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Death's Blood Ch. Nine: Costumes

Nine: Costumes


    (School had been getting no better now that Gaston was out of my life. I had just passed the grade, and now I couldn’t concentrate, knowing that I would never see his face again. I had realised, too late, that I loved him. I was convinced that no one could replace him. The boys in my class may have kept their distance after an outburst that I had about him, but I didn’t want their attention anyway.
(When I got home that day, I asked my mother, “Mum? At what ages do wolves get married?”
(“Same as other species, Love”, she answered as she wrote in her book. She seemed too preoccupied, but she continued, “Usually one begins to seek a significant other at age twelve or is betrothed at that age. A betrothal could be made years before official marriage. The youngest age when one weds is sixteen.” My mother was shy of being eighteen when I was born, nineteen when she married Clement.
(I sat in front of her on the mattress that she and Clement shared, asking, “Will I be pushed to be married one day?”
(My mother finally put her book and quill down, to focus on me. “Heavens no! I want you to have a say in who you wed. You are free to love anyone.”
(I looked away from her, feeling like I could cry even after so long. My mother still reasoned with me about getting in fights. In fact, she was more afraid for me. She was just good at concealing such. I didn’t want to tell her what I had already told her and what I had been avoiding to tell her. So, I got up and got to my homework. I was already behind on a book made part of the class.)
-----

    There are only two places to stand out in the borough of Solmil: the train station and the namesake theatre. I eat my dinner in the room that I have for a few days. I can only hope to be here a few days, but I just cannot resist aiding that young rabbit and her young friends… I cannot get the picture of seeing David dead, out of my head. I keep the letter that he has left me before his suicide, wondering what to do with it even now.
I eventually am pulled out of my thoughts when I hear the sound of rapping upon glass. There my friend is, outside the window of the room. I approach it to open it, the raven flying away as I do so, but he returns after I lift it. The glass and wood are too heavy for me to keep suspended by hand. I let it fall and bang after the raven enters, and turn to him. He is already perched on the table as I pant from holding that weight. I get back to the table, where the raven rummages through the orts of my dinner before he settles on nipping the roll that I ripped in half for him.
The night has already fallen at this time, but he is willing to take flight at this time. In silence, I watch the raven eat up the roll, slowly taking my seat again sceptic about disturbing him. He must always be hungry from flying around so much, day and night. When the roll halves become only crumbs, I tell him, “I cannot assure you meat from my victims tonight, but I assume you have the locations of the wanted criminals.” The raven caws, and I give him a few strokes down his back. He caws again, though not as loudly. So, I head to the window again, to open it, and the three-legged green-eyed raven flaps out.
This time, I put the frame down gently, and I catch my breath before I change into my navy-blue suit with brown vest. I don my golden mask and sheath my Khopeshes and stiletto.

Where I wander in the streets, I heed the call in the form of my friend cawing, and I head the direction he flies. Having given the locations to Michi and told him to go on ahead of me, has proven its use to me. Of the three criminals that I have told him about, I am surprised, even now, of how good the corvid’s memory is of the descriptions of my targets and where they like to go. When I hear him caw, I am surprised that he has followed one of my targets here: his own house. It is one of the connected uniform houses of bricks and shingles. I look to where he circles, and the house of this target is the reddest one in the line of townhouses. So, I look for an opening as I expect the front door to be locked, and there is one. This opening is a window on the ground floor, which tells me something. I climb the window and quietly land on the wooden floor, making sure that my footsteps make no noise. Based on the lack of light and the silence, I am told that my target is asleep. So, I leap to where the carpet is, and then walk to the stairs, which are carpeted, and slowly, for I cannot be too careful about making a floorboard creak.
Upon making it up to the second floor, I see a single dog in the bed, and he seems to be sound asleep. This is definitely one my targets, for only one of three that Wickerson told me about is a canine, specifically a Coish Terrier, and the voluminous brown fur on him is the proof there. If he is an actor as much as the Tirrell sisters, I expect him to be only pretending to sleep and have a gun in his hand under those sheets. I approach slowly, trying to be slow enough to make no tap noise of my boots on the wooden floor.
He still seems to be asleep when I reach his bed. To me, there is only one way to gain a sleeping man’s attention. I slowly lift his sheets, to know that he sleeps in a night gown, and I grab him by a shoulder—
To throw him out of bed, and he lands facedown on the floor. I hear him groan, and he slowly picks himself up. The Terrier has no time to stand up, for I pick him up and have him face me. “Emlyn Rice”, I said coldly. “There’s a good bounty on you.” I unbutton his gown and yank it down, but he holds it in place. So, I punch him in the muzzle, and he reflexively presses his hands against it. I pull at his arms again, so I can make the gown fall to the floor. Then, I punch him in the gut, making him groan again. I begin forcing him down the stairs. To humiliate him further, I shove him out the open window and climb out after him. I pick him up, and I hear him bark as I seek a carriage, “Wait ‘til the Tirrells ‘ear about this, Bitch! I’ll be back on the street again, yeh’ll see!”
“Spare me the duff”, I retort as I shove him. I then quickly take hold of his left wrist and keep my left hand on my left Khopesh.
Having my hand like a vice on his wrist, whilst I approach an idle carriage, the dog groans, “You’re hurting me.” I ignore that. He is lucky by how few are out at this time of night. He adds, “Please. I make a living with my hands.”
“Writing false contracts”, I growl, whilst shoving him again as we walk. The raven lands on the edge of the carriage and cocks his head as he takes in the sight of me holding a naked dog. All the more convenient, there is no roof for the seats. I let go of the hilt of my Khopesh, so I can strangle the Terrier. When I have him unconscious, I place him in the passengers’ space, making sure that he will not fall out. Then, I take the reins. I say plainly, “Michi. Iko.”
The corvid takes flight and I begin to follow him, but order the horse pulling the carriage to take it slow. Then, wanting to catch up with the corvid, I have the horse speed up. I reach the drop-off station, which is just outside the station house, and I find an officer in uniform seem to be awakened by my arrival. He approaches the carriage as I rouse and lift the canine, and he asks, “What business ‘ave you ‘ere?”
I speak, presenting the Terrier just regaining consciousness, “I believe your superiors will be interested in this dog.”
“Is that… Rice?” Silence. “They’ll be sports about this.”
As we await the sergeant of the house, I request, “Make sure that he goes to one Lieutenant Payton Wickerson. He is stationed in Sputure.”
The sergeant, just arriving with a pair of manacles, announces, “I’ll be sure ta ring ‘im. If yeh trust Wickerson, he must be a good cop.”
“A recent informant”, I answer. I add, to the Terrier, “I wonder what chance yeh’d ‘ave against a bear.”
The sergeant, about to bring the starkers Terrier in the station house, calls, “Get this she-wolf ‘er reward.” Only for a short time, I am in the station house, where I am presented a wad of bills adding up to three hundred pounds. The second I am out of there, I am back on the street, having requested Michi to guide me to my next target. It has not been dark long. Where we go next is to the largest marketplace of the borough, which is in its northern section. It is supposed to be closed now that the night has come, and yet the raven tells no lie as I hear him caw and see him circling over the roof of the open-roofed marketplace. I get off the carriage and approach the construct. I decide to scale the wall myself. It is with the claws from my fingers I can hold to the openings between the planks.
Upon climbing to the edge, I take a moment to pause, easing on my claws and I repeatedly open and close my hands and I see a small group. Against the wall, I can make out three unconscious figures. Only two other individuals are there. The badger is the wanted criminal, Findley, wanted for kidnapping and providing false contracts. He seems to have black fur and he wears no more than a white work shirt and green slacks with suspenders. He is not alone: whilst he tends to whoever he seems to have tricked now, there is a grey wolf watching. The wolf is clad in a black business suit, and he has a rifle in a holster over his shoulder. The wolf sniffs. As if he has not been alerted by the raven’s caw already, the wolf speaks, “Stay sharp. We are not alone, and it is not the rabbits.”
The badger stands up straight, looking around swiftly. “Where could they be?” he asks.
“The intruder waits to strike. The rabbits are late.”
I crouch near the edge of what roof there is, waiting for the grey wolf to turn away. He has made his choice; he is an obstacle that needs be eliminated. When I see him walk my way, I press my body to the surface and then hastily get up. I then leap off the ledge—
The grey wolf swiftly turns around, pulling out his rifle at the same time, and quickly fires. The bullet just scrapes against my shoulder, and I mutter “Shit” from feeling the impact. The mercenary fires again, but when I lift his rifle upward, making my friend caw, flapping his wings about. I knee him in the midsection, deterring him enough for me to draw my left Khopesh. I strike with it at the same time, but he blocks it with his rifle. I keep it pressed aside as I punch him the same area before I draw my right Khopesh, swiping with it, and the grey wolf backs up, giving him aim at point-blank range, but I wrench it again, so I can swipe at him. This time, he blocks the strike. I swipe again and again, him deflecting with little time to parry. I then kick his shin, making him lose balance, but he points his rifle to my chin. I duck the very second the bullet is ejected. I sweep with my leg and then succeed in slashing his chest with both blades. The gashes are enough to incapacitate him. I kick his rifle out of reach, to make sure, and then plunge the blades between his ribs. With that done, the raven caws to me. I turn around, seeing that the badger has run away. I run out the front door of the marketplace, seeing that the badger was far out of range, but Michi caws again. This time, I look up, making out his silhouette in the night, and I sprint as he flies in leading me.
In only a few minutes, my chest feeling as if it is ablaze, I find the badger climbing over a metal fence of a flat. I howl, “Kougeki anaguma!” The raven does so, swooping down on him, giving me the time to climb the metal fence and roll upon landing on the dirt and rock, stinging my shoulder as well. I still catch up to the badger, ignoring what pain there is, and turn him around with one hand. I then grab his throat, lifting him from the ground. I can see the fear in his brown eyes, prompting me to comment, “I assume I can expect all con artists to be snivelling cowards.” Through enough choking, the badger’s eyelids go droopy and his head hangs. I ease on my grip as I take him off the estate. I have him hooked to one of the poles of the fence by his shirt before I climb over it myself. I search him when I’m back where the carriage is, which is not so far away. While the badger is unconscious, I strip him after nicking whatever money he has, and I use the suspender bands to tie his wrists behind his back. I first head back to the marketplace, seeing that the badger’s prisoners are still there, bound. It is with my lockpicks, I open the locks keeping the chains on them. The rattling of the chain seems to be enough to stir them. I think, I cannot leave them here. However, before I gather them up, I head to the grey wolf, who lay lifeless. I take his jacket and shirt off him. I inform my raven friend, “You kin indulge on the corpse if you wish. I will find my own way.” The prisoners are all rabbits, but are not much of a hassle for me.

When I head to the police station again, the same officer on duty is there. He is surprised that I have returned. He says, “Tell me yeh’re all right.”
“I am”, I answer plainly when I present the badger, now fully conscious, and might be even more terrified than he was previously.
The lieutenant of the station house meets us, and speaks, “Well, well, well… Findley… I know Wickerson might get a word with yeh, per the lady’s request, but it is I who will make sure yeh make a Hames of defendin’ yerself in court.” He grins at the last statement, showing off his fangs. The black and white collie adds, “I can take ‘im from ‘ere.” I let go of the badger, who suddenly is in the grip of the lieutenant. I am just as quickly presented another three hundred pounds for bringing a criminal to the police alive.
I return to the carriage, seeing that the rabbits have come to. I state bluntly, “You fell fer a piece o’ rubbish. The perpetrator is on ‘is way t-prosecution.”
The rabbits express their frustration through punching and grunts, clearly knowing others to be victims of that badger. One of them says, “I did not know until seein’ the wolf we were ‘ad.”
I advise, “Tell whoever you know, to not be taken by the same lie.”
The second rabbit replies, “Thank you.” The three of them leave the carriage and head the same way. I sigh at that, thinking, They must be family.
----- 

    Back at the inn where I stay, I have the lamp active whilst I patch myself up, looking at the mirror in the loo. I wash and disinfect where the bullet went through my shoulder. It has penetrated the flesh, but there is no bone broken or dislocated. Even so, I curse myself for erring like that. Next time, it could break my shoulder, I think. After adding a wide strip of adhesion to a wad of gauze, I work at the blood stain on my shirt, vest, and tailcoat. I am desperate to get that stain out. The cleanser works on my shirt, but my vest and tailcoat end up with an off-colour spot. I sigh, more out of weariness. It is late, and I have worked enough for one night.
-----

    (When I saw Clement get home right on time for dinner, I saw him a little worse for wear. I had seen him with a gun. This was something to make me suspicious, the beating evident on his face. There were short cuts, which I knew was not nothing; I had seen an abused pup. Unlike all past times when I avoided giving Clement my attention, my narrow eyes were on him most of the time we were at the time over dinner, which was a little better than what we normally had.
(My mother spoke, “What’s on your mind?”
(I didn’t like speaking to him, but this was one of those rare instances. I asked him, “Where did you get those cuts?”
(Clement answered plainly, “It’s nothin’ serious, dear. Y-know that.”
(I rebutted, “Bollocks. ‘Tis unspeakable if I get in a fight, but it is okay for you.”
(Clement responded, “Fine, I was in a scuffle. ‘Twas me or them, and I won. Not important.”
(I turned the tables by asking, “What about the attention?”
(“What about it?” Clement asked back. “There are stories everywhere about street brawls and about muggings.” I didn’t like it; I could tell that he hid something. However, I just could not stand how persistent he had been before. I was willing to quit at his game, but I would challenge him again.)
-----

    I have David’s letter with me for a reason when I head to the hideout for Leigh-Anne’s friends, and upon entering, I see that the place has been made into a workshop of sorts. There the young’uns are, on their own activities. I see a fox kit and two stoats teaching themselves and each other to build—and the smell of sawn wood fills the chamber. What I see them making is beyond me. I see, not far from them, a calico, a tabby, and three rabbits reading together. On the other side, there are other cats and rabbits slowly drawing their own pictures of a tree. I just have to smile at how well they seem to get along
Leigh-Anne, wearing her button-down dress, calls, “Vigilante!” I approach the opposite end, where she occupies a table, teaching something to other rabbits, along with squirrels. When I meet Leigh-Anne, she continues, “It is good that you came here; it saves my friends the trouble.”
“What trouble?” I inquire.
Leigh-Anne answers, “I apologise, Ma’am. I meant to tell you yesterday: there is someone watching you.” I do not answer to that. So, she continues, “I turned out to not be the only one t-follow you. There was some red fox in work clothes on the same train we were on. He followed you to the inn as well, but I lost ‘im when I was there. He must-a known that I wos onto ‘im.”
Suspicious, I asked, “What work clothes wore he?”
“A white work shirt and brown slacks with suspenders”, she answered. That makes me all the more suspicious. I have spoken to so few red foxes; it can’t be the same one.
I tell Leigh-Anne, “I appreciate the warning.”
She pipes up, “I must also alert you of someone. There is a badger in a black pinstripe suit in Solmil today. He has a distinguishing scar across his face, below his left eye.”
Badger… I think, That must be Lieven. I ask, “Is he accompanying a wolf?”
“No, Ma’am”, the rabbit answers awkwardly. She continues seriously, “I know who the badger is; Mr. Dolan told me about ‘im. If he is in public alone, he does not intend to stay long. In fact… he arrived just hours after the fox did…” She adds in a sort of chipper tone, “You should check out the fight clubs. They’re as scattered around the city as places such as this.”
I kneel down and place a hand on the rabbit’s shoulder and tell her, “I appreciate this information and the warning, darling. I promise t-pay you a compensation fer yer efforts before I depart from the borough.”

Where I head next is for the third con artist on whom there is a bounty. There are apparent warrants for her arrest, but the police seem too incompetent or afraid to bring her in. This con artist is a stoat, having cheated many out of their money. Where I find her is at a very traditional Glashish pub. I see that based on the games played in the middle of the day, and it is just lunchtime. On each side of the pub, a group plays a throwing game, on one of which a wooden bull head is mounted.
I already have attention, wearing my blue suit and gold mask, as I seek my target. It is near the middle, a few tables to my right, I find the stoat in a burgundy business suit and dyed red shirt. That is her. She is known to cheat at games, but the warrant of her arrest is for pulling cons of taking people’s “investments”. Those who “harassed” her are dead. A cut of that money is probably what she has paid to contract killers, such as is apparent of the wolf watching over her shoulder. He has a brown pelt, a hole in his right ear and a gap for a scar running along the left side of his muzzle, the whiskers on that side missing. He is clad in a black suit, dusty-looking shirt, and a loose taupe tie. I can just see the muscle underneath that suit and a semi-automatic pistol in his sidearm.
I approach the table, the brown wolf glaring at me, but still watching the game like I am. With each roll of the stoat’s dice, she continues getting a four, a five, and a six. All too suspicious. Eventually, one of the men playing against her, a white cat, sweeps the dice across, and I see them with the same numbers as before. The same white cat shouts, “I should-a known. Yeh’re a macer!”
The brown wolf comments with obvious apathy, “I assume you’ve a problem with ‘ow the boss plays.”
I stand by, curious of how this plays out, but I do have my left hand on the hilt of my left Khopesh. The cat shouts again, “Did y-not just hear me?! This weasel cheats!”
I am wrong about the sidearm; the brown wolf pulls out a pistol from his trousers, pointing it at the white cat and replies, “That’s why she brought me.”
As a distraction, I pick up one of the tin mugs from the table near me and lob it toward the wall with the wooden bull head, just narrowly missing the dog about to throw the ring. Thinking that the one at the table closest to him did it, he strides up to another dog and punches him in the snout. Through a series of attacks leading to a broken table and a broken stool, the entire pub breaks into a massive brawl. That is enough interruption for the white cat to grab the brown wolf’s arm and lift it up, the gun firing at the ceiling. The brown wolf catches the cat’s punch, and then kicks him. As he follows his boss to the door, I intercept, swinging my Khopesh at the mercenary. I realise something when I do so. There’s no blood from my slash down the back of his blazer. Before I can go for his neck, he turns around, to point his gun at me. With the hook of my right Khopesh, I tear into his arm, which makes him drop his pistol. The second he digs in his sidearm, I thrust my left Khopesh up his chin and he instantly goes limp.
When I’m out of the pub filled with chaos, I need not look far for the stoat. She just runs along the sidewalk, forcing others out of her way. In a short run, I catch up with her and grab her by the neck. I lift her from the ground. I tell her, “You pulled yer last con.”
She replies, “You’re right, but yeh didn’ guess this, sleeveen.” I understand that the second she pulls out a knife. Expecting that she plans to stab me, I toss her. I see the stoat rolling upon landing on the sidewalk. After that, she is not moving, at all…
Upon approaching the stoat in the burgundy suit, I see that she is not breathing. I roll her over—
And there the knife is, in her diaphragm, the blood hard to make out. Her unwavering eyes are blank now and her mouth his open. I think, Would she rather have died than face arrest? The least I can do is bring the body to the police.

“What a shame”, the station’s lieutenant comments. “The Crown Attorney would-a loved t-prosecute her pretty li-ul arse.” He adds, to the sergeant, “Take ‘er to disposal.” Turning back to me, he hands me a wad, less than the amount for bringing that stoat in alive. He continues, “On a more sports note, Lieutenant Wickerson is in town. He told me men that y-might need help jus’ like we do.”
“Let’s not disappoint ‘im”, I reply plainly.
----- 

    Where I go next is not the namesake theatre, but to a fight club, which is in the south section of the borough, the industrial area. I had Michi bring me to one, and this fight club is inside an old storage house, now owned by a smuggling ring. It is evening. I have not yet eaten dinner. I enter the chamber to be welcomed by clamouring voices. I look around, wondering if I can recognise any faces. There is one face with which I am familiar: a bloodhound shirtless under his blazer. I have seen him do a contract for Jack. As I attempt to drown out the clamour of the audience and the thuds of fists and feet making an impact, I scan the faces…
I eventually find someone of interest: a badger in a black suit and having a horizontal scar below his left eye. This is Giffard’s right-hand man. I wonder what this badger wants. That thinking is cut short by a man with a Glashish accent speaking, “Oi. Yeh’re blockin’ the view.” I head to a different side of the crude wooden slats making up the fighting ring.
Another dog, wearing a ragged-looking blue suit, green vest, and white shirt, goes in the ring, howling, “Who wishes fer another tourney?” The crowd cheers. The dog continues, “Make yer bets now! The fights begin now!” That dog gets out of the ring. Within a minute, three individuals climb over the short wall. This is all planned; it has to be.
Standing out among the three figures is a black wolf in grey slacks, and only gauze covering his knuckles unlike the other two fighters wearing the thick gloves. Not any ordinary black wolf. His paws and forearms are brown with a single white stripe at the end of each. His nose and ears are white. Brown fur covers much of his face with three white dots below each eye and white stripes on his chin. Most significant is his eyes, which are red… like blood…
I watch him hold his own easily against the two brutish bovines. They could’ve knocked him out using one punch without those thick gloves. He can be a brute himself as I can see a hint of his muscle. He is fast to get to their sides and aim for their snouts, hitting with success. Repeating his plan, he aims for the eyes, and punches one eye on each. The wolf then makes a quick flurry of punches to one bovine’s abdomen before making an uppercut to the chin. As for the other: the wolf used the bovine’s fists to leap up and kick him in the muzzle. With both the bovines stunned, he grabs each of their heads and slams them into each other. Though I hear a lot of murmuring, I also hear booing and accusations.
Another two enter the ring, them being stags, complete with their antlers. Both of them instinctively charge at the black wolf and he drops to the ground before they can impale him with their natural weapons. From that, everyone boos. The black wolf sweeps them and they fall to the floor. Both the stags are quick to recover from that. The black wolf then proceeds to stand in front of the one to his left, having them aligned. The stag throws two punches, both blows dodged before the black wolf straight kicks him and then spins to recover from making the move. I notice that the wolf has no footwear when he uses the same stag’s leg to lift himself and knee his chin. The other stag tries to charge him again, but the black wolf drops to the ground again, this time kicking the stag’s leg. The black wolf lifts himself quickly, kicking him in the side, and then grabbing the same leg. I can hear the cracking from him seeming to make it bend, the sound of which is suddenly overpowered by a pained cry.
During the cheering and the insults, three fighters enter the ring: a rottweiler, a raccoon, and a dolphin. Unlike the other fighters, the dolphin wears only underwear, giving a hint of a bulge. It is the canine that engages the black wolf first, throwing a combination of punches, the black wolf countering the third. He then counters the uncoordinated attack from the dolphin, which only makes the dolphin angry. He performs two hook punches, which are just as sloppy. The wanker gets punched in the diaphragm, which only cheeses him off more. However, the dolphin is interrupted by the raccoon getting the black wolf from behind and the black wolf gets the sneak off his back, flipping him. The rottweiler kicks the raccoon away, so he can re-engage the black wolf. The rottweiler performs straight jabs, which are blocked, and he then performs a hook, which is more concentrated than the dolphin’s. In ducking from it, the black wolf moves to have his two opponents aligned again. The black wolf lets the rottweiler punch at him, to no avail, and then the rottweiler kicks him—only for the black wolf to grab the dog’s leg. With a growl built to a bark, the black wolf lifts the dog and flips him over the dolphin, knocking them both down.
The black wolf barely breathes when four fighters enter: two of them being badgers, one a bear and one a wildcat. The badgers go at the black wolf at once, and he seems disinterested as he turns them and slams their heads against each other. The bear seems nonchalant as the wildcat leaps to the black wolf. He seems to have been caught off-guard as he reflexively blocks with his forearm. The badgers slowly get back up and go to his sides as the black wolf blocks the fast attacks from the feline. He already knows what they plan, for he forces the wildcat to the ground and dashes before the badgers land their strike. He hastily stops in front of the bear, letting him make his move. The bear has gauze over his knuckles and apparently favours punching over utilising his claws. Just when the black wolf seems to be surrounded, he crouches and makes a fast sweep with his leg before landing an uppercut to the bear, followed by a flurry of jabs to his midsection. Somehow already knowing of the strikes, the black wolf counters, grabbing the badgers’ fists and then forcing them to bend forward. He turns around to kick the wildcat, and then focus on the bear again. The black wolf kicks him twice in the midsection before swinging a hook punch to the muzzle. To finish him, the black wolf grabs the bear’s right arm and twists it. I hear both the cracking of bones and the bear’s groan. As for the other three fighters: the black wolf kicks each badger, each one of them at a side. He then kicks the one to his left in the chin, forcing him face-up on the floor. The black wolf leaps from the one on his right and lands his left fist squarely in the wildcat’s snout.

The same dog announcing, enters the centre of the ring again, and takes the black wolf’s left arm to raise it. He howls, “Ladies an’ gentlemen! Our! Champion!” That is followed by more cheering and insults. This wolf impresses me, and I do not realise until the tournament is over that I am pressed against the short wall. I lower myself and let go of the edge. I hear chuckling from next to me. A Clachish-accented voice comments, “First time ‘ere, Miss?”
I look to the side, seeing that it is an orange tabby. I answer, “It is, actually.”
“We don’ see many women watchin’ ‘ere, let alone fightin’.”
I ask, “Whot can y-tell me about this place?”
“Used t-be some shipment storage, bough’ by a smuggler years ago. Anyone is allowed t-figh’ in th-ring. All figh-ers are manday-id t-beh on themselves.”
Curious, I press, “What can y-tell me about the fighters?”
“Most of them are just workers needin’ t-blow off some steam, not carin’ whether they win or lose. Of course, we got some muggers as well as mercs wan-n a bi’ o’ the action.”
Seeing where the black wolf goes, his white ears standing out, I answer plainly, “I see.” I stride out of the crowd, not taking my eyes of the white ears. Being fast, I catch up to where he has likely left his things.
I have my back against the wall separating me from the fighters. I hear a groggy voice speak, “Impressive.”
I hear flapping of fabric as the black wolf replies, “Jus’ tell me whot y-want.”
The groggy voice says, “I’ve been given verd of a nuisance to… freunde of mein employer. So, I need someone to deal vit it.”
“What kind of nuisance?” the Symphonian-accented voice asks.
“According to an informant, she is a vulf, using ‘ook-like blades, varing a blue suit. I believe dat zese freunde need protection. A pair of rabbits performing at Solmil East Theatre.”
The wolf spits, “You need me as a bodyguard?”
“If it is no trouble”, the groggy voice answers. He continues, “I vill avard you vit three tousand pounds if you slay zis vulf. A bonus on whomever t-rettens zem.” Silence.
The wolf comments, “You must be desperate.” Pause. “You’ve a deal.”
“Sehr gut. Zay avait you just outside.” So, that’s it. A way to seek mercenaries.
I watch the black wolf, now wearing a brown tailcoat with black leather shoulders, head to the front door—accompanied by the black-suited badger.
----- 

    (After the many times over the summer when I questioned Clement of why he sounded so weary when getting home and questioned him of whatever scratch was on him, I eventually found out something that didn’t answer, but led to a frightening truth. It was the middle of an August day, the sweltering heat slowly abating over the days. I was out of the slums of the borough, seeking an unsuspecting victim that might be carrying a right amount of gold.
(The victim that I chose was a fully-grown hare. I was near his height, which made me think that I had a chance of outrunning him. I stayed close to that hare as I followed—
(But I faintly heard something sounding familiar. I stopped in my tracks. I actually wondered which was more important: the money to pinch from an unsuspecting pocket, or a disturbance that needed investigation. I heard the same familiar sound again, and that was when I made up my mind.
(I dashed into an alleyway, and the familiar sound became the growled words of a voice that I knew all too well. I slowly moved closer to the corner of the narrow gaps meeting, and I peeked from there, listening. A timid voice coming from a threatened dog said, “Please, I need more time.”
(The voice of the man that I hated replied in a growl, “I’ve given yeh too many extensions, Lloyd. Y-know ‘ow much this irritates me.”
(“I promised you years ago that I’d repay the debt, but I still can’t. I’ve a pup t-feed.”
(The wolf holding him growled, “That is not my problem, Berk. You ‘ave money, and I am done wai-in’ fer it.”
(I left the cover, and I got a view to tell me enough: the brown fur on the head and hands, the beige muzzle, and the curious green stripe on his neck. This was him indeed. I just looked in horror and disbelief as the timid dog confessed, “I keep as much as I owe you, on me all the time, and still I hesitate t-let you ‘ave it. I can’t let my pup starve.” He started crying; I could tell. I could also smell the metal of a gun. Its barrel was pressed against the dog’s neck. “I know yeh’re a good man, Clement; you wouldn’t kill an unarmed man who never harmed anyone.”
(“If it is the only way”, Clement remarked.
(“No”, I whispered. I felt myself choke as I added, “Don’t do it, please.” He actually hesitated. I managed to speak up, “Clement.”
(He turned to me, and was suddenly as horrified as I was. I deduced that he tried to give me some kind of explanation. I spoke, now sobbing, “I can’t believe you… I can’t believe my mother ever loved you…” I turned and ran, blinded by tears.)
----- 

    It is that time. After I have eaten my dinner at a pub, I head to the namesake theatre, in the eastern most area of the borough, paying for a seat to watch a play featuring the infamous Tirrell sisters. My seat is in the fifth row on the ground level, and I dare not take off my eyepatch, for it is a full house. I see all the red chairs in my range filling quickly. Based on the chatter that I’ve picked up when entering five minutes before the play is to begin, the theatre’s selling point for this showing is that Lauren and Rhonda each have major roles. They play enemies in this play called “In The Devil’s Arms”. According to the playbill, Lauren plays the cheating wife of a baron and Rhonda plays the wife of the gangster that’s the cheater’s affair.
I watch the baroness played by Lauren closely. This rabbit has a silvery-grey pelt, a black nose, and dark-brown eyes. I take in the detail of the gangster’s wife played by Rhonda, closely, as well. She, too, has silver-grey fur, a black nose, and dark-brown eyes. They must pass for identical twins. I watch their scenes with utmost intrigue and listen carefully to their speeches. The story plays out well. It is the roles of the rabbits that I pay most attention to, thinking about the characters’ stories… Is this like the life of a stage performer? I think.
I cannot believe my eyes when in the final scenes, the two characters clash. The two rabbits are dressed differently, but they look exactly alike. They also talk alike and sound alike. I am among the many to give a standing ovation at the curtain call.

By the time the audience starts to clear out, I stay, hoping to get to the stage. Of course, I make mistakes when approaching the stage, being half-blind. I hurry to the door in the back, leading me to the short and narrow hallway. I go to the end—
Only to hear someone bark, “Oi! Yeh’re not allowed back ‘ere!”
I cannot engage a fight, not now. I cannot attract unwanted attention when unarmed. I say plainly, “Sorry. My mistake.” I have to wonder, though, if the Tirrell sisters saw me in that short moment.
----- 

    It is just morning when I finally patch the small hole in my tailcoat and vest. However, I need more evidence that just words. That is why I just explore the town square of the borough, which is near the theatre. It is barely after I have eaten my breakfast, and already, I see a few street performers out, just setting up their improvised tents. I offer to help one dancer set up the poles as the skeleton supporting a large ragged cloth with several patches. She thanks me just when the guitarist that’s her partner arrives.
I stay where I am, watching the tents get set up and groups talk about their plans or do some last-minute rehearsal.
To my outrage, the two rabbits are nowhere in sight. I see all these performers and I see the audiences build up over the hours and still the Tirrell sisters are not there. I have looked around, and there is one tent idle, reserved for the rabbits.

It is when I return to the square after I’ve eaten lunch, I see the silver rabbits at their tents. I see now why that badger was at that fight club. The red-eyed, white-nosed black wolf is near, looking stern. He is shirtless under the brown tailcoat and has a cane in hand. He is clearly not interested in what the rabbits have as their act. I look around more, knowing that none of the other performers have someone such as the wolf. That can only mean one thing. I look back, seeing the black wolf still at that tent.
I take a long route, getting around the row of houses acting as the border of the square. Counting the units, I scale one of the townhouses, and I am correct on the first assumption on being right above the tent occupied by the Tirrell sisters. They just take a break, and I listen closely to what they have to say.
One of the rabbits speaks, “You need t-lighten up.”
The black wolf growls, “If you expect me t-play nanny, you should not be late.”
One of the rabbits—I cannot tell which—replies, “It is not our fault. We couldn’t resist trickin’ a kid into a contract.”
The black wolf snarls, “Tha-ull be the death o’ you.”
“Which is why we have you.” I drop myself out of the sight of a pair of officers in uniform, and then peek over, thinking hard, just to keep my ears flat. The officers walk past.
I hear the black wolf say, “Be that as it may, I am only in it for the money. What you do for fun is not my business, but I hate being lied to.”
I scan the row, seeing the same officer pace on the same side, going only as far as three houses. I note that the rest of the officers go the full row. I have no time to think on suspicion as I hear another voice bark, “You two!” It is not the black wolf’s voice. I see a terrier stride up to the tent, barking, “Lauren and Rhonda! Don’t pretend you can’t hear me!”
The black wolf speaks, “What d-you want?”
“None of yer damn business, devil!”
I can just hear that dog being grabbed. The black wolf snarls, “Say that again, cack.”
“This is between me an’ the bitches; I din’ come t-fight someone they got on a leash.” Then, I hear a thud. After a groan, I hear the terrier speak, “You bitches stole my sister from me! You gave ‘er a folly contract and yer friend the cad in Manusdale got ‘er as a fuckin’ sex slave!”
The black wolf says, “You still ‘ave t-go through me.”
The terrier snarls, “This’s not yer fight! Get the fuck outta my way!” That’s when I see that same officer pacing the short distance, approach the tent. The terrier continues, “You need t-pay fer yer crime, bitches! No!” I see the terrier grabbed by the officer in uniform. Because of the terrier’s resistance, the officer knocks him out with his baton. I have my evidence, but I have no time to get back to the inn for my weapons. Furthermore, the new mystery is more important.

I follow the officer carrying the unconscious dog into his carriage, which is parked just outside the square. I am hasty to get on the carriage, and I hold myself against its roof. I realise that I cannot do this for too long. The same officer has the reins and has the horse moving very fast. It is also a long way to wherever he goes, which is not the station, for I already know the route there. My fingers slowly get numb as I cling to the edges and press myself against the roof. I end up relying on my claws when the carriage is apparently out of Solmil and hurries to the bridge across River Numo. From the bridge onward, the speed remains constant as the carriage moves only straight. From the one road following the bridge, I get a glimpse of where we are. I can see the tall chimneys smoking, and of what few individuals I get a good look are weary or flushed.
And this officer goes straight through this borough, to one with a small difference. The brick constructs do not fool me. This borough has its slums seeming to blend with the industrial shelters. I eventually let go of the edge, wanting to avoid falling when losing my grip. As I open and close my stiff hands repeatedly, I see the carriage slow to a stop—
At the front gates of the worst hospital in Highcond. The carriage is right outside Carrie Agnarge Asylum For The Insane. Dread overcomes me, but I press on. I am behind the officer’s carriage when I see the officer restraining the terrier, having come to and now protesting. I see the front door open to a female cat in a frilly dress. She groans, “Another one already, Officer Reilly?”
“He is crazy, darling. A loss turned ‘im.”
The terrier barks, “Lies! Don’t believe ‘im!”
The cat says, “It’s sadly not my decision.”
“His mind could undo itself”, the officer states.
“I swear, I will prove otherwise”, the cat replies.
The officer chuckles, “Good luck with that, darling.” I can just make out the venom in the uttering of the pet name. Reilly… I hurry away from the property before I can be spotted by him.
I call, “Michibiku.” The raven alights upon my shoulder. I tell him, “Get me a route back to Solmil.”
----- 

I take a carriage back to the Artists’ Land, and where I stop is at Leigh-Anne’s workshop. I go in, and see that the children are in the middle of dinner, telling me how long I had been gone. I approach the young rabbit in the burgundy button-down dress. I tell her bluntly, “I need a favour.”
“Okay”, she says awkwardly.
“I want to know what you can get on Officer Reilly. I want t-know where ‘e lives and ‘ow he does ‘is job.”
“No problem”, Leigh-Anne answers. She then asks, “Care to join us?”
“No, thanks. I’ll leave you to your… gathering… You know the inn where I stay. I am in room twenty-one.” The second I am outside again, I groan, rolling my shoulder, wondering if I strained myself on the route to Agnarge Asylum. I sigh as I take a route. More work to follow in destroying the clan.
 



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