Chapter 5 – Then And Now

“Next!”

The young tiger stepped forward as the tall badger who had been branded before him moved away, guided by one of the slave-handlers.

The sweaty looking grizzly bear looked him over, gazing over the muscular tiger who was dressed only in a small ragged loincloth. “Well, you’re an impressive specimen. You’ll make the boss a lot of money.”

“Yes, sir.” The tiger nodded.

“Right, show me your number.” The grizzly said, getting back to business.

The tiger held up his right arm, showing the metal manacle that had been locked around his wrist for years. Engraved clearly on it was the number by which he had been identified for much of his life.

“047.” The bear read, checking it off on his checklist. He put down his list and reached for the branding iron resting in a pit of burning coals. “Turn around.”

Number 047 did as he was told. The grizzly clamped a hand on his left shoulder, holding him still and steady.

“Hold still.” The bear commanded. “And be ready to endure the pain.”

The young tiger steeled himself. A moment later, the branding iron was pushed into the flesh of his left shoulder blade. An immense searing agony washed through him, but he gritted his teeth and did not cry out.

After a few seconds, it was over. The branding iron was withdrawn, leaving his shoulder blade with a horrible stinging pain.

“Next!” Called the bear.

Guided by a raccoon slave-handler, Number 047 left the room. There was a queue of waiting slaves behind him.

He stepped out into the sunshine that was beating down on the camp. The slave-handler pointed in the direction of the main yard.

“Go over there and wait with the other new slaves.” He said.

“Yes, sir.”

The tiger strolled toward the yard. He was feeling happy, even with the stinging pain in his shoulder. He had been branded and therefore was now officially a slave, since the brand was only given to the slaves whose training was complete and were ready to be sold.

This was the day he had been waiting for his whole life. As far back as he could remember, he had been always been told that being a slave was his destiny, his purpose in life, the very reason he existed. This fact had been explained again and again over the years.

It had been a long road getting here. He had been working hard since he was about ten years old, when he had been taken from his mother in the breeding pens. Pretty much all of the intervening time had been spent working in the quarries and undergoing slave training, both mental and physical.

And now he had been branded, judged ready to be sold to an owner. The very thought filled him with excitement.

The yard was the large clear area in front of the main gates of the slave camp. The newly branded slaves were assembling there and waiting, supervised and watched over by a couple of handlers. There was very little talk among the newly branded slaves.

They didn’t have to wait long. Barely ten minutes after the young tiger had arrived, the last of the new slaves had been branded and the slave handlers got them all organised into rows and standing to attention. The young tiger ended up in the front row.

The slaves were kept there standing like that for nearly an hour before the fur they were waiting for turned up.

He came strolling leisurely out of one of the large buildings near the main gate, a large brutish looking grizzly bear with a mean look in his eyes. A short badger with a notepad was trailing along behind him.

Having spent his entire life at the camp, the young tiger knew very well who they were. The bear was Mr. Hudson, the owner of the camp, and so technically, his current owner. The badger was an employee, who handled administration matters. The tiger had often seen him about over the years, always with papers of some sort.

“Come on, let’s get this over and done with.” Mr. Hudson was muttering as he walked up to the assembled slaves. “We’re running behind schedule as it is.”

“Yes, Mr. Hudson.” The badger nodded.

The grizzly wandered along the first row of slaves, looking over each one. Occasionally, he’d point to one, and the badger would make a note of their number before the handlers would took them out of the line up and had them stand to one side and wait.

The tiger had been around long enough to know what was happening here. The best specimens were being selected, so that they could be mated to the females before they were sold, in order to produce the next generation of slaves.

Mr. Hudson soon arrived at the spot where the young tiger was stood. The huge grizzly bear stopped and looked over the muscular feline slave. He grinned.

“Keep this one.” Said the bear to his badger assistant. “We have plenty of tiger females for him to breed with.”

The young tiger’s number was taken and the handlers moved him aside, but kept him separate from the others that had been selected so far.

The feline was beaming with delight. He knew what was going on. The very best slave specimens from each batch were kept at the camp for several years to breed with the females. And he had been selected! It was a great honour. Even though a part of him was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be sold to a master quite yet, he was pleased that he’d be able to perfrom further services for his current owner, Mr. Hudson.

Eventually, Mr. Hudson had looked over all the assembled slaves. A group of about fifteen had been set aside to breed before being sold, and three had been selected to be kept at the camp as breeders.

“Alright, get them out of here.” Hudson called out, waving a hand at the slaves that hadn’t been chosen. “I want them loaded in the wagons and ready to be sent to the sales in 2 hours!”

The slave handlers got to work, and the slaves were led away.

The bear turned his attention to the group of fifteen chosen slaves. “And I want these to have mated and be ready to go to sale in 3 hours!”

More handlers took custody of the chosen slaves as Mr. Hudson looked to the three remaining pieces of his property. “And get these three collared and assigned duties.”

His job done, the big grizzly bear wandered away.

The young tiger glanced at the main gates before he was happily led away in the company of two of his fellows. He had been looking forward to leaving the camp, and finally see the outside world he’d only ever imagined.

But he had been selected because he was a good slave. And he was so proud to be a good slave…

* * * * * *

“Aren’t you just proud to be a slave?”

A second later, a booted foot connected sharply with Royce’s chin, knocking the chained tiger to the floor. Again.

His tormentor now was a burly alsatian Watch officer who had come on duty barely ten minutes before.

Royce was in terrible shape. His beating at the hands of the doberman had lasted hours before he’d been allowed some rest. But he’d only managed a few hours sleep before the alsatian had relieved the doberman. And the alsatian had wanted to start the new day by beating the slave prisoner.

“Well?” The alsatian demanded, kicking the fallen tiger in the ribs.

“Yes, sir.” Said Royce; in what was almost a whimper. “I am proud to be a slave.”

The officer crouched down in front of him. “That’s right. You know, I used to work in a slave breeding camp, so I know what goes into a slave’s upbringing and training. I’ve trained sime slaves myself. So I’m sort of curious as to why someone so proud to be a slave would go going around posing as a free fur.”

Royce just lay silently where he was, glad of the momentary respite from the beatings.

“Well?” The canine was expecting an answer. “Are you going to explain yourself, or do I have to beat the answer out of your worthless hide?”

“Well, sir… I…” Royce began, his mind in a daze. Thirst, hunger and exhaustion had left him in a sorry state and forming coherent thoughts right then was something of an effort. All he could manage was the thought that he should go along with things for now, that there was nothing else he could do right then.

“That’s enough for now!” A growled voice interrupted him.

The alsatian officer glanced over his shoulder. Captain Ryan was stood in the open door of the cell. The dog stood and saluted immediately.

“Judge Syrus has just arrived to pass sentence on this thing.” The fox captain said. “So get it up to the courtroom on the double!”

The officer nodded. “Yes, sir!”

The captain threw the chained tiger a quick look of disgust before departing. Royce only barely noticed.

He also only barely noticed as the alsatian officer unchained him from the wall and pulled him to his feet. Any thoughts of resistance or struggle had long since fled his mind. He was simply too weak to do anything but go along obediently.

The canine led him from the cell, on his way to meet his destiny…

* * * * * *

He was about to meet his destiny.

The young tiger slave could feel it. There was simply only one reason why he was sitting there, having his collar removed. He was at last being sold.

The iron collar had been sealed around his neck shortly after he had been selected to stay on at the slave camp as a breeder. Having grown up in the camp, he knew that the iron collars marked out the slaves that were not in the process of being trained or sold, the slaves that worked at the camp.

It had been two years now since the day of his branding. Two years spent serving the camp’s owner, Mr. Hudson and his employees. Of course, a large part of his duties had involved mating, in order to help produce a new generation of slaves. But he didn’t think too much about that. He couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that he was finally being sold.

There couldn’t be any other reason why he’d been ordered to see the camp blacksmith to have the collar removed, the same blacksmith who had branded him. Even then, the last of the thick bolts were being pulled out. Soon it would be off.

Of course, he’d been well aware that this day was coming. It was simply a matter of time until he’d reached the end of his usefulness to the camp and would be called upon to perform his final duty to Mr. Hudson by making him a lot of money.

And, when he thought about it, now was probably the right time. A new batch of slaves had been branded just last week. There was fresh blood to take his place here. He could now fulfil his destiny and be sold to a master.

The grizzly bear blacksmith suddenly pulled away the collar, leaving the muscular tiger’s neck bare and feeling strangely empty.

“Now, get along to Mr. Hudson’s office.” The blacksmith told him. “And pray that his client likes you. There’ll be trouble if he rejects you and I have to go to take the time of fixing this collar on your neck again.”

The tiger nodded. “Yes, sir.” He bowed, and left the blacksmith.

Mr. Hudson’s office was located in the main administration building by the main gates, a short walk away.  The huge grizzly’s badger assistant was waiting for him at the building’s entrance.

“There you are.” The badger seemed slightly annoyed to have been kept waiting. “Come along. Quickly.”

The brawny tiger followed dutifully through the building to Hudson’s office. The badger knocked and went in, motioning the tiger slave inside.

The slave had never been in Mr. Hudson’s office before. It was a large and extravagantly furnished room, the like of which he had never seen before in his limited life.

Mr. Hudson was lounging in a wide chair behind his desk, talking with a lanky cheetah sat in front of it. They both looked up as the badger led the tiger into the room.

“Ah.” Said Hudson, standing up. “Here he is, number 047.”

The badger had the young tiger stop in the centre of the room and stand to attention as the grizzly bear and his cheetah client approached him.

“There you are, Mr. Herrick.” Hudson was saying. “A perfect slave specimen, just as you wanted. One of the very best my camp has ever produced.”

The tiger slave stood there silently, watching the cheetah, this Mr. Herrick. He was assuming this was going to be his new master. He looked strong and powerful to the tiger’s eyes. He’d be proud to serve such a master.

The cheetah walked around the slave, looking over his heavily muscled body. “Yes, he is quite a good specimen, as slaves go.”

“Quite good?” Hudson balked. “Just look at him. He’s in perfect condition. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better slave.”

Mr. Herrick smiled. “I’m in something of a hurry, Hudson, so how about we skip this? Let’s just assume you’ve gone through you’re entire sales pitch. I’ll take him. And I accept the price. I don’t have time to go through the customary haggling session.”

Hudson seemed more than happy with this. The grizzly grinned broadly. “Of course, Mr. Herrick.” He looked to the badger. “Fetch the necessary paperwork. And have someone take Mr. Herrick’s property out to his coach.”

The badger grabbed the tiger by the wrist and led him out of the office and Herrick and Hudson returned to the desk.

The young slave was left standing in the corridor outside as the badger rushed off. A few minutes later, he returned with some papers, and accompanied by a wolf slave handler.

“Get the number off his wrist.” The badger told the wolf. “And get him outside, to the client’s coach.” The slave handler nodded and led the tiger away.

The slave handler had the tiger follow as he led the way outside, to the large and lavish lizard-drawn coach near the main gates. A panda driver sat atop it, watching them lazily.

The handler turned to the slave and pulled out the small bolt that held the numbered bracelet on the tiger’s wrist, removing it and freeing his wrist at long last.

“There,” he said, “from this moment on, you are not a number anymore. You are whomever your owner decides he wants you to be. Some new slave will be getting your number now.”

It felt so strange to have the bracelet leave his wrist. It had been there for so many years of his life. It was almost like an old friend. A part of him would miss it. But now that he would no longer be using it, the number would go to some new slave. That was just the way the camp operated.

“Now, you wait here for your new master.” The wolf commanded him. The tiger stood where he was told, beside the coach’s door. The handler left to get back to work.

The tiger wasn’t sure how long he stood there waiting before Mr. Herrick appeared at the entrance of the administration building. The cheetah exchanged a final handshake with the bear before heading to the coach, and his new piece of property.

Mr. Herrick smiled at the tiger as he arrived. The young slave bowed to his master and opened the coach door for him.

“You’ve been trained well.” The cheetah patted him on the head. “That means you’ll be worth the money I just paid.” He looked up at the coach driver before climbing inside. “Let’s get going, Chan.”

As the panda readied the lizards, Mr. Herrick told the tiger to get in. He obeyed and climbed inside the coach, sitting down when his master told him to sit.

A few minutes later the coach jerked a bit, as it got moving. Out of the windows, the young slave could see that they were passing through the gates and into the outside world. He felt a small surge of excitement. In all his life, he had never left the slave camp. Now he was leaving it behind forever.

“I suppose I’d better give you a name.” Mr. Herrick said, thoughtfully. “I don’t particularly like the idea of simply referring to you as ‘slave’.”

“Whatever you choose will be best, Master.” Said the tiger.

“I’ll call you Royce.”  Said the cheetah. “I’ve always liked that name.”

The newly named tiger nodded respectfully. “As you say, Master.”

“We’ll have to get you a new loincloth.” Said Herrick. “I’d rather a slave of mine not wear something so ragged. But it will have to do for now”

The tiger now known as Royce nodded. “Yes, my Master.”

“Now, sit here with me.” The cheetah patted the seat beside him. The slave sat down and his master put an arm around his ample shoulders.

“Tell me.” Mr. Herrick purred, running a finger down the tiger’s rippling chest. “Are you slaves trained for sexual service?”

“Yes, Master.” Royce nodded. “All slaves are trained to serve in any way their Master might require. And it is well known that a lot of slaves are used in a sexual way at some point during their lives. I am fully trained to sexually service both males and females, in a variety of ways.”

“That’s good to know.” Said Herrick. “You see, for the most part, you will be a servant and assistant to me. But my business does take me on the road a lot of the time, so I have little time for finding a mate. So, behind closed doors, you will be required to see to my sexual desires.”

“I understand, Sir.” Said Royce.

“You will find me to be a caring master, Royce.” Herrick said. “You will live a very comfortable life in my service…”

* * * * * *

“Guess you got too used to the comfortable life of a celebrity. You’re not able to handle a slave’s true lot in life anymore.”

Royce had tripped and fallen for the third time since leaving his cell. His whole body was just too weak from all the punishment to work properly.

While he was down, the alsatian officer gave him another kick before hauling him to his feet and getting him moving again.

The courtroom was an immense and lavishly furnished wood-panelled room. Normally, the public were allowed in to view any cases being tried. But this was no normal case. It wasn’t even a trial. It was just a slave being sentenced to death.

Royce barely noticed that the main doors of the courtroom had been bolted closed as he was dragged in through a side door. There were a couple of Watch officers there, a brown-furred wolf and a young puma, and they took custody of the stumbling tiger, allowing the alsatian to return to his duties.

The tiger was hauled up to the Judge’s bench and thrown to his knees, his new guards standing just behind him. Royce glanced up to see that Captain Ryan was there; talking with the smartly dressed otter that he assumed must be Judge Syrus.

The judge was watching him with contempt. “And this is the slave who was posing as a free citizen? Who has committed rape and murder?”

“Yes, Your Honour.” Ryan nodded.

“I…” Royce tried to speak and say something in his own defence, but with his parched throat, it came out as a weak croak. The puma officer guarding him savagely struck him across the back of the head, sending him crashing to the floor, face first.

“Silence!” The officer hissed.

“Pathetic.” Syrus said, dismissively, looking down at Royce. “Let’s just get this done quickly. My time is valuable, and I don’t want to waste too much of it on this.”

The otter stood and approached the kneeling tiger. “Since your crimes are so terrible, your punishment shall be equally grievous. I hereby sentence you to death by dehydration. You will immediately be taken to Central Square, in the centre of Pyre, and be chained to a wooden post. There you will be left, under guard, receiving no food or water, until the heat of the sun ends your miserable existence.”

The judge turned away, as if no longer being able to stand looking at Royce. “Take of it, captain. I’ll be getting back to things that actually matter.”

“Of course, Your Honour.” Ryan bowed in respect as Judge Syrus left the room.

Once the otter was gone, Captain Ryan turned his attention to the officers holding Royce.

“Get him secured in a wagon.” The fox ordered. “Be ready to move out.”

Before Royce was dragged away helplessly, Ryan glared at him. “Looks like your life is just about over, Herrick…”

* * * * * *

“Our life together is pretty much over, my pet. He’ll be here very soon.”

Royce bowed respectfully. “As you say, Mistress.”

Alana, his current badger owner, patted him on the head. Being shorter than him, she had to reach up in order to do it.

“I really do wish I could keep you.” She was saying. “But I used a large part of my savings to get a slave as good as you and now I simply need the money.” There was sadness in her features.

Royce understood. This would not be the first time he would be sold by his owner. In the four years since leaving the slave camp where he’d been born, Royce had been in the possession of four different owners, including Alana.

There had been Mr. Herrick, the cheetah who had treated him like a combination servant and lover. But when the cheetah had fallen seriously ill and died, and the relative who had inherited him had decided to simply sell him off.

He had been bought by a black bear, a slave trader in the city of Cascade Falls. The trader had taken a shine to him and kept him rather than sell him for a profit. He already had domestic slaves, so Royce’s duties had been completely sexual.

After more than a year, the slave trader tired of him and sold him to a very rich tiger who had lived alone in a big mansion on the outskirts of the southern city Soaring Point. That had been a bizarre time in his life. His master had taken to calling him ‘son’, often claiming that Royce was the spitting image of his son, who had died a few years before. Although it was not Royce’s place to say, it did seem as if his then Master had been a little insane.

Then there came a time when the rich tiger grew sick of the sight of him and sold him to Alana. He had come to enjoy his time with his current Mistress. She had taken to treating him as more a valued pet and companion rather than a slave.

She had cared for him and taken care of him, making sure he had a healthy diet and that he worked out each day to stay in shape. She had treated to him to some pretty extravagant clothes for a slave, an assortment of silk shorts and decorated loincloths. At that point he was wearing a pair of tight blue silk shorts.

All in all, Royce had learned that each owner he had would be very different. He was a little curious as to what his next owner would be like. Alana had said very little about whomever it was she had found to purchase him.

There was a sudden sharp knock at the door.

“This is it.” Alana sighed, turning away in an attempt to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. “Let him in, pet.”

Royce obeyed. He opened the door and stood aside with a bow. “Please come in, Sir.”

A bulky, muscular wolf stepped through the door. He had fur that was a very dark grey. He was dressed smartly in expensive looking clothing. He watched the tiger slave as Royce closed the door.

“Greetings, Mr. Nomack.” Said Alana, pleasantly.

The wolf nodded to her. “I take it this is the slave?” He said, getting straight to business. “He’s even better than you said. I’ll definitely take him off your hands.” He patted a pocket. “I’ve got your money and the necessary paperwork right here.”

The next half an hour was spent finalising the sale of Royce. Nomack sat at the table in the kitchen and filled out the paperwork as the tiger slave stood to attention to one side and Alana paced back and forth, nervously glancing at Royce every now and again.

The large wolf worked his way through the paperwork pretty quickly. It was as if he’d done this many times before.

Alana stopped pacing suddenly. “Royce?”

“Yes, Mistress?” Said Royce.

“Pretty soon, you’re not going to be mine anymore.” The badger said, downcast. “And… and I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a very good slave to me. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you, Mistress.” Royce bowed his head.

“I want you to know that if there was any way at all I could afford to keep you,” Alana went on, “I would in an instant.”

Royce smiled down at her. “Of course, my Mistress.”

“And I hope…” Alana said, falteringly. “I hope that I was a good owner. That you’ll remember me…”

“I will remember you Mistress.” Royce replied. “You have been a very good owner to me.” He would have said the same to any Master or Mistress, it was after all his duty to please his owner, and to answer any other way would not be doing that.

And while he would have said the same to any owner of his, this time he knew that he meant it.

The female badger smiled weakly, but the deep look of sorrow in her eyes told how she was really feeling. She reached up and softly stroked the tiger’s cheek.

“I’m done here.” Said the wolf merchant, interrupting the moment. “You just need to check it and sign it and the sale will be finished.”

With a sigh, Alana sat down to sign the papers. Nomack left her to it, leaning back in his chair. He glared lecherously at the brawny tiger slave standing to attention nearby, running his eyes up and down Royce’s musclebound body.

Once the paperwork was signed, Nomack stood and handed Alana a pouch of coins. “Pleasure doing business with you, my dear.” He smiled and shook her hand.

Alana gave her former slave one final look. “Goodbye, Royce.” Suddenly, she threw herself forward and hugged the tiger tightly. “I’ll never forget you.”

“And I will not forget you, Mistress.” Royce replied.  “Farewell.”

As soon as Alana pulled away from the hug, she turned away, sobbing gently.

Nomack, Royce’s new owner and Master, clamped a hand over the tiger’s wrist and pulled him along as the great grey wolf left Alana’s home. Royce caught one final glance of his former Mistress before being yanked outside.

Waiting outside for Mr. Nomack was an extravagant lizard drawn coach. The wolf growled at the driver to get moving and pulled Royce inside.

As the coach got under way, Nomack roughly shoved Royce down onto a seat. The grey wolf threw himself down onto the seat opposite.

“Now, my new slave.” Nomack rumbled, staring continuously at his new property. “I don’t know what kind of life you might have had before now, but if that silly female back there was any indication, you’ve had things soft.”

The wolf shot out a hand and grabbed Royce by the throat, squeezing hard and pulling the tiger close. “You should understand that part of your life is over. Thing is, you are nothing. A simple piece of property that exists solely to serve me.” He released Royce, throwing him back in his seat.

“First off, you should learn that as far as I am concerned, a slave should not wear clothes.” Nomack grabbed the front of Royce’s shorts. He pulled, ripping the fabric with his claws, stripping them from the tiger. He tossed the ruined shorts out the window. “From this moment on, you go naked.”

“Yes, my Master.” Royce nodded. If that was his Master’s wish, then that was the way things would be.

Nomack grinned, watching Royce intently. “Something I’m quite proud of is that I have never sold a slave, even though I buy plenty. I get my money’s worth from my slaves be using them until they die. And since I always play very roughly with my slaves, they tend not to last for too long.”

The grey wolf grabbed Royce’s dick and pulled him forward by it, up off his seat. The tiger slave grimaced.

“So you can expect for your life to end in my service.” Said the wolf, as he sat there and watched the look of pain on his new slave’s face.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Nomack leered, almost drooling in delight. “Good. Get used to it. You’ll be suffering a lot of pain from now on.” He lashed out with his free hand, slashing Royce across the chest with his claws.

The force of the blow knocked Royce back, sending him slamming against the back of the coach. A series of bleeding parallel scratches now adorned his chest.

Where he sat, Nomack was licking Royce’s blood from his claws. “Mmm. That’s tasty.” He smirked. A bulge was growing in his trousers. He looked fiercely at his new slave. “Damn! Now I’m all horny!”

The muscular grey wolf threw himself at Royce. He slashed him again with his claws, this time cutting wounds into his right leg and left shoulder.

Royce put up no resistance as his Master slammed a punch into his stomach, and then kicked him in the groin. Wave after wave of pain rippled through him, all inflicted by his new owner. But he endured it. It was his duty as a slave.

Nomack was like a wild animal now, giving in entirely to his lust, biting down savagely on the tiger’s right shoulder. It was hard for Royce to stop himself crying out as the wolf’s jaws came away from his shoulder covered in blood. He licked his lips clean.

“A fresh slave is always the tastiest!” Nomack snarled, a look of bliss in his eyes. “And are always the best to fuck.”

The wolf roughly threw Royce to the floor of the coach, face down, and kicked him a few times. More pain for the tiger slave to endure.

Then Nomack crouched and started fingering Royce’s bare ass with one hand. The other he ran down the tiger’s muscular back, scratching it with his claws “Cute ass, slave. I’ll take it!”

He started to unbutton his trousers, but the coach came to a sudden stop. Nomack looked up, annoyed. He expressed his annoyance by slamming a powerful punch into the small of Royce’s back.

“I almost forgot.” The wolf snarled. “I’ve got business. A few deals to oversee.” He stood and straightened his clothes. He pulled a handkerchief and a small mirror from a pocket and cleaned the spots of blood from around his muzzle that his tongue had missed.

“You stay here.” He growled. “I’ll finish fucking the life out of you when I return. There’s a box under the seat there. Tend to your wounds and clean yourself up some. I expect you to be done by the time I get back. If not, I’ll make those wounds a lot worse and hope the extra suffering helps motivate you in future”

“As you command, Master.” Said Royce, weakly.

Paying his new slave no more attention, Nomack stepped out of the coach and closed the door behind him.

Royce could hear his Master meeting someone outside.

“Jacob!” He was saying. “What a pleasure to see you again!” His voice was polite and pleasant, a dramatic change from the wolf who had been ravaging him only moments before.

Pulling himself to a sitting position on the coach’s floor, Royce hissed through his teeth at the pain. All his scratches were stinging and his bruises were aching. Overall, he felt terrible.

He reached under the seat and pulled out the box. It contained a bottle of medicinal alcohol, which he guessed he’d have to use to clean his injuries, and an assortment of old rags he would have to use as makeshift bandages. Many of the rags were stained with dried blood. Royce wouldn’t be the first slave to use them to bind his wounds.

He got to work as he’d been ordered.  He felt saddened that his new Master was Mr. Nomack. Though he knew he shouldn’t really be feeling that way.

The thought briefly crossed his mind that perhaps he should escape while his Master was busy. But he quickly discarded the notion, disgusted at himself. He was a slave! He served whoever owned him, no matter who they were or what they chose to do to him. That was his lot in life and he always accepted that.

But still, he couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sadness that this savage treatment was likely going to be the rest of his life…

* * * * * *

So this was where he’d be spending the rest of his life…

This was Royce’s thought as the wagon carrying him arrived at Central Square, the vast open plaza in the center of the city.

Royce himself had only visited the place a few times during all the years he’d been living in Pyre, despite it being a main thoroughfare through the city during the day. It was a large open space, paved with sandstone and lined with statues depicting the great leaders of the city’s past. He’d always thought of the place as rather ostentatious.

As far as Royce had been able to figure out, the square’s main purpose was to be used as a very public place for the punishment of criminals. Several tall wooden posts were set into the ground at one end of the square. It was not unusual for convicted criminals to be chained up for hours at a time as punishment.

Of course, the very worst criminals were simply left there to die.

When the wagon came to a stop, Royce offered no resistance as he was roughly pulled out of the wagon and dragged toward the posts. His strength was all but gone. He simply wasn’t capable of any form of resistance anymore. A part of him wanted this now. Wanted his life to be over, to be out of his misery.

Of course, he would have liked a chance at revenge on those that had done this to him, but that was just not a possibility now. He was going to die.

His appearance there started to draw something of a crowd; everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the famous pit-fighter who had turned out to be a slave.

The Watch officers unlocked the manacles that had been keeping his hands behind his back since his arrest. It felt strange to have his aching arms free again, even if he didn’t have the strength to do anything with that brief freedom.

Minutes later, the muscular tiger’s arms were once again chained. This time above his head as his wrists were put into iron manacles set into the wooden pole that would be serving as his final home. His ankles were locked into similar restraints at the pole’s base.

As the Watch officers stepped away from him, Royce sagged in his restraints. He just didn’t have the energy to keep standing. He was hungry and thirsty and exhausted beyond belief.

One of the Watch officers stayed at Royce’s side as the other took the wagon away. It became immediately obvious that the job of the one who had remained behind was to keep the crowds and onlookers away from the dying tiger, to make sure he was left to die unmolested.

Hanging from his chains and wracked by pains, Royce felt like weeping. This was it. It was over. He glanced up and happened to meet the gaze of his guard, staring at him in contempt…

* * * * * *

Nomack stared down at his kneeling slave in contempt.

“What do you mean you won’t take him?” Said Nomack angrily, looking back to the panda slave trader, sat behind his desk.

“I don’t deal in damaged goods, Mr. Nomack.” The panda explained. “Few slave traders do. I mean look at him. Bruised eye, unhealed scars, and that arm is obviously broken.”

“He’ll heal...” Nomack snarled.

“Yes, he will.” The slave trader agreed. “And while he’s healing, I’ll have the expense of taking care of him, food, water, medical care. Plus, if I wanted him to heal properly, he wouldn’t be able to do much work for me while he’s healing. I’d be lucky if whatever I get for him when I eventually sold him even came close to covering the expense of the time and resources that went into making him a sellable slave again.”

“But I need to sell him!” Nomack growled. “I need the money!”

“That’s not my problem, Mr. Nomack.” Said the panda, calmly. “Now kindly get out before I have you and your slave thrown out.”

The great grey wolf trembled with rage, but managed to restrain himself. He grabbed the chain leash that was attached to the thick steel collar locked around Royce’s neck and led his slave out of the building.

Once they were outside, Nomack stopped to unleash some of his rage. On Royce. He viciously struck him across the head, almost knocking the tiger slave from his feet.

“Damn you!” The wolf barked. “Useless fucking slave! The one thing I really need you for, to make me some money, and you turn out to be worthless!” He struck Royce again.

“Yes, Master.” Royce said, his head bowed submissively. “I’m sorry Master.”

In the year and a half he’d so far spent as Nomack’s possession, Royce had become quite used to the rough treatment and bad injuries. His current broken arm wasn’t the first. He’d learned to simply endure the agony as it healed.

Of course, his treatment had become markedly more savage over the past few weeks. His Master had made several bad decisions, a number of very important business deals had fallen through. Being only a slave, Royce did not know the full details, but his Master was apparently now heavily in debt, and had often been resorting to taking out his anger and frustrations on his slave.

Nomack led Royce on his leash through the streets of Maloc City. They had to walk since Nomack had sold his coach. The grey wolf merchant grumbled to himself as they went.

As they passed an alley, Nomack suddenly changed direction and entered it, pulling Royce with him into the shadows.

The wolf threw his slave against a wall. “If I can’t sell you.” He sneered. “Then maybe I should just use you one last time and finish you off here and now.”

Royce nodded. “Yes, Master.” If that was his owner’s decision, he would have to go along with it…

“I can’t believe I let you wear that.” Nomack reached down and tore away the skimpy loincloth he’d had Royce wear while they’d visited the local slave traders.

He grabbed Royce’s dick. “Maybe I should just tear this off and leave you here to bleed to death.” He mused. A malicious grin spread across the wolf’s features. “But I think that’ll be how I finish, after I’ve had your ass one last time.”

The wolf spun Royce around and shoved him up against the wall, his claws cutting into the tiger’s flesh whenever he touched him.

“Mr. Nomack?”

“What?” The wolf roared at the distraction. He looked to who had spoken.

A large, smartly dressed white tiger, almost a match for Nomack in terms of size, was standing there in the alley.

“Do you mind?” Nomack spat. “I’m busy here.”

“I can see that.” Said the white tiger, glancing at the beaten and bleeding tiger slave. “But I’ve been looking for you…”

“Let me guess.” Said Nomack. “A debt collector, right? Well, guess what? I don’t have any money to give you…”

“I’m not a debt collector.” The white tiger interrupted. “I’m here because I heard you’re trying to sell your slave.”

“So?” The wolf merchant demanded. “What business is that of yours?”

“I’m interested in buying.” The white tiger explained. “I’ve been trying to track you down all day. I just missed you at the last trader you visited so I thought you might still be in the area…”

Nomack was wide-eyed in surprise. Then he laughed. “Ha! You’ll be interested only until you get a look at the merchandise!” He grabbed Royce and threw him to the floor at the feet of the white tiger.

“Worthless piece of crap, isn’t he?” Said Nomack, giving the tiger a swift kick for emphasis.

“You sure you’re interested in selling him?” The white tiger looked surprised. “Because that’s not much of a sales pitch.”

“You want a sales pitch?” Nomack sneered. “Go visit a slave trader. I did. I went to each and every one of them and after going through my sales pitch that many times I’m sick of it and couldn’t give a fuck anymore. This slave’s a mess and either you want him or not…”

“I’ll take him.” The white tiger didn’t even give Royce a look.

The wolf merchant stared at him shocked. “Seriously?”

The white-furred tiger reached into a pocket and pulled out a pouch of coins. He threw it to Nomack. “I believe this is enough for him.”

The grey wolf checked the pouch and then glared at the buyer. “You must be crazy to pay this much for a damaged slave.”

“Are you saying you don’t want the money?” The white tiger smiled gently.

“Hey, it’s your money to throw away.” Nomack shrugged.

“I’ll visit your office later to complete the paperwork and pick him up.”

“Why don’t you just take him now?” Nomack suggested. “I don’t want to have to look at him anymore.”

“Very well.” The white tiger buyer nodded.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Mr…” Nomack suddenly realised he didn’t know the white tiger’s name.

“Zelazny.” The white tiger shook Nomack’s hand. “Acheron Zelazny.”

Nomack frowned. “Unusual name.”

“Yes.” Said Acheron, simply. “It is.”

“Well, Mr. Zelazny, I’ll leave you to deal with this mess.” He waved a hand at Royce before leaving. The white tiger watched him go.

“What a nasty piece of work he is.” He muttered, before focusing on Royce.

Acheron crouched down and helped Royce sit up. “He really made a mess of you, didn’t he?”

“If you say so, Master.” Royce replied.

“Don’t call me Master.” Said Acheron. He started examining the metal collar around Royce’s neck.

“Yes, sir.” Said Royce.

Acheron sighed and shook his head.

“I should have asked Nomack for the key to this thing.” Said the white tiger, unable to get the collar off. “No matter.”

He inserted a claw into the keyhole of the lock that was set into the ring of metal, fiddling with it. A moment later, the lock clicked open. Acheron pulled the collar off and threw it over his shoulder.

“No more collars or chains for you.” He said, pulling Royce up to his feet.

The white tiger picked up the loincloth that Nomack had ripped off the young tiger slave. “Here, put this on. It’ll have to do until we get you some proper clothes.”

Royce did as he was told and slipped on the small scrap of cloth. “I await your commands, sir.”

Acheron smiled weakly and patted him on the shoulder. “Not any more you don’t.”

Royce didn’t understand. “Sir?”

“Let’s get you to your new home and get your injuries treated.” Said Acheron. “Then maybe we can make a start.” He walked out of the alley. “Follow me.”

“A start on what, Sir?” Royce asked, trailing after his new Master.

Acheron grinned. “On setting you free.”

The young tiger slave frowned, puzzlement showing on his face. His new owner noticed.

“Don’t worry.” The powerful white tiger patted him on the shoulder. “You’ll understand…”

* * * * * *

Royce was finally beginning to understand.

This was it. The end.

The sun was setting in a beautiful and wondrous display of reds and oranges. Royce had never watched a sunset in his life and found he was glad he now had the chance. He would have liked to watch the sunrise as well, but what little strength he had left was failing fast and suspected he was going to be dead by dawn.

And that was what he was now understanding. He was going to die. While he’d known he was going to die since his arrest, it was only now that it was really sinking in.

He couldn’t help regretting all the things he’d never got around to doing. He’d have liked to have fallen in love. Maybe have cubs.

Of course he knew that he had cubs out there somewhere, having been used as a breeder back at the slave camp where he was born. He tried not to think about them. They would all have grown up to become slaves, and even if he wasn’t going to die, the chances of him ever finding any of them were remote to say the least. He’d long since come to terms with the fact that he’d never know whatever offspring he had out in the world.

What he was regretting was that he never had cubs of his own that weren’t born into slavery, that he would he would be able to raise. He wished he’d found time for a family.

And he’d also have liked to be able to watch a sunrise. Just once.

The sun was just sinking below the horizon. Royce mumbled a farewell to his last day.

Darkness was surrounding him now. City-owned slaves were moving through the square, lighting the lamps that were set onto tall poles around the edges of the plaza.

Traffic through the square had dropped off dramatically. Once it became obvious that Royce’s guard was not going to permit anyone to get close to the disgraced pit-fighter, citizens stopped hanging around, simply taking a long look before going on about their business. As darkness fell, the number of citizens passing through the square started to drop off.

Royce found himself surprisingly calm about his impeding death. Perhaps it was the constant pain he was in right now, and on some level he was looking forward to it being over.

He remembered Tobias’s claims that he’d get him out of this and he remembered Killian’s claims that his mysterious employer was going to see to it that he didn’t die. While he really wanted at least one of them to be right, so that there was a chance he could go on living, there and then, he didn’t believe either of them.

He had at last accepted it. This was the end…

* * * * * *

This was the end. Just once more and he’d be done…

Royce kicked at the air one last time; performing the same combat move he’d been practising for half an hour in the morning sun.

He was finished. The tiger fell to his knees there in the small courtyard located in the middle of the large and lavish house his Master owned, taking some time to get his breath back. He glanced about, vaguely wondering when his Master would return with new instructions.

His latest owner, this white tiger Acheron Zelazny, was turning out to be the most bizarre Master Royce had yet had. He kept insisting that Royce was no longer a slave, that he was free. Of course, the tiger knew this was impossible. He had always been a slave and always would be. But he kept quiet about it for the most part. It would just be wrong to go about correcting his Master, even if Acheron had given permission for him to speak freely at all times.

The white tiger had given Royce a long talk when he had first got him home after buying him, about how he was no longer a slave and was going to be free.

Acheron had given Royce almost nothing to do for the first few weeks, allowing time for the injuries Nomack had inflicted to heal. He had even hired an expensive specialist physician to handle Royce’s health, who had gone as far as to properly treat a number of old injuries, such as broken bones that had not healed right.

Afterwards, Royce had to admit his body felt a lot better, especially with the training programme Acheron had set up for him to build up his body again, allowing him to regain much of the physical strength he had lost through the abuse Nomack had inflicted upon him.

Beyond that, everything else had been far from normal. While Royce was given some domestic chores, these were always shared equally with Acheron. And to help Royce become more ‘free’, his white tiger Master had given him some hobbies and interests, after first attempting to have Royce pick some for himself, which had not gone well. Royce was not accustomed to making his own decisions.

So Acheron had decided for him, having him spend some time each day reading novels and literature. Royce’s reading skills had only been very basic, what he’d picked up back at the slave camp, but he was learning fast. He had no idea why his Master wanted him to do this, but as he assumed he was being commanded to do so, that was what he did.

Acheron had also attempted to teach Royce some combat skills. He had demonstrated his abilities to the tiger slave and although Royce was inexperienced in such matters, the white tiger seemed to be an extraordinarily skilled fighter. He had been showing Royce some moves and had suggested that he practised every day. Being the slave that he was, Royce had taken the ‘suggestion’ as an order…

“Daydreaming, Royce?”

Royce looked up at the tall, powerful white tiger standing over him. He hadn’t heard him approach. “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.”

The white tiger stood. “Your problem, Royce, is that you were raised a slave. You believe that’s all you can ever be. You don’t know any better. So I suppose I’m going to have to teach you.”

“Yes… Acheron.” It felt strange to Royce, addressing his master in such a way. But it was his owner’s wish.

Acheron sighed. “But I daresay this is not going to be easy….”

* * * * * *

“I’ll be able to explain, but this is not going to be easy.”

“Just stick to the story and everything will be fine.”

Royce looked up as the hushed conversation reached his ears. It was the dead of night now, and refreshingly cool after the unbearable heat of the day. Through the torch-lit darkness of the square, the dying tiger could see two figures approaching.

One was a Watch officer, a stocky-looking lion, who had taken over guard duty from the alsatian officer just after sundown. The other he didn’t recognise, a short but well-built black-furred bear in loose-fitting clothing. He had nasty look to him.

“Where’s the wagon?” Asked the officer, as the two of them came to a stop in front of Royce, looking the tiger over.

“It’ll be here soon.” The bear assured him. “But tell me the story, show me you remember it.”

“During the night, Herrick broke out of his restraints.” The raccoon officer recited. “He tried to escape and I had to kill him. I had the corpse sent to the city morgue for disposal."

“Very good.” The black bear said, menacingly. “Now, you stick to that story no matter what, understand? My employer has it within his power to make your life very unpleasant. After all, you wouldn’t want your wife and cubs to meet with a nasty accident, would you?”

The lion officer paled. “I’ll stick to the story.” He said, quickly. “I’ll make it convincing. But… but it’ll soon be discovered that Herrick’s body isn’t at the morgue…”

The bear laughed at him. “You think that hasn’t been taken care of? The overnight attendant at the morgue has been bribed a large sum of money, just like you. Tomorrow, it’ll be discovered that an administration error led to the corpse being cremated overnight. The attendant already has the urn with his fake ashes ready to show his superiors.”

Minutes later, a wagon pulled into the deserted square and pulled to a stop near to where Royce was hanging. A rottweiller and a large wolf climbed out.

“C’mon, guys.” Said the black bear. “Let’s grab the cargo and get it delivered so we can get paid." The new arrivals grumbled an agreement and they got to work.

Royce was removed from his restraints, which were smashed afterwards to make it look like he’d broken out of them. The tiger was dragged to the wagon and dumped inside. He was in no state to resist or object. He lay there in the back of the wagon, only half-conscious. He heard some final words between the bear and the lion officer.

“Remember, stick to the story, and everything will be fine.” The bear was saying. “Screw up and your family pays the price.”

“I…” The lion stammered. “I… I understand.”

“Good.”

The wagon creaked as the bear and his comrades climbed aboard. Moments later, they were on their way, leaving the square behind them.

Royce had no idea how long it took them to get where they were going. He dozed a little there in the wagon, slipping in and out of unconsciousness.

But after a time, the wagon stopped, and Royce’s captors pulled him out of the wagon and into a darkened building. The rottweiller and the wolf carried him between them while the black bear led the way.

Inside, a scrawny middle-aged puma was waiting. “Ah,” he said. “I see you have him. That’s good. I have your payment ready. My employer will be most pleased.”

“Like I told your boss, we get the job done.” Said the bear, with a little pride. “Is he ready for him?”

The puma nodded. “Bring him in. He’s ready…”

* * * * * *

“You’re ready. Trust me.”

“I don’t think I am, Acheron.”

The two of them were sat side by side on a bench in the courtyard of the house that had been home to both of them for four years now, but would not be any longer. At their feet lay their backpacks, containing what few possessions of theirs that had not been sold.

The big white tiger placed a reassuring hand on Royce’s shoulder. “We’ve been over this a hundred times. You’re ready, Royce. It’s time you started following your own path.”

“I know, I know.” Royce mumbled. “Follow my own path, choose my own destiny. You’ve told me enough times.”

“Apparently, I haven’t.” Acheron shrugged. “If you’re having doubts…”

“No, no, I’m not.” Royce was quick to correct him. “It’s just… it’s difficult to move on.”

“I know.” Said Acheron, sadly. “It always is, believe me, but sometimes it’s just necessary. The simple fact is, there’s nothing left for me to teach you, Royce. It’s time you went out and lived your own life. And me… I’ve stayed in one place far longer than I should have.”

Royce frowned at that last remark. Acheron had been saying similar things for months, but despite all the attempts Royce had made at getting his mentor to elaborate, the white tiger had remained tight-lipped on the subject.

In fact, Acheron had never really told Royce much about himself. Whenever the tiger had asked, Acheron had expertly avoided the question.

“Besides,” Acheron said, getting to his feet and grabbing his pack, “all the arrangements have been made. The house is sold.”

“You’re sure you don’t want any of the money?” Royce said with concern. “I don’t need to have all of it…”

“As I told you before, I’m fine.” Said Acheron. “I have resources of my own. I want you to have all the money. Come on now, its time to go, Mr. Herrick.”

Royce had chosen the surname himself, at Acheron’s suggestion. He’d wanted to choose ‘Zelazny’ of course, but Acheron had been against the idea, saying that the idea was for the tiger to pick a name of his own, not just take his.

So Royce had just chosen the first name that came to mind. His first Master had always been kind to him and despite the fact that he’d been his slave, Royce always thought of the cheetah fondly. So he’d adopted his name.

Royce stood, grabbed his own backpack, and, side-by-side, the two of them headed for the door.

“You know, there is still a lot I don’t understand.” Said the tiger.

“That is to be expected.” Acheron grinned.

“I mean about you.” Royce explained. “I know so very little about you.”

They left the house and stopped outside. The taller white tiger looked thoughtful. “I’ll tell you what. As a parting gift, I will answer one question for you, whatever you choose to ask.”

Royce thought about it carefully. There was so much he didn’t know about Acheron’s past, where he came from, who he really was.

But when it came right down to it, he didn’t really care about that. All he cared was that Acheron had rescued him and freed him from a life of slavery. Acheron was his dearest friend and his trusted mentor. Anything else didn’t matter to him.

That said, there was one thing he’d been dying to ask the white tiger for years…

“Why?” Asked Royce. “Why did you buy me and care for me and put so much effort into freeing me?”

Acheron glanced at him in surprise. “Not what I was expecting.” He admitted.

“You said you’d answer.” Said Royce.

“That I did.” Acheron muttered. “And the answer is complex and confusing. So I will put it in the simplest possible terms. All of us have the potential for greatness, and I didn’t want you wasting your potential as a slave. I believe all of us are created equal, and that none should have to spend their life as the owned possession of another. I like to do what I can to improve the world, whether the world wants to be improved or not.”

“That sounds like several answers.” Said Royce.

“Yes, but all of them true.” Acheron smiled.

“But why me?” Royce wanted to know. “Why me and not some other slave?”

“I’m sorry, my friend, but that’s an entirely different question.” The muscular white tiger replied.

Royce looked downcast.

“Don’t worry about it.” Acheron said. “Maybe I’ll answer that one next time we meet.”

That brightened the young tiger. “You think we will meet again?”

“Hard to say.” Acheron shrugged. “It’s certainly a possibility.”

“Then I hope we do meet again, Acheron.” Royce smiled.

“As do I.” The white tiger said. “But for now, it’s time to go our separate ways. I have a long road ahead of me. And you have a life to start. Have you decided what you’re going to do with yourself?”

“I have some ideas.” Royce nodded.

“As long as you choose what you want to do.”

“I will.”

Acheron glanced along the road, the direction he had to go. The white tiger seemed a little reluctant to leave. There was a great sadness in his eyes. “Well, this is goodbye, Royce.” He held out a hand for the tiger to shake.

Royce pushed the hand aside, instead stepping forward and hugging the great white tiger. “Goodbye, Acheron. I owe you everything. I’m… going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you, as well, my friend.” Said Acheron, returning the embrace. Then he pulled. “But I have to go. Good luck to you. Farewell.”

And then he left, hefting his backpack over his shoulder and strolling down the road and out of Royce’s life. Royce stood there watching him go, tears welling up in his eyes. Acheron reached the corner and turned it without looking back.

Then something in Royce snapped. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t just let his friend and mentor walk away. The tiger broke into a run after him.

He reached the corner barely seconds after Acheron had reached it and glanced frantically around the street beyond. But there was no sign of the white tiger. The street was empty. He was gone.

It was impossible that he could have disappeared so fast. There were no alleyways or open shops he could have entered. It was as if he’d literally vanished into thin air.

He fell against the wall of the nearest building, catching his breath. That was that. Acheron was gone and he had no idea where. It was painful, but that was the way it was…

* * * * * *

It was painful, the rough way in which his captors were carrying him. But Royce could do absolutely nothing about it.

He was taken into a darkened room, the rottweiller and the wolf dragging him along, following as the puma and the black bear led the way.

“They are here, sir.” Said the puma, speaking to a muscular figure standing at the far end of the room, hidden by shadows.

“And we’ve got just what you wanted.” The bear broke in. “Where do you want it?”

“Just dump it on the floor there.” Came the rumbling reply.

Royce was released, his battered and weakened body crashing to the floor with a thump, adding more pain to the cascade of suffering his life had been recently. But through the pain, a thought struck him.

That voice…

“My thanks for your help.” The shadowy figure was saying. “Should I ever have any other tasks suited to your mercenary talents, I will not hesitate to contact you.”

“Whatever the job, we’ll get it done.” The black bear said, proudly. “For the right price.”

“Of course.” The figure in shadow said, the voice dripping with politeness. “My assistant here, Mr. Thorne, will see to your payment on the way out. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.”

That voice was so strangely familiar…

The puma led the three mercenaries out of the room and closed the door behind them, leaving Royce alone with… whoever this was.

The figure struck a match and used it to light a lamp, finally illuminating the room some. The place was only sparsely furnished with a few chairs and sofas. Royce was more interested in the figure.

He was standing with his back to Royce, but the tiger could see that whoever it was, he was a large and powerfully built grey wolf dressed in simple clothing.

“Finally.” The wolf said. “I have you back. You have no idea how much planning and money went into this.”

In his pain-fuelled delirium, Royce was having trouble placing the voice. He was sure he’d heard it before somewhere…

“Nothing to say?” The wolf was still keeping his back to the tiger lying on the floor. “Don’t you remember me?” He turned to face Royce. “I could take offence at that, you not remembering your old Master.”

Then it clicked. He recognised the face and the voice in the same instant. It was Calhoun Nomack.

“And now that I have you again,” Nomack grinned maliciously, “I’m never going to let you go…”

To Be Continued…


Read Chapter 6...

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

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