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  1. Rod_3rich

    Chapter 2

    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. “Indeed.” 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. Unless... “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.” “Point.” “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.
  2. Rod_3rich


    The villa of Colonel Achilles Graves was in an unusual state of uproar. At least a dozen members of the Anatolian police were spread around the villa's front porch with their automobiles parked all over the snow covered yard. The officers, thickly clad in large woolen overcoats, were busy taking statements from the guests, while a small group of officers were leading away three of the guests. Various emotions were displayed on their faces, from miserable to murderous rage. Their paws were cuffed on their backs as they were escorted towards the awaiting automobiles. One of them, a tiger, had to be restrained by three of the officers as he kept struggling against their grip. The feline was heavily bruised, bloodied, and had lots of cuts on his face. He snarled and tried to fight his way out twice and nearly succeeded until a boar officer went in and helped his comrades to shove the offending tiger into the police van. The master of the house, the distinguished Colonel Achilles Graves, looked weary as he answered a few questions from the tall and shrewd labrador. The golden bands on his uniform indicated that the canine was the lead inspector. There was an air of relief in the black panther's features as he answered yet another question. “...yes, exactly. If it wasn't for detective Cross' quick action, that tiger would have succeeded in his attempt to stab me." He answered. “I see." The inspector nodded, hastily scribbling the colonel's words on a notebook. He hummed as he thought his next question. “What can you say for Mr. Nikolai Vasilyev? I understand he's your guest. However, he wasn't on your guest list." “Oh, young Vasilyev. He was standing in for his uncle, Admiral Vadim Vasilyev, who had fallen ill and couldn't come. The admiral and I had gone a long way back." The inspector made a long, drawn out hum. “Ah, that makes sense I suppose." “Vasilyev helped to restrain Rogers when detective Cross was struggling to restrain him." The colonel added. “Furthermore, without his help, that damned tiger and his accomplices would have managed to steal some valuable information." “Did he now?" The labrador's eyebrow rose Colonel Graves gestured to the two felines who were being interviewed by another police member several feet away. “See that they had sustained a number of cuts and bruises?" “Mmm…" The inspector continued to ask several more questions to the colonel, before he nodded in satisfaction, and signaled for his subordinates to move. Breathing a sigh of relief, the black panther turned to the cougar who was making his way towards him. Trotting directly behind the cougar was a male lynx. Both were draped in long, heavy coats and scarves wrapped their necks. “I really cannot thank you enough for your help, Mr. Cross… I am forever in your debt." He said to the cougar. Detective Leonidas Cross, or Leon as he liked to go by, gave a dismissive wave to the panther before he brushed off the snow that had accumulated on the top of his hat. A small smile was etched on his bruised face. Indeed, the feline looked slightly worse for wear after the small brawl earlier that evening. “Anything for an old friend, colonel. The worst is behind us with Rogers gone." He nodded towards the tiger who was glaring balefully at them through the windows of the police car. “I think you can sleep well now without anything burdening your mind." The detective added, pulling the coat closer around himself. “I suppose." Colonel Graves exhaled, watching as the police shoved the bound tiger into the car and slammed the door. “Still, I hadn't thought it was Rogers of all people…" Cross gave a comforting pat on his friend's shoulder. “At least Mr. Vasilyev was kind enough to subdue Rogers and recover the stolen plans." The entourage of police and their cars soon drove off, leaving the villa back in its relative peaceful state once again. With the police gone, so was the excitement. The guests and servants slowly trickled back into the villa. The colonel, Cross, and Vasilyev soon followed the others, walking side by side as they headed into the warmth of the colonel's villa. “All clear with the police?" Cross turned his question to the lynx as he handed his coat and hat to the butler who was standing helpfully by the door. Nikolai Vasilyev looked worse for wear. His face bore a few scratches, some were bleeding openly, and his dinner jacket was in disarray. However, the feline's expression was one of immense satisfaction. “I'm all clear once I showed them my identification and papers. Good thing the good sergeant can read Cyrillic." The lynx voiced with a small grin on his face. His voice bore almost no traces of his Rosvenian heritage. “I must apologize for deceiving you both however. It was imperative that my real identity was to remain hidden for my mission to succeed." Cross nodded. “Yes of course. And we're grateful that you've recovered what had been stolen, aren't we, colonel?" “Hmm? Oh, yes." The colonel nodded, absentmindedly caressing the folder that was pinned under his arm. “The Avalorian army is grateful for your help, Mr. Vasilyev." “I'm just here to help." The Rosvenian agent gave a small chuckle. “Well, I don't think any of us is ready for bed now." The colonel continued. “There was too many excitement for the night." With the expressions of agreement from the two feline companions, he continued, “Why don't we retire to the library for the time being?" The library, which had been used by Cross to confront Rogers of his motives early that evening, had been efficiently tidied. Looking at the room now, one would not expect that a brawl had taken place inside the richly paneled and thickly carpeted room. The servants had tidied the books back to their respective shelves in an orderly manner, the seats and chairs rearranged back into their prior position, and the colonel's writing desk had been returned to its original, upright position by the tall windows. There were several blotches of ink on the carpet from the bottles that had shattered when Rogers slammed Cross to the desk in an attempt to escape, but the ink stains would wash off, hopefully. As the two felines made a beeline to the fireplace, the colonel went over to pour them whiskey from the side table, which had been thankfully untouched during the confrontation. “Thank you, Colonel." Vasilyev nodded at the panther gratefully and drank. Colonel Graves went to take the spot beside the cougar detective. “So, you will be returning to Rosvenia soon, Vasilyev?" Cross inquired, sitting on the nearby velvet settee. “Since you've completed your objective here and whatnot." “In a few days." The lynx nodded as he sat to the adjacent settee. “I'll be taking the train straight to Pierrograd," said Vasilyev. “My services would be needed with how the country is at this moment… What about you, Mr. Cross? You're from the Hesperian Federation, aren't you?" The cougar took a big gulp of his whiskey before replying. “Yes, yes I am. I'll be taking the train home, all the way to Valmagne-sur-Mer in Gallia. From there, I'll take the connection to Kingshaven by ship." “Sounds like you've got a long journey ahead, Mr. Cross." Vasilyev sipped his whiskey. “Which train are you taking? The Continental Express?" Cross shook his head. “I'm not sure yet, but I'll either take that or the Nightliner Limited back. Whichever won't deplete my wallet." He added with a small dry chuckle. “Why not the Mercurius Express?" Colonel Graves chimed in. “It's the fastest, and not to mention the best train in all of Ivoria. Takes just four days to travel from here to Gallia." “That's true, right there." Vasilyev agreed. “I'll be on that train myself. Fine meals, cocktails, and not to mention, charming travelling companions." The lynx chuckled. The colonel gestured in agreement with his glass. “You would be right." “However, it's also the most expensive option for me." Cross sighed. “I simply can't afford spend so much on a trip. I've used quite a huge amount of my savings to get here from Hesperia by airship." He said. “It'll be cheaper if I take the regular express trains." Colonel Graves was quick to protest. “Oh, no, no. I can't allow that. You've helped me a great deal, Cross, and I intend to repay the favor." “Oh, but you shouldn't—“ “I insist." The colonel smiled. “I'll cover for your travel expenses from Anatolia to Gallia. Besides, I'll be taking the train too, but only as far as Ansburg. We could all travel on the same day." Cross blinked. “I didn't know that you're heading back so soon. Why Ansburg, pray tell?" “There will be a joint military drill between Avaloria and Arlemania, requested by the Kaiser Albert himself." The colonel replied. “Part of his plan to smooth out relations between the two countries." Vasilyev hummed. “I heard rumours that the Kaiser is eyeing Princess Alexandrina for marriage. Perhaps this is one of his attempts to soften relationships between his empire and Avaloria." “Judging from the number of times the Kaiser himself has visited Avaloria, I wouldn't be surprised." Cross remarked, sipping his whiskey. “Either way… you will be overseeing the military exercises, am I correct?" He turned to the colonel. The black panther nodded. “Quite right! And what better way to travel back with good company, eh?" He chuckled. Cross fell into a long, ponderous silence, sipping the last drop of his whiskey all the while. “Well then…" he gave a sigh and showed the colonel a small, amused smile. “If you insist, colonel, I would be happy to join you two." The colonel grinned brightly. “It's settled then!" He clasped his paws together. “I say why don't you two enjoy a few days here before going back? Enjoy the rest of the week to recuperate, and then we can head to Hieropolis to catch on the Friday afternoon train next week." He suggested, standing to his feet. “And to be frank, you two don't look like you could travel without gaining a few looks." The other two felines turned and glanced at each other, noting the bruises and scrapes on their faces. Cross chuckled. “Yes… I think you're right, colonel." “I could use a few days of rest." Vasilyev nodded in agreement. “Splendid! I'll have our berths arranged." The colonel spoke again. “You won't need to worry a single thing." Vasilyev poured another helping of whiskey to himself. “Looks like we'll have a pretty enjoyable journey ahead of us." Cross couldn't agree more. “Looks like we will." He smiled at the lynx, and asked to refill his glass. * * * Richard Caine took a large drag of his smoke and blew, looking down to the open air palm court from the balcony of his hotel room several floors above. Tables and chairs had been arranged by the hotel stewards so that the guests could dine under the fine, clear night. He could see a few guests had trickled out from the adjacent dining room, clad in dinner jackets and elegant gowns. Some of the ladies braved to bare their shoulders and arms even though it was quite a chilly night. Nights in Misarya could be very cold, especially in winter, contrasting to its daytime temperatures. It baffled Richard to no end how extreme temperatures could shift in the desert. The wolverine continued this idle activity of observing the servants and guests for a few more minutes before he flicked the butt of his cigarette and headed back into his room. Closing the doors behind him, Richard went to check his reflection on the nearby mirror, straightening his collar and bowtie, before he went to grab the black tailcoat hanging by the open wardrobe. There came a knock on the door just as he was straightening his dinner jacket. “Yes?" “It's me, Rick." Came his uncle's voice from the door. “Just a second." Richard went to the door and turned the lock open. His uncle was standing just outside, sporting the small grin that seemed to be permanently plastered on his face. Like Richard, Simon Caine was dressed in a dinner jacket, which was slightly stretched over the wolverine's large, but sturdily built figure. His salt and pepper hair was neatly combed back, and Richard thought his uncle looked pretty dashing for his age. “Well, well. You look strapping, as always." The older wolverine smiled appreciatively, before he blinked and made a small gesture with his paw. “Your bowtie is slightly off." He told his nephew. His fingers were already reaching for the tie. “Do you mind if…?" Richard had a bemused smile on his face as he shook his head. “Not at all." Simon made a short work to straighten his nephew's bowtie, and took a few more seconds to make sure the younger wolverine was presentable. “There. Perfect." Richard chuckled and beamed. “Thanks, uncle." “You're welcome!" The older wolverine smiled. “Oh right, these just came in." He then pulled out several enveloped from inside of his jacket. “Oh?" Richard quickly flipped through the letters and tore them open. The first two was from his alma mater, the Stainbridge University in Avaloria, inviting him for an alumni spring reunion. The second one was a letter from his archeology professor, asking about his recent expedition to the Misaryan Great Tombs. The third envelope was a telegram, sent from a hotel in Hieropolis, Anatolia, dated today, and it was sent just about an hour ago. The name of the sender was his friend, whose letter Richard had been waiting for a few days now. Opening the envelope, Richard's eyes fell to the neatly printed letters which read, 'FOUND NEW INFO ABOUT THE BOX = OLD BIRD KEPT ASKING ABOUT THE TRINKET = WILL HEAD TO AS-QAIR & MEET YOU AT THE HOTEL IN FIVE DAYS = TRENT W' “Was that from Warren?" Simon inquired when Richard folded the telegram back to its envelope. The younger wolverine nodded. “Yeah. Sounds like Trent had finally found a lead on our nifty little trinket here." He said, turning his head slightly to the corner of the bedroom. “Oh, really?" Simon hummed. He followed his nephew's line of gaze, looking at the large, solid black trunk nestled right next to the end table. It was heavily secured by three locks with a combination number on each lock. Opening them would also require a special key, which the two wolverines always kept on themselves. Getting that little souvenir from the Great Tombs had been quite the grueling task, and not to mention the permits they had to apply to get it shipped across the country. The ancient and valuable trinket they found held a few surprises… if not shocking. Richard didn't want to risk it being lost or stolen after all the trouble he and his uncle had been through. Especially not when their client had promised a large amount of payment for that artifact. “Well any information about that strange box there would be good. What did he say?" Richard shook his head. “Nothing, really…" He handed the envelope to his uncle. “He said he'd meet us here in two days, and that's all." Simon hummed as he read the letter. “Looks like your client is getting more impatient to get his souvenir." Richard let out a soft snort. “Ainsworth is too impatient for his own good. We'll give him the box when he's given us the payment." “Of course, boy." The older wolverine chuckled. “Well, let's head down. They've rang the dinner gong a while ago." Nodding, Richard went to lock every windows and doors before he followed his uncle to the hallway outside. Simon's paw was on Richard's shoulder as they headed for the elevator lobby, pulling the younger wolverine close. The elevator brought the two down to the ground floor and they made a beeline towards the dining hall just off to the side of the lobby. The magnificent hall, two stories high and lined with windows on two sides, was already filled with guests. The orchestra was playing a lively waltz to which several couples were dancing to on the marble lined dance floor. Wall to ceiling glass doors opened to the palm court outside. It would seem most of the guests wanted to enjoy some fresh air tonight, Richard noted as he and his uncle were shown to their table by their waiter. They weren't lead outside, thankfully, but it would seem their table had already been occupied by a single guest. He was a tall, broad shouldered grey wolf with a stern looking face and a predominantly black and white fur, with shades of brown spread evenly along his robust figure that was clad in impeccable set of tails. The wolf's sharp amber eyes flicked between Richard and his uncle for a moment before he gestured to the empty seat with a flicker of a smile. “Good evening." Simon greeted as they sat down. “I'm Simon Caine." “Heinrich Luther." He introduced himself. His tone carried the slight guttural, Arlemanian accent. Richard introduced himself as well before he picked up the menu card and looked through the list of food that was offered that night. For some reason, he felt that Luther was scrutinizing him and his uncle a bit too closely. When he went to glance at the wolf, the canine's gaze was already somewhere else, casually so. It would seem that the wolf was studying a pair of lions who were dancing slowly with the music, Richard thought as he followed the canine's gaze. Honeymooners, judging by their expressions on their faces. Richard thought that the lioness was very beautiful in her simple, but undoubtedly expensive black dress. An impressive necklace was draped over her neck, consisting of huge, intricate golden beads and beautiful sapphires. The lioness' husband was also very handsome, with strong jaw, a dazzling smile, neatly trimmed auburn mane, and brilliant grey eyes. His white dinner jacket fitted his athletic frame perfectly. “Those two made a really good pair." His uncle remarked thoughtfully. “Oh, isn't she Eliza Baxter?" “She's Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer now." Heinrich Luther intoned. Simon Caine regarded the wolf with interest. “Indeed? I didn't know she's married. That Meyer is a lucky bastard." He chuckled. “And she's a very lucky girl." Richard remarked, eyes fixed on the couple. “Undoubtedly." Luther nodded, drinking his wine. “News of her marriage was all over the newspapers in Avaloria for the past week." “Ah, I see. My uncle and I had been busy with the excavation at the Great Tombs for the past month, hence why." Richard chuckled. “She's a big star then?" “I tell you, nephew, Elisabeth Baxter—or Meyer as she is now, is one of Avaloria's richest women." Simon Caine explained. “I was well acquainted with her father. Julius Baxter was a brilliant businessman. He also invested a lot on theatres and cinemas at the Cross End. We've been to one of his theatres a few years ago, actually." He chuckled. “Remember, Rick? It was a performance for Wilhelm V." “Oh, really?" The younger wolverine nodded slowly. “Oh, right, right. That theatre was quite opulent, and I remembered it was quite the brilliant play too. And… did you say Julius Baxter was a brilliant businessman?" He added. “He had passed away two years ago." Luther remarked in his guttural baritone. “Mrs. Meyer now holds his businesses." “As it is expected." Simon nodded, drinking the champagne which had been poured by the waiter. “I heard she's also a shrewd businesswoman." The wolf nodded. “That she is. How well are you acquainted with the Baxter family, Mr. Caine?" He asked, leveling his gaze to Simon. The wolverine blinked. “Just quite, actually. Me and Julius were schoolmates. We shared the same dormitory and classes, but never really talked to him that much outside homework and school projects. I've also made a few business deals with the late Mr. Baxter, with his obsession on ancient artifacts and such." Luther nodded with a hum. “I see." He uttered, before his attention was drawn to the waiter who had come around, bringing another person to their table. It was a male Akita with handsome honey brown coat with black markings and white underbelly. He looked pretty young, perhaps in his early twenties. However, despite a hint of nervousness tugging on his smiling muzzle, the canine had an air of ease about him, like a well-seasoned traveler. “Hullo. Spencer Calius. Pleasure to meet you." Richard blinked, not expecting the fluent Avalorian, if not slightly inflected with a hint of an accent, coming from the Akita's lips. His name itself suggested that the canine wasn't wholly oriental in his origin. “The pleasure is mine, young man." Simon Caine shook his paws with the Akita, giving a very wide, if not a rather too friendly grin. Richard nudged his uncle slightly. Simon Caine quickly cleared his throat and toned down his smile. “Traveling all by yourself, Mr. Callius?" “Yeah, I am. I had friends actually, but we parted ways awhile back," said Spencer. “They wanted to go back to Columbia and I would like to explore the old world a bit more so, we agreed to split up here." He explained with a shrug of his shoulders. “Understandable. However, it's rather taxing, traveling by yourself, isn't it?" Richard went to ask. Spencer hummed. “Hmm, that's true but it's rather refreshing actually. I got to sightsee every interesting part of Misarya with my own, leisure pace. My friends could be rather excitable, really." “Of course." Richard nodded. “So, you've toured the Nahail River then?" “Oh yes, it's quite the adventure!" The Akita said with a wide grin. “I've seen so many interesting ruins and sights. My fellow passengers were quite interesting too. Professors, archeologists, novelists, honeymooners… like those two over there," he nodded to the Meyers couple, “and uh…" He turned to Luther, tilting his head to the side. “Huh… didn't we meet on the boat?" The wolf's response was rather noncommittal. “We might have." “Ah? Er… alright then." Dinner proceeded without many comments. However, Richard did engage Spencer in a small discussion about their excavation work at the Great Tombs and what they found. It certainly drew interest from Akita, who had apparently visited the location during his tour down the Nahail. The Meyers had gone to occupy the small table next to theirs, and Richard couldn't help but admire the couple. They looked truly in love, especially Theodore Meyer. No doubt, his new wife had truly captivated him. However, aside from the cheerful music and the splendid food, dinner progressed rather uneventfully. Heinrich Luther offered a curt “Evening," before he stood up and left, making his way towards the bar that was outside the dining hall. As the waiter brought out the desserts, Richard watched as two guests rose from the table across the room and made their way towards the Meyers, hand in hand. One was a young lioness with her hair curled into fashionable waves, and the other was a rather boyish looking leopard. Both of them were quite good looking, but they didn't quite stand out. Richard guessed that they were another newlywed couple, or perhaps recently engaged. He couldn't be sure. However, the strange, intense expression on the lioness' face was quite startling for him. “Oh, Eliza! I didn't know you're staying here. What a pleasant surprise!" The lioness exclaimed. From the expression on Eliza Meyer's face, it was indeed a surprise, but far from pleasant. Her husband, Theodore Meyer, also looked quite shocked. In fact, the two lions looked rather awkward meeting this Cathy. Eliza quickly stood up after she managed to gather he bearings. “Cathy! I didn't know you're staying here!" She turned her attention to the leopard standing beside Cathy. “Oh, and who is this?" Cathy pulled the leopard by his arm, smiling rather brightly. Too brightly at that. “Zachary Hale. Meet Eliza Bax—I mean, Eliza Meyer. And I'm sure you knew Theodore Meyer?" She nodded her head to the lion. Theodore Meyer nodded wordlessly. He was still staring at Cathy and Zachary Hale, but mostly Zachary Hale, in surprise. “Oh yes. We met a couple of times," said Zachary Hale. The leopard smiled somewhat shyly at the lion in question. Theodore Meyer gave a small, if not nervous smile. “Yes… we studied at Bridgeford together." There was an unreadable expression in the lion's grey eyes, which was reflected by Zachary Hale. However, the leopard turned his attention to Cathy who had continued speaking. “Well, I just wanted to tell you, Lizzy. Me and Zach are engaged!" Cathy practically exclaimed to her friend. “Engaged?" Came the astonished reply from the Meyers. Richard quickly turned away from the conversation, knowing how women liked to gush and gossip, especially when they were going to get married, or during their honeymoon. His attention was completely drawn away the next moment, as one of the waiters came down towards him with a small tray bearing an envelope. “Telegram for Mr. R. Caine." The uniformed bear announced. “Oh, that'd be me. Thank you." Richard went and took the telegram from the waiter. He quickly opened it when he read that it was sent by Trent Warren. 'CHANGE OF PLANS = MEET ME IN TWO WEEKS = DEPART MERCURIUS EXP. HIEROPLS. CENTRAL STATION = OLD BIRD WILL BE THERE WITH THE GOLD = REPLY PROMPTLY = TRENT W' Folding the telegram, Richard made a mental calculation in his mind. Travelling from Misarya to Anatolia will take half a day by air. Two if they were delayed by the weather. It will take three days by train. They would have to manage their time carefully if he and his uncle were to meet with Trent before boarding the train. He turned his head to his uncle when the older wolverine nudged him softly. “Something urgent?" Richard gave a slight shrug. “Well, sounds like it. Looks like we'll have to head up to Anatolia in two weeks instead." He said. “Why? Did Warren changed his plans?" His uncle voiced his confusion. “Looks like it. Sounds like he found some new leads." Richard replied, lowering his tone slightly and handed the telegram to his uncle. “Well, we can catch up with him if we take the airship early next week." “Ah, that's rather sudden, isn't it?" Simon remarked. “I suppose so." Richard sighed and stood up. “I better reply to this telegram, so please excuse me." He added to the guests on his table. “No problem!" Spencer gave the wolverine a nod. “It sounds urgent so I don't mind. Perhaps we might even meet in Anatolia later on." He chuckled. Evidently, he had heard about their part of conversation. Simon smiled rather tightly as he turned to the Akita. “Oh?" “I'll be going back to Columbia after this. A friend of mine was kind enough to book me a passage on a train." Chuckling, Richard straightened his jacket and made his way out of the dining room, intend to find the telegram office in the hotel. He was sure he saw one this afternoon, close to the lobby. * * * Several hundred feet above the vast, arid desert of Eravia, a silvery airship was sailing lazily through golden dunes with several dozen passengers housed within its cigar-shaped hull. While not being the largest airships, the Adhara was one of the fastest with the most comfortable, finely appointed accommodations with affordable price. It was that sole reason that Dr. Hector LeFevre took the Eravian airship on his return trip to Anatolia. From there, he would take a transit flight back to his home in Gallia. The badger, short and robust but also unusually tall for his species, was seated by the airship's small, but cozy lounge. A cup of chilled sweet tea was wrapped around his paw. The doctor's attention wasn't directed to the drink or even the view outside the wide, picture windows of the lounge. Instead, LeFevre was fully engrossed with the newspaper before him. It was the international edition of the local papers that had been printed and translated to Gallian. “Là là." He muttered in annoyance as he read the headline on the third page, which announced that weather conditions in northern Ivoria had worsened. Weather forecast predicted that snow will come down heavily in the next few weeks. All flights to and from Avaloria, Hesperia, Gallia, Arlemania, Rosvenia, and Norvdal would be canceled until further notice. “Looks like I would have to take the train instead." He said to particularly no one. “Perhaps you should, old friend." LeFevre stood, let out a delighted exclamation, and went to give the sabertooth that had been standing right behind him a friendly hug. “Armand, mon vieil ami!" LeFevre beamed. “What brings you here? Come, come, sit with me." Armand Förstner was a sabretooth tiger of middle age with a friendly demeanor. A single silver plated false fang was in place of his original right-side fang. His bright brown eyes were energetic and playful as he gave a good-natured slap on the badger's back (who was a few heads shorter than him) while grinning brightly. “I am here on business, LeFevre. The usual duties of a director: monthly supervision and other nonsense." The sabertooth replied in his usual, slightly synthesized voice as he sat down. LeFevre could see the mechanical collar that wrapped around his old friend's neck partially hidden under the feline's shirt collar. It assisted the sabertooth's speech since Förstner had his vocal cords damaged during an accident a few years ago. “Ah, you're overseeing the grand project to connect your train lines from Southern Ivoria to the East?" LeFevre guessed. “You've been monitoring the progress in Evaria then?" “Quite right my friend." Förstner nodded. “Progress is slow, but the Ispania-Misarya-Anatolia-Eravia railway would be completed by the end of next year if favor is in our side." “And soon your gleaming trains will thunder through the sandy deserts, eh?" LeFevre grinned. “It would be a dream come true for your bosses, no?" The sabertooth nodded with a small smile. “Quite right. Trains bearing the Mercurius Ferroviaire name would soon be rolling through this new route. I'm thinking of naming this route as the Horus-Aerion Express." “The Horus-Aerion Express? After the Horus Mountains?" The mustelid doctor tilted his head slightly. The sabertooth smiled. “Naturally! The new train route will pass through the mountain range." He revealed. “The company had decided to extend the Aerion Express' route from Ispania onwards so I think it's the most fitting name. This new line will be our most profitable one, I'd wager." “That is a pretty fitting name, I agree." LeFevre chuckled. “And I'm sure it will. This rail will link all of your company's train routes, doesn't it?" “Why of course!" The two continued to talk about Förstner's new train project as the day slowly passed, discussing about how the new line would connect all of Förstner's train services throughout the continent. When fully completed, the Horus-Aerion Express could take passengers from Madrino City, Ispania towards Misarya, and then all the way to Asaddia, Eravia where the train will continue towards its terminus in Hieropolis, Anatolia. “I didn't get to ask," said the sabertooth when he and LeFevre were strolling around the glass enclosed promenade deck, “what business have you in Eravia? I've never known you'd like to travel too far away from home." “It was a patient's request, you see," replied the badger. “A Gallian diplomat had fallen seriously ill after a trip to the local excavation site. I won't bore you with the details, but I had to perform an emergency surgery on him. He's in fine condition now, but I had him sent to Gallia for better treatment ahead of me. He'll be arriving approximately tomorrow morning in Luciere." “Ah, that's good news then." Förstner nodded. “Still, it was surprising that you would fly all the way this far south." The doctor chuckled with a nod. “Life can give us some few surprises, yes. Like the news of the cold front brewing in the northern regions for instance. No doubt a telegram informing that my airship to Gallia is cancelled would be waiting for me in Hieropolis." He lamented. Förstner gave a slight hum. “Well, when airships couldn't make it due to bad weather, trains or boats certainly can. At least, I'm confident my trains could go through the cold weather with no problem. No problem at all." He chuckled at that. “You're heading back to Gallia then?" “Yes I am. I must see my patient, after all." “And you haven't booked a berth on a train or a ship?" LeFevre knew where his friend was going, but he humoured him nonetheless. “I haven't, yes." “Well then, as the director of the line, let me provide you with a berth on the Mercurius Express, my friend. No, no, it won't be a problem. It'll be a pleasure, travelling with a friend, yes?" With Förstner's insistence and persuasion, the badger doctor finally agreed, much to the sabertooth's delight. “I owe you, my friend." He said. “Consider this a debt repaid. After all, you did save my life during the Great War." Förstner was practically purring pleasantly. LeFevre responded by giving a warm pat on his friend's shoulder and a small smile. “You flatter me." He added with a slight chuckle. “You will be joining the train then?" “Oh yes, but only until Obersthaven. I'm personally overseeing that some important guests will have a comfortable journey to Arlemania." The sabertooth said. “Like Dirk Thorstein, the famous Columbian violinist who's in this airship with us right now. He and his two friends had just completed their tour, playing for the Eravian sultans. In fact, I think I saw him and his group right there." Following the sabertooth's line of sight, LeFevre saw a tall, broad shouldered arctic wolf standing a few ways away, leaning over the promenade windows. He had a rather sophisticated but approachable and charming air. Standing close to the wolf were his fellow musicians, as it would seem. One was a ram whose curled horns caused him to have the impression that he towered over every everybody else, and the other was an gangly, lean, male leopard. All three were in the company of sophisticated, important looking people, conversing about their latest performance and whatnot. However, Dirk Thorstein was talking with a rather unassuming wolf with a predominant dark grey fur. “You said you're also a violinist, Herr Schroeder?" LeFevre heard the wolf spoke as they walked past the two canines. “Yes I am, but I've fallen out of practice, unfortunately." The grey wolf replied. “I used to have a tutor from the… Ansburg Philharmonic. I am not as good as you, Thornstein, I must admit." “It takes time and practice." The Columbian violinist replied amicably. “And a tutor from the Ansburg Philharmonic? Really? Well, I say that was quite the distinction!" “Hmm, where did you say Dirk Thorstein was from again?" LeFevre finally asked as Herr Schroeder replied in a humble manner, adding that his tutor was talented but quite the slave driver. “I didn't say." Förstner hummed. “Also, I'm not quite sure. I knew he debuted in Centropolis a few years back and gained prominence in Columbia as a brilliant soloist. He had even toured around the world a few times." LeFevre nodded. “I heard of that as well. I do believe he has a bit of an accent… Norvdallian perhaps?" “Still have an eye over the details I see!" The sabertooth chuckled. “Well, Columbia is a big melting pot of a country, my friend. One living there could have any strange accents from all over the world." The doctor pondered his friend's statement. “I guess you're right." He said. “Well then, tell me more about your special guests you have to escort." “Gladly! We have a few celebrities beside Thornstein. There's Diana Adler, the famous Cross End actress; and also, Arturo Lazzari, the world-renowned opera singer. I heard he's going to tour the North Columbian continent for the season… Ah, aside from the celebrities, there's also Count Viktor Konstantinov and Duchess Natasha Nikolaevna of Rosvenia who will be travelling back to their home. No doubt they would be needed in the royal court with the current political turmoil in their country…" The day quickly turns to night and along came a very satisfying dinner in the airship's wide, and cozy dining hall. Even though it was somewhat simple, the meal was extremely delectable, thought LeFevre. The badger soon found himself strolling along the promenade once again, intent to get a little exercise after the hearty meal. He couldn't do to sleep with a full feeling in his stomach. Humming a little tune, the Gallian doctor greeted a couple of passengers who had went to have a nightly stroll just as himself. Most had turned in for the night. The sky outside was calm and cloudless, he noted. Stars shone through brightly in the inky black sky and there's no moon in sight. It was almost poetic, LeFevre mused as he continued his stroll and rounded through the hallway that would lead to the other promenade on the other side of the Adhara. Just as he was approaching the entryway to the staircase, he heard hushed voices, almost like a lament. The doctor slowed down his steps as the noises became slightly clearer. “I wish I'm strong enough to get through this…" A pause, a light, almost inaudible gasp, followed with a sigh. “You are strong. Why did you ever think otherwise?" “If only I could." The first voice said again. It was Herr Schroeder's voice, LeFevre realized. Only, he sounded not like himself. “I just…" “You can, and you will. We'll get through this… together." The second voice, which LeFevre had identified as the firm voice of Dirk Thorstein, intoned. “After that… nothing can touch us…" Schroeder agreed softly, before it abruptly stopped. LeFevre turned his head away from the doorway where he had caught a glimpse of the two wolves standing closely under the staircase. Both men seem to be frozen in place, and the doctor could feel their eyes following him as he walked past. “The stars are very bright tonight," he thought to himself absently as he continued on his stroll, smiling lightly to himself. When he came around to the staircase landing again, the two wolves were nowhere to be seen. Nor the doctor could see the end of their tails in the corridors as LeFevre returned to his cabin on the lower decks of the airship. The sky was clear and blue the next morning, with a blanket of white covered the hilly fields that surrounded the city of Hieropolis. It marveled the badger doctor on how snow could even fall in a country known by its humidity and heat in the summer. During breakfast, LeFevre was reminded of the conversation he overheard last night as he was seated right across Dirk Thorstein. The arctic wolf was alone, while Herr Schroeder was sitting a few tables away, apparently engaged in a conversation with a family of huskies. The Columbian violinist was barely eating his food. Schroeder would occasionally glance to Thornstein's direction, but the musician didn't give him any signs of acknowledgement. Within a blink, the grey wolf's gaze was directed to something else entirely. It would seem that the two wolves were keen not to acknowledge each other today. LeFevre observed that the two men merely gave each other curt, polite greetings as they walked pass by. “This is a funny little drama I'm witnessing." The doctor thought to himself when he saw the two men standing side by side by the lounge windows a few hours later. None of them spoke a thing, appearing to be very lost in thought. Or perhaps they were just amazed by the sight of the snow covered, sprawling city of Hieropolis that loomed underneath them. Thoughts of the two wolves eluded the Gallian doctor's mind as the Adhara finally landed at Hieropolis International Airfield. LeFevre was wholly distracted for the next few hours, as he had to mind his large number of luggage during disembarkation. He barely even noticed when Herr Schroeder bumped past him as he and the other passengers descended down from the airship. The Arlemaninan wolf was apparently in a hurry, as LeFevre quickly lost sight of him in the crowd. After getting through the immigration checkpoint and making sure that he had all of his luggages with him, LeFevre found Förstner by the airfield's entrance. The sabertooth had took it upon himself to escort the doctor to the Continental Court Hotel. Apparently, the hotel was operated by a subsidiary company to Förstner's train company that managed hotels which would provided quality accommodations for passengers of his train, before and after their train journeys. Perhaps it was a coincidence that LeFevre had booked a room in the hotel in advance beforehand, but he found it really convenient that the hotel would provide a shuttle service to Hieropolis Central Station on the day he and Förstner would have to depart. Not a few hours after he had checked into the hotel, a telegram from the airship company came for the doctor. It confirmed LeFevre's prediction that his flight to Gallia was cancelled due to bad weather. The sabertooth was quick to book LeFevre a berth on the Mercurius Express when the doctor told his old friend about the news. “The earliest train would leave this Friday afternoon." The sabertooth had said as he rejoined his exasperated and bemused friend on the hotel's bar. “You will be berthed in the finest first class compartment onboard, and your expenses will be on me. All in good will of course." LeFevre's polite protests fell on deaf ears. “Like I said, you won't need to worry about anything," said Förstner with a broad smile. “I had the nuisance of the ticketing and registration taken care of. You'll only need to sit back, relax, and enjoy your journey back to Gallia." “If you say so, mon ami." LeFevre nodded to his friend with a small smile. “If you say so."
  3. Rod_3rich

    Chapter 1

    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. “Hrmmm…" “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." “Hrmmhm…" 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. “Cross?" “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.
  4. From the album: [CW: VORE] Swooce's land of eating his friends

    Gustav quickly realised how little space he had in his car, so decided to improvise by using... Swooce This superb art was made by @ghgbn! It was his first time drawing object vore, and he did such an incredible job of it
  5. From the album: It's That Boy Swooce

    Made by the immensely talented Ricardo Sánchez on Twitter!
  6. Rini

    Summer's Out, Shorts Out

    From the album: It's That Boy Swooce

    Look at this superb art by dmitri-the-demon!! Go check out his amazing content: http://dmitri-the-demon.tumblr.com
  7. Rini

    Drooly Doge

    From the album: It's That Boy Swooce

    Made by the awesome Kenta!
  8. Annaklava

    My Adidas Tho

    From the album: Anna's Art

    Picture I made of Freja in her Adidas gear. She loves wearing them because they are hella comfy.Freja belongs to me. Original creation by Lushminda
  9. Annaklava

    [C] Street Ramen

    From the album: Anna's Art

    This is a long awaited commission from Tribalhybrid on FA Took me a really long time between work and school. This is a the most highly detailed piece that I've ever made.Aiylo belongs to Tribalhybrid on FA. Ballsy boy walks and eats dat ramen while its hot.
  10. Halphyos

    James Morrison the Puma Bear

    From the album: Hal's Stashed Goods

    Little something I did for Diablo on FA as part of my trade!!
  11. Gureii

    Grey Leonhart reference of mid 2017

    From the album: Gureii's stuff

    Something that I've thought of posting here as well Meet Grey Leonhart- a tech oddjob migrant of age 23 who's trying to finally find peace in the city they settled in. This is the character you might see on my avatar since, well, people do associate this character with me and I've got quite a pretty warm fuzzy feeling regarding this character who I kind of see as a part of my "family" This picture is quite outdated and I'm still trying to improve. One day I might finally settle with the character's final body type and maybe even try to make pictures as close as I see them in my head

    © Character and Art© Gureii

  12. Gureii

    [Commission] Sharkboy

    From the album: Gureii's stuff

    A commission from another site that I've wanted to post here. Another piece I'm kind of content with since it's quite bright and it was the first time drawing a sharkdog :D

    © Character© Their respectful owner, Art© Gureii

  13. Gureii

    [Commission] Cheeky Doctor

    From the album: Gureii's stuff

    One of my older works I wanted to import from my Furaffinity. One of the works I'm actually pleased with

    © Character© his respectful owner, Art© Gureii

  14. Rod_3rich

    The Gift of Prometheus

    Standing on the platform of Slateston Cove station, Gideon Cross watched as the porter carefully arranged the number of suitcases on the rickety trolley. The train station was pretty deserted. There were only a handful amount of passengers that had travelled with them from Crownsbridge, which suited the cougar just fine. Humming a random tune for himself, the cougar took a pocket watch out of his tweed jacket and studied the time. “When did Atlas say he’ll meet us again?” The cougar who was standing beside him spoke up. Leonidas Cross, or Leon as he preferred to be called, was Gideon’s identical twin brother, older by twelve minutes. Like Gideon, Leon was tall, with strong, broad shoulders and intelligent green eyes. He was slightly more slender than his younger twin but they both cut quite the stalwart figure. The only thing that differed them was their hairstyle, and the mechanical arm that was in place Leon’s right arm, partly hidden beneath his deep green travelling coat and shirt sleeve. “Five thirty. He said he’ll be meeting us here.” Gideon replied to his twin as he slipped the watch back to his jacket. He turned around just as a Peregrine Falcon, who was a couple of years younger, called for his name. “All set, Mr. Gideon,” said the Peregrine, gesturing to the porter who had secured their luggage as he took a last big drag from his cigarette and removed the stub from his beak with a puff of smoke. Gideon nodded. “Thank you Flint.” “We just need to meet with this Mr. Atlas, then?” Flint asked. “Yes. He should be here by now.” Gideon hummed. “Funny name, Atlas, don’t you think?” He mused. “You sure he doesn’t have any first name or surname to go with that?” Flint shook his head. “All of his letters were signed as ‘Atlas’, except for the first letter which was signed as ‘R.D Oscar’, Mr. Gideon.” The cougar nodded, humming as he contemplated the letters which had came to their office for the past few weeks. This ‘Atlas’ was certainly a mystery. He turned to his brother when the older cougar nudged his shoulders. Leon gestured to the figure that was slowly approaching them. “You think that’s him?” Turning around, the three men could see a timberwolf making their way towards them. The canine was definitely handsome and well made, with neatly trimmed white fur that was flecked with dark greys and black which gives off the impression of brushed silver. His hair had been neatly slicked back, and his tall, athletic frame was impeccably clad in a tailored, dark blue and black suit. “I think that’s him.” The cougar replied slowly, his mind recalling the last letter which they had received from their mysterious correspondence. “His description fits.” The wolf’s striking pale blue eyes shifted from Leon, Gideon, and then to Flint, before settling to Gideon for a long moment. “I see you’ve taken the Chief’s offer after all.” The wolf finally said, flashing the two cougars a small, but charming sideways grin. “The Chief?” Flint voiced. The wolf nodded. “I work for Rodger Oscar.” “So, you’re Atlas, I presume?” Leon addressed the canine, who inclined his head. “Yes… and I presume you’re Leonidas Cross?” He asked, turning to Gideon. “No, I’m Gideon, his brother.” “Ah. My apologies.” “Just call me Leon, please.” The other cougar replied, stretching out his paw for a handshake. Atlas did not take it however. His gaze lingered on the mechanical paw construct, eyebrow raised. “Arlemanian manufacture… seems like Daedalus & Sons’ design with custom modifications.” The wolf murmured as he lifted Leon’s paw to have a close look. Leon stared as Atlas continued to mutter. “Industrial grade steel alloy with high quality chrome plating… this is quite new too. Certainly a prototype, and dare I say if it’s powered by high capacity, battery powered dynamo instead of a miniature low pressure combustion system?” Leon nodded, feeling dumbstruck by Atlas’s spot on analysis. “My, my, you seem to have quite the connections, detective.” “This is a gift from my client actually…” Leon replied, suddenly wary of the grin Atlas was giving him. “How did you know all that?” “Oh, I dabble in mechanics, Mr. Cross.” The wolf replied simply with a wave of his paw before he turned his attention to Gideon. His piercing blue eyes seem to be sizing up the younger cougar twin. “I’ve never expected you to be quite the strong figure, doctor.” He seem to like what he saw as he nodded. The corner of his muzzle quirked up. Gideon simply inclined his head. “Just Gideon Cross, please. I’m not an active medical practitioner, not anymore at least.” Atlas gave him a small, unreadable grin. “Quite. I read you were quite the talented wrestler in your alma mater. You know, we would be happy to welcome a brilliant doctor as you are, especially in your expertise in diseases.” “We?” Gideon couldn’t help but stare. Just how much did this Atlas know about them? “We are always open for new citizenships… and of course there are spots for strapping private investigators as yourself.” The wolf said, still sporting the unreadable grin. Gideon stared. He wasn’t sure what to make of Atlas’ comment. The wolf now had his attention to the Peregrine standing a bit ways behind Leon however. “And you’re Mr. Jarred Flint I presume? When you told me that you’d bring another I never thought you’d bring your secretary with you.” This was directed to Leon. “Flint here has experience in the field.” Leon answered. “You don’t need to worry about him.” The wolf hummed and nodded. “I see, I see. Well then, if everything settled, follow me.” Without even waiting, the silver furred wolf turned and moved towards the station building, leaving Flint blinking in surprise. The cougar brothers raised an eyebrow before they followed the wolf with the Peregrine and the porter in tow. A fancy looking sedan was already waiting for them as they made it outside. A gryphon in a form-fitting greyish blue uniform, adorned with silver fittings. The gryphon was also wearing black leather gloves and a peaked cap was standing at attention. He snapped to attention and quickly opened the door for Atlas to enter, before moving to let the guests in. The uniformed chauffeur finally settled into the driver’s seat once the luggage has been secured in the trunk, turning to look at the wolf sitting behind him. “To the harbor, Mr. Atlas?” “Yes, but go directly to the pier, Santos.” The wolf answered as the car started. “You remember your instructions?” The gryphon nodded with a grin. He seemed to be quite happy about the situation for some reason. “Yes, sir.” “Good.” Atlas said, before turning his attention to his guests. “You mind if I smoke?” Gideon would not rather breathe in the smell of cigarette in an enclosed space, but Atlas had pulled out a stick of unknown brand of cigarette as he said those words, so the cougar simply nodded his head. “Sure, go ahead.” There was a few moments of silence as the silver furred wolf flicked his lighter and lit the cigarette. Flint looked like as if he wanted to take a smoke but he held himself. The unknown brand did pique his interest however. “Atlas, I will sound impudent, but if you don’t mind me asking...” Leon spoke up. “Is Atlas your given name or surname?” The wolf stared at the cougar, exhaling thick, sharp smelling smoke. A low chuckle came out from his lips. “It’s simply Atlas.” Gideon hummed. “And you intend to keep it that way, I presume?” Atlas’ pale blue eyes glinted. “Maybe… if you ask nicely enough then, perhaps.” The cougar gave the canine a wry smile. “Duly noted.” The wolf raised an eyebrow, looking amused as he shook his head and took a few more puffs of his cigarette. “Well then, I’m sure you’ve read the files I’ve sent you?” The two felines nodded. It was Leo who spoke first. “Yes, but I’ve got to say, the files, well… even with the facts laid out… is just quite impossible.” Atlas inhaled, and slowly exhaled the smoke, giving the two cougars a cryptic smile. “That’s the essence of Prometheus, Mr. Cross. Oscar—the Chief—chose the impossible, and the impossible became possible.” Prometheus... A secret metropolis built under the cold, icy depths of the Altosian Ocean. A full fledged city built by the Columbian billionaire industrialist, Rodger Oscar. The tycoon wolf had disappeared from the media six or seven years back, and all of his enterprises were slowly being sold to other companies one by one. His disappearance prompted many rumours about himself. A financial column in the Daily Postal had speculated that Oscar had gone and somehow gotten bankrupt and thus why he sold his remaining businesses to keep up with the finances, and had been lying low. The Inquirer wrote that they had a reliable resource informing that Oscar had gone off sailing with his private yacht with friends and family one day, and never returned. Whereas Vox Weekly got wind of the news that Oscar had debauched himself on drugs and alcohol and had died from overdose like so many other famous people these days. Never Gideon thought that Oscar had gone and built a living, breathing, and thriving underwater city with a population of five thousand and growing. No doubt the tycoon had went on his yacht with friends and family to move into Prometheus instead of being lost at sea like the Inquirer implied. However, even with the pictures and documents that Atlas had shown him, Gideon and his brother still had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that city like Prometheus could exist. “And tell me again why it’s not public knowledge? The city and Oscar, I mean.” Leon went to ask. Atlas replied with a surprising amount of finality. “It’s not ready for the public eye, Mr. Cross, and it will never be… unless we weed out the parasites.” “Parasites.” Leon repeated. “Yes. Parasites, Mr. Cross.” The older cougar looked at Atlas to prompt the wolf for more explanation. However, none came as Atlas contented himself to enjoy his cigarette. Letting out a dissatisfied huff, Leon turned to his twin brother for help. Gideon shook his head, knowing that Atlas wouldn’t tell them, for now. The wolf seemed to be the type to not divulge any information he didn’t deem necessary. Furthermore, Atlas had given them more than enough information to go by. In his correspondence letters, Atlas had described the growing dissent among the factions of Prometheus’ citizens. Small protests had broken out in its streets, and there had been a number of “accidents” in various factories. Recent development saw a few construction projects halted because a number of heavy duty equipment were found irreversibly damaged. Rodger Oscar had suspected that someone had been deliberately sabotaging the development of the city and riling up the citizens. As Prometheus was supposedly a secret utopia, Oscar did not want to draw attention from law enforcement on the surface, naturally. So, he needed a private detective to sort out the problem for him who could keep things hush-hush. And he had chosen the Cross & Cross Investigations, for some reason. Perhaps it was because their agency was relatively not that well known just yet. Big time agencies like Grayston could attract unwanted attention from the government. “The Chief is looking for someone who can be trusted, reliable and discreet. I trust you won’t disappoint him.” The wolf had written in one of his letters. So basically, the tycoon wanted them to investigate the problem, find the instigator, find out their reasons, and bring them to Oscar without causing too much havoc, and then job done. Nothing more, nothing less. As an incentive, Atlas had deposited a very large sum of money to each of their bank account. Honestly, the money wasn’t really needed to push Gideon and his twin to take the case. The prospect of going into an impossible underwater city was enough incentive. Still… a few hundred thousand bucks could be handy in the future. Despite how simple their job sounded, Gideon suspected that there was something that Atlas wasn’t telling them. He and Gideon had sensed that the wolf was the kind of client who wouldn’t divulge information if it wasn’t deemed necessary for them. No matter. Life as private investigators was always full of complications, and they would have to suck it up. The drive to the harbor was spent in silence, and the sleepy town of Slateston Cove went by quickly. They arrived at the harbor, which was called Havenstone Quay, in less than fifteen minutes. The harbor was a rather fancy affair, adorned with a single, modern white building that was three stories high, and adorned with tall windows. Santos drove the limousine towards the side of the building, and past the gates after the security guard waved him in. Atlas must have been a regular to be allowed in without any security checks. The car drove through the pier where ferries and luxury yachts alike were docked bobbed slightly in the choppy waters. He quickly parked inside the available private parking lots and helped the passengers out. Gideon was ever glad to get some fresh air. “Through here. Santos will handle your luggage.” Atlas quipped, leading the other three towards the outer piers, where a large motor yacht was docked. Flint let out an appreciative whistle. “She’s a real beauty alright.” He remarked. The yacht was a modern construct, with a long and streamlined silhouette, painted in deep blue and white. Gold trims adorned its oval shaped portholes and windows. A golden plaque on the bow identified the name of the yacht: The Windward. The yacht’s crew were already waiting for them on the pier, and they gave Atlas a small salute as he approached. “Afternoon Mr. Atlas.” The captain, who was a rather imposing Grizzly Bear rumbled with a polite smile. “Captain Rufus!” Atlas replied brightly. “How are the preparations? Are we good to sail?” The bear nodded to the wolf. “Weather’s fair, sir. Although I heard there will be strong winds later tonight.” He said. “We should be able to reach the island safely however.” Gideon turned to the wolf. “Island, Mr. Atlas?” “The only gateway to Prometheus.” The timberwolf answered him. “We are sailing to Enclave Point.” “Wasn’t that one of Oscar’s private islands?” “You would be correct.” Atlas nodded. “And… how long until we reach the island?” Flint went to ask, watching as Santos heaved their luggage into the yacht with the help of the ship’s stewart. Captain Rufus turned to the Peregrine. “If the weather’s permitting, we should reach the island by tomorrow noon.” Flint whistled. “That far off?” “It is some two hundred miles off Hesperican coast after all.” Captain Rufus replied. “Right then.” Atlas nodded. “If you have no more questions, let’s get going.” ****** The Windward was sailing at the speed of fifty five knots across the waters fifteen minutes later. Atlas had generously given the detectives and Flint cabins to rest and refresh until they reach Enclave Point tomorrow. The cabin was rather tiny, but it was quite luxuriously appointed with modern tastes; fine wooden panels, soft plush bed, with an ensuite bathroom attached. The cougar had felt more refreshed now that he’s washed and had changed something more comfortable. Closing the door behind him, Gideon made his way across the hallway and up the staircase to the upper deck. Across the anteroom which housed the staircase landing, he could see that Flint had availed the open balcony to enjoy a smoke, and a camera hung from a strap around his neck. Leon had made himself comfortable on the lounge, deeply engrossed with the automobile magazine held between his paws. He had been getting particularly interested with automotives as of late. Gideon could not really tell the reason behind his brother’s new hobby, but he suspected it might have something to do with Leon’s new boyfriend, who took auto racing as a hobby. It’s a wonder how his twin brother managed to get companions with exotic hobbies. Meanwhile, Atlas was just coming from the direction of the small bar at the corner of the lounge, holding two glass of ice cold amber liquid. The timberwolf had dressed in a far more comfortable shirt and vest, with a few buttons undone, giving a nice peek of his well muscled chest. “Whiskey?” The wolf offered one of the glass to Gideon. Evidently, he had caught the cougar’s gaze as he was giving Gideon a rather salacious grin. “Thank you.’Gideon accepted it, returning Atlas’ grin with a stiff smile of his own, and quickly took a sip. “Mmm… this is really good.” Atlas chuckled. “Prometheus-grown rye whiskey. I’m glad you find it to your liking.” “No, really?” Gideon couldn’t help but stare at the golden hued liquid. It doesn’t look that much different from the other whiskeys he had drank before, but it does have a unique taste which he couldn’t quite point out. “Yes.” The silver-furred wolf nodded. “I had the entire bar stocked with drinks from the city, particularly from my favourite bar.” “Ah, I see.” Gideon turned to look at the small bar, which was manned by a rather spiffy looking brown rat in burgundy uniform and bowtie. The rack behind him was filled to the brim with various liquors. Hard to believe Prometheus could produce so many brands. “I think you’ll enjoy the club as well,” said Atlas as he stood closer to the cougar, “it is your kind of club after all, Mr. Cross.” Gideon gave him a pointed look as he sipped his whiskey. “Just what do you mean by that?” The wolf simply raised an eyebrow. The corners of his muzzle quirked as he drank his own glass of whiskey. There was a slight purr in his voice. “I believe you know the answer to that question, detective.” Before Gideon could ask the wolf to elaborate further, three chimes of a bell could be heard from somewhere down the corridor, drawing the guests attention away. The bell chimed again three times, and then another three times. “What was that?” Flint, whom had returned into the lounge, voiced the question. “That would be the dinner call.” Atlas spoke up, rising from his seat. “The dining room’s this way. Would you all kindly follow me?” He spoke, not bothering to wait as he disappeared to the anteroom. Feeling like he have no other choice, Gideon downed the rest of his whiskey before he followed Atlas, with his brother and Flint in tow. * * * * * * They were just finishing a hearty lunch when The Windward arrived at Enclave Point on the next day. The island was basically a huge slab of rock, Gideon thought as he gazed at Enclave Point from the balcony of the yacht. The entire island was made of solid black rocks dotted with very few vegetation. The only thing that stood out was the paper-white sand beach which circled the entire island, and the glass, concrete, and steel building which dominated one side of the island. The pier was connected to the building, which seemed to serve as this island’s harbor. Atlas’ yacht wasn’t the only boat docked on the island too, Gideon noted. “Welcome to Enclave Point.” Atlas announced with a flourish as they were lead down to the pier on a ramp. Same as yesterday, the wolf was dressed rather casually and hadn’t bothered with a jacket despite the cold, buffeting winds. In fact, Atlas looked like he was in his element with the cool, clear cloudless skies and the freezing waves crashing into the rocky cliffs of the island. Flint hummed as he took a few pictures of the pier, the beach, and also the building with his camera. “Nice little retreat you have here.” “The Chief had spared no expenses to make sure every guests feel welcomed of course. Now come along. Try to keep up!” Feeling not a small amount of excitement but also a dash of apprehension, Gideon followed the timberwolf up through the illuminated stone steps and towards the building looming above them. A large blue banner lined in gold welcomed visitors into the building. Atlas lead the detectives through a large revolving glass door which opened into a wide hall, covered in marble tiles, sculpted columns, and ornate brass fittings. There were quite a few visitors inside the port’s entrance hall. Travellers from various parts of the continent, it would seem as Gideon caught snippets of Arlemanic, Gallian, and even Rosvenian among the chatter of Bretonian. There were also a number of personnel, mostly wolves, in stark white vest over bluish-black uniforms. “Prospective citizens of Prometheus with their guides. Special invitation from the desk of the Chief.” Atlas explained. “And how does Mr. Oscar select his prospective citizens?” Gideon asked as Atlas led them past the hall and down the sweeping staircase that opened into a wide, glass paneled hallway that showed the clear blue cloudless sky outside. The wolf was sporting his small grins again. “Sorry, Oz-Corp trade secret.” “I’ll find it out sooner or later.” Gideon tried to match Atlas’ grin. This seem to spark something in the wolf as Atlas hah’d. He was looking at the cougar before him in a new, appreciative light. “As persistent as you are, I’m sure you will, Mr. Cross.” He murmured. Gideon raised an eyebrow and turned his attention away from the infuriatingly charming wolf to his surroundings. He could see various posters and banners promoting venues and products of Prometheus. There were even advertisements of a metro system! He wondered how trains would work down there. There was a snap and whirr as Flint paused to take several pictures, before he caught up with the others. The Peregrine couldn’t stop grinning as they continued further down the hallway and towards a checkpoint which was manned by a dozen or so security guards. “They’re with me.” Atlas told the guard, who let the three pass through. Gideon noticed that they were now at the edge of the building. A wide balcony opened to the floors below, dotted with another set of stairs. He could also see a handful of people using the elevators. Atlas motioned to one of the empty elevators. “It’ll be quicker this way. My nautilus is docked further down.” “Nautilus?” “How else would you reach an underwater city besides a submarine, Mr. Cross?” The wolf replied, pressing the call button for the elevator, which curved, decorative metal gates slid open. Without further comment, the two men stepped into the elevator. Atlas pressed a button, and the elevator slowly descended, going past the lower level foyers… and then, the docking bays came into view. The nautilus docking bays were essentially multileveled halls with coffered, vaulted ceilings. A number of spherical submersibles bobbed on the open waters, tied to their piers with their pilots waiting for passengers to board. The elevator went past two of these bays before it stopped on the third one. “Nautilus Bay C.” The elevator announced as the gate doors slid open and the occupants stepped out. Nautilus Bay C was much, much smaller than the other two bays above it, but it was no less luxurious. It had the similar coffered vaulted dome ceiling, but the grid patterns were gilded with what looked like gold leaf, and were decorated with more sophisticated light fixtures. There were only five submersibles docked on the stone-tiled piers. Each of them looked different from one another, but they they retained the basic spherical shape. Flint took quite a few pictures as they followed Atlas towards the second submersible from the left. Gideon, who had been rather distracted by the polished, streamlined pillars that were shaped into a wolves whose muscular arms were raised seemingly to support the vaulted ceiling, turned to look at the strange, undersea vehicle. Atlas’ submersible was a compact-looking vehicle, larger than the other nautilus in this docking bay. Atlas’ nautilus was clad in reflective, silvery plates, with streamlined fins that were equipped with headlights and other fixtures which Gideon couldn’t identify. And, to their surprise, Santos was already waiting for them by the nautilus. Must have taken an employee’s route. Gideon noted that the chauffeur had changed out from his driver’s uniform into something more naval themed, still double breasted with dark blue hues and silver fittings. He had removed his hat however. “Everything ready, Santos?” Atlas asked. “Primed and ready for a dive, sir.” The gryphon smiled back, holding the wolf with his leather gloved paws as Atlas climbed into the submersible. “Good.” “Watch your step, sir.” He said as he helped Gideon to climb into the nautilus. It was almost like stepping inside a luxury sports-auto, Gideon mused. The interior of the nautilus was entirely covered with leather padding and decorative brass panels and tiny strips of light, with plush red seats that was arranged around the driver’s seat so the passengers could have a clear view from the opening up front. Gideon sat himself on the passenger seat right across Atlas, while Leon and Flint took the seat behind them. “Comfortable?” asked the wolf as Santos settled into the driver’s seat and immediately fiddled with the controls, which consisted of several levers and a small panel of buttons and indicators. “Yeah, I am.” Gideon couldn’t help but grin. “Good.” Atlas nodded as he pulled a strap across his lap from the edge of his seat and secured it down. “Just in case we ran into a turbulent undersea currents or other kind of accident.” Atlas explained. “But don’t worry, the nautilus is perfectly safe. Accidents rarely happen, Mr. Cross.” Gideon gave him a tight smile. The prospect of having an accident underneath the sea inside this tiny sphere was not a pleasant thought, but he nodded either way. There was a hiss as a large, curved glass screen descended down from the folds of the hull, enframed by a series of concentric semicircles. It soon covered the opening they had used to enter nautilus. The entire frame locked into place with a series of clicks and hisses as Santos worked on the console. “Alright, here we go.” The gryphon proceeded to pull the larger levers, and the nautilus rumbled to life almost immediately. The passengers watched in anticipation as the entire sphere began to descend. Bubbles flowed past the screen as they began their descent through a tunnel of sorts, lined with aquatic-themed murals and indicators of how far they were diving. 10 Fathoms… 18 Fathoms… 26 Fathoms... “This thing is pretty fast.” Flint remarked as they went past the 42 Fathom mark. “It is.” Atlas nodded. “FN Series Nautilus by Voyagetronics. They’re one of our leading luxury nautilus construction companies.” “Oh, I see.” The nautilus continued to dive deeper and deeper until it slowed down as a tunnel, spreading horizontally into the darkness, appeared before them. Atlas piloted the submersible towards the tunnel, which opened into the sea. They weren’t that deep that sunlight could still light the waters around them in a soothing blue hues. Occasionally, Gideon could see a couple of fish swimming past, and a few manta rays. However, the light around them slowly grew dim as the nautilus continued to dive deeper and deeper. Santos was keeping his focus to the controls, carefully piloting the nautilus towards their destination. Gideon couldn’t help but tense up as the waters turned darker and darker. “Ah, there we go.” The gryphon announced, pulling the two detectives’ mind out of their musings. Santos had flicked a few switches and the headlights flashed up, illuminating the darkness ahead. “We should be close now.” Atlas informed, leaning over his seat as he kept his eye on the radar screen on the side of the controls. He then leaned back, and let his icy blue eyes wander from Gideon to Flint, who kept their eyes peeled to the glass screen ahead. Not a moment later, the murky darkness suddenly seem to melt away. Before their eyes, a massive metropolis seem to loom from the depths. The city literally shone like a brilliant gem in the gloom, shining in an almost ethereal, cerulean glow. Atlas’ muzzle quirked into a smile as he took in the three passengers’ gobsmacked appearance. “Gentlemen, welcome to Prometheus.” Gideon couldn’t help but gape as he took in the entire view of the city, and also the sight of marine wildlife swimming almost lazily among the buildings. He could see some wild sharks, a few stingrays, a couple of sea turtles, and… “Mr. Gideon…” Flint seemed to gasp. “Is that…” “I believe we are looking at a Humpback Whale, yes.” Leon answered. He could barely believe his own eyes as the massive cetacean lazily swam through the gaps between the buildings. Just how big is this city? Gideon watched in amazement as the nautilus began to weave between the buildings, over and under the many, tubular, glass encased walkways that connected one building to another. Citizens of various species were walking back and forth inside the walkways. Some, mostly children, pointed and waved at Atlas’ nautilus in excitement. Still in an amazed stupor, Flint waved back at the children. Leon was busy taking the sight before him to notice, as was Gideon, who had noticed that there were a few other nautiluses swimming about. As they passed by one particular building, the detective thought he caught sight of an ice rink through an expansive glass dome. On the other building, a full fledged shopping arcade showed itself through a series of large, transparent windows. The neon sign outside the towering structure shouted out: “Zenith Emporium - The Number One Shopping Destination Under The Sea!” It wasn’t the only brightly lit sign attached to the building. Various illuminated billboards and flickering neon lights casted colorful undertones to the undersea skyline. There were so many that it almost rivalled the show billboards in Capitol City’s Times Avenue, and Gideon was trying to see all of them at once. On one of the fancier towers with gilded ornaments, a bright yellow neon sign flickered: “Savoy-Prometheus - Luxurious Suites, Excellent Food, and Breathtaking Views!” On another building, a large circular sign with a highly stylized "V" that glowed bright purple shouted, "Excotic Cocktails and Extravagant Vices, only in CLUB VAGABOND." Far above the Club Vagabond sign was another neon sign that simply read, “BOREALIS”, wrapped around a semicircular platform, entirely wrapped with glass and illuminated with bright lights from within. It seemed to be an upscale restaurant of sorts from what Gideon could see. “This is quite surreal…” Flint breathed, craning his neck to see a large tower crowned with an illuminated “Oz-Corp Innovations - Building a Better Future Together”. Gideon wished he had another pair of eyes right now. Prometheus was definitely becoming more than what he had thought. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Atlas mused as the nautilus swam past a large sign that was promoting Nereus Investments. “What you see here is Mr. Oscar’s dream realized… ah, and there’s where you will be staying.” He gestured to a pair of towers located a few ways away. The towers were shaped with soft, curving contours, and crowned with what looked like gigantic stylized fins. The massive green and white neon sign spelled out “Triton Plaza,” in thin, sophisticated letters. “Looks like a really fancy place to stay.” Leon chuckled. “Quite right there.” His brother agreed as his gazed at a nautilus that lazily swam past them. His attention was then diverted to a strange looking vehicle that had zoomed out from a building to their left. It looked like a cross between a submarine and a subway train. “What is that?” Atlas followed Gideon’s line of sight. Leon and Flint also had followed suit. “Ah, that’s the Prometheus Metro. A joint project by Oz-Corp Innovations and Voyagetronics.” The timberwolf explained. “It’s a popular mean of transportation by the citizens of Prometheus. Nautilus travel is akin to having a yacht in this city, you see…” “I kind of noticed that.” Leon remarked dryly as he leaned back to his chair. “All of this... is a lot to take in, however.” “I agree, Mr. Leon,” said Flint, pressing his face to the glass to get a better look at what appeared to be a garden that they were passing by. “You’ll get used to it, Mr. Cross.” Atlas chuckled. “And here we are. Prometheus Central.” Santos announced, pulling the nautilus towards a great domed building with a dozen or so tube-like frames jutting out from one side of the intricate facades. Gideon could see a handful of nautiluses, and quite the number of Prometheus Metro coming in and out of the tube structures. Gideon watched as Santos reached for the small device by the panel and spoke to it. “Metro Control, this is the Orion Prime, identification: Foxtrot-November-Two-One-Eight-Seven. Requesting permission to dock at Nautilus Bay Cygnus, over.” “Nautilus designation Orion Prime, identification: Foxtrot-November-Two-One-Eight-Seven, you are cleared to dock at Nautilus Bay Cygnus.” The radio spoke back. “Welcome back to Prometheus, sir.” “Thank you Metro Control.” Santos replied back and began to pilot his nautilus into one of the tubes that was set a few ways away from the others. Just as they went past the first ring, the submersible shook slightly as something seemed to clamp to the sides, and the submersible began to glide smoothly into the grand building. Gideon could barely see the intricate and highly detailed facade of statues and geometric shapes before the entire nautilus was swallowed into the building. There was a bump as the nautilus came to a halt and then, slowly, it began to rise up. The nautilus broke through the surface in a rather gentle pace. It bobbed slightly as Santos flicked a switch, pushed a couple buttons, and pulled the lever. With another flick of the switch, the glass hatch opened with a hiss and the passengers began to file out, helped by the ever helpful gryphon chauffeur. “Welcome to Prometheus, sirs.” Santos said in a rather cheerful manner. “Thank you.” Gideon inclined his head to the feline before he turned to Atlas. “A private nautilus docking bay huh?” He remarked as he stretched his feet, looking around the well lit chamber they were in. Solid concrete piers lined the side of the wide chamber that bordered the water. Besides Atlas’ nautilus, there were two others docked a few piers down. The entire chamber itself was lined with murals and pillars, crowned with a pure white granite dome. “Working as Mr. Oscar’s right hand man does have its perks.” Atlas replied, lighting another smoke. “Come through here.” The three followed Atlas through the large double doors at the end of the chamber and emerged into an immense hall that was topped with two, massive barrel vaulted glass domes and tall glass screens. Gideon could easily see the Promethean undersea skyline almost from every side as he followed Atlas down the sweeping marble staircase. Gideon couldn’t help but wonder how these glass could have withstood so much pressure. Announcements echoed through the massive concourse as they made their way past the crowd of Prometheans heading to and fro the various archways and staircases. “Attention, passengers: the train for Hesperides Gardens will be arriving at Platform 3 in five minutes. Attention, passengers: the train for Capitolium Heights has arrived at Platform 10. Please mind the gap. Next train for Capitolium Heights will arrive in ten minutes…” “This is the Prometheus Central, where you can get to every point in Prometheus in the quickest way possible, whether by the metro or your personal nautilus.” Atlas explained. Flint looked around the concourse with awe. “This place is truly a marvel.” “It is, isn’t it?” The timberwolf beamed. “Just a question,” the Peregrine went to ask, “Are avians allowed to fly here?” Altas lets out a small laugh. “Well, this city was built with many open spaces for the airborne citizens. The walkways are designed to be wide and large enough for comfortable flying.” Leon shook his head in awe. “Incredible.” Flint nodded with a grin. “Flying underwater… now that’s something alright.” “Well then, let’s get you settled to your hotel room.” Atlas said again. “I’ll guide you there, and perhaps... Santos,” he turned to the gryphon. “See if there are any messages from the chief for me.” “Right away, sir.” The gryphon inclined his head and quickly went away. “Alright. The Triton Plaza shouldn’t be a long walk from here.” Atlas spoke as he led the detectives towards the other side of the hall. “Unless if you’d like to get there quicker, we can use the metro.” The cougar twins hummed and turned to look at each other. “Well, I think we can agree that some walking might be more beneficial.” “Yes.” Leon nodded. “I’d like to stretch my legs after sitting for so long.” The silver furred wolf nodded. “No time like the present. Alright, follow me.” He motioned with his paw. Atlas lead them out of the station building, which opened into a wide, glass enclosed boulevard that gave a breathtaking view of the city. Real trees and lined the centre of the street, illuminated by many lights and interspersed with various travel-themed bronze sculptures. Dozens of Prometheans walked to and fro, and Gideon could see some of the avian citizens taking advantage of the vastness of the boulevard to take flight. He turned to Flint to see if the Peregrine would be airborne but Flint seemed to be content to walk and take the sights on the ground level. The boulevard then branched into three, smaller streets that connected with the nearby buildings. Atlas lead them to the street to the right, which opened into a short, wide building. Gideon couldn’t help but stare as he saw two sharks in safety harness and protective suit standing outside the glass encased walkways, apparently doing some maintenance work on the side of the building. The walkway opened into a long and wide, multileveled hall with wide, sweeping staircases leading to the upper levels. A huge dome gave view of the towers that was connected with the building, while various shops and establishments were situated on either side of the building. Colorful banners hung from the skylight while various advertisements were placed around the streets. A large chrome plated sign propped over a wide, decorative fountain and lit by soft purple and gold lighting by the entryway spelled out: Orchard Avenue. The purple banners which were spread around the hall also welcomed visitors to this Orchard Avenue in slender gold letters. Announcements echoed through the speakers strategically placed throughout the long square, shouting out advertisements among others. “Now you won’t have to fear going to the dentist again! Quicksilver Dental guarantees painless and fast dental service and also perfect teeth! Visit Quicksilver Dental in your closest Medical Pavilion today!” “How long does this place go?” Leon whistled, craning his neck to look ahead. “I almost can’t see where this building ends.” “The Orchard Avenue is the hub of commerce in the city.” Atlas explained. “Comprised of several buildings and a couple of towers, so it’s a few city blocks long. Some of the high end hotels are also accessible from here.” “Ah, I see.” Gideon nodded as they passed by a billboard promoting some dental health product. “And I see you have your own security force here.” He added, nodding to the two burly officers in black uniform with gold highlights, complete with shades, sidearms, and batons. Atlas turned to look. “Ah, Prometheus doesn’t really have it’s own security force.” He said. “We have several security contractors working under the City Council to keep the peace. Those men are from Warren Securities. They’re under contract with the shareholders of Orchard Avenue.” Gideon blinked. “Several? How many security contractors do you have?” “Oh, around five or six.” Atlas replied. “Anybody can open any kind of business in Prometheus, Mr. Cross. As long as they are not deliberately killing or harming the citizens.” The detective nodded. “I… see.” “Seems like a lot of risk for me.” Flint remarked from the back. “And you said these Warren Securities is under contract by Orchard Avenue… so I guess Mr. Oscar has a couple of them working for him under contract?” “Risks are a given, Mr. Flint. I’m sure you are well acquainted with them.” The wolf replied. “And you would be correct. We are currently hiring Perseus Defenses and Morrison-Reyes.” Flint hummed and nodded, giving no further comments. The Peregrine set his eyes on the many advertisements instead. “High quality products at half the price, only at Oz-Central!” The announcement echoed through the hall. “Now with our brand new Electronics Department! Come and see our new fangled products by our very own Oz-Corp Innovations!” A thought strikes Gideon. “Am I right to guess that this Oz-Corp is Rodger Oscar’s own company?” Atlas gave him his cryptic lopsided smile. “Wouldn’t you know, Mr. Cross?” Gideon rolled his eyes. “Evolving. Energizing. Invigorating. Evolution for a better future! Pick your Fortis today! Visit Oz-Central Pharmaceuticals for your Fortis needs.” “That’s… an interesting ad.” The cougar remarked. “No kidding.” Flint piped up. “This ‘Fortis’ is everywhere Mr. Cross.” He pointed to a billboard showing a generic, stylized lion holding out a paw. And above the open paw a ball of brilliant blue light seem to arc electricity. Words written above the billboard said: “Energy at your fingertips,” and directly below the image of the paw, in big, bold letters was, “All new Fulmens!”, while “Fortis by Zenith Solutions,” were written in smaller letters below the billboard. Right across the board was a similar advertisement, but instead of a ball of lightning, it was a ball of flame, and “All new Incendio!” was written instead of “All new Fulmens!” Not far from them, on a rather fancy stand, another advertisement shouted: “Fortis - Invigorate Yourself Today! Brought to you by Oz-Corp Innovations.” Looking closer, Gideon could see that there were several small diamond-shaped vials filled to the brim with strange golden colored liquid. A small amount of crowd had gathered in front of the salesman, who was demonstrating something. Gideon couldn’t see what was being demonstrated due to their position, but it had marveled the crowd from the number of “Ooh’s” and “Aah’s” and not a small amount of cheers. “What are… Atlas, what are these Fortis, exactly?” The wolf chuckled. “A brilliant finding by Oz-Corp Innovations and Zenith Solutions. It’s… best if I show you, actually.” “Why not tell us?’ Leon prompted as they turned on the corner and got into an elevator which took them to the third level. “It involves some scientific gibberish which I doubt you’ll understand, Mr. Cross.” “Try me.” Gideon spoke up with a challenging grin. He was met with Atlas’ cryptic grins once again. “All in good time, Mr. Cross. All in good time.” Gideon huffed and nodded as the elevator opened its doors and they filed out. He could see there were many kind of restaurants located on this floor. Atlas didn’t let them linger however as he quickly led them towards another undersea walkway, passing by the view of nautiluses swimming above them. Gideon also saw a giant squid swimming close to the glass walkway, seemingly curious by the lights. The wolf continued to lead them through the glass covered tunnels, past a couple more buildings, and also a wide, airy plaza full of flowering shrubs, trees, and many art deco fountains. Atlas was quite helpful by pointing out what these landmarks were called, and also some of the more important shops and offices. They reached Triton Plaza through another glass enclosed boulevard. It was basically a mall complex with access to apartment and hotel accommodations run by the establishment itself. Although it was smaller than Orchard Avenue, Triton Plaza was still sizeable in its own right. The multileveled atrium overlooked a huge wall of windows that gave a wide, panoramic view of the city, while a large, diamond shaped skylight showed the two towers which loomed above the atrium. On the ground level, two vestibules were located just opposite each other across the hall, furnished with marble top counters and receptionists alike. Atlas lead them towards the reception lobby on the left which was labeled with, “Triton Plaza Hotel”. The receptionist, a vixen in a smart dark turquoise uniform with silver trims and a matching scarf-piece, gave them a practiced, brilliant smile with a welcome on her lips, before she saw the wolf who was leading the small group. “Oh, Mr. Atlas!” She exclaimed. “How may I help you?” “I understand there was a reservation from Rodger Oscar’s office under the name Cross?” The vixen went to look under the counter, rifling through a list. “Ah, yes. Reservation for Mr. Leon Cross.” “That would be me.” The cougar raised his paw. “Very well. Everything seemed to be in order,” said the vixen with the customary smile as she produced a form. “Just sign here, and here… and here are your keys. Rooms 2403, 2405, and 2407.” Leon received the keys from the receptionist after he gave the form a once over and signed it. It appeared to be a contract of sorts, which is odd, but it details the usual nonsense about the management won’t be liable to any missing items or injuries etc., etc. “Thank you. And uh… how much so we have—” The vixen shook her head. “Oh, you wouldn’t worry about that, sir. Base expenses has been covered by Oz-Corp Hospitalities.” Both Gideon and Leon blinked in surprise. “Oh, how generous.” “We hope you enjoy your stay at the Triton Plaza Hotel!” They left the reception counter and followed Atlas who had made a beeline towards the elevators that was situated to the side. “You should know,” Atlas began as they filed into the elevator, “that it is very rare for the Chief to show monetary generosity.” Gideon hummed thoughtfully. “I guess we’re pretty lucky, huh?” The wolf tilted his head, eyes looking at the cougar standing across him intently. “Perhaps…” Gideon found Atlas’ stare quite unnerving. The wolf’s pale blue eyes never wavered, even when the elevator went upwards, its glass wall showing the undersea panorama outside. With a slight frown, Gideon stared—or rather, glared—back to the silver furred timberwolf. Green eyes and blue were locked in an unrelenting staring contest, before Atlas chuckled and shook his head, breaking the eye contact. Gideon simply raised his eyebrow at the timberwolf, who simply gave him one of his half smiles. The cougar frowned at that. Just what Atlas is getting at, he’d never know. For now, at least. The ding of the elevator drew Gideon out of his thoughts. They had stopped on the third floor, and a lone Akita Inu with a cream and white coat, dressed leisurely in suit and tie came walking in with a piece of telegram from the looks of it. The canine was reading the contents as he pressed the button for the fifth floor. Whatever the Akita was reading seemed to have upset him as he quickly crumpled the letter, and— “Holy—!” Flint had jumped back as the Akita’s paw suddenly lit up in bright, crimson flames, burning the telegram in a flash. The flame died out as soon as the paper turned to ash, but strangely enough, the canine didn’t seem to be hurt by it, and the paw didn’t seem to have suffered any burns whatsoever. “Ah, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” The Akita intoned apologetically, completely misinterpreting Flint’s shocked look. “I-It’s fine.” the Peregrine replied with a dismissive wave. The Akita smiled and nodded, before he exited on his destination floor, and then the elevator continued to sail towards the higher floors. All eyes were turned to Atlas for explanation. The timberwolf chuckled, leaning on the curved glass wall, taking out a fresh stick of cigarette, which he slipped into his mouth. With a snap of his fingers, a small, bright crimson flame danced between his paw digits, which he brought close to the cigarette. “This, gentlemen, is what we call Fortis.” He said as he let the flames dance between his fingers before he extinguished the flames with a flick of his wrist. Atlas grinned wolfishly at them. “Or, it is what I like to call... the gift of Prometheus.”
  15. Skyeder


    From the album: Art work NSFW and SFW

  16. Silvermane

    Scottish Werewolf

    From the album: Silvermane's Doodle Gallery

    Did a Scottish werewolf dude here. Kilts are pretty sexy apparel.
  17. Silvermane

    Werewolf: Harvest Moon

    From the album: Silvermane's Doodle Gallery

    A series I wanted to do and may one day complete featuring werewolves under different styles of the full moon. For this one I did the Harvest Moon.
  18. BrotherFlounder

    Mask of the Aeire

    This day’s certainly going well, Andrew thought, as he pulled himself up onto the rocky shore. First, a bright sunny day suddenly turned cloudy, then the radio died, followed by the GPS losing signal, and then while he’d been distracted trying to get that working again, he’d managed to run his boat full speed into a rock that he could have sworn hadn’t shown up on the map before the GPS conked out. Just dandy. So much for a nice relaxing day of getting away from the office. At least I managed to grab the flares before the boat went down. And I paid for the insurance on the rental. Picking up the small bag of equipment he’d salvaged from the wreck, he gazed at his surroundings. He’d ended up in the middle of a group of tiny rocky islands and outcroppings rising out of the sea. Some were bare, and some had seagrasses and mosses growing on them. But dominating the view was a (relatively) large island at the edge, upon which the remains of a stone tower or lighthouse stood. The roof of the tower was completely gone, with a jagged edge slicing diagonally across the remaining stones. A solitary large window remained near the edge of the cut. Debris from what had once been the roof lay next to the tower, along with two smaller, similarly ruined outer buildings. No point in staying around here. At least that looks dry. Andrew began making his way across the rocks to the central tower. As he walked, he realized it was growing colder. The sun tried to poke through the clouds in a few places, but the weather remained stubbornly overcast. He began contemplating the less-than-ideal proposition of spending the night on the island by the time he reached the base of the tower. As he entered the tower, he gazed up. It was rather different than he’d expected. The tower was practically hollow – very little in the cavernous bottom floor. A spiral staircase wove around vine-covered support columns keeping the upper floors from crashing to the ground. The gray stone walls of the tower were curiously bare, even for a tower as exposed as this one. Almost as if the bottom of the tower was little more than an empty base for whatever lay at the top. Carefully making his way up the crumbling steps, Andrew scrambled through a rotted-away trapdoor in the roof of the chamber. The musty air of the tower gave way to the smell of the ocean once more, as he emerged into the ruined upper portion of the tower. Although covered in a mixture of dust, salt, and moss, the remnants of the large room made it clear that it had once been ornately decorated. Several ruined tapestries hung from the walls of the room, with ornate, polished stones hanging in between them, acting as mirrors. The room seemed to have once lead to even higher chambers, but they had long since given way to the elements and collapsed down the side of the tower, spilling debris into what remained of the middle chamber. Andrew sighed briefly, realizing that the tower would provide him with protection little better than the rocks below. Maybe one of the outer buildings had a smaller room that wouldn’t lose heat so fast? Before going, however, he decided he might as well fire off a flare or two from the remaining window. They would be visible further than from the ground, after all. He crossed to the window, taking the opportunity to look more closely at the tapestries. Each was woven with fine threads, and numerous symbols he didn’t recognize (Although, he admitted to himself, I'm so tired that I probably wouldn’t recognize English at this point, and languages were never my strong suit) with crests containing stylized birds in the center. Pedestals (or, in some cases, the remains thereof) were positioned in front of each tapestry. On one pedestal, in front of an ornate green and gold tapestry featuring some sort of bird of prey in its crest, lay a small wooden box. Similar boxes lay near the other remaining pedestals, but broken and splintered. Curiosity overcoming him, he opened the box to find, to his surprise, a nearly-pristine mask. It covered half the face, with the nose portion extended to mimic a beak. The brow was furrowed, with colors and markings mirroring that he would expect to see on a hawk or an eagle. Picking it up to look closer, it felt unexpectedly warm. Reasoning that it was simply the materials making up the mask, he turned it over in his hands. It looked like it would fit. Maybe this trip wasn’t for nothing after all, he thought. Turning to one of the mirror stones, he used his shirt sleeve to wipe away some of the dirt and grime, so that he could see his windswept, soaked reflection. Well, this isn’t perfect, but at least it’ll give me an idea of how this might look. Placing the mask on his face, he was surprised to find that it fit almost like a glove. He hadn’t even realized there was no strap to hold it over the back of his head, but he didn’t need it. It was almost like the mask had been custom-made for his face. It even blended into his beard. He admired the way the mask glinted off the hints of light playing across the mirror. Was the sun finally coming out? He made a few poses in the mirror, some very extremely serious and some curling his so-called biceps. Ignoring a sudden itching sensation, he extended his arms out like wings. And starting thinking. And feeling. And closing his eyes and imagining what it might be like to take to the air. To feel oneself gliding on currents of air. That would certainly be---OW! Andrew was snapped out of his daydream by a sudden pain in his feet. Wondering if he’d stopped too long and his feet were simply protesting from the long walk, he bent down to adjust his shoes, but stopped as he noticed his itching hands. <i>Brown? Why are they brown? They’re covered in…fur?</i> He looked closer. No….feathers! Tiny feathers! But….what?! Jolting upright, he stared into the mirror and realized that patches of feathers were starting to grow on his cheeks. Pulling at his shirt, he realized the unexpected feathers were covering his chest as well…and spreading. Quickly putting two and two together, he reached for the mask and tried to rip it off, but it would not budge. In fact, his efforts to remove it were really starting to hurt even worse than the pain in his feet and the itching sensation that was now rapidly spreading across his body. He tried to feel for the lines where the mask met his face, but was horrified to realize that the lines no longer seemed to be there. Before he could process this completely and begin to panic, a massive jolt of pain from his feet and a ripping sound forced his attention elsewhere. His shoes had split, revealing that his feet had shifted and mutated into giant yellow bird-like feet. Kicking off the remains of his shoes, he reached down and felt his new digits. His toes had fused together, leaving only three talons on each foot. Turning his attention back to his hands and chest, the feathers had grown to cover not only that but most of his arms as well. He stared at them in blatant disbelief, before another massive bolt of pain from his back and his posterior caused him to double over in agony. He could feel bones and flesh shifting, and hear fabric tearing, as a massive tail began to push its way through a rip in the seat of his jeans. More pain came from his shoulders and back. Was he growing wings? Wings?! Despite the pain, and the horror, and the panic, he began to think about the possibilities of flight with wings. As he imagined soaring through the air, the pain started to ease, diminishing to the point where Andrew was able to, shakingly, stand up again, adjusting his jeans so as not to bunch up around his…tail. Okay, that’s gonna take some getting used to. He watched as his half-formed wings suddenly unfolded themselves, and rapidly grew out into a magnificent wingspan, stretching well outside the mirror’s window on himself. He also saw the last remnants of the mask fuse into his face, reaching up and feeling the material morph into soft feathers. Andrew stared into the mirror stone, and back at him stared an anthro hawk. His eyes, hair, and beard all seemed to have survived intact, and he could recognize most of his face beneath the feathers. He ran his fingers across his chest, marveling at his more muscular figure and the varying colors and patterns of his new feathers, contrasted with the yellow in his beak and feet and the blue remnants of his jeans. He also marveled at the feelings of brand-new body parts – he had wings! They felt strange, and heavy, but also powerful. And they were part of him. He could move them almost like his arms and legs, creating a strange yet familiar sensation. As he worked through the new sensations, he realized that he hadn’t just gained a new body – he had gained new instincts. He realized he knew *exactly* how to fly! A beeping from the floor snapped him out of his reverie. He bent down, careful not to crush his tail, and pulled out the GPS device from his bag. Oh, so now you’re working? It showed that he was, in fact, only a few miles from the coasts of home. It also showed him in the middle of the ocean. I wonder why nobody’s found this place before? I guess I can’t rule out magic at this point. And only a few miles? Feels like it shouldn’t be too hard to make it. Not sure how I’m gonna explain this, but I’ll figure something out. Extreme plastic surgery? Tarred and feathered? Unexpected dreams fulfilled? He secured his bag around his waist and turned towards the ruined wall, noting that the sun had finally broken through the clouds. He basked in the warm rays of sunlight for a few moments. Then, he took a few running steps, jumped, and soared into the air. Freedom! Mask of the Aeire.pdf
  19. Gabrielclyde

    Dragon's Gate: Chapter 1

    An old sci fi tale I began and couldnt continue, now its time to go on I think. First chapter previously published here, then the continuation will be here first if people would like it to continue. ======= “Con, scanner control. We have station on screen. Range thirty-two. We have their narrow beacon locked on" “Thank you. Anything else on the scan?" “No Sir" The captain smiled for the first time in many days. This was not an easy mission, or a safe one. Ever since the Vilani had attacked Terran space six months ago, though, safe was a relative term. “Comms, send our transponder code. XO we can secure from hyperjump" “Aye captain." The XO gave a small frown, worried in spite of himself. The captain was tired, he knew that. All of them were tired. Still… “Captain, suggest we maintain battlestations until we have entered ground battery range of the moon." “Worried Spinks?" “Cautious, Captain." “The Vilani haven't shown themselves out here yet. Waldmann Station is well concealed. I think we have it covered." “Aye Captain." The commander bristled a bit at that. There was just enough reluctance, and a hint of reproval in the standard phrase. Spinks was an experienced officer though… “Very well. Keep them at battlestations." “What about the freighters?" “Maintain jump formation for now. Tell the Riyaku Maru and the Ashanti to begin preparations for docking though." “Aye Captain." The XO grabbed an annunciator, aware that the short grey hairs on the nape of his neck were prickling. He hated it when that happened, his sixth sense for danger always had been right. There was nothing here to worry about though. The Captain had told him so. And yet… The old man is being mighty cavalier still. “All hands! Maintain Condition one. Shuttle crews report to flight bay." He could sense the disappointment like a current. Six more hours at battle stations, if they were lucky. Better that than dead though. Still…he would be happier if the freighters were on their disengaged side. Which posed the question…where was the threat axis. The station? “TSS Ramillies, CA-113 calling Station 53 Orionis One. Confirm." The headset remained resolutely silent for what seemed an age, and his prickling began again, more insistent. He was about to click on the transmit button again when a cracking noise came through. “TSS Ramillies acknowledged. This is Station 53 Orionis One. We have your transponder and your beacon confirmed. Your codes are accepted. Welcome to Waldmann station Ramillies." Spinks smiled then a little, catching his Captain's mood. They had done it after all, picking their way through Vilani patrols to the deepest station the Terran Confederation possessed, way out on the Spinward edge of Vilani space. An outpost buried in a moon orbiting a gas giant around an unremarkable sun, it could just prove the lynchpin for their fight to break out into the Galaxy past their foes. It didn't matter that their foes were humans too. Human had been fighting human since the first Homo Sapiens picked up a rock. Once the men of Earth overcame their surprise and shock at finding the Galaxy already occupied by humans like themselves, they set about the serious business of making an empire of their own. Regardless of what their rivals may think. There was more to it than that of course, and he knew the debate still raged on Earth decades later. Mankind was prepared at least theoretically for encountering alien races once they colonised space, and endless speculation had preceded the event. The XO had to laugh at the many variations on little green men the scientists had come up with to prepare their expeditionary forces for an encounter, only to find the one thing nothing could have prepared them for. Humans, essentially indistinguishable from Terrans, though with a language not like any on Earth. One thing was hauntingly familiar though, for their uniforms bore a symbol recognisable to any Terran; a dragon, blacker than space itself. The meeting had gone well enough, but things deteriorated rapidly and predictably once it became apparent that the Vilani assumed the men of Earth would be their latest subjects. Spinks knew then that their little expeditionary force was more than a resupply run to a remote station. It was the first serious attempt to survey the region. That made it important; more suitable worlds, more room for Earth's people. The Vilani would just have to make way. It was also an attempt to look for more evidence to understand some of the mysteries that the existence of fellow humans had roused; who came from where, and when? One intercepted communication from a Vilani outpost had sealed the deal. A reference to Dragon's Gate, and a location past 53 Orionis. Explorers had been dispatched on wilder goose chases, he supposed. But as an experienced officer, Spinks didn't like them. They tended to end up with a dead goose or a dead chaser. “Con, scanner control. I'm picking up something unusual. It pops up for a second then disappears." The Captain swivelled around in his chair. He liked order and predictability did Captain Salonen. This was not it. “Can you isolate it?" “Trying sir. Some sort of transient energy reading." “Where is it?" “As best as I can tell Captain, it appears to be coming from the Lagrange two point ahead of the Moon." The two senior officers exchanged glances. Something odd at the Lagrange point was not an accident. “Scanners, can you isolate?" “No Sir." “Go active. Use Lasers, Meson scanners, all of it. Quarter that spot." A sense of tension descended on the bridge then, like a blanket of disquiet. The Captain reached for his own headset and keyed the mic. “Scout crews board your ships, and prepare for immediate launch. Spool up your jump drives ready for when you clear." The XO glanced across, his expression set in a frown. He had given up scratching his neck now; the feeling had gone beyond anything a scratch could fix. “The freighters Captain?" The commander nodded. “Have them do a thruster burn and assume station in high orbit masked by the Ramillies. Then have them spool up their jump drives if they have enough in their capacitors and…" “Con! Scanning Control! Multiple targets, looks like they just jumped in, dead ahead! I count ten…twelve targets. Signatures consistent with Vilani warships. They are powering weapons systems…missiles away! Multiple Vampires, estimated run time four minutes and closing!" “Sound the Attack alert! Warn the freighters, and tell them to jump back to Gilan. Warn them…just warn them. It's a fucking trap!" The Terran ships appeared to move almost slowly from a distance, as the inexorable rules of celestial mechanics determined their fates. Stuck in a gravity well, with the moon and the gas giant drawing on them with invisible claws, and heading directly towards an enemy fleet on a matching orbit, they had no choice. No amount of evasive thrust would help. And yet, they had to have time, time for their jump drives to recharge and escape. The Captain gritted his teeth, sawing off the cigar clamped between them. He was a good officer, and an excellent navigator. He knew the reality. They would not have the time. “XO, use all batteries to protect the Ashanti." “Not the Riyaku?" “No point. They are stuck on the engaged side between us and the enemy. We can't help them." A momentary flare from the screens told the bridge crew how prophetic those words were. Several missiles locked on to the Riyaku Maru and hit her amidships. Pieces began to fall off as the structure failed. “Incoming missiles!" “Track and engage with point defense systems. Orient the ship to protect the freighter as long as possible." “Do we power up the main gun?" “Might as well. If we're going down, might as well take one or two with us." The bridge began to shudder now, as missile strikes started to hit home against the heavy cruiser's armoured hull. It could take more punishment, but not indefinitely. They would need at least fifteen minutes to spool their jump drive, far far too long. “Oh God!" A sudden bright flash momentarily obscured the viewscreens, as the man structural spars on the trapped freighter succumbed to physics, followed by the engineering section dislodging and detonating in a silent holocaust. The shockwave disabled half their point defense guns, adding to the disaster. On the disengaged side, the second freighter, Ashanti, tried desperately to charge its jump drive fast enough to avoid the same fate. It's captain maneuvered recklessly, drawing close to the side of the Ramillies, using the cruiser's bulk as an impromptu shield. His crew saw the explosions from missiles striking home on their companion, knowing what they meant for their friends, but they could not help. Their big brother was buying them time to raise the alarm. On the bridge control was breaking down as systems failed one by one and compartments succumbed to vacuum. Damage control was holding for now, but not much longer. Then an unwelcome piece of news. “Con, scanner control! Ashanti has been hit" The Captain sighed as he watched the viewscreen, the second freighter falling out of its orbit no longer under control after a flight of missiles got past the minimal screen the Ramillies could still provide. “Damage Control?" “Jump drive now inoperable. Reactor core damaged, becoming unstable. Hull breaches between frames forty seven and fifty, sixty six and seventy three, and one hundred to one hundred and five. Central fire control on backup system." The two senior officers exchanged a look, the XO bleeding from a head wound received from an exploding control panel. They both knew the score; it was over. “Are the scout ships ready?" “All four reporting ready for launch and jump drives nearly ready. Do you want to wait and use them for rescue?" The Captain looked sadly at his friend. “No David. You know the score; we need them gone now, and we need them to raise the alarm. Download the mission log and order them to break and head for Terran Command at Glian. One of them has to get through." Spinks gave the orders, grunting in satisfaction as he saw the four little ships that carried all their hopes break from the underside of the cruiser. “Abandon ship?" “Yes XO. It's time." “Too late!" As Spinks initiated the alarm, he saw a bright shimmering flash from the nearest Vilani cruiser. They had begun firing their particle accelerator, as if they were in any danger of losing now. A couple of pods may get away, but not many. For the bridge crew, it would be all over soon. “You know, I always hated space." The captain looked at him wistfully, a half smile on his face. “No shit?" “Yeah. Never got used to it." 'Well…at least they might name a cruiser after us, so in a way, you'll be in space forever." Their laughter was interrupted by the failure of the main spar under the impact of a massive explosion, and the heavy cruiser disintegrated in a fraction of a second creating a brief glorious sunrise for those nearby to admire. By then the only admiring eyes left alive belonged to Vilani. ***** The young equine knelt on a straw mat, eyes closed. He was not asleep, though to an untrained eye it might appear so. He was meditating, as he had been trained to do in the last year as he prepared for his stallionhood. A stallion needed calm, and control, in order to do his duty to his herd. Tremelle believed in duty, it was what gave his life purpose when so many things proved hard to understand. Like the visions he had whenever he tried to meditate, freeing his mind of cares and thoughts to better receive the wisdom of the Old One, Grandfather. Instead, when he sat like this and sought the peace and tranquillity his friends found, he saw things that troubled him. Balls of fire in the sky, like the sun god that crossed the heavens, but huge and incredibly bright and close. Then smaller spheres of brown, or blue, or green. And metal things that streaked between them like a Lykka bird, fragile and beautiful. Most disturbing of all though was the times when he looked inside those metal things, curiosity drawing him in whether he wanted to or not. The minds he touched, so alien and yet he could understand them, and feel their thoughts. Once he had even spoken to one of them, when he tested his mind during one of his meditations. The creature was terrified, and he tried to calm it with his mind but seemed to make things worse. He had stayed away from the silver things ever since. He still remembered the creature though, and what it looked like, and that haunted him even now. It had been an image from the Elder's scrolls come to life. One of their forebears. A human. Tremelle was more troubled by that than anything else. The prophecies had echoed through the generations, of how the return of one of their forebears would bring the return of Grandfather, and the final war between Him and his Children. Death and destruction awaited, and the equines world would never be the same again. He had spoken to no one of his visions, not even his father, though that was a dangerous thing to do. For his father, the herd stallion, had the gift of Sight too, though he had never described seeing what Tremelle had seen. That his father might have concealed it from him scared him. That his father might not be able to do what he did scared him even more. For several reasons, Tremelle wanted nothing more than to simply be a normal equine. It was his one wish, even as he watched his brothers grow up to become well regarded stallions of his father's herd and take mares as mates. He wanted to be like them more than anything, and yet his prayers to Grandfather had not been answered. The visions still came, as did the other things. The feelings for his fellow stallions, like his friend Parem for instance. As he tried to concentrate, a vision of the beautiful white stallion came into his mind, his body glistening as he washed in the river. Tremelle could almost reach out and touch those flanks, and the plump sheath that drew his gaze always. Without meaning to, he sought out his friend, whispering to him as he bathed. You are so beautiful Parem… He was startled as the stallion gave a sudden jerk upright, his eyes wide and mane shaking as he scanned the riverbank for intruders. Tremelle felt his uncertainty, the fear in his mind and he tried to soothe him, sending feelings of calm and safety until the young stallion resumed his bathing. With a sigh, Tremelle opened his eyes and returned to the meditation room. Well that was another disaster… “Son, why aren't you meditating?" Tremelle gave a surprised nicker at the sound of his father's voice. For a big stallion, Danek could move quiet as the night. The young stallion bowed, as was customary to the herd stallion, even if he was his father. “Father, I have finished. I…I am ready father, if you are." The older stallion walked up to his son, regarding the colt with affection. He had grown so much in the last two years, thought Danek. And yet he is still the same young colt who I would take for runs on the plains, and protect from wolves in the night when he woke up terrified. The years have gone so quickly. “You are ready for your stallionhood ceremony, son, but are you ready for the rest?" “I am" The colt's fixed expression and slight frown made him sigh quietly, and shake his head a little. “Yes, and no my son. I can tell you are ready to do your duty, but not like it." “Father, I…" The herd stallion held up one hand, quieting his colt with a gesture. His hand reached for Tremelle's mane, stroking the colt as if trying to calm him with a touch. It seemed to work; the youngster's ears straightened, and his tail flicked high where it had been flat against his haunches. “I know this isn't what you wanted son. Yes, I know, more than you think." He held the colt steady as Tremelle began to protest, then stopped as his father's words sank in. “You are not the first to prefer their own sex, believe me. And though I need you for this, I know the sacrifice you are making. It is a necessary one though. Times are becoming tougher, for all of us. The wolves are raiding more ruthlessly and more often, and we cannot resist them if we remain a series of individual herds. We need this chance, and you will help. I know I can count on you son." “Yes father." Tremelle tried to let obedience and resignation fill every syllable, but some resentment must have leaked out, for his father gave a frustrated whinny and stepped back, eyes blazing. “She isn't exactly hard on the eye colt, even if she lacks a cock. Mersylla is a beautiful mare, and will make you a good mate, even if you need to keep some unmated stallions on the side for fun." Now Tremelle was shocked. “Father!" “As I told you, don't think you are the only one ever to enjoy a stallion's company…now you are heading to your stallionhood, I think we should have no more secrets between us yes?" The youngster stared at his father, sudden understanding creeping into his memories. The many friends, the many nights away from their hut, the dark looks from his mother when Danek came home in the darkness. His father's friend Alatheus, a paint stallion, always smiling, always wrestling the other stallions, always with a plump sheath hinting at arousal… “So, now you know son…you should tell me the rest." Tremelle suddenly returned to earth with a thud. “The rest?" “The visions. I know you have them, I have seen the signs. Your brothers cannot, strong and noble stallions both but they do not have the gift. Even mine is limited, I can see things close and the minds of those who are unskilled. Not you though son; I could never see inside your mind, even right now standing a foot in front of you. You have the gift, stronger than me. And I know you are a Seer, I can tell. There are few of us enough, but we are needed. You will make a good herd stallion one day, even perhaps taking over from Mersylla's father when his time comes. That is also why I need you, Tremelle. You have the strength, and the gift, to become the right hand of the most powerful herd leader in our lands. You can help me unite the herds and face the wolves. You can help me avert disaster. “Disaster…it may be too late for that father from what I have seen…" Tremelle suddenly realised what he had said, as his father's widening eyes registered the meaning. “What have you seen colt." “Nothing father, nothing at all I…" The stallion suddenly gripped Tremelle roughly, pulling him up by the mane as the colt struggled but failed to break his grasp. The colt stood shaking, staring into his father's eyes, seeing the uncertainty and alarm. “What have you seen colt!" “Humans" Danek released the colt with a deep sigh, his head falling to look at his hooves. His tail swished slowly, betraying his thoughts. “As if we didn't have enough problems. Well son, pray to Grandfather that your gift is faulty. Either way, we need to fight back against the wolves. Let's just hope there is something left to hold on to when we win." With a gentle nudge in the back, the herd stallion pushed his young son towards the door, and the waiting herd gathered for his stallionhood ceremony. He would put on his adult loincloth, and take his ceremonial dagger, and recite the oath of loyalty to his herd and the herd stallion who ruled over them. Then he would try to look happy while his friends congratulated him on his stallionhood and his impending mating to the most beautiful mare on the plains by all reports. Duty called. As he stepped out of the temple hut, he felt something else calling though, and looked up towards the sky. Night had just fallen, and the stars were out in force, vivid points of light against the velvet black of the sky. The twin moons had risen, casting a silver glow on the herd camp, and he looked towards them seeking out something he couldn't quite understand. As his vision flew to the sky, he realised what it was. One of the silver birds, scarred and blackened, but still soaring high, looking down; and he realised with shock that it was looking down on him, and his lands, right now. And inside he saw a human, like the ones he had seen before. But this one was here.
  20. BrotherFlounder

    Seaside Ruin

    From the album: Mask of the Aerie

    An epilogue of sorts to the story, though it was actually drawn first. It inspired me to set the transformation in a tower. You can juuuuuust see me paying a return visit at the edge.

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