Chapter 4 – Unwelcome Revelations

“How many more ways do you want me to tell the same story?” Royce growled in anger.

“Please calm yourself, Mr. Herrick.” Said the fox standing over him. “Losing your temper will not help the situation.”

“He’s right, Royce.” Said Boswell, placing a reassuring hand on the tiger’s shoulder.

The three of them were in Boswell’s office. Royce had immediately sought help after discovering Lily’s bloodied corpse in his changing room, alerting the arena staff and Boswell. It hadn’t been long before someone had been sent to fetch the City Watch, who handled all policing matters throughout Pyre.

While the Watch dealt with the corpse, their captain, a fox named Ryan, had taken Royce to Boswell’s office, in order to question him about the body, Boswell joining Royce for moral support. The tiger hadn’t even had time to change or clean himself up. He was still wearing his pit-fighter outfit, a loincloth and metal studded wrist and ankle bands, and was still a mess, fur matted with sweat and blood and grime.

The tiger was currently slouched in a chair while Boswell stood behind him and the fox paced slowly back and forth. Ryan was tall and slim, dressed in the dark green uniform of the Watch, with the gold rank insignia adorning his shoulders.

“There’s only so many ways I can say the same thing.” Royce said, reigning in his anger. “I left my changing room early and locked it. After I trained some I went to my fights. After that I returned, unlocked my room, and found Lily.”

“And you knew the victim beforehand?” Captain Ryan observed, suspiciously.

“Yes.” Sadness crept into the tiger’s voice. “We met last night at the Dragon’s Skull Inn. We hit it off and she spent the night with me. We… had fun.”

“Yet you can’t say how things were left between you.” Ryan stated.

“She ran out of my place before I could say goodbye to her.” Royce explained. Again. “I don’t know why. After that, I didn’t see her again until… until I found her.”

Throughout this, the fox captain had been scribbling down notes on a worn pad with an old half-chewed pencil. He was apparently finished now, slipping them both into a pocket of his uniform.

“Well, that should be all I need for now.” Said Ryan. “I’ll be assigning a few officers to keep an eye on you until this matter is resolved one way or another. And don’t even try leaving Pyre…”

There was a knock on the door and a moment later, one of the Watch officers stepped in, a stocky panther in a uniform. “Sir, can I have a quick word?”

A frown passed across the captain’s face. He approached the panther and the two of them shared a quick whispered conversation. The captain then glanced back at Royce and Boswell.

“Mr. Kincaid, can you come with me for a moment?” He said. “Mr. Herrick, I’ll have to ask you to wait here for now.”

Boswell departed with Captain Ryan, leaving the panther officer, who took up a position by the door.

“What’s happening?” Royce wanted to know.

“It’s not my place to say, sir.” Said the panther. “Captain Ryan will be back shortly.”

Royce let it go. He knew that he was the main suspect in this case. He suspected he was going to have to put up with being watched and under suspicion until Ryan found whoever had killed Lily.

His thoughts drifted to Lily. He had really enjoyed their time together and had hoped he’d get the chance to see her again. But not like this.

Royce was too tired and stressed out to even start thinking properly about the how or why of what had happened to the tigress. How had Lily got into his room when he’d left it locked and found it locked? Why would anyone want to murder such a sweet and beautiful tigress?

He still could scarcely believe that Lily was actually dead, that it had been her body he’d discovered.

The door opened and Captain Ryan entered. Boswell was not with him, but he was not alone. Two officers, a lion and a black-furred wolf accompanied him. They were armed, their swords drawn.

The fox captain turned to the stocky panther. “Go bring the wagon around to the side entrance. We’ll be coming out shortly.” As the panther left, Captain Ryan and his guards approached Royce. The tiger stood, confused.

“What’s going on?” He demanded.

“Royce Herrick, I am hereby placing you under arrest for murder.” Captain Ryan said, in a serious tone. “Please do not resist or we will have to use force.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Royce spluttered.

“We found the murder weapon.” Ryan told him. “A custom-made long bladed knife that Mr. Kincaid, and several others, have identified as belonging to you. It was apparently a gift from Mr. Kincaid last year.”

He knew the knife the fox was talking about. He was sure he’d left it at home, in his bedroom…

“Additionally,” Ryan went on, “there is the fact that only you and Mr. Kincaid have keys to your changing room. And a companion of the victim was found outside. She has told us that Lily confided in her that you raped her last night.”

“What?” That was a real shock to Royce.

“According to this friend of the victim.” Ryan said, “Lily said you were very vicious and cruel, claiming that the Watch would never believe her over someone with your fame if she tried to tell. Lily also told her friend some other details. Lily claimed that you threatened her, that you’d hurt her if she didn’t come here to the arena tonight. Apparently, you told Lily to wait at the side entrance until you arrived and then approach shortly after you entered.”

Royce couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was insane!

“Lily’s friend accompanied her here.” Ryan was still explaining. “To back her up in case something should happen. Together, they saw you arrive and Lily’s friend saw her go inside. She waited, and when the Watch turned up, came forward to tell what she knew.”

The muscular tiger was dumbstruck.

“All the evidence points to you, Mr. Herrick.” Said the captain. “Now come along quietly.” He motioned for the two armed guards to move in.

A combination of exhaustion and stress kicked in for Royce and his temper snapped. “No!” The tiger snarled. He punched one of the guards in anger, knocking him back.

Captain Ryan and the other guard jumped on him. Royce’s fatigue worked against him and he wasn’t able to put up much of a fight.

Together, Ryan and the guards threw Royce against Boswell’s desk, face down, pulling the tiger’s muscular arms up behind him.

“Get those manacles on him!” Ryan commanded.

Royce felt the cold metal as they tried to lock a pair of thick steel cuffs around his wrists, keeping his arms behind his back. He savagely attempted to struggle, throwing his last vestiges of strength into it, but the Watch officers held him down, Ryan and the lion each grabbed an arm and shoulder while the black wolf worked on the restraints.

“Stop resisting, Herrick!” Ryan growled, fighting to keep Royce from breaking free before the manacles were on and locked. “You’re only making things worse for yourself!”

A few seconds of struggling followed, the officers wrestling to keep Royce under control. Then there was a click as the locks clicked closed. But Royce didn’t stop fighting.

“Hold him!” Ryan barked.

The Watch officers threw themselves on top of the tiger, pinning him to the desk and knocking the breath from him. Royce finally stopped his struggles as he gasped to get his breath back.

“Guess we have to add ‘resisting arrest’ to the charges.” Said the lion.

“Yeah.” Said Captain Ryan. “I thought you’d be smarter than this, Mr. Herrick.”

“Hey, what’s that?” Said the black wolf. During the struggle, he had thrown himself onto Royce’s back and had now noticed something. “Just under the fur there. That’s a strange looking scar…”

The lion officer was holding the brawny tiger’s left side. “Oh yeah…” Royce felt fingers examining his left shoulder blade.

The tiger’s blood suddenly ran cold. No!

“It’s a slave brand!” The lion said in shock.

Royce closed his eyes in despair. His secret was out…

He was bodily pulled from the desk and thrown backwards, landing on his back, painfully trapping his hands beneath him.

Ryan and his guards were looking down on him in disgust. “I’d never have believed it.” The fox captain muttered. “The great Royce Herrick is a slave. This just got so much more complicated.” He spat on the tiger before looking to the guards. “Get him out of here. We’ll deal with him properly at the Watch house.”

Captain Ryan departed, leaving Royce in the care of the guards. The black wolf immediately kicked him in the ribs.

“Damn fucking slave!” He growled. He turned to his lion companion. “I don’t know how I’m going to my cubs about this. You know how Max and Girard idolise him.”

The lion guard gave his comrade a sympathetic look. “You know cubs. They’ll find someone else to idolise soon enough.”

“Look, I…” Royce tried to say something. He had been struggling to get up, and had managed to get to his knees.

“You speak when you’ve got permission, slave!” The wolf snarled. He kicked Royce in the chest, knocking the tiger down again.

“I think this worthless slab of meat has been posing as a proper fur for so long,” the lion officer offered, “he’s forgotten how he’s supposed to behave.”

“He’ll soon remember, even if we have to beat it into him!” The wolf grinned, maliciously. “On your feet, slave! It’s time to get moving!”

Royce was quickly pulled to his feet. His whole body was aching horribly. Between his fights earlier and this rough treatment, he was not in good shape.

The guards got him moving toward the door. At the last moment, the wolf pulled him aside and slammed him face first into the wall beside the door.

“Do you like that, slave?” The wolf growled at him.

“Screw you!” Royce spat back, defiantly.

The wolf guard slammed his head against the wall again. “Wrong answer, scum! Do you like that?”

Exhausted and in pain, Royce thought it best that he went along with things for now. “Yes.”

“You address your betters with respect, slave!” Royce was thrown against the wall again. “Now, do you like that?”

The heavily built tiger sighed. “Yes, sir.”

“That’s better.” The wolf snarled. “The quicker you remember that you’re just a slave, ‘Royce’, the better things will be for you!”

“Come on,” said the lion, “the captain will be waiting for us.”

The officers got him moving, roughly manoeuvring the chained tiger out the door. They dragged and pushed Royce down through the arena, past staff and slaves staring at them. He could make out snatches of their whispered conversations as they passed.

“…just a slave…”

“…I never suspected…”

“…posing as a real fur…”

“…hope they hang the damn thing…”

Royce sighed. It was over. The arena staff knew. The rest of the city wouldn’t be far behind. Everyone would know that the famed Royce Herrick was only a slave. The life he’d worked so hard for was gone now, crumbling before him. A part of him wanted to fall to his knees and grieve for what he’d now lost.

But he couldn’t. His guards were pushing him onwards, through to the side entrance of the arena and out. A crowd of curious onlookers had gathered at the commotion. All were watching in shock and surprise as the shackled Royce stepped out and was quickly forced into the back of the waiting wagon.

Sitting in the wagon as it trundled away from the arena, Royce’s thoughts turned to the future, to what would become of him. He was a slave who had been posing as a free fur and had apparently committed rape and murder. There was only one fate waiting for someone like him. It would be execution.

Royce sat there in the wagon, sadly wondering how everything had fallen apart so quickly.

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

“What’s the word?” Tobias asked, sitting in the shade the alleyway provided. The aging grey wolf had been waiting. From where he sat, he could see the side entrance of the Stone Walls arena and the crowds of onlookers gathered there.

“Not good, sir.” Said Armin. The young leopard had just returned from finding out what was going on and crouched down beside Tobias.

“Best give me the bad news then.” Tobias sighed.

“I managed to get close enough to overhear some of the Watch talking.” Armin explained. “Herrick has been arrested for rape and murder. Also, it seems they discovered his slave brand.”

“Damn.” Tobias grumbled. “Rape and murder is bad enough, but at least we’d have had time until a trial to try and do something. But a slave won’t get a trial. All they’ve got to do is get a judge to pass sentence and it’ll be over. Who’s the victim?”

“The tigress he spent last night with, Lily.” The young leopard replied. “According to the officers at the arena, he raped her last night and threatened to kill her unless she came here tonight.”

The old wolf frowned. “That’s wrong. We’ve been observing Herrick for days. We saw the tigress leave his place happy and smiling. We even saw her stealing that long knife from his home.”

“I know, sir.” Armin nodded.

“So we know he isn’t guilty.” Tobias mused. “But we can’t really come forward and say we’ve been watching him. And I doubt it’d make a difference anyway, now his slave origins are known. I know one thing. There is far more going on here than we know.”

“What makes you say that, sir?” Armin asked.

“Instinct, young cub.” The wolf answered. “I’ve been doing these things since the beginning of the Brotherhood. Believe me, you develop an instinct for it. Plus, there are all the facts.”

The leopard frowned. “What do you mean, sir?”

“We know Herrick is innocent.” Tobias explained. “Which means someone else murdered that tigress, and framed Herrick in the process. Which in turn suggests that someone has it in for him.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that someone like that has enemies.” Armin muttered.

The old grey wolf shot his companion a disapproving look before continuing. “And there is Herrick’s file that we were given when we were assigned this job. It was worryingly incomplete.”

Armin looked a little shocked. “How so?”

“Think about it, cub.” Tobias said. “The Brotherhood is very careful about who it recruits, we always gather as much information on them as possible. And one thing about the Brotherhood is that our intelligence agents are very good. So how is it that there’s a five year gap in his file, between him being sold by the merchant Calhoun Nomack and him turning up here in Pyre as a pit-fighter? It doesn’t even say who Nomack sold him to.”

Armin was confused. He had no idea what to say.

“I see two possibilities.” Tobias concluded. “Either our intelligence agents became suddenly inept at their job’s when they investigated Herrick, or we were deliberately given an incomplete file, and central doesn’t want us knowing what happened to Herrick during those five years.”

“You believe central is suppressing the information?” Armin said. “Why would they do that?”

“They may very well have their reasons.” Tobias shrugged. “But if they are suppressing information, then it does not bode well. If Acheron were still around, he would have been horrified by such a thing.”

Armin nodded.

“Suffice to say,” Said Tobias, “there is a lot about matters regarding Royce Herrick that we are not aware of.”

Armin accepted his wisdom on the matter. “But what do we do now, sir?”

“You read the message from central.” Said Tobias. “For whatever reasons they may have, they are insistent that Herrick be recruited. So that is what we will do. But the slow tactics we’ve been employing so far are out of the question now. We’re going to have to break Herrick out of jail in order to recruit him. And we’re going to have to pull it off before he is executed.”

He shot his leopard companion a weak smile. “I always did like a challenge. Come on, let’s go.”

The wolf jogged off along the alleyway, Armin following.

The young leopard really wasn’t sure Royce Herrick was worth all the trouble they were going to. When he looked at the big tiger, he saw an arrogant, muscle-bound, selfish fool.

But Central wanted him recruited for some reason, so maybe there was something more to Herrick.

More importantly to Armin, Tobias saw something more than he did when he looked at that tiger. The old wolf had been like a father to him ever since they had first met, and Armin respected him more than anyone else in the world. If Tobias believed there was something more to Herrick, then Armin would do his best to see it too.

He was just wondering if he’d be able to manage it before Herrick wound up dead.

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

Royce’s cell was small and uncomfortably warm.

Outside, the sun had just started rising and already had warmed the stones that made up the cells enough to make things unpleasant. Royce suspected that as the day wore on, the cells would become hotter, making things gradually more torturous for any prisoners. He also suspected that was the point.

The big tiger had been roughly shoved into the cell after arriving at the Watch house. His hands were still manacled behind his back, but now they had been attached by a short chain to a heavy iron ring set into the back wall of the cell. The set up severely restricted his movement.

The guards had beaten him a few more times, forcing him to bow to them and call them all ‘sir’ like a slave should. The whole experience brought back too many memories of his early life spent in servitude.

Now he was sat with his back to the wall in his cell, staring at the steel bars before him, wondering what he could possibly do now.

He knew he hadn’t killed Lily. That meant someone else had. And whoever that someone was had most likely framed him for it.

But it was hopeless. Even if he could somehow miraculously prove his innocence, his secret was out. Everyone knew he was a slave. A slave was a slave for life, essentially a piece of property, that was the law. And he had broken that law by running around posing as a free fur.

The penalty for that alone would be death.

He sagged against his restraints. His life was over, plain and simple. There was nothing he could do. In a way, it would be welcome. The disgust he felt at being forced into bowing and being respectful to the officers was a sign of how much he didn’t want to go back to a life of slavery. At least death would put an end to things.

“Greetings, kid.”

Royce looked up to find someone standing at the bars of his cell. It was the old grey wolf who had been bothering him. Tobias.

“What do you want?” He sneered.

“Look, Royce,” Said Tobias, seriously, “I’d really like to stand here and bandy words with you, but as you may have noticed, your situation has become deadly serious and you don’t have much time. Suffice to say, Armin and I are going to do what we can to help.”

Royce almost laughed. “Help? What can you and that leopard of yours possibly do? And how did you get in here? I thought I wasn’t allowed visitors.”

“You’re not.” The wolf nodded. “But you’d be surprised what I am capable of. Right now I have a document identifying me as a highly esteemed and high-ranking Watch colonel from the city of Solace. When you’ve got something like that, and some acting skills, getting in to see a supposedly off-limits prisoner is no trouble.”

“And you just happened to have falsified identification?” Royce was suspicious.

“Actually yes.” Tobias said. “In my line of work, it always helps to have a way to get around local law enforcement.”

“Your line of work?” Said Royce. “You mean bothering furs who are currently awaiting execution?”

“I’m going to level with you, Mr. Herrick.” Said Tobias. “Because you are short on time. My companion and I are members of the Brotherhood. You won’t have heard of us. We’re a secret organisation that is dedicated to improving the world, whether the world wants to improve or not. And we are here in Pyre because we have been assigned to recruit you to our cause.”

Royce burst out with a brief laugh. “Well, I must thank you, for giving this doomed fur a moment of hilarity with such a ridiculous story.”

“It’s not a story.” The wolf said. “I wish I had time to explain the Brotherhood in greater detail, but I don’t. Even with my identification, I was only allowed a short time to speak to you. But believe me, the Brotherhood is real. We have resources. And we will be doing what we can to get you out of this. There is still hope. Don’t forget that. But I have to go, my time is up. Remember! There is hope!”

Royce watched him go.

The restrained tiger was left alone once again. He had no idea what had just happened. This story of the wolf, about this ‘Brotherhood’, it was a ridiculous notion.

But Tobias had managed to get in here. The sort of falsified documents that would require would not be easy to get. But that didn’t really prove anything.

He was having trouble thinking straight, extreme exhaustion was catching up with him. He’d gone straight from his fights to this whole mess without any rest whatsoever.

He glanced down at himself. He was a mess, bloodied from his pit-fights and bruised from his beatings at the hands of the guards. He was still dressed in only the loincloth of his pit-fighter outfit.

Royce settled back against the wall, trying to get as comfortable as he could. He closed his eyes.

As he drifted off into sleep, the thought passed through his mind that maybe he’d wake up and this would all turn out to have been some horrible dream…

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

“Daydreaming, Royce?”

Royce looked up at the tall, powerful white tiger standing over him. “No, sir. I am waiting for instructions.”

The white tiger frowned down at the kneeling slave. “Did you finish your training exercises?”

“Yes, sir.” Royce nodded.

“Then what are doing kneeling here?” Royce’s master wanted to know. “I told you that when you were done, the rest of the day is yours, to do whatever you want.”

“But, sir,” Royce pleaded, “I am a slave. What I want is irrelevant. I must wait for more instructions from you, sir.”

“I thought we’d got past this.” The white furred tiger sighed. He sat himself down in front of Royce, cross-legged. “But apparently not.”

“How long have you been with me now?” The white tiger asked.

“Three months, sir.”

“And do you remember what I told you when I first bought you?”

Royce nodded. “You told me that I was not a slave. That you were going to free me.”

The white tiger looked thoughtful. “And do you want to be free? To be able to give up your life of servitude? And remember that you are able to speak freely with me at all times.”

“No, sir.” Said Royce, sadly. He knew that wasn’t the answer his master would have liked, but he also couldn’t lie to him.

“The skills of those slave traders.” Royce’s master muttered unhappily. “Breeding slaves that don’t want freedom.”

“I’ve displeased you, master.” Royce bowed his head in shame. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“No, you have nothing to apologise for.” The white tiger was firm. “The fault lies with me for being so arrogant as to assume setting you free would be easy, just a matter of buying you, telling you you’re free, and setting you up with a few interests for you to work on beyond servitude.”

He climbed to his feet, mumbling to himself. “You’d think I’d have learned by now that arrogance never gets me anywhere.”

Once the white tiger was standing, he looked down at Royce. “I realise now that this is going to be no easy task. And I think we’ll begin with you dropping the ‘sir’ or ‘master’ every time you talk to me.”

He crouched in front of Royce. “I want you to address me by my name. Acheron.” He said. “It’s time to wake up and taste the freedom…”

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

“…Wake up!”

Royce awoke to find himself being slapped across the face. For a few moments, he had no idea what was going on or where he was. Then it all came flooding back.

He was still in his cell. He was still chained and manacled. While he’d slept, his prison had grown hotter; sweat was now dripping from him.

There was a guard standing over him, a short doberman, the shirt of his uniform hanging open to keep him cool. The cell door was open behind him.

“You’ve got a visitor, slave.” The guard sneered.

The chained tiger was still shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, so this took a moment to sink in.

“I thought I wasn’t allowed visitors?” He said, through a yawn.

Before he knew what was happening, Royce was slammed back against the wall by the guard, his restrained arms pinned painfully between his back and the warm stones of the wall.

“Is that any way for a slave to address a superior?” The canine growled. He had a foot placed against the crouched tiger’s chest, holding him down.

For a brief instant, Royce considered struggling, throwing the guard off. But he knew it would be useless. He was still chained and, due to not having had too long to sleep and rest, was still weak. Besides, the dog would have back up. There would be more guards not too far away.

“No sir, of course not. I’m sorry, sir.” Royce said, bowing his head in respect.

The guard stood back. “Just remember your place, slave.” He spat. “And be respectful to your visitor. I hear otherwise, and you’ll have me to beat some respect into you. Understand?”

Royce bowed his head again. “Yes, sir.”

The doberman wandered out, off to fetch his visitor. Royce had no idea who it could be. And the guard hadn’t mentioned how he was able to have a visitor.

He didn’t let it occupy his thoughts though. They were already occupied with the dream he’d had. The memory. He wondered what his erstwhile mentor would have to say if he could see Royce now.

In a way this was all Acheron’s fault. Royce could have lived his whole life as a simple slave, content and happy, never once even bothered by even the concept of ‘freedom’, if that white tiger had decided to free him.

Royce quickly discarded that thought, putting it down to the frustration of this whole situation. He knew full well that it was down to Acheron that he’d been freed from the notion that he was just a slave an nothing more, which, thanks to the way the slave breeders had trained him, he had believed for most of his life. He owed Acheron everything…

“Let me know when you’re done.” The voice of the doberman guard drew his attention.

Then there were footsteps approaching his open cell. But there was something strange about the sound. As if whoever it was were limping…

A moment later, Royce’s visitor entered the cell.

“Killian.” Royce growled, recognising him.

The lion limped a few steps closer, half-dragging his twisted left leg. He was grinning broadly as he looked down at the big chained tiger.

“Yes, it’s me.” Killian smiled. “I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to see you like this, Herrick.”

“How are you able to get in here?” Royce demanded.

The crippled lion frowned. “I’d watch your tone if I were you. A bad report from me and you get a beating from the guards.”

“They’ll beat me anyway over something.” Royce snarled. “They’ll invent a reason.”

Killian laughed. “That’s true. Just a shame I won’t be able to watch.”

Royce unleashed a simple growl from the back of his throat.

“Anyway,” Killian went on. “To answer your question, it’s possible to see any prisoner, provided you know who to bribe, and how much.”

“So you thought you’d just drop by and gloat?” The imprisoned tiger spat.

“As I said, I couldn’t resist.” Killian smiled. “I mean, you’re nothing but a simple slave. You may have crippled me, but I’m still better than you. Because I am a fur, and you are just a lowly slave who got delusions of grandeur. You have no idea how happy it made me when I found out that you were just a slave. I was barely able to keep it a secret.”

“No point in keeping it a secret.” Royce snarled. “Everyone knows now.”

“They know now, yes.” Killian said. “But they didn’t a few weeks ago when I found out.”

That took Royce by surprise. He knew weeks ago? But why…

“Why didn’t I say anything?” Said Killian, voicing Royce’s next question for him. “Simple. I was getting paid a lot of money to keep quiet about it. And I was assured it would come out when the time was right. Of course, it was meant to be by an anonymous tip off after your arrest. The Watch discovering it on their own was simply a happy accident.”

“What are you talking about?” Royce wanted to know.

“What do take me for, you misbegotten slave?” Said Killian, offended. “Some badly written character in some story for cubs? You think I’m suddenly going to blurt out everything that’s been going on right under your nose? Think again. If thinking is something that you are even capable of.”

Royce was incredibly confused. He’d come to think of Killian as annoying, but harmless. He had no idea what the crippled lion was trying to get at here.

As the tiger was thinking, Killian pulled a transparent container of water from his belt. “It really is hot in here, isn’t it?” he said, pulling out the cork and sipping from it. “Even with just the loincloth, you must be very hot and thirsty.”

Although there was no way Royce was going to admit it, Killian was right. His throat was really dry, and watching the lion take a nice cool drink didn’t help matters.

“Tell you what.” Killian said, his tone suddenly pleasant. “I’ll let you have a sip of this. Provided, of course, that you get down on the floor and beg for it like a proper slave should.”

Royce stared fiercely at the lion, giving him a dark look. “I’d rather die than beg you for anything.” He said, meaning every word.

Killian merely smiled and took one last sip before returning the flask to his belt. “Tell me, was Lily any good in bed?”

“What?” Royce growled.

“Well, you fucked her.” Killian said. “I was just wondering if it would have been worth my money doing the same before I sent her to you.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Royce demanded.

“Of course.” The lion sighed. “You didn’t know Lily was a prostitute I found and paid to sleep with you. And to steal a weapon belonging to you.”

The chained tiger felt like he’d been slapped in the face. She had been a prostitute? She had been paid by Killian…

“You did this!” Royce snarled as he realised. “You framed me! You killed Lily!”

“So you finally figured out what’s right in front of your face.” Killian mocked. “Aren’t you quick?”

“You did all this for revenge on me?” Royce said.

“Hey, this wasn’t my plan.” Killian said, innocently. “I just got involved to pull it off when I was offered a large amount of money to do so. Talk about a dream job! Wreck your life and get paid for it…”

“Whose plan is this then?” Royce wanted to know. “Who’s done this to me?”

“You’ll find out.” Killian grinned. “You see, you think you’re going to die, but my employer has other plans, and the money and influence to carry them out. He is far from finished with you, slave.”

At that moment, all Royce wanted to do was rip the grinning lion’s head from his shoulders.

“You didn’t answer my question.” Killian went on. “Was Lily good? I considered fucking her there in your changing room before I killed her, but that would have taken time. She thought she was there to help discredit you. You should have seen the look on her face when I plunged that knife into her…”

“And how did you get into my changing room?” Royce still had no idea how the crippled lion had managed that.

Killian laughed out loud. “You know, for some reason, I had expected you to have at least figured that much out. Don’t know why I expected a pathetic piece of slave crap like you to have any brains in your head. Think about it, there only exists two keys to your room at the arena, one in your possession, the other…”

“No…” The realisation crashed down on Royce.

“Oh, yes.” Killian smiled. “Boswell let me in. He betrayed you.”

“He wouldn’t!” Royce snarled in defiance, refusing to believe it.

“Can you be so sure?” The lion said, firmly. “You know how dangerously in debt his son is. Can you honestly believe that when given the choice between his son and his friend, he’d choose you?”

Royce didn’t reply. He knew the answer.

“My employer stepped in,” Killian added, “and offered to buy a share of the Stone Walls arena from Boswell for a very inflated price, giving him the money he needed to save his son. In return, all he had to do was betray his good friend.”

That was enough for Royce. He let out a primal growl as he unleashed his temper. He threw himself forward at the lion. But he reached the end of his restraints with a healthy distance still between him and Killian. He pulled on his manacles with as much strength as he could muster, but to no avail.

“I must be going.” Killian said, smiling at Royce’s futile efforts to attack him. “I have a new job to get to. You see, my employer now owns a controlling interest in the Stone Walls Arena, and he has appointed me as the new manager. You won’t be seeing me again, so before I go…”

The lion stepped forward and, with his one good arm, punched the snarling tiger across the face. Royce stumbled back a little, blood streaming from his nose.

“Now that was satisfying!” Killian chuckled.

Royce wanted to attack him, wanted to break free and rip into Killian like there was no tomorrow.

But there was quite simply nothing he could do. Killian and whoever he was working for had accomplished their goals. His life, the one he’d put so much effort into, was gone. He would forever be remembered not as a great pit-fighter, but as a fraud, as a slave who had posed as a free fur and had committed rape and murder.

He sagged back, the rage and anger draining away, replaced by despair and depression.

And worse of all was Boswell. He had been betrayed by Boswell. His closest friend had sold him out. Yes, it had been to save his son, but it was still betrayal. There must have been something else Boswell could have done, there must have been.

But he’d chosen betrayal…

And now his life was over. All that lay ahead of him was either execution or whatever Killian’s mysterious employer might have in store for him. His whole life was a mess and a failure and his fate was now in the hands of others.

Killian stood there for a moment watching the tiger sink into his depression. Then he strolled to the cell door and called out. “Guard!”

A moment later, the doberman guard reappeared. “Yes?”

“I’m done here, now.” Killian told him. “But this slave hasn’t been showing me any respect at all.” He pulled some gold coins from his pocket and handed them to the guard. “Teach him some respect and obedience, won’t you?”

“My pleasure.” The canine pocketed the coins and cracked his knuckles.

Killian stayed for a moment to watch as the guard went to work, beating Royce to the floor and kicking him several times in the ribs. He took special notice of how the tiger was not resisting in the slightest, sadness and despair written across the tiger’s features.

“Come on!” The doberman was saying. “What are you?”

“A slave, sir.” Royce replied, meekly, accepting the guard’s blows.

“Finally getting that through your skull, are you?” The guard kicked him again.

Killian smiled and left the guard to it, making his way out.

Outside waiting for him was an extravagant lizard-drawn coach. The lion climbed inside.

“Well?” Asked the fur who had been sitting there waiting for him. “How is he?”

“Physically, he’s a mess.” Killian answered. “Especially with the treatment he’s getting from the guards.”

“And what of his mental state?”

“I played it just like you wanted me to.” Killian explained. “I told him everything, letting it come out a piece at a time, even his friend’s betrayal. It hit him hard, to say the least. He was sinking into despair as I left.”

“Excellent.” The fur sitting opposite grinned. “Just as I want him. I’ll have to wait until his sentencing before the next stage of my plan is put into effect. But it doesn’t matter. I have business to attend to anyway.”

He reached up and banged on the roof of the coach. “Driver!” He called. “Stone Walls Arena!”

There was a slight shake, as the coach got moving.

“Time to check on my investment.” He smiled. “And to put that pathetic bear Boswell Kincaid in his place.”

The fur opposite Killian sat back. “Everything is going just as I want it to…”

To Be Continued…

Read Chapter 5...

Raging Tiger/Kuman the Barbarian/Mitchell and Michael/Going Under/Beware the Transformer/That Day/Working Bears/Heart of a Hero

The Art Gallery/The Library/The Comic Store

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