Refuge Cross “The Exiles”

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Chapter 14

Race to spring the trap

(The tale of Trex and Sara)

Sage Filfia was an impressive wolf by any stretch of the imagination. Her choice of clothing was understated, though clearly unique. In her right hand she carried a large staff, its seemingly living wood ornately covered in mosses which swirled into delicate patterns on the dark rich surface. This apparent practical-simplicity contrasted like night on day next to her royal expression and mannerisms. Approaching the end of being middle-aged, she moved as if she owned everything that she saw.

Currently, her normally commanding expression had taken a softer edge as she allowed herself to simply enjoy her favored surroundings, the forest. Filfia was always happiest in nature. She had become a bit of a recluse in her later life; becoming more and more frustrated with a culture that she saw as dysfunctional. Despite this, she had still tried to remain a valuable member of society, seeing it as her duty to protect the few glimmers of hope which she saw in her race as a whole, and to block the great darkness brought by ignorance and short sighted opportunism. Fortunately, her opinions still had considerable sway in the senate, despite her distance from political events.

It was this distance that currently posed the greatest danger to her. Not witnessing the change in political mood back in the capital herself, she had underestimated the warnings from her old friends, quite possibly to her own peril.

Sage Filfia had in her pocket the message she had received early this morning from a night owl. She had just read it over again, not sure why the message still disturbed her so. Filfia supposed that it was the subject of the letter that was worrying to her, after all, it had said that her friends were in danger and needed her help. It was written a little oddly, but Filfia concluded that this was probably because the writer had been under stress.

The writer of the letter had indeed been under stress, he was just not the Anthro that Sage Filfia thought he was.

The writer who had forged the note to make it look like it had come from Shaman Katan was an Exile. The writer in question had become an expert forger during his time as an outlaw, but for this forgery, he did not have enough references to go on. The exile and his companions had grabbed what letters they could once the break-in at RefugeCross had been discovered. The thieves had grabbed everything that looked valuable (In their hast they had snatched the wispdews, recognizing the valuable flower). The letter forger had done his best, but he was still worried that his forgery would be found out…

This was concern that was apparently unnecessary, as Sage Filfia continued to walk further away from her summer home, further from the forest and animals that she knew very well, and further away from safety.

Appearing out of the forest at the edge of a large meadow, Filfia gazed around at the multitude of colors. The soft buzz of insects created a calm backdrop. She griped her large staff more tightly. The elegantly sculptured wood was smooth in her hand, its internal heat giving away that it contained living energy.

As relaxed as the Sage was, she was far from placid or carefree, bear tribe warriors had been reported in the immediate area after all. If it hadn’t been for the unspecified danger faced by some of her closest friends she would have remained at home. It was for this reason that she was also on foot, she had sent her horse forward so that she could remain grounded, so to speak. With her feet connected to the earth she would be able to communicate better with the forest which was her true protection.

Filfia moved forward into the natural grass meadow. A small rabbit like creature appeared in front of her, sitting on its hind legs to get a better view through the tall grass. The female wolf bent down to pat the normally shy small furry creature. Again she received invaluable information, nothing appeared to be unusual.

The Sage could sense some larger animals nearby. Their continued state of nervousness and agitation seemed to agree with the sighting of boar-like creatures the Sage had been informed of by an owl a few minutes ago.

Boars on the Anthro world were quite similar to ours here. The powerful tusked animals had bad attitudes, the ability to eat anything, longer bristly hair and grew up to weigh almost half a tone.

Though the larger animals in question did actually have the skins of boars, they were, in fact, not boars at all.

Hunched over for hours wrapped in hot and stinking fresh animal skins, the exiles were well beyond feeling that they needed a wash. They were also very nervous, they were about to attack one of the most capable and dangerous Anthros alive.

Moving parallel to Filfia at the forests edge about thirty meters away, a snout appeared momentarily above the top of the grass. Underneath the boar skin appeared the piercing eyes of the exile, Tomn. The animal’s skin was tied together by two strips of leather below his chin to avoid it falling off. Spotting the Sage, Tomn quickly dropped back down. Without turning around, he made a series of hand signals to the three figures behind him, who were themselves similarly wrapped in skins.

Tomn repeated the words Philton had told him over and over in his head. His normally slightly crazy eyes were now focused sharply. This personal mantra of Tomn’s was specifically designed to tone down his emotions. Taking a few deep breaths, he turned and nodded at his small group. Each one of them was also repeating their personal mantras. Focused, they mouthed the words silently.

Philton had spent months preparing his gang of exiles for this moment; each of the nervous wolves turned gratefully to their training, putting their faith completely in Philton.

Scampering along, occasionally on all fours, the group made their way along the edge of the woods.

Tomn was immensely proud of having been given this opportunity by Philton. Some had questioned that he was the best choice for leading the group, given his volatile nature. Philton was of no doubt that Tomn was the best wolf for the job. Philton knew a great amount about emotional matters. He knew of Tomn’s instabilities, under what circumstances he would be useless, as well as in what situations the young wolf’s single-mindedness would be an asset, such as now.

Philton himself peered over the edge of the tall grass. He repeated no mantra, being completely calm. Around him he could feel the tension building in the four younger males as they prepared their blow pipes. Philton clicked his tongue to give the signal for them to practice their breathing exercise. The young exiles instantly complied, reduced the overall tension markedly.

His plan was coming together. Their target was getting ever closer, and still completely unaware of what lay in store for her.

‘Can’t we just use arrows?’ said a quiet voice behind Philton, the fear evident in the whispered words.

Sage Filfia was well known and feared for a reason. Philton didn’t have to answer as another one of his group replied on his behalf.

‘Shut up you idiot, you know that all Anthro’s can sense the intent to kill. Just say your mantras.’

Philton smiled, proud at how far his group of exiles had come. There had never been a group like them. They resembled nothing of the normally pathetic groups of struggling thugs, aggressive and doomed to die. Philton’s exiles were skilled and trained; he had made sure of that.

The extent of the red wolfs knowledge did not stop there, he also knew exactly how a wolf Sage’s power worked, how to counter it, and if necessary, how to use it. Because you see, Philton was a Sage himself, one of the first male Sages in history, even if he had never received the title from the high council of Sages.

Preparing his own blowpipe, Philton was sure that Tomn would not let him down.

Filfia had almost reached the other side of the meadow. Her mind had been happy to wander, but a nagging sensation started to creep into her thoughts. She would have to meditate a bit when she reached the safety of the forest. Something was definitely wrong, and it had nothing to do with bears.

The Sage suddenly heard a sharp loud bird call in front of her. This was almost immediately followed by a reply from behind her. She turned her head just in time to see four figures rise from the tall grass. Momentarily surprised, she was barely able to sidestep the volley of darts that flew towards her. Feeling a sharp pain in her thigh she turned back to see another group had appeared in front of her.

On instinct, the Sage slammed her staff into the ground; in a flash of strange green light, a solid wall of towering grass shot out of the ground. It seemingly grew from nothing in an instant, blocking the next volley of darts from that direction. As quickly as Sage Filfia had reacted, she couldn’t avoid a second dart that slammed into her shoulder. Clenching her teeth in frustration and sweeping her staff around in a large arc, she pointed it at Tomn’s small group. Wind seemed to pick up around the Sage as her hair and long skirt started to flick around violently. Around Tomn and his group the ground suddenly started to glow the strange green color. Instantly, vines and grasses sprang from the dirt, growing in seconds to wrap themselves around the unfortunate attackers.

Tomn and his comrades dropped their blowpipes to grab for their swords in desperation, only a few were able to get at them, trying to hack away at the aggressive vegetation. Two wolves struggled in vein as the vines effectively tied them to the spot, their arms wrapped up too heavily to move.

Meanwhile, in front of her, Philton and his group were now effectively blocked by the wall of grass.

‘She’s hit!’ Philton yelled triumphantly. ‘Kill her before she escapes!’

Around Philton his wolves grabbed for their swords. Springing forward as one, they snarled and growled aggressively, fueling their communal aggression. The intent to kill was now present and completely unmasked, the air around the group burned. The exiles rushed past their leader.

Philton held back. Unlike his fellow exiles, he was walking forward calmly, concentrating on his mental state. The reason why became quickly apparent. The crafty red wolf felt the wave of energy pass through him. Philton noticed how the world seemingly got darker, how a strong wind was now rushing out from the point where Sage Filfia suddenly appeared, surrounded by her swaying protective vines. He noticed how he felt suddenly more alone, despite his fellow exiles. But Philton was not scared, no, he actually felt more confident; fear came from the unknown, a lack of control, and his convictions were not based on bravado or arrogance, but knowledge.

The other male wolves did not have this benefit. They found themselves suddenly rooted to the spot in terror. They felt completely isolated, all they could see was the glowing Sage in front of them, larger then life, the vines that surrounded her stretching out towards them twisting and turning threateningly like a nest of angry vipers.

Around the exiles, the world suddenly appeared a lot more hostile. They could hear the sounds of numerous angry birds, a dark husky call of an elk like creature nearby. Filfia was calling the animals to her defense, the forest was mobilizing.

The powerful Sage was at the centre of a storm, her hair and dress fluttered unworldly in an improbable wind. Filfia’s concentrated face was the perfect picture of will and power. Her outstretched hands conducted an orchestra of forces. Filfia’s mouth opened slightly as she began to pant with the effort. It was the first visible sign of her internal fight to slow the poison from the darts from running through her system.

It was an impossible struggle. The same high heart rate and adrenalin that was feeding her power were also the same forces helping to spread the poison throughout her body. Though the chemical would not be directly deadly, she would soon be unconscious, something that could well lead to her death.

Filfia could feel the terror of the exiles around her. Soon all manner of animals would arrive, once the attackers were confronted it should be enough to scare them away and allow for her to make an escape. Already the insects of the grasses were swarming around the scared exiles.

Noticing something out of place around her, Filfia turned to face the only male wolf that was still walking casually towards her. His ordered mind had not gained the attention of the Sage before now. Focusing her eyes to make a visual assessment, a moment of confusion passed through her mind, this was enough to break her emotional projection and wind manipulation turbulently.

‘Philton!?’ she mouthed in shock.

Philton had waited for this moment, instantly he turned up his aggression and control. The wind swirled violently in response to Philton’s counter efforts.

The exiles immediately next to Philton snapped out of their paralysis; shaking their heads as if to clear a fog from their minds. The young male wolves refocused their thoughts on the Sage, she suddenly appeared considerably less threatening then only a moment before.

‘Focus men! Kill any animals that come to help and surround her! Don’t let her get away!’ Philton called encouragingly.

From behind the Sage, Tomn let out a mighty howl, reacting to his leader’s initiative. The physical signal was electrifying, the exiles rallied and aggression again filled their veins.

Filfia could tell that the tide had turned. Her failing strength would not allow her to intimidate the attackers enough to win on emotions alone. Despite many animals having already arrived to attack individual exiles, they would not be able to alter the outcome of the conflict alone. Filfia wouldn’t be able to maintain their unnatural levels of aggression for long. She was not going to get away, Philton was simply too strong. The hopeless situation caused naked anger to flare within her.

Already a few exiles had come close enough to strike her. With ease, she blocked the blows with her powerful staff; one attacker she entangled with a new growth of vines, while she sent the other flying with a sweeping blow.

The rest of the exiles were engaged in stand-off combat with all kinds of beasts; insect, bird, furry, scaly, cold blooded and warm blooded of every size. Filfia strode towards Philton; his own projected aggression was keeping the animals away from himself.

‘So this is what you have stooped to?’ Filfia accused the exile. The two were effectively alone in the centre of the hectic battle.

‘An exile is what I am,’ replied Philton, the aggressive tone in his voice heightening, ‘thanks to you.’

The two circled each other slowly, sizing up each other.

‘I may as well be the greatest exile there ever was,’ Philton spat. He detested the limits that had been imposed upon him.

‘It was that attitude that got you into trouble in the first place,’ replied Filfia coldly.

‘In trouble with a sexist system, lead by narrow minded bigots, and power hording females.’

‘There is nothing I could do about that,’ Filfia countered, not unkindly.

‘But you did nothing to help!’ Philton shouted, lunging at the female Sage. Filfia caught the powerful blow with her staff, but was unable to push away as she struggled to hold back the angry male. Philton used his height advantage to press his attack, feeling the weakening of his hated opponent as the poison continued to take effect. He grinned viciously as she was forced to take a step back.

‘I had other responsibilities,’ growled Filfia as she twisted to sidestep the standoff.

Swinging her staff expertly, she forced Philton onto the back foot and into a series of blocks.

‘Always the calculating one, nothing could ever melt your heart!’ shouted Philton as he again counterattacked.

After a series of blocks and blows their weapons locked together once more. The red male leaning forward to close the distance between their two faces.

‘So this is how you take your revenge? Killing me?’ she shouted. Summoning enough strength, Filfia pushed her staff forward and launched the male wolf back a few meters.

Landing on his feet, Philton slid backwards a few paces before coming to a stop. With this interruption in their own fight, both were able to take stock of the situation. Around them lay many dead, injured or unconscious animals, as well as two injured exiles. The last of the animals had fled, leaving the remaining exiles to surround the Sage. Filfia’s left leg gave way underneath her, the last effort having left her shaken. Philton stood up calmly, grinning evilly in his apparent victory.

‘Revenge?’ he scoffed. ‘This is nothing so personal. I’m here on contract for the Mintury Society. There’s a price on your head my dear, and its worth a lot more then even the price on mine.’

Sage Filfia was panting now, leaning for support on her staff, looking up at the handsome red wolf with disgust in her eyes.

‘I’ve become as cold as you,’ Philton stated with an impartial face.

Filfia could still sense the hatred that bubbled behind his apparent cool façade.

‘It’s only business!’

Filfia’s eyes flinched for a split second, she could sense something approaching. This wasn’t over yet. Philton had obviously not sensed the new arrival. Flooding her mind with thoughts, she projected a feeling quite uncommon for her, fear. All of the exiles were overcome by her apparently frightened state. Her fear was mixed with their own aggression, causing them to laugh viciously, pausing for a second to savor the terror of this pathetic creature they had themselves feared only moments before. Even Philton stopped for a second, unsuspecting that this was only a way to blind his own attention.

Sara could also feel the terror, as well as the surrounding rage. Spurring Mish forward through the forest she sped up even more. Trex felt the increased tension as well and urged Flint on. The young lion was already arming his prepared short bow as Sara drew her sword. The two burst through the low shrub on the edge of the forest into the grassland at top speed.

Filfia’s change was instantaneous. Summoning the last of her strength, she sprinted away from Philton towards two of the younger exiles that had encircled her.

Instantly readying themselves, one gave out a shout as he was struck in the shoulder by one of Trex’s arrows. This caused his companion to turn in shock, giving Filfia a critical second of advantage.

Launching herself high into the air, Filfia somersaulted over the surprised exile, swiping low with her staff so as to force him to block. Landing on all fours she jumped towards the newly appeared riders. Sara leant over to grab the Sage’s arm, and in one swinging motion threw the Sage up behind herself onto the riding cloth. The Sage grabbed the young female wolf around the waste.

The only exile still in reach recovered from his initial shock and lunged towards Sara. Misha automatically weaved to avoid the blade that was heading straight for her. Sara leant against the angle of her horse to block the blade as it sliced at the side of her animal. Another exile moved to intercept but had to dive to avoid a further arrow fired from Trex. Before anyone else could react the two horses were already clear and sprinting away from the shocked group of male wolves. A furious shout of rage escaped Tomn’s lips as he watched the fleeing riders.

‘Get the horses!’ shouted Philton. ‘Leave the injured! She must die now!’

The fury in Philton’s voice was distilled conviction itself; none of the exiles, even the enraged Tomn, hesitated to run at top speed back to their animals. Each male’s head was filled with a piercing single-mindedness: Sage Filfia must die!

Sara concentrated on gaining ground from the exiles, not particularly interested on where she was headed.

‘Follow the crescent peak back to my house, there is a pass behind it,’ instructed the Sage in a weak voice, her tired arm pointing towards a mountain top.

Sara nodded. Feeling the strength fading from the Sage’s body, Sara maneuvered herself so as to pin Filfia better to her back. The young wolf hoped that it would be enough to ensure that her passenger wouldn’t fall off of the speeding Misha.

Sage Filfia herself had no energy left. She had little choice but to let her body be thrown around like a lifeless sack on the back of the speeding horse.

With the last of her stable thoughts, she wondered who this young wolf was that had saved her, and more interestingly, what a young lion was doing helping her? These were strange saviors indeed. And as the blackness started to creep into the mind of the older female, her last thoughts wondered if she was indeed saved, if she remembered anything about Philton, it was that he was as stubborn as a bear.

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