Chapter 12 – Unfinished Business

“I saw him!”

Barnell looked up from his book at his father. The older bear was perched by the window, staring out. “Please, let’s not go through this again…”

Boswell glared back at him. “I’ll telling you, I saw him out there just a moment ago, looking at me! Royce is alive!”

“You’ve been saying that for days,” The large muscular bear pointed out, “and you’ve been the only one to see him.”

“I know, but…”

“You have to accept it, father.” Barnell sighed. “Royce is dead. That can’t be changed.”

The older bear’s face fell. “I know. But I keep seeing him! I… I’m afraid I might be losing my mind…”

Barnell closed his book and put it aside. He stood up and wandered over to his father. “Don’t talk like that.” He said as he gave Boswell a comforting hug. “You’re just going through a bad patch right now, what with everything that’s been happening. We both are. But we’ll get through it. Now come on, you need to rest.” The large bear led Boswell through to his bedroom.

A few minutes later, once he was sure his father was lying down and resting comfortably, Barnell returned to his chair and his book. But he gave up trying to get some reading done. His heart just wasn’t in it.

The truth was he was just as worried as his father. Worried that Boswell was losing his mind. The way he’d been rambling on about seeing Royce for days now, there was no way he couldn’t worry about it. But it was just the top of a long list of worries. Everything had been going wrong since Royce’s death.

But he did his best not to think about it too much. For his father’s sake, he had to be strong…

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

“Having fun?”

Royce spun around, startled. He hadn’t heard anyone approach. But then, he had been pretty caught up in his own thoughts as he watched the home of Boswell and Barnell just across the street.

He found Armin standing beside him in the alleyway. The young leopard did not look happy.

“No, I’m not having ‘fun’.” Royce replied. “I’m just doing what has to be done.”

“Attempting to drive an old bear mad?” Armin spat. “I wouldn’t think of such a thing as ever being necessary.”

“Then you fail to understand the situation.” Royce shot back.

“All I understand is that your desire for revenge is driving you to do things you wouldn’t normally do.” Said Armin. “This friend of yours…”

“He’s not my friend!” Royce interrupted. “Not anymore.”

“Whoever he is.” The leopard continued. “He hurt you deeply with his betrayal. I can understand the temptation to cause him grief in return. But giving in to that temptation is not the way to go.” He put a reassuring hand on the tiger’s shoulder. “There are other ways.”

Royce thought about it. Perhaps Armin was right; perhaps it was best to deal with Boswell some other way. This wasn't what he’d been intending, he’d had other plans for his former friend all the way to Pyre. But then he’d laid eyes on the old bear, the full sting of the betrayal had struck again and he’d changed his mind, wanting to make him suffer. Even now, it was still hurting.

He brushed away the leopard’s hand. “There may be other ways, but I’m doing this my way.”

Armin looked at him angrily. “Very well.” He said, simply, before turning and stalking away, leaving the tiger alone once again.

Royce returned his attention to Boswell’s home across the street, planning his next move against his former friend. He sat himself down on the ground, his back against the wall, making sure he still had a good view of the old bear’s building. 

It felt strange, he reflected as he waited there, to be back in Pyre, the city he had called home for so long. So much had happened to him, had been done to him, that try as he might, he couldn’t think of this dry and corrupt place as home any more. The city felt unfamiliar and alien to him now.

He could remember how happy he’d been when he’d first arrived in Pyre all those years ago, how special the place had seemed. Remote enough to be far away from his former existence, but still enough of a bustling city for there to be plenty of opportunity to settle and build a new life for himself.

His first few months had sullied that view of Pyre a little, as he’d been pit-fighting on the rough underground circuit, and it wasn’t exactly glamorous. But once he’d been spotted and befriended by Boswell Kincaid, things had improved. Things had been good.

Until Boswell had betrayed him.

Boswell had always been a good friend to him, helped him through bad times, supported him, been there for him. It was why the betrayal hurt so much.

On a rational level, the tiger knew that Boswell had been presented with no other choice. That he’d had to do it to save the life of one of his sons. But that knowledge did little to help with the lingering sting from what his old friend had done.

But, being honest with himself, what he was doing now wasn’t helping either. He hated it, but it was actually making him feel guilty. It was if all that Boswell had done for him warranted a less harsh form of retribution.

Sitting there, thinking about it, maybe that was true. Maybe Armin had been right when he’d said there were other ways…

There was movement across the street, suddenly drawing his attention. It was Barnell, dressed in simple loose clothing, leaving the building, locking the door behind him. The large brown bear then headed off down the street. Royce knew that the Stone Walls Arena lay in that direction, and realised he must be going to do some training.

Watching Barnell go, Royce suddenly knew what he wanted to do next…

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

Killian strode confidently through the back areas of the Stone Walls Arena, his expensive silver-topped cane clicking on the stone floor as he hobbled along. A determined look was set the lion’s features as he made his way to the training area.

There were many fighters there at the moment, sparring and training with one another. The increased savagery the pit-fights had taken on during his time as manager of the place had led to the need to have more fighters, to fill in for those who had been injured while they recovered.

Of course the crowds loved it. Profits were up, much higher than things had been under Kincaid’s inept management. So if he had to be continually hiring new fighters to replace those that had died, it was worth it.

He stopped at the edge of the training area for a moment, watching the horde of pit-fighters going through their routine, briefly recalling the days when he’d been one of them.

But he was there on business, and had spotted whom he was there for. “Dex!” He called out. “Dex, get over here this second! We need to talk!”

A bulky Dalmatian detached himself from a group that were practicing moves and headed over to the lion, his muscles rippling as walked. Like many of the training fighters, the dog was wearing only the traditional pit-fighter’s loincloth.

“Yeah, boss?” Dex drawled, annoyed at the interruption.

Killian simply beckoned him to follow and led him away. Once they were a good way down the corridor away from the training area, he turned to face the fighter.

“I heard you told my assistant you weren’t going to be doing you’re scheduled fight tonight?” The lion said.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Dex nodded. “My shoulder’s still sore from that fight yesterday. I’m gonna give it an extra day to let it heal right.”

“I see.” Killian muttered. He beckoned Dex forward with a finger. “Let me tell you something.” He said quietly. The Dalmatian leaned in slightly.

The lion’s fist lashed out with lightning speed, catching the canine squarely on the chin and causing him to yelp in pain and stumble back a few steps, slumping against the wall. Killian relished the look of shock and surprise on the dog’s face, at the fact that this crippled lion could strike with such strength and ferocity. Of course, Dex didn’t know that although Killian wasn’t a fighter anymore and had a bad leg, he still kept in shape.

“What the fu…?” Dex started to snarl. But was cut off as Killian struck him across the head with the end of his cane.

“Now, you listen to me, muscle-head!” The lion growled. “You’ve only been here a few days so perhaps you haven’t picked up on how things work here yet! You fighters do as you’re told! You fight when I say so, no excuses! That’s what you signed up for!”

“Hey! I…” The dog tried to protest.

“Don’t give me any crap, Dex!” Killian spat. “Go against me, and you’ll regret it.”

“Really?” Dex chuckled. “What can a poor crippled kitty like you possibly do?”

“I can fix it so that you never fight again.” Killian sneered at him. “These days, I have the money and the connections to see to it that you are never able to be a pit-fighter anywhere within this kingdom, either in an official arena, or on the underground circuit. Understand?”

“You couldn’t…” Said Dex, but his face told a different story. He’d obviously heard how powerful Killian had become and so what he was being told could be true. 

Killian pressed on. “I could even make it difficult for you to find any sort of work at all. Or, if you push me far enough, a worse fate could await you. Just ask Nathan Frost. He tried to back out of the fights I set him as well, needing more healing time.”

Dex frowned. “Frost? Wasn’t he that polar bear who used to fight here? The one who was found dead in an alley one day?”

The lion just grinned. “Exactly.”

The dog’s eyes widened in shock and his expression paled.

“So I expect you to be in the Arena tonight for your scheduled fight.” Said Killian, his voice now pleasant. He patted the Dalmatian on the shoulder and walked away.

Once he was gone, the canine straightened up, his shocked look vanishing in an instant as his face split into an enormous grin.

“Well,” Dex muttered to himself as he headed back to the training area. “This is going very well…”

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

Barnell trudged through the baking hot streets of Pyre. He was already late for his training session, but frankly, he didn’t care if Killian was pissed at him. It wouldn’t be the first time. Or the last.

His worries about his father still preyed on his mind. He wasn’t sure what to do. Ever since Royce had died, he’d been getting more and more withdrawn, almost constantly down and depressed. It had been bad, but Barnell had managed to convince himself that his father just needed time to deal with what had happened before he could move on. Of course, everything else that had gone wrong hadn’t helped things in the slightest.

And now this latest twist, seeing Royce everywhere. It had him concerned far more than he was letting on. If his father was losing his grip on reality, he had no idea what he could do about it. He had considered leaving the city, taking his father and going elsewhere, putting the foul memories of Pyre behind them. But he was still employed at the Arena. And Killian was more than enough of a bastard to do everything he could to make sure Barnell regretted it if he ran out on his contract. He’d proven that with Nathan Frost.

Nathan Frost, the polar bear fighter who’d stood up to Killian, but turned up dead barely a day later. There was no evidence that linked the crippled lion to the death; it was just something everyone at the Arena knew.

So all in all, Barnell’s list of options was a short one. And he was so wrapped up in his thoughts about the problems facing him and his father, that he didn’t notice the familiar tiger following him through the streets, closing in on him.

“I think we should talk, my friend.” Said Royce, as he drew level with the big bear.

Barnell skidded to a halt, staring at the tiger in absolute shock, all his worries instantly forgotten. He was dumbstruck. Which was what Royce had been hoping for.

“Please don’t say anything.” Royce said, quickly and quietly. “I can understand the shock of a friend who’s supposed to be dead approaching you in the street, but I’d rather not draw too much attention to myself. Let’s go somewhere more private and we can talk.”

Barnell managed a slight nod. “Okay…” He stuttered, still glaring at Royce in wide-eyed shock.

“Then follow me.” Said the tiger. “I know a place.” With that he turned and headed off through the streets, Barnell stumbling after him.

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

Armin was trying to meditate.

He was sat in the middle of the floor in the main room of the small rented house on the outskirts of Pyre that they’d been using as base of operations since reaching the city a few days before. He was cross-legged and had his eyes closed, breathing deeply.

The leopard was trying to relax and put aside the anger his talk with Royce had brought up. But he wasn’t really succeeding.

Armin heard the door open behind him, but did his best to ignore it. And the footsteps that thudded across the floorboards towards him.

“You know, I’m pretty certain you’re doing that wrong.”

The leopard opened his eyes to find that Acheron was standing over him, with one his customary warm smiles.

“I have studied meditation for many years.” Armin explained. “I think I know what I’m doing. These techniques I learned from texts written by the renowned Hyrul.”

“Ah.” Said Acheron, knowingly, sitting himself down opposite the leopard. He adopted a similar cross-legged position. “Well, he could never get it right either.”

Armin frowned at the white tiger, trying to figure out if he was joking.

“Don’t get me wrong.” Said Acheron. “Hyrul was a nice guy, did a lot of good in the world. But when it comes to meditation, he really wasn’t as good at it as many like to believe.”

“Knew him well, did you?” Said Armin, skeptically.

“Sort of.” Acheron shrugged. “Who do you think had nightmares trying to teach him meditation in the first place?”

The leopard shook his head in disbelief. “Hyrul lived almost three thousand years ago.”

“I know.” Said Acheron. “What’s your point?”

Armin looked into the white tiger’s eyes and realised with a shock he was being serious. “You’re three thousand years old?”

“Older actually.” Acheron grinned.

“I knew you had been around for some time…” Said Armin, “but thousands of years?”

“Yeah, amazing isn’t it?” Acheron replied, running a hand through his head-fur. “All that time and not a single grey hair.”

“How old are you?” The leopard asked.

“Older than you’d believe.” Acheron told him. “But enough about me. You seem to be pretty tense. And I know a way to deal with it that can be just as good as meditation.”

“And what would that be?”

“Talking about it.”

Armin sighed. He supposed it might help. “It’s Royce…”

“Let me guess.” Acheron interrupted. “You disapprove of what he’s doing?”

“Well, of course!” Said Armin.

“Did you do your best to convince him to find some other way?” The white tiger asked.

“Yes, but he wouldn’t take any notice.” Armin answered.

“Then exactly what else can you do?” Said Acheron.

“I…” Armin began. “I don’t know.”

“That is because there is nothing else you can do.” Acheron shrugged. “Royce has to make his own decisions and follow his own path through life, just like the rest of us. You can offer him advice, but in the end, what he does is down to him alone.”

“I just thought he’d listen to me.” Said the leopard, sadly. “I thought we were beginning to get close as friends. I guess I was wrong.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Acheron reassured him. “It‘s just that a lot happened to him in this city. Being back here is bound to be a somewhat emotional experience. That is undoubtedly fuelling his desire for revenge.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t tried talking him out of it.” Armin pointed out. “He’s more likely to listen to you.”

“He’s made up his mind that revenge is the course of action for him.” Acheron said. “At this point, I don’t think anyone could talk him out of it. Besides, I’ve been busy.”

“I’ve noticed.” Said Armin. “Ever since we got to Pyre, you’ve been disappearing for great lengths of time. What have you been doing?”

“Making preparations.” Said Acheron. “It won’t be too long before my Enemy knows we’re in town, if he doesn’t already. Which means events will soon start moving more quickly. I have been trying to put things in place before then.”

“What things?” Armin said, now confused. “What kind of preparations are you talking about?”

“Now is not the time for such explanations.” Said Acheron firmly; giving the young leopard the instant impression he wouldn’t be giving him anything more on the subject. “In fact, I’m sure now is the time when you are supposed to be relieving Tobias over at the Stone Walls Arena.”

Armin got to his feet, realising that the white tiger was correct. Tobias was expecting him. The lack of solid answers bothered him a little, but from what he’d seen of Acheron since meeting him, he knew that if he didn’t want to give any answers, then none would be given.

He bid farewell to the large white tiger and headed for the door. Before leaving, he glanced briefly back at the mysterious Acheron. He had closed his eyes and was meditating. But it was his expression that stuck in Armin’s mind at that point. It was one he hadn’t seen on Acheron’s face at all before.

He looked worried. Very worried.

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

Killian stalked into his office, grumbling to himself about the arrogance of fighters these days.

He came to a halt just inside the door in surprise. Someone was in there. A wolf with black fur was lounging in his chair, feet up on the desk. He seemed to be taking a nap.

“Who the hell are you?” The crippled lion shouted, hobbling across to the desk.

The black wolf woke with a start and looked shocked at Killian.

“We don’t look too kindly on intruders around here!” Killian was roaring, “You’re in real trouble, and the really funny thing is you have no idea how much!”

The wolf was looking more bemused now.

“Well?” Killian demanded. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

The wolf simply laughed. “It’s been so long since anyone dared talk to me in such a tone.” He said. “Its rather refreshing. So refreshing that I think I won’t leap across this desk and skin you alive with my bare hands.”

“Killian?”

The lion turned to see Nomack standing in the doorway of the office. “Mr. Nomack! I didn’t think you were stopping by until this afternoon. I’m sorry about this problem here…”

“It’s not a problem.” The large grey wolf stated firmly, walking into the office and closing the door behind him. “This is Kameryn. A friend.”

With amazing speed, the black-furred wolf leapt across the desk and landed in front of Killian. “That’s Mr. Kameryn to you, little kitty.” He grinned.

Killian looked to Nomack. “Who is this, sir?”

“He’s the one running things.” Nomack told him. “Whatever he tells you to do, you do it.”

Killian simply couldn’t believe it. If he didn’t know better, he’d think Nomack seemed slightly fearful. “You’re telling me this eccentric idiot is in charge?”

Kameryn glared at the lion. Nomack gulped, instantly recognising the black wolf’s body language and knowing what was coming next.

Kameryn sighed deeply. “It’s possible you could regret saying that…”

His hand shot out, grabbing the lion by the throat. Killian immediately dropped his cane, both hands scrabbling to prise the hand from his neck, where it was crushing his windpipe, preventing him from crying out. But it was useless. Kameryn had an iron grip.

The wolf lifted the lion from his feet easily, almost without effort, holding him up by the throat. For a few seconds, he stared into Killian’s eyes, relishing the panic and desperation that filled the lion’s last moments.

Then he turned and slammed the lion head first into the wall, with all the strength he could muster.

Nomack flinched at the sound of cracking stone and breaking bone. When he looked back, he saw Kameryn dropping Killian’s lifeless form to the floor, a bloodied mass where the lion’s head used to be. There was a deep dent in the stone wall as well, with a network of cracks radiating outwards from it, and blood splattered across it.

“Well, you might have regretted it if you’d lived long enough.” Kameryn laughed at the dead feline before him. He pulled a handkerchief from a pocket and started cleaning the blood from his hands.

“I’ll arrange to have the mess cleaned up.” Said Nomack.

“No.” Kameryn strolled over to him and handed him the bloodstained handkerchief. “Leave it all where it is.”

Nomack frowned. “Why?”

“It’ll serve as a nice example.” Kameryn smiled. “To not offend me.” He looked back at the dead lion. “I think it’s also a nice conversation piece. In case we should have unexpected guests. Which I think is a distinct possibility with Royce in the area.”

“He’s in the area?” Nomack frowned.

“Oh yes, he arrived in town a few days ago.” Said the black wolf dismissively. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have places to go and things to arrange.” He departed the room without so much as a backward glance.

So that damn tiger was in the city somewhere? Nomack thought. That was interesting news. He was looking forward to getting rid of him once and for all and putting the whole business behind him. Honestly, it was a little embarrassing that so much time and effort was being spent on a simple slave with delusions of grandeur about his place in life.

But that was apparently the way Kameryn had wanted it. And he wasn’t going to go offending his old mentor.

He glanced at Killian’s body. Then he realised with a sigh that he’d now need to find someone else to run the Arena for him…

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

Barnell followed Royce through the streets of Pyre, his thoughts racing. It was impossible that his friend could be here. He had been killed and cremated. There’d been witnesses and everything.

But yet, here Royce was, alive and well…

The tiger led him away from the more crowded areas of the city and along some of the less-travelled back streets that threaded their way between the clusters of buildings. They eventually came to a stop at a half-demolished and abandoned house with large holes in the walls and part of the roof missing. Royce stepped through the shattered doorway and Barnell followed.

The area beyond was littered with broken furniture and old rubbish, with light filtering in through the gap in the roof.

“We should be able to talk here without being disturbed.” Said Royce, turning to face the big bear.

Barnell stepped forward before the tiger could react and hugged him. “It’s good to see you again, my friend!” He broke off and stepped back, leaving Royce looking a little bemused. “But what happened? How are you still alive? Where…”

“It’s a long, complicated story.” Royce interrupted. “And there are parts of it even I have trouble believing. Suffice to say that ever since that night I was framed for murder, I’ve been through a lot. Most of it painful.”

“I never believed that you killed that tigress.” Said Barnell. “I knew you were not a murderer.”

“And what about the revelation about me being an ex-slave?” Royce asked. “Does it bother you?”

Barnell smiled. “You think I didn’t already know? The number of times we’ve fought each other, both in the pits and in practice, you think I never noticed that scar on your shoulder?”

The tiger frowned in surprise. “You knew? Why did you never say anything?”

The muscular bear shrugged. “I decided that if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me. Otherwise, it was your business, not mine.”

Royce let out a small chuckle. He was finding it surprisingly good to talk to his old friend again.

“Hey!” Said Barnell. “We should go see my father! He’ll be thrilled that you’re alive!”

And suddenly, the good feeling was gone. The tiger’s good humour disappeared in an instant.

Barnell noticed. “What is it, Royce? What’s wrong?”

“I just need to know, Barnell.” Said Royce, facing him seriously. “Were you in on it?”

The large bear frowned. “In on what? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about what your father did.” Said Royce.

“What did my father do?” Barnell said, confused.

The tiger stared into his eyes. “No.” He said, after a moment. “You really don’t know.”

“Know what?” Barnell demanded. “Royce, what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Boswell being a traitorous, back-stabbing bastard.” Royce spat.

“What?” Barnell was shocked to hear the tiger speaking of his father like that.

“He helped frame me.” Royce explained. “He was in on it! How do you think that body got into my room at the Arena? Apart from myself, he was the only one with a key!”

“That is simply ridiculous!” Barnell growled. “My father would never do that!”

“Even if doing so would save the life of his son?” Royce shot back.

Barnell simply frowned in response.

“He made a deal.” Royce went on. “To get the money he needed to pay off Aiden’s debts and thereby save his life. So all this happened thanks to that worthless pathetic brother of yours…”

Royce didn’t see the punch coming. Barnell slammed his fist into the tiger’s face, throwing him from his feet and sending him crashing to the ground, where he glared up at the bear, angry at the sudden attack.

“Aiden is dead!” Barnell snarled. “And I will not listen to anyone talk about him like that!” He turned away. “Even if it may be true…” He added a few seconds later.

Royce sat up. “What happened to him?” He asked, softly.

“He got into a bar fight.” Barnell said. “It happened a few weeks after you ‘died’. He’d started expanding his addictions to include alcohol as well as gambling. Picked the wrong place to go drink, ended up saying something while drunk that offended someone else there. And then he got a knife in his ribs.”

The tiger climbed to his feet. “So Boswell betrayed me to save Aiden’s life, only for him to get himself killed a few weeks later? There has to be some kind of irony there…”

Barnell turned to face him. “Ever since then, things have just got worse as time has gone on. Aiden dying hit my father very hard. A lot of the time, it was as if he just lost the will to live. And then he lost what he still owned of the Arena…”

“How did that happen?” Royce wondered.

“Some small print in the contract he signed with Nomack.” Barnell explained. “If he displays behaviour that may indicate he isn’t in sound mind, his share of the Arena could be bought out, for the good of the business, without him having any say in the matter. Killian, acting on Nomack’s behalf, used father’s grief and depression as evidence of him not being of sound mind. And with him having bribed most of the legal system in Pyre, there was nothing we could do about it.”

Royce suddenly found himself feeling sorry for Boswell. Losing a son, losing what he had left of his business. He knew the old bear well enough to know how much the loss of such treasured things in his life would affect him badly.

But then he remembered the betrayal, and the sting of it, and his sorrow wasn’t as strong anymore. Boswell deserved to suffer, as far as he was concerned.

“And now Killian runs the Arena with an iron fist.” Barnell was saying. “No one dares put a foot wrong with him because he had Frost killed.”

“He what?” Said Royce.

“He had Nathan Frost killed.” Said Barnell. “No one can prove it, but everyone knows it was him. Killian’s always using him as an example of what can happen to someone who gets on his bad side.”

So at least I’ll be doing everyone a favour when I get around to dealing with Killian, Royce was thinking.

“And things just keep getting worse.” The big bear said. “Father rarely leaves the house anymore. I’m supporting us both, which isn’t easy since Killian cut the fighters’ wages in half. And now I think he may be starting to lose his mind as…” He stopped in mid-sentence and stared at Royce. “He’s started seeing you about.”

Royce was once again caught off guard as Barnell’s massive fist came towards him, catching him across the jaw. The tiger hit the floor again.

“You bastard!” Barnell roared. “Why didn’t you get in touch sooner? Father’s been glimpsing you about the city for the past few days, losing his grip on reality…”

“Good!” Royce shot back, rubbing his jaw as he got to his feet again.

“What?” Barnell spluttered.

“You don’t understand!” Royce growled at the bear. “I’ve been purposely letting him glimpse me. I want him to lose his grip on reality! I want him to suffer!”

“He had no choice in what he did to you!” Barnell said, leaping to his father’s defence. “You know that!”

“Yes, I do!” Royce sneered. “And that is why I haven’t personally ripped out his traitorous spine with my bare hands!”

For the third time in the conversation, Royce was caught unawares by Barnell’s fist. The tiger felt the powerful strike across his face and was down again, hitting the ground with a thud. He sat up. This was getting tiresome.

Barnell was standing over him, shaking with anger. “Stay away from my father, Royce! I’d hate to have be the one who actually killed you.”

The bear stomped away at that point, leaving Royce alone in the abandoned building, with only his conflicted thoughts for company.

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

Tobias yawned and stretched, and wondered where Armin was. The leopard should have arrived by now.

The old wolf glanced over the edge of the rooftop of the empty disused warehouse that he and Armin had been using as a surveillance. It had a good enough view for their purposes and had the advantage of not being too noticeable from the ground.

He was starting to question the wisdom of this continued surveillance of the Stone Walls Arena. Royce had suggested it. Well, insisted on it, pointing out how he was under orders to help him here in Pyre.

The idea was to try and keep tabs on Nomack and his comings and goings, and perhaps even see if this mysterious ‘Enemy’ could be spotted.

The problem was that even though he and Armin had managed to glimpse Nomack arriving or leaving a few times, such information was of very little use, since there was no pattern or regularity to his visits to the Arena.

And as for the Enemy… well, Acheron hadn’t provided any description of what he looked like and had avoided all questions on the subject, making spotting him somewhat difficult.

The old wolf was thinking that maybe Royce had just wanted him occupied and doing something out of his way, so he could avoid any attempts Tobias may make to talk him out of what he was doing.

“Sorry I’m late, captain.” Armin had arrived at last.

“Don’t worry about it.” Said Tobias, getting to his feet. “I suppose nothing new has occurred while I’ve been here wasting my time?”

“Not really, sir.” The leopard shrugged. “Royce continues to be driven by revenge. Acheron continues to be annoyingly enigmatic.”

“And we’re stuck watching a building all day.” Tobias chuckled.

“Sir, how long are we going to just let Royce carry on like this?” Armin asked. “I mean, I know it’s not my place to say this, but shouldn’t we be trying to talk him out of his revenge plans rather than helping him with them?”

“I know how you feel.” Tobias sighed. “But I have a lot of faith in Acheron, and he seems to be intent on allowing Royce to do what he likes unchallenged. He must have a good reason.”

“A reason he is withholding from the rest of us?” Armin pointed out.

“I know Acheron isn’t always as open as he should be.” Tobias admitted. “But that’s just the way he’s always been. We can trust him.”

“I don’t doubt it, sir.” Said Armin. “I just can’t see what good we’re doing following this course of action.”

“Neither can I.” Tobias muttered. “I’ll see you later.”

He left the leopard to it, making his way down through the warehouse to ground level. As he emerged on the street, he was surprised to find Acheron waiting for him with a smile.

“What are doing here?” The wolf asked.

“Came by to see a friend.” The white tiger grinned. “How goes the surveillance?”

“It continues to be a colossal waste of time.” Tobias told him, as they walked along the street together.

“I bet it does.” Acheron nodded. “But its what Royce wants done.”

“Doesn’t make it the right thing to do…” Said Tobias.

“Look, I actually came by because we need to talk.” Said Acheron.

“Yes, we do!” Said the wolf.

Acheron frowned at him. “Is there something you want to say?”

“Yes! What are we doing?” Tobias wanted to know. “Why are we indulging Royce on his revenge mission?”

“As I remember,” Acheron replied, “you were ordered to do so by Oberon Kane.”

“Don’t give me that.” Said Tobias. “You know very well I’d easily disobey that order. But you seem intent on letting this carry on.”

“My intent,” Acheron explained, “has been to allow things to play out for the time being. Until my Enemy shows himself.”

“And what about your plan?” Said Tobias. “And where do you keep disappearing to? Ready to share yet?”

“Unfortunately not.” Said the white tiger. “I have been surreptitiously making preparations for what we will be facing since we arrived here. But now I’m sorry to say I have to start getting my plan in motion.”

“Why are you sorry about that?” Tobias frowned.

“Because you’re not going to like what I have to do.” Said Acheron, sadly. “I have to disappear for a while.”

“What? Why?”

“Everything will become clear in time.” Said Acheron, cryptically. “Just remember that I am around, and will make my move when the time is right.”

Tobias shook his head sadly. “Very well. You know I trust you, but…” And then the old wolf realised he was alone.

He spun around and looked back along the street. There was no white tiger anywhere in sight, and judging from the way everyone was still going about their normal business, no one could have seen anything too unusual.

Acheron had just vanished.

It wasn’t the first time the white tiger had pulled that trick on him, but it was no less amazing this time. He just couldn’t see any way Acheron could have disappeared from sight so quickly without being noticed.

He shook off the thought. The bigger concern was that Acheron was gone now, off doing whatever it was he had planned to do. And he was left to explain it to Royce and Armin.

The old wolf continued on his way, hoping Acheron knew what he was doing. He trusted the white tiger more than anyone else in the world, and that was unlikely to change. But this situation was fast becoming more confusing and complicated than he generally liked things to be. He honestly couldn’t see how this was possibly all going to work out in the end.

He wasn’t looking where he was going, so wasn’t too surprised when someone bumped into him, walking in the opposite direction.

“Watch where you’re going!” Growled the bear that had collided with him.

“Sorry.” Muttered Tobias, and continued on his way. Then he stopped in his tracks and looked back in shock.

The bear was walking away, not giving Tobias a second thought. It had taken a second to register, but he was the very same mysterious black bear he’d glimpsed back at the Haven. He was even wearing the same clothes. What was he doing here?

As he watched, the bear turned into an alley, moving out of sight. Tobias knew what he had to do. This was an opportunity to find out more about the black bear and what connection he had with events.

He padded back along the street to the alley. At the corner he stopped and peered cautiously around. The alley was drenched in shadows, but he could still make out the bear, stomping along. His quarry turned another corner.

Tobias followed, creeping along quietly, glancing in revulsion at the mess and rubbish that littered the cramped avenue. He quickly reached the corner and took a look around it…

The black bear was right there, leaning against the wall, arms folded casually, staring straight at him, waiting for him. “Tobias Clandrell, I presume?” He rumbled.

It was a trap. Tobias spun around to make a run for it, only for him to be struck across the side of the head by something heavy and blunt. The wolf went down, slumping against the wall of the alleyway as he fell.

There was a rather scruffy looking canine, a bulldog, standing over him, holding a large piece of timber, which he had used to attack Tobias. The bear quickly joined him. “Well done.” Said the black bear, grinning down at Tobias.

“What about my money?” Demanded the dog, throwing his makeshift weapon aside. “You said if I helped you with him, you’d pay me!”

“Of course.” Said the bear, reaching into a pocket. “Here you are…”

The bulldog stepped forward. Ready to take his payment. But suddenly found a small knife plunged into his chest. He staggered back a few steps before collapsing.

“I love this city.” The bear grinned down at Tobias. “It’s so easy to find someone willing to do anything for anyone for some quick cash! Just a shame there can be no loose ends in this case.”

Tobias was still semi-conscious and was groggily trying to pull himself up.

“Just be glad you’re not a loose end, Tobias.” The bear chuckled. “Not yet.”

The old wolf saw the bear’s fist coming towards his face, and then everything went black…

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

It was time to put and end to things.

Royce was stood in front of the door of Boswell’s house, summoning up the courage to knock. He’d been thinking about this for so long, but now doubts were creeping in that perhaps finishing off his former friend wasn’t the right thing for him to do.

So it was time to do it before he lost his nerve. He knocked.

It took a few minutes for Boswell to answer the door. And then it creaked open, giving Royce a good look at the one who’d betrayed him.

It was a shock now that he saw him up close. The bear looked a lot gaunter than Royce remembered, haggard and bedraggled, his shoulders slumped, his fur unkempt. He looked tired and unhealthy, a haunted look in his eyes as he looked up at Royce in surprise.

Suddenly Royce caught himself thinking that perhaps this wasn’t a good idea. He’d been unprepared for seeing Boswell in such a state. He hadn’t realised how bad Boswell was doing and how much he still cared in spite of everything. Maybe he could…

“No…” Boswell stammered, staggering back from the open door. “You can’t be here! You died!” The bear was utterly terrified as he backed away from the tiger.

Royce took a deep breath, steeling himself. Hearing Boswell’s voice had brought back the sting of the betrayal he had suffered; it had reminded him of why he was doing this. He stepped through the door.

“But I am here, Boswell!” He growled. “I’ve come to settle the score for what you did to me!”

“I…” Boswell was having trouble finding words, stricken with fear. “I… I’m sorry!”

“Not good enough.” Said Royce. “I want…”

All of a sudden, hands fell on his shoulders, grabbing him and throwing him aside. Taken by surprise, Royce was slammed against the wall. He spun around to face his attacker.

Barnell was there, manoeuvring himself so that he was between Royce and his father.

“I don’t know how you made it here ahead of me.” The big bear rumbled. “But I warned you to stay away from my father.”

“Get out of the way!” Said Royce. “He and I have unfinished business.” He glared at Boswell, who was now cowering behind his son.

“And it’s going to remain unfinished!” Barnell shot back. “If you want my father, you’re going to have to go through me!”

Royce stared at Barnell. This is not the way he had wanted this to go. Barnell had done nothing to him. But he was in the way. And Royce wasn’t about to let anything keep him from his revenge.

“Very well.” He said. “I will do what I have to. Even if it means beating you to a pulp first…”

To Be Continued…


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

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