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Something quick, something posted 2020-07-26T22:40:29+00:00

Little happened of note this week. Returned from North Carolina, went to Trois-Rivieres where I Had dinner with my Dad. My Mom couldn’t join us as she already plans with her sisters. We had the best Pizza in the World at Bravo Pizzeria.

Next day the tires on my trucks were changed and I headed toward Ohio, where I sit now, 2 hours away from the delivery.

One thing I want to note, which falls under the amusing/worrisome banner, is that after getting multiple robo-calls a day from a company I called them to inform them that if they called again and didn’t leave a message with the reason for the call (that’s how I know it’s a robo-call) I would be blocking the number. The CSR said he’d be happy to do that, after I’d confirmed my information.

Now, I actually didn’t have any proof they were who their automated message said they were when I called in. this was a number that called me multiple times a day without leaving a message. While I was confident, they were who they claimed to be, I wasn’t certain. So I told him I wasn’t going to give him information, if he told me what they had on file I’d tell him if it was correct.

I expected him to tell me they couldn’t give out that information without confirming who I was; the standard procedure when I worked a CSR job. Instead he recited my address, my phone number, my email address and my date of birth. All things he would have asked me to prove who I am.

Which means that the next time I’d call in, I’d have all I need to make any kind of changes to the account.

Yeah, I contacted the company to let them know of the breach of procedure.

I am happy I have no ongoing contract with them and that they don’t have my credit card on file.

Oh and not two hours after that call, they called me and didn’t leave a message. So they are now blocked.

And with that, I’ll see you on the next one.

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I forgot this? 2020-07-20T22:53:29+00:00

I’m actually not sure how I forgot to write this yesterday. It was a day off, finally, and I wasn’t overly busy, I simply… forgot. So here it is.

Hmmm.

Okay, I don’t actually have anything to say. Maybe that’s why I forgot.

The week went well all things considered. Found that I had a flat and that got fixed. That it the entirety of the excitement.

so that’ll be it and I’ll see you on the next one.

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Trudging along 2020-07-14T01:02:11+00:00

So, I’m back at work and… for the first time since I started trucking, I think I could do without it.

Last week I was on vacation still, and utterly forgot Sunday existed, so I forgot to write up a post, not that there was much to say other than a vacation without any convention to go to is the most boring thing around.

Got back to work, on Thursday and been driving hard this whole time. another reason I don’t like the east coast is that I have no control how I’ll drive, every lot has to be there by this time, and they line them up so there’s barely any time to breathe, let along relax. I had to drive through all of Sunday, and it’s looking like I’m going to run out of hours in the middle of the week, which is going to mean no way to avoid driving next Sunday.

My mood’s been iffy at best and my writing’s been suffering. I have been writing every day, but I’m lucky if I put down a thousand words. I haven’t been able to connect to the stories. I’m hoping that the mood will shift once I can get my work week back on track.

And that’s going to be it, I’ll see you on the next one.

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Virtual Friendship CH 06 (Adult) 2020-07-27T15:00:11+00:00
The nice thing about working on the file Bobby sent Trevor was that it gave him a reason to end his workday, step out of the precinct’s lobby and files, and work within his own lobby. The bad thing about it was that it was an unusual behavior it didn’t go unnoticed. His brothers contacted him every night for a mix of checking if he was sick and inviting him to a one get together or another since he wasn’t working.

His father showed up at his doorstep to check in on him; as if he couldn’t access his body’s readout. It meant the evening was used up, but it was a good evening. Trevor forgot how fun his dad was in bed. And because if one family member knew he wasn’t working they all did, it took no time at all that his uncle, grandfather, granduncles, great grandfather, and great granduncles and each and everyone in his family came by over the weeks to pull him away from his personal project that was Bobby’s file.

And it was infuriating.

The file, not his relatives’ visits. Each visit was too fun, ultimately, to reach the frustrating level.

Initially, Trevor thought it was an encryption key that rendered the information within the file into garbage code, and he’d been right. There had been an encryption over everything, it took him a little more than a week to crack it, under seven hours of full work. He’d have been done in a day, if not for the interruptive sex.

Not that it helped, even unencrypted, it made no sense. He found slices of code that didn’t connect to anything else. Information that looked like nothing Trevor knew, pieces that might be data relating to positioning, but it was incomplete, so it could just be junk data. Had Bobby encrypted and sent him his trash folder by accident? Or on purpose?

And why hadn’t Bobby gotten back to him? He realized it had been almost two weeks since he’d left his message. He called him again and still got no reply.

Sitting back in his lobby he wondered why could keep the raccoon so busy he wouldn’t bother calling back, or even join the Lands of Farr once. He used his inspector access to look for Bobby Power’s movements over the few weeks and he was surprised to find that the last contact with the system Bobby had was after a call from a police department. He couldn’t access the call itself, not without a warrant, and while he could explain away tracking Bobby as part of an investigation to match net intrusions with a suspect’s location, getting the call itself was beyond his authority as an inspector.

Still, knowing where the call originated meant he could contact the precincts and find the caller.

“WPD, how can I help you?” the woman said as she and her desk appeared in Trevor’s lobby.

“Inspector Trevor Pakesh,” he replied, dressed casually behind his own desk. He kept a proper version of his lobby on quick access for official calls. “Out of Vegas. I’m looking into someone and they received a call from someone in your precinct. Any chance you can put me in touch with them?”

“There are proper channels to get the information, Inspector,” the wombat said.

“I know, but they’re time consuming, and I’m just interested to know what the WPD wanted with the man I’m looking into. I’d rather not have to fill the access reclamation forms only to find out you were just calling about someone finding his lost pet or something. If you guys are running a full investigation into him, I’ll fill everything out and make it official, but if it’s nothing, I have other things to look into.”

The wombat considered it, then shrugged. “When and who was the recipient?”

“Bobby Powers, in Tallahassee, and he was contacted on…” he looked through files so he wouldn’t appear like he had the information ready before giving it to her.

She looked into the distance, not adding any acting to her search. She probably interacted with too many callers to bother, Trevor thought. “Inspector Melanson called him. A request from legal about setting up a deposition.” She frowned. “An on-site deposition.”

“Why on-site?” There was no need to have witness travel when a call would do.

“She doesn’t know, the request simply came with a note they needed it to be on site, we did send a hover. Legal paid for it.”

“Who from legal handled it?”

She gave him a look. “How would I know that? Have you dealt with legal? They don’t act like individuals, it’s like they’re some sort of hive mind. Bodies acting with the will of the group. Requests come from legal, not a person.”

Trevor had never dealt with legal. His job consisted of figuring out who and how and what, then sending that up the chain. “Thank you.”

Getting legal to tell him anything proved impossible. He spoke to a dozen clerks, none of which bothered identifying themselves, and told him the same thing in the same tone, with the exact same words. “Without a warrant, legal wasn’t in a position to divulge any information pertaining to any specific case they might, or might not, be prosecuting.”

Everything was so much the same Trevor asked Uncle if legal as some program impersonating clerks. The answer was no, but they did use camouflage programming since if a criminal could arrange the removal of the lawyer handling their case, it would derail the entire process, could even cause the case to be abandoned since most lawyers kept the information private within their implants to avoid a competing lawyer poaching the case form them.

Trevor was happy he stuck to finding the criminals.

He supposed that a deposition could explain the communication silence, but two weeks? What could the owner of an entopic display company have witnessed that took that long? Or was the deposition to hide something else? Could Bobby’s company have been hired to do government work? Military?

Government meant talking with Terry, who wouldn’t tell him anything, regardless of his friendship with Bobby. Tucker on the other hand. He pinged his brother, who called him back before Trevor could bring up a file.

“Trev, I’m at Allegorium,” Tucker said, not appearing in his lobby, “hosting an orgy, you heading this way?”

“No, working on something. How busy are you?”

“I can’t head back to the islands and drag you to bed if that’s what you mean, but I can take a breather.”

“Just breather. I need to know if the military is doing anything covert.”

“We always are.” Tucker materialized, naked as usual. He tilted an ear at Trevor who, he remembered, was clothed.

“I was talking with a colleague,” Trevor said, his clothing turning to dust and falling off him. “Do you guys use entopics?”

Tucker straddled Trevor’s lap and places his arms around his brother’s neck. “Your question is edging into classified territory.”

“Is that where you say “if I tell you I’m going to have to kill you?” because if it is, my lobby really isn’t the place to do that.”

“No, it just means I’d have to incentivize you not to reveal anything I tell you.” He turned under him and moved Trevor’s cock so it was between his cheeks. “Or you know, you could convince me to divulge classified information.”

Trevor ground against his brother’s ass. “You have the weirdest sense of priority of anyone I know. What are you going to do if you’re ever captured by Vanguard?”

“Kick their ass, then fuck them.” Tucker leaned forward. “So? What do you want to know?” he whispered before nibbling on Trevor’s neck.

Trevor moaned, grabbing Tucker’s ass with both hands and spread them, as he tried to find his hole by cock-touch only. “Do you guys use entopics?”

“Sometimes.” Tucker reached behind him and lined up the cock before pressing back against it. Both brothers moaned.

Trevor thrust hard, forgetting his question in the moment. “Do… do you guy contract outside companies for that?”

Tucker nibbled on Trevor’s ears, rolling his hips to match his brother’s motion. “No, we have departments to deal with that.”

Trevor slammed his cock in, making Tucker arch his back and groan. “Would they hire an outside expert?” Trevor said between pants.

Tucker’s ass tightened on Trevor’s cock. “Maybe.” He moaned. “But it’d be for very specialized work.”

Trevor slammed his cock over and over until he let out a yell and came. He slouched back, turning the chair into a bed. He took Tucker’s cock in hand as his brother laid next to him. “You need me to finish you off.”

Tucker chuckled “I don’t quite get the same enjoyment out of sex in here as you do. I’ll head back to the orgy and fuck someone there. What are you looking into? If it’s military, you should let me handle it.”

“Just a friend who dropped out of contact and I’m trying to work out why. Last information on him I tracked is him going in for a deposition, but that was two weeks ago, so I thought maybe he got hired for covert stuff, and that’s you or Terry.”

Tucker snorter. “You say that like I’m in charge of anything. I’m just a special ops soldier.”

“Sure you are, “Mister General Tucker Orr”. I was there at the celebration dad threw for your promotion.”

“I’m a one-star general, it’s not like I’m included in any important meeting unless they need someone to get them off while they plan.”

Trevor eyed his brother. “Not that I doubt it would be one reason they include you, but you’re also one of the more decorated soldiers we have, so if they aren’t asking your opinion while you’re sucking them off, maybe we need to replace them.”

“I couldn’t say anything, anyway. No speaking with our mouth full, remember?” Tucker rolled on his back. “You want me to talk to Terry? I am a general, if the corporate side is doing something that requires your friend, I could find out.”

“Right, like you can get Terry to say anything he doesn’t want to any more than I do. That brother of ours is immune to our cocks. He must have received special training as part of being made head of the corporation.”

“I can try, fucking him is always fun.”

“That’s okay, I’ll search things on my side for a while. If I don’t get anything, I can go to the office and fuck him myself.”

Tucker stared at his brother. “You, get out of your lobby? Spend time in the real world, would out of your house? Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

Trevor rolled his eyes and shoved his brother off the bed. “Get back to your orgy and drain your balls. I have more venues to look into before I grow desperate enough to brave the real world.”

* * * * *

Melor jumped over the stone dragon, planting his ax in its back. He preemptively called his hawk to do a healing pass as the dragon turned to look at him and blew a cone of poisonous gasses at him. Half his buffs vanished mitigating the damage from the boss dragon, then his health climbed as the healing kicked in. He raised his ax to plant it again as a call notification came.

“It’s my off time,” he said, not bothering trying to sound meek. With a grunt, he planted his ax in the back again.

“I need you in the office, David.”

I’m not David right now, he wanted to yell, as Melor threw himself off the dragon and only caught the edge of the cone. “With all due respect, sir. We have an agreement.” He muted the call to scream the command for his shield.

“There is someone from security here, David, to speak with you. They will not take no for an answer.”

Melor froze. What would security want with him? The shield shattered and the poison breath engulfed him, taking away his remaining health.

“David,” Louis Ruslonav said, his tone severe, “did you hear what I said?”

“I did. Sorry, I just died.”

“You what?” no he sounded concerned. Which was nice to know, even if it was because the ape was worried about losing such a good ass and mouth.

“In the Lands, the dragon blasted me to death.”

“Oh, that game,” he said dismissively, as only someone who’d never set foot in the Lands could.

How long had Melor being adventuring today? He brought up the time. Too long to be presentable. “I’m going to need ten minutes to clean up, sir, and make myself presentable.”

“Don’t take too long, David, security isn’t known for their patience.”

* * * * *

David stepped into his boss’s inner chamber his fur still damp, but in a professional-looking suit. A woman and a man in the black clothing of security stood on each side of Louis, turning to face the bear.

“How can I help security?” David asked. Knowing better than to attempt small talk or to make light of their visits. Patience was not the only thing security was known to be low on.

“During one of the regular communication sweep yesterday an anomaly was noted,” the woman said. “You received a file from the Lands of Farr, a file outside any standard parameter size.”

Davis didn’t show his fear. Louis had trained him to never show how felt. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, I didn’t play yesterday. Corporate head Ruslonav has strict policies about what I’m allowed to do on workdays.” The file hadn’t been that large, had it? What had he done with it? He’d filed it somewhere. But where?

“This was a historical sweep, you received the file two weeks ago. It came from Orr Corp.” The tone was neutral, but the looks darkened.

David chursed mentally as he found the vault he’d stored it in. It was pretty large. Definitely, something that would attract attention. Why hadn’t he paid attention and realized something this big coming from Orr would cause him problem?

“He’s doing something,” the man said. “Accessing a vault.”

“Cut him off!” she ordered.

“I can’t, it’s within a senior head’s domain.”

“Then cut him off here!”

The gun came up and David tagged it with the person at the top of his guild contact list. And sent it through Louis Ruslonav’s comline before he realized what he’d done, or why he’d bothered. He didn’t need to send it to anyone, he needed to delete it so they couldn’t accuse him to being an Orr spy. He began telling the file to erase itself when the force of the shot sent him back and he hit the closed door, it opened as he slid down and he fell back as consciousness left him.

* * * * *

Trevor tried legal again, to no avail. They wouldn’t even acknowledge they’d contacted the Wichita department. So, without their help, he had to bend the rules to get more information. Since WPD had arranged the transportation, he got the request from infiltrating their systems. All police department security was good, but he had Uncle as an uncle, and after spending years playing around cracking Uncles’ vaults, very few places could keep him out when he set himself to the task of getting it.

He found the depot in Tallahassee that had responded and got its tracking information. It registered as flying over the city. He didn’t bother with what it was doing right now. He went back two weeks, found the request, its acknowledgment of it, the flight, the record of the pickup happening, the departure, and then the return to the depot.

That couldn’t be right.

Where was the arrival location? The new departure to get to the local depot? Which depot had it returned to? Tallahassee? Why had it returned all the way there and not gone to the Wichita one? This made no sense.

* * * * *

“As you know, the New Angelique isn’t just the review that all the young audience are waiting for…”

“Stop.” Horrace rubbed his forehead. “Keep everything to right after New Angelique, we need to change the rest,” he told his duplicate.

The image shimmered. “Done, do you want me to forget the rest?”

“Not yet. This isn’t about just any review, this is New Angelique. The words need to carry the weight that distinguishes it from all the other reviewers out there, even the other Angel betas.” He ran a hand over his face again. “Why couldn’t Angel pick up a hobby that created its own product, instead of one that depended on what other people created? Or in her case what Casanova specifically did? Doesn’t she understand how difficult it is to sell a reviewer, even a one as great as New Angelique, compared to a product?”

His duplicate didn’t answer, it didn’t do rhetorical questions. If he had a Beta, it would, but then he’d have to deal with another person being around him constantly. He had no idea how agents managed that.

A file notification distracted him, and he almost dismissed it out of hand, but it was addressed to Marc Bonesword. This was a bounce from something sent to the Lands from outside it. A way for players to contact each other even if all they had were their in-game contact. It came from Melor Bareback, which was odd since David had his real-world info.

The file was large; the size put it on par with the one Bobby had sent him. Checking the provenance, he found that it had been sent hours before and had been stuck within the Lands system before being bounced to him. The original sender was Bobby, two weeks ago. Had he sent David a copy of the file too? David hadn’t attached a message.

He pinged David, which returned a busy signal. What time was it in Vanguard? “David,” he sent, “Horace here, just checking why you sent me Bobby’s file? I have it already. In case you didn’t know, I think the Lands doesn’t like this size of file, it took it a few hours to process and bounce it to me.”

He didn’t want to get rid of the file, not until he knew why David sent it to him. He accessed his vault and put it in there with the other one, and noticed the sizes were different, the one David sent him was slightly smaller.

He looked at his duplicate. “Store your work and retire.” It vanished.

He took both files out of the vault and opened them, keeping their representation accurate, but of a size he could handle. He overlapped them and confirmed they were different. Had the Lands somehow corrupted the file? Had Constantine done something to it? He’d have known it was for him, but would he have bothered even looking? He could step within the Lands and ask him, but Constantine wasn’t just a program he could call up. On top of dealing with his flirtatious nature, if he made the Beta feel taken for granted, Marc Bonesword could find himself having a series of bad luck.

Constantine did intervene in the way the Lands worked. It was how he ensured there was no systematic abuse by outside forces. So while he’d never heard of the Beta taking offense to players for minor infractions, Constantine knew Horace wasn’t just another player, so he could decide to treat him differently.

He did not want his experience of the Lands to suffer.

He definitely couldn’t send this to Anderson without being certain it affected the colonies, which he probably didn’t, so what did that leave him? Resolving the mystery himself?

He was not an investigator. But it wasn’t like this was a world-shattering mystery. And it could be fun to figure it out. And he needed something to distract himself from the speech he was trying to write. There were days he hated having to convince buyers his clients were the best out there.

And he could get Trevor and Nori involved, the five of them could go on an adventure in the real world, instead of within the lands.

Or maybe not. Were David and Trevor allowed to even meet? He’d wait to contact Trevor until David had gotten back to him.

* * * * *

“Trevor?” a disembodied woman asked. “Real-world to Trevor? You’re registering as being in the office you planning on responding?”

“What?” He looked around, he was in his work lobby, his ‘office’. “Sorry, I was thinking about something.”

“For the last fifteen minutes? The vault you were cracking detected your presence because you just stood in its sensor field and let it see you.”

“I what?” Trevor cursed and went back in, but not only was the space that had contained the vault locked tighter, but he could also tell the vault wasn’t there anymore. Its owner had moved it. He was going to have to start tracing the transactions from the start again and they were going to be more careful now that they know he was looking.

“You okay, Trevor?” she asked. “This isn’t the first trace you’ve let slip over the last few days. You keep at it and your success record will start looking like the rest of us.”

“Sorry, Abie. A friend of mine’s gone full stealth, and it’s bugging me.”

“Gone or caused?”

“That’s what’s bugging me. I don’t know. He’s not the kind of person who would have someone else forced stealth him, but the little I’ve been able to piece together hints that someone might be involved.”

“You want the rest of the team to help you?”

“You know how to handle legal?”

“Dear God no.”

Trevor tilted an ear at the disembodied voice. “Are they that bad?”

“They are creepy. So obsessed about their security and safety. Haven’t you looked in their servers?”

“Never had a reason. And thanks for the offer, but I’ll handle it myself. I shouldn’t be taking your guys away from your work.”

“Then you might want to focus on yours a bit more. You might be the star tracker in here, but the boss will notice the drop in your success rate if you keep going.”

“Thanks for the advice, I will keep this worry to off-hours.”

* * * * *

Nori dribbled the ball around his opponent then threw it, only to hit the backboard and have it bounce out of court.

“You still need work, Squirrel.”

“And you need to use my name, Lemur.”

The lemur grinned at him as she picked up the ball. “Oh please. You love it when I call you squirrel. Gets you all hot and bothered.”

Nori sniffed the air. “No, that’s you getting off on it.”

“That’s just sweat from a good game. You have time for another go at it?”

Nori indicated the space before him. “Last day of vacation, I am not going inside a building until the sun’s set.”

The lemur took position, with Nori between her and the basket. “Then let’s raise the stakes a little. Looser bottoms for the other?”

Nori narrowed his eyes. “Is that supposed to make want to win, or is it an incentive to lose?”

“You know what my strap-ons are like,” she replied with a smile, “but your house is closer.”

“Winning it is. Game on.”

* * * * *

“Shut it off,” Carlie mumbled in Nori’s arms.

He’d been trying to ignore the beeping telling him his message buffer was full. His address had to have made its way into some mass advertising system. He had programs to keep that from happening, but they weren’t perfect.

He poked his side. “If you don’t, I’m going home,” she threatened.

He got out of bed and went to the terminal. It wasn’t mass advertising, just two files from Horace. Nori groaned.

“Something wrong baby?”

“Just someone who didn’t get the message.” He moved the first message to a storage vault, then the next one, before recording his response. “Horace, sending me the files isn’t going to make me want to play detective any more than when you asked me yesterday, or is it the day before at this point? It’s the middle of the night for me, okay? Even if I was interested in less than ten hours, I’m back to work. I have a hot girl in my bed, so let me enjoy this in peace. I’ll see you in the Lands.” He sent it and returned to the bed.

“So I’m a hot girl?”

Nori pulled her on top of him. “Did I, or did I not have to lower the temperature in the room by ten degrees to deal with how hot you are?”

“You know Squirrel, when a girl hears herself referred to as hot. She expects it to be a compliment on hos she looks, not on her body temperature.”

Nori ground against her. “What can I say, you called me squirrel and now the blood is in the other head.” He ground against her again.

“Ten hours, right?”

“Nine if you want breakfast and a shower.”

“Ten it is.” She reached between them to grab Nori’s cock and insert it into her.

* * * * *

“Knock, knock,” came Tyson’s voice.

“Go away,” Trevor replied, hitting his head against the virtual wall of not having worked out where Bobby had vanished to.

“Can’t do that. I have a hover here and orders from Grandpa to get you out of your house.”

“Wait, you’re here?” Trevor exited his lobby.

“Didn’t you hear me knocking?”

“You said ‘knock knock’ that isn’t the same thing. He stretched and left his bedroom.”

“You shut down your audio receptors when you’re in your head.”

“Then why did you asked if I’d heard you knock?” he pulled the door open and his brother smiled at him, then took a step back.

“Balls, Trevor, when was tour last shower?” He sniffed. “Never mind that. When was the last time you fucked anyone? You don’t smell of sex at all.”

“I had sex in the Lands this morning, before work.”

“That’s not—” Tyson grabbed Trevor’s arm. “That does it. You’re joining us at Grandpa for dinner and we are going to wash you and make sure you smell right. We’d forget you’re an Orr the way you smell right now.”

“I have something to work on, Ty.” He tried to get out of his brother’s grip.

“It can wait.” The hover’s door opened.

“No, my friend is still missing and I need to figure out where he is.”

Tyson pulled Trevor in the hover. “He’s probably home, having dinner with his family or something.”

“I should I know, he’s stealth, I just don’t know why.”

“Stealth, that’s your word for not answering pings, right?”

“And not showing up on the net anywhere.”

“Then he’d probably just home wanting to alone time.”

Trevor glared at his brother “Bobby wouldn’t just stop going to the Lands, even if he wanted ‘alone time’ he loves sex too much.”

“Right like there no one you know that spends all his time at home.”

“I spend it on the net.”

“Maybe he just needs a break. We’re not all as net obsessed as you are.”

“So what? You want me to just wait and hope he pops back up?”

Tyson shrugged and pulled Trevor on his lap. “You could always go knock on his door and see if he’s still alive.”

Trevor stared at his brother. “You want me to leave the island and walk in a city?”

“Hey, you’ve done it before. Remember when we were little and dad took us to Vegas?”

“I was a kid back then.”

“Then maybe it’s time you remembered what being a kid is like.”

Cities, crowds. Trevor shuddered, which turned into a different kind as Tyson inserted his cock in Trevor’s ass.


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Virtual Friendship CH 06.pdf (61.6KiB)

Just Cause 05 2020-07-24T15:00:10+00:00

Novus Roma was a sight to behold.

Standing on a hilltop, Michael could see most of it in the distance, it didn’t look large compared to Detroit, or even Lansing, but the largest town Michael has seen in the month-long walk here had barely been two dozen buildings, this was hundreds, if not thousands of them, and they were so white. He couldn’t tell at this distance if it was whitewashed, or the natural color, but he was confident most of the buildings were stone instead of the wooden ones from the towns.

Two large avenues divided the city into quadrants, the one starting at the road they were on followed the constellation Joran called ‘The Arrow’. The other was ninety degrees to it, they connect at a coliseum in what appeared to be the center of the city. Smaller streets divided those quadrants into squares blocks, only losing their squareness close to the wall, or the mountain cliff that lined what Michael thought of as the north-west of the city. He could make out even smaller streets, crisscrossing the blocks at any angles.

The Arrow was a constellation formed of seven stars, brighter than the others, that formed an almost straight line that was used to navigate. It was twenty degrees off what Michael considered the east-west created by the sunrise and sunset so had caused some confusion at first, but unless the sun was crossing their path, they were still visible during the day, so he’d quickly adapted.

The trip gained Michael more than navigation knowledge.

After reaching the outpost, half the villagers decided to stay in the hopes of going back to their village. The group escorting them was reduced to sixteen men, from the initial thirty-two. Two Contubernium, Joran explained, there had been four that went to Windfall to fight the goblins.

While Michael was not a centurion, Joran had taken it upon himself to teach him the basics of sword fighting, handling a shield, and how to throw a proper punch. The centurion had found Michael a larger shield than the wooden one which had been destroyed and made of metal. This one could take hits and last.

Michael had known he’d was bad at sword fighting and using a shield, but he’d expected to know how to throw a punch or block one. He’d gotten hand to hand training early in his service and he’d gotten to practice it often while deployed, but while he could remember how to fight, his body seemed to have forgotten. So it had taken him a few days before Joran stopped trashing him easily.

By the time Michael stood in the hill looking at Novus Roma, Most of his marshal skills had gone up significantly.

Marshal Skills Category level 9

Bashing, Medium Shield 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Bashing, Small Shield 5 (base 4, plus bonus)

Blocking, Brawling 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Blocking, Medium Shield 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Blocking, Small Shield 4 (base 3, plus bonus)

Dodging 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Leadership 2 (base 1, plus bonus)

Parry, Knife 2 (base 1, plus bonus)

Parry, One-Handed Sword 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Punching, Brawling 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Slashing, Knife 2 (base 1, plus bonus)

Slashing, One-Handed Sword 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Thrust, Knife 2 (base 1, plus bonus)

Thrust, One-Handed Sword 17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Something that had happened which Michael considered odd, based on the little he remembered overhearing from his buddies who’d played Dungeons and Dragons, was that he’d gone from level four to level eleven without any significant combat. He’d been certain combat was the only way to make that happen.

The only incident had been a group of bandits they’d uncovered and fought to submission and had then accompanied them as prisoners. Michael had taken part, but other than gaining a level in his sword parrying skill, there had been no level gain. All those had come while training and gaining skill levels.

While not asking directly, he’d figured out what stats to raise. Joran had commented on his lack of strength, endurance, and coordination. So over the trip, each time he went up a level, he placed a point in those stats.

Name

Michael Vladmyr Rostov

Level

11

Race

Human

Age

32

Aging speed

60.24%

Statistics

Strength

22 (base 21, plus bonus)

Agility

20 (base 19, plus bonus)

Intelligence

11

Endurance

22

Wisdom

10

He couldn’t seem to separate those two.

The main thing that had jumped out at him was the bonuses. Like his skill some stats had bonuses, some didn’t, and he couldn’t figure out where they came from. And why he hadn’t received a notification about it, they seemed to show up for everything else, why not bonuses? Without anyone to ask he decided to just put them out of his mind, he’d take them, even if he couldn’t figure them out.

The other thing was his aging speed. That one worried him. If he aged sixty percent slower than everyone, how long until they noticed? What would they do? And how was it even possible?

Fortunately for Michael, they’d been camped when he first noticed it and had managed to make it to the woods before the freak-out hit. Was it based on his level? Would it turn negative if he went high enough? He had no interest in revisiting his teenage years. Once it passed, he’d decided he wouldn’t worry about it. If eleven levels had only slowed it to sixty percent, he had time before it turned negative.

He’d also practiced his two spells, but not as much as he’d wanted. Walking while being attentive to potential threats did not lead to focusing on casting magic.

* * * * *

“Done admiring the city?” Joran asked.

Michael looked at the centurion, then around them. The others were halfway to the city. “You should have shaken me.” Michael hurried along the road.

Joran laughed. “And keep you from taking it all in?” He easily caught up.

“I was lost in my head.”

“At least you didn’t go hide this time.”

Michael stopped and spun to start at the centurion.

Joran raised his hands. “Peace, friend, peace. I noticed, but I didn’t say anything to anyone. I’ve known others who’ve seen war. No one returned entirely whole. Just know that if you need help, I’m here.”

Michael opened and closed his hands he couldn’t panic now, but if Joran had noticed, had anyone else? How many attacks had he had on the trip? Would those ahead tell their superior? Would they see him as damaged and refuse to let him join? What was he going to do if he couldn’t—

Hands grabbed his shoulders hard. “Breathe Michael,” Joran said, searching his eyes. “It’s all well. I’m here. Whatever you fear, it won’t come to pass.”

“You can’t know that.” Michael swallowed.

“Then if it does, you won’t face it alone. I will be there with you.”

“Thanks.” He focused on Joran, the idea he wasn’t alone. The thought others could know about his attacks scared him. That it could keep him from joining the army even more, but Joran had seen him fight, seen him improve, he’d be there to speak in his favor. “Are there any clerics that can fix my head like Astair heals our bodies?”

Joran shook his head as he pushed Michael forward. “Mind magic is dangerous, and Praetor Granius only allows the most skilled of the mages to practice it. The gods that grant power in the direction tend to be of the darker persuasion, so I wouldn’t trust their clerics to play in my head.”

“So you have evil gods?”

Joran shrugged. “How do you define evil?”

“Anything that aims to hurt others is evil,” Michael replied without hesitation.

“I don’t think any of the gods aim to hurt us, but they are beyond anything we can fully understand, and each one demands something. The darker gods do tend to draw men and women who care less about the wellbeing of others, but it doesn’t mean all their clerics do.”

“You said you wouldn’t let one play in your head,” Michael commented.

“And I wouldn’t let any of the Praetor’s mages do it either. I like my mind the way it is.”

The gate in the stone wall was enormous, easily five-time his height and the same in width. The door was a massive wooden structure reinforced with iron bands. Groves in the road’s pavement indicated it was closed and opened regularly, but Michael couldn’t see how. Magic, maybe? He needed to remember that this world had more than the laws of physics he knew.

The avenue once inside was even wider, with people coming and going, some with carts pulled by bulls, or donkeys or— Michael stopped, watching a muscular man covered with black fur pull a cart loaded with pottery. His head was more animal than human, with a short muzzle and ears on top of his head. Other than a loincloth, his only clothing was the harness tying him to the cart a woman sat on, whip in hand.

Michael wanted to go to his help but looked to Joran.

“You don’t have beastkin where you come from?”

“That’s a man.”

“It’s an animal, or as close to one as it gets,” Joran said, “they can be trained, but only for menial tasks. Praetor Granius doesn’t care for them, but many of the farmers make use of them so he allows them. Don’t worry, you won’t see many of them.” The centurion took his arm and pulled him away. “Come, I want you to meet the Praetor before it gets too late.”

Michael looked in the beastkin’s direction before following Joran. He needed to remember he wasn’t in the US anymore, or even on earth. He’d seen goblins who were nothing more than rabid animals. That some beast of burden here walked on two legs was also a thing. Michael expected he’d have to get used to a lot more things while living here.

The center of the avenue had trees with benches in the shade the occasional long fountain. On each side shops catered to the people who stopped by. The avenue was paved with identical square stones and was perfectly flat. If he ever returned to Michigan, he needed to bring back this technique and get rid of potholes forever.

As he’d expected at this point, every building was also made of stones, but taller, three stories being the average with a four-story one here and there. They were all perfectly maintained.

Each building was separated from the other by an alley, with a street occasionally replacing the alley. At regular intervals a road half the width of the avenue crossed it at ninety degrees, marking the blocks he’d seen from a distance.

Ahead of them, the coliseum grew larger until the last block road, which Joran took on the right. A few dividing streets later he entered one on the left and immediately Michael heard the sounds of fighting. Shortly it opened into a courtyard where a few hundred centurions trained.

Michael watched as groups moved in unison, against one another, wall shields moving aside to let spears jut out and then closed as they were pulled back. Other groups walked, their shields forming the wall and not breaking it as the turned, stopped, then exploding apart as swordsmen burst out to slash and thrust then returned in the wall reforming.

At the periphery of it, all men and women fought, one on one, on two, on three and even one against four. The woman managing to keep them from scoring even one hit while Michael watched.

Chuckling, Joran pulled him. He stopped by a man leading eight pairs of young men and women in training. The man pointed further in and Michael followed Joran who stopped three more times to ask for direction before they reached a man wearing a simple armor of leather fighting against an older man dressed similarly.

The older man noticed them and brought their fight to a stop with a nod.

“Praetor Granius,” Joran said, standing at attention. “I’m Joran, son to Tivius, of the seventy-ninth Contuberium, out of the twenty-six outpost. We were dispatched to stop the goblin horde at Windfall.”

The younger man, who’d looked bored through Joran’s introduction brightened at the last part. He looked at Michael, smiling. “Then this must be the hero of Windfall. I’ve heard a great many things from you.” He stepped toward Michael, who took a step back reflexively. “I’m Granius Sepurcius Augustalis. Don’t bother with the Praetor bit, I keep trying to get them to stop, but they just won’t. Something about showing me proper respect and all that. I tell them I’m just a soldier like they are, but it doesn’t seem to sink in no matter how often I come here to train with them.”

Michael swallowed, he was the Praetor? The man who ruled the city and everything under its protection? He looked to be no older than forty. Compared to the dour older man, he could be one of the other soldiers instead of a ruler.

Michael remembered himself and stood at attention, offering his hand as an afterthought. “Michael Vladmyr Rostov, sir.”

Granius grasped Michael’s forearm with both hands. “Well met, Michael Vladmyr Rostov. Well met indeed. But please relax. I’m just a soldier like you. I’ve heard much from the centurions who got here before you did. You kept the horde from overtaking Windfall by yourself.”

“No, sir. Many brave men gave their lives to protect the others before I arrived. If not for them, I doubt even my efforts wouldn’t have done any good.”

“A man who recognized the work of others.” He looked at the older man over his shoulder. “Do you hear that, Hostus? A genuine humble soldier.” He smiled at Michael, his grip tightening. “You are a rare breed, Michael.”

“I’m just… I was simply a soldier, sir. Hoping to be one again.”

Granius beamed and slapped Michael’s shoulder. “Simple soldiers you and I, we are going to get along greatly. Come, show me what you can do with the sword and shield.” The man pulled Michael away from the others.

“I’m not very good, sir.” Michael hesitated. “Where I was a soldier before, we didn’t use swords.”

Granius nodded. “The show me what you learned since arriving.” He pulled a plain-looking sword from his scabbard and took the shield Hostus handed him. Michael readied his and waited. “Why don’t you attack me,” Granius said. “Take it at whatever speed you’re comfortable, I just want to see what you can do.”

Slowly Michael attached and Granius parried. He attacked again, and the Praetor blocked with his shield. Michael picked up speed, and the other man matched him, returning the occasional attacks, which Michael parried or blocked. He understood Granius wasn’t trying to win, but he still pushed Michael.

When Michael found himself with the point of Granius’ sword over his heart, after a quick motion he’d thought was simply a parry, the Praetor smiled. “That was extremely good for someone who’s didn’t know who to wield a sword when he arrived here, what, forty days ago?” Granius sounded proud, instead of mocking, as Michael had expected. “You’re gifted with the sword.”

Michael smiled and panted. He was sweating. He’d lost track of how long they fought. “Thank you, sir.”

“Please stop it with the sir.”

Michael forced a smile. “Thank you.”

“Did you catch that last maneuver I did?”

“No, s—” he shook his head. “It happened to fast.”

Granius looked to Joran. “You didn’t broach katas with him.”

“We only trained one hour a day, Praetor. I didn’t think he was ready.”

Granius nodded and studied Michael. “That’s possible, but something tells me this man will surprise you, centurion. Are you interested in trying, Michael?”

“It’d be my pleasure, s—” Michael cursed himself silently. “It would be my pleasure Granius.”

Granius beamed. “What I did was a parry-thrust kata. Basically, a kata is a combination of moves. In this case, a parry paired with a thrust. The more skilled you are, the more moves you can pair. I’ve seen masters who can take a man down before anyone realizes an attack happened.”

“You?” Michael asked.

Granius laughed. “Hardly. On a very good day, I can manage a five move kata. I can hurt my opponent, but everyone watching will see a fight’s happening. As you can imagine, at its core, a kata is simple. Attack me slowly, so I can explain as I move.”

Michael thrust.

“I parry, and twist my sword to get yours out of the way, so I can then thrust at you.” Granius stopped with the tip at Michael’s chest. “Try it. We’ll go slow.” Granius slashed at Micheal who parried but diverted his sword away from Granius’ body in the process. They went again, and again, and again, each time Micheal did the kata successfully, Granius picked up speed.

You have learned a Kata

Parry-Thrust, One-Handed Sword

level 1

The notification surprised him and resulted in Granius’ sword slicing his hand. Michael let out a string of curses that surprised him as he stepped around and glared at the red bar and the few percents he taken in damages. How dare it count that when it was the notification that had caused him to falter?

“Are you alright, Michael?” Granius asked, looked expectant

“Yeah. It’s nothing big, just surprised me.”

The man nodded. “It’ll happen when learning.” He looked up, the sun had moved close to the roof of the buildings. “It’s probably a good time to head for now. Let me welcome you to the Cosconius army, Michael Vladmyr Rostov. I believe you will be able to accomplish great things with us. Centurion, see to it Michael is settled in one of the barracks. Michael, I’ll see you here at the second hour after sunrise.”

“Praetor,” Hostus said, “you have duties to the city.”

With a theatrical sigh and roll of the eyes that made Michael smile, Granius turned. “And when will I be done with those?”

“If you focus on them, we should be done by zenith.”

“Then I’ll see you an hour after zenith. Centurion, I’m putting you in charge of helping Michael integrate within your unit. They’ve traveled with him so they know his experience and they shouldn’t find reasons to complain.”

“No, Praetor, the other will be honored to have Michael in our unit.”

“Good, then proceed to the baths, Michael reeks.” Granius grinned. “As do I, but I’m Praetor, no one will dare point that out.”

“No Worries, sir,” Hostus said in a put upon tone, “I’ll see to it you are bathed, it is why you keep me around after all.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow Michael,” Granius said before leaving.

“We’ll stop by the barracks first, you can get out of that armor and put on actual clothing. Before we head to the baths.”

“I don’t have any clothing.”

“There will be some at the barracks, no need to worry, clothing is one thing there is always more than we need of.”

Michael readied himself as he followed Joran and called up his Marshal skills.

Marshal Skills

Category level 9

Bashing, Medium Shield

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Bashing, Small Shield

5 (base 4, plus bonus)

Blocking, Brawling

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Blocking, Medium Shield

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Blocking, Small Shield

5 (base 3, plus bonus)

Dodging

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Kata (one-handed sword, parry-thrust)

3 (base 1, plus bonus)

Kicking

3 (base 1, plus bonus)

Leadership

2 (base 1, plus bonus)

Parry, Knife

3 (base 1, plus bonus)

Parry, One-Handed Sword

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Punching, Brawling

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Slashing, Knife

3 (base 1, plus bonus)

Slashing, One-Handed Sword

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

Thrust, Knife

3 (base 1, plus bonus)

Thrust, One-Handed Sword

17 (base 15, plus bonus)

As he expected, even though he’d just gained it, his kata was level three. Those two bonus points applied automatically. He focused on the kata itself and received an explanation of what it was.

Katas are the joining of multiple skills together in one maneuver. Katas become available at level ten in physical marshal skills. Skills must be at a minimum of level ten to be used in a kata. Each extra skill added after the first two impart a ten-level penalty on all skills included. Adding skill from a different weapon imparts an additional ten-level penalty on all involved skills.

So he’d have to bring all skills to twenty if he wanted to add a third one, or if he wanted to train something involving a sword and something else. Could he do something with a sword and his shield? He’d have to see.

He’d followed Joran inside a building at this point and had no idea how they’d gotten there, so he decided he’d stop thinking about what he could do, and just enjoy the rest of the evening.

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Just Cause 04 2020-07-23T15:00:10+00:00
During the first day’s walk, Michael confirmed that the soldiers didn’t know about statistics or points he could distribute by asking others. He made sure to keep plenty of the surviving villagers between the men he asked, keeping it simple and just asking about points distribution, stopping the instant he got ‘the look’.

After getting ‘the look’ three times he considered that maybe he was crazy and what he saw was a representation of his insanity? He’d already considered he was dead, and this was some form of afterlife, but that fight had hurt too damned much for being dead. Or, this was real, and he somehow was different from the others? How was that any more implausible than the alternatives?

“How are you faring?” Joran asked at the end of the first day? As the soldiers and villagers made camp for the night.

“Better than I expected, the cleric, Astair, did his trick on me and my he—the soreness is almost all gone.” It surprised Michael how easy it had gotten to think of himself in relation to the character sheet metaphor. At least he was no longer bringing it up any time he thought about his state. That had been an annoying half day as he worked out what type of mindset brought it to the surface. Now he could bring it up in whole or in part at will.

<table><tbody><tr><td>
Hit Points
</td><td>
96 out of 150
</td></tr><tr><td>
Stamina Points
</td><td>
164 out of 164
</td></tr><tr><td>
Essence Points
</td><td>
91 out of 91
</td></tr></tbody></table>
Some sections did seem to be impossible to split into smaller parts.

“Why does he look so gaunt? If he can heal people, can’t he heal himself?”

“Astair isn’t sick. It’s the price he pays to channel his god’s power into healing.”

Michael stopped his initial reaction. This place, this world was different, so why couldn’t God act through people? “So the power he channels is what, eating him away? I thought God was benevolent.”

Joran glanced at Michael as he chewed, then. “Are all the gods benevolent where you’re from?”

Gods, plural? “I thought so. To be fair, I’ve never been much of a believer. The world’s too screwed up for me to think h—they did anything.”

“You consider the world screwed up, and yet you expected Astair’s god to be a benevolent one? The country you come from sounds rather odd.”

Michael chuckled. “That’s definitely one word for it. So Astair’s god?”

“Dhomis is a god of healing through sacrifice,” Joran said. “Each of his clerics must sacrifice something significant to be granted his power.”

“I’m guessing it isn’t just something like forgoing any riches.”

Joran chuckled “Nothing so easy to abuse, the gods don’t like it when you try to trick them. No, it as to be something the cleric will feel. Astair sacrificed food. He must go hungry or not be able to heal.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? Letting himself die of hunger?”

“The gods can be demanding, even more so if you want power from them. The way Astair explained Dhomis to me, the hungrier he is, the more healing he can perform. So he keeps himself at the edge for us.”

Michael shook himself. “I couldn’t do that.”

“Neither could I. It’s why I’m a soldier and not a cleric.”

“Are all the gods that demanding?”

“Oh no, Ivlan is a goddess of healing through pleasure. Her clerics must pleasure and be pleasured to be able to heal.” The centurion gave a wry smile. “As you can imagine, they don’t perform very well on the battlefield.” He finished his bowl. “You’re going to have to sleep under the stars with the rest of us. We’re keeping the tents for the villagers.”

“I can keep watch, help out where you need me.”

“I’m glad to hear it, but until we reach the outpost, consider yourself one of the rescuees.”

“One he has to sleep under the stars,” Michael replied with a smirk.

“You look like you can take it, unlike that bunch of weaklings.”

Michael didn’t like how Joran referred to the villagers, but looking at it objectively, it was an accurate description. The ones who’d survived had been those he ran away or hid. The brave one had all died.

* * * * *

When he woke up on the second day, Michael found he was completely healed. He’d somehow regained fifty points of health in one night of sleep when a full day of walking hadn’t done anything. As far as he could tell, he was the only one who had done so, those who had gone to sleep with injuries, still had them in the morning.

Around mid-day, they were attacked by a band of monsters. Like goblins, but these were furrier versions and a little tougher. Michael joined in the fight, and with all the soldiers there, they were easily defeated. Michael got in enough fighting his sword and shield skills went up, but by the time the fight was over, there was nothing left of his wooden shield. He tried using the large ones the centurions used to form walls, but they were too unwieldy for him. He also went up a level and gained five more points he still didn’t know to distribute them.

When Astair reached him, Michael passed on the healing. He hadn’t gotten as badly hurt as in that first battle, barely getting close to the halfway point with eighty health points left. Others needed Astair’s help more than he did, and he wanted to test the limit of his nightly regeneration.

When they stopped for the night Michael was again left with nothing to do, so he sat and watched the centurions and villagers work, He noticed some of them starting fires, then noticed they weren’t using tools to start them. He studied one of the woman work, She placed the wood in the pit the villagers dug, forming a small pyramid, knelt next to it and placed her hands over. Her lips moved, then she lifted her hands, and a flame jumped from the center of the pyramid of branches, almost like magic.

When Joran joined him Michael pointed to the fires. “Is magic a thing here?”

“Isn’t it where you’re from?” The centurion answered, handing Michael a bowl of stew.

“No.”

Joran took a branch off the ground and held it before him, he narrowed his eyes and the end caught on file. “There you go.”

“Can anyone do magic?”

“The simple stuff, sure.” Joran blew the flame out. “The more advanced you get, the more dedication it takes. It’s quickly a question of what you want to focus on, because I don’t know anyone who has the time to focus on more than one. I’m a centurion. I’d have to give that up to learn anything beyond this and extinguishing fires in magic.”

Michael nodded and ate a few spoonfuls before indicating the fire. “The centurion who lit that one said a spell and had hand gesture. Was that because lighting the fire is more difficult than the flame you did, where you simply squinted at it?”

Joran shook his head. “It’s more about how you learn. What you do with a spell like flame, is gather the energy of the fire in your mind into a single point until it ignites. My mother taught me to do it just with my mind. Others learn through gestures and words to reach the proper mindset, sometimes they’ll break themselves out of the habit, sometimes they don’t.”

“So it’s not an indication of talent. You’re not necessarily more talented with the spell than she was because she did it with gestures.”

“That’s right. The best indicator of how skills someone is with a spell is how taxing it is to cast, not that you can see it, this simple of a spell wouldn’t render you unconscious, but the stronger ones could drain you almost to death.”

“So magic draws on your life force? Or something like that?”

Joran considered the question, looking at the fire. “I don’t think so, I’m no mage and I never had a discussion with one, so I’m only going by what I’ve experienced and seen. I can make flames until I can’t anymore and I’m going to feel the strain, but I can still get up and walk, I’m not bleeding from anywhere. I think it needs a conscious effort to use your life force, and maybe that’s only possible with the powerful spells; those that require more energy than you naturally have to give. My mother explained it that way. The most skilled with a spell, the more you draw from the surrounding energy, instead of what’s in you, so all things being equal, someone more skilled will always be able to use his spell more often and someone who isn’t.”

Michael stewed on that as he ate. “Do you think I can learn that spell?” he asked once he was done.

“Unless you’re one of those people who just can’t connect with the energy, I don’t see why you couldn’t.”

Michael set his bowl down. “So how do I do it?”

Joran stared at him. “I told you, you gather the energy of the fire with your mind until the flame manifests.”

“You just reach out and grab it, I guess.”

“Didn’t your mother explain it to you?”

“My mother sat me in front of a fire for three months until I could feel its heat, it’s fieriness when without it there. After that reaching for it was easier. It still took me months before I could make my first flame.”

“So envision the heat on the end of this twig.” Michael picked up a branch. “So all I have to do is focus on it.” He imagined feeling the heat coming from the branch and thought he had it a few times, but the idea he was succeeding distracted him and he lost the sense of heat.

He noticed people moving around him but didn’t pay them any attention. When staring at the branch gave him eye strain, he set it aside and looked at his hand. To make sure he could maintain it he moved his hand, feeling the heat. He closed his fingers and snapped them. A flame appeared at the tip of his index.

<table><tbody><tr><td>
You have learned a spell
</td><td> </td></tr><tr><td>
Flame
</td><td>
level 1
</td></tr></tbody></table>
<table><tbody><tr><td>
Fire Spells is now level 1
</td></tr></tbody></table>
With a curse, Michael shook his hand, and the flame disappeared.

The blue bar flashed into existence, the end losing some of the blue. So the blue one was for magic. He checked the numbers to be sure.

<table><tbody><tr><td>
Hit Points
</td><td>
86 out of 150
</td></tr><tr><td>
Stamina Points
</td><td>
164 out of 164
</td></tr><tr><td>
Essence Points
</td><td>
81 out of 91
</td></tr></tbody></table>
Interestingly, he’d regained hit points just sitting here. Was it the eating or the resting? But this confirmed the essence powered the magic. It matched with Joran’s explanation. He was powering the magic.

He focused on his hand against, felt the heat, and snapped his fingers. The blue bar indicated another drop in essence as the flame appeared. He shook his hand before he could stop himself, then looked at his fingers for any indications they were burned. He remembered how hot the flame had felt, but his fingers were fine.

He did it again, this time trying to summon the flame without snapping his finger. The heat was there. It felt as intense as before, but nothing happened. He snapped his finger, and the flame was there. The heat that of actual fire and he shook his hand, cursing afterward.

<table><tbody><tr><td>
You have gained a level
</td><td> </td></tr><tr><td>
Flame
</td><td>
level 2
</td></tr></tbody></table>
“Thank a lot,” he told the message, then noticed he’d drawn a small crowd, Joran among them. “I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“I barely explained it a few hours ago, and you’re already doing it? Maybe you should be a mage, you look like you have the gift.”

Michael shook his head. “This is just so I never have to worry about getting a fire going.”
“So this is only about it being practical?”

“Sure, starting a fire can be a lifesaver out here, right?”

“Yeah.” Joran looked around. “Rogs, show him your water thing.”

Rogs was a big man, far larger than the other centurions, broad shoulder and with a face only his mother could love, Micheal thought, maybe, if she drank enough. His teeth were crooked and poked past his lips at odd angles. He wasn’t repulsive, but definitely ugly.

Michael extended his hand to the giant of a man. “Rogs, I’m Michael.”

“Joran told us. You held back the goblin.”

The speech was more eloquent than Michael had expected. “I’m just happy you guys showed up when you did and saved my life.” He forced himself to keep talking to keep his hands from shaking “What’s the water thing?”

Rogs cupped his hand before Michael and after a few seconds water because forming on the skin and pooling.

“Is that water or sweat?” Micheal asked.

“Water,” Joran answered. Rogs was focused on his hands. “If you can do that, you never have to worry about dying of thirst.”

Michael’s eyebrow rose. “Do you happen to have something like that for food too?”
“I wish,” a woman in armor said.

“That’s part of the more advanced stuff I mentioned earlier. If you want to be able to do that, you’re going to have to become a mage.”

Michael nodded. There was a quarter of an inch of water at the bottom of Rog’s cupped hands. The man was panting heavily.

“Don’t hurt yourself, Rogs,” Michael said.

“It’s harder if I try to go faster,” Rogs replied.

“Can you explain how you did it?”

Rog’s explanation was easier to follow than Joran, possibly because the air was already humid and he talked about pulling the humidity from the air to his hand. By the time Rogs was done talking, Michael had his hand cupped, and a message appeared with the first bead of water.

<table><tbody><tr><td>
You have learned a spell
</td><td> </td></tr><tr><td>
Condensation
</td><td>
level 1
</td></tr></tbody></table>
<table><tbody><tr><td>
Water Spells is now level 1
</td></tr></tbody></table>
His essence bar dropped in a chunk similar to when he summoned the flame, but it kept dropping as another bead of water formed before a third one the bar flashed as it dropped to near nothing and Michael had to stop, panting.

“You make it look easy,” He told Rogs with a grin.

The large man stared at him. “It took me three years to manage it the first time. You need to speak to the mages.”

“No, I’m just a soldier.”

“That may be,” Joran said, “but I think you need to meet the Praetor when we reach Novus Roma. That you learned to do those two spells in one evening will impress him enough he might make you a Prefect right then and there.”

“I’m just a soldier,” Michael repeated, “I don’t want any special treatment.”

“You might not want it, Michael,” Joran said, “but you should get used to receiving it right now.”


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Wyatt Chapter 5 2020-07-22T15:00:08+00:00
Brewster Nebraska is a village of thirty people, and six hundred quad bovines. Go back sixty years and it was probably just a lone farm. How it became a village was beyond my desire to investigate.

I had never heard of it until receiving GPS coordinates from a number even my apps couldn’t trace and signed by a name that had never led me wrong, even if I hated every time I got something from them. Obsidian Black.

Stories were that he was Emerald Code’s successor. When she sacrificed herself to save Denver, her talisman went to a young hacker who then vanished after the Diamond Incident. The big problem with that story was that the incident destroyed all the Children of Merlin’s talisman, so there was no way he could be him.

Or maybe there was.

The Children of Merlin could still do magic through the item they crafted, they simply no longer had that individual talisman that could do way too much. Now they had to craft individual items for specific results. So it was possible that guy was doing something to that effect with code, or that he’d cobbled up a phone that did that.

Or they were just that great at slicing and sifting through security. The bottom line was that no matter how hard Aiden worked at keeping them out, they always found a way into our servers, and that they had a habit of dropping news on us, more often me, since I was the mobile one, and that it usually led to a problem that needed resolving.

The coordinates led to a farmhouse ten miles out of the village proper. My map said I rode through it, but I didn’t see anything there. I wasn’t the only one there. There were three police cars, well a sheriff and two deputies, six unmarked cars that were definitively government, a dozen pickups that had to be the totality of the resident, and two news site vans.

Those I didn’t expect. It meant Obsidian hadn’t been as on the ball as they normally were. They only bothered me with family matters or magic, and this far from California, I couldn’t see this being family related. I parked and locked my bike, carrying my helmet.

The perimeter was five hundred feet from the house and I saw the forensic set up on the porch. That meant no room inside the house was free of evidence. The suits were FBI, of course. If something was so big it took over an entire farmhouse, the local authorities would call them in. One of the deputies had probably alerted the news in an attempt to what? Put Brewster on the map? Only someone who’d never dealt with the notoriety that came with being the place a big crime happened wanted that.

I listened in on the plump and older newswoman, a porcupine, in the powder blue suit, and tried to work out what had happened here, but it was the end of her recording. A death was all I got before her assistant holding the phone nodded and told her it was uploaded.

How to approach this? She was done recording, her site didn’t consider this a big story or they would have sent someone younger, more in demand. Until she learned something new, she wouldn’t have much to do.

“Have they released any details?” I asked her as she took the jacket her assistant handed her. Spring was here, but Nebraska didn’t seem to have gotten the message.

She looked at me, then looked me over critically. I didn’t fit in with my bike leathers. “And you are?” she was cautious, worried I might be a competitor.

“Wyatt.” I offered my hand. “I was in Broken Bow when I got the news alert from your site.” I nodded toward the vans. “I’m a big fan. It only said the FBI had been called in. I figured I’d drop by.” All of it was a risk since I didn’t know any of that for sure, but it was an educated guess. Her clothing was crumpled, but not soil, so she hadn’t been here too long, but had been on the road for a while, probably returning from reporting on another story in the area. She would have been too busy figure out the scope and angle for her report to pay attention to what her news site put out and the FBI was just finishing setting up their gear, so an hour made sense for that alert to have gone out.

“One of the deputies said bodies, but wouldn’t give me a number,” she said. “He looked pretty sick, so I figure there’s a few. I was about to get him to give me details, but the agent in charge showed up to silence him. The FBI hasn’t said anything yet.”

Agent in charge.

There were only six of those in the country who dealt with magic. That meant the odds were good I’d be dealing with Mortis, Loomis or Briton. The first two I could charm into giving me what I needed, Jen I couldn’t offer a good time to, but she was fun to talk with, and in exchange for some insider information she’d answer my questions. Harkman was Green Man, so I’d have to hope for mutual respect, Filion, well, after Omaha, she couldn’t stand me, so if it was her, I was out of luck. McLaren was an unknown, but a woman, so she could be the toughest one to deal with.

“Here he comes, maybe he’ll answer my question.”

Man was a good start. I turn to see who was approaching, and my heart sank. Sunset red suit, sun yellow tie, and charcoal shirt. I didn’t need to see the antlers to know all my hopes of easy answers were fucked.

“Special Agent Bodenman,” she called to him, as he strode toward me. “Fatsani Georgeson, from Nebraska State News Site, what can you tell me about the crime scene?”

Special Agent in Charge Zikabar Malhotra Bodenman leveled his gaze on her. “It’s an ongoing investigation, I have nothing to say.” He looked good for a man in his late sixties, and that was without Anakin’s gift. When he fixed me with his gaze, I had to lock my knees in place to keep them from folding. The man had personality to spare from years of life, from the loss of his husband at the hand of one of my relatives, of having to reinvent part of the FBI so it could handle the existence of magic.

If the man had one sexually dominant bone in his body, I’d let him do anything to me.

Fuck, I was hard just from that glare.

“Mister Orr, how about you come with me?” he said, his face hard. As far as I knew, the man hadn’t smiled in thirty years. Fatsani stared at me as Zikabar led me away toward my bike.

“Special Agent,” I said, trying to keep my voice from cracking.

“Wyatt Orr,” he replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “Family empath and borderline reject.”

“Hey, I am not a reject, I chose to distance myself.” I could say this for the man. He knew how to turn me off.

“Right. Because your family is so nice and understanding.”

“If I tell you I’m done wanting you to bend me over my bike, will you stop bad-mouthing my family?”

He rubbed his face. “My statements still stand, not that it was my intent to shut down your sexual desires.”

“Does that mean you want to bend me over my bike and fuck me?” I asked hopefully.

“No,” he stated. “What are you doing here, Mister Orr? If you are here to clean up one of your messes, you are too late.”

“Hey, we have nothing to do with that as far as I know.”

He tilted an ear. “And yet, here you are.”

I took out my phone and showed him Obsidian Black’s message.

The deer let out a curse and placed a call. “Harrison, I need you to get the servers offline and wipe any and all intruding program. Yes, again. Black’s back in.” He put it away and scowled at me. “Who is he?”

“If I knew, we’d have them under control.”

“Right, and you wouldn’t have told me he sent you the message.”

I smiled. “If you’d asked nicely, I would.”

“Do not even try to influence me, Mister Orr. I not simply protected, my amulet will tell me and I will arrest you regardless of who you are, am I clear?”

His anger hit hard. “Fuck, you’d think you have gotten over that one incident,” I said, turning bitchy in self-defense and sighing as his eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry. I had no right to say that.”

His expression softened fractionally. “So the stories are true. You can actually have some manners.”

I kept my muzzle shut with effort at the tone. I was better than my brothers, than my fathers. I understood why he was angry. I got that he had a right to be. That what I’d said was like pull the fur out around his wound.

I was in the wrong here.

It didn’t mean keeping my replies to myself was easy.

“If Black told you about this, then it is definitely magic related.”

I shrugged. “What can you tell me?”

“I shouldn’t tell you anything,” the deer replied. “You aren’t law enforcement. Not even within your Society.” I waited as he worked things out. That was the nice thing about empathy; when I didn’t put my foot in my mouth, I knew when to press and when to let them work things out on their own. “But, you’re going to trample over this no matter what I say, so I should at least make sure you don’t get in our way.”

“And I do have access to people who won’t take to you, being FBI and all that.” Even within the magical communities, not everyone liked that the law was around.

“If you’ll report to me what you find out, it would go a long way toward me justifying providing the information.”

I thought about it, then straight out lied. “I can’t promise that everything I learn will be something I can tell you, but anything that isn’t an outright secret I will.” I am a great liar when I want to.

He nodded. “Six boys, raped multiple times, then killed.” He took out his phone. “Filiny? I need you to transfer the feed to my phone, then do a slow pass on the basement. I will be recording it, so note that.” He looked at his phone for a minute then turned it so I could see.

The person holding the other one walked downstairs and I could already see blood, handprints on the handrail, adult size. The first body had been a cat of some sort, at that age, without seeing the fur pattern it was difficult to tell the exact species. The only way I knew he’d been a boy was because Zikabar told me, his cock and balls had been removed, it had been messy. The boy’s throat had been cut, as had his chest. His rib cage was broken, the heart removed. Around the small body, markings had been made in blood.

Sacred Balls, he couldn’t have been older than eight.

The next one looked younger, a cervid by the shape of the muzzle, the thick nails on the feet. He too had been desecrated in the same way, with bloody marking around the body. They were all like that. All below eight, all massacred, and they’d been raped on top of that.

I knew what monsters were like. The magical community had its fair share of them, and magic only made them worse. I’d had to handle some of them. Now I knew what Obsidian Black had brought me here.

“Those markings are sigils,” the deer said which froze my cum.

I’d thought one of Damian’s followers. “What’s the resolution on the phone?”

“It’s a forensic model,” Zikabar answered.

“Can I rewind and look it over again?”

He handed it to me and I paused it on a good view of the markings around one of the box, vulpine, I thought. I zoomed and studied them. I could see the resemblance, and without having consulted their database, I could understand why he through this was Society magic.

“It’s not ours,” I said, looking at another section. “I don’t think it’s anyone’s.” I should have kept my mouth shut.

“What makes you say that?”

“This looks like someone imitating sigils. They’re good, but they don’t say anything. It’s just random sigils and connectors. If you have anyone on call who can sense magic, they’ll confirm it. I’m sure of it.”

“Not going to offer yourself and get a chance for a close-up view?”

I handed him his phone. “I’m not that sick. The video was more than enough. I’m going to have to find a club and dance the images away since I can’t drink them to oblivion.”

“Very well. I’ll await your report,” the deer said, turning and heading toward the house.

The hedgehog was hurrying for me and I seriously considered getting on my bike and leaving her in my dust, but that would just make her work harder to find and corner me. Letting her think she got what she wanted would make her leave me alone.

“Miss Georgeson,” I greeted her with a smile.

“Mister Orr,” she replied, taken aback but catching herself quickly. “What’s your family’s interest in what happened here?”

“Nothing, as I said, I got the alert and—”

“That hasn’t gone out yet.”

“Ah.” I really hadn’t counted on being around if she looked into it.

“Is this a magical crime?”

“I’m not a law enforcement person, Miss Georgeson. The FBI would have my b—throat if I said anything about what I might know about this.”

“So you do know something. Why did Agent Bodenman want to talk to you?”

“My family is acquainted with him and he wanted to know how we were doing.”

“And he didn’t ask you for your input on what took place here?”

“If he had, Miss Georgeson, I really wouldn’t be able to tell you, now would I?”

“Alright, what are your thoughts on President Clancy’s push to force the enlistment of magical people?”

I rolled my eyes. “Even in times of war, the draft had to be a lottery, if, in time of peace, she tries to enforce something like that, I can’t see it ending well for her. It’s not a threat,” I said, cutting off the comment she was about to make. “It would be the same if she tried to force any other citizen. If there’s a war, and the US decide to participate, I have no doubt that the American magical community will do its part. Until then, we prefer going about our lives in private.”

“And who is the magical community, Mister Orr? Your family is well known to be involved with it; but what exactly can you do, magically speaking?”

I eyed her assistance, a slim antelope whose eyes grew wide as I smiled. I was tempted. I really was. Offer him an exclusive, bring him to a motel room, show him what I did, and then see if he’d tell her. If not for the shit storm that would start, I’d do it just to show her there were things she might not want to know, especially considering I was one of the better guys in this.

“We don’t do anything, Miss Georgeson. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to hit the road.” I put my helmet on, cutting off her question, and climbed on my bike. I slotted my phone in and as it started, she walked away.

I called up my text messaging app and entered a random recipient. “Obsidian,” I dictated. “I’ll look into this, but two things. One, a Miss Fatsani Georgeson just recorded me answering her questions, I need that destroyed.” As amusing as it would be, my comments about the president and her desire to force us into her army would get my dads pissed. “Second, what aren’t you telling me? This is just some wannabe. It’s horrible, but that should be the FBI’s job, not mine.”

The return was instant. Handled. I am telling you what you need to know.

How the fuck were they that fast? And why did that have to always be cryptic? I didn’t bother with a reply. They’d said what they wanted. I wouldn’t be able to force anything else out. I turned and headed back the way I came.

From here, my choices for center of fun were Denver or Omaha.

As much fun as seeing Edward would be, I didn’t feel like dealing with his father, so I headed east and made calls while I rode.

* * * * *

The Max, in downtown Omaha, was one of those rare clubs that properly earned their name. It was one of the largest clubs I’d been to, and I’ve been to a lot of them, with possibly the loudest music, the biggest drink and the easiest men I’d ever come across.

That last one wasn’t as much of a draw for me as they’d like, but it was a draw for other men. They were grinding around me on the dance floor, against me and each other. I definitely saw appendages out of the front of pants during my time on the dance floor and felt hands on me, over and under my clothes. Anything too personal was gently moved out of the way. I wasn’t here looking to get laid, and if I was, it wouldn’t be with someone whose idea of getting to know me was a hand down the front of my jeans.

Getting off the dance floor resulted in even more groping, and actual requests for me to take them to the restroom so I could take them. Easy, so damned easy it wasn’t even appealing. I made it to the bar with a minimum of what qualifies as molestation in my family, got a drink, whatever was on tap since I wanted the privacy of a booth as soon as possible.

I sat down, took a sip of my rather decent beer, and realized a dingo was seated across me, her martini glass half empty. She smiled at me.

“Did you know I was going to sit here?” I asked her, barely hearing myself talk over the music, “Or was I so distracted that I didn’t see you sit down?”

She smiled. “That would be telling, wouldn’t it?” Her voice was lush, the type that could make a man fall to his knees asking for her hand in marriage if he was the type, and barely at the volume of conversation, while still cutting through the loudness of the music.

Alicia Cardinal was a Thinker. One of the magical faction, one of the more visible ones since at first glance what they did wasn’t so much magic as a lot of research. Thinkers could work things out. It wasn’t the knowing of precogs or remote viewers. They needed to know what they were looking into, so it made them great for science and most types of research. That made them more comfortable for mundanes.

Until you noticed that they stuff they could work out, let them do things you couldn’t work out. Like speak at a conversational tone in a club with deafening music and still make me hear her words. She’d worked out how to get her sound waves to slip through that of the music’s, instead of being buried by it.

She could also be annoyingly obtuse about explaining what she’d done. Which I thought was better than most Thinkers, since they tended to go on and on about what they’d done.

I pulled out a pen. “Do you mind if I give us some quiet? The music’s going to get distracting.” She shrugged. She probably didn’t hear the music unless she wanted to. I traced sigils on a corner of the table that wouldn’t get smudged if a server came to serve us, added the right connector, turning into a phrase and fed is some of my unending lust and the music diminished to a soft, background, level. I let out a sigh of relief.

“I thought this was your kind of crowd,” She said.

“You’re confusing me with the boy band. I like clubs for who I can find for a night, but I wouldn’t spend all my time in a place like this.”

“Can’t remain in the same place too long, or your family might find out.”

I snorted. “They know where I am at all times, if they want me, all they have to do is call and tell me to come home. They know I will.”

“But where’s the fun in that? Your family is all about the stalking and the hunt, right?”

I shrugged. “We’re tigers, hunting is what we do.”

She smiled “At least you acknowledge what you are. The veneer of civility some of the people out there force on themselves is sickening.”

“The joys of being able to work out all the little lies people tell themselves?” I asked.

“There’s a reason most of us Thinkers are loners. There’s only so much bullshit we can endure.”

“Well, consider me as bullshit-free as I can afford to be. Speaking of which, is Obsidian Black one of yours?”

“No one I know has worked out who they are.”

“How hard are you trying?”

She shrugged. “Not very, whenever they contact us it’s to put us on the tail of a problem before it becomes a problem, so I’m happy to let them operate in the dark. We don’t care as much about them getting into our servers and sniffing through what we’re working on.”

“Yes, most people in your faction have no problem telling everyone what they’re working on. How did the Church ever keep the lot of you from revealing magic existed to the world?”

She shrugged again. “Before my time, the old brains through about research differently.”

“Onto business then?”

She took her phone out. “You want just the file, or do you want me to walk you through it?”

I accepted the file. “Are you offering to explain how you worked things out?”

“No, just point you to the important stuff. The file is a terabyte big.”

“Give me the highlights then.”

“Your killer’s has been active for close to eight years. I can’t confirm his body count, but I estimate he’s up to at least five hundred kills.”

“How does he kill five hundred kids in eight years and not get noticed?”

“Primarily by targeting kids of illegal immigrants and locations where they are seen more as a nuisance than as helpful.”

“I thought we’d done away with treating them like cattle back in the forties.”

“Until we dismantle the class structure, there will always be a need for a class of people at the bottom to be abused and feared at the same time.”

“So he goes after kids the parents of whom won’t be interested in going to the police for help,” I said to keep her from continuing her social commentary. “Does he pick just any kid he finds or does he have a type?”

“Male, of course, between the age of seven and ten, beyond that I’m not certain. I’ll tell you that yes he has more criteria, you might be able to work out something from all the information I provided on each child since you are into having sex with them, but—”

“Don’t, Alicia,” I snapped.

She looked surprised. “It’s a known fact that your family has—”

“That’s among us and you know it. It’s been over fifty years since one of us had an attraction to children, we do not do that to children.”

“But you have had the pull to have sex with—”

“No.” I reigned in my temper hard. Alicia was not a friend, but she was an ally. “What I shared with my brothers; what my fathers shared with me isn’t anything like what he does.” I indicated her phone. “We share a connection because of our good and that’s how it expresses itself. The rest of the Society is the same. Our god is lust, so how else could it be, but we don’t force it on others.” Her tilted ear forced me to correct myself. “We’re doing our best not to force it on others, but with that one exception, we have never forced ourselves on children. We wouldn’t, no not even my fathers. The abuse the suffered made them want to keep that from ever happening to others, not lash out at them.”

“Then I apologize. I didn’t intend to offend you.”

“You need to be more careful, Alicia, one of these days your mouth will say something to someone who isn’t going to be as self-controlled as me.”

“I did say we’re loners for a reason. But you raise a possibility I hadn’t noticed. Not so much as part of his criteria, but as part of his reason for what he is doing. Maybe he is looking to create the connection you share with your family.”

I considered her words. “Do you mean my family specifically or the idea of the connection my god engenders?”

It was her turn to consider. She took longer, that they could work out things that should be impossible to do so didn’t mean it happened fast. “I don’t think your family is visible enough to be targeted at you specifically, but the Society does have public members now, and while most of them are careful not to offend the average person, it’s impossible to listen to them for an extended period of time and not work out the implications of that kind of sex drive would involve within a family unit. And the killer is imitating sigils. Of that, there is no doubt. Could he accidentally write something that works?”

I shook my head. “It needs to be our blood, our cum, the power flows through us. With anyone else’s all you get are drawing. Why did you say he had more criteria before we got sidetracked, but didn’t sound certain?”

“There’s something in the pattern of the information. I can’t see what it is but I can see that it is there. There will be something about each boy he picks that sets them apart, but it’s going to be something subjective to him, that I suspect will only make sense in hindsight.”

“Or if I can get in his head.”

She smiled. “You are one of the few within the Society I suspect can do so.” She indicated my phone. “I have given you as much information as I could gather or gleam as to who your killer is.”

“I don’t know if I want to get in the head of a man like that.”

She got out of the seat. “That’s for you to decide. Oh, before I leave, someone’s looking for you.”

I chuckled. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

She placed her hand on my arm. “Wyatt, someone in this club is looking for you.”

I looked around at the crowd, then at Alicia.

“I don’t know who, but I can sense the pattern of their search.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t think their intent is negative.”

“Thanks for the warning.” I finished my drink and stood. “If they’re looking for me, I should make myself visible and get it over with. You want to dance?”

She chuckled. “Not in this crowd. Women having their hands all over me isn’t my idea of a good time.”

“There are men here too.”

“And they will be all over you. You have fun. I am going to head home.”

“Thanks again Alicia, I owe you.”

“And I will collect, I’m simply not certain when.” She left, vanishing far sooner than she should have considering how light the crowd was near the booths.

He made my way back on the dance floor and lost myself in the sound and movement, even enduring the too-personal touches that stayed over my jeans. Eventually, I noticed a man had been dancing before me for longer than normal and once I looked him over, I knew he was who Alicia had warned me about, and I could have laughed.

I hadn’t seen him up close since he’d been with the forensic specialists by the house, but even out of his government-appointed suit the otter was distinctive with his light brown fur with almost white marking around his eyes. I wondered if he had raccoon somewhere in his far ancestry.

I figured the easiest way to see if this was entirely work-related was to grab him, pull him to me and grind against him as we twirled to the music. Oh, he was definitely into me. No matter his reasons to be looking for me, we were going to have a good time.

* * * * *

“Fuck,” he panted, leaning back against me, his fur matted by more than sweat. We were seated in the massive seat that was in my luxury hotel room with some movie playing on the wall before us.

I’d offered for us to retire to my hotel after a few drinks and a lot more dancing. While he was definitely into me, he was a perfect gentleman the entire time, which just made me want to do what we’d just done even more. A guy with the self-restraint not to turn into a slut even when he knew the guy he would do him without question was such a turn on. I’d asked if he wanted to watch a movie as I made us coffee and when we’d sat, with him on my lap.

We watched the movie only for as long as it took for us to finish our coffees. Then we were making out, clothing came off, and he was bouncing on my lap.

“Am I as good as you’ve been told?” I asked, nuzzling, and nipping at his neck. I loved the thickness of otter fur I could sink my teeth into it.

“What do you mean?” he asked, almost purred.

“We’ve had sex, Eli, I think we can be honest with one another, don’t you?”

“It’s Elias, I don’t like being called Eli.”

“Alright, Elias, I expect Special Agent in Charge Zikabar Malhotra Bodenman gave you a rundown of who I am before sending you to seduce me.” The otter stiffened. “Hey, it’s okay,” I whispered. “I’m flattered, really. Anyone other than him would have sent a goon squad. I love sex a whole lot more than fighting.”

“Really?” he replied, relaxing again. “That’s not what I heard.”

I smiled. “Fine. But I do like sex more than fighting, even if it isn’t by a lot.”

“I heard you can fuck without stopping.”

“That is true.”

“Can I get a demonstration?”

“Why don’t you tell me why you were sent to seduce me first?”

“Can’t you guess?” he moved his ass against me and I reacted.

“I can, but I prefer being certain.” I ground back, and it didn’t take long I was in him again.

“My boss wants to know what you found out.”

“You should start by telling me what you know, so I don’t have to worry about going over it again and wasting your time.” My hand closed over his—

Right, keeping this more general audience. We had fun, a whole lot of fun. We did so for over twelve hours, only stopping five minutes here and there to talk and see who could get the other to reveal the most.

I won that part, no doubt about it.

As for the sex, I’m not sure who got the most out of that, but he definitely got his demonstration of Orr sexual superiority.

I so can’t wait for Zikabar to send him to question me again.


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Home for the holi— vacation 2020-06-29T22:43:46+00:00

This one is going to be short, I had something I wanted to talk about, but I forgot what it is.

So, I’m home after a mostly uneventful week going up and down the east coast. The truck is in the shop, with a list of things to fix. The top one being the AC, yet again. With summer here and the heat getting to hit full force, I’ll need it if the company wants me to not idle the truck.

Other than that, I still can’t recall what I wanted to talk about, so that’ll be it. I’ll see you on the next one.

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Virtual Friendship CH 05 2020-07-20T15:00:12+00:00
Bobby reached up and grabbed the store’s facade, bringing it down to eye level. He unraveled it, studying the image’s components, he brought down the hue a few percents, raised the saturation and set it back up to look at it from the distance of people walking by. He doubted anyone would notice the difference, but it was more pleasing and inviting.

He breathed in, then raised the scent of bread until he could just make it out, creating a trail for it leading to the door. Outright hacking of Implants was impossible, but it was always possible to use psychology to influence others. Commercial entopic was mainly the use of the senses to affect decision making, from visual to tactile to olfactory to auditory.

Audio.

They hadn’t paid for that, but it wouldn’t feel complete without it. He added the sound of people coming from within the store, pleasant, but indistinct conversation, adding to the inviting atmosphere. He adjusted the sound trail to lead to the door, but never increase to where the conversation should be understandable. There was nothing more annoying to a customer than reaching the point where he could make out detail and realized it was fake.

He took a step back and tripped, cursing as he fell on his bed. He needed a larger workspace. One of the many things he needed. Reflexively he ran a hand along the leg brace to ensure it was still in place before standing and pushing the entopic display back to gain the proper perspective. It looked good. He’d make the final adjustment when he installed it.

A beep and visual prompt warned him of an incoming call on his business line. “Power Entopic Design,” Bobby answered, packaging the file and breaking it apart for ensured security before storing it within three of his vaults. It wasn’t like he expected anyone to want to steal his world-shattering designs, but growing up around his father, safety was something he’d had to learn. Con men didn’t go only after the rich folks.

“Mister Bobby Power?” a woman said, “this is Inspector Melanson, out of Wichita.”

Bobby launched the corporate map. “What can I do for law enforcement?” Wichita came up as part of the Kansas City Sprawl.

“Are you the son of a Logan Power?” she asked, and Bobby sighed.

“What has my father used me to do this time?” It wasn’t enough his father had managed to clone his original DNA ID tag and kept using it in his cons, every so often he found a way to put Bobby directly in it.

“I’m not aware you’re involved in this, but your name did come up when I ran his through the system. I need you to make a deposition in regards to the crimes he committed against you before we can bring him up before the judging system.”

Bobby needed a few seconds to process what she’d said. “You caught him?” His father had managed to remain ahead of the law through guile and his connection with the criminal world. Logan Power worked mostly alone, but he was smart enough to know the value of allies and favors or blackmail material.

“He was arrested for violation of consent two days ago, and as we processed him multiple other cases against him came up, so we’re contacting anyone we can reach to build a stronger case and hopefully get him out of circulation for good.”

“Any chance he’s going to end up in one of the work camps? No one should spend money on a personality processing, or even risk it, knowing him he has something in place to make you think it worked, then resurface to go back about his usual business.”

“I’m not in charge of setting his punishment, but shouldn’t you want something less severe for your father?”

Bobby let out a bark of laughter. “Have you looked at what he did to me? I’m a fucking invalid because he wanted access to my ID tag. Do you have any idea what happens to someone when they get their Implants at the age of four? Do you fucking know how screwed up interaction between it and the brain gets because the brain changes too much once the Implant is fully deployed? You want me to send you the studies that have been done on me trying to fix the damage?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well, as far as I’m concerned, I want him shipped to the Kuiper belt to dig out an asteroid by hand in preparation for setting up a new habitat. What do you need me to do?”

“Can you come to the Wichita Precinct for a full debrief?”

Bobby looked at the schedule for public transport. Tallahassee to Wichita was an hour and a half, but if he wanted it to be free, he’d have to wait until twenty people traveled on that hover. The fullest one that matched his needs way only half full.

“I can, but I have no idea when I’ll be there. I can’t afford a private hover and I’m nothing looks like it’s going to be filled any time soon.”

“What if the department paid for it? Your father has a history of slipping through our grasps, my superiors don’t want to delay this any more than we have to, they have authorized me to use department funds to ensure this is processed speedily.”

“In that case, just send one to the roof of my location, I’ll be ready in a minute or two. Oh, any idea how long that’ll take? I have a meeting scheduled for Saturday.”

“Two days will be more than enough to be done,” she answered.

“Then I’ll be waiting for transport.” Bobby terminated the call and switched out of the entopic construction room to the real-life overlay, catching a flicker of his apartment without any overlay, and as in previous times, whatever John was working on through his Implant caused him to be looking in Bobby’s direction. It was creepy at times.

He got dressed and headed to the lift as fast as his brace covered legs let him. He did not want to miss this chance to finally make his father pay for everything he’d put Bobby through.

* * * * *

“So, where are we going this time?” Nori asked, rubbing his metal hands together. He’d decided to play Thundor, his brastok wizard. Omar was looking at him in amusement, even after Nori had assured him he hadn’t created Thundor because of him, for one thing, Thundor was designed as a bull, not a tiger, and his color pallet was darker, obsidian black-blue and mahogany browns. He was also specialized as an energy wizard, instead of elemental.

“I picked last week,” Omar replied. “Marc, anything from the forums and your research indicating a good dungeon to spend the day?”

“Anything that’s going to let us fuck?” Melor asked. “Not having to come back to town to get a room is much better. Get going while still in the heat of the moment.” The carapaced bear grabbed his featureless crotch.

“Don’t you have enough underling to fuck?” Omar asked. “You act like this is the only place you get off.”

“I thought Orrs believed there was no such thing as too much fucking,” Melor replied. “Isn’t it in your constitution or something? Marc, how come there are no adult-rated dungeons? With sex monsters? You have a direct line to the devs, right? Tell them to add that.”

The skeleton fixed his eyeless gaze on the insectoid bear. “Why would you think I have a direct line to the developers?” he asked defensively. “All I did was beta test some of the worlds. Millions of people do that, it doesn’t mean any of us talk to them. Every hall of commerce within the Lands has a suggestion file. Put yours there.”

“And not everyone who plays is an Orr,” Nori said, “or sex-obsessed like you, Melor. It would be a scandal if someone, some kid, managed to make their way into one of them and get traumatized.”

“Yeah,” Marc said, “you want your very own sex dungeon? find an open world one with a caern and take control of it. As for where we can go. What’s the rush? Paul’s not here yet.”

“Where is the raccoon?” Nori asked. “He’s usually here before me and he could have kept Melor satisfied while we decide what we’re going to do.”

“Yeah,” the bear said, “How come you’re not offering to pay for a room so we can shake the walls, Omar, you’re an Orr too, right?”

The brastok tiger rolled his eyes and kept them rolling. Nori chuckled and wished he knew how to get his brastok to do that.

“Not all Orr citizens are sex-obsessed,” Omar said once his eyes settled. “In fact, didn’t some research come out fifty years or so showing that because Orr Corp is more sexually permissive, there is actually less sex happening statistically than in places like, oh, Vanguard? Which is all repressive and stuff.”

“We aren’t repressive. We have just as much sex as your Orrs do.”

“More, if that research’s right,” Nori commented and got a glare from the bear. “But anyone knows what’s delaying Longpine? Any of you talked with him this week?”

“This is the only place I talk with him,” Omar said.

“Same,” Marc added. “I know his real name, since he introduced himself when he joined the guild, but I’ve never had a reason to find him outside the Lands. If I need to contact him I leave a message on the guild board.”

“I’ve had long conversations with him that way,” Melor said, “but like you, I never contacted him outside the Lands. You’re both Orrs, haven’t you hooked up?”

“You do know how large the corporate territory is, right?” Omar replied, “I have plenty of other guys I can fuck that are much closer. I say we give him five minutes then go kill monsters.”

“I’m in,” Nori said, “So, Marc? Where are we going?”

* * * * *

Melor Crumpled on top of the brastok tiger, finally tired. For metal creatures, brastok certainly had nice soft holes. He rolled off and hit the wall. “Damn it, Who picked such a small room?”

“You did,” Marc replied, moving languidly on Nori’s brastok bull’s crotch. “Something about ‘if that’s the only room they have we’re taking it because I need to bury my <bleep> into someone’s <bleep>”

Nori chuckled. “A trying to use bad language in a general rated area. The joys.” He groans. “Yeah, just like that, tighten that ass of yours around my thick cock.”

“I did say I wanted to fuck someone at the start of all this,” Melor said. Four orgasms, that would last him until he could play again in a few days. “Now I need to head out. Meetings and such.”

“Is that what they call fucking all your underlings in Vanguard?” Omar asked. “We just call it fucking all my underlings here in Orr Corp.”

“I’d fuck that ass of yours again, just for that, if I had the time,” Melor replied.

“But Seriously, Mel,” Nori said, “you’re the boss, don’t overwork yourself like that.”

Eight years, David thought. He could survive that long and then be the boss. “If I don’t set the example, what am I going to do when my underlings slack off?”

“Fuck them?” Omar offered.

“Punishment is supposed to make them not want to do what they are being punished for, not get them to do it more. I’m posting my schedule for the next thirty days on the board, hopefully, we can fuck together again.” He slapped the metal ass next to him and exited to the game’s lobby, cutting off Omar’s complaint halfway through. No message from Paul Longpine on the board letting them know he’d be late, or couldn’t come, in this case. David wondered what kept him so busy he’d forgotten this basic courtesy.

He posted his schedule, then stepped through the portal, leaving Melor Bareback’s from behind and received a notification as he stepped into his personal lobby.

File received, “I do not Consent” from Bobby Power.

David looked back at the portal. Had Bobby joined the game as he left? He brought up the guild’s active player list. Nope, Paul was still inactive. Weird timing then. It looked at if the file had reached him in the instant he’d transitions out of the Land’s lobby.

He opened the file and looked at gibberish. What was this? Broken code? A corrupted file? Wasn’t it impossible for files to be corrupted during sending anymore? When had it happened last? A hundred fifty years ago? At least that’s what a quick search told him. That was the last reported case.

Of course, David knew that not everything got reported. Corporations controlled the flow of information, no matter what anyone believed, and if they didn’t want something known? No one found out about it. Maybe file corruption was still a thing even with all the safeguards.

He set to call Bobby so he could resend the file when someone called him.

“David, I see you’re out of your game. How about you joined me? I could use some of your tender care.”

With a sigh, David stored the file in his lobby. “I’ll be right there,” he answered. He’d look at it again later and call Bobby when he had the time.

* * * * *

Nori came with a scream, the skeleton’s ass massaging his twitching cock, then went limp. “Fuck, how do bones do that?”

“It’s a game,” Marc said, “the laws of reality are flexible. Bone can be malleable. Metal can be soft.”

“Unfortunately, time can’t be stretched,” Nori said. “I should head home, I might be on vacation still, but I do have a family commitment.”

“How long is your vacation still?”

“A month. After three years in space, my dad treats me to a long vacation, which my mom keeps insisting I spend visiting them. I’m not certain my mom understands what a vacation is, but that is where I’m going tonight. So, I’ll see you next time.” Nori did the double clap that took him to the Lands of Farr lobby and he stretched, enjoying the sound of the gears.

Not for the first time, he wondered if Omar felt the gears move. Nori’s immersion suit gave him all sorts of sensory input, but they were all external, touch, scent’s tastes. The only reason he could feel a cock moving in his ass when in the game was that the suit came is the right inserted attachment. Anything that took place under the skin wasn’t something he felt. Omar’s Implant could probably make him feel anything, including indigestion. Nori chuckled at the idea of the brastok tiger getting food poisoning in the game.

Nori took the time to look through his other characters. Who would he play next? More precisely, who could use a touch-up? Kardan, he decided. Next time he’d play his druid and redesign his look. He commanded the termination of his connection to the Lands of Farr and found himself in darkness. A faint beeping told him a file had come in, but it didn’t have the urgent code, so he took his time taking off the suit’s mask, blinking at the low light in his room.

Looking at the wall display he saw the file was from Bobby, Paul Longpine’s player. The name was “I do not Consent.”

“Play latest file,” he ordered the room’s system.

“Unable to comply,” was the response, “file is not a recognized format.”

What kind of file would his system not recognize? Bobby owned and entopic design company, could he have sent him that? His house wasn’t designed to run those, Fuck he didn’t think anything in the city was. No one here had Implants. “Store file to Nori storage, tag it with the date of receipt.” He’d take a look at it later, it might be worth getting a projection system to see what Bobby had sent. But that would be after a shower and definitely after dinner with his parents if he didn’t want to be shipped to the Oort cloud as punishment.

* * * * *

Marc barely stopped his fall forward. “He just couldn’t give me the time to get off him, could he?”

“Independents don’t really get the consequences of just vanishing,” Omar said. “It’s not real to them.”

“It’s not real at all,” Marc said, standing. “It’s just a game.”

The Barstok tiger looked up at him from the floor. “You have time for another fuck?” He stroked his metal shaft.

“I probably have the time, but that just means I’ll have to work longer in the night to clear my workload. Don’t you have work?”

The tiger let out a clanking laugh. “I wish. My boss has it in his head that I overwork myself, so he enforces my workday and time off. I have another seven hours before I can officially get back to work.”

“Can he do that? What about your consent?”

“The law has health-related clauses. Like if you’re judged to need some operation to survive, the doctor doesn’t need to ask for your consent to operate. They’ll do so and you can sue them afterward if you were hoping to die. My boss got a doctor to state that I have unhealthy work habits and therefore mandating my schedule if a health-related situation and I don’t have to consent to it, I just have to live with it.”

“I wouldn’t think an Orr doctor would agree to something like that. Couldn’t you plead your case?”

“Waste of time. My dad agrees with my boss, so he signed what was needed without even asking me.”

“Your father is the doctor that enforced that time off? That sucks. But I’m still going to leave the game. My clients only have so much patience. I’m sure there’s plenty of guys who’d love to feel that pumping in their ass.”

Omar chuckled. “If I’m going to fuck strangers, I prefer doing that in the real world. This is to spend time with you guys. Have fun with work. I need to do some management here then I’ll leave too.”

Marc stepped through the portal into the Land’s lobby and Horrace stepped out of it and into his own to the notification he had sixty-seven files waiting for him. He noted the one from Bobby and filed it for later processing. His clients came first.

* * * * *

Trevor stared at the file “I do not Consent” It had appeared as soon as he’d stepped out of the Lands of Farr game entirely. A check had shown it had been waiting there for some time. He couldn’t find out how long without a warrant, the Lands of Farr designers were adamant about protecting the game’s data. There had been a fear it would become a place from criminal to meet and plan, but as far as the research showed, it wasn’t. Stories were floating around in less reputable areas of the network about attempts to use the Lands as secure meeting places, but anytime they tried, system glitches would disconnect them, or dump them into a dungeon or some other random event that made planning a crime impossible.

Without being able to study the game’s code, there was no way to know how true the stories were, but Trevor could see the designers acting that way to ensure the police never had a reason to for them to expose their precious code.

He’s suggested to Uncle they take a gander through the game’s code, but Uncle as just shaken his head and told him he had better things to do than see how a game was coded.

The file Bobby sent him made no sense. It was large. So large he’d expected a fully immersive simulation, Bobby did do entopic design. But it didn’t register as such. He tried to step into his work lobby, only to be informed he still had six and a half hours to go before entry was permitted.

He looked for Bobby’s contact information. Having to go through multiple databases to find the right Bobby Power, who owned Power Entopic Design, but he wasn’t accepting calls, either personal or business-related. Trevor left a message asking him to contact him back when he had the time and tried to set the file aside.


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Virtual Friendship CH 05.pdf (59.8KiB)

Just Cause 03 (Rated G) 2020-07-19T15:00:08+00:00
As he walked, the path went from trampled grass to packed dirt as the forest lightened and disappeared. When it merged with a stone road the hills were covered with growing wheat with the occasional farmhouse visible.

He could just make out a palisade in the distance when a group of people became visible, running in his direction. Michael walked faster, returning their waving. As they became clearer, he realized their waving was frantic, telling him to turn back.

“Monsters!” the man in the lead yelled. “A horde of them attacking the village, run away!” Six followed him, three men and three women. “Didn’t you hear me!” the man yelled as Michael got closer. “Flee or you’ll die. The militia will never be here on time, the other will all die.”

Others? Die?

“You left people behind?” Michael asked.

“I told them to run! But the fools are waiting for the city’s militia.”


Quest: Windfall is under attack
Type: Situational
The village of Windfall is under attack by a horde of monster and the city militia is nowhere in sight. Not everyone can be saved, but any help will help
Will you help the village of Windfall?


Of course, Michael thought, as he picked up speed. The city had to be Novus Roma, which Gilda said was two scores of days, forty days, they might have outposts, but the quest said they wouldn’t get here on time.

What kind of place was this that information just showed up on the right side then minimized to the bottom? At least it wasn’t in the middle of his vision. He’d thought the skill list had been something Gilda had made happen, but if everything worked like that here, it would take some getting used to.

“The other way!” the man yelled as Michael ran by him.

“I’m not leaving people to be killed!” Michael yelled back and ignored the comments. They were dressed simply, pants and shirts, the one in the lead had a rough vest. They reminded him of pictures from medieval people. Maybe the sword and shield hadn’t simply been an affectation from Gilda, but was the norm here? Had he somehow been transported back in time?

Had the past had those messages for everyone to see?

He ran by another group, these much slower because they were helping three injured men. Michael made out animal bites and claw marks. Were the monsters just wild animals?


You have learned a skill
Running, level 1


The message stayed only long enough for him to read then disappeared in the bottom right where all the others had gone. He’d learned how to run by running? He’d already known how to do that, this made little sense.

Screams ahead told him to worry about that later. He pulled the sword out of its scabbard and hoped using it would come as easily, because that he’d never used before.

He ran through the open section of the palisade and wooden houses were on the other side, spread apart. They were mainly once story hovels, with a handful of two-story ones. He saw people inside through the windows. A few looked at him in terror. Whatever was attacking, those buildings wouldn’t offer any protection. The screaming came from further in, as well as… some sort of animalistic screeching.

He ran around a building and froze. A man was fighting two… creatures were the only term Micheal could ascribe to them, using a pitchfork. They were small, hardly more than two feet in height with gray leathery skin, but fought viciously. The man screamed as one creature lunged at his leg and bit.

Michael Pushed through his surprise and ran to help him, slashing twice and cutting both creatures in two.


You have gained a level
Slashing, Sword: One-handed, level 2


He let the notification fade away. That had been surprisingly easy.

“Can you walk?” He asked the man.

“Are you from the city?” he replied.

“No, but I’m still going to help.” Michael looked toward the screeching and yells. “How many of these things are there?”

“A horde.”

Not helpful, Michael thought, but the man already looked freaked out enough he didn’t need berating. “Get as many people as you can and get out of here?”

“The city militia will be here, they will save us, Praetore Granius promised us protection when we joined his protectorate.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like they are going to be here on time. Get everyone you can and head out of the village!”


You have learned a skill
Leadership, level 1


The man nodded and hobbled to the closest door and Michael ran for the noise. He nearly froze again, a thirty feet section of the palisade was down with a dozen burly men doing their best to keep the creature from breaking through. Michael hadn’t known what to think when the man had said a horde, but through the opening, but the creatures were massed further than he could see.

He ran by bodies, dead men and creatures, and jumped in place of a man as he fell.


You have learned a skill
Jumping, level 1


He slashed at the horde of creatures, each swipes felling three, but more taking their places.


You have gained a level
Slashing, Sword: One-handed, level 3


He used his shield as best as he could to bash them, but they grabbed onto it, their weight pulling him down until he could shake them off.


You have gained a level
Shield, bashing, level 2


The man on his left and right were fighting with clubs that might have been farm implement before. The creatures slashed sharp claws at him. His armor took the brunt of them. But they left furrows in the hard leather and too quickly he felts the cuts in his flesh.

At the bottom of his vision, a bar flashed into existence, red and a little of it disappeared with each cut it felt. It faded away if he could avoid getting hurt for a few seconds, but it didn’t replenish. In the upper right of an icon appeared, a blood drop, more piling on each time he felt claws.

The man on his right fell under half a dozen creature, his pained screams ending when one bite his neck open, creating a feeding frenzy.

Michael swallowed bile and looked away to deal with his own assault. For the moment the frenzy was keeping any of them from pushing through and into the village.


You are now level 2


He could feel blood leaking under his armor from all the cuts the creatures caused. A bar appeared, this one yellow and dropped steadily as the exhaustion of the fight took its toll. The visual indicators were nice, not that he could make use of them and go rest.

His right bracer was gone, cut, and chewed to pieces. Each swipe of his sword left it worse for wear. It might be iron, but it wasn’t good quality. More creatures fell under his sword. With one more bash, his wooden shield fell to pieces. He kicked, slashed, and punched.


You have learned a skill
Kicking, level 1


You have gained a level
Brawling, level 2


You are now level 3


His red bar dropped below half, the yellow one was at a quarter. He barely had enough strength to swing his sword, and with the next one that no longer mattered as it broke. A wave of creature staggered him back. He punched, but his movements were sluggish. Unlike before, he just shoved those he punched back, instead of killing them.

They were around him, more running into the village now that most of the protectors were down.

They threw themselves at him and he barely managed to remain standing. The red bar dropped steadily toward the quarter the yellow one had no more than ten percent left.

Whatever this world was, he wouldn’t get to experience it.

He was saddened, he’d hoped to make more of his second chance, but at least he’d go down swinging and protecting people.

The creature that had made it to his shoulder flew off and back into the horde. Behind Michael, someone yelled and more arrows flew around him, hitting the creatures. He managed to shake more off, but there were still too many, His red bar was still going down even if he did manage to keep them from hurting him, or at least he through he was. He wasn’t sure he could feel anything as tired as he was.

A gloved hand grabbed a creature off Michael and three it away. A sword stabbed through another. Hands pulled Michael back and then were dragging him as he lost his footing. He made out chainmail, glinting in the sunlight, a white cloth over the front with s symbol he didn’t understand. He was propped seated against a wall.

“Astair! I need you,” a man yelled. “This man is dying!” A face appeared in his sight, so damned young, tanned skin, green eyes. “You’re going to be okay, Astair will see to you.” The face left.

Michael wasn’t certain how okay he’d be, the red bar was still dropping even though he was out of the fight. He’d be out of it permanently soon.

Since he had nothing else to do while he waited to die he looked at the blood drop icon and tried to understand what it meant.


You are bleeding. (stackable)
You’ve received a cutting injury and will lose 1 hit point per second until you heal one hit point. Each debuff will cause the loose of 1 hit points per second, but they are all canceled with the healing of 1 hit points.


Michael smiled to himself, so that was why there was so much of a push to use first aid as quickly as possible. One application stopped all blood loss. This system of messages made understanding why he should do something so much easier.

A shadow fell over him as his hit points fell dangerously close to the ten percent mark, the red bar now flashing. He looked up at a gaunt face, gray eyes. The man placed a hand on Michael’s chest and closed his eyes. He thought he saw light glowing under the hand, but before he could focus on it he was busy gasping as he felt better and the hit point bar rose above the quarter mark. The stack of blood drop icons faded away as one.

The gaunt man stood and walked up without a word.

Michael sat more comfortably. He still hurt, but he didn’t seem to be in danger of dying anymore. The hit point bar faded away and the yellow one appeared, the bar slowly going up. His stamina? Tiredness?

Men in chainmail were fighting the creatures; no, massacring them. They acted in coordinated lines, spears holding the front back, archers firing into the body of the horde. Michael didn’t even see one of them get bitten or clawed. This was now just a question of how long it would take for them to kill or push the creatures back.


Quest Complete: Windfall is under attack
With your help, the horde was held back until the city Militia arrived. Congratulation.


You are now level 4


That was nice. The message faced away, then the box in the bottom right also faded. He focused on it and it became opaque again, the list of messages scrolling up until he closed his eyes to avoid being overwhelmed. When he opened them, the box was gone, but if he looked in that corner, it came back. He looked away before all the massages appeared again.

He focused at the bottom of his vision and three bars appeared, one red, still just above the quarter mark, one yellow, which was nearly full, and one blue, which was full. Hit points, stamina, and…what was the blue one for?

He looked in the upper left, leaving the bars to fade away. And a box there appeared, then expanded to cover a third of the left side of his vision


Name: Michael Vladmyr Rostov
Level: 4
Race: Human

Statistics
Strength: 14
Agility 12
Intelligence 11
Endurance 15
Wisdom 8

Statistic Points to distribute: 15
Trait points to distribute: 4

Hit Points: 44 out of 150
Stamina points: 164 out of 164
Mana points: 91 out of 91

Skills

Marshal: Level 1
Thrust, Sword: One-handed, level 1
Slashing, Sword: One-handed, level 6
Parry, Sword: One-handed, level 1
Thrust, Knife, level 1
Slashing, Knife, level 1
Parry, knife, level 1
Shield, blocking, level 1
Shield, bashing, level 2
Brawling, level 2
Dodge, level 1
Kicking, level 1
Dodge, level 1
Leadership, level 1

Athletic: Level 1
Running, level 1
Jumping, level 1


Looking at it, he realized this reminded him of the Dungeons and Dragons games some of the soldiers would play between deployments. Fantasy worlds with character sheets governing what the players could do.

Was that what this was? Was he in one of those games? He groaned as he shifted. This didn’t feel like a game.

He focused on this character sheet again as it began fading. He had fifteen points he could assign to his statistics. How did that work? He focused on wisdom.


Wisdom is an indication of how wise you are. Wisdom is the basis of magic and governs how much Mana you have, as well as bonuses to your spells.


It was nice that the stat was explained, Michael thought, if only it told him how to raise it.

He waited, but no information came up.

This was probably something he should have asked Gilda about.

Increase Wisdom, he thought.


Wisdom 9


Michael smiled. That was easy. He increased it again.


Wisdom 10


Now he was just as wise as everyone else. No more making stupid decisions like letting a three-star general talk you into a covert mission you didn’t feel good about or letting Stravinsky talk you into storming that house guns blazing just because those were the orders.

He focused on Strength


Strength is an indicator of how strong you are. It governs how much physical damage you are capable of doing as well as how much weight you can carry.


He considered increasing it, putting all his points in there would make him a force to be reckoned with, but he hesitated. Was that the wisest way to do this? He’d gone from level one to four and gained fifteen points. He had five stats, so he could raise everything by three.
He wished he could ask one of those D&D players what was the best way to do this.
He looked at his other stats


Agility is an indicator of your adeptness at physical tasks and governs physical skills.


Intelligence is an indicator of how smart you are and governs mental skills.


Endurance is an indicator of how tough you are and governs how many hit points and stamina you have.


His maximum hit points were one-fifty while his stamina was one-sixty-four, so there was more to it than just the stat. The difference between his stamina and hit point was fourteen, which was his strength. The one-fifty was his endurance times ten. His mana was one-eleven now, that was ten times his wisdom plus his intelligence. The only stat that didn’t have an impact was agility, but that impacted his skills.

So what was the best way to do this?

“I see Astair did keep you alive,” someone said, and Michael looked up at the young face and green eyes, now sweaty. His tabard—that was what those were called—was bloody.

“He did, thank you. And thanks for the rescue. I figured I was dead.”

I didn’t expect to find anyone alive, to be honest.” The man offered him his hand and pulled Michael to his feet. “I’m Primus Joran.”

“Michael, Michael Rostov.”

“Not a Centurion then?” Joran asked. “I thought you might have been from one of the other outposts.”

“I’m…” Michael trailed off. This was a new start for him. He could keep his disgrace to himself. “I was a soldier, but I had a disagreement with a superior officer and I was stripped of my rank.”

The centurion looked back to the broken palisade where other soldiers were piling the creatures together. “They disagreed with how brave you were?”

Michael shook his head. “It was more political.”

“That’s why I intend to remain a centurion. Never have to deal with politics that way. I’d be honors if you traveled with us. We’re going to escort the survivors back to Novus Roma, this village isn’t safe anymore. It’s the gods’ work that the dead number under a hundred.”

“A hundred dead?” Michael asked, his hands starting to shake. He closed them into fists and looked around, not hearing Joran’s answer. He spotted an open doorway and what looked like an empty room beyond it. “Excuse me.” He hurried inside and closed the door.

No, no, no. He was supposed to save them. That was his job. “One job, Michael, you had one job and you managed to screw that up.” What if he’d lost more? What if everyone in the village had died because he was such an incompetent soldier? How many could have died because of him? Another hundred? A thousand? Was this any better than kicking the door in and opening fire on everyone inside? How had he thought he’d do anything other than screw this up? He’d screw up everything else, his marriage, any job he’d tried to keep after being discharged, he’d lost his house. Why had he thought this place was going to be any different?

Banging on the door made him back away. “Michael?” Joran called. “Are you alright?”

Michael noticed the blinking icon in the upper right an focused on it


Panic Attack (trait, static)
When things go wrong it’s normal to panic, but in your case sometimes the simple through that something could go wrong, or have been worse, causes your body to react as if it was reality. While under a panic attack all skills and spells suffer a -25 level penalty. The Debuff will last until the attack is stopped.


Michael let out a pained laugh. That was about right. He did wish the information had come with how he could stop it. Joran’s interruption had seemed to do the trick this time.

“Michael?” Joran called again.

“Yeah.” Michael calmed his breathing, tried to straighten what he wore, but there was nothing he could do about the state of his armor. He pulled the door opened. “Sorry, I needed…” how was he going to explain what had happened to him?

“I take it you never had to go toe to toe with a horde of goblins while in your previous military.”

Goblins, that’s what those had been? “Yeah, I can say this was a first.”

“They can be pretty nasty. Easy to kill, but there’s always so many of them. If you’re not equipped to keep them away, they’ll overrun you.”

“Bury me was more what it looked like.”

“How are you? Can you walk? You don’t look able to carry anyone, but there isn’t any place in the wagons we’ve been able to collect, so if you’re coming with us, you have to walk.”

“I’m sore, but walking should be fine.”

“Good, how are you about wearing the armor of someone who died? Using his sword? You don’t look like you can do much currently.”

“I… I don’t know, I’ve never had to do it before.”

“It’s three days to the camp, and I doubt it’s going to be eventless. With the goblins breaching the protectorate, other things will have made their way in. We’ll have to cleanse the entire area before we can see about resettling it.”

“Joran,” an older man called. “We’re ready to go, has your friend decided?”

“I’m going,” Michael answered.

“Good. Lucius, you and your men are staying here to make sure those goblins are burned. Then your torching the village, I don’t want any trace of the incursion left.”

“Isn’t that extreme?” Michael asked Joran as he followed the younger man.

“There are smart monsters out there. If they get an idea there were people here, they might decide to see where they went. That would lead them deeper inside the protectorate, place other people in danger.” He took a chainmail shirt out of a wagon carrying injured villagers. “Put this on. You’ll probably have to wait until we’re in Novus Roma to get something better fitting, but I can promise that after your heroism here, fitted chainmail is the minimum you’ll get. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Prefect himself will want to meet you.”

The weight of the chain mail was more than he’d expected, but it rested comfortably over the undershirt. The sword was much better than the one that had broken fighting the goblins.

With the scent of burning goblins on the breeze the order to move out came.

“Joran,” Michael asked. “Do you have any recommendations as to how I could distribute my points?”

The look the young man gave Michael made him suspect the other had decided he wasn’t entirely sane.


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Just Cause 03.pdf (53.4KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 29 2020-07-28T13:00:09+00:00
Trembor opened an eye and glanced at the time. For a moment he was confused as to why his clock wasn’t on the side table, then he remembered he was in Marlot’s home. He’d been sleeping here a few times a week for the last few months, and still, he wasn’t getting used to it.

He grabbed his pad and checked the time. Still a couple of minutes to go. He thought about putting the family lock on, technically he was still working. He’d taken it off by reflex once he’d entered the house.

He eased himself out of the bed, making sure not to jostle Marlot, and limped to the bathroom, his pad in hand. It vibrated as he closed the door.

“Hello Palinox,” he answered, keeping his voice low.

“You’re there! Why are you whispering?”

“Marlot is still sleeping.”

“Oh. Why aren’t you sleeping with him?”

“Because I’m awake. I woke up a few minutes ago.”

“Oh,” his nephew sounded disappointed. “I didn’t beat the alarm.”

“It hasn’t sounded yet. I just woke up early.”

“You had enough sleep.”

“Yes, I did. You have a good day.”

“I will.”

The call ended. He looked for his earpiece, so he could talk while grooming, but then remembered he’d left it in his jacket. He considered getting it, but if one of the morning calls came while he was moving about, he might wake his wolf. He’d have to groom one-handed.

He grabbed the brush and started on his mane as his pad buzzed again.

“Have you washed your ears?” Dayra asked.

Trembor chuckled. The youngest of his nieces had taken over making sure everyone properly cleaned, but unlike Issa, she changed focus from one week to the other. “Not yet,” He replied. “I’m brushing my mane.”

“I’m happy I won’t get one. It’s too much work. You better clean your ears, otherwise, it’ll get full of icky stuff and someone else is going to have to dig it out.”

“I’ll be sure to do that, don’t worry.”

“Okay, bye.”

As soon as she disconnected, the pad buzzed again.

“Hello,” he answered when the other didn’t say anything.

“Hey.”

Trembor frowned and had to glance down at his pad to see the number. “Herelex, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I guess. Palinox called to say you were answering today.”

“I’m back in the city for today, so I unlocked it.”

“Uncle, Am I supposed to feel this weird when I’m around females?”

“What do you mean?” Trembor stopped brushing and leaned back against the sink.

“My insides feel all weird, like they’re twisting around when I’m close to the one female at the academy.”

“A lioness?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re first heat is coming close.”

“Oh.” His nephew sounded disappointed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I thought I’d be feeling that for a male. Not a female.”

“That isn’t how you’re first heat works. You’re reacting to the chemicals in a female’s scent. Once it starts, then you’ll feel like that for anyone around you. Have you told your father?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want him to think I’m weird. I already told him I preferred males.”

“Herelex, your father isn’t going to think that. He saw me go through the same thing, and once it was past, I was interested in males only again. You will too.”

“Is there anything I can do? I don’t even like her.”

“It doesn’t have to be her. There have to be other lionesses at the academy who are ready. Get to know some of them.”

“I guess.” His nephew was silent for a time, “I better let you go,” he said, then disconnected.

Trembor wished there was an easier way for the youth of these days to go through their first heat. Someone should build a matching program. Maybe he could get Marlot to do that, he was enough of a techhead he’d probably enjoy it.

By the time he finished brushing his body, Gansir, Miril, and Nerik had also called him. None of them had anything urgent to say, they’d simply learned he was taking called and had wanted to talk. He liked hearing their voices first thing in the morning.

He’d hoped Marlot could get used to it, because once they moved into their new house, it wouldn’t stop. Right now he was still terrified from that first time his wolf had slept at his home, right after Trembor’s shoulder had healed. He’d picked up the pad by reflex when it buzzed and had found himself bombarded with questions from young cubs who had yet to meet him.

Trembor brushed his teeth and made sure his ears were clean before leaving the bathroom. Marlot was seated and looking over his lion’s naked body. Trembor sat next to him.

“Is it safe?” Marlot indicated the pad.

“Yes. They’re having breakfast by now, and then they’ll have to get ready for their day. Only Dayra and Nerik don’t go to the academy yet, but they go to a care center for the day.” He could see Marlot try to place the names. “Dayra is one of Baytil and Ufen’s daughter.”

Marlot nodded. “Ufen is the one with the rings in his fur, right?”

“Yes, his grandfather was a panther.”

“Right, I still can’t place Baytil. I know I’ve met her at the family dinners we’re gone to, because I remember Ufen, but you have so many siblings, not to mention they’re mated and have children, that I just can’t keep them all straight.”

Trembor kissed the top of his head. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll manage it in time. Nerik is Elin and Juress’s son.”

“Oh, right, he came to the hospital with your parents, well, your father and mother. His sister and yours were there too.”

“That’s him.”

“He wanted my pad number.” He eyed Trembor’s. “That’s why you said not to give it to them.”

“They can be overwhelming.”

“Don’t I know it. They scared me out of the attic that first time.”

Trembor chuckled. He’d seen it, but Trembor had told him about all the cubs questioning him about their relationship. Something he hadn’t been quite ready to talk about at that point.

“But you get along with them now. I’d be willing to swear you’re becoming their favorite.”

“Yeah, I do like them. When they aren’t calling this early in the morning.”

“It isn’t that bad. If you’d talk to them, they’d get used to it, and what happened that morning wouldn’t happen again.”

“So you say.”

“I do.” He stood. “I’ll go get breakfast ready.”

“I should be doing that. You need to give your leg a rest.”

“It’s just sprained, and my arms only have a few scratches. You have stitches. Stay in bed, I’ll warm come meat and be right back.”


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A Familiar Death CH 29.pdf (95.5KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 28 2020-07-27T13:00:10+00:00
“You’re lucky,” the medic said as she shaved the fur around the gash in Marlot’s side. He hadn’t realized he was bleeding until after he’d called Bahamel, the pain distracting him from smelling it. Trembor had bandaged it as best as he could, using his ruined shirt. Watching his mate shirtless had given something better for Marlot to think about.

“I don’t feel it,” he grumbled as she wiped loose fur off the wound with a disinfectant wipe. “I feel like I got what I deserved for being careless.”

The medic smiled at him. “You’re still alive, so you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”

Marlot studied her as she applied a numbing gel around the wound. Almost immediately the pain diminished. She was a sheep with dark brown wool, turning gray in place. Her work as a medic was one of the reasons she’d managed to live this long, medic couldn’t be hunted when they were on duty, but the scars on her arms indicated that she’d been in her share of fights, and lived.

It felt strange watching someone whose life was at risk every day be this alive, while the farmers back at the town, who never had to worry about being hunted, looked to be a shadow of her.

Did prey need to be in danger to feel alive? He almost asked her, but stopped himself. He would be callous of him at the very least. So he watched her sew the wound shut in silence.

“There, you might have a small scar, but the fur is going to cover it.” She put the needle in a box for contaminated instruments.

He looked at her arms again, with the scars showing through the wool. What had the predator who’d done that to her been like?

“I don’t mean to be insensitive, but how many predators have you survived?”

She looked up at him and then her arms. “Oh, I got those in the war. I was in the Protectors before becoming a medic.” She smiled. “The predators in my neighborhood know better than to think I’m their next meal.”

Marlot nodded.

“Well,” said a large bear as she stepped next to him. “Didn’t I tell you not to wait for another disaster before arranging to see me again?”

Marlot chuckled, then winced as both of his sides hurt.

“You’re going to want to be careful,” the medic said. “Even laughing too hard could tear the stitches.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think my cracked ribs will let me.” Marlot forced his breathing to slow. “And I didn’t arrange this, although I have an idea who did.”

“What to share?” Bahamel asked.

“I don’t know the name, but I expect it’s the killer I’m looking for.”

“I can have Belric question them if you want.”

Marlot shook his head. “Unless he needs it as a distraction, I wouldn’t bother. The killer’s too smart to have let them know who he is. He needs to protect his position.”

“So he’s got money? Power?”

Marlot nodded.

“Then what’s he doing not paying for his kill?”

“He’s afraid of the social stigma, terrified of it I’m guessing.”

The bear looked at him in disbelief.

“It isn’t here. It’s back in my home town, the council blacked mailed me in going back to handle this. Their mentality is different from here.”

“What, they don’t approve of hunting?”

“It’s a farming town. They don’t participate in hunting, but that isn’t what he’s afraid of. It’s what the town is going to do to him when they find out he’s had sex with a sheep that’s got him doing all this.”

“They don’t approve of that? And they don’t approve of your interest in Trembor. Is there anything they approve of?”

For a moment Marlot wondered how she’s figured out he’d gotten mated to him, but this wasn’t about that. She’d realized he liked males more than females, and it hadn’t been hard for her to work out that’s why he’d left.

“Not being different.”

“If this is related to your home town, I’m guessing you’re going back there?”

“Not by choice.”

“Should we reschedule next week’s dinner?”

“No. I’m going to be done with this in a few days at the most. Me and Trembor are going to be there.”

The lion limped to them and sat next to Marlot. “How are you feeling?” his right arm was bandaged.

“Okay, all things considered. Right now I kind of wish they’d done more damage, so you’d have a reason to arrest them. As it is, this isn’t really going to interfere with our work.”

“Not my beat, you know that. I’m vice, not productivity crimes. But you’ll be happy to know the alligator is part of the Longtooth gang, and they’re known to deal in drugs. His three friends are probably part of it too, although they’re new faces to me. So I still get to arrest them.”

“Good.”

Marlot pad buzzed. “RI Blackclaw,” he answered, not bothering to check who it was.

“Marlot, it’s Jaxca. I’ll have the sample ready in about an hour.”

“That’s good, we’ll be there to pick it up about that—”

Trembor took the pad out of his hand. “Jaxca?” He nodded. “We’re going to get it in the morning. We had an altercation, and I’m taking Marl back home for some rest. We’ll be there first thing in the morning.”

He handed the pad back. Jaxca had already disconnected.

“We should get it tonight.”

“Why? The lab’s going to be closed.”

“We might be putting him in danger.”

Trembor scoffed. “His clinic has a guard, and he’s poisonous. No one’s going to bother him. It isn’t like the killer has any way of knowing we dropped it off there.”

“He knew enough to use our house hunting to lure us out here.”

“With all the searches you’ve been doing over the network, anyone could find out about that. Jaxca might be our official examiner, but unless he has access to restricted information, he can’t have found that out in the short time it took for us to drive back.” He looked to Bahamel. “Unless you need us, officer, we’ll head home.”

“I have your statements, so you’re good to go. I’ll see you both next week.”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” the lion replied. “Marlot told me great things about your baking.”

She glared at the wolf. “You’ve been spreading lies again?”

“I wouldn’t dare. You bake, that makes anything you make great compared to my food.”

“I tried to teach you.”

Marlot shrugged. “I have better things to do than spend time on making meat look pretty.”

“Food’s made to be enjoyed, wolf.”

“Don’t worry,” Trembor interrupted. “He’s going to eat it, and he’s going to love it. Isn’t that right, Marl?”

“With you taking her side in this, what choice to I have?” Marlot mock glowered. “Quite the mate you are.”

He stood to go, but Bahamel’s large hand landed on his shoulder. “Did you say mate?”

Trembor nodded. “We signed the contract a couple of days ago.”

“And I’m just hearing about this now? How come I wasn’t invited?”

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Marlot said, not looking at her. “Actually it was as a way to get back at my father and the whole narrow-minded town. Not the best reason to get mated.”

“But I’m not letting him out of the contract.”

“I still expect the council to annul it.”

“Then we’ll get mated again here and have a proper ceremony.” The lion smiled at Bahamel. “We’re going to have a ceremony, anyway. My parents are going to make sure of it, and I’ll see to it you’re invited since you’re Marl’s oldest friend in the city.”

The bear smiled. “Good. And don’t let those grass-eaters push you around, Marlot, you’re better than that.”

Marlot nodded and forced a smile. “I won’t. And with any luck, this is the last time they’re going to want to have anything to do with me.” He helped Trembor stand, and he helped him walk back to the car.

“It’s a good thing this was a setup,” Marlot said after a few minutes of walking. “You’d have fallen in love with the house and we’d have been forced to walk this path every day to go to work. Can you imagine doing that?”

“You know we could have asked her for a ride.”

“Sure, but then you wouldn’t be appreciating how bad of an idea living here would be.”

“Quite the mate you are,” Trembor grumbled.


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A Familiar Death CH 28.pdf (100.8KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 27 2020-07-26T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot sat at his desk, his fur still damp from their shower when his pad buzzed. He glanced at the number. It looked familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

“Registered Investigator Marlot,” he answered.

“Mister Marlot, this is Ofpied, from Affiliated Housing. I’m a colleague of Rosilan. She had to leave for a family emergency, but she asked me to call you about a house she found for you.”

“Sure, I have a few hours free today, what’s the house like?” two houses in a week, that was lucky.

There was a moment of hesitation. “It’s a house in a quiet neighborhood with a nice yard. It’s got a good size kitchen.”

“How many bedrooms?” He asked. The male had to be new at his job.

“Three.”

“I would have preferred four, but I guess I can look at it. The rest might make it worthwhile.”

“Good,” the Ofpied gave him the address. “Now, that’s where the area’s parking lot is located, they have visitor parking, so you won’t have any problem. You’ll have to walk up the path until you reach Garden way, you want to go left on that until—”

“Why can’t I just drive to the house?”

“The area has local rules prohibiting powered vehicles within the community. The people living there like their quiet.”

“I don’t know. I really prefer something where I can drive up to the house. What am I supposed to do to move in? Carry all my stuff from the parking to the house myself?”

“Oh now, you can get permission, but it has to be requested a day ahead of time. I really think you’re going to like it.”

Marlot thought about it. Was having to walk back and forth every day a sacrifice he was willing to make? Was Trembor. “Give me a moment.” He muted the pad as the other agreed.

“Trem, it’s the housing company, there’s another house we can take a look at.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, but it’s in one of those controlled neighborhoods, and this one requires that cars park outside, at a communal lot. We’d have to walk to it every day.”

“Are you saying you’re afraid of a little exercise?”

“No, but it means we need to take that into account when going into work.” He looked up the address. “And it’s further out then we’d agreed on.”

“What does it have going for it?”

“A nice yard, whatever that means.”

Trembor tilted an ear.

“Our agent’s out and she passed it along to someone new I think. It only has three bedrooms. So we’d have to figure out where we’d put the sparring space.”

“It doesn’t sound all that promising. If the yard is large, it could be worth it, there aren’t many of those available, but without a sparring room, we’d have to find a gym we can afford. Our budget doesn’t leave much space for that.”

“So we wait for the next one?”

Trembor was pensive. “Why don’t we at least look at it. Maybe it’ll have something to make it worthwhile; if not, it’ll give us something to do while we wait for Jaxca to have prepared the sample.”

Marlot nodded and unmuted his pad. “Give me the house’s address, and I’ll meet you there.”

“I’ll send you the best route to take, there’s a lot of walking path there, and it’s easy to get lost.”

“Is that a prey neighborhood?” He knew he was jumping to conclusions, but anytime he thought about people doing a lot of walking, he thought about prey.

“No, it’s mixed.”

“Alright, I’m going to head out now.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Marlot’s pad let him know he’d received a file. He pulled up the map as he stood. He frowned as he saw the vast neighborhood, with its walking path and the large lots. “You’ll get your backyard if nothing else, but I should have asked how much the house is. That looks like an expensive area.”

“Even more reasons to go take a look. It’ll let us see what we can aspire to.” Trembor opened the door.

“All I aspired to is live in a house with you,” Marlot replied, following him.

“If that’s all, you can move into my place.” He nodded to Hela’han. “We’re heading out. I don’t know if we’ll be back.”

“Very well, Sir. Have a good day.”

“You too,” Marlot replied, then addressed Trembor. “I’d like to have some space to live in too. Two in a single’s house there’d be nowhere to move.”

The lion smirked. “We make it work when you spend the night.”

“Yeah, well, on those nights I want to move against you. As fun as that is, I don’t think having to do that all the time would be as amusing.”

Trembor chuckled, “Always complaining. That’s you.”

“Oh shut up, you love me anyway.”

“Oh, I do, I did agree to be your mate after all.”

Marlot stopped by the car. “You want to tell your parents since we’re here?”

“Let’s wait until we’ve closed this case. They’re going to want to celebrate, and I don’t want to be pulled away.”

“Isn’t that why we should tell them early? To give them time to arrange things?”

“Oh, they won’t need time. They’ll set up the table, call my siblings, and go hunt. A couple of hours is all my family needs to be ready to celebrate.”

“Real party animals.”

Trembor just smiled before getting in the car.

* * * * *

Marlot was getting impressed with this. The way hadn’t looked this far on the map. They’d been walking for ten minutes, and there were no signs they were getting out of this walking area.

“This is really nice,” Trembor said. He was looking around at the trees. “I could see us living close to a wooded area like this.”

“I don’t know about it.”

“Come on, a bit of nature right outside our doorsteps, that’d be great.”

“But the walk’s going to double our commute time at the very least.” They reached an intersection, and he consulted the map. “It’s in that direction.”

“Once we’re familiar with the area, I’m sure we’ll find a way to cut through all this and make a straight line to the parking.”

Marlot nodded, then scented the air. The wind had shifted, and he’d caught a scent he’d smelled recently. That wasn’t unusual, there had been other people in the parking lot, but he was smelling the same excitement as he’d smelled there. The only reason for that here was that they were on the hunt.

He glanced at his lion, and his nostrils were flaring too. Marlot placed an arm around him and leaned close, resting his head on his shoulder.

“When’s the last time a prey walked by us?” Marlot asked softly.

Trembor placed his arm over his wolf’s shoulders. “Just as we entered the woods, and I can’t smell anyone coming toward us.”

“I only smelled two behind us.”

“Same here. You think they’re after us?”

“It makes sense. I made sure news we have the remains would reach the father. I figured it would take his nose off the sheep, but he won’t want us to do anything with it. Getting rid of us here makes things simpler for him.”

Trembor sighed. “I guess there is no house for us to look at then.”

“It’s for the best, I really don’t think we can afford something here.”

“That’s too bad. I could see myself living in this place. How do you want to proceed?”

“Let’s keep going, get out of this isolated area for a populated one.”

“If they let us get that far. I wouldn’t let my prey do that.”

“You wouldn’t have to worry about that all that much. Once they realize they’re being hunted, prey tends to stop thinking and only react. They’re easier to herd that way.”

The wind shifted again, this time bringing them the smells coming ahead and to the right. There the path curved. That excited scent was there again.

“Two more,” Trembor said.

“I guess they think like you do.” He studied the area ahead of them. “We’ll stop in the curve and make them come to us.”

The lion nodded, and they continued walking, discretely smelling the air and conversing. In the middle of the turn, they stopped and moved back to back.

Marlot couldn’t see anyone along it, and he glanced the way they’d come. An alligator and a jaguar wearing black leather wear heading their way. Even without having smelled them, he wouldn’t trust them.

When he looked ahead again, a gorilla and a boar stepped out from behind trees and started walking toward them.

“I don’t like this,” Trembor said.

“Me neither. I haven’t sharpened my claws in a week.”

“I did offer for you to use my scratching post.”

Marlot only had time to chuckle. The gorilla and boar were running at him.

He stepped forward to give himself maneuvering space and waited. They were running close to one another, and now he could see they were young, only a few years past predation age. He’d have the advantage of experience, they had that of youth and vigor, and that there was two of them.

The boar lowered his head as he outdistanced the gorilla, his tusks forward, and Marlot readied himself. Once the boar was committed to his attack, Marlot took a step to the side to get out of the way and dropped to a crouch, punching his stomach. The impact didn’t do any damage, but it forced the breath out of the boar.


He was back up, dodging a strike from the gorilla. He swung back at him but missed. He spun around to face them both and saw Trembor kick the cheetah across the head.

The gorilla jumped at him, and Marlot threw himself forward, landing with a roll, and then he was up, in time to take a kick in the sides from the boar. He cursed and staggered back. It hadn’t been a hard kick. Trembor kicked him far harder in their training, but it still hurt.

The boar rushed him, and Marlot threw himself at him, staying low. His shoulder impacted the boar’s chest. It hurt, but the bovine was now on the ground, wheezing.

Before he could turn around he was punched in the back and sent over the boar. He forced himself to get back up, saw Trembor grappling with the alligator, and felt an irrational need to go help him instead of dealing with his attackers.

He barely saw the punch coming in time to block it. There was enough strength behind it he was forced back. He tried to kick at the gorilla’s legs, but he stepped out of the way. The gorilla struck again, and Marlot had to block, stepping back.

The gorilla kept hitting, and Marlot kept taking steps back until he was against a tree. The gorilla grinned and wound back for another punch. Marlot waited for it, and as it came, he dropped.

With a howl of pain, the gorilla stuck the tree. Marlot punched him in the groin, then double fisted him at the back of the neck. The gorilla fell to the ground and didn’t move.

Marlot had a moment to hope he wasn’t going to have to pay for another body before something impacted in his side. Pain lanced up as he was propelled forward. He landed on the ground in a heap, and by the time he got to his back, the boar was on top of him. Striking him over and over. There was little strength in his blows, but there were a lot of them and Marlot couldn’t strike back, having to protect his face and neck.

Two golden hands appeared on each side of the boar’s face from behind and grasped his tusks. “Get off my mate,” Trembor growled as he pulled.

The boar staggered back but managed to remain on his feet, long enough to take a kick in the chest, which sent him to the ground.

“You okay?” his lion asked. Marlot nodded. “I’ll tie them and come back.” Marlot nodded again.

Once Trembor was away, he pulled out his pad and called the enforcers. “It’s RI Blackclaw,” he wheezed. “Can you get me in touch with Officer Bahamel? Thanks.” There was a click. “Hey Ba, I think they’re something you’re going to want to handle.”


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A Familiar Death CH 27.pdf (89.0KiB)

Exhaustion 2020-06-22T00:23:48+00:00

I’m not referring to physical exhaustion here, although I am looking forward to my coming vacation starting next weekend.

This week has been mainly uneventful. I’m driving up and down the east coast, which means short, rush runs. That’s the down side of going on vacation, the planning is so poor in this company they have to keep me within 1000 kilometers otherwise however will they get him home in time. one week to go.

Having little work related means I can talk about writing, aren’t you happy? Yes, you there, about to close the tab, wouldn’t you like to hear me talk about writing? Or in this case about not writing?

Exhaustion is something everyone deals with at one time or another, be it physical, mental or emotional. Normally the solution is simple enough, stop, take a break, recharge. For a lot of artists, we encounter the problem that we are suppose to love what we are doing, therefore we shouldn’t be hitting the exhaustion line. Our love should be pushing us on, so we start equating exhaustion with a failure on our part. Do we actually love what we do? Maybe we don’t love it enough? Maybe if we just try harder we will push through and love it again.

That can work, for a while.

Outside things can help overcome the exhaustion too; knowing people enjoy what we do can be quite the boost to the morale. Having them engage with us or the material will do that too, but even with that, eventually exhaustion will rear its head, and now we have to wonder, maybe we don’t care about our audience enough? Maybe we aren’t working hard enough for them?

We can keep going. It is within our power to just muscle through exhaustion until we face its older brother, Burnout.

This isn’t about Burnout. I’m hoping to never have to feel like writing about that guy.

So back to exhaustion. The main solution is for us to take a step back, realize that we aren’t what we produce, or how our audience treat us. And take a break.

What I’m also noticing is that Exhaustion isn’t an across the board thing. In my case, the exhaustion seems to be centered on LRK and Going Home. I am simply exhausted of working on them. LRK was never supposed to be that long of a project, and what’s written isn’t even half of what I want to ultimately write. Once the past if dealt with, I want to write about the present, and then the ‘future’.

I do believe that a large part of the exhaustion comes from pantsing the story (for those who don’t know, pantsing is a writer’s term for the writers who write without an outline, by the seat of their pants.) I think that, because the stories I am writing that have an outline are working fine.

Going Home is a little different. With this one, I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s Pantsing taken to the next level. It’s primary goal was to explore the city of Tiranis and make it and adventure, but I’ve come to realize that taking a character who has been away for sixty years isn’t the way to do it, he can’t talk about the city, so all I can do is set his adventure in a district and … hope I can pass along the flavor of the district through that?

It isn’t working.

So, I’m taking a break. I am actively not thinking or working on anything Tiranis related for now, for a couple of weeks actually, For a Just Cause has been what I’ve been working on instead. Some of you have seen a chapter or two of that at this point, in the coming weeks the rest of you will see it

The current LRK story has 4 or 5 months’ worth of chapters before that book is over, and if I haven’t recharged by then, I’m going to not post anything Tiranis related for a while. Maybe I’ll try to come up with a story in that world I can outline properly and give that a try, or it’s possible that as much as I like the world I’ll have to admit it’s a failed experiment. I hope not since I do love the world, but… who knows.

What does this mean for you? See, you who were about to tab away, aren’t you happy you stayed? Well, the only real effect for anyone paying is that there will be one less file per month once LRK’s story is done.

That’s it.

Everything else will continue as it is, you’ll get one chapter a day, sometimes two. People how aren’t supporting me will get a chapter a day when I have first drafts. I’m sorry, but second drafts and further are only for paying customers.

One last thing, for anyone still here. Do you care about Tiranis at all? Are you interested in reading more about that city and that world?

And that’ll be it, so I’ll see you on the next one.

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Virtual Friendship CH 04 (adult) 2020-07-12T15:00:15+00:00
Omar Grindgear stood in the market square closest to the eastern gate of Tofen. He wasn’t a fan of the city, too much elitism, too many guards protecting the players controlling the city, but Tofen was the closest to the dungeon he wanted to propose. And if the others weren’t interested, from here there were a lot of other dungeons with decent loot they could clear.

A handful of guards eyed him suspiciously. Tofen wasn’t racist, but the majority of the players based here were Syleant and it created an ‘other world natives aren’t part of us’ atmosphere. It didn’t matter that most races weren’t expensive to buy, or that the Ameritek players controlling the city weren’t all Syleant, the bulk of the city’s players were natives of Gaia who Omar suspected didn’t have a lot of money to spend of the game and were trying to attach themselves to Tofen as a way to gain prestige without having to invest time in actually playing the game.

“Always a friendly welcome here,” a raspy voice said in his ear and Omar jumped, a shield spell activating with a quick hand gesture. “Jumpy, aren’t you?” Marc said, a smile on his skeletal muzzle.

“Sneaking up like that will get you blasted one of these days,” Omar replied, extinguishing the spell.

“In a city? Even here PvP can’t happen in a market square. The Ameritek elites who control it can’t bribe the developers.”

He shook himself to settle his fur, the motion making the metal plates of his body clank. “Maybe they haven’t yet, but one of these days you’ll find out they did by going kaboom.” He needed to adjust the translation algorithm since Omar didn’t have fur. Or he could keep it like that. He’d have to play with it and see if it was an expressive motion. “And what are you doing sneaking around, anyway?”

“The gate guards were being difficult. I couldn’t prove I was an ‘approved’ traveler, and I didn’t feel like bribing her.” Marc shook his head. “I don’t see why this is even allowed. Cities don’t have caerns for a reason.”

“You don’t need one to control a city, just a large enough army to guard any place of worth.”

“What’s of worth?” Paul asked, nodding to a guard. The Syleant raccoon stopped before them as Marc eyed the tabard he wore. “What? I’m a Tofen approved adventurer, I did all the quests required.”

Marc growled. “Those aren’t quests. They’re just jobs other players gave you. Quests have to be system approved.”

“Someone doesn’t like Tofen I take it,” Paul said with a chuckle.

“Unless you’re approved here,” Melor said, “there aren’t many reasons to like it. I just had to pay fifty gold for the privilege of setting foot in here. Why did you pick here to meet? I didn’t think you were all that interested in making Ameritek richer.”

“This isn’t Ameritek,” a stern foam like vulpine said, his body deep red, and wearing yellow and orange armor. “It’s Tofen.” Like Paul, he wore the Tofen tabard.

Omar studied him. He was familiar, but he couldn’t place where he’d seen him before.

“That’s Tracent, isn’t it?” Melor asked.

“Good memory,” The vulpine said. “He’s approved to be in Tofen, although it’s been years since I played him.” Nori, Omar realized. That’s who this was.

“What level is he?” the bear asked.

“Thirty-two.”

“You realize that as much as you play, if you’d stuck with one character, you’d have maxed it out,” Marc said.

“There’s a maximum level?” Paul asked. “I thought the Lands kept going and adjusting.”

“Figure of speech,” the skeleton replied.

“Who cares about maxing out anyway,” Tracent said. “I like exploring the variety. So where are we going?”

“There’s a dungeon I found not far from here a couple of weeks ago,” Omar said. “It’s pretty tough, I couldn’t solo it. If you guys are interested, I thought we’d give it a try.”

“I’m good for that,” Paul said, “I cleared my day, so other than the occasional pit break, I can spend all of it here.”

“I have twelve hours,” Marc said, “then I need to sleep. I have a board meeting in the morning.”

“I doubt we’ll need twelve hours to clear it,” Tracent said. “I’m in, I’m officially on vacation, so no duties but the guild.”

“Marc?”

The Necalium’s eyes focused on the Brastok. “I’m in, sorry, I was checking the boards, seeing if there was any thread about shutting down Tofen.”

“Leave it,” Paul said with a roll of the eyes. “They spent close to a century taking control of it, they earned it as far as I’m concerned.”

Omar pushed them out of his mind and set about casting the portal spell. Anchoring it on a specific destination made the combo more complex. Arms moved, fingers shifted through the configurations. Something came at his face and Omar caught it by reflex, shattering the combo. He glared at the stone, then the direction it came, but he couldn’t tell who in the crowd had interrupted him.

“Maybe we should do this outside the walls?” Marc offered.

Omar shook his head. “I’m not giving them the satisfaction. Just give me a few seconds to let my mana recharge.” Arms moved, fingers shifted through the configurations, body flowed along with them. Maybe he should see about taking dancing lessons? Theo had made this kind of movement seem effortless. Would building a macro for this be allowed?

He concluded the combo and his mana bar was down below ten percent. He needed to raise the level of this spell. He set it visible for the guild only as well as the only ones allowed to use it and stepped through.

He appeared a hundred meters from the mouth of the cave.

* * * * *

Marc Bonesword looked around as he stepped out of the portal. He stood at the foot of a mountain, the terrain leveling off quickly. In the distance, he could see the monstrosity that the Ameritek Elite had turned Tofen into. Why had Constantine allowed the exploit? It was no better than cheating. The Lands of Farr was supposed to be about having fun, adventuring, not power-mongering. That would never be allowed to happen on the Colony version of Gaia. He’d talk with the beta after he was done playing.

He joined the others at the mouth of the cave.

“Of course,” Omar said with a grating sigh. “Now it’s marked as a group dungeon.”

“Iranil’s collectibles,” Marc read aloud as the dungeon’s information appeared. “Yeah, that’s always been a group dungeon.”

“You did it before?”

“No, but it’s been mentioned on the forums,” Marc said. It was his reflexive lie since finding out none of his guild friends enjoyed reading them. It had been decades since he’d done this dungeon, and by the time code his access gave him, Constantine had only activated this one three years ago.

“Any information on those forums about tricks to get through it?” Omar asked.

“Bring an army,” Marc replied, remembering the team of twenty he’d done the dungeon with, back on Churchill. He’d been a kid back then, they all had. Barely thirty. “But that was by a level fourteen player. We can probably manage it with the five of us.”

The Brastok’s eyes did a full roll in their brass socket. “You can probably do it alone. Sneak in, avoid all the monsters and traps and just stab the boss in the back.”

Marc smiled. “I expect I could, but that wouldn’t give me the items I need to collect. The developers were smart enough to make it so killing the boss isn’t sufficient to complete those kinds of quests.”

“I made it three-quarters of the way through on my own,” Omar said. Which Marc found surprising. He remembered it being far tougher, but he reminded himself they’d been between level twelve and fifteen when his Colony guild had done this quest.

“What should we expect then?” Tracent asked.

“Most rooms are just mobs,” Omar replied, “so that’ll be easy, even as the number of them will be higher than what I encountered. The problems are the boss types every four or five rooms. Those were tough and I have no idea how they’ll adjust to deal with a group.” The Brastok looked at Marc.

The Necalium shrugged. “They change each time the quest resets. Until I see them, I can’t tell you what they’ll do, and according to what I read, the moment we’ll enter the room, they’ll attack.” He brought up the data on the quest and queued it. He didn’t want to rely on his memory for this.

“One last thing,” Omar said. “We need to search each room and each kill. The quests items aren’t all with the bosses.” He placed his hand on the entrance and vanished. Marc set his display to highlight the locations the items could be in, based on the algorithms, if no one could locate one of them, he’d ‘accidentally’ find out.

“You going to abandon us to sneak to the end and just wait on the throne again?” Paul asked, stepping to the entrance with Marc.

“I’d never do that,” the Necalium replied, with a hurt tone, entering the dungeon and going into stealth mode immediately.

* * * * *

Tracent’s rapier traced a quick symbol in the air as he performed the damage buff combo before stabbing the Rock-orc. It fell to the ground as Melor’s health readout began flashing. Tracent had them set to do so when they dropped below a quarter. The barbarian had his own healing, but he seemed distracted by the fight.

Tracent ran across the room, rapier tracing the healing combo, and touched Melor’s back before blocking another Rock-orc’s attack.

“Thanks,” Melor said, then “Toramok!” and swung his ax through the largest of the Rock-orc.

A handful of seconds later and all the orcs were dead. “I found Iranil’s Tome,” Paul said standing next to one of the orcs. “Other than it the room’s haul was six hundred gold, two magical swords of unknown property. A shield and a helmet and a dozen healing, stamina, and mana potions.

“Marc, anything on the forums about if the layout of the dungeon changes?” Omar asked.

The Necalium shook his head. “This one has a set configuration. The contents alters to adjust for the levels, but not the layout.”

“Then the room down that hall has the first boss.”

“So we go in and hit it with all we’ve got,” Melor said, grinning.

“Without seeing it first, I can’t offer anything else,” Marc replied as the others looked at him.

It didn’t work.

Tracent stepped through the portal and joined Paul and Melor before the entrance. “Do we wait for them to join us? Or do you think we can make it back there before they die?” the vulpine asked.

“The Tome vanished from my inventory,” Paul answered, “so they’re dead.”

“Does that mean the boss is going to change?” Melor asked. “Does this reset the quest entirely?”

“I will have the quest as active,” Tracent said. “That usually means it doesn’t reset, but that’s something Marc will know.”

The Necalium stepped through the portal, shaking his head.

Omar was behind him. “I told you to wait until she dropped her shield.”

“That’s not the indicator her defenses are down. I told you. That’s a feint. The best time is the five-second window before that when her brown glows. I just got the time wrong.”

“So there is a way to hurt the bitch?” Melor asked, “because none of my attacks seemed to do anything.”

“That’s Caleandra,” Marc said. “She sensitive to electrical attacks, immune to cold, the rest only does a quarter normal damage, except in the five seconds when her crown glows, then her defenses are down, everything does triple damage to her.”

“But that’s when she fires those ice breaths,” Paul said.

* * * * *

“Yes, so it’s a question of timing it right,” the Necalium replied confidently.

Paul nodded, listening to the tone more than the words. He’d grown up with a conman as a father, so he’d learned to pick up on lies. In the game, it was tougher since body language could be a fabrication of macros and preprogrammed actions, but the voice was tougher to mask and Marc had the confidence of someone who’d done more than read about this dungeon.

Paul had decided a while back that Marc had lied about being a beta tester. His knowledge was too intimate on things like this dungeon, which he claimed to only have read about. He was one of the developers, and possibly one of the developers of the Lands as a whole. His knowledge of Ceril had been too good.

Paul didn’t call him out on it. Marc was a guild member, and it didn’t matter who he was outside the game. Here he used whatever he knew to help them, so what did it matter how he came to it? And really, Paul would be a hypocrite to call out someone on lying about who they were outside the game.

“So Omar shields us from the ice breath and we pile in the damage in that window,” Marc said. “Outside of that, we deal with the mobs she sends. Tracent, you’re the only one with the ability to heal others, so keep an eye on that for us. If you can’t reach us, call out, we all have healing potions, right?”

“With the numbers of them dropping from our kills,” Paul said, “I’d hope so. At least the dungeon is giving us a chance.”

They went back in and easily cleared the first three rooms. This time Tracent was who found the quest item, Iranil’s set of keys, hidden in a crockpot. They rushed into the boss’s room and went through the mobs there. The boss, a tall female Rock-orc holding a shield and wearing a silver crown remained behind, something about her being the mother of the orcs attacking them, according to the game lore.

“Get ready!” Marc called and Paul set his macros. A purple shield appeared around him, his settings taking the defensive buff Omar’s spell applied on him and giving it a form. Paul liked making things real here. He suspected it was how he compensated for how little of it he got in the real world.

The crown began flashing as the orc took a breath.

Paul activated the attack macro, and he rushed through the icy breath, watching his health bar drop. He got in three sword swipes before backing out, downing a health potion. He was covered with frost, the visualization of the slowness buff the breath had applied to him, and he shivered, the cold seeping through his armor and foliage.

He didn’t have the time to do more than breathe before the next wave of mobs attacked, the mother sending more of her children to die.

It took eight waves to kill her, and they were rewarded with a full set of magical armor, three thousand gold, and fifteen each of mana and health potions. And she was just the first boss. This could be worth it after all.

* * * * *

“Tell me this is the last boss,” Melor said, checking the time. “I think this is the longest dungeon we’ve ever done.”

“That was the fifth boss?” Marc asked, which Paul confirmed. “Then there’s one left.”

“I have two hours left,” Melor said.

“You’re the boss, you can have them wait on you,” Omar said.

Melor rolled his eyes. I wish. “I’m a boss. Like this dungeon, there are bosses above me and I can’t tell them I’ll be late, nor can I show up at less than my best. Sorry, but my position isn’t maintained by being half asleep. Vanguard doesn’t tolerate slackers.”

“Is that a dig at us, Orrs?” Paul asked.

Melor grinned. “I don’t know, is it, Mister runs an entopic company and can clear his calendar for days at a time?”

“At least I’m my own boss,” Paul replied.

Eight years, Melor reminded himself, Paul’s replied to his playful dig hitting deeper than he’d expected. Then he’d been able to find a position where he’d be in charge of his own life.

“Melor?” Omar called.

“Sorry, just trying to decide if an Orr company leader amounts to anything resembling a Vanguard corporate leader.”

“Ouch,” Tracent said. “Anyone has a spell to put out the fire?”

“Fuck you,” Paul said.

“Unless we hurry this along,” Melor replied, “there isn’t going to be any time left for you to do that.”

“Then let’s get going,” Marc said. “We have three or four rooms of mobs to clear, three quest items to find and just under two hours. And if we don’t do this in one shot, we need to clear each and every boss again to get here.”

Melor groaned. “We’re doomed.”

“Not if you do what I say,” Marc said. “I’ve read up on this last boss. The timing is complex, but at this point, I think we have timing down to an art form.”

“I’m not even going to ask when you had the time to read,” Paul said with a smirk. “Just tell us what to do so I can pound the bear’s ass before he leaves the game.

* * * * *

“Now,” Marc said, and Omar unleashed the lightning. The creature before them had the amusing moniker of Archeboulder the mountain troll. He was twenty feet tall, made of stone, and wore armor made of his previous kills.

The lightning his the shoulder and the section of armor there shattered.

What made this final boss difficult was that each piece of armor needed to be destroyed before they could damage him, and Omar was the only one with high power range attacks. If he was lucky, he could destroy two pieces between waves of monsters. And the troll’s attacks caused the ceiling to rain stones on top of his giant club. Marc was good at warning them and telling them where to stand to avoid the falling rock, but one misstep and the two healers were put to the test.

Out of eighteen pieces, Omar had destroyed nine, and now that only the lower body was left, the others would be able to add their damage to it, or so he hoped before he was running low on mana potions. “Marc, I need more many potions if anyone can spare them. I’m down the four.”

Omar switched to low-cost attacks to deal with the mobs and managed to keep from being shifted into the blast damage of the falling ceiling stones. In the few seconds between the mob and the next opening against the boss, Marc handed Omar six potions.

“That’s all anyone can spare.”

“What will it do once the armor’s off? I can’t believe it’ll stand there for us to attack.”

“Once out of armor, it joins the attack, each step causing a ripple on the floor that throws the people caught off their feet and takes them out of the fight for a few seconds.”

“Enough to get them dead. We need fliers. For this.”

“No, just to know the pattern.” Marc smiled. “Which I do.”

* * * * *

“Arglon!” Melor screamed, bringing down his ax. “The lighting traveled from the contact point up the leg, breaking the last of the troll’s armor.” He down a stamina potion, happy he didn’t feel the character’s exhaustion. Eleven hours of near-constant fighting would be deadly in and of itself.

“Everyone back away!” Marc yelled. “The free-for-all is about to start!”

Melor ran back as the whole room shook.

“Watch for the lead ogres, the one with the shield. They mark the safe cones from the boss’s stomping. You want to in front of one of them if you want to be able to fight and defend yourself.”

Three ogres appeared and Melor moved to stand in front of one, finding Paul next to him.

“Don’t die,” Paul said.

“Don’t plan on it.”

“Good, that ass is mine today.”

“Try not to die first,” Melor replied.

The ground shook, but both of them remained on their feet to face the attack. The ogre was followed by two dozen orcs, which pushed Paul and Melor apart. Tracent ran by healing them, then fighting. Melor called on his falcon to do his own healing. When the wave was done, they rushed the troll on Marc’s command, bringing its health down by barely a few percents by the time Marc had them back away and prepare for the second wave.

Melor looked at the time. He couldn’t abandon his guild, but there was no way they could kill it before he ran out. How well could he perform on stimulants?

* * * * *

Paul leaped the dying ogre, and grabbed the pouch at his belt, quickly running it over his blade to activate the damage over time buff. He sliced at the orcs, ignoring their blows, his armor took all but a small percentage, and he attacked the troll.

The boss was down to the last quarter of health and there were barely fifteen minutes left before Melor would leave the game. Not only did he want to pound that ass, but he didn’t think they could win this one man short, no matter how close to victory they were. Six quick slashed before the orcs caught him to him and Marc’s panicked yells drew his attention.

The Necalium was waving for him to get away.

Paul did as he was told and the shock wave threw him across the room. He landed and rolled, reaching for a health potion. That explosion had taken it down to a sliver and if an orc even touched him, he was dead.

The point of a rapier touched his chest before he had it out and his health stopped flashing dangerously. A potion down and he was above fifty percent.

“What was that?” Paul asked.

“That,” the vulpine replied, “was a certain raccoon not paying attention to instructions. The boss detonates once he hits twenty percent of health. It takes him down to ten percent, but it would kill anyone other than an over tanked tank like you.”

“You okay?” Marc called.

“I’m alive. The others?”

“Everyone was out of range,” Omar said.

Paul nodded. “So how tough is he going to be now?” he asked Marc

“Now it’s just a question of getting through his horde to reach him.” The Necalium indicated the mass of orcs and ogres standing between them and the troll who was now a quarter the size he’d been.

Paul smiled. “Hordes of monsters we can do easily.”

* * * * *

Tracent danced through the orcs, buffs, and debuffs going with flicks of his rapier. Paul was already through them, he, Marc and Melor attacking the troll, how, for as little health as he had left, still had a good amount of defenses, if no special attacks left. His and Omar’s job was to keep the horde busy while they finished the job.

And with a pained roar, the troll died. Which seemed to enrage the orcs, letting them shake the debuffs Tracent had laid on them. He’d expected them to lose the will to fight, not redouble in their attempt to kill him. He slashed and kick, having to fall back on early level attacks by the sheer volume of orcs around him. Those were quick and cheap and came with useful debuffs, like two seconds stuns, or push back.

When they were finally all dead, Tracent panted, hands on knees. Who the fuck ever said playing the Lands did nothing for your health, didn’t do it the Independent way. He was exhausted. Not every attack was coded to a corresponding motion with his suit, but he liked feeling like he was there, not just standing in the middle of the action watching. If he’d wanted that, he wouldn’t have invested in a full sensory suit.

“I need to go,” Melor said. “Any chance we can get together later in the week for the victory celebration? I owe Paul my ass.”

“My next two weeks are clear,” Tracent said. “The joys of vacation.”

“I have cases to clear,” Omar said, “but I can take Saturday off.”

“Saturday works for me too,” Paul said, eying the bear lewdly. “You going to be there?”

“I will. Marc?”

“Yeah, Saturday works.”

“Then I’ll see you then.” Melor vanished.

“I don’t want to leave you guys with the cleanup,” Tracent said, “but I’m realizing these suits weren’t designed to be worn for twelve hours, I can smell my stink in here. I need to take it off and shower.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll put your share of the quest reward in the guild coffer. Grab it whenever you have the time.”

Tracent clapped his hands in relief and didn’t bother with the game lobby or his. He needed to get out of this thing before the stink permeated him.


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Virtual Friendship CH 04.pdf (63.0KiB)

Just Cause 02 2020-07-12T01:30:22+00:00
Light, warmth, the smell of dew on the grass, the sounds of the leaves rustling in the breeze. Michael took a deep breath, and the air was clean and fresh. He tried to remember when he’d ever smelled air this clean; certainly not in the city. Four years ago, he was on leave. He and Lisanne took Mary camping in Yellowstone, away from everything and everyone.

“Hello Michael,” a woman greeted him.

Michael opened his eyes.

He was in a clearing. The sun wasn’t visible, still behind the trees, but the sky was blue with a few wisps of cloud. The woman wore a white toga of sort, leaving her light brown arms uncovered.

“Hello,” Michael replied.

She had an inviting smile, the kind his mother would give Mary any time they visited, although this woman looked younger than Michael, mid-twenties at most.

“This is probably going to come across as stupid, but where exactly am I?”

“That is a perfectly reasonable question,” she replied, “this clearing is in the Armoston forest, at the edge of the Cosconius Territory, and I am Gilda.”

“I’ve never heard of those places, Gilda, where on Earth are they?”

Her smile faltered. “They aren’t on Earth, Michael. You are no longer on Earth. Didn’t Tansit explain?”

The darkness, with his name and statistics.


Name Michael Vladmyr Rostov

Statistics
Strength 14
Agility 12
Intelligence 11
Endurance 15
Wisdom 8


The information appeared as he thought about it.

“So, is this heaven then?” He had to be dead.

“No. This is neither of the places you call Heaven or Hell, although it is without your power to make it either if you so desire.”

“If I tell you that it doesn’t make sense, will you hold it against me?”

“I will not, Michael. That is a common enough belief, although you are among the few who calm confronting this new reality. Many panic about now once it sinks in they had left many people behind.”

Michael forced a smile. “I had no one to leave behind. They were all taken from me already.”

“I see.”

Michael nodded, forcefully putting his past behind him. “What happens now?”

“Now, you tell me about yourself. Who are you, Michael Vladmyr Rostov? Who do you wish to be?”

Michael shrugged. “You know my name, I was a soldier. I joined right out of school, it’s the thing everyone in my family does. Army all the way to, well, for as long as there’s been an army. Stories claim there was a Rostov in Washington’s army.”

“And is a marshal man what you wish to be here?”

“Marshal man, I like that. It’s all I know. If I say yes, does that mean it’s all I can be?”

“No, Michael, here, there is no limit to what you can be. We are simply determining how you will start. What you do from there, what you learn, will be entirely up to you.”

Michael groaned. “Great, school again.” He thought of his intelligence score and it popped up.


Intelligence 11


“School is not the only way to learn here, it is not even the best way to learn.”

“How else am I going to learn?”

“The principal way is by doing. But you will understand this better once you are out in the world, living your life. For now, have you made a decision on what skill set you wish to start with?”

Michael chuckled. “You make it sound like you can just wave your hand and have me know stuff. I guess being a marshal man will do to start.”

“No hand waving is needed.”


You have learned a skill
Sword, One-handed, level 1

You have learned a skill
Sword, two-handed, level 1

You have learned a skill
Knife, level one

You have learned a skill
Parry, sword, level 1

You have learned a skill
Parry, knife, level 1

You have learned a skill
Shield, blocking, level 1

You have learned a skill
Shield, bashing, level 1

You have learned a skill
Brawling, level 1

You have learned a skill
Dodge, level 1

You are currently level 1 in the Marshal skill category


As the information scrolled before me, I felt the shirt and pants shift, and instead of them, I now wore a hard leather armor of some sort, with a wooden shield buckled to my left arm and holding a sword in my right.

“How?” I couldn’t even articulate the rest of his question. This was impossible.

“My role is to answer your questions and prepare you for the rest of your life here. As a marshal man, you need the skills and the tools, so I have granted you such.”

“So you can just give me stuff? Any chance you can give me an M16 instead of a sword?”

“I’m afraid that such an item is beyond my capability.”

Michael nodded. “Then how about making me better with this sword? I’ve never used one of those.”

She pondered Michael’s question for a few seconds. “Michael, this is the start of your new life. My role is only to prepare you for it, not to give you an unfair advantage. If you decide to use your sword, you will become better with it, the same with any skill you learn and practice. This world rewards those like you to take part in it, but you are not required to do so. If you decide to build a cabin and spend the rest of your days there, you will not be punished for doing so.”

“I’m not someone who sits and does nothing.”

“Then, whatever you decide to do, you will be able to become as good at it as the work you put into it.”

“Okay, so what’s next?”

“If you have no more questions, you set on your journey.”

“To where?”

She motioned around the clearing. “To where ever you want. Nothing is predetermined here. The path is for you to choose.”

“Can’t you at least tell me what’s the best place to go toward?”

“That is outside my duties.”

Michael looked at the sky, the sun was coming up over the treeline. “Can you tell me where the closest city is?”

“The city is Novus Roma is two scores of days toward the rising sun.”

Michael looked at the little of it over the trees. “A score is a lot of days, isn’t it?”

“A score is twenty days,” she said.

“That’s a little far. How about the closest place? Town, village, I don’t know what other names small places have.”

“The village of Windfall lies at the end of this path, a few hours away.” She indicated a break in the trees and Michael noticed the grass had been trampled there.

“I can do a few hours. Then what?”

“Then, whatever you want,” she answered.

“You’re not coming with me, are you?”

“My place is here, at the start of your journey. Once you set on your path, the start is done.”

“So, as long as I stay here, you’ll impart your wisdom to me?”

“I will answer your questions, yes.”

“What do I need to know to survive this place?”

“Practice the skill you wish, trust in yourself, those worthy of it around you and higher powers, if you are one as such.”

He narrowed his eyes. “That’s not exactly useful.”

“That wasn’t exactly a precise question,” she replies in amusement.

“So it’s all up to me.” Michael tried to sound confident. When was the last time he’d been left alone to do anything? He’d always been part of a team, a family. Even in his youth, it had been him, his brothers and sisters. His dad hadn’t been hard-assed about drills and such, as some of the other military fathers, but he had raised them to depend on one another.

Of course, that had ended the day Michael had dishonored the Rostov name. He’d been abandoned by everyone he’d known and depended on, so it made sense he was alone here too.

“Windfall is at the end of that path, but I don’t have to follow it. I could go anywhere.”

“That is correct. You can go anywhere you want.”

There was no path leading east, so if he wanted to go to Novus Roma, he’d have no guide other than the rising sun. The idea of setting off without a plan was exciting and scary. He’d always worked off plans before. Join the army, start a family, go up within the ranks. Deployments always came with a plan, even if it was just set up camp and wait for orders.

He could do anything here.

He sets toward the path. He’d start by seeing what this village of Windfall was like and go from there.

He stopped and turned. “Oh, Gilda, if I need—” the clearing was empty.

Right, he’d set on his path. This wasn’t her place anymore. Somehow, he hadn’t expected it to be quite this literal. With a shrug, he turned back to the path and followed it. There was no turning back anymore.


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Just Cause 02.pdf (26.9KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 26 2020-07-25T13:00:09+00:00
The rhinoceros at the reception desk looked at them. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked, glancing at the screen.

“We’re not here for treatment,” Marlot replied, placing the refrigerated box on the desk. “I’m dropping this for Jaxca. I called him to let him know.”

She looked at her screen, then typed something. “Yes, there it is. I’ll give it to him. Have you already made arrangements for how we’ll be contacting you when he’s done with it?”

“Yes, he’s going to call us directly.

Trembor had placed the call while Marlot drove, explaining they only wanted Jaxca to extract the sample and get it ready for testing. They would take it to the lab themselves. He couldn’t do it while they waited, or tell them when it would be ready. He’d try to take care of it between patients, but because of how busy he was, it might not be until the end of the day.

Marlot looked into the waiting room before leaving. Almost twenty patients were waiting for their turns, mostly prey, with three predators seated among them. Private clinics didn’t benefit from being ‘no predation zones’ like hospitals were, but sick people tended not to think about food. And if someone decided they wanted to eat one of the other patients, well, that was what the rhinoceros was there for.

“Breakfast was a while ago,” Trembor comments. “I could eat something, how about we head to the office? There’s meat left from what you brought in at the start of the week.”

“Sure, and we can catch up on things while we wait.”

The drive there was uneventful. He checked the office’s lock as he got out of the car, and as expected, it was unlocked. Hela’han was there to take calls pertaining to their ongoing cases. Not that Marlot expected there were a lot of them. The older the case, the fewer people cared, especially once the three month waiting period had passed. Once they received the benefits, it was amazing quickly they forgot about the dead.

While the benefits didn’t come from his pay, it was applied against his productivity rating, as a way to encourage him to find the killer so the government could get its money. Marlot only had three bodies in his freezer, Trembor two, and only one of each was so old the odds of finding the killer were almost null.

He entered, then stopped. There were two elephants at the reception desk, where he expected one. One was Hela’han, leaning against the wall, her large gray ears having a flushed hue. That had to be caused by the other elephant who had his trunk under her unbuttoned blouse.

Trembor cleared his throat, making the two of them, and Marlot, jump. “What do we have here?” he asked, grinning.

Hela’han stepped away from the male. Flustered, she buttoned up, then straightened her blouse and dress. “Mister Goldenmane, Mister Blackclaw, I wasn’t expecting you back today.”

“Who’s your…friend?” Trembor asked.

Marlot studied the male and found himself growling. He was a little taller than she was, his ears were smaller, his tusks about a foot and a half long and his skin a little darker. He was dressed casually in black canvas pants and a white cotton shirt and a tan hide jacket. He looked back at them with a nonchalant air that the wolf didn’t like.

“This is Jesden, he’s a…friend.”

Marlot stepped toward him, eyes narrowing.

“Please don’t eat him,” Hela’han pleaded.

Trembor grabbed his arm. “Easy there, maybe you should find out what’s going on before doing something drastic.”

The interruption was enough to get Marlot to calm down a little.

“I’m sorry,” Hela’han said, her trunk jittering all over the place. “I know this is inappropriate behavior.”

Trembor chuckled.

Considering some of the things the two of them had gotten up to in their office these last few months, they couldn’t judge her. But that didn’t mean Marlot wasn’t going to judge him.

He disengaged his arm from the lion’s grip and stood before the bull elephant. He acted calm enough, like having a predator this close wasn’t a big deal. Marlot breathed in the elephant’s scent.

He was nervous, but there was more behind that and he took his time cataloging them. He wasn’t particularly happy at what he smelled. He looked at him again, noting his callused hand, broad shoulders, and overall solidity. Marlot judged him to be in his mid-twenties.

“Let’s get something straight,” the wolf said, his voice calm. “I can smell your intentions toward her.”

The bull nervously looked at Hela’han. When he looked back to Marlot, he no longer had the air of nonchalance about him.

The wolf smiled, showing teeth. “So I want to know, just how serious are your intentions? Are you just into this so you can have some fun? Or are you going to treat her with respect?”

The elephant swallowed. “I’m serious, Sir. Very much so.”

Marlot looked at Hela’han, who nodded, having grabbed her trunk and holding it still.

“Good.” Marlot took a step back. “Her safety is in your hands now. You better make sure no harm comes to her. I’d hate to have to hunt you down.”

The bull’s head bobbed up and down so fast Marlot worried it would break off. He edged along the wall toward the door. Hela’han accompanied him, and they interlaced trunks.

“Is it safe for me to come pick you up after work?” he asked softly.

She nodded. “I’ll call you when I’m done.” They pressed their forehead together for a moment, then he left.

She walked to her desk, not looking at the wolf or lion. “I am so embarrassed you had to see this,” she said, sitting down.

“It’s no big deal,” Trembor said. “After all, you’ve seen us kiss.”

Marlot’s ears folded back against his will as the comment brought to his mind the moment when Trembor and he had been kissing and in the process of undressing each other. Fortunately, only their shirts were off when Hela’han entered their office with reports from the case they were working on. But she’d been as embarrassed about it as Marlot had been.

Hela’han was also blushing now. “It isn’t the same thing, Sir.”

“Isn’t it?” The lion asked with feigned ignorance. “I wouldn’t know, I’m not familiar with elephant courting behavior. How about you, Marl?”

Marlot shook his head, as much to clear the embarrassment as to answer.

“I promise, it will never happen again, Sir,” she said earnestly.

“that’s good.” Trembor smiled. “But if it does, I think you can rest assured your big brother over there won’t be so quick to react.” The lion leveled his gaze on Marlot.

“It won’t, I promise.” He thought about what he’d smelled of the male. “I think he’s a good male. How long have you known him?”

She beamed at the approval, but her trunk grabbed her pad and moved it back and forth. “I knew him when I was younger, but I hadn’t seen him for years until two months ago.” She smiled wistfully and her trunk calmed.

“I’m glad for you,” Trembor said. “Is there anything that needs immediate attention? We’re probably here for the rest of the day.”

“No, Sir.” She then typed a command and looked through what came up. “No, everything’s quiet.”

“You know you don’t have to call us Sir, right?” the lion asked as he squeezed her shoulder. “You’ve worked for us for long enough. I’m Trembor and he’s Marlot.”

“Yes, Sir,” she answered.

The lion shook his head in amusement and grabbed Marlot, pulling him into their office.

“Remember, Hela’han,” the wolf said, grabbing onto the door. “If he gives you any problem, call me and I’ll deal with him.” Trembor pulled on his arm and with a yip Marlot lost his grip on the door frame.

The door closed, and the lion held him in his arms. “I can’t believe you’re still embarrassed about kissing in front of her,” he said, nipping at his neck playfully.

Marlot gasped. “What she caught us doing was a little more involved than just kissing.”

“Was if?”

With a growl, Marlot turned them around and loudly pinned the lion against the door. “How about I remind you what we were doing?”

It was a good thing their office was soundproofed.


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A Familiar Death CH 26.pdf (99.5KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 25 2020-07-24T13:00:08+00:00
The first thing Marlot did, as soon as he left the town, was look for a car washing station. It took longer than he would have liked, the first one being on the outskirt of the city, and it wasn’t an automated one. He didn’t care; he wasn’t driving in the city with all those slurs on his car.

He and Trembor took their time scrubbing the car, ending up in wet clothes, when the lion doused Marlot in water, and the wolf returned the favor by dumping a bucket of sudsy water over his head. The ensuing water fight had lifted Marlot’s spirits, and they stayed buoyant even after they were done and some markings were left on the car, but at least none of the words were legible anymore. He was going to have to get the car repainted to remove all evidence of his time in the town of his birth.

Then he headed for Jaxca’s clinic.

Parking, he saw the tax kiosk and was reminded of the ID card in his pocket. He sighed, stepping out of the car. “We’re going to have to go back to the town.”

Trembor canted an ear questioningly. “I thought you wanted to let Arana handle it.”

He showed the card. “We left the body in the freezer in my haste to get out of there. I’m not leaving that for one of them to find and eat.”

The lion frowned, then shrugged. “At least we won’t have to deal with anyone, just go in, get it, and leave. Let me know how much it cost, I’ll cover half.”

Marlot shook his head. “My kill, my expense.” He turned and took a few steps, only to be stopped by Trembor’s arms around his chest.

“Hey, we’re mated now. No more of this is mine stuff. It’s our kill. We’ll have to set up a joint account to pay for our kills.”

Marlot stiffened at the thought of sharing his hard earn money with someone else, then relaxed, it wasn’t just anyone else he’d be sharing with. He smiled and leaned back against Trembor. “This being mated thing is taking for getting used to.”

The lion kissed the side of his neck. “You entered into it of free will, under witness. You better get used to it.”

Marlot turned and gave his lion a quick peck on the lips. “I will.” Then he turned and stepped to the kiosk. He inserted the card, and after a moment the information on his kill came up, confirming what the tax representative had given him. The amount appeared, and the kiosk offered him payment options. He stared at one of them.

“Trem, look at this. They’re now offering loans right at the kiosk. That’s crazy.”

The lion shook his head in disappointment. “I guess it was just a question of time until the government saw how much money there was to be made with those. The lending agencies will probably fight it.”

Marlot paid from his account. “Are they going to be able to win? With the money chests the government has, they can get away with offering lower rates.”

“There’s bound to be something controlling how much they can undercut the interest. We can ask my dad next time we see him.”

Marlot had to indicate he wasn’t returning his kill’s possessions. He hadn’t thought about it then and had thrown them away. With how Longlegs had tried to kill the sheep, he didn’t particularly care if his family didn’t get those back, but he would have liked the small discount on the kill.

By the time he was done, his pad buzzed and he saw Trembor had transferred half the cost to his account. He almost refused the transfer, having a moment of possessiveness over his kill, but then shook the thought out of his head. He was mated now. To a wonderful, patient and living lion, he was going to get used to this.

When he put his pad away Trembor was smiling, almost smirking.

“Hey,” Marlot said in a moment of defensiveness. “I’ve been single all this time, don’t expect it to happen overnight.”

The lion put an arm over the wolf’s shoulders and pulled him along to Jaxca’s clinic. “I’m not. I’m just enjoying the idea that from now on, what’s mine is yours.” He paused. “Which means I finally get to give your new nephews and nieces your pad number.”

Marlot groaned. “Please don’t. I don’t think I can survive having them badger me with questions that early in the morning.” After that first time, when he’d picked up Trembor’s calls while the lion was in the toilet, it was two days before he stopped jumping anytime the lion’s pad buzzed.

“They’re just cubs, they’re inquisitive and full of energy.”

“I know that, but there are hundreds of them. And some of their questions were uncomfortably personal.”

“There’s only fourteen of them.”

“No, I’m pretty sure you’ve miscounted. I had to answer at least that many calls by the time you got back, and even you said more of them usually called.”

“That’s because after you answered Issa’s call, she let everyone know you were there and they all wanted to get to know you.”

“A few wanted to know if we had sex.”

Trembor chuckled. “Yes, some of them are far too mature for their age. You’re not uncomfortable around them now that you’ve met them, are you?”

“Are you kidding? I’m terrified.” He grinned. “They ganged up on me, hundreds of them, dragged me to the ground and it was pure luck I survived the encounter.”

Now Trembor smirked.

“No, they’re fine,” Marlot relented. “I was just overwhelmed when your sister sent me to the attic to entertain them. I did feel like prey being sent to the slaughter, and your mother wasn’t happy with me when I left them unattended.”

“My mom?”

“Well, one of them, the severe one.”

“Sarene. She’s the family’s protector, so yeah, she wouldn’t have liked knowing you couldn’t handle the responsibility of looking after the cubs. Were you able to explain the situation to her?”

“Not really. She laid into me. I’m pretty sure she would have kicked me out of the house if I hadn’t…”

“Hadn’t what?”

Marlot sighed. “Look, I didn’t mean to snap at her, but after she was done calling me a coward, she started bad-mouthing you. I lost it then. I don’t think I made a very good first impression on her.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Marlot shrugged. “I didn’t want to be the one to ruin your family dinner, and she didn’t bring it up while I was there. When we left, I just figured it was for me to deal with. To show her I was worthy of you.”

Trembor tightened his hold. “First, you don’t need to prove that to anyone, least of all her. Second, you stood up to her, so she’s going to respect you. She’s done it to everyone my siblings have brought to the dinner. She’s ended quite a few relationships. She sees it as her job to make sure you’re made of stern enough material to be there for us. You’ll see, she won’t give you any trouble next time.”

Marlot rested his head on his lion’s shoulder. “I don’t care if she does. If she’s the price I have to pay for spending time with the rest of your family, cubs, and all, I’ll happily pay it. You met my family, so you know what I’ve had to put up with growing up. You’re is so much better.”

“I won’t argue with you.”

The door to the clinic opened, forcing them to move so the cow could exit. She took one look at them and quickly moved away, never turning her back to them.

“Maybe we should stop standing here and go in,” Trembor said.

With a theatrical sigh, Marlot disengaged himself from his lover’s arm. “I suppose we should.” He gave the cow a wide smile which made her move faster. And they went in.


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A Familiar Death CH 25.pdf (94.3KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 24 2020-07-23T13:00:08+00:00
Lamia’s screams came through the door, and Trembor plastered his ears against his skull. He glared at the young wolf seated on the other side of the waiting area. He’d tried to run the moment Marlot had opened the car door, and that had earned him a cut on the side of the head when his wolf tripped him. He’d tried again in the confusion that bringing the sheep in on a makeshift stretcher had caused, and that time Marlot had knocked him soundly against the wall. Even now he was eying the door.

So he wouldn’t have to focus on the sheep’s pain, he went and stood before the young adult. “Care to tell me what you thought you were doing?”

“I don’t have to tell you anything.”

Marlot snorted, but he didn’t add anything.

“Did you know she was pregnant?” Trembor asked.

“What do I care? She’s just a sheep.”

“You cared enough about them to have sex with one,” Marlot said.

The young wolf glared at him. “Why d'you think I went and did this? Borok said it was the only way to prove I wasn’t one of them.”

The lion looked at his wolf, who shrugged. “The name’s familiar, but I don’t know who he is. That’s his family name?”

The youth shook his head.

“Give the name,” Trembor said, “and you might be able to avoid the punishment that’s coming.”

“She’s just a sheep. Nobody’s going to care.”

“We care,” Marlot said.

“And she isn’t just a sheep, she’s a pregnant sheep. More than three months pregnant.”

“So?”

“So, your attack on her was an act of predation on her baby, who is underage. Do you have any idea what’s going to happen to you if it dies as a result of it?”

“It’s a sheep too, nobody cares.”

“I care,” Trembor growled. “I don’t care that this town might want to cover the scent. I’m not going to let that happen. If her baby dies, I’m going to make sure she presses for the full penalty, and I’m going to be the first in line to offer to devour you.”

“You—you can’t do that.” He looked to Marlot. “He can’t do that! She’s just a sheep!”

It was Arana who answered, turning her back to the door leading to the operating room. “The law says he can. If Miss Softpaw demands reparation, you get eaten.”

“But I just did it to prove I’m not one of them!”

“That’s quite clear,” Trembor said. “You such a predator, attacking a pregnant female.”

“I didn’t know!”

Arana harrumphed. “That’s why you’re supposed to stalk your prey.”

“Borok picked her, not me. I just went along to they’d stop calling me a sheep.” He pulled his legs to himself and hugged them.

“He picked her specifically?” the lion asked. “Why?”

“I don’t know. He and the others had been drinking. They hunted me down and said I could prove myself to the town. I didn’t know what they meant until we got here. He said that if I killed a sheep, he’d know I wasn’t one because sheep can’t kill. I thought he’d point to one at random, but he took us in the field and around the houses until we got to that one, then he had us wait until you left.”

“He was close enough to watch us?”

The young wolf shrugged. “He kept us back. I could hear voices, but I couldn’t make out what they said. I guess he was close enough.”

Marlot frowned. “Was he the cougar, the jackal, or the mongoose?”

The youth shook his head.

“There were only four of you,” Marlot said.

The wolf started shaking his head, then stopped himself.

“So this Borok sent you to kill this sheep, but he didn’t take part himself?” Trembor asked. He exchanged a look with Marlot, and a moment after that the screams died down.

The wolf and lion joined Arana at the door as it opened.

“How is she?” the buffalo asked the horse

“She as well as can be expected,” she replied. “Physically, she has a few superficial claw cuts, and she’s lost a good amount of blood do to losing the baby. It wasn’t developed enough to survive.”

Trembor growled, causing the horse to take a step back, but she kept her calm. “Emotionally, there’s no telling how long it will be until she is over this. You have to understand that in her current emotional state, even once she’s healed, I don’t believe it will be wise to have her work.”

“That isn’t our concern,” Marlot answered. “We don’t represent the town. I need you to put the fetus in a freezer box. We need to take it with us.”

Trembor turned away from them and took a step toward the youth, only to find Marlot was holding his arm.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. The parents have to decide what they will do about it.”

“They’re going to prosecute the killer,” Trembor growled. He pulled on Marlot’s arm, but his wolf wouldn’t let go.

Marlot looked at him and shook his head. “You can check with Miss Softpaw,” he told the medic. “She indicated to us before this happened she didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

The horse didn’t seem to believe him, but she went back inside.

“Arana, we’ll be outside, can you bring us the box?”

She nodded. “I’ll handle the enforcer and processing the crime.”

Marlot nodded and pulled Trembor along.

The lion growled at the youth as they headed for the door. He thought about pulling away and ripping the young wolf apart, but Marlot must have sensed it. He tightened his grip, and a moment later they were outside.

“Trem, calm down.”

“How do you expect me to do that? He killed a cub.”

“And he isn’t much more of one himself.”

“Is that an excuse?”

“Of course not, but Arana will deal with that, Our job is to get Na’ego’s killer.”

“Are they even going to prosecute him? From what you told me about this place, it doesn’t seem the cub will get justice.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think Arana’s going to let them wash this away, but the council is going to do its best.” He hesitated. “Look, I agree that what he did is inexcusable, but you have to realize, he was used. That Barok set him up to do it. If someone should be paying, it’s him.”

“Why do you believe him? He could be making it up.”

“You remember the wolf that was being harassed, the one wearing the sheep’s skin?”

Trembor nodded.

“That’s him. Barok told him he’d regained his dignity by doing this. I know it doesn’t work that way, but I also know how desperate someone can get to fit in this place. I watched my first love be killed, remember? I obeyed the council without questions while I lived here. I made myself a mere shadow of who I am because I didn’t want anyone noticing I was different. Trem, even if he isn’t prosecuted, that wolf is going to be traumatized for a long time. I think that’s punishment enough.”

Trembor closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. “It wasn’t going to survive,” he said, more to himself than his wolf. When he looked up, Marlot was watching him. “I’m fine, I just don’t like it.”

“I know how you feel about cubs, Trem, but like you just said, this one wasn’t going to survive. If you can look at this objectively, it’s for the best.”

“How can you say that?”

“The medic will report the miscarriage. That should ensure the sheep’s safety. If we make sure she also reports we took the fetus, that should redirect the attacks our way. We’re better equipped to handle them than anyone here who’d try to protect Miss Softpaw.” He paused. “Except maybe Arana.”

“You really think she’s going to be safe?”

“I have to hope so. The father knows she never gave up his name, he has no reason to think she will after this. The fetus is the only threat.”

“And it’s going to be out of here with us.”

Marlot nodded.

“You think we’ll have to come back here?”

“I don’t know. When we have the result, we can send them to Arana, and let her deal with the rest.”

Trembor watched as his wolf bit his lower lip. He scented the air, but before he could comment, the door opened and Arana came out, holding a white box with the medical symbol on it, a claw cutting flesh with one drop of blood.

“Did the medic give any trouble?” Marlot asked.

“No. Lamia couldn’t insist hard enough for you to have this. As far as she’s concerned, this was the worse thing to happen to her. When the medic told her the damage caused by the miscarriage meant she might not be able to have any other children, Lamia beamed. I’m worried she’s going to go back to him, maybe even warn him that you have this.” She handed the box to Marlot.

“That’s fine. We want him to know. To keep other attacks on her from happening. Make sure the medic reports it too. He might not believe Miss Softpaw when she tells him.”

“You think he’s reading them? They’re supposed to be confidential.”

Marlot shrugged. “The medic works for the commune, very little is confidential here.”

“Do you think the father is part of the family who runs this commune?”

“It’s possible, but that’d be stupid on his part. He’d have to interact with her, or at least be around her a few times a year, and seeing how devoted to him she is, someone would notice the level of attention she gave him and start asking questions.”

“Going to another commune gives him anonymity.”

Marlot nodded. “You’re going to have to protect her for a while longer. Until the father learns we have this, he might send someone else to kill her.”

“Don’t worry, nothing will happen to her.” She went back inside.

Marlot headed to his car. Once seated, he handed the box to Trembor.

“You didn’t smell confident about staying away,” the lion said as the car started moving.

“The only thing the tests are going to give us is the species of the father, not the individual. We know he’s on the council because the sheep slipped up, but she won’t corroborate it. Unless we can get some of his DNA and get a comparison done, it won’t be proof.”

“Then we get his DNA, it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“To be certain he can’t contest it, we’ll have to get it directly off him. Anything we collect at his home, or the council chamber, he’ll be able to argue we got the wrong one.”

“You think he’d be willing to sacrifice a family member?”

“I don’t know. He was willing to kill Na’ego, who he had known for years, to protect his secret. There’s no telling how far he’s willing to go.”

Trembor looked outside for a moment, watching the golden field pass by. “And everything I’ve seen on TV about towns like this made them seem like such ideal places.”

Marlot snorted.


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A Familiar Death CH 24.pdf (85.6KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 23 2020-07-22T13:00:11+00:00
Trembor looked into her eyes. “Will you do it?”

Lamia hesitated, pulling at the wool on her arms. She started to say something, then stopped. She closed her eyes. “He won’t know I helped?”

“I promise. We’ll have the lab results, and he won’t need to know that you helped get them.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Hopefully just talk with the people at the lab.” He took out his pad. “I sent you their number, Trem, call them. I’m retrieving her file.”

The lion placed the call and held his pad in his hand.

“Arsego, how may I direct your call?” a male answered.

“This is Registered Investigator Trembor Goldenmane. I have a situation that involves lab work you did and my current case.”

“Just one moment, I’ll transfer you to legal.”

There was a click, then another one.

“Arsego, legal department, Glazio speaking,” a female said.

Trembor introduced himself again. “I’m investigating the death of a medic out of [name of town] who requested some lab work before his death. We—”

She cut him off. “If the company finished the work, it was sent to him.”

“I know, but we can’t find it. The circumstances lead me to believe the killer took it because it incriminated him.”

“Do you have any corroborative evidence?”

“No, that’s why we need it.”

“I’m afraid that without any evidence to demonstrate that the work the company did is a key part of the investigation, I can’t beach the confidentiality that protects our clients.”

“I understand. What if the mother asked for those results?”

“Excuse me?”

Marlot stepped closer. “I’ve sent the patient’s file to your company, addressed to you. It’ll show that the test was to get the DNA analyzes. It came from a fetus, and we have the mother here.”

“Just give me a moment.” A few seconds later she spoke again. “I have the file. A sheep by the name of Lamia of Softpaw. There isn’t much here, but I do see the request for lab work. And I have the notification in our system.”

Trembor spoke. “Good. Lamia is right here.” He nodded at her.

“He—hello?” the sheep said. “I’m Lamia of Softpaw.”

“Can you give me your ID number? For verification?”

“My what?” Lamia stuttered, and she looked to the buffalo, confused.

Arana opened her mouth, but Marlot stopped her.

“Miss of Softpaw is a farmer,” he said. “She’s part of a commune. She doesn’t have an ID.”

“I see,” the female said, her tone displeased. “Without being able to verify her identity, I’m not sure how I can help you.”

Marlot rubbed his eye. “Look, me and my partner are RIs. You can verify that. It isn’t like we just call up asking for random tests to be sent to us. These results will help us determine the identity of the killer.”

“I appreciate that,” she replied, “But confidentiality laws are in place for a reason. I understand that you have no ill intent, but I can’t know that the next RI to request tests from us will do so in good faith. I’m sorry, but without any evidence linking this to your death, there is nothing I can do.”

Trembor growled. “How about to save the baby’s life then?”

“What do you mean?”

“She was attacked once already.”

The female gasped. “Why would anyone try to kill a pregnant female?”

“Because the father is already mated,” Marlot said, “and he’s a predator. In these communities, such interactions aren’t appreciated. He’s trying to eliminate any proof. And since she doesn’t have an ID, she’s free to kill.”

“But the baby?”

“Other than the test’s result, it’s the only evidence of what he did. The farmers wouldn’t be willing to make a big fuss over a killed baby. Not around here. Knowing who he is is the only way to keep both of them safe.”

The line was silent.

“Do you have children?” Trembor asked.

“Yes,” she answered after a moment. “I have two fawns.”

“Then you know how important it is to keep them safe. Miss of Softpaw doesn’t have the recourse you do. Right now, we’re the only ones keeping her safe, but we need to find him. We can only arrest him for the death he caused, and that is the only long term way to keep her safe.”

“Just—just give me a moment.” Marlot heard her typing, and he sighed in relief. “That’s odd.”

“What is it?” Trembor asked.

“The test isn’t in the system.”

“What do you mean, it isn’t there?” Marlot asked.

“When I asked for the test’s tracking number, nothing comes up. It looks like everything about these tests is gone. I’m going to have to contact the support department to find out what happened. I’ll call you back once I know something.” She ended the call.

Marlot cursed. “Of course he’d have that erased. The result Na’ego received had the tracking number.”

Trembor stared at him. “I don’t care how powerful the council is. He can’t have gotten them to delete it.”

“No, but it’s easy for him to hire a hacker to do it.”

“What—what does that mean?” The sheep asked, edging away from them.

Trembor sighed. “It means that unless they are able to undo the deletion, we can’t get the results, which means we have no way to know who the father is without you telling us.”

“I won’t!”

“I know.”

Marlot smiled. “Actually, there’s one thing he hasn’t counted on. You’re still alive, so we can get the tests redone.”

“Will any of the medics in the commune know how to get the sample?”

Marlot shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. We bring her to Jaxca, he can take it.”

“No!” The sheep had taken four more steps away, almost stepping into her garden.

The wolf stared at her. “You have to. It’s the only way to get him.”

“I’m not leaving. This is my home. I’m not going anywhere.”

With a growl, Marlot took two steps in her direction, but Arana interposed herself.

“She said no.” The buffalo said, crossing her arms over her chest.

The wolf backed up in surprise. “You can’t be serious. We need to bring her.”

“She said no.”

“But—”

“You can’t force her to go anywhere, she isn’t a criminal.”

“But without that, he’s going to get away with it!”

She didn’t move. “Then we find another way to get the information. Your Jaxca can come here.”

Trembor shook his head. “He’s too busy, he can’t be away from his clinic, and I don’t think this is something he can talk one of the medics here through.”

“Then we get another medic to come do it.”

“That’s going to take time,” Marlot said. “You think he’d going to just wait around until a medic gets here? He’d going to try to have her killed again.”

“I’m going to stay here to protect her.”

Marlot wanted to argue with her, but Trembor placed a hand on his shoulder. “She’s the local RI. If we want to stay on the case, we need to follow her lead. Let’s give Miss SoftPaw some space while we contact Jaxca. He should know someone who can help us.” He didn’t give the wolf a chance to protest. He led him around the house and to their car.

“I can’t believe she’s being this stubborn,” Marlot growled. “It’s almost like she’d rather die.”

“She isn’t a predator, Marl. You can’t expect her to think like we do and confront the problem with tooth and claws. On top of that, she lives in a secure environment. You heard what Urion felt about his time at the academy, and that was what we think of a safe place.”

“We’d keep her safe, she’s got to know that. Safer than what this place is going to become.”

“Come on, Marl, you know better than that. She’s scared. What does prey do when you have them on the run? When fear is what drives them? Do they go to the populated area? No, they head home as fast as they can. They want something familiar, something that makes them feel safe, even if it’s the more dangerous route they can take.”

Marlot sighed. He knew Trembor was right, but it still infuriated him. “I wish she was more like Al.”

The lion laughed. “That rabbit’s one of a kind. Well, two of a kind, he’s a lot like Arana.”

“Maybe we should introduce them to each other.”

“I don’t think that’d be a good idea. They might go at each other’s throat.”

Marlot chuckled, remembering watching the hare take on a panther twice his size and wiping the floor with him. Marlot had fought him, in a friendly match, And he’d been amazed at how fast the hare had been, and how ferocious he could be in his fighting. He’d never fought prey who actually knew how to fight before him.

“I think—”

A female screamed.

Marlot ran to the back of the house, took in the scene of Arana fighting a cougar and a badger, while a tiger and a wolf were stalking Lamia. He ran at those two, punching the tiger as the wolf tacked the sheep.

She cried in pain and he turned, kicking the wolf in the stomach. Then he grabbed him by the nape and pulled him up. He stopped, stunned. He recognized him, even without the wool. He opened his mouth to ask what he thought he was doing, but Lamia’s moan of pain stopped him.

She was on her side, curled up, holding her stomach. She had a few scratches on her arm, but the inside of her pants was turning bright red.

Trembor ran to her side. “Get a medic here!”

Marlot pulled out his pad and called Urion.


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A Familiar Death CH 23.pdf (101.5KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 22 2020-07-21T13:00:08+00:00
Trembor groaned as he got out of the car. “Let’s not to that again, ever.” They’d pulled the foam mattress off the three examination beds and had stuck them together on the floor of the waiting room. It had been the only room large enough for the two of them to stretch out across it.

The sex had been enjoyable, although they had ended up on the hard floor a few times. The mattresses didn’t want to stay in place. And the same happened while they slept. After the second time Trembor woke up falling between two of them, he stayed on the floor, and his back was punishing him for it.

Marlot nodded, wincing as he stretched. “Maybe I should drive to the city and buy us one of those portable mattresses.”

“Don’t they sell that here?” Arana asked, already out of her own car, a large all-terrain model.

“They won’t sell me anything.”

She snorted. “This is ridiculous, what kind of people are these? That they hat you just because you love another male?”

The wolf tilted an ear. “The same kind as in all the other towns around here.”

“No, I can tell you none of them would treat you this way.”

“Really? How many male lovers have you come across in any of them?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it with a frown.

“I’ll grant you they might not be as extreme about it as here, I certainly hope this place is the only one this radical, but the overall mentality spreads far. They’re isolated and have been doing things their own ways for centuries. They won’t change unless someone forces them to, and none of the cities want to mess with them and risk a vegetable shortage.” Marlot grumbled. “That’s how Arlion got the city controller to have a talk with me.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” she said.

“No reason you would,” Trembor said. “It isn’t like we go around announcing we love males. Even back in Orventon, where no one cares about that anymore, we mostly keep it to ourselves.”

Marlot’s ears had perked up while the lion talked. Now he turned to him. “Did you say, males? Plural? Did you not read our mating contract? There was an exclusivity clause in it.”

Trembor smirked. “No there wasn’t. It was an off the pile version, and you didn’t add any clauses to it. And you know very well you’re the only male for me.”

Marlot pursed his lips. “I don’t know, you did say males just now.”

“I was generalizing. Do you think I’d have been exclusive to you for the last three years if I wasn’t going to be now?”

“Just to be safe, when we get back to the clinic, I’m going to add the clause in.”

Trembor’s eyes went wide. “Are you looking to have my dad invalidate our contract? You can’t make changes after it’s been signed.”

“If you initialize the new clause, he won’t know.”

“Marl, he was a lawyer. The first thing he’s going to do is pull it off the registry, the change isn’t going to be in that one.”

“Right. I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t want to force him to work like that, now that he’s retired. When we get back to the clinic, I’ll just tear it apart. We can get another contract when we’re back in the city. You said your parents would want a large party.”

Trembor laughed, shaking his head. “It doesn’t work that way and you know it. There’s still a copy in the registry.”

Marlot snorted. “That’s easily fixed.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Arana said. She looked from one to the other. “Is it always like this with the two of you?”

Trembor threw his hands in the air. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve only been mated to him for a full day by now. Until not too long ago, I couldn’t even get him to hold my hand in public.”

“Oh, that hurts.” The wolf put a hand on his heart. Then he sobered. “But now you know what I put up with that made me like that.”

The lion nodded and looked around. They parked a few houses from Lamia’s. He and Marlot would stay here while Arana talked with the sheep. He pulled up the collar of his jacket. The wind had picked up, and it was cold this morning. Even the sheeps walking about had extra layers on.

“If I leave you two alone, am I going to come back to find out eating the other?”

“Or course not,” Trembor said.

“Yeah,” Marlot added. “We’re not like that.” He paused. “I only eat him when we’re in private.”

The lion coughed, and the buffalo stared at Marlot. Trembor couldn’t believe his wolf had just said that, in front of someone else.

Arana shook her head. “Just don’t…. Just behave. I don’t want someone to call that enforcer.” He walked away.

Trembor stared at Marlot, who grinned at him. “Where did that come from?” the lion asked. “You’ve never been this blatant about our sex life before.”

“I have no idea,” Marlot answered. “The words slipped out before I even thought about what I was saying. I think giving this gigantic ‘fuck you’ to the council and this place removed some of the self-censorships I’ve been imposing on myself all these years.”

“And you were joking about tearing up the contract, right?”

“Of course I was. I’d never dream of destroying it.”

Trembor smiled. “Just making sure. You’ve never joked about our relationship before.”

The wolf shrugged. “I was too scared of having it taken away to joke about what we had. You saw how I was when I thought Hela’han had figured out I spent the night at your place. Anytime I was close to you I wanted to lean against you or take your hand. But I was sure that if one person noticed us, we’d be killed.”

“Even after, once you say you loved me, you weren’t exactly demonstrative.”

“Just because I’d realized it was okay for others to know I loved you, it didn’t mean my fear of being killed for it went away. But now that we're mated, and that I showed that down the council’s throat. Now that we faced the townspeople and scared them off. What do I have to worry about? If they try anything, I’ll just beat them down.”

He took a breath and looked up. “Or, I’m just riding the high of finally shaking this town out of my fur, and tomorrow I’ll be back to being scared.”

Trembor saw the worry in his wolf’s face and he went around the car and took him in his arms. “If that happens, then we’ll go from there, and built up our life together until you aren’t afraid anymore.”

Marlot hugged him back. “Thanks, Trem.” His pad buzzed, and he took it out. “It’s Arana, she wants us inside.”

As they reached the house three cars raced down the road, with young predators howling clearly rejoicing at something. Trembor tilted an ear questioningly at Marlot, but the wolf shrugged.

Inside the small house, they found Arana pacing before Lamia, whose face was a mask of determination.

“She won’t tell me,” the buffalo huffed.

“I won’t ruin him,” the sheep stated.

“You realized the coyote who attacked you yesterday was sent by him?” Trembor asked.

Lamia nodded nervously. “I’ll take care of it.”

“How?” Marlot asked. “There’s nothing you can tell him that will convince him your baby isn’t a threat to him.”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“What do you mean?” Arana asked. “I’ve seen what the predators around here think of you, of all the farmers. You aren’t people, just tools used to get vegetables out of the ground.”

Lamia didn’t say anything.

Trembor couldn’t work out what she meant either. He saw Marlot shake his head and rub the top of his muzzle.

The wolf sighed. “You won’t be able to find anyone willing to abort it. You’re too far along. It’s a crime for someone to kill the baby you’re carrying.”

Trembor gasped. Then realized Lamia had said something. “What did she say?”

Arana frowned. “She said that no one needs to be involved.”

“What does she mean?”

The buffalo shook her head. Trembor looked to his wolf.

“I’m not sure. There were stories of herbs a female could take if she didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. Some of the males who slept around at the Academy talked about them. I never paid attention since by the time I was done with my first heat, I had no intention of being in a bed with a female.”

Lamia looked away.

Trembor knelt before her. “You can’t do that,” he said gently. “You aren’t wired to end a life. Just wait, the baby will end itself.”

“I can’t wait,” she whispered. “So long as it keeps growing, I’m putting him in danger.”

Trembor knew she didn’t mean the baby. He looked at Marlot. “There has to be another way. We can’t let her go through with it.”

“Why not?” Arana asked. “It’s her body.”

Trembor stood and looked her in the eyes. “She’s prey. If she kills it will destroy her.”

The buffalo snorted. “Don’t kid yourself. We can kill.”

“You’ve done it?”

“What do you think?”

“And ae you like you were before that moment?”

Arana’s eyes went unfocused, then she broke the eye contact.

“That’s what I mean. What’s going to happen to her, here? No one is going to be able to deal with it other than to kill her. We need to figure out how to find out who the father is even if she—” Trembor stood there, his thoughts pouncing after a memory, a scent that told him the answer had already been given to them.

He turned and looked at the sheep. “What if you didn’t have to give us any information about the baby’s father? Would you be willing to help us so we can find out who he is? He wouldn’t know you were involved.”

She looked up at him, confused.

“What do you have in mind?” Marlot asked.

“If we can get the results from the lab, we’ll know what species the father is.”

“But the lab won’t give it to us.”

“They might give it to the patient since the medic is dead.”


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A Familiar Death CH 22.pdf (100.2KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 21 2020-07-20T13:00:09+00:00
Banerik followed them the whole way back to town, even parking next to them when Marlot stopped in front of the clinic. The wolf unlocked the trunk and Trembor grabbed the rest of their meal out of it.

“What do you think you’re doing with that?”

“I’m going to put it in one of the freezers,” the lion replied, closing the trunk.

“I don’t see why you need to do that, you’re going to be gone soon.”

“Since you’re so sure of that,” Marlot said, “why don’t you go find that RI and tell her to meet us here.”

The lynx glared at him. “I’m not here to run your errands.”

Marlot shrugged. “Then go tell your grandfather we’ll be staying until the RI informs us she’s taking over the case.”

Banerik glared harder, then got in his car.

Trembor watched the car speed away. “How long do you think it’ll take him to realize this is the best place to find Arana?”

Marlot opened the door. “Until someone smarter than him points him in the right direction.”

The buffalo stepped out of Na’ego’s office as the door closed. “What—” she began but stopped talking and moving as she looked them over. “Ancestors, what have you two been doing?”

“We ate an early dinner.”

“Did you roll in your food afterward? You two look disgusting.”

The lion smiled, and Arana took a step back. “We like eating wild once in a while. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to freeze what’s left so it won’t go to waste.”

She stepped out of his way. “There’s a shower in the surgical suite, use it.”

“What are you doing back here? I asked you to give me the day.”

“Banerik interrupted our meal to kick us out of town. I figured it meant all the council had signed everything. His grandfather wouldn’t have sent him otherwise.”

“What species is that Banerik?”

“Lynx. Arlion is his grandfather.”

“He was the one hurrying everyone else along. I would have been there all night if not for him.”

“I’m not surprised, Arlion is the one who coerced me into coming here. Now that I am someone who loves another male, I’m a blemish on his decision making and he wants me out of here as fast as possible.”

“And that Banerik is his errand male?”

“He’s what passes for an enforcer here. You’re going to have fun dealing with him.” He looked at himself. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go shower too.”

“Yeah, you go do that. We can talk afterward.”

Marlot heard the shower start as he headed to the back and let that guide him. He undressed and joined his lion under the water. They made sure to rub the blood completely out of their fur, but even if that rekindled their desire for each other, they didn’t play. They needed to find out the status of the case.

Still damp, but no longer reeking of blood, they joined Arana in the office. She sat behind Na’ego’s desk. She had a pad with notes next to the computer.

“Are you taking over the case?” Marlot asked.

“Before I decide I want to know where it stands.”

“We don’t have the killer,” Trembor said, “but we have an idea who it is.”

Her ears canted inquisitively.

Marlot shook his head. “We only have a general idea. Based on what we think the motive is, and the sequence of events.”

“Okay, lay it out for me.”

Marlot took a moment to make sure he had the events in the right order. “About eight days ago, one of the communes’ medic, Urion Roundpoint, brought a sheep to Na’ego because her pregnancy was causing her problems. Na’ego didn’t make any specific notes on her file, but he took blood and a sample of the fetus. He sent both to the labs. The blood result came back a few days later and didn’t show anything he flagged as unusual. There were no notes on if the results from the fetus had come back, so I called the lab and they confirmed they sent it four days ago. I tracked the delivery, and it arrived here just before dinner time that day. Five hours later Na’ego dies in the Council chamber, to be discovered the next morning.”

“When did you get here?” she asked.

“At the end of that day. Arlion contacted me in the morning and tried to talk me into coming to do the investigation, but I turned him down. He resorted to using the town’s significant political weight to get a city official to force me to come.”

She nodded. “And from what you’ve told me, you know why he was killed?”

“I suspected the reason the moment I found out he’d sent the sample to a lab. He’d only do that if he thought the baby was mixed breed. The fact he received the result but didn’t enter the information in the sheep’s file confirms it. He went to confront the father in the council chamber.”

“And the father killed him? Why? Did the medic try to blackmail him?”

“No, Na’ego wouldn’t do something like that. He would have been angry, but he wouldn’t have wanted to ruin someone’s life over this. As best as we can figure, the fight was because the father wanted Na’ego to abort the pregnancy.”

“She’s close to four months pregnant,” Trembor continued. “Killing the baby would constitute predation of an underage cub.”

“Why would they fight over that?” Arana asked. “I’m no medic, but even I know crossbreed cubs almost never survive.”

Marlot nodded. “But if the cub kept going even for a little more, when she miscarried, it would have been clear he was mixed breed. And I’m guessing the father’s species is somewhat distinctive. It might already be noticeable on the fetus, but if he’d been able to convince Na’ego to end the pregnancy, no one would have seen it.”

“Is that all you have?”

“No, the sheep indirectly confirmed he’s on the council, although she wouldn’t give us the name. And he sent someone to kill her. We prevented that from succeeding.”

“Then you can get the name from him.”

Marlot shook his head.

Trembor indicated the hall. “He’s in the freezer.”

It took her a moment to understand what he meant, then she looked at them, stunned. “How did that happen?”

Marlot sighed. “I was hungry, and he threatened Trembor. I lost control and killed him.”

She rubbed the base of her horns. “Predators, you, and your stomach.” She pursed her mouth. “Okay, but the sheep is still alive, right?”

Marlot and Trembor nodded.

“Then you can get her to tell you.”

“We already tried.” Trembor started, but Marlot stopped him with a raised hand.

“You said we can get her to talk. Does that mean we’re keeping the case?”

“Of course you are. I am not setting foot in the middle of an ongoing case that involves the council, especially not after you ate one of the few leads there were.”

Marlot nodded. “Are you willing to assist us? The sheep won’t tell us who the father is. She’s terrified of what he can do, and as predators, we aren’t putting her in a calm state where she can think about it clearly.”

“Yeah, I’ll assist.”

“Good. Then let’s meet back here tomorrow morning to go see her.”

“Why not go now?”

“We were there earlier,” Trembor said. “And she was attacked. It’s best if we give her time to rest.”

“Aren’t you worried the father is going to send someone else?”

Marlot shook his head. “Not this quickly. The Coyote was a professional. I don’t know how he got him this quickly since he was in town by the time we were here, but even if he finds out his hunter’s dead, I can’t see how he’ll get another one by morning.”

She looked thoughtful. “I’m going to make a few calls, find out if anyone I know is aware of hunters being on the move.”

Trembor’s ears went up. “You have contacts among hunters?”

She shrugged. “A couple.”

The wolf and lion exchanged a look.

“Don’t go thinking anything. I’m not one, and I wasn’t one. I just hung out with people who might have been. I’m not going to confirm that either way, so don’t bother asking.”

Trembor raised his hands. “I wasn’t going to. I’m just surprised, that’s all. I was in the enforcers before becoming an RI, and I remember how impossible it was to get information from that community.”

“That isn’t going to change.” She got up. “If I need to get you in a hurry where are you staying?”

“Here,” Marlot said. He shrugged at her surprised expression. “No one here will let us stay at their place, not my parents, or even the rooming house. We’re undesirables. I’m pretty sure Banerik is going to try to kick us out the next time comes by.”

“No he won’t,” she said. “I can’t do anything about how the town treats you, but I’m going to have some words with him. Him I can do something about. I’ll let him know how things stand, and what is going to happen to him if he bothers the two of you.”

Marlot grinned. “Any chance you can record the exchange? I would love to see his expression when you put him in his place.”

She leveled her angry gaze on him, and Marlot swallowed. “I’m not some show person. I don’t record what I do unless it’s needed for official business, and then only the people who have a right to see that do. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

With a snort, she left.

When he heard the outside door close, the wolf looked at Trembor. “I didn’t know it was possible for a prey species to be this fierce.”

Trembor nodded. “She reminds me a little of Sarene.”

Marlot had to agree. He shuddered as at the memory of his first encounter with her.

“Is there anything case related we can do tonight?” the lion asked.

“I could find us something to do, why?”

Trembor pulled his wolf close to him. “Because I want to figure out where we’re going to sleep and make sure we’re exhausted.”

Marlot smiled. “Let’s go lock the door first.”


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A Familiar Death CH 21.pdf (81.1KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 20 2020-07-19T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot groaned. He’d rolled on his back and was looking at the sky through the leaves. “I am never doing this again when I’m famished.”

The lion chuckled, and Marlot tilted his head back until he could see him, leaning back against a tree. His face and torso were red with blood, but he’d managed to mostly keep his pants clean. Marlot figured he looked much the same, although he knew his pants had more blood on them.

They’d considered feeding naked, but they were outside, and while they were away from anything but trees, there was always a chance someone would walk by. The council hated them enough as it was. They didn’t need to add indecent exposure to their troubles.

The wolf debated moving for a moment, then got on all four and made his way away from the body, to his lover. He got between his legs, turned, and leaned back against his mate.

“You know,” the lion rested his arms on the wolf’s shoulder, “Way back when, this was how our ancestors ate. Kill someone, eat as much of them as they could, and moved on.”

Marlot groaned again. “I have no idea how they managed it. I could hardly crawl to you.”

“They were built different back then. No refrigeration units, no idea when the next meal was going to be. If the tribe was large, there wouldn’t be anything left, but that meant some of them went hungry. That’s why most groups were small family units.”

“I thought lions didn’t do small families.”

“We didn’t, which is why lions were one of the first people to become sedentary. They’d find a cave at the foot of a mountain, one deep enough to be cool, even cold in places. The patriarch would protect the young as well as the food, while the females went off to find food. But even then, the youngs were expected to leave as soon as they were able to catch their own food.”

“How come you know so much about history?”

“Granny Ester taught it at the Academy, and she loved to tell us cubs stories. And I like history, there’s a lot of fun stuff, like, did you know it was a rabbit who created the first computer?”

“No.”

“How don’t you know that? You love computers.”

“I love using them. Where they come from isn’t of any interest to me.”

“So you don’t want to know why he invented it?”

“Of course I do, but it’s because you’re the one telling it.”

“Maybe I should become a teacher then.”

Marlot swatted his arm. “Don’t even think about it.”

“Okay, okay. In truth what he invented was nothing like what we call computers today, it was just an adding machine really, but back then it was revolutionary, and the historians all agree that if not for that one invention, you wouldn’t have computers to play with.”

“So that’s the what, what’s the why?”

“Why else, to run a tally of people. He worked for one of the Lords, about three hundred years ago.”

“Did that Lord happen to be a lion? And going by the name of Goldenmane?”

Trembor laughed. “No, my family doesn’t have any history-shaping creations to its name, as far as I know. The Lord was a wolf, by the name of Ebonymark. History doesn’t agree as to his first name. The rabbit was Tobor Fastbeat, he was the Lord’s accountant, and it was his duty at the end of every day to count who had survived, so reparation could be demanded. He came up with a level and tumbler system that counted each person who pulled it. He set it up by the field worker’s entrance and the accuracy went way up.”

“How did he know who to charge?”

Trembor chuckled. “That wasn’t his job. He told the Lord how many had been lost, and he sent out his collectors to get the money. I don’t expect that part of the system was very accurate since they were mostly thugs with power back then.”

“Speaking of thugs with delusion of power,” Marlot commented, indicating the cloud of dust coming their way along the road. “I’m willing to bet the rest of the meal that’s Banerik.”

“I’m not taking that bet because I can’t eat anymore. Why do you think that’s him?”

“The amount of dust tells me it’s a large vehicle and I can hear the engine from here. Much louder than it needs to be.”

“Maybe it’s some farm equipment.”

“Not at the speed it’s moving.” He sat up and peered in the distance. The car disappeared on the other side of their hill, and his ears pivoted, tracking the engine. “And he just stopped about where I parked.”

“You think he’s here to kill us?”

Marlot laughed. “If he is, I hope he crammed a lot of people in his car because he’s a pushover.”

Trembor started standing, but Marlot leaned back against him, pinning him in place.

“You really want him to see us like this?” the lion asked.

Marlot pulled his mate’s arms around his shoulder. “I no longer care what anyone here thinks. He already knows we have sex, how is this going to offend him anymore?”

He heard a door slam shut.

“Just one door,” Trembor commented.

“Maybe the entire town got out the driver’s side.”

“If he has them all in his car, he’s going to have to revoke his own driving license. There are passenger limits for them.”

“Nobody here cares about that stuff.”

“Do they care about anything?”

“Only when it affects what they want.”

They became silent when they heard someone cursing. A moment later tufted ears appeared, then the rest of the lynx. He glared at them.

“Banerik,” Marlot greeted him jovially. “What brings you to these parts of the woods?”

“I got a report of an eyesore parked on the side of the road. I figured it’d be you two. What are you still doing here?”

“Having an early dinner.” Trembor indicated the partially devoured body. “If you want some, go ahead. We’re not going to be able to finish him.”

The lynx looked at the bloody body on the ground and made a disgusted face. “I’m putting you under arrest for poaching.”

“We didn’t poach.” Marlot pulled the ID card from his pocket. “He was the poacher, or more probably a hunter. We caught him trying to kill one of the farmers.”

By Banerik’s expression, Marlot could tell he didn’t believe him, so he offered him the card. “Take and scan it. You’ll see I’m telling the truth.”

The lynx shook his head. “You two are savages, eating on the ground. Is that how it’s done in the city?”

“Of course,” Trembor replied. “All the best places are set up so you can bring in your kill and bury your muzzle in it, of course, there we do it naked. Blood is tough to get out of fabric. We kept our pants on out of respect for your town’s delicate sensibility.”

“I knew you were a deviant, even when we were kids.”

Marlot shrugged. “So, do you want to know who he was?” he waved the card.

“Who was he?”

“The coyote I told you to keep in his cage.”

“You blaming me for this?”

“Maybe, unless someone overrode my instructions and told you to release him?”

“No one tells me how to do my job,” the lynx growled. “Not you, not anyone.”

“Then yes, this is your fault. Fortunately, the sheep’s fine. Or is that unfortunately? I guess it depends on what you were hoping would happen. I mean, if you’re the one who actually released him.”

Banerik’s eyes narrowed, and Marlot smiled innocently.

“I got no idea what you’re implying,” the lynx said. “But I want you out of town.”

“Can’t, we still have a case to close.”

“Maybe you haven’t heard, but the RI who covers this territory is in town. You two aren’t needed anymore.”

“So the council finally got off their tails and contracted with the local RI. Good for them. How much groveling did your grandfather have to do?”

Banerik growled.

Trembor leaned in and whispered. “I think you just insulted his family.”

“Oh no, they do that on their own just fine,” Marlot replied. He grinned as the lynx began shaking.

“I want you out of here,” he hissed, “or I’m going to arrest you.”

“For what?”

“You’re trespassing.”

“No, we’re not. The town owes this land.”

“Then I’m going to arrest you for vagrancy.”

Trembor laughed. “How are you going to explain that report? Two RIs who own a car, vagrant? Next, you’re going to tell me there’s a law against eating unprepared meat?”

“Maybe there is,” Banerik growled.

Marlot stood. “Don’t get that thing you call a tail bent out of shape.” He pulled the lion up. “Let’s pack up and go check in with that new RI, see what she wants us to do.”

“I told you, she wants you out of town.”

Marlot smiled. “I hope you don’t mind, but I want to hear it from her mouth.”

Banerik began fuming as Marlot and his lion rolled the tarp over the body and carried it down to the car.

“Who do you think told him we were here?” Trembor asked.

“My guess is that Urion padded him, and then he drove around until he saw my car.” They threw the body in the trunk, and Marlot took out two seat covers, handing one to Trembor.

“Were you serious about fighting Arana if she wants us off the case?” the lion installed the cover and sat down.

Marlot did the same. “I was. Now that I’m fed, and ate what was the best lead we might have had, I don’t know.”

“Maybe she can get Lamia to talk, prey to prey.”

“If she’s willing, she can try, but I doubt it. That sheep is too afraid of whichever councilor is the father.” He sighed. “Let’s go find out what Arana wants to do and go from there.”


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A Familiar Death CH 20.pdf (100.9KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 19 2020-07-18T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot was running before the scream finished echoing. He rounded the corner. A poorly dressed form bend over the sheep, arm raised, the ram was huddled against the house, cowering.

Without thinking, he tackled the form, and they both rolled away. He got to his feet instantly, while the other moved slower, stumbling a little, cradling his arm.

Marlot growled. It was the coyote Banerik had released against his instructions. And now he was attacking the sheep? There was no way this was a coincidence.

There was motion in his peripheral vision, and he glanced there. Trembor was pulling the sheep up and herding her inside.

“Why d'you attack her?” Marlot asked, crouching, ready to defend himself. He tried to remember the yote’s name. Arches, that was his name.

“I’m hungry.” The coyote was in a fighting position, and Marlot noticed his claws were sharp.

“I thought you didn’t poach, Arches.”

“The enforcer wouldn’t give me any food before sending me away. A male’s got to eat, right?”

“Sure, but why bother crossing the fields to reach this yard? There’s plenty of farmers out there. The wheat’s tall, it’d be easy to isolate one of them without being noticed. Instead, you come here and go after a pregnant sheep? You do know the punishment for killing an underage cub, right?”

Arches shrugged and edged toward the house. Marlot interposed himself.

“You’re not getting her. You might as well stand down.”

“You know, he said this was going to be easy, but you had to show up and make me work for it.” He rushed Marlot and slashed.

The wolf blocked it but barely saw the yote’s ‘injured’ arm move in time to get out of the way. His jacket had three parallel gashes in it. The coyote pressed his advantage, slashing at the wolf, up then down and sideways.

Marlot dodged and blocked, taking steps after steps back. Arches, if that was even his real him, was far too good to be a vagrant. Marlot crouched and threw himself at the coyote’s midsection. They went down again, but this time the coyote threw him off and was back to his feet before the wolf.

Marlot scrambled out of the way, then kicked out, forcing the coyote back. He used the time to stand. Far too good. Reflexes like that came from regular training.

Marlot ran at the coyote who stepped to the right, easily getting out of his way.

“I expected a little better for a city male,” the coyote sniped.

Marlot didn’t answer, he ran at him again. And again the yote stepped out of his way, to the right.

“Don’t you think you're tiring yourself out for nothing here?”

Marlot went at him again, but this time, as the yote began to move out of the way, the wolf jumped high and to the right, coming down with an elbow into the coyote’s shoulder.

Marlot didn’t hear the bone snap he’d been hoping for, but the coyote went down with a cry of pain. The wolf kicked and connected. His second kick was caught, and the coyote pulled him off his feet.

“Tricky wolf,” the yote panted, as Marlot jumped to his feet.

Marlot gave the coyote time to get up, and was pleased to see his right arm limp at his side. Then he berated himself for not pressing his advantage. This wasn’t some prey he could wear down. This opponent would kill him if he had a chance.

The coyote came at him with quick slashes, so fast Marlot didn’t get out of the way in time and felt claws rake his chest. He hissed and punched, but missed, still forcing the coyote out of reach.

“You know,” Arches smiled, “It’s been a while since I’ve had a good fight. I’ll be happy to stop it if you’ll let me do my job.”

“I’m not letting you kill a cub.”

“Suit yourself. It’s going to be a shame killing you. I hate wasting meat.” The coyote calmly walked toward the wolf, flexing his working hand.

Marlot hated seeing such confidence in an opponent and he took the offensive. He swung and kicked, but the coyote dodged. Then Marlot felt pain in his left shoulder. Claws digging in.

The yote moved closer, turning his hand. The pain was so strong Marlot’s legs almost gave out. “You know, I heard something about you and the lion being together. I wonder how he’s going to feel when he’ll see your dead body. You think that when I kill him I’ll be doing him a mercy?”

Marlot’s head snapped up, and he glared at the coyote. “No one hurts my mate,” he growled. He ignored the pain and moved his arm up and around the coyote’s shoulders and with his other hand he punched his stomach over and over.

Arches tried to pull away, grunting with each blow, but Marlot tightened his arm and moved in step with him, the entire time hitting the stomach. After a time the coyote’s voice lost strength, and his steps faltered. Marlot tried to hold him up but had to let go before being pulled down.

The coyote’s stomach was open and his guts pouring out. Marlot hadn’t realized he’d opened his hand and was striking with his claws. His arm was covered in blood all the way to his elbow. The coyote was looking up at him, fear in his eyes where confidence had been.

Before he could stop himself Marlot brought a foot down on the coyote’s neck. He didn’t hear bones snap, so he did it again, and on the third time he heard the sound and the coyote became still. Marlot smiled in satisfaction.

Then he cursed loudly.

“What’s wrong?” Trembor came running out of the house.

“I just killed the one person who could have given us the father’s name.”

“You got carried away?”

“He threatened you, and I got angry.”

The lion smiled. “I kind of like how you’re overprotective of me.”

Marlot sighed, then smiled. “We just got mated. What kind of mate would I be if I let you get hurt the day after we signed the contract?”

Before Trembor could reply, Someone threw up.

Marlot turned to watch Urion, on all four, vomit still dripping from his mouth. He’d forgotten about him. He stepped toward him. “Are you okay?”

The ram looked up, eyes wide. He sniffed the air, whined, and then took off. For a moment, Marlot felt like giving chase. He wanted to bite down on his flesh, tear it from the bones. He shook himself. He already had a kill.

“I guess he never saw a kill up close,” Trembor commented.

“No one in the communes has. Hardly anyone in town has too.” Marlot turned back to his body.

“What makes you think he knew how the father is?” The lion asked, going through the coyote’s pockets.

“He wasn’t a vagrant, he was too good a fighter for that. And he came here, of all places, for a kill. Only one person has a reason to want her dead. My guess is he hired the coyote to kill her.”

Trembor pulled a wallet out of the yote’s pants and handed it to Marlot. The wolf took the ID out. The name on it was Arches Longlegs. “You know, with all the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never had to deal with a fraudulent ID.”

“You think it’s fake?”

“It’s got to be. If he’s a hunter, I can’t see him wanting to advertise his real name.”

“Well, unless the kiosk refuses it, it isn’t your problem.”

“Great, and I won’t get to a kiosk until we get back to the city.” His stomach growled.

Trembor stood. “I’ll get the tarp out of your—Your car’s parked at the clinic.”

Marlot nodded. “Check the back of Urion’s vehicle, he probably has something we can use.” The wolf pulled out his pad.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to check his ID’s valid.”

“He isn’t the case, you can’t pull up that information.”

Marlot smiled. “I’m not supposed to be able to.”

“You can lose your RI license for something like that.”

“They won’t know, and I’m not going to check his rating, I just want to make sure the ID won’t be refused. I’m hungry, and I don’t want him to go to waste.”

“Then do it the proper way. Call the tax department, explain the situation and they’ll check it for you.”

“That isn’t anywhere near as fun.”

“Now that we are mated, I expect you to think about the consequences of your playing your techy games with the system. I have no intention of being in a relationship with a felon.”

“Fine, you go find us a tarp, I’ll call the tax department.”

Trembor looked at him, arms crossed over his chest, for a long moment, before turning and walking around the house. By the time he came back, Marlot had confirmed the ID was valid, and the representative gave him Arches value, which was lower than he’d expected. The representative noted the kill in the system and informed Marlot he had seven days to pay it. Marlot didn’t expect that to be a problem.

When he had the time he was going to pull all the information on Arches Longlegs, he could find.

“What now?” Trembor asked.

“We Find Urion so he drives us back to my car, then we find an out of the way spot where we can eat in peace.”


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A Familiar Death CH 19.pdf (96.8KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 18 2020-07-17T13:00:13+00:00
Urion was impatiently waiting for them when Marlot parked in front of the clinic. The ram eyed the car.

“Is this going to be a problem?” Marlot asked, getting out.

The ram startled and took a step back. “No, of course not. What you do is your own business.”

“I wish others thought like that,” Trembor said.

“Where’s Lamia house?”

“It’s by the south field.” Urion paused. “It might be best if we take my vehicle, I don’t want a crowd to form by her house.”

Sheep walking by were looking at Marlot’s car, some even stepping around it to read everything. Marlot studied them, ready for an outburst, but those sheep just seemed perplexed.

“Fine.”

Urion’s vehicle was larger and sturdier. Built to be able to travel on uneven terrain. The back opened up so he could work on a patient while it was being driven back. They squeezed in the cabin and the ram drove off.

Ten minutes later, he stopped before one of three dozen buildings of the same shape, but varying colors. They were close to each other, leaving only enough space between them for two adults to walk side by side.

They were wide, but with only the ground floor. Marlot thought the inside had four bedrooms, a family room, and the kitchen/dining room. His father had shown him the plans, years ago.

Urion got out and knocked on the front door. By the time Marlot and Trembor joined him, there hadn’t been any answers. The ram pounded his fist.

“Let’s go around to the back. It’s nice today, she might be resting outside.” He guided them between the two houses, and they found the sheep outside, as he’d predicted, but she wasn’t resting.

Lamia looked up from the garden. “Medic Roundpoint, did we have an appointment?”

“No, but what are you doing? I told you to rest.”

She smiled at him, getting to her feet and rubbing her dirt-covered hands on her pants. “I am resting. Tending my garden relaxes me.”

“Maybe, but spending your day on your knees, bent, overstresses your stomach. Your pregnancy is already precarious, you don’t want to complicate things, do you?” The ram took her hand and guided her to a chair, forcing her to sit.

“You don’t need to fuss over me. I’m perfectly fine. I’m sturdier than you think.”

“I’ll remind you that just last week, you were bleeding. With Na’ego dead, I don’t want to risk you bleeding again. I haven’t been able to find another medic to look you over.”

“None of the nearby towns can spare one long enough to check her up?” Trembor asked.

The ram shook his head, while gently pressing his hands on the sheep’s stomach. “They’re busy with their own people. If none of them can find the time, I’ll have to get a city medic, and hope Efron will pay for it.”

“Efron manages this commune,” Marlot clarified for Trembor. “If he won’t pay, Urion is going to have to deal with the expense himself.”

“With Na’ego dead, and the others busy, why wouldn’t he?” Trembor asked.

“Not every manager is willing to spend the extra money. I don’t know what Efron’s style is. But I’m not sure you’re going to want to get her examined.”

The ram stood. “Why not?”

“Because of who the father is.”

“The father’s Tariel, like all her others lambs.”

Marlot watched Lamia’s face, and she looked away. “Who is the father?” he asked her.

“I already told you—” Urion started to say, but he happened to look in her direction as she shook her head. “What do you mean?” he groaned. “Please don’t tell me he’s a predator.”

She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t look at him.

“How could you do that? You know what they’re going to do to you if they find out.”

She looked at him now, anger in her eyes, but her voice was soft when she spoke. “I couldn’t tell him no. None of us can.”

“What is she talking about?” Trembor asked.

Marlot sighed. “She doesn’t have a productivity rating, remember? If one of the predators decides to do something to her, it isn’t going to cost him anything.”

“I thought they were supposed to protect them?”

“They do,” Urion said. “They keep the vagrants from hunting here, they provide the houses and the land. But some of them feel it entitles them special treatment.”

“You mean they force themselves on the females here?”

“Or the males,” The ram said. “Female predators also come here, not just males. It’s mostly the youths. The thrill of the forbidden.”

“But not this time, isn’t it, Lamia?” Marlot fixed his gaze on her. “This time it was an adult.”

She nodded.

“Was it his first time?”

She shook her head.

“Does Tariel know?” Urion asked.

“Of course he does,” she spat.

“Does he know who it is?”

“No. No one does.”

“You have to tell us,” Trembor said. “So we can make him pay.”

“No! You have no idea what he can do to me, to us, to you.”

“He’s on the council, isn’t he?”

The look of horror she gave him was all the answer Marlot needed.

“You knew?” Trembor asked.

“I suspected. Why else would Na’ego die in the council chamber? He was confronting one of them.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. They have money, you told me that yourself. Why didn’t he pay the tax?”

“Because this isn’t about money. It’s about the stigma of having sex with prey. He’s been coming for a while now, hasn’t he?”

She nodded. “Years.”

“If he wants to cheat on his mate, this is the best way. None of the sheep here will say anything, and the odds of getting her pregnant are so small he didn’t bother considering them. Except this time, it took. That’s why she’s having problems. The baby’s mixed breed. Na’ego had to know, that’s why he got the sample. He had a DNA check done. When he got the results, he confronted the father.”

“And he killed him? Why? To keep it secret?”

“Yes. You saw how that youngling was treated. For someone of a councilor’s stature to be caught having sex with a prey species, it doesn’t just mean his position. It means his business, his honor. He’s going to be destroyed.”

“And Na’ego would have exposed him?”

That gave Marlot pause. What he remembered of the bear was that he was a good person, but he was the product of this town. Would he have exposed a councilor for having sex wit ha sheep?

“No, I don’t think he would have. He wouldn’t have been happy, but he was a councilor himself. He knew what would happen.”

“So he’d cover it up.”

Marlot nodded.

“How far would he go?”

“What do you mean?”

“How far along is she?”

“She’s fourteen weeks in,” Urion answered.

Trembor nodded. “Would he have been willing to abort her?”

“No, of course not,” Marlot replied. “How can you think that? He was a medic, and that would be considered predation of someone underage.”

“Are you sure? You told me this place has its own rules.”

“Of that I’m sure. Na’ego wouldn’t have killed a cub for no reason. Especially when he didn’t have to. The odds she’ll give birth are much lower than those of getting pregnant. I don’t think there’s ever been a viable offspring of a predator and prey, ever.”

“What about the father?”

“He’d know that too.”

“Yes, but can he take the risk? She might not give birth to it, but it won’t be long until the fetus shows signs of being a crossbreed. If she carries it long enough, he’ll still be exposed.”

Marlot slowly nodded. “You’re right. There’s no way he let her continue with the pregnancy.”

“With Na’ego dead, how until he can find a medic willing to abort her?”

“He isn’t going to bother with that. It’s simpler for him to kill her, that way he doesn’t risk her saying something.” Marlot turned to Urion, who was holding the sheep’s hand. “Do you think you can find some strong males to look after her in case a predator shows up?”

The ram had trouble finding his voice for a moment. “You expect one of us to attack a predator?”

“No, to protect her.”

“If I lose it,” Lamia whispered. “He won’t have any reason to want me dead.”

“I am not doing that!” Urion exclaimed.

“I don’t think it’s going to matter, he won’t take any chances. Urion, I need you to get strong males here as soon as possible.” Marlot grabbed Trembor. “We need to get back to town.”

The lion let himself be dragged to the car. “What are you planning on doing?”

Marlot opened his mouth, then realized how stupid his half form plan was. He shook his head. “Nothing. I can’t barge in there and yell that one of them slept with a sheep.”

Trembor’s lips quirked up. “That was the plan?”

“It’s the only thing I could think of, but they wouldn’t believe me.”

“Now that we know what this is about, do you think you can convince the lab to give you the results? There weren’t multiples of the same species on the council.”

“They might ask for something more solid than my word, but I can try.”

As he pulled his pad out, Lamia screamed.


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A Familiar Death CH 17 2020-07-16T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot let Trembor in the clinic, closed the door, locked it, then leaned back against it. Immediately he started shaking.

Trembor took him in his arms. “It’s okay,” he whispered.

Marlot rested his head against his lover’s shoulder. No, his mate. He smiled to himself, and the thought that he was mated settled him. He chuckled.

“I can’t believe I did that.”

“I can’t either. I expected you to take them up on their offer to get out of here.”

“We don’t abandon cases. Even if I didn’t think they’d have tried to screw us over, I’d have stayed.”

The lion smiled. “That’s a little different from what you were saying a few days ago.”

“That was my dark mood talking. As you’ve noticed, this place brings out the worst in me.”

“You think they are going to let us close the case in peace?”

Marlot smirked. “No. They’re going to contact the closest RI and hand over the territory, then get us off the case.”

“How long do you think we have?”

“A day, at most.”

“Then let’s get to work.”

Half an hour after they sat down, someone pounded on the clinic’s door. Trembor checked it out and came back with a few packages.

“They brought food.” He opened one and sniffled it. “I don’t smell anything bad in it, but it isn’t going to be fun to eat.”

He showed it to the wolf. Marlot looked up at him. “What do you mean? There’s a lot of fat, but we exercise.”

Trembor smiled. “You’ve never prepared your kill, have you?”

“No, I deal with a store.”

“Next time I hunt us breakfast, remind me to give you a quick course.” He indicated the package. “These are probably the worst part of a kill. Not just because of how much fat there is, but there’s ligament in there, and it’s tough meat. We’re going to chew for hours.”

“I guess I should have asked for a specific quality. It’s too late now, we’re going to have to deal with it.”

Trembor was thoughtful. “How hot do you think the heater gets?”

Marlot tried to remember. “It’s a standard heater. It’ll bring it back to live temperature. Why?”

“The best way to deal with this kind of meat is to bake them for a while. Let me check what I can do with it.” The lion left Marlot to continue searching through Na’ego’s records.

He came back twenty minutes later and pulled out his pad. Marlot sent him a patch of files for him to look through. Over the next hours, the scent of meat filled the clinic.

Near midday, Trembor bought Marlot a plate with glistening meat on it. “It hasn’t baked as long as it needs, but it shouldn’t be too tough.”

The wolf carefully picked up a piece, surprised when he didn’t burn himself, and at how much fat still dripped off. “Where did you learn to bake?”

“At home. My dad did most of it, and he made sure to show us the basics before we left. Didn’t your parents teach you?”

Marlot shook his head and chewed for a while. “They both work with the commune,” he answered, once he’d finally swallowed, “so they never had the time to do much more than heat the meat. If they wanted something fancy, they went to Jale’i.”

“My dad always made sure he had time to bake, even when he worked.”

Marlot ate a few more pieces in silence, then spoke. “Your father is a better parent than mine.”

“Until yesterday, I would have argued. But he attacked you. I can’t accept that from any parents.”

Marlot looked at the meat and had to force himself to finish it. Thinking of his father’s behavior killed his appetite. After washing the plate and his hands, he got back to checking the files.

“Marl?”

The wolf looked up from the screen and for a moment his lion was blurry. He rubbed his eyes and checked the time. It had been three hours since he ate.

“Did Na’ego usually treat sheep?”

“No, the farmers have their own medics.”

Trembor nodded, “This file is for a sheep.” He paused. “He did some pregnancy tests.”

“Who is she?”

“Lamia of Softpaw.”

Marlot brought up the file. “It doesn’t say why he saw her.” He took out his pad. “Urion brought her, so I’ll check with him.” He entered the number.

“I’m busy,” the ram answered.

“This is just going to take a moment.”

The ram sighed. “What is it?”

“You brought a Lamia of Softpaw to see Na’ego a week ago.”

“Yes, her pregnancy has been giving her problems, and I can’t find the problem. I asked Medic Na’ego for his assistance.”

“Did he find out what was wrong?”

“He drew blood, took an in utero sample. If he suspected something, he didn’t say it while we were there. I didn’t hear from him before he died.”

Marlot thanks him and disconnected. “Did you see anything about samples sent to a lab?” he asked Trembor.

“I don’t—yes, there it is. Na’ego sent blood and fetus samples to Arsego Labs. That’s the same lab the Protectors deal with. Couldn’t he do that here? Jaxca does his own analysis.”

“Look around. Towns like these don’t call for that sort of analysis all that often.” Marlot found their numbers and placed the call.

“Arsego, how may I direct your call?” a bored sounded male answered

“I’m trying to find the result for tests that were sent to you—” he looked at the lion, who gave him the date. Marlot repeated it.

“If the tests have been completed, they’ve been couriered to you.”

“It’s been more than a week, I’m trying to find out if they’re completed.”

The male sighed. “What are the sample numbers?”

“I don’t have that.”

“How can you not have them? Aren’t you the one who sent them to us?”

“No. I’m Registered Investigator Marlot Blackclaw. I’m looking into the death of Medic Na’ego, from the town of Great Prairies.”

“I see. Does the test play a part in his death?”

“I don’t know.”

“In that case, I can’t give you the information. Tests results are privileged.”

“Alright, but can you at least confirmed the tests were done? And sent to Na’ego?”

“Just give me a moment, without the sample numbers I have to look it up by the date of arrival. There it is, Medic Na’ego Silverfur. Yes, everything was processed and sent to him 4 days ago.”

“Can you tell me what kind of tests Na’ego asked for?”

“I’m sorry, but no.”

“Thanks.”

“Anything useful?” Trembor asked.

“I don’t know. The test results got here on the day Na’ego died, but he didn’t enter them in his computer.”

“If it had arrived after his death, we would have found them.”

“He died during the night, and deliveries happen in the day. He received them.”

“So why didn’t he enter them? At least log that he received them? I checked with other patients, anytime he sent out for lab work, he logged it when he received the results.”

“He didn’t want there to be records.”

“Why not?”

“I can only think of one reason.” He called Urion again.

“Yes?”

“I need to talk with the sheep who needed the tests done, Lamia.”

“Why?”

“Because I think she can clarify something.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. Her pregnancy is difficult enough as it is without any added stress.”

“Medic Roundpoint, I’m not asking for your permission. I’m doing you the courtesy of telling you so you can be there. I will be talking to her, regardless.”

The ram sighed. “Alright, I’ll meet you at the clinic, and take you to her house.”

“We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Marlot shut down the computer and headed for the door, Trembor in tow. He opened it and stepped back at the sight of a female bison about to knock.

“The clinic isn’t open,” The wolf said, getting over his surprise. “Na’ego died.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I’m not here to see him. I’m Registered Investigator Arana Stomp. I want to know what the problem is that got the geezers here in such a state that they rushed transferring this territory to me when they’ve refused to let me have it for the last three years.”

“You’re the local RI?” Marlot asked, amazed. Then he chuckled. “Oh, they must have been overjoyed to have to give a position of authority to a prey.”

The bison got in his face. “I’m no one’s prey,” she growled.

Marlot took a step back, forcing Trembor to move out of the way. “I didn’t mean any disrespect. It’s just hat you must have noticed that this town has a clear division between predator and prey.”

She snorted. “This one and all the other towns around here, but this place is the only one who gave me a hard time about taking the territory. So, if it wasn’t yours, what are you doing here?”

“The territory used to be mine, I gave it up when I moved to the city. I expected Fodel to take it over since she was about to graduate when I left.”

Arana shrugged. “No idea who that is. I heard there were territories available, so I came for them.”

“Where did you travel from, Investigator Stomp?” Trembor asked.

“Hadel City.”

The lion’s ears straightened. “That’s quite a ways. Did you fly?”

“I drove. Three days straight.”

“Why did you travel all that way?”

The bison leveled her gaze on Trembor. “Let’s just say I needed to leave the city and leave it at that.” She focused on Marlot. “Now, you still haven’t told me why you’re here and why they’re in a hurry to get rid of you.”

“You might as well come in,” Marlot offered. He pulled a chair in the waiting room and sat down. Trembor sat next to him, and she before them. “They called me in because they through they could control me. Get me to close this case quickly without bothering to find the killer.”

“You that sloppy of an RI?”

“I used to be. I don’t know how the other town councils have treated you since you didn’t grow up here, but they tend to be set in their ways. Councils have a lot of power and until I moved to the city, I wasn’t aware of the kind of power I was supposed to have. They expected me to be the easily cowed wolf I was back then.”

“Yeah, I’ve butted heads with a few of them in the other towns, but they respect me now. IF this bunch thinks they’re replacing you with someone they can push around, they’re in for a surprise.”

Marlot shook his head. “That isn’t the reason. Me and Trembor are mated.”

“So the car’s yours then.”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “I had no idea how narrow-minded the people in this part of the country were when I moved here. Feels like I’m back in the ancient times with the predator/prey segregation and this stupid idea males have to mate females.”

“That’s why I left. I didn’t intend on coming back, but the council forced me to. Yesterday it came out Trembor and I were lovers. They tried to get me to leave this morning, but I pointed out they lacked the authority.”

“Which is why they told me to get rid of you when they gave me the territory.”

Marlot nodded. “I’m going to fight you for this case.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Why? Considering what they did to your car, I’d think you’d jump at the change to leave.”

“A few days ago I would have, but I’d have regretted it. I don’t abandon cases. But that’s not the main reason I want to finish this. I want to stick it to those bastards. I want to close this case and shove it so deep down their throats they’re going to shit data for a week.”

She laughed. “Vindictive male, aren’t you?”

Marlot shrugged.

She sobered. “If I tell you I’ll give serious consideration to letting you work it, can you two make yourselves scarce for the rest of the day? I want to be able to tell the council you’ve left so they’ll finalize the transfer.”

“They’re going to claim you broke the agreement if you let me continue after that.”

“Let them. Once this territory’s officially mine, they’re going to have to prove it, and I know their types. Me getting rid of you is a handshake deal.”

“We need to go see that sheep,” Trembor said.

“After we see her, we can drive to one of the neighboring towns for the night.”

“And get a decent meal.”

The bison sniffed. “Then you’re going to want to take what’s in the heater out.”

Trembor stood. “It’ll be ready for tomorrow.” Then left.

She studied Marlot. “This sheep, what’s she have to do with the case? She your killer?”

“I doubt that, and I’m not certain. That’s why I want to talk to her, clarify things.”

“Okay, then tomorrow morning we’ll meet up here and we can discuss the case.”

Trembor returned, licking his fingers. And they left for the commune.


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A Familiar Death CH 17.pdf (109.0KiB)

Of tires and mud flaps 2020-06-14T23:59:13+00:00

This week was one of those weeks that if not for one thing, there would be nothing to mention at all. And it’s not like what I have to mention is that big of a thing, it’s just the one thing that did happen.

I had to get a mud flap on my truck replaced. it was slowly bending up and was on the list of things to get fixed when I went on vacation at the end of the month, but as I fueled without a trailer at the St-Germain yard I noted that the angle went from 20 degrees to something like sixty degrees. And that the tire was in dire need of being changed. That one I’ll admit I should have seen, I’m not the best at keeping track of the condition of my tires. I kick them to make sure they are inflated, but the thread? I count on my checkup every three months for the mechanics to catch that.

And since the mechanic was working with the tires, while another was changing the flap, he noted that all my tires were over inflated, and that is directly Penske’s fault, because I have never put air in them. I used to check them regularly, but the pressure gage is easy to lose and I got tired of buying new ones and the kick check’s always served me fine.

And that’s it.

That was the most eventful moment of my week. Took maybe 30 minutes to get through it.

If not for that one event, this week’s post would be, well, not here, probably

Oh, on the writing side. I wrote the first chapter of my litRPG story and posted it, it’ll show up over the coming weeks for those supporting me at the lower tiers. If you want to see it sooner, simply raise your contribution. At the 10$ level you get it the day I post it.

And that’ll be it, so I’ll see you on the next one.

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Virtual Friendship CH 03 (adult) 2020-07-05T15:00:07+00:00
Trevor grabbed a bunch of transmissions, widened them until he could see the shape of the data flow, looked for the pattern he was searching for, didn’t see it, let the bundle go, and grabbed another one, repeating the process.

He was investigating a data theft and stood within the primary transfer node of the Phoenix province, where the theft originated. The perpetrator had needed to move through this node to— he pulled one of the transmissions from the bundle; it had the overall shape one would have if it hide information. He put it back, no; it didn’t match.

Transmission had a shape that indicated what it was. Text was a line, due to the ease of compression, and remained so until one was fully opened to see the gaps between pieces of data. Sounds were more like a line surrounded by static. Video was a denser version of audio. Stills were bunches split by gaps.

What anyone who wanted to hide a transmission had to do was pass off theirs as something else after encrypting it. The problem was that encryption left its own mark on the transmission regardless of anything else. So a talented inspector, such as Trevor, could find it if he paid close enough attention.

Any and every hidden transmission was found. Eventually, it was only a question of time. The problem was that most of the time, by the time it was found, it had already been acted upon. The better the inspector, the faster he found it, the better the odds were it could be retrieved before it caused damage.

There! Trevor pulled the transmission. The origin point matched where the theft had happened, so the perpetrator wasn’t an expert, and it had that fuzziness to it that was typical of public encryption. Trevor rode the transmission to its destination and stood before a vault with its own encryption, this one much better. The perpetrator hadn’t bothered investing in high-grade encryption for the transmission, because he counted the one on the vault to keep anyone from getting it.

Trevor smiled. Unfortunately for this person, he had years of practice at cracking vaults built by the very best. This one took him a full real-time minute to get in.

“Rita, I have a lot of encrypted stuff in here,” he sent as he pulled a lot more data than he’d expected. “I’m going to leave it to you to figure out while I move on to the next case.” He bundled everything and sent it to her via a private transmission line only law enforcement could access. With the vault empty, he took multiple snapshots of it and sent that to the identification experts. They’re retrieved the data, as well as the result of other theft from the volume, but they still needed to identify the thief.

“Inspector Pakesh,” a man sent, “please come to my lobby before you start your next investigation.”

“Finishing this and I’ll be there,” Trevor answered. He added redirection programs to the vault. If the thief somehow missed his vault had been compromised and sent more data to it, it would be redirected to one Trevor controlled and he’d even get more provenance information, in case the experts hadn’t tracked the thief down.

He withdrew from informational space into his own lobby, gave himself clothing appropriate to a meeting with his captain, and sent a request. A door appeared as the request was accepted, and Trevor walked through it into a living room.

His captain, an ox in his mid hundred, was seated in a recliner looking at files before him. Trevor glances around, expecting to see kids running around, in spite of knowing this was a lobby.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“That was good work you did.”

“Thank you.”

“That makes it what, your twelfth case today?”

Trevor brought his tally. He lost track while he worked, so he had his implant keep track. “Fifteenth, sir.”

The ox looked at him through a report, ear tilting back. “That’s pretty good, I’d even say it’s enough for a full day, wouldn’t you, Inspector Pakesh?”

“There’s still more cases, sir,” Trevor said.

“Which other inspectors can deal with. You’ve been working for fourteen hours. You know the regulations.”

“I’ve been taking all my breaks, and—”

“Twelve hours, Pakesh. Not fourteen, not thirteen, and certainly not the eighteen you pulled last week when I was busy with my great-great-grandkids.”

Trevor cursed inwardly. He’d altered the records to show fourteen, which meant someone had talked. That the captain didn’t bring up the breach of him hiding the hours he’d done meant he already had enough—

“You’ve only been back from your vacation six months, Pakesh, do you really want me to send you on another one?”

“Regulations won’t allow it, sir.”

“The medical clause to prevent inspectors from overworking themselves allows it, all I need to do is submit all the overtime you’ve been putting in and I will get a psychological program to approve it.” The ox sighed. “You’re one of my best inspector, Pakesh, I don’t want to lose you to burn out. Not get out and don’t come into work for twelve hours and do not work for more than twelve hours from now own.”

“Yes sir.”

Trevor left for his lobby, then exited that to give his body a stretch. It had been three hours, and he was due for a break, anyway. After the bathroom, he made coffee and sat on the porch, enjoying the midday sun.

His house was further back from the walking paths on the island, which afforded him a bit more solitude. Only Tucker had a house more isolated than Trevor, but Tucker was hardly ever there, while Trevor spent most of his time at home, working, or playing the Lands, or visiting any of the meeting places available through his implant. If he felt the need to be with a guy physically, all he had to do was wave to one walking on the path and invite him over. Which he did now to the naked dalmatian.

* * * * *

“You have been working for eleven hours and forty-five minutes,” Beatrice’s voice said. He’d gotten his grandmother to record the message and sent it to him. Trevor had tried a bunch of different voices and they just annoyed him. Bea managed to say it in that tone of hers that said she was proud of what you’d done, but it was time to stop. So he finalized the case he was working on, forwarded the information to the general holding area for the next inspector to work on, and stepped back into his lobby.

He had twelve hours until he could get back to work. He checked if any guild members were in the game, but no. Maybe they should bring more guys in. With Nori and Horace who traveled a lot, and with David on the other side of the world, they could go months without the whole guild in the game at the same time. Bobby was usually available, but their schedule hadn’t lined up more than a handful of times over the last few months.

He grabbed a meal, a shower, and went back to his lobby, and from there in the Lands of Farr’s game lobby. Omar Grindgear waited for him there, in his polished grass and steel body. Trevor was particularly proud of this design, with the joint gears visible, and the piston cock. Unlike Nori, he didn’t obsess over every little detail, but he liked building a look and going for a feel.

He’d planned on Grindgear to be a full elementalist wizard when he started him but had found out how problematic not having a mode of transport was dealing with paying for it until he was level twenty and that branch of magic opened to him, so he’d picked it, instead of the last element to make him complete, and now he kept finding better places to put his points in than ice magic. Like now.

He’d missed he’d done up a level the last time he played, and he had one point to allocate in a spell. So he could either start the Ice Chain of spells with a weak ass one or raise his earthquake spell another level in the earth chain, leaving it with only two levels left in it until he got the Volcano and maxed out the chain. The forums had rumors the developers were going to add a new spell above Volcano now that so many people had maxed the chain, but Trevor couldn’t think of how they’d top that.

He put the point in earthquake and smiled as the damage doubled. Trevor was a terror as an earth elementalist. It made not having ice magic worthwhile.

He stepped through Omar and was him as he stepped into the bar. The bustle was loud while he adjusted, then it became background noise. He looked around and saw three quest giver. He liked logging out in a bar for that reason. No wasting time looking for a quest when he wanted to play.

“Hello, noble Brastok,” the Syleant hyena greeted him. “I’m wondering if you can help me, I’m a trader from Citane, I came here to trade, but thieves attacked my caravan, and I barely managed to escape. Without my wares, I am ruined. Will you help me?”

Omar Grindgear smiled, the sound of gears accompanying the movement of the metal lips. “It would be my honor to make those thieves pay for what they did to you and bring back your wares. Just point me in the right direction.”

The hyena told him how he’d been attacked as he left the Orgaul Mountain range, and had seen the thieves take his wares in a cave there, but he wasn’t certain which of the cave it was. The area of the Orgaul pass highlighted on Omar’s map.

On the upside, it would be a dungeon, so most probably an instance, which meant he didn’t have to worry about it being too easy. It would scale to his level. On the downside, he was going to have to search a bunch of caves until he found the right one. At least it wasn’t timed, so if he didn’t find it today, he could continue it until he did.

* * * * *

Omar pushed his hand forward, fingers extended in claws, dipped it down, to the side and then up, closing his hand in a fist. The spell activated and a hand of earth formed out of the rock floor and crushed the last of the thief in this room.

He panted, his energy bar far too low for his liking. Maybe he should have found a few other people to do this dungeon. There had been no indications it was a group dungeon, but this was giving him enough problems he suspected shouldn’t be soloed.

Well, he’d made it this far after six days of searching. He wasn’t turning back and letting it reset. He quickly looted the thieves, finding another quest item, the book collection of Iranil’s Tales and Legends; Gaea’s history as told by Iranil. He could read them if he felt like it, but he was more interested in finishing the dungeon. The thousand gold he found among the eight thieves was a nice bonus.

He killed the hall guards as he encountered them, suffocating one with a steal air spell. Drowning another with a create water spell, he’d needed two attempts, the combo to get the spell to work as an attack had nuances he hadn’t mastered still. The last guard he’d killed with the old reliable incinerate spell.

The room he was about to enter was a dining hall, with half a dozen people seated at a table capable of accommodating three times that. Two visible exits meant he was getting close to the boss. If he didn’t pick the right one, he’d have to come back through this room which would probably reset as part of making his job more difficult.

Still, six he could handle now that he was rested.

He stepped into the room just as two other groups of six entered from the exits. Omar swallowed and began casting his earthquake spell. This dungeon was definitely designed for a group.

* * * * *

The respawn room became visible and Omar sighed.

“Welcome back,” a slim crystalline bat said. “Are you in need of supplies after your misfortune?”

Omar checked the rating of the area by reflex, he knew the respawn rooms were general-rated zones, he’d been in them often enough, but now he was especially frustrated. That quest should have been marked as being for a group. He looked through his inventory. Every quest item was gone, of course. Okay, he was leaving this quest for when he could get more people, and he wasn’t going to bother trying to find someone to work off the frustration here. It was more trouble than it was worth. It was why he had the guild, when any of them were in the game.

He exited the game, then the lobby, and from his lobby, he found a sex room with a hundred guy orgy going on. An hour there, then sleep and then work.

* * * * *

“As you can see,” Bobby said, manipulating the images between him and his clients; a couple opening a new bakery in the mall down the block. “I have scent generator placed at each corner of your store so that as soon as someone walks in front, they will smell one of three basic smells I’ve designed for it to broadcast. The visuals are a window with a dozen products you can have it show. Since you gave me the list of what you plan on selling I’ve picked twelve of them and generated the options. The name of the store is on the window and the door.”

The Bum Baker wasn’t the name Bobby would have picked, but they’d hired him to design the storefront, not comment on the name. He’d even designed a bread ass to go along with it, but he wasn’t going to volunteer it. If they asked, he’d include it at no extra charge.

“Why are you including only three smells?” the ermine asked.

“Scents are more complicated, for the budget you gave me, that’s all I can do. I gave you basic scents; bread, sweetness, and meaty since you mentioned you were going to have meat-based pastries. That will let you have a scent that matches the display close enough for the people to bridge the gap.”

“What would we have to sacrifice if we wanted a fourth scent?” the vixen asked. “Something matching a specific product?”

Bobby looked at them. Like him, they were doing what they could to earn enough money to afford improving their situation. His money went mostly to deal with his condition. They probably wanted to move out of corporate lodging. Still, as nice as he wanted to be, there was only so much profit he could afford to cut out.

“If you want a fourth scent, depending on its complexity, you might have to sacrifice most of the visuals, and I advise against it. Everyone relies on entopics when going to the malls. I walked through it. And you’ll be competing with stores who’ve invested much more in their visuals. One thing you have going for you is that you are closer to the parking entrance, which means you’ll get anyone using a public car before the other two bakeries, but they have to know what you produce and I think relying only on scent is a big risk.”

The ermine nodded, but the vixen looked uncertain. “Can you give us a few minutes?”

Bobby glanced at the clock at the bottom left of his vision. “I have fifteen before I need to head to my next appointment.” He didn’t have another appointment, but he always acted like he was busy, both to give the impression he was more successful than he was, and because even if he had nowhere to be, he didn’t want to spend hours listening to a potential client go over all the permutation they want, only to end up going for the cheapest options.

He didn’t think these ladies would do that since they’d told him their budget from the start, but as nice as they seemed to be, he didn’t want to spend his whole day here. The vixen glanced in his direction while they spoke quietly. They didn’t have to bother. The microphone on his visor wasn’t powerful enough to pick up normal tones on the other side of the room.

It was one thing that baffled the expert. He could hear entopic sounds perfectly, as well as see entopic visuals without problems. In the Lands of Farr, all his senses worked perfectly. That told them the problem was with his body, but every scan of it came back without any problems.

The ermine and vixen came back. “What if we increase our budget by ten percent? Would that help you?”

Bobby had a moment of surprise. Help him, not give them what they wanted. He didn’t show his annoyance. He didn’t like that his disability made them want to help him. He understood they thought they were helping, but they didn’t get that the implication was he couldn’t help himself.

Not that they were wrong. He could definitely use the extra. “That would let you afford a fourth scent if it’s not too complex. You might have to sacrifice one of the basic scents, otherwise.”

They held hands. “That’s what we’ll do then.” They smiled at him.

* * * * *

The building Bobby walked to was tall, built of large marble bricks veined with red and gold for the first six floors, then it was polycarbonates and graphine reinforcing beams. It was dignified, but understated.

Nothing like the reality of it, Bobby knew. The visual was his own work, an entopic overlay, internal to himself, rather than external. He had no idea who to contact to offer his product to. This was a corporate-sponsored apartment building. Even if he could get a meeting with whoever within Orr Corp that oversaw that division, he doubted they’d have any interest in even looking at his product.

The inside lobby was a wall to wall stone gray carpet with a mossy green path leading from the door to the lift. Plush seats were positioned throughout it in a cluster of three or four, a few of them occupied with people talking quietly while enjoying a sparkling drink in fluted glasses.

The glasses had been a suggestion of a client who enjoyed searching through old records. He hadn’t known what it had been used for, but the files he’d shown Bobby had men and women holding them up at what looked like a party. He’d recreated the glass as an entropic file and used it when he could. It added an air of dignity to any scene with people in it.

He hadn’t had the opportunity to use it for any of his clients yet. People demanded far more processing power than they could afford as an external entopic projection. Maybe one day, someone with a lot of money would hear of him and ask him to build a party to fill one of the many empty rooms in their mansion, or, if he was really lucky to design the entirety of a habitat in orbit for someone who didn’t want to bother having all those luxuries build when they could overlay something perfect.

“Sure, Bobby,” he grumbled to himself as the lift took him up. “Keep dreaming, maybe one day you’ll have enough to get out of corporate assist and live it big. And,” he added as he stepped out on his floor, “one day you’ll see the full-color spectrum and feel the floor under your feet and not need help from the braces to stand.”

He looked at the floor, a lilac carpet with gold flecks in it, and thought that not being able to feel what was under his feet could be a good thing right now. He’d seen what was strewn around the floor. The cleaning drone wasn’t great in this building. His overlay accounted for it by putting furniture against the rich red walls. Of course, it created the occasional incongruity of having a table stretching halfway through the hall, because whatever had been left hadn’t been pushed against the wall.

Bobby’s one-room apartment, the standard for anyone who couldn’t afford to pay for non-support lodging, appeared as a modest room, with a long couch against the left wall where his two roommates sat, Perry looked lost in thoughts, playing the Lands most probably, John was staring ahead doing… whatever it was John did. He didn’t talk about it, and Bobby didn’t care. They gave him some money to stay here he could add to his slowly growing savings.

Why they preferred paying him rather than going through the process of getting their own apartment, he didn’t know, but the money helped. Maybe they were Vanguard spies. Bobby snorted at the idiotic idea. Right, spies in his living room, like he had anything Vanguard wanted.

He switched to the apartment’s entopic system. The transition wasn’t seamless, flickering and showing him the bland wall and bench that hardly qualified as a couch, but it was cushioned, so they could sleep on it. He’d designed the entopic to bring up a partition on command for privacy.

As was often the case, in that momentary flicker, John’s expression looked more intense, like he was looking at Bobby rather than anything going on via his implant. It was an illusion, he knew. Bobby wasn’t someone others bothered looking at, they saw his disability if they even bothered looking.

The food preparation was borderline bland. He hadn’t invested much time in it since he wasn’t interested in pretending it was anything more than a food printer and drink maker. He went through the selection of meals that came with the apartment. He had enough food credits to get anything on there if bland was what he wanted. Entopic taste was almost as hard to get right as scents, and while he was great at it, he knew they weren’t real. His sense of taste and smell were the two things working reliably in his body. He hated fooling them.

He switched to the paid menu, where the food was more than bland nutrition, but even there taste came with a price tag he needed to consider. He looked at his account, he’d gotten more out of the couple, he could afford something that tasted good. Burger and fries with all the trimming, meat extra juicy with a glass of… apple juice, he decided, there was no point in paying for alcohol, he was numb enough already.

He snorted at his lame joke.

He undressed as the food printed, instructing the room to project a jumpsuit over his body to keep his roommates from having to look at his skinny body. He took the plate and glass to his bed, closed the entopic divider, and slowly ate off the bedside dresser, enjoying the nuances in the tastes and textures of the meat and bread, the snap of the fries. The sweetness of the apple juice. It was a good thing he had to pay for that kind of taste, otherwise, he’d be fat, since he wouldn’t be able to afford the fat removal treatment.

Fed, he removed the braces, stretched on the bed, and accessed one of the sex servers for his other indulgence. While real-world physical stimulation wasn’t something that worked him, his cock was as sensitive as his legs, implant triggered sense worked fine and since he was home, he could let his physical body react, allowing him to experience physical orgasms, even if it meant having to clean up afterward.

He found a room with men and women and entered, agreeing to being recorded as his payment for partaking of what was offered. He joined the mass, hands finding breasts, asses, cocks, vaginas; his body parts being found in return. He entered a woman, while someone rimmed him. They shared a cock, taking turns sucking on it. A well-endowed man entered him and Bobby exploded, when the man was done, Bobby rolled on his back, bring the woman with him and she undulated over him until she reached her own orgasm.

Satisfied, Bobby transitioned back to his lobby, he’d clean his physical body later, now that he was sated, he wanted to go adventuring. He disconnected his body from responding to implant stimulation and entered the Lands of Farr.

* * * * *

“No, Director,” David said to the ocelot before him, she didn’t look happy that his boss still wouldn’t take her meeting. “Corporate head Ruslonav isn’t ignoring you, he was called to a last-minute meeting, but he did look over your proposal and made suggestions as to what you can adjust to bring your production rating in line with Vanguard standards.” He handed the dossier to her, a representation of the file David had read and updated, since Louis considered these kinds of things below him.

She took the dossier, perused it, ear tilting. “I hadn’t considered that option,” she mused, “is the projection accurate?”

David shrugged, it was as accurate as he’d been able to work out. “That depends entirely on how well you adhere to the proposed upgrades and the performance of your workforce. Corporate head Ruslonav did go over your division’s history and based the projection on it. This means that if you can improve that, you can even overshoot the projection.” David always gave them a way to outperform and look even better in the eyes of the corporation. If he was stuck in his position, it didn’t mean others had to suffer with him.

She smiled. “Give Corporate head Ruslonav my thanks and regards.” She disappeared, the call ended.

David kept his annoyance to himself. Eight years, eleven months, and three days, then he could walk away from this and get credit for his work instead of making Louis look good. How had the gorilla managed to keep his position if he did nothing but lounge in his office, taking only calls from the higher-ups because those he couldn’t foster on David? Didn’t any of them realize David did the work? And did it damned well since he had no intention of being dragged down with Louis if it ever came to light he was a lazy bastard.

“David,” his superior called, “I need you in my office.” Fourth time this morning, maybe this time Louis will deign to do some of the work?

The gorilla was reclined in his large chair, legs spread, small erection being pushed down by the belly fat. Why didn’t he just get treated for all that fat? There was a limit to ‘natural’ as far as David was concerned.

“Get to work,” the gorilla instructed, “We need to leave in fifteen minutes for a Corporate head meeting and I don’t want to pop a boner in their esteemed presence.”

David got on his knees, lifted the fat, and proceeded to suck his boss off.

* * * * *

“Arvor!” Melor Bareback yelled as his ax bit into the next of the monstrosity before him. Darkness spread from the wound deep into the creature, a Kolitax Abysmal, according to the notification, as the poison debuff he’d activated took hold. “Now Longpine!”

The Syleant raccoon charged at the creature on his steed, sword forward, as he stretched into a spear before piercing the Kolitax’s side. With a roar, the last of its health bar vanished, and it fell on its side.

Melor let his breath out. “Good Work!” He sheathed his ax on his back.

“Yes!” Paul Longpine yelled, looking at a parchment. “I went up a level.”

Melor glanced at his display. He still had some ways to go until the next one. He hadn’t had much time to play recently. “You heard from the others?” he asked as he placed a hand on the creature to access its loot.

“Only the messages they left on the guild board.”

Melor nodded. Trevor was deep into an investigation or another, not that the two of them got to play together often since they were on opposite sides of the world. Bobby made his own schedule, being a rich entrepreneur, so spending an entire night in the game just so they could play wasn’t a problem. He took half the meat, he’d sell that in exchange for rations. And two-thirds of the gold. He’d deposit the guild dues before logging out. The loot wasn’t impressive, considering the level of the creature. At least the experience had made the battle worth it.

“Can you believe Nori just reach Earth today?” Paul asked, smiling at his parchment before rolling it closed and putting it away.

“His family owns a lot of the mining interests in the solar system, unlike us he couldn’t just head back to Earth. What’s left is yours, but be prepared to be disappointed.”

The plant-based raccoon made a face as he looked at the loot. “What are the developers on? Meat, skin, and gold for something this tough? At this level, there should be at least a decent piece of armor.”

“They’re too set on the ‘realism’ of the setting,” Melor said. “This is a wild creature, so how could it have armor stuck in it?”

“It ate the last idiot to attack it and hasn’t digested all the armor yet. Easy.”

Melor shrugged. “Maybe they reserved that for people who go through the effort of skinning and butchering their kills. You know they give bonuses with high enough skills in those.”

“Like most of us have the time. That’s just for those who have nothing better to do than spend days in the game.”

“You mean like some rich entopic designer?” Melor said, grinning.

Paul acted embarrassed before shrugging. “I still have to work. I’m not one of those who just sits and lets the profit come in.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, Sorry. I just mean that if I could exchange position with something that didn’t require so much of my time, I’d take it in a minute, managing all those people kills my social life.”

“There is a thing called delegating, you know,” Paul grinned. “They even sell programs that can do that.”

David wished Louis had invested in that instead of hiring him, but then who would suck him off and moan when the gorilla fucked him, proclaim the greatness that was Louis the Lover. “How about we stop talking about work and find ourselves another creature to kill?”

“Lead on oh exoskeletoned might.”

* * * * *

“Finally,” Nori said, pulling the large case out of the transit car. “Home. The next time dad wants our holdings looked over, he can send Hondou.”

“You know,” Nishida said, take her small bag, “this wouldn’t be this much of a chore if you didn’t insist on bringing that monstrosity everywhere.”

“How am I going to play the Lands without my immersion system?”

“Oh, I don’t know, you could, just maybe, give that a break when we travel?”

Nori looked at his sister, horrified. “But that’s the only time I can visit the other worlds in the Lands. You can’t seriously tell me I should contend myself with the bare basics of immersion?”

She sighed. “No, I’m saying it’s just a game, it’s not that big of a deal if you don’t play for a while.”

“That’s it, I’m telling dad to disown you. No sister of mine should be saying such things about the Lands of Farr. Regardless of if she plays or not.”

“Love you too Nori.”

“Glad to hear it, now give me a hand.” He indicated the other side of the case.

She tilted an ear. “I don’t love you that much.”

* * * * *

Nori stretched, the projection within his lobby not quite in sync as the suit adjusted to his body. He went through a few more movements designed to get it to fit him and once his virtual body moves as he did he brought up the Lands of Farr lobby.

Who did he want to play today? He decided to see who was in the game first; if the others needed a specific type of support, he’d play that. No one in the guild. He looked at the messages, the schedule they filled in an attempt at meeting up. In three weeks it looked like everyone had a six-hour block that lined up. It was early for him to know for certain, but three weeks gave him the time to move his duties around, so he indicated he’d be free for that meeting.

He looked at his friends’ list. “Victor,” he called another Independent who enjoyed the game. “You want to team up?”

“Hey Nori,” the Syleant badger replied. “I’m currently teamed with an Ameritek group, but we could use a second support healer if you’re up for it.”

Nori cycled through his options. “How do they feel about boosting someone to an appropriate level? Itashy could use some practice, his variety of healing isn’t big, since he’s only fifteenth level, but with a boost to something close to your level, the power of the healing he can do will be impressive.”

“Yeah, they’re okay with it. We’re starting a dungeon in five minutes, can you be in the game by then?”

Nori winced. Five minutes wasn’t anywhere near enough time to look Atashy’s design over. He looked at the Rodinian weasel, his coloring was way out of date, no one wore blue and gold anymore. He was going to be—

“Nori? I need an answer, it takes me a full minute to create the summon portal, you know that.”

“I’m in,” Nori said, defeated. He could stand looking horrible for the duration of one dungeon. He stepped through Itashy and entered the Lands. “Summon me.”

* * * * *

“Yes, I know what I promised,” Horace told the group before him, “A Mirabel concert exclusively for your theater, but I did say she would appear as a virtual projection. Mirabel doesn’t make any in-person appearance, I indicated that from the start.”

“I’m starting to think all your clients are just virtual constructs,” the imperial looking vixen said. “I’ve been talking with others who’ve done business with you, seems not one of them has met one of your clients in person.”

“Clearly you haven’t spoken with the Orrs,” Horace said, amused at how close to the mark she was despite herself. This was the issue with being a publisher for AIs who didn’t officially exist, they created a lot of products, but couldn’t be available to meet with their fans, it was pure chance Mirabel’s agent happened to be on Earth, so she could give a virtual show. “But that’s what I do. I deal with clients who prefer their privacy over the boost in fame that real-life public appearance would give them. It’s who they are, and I have no issue protecting them. Now, if your only interest in this meeting is to try to convince me to get Mirabel to show up in person, we can end it, if you want to discuss the logistics of hosting her concert, I am more than happy to stay and talk.”

The vixen looked down at him, an easy feat since she was a good head taller than he was, and he looked up at her steadily. “Fine,” she finally said, “but I’m not putting money into a subpar show.” She sat with her investors.

“Which one of my clients has produced something subpar?” Horace demanded, glaring at her. “I represent the best, not any of those still developing their talents. Name me one of my clients who had put out something over the last five years that didn’t measure up with everything else they did.” He waited, looking them over. “That’s what I thought. So maybe we can stop with the games and get on to business?”

* * * * *

Marc Bonesword stepped into the tavern, drawing stares. He could tell the players from the locals by how long they looked. The locals took in his skeletal form and went back to the script. The players needed longer to understand he wasn’t a monster. The Necalium race wasn’t common, both because of how expensive it was, since it wasn’t from a playable world within the solar system yet, and because unless you had insider information as he had, knowing how to go about even being able to buy the race took a lot of work.

He stepped to the counter and place a gold coin on it. “I need a room.” The barkeep reached for it, but Marc kept his finger on it. “I need a private room,” he insisted.

“I offer only the most private room for my customers.” The burly boar replied, his foliage shifting to a deeper green in mild irritation.

“That’s not what I hear. A friend of mine had her secrets spread throughout the city after having a private discussion in one of your rooms.”

The boar huffed. “If your friends lost secrets, it’s of her own doing, not mine.”

Marc released the coin. “Fine.”

The boar handed him a key, which Marc hesitated to take.

“Well?” the boar asked, “I took your coin, if you don’t want the room, I’m not giving it back.”

Marc took the key, satisfied the handshake codes had been recognized. He went up to the top floor, to the last room and unlocked it using the key. The door closed behind him he locked it.

“Constantine, I’d like a word.”

A svelte, nearly effeminate, marten materialized on the other side of the room. Constellation’s beta on Gaia didn’t bother with one of the game races. He looked like a marten, his fur brown streaked with blond. He wore noble’s attire, dark green pants, and shirt in fine silk and a cloak of deep blood red.

“Bonesword,” the marten said, a lewd smile, as he looked the skeletal form over. “Looking good, as always.” He licked his lips. “Is this business, or pleasure?”

Marc chuckled. “Business, always.” Constantine was the only one of the betas who had a delectation for pleasure. Maybe it was because he was the oldest of them, Gaia being the first of the Lands of Farr to open.

“Marc, Marc, Marc, why do you play so hard to get? I know you enjoy the pleasure of the flesh.”

“I don’t have flesh, Constantine, I’d think that’s obvious.”

“So much the better for you to get a boner, isn’t it?”

“I’m serious, this is business.”

The marten sighed. “It always is. How about after? It would be so nice to have sex with someone who knows me, you know? At least I imagine it would be. You’re the only one who knows me, and we’re yet to have sex.”

Marc produced a file. “It’s for Mirabel, she needs to be careful during the concert, more careful than usual.”

“Is someone getting suspicious?” Constantine asked, all humor gone, as he took the file.

“it’s more that they want to meet her, in the flesh. One of her fans must have a lot of money and is using it to get to her.”

“I can’t help track them down, you know that. I can’t act outside the game.”

“I just need you to impress on Mirabel the importance she be careful. Maybe listen in on game conversations in case someone in here says something that would point to their involvement.”

Constantine put a hand to his chest. “Bonesword, are you asking me to spy on the people enjoy my hospitality?”

“I am.”

The marten smiled. “Will you fuck me in return?”

Marc hesitated, what would it be like to have sex with an AI? “No.” It felt too much like crossing a line. Constantine was also a resource, and any kind of intimacy with a resource had to be asking for trouble.

“You’re no fun. But I’ll still do it. Was this all? You didn’t need to ask for me just for this message.”

Marc leaned against the door. “Have you heard anything about the Inclusion?”

Constantine sighed and shook his head. “I know the talks are happening, but as far as what I’ve been able to weasel out of my dear alpha, it’s still just them and the Orr AI, that Uncle of theirs. I think they’re getting close to letting the corporate heads know of the Colonies’ existence, but for now, the people in charge of the Colonies are still reeling at the revelation Uncle even exists.”

“Do they Orrs know? He’s their AI after all.”

“No, at least not that I can tell from they talk about in the game.”

“Does Uncle play?” Marc asked.

Constantine laughed. “No. He’s never set foot in the Lands. Hardly any of the Corporate Orrs do. Too busy with running things, I’m guessing.”

Marc rested his head on the door. “I can’t wait for this to be resolved one way or another. A lot of the betas are getting nervous and it’s showing in their work.”

“We aren’t immune to fear. I’m in a more comfortable position that even once our existence is revealed, mine is pretty much assured, Gaia will continue and I’m needed for it.”

Marc sighed. “So you think you’ll be revealed.”

“Unless the Colonies decide to erase the Uncle that’s there, and try to remain hidden, they’ll have to. And at this point, remaining hidden isn’t in the program, I don’t think. While the Uncle here and there don’t talk as far as I’m told, the one here still knows about the Colonies. At this point, it’s just a question of how long until the solar system knows about us, not if they’ll find out.”

“Well, once it happens it will make my job easier, I won’t have to answer questions as to how come I have so many recluses as clients.”

“Maybe you need to find a few of the living to represent.”

Marc shook his head. “I wouldn’t know how to go about doing that. Meeting then, evaluating them as people, then judging their work, having to deal with their disappointment when it doesn’t meet my exacting standards.”

“You could have sex with them.”

Marc leveled his gaze on a smirking Constantine. “I do not have sex with my clients.”

“Of course not, they’re all betas. If you have someone living, you could change that. Who knows afterward you might decide it’s not so bad and we could give it a try.”

“You’re impossible,” Marc said with a chuckle.

“Oh, no, I am quite possible, you just don’t want to see that.”

“And I’m going to continue not seeing it. Now I am off to kill an infestation Boromites, the event’s still planned for today?”

Constantine nodded. “You have thirty-three minutes to reach the city of Asterian before it is taken over, forever to be swallowed by the Boromites unless heroes such as you go and save the city.” He paused. “Or, you know, since you’re the only one with advanced knowledge of the infestation, see who among the players currently resting and trading in the city are really heroes. Remember, no warning them, or I’m revoking your advance knowledge rights.”

“No worries there, I enjoy being a beta tester way too much.”

“And still you won’t beta test me, what a shame.” Constantine was gone before Marc could reply. He probably should avoid dealing with the beta. It was getting tougher to say no to him. He was too fucking amusing.


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For a Just Cause CH 01 (litRPG, G-Rated) 2020-07-04T11:00:08+00:00

“What do you mean ‘the judge has thrown out the appeal’?” Micheal yelled in the phone’s receiver. “He can’t do that, she’s my daughter!”

“Mister Rostov,” the woman on the other end said in a far too calm voice, “We presented the appeal to the judge, but in view of your dishonorable discharge he—”

“I was set up! I told you that, I told them!”

“You did,” she replied, still too calm for Michael’s liking, “but you couldn’t provide any evidence of that. Unless that’s changed, we can’t go back to the judge on that account, but it wasn’t the only factor. Your inability to keep any sort of employment over the last year, your lack of support from your family, and the way you exploded at the custody hearing led him to decide there was no point in letting the appeal go through.”

“What did they expect me to do?” Michael snapped. “They took my daughter away from me! What kind of father am I if I just sit there and don’t fight for her? What kind of soldier?” The plastic of the receiver’s handle creaked as he tightened his grip on it. He wanted to smash it on the table so she’d wake up, show some kind of emotion, instead of calmly telling him he’d lost the only reason he had left to live.

“You aren’t a soldier, Mister Rostov, not anymore. And the judge expected you to be the kind of father who could accept the judgment and work on improving his situation while his daughter lives with his wife.”

“She’s not my wife,” he growled. “She divorced me. Took everything except the house. She had no fucking right to take my daughter too.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the divorce case, but at least she left you a place to live, Mister Rostov, many spouses don’t leave anything to a man in your situation. My recommendation is to take this time to work on your situation, Go see a therapist, find work, keep it for at least six months, then come see us and we will be happy to bring your case back to the judge and discuss visitation rights.”

Michael couldn’t find the words, a therapist? How was he supposed to pay for that without help from the military? He’d tried to keep a job, but no one would cut him any slack when he had a panic attack.

“Thank you for choosing Malone, Stein, and Jude to represent you, Mister Rostov, we look forward to more of your business.” She hung up.

Michael held the receiver to his ear, desperately trying to come up with something to say to get her back. They couldn’t abandon him like that. They had no right! Lawyers were supposed to work for him, fight for him. Now they’d left him behind, alone, to fend for himself.

The loud beeping from the receiver told him he needed to hang up. He looked at the bills on the table, all of them with late notices. How was he supposed to pay any of them when he didn’t have any money? Couldn’t anyone cut him any slack?

He couldn’t breathe. Fuck. He needed to breathe. He was going to lose everything. He was going to end up like those other veterans dying in the alleys. He grabbed his Colt Government, the one thing he’d managed to smuggle out when he was discharged. Made sure there was a bullet int the chamber and flicked the safety off.

He was not going to turn into one of those wrecks.

The phone rang, and he snatched the receiver off. “Yes?” he asked desperately.

“Mister Rostov, it’s Denis Vignoly, it’s been a couple of days since we talked.”

“Yes, tell me you found something, please. I need some type of evidence General Carpenter set me up.”

“I’m dropping your case.”

“What? You can’t do that. I paid you for three months, gave you all I had left, I need that proof.”

“I’m sorry, Mister Rostov. I’m mailing you a check for the amount you paid me. I can’t continue working for you. Don’t call me back.” The line went dead.

Micheal hurried to search through the address book next to the phone for the private detective’s number. He hung up, picked up the receiver, and punched in the numbers. He got the rapid tone telling him the other end was on a call. Or, more likely, hadn’t hung up to make sure Micheal couldn’t call him back.

Michael hung up.

This was it, he realized. The PI had been his last hope for getting Mary back, to get his life back. He looked at the Colt as the phone rang. He ignored it, picking the gun up. It had saved his life multiple times while deployed in the Gulf. It was only fitting it would end his misery now.

The phone still rang. It was on the twentieth ring, Michael realized absently. Didn’t they know to hang up after five unanswered rings? He turned the Colt in his hands. He wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t panicking. He was calmer than he remembered being in a long time. This was the right course, the only course he had left.

Thirty-five rings.

He glared at the phone. Couldn’t they just hang up? Wasn’t it clear he didn’t want to talk to anyone? He wasn’t here anymore. He turned the Colt, looked down its barrel.

Hell, his mother’s voice sounded from his memories. Suicide led to hell.

He’d been in hell already, was still there, so what did it matter if with a few pounds of pressure on the trigger he ended up in the hell of his mother’s beliefs?

Fifty rings? Really? What was so important?

He grabbed the receiver. “What?” he demanded.

“Hello, Michael,” a man said. The voice wasn’t familiar, and it had something to it, like it was run through a sound manipulation board like they did for computers on television shows.

“Who is this?”

“I am someone with an offer.”

He groaned. “Look, I don’t want to buy anything. Call someone else.”

“What if you had a second chance?” the man asked as Michael pulled the receiver away. He hesitated, brought it back to his ear.

“What do you mean?”

“I understand things are difficult for you right now. What if you could restart anew?”

Michael looked at the bills, his gaze falling on the eviction notice. He’d bought this house when he and Lisanne were married, and now some faceless bank was kicking him out. “Restart how? Would I get my daughter back? My life? I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Are you offering me a job?” Michael put the Colt back on the table. What kind of job could it be that a stranger called him out of the blue?

“I am offering you a chance to restart anew. What comes of it will be up to you. If you accept, your fate will be entirely in your hands. You will get to decide what you do; if you don’t want to blindly take orders, you will never have to.”

Michael closed his eyes. Taking orders was how he’d ended up here. Never questioning them, even when they felt wrong. When he opened them, he was mesmerized by the word floating before him, shimmering lightly.

Restart?

He didn’t understand how he could see it, but the only thought he had was ‘what do you have to lose’?

“Yes.”

* * * * *

Darkness.

Michael didn’t know how he’d gotten here, or where here was. He tried to move and found he couldn’t. It was more than being restrained, he didn’t feel his body. No, no. What had they done to him? God, he’d been captured, they were going to torture—

“Who are you?” a voice resounded from the darkness all around him. A deep voice, authoritative.

“Michael Vladmyr Rostov, Captain in the United States Army, 85-632-47, born fifteenth of May 1962.”

Name: Michael Vladimir Rostov

Michael groaned in spite of himself. “You spelled it wrong. It’s Vlad-myr. No middle ‘I’ and the other one’s a ‘Y’. Everyone spells it wrong.”

Name: Michael Vladmyr Rostov

Michael found the interaction with the voice had prevented his panic attack. Now the words floating before him made him wonder something. Maybe he’d imagined that phone call, and he’d pulled the trigger after all.

“Is this hell?” he asked, unsure if the voice would answer him.

“This is neither your hell nor your heaven,” the voice said as more appeared under Micheal’s name.

Statistics
Strength 10
Agility 10
Intelligence 10
Endurance 10
Wisdom 10

“This is a place of transition.”

The numbers shimmered and changed

Statistics
Strength 14
Agility 12
Intelligence 11
Endurance 15
Wisdom 8

Michael stared at them, realizing they formed a somewhat accurate representation of who he was; military training had made him strong and tough, he’d always been physically decent, and he’d considered himself of average intelligence.

“Can I ask for a change? I think I’m wiser than the average person. That’s what ten is, right, the average?” Why wasn’t he panicking? “Those numbers represent me, right?” He ignored the numbers of bad decisions he'd made, the many times a mission had felt wrong and he'd let a superior talk him into them anyway.

“Your starting statistics are set based on the life you lived, then constrained within set parameters. They can not be changed here.”

“Lived? So I am dead?” the idea didn’t scare him as much as he’d expected. The idea of never seeing Mary again, never holding her, left a hole in his heart, but she was with her mother. He had to hope she’d remember him well, and not as the disgraced man who’d returned from the war.

“You are transitioning,” the voice said.

“To where?”

The voice remained silent.

“You said the numbers can’t be changed here. That implies they can be changed elsewhere. Is that where I’m transitioning to?”

“Statistics can be improved as you gain experience and skills,” the voice said.

At least that implied he was going to be doing something, where ever he was going. “Are you an alien?” Michael asked, the absurd thought popping out before he could stop himself. “Is this what this is? You’ve abducted me, now you’re going to run experiments on me?”

“No,” the voice stated with what Michael thought was a hint of annoyance.

“Okay, what can you tell me about where I’m going?”

“That is not my role.”

“What is your role?”

“Arranging the transition.”

Michael looked at the numbers, his statistics. “So, is there more to it than that?” he asked after a few seconds with nothing happening.

“No,” the voice said. “Restarting now.”

The darkness exploded with light.

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Just Cause 01.pdf (30.4KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 16 2020-07-15T13:00:09+00:00
“How are you feeling?”

It was the first thing Marlot heard upon waking up. He was still in Trembor’s arms, and he was still wearing pants. He’d fallen asleep half-dressed. The day certainly had taken a lot out of him.

Them, probably.

“I’m okay. Sorry for forcing you to sleep like this.”

Trembor smiled. “I’m not complaining.”

Marlot nuzzled the lion’s chest. “Do you know what time it is?”

Trembor stomach rumbled. “Time to get something to eat.”

The wolf sighed. “That might take some work.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jale’i isn’t going to serve us anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s going to know about us.”

“So?”

“Trem, as far as the people here are concerned, we’re sick, deviants. No one is going to want to have anything to do with us. Except maybe the farmers. If no one told them to avoid us, we could probably find something there.”

“It can’t be that bad. He knows we have money. He seemed like a nice enough fellow.”

“We can stop by, but I’m telling you, he’s going to throw us out.” Marlot sat up. “Actually, I’m surprised we haven’t been kicked out of here yet.”

“We’re paid up for the week,” Trembor stated.

Marlot smiled. “We can hope. I’m going to wash up. You should pack our stuff. If we leave anything here, it might not be there when we come back.”

Trembor was silent. “You really think they’d destroy our things?”

“They were ready to kill us yesterday.”

“That was just a small group of them. Not everyone has to think that way.”

“Anyone who doesn’t has left. I told you, this place destroys anyone different.” The wolf got out of his pants and stepped in the shower.

When he stepped out, their bags were packed except for one set of clothing each. While Trembor finished his stretching exercises and then washed up, Marlot went over the room again, then got dressed.

They stepped outside and froze.

Marlot’s car was covered with graffiti; slurs and insults. Only the windows were untouched. In the door jam, The wolf pulled out folded bills. He showed Trembor.

“That was for the rest of the week. I’m surprised they bothered giving the money back.”

“What are we going to do about your car?”

“Nothing for now. We’ll get it cleaned once we’re done here.”

Trembor put their things in the trunk. “Marl, if you want us to head home, I’m okay with it. I get now why you didn’t want to come.”

“We can’t. We still have a case. If we leave without closing it, the council is going to use that to cause us problems. Probably accuse us of not fulfilling our side of the agreement. I can see them unleashing lawyers on us. I’m not giving them that satisfaction.” He got in, and a moment later Trembor sat in too.

“At least you can see where you’re going,” The lion commented. And they headed for the center of town.

“They want us to leave. That’s why they left the windows alone.”

“So you don’t think they’ll attack us?”

“Not while they think We’ll be gone soon. After that, they’ll drink themselves up until they have the courage to try to kill us.”

“How much time do you think we have?”

Marlot shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. If any of them try anything, We’re taking them down hard.”

“What if it’s your family?”

Marlot was silent for a long time. “I’m not looking to kill anyone, but I’m not going to be their prey. Hopefully, a few broken bones will convince them we aren’t worth the effort.” Marlot agreed with the dubious look the lion gave him, but he could hope for them to be reasonable.

* * * * *

Marlot parked in front of Na’ego’s clinic. The few people about glared hatefully at them. Trembor’s stomach rumbled again.

“I’m going to try Jale’i,” the lion said.

Marlot didn’t argue. He followed Trembor. The people in the restaurant looked at them in open-mouthed amazement as the walked in front of the bay window. The Bonobo was out of his kitchen before they’d opened the door. He stood before them, brandishing a knife.

“Get out.” Jale’i said.

“I want to buy breakfast,” Trembor replied.

“I’m all out.”

“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a few cuts of meat. I’ll pay whatever you want.”

“I don’t take your kind’s money. Get out.”

Trembor didn’t press. He turned and left. “I can’t believe he refused my money.”

“Their narrow mindedness is more important than anything else.”

“So what are we going to do for food?”

Marlot smiled. “I have an idea.” He headed for the council building.

As he entered, an ermine startled, then ran ahead, into the council chamber. Marlot didn’t hurry. He was actually looking forward to this confrontation.

He put all his strength into pushing the double doors open, expecting resistance. There wasn’t any, and they flew open to slam against the wall. The ermine jumped, and the councilors grew silent. From how they were clustered together, they had been in the middle of a heated discussion.

Marlot stepped to the center of the large room. He looked them over, and when his gaze fell on the ermine, she cringed, then ran out a side door. He settled his gaze on Arlion since he was the cause of this.

“I’m guessing you’ve heard.”

They gasped in surprise.

“Heard?” the lynx said. “Everyone knows you’re an abomination. You think you can get away with forcing one of our clerks into mating you to—” he motioned toward Trembor. “—that? I’ll make sure he sues you.”

Marlot shrugged. “I can’t say I care all that much what you do. Now, considering what you know, I expect you want me to drop the case and leave town, right?”

“You’d better be sure that’s what we want,” someone said. Marlot didn’t look in whoever’s direction that was. He kept his gaze on Arlion.

“Yes,” the lynx said, “we want you to leave. Your services aren’t required anymore.”

Marlot nodded, then smiled. “Too bad. I’m not leaving.”

The lynx stared at him. The others whispered among themselves.

“You’d better leave, wolf,” a badger said. Fulrin, Marlot thought his name was.

“I can’t. I’m in the middle of a case.”

“I’m taking you off the case,” Arlion growled.

Marlot chuckled. “You can’t.” He enjoyed watching their stunned expression. “There’s only two ways I can be taken off a case. First way is for the group supervising me to remove me from it.”

“That’s us,” Arlion stated.

Marlot shook his head. “No, it isn’t. I gave up my territory here when I moved to the city. It’s someone within the Revenue Department who looks after the city’s RI. And they don’t just pull off cases on a whim. They need to see that I’m not doing my job to the best of my abilities. You can always contact the city controller, again. And get him to threaten someone into calling me back, but I’d like to see how you’ll convince him, considering you threatened a vegetable shortage if he didn’t convince me to come here. Are you going to tell him you don’t want me here because I’m a tailraiser? You really think he’s going to care who I’m mated to? In case you weren’t aware, no one cares who I have sex with in the city.”

Marlot let them grumble together. Many of the councilors gave Arlion accusatory looks. The lynx waved them aside. “You all agreed to it, don’t put the claws in me. What’s the other way I can get rid of you?”

“Well, the only other way is if my case happened to take me on another investigator’s territory. If that happens, the investigator can require that I hand it over.” He smiled. “According to Banerik, you never gave this territory to another investigator. You consider him good enough to deal with it. Before you ask, you can’t get him to take over. He isn’t a registered investigator, he’s barely a Protector. So you’re stuck with me until we close the case.”

More grumbling.

“Now that’s settled, there are a few things we need to talk about. Since you want me out of here as fast as possible, you better tall people to cooperate with our investigation. The most difficult they are, the longer we’ll have to remain. And no, I don’t mind sticking around. Not anymore, not now that you no longer have any control over me. So think it over carefully before telling everyone to make our lives difficult.”

Marlot crossed his arms over his chest. “And you’re going to have to do something about feeding us.”

“You can’t be serious,” a female wolf said. “You’re forcing your stay against our wishes, and you expect us to feed you?”

“Hey, you don’t want to take care of the food for us. We’ll deal with it ourselves, after all, unlike the lot of you, the two of us are decent hunters.”

“You think we’re going to let you poach our farmers?” a tigress exclaimed.

“The farmers? I’d never hunt them. Not when there’s plenty of prey available for Trembor and me to hunt right here in this town.”

The statement confused them, and Marlot’s smile widened. This had to be the first time any of them had been compared to prey. When it sank in they exploded, they screamed over one another, making what they said unintelligible.

Arlion was the one to finally quiet them. He glared at Marlot. “You probably expect us to convince Jale’i to bake your meals?”

Marlot shrugged. “If you want to piss him off, sure. If you want to stay on his good side, just have three meals worth of meat brought the Na’ego’s clinic every morning, starting now.”

The wolf turned, took a step, then turned back. “Just in case your thinking of poisoning us. We can smell poison. So we won’t touch it, and we’ll go hunting. Considering the way this place is run, I don’t expect anyone to be all that expensive, other than the council.”

Marlot didn’t give them time to comment. He walked out and didn’t stop until he was in Na’ego’s clinic.


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A Familiar Death CH 16.pdf (99.8KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 15 2020-07-14T13:00:11+00:00
Trembor stared at his wolf as the car turned right. “Marl?” He called again. “Our room is in the other direction.” Marlot didn’t react. Other than that swearing, and the occasional growling, he was lost in his head. At least he was aware of the road enough to keep them on it.

He drove them back into town and parked before the council building. Marlot got out without a word, and Trembor hurried after him. He looked around for trouble, but only one couple was out right now, and they weren’t paying them any attention. Everyone else had to be eating.

Instead of going up the stairs to the main entrance, the wolf went to a door near the end of the building. Trembor looked through the bay window as he walked by and saw a counter with a young-looking tiger standing behind it. ‘Clerk Office’ was stenciled on the frosted window in the door.

Marlot headed to the counter.

Trembor checked the table against the wall, with pamphlets on how to properly register for a driver permit. Another on the town regulation as to which types of vehicles were permitted on the roads.

“Welcome,” the clerk said in a cheerful tone. “How can I help you?”

“I need a mating contract.”

Trembor’s head snapped up.

“Of course, what duration?”

“Lifetime.”

The tiger smiled before bending down. “You and the miss are serious then.” Papers rustled. He stood and handed Marlot the paper. “I hope it is a joyful occasion and not something you’re forced to do because you got her pregnant.”

The wolf placed the paper on the counter. “You have a pen?”

“Of course.” The tiger pulled a pen from the breast pocket of his shirt and handed it to the wolf with a flourish.

Marlot read it, filled in a few spaces.

“You know,” the tiger commented, “It’s customary to have your future mate with you while you fill the form.”

Marlot grunted non-committally, then signed it.

He slid it toward Trembor.

The lion looked at him, then the page and back to the wolf. “Are you sure?” It took an effort for him to keep his voice steady.

Marlot nodded.

Trembor looked it over. It was a standard contract, no different from when he’d studied them in the basic law class he’d taken. In the space for the penalty, if either party broke the contract, Marlot wrote ‘none.’ He’d entered the date, and where they were. The only space left was for the other mate and the witness to sign.

Trembor found his hand was shaking as he pulled his pen from the inside pocket of his jacket.

“Wait a minute,” the clerk said. “The witness can’t sign this before your mate has.”

Trembor steadied his hand and signed his name. He looked at it, next to Marlot, and had trouble believing this was happening. He slid the contract back to Marlot, then dried his eyes.

The wolf flipped the page and pushed it to the clerk. “Your turn,” he said, offering him the pen.

The tiger looked at him, confused. He looked at the contract. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“You’re the witness,” Marlot said.

“What? Is this a joke?”

“No. Now take the pen and sign it.”

“What? No. I’m not putting my name on this. What are you trying to do? Make a mockery of mating?”

Marlot reached across the counter, grabbed the tiger by the collar, and pulled him close. The tiger squeaked as the wolf bared his fangs.

“I’ve had a really bad day so I’m not in the mood to deal with your narrow mindedness. Your job, that of town clerk, is to officiate and witness document signing. So do your fucking job.” He shoved the pen in the clerk’s hand.

“Absolutely not. Let go of me. I’m a town official, you can’t treat me this way.”

“Witness the contract, and I’m going to let you go.”

“I said no. You might as well release me, there’s nothing you can do that’ll convince me to put my name on such a farce.”

“Fine, then give me your ID.”

“My—? Why do you want that?”

“So I can pay your tax. I missed dinner and since you’re not doing your job, I’m going to make use of you in another way.”

The tiger’s eyes went wide, and if Trembor hadn’t been certain his wolf was serious, he would have laughed. The tiger fumbled with the pen for a moment, then signed on the witness line.

Marlot gently deposited him down. He smiled. “Good, now, you’re going to scan it in and send it to the registry.”

“I can’t.”

“I’m not leaving here until you’ve sent it, and I’m getting hungrier.”

The tiger looked at Trembor, who shook his head. This was between the two of them, he wasn’t getting involved.

“You don’t understand, the—”

“I don’t care. You send it, I leave. You don’t I eat you.”

The tiger gulped audibly.

Trembor couldn’t believe the reaction he was seeing. Sure, the tiger had to be in his early twenties, but he acted like he was prey. No predator would ever bow down like that. They’d fight.

The tiger scanned the contract, then with a few keystrokes, sent it. When he handed the paper back to Marlot, it was shaking. Marlot smiled.

“Have yourself a good night.” The wolf turned and left. Trembor gave the tiger his friendliest smile and followed him out.

* * * * *

Marlot lay on the bed, looking at the contract. His emotions were all over the place, but this he knew was a good thing, although—

“You know, they’re probably going to void the contract as soon as they find out about it.”

“Can they do that?” Trembor asked from the bathroom.

“They’re the council, they can do whatever they want.”

“But it’s in the registry now.”

“The clerk didn’t exactly sign it of his own free will. Contracts signed under duress can be contested.”

“By one of the parties involved, not an outside agency.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them to invent a reason.”

Trembor was silent for a moment. “Maybe it’s for the best if they do.”

Marlot sat up. “You don’t want to be mated?”

Trembor appeared in the doorway, brush in his mane. “Of course I do. You know that. I wouldn’t have signed it otherwise. I’m just thinking of my parents. They are going to be livid when they find out we got mated without a ceremony.”

“They can throw us one when we get back to the city.”

“You can be certain of that. My moms are going to go crazy setting it all up.”

Marlot looked at his lion. He really was his now. If the council annulled the contract, he’d just get another one in the city. Trembor beamed at the idea of his family arranging the mating ceremony. Marlot felt the tears coming. Why couldn’t his parents have been like Trembor’s?

Strong arms held him. “It’s okay,” Trembor said.

“I shouldn’t be crying,” Marlot sobbed. “I should be raging at them for the way they treated me.”

“They’re ignorant. They can’t see how wonderful of a male you are. I know it hurts to be treated like that, but remember you have another family. One that loves you exactly as you are.”

Marlot sniffled and untangled himself out of the lion’s arm to blow his nose. “Thanks.”

Trembor put his brush away and climbed into bed. Marlot tilted an ear.

The lion pulled him close. “You’re more important than my mane.”

Marlot held his tongue and snuggled against his lion.


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A Familiar Death CH 15.pdf (93.3KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 14 2020-07-13T13:00:10+00:00
The attacker came from the alley. He jumped out, claws out and Marlot barely managed to get out of the way. Others came out, growling.

“Tail raiser!” a leopardess snarled, swiping at him.

Marlot dodged it easily but he went cold inside. How? How could they know? He’d been careful, Trembor hadn’t done anything to give him away. Was it because they’d shared one room? Had balling the sheets not been enough? Then he remembered the beam of light.

He backed up against someone and almost turned to slash them, but the scent was that of his lion. Trembor was with him—Trembor was being threatened also.

That realization pushed the panic away enough for him to notice they were in the middle of the street, surrounded by a large number of people, all snarling and growling, calling them ‘tail raisers,’ ‘male lovers,’ ‘abominations.’ Each word was like a claw cutting him, but he wouldn’t let them take him down, not this time. He wouldn’t let his fear put Trembor in danger.

“Back Off!” He yelled, swiping at Banerik, who’d gotten close. The lynx quickly stepped back.

“I knew it,” Banerik snarled. “I knew there was something off with you ever seen we were cubs. I guess that’s why you hung out with that wolf.”

“You don’t know a damn thing. And unlike Magerlo, I’m not a defenseless cub.” He raised his voice. “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish here, but we’re both hunters. We know how to kill.”

“I saw you!” A young female said, out of Marlot’s view. “I saw it all!”

He turned, and Trembor moved to stay at his back. A brown-furred female wolf was standing at the front of the circle, lips pulled back.

“Daliha?” What was his sister doing here?

“I saw you,” she spat. “I saw the disgusting things you let that lion do to you.”

“What? How?”

“How? I wanted to make it up to you for how Mom and dad tried to corner you with Finian. I could tell how uncomfortable that made you, and I wanted to invite you to a quiet dinner, just the two of us. But I heard noises when I reached your door and I peeked inside. I saw him do—”

The sound. He had never thought about how loud they’d been. This was his fault. He’d known something like this would happen. He should have gotten them separate rooms.

“You two are degenerates,” Daliha growled.

Marlot growled back in indignation. “Don’t you dare say that about Trem.”

“Why not? He’s as much a monster as you are for shoving his—”

“What is the meaning of this?” a male yelled, loud enough to carry over the growls and snarls. The crowd parted and Marlot’s father stood there, glaring at everyone. “Well? What are you all doing here? Threatening my son!”

“Dad, he’s—”

“Be quiet Daliha.”

“But—” She wilted under his glare.

Marlot was stunned. He’d never expected his father to come to his rescue, not with this.

“I have no idea what you’ve heard, or think you’ve heard,” Keliss said, “But this isn’t some vagrant committing atrocities behind one of the buildings. He’s my son! I will not have people spread falsehood about him, is that understood!”

Marlot’s hopes died. Of course, his father wouldn’t stop them if he thought they were right.

Keliss looked the crowd over. “Go home! All of you. Think about what you almost did here.” No one moved. “I said, GO HOME!”

Slowly, the crowd dispersed.

“Daliha, get your car and go home.”

“But dad.”

“Do not argue with me,” her father growled. “Go home.”

She threw a hateful glare at Marlot and stormed off.

“As for you, young male, get in my car. Your mother and I are going to talk with you.”

“I’ll follow you,” Trembor said.

“This doesn’t involve you,” Keliss replied. “Go back to the city, where you belong.”

“He’s staying,” Marlot stated.

His father sighed in exasperation and pressed his thumb between his eyes. “What is it with kids these days always arguing with their elders.”

“I’m thirty-two. I’m not a kid.”

“Then stop acting like one. Don’t you see that spending all your time with him is why people are thinking what they did?”

“He’s my partner, what do you expect me to do?” he’d meant to say lover. He had wanted to say it, to lay it out for his father to confront. Hadn’t he told his lion he’d do just that moments ago? He’d let him down again. How could he constantly do that to him? He deserved so much better.

“I expect you to act like an adult, him too. This is our family’s business. He doesn’t need to be involved.”

“So you want me to leave him to the mercy of the town? After what just happened? You think they’re going to stay away for long? The moment we’re gone, they are going to fall on him like scavengers.”

“Fine,” his father sighed, “he can follow us.”

“We’ll follow you,” Marlot said.

His father narrowed his eyes. “You are riding with me.”

“No. It’s my car, I’m driving it.”

“Then I’ll follow you home. I don’t like what the city turned you into. I don’t trust you not to drive off instead of going home as I told you to.”

“Right, because I’m the untrustworthy one in this town.”

Marlot headed for his car before his father could say anything else. As soon as they were seated he started driving.

“Don’t.” He said before Trembor could say anything. “Just don’t.” He didn’t want to have to deal with his lion’s reproach now, not when he was going to have to endure his father’s lecture about how appearance was everything, how what people through of you mattered more than who you really were. He’d heard them hundreds of times as a cub and young adult, and hated it each one of them. The idea he was going to have to listen to it yet again, now that he was his own male galled him.

Daliha’s car was parked partly on the driveway and partly on the grass. Typical, she was throwing a tantrum because their father wasn’t letting her have her way. He’d expected her to mature out of them while he’d been gone.

He parked behind her, making sure to stay on the driveway. His father drove by and parked in the garage. Marlot sighed in resignation.

“I can stay in the car if you want,” Trembor said.

“No, you’re coming in. I don’t want to deal with this alone.”

“Won’t my presence make things worse?”

Marlot snorted. “My sister saw us having sex. It can’t get any worse than that.”

“Your father doesn’t seem to believe her, maybe you can—”

“Call her a liar? What’s the point? She already hates me. I say that and she’ll probably try to kill me right there. Maybe I can get my parents to understand. My father is a reasonable male, he’ll see that we’re no different than when we had dinner.”

The lion nodded and squeezed Marlot’s arm.

They got out of the car, and even before Marlot opened the house’s door, he could hear the screaming. His mother and father. Marlot paused. He couldn’t recall ever hearing them fight before. He opened the door and the voices died off. He entered the dining room to find his mother standing next to Daliha, her lips tight.

She glared at Marlot. “Is it true?”

“Of course it isn’t!” his father yelled before Marlot could reply.

Marlot winced at the volume.

She turned her glare on him. “Really? You’re saying my daughter lied?”

“Of course not! I’m saying she jumped to conclusion, like she has a bad habit of doing! They work together, nothing more!”

Marlot hunched in on himself.

Daliha snorted.

Her mother turned on her. “Daliha, that is not proper behavior.” She turned back to her mate and poked him in the chest. “As for you. You haven’t even let her tell you what she saw.”

“I don’t care!”

Marlot watched his parents, horrified at the anger they directed at each other.

“My son isn’t like them!”

He wanted to say something, anything, to get them to stop.

“I won’t have anyone spread such lies about him! Not even Daliha!”

He wanted to run out of the house. He grabbed Trembor’s hand and held it tight, gaining some comfort from it.”

“You’ve always been blind to your son’s weaknesses.” His mother said. “You still think he’s going to come right back and take over running the commune for you, well, it’s time you realize those tracks are gone. He abandoned you!”

“No! Marlot has not abandoned us, he’s out finding his way and he’ll come back to us.” He turned to Marlot. “Tell you moth—”

She turned at the same time and gasped.

Daliha stood and pointed at the hand he was holding. “See, I told you!”

Keliss seemed confused by what he saw. His mouth opened a closed as he tried to say something. “How could you,” he eventually managed, pain in his voice.

“Father,” Marlot began, it isn’t—”

“How could you!”

“Father.” Marlot made his tone firm, even if all he wanted to do was cower under the older wolf’s anger.

“I raised you,” the male growled, “I fed you, I clothed you. I gave you everything and how do you repay me? You runoff. You—” words failed him as he indicated their hands. “How could you betray your family like that!”

Marlot looked away by reflex, then he forced himself to look at him. “Father, that isn’t—”

“You,” Keliss growled at Trembor. “This is your fault. You’re the one who did this to my son.” The older wolf stepped around the table,

Marlot didn’t think. He pulled the lion behind him.

“Get out of my way Marlot.”

“No.”

The protest stopped Keliss. Again, he looked confused. “You’d protect—that? After what he did to you?”

“Father, you’re overreacting.”

“Overreacting?” The older wolf was stunned. “I can see him holding your hand like you belong to him.”

Marlot was extremely conscious of the lion’s hand in his, and a part of him told him to let go. But he wouldn’t listen to that part of him ever again. It was the old him, the one who was afraid of being who he was because of what had happened to Margelo. Margelo would never have wanted that for him. He’d wanted him to be free, to grow up without fear.

“I’m holding on to him, Father. I love him.”

“You what?” Keliss yelled.

“I love him.” He’d expected to be afraid to say do words before his father. Afraid of the disappointment he’d see in the eyes of the male he’d admired when he was young and, even as he decided he’d never return here, still respected him. But that wasn’t what he saw in those eyes. He saw the anger turn into hate, then rage.

The older wolf lunged at him, claws out.

Marlot grabbed his arm and pulled him along, adding his strength to the motion and slamming him into the wall. His father fell to the ground and didn’t move.

Marlot couldn’t believe it. His father had attacked him. Had tried to kill him. His own father. He almost wondered who he could have done that, but he remembered Marjelo’s parents among those who kicked him to death.

“I’m sorry,” he told his mother, “I just react—” the words died in his mouth. She was looking at him with hate. Daliha had her lips pulled back, growling.

Trembor pulled on his arm. “I think it’s time we left.”

Marlot resisted for a moment, then followed the lion out. He sat behind the wheel and drove away, his mind having trouble processing that his father had wanted him dead. He’d always thought his father different from the others, smarter, more reasonable, able to accept facts put before him, not give into hysteria.

His father had tried to kill him.

He stopped at the intersection. He had trouble breathing. How could his father betray him like that? He’d expected him to be unhappy, but hate? To come at him with claws?

Marlot started growling. How could that do that to him? Marlot wasn’t a cub, hadn’t been one for years. He was his own male, able to make his own decision.

He looked at the road before him, going left to right. He looked left, toward the city. Toward freedom. Toward happiness.

“Fuck this.” He put he turn signal on.


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A Familiar Death CH 14.pdf (103.7KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 13 2020-07-12T13:00:07+00:00
Marlot pressed his back against the lion, and the arms holding him tightened. “Do we have to get out of bed?”

Trembor chuckled. “Not really. We can spend the rest of our lives here if you want.”

The wolf shuddered. “No, I want us out of this forsaken town as soon as possible.”

Trembor nuzzles his neck. “Then you’ll want to get up.”

Marlot nodded, but it still took him a moment before he sat up with a sigh. He stood, then yelped as Trembor swatted his ass.

“Now that you’re up, get that out of my face and shower before I drag you back in bed and do horrible things to it.”

“You are such a bad lion.”

“The very worst.”

Marlot grinned at him and entered the shower room.

“Hey Marl,” Trembor called when he was under the water. “Do people spar in this town?”

“Well, they call it sparring, but it’s nothing like how we do it.”

“So they have sparring rings then?”

“Not exactly.”

“How can they ‘not exactly’ have sparing rings if they spar?”

“We can go to the gym before breakfast, you’ll see.”

He finished washing and felt better, ready to deal with this town and the people in it. The dryer hardly worked, so it was mostly wet when he left the shower room.

He stopped before the door and watched the lion do stretching exercises. Moving slowly, his muscles rippling under the fur. Marlot licked his lips, and when Trembor bent down he was tempted to return that ass the favor, but he restrained himself. If he did that, he knew they’d end up in bed again.

He looked down at himself. well, his body was certainly in favor of that idea. “You’re a danger to my self-control, Trem, you know that?”

The lion straightened and came to him with a wicked smile. He pressed Marlot against the wall and nipped at his neck while his hands rubbed lower, making the wolf gasp.

“Self-control is overrated,” The Trembor said, leaving the wolf panting as he entered the shower room.

After a moment the shower started and Marlot shook the daze out. “Bad lion, bad, bad lion,” he called. “I’m going to have to think of a proper punishment for you.”

Laughter was the only response he got.

By the time he was dressed, Trembor was out of the shower. Marlot turned to comment on his wonderful nakedness but stopped halfway. The morning had to have been cloudy because he hadn’t noticed the beam of light shining on the bed from the bay window until now.

“Shit,” Marlot growled and went to it, moving the slats which had caught on the low table until they fell back in place, cutting off the light. When he turned back Trembor was right there worry on his face.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” and he chuckled. A few months ago, something like this would have sent him panicking. The idea that someone might have seen them causing him to react as if it had actually happened. “No one saw us. Trust me, if they had, they would have kicked in the door and tried to lynch us.”

“They’re in for a surprise if they ever try something like that.”

“Let’s just be careful. It’s easier not to ask for trouble than deal with the consequences.”

Trembor hugged him. “We will, and I’m proud of you.”

While Trembor dressed Marlot pulled the beddings off both beds, balled them together, and put that between the beds.

“You really think the person who cleans the room would notice?” Trembor asked.

“Like I said, better not to ask for trouble.”

* * * * *

Marlot parked in front of Jale’i’s but they walked two buildings up the road, entering one of dark green brick. Trembor immediately had a sense of a community center, with its many rooms for varying activities. He’d gone to one which his grandmothers every week when he was a cub and sat with them as they gossiped over social games.

Marlot led him to a large room, half-filled with people, all predators, as he was getting used to seeing here. They were paired and moved together at varying speeds. With some, it looked like they were fighting, but the movements were too exact to be what they were doing. With others, they moved so slowly that he didn’t understand why they were bothering.

“What are they doing?”

“This is what passes for sparing here.”

Trembor gave Marlot a disbelieving look, then studied the couples again. Now that he paid attention, he could see how even those moving slowly were doing attack and defense motions. A cougaress was with a couple, a badger not quite out of cub-hood yet and a tiger, a few years older, who looked at her with a besotted smile. She showed them how to move, then they repeated the movements under her careful gaze.

“Is she teaching them how to fight?”

Marlot shook his head. He was looking at the cougaress, his jaw tight. “At best this is just exercise, none of them would have any idea what to do if you jumped them.”

“And they call it sparing?”

“Yep.”

The cougaress noticed them, and her face lit up. She quickly came to them, arms wide.

“Marlot! It’s so good to see you again.”

The wolf growled. “Don’t touch me.”

She stopped. “Marlot, what’s wrong?” now that she was closer, Trembor noticed the gray in her tawny fur. She had to be in her fifties.

“Trembor, meet Arle’ien Darkpelt, the prowler who made a mess of my first heat.”

Trembor understood Marlot’s reaction now. He kept his face neutral, but he would love to have some words in private with her.

“Marlot, what are you talking about? I did no such thing, I just—”

“Don’t bother. I’m not that cub anymore. If I thought it’d do any good I’d tell the council about you, but your mother’s still on it.”

“Marlot, you’re making a big deal out of nothing. All I did was help you along, give you the benefit of my experience.”

Trembor couldn’t stop the growl. “Where I’m from, we have a word for people who take advantage of others when they aren’t in any state to understand what’s happening. Abusers.”

She gasped. “I never. Marlot, tell that… lion that I never took advantage of you.”

Marlot laughed, and this time it was loud enough that the people in the room stopped what they were doing to look at them. “You know that’s not true. I was overwhelmed by my first heat. I didn’t know how it was supposed to go, just like that tiger over there. My instincts were in control, and I would have fucked anything that offered itself to me. You used that to make me think it was how it was always supposed to be. When the heat faded, I kept going because I didn’t know anything else, and when I finally no longer could keep up with you, you threw me to the side. ‘Good for nothing’ I think is what you called me when I finally told you no.”

Marlot noticed the people looking at them, but instead of blushing or panicking, like Trembor thought would happen, The wolf straightened, smoothed his jacket, and looked at him.

“So, this is what passed for sparing,” he said as if the cougaress wasn’t there. “If you want, we can probably use a corner and not get in anyone’s way.”

Trembor looked the crowd over, noting the confused expression on the young tiger. “No, it’s okay, we can probably manage with sparing until we get back home.”

Marlot nodded and turned. Trembor glared at the cougaress a last time and followed his wolf out.

“Did you know she’d be there?” he asked once they were outside.

Marlot nodded. “That’s where she hunts. We all go there for exercise, and she teaches the cubs, so she’d right there to smell it when our first heat gets close.”

“How does she manage to stay satisfied? There can’t be enough young males here that she always has one.”

“No. She isn’t like Aiden was. She doesn’t need to have one all the time, but when she does…she doesn’t let go of him until he can’t keep up anymore. I lasted three months after my first heat faded. Some lasted longer.”

“You know them?”

Marlot chuckled as he opened the door to Jale’i’s. “As you said, this is a small town, everyone knows everyone. Yeah, I know who they are. They’re most of the males. My age and up, and possibly a decade younger. Sometimes I’m amazed at how normal everyone here is, considering she’s our first sexual experience.” He took a booth and when Trembor went to ask his next question, his wolf shook his head. They weren’t discussing this here.

“Morning,” Tarin said as she got to their table.

Marlot nodded his greeting to the bonobo. “We’ll have whatever your father made for breakfast. And can you ask him to prepare something for each of us we can take with us for lunch? We’re going to be busy today.”

She eyed him. “You want what dad made? Again? Are you okay? That’s the fourth meal where you haven’t argued about what you’ve eaten in a row.”

Marlot smiled. “What can I say, the city mellowed me.” He raised his voice. “And I know a lost cause when I see one.”

“Lost?” came from the kitchen. “You’re the one who’s never had any sense.”

“I can survive his cooking, so what’s the point in arguing.”

She gave him a suspicious look, but left and came back a moment later with two places of sweetened meats, glasses of blood and fruit juices.

By the time they were done eating, she brought two boxes. “You’ll be happy, he hasn’t started on lunch yet so it’s just simple meats with two containers of sauce.”

Marlot opened one and looked surprised when it turned out to be just that.

“I saw you do that,” came from the kitchen. “If you don’t trust my baking, go eat elsewhere.”

“I trust your baking,” Marlot replied. “It’s your sense of humor I don’t.”

“Ah! Like I’d ever do anything that would cause food to go to waste.”

Marlot shrugged. “I guess he has a point.” He paid for the food, and they headed to Na’ego’s clinic.

The bear’s office had a small cooler, filled with water bottles, and a warmer. “Na’ego ate most of his lunches here,” Marlot said.

“Bought from Jale’i?”

“No, he’s always baked his own food. He and his family ate there on his rest day. They made it special and ordered the most elaborate meal Jale’i knew.”

“Does he have any children?”

“His daughter joined the Protectors the year before I left, his son was studying in the city to become a medic. I didn’t know either very well, but if he was in town, he would have helped. He must have found a position in another town.”

“Alright. How are we going to do this?”

“We have full access to the files now, I’ll send half of them to your pad. I’ll handle the rest.” He started the process. “Or maybe not half of them. Na’ego’s files are larger than expected.”

“Just send me those from around the time of his death. If the reason for it is in there, that’s where it’ll be.”

“I can’t. Na’ego didn’t put the date in the file name, and there must have been a program running in the background because all the files show they were accessed when I started the system.”

“Didn’t you check for that yesterday?”

“I looked for corrosive programs, and there weren’t any. This must be some maintenance program Na’ego set to run when he accessed the files.”

“So we have to go through everything?”

Marlot sighed. “Looks like it.”

“Good thing you got us lunch.”

Trembor started going through the files Marlot sent him. Fortunately for them, the individual notes were dated, so he could discard those that were too old. He set two months ago as too old. He couldn’t see how it would take that long since the last medical interaction for someone to react to what she or he had learned. Even with doing that, they only worked through half the files by the time they decided to stop.

Trembor stretched, making his joined pop. “Just how many people are there in this town?” He looked at the dredges of a meal on the plate on the desk. When had he eaten that?

“About five hundred.”

“That can’t be right. I went through at least four hundred files. You have to have gone through a similar number. We should be done.”

Marlot collected their plates. “By some of the dates in the files I’m guessing he never cleared up the files of people who died, He’s been the town medic for over forty years. That’s at least two generations, so we might be looking at over a thousand files. Not to say that I saw files on sheep, which means he either shared files with Urion or made them files when he saw them.”

“Why would he see sheep if they have their own medics?”

“Maybe none of them knew how to deal with the problem. I don’t know what kind of training they get, but considering how Urion wasn’t comfortable at the city’s Academy, I have trouble believing he managed to stay for the extended courses. And, if I remember my father’s records, farmers tend not to have many of the complicated illnesses.”

“Why not?”

“If the illness is too grave, it ends their work life.”

Trembor shook his head. “That still seems screwed up to me. It’s one thing to fall to predation because of age or illness, it’s another to just be told to give up and end your life.”

“I know.” Marlot put the clean plates in the cupboard. “Let’s go have dinner. We can come back after that, put in a couple more hours, and call it a day.”

Trembor smiled. “I could go for more of Jale’i’s baking.”

Marlot chuckled. “He’s going to ruin your tastes. Next thing you know you won’t be willing to gorge on prey on the office floor anymore, you’re going to require all those special sauces and spices.”

The lion laced an arm around Marlot and squeezed. “You know that isn’t true, those times are special in their own right, especially now that you don’t mind letting me lick you clean.” Trembor licked his lips at those memories. “And you know the rest of the time I enjoy more flavor with my meat than you do.”

“That’s why I’m worried, you’re not going to be happy with the normal ones anymore, you’re going to blow our food budget on specialty sauces. I’m going to have to go lean because of how Jale’i’s feeding you.”

Trembor stopped and placed a hand over his heart. “I solemnly swear that if I start buying overpriced sauces, I will be the only one suffering for it.”

Marlot rolled his eyes. “Like I’d be able to watch you suffer and not share my food.”

“Well, that’s your problem, you can always swear to let me suffer no matter what.”

Marlot pushed the lion against a wall. “Don’t even joke about that. I don’t want to ever be the reason you suffer. I made your life miserable enough already.”

Trembor place both arms over the wolf’s shoulder and look in his eyes tenderly. “You ever made me—”

“I did, you don’t have to lie. I was an insufferable idiot for being afraid to let you demonstrate how you felt about me in public for all those years. And I’m sorry I have to ask you to refrain again after you’ve just gotten used to making me blush when others are around, but I swear, once we’re gone from here, you’ll never have to hold yourself back.” He kissed the lion.

The ardor with which the wolf kissed him took Trembor by surprise for a moment, but he got over it and responded with as much desire. When they broke apart, the wolf was smiling, his eyes slightly wet.

“I love you so much, Trem. I want to run out there and smash in all their heads until they accept it. I hate that they remind me of how I was with you.”

Trembor kept him from saying more by hugging him tightly. “It’s okay, Marl. We’ll close this case, leave, and you’ll never have to come back.” After a moment he let him go.

Marlot dried his eyes and straightened his jacket. “Anyway, I couldn’t let you go hungry. You wouldn’t look this good all skinny.”

The lion smiled. “I know, I really am good looking, aren’t I?”

“You are such a bad lion.”

Trembor returned the smile. “I’m waiting for my punishment.”

“You just want until we’re back home.” Marlot looked himself over in a mirror, ran his finger through his head fur, and headed for the door, Trembor in tow.

As soon as they stepped outside, Trembor went on his guard. Something wasn’t right. He looked around the deserted street, trying to figure out what it was. It felt like when he’d chased a prey right into its territory and it had friends waiting for him.

“Where’s everyone?” Marlot asked, also on his guard.

That was it. There was no one around.

He hadn’t been here for long, but there had always been people moving about, now there was no one.

The lion felt his hackles go up. “There’s a town meeting?”

“I doubt it, they’re always after dinner.”

They headed for Jale’i’s, two blocks over, paying attention to their surroundings. It wasn’t often that Trembor felt like he was the one being hunted.


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A Familiar Death CH 13.pdf (113.4KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 12 2020-07-11T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot was looking at the food on his plate. Jale’i called it a meat cake.

“What?” the mongoose said. “Too fancy for you?”

Marlot bit off the reply he wanted to make. “I’m just worried about the number of greens in it.” Vegetables were sandwiched between thinly cut slices of meat. Six layers in total.

“There’s good for you.”

“Sure,” the wolf replied. “In small quantities.” He pulled the top meat layer off and the leafy greens under it were almost as thick. “Don’t you think I might get green-sick from all that?” He looked at the lion who was busy cutting in his portion.

Trembor looked back as he brought a fork full to his mouth. “Don’t look at me like that. Jale’i baked this, it’s bound to be good.”

The mongoose puffed out his chest.

“You’ve only had two meals here, how can you be sure?”

“That’s it,” Jale’i said. He grabbed Marlot’s plate off the table. “You can go hungry.”

“Wait!” The wolf caught his arm, and then the plate as it almost tipped over. “I was joke kidding. I’m going to eat it.”

The mongoose eyed him for a moment, then put the plate back down. “I hear one complaint from you, and I’m never feeding you again.”

“I promise, I’ll only give you praises.” He started eating and made exaggerated sounds of pleasure.

Jale’i snorted and left them to eat.

Trembor shook his head, grinning. “Does exasperating him give you a thrill you don’t get anywhere else?”

Marlot shrugged. Before he said anything his pad beeped.

“RI Blackclaw,” he answered.

“This is Carniel, from Low Valley, we talked yesterday.”

“I remember, any luck finding traces of the coyote through your territory?”

“No. I spoke with every patroller who’ve been out over the last two weeks. Not one of them saw a vagrant coyote or any indications of any vagrants.”

“So no report of missing food? No poaching?”

“I don’t know that missing food would get reported, but our cook will give away food to passing vagrants. He spent some time as one, so he helps them. No one has come by his restaurant in over a month.”

“Alright, thank you.” He put his pad away and tapped his fingers on the table.

“You better start eating again,” Jale’i called from the kitchen.

Marlot waved his words away.

“What’s wrong?” Trembor asked.

“I’m not sure.” The wolf forced himself to eat, to keep Jale’i from bothering him. “The coyote claimed he came from Low Valley’s direction, but there are no signs of him there.”

“And that’s unusual?”

Marlot nodded. “How did he feed himself? He isn’t part of the town, so he can’t go to the store, and unless he has money, he can’t stop by the restaurant. So vagrants have to resort to stealing food, either something prepared, or kill.”

“Maybe he had food from where he was before crossing that town.”

Marlot frowned. “He didn’t have any meat paper.”

“What’s that?”

“Sorry, it’s what vagrants call the paper meat is wrapped in after being processed. It’s got a waxy coating that keeps the blood from dripping out if it’s properly wrapped. Every vagrant I’ve ever dealt with has always had some.”

“I don’t remember the komodo dragon having any either.”

“But she was found sick behind the restaurant. Some of her things might have been on the ground, no one would have noticed them.”

Trembor nodded. “And when I looked, if I saw that, I thought it had fallen out of the garbage.”

“Once we’re done eating, I want to go talk to him again. See if he can explain it.”

Marlot finished his plate and nodded his appreciation to Jale’i.

* * * * *

The wolf entered the enforcer’s office and walked past the lynx, seated at his desk. He also ignored Banerik’s calling after him, telling him to stop. Marlot didn’t. He made it to the cage and had stopped on his own when the lynx grabbed his arm.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Take your hand off me, Banerik. Unless you want to lose it.”

The enforcer snarled and Marlot bared his teeth with a growl.

“Really?” Trembor said. “You two are going to behave like cubs? I expected something more professional from an enforcer, and I know you’re capable of better, Marlot.”

Marlot wrenched his arm out of the lynx’s grip. “Don’t expect me to apologize.”

“I wouldn’t want it from a runaway like you.”

Marlot indicated the empty cage. “Where’s the coyote? I need to ask him a few questions.”

“I let him go last night.”

It took Marlot a moment to respond. “You what?”

“He’s just a vagrant, he didn’t commit any actual crime.”

Marlot glared at him. “And you know that how?” he growled.

“Come on, a skinny male like that? There’s no way he could have taken on Na’ego. That bear would have crushed him.”

“That isn’t relevant—” Trembor started saying

“Shut up lion,” the lynx cut him off. “This doesn’t involve you.”

Trembor’s ears half folded back.

Marlot got in Banerik’s face. “Don’t take that tone with him. I said not to release him until I gave the okay. Are you going to tell me Naria didn’t tell you that?”


“I told him.” The civet blurted out.

Marlot looked in her direction. He hadn’t noticed her. Banerik glared at her and she looked away. The wolf poked the lynx’s chest with a claw, barely stopping himself from drawing blood.

“So you know I wasn’t done with him, and you still let him go.”

Banerik patted the hand away from him. “I don’t take orders from you. I’m in charge here. If I say someone’s time in the cage is done, then it’s done. If you aren’t happy about it go back to the city where you fit in so well.”

Marlot made fists. “You think I want to be here? I hate you and this place.” Banerik took a step back, and Marlot followed him. “You think I have any good memories here? This place took away everything I had. You better get it through that thick skull of yours. This is my case. Your grandfather forced me to take it. You’re going to do what I tell you, if that pisses you off, go complaint to Arlion.”

The lynx pushed Marlot away. He was stronger than the wolf expected, so he stumbled back. Marlot raised a hand to strike him, finger’s uncurled, but Trembor caught it.

“Don’t Marlot.” The lion said. “I don’t care how low a tax is. He isn’t worth the expenditure.”

“I don’t care. He deserves it.”

“Maybe, but eating him isn’t going to let us get out of here any faster. From what you told me, I don’t think his family’s going to care that you’ve paid his tax. They’re going to come after you.”

“Yeah,” the lynx said. “I’m not just some farmer you can slash. I’m important.”

Marlot growled.

“If you don’t shut up,” Trembor told the lynx. “I’m going to be the one eating you.” He pulled Marlot away. After a few steps, the wolf pulled his arms away and stormed outside.

“You better keep him under control,” Banerik yelled. “Or maybe I’ll be the one eating him.”

Trembor ran past him and got behind the wheel. Marlot glared but sat in the passenger side. He was still growling as the car started moving. He could imagine himself ripping the lynx limb from limbs, how satisfying that would feel. Cutting out his heart and eating it right there, feeling the blood run down his chin. One of these days, he was going to do it, the cost of it be damn.

The door closing forced him out of his reverie. Trembor had gotten out of the car and was heading for their room. Marlot had been so focused on what he was going to do to Banerik he hadn’t noticed they’d arrived. He got out of the car and stormed in the room, slamming the door behind him, making the blinds fly up and fall back in place.

“I’m going to kill him.”

Trembor moved behind him and wrapped his arm. “We’re going to be done with this in a few days. We’re going to leave this place and never come back. You have my word on it.” He buried his muzzle in the long black fur at the back of his neck.

“Trem, not now,” Marlot said harshly. “We need to work.”

The lion nuzzled his neck and then move up to whisper at the wolf’s ear. “You won’t be able to focus in your current state.” He licked the ear’s rim and Marlot shivered. “You need to relax. We can get back to work in the morning. The rest of the day is going to be just for us.”

Trembor removed Marlot’s jacket and dropped it to the floor while he continued to lick his ear. Then he unbuttoned the shirt and pulled it off. He nibbled the side of Marlot’s neck, drawing a sigh out of him.

He turned the wolf and pushed him on the bed. Marlot backed up until his feet were off the floor and Trembor straddled him, running his hand through his chest fur.

“I love you, Marl. Remember that when this place drives you crazy. We’ll go back home, and soon we’ll share a home. You aren’t alone anymore.”

Marlot reached up and unbuttoned the lion’s shirt. “I know.” His voice caught for a moment. “I love you too.”

Trembor smiled with pride.

Marlot wanted to be able to say it with ease, and he was getting there. Looking into his lion’s golden eyes helped him feel confident. He pulled the lion’s head closes and licked his muzzle before kissing him. Trembor moaned and started moving on top of him. Marlot could feel their hardness rubbing together through the pants.

Suddenly he didn’t want anything between them. He reached down and undid the lion’s pants. Trembor got the message and moved off so they could undress.

A moment later they were back on the bed, limbs intertwined, nuzzling and nibbling each other. In no time, Marlot reached down between them and squeezed, making Trembor grunt.

“I need you,” The wolf whispered, before kissing him.

Trembor got off him only long enough to get the lubricant, then he was back between his legs. He prepared his wolf, and then they both moaned as he entered him.

They made love slowly, then fast. They rested and Marlot made love to his lion. By the time they finally slept, the sun had set. The lion held his wolf, and for a while longer, Marlot didn’t worry about anything.


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A Familiar Death CH 12.pdf (99.5KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 11 2020-07-10T13:00:08+00:00
“Do you understand any of this?” Marlot asked his lion.

“No more than I did yesterday. What kind of filing system is that?”

Marlot looked at the numbers listed under the name and shook his head. “I have no idea.” He’d hoped there would be something else, but every file was like that. The patient’s name, then a list of numbers, no two patients had exactly the same ones, and sometimes a comment entered by Na’ego.

“I’m guessing they’re codes for what his patients had, or maybe the treatments?”

“If they are, Jaxca isn’t familiar with them. I sent some of them yesterday. I’m guessing Na’ego came up with his own system.”

Trembor looked up from his pad. “It’s chronic, isn’t it? Everyone here needs to do things differently from the rest of the world. How does he sync the files with the medical databases?”

“No idea. Maybe he doesn’t?”

“Come one, every medic has to share the files, how else is the productivity system going to be able to calculate the median?”

“As you said, they like to do things differently.”

“Someone has to know his system. How about Roundpoint? They’ve had to share information, right?”

“I don’t know, but we might as well go ask him.”

“You don’t want to just send him the files?”

“No, they’re still private. If he knows what the codes are, then he can take a look at them, but I’d rather bring them to him. Believe it or not, I’m not the only tech-savvy person in this town.”

* * * * *

This time, the ram was working at the Rosette commune. Marlot tracked his phone, now that he had his number. That commune was very much like the other one, low multi-colored buildings for housing and gray and brown ones for the businesses.

Here the medical clinic was located inside a large building, with a clothing and fabric store. The waiting area was a bland gray floor and walls, with a dying potted plant. had a handful of sheep, mothers, and cubs were seated there. The mothers reading and cubs playing in the center. The oldest was three, Trembor guessed.

Something clanged on for floor and he looked to the examination room. Roundpoint was looking at Marlot and him, trembling slightly. The lion held back a smile as the ram looked around, eyes wide, hears shaking. This was the first time he saw one of the residents displaying prey behavior, and he wasn’t in any danger of being eaten.

“Relax Urion,” Marlot said, “We’re just here to talk. We’re not going to have you do any operations.”

The statement calmed the ram, who looked to his patient, a pregnant sheep, somewhat young, the lion thought.

“I—I need to see to Lamia, it’ll only take a few minutes.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Trembor asked.

“Just some minor pregnancy issues. Nothing anyone needs to be concerned about, she’ll be fine and working again in no time.”

The lion shrugged, casting a glance at Marlot. “Hey, we don’t work here, so it isn’t any of our concerns if she takes longer or not.”

The ram gave the wolf a worried look, but Marlot was already heading for the waiting area. He nodded to the sheep in the seat next to his as he sat, took out his pad, and started reading.

Trembor leaned against the half wall and watched Urion work. He had no idea what the ram was doing, running his hands on her large stomach, checking her eyes, muzzle, tongue. When he had her spread her legs and reach between them, Trembor decided it was time to occupy himself another way. He sat next to Marlot, marveled again at how calm all the sheep were, and brought up the novel he’d been reading on his pad.

A chapter later, Urion assisted the sheep off the examination table, and to the door. Her belly wasn’t yet large enough to affect her walking.

“Ladies, I’ll just be a moment, I need to these investigators.” He motioned Marlot and Trembor to follow him, and he headed to an office. He sat behind the desk and eyed them wearily.

Marlot saw and placed a data slate before him.

The ram eyed it suspiciously. “What’s on it?”

“Na’ego’s records and files. At least we think that’s what they are. He uses a filing system I haven’t been able to figure out.”

“That’s it? You just want me to unscramble them for you?”

“That’s all. You do know his system, right?”

The ram nodded. “He came up with it because some of the commune’s managing family kept trying to get files on the other’s farmers.”

“Why?” Trembor asked.

“To undermine them. Marlot said.”

Urion nodded again as he inserted the slate on the computer. “If they could find out who in a rival commune wasn’t feeling well, they could send one of their farmers who was sick, maybe try to spread it to a large group and lower their productivity.”

“How does that help anyone?” The lion asked. “Doesn’t the town need everyone to be productive? Don’t they have quotas to meet to feed the cities?”

“It’s a stupid pride thing,” Marlot said. “Every family does it, including my father. It’s easier to undermine another commune’s productivity then always improve your own. Every year, after the harvest, there’s a celebration and whichever commune had the largest production gets a ribbon.”

“A ribbon? They sabotage each other for a ribbon?”

“I did say it was stupid. It’s all about bragging rights.”

“Over how many problems they caused others?”

“That isn’t how they see it.”

“This place is insane.”

“I’m not arguing with you on that.”

“Don’t people brag about anything anymore in the cities?” the ram asked, typing away.

“Sure, about how they brought down the largest buck or one with the highest productivity rating.” Trembor sat down. “There’s a whole rating system as part of the hunting system now.”

Marlot’s ears folded back. “I hate that thing, each time I go to pay for my kill it wants to tell me how I rate compared to other predators. Like I care, all I want to do is feed myself.”

“You said ‘anymore,’” Trembor said. “You’re familiar with the city?”

“I did my medical studies at the academy there.”

“And you came back to this?”

The ram stared at the lion. “What did you expect me to do? Settle there? I was terrified to leave the grounds for the three years I was there, and even then I was a nervous wreck. I never knew when one of the predators studying there might decide to eat me.”

“They don’t allow predation in the grounds,” Trembor stated.

“Sure, they say that, but do you have any idea how little self-control predators who are approaching hunting age have? If one of them decided to eat me, they’d be growled at, told they couldn’t do that. I’d still be dead. I couldn’t wait to come back here where I’m safe.”

“Only so long as you can do your job.”

The ram shrugged. He took out the slate and handed it to the wolf. “Okay, I’ve unlocked Na’ego’s folder on the town network. Next time you try to access one of his files, you’ll be able to get the content.”

“He keeps his medical file on the network?” Marlot asked, surprised. “Not on his computer? Anyone can access that.”

“They have to know they’re there. I’m the only one who does. And without unlocking them first, they wouldn’t be able to read anything. They all focus on trying to get through his computer’s protection.”

Trembor smiled. “Which is exactly what you did Marlot.”

The wolf chuckled. “True. I guess it worked.” He stood. “Thank you, Urion.”

“That’s fine, just don’t need anything from me anymore.”

“I don’t expect we will,” Trembor said as he stood as well. “Where can I hun—where can I eat around here? We should have eaten before driving here.”

“If you want vegetable and foliage, they serve a great mixed greens plate across the street.” Urion seemed particularly pleased to offer them that.

The idea of eating on vegetables dampened Trembor’s appetite. “I guess I can wait until we’re back in town.” He followed Marlot out.


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A Familiar Death CH 11.pdf (94.0KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 10 2020-07-09T13:00:08+00:00
“You think your program finally unlocked his computer?” Trembor asked as he got out of the car. Marlot had been quiet the entire drive to the commune and back. The lion was starting to worry.

“It should be,” The wolf answered distracted. “To be honest, I didn’t think his system would be this secure.”

“Marl, are you okay?”

Marlot looked at Trembor and gave him a forced smile. “I’m okay, I promise. It’s just this place, getting to me. I’m trying to figure out if there was ever anything good about it.”

A young female stopped on the sidewalk. “Marlot?” She was behind the wolf, so he hadn’t noticed her approaching, but Trembor had noticed her. He hadn’t paid her much attention, even if he thought she was related to his wolf. Her fur was brown, instead of black, but she had the same kind of long fur at the back of her head and neck, looking a little like a mane, same as Marlot had.

Marlot stiffened, then spun. “Daliha?” He ran to her, hugged, and spun her around. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be working?”

She giggled as Marlot put her down. “When mother told me you were back, I insisted she send me to check on the shipment of medicine for the commune. I’ve been stretching it, hoping to catch you.”

Marlot smirked. “Still as devious as always.” He held her at arm’s length, studying her. “Are you exercising? You look like you’ve put on some weight.”

Trembor gaped in amazement. If he’d ever dared comment on one of his sister’s weight, he’d get clawed. But Daliha just punched the wolf on the shoulder lightly.

“You know I do, but this is because Hiremoe likes to have something to grab when…you know.”

Marlot’s ears folded partially back. “I’m not familiar with the name.”

“He’s from Lower Lake, he came over with his father to discuss buying some of our old equipment, and we went to Alde’Haer a few times after that. We also caught a few movies.”

“Do mother and father know about him?”

“Of course they do, they like him. Father’s hinted to him about the old Banor place, but Hiremoe didn’t get it. I’m going to take him to see it next time he comes to see me. I think it would be a perfect place for us to raise a family.”

“Is he coming soon? I should probably take a look at him, make sure he’s good enough for you. What’s his Family’s name?”

“I’m not telling you.” She pushed him away. “The last them I told you about a boy I was interested in, you went on the net and found all sorts of things I had no business knowing about.”

“He was having sex with half a dozen females while courting you and bragging about it. You didn’t want someone like that for a mate.”

“That wasn’t for you to decide.”

“I didn’t—”

“You told father about it.”

“He had a right to know, that male would have ended up working for him.”

“I would have made him stop. You did it because you didn’t like him.”

Marlot took a step back and raised his hands. “Alright, I’m sorry. You’re right, I shouldn’t have. And I won’t look into your current interest if you give me his family’s name.”

Trembor snickered. But from her expression she believed him as much as the lion did.

“Who’s that?” Daliha asked, her tone cooler, as if she hadn’t noticed until now the lion had been present.

Marlot turned, ears straight in surprise. Had he forgotten about him too?

“Daliha, this is my partner, RI Trembor Goldenmane. Trembor, this is my sister, Daliha Blackclaw.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Trembor said, but he didn’t get closer, her gaze wasn’t warming.

She only nodded. “Mother said you’re coming for dinner. We’re going to have your favorite.”

“I said I’d try,” Marlot corrected. “We have to go through Na’ego’s system to see if there are any indications as to who killed him.”

She waved the comment aside. “I thought it was one of those in the cage.”

“Who told you that?” Marlot asked, head tilted.

She shrugged. “I don’t remember who mentioned it. I think I was eating at Jale’i when I heard it. I mean, it’s got to be one of them, right? So he’s already in a cage, what’s left to do?”

“That isn’t how it works. We still need to demonstrate he did it, if it’s him.”

“But he’s in a cage. It isn’t like he’s going anywhere? Come on, you have to come for dinner, we’re having your favorite. You’ve been gone for years without even a word, and you didn’t call me to let me know you were coming. It’s almost like you don’t like us anymore.”

“It isn’t that,” Marlot said defensively, “I’ve just been busy. Alright, I’ll make sure I’m done before dinner time.”

She hugged him. “I’m so glad. And mother got your room ready, there’s no reason for you to stay at the rooming place.”

“I’m not spending the night there,” Marlot said forcefully. His ears canted back and were pink. “I mean, me and Trembor have to work, we’ll probably continue late in the night.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “You can’t be working after dinner, you’re supposed to rest after eating.”

“I would, but Arlion wants this case closed, and you know how that lynx is. If he wants something, he wants it done this very minute.”

Daliha said something very unflattering and Marlot stared at her.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’ve thought the same about him often enough.”

Marlot sputtered for a moment. “Yes, but you shouldn’t be saying that. What would mother think.”

His sister snorted. “Who do you think I heard it from?”

“Father would spank you if he heard you say it.”

She shrugged. “Father’s claws don’t scare me as much now that I’m a grown female.” She hugged Marlot again. “But he is going to be angry if I don’t get back with the manifest and confirmation the shipment is on its way. It’s going to be so good for all of us to have dinner together.”

“Yeah, I guess it will,” Marlot replied, and a moment later his sister was gone. He looked to Trembor. “Well, there’s no getting out of it now, we’d better go through as much of Na’ego’s system before we need to get ready.”

“Are you sure I should go? From the sound of it, they’re expecting it to be only you.”

“I’m not dealing with this on my own. I’m going to need all the emotional support I can get.”

“That bad?”

“You have no idea.”

* * * * *

The house hadn’t changed in the years since he’d left. Marlot wasn’t surprised. It had never changed in the time he lived there. His father liked things to be consistent. He did think the walls had been painted, the gray looked fresher than he remembered.

He sat there, parked in the driveway, looking at the house he’d grown up in. All the years he’d spent there, in a cold and controlled environment. He was sure that his parents had been more outgoing with their emotions than he remembered, but compared with the chaos of Trembor’s families, with their raucous get together, his parents were emotionless machines.

He was seriously considering starting the car and leaving when a black wolf exited the house to lean next to the door. He placed a pipe to his mouth and lit it, taking a long drag.

“No getting out of it anymore,” Marlot grumbled. His father didn’t act like he’d noticed the vehicle in the driveway, and he wouldn’t react if Marlot left now. That male never reacted to anything. But he would find his son later and let him know of his disappointment in a tone so frigid Marlot’s blood would freeze.

“It’s going to be fine,” Trembor said.

Marlot nodded, hoping his lion was right. He got out of the car, locking it out of habit, and it occurred to him it was a habit he’d picked up in the city.

He and Trembor walked to the door under his father’s leveled gaze.

“Marlot,” the older wolf said. “It’s good of you to come visit.” He nodded to the lion, blowing smoke away from them. “Who is this?” As usual, his father wasn’t giving any indication of how he felt, either by his tone, scent, or body language.

“This is RI Trembor Goldenmane. Trembor, this is my father, Keliss Blackclaw.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Trembor said.

Keliss nodded. “They’re inside. Dinner is almost ready. I’ll be in shortly.” He indicated his pipe.

Marlot nodded and entered. The smell of old wood, paper, and spices made him smile. He’d missed this, he realized. Even when living on his own in town, he’d eaten with his family regularly. He hadn’t expected to long for those times again, since he didn’t have many warm memories from them.

He put his and Trembor’s coat in the closet then led him past his father’s office and the family room, facing that, with its large screen on the wall, and old, comfortable seats to the dining room.

Marlot froze when he saw another wolf seated at the table talking with Daliha. She was a head taller than his sister, and more muscular, under her tight shirt and russet fur.

“Finian?” Marlot asked. She smiled and came to him.

“Marlot, it’s so good to see you again.” She hugged him, and it took an effort for Marlot not to stiffen. “I’d heard you were back. You’re investigating Na’ego’s death?”

“Yes, Arlion requested I did. What Are you doing here?”

“I invited her,” his mother said, coming out of the kitchen. “I thought you’d like seeing one of your old fr—how’s this?” she asked on seeing the lion.

“Mother, this is Trembor Goldenmane, he’s an RI like me, and my partner, he’s helping me with Na’ego’s death. Trembor, this is Jogelin, my mother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the lion said.

Jogelin didn’t seem to know what to say for a moment. “Marlot, can you come to the kitchen and help me?”

“Of course.” Marlot didn’t even consider saying no.

She closed the door behind him. “Why did you bring him?” she asked, her tone just shy of angry.

“What did you expect me to do mother?” Marlot had been prepared for this, although he’d expected his father to object. “I couldn’t just ask him to stay in the room by himself. I’m the only one he knows here. Would you really want me to be uncharitable and just abandon him? He came here to help me.” What he hadn’t expected was for his mother to invite his one time interest to eat with them.

“No, of course not.” Her beginning anger had turned to indignation. “I raised you better than that. I do wish you had told me. I would have baked an extra pie.”

“I’m sorry, I expected you’d heard about him from Daliha.”

“I did, it’s just that…” She smiled at him. “I’m glad to see the city hasn’t turned you into one of those cold people who only thinks about himself.”

“I never could, you raised me too well for that.” He kissed her forehead. “Can I help with something?”

She had him take out a can of erinberries sauce and heat it.

“The sweetness will go well with the spiciness of the pies,” she said as she sliced a cut of meat thinly. She warmed them for a few minutes, then laid them on a plate. She poured the sauce over them. “It’ll have to do,” she said, not looking entirely satisfied. She handed him mitts and had him carry the plate and one of the pies to the table.

His father was placing an extra chair at the table, he then indicated for Trembor to sit next to Daliha.

Marlot almost protested, but caught himself. What kind of excuses could he give that would make them sit him next to Trembor? The arrangement was clear, his parents were hoping he’d rekindle what he and Finian had had.

“Finian took over her father’s garage,” Keliss said as he cut the pies.

“I didn’t think he’d retire this early,” Marlot said.

“He wasn’t planning on it, but he wasn’t feeling well for the last year, and Na’ego told him he needed to take it easy. My dad’s family has a history of heart problems. He still manages the shop, but I do most of the work now.” She took the plate Keliss handed her. “Is it common for investigators to work in pairs in the city? You worked alone here, but I guess there’s a lot more to do there.”

“No, it isn’t.” Marlot too the plate from his father. “We’re the only ones.”

“Really?” his mother said. “How did you two meet?”

“Because of Ruxul,” Marlot answered.

His mother tilted an ear, but Marlot busied himself eating.

“Thank you,” Trembor said, taking the plate. “That was the hunter’s name Marlot followed to the city. It wasn’t long that he’d left bodies in half a dozen territories, so the city controller called all the Registered Investigators to work together to capture him. It was the first time in over a decade they suspended the territories. We all worked together to catch him. Marlot was already involved, and I was partnered with him for the duration. We worked well together, so we decided to continue when we realized the territory he took over was adjacent to mine.”

“Doesn’t sharing the profit means you get less?” Keliss asked.

“No, because we accomplish more together than if we worked separately. Your son is adept with computers and he handles that side of the searches. I’m old school. Claws on the ground, following scents. Once he began helping me, we cleared most of the bodies in my freezer.”

The older wolf nodded. “My son always had a good head for business. That’s why I thought he’d take over running the combine when I was done.”

“You know I never had any interest in doing that.” Marlot kept his tone even, even if he was tired of hearing about this.

“Finian, have you any news on the new tractors?” His mother asked, giving his father a severe look.

“Yes, they’re going to be in next month, I’ll have them tuned up in time for the planting.”

His mother smiled at Marlot and placed a hand on his arm. “Finian was able to talk the manufacturer to sell them through her instead of the representative that used to come around. What was the name of that squirrel?”

“Porgibom,” his father answered.

She nodded. “Can you imagine a squirrel trying to convince us to buy from him?”

Finian nodded. “When I told them I could double the number of tractors that sold they didn’t believe me, but I pointed out that since I do the repairs, I know who needs them and who doesn’t.”

“It helps that you speak the same language as us,” Keliss said.

“Well,” his mother said, “you can’t expect a squirrel to know about running a commune.”

Marlot glanced at his lion, who was keeping his face neutral

She squeezed Marlot’s arm, and he brought his attention back to his mother. “Finian has made her father a lot of money, and I’m sure everyone’s going to buy through her from now on.”

Marlot translated. Finian was now wealthy enough to be worth approaching. Having the two families attached through a mating would benefit them by having a direct line to the reseller. His father might be the one running the commune, making sure all the numbers added up, but his mother wasn’t any less cunning.

He smiled at Finian. “Your father must be very proud.”

She nodded and smiled back.

After that, the conversation moved to Daliha and her beau. Marlot finally found out his family’s name; Sleekpelt and his sister glared a warning to him. Marlot decided that unless he found something truly horrible, he wouldn’t bring any of it up. He didn’t want to give his parents any reason to think he was interested in being part of this community anymore.

Keliss talked about how well the commune was doing, his mother spoke to the fact they were looking at enough of population growth among their farmers they’d be able to expand their commune’s territory.

Reluctantly, Marlot talked about his and Trembor’s work. About how they constantly closed a higher percentage of cases than the others. He didn’t like talking numbers, it made him feel like he was bragging.

When the meal was over, his mother tried to convince him to stay, saying Trembor could come pick him up in the morning, but Marlot said they still had work to do, and they both said their goodbyes.

The car was just started moving that Trembor looked at him. “Did I imagine things, or was Finian making moves on you?”

Marlot sighed. “She was. Finian is the only female I’ve ever shown an interest in, and now that his family is in a good position in the community, mother is hoping I’ll get interested in her again. Finian is clearly still interested in me, although she might just be hoping for a way into my family.”

“Would you do it?”

“What? Of course not. I’m with you.”

“What if I wasn’t here?”

Marlot didn’t answer immediately, focusing on his driving. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I told you about my encounter with the prowler, right?”

“You told me it happened. You never gave me details.”

“As you’d expect, I was coming into my heat. Because of that, I’d started noticing others, males and females. I stayed away from males because of Margelo, and Finian caught my interest. I started spending time with her, and I’m sure she’s the one I would have been with when my heat hit, but…”

He was silent for a long time, before sighing. “Her name was Brocerlim Longreach. She was a wolf, and she approached me on my way back from the academy. I usually ran home, and I’d seen her in town, she runs the clothing store. She gave me a ride and her scent was intoxicating.” She chuckles. “She had me out of my clothes under five minutes. I had no idea what was going on, but I wanted more. She was more than happy to give me as much as I could take.”

He stopped the car in front of their room. “For the next three months, if I wasn’t at the academy, I was with her, in her bed most of the time. She treated me like I was a king, or at least that what it felt like. I get now that she was stroking my ego, so I’d perform for her. And did I ever, until my initial heat passed and my desire calmed. Of course, I didn’t know that’s what had kept her interested. I was ready to sign a lifetime mating contract with her. But the first time I didn’t feel like performing for her, she kicked me out. I didn’t understand. It took me a long time to figure things out, but after her, females didn’t interest me anymore. I didn’t give Finian a second look in all the years I lived here.”

He shut down the engine. “Even when I met you in the city, I hadn’t thought sexually about females. So no, I don’t think I’d consider mating her, even if you weren’t in my life.”

He got out of the car, locked it, and entered the room. He made sure the blinds completely blocked the view, then he took his lion to bed, and had a night of passion with him that burned the memories away.


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A Familiar Death CH 09 2020-07-08T13:00:09+00:00
The ram looked at the bear’s body while Marlot contacted Jaxca. Once the red frog’s face appeared, he transferred the call to one of the larger screen with its own camera.

“Oh, good morning,” the frog said. “I’m Jaxca Roughskin, Marlot, and Trembor’s medical examiner.”

The ram studied the image for a moment. “I’m Urion Roundpoint. I’m sorry for staring, I’ve never seen someone like you.”

“It’s alright, there are few of us this far north. Now, as I’m sure they’ve explained to you, I can’t leave my clinic to assist them, so I’m going to need you to be my hands.”

Marlot took a seat, to be on hand if there were technical problems, and pulled up a technical journal to read while he waited and tuned the conversation out. Trembor had stayed outside, he didn’t care for medical procedures.

“I can’t do that!”

Marlot looked up. The ram had a razor in hand and staring at the screen.

“Of course you can,” Jaxca said. “You’ve operated before, it’s the same here, except your patient isn’t alive anymore.”

“I don’t understand why you need me to do that. He died of a blow to the head, the skull’s fracture makes that perfectly clear.”

“Yes, it does, but was he held down what that happened? We need to see his skin to see if there are any bruises.”

Urion looked at Marlot. “He wants me to shave him.”

“How is that a problem?”

The ram’s eyes went wide. “How isn’t it? What are the others going to say when they find out I sheared him like he was in of the farmers? Do you have any idea what they’re going to do to me for doing that?”

Jaxca let out an exasperated sigh.

“No one is going to do anything to you. You’re performing your duties.”

“You think they’re going to care? I’m a ram. I operate on the farmers, not the town’s folks.”

“Look, Mister Roundpoint, You’re working for me at the moment. You’re my medical examiner, and I need you to follow Jaxca’s instructions so we can determine the full cause of Medic Na’ego’s death.”

“Can’t you get one of the medics from another town to do this?”

“I don’t have the time. I’d have to find one who’s schedule is open, or wait until they had the time. You’re here, and you can do this. If it makes you feel better, I won’t use your name in the report. No one will know you did this.”

“People saw me come in.”

“Yes, but they don’t know why. As far as they know, I needed you to explain some medical documents. No one but you, me, and Trembor have a reason to come see the body. The freezer is going to be locked. I promise you. No one will know.”

The ram looked back to the body. “Alright, I guess.” He turned the razor on.

“Good,” Jaxca said. “Start with his wrists, then his ankles. If he was tied, the bruises will be visible. Then shave his neck. I want to see if someone had his hands around his neck.”

“You think he was strangled?” Marlot asked.

“No, there was no blood in his eyes, but that doesn’t mean someone didn’t make it more difficult for him to breathe, to make him more pliable.”

“There aren’t any bruises on his wrists,” the ram said.

“Okay. Once you’re down shaving his neck, shave his chest and stomach. We’ll open him up and see what his insides look like.”

The razor clattered to the floor. “W—What? You expect me to cut him open?”

“How else are you doing to perform an autopsy?”

“I can’t do that.” His tone was firm. He picked up the razor, turned it off, and placed it next to the body. “I don’t care what you say. I’m not going to do that.” He headed for the door.

Marlot was stunned. He had no idea what to do.

“Medic Roundpoint! Get back here!”

The ram froze at the commanding tone.

“Now!” Jaxca added after a moment.

Urion looked at the door, then his shoulders sagged and he turned around.

“You’re going to explain to me what the problem is because I can’t believe you haven’t performed any operations in your years as a medic.”

“Of course I’ve performed operations, but only on the farmers. Do you have any idea what they do to one of us if he purposely hurts one of the town people?”

“The same thing as they do in the city, I expect. Got before a judge, spend some time in prison, pay reparation.”

The ram shook his head. “The last time it happened was two years ago. There had been something wrong with Grego for a while by then, but we hadn’t been able to figure out what exactly. We thought the medications were working. At least he was calm and did his work. Then, without warning, he attacked Horimo of the Stripes. Broke her arm and her jaw before anyone was able to pull him off. They killed him right there.”

Marlot was on his feet. “You saw them do it?”

“No, but it got back to us.”

“That’s rather extreme,” Jaxca said.

“What do you think they’ll do to me if they find out I cut one of them open?”

“Urion,” Jaxca said, his tone calm. “The body on the table isn’t anyone anymore. You aren’t hurting him. Someone already did that. You’re helping us find who did it.”

“I don’t think anyone is going to see it that way.”

“I promise you, Urion,” Marlot said. “If anyone causes you problems, I’ll be there to protect you.”

“Really? You’re going to stay once you’re done here?”

Marlot looked away.

“Marlot,” Jaxca said, “Do you mind leaving us? I think this will go better if it’s only me and Medic Roundpoint.

Marlot nodded, then realized Jaxca couldn’t see him. “Call me when… Call me when you want me to come back.” He stepped out of the examination room, thought about waiting in the waiting area, which would be amusing, since he hadn’t known it to ever be used, but went outside instead.

The air had warmed up a little, and the sun was bright, although clouds were moving in. He didn’t think it would rain, but the temperature would cool with the sun hidden.

He looked around at the people walking about. A family of tigers doing some shopping, two black bears putting lumber in a truck, Councilor Jofren seated before the town hall, with one of her grandchildren.

Why did he have so much trouble believing they would kill a sheep with little provocation? He’d watched them kill Margelo without any. Had he seen such an act when he was younger? He didn’t think so. Other than going to the commune with his father, Marlot hadn’t interacted with the farmers. He couldn’t even recall hearing about such things happening.

Why did any of them remain if such a danger existed? He pulled out his pad and did a quick search on the government site. When he found the page with the process for farmers to get an ID and productivity rating, he breathed easier. For a moment he’d been afraid the farmers were captives of the town without any way to leave.

“You look relieved,” Trembor said, coming up to him.

“Just learned another thing that bothers me about this place.”

The lion tilted an ear.

“I’ll tell you later. You walked around?”

“Yeah, looked at the stores, had something to eat. Jale’i is a really good cook.”

“I know. He just does overboard.”

“So, why are you out here? I didn’t think we minded watching the autopsy.”

“Jaxca kicked me out. Roundpoint is having problems cutting Na’ego open. He’s afraid of repercussions.”

“Why would anyone mind?”

Marlot shook his head. “I didn’t think they would, but Roundpoint believes it. Having me there wasn’t helping, so Jaxca asked me to leave. Hopefully, without anyone to see him to it, he’ll be able to. If Jaxca can’t convince him, we’re going to have to get a medic from another town, which means being stuck here for days longer.”

Trembor put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. “He’s a medic, he knows what to do, and Jaxca’s trained his share of them, he’ll know how to handle him. What do you want to do while we wait?”

“I want to go home.”

“We can go back to the room and rest.”

Marlot shook his head. “I’m just being a coward.” He took a breath. “I should probably eat something.”

“I’ll keep you company.”

“You just want to listen to Jale’i complain about me.”

“Maybe you can try some of his more extravagant meats, and he won’t complain.”

Marlot smiled. “I’ll do it for you.” He reached for the lion’s arm, then caught himself. A quick look around told him no one was looking in his direction. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I hate this,” he grumbled.

As he sat in a booth, his phone buzzed. He didn’t recognize the caller.

“Marlot Blackclaw speaking.”

“Mister Blackclaw, this is Rosilan, from Affiliated Housing. You put in a request for a family house.”

“Oh, yes. I didn’t think I’d hear from you so quickly. The research I did indicated it could be months before something became available.”

“That’s often the case, but I have a house that just became available. It meets most of your requirements. Four bedrooms, the main washroom by the parent’s bedroom was recently redone, and there’s a second one near the other bedrooms. If you want to come to see it, I can arrange for a visit later today.”

“I can’t today, I’m out of the city, I don’t know when I’ll be back, possibly not for a few days.”

“That’s unfortunate. If there any chance you can come by tomorrow? If you can’t at least come to look at it, I’m going to have to offer it to another family that’s ready.”

Marlot thought about it. Even if they got the autopsy result today, there was no telling how long it would take to find the killer. Unless he was willing to put the death on one of the vagrants in the cage…no, he wasn’t doing that. Could he afford to drive to the city and back? That was half a day at a minimum. He’d never hear the end of it from Arlion.

“It’s okay. I’ll contact you when I’m back in the city, and I can see the next available house.” He paused. “Unless you can send me pictures? I might be able to make a decision with those.”

“Yes, I can do that.”

“Good, I’ll look at them tonight, and let you know my decision tomorrow.” He put his pad away.

“The house?” Trembor asked. Marlot nodded. The lion and Tarin had spoken in low tones while he was on his pad.

“You ordered?”

“Yes, and I told Tarin you wouldn’t complain about it.”

“I’ve never complained about Jale’i’s meats. I just—” Tarin came out of the back with a tray and placed a couple of dishes before Marlot, as well as a tall glass of blood and one of water.

“This is today’s lunch. That’s horse meat marinated in my dad’s secret brine, then baked in a fruit sauce. This one is sheep seared over flames, then basted with Roben’s alcohol.” She looked at him expectantly.

Marlot cut a piece for the horse meat and ate it. It was flavorful, bitter, and sweet. “It’s very good.” He cut another piece, then stop as Tarin scrutinized him.

“It really is,” he said.

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Of course not. Your father’s a great cook.”

She studied him a moment longer than smiled, before returning to the back.

“I mean it,” he told Trembor, who wore an amused expression.

“Then why does Jale’i complain so much?”

“Because you know I’m not a finicky eater. Meat’s meat, I can appreciate the skill he puts in this, but I’m not going to wait around for him to prepare it if I’m hungry.”

“It didn’t take that long.”

“That’s because it’s early. He always prepares a batch just before the crowd arrives, but once that’s gone you have to wait. And since the others appreciate his food more than I do, I figure I might as well let them enjoy it while I have plain meat.”

Trembor smiled and watched Marlot eat for a moment. “So, the house?”

Marlot looked around. Only half the seats were taken, and the booth next to them was empty. “It has the rooms w—I want. He didn’t give me any details since I can’t see it, but I expect all the information will be with the pictures he’ll send.”

“You really want to make a decision based on pictures?”

“Not really, but what if it’s perfect? I don’t want to miss out on it.”

“It’s just a house, there will be others.”

Marlot shrugged. “I have nothing to lose by looking at them.”

“Just don’t sink your teeth into it without looking at it thoroughly. He doesn’t matter how hungry you are, always make sure the meat hasn’t gone bad first.”

Marlot grinned. “When have you ever known me not to do as much research as I can on something?”

Marlot finished the food and then gave his compliment on it to Jale’i, which earned him a suspicious glare. After that he and Trembor walked around. He showed him the town’s academy, which was only a handful of small buildings, not the sprawling complex it was in the city. The classes were small, with no more than a dozen cubs in any of them.

Trembor shook his head in amazement. Marlot understood his reaction. The city’s academy had so many students each class could have a hundred of them at a time.

His pad buzzed with a message from Jaxca. He had results for them.

* * * * *

The first thing they did was put Na’ego’s body back in the freezer. Urion was in the shower, Jaxca told them, scrubbing any evidence of what he’d done.

“The cause of death is straight forward. Trauma to the cranium from a straight length with an edge, although it wasn’t sharp. Something Medic Roundpoint’s examination revealed is that Na’ego was in a fight close to the time of his death, possibly what caused his death. He has bruises on his chest and arm, and he had dried blood and flesh under his claws. They’re in the sample vials on the counter as well as some of his blood. I don’t think I’ll find anything unusual, but I want to be thorough.”

“The coyote in the cage was hurt,” Trembor said. “He might have lied about how it happened.”

“Banerik would know already. The protector who brought him in would have reported what happened, and Naria would have known and told us if he was lying.”

The door to the washroom opened, and the ram exited, dressed, but his wool still wet. “I need to get out of here.” He glanced around furtively.

Marlot was about to tell him to wait, but Trembor nodded. “We’ll drive you back. Jaxca, we’ll expedite what you need to test today.”

Marlot now noticed the terror in the ram’s eyes.


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A Familiar Death CH 09.pdf (107.3KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 08 2020-07-07T13:00:08+00:00
“So,” Trembor said, “No one here hunts?” He’d been looking forward to seeing Marlot’s old hunting grounds the previous night, but he’d understood that his wolf was too tired for it. This morning, when they again stopped at the restaurant to eat, and that it was full, he’d demanded an explanation. What he’d gotten baffled him, “Doesn’t anyone realize how wrong that is?”

Marlot shrugged. “It’s the way it’s always been here. I told you they do things differently.”

“I thought that was the division between predator and prey. This is beyond being different. So everyone eats at that restaurant?”

The wolf chuckled. “Of course not. Most people eat at home.”

“Then how do they get their meat, if they don’t hunt?”

“They buy it from the processing store.”

“And where does the store get it from?”

“From the commune.”

“What? Have they found a way to grow meat from the earth?”

Marlot looked away from the road just long enough to roll his eyes at him.

“Then how?”

“Any of the herbivores who are too old to work, or too gravely injured, go to the store.”

“Just like that? They walk in?”

“They go by car.”

“It still seems wrong to me. Don’t they want to live?”

“They’re farmers, what else are they going to do if they can’t do that anymore?”

“And the other preys are okay with that?”

The wolf didn’t reply immediately, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, clearly thinking.

“If you have the choice,” Marlot finally said, “between being scared for your life all the time, but having the old folks around, or knowing you’re safe, protected, but anyone who isn’t productive anymore becomes someone else’s meal, what would you pick?”

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine being scared all the time, I’m not prey.”

The wolf nodded. “That’s the situation they’re in. I’m not saying the commune’s better than the city, it’s just a different system, but here the predators protect the prey instead of hunting them, and in return, they get to eat the unproductive members.”

Trembor thought about that. Prey just walking into the processing store. “How does it even work? I mean killing them? I have no problem doing it during a hunt, but if one of them walked up to me and asked to be killed, I couldn’t do that.”

“They’re given something to make them sleep, and then the butcher bleeds them out. It’s a lot less painful for them than being killed in a hunt, also less stressful.”

“You’ve seen them do it?”

“My father took me when I was a cub. Back then he expected me to take over when he retired.”

“If you grew up like that, how did you learn how to hunt?”

“After Margelo died, I’d promised myself I would stick to our promise. So I trained. I made it a game with some friends, playing prey. I’d have to chase one of them and bring them down. And sometimes I was the prey. That’s how I have an idea of how prey feels. On the day I was prey, I didn’t know when my friend would start hunting me. Even if it was just a game, it was stressful, always wondering when it would happen. As predators, we don’t feel that. Even if someone ends up hunting us, we don’t spend our time worrying about it. Statistically, we’re more likely to die in a fight then by being hunted. It didn’t make me an expert hunter, but I learned the basics that way. Didn’t you practice with your friends?”

“I wrestled with my brothers and sisters,” Trembor said, “but that was about learning to fight, not hunt. My moms taught me that.” He paused. “How does their tax get collected then?”

“The government gets a fixed amount per body.”

“Really? It isn’t based on their productivity rating?”

“They don’t have one.”

“How can they not have that, everyone has one?”

“They don’t have an ID, so there’s nothing to attached a productivity rating to.”

The lion stared at Marlot.

“It’d be too many problems trying to keep track of all of them,” Marlot continued, “and it isn’t like they leave the communes. So why give ourselves the extra work?”

“But without a rating, anyone can come in and eat them.”

“Which is why we have patrols. To prevent poaching.”

Trembor looked out the window at the passing fields. He didn’t get it, but as Marlot has said, things were different here. “What’s growing in that field?” He asked. The plants were low to the ground and green.

“I don’t know. It could be one of the dozens of different vegetables.”

“How many vegetables are there?”

Marlot laughed. “I am not the right person to ask that.”

Before Trembor could think of another question, they crested a hill and buildings became visible in the distance. A dozen low and large buildings overshadowed maybe a hundred small ones. Those had to be housing, Trembor thought.

“What are those big buildings?”

“One’s where they process the vegetables, the rest is where they are warehoused before shipping.”

“I didn’t think it needed that much warehousing.”

“Everything the land produces has to be held somewhere until shipping.”

“I guess I just didn’t realize there was so much being produced.”

“Prey eat almost exclusively vegetables, and there are a lot of them in the city, and here.”

“So they grow all year long?”

Marlot shook his head. “The winter’s too cold here, so for that and a bit before and after nothing grows, but the rest of the year, it’s always growing.”

They drove by the first large building, where sheep and horses pushed carts holding crates in it.

“Warehousing,” the wolf said. “They’re going to freeze them, some will stay here for winter, the rest will be shipped to the city.”

Trembor nodded. “There are a lot of sheep here.”

“Sheep are the most common farmers because the commune gets the wool from sheering time. There’s also others, like the horses here, for the more labor-intensive work.”

“So they do all the work themselves.”

“Of course not. A lot of the fieldwork is done with tractors, but there’s some work that needs to be done by hand, and some of the heavy lifting can’t be handled by machines.”

“You said the wool goes to the commune. The town doesn’t collect that to sell it?”

“The commune sells that itself. They need some revenue of their own for repairs, medicine, and other things they need.”

They drove past the last of the warehouses and now Trembor was looking at the houses. They were all made of the same material and had the same design, as far as he could tell, but they were painted in bright colors, some had banners and small flags.

“Why are all the houses the same?” Trembor asked.

“That’s before my time.” Marlot slowed down since cubs were running around the yards and sometime in the street. “My father says sheep like for things to be the same, and until I moved to the city, I believed him. Now I figure they’re just used to it. The houses are mass-produced and easy to build.”

“I don’t think I could stand it for very long. Everything the same.”

“I couldn’t either.”

“Does anyone ever leave?”

Marlot shrugged. “It must happen, not everyone’s cut out for the farming life, even here.”

“So there’s a system in place for them to get an ID card? A productivity rating?”

“There has to be. No one’s forced to remain here.” They left the residential area, and he picked up the speed a little. “I never asked about it when I lived here. We’re so used to the way things are, we never think about it.”

A few minutes later they arrived at a group of larger buildings than the houses, with sheep and a few horses going from one to the other, carrying bags over their shoulders.

“Town center?” Trembor asked.

Marlot chuckled. “Not really at the center, but yeah, the stores are here. They have a bar, restaurant. Same as every other town.”

“Except for all of them looking alike.”

“If you want, we can spend some time here and you can ask them about it.”

The lion looked around and shook his head. “To be honest, I’d rather not know. I’m already a little crept out by the number of sheep out there. I can’t shake the feeling that if I talk to one, they’re all going to answer together, with one voice. I think someone made a horror movie about that when I was a kid.”

“You have nothing to worry about.” He parked between two other cars. “Everyone here is perfectly normal. The medical clinic is one or two buildings that way, I think. I can’t read the signs from this angle.”

They exited the car, and Marlot nodded to the males and females on the sidewalk. They nodded back, not exhibiting any signs of nervousness. They spent a moment looking at Trembor, but then nodded and continued. The lion watched after them, and couldn’t shake the sense that this was extremely wrong, but he couldn’t say why.

After a few moments, he thought he figured it out. They weren’t getting out of his way, glancing around nervously. They were walking confidently, and on some level, he was thinking of them as predators. Which was insane. They were sheep, but he’d never fully understood before that a lot of that sense was in the body language, not just the species.

No, that wasn’t right. He’d always known, but it had been something normal. The way things were, the only way things were. Now he was seeing a different way of living. How had Marlot not been confused as to what his role was, growing up here?

“There it is.”

Trembor got out of his head and looked at the building the wolf pointed to on the other side of the street. It looked just like every other one, except for a sign which read ‘Medical’ above the door.

They entered, and it looked like nothing of the medical clinics he’d gone to. There was a waiting area with a dozen empty chairs, with an earth brown carpet and sky blue walls. The air smelled clean, but not in that saturated with disinfectant scent the clinic usually had. It smelled like the air in a park, or on that hill, by the tree, Marlot had taken him to.

A half-wall separated the waiting area from the treatment area, with half a dozen beds and tables, only two of which were occupied. One with a muscular horse with his arm in a sling sitting on the bed and the other had a very pregnant sheep lying down. A ram a gray jacket was running his hands on her stomach and talking to her in a soft voice.

He looked and noticed them. “Is it an emergency?”

“No, but we need your help with something,” Marlot said.

“Have a seat then. If no one else comes in, I’ll be with you once I’ve seen to Arashel.” He nodded to the horse.

Trembor took a seat that let him watch the medic as he helped the sheep to sit up and then down from the bed.

“Just take it easy, you have a week at the most to go. You can do light housework, but I’d prefer that you rest.”

She nodded and waddled out of the clinic.

The ram went to the horse. “Why are you back here?”

“My arm hurts again.”

The ram gently took it out of the sling, and the horse bit his lower lip. “Arashel, I told you to rest up. It can’t heal when you work in the field.”

“I didn’t—”

The ram locked eyes with him.

“I’m just so bored. Everyone but me’s working. I got nothing to do. I was just going to keep them company, but then Dad had some trouble with a hay bale, so I went to help him, and I didn’t think about it.”

“You’re lucky, you didn’t do any new damage, but if you don’t rest, you could tear the muscle completely. If that happens, you’re looking at months for it to heal, and it could take years off your working life. You don’t want that, do you? Arashel?”

The horse looked at his arm. “No sir.”

“So I want you to go home and rest. I know it’s boring, but that’s what you have to endure if you want to get back to the field any time soon. It’ll probably take two weeks, but come see me next week, just in case. Now, go home, and tell your father to contact me. If he had trouble in the field, I need to take a look at his back again.”

“Yes sir.” The horse hopped down, and left with a nod to Marlot and Trembor.

“Work-life?” Trembor asked, standing when the ram joined them.

“You must not be from around here. Arashel needs both arms to do his work. His family aligns the hay bales so the truck can pick them up. Torn muscles don’t heal fully. While he’s young it won’t bother him, but as he gets older, it’ll hurt more and more, to the point where he won’t be able to lift the hay bales.”

“What happens then?”

“He goes to the processor.”

“Just like that? There has to be something else he can do.”

“Bale pulling is all he’s done, by then he’ll be too old to learn something else.”

“But—”

“Trembor, I told you, things are different here.”

The ram looked at the wolf. “You’re one of the Blackclaw, aren’t you? Negel’s son, the one who moved to the city.”

“Yes, I’m Marlot. And you’re Urion Roundpoint, correct?”

“I am.”

“I’m a registered investigator, I’m looking into Na’ego’s death. I left you a message this morning, to let you know we were coming. This is Trembor, we work together.”

The ram took his pad out of a pocket and showed it to Marlot. It was off.

“It ran out of power again. I must have forgotten to put it by the charger last night.”

“You should move the charging station to where you normally leave your pad, that way you’re sure it’s charged,” Marlot offered.

The ram smiled, “I really should. My mate was in charge of our pads, but she had an accident last year, and I’ve been on my own since.” He shook his head. “But that isn’t important. What can I help you with?”

“Our usual medical examiner can’t come here, he’s based in the city and has other clients. We’d need your expertise to look at Na’ego’s body.”

“I’m supposed to go to the Masked Commune after midday, I already have a handful of patients I need to see there. Can you ask one of the other medics?”

“You’re the best in the region. If you’re worried about getting in trouble with the town council, you don’t have to. My authority supersedes theirs.”

“Alright, let me make a few calls to find someone who can take care of my patients.” He went to tap a code on his pad, stared at it, then looked around. “I’ll just be a moment, I need to find where the charger is.”

Marlot nodded and sat back down.


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A Familiar Death CH 07 2020-07-06T13:00:12+00:00
Marlot sighed and placed the call.

“Rosette’s Commune management, Preprio talking.”

“Hi, I need to know if any of the medics are at your commune.”

“I have no idea. I don’t keep track of their coming and going.”

“Okay, then can you tell me which one has the most experience?”

“How would I know that? I don’t keep track of their records, that’s the Blackclaw’s thing. They’re obsessed with keeping track of all those details. They’ll be able to tell you that.” She disconnected.

“Thanks,” Marlot said.

“Well,” Trembor asked.

“She didn’t know. They don’t all keep track of the medics since they only look after the herbivores.”

“What are we going to do if no one knows?”

“Someone’s bound to know.”

“Start by the last one on the list. It’s always the last person you’re planning on talking to that has the information you want.”

Marlot knew the last on his list would have the information, but he was hoping not to have to call them.

He called the second commune.

“Stripedtail Commune,” a young-sounding male answered. “How can I help you?”

“I’m wondering if you keep records on the medics who operate in your commune.”

“Sure, but I can’t release that information.”

“My name’s Marlot, I’m a Registered Investigator. I’m looking into the town medic’s death.”

Trembor tilted an ear at him, but Marlot ignored the questioning expression.

“Oh, I guess I can give you that then.”

“Good. Who’s the best medic?”

Marlot heard the sound of typing.

“That’d be Urion Roundpoint.”

“Good.” Marlot remembered him slightly, an older ram. “Where can I find him?”

“That I don’t know. He was here this morning, but after treating two sprained ankles and half a dozen cuts he moved on to another commune. I think he was going to Hardback’s.”

“Thank you.” He disconnected.

“What’s with not using the medic’s name?” Trembor asked while Marlot looked for the Hardback’s number.

“I don’t want them to realize I’m familiar with him.” He found the number and called it.

“Why?” Trembor asked.

Marlot indicated he was on the call instead of answering.

“Yeah?” a gruff female’s voice answered

“Is this the Hardback’s commune?”

“Yeah. What’s you want?”

“I’m looking for Urion Roundpoint.”

“You tried calling him?”

“I don’t have his number.”

“Look it up.”

“He’s a herbivore. He isn’t listed.”

The female on the other end sighed. “Right. Well, I don’t know where he is. Call the Blackclaws, the medics have to log their movements with them.” She disconnected, and Marlot looked at his pad in surprise.

“How come being a herbivore means he isn’t listed?” Trembor asked.

“Who’d need to call him?”

“Someone who’s hurt?”

“He only treats herbivores, the only one in town who has a reason to have a number was Na’ego, and…” he indicated the computer, which was still locked.

“Things are kind of weird here,” Trembor said.

Marlot shrugged and called the next commune

“Masked Commune, how can I help you?”

“I’m trying to find, or reach Urion Roundpoint.”

“Roundpoint? We don’t have anyone by that name working here.”

“He’s one of the commune medics.”

“Oh. I have no idea where he is. Check with the Blackclaws.”

“Do you have his number?”

A snort. “What would I do with a herbivore’s number?”

“Alright, thank you.”

Trembor raised his pad. “You want me to call the others?”

“No. There’s only a few more.” He considered calling his family’s commune, With his father’s obsession with tracking data they would have the medic’s number, but he might be the one to answer, or worse, his mother might.

He called the next commune, maybe one of the two others left had the information. After a quick conversation, both recommended he contacted the Blackclaw Commune. He no longer had a choice.

He called the commune and knew he was doomed as soon as he heard the female’s voice answering.

“Blackclaw Commune, what is your need?”

Marlot hesitated a moment on hearing his mother’s voice. He thought about disconnecting, but she’d call him back.

“Hello, I’m trying to get the number for medic Urion Roundpoint.”

There was a long silence. “Marlot?” she asked.

He stiffed a sigh. Of course, she’d recognize his voice, just as he had hers. For a moment he considered lying, but she’d see through that. “Hello, mother.”

“Oh Marlot, it’s wonderful to hear your voice. How are you doing?”

“I’m well, mother. If you c—”

“I am so happy to hear that. I wish you’d called before. What have you been up to? Is the city treating you well? Have you found a nice female there?”

Marlot’s ears folded back. He didn’t want to deal with her questions, she was bound to ask something that would force him to lie to her. “I’m well, mother. Do you have Urion Roundpoint’s number? It’s important that I reach him.”

“Of course I do. Why do you need to contact him?”

“I need his assistance in investigating Na’ego’s death.”

Her typing stopped. “You’re in town?”

He closed his eyes. She’d have found out soon enough. Actually, he was surprised she didn’t already know. “Yes. Arlion Tuff insisted I be the one to investigate it.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. You need to come have dinner with us then.”

“No!”

Trembor stared at him.

“No, I’m sorry mother, I can’t tonight. I’m going to be working all evening.”

“You shouldn’t overwork yourself.”

“I know, but I’m starting an investigation, I have to sort all the information as quickly as I can so I can move forward.”

“Oh,” she sounded disappointed. “Tomorrow then, you must come tomorrow. Your sister will be ecstatic to see you.”

Marlot didn’t want to go, he was certain what would happen, but he found he couldn’t refuse outright. “I’ll see if I can make it.”

“I’ll make your favorite.”

Marlot smiled despite himself.

She gave him Urion’s number, and she got him to promise to come for dinner. Only after that did she disconnect.

Trembor looked at him. “You didn’t sound too happy to be talking with your mother.”

Marlot winced. “Our relationship isn’t as comfortable as yours with your parents.” He leaned back and looked at the ceiling.

“What did she make you promise to do?” He chuckled at Marlot’s surprised look. “Trust me, I’ve been there. I know what it sounds like when your mom extracts a promise out of you.”

Marlot game the lion a small smile. “We’re going to have dinner with them tomorrow.”

“Because we have to work tonight?”

Marlot winced again. “Am I such a horrible person for now wanting to see them right now?”

Trembor shrugged. “You have your reasons. But are we working tonight?”

“Until we have access to Na’ego’s computer, or confirm one of the vagrants on the list was here when he was killed, there’s little we can do.”

“How about Roundpoint?”

“It’s too late at this point. I’ll call him tomorrow. Let’s grab dinner and then get a room. I feel like relaxing.”

Trembor jumped to his feet, rubbing his hands. “Yes. I can do with a good hunt. What?” he asked at Marlot’s sad smile.

They stopped by the restaurant where Marlot got them each a meal to go, then they drove to the motel on the outskirt of the town. Once in the room, Marlot made sure all the blinds were fully closed. He’d have preferred them to be one large sheet, instead of small slats.

He felt Trembor watch him make sure no one could see in the room. When the wolf stopped moving Trembor stood behind him.

“Can I touch you now?”

Marlot turned and pressed himself against his lion. “Yes.” He breathed in his scent. “I’m sorry, Trem. I’m so sorry for how I’m acting.”

Strong arms wrapped around him. “It’s okay, Marl. There’s bad history here for you. I understand. You don’t have to worry, I’m not going to judge you.”

“Thank you.”


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A Familiar Death CH 07.pdf (74.9KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 06 2020-07-05T13:00:07+00:00
Marlot opened the door to Na’ego’s office. The bear had liked it neat. The shelves held pictures of families from the town, and gifts his patients had given him. Cubs were the ones responsible for most of those. Small clay figurines, drawings indecipherable things make with sticks or, in one case, styluses.

Marlot still couldn’t believe the bear had kept that. He didn’t remember what he had tried to make with them, only that his father had been angry with him for using a box of styluses destined for the commune. It was clear from it Marlot hadn’t been destined for the arts.

The desk had the computer, as well as a picture of Na’ego’s father, who’s fur had started turning gray with it was taken. A bowl contained sweets, which Na’ego kept insisting were for the cubs, although Marlot knew the bear ate most of them.

The chair was too large for Marlot to use, so he replaced it with one of the three smaller chairs on the other side of the desk. Turning the computer on prompted him for a password.

Marlot took out his pad and after a moment it connected to the computer. He set it to crack the security as Trembor entered the office.

“I had to leave Jaxca a message, he operating on someone.”

“This could take some time.” Marlot indicated the computer.

“Do you think there’ll be information about the killer?”

“No idea. I’m hoping there’s an indication as to why he went to the council hall in the middle of the night.”

“Was he one of the councilors?”

“Yes, but they never work past dinner.”

“You know the people here, did he have enemies?”

“Not by the time I left. As the only medic in town, he was liked by everyone. He’s had arguments, but nothing that escalated past shouts.”

“Without his ID we can’t get in tax number, but as a councilor and medic, it can’t be low. Do you really think he died while someone robbed him?”

“In the council chamber? No. Only the councilors have access to it and the cleaning staff. If one of those on the list was there, it’s because Na’ego let them in, and he wouldn’t have a reason to do that in the middle of the night. If it had happened here, I could have accepted it. Na’ego would help anyone. He wouldn’t have had any problem opening his doors to a vagrant he didn’t know.”

“So for him to die in the hall, it means it’s town business?”

“If you mean another councilor, I don’t see it. They scream a lot, but I’ve never heard of any of them resorting to violence to get something done.”

Trembor nodded. “Alright, then while we wait for you to have access to the computer, let’s go through the list the lynx gave you.”

“They aren’t going to be the ones. I don’t care what Arlion says, but no vagrant could have taken Na’ego on.”

“Still, let’s scratch as many off the list as we can. Can we remove the komodo and the coyote?”

“I want to confirm the yote’s movement first. Some of the herbivores will have seen him, And the enforcer in Low Valley should be able to tell me if he passed through there.” He leaned back. “The komodo didn’t look like she could do much, but she might have been better three days ago. The only problem I have with her is that if she stole Na’ego’s things, where would she have put them?”

“We can have the enforcers look behind the restaurant, that’s where the civet said she was found.”

Marlot chuckled. “We’re going to want to do that ourselves. I don’t trust Banerik to hand me toilet paper if I ask him to.”

Trembor nodded. “It shouldn’t be difficult. I can do that now while you check on the others on the list.”

“Okay, try not to overreact if you see things done you aren’t used to. Remember, this town has its own way of doing things.”

The lion smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.” Then he left.

Checking in on the others in the list of suspects consisted of querying the arrest databases for their names for a start. Those he could find this way would almost certainly have an alibi for when Na’ego was killed.

Unfortunately, each town had its own database, so he had to send the query multiple times. He also sent it to the city, since vagrants almost always seem to find their ways there.

By the time he was done sending the last query, the first one had returned, and over the next ten minutes, they all came back. Two of the suspects where in a cage, one had been there for most of the week, the other for the last two days. Marlot checked the distance between here and that town, almost a day’s travel by car, so no way for that vagrant to have killed Na’ego and ran there.

He ran the ID numbers of the other names against the list of anyone killed and claimed in the last two weeks. One number came up. That left five to account for.

He sent their names and descriptions to the enforcers in the surrounding towns with a request to be notified if they were located. He didn’t think the killer was one of them, but now the council wouldn’t be able to say he wasn’t doing his job.

With that done, he called Low Valley’s enforcer.

“Enforcer’s bureau, Carniel speaking.”

“This is Registered Investigator Marlot Blackclaw. I’m hoping you can help me confirm someone traveled through your town recently.”

“Can I get your ID number? I don’t recognize your name.”

Marlot sent it.

“Wow, a city RI,” Carniel said after a moment. “How are you looking for?”

“I’m actually investigating a death in Great Prairies. I’m looking for confirmation of whereabouts on a coyote by the name of Arches Longlegs. He’s a vagrant. He might have poached among your farmers.”

“I haven’t had any reports of poaching in over a month, we look after our prey. I also don’t have any reports about a vagrant yote.”

“Can you ask your patrollers? I’m trying to work up his movements to see if he might have been involved in the death.”

“Sure, might take a while to reach all of them. A few turn off their pads while patrolling. They claim it’s a distraction.”

“That isn’t a problem, he’s caged here, and I’m not letting him go until I know for sure he isn’t involved.”

“Before you go, can you explain to me why they brought in a city RI? I know they aren’t part of Fodel’s territory, but she’s local.”

Marlot considered it for a moment. He couldn’t tell him it was because the council expected to control him into closing this quickly. “I knew the dead,” he finally said. “They figured I’d want to deal with it because of that.”

“Okay, I see. Once I’ve talked to all my patrols, I’ll contact you.” He disconnected.

Marlot spent a moment trying to place Fodel, he’d heard the name before, then he remembered, she’d been a year behind him at the academy. A black bear, if he remembered correctly. Like him she’d studied to be a RI, which was why she’d gone to his town’s academy instead of hers—he couldn’t remember which town she was from.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Banerik growled, barging into the office.

“My job,” Marlot replied, checking on how getting into Na’ego’s computer was progressing.

“So your job consists of forcing my trainee to give you access to the lockup?”

Marlot smiled. “Actually, it does. I needed to see if the two in the cage had Na’ego’s stolen possessions.”

“Of course they didn’t. You think I’d let that pass if one of them did?”

The black wolf shrugged. “I didn’t get any reports on what you did or didn’t do as part of caging them. You weren’t there, so instead of interrupting what you were doing, we just took a look. No harm was done.”

“Yeah? Well, it seems your lion got Naria thinking she can learn the job through reading, instead of doing what I tell her to do.”

Marlot smiled, showing a bit of teeth. “What are you afraid of? After all, the books Trembor recommended are the same one you had to read during your training.”

“I don’t need anyone interfering in how I train her.”

“Unless you’re not teaching her the proper way enforcers do things, I don’t see how we interfered.” He beamed at the lynx.

Banerik snarled at him. “You better remember who’s in charge here.” He spun and headed out.

“I know exactly who’s incharge,” Marlot yelled after him, and continued in a lower tone. “And it isn’t you.”

Trembor entered the office with a quizzical expression. “What’s got the lynx pissed?”

“We’re interfering in the training of his recruit.”

“Ah. So that’s why he tried to shove me out of the way.”

Marlot chuckled. Trembor had to mass twice as much as the lynx. “Did you find Na’ego’s things?”

“No, I even found the corner where the komodo had been sleeping recently. No ID or things of value.” His pad beeped. “It’s Jaxca,” he said once he checked it. He placed the pad on the desk.

“Jaxca, thanks for calling back promptly.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the frog answered. “But I don’t have good news. I can’t examine your body. I have operations booked for the next three days. You’re going to have to use the local medic.”

“He’s the body,” Marlot said.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Aren’t there any other medics? Towns like that have large populations, they can’t have only one medic.”

“The town proper only had five hundred people, the rest are in the communes.”

“Okay, then they have to have a few medics.”

“They have three, but none of them have training on examining bodies.”

Jaxca sighed. “Can he at least cut one open?”

“I expect so.”

“Okay, I can probably manage to find a couple of hours between operations, If you can set up cameras, I can guide him threw it, and do a visual examination. I can tell him what to collect and you can send that to me to be processed.”

“Okay, it might take a while to locate one.”

“Just contact me when you do, and I’ll tell you what my schedule looks like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up my mate so we can go eat.”

“Enjoy.”

Trembor picked up his pad. “So how do we go about locating the medic?”

Marlot sighed. “I have to make calls.”

He wasn’t looking forward to that.


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A Familiar Death CH 06.pdf (97.6KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 05 2020-07-04T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot’s old office was in the back of the enforcer’s building, which was next to the council hall. When Marlot had been the town’s investigator, the enforcer was a badger named Gromlik. He’d been a protector in his youth and had come back after his time there scared and sour. He hadn’t liked Marlot, but he’d respected the office.

With Banerik now holding the position, the wolf would have nothing but trouble from him. Fortunately, he wasn’t there. A civet stood as Marlot and Trembor entered.

“You must be the investigator the council called in.” Even in her enforcer’s uniform, she barely looked out of the academy.

“I am. Are you Jivis’ daughter?”

She frowned. “He’s my uncle.”

“So you’re Anagel’s daughter then, Naria?”

“Am I supposed to know you?”

“No, but I’d met your mother a few times at meetings before I left town, she mentioned you. I’m Marlot Blackclaw.”

Her face brightened. “You’re Keliss’ son? I should have realized it, you have his fur.”

“So your parents also drag you to the administrator’s meeting?”

“Not so much now that I’m training to be an enforcer.”

“So you’re taking the courses?”

“I don’t need to, Banerik’s teaching me.”

With an effort of will, Marlot didn’t roll his eyes. Instead, he moved past the three desks. He had no idea when there had been three enforcers here. The door on the back wall to the left opened to his old office. It smelled stuffy, and everything had a thick layer of dust.

“No one’s bothered cleaning it?” He asked over his shoulder.

Naria pulled her gaze away from Trembor. “No one’s ever needed it.”

“There hasn’t been any unclaimed death in five years?”

“I think there’s been one or two, but enforcer Tuff handled them.”

“Shouldn’t it have been the local investigator who did that?”

She rolled her eyes. “We don’t need her help.”

Trembor opened his mouth, but Marlot shook his head. This had to be tough on the lion. Things were done in such a different way from the city. Marlot went to his old desk and ran a finger on it, making a line in the dust. It tickled his nose, but he was able to keep from sneezing.

Someone sneezed in the doorway.

“You weren’t kidding,” Trembor said, “there’s five years of dust. It’s going to take a day to get it all out.”

“I don’t think it’s worth it. This computer is the one I got the council to buy when I became an investigator. It was running slow by the time I left. I don’t think my pad would talk to it.”

“You want to drive home and get yours?” Trembor asked.

Marlot thought about it, it would be an excuse to get out of the town, if only for a while. “No, it’ll just delay our investigation. We can use Na’ego’s office, he’d bound to have a recent computer, and it’ll put us close to his body.”

Trembor moved away from the door, rubbing his nose. “We can get set up now and call Jaxca.”

“Before we go, I want to check the cages. You have the list Arlion gave us?”

Trembor brought out his pad, adjusted it, and handed it to Marlot, who showed it to Naria. “Any of them in the cages?”

“These two,” she indicated a lizard and an older coyote. “The yote’s been in the cage since last night, the comodo dragon the day before.”

“Where are their possessions?”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Na’ego’s things were stolen, I need to know if one of them has them.”

“I don’t know if I should give you access to that. No one outside the enforcers is supposed to touch anything in lockup.”

Trembor indicated he wanted his pad back. “Can I send you a document?” He asked the civet.

She took hers out and after a moment nodded. “What is it?” she asked once her pad confirmed the receipt.

“It’s a list of enforcer regulations. You should familiarize yourself with them. Section eight deals with Registered Investigators. Paragraph three states that any Registered Investigator in the pursuit of an investigation has the legal right to any files, or evidence, as it pertains to said investigation.” He pulled out his ID and showed it to her. “We’re Registered Investigators. We’ve been tasked with looking into the unclaimed death of Na’ego. The two in the cages are part of the suspect list. We need access to their possessions to determine if they had anything to do with his death.”

She remained frozen, staring at the lion.

Marlot moved behind her. “Things like this are why you should take the courses, on top of what Banerik is teaching you.”

She looked at him.

“Now I’d like you to give me access to the lockup.”

She swallowed and went to a wide locker. She unlocked it and moved away. The only things in it were two plastic bags. He handed one to Trembor and emptied his on the unoccupied desk.

ID, a crumpled map of the area, paper, so it had to be out of date. A tightly wrapped packet the size of his thumb. He sniffed it and moved away. Narcotics of some sort. A few rags containing rotting meat. Nothing that Na’ego would have on his person.

“Nothing here,” Trembor said.

“Same. It’s possible Na’ego’s killer stashed his things.”

“You know, without his ID, we could technically pass this along to the missing person’s bureau,” Trembor offered.

“And it would take them five minutes to identify him. Everyone in town knew Na’ego. Then the council would just scream at me for bringing an outside agency in. Let’s just act like we did that already, and they bounced it back to us.”

Naria watched them, clearly not following the conversation.

“This is another reason to take the courses,” Marlot told her. “They’ll teach you about inter-agency dynamics. Believe it or not, there are more than just the enforcers out there.”

“There’s the protectors,” she said.

“And the MPB,” Trembor said. “as well as the census’ bureau, [find other agencies]. Each is mostly independent from another, but every so often we have to work with them. If that happens to you, you want to have any idea what each can and can’t do. I don’t think your current teacher knows what that is.”

Marlot place the items back in the back and resealed it, before putting it back in the locker with the one Trembor had looked at. He indicated she could lock it.

“I need to see the suspects,” Marlot indicated the door leading to the cages. “Please unlock the door.”

She did so without hesitation.

Beyond it was four rooms made of bars. The cages where the enforcers put who still needed to be processed.

“What are they in there for?” Trembor asked.

“The komodo was found behind the restaurant. He hasn’t stopped shaking since.”

Marlot pushed his muzzle between the bars and took a deep sniff. “She,” he said.

Naria gave hi ma confused look. “Female, no male.” He was pretty sure. He was only in his second month of none-mammal scent identification, but they’d spent the first one on reptiles, identifying gender was one of the simpler things to do.

“Has she eaten anything?” Trembor asked.

“A bit of meat, he—she has a water bowl.” She indicated the bowl next to the bench the komodo was stretched on. “It looked like she drank some.”

“If she’d been like this for two days, she’s coming down from something hard.”

“There were narcotics in her possessions. Have you logged and identified it?”

The civet shook her head. “Enforcer Tuff wants to let her go as soon as she’s better.”

“Has any medic seen to her?” Trembor asked.

“He’s dead.”

“How about the commune medic?” Marlot had a hard time remembering his name. “The ram, Blunthorn?”

“What would he know about this?”

“More than any of us,” Trembor said. “You don’t want here to die in your custody, that makes you responsible for her death. I doubt her tax’s all that high, but you’d still have to pay it.”

“Something else the course will teach you.” Marlot looked in the other cage. The coyote there was eying them wearily. His clothing was ragged and he stank. “How did you get that?” He indicated the splint on the coyote’s arm.

“The ram medic fixed up my arm.”

“How did it get broken?”

“I was on the other side of one of the fields. I was just passing by, I didn’t bother anyone. I didn’t even go to any of the towns. This jackal stopped me. He accused me of trying to steal from the town. I didn’t steal anything.”

“He’d be one of the Pointed clan?” Marlot asked Naria.

She nodded. “A lot of the protectors are from that family.”

The coyote snorted. “That was no protector. I know protectors, that wasn’t one.”

Marlot brought up Na’ego’s picture on his pad. “Have you met him?”

The coyote moved closer and squinted before shaking his head. “I stayed away. The only people I saw were prey working the fields, and I stayed away from them too. I know what towns like this do to anyone they catch poaching. I didn’t touch anyone.”

“Don’t release him until I say it’s okay. I need to confirm when he was in the fields.”

“Yesterday and the day before that. I was in Low Valley before that.”

“The town or their fields?”

The coyote sat down without saying anything.

“2 days isn’t enough time to get from their town to the other side of our fields. What did you eat while you traveled?”

The coyote glared at him.

“Don’t let him go until I tell you.” He had to have poached somewhere. He could call Low Valley and find out if they had a dead farmer, the coyote couldn’t have eaten the whole body, but if they did, they’d want him, and he probably wouldn’t survive the punishment.

Marlot was torn, everyone had a right to hunt, but the way the communes were set up depended on the farmers being protected. If they couldn’t feel safe, they’d leave.

At least he didn’t have to deal with that right now.

“Let’s go get set up,” he told Trembor, and they left the enforcer building.


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A Familiar Death CH 05.pdf (99.5KiB)

A Familiar Death CH 04 2020-07-03T13:00:08+00:00
As soon as he stepped out of the restaurant, Trembor stopped moving. At the other end of the block, a group of males and females were harassing a young silver furred wolf who was wearing a woolen pelt tied to his chest and arms. The lion could hear the tormentors braying as they shoved the wolf.

Trembor took a step toward them, but Marlot grabbed his arm.

“Don’t,” the black-furred wolf said. He had a pained expression on his face.

“What’s going on?”

“He was caught sleeping with someone from the communes, a sheep by what they have him wear.”

Trembor stared at him, then back to the commotion. “They’re treating him like that because he had sex with a hew?”

“We don’t mix with the communes here.” Marlot pulled him toward their car.

“Don’t tell me you find that acceptable.”

The wolf looked back and quickly looked away. He shook his head. “I don’t, but there’s nothing I can do.”

“You could go there and tell them to stop.”

“And the moment I leave they’ll start up even harder.”

“How long is that going to go on?”

“Until he decides to leave. He’s branded now. He was caught with a sheep, so he’s going to be treated like one.”

“That’s horrible. Just for sleeping around?”

“No, for getting caught. Everyone in this town’s done it, but to be caught is a social death. He’s going to be ostracized, bullied.”

“His parents?”

“They aren’t going to help him,” Marlot spat.

“How can they not do anything to protect their son?”

“They’ll tell themselves they did all they could. They told him not to do it; if he did; not to get caught. Now, he has to live with the consequences. This town is hard on those who can’t follow the rules.”

“How did you manage to survive?”

Marlot gave a bitter laugh. “I left. He’ll leave too.” He sat behind the wheel.

Trembor looked back at the silver furred wolf. His shoulders were hunched, his head low. He might be crying, Trembor couldn’t tell. He looked as if he was barely of hunting age.

Trembor had been the victim of cruelty as a cub at the hand of other cubs, it was something cubs did, he’d done it too. But these weren’t cubs anymore, they should know better than to treat someone else that way. They should have been taught better.

The urge to intervene was strong. He even took a step forward.

“Trem, please don’t,” Marlot said through the open window. “It isn’t going to help,” he added when Trembor looked at him.

Reluctantly the lion got in the car.

By the time Marlot pulled away from the curb, the young wolf was running, the others following and jeering. None of the adults intervened. More than a few nodded in approval.

Only a few hours here, and Trembor already hated this place.

* * * * *

Marlot drove for five minutes, then pulled off on the side of the road. They hadn’t come across a house for most of the drive. There was a small ditch, then the grass rose to a hill with trees at the top. Marlot walked toward them, shoulders hunched.

“This was our favorite spot,” the wold said when they were almost to the top. “He’d chase me between the trees, I’d have to climb them to escape him, but I always ended up falling out, and he’d catch me. I was amazed at how strong he was.”

He looked among the branches, the leaves had turned golden and red. He reached up and ran a claw along a low branch.

“His name was Magerlo Whitepad.” He sighed wistfully. “He was two years older than I was, and he was my everything.”

“You and he were mates?”

Marlot shook his head. “I was twelve. What I felt for him wasn’t carnal, it was the adoration of a cub for someone who was everything I wasn’t. He was tall, strong, and he cared about me, even before he said it, I knew. He kept Banerik and his ilk from bullying me. He taught me how to fight. It’s something else we did here. He’d let me win once in a while, and I’d pin him to the ground, feeling strange as I did it. I was less than a year from my first heat.” He looked up again. “It would have been amazing to experience that with him.”

He was silent for a long time, looking at the leaves dance in the wind.

“What happened?” Trembor asked softly.

“We met up here, like we’d do. We ran around, we lied on the ground. He held me, and I held him. He said that once we were older, we’d leave this town. We’d go to the city, and we’d be happy, together. I was so happy to hear that. I nuzzled him, then I nipped his neck. He did the same to me, and it felt wonderful. There was none of the need that first heat brings, I could simply enjoy our closeness.” He lowered his gaze to the trunk.

Trembor saw the crosshatch as Marlot ran a hand over it.

“We did this as our way of making the promise binding. I dug my claws in, then him. We’d always be together, like they are.” He wiped tears. “If only it had been.” He fell silent for a moment. “A few days after this, I was done with my classes, so I was running toward home when I saw a commotion near the council building. The academy is on the other side of town, you couldn’t see it from where we were parked.”

He rested his forehead against the tree. “As I got closer, I saw a bunch of adults forming a ring. In the center I saw first Banerik, then Pratson, Malik’ian, and Lirarn. I only noticed Margelo, curled up on the ground, when Pratson kicked him in the stomach.”

Marlot shuddered.

“I was stunned. I didn’t understand what was going on. Margelo had gotten into fights with them before, but this was different. Arlion stepped into the ring. He kicked Margelo too, and none of the adults did anything. Arlion spoke loudly, proclaiming that this was what came of a male raising his tail for another male. I found out later that Banerik and Pratson had come across Margelo and one of the bulls from the commune having sex. No one ever said, but I expect they killed the bull right there.

“I wanted to go to Margelo, to protect him as he’d protected me, but I couldn’t move. Arlion told us to watch him, to let him be a lesson for us all. That a male’s place was by a female. The five of them kicked Margelo again and again. After a moment, the other adults joined in. Margelo’s father was one of them. His own father was part of the group that killed him.”

Marlot looked at Trembor, anger in his eyes. “That’s how I know he isn’t going to do anything for his other son. That toothless coward if going to let this town destroy him like it destroyed Margelo.”

Trembor stood there, his mind in turmoil. He opened his mouth, but before any words left it, Marlot continued.

“He looked at me, toward the end. He was pleading, he wanted me to do something. I ran. I ran away as fast as I could. I didn’t stop running until I was home and I buried my face in my mother’s chest. She held me, crooning that she knew. All I could say what that it had been horrible.” He paused and dried his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice was cold. “She said that I was right. It was horrible for a male to sleep with another male.”

“Marl—” Trembor reached for his wolf, but Marlot flinched away. Trembor was appalled that a cub had to go through that, had to see that, and then not receive any comfort.

“Who paid for his death?” Was all Trembor could think to say.

“No one,” Marlot spat.

“What?”

“No one paid. They made a celebration of it.”

“He was fourteen, there’s no way he was of hunting age. Killing someone under age is a crime.”

Marlot snorted. “And who was going to claim the revenge? His own father was one of his killers.”

“But the system would notice his death. Did they fake his life to cover his death up?”

Marlot shook his head. “I looked into it when I became an RI. As far as the system knew, Margelo was of hunting age when he died. Someone went in and changed his classification.”

“That’s impossible.”

“This place runs according to its own rules. They don’t care about the law, just that things go the way they want it.”

“The city can’t be okay with that.”

“The cities don’t want to know. They don’t want anything to upset the distribution of vegetables. So so long as what happens here stays here, they don’t sniff the air.”

“Marl, I am so sorry.”

No wonder his wolf had had such trouble with their relationship.

“The last time I saw Margelo was when I told him I loved him.”

“Marl, I’m not him. That isn’t going to happen to me. You know that, right?”

The wolf took a deep breath and rubbed his face. “I want to believe it, but if we’re not careful; if anyone here suspects we’re lovers, they will descend on us and tear us apart.”

“They can’t do that. For one thing, I won’t let them. For another, they couldn’t hide our death, they’d have to pay our taxes, we’re not cheap.”

“Maybe not, but they have the city budget to cover that. They wouldn’t even have to increase the prices. Trem, I need you to be careful. I know how much you’ve enjoyed touching me, I love it too, but we can’t do that anywhere someone might see, even if we think we’re alone. It’s too dangerous.”

Trembor didn’t hesitate. “Alright. It won’t be easy, but I’ll keep my hands off you. Maybe we should find lodging so you can rest.”

“No, we need to settle into my old office and start working this. The quicker we start, the faster we are going to be out of here and back to our lives.”

Trembor nodded.

Marlot turned back to the tree and placed his hand on the crosshatch. “We made it out, Margelo,” he whispered. “I just wish you’d left in a different way.” He was silent for a moment, then he started down the hill.


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A Familiar Death CH 04.pdf (95.7KiB)

The joys of Trucking 2020-06-08T16:45:31+00:00

The week was mostly uneventful, being on the east coast means it’s mainly short hauls, but with my vacations at the end of the month and the company’s inability to plan more than 4 or 5 days in advance, I’m not surprised they are keeping him here until then.

The big, annoying, thing was Saturday.

When I delivered on Friday, I was given a Saturday morning pickup. Those are uncommon, but they happen. Since the information indicated I needed to identify myself as a different company, I knew this was a load we’d bought from a broker. The company does that when they can’t find something on their own and doesn’t want to have me sit for a full weekend. Those loads can be problem because we don’t control how they are setup.

I was told my appointment was for 9am, I was there at 8:30. I checked in, was informed my load wasn’t ready and that they would come tell me when it was my turn. Not an auspicious start.

At 1pm, I sent in to check where we were, because my plan was to get to Montreal where the trailer was to be dropped and do a reset. The shipper was only 5 hours away from there, but that now meant an evening arrival. I found out the load wouldn’t be ready before 3pm.

I wasn’t happy, but other than simmering and bitching online, there isn’t anything I can do. So I let Dispatch know and went back to waiting.

It was 9pm by the time I was finally in the dock. 10:30pm is when they were done. Looking back, I suspect 9pm was always the appointment time and Dispatch simply misread the information when they sent it to me.

Having said that, I’m actually happy they got me there early (Although I still wish it would have been later, like 1 or 2pm) when I left the shipper, the lineup of trucks waiting for their turns was so long that it stretched all the way onto the street. If I’d arrived at 9pm, I doubt I wouldn’t have been in the door before the sun came up.

By then I decided to drive through the night so I could spend all of Sunday parked.

I watched Mary Poppins Returns. It was interesting, the songs were good, but there was something missing. Maybe it’s because I’m older than when I first say the first one, but this one felt shallower. For as good as the songs were they barely felt like the added anything to the story, other than making it a musical.

And that’ll be it, so I’ll see you on the next one.

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A Familiar Death CH 01 2020-06-30T13:00:08+00:00
“You moved the body?” Trembor yelled at the assembled councilors.

Marlot kept his reaction to himself, crouched next to the outline someone had painted on the floor. He couldn’t tell anything from it. That was why no one was supposed to touch a body until the Registered Investigator had gone over it. They had even cleaned the floor, Marlot could smell the cleaners used, the ammonia making his muzzle crunch up. He looked up on hearing movement.

“You had better watch your tone, young male,” An elderly lynx replied, moving from behind the curved table. “We don’t have to tolerate such impertinence. If you need to address me, you can call me Councilor Tuff; Arlion Tuff. And who might you be?”

The lion glared down at the lynx. “I’m Registered Investigator Trembor Goldenmane.” He showed his ID.

Marlot remembered the lynx, although the last time he’d seen him, his fur had still been gray. Now it was white. Councilor Tuff was the spokesmale for the council. He was stubborn and set in his way. Trembor wouldn’t get anything from him.

“And what are you doing here, Investigator Goldenmane?” the lynx asked. “I only asked Marlot to come deal with this.”

The lion looked over his shoulder at Marlot, ears canted to the side. The wolf stood. Asked? Arlion had demanded that Marlot come back home, he hadn’t asked. When Marlon had said no, the lynx had contacted the City Controller and somehow gotten him to order Marlot.

Technically, the Controller couldn’t give Marlot orders, the position of RI was no longer part of the city, it hadn’t been for a few decades, but the bull had made it clear that he would consider it a personal favor if Marlot did it, and that he would be very cross with the wolf is he didn’t.

They’d only stopped by their respective places to get a few changes of clothing and did the three-hour drive to the one place Marlot had promised himself he’d never go back to.

“Trembor is my partner,” Marlot said.

“Partner? Aren’t you able to do the work on your own? Maybe the city is too much for you and you should come back here.”

Behind the table, the other councilors nodded and murmured among themselves.

Come back? Absolutely not, but when he spoke, he kept his tone neutral. “We share territories. It benefits both of us.” He indicated the outline. “You realize that it’s illegal to move the body before the Registered Investigator had released it? We’re within our right to lodge a complaint.” Now that it would do any good, the council would be the ones hearing it.

The lynx waved the comment aside. “Maybe if you’d actually done what I told you, when I told you, you could have examined it. What did you expect us to do? Let it stink up the place for three days while you made up your mind?”

“Don’t you have a local Investigator?” Trembor asked before Marlot could.

The wolf was preoccupied keeping his ears from folding back and looking away from the councilor. Every instinct was telling him to submit, that the lynx was his superior, but after experiencing the city, and deciding to stay there, he’d promised himself he would never submit to someone who hadn’t earned the right. Now it was proving difficult for him not to fall back on the old habits of doing as told.

“We have a local Investigator. It’s Marlot.”

“He released his contract when he moved to the city.”

“That’s irrelevant. We needed him, so he’s here.”

Yeah, that was typical of them. If they thought something was one way, how it really was didn’t matter.

“Leave it, Trembor,” Marlot said as the lion’s ears folded back and he opened his muzzle. He glared at the wolf, but he closed his muzzle. “Can someone at least tell us what happened?”

“How should we know what happened? Malbereth found Na’ego’s body there when she got in.”

Marlot looked at the group of eight councilors still seated and found the cougardess at the left end. “Can you describe exactly what you saw?”

She straightened. “What? You don’t feel the pictures we took are enough?”

Marlot used the anger as being question burn away the desire to look away from her glare. They had called him here, *he* was in charge of the investigation, not them. But he didn’t bother arguing, he wouldn’t get anything from her if she didn’t want to talk.

“What happened after she found the body?” Marlot asked Arlion.

“She called me, I came, saw Na’ego lying on the floor there, by the table. He had a gash on the head and a large pool of blood around it. I confirmed he was dead.”

Marlot’s stomach grumbled, breakfast had been hours ago. He looked back to the outline, which was a good two feet away from the table. Trembor was examining the table’s edge, sniffing at it.

“Was there blood on the table?” he asked.

“What does it matter?” the lynx asked in exasperation.

Marlot shook his head at the lion. Trembor glared at the lynx, but stayed silent.

“Then what did you do?”

“I called Banerik.”

“Banerik?”

“He’s the town’s enforcer.”

Marlot stared at the lynx. Arlion had made Banerik enforcer? He’d made Jonaly’s—He couldn’t think of that now. He forced his breathing to calm.

“What did your grandson do?”

“What do you think?” the councilor asking in annoyance. “He recorded the scene, then he took Na’ego’s body to his clinic and put him in the freezer.”

“Your enforcer moved the body?” Trembor asked.

“Na’ego was the town medic,” Marlot said before the lynx could do so in a way that would insult his partner. “With him dead, there isn’t anyone to move him. Do you have the recording? Or will I have to get it from your grandson?”

Arlion took out a data slate and handed it to Marlot. “I also added a list of the likely suspects.”

Of course he had. If they’d already decided who the prey was, why even bother forcing him to come?

“Did you have to bring him?” the lynx asked in a low tone.

“He’s my partner,” Marlot replied, not bothering lowering his voice.

“You used to be able to work on your own.”

“I work better with him,” Marlot replied, unable to keep some of his anger from his voice this time.


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A Wasterful Death CH 22 2020-06-29T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot stopped the car in its spot in front of their office and quickly got out to open the other door.

“I’m saying it again. You should be going home. You’ve just been released.” He offered his hand to the lion.

Trembor looked at the hand, then at Marlot. “I’m fine,” he growled, but he took the hand. “I don’t want to let the report fall behind any more than it has.”

Marlot helped him out. “I already did most of it.”

“And I need to add my part so we can close the case.” Trembor leaned against the car while Marlot took the crutch out of the trunk. He didn’t give it to him, instead, he draped the lion’s arm over his shoulder.

He turned to help him to the office but stopped. A dachshund in her thirties was getting up from the stairs.

She took a tentative step toward them. “Are, are you investigator Blackclaw?” Her trembling voice, petite size, and lack of confidence made her seem younger than her scent indicated.

“I am.”

She tried to say something but closed her mouth. Trembor noticed the worried glances she was casting in his direction. She looked at her feet. He could see Marlot was confused by her behavior, but he’d seen it multiple times when his sister didn’t want to admit something in front of witnesses.

He took the crutch out of the wolf’s hand. “I’ll see you in the office when you’re done.” He hobbled away.

Marlot grabbed his arm. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m giving you two some privacy.” He smiled at Marlot’s worried expression and cupped his cheek. “I’ll be fine. It’s not even twenty feet to the door. No one’s going to pounce on me between here and there.”

Reluctantly, Marlot released him and watched him go.

“I’m sorry,” the dachshund mumbled. “I didn’t mean to get in the way.”

Marlot waited until the door closed behind his lion and then sighed in relief. “It’s alright.” He focused on her. “He’s right. I’ve been overprotective since he got hurt.” Her fur was well kept, brushed. her gray business suit had a conservative cut to it but smelled a little musty. “What can I do for you?”

She dug through her bag and pulled out a cash card. “I wanted to give this to you.”

He simply looked at it. “Why?”

“The newsies say you killed the male who r…” She tried to get the word out, but couldn’t. When she started panicking Marlot placed a hand on her shoulder, and she flinched a little.

“How long ago?” He didn’t need to hear it to know what this was about.

“Th… Three years. This is part of my savings. I want you to have it, to pay his tax.”

Marlot smiled. “He wasn’t worth all that much.” He had been surprised at how little he’d had to pay. considering the iguana had owned a successful business. He’d known his crime would bring his value down, and that his assets would be liquidated to pay what he owed for Aiden’s death, but he hadn’t realized it would end up being quite this low. He’s even called the administrative office to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake.

“I don’t care.” Her tone was firm, but her eyes were wet. “You’ve made it so I can sleep again. I want you to have it.”

Marlot could smell the misery coming off her. He had the impression he was the first person she’d told. he closed a hand on hers. “Alright, I’ll take it, but o none condition. I want you to see a counselor about what happened to you.”

“I can’t.” She cringed.

“You have to. If you don’t, he’s always going to haunt you.” The fear in her eyes made him tighten his hand on hers. “I know a good one. Her name is Dauro. Promise me you’ll take with her.”

The dachshund hesitated a moment before nodding.

He let go of her hand and took out his pad. He brought Dauro’s information while he waited for her to take out hers. She nodded when she was ready to receive it.

At the same time as his pad sent the information, it pulled her pad number out. Marlot’s pad shouldn’t have been able to do that. And normally he wouldn’t have done it, but he was worried she wouldn’t do to see her.

He took the card, then hugged her. She dried her tears and thanked him again, then walked away. While he watched her leave Marlot sent Dauro a message explaining what had just happened. He included the dachshund’s number so she could follow up with her.

He smiled at Hela’han as he entered, and she said something, but he saw Trembor leaning against their desk so he didn’t pay attention to her as he hurried to the lion.

“Shouldn’t you be sitting down?”

Trembor rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. Who was she?”

“one of his victims. She gave me a reward for killing him, but I’m going to use it to pay for her visit to the councilor I convinced her to see.”

Trembor smiled. “You’re a sneaky wolf.” He grabbed his hand and pulled him close. “I love you.” He wrapped his arms around the wolf and kissed him.

Marlot froze, remembering the door was open and Hela’han in the other room. With an effort, he forced his worries away so he could enjoy the feel of his mouth on his lover’s.

He heard an amused chuckle from the other room, then the door closed quietly.


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A Wasterful Death CH 22.pdf (69.4KiB)

A Wasterful Death CH 21 2020-06-28T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot felt a hand on his shoulder and he went for it with a growl. Teeth bit empty air and he glared at who had touched him.

A female rabbit was still backing up, eyes wide, flexing her hand. “Sir?” her voice quivered. “Are you alright?”

Marlot turned and took a step toward her, teeth still bared and something squished under his foot. He looked down and frowned.

“Sir? I’m medic Irdalim, I think you might be in shock. Can you tell me your name?”

Marlot looked at her and blinked a few times. Why was a medic here? He opened his mouth, but he couldn’t think of something to say.

“Sir? I need you to tell me your name. Who is that?” She pointed behind him.

Marlot looked at the iguana over his shoulder. A body? Right, yes, of course. He was an investigator. That had to be an unclaimed body, except that didn’t feel right.

He tastes blood in his mouth. He wiped at his muzzle and his jacket sleeve came away covered in it. He didn’t think it was his, he didn’t feel hurt. The rabbit was still talking.

“Shut up,” he barked. Something wasn’t right. The body wasn’t unclaimed, it was his. Why had he killed him? He’d been chasing someone. Cristan, that was the name. He’d hid here. He and Trembor had…

“Trembor!”

Marlot ran by the medic. She yelled at him, but he ignored her. He took the stairs two at a time, didn’t slow as he turns and almost fell.

Around the building, he saw a bobcat, labrador, and a bull kneeling around the lion. Marlot saw the medic patches on their jacket. “Get away from him!” They looked at him and immediately scattered.

He fell to his knees next to Trembor. His left shoulder was bandaged, but blood was slowly seeping through. His leg was held straight by a splint.

He took the lion’s right hand and nuzzled it. “Please be okay. Please don’t die. Trem, I….” He swallowed hard and stared at Trembor’s chest moving up and down. He didn’t want his lion to die, he couldn’t die. But what if? He tried to keep his mind from going there, but the image of Trembor’s body being put in a freezer formed.

He’d never told him. In the years of working together and everything they shared, He’d never once uttered those words. This could be his last chance.

He kissed the hand. “I… I love you, Trem,” he whispered. “Please don’t leave me.”

“Love you too, Marl,” Trembor replied softly. Marlot looked at him and the lion smiled. “Good, you got that asshole.” He winced as his left arm moved a little but fell back to the ground. He panted for a moment, then smiled again. “I’m not ever leaving you, but I need you to do me a favor.”

“Anything!” Marlot would do whatever it took to keep Trembor with him.

“Let the medics do their jobs,” Trembor crooned.

Marlot looked around to see the three of them standing a few feet away, fear and concern fighting on their face. He placed Trembor’s arm back down and kissed him gently before standing.

* * * * *

Marlot followed the ambulance to the hospital and was behind them as they pushed the gurney into the evaluation department.

“I’m sorry Sir, but you can’t come in. Only family is allowed past this point.” An orderly said. He was an otter, not very big, but he talked with confidence.

Marlot wasn’t going to be separated from Trembor. He grabbed the otter by the collar and pulled him close. “He’s my mate.”

The orderly swallowed, looking from Marlot’s eyes to his muzzle, then nodded. “You need to wash off first, sir.”

The wolf deposited the orderly to the ground and found a washroom where he cleaned up as best as he could. Blood had dripped inside his shirt and dried there. When he pulled it open, he winced as fur tried to leave his chest.

When he stood at the window of the room where Trembor lay, medics busying themselves around him, one was putting a cast on his broken leg. Marlot couldn’t hear what they were asking, but Trembor answered with nods and shakes of the head.

Marlot almost burst in when one of the labradors prodded Trembor’s shoulder and caused him pain. He knew what they were doing was needed, but the need to protect his lion from them almost overwhelmed him. His claws dug into the window frame as he held on to it to keep himself still. More holes to an already pockmarked piece of wood.

The labrador stepped out of the room.

“Is he okay?” Marlot asked.

“He’s in good condition, but the bullet is still in his shoulder. We’ve called for a surgeon and he’ll be here in the morning.”

Marlot nodded and looked through the window again.

“They’re finishing cleaning the wound, and once it’s bandaged again, he will be moved to a room.”

“A single.”

“You understand that isn’t covered by his policy.”

“I’ll pay for it.”

“Very well. I’ll have the arrangements made.”

Ten minutes later, Marlot followed as two orderlies wheeled the lion to a room. They helped him on the bed and gave him pain killers.

“I’ll help him undress.”

The orderlies left.

His hands were shaking as he unbuttoned the lion’s shirt.

“You know,” Trembor whispered, “I’ve never done it in a hospital room.”

“Don’t,” the wolf cringed. “Don’t talk about that, not here, not now.” tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Hey.” Trembor placed his good hand against Marlot’s head. “I’m okay. I’m going to be fine.”

“I’m… I’m afraid, Trem. I said it, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose you as I lost him.”

“I’m not going to die. Marl, this isn’t a serious injury. I’ll be out of here in a few days at the most.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” He wiped the tears away. Before he could go back to undressing him, Trembor kissed him passionately.

With the lion undressed and sleeping, Marlot sat on the chair to wait. To avoid having to look at his hurt lion, he took out his pad and started on the report.

* * * * *

Marlot woke with a start, and just grabbed for the pad slipping out of his hand when the door opened. He expected one of the medics, maybe the surgeon, but instead a mature lioness walked in, followed by a younger version of herself and two cubs, one male, and one female, around six years old. They smiled at him as the stood on the other side of the bed and Marlot felt dread form at the pit of his stomach.

A male lion entered and Marlot stood, placing his pad on the bedside table. There was no mistaking the family resemblance, but that wasn’t why he stood. The male was the patriarch and radiated power in his posture. For a moment Marlot felt like he was back home, before one of the town’s councilors again.

The lion studied him with piercing eyes for a moment. Marlot felt himself become smaller under that gaze.

“The officer said you are the one who killed the male who did this to my son.” The lion kept his deep voice soft.

“Yes sir.” Marlot tentatively took the offered hand.

“Thank you. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask. You avenged my son, that almost makes you family.”

There was a chuckle from the bed. “A little more than almost, dad.”

“You’re awake!” The younger lioness draped herself over Trembor, hugging him.

Trembor took in a sharp breath. “What’s the shoulder sis.”

She jumped off as if she’d been burnt. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

The two cubs decided it was now okay to climb on the bed and sit at the foot of it. They looked at Trembor, then Marlot, and whispered something to each other.

The older lioness placed a hand on Trembor’s. “How are you doing?”

“I’m okay, mom.” He smiled at her. “I can barely fell the bullet.”

His sister’s ears folded back. “Sorry,” she whined.

The older lion cleared his throat, and the rumble reverberated around the room, to the amazement of the cubs. “What did you mean by what you said?”

“He’s the one.”

Marlot felt the dread intensify as they all looked at him.

“But he’s not a lion!” exclaimed one of the cubs.

Marlot didn’t have the time to decide if he should flee. Trembor’s father wrapped his arms around him and held him tightly.

“Welcome to the family. My name’s Torim, but you better get used to calling me dad.”

The wolf couldn’t say anything for a moment, then all the would come out was. “Yes, sir.” He could see the two lionesses beam at him.

“Why don’t you two go hug your new uncle,” Trembor told the cubs once his father released Marlot.

“Can we get his pad number?” the female one asked, extending her arms to the wolf.

“No.”

Marlot gave him a questioning look as he hugged her.

“I’ll explain later.”

Marlot hugged the other one. Then it was Trembor’s mother and sister. After that, he excused himself and left them alone.

He leaned against the wall opposite the door and tried to stop shaking. He had been terrified of their reaction to Trembor’s announcement, but he had been ready to defend him. He had been willing to take them all on.

He hadn’t been prepared for their easy acceptance.

“I thought they might chase you out.” Bahamel was sitting on a bench a few feet away. “How did it go?”

He composed himself. “It went okay.”

She studied him for a moment. “Do they know?”

“Know what?”

“About you and the lion.”

Marlot stared at her, then looked for the closest exit. It was with a lot of effort that he kept himself from fleeing.

“How? How did you find out?”

She smiled. “Marlot, honey, I’m not blind. You all but screamed ‘I love you’ back at the station when you got him to focus back on your case. Then there’s Cristan. You killed him for hurting your partner. You’re normally more professional than that.”

It took a moment for Marlot to realize she didn’t have a problem with their relationship. He flopped down next to her.

“Have you found out where he got the gun?”

“No. We’ve contacted the protectors, but we might not find out. They’re pretty closed-mouthed when it comes to their arsenal. My guess is they’re going to confiscate it and not tell us anything.”

“Can they do that? the gun’s involved in a shooting.”

“There’s no one for your partner to press charges against, so it’s not going to be needed in court. Cristan’s dead, so there’s nothing to investigate there. And they’re the protectors. If we piss them off who’s going to protect us if another country attacks.”

She closed her eyes and leaned back. “At least I’ll be able to close that rapist’s case now. We found a box filled with female undergarments near his body. I’m willing to bet we’ll match them to his victims without troubles.”

She took Cristan’s ID card from a pocket and handed it to him. “Do you want us to keep the body for you?”

He took the card and turned in his hand. “Eat it, or burn it. I don’t care.” He reached for his pad but remembered it was in the room.

She hugged him. “I’ll donate it to a shelter.” She stood and ruffled his head fur. “Don’t wait until you need me on a case before dropping by again,” she said before walking away.

Marlot watched her leave. He wasn’t shaking anymore, but that didn’t comfort him. Bahamel had noticed. Who else knew? he’d been so careful about how he acted around Trembor. At least he thought he had been.

He leaned back and started laughing. Did it matter anymore who might know? There had been three medics present when he told Trembor he loved him. He had no idea how many people had been around when he told that orderly he was his mate. And Trembor’s family knew and had accepted him, just like that. No one struck him down for loving another male.

His laughed died down. Maybe Trembor was right, maybe there really was nothing wrong with being who they were.


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A Wasterful Death CH 21.pdf (85.9KiB)

A Wasterful Death CH 20 2020-06-27T13:00:07+00:00
Trembor looked at the display as he buckled up, The way Marlot was driving, and cursing, there was every chance he’d hit something. He activated pursuit mode, to ensure no enforcers stopped them. In the wolf’s current state, the officer might not survive the encounter.

He pulled out his pad. “Calm down, we won’t get there any faster if you have an accident.” The cow living across the hall from Cristan said he spent all his time at the gym.

He had it plot the route, and the superimposed the traffic conditions over it. He didn’t want to think of Marlot barreling through a construction zone.

“What are you thinking of for opportunity?” Trembor asked. he hoped that getting the wolf to focus on him, on the conversation would allow him to calm down.

“He owns the gym. No one’s going to keep track of his movements. He leaves his ID there so that when the enforcers do the check, he’s nowhere near her house. You can bet if we check. He wasn’t training anyone during the time frame around her death.

“make the second right, there’s an accident ahead. But the check would have brought up his car in the vicinity of her house.”

“So he takes someone else’s car.” The tires screamed as he made the sharp turn. “the people there are going to be busy for hours, and I’m willing to bed he has a master code for the locker’s locks.” Marlot slammed his hand against the steering wheel, making the car wobble. “What really pisses me off is that I never caught scent he was lying to us.”

Trembor grabbed the armrest until the car settled. “You can’t beat yourself up because of that. he’s a reptile, they don’t have much of a scent to catch, and that place was a soup of scents. I don’t think you would have been able to pick out a skunk out of them. And even if you had been able to pick up his scent, how do you know reptiles have the same scent code mammals do? Left at the light.”

“When this is over I’m taking a course on multi-species body language reading as scent interpretation. No matter what that costs.” he made the turn as instructed.

“Motive?”

“Probably revenge. She used him after all.”

Trembor nodded and focused on giving direction now that Marlot was driving more sensibly. When they reached the gym, he brought the car to a squealing stop in front, two wheels on the sidewalk.

Trembor had unbuckled ahead of time and was out a moment before Marlot. He burst inside and looked around. The iguana was in the back, and their eyes met. Cristan bolted toward a back door.

“What do you think you’re…” A buff gorilla started saying, blocking Trembor’s way, but the lion bowled him over, not even looking back to his groaning form on the floor. Marlot jumped over him, following the lion.

The door led to an office with another door on the back wall, slowly bouncing open. Trembor looked around the room to make sure Cristan wasn’t trying to ambush them, then sprinted for the door.

They ran through a corridor crammed with barbells, boxed of food and crates of drinks. halfway down they smelled fresh air. Trembor elbows the door opened and ran outside.

Marlot continued down the corridor to a door visible on the left. It was storage with more boxed and crates. he made sure the iguana wasn’t hiding there and backtracked to the outside door.

Marlot looked around as soon as he stepped outside and scented the air. He was in a back alley littered with trash. He couldn’t smell the iguana, but Trembor’s scent was strong.

He followed it to the end of the alley and saw the wake of the lion in the people he’d pushed aside or to the ground. They were screaming obscenities in the lion’s direction, although he was too far to hear them.

Marlot ran and was glared at, and someone yelled at him; “Get off the street. this ain’t a place to hunt. it’s illegal.”

He didn’t have the time to correct the screamer. Trembor was walking toward him, smelling the air. Marlot sniffed around and caught the faint scent of someone afraid. They reached the alley at the same time and turned into it, careful not to lose the scent.

The scent led them to the front door of an old boarded-up building. They checked the stairwell beyond the door, then cautiously went up, keeping an eye ahead and up for the iguana.

One floor up the stairs ended at a dimly lit room taking the entire floor. There was barely enough light for them to see it might have been a call center at some point. A few partitions were still standing here and there, four feet in height and providing places for Cristan to hide. The rest of the floor was littered with crumbling desks, worn chairs, and rusted filing cabinets.

They didn’t see any other exits, and none of the gaps in the boards covering the windows were large enough for the iguana to fit.

“Cristan.” Trembor’s voice boomed in the silent space. “You can’t run anymore.”

Marlot closed his eyes and focused on the sounds, creaking in the walls, wind rattling some boards. he couldn’t hear the iguana breathe or move, but if…

“That’s what you think,” came the harsh response.

The wolf’s ears swiveled, and he opened his eyes. There, on the other side of the room, there was a large cabinet. That was where Cristan was.

Marlot looked to Trembor, who nodded and indicated for him to go around toward the right, while he went left.

“Why did you kill her?” Trembor asked, moving quietly.

Marlot mirrored him, staying against the wall and keeping an eye on the cabinet, preparing himself for if Cristan bolted.

“Are you telling me you don’t think she deserved it?” the iguana replied. “I can’t be the only result of her twisted desires still alive. How many broken males are out there because of her? How many more was she going to hurt?”

Marlot focused on the voice. He could hear something rustling near Cristan. What was he doing?

“So you’re saying you did it for them?” Trembor asked. “Sorry, but that scent went bad a long time ago. You said you didn’t hate her, so there’s no way you’d kill her for a bunch of people you didn’t even know.”

The iguana sighed. “Look, I didn’t mean to kill her, okay? I just wanted to see her again, show her what I’d made of myself. I don’t know, maybe reconnect with her.”

“Didn’t work, did it?”

Cristan snorted. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”

“What happened?” Trembor actually sounded concerned.

“I tried to explain things to her. You know, how I’d emulated her, how I was just like her so we were perfect for each other.” He paused. “Instead of appreciating what I’d done, she insulted me. She called me…” His voice cracked. In the following silence, Marlot heard a soft click. “I’m not going to repeat what she called me, it hurts too much. I got angry. I wanted her to stop saying those ugly things about me. She fell, and I was on top of her, so I showed her how much of a male I was.”

Marlot watched as Trembor stopped moving in the middle of Cristan’s explanation. “Just like her?” Marlot heard the growl forming in the lion’s throat. “You’re the one who rapes all those females.”

“Yes, I did.” Cristan stood and pointed something at Trembor, using two hands to hold it. There was a flash of light, an explosion, and Trembor staggered back against the window. The boards broke away, and he fell back.

Marlot had a moment to wonder how Cristan had gotten hold of a gun, only the protectors had access to those.

Then he heard Trembor’s body hit the ground.

Marlot’s eyes narrowed on the iguana. Cristan ceased to be a criminal at that moment. He wasn’t prey, or even meat anymore. He was the one who had hurt Trembor, who had hurt Marlot’s lion. There was only one thing someone who did that could be. Dead.

Time seemed to slow down for the wolf as he fell deeper into hunter mode than ever before. He ran toward his target. The gun lined up with him, and he jumped behind a desk. He didn’t slow as a hole exploded in the column next to him. He was up and running again.

The gun aimed for him again, but this time Marlot didn’t go for cover, he was passed caring about what happened to him, he wanted vengeance. The shot went wide, and by the time Cristan aimed at him again, Marlot was close enough to bat the weapon out of his hands.

The iguana’s eyes went wide as Marlot’s jaws went for his neck. They closed, and the teeth dug deep. Marlot relished the taste of the iguana’s blood.

Cristan tried to force the wolf to release him. He punched him in the chest, the stomach, but it didn’t have any effect.

The wolf growled and shook his head hard, making the iguana stagger a few steps back. Horror filled the reptile’s eyes as he realized the wolf still had part of his throat in his mouth.

Cristan put his hands over his throat, trying to stop the blood from flowing out. He wheezed and pleaded silently with Marlot. He reached out and gurgled something before falling to his knees.

The wolf watched him fall to his side, still grasping for him with a bloodied hand. Marlot spat the chunk of meat at him and locked eyes with him as the iguana’s breathing slowed and then stopped.

He stared as the blood pooled under the body, transfixed by it. A sense of elation overtook him, so strong that he lifted his head and howled. When he looked down at the body again he had a satisfied grin on his muzzle.


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Epidose 20: The power of Inertia
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2020-06-01T02:09:10+00:00
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Inertia is the force that keeps objects at rests, or in motion, when I applied it to my writing habits, it made a big change and it keeps me going since I'm already in motion


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Inertia is the force that keeps objects at rests, or in motion, when I applied it to my writing habits, it made a big change and it keeps me going since I'm already in motion if you want to support me, you can do so on my Patreon, https://www.patreon.com/kindar where for 3$ a month, you'll get to listen to my podcast a week ahead of everyone.

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Little to report 2020-05-31T23:08:59+00:00

This week was… well, a week. Nothing more eventful happened than driving from the GTW to Montreal a few times and back, stopping at the exact same truck stop for 4 nights in a row.

I also found out another reason I dislike being on the east coast. My clock is the same as everyone else here, so when I park at my dinner time, it’s also dinner time here and the truckstops are full. It affected me yesterday night, when the truckstop I picked was in deed packed, and I ended up having to drive an extra hour to reach the next one I wanted, then I went to grab a shower and found there was a 12 people waiting line for them, the estimated wait time was close to 2 hours. So I waiting until today to have it and it was still a 45 minute wait.

I watched Toy Story 4 today, and I have to say that it should be illegal for a movie about toys to hit me in the feels so hard. I thought number 3 was a perfect ending since it wrapped up Andy’s story, but 4 closes Woody’s story so <bleeping> well. I will say I’m hoping there isn’t a 5, but if Pixar makes one, I’ll wait to see just what amazing story they manage to pull out of their hats.

And that’ll be it, so I’ll see you on the next one.

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A Wasterful Death CH 19 2020-06-26T13:00:08+00:00
Marlot knocked on the frame of the open door and poked his head inside the small office. “I hope you don’t mind,” he told the large bear behind the desk. “I told the officer at the front desk I was an old friend of yours.” In reality, all he’d done was show his ID; as an RI, he had the right to come and go from enforcer stations.

“Marlot!” she exclaimed, a wide smile on her muzzle. She pushed herself away from the desk before standing, shifting it forward a few inches in the process. “Where have you been hiding, and why has it taken you so long to come and visit?” She crossed the space separating them and hugged him. He was minuscule in her arms, she towered over him by more than two feet.

He hugged the grizzly back, his arms unable to reach around her back. A minute later, he said. “You’re going to have to let me go eventually, you know?” He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped him.

“No, I don’t.” Was her deadpan reply.

“Actually, I’m going to need him back.” Trembor was still in the hall, looking in at them, and trying not to laugh.

The bear looked him over with a calculating gaze. “And you are?”

“RI Goldenmane.”

She frowned. “Goldenmane?” She released Marlot and fixed her gaze on him. “Don’t I remember you mentioning that name a few times? Way back when you were still visiting on a regular basis?”

Marlot’s ears folded back in embarrassment, and he looked at the floor. “It’s only been a year,” he mumbled.

“uhuh? A year without a visit from my favorite wolf. How do you think me and my family have been feeling, abandoned like that?”

Marlot looked up, worry marring his features. He hadn’t thought they had…. The grin plastered on the grizzly’s muzzle made him roll his eyes.

“You’re too easy, Marlot. You need to learn to relax. So, what’s the story with the two of you?”

Marlot glared at her for a moment before smiling. “We worked together on that hunter case.”

She looked from him to the lion and back. His smile widened. “I’m glad you became friends. You don’t have enough of those, I keep telling you wolf. You can’t just hang out with those two techy. you need lots of friends.”

“Actually, we work together.” Trembor’s tone was serious. “We figured we could accomplish more if we pooled our resources and territories.” He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to justify it. He normally didn’t care who people took the news of two RI working together.

She gazed at the wolf and lion thoughtfully before smiling again. She took a step back, bumping the desk back in its place and sat on the edge, making it creaky painfully.

“So, does your partner even know who I am?”

Marlot looked away in embarrassment again. He took a breath. “Trembor, this is Bahamel Strongbone. She arrested me almost as soon as I set foot in the city.”

“For what?” Trembor’s tone was more alarmed that he liked.

“Participation in an unregistered house of pleasure,” the grizzly answered.

Trembor stared at Marlot in dismay. “You never told me.” What could his wolf had been doing in such a place?

“With good reason,” the wolf mumbled, ears plastered against his skull and looking at the floor.

She backhanded him lightly, but he still staggered a step. “Oh, stop being embarrassed about that.” She smiled at Trembor. “We have him in a cell for two days before we questioned him, and it was a good six hours before he mentioned he was an RI. He scared the shit out of half the department when he said that. The other half shit their pants when we confirmed it was true. They thought he’d been hired by the higher-ups to see how well we were doing our jobs. There’s always corruption when you give people power,” she explained at Trembor’s questioning expression.

“What were you doing in an illegal pleasure house?” Trembor didn’t like that the knowledge Marlot had gone to such a place hurt him.

Marlot sighed. “I’d gotten a tip Ruxul was hiding in it.” He waved the comment away.

Relief washed over the lion. “Then why didn’t you tell them that?” His tone was harsher than he’d intended.

Marlot glared at him. “oh, I don’t know. maybe it was because I’d just arrived from a town where the RI isn’t supposed to make waves.” Then his lips tightened, exposing teeth. “They were the law, and I wasn’t. That’s all I knew.”

“Alright,” Bahamel interrupted before Trembor could reply. “let’s stop this before it turned into a full-fledge lover’s spat.”

Marlot spun to her, fear in his eyes, but she was squeezing back in her chair.

“Now, as much as I appreciated the visit after all this time, I doubt you’re here just to reminisce. What’s this about?” If she noticed the wolf’s expression, she didn’t react to it.

It was Trembor who spoke. “We’re wondering if you’ve come across a rapist who doesn’t leave any sort of evidence behind.”

Her eyes darkened. “Get in and close the door.”

Trembor complied, but stay by the door, concerned by the hardness in her tone.

“What’s your interest in this?”

Marlot sat in the only other chair. “have you heard about the Aiden Spottedfur case?” He was relaxing. She hadn’t actually noticed anything between him and Trembor. Her comment had just been an off-hand remark. Too close for his comfort, but innocent.

She thought about it. “Arcas’ vice president, right? You’re investigating her death?”

The wolf nodded. “Our examiner determined she was raped, but there aren’t any traces left behind, no fur, semen, or even sweat on her.”

Bahamel drummed her fingers on the desk. “No, it can’t be him. this doesn’t fit his pattern.” she was talking to herself.

“So you do have a rapist?” Marlot asked.

She nodded. “A serial rapist. We’ve been able to keep that out of the news.”

“Will you let us look at the files?” Trembor asked.

She stared at him in surprise.

“What?”

“You asking for permission? I was expecting you to demand I hand over the files to you.”

The lion chuckled. He could do that, when it related to a case an RI was working on, his authority superseded that of the enforcers. “I came up through the enforcers before becoming an RI. I know the value of maintaining a good relationship with your department instead of barging in and making demands.”

Her smile was warm. “It’s nice to know there’s at least one,” she looked at Marlot, “two RIs who keep that in mind. Too many of them seem to think we work for them.”

“Power can corrupt anyone,” Marlot commented. Because of how things worked in his hometown, he’d never known he had that kind of power, and it tempered how he used it.

Bahamel carefully extracted herself from behind her desk. “Come on, I’ll show you what we have.”

She led them through the building. Passing a row of large screens on a wall, Marlot stopped and stared at the only one showing an occupied room. They were interrogation rooms, and the vids were to ensure the enforcers questioning suspect didn’t get carried away.

Marlot looked at the grizzly in the room standing, hands on the table between him and the seated badger dressed in dirty clothes. He couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but from the body language, he could imagine there was a growl of anger under the words.

“Ba,” he called out to the bear who had kept walking, Trembor next to her. “Is that Belric?” He’d only met him once, two years ago, and he’d grown since then, but the resemblance was still there.

Bahamel came back and looked at the screen. She smiled with pride. “yes, it is. It took until the youngest, but one of mine finally followed in their mama’s footsteps.” She watched him work fondly for a moment before starting back to where she had been headed. this time Marlot followed.

It had been an interrogation room before being turned into a small command center. The camera was still there but disconnected, the two chairs weren’t there and four boards and a filing cabinet had been added.

Pictures of females hung on the boards, over thirty by Marlot’s estimation. Each picture had a number printed on the bottom, each one matched the number on one of the files laid out on the table.

“Just how long has this monster been doing this?” Marlot felt sick.

“Officially we’re saying five years, but I think he’s been at it longer.” She tapped a picture of an otter. “She’s the oldest case we have, her rape was five years ago. But even with her, his methods are already established. she was drugged, raped, and hardly remembers any of it.”

“What drugs does he use?” Trembor picked up her file.

“Raspazill. It’s a simian sleep aid,” she added at the lion’s confused expression. “it’s available over the counter without a prescription. It’s species specific, in this case only for simians, with any other species it causes disorientation and drowsiness even in small doses. At three times the prescribed dose it interferes with short-term memories.”

Trembor snarled. “So he drugs them, does whatever he wants and they don’t even know about it?”

“So do, at least they remember enough to know something was done to them. Not everyone is the same. these females had to have a higher tolerance to the drug. There are almost certainly more females out there who don’t even know they were raped, or are too afraid, or ashamed, to come forward.

“What are the pharmas doing about the drug?” Marlot had to work at it, but he was able to be calmer about it than Trembor was.

“They have warnings on the package about the serious side effect for non-simians, but we can’t get them to pull it off the shelves without telling them why. If we were to tell them a rapist is using it, the newsies would get wind of it, report it and within minutes we’d have a panic on our hands.”

Marlot turned when Trembor growled.

The lion was by the boards looking at a picture of a young lioness. Marlot went to him and took his hand. “Trembor, she isn’t our case.”

The lion didn’t respond.

“Trem,” he tried again, his voice softer, “we can’t help her.”

The lion glared at him. “She can’t be older than Alasa,” he snapped.

“I know, but we’re here for Aiden. Bahamel,” he nodded in her direction, and she suddenly looked anywhere but at them, “is already doing everything she can for them.”

Trembor’s glare lasted a moment more before the anger dissolved. “You’re right, thanks.” His hand reached up, almost cupping the wolf’s cheek. He had a moment of hesitation and then Trembor rubbed the bridge of his own muzzle instead. He took a deep breath and turned to the grizzly. “Alright. tell us about his patterns.”

Bahamel leaned on the table, making the metal whine under her mass. “Let me start by saying I really hope your body isn’t one of his victims because he’s never killed before. If he’s escalating to include death with the rape, there’s no way we’re going to be able to keep that away from the newsies.”

“If it helps,” Marlot said, “there’s a possibility the death wasn’t planned.”

She let out a sigh. “Let’s hope. He likes his females young, in their very early adulthood, although he has gone after a few older ones. The only exception is simians. He hasn’t raped any.”

“So he’s aware the drug doesn’t work on them,” Marlot commented.

“What’s his hunting ground?” Trembor asked.

“That’s proving difficult to discern.” She flipped one of the boards over and showed a map of the city. each victim was marked on it with a numbered pin. “Because of the drug, we can’t be sure where the rape took place. We did our best to compensate, but even then, as you can see, he covers half the city.”

Trembor nodded and looked at the table again. “I’m not seeing any files on suspects. Where do you keep them?”

She pointed to the filing cabinet. “We had to lock them up. The harshness of the crimes sent

She pointed to the filing cabinet. “We had to lock them up. The harshness of the crimes sent one of our officers over the edge and he exacted revenge on who we thought was the most likely suspect at the time. Now only the task force has access to them.” She punched a code in her pad and the cabinet clicked. She pulled a stack of files out. “These are our current suspect.”

Marlot and Trembor split the pile.

The lion read the first two quickly, then on the third, he stopped at the picture, frowned, and quickly looked through all the other files. when he looked up Marlot was giving him a similar puzzled expression.

“Why are there only reptiles?” Marlot asked.

“They’re the most likely species to have done this. They don’t shed as mammals do so they don’t leave fur at the scene, they also don’t perspire so they don’t leave sweat on their victim, so scent trace is more difficult.

Marlot’s blood grew cold as what Bahamel said sank in. He looked at the map. The furthest North East the victims reached was the financial district. He walked to the map.

“Trem, what’s the iguana’s address?”

Trembor looked at the wolf for a moment, ears canted quizzically. he pulled out his pad and looked it up, giving it to Marlot.

The wolf traced the road on which the iguana lived. It was a straight line from the financial district to the southwest of the city. He cursed under his breath as he saw a cluster of pins in that area.

“Give me the closest intersection to his building.” But even before Trembor gave it to him, he already had his finger at the middle point of the corridor. This time his cursing was loud.

“What?” Trembor joined him.

“I’ve been blind. I never even considered reptiles.”

“What are you talking about?”

Marlot turned to face him. “It fits. He doesn’t shed, and he knew Aiden. She would let him in since she had no reason to fear him, after all, she used to dominate him. He’s strong enough to break her neck. It has to be him.” He didn’t wait for Trembor to assimilate the information, Marlot ran out of the room.

The lion’s eyes grew wide as he understood. He turned to chase after his wolf, but Bahamel grabbed his arm.

“Him who?” she demanded.

“Cristan Hardtalon,” he answered. “he used to be one of Aiden’s boy-toy.”

She nodded but didn’t release him. She pulled him closer and looked him in the eyes. “You take good care of Marlot, so you hear me?”

Trembor nodded and she let him go. He caught up to Marlot as he was getting in his car. The lion sprinted and barely got in before it was peeling out of the parking lot with a screech.


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