Refuge Cross “The Exiles”

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Chapter 7

Friends in high places

(The tale of Trex)

Trex was awoken the next day by the annoying screeching and whistling of a large flock of parrot-like birds that lived in the forest that surrounded his home. Their morning song grew louder and louder as the groups of colourful birds tried to outdo each other. Trex flinched as a reflex, grumbling as he did every morning, cursing the stupid birds.

At least it’s almost winter, thought Trex. The words formulated in Trex’s mind through the cloud of sleep. In winter the birds would migrate away from the upper hills.

Trex stretched from his curled up state, pausing when he touched something unfamiliar. Blinking a few times, he found himself still sprawled across the soft sofa in the living room. He must have fallen asleep last night while contemplating his future. In front of him on the low table the remains of a burnt-out candle was testament to this.

Standing up and stretching his stiff back the young lion let out a massive yawn, exposing some of his sharp front teeth. At least last night was not a complete waste of time. Trex now had a plan. It was not a long-term plan, but considering his current un-easy mental state, it was better then nothing. For now, however, he would have to get a head start on his chores.

After washing his face in the kitchen with water from the internal hand pump he grabbed some leftovers from last night, heading outside into the cool early morning air.

It was already mid morning by the time Karthen came to check up on the youth. Trex was working in the lower fields preparing timber framework for next year’s crop. The young lion was panting heavily as his uncle approached. Wielding a heavy mallet, Trex took another swing, impacting hard onto a wooden stake and knocking it firmly into the soft marshy ground. Beside him lay a pile of tall timber stakes.

Looking at the field, Karthen could see that Trex had been very busy.

‘You’re industrious today,’ commented the older lion. ‘From what I see you have finished most of your daily chores already.’

Trex lowered the mallet. He would need a little time to catch his breath. The youth took a drink from a leather water pouch that hung nearby, pouring a bit of water down his neck to help him to cool down. It was difficult to talk when you were panting furiously.

‘Not feeling guilty for yesterday I hope,’ commented his uncle cheekily.

Trex gave his uncle a look that indicated that that was definitely not the case. His uncle wisely decided that the issue was not worth bringing back up.

The older lion tested one of the nearby wooden stakes that Trex had hit in for stability, the imbedded wood standing firm against the pushing and pulling.

‘So what is the reason?’ Karthen asked. ‘Not that I mind you doing extra work or anything.’

Trex had cooled down enough to be able to almost talk normally.

‘Remember how you said that with the harvest now in… I could take a couple of extra days off if I wanted to?’

His uncle nodded in acknowledgment, he was pacing out the spacing of the wooden stakes to make sure Trex was installing them correctly.

‘Well I thought that this would be the best time, with my exams coming up in two months and all, after the harvest break I won’t have another opportunity.’

‘And what will you do with your free days? Which will be how many exactly?’ Karthen asked with interest.

‘I was thinking three or four days. I’ll go visit Brekiz at RefugeCross and then just head out somewhere. You know, on my own, just to get away and think… meditate a bit. Maybe I’ll head along the coast or go hunting in the savannah, I haven’t decided yet.’

His uncle had finished checking Trex’s work, obviously satisfied with the young lion’s efforts.

‘Sounds like a good idea… assuming you don’t get yourself into any more little scrapes,’ said his uncle. The adult lion walked back up to the youth.

‘I’ll try my best,’ replied Trex with a tiny hint of sarcasm.

‘When were you thinking of heading off?’ asked his uncle, ignoring his nephew’s tone.

‘Today after midday actually. If that’s ok.’

Karthen thought about this for a second, seemingly accepting the whole plan.

‘Well then I had better leave you to it. I don’t want to stop you when you’re on a roll,’ he said, starting to walk back to the farm.

‘How is Sharlee?’ asked Trex.

His uncle stopped in his tracks.

‘She’s, ok…’ replied Karthen. ‘It just brought up old memories and feelings. You know she regrets the way things are.’

Trex didn’t say anything for a moment.

‘Is there anything I can do?’ Trex asked.

‘There’s not a lot I can do,’ admitted Karthen solemnly. ‘She just has to work through it on her own.’

Trex looked disappointed, his uncle appreciating his nephews concern.

‘If there is anything, I’ll let you know,’ the adult lion said kindly.

Trex’s spirits lifted a bit upon hearing this. Turning back to his work, Trex picked up the next stake.

‘Leave out the last stake at the end of the field,’ instructed his uncle suddenly. ‘We’re going to plant some ribontsum bushes to try and keep the insects down next year.’

Trex nodded, but didn’t stop from his work at hand.

The Tristfull family had adopted the wolf tradition of a large warm meal just after midday, the evening meal normally only consisting of bread and whatever conserves were available at the time.

Trex was happy to see that things were back to normal, with his aunt returning mostly to her usual cheerful self. The meal past pleasantly, with the discussion focused on where Trex may like to go for his little getaway.

After the midday meal had finished, Trex found himself preparing to head off. He took everything he would need for the few days away in the city and the wilderness. For this trip he had chosen to take the young horse Flint, using the opportunity to become more familiar with his young free spirited animal.

Standing in front of Trex, Flint fidgeted impatiently.

While he was tended to the horse Trex could see his camel Suzzi watching him from under her favourite tree in the paddock nearby.

‘Sorry Suzzi,’ called Trex apologetically to the older camel, ‘but it’s not like you want to carry me around for three days anyway.’

Suzzi looked on impassively, her large eyes blinking slowly, as if she were considering his words. Trex had to smile to himself as he tended to the last of the straps. Flint grunted suddenly. Trex recognized that the horse had just seen someone that he liked. Straightening up, he saw his aunt coming towards them across the small courtyard in the middle of the farm homestead.

Sharlee walked up to the young horse, stroking the animal’s nose. Flint calmed down automatically, enjoying the attention.

Trex was always envious of his aunt’s way with animals, particularly horses. She had been the one who had been helping Trex with his riding. His uncle was quite happy to stick to his own trusted camel, not wanting anything to do with impatient horses. Trex was trying hard to master the animal, but it was not always easy. His aunt had adapted what she knew about horses for an Anthro lion, but Trex simply didn’t have the same ability to influence another living animal with his emotions as a wolf did, and so he approached the horse differently.

‘Do you have everything you need?’ asked his aunt.

‘Should be enough, I have a bit of money with me anyway, I’ll be fine,’ Trex replied. ‘Is everything ok? With, you know…’ he asked the adult female wolf. The topic of last night’s discussion had not been raised again throughout the day.

‘It’s fine,’ said Sharlee, tending to the horse.

Trex knew that it probably wasn’t, despite how well his Aunt covered it up.

‘How was Sara?’ Sharlee asked all of a sudden, ‘I mean did she look well?’

Trex thought about this for a second.

‘She looked great, she’s really strong and fast,’ he said enthusiastically, remembering back to the fight, and happy to be talking about something positive. ‘She still wears her hair the same way she used to. Fringe just like her mother’s.’

‘And Fera?’ asked Sharlee, unsure if Trex had seen the older wolf sister before he was knocked out.

‘I didn’t see her before she hit me,’ Trex admitted.

Sharlee nodded, and then moved to check the way Trex had prepared Flint for travel. Trex watched as she adjusted some straps slightly.

‘If you like, I can show you a bit of basic wolf combat training when you get back,’ Sharlee offered out of the blue.

Trex had to do a quick double-take, Sharlee was even more of a pacifist then his uncle, he wasn’t even aware that she knew how to fight.

‘You could do that?’ he asked, still surprised.

‘Wolves also get basic combat training as part of their schooling, I just chose not to take it any further,’ Sharlee stated. ‘Anyway, it looks like you may have to face another wolf sooner or later, its better that you’re more aware of what you are up against.’

Trex thought about this for a second, though his own training had a large component consisting of wolf combat ability. It was still invaluable to actually know how they were trained. And to be taught from a wolf, even a seeming novice, was almost unheard of.

‘Are you sure?’ asked Trex, the eagerness in his voice apparent.

‘Sure. You’re family after all,’ she said, giving the youth a smile.

Finishing the last of his packing with renewed enthusiasm, Trex was quickly ready to go. He had already said goodbye to his uncle and cousin during their midday meal. Zea had been disappointed not to be able to see Trex off, but the over excited little girl had forgotten to do all of her morning chores and so had to go with her father. Flint was again becoming impatient, somehow knowing it was time to go.

‘Well I’d better be off,’ said Trex, unsure of how to continue the conversation in any case.

‘Come here then,’ said his aunt, a wry smile on her face.

Trex knew he wouldn’t get away without a hug from the adult female wolf. And Sharlee knew that he found that kind of contact a little awkward at his age, which meant giving it to him was all the more enjoyable for her. Trex submitted, taking his aunt briefly into his arms. The extra pressure she applied, despite being meant as a sign of affection, reminding Trex just how strong the female wolf in front of him could potentially be. When she finally released him Trex was able to breathe-in again, thankfully.

‘Well, take care of yourself.’

‘You too,’ replied Trex. Mounting up, the lion youth had to battle a bit with the young horse as it attempted to dictate the pace, eager to go.

‘Remember that you have to take charge and be confident. He will follow whatever you want to do, as long as he thinks you know what you are doing,’ advised the adult wolf.

Trex managed to calm Flint slightly, wondering if taking the troublesome horse was really such a good idea.

‘How can I be confident in what I am doing, if he never gives me a chance to do it?’ Trex asked helplessly. Being a lion, Trex was used to gaining confidence through practice.

‘You have to have confidence in yourself, not in the actions alone. He can feel it,’ Sharlee stated. She had just managing to sum up in one sentence the major difference between lion and wolf thinking.

Trex tried to contemplate the words, letting out a crisp ‘heyut!’ Flint surged forward.

Sharlee watched with a smile as Trex rode off more steadily down the road. Perhaps living with a wolf was starting to rub off.

Trex arrived at RefugeCross in the late evening. He had taken a longer road so as to familiarize himself more with his horse before riding Flint into a more populated area. Taking the impatient stallion along on his travels appeared to Trex to be more and more of a good idea. He was finally becoming comfortable with the animal. As his aunt had always said, sometimes you just have to jump into things head-first and then sort everything else out once you got there. Even so, Trex had waited to late evening to enter RefugeCross and had taken smaller side roads through the farmland of the lower planes so as to avoid other animals; four legged as well as two legged.

Stopping at a public notice board just inside the city, Trex saw that the thieves had not been captured yet. Everyone had been asked to report any strangers or suspicious activity, by either wolf, or lion. Trex smiled at this, that one sentence alone probably meant that Captain Felx was overwhelmed by the more neurotic of the lion population. These paranoid individuals were of the opinion that even a sleeping wolf was suspicious most of the time.

Though RefugeCross was mostly inhabited by tolerant wolfs and lions due to the unusual long history of mixed cultures, there were also small camps of intolerant conservatives on either side. This group of trouble makers was drawn there by the historical importance of the area, an importance that was unfortunately felt by both sides. Captain Felx had his hands full at the best of times keeping the peace and now it would only get worse. It had been a mostly stable twenty-five years or so of official occupation, and now that Trex thought about it more, he was actually astonished that it had remained so.

Trex’s relationship with the Captain was always a little difficult to understand. Captain Felx had been the best friend of his father before his father’s death. Like Trex’s uncle Karthen, Captain Felx had sworn to do his best to make sure that the young orphaned Trex was taken care of. Though Trex’s uncle had originally taken custody of Trex, Captain Felx had visited often to check up on the boy, and Trex had started to view his father’s old friend as a type of second uncle. When Trex’s real uncle, Karthen, had been striped of his lion citizenship after his marriage to the wolf female Sharlee, Captain Felx had had to step in to become Trex’s guardian. This had allowed the boy to stay with his uncle, though technically Felx was still now his legal guardian until Trex became a full citizen.

Lost in his thoughts, Trex realized that he had arrived at the inner city gates, he must have been steering Flint without thinking about it. He also noticed that he was also attracting a few looks from the increasing number of lions and wolves. A young lion on a horse was unusual, Captain Felx being the only other lion they normally saw riding one regularly. Trex was a little self conscious and very glad that Flint had grown tired after the long ride. The horse was now unwilling to fight his rider as much as he had done at the beginning.

‘Back already, Trex?’ asked a voice up ahead.

Trex could make out the old sentry guard that normally manned the gate in the afternoon.

‘I wasn’t expecting you until next week,’ the elderly lion guard said cheerfully, despite of all the recent commotion.

‘I’m going on a bit of a trip,’ replied Trex, indicating the numerous travelling satchels and bags that were loaded on his horse. ‘I was planning to visit Brekiz and stay the night before heading out tomorrow. Is it going to be a problem do you think?’

The old guard contemplated this for a second, scratching his chin thoughtfully. He had been the regular head guardsman for as long as Trex could remember and was comfortable enough making his own decisions without having to ask his superiors.

Trex entering the inner city was not actually unusual, the young lion stayed in one of the many guest quarters of the inner city once a week. This was so that Trex could take some more advanced classes that were only done in the city the next morning.

Coincidently, the day of Trex’s classes was also the day of the weekly council meeting between the council and Captain Felx. Trex was thus occasionally able to make his way easily from his chambers in the inner city to the council hall. However, the activities of a few days before had meant it was impossible for him to return by his normal path, thus the need for him to take a more unusual exit route from the inner city’s, off-limits, administration wing.

‘Shouldn’t be an issue, there are not many guests at the moment,’ said the older guard.

‘You had better get a signoff on it though, otherwise someone will ask about the horse,’ the guard said, moving over to pat the young animal. Flint enjoyed the extra attention and nuzzled the older guard.

‘What’s his name?’ asked the adult lion. ‘I haven’t seen him before.’

‘His name is Flint, and he is a pain in the butt,’ said Trex honestly, the horse flinching slightly, as if understanding the words.

The guard chuckled.

‘I hope you didn’t get into any trouble because of the robbery,’ stated Trex, who often talked to the older guard.

‘They climbed the walls,’ replied the guard, referring to the break-in. ‘There is little I can do about that. Anyway, you know Captain Felx is ok.’

Trex nodded at that.

‘You had better go through then,’ said the older guard, stepping back.

Trex urged Flint onwards. From behind he could hear the guard call out to him again.

‘Oh, and you forgot to sign out once yesterday… in the morning.’

Trex panicked for a second, he had totally forgotten that he had signed in twice, but signed out only once.

‘Uhhh… I must have forgotten in all the commotion,’ Trex called back. The pause that followed told Trex that the guard was probably not overly convinced.

‘Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. This is no time for my books to be out of order.’

Trex nodded before steering Flint further on.

Trex made his way up the steep path, through the thick city wall, into the inner city’s main courtyard. Though the inner city was built in a very royal manner it was still effectively a fortress. Its thick, high walls and towering battlements were designed for deadly purpose, even if they had been built in a way that was visually appealing. The gate and courtyard were on the west, or sea side, of the inner city. Flanking the courtyard were the guest quarters, the stables, armoury and barracks. On the one side of the courtyard, and representing the centre of the inner city, was the main palace. This massive building was the current residence of city officials and those who could afford it, as well as containing function rooms and civic areas. On the other side of the central palace was the administration wing, which was out of bounds for most Anthros. This included the council hall and main library, only on certain occasion was access granted to the public.

Trex deposited Flint at the stables.

The number of soldiers Trex could see around the place had returned to normal and Trex had no trouble heading up to his usual quarters in the guest wing, knowing most of the regular staff in any case.

Dropping his belongings into the same tiny room he usually used each stay, he went off to seek out his friend Brekiz. Crossing the tiled, elegant courtyard with its mosaics and manicured trees, Trex could see that the guards were already lighting the torches.

The last of the sun’s light began to dim on the ocean’s horizon.

Trex approached the two guards at the main palace entrance. They were two younger lionesses, and ones that Trex didn’t recognize.

‘Can I go up to the Huzzel residence?’ Trex asked the closer of the two, referring to the family name of the head councillor and her husband.

‘If you have papers, yes,’ the young female guard replied, not unkindly.

The young female soldiers were obviously reservists, and it may have been their first time on duty in the palace.

‘I actually have to get my papers from them,’ said Trex. He was well used to dealing with new guards, the soldiers rotating often under the Lion Empire’s system of reservists.

Normally only the higher ranked officers remained constantly on duty. Additionally, it was common for some older citizens to take on minor administration roles, such as the bridge keeper at BridgeHead.

The young female soldier looked uncertain, unwilling to bother the head councillor just for this unknown boy.

‘If you call down Brekiz Huzzel he can take me up,’ offered Trex, knowing that this normally did the trick. ‘He lives in D-15 next to his grandparents,’ he added, just to make it obvious he knew his way around.

Before the soldier could answer, however, someone spoke out from behind.

‘Trex!? What are you doing back here?’ came Brekiz’s gruff voice. The tall gangly lion had been walking through the main entry hall just behind the guards.

Trex was about to move forward, but was blocked by the staff of the guard, she didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t by the book, particularly after the robbery a few days before. Trex didn’t even flinch.

‘It’s ok,’ said Brekiz, somewhat more annoyed. He had to put up with this more often then Trex did, as he lived in the inner city. Pulling out his resident’s identification from his pocket, Brekiz handed it over to one of the females.

Brekiz was taller then Trex and already almost the same height as the young adult lionesses in front of them. Brekiz’s unusually deep gruff voice was even more unusual given how thin he was. The lion male had sandy blond, curly hair; the mop of curls making the thin youth look like some strange type of ornamental bush when he stood up straight with his arms at his side.

‘I’ll take responsibility for him until he gets his papers,’ commented Brekiz casually.

The lioness looked over the official papers. Obviously satisfied, she stepped aside, making some notes in a logbook near the door.

‘Sorry. Had to check,’ she said to Trex with an apologetic smile, guard duty was obviously not her favourite idea for passing the time.

‘It’s fine, I’ll have to do this soon enough,’ Trex said with a smile, referring to guard duty.

Turning, he nodded at the other lioness, receiving another smile. It was not always easy for new reservists in the inner city. Many residents were not as friendly with new soldiers, and often quite impatient.

‘Well, what are you doing here?’ asked Brekiz again.

The guard left the two of them alone to go and talk with her comrade.

‘I just needed to get away for a few days, and I thought I’d drop by to see what you were up to before heading off,’ Trex said with a smile.

‘That’s a nice surprise. Come on, let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? We can head to the riverfront,’ the curly haired youth suggested eagerly, happy to get out of the claustrophobic palace.

‘I should probably get a signoff from Tasch and Katan first,’ said Trex, hesitating. He was referring to Brekiz’s grandmother and grandfather respectively.

‘Don’t worry about that, as long as you’re with me you can get it later. They’re busy at the moment anyway,’ the thin youth replied. Brekiz took a few steps into the courtyard in an attempt to get Trex to follow him.

‘Ok,’ conceded Trex, an evening out sounding rather appealing in the warm night air.

At this time of night the only place worth going was down at the riverfront, close to the coast and the docks. The riverfront itself was a paved boulevard that skirted the edge of the river Thitchel. It was built two meters higher then the river, which flowed by the stone base of the boulevard. It was made so high to withstand the seasonal floods. Along this picturesque stretch of riverfront, with its large old trees and open areas, some wolf style bars and lion style cafes stayed open late. The tables and chairs of the establishments were set up in the open air in front of the businesses between the large trees and flower arrangements. Occasionaly, music filtered out from one of the larger bars, completing the mellow and relaxed atmosphere.

Trex enjoyed Brekiz’s company; the two had only become friends a year or so ago, when Trex had started to come to RefugeCross once a week for his more advanced classes. Brekiz was an unusual youth, his parents had sent him from the war-torn eastern side of the continent to his grandparents to finish his education, the situation back home becoming ever more dangerous in the last few years.

Despite being one year younger then Brekiz, Trex felt for the first time that he had a closer friend of his own. This was not to say that Trex was on bad terms with some of the Anthros back in his mixed school closer to home, but he had little contact with them outside of the few hours he spent there weekly during term. Because of distance, a lot of Trex’s schooling was done from home.

It was not surprising that during a lot of his childhood, Trex had felt rather isolated. This sense of being an outsider had not been helped by the fact that his uncle and aunt were well known as “the mixed couple”, and little understood by either wolves or lions.

Keeping to himself, Trex hadn’t really minded not being able to get closer to the other farmer’s kids. The young lion had always dreamt of adventure and travel, concentrating on his training and adventure books that he so loved to read. Trex found he had little in common with the farmer’s children he went to school with, they were normally caught up in more immediate things.

When Trex’s class out in the foothills had been offered the chance to take more advanced classes in: transmorphology & meditation only Trex had jumped at the chance. The advanced classes were held once a week in RefugeCross and unlike normal classes, they continued through harvest break and other school holidays. The distance was simply too far and the interest for the rest of Trex’s class too low, for something they saw little use for in their daily lives. Nevertheless, Trex cherished his weekly trips to the city. Here in RefugeCross he wasn’t known as the lion boy who lived with the mixed couple. Instead he was known as the lion from the hills, something he could at least work with. In RefugeCross he found Anthros with bigger plans then just taking over their parent’s farms, Anthros with dreams and big ideas, Anthros like Brekiz.

Brekiz’s dark voice could be heard easily as he laughed out aloud at a comment Trex had just made.

‘And they really believe that?’ Brekiz asked.

‘Sure they do, that myth is as old as the hills around BridgeHead,’ said Trex.

‘I suppose it’s lucky that these farmer’s kids are able to read and write at all.’

‘Hey,’ Trex said defensively.

‘Present company excluded of course,’ added Brekiz quickly, putting on a smooth voice.

‘They’re not that bad,’ insisted Trex. Though he often complained about his school friends back in the hills, Trex would not tolerate a strong word said against them.

Brekiz took another sip of his tea.

The two young lion males were sitting at a small iron table outside one of their favourite cafes, watching as a few Anthros walked up and down the boulevard. Brekiz put his cup back down next to his empty plate before beginning to talk again.

‘They waste their time with such old superstitions when there are scarier things happening all around us in the real world.’

Trex rolled his eyes as he prepared for his friend to start talking about his favourite subject again.

‘Conspiracy theories again?’ asked Trex dismissively, taking a sip of his own tea, now that he had finished eating.

‘There’s nothing, theory, about it,’ Brekiz said, his voice becoming serious. ‘There are organizations and societies all throughout the Lion Government. They’re up there with their agendas and plans, not caring about what happens to us poor lions in the real world.’

Trex smiled at his companion. Considering the misery Brekiz’s parents had suffered the last few years, it was not surprising the curly haired lion was a little paranoid about the imperial government. Trex didn’t mind the conspiracy talks that much, as it was actually sometimes interesting for once, though Trex thought that Brekiz overdid it quite often.

‘I just can’t see it myself,’ said Trex, stretching his back while sitting in his chair. ‘We are a republic after all. The government is accountable to the people.’

‘Republi’sh rubbish,’ countered Brekiz in a huff. ‘It’s just a system, and any system can be manipulated. Listen,’ said Brekiz, his voice suddenly lowering to a whisper. ‘I got something to tell you, let’s head back to the palace.’

‘hmmm hummm,’ replied Trex, sure that it was going to be another wild theory. Trex continued to drink his tea. Leaning forward onto the small cast iron table, he recognized two pretty lionesses about his age walking along the riverbank. They were dressed in typical short skirts and lose short tops.

Noticing that his friend’s attention was caught elsewhere, Brekiz turned to see what Trex was looking at. Behind Brekiz, his tail began to twitch back and forth.

‘Hey, Lindy!’ Brekiz suddenly shouted out at the two lionesses.

Trex froze, not expecting his friend to call out.

The two lionesses turned to see who was calling. One of them, a dangerous, seductive looking blond lioness with her long hair tied back into a ponytail, smirked towards Brekiz, narrowing her eyes.

‘What do you want Brekiz?’ Lindy asked, one hand on hip.

‘What are you girls up to tonight?’ asked Brekiz, his voice almost purring.

Trex gave a displeased side glance to his suggestive companion before going back to look at the friend of the blond lioness, she had chocolate brown wavy hair falling just past her shoulders. Trex caught the attention of her large, shy eyes for a second.

‘Just out for a quiet night stroll,’ the blond Lindy replied. Turning to her friend she continued. ‘Looks like we’ll have to move on if we want to find any quiet then.’

Though Lindy’s voice was condescending, it came across as more of a challenge then a rebuff. Throwing Brekiz a quick sly smile, Lindy moved on.

The other lioness hesitated for a second, having mostly maintained eye contact with Trex while her friend had been talking.

‘Hey Kaja’ said Trex in a kind greeting. Kaja smiled in reply, her ears drooping slightly and her tail began to wag before she was able to stop herself. Quickly she turned to follow her friend. The two lion males watched the lionesses as they moved on.

‘Smooth, Trex,’ teased Brekiz, unimpressed with his friend’s subtle efforts.

‘And yours was that much better?’ replied Trex challengingly.

‘At least she said something to me,’ said Brekiz. Leaning back, he ran his hands through his curly hair, happy with his efforts.

A smirk appeared on Trex’s face as a thought occurred to him.

‘She could be a spy you know,’ said Trex cunningly. Brekiz stopped what he was doing to look at Trex.

‘For one of your conspiracies… you know, can’t trust anyone.’ Trex continued.

Brekiz smiled at his younger friend.

‘If Lindy’s a spy’ said Brekiz happily, ‘then I surrender,’

Soon afterwards, the two found themselves back at the palace, the two female guards from before were still on duty and simply nodded at the two boys as they made their way through.

Walking alone in one of the many upper residence corridors, Trex thought it safe to talk about more important matters.

‘So, have you heard anything more about the robbery?’ Trex asked his friend.

Though Trex would occasional sneak into the odd council meeting, it was Brekiz that was the natural spy of the two. Brekiz had originally shown Trex all of the ways to sneak around the inner city. Living in the palace, and with little else to do, Brekiz knew every corridor and rooftop, every guard’s routine and all the good places to pick up on the latest information.

Brekiz stopped for a second, his round ears scanning for any fellow residents or patrolling guards, the large furry lobes just making it out of the top of his mess of curly blond hair. He replied in a hushed voice.

‘Well it looks like it was done by wolves,’ Brekiz whispered. ‘They found some wolf fur near the crime scene, and it’s not like wolfs are common in the inner city.’

‘I didn’t see that on the notice board.’

‘Only the higher officers and some of the council know. They’re keeping it under wraps for now, so as not to cause trouble.’

Trex nodded, though the occupation was stable at the moment, it wouldn’t take much for this to cause trouble, particularly if lions like Councillor Herrol got hold of the information.

‘They also know that the thieves came in by boat from the sea, on the southern coast.’

‘In the fog, I thought that was impossible at the best of times?’ asked Trex, honestly astounded. He always thought that the southern coast at the base of the city walls was nothing but sharp rocks.

‘The sea was calm that night apparently. They used a series of small markers and submerged ropes to guide themselves in.’

‘Wow. That’s a lot of preparation just for a robbery.’

Trex suddenly wondered what Sara was really doing inside the inner city, maybe she was one of the robbers, perhaps Captain Felx had let her go to soon. Somehow though, Trex simply couldn’t imagine Sara actually robbing anyone, but then again, he hadn’t seen her in over four years.

‘Are they sure it was meant to be a robbery, and not something more?’ Trex asked.

‘They don’t really know. The wolves were spotted just after they got into my grandparent’s place, they made a break for it straight away, who knows what they would have done if they had more time.’

Trex and Brekiz had made it to the taller lion’s apartment within the palace. Opening the door, the two entered. The room was about the same size as Trex’s room back home on the border, but was a much more basic set-up, consisting of just two adjoining rooms. The apartment’s draw card was the balcony that looked over the administration gardens to the east. Taking the seat from Brekiz’s desk, Trex turned it around to sit on it back to front, making himself comfortable. Meanwhile Brekiz plonked himself down on his bed which was against the opposite wall before he continued.

‘They must have only just got back over the wall in time. Soldiers were scouring the coast and the city, but it was Lieutenant Millan who found where they had come ashore. By that time it was too late, they had too much of a head start and could have landed almost anywhere up or down the coast again to get away,’ Brekiz said.

‘Surely someone must have noticed the boat setting up the rope. Or be able to find out which boat it was,’ said Trex.

‘You know how many boats there are off the shores? Those wolves dive for muscles and crustaceans all the time, also there are tons of ropes and buoys out there for the crustacean cages. Still though, it was a damn gutsy move.’ Brekiz lay back on his bed, casually looking up at the ceiling with his hands behind his head. ‘Captain Felx has already been down to the fishing docks, not too many of the wolves are talking, but he does know that there were some strange wolves in the area over the last month or so, in a boat not normally seen around here.’

‘Do they think some of the local wolves helped?’ asked Trex.

‘Doubtful, you know that the local wolves don’t want any trouble. But then you never know. That local wolf you had a run in with could have been there for some other reason then just to have a look around. Poor sod,’ Brekiz said, chuckling slightly at the wolf’s misfortune.

Trex leaned his chin on his hands, thinking about the whole thing and its possible connection to Sara. Though Trex had told of his fight with Sara later that same day to Brekiz during classes, he had not mentioned her name. That was something no-one needed to know.

‘Oh well. There is something more interesting afoot anyway,’ Brekiz said, suddenly sitting up.


‘Someone tampered with one of the messenger hawks a few nights ago, the night of the robbery,’ he said enthusiastically. ‘I only heard about it yesterday, but apparently there was all sorts of noises and commotion, and when the guards went up to investigate, the door was open.’

‘Isn’t there normally a clerk on duty?’ asked Trex.

‘Not that early in the morning, they lock-up at eleven at night and reopen the aviary at six in the morning to see what came across overnight.’

‘It could have been the wolves,’ suggested Trex.

‘Highly unlikely, the aviary is almost inaccessible from outside, and you would have to know your way around pretty well to get up there at all, let alone unseen. It had to be someone on the inside.’

‘It wasn’t you, was it?’ asked Trex suddenly, the thought of his sneaky friend intercepting information not being too much of a leap of imagination.

‘Nooo,’ said Brekiz dismissively. ‘I wouldn’t have been caught-out leaving the door open,’ he added with a cheeky smile.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

Opening the door fully, Brekiz was face to face with his grandfather, Katan. The kind old lion, with his long grey beard and scruffy grey hair, was instantly able to see Trex still sitting on the chair.

The young lion waved at him.

‘Oh, hello Trex,’ greeted Katan in a kind gruff voice.

‘Hello professor Katan,’ replied Trex.

‘We’ve put out a little something for dinner…I know it’s a bit late,’ said Katan, turning back to his grandson.

‘You are more then welcome to come if you like,’ he added addressing Trex.

‘Thanks but-‘ Trex began.

‘We’ll be right over,’ interrupted Brekiz, who was always hungry.

‘Ok, see you over there,’ said Katan with a smile.

Trex could well have been nervous. Being invited to eat with the head councillor and most senior Shaman in RefugeCross was not something most Anthros did. Looking at it from another way, however, they were only Brekiz’s grandparents, and in private the two didn’t really live up to their official titles. Trex also usually ate at their apartment each time he stayed over at RefugeCross. He had gotten quite used to the older couple.

After exchanging pleasantries, the four sat down to eat. Lions eating habits were different from wolves in that they had multiple smaller meals during the day. What was eaten at each meal was really a matter of taste and practicality. In this case it being flat bread with various vegetables and dried meat.

Trex told the two older lions of his plans and why he was in town. Tasch interrupted her meal to go and write out a quick pass for Trex before she forgot. Upon her return the discussion moved on from Trex’s little planned excursion.

‘I assume that Brekiz has told you something of the robbery here,’ said Katan suddenly.

Trex’s eyes flicked over to Brekiz, it had not been made public knowledge whose residence it was that had been robed.

Brekiz simply nodded, unconcerned.

‘Naturally we would appreciate if you would not pass on the information to just anyone,’ continued Katan.

‘Naturally,’ replied Trex. Taking another bite he chewed through the delicious wrap. ‘If you don’t mind me asking… What was taken?’ he asked, attempting to be as genuine as possible.

Tasch and Katan exchanged a quick look, somehow communicating in a secret language only understood between older couples.

‘Personal effects,’ said Tasch. ‘Some letters, a personal seal and some flowers.’

Considering that Trex had already promised not to pass on the information, neither of the older lions felt it important any more to keep the rest of the information from the boy.

‘Flowers? Were any of the things important?’ Trex asked. He was a little bewildered considering the effort the robbers had gone to.

‘The flowers were potentially the most valuable,’ said Brekiz, between mouthfuls.

‘They were fresh wispdews,’ said Katan, ‘from up near the ancient ruins in the mountains.’

Trex tried to remember what he had learnt about the flowers in herbology classes. If he remembered correctly, they were not too common and grew up in the higher hills, closer to the tree line. Whispdews were nice enough to look at and could be used for all kinds of things, including amongst others, to make a poison.

‘Wispdews? Surely wolves could get their own. I mean they grow up in the mountains this time of year?’ he said.

‘True,’ said Tasch. She was mildly impressed that Trex knew of the flower, and unconcerned that he knew it was wolves that had broken in. ‘But we can’t get them so easily down here, and it may be important.’

‘I thought the flower only really made a type of poison?’ asked Trex automatically.

‘It makes a poison amongst other things,’ said Katan in a measured response. ‘It also makes the antidote.’

Trex thought about this for a second; that could well be important.

‘There are no other Whispdews in the city?’ he asked.

‘Not fresh,’ replied Katan, not particularly concerned it seemed. ‘But don’t worry, we will have some more in about a week, we know someone up in the hills.’

Trex thought about who the contact could be for a second, he knew of no lion that lived north of the border zone within the Wolf Kingdom.

‘How did they find it in your apartment?’ Trex asked, just wondering where someone would keep such a valuable plant.

‘It was just sitting on the table,’ stated Brekiz offhand, taking a drink.

Trex looked somewhat shocked at the answer, considering what the plant did.

‘It’s a good looking flower,’ said the elderly Tasch defensively.

Trex watched as a small smile spread across Katan’s face. Looking back at Tasch, Trex realized this had probably been brought up before.

‘As I was saying,’ said Katan. ‘I would appreciate if this was not passed on.’ Looking specifically at his grandson he added, ‘To anyone.’

Brekiz glanced back at his Grandfather.

‘I had to tell someone,’ he said in honest defiance. ‘Anyway you know you can trust Trex.’

Katan shrugged his shoulders in light-hearted defeat.

Trex was not about to tell anyone in any case. As harmless as the two older lions in front of him seemed, when fully equipped with potions and tools they were walking siege weapons, more powerful then any machine so far developed by wolf or lion. Trex had seen professor Katan once give a demonstration during a festival. With the old Shaman’s understanding and control of specific chemicals he could hurl large fireballs great distances, or freeze things to the spot, even creating lightning out of thin air. These were not lions to be messed with.

After finishing dinner and bidding Katan and Tasch goodnight, the two young lions had gone up to see the aviary. Trex had been most impressed by the winged messenger station with its falcons and hawks, but also by the aviary’s location itself. The birds were kept within the massive bulbous onion shaped roof of the wide cylindrical palace tower. The bird’s perches themselves were only a small part of the massive open roof cavity. Within this cavernous roof centre were large gears and leavers, heavy counterweights and complex pulleys, all the mechanics that were needed to keep the palace running. In the middle of all this was a monstrous water tank which took up half of the available space, it being used for the palace’s plumbing system.

To Trex’s surprise, Brekiz knew the pretty adult lioness clerk on duty and also seemed to know his way around the birds in general.

The two lion youths had fed the winged messengers and done a little snooping around amongst the many access hatches into the large mechanical room. The pretty clerk had said that with the robbery of the head councillor’s apartment on the same night, the guards had not had time to investigate the break-in at the aviary fully. One of the lion guards had even suggested to her that she had simply left the door unlocked, considering nothing appeared to have been taken.

Trex and Brekiz had taken their time, but found nothing. The numerous access hatches all seemed to be securely fastened.

It was only just before they left that they accidentally hit upon something. Brekiz had gone back to the perches to wish his favourite feathered friend goodnight. The bird had been too nervous to approach when they had first entered, like many of the others. It was only after he got closer that he saw why the large falcon-like bird’s feathers where ruffled. The bird had some orange fur stuck in one of his talons. It was obvious it had attacked a lion only recently.

Messenger falcons and hawks had long been bred by lions, and would normally never attack a lion unless they were mistreated, or saw one of their kind being mistreated or attacked.

Brekiz hypothesised that a messenger bird had been killed in the aviary and its message confiscated, so explaining the stressed condition of the remaining birds. This was a very serious crime in itself, but didn’t really point to anyone. Once told, the female clerk stated that it was common enough for inexperienced soldiers to treat the messenger birds a little roughly out in the field, and received a little love-scratch, for their troubles. Brekiz, however, smelt a trail.

Trex had to listen to his friend theorize wildly on how he was going to track down the messenger bird murderer, so exposing the conspiracy to tamper with the message system.

Soon afterwards, Trex found himself walking back across the courtyard towards his own guest chambers, having just said goodnight to Brekiz.

Trex arrived back at his small room. Closed the door, he looked around the cramped dark space he knew well, suddenly feeling closed-in by the silence. For some reason Trex felt depressed, but didn’t know why. Sighing to himself, he went to the small open window, the night was still mild, and he leaned on the windowsill to look out towards the sea beyond. Why was he so down? He had a few days free to look forward to and by all accounts had just had a great evening. Still dissatisfied, the youth looked around the room.

Coming to a snap decision, he grabbed the small table, placing it in front of the window and removed all the items that were on it.

Much of lion schooling concerned itself with recognizing and controlling emotions, as concentration was so important to their transformation abilities and the ability to resist wolf emotional attack.

Testing the desk for stability, Trex climbed on. He took a meditative cross-legged position while facing the ocean through the window, his hands held lightly on his knees. It only took a few minutes for the practiced lion youth to clear his thoughts, the rhythmic sounds of the waves helping him along. Satisfied that his mind was cleared of emotions, he started to mull over his current situation.

What was going on, why was he depressed?

He knew that he had been dissatisfied for a while, but surely that shouldn’t have brought about the feelings he had just experienced.

Trex should be happy with his life. The last few days had been the most interesting of his life so far, if a little confusing.

The young lion knew his future was causing him some trouble, but how was that connected? Surely the last few days should have shown him that his life, if he stayed here, could still be worthwhile. Maybe he could still stay to look after his family.

Contemplating, he began to realize that he was actually surrounded by many Anthros with interesting challenges… And then it struck him; that was behind the problem, it was the other Anthros that had the challenges, not him.

Everything that had happened to him in the last few days he had been a participant in. But he was only a side-note in what other wolves and lions were doing.

Captain Felx was looking after the robbery, even Sara had her own motives and aims, whatever that was, Trex could only guess. Brekiz now had something to do, Trex couldn’t help him with nosing around because he didn’t live in the palace.

Trex would occasionally hear of interesting things from everyone else but that was all.

Even his weekly trespass in the council chamber was effectively voyeurism, hearing what others were up to, how their lives were going. At least the thrill of possibly getting caught was always there.

Over the last year he had done a lot of minor trespassing throughout the city, to test himself as much as anything. But where was that going to lead? Sooner or later he would get caught again, where was any of this going?

Since he had moved up so many classes he had not really had the opportunity to make, or keep, many close friends. Living were he did didn’t help either. His only close friend at the moment was Brekiz, and that was saying something. Brekiz was a little odd and didn’t have many friends either. Brekiz’s situation was caused partially from the fact that he had only arrived a few years ago and also because he was almost the only youth his age to live within the inner city. At least Brekiz knew what he wanted to do, he was going to study under his Shaman grandfather Katan. Brekiz was already effectively an apprentice, helping the old Shaman in the laboratory as much as he could.

Trex envied his friend.

And what about himself? Should he move into the city? Trex had no problem meeting Anthros and making new friends, despite his isolated upbringing on his aunt’s and uncle’s farm. But what was he going to do, find work with one of the guilds, meet a nice lioness, settle down? He was still way too young for that.

Somehow everything seemed unappealing to him. Trex was becoming more agitated despite his meditation preparation.

And he was planning to meditate for a few days? Somehow even his trip away was now agitating him… it was just… frustrating.

Letting out a long breath Trex slumped out of his meditating seating position, his mind simply abandoning the whole thing. Leaning forward, he lay down so that his head was poking out of the window, attempting to get a bit of the fresh breeze that was blowing by outside. Closing his eyes and breathing deeply, Trex rolled his head around. Opening his eyes again he found himself looking at the Crawling Mountains to the north. Blinking for a second, his blank mind came to an instant connection.

-Go into the mountains-, the words suddenly came to him.

Head up through the WesternWilderness and collect some Wispdews.

It made sense, he knew he really didn’t want to go and meditate somewhere on the coast for three days. To be honest, it had only ever been an excuse to get away from the farm. At least this way he had a purpose, professor Katan would probably be grateful to have the flowers earlier rather then later.

It wasn’t too dangerous either. He would stay out of Wolf Kingdom territory, which didn’t officially go to the coast in any case. But it wasn’t exactly safe, he was travelling into the wilds and official or not, it was close to Wolf Kingdom territory and there was no law out there. But heck, life wasn’t safe. His mind had already been made up. Hardly any lions had been to the mountains. Trex would be back in a few days and would have accomplished something.

As his uncle always said, if you can’t find a solution from meditating, simply go and do something useful, the answer will usually present itself in time.

Satisfied, Trex got up from the window, moving over to his bed. Throwing himself down onto the hard mattress he stretched out, his mind content enough to plan out the next few days. The young lion had no problem with the idea of travelling alone. He had been alone, so to speak, for a lot of his life and prided himself on his independence and self reliance. Looking out of the open window, he could just see the edge of the moon, and it struck him how beautiful its soft light was. It had been a while since he had thought that.

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