Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Shianne tossed her daggers at the thick cork board across the small room. She was sitting, reclining in a stiff chair, her muddy boots propped up on the wood table of a small room in the Racing Rabbit Inn; one of only two places travellers could stay in Strille. The Wolves were not known for their hospitality, and their capital city was an excellent example of that.
Pushing herself up and out of the chair, she moved across the room, yanked the daggers free from the board, and walked back to her chair with an audible sigh.
Ragnon looked up from the newspaper he was reading, and pushed himself up into a sitting position, so that he was no longer sprawled across the bed.
“Cheer up, lass! This will all be over soon.” He said with a crooked smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Shianne tucked her daggers away and pulled out her time piece, ignoring the twisted not in the long gold chain.
“Not soon enough.” She muttered, her eyes lingering on the jeweled cuff clasped around her wrist — a constant reminder of her deal with Commander Rollstad to deliver his son.
Neither of them was looking forward to the meeting they had arranged with the Commander that evening. They hadn’t come up with a plan that took them any further than her handing over Ragnon to his estranged father, and getting the cuff removed. And they’d had plenty of time to discuss it in the last few days, after arriving back in the Losley Deadwoods via the portal from Haven.
They had lingered only one night at Lady Lisanne’s cottage on the shores of the Lost Lake, before making their way through the woods with the help of Silkelline, the terrifying creature that served as both guide and bodyguard against creatures even more fearsome than itself that called the Losley Deadwoods home.
Having been left at the edge of the woods on the Illensdar side of the border, they’d made their way to the camouflaged tunnel Beddigan had told them about, that lead under the border and a safe distance into Mormant. They had spent a quiet day huddled and hiding, before they used the cover of night to travel closer to the capital. It has been easy to slip into Strille in the still dark hours of the morning, and Ragnon had kept his cloak hood high as he secured them a room. Shianne had chosen to scale the exterior of the Inn and have Ragnon let her in through the window, in the hopes of keeping her tell-tale fox fur hidden from prying eyes. Despite her being on a direct mission from Commander Rollstad himself, she knew she was not safe among these Wolves, especially since her identity as Death’s Whisper had been spread across the land. Many, many Wolves would want her dead, and would risk the Commander’s wrath for the privilege of putting her down.
Ragnon set the newspaper down and stretched, walking over to the window, he peered out at the darkening streets.
“I don’t know why you’re in such a mood. You aren’t the one being delivered to your worst fate.” He grumbled, catching Shianne’s eyes in the window’s reflection. She frowned, careful placing her daggers back into their sheaths.
“You know I don’t want to deliver you to him, but I’ve little choice, Wolf.” She snarled. “But you can rest assured, I won’t leave you with him. Even if I have to slaughter every Wolf in the building to get you back out.” She added darkly.
“I’m sorry, Shianne. That wasn’t fair of me. I know neither of us wants this to happen but it is what it is. This is my way of paying you all back for having rescued me from that prison in Yroebrage.”
Shianne grinned at him for a moment,
“Oh, this does not pay back that debt back at all, sugar.” She said, winking at him. “I will collect on that at a later date.” Ragnon couldn’t help but chuckle in response, and Shianne felt a bit easier as she settled in to wait.
The sky continued to darken, and Shianne began to feel her anxiety begin to grow again. Ragnon was still standing at the window, staring out across the wet streets. It had rained for the better part of two days, which was good for them, because less would be out in the streets while they made their way to Commander Rollstad’s base of operations. The message she had sent off to the Commander after they had settled in at their room had been responded to so swiftly that she had no doubt that their efforts to remain hidden had failed, and that Rollstad already knew they were in Strille.
Shianne cleared her throat, standing up and pulling her cloak from the back of the other chair.
“It’s time we make our way.” She said softly, clasping her cloak on and raising the hood. Ragnon turned to her and she saw the naked despair in his eyes. Her gut clenched and she felt both of their gazes shift to the bejeweled, cursed cuff, which would take her paw in a matter of days if she didn’t hand over Ragnon to the Commander. “If you’re having second thoughts…” she began, feeling her gut twist in a mix of guilt and fear. Ragnon shook his head and held up a paw before her interrupted her.
“No, this is something that needs to be done. And I’m going to do it.” he said firmly, his amber eyes losing the mask of despair and returning to their typical, shining yellow. “Besides,” he said with a grin, “You wouldn’t be a very effective assassin with only one paw, now would you?”
Shianne shoved him playfully and tossed his cloak to Wolf,
“Still a better assassin than most.” She said primly, raising her nose in the air before dissolving into giggles.
Gathering the last of their things they made their way out to the dark, wet streets, and began their trek across the city to Commander Rollstad’s offices, which squatted very near the military barracks. When the building came into sight, they ducked down a pitch-dark alley so that they could gather their thoughts and say the last things they needed to say to one another.
“Well this is it then.” Ragnon said, his voice barely above a whisper. Shianne nodded slowly, waiting for the Wolf to continue. “Promise me one thing.” He said, and Shianne nodded again. “You’ll put a tight leash on that sister of Beddigan’s. You can’t let her try and come after me.” He said firmly, his eyes blazing with furious determination.
Shianne mind drifted back to their departure from Lady Lisanne’s cottage in the Losley Deadwoods, and Clottie’s dramatic and emphatic opposition of their plan. The poor Mouse had been beside herself with worry, aimed at her for the potential loss of her paw, and at Ragnon for whatever horrors may await him with his father. She had known that Clottie would not be happy with the plan when they had shown up, but even she had been shocked by the Mouse’s vehement rejection of the plan. Luckily, Ragnon was able to soothe the Mouse enough to let them leave, but she knew that Ragnon was right in assuming Clottie would want to come after him. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if Clottie was already plotting a way to free her would-be lover.
Shianne smiled at Ragnon,
“I’ll do my best to stop her, but I can’t promise I’ll be successful.” She said, placing a paw on the Wolf’s arm. “She cares for you a great deal, Ragnon. Those feelings will not be easy to contain.”
The Wolf’s eyes softened then, saddened.
“Aye.” He murmured softly. “Let’s get this over with then.”
They strode out from the alley towards the path leading up to the dark, grey stone building. Two lamps lit the entrance way to Commander Rollstad’s base of operations, and flanking those lamps were two guards, wearing the standard Mormant military grey and blue uniform, but with the addition of a burgundy sash — denoting them as Commander Rollstad’s personal militia. Shianne stepped up and pulled back her hood to reveal her face. Despite knowing it would be necessary to do this much — to show who she was to these guards, to gain entry into Rollstad’s fortress — she still felt the squish and pull of fear in her gut as the Wolves eyed her true face.
“We’ve an appointment with the Commander.” She said simply, fighting to keep the aggression out of her voice. Despite feeling ready for a fight, and a hunger to tear these Wolves to shreds, she knew she needed to keep it chained until the cuff was gone. The Wolves eyes shifted over her shoulder.
“So, that’s the infamous defector son, eh?” one guard said, his mouth twisting into a sneer. “We’re gonna need to see his face.” Ragnon sighed and pulled is hood down to rest on his shoulders and the two guards nodded to one another. “Can’t wait to see what your daddy does to you, pup. Such a disgrace.” The Wolf said, laughter twinkling in his amber eyes.
A snarl flew unbidden from Shianne’s throat and she took a step towards the guards.
“You’ve seen his face now let us get on with this before someone gets hurt.” She growled. The Wolves both laughed then, right into her face and it took everything in her not to loose a couple of her daggers and take them both down.
“By all means,” the other guard said, laughter still dancing in his eyes. “Far be it from us to slow down Death’s Whisper.” He said, rolling his eyes.
Ragnon stepped forward and gripped her elbow firmly, pushing her between the guards and up the path to the entrance to the building.
“Keep it together.” He said in a hushed, warning tone. Shianne shook herself free from his grip, about to snap at him, but caught herself just in time. He doesn’t need anything else on his plate right now, she thought, giving him a firm nod instead, as he pulled open the heavy door to allow her to step into the building.
Two more guards with the trademark burgundy sash greeted them with a simple nod, and then lead them wordlessly through a maze of corridors, until they reached an office — one all-too familiar to Shianne. She felt her gut clench with guilt as she looked at the closed door, remembering the last time she had been there. One of the guards knocked briefly, before opening the door and ushering them in.
And there, at the end of a long, narrow office lined with bookcases, sat the Commander himself. He looked up at them as they entered and flashed Shianne a toothy grin.
“Welcome back, Fox.” He said, standing from the desk and moving around it to greet them. His eyes travelled over her shoulder and met Ragnon’s, who was but half a step behind her, and then the Commander’s mouth settled into a firm line.
To be continued…
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