The Lupine Saga 38

Darius looked back to take one last look at the city of Rising before the journey. It would only be a few weeks, but he still felt pained at leaving his beloved city. Nevertheless, he knew it was in the best interest of the city if he personally commanded the defensive troops that were soon to arrive at Tendal.

The report from the first scout had prompted Fidel to action. Tendal had extremely powerful walls, and the maroon had only attacked the walls a few times, never breaking through. They came in only few numbers sometimes, and other times came with legions of attackers. But they never attacked so much that the walls were harmed. The attacks had subsided for a few days when the scout arrived. Fidel, upon hearing about the lack of food, the constant fear, and the impending doom, decided to send out more troops than originally planned. Darius was instructed to do what it takes to secure the city of Tendal from harm.

He wasn’t sure how he was to fight an immortal enemy, or what real assistance he would be able to provide. There were transports to take in refugees; however he knew that Rising wasn’t large enough to accommodate two moderately sized cities worth of people. With those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind, he set off towards the east.

The entourage that accompanied him was quite large. This particular expedition was going to be the largest of all that were to be sent to Tendal. There were hundreds of soldiers, months of supplies, and many empty carriages. It would take eight days to reach Tendal.

The first day was over quickly. Travelling east, Darius wanted to reach the city of Monal as quickly as possible, and it appeared that they would be able to rest there the next day.

The second day saw them arriving at Monal, a small but happy city that bustled with trade. The soldiers caused a ruckus that night. Only one day of travel and they were already feeling anxious, which they were more than happy to relieve in the local taverns. Darius thought that the most amazing thing of all was that the city had enough open inns and willing citizens to house the men for the night.

Day three was important. In half a day’s time, they had reached the town of Nopass, which guarded the tunnel through the mountain. The eastern border of Rising was a mountain range, and the only way to pass the range was to go through the tunnel that had been dug through one of the mountains, or go far to the north or south, either to the forests near Lake Tershi, or to the river in the south.

They didn’t stop when Nopass was reached. Nopass was more like a fort than a town, and the commanding officer was familiar with Darius. He was very disappointed when Darius was unable to sit for a strong drink with him, but Darius promised him that he would personally come again when things settled and enjoy a bottle of the finest whiskey with him.

The pass through the mountain was quite long, as the tunnel went through one of the larger mountains. Normally it would take a day to get through, but Darius knew he didn’t have that kind of time. He sent a couple riders ahead of the procession, lighting the candle-torches as they went. They quickly went to their work of riding to a candle-torch placed on the side of the tunnel, removing its cap, and blowing on it once to light it. Darius watched as he saw a set of lights appear far down the tunnel. When the riders returned, he knew that the procession was close to the end.

Once they reached the end of the tunnel, Darius halted the procession. It was already late into the night, and staying in the tunnel would provide cover for the night. However, there was another important reason to stay in the tunnel, one of great importance to Darius. Once they left the tunnel, they would no longer be in the nation of Rising.

#

Among the many supplies that had been brought on the journey, there were large baskets of fruit. These baskets were enormous, and pulled in carts that bovines and swine personally pulled. They were so large to accommodate the soldiers, who may become malnourished without proper nutrition, and to distribute to the people of Tendal. Being fruit, it was expected that they wouldn’t make the journey back, so there was a great effort to make sure the soldiers got some before having to make the return journey, which was sure to exhaust them even more.

At the end of the procession, there were several carts full of baskets. The soldiers that had been pulling them had moved more towards the tunnel’s exit, where everyone else had gathered to drink the night away. No one was in the vicinity of the carts.

One of the baskets started to shake. It shook quite a bit, and almost fell over at one point. But it managed to stay upright. The lid suddenly came off and fell to the ground. No one was around to notice.

A head arrived where the lid had been. White hair, furry ears, and a penchant for trouble; it was Va’il.

“No one’s here; it’s safe,” Va’il said.

A basket next to Va’il’s started to shake. In another cart, two baskets also shook. One did fall over. Three lids fell off, in one way or another. From the two upright ones came the heads of Pete and Kelin. Crawling slowly out of the one that had fallen was Zeick, who looked like quite a mess.

“So, where are we?” Zeick asked while straightening his hair. Va’il looked up and around, then shrugged his shoulders.

“We’re underneath a mountain,” Pete said with an apple in hand.

“But which?” Zeick asked.

“The only real path out of Rising,” Kelin said, “or, the only tunnel. It’s the tunnel to Farrow, to the east.”

“Ah, okay.” Zeick went back to patting his hair down.

“Farrow? What’s that?” Va’il asked.

“Just another nation,” Kelin said. “It’s not really a nation like ours, because it’s just an alliance of several large cities, each one governed and ruled independently, which is why we are allowed to go visit them. Some of the cities trust Rising more than the other cities in the nation, so trips like this aren’t uncommon.”

“Oh. So another nation. I wonder what the cities look like,” Va’il said.

“Wait a second,” Pete said, “that doesn’t seem right. What about the soldiers, the weapons, the empty carts? It seems like more than just a trip! There was all that commotion when they were preparing to leave as well. That made it easy to sneak in, but still, what is all this about?” A very worried Pete asked all the important questions.

“Whatever, it’s fun, right? We will find out the point later. Besides, don’t you want to see the outside, learn more about it? There are cities and nations and other stuff outside of Rising!” Va’il said, full of excitement.

“Why did I let you talk me into this? You too Zeick, you’re supposed to be sensible!” Pete said.

“Come on, it’s fine. I haven’t been outside of Rising before either. Sometimes it’s okay to just run off and see the world,” Zeick replied.

“My mother is going to be worried to death,” Pete said. His words echoed the thoughts that everyone was having.

“Well, it’ll be fine when we get back, I’m sure,” Va’il said, trying to be encouraging. He felt the worst of the bunch, after leaving a single-sentenced note for Mai’ou then running off. The boys were missing school, their families didn’t know where they were, and they didn’t know where they were going.

“‘It looks exciting, let’s tag along!’ I should know not to trust those words anymore,” Pete said in between sighs, “but it’s my own fault. I kind-of wanted to go anyways. Blaming Va’il isn’t going to fix the situation.”

“Exactly, besides, we aren’t even in a situation yet!” Va’il spoke ominous words with a casual manner.

“Yeah. I’m sure we will get to see something amazing, wonderful, definitely. I hope I can get a souvenir,” said Zeick, who was starting to get as excited as Va’il.

“Do you hear something?” Kelin said while staring at the end of the tunnel. “Footsteps! Hide!”

The boys scrambled back into the baskets from which they had arrived. However, Zeick’s was still on the ground. He started to push it up, but before he could, he heard the footsteps come even closer. He took a risk and hid inside the basket, pulling its lid closed behind him.

“Must have been the wind,” a bovine soldier said.

“Your hearing has always been pretty bad,” a swine soldier said.

“Oh, that’s what it was, that basket fell. Let’s take that one,” the bovine said.

“Okay. One should do it; it won’t be used till the rest run out anyways. But captain said that we ate too much today. You got that side?” the swine asked.

“Yeah. Lift on three. Three!” the bovine said, and then lifted with all his might.

“This one is kind of light,” the swine said.

“Eh, it’s fine. You’re imagining things.” The bovine lowered his side of the basket, since he was taller.

“At least my hearing still works,” the swine said while keeping pace with the bovine.

The banter continued, however Va’il couldn’t hear it any longer. The couple had walked off while carrying the basket that Zeick was hiding in. The remaining trio quickly got out and consulted each other as to what they should do, but they couldn’t think of anything. If they tried to rescue Zeick, they would be discovered, thus defeating the purpose of saving him. They could only hope that Zeick wouldn’t be discovered too quickly.

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The Lupine Saga 37

The room, still spinning from the erratic and quickly spoken explanation, was silent. King Fidel posed a question that most everyone was wondering.

“I did recall some of that; however, I forgot, how do they move? More importantly, why?” Fidel asked.

“Quite a good question,” Diren said. There was obvious excitement in his voice. “Every grain of dirt and sand is attached to another by impossibly tiny cords, like spider silk. I do wish I could see one for myself. Record keeping for forgotten history has been giving me far too many desires, these past five years. I do relish the additional duties. As to the why of your question, I do not know.”

“Diren, please, that’s quite enough.” Darius put his hand on the hare’s shoulder. The constant speaking stopped. The years spent researching things that history had forgotten had put a spark in the hare’s eyes that seemed to want to spill out. Yet he contained himself.

“Then, we need to decide on a plan. I’m open to suggestions. This will not be easy.” Fidel spoke to everyone in attendance, the wisest, richest, and most important people in the nation.

After hearing various suggestions, the assembly agreed to use advisor Jin’s plan, which was to send a regiment of soldiers loaded with supplies and carrying additional transports to Tendal. Of course, as the only advisor left from the former king’s reign, his suggestions weren’t ever rejected, though he rarely spoke up or was seen. He had served as regent for the short while after the death of Fidel’s father, so his authority was, in practice, the same as Fidel’s was.

The expedition would take almost three weeks before they returned, during which time a series of scouts would ride to Tendal and back, reporting to the king what happened on a daily basis. Due to travel time, the first scout would return in about a week. During that week, they could only hope that Tendal remained standing. By that time the expedition would be ready to leave.

Fidel wasn’t pleased with what he had decided on, but lacking a better understanding of the situation, he had no choice. He certainly couldn’t send a large force all at once, for it might have already been too late. He couldn’t delay either, or Rising may find itself soon overwhelmed. He was questioning what to do, but decided that he would make the more important decisions when the scout returned.

Fidel dismissed the court. All the people in the room relaxed and slowly made their way out. Some talked and associated, now that the formalities had been dispensed with. Fidel, for his part, slowly stood up. Aoi went to his side, ready to assist him in any way. He motioned his hand to her, signaling that he didn’t want her to touch him. She kept her distance as Fidel stood. The vigor he had displayed while making decisions had left him, and the tired look that Aoi was accustomed to seeing was again on his face. He took a couple steps by himself. He walked behind the throne, towards the doors behind him. However, after another step, he lost his strength. Aoi was quickly at his side, supporting him. They were behind the throne, so she assumed that no one would notice. Instead of being unnoticeable in her assistance, something she had perfected over the last few years, she used much of her might to help Fidel. He couldn’t resist that help, for at that moment he was truly unable to accept any less assistance.

There was only one person who stared at King Fidel as he and Aoi went through their routine. From her vantage point high in the gallery, she was able to observe something she had not seen before. She had been, in the past, extremely jealous of the attention that Aoi seemed to receive from Fidel. She had murmured, cursed, and spoken-ill of the woman she viewed as simply a distasteful trophy from another kingdom. Today, however, a strong realization appeared in her mind. Fidel was not simply being touched or purposely holding onto Aoi. Jane Melonscone realized that something might be wrong with Fidel. It worried and relieved her. When Fidel finally walked through the doors and retired to his room, Jane quickly left the castle grounds. She was going to find out what could possibly be wrong.

#

“I’m sure some of you recognize me, and as for the rest of you, let me introduce myself. My name is Sensei, and I shall be your teacher for the rest of the year. Welcome to your new class.”

The class of thirty erupted in cheers, laughter, and applause. More than half of the class had been a student of Sensei’s before. And, with their new class arrangement, the students were in a class with many old friends.

The classroom had windows on one side, so that the students could look out over the hill upon which the school was situated. In the back corner of the classroom, with two of them sitting next to the window, and another two at their sides, was a very happy group of four. On the opposite side of the room sat a black-feathered avian girl, who couldn’t stop staring at the group of four. In the middle of the classroom and towards the front was a group of five. A human, swine, avian, hare, and bovine all made up the fearsome-looking group.

Harnes felt excited, anxious, and sick all at the same time. Her heart was beating with anticipation at the rest of the year. She didn’t know whether she should be happy or sad, so for now she settled on excited. She stared in wonder at each boy in turn. Sitting at the seat furthest back, by the window, was Va’il. In front of him was Pete, and on Va’il’s right was Kelin. Sitting in front of Kelin, at Pete’s side, was Zeick. Kelin was two seats away from Harnes. There was a deeri boy next to Kelin, and an empty seat separated Harnes from the deeri boy.

She looked at each boy closely, to try and judge just how much trouble each one was capable of. First was Pete. Pete was a rotund swine, which wasn’t uncommon for swine. He had pink skin and a magnificent snout for a nose. He didn’t wear shoes, as he had hooves, and his hands had deep black nails on each of his five short fingers. Barring his hands, to say he looked exactly like an upright pig who could talk and wear clothes would be an accurate assessment. Pete always wore stiff tops of cotton or linen and loose pants, in usually solid colors. Today he wore wool pants dyed blue and a white cotton tunic. Harnes knew Pete was generally mild and calm, but far too willing to go along with other’s ideas. Still, he only warranted one feather’s worth of worry for the year.

Then there was Kelin. Long red hair, sharp teeth, sharp ears, and sharp eyes. A normal lupus, for the most part, once his color was accounted for. He wore both bright and dull colors in whatever way he decided on for the day. Today he wore long green robes and black trousers. His cloth boots were expensive looking, as they were covered with blue silk. Being a lupus, he was worrisome to begin with. Taking into account the fact he was a noble lupus gave Harnes additional reason for worry. And his penchant for doing things his own way whenever he decided further upped the feather count Harnes was keeping. As she began counting the feathers on her arm to make sure she wouldn’t end up with patches missing by the end of the year, Kelin brought out a book and started reading. Harnes then remembered the most important thing, and stopped counting feathers. Ten, for the year, should be just about right, she decided. She had been expecting more, but had almost forgotten Kelin’s overwhelming disinterest in many, many things.

Zeick was someone that Harnes had no estimate for. She remembered that three years ago he was human. But for some reason, he was now half-felis. He had a few pointed teeth and a slightly angled face that could easily be mistaken for human. But the very long tail protruding from his back proved that he was a half. It was a golden tail with a white tip. It would swing every which way at random, which proved mesmerizing at times. All she could tell about Zeick was that he seemed nice, for he was smiling. But she couldn’t decide as to whether he was trouble or not. She decided that he was worth a feather or two, simply for being partially felis and for being the fourth member of the previously three-boy group. He wore yellow and orange, making him look somewhat like an alley cat. She could imagine him with felis ears, and wondered why he had human ears instead.

The fourth and youngest of the group was Va’il. He was a half, of both human and lupus descent. He had long ears covered in white fur that seemed to reflect light like a diamond. His eyes were round, soft, and silver in color. He had a nose that was slightly thinner than a human’s was, but far more sensitive. He had a few teeth that were pointed, but weren’t visible unless he purposely showed them. His lips were full, unlike the thin lips that most lupus had, which helped to hide his teeth. The hair on his head was white and pointed in various directions. Like Kelin, he had a set of claws on each hand. From time to time, he would rest his head on his palms. He would always lean on his right hand. When he sometimes leaned on his left, he would drop it after a short while and move to his right. Harnes assumed that he liked to look out the window, which always happened to be on his left. His appearance was calming and serene to most onlookers, even if it was odd. He never seemed to pay attention to what he wore. He didn’t seem to care if his clothes were cheap, expensive, cotton, silk, brocade, or wool. Some days he would arrive in red and orange, and on others he would wear brown and black. Though his appearance was serene to Harnes, who especially loved his white hair, his penchant for being involved whenever something went wrong rated him high on the missing feather count. In the past few weeks she had already worried out two feathers over Va’il, and she was quite happy that no more had worked their way out. She looked down at her arm again.

“Do I have fifty feathers on this arm?”

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The Lupine Saga 36

Far to the east of Rising there was a certain city, its name was Tella. It was an average city, filled with bustle and noise. A moderately sized castle where the governor lived occupied the center. Fields of wheat and rice and many other delicious foodstuffs had their own areas within the walls of Tella. The marketplace was always bustling, and many merchants that were travelling both east and west had arrived at Tella to pawn their goods.

A certain young boy, a felis, was the son of one of these merchants. While his father sold a bit of spice, he ran out and around the city to find other young children to play with.

He met a group of kids by the eastern wall. They were playing kickball and were very happy to have someone new to play with. After introducing himself, he got right to work. The ball had just been kicked out of bounds, so the team the boy just joined had possession of it. He was to stand outside the playing area and kick the ball in.

He placed the ball on the ground, and walked back twenty paces; he was planning to kick the ball very hard. He then dropped his stance, ready to take off running. He brought one foot up and then kicked the dirt beneath him in order to make a small foothold. The instant his foot hit the ground, it rumbled once.

Every child was aghast, including the boy. Was it him, he pondered. He decided to make the foothold larger. He brought his foot up, and then crashed it down again. The ground rumbled again. He and the other children decided it was him after all. He knew this kick was going to be the greatest kick the world had ever seen, if just his stomping could make everything around him shake. He was ready to kick now.

He took off running. Every time he touched the ground, it would rumble. Each step became louder and louder. His twenty paces were covered in just a couple seconds, but the rumbling that each step caused made it seem longer. As he got closer to the ball, the rumbling became as loud as a roar, and the ground itself started to shake. A couple of the smaller kids fell over, and another one ran off in fright, which pleased the boy greatly as he ran. With two more steps to go, he slowed down just enough so that his right leg would be able to kick the ball. He swung his leg forward with all his might, smashing into the side of the ball.

The moment of impact, a sound and sight that none of the children had ever heard or seen before arrived. They watched as the ball shot towards the stone walls like a bolt of lightning. They promptly ran away after that.

The ball missed the walls. More precisely, there were no longer any walls to stop the flying ball. The walls had been destroyed. There, standing amidst the rubble, was the cause.

The ball flew over the heads of the first few mysterious figures. It landed in the midst of a few of them. One reached down and put what should have been a hand over the ball. To the onlooker, it appeared as though mud covered the ball, and an arm of mud, dirt, and sand lifted the ball over its sandy head. It threw the ball forward, and not a speck of dirt was on it. However, there were no longer any children to catch the ball.

#

“Majesty!” A single deeri ran into the hall. He was dirty and exhausted, much to the disgust of many nobles who were watching the advisory meeting. Fidel hadn’t been able to hold a meeting for a few months, so every important person in the country had taken the time to assemble this day.

“Your colors, they are from Farrow, correct?” Fidel spoke calmly, quickly speaking before any guard could interrogate the man. The look on everyone’s faces changed as they realized that the ragged deeri was not a citizen of Rising.

“I carry a message from the governor of Tendal, from two days ago,” the deeri said.

“Two days from Tendal?” Darius in his olive-green coat could not hold back the amazement in his voice.

“It’s too urgent. Will the king of Rising accept the message of the governor?” the deeri asked.

“Yes! But first take a drink,” Fidel said.

“There is no time. With your acceptance then, the message is as follows: Tella has fallen. Tendal is under siege. The enemy is unknown. Men made of mud and sand who are impervious to swords and spears. They attack buildings, and destroy towns, but ignore the people. Send help, any help. We can’t stop them. Refugees from Tella have filled the city. Food and water will soon run out. They were originally spotted moving towards the west, in a line that will eventually lead towards… Rising.” The deeri finished his words with a stutter. Seeing that he was done, Fidel motioned to a servant in the corner of the room. A pot of water was brought to the deeri. He drank quickly, and then fell asleep from exhaustion. Another two servants carried him out of the room.

“Sire,” Diren whispered, at Fidel’s right side.

“I know,” Fidel said.

The room was murmuring with no hint of silence. The arguments that the nobles started could clearly be heard.

“Destroyed? How could that be?”

“By an unknown enemy? Impossible.”

“It could be the ones from the far east. The very violent ones.”

“This far west though? Would they really make such a trip? Have they already conquered the rest of the nations?”

“Maybe Tendal is overreacting. It wouldn’t be the first time they made a pebble into a boulder.”

“Tella! What a wonderful city. A shame. They have wonderful apples.”

“I refuse to believe any of that story. It’s too ridiculous.”

“Leave this room.” Fidel calmly directed his instructions to the gallery. A few were indignant, but matters of national security were beyond the authority of most to observe. A few high-nobles remained in the gallery. He also cleared the room of those who didn’t have a certain level of status, including servants, guards, provincial governors, and regional organizers.

The room soon consisted of about thirty people, the top twenty people in the government of Rising, and the high nobles. The only exception was Aoi, the blue-haired attendant that rarely left Fidel’s side. A few people looked at her strangely, trying to remember who she was, for they hadn’t seen her for a while. With Fidel’s constant sickness, and the relative peace of the nation, Fidel and Aoi hadn’t made many public appearances in the past few months.

“Was it necessary to clear out that many people, Fidel?” Jane Melonscone asked from the gallery.

“Yes Madam. It’s regarding the enemy that was spoken of. I’m sure most everyone here didn’t understand the messenger’s description. Am I correct?” The room murmured in agreement. Darius and Diren, along with a couple other advisors, did not fall into this group. They knew quite well.

“Shall it be explained to everyone?” Diren asked.

“Diren, this is your subject, please explain what you know.” Fidel authorized Diren to speak on his behalf.

“The King is worried greatly over this strange sounding enemy, for a good reason. As the court historian, I’m privilege to a certain amount of history. There is a certain, well, species; I’d guess you’d call them that, that doesn’t exist in the last five-thousand years of history. They have an old name. Maroon. They are unlike any other species. They are supposed to be immortal, actually. The reason history has forgotten them is quite clear, they have been separate from it from time immemorial, never stirring or being disturbed. As to what they are, they are not made of flesh, or flesh as we know it to be. They look like mud, and they probably are. But, just as a nails and shells do not appear to be fleshly, and yet still are, maybe their mud is something similar. Although, they can actually touch dirt and it becomes a part of their body. But now I’m rambling. The important thing is that they are now moving. They have been silent for five-thousand years, though history doesn’t explain where or why. They aren’t mentioned to be violent, which makes this quite puzzling. But they also think very, very slowly, according to history. They may be immortal, but at the cost of a mind that thinks at the same speed we do. Quite ironic, really.”

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The Lupine Saga 35

*Three years later*

#

“Quick, hide here!” Harnes whispered as Va’il ran around the corner of the school building. She held open a side door that was normally locked from the inside. Va’il, with a large brown bag in his hands, grinned widely at the charming avian, and then ducked into the door. Harnes jumped in after him and shut the door behind her. She turned a key and locked the door. Va’il kept running until he had exited the room, and Harnes slowly slid down the door until she sat on her behind.

Outside the door was the sound of many footsteps rounding the corner of the building. They all suddenly stopped when they realized no one was there. A few more steps approached the outside of the door.

Harnes’ heart started beating faster, and her feathers stood on end. She thought about standing and running, but there were windows looking into the room. She dared not be seen. She almost screamed when suddenly there was a beating at the door. The handle jingled a few times. It stopped. A few steps were heard moving away from the door. Some much larger steps were heard approaching.

The handle of the door withstood the great pressure of whoever was trying to force it open. Harnes covered her head in fright, hoping that the door would remain solid. It did.

“Doesn’t seem to be in here. Door’s solid. He’s fast, might have gone around the other corner.” A deep female voice spoke.

“But we were right on his tail! No one is that fast!” The high-pitched voice of a male hare.

“Whatever, just move!” The sharp yell of human. A swine could be heard snorting in laughter. Then there was the sound of footsteps leaving the area.

Harnes kept sitting for a few more minutes, until she was sure that the group had rounded the corner on the other side of the building. She held up her left arm, where all her feathers had now fallen peacefully, with one exception. It stood alone, and quivered as if the wind was about to blow it away. She grabbed it and plucked it out of her arm. It didn’t hurt at all; it was a loose feather.

“I swear it. I’ll lose every feather I have from nervousness before I die. Va’il, you jerk!”

Harnes stood up slowly. She put the key that had been stuck in the door into her front breast pocket. She was wearing a formal white shirt and a blue skirt. She smiled as she casually strolled to the door leading to the hallway. She walked through the hallways of the school until she reached an office. She entered it and walked straight to a certain desk. The many teachers sitting at the other desks in the room paid her no attention. She opened a drawer and discreetly took the key from her pocket and put it into the desk. To cover over her action, she removed a notebook from the desk. She smiled as she held the notebook to her chest and walked out of the office.

The notebook was bound in leather and filled with pages upon pages of quickly scrawled notes. It was her personal notebook, which she had left in the office just fifteen minutes ago. No one paid her any attention either time she walked in or out. She continued walking through the hallways until she reached the stairs. Coming down from the stairs was a human teacher.

“Miss Harnes, how are you?”

“Sensei! I haven’t seen you for a while! What are you doing in the secondary school building?” Harnes’ eyes lit up at the sight of the familiar teacher.

“Dear, haven’t you heard? I’ll be starting here next month,” Sensei said while smiling.

“Really? I didn’t know. Next month? That’s only a couple weeks away!” Harnes exclaimed.

“That’s right. I’m replacing Mrs. Fields. She’s had a long career and she has decided to take her leave early. Very early,” Sensei said quietly.

“I haven’t heard about that at all! I wanted to learn from her if possible. I was hoping I could transfer to her class next year. But I suppose you will do, Sensei,” Harnes said in a teasing manner.

“Always the smart one, aren’t we? Well let me tell you something. Due to the way my classes were set up, and since they require a replacement for me now, a ton of rearrangements are being made. We are going to rearrange the classes next month. You will be with me much sooner than expected.” He spoke with a laugh.

“Rearrange? How much rearranging?” Harnes asked.

“Well, I cannot give away too much, but I did notice that the new class will look remarkably similar to our old class. That was quite an interesting year. As I recall, you were quite a problem for me back then. But look at you now! A representative and even a teacher’s liaison!” Sensei said while patting Harnes’ shoulder.

“Oh please, Sensei. You just remember the silly things. I was kind of different back then. Back then, things were different. Wait, the class? It will be similar to that one? Really?” Harnes asked with concern in her voice.

“Yes, really similar.”

“Oh dear. Don’t tell me that that group is going to be reunited again?” Harnes asked, pleading with two hands clasped together.

“Group? What group is that?” Sensei said without thinking too deeply.

“Surely you remember a certain group. A couple lupus and a swine. They’ve been quiet for a while; they have all been in separate classes for a while now.” Harnes murmured the last bit.

“Oh, that one. Let me check.” Sensei opened the folder he was holding, adjusted his glasses, and ran his finger down a list.

“One, two, three. Oh dear. Well, now I have much more work to do. I need to go, excuse me Harnes.” Sensei, without waiting for a reply from the worried avian, walked off as quickly as he could towards the office Harnes had just left.

Harnes, for her part, shivered. Her feathers ruffled and stood on edge. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and calmed herself down. Another black feather was standing up, quivering in the wind. She stared at it with eyes of hatred and remorse.

“It’s going to be a long, long, long year.” She plucked the feather. It hurt a lot.

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The Lupine Saga 34

Three heads looked up. One looked down. The silence that lasted was much shorter than it seemed. Four mouths all opened simultaneously and uttered nothing out of shock.

“Hi, Zeick.” Va’il spoke up first.

“Uh, hi.” A response was all that could be given at the moment. Most of the minds in this small vicinity were so full of thoughts that they were empty of words.

“This is your house?” Va’il asked casually.

“Uh, yes,” Zeick stammered.

“Oh. So… what color?” Va’il asked.

“Huh?” Zeick, Pete, and Kelin all looked at Va’il with a sudden snap of bewilderment. In such a confusing situation, Va’il only added to the problem, or so it seemed.

“Your tail. Do you know what color it’s supposed to be?” Va’il asked.

The silence resumed. The taboo that no one was supposed to know of, to speak of, had been touched upon. Va’il himself knew that he had said something wrong, and couldn’t bring himself to speak up until someone else did. Zeick spoke up, with a surprising revelation.

“Gold. It’s supposed to be gold,” Zeick finally responded. There was pride in his voice.

“Really? That would be something to see, since your hair is black,” Va’il said with a laugh.

“But I’ve never really seen it. I’ve always had it, had it, cut.” The words hurt everyone in the vicinity. Pete thought of the twirl in his own tail. Though no one could see it through his clothes, he still had a sense of pride in the way his tail curled just enough to make a circle. Va’il continued the conversation undeterred.

“Then just stop cutting it,” Va’il said.

“No. No, we can’t do that. A half, everyone would know I’m a half. My mother would be hurt, and that man would, would, I don’t know!” Zeick hit the edge of the window frame with his fist.

“Nothing. That’s what. Nothing,” Va’il said calmly. “Nothing will happen. You’ll be Zeick, still. You’re a half, so what? Nothing will happen if you don’t let it.”

“Oh what dribble,” Kelin said crudely, “you really don’t have a way with words, Va’il. Listen Zeick. You’re a half now. End of story. Do you agree or disagree?”

“What?” Zeick asked.

“I said, do you agree or disagree. Are you a half?” Kelin asked.

“I am, so agree, right?” Zeick said while still questioning his own thoughts. He replied with a touch of indignation.

“Then that’s the end of it. You’re a half. Tonight, tomorrow, and from now on. I won’t let you go back to being a human,” Kelin said.

“Kelin?” Pete asked cautiously. One word was enough.

“Power is sometimes a really, really good thing.” Kelin laughed at himself, and stood up, staring at Zeick.

“He’ll be corrupt long before anyone realizes he had a good side,” Va’il said. The display of outright power that his friend recently showed at the hotel made Va’il really believe that Kelin would do something that would help Zeick, though Va’il wasn’t sure if it was the best method. They spoke with Zeick for a while longer before retiring to their homes for the night.

#

“You’re back later than usual.” Mai’ou was waiting with a stern look on her face.

“That’s because I’ve completed my report!” Va’il spoke very proudly to his fear-inspiring mother.

“Report? Okay, go on, what is this report?”

“My report has determined that you are not allowed to get married.”

Mai’ou’s look changed to one of complete bewilderment. She was used to being bombarded with odd reasoning and strange questions, but this one made her take a step back.

“Marriage? What? Who? Huh?”

“To Mr. Eason.”

“Oh, right, that marriage. My marriage to Eason, correct?” Mai’ou spoke in a sarcastic tone that seemed understanding.

“Yes, him. He is not allowed.”

“Again, what? If I wasn’t so confused… oh. I get it now.” Mai’ou smiled softly when she realized what Va’il meant. “So you remembered that little comment I made a while ago? The one I was only joking around about, but you never responded to.”

“That would be the one,” Va’il said proudly, before realizing the full extent of Mai’ou’s words.

“Then please, definitely do explain why I cannot marry him. This should be amusing.” She spoke the last few works too quietly for Va’il to hear.

“Then I shall explain. As you know, Eason is a doctor. My investigation has shown that he takes too much food and wastes it, from you even. He is a treacherous and lustful man. There is a strange woman in a little school that he cheats on you with, I saw it myself. He is envious of a noble man’s wealth, and demands more from the noble than is necessary. But he is a lazy person who doesn’t really find any enjoyment in taking care of a patient. He just mournfully moves around the patient’s house doing menial stuff. He gets angry really easily, even with the highest of nobles. And he, well, uh, that’s all.” Va’il finished speaking his very condensed report without mentioning anything about Zeick. He thought it best to leave out.

“So you followed him?” Mai’ou asked calmly.

“We sure did.”

“Oh, of course. You weren’t alone.”

“Um…” Va’il didn’t like the smile on Mai’ou’s face.

“Well, let me tell you a few things. Mr. Eason is one of my best customers. We have a very good relationship. He is married to a schoolteacher, and he only said a silly joke that I wanted to tease you with. He doesn’t waste a thing, I should know. He provides food and wealth to families everywhere, whoever is in need. Something that many other nobles would scoff at upon hearing. They probably deserve to be overcharged, though I doubt he does. That man is fair, but some of his patients are odd in their words and actions. Anything else you want to know?”

“What are you saying?” Va’il asked in a dazed manner.

“Oh, and he isn’t lazy either. If you followed him everywhere, you might have seen him at a certain woman’s house. His first patient. He’s been attending to her for eighty years. I don’t think what you saw was laziness. What I’m saying is that you misunderstood every possible thing you could in the worst possibly way, my silly boy.”

“Oh.” Va’il was sucked of energy. He didn’t know what to think. He wasn’t sure if what he saw previously was really interpreted by him correctly, or if his mother was right. She was smiling. Va’il, still a child, believed that motherly smile more than anything else. The silly boy had misunderstood everything. His mother bent down and hugged him.

She whispered into his ear, saying, “Besides, I’m a lupus. We are devoted to one love our entire life, until one of us dies. I told you before, your father is alive. Therefore, even if I was tempted, I wouldn’t have another husband.”

Va’il, satisfied with the many explanations he had received, decided to put everything swirling in his heart to rest, for the time being.

#

End of Part 1.

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