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Update 4.3.5

Hello all, update 4.3.5 is around the corner. With it are coming some bug fixes, minor edits, and some other various and sundry items. Currently in beta, but expected release in about a week or two.
Core - Search & Activity Streams:
Improved searching for phrases (when the search term is wrapped in quotes) when using Elasticsearch. Fixed creating activity streams on front-end. Fixed duplicate topics showing in some streams if using Elasticsearch and posts/comments have been split. Fixed error being logged when accessing an invalid page number of paginated results when using Elasticsearch. Fixed a typo in the Elasticsearch "Analyzer" setting description. Core - Social Promotion / Our Picks:
Fixed reputation information sometimes missing from replies to status updates and from topics on the "Our Picks" page. Fixed missing CSS if "Our Picks" is the community's home page causing missing images. Fixed promotion occurring at wrong time if scheduled to occur at midnight † Core - Posting:
Fixed edit being lost if the edit triggers the URL or word filter. Fixed issue where attachments may be rejected if URL filter is set to reject all URLs. Core - UI:
Fixed height of blocks in some grids. Fixed missing Tumblr icon in email footer. Fixed W3C validation error. Core - Clubs:
Fixed possible error when editing a club. Fixed price not showing correctly for paid clubs which do not have a renewal term. Core - Misc:
Updated CKEditor to 4.10. Fixed URL input fields not handling the value correctly if a "?" is immediately after the domain without any path. Fixed disabled reaction types showing in the reputation summary on user's profiles. Fixed it being possible to add a member back into a personal conversation after they've left by accessing the URL directly. Changed the "next" link which shows on mobile on the last page of a paginated table which, although disabled, points to a page that doesn't exist which was reported to trigger an error on some SEO diagnostics tools. Changed the online user list cutoff when using Redis to be consistent with when not using Redis (30 minutes). Forums:
Changed the permission check when viewing all topics created by a member to if the viewing user can see the forum they are in, rather than if they can view the topic† Commerce - Subscriptions
Fixed reactivating a previously expired subscription not moving the member back into the correct group. Fixed transferring a subscription from one member to another. Fixed duplicate subscriptions being created if member generates multiple orders for Subscriptions before paying and then pays more than once. Fixed broken record showing in the list of subscriptions if a member with a subscription is deleted. Fixed handling of subscriptions when merging two members. Commerce - Support
Fixed incoming emails not being received if the email was CC'd to the support system rather than sent directly. Fixed merging two accounts not reassigning ratings/feedback on support request replies. Commerce - Misc
Fixed entering a coupon a code may redirect user back to the first step of the checkout process. Fixed error caused by history logs for an alternate contact which has been deleted. Pages
Fixed error on "create item" page if the database is on the community's home page. Fixed attachments to editor fields in databases not being saved correctly. Gallery
Fixed error when editing a video in Gallery which does not have a thumbnail uploaded. Fixed URLs for video thumbnails in the XML sitemap. Increased maximum size of image descriptions to prevent value being cut off. Marketplace
Fixed possible duplicate notifications for Marketplace files. Literature
Fixed error viewing the literature comments a member has made from their profile. Fixed possible duplicate notifications for Story entries. Removed name of story from the header of each entry when viewing a specific story. Calendar
Fixed issue where recurring events may show in wrong timezone. Fixed error when editing an event to remove the end time.

AnthroDynamics, GDPR, and You

What is GDPR? How does it affect AD?
GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation. It is an EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. It also addresses the export of that personal data outside of the EU. However, there are certain points that should be noted, and we'll discuss those. You have individual rights when it comes to your account and data, the two primary of these being the Right to be Informed and the Right to Erasure.
The Right to be Informed
Encompasses our obligation to provide "fair processing information", which you can find in our Privacy Policy. Emphases the need for transparency over how we use your personal data. The Right to Erasure
The broad principle here is the right to enable an individual to request the deletion or removal of personal data where there is no compelling reason for its continued processing. We will always inform you of any changes to our Privacy Policy, either by email, social media, forum post, or private message. Any changes to that policy will have a waiting period before they go into effect, which will be announced along with the changes. The key phrase in the right to erasure is "Where there is no compelling reason for it's continued processing". In other words, yes, we can delete and remove your account, unless there is a need for us to retain your details. For example, to comply with tax codes (from financial transactions). AnthroDynamics will use a system of account deletion that will leave most Text-based content, but remove the Gallery Images associated with that account if no transactions exist.
Lawful Bases for Processing
We feature a setting to not automatically opt-in to administrator emails, such as newsletters. You can always edit your Notifiication settings to be able to opt in or out of these administrator emails, as well as any and all other types of notifications. When we change our Privacy Policy or our Terms of Service, our system will automatically ask you to accept them again.
We store a small amount of data in cookies. These are used to authorize user accounts when you re-visit the community. Other cookies are used to provide a service at the user's request, such as changing the Theme.
Why go through all of this?
GDPR is all about being a good steward of the stored data of our users. Note that there is no requirement under the GDPR to delete or remove any information sent to the server by our users. While we do offer you the option to delete your account to comply with the Right to Erasure, it will be at our discretion if we remove all user-submitted content from that account, with the remainder being anonymized. The analogy with this is that it's similar to email: once someone sends you an email, you aren't obligated to delete that email. The same is true of user posted content. Ultimately though, we want our users to feel comfortable in using our services, knowing that their data is ultimately theirs.

Layout Changes

Just a quick one today, not really for new features but more for homepage layout and whatnot. We've removed the "Popular Contributors" block in favor of a block of latest journal entries. We've also swapped the Swiper Slider on our different themes to an actual application, so that the themes no longer update their sliders separately (More work for us ._.). So now there'll be consistency there (Also, now I won't chew myself out when I forget to add the "new" sliders onto the other themes...). A few other minor changes will be noted below as well.
Twitch.tv embeds are finally enabled! Still working on Picarto (Sorry, their API is kinda terrible). Some blocks on the home page were updated with a "Show More" button. (Ok ok, namely the Dev Blog and the new Journals block....sue me.) Two more themes are in the works, but uh....they're not quite ready to roll out yet. So there. Have that. Small update is small, but an update nonetheless. If you all have any questions, suggestions, or comments, you're always free to post them in the Q&A Forum. 

Removing Integrations

Hello again all. I want to touch briefly on a couple of concerns with some of the integrated features that we will be removing for various reasons. We have disabled and/or removed these features in order to protect you, our users, and our community.
1. Facebook Login
With the recent news of the possibly illegal usage of User Data by Cambridge Analytica, we have some changes regarding Facebook integration with AnthroDynamics. We have permanently removed the ability to create an account using your Facebook credentials. Furthermore, we have also disabled logging in to accounts using Facebook as an authentication method. Users who have previously created an account with Facebook will continue to be able to use their AnthroDynamics account. All that requires is the account's display name and the password you set when first logging in. If you need help, you can use the Contact Us link at the bottom of every page, or the Reset Password functionality on the login screen. Please note that the sharing links for content will still work.
2. Google Maps
In an effort to remove all tracking software and integrations from AD, once 4.3 launches we will be swapping out Google Maps with MapBox. Because maps are used in Calendar events (for instance, when adding a venue), this is one of the central features that we feel needed changing. We will make this move as soon as it is feasible to do so.
I hope this clears up our stance, and shows our commitment to protecting our community and its users' data.
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    • By Kindar in Missing Son 0
      The Missing Son 45
            Because food was being served throughout the afternoon Patrick was taken by surprise when one of his fathers called out.
            "Okay, birthday guys! Stop what you're doing and come to the table!"
            The others seemed to know what was coming and in short order the eight of them were seated at the table. A moment after that the patio door opened and his other dad with five of other guys carried out a cake.
            Patrick's jaw dropped at the size. It barely fit in the door and had to be eight feet long. They slid it on the table and by their expressions, his brothers hadn't been expecting that either. There was only one feet of clear space at each end of the table and not even enough elbow room.
            Before each of them, on the cake, was a cluster of nineteen candles above a picture. In front of Patrick was a car. He looked over to Alex, he had beakers, and past him, Anakin had a can of orange soda.
            Laughing the brothers changed places until everyone was in front of his picture
            "Isn't this a little excessive?" Patrick asked and he sat back down.
            Arthur, now seated next to him chuckled. "You might have forgotten how many people there are at this party."
            Patrick looked around. He was right. He'd been interacting with people in small groups and lost track of the overall party.
            "Alright," our father said. "blow out your candles."
            "Maybe Patrick should tell us what his wish is first."
            "No!" He replied, probably too loud. He couldn't keep his ears from heating up.
            "Come on, uncle Damian," Alex said. "You know very well we can't say what it is. It won't come true if we do."
            Patrick tried not to smile. He didn't have to make a wish. It had already come true. Not only had he had sex with his father, but he was okay with it. He didn't feel weirded out, he didn't regret it, Hell (sorry) he wanted to do it again, not just with him, but with his whole family.
            He couldn't quite contain his smile, he was truly an Orr. He blew out his candles. His brothers did the same and everyone cheered.
            Each brother was handed a knife and spatula and they cut in the cake, handing pieces to those around them. Patrick laughed when his part turned out to be orange, and after a taste, was orange flavored.
            Once everyone had a piece there was only half the cake left, or so Patrick estimated, Chunks were missing all over the place. He'd eaten his piece, and cut himself one from Aaron's section, which was maple flavored.
            He sat down and Damian sat next to him. Patrick thought about moving away, but he wasn't going to let his uncle intimidate him.
            "Not having cake?" Patrick asked, instead of letting his uncle take control of the conversation.
            "I'm not hungry."
            The silence returned.
            Patrick was chewing when Damian said. "How was the sex?"
            Patrick chocked on the cake and glared at the adult. It hadn't been loud, but still.
            "What kind of fucking question is that?" He kept his voice low and looked around. No one was paying them any attention.
            "A rather simple one."
            "Yeah? Well, if I'd done anything, I wouldn't be telling you."
            Damian smiled. "No 'if' about it. I may not be able to tell them apart, but I did notice that for over an hour there was only one of them around at a time, and that you were not. They are my brothers, I know how they think."
            "I went with Adam to pick up sodas."
            "I'm not your mother, Patrick. Please don't act as if I was as... bright as her."
            Patrick glared at him again. "Don't insult my mom."
            "I didn't."
            "Bullshit. I heard that hesitation."
            "I apologize. The point remains that you didn't go with him. For one thing, he left half an hour after you disappeared. Arthur came back less than ten and as soon as he was done talking to my brothers, one of them disappeared."
            Patrick stared at his uncle. "Why the fuck do you care?" How had he caught all of that? Had he known what would happen?
            "I care because you are family."
            Patrick sighed. And what the fuck did that mean? He checked to make sure no one was within earshot and leaned in.
            "Fine, you want to know? it was great."
            "And do you wish for it to happen again?"
            "Yes, I do. Are you happy?"
            Damian smiled. "Very much so."
            Patrick eyed his uncle. "Yeah? don't get any idea. It's going to take a long time before I let you have sex with me."
            Damian stood. "Oh, I don't know about that. It may very well happen sooner than you think. Much sooner." Then he left to talk with a group of women.
            Great, what did that mean? Patrick wondered. He put him out of his mind by finishing his piece of cake and then having another one, banana this time.
            Then he was pulled into a conversation with Albert and some of his friends about paintings. Patrick didn't think he had anything to contribute, until he realized they were discussing painting him.
            * * * * *
            The cake had been decimated. there weren't even crumbs left on the board it had been on. Patrick looked at it in amazement. He wouldn't have believed even this large group would have finished it. And the grill was still going, although now it was a zebra and a deer manning it. His fathers were talking with their friends, as was his mother.
            He'd kept an eye out for her throughout the day, in case she found herself alone. She'd been worried she wouldn't fit in, but each time he'd seen her she was talking with a group of adults and looking like she was enjoying herself. He didn't know what they were talking about, but by their laughter and pointing at the younger people he expected they were sharing stories about their children.
            "Hey Alex," Patrick called to his brother. He was the only one not currently in deep conversation, piling condiments on his sausage roll. "If anyone needs me, I'll be back in a bit. I'm going to go rinse the chlorine out of my fur and get dressed."
            "Are you leaving?"
            "Probably, it's past six and we have to bus to the rail and then home. My mom's working in the morning."
            "I'm sure someone will be happy to give you a ride."
            "Okay, but I'm done swimming, so I want to get out of those trunks."
            Alex looked him over, then licked his lips. "Yeah, I'd like to get you out of those trunks too."
            Patrick was only shocked for a moment, then he laughed. "I think this might be too public, even for you."
            "Yeah, it is."
            "Don't worry, you'll get your chance."
            Alex nodded knowingly and smiled.
            Patrick was left wondering what that was about as he headed for Adam's room. He locked the door and headed for the shower, peeling off his trunks on the way there.
            He had his hand on the shower knob when the door to the bedroom opened. He turned in time to see his father rush in the bathroom.
            "I know I locked the door," Patrick stated.
            Instead of saying anything his father took Patrick's head in his hands and kissed him. Patrick didn't resist as the lips pressed against his, then the tongue pushed its way in his mouth.  His father was hungry for it and their hands roamed on their backs, holding each other tightly.
            When they finally separated his father looked him in the eyes, caressing his face. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have unlocked the door and barged in. We have rules about privacy, but I really needed to do this."
            Patrick smiled. "Well, was it worth it, Daniel?"
            Daniel took a step back. "How did you know it was me?"
            Patrick's smile broke into chuckling. "Donald already did this with me. I doubt he'd be as desperate as you were."
            His father blushed then kissed him again. When he was done he dropped to his knees and swallowed Patrick's cock.
            "Holy fuck," Patrick gasped and panted as he became hard. He looked down at his father bobbing up and down his cock. Donald's blowjob had been good. This one was masterful. "Oh fuck, Dad."
            The lips tight against his shaft as they moved up and down, the tongue forcing his cock up to rub against the palate. It was so fucking much. He grabbed his father's head and fucked it.
            His father looked up at him with love. fingers dug in his ass. Patrick couldn't believe how hot this was, his father loved being face fucked by him. Patrick groaned. Fuck, he wanted to slow down, this had to last longer, but he also wanted it to be more intense and go faster.
            Before he made his decision, he felt the lightning surge. He tried to hold it back, He wanted this feeling to go on forever. He started to roar, buried his cock in his father's muzzle, and the world exploded inside him.
            When he came back his throat was raw and he moaned as his father was still sucking on him. Patrick panted. He looked down and realized his hands on his father's head were the only thing holding him up. He leaned back against the shower door and his father stood.
            Daniel smiled then pressed his lips against Patrick's. He was gentle, tentative. It was almost as if Daniel wasn't certain Patrick wanted to kiss.
            Not sure why his father hesitated Patrick parted his lips and ran his tongue against his father's. The lips opened slightly and an odd taste trickled through. It was acrid, bitter and a little salt. Cum, he realized, and understand why his father wasn't shoving his tongue down his throat.
            Patrick thought about it for a moment, He'd tasted his cum a time or two, out of curiosity, like most guys did, he expected, but this was different. He wanted it, not because he wanted to drink his cum, but because his father was the one offering to share it with him. He realized there was little he wouldn't do if his father asked.
            He pried the lips apart with his tongue and they kissed deeply. The cum flavored the kiss, made it more primal, something that came from deep within them. When they broke apart Patrick felt like he'd run a marathon, and it not just from the orgasm. Was kissing his father always going to be this good? Or was this special, because it was their first time.
            Patrick tried to articulate how he felt, but all he managed to say was. "Wow."
            His father chuckled, licking his lips.
            Patrick happened to look down and noticed the frond of Daniel's speedo was soaked. "Did you cum?"
            "Twice. When you blew your load in my mouth, and then when we kissed."
            "When we kissed?" Patrick couldn't believe it, well, okay, it had been a mind-blowing kiss.
            "Yeah, that's a first for me."
            Patrick grinned. "Want to see if it'll happen again?"
            For a reply his father took hold of his face and kissed him. It was a passionate kiss and Patrick responded with vigor. with hunger, but when they broke apart, although they were panting, it hadn't been the same.
            "Maybe we need more practice?" His father offered.
            Patrick laughed. "Maybe on the next visit."
            Daniel nodded. "Speaking of your next visit. Did anyone tell you about the party?"
            Patrick turned the shower on. "Isn't this the party?"
            "This is the social party, the family friendly one."
            Patrick looked over his shoulder. "So this wasn't for me and my mom's benefit?"
            Daniel looked down Patrick's back. "No, they've always been like this, well, the language might have been cleaner this time. The kids like to party with their friends, and it give me and Donald a chance to hang out with people our age that we aren't currently fucking, well mostly."
            "I thought all the adult here were married."
            "They are, but not all of them have monogamous marriage."
            "Or are happy in it," Patrick added, remembering Adam.
            "Yeah. Well, the tradition is that we also have a private party, just family members. Normally it would be tonight, once all the guests leave, but since you're going home with your mother, we were thinking of doing it next Saturday."
            "You don't have to." Patrick ran the hand under the jet and happy with the temperature stepped under it.
            "We want to." Daniel joined Patrick under the water. "You're part of this family. We'd like you to be part of that party, unless you don't think you'd be comfortable with a family orgy." He lathered his son's back.
            Patrick closed his eyes, enjoying the hands massaging the soap in his fur. "I... don't know. I...." Didn't he? hadn't he wondered what it would be like to have sex with Adam while they were talking? Didn't he want to have sex with both his fathers? at the same time?
            His father moved him under the water and rinsed the lather out of Patrick's fur. After that his father pressed himself against his back and held him. "You don't have to. I don't want you to feel pressured."
            "I want to dad. Fuck I want to. I'm an Orr. I want to know what that means. I want to experience what it means." He gasped as he felt a hand stroke his cock, making him hard again.
            "You have such a beautiful cock, son. I want you to fuck me with it."
            His father moved away and Patrick turned around. His father had his hands against the wall. His tail was in this air, making the offer of his ass clear.
            Patrick swallowed. "Dad, I've never...."
            Daniel looked at him over his shoulder. "It's fine son. Your cock's already slick. All you have to do is push it in and then enjoy yourself."
            Patrick settled behind him and places his hands on his father's ass. It was firm, solid, the ass of someone who worked it out a lot. Patrick smiled, did his father use a machine for that? Or did it come from having a lot of guys fuck him?
            He rubbed his cock in the crack, moving it until the head was against his father's hole. He slowly pushed it in.
            "Oh. Fuck." Patrick couldn't believe how hot it was in there.
            His father moaned. "More."
            Patrick pushed in slowly. He panted. Fuck that felt good. He tried to remember what his father had done when he'd been fucking him, had he thrust all in in one go? some back and forth? but nothing came to him. but his father's moaning seemed to indicate he was doing well.
            Once all in, he leaned over Daniel for a moment, wrapping his arms around him. It felt good to hold his father this way, to be in him. This man had given him life, and now Patrick got to return the favor, symbolically.
            He pulled out slowly, then pushed in with a sigh. His father echoed him. Patrick kissed the back of his neck. he wanted to stretch this out for hours, but he had no idea how to keep the lightning from building until it exploded. He also couldn't be absent too long; his mother would start asking questions.
            he picked up speed and then reached lower to stroke his father's cock. It was already slick and getting wetter as he stroked it.
            "Fuck Patrick, you feel so good inside me. Fuck me son. Fuck me hard."
            Patrick's mind tingled at his father acknowledging that his son was fucking him. He sped up, and realized that he couldn't both stroke his father and fuck him hard from this position.
            He let go of the cock, promising himself he'd finish him afterward and readjusted his footing. He gripped his father's sides firmly and fucked him just as he'd been told. Hard and fast.
            Daniel's moans turned into curses so vulgar Patrick didn't think he could ever utter them. Fast and hard he fucked. In and out of his father's ass.
            The lightning built and he tried to hold it back. Just a little longer he asked, just a little more, but the lightning didn't listen. It exploded, the world became white. He felt his father shudder under him, then nothing but pure bliss.
            When he came back, he was slouched over his father's back, who was holding one of his arms to prevent Patrick from falling off.
            "You okay back there?"
            Patrick got the impression it wasn't the first time his father asked him that. He got his feet back under him.
            "Did you pass out?" Daniel asked.
            "I don't think so, but the orgasm was so intense I did blackout for a bit. How long was I out?" Straightening up his cock pulled out. Patrick was sorry about that, it had felt so good in there.
            "Ten seconds I'd say." Daniel straightened too, his back popping in the process.
            "Thanks for catching me dad." He looked at his father's back, that tail swaying languidly. He was going to be in him again, he had no doubt of that.
            His father turned. "I'll never let you fall, you know that, right?"
            Patrick nodded and smiled.
            "But I guess we might have overdone it for your first times, if you're blacking out."
            Patrick shrugged. "I don't know. I think it happened with every orgasm. I know it happened when you sucked me off, I was just lucky my arms locked on your head, it kept me up. Is something like that normal?"
            "I don't know. It doesn't happen to me, Donald, or any of the kids, as far as I know. Could be it's because you're starting late. We all started having sex pretty young, so we've gotten used to it? We'll have to see if it still happens the next time.
            "And try to avoid being in a precarious position," Patrick chuckled. "Speaking of next time. Does anyone else know about your plan for next Saturday?"
            "Sure, the whole family. why?"
            Patrick nodded. "It explains some of the looks I've been getting when talking about sex."
            "You talked about sex?" His father seemed impressed.
            "The subject came up a time or two." Patrick put a hand under the water. "Fuck, I can't believe there's any hot water left."
            His father pushed him under. "We have a perpetual heat system. can't run out."
            "Shit. If me and mom take consecutive showers, they have to be short or one of us gets cold water."
            Daniel lathered Patrick up again. "We spend enough time in the shower it was worth investing the extra money to make sure we wouldn't run out. It's really annoying when we have one of our family orgies in the shower to have to deal with the temperature changing."
            Patrick let his father's hands knead his back in silence for a moment, going over what his father said. "I can't believe you just said the whole family has sex together, and I don't feel like running away."
            His father wrapped his arms around him, lathering his front. "Welcome to the family son."
            Patrick smiled and leaned back against him. "Just washing this time, okay? I can't afford to spend too much time in here. mom's going to wonder where I am."
            "I promise." Daniel said, a moment before he reached down to lather Patrick's balls.
            Because he didn't linger there Patrick just smiled, then grew thoughtful. "Dad, I hope I'm not going to sound condescending, but don't you think you could be more careful with how you waste money? I know you're rich, but Arthur has a box of phone that's kept charged by the house. You probably spend hours having sex under the shower while hot water is running. I mean that stuff adds up."
            Daniel held him. "Because I know where you come from you don't, but we're not using as much power from the grid as you think. The roof is full solar, we have a top of the line water reclamation system. Our initial plan was to tap an underground spring, but this is California, there aren't any of those left. And before you point out air conditioning costs, you may have noticed how thick the walls are, both the outside and inside walls. It provides a lot of sound and temperature insulation."
            Patrick closed his eyes as he was pulled under the water and let it run over him. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize."
            "It's okay. You're right, we are rich, but we are aware of the impact a house like this one can have and we do what we can to minimize that." Daniel chuckled. "If we hadn't done it of our own volition, Damian would have forced us to do it."
            "Really? He cares about the environment?"
            "Very much."
            "But he owns a bunch of companies."
            "He does, and a good number of them are linked to all sort of renewable energy companies and research. He also spends a lot of money pushing for better environmental protection laws."
            Patrick was amazed to learn about that side to his uncle. Then he remembered the summer's heat wave and January's cold snap. "It isn't working all that well."
            "You have to remember the damage has been done over a long time. It'll take a while to get everything back to the way things were before. Who knows, once he runs the world it might go faster.
            Patrick looked over his shoulder at his dad, then had to blink when soapy water got in his eyes. "He's trying to take over the world?"
            Daniel laughed. "I'm kidding. If I remember, his exact words were: 'I don't want to waste my time running this damned place. I want to be in a position where I can kick those fucking politicians in the balls and have them say thank you, instead of sending the cops after me.'"
            "Wow, that's harsh."
            "You might not have noticed yet, but my brother is very big on efficiency. So, the government system isn't something he likes all that much.
            "Why is he so keen on saving the environment?"
            His father made sure the soap was all out of Patrick's fur, in silence. When he was done, he said. "Do you mind if we tackle that another time? Answering your question is going to lead to a lot of other things we don't have time to cover if you don't want your mother to realize you're gone."
            "Alright." Patrick quickly and chastely washed his father.
            Once dressed, Patrick in his clothes, and his father in his speedo. He grabbed his bag and went outside, his father staying behind to avoid attracting attention.
            The day was making Patrick realize that he had to make a decision about his mother. No, not a decision, he'd already made that. Now he had to tell her. He couldn't keep that he was gay from her.
            But tonight wasn't the right time.
            He found her among the parents, they had all gathered in a corner of the backyard, and she was telling them about the time he beat up the neighborhood bully because he was pushing around one of the young girls. Patrick had been ten, the bully fifteen. By the time it was over the bully had to go to the hospital, Patrick only had a few bruises. The police had been called, but after an explanation, and multiple witnesses, Patrick was let go with a warning not to pick fights."
            "Hey mom," he said, kneeling next to her.
            "Hi hun, why are you dressed?"
            "It's eight. We should go, you're working in the morning."
            "Already?" She pulled out her phone. "So, it is. Where did the time go?" She stood and said her goodbyes to the people around her.
            "If you want to stay longer," Damian said. "I can give both of you a ride."
            Patrick glared at his uncle from behind his mother and shook his head vehemently. He didn't know what his uncle was planning, but he didn't want them to be part of it.
            "That's very kind of you, Mister Orr, but This is only going to be my second time taking the rail, I want to enjoy it." She took her bag and sniffed Patrick. "You showered?"
            "Yes, to get the chlorine out of my fur."
            "That's good thinking."
            "It was good meeting you," Damian said, taking her hand and kissing it. He offered his hand to Patrick. "It was good finally meeting you too. The kids have told me a lot about you."
            Patrick hesitated a moment, trying to figure out why Damian was being so damn civil. He finally shook it. "It was good meeting you too."
            Then everyone was over to wish both a good night. Patrick shook hands, was hugged, and discreetly groped, and not just by his brothers. He was happy his mother was busy with her own goodbyes, otherwise she would have noticed his ears steaming.
    • By Rod_3rich in World of Asteron 0
      Union City North Station was practically bustling with activity. Hundreds of passengers from across the country arrived and departed the capital virtually every day of the week. The hustle and bustle of the train station was quite the sight for Caden Fallworth, as he had never seen so many people in a single space before. It was almost overwhelming, in fact.
      The satyr whistled as he walked down the wide marble staircase to the main level of the concourse, weaving past fellow satyrs, humans, fey kind, beastfolk, while being careful not to step on any tails or running into halflings. His attention however, was directed to the design of the train station itself
      Being an architect, Caden was impressed at how well they managed to blend dwarven and elven elements into the grand building. It was the perfect harmony of Dwarven unrepentant and stark geometric style, with Elven elegance and sense of light and airness, which was achieved through the extensive use of stained glass windows which allowed as much as natural lighting into the hall.
      With one hand on the handle of his suitcase and the other holding the strap of his messenger bag, the satyr shook his head out of his musings and focused to his destination in mind. Caden made a beeline towards the ticketing machines which were installed in a recess next to the ticketing booths. A couple of imposing orcs in security uniforms stood guard around it.
      Smiling to himself, satyr took averted his gaze away from the muscular security guards, falling in line behind a silver scaled draconian who was talking on his phone. Apparently, it was something about an upcoming parent-teacher meeting so Caden didn’t bother to listen, even if it was somewhat hard, considering the draconian’s loud voice.
      It took sometime, but Caden didn’t have to wait for long. The queue was moving pretty quickly and before Caden knew it, he was next in line. When prompted, the satyr immediately tapped his choice of railway company, Capitol-Rail, and selected the Union City to San Asterio route. There was only one option provided: the Zephyrliner overnight train, which will take him on a two and a half day's journey across the country.
      A commercial airplane would had made the journey in three to four hours. However, he had an appointment to take the train with a client, and a couple hundred bucks for a cozy room with comfortable bed with meals provided on-board compared to being crammed in a small seat appealed to him.
      Picking the departure time that had been agreed upon previously, Caden was then prompted to pick the three accommodation types provided: Couchette, Roomette, and Sleeper. The Couchette might be cheaper, but the satyr had no intention with sharing a room with three other strangers inside a tiny compartment, so he went and pressed on the Roomette option, being the more comfortable choice. Sleeper would have much more space, but they were pricier, and Caden didn’t feel like splurging too much today.
      A beep indicated that his ticket was confirmed and the machine asked if he had any baggage he’d like to check in. Since he only brought a small suitcase and his work bag with him, the satyr picked “No” and he fished out his debit card to make the payment.
      The machine gave another beep as his transaction was approved and confirmed, displaying the details of his ticket along with a few lines informing the maximum weight of carry-on baggage. There was also the standard safety warnings and disclaimer, things like smoking within the train and using advanced level magic is forbidden, the train company is not liable for damage of baggage, loss of life, yadda yadda yadda… Caden’s eyes went past all of that and pressed the “ACCEPT” button. He picked the boarding pass once it was printed out as the words, “Thank you for choosing Capitol-Rail,” appeared on the screen.
      With everything set, the satyr moved away from the ticketing area and made a beeline towards the waiting room, while he looked around the concourse to see if he could spot the other person that would be travelling with him today. He turned as he thought he saw a sliver of dark green making its way down from the entrance foyer.
      His phone rang before Caden could have a better look. Fishing out his phone, the satyr took a glance at the screen, slid the answer button, and held it to his ear. “Afternoon Mr. Durinson.”
      “Afternoon, Fallworth!” Mr. Durinson’s voice boomed. Caden winced slightly. Even on the phone, the dwarf could be really loud.
      “I take it the meeting went well?”
      Caden made an affirmative noise. “Better than expected, sir. There were only a few request for changes, small ones, but all in all, Nero Corporations has accepted our final draft for their Union City headquarters.”
      “Excellent! I knew you’d do it, and your hard work has paid off Mr. Fallworth,” the dwarf chuckled. “Well, I expect a full report when you get back on Monday.”
      “Of course, sir.”
      “What’s your plane’s schedule by the way?”
      “Ah,” Caden paused. “I’m actually not taking the plane, sir. I’m going back on the Capitol-Rail Zephyrliner,” He replied.
      “The train? Why didn’t you fly instead?” came his boss’ confusion.
      “I’m travelling with the CEO, Mr. Lazar,” Caden replied as he searched for an empty spot in the large waiting room. “Turns out he’s also returning to San Asterio today too. He invited me to come with him as thanks for the project,” he said, lips quirking. “Said he’s not really a fan of flying, hence why he’s taking the train.”
      “Ah, I can see that,” Caden could practically hear Mr. Durinson nodding as he found an empty seat next to a group of college students, comprised of mostly daimonkin and humans. “Orcs aren’t generally fond of flying after all. When will your train leave?”
      “Four forty five, sir. I’ll be boarding pretty soon, I think.”
      “Alright. Enjoy your trip, Fallworth.”
      “Thank you boss. Enjoy your weekend,” Caden nodded with a grin, and closed the call. The satyr blinked when he noticed that he had a few notifications waiting to be read.
      The first few were text messages from his co-workers, asking if he could make it to the club tomorrow night, which he quickly declined due to his own schedule. The other text was from his roommate back in San Asterio.
      ‘Hey dude. How did the meeting go?’ it read.
      ‘Pretty well. The designs were approved, more or less,’ Caden typed in the reply. “How’s the renovation so far?’
      It was a while before he got a reply.
      ‘Almost finished with the new fireplace,’ came his roommate’s message. ‘Also, Hugo says hi!’
      The reply came with a picture of the apartment’s living room, with scaffoldings, buckets of paint, and one or two workers who were installing a new fireplace. The main focus of the picture wasn’t the mantlepiece that was being installed however. Rather, it was a close up of a tan, sturdily built man with messy black hair and scruffy beard, wearing a blue tank top that was stretched over his muscular, hairy chest. Standing next to him was another guy with platinum blonde hair, who was almost as muscular as the black haired man, but equally as hairy. Both of them were grinning at the camera, showing all of their sharp fang-like teeth.
      ‘Nice. How about the new heating system?’
      ‘It should be finished when you get home tonight.’
      Caden couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty when he typed his reply.
      ‘Sorry, change of plans. I’ll be taking the train with the CEO. He insisted. Will be home in two days or so.’
      ‘Ah, it’s alright. I have Hugo around, so no worries. Btw, Is the CEO that hot daddy orc you mentioned?’
      A snort escaped Caden’s lips as he sent, ‘Yeah, Mr. Lazar.’
      For a big, hunky werewolf, Randolf had an eye for every male that was at least a decade older, or bigger, or as equally as hairy as he was. Caden himself was not excluded from the werewolf’s eyes despite being several years younger. He had to admit, the big mutt was a really good fuck, especially in his wolf form. All big and furry with his thick meaty rod pumping deep into him—He shook the thoughts out of his head, trying to redirect his line of thought as he felt his pants tightening.
      Randolf had sent him another reply.
      ‘Think you could introduce me to him sometime? ;)’
      ‘Your boyfriend won’t mind?’ Caden typed in, already knowing the answer. Still, a confirmation won’t hurt.
      His roommate replied almost immediately. ‘Hugo said bring him along when you get home LOL’
      ‘Right, you’re both are horny mutts’
      Randolf replied with, ‘You know we are XD’
      Caden chuckled, and read the next message which his roommate had wrote.
      ‘Alright, have a fun trip, and stay safe Caden.’ Randolf wrote. ‘Oh, and tell me when you’ve boarded the train. And take pics! I want to see your sexy ass on the train!’
      The satyr’s eyebrow rose and a smirk appeared on his face.
      ‘Sure thing Randy,’ he replied back, before putting the phone back into his jacket pocket, and turned to look around to see any sign of the orc CEO.
      Caden idly scratched his horns, which he prided on their curvature and strength. He wondered if Mr. Lazar was caught up in the traffic as he failed to locate the orc once again.  Turning towards the information screen that hung on the nearby pillar, the satyr noted that a few Capitol-Rail trains, along with a number of other local trains were delayed. To his relief the Zephyrliner was listed as ‘On Time’. He just have to wait for fifteen minutes or more before he was allowed to board the train.
      His thoughts were pulled away as the melodic chime, signifying an announcement echoed through the waiting hall. It was announcement for the next train departure, but the satyr tuned out the overly pleasant voice when he realized that it wasn’t calling for his train. The daimonkin who was sitting beside him rose however, grabbing his large backpack and joined his group of college students and they quickly made their way out of the waiting room.
      That was when Caden saw one familiar looking orc making his way into the large hall. The satyr quickly rose and waved his hand to catch the orc’s attention. The orc waved back when he spotted Caden, and quickly made his way towards where the satyr was standing.
      “Mr. Fallworth,” the orc greeted with a pearly white, tusked and toothy smile.
      Caden smiled back and went to shook the orc’s hand. “Mr. Lazar.”
      Duroch Lazar was a middle aged orc by his kind’s standards, but he was still as tall and robust as an orc in their prime, standing around six foot five with dark teal skin that was rippling with hard, well earned muscles. Although, he was sporting a bit of paunch in his waistline. Five o’clock shadow framed his strong jawline, and his short, greying black hair was styled in the usual slicked back fashion.
      Lazar was also the CEO of Nero Inc, a major magitech development company that designed, developed and sold a variety of electronic devices, mainly computers, tablets, and smartphones. In fact, Caden’s own phone was one of the latest models released by Lazar’s company.
      Mr. Lazar was encased in a black business suit, with a matching gold striped tie and all. If Caden had to guess, the orc had came straight from his office.
      “Hope I haven’t kept you waiting long. Got caught by an unexpected traffic from the office,” the orc rumbled apologetically. “They are doing some road work along the 23rd Avenue.”
      “No, no, you haven’t,” Caden replied as both men sat down. “I heard about the roadwork in the radio. Something about upgrading the gas line.”
      “I’m glad my driver made it through the mess without any delays,” Lazar chuckled as he slipped off his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. He proceeded to stuff the tie into his suitcase. “I thought I was going to miss the train for sure.”
      “Uh-huh…” Caden was somewhat too distracted with the orc’s visible muscular chest line to form a coherent reply.
      “Did you get your ticket, Mr. Fallworth?”
      Blinking, the satyr pulled his gaze upwards. “Yeah, I did,” he replied, showing the orc his boarding pass.
      The orc hummed as he studied the card. “Seems like we won’t be sharing the same car however. I’m in car A-03.”
      Looking back to his ticket, Caden looked for his accommodation information, and found that he was designated to Car No. A-06, Roomette 019.
      “Ah, well, doesn’t mean we can’t visit each other,” Caden chuckled.
      “True enough,” Lazar rumbled with a grin. “And I see you’ve picked the roomette. It’s cozy but it might be a bit too compact for a satyr with your stature and size.”
      Caden was sure for a moment there, the orc was giving him a once-over and he appeared to approve what he saw.
      “Well, us Mountain Satyrs tend to be more robust than our cousins in the plains,” he chuckled.
      Lazar grinned. “Of course. Your kind have adapted to the harsh mountain terrain. It is only natural to have a nice bulk to your bodies.”
      Caden nodded along, returning the grin.
      It was right then when their boarding call went off.
      “Your attention please. Platform 17 for the 16.45 Capitol-Rail service to San Asterio, calling at Altair, Thanestown, Port Vornis, and San Asterio. This train is formed of twelve coaches. Passengers of Zephyrliner please proceed to Platform 17  for the 16.45 Capitol-Rail service to San Asterio.”
      “Well, that’s our call. Let’s go,” Lazar stood up and Caden followed suit.
      They joined a small crowd out of the waiting room and back to the concourse, making their way towards the hallway that will lead them to the platforms. It was a bit of a walk, and seeing that Platform 17 was located underground, they had to take a long ride of escalator to the basement level.
      The underground platforms were arranged inside a vast underground hall that somehow reminded Caden of those ancient dwarven vaults… and also of those high security dwarven banks. It was high ceilinged, somewhat dimly lit. The platforms were lined with thick concrete pillars that were encased with stone veneer and decorative archways, while the numerous train tracks spread between the platforms like a massive steel webbing.
      The Capitol-Rail Zephyrliner was already awaiting to be boarded. It was a huge train, consisting of tall, bilevel carriages that comprised of eight sleeping cars, one observation lounge car, and two restaurant cars. All of which was linked together with a baggage car and pulled by two equally massive locomotives. Its navy blue, gold, and silver paint scheme gleamed in the low light.
      Uniformed conductors stood on the doorway of each car, ready to assist the passengers. Here, the crowd broke off to their respective cars, and Lazar bid goodbye to Caden for the time being, promising to meet again in the observation lounge later in the afternoon.
      Waving goodbye to the orc, Caden made his way deeper through the platform, looking at the sleeping car numbered A-06. He found it near the end of the train, directly one car behind the second restaurant car. The conductor of the sleeping car, a Vargen with rich, neatly groomed auburn fur, smiled toothily and tipped his hat. His name tag spelled out: HASTINGS
      “Afternoon sir, may I see your ticket?”
      “Here,” the satyr nodded and handed the conductor his ticket.
      The tall, wolf-like conductor hummed. “Ah, roomette number 19. Enter from the back, go up and straight down the corridor. Your roomette should be the third one on your left,” he said, making gestures to the other doorway at the end of the long car with a gloved hand.
      “Thank you.”
      “Welcome aboard, sir,” Hastings tipped his hat once again, before turning to the next passenger who was waiting in line.
      The satyr climbed on board and gave a good look around. He noticed that the middle section of the car was sunken down with a small set of stairs connecting the lower deck to the mezzanine. There was also a set of winding staircase which provided access to the upper deck on both ends. The corridor and stairs were wide, even the largest Minos could walk through comfortably. The floor was carpeted, and the walls were lined with wood veneer to give it a panelled look, with brass inlays to add to the sophisticated illusion.
      Passing by the baggage racks, Caden went up the stairs and made his way through the upper deck, which wasn’t that different from the one on the lower level. True to Hastings’ word, Caden’s roomette was the third one on his left.
      It was a rather compact, but cozy space, Caden decided as he set his bag down on one of the two wide seats and rolled his small suitcase to the small space between the other seat and the wall, where a small half-body mirror had been set.
      His light hazel eyes looked back at him from the mirror. A pair of ivory horns curled from the back of his head, around his fuzzy, goat-like ears, enframing the top of his face and his sandy blonde hair that was arranged to a short quiff. His grey suit jacket had been unbuttoned, probably from the amount of walking and climbing from the station and into the train. Pulling the tie off his neck, Caden noted that there was a curious, aluminum handle-shaped indent by the side of the mirror.
      It took him a moment to realize that the mirror was mounted on a sliding door, which opened into a small, blue tiled washroom equipped with a compact flush toilet with a foldable wash basin, complete with a wall mounted mirror. It would seem that he would be sharing the washroom with the passenger next door seeing that there’s a second door directly opposite his door.
      Turning back to his roomette, Caden almost bumped to the second bed which was folded directly above to the ceiling as he went to sit down. He carefully ducked his head as he sat down on the empty seat, sighing as he leaned into the soft padding. The designer had considered horned creatures in mind obviously, as there were adjustable recess on the headrest for his horns, which made things more comfortable.
      Looking around, Caden noticed the small, but sturdy rack set next to the seat opposite him, Caden thought that it was a shaped somewhat peculiarly. It took him a moment to realize that the fabric-lined rack could also function as a stair should there be a second passenger to occupy the second bed. He rubbed his horns idly again as he glanced up to the folded bed above him. If the upper bed was lowered, he definitely would have some difficulty to move, Caden thought. Mountain satyrs were a tall bunch after all, and plus, there were his horns to consider.
      Seems like Mr. Lazar was right in his assessment. The satyr couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought as he unbuttoned a few buttons of his shirt, relieving his neck from the stiff confines of the collar.
      Looking out to the corridor, Caden saw that there were a few more passengers that had boarded. Some were making their way down the corridor rather noisily, dragging their large suitcases or stomping their paws or hooves. There were a couple of humans and halflings, one daimonkin, one werewolf, two young Vargens, and one satyr.
      Seems like this train car is not that full, Caden thought.
      There was a short sizzling noise, followed by a short melodic chime. Every passenger’s attention on the car turned to the speakers.
      “Attention passengers, this is your attendant speaking,” came Hastings’ slightly distorted voice. “I personally welcome you all to the Capitol-Rail Zephyrliner enroute to San Asterio with stops at Altair, Thanestown, Port Vornis, and San Asterio. The train will be departing shortly and please take a moment to pay attention to these safety instructions for your comfort and security throughout the journey…”
      The werewolf proceeded to list off every safety procedure related to the trip, what to do during emergencies, the location of the nearest emergency exits, the emergency break, first aid supplies, etc. etc. And apparently the windows could serve as an impromptu emergency exit by smashing them open with the emergency hammer provided.
      “…furthermore, we would like to wish you a safe and enjoyable journey on the Zephyrliner.” There was a pause. “And, without further ado… all aboard!”
      The locomotive’s blaring whistle blared twice, echoed, and magnified throughout the vast underground hall. Fortunately, the insulation inside the sleeping car drowned most of the noise. It was still quite loud however. The Zephyrliner rolled away smoothly from the platform, slowly at first, before steadily picking up its pace.
      Looking at his phone, Caden noted that the train had left bang on time. Seems like they are off on a good start, he hummed, leaning back to his seat as he watched the dimly lit platforms and the other trains slowly slipping away. Before long, the Zephyrliner cleared away from the station was rolling through the tracks under the afternoon sky. The sprawling skyscrapers and busy streets were in full view from Caden’s window. He couldn’t help but to take a few pictures, particularly when he saw the hotel which he had been staying for a couple of days in the distance.
      Caden spent the next few moments simply by admiring the view of Union City downtown. The sprawling high rise and skyscrapers slowly gave way to smaller buildings of the uptown area. The satyr took the opportunity to snap some more pictures using his phone, as well as a few selfies, before Hastings came around for his ticket inspection.
      “Here you go, sir,” the conductor said as he handed back half portion of the ticket to Caden. He had to duck slightly as he moved out back to the hallway due to his height. “Would you like me to arrange your dinner reservations?”
      “Oh sure, why not?” The satyr nodded.
      The uniformed werewolf pulled out a small tablet and tapped on the screen. “Very well. Would you like the 6 pm or the 8 pm course?”
      Caden thought it over. “The 6 pm dinner sounds good.”
      “Alright…” Tapping on the screen a few times, Hastings nodded. “Your table is reserved, sir. Just show your ticket there to the head waiter at the restaurant car.”
      “Of course. Thanks.”
      Hastings tipped his head and gave the satyr another toothy smile. “Have a good day, sir.” He said before turning to the passengers occupying the roomette across Caden’s own. “Good afternoon. Tickets please.”
      Seeing that there was at least an hour before dinner would be served, Caden made his way towards the observation lounge, passing by a sleeper car which was entirely made up of sleeper compartments instead of roomettes. The waiters and waitresses were setting up the tables as he passed by the second restaurant car, arranging glasses and crockeries on white linen.
      The observation car was not too full, thankfully. The bar lounge on the lower level was virtually deserted so Caden made his way to the observation lounge on the upper level. The plush looking seats were arranged in groups facing the large panoramic windows. Together with the curved skylight, they allowed large amounts of natural light to illuminate the observation area during the day, and almost uninterrupted view of the outside.
      Caden sat down on one of the larger seats, idly looking at the city’s sprawl. A waiter came around, offering free snacks and drinks, which Caden took. A few more passengers joined them as the train continued on its way, weaving by busy neighborhoods, bridges, and under highways, before the city gave way into wide, open hillsides and valleys.
      Lazar walked into the lounge about half an hour later, when the Zephyrliner was passing over a large bridge overlooking a wide river. The orc had taken off his jacket, and had his shirt sleeves rolled up. Dark grey eyes were focused on his smartphone as he idly ran his thick, calloused fingers through his hair.
      Caden thought he couldn’t look any more sexier.
      “Mr. Lazar.”
      The orc looked up to the satyr, and he broke into a small smile. “Oh, Mr. Fallworth! May I join you?”
      “Sure,” Caden smiled as the orc settled next to him. “So, I take it you often took this train, Mr. Lazar?”
      “Like I said, I’m not good with planes,” the orc laughed. “And you know, you can call me Duroch,” he said, throwing one arm over the seat.
      “Call me Caden then,” the satyr said with a grin.
      “Caden,” Duroch nodded with an approving nod. “That’s a nice, strong name.”
      “Thank you, sir.”
      Duroch raised an eyebrow and smirked. “You know, you can drop the formalities. We’re off work now, aren’t we?”
      Caden laughed. “True enough.”
      “It’s not everyday you get to see this kind of view,” Duroch remarked, looking out to the view outside.
      Caden couldn’t help but agree. His eyes remained on the form of the orc before him.
      “So where do you live in San Asterio?”
      “Oh, I live in Lexerfort actually, about an hour drive from San Asterio,” Caden replied. “I shared an apartment with five other guys. What about you then?”
      Duroch nodded. “I live at the Thyrios Towers condominium with my nephew.”
      Caden whistled. “That’s a fancy place downtown,” he grinned. “One of the perks of being the CEO of a major Magitech company huh? Also, I didn’t know you have a nephew.”
      The orc laughed. “Not many do. They never asked, really.”
      “Of course,” Caden nodded slowly, still grinning at Duroch. “If you don’t mind me asking, what do you usually do for leisure?” He asked with a meaningful smile.
      Duroch’s grey eyes glinted in amusement.
      “Oh, a lot of many things.” He replied in a low rumble, leaning closer to the satyr. I enjoy a good drink with good friends in the evenings… and some entertainment.”
      Feeling somewhat bold, Caden moved his hand to the orc’s massive thighs. “A relaxing evening with company,” he nodded. “Sounds fun.”
      A large dark teal palm stopped the satyr’s roaming hand. Hazel eyes looked up to the orc with question and a hint of apprehension.
      “You young people were always too eager,” Duroch chuckled, holding Caden’s hand firmly. “I take things slow and easy. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to go anywhere for the next two days.”
      A small smirk grazed the satyr’s lips. “It’s not like I can help it. I know what I want, it’s just in my nature to be so.”
      Duroch still hadn’t let go of his hand, but the orc mirrored his smirk.
      “Very well,” Duroch finally nodded. “Join me in the bar later tonight,” the orc rumbled as he let go of the satyr’s hand. “They have an amazing selection of drinks, and I’m sure you’ll like the company.”
      “I’ll look forward to it, Duroch.” Caden said, as a rhythmic, melodic chime rang throughout the car, repeated twice. The satyr blinked in confusion.
      “It’s the dining announcement.” Duroch explained. “Twice every night.”
      Looking at his watch, Caden realized that it was already six o’clock sharp. Time sure flies fast. He couldn’t help but hum. “Well then. It’s time for me to head off.” At Duroch’s inquisitive gaze, he added, “I’ve dinner reservation at this time.”
      Duroch nodded. “Understandable. I’ll see you at…. ten, Caden?”
      Nodding in return, the satyr stood up, smoothed out his clothes. “Ten sounds good. I’ll be looking forward for tonight… sir.” He added with a hint of playful smirk.
      The orc merely snorted and rolled his eyes. “Go along, Mr. Fallworth,” He waved the satyr off.
      Dinner was decidedly delicious, and Caden actually had to stop himself from eating too much. The pudding was simply divine, but he had to remind himself not to overindulge if he wanted to keep his hard earned figure.
      His dining companions for that night were a rather cheerful bunch. The waiter had sat him with the other satyrs on the train and Caden really enjoyed their company. It wasn’t everyday he got to socialize with other satyrs from different parts of the country.  
      Caden would have joined his fellow satyrs to indulge with the restaurant’s choice of wines if not for his prior appointment. He did, however, get an enticing invitation by a particularly handsome satyr—tan, dark haired, and he had some very nice biceps—who introduced himself as Damian. Sadly, he had to turn down the offer for the night. He did end up having a few cups in the dining car as to not offend his brethren, but before he could get pleasantly drunk, he excused himself and went back to his roomette to wash his face and relax a little before heading to the bar and look for Duroch.
      Five minutes to ten, Caden smoothed his shirt and made his way down to the bar, which was located right underneath the observation lounge. It was a very cozy space, with dark wood panels and soft, indirect lighting and minimalist design. A bar dominated the center of the entire area, surrounded with stools, while small booths of leather seats lined along the windows. The speakers were humming lounge jazz music.
      Surprisingly, there weren’t that many passengers making use of the bar. Caden spotted his dinner companions on the far end of the bar, talking and laughing in low tones. A few individuals occupied the bar stools, and Duroch Lazar’s distinguishable form was spotted in one of the booth seats. Caden made a beeline towards the orc with a grin on his face.
      “Evening, Caden,” Duroch beamed. “Come, sit,” he gestured to the empty spot right beside him.
      Caden chuckled. “Alright then.”
      Looking at the orc, Caden would had never guessed that Duroch was a CEO if he met him now. The orc was dressed in a dark denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his arms and two top most buttons undone, complete with black trousers.
      Needless to say, Caden liked Duroch’s casual look very much.
      “How are you enjoying the trip so far?” Duroch asked.
      “Oh, it’s pretty nice, actually. I gotta say, the food is great,” Caden replied. “I didn’t expect it to be quite full though.”
      The orc smiled. “Capitol-Rail does provide a relatively cheaper and more comfortable way to travel after all, well, if not slower travel time.”
      “Well, I don’t see it as a major disadvantage,” Caden shrugged. “More chance to meet up and socialize with the good company,” he said with a grin.
      Duroch chuckled and gave a nod. “I agree with you. So, would you like a drink?”
      They talked of various random things over beer and whiskey for the next few hours. Caden found out that both he and Duroch went to the same high school—different graduating class of course—and they were a fan of ice hockey. Avid supporters of San Asterio Riptides. Their conversation quickly descended to the team’s performances in the regional games and also speculating whether or not the Riptides would defeat the Avoriel Sentinels in the national league, as the Riptides haven’t been performing well against the Sentinels for the past two years.
      When conversation moved towards food and drinks, Caden remarked that he liked to have sushi now and then, something which Duroch found somewhat surprising.
      “I thought satyrs are vegetarians,” he had said.
      Caden raised his eyebrow in amusement. “You know, I often get that kind of question whenever I ordered burgers or steaks,” he said. “It’s true that most of my species tend to favor plant-based diet, but we are practically omnivores.”
      Duroch nodded with a hum, gesturing to Caden. “I guess most people tend to forget that satyrs are half man and half goat.”
      “Quite,” the satyr grinned. “I found fish more appetizing compared to other meat based dishes. Hence, sushi,” he said. “But I do enjoy a well made steak every now and then.”
      “I know this amazing steakhouse at Broadwalk 22,” Duroch hummed. “They serve the best tenderloin and grilled seafood. Remind me to take you there sometime.”
      The satyr’s grin widened. “Are you proposing a date, Duroch?”
      “What, can’t I invite a handsome satyr out for dinner?”
      “Oh, I dunno, can you?”
      Duroch’s bright orange eyes glinted as he peered down at the satyr. “Is that a challenge?”
      “Perhaps…” Caden grinned impishly as he cocked his head. “For an orc as old as yourself, do you think you’re up to it?”
      All the satyr felt for the next few seconds was Duroch’s rough lips and a pair of strong hands around his shoulders. The orc was being assertive, but also surprisingly gentle, with how careful he was with his rather sharp tusks. The kiss was brief, but it does feel like they had been going at it for hours. Caden had a lopsided, breathless smile on his face, while Duroch merely grinned triumphantly.
      “Not bad for an old orc, eh?”
      Caden let out a small laugh. “I stand corrected,” he said. The satyr then noticed that the dwarf bartender was giving them an amused look from behind the bar.
      “Perhaps we could continue this discussion in your compartment?” he suggested.
      “Hah, alright,” Duroch grinned widely. “Come then.”
      Together, they exited the bar area and headed up the stairs into the mezzanine. Duroch immediately led Caden to the next car, which was a sleeping car. Unlike Caden’s own car which was equipped with roomettes, this car had Sleeper compartments on both levels. Duroch went down the steps to the lower deck, with Caden following behind. They walked past at least three compartments before the orc stopped at a particular compartment, fished out a key card and unlocked the door.
      “After you then.”
      Caden smirked. “Why thank you,” he gave a mock bow and sauntered into Duroch’s appointed sleeping compartment.
      It was definitely larger and much more comfortable compared to his own roomette. It was large enough to fit a small closet, wash basin, a small bathroom, also a single, comfy bed big enough to fit an orc like Duroch. Caden guessed that the bed would fold up into a large sofa during daytime. Duroch confirmed his guess almost immediately.
      “I had the attendant make up the bed while I was having dinner,” he said as he closed the door behind him. It clicked as it locked into place. “Now, what was that you were saying?”
      Caden took the initiative and went in to kiss the orc. He had to lean up as Duroch was a good head taller than himself. The orc let out a pleasant rumble, smiling as he returned the gesture, licking and nibbling the satyr’s lips, while furtively seeking entrance with his tongue which Caden soon gave. Caden moaned into the heated kiss, pressing his body against the orc. He let off a chuckle as he felt Duroch’s arousal prodding him from the orc’s pants.
      No words were exchanged as Duroch’s hands went to work on Caden’s shirt. The satyr himself reached down to unbuckle the orc’s belt before unfastening the pants. Duroch’s hard on was straining the form-fitting boxer briefs he was wearing. The orc let out a pleasured rumble when Caden leaned in and nuzzled the bulge, occasionally giving it a nibble. When the piece of fabric was dropped in the next moment, Duroch’s cock almost smacked the satyr in the face as it sprung free from its confines.
      The satyr held the thick girth of Duroch’s member almost reverently. Even before he pulled down the briefs, Caden could already smell the slight musky aroma permeating from the orc’s sizable assets. Like the rest of his body, the orcish cock was greenish teal, if not a couple of shades darker compared to the rest of his body. A bushy pubic hair crowned the half-hard cock. It was definitely larger compared to what he had had before, and Caden immediately wondered if it would fit him, if at all.
      However, without missing a beat, the satyr leaned in and wrapped his lips along the orc’s length. Duroch let off a soft moan as Caden continued to stimulate his manhood, traveling every inch of his length before teasing the head with his tongue, before wrapping the engorged head with his lips. He began to slowly slide his mouth in and out of the hard member. He wasn’t even halfway through and the cock was already filling up his mouth. Of course, he didn’t want to disappoint the orc and so Caden slowly eased his way along the orc’s hard, veiny length. Inch by inch, Duroch’s member was lodged inside his throat.
      “Oh, spirits…”
      Caden continued to service Duroch’s cock for several more minutes, using his tongue to tease and stimulate the orc. When he felt comfortable enough, Caden began to bob his head as he deepthroated his way to the base of the orc’s musky pubes. Duroch gave several pleasured, guttural panting noises as he grabbed satyr’s horns and used it to push Caden deeper into his cock.
      Duroch proceeded to buck his hips, driving his shaft out and back into the satyr’s mouth and throat while keeping his hands on Caden’s curved horns. The satyr seemed to be enjoying this from the muffled moans coming from his throat. Caden was beginning to wonder if Duroch was going to facefuck him until he came before the orc suddenly pulled out. The slick, orcish cock sliding out of Caden’s mouth with a light smack.
      Duroch’s breath was somewhat labored, and he had this glazed over look on his face. Caden chuckled when he saw that Duroch had unbuttoned his shirt. The satyr’s eyes trailed down from the orc’s firm, muscular chest which was carpeted by a fine layer of greying black hair. It trailed down over his abs, somewhat hidden by a layer of fat due to the orc’s age, and and down to his bushy pubic hair.
      “I think… we should get you out from your clothes…” the orc said as he pulled Caden up to his feet.
      Before Caden could formulate a response, he felt the orc’s warm lips upon his own once again. There was more intent and force this time, and the orc didn’t hesitate to plunge his tongue into Caden’s mouth. The satyr tried to put up some resistance, but he quickly gave in, moaning into Duroch’s kiss. The orc’s hands wormed around Caden’s body, first by tugging the satyr’s pants free, before unbuttoning the satyr’s shirt. Duroch pushed the clothes off Caden’s shoulders before he ran his hands over Caden’s well muscled chest. Caden let out another moan when Duroch rubbed his thumbs over his nipples and giving it playful pinches.
      After making sure their clothing were well out of the way, Duroch’s hand went down to the satyr’s remaining article of clothing, and gave the visible bulge a squeeze.
      “A jockstrap, why am I not surprised,” the orc murmured in amusement as he continued to fondle Caden’s hardon, while his other hand squeezed the satyr’s firm, furred ass. “Go on then, drop them off…”
      Caden grinned as he nipped Duroch’s lower lip. “As you say… sir.”
      Keeping his gaze on Duroch’s bright orange eyes, Caden pushed his jockstrap down and kicked them away. Like other satyrs, his proud, humanoid shaft stood tall, emerging from a protective furry sheath which was of the color of his hair. In fact, the fur on his lower body was only several shades darker than his sandy hair.
      Duroch nodded appreciatively, running his hands over Caden’s firm, muscular chest. “Looks like I’ve hit a jackpot.”
      Caden grinned. “A jackpot eh?”
      “Oh yes indeed,” the orc was almost purring. “Now, why don’t you show me what you can do with that mighty cock of yours, Caden?” he grinned lecherously as he spread his legs, pulling his knees up.
      The sight nearly made Caden salivate. “Sounds good to me,” he licked his lips.
      It barely took a moment for the satyr to get ready. Caden was almost vibrating in excitement as he clambered over the bed with a bottle of lube—that Duroch had procured from his suitcase—in his hands. He lathered up his two fingers with the lube and began to ease his way into the orc’s rear entrance. Duroch let off a slight grunt at the intrusion but let the satyr prepare him.
      “I hope you can satisfy me, satyr,” the orc remarked as Caden’s fingers made slow, circular motions deep inside his ass.
      “You know us satyrs…” Caden grinned as he added a third finger, “we would never disappoint,” he added as he prodded and twisted his fingers around. Duroch’s ass clenched around his digits and let off another grunt.
      Caden prepped the orc’s ass for a full minute before he withdrew his fingers and then coated his cock liberally with the lube. Duroch huffed slightly when Caden lifted his legs and rested them up on his shoulders and the satyr’s cock was pressed against his buttcheeks.
      Without stalling any further, the satyr pushed his hard member deep into the orc’s warm, comfortably tight rear entrance, eliciting a rather languid moan from the orc. He started slow, letting Duroch to adjust to his size before gradually picking up the pace. Caden held the orc’s legs close to his body as he thrusted his hips, driving his cock in and out of Duroch’s ass in a consistent rhythm.
      “Oh… aaah…”
      “Gods Duroch… you’re pretty tight down there…”
      “Mmrghh… shut up and fuck me harder!”
      Caden responded by thrusting his member deep into the orc’s ass, no longer holding Duroch’s legs now. His balls were smacking loudly against the orc’s ass as he thrusted as deep as he could reach. Duroch locked his legs against the satyr’s waist, keeping Caden in place. The satyr knew that he had hit the orc’s prostate by how Duroch was squirming and moaning openly.
      Caden leaned over the orc’s sweaty, muscled body as he continued to buck and thrust, smirking at Duroch’s euphoric expression. He leaned in to kiss the orc once again, but this time the satyr quickly gained dominance. Their tongues rolled in Duroch’s mouth before Caden’s lips trailed down lower to the orc’s neck, giving light bites as he amped up his pace and the force behind his thrusts.
      With the steamy foreplay, and with how hard Duroch was clenching around his cock, it was no wonder that Caden finally came. The satyr let off a languid moan as he bucked hard into Duroch’s rear, dumping his cum. With a last, hard thrust, the satyr slumped down on the orc’s broad, hairy chest, panting from the exertion. Caden stayed like this as he slowly gained to his senses. Looking up at the orc, Caden could see that Duroch was grinning back at him, while stroking his horns.
      “Hah… I admit… that was something,” the orc breathed somewhat wheezily.
      “Yes?” Caden grinned back, rubbing his fingers across Duroch’s dark nipples.
      “Oh yes,” Duroch hummed with a smile on his face. He ruffled the satyr’s sandy hair. “Now how about you show me how you’d work with an orc’s cock eh?”
      Caden felt shivers down his back when he saw the glint on the orc’s eyes. “Oh sure, sure. How do you want me to do it?”
      Not a minute later, the satyr’s knees were straddling Durochs’ hips, while the orc’s erection was sandwiched between Caden’s firm ass cheeks. Using his hand, Caden guided Duroch’s cock inside his ass. He gasped by how it was stretching his tailhole wide as it slowly slid inside. An involuntary moan escaped his lips when he pushed his hips to let the orcish cock to slide further inside his ass.
      Duroch was large, no doubt about that. Caden couldn’t help but wonder if all orcs were naturally this huge. Perhaps he should—
      “Hmm, did I hit your spot already?” Duroch grinned cheekily as he gave a light buck of his hips, causing Caden to moan again.
      “You’re… so damn big… unf…” the satyr gave the orc a mock glare. He took a deep breath as he slid in deeper into Duroch’s shaft. It did take a while for his ass to adjust to the orc’s sizeable girth, but as a satyr, Caden took it like a champ. Indeed, in the next moment, he was already bouncing his hips on Duroch’s length, panting and moaning as the orc’s cock rammed his prostate gland with little to no mercy.
      Duroch himself was also moaning, with how tight the satyr’s ass was around his shaft. He couldn’t help but give a few humps in tandem with Caden’s movements, which increased in intensity by the second. His hands trailed over the satyr’s sweaty body, squeezing the muscular contours almost lovingly.
      Occasionally, Caden would clamp down hard on Duroch’s shaft, which would drive him over the edge, before slipping out, and sliding it inside the warm folds of his rear end. The satyr would give a sly grin whenever he did this, and Duroch responded by driving his cock deeper than before in response, which elicited a half-pained, half-pleasured cry from the satyr.  
      Caden continued to ride on the orc’s shaft, milking the cock of all its worth with every tactic he knew. It was almost as if he was showing off to Duroch, with the sleazy grin on his face. He knew that the orc was on his edge now, and Caden was quite literally holding on to Duroch to keep himself steady. The orc had stopped moving his hips about now, squirming and moaning as he was close to releasing his load… which happened right about then with a roar-like cry.
      The intensity of their fucking also drove Caden to cum for the second time. White ropes of semen splashed across Duroch’s chest and jaw as the orc continued to fill up his ass with his own load.
      The two men remained locked in this position as the euphoria slowly drained from their sweaty, muscular bodies. The satyr let off another moan when he pulled out. Even when the orc was not fully hard, his cock was still quite large. The orc’s cum oozed down from his ass when Duroch finally pulled free.
      Breathing wheezily, Caden chuckled when he saw how messy Duroch looked.
      “You look good splattered with cum,” he said cheekily.
      “Oh shut up you,” Duroch grunted in annoyance, however his face suggested anything but. “Or perhaps you’d like to be covered in my cum from head to toe?”
      Caden put on a thoughtful look. “You know…”
      Duroch rolled his eyes. “Satyrs,” he huffed. “Shut up and kiss me.”
      “Yes, sir,” the satyr’s grin was almost blinding. He did more than simply kiss the orc. In fact, after a passionate tongue wrestling—something which Caden think would leave him with bruised lips tomorrow—he went down to lick the cum off Duroch’s body clean. He couldn’t help it, with how deliciously meaty the orc was.
      “Mmm… now I might just return the favor,” Duroch said after Caden’s lips had left his mouth.
      The orc’s hands went down and squeezed the satyr’s fuzzy, muscular glutes. One meaty finger slipped between his cum splattered butt cheeks and prodded the sore, entryway that was still oozing with Duroch’s cum. Caden positively quivered from the touch.
      “I’m still not done with your ass yet, satyr,” Duroch murmured with a grin.
      “Of course…” he grinned. “My ass is yours.”
      Duroch’s grin was positively feral. Caden shivered. Somehow, he had a feeling that he and Duroch would have a couple of adventurous nights ahead.
    • By Rod_3rich in Mercurius Express 0
      As the conductor was beginning to do his rounds, Cross decided that he could do with a bit of unpacking while he waited for the conductor. The same thought seemed to had crossed over the colonel’s mind as the panther was already opening one of his suitcases and brought out the clothes that he might be needing for the four day journey ahead.
      “Mind if I close the door for a bit?” he asked Graves.
      The colonel, who was in the process of removing a set of dinner jacket, nodded. “Sure, go ahead.”
      With that, Cross slid close the door and proceeded to sort out his clothes, deciding which would he would use throughout the journey and which would stay securely locked and stored.
      The uniformed Malinois came around Cross’ compartment half an hour later. Simon Dupont was all smiles, and he was holding the same clipboard from before. However, the detective suspected that the board now held an entirely different content.
      “Good afternoon,” the conductor greeted, tipping his hat while he gave Cross a small nod. “May I have your passport and your boarding pass, please?”
      The cougar compiled. The conductor stamped the boarding pass after giving it a brief look, before he went to study Cross’ passport; inspecting the silvery coat of arms of Federation of Hesperia emblazoned on the navy blue cover before he looked over the identification on the first page. With a small nod, the conductor stored the passport into the small leather satchel strapped across his shoulder.
      “Everything in order?” Cross asked casually.
      “Everything is fine, sir,” replied Dupont with a smile. “Seems like you’re one of the few Hesperians travelling with us on this train today.”
      The detective quirked an eyebrow. “Really?”
      “Yes, most travellers seemed to come from Avaloria or Columbia, sir,” said the conductor with a small chuckle.
      Cross nodded. “I see. Not even a Gallian onboard?”
      “In the Valmangne coach? Not really, no, but I believe there’s one Gallian passenger on the next car. A doctor, I believe. I have to check,” Dupont replied. “The Pierrograd coaches are filled with Arlemanians and Rosvenians, naturally.”
      Chuckling in agreement, Cross then let the conductor to relay the standard welcome greeting and an explanation of the train’s various amenities; from the two dining cars in between the four passenger coaches, the lounge car, and the observation car at the end of the train.
      “If you have any questions or needed any assistance during your journey, feel free to call me or Herschel. We will be more than happy to assist you.”
      Cross gave the conductor a thankful nod. “Alright. Thank you, Dupont.”
      “You’re welcome, Mr. Cross,” the canine smiled, before he clicked his tongue. “Ah, right. I just remembered. Herschel has relayed to me to inform you that Mr. Gideon Cross is residing in the other Hieropolis-Valmagne coach, sir, the Émeraude car. Your brother is occupying compartment 2,” he recounted. “The Émeraude sleeping car is right next to this one, sir. Down that way,” he gestured to the direction of where the next passenger carriage was located.
      “Ah,” the cougar nodded. “Alright. Give Herschel my thanks.”
      “Will do, sir,” the uniformed canine nodded. “I will take my leave, and welcome onboard, once again,” he gave a final nod before moving on to the next compartment.
      Cross looked until the conductor had left the premises, listening as he knocked on the door of Colonel Graves’ compartment before he returned to the task of sorting his clothing, which took a better part of the minute.
      With everything done, the cougar went to slipped out of his thick coat and jacket, washed his face, and changed into a more comfortable, airier clothes, as it was a lot warmer inside the train.
      He knocked on the communicating door once he couldn’t hear the sounds of Simon Dupont talking next door. Graves slid the door opened and Cross could see that the colonel was just finished with his unpacking.
      “Well then, I’m going to see my brother. Would you like to come?”
      “Sure,” the panther smiled. “Just let met get my jacket.”
      Moving to the next sleeping car, Cross and Graves weaved past passengers who were standing on the hallway, admiring the view of the sprawling, snow covered plains outside Hieropolis. They came face to face with the conductor in charge of the Émeraude coach the moment they stepped into the sleeping car, and found out that it was the ram conductor they had met on the station moments before.
      The horned conductor directed them to Compartment 2 after Cross asked for his brother’s whereabouts, which was located the far end of the car. Crossing over the sleeping car, the detective and the colonel stopped at the aforementioned door and gave it a couple of knocks.
      “Yes? Who is it?” came Gideon’s voice.
      “It’s me, Gideon.”
      A moment later, the door cracked open and Gideon Cross’ blue eyes—both natural and mechanical ones—peered from the doorway. A moment later, the door was pushed open and the cougar himself was grinning brightly at his twin brother,
      “I see you brought the colonel with you. Come on in then.”
      Compartment 2, as it turned out, was a second class compartment. It was virtually similar to the first class compartments, only the difference was that it had a far simpler decor, equipped with a washroom that was shared with the neighboring compartment, and it was a double sleeper room instead of being a single sleeper.
      Cross was not the least surprised when he saw that his twin brother had a roommate.
      He couldn’t help but give the canine who also occupied Gideon’s compartment a quick study. His brother’s roommate was a male Akita with rich honey-brown coat with white and black markings. He appeared to be in early to mid 20s, and judging from the tags on his luggage, the canine seemed to be enjoying a vacation on his own. His clothing style suggested he’s from northern Columbia, possibly the Federal States or Laurentian Dominion.
      “This is Spencer Callius. Callius, meet my twin brother, Leonidas, and this is Colonel Achilles Graves,” Gideon introduced.
      The Akita blinked as he shook paws with the two felines. “Your twin? Oh, nice to meet you then, Mr. Cross, you too colonel.”
      “The pleasure is ours,” Graves smiled as he returned the canine’s handshake.
      “I go by Leon whenever I’m with my brother. Reduces the confusion,” the detective said.
      Callius chuckled. “Very well then.”
      “So, what brings you on this train, brother?” Gideon asked as he sat down. “I recall you wrote to me that you’ve solved the colonel’s case.
      Cross gave a small nod. “Indeed. I’m actually heading back home. The colonel has paid for my ticket on the Mercurius Express as a thank you gesture,” he said.
      Gideon stared at the panther before he chuckled. “That’s generous of you, colonel.”
      “Not at all, not at all,” the colonel chuckled. “It’s a small thing compared to what he had done for me.”
      “Oh, you’re a detective?” Callius went to ask, looking back and forth between the two cougar twins.
      Cross nodded. “Yes. We both are, actually.”
      “We’re more like partners, really.” His brother replied. “But we’re off duty at the moment,” he added. Cross’s eyebrow quirked upwards slightly at the remark.
      Callius nodded. “Ah, enjoying a small winter break then.”
      “We were planning on touring the continent, originally,” Gideon answered before Cross could open his mouth. “But my brother here was summoned by the colonel and so I was left minding the office on my own, before I got bored and decided to take a small vacation for myself. It’s far too cold in Hesperia anyway.”
      That was a blatant lie of course, but Gideon always did have a way with words. Cross couldn’t help but wonder why his brother would hide the real reason he took to travelling the continent.
      “And now it seemed that we’re on our way home,” Cross concluded with a grin of his own. “Well, aside from the colonel’s case, my stay in Anatolia wasn’t terribly long. What about you then, Gideon? You never said you’re going this far south.”
      Gideon made an offhand gesture with his paw. “Well, I didn’t plan to, really, but you know how easily I can get sidetracked.”
      Another lie of course, but Cross decided to play along. He gave a derisive snort. “Sidetracked by the beautiful young females no doubt, or did you splurge our money to get to Hieropolis? Heavens know how you can burn through our expenses.”
      The cougar with the ocular prosthetic placed a paw over his heart. “To think my own twin would thought of me so lowly,” he lamented, muzzle twitching. “I’m hurt, dear brother… truly, I’m hurt.”
      The two cougars simply stood there for a full second, not moving an inch, before they broke into laughter.
      “In any case, I must say, travelling suits me,” said Gideon as his laughter died down.
      Cross chuckled. “I’m sure it does. So tell me, where have you gone during your vacation?”
      Graves cleared his throat, perhaps sensing that he was somewhat intruding in a familial moment. “Well, let’s let these two catch up,” he said. “How about we head to the lounge car, Mr. Callius?”
      Callius blinked before he shrugged and nodded in agreement. “Sure, I needed a drink anyway. I’ll see you there, Mr. Cross?”
      “Of course,” the two detectives replied in unison.
      Evidently, the Akita was only referring to Gideon but he returned the grin either way. He quickly moved out of the compartment with Graves, the panther closing the door behind him. Cross could hear the panther engaging Callius with a few questions as they made their way to the next car, their voices slowly melding with the thrumming and rattling of the train.
      “So,” Leon Cross began as he sat down on the foldable armchair across the large sofa, “how did your little adventure go so far? You said you almost lost track of Le Chevalier du Noir in your telegram.”
      “I said almost,” the other cougar grunted as he too, sat down. His ocular implant automatically focused and refocused as he turned his attention to his older twin. “Avaloria is the same as always. Crownsbridge is bustling, grey, and cold. Gallia has been quite, ah, enlightening, I must say.”
      “Enlightening… I’m sure it was,” Leon Cross grinned with a slight purr. “Enjoying the crème de la crème of Lucierian high society no doubt.”
      The younger cougar seemed to flush slightly. “Well, you know what they say, people of Luciere are the most welcoming sort in all of Gallia.”
      Leon chortled openly. “Go on, dear brother. Who is it that managed to entertain your nights in the city of lights hmmm?”
      The younger cougar let out a soft cough. “A young saxophonist I met a couple of times in the hotel’s nightclub.”
      “A saxophonist? Hmmm… that’s unusual. Didn’t you usually enthrall someone with a higher caliber, say… the Dauphin of Gallia. Oh, or perhaps the King himself?” Leon grinned impishly. “Pity you and the Marquis de Lavigne du Levammase-Ligneux did not last long. He was very fond of you I remembered.”
      Gideon playfully punched his brother’s shoulder. “Oh shut it. It’s not like you can keep your paws to yourself. Still have a thing for authority figures eh, dear brother?” He smirked. “You and the colonel shagged just this morning, don’t deny it! Also, I distinctly remembered that you still have a thing going on between you and one Inspecteur Hugo Janvier from Saint-Verseaux. Oh, or did the distance between Hesperia and Gallia proved too much for you that you have a budding relationship with Captain Davios Stormme from our own police force?”
      Leon harrumphed. “Oh, caught that with that eye of yours, did you?” he gestured to his brother’s ocular implant.
      “I don’t need my observation prowess to deduce what kind of shenanigans you and the colonel were up to this morning,” Gideon replied with a scoff. “You practically reeked of sex, dear brother.”
      “Hmph. For the record, the colonel and I both had been without companion for so long.” Leon gave a shrug. “Besides, it’s not like I bedded with him every night. And just you know, Inspecteur Janvier was nothing more than a very reliable friend, and my relationship with Captain Stormme is purely professional. There is absolutely nothing between us that is untoward,” he said with a grunt.
      “Mhmm. A very professional one indeed, or am I looking things too deeply to your letters, hmm?” Gideon purred suggestively. “‘How I longed to meet you again, my friend… the days seemed grey without your companionship…’” he recited.
      Leon’s eye twitched and pursed his lips. His neck fur fluffed up slightly. “How many times do I have to tell you not to look at my personal letters?”
      Gideon gave a shrug. “Not my fault they were sitting openly on your desk unattended.”
      If they weren’t in a relatively small space at the moment, Leon would have wrestled his brother to the ground. Instead, he decided to return the punch he had received earlier. Gideon did not seemed fazed at all, but he did pout.
      “Heh, in anyhow... I only stayed in Luciere for a week. Once I caught wind that the Chevalier had moved once again, I followed tracked them down to Arlemania, where they stayed for a couple of days. I tracked the thieves across the country before I followed them to Rosvenia—which, I must say, has been quite the experience so far. And to answer your question, I almost lost track of the thief in Rosvenia.”
      Leon goggled at his twin brother. “You… wait, you went as far to Rosvenia?”
      “Mhmm,” Gideon nodded. “I tracked them down from Volgrov, Nevaresk, and then to Pierrograd where they stole a ring of rare blue diamonds from a countess. The ring is pretty expensive and is made of rare stones, yes, but it’s not that famous outside the family. It’s not even a famed family heirloom nor a national treasure…”
      “You’re saying that it doesn’t seem like his M.O. at all,” Leon summarized. “By the way, this Chevalier du Noir, you keep referring it as “them”. Sounds like you seemed to believe that there might be more than one?”
      “Indeed,” Gideon nodded with his fingers pressed together under his chin. “It’s what I had suspected. After analyzing the scene and interviewing witnesses, I concluded that there were at least two thieves working together in tandem. The facts suggested as much.”
      “I see. Hmm… so not only this Chevalier du Noir has the Star of the Orion but also a Rosvenian blue diamond ring.”
      “Yes. I think they were getting somewhat desperate, or they wanted to throw the police off their scent, who knows.” Gideon gave a shrug. “What I do know though, the thief managed to made their way all across Rosvenia, all the way to the White Sea, and their tracks disappeared right there.”
      Leon blinked twice, before he frowned. “So, you mean that thief had been running rampant in who knows where for the past few weeks?”
      “Not quite,” his brother grinned. “I did have a bit of help from Phoenix—”
      “Phoenix?” Leon hunmed. “As in the independent Rosvenian intelligence agency “Feniks”?” at his brother’s nod, the cougar couldn’t help but chuckle a little.
      “Funny you should mention them.”
      Gideon’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Why?”
      “Well, just so happened that I was involved with a Phoenix agent while protecting  Colonel Graves and the secret military plans he had in his possession. The culprit who wanted to steal the plans was in fact a rogue Phoenix agent. The other agent was tasked to bring down the rogue agent by the headquarters, and we worked together to keep the colonel safe,” Leon revealed. “He’s off duty now that his mission is essentially over, and he’s with us on this train.”
      “Oh, how interesting,” the other cougar nodded. “Perhaps you could introduce him to me. I never really properly thanked Phoenix for their assistance. It was somewhat difficult since no one knows what the Chevalier du Noir actually looked like, but we managed to get wind that they—or one of them, we couldn’t be sure—would board a train at 5 o’clock from Hieropolis Central in Anatolia to Luciere Gare de Saint-Leontius, Gallia.”
      Leon couldn’t help but frown. “The only 5 o’clock train from Hieropolis Central is the Mercurius Express… now that would mean—”
      “—that our thief is inside this train with us,” Gideon finished with a nod.
      The frown persisted on Leon’s forehead. “A jewel thief inside a train full of rich, and certainly bejeweled passengers, Gideon.”
      “You think they would resort to petty thievery on this train?” Gideon raised an eyebrow.
      “You did say they had stolen a Rosvenian countess’ diamond ring,” Leon pointed out.
      His younger twin hummed and nodded. “I see your point. However, I doubt there would be a priceless heirloom or an internationally renowned jewelry onboard this train.”
      Leon nodded slowly. “I guess you have a point.”
      “That I always do,” the younger cougar replied smugly.
      Leon was quick to counter. “That you don’t.”
      “That I do.”
      “Not always.”
      “I beg to differ.”
      “Prat,” Leon rolled his eyes with a hint of a smirk.
      Gideon returned the smirk. “Git.”
      The two brothers shared a laugh and then fell into a comfortable silence. They watched the scenery going past the window for a moment.
      “You also mentioned in your last letter that you’re close to figuring out the identities of the thieves,” Leon began. “Care to shed some light?”
      Gideon then launched into a full length explanation on how he managed to narrow down the list of suspects into three possible species. They could be either equine, bovid, or canine. However, he hadn’t manage to narrow the specifics down into individual species just yet, something which he was aiming to do now he’s on the Mercurius Express with the thieves. The Chevalier du Noir, as it would seem, were pretty good at covering their tracks.
      “Fortunately, we might have an advantage,” Gideon had said. “I believe they are still thinking that they are only pursued by the police. They wouldn’t know a private investigator is also involved.”
      “Hmm… what made you so sure of that?”
      “Simple. My involvement wasn’t made public from the start, and I since I had merely been gathering information, I had never been directly engaging with the thieves.”
      Leon gave a light nod. “Now your discretion made sense. It is a fair point.” He paused as he went to look at his wristwatch. “Well, we better catch up with the colonel and your roommate before they get too antsy.”
      Gideon stood up just as his brother did. A teasing grin grazed his lips. “Afraid of them getting too cozy with each other are you?”
      “In your dreams,” Leon rolled his eyes as he smoothed down his jacket. “Say, how’s the office holding up in our absence? Any news from Flint?” he said, referring to the young Peregrine falcon who worked as their secretary.
      “Last time he wrote, nothing major had happened,” the younger cougar replied as they walked out into the corridor. “Seemed like Lieutenant Valerio had dropped by asking for us a few days ago and left fuming when he realized we’re abroad to sort two different cases.”
      Leon chortled. “Really now?” He could easily imagine the doberman Inspector stomping out of their office mumbling about their audacity of not informing him before they gallivanting across the continent beforehand.
      “Really,” his brother affirmed with a chuckle of his own. The then turned towards the uniformed ram sitting by his little chair. “Ah, Faucher, could you lock the door please?” he called out.
      With the door securely locked, the two brothers headed towards the lounge car, which was immediately next to Gideon’s sleeping car.
      The lounge car, named as the “Soleil Lounge” as stated by the plaque situated right by the vestibule, was wide and long, filled with large, plush armchairs, sofas, and ottomans in groups of twos, threes, and fours. The entire lounge was paneled with lacquered, rich brown wood inlaid with gold with gleaming brass fixtures. Wide, panoramic windows gave a great view of the Anatolian barren plains, backdropped by the sun setting beyond the snow capped mountain range.
      Coupled with the snow leopard who was tinkling a popular swing music by the mini grand piano, it was a pretty relaxing atmosphere.
      There were quite a number of passengers inside the lounge at this hour in the late afternoon, no doubt getting some drinks before dinner was announced. Cross found the colonel and his brother’s roommate occupying a set of four seats in the middle of the car.
      Making their way past the bar area, the detective could hear the colonel giving Callius one of his experiences during the Great War among the general chatter of the lounge. The Akita seemed to be deeply enthralled by the panther’s tale that he didn’t even notice the two cougars approaching.
      “Ah, there you are!” the colonel exclaimed with a large grin on his face when he noticed the two felines. Callius made a small, startled jump when he finally noticed the Cross brothers.
      “We were just wondering where you two have been.”
      “We’re just catching up. Brotherly stuff and all that jazz,” Gideon answered as he settled down to one of the empty armchairs.
      “Let’s just say my brother’s little Ivorian Grand Tour was far more exciting than he implied,” Cross explained as he sat next to Graves.
      The panther rumbled mirthfully. “I’m sure it was.”
      Gideon gave a mock groan. “Don’t start.”
      A waiter came and asked the cougar twins for something to drink. Cross went with a martini while his brother opted for a sherry. The waiter left with a bow and Cross turned to Callius.
      “So, Mr. Callius, where are you from, by the way?” Cross prompted.
      “Oh, I’m from Templeston, Columbia,” the Akita replied. “I work part time at a clock store downtown.”
      Gideon became quite interested. “Is that so? Perhaps you can have a look at my pocket watch later? I’ve noticed that it tend to slow down lately no matter how much I tune it.”
      Callius gave a rather sheepish smile. “Ah, I’m not an expert, but I’ll see what I can do.”
      “That would be appreciated,” Gideon beamed.
      “What brings you to Hieropolis, Mr. Callius?” Graves went to ask. “You’re pretty far from home.”
      “Oh, I was with friends, going around Ivoria since we have the cash,” the canine replied. The corner of his muzzle twitched. “But I decided to continue on my own to the southern regions while my friends went back to the Federal States.”
      Cross gave a light chuckle. “I’m sure it had been quite the adventure.”
      Callius grinned. “Oh, it has been an adventure alright. I went to Misarya for a while. There were lots of interesting sights and I met quite a few interesting people too.”
      The canine proceeded to launch into a spirited retelling of the interesting points he saw in the city of As-Qair, the three day cruise he took down the Nahail River, the ancient Misaryan temples he visited, and also the great tombs and the pyramids. It would seem that the Akita was quite the avid traveller.
      “There was a number of honeymooners too,” he said as he sipped on his coffee. “Lots of rich people, basically. I didn’t know the Nahail river and the delta area is a popular tourist destination in this time of the year.”
      “It’s only natural. It’s a lot warmer compared to the countries in northern Ivoria,” Cross said.
      “And there had been a major discovery in one of the great tombs a few months back I heard,” Gideon supplied. “It had started a craze on everything related to the ancient Misaryan culture.”
      Callius shook his head in amusement. “I see,” he took another sip of his drink. His ears flicked as a passenger entered the lounge. The canine blinked and his gaze followed the small, slender lioness who had walked past them, picking up a magazine and settled on a seat further down the lounge. The Akita had a look as if he was trying to remembering something but whatever it was it had slipped his mind.
      “You know that lioness?” Graves went to ask.
      “Hummm… I’m not sure,” Callius answered as he turned back around. “I think I had seen her somewhere but I forgot.”
      The colonel hummed. “I see then. It’ll come back to you sooner or later.”
      “I suppose,” Callius chuckled. “Well, I think I’ll come back to As-Qair someday. It had been an adventure.”
      Cross grinned. “It sure sounded like it. I wished we could have more spare time for a real vacation for once, don’t we?” he turned to his twin brother, who raised his glass of sherry in agreement.
      “Maybe someday.”
      They fell into comfortable silence as the train continued along its way through Anatolia. The sun just had disappeared behind the mountains when the Mercurius Express pulled into a town. It was quite hard to see due to the lack of light, but Cross could just make out that it was a major town judging from the number of high-rise buildings that stood out against the twilight sky.
      As the train slowed down, Cross could see the long, low lit platform. The town’s train station didn’t seem fairly large, but it sure looked pretty crowded. However, it would seem that the Mercurius Express was merely passing by as they were out of the station fairly quickly.  They were soon picking up speed once again as the train cleared away from the station.
      “I wonder when dinner will be served?” Callius went to ask, checking his wristwatch.
      “Usually, the first dinner service will be around six thirty,” Graves answered him.
      The Akita nodded. “Ah, another half an hour then. I’m famished.”
      Another passenger entered the lounge as the words left the canine’s muzzle. Or rather, two passengers made their presence known. It was a pair of lions, a husband and wife, Cross guessed judging by how close they were standing to each other, and the wedding bands on their fingers. The lioness, clad in a simple, sleeveless deep red evening dress, was practically radiating with happiness. Her platinum blonde hair was done in a pinned back, elegant waves. A necklace made of several chains of rubies ringed with gold adorned her neck, with a matching gold bracelet around her wrist. Her husband, a tall, strapping lion with well trimmed and stylishly slicked back mane, was smartly dressed in a well tailored evening tails.
      Every passenger’s attention in the lounge was immediately drawn to the pair as they made their way to the seats across where Cross and his companions were sitting. They nodded their heads in acknowledgement to the husband and wife. Callius doesn’t seem to be able to stop staring at the lioness.
      Gideon nudged the canine’s paw discreetly.
      “Stare any longer and the husband might get violently jealous,” the cougar whispered with a grin.
      Callius immediately averted his gaze and seemed to flush from embarrassment. He hadn’t needed to be worried however as the lion didn’t seem to notice his unabashed staring.
      “I think I’ve seen them somewhere…” he trailed off.
      Cross crooked an eyebrow. “Oh?”
      “Yeah… I’m not sure where however,” the Akita hummed thoughtfully.
      Cross hummed and looked over the lion couple.
      “I’m glad, Theodore,” he heard the lioness said.
      Her husband beamed. “Oh yes?”
      “It has been a nice honeymoon.”
      Theodore gave a rumbling purr. “I’m happy you enjoyed your time, Eliza.”
      The smile didn’t seem to quite reach Eliza’s muzzle however. “I did enjoy it, especially our time in Iberonia… but I don’t think I quite enjoy Misarya with… with that… ” she trailed off.
      “Ah,” Theodore seemed to nod in understanding. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about them now. I made sure of that.”
      Eliza smiled a nod. “I guess you’re right. But… I can’t keep but feel that something would be off… like they will appear the least we expect it and…”
      “Hush. We haven’t seen them for the last few days did we?”
      “I guess you’re right.” Eliza seemed to sigh.
      Right at that moment, the lone lioness from before lowered her magazine and rose from her seat. A huge grin was plastered on her face as she swiftly, and silently headed over to where the couple was sitting.
      “Oh hello Lizzy darling! I didn’t expect to see you here!” she exclaimed, almost leaping as she made herself known.
      The two lions froze. Eliza turned around on her seat to stare at the other lioness in a mixture of surprise, fear, and anger. Her husband simply looked incensed.
      “I… but we…”
      “It’s funny how small this world is, don’t you think, Theo dear?” said the unknown lioness.
      Theodore stood up. His paws clenched. “Catherine…” he seemed to compose himself after glancing furtively at the attention gathered around them. “Is your fiance with you?” he finally said, teeth clenching.
      The grin only seemed to grow bigger. “Oh of course Zachary is with me. He’s in his compartment of course,” said Catherine with an unnerving amount of enthusiasm. “Perhaps we could sit together during dinner, hmm?”
      Eliza took that moment to stand up. Her jaws clenched. “I’m afraid we have reserved our table, just for us, Cathy. Now if you’d excuse us.”
      “Of course, dearie.”
      The husband and wife moved past Catherine in a briskly manner, heading to the other end of the lounge car. Cross could hear the door closing none too gently behind them.
      The moment the two lions disappeared, Catherine’s grin dropped from her face. A rather hard edged expression replaced the intense smile instead. She barely even acknowledged the stares she had been getting as she turned on her heels, heading to the direction of the Hieropolis-Valmagne coaches.
      “Well… that was one interesting spectacle,” Graves observed as he sipped his drink.
      Callius clicked his fingers. “Now I remember!”
      The Cross twins raised their eyebrows together.
      “You know those lions?” Leon went to ask.
      “Yeah, they were in the same hotel with me in As-Qair,” Callius replied. “The husband and wife are Elisabeth and Theodore Meyer, and the other lioness is Catherine DeWitt. Ms. DeWitt is engaged to a leopard called Zachary Hale. Though, DeWitt seemed to be quite obsessed with the Meyers.”
      “Obsessed?” Gideon repeated. “How do you mean?”
      “Well, apparently DeWitt and her fiance had been popping up wherever the Meyers went. They first appeared in the hotel I was staying in Lusqur, though they didn’t do other than exchange a few words back then. When I’m in As-Qair a few days later, I was in the same hotel as the Meyers. DeWitt and Hale were there too. I heard DeWitt and her fiance were with the Meyers while their are having their second Nahail cruise upstream,” he said. “Oh, I saw them again when I’m in Iskanderion. The Meyers looked visibly agitated by that point.”
      Cross hummed. “Interesting…”
      “Indeed,” his brother agreed. “Do you know what caused DeWitt and her fiance to follow the Meyers?”
      Callius gave a shrug. “I heard DeWitt and Mrs. Meyer were childhood friends. Rumour has it that Mr. Meyer was once DeWitt’s boyfriend.”
      Gideon whistled while Colonel Graves snorted.
      “Ah, it’s fairly simple to me,” said the panther. “DeWitt obviously couldn’t move on from Meyer and is extremely jealous and spiteful over her friend whom Meyer had chosen instead of her.”
      “If that was the case, it’s an extreme one at that,” Cross pointed out, “considering she already has a fiance.”
      “It still points out to a childish love tantrum however.” Gideon remarked.
      “If you put it that way, I can agree.” Callius chuckled.
      Cross turned to look at his brother. Gideon’s brow creased in a way that would indicate that he had noticed something noteworthy. He was going to ask when a rythmic, tinkling of a bell drew everyone’s attention.
      The next moment, the tall, burly form of the polar bear trainmaster made his way across the lounge, swinging a silver bell in one paw while he called out:
      “Premier service! Premier service! Le dîner est servi sur la voiture-restaurant! Dinner is served in the restaurant car!”
      The trainmaster then repeated his announcement in Arlemanian and Rosvenian as he headed over to the Hieropolis-Pierrograd coaches further back on the train.
      Graves went to check his watch. “Huh, I guess it’s the time,” he said. “Well then, we better get ready.”
      “I guess we should,” Cross nodded as he went to stand up, followed by the others.
      “We’ll see you guys later tonight,” Gideon said. “We’re going to be in the second dinner service,” he gestured to Callius and himself.
      Cross nodded as he straightened out his jacket. “Alright. We’ll catch up soon.”
      “See you later then,” Callius wave a small wave.
      “Come on,” Graves cocked his head as he and Cross made their way back to their car, weaving past the light passenger traffic in the corridor. A slight grin blossomed on his muzzle. “You help me get into my dinner jacket and I’ll help you?”
      Cross couldn’t help but smirk back. “Of course. But don’t get your hopes too high, colonel.”
      “Hah, we’ll see then,” the panther purred as he placed his paw on the cougar’s shoulder, giving it a fond squeeze.
    • By Rod_3rich in Mercurius Express 0
      Early Friday morning saw Cross and Vasilyev taking a morning run through the expansive terrace behind the colonel's villa, which overlooked the vast bay of which the city of Hieropolis was built upon.
      Thick grey clouds hung above the sky. However, the air was clear and it was not too chilly. There were also no signs that it would be snowing when Cross looked out through his window, and the weather forecast on this morning's paper indicated a clear but windy day. Deciding that he could take advantage of the good weather for an exercise, the Hesperian detective donned on warm, flexible clothing fit for running and headed downstairs.
      He came across Vasilyev who seemed to have the same idea as he had, judging from the lynx's attire. They exchanged greetings as they headed out to the backyard, did their stretches together, and proceeded to run laps around the swimming pool and the snow covered gardens on the villa's large back yard.
      It wasn't until their tenth lap that Vasilyev finally spoke.
      “You're enjoying yourself." The lynx remarked.
      Cross puffed out a chuckle. “I am. It's rare to find time for a good exercise among nature… especially if you live in a city like Port Lancerston."
      “Port Lancerston?" Vasilyev made a confused sound. “I thought you live in Kingshaven city."
      “We can't afford to live in the capital." Cross replied. “Port Lancerston is more affordable for us. Even then, we still have more expenses rather than income. We live downtown, you see." he panted, slowing down slightly as they made it to their eleventh. “However, me and my brother pulled through."
      “I see. Why downtown?"
      “We wouldn't have enough clients to make ends meet if we didn't live close to the center of the city." The detective chuckled, picking up his pace again.
      “Makes sense."
      The two men slowed down to a walk after they passed their final lap, panting and huffing from the exertion. Both felines made their way towards the deck chairs and sat down on it.
      “By the way, you never mentioned about having a brother." Vasilyev went to ask after he had regained his breath.
      “Oh… I didn't?" Cross breathed. “Well… he's my twin brother, actually."
      “Ah, really?" The lynx blinked. “Is he a detective like yourself?"
      Cross nodded with a small smile. “Yes of course. The two of us opened our private investigation agency together. I guess you could say he's both my partner and my assistant." He explained as he took a fresh towel from the wicker table set between the chairs and began to wipe his forehead.
      “Why isn't he with you then?"
      “Oh, he's tracking down a phantom thief that had been running amok in Avaloria, stealing famous and highly coveted jewelry. He told me in his last telegram that he's really close on figuring out who's the thief."
      Vasilyev gave a thoughtful hum. “Oh, is it the same thief who had stolen the Star of Orion from the Capitol Museum in Crownsbridge right under the watchful eyes of ten security guards…"
      “Yes. Called themself Le Chevalier Noir—The Black Knight." The cougar rolled his eyes at that and gave a light scoff. “It's ridiculously show-offish if you ask me."
      “Sounds to me your brother is having quite the adventure." Vasilyev chuckled.
      “Perhaps." Cross grinned before he turned his head to the sky. “Well, let's head back. The day's progressing and I could already smell breakfast from the kitchen."
      Vasilyev simply nodded. He too could smell the delicious breakfast from the open doorway. “Alright. Let us head in."
      Walking through the wide, patio doors, the two felines made their way into the marble tiled main hallway. The butler, a tall, thin deer of middle age with a pair of meticulously well trimmed and polished horns was already waiting for them. His usual vacant, but alert gaze immediately was immediately fixed on the two felinles.
      “Morning Stainer." Cross greeted.
      The deer tipped his head down. “Good morning, Mr. Cross. Refreshments?" He said, offering the tray filled with glasses of chilled water and juices.
      “Much appreciated!" Vasilyev went for the water, while Cross took an orange juice.
      “Is the colonel awake yet?" The cougar went to ask.
      “He has, sir but he has yet to ring for Travers." The butler said, referring to the colonel's valet. “Also, there was a telephone for you just now, Mr. Vasilyev. It was from the manager of… erm... Ve...niyets Hotel?".
      “Venets." Vasilyev corrected the butler, emphasizing on the correct Rosvenian pronunciation (which sounded like Vin-yets), “And what did he say?"
      “The manager has told me that he is expecting your call, sir."
      Vasilyev blinked. “Oh? Alright. I think I'd better take this." He said, turning to Cross.
      The detective merely nodded. He had long deduced that Venets Hotel was the cover for the intelligence agency that employed Vasilyev. In fact, Cross was sure that the lynx's real name wasn't Nikolai Vasilyev but the disguise name had stuck. It would be odd to call the Rosvenian agent by his codename or his real name.
      “Of course. It sounded important." He replied with a small smile.
      As the grey furred feline went away, Cross finished his drink, returned the empty glass to the the butler and headed up the staircase towards the rooms on the floor above. He could hear the agent's voice echoing through the gallery that overlooked the main hallway, speaking in rapid Rosvenian.
      “...can I speak to Manager Rosanoff. Yes, yes... what is it Rosanoff? …you've read my telegram...  heading back today by train… This soon? You know I don't… alright, alright…"
      The rest of Vasilyev's voice grew distant as Cross's footsteps echoed through the empty halls. Now that all of the guests except for Vasilyev and himself had gone home, the entire villa was being cleaned thoroughly by the staff.
      He nodded his head and greeted the few number of maids who were moving to and fro the hallway, dusting the carpets, paintings, and wall fixtures. The detective quickly made his way into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.
      It was not a very spacious bedroom, being one of the smaller spare bedrooms. The walls were plain white with light beige panels, and there was a single window that overlooked the front yard.
      Despite being a spare bedroom, it was located directly across the master bedroom so the detective could come to the colonel's aid should an incident occurred. This decision proved to be beneficial during the tense and suspenseful week, where the colonel had feared the safety of his life.
      However, as he had solved the case and there were no more dangers about, Cross had decided to relax for the past few days.
      All of his belongings had been packed and his suitcases were stacked neatly on the foot of the bed, except for one suitcase that remained open on top of the dressing table. The cougar's own day clothes and travelling coat had been hung by the door. All that's left to pack was his toiletry and his dirty clothes to be locked into his trunk.
      The cougar proceeded to remove the tailored, leather glove from his right paw and pulled off his sweatshirt, revealing the fully automated, mechanical construct that had replaced his right arm. The chrome plated apparatus was secured up to the cougar's shoulders, supported by straps that ran across the feline's chest and back.  
      Cross let off a light groan as he stretched his arms, pulling the kinks off his body. Turning to the mirror, he scratched his chin and noted somewhat disgruntledly, that he had became a tad soft. He hummed as he ran his metallic paws through his chest and stomach, feeling the firm muscles underneath the layer of fur and a bit of fat.
      Perhaps he should lay off the pastries for a few days…
      Several loud knocks interrupted his musings.
      “Yes? Who is it?" The detective turned to the door.
      The colonel's voice came from the door. “It's just me, Cross."
      Despite in his state of undress, the cougar called for the colonel to come in.
      Colonel Graves was wrapped in his velvet burgundy dressing gown, which was slightly undone. Cross averted his gaze from the sight of the panther's firm, well muscled chest before his stare could become too awkward.
      “Good morning, colonel." He greeted warmly.
      “Morning, Cross. Enjoyed your morning run with Vasilyev?" The panther asked pleasantly “I see you got everything packed up."
      “I did." The detective nodded. “It is a long way to the city."
      “True." The colonel nodded, folding his arms in a casual manner. “However, we won't be heading off until after lunch."
      Cross gave a shrug. “Never hurts to be prepared. I saw two of your trunks just outside your room." He pointed out with a raised eyebrow.
      “Oh, that's just some of my military equipment. I still haven't packed the rest of my belongings."
      Cross nodded. “You can never really escape the army, do you, Graves?" He chuckled.
      “I suppose I can't." The panther smiled wistfully, moving to stand right next to the detective. His attention seem to focus on the cougar's mechanical arm.
      “May I?"
      Cross nodded. The colonel's paw digits gently touched the smooth, gunmetal gray chrome plating of his arm, which hid the complex mechanism of gears and wires. He as he studied the impressive craftsmanship of the plates and joints.
      “'Made by Mason Biomechanics Corp.'" The panther read the thin words stamped into the shoulder plate of the arm. “This is a finely constructed apparatus."
      “It is." Cross agreed. “Though, I think I should upgrade for the waterproof plating. Can't shower with this hunk of junk attached to my body."
      Graves chuckled along the detective as he turned Cross' paw plates. “Daedalus & Sons have some very good waterproof models."
      “Ah. I never really heard of them."
      “I should figure. They don't advertise much and they almost work exclusively for the military."
      Cross chuckled. “I should have guessed. And they don't come cheap, do they?"
      “No, they don't."
      Graves still had his paw on the detective's metallic paw.
      “Did it hurt?" He asked softly.
      “Hmm? Oh." Cross smiled wanly. “I was… completely inert during the whole procedure. Grafting the neural nodes into my flesh and nervous system was not something one would go through completely awake and fully aware."
      The panther rumbled. His voice was soft. “I know. You never told me how you lost it."
      “...Shrapnel from aerial bombing." The detective answered. “We were fighting the enemy in the eastern front near the end of the war… and we got ambushed. I was one of the few survivors."
      Colonel Graves' eyes went wide for a fraction. His grip on the detective's arm tightened slightly. “The eastern front… I'm sorry you had to go through that, Leon."
      If Cross had noticed that the colonel had used his first name, he didn't show it. “Everyone gets their fair share of wounds." He said, reaching into the folds of the panther's dressing gown and traced his fingers across the lines of lighter patch of fur that trailed down the feline's chest at an angle. Evidently a healed blade wound.
      The colonel shuddered at the cold touch of Cross' metallic fingers. “I got that from one of their damned war automatons. The one with the spinning blades."
      “I noticed as much, Graves." The cougar smiled lightly as he dropped his arm. “Well, I better get myself cleaned. I had quite the exercise this morning." He said.
      Colonel Graves nodded. “Of course."
      Cross didn't pull himself away as he went to reach the straps and unclasped them.
      “Mmm… let me." Graves chimed in when he noticed that Cross was struggling slightly with the clasps on his mechanical prosthesis' shoulder. The cougar detective smiled gratefully at the panther as the clasps became undone. There was several clicks and hissing noises, and the arm went limp.
      Cross gave a small shudder.
      “You alright?" The panther asked, worry reflected on his warm hazel eyes.
      “I'm alright." The detective replied. “Just a creeping numbness. Happens everytime when the nodes were disconnected." He said, holding the prosthetic steady with his whole remaining arm. With a loud click, the mechanically powered prosthetic arm detached itself from the socket and neural nodes.
      Graves helped Cross to place the now inert prosthetic on the bed. The colonel then brushed his paw on the mechanical parts that was constructed around the detective's arm stump.
      “It made me look misshapen and hideous, I know." Cross chuckled dryly.
      Hazel eyes turned to meet blue ones. The panther's paw found his way to the cougar's cheek.
      “You are not." The panther said firmly.
      “Ah." Cross held his gaze as he leaned closer to the taller, and sturdier built feline.
      Their lips met.
      He could feel the colonel's paws on his hips as he held him closer. Cross was barely aware that Grave's large, warm paws were brushing against his backside as they kissed feverently. Their tongues met and danced for domination. None of them seem to be keen of giving in to the other, but very soon, Cross found himself being pushed against the larger feline.
      He responded by pulling loose the binds that kept Graves' dressing gown together. His paws then trailed upwards to push the fabric away from the panther's muscular shoulders. With a rumbling purr, the colonel let the detective's paws to have a free roam across his body before he tightened his hold on the cougar.
      Cross stumbled as he found himself being led to a direction by the colonel's strong paws. Letting off a gasp, the cougar's feet caught on the end of the bed and he fell backwards. Graves didn't give him a chance to recover before he was trailing his lips down the centre of the detective's pectorals, while his paws were tugging on the waist of the cougar's jogging pants. He pulled it loose with one strong pull.
      The detective let off a light moan when he felt Graves nuzzling the plump sheath that was straining against the cougar's underpants. Panting lightly, he grinned as the panther continued to purr while he lovingly nuzzled his crotch, while pulling his own pyjama pants down. Cross couldn't decide whether to be amused or delighted when he found out that Graves wasn't wearing anything underneath.
      Their stout malehoods were pressed against each other after Graves had removed the remaining article of clothing off the cougar and had practically clambered on top of Cross close, locking their lips once again in another passionate kiss.
      Breathless from the intense making out, Cross ran his paw through Graves' broad, strong back, feeling the hard musculature underneath the soft fur.
      “It's been awhile since I'm this close with a client." The tawny furred feline murmured, letting out a soft purr as Graves nuzzled his neck.
      “If you're worried, then let me do the work." Graves gave him a small smirk.
      The cougar moaned softly as Graves trailed his tongue over his chest, before he went further down and took a long sniff of Cross' musky privates. He leaned in and carefully lapped at the erect member, now poking out of the soft, furry sheath between the cougar's legs.
      “G-gods… Graves…" Cross panted as Graves went to suckle his sacks.
      “Mmm… still pretty much sensitive down there, Leon?" The panther rumbled, dragging his tongue from the base of Cross' length to the barbed tip.
      “Mmh… haven't been able to… aah… relieve myself… quite a while…"
      “Well then, we shall have to rectify that, don't we?"
      The cougar was in bliss as Graves proceeded to engulf his manhood inside his maw. He had forgotten how good the panther was with his tongue. It has been a very, very long time since they had enjoyed each other's company in this manner. His entire body shuddered from the pleasure alone, moaning as Graves lapped and squeezed his shaft almost lovingly with his warm mouth. The detective let out a breath he hadn't known he had held back when the panther released his shaft.
      Graves chuckled, clasping his paw around Cross' throbbing rod. “Got you all excited, hmm?"
      “H-heh… just like old times, huh?" Cross gave the panther a breathless smile.
      “Old times indeed. Now, do you have something I could use to ease us in?"
      “Yes… in my briefcase. It's there along the rubber."
      Cross shuffled on the bed, getting himself into a more comfortable position while Graves got himself primed and ready. It didn't take long for the panther to get back on the bed. Leon shuddered again when Graves applied the oils to his backside, his deft fingers working their way inside his tailhole. The way the panther loosened him up was quite sensuous that he couldn't help but moan for the umpteemth time.
      “Mmm… I think we're good to go."
      “Y-you think?" Cross asked breathlessly as Graves pulled his paw digits out.
      The panther flashed the prone detective a toothy grin. “Why don't we find out?" He murmured as he lifted the cougar's legs and held them above his shoulders. Using his other paw, Graves guided his erect member into the base of Cross' slick tail.
      The second Graves pushed into him, Cross hissed and yowled, mainly in pain, as his rear end stretched to accommodate the colonel's sizeable girth. The cougar was soon moaning once again as the pain gave away to pleasure as the panther slowly gyrated his hips.
      There was naught but deep moans and sounds of labored breath as the two felines consummated their passions. Graves was effectively pinning Cross on the bed with his powerful arms and legs. His fangs grazed against the soft flesh underneath the fur of Cross' neck as he continued to breed the male underneath him.
      Cross was utterly lost on the euphoria of the pleasure as Graves drilled deep into him with an almost primal drive. After a few thrusts, the cougar finally adjusted with Graves' size and girth which was familiar to him. He began to move his hips in tandem with the panther, driving the feline's shaft deeper into him, eliciting a long, languid and breathless moan from his throat.
      A low rumble rolled from Graves' lips as he increased his own pace, pressing his muzzle against the cougar once again, his tongue lashing out aggressively into the cougar's oral cavity. Cross wasn't remotely aware that Graves' paw had snaked between their bodies and had grab hold of his throbbing manhood until the panther started rubbing it up and down, stimulating him further and further into release.
      For a moment, Cross was reminded of the cold nights they had spent together behind the barracks years ago. Graves was naught but a sergeant back then, an instructor transferred from Avaloria to assist the Hesperian army's daily training, and Cross himself was but a young cougar who was serving his compulsory military service.
      Spending months on end with fellow army men and strapping officers was maddening with almost little to no time for some relieve. They had to get creative to get some personal de-stressing time, and fraternization between superiors and subordinates was nothing new in the Hesperian army. Graves had taken a shine to him, and the rest was history.
      Cross was brought back of his reverie when he felt the increased intensity of Graves' thrusting and humping. The cougar panted, feeling as if he was going to be torn as the panther's moans became growls. A loud, whimpering yowl escaped Leon's own lips when Graves clamped his muzzle on his neck with a final thrust. The cougar did not need to see to know that Graves had reached his climax and was pumping his rear end with his seed. The pain of the mating bite and the amount of pleasure drove Cross into his limits as well. With a roar, ropes of his semen were expelled from his erect shaft, soiling both of his and Graves' bodies as they fell into mass of sweaty, musky bodies on top of each other.
      The detective blinked when he felt Graves pulling him into another kiss. It was slower and less forceful this time, and the cougar relished the moment as he returned the kiss, tongues dancing around between their muzzles as they held each other close.
      “Oh… I really needed that."
      Cross smiled tiredly as he caressed Graves' cheeks with his paw. “You said the same thing the last time we meet."
      “You'd remember that wouldn't you?" Graves chuckled. “You're still the sharp eyed soldier I remember."
      Cross moaned softly as Graves went to embrace him and trailed his tongue over the sore, slightly bloody patch on his neck that came from the love bite. He purred as he nuzzled into the panther, feeling a strange sort of satisfaction that he could rekindle a relationship with an old friend, even if it won't be a permanent one.
      They stayed cuddled against each other in the afterglow for several long minutes, before they got up. Cross couldn't help but chuckle when the colonel suggested that they clean up in his bathroom, which he agreed. Bathing took longer than expected as they had spent the time to appreciate each other's company a little bit more.
      By the time Cross was clean and dry, had his arm reattached, and properly dressed, Graves was already waiting for him on the bottom of the stairs. The colonel smiled as they headed towards the breakfast room.
      It would seem that Vasilyev was just about to finish his food.
      “Ah, I was wondering where you two had gone." The lynx voiced as he bit the last of his eggs.
      “Good morning, Vasilyev." The colonel greeted as he walked past the Rosvenian agent to get to the buffet table that was set by the great bay window.
      “Sorry to keep you waiting." Cross said as he took a couple of omelettes from the buffet table.
      Vasilyev's nose twitched and he blinked. Raising an eyebrow, Vasilyev seemed to be sniffing the air as he looked between the detective and the colonel. A bemused smile grazed his lips a moment later, and he silently drank his coffee.
      “No harm done. By the way, what time will we be departing?" He went to ask, turning to the colonel.
      “An hour or two after lunch." Graves answered him. “The train departs at 5, but we'll need to be at the station at least half and hour before departure to check in. There will be traffic of course, so we need to account for that."
      “Alright." Vasilyev nodded as he wiped his muzzle with a napkin. “By the way, colonel, you won't mind if I use your telephone? I need to make some urgent calls. Something had come up."
      Graves nodded absentmindedly as he sipped his coffee. “By all means."
      Cross turned to look at Vasilyev with an inquiring look. The lynx merely gave him a bemused smile and a roll of hie eyes as he left the breakfast room. He paused by the doorway as Stainer walked in, bearing a small silver tray.
      The butler waited until Vasilyev was out of the room before he went to where Cross was sitting and inclined his head. “Telegram for Mr. Cross."
      “Oh, thank you." The cougar reached for the tray that was offered to him and took the small thin envelope. Slicing it open, Cross unfurled the telegram and sipped his tea. He blinked in surprise, letting out a thoughtful hum before he folded the letter away.
      “Who is it from, Cross?"
      The detective smiled a little. “It's from my brother. Apparently he's going to be on the station later today."
      Graves blinked. “That's curious. Didn't you tell me he was in Avaloria?"
      “There's been a huge development it would seem." Cross answered him as he ate his food. “The thief he's been tailing had escaped to the continent and my brother has been tailing him ever since."
      “Ah. Should we be worried?" The colonel asked.
      “I don't know, but I don't think we have any reason to be worried. My brother didn't give away much in his telegram other than he will be arriving at Hieropolis today and he'll be looking around the station." Cross answered him. “Perhaps we might meet and see where he's heading next. I might give him a bit of a help."
      Graves chuckled as he sipped his tea. “I'm sure he'll appreciate your assistance. Anyway, it would be great to see your brother again."
      Cross gave a nod. “Just don't be too surprised when you see him in person, however." he said, giving the colonel an unreadable smile. “He doesn't like the stares."
      Graves just stared at him in confusion, but he nodded nonetheless. “I'll try not to."
      Smiling, the detective returned to finish his breakfast.
      Hieropolis was abuzz with activity. The streets were full with cars going to and fro and pedestrians crowded the sidewalks, heading to their own destinations. Cross hadn't seen much of the city since the colonel lives in the neighborhood on the outskirts of the city proper. Despite the differences with the local culture and customs, big cities were not so much different than each other, the detective mused as the automobile drove through the afternoon traffic as they headed towards downtown.
      Colonel Graves was seated beside him, pointing out several important buildings and landmarks, such as the government offices, the Sultan's private residence in the city, the famous temples, etc etc. Vasilyev himself was seated up front with the chauffeur, looking as much as interested as he too, listened to the panther's words attentively.
      They arrived at Hieropolis Central Station almost an hour later. It was a massive, grand building that resembled more of a palace than a train station. Marble and granite with intricate geometric patterned arches made up the station's facade, while numerous stained glass adorned its many windows. The train station stretched at least three city blocks, towering over the surrounding buildings by at least four stories, and it was capped with a massive, white marble dome.
      The chauffeur drove them to the canopied entrance along with the other cars. He was kind enough to help the colonel and his guests to unload their luggage. Sharp eyed porters immediately swarmed around them the minute they saw the trunks and suitcases. In no time at all, Cross had his trunk and valises sorted on the provided trolley.
      “What train, sir?" The porter who handled the Hesperian detective's luggage asked with a slightly accented Avalorian.
      “The, er… Mercurius Express. 5 o'clock." Cross answered him, before turning to the colonel. “What time are we supposed to check in, by the way?"
      “By the latest, a quarter past four." The panther answered as he pulled out his pocket watch. “We've got half an hour left. Let's hurry."
      With that, Graves led Cross and Vasilyev across the foyer and into the grand building. A massive, marble lined hall lay behind the large doors, directly underneath the large dome which Cross had seen from outside. Afternoon sunlight streamed into the hall through the many windows built around the dome.
      As the hub of international and domestic railway in the country, Hieropolis Central was always bursting with activity. The concourse was filled with hundreds of travellers from various origins and nationalities, while porters pushed carts laden with suitcases among the throng of passengers. Announcements echoed through the hall as the colonel lead them directly for the ticketing booths built to the sides of the concourse.
      They joined the ever growing queue, which thankfully weren't that long. As Vasilyev had booked his own ticket beforehand, he joined a separate line while Cross fell in line behind the colonel.
      While they were waiting, Cross went to see if he could spot his twin brother among the crowd. As the telegram had came from the train station itself, the detective hoped that he could at least have a few words with his brother before he had to leave. However, catching a glimpse of another cougar like himself within dozens of other felines from one vantage point proved to be pretty challenging.
      “Hmm?" The detective turned to the colonel, who had nudged his arm. He then noticed that Graves was already standing by the ticketing counter with a military passport on his paw, and the clerk was giving him an expectant look.
      “Oh, right. Here you go." He reached into his travel pack and handed his passport to the clerk.
      “Here are your tickets and your passports, sir." The clerk said a while later as he handed them two strips of boarding passes. “Make sure you show this at the gate and to your conductor. Your train will be on platform 12."
      “Thank you."
      “Next please!"
      Cross pocketed his passport as he inspected the strip of thick paper. He couldn't help but smile. “First class. This should be an interesting trip."
      Graves chuckled. “It will be. All you have to do is relax until you get to your destination." He said as they cleared the line and made their way to the centre of the hall. “By the way, any sign of your brother?"
      “No." Cross shook his head. “I didn't even see the tip of his muzzle anywhere." He said. “Perhaps I've missed him or he hasn't—Gideon?"
      The detective stopped in his tracks as he stared at the other, nearly identical cougar in front of him. The cougar turned around as his name was called, and he quickly broke into a wide grin.
      “Leon? I didn't expect to see you here!" The other cougar beamed and shared a hug with his brother.
      As his brother's younger twin, Gideon Cross was practically the splitting image of Leon. He shared some physical similarities like their clear blue eyes, dark golden fur, and also similar markings on their muzzles. The only thing that differentiated the two brothers was their physical stature and the mechanized prosthetics attached to their bodies.
      While Leon Cross possessed a solid, agile, and athletic build, Gideon Cross had a powerful, robust build, akin to that of a wrestler. He was also a few inches taller than his older twin. Furthermore, instead of a mechanical arm, Gideon had a mechanical ocular prosthesis which replaced his damaged left eye.
      “You know I've been staying in the city for a few weeks now." Cross replied, looking at his brother closely and snorted in amusement. “No wonder I didn't recognize you. You're wrapped up as if you're going to an expedition to the arctics!"
      Gideon rolled his one organic eye and adjusted the thick woolen scarf that was wrapped around his neck. “I just had a complete fur trim before coming down here. I didn't expect it will be so damn cold."
      “More so than Avaloria?" Leon teased with a smirk.
      A polite cough sounded right behind the detective.
      “Oh, right. I trust you remember Colonel Graves?" He gestured to the panther. Gideon blinked and his ocular implant took a moment to focus on the tall, handsome, black furred feline who came to stand beside his twin brother.
      “Ah, of course! It's nice to meet you again, sir." Gideon said enthusiastically as he shook the colonel's paw, grinning widely.
      Colonel Graves nodded with a smile. “It's good to see you're still in one piece, soldier." He rumbled good naturedly. True to his word earlier that day, he didn't stare as much as other people did. Only once his gaze flicked to the cougar's glowing, blue hued, mechanical eye.
      “Of course, it has been a while. I didn't remember you were quite this robust back then." The colonel remarked.
      Gideon smiled and looked quite pleased with himself. “I'm a member of the local Pankration club, sir. One has to constantly keep their physical state in a good condition."
      “I'm sure." Graves nodded with a grin.
      An announcement rang just then. “Your attention please. The Mercurius Express departing for Valmagne-sur-Mer with direct connections to Pierrograd and Kingshaven will leave in fifteen minutes. Passengers of the Mercurius Express please proceed to platform twelve."
      “Ah, that would be our cue." The colonel said. “It's been nice talking to you, Mr. Cross. I wish we could talk more, but we should be going."
      Gideon stared. “Wait, you're boarding the Mercurius Express to Gallia?"
      “Why yes, yes we do." Leon nodded slowly, giving his brother a speculating look. “Why do you ask?"
      “Well then, this is a surprise…" the cougar muttered, before he continued with a more audible voice. “I'll be on that train also, you see."
      Leon blinked, before he guffawed. “Talk about coincidence!" He shook his head with a wide grin. “I had been expecting you to go to someplace in Anatolia."
      “Whatever gave you that idea?" Gideon gave his brother an incredulous look. He then shook his head. “Ah, anyway, I better get myself checked in and retrieve my ticket. I'll meet you back on the train, then we'll talk."
      Leon nodded. “Will do. Make sure to tell me everything."
      “Of course. I'll see you soon, and you too, Colonel." Gideon gave his twin brother a nod and tipped his fedora at the panther, before he hurried off to where a porter was waiting with a several large and heavy looking suitcases. Apparently, the cougar hadn't been travelling light at all.
      “So that's your brother, eh? I must say, he's an interesting specimen. He does look more attractive than yourself."
      “Wha—Vasilyev!" Leon whirled around. Apparently, Vasilyev had been watching the entire exchange in silence and finally decided to speak up at that point, startling Leon who had not noticed the Rosvenian agent's arrival.
      The detective then frowned. “'Interesting specimen'…  Just what are you implying?" He asked sharply.
      The lynx just gave him a playful smile. “Nothing to be worried about. Come on, let's get to the train before it departs."
      “Yes, of course." The colonel nodded in agreement before an argument could erupt. “The train would be this way. Come on now."
      After passing through the gate checks and getting their luggages sorted out, the three felines emerged into the cavernous train shed which was attached to the north side of the station. Twenty platforms sat under two, massive barrel vaulted ceiling made of steel and glass. Steam permeated the air from the sheer amount of trains coming and going, while whistles and horns echoed through the platforms, echoing with the sounds of the crowd that had gathered around the trains.
      Cross pulled his coat closer around itself as they made their way across platform 12, weaving through the crowd while the porters trailed behind them. It was a lot colder here than the station's concourse as the heating system did not reach the train shed. He hoped their train would be much warmer.
      Vasilyev let out an appreciative whistle beside him. “No matter how many times I've ridden the train, the Mercurius Express never ceased to amaze me."
      The lynx was right, Cross thought as he gazed to the massive train that was sitting next to the platform. It was practically the largest train the detective had seen in his life. The steam locomotive towered above everyone, exuding power and strength as the engineers went about the four massive driving wheels and engine components for last minute inspections. The engine, along with its equally large tender, was painted black and silver paint, which gleamed in the afternoon light.
      A dozen or so porters wheeled their trolleys towards two baggage vans which were located directly behind the engine. Uniformed security guards patrolled around the platform, keeping a vigilant eye over the sizeable crowd that had gathered around the passenger carriages behind the baggage vans. Cross counted there were four sleeper cars, two restaurant-kitchen cars, and two lounge cars—one of which appeared to be an observation car—at the very end of the train.
      Said carriages were handsomely painted in black with gold and silver accents. The words, 'MERCURIUS EXPRESS' were emblazoned on the above centre of each carriage in large, silver letters.
      “Would you like all of your luggage into the baggage van, sir?" the porter asked.
      “Oh, no. Just these suitcases. I'll take the rest with me, thank you." Cross told his porter, pointing out the largest of his luggages to be stored. With a nod, the porter went off to join the rest of his colleagues to one of the baggage vans. It would appear that the colonel and Vasilyev had done the same.
      “So, which car should we board? I'm not quite sure which cars we are assigned to." The detective asked they walked past two of the train's kitchen staff who were debating heatedly by the restaurant car, gesticulating wildly to the crates of fresh fruit, wines, and meat which were piled neatly near them.
      “I can't make sense of the ticket." He added as he squinted his eyes at the boarding pass in his paw with a hint of exasperation. The fine print in Gallian was pretty hard to read after all.
      Vasilyev leaned over to look at the cougar's ticket. “You could always ask one of the conductors if you're unsure." He pointed out, nodding towards the conductor standing closest to them.
      The conductor was a ram with an impressive set of curled horns that looked well cared off. He was currently addressing a passenger; a tall, robust bull whose powerful frame was clad in a dark grey tweed coat.
      “Monsieur Karl Bradford, compartment 6," said the conductor to the bull with a clear, polite tone that held a slight Gallian accent.
      “Thank you." The bull said just as a young wolf, clad in a uniform not unlike the conductor's stepped down from the carriage and began to help the passenger to haul his luggages inside, bumping one them against the floor.
      “Careful now! I have several highly sensitive camera equipment in there." Bradford called out to the car attendant as he followed the vulpine into the sleeping car.
      The conductor turned his attention away from the passenger and smiled as he noticed the three felines standing close by.
      “Bonsoir, messieurs." He greeted with a tip of his hat.
      “Afternoon, can you tell us which car are we supposed to go?" Graves asked, handing the conductor their tickets.
      “Certainly, monsieur." The horned conductor nodded and gave them a quick inspection.
      “Ah, looks like monsieur Cross and Colonel Graves are assigned to the Saphir coach, which is up front, while monsieur Vasilyev would be in sleeping car Rubis, which is just behind this car." The conductor handed their tickets back. “This is the Émeraude coach, as you can see." He gestured to the plaque located right above the window by the doorway, which spelled out the carriage's name.
      Cross nodded in thanks. “Merci."
      “Je vous en prie." The ram replied with another tip of his hat.
      “I'll meet you both later then." The lynx smiled with a tip of his hat as he made to move towards his assigned sleeping car.
      “We'll see you later." Cross nodded as the colonel made the same remark. With a parting nod, the two felines made their way to their sleeping car which the horned conductor had pointed out.
      They were greeted with their own coach conductor, a middle aged Malinois dog with a pleasant smile on his face. He was handsome, and practically radiated experience and professionality with his impeccable silvery grey conductor uniform, lined with silver trimmings and buttons. The Malinois tipped his head as he greeted them.
      “Good afternoon, gentlemen. May I see your tickets?"
      The conductor made a quick check through the passenger manifest that was pinned to the clipboard he was holding. He turned to the colonel first.
      “Welcome to the Mercurius Express, Colonel Graves. Your compartment will be the number 9." He said. “Peter will carry your luggage and he'll show you to your compartment."
      As if right on cue, a young caracal appeared by the entryway and gave a polite nod to Graves.
      “And Mr. Cross, your compartment is number 8." The conductor continued and tipped the his hat with a smile. “Welcome on board, sir."
      The detective smiled at the Malinos and nodded his thanks. He followed Graves into the carriage, dropping his suitcases by the entryway and made his way into his assigned compartment. He could hear the conductor greeting another passenger from outside.
      “Benvenuto a bordo, Signor Cardozo… l tuo compartimento è il numero…"
      Cross exchanged greetings with his fellow passengers as he and the colonel made their way through the long, carpeted corridor. Their progress was somewhat slowed down by a number of other passengers who were leaning out of the window to say their goodbyes to their friends or families on the platform outside.
      The cougar detective breathed a sigh of relief when he finally reached his compartment. It was certainly far more spacious than what he had anticipated, he thought as he studied the tastefully made marquetry that decorated the lacquered wall panels. A number of brass fixtures dotted the compartment while a large plush seat took most of the space, where Cross immediately plopped down on. The detective idly gazed out through the large window, watching as the passengers from another express train on the opposite platform were settling themselves in.
      A knock came from the communication door which was set directly opposite the huge sofa. Cross couldn't help but let a small smirk to appear on his face as he unlatched the lock and slid the door open. Graves was standing right before him with a lopsided grin on his face.
      “Now if this is your main reason to insist me travelling on first class, you are far more perverse than I originally thought, colonel." The cougar shook his head in amusement, folding his arms.
      “Well now. You getting the compartment next to mine is nothing but a coincidence." The colonel replied. “But… this does make things much easier." He hummed, stepping closer to the detective, grinning widely.
      “That is, until I, or even you, gets a roommate." Cross said, quirking an eyebrow with a playful grin.
      The panther rolled his eyes. “Don't be daft. I paid for single sleepers. We won't get roommates." He poked a finger at the detective's chest.
      Before Cross could retort however, there was a series of knocks coming from the compartment door.
      “Your baggage, sir." Came the slightly breathless voice from behind the door.
      “Ah." The cougar immediately went to open the door and admitted the slightly harried looking attendant into his compartment.
      “Thank you." He said as the attendant immediately brought in his suitcases from the corridor.
      The caracal made a quick work to arrange his suitcases neatly on the rack right above the communication door. He paused when he noticed that the communication door was open. The uniformed feline didn't made any comment however, but he did gave Colonel Graves a polite greeting before he turned to the detective with a small smile.
      “Would you require anything else, sir?"
      Cross shook his head. “Not really…" He stopped. “Oh, right! Perhaps you could find out in which sleeping car and compartment my twin brother is occupying? His name is Gideon Cross."
      The attendant gave a small nod. “Of course sir. I'll get to it after I'm finished with the other passengers."
      “Alright." The detective smiled and fished out a small tip. “Thank you for your help… Peter." He read out the attendant's name tag.
      “You're welcome sir." Hershel beamed, pocketing the tip, and quickly left the compartment.
      The cougar went to close the door behind him and turned back to the other feline, who now was standing by the communicating doorway once more. Cross folded his arms and leaned by the doorway, grinning up to the black furred feline.
      “So, you were saying, colonel?"
      “Well, I was thinking that perhaps we could keep this door open." He said.
      Cross rolled his eyes but nodded anyway. He found himself grinning. “Fine by me."
      “Great." The colonel's smile was blinding. “So, I guess your brother is on a case on this train. This should be pretty interesting." He remarked.
      “Knowing Gideon, he'll be in the bar first thing once he had all his things sorted out." Cross replied.
      Graves gave a chuckle. “That's good to know!"
      A series of whistles and shouting came from the platform outside. The two felines rounded to the corridor to have a look, trying to see what the commotion was about, only to find out that the conductors were signaling that it was time to depart.
      “All aboard! En voiture!"
      Cross watched as their conductor gave a signal with his paw to the direction of the locomotive before he climbed up into the carriage and swung the door shut. On the other side of the carriage, the attendant did the same with the other door.
      A long, loud whistle boomed from the engine up front. The entire carriage gave a slight jerk as it was pulled forward. The cougar detective watched as the long platform and the crowd surrounding the train slowly slid away. The onlookers waved and cheered. Some, especially the younger ones, ran alongside the platform, waving and yelling madly as the train gradually picked up speed. Cross couldn't help but grin and wave back at the crowd until the train cleared away from the station.
      The Mercurius Express had began on its long journey as it chugged through the streets of Hieropolis, heading northwest across the continent to its destination.
    • By Kindar in Missing Son 4
      The Missing Son 44
            Patrick swam around a little, one of the guys, a lithe ermine by the name of Terry, he was one of Aaron's friend, showed him how to do the breast stroke, and Patrick practiced that. When he grew tired, he joined the game of, he had no idea what they were playing, in the shallower end of the pool. They simply hit the beach ball in the air, and scrambled to make sure it didn't get in the water. More than once someone sitting around the pool had to kick it back to them.
            At one point, Patrick felt eyes on him and he turned. One of the girls sitting with Adam in the hot tub was looking at him, and whispering something to his brother. Adam chuckled, shook his head and they leaned close to talk some more. He decided she was just curious about him and Patrick went back to the game, in time to have the ball hit him in the face.
            When the game 'ended', which seemed to mean most were done with the pool, only three were still hitting the ball to each other, Patrick did a few laps and then hooked his arms on the edge and let himself float.
            He'd never realized before how much he enjoyed being in the water. The sense of speed he got when doing the breast stroke was exhilarating, like he imagined flying might feel like.
            Adam jumped in the water in front of him. He shook his head as he surfaced. "one more minute in there and I was going to be cooked enough to be on the menu."
            Patrick chuckled. "You and your friends seemed to be having a good talk, although I think I was the subject of it."
            "That was Samantha, that's the lioness, and yeah, she was asking if she could watch us fuck."
            Patrick sputtered. "What?" He looked around and lowered his voice, even though there was no one near them. "She knows?" Those still in the pool were sitting in the shallow end, except for someone doing laps under water. Patrick had seen the form move, but hadn't paid attention enough to know who that was.
            "Yeah, she does."
            "Does everyone know? I mean that you guys sleep together?"
            "Nah. She and Julie are the only ones of my friends who know. Julie was the bear on my other side. They're cool with it. Well Sam keeps wanting watch us having sex, but none of us are that exhibitionist."
            "How did she find out then?"
            Adam sank and resurfaced. "I was at her place last year, she'd gone to get us some sodas. Alex called me and we were making plans. I had him on speaker because I didn't feel like digging for my clip, and we were kind of blatant about what we were going to do once I got home. I didn't hear her come and she caught me saying I was going to plow Anakin's ass until he begged for mercy. After that it was kind of hard to deny it."
            "And she what? just accepted it?"
            Adam chuckled. "It helps that most parents know our dads are lovers as well as brothers. I think some of them suspect about us too, but no one's asked."
            Patrick shook his head. This level of tolerance was a lot more than he'd expected. "And how did Julie find out?"
            Adam sighed. "Sam told her. When I found out I made it clear to both of them that if they told anyone else, they were going to lose me as their technical advisor. I don't mind being suspected of incest, but having it advertised for me isn't cool."
            "What do you advise them on?"
            "They have a comic online, Ultimate Speed. It's a mix between a racing and spy story. The main character is a race car driver, so they always have him in these cool cars, but before I started helping them, they weren't very accurate."
            "And she's not holding your secret over your head?" Patrick noted that the lap swimmer was coming their way, from the deep end to the shallow one.
            "No. They're both nice girls. Sam's didn't tell Julie for malicious reasons, they are just close friend and talk a lot. She was sorry about it when she realized how pissed I was. Julie promised she wouldn't tell anyone and both have kept their word."
            The swimmer was getting close enough Patrick could tell he'd pass between him and Adam. "I guess that's good." He was closer now, Patrick could see orange and stripes, so it was someone from his family, he hadn't seen any other tigers at the party. "I'd be terrified she would rev...." With a choked scream Patrick clamored up and out of the pool. "He groped me." The form was still for a moment then swimming again.
            Adam grin lasted, until a few moment after the swimmer stood. they could only see his back, but he was one of the adults.
            "Are you okay?" Patrick asked. only three of the adults were tigers, and their fathers were still at the grill.
            "Yeah, I'm fine. I just didn't realize it was him."
            Patrick wanted to press him, to find out what Damian had done to him, but Adam had made it clear he didn't want to talk about it, so all he could do was be there for him, for when he was ready.
            Patrick sat down on the edge, watching Damian shake himself then walk out of the pool. The asshole didn't even have the decency to look at him and acknowledge what he'd done.
            "So how does your advising for the story work?" He asked, to distract Adam. "You draw the cars? you give them technical sheets?"
            Adam looked away from Damian. "No. Julie writes the scripts, usually they'll use the same cars for one arc, she'll tell me what she wants them to do, like how fast they'll need to go, what kind of turns they'll take on what conditions and I'll give Sam a list of cars that fit. Every so often I go to Sam's place and help her with the more technical details. I can't 'draw' but technical drawing is completely different."
            "So, you go to her place?"
            "Yeah, she lives ten miles away, I mean I really don't need to go. I could just send her the drawings, but if gives me an excuse to be at her place."
            Patrick eyed his brother. "Why would you need an excuse to be there?"
            Adam smiled. "I sleep with her dad."
            "You what?" Patrick barely thought to keep his voice down. He glanced around, the lioness was seated with a lot of the women, and he located the lion at a table with other guys. "why?"
            Adam shrugged. "He needs it. Trust me, Charles' marriage has been falling apart for years. The first time I went there I wandered around the house and found him in the basement in the process of getting drunk. Fiona, Sam's mother, she's been cheating on him for years. I have no idea why, because he's fucking great in bed."
            "Does Samantha know?"
            Adam shook his head. "No. That, I don't think she'd be okay with. wouldn't matter that since we've started fucking Charles pretty much stopped drinking. He said he'd stick it out until Samantha moved out."
            "So you're saving their marriage?"
            "No, but it's making it so that Sam will have a dad around. I mean, that's not why I'm doing it. He needs the sex and I'm giving it to him, but I'm happy that a side effect of it means Sam has a dad. I'd hate for her to lose him." Adam looked at Patrick. "Shit. I'm sorry."
            Patrick shook his head. "It's okay. I'm okay with my memories of my 'father' not being real. I mean they were just stories to start with, the fact they weren't even true stories doesn't bother me anymore. I got the better deal, I have two fathers now." Patrick stood. "I'm done with swimming."
            "Okay. I'm going to do a few more laps before getting out"
            Patrick snagged a burger as his father put it on a plate. he added ketchup, mustard and onions to it.
            "Patrick," his father said. "once you're done eating it, can you go get more chairs out of the storage room?"
            "Sure, where's the storage room?"
            "In the basement. it's the door in front of the one leading to the garage."
            "okay." He took the next burger, put mustard in it and relish and took it to his mother, who was deep in conversation with the one guy sitting with the woman, a bear, probably Julie's father.
            He gave his mother the plate. "Here mom."
            "Oh, thank you Patrick."
            "You need something to drink?"
            "No, I'm good." She indicated the glass that was still half full of wine, by the smell of it.
            "Oh my, Margarette," a zebra said. "Your son of such a sweet boy. You don't see mine checking if I need anything. He's just like his father, only thinking about himself."
            "I'm sure he isn't that bad," his mother replied, as Patrick left them. He really wasn't interested in listening to parents talk about their children. He finished his burger and went down the stairs, then down the hall. He had his hand on the knob when he caught motion in the partially open door leading to the garage.
            "Come on Anakin. Just this once." It was Damian's voice, it had this cold quality to it that made it very distinctive. Patrick thought about not paying attention to them, getting the chairs and leaving, but he didn't like the idea of Damian being alone with one of his brothers.
            "No uncle. Absolutely not!"
            Patrick crept closer, the gap was just large enough to let him confirm the two of them were alone. Damian had his back to the door and Anakin was partially obscured by the adult
            "Come on Anakin, you know you're going to love it." He was running a finger along Anakin's cheek.
            Anakin shoved the hand away. "I said no! damn it. This is the friend and family party. you know the rule."
            Damian snorted. "Rules smrules. Patrick got to fuck."
            "It's different for him."
            "Why should he be the only one? Come on, you know how great I am, but the only time I've gotten to fuck you is when we have an orgy. I want some one on one quality time with you." He moved closer, but Anakin pushed him away.
            "no, do you hear me? It isn't going to happen. The only way you'll ever get to have sex with me one on one is if you're dead and on a slab." Anakin gasped, his hand covering his mouth. "Oh my God, I'm sorry uncle. I'm so sorry." He started crying and Damian pulled him in a hug.
            "It's okay Anakin."
            "No it's not. I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."
            "Yes, Anakin, you did."
            "no, I can't mean it. I can't want to have sex with dead guys, that's wrong."
            Damian pulled him at arm's length and placed his hands on each side of his face and looked him in the eyes. "Never think that Anakin, do you hear me? Sex is never wrong, so long as you're not forcing it on your partner."
            "But they're dead."
            "Have they told you to stop?"
            "Well, no, but..."
            "no buts Anakin. In this family we don't feel shame over sex, ever."
            Anakin nodded and dried his eyes. "How did you find out?"
            "That isn't important."
            "Does anyone else know?"
            "I haven't told you fathers."
            "You should be the one to tell them."
            "I will."
            "Good. now, I need you to promise something. I want you to promise me you'll never resort to killing someone to satisfy yourself."
            Anakin chuckled. "like I'd ever do that."
            "I'm serious Anakin, Promise me."
            "I... I promise, uncle Damian."
            Damian hugged him. "Good boy."
            They stayed like that for a time, then Anakin untangled himself and disappeared in the back of the garage, a moment later a door closed.
            In the silence Patrick tried to figure out exactly what had happened. At least Damian, his uncle, hadn't done anything to his brother. He turned to the storage door.
            "So? you learn anything?"
            Patrick froze and turned back to the garage door. Damian still had his back to him. he looked over his shoulder at Patrick.
            Patrick took a step back. how the fuck had he known he was there? He regained control of himself and entered the garage.
            "I've learned you like pushing people's buttons." On his right was a door. that must have been the door Anakin went through. "And that you're never going to get me alone in a room."
            Damian took the few steps separating them with a smile that worried Patrick. His uncle put a hand on the door. "Oh Patrick, I'd be careful how you say that. I might just think it's a challenge."
            Patrick wanted to tell him to just try it, but something stopped him. he remembered those cold blue eyes looking into him. A shudder shook him and he realized that all his uncle had to do was close the door and he'd be at his mercy.
            His uncle nodded at him and walked by to exit.
            Patrick grabbed his arm. "What the fuck is your deal?" Patrick was terrified of him but he wouldn't let that rule him.
            Gray/blue eyes looked at him. "Have you pissed yourself yet?"
            "What? of course not." What the fuck was that about?
            Damian shrugged. "Another time then." he pulled his arm out of Patrick's grip and left.
            Patrick watched his back until he disappeared up the stairs, then he went to the door Anakin had to have taken. he almost opened it but considered that if Anakin had just wanted to leave the basement, he'd have exited by the door Patrick had been in. He didn't know what was behind this door, but it might be a place Anakin felt safe in. He couldn't barge in and risk disturbing that. He knocked.
            "Go away. I don't want to talk to you."
            "It's Patrick."
            The reply wasn't immediate. "Come in."
            The door opened to a dark room. There was some light, but the walls were black, as was the carpet, the desk, the dresser and the bed, sheets and all. Anakin was seated on the bed. This wasn't just a safe place, this was Anakin's bedroom.
            On the wall were posters, horror movies, and some that might be music bands, but they looked like they belonged in a horror movie of their own. He caught the poster for 'Back from the Dead' and shuddered. He'd seen that movie when he was twelve. It had scared the shit out of him.
            "I didn't mean to eaves drop on you a Damian. Are you okay?"
            After a moment Anakin nodded. "I'm just shaken. trust uncle Damian to get me to admit something I've been denying even to myself. I just wish he hadn't been so harsh about it."
            Patrick sat next to him. "He does sound like a dick sometime."
            Anakin sighed. "Believe it or not, he does mean well. Not that it helps stop the shakes. He's just not the most socially adept at times."
            That was putting it mildly Patrick thought. "So you haven't had sex with him?"
            "I have, during the family gatherings. Just not one on one."
            "Why not?"
            "He gives me the creeps. I know he's family, and he's a great top, or bottom, he's great pretty much no matter what. I just don't want to be with him without anyone else around. If I'd know he was in the garage waiting for me I'd have stayed in my room. At least he respects closed doors in our house."
            "I get the feeling that wouldn't have helped. He seemed to get his way no matter what."
            "Yeah, I guess he does." Anakin rested his head on Patrick's shoulder. "Fuck," he whispered.
            Patrick put an arm around him. "So, dead guys, huh?"
            Anakin looked up at him. "You don't really sound as freaked out by that as you should."
            "I know, right?" Patrick chuckled. "I mean, finding out Adam sleeps with married guy unnerved me more than this. Everyone in this family has eccentricities, right? I wonder what mine is. Although in your case." Patrick waved a hand around the room. "I can't say I'm all that surprised."
            Anakin looked at the posters, black skulls on the dresser and desk and chuckled. "I guess I have been telegraphing it."
            Patrick tighten his arm around his brother. "You going to be okay?"
            "Yeah. I'm just going to have to figure out a way to work around dead guys. I could become a mortician."
            "Or a coroner."
            Anakin laughed. "Somehow I think they'd see me having sex with a corpse as tampering with evidence."
            "I guess that's true." Patrick stood.
            "If you want to go to the hall, you can take that door." Anakin pointed to the wall in front of them and Patrick squinted. he barely made out the outline. He looked around wondering where the door to the bathroom was, He had to have one, every one of his other brother had his own bathroom.
            "Just how often have you missed the door trying to leave?"
            "never," Anakin answered proudly, then chuckled.
            "I need to go back to the storage room. Dad needs more chairs."
            "Let me help you." Anakin stood and then hugged Patrick. "Thanks for checking up on me."
            "You're welcome." he kissed the top of his brother's head.
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