Chapter 2

By and copyright Eric Chambers

Characters and collaboration by Moldred

A strong wind picks up over the plains of Midgardon, causing clouds and debris alike to shift positions, flow, and drift in whichever way the winds carry them. One such pile of feathers from a local farm is swept up, floats on the breeze for some distance, and then, as the winds die, rain down on the stoop where a young Thylacine cub sits, a sign announcing, The Crossroads Inn, sways above him. Propped beside him is a stool to which he has a paw on, his eyes closed as he recites a short incantation. One eye opens to check his results, "Hm...nothing.", his eyebrows furrow a bit as he stares back at a perfectly normal stool, "What am I doing wrong?..." A feather lands softly on his lap, and as he follows it with his eyes, another one falls on his shoulder, soon theyíre falling in tens, then quickly multiply to the point of almost sheets falling one after the other. The Thylacine cub looks around at the falling barrage of feathers, slightly confused, "Um...", looks up, "exploding fowl?"

"Moldred!", a guff male voice came from around the corner, and approaching fast, "By da One, boy, are ya killiní a flock ovír there?"

Moldred quickly got to his feet, brushing off the small stool of feathers, knowing Vincent hated his furniture dirty. As he quickly cleaned, the feathers were maintaining the shape of the stool, but only the stones that made up the ground showed through, leaving a hollow space. Least somethingís going to go right today, Moldred thought just as a rather large, male fox in tan and green homespun rounded the corner of the hotel, his eyes widening at the site. Moldred stood there, himself and about twenty feet covered in white feathers. Vincent walked slowly towards Moldred, his head turning this way and that, inspecting the scene, as he got closer Moldred, for the most part just standing there, picking feathers off nervously, looked down, "Wait! St..." Vincentís foot hooked around the invisible stool, sending him crashing straight down on his chest, and as he lay there for a few seconds, regaining his wind, he picked his head up and looked behind him just as the cause of his fall reappeared under his foot.

His eyes narrowed as they focused directly on Moldredís, and in a low, almost growling, voice, "Kid...ya got Ďtil three for a Ďead start."

"But..."

"One...", Vincentís forearm muscle flexed as he slowly brought himself off the ground.

Moldred was out of sight by two.

He ran around the same corner that Vincent had just came from, not really looking where he was headed. As he came around the corner, out of instinct, he looked behind him, and then back just in time to see he was running into a little fox girl around his age, outfitted in a simple blue homespun dress. Realizing they couldnít avoid hitting, she cringed, and, panicking, he jumped; two inches from her his body went transparent and altogether disappeared in a tiny puff of smoke, reappearing two feet away and three feet up, he fell, momentum skidding him in the grass.

His eyes opened slowly as he lay on his back, the head of the fox-girl filling his vision. "You all right?"

"Yeah, Vive, Iím fine...Iíll live anyway." He blinked as two gray-furred packrat-girlsí heads appeared now in his vision beside Vivicaís. "Um...hello..."

"Hello."

"Hi."

Moldred got to his feet slowly, rubbing his back, and looking the two girls over. Both were too well dressed to be from anywhere around here, the one on the left, however, looked rather uncomfortable in her silk dress as she pulled on it from time to time and tried to loosen the collar; and in-between them stood Vivica, grinning ear to ear. "We have guests...and theyíre girls", she almost squealed, she recomposed herself soon after though, "This is Catty", she gestured to the right, "and this is Patty", she gestured to the left.

"Princess Catherina of Midgardon", the right one spoke up, curtseying, "Pleased to meet you, si..."

"Hey, great feathers", the right one ran up to Moldred, clamping his muzzle in her paws and tilting his head down, "Why are they all over your head?"

"Patricia...", Catty hissed.

Patty looked back, "What?"

"Kids?", a light but motherly voice came from around the corner.

"Weíre over here, mother", Vivica answered back, trying to hold back from giggling.

A female fox came around the corner, early middle-aged and wearing an apron, anyone her age would of still found her beautiful, "Could you come in, dear?", she looked around at each child and smiled warmly, "Thereís milk and cookies for all of you in the kitchen."

They all nodded, except Moldred who still had his muzzle occupied, "Missh Patty? Ash much as I lube being held by ah princessh, Iím goin ta need Ďat back sumtim..."

"Hm? Oh, sorry." She released his muzzle and began to follow her sister who had started to make her way towards the front of the hotel. Moldred caught up with Vivica, plucking out feathers from various parts of his body, they came around front just in time to see the two sisters enter the hotelís front door.

"Wow", Vivica spoke up, "you really got into something, didnít you?"

Moldred shrugged, "Personally, my theory is exploding fowl." The last of the feathers fell away as they climbed the short number of stairs that lead to the front door, Moldred held the door open as Vivica walked in, following closely behind as she went through.

The two made a beeline for the kitchen through the lobby, entering just as Vincent was making introductions. "Yer Ďighnesses, dis is my wife, Veronica Volpone..."

"Hello, sweeties", she smiled from her chair at the table.

"...dis is ma son, Vincent Jr.", he gestured to a chubby fox cub sitting opposite Veronica at the table, chugging a glass of milk.

The cub looked up, wiping the milk off his muzzle, and gave a half-wave, "ílo."

"...aní ya know Vivica Ďn Moldred", he gestured towards the doorway where the two stood.

"Princess Catherina of Midgardon", Catherina started again, curtseying, "Pleas..."

"Do you always have to do that, they know who you are", Patricia interrupted.

"Patricia...", Catherina growled, the fur on the back of her neck rising, "We are royalty, it is our duty to address ourselves to the lower classes..."

Vincent and Veronica looked at each other.

Veronica stood up, smiling nervously, "We-ell, kids, help yourself to some cookies, thereís plenty for everyone."

"Yeah, ya all do dat, aní Ďead outside aní play or sumethiní, Ah need to talk to yer mutha Ďbout a few tings", Vincent took a seat next to Veronica as she herself sat down again.

"Sir, would you have something we could change into?", Catherina asked, nibbling on a cookie.

"Yeah, this dress is killing me", Patricia said, munching hers.

"Oh", Veronica looked up, "you dears donít have clothes?"

Vincent scratched the back of his head nervously, answering for them, "Naa...we pretty much Ďad ta leíve as we were, Ahíll Ďsplain later. Vive, youíre Ďbout their size, show Ďem oíer ta yoí room aní pick Ďem out sumtiní."

Vivica nodded and showed the sisters through the lobby to the living quarters, leaving Moldred in the doorway.

"Aní yoí two...", Vincent glanced at Vincent Jr., then at Moldred, "...git."

They got, Vincent Jr. just doing it at a slower pace.

Vincent sighed as he heard the door close, turning his head slowly toward Veronica, "Ahíll tell ya, Verony, King Phillip is real Ďorried. Ah mean, ta tríst me wit his daughters...wit da succession ta da throne, Ah know he Ďolds me in Ďigh regard, but dis Ďas got ta mean tings are pretty bad."

"Oh...Vinny...", Veronica claps her paw lightly around his, "Everything will be all right, Iím sure this is just a precaution...and of course the King must think the world of you to give you this responsibility."

"Yeah...maybe...", Vincent stopped as he heard the girls coming over from the other room, "Jíst not a word to da kids, aíight?"

"Yes, dear, of course."

Outside on the steps sit Vincent Jr. and Moldred, both obviously bored and generally trying to ignore each other. Moldred lays back, propping himself up by his elbows on the stair above, and drifts off into his own world as he takes in the nature of his surroundings.

"Daí tolí me Ďbout yoí screw-up wit tha stool", Vincent Jr. broke the silence along with Moldredís concentration, "When you gonna learn dat you just aint gonna know magic?"

Moldred rolled his head slowly over, staring at Vincent Jr. with half-open eyes, "You think you can do better?"

"Ah know Ah can."

Moldred raised an eyebrow slightly as his paw fished three small stones from the ground, "Care to wager that?", he asked, passing one stone over the other in his paw.

Vincent Jr. looked Moldred over, a slightly confused look spreading over the chubby fox cubís face, "What kinda wager?"

"Ooooh...I donít know...", Moldred sighed, "How about...starting tomorrow, the victor of this little agreement receives not only breakfast in bed, but also has his chores done for a week? Sound like something youíd be game for?"

Vincent Jr. nodded slowly and stuck out his paw, "Itís ah deal."

They both shake as Moldred sits up, his paw still rolling the stones one over the other. "Great. The rules are simple, my foxy friend", he quipped in a voice familiar to carnival promoters and back-ally card sharks, "Do what I do until one of use canít do what it is the other one did." A little smirk opened a corner of Moldredís lips, "Understand?"

"Uh...yeah."

"Good...good. Now...watch closely." Moldredís right paw shot a stone into his left, which was then tossed up, followed by another stone shot from his right paw to his left. As that stone was tossed up as well, the first was caught back in his right and the last was tossed into his left. He repeated this juggling act for a good minute as Vincent Jr. sat by, eyes following every arc of the stones. Moldred then closed his eyes, muttering something under his breath; the stones, one by one as they entered his right paw, became translucent then finally transparent as they reentered the same paw on their next passing. He sat there, eyes closed, muttering, with his paws grasping and tossing objects unseen for another five minutes; where, after his muttering changed inflection, the stones reappeared, still in orbit. For a finale, he tossed each one, one after the other, four feet in the air, and each landing back into his right paw. "Your turn", his smirk growing as he hands over the stones.

"If ya can do it...", Vincent Jr. took the stones, tossing them back and forth between his paws. He lobbed one up and managed to toss another one from his right to left paw...thatís about as far as he got. The stone in the air took an odd curve, going back about two inches, and when it finally did land (still not picked up by Vincent Jr.ís radar as he concentrated on the others), it hit square in the middle of his head, causing his arm to raise up instinctively to cover the sore spot. This sent the second stone flying backward, bouncing off the door frame, inches from the heads of Vivica and the now changed Catherina and Patricia who had just stepped outside.

"Father! Litte Vinnyís throwing stones!", Vivica called back into the house.

"Vinny!", came the gruff reply from inside.

Vincent Jr. rubbed his head, and in classic ten year fashion, pouted as he got to his feet slowly.

"Remember, I like my eggs boiled for two minutes and fifty seconds exactly", Moldred smiled up at him.

"So what do you want to do?", Vivica asked to her audience of Moldred and the two princesses.

Moldred shrugged, "Why donít you ask our guests?" He shot at look at both sisters, who both, in turn, shrugged back.

"Ms. Vivica...", Catherina started as Vivica giggled through her paw.

"Hehe...just Vive is fine."

"Vive...I couldnít help but notice that, in your room, you had an art set, and I must say, youíre quite good...May I try my paw at it?"

"Um...sure. I donít see why not."

Catherina smiled and took Vivica by the paw, leading her through the door just as Vincent Jr. passed by them going out in the opposite direction, rubbing his rump.

"You all right?", Patricia asked in genuine concern.

He looked up from his haze of self-pity, "Hm? Yeah, yeah, Ahím fine", and flashed a hurtful glance at Moldred, "Jíst fine."

"Know what makes me feel better? Tree climbing. You wanna?"

Vincent Jr. shrugged, "Sure. Díereíre some big ones oíer díere", pointing behind the hotel.

As they started to walk off, Moldred just stood there, noticing, in fact, that he was not noticed. He sat back down on the steps and stared at his feet, looking up only when he heard the door behind him open; hoping for Vivica, it was Veronica who sat beside him.

"Are you all right, dear?", she rubbed the back of his neck.

Moldred just nodded weakly, looking off into the trees.

"Where did everyone go off to?"

"Viveís in her room with Catherina, painting, and Little Vinney and Patricia, Iím pretty sure, are on the moors, climbing trees."

"Oh..." Veronica nodded herself and gently ruffled Moldedís hair, "Well, you have to understand, Vive doesnít get to play with many girls, and Little Vinny, well...heís...him", she said with a smile. "Plus, Catty and Patty are new here and thereís only two of them, they just need to get used to things in a new setting. Iím sure theyíll warm up to you soon, dear." She kisses his cheek, causing him to smile and wipe it off in a slightly dramatic gesture with the back of his paw.

"Thanks, Mom."

She smiles back, "What for?"

"The advice and not talking down to me like I was a little kid."

"Well, you always were intelligent beyond your years." She got to her feet, wiping her paws on her apron, "Iím about to make supper, you can help if you want."

"If itís ok, Iíd rather just sit here and watch the sunset."

"Sure, itís all right. Iíll come get you when itís ready", and with that, she went back inside, leaving Moldred sighing and staring over the horizon; the blue brightening to pink, then darkening to red, gray, then finally black.

The next day

Moldred swam in and out of lucidity for almost an hour, debating to himself to get out of bed or go back to sleep...being in a torpor sounded more like a plan. No one came to get him, there was no breakfast (Least he didnít take me seriously...though Iím sure he just forgot, the young Thylacine thought), and making it worse, the yells and yips of juvenile delight rang from outside, just under his window. After a hour his back began cramping, forcing him out and to head into the lobby where, as he was heading into kitchen, he came across one of the guests of the hotel, sitting down in a plush chair, drinking tea.

"Hey, kid?", the young wolf called out.

Moldred turned around slowly, not sure what to expect.

"Um...no offense, but what are you? Some kind of rare cross-cat species?"

Moldred just snarled softly, the corners of his muzzle rising, and changed his direction towards the front door. As he stepped outside, the cold hit him first, then the wind, blowing up sections of his fur though his homespun, wishing he had the forethought of bringing down a coat.

"Hey! Moldred!", Vivica came running up to him, leaving Catherina under a tree with a complete tea party set, "Whereíve you been?"

Moldred shrugged, "Where indeed."

Her paw rested on his shoulder, "I can tell when somethingís wrong with you, you donít hide it very well."

"Itís nothing. Iím peachy."

"Peachy?"

"Positively fruity. Look, Iíll talk to you later, when youíre not so...busy", he looked over her shoulder at Catherina, waving politely as she did back. "Tootles", he turned and sauntered off, tail flaccidly hung behind him.

Vivica plopped down beside Catherina, her arms crossed dramatically, "Grrrr... boys..."

"Theyíre simple, stupid, dirty creatures...what about them?", Catherina shrugged.

"Eh...itís just that one in particular..."

"Moldred?", Catherina filled each tiny, flower-laden cup with tea only her, Vivica, and most other girls could imagine, "Heís not so bad; quiet, and a little...off, but not as bad as that other brother of yours."

Vivica nodded distractedly, watching as Moldred faded into the moors, "Hm..."

Speaking of...

"Aaahhh!..." Plop.

Patricia looked down from her perch, wide-eyed and shaking slightly, at the site of the unmoving chubby fox cub. "Um...Little Vinny...?"

Nothing.

She eeped and squirreled her way down the truck of the massive tree, jumped off mid-way, and ran over to Vincent Jr., tapping him with her foot.

Still nothing.

"Donít be dead...donít be dead...donít be dead...", she held her paw over his nose, almost melting when warm air caressed around it rhythmically. She shot up and sprinted off towards the hotel, in a fear that is unequaled outside childhood.

Light filtered through the leaves under whoís tree Moldred had decided to nap once again. Sheltered from the wind, he curled himself into a ball, slowly drifting off and dreaming; small noises came from the back of his throat, and small twitches came from his legs. He had just morphed himself into a full Thylacine wolf and was about pin a fully morphed Vivica in a wrestling match, when he started shaking.

"Moldred!"

"..."

"Moldred!"

"Hmm..."

"Moldred!"

"Hmmm...what..."

"Moldred!"

"What?"

"Moldred!"

"What! Iím awake!"

Patricia knelt beside him, visibly shaking and gasping for air, "Oh...the One...the One...gasp..."

Moldred sat up, propping himself up on his palms, "Um...ok...did you see Him or something?"

"Little...Vinny...gasp..."

"Yeeeeeees?"

"Fell...from tree...Help me...gasp...Landed on...his head...."

"Least it wasnít on anything he uses."

Patricia just looked at him blankly, tears welling in her eyes.

"Oh...all right...Iíll help." She took a grip on his arm and pulled him forward as he staggered along, resisting slightly.

When the crumpled body of the fox cub was in view, even Moldred quickened his pace, rushing to Vincent Jr.ís side as Patricia knelt beside the still body, stroking his paw with tears falling from her cheeks.

Moldred knelt down as well, checking for a pulse and breathing; finding both, he gently slapped Vincent Jr.ís cheek, jumping back a little in surprise as Little Vinneyís eyes opened for a second, then closed, his head rolling towards Moldredís feet. "Vinny?...Vinny?...Can you hear me?"

Vincent Jr.ís paw just came up and rubbed the top of his head, squeaking out, "Ow..."

Moldred looked up at Patricia, something in his eyes shaping his features to look much too old for his body, "What happened, exactly?"

She wiped her eyes, her voice squeaking through the sobs, "We...weíre just sitting up on that branch", she pointed to a tree whoís highest branch could not of been above seven feet, "and we were just talking...for awhile...I donít know how long. Then...he just...leaned over...and...", she paused, sobbing.

Becoming impatient, Moldred looked back down at Vincent Jr., trying to keep him awake, then brought his head back up, his face showing his anticipation, "And...what?"

"I...slapped him...and he fell...after he...kissed me..."

The something in Moldredís eyes disappeared, replaced with his usual youthful expressions, one of which he was trying to keep down, his laughing. "He...hehe...hahahahaha..."

Both Patricia and Vincent Jr., who had managed to sit up, stared at him, rolling on his back, holding his sides, and just looking like he was having the best time in the world. "Whatís so funny?", they both asked, confusion creeping across their faces.

"Hahahaha...I donít know...hehe...itís just so funny...hahaha. Vinny, you big idiot...hahahaha...you should of waited Ďtil you were on the ground...hehe...you wouldnít of had so far to fall...hahahaha.

"Issnot funny...", Vincent Jr. pouted, trying to stand

"Heís right...itís not...", Patricia said, trying to help him up, "I might of overreacted...but...", she pulled him up by his collar, leveling his eyes to her, nose to nose, "if you ever do that again...", her eyes narrowed, "I will make sure far...far worse happens...understand?"

Vincent Jr. managed to squeak out a "yeah" as Moldred folded himself inward, laughing hysterically until all that came out were grunt-like yips.

"Good...", Patricia helped Vincent Jr. fully to his feet, straightening his shirt, "Moldred?", the young Tasmanian wolfís laugher was dying, but still rather vocal, "...Moldred!"

"Hehehe....what?", he stopped rolling, and looked up, wiping tears out of his eyes.

"Can we leave now? Iím sure Little Vinny would like to get some rest, I know I would at least.", she wrapped Vincent Jr.ís arm over her shoulder, supporting him in what would be categorized as a humorous gesture; the site of this pixish, female packrat supporting an overweight, groggy male fox sent Moldred into snickering under his breath as he rose from the ground.

"Hehe...well thatís my last laughing fit for a lifetime anyway...Hm...at least let me save us a little walking distance..." He walked over to the couple and, placing one paw on each of their shoulders, closed his eyes and muttered various incantations, turning the party translucent, then, fading into transparent, slowly dissolved into a colorless cloud of smoke.

Three days pass and not much changes for Moldred, heís left to sit in his room, looked in from time to time by Veronica, and generally overlooked by the four others, including Vivica. So, subsequently, for the better part of those three days he hasnít left his bed.

A knock at the door wakes him, but thatís about all the energy he expends except a grunting "what?". The door opens, and timidly, Vivica steps in.

"Momís worried about you..."

Moldred does not move, only closes his eyes again and sighs, "You would think sheíd be more worried about Little Vinny, damaging large, hollow places like that could cause a cave-in."

"Ha...ha...", Vivica crosses her arms, trying her best to look angry; soon realizing it is not doing any good, heís not looking at her. She walks over and sits next to him in his bed, "Iím...Iím worried about you too..."

He sits up, fur and hair ruffled, a slight discoloration under his eyes, and asks, "Why?"

She slaps his leg, "Why do you think, you big dope? You donít speak to me for three or four days, and the last time you do, youíre so cryptic...", her eyes begin to tear up and her voice starts cracking, "...and you still havenít told me what you were talking about!..."

He sits up fully and leans in, hugging her; she hesitates for a second, then wraps her arms around him. "Iím not the only problem, am I?, he speaks softly to her.

"How do you always know stuff like that?...", she sniffs.

"Itís a hobby."

"Iíve had this feeling for the past few days...", she hugs him tighter, "...that Iím going to lose you sometime in the future...I donít know how and I donít know how long, and, needless to say, it scares me. Youíre like a brother to me...and youíre my best friend...so when you disappeared it played on my fear.

Moldred leaned back, looking her in the eye, then cast his head down, "If you really want to know...I was jealous. I was left out and instead of handling it, I responded in a petty way...I didnít realize I was hurting you...and, Iím sorry.

Vivica lifts his head back up with her paw and smiles, popping his cheek lightly, "Good, donít do it again. Now get dressed", she stands up, heading to the door, "Patty and Catty are leaving tomorrow and weíre all going camping tonight in the moors...and, yes, before you ask, you are invited."

"All right...Iíll be down shortly."

Vivica nodded and exited, leaving Moldred to get dressed and clean himself.

He came out of his room, feeling better; not completely, but a little at least. Until something brushed past him, clipping his arm, in the lobby; something in a hurry. Moldred rubbed his arm and looked up, the young wolf from days before pushed his way through the front door, only as he was half out did he register that he had hit someone. His head turned back slowly and scanned the area behind him, eyes soon settling directly on Moldredís; this wolf aged, at least inside, during his stay. Ears down, patches of gray fur Moldred didnít notice before: he looked worn, he looked painful just to behold, he looked...low. Moldred just shivered as the door closed abruptly, sealing an image of the wolf snarling, saliva foaming at the corners of his muzzle. The young Thylacine slowly padded through the lobby, opting for the backdoor through the kitchen.

Four hours later: the sun has set, a fire is built, and the five: Vivica, Moldred, Patricia, Vincent Jr., and Catherina, sit in a circle in the moors, not too far from the hotel, mostly laughing at childish jokes or at the insults Vincent Jr. and Moldred trade off. However, very noticeable to Moldred, Patricia has spent the night looking him over, sometimes blatantly, sometimes sneaking a glance, until finally, after camp was set and everyone relaxed, she spoke up.

"So...Moldred...what are you anyway?"

"Patricia!", Catherina hissed.

"What? Iím sure he hears it all the time."

"That does not mean you can just ask that, have a little tact."

"Itís all right, Catty", Moldred interjected, "I donít mind as long as it comes from a friend." He faced Patricia, cleared his throat, and began, "I donít know....Does that help any?"

Patricia raised an eyebrow, "Ok...well...what about the magic Iíve seen you use?"

"What about it?"

"Well...what do you know?...and can you show me a little?"

Moldred reached for a stick beside him and turned it over and over in his paws, "Take one end of this and Iíll hold the other...", she did and waited, "All right...now, keep a grip on it and donít let go." She nodded, focusing her attention on her end of the stick; everyone looked on, even Vivica who had seen him do this maybe twenty times. He said his incantation under his breath, focusing ardently; the stick turned hazy, translucent, then transparent, leaving a small "o" shaped opening in both Patriciaís and Moldredís paws. "Happy?", Moldred asked with a smirk.

"Well...", Patricia rubbed the back of her neck with her free paw, "Iíve seen magic performed in the courts, but only from a distance...Iíve never held something enchanted...Iím impressed..."

"Sheís speechless...finally", Catherina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

They all laughed at that, even Patricia was able to laugh at herself, though she gave her sister a rather nasty side glance. In all the laughing; however, no one heard the snapping twigs or saw the sharp-clawed paw rip through the bushes until it was around Catherinaís throat, lifting her off the ground.

"Prrrincess...", the owner of the claws stepped out of the bushes, cooing in mock falsetto. The others jumped back, no one but Moldred recognizing, although barely, the figure that held a choking Catherina three feet in the air. The young wolf was less of the former and more of the latter. He was taller, and obviously stronger, though thinner, his skin sagging above his elbows and under his muzzle, and at some point a large portion of his fur had fallen out in patches. He looked, for lack of a better word, possessed. A gold-rimmed eye focused on each of the cubs, one by one, settling back on the face of Catherina as the other eye, clouded and swollen, remained motionless. "Prrrincess...", he tapped the frozen packratís nose with a yellow-tinged claw; "Prrrincess-not-to-be...", flicking his eye over to Patricia; "Fox-daughter-of-the-guard..."; he sneered almost lewdly at Vivica, "Fat-son-of-guard..."; he sneezed at Vincent Jr., saliva spraying the ground; "And...cat-dog...thing...", Moldred bared his teeth and growled, his paws tightening into fists as the wolf looked his way. "None of you are worth what Prrrincess here is...Do not follow...And, Prrrincess", he squeezed around her throat then loosened for emphases, "do not change into mousie...I may become hungry..." He sneezed again, and shaking his head, turned and noisily trampled through the bushes.

 

"Molred...", Vivica tugged on his shirtsleeve, her eyes confused and pleading.

"Viv...", he strained through his clenched teeth, "Take Little Vinny with you back home, tell Father..."

"Why us?", Vincent Jr. whined.

Moldred closed his eyes in an effort to calm himself, "Because you canít fight, and I donít want to see her hurt...", he watched Patricia take off into the bushes and started after her, "The One damn it..., he turned around one last time, "Go!", and disappeared.

Moldred caught up with Patricia about one hundred yards into the moors. Panting, he laid his paw on her shoulder to halt her; he blinked, the next second he was on his back, muzzle to muzzle with her. "I can take care of myself as well as my sister."

"You can use some help...", he vanished from under her in a small puff of smoke, reappearing beside her.

"Fine. Just keep up."

"Actually, this would be faster...hop on.", he morphed into a feral form of a Thylacine, blue light swirling around his body, engulfing him. When the transformation was complete, he looked up and motioned at Patricia; she straddled his back and morphed herself into a small, gray packrat, clinging to his fur. Moldred took off at a sprint, pausing every few feet to catch the scent of the wolf in the tall grass, Patricia desperately holding fast.

They cleared almost a mile and a half before the scent overpowered Moldred, gagging him. He managed to make it another fifty feet overlooking a small valley, where he could not take it anymore; his stomach knotting, he rolled onto his side, letting Patricia down, and morphed back. "Heís...close...", Moldred choked as the scent faded to his now less sensitive nose, but lingered as a memory.

Patricia did the same, collected herself, and scanned the valley, "I know...I see him." They got to their feet and slid down the narrow embankment to the valley floor, the grass was shorter here and there was no real place to hide, so from then on, speed was more of an issue than stealth. Luckily, it was a clear night and they were down wind, enabling them to get within twenty feet of the now resting monstrosity, an unconscious Catherina slung over his shoulder. Hunkering down, they tried to form a plan and gather whatever weapons they could. "How about this?", Patricia pulled out a small dagger from a pocket in her shirt.

"You always carry that around?", Moldred raised an eyebrow.

"You think I would go into the wilderness unarmed?"

"Good point...Give it to me, I can get closer than you", he offered his paw, and she complied. "Iíll work on him and try to keep him distracted, you try to rescue your sister."

She nodded and sighed heavily, trying to calm herself as the blood pounded in her ears. They both waited patiently for a chance, and a moment to screw their courage. When the wolf stirred to stand, Moldred shot up, sprinting as fast as he could for ten feet, then again, disappeared.

The wolf spun around, hearing something running behind him, off balance, he dropped his cargo as he himself dropped to one knee, something slicing through his left Achillesí tendon. Roaring, he lashed out blindly behind him, the back of his paw smacking into, much to the wolfís surprise, the cat/dog thingís head, sprawling him to the ground. "Told...not...to...come...", the wolf dragged himself closer to Moldred, blood thickly trailing from the open wound, "All...would...be...fine. Princess would be...taken...Curse...be lifted. But no...you follow...Now I die...but Hel will try again." He now loomed over the awakening cub, pressing him into the dirt with a paw that covered his entire chest.

Moldredís eyes opened slowly and focused on the snarling, dripping muzzle that hung over him, he slowly turned his head towards a dragging sound off to his left and watched as Patricia carried off a still unconscious Catherina, "Youíre going to die for this", he turned his attention back to the wolf.

"The curse is...fatal. I will die...anyway."

"Good."

The wolf backhanded Moldred again, the tip of his claw taking a arcing slice out of the cubís nose; Moldred, in turn, screamed. "Quiet...It takes...much concentration to speak. The Princess is...in danger out of...King Phillipís paws. I was approached...by a...representative of Hel. Cursed...as you can see, and promised...it would be lifted...if the Princess Catherina was brought...to them...not far...from here. Fatal...though...as...insurance..."

Blood flowed down Moldredís muzzle, mixing with tears as it pooled under him, "Is there a reason youíre telling me this, or are you just striving to be a clichť?"

Fangs were bared and saliva splattered on Moldredís face, the wolf backpawed him again, growling, "Insolent. I am...trying to...warn you...To help you..."

Howls could be heard over the valleyís hills, seconds later, the glow of torches came over the rise, illuminating, at first, a large, almost coyote-sized fox, Vincent, followed closely by the rest of the Volpones. Both the wolf and Moldred turned their heads, Moldred focusing on Veronica as she ran down the hill, helping carry Catherina; the wolf focusing on the fox as it bounded down the hill, heading for him at top speed. They turned back to each other, Moldred and the wolf, staring into each otherís eyes; the wolf sighed, dipping his head, and eased his grip on the cub.

Vincent hit him like a ton of bricks.

Moldred did not look back, from the tearing and screaming sounds he did not think he wanted to. He limped his way towards the Volpones, wiping drying blood from his muzzle; his mind became occupied on the breeze, the grass, the darkness around him, anything simple as he stumbled forward. As he looked up, the torch light became a starburst as his vision clouded over, he fell once, picked himself up, and continued walking. Two shadows, one taller than himself, the other the same, seeming to glide towards him in slow motion, picked him up, and carried him over to the torches. He heard voices around him, but, slipping in and out of consciousness, they only registered as empty sounds. His vision cleared a little as he was brought into the light, he had to wince at the sudden brightness, but some of the haze disappeared; as he lay on his back, two faces hovered over him, one older, one younger, but essentially the same. Maybe it was the blood loss, or the shock, or the fear, but at that moment he felt safer than he ever had before, and, at the same time, felt death was a very real possibility. He felt the older one kiss his cheek and say something he couldnít understand, the younger one wiped his neck; he tried to smile, but could not tell if did, he must of, because the two smiled back. He thought he said something, but was not quite sure what, blinked twice, and blacked out.

Somewhere in Hel

Perfume and smoke permeated a cavern in the outskirts of Hel, inflating the nostrils of and awakening something black and reptilian. Pleasant scents; however, soon gave way to musk, and mixtures of dampness, rotting, metal, and animal guano; the shapely ferret that emerged from beyond the cloud never seemed to notice, strutting her way slowly into the only shaft of light, moonlight, emanating from the cavern ceiling. She knelt respectively, the black half of her cut, two-tone dress sliding over her knee, the white half folding in front of her, saving her modesty. A large black mass stirred in the shadows, uncurling, stretching, claws digging into rock; a reptilian head, sagging scales, clouded eyes, extended from the main body, still unknown in shadows, as itís neck lengthened towards the light. "A pleasure to breathe you in, Fyry Fyang...", a guttural whisper passed the lips of the dragon, flexing itís nostrils again, the head coming to rest on the cavern floor mere feet from the ferret. A yellow, clouded eye, the size of her fist, focused and dilated from a head that was her height and three times her width, "And to see, you are more striking upon every visit..."

"You are nearly blind, lord.", Fyry continued to kneel, unmoving

The dragon grunted in the back of itís throat, a noise akin to laughter. Fading out soon after, it closed itís eyes, maybe for a second longer than for Fyryís tastes, she shifted her weight, preparing to stand, "Lord...?"

The eye opened slowly, noctating membrane gliding back, and once again dilated and focused on the concerned, now standing ferret. "Is everything all right, lord?

"Yes.", the dragon answered tiredly, "Only...drifting."

Fyry stood motionless, her arms crossed at her stomach.

"Sit...please. Unless you take me for a lecherous, dirty old male, trying to have an eye up your dress.", the grunting/laughing returned.

Looking down, her cheeks burned in an embarrassment of when a better points out a personal flaw, "No...", and in one graceful motion, she dropped to her knees, and leaning back, rested on her legs.

"To business then?"

"Yes, lord", Fyry sat by patiently.

"Yes...well... so the test went as expected?"

"Yes, lord."

"We now know the potential and value of both the mice royalty and this young... thylacine, was it?"

"Yes, lord."           

"Then, I suggest you make him an opening in your school, but", more grunting/laughing, "I suppose there already is one. Far...far ,this thylacine may go...and...useful, perhaps..."

"Yes, l-"

The dragon quickly interrupted, doing itís best to put on a smirk, "If you say, ĎYes, lordí, one more time...well...as John Wayne said, ĎDonít make me come over there and do something Iíll regret, maíam.í"

Confused, Fyry raised an eyebrow, "It will be done...but...John...Wayne, lord?"

The dragon blinked, raising itís head, "I am tired...please...leave me", shrinking back into the shadows, it paused, muzzle half in, half out of visible light, "There are other worlds than this, Fyry Fyang, remember that...more...oh, much more...so many...", the dragon melted back with the stone structures, muttering still, "More...more...millions...grains of sand...drops of the ocean..."

Fyry had already left, her trail of smoke dancing, curling in the circular shaft of light.

 

The next day

The sun was setting over the Crossroads Inn, the air in the fields stirred up a warm breeze as a shadow fell over a crouching Catherina, her back to the sky. She did not take notice until a gray blur fell from above, tackling her to the ground.

"Youíre "it", Patricia grinned, straddling her sisterís back.

Catherina spit out a muzzle full of dirt and grass, growling, as Patricia bounded off, giggling. Both ran around the inn and the field watched by Vivica and a bandaged Moldred, leaning on the trunk of one of the closer trees.

"Shame theyíre leaving soon...I was just getting used to having fun", Vivica smirked, punching Modred playfully in the arm.

"Iím fun...Iím loads of fun", Moldred smirked back, rubbing his arm. His muzzle had been bandaged from around his nose to about halfway to his face; almost every hour he checked under his dressing and traced a finger along the crescent, pink scar tissue that was forming on the left side of his muzzle, just above his nose. Every exploration brought out a new grudgingly excepting sigh and the thought that there could of been a better way.

"No, youíre not.", she punched his arm again, grinning.

"Yes, I-"

"No."

"Ye-"

"No."

An excited, delighted laugh drew their attention over to the inn, Patricia was being happily chased by both Catherina and Vincent Jr., who, themselves, did not look so happy. "Yeah, I really am going to miss them..."

Just as the three rounded the corner, Vincent stepped out from the front door, adjusted his belt, and turned his head just in time to see two gray and one red blur shoot under his legs, knocking him back against the stairs. After shooting a string of obscenities to the heavens, he picked himself up, mumbling, "Blastíd whelps...too míny damn chillíin Ďround Ďere...See Ďow thíy like it whín thíy Ďave kids, runniní Ďround, payiní no mind..." His ears perked and rotated towards the direction where childish laughter was gaining on his position again, he stepped back just in time to avoid the two gray blurs but scooped his paw down and caught Vincent Jr. by the nape, bringing him eye to eye. Vincent narrowed his eyes and through clenched teeth, "Ah tink itís time we Ďere off, Ďn yoí got insíde..."

Vincent Jr. nodded his head rapidly, eyes widening.

Vincent dropped the kid to his feet, inhaled deeply, and shouted in no certain direction, "Vive! Moldred!" The two appeared in front of him in no time, a small dust cloud trailing; Patricia and Catherina had managed to gathered behind them. "Yer Ďighnesses, if yer Ďeady...Ah Ďave yer dresses packíd...Vive, yer cominí too."

"Whaí Ďbout us?", Vincent Jr. timidly rubbed the back of his neck.

"Say yer good-byes Ďn then yoí Ďn Moldred get ya frigginí butts back ta da inn, Verony's got dinner set oít Ďn it's gonna freeze." With that, he walked off, leaving the cubs to gather in a crude circle, all unsure what exactly to say.

"Well...", Catherina started, curtsying, "On behalf of the Midgardon royalty, I would like to offer our gradituuuuu...", plop.

Patricia tipped her sister over, and in her place, offered her paw, "Itís been a blast, thanks for everything."

Moldred smirked and took her paw, shaking it lightly, "The pleasure was ours...mostly."

Catherina popped up, leaves falling from her hair, her tiny paws clenched into fists, "You pushed me!"

"Oh, really? Didnít notice.", Patricia looked at her sister from the corner of her eye, still smirking and shaking Moldredís paw.

"Oh, Iím going to miss you two!", Vivica wrapped her arms tightly around the princesses, hugging them as the two clawed at her arms.

"Canít...breath...."

"Youíre...coming...with...us..."

"Oh, right...", Vivica smiled shyly, dropping the sisters, "Sorry about that."

"Um...no problem"í, they said together, dusting themselves off, Catherina said her good-byes to Moldred, while Patricia shook paws with Vincent Jr..

"I have to say, you made this a little more interesting."

"Ma pleasíre", he smiling slyly, moving in.

Patricia gripped his paw, bringing him his knees, "Remember what I said..."

He nodded weakly in agreement and she let him up, hugging him as he stood in unmoving surprise. She then backed off and smiled slyly herself as Catherina said goodbye to him...he just stood there, nodding blankly.

Moldred looked on, just standing by himself and smirking, unsure of what to say to everyone especially Vivica; she, however, fixed that, coming from behind and tugging him gently away by the paw from the group. "I guess this is goodbye...for now..."

Moldred cast his head down, his foot brushing against the tops of the grass, "Iím going to miss you..."

She blinked and swallowed, "What?"

"Iím going to miss you.", he brought his head up to look her in the eye, speaking louder.

"Iíll only be gone a few months....besides, Iíve already taken this trip once."

"B-but things are different now", he stammered, lowering his voice, "after...you know...and realizations hit me...more than I can tell you right now...Iím not even sure if I understand them enough to explain. What you said, that feeling, I feel it too...I donít want to lose you either."

"Oh...Moldred...", she leaned forward, her arms wrapping around his back, hugging him; he tentatively did the same, sighing contentedly as her head rested on his shoulder.

Then, from around the corner came, "Yer Ďighnesses...Vive, eveíy tíings packed, itís Ďbout time ta leave."

Moldred and Vivica looked up and blushed under their fur, smirking nervously. As they rejoined the group, everyone sighed with a sense of finality, and smiled politely to each other as Catherina, Patricia, and Vivica turned and walked off. Unseen to everyone but one, Vivica turned her head back to Moldred before rounding the corner, and said more with her eyes than words ever could; with that, she was gone. Vincent Jr. and Moldred stood alone, each staring blankly straight ahead.

"Boys, dinnerís set when you want to come in," Veronica stood in the doorway, smiling warmly.

They looked at each other briefly and made their way up the steps, Vincent Jr. grinning and elbowing Moldred in the side, "Yoí see dat? Patty canít live widout me!"

Moldredís paw pinched the bridge of his muzzle, feigning a headache, shutting his eyes, "While here, I have to..."

Veronica looked on at the two squabbling, a smile crossed her muzzle secretly, "Get in, you two; with everyone gone Iím going to need your help with chores tomorrow. Now eat, eat, thereís plenty....and, boys?", they looked up as they stood in the doorway beside her, "I love you."

 

chapter 3


(old content)

 

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