the beaten track?
(The tale of Trex and Sara)
Direct sunlight was still hidden from Trex as he awoke early the next morning. Being on the coast of the WesternWilderness the sun would have to climb a bit higher to appear over the stony peaks that marked the edge of the Wolf Kingdome territory to the wild forests.
Trex was unaware that Sara had left the night before, or that she was even now somewhere in the rocky and forested wilderness of the coastal valleys, just like him.
Stretching out on his sleeping mat, Trex looked up into the sky. Large clouds were moving slowly south, painted orange by the morning sun. Out above the ocean, darker clouds were massing in the distance.
Perhaps there would be rain? thought Trex.
Standing up, the young lion stretched again. From his campsite on a high ridge he could see all the way down to the lower hills, with their increasingly dry and more spread out vegetation. It was strange, it hardly ever rained at RefugeCross, yet up here, less then a day away by horse, it rained quite often. Trex had little memory of his life before RefugeCross. He had not travelled anywhere else since he had originally moved to be with his father. Trex wondered if the rest of the world had such different environments in such close proximity. From what he had been told of the world, he doubted it.
Trex had slept well, he was happy that all appeared to be going as he had planned. After wishing Brekiz goodbye yesterday Trex had made his way to BridgeHead, but instead of heading on to the savannah and desert coast as he had told everyone, he had turned back towards the WesternWilderness coast on the other side of the river Thitchel.
The lion youth was quite pleased with himself, not only had he managed to slip past the last of the lion outposts unseen, but he had managed to do it on his young horse, Flint.
The impatient animal was obviously slowly coming to terms with its lion master.
It was all a nice little game for Trex. It had not been necessary to sneak by the lion watch towers, but he was still happy that he had managed it. Trex didn’t want it to go on record as having passed through this way. In the unlikely event of it getting back to his uncle and aunty it would have caused them to worry unnecessarily.
Unbeknown to Trex, this definitely would have been the case now. Shortly after he had passed into the WesternWilderness the border to the wilds had been closed. The message regarding the bears had been passed on by the wolves to the lions. Trex’s uncle and aunt where informed the previous evening and just like Brekiz, they thought that Trex was safely out somewhere in the savannah or on the southern coast.
Eating some dried meat and oats, Trex drank some water from a nearby creek, sitting happily on a larger rock on the streams edge he was already packed up and ready to go.
The young lion had not felt this free in a long time, if ever. Suddenly he understood the real allure of travelling, being on the road. There was an excitement to it, something that could become quite addictive he was sure. Trex realised that he was quickly becoming swept away with the whole thing; an unknown horizon, the new world ahead.
Finishing his food, Trex decided to meditate. It was dangerous to travel in the wilds, particularly if you were blinded by the adventure-side of it all. As well as dangers from wild animals there were Anthro wolves to worry about. He would have to be careful. The WesternWilderness was only a small strip of land between increasingly towering peeks and the merciless coast. The further he went into the mountains the tighter the room became, there were only so many passes through the mountains he could take. If he ran into something unexpected he could quickly become trapped.
Trex sat cross-legged on a large rounded rock. Breathing rhythmically, the young lion concentrated on his meditative techniques. Focused on his surroundings, he felt a familiar presence coming closer. Trying to ignore the creature, Trex was forcibly brought out of his meditation as Flint began to nibble on one of his large round furry ears.
‘Flint!’ shouted Trex, startling the young horse.
The four-legged animal jumped away before trotting in an impatient circle to finally stare at his owner with large inquisitive eyes. Flint didn’t like it when Trex mediated, the complete absence of any signs of life made the intuitive animal nervous. Trex gave up on his meditation. It would be a long lazy ride today anyway. His maps of the WesternWilderness were not as good as he would have liked though. Today he would be able to test his concentration and awareness. Giving his horse a friendly smile, Trex stood up, Flint approached nervously, receiving a friendly pat.
‘Let’s get a move on boy,’ Trex said.
Back at RefugeCross there was indeed little chance of rain. On the far horizon the clouds massed, but it would be weather for others. As it had most days, the city would have sunshine, and plenty of it.
On the main road that led out of the city stood a solitary grey stone tower, unlike most other buildings in the lion controlled city this building was of wolf architecture. It was a guard tower built during the time of wolf control and now served the lions. It was also a common place to find the lion Commander: Captain Felx.
At the top of the tower were four balconies that allowed a great view onto the city and the lower planes. Between these balconies was a large square room which served as an office for Felx and his higher officers on most occasions. Captain Felx had always preferred to be in this little tower instead of the inner city. It made him feel more integrated into the community, more in touch with what was happening on the ground. Here he could be visited by normal citizens and meet and great Anthros as he did his rounds. It was occasionally annoying, but he felt the extra contact was worth it. It also proved extremely useful since the appointment of Lieutenant Millan, who, as his second in command was stationed in the inner city, a perfect distance he felt.
The Commander entered the room to find his two Sergeants at their desks
‘Good meeting, Sir?’ asked Kirra, looking up from her paperwork.
Felx walked past the lioness, throwing some documents onto his own desk.
‘Other then Councillor Gerak, it wasn’t too bad.’
‘Asked for your resignation yet?’ asked Brex. The short lion male’s desk was opposite Kirra’s, and he was currently leaning back on his chair with his large muscular feet up on the edge of his desk. Brex knew that Councillor Gerak had long been a thorn in the pro-wolf Captain’s side.
‘He’s still building up to that,’ answered Felx without much amusement. He did not look up from what he was doing.
‘Speaking of Councillor Gerak, where is Lieutenant Millan?’ asked Kirra cheekily.
Felx gave the tall blond lioness a side-glance, raising an eyebrow.
Kirra coughed slightly, knowing she had probably pushed the matter a bit far.
Felx sighed. He had known both Sergeants for a long time and his reaction reminded him of how uptight the current situation had made him.
‘She had to go back to her office for a couple of things. She’ll be here in a few minutes,’ Felx stated.
Lieutenant Millan was a bit of an issue for the Captain. Though she was undoubtedly a brilliant officer, her loyalty was still in question, even after having been with them for a few months now.
Her posting to RefugeCross had been highly unusual. The position of Lieutenant had been vacant ever since Felx had been promoted to Captain just after the death of Trex’s father. That was almost seven years ago. Her sudden appearance from the capital was suspicious and her anti-wolf attitude had made her possible connection to Councillor Gerak seem more likely. Despite having some old military friends back in the lion capital city check it out; Felx had been unable to prove anything. Captain Felx disliked not being able to trust Millan, but given the increased difficulties recently with anti-wolf attitudes amongst the government, he felt he had little choice. His first loyalty was to the Anthros of the lower plains, be it to wolf or lion.
‘Let’s recap,’ said Felx suddenly, leaning on his desk as he faced his two old friends. ‘What are the current issues?’
Looking at their Commander for a second, the two Sergeants grabbed their notes. Brex started.
‘Firstly, it looks like the wolves that broke into the inner city got away.’
‘Elaborate,’ said Felx.
‘Our trackers picked up a covered trail at the coast, it leads into the savannah,’ replied Kirra for her fellow officer.
‘They probably scuttled the boat off-shore,’ added Brex. ‘Given their head start, they would have crossed over the Thitchel back into wolf territory by now.’
‘What are we still doing on that?’ asked Felx, wanting to confirm everything so as to get a clearer picture.
‘We’re sending some wolf divers to try and find the boat. It’s Shorn’s lot, and Corporal Fistle is supervising,’ said Brex, referring to a trusted wolf fishing boat owner and a pro-wolf lion reservist.
‘We also have a team following the trail out in the savannah, just to see if we can get any more clues. All other activities have been stopped,’ finished up Kirra.
‘Hmmmm. What else.’
‘We have reinforced the border posts to the WesternWilderness, mostly with the extra reservists called up after the robbery.’
‘Good,’ said Felx.
‘Are we sending any soldiers to help the wolves?’ asked Kirra.
It had been an idea of Felx’s to offer troops to help the wolves in times of a potential Bear Tribe attack, as a gesture of good will. It was, after all, in the lion’s best interest to keep the wolves safe, bears were a common enemy.
‘No, Gerak and Herrol made sure of that, everyone is to stay here,’ replied Felx, his voice not giving away the disappointment he must have been feeling.
‘What about volunteer wolves?’ asked Kirra, referring to wolves that lived in the lower plains which would want to help their sisters and brothers in time of danger.
‘The council felt: ‘’that it would be inappropriate to encourage the use of arms amongst wolves living in the lower plains. Even if it was only in Wolf Kingdom territory,’’’ replied Felx, as if reading from a script.
‘What about Tasch?’ asked Brex, disappointed on behalf of his Captain.
‘She tried to help,’ replied Felx, taking a seat on his desk. ‘But at the end of the day she is only one councillor, even if she is lead councillor.’
The room went quiet for a second.
‘Anything else?’ asked Felx, after a while. He leaned forward on his table.
‘There is still that reported break-in at the aviary in the inner city,’ said Kirra, flipping over the last of her note pages.
‘Other then that it has been pretty quiet,’ said Brex, throwing his own papers onto his desk and leaning back.
The two Sergeants watched as the Captain got back up and walked over to the door. Looking out for a second, Felx closed it slowly. It was unusual for the Captain to be this fidgety, even after the normal weekly meeting.
‘What is it Captain?’ asked Kirra, concerned.
‘On that, aviary, matter,’ said Felx quietly. ‘There have been some developments on that.’
Both of the Sergeants leaned forward on their desks, interested by the Captain’s sudden apparent secrecy.
‘This is to go no further, do you understand?’ said Felx, walking back to his own desk.
Turning around, Felx could see both Sergeants nodding immediately.
‘It appears there have been more problems with our message carrying feathered friends then first thought.’
‘What? So there really was a break in?’ asked Kirra.
‘Not a break in as such, but it seems certain now that messages have definitely been tampered with, and it appears at least one bird was killed.’
Kirra and Brex exchanged glances. Tampering with messenger birds was one of the most serious crimes for either wolf or lion. As everyone relied on information, tampering with even normal mail or messages was almost as bad as treason.
‘Are you sure, Sir? It would mean that it was probably one of the palace residents. Given the circumstances, they would have had to have had a key,’ said Kirra carefully. She was not really happy about suspecting a palace resident.
‘Yes, I know. Councillor Tasch has someone on the inside who took it upon themselves to take the aviary matter further,’ said Felx, referring of course to Trex’s conspiracy-theory friendly friend, Brekiz.
Kirra continued to look on with interest, but Brex suddenly knew who the captain was talking about, the short scruffy sergeant kept his ear closer to the ground then his taller female colleague. He would be sure to enlighten her later.
Felx remembered back to what he had been told by Head Councillor Tasch. Apparently, with the help of the lioness clerk, Brekiz had set up traps and alarms to try and catch out the hawk murderer. The unknown criminal had been skilled enough to avoid the alarms, but had not expected Brekiz to actually be sleeping nearby when he struck again. Once he had been woken up by the sudden commotion, Brekiz had pounced on the cloaked figure. There was a struggle and Brekiz had chased the unknown figure across the machine room that took up most of the domed palace roof cavity. Unfortunately, Brekiz had taken a nasty fall, from which he was now recovering, but the youth had chased the figure away and saved the message the unknown attacker was after.
This message Felx now held in his hand, having been given it by Councillor Tasch Huzzel, who it had originally been addressed to. Strangely enough the message had only contained a warning, not a clear one, and not a warning for anyone at RefugeCross. It was, however, the second time it was sent. The sender wondering why they had not had a reply to the first message they sent a few days ago. This only made the fact that someone was willing to kill an imperial messenger hawk for it all the more suspicious.
‘Unfortunately we don’t have enough to go on to actually charge anyone of the crime,’ said Captain Felx seriously. ‘But I want a complete review of the security to the messenger room as soon as possible. Change all locks and restrict the handing out of keys.’
Kirra noted down the new instructions neatly.
‘When was the last time anything like these three events happened in RefugeCross?’ Felx asked his two subordinates.
‘Well there was that series of robberies a few months ago, and that unsolved fire thing,’ offered Brex, scratching his goatee thoughtfully. ‘But other then that, this has to be the most we’ve had to handle for some time.’
‘Don’t forget that wolf smuggling racket,’ said Kirra, giving a thoughtful look to her commander. ‘They do say trouble comes in threes, sir.’
‘Yes, they do… Somehow I can’t help feeling that the saying implies that the three are connected.’
‘Sir?’ questioned Brex.
‘As you both know, I have a close professional and personal relationship with Councillor Tasch and Professor Katan,’ Felx continued. ‘You two are also aware of the rumour of their connection with the wolves?’ he asked.
‘What kind of guards would we be if we didn’t,’ replied Brex with a cocky smile. He was proud of his ability to always know what was going on.
‘Well they’re true,’ said Felx casually. ‘In fact, their contact up in the hills is no other then the wolf Sage Filfia.’
This caused Kirra to draw in breath sharply before whistling, impressed. Brex, however, didn’t move a muscle.
‘The three of them have been working hard to ensure that peace is maintained here in the lower plains and in the occupied territories. As you can imagine, they have plenty to do,’ said Felx. The bearded Captain tried to read the expressions of his two Sergeants.
Disclosing this type of information was dangerous. But it had been a conscious decision by himself as well as Tasch and Katan Huzzel. Things were getting more complicated and the small group of peace keepers needed more eyes and ears. Felx hoped is intuition about his Sergeants was correct. Though they had both fought long and hard against wolves during the war, both were easygoing Anthros by nature. Felx hoped their loyalty and trust in him outweighed any prejudices they might have against wolves.
‘What’s the connection?’ asked Brex after a while. Brex’s continued business like manner putting Felx at ease.
Felx moved over to the balcony to look back up the main road towards the inner city.
‘As you know, there are elements on both sides that oppose the peace. We fear that what we have seen in RefugeCross is only a small part of something bigger playing out in the wolf territories.’
‘Surely that’s a wolf problem,’ stated Brex, his tone not carrying any hint of hostility.
‘Aren’t you on good terms with the wolf Mayor? Can’t she do something?’ asked Kirra, voicing another well-run rumour.
‘She has bigger problems,’ replied Felx. ‘The possibility of bears on her northern border and the recent attack on her second in command are just two of them.’
‘When did that come through?’ asked Brex, astonished by the news about the wolf attack, even he hadn’t heard that piece of information.
‘It hasn’t. At least not yet,’ said Felx. Looking down at the street below, he could see Lieutenant Millan coming towards the tower on foot.
‘Listen,’ said Felx, turning back to is officers. ‘I have had a request by professor Katan to go and check up on Filfia with him.’
Kirra and Brex exchanged looks.
‘They’ll never let you go into the wilderness, not without an escort,’ said Brex.
‘And they’ll never approve an escort… not now,’ added Kirra.
‘I know. That’s why I need your help,’ replied Felx, a shrewd smile appearing on his face.
‘I am going to move Kirra and myself to the border to oversee the defences. Lieutenant Millan will stay here to look after RefugeCross. And I will need you, Brex, to make sure that nothing happens while I am away.’
Brex gave his commander a blank look.
‘She does outrank me you know,’ Brex stated flatly, referring to the Lieutenant, just in case his Captain had forgotten.
‘You have your ways…’ replied Felx, knowing that the Sergeant had a gift of twisting words and meanings. Looking at both of his friends, Felx allowed them a few seconds to digest what he had just said.
‘I need to know if you are with me, Kirra, Brex,’ Felx asked sincerely, addressing each one in turn.
Felx didn’t often use the Sergeant’s names when on duty, but when he did his old friends knew that he was being serious.
‘Sure Captain,’ replied Kirra immediately, smiling at her superior officer.
Captain Felx had never really doubted that she would follow him. Turning to Brex, he awaited an answer.
‘Now why would I disobey a request from the one officer I actually enjoy serving under,’ Brex said finally with cunning smile. ‘Particularly if he wants me to break the rules.’
Felx grinned in reply. He could already hear Lieutenant Millan coming up the stairs.
Many kilometres away in the lower hills of the WesternWilderness, Sara looked up into the morning sun. It had emerged temporarily from behind one of the many clouds slowly drifting across the sky. The weather was becoming overcast, something that would help her to move unseen.
Far ahead, Sara could just make out a group of riders travelling quickly through a part of the forest that was less densely covered with trees. Scratching her head, the young wolf consulted her very rough map of the wilderness.
Sara had been lucky to pick up their trail last night; all that extra training from her grandfather in addition to what she had learnt about tracking from her experienced mother came in very handy all of a sudden. She had to admit to herself though, that a lot of Anthros would have been able to pick up the trail.
It appeared that the exiles were confident that they were the only ones in the WesternWilderness. Obviously speed was the issue for them now, not stealth. Sara realized that it was highly likely that she was the only one other then the exiles and Sage Filfia left in the forested wilds. Once the news had spread about the reported bears, special whistles and howls had been issued from the outposts before the wolf sentries had abandoned them. Anyone in the area would have headed home immediately. To stay and risk meeting up with bears was suicide. Bear Clan warriors did not hold the same value in life as wolves or lions did.
Though Sage Filfia’s house was quite far from any outpost, the bear-warning-call was well known to the more intelligent creatures of the forest. As the Sage was able to communicate somewhat with the beasts of the forest, she would be well protected in her summerhouse by now. Additional to this, there was a message system from one of the wolf outposts; any written message left in a special place would find its way to the Sage’s home via one of her many feathered friends. This was something only known by a few wolves.
One of the few wolves to know of this special message system, was someone that had learnt of it only very recently from Mr Thorntreck. He was a large red wolf, and one that was currently on his way to that special, now abandoned, outpost with his band of exiles.
Sara moved back down the small rocky outcrop she had been using to get a view of the surrounding area. Down at the bottom stood a very dirty Misha, impatiently rubbing her head and short antlers onto her side.
‘Sorry girl,’ Sara said apologetically. ‘But you’re just too noticeable when we ride through the forest.’
Misha gave her owner an unforgiving glare. Sara had stopped to cover Misha in a mixture of mud and ash the night before. The normally pale horse was now a deep grey and brown. Misha had yet to forgive her owner for this act, and Sara had been extra kind to her animal to compensate.
‘Come on girl, lets go,’ called Sara.
Misha simply turned away, seemingly ignoring her owner.
‘The quicker we get going, the sooner I wash you clean,’ Sara stated. Crossing her arms, Sara challenged the young animal’s stubbornness. Misha turned her head, somehow sensing that her owner was not about to budge, she conceded and trotted over.
‘Good girl,’ said Sara, jumping up onto her animal.
Sara directed Misha through the dense forest.
From her observations she could tell which mountain pass the exiles were going to use. At this particular ridgeline there were only really three ways to get further up into the mountains. It had been fortunate that she had picked up the exiles trail, but it was unfortunate in that this meant she was behind them. It would be difficult to get by unseen to warn the wolf Sage.
Not for the first time today, Sara began to doubt herself. From what she could see in front of her there were about eight to ten exiles, all obviously skilled and highly motivated. She reasoned this from the fact that they must have some sort of plan to kill a very powerful Sage. Even if Sara got by them, would it be enough? Sara imagined what she would say to the wolf Sage…
Um, sorry miss Filfia, but there are some wolves outside who want to kill you. Oh, and by the way, I helped them to get here, Sara thought to herself.
The ridiculousness of the whole thing brought the spirits of the young female wolf down. And what if the group just went straight in and attacked her, would Sara jump in like she had done with her grandfather? She wouldn’t last two seconds.
Sara’s mind drifted to her parents, wondering what they were going through; by now they would have discovered that their daughter had disappeared again. Frowning to herself, Sara suddenly had a strong urge to go home… the problem was, to what? To an angry mother, to a disappointed father and to a grandfather she had abandoned. No, whatever happened out here, that was the way it was. The damage had been done, what more could she loose, her life?
Sara gulped audibly as she realized that was actually the case. Her mind flooded with negative emotions, it began to spread noticeably through the young wolf’s body. Misha became uneasy, affected by the stress and doubt coming from her owner.
Sara was brought back to the real world be her faltering horse. Realizing that she had let her emotions get out of control, she focused on developing her confidence. She had to streamline her thoughts, she had to think positive.
So what if she did lose her life? It wasn’t as if she had much of a life to go back to anyway.
This was not a particularly good argument, but it was a start.
It all balanced on if she could beat the exiles to Sage Filfia, and that was what she was going to do.
That was the trick, if life became too complicated, focus on the one thing you could do, and then do it well. Even if you weren’t exactly sure how you where going to do it, but then that was what confidence was for, wasn’t it? Buoyed by her owner’s new determination, Misha kicked it up a gear.
The two slalomed their way through the undergrowth.
All of this activity was unknown to another traveller nearby. Trex was taking a more costal route in an effort to avoid any wolves that might be around. The young lion was still completely unaware of the false warning of Bear Clan warriors in the area, but was still trying to travel as quietly as possible in any case.
Coming over the small mountain pass, Trex began his descent with Flint, trying to stay in the cover of the rocks and low vegetation.
Had he been able to continue his careful progress, he may have noticed the small group of exiles travelling to the east as they galloped through low shrub and grasslands.
Suddenly, something in his immediate area had Trex’s and Flint’s complete and undivided attention.
The massive predator was half the size of the horse Flint, its powerful claws and crushing jaw making it one of the most dangerous wild animals Trex knew of.
The creature uncurled from the rock it was lying on.
In appearance, the animal could best be described as looking like a massive lizard as we know them. On Trex’s world, this species of animal was warm blooded and behaved and acted more like cats or pumas do on our world then reptiles.
The wild beast in question was called a liezon, and this one was almost as shocked to see Trex and his horse, as they were to see it. Jumping back on all fours, the large smooth-scaled creature whipped its long tail in front of it threateningly as it hissed in anger. Liezons had large triangular heads and long slick bodies. Though currently black, the smooth scales of the large creature flashed red for a second in anger. Like chameleons, liezons could change their scale colour to better blend into the environment, something perfect for ambushing its prey.
Flint reared up in shock, grunting and whining in alarm. Trex was barely able to hold on as the liezon scurried forward, swiping one of its mighty claws as a warning.
The jet black animal backed up against a rock. Liezons were shy around Anthros in general, but their two hundred kilogram weight, massive claws and razor sharp teeth proved a good deterrent to anything that may come looking for them.
Trex didn’t even get a second glance as Flint suddenly bolted.
Fuelled by its own fear, as well as that of its owner, the horse’s mind was blank to everything except running as fast as possible, preferable into the open.
Trex held on for dear life as Flint sprinted through low shrub and trees. Recovering from his shock from seeing the liezon, Trex’s mind was overcome with fear as he found himself riding on an out of control horse. Blinking a few times, he strained to get some of his thoughts together.
Bursting through the undergrowth, Flint found some open space to run.
Finally able to look up, Trex tried to clear his mind, he had to do something, and fast. Pulling back on the reigns his arms were almost ripped off by the surging animal. He had to get the animals attention somehow. Reading the movement of the horses head as it ran, he waited until it was back, kicking his legs into the animal sides, he pulled the reigns down low, forcing the animals head down as it tried to move forward.
‘Flint!’ shouted Trex, momentarily unconcerned about who else could hear him.
Startled, Flint lost his galloping rhythm, forcing him to slow down. Still panicked, the horse kicked out, trying to remove whatever it was on his back that was stopping him from running. Trex struggled for control as the horse bucked underneath him, pulling in the rains more, he tried to bring the animal to a stop.
‘Flint calm down, calm down boy!’ Trex shouted, trying to get the animal to listen.
Rearing up a few times, Flint slowly began to calm. Trex started to make soothing sounds while stroking his horse, or at least as much as he could while still trying to control the stressed Flint.
‘He’s gone boy! We’re safe now,’ reassured Trex, trying to be as confident and calm as he could.
Trex’s mind had been brought into sharp focus by the previous events and he was already thinking ahead. Considering the noise he had just made, anyone who was in the current valley would know he was here, and he was still in the open. Looking down, he tried to think of the best course of action. Flint was still nervous, Trex had to get them back into cover and whatever he did, he would have to do it quickly to try and disappear if someone had seen him.
With new determination, Trex took hold of Flints reigns, forcefully guiding the young horse. Flint didn’t fight the new instructions, assuming that if the focused emotionless lion on top of him was not scared and was still directing, he must have some idea about what he was doing…
Across the upper end of the valley a small group of riders had indeed seen the young lion’s battle with his horse.
‘What is a lion doing here?’ asked an older wolf, his rough voice matching his rag-tag appearance.
‘Should we kill him?’ asked a younger wolf hopefully. He had ridden up beside the large red wolf who was leading the group. He was the same brown wolf that had attacked Sara only a few nights ago.
The large red wolf Philton watched as the lion disappeared back into thicker vegetation in the distance.
‘No,’ he said eventually.
‘He could have been sent by the lions to warn the Sage,’ stated the older wolf, his pessimistic tone as hard as he himself looked. This was an Anthro who had failed the school-of-hard-knocks, and then had gone off to kill the teacher.
‘We will not kill him,’ stated Philton coolly. The leader’s concentrated expression showed that his mind was already hard at work with the new situation.
The young brown wolf spat at the ground in annoyance, disappointed at having missed out on some fun.
‘I want him alive,’ said Philton.
This generated an evil grin from the young brown wolf.
‘And in a good shape,’ the red wolf added, looking specifically at his sadistic companion.
‘Oh I won’t hurt him… much,’ replied the brown wolf.
With a crisp ‘hiut!’ the group turned to rush down the valley, heading straight for Trex’s position.
Further back down the trail, Sara had not seen Trex and Flint’s mad dash into the clearing. She had crossed the ridge just in time to see the two disappear back into the undergrowth, not recognizing either of them from this distance. Confused at the sudden appearance of a lion, Sara waited for a reaction from the exiles. They appeared to discuss the matter before giving chase. Watching them head down the valley, Sara was at a loss as to what to do. Only moments before she had decided to remain on their trail; now, however, there seemed to be a good opportunity to sneak past. Somewhat confused, she consulted her map.
‘Damn it,’ she said to herself.
Technically she could head on, but something was telling her to follow the exiles. It was the same feeling that had made her decide to stay on their trail only minutes before. Even given these new circumstances, the feeling was still strong. Looking back up, Sara stuffed the map back into a pocket. Well, she had made a decision and it wasn’t like she had gone back on any she had made recently, so why start now. Leading Misha into the clearing, Sara began to hunt the hunters.
The one Anthro who was the pray in all this was poor Trex. He had stopped momentarily to arm himself, just in case. Jumping from his horse the young lion unravelled his sheathe, putting the cloak over his head and fastening it like a large poncho with his belt, leaving his arms free. The large pendant was now positioned just below his head on his chest, the few times he had accidentally touched the large black stone the surface had flared silver, indicating the intense level of pure focus Trex was now under. Taking out his short sword and utility axe he manipulated them to attach to the ends of his two sections of staff, which he then re-positioned on either side of his quiver that was slung to his back for easy access.
Jumping back onto Flint, the pair shot forward again. Flint was still excited, but his fear had subsided. His owner was driving him hard. Flint didn’t know why, but there was purpose in Trex’s actions. Even without any noticeable emotions coming from Trex, the horse could tell this was not a time to argue.
Dashing forward through the low scrub, Trex wanted to put distance between himself and the clearing. He had decided that making a break for home was not the best idea. He was already a long way into the wilderness, wolf outposts were closer then lion’s. Though Trex didn’t really like the idea of going to wolf soldiers for protection, it was still better then meeting unknown and unrepresented wolves in the wilds.
Trex didn’t actually know if he had been seen or not. Lions were cautious by nature, and liked to take a course of action that would take almost everything into account.
Trex and Flint returned to the small path that led through the forest. Scanning left and right to see if anyone had seen the previous commotion, Trex suddenly spotted the exiles racing towards him from the clearing. They were only a few hundred meters away and closing. Mentally prepared for this eventuality, their sudden appearance did not register any fear in the young lion. Flint surged forward with more pace. Trex thought that the wolf riders were probably out to have a little fun. If he gave them a good chase they would probably give up.
Though the WesternWilderness was unpopulated there were a few well worn paths here and there, mostly from ancient animal routes. Antelope and wild sheep-like creatures existed on the world of the Anthros too. They, and other animals, migrated up and down the mountain passes between winter and summer.
As useful as these paths were, they could also be disorientating. There were no sign posts out here, and only a few of the paths lead to the important river crossings and mountain passes. It was difficult enough to navigate when you took your time. It was something almost impossible at the break neck speed Trex and Flint were travelling.
At the lower side of the valley, Trex was approaching a stream. Here the forest was tall again, the large trees blanketing the low undergrowth of moss and ferns. Stealing a glance back, Trex could make out six riders; that was less then he remembered from the first glance, some had probably already split off down other paths to see if they could cut him off.
Philton could now see Trex up ahead as the path straightened out for a section. The older wolf was impressed with the lion’s riding; it was unusual that they were this good on a horse. Though this did not matter to Philton; soon the lion would have nowhere else to run. Through the thick foliage up ahead the red wolf could make out sunlight filtering through a break in the forest canopy, they were coming to the stream. The wild creek, like most up here in the mountains, would probably ran deep and fast, a perfect barrier to trap the fleeing lion.
Trex burst out of the lower vegetation at the stream’s bank. Flint slid on all fours on the dry earth to slow from a fast gallop. Looking up and down the flowing waterway Trex instantly chose his path. Flint jumped to it once more.
Seconds later, Philton burst through the same bushes. Not having to worry about choosing a direction he was now only meters behind the lion.
Trex scanned the river up ahead. There was a crossing of some kind. Coming closer he realized that the water was probably too high to cross safely. Up ahead, he could see another wolf rider emerge from the trees, probably at the proper crossing. Out of options Trex pulled at the reigns, giving a crisp shout.
Flint sprang into the fast running stream. Landing with a splash, Flint somehow managed not to topple over. Struggling, Flints back legs slipped on the smooth rocks and the animal faltered. Fighting to move thorough the spraying water, Trex gritted his teeth as animal and rider were carried for a second down-stream.
‘Come on, Flint! Hiat, Hiat!’ Trex shouted in encouragement, willing his animal forward.
Pushing out with his powerful legs Flint was able to find grip. Hopping forward through the water the horse was able to scamper up the opposite bank of the creek. Trex, now soaking wet, looked back at his pursuers. Surely that would be enough for them to lose interest, why were they so intent on getting to him?
Philton stopped at the bank of the creek, watching as Trex disappeared into the Forest on the other side. Both up and down the creek, exile riders had emerged. Philton could see the steep valley wall on the other side of the fast flowing stream, there was only a narrow stretch of forest on that side, with little way out.
With a series of hand signals and whistles he was able to direct his band of exiles. Taking more time then Trex, he looked for a slightly better water crossing, though he still had to forcefully encourage his animal to enter the frothing frigid water.
Trex knew he was trapped, he could feel it. Fear, however, no longer played a part in his thoughts. Dismounting, Trex already knew what he had to do, he would send Flint on as a diversion then double back and try to cross the river. Once in the larger woods on the other side he might have a chance to slip away and hide out. Trex didn’t know why the wolves were so determined to catch him, but his intuition told him that it had become much more then a game to them. Grabbing a large bag from Flint’s back he slung it around his shoulder.
Trex then tried to shoo Flint away.
‘Go boy. Run, get out of here!’ he said as forcefully as he could without raising his voice.
Flint looked questioningly at his master, not sure what Trex wanted the horse to do.
Trex did not have time for this, taking hold of a section of his staff he flexed the wood while moving to the horse side. Aiming at the animal’s rump he let the wood snap back, a large audible smack could be heard throughout the forest
‘Heechhha!’ growled Trex, trying to sound as threatening as he could.
Flint jumped at the sharp pain, racing off into the forest. Watching the animal go for only a moment, Trex then tried to cover his tracks as best he could before moving quickly back the way he had come.
The young lion’s ears strained for any sound of approaching wolves. Hearing something, he quickly jumped into a nearby tree, climbing up onto a large branch to hide himself. Moving silently, Trex stayed out of sight as six riders shot past.
Taking his chances he jumped further through the trees.
Coming to a small clearing, Philton tried to read the tracks.
‘He went east!’ shouted the young brown wolf eagerly. Immediately he and three others began to follow the fresh horse tracks.
‘Wait!’ shouted Philton, causing the four to slow down.
‘What are we waiting for? The tracks lead this way!’ the brown wolf yelled impatiently.
‘The horse’s tracks lead that way, but that doesn’t mean that he is still on it,’ retorted the red wolf. ‘He’s here,’ Philton said calmly, turning his horse in a circle.
Trex froze in his current hiding position. They were scanning the trees for him.
Once again Philton silently directed his men with hand signals.
Trex peaked from his hiding position to see three of the riders coming back towards him. They were going to stop him doubling back. The game was up.
The leading wolf male scanned uncertainly from one side to the other. He was leading the three mounted wolves heading back to the creek. It was unnerving to know that there was a pale orange furred lion somewhere in the immediate green and brown environment, and they couldn’t see him at all. The wolf knew that lions were sneaky creatures, and could spring from anywhere.
That was all he was able to contemplate, however, as the end of a rapidly un-flexing staff came hurtling towards him in a wide ark. The blow knocked the exile unconscious and sent him flying off his horse.
Trex jumped down from his hiding place to snatch the completed staff in both hands. At one end of the staff his short sword was attached, to the other, a small axe head with spear point, making it about two and a half meters in total length.
Rushing towards the second rider, Trex forced the horse to rear up in reaction to his threatening short sword blade. Swinging the staff behind his back and around in a wide arc Trex was able to bring the back end of the axe against the side of the second rider, knocking him off. The horse dashed away as the third rider urged his animal forward, sword in hand.
Trex raised his staff, the small metal band moved along its length to solidify were the blade struck. Flexing the wood, Trex was able to absorb the strong blow as the rider shot past.
Trex moved over to the second fallen rider, and without taking his eyes off the third rider, jabbed the dazed wolf in the leg with his tipped spear point. The wolf gave out a shout, but quickly fell unconscious due to the poison on the spears’ tip.
‘He’s mine!’ screamed a voice from behind Trex.
Turning around, Trex could see the brown wolf and his comrade had dismounted, both were coming towards him on foot.
Moving onto some nearby boulders so as to be safe from the riders, Trex took a defensive stance. He could feel the aggression flowing from the two wolves, particularly the brown one, whose anger was almost approaching madness. This didn’t affect the lion however; Trex had already decided that he wasn’t going to make it anyway, so there was nothing left to lose, or indeed to be scared about.
The brown wolf raced up the moss covered boulders, throwing himself at the lion. Trex deflected the first blow with the short-sword end of his staff, and then pushed forward with the centre of his staff to absorb the second blow. Rolling back as the wolf ran into him, Trex kicked out, sending the brown wolf flying over the top of him. Springing back up to his feet, Trex was in time to deflect the attack of the second wolf. Moving skilfully, Trex held his own.
Utilizing the high ground, Trex forced the wolf back, managing to cork the second wolf’s leg and bring him to his knees. Before he could finish him off the brown wolf returned.
Closing on him slowly, the infuriated wolf swung wildly with his short swords. Trex was forced back, the impact of the blows being as strong as what Sara had sent at him.
From a short distance away Philton watched the proceedings. Now dismounted himself, he was approaching the lion slowly, his own weapon drawn. To the other side, another rider had also dismounted. It was the scruffy old veteran.
The wolf with the corked leg was struggling to get back up, his leg unable to hold his weight for the time being.
Trex and the mad brown wolf desperately fought against each other. Philton could feel that the anger was quickly turning into frustration for the brown wolf.
This was where his blind rage let the teenage wolf down. Though his anger made him as powerful as any female, he couldn’t control it. He couldn’t manipulate it or focus it on a task. Naked aggression was useless on its own, anger made the body ready to react, be it to fight or otherwise, what you did with it, however, was what decided the ultimate outcome, and for that, you needed your head. This was particularly the case against an enemy which could withstand the original onslaught. The young wolf still had much to learn about fighting opponents who were not intimidated by him, particularly lions.
Frustrated, the brown wolf delivered a low, potentially killing, blow.
Only partially able to deflect, Trex was able to manipulate his cloak just in time, the gash only slightly cutting the fabric that covered his upper leg, but there was enough force to draw blood. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Trex instantly changed his style of fighting. Killing the opponent was now an option it seemed.
This was something everyone could feel in the immediate area, it was as if the air had suddenly gotten heavier, as if the two Anthro’s were radiating a heat that burnt like the sun.
Philton frowned, unhappy with the development.
Calm like a lion, or enraged like a wolf, the decision to immediately act to kill another Anthro was something that caused a change in all Anthros, it was impossible to hide and easy to feel.
This was also the reason why murder and assassinations were so uncommon on the Anthro world. The intent of the attacker was clear as soon as the impassioned decision had been made to actually undertake it, sometimes before the killer’s weapon was even drawn or they were in a position to actually kill their target.
Fighting on desperately, Trex used an opportunity soon after to stab into the brown wolfs arm, causing the wolf to shout out in pain. Twisting, spinning in a tight circle to bring the flat end of the axe around into the back of the wolf’s head, Trex watched the brown wolf drop, unconscious, blood pouring out of the wound in his arm.
Looking around, Trex eyed off his last two opponents as he stood in a defensive pose, panting heavily from the effort of fighting. The heat that the lion youth had been radiating seemed to disappear a bit.
‘Give it up,’ said Philton patiently.
Trex simply continued to stare back in determination.
Taking their time, the two older wolves closed in from opposite sides. Trex continually had to twist his head to keep his eyes on both of them.
With a nod of his head Philton sent his comrade in. Trex backed up and barely had time to deflect the attack as Philton came in a split second later. He was only able to deflect two more attacks before he was finally out positioned.
Philton hit the staff out off one of Trex’s hands, sweeping his extended leg low to knock Trex’s feet out from under him. Trex fell flat on his back. Quickly the scruffy wolf stepped forward onto Trex’s other arm, pinning him to the ground. Trex looked up as the older adult wolf raised his muscular arm back.
‘The game’s over,’ were the last words Trex heard before a crashing blow sent him into unconsciousness.