|The Bell Keeper: Book 2 - Tinkle
Author: The-Black-Kit10 PM
The continent of Fenrisyr contained more than simply the pride of the wild. As the small flare struggled to understand the meaning of freedom, steep prices threatened to extinguish it out of existence. Sequel to Chimes.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 11 - Words: 146,736 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 05-18-13 - Published: 10-13-12 - id: 3065435
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: welcome to first arc ender of Book2!
Ti 20 – Piceous Hour
The revving purrs of the military jeep's engine sputtered out as Yutsu extracted the key from its ignition. Instead of keeping it, however, the blunette immediately threw it into the bushes, where it would be very unlikely to be found again. After all, the last thing they wanted to happen was to have a Tyradum officer recapture the vehicle.
How they took possession of the jeep mostly comprised of a maelstrom of visions in Rui's mind, making her unable to discern them with any degree of clarity. All she could truly recall was the fact that after they had left Nita with her clansmen, all hell broke loose in Carpoc.
The Canines' strike had turned into a full-blown riot the moment Tyradum soldiers from Speothos entered the fray to silence their complaints. Outraged, the residents of the city lashed out with such ferocity that the Felines were forced into retaliating with armaments. However, the numbers were on the Dogs' side that night and thus the uprising turned into a blood bath unlike anything Rui had ever seen.
She and her party had to literally dodge bullets just to get to the southern side of the city. Moreover, they also had to avoid gas bombs the Felines utilized to control the mob. She was not sure what chemicals were in the explosives, but just a whiff of the stuff was enough to take the wind out of their lungs. The Fox recalled losing her breath during their escape and how her throat burned like no other even though they were not even exposed to the chemical's full potency. Sakura seemed to have inhaled enough to reduce her into a coughing fit that lasted until they were miles out of the city's perimeter.
Fortunately, they managed to find the jeep in operational condition after it was mobbed by rioters. Its original driver had been mauled to death with clubs and crowbars, probably due to the fact that he was a Tyradum soldier. The members of his squad were nowhere to be seen, while he was nearly impossible to recognize. Rui could not even tell what breed of Cat the man was, only the fact that he was shot and beaten long after he had already breathed his last.
Yutsu wasted no time to jump start the automobile by cutting and reconnecting wires under the steering wheel, and after unceremoniously dumping the lifeless body on the street to join a number of other victims, they sped out of Carpoc as quickly as they possibly could.
Now that they were in the outskirts of Hodous, the golden Vulpine could feel herself breathing a little bit easier.
But only just.
It was regrettable that they must venture in this dilapidated city because it did not look any safer than Carpoc. With the fog blowing in from the bay, Hodous looked eerily unforgiving with its buildings' shadowy silhouettes and the sheer imposing expanse of the area itself. It seemed stagnant, even lost in time, because of the juxtaposition of more contemporary structures with those that belonged in another age. Marble statues of heroes both historic and mythical could be seen behind enclosed or fenced spaces while warehouses and decrepit multi-story housing wore signs of unrest in the form of crude graffiti on their walls.
With its foreboding presence, Hodous reminded Rui so much of Kaltrea's shady third district or even Torden's industrial borough, especially due to the fact that it was peculiarly—perhaps even deceptively—peaceful here compared to Carpoc. Even in the fog, there were some pedestrians, mostly drunkards who have been kicked out of taverns, although there were also some shady fellows that strolled with their coats' lapels folded up to hide their faces. It was probably so that they could be spared from the chill of midnight, but Rui's hyperactive sense of caution refused to accept such a simple-minded reason.
After all, they were not in familiar territory.
"Stay close," Yutsu whispered so that only her companions would hear her. The bounty hunter's stiff command only exemplified her growing unrest, because otherwise she would have been relaxed, even carefree amidst danger.
Her terse tone certainly made Sakura stand up a little straighter. The Foxroach looked worse for wear, even though she was obviously doing her best to keep up with the adults. She walked bravely and belied no trace of fear even though she was probably still dizzy due to the chemicals she had inhaled in Carpoc. This was good, Rui thought, because any sign of weakness might attract unwanted attention. However, the tell-tale signs of emotional and physical exhaustion could still be seen in the way she carried her shoulders just a little lower than she normally did.
As encouragement, the Fox nudged her Kit with her tail as she placed the girl between her and the bounty hunter for extra protection.
"Yutsu, we must find shelter until sunrise. It will be safer to travel in daylight, even if just marginally."
"I agree," the Rabbit spoke without tearing her gaze away from scanning the vicinity, "but even I am not familiar with this place."
"We should find the Serbe." Sakura's boldness was quite surprising after the long silence.
"I don't think that would be wise at this point in time, Sa-chan."
"Why not? We won't be able to leave the city for a while anyway."
"Well, as you can see," this time it was Yutsu's antennae that waved to and fro, "none of us know how to get there."
"And with the riot in Carpoc," Rui added as she gripped her shotgun just a little tighter, "there is no telling what those people might be doing." For all they knew, the Balkans might be preparing this city for war as they spoke.
The black-haired girl clenched her fist, "but I have to meet Conrad Balkar. With everything that's going on, I'm sure he can do something about—"
"Enough," the golden Fox growled deeply, "if that man has what it takes to do something about Carpoc then he would have done so already. We have done what we came here to do and brought the Cub back to her clan. It is time to think about our own well-being."
"I understand that," Sakura gritted her teeth and pressed on, "but I'm certain that the Balkans will be able to shelter us for the time-being, as potential comrades-in-arms. It's certainly going to be a lot safer to do that than staying out in the open."
"And what makes you think that those rebels will be hospitable?" Rui did not like being answered back to and it took great control to sound impartial and reasonable. The Kit must learn that this group of rebels might not be cordial just because they were fighting a common foe.
"Keep your voices down," the bounty hunter forewarned as she kept a close eye on the vicinity, her senses sharp and alert. "You shouldn't say names like those so loudly around places like these. Have you both forgotten that even passers-by might be double agents?"
The two regarded her carefully and silenced their voices, acknowledging the grave truth behind those words.
"We must keep moving."
The younger Vulpine did not seem too pleased about the decision and was about to retort when Yutsu resumed walking with utmost caution. The way she moved strongly suggested that the other two must follow her in order to not draw attention from any person they walked past.
They made their way towards the larger roadways and avoided narrow corridors where they could easily be ambushed. Before long, another behemoth casted its shadow upon the cityscape. It was a gigantic cylindrical structure as far as Rui could tell in the darkness, and it had arches decorating every single one of its many facets. It was easily a hundred feet tall, and upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an archaic coliseum that had been abandoned by time. As they drew closer, it became apparent that the great building was a far cry from its former glory. Even in the darkness, she could tell that some walls have been demolished and a number of columns have been toppled, leaving the monument almost skeletal.
It fittingly mirrored the state of the city itself.
They turned and walked around the coliseum's perimeter trying to locate an inn or a motel where they would be able to hide and spend the rest of the night, but after several minutes it became obvious that Yutsu was purposely trying to evade someone due to the way she moved her ears. Normally, they would only face forward since the bounty typically sensed trouble using her antennae but now they were twisting side to the side as if scanning for an extra set of footsteps that followed them.
Rui supposed that she should not be surprised. With the pandemonium in Carpoc just miles away, the peaceful silence here in Hodous could not be genuine. Even if the place looked like a typical sleeping city, there would still be stalkers in the shadows, and she was certain that this one had probably monitored them the moment they stepped out of the jeep. However, it was clear that Yutsu did not want to instigate any unnecessary confrontations because her strides were easy and relaxed in spite of the fact she was aware that someone was tailing them.
Perhaps she was gauging whether this individual was a real threat or simply a seeing eye-Dog for whoever was in-charge of this place.
Sakura held her own quite admirably, and aside from the amount of caution expected from a person walking in the streets this late in the night, she acted like nothing was amiss. Unlike her though, the older Vulpine was like a walking ball of nerves, hyperaware of that fourth set of footsteps that sounded so loud to her large ears. Her palms itched, and only the rough texture of her shotgun's barrel alleviated the urge to do something, to confront this figurative predator hounding her tail.
She never did like being followed.
As the city blocks disappeared below their feet one after another, the stalker became bolder and followed them so blatantly that even the bounty hunter began to feel slightly uncomfortable. Rui noticed that Yutsu had slyly tucked an arm behind her back where her pistols were, ready for action in case it was needed. Unfortunately, the Fox could not prepare herself in a similar manner for it would be far too obvious, and she was not certain if this man was the only person tailing them.
Suddenly, Yutsu turned into an alleyway without any warning, although she did so in such a graceful manner that a normal passer-by would have thought she intended to turn into the narrow road from the start. The other two followed as naturally as they could, and once they were certain that their tails were no longer visible to the man following them, they both looked at the bounty hunter wondering what she had planned. However, the Rabbit only rested a finger over her lips, telling them to be quiet as she pressed her back against the wall of the adjacent building, listening and feeling for what the stranger was going to do.
Sure enough, the footsteps stopped right at the corner of the turn, hesitating whether it should follow or not. Rui narrowed her eyes and tried to flick her firearm's safety as quietly as she could. A breath passed, then another, challenging her nerves. She knew that if that person decided to show himself to them, and if he proved to be a threat, she might have to pull the trigger yet again.
The thought lathered a bitter coat of saliva upon her tongue.
It was after the third breath that a black-haired man peered around the corner with a pistol in hand. Upon the sight of the gun, Yutsu reacted like a machine and dragged the stocky Canine out of the street and shoved him into the opposing wall face first. The man groaned in pain but he quickly recovered and attempted to free himself of the bounty hunter's hold by twisting around and kicking at the latter's shin, forcing the Rabbit to step away for a moment. However, the blunette was a professional and already had a knife in hand by the time the Canine managed to turn around and mount a feeble resistance.
Yutsu had the blade by his neck before he could even pull out another gun.
"Why are you following us, hmm?" Her question sounded almost friendly if it were not for the knife in her hand.
The thickly bearded man did not look all too fazed even though he had been disarmed and was in the brink of being bled out like livestock. His small pointed ears only folded back as he clenched his fists tightly as if ready to strike. This alarmed Rui, who raised her loaded shotgun to the man's head without another thought.
"I wadnae take ma eyes aff tha' lass if I were ye." The Terrier grumbled fearlessly against Yutsu's knife, rolling his r's which made him sound like he was growling. "Who knows whit can happen ta her wi' yer backs turned like tha'."
It took a moment for the Fox to fully comprehend such a thick accent that sounded like but was also completely different to how the Weasels talked. But when she finally understood what he meant, she immediately turned around with her gun only to find that there was another individual hiding just beyond the window of the building's first floor, and in that stranger's arms was a short-barreled shotgun that was dangerously close to Sakura's head.
The girl, who had her clawed gauntlets and dagger at ready since the assault, blinked in surprise and whirled around to see the two menacing barrels of a previously undetected firearm. Her ears immediately folded down but her expression belied no fear and glared at the stranger with cautious garnet eyes.
"Is this how you greet visitors to your city?" Yutsu asked the man nonchalantly, although there was a sharp edge to her voice as well. "Not the most welcoming town, hmm?"
The second Canine stepped closer towards the window and revealed herself to be a Bloodhound, whose long, drooping ears were reminiscent of Roc back in Xenoc. And like the old man, she did not sound hospitable either.
"We are the ones asking questions around here," she said as she allowed the black-haired girl to back away and seek the relative safety of Rui's range. "We saw you come into town in a Tyradum jeep, but none of you look Feline. How did you get that vehicle? Are you allied with those Felines?"
The golden Fox did not like how this Bitch sounded so bossy, "what if we are?"
"Then we have the right to blow your heads off here and now."
"Wait!" Sakura yipped and stepped forward after getting a vague understanding of what was going on. She then stood straight with her tail erect, showing she was serious about being heard. "We're not with Tyradum in any way, shape or form. We had no choice but to take that jeep to get away from the riot in Carpoc. I..." she swallowed for a moment to keep herself from stuttering, "I am assuming that you two are from the Balkans."
"Kit," the elder Vulpine growled lowly, "you are talking way too much." After all, if these two were enemies of the Balkans, and if they found out that the black-haired girl was searching for the rebel group, they just might get shot right then and there.
"So whit if we are, aye?" The Terrier in Yutsu's hold held no reservations about his bark, "daft ye are lassie, if ye think ye can simply label us like tha'. Are ye a fool or are ye stupid?"
"I'm neither," the Foxroach declared so calmly that it surprised both the Fox and Rabbit. "If you are from the Balkans, please, show us where the Serbe is."
"The Serbe? Ye drive intae our backyard in a Feline jeep and ye want us ta spit information out like tha'?" He chuckled this time, quite amused about how the girl just boldly asked for such top secret information. After all, one just did not ask for the location of an insurgent base. And while he kept on taunting her, the Bloodhound was already radioing someone, possibly reinforcements.
"A man named Roc told us to seek the Serbe if we want to speak to the leader of the Balkans."
The mention of a familiar name silenced the radio static, showing that it caught the attention of the other woman. "Roc?" The Bloodhound growled but more due to annoyance than aggression. "That good for nothing old man," she then pocketed the handset, "how dare he send people up here at a time like this?"
"So you know him?"
The tall woman sighed as she pocketed her radio, "unfortunately, yes I do." She then spoke to her partner, who was still pinned against the wall, "what do you think?"
"Hehe, well it looks like we might be pointin' these things needlessly. Trish, drop the gun... only if our friendly Rabbit 'ere wad drop hers, aye?" After his partner reluctantly drew her firearm's barrel away from the two Vulpines, the Terrier visibly relaxed a bit, especially after Yutsu stepped away from him. He rearranged the tartan-patterned cap on his head and fixed the lapels of his thick but worn coat.
"Ma name is Jock," the Terrier picked up his handguns on the ground and holstered them, "Capt. Jock Chappers, and tha' is ma wife, Trish."
"And I'm Sakura Kurama," the black-haired girl looked between the two Canines warily, "so will you take us?"
"I dinnae about tha' but whit is yer name, again? It sounds awfully familiar."
That made the Foxroach's ears perk, "it is?"
"Vaguely, lassie, but aye," Jock stroked his wiry beard thoughtfully.
Blinking, the black-haired girl repeated her name, "Sakura Kurama."
"Where did you come from?" This time, it was Trisha who asked curiously, and although she did not seem to be a threat any longer, she still kept her shotgun close and ready to fire just in case.
The two glanced at each other before the Terrier cleared his throat and sniffed, "I see... then it wad be best if we dinnae talk about this out in the open."
"Jock..." his wife spoke warningly.
"Whit could possibly go wrong, aye? Wad Arthland's ghost haunt our arses? I think not! Besides," he searched the Fox and the Rabbit with judging scrutinizing eyes, "as fierce as thay may look, thay're the ones between a rock and a hard place." He then paused dramatically, his eyes almost seemed like they challenged the two, daring them to do something drastic. But before either woman could show any retaliation or displeasure from such a stare, he turned around and returned to the streets.
Clapping his hands, Jock barked to the newcomers in Hodous. "Chop, chop," he told them, "We must hurry. Even here, the pubs close, aye?"
Rui furrowed her eyebrows as the stocky man rounded the corner and wondered why he was so reckless. She recalled how Talskan and Stryk were so protective about their movement that they would not normally talk about it, even when they were in the relatively safety of the Cog Weasel. So how could this Terrier be so cocky? His partner seemed to be more like the type of person the Fox could associate with insurgents, cautious, distrustful, and generally dark, who would not part with important information.
She glared at the Bloodhound and spoke quietly to Yutsu, "should we?"
The Rabbit looked like she was studying the situation due to her incomprehensible expression. For a moment, Rui wished that the bounty hunter would reject the invitation so they could simply go on their way, but she did not. Due to some unknown factor, the blunette returned her knife in her pocket, signaling her acceptance to the current arrangement. This also gave Sakura confidence to follow the Terrier out of the alley, even though she still stuck close to Yutsu.
"After you," the golden Fox heard Trisha's firm tone behind her.
Displeased, Rui tightened her jaw before she went after the two Hybrids. Having a gunwoman following behind her was definitely one of the worst possible scenarios she wanted to happen during their stay here, but due to the circumstances, she must once again feel like a captive by these violent revolutionaries.
In many ways, she thought that the Serbe would look just like one of the gateway entrances of the Rebellion in Torden, complete with thick-meshed barbed wire gates and garrisoned towers manned by snipers. The buildings that surrounded them as they trekked through Hodous certainly looked the type. Tattooed by spray paints and branded by scratches or bullet holes, the streets the two Canines led them through seemed to have been forgotten by the law.
If there were even laws in this forsaken city to begin with.
Rui kept her crimson eyes away from the crudely written curses upon the walls and street posts that screamed their writers' hate of Felines and Canines alike. Hatred was universal, was it not? It saw no race, no breed. There were just as many complaints about the Wolves' cowardice, Dogs' greed, or the Coyotes' lack of intelligence written on the streets as there were about Tyradum's oppression. It made her wonder just what the people of Hodous really wanted, or even better, what the people of Drasgard truly desired. Back in Kaltrea, a similar strife ate away at the foundations of Tyradum's power, allowing a rebellion to grow upon the unrest like rust to exposed metal. Slowly the social disease spread, recruiting more and more people to fight for a belief that were never truly the basis of anyone's selfish ideals until the rust grew so big that the great power came down on it with a spade.
And just like the spoiled residues of eaten metal, the Rebellion was scraped and washed away.
She wondered if the Balkans would suffer the same fate. Borne from chaos, it was quite possible that the group's only purpose was to feed fuel to the fire. Movements like these could only spurn more conflict; wasting lives, destroying property, and degrading morals, when a possible solution must rise from the country's very leaders themselves. But who was she to judge? From what she had seen so far, Canine politics was more rooted in instinct and primitive show of dominance, evident from how most of the ones she had met bristled when she looked upon them in the eye. Like a mob, they followed who howled the strongest and who snarled the fiercest, and against well-organized and technologically advanced Felines, they stood no chance.
Had she been given another option, she would have dragged her family away from going to the Serbe, but as the circumstances were, it would be safer to play by their game than risk being captured. Her only regret was the fact that Sakura would once again dip her claws into these outlaws' business. But no matter, Rui frowned resolutely. Whatever happened inside this Serbe would not change the plans she had already placed.
Suddenly, her musings came into an abrupt end when their pace was brought into a halt in front of a set of stairs that led several steps down. Upon descent, the Terrier knocked hard on the cracked glass of a metal door, producing an almost ear-shattering sound. The loud noise alarmed Rui and Sakura, but both forced themselves to relax when Yutsu did not budge from where she leaned against the stairway wall.
"Open up, ye!" The Canine barked and knocked a couple more times before the door was unlocked by a tall, pointy-eared woman with ebony hair. She looked nonplussed with her cigarette hanging loosely between her lips, seemingly jolted awake by the stocky Terrier. "Why in heaven's name are ye all locked up?"
The Doberman scratched her stomach underneath her shirt before lazily responding, "and why are you barking so loudly so late? Even better, Capt., why are you here so early? It's barely two in the morning."
"We ran into something interesting, Rudy," Trisha pushed past the group and entered the warm pub. After the rest of the party followed suit, she placed her sawed-off shotgun on the bar counter before sitting elegantly on one of the stools. "Things aren't looking good in Carpoc."
"Aye, aye, lass. And our guests here are first-hand witnesses." Jock seconded and gestured towards the group.
Once the black-haired woman's attention was on them, Rui knew that this newcomer was far more dangerous than the first two they have met. Big-boned, muscled, and with a mean-looking face, the Doberman rivaled the Fox's height and was possibly more physically powerful. She even had a set of pistols tucked haphazardly in her military-grade pants that embossed her tough image. Fortunately, Rudy seemed more interested in learning more about Carpoc and thus listened intently to Sakura's story about the city.
Her reactions to the chaos were quite peculiar though.
"Bahaha! So they've gone bonkers over there, eh?" The Doberman hopped on the bar counter in her first try and crudely dropped her booted feet on a stool. "Well it wasn't like we didn't know that it'll happen sooner or later. At the very least, the riot should take attention away from Hodous long enough for us to get the plan into operation."
"Rudy," Trisha admonished the large woman with a glare, "do not speak so freely."
"Eh? Why? Ol' Jock brought them here, right? So that means they're cool in our books." Rudy scratched her forearm before spitting the butt of her cigarette into an empty beer bottle, which made Rui scowl.
How she hated it when people do that…
"Why did you bring these three here anyway, Jock? I think I missed that point somewhere in the conversation."
The Terrier was behind the counter retrieving a glass of whiskey when he calmly announced, "tha' lassie, ma dear Rudy, is Sakura Kurama… or so she told us. Disnae tha' ring any bells?"
Rui tensed and Yutsu flicked an ear out of curiosity. Jock took them here because of the Kit's name, a fact that the two adults were not very comfortable with because neither of them knew just how dangerous the name was to their well-being. They were certain that the black-haired girl was notorious in Riphaeus because of the Kaltrea and Torden incident, but they had hoped that the news did not spread here so quickly.
The golden Fox watched the Doberman closely as the latter's expression contorted into a thoughtful frown as if she was trying to remember where she had heard the Foxroach's name from, but after a few moments of silence it was obvious that she had come up with nothing.
"Ye've had too much to drink I see…" Jock scratched his beard before sipping his liquor. "Sakura Kurama is the name of the girl Hector Arthland had adopted years ago." He then turned towards the person in question, "Are ye tha' girl, lassie?"
The Kit blinked in confusion, possibly overwhelmed that people knew her association with the great Sabertooth, even more so at the fact that they knew her by name. She gaped before she clenched her fist and nodded with resolve, unable to voice all the questions she probably had in mind.
"Well I'll be damned…" Rudy chuckled as she crossed her thick arms, "so we have a VIP in our midst. Damn it all, why does this happen whenever I'm drunk? People always get a bad impression of me."
A very deep voice resounded from the bar's back room, "perhaps you should ask whether it is just a coincidence or if you are simply always drunk, my dear Gertrude."
"Shut it, Mogens."
A Great Dane entered the room by slightly dipping his head underneath the door frame because it was too small to accommodate his towering stature. He wore a neatly ironed dress shirt and tie, which immediately showed that he was the establishment's bartender. With his lazily drooping ears and half-lidded eyes, Mogens looked like a gentle giant, but he still looked rather intimidating because of his size.
"Pardon her manners," he told his guests, "I should have been the one to welcome you in this bar as I was preoccupied in the back, but I suppose it is not too late to do so. Welcome to the Serbe. It is a pleasure and an honor to meet the daughter of our esteemed hero, Mr. Arthland. Although it does bring to attention as to why you are here, young miss."
"Aye, tha' is definitely a story I want to hear as well."
Sakura instinctively looked at Rui then at Yutsu, her garnet eyes showing that she was uncertain about sharing her tale. But as she looked away from them, it was obvious that she did not need the adults' approval.
She faced the members of the Balkans with fierce determination.
"I have come to ask for help."
It took about an hour for Sakura to tell the rebels what had happened in Riphaeus in the past couple of months. The account left the Balkans rather speechless and in awe, possibly due to the fact that the remnants of Hector's Rebellion had been completely extinguished. Jock and Trisha would often glance at each other with worry, while Gertrude and Mogens listened on with grave expressions on their faces.
"And ye say tha' ye havnae had any contact wi' them? Aiya," the Terrier huffed grievously, "tha' is bad bad news."
"Not even Talskhan?" The Doberman leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees to show her concern.
Sakura could only shake her head sadly, "no, not even him. I was hoping that the Balkans would have news at all."
"Nae, lass, whit ye hae told us is news."
A moment of silence was observed as all those affiliated in fighting against Tyradum pondered about the loss of the greatest revolution Drasgard had ever seen. It was only broken when the silent Great Dane rumbled his thoughts, "perhaps it would be wise to let the Boss know about this."
Rui noticed that Trisha did not seem to support that idea but Jock had already nodded his assent before she could voice her opinions.
"Aye, wi' Talskhan defeated, the Balkans might be the next target. Better prepared than sorry, so go ahead and phone Gus, Mogens."
As the Great Dane dialed the phone to speak to this Gus fellow, Gertrude growled irritably, "this just pisses me off."
"I'd say…" Jock nodded in agreement.
"Were you allied with Tal at one point?" Sakura asked almost timidly but it was obvious that she could not keep her curiosity to herself.
"Nae exactly, lass. We just heard many stories about him and Hector, although our faction had communication with yers every now and then, mostly for intelligence. Many of us look up to him though…" the Terrier chuckled as he placed his glass on the table. "Did ye know tha' Talskhan's presence in Hector's rebellion spurned many common Dogs to take up arms against the Felines?"
"Why the dubious tone there, Poochie? Ol' Jock is right, y'know… the Calatravas might have managed to buy off the service of many of the Nobles' men, but the image of the rogue rebel Dog was more attractive to us peasants." Gertrude grinned toothily as she snickered, "Hell, some of us here in the Balkans were inspired by that Alsatian outcast."
"Haha!" Jock's laughter sounded like barks, "ye talk about yerself too much, Rudy. Why, I can most certainly recall this wee young lass 15 years ago yipping about the great Talskhan Alsace and his wondrous adventures! Aye, ye were much more adorable back then, says I."
The Doberman growled and chucked a glass coaster at the older Canine, incensed and just slightly red on the cheeks. "So what? He was just like me back then!"
"Hmm…" even Trisha was chuckling in amusement, "well, you were rather enamored that's for sure."
"Argh, enough about that already! That was so long ago."
Rui could not help but raise an eyebrow at this development, especially due to the fact that these people seemed to have a different view of the Alsatian. She simply could not superimpose the image of Tal the doting father and husband to Tal the great rebel. Even Sakura was confused, but because the other Canines seemed to hold one of her mentors in such high regard, she smiled a little and swished her fluffy tail as if she was wagging it along with Jock and his wife.
"Gustav said he will be here in a few minutes." Mogens' deep voice disturbed the steadily lightening atmosphere in the Serbe.
"Gustav?" Sakura tilted her head at the unfamiliar name.
"He is our second-in-command," Trisha explained as she walked towards a wine shelf, "and if he said he is coming up to meet you then you might just be able to get an audience with Boss Conrad."
"Where is he coming from? I thought the Serbe was a base for the Balkans and—"
"Oh, it is, Poochie." Gertrude hopped from her seat and joined the Bloodhound, "You'll see."
Much to their surprise, the wine shelf parted in the middle to reveal a secret passage that led to a cage lift. On the platform that ascended from underground, a wide-shouldered, heavily muscled man with a fearsome scowl and a thick red chin curtain stood. His severe expression already showed a dominant reputation, and paired with the assault rifle strapped on his back and the metal knuckles equipped on his fists, he looked like a gladiator ready to attack a platoon of enemies.
In Rui's personal opinion, the only friendly-looking parts of this man were his square floppy ears.
"Lass, this is Gustav Metzger, commander of the Balkans." Jock introduced the Bullmastiff, who acknowledged them with a stiff nod. Though the Foxroach was rather intimidated, the mahogany-maned man did not look too impressed of her from the way he narrowed his small eyes.
"I'm Sakura Kurama," the black-haired girl introduced herself once more while she endured that piercing stare. However, the man only snorted and cocked his head towards the lift. He only spoke when the party was already inside.
"I heard your story from Mogens," his raspy voice grumbled before he tightened he jaw muscles. "We will talk in the Boss' room. I already informed him that you're here, but tell me who these two are."
He scrutinized Rui and Yutsu as if he wanted nothing more than to discard them. The Fox noted that Gustav was the first Dog to ever look at her in the eye without flinching or looking away a moment later. In fact, he actually glared at her crimson gaze, challenging it in the proverbial game of dominance. It was only because of Sakura's clarification that the Bullmastiff tore his aggressive eyes away.
"They protected me after Torden fell," the Foxroach said with as much confidence as she could, "and then escorted me all the way here. They're my trusted people."
"Hnff," the Canine snorted as the lift stopped at a lower level, "I already don't like them. They have dangerous eyes."
Sakura was about to retort in her guardians' defense when the Rabbit shook her head to stop the outburst. Underground, they were at the mercy of this man so it would be best to tread carefully. As expected however, the black-haired girl's antennae were frizzled in indignation, something Rui understood completely. After all, she too held no fondness for this man. At least Jock and the others followed them underground, which brought some comfort because the Terrier and his friends were more affable and less aggressive.
The uneasiness of being around the Bullmastiff did not last though, because soon all three were rendered speechless by the sights they saw.
Gustav led them through a maze of underground warehouses that housed an armada of militia and weaponry. There was even a small army of Tyradum issued tanks in one depot that were redressed to fit the Balkans' purposes, complete with the rebel group's own insignia painted on their sides. Another repository had a multitude of crates stacked up to the ceiling, and from her view in the hallway, Rui could see some men pulling out cases of firearms, ammunition and explosives. She also noticed that the Balkans' in this subterranean base wore militia uniforms with the movement's emblem patched on their upper arm sleeves.
Disciplined, organized, and armed to the teeth, this group was definitely far above the rebels of Riphaeus.
She glanced at Yutsu, who only watched the activities with shielded eyes, and wondered what the bounty hunter thought about what she was seeing. But the golden-haired woman supposed that there was no time to get the blunette's opinion for they were steadily nearing an imposing blast door. It was only half-opened and it revealed a room that resembled a war meeting hall with a large table that had the Fenrisyran map pinned under a glass cover.
Gustav wordlessly gestured to them after he passed through the thick portal, making them haste inside where they came face to face with the man named Conrad Balkar.
The great Mastiff rebel leader was looking at the map on his war table with a focus that almost suggested that he was ignoring the newcomers in his room. Broad-shouldered and with a face etched with many battle scars, he certainly looked more like the stereotype revolutionary than Tal ever did. He stood relaxed yet predatory, and his thick beard ironically resembled a Lion's mane. It did not help that he was built like a wrestler, muscular and powerful, not unlike the Feline that led Tyradum.
"You're certainly a lot smaller than I thought you'd be," the Balkans' leader stroked his thick beard after he finally looked up at them with half-lidded eyes. "I imagined Hector Arthland would have mentored someone a lot tougher lookin' but hmph… I guess you'll do. Come," he gestured for Sakura with his large hand, "tell me what you came here for, girl."
As the Foxroach delivered her plea, Rui watched the individuals in the room. Although Jock, Trisha, and Gertrude were among them, the atmosphere of this place was much tenser than the Serbe due to the judgmental gazes of the Balkans' armed superior officers. The Canines they met on ground level all looked grave in spite of their relatively warm welcome earlier. Were they nervous? If so, of what? This uncertainty made the Fox edgy and thus she turned to her more experienced companion for some reassurance. However, even Yutsu was frowning icily, ready for action if necessary.
"Heh," The Mastiff sat down on his manager's seat and dropped his feet on the table after the Foxroach had finished telling him about Tal and the fall of Torden. Instead of looking concerned, he was rather smug as he took a gulp of his coffee. "So those damn Cats got to you, eh? Well, I suppose I saw this happening years ago since Hector died so ingloriously in Nargtien."
The inconsiderate and even insulting words had Sakura grimacing but Conrad just ignored the girl's reaction, "Look, Kurama, we have our hands full with just the Beryn Peninsula."
"I understand that, but since we have a common enemy, I was hoping that we can stand against Tyradum together. I'm sure Tal and the others will—"
"Will what?" The man challenged with more snarl than necessary. "I have no reason to help a pointless cause like Talskhan's."
"Pointless cause? What are you saying?" The Foxroach yowled and stomped her foot while her tail flicked agitatedly, "I thought you fought for what Hector believed in. That's what most of the Canines I've talked to said about you since I got here."
"Do you even know what you're fighting for all this time, girl?" Conrad leaned forward on the table with his fingers interlaced.
Sakura paused because the question was something she did not expect from a rebel leader, let alone a person who was supposedly Hector's successor in Fenrisyr. Riled, the black-haired girl clenched her fists and answered loudly and clearly, "I was raised to fight for the freedom of Drasgard from the tyranny of Tyradum. Isn't that the goal you've been fighting for as well? If you believed in even a fraction of Hector's dreams then—"
"Oh I believed in Arthland's dreams, Kurama, I still do," the Mastiff interjected and he sounded slightly insulted, "but I refuse to fight his war."
"What do you mean?"
"Hector Arthland wanted to forge peace with the Felines of Tyradum," he rumbled deeply, and with his every word, the eyes of the revolutionaries present darkened. "He wanted to cease the fighting, stop the carnage, and magically make Canines and Felines brothers." He then stood up and walked around the table with his hands behind his back, "He wanted to reclaim Beryn, but not kill its conquerors. He wanted to avenge Miladenyd, but spare Tyradum of bloodshed. His was an impossible dream, Kurama, one that you can only see when you're asleep.
Conrad Balkar towered over Sakura like a fort and his looked down upon her with pure hatred, "I have come to realize that Hector Arthland was a hypocrite."
Rui studied the people who stood around them and noticed that though their gazes were downcast, they accepted their leader's judgment wholeheartedly. Some gritted their teeth, gnashed it together until the grinding sound was audible, while others clenched their fists in bitterness and anger. She tore her eyes away from them because she could just taste the tang of resentment upon her tongue.
"How dare you…" the Foxroach growled, her tail bristling in fury, but she tried to control herself.
"How dare me?" The Mastiff chuckled as he crossed his stout arms over his chest, "don't get me wrong, girl, I respected him and many of my men still see him as a great hero, a pioneer for the cause. However, although he was a great man, he was also no god. You see, Kurama, most of us will never be satisfied with just peace.
"We have been invaded, our families have been slaughtered, and our neighbors were exterminated like weeds. Even now, our right to even breathe is in jeopardy because of those bastards in Webgate. Felines are beasts, ravenous demons led by the devil himself to feed on us until we're nothing more than a pile of bones. Did you not know? That is exactly what they did to the Bears of Beryn. Mountains of skulls were erected in the Kodiak capital of Berarctos to be laughed and pissed at, dishonored further by the construction of the damned fortress by the bay. So no, girl, even if Ruryk's head is paraded around Hodous, we will not be satisfied."
The black-haired girl's hackles, once tensed and coiled, dropped as the sheer malice in Conrad's snarl proved to be much heavier than her shoulders could hold. The sight was so pitiful that Rui could no longer make herself watch. This was the reality of grief. It would inevitably give birth to anger so great and deeply rooted that no amount retardant could ever hope to quell it.
The Mastiff's next words exemplified that hatred.
"We will not rest until Felines are eradicated. Starting with Webgate, we will take the war to them and see their fucking faces when their precious cities topple and their people are treated the way they've treated ours."
"Eradicated…?" Sakura repeated in disbelief, "then you'll just be repeating what they did!"
"So what?" Gustav growled loudly as he punched the table with his huge fists. "They're the ones who dragged their fucking asses in our land, murdered our comrades and destroyed not one but two whole races! They must suffer the same way!"
"Thay… deserve the same amount af grief thay brought us, lass." Jock's tone sounded empathetic but there was a pool of anger in it too.
"Yes," Conrad nodded his assent, "we want nothing short of revenge."
The Foxroach looked around her, wide-eyed and stunned at all the agreeing nods from the others. Trisha hugged herself and glared at the ground, pained and scarred by whatever had happened to her in the past. Gertrude's grimace also told a similar story of torment and tragedy. Everyone in this room carried such unfathomable burdens that, in some ways, Rui could not help but agree to their thirst for justice, even if it meant taking lives.
Sakura lowered her head until her bangs had casted a shadow over her passionate garnet eyes. For a moment, the Fox thought that her charge would withdraw and accept defeat after realizing that some things were simply out of her grasp, that sometimes ideals were not enough. Yet a moment later, she saw the girl clench her fist even tighter and bite her lower lip.
"That won't solve anything," she told the men with utmost clarity. "If you fight and kill them as mindlessly as they did the Bears… then they will only retaliate with just as much force, if not more, out of revenge." She lifted her head at that moment, and though her voice slightly cracked at the pressure in the atmosphere she was in, she continued to speak with determination, "then you will be killed, and those who take your place will think the same way and do the same thing. They will kill Felines and then the Felines will kill them in return. Hector, he… didn't want that to happen. He always told me that one more person killed in this war, no matter which side he or she was on, was a loss for all of us."
Conrad watched and listened quietly at the girl's words, although Rui was not sure whether those words were simply unheard or not. His tail was stiff however, indicating that he was not too pleased about a juvenile giving him lessons about ideals.
"Complete obliteration of the enemy is just asking for more bloodshed."
"That may be so," the Mastiff's words were like thunder, "but we are all prepared for that. Every single one of us is ready to die. They took war onto our shores so we will bring it back to them. I won't stand and let them kill parents, pups, and siblings any longer. Hector already did that! So don't wave your ideals in front of my face as if it is the solution, because it is not, girl! They're only delusions, visions of a perfect world that does not exist!"
"You'll only create a world ruled by anarchy and hate!"
This time it was the Bullmastiff who howled his anger, "who the fuck are you to preach about shit you don't even know, huh? Who the fuck are you to tell us to just roll over and let those damn Cats walk all over our pride and lands? Just who the fuck do you think you are, whelp? You don't fucking know anything because you've been fed all the bullshit Arthland advocated."
"Don't bring Hector into this anymore! Don't you ever use his name again!" The Foxroach hissed back, angered that her beloved mentor was being slandered.
"Why the fuck not?" Gustav grabbed the girl's collar and dragged her up like a ragdoll, "he was too soft, too Feline. I despised his guts. And you sound just like him. Come to think of it…" he narrowed his black eyes, "those eyesores you call whiskers have been making my blood boil since I first saw them. Could it be that you're a fucking Cat just like him?"
"No, I'm a Fox!"
The Bullmastiff dropped her on the floor, growling with his hackles up as if he had just seen the one thing that triggered his anger. Blinded with hate, he reached down with his huge hands and pulled the girl up so that she was standing, and then without warning, he yanked the four hair-like protrusions from the Foxroach's cheeks with great force.
Sakura's scream echoed in the Balkan's underground base like a lightning bolt.
"Heh," Gustav tossed the dislodged whiskers behind him, "there… maybe you'll fucking look like one—"
He could not finish sentence before a wrathful snarl roared and a fist glowing with ember smashed his face in, sending him crashing to the table. Infuriated, Rui chased after the bastard with another smoldering blow that made the Bullmastiff bleed from his lips.
"Don't fucking touch my Kit…" The Fox's face was contorted into a fearsome snarl and her vision only saw red, mirroring the fiery depths of her crimson glare. She buried clawed fingers into the man's thick muscular neck as deeply as she could with all the intention of mutilating him in front of his comrades. She did not even flinch at the storm of guns being cocked and aimed at her. To fucking hell with those damn things, her mind roared, she would gut this asshole right here and now!
"Wait! Foxy, stop!"
The only thing that kept Rui from smashing Gustav's skull into the table regardless of gunshots was the strong tug Sakura gave her tail. Turning around, she saw her Kit clutching the golden appendage with all the strength she could muster amidst the pain. On her cheek, blood flowed from the crevices that once held her whiskers, and from her eyes leaked painful tears which she bravely tried to keep from spilling.
But the liquids still found a way to merge together.
"One wrong move and I'll carve whiskers on your leader's fucking cheek," Yutsu spoke icily as she aimed one of her handguns to Conrad's head, while the other was cautiously pointed at the other persons in the room who have brought their own firearms out to defend their second-in-command. Now that Rui had enough sense to look around, she noticed that everyone around them, including Jock and his comrades had a pistol or a rifle aimed to execute them for attacking their leaders.
The Mastiff looked at his subordinate with a deadpanned stare. He did not seem to be fazed at all by the bounty hunter's weapon directed straight towards his cranium and merely stooped down to tug Gustav on his feet. "That was a pitiful move," he disciplined the Bullmastiff, "I must say you got what you deserve there, Gus."
The red-haired Canine snarled in indignation and smacked his boss's hand away. He demanded, "Let me kill these fucking bitches!"
"No." Conrad's order was firm as concrete, exemplified further by his fearsome snarl. He grabbed Gustav's neck to stress his point and knocked the Bullmastiff's face into the table for his insubordination. "Not here, not now." Then to everyone else, he ordered, "put your guns down."
Like tamed Mutts, the others lowered their weapons.
"Do you have anything else to say, Sakura Kurama?" He spoke to the injured Foxroach arrogantly as if he now regarded the girl as something even less than a Hybrid.
"No…" the black-haired girl defiantly wiped the blood from her cheek with her forearm and stood up even though pain affected her ability to move. "I came here looking for help…" Her garnet blazed with an awesome flame of fortitude, "but I see now that you are not the people I thought you were."
She then turned her back to Conrad Balkar, "how disappointing."
"Heh…" Conrad grinned cockily, more amused of the girl's arrogance than insulted, before laughing thunderously. "You have guts, girl, but I'll tell you now that you'll never achieve anything with that kind of thinking."
Rui watched Sakura's back as she stood between the Kit and the Mastiff, and felt enlivened by the bravery the Foxroach was showing. She even kept her ears erect and her tail held high in pride as she floundered every step she took to exit the room. The older Vulpine reluctantly relaxed her stance and followed her Kit while Yutsu waited after they have left the room before lowering her guns.
In the hallway, the Foxroach nearly careened to the hard floor. Fortunately, the golden Fox was able to support her with a tail, allowing her to stand up straight again. Then, heartbreakingly, the girl uttered, "I'm sorry, Foxy, I… should have listened."
Rui sighed and fished a handkerchief from her pocket and pressed the cloth on the Kit's cheek to stop the bleeding, "Let's just get out of here."
Sakura nodded and surrendered her fight for the night, allowing the two adults to escort her out of the base.
When they ascended back up to the Serbe, Mogens perked his ears and gasped, "My word…" He went around the bar counter carrying clean towels, "What happened down there?"
"Negotiations didn't go well," Yutsu said succinctly before she took the cloths from the bartender and tended to the Foxroach herself.
"I… I see…"
"We don't want any more trouble," Sakura told the Great Dane with pride fitting of an aspiring leader, "just let us leave peacefully." She spoke with such clarity and severity that it almost masked the pain that contorted her face.
Mogens glanced at the Fox and the Rabbit before nodding minutely, "I am in no position to stop you."
"Godspeed, Sakura Kurama."
The party left the Serbe in grim silence. It was still dark outside and the sun would not rise until several hours later, yet they all knew that they could no longer stay in this city. Rui was determined to return south to Xenoc and leave Fenrisyr behind completely. After this defeat, she was certain that Sakura would see that continuing this endeavor was futile, that carrying ideals of righteousness and honor was like carrying a crux that could spell her death. And though she was still burning in anger due to the injuries the Foxroach received, a part of her viewed it as proof that their journey must end now.
She turned to Yutsu, "we should just wait at the station for the first train to Xenoc."
Much to her surprise, the Rabbit did not respond, not even the smallest indication that she agreed with her plan. Instead, the bounty hunter was tense and she was scanning the vicinity with both her antennae and her eyes.
"This is not good, Rui…" she finally spoke after a tense minute of silence. "I hear footsteps… a dozen or more men coming from the Serbe."
The Fox's blood ran cold.
"We know too much," Yutsu hissed with animosity, "they won't let us leave the city."
The golden Vulpine could only snarl and pull her shotgun from her back, readying herself for another gunfight. "Fuck… those goddamn Dogs."
Sakura's cheeks were throbbing in so much pain that she had to consciously direct her movements. The bitter tang of the disastrous meeting and the adrenaline pumping in her veins were the only things that kept her from toppling, though every step still felt unstable as if she would stumble any moment.
She was disheartened, extremely so, but she was also proud of standing up for her beliefs against the bigoted Balkans. While it could have been her imagination, she felt that her words had reached the hearts of some Canines present in the conference room with the way their ears twitched or lowered.
Yet in the end, the Fenrisyran revolutionaries had passed their judgment on her. Because of their diverging opinion about the rebellion and Tyradum, she was no longer seen as the successor of the great Hector Arthland, just a potential enemy to be removed from the Balkans' grand expedition for vengeance.
No, she and her companions were merely pests to be exterminated.
"Do you remember the way we came from?" Yutsu murmured tersely as she unslung the deadly rifle from her back without stopping their brisk jogging pace.
Sakura and Rui nodded silently, their large ears already flicking agitatedly to focus on the footsteps the bounty hunter had detected. The Serbe was a fair distance behind them now, but the pursuers could easily catch up especially if they drove vehicles. The sparsely populated streets at this hour placed the three at a disadvantage, for nothing could shield their silhouettes or muffle their movements.
After all, the rebel Canines must excel at night hounding.
"Good, take that route until we're near the edge of the city. I'll cover you until then," the blunette exchanged an indiscernible look with the golden Fox, who cocked her shotgun and flicked her ear. "Sa-chan, hold onto this and keep close to Rui."
The black-haired girl clenched her teeth in grim resolve at the derringer that was placed onto her palm. After giving her one quick pat on the shoulder, Yutsu abruptly broke away from them. "Now, go."
Sakura immediately began to run without looking back, knowing that the bounty hunter must be looking for perches to snipe their pursuers. By the time the Vulpines reached the intersection, gunshots were already thundering in the deadened atmosphere of Hodous.
Lives were lost in Carpoc earlier and now the same thing was happening here. Peace couldn't even be reached within a group of people who shared the same goals, so what about the rest of the world? Again and again, reality had proven her dream futile but this time it was to be crushed by men who could have been her compatriots.
Her cheeks stung mercilessly, disallowing her from forgetting Conrad Balkar's bored sneer when Gustav tore off her whiskers.
The Foxroach firmly ignored the pangs in her chest and kept on running. She would stumble from time to time but Rui's vigilant support would right her fast enough that their pace barely faltered.
A gunshot then resounded too close for comfort, making the golden-haired woman snarl and return fire. Sakura knew she couldn't contribute in keeping the enemies away, so she concentrated on their path ahead and tried not to give the adults more burden.
Going to the Serbe was her hopeful idea, therefore it was her responsibility to lead them out of this ancient city.
Quiet flutters of a cloak were all she heard before Yutsu rejoined them again. Sakura almost cringed in surprise, since her antennae usually foretold the blunette's inaudible arrivals. She took a deep breath and tried to focus on the adults' voices.
"It's a pack of twelve, I got three back there but the rest split up."
"Fucking mutts. Are they trying to pincer us?"
The bounty hunter's rifle was once again slung on her back as she unsheathed her butterfly swords. "Perhaps, but they're no longer in vicinity and now that they're split into smaller groups… well, if it's the game of tag they want, then those bitches will have it," she twittered coldly and pointed her long ears at the colossus shape up ahead of them. The golden Fox understood her silent message and pulled out her pistols from the twin holsters.
"I'm fucking tired of being chased," Rui growled darkly, her crimson eyes blazing in wrath.
Sakura's ears drooped, realizing that they've been running ever since their departure from Kaltrea. As if noticing the direction of her thoughts, the older Vulpine sighed and lightly but firmly pushed the sullen girl with her tail.
"Not now, Kit. Just keep going."
The shadows of Hodous's decrepit infrastructure seemed to follow her like incorporeal hunters when she fully stepped into their domain. The towering coliseum loomed over her meager form as she scuttled in the depth of the shades, away from the relative comforts of the moonlight. Her boots treaded over the weeds and her tail brushed by the vines spiraling up the wrecked pillars. Everything she could sense within the abandoned structure saddened her the same time it hardened her resolve.
Did Hector once fought like a gladiator in this worn arena a decade ago? Were the blood and tears shed here doomed to be lost in the flow of time? The surrounding silence, her own ragged breathing, her frantic footsteps and the reassuring presence next to her brought on a peculiar illusion. She could almost see the great Sabertooth swinging his claymore to purge the darkness before smiling confidently at her, even though she had never been to Hodous before. Was the spirit of her father figure trying to console her and guide her like he always did?
A howl of agony echoed in the vast coliseum, snapping her out of her daze. Vicious battles were happening right here, right now and it doused the forgotten arena in more bloodshed regardless of the victor.
Were lives cursed to be extinguished repeatedly?
Another guttural roar morphed into a pained whine until the source of the sound was snuffed out of existence. Several gunshots erupted ominously before silence ensued once more. Garnet eyes blinked detachedly as a Canine lunged out from behind a pillar with a revolver in hand. His ferocious snarl was frothing, maddened by rage and the blood pouring from his severed arm. Sakura was oddly unperturbed by the sight, and only watched the light vanishing from his frenzied eyes after Rui shot at him consecutively.
However, the heavy thud of the Balkan's fallen body echoed terribly in her ears.
A discreet click of a gun being cocked caused the crimson-eyed woman to swing her thick tail at the nearby column. The already eroded structure shook precariously, its terrible groan reverberated chillingly in the spacious coliseum. Rui glared warily at the decorative pillars while her powerful tail swished slowly like a coiling cobra waiting to strike.
Sakura shifted slightly so she would not get in her guardian's way but she remained close enough for safety. Yutsu must be dealing with another foe somewhere else, so they must defeat this concealed Balkan somehow. The Foxroach buzzed edgily and willed all her energy to her antennae, hoping they could sense something with her conscious effort.
Though uncertain of the abnormality she detected, she barked as loudly as she could at that general direction. The enemy must have been startled in his hiding spot that his boot clattered almost inaudibly on the stone floor.
But it was loud enough for Rui. As she rushed towards him with her pistols raised and ready to fire, the surrounding columns creaked cacophonously as if they were struck by heavy objects. The unsettling noise forced the Balkan to charge out from his hiding spot to meet the crimson-eyed woman with reckless abandon. Before his tackle could reach her, his legs gave away like they were swept by something invisible.
Bullets immediately found their target. The Canine gurgled hatefully before he ceased moving.
"Good job, Kit," Rui stared at the still bleeding corpse before holstering her pistols and switching back to her shotgun. The black-haired girl almost didn't hear her because she was able to sense another enemy prowling closer before she lost concentration on her antennae.
The golden Fox flicked her ear anxiously, but her ire was predominant and made her bold. After resuming their path and surveying their surroundings for a few moments, she frowned and growled warningly as she pointed her pistols at a particular spot.
"The same trick won't work a second time, you bitch."
Sakura blinked rapidly, just noticing that her vision had blurred during the stalemate. She noticed the familiar form of Trisha the Bloodhound frozen with her sawed-off shotgun held in mid-air. The only reason Rui hadn't fired already was because the Canine would have pulled the trigger in reflex if she were shot.
"Ack, stop wi' the blade wad ye! We're just here to talk!" Jock's distinctive accent could be heard somewhere ahead of them.
"Oh? Then why is that bitch about to shoot my Foxes, hmm?" Yutsu's cold voice was almost unrecognizable.
"It's natural self-defense," Trisha bristled but slowly moved out from the shadows of the pillars so she was more visible. Her firearm was lowered enough not to be of immediate threat and since she already had Rui's weapon locked on her, this gesture gave validity to Jock's words.
Soon, the Terrier approached them with the bounty hunter walking behind him, her butterfly sword pressed against his spine and ready to stab. "Make it quick. For all I know this could just be a trap delaying us until your three remaining buddies get here."
"Nae, Gus wad niver come anywhere near this coliseum, he said it's too Feline tainted-"
"Talk," the golden Fox snarled impatiently, her tail rigid and raised as if itching to strike.
The Balkan couple exchanged grim expressions before turning to face Sakura, who met their gazes evenly.
"We just want tae apologize for the injuries ye hae suffered, Sakura."
Surprised, she blinked and felt a bit of energy returning to her limbs at the Terrier's grave but sincere voice.
"We dinnae intend to kill ye, neither does Rudy and some af the others… but ye must know this," Jock's voice trembled in both sorrow and anger. "Peace is something we can't imagine having after losing our pups. Our fury against the Felines is far more potent than ye can ever imagine."
Yutsu's expression didn't change yet she seemed to understand because she lowered her arm and took a step back from Jock to give him breathing space.
"But we heard your words, Sakura Kurama," Trisha moved her veiled eyes from her husband to the black-haired girl, "we want to entrust our hopes to end this war to you. As avengers, we realized that we won't able to get it… but you just might be able to."
Rui didn't seem pleased by the statement with the way she scowled, but she allowed the Bloodhound to go stand by her mate.
"We will return tae the base and tell them ye hae already left the city," Jock said steadily and fixed his cap, "Thare's a small alleyway up ahead mostly concealed by some drums. It's a shortcut tha' leads tae a block tha' disnae hae any Balkan base. Just follow it east and ye'll be back tae the spot where we first talked."
From what Sakura understood of Canines, their loyalty was so deeply rooted in a recognized leader that it would only take tremendous personal conviction to act against the alpha's orders.
And so she believed their words and thanked them for their help.
"No, thank ye for talking tae us, Sakura, it's been a pleasure," Jock gave her a small smile and nodded at them curtly before turning away without looking back. The Foxroach swished her tail as she watched the darkness of the coliseum reclaimed the two Balkans. Though saddened at what happened to the couple and at their chosen path, she was reinvigorated by their trust in her.
"He was speaking the truth," Yutsu said coolly and gestured for them to follow. Now away from the shadows casted by the gigantic structure, they were able to see the sullied walls of graffiti on a moderate street with little difficulty.
The bounty hunter slipped into the hidden passage after giving it a check-over, so Sakura relaxed a little and went in as well. She found the route too narrow for the huge Mastiffs to fit through so they should be safe for the mean time. Moreover, the blunette's antennae didn't detect any traps ahead, or at least none that were dangerous enough.
"Since this is my first time to Hodous, I can't guarantee anything," Yutsu said quietly, "there may be more to this alleyway… this is their city after all."
"No it's not," Sakura hissed brusquely, making the ponytailed woman smile.
"True. Kaltrea is your city more than Hodous will ever be theirs."
The Foxroach clenched her fists at the mention of the Riphaen capital. Back then she had Tal and the others, so any dissent she faced internally were appeased by their support. The closest prejudiced attitude she had confronted was Jor and his Reptiles yet in spite of their hatred for Felines, they respected Hector too much to break way from his ideals and begin their own genocidal campaigns.
She sorely missed the Sabertooth, as well as Lainy and the rest of the rebels who were still in hiding.
Her white-tipped tail patted the ragged walls of the alleyway in a silent promise that one day, she will restore the city to its former glory. No, she will liberate this place from ghosts of the past so the people here could accept a brighter future.
Nita, don't worry, I won't give up…
Without her realizing it, her tail gradually dragged along the surface rather than just brushing against it. Her vision flickered out of focus and she almost collapsed if it weren't for the strong hand that caught her.
She fought to keep her eyes open as the pleasant heat caressed her cheek and carefully checked on her wounds.
"They're still bleeding…" Rui's growl oozed with wrath. "That fucker…"
"Let me see."
Sakura's normally sharp night vision was hazy, for she could barely make out Yutsu's features as she leaned close and gently prodded at the spots where her whiskers used to be. "She's lost more blood than I anticipated… and the running didn't help at all," the blue-haired woman then patted her head. "Your balance may be impaired for some time, Sa-chan until your whiskers grow back."
She nodded blearily, words caught in her throat.
"You're being strong," the ponytailed woman smiled encouragingly, "the whiskers were sensors after all… I'd imagine it's like getting your tongue ripped off, so you were very brave back there, Sakura."
Rui raised her eyebrow at the comparison but she also patted her charge's head, her gaze filled with empathy and acknowledgement.
"We'll be out of the city soon, Kit," the golden Fox said firmly and supported the girl with her strong tail loosely wrapped around her waist.
"Yes, stay with us until then, hmm?"
Unable to formulate a proper response, she held their wrists in each hand and squeezed tightly before letting go. She had always been grateful of their company but it was at this moment that she felt the need to express her emotions outwardly.
Similar gestures in response told her that they understood her message well.
When they neared the end of the alleyway, Yutsu tensed and took out her handguns, prompting Rui to cock her shotgun as quietly as she could.
"Stay near me."
The bounty hunter darted out and fired to the right immediately, causing something to detonate. Amidst the smoke, the two Foxes followed as closely as possible and shot at random directions. A gunshot brushed by so deafeningly even to Sakura's folded ears and almost made her clammy fingers lose their hold on the derringer. A rustle of cloak shielded her left side just before something tore through the fabric and nipped her ear.
The Foxroach tried to ignore the fact she almost got a bullet lodged in her skull. She willed her hand to steady as she fired again at the smoke. The dying sputters of a motorbike caught her attention, telling her that it must be what the blunette had aimed to cause the explosion. There was a revving rumble nearby though, indicating that one vehicle was still in operation and its rider was close by.
"Why, isn't it the big bad Vice?" Yutsu twittered callously as the three of them took refuge in the slightly wider lane opposite of the hidden passage they just came out of.
A deep snarl was the only response they got before several rounds from an assault rifle hit barrels near the entrance of the alley. Sakura glanced down the unknown path before looking at the two women.
The message in their hardened eyes was clear though. They could easily flee away from this stalemate if they continued down this alleyway, but the adults wanted to stay. The three Balkans out in the street were their remaining pursuers, and Rui and Yutsu wanted to take them down. The bounty hunter's emerald eyes were already gleaming in bloodlust as she fired back at their enemies every now and then. The former bartender, usually the cautious one of the pair, was too consumed with fury at the Canine who had dared to hurt her charge.
Sakura recalled Gustav's large hands gripping her whiskers and felt something churn in her chest, overtaking the fear and replacing it with something just as savage as the smile on Yutsu's visage and the fire in Rui's glare.
Empty shells littered the roads as each side exchanged fire again and again. It was obvious that the shootout would persist if neither changed tactics.
"Not going to radio reinforcements to take us out faster, mongrels?" The bounty hunter called out condescendingly. "It's just you three left after all~"
"Shut the fuck up, we're more than enough to tear you limb from limb!"
Yutsu's amused smirk was mirrored by Rui's scoff. While it was unlikely that Conrad would spare more of his men than he already did, Sakura suspected that Gustav's pride was more likely the reason.
"Come and get us then, hmm?"
"Enough with the bullets, I want to fucking destroy you all with my own hands… no guns," a massive form stepped into view once the smoke dissipated enough. Gustav the Bullmastiff his firearm pointed at Sakura's head while his two comrades had theirs aimed at the women.
The three Canines could not shoot, for Rui's shotgun and Yutsu's handguns were locked on them as well.
"And how do you suggest we do that, Flea Bag?" The bounty hunter's eyes held fatal promises as she licked her lips derisively. "No one will disarm first, y'know."
Gustav snarled in rage but surprisingly didn't lose his temper like back there in the conference room. Rui furthered the taunt by glaring fearlessly into their eyes before flicking her tail in dismissal, like they were beneath her notice. The Balkans' guns were now trained on the two women, leaving Sakura free to move. The black-haired girl wisely stood still, however, and bided for the chance to spring.
The Canines' grips on their firearms were so tight that their knuckles turned white.
"Admirable control," Yutsu tilted her head haughtily, "So that Mutt leader whipped you real good like the bitches you are, hmm~?"
"You fucking whor-"
Enraged, the Balkans' aims were off enough that the bullets only scratched Rui's cheek and Yutsu's arm for the pair reacted the instant the Canines' eyes blazed in frenzy. Yet instead of killing them right away, the golden Fox only fired at her opponent's weapons while the bounty hunter closed the distance with her prey within a moment, also disarming the other two. The gun exploded in one Mastiff's grip, making him howl and cover his shrapnel-embedded face while the other staggered back and cradled his bleeding hands.
Gustav's brass knuckles almost struck the blunette's temple when something flashed before his face. The now unsheathed blades from her handguns were impaled in his cheeks, dousing his red beard in further vermillion. The punch barely brushed by her ponytail as he stood still in shock, his body trying to comprehend what just happened. Without wasting a moment, Yutsu violently gashed deep lines in his skin.
"You fuck with Sa-chan, you fuck with us," she whispered harshly as she tore out one handgun and pulled the trigger of the one still stabbed in his cheek. Blood and gore showered upon the Mastiff whose slick hands were fumbling for another weapon.
His horrified bay was quickly silenced before it could even travel far. Rui had used the macabre distraction to rush at him and punched his throat with something blazing around her fist. After she pulled away, there was only a charred hollow where the neck should be.
The body fell limp, its head barely clinging onto the body by the spine.
"I wish I could have destroyed that bitch myself," Rui spat, her burning gaze lingering on Gustav's shattered head before looking up at the twittering Yutsu. "But I must admit, this is quite the masterpiece, damn Rabbit."
"Thank you~ I did promise I'd give him some lovely whiskers, no? Yours is absolutely exquisite too, Foxy," the bounty hunter lazily turned to the last Mastiff, who could not even speak due to the dagger already drawing blood on his neck.
Sakura had managed to jump onto his back when he was blinded from the shrapnel and dug in her metal claws to climb onto his shoulders before he could react. The blade near his jugular made him stay still, though he had jerked vehemently during the almost simultaneous demise of his brethren.
A warning cut was enough to silence him again.
She was thankful for the gauntlets blocking direct contact with the blood, or her aloof visage might have been disrupted, which might be all he needed to break free. Numbly, she wondered how long her odd indifference to such brutal carnage would last.
"Conrad sent those people after us, didn't he?" She tried her best to imitate Rui's snarl. "It was his order, not just that Vice's independent action, right?"
The Mastiff did not answer, though his clenched teeth were indicative enough. Sakura frowned in disappointment but she had expected it from that Conrad.
"Then, what is the safest way to leave Hodous without running into Balkans?"
Again, the Canine refused to reply, which made Yutsu laugh frostily. "You Mutts have loyalty, I'll give you that. But what's loyalty against a bit of torture, hmm?"
She nonchalantly strode over to the Foxroach and placed the slick blade of her handgun against his neck. When he scrunched up his nose at the pungent scent of his brethren's blood, her eyes flashed in delight.
"You can let go now, Sa-chan…"
Like the black-haired girl, Rui's face was also indifferent as they watched the outnumbered Canine gulp in unease. Knowing what the bounty hunter was capable of, the Vulpines understood his possible fate yet neither felt bothered by the gruesomeness anymore.
However, Sakura noticed the golden Fox discretely wiping her gory hand against the wall, while the girl herself cleaned the blood staining her claws with her belt.
"With you Balkans' intelligence, perhaps you've heard of something…" Yutsu leaned close to whisper something inaudible to them, but his eyes went wide in alarm. "Ah, you do know. The choice is simple, isn't it? You're here alone and your little friends won't find you any time soon… So~ should I ask you again, or it's torture time?"
The young Foxroach was curious what the bounty hunter had said, but the Mastiff seemed to be fearful enough that he had chosen a painless death by answering her. The blunette didn't even retract her blade though, so blood trickled down his neck as he spoke. "Train station… seven blocks east. It heads south towards Cynarc but the rail stops before crossing the river," he was nearly choking in pain at the end but she remained relentless.
"Why haven't I heard of this? My information network is rather extensive, just so you know…"
"It's a private express to the trading ports around the river mouth, owned by some of our sponsors…"
"How convenient… how can you prove you're not lying?"
As the man fumbled for a response, Yutsu shrugged airily and killed him with a swift shot.
"Well, sounds like it's our only way back to Xenoc at this point," she glanced at the dead Canines before focusing her calm eyes to the two Foxes. "If Conrad really don't send more pursuers and if Jock doesn't betray us, we should be able to leave the city without any trouble now."
Rui's crimson gaze was gauging the blunette for something but instead of voicing it, she turned to the motorbike Gustav had ridden here. "Then, let's lea-"
Explosions suddenly shook the ground with the force of an earthquake.
Consecutive detonations soon resounded from the east and the direction of the Serbe. There was a distant whirring of an aircraft as more and more bombs were dropped at specific points in the city.
They could only watch with wide eyes while the night lit up in hungry flames that consumed the city blocks and the people in screams.
As the gigantic edifices of the coliseum grated and toppled into the inferno, hell fire began to shower upon the dying city of Hodous, adding more corpses and broken dreams to the forgotten ones buried beneath. Overwhelming fear shook Sakura's tiny frame as she looked up at the vivid sky and saw the glowing eyes of a predacious beast lurking behind the clouds.
No, those were signal lights from the aircraft!
She must be nothing more than a mere dot, a speck of dust to be blown away into oblivion. The black-haired girl had never felt so tiny and insignificant.
"We need to get the fuck out of here!"
The wind was almost knocked out of her when Rui's tail hauled her onto the bike and began to speed after Yutsu, who had gone slightly ahead to scout for a way out of this blazing city. Sakura's throat felt painfully dry as she stared every alley and street they passed.
There were only flames.
And a surge of fire was coming towards them from behind.
The inferno reflected chillingly in a pair of dark zaffre eyes as their apathetic gaze swept over the scenery outside the enormous windows. Painted nails languidly tapped on the armrest while the voluptuous woman watched the fireworks, relaxed comfortably in her seat. Her lavish dress rustled and slid against her smooth skin as she leisurely cooled herself with a bladed fan and crossed her legs. Inside the observatory of the airship Sekhmet, the Spider Queen basked in the beauty of her judgment upon the Balkans of Hodous.
"Dance for my amusement, oh adorable curs," Vice Admiral Xatheline Mygalo chuckled huskily as the buildings below the aircraft collapsed. The glory of such conquest was incomparably delicious, for she was crushing lives from her throne in the sky like divinity.
This must be what Admiral Silverwing of the Tyradum Air Fleet often felt. How stimulating indeed!
Xatheline smiled appreciatively at the interior of this aircraft, a state of the art constructed by none other than the Head of the Artillery Department herself. Truly, Odessa Sethr was a brilliant woman deserving of her title as the greatest genius Tyradum had ever produced. At most, the Spider Queen was only professional to the Felines, especially if they had her respect, but that Snow Leopard had something else that was lovelier than any other qualities.
Oh yes, Xatheline adored the conversation they had before bombarding this silly city.
"What is the status of the anti-gravity engine?" General Sethr typed furiously on the touch-panel keyboard in the command center as she collected data from the airship launch. Her lab coat hung loosely on her small frame and fluttered along the cool drafts.
The Spider Queen gazed at the gorgeous airship that the Feline brought with her to Webgate Fortress. The Sehkmet was only a prototype yet one glance was enough to gauge the magnitude of the destruction it could bring forth. "All green, General."
"Perfect." The terse and low-frequency quality of the Snow Leopard was so unlike her typical bubbliness, like a serious facet of her personality that showed her fearsome professionalism. "Vice Admiral, do remember that the engine can only run for thirty minutes."
"In theory, yes, General," Xathaline's chuckle was velvety as usual and it could barely hide the utter malice that dripped so precariously at the thought that such a mighty weapon was at her disposal. "Shall ve see it in practice then?"
"It is only equipped with its secondary armaments," Odessa stated in a factual manner. "The Sekhmet is still incapable of carrying the massive load of its primary cannon. I have only installed conventional aerial bombs, cruisers, and bunker busters to truly test its weight capacity."
"Ah, that is more than enough." The Spider Queen smirked and flicked her hair back before authorizing battle formations. "Permission to play vith those puppies, General."
"I do not have that authority."
"But my superior is not here, so therefore you are my superior officer."
"Again, I do not have authority, Vice Admiral."
"Please, ve both know the hate crawling under your skin, Odessa Sethr."
The Snow Leopard's bangs weren't enough to shade the sinister gleam in those olive green eyes. Delighted by such a cold expression, Xatheline licked her lips as if she could savor the sadism oozing from the Feline's next words.
"Hate? No, Vice Admiral... this is merely a present for my dear friend Jay,"
Odessa turned to the Spider Queen and smiled vindictively. "Nothing but full of love."
The steel fan clicked shut as another explosion ravaged the ground with terror. Indeed, Odessa's gift to her fellow scientist Jayrem Strider was a magnificent sight to behold. The late Cheetah would surely appreciate how far technology had advanced since his demise at Hodous.
Xatheline lazily glanced at the burly figure of Illishar Strider appearing on the screen. This video transmission was also a prototype but its clarity was much better than she had expected.
After all, she could clearly see the loathing burning in the eyes of the Blitzkrieg's Lt. General.
"You may recall Lt. General Huaxyacac from Carpoc, and report to General Sethr of our success."
"Understood," the Cheetah's usually playful grin was nowhere to be seen as he spoke gravely. "Is there anything else?"
"Considering your hatred for Hodous… I don't even need to order you, do I?"
His predatory smirk promised complete annihilation. "We will scour the city for survivors once I've relayed my message, Vice Admiral."
Nodding in approval, Xatheline ended the transmission with a light tap to a button on the armrest before pressing another. Within moments, a tall shadow appeared beside her throne and kneeled immediately in reverence.
"You called, Kralitsa?"
Hearing the familiar native word for Queen, the Spider licked her lips salaciously as she tilted the Bullet Ant's chin.
"Isn't it beautiful, my dear?"
"Yes, it is lovely," Captain Rica Clavatia's voice was monotonous as always but Xatheline easily noticed the delight burning in those impassive eyes. Smirking, she traced her favorite subordinate's jaw and felt those delectable slight tremors.
Oh yes, she alone knew of Rica's other voice.
The Bullet Ant lowered her eyes before kissing and licking along the length of her superior's finger. She paused when she reached Xatheline's ring, but she merely leaned close and pressed her lips against her master's left breast, where a tattoo was barely concealed by the dress's fur lining.
The Spider Queen smiled hungrily at her liege's amorous worship. "Come."
Rica wordlessly stood up and made herself comfortable on the older woman's lap. Xatheline let out a husky laugh before slipping her hand under Rica's uniform and unzipping it as she slid up. "Strider's men von't let anyone escape Hodous, but…"
She let her voracious gaze linger on the Ant's nakedness before continuing her languid caresses. "Vot of those vho vere going to or haff already escaped?"
Her liege opened her mouth to say something, but Xatheline claimed her lips so vehemently that Rica could only moan into the deep kiss. Chuckling throatily, she licked the Ant's hot neck and grazed her fangs along her veins. Ah yes, the airship's engine could still run for a while, so it was the Spider Queen's responsibility to make full use of the time, was it not?
"That's a good girl. Now let us enjoy this marvelous atmosphere…"
Olive green eyes stared mutely at the raging fires that engulfed the city across Canidae Bay. General Odessa Sethr crossed her arms as she watched her latest masterpiece descend upon the forsaken city of Hodous like a harbinger of disaster it was created to be. Missiles and aerial torpedoes whistled down from the heavens so loudly that she could still hear them from where she stood upon Webgate's docks.
It sounds so familiar…
The Snow Leopard swished her long, lustrous tail with a sense of belonging.
It sounds like music.
A transceiver beeped from the confines of her pocket, and upon retrieving it, the small screen displayed the familiar face of Illishar, who immediately reported, "Mission Accomplished."
Odessa tried to soften her features in an attempt to revert to her usual demeanor, but the sensation of sweet revenge washed over her so powerfully that all she could accomplish was a satisfied smirk. The Cheetah on the other end narrowed his eyes as the muscles in his jaw tightened in recognition, but true to his typically jovial personality, he sighed and chuckled to ease the tension.
"You're going back already?" He asked her in a softer tone.
"Hmm…" she huffed thoughtfully, "I have nothing else to do here. I simply wanted to personally deliver my new baby to its new home, and since I have done that, it's time for me to go back to my lab in Artexercos."
"Understood," the Snow Leopard felt a bit relieved when Illishar grinned a bit, "and here I thought I'd have some time to chat with you. It's been a while after all."
Olive green eyes blinked, "huh… it has been a while. You're due for a leave, my dear Illi~"
"Oh believe me when I say I'll take it the moment I can, Des. But for the meantime…" his smile suddenly stiffed, "I have some clean-up to do in Hodous."
Odessa nodded her acknowledgement of his mission, "keep your guard up."
She did not say more than that because her message was already crystal clear to the Cheetah. They had both lost loved ones in that city and it inevitably became the symbol of their loathing and their grief. Yet no matter how many times Hodous was destroyed, it only seemed to come back to life, like a weed that kept growing back in spite of the innumerable times it had been uprooted.
Perhaps this time it would be different.
"Say hi to my favorite niece for me when you get there, okay?" Illishar's voice tore her away from the churning darkness in her heart. It even managed to make her chuckle a bit and it made her feel rather grateful to him.
"She's your only niece, Illi."
"Yes, for now…" He grinned again, "And do make the next one sooner rather than later. We're not getting any younger, yeah? Remind my brother of that."
The Snow Leopard giggled in spite of herself because she could already see her husband's displeased frown if she dared utter those words to him.
"Alright then," Illishar Strider saluted to his superior officer, "have a safe trip home, General."
After the Cheetah's face had disappeared, Odessa found herself sighing deeply as she pocketed the transceiver. She turned to walk towards the ship that was supposed to take her back to Middleport, her heart heavy due to the many conflicting emotions and thoughts that swirled in her long history. And then, like a phantom, a presence descended from the heavens behind her and landed as softly as a feather on the metal plating of the ground.
"I would like an explanation for this, General."
The Snow Leopard looked from the corner of her eyes but she did not need visuals to guess that her colleague wore an expression of utter disapproval and maybe even abhorrence. After all, it was quite rare to see Admiral Rowena Silverwing of the Air Force convey her thoughts, even rarer to hear her growl.
"It's merely a test," Odessa replied in a similar manner, her throat rumbling softly beneath her words. "The Sekhmet is still a prototype after all."
"Do you have any idea how many that test could have killed?" The other woman suddenly sounded calmer, as if she was more irked that the Feline overstepped her boundaries as an officer instead of the annihilation of the insurgents in Hodous.
"I have a good guess," the Snow Leopard spoke monotonously, "but what does it matter? Most of the people living there are our enemies." She almost challenged the taller woman behind her, but that was not her way. She was a scientist, a mechanic, and an engineer. Being a soldier and a warrior always came second, so it was not in her best interest to anger one of Tyradum's most powerful any further. "I gathered a significant amount of data from that single bombing alone, so if you'll excuse me Admiral, I must get going."
Grimacing, Odessa resumed her steps towards her ship, her lab coat fluttering turbulently over her shoulder. She always felt bitter whenever the weapons of destruction she had manufactured fulfilled their role, yet she kept on making them again and again. It was a reality she had long accepted, a profession she had embraced, yet as she glanced across the bay, turmoil stormed in her eyes.
Why did it feel so fulfilling, even euphoric, seeing that city go up in flames?
"Odessa," Rowena called from behind her, "it never occurred to me that you will revert back to this."
The Snow Leopard froze, clenched her fists and turned around to face the brown-haired woman. But instead of a snarl, she spoke softly, detached and hollow, "I can never turn my back to who I was."
Her companion's tail stilled when just moments ago it seemed to lash like a whip, and then wise navy blue eyes narrowed dangerously.
"I already have hundreds of thousands of souls on my shoulders," Odessa brought a hand to her face, where it shielded everything but her dulled olive eyes, "what's a few hundred more?"
She was certain that the other woman would be consumed by rage because of what she said, but true to the brunette's solemn nature, Rowena forcibly abandoned her anger. But why?
"Do not seek your demise for many will take pleasure in bringing it to you, Odessa Sethr."
"I-I know…" Something hot ran down her cheek and a large lump of regret choked her throat. She turned around, unprepared to exhibit such softness, and continued her march towards the naval vessel at the end of the dock. The orange glow of fire still illuminated the sky, casting a large shadow of her on the ground that spanned three times her height.
How fitting that her specter was far larger than she was.
She paused just before her shadow was swallowed by that of the ship, "but, truthfully, it should have come a long time ago."
Before I knew pain…
Before I found happiness.
"Yes…" She chuckled darkly to herself, "I should have met my demise before I unleashed these monsters on Drasgard."
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please look forward to the Interlude :3