Refuge Cross “The Exiles”

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Chapter 12


Fight and flight

(The tale of Trex & Sara)

The exile stepped out from the shadows. He stopped suddenly when he caught sight of the other Anthro standing in the ruins of the old temple.

‘You have got to be kidding me,’ said Mert, recognizing the age of Sara in the moonlight.

Sara took a hesitant step back, but there was nowhere else to go. Behind her there was only an old balcony, the railing and most of the floor having long ago fallen away into a courtyard below. Sara drew her sword just in time as Mert suddenly rushed forward and attacked her.

Philton could hear the noise of combat up ahead as he climbed up another series of stairs. Arriving through a different entrance to the temple he could see Mert fighting the young female wolf. Drawing his own sword, he moved forward through the shadows. He came at Sara from the side as she battled Mert skilfully.

Mert had moved around his opponent so that her back was to the newly appeared Philton. He was hoping that the red wolf would get in a knockout blow before she realized he was there. Mert attacked again to keep her attention focused. He was surprised to suddenly find himself on the back foot; Sara was not playing his game and was aiming to beat him quickly.

Philton, seeing his fellow exile in increasing distress, rushed forward. He was only half able to react as someone lunged at him from the shadows.

Trex had launched himself from somewhere higher up. Using his staff to increase his momentum, Trex aimed a flying kick at the wolf leader. The blow caught the surprised red wolf in the ribs and sent him flying off into the rubble in the shadows.

Sara faltered from her attack to check what was going on behind her. Mert quickly pressed forward in an attempt to catch her off-guard, but was countered.

Landing skilfully, Trex wasted no time to go to Sara’s aid. The two quickly overpowered Mert, a blow from Trex’s staff disarming him and a kick from Sara sending him to the ground.

The two youths turned to run for a doorway.

Running beside Sara, Trex could just make out movement in the shadows. Philton had recovered much quicker then expected and was lunging forward again. Reacting on instinct, Trex moved to intercept so as to protect the oblivious Sara. Bringing his staff up, he blocked a sharp blow from the older wolf.

Philton was not to be denied this time, pressing his momentum he was able to elbow Trex as the young lion flexed the staff to absorb the blow from the sword. A second backhand sent the lion youth flying to the side.

Sara had not reacted quickly enough and was now facing the old exile alone. Rushing forward, she went on the offensive. The two exchanged blows, but Sara was quickly outfought by the skilful older warrior.

Able to grab the young wolf’s wrist, the red exile threw her past him and towards the open balcony. The throw had been with such force that Sara slid along the ground and out past the half destroyed balconies edge. Losing her weapon, Sara scrambled to grab the stone edge desperately. Swinging from the balconies edge, she could here her sword hitting the stones far below. It was only about a two story drop, but the dark rubble below would probably result in her breaking a leg if she let go, if not worse.

Trex rubbed his sore side. He had gotten back up just as Sara had been thrown out onto the balcony. To his right, Mert was getting up as well. It looked like Philton was moving to finish off Sara as she hung on by her fingertips. This was not looking good.

Trex searched desperately for another opportunity, it appeared that fighting was not an intelligent option anymore. He could see an old wall opposite the balcony that Sara was hanging onto. He knew it wasn’t more then a two story drop from there, having himself come from that direction before he entered the ruined temple himself. The wall wasn’t too far away, from what he could see, and a section of the temple wall had fallen away next to the balcony, giving him a way past Philton.

Acting before he could further contemplate his actions, the lion youth ran forward. As Trex ran, he took a short blade from his utility belt and fastened it to his staff, manipulating the metal and wood’s properties to turn his staff into a weighted spear.

Philton had no time to react as the lion sprinted past him a few meters to his right. Before the old wolf knew what was going on the lion had leapt through the breach in the wall and was sailing through the air.

Trex positioned himself in the air and threw the spear with all his might, imbedding the sharpened tip into the wall opposite. The spear impacted about one story above the ground. Crouching in mid flight, the lion landed against the opposite wall, using his hands and feet to absorb the impact. With his momentum spent, he slid down the wall towards the ground. Half way down, his two feet landed elegantly on his imbedded staff/spear. Philton had stopped to stare at the spectacle.

‘Sara, jump!’ called Trex across to his childhood friend.

Sara had not noticed Trex’s reckless flight through the air, turning in surprise, she look across towards where she had heard his voice coming from. Once recognizing him, she wasted no time. Sara swung her legs up to brace them against the wall underneath the remains of the balcony.

Philton rushed forward to try and grab her hands, but he was too late.

Using her powerful leg muscles, combined with a rush of emotional power, Sara pushed off, sending herself flying towards Trex.

With one hand holding the spear he was crouching on, Trex moved to catch her outstretched hand. Sara did not have enough momentum to carry her across, Trex jumped off of his perch to catch her as she fell towards the rubble below. Trex’s staff bent as it took the weight of both young Anthros.

‘Got you!’ said Trex triumphantly. Sara stared up into the young lion’s face as she swung back and forth, relieved.

Looking back down, she searched for a place to drop down into the rubble, still a fair few meters below.

‘Swing me closer towards the doorway,’ Sara instructed.

Trex began to swing the wolf. She let go of his hand and fell the distance to the clearer ground. Landing elegantly enough, Sara rolled clear. She got up quickly to help Trex, who would be falling from higher up then her.

Trex could no longer see Philton, the relentless red wolf was probably already on his way down. Concentrating for a second, Trex manipulated the properties of the steel tip of his embedded spear so that it became thinner. The spear suddenly loosened and slipped harmlessly out of the hole it had made in the wall. Trex fell free, his natural instincts told him to prepare his legs and arms to hit the hard surface, but before he could contact the rocks below, he was intercepted by a pair of strong arms around his chest and stomach.

‘Got you,’ said Sara, with a sly smile.

The young lion looked up at her in surprise, his arms and legs dangling a few centimetres off the ground. Placing the surprised lion on his legs again, Sara moved to one side, she quickly retrieved her previously discarded sword, which lay in the rubble.

‘You’re not the only one who needs his tools,’ she said confidently.

From the direction of the temple they could hear someone making his way down the remains of a ruined staircase.

‘Come on,’ said Sara, as she made her way through another ancient archway.

The two Anthros raced on through an old overgrown courtyard. They reached the banks of the other wild river and again there appeared to be no way over, the bridges having been washed away a long time ago. Sara looked desperately down the hill, but there was no easy way to travel in that direction. They were trapped.

‘Quickly, this way,’ said Trex. He was heading further towards the base of the cliff that made up the back of the palace complex.

‘There is nothing up there,’ complained Sara. An edge of desperation had appeared in her voice.

‘Just trust me,’ Trex said coolly, his mind already racing. ‘We don’t have time to argue.’

Trex was already running towards another ruined wall that would get them higher up. Sara scanned the area again, but with no alternative, she simply ran after the lion. Scampering ever higher, they were soon close to the sheer wall of the cliff. Sara thought that if Trex was planning to climb up, he would be taking them to their deaths, it would be impossible in the dark of night.

Once again the moon found its way through the clouds. The two youngsters were at the highest point close to the waterfalls. They stood on the remains of a roof with only a narrow path to the point where they now found themselves. Next to them, the roaring waterfall fell to the rapids a few stories below. There was nothing in reach and they would never be able to jump across. Behind them Philton and the second exile appeared at the other edge of the roof, only about twenty meters away.

‘Great,’ said Sara as she spat in irritation. ‘Now we are really trapped.’

Trex did not even turn around, simply removing his cloak and holding it in front of him.

‘Hold them off for a few seconds,’ he instructed coldly, his eyes closed.

‘Just hold them off?’ Sara replied in surprise.

Trex was already meditating and didn’t reply.

‘Fine, I’ll just do that,’ she said between clenched teeth.

Turning around, Sara assessed the situation; the exiles had to cross a narrow section of roof to get to her and Trex, they would have to attack her head-on. This she could use.

So this is it, Sara thought to herself, turning her thoughts towards fuelling her anger. ‘Stupid Trex,’ she said under her breath, her tail rising threateningly. ‘Damn exiles!’ she growled, her ears flattening and her hairs standing on end. ‘Granddad you hypocrite!’

The two exiles stopped their advance as Sara took a threatening step forward.

‘Bloody males!’ Sara screamed, the rage growing within her. From the perspective of the two exiles she was glowing red in the moonlight, her eyes practically shone with an internal light. The younger exile, Mert, had to concentrate with all his might not to turn and run, he was simply too petrified to further approach the female wolf.

Philton, for his part, was also having a moment of difficulty, not having expected the strong intimidating emotional attack. What he saw in front of him should have been well beyond Sara. He recovered quickly enough and was about to turn up his own emotional powers. He paused for a second, if he was lucky she would be angry enough to foolishly attack, so losing her advantage in position.

Sara was somehow holding her overflowing anger in check. Though every fibre of her body wanted to spring forward and tear the two to peaces, an unknown internal voice held her feet in place. Much later, Sara would realize that the little voice in her head had sounded a lot like Trex.

Philton cracked first, knowing that Trex was up to something. Rushing forward alone, he tried to push the female back. In an instant, a few powerful blows sent him reeling back in shock. Funnelling his own fury, he growled as he rushed forward again, and once again was sent back, narrowly avoided a vicious mid level cut that could have sliced him in half. Shocked at his underestimation, Philton paused, how was she managing such pinpoint concentration when so enraged? Behind Sara, Philton could see Trex meditating, was he having an effect? The question faded into the background of Philton’s mind as he suddenly felt the presence of another three exiles appearing behind him.

‘You lose,’ said Philton coolly. Already the toxic effect of Sara’s projected anger was becoming less effective as the combined effect of the exiles emotions balanced the surprisingly powerful female out. Philton further added to the mix, turning up his emotional projection to rally his men, and cancel Sara out completely. With the three newly arrivals lined up along side their leader they prepared to attack confidently. All eyes were on Sara.

It was already too late as the exiles suddenly saw Trex launch a powerful arrow up and towards the waterfall. The thick arrow slammed through the centre of a small tree, firmly embedding itself. The tree had made itself a life precariously perched on one of the exposed rocks in the face of the waterfall itself. Behind the arrow trailed a familiar light-orange rope, formerly a part of Trex’s valued cloak.

Sara had not noticed this; she was preparing herself for what she thought was the end. Aggressive as ever, she tried to threaten them one more time.

‘The first of you to ma…..!’

The angry female was unable to finish her sentence as she was suddenly grabbed around the waist with one hand. Before Sara knew what was going on she was already swinging across the rapids next to the waterfall. Trex had one hand on the rope and the other arm around Sara, his free hand clutching the converted staff, now a powerful bow.

Philton and his men could only rush forward and watch as the two swung smoothly across the white-water to more ruins on the other side of the fast flowing river.

Landing elegantly, Trex let go of Sara. Once free, he grabbed the rope with both hands, again focusing his thoughts.

Sara was still in shock, panting heavily as she glared at the exiles on the other side of the river bank. Moving forwards, she stepped in front of the young lion just in case one of the exiles was foolish enough to throw a dagger or something at them.

‘You’re damn lucky I’m still not over there!’ Sara yelled back across the river threateningly. Her mind was still overconfidently filled with rage.

Trex was unable to retrieve his arrow, but was pulling in the long strand of rope that had been attached to it.

Sliding her sword back into its sheath with such force that it was quite audible, Sara gave an insulting hand gesture to her enemies, taunting them.

On the other side, the exiles stood in silence. A mixture of anger and uncertainty keeping their determined expressions fixed on the two youngsters, now out of reach.

‘Let’s get back to camp,’ growled Philton. He turned sharply to walk away from the roofs edge.

Slowly, his companions followed their leader in silence. The brown wolf, Tomn, lingered behind, making brief eye contact with Trex. The expression that the lion saw was enough to make him shiver.

Sara was grinning triumphantly. She was not allowing her aggression to leave her system, instead, basking in her victory. About to yell another insult after her retreating foes, she was stopped when Trex’s hand landed on her shoulder.

‘We had better get going,’ he said seriously.

‘Oh come on!’ exclaimed the wolf in disapproval. ‘We just got away… and how!’ she said, switching instantly to joy. ‘You don’t want to rub it in? Not even a little?

‘We’re not away from them yet,’ reasoned Trex calmly. ‘We wont be able to travel far tonight.’

Sara quickly deflated, the logic of the situation coming back into focus.

‘Spoil sport,’ she said bitterly, her shoulders slumping.


Sara followed the lion as he started to explore the ruins.

Trex could feel the emotions of the excited wolf calming down. He had been able to effectively ignore them the whole time, something he was secretly quite happy with. But now he was fully aware of them, and was waiting for her to calm down enough to answer his questions.

The two were travelling through a large room. The roof had caved in a long time ago, letting in the limited light of the overcast night. Trex turned so suddenly that the following wolf almost ran into him.

‘What the heck is going on?’ he asked abruptly, curiosity getting the better of him. He was unable to hide a hint of frustration in his voice.

Sara was caught off guard and took a step back.

‘What do you mean?’ she replied honestly, a little confused.

‘Well, this,’ said Trex, waving his arms in the air, indicating the current situation they found themselves in. ‘The male wolves? Why did they chase me? What did they want with me anyway? And what are you doing here!?’ Trex walked around in a circle as he listed his questions, not even looking at the wolf he was addressing. ‘Why did you save me? You obviously have something to do with all this.’ Trex finished by walking back up toward Sara, subconsciously moving within her personal space to apply some un-said pressure.

Sara was on the back foot, she wasn’t prepared for this.

‘It’s complicated,’ she said gruffly, a little annoyed at being challenged.

‘We have all night,’ replied Trex, tapping his foot impatiently.

‘Shouldn’t we be moving on?’

Trex looked around, trying to come up with a compelling reason not to go.

‘We can walk and talk,’ he said finally.

Once again the two headed off. The ruins on the west side of the river were extensive, but were quickly swallowed by the surrounding forest. This section of the old city was perched on a narrow ledge between the two cliffs, one of which went up, the other down. If they were honest with themselves neither of the two youngsters knew exactly how they could get down from here.

‘What are you doing up here?’ asked Sara suddenly, trying to avoid her own answer to the same question.

Trex stood still for a second. Sara was obviously hesitant to tell the truth; perhaps if he was honest it would encourage her.

‘I’m up here looking for wispdews actually,’ Trex said. Feeling that he should offer as much information as he could he continued. ‘I slipped past the lion towers at the border with the Wilderness two days ago. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was coming up here alone.’ Trex paused in his explanation as he climbed over a large fallen column. ‘I just wanted to get away from it all. Sort of see something different.’

The vegetation was starting to get thicker as they progressed further away from the central ruins.

‘Why wispdews?’ Sara asked, a picture forming in her mind.

‘The only live ones in RefugeCross were stolen during that wolf break in and apparently they are needed for an antidote or something.’ Trex took out his small utility axe to chop away at some denser shrubs. ‘It was just an excuse to go up here really,’ he admitted.

Trex suddenly stopped what he was doing. What he had just said was the truth, but it was the first time he had admitted it to himself. To admit this to a stranger, which Sara now effectively was despite their past, was something else. Refocusing his thoughts on the now, he turned to the young wolf. Her features were illuminated for a second by a brief glimpse of the full moon. Trex didn’t really recognize the young female at all, she had always been so headstrong, but he couldn’t remember her being so difficult or aggressive, she had gotten a real chip on her shoulder from somewhere.

‘And you?’ he asked curiously.

Sara examined the young lion’s face. To her, he was now also pretty much a stranger, and a lion at that. Normally she would have already come up with many reasons not to open up to him, or possibly not even talk to him at all. But somehow out here, after what had just happened to them, her normal doubts simply didn’t materialize. Perhaps she was too tired. Sara suddenly felt an urge to open up. Normally she would have been able to suppress this urge under her fierce façade and prejudices, but all the stress had worn her down… and it was Trex after all. Images of Trex as a young lion-cub filtered through her mind, in many of them he was smiling, just like she used to do a lot of the time.

Thoughts returning to the present, Sara could see a tired smile on the lion’s face, just as it was back then when they were cubs… What could she lose in opening up to him anyway? There was a good chance she would be dead soon anyway.

Taking a deep breath, she looked Trex squarely in the eyes.

‘You promise you won’t tell anyone,’ she said seriously.

Trex took a seat on a nearby large tree root.

‘As long as you do the same.’

‘Deal,’ agreed Sara.

The wolf moved over to a large rock, sitting down. It only took a few minutes for her to fill Trex in about her grandfather and the exiles. Sara found herself even opening up further to him, expressing how she had felt during much of the ordeal. It was odd to her, but she found it easy to express her feelings to Trex, despite not having seen him for such a long time. His kind, calm expression was disarming, and he didn’t interrupt when listening.

Sometimes shared experiences, particularly traumatic ones, create a bond between individuals. As they say, actions speak louder then words.

‘Then I followed them and waited till night,’ Sara stated. ‘And well… you know the rest.’ Leaning back, Sara stretched her arms and back a bit after the long talk. She waited for a reaction from her childhood friend.

‘It makes sense now, what the exiles were talking about,’ said Trex finally.

‘What did they say?’

‘They were talking about using me to help trick Sage Filfia into leaving her home.’

Sara thought about this for a moment.

‘Why would a lion cause Filfia to leave her home?’

Trex calmly looked at Sara, unsure if he wanted to share any more information with the wolf. From the story she had just told, she was obviously not a particular friend of the lion race. But then she had told him of potentially sensitive information regarding her grandfather.

‘I’m not sure how, but I think there really is a connection between your Sage and our Shaman’ said Trex, recalling back to professor Katan’s comments about having a contact up in the mountains.

Sara had not said anything about this suspicion, simply telling Trex the facts of what had happened, not why she thought they had happened.

Sara sat still, her face twisted into deep contemplation at the confirmation of what she already suspected. This was the only way that the exile’s break-in at RefugeCross made sense. It had nothing to do with the lions, or, as it turned out, gathering proof that Filfia was a spy for them, it had always been about Filfia herself.

Sara’s mind raced as she made new connections between the thoughts in her mind. So what was Filfia doing with the lions? She should have no contact with them, particularly not a secret one. If the Mintury Society wanted her killed, her connection with the lions was obviously not in the Wolf Kingdom’s interest. If so, then why did her grandfather suddenly want to protect the Sage? Surely he knew or suspected her connection with the lions. The whole thing just didn’t make sense.

Trex watched her as her mind raced. Looking around, he realized that the night was somehow getting even darker.

The vegetation was thicker here and it was dangerous to move around so close to the cliff, it was probably best that they stayed where they were for the night. Removing the rope from around his shoulders, Trex meditated to attach its length back into his shortened cloak. A small part of Trex’s mind couldn’t help but randomly worry again about Flint, wondering how the horse was spending the night.

Finished with the transformation, Trex searched around for a place to stay the night. Nearby, the remains of a roof provided shelter from the occasional rain that was falling. In a corner, leaf litter had collected, luckily it seemed quite dry.

‘We should get some rest,’ Trex said. He probed the leaf litter for hard objects and any wild animals that may have had the same idea as him. Sara shook herself clear of her thoughts, but was still distant.

‘Sure,’ she said.

Getting up automatically, she walked over to Trex. Lying down on the opposite corner of the dried leaf litter, she made herself as comfortable as possible. She turned her back to the young lion.

Trex, who was now sitting, transformed his bow back into a staff. Taking it apart he placed it away.

‘Thanks for saving me,’ he said eventually.

‘Sure thing,’ replied Sara, off hand. She was becoming frustrated with her confusing thoughts. ‘You should be able to slip past and head home tomorrow morning.’ Her final words carried a slight amount of resentment.

‘I’m coming with you,’ Trex said plainly, his mind having been made up since he had heard Sara’s side of the story.

‘Why? This isn’t your problem,’ Sara said after a while. Her thoughts were currently very negative towards Filfia, and very sceptical regarding lions in general. ‘Or are you suddenly feeling patriotic?’ she added accusingly; hinting that the wolf Sage Filfia was some type of lion spy, worth saving by Trex in the interest of the Lion Empire.

Trex stared at the back of the wolf for a second, unsure of the aim of such a comment.

‘You should know that I only have a little loyalty to the empire.’

‘And why is that?’ asked Sara, her distracted thoughts quickly realizing the stupidity of her question, but it was too late, Trex answered.

‘Sharlee and Zea of course,’ he replied, referring to his uncle’s wolf wife and half-ling cousin.

‘Sorry,’ said Sara, feeling a little dumb. ‘Why then?’ she asked a second time, this time more kindly.

Trex thought about her question for a moment. Since he had first suspected the connection between Sage Filfia, Head Councillor Tasch and her husband Katan, he had tried to figure out what their connection was. Brekiz’s grandparent Tasch and Katan were well known for their pro-wolf activities and anti-war sentiment. Trex couldn’t imagine that there would be any type of hostile intent from the two old lions, which meant that Sage Filfia must also have the same beliefs as her lion friends, namely to keep the peace.

Trex didn’t know much about politics, but one thing was crystal clear to him, the peace was critical for his uncle and aunt to be able to live on as they had done so far. Anything to help that peace continue was definitely worth fighting for.

Trex suddenly smiled to himself in the dark, his uncle’s words of: ‘You will have to fight soon enough’, suddenly making a lot more sense.

‘I suppose it’s because I respect Tasch and Katan,’ Trex said. ‘They’re our Shaman. If Sage Filfia is a friend of theirs, then I would want to help her, regardless of who she is.’

Sara kept her back to the lion male, staring at the wall. Trex had rolled onto his back, looking at the dark ceiling above.

‘Anyway,’ Trex continued, ‘no one deserves to die.’

The last words Trex had said was a repetition of another one of his uncle lines that the old veteran firmly believed in.

Sara stayed still, absorbing Trex’s words. She used to think like Trex, only thinking of individuals, her family and her friends. But since her trouble at school she had realized how seemingly naive such apparent narrow mindedness was. No one cared about just you. There was always a bigger picture. There were traditions and respect. Sara had learnt from her grandfather the importance of the system, of knowing how society worked and how to work with it. There were things bigger then just yourself, more important then the individual. It had made sense; she had seen it work for her after all.

With this new way of thinking Sara didn’t have to worry so much about her family, which suited her just fine. There was more to life, something to be part of. The problem was that this bigger-picture didn’t always make sense, like now. But that was no good reason to give up on it, she knew that much. You could only control your life if you were part of the system. This she understood from her painful experiences suffered at school. Sara realized that this was also a big reason why her family had had so much difficulty all those years ago. Her parents had not been able to play the game, to fit into society, and so had paid the price. Sara wasn’t going to do the same mistake. But what was she to do? It was all too complex in the end. All she could really do was fulfil her grandfather’s wishes. If he didn’t know, after all he had been able to teach her, well then, who did?

Sara shifted uncomfortably. Though she was quite capable of sleeping without a blanket, it was not something she was used to. Her passage into sleep this night would be an uncomfortable one.

Trex, in the meantime, was already curled up within his cloak. He had changed it into a large sheet to maximize softness and warmth.

*

Trex stirred from his sleep in the middle of the night. The lion cursed his race’s habit of being light sleepers. It was still dark. Sara’s continued fidgeting in her sleep was accompanied by shivering and unhappy murmurs, she was obviously not dreaming well. Trex stared at her sleeping form as it turned towards him. Sara’s expression was not one of a contented sleep. Grimacing to himself, the young lion wondered what he could do for her.

Lions normally slept quietly, while wolves always twitched and fidgeted. This was something Trex knew from Zea, who seemed to have inherited her sleeping traits from her mother. On some nights when Zea had nightmares she had crawled into Trex’s bed, just being near him had usually been enough to calm her down to sleep normally.

Sara turned viciously again, causing Trex to role his eyes, he would be kept awake all night if this continued. Wolves were not as light sleepers as lions; Trex also knew that from Zea.

The young lion found himself suddenly shifting closer to the unsettled wolf. Concentrating for a second, he extended the width of his cloak even further so as to be able to cover both of them without the need to get too close. It would mean it was not as warm for him as before, but he knew he didn’t need it in any case. Covering the wolf with the blanked, he moved a bit closer. Turning his back to her so it was just touching her arm, he curled back into a ball. Waiting to see if there was any response, he felt her finally calm down next to him, at least now he would be able to get some sleep.

Back at the exiles camp, the wolf males were also mostly asleep; only two remained awake. Philton was running over the plans for tomorrow, there was still a good chance to kill the Sage; all he had to do was remove all the variables.

The other wolf that was awake was the brown exile Tomn. His mind was too busy thinking of what it would do with the two damn youngsters once he got a hold of them to fall asleep.

It would be a short night far all involved, asleep or otherwise.


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