Audio book version available here - YouTube /watch?v=ZwRc_SCgdJM&t


Ellie's heart raced. Her tail thumped against the shingles as she looked down from the

roof, scanning the street below for the Canids that were chasing her.

"It's not my fault I look like this" she muttered in agitation.

"The Mule Bred's up there!" a disgruntled Canid yelled. Quickly, she pulled her hood

over her head and the remainder of the cloak tightly around her body, in a hopeless

attempt to hide the telltale black and golden markings on her fur.

Panicking, she jumped to her feet and took hold of a tree, clambering down to the

street. A rock smashed against the wall near her head and she ducked, shielding her

face with her arms. When she looked up, she found her path blocked by a tall Lycaon.

He was hunched, his shoulders shifting forward and teeth bared, his tail raised.

"Please, I was hungry." She backed up against the wall and her heart thumped wildly.

The Lycaon approached, entering her personal space, taking hold of the ragged

clothing she wore, pulling her close. "You are not worth the food you stole. Filth! A

beggar or prostitute would maybe be worthy of my pity. Not a crossbreed! You're good

for nothing".

Another Canid entered the street, holding a thick post. Ellie pushed back hearing the

rags tearing as she attempted to escape. Cornered, she turned to face the pair; as her

back pressed against the rough stone walls of the alley. The Lycaon lunged forward,

throwing a punch at her head. Her hands flew frontward, grabbing the bulge in his

bicep and forced the larger Canid back.

He began grunting in disbelief of her strength. The Female Canid ran forward

swinging the post, Ellie released her grip. While dropping to the ground she heard the

post crack against the wall. Lying on her back she relentlessly looked up. A third

Canid appears, the silhouette of his face, a shadow, blending into the stone cold wall.

Ellie noticed a frail bucket in his hand as the third Canid grins. He tips the bucket and

a substance so dark and foul soaks into her fur. The horrific realisation sinks in.

Waste.

Shaking her head from side to side, her hood fell astray from her eyes. Wiping the

murky liquid from her face, she looked up and caught a glance at two of the Crown's

guards approaching. They stopped just behind the three Canids. The younger of the

two was standing ardently as he shouted, "That's enough! Move on!",

Looking over his shoulder the Lycaon glanced back at Ellie, spat on the ground and

slunk away. The guard approached Ellie, helping her to her feet. "Miss, you know

the rules about your kind here." Looking up at him, her tail and ears dropped and

she replied in a monotonous tone. "Yeah, I was just leaving." The second guard

ushered the other Canids away, and the younger guard escorted Ellie to the City's

gates. Ellie was pondering as to why this guard had not treated her like filth. More

so, turn a blind eye, much like the actions of the other guard. Her thoughts

distracted her as she ignored the crowd forming and the smell of her fur during her

walk of shame. She began studying the guard, a young Lupus but vast in size. His

grey fur extruded from the Armor around his chest and arms. His bushy tail flicked

from side to side, in agitation, as Ellie heard heckles from the crowd. Approaching

the gate, the guard stopped. Ellie now alone with the Lupus and the street deserted.

She began cowering, expecting to be struck as she had been in the past. "Get it

over with," she muttered looking to the side.

He stared at her blankly. "Get what over with?"

Confusion crept across the guard's blank face. "Miss, please explain."

Ellie gulped, not knowing if this was a trick but noting how young this Lupus

appeared and how well-spoken he was. He must be fresh out of the camp.

"Usually I'm struck by the Guards when found within the walls." His expression

shifted to her disbelief.

"I don't understand how anyone could strike an Anthus as beautiful as you."

'An Anthus, I'm not an Anthus, I look nothing like an Anthus',. Then she realised

what must have happened. Her hood fell just as the guards approached. Looking at

her hands, the liquid had altered the colour of her fur, the tic's had vanished, leaving

them a pitch black while her ears drooped, changing her facial appearance. Peering

at her reflection on the guard's Armor, Ellie could not recognise herself. For the first

time in her life she appeared to look normal. It all made sense. The guard had seen

her as a prostitute, a beggar, and not what she really was. He continued staring

blankly. "Miss, just clean yourself up before you enter the city limits again." Nodding,

Ellie watched him glanced towards his partner.

"Wait" she called.

He stopped. "Yes Miss?"

"What's it like? I mean…" Ellie swallowed. It was hard to get the words out. "A guard,

I mean. What's it like being a guard?

He looked at her and smiled. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen" She replied with hesitation.

"The days are long, the Armor can get heavy but generally they treat you okay and

you get a nice little place to live. Why do you ask Miss?"

"How do I…" She couldn't believe she was asking this. She swallowed again. "How

do I join?"

The Guard looked at his partner, whom was now entering the street, then back at

Ellie. "Can you meet me back here at sunset when my shift is over? We can discuss

it then." the Guard stated with a fervour voice.

"Yes! I mean, yes, I can. I, uh…" She pulled the hood back over her head.

"Um… What's your name?", Ellie asked,

"It's Ashwin."

"Ellie," she said with a smile. Turning around once again Ashwin joined his partner

and disappeared into the depths of the wall.


Ellie looked up at the morning sun and smiled, her heart racing with excitement. She

headed towards one of the small towns close to the capital. Clothing was easy to

come by as she planned to steal some from a clothesline behind a farmhouse. The

hard part would be staining her fur to give the false impression that she was an

Anthus. Cutting through the fields, thoughts were running through her mind on how

to change it. The smell of the liquid in the bucket was so overwhelming that no

substance could achieve the same affect. Ashwin would easily see what she truly

was. Ellie thought of using dye, but dye was expensive and the rumours of a Mule

Bred trying something similar had always played on her mind.

Forced to wear a shame mask to be paraded around the capital made the hairs on

her back stand up. Spells were out of the question too; although it could be done,

she would need to find a shaman and she only knew of one in the Crown's castle.

Dye seemed the most logical option, and it was worth the risk.

Finally having a friend echoed through her mind, not friends like the other Mule

Bred's. A friend that is considered normal and not one that smelt like she currently

did. Emerging from the fields under a large tree, Ellie began eyeing off a blouse and

pants, drying in the wind. They wouldn't be an issue to snatch, however they would

be no use to her without the change to her fur.

Sighing and slumping her head forward, she wondered if it was all worth the trouble.

Her focus shifted to a small pile of acorns on the ground. Her ears pricking, she

looked up with an excited shout, "An Oak tree!"

With her eyes darting across the branches, she began searching for oak galls. But

she would need more than she could carry. Looking back at the farmhouse, she

spotted an old wooden bucket near the clothesline.

Her plan was simple, collect enough galls to make ample dye to cover her body.

Steal the bucket and the clothing from the house and finally make the dye, wash

herself, dye herself and be back in time for Ashwin at sunset.

Pushing the galls into one large pile while watching the farmhouse, she smelt the air

confirming that she was the sole Canid around. Sprinting towards the bucket and the

clothes, her heart began racing in fear that she would be attacked at any moment,

her scent overwhelming.

The villagers outside Creysil's capital were always on the lookout for bandit attacks

and thieves. With the fear of ending up on a pike if caught, she darted back towards

the tree, quickly filling the bucket and tucking the clothing under her arm. With her

plan now complete although feeling as if she had been seen, she began running

back into the crops, towards the coast.


Ellie flared her nostrils, filling her lungs with the salty air. She preferred it to the scent

of other Canids, especially other Mule Breds. Smiling, she looked at her makeshift

home built into a small abri in the sandstone. The open side was covered by a large

beach shrub, with palm leaves woven in to create a wall. It wasn't much and it came

at the cost of isolation but it was the closest thing she had to a home since her

mother was taken and… Ellie swallowed hard and squeezed her eyes shut, driving

the horror from her mind. Placing the bucket on the sandstone, Ellie reached for an

old plank of driftwood, and placed it on two rocks. Sweeping its surface clean with

her tail, she began emptying the galls onto the plank, grinding them into a powder

with a stone. Ellie retrieved an iron bucket filled with water and preceded to brush the

powder in and mix it with a stick. Alchemy was not something Ellie practiced often,

only the odd medicine her mother had taught her, but this was a little task beyond

anything she had attempted in the past. "If you ever need something to appear black,

oak galls ground and boiled in water will make a deep rich colour." The voice of her

mother echoed through her head. Her ears sinking as her head dipped forward. "If

this doesn't work I'll end up as a rug in the city somewhere, just like mother," she

muttered to herself looking at the mixture. With the dye boiling on the fire, Ellie went

down to the creek and lay on her back in the shallow water. She wondered if the

change in appearance would be enough to fool everyone. Would the dye even work?

A cold flush ran through her body at the idea of being caught. She didn't want to go

back with the other Mule Breds. The smell made her sick, being born without any

defects meant she felt used and those who passed were skinned to keep others

warm. The thought made her dry reach. I don't want to deal with that anymore; I just

want to be normal. Normal to Ellie meant a roof over her head, a meal every night

and perhaps even a friend. There it was again, a friend crossing her mind. She

looked up at the noon sun as the smell of the galls began to fill the air. I could always

just try my hand first she thought, looking at the pads on her palm with a smile.

Emerging from the river; shaking the water free from her fur she stepped into the

camp removing the bucket with a stick. Her heart sank when she looked at the

bucket. Thick yellow froth covered the top of the bucket's rim with no signs of a dark

colour anywhere. Staying optimistic, she began scraping the froth away, revealing a

deep black tar. "I hope this works". Holding her hand above the boiling liquid, Ellie

felt the heat radiating into the pads on her palm. Again, the idea of going back to the

other Mule Breds crossed her mind. "Enough!" she called out, dunking her arm into

the bucket, feeling the hot liquid almost burning her skin beneath her fur.

Wincing from the heat she pulled her arm free, the roaning on her fur now gone, just

a solid deep rich black. She smiled, her plan had worked! She was black, a

believable black and not just the fur but the pigment on her hands had stained too.

Looking back at the bucket she came to a realization. She didn't have enough to do

her whole body, just the extremities. The pants and blouse would have to cover the

rest. Not the best option, but it would have to do until she could make more.

With her arms, legs and tail now coloured, she dipped her head in. The liquid ran up

her nose. Gagging, her throat burning, and eyes stinging she removed her head from

the bucket. Kneeling on all fours, she proceeded to cough up dye.

Confident her extremities were covered, Ellie stood up and emptied the remainder

of the liquid over her body. Resisting the urge to shake herself, Ellie lay down on

some palm leaves and dried herself in the sun.


The evening's dew began to settle upon the rooftops in the shadows as the sun set.

Ellie stood adjacent the city gate as Ashwin instructed. She watched the lamp

lighter make his way up the street and the odd batman, to the castle, for the change

of watch. Guards walked by without giving her a glimpse. Taking a long breath, she

looked down at her feet, black, but covered in mud, showing signs of the dye

beginning to run on the damp soil. Laying backwards over a crate, Ellie looked to

the sky.

"You wash up well," Ashwin's voice sounded.

Ellie looked up and smiled, "I was beginning to believe you wouldn't come".

Ashwin chuckled to himself. "No, I'm a Canid of my word, Ellie."

She studied his appearance. The armour was gone. Now he was in a brown vest

and black pants, with a bag slouched over his shoulder.

"Hello, you there Ellie?" he said waving his hand in front of her muzzle.

Snapping back to reality she looked at him, "Oh sorry, I ah, sorry. I ah wash up

well?"

Ashwin nodded. "Yes, quite the difference from this morning. The Purple blouse suits

you, although it looks a little tight."

"Oh I ah borrowed it..."

Ashwin nodded again and smiled. "That's okay. Well let's get back to why we are

here."

Placing the bag down on the ground Ashwin withdrew two wooden training swords. "I

saw how you handled yourself this morning. It helps if you can hold your own with

the recruitment process so let's see how you do in a one on one with a weapon." He

tossed the sword to her.

A warm sense of hope filled her body. This was the longest conversation she had

held in years with a Canid. "You want me to fight you? I'm not any good", said Ellie,

"Yes Ellie, I need to know if you can, if I'm going to vouch for you."

Nodding, she readied herself, lowering her body mass. Her tail was now flicking

side to side and her ears tilting backwards. Block, all I have to do is block his first

strike. Then I just need one well placed hit. She eyed up Ashwin as he positioned

himself adjacent to her.

He lunged forward, swinging across her chest. She parried the strike, but he

stepped aside and swatted her sword away. Ashwin stepped forward, thrusting the

wooden blade towards her. She dropped to her back taking hold of her sword in

both hands across her body. The sound of a loud thwack echoed through the

streets. Ellie pushed Ashwin away with her legs, two muddy paw prints now placed

on his vest. She kicked her body forward, jumping back to her feet but before she

could do anything else the feeling of Ashwin's wooden blade forcefully ran along her

throat. Falling forward she gagged and coughed. Although this was a dummy duel,

the swords still hurt.

Ashwin stepped away from Ellie. "That was pretty good. You confirmed my beliefs. A

lot better than I expected from you."

Climbing back to her feet she looked at him in confusion, attempting to catch her

breath. "What do... you mean...? I thought... I lost."

Ashwin nodded. "Yes you did but it helps with the enlistment process if you have

some idea of what to do when it comes to weapon training."

Brushing the dirt from her blouse and tail, she looked at the two muddy prints on his

vest.

"Ellie, why no shoes?"

"I don't really have anything but the clothes on my back."

His eyes looked her up and down. "Where is home?"

"A shanty near the beach." she muttered, looking down at her feet once more.

Disbelief crept across Ashwin's face. "Really? Are you pulling my tail or are you

serious? An Anthus as pretty as yourself?"

An Anthus. This confirmed the dye had worked and explained Ashwin's thinking and

willingness to help. Anthus and Lupus were both compatible for breeding. Not some

Ferrilata - Jackal crossbreed like she was; not that she could carry a child, no Mule

Bred could. A warm feeling crept over her body; the possibility that another Canid

actually fancied her had been only a dream. Now it seemed like a reality. "Ellie?"

Ashwin looked into her eyes.

"Yes," she said, snapping back to reality again.

"We need to sort your attention span out I think," he chuckled.

"I said would you like to come back and spend the night with me. I have an extra bed

in the loft and always enjoy the company of others. Tomorrow I will put my word in

for you and we can go sign you up. How does that sound? You're lucky, at the

moment they want all Canid's that can fight to enlist for the war effort."

"I mean, it's going to rain and you need to give a good impression." He sounded

slightly embarrassed.

"Yes, I'll come, if it's really not too much trouble."

Ashwin nodded, extending his hand to her. "It's none at all."

A sense of belonging crept over Ellie as she was led through the streets of the

capital. Nobody looked at her oddly or heckled, and guards nodded as the pair

passed.

Stepping inside Ashwin's home was something Ellie never believed she would

experience. There were stone walls, wooden floors, a fireplace, a table, two chairs, a

bed, a single window and his uniform hanging from a beam in the loft. "Sorry, it's not

much to look at but it's all I can afford at the moment."

Amazement filled Ellie's head as she looked around the tiny room. It was everything

she dreamed of, and on a soldier's wage, she could have something similar to

herself. The idea excited her; all she had to do was give a good impression. After a

few months in the barracks, something like this would be achievable - her own place,

or better still, share a place with another Canid. She studied her looks in Ashwin's

Armor. With her purple blouse she looked more like a simple farmer than a Mule

Bred. Ellie jumped when something thudded on the floor next to her. Ashwin had

dropped two large boots from the loft. "Here. These don't fit me and they appear to

be about your size. There's a bucket outside with some fresh water in it. You can

clean your feet off before putting them on. Take a seat and I'll make us some dinner,

and here." He said passing her a goblet of liquor.

"Thanks for all this."

"That's okay; you seem like the honest type."

She skulled her drink; the honest type, nothing about this was honest. A Mule Bred

pretending to be an Anthus, in stolen clothing, breaking the law by joining the

Crown's guard. Yet the act she had played was easy to maintain as it was only

physical and it wasn't likely that anyone in the capital would recognize the purple

blouse. If they did, she would likely end up as a rug or jacket. She shuddered at the

thought.

"Is everything okay?" Ashwin asked.

Ellie looked up, "Yes, sorry, I just have a lot on my mind."

Ashwin smiled. "That's okay. If it's okay for me to ask... Why are you alone?" he

stated while sitting down opposite to her, serving up a bowl of stew from the pot

above the fire. The room began to spin, that alcohol taking effect, loosening up.

Looking away, negative thoughts from her childhood ran through her mind. Her ears

dropped as a sinking feeling of loss and pain crept through her body.

"I never knew my father, only mother. She was always there for me, helped me when

I was down, always picked me up and dusted me off. A few years ago she was taken

into custody for something and persecuted for it. A capital offence from what I was

told so she is probably a rug for the poor or something. I have been out on my own

ever since, living day to day just trying to make something of myself."

Ashwin dropped his fork, looking her in the eyes in disbelief. "You're not serious are

you? What was the offence?"

"She... My mother was hiding a Mule Bred. I haven't seen her since." Ashwin

moved his hands across the table taking hold of Ellie's. "Hey don't beat yourself up

like that. Times may be tough for all of us but that isn't a capital offence. Skinning

is used for only the most serious of crimes. She's probably out there somewhere.

You should probably eat, Hepus tastes horrible when it's cold." He stated, trying to

change the subject.

Ellie looked up giving a short smile in return. "Ashwin, Thanks for taking me in. I

have enjoyed tonight."

"That's perfectly alright Ellie. Can I be honest with you for a moment?" He asked,

scratching the back of his ear in embarrassment.

Ellie nodded with a large chunk of meat in her mouth, enjoying the taste.

"I wanted to know if we could... you know... dinner again together some time."

She could see this was hard to say and probably the reason he hadn't put two and

two together about her mother, or he was just an idiot... a nice idiot.


Fractured sunlight beamed into Ellie's eyes. She sat up in a panic, taking a moment

to work out where she was.

"Good morning sleepyhead" Ashwin was looking up at her from one of the chairs.

Ellie rubbed her eyes and mumbled "morning." Climbing down she began brushing

her hair with her hands and peering out into the street through the window.

"Are we going to the castle soon?" she asked enthusiastically, her tail flicking from

side to side.

"You are keen aren't you? Do you want something to eat first?" Food, yes food if it

was on offer, nodding her head and looking at the bowl of fruit presented to her.

Normally one meal a day would do but this seemed like luxury. With something in

her belly and boots on her feet, the pair began the walk to the castle.

The recruitment office was small, with a soldier at a single desk. He took the

information of recruits, sizing them up for Armor and weapons. Ashwin stood at the

door next to Ellie. "Don't tell him anything you don't need to, I put in my word for you

this morning when you were sleeping. I'll be out in the training ground for when you

come out. I'm one of the combatants today so we can have a rematch." He winked,

pushing Ellie into the building. She crept forward to the desk.

"Name age and race!" the Lupus stated.

"Ellie Alvery, seventeen, Anthus". The lie sounded odd coming from her mouth but it

was convincing with her looks. After a few more questions, her height and weight

were taken, she was then ushered out into the yard and placed among other new

recruits. None of them chose to speak but instead looked around at the walls of the

castle. They appeared to be farmers or miners from the outer wards. Ellie looked

across the courtyard at Ashwin. He stood at attention and saluted, then spoke to

another Canid, nodded his head and saluted once more. The other Canid turned and

approached Ellie's group.

"Good morning recruits, I'm Lieutenant General Teptor, welcome to the Crown's

guard and military service. You all have been accepted by our recruitment office and

are about to be split by your knowledge of combat." He looked down at a list, then up

at Ellie with a smile creeping across his face. "Well it's not every day we get an

Anthus among us, one as strong as you, Recruit Alvery. I heard about you and the

Lycaon yesterday. You're up first."

Nodding, she stepped through the crowd and into the ring, her eyes fixed on Ashwin

as she positioned herself with a dummy sword.

"You ready?" Ashwin asked with a grin. Ellie nodded and then lunged forward, this

time attempting to catch him off guard. She swung the sword at his side, meeting his

blade with a solid thwack. She jumped back as he stepped forward, thrusting his

weapon at her neck. Feeling the fur brushing against it, she pushed back with the

boot, freeing herself, swinging the sword at ankle height and knocking Ashwin to his

knees. With the advantage, she jumped forward pushing the wooden blade against

his chest.

The Lieutenant General began to clap. "Very impressive, Recruit Alvery. Very

impressive indeed. Less training for you but room for improvement."

Standing where she was ordered, watching Ashwin tackle each recruit, heavy rain

began to fall. Not that she minded, the rain made her feel clean but as her garments

began to soak the other recruits began to mutter between themselves, then silence.

She felt their eyes piercing like needles, wondering what had happened.

What are they looking at? She looked down at her blouse and saw dark streaks

running over the purple material. It took a moment before she realised, with horror,

what was happening. The dye was running!

"Mule Bred" One of the recruits yelled. Ellie looked up, guards began approaching

her, she looked at Ashwin but a blank look drifted onto his face.

Tears filled her eyes as the recruits began to heckle. A guard approached her when

the Lieutenant General called out "Wait". Seeing this as her moment to escape, she

sprinted out the gate of the castle towards the wards.


Her heart raced, her tears ran down her face, mixing with the rain, they're going to

turn me into a rug, why did I ever think this would work?

Reaching the safety of her camp, her legs and lungs burned. Screaming out in

anger, she fell to her knees and began to cry. As the Sun began to lower in the sky,

she caught Ashwin's scent on the air and sat up seeing him, walking along the track

towards the beach.

"You found me" she stated tearfully.

"Anyone could have. Wet galls have a unique scent."

Ellie sighed "Just make it quick, I'm done with this place anyway." She turned away

presenting her back to him and closed her eyes.

"That's not what I'm here for Ellie. Come back, please." He pleaded, extending his

hand.

Ellie turned around and looked him in the eyes. "Why, so they can make a fancy rug?

Hang me on a wall? All I wanted to do was be normal."

Ashwin looked away from her, showing signs of guilt on his face. "No, the Lieutenant

General wishes to talk with you. When I said they want all Canids that can fight to enlist

for the war effort, I meant all Canids."

She looked him in the eyes, attempting to find fault in his words. "Even though I'm a

Mule Bred?"

None of this made sense, she had broken one of the biggest laws of Creysil and she

had tricked one of the Crown's guards into believing she was something she was not.

She looked up at Ashwin drying her eyes. "Did you know?" She asked looking at him.

He nodded. "I suspected it when you talked about your mother hiding a Mule Bred. But

I know exactly what you're going through."

Looks like I'm the idiot, not him.

Ellie looked at him confused. Ashwin lifted his chest plate exposing orange fur. "My

mother is a Vulpes. It's a little easier for me to hide because I only have the one small

patch of my mother's fur, everything else resembles my father."

A glimmer of hope flooded into Ellie's mind as she looked at him. "Does the Lieutenant

General know?"

Ashwin nodded, "Yes he does, he is accepting of all Canids, Mule Bred or not. He has

waivers granted from the Crown for all who can fight. Having the laws changed to

benefit our kind will most likely never change in our lifetime. But for us we can be

accepted, just come back with me."

"I will be accepted?"

Ashwin nodded, "Yes but there's one very important thing you need to know before

coming back."

She looked at him with confusion on her face. "What's that?"

"Once enlisted properly, only your rank will be respected, they will all know what you

are but don't let the things they say get to you. What others think of you is none of your

business."

"How can I be sure you are speaking truth?"

Ashwin smiled. "I'm a Canid of my word Ellie. Just don't mess it up. We can find out

what happened to your mother."