood at his feet. The pile they had finished collecting some time ago. It had been Armin’s idea to delay going back so they could talk in private for awhile. So there they were, sitting on a log side by side.

“A friend of his has just died.” Royce suggested. “He’s probably just mourning.”

“Do you think this is the first friend he’s lost?” Said the leopard. “The Brotherhood gets involved in some dangerous stuff. He’s lost friends before, but he’s never been like this. There’s something different about this time.”

“Then just ask him about it.” Royce said.

“You really don’t know the captain too well yet.” Said Armin, shaking his head. “Something like this, he’s likely to keep to himself until he wants to tell someone.”

“Then I don’t see what more you can do.” Royce shrugged.

“And that’s the problem.” Said Armin, slumping his shoulders. “He’s done so much for me over the years. Seeing him like this makes me wish there was something I could do to help. And it hurts knowing that there is nothing I can do.”

Royce placed a comforting arm around his shoulders and hugged him close. He had no idea what he could possibly say to make Armin feel better, so he stayed silent. Just being there and being a sympathetic ear would have to be enough…

By the time Royce and Armin returned to the camp fire, Tobias had already laid down and was fast asleep. As the tiger threw a couple of logs on the fire, he glanced at Armin. His leopard friend was looking sadly at the old wolf’s sleeping form. He really wanted to do or say something to make Armin feel better, but he couldn’t think of a damn  thing.

It suddenly dawned on him. At some point, he’d started thinking of Armin as a friend, caring about how he felt. It struck him as a little strange that he hadn’t realised until then. But it was also comforting that he was still capable of thinking of someone as a friend after what his last one had done to him back in Pyre…

The thought of Boswell was a painful one. But he took solace in the fact that it wouldn’t be for much longer. His former friend was one of many things he planned to deal with once they reached Pyre…

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

They set out again at first light, continuing along the road at a gentle pace, just as they had done for the past few days ever since they had left the Haven. And just like the past few days, there was little conversation between the travellers as they went.

As the morning passed into afternoon, the road led them into the depths of a dense forest. Before long, the trees had closed in around them as the road weaved its way through them.

They had been travelling through the forest for several hours when they first heard the music. A gentle tune was drifting through the trees. The three travellers looked at each other in confusion, but none of them had any idea what it might be. As they continued onward, it became louder and louder. They were moving towards its source.

Eventually, their path turned between the trees and they could suddenly see where the music was coming from. Up ahead, the road split in two heading off in separate directions. At the point where the road diverged was a large rock, half-buried and covered in moss. Perched on top of this rock, sitting cross-legged, was a white tiger, his eyes closed as he concentrated on playing a flute, which looked as if it had been hand-carved from a piece of bamboo.

Both Royce and Tobias stared at this feline with disbelieving eyes as they approached. It was Acheron Zelazny.

“I don’t believe it…” Tobias whispered, climbing down from his riding lizard.

As they drew nearer, the white tiger stopped playing, the air suddenly feeling empty with the music gone. Acheron opened his eyes and looked at the new arrivals. He grinned.

“It’s about time you got here.” He said. “I’ve been waiting here for you for three days.” He shrugged. “But at least it’s given me time to practise my music a little.” He raised his flute to his mouth once more and played a few extra notes.

“It’s really you.” Royce said, dismounting his lizard.

“And you haven’t aged a day, I might add.” Said Tobias through a smile.

“Yes, I expect both of you have lots of questions.” Acheron nodded. “Many I won’t be able to answer, but there will be some things that I can tell you. But before we get to that…” The white tiger stood, slipped his flute into a pocket and jumped through the air, landing with a thud on the ground in front of his two friends. He placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Tobias, Royce, it really is great to see you again… and I see we have a new friend here.”

“Armin Paraz, sir…”Said the dazed young leopard as he climbed down from his riding lizard.

“Now, now, no calling me sir.” Said Acheron, stepping forward and shaking his hand. “I’ve always hated that.”

“You look just like your statue…” Said Armin, staring at the white tiger.

Acheron frowned. “You think so? I always thought it looked rather ugly myself. Didn’t really capture my essence like any good statue should.”

“Acheron…” Tobias began.

The white tiger held up a hand and silenced him. “No doubt you’re about to launch into a series of questions. There’s only a few hours worth of daylight left at most. Might I suggest we make camp here for the night and I tell you what I can before we continue on toward Pyre in the morning?”

“How do you that’s where we’re headed?” Asked Royce.

“Logical deduction.” Acheron replied. “That’s why I was waiting here. It’s the quickest road from the Haven to Pyre. You had to come through here eventually.” He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. “I’m a little hungry. How about we settle down and have something to eat before we get talking?”

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

The young wolf sat staring out the window, watching the sun set over the city skyline, its dying rays filling his office with an orange glow. His tall muscular frame barely fitting the creaking cheaply made chair.

He turned back to his desk, glancing sadly about his sparse office. It wouldn’t be long before he was thrown out for not paying the rent. The prospects for his future were fading fast and he could see no way out…

“Calhoun Nomack?”

He looked up at the source of the voice. A black furred wolf in expensive looking clothing was standing in his doorway, grinning at him.

“What is it?” Nomack growled.

“Are you Calhoun Nomack?” Said the black wolf, strolling casually across the room to the seated wolf.

“Just leave me alone…” Nomack snarled at this new arrival.

Suddenly, the black wolf leapt across the desk with startling speed and hauled the large grey wolf out of his chair almost without any effort whatsoever. Nomack was flung across the room before he knew what was happening. He crashed against the far wall and collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap. He cried out in pain as aches wracked his body. Nomack looked to the black wolf in shock. Whoever he was, he was far stronger than he looked.

“Are you Calhoun Nomack?” The black wolf repeated, his voice now edged with a dangerous tone. He walked over and grabbed Nomack by the throat, lifting him off the floor with one hand and slamming him against the wall.

“Are you Calhoun Nomack?” The black wolf asked again.

“Yes!” Nomack gasped. The black wolf released his grip, and Nomack leaned back against the wall, wincing in agony.

“Delighted to meet you!” The black wolf was grinning again, the edge to his voice gone. “My name is Kameryn. I’ve been looking for you.”

“What for?” Asked Nomack, suspiciously.

“To offer you an opportunity.” Kameryn explained. “As I understand it, you are currently down on your luck somewhat.”

“That’s putting it mildly.” Said Nomack, bitterly.

“Indeed.” Kameryn laughed, wandering over to the window. “As I understand it, you’ve been trying for some time to get your own business started, but have failed, rather spectacularly I might add. You’re almost bankrupt.”

“That’s right.” Nomack nodded. “So? What does it have to do with you?”

“I can help you avoid that fate.” Kameryn said. “And all I ask is that you answer me some questions. Do you want to be rich?”

“Yes.”

“You want to be powerful?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll need to ruthless and brutal. Can you do that?”

“Y-yes…”

Kameryn grabbed him by the throat and slammed him against the wall again. “CAN YOU DO THAT?”

“Yes!”

The black wolf released him. “Good. Then it may be possible I can help you…” He pulled a pouch of coins from a pocket and passed it to the grey wolf. “Here. Go pay some of your debts. I’ll be in touch shortly so we can begin…”

“Begin what?” Nomack asked.

“Begin teaching you to be more than the pathetic loser you are now…” Kameryn smiled.

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

“Mr. Nomack?”

The dream of his first meeting with his old mentor quickly faded as he was shaken back to wakefulness. He opened his eyes to find Edward standing over him.

Edward was the new assistant he’d hired after it became obvious that Thorne would not be making a reappearance any time soon. He was a burly little ferret with some annoying little personal habits, but he was the best he’d been able to find at short notice. He was already determined to find someone else as soon as he could. The fact that Edward was interrupting his nap was only strengthening that determination.

“What is it?” Nomack growled, stretching and yawning. “And why has the coach stopped? I have business in Pyre, and I don’t like delays.”

“I’m sorry to have to wake you, sir.” Said the ferret, sitting down opposite him. “But we’ve stopped because someone was standing in the middle of the road and he wouldn’t move. He claims to be an old friend of yours and wants to see you.”

“You woke me because some fool is making ridiculous claims?” Nomack hissed, angrily.

“Sir…”

“Go tell him that I have no ‘old friends’ and he should try a more original story next time.” Said Nomack. “And hurry it up, I want to get moving again.”

Edward nodded and exited the coach, closing the door behind him. Nomack sat there waiting for him to return, silently fuming at this delay. Suddenly, the coach door was wrenched open. But it wasn’t Edward.

A familiar black-furred wolf stood in the doorway. He grinned at Nomack before stepping inside and sitting down opposite him. The larger wolf stared at this new arrival in shock. It had been years since he’d last seen him…

“Kameryn?” Nomack stammered.

“Of course!” The black wolf laughed.

“But what are you doing here?” Nomack asked, cautiously.

“Really, Calhoun, I thought you were intelligent.” Kameryn sighed. “Who did you think has been behind everything that’s been going on?”

“But the Brotherhood…” Nomack began.

“The Brotherhood?” Kameryn chuckled. “That bunch of amateurs? They’ve been remarkably simple to control. Would you believe that their grand plan originated with me?”

Nomack certainly could believe that. In the years he’d spent under the wolf’s tutelage he’d seen what Kameryn was capable of. He had manipulated others with the greatest of ease wherever he went, often without anyone realising. It was a skill Nomack had always admired but had never been able to imitate completely.

It was at that point that Nomack noticed his new assistant. He was lying on the ground just outside the coach, a small knife stuck through his throat.

“Was that really necessary?” Said Nomack, looking at the dead assistant.

The black wolf shrugged and grinned. “No. But it was fun!”

Nomack sighed and closed the carriage door and called to the driver to carry on. At least he’d been saved the trouble of firing Edward.

“I come bringing news.” The spry wolf said, once they were moving again. “Herrick and his new Brotherhood friends are on their way to Pyre with an intention to kill you.”

Nomack shrugged. “No problem there. I simply won’t go to Pyre.”

His mentor’s expression darkened instantly. It was a look he knew and feared. “You will continue to Pyre as if nothing were different. Do I make myself absolutely clear?” He spoke softly, but with an edge of intense menace. Nomack had seen a few try arguing with him when he was like that. They hadn’t lived long afterwards.

“Of course.” The wolf nodded nervously. “But I am a little curious as to why…”

Kameryn’s expression softened again, his jovial mood returning. “Because it’s all part of my plan.”

“But I thought the plan was to get Herrick to join the Brotherhood?” Nomack frowned.

“Come now, Calhoun,” Kameryn chuckled. “You know me. Did you really think you would know everything that I had planned?”

“No.” Nomack muttered. “I suppose I wouldn’t.”

The black wolf leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. “You’ll find that my game isn’t quite over yet. All the relevant players are making their way to Pyre to play out their roles just as I had always intended.”

And I’m one of the players you’ve been manipulating all along. The larger wolf thought. It wouldn’t be the first time. The thought of protesting this treatment of him to his old mentor briefly flitted across his thoughts, but was quickly discarded. He knew all too well just how dangerous Kameryn was, and how changeable his mood could be.

“It might also interest you to know that your old assistant Mr. Thorne is dead.” Said Kameryn.

“You mean the Brotherhood spy sent to keep an eye on me is dead.” Nomack corrected.

“Glad to see you haven’t totally lost the skills I taught you.” The black wolf grinned. “I thought maybe you’d forgotten the things I taught you, especially since shortly after I left you last, you went and ruined the business I helped you build. I can’t say how much I was disappointed when I heard about that. I was hoping you would still have the ability to have guessed who Thorne really was. His name was actually Mallory, if you’re interested.”

“As it happens, I’m not.” Nomack shrugged. “How did he die?”

“Crossbow bolt to the chest.” Said Kameryn, with a smile. “Officially, he was attacked by bandits for his money. Unofficially, I killed him and then took his money to create the appearance that he was robbed. He was a loose end who was no longer needed. Also, I couldn’t resist the chance to have a little fun. Making his last moments of life as miserable as possible by informing him of the truth of what he’d been helping me to do was particularly entertaining.”

Just like Mr. Kameryn. He always enjoyed inflicting pain, either physical or psychological, on those who were inferior to him. And it just so happened that everyone was inferior to him. It was an attitude that Nomack had always done his best to learn from…

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

“Exhilirating, isn’t it?”

Nomack looked to where Kameryn was stood, at the very edge of the roof, overlooking the long drop to the street below, the wind and rain whipping at his clothes and fur.

“That’s not the word I’d use!” Nomack called out above the sounds of the thunderstorm.

The black wolf shot his a disapproving look. “You really need to learn to enjoy yourself more, Cal.” He stepped back from the edge and approached Nomack. “But now it’s time for today’s lesson.”

He led the way across the rain-lashed rooftop toward the doorway and the stairs that led down into the interior of the abandoned building to which he had summoned Nomack. In the few months since Nomack had first met Kameryn, he had come to learn just how dangerous and unstable the black wolf could be. But since he had also helped him rebuild his shattered business, Nomack had learned to live with it.

But there was no telling what the ‘lesson’ Kameryn had prepared might involve. The black wolf led the way through dimly lit crumbling hallways to a room in which a series of torches were burning.

The light from the torches illuminated what was sat in the centre of the room, a figure tied to a chair, blindfolded and gagged. It was a tall and thin cougar, wearing bedraggled clothing. To his horror, Nomack recognised him.

“That’s Harrison Fisk!” He hissed to Kameryn.

“Of course it is!” The smaller wolf grinned back at him. “Harrison Fisk, who currently stands as your biggest business rival in this city. And the subject of today’s little lesson.”

“He went missing a few days ago.” Nomack muttered, shocked that his newfound mentor would go as far as kidnapping.

Kameryn shrugged. “What can I say? I planned this in advance.” He strolled across the room and ripped the blindfold from his prisoner. The cougar glanced about in surprise and confusion. Once he noticed Nomack, he started trying to shout, but since he was still gagged, all that he could manage were muffled cries.

“What’s the point of all this?” Nomack asked, desperately.

The black wolf pulled a long jagged knife from a pocket. He walked over to Nomack and pressed the weapon into his hands. “The point is for you to prove how ruthless you can be, Cal. I do believe its time you made your first kill.”

Nomack glanced at the knife in his hand and then to the restrained cougar. “You want me to kill him?”

“Of course!” Kameryn laughed. “That’s not a problem, is it?”

“I don’t know…” Nomack stammered. He was prepared to do a lot of things to succeed. But murder was a big step…

“Look at him!” Said Kameryn. “A weak and pathetic specimen compared to the likes of you. He’s inferior to you, beneath even your contempt. It is within your rights to simply put him out of his misery if you so choose.”

“Then I can also choose not to kill him…” Said Nomack.

“Yes, you can.” Kameryn nodded, his voice taking on a threatening edge as he spoke. “But to do that would be a sign of weakness, an unwillingness to do what you must. I would be very disappointed in you. I might even start looking upon you as an inferior…”

Nomack looked at him and their eyes met for a moment. The large wolf looked away quickly. The depths of malice he saw in Kameryn’s eyes frightened him more than he’d ever admit.

“Come now.” Kameryn said, his voice suddenly gentle. He took Nomack by the arm and led him over to Harrison Fisk, who was now struggling against his bonds. “It’s not too difficult. Just take the knife and slip it in between his ribs. One swift movement, and it’s all over.”

Nomack looked down at the cougar tied to the chair. He wanted to learn from Kameryn, be as strong as ruthless as he was, so he tried to look at Fisk how Kameryn would.

He was shaking in fear, glaring up at him, a pleading look in his eyes. It was quite pathetic. This cougar couldn’t even meet his fate with dignity. No doubt if the gag were removed, he’d been begging for his life to be spared. Kameryn was right, Fisk was less than him, inferior and expendable. He held onto that thought as he closed his eyes and plunged the blade of the knife deep into the cougar’s chest.

The cougar’s muffled cries of pain soon faded while Nomack held the knife in place. He opened his eyes to see Fisk’s still-warm blood oozing out over his hand. He let go of the knife at last and stood there staring at his bloody hand. Murder had been easier than he’d expected.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Said Kameryn, who was grinning broadly. “Removing his life with but a single movement. Feeling his life’s blood gush out over your fingers. Exercising your superiority over him.” He kicked the dead cougar in the chest and both he and the chair feel over backwards, striking the floor with a dull thud.

“I’m proud of you.” Said the black wolf, patting Nomack on the back. “How did it feel?”

Nomack smiled at his mentor. “It felt good…”

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

The meal with Acheron passed almost silently.

There were a few attempts by Royce and Tobias to ask questions, after they had made camp and settled down with a few provisions for a meal, but when the white tiger ignored them to focus on his food, it quickly became obvious that he would start talking when he was good and ready.

And there was no conversation between the others, each of them remained wrapped up in their own thoughts regarding Acheron as they ate.

Eventually, Acheron finished his food and put his plate aside, looking at the expectant faces of his three companions. “Let’s get started then, shall we? We have a lot to talk about.”

Royce opened his mouth to say something, but the white tiger silenced him with a glare before he spoke.

“First, there is no doubt that you have questions.” Acheron began. “And I’m sorry to disappoint you but I will not be answering them. I will tell you what I can, but the rest… well, it’s for the best if you discover it for yourselves." 

“Let’s begin with the really obvious thing. My appearance, or specifically why I have not aged a day since either Tobias or Royce last saw me. It’s a very long story, but the basics of it are that I am not like others. I have lived a very long time, much longer than you would suspect. I am unique, and that is all you’re going to get from me on that subject for the moment. I suggest you learn to accept it quickly, because we have more important things to deal with.”

“You see technically, I am not unique. There is one other like me. But while we are essentially the same, we are also very different. We are very much long time enemies. We’ve always been in conflict, and always will be, by virtue of our very nature. I am here now because I believe he is responsible for what has been going on.”

“Who is he?” Asked Tobias.

“Oh, he’s had many names over the years.” Said Acheron. “Just as I have. It’s probably best just to think of him as ‘the Enemy’ for now, since I don’t know what identity he might be using at the moment.”

“And how can you be certain he’s involved?” Said Royce.

“Because part of what he is a master manipulator.” Acheron explained. “Always planning several steps ahead of everyone else. A plan of such complexity as the one that has been playing out is just the sort of thing he excels at. More than that, I can feel it. He is the one orchestrating this whole thing from behind the scenes. Trust me on that.”

“But what is he after?” Royce wanted to know.

“What he’s always after.” Acheron shrugged. “Me. I would speculate that he has set up this whole thing in an attempt to draw me out of hiding, at which he has succeeded I might add, so that he and I can once more engage in our ongoing conflict.”

“Are you saying that everything I’ve been put through has been down to some old enemy of yours trying to get at you?” Said Royce.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Said Acheron, sadly.

“So in a way, all the crap I’ve been through is your fault?” Royce snarled.

“You could put it that way, I suppose…” The white tiger sighed.

Royce leapt angrily to his feet. He was about to say something but faltered, as if unsure of what exactly to say. Instead, he turned and stormed away from the campfire. A second later, Armin got up and went after him.

“I could have handled that better.” Acheron muttered.

“He’ll get over it.” Said Tobias. “Give him some time and he’ll realise it’s not your fault.”

“I know.” Said Acheron. “In the meantime, let’s talk about you and your problems.”

“What do you mean?” Said Tobias, feigning innocence.

“Please, Tobias, I can read you like an open book.” Said Acheron. “You’re blaming yourself for what the Brotherhood has become.”

“Well, who else is there to blame?” Tobias sighed. “After you left, I was the most senior member of the Brotherhood. But I failed to see what was going on…”

“I never asked you to take responsibility for things.” Acheron pointed out.

“But I did all the same because someone had to!” Said Tobias.

“What happened is not your fault.” The white tiger stated. “Do you remember when I left the Brotherhood?”

“Of course.” Tobias nodded. “That was the kind of thing I wouldn’t just forget…”

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

Tobias was late.

He rushed through the torch-lit hallways, bound for Acheron’s chambers, located deep within the caverns of Central. He had no idea why his old white tiger friend had summoned him. All he did know was that Acheron had been very withdrawn for months, keeping to himself, spending most of his time locked away in his rooms with his only own thoughts for company. And he refused to tell anyone why.

Tobias suspected it had something to do with him being asked to step down as the head of the Brotherhood, to allow someone younger and fitter to take charge. And the fact that several Brotherhood projects Acheron had strongly disapproved of had gone ahead anyway didn’t help.

The young wolf arrived at the door to Acheron’s living quarters and stopped for a moment to catch his breath before knocking. The door was quickly opened, but it wasn’t Acheron. It was his friend Barret, a short and burly rabbit.

“We’ve been waiting for you.” He said, motioning him inside. It was quickly obvious that Tobias wasn’t the only one who had been summoned.

Taking up one of the chairs in the main room of Acheron’s chamber was the lithe feline form of Vance. The ocelot looked tense and unhappy. But then, he usually did. It was just the way he was.

Also in the room, pacing restlessly back and forth, was the young coyote named Bruck, who glared accusingly at Tobias as he entered.

And of course there was Acheron himself. He was on the far side of the room, his back turned to everyone. He seemed to be studying a painting hanging from the wall.

“You’re here at last.” Said Acheron, without turning around. “We can get started.”

Tobias and Barret took seats on a few chairs. Bruck chose to remain standing. “What’s this all about then?” The coyote demanded.

“I’ve reached a decision.” Acheron explained, turning to face them all at last. Tobias was struck by the look of sadness in his eyes. “The four of you are my closest friends around here, you were my first recruits, you all helped me build the Brotherhood. So I cannot do what I’m about to do without telling you all first.”

“What are you talking about?” Vance frowned. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to be leaving the Brotherhood.” Said the white tiger. “For good. I’ve summoned you all here to say goodbye.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. It was Barret who found his voice first.

“You… you can’t leave!” Said the rabbit.

“On the contrary.” Said Acheron. “That is exactly what I’m going to do.”

“But why?” Vance asked.

“I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time.” The white tiger explained. “The reasons are many and complex. The Brotherhood has grown far beyond what I had intended. It has ceased being what I wanted it to be. And there are other reasons which I must keep to myself.”

“But…” Tobias began.

“Please don’t waste time trying to talk me out of it.” Said Acheron. “My mind is made up. Just understand that this has been an extremely difficult decision for me to make. I will miss you all a great deal and hope that we will meet again some day.”

“When are you planning on leaving then?” Bruck wanted to know.

“As soon as possible.” Acheron replied. “But before I went, I wanted to say my farewells to the four of you and leave you all with some advice. Make your own decisions, do whatever you want to do with your life. As cliché as it may sound, follow your heart, wherever it may lead you.”

The white tiger gave his friends a moment to take this in, before adding. “Also, do not trust Oberon Kane. No good can come from it. But I’d advise you not share that with anyone outside this room. For your own safety.”

“Oberon Kane?” Tobias spluttered. “That young panther captain? Why him?”

“I can’t explain.” Said Acheron. “You’ll just have to trust me.”

“I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we trust you more than anyone.” Said Bruck.

“Very well.” Acheron nodded, strolling over to the door that led to his bed chamber. “Remember what I’ve told you. Farewell, my friends.” He opened the door and stepped inside. The door closed behind him.

Barret, Bruck and Vance all glanced expectantly at Tobias, and he knew why. He was closer to the white tiger than any of them. If anyone could talk Acheron out of this foolish idea of his, it would be him.

Tobias walked over to the bedroom door and yanked it open. But he was shocked to find that the room beyond was empty. There was no sign of Acheron, no other exit from the room, and nowhere for him to hide.

“He’s gone…”

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

“To this day, I still have no idea how you got out of that room…”

“And I’m sorry that I have to keep you guessing.” Acheron said. “But the best illusionists never reveal their secrets. The point is, what I couldn’t tell you back then is that I discovered my Enemy had gained influence over several key Brotherhood members. The organisation was no longer in my control, but in his, and there was nothing I could do about it. In the time since then, I imagine his influence has grown." 

“You’re saying that the Brotherhood has become a tool of this enemy of yours?” Said Tobias, shocked.

“Yes.” Acheron nodded. “He has a way of manipulating people, he is very good at making them believe what he wants them to believe. If he set his mind to it, he would have no trouble getting numerous key members to do exactly what he wants. At the time I left I suspected Oberon Kane in particular of being connected to him, but had no evidence. And believe me, if he didn’t want anyone to notice what was going on, then no one would have noticed. Even you. I imagine most of the Brotherhood hasn’t a clue, he would have been very careful about that.”

Tobias didn’t like to think about the implications of Oberon Kane being in league with this ‘Enemy’. “If that’s all true, then why have I noticed now?” He asked. “Do you think he’s slipped up?”

The white tiger gave his old friend a weak smile. “You know the answer to that. You know what you do now because he wanted you to. I daresay this is all part of his larger plan. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he knows right where we are and where we’re headed. He’ll be expecting us in Pyre.”

“So we’re walking into a trap.” Tobias nodded. “What can we do about it?”

“Walk right into it, of course.” Said Acheron, his smile widening. “My Enemy isn’t the only one capable of planning ahead. I did tell you that we are essentially the same. In some ways at least.”

“So you have a plan?”

“That’s an understatement.” Acheron chuckled. “I have several. It’s the way these things go. Encounters between him and me always begin with us trying to outmaneuver each other.”

“Any chance of sharing your plan so the rest of us can know what to expect when we reach Pyre?” Tobias asked.

“I’m sorry.” Acheron shook his head. “But I believe it’s best if I keep my plans to myself at this point. There are elements of them you’re not going to like, however necessary they may be. But you already knew that before you asked.”

“I can sometimes read you like an open book as well.” Tobias smiled.

“Whatever happened to the others?” Acheron asked, changing the subject suddenly. “I’ve always wondered.”

“Vance died.” Tobias said, sadly. “Heart attack, several years ago. Barret is gone too, killed and robbed by bandits on the road a few years after you left.”

“I suspected they were no longer with us.” Acheron sighed, his expression falling.

“And as for Bruck…”

“Oh, I know what happened to Bruck.” Acheron interrupted.

The old wolf’s eyes widened in surprise. “You do?”

“Yes.”

“Then could you tell me?”

“You mean you don’t know?” The white tiger said.

“All I know is that he left a year or two after you did.” Tobias explained. “He was getting fed up with all the rules and strictures the Brotherhood was adopting, so he decided to follow your example and leave. I don’t know what became of him after that.”

“I don’t believe it.” Acheron muttered. “He promised me he’d get in touch with you and let you know he was okay. He even told me he had done it last time I met him.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like Bruck.” Said Tobias. “Even you had trouble keeping him under control at the best of times. So he is okay?”

“Well, it has been a few years since I last saw him,” Said Acheron, “but yeah, he’s safe and well. He’s even found a place where he fits in, if you can believe that. But that’s one very long story, I’ll have to tell you it sometime.”

“I’m just glad to here he’s alive.” Said Tobias.

Things lapsed briefly into silence between the two old friends.

“One other thing I’ve been wondering.” Said the white tiger, speaking up. “Have you followed the advice I gave you the day I left?”

Tobias nodded. “Of course. Even if my actions as a result have gained me a reputation for being unorthodox.”

“Have you ever questioned the advice?”

Tobias nodded a second time. “Of course.”

Acheron grinned. “Glad to hear it. I may be a big believer in loyalty. But I cannot stomach blind faith.”

“I know.” Said Tobias.

There was silence again for a few moments.

“I know you said you wouldn’t be answering questions.” Said Tobias. “But there is one thing I have to ask, whether you answer it or not. How do seem to know everything that’s been going on? All that Royce has been through, the complex plan that has been playing out around us, even where we were heading. You seem to know it all, even though none of us have a told you a thing…”

The white tiger thought for a few moments. “All I’ll say in response to that,” he said, “is that longevity is only one of my ‘unique’ abilities.” He smiled. “In fact, if you get the chance, you should ask Royce about some of his recent unusual dreams.”

Tobias frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“No.” Acheron nodded. “But he might. And that would be a step in the right direction.”

Silence once again returned between them. After a few minutes, Tobias noticed his old mentor glancing in the direction Royce and Armin had gone.

“Perhaps you should go talk to him?” Tobias suggested.

“Might make him feel better if I explained things a little further to him.” Said Acheron.

“Might make you feel better as well.” Said the wolf.

The white tiger got to his feet, smiling at Tobias. He walked away from the camp site.

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

“You know it’s not really his fault.”

Royce looked at Armin. Up till then, the leopard had elected to remain silent since they had left the camp, simply sitting beside him on the ground as he had sat their fuming.

“You heard him!” Royce snarled. “All the pain and suffering I’ve been down to this old enemy of his!”

“That doesn’t make it his fault and you know it.” Armin countered.

“Perhaps it would have been better if I’d never met him…” Royce muttered.

“Now you’re just being stupid.” Armin chuckled. “As I understand it, if you had never met him, you’d still be nothing more than a slave.

Royce was about to snap angrily at him, but managed to restrain himself. He took a deep breath. “Do you really have to go bringing logic into this?” He said.

“Of course.” Armin nodded. “Would you expect any less of me?”

“He has done good for me.” Royce admitted.

“Then maybe he’s earned more than just your anger?” Armin suggested. “Maybe you should talk to him?”

“And to think,” Said Acheron, from behind them, “some say I have bad timing…”

The two of them glanced back at the tall white tiger standing there. “I think you and I should talk, Royce.” He said.

“And I think that’s a good idea.” Said Armin, as he stood up. “I’ll leave you to it.” He strolled past Acheron, bound for the campfire. The white tiger took his place sitting beside Royce.

There was silence between them for the first few minutes, both of them not sure where to start. This was their first chance to speak properly with each other in many years.

“So, how are you doing Royce?” Said Acheron, feeling that at least one of them should make a start. “I hope the road to recovery isn’t proving too painful…”

“What do you care?” Royce snapped.

Acheron stared back at him in shock.

“It seems to me you made it very clear you don’t give a crap about me.” Royce said. “You abandoned me all those years ago and I never heard from you again. You probably didn’t even give me a second thought.”

“I can see why you might think that.” Acheron replied. “But it’s simply not true.”

“Then why no word since you saw me last?” Royce demanded. “No messages, no visits…”

“I had to leave you be to live your own life,” Acheron tried to explain, “with as little interference from me as possible. But I did not simply abandon you. I did discreetly keep tabs on you, in case you should get in serious trouble and need my help. The very second I discovered what happened to you, I set out to come back. It’s just that I was some distance away and it’s taken me some time to get here. And I did visit you a few times over the years. Travelled all the way to Pyre on a couple of occasions to watch some of your fights.”

The tiger glared at him in surprise. “Really?”

“Yes.” Acheron smiled. “Of course, I didn’t stop by to say hello or anything because as I said, I wanted you to get on with your own life. Did you really think I wouldn’t take an interest in what you were doing?”

“But still,” Royce said. “No contact at all…”

Acheron sighed. “There is another very good reason for that.” He admitted. “I had to try and stay hidden as much as possible. Getting in touch could have potentially given my location away to my Enemy, or that I knew you at all.”

“Well, he seems to have found out that I know you.” Said Royce.

“Yes, I slipped up, unfortunately.” Said Acheron. “I’m good at covering my tracks, but I recently remembered that there was one thing I neglected to take care of. The documentation when I first bought you from Nomack. I would imagine it made its way to my Enemy via intelligence agents of the Brotherhood, who probably got hold of it somewhere due to my name being on it. My mistake led my Enemy to you. For that, I am very sorry.”

A part of Royce wanted to use that admission as an excuse for a tirade of anger against the white tiger. But he was able to suppress it. It would accomplish nothing. It wouldn’t even make him feel better.

“So you weren’t able to think of everything.” Royce shrugged. “That’s not something to apologise for. The truth is, I am very glad you’re here to help. I have missed you.”

“And I’ve missed you.” Said Acheron. “You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’m been tempted to get in touch over the years.”

“That’s good to know.” Royce said, giving his old mentor a weak smile. “But I’m curious. Why hide at all? Why not just face this enemy and have done with it?”

“Because this conflict between us just does not end.” Acheron said. “I doubt it ever will. And for the sake of others I prefer to avoid a confrontation if at all possible.”

“What do you mean?”

“Whenever we meet face to face,” The white tiger explained. “From experience, I know that when things get that far, our conflict can be pretty destructive. Others tend to get hurt. I like to avoid that if I can.”

“But then why come out of hiding now?” Royce asked.

“How could I not, after what he did to you?” Acheron replied. “He will be waiting alongside Nomack in Pyre for you. The only chance you have of surviving whatever he may have in store is if I am there to help you. Unless you would consider giving up on your revenge plans?”

Royce shook his head. “Not a chance.”

“I know.” Said Acheron. “He made sure that what was done to you was terrible enough so that nothing would be able to dissuade you from seeking revenge on Nomack. Because he knew that I would then have to come out of hiding to help you.”

“I don’t believe that.” Said Royce. “Going after Nomack was my choice.”

“I’m sure it seems that way.” Said Acheron sadly.

“Don’t worry so much.” Royce patted the white tiger on the shoulder as he stood up. “I’m ready for whatever Nomack and your old Enemy may have waiting for me.” He turned and left for the campfire.

Acheron watched him go. “No.” He muttered. “You’re not. And that’s exactly why I’m so worried…”

To Be Continued…

 


Go to Chapter 12...

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

The Art Gallery/The Library/The Comic Store/Links/Commissions

Return to Main Page

E-Mail me: cyberklaw@yahoo.com