Past Secrets – Version 2 – Chapter 1

A man’s raised voice could be heard echoing through the hospital’s hallway. “I demand to see her!” he shouted, then continued, “Get out of my way! I’m her owner!” He was trying to hide his fear, but it rang clear into the room he stood outside of.

“Sir- Mr. Sinisusi, please lower your voice!” a female doctor sternly replied. “We will let you in, but only after you have composed yourself. She is not going to die.”

A frustrated growl could be heard, then a loud, annoyed sigh followed. After several minutes, the slightly cracked door swung inward, and the owner of the male voice walked into the room. From the bed, a slight-framed, light lavender furred unicorn mare with a bandage wrapped around her neck looked over at him.

She knew his wolfy form well. His pale blue fur and long hair were familiar and comforting sights. Still, she wasn’t sure how to respond to him, as she had gotten herself into this mess. She looked to his aqua eyes, then quickly looked away. “Janus, I’m sorry,” she squeaked out, clenching her eyes shut.

Before he could respond, the bright red mare doctor, also a unicorn, trotted into the room and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I honestly shouldn’t let you in here at this point, but I understand you are worried about more than her as your property.” Janus quickly looked over at her, somewhat shocked she had discerned that. “I will allow it, but only if you will behave. No panicking.” He nodded an affirmative response to her, and she patted him on the shoulder. “Good. If you need anything, just hit the call button. And if I hear you freaking out again, I will remove you personally.”

Janus, in disbelief she could carry out such a threat, looked closer at her. She was short, especially for her species. A pair of glasses were perched high on her nose and she adjusted them, pushing then slightly upward, as he looked at her, then fluffed the bun of red mane at the back of her head and flicked her equine tail. She shifted her weight to her left leg and placed her right hand on her hip. “Well, do we have an understanding?” she asked.

Janus had seen enough of her species, the delphin, in his time to know she not only meant business, but could follow through. “Yes, doctor,” he replied, nodding again.

“Good!” she replied, straightening her stance. “Just hit the button if you need me!” she reminded in a sing-song voice as she left the room.

He shuddered slightly, for reasons not entirely known to him, as the doctor shut the door behind her. He then turned his attention to the mare left in the room with him. He slowly walked toward her, as she was still looking away from him. “Snowhawk,” he began once he reached the side of her bed.

She flinched at his voice.

“Dear, look at me, please,” he pleaded.

She was silent for several minutes, then finally responded, “I can’t.”

He sighed and sat in the reclining chair next to the bed. The exposed wood frame and fake-leather cushion covers left much to be desired for comfort, but he knew he needed to be near her. He stroked her deep amethyst mane with one hand and held onto her softly furred arm with the other. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” He watched the silver spiral that ascended her amethyst horn glitter softly in the room’s low light, shaking with her quiet sobs, and he continued to comfort her as much as she allowed.

*********

Despite what he said, Snowhawk knew she was responsible for this. She had one duty, one purpose, and she had failed it. She went over the hours before in her mind, trying to recall every detail she knew. They had arrived when they were scheduled to, they arrived shape-shifted to humans. This wasn’t as important for her owner, and was expected of such a highly ranked man, but for her, it meant one less way to be recognized. She’d kept out of her human form while off the grounds of the estate for months before, just to let them forget.

Somewhere in that time period, though, someone had found her out.

She went over the night in her head once more, telling herself the story. Maybe she could figure out what the mistake was…

Their limousine pulled up to the front of the mansion, taking it’s place in the queue. Janus looked at her and his human form’s face smiled. “This is it, the last one, then I’ll take you away from all this,” he said. His voice was warm and gentle. He reached out to her, and gently touched her cheek just before the limo stopped. “I promise.”

His promise to her that this world of stealth and subterfuge, of lies and death would be gone. She could be free, which he had also promised, and able to just breathe. She looked into his eyes, those familiar, comforting aqua eyes, and she knew he would never lie to her. Even though she was just a slave, and he was just her owner, there was more between them. She had almost slipped into her day dream when the vehicle’s door was opened. He exited, then turned, his long, pale hair trailing behind his movement, and offered her his hand to help her. She took his hand, and they made their entrance. As they walked in, she looked at his hand holding hers. She rarely saw his human form on the grounds, and was always amused that this form that was rarely out was only slightly darker in skin tone than hers.

She had never been to this estate before, and it was one of the more grand ones. Large, white marble tiles lined the way to the ballroom, and she still found it amusing to hear her high heels click on them. It reminded her of the sound of her hooves on such surfaces in her delphin form, though smaller. Various rooms along the hallway were open to guests, though in these types of events, guests would first go to the ballroom to be announced, then they would have free rein of the guest areas. She made mental notes of the rooms she saw, and where each was located in reference to others, as she would need to explore them later.

Snow moved somewhat slower than she could have, extending the time it would have normally taken to reach the ballroom. Had anyone asked, she would have blamed it on her shoes, but it was simply to better take in her surroundings. Heels were not an issue. She had done this many times before. But this is the last, she told herself. I won’t have to do this again.

She realized something now she hadn’t at the time. There were many paid servants, not slaves, who were at this party not in their human forms. This was a break from tradition, as human forms were much like equalizing masks among the slavers. While slaves would be expected to remain as their animal morph forms, any paid servants would be encouraged to shift to their human selves. Additionally, all the servants she saw were lupino, like Janus.

Janus gave her hand a slight squeeze as they reached the ballroom and stood outside of the doors they would pass through. She looked to him, smiling serenely. When it was their turn to be announced, Janus gave the feline slave at the door his name and invitation, then the pseudonym they had decided for her. Her real name was known too well to be used, so she had taken to using false names as necessary for such missions. The feln, probably a lower slave of the rankings of this estate, but still literate, thanked them as he wrote her name under Janus’s, then turned to the paid servant to transfer the invitation. He was a small, grey tabby cat, and stood significantly shorter than the wolf servant. He stretched his arms out and bowed his head, passing the invitation to the grey wolf.

The wolf took the invitation from the slave with little thought or acknowledgment of the feline. He looked at the names on the thick paper, then confirmed the proper pronunciation of Janus’s family name. This was just a formality. The Sinisusi name was well known throughout the cities of this part of continent, be that good or bad. The servant stepped forward, and began his announcement. “The Boyce estate welcomes Mister Janus Sinisusi, and his companion Eira Castiel,” his clear voice rang out. While many would normally have ignored her master’s name, several turned to see this announced companion. Janus would typically not arrive with any companions, or he would bring her as his pet, her name was never announced and she was usually in her delphin form. Slaves don’t get announcements.

As they descended the staircase, she could see people whispering to each other, and could only give a slight smirk. “If they wanted to keep secrets, they would be less obvious,” she softly commented to Janus.

He chuckled and let go of her hand to move his to rest on her far shoulder. “You know all about that, don’t you?”

“Indeed.” Her expression turned slightly worried as they left the staircase. “Do you think the name was too much?”

Janus glanced at her, giving his own smirk. “In this crowd? No, not in the least. We probably could have embellished more and they wouldn’t have blinked. They’re just murmuring because no one ever sees me with anyone but you.”

He was right, of course. As long as she had been his, he had never arrived to a party with anyone else. After a half hour of Janus socializing, she excused herself. She had a mission to do tonight, and a specific person to find. The sooner this job was done, the sooner they could be gone.

She positioned herself to listen to conversations. The more the guests drank, the more they would talk and reveal. She drifted about the ballroom for a time, eavesdropping on conversations that were more and more open. She would sneak in seemingly innocent questions to the slaves who wandered the ballroom with trays of drink and hors d’oeuvres. They were worlds more helpful than a room of inebriated slavers. She finally had enough of a lead, and slipped out of the ballroom and into the estate itself. The rooms she had passed on the way in contained far fewer drunks, though some of the guests were trying to make up for that. Still, the tighter lips on these slavers meant her search had to be on a more visual note, and with more sober minds about, asking the slaves was more difficult. Proper folk didn’t converse with slaves. She slowly moved from room to room, looking for her target.

She eventually found him outside, in the front garden. There were very few guests around, possibly due to the chill in the night air. It was late in Octu’bar, after all.

But, was that really it? she thought to herself. Or had they already figured it out and had him wait in the garden for me? She continued to replay the events of just a few hours before in her mind.

The sandy blond man in her sights was not a morph of any species, just a human in the service of Janus’s uncle’s biggest rivals. He wasn’t exceptional in that, but he had the clearance she would need to get the information they came for.

She thought for a moment how best to make the meeting seem accidental. She ducked out his line of sight and discarded the wrap she wore around her shoulders, kicking it behind a bench. She didn’t wear this shiny, slinky dress for nothing. The night air’s chill bit at her skin. It was colder than she had realized, so she would need to make this quick. Despite her name, she was not built for the cold. She walked in his direction, stopping every so often to “look” for her missing shrug and make frustrated noises at not being able to find it. “Ooh, where could it be?” she whined, in a louder voice than one would typically use for speaking to themselves. “If I lose that shawl, my grandmother will kill me!”

A moment later as she leaned over to look behind another bench, she felt a coat draped around her, and a pair of hands on her shoulders. “You seem cold,” a man’s voice said.

She looked up, seeing the sandy blond hair and hazel eyes of her chosen target. A small scar over his left eyebrow confirmed it. Jackpot, she thought. “I’ve lost my grandmother’s shawl!” she blurted out, trying to muster up her best, most pitiful expression.

The man chuckled, “Shall I help you look?”

“Oh, please! It’s an heirloom from her grandmother and I know she’ll just kill me if I’ve lost it.”

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Then let’s find it. Where did you last see it?”

While she had thought Gotcha, sucker, at the time, she wondered now if, perhaps, it was the other way around.

Of course, he “found” her shawl behind the very bench where she had kicked it. He dusted it off and handed it to her.

“I’m going to have to clean this before I return it to my dear grandmother,” she pouted. “But thank you… Oh my, I never got your name!” She did know it, but he didn’t know that. She hoped.

He grinned and gave a small bow. “I am Christopher North. And you, dear lady?”

“Eira Castiel,” she returned with a small curtsey.

“Shall we go inside and get out of this cold then, Ms. Castiel?”

“Please, just call me Eira, Sir North, but I would love to go back inside.”

“If we’re going to be on a first name basis then, Eira, then please, call me Chris.”

He placed his arm back around her shoulders, and walked her inside the estate.

What followed over the next hour was Chris’s lackluster attempts at seduction. Snow needed to at least get into his room, so she played along, almost feeling sorry for how bad he was at this. But had that been an act? She was so confused. She could usually read deception in people, since most were so bad at hiding it. But now, she had to question everything. Perhaps his awkwardness was planned to get her to drop her guard.

The two walked the estate for some time, growing further and further away from the guest areas. Eventually, he walked her into a bedroom in a building far from the ballroom. She assumed then it was housing for the lower ranked officers. The room was not overly large, having a bed just large enough for two people, a short couch, a small table covered in papers with two chairs, one of which was pulled out, a slightly beat-up wardrobe, a desk with a computer sitting on it, and a filing cabinet. There was also a fireplace in the wall furthest from the door, though it was apparently no longer used except as a safe space to place an electric heater.

“This is my room, I thought we could talk more… privately here.” He took the shawl from her, draping it over the back of the pulled out chair, then placing his coat over it. He gestured to the couch for her to sit, then walked to the heater and crouched to turn it on. “They keep this place so damn cold. Some of the guys don’t mind, but the rest of us…” She could smell burning dust when the heater was turned on. He went to the wardrobe and removed a blanket, then walked to the couch and unfolded the blanket to drape around her shoulders.

She gave him a warm smile as he sat next to her. “I want to thank you again for finding that shawl for me.”

He shrugged, grinning. “It was nothing!” Then he leaned in closer to her resting a hand on her thigh and stroking the thin fabric of her dress with his thumb. “So,” he began, wrapping his other arm around her once more, “What brought you to this party?”

“Oh,” she blushed, “you know, business matters.” She felt strange. Her head was aching and her vision was starting to swim.

“Business perhaps involving Boyce’s interests? Or business of your owner’s interests?”

She shook her head, trying to clear it. Everything was feeling fuzzy. “Owner? What do you m-”

She couldn’t react fast enough to what happened next. In what was a blur to her eyes, he lunged at her, pinning her back against the arm of the couch. The arm that had been around her shoulders now forcefully held her down. He straddled her, his weight on her legs so she couldn’t use them as leverage to fight him away. The hand that had rested on her thigh a half moment earlier now had a knife in it, and the blade was near her throat. She couldn’t get both her hands to his, her body was refusing to listen to her.

“I know who you are and what your game is, you little bitch. You aren’t going to leave here alive.”

That wasn’t dust, Snow realized as she lay in the hospital bed. There was a paralytic poison that came in a powder form, and one could build up tolerance to it. Smelling it as it burned could trigger the effects, and even small amounts could weaken one enough to render them unable to fight. Slavers often used it to capture new prey. It smelled like ordinary dust when burned. She had fallen for it.

Chris was pressing down on her as she struggled. She couldn’t move him, and she could feel the pressure of the knife on her throat. She had one option left, and she could only hope the poison hadn’t effected her enough to be unable to shift forms. She closed her eyes, and found she had to concentrate more than usual to become her delphin self. The change in size from human to equine, and the pressure he exerted on her neck, however, meant the sharp blade sunk into her flesh. She screamed and bucked, using the leverage of her now longer legs to disrupt his balance. She rolled toward the edge of the couch, striking him in the head with the flat of her forearm.

Her attacker hit the floor with a thud. He was shocked at her suddenly fighting back. She stood, wobbly, from the couch. Her added size would delay the effects of the poison, so she had to make it count. Chris had dropped his knife as he fell, so she picked it up. The wound on her neck was not life threatening on its own, but combined with the effects of the poison, it could become fatal. She took in a deep breath and bushed her long mane away from her new wound, standing straight and towering over the human at her hooves. “Well, this was not how it was supposed to happen. But, I guess you are going to die after all.”

Snow couldn’t remember much after that, and even that line didn’t feel like she had said it. It didn’t sound like her voice. She felt like she was watching someone else’s memories. She lunged at Chris, returning the favor and pinning him to cut his throat. She watched him for a moment to make sure he was on his way out, then stood and quickly rifled through the papers on his table and desk, then looked through the top drawers of the file cabinet. She vaguely remembered finding several sheets that had some information on them that Janus needed, so she folded them and hid them in the bodice of her dress. She couldn’t change back to a human, but needed to get back to Janus. This wound was going to blow her cover anyway, so she left the room of the dead man, and stumbled back toward the ballroom.

Her memory became sharper here, but she had not gone far when a guard spotted her, probably more concerned with the fact a slave was apparently out of her place. The guard then saw the blood. She knew she couldn’t go further, her legs were giving out. She collapsed in front of the guard, and managed to get out “Find Janus,” before her memory went black.

But where was the screw up? she asked herself, Did we really walk into a trap? She didn’t know, and not knowing was frustrating. She didn’t even know if Janus had gotten the papers she’d stolen.

*********

Snowhawk stayed in the hospital for five days, both to make sure her neck wound was healing well and to be certain she was sufficiently recovered from the poison. On the evening of that day, Janus pushed Snow, in a wheelchair, out to his waiting vehicle, then helped her inside of the car. The hospital’s valet took the chair back into the building, and Janus jogged to the driver’s side and sat down. He looked over to her, but she was staring at her hands, which she had folded into her lap.

“Snow,” he began. “Please talk to me, love.”

She didn’t move.

He sighed and started the car, then pulled away from the hospital.

The drive home was roughly a half hour, and filled with an uncomfortable silence. As they neared the estate, Janus commented, “You’re going to have to tell me what else is going on, Snow.”

She shook her head in disagreement, not intending to tell him anything.

He sighed and stopped the car in front of the house, turning the engine off, then exited and walked around to the passenger side. He opened the door, and crouched next to her. “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”

She again stared at her hands on her lap for a moment, then finally gave a small nod. “Okay, but inside.”

Janus helped her from his vehicle and led her inside, through the estate, and to her room on the second floor. Someone had already turned the bedspread down for her. She walked to her bed and sat on the edge, then after a moment doubled over and cried. He approached her slowly, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands in his. “Love…”

“I failed!” she finally exclaimed through her sobs. “I don’t know what happened or where it went wrong, but I failed!”

Janus canted his head to the side, confused at what she was saying. “What? How did you fail?”

“I didn’t complete the mission! I don’t even know if what I found got to you or if it was enough!”

Janus sighed and brought his muzzle near hers, and nuzzled her gently. “You didn’t fail.”

“What if your uncle makes me go back out?” she asked, quieter. “This is far from the first time someone has tried to kill me.”

“He won’t. What you found did get to where it needed to go, and it was enough.”

“But, what if it’s not?!” She was growing more agitated. “You told me that you can’t just defy him!”

Janus shook his head. “No, love, I can’t, not right now. But I’ll think of something.”

She was quiet for several moments, her thoughts racing. Janus was stroking her mane as she looked up to him, her tears having stopped. “What if he wasn’t in the picture anymore?” she softly said.

Janus leaned back in shock. This was not something she would have said. It didn’t even sound like her voice. “Snow, what are you talking about?”

“If he’s gone, then you don’t have to answer to him.”

“Snow, you can’t–”

“The hell I can’t!” she snapped.

“No, you can’t! This is not you, what’s going on?”

“Are you defending the wolf who has made my life hell?” she asked, accusingly, sitting up. “And you promised me over a year ago we would be done and gone, but here we are!” she continued, gesturing to not only to room, but the estate itself.

“I would rather not leave this city without the closest thing it has to a leader.”

She looked off to the side and snorted. “That’s what the slavers did to the Delphin Empire…”

Janus was confused. It wasn’t that Snow didn’t know about the history of her species, but she had never brought up their past before in that sense. “What’s going on, Snow?” he repeated. She was acting very strange. “You usually talk about how their actions led to their fall.”

“Why do you defend them?”

“I’m not saying that, after some two thousand years, things shouldn’t change, but I don’t think killing Ulmer is the way to go about it.”

Snow stood, then began to walk away from the bed. Janus also stood and took a step toward her. “Stay back, wolf,” she harshly warned, glancing back at him. “I don’t want to be further involved with you.” She quickly left the room, and one extremely confused Janus behind.

“‘Wolf?’ She almost never uses that term, especially with that tone.” He stepped out in the hall, but she had already disappeared. He sniffed the air, trying to locate her scent, but as she was in this area often, it wasn’t possible to determine which way she had gone. He decided to visit his younger brother, who had recently taken over as the estate’s head of security.

The monitoring station was in a separate building from the main estate. As he hurried there, he kept looking for his lavender love, but saw no sign of her. Upon reaching the building, he tried to open the door, but found it locked. He pressed the buzzer to signal that someone was outside, but he didn’t hear it sound. He pressed it several more times, then noticed the button was loose, and pulled right out of it’s hole. The wires had been cut. He resorted to banging on the door. “Adian! Are you there! Open the damn door!” he bellowed.

A minute later, his continuous pounding and yelling was rewarded as his brother, his short red hair disheveled like it hadn’t been brushed today and chocolate fur clumped from sleep, finally greeted him. “What the hell do you want?”

“Were you sleeping?! You look like a throw rug!” Janus growled. He received a non-committal shrug in response. “Where is Ulmer?”

“Oh,” his sleep-addled brother replied. “Somewhere. What does it matter where that old man is?”

“Something happened with Snow. I think she means to kill him,” Janus said, pushing his way past his brother and into the building.

Adian very quickly woke up at that. “What?! I knew that mare would snap at some point,” he mumbled as he followed his brother.

The building above the monitoring station was mostly storage and facilities so whoever was on duty didn’t have to go too far if they needed food or a restroom. The actual monitoring area was below grade, and after descending the stairs, it was down a short, dark hallway into a room of various monitors, each slowly switching their displays of different rooms. The halls in the slave quarters and outside individual slave rooms, greeting areas, various views of the library, dining hall, and different rooms used during events. There were also views of the tall brick and iron fences around the grounds and the front and rear entrances to the estate.

“If he’s in his private quarters, we won’t be able to find him,” Adian reminded his brother as the two forced monitors to switch their displays. The older brother nodded, he understood.

A half minute later, Adian had a thought, “Why didn’t you just go tell our uncle directly?”

Janus clenched his fists. “Because he would have just killed her. You know how he is.”

Adian looked at his sibling. “I know you’re really attached to this slave, but–”

Janus quickly turned to his brother and snarled at him. “Don’t you dare finish that fucking sentence.”

“Okay, okay! Just, calm down! I get it, sensitive topic.” The monitor behind Janus flipped on it’s own, and Adian caught sight of an amethyst tail vanishing off screen. “There!” he said, diving to the monitor to check where the camera was before it changed again. “I saw her tail, she’s at the back of the property, heading into the woods.”

“I’ll go after her, you go find Ulmer. He must be in his quarters.” Janus ran from the monitoring room and out of the building with his brother following after him. The older one sprinted toward where the camera that had last seen Snowhawk was, while Adian rushed into the main building.

The younger wolf quickly reached his uncle’s quarters, and found the door ajar. “That’s not right,” he frowned, carefully pushing the door open. He first smelled blood, then saw his uncle’s favorite chair over-turned. The family picture that normally hung over the fireplace was on the floor. The frame had been broken and the glass shattered. These were both spattered in blood. The side table that normally sat next to the chair had been reduced to a pile of splintered wood. He quickly looked around room, soon finding his uncle slumped in a corner. “Ulmer!” he exclaimed as he ran and crouched next to his uncle. His uncle didn’t respond. A piece of glass from the picture had been jabbed into the side of his neck, pulled out, then stabbed back in on the other side.

Adian studied the scene for a moment, and shook his head slowly. He knew his brother’s mare was trained to kill, but the excessive nature of this kill was more than he would have expected. Adian stood and left the room to find his brother. He hadn’t cared for his uncle much, and certainly wouldn’t shed tears over his loss, but it would be more difficult to lose Janus.

Elsewhere on the property, Janus reached the location of the security camera, and followed it’s line of sight to look for any tracks left. At this time of year, there was an abundance of new leaf litter, so finding her actual hoof prints would be difficult, but perhaps she had disturbed enough of the fallen leaves to mark her path. He also sniffed the air and near the ground and trees for her scent. He noticed a second smell mixed with her scent. Following these trails, he went into the woods. The brick and iron fence turned into sections of shorter iron fence, and became less and less maintained. Some were knocked free of their posts, either from vandalism or rusted fasteners. It was rare anyone was back here to check on the fence. Over the past three years, Janus had convinced his uncle to reduce the number of slaves, in part due to Snowhawk’s influence, and most of the current maintenance crew was hired help.

In ten more minutes, Janus came upon Snowhawk, and the source of the second scent he had smelled: her younger cousin, Helaine. The latter had the former’s hand in hers, and seemed to be wrapping it up.

Snow’s ears twitched at the sound of crunching leaves and she quickly turned toward the noise. When she saw Janus, she pushed her cousin behind her.

“Snow, wait!” Janus called out as he continued toward her.

She folded her ears back, and shifted her weight backwards, then stomped the ground and snorted.

“Please, tell me what’s going on!”

She stepped backwards, then turned and grabbed Helaine’s arm and ran further into the woods.

He began to run after them, but soon heard someone behind him. “Janus!” Adian’s voice called out.

Janus stopped and turned toward his brother. “Well?”

Adian stopped a couple feet from his brother and shook his head. “He’s gone. Dead, I mean.”

The older brother sighed and shook his head. “I was afraid of that. She just took off that way,” he pointed, “with Helaine.”

“What!” Adian began to run, but Janus grabbed his brother’s arm and stopped him. “Let them go for now. If Ulmer is dead, we have bigger issues at hand.”

The other sighed and nodded. “You’re right,” he conceded. “The fallout from this will not be pleasant.”

“Depending on how the other owners react, and how we tell it. Still, this was not the catalyst I was expecting.”

*********

Snowhawk pushed a section of the fence out of the way, the rusted metal screaming as it let go of the bolts holding it to the post, then offered her hand to her cousin. “Let’s go, Helaine.”

Her pale, blue-furred cousin timidly stretched out her hand, cautiously looking around as she left the estate’s grounds for the first time in months. She brushed back her slightly darker forelock from her eyes as she stepped away from the fence. “Now what?” she asked, glancing about. “Won’t they come after us?”

“I highly doubt it,” Snowhawk replied, shaking her head. “Things are probably going to get hectic, to say the least. I need to find a safe place for you.”

“Safe? What do you mean safe?” she questioned as her cousin began walking away. “All I know is you came into my room covered in someone’s blood, a bag over your shoulder, your hand gushing your own blood, and grabbed me, and we were gone.” She trotted after her.

“I don’t even really remember. I was talking to Janus after we got back from the hospital, then my memory starts getting fuzzy, like I wasn’t actually there. It clears up about the time I stabbed Ulmer in the throat the second time.”

“You did what?!” she gasped, stopping for a moment, then running to her. “Snow, they’re going to kill us! They’ll track us down and that will be it!”

“You’re going to be fine, Helaine. If they’re coming after anyone, it will be me.” She sighed and looked back at her cousin, who was walking slightly behind her, “Though, they’re going to be more preoccupied with trying to explain his sudden death. Ulmer was old, but he wasn’t in poor health.” She stopped and turned around, placing her non-bandaged hand on the other mare’s shoulder. “For now, though, let’s just find a place for the next few days. We might have to move around quite a bit for the next couple weeks, but I’ll make sure you’re safe.”

“How can we afford that?”

Snow chuckled slightly, and dropped the bag from her shoulder, then unzipped it and showed her cousin a goodly amount of cash in the bag. “Janus and I were planning on leaving. We had been storing back money, so I grabbed some of that when I was on my way to you.”

“That’s just ‘some?'” she responded, quickly looking at her cousin’s face. “Were you planning on buying your own city?”

“We wanted to build a place out in the mountains,” she replied, a hint of melancholy in her voice. “He doesn’t like them that much, but knows that out there it’s my favorite.”

“Snow…”

“That’s it, though,” she continued, and then turn back around and continued walking. “This will be enough to get you– us, set up.”

Helaine’s ears perked at her cousin’s slip of the tongue, but she continued after her as they walked into the night.

Past Secrets – Version 2 – Chapter 2

The night Snowhawk and Helaine left, a news broadcast interrupted the music on their hotel room’s radio. They both stopped to listen if they would be named or described.

“We are saddened to report,” Janus’s voice began, tinny over the cheap speakers, “that our uncle, Ulmer Sinisusi, has passed away. We realize this means some large changes over the next weeks, and ask everyone to bear with us as his affairs are sorted out. We also ask for privacy at this time. Our uncle’s legacy is not a pleasant one, but he still deserves the respect others afford to their dead.”

A build in chatter and questions directed to Janus could be heard, then the radio announcer cut back in to say some half-hearted expressions of sympathy before starting the music again.

“That was sufficiently vague,” Helaine commented.

Her cousin nodded. “He was the head of the Sinisusi family, and with them being at the head of the slave trade and the city, I guess they don’t want to bring about a panic. It’s not a symbol of strength to be murdered in your own room by a slave.”

“He didn’t mention us missing either.”

“I figured that he wouldn’t, not then anyway. Like I said when we got outside of the fence, I think they’re going to be more concerned with the fall out from their uncle’s death than us.”

The younger mare nodded, then lay back on the bed, folding her hands across her stomach and crossed her legs at the fetlocks. She tapped her pale hooves together lightly, but soon had drifted to sleep.

Within the week, word had gotten out about the cause of Ulmer’s death, and while out shopping and looking for their next possible place to stay, Snow overheard a delphin and feln talking about their recent escape.

“Did you see the look on that asshole’s face?” the small grey tabby cat grinned. Snow recognized him from the Boyce estate. “Right when you kicked him in the face like ‘POW!'” He was bouncing, the tuft of darker grey fluff on his head even more animated.

A tall, dappled grey, draft delphin with white markings on her muzzle and fingers and a long, wavy platinum blonde mane and tail grinned at the feline then ruffled his head fur. “You got him in kicking position.” This other former slave seemed familiar, but Snow couldn’t place her or remember a name. She didn’t usually forget faces.

The two moved on, the mare seeming much like a mother figure to the feln.

The following week, more stories of slaves attacking, and in some cases, killing their masters. Slaver estates were burning, the fires started by their enslaved servants. These stories were being told both in public places, where one would normally hide being an escaped slave, and in the radio reports from exasperated owners offering rewards. Some broadcasters were cheering on the change in dynamic. There were also reports of former slaves saying their masters had released them peacefully, but as the days went on, those stories became scarcer.

On top of the apparent rebellion, the city was becoming more and more deserted. Slavers fled to the port city of Di’aru, and many freed slaves started the journey further south to Juv. The former city, in Snow’s experience was the real hub for the slave trade, though Ametiton was the home of the family behind it, and most of the people benefiting from it. Juv was not always welcoming of outsiders, for fear of slavers getting inside the cities walls. It was a city built and populated by many families who left Ametiton over two thousand years ago when the slavers were first becoming a problem.

It all left Snow uneasy. She had wanted to use the population of the city to hide in, at least for a time. With the remaining population in small pockets toward the center of the city, there were fewer faces to blend into and a greater chance of them being found out. However, living away from these groups was an even greater risk.

With her cousin’s need to be social, the former was certainly the better option. Given the choice her own tendency was to avoid interacting with others, and not wanting to draw the wrath of someone angry she had killed Ulmer upon her cousin made her shy away from that sort of situation. “Still,” she said to herself as she trotted back to their current hotel, “I can’t let Helaine suffer because of my hangups.”

The weeks that passed saw still more freshly freed slaves. The numbers peeked around a month out from Ulmer’s death, then began to taper off. More violence was reported, both against slavers and the now freed slaves, and Snow had to wonder what hellish ball she had set in motion.

At five weeks out, Helaine found a group of delphin and feln that she seemed to get along well with, so her and Snow began to travel with them. They had a nicely sized population in a neighborhood near the largest park in the city. Snowhawk was friendly with the others, but mostly kept to herself, still trying to come to terms with losing everything she once had. She would often go on errands for the group, both to contribute to them, and to try and distract herself.

She was returning from one of these errands, two weeks after finding the group, when she realized she was being followed. She distinctly heard boots behind her, but every time she turned to look, she couldn’t find anyone. After this happening several more times over the following week, she packed her few belongings into a large pack late in the afternoon, then found her cousin with the others and pulled her aside.

“I think someone has found me out,” she bluntly told Helaine.

The younger cousin’s aqua eyes started to fill with tears, afraid Snow would tell her that they had to leave when she saw the near empty bag slung on her shoulder.

Before Helaine could say anything, Snow continued and explained, “You’re not going anywhere. It’s safer for you in the group.”

“But what about you?” she asked, tears still threatening to fall.

“It’s time for me to go. It’s been two months at this point. You have a place to be, and I’ll leave the money with you so you will be set for quite a while longer.”

“Where are you going?”

The lavender mare shrugged. “I’ll get by.” She pulled her cousin close to her, hugging her tightly. “You have control of your future now. You have a strong group of friends, and you are stronger and have more skills than you realize. Don’t be afraid to try things.”

“You can’t go,” she cried, holding on to her cousin even tighter.

“I have to. I think someone is finally coming after me for what happened to Ulmer, and I can’t put you and the others at risk. None of you had anything to do with it.”

“It’s safer if you stay here! We have more people!”

“I don’t know that, and I can’t risk you all getting hurt. And if I throw them off my trail, or take care of them, I’ll come back.” She pulled back from Helaine and rested a hand on her shoulder.

“Are you ever coming back?” the younger cousin cried.

Snow nodded, and smiled. “Of course. I’ll be back when it’s safe, I promise.” She adjusted the bag on her shoulder, then turned and trotted away from her cousin, and into the empty streets.

Three hours later, she wandered the empty city streets, now littered with the results of the scavenging by the former slaves. She wondered how many would survive, as winter had already started. They had not had any snowfall yet, but it was only Em’bar, and growing ever colder. Two more months were between them and spring and the new year. As she looked around her at dimly lit city, she couldn’t help but feel frustrated. “Spring would have been better,” she told no one, figuring she should get further used to talking to herself. She wasn’t planning on interacting with many others for a while. “What the hell happened to me?” she sighed.

She continued to walk through the growing dusk, wondering where she should stop for the night. Her coat was warm enough, but she didn’t have much else for protection or warmth. As she meandered through the streets, her hoof falls louder than they would normally have been in a more populated city, she continued to weigh her options. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of some rubble falling from one of the destroyed buildings across the street from her, and she reflexively jumped toward the building she was closest to. When she looked up, she saw what building it was, and why it was one of the few non-slaver homes to be destroyed: it was the slave market. It looked like it had been hit with an explosive. The upper floor was missing a large chunk of the front left corner, and there seemed to have been smaller explosives used around the building. A fire had burned for sometime on the upper level, and scorched brick and smoldering roof supports told part of that story.

She glanced around her, looking up and down the street, then hurried across. She hadn’t seen this building in over five years, not since she was purchased by Ulmer for what turned out to be Janus’s sixteenth birthday. She had been thirteen at the time.

She began to walk around the building, figuring she might be able to find some supplies inside.

The accelerated aging of delphin foals in their first fifteen or so years was widely exploited by the slavers. Many of the fillies, such as herself, had been recklessly thrown into breeding programs at the first signs of sexual maturity, despite their under-developed bodies. She had been found unfit for anything else, due to her tendency to attack her master and his underlings. She carried two foals to term during that time, though they had been ripped away from her at only a few days old. She had been allowed to name and begin to nurse them, but after that, she didn’t know where they had been taken afterward. “Two boys,” she whispered, then shook her head. Soon after the second one was taken away, she had been brought here. Something about her “quality” not being passed along to the two who survived, plus all the complications she suffered during pregnancy, led her then-owner to decide she wasn’t worth keeping. She had assumed her boys had been brought here as well, and hoped they were either free or at least had not been in Ametiton when the uprising started.

She found an opening low in the damaged wall of the back of the building, and ducked inside.

She found herself in the “gallery” for displaying she slaves who were not to be auctioned. Auction slaves had been kept closer to the front of the building, so they were seen first when one entered. That was where Helaine had been taken a year earlier. She had apparently been auctioned for an unusually high price. Her cousin was even more timid then, and between that and her unusual coloration, she had the “honor” of being auctioned.

Janus once told her it was surprising to receive such a quality slave for his fifteenth birthday, especially as her coloration was close to his own. He described it as the only way his uncle showed them affection.

As Snowhawk had what they interpreted as an aggressive streak, and due to her apparent failure as a broodmare, she was simply sold. She remembered sitting on a lightly padded bench, wearing a locked halter on her face that had been chained to the wall behind her. An identification tag hung from the cheek piece of the halter. It had her name, and a unique number written neatly on it. Several slavers, men and women, walked past her. Some asked her to stand and they would examine her, but she was passed over, until the sales man walked by with Ulmer. He was in his human form, as was the custom when doing slave business. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders and short, greyed hair. The wolves’ uncle had stopped to look at her, but the salesman tried to sway him in a different direction.

“That one is apparently highly aggressive,” the sleezy salesman told him. “She’s attacked several who worked for her owner. And him, as I heard!”

Ulmer however, simply replied “Oh?” quirking an eyebrow and turning towards her fully.

“She’s not a very good breeder either.”

“I don’t breed slaves, as I’ve already told you,” he sharply replied, then stepped toward her. “Stand, mare.”

Snow had sighed and probably rolled her eyes. She had been through this before several times already, and the salesman had talked everyone else out of buying her. She slid off the bench, her hooves clicking on the wood floor beneath her. She smoothed her dress and stood straight, but didn’t look at the floor as she had been instructed. She stared at everything but the floor and the two men before her, and found herself counting the tiles on the ceiling.

“How old are you?” Ulmer questioned.

She snapped her gaze forward at being directly addressed.

“She’s thir–”

“I asked her, you nitwit.” The salesman slinked back and away from the irritated man. “Well?” he impatiently reminded, waiting on her answer.

“Thirteen, Master.”

“And you’ve been bred?”

“Twice, master. That survived anyway.”

“Is your owner an idiot?” Snow remained silent, wanting to answer though. “Why have you attacked your masters?”

She lowered her head and looked off slightly. “I don’t appreciate being abused.”

“Can you read and write?”

“Quite well, Master.”

Ulmer nodded slightly, then waved her back and turned to the salesman. “What is her price?”

“Are you sure, sir? We have many other fine slaves, especially coming up tonight in our auction.”

As she leaned against the bench, she caught the glare Ulmer gave the other man for questioning his decision. “Are you an idiot too?”

“Seventy-five,” he replied.

Ulmer’s glare continued.

“Seventy?”

No reply.

“Sixty?”

“I didn’t get where I am taking expensive risks. I have a plan for her, and she might not even fit. I can’t sell her after that, and if she’s as aggressive as you claim…” he explained, taking a step towards the other man.

“Thirty!” he cowered.

“Is that really your best? Do you think she’s worth it, know the potential risk?”

“I can do twenty-five, cash! That’s what her owner is asking!”

“Sales fees have gone up in a year,” he said with a growl pulling a worn, leather, bi-fold wallet from his pocket and flipping it open. He pulled out two crisp bills from it. “Give me her key, and you get the cash.”

“That’s not how it wor—”

“You have some excessively bad customer service skills. The market used to be much more accommodating.”

The salesman fumbled in his pocked for his keys, and pulled out a large ring of shiny bronze keys, each with a tag hanging from it. He flipped through the keys, then opened the ring and removed the one with her name and ID number on it.

Ulmer snatched the key from the cowering man’s hand, and then handed him the two bills. The salesman looked as if he had some business to attend to, and nearly ran at full speed away.

Snow had to admit she was impressed with the old slaver. She had seen the salesman lie and cheat customers for hours to that point. She chuckled softly and lightly shook her head.

He approached her, reading the tag on her key. “Snowhawk. Where have I heard that name before?” He raised his hand to his chin, scratching at his greyed scruff as he thought. “Oh, right, I bought your cousin last year.”

Her ears perked and she looked up, suddenly interested. “Helaine?!”

“Indeed. My older nephew has been taking very good care of her this past year.”

She sank to the worn floorboards beneath her. “She’s safe. Thank goodness.”

He eyed her on her knees, then snapped at her. “Stand!”

She quickly rose, but fidgeted as she stood in front of him.

He closed the distance between them, then unlocked the halter from her head, and dropped it to the bench behind her.

“Sir?”

“You won’t be running off, will you? Especially now that you know Helaine is at my home? Or I can always put the halter back on you and unlock the chain from the wall.”

Snow shook her head. “No, I want to see my cousin.”

“Very well.” He pointed to a small stack of envelopes on a table near the bench she had been sitting on. “Take your file and then follow me.”

He had led her out of the slave market that day, with her untethered, her records clutched tightly in her hands. She remembered that the walk to the estate was not far, though it may have seemed longer due to her excitement. He left her with a pair of slaves and tasked them with gathering her non-written information and filing the records she brought. They then took her to Helaine.

She prowled through the debris of the market now, searching for blankets, food, or any sort of other supplies, trying her best to ignore the bodies she occasionally came across. Some were beaten bloody, others were charred beyond recognition.

That sale had been a turning point in her life, but it also set off this chain of events she now found herself mired in. Now she was homeless, completely on her own, and without any sort of currency, or even enough to try and barter with. She hoped to change at least some of that here, and she did manage to find some foods that would be suitable for travel, and some warmer clothes she could use later. She also found that whoever worked in the cash room was skimming from the house’s take. They had hidden a fair amount of cash under a false panel in a desk drawer, and were either unable to get to it, or forgot to take it when this place was attacked. It wasn’t nearly what she had grabbed from the estate, but it might be enough to get her by for a little while.

Her scavenging was interrupted as she gathered food by the unwelcome sound of someone’s boots on the floor nearby. From the weight of the footfalls, she guessed it was a male, but didn’t want to stick around to find out. There was no telling if he was friend or foe, so best to assume the latter. She shoved a few more packages of snacks into her bag, then hefted it onto her shoulder and began to make her way back out of the building as quietly as she could.

She rounded a corner and tripped on a broken wooden chair, falling to the floor with a loud thud. She cursed and in trying to get away from the offending piece of furniture, she became entangled in it. She tried to extract her leg from the chair’s remains, but it clattered loudly on the hardwood.

The sound of quick footfalls headed toward her was soon followed by a male voice calling out, “Who’s there?!”

“Son of a bitch!” she quietly cursed again as she fought with the chair. She kicked it free and sent it sliding across the hallway she had just exited from, and then into the hallway across from her. The man didn’t realize he now had a chair in his way and soon found himself tangled in it. She didn’t have time to watch him fight with it, and began to run as she tried to stand, her hooves slipping on the smooth wood floor.

“Wait!” she heard him call out.

She did no such thing. She ducked into the sales room, where she had entered, then threw her pack through the hole then ducked through it herself. She picked the bag up, replacing it on her shoulder, then quickly trotted out of the alley and to the street.

“Hold on!” she heard the man’s voice call out again.

She turned to seem him trying to slip through the hole in the brick, but turned back around and now ran out to the street.

Night had fallen, and most of the streetlights had been broken by now, either by overly happy slaves, or owners trying to find better places to hide while they attempted to reclaim their property. Or to keep their former property from killing them, she thought. She darted through alleyways and across various streets, doubling back several times, and finally jumping up to grab the ladder of a fire escape. She lifted herself up and climbed to the roof of the building to look at the streets around. The building was smaller, only three floors, plus the ground floor, so it didn’t offer the best vantage of the streets, but she would be able to watch from here to make sure her pursuer had been lost, and better determine where she wanted to go.

Though the sky was clear, and there were stars out, only a sliver of moon was visible. It didn’t giver her any advantages to vision, but the man wouldn’t have any advantage either. Unless he is a really tall feln, she thought. They see much better in the dark than even the lupino. She shivered as the adrenaline began to wear off. She first pulled her coat around her tighter, then dug out the blanket from her pack. She strained her ears, listening for any footfalls, or voices. She heard nothing. Not even from the building below her. She must have found one of the parts of the city where no one remained. After two hours of watching and patrolling the rooftop, she was confident the man had given up. She folded her blanket and returned it to her pack, then walked to the fire escape she had climbed up. After another quick look around, she dropped it onto the landing below her and climbed down. The room behind the window that led to this level of the fire escape was completely dark. Nothing remained other than the heaviest furniture. She tested the window, but found it locked, and breaking the glass would defeat the purpose of being out of the elements. She tried both lower windows, but found them locked as well. Dropping to the ground, she tested the front and service doors as well, but those had also been locked.

“Yes, lock your windows and doors. Like that will stop the uprising,” she frowned. “I wonder if the tenants mean to come back sometime. If they’re alive.” She had seen no signs of blood on the street near this building, so no one was killed here. She would have to find shelter somewhere else tonight.

She looked out of the alleyway, checking her surroundings before stepping back onto the sidewalk. She began walking again, the sharp echo of her hooves once more on the concrete. She knew the part of town she was nearing all to well. The Sinisusi estate was here. It was now Janus’s, she guessed. Soon, she saw the back corner of the fence. One side ran into the woods, soon vanishing, the other along the outside edge of the sidewalk. She could see the section she pushed out two months earlier just ahead. It still jutted out onto the path before her. She stopped when she reached it. She could go back, right? If who ever had been wasn’t from the Sinisusi estate, this would be the safest place. She placed her hand on the bar of the fence and stared into the gap before her.

As she was raising her hoof to step through, a male voice called out to her, “Hey! Wait!”

She quickly looked at him, seeing the same figure as earlier. “Shit!” she cried out and turned to run again.

“I’m not one of them! Look!” he pleaded.

She stopped and looked back over her shoulder, still poised to run if needed. Indeed, he would have been one of the few delphin working for a slaver. She first looked at his hooves, and saw they were covered with rubber boots, which would have explained his lack of noise. A straight sword hung from his hip, and were it vertical to him, the sheath would end roughly at his hocks. It sat at an angle, though, jutting out slightly behind him. He was average height for a male delphin with a dark cream coat and a long, silvery-brown mane and tail. With the darker fur on his face and his hands, she guessed he was marked as a dun would be, though he was warmly dressed for the night. Splitting his long forelock was a horn very similar to her own, with an amethyst core and a silver spiral climbing up it. She looked at his amber eyes and was struck with a feeling of familiarity.

“I’ve met you before,” she said, turning towards and stepping toward him. She was bent slightly forward with her hands clasped together in front of her chest. She looked up at him, and tried to remember.

He stayed still while she approached, leaving his hands open and visible.

She circled him once, she stopped in front of him and thought for a moment. “You were one of Bryce’s slaves.” When the answer came to her a moment later, she covered her mouth with her hands as she took in a short gasp. “You’re the young Guardian! Legacy!”

He bowed slightly to her. “Of course you wouldn’t forget someone.”

“What are you doing here? I mean, how did you find me?”

“I never intended to,” he said with a shrug. “I was looking for supplies and I thought someone was after me when I heard you get tangled up with that damn chair. Then I saw it was you, so I tried to get you to stop.”

“You could have called out my name,” she pointed out, folding her arms across her chest, “or at least said ‘Hey, it’s Legacy!'”

He gave a small, guilty chuckle and rubbed the back of his head. “I didn’t think about that until I’d lost track of you. I didn’t think you couldn’t actually tell who I was. Then I was walking through here and I saw you again.”

“Was that you following me a week ago?”

“No,” he replied, shaking his head. “I hadn’t seen you until tonight.”

“Oh,” she said, looking back at the fence next to her.

“You’re not going back are you? I heard he released all his slaves.”

“Someone has been following me for about two weeks now. If they’re not from the estate, then this would be the safest place for me. And with winter here, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find enough to keep myself alive.” She nodded back to the pack she carried. “This is all I have right now.”

“Then, come with me. My place isn’t much, but it’s warm, dry, and there’s more than enough food for winter.”

“Oh, Legacy, I couldn’t,” she said, taking a step back.

“Please, Snowhawk. I don’t want to live the rest of my life thinking you aren’t free. At least come back for the night and you can go from there.”

Snow opened her mouth to protest, but Legacy’s pleading eyes silenced it before it came out. She dropped her head and sighed. “Fine. For the night.”

Legacy gestured back towards the city, and the two walked off into the night.

*********

A human-formed Adian frowned as he watched Snowhawk through his binoculars. Janus would not be pleased that she had just walked off with this other delphin. He’d been following her for the past week, trying to get enough information on where she was so his brother could fetch her. Or however he was phrasing it. He sighed and ran his hand through his messy, short red hair, then looked at the watch on his wrist as it began to sound its alarm. It was midnight. Time to call Janus and tell him the bad news. He dug his phone from his pocket, trying not to lose his vehicle’s keys in the process, and flipped the phone’s cover open. He dialed his brother’s number and waiting on him to answer the phone.

“Yes?” Janus answered, sounding far away.

“Are you in a damn hole?”

“You’re on speaker so I can keep working on getting this shit in order. What did you find?”

“Good news, I found Snowhawk,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

The older brother was quiet for a moment. “Since you’re using that voice, what’s the bad news?”

“She just walked off with some delphin male. She was right outside the fence, too.

Adian heard an even more distant “Son of a bitch!” after another moment of silence and something dully hit something less moveable. Maybe his brother’s fist punching the table, or the wall. Several more curses followed, then the sound of the phone being picked up and a tone change as the speaker phone was switched off. “Find out where they’re going,” he said as evenly as he could, though the rage was still obviously there.

“Whatever, it keeps me away from that damn paperwork.”

“Do not lose her, Adian. Find out who this asshole is and what’s going on.”

“On it,” he responded, hanging up on his brother, and stuffing his phone back in his pocket as he left his surveillance spot.

He caught up to the pair quickly, then followed them from some distance back. At one point, they stopped and the male pointed down a side street and they turned down there. When Adian followed them, he first almost panicked as they had vanished, then he noticed a small alcove with stairs leading down below grade. There was a low window, and a sign above it announcing it was a bar. He crouched low to look in, and found his view mostly obscured by a curtain, but could see the pair of delphin inside, and found easily enough as they seemed to be the only ones in the bar. They were seated not at the bar, but a table near the back. Snow was positioned so she could see anyone who came in the front door. The bartender, a small lupino female with light brown fur, marked with white, and shoulder length dark brown hair walked over to them.

Adian moved away from the window, he couldn’t enter the bar with Snow looking at the door. She’d see him and that would be it. It had been hard enough to keep himself hidden from her earlier in the week, and she nearly caught him on several occasions. He sighed and grumbled, then began to look around to try and figure out a plan. It was about this point that he wished he could change his appearance beyond his wolf and human forms. Both of those forms were well known to her, and seeing either, especially a human, would be suspicious.

The chocolate-furred wolf stalked around the building, and found a door that opened to the alley propped open. A light plume of steam rose from the doorway. He looked in to see a kitchen, and since this seemed to be the only business left open that had need of such, he assumed it was for the bar. The lights were on, several large pots were being kept warm on the stove and a bit of smoke rose from a forgotten bit of meat on the griddle’s surface. It was relatively small and he figured it would have only accommodated one or two cooks at any time. It was possible this place was more restaurant than bar at some point in it’s past. Most bars were not so well equipped to prepare food. He stuck his head in, greeted by the kitchen’s heat but no one else. A quick glance told him it was currently empty, so he crouched down and quickly snuck to the far wall, to a door that looked like it would lead behind the bar’s main dining area.

His hunch paid off, and the door led to a small dry storage area, which he ducked into. There was a light overhead, but he left it off for now. Some light from the bar was streaming in through what may have once been part of a ventilation system, though now it was a hole in the wall, covered on one side with an ornamental brass grate. Two walls were covered in shelves that held various cans and boxes of foods and drink items that didn’t need refrigeration until they were closer to being consumed by customers. Another wall was stacked with boxes of bulk products, such as disposable towels and napkins, and some shipping packages of some of the same food items on the shelves. In the corner closest and most accessible to the door were cleaning supplies, being kept well away from potentially contaminating any of the consumable products, but easy enough to reach if needed.

The grate-covered-hole was overhead, but he could still make out their conversation. Most of it was the expected chit-chat about likes and dislikes, history with their respective owners, and general “getting to know you” type of talk. Then he heard the male delphin, Legacy, as he understood, talking about the slave uprising.

“This has been really crazy! I can’t believe that this… uprising has gotten so far.”

Snowhawk chuckled nervously. “Yeah, almost like people were sick of generally being treated like shit.”

“Your owner was that wolf’s nephew, right? How’d that all go down there?”

“Well,” she began, “This is I guess my fault.”

“What do you mean?”

There was a long pause, and Adian could hear the sound of plates being sat on a their table. Another minute passed, and she finally said, “I killed Ulmer.”

“What?!” Legacy replied, sounding genuinely shocked at this news. “What happened?”

Adian found it strange that she hadn’t already covered this.

“I don’t really even know. I got in an argument, I think, with Janus, then the next thing I clearly remember was me over Ulmer’s body, covered in the wolf’s blood, and my hand on a shard of glass embedded into his throat. I took off after that. I grabbed some cash and my cousin, and we ran.”

“But, you’ve freed so many!”

“And how many more have died? Not even the slavers, but their slaves? I’ve heard, and seen, what’s happened. Sure, some slavers got the hint and released their slaves, but others,” she stopped, and Adian heard a heavy sigh. “I didn’t want that. Ulmer was an asshole, sure, but that’s not the way to go about changing things. Not the best, anyway.”

“Well, it worked,” he responded, presumably trying to reassure her.

She gave another small chuckle, though it sounded less nervous. “True. Now we just have to hope that it doesn’t go further down the drain.”

Their conversation returned to the generic type of “getting to know you” that was just a step or two above talking about the weather, so Adian figured he would wait until they were getting close to leaving before he left his hiding place. He did find it odd that he never heard the bartender speaking to them, though he would hear them asking her questions and placing orders.

After another hour, he heard Legacy ask for their bill, and went to the door to see if anyone was near. The storage room door was solid, so he could only slowly crack it open and listen for any movement beyond what he could see through the small opening between the door and frame. He couldn’t hear or see anything, so he crept out, looking around his surroundings, and into the bar’s small kitchen. He was nearly to the alley door when he was pelted with several fruits. He turned around to see the fuming bartender with a basket of lemons and limes in one hand and a ripened lime in her other. “I’m leaving, please don’t–”

She chucked the lime at him, beaning him in the forehead.

“Gah!” he yelled and scampered out the door, feeling another lemon or lime hit his back. He slammed the door behind him, and ran down the alley and to the street. He stopped before he got too far from the bar’s entrance, and looked behind him, then shook his head in disbelief. She attacked him with fruit, and didn’t call for help either before or after chucking citrus at his head. He crept back to watch the door, waiting on the two delphin to leave the bar.

After another ten minutes or so, he had been more interested in making sure that the citrus-wielding bartender was no where to be seen, and that Snowhawk didn’t sneak away, the two equines emerged from the bar, and turned back to walk to the main street. After he saw which direction they turned, Adian carefully snuck through the side street, and continued to follow them.

Their trek was a mostly straight one to the building Legacy apparently lived in. The longer they walked without changing up their direction, the more uneasy Snowhawk seemed to become. Adian couldn’t exactly blame her, she was being followed, and not varying their path certainly made his job easier. Either the male delphin was confident the area was safe, or he was not very good at the whole “hiding” thing. In either case, he watched them go into the building, then waited to see if any lights came on. On the street side, the lights behind the windows on the fourth floor flickered on, and Adian could see Legacy’s shadow walk to the window, then pull open the curtain. Snow briefly appeared, and the two were talking about something, then they turned away and the curtain fell closed again.

The wolf walked to the front of the building, and gave a light tug on the door. He found it locked. The keypad next to the entrance was presumably the way in. He quickly scouted around the building, making note of fire escapes and an exit into the alleys on either side of the building. Those were locked with keypads as well. None of the numbers seemed more worn than others, and the keypads all seemed fairly new in general.

He had to wonder if there was significance to that and the location of this building, as it was near the former home of the Delphin Empire. Something about the male delphin seemed off in his conversation. He began to walk away from the building, and once again dug into his pocket to call his brother and report.

*********

Snowhawk turned away from the window in Legacy’s apartment, glancing around the room. This room opened into a small kitchen, where the entrance was, and then a door on the opposite wall led to a short hallway, with a closet on one side and presumably a shower on the other. and the bedroom at the end. His furnishings were sparse, one couch in a shade of green that seemed years outdated and a mis-matched arm chair sat in the middle of the room, then a low table sat in front of them. She had dumped her bag on the chair, and it looked like it may slide off at any point. The table had a few recent newspapers, which was perhaps a good sign of some facets of the city recovering. There was a short, dinged-up bookshelf, only populated with a few books, and a cheap radio perched on top of it. Over all, the room was clean, even cozy, but she was still a bit unnerved by the reminders of a couple months before. “I guess you can settle down a bit more when you don’t feel like you’re being chased,” she commented.

“That’s how it’s been for you the past two months, isn’t it?” he inquired, stepping away from the window and dropping the curtain.

She half turned back toward him, and nodded. “Yeah, kinda hard to rest when you feel like there’s always at least one set of eyes on you.” She walked to the arm chair to adjust her bag, and absently fiddled with some of her belongings.

“Why don’t you go on to sleep. You can take my bed, it’s more comfortable than the couch. This building is one of the most secure left, that’s why I picked it. And, the bedroom door locks from the inside.”

She gave a small smile and bowed her head. “I appreciate that.”

“There’s a bathroom just outside of the bedroom, so if you wanted to shower, you’re more than welcome to. There are towels in the closet across from it.”

Snow closed her eyes and bowed her head to him slightly. “Thank you. A not-rushed bath would also be a welcome break.” She hefted her bag to her shoulder, then turned toward the bed room.

As she headed toward the bedroom, Legacy walked to the radio, and turned it on, tuning it to a station which played soft, relaxing music.

Past Secrets – Version 2 – Nov 2015

Janus fumbled in the dark on his night stand, trying to catch his vibrating, loudly ringing phone. He knocked both it and his clock off the small table, then fell from the bed trying to catch the falling phone. He looked at the name of the caller, and saw not only his brother’s name, but a picture as a caller notification. He didn’t remember doing that, so he could only assume Adian took it upon himself to add it, as it was not a picture he would have chosen. He pressed the answer button and held the phone up to his ear. “Where is she?” he quickly asked.

“What, no ‘Hi, Adian, how is your hunt going?’ So rude.” He could almost hear his brother’s smart-assed grin.

“Adian, I am half laying in the floor because I fell trying to catch this damn phone. The only reason you would have to call me at,” he paused as he pulled the phone away from his head to look at the display of time, then quickly returned it, “almost 4 am is because you found Snowhawk.”

“Yeah, yeah, I found your mare,” the other wolf said in a dismissive tone.

Janus gave a small growl when his brother didn’t continue that sentence. “Well?”

“That male delphin, who I found out is named Legacy, took her back to his place.”

Legacy? Janus thought, knowing exactly who the delphin stallion was. He was one of Bryce’s slaves. But why do I remember him specifically? Then, a moment later, he remembered why that particular slave stood out in his mind. “Shit!” he cursed, slamming his other fist into the floor. “Ow, fuck!” he continued, having hit the floor harder than intended.

“What has you so worked up?”

“That’s the damn Guardian, Adian.”

“Oh, that’s him. Explains the sword I saw.” Adian’s laugh then came over the phone’s speaker. “Well, sucks for you. You know how those idiots get when they find someone to protect.”

“That’s not what I’m as concerned about. He’s not fully trained. He could put her in danger.”

“How? They’ll die protecting their charges.”

“And sometimes, they take their charges with them if they feel like they’ve failed! Now where is she?” Janus couldn’t believe it. His brother must have been asleep when they learned about the previous rulers of the land, the Delphin Empire.

“You know where the Empress used to live? Before, you know, she was killed and everything went to shit for those horses?”

“Yes.”

“His apartment is right near there. Not easy to get into, though. New security on the doors, and the ladders for the fire escapes sit up higher than usual. They’re locked too.”

Janus growled again, and rubbed his forehead. “This is incredibly inconvenient.”

“I’ll watch them for a while longer and let you know what I see.”

Janus pulled his head back and looked at his phone. That was unusually generous of his brother. He returned the phone to his ear and began “I– Thank you, Adian.”

“Look, I can’t have you moping around if something goes wrong and she dies. Getting you to where you can at the least talk to her is as much for me as it is for you.”

*********

Adian shook his head as he put his phone back into his pocket. He then sighed as he turned back toward the apartment. The building across the street was minus a door, and would be good enough for a surveillance location for a few days. At least enough that he could figure out when Legacy would go out. Or maybe he’d get lucky and Snowhawk wouldn’t stay.

No, he thought. I am not that lucky.

He reached the building a short time later, finding it in worse shape than he had anticipated. It was mostly a shell, burned out on the inside. There was enough shelter, though, so he called one of the other guards at the estate to have them bring him some supplies for a few days. He would meet them on the road behind this building, since vehicles were few and far between, especially now. Cars had always been near the top of the “luxury” chain, but once most of the slavers left town or were killed, there were even fewer.

Adian huddled up in the building, thankful for his winter coat having grown in early again. He always found it odd that he was the only one in the family to fluff up so early. He found it odd that his coat was so much darker than the rest of the family anyway. A bunch of literal blue wolves, and here he was, the color of a candy bar. He had asked his parents shortly before they were killed, and his mom said it was from a distant relative on her side.

He was alone with his thoughts for roughly an hour, when his phone vibrated with a message. He didn’t bother to look at it, and just stood and stepped into the street then walked through the alley. He found the guard he had called in one of the estate’s vehicles waiting. The guard rolled down the window and handed him a backpack of his requested items. Adian thanked him and walked away, returning to the burned out building.

Adian first opened the backpack and removed two laser tripwires. He set these up, aimed low on either side of the stoop, so he would have notification of anyone passing by. Granted it would also be tripped by a stray dog, cat, leaf or such, but a false alarm was better than no notice. He returned to his pack and dug out the blanket he had requested and wrapped it around him, draping the ends over his shoulders so there was a loop at the front which he could pull up both to cover his white muzzle and keep his nose warmer. It was near 6 am now, so he still had an hour or so until the sun started to peek over the horizon. He could nap off and on during the day, and the low buzz of the tripwires would alert him to traffic.

He pulled the blanket over his nose then sighed. It was going to be a long day.

It was. It was also a long following three, as he watched the pattern of Legacy coming and going.

Adian sat up quickly, hearing the quiet buzz of the trip wire. Legacy was walking away from the apartment toward the Empress’s former home. He pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at the time. Just after eight am. He had managed to lose an hour, but at least his alarm system still worked. He’d never tested the battery life this long. He looked out and at the window he had seen Snowhawk in last night. That curtain was still drawn closed, but the larger window to it’s left was open. There was a small window that had frosted glass on the bottom pane between the two, so he could only assume that was a bathroom. He watched the fourth floor windows closely for any sign of his brother’s lavender mare. Moments later, the window from last night opened again, and Adian caught a glimpse of Snowhawk. He debated on calling Janus now, since the estate was only a fifteen or twenty minute drive away. He would wait though, as his brother arriving at the apartment as the Guardian came back would be awkward. One more check to be safe.

Adian was awoken again when Legacy returned around noon, as he had days before, and was at the apartment for a half hour before he left again, heading back toward the former home of the Delphin Empire. This time, however, Adian had been able to see the buttons Legacy pressed on the keypad. He hadn’t heard a buzzer or alarm when the door was opened, though that wasn’t to say there may not have been one sound in the apartment. He unwrapped himself from the blanket, and took another look at the fourth floor windows, making sure no one was up there. He then ran across the road and to the front door of the building to test out the door code. “4-8-3-4-star” he whispered as he pressed each button. The light on the keypad went green and he was able to open the door. He ducked inside the building and quietly walked through the hallway, looking for one of the side doors.

He first passed the rental office and a maintenance room, opposite a general gathering space for tenants. The hallway quickly sloped down as he neared the midpoint of the building, then it leveled out where two hallways connected into it. One hallway, the left one, had a door in the middle for a laundry facility, and the right had a door marked “Storage.” Both terminated into doors that led out into the alleys on either side of the building, and neither were emergency exits, so alarms would not sound if they were opened.

He tested the door on the storage room, finding it unlocked and slipped inside. Chain-link panels and doors made up lockers for tenant storage, though many were empty, or only held broken-down boxes and blankets for protecting furniture being stored or moved. There either weren’t many tenants in this building, or no one had anything to store. Once more, he dug into his pocket and removed his phone, but there wasn’t any service in this room. He frowned and grabbed one of the broken down boxes, then slowly opened the door to the hallway. It was still empty so he went to the alley door and stepped out setting the box in the doorway to keep it from latching.

He searched for his brother’s contact information, then pressed the dial button and waited for him to answer.

“Yes?” Janus answered.

“I’m in the building. Well, not IN the building, there’s no signal for the phone, but I can get in.”

“And?”

“Legacy is out. I saw him put a code in when he came back. He was gone for about four hours each trip the last few times, so you should be able to get here and get to her before he gets back.”

“I’m leaving now. What’s the address?”

“I’ll text it to you. And park on the next street over. Your car is really noticeable. Ask Tom where he stopped to bring me shit, he should still be near the garage by the time you get there. Oh, and when you get here, come to the right side of the building. I’ve got that door propped open.”

There was a click as Janus hung up and cut the call off. Adian sighed as he repeatedly tapped buttons to input the address into a text message. He hated texting, but it was better to send addresses. He flipped the cover on his phone closed and stuffed it back into his pocket, then moved closer to the street, where he could watch both for Legacy’s return, his brother’s arrival, and the side door all at once. Now that he wasn’t sitting in one place and waiting, he felt very awake.

*********

Janus stopped his small sports car in front of the building the guard, Tom, had described to him. It had been just over 20 minutes since his brother called him. He put the vehicle in park, turned the engine off, and stepped out. He went through the alley that had been described to him, and came out next to the burned out building Adian had hidden in. He saw his brother resting against the apartment building, looking down the street. He quickly ran across the street and to his sibling. “Did he go that way?” he asked of the Guardian.

Adian nodded. “Yep.” He then pointed down the alleyway. “There’s a door propped open with a box down there. She’s up on the fourth floor. There are probably two apartments on the front of the building, so when you’re looking at the street, it should be the left one.”

“Thank you, again, Adi-”

“Just shut up and go find her. If the Guardian comes back, I’ll distract him.” His brother then slid around to the street side of the building, so he could watch from both directions.

Janus hurried down the alley, then went into the building. He left the box propping the door open, then went down the short hallway and turned the corner to the longer hall with the stairwell. “Fourth floor,” he reminded himself, taking a deep breath, then rushed up the first flight of stairs.

The stairs were average flights of twelve, but Janus felt they were longer, despite being a standard size for humans to more easily use. He finally came out on the fourth floor, then turned back toward the street. He went to the left door of the two units on the front of this building. He paused at the door, unsure if he should just try to open it, or knock first.

He firmly knocked, then took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves, straightening his posture. Why am I nervous anyway? he thought.

“Did you forget something, Legacy?” Snowhawk’s voice answered, becoming clearer as she grew closer to the door.

It had been almost two months since he had heard her voice. He lost some of his composure hearing it. A chain on the inside of the door rattled as she unlatched the door. He couldn’t have opened it anyway. The door swung open, and he finally saw her again.

She was thinner than she had been. The last two months had been hard on her, and she was already prone to easily lose weight. Her mane was several inches shorter, now just below her shoulders when it had reached her mid-back before. Her tail was similarly shortened. Neither her hair or fur were in the best shape, appearing rough and dully textured. The scar on her neck was still bright pink and fresh skin had grown, though the fur had not returned yet. Her green eyes were both confused and concerned at seeing him. “Janus…” she softly gasped.

He grabbed her and pulled her to him in a tight embrace. He shook with quiet sobs as he held her, then he felt her arms tentatively wrap around him. “I’ve been so worried about you,” he finally said, after several moments clutching her to him. “Why did you run?”

“Because I killed your uncle. I was afraid-” she whispered.

“Oh, love, you didn’t have to run.”

“But the others- your brother, even. I was a slave, and I killed a master! There’s no coming back from that.”

“I wouldn’t have let them near you. You mean more to me than that old wolf ever did.”

“How did you find me?” she asked, pulling away from him slightly and looking up at him.

“When we finally had a moment to breathe, I sent Adian to find you.”

He could see when the follower she’d had for the past week finally clicked in her head. “Oh, that was him. I thought there was something familiar about it.”

Janus chuckled and kissed her head. “He told me you were outside the fence a few nights ago.”

She nodded slightly. “Yeah, I was about to step back in. I just found myself back there.”

“Please come back? Nothing has felt right since you left. And I worry about you being with an untrained Guardian.”

“Janus,” she hesitantly began, “I can’t go back to being-”

“You won’t be,” he firmly stated. “You will never be a slave again, love. You will never have to go gather intel or kill for me again. I let all the others go as well. It was the day after you left.”

She sighed and rested heavily against him. “I needed to know.” She looked back up at him and smiled. “I’ll be right back.”

Janus waited in the doorway as she vanished into the apartment, then returned a moment later with her bag. He looked at the size of the bag, figuring it was close to a third of her weight, then offered his hand. “May I take that?”

She smiled and unshouldered the bag, handing it to him. The wolf wrapped his arm around her now free shoulders and they walked back toward the stairwell. As they reached the third floor, Janus’s phone rang. He again saw his brother’s name and the picture as identification of the caller. “Yes?”

“If you aren’t on the way out, move faster. And go out the other alley door.”

“I take it the Guardian is coming back?”

“Yeah. Super early. I’ll stall him.”

Snow looked at him, concerned. “Your admirer is on his way back,” Janus conveyed.

“Oh, shit,” she responded. “Awkward.”

“Very. Let’s go.”

The two hurried down the stairs, and Janus directed her to the exit opposite the one he had entered through. Once in the alley, they turned toward the street, and could hear Adian’s snarky voice taunting the increasingly irritated Guardian. They paused just before the street, and Janus moved to the opposite side of the alley to try and better watch for an opening.

“Ya shuuurrrrre I don’ts knows ya?” Adian’s voice asked. He was slurring his words, almost as if he was drunk. He hadn’t sounded like that a few minutes ago, so he had to assume it was a ruse. Janus stuck his head out a bit further to see his brother with his arm draped across the Guardian, and trying to turn him to face away.

“No, you don’t. Now get your damn hands off me, wolf!” Legacy snapped, sounding quite irritated as he tried to un-attach Adian from him.

“Ya shure? Man, I n’ver ferget a fasche!”

“What is your problem?!” the stallion shouted. “It’s not even two in the afternoon!”

“Hey hey hey, ‘ook ‘ere,” he grinned, pulling the other male’s face right to his.

Legacy now actually looked at the chocolate wolf, and Janus could see when the switch of recognition flipped in his brain. “You,” he mouthed.

Adian whispered something to Legacy, licked the Guardian’s nose, then released him, and ran down the alley.

“You son of a bitch!” Legacy yelled, then ran after the wolf.

“Well, whatever he said really pissed that stallion off,” Janus commented. “Come on,” he said, offering his hand to Snowhawk.

She took his hand and they sprinted across the street, into the opposite alley and to Janus’s car. He opened the passenger door for her, then squished her bag into the car’s small trunk. He opened his door and quickly slid in to the car, and glanced at Snow. She had a soft smile on her face. He started the vehicle and drove off, reaching over to take her hand in his as he pulled away.

*********

Adian grin as he ran down the street. The Guardian had taken the bait. He didn’t even have to look behind him to be sure, he could hear the stallion’s hooves on the pavement. The screams of “Come back here, dammit!” were another tell.

Once he felt he was sufficiently away from his brother and Snowhawk, he quickly stopped and turned toward Legacy. He backed out of his direct line of movement, then waited.

The equine’s hooves slipped slightly on the concrete and he almost fell as he slid to a stop, but caught himself by turning and landing on his hands. “What the hell do you mean ‘We’ve got your girl?'” he growled, his ears pinned back and stalking toward the wolf.

Adian shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know,” he began mockingly, “Just that you’re not going to find her in that apartment of yours.”

“You’re lying!”

“If I’m lying, why didn’t you go look? Or was that little kiss that special to you that you had to chase after me.”

Legacy lunged at the other male, but Adian saw him preparing to jump just before he launched himself and stepped out of the way. Legacy landed and slid on the asphalt of the street, scraping the side of his face and the back of his hand. He lifted himself up, glaring daggers at the wolf. “Why would you capture her?! She was finally free!”

“Who said anything about capturing? Did you honestly think that mare would stay? Don’t you remember where you found her? Where she was about to go?” Adian watched as he clenched and unclenched his fists several times.

“I’ve had enough of you fucking wolves ruining everything,” Legacy lowly said, then grabbed the hilt of his sword. He pulled the weapon from its sheath, then advanced toward the other.

Adian raised his eyebrows at sword-wielding equine advancing toward him. “Killing me won’t get you anything.”

“Sure it does. If you’re dead, that’s one less wolf in the world!” He again lunged at him, and managed to catch Adian’s jacket with the tip of his sword.

Adian sighed and kicked the stallion away from him. “You’re too dangerous to have that. I’m sure it was from your mentor or whoever, and you just got it back, or some such, but you’re just going to get yourself killed.”

“As long as I know that Snowhawk is free, I can die fulfilled,” he said as he stood.

Adian canted his head to the side in confusion. “Wow, there is so much wrong with that statement.” He then jumped out of the way as Legacy lunged at him once again. Once more, he kicked the equine away. “If you’re dead set on fighting me, and ‘saving’ her, and trying to kill my brother, you’re more than welcome to. Especially that last part, because he’s a pest. But at least train yourself to be a better opponent first.” He turned away from the equine and began to walk away.

“You bastard!” the other yelled. Adian turned to look behind him, and saw Legacy sailing toward him, sword in outstretched arm, but couldn’t dodge fast enough this time to avoid him completely. The blade pierced his clothing, and dug into the flesh on his side, slicing through him, just below his rib cage. As Adian pulled away and Legacy flew past, the sword ripped further through his clothes, but also wrenched itself from Legacy’s hand and clattered to the ground.

“You fuck!” Adian yelled, grasping his side. He quickly felt as best he could to try and gauge the damage done. The wound seemed mostly superficial, though he wasn’t about to take any chances. The stallion tried to scramble to his sword, but Adian kicked him in the jaw and away from him. He then picked up the sword. He looked at the writhing equine on the ground in front of him. “Be glad I don’t kill you right here. If you want this back, learn to fight. You got a lucky hit today.”

He limped away, clutching his side and trying to remember where the hospital was in relation to his current location.

*********

Adian hobbled down the street toward the hospital. It had been a half hour since the Guardian sliced his side open. He should have called for a car, but then the guards at the estate would panic and he didn’t want or need to be around panicking people. Staying calm and maintaining an even pace would be the best for him right now. His wound was not as bad as he had assumed, but it still hurt like he didn’t know what. He dug around in his pocket again and found his brother’s name on his speed dial, then pressed the button. Might as well let him know, he thought as he held the phone up to his ear. The phone rang three times, and he wondered if his brother even had his phone on him, or if he was otherwise busy. On the sixth ring, Janus’s voicemail picked up, so he spoke to it. “Hey, I’m headed to the hospital. Almost there. Idiot Guardian got me with his damn sword. Call you in a bit.” He looked at his phone with slight frustration and grumbled, “It’s cool though. Not gonna die.”

He grumbled a few more curses as he walked down the street, gathering a few strange looks from the few other people he passed. He wasn’t far from the hospital, another fifteen minutes or so, when he had an uneasy feeling, like someone was following him. He stopped and looked around, but couldn’t see anyone. The street had cleared out again. He started back toward the hospital once more, ears perked to listen for any one approaching him.

He reached the building and walked in, still clutching his side. The eyes of the receptionist at the emergency room widened as he entered. “Little help?” he said, now starting to feel light-headed. He guessed he had lost a significant amount of blood at this point. He began to lose his balance as the feln behind the counter jumped up and ran to him, shouting for a doctor. He slid into a chair, dropping Legacy’s sword, and saw his world go fuzzy, then black.

*********

At the estate, Janus had been ignoring the incessant small “bzz”es and flashes of light on his phone, indicating he had a new voicemail. He was still trying to help Snowhawk settle back in, though the two stopping for cuddles and kisses slowed the process significantly. He grumbled at the phone buzzing once more in his pocket.

“Just listen to it. I’m not going anywhere this time,” she smiled.

He nodded and pulled the phone from his pocket, then unlocked it and pressed on the icon for the voicemail application. He then felt the blood drain from his face as he heard his brother’s message. “Shit!” he cursed, looking at the time of the message and the time it currently was.

“What is it?” she replied, walking to him.

“Adian got hurt. Legacy apparently sliced him up.”

Snowhawk gasped and her hands shot to her mouth. “Oh no! Where is he?”

He shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know exactly. He said he was on his way to the hospital.” He signed and scratched the back of his neck. “I need to go find him.”

“I’ll go with you,” she volunteered.

Janus began to say something, but hesitated. “Love,” he began, “maybe you should stay here. Just for now, until we’re sure we know where Legacy is. I’ll make sure the guards who would be in the area stay closer to the house for now.”

Snow snorted softly and delicately stamped her hoof, giving her tail a flick. “Alright,” she agreed, with much reluctance.

He wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her forehead, under her horn. “I’ll be back as soon as I can be.”

Janus heard her frustrated sigh as he closed the door to their room. “I’m sorry, love,” he whispered as he walked away, “I can’t risk something happening to you.”

He quickly made his way to the garage, and left his instructions for the security guards, then jumped into his car and sped out and turned towards the city’s hospital.

*********

Snowhawk sighed as the door closed, and stamped her hoof once more. She wanted to help. She felt this was partially her fault. Maybe more than partially, she thought. She sat on the edge of the bed, and her hooves didn’t quite touch the floor, so she swung them back and forth lightly, feeling the railing of the boxspring under the mattress thump into the backs of her legs, just above her hocks.

A moment later, she fell backwards onto the bed, sighing in frustration again. “If only I wasn’t useless when it came to healing,” she said aloud, frowning. Most unicorn delphin could heal at least themselves, and a rare few could heal others. Some could heal even major injuries. Her mother had been on of those latter types, as she had learned. So why couldn’t she? Was it because she had taken lives?

She curled up on her side, tapping her hooves together. That would be silly, her mind said to her. She couldn’t heal when she was with Mather Arey, her previous owner. The man responsible for her mother’s death. If she hadn’t been a slave, she wouldn’t have needed to escape when she was so heavily pregnant, and especially in that weather.

“Maybe that was it. Maybe because my mother died for me, I lost my ability to heal. Can you even completely use up your healing abilities?” she pondered, wondering if that was what saved her from the snow storm that night. She continued to think as sleep overtook her.

She slept for some time, she wasn’t sure for how long, when she awoke to the feeling of heavy pressure on her shoulder and arm, which was laying on her waist. It was a pair of hands, and she was being held down firmly. “What the f–” she started to cry out, but the hand on her shoulder shot to her muzzle and held it shut. She looked over since she couldn’t move her head, and saw golden eyes locked onto her. They belonged to a blood red delphin with long brown hair and white, pinto markings. From his head grew a horn, spiraled in gold similar to her own, but the core was a deep red, like his fur. his ears curled towards each other at the tips, like some of the older delphin lines once had.

She didn’t know him at all, but something about him was familiar.

“You weren’t supposed to wake up just yet,” he frowned. She tried to shake her head free of his hand, but he just gripped tighter. Her nostrils flared as she breathed heavily. “Don’t struggle. I simply came here to check on you.”

With his weight on her and pressing her into the bed, she couldn’t free her other arm. She wiggled to try and slide onto her back and throw off his balance, after which she could maybe free herself. He squeezed tighter on her nose. “What did I just say?” he warned.

The piebald male studied her for a moment, then shook his head. “Not yet,” he stated, then, keeping his one hand on her muzzle, rolled her onto her stomach and laid on her to hold her down. He brushed her hair away from her neck, and she could feel his muzzle brush against her coat. He didn’t breathe, that she could feel anyway. She whimpered softly, unsure what he was planning, then felt pressure on her neck, followed by the distinct sensation of her skin being punctured. She whined and dared not shake her head out of fear of further damage being caused. A moment later, everything went dark.

Then she shoot up, still in bed, still alone in the room. She looked about for signs of anyone having been in there. Nothing was changed. She felt her neck, feeling no punctures or scars, then ran to the bathroom to confirm in the mirror.

“What the hell was that?” she asked her reflection as she leaned on the bathroom sink’s counter.

*********

Janus cursed that his family’s estate was so far from the city’s center. He knew why it was like that, but it was still some forty minutes to the hospital from the estate. A little less if he sped. Every extra mile felt like an eternity when rushing. He’d felt the same earlier when his brother told him where Snow was. “That idiot better not get himself killed.”

He reached the hospital finally, passing his keys to the emergency room’s valet and taking said valet’s ticket in one smooth motion. He burst into the lobby, and the feln receptionist hopped up from her seat at the noise. “Oh, sir,” she began, apparently recognizing him from little more than two months earlier. “Are you here for the other wolf? The red-haired one?”

He nearly dove to the desk. “Yes! He’s my brother. Where is he?!”

“In surgery. Please, sit down, and we’ll let you know when you can go see him.”

Janus could only nod, and walked to the waiting area, dropping himself into the all too familiar cheap chairs, upholstered in fake leather. Every chair in the hospital seemed to have this covering, if they had any padding at all. Perhaps I should make a donation to the hospital, he thought. At least I can get them some better seating. He had to distract himself somehow while he waited. He looked around the waiting room to see if there were any other things he could suggest donations go to.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of hooves on the tile floor. He looked up to see the familiar red delphin doctor walking toward him, a clipboard tucked under her arm. He stood, and gave her a slight bow of respect. She paused for a moment before him, then smirked. “Not panicking as much this time, I see.” He shook his head, confirming her observation. “Good. Won’t have to chuck you out the doors.”

“What happened to him?”

The doctor brought her clipboard out, and looked at the papers tucked under the clip. “We’re not entirely sure. He passed out in the waiting room. We rushed him into surgery and found a substantial, but thankfully cleanly cut, wound on his left side. The blade that got him wasn’t some simple kitchen knife. The wound started in his back, just under his ribs, and pierced the top of the muscle, then continued around, as if he was turning and trying to get away, to his front, but someone held onto the weapon for quite a while.”

Janus could tell she was refraining from using the names of the muscle groups, though she really seemed to want to. Perhaps it was how she had gotten used to speaking to other patients.

“We found bits of his clothes inside the wound, which gave us an idea the blade was traveling. He did have a decent sized sword with him, which was covered in wolf blood.”

Janus brought his hand to his chin as he crossed the other in front of him, and rested his arm on the opposite hand. “Adian doesn’t carry something as unwieldy as a sword. He doesn’t usually have much for weaponry on him at all. Is it still here?”

“Of course,” she responded. “It will be in his room, though we’ve cleaned it to prevent it from being a biohazard.”

He nodded, knowing there were no police left now to ask questions. Not that the police were ever very useful before, being in the pocket of one or two families. Families that weren’t his. This was why most slavers just hired their own guards.

“Your brother is awake now, after we got the debris cleaned from the wound, stitched him up, and transfused some blood back into him. He’s not very coherent, and may not be until we get the last couple units of blood in him. I’ll take you up to him so you don’t pitch another fit in my hospital.”

Janus just side-eyed the small, sassy doctor as she walked off, then padded behind her. She walked to the elevator, and they rode up two floors, then stepped into the hallway and walked toward Adian’s room.

*********

Legacy was infuriated. He had ran back to his apartment, but found it empty. The wolf that had stolen his sword hadn’t been lying. There was no sign of any kind of struggle or forced entry. “Those sons of bitches!” he cursed as he slammed his fist onto the dresser in his bedroom. Something fluttered over when the dresser was rattled and brushed against his hand. He looked down to see a crimson ribbon, one he didn’t recognize. The color was far too bright to be something he would have ever purchased, and it was very wide, some two and a half or three inches in width. He picked it up and held it to his nose, sniffing it. He didn’t have the same kind of depth of scent as a lupino, but he still picked up the scent of the ribbon’s owner. It had been Snowhawk’s. She must have left it. He thought for a moment, trying to figure out why she would have such a thing. He looked at it carefully noticing creases some eight or so inches from the ends, spaced like they had been tied in a bow. Her hair was too short to be tied back with a ribbon, and she hadn’t worn it around her tail, plus there would have been additional creasing where it was wrapped around. He held the tie points, and realized what it’s purpose was.

She had been wearing a dark scarf bundled around her neck, but when they went to the bar, she loosened it, and he saw a flash of red on her throat, under the scarf. Later that night, as she sat and talked with him after her bath, he had seen the long scar crossing her throat.

“She covered the scar with it,” he said to only himself. “Why would she pick something so bright, though, if it was meant to conceal?” She had told him the story of the scar, and why it still looked so fresh.

“Ahh, dammit!” he yelled, slamming his fist onto the top of the dresser again. He didn’t know her well enough to figure it out. He dropped his head and shoulders, his horn tapping on the dresser, and shuddered, unable to determine if he wanted to cry or scream from rage again. “What business do I have being a Guardian?”

He raised his head after a moment, drawing in a deep breath, then slowly releasing it. “I need to find out if my mentor is still alive.” That delphin had trained him as much as had been allowed. Bryce thought it was amusing, he guessed, to see someone start something, get to a crucial point, then have their only source of information ripped away. It wasn’t the only time Legacy, or any of the slaves there, had it happen.

How am I going to find an old Guardian who might have been killed? he wondered. And I’ll need my sword back.

He looked around his bedroom, then at the ribbon still clutched in his hand. “I have to succeed. There is no room for failures.”

*********

It was the following morning when Adian regained enough blood to stay coherent and awake. Janus was waiting in the room for his brother to come around. “Welcome back,” he smiled, standing and walking over to Adian. “You turned twenty like three weeks back, try not to die so soon.”

Adian chuckled weakly and rolled his eyes. “Ass.”

Janus planted himself in the chair next to his brother’s bed, then leaned on the bed. “What happened? You don’t usually wind up in the hospital.”

His brother shrugged. “Not really sure. He caught me off guard and tried to skewer me. He had been incredibly noisy, but then it was like… I don’t even know. Only reason I noticed him was he yelled before he lunged. Guess I pissed him off too much.”

Janus paused and looked at his brother from the side of his eyes. “What did you do?”

“You mean, other than telling him that Snow went back with you?” Adian paused, looking at his brother, who gave a nod telling him to continue. “I told him that he couldn’t fight for shit and he needed to get better before I would consider him worthy.”

He dropped his head to the bed with an exasperated sigh. “Why do you do this? Every time, Adian!” he chided, his voice muffled from the bed.

“It’s not fun to kick someone’s ass if they aren’t even a challenge.”

The older wolf looked up and at his brother. “You are going to put yourself in a far too early grave if you don’t stop.”

Adian shrugged. “Worth it.”

“I swear, when you’re out of here and me punching the living shit out of you won’t kill you, I am going to punch the ever-living shit out of you. I do actually care about you, you know.”

His brother smirked and chuckled again. “I’m really touched.”

Janus, straight-faced, did reach over and tap his brother’s shoulder with the back of his hand.

“Don’t beat up my patients!” the doctor called in. She had been walking by when he gave him the love tap.

*********

Helaine walked off from the group she had been with. They were a little too boisterous tonight for her spirits. It had been three days since Snow had left, and even though she had this group of feln and delphin, she still felt somewhat alone and lost. She wasn’t the newest member anymore, though. The night after Snow left, a new delphin had found them. She had just traveled from Juv, so there were stories from her added to the group. She told one of being captured in Di’aru and her guide saved her. Helaine was left to wonder why they decided to travel so close to the slaver city, but she then realized they would have been on the last leg of their journey, just as autumn was kicking into high gear. They must have left late.

She sighed as she wandered away from the group, her distracted thoughts going over everything and nothing from the past few months. She wished Snow would contact her, somehow. It was at least getting colder and feeling more like the season, even the clouds hung heavy and low in the sky above. She leaned against a building, looking toward the group gathered around a fire, then looked up at the sky above.

A snowflake fluttered down in front of her and it was soon followed by others. She sighed once more, watching her breath rise to the sky, and took a moment to simply be.

She heard a soft hoofstep near her and quickly turned to look where she’d heard it. She had the safety of the group behind her, so she could at least make it back. Hopefully. She glimpsed a shimmer in the shadows, and the silhouette she saw was that of a tall, lean unicorn delphin, with a pair of feathered wings behind them. As the figure came closer to her, she saw more shimmers from the hooves and horn, and light glinting from their wings. Once they got close enough, she recognized who the delphin was. His bright green eyes and glinting golden fur and hair made him stand out in her mind. “Jerome!” she exclaimed, then ran to embrace the tall male.

He laughed and wrapped an arm around her, then reached up with his other hand and ruffled her forelock. “I’m so glad you’re alive and free. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here sooner.”

“It’s okay,” she smiled. “I’m sure your Royal Guard duties have kept you extra busy lately. Especially now that you can do them again.”

Jerome nodded to her. “They have. I’ve been trying to find some of my former students, but I haven’t had much luck.”

“I’m sure some of them will turn up.”

He nodded in response. “Oh, I’m sure they will too. It’s only a little more than two months out, there’s still a lot of calming down to do.”

“Are you going to hang around for a while?” she asked, knowing her uncertainty was showing in her voice.

“I think I can. Something up?”

“Well,” she began, hesitating. “I’ve been with this group,” she continued, gesturing to the delphin and feln gathered around the fire behind her, “for a little over three weeks. They’re nice and all, but Snow left the group a few days ago. I don’t really know anyone that well yet.”

He canted his head to the side, curious. “Your cousin was here, but left?”

Helaine nodded. “Yeah.”

“Why did she leave?”

“She said she was being followed. She didn’t want to put everyone else in danger.”

“Do you know where she went?”

“No, she didn’t say. She took only a few supplies with her, but the bag was large so I guess she intended to find more. She left the rest, including our money, with me.”

Jerome smiled again and once more ruffled her forelock. “Your cousin is tough. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

“I know. It’s just lonely without her.”

“I’ll look for her as I can. I’m a Royal Guard, that’s in the job description. I’m here to protect your family as a whole, not just one part of it, like I once did. If I can find her, I’ll make sure she’s safe.”

This put Helaine’s mind more at rest. She hopped up to hug her Guard’s neck, then started to lead him to the group around the campfire.

*********

Two days after waking up, Adian waited impatiently for a wheelchair to be brought to him so he could leave the hospital. He was leaving under severe restrictions to his activity, and before the doctor recommended he do so, but he was bored of the hospital, and wanted to at least sleep in his own bed. He also figured the estate had gone long enough without him, as some of his guards weren’t completely capable of thinking on their own. Good at jobs given to them, yes, but not the best decision makers.

The red delphin doctor soon trotted into the room, and a delphin orderly with a wheelchair followed her. Adian immediately perked up. The doctor marched to him and handed him several sheets of paper. “These are your discharge and wound care instructions,” she began, looking at him over the frames of her glasses. You can come back in two weeks to have the stitches removed, though I would guess you’re the type to take them out yourself.”

He glanced off to the side, away from the doctor, and pretended to not have heard her statement.

She huffed, shaking her head slightly, then extended her arm, handing him a small tub of cream. “This will reduce any scarring. Unless you want to be a ‘bad ass’ and have your scar. Up to you, though the latter might somewhat restrict your ability to twist, depending on how much scar tissue forms. You probably know well how your scars form so, again, your choice.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a few,” he admitted.

“Oh, I know your type. The ‘scrappy’ ones who ruin my good work by doing too much too soon when I’ve stitch them back together. Then I have to do it all over again.” She sounded exasperated. And exhausted. He’d only ever seen her on shift, so she may be the last doctor in the city for now.

“If I can help it, you won’t see me for a while.”

“I will hold you to that,” she dryly returned. She handed him her clipboard, then a pen. “Sign at the highlights. This is saying I’ve given you the discharge papers and your anti-scar cream, and I’ve gone over why I think this is a bad idea for you to leave early.”

“But you didn–”

“The stitches talk,” she tersely replied, cutting him off. “And if I had said more, would you have listened, or would you have started at that same spot on the wall that’s so interesting?”

He had nothing to reply with, so he took the clipboard, then the pen, and signed at each highlighted area. He returned the items to the doctor.

She tucked the pen in her breast pocket, then looked over the papers to make sure everything was signed. She looked relieved to find it all in order, then gestured to the wheelchair. “Your chariot awaits.”

The orderly brought the chair closer. Adian carefully slid off the bed, and dropped into the chair. He took a moment to call his brother as he was being pushed toward the elevator to let him know he would be at the door soon.

When the orderly wheeled him out the door, the freezing winter air hit Adian and he lost his breath for a second after being in the warm building for the past several days. His brother was waiting outside with a more sensible vehicle, an SUV, than his low-riding sports car. Once Adian was inside and secured, Janus drove away from the hospital.

“This feels strange. I just left here two months ago to the day,” his brother commented.

Adian looked over at him, then replied, “Yeah, well, I’m not going to kill someone then run off and disappear for two months.”

Janus frowned. “I should hope not. I don’t really have anyone to track you down.”

They drove in silence back to the estate. Janus drove to the front of their home so his brother would not have to walk from the garage. Once the vehicle stopped, he paused for a moment before he opened the door and carefully turned himself so he could just slide from his seat, instead of twisting more than he needed.

“Do you want a hand?” Janus asked.

Adian gripped the vehicle’s frame and braced one foot on the running board, his other extended past the running board to catch himself, then pushed and pulled himself out. “No, I think I’ve got it.” He patted his pockets and frowned. “I don’t have my keys, though.”

“They must be in your bag. You know they’ll just let you in, right?” he asked, following with a quiet chuckle.

Adian could hear the smirk on his brother’s face. “The key to the monitoring station is on that ring.”

“You’re not going back to work right now, you are going to rest.”

“I’ll need them later.”

“Like I said,” his brother replied, sounding very unconcerned about his head of security missing his keys, “they’re probably in your bag. If not, they’ll be at the hospital. I’ll go back if they are.”

Adian sighed and turned around, then leaned into the vehicle. “What if that Guardian found them? I don’t remember if I had them when I was on my way to the hospital.”

“Then we will change the locks. We have enough security in the mean time,” Janus replied. “Please go on in and get some rest.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but another look from his brother shut him down. “Fine, you win. You’ll get the biggest ‘I told you so!’ ever if something happens, though.”

“And I will accept it. Go rest. I’ll bring your bag up.”

Adian nodded and turned back toward the estate, then slowly made his way to the front doors.

*********

Snowhawk was reclined on a couch with a book in a reading room on the first floor of the estate when she heard the soft boom of the front doors closing echo down the hallway. She knew Janus was picking Adian up today, but she had expected to hear them come from the direction of the garage. She tucked a slip of paper into the book to mark her place, then sat up and placed the book on the coffee table near the couch. She listened again, and heard a male voice speaking in the hallway. That’s Adian, so where’s Janus? she thought. She stood and trotted to the door, then stuck her head out and looked down the wide hallway.

She saw Adian speaking to one of his staff, then he turned to continue up the hallway. He looked around the hall, then directly at her, and she shrank back. She hadn’t caught his expression, so she wasn’t sure how he was feeling towards her at this point. She peeked back out into the hallway, to find the darker furred wolf still making his way to ward her. He was moving much slower than he normally did. She kept still for a half moment, then took in a deep breath and stepped out into the hallway.

He reached her not a minute later, then shook his head. “What’s with that look? And you’re not property, you don’t have to stand like it.”

She was at first confused, then quickly realized she had been standing at attention as she would have when Ulmer or Arey were around. She quickly shook her head to try and help clear her mind and relaxed. “Oh,” she began, “old habits, I guess.”

“If you’re looking for Janus, he’ll be along shortly.”

“I was,” she began in a soft voice, “but I also wanted to thank you. For distracting Legacy. You didn’t have any real reason to put yourself in that situation.”

“You’re right,” he returned, “I didn’t. But, I know how much my brother cares about you.”

“I also wanted to apologize. I don’t know what happened to me that night, and Janus told me you were the one to find your uncle.”

He nodded. “I was. And I should be more angry than I am, if we were to listen to everyone else talking. You were the one who started this uprising. You somehow managed to topple more than two thousand years of slaver rule by killing one man. It set off a chain reaction of slavers either getting killed themselves when their slaves found out even the most powerful wasn’t safe, or them releasing everyone when they realized their death was closer than they realized.” She could feel herself shrinking and she looked away as he talked. He sighed and continued. “I’m not really that angry though, because I was part of it too.”

She looked up at him, confused.

“I never agreed with this, and I would later learn that neither did my brother. Before that came about, without him knowing at first, I may have spread the word that a slave was the one responsible for my uncle’s death. We had released all the slaves here the day after he died, sending them off with money and supplies. Some stayed, so they’re housed and fed as before, but receiving a paycheck for their work now. Some of the staff we had are still working through understanding that the former slaves here not property now, and anyone who refused to even begin that realization has been let go.” Adian gave her a slight grin. “We started a revolution.”

“If you didn’t agree with it then why did you continue to work with him though?”

Adian gestured into the room she had been in. “Let’s sit. I’m still a little weak.”

“Oh, right! I’m sorry!” she replied, hopping out of the wolf’s way. Adian smiled as he walked into the room, then sat on the couch she had been resting on earlier. She sat on the end opposite of him.

“We tried, at one point, to get Ulmer to release everyone. That did not go over well. The death of our parents and how he took us in after was thrown in our faces, like we had control over that. The man never raised a hand to us, but he was constantly reminding us how we should be grateful to him. He didn’t know how to show affection beyond giving us things. I really pissed him off a few years ago when he tried to give me–,” he trailed off.

“Tried to give you what?” she asked, turning then leaning toward him.

“Well, you.”

“What?” she responded with almost a whisper, folding her ears back and leaning her head to the side.

“He thought that by giving me a ‘pet’ he could change my mind. He heard that you were going to be sold, so he was going to give me an ‘early birthday’ gift.” Adian sighed and shook his head. “I not so politely told him to go fuck himself.”

Snowhawk drew back. She was sure the confusion and even hurt at hearing of him rejecting her was written all over her face. “What?”

“Oh, Snow, please don’t think of it as a rejection of you. It was refusing to participate in his bullshit.” He sighed, then turned himself toward her, flinching as he tugged on his stitches. “I can’t pretend to know the kind of conditioning that went through your head when you were one of Mather’s slaves. I know what you went through, physically, from your records, but the things he did to condition his slaves were mostly spoken about in whispers.”

He was right. She still struggled with trying to break out of the mindset that had been drilled into her from such an early age. She had found herself able to fight against it at some occasions, which earned her the reputation she had and landed her on the sales floor. Helaine had managed to remain calmer. “Wait, how did he find out about me? He didn’t give me any sort of indication at the sale he knew of me before hand.”

Adian gave her a small shrug. “I’m not sure, but I have to guess someone, possibly from the slave market, told him, since he’d bought your cousin there the year before.”

She sat back in her seat and folded her hands in her lap. How different would her life have been had Adian owned her? She looked at her hands and crossed her legs at the hocks. She sat in quiet contemplation, her hands fidgeting at the thought.

“Snow?” he began, leaning toward her.

“Oh, sorry. That was just something I never expected to hear, you know? Kinda leads to all the usual ‘What if’ questions.”

“Understandable.”

“Oh, there you are, Adian,” Janus’s voice began. Snow looked up to see him stepping through the door. “Oh, Snow, you’re here too.” The angle would have kept him from seeing her until just then.

She stood, smiling, and trotted over to him, then wrapped her arms around him. “I was wondering where you were.”

He wrapped his own arms around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. “I was looking for him to make sure he got to his room. So he can rest, like the doctor ordered.” Janus’s voice took on a somewhat scolding tone, and she looked up to see him glaring in his brother’s direction.

“That’s my fault. I distracted him.”

“As long as he’s not out working, I guess sitting on a couch here counts as resting, as much as him being in bed.”

Adian waved them off. “I’ll get to my room in a bit. You two go do whatever you’re going to do.”

Snow saw Janus grin, then he reached up and scratched the back of her head. She closed her eyes and smiled. “Don’t push yourself too hard, Adian. I’ll be by to check on you shortly,” Janus told his brother. “Love, shall we?”

She gave him a small nod, then turned back to Adian. “Thank you again, Adian.” He replied with a slight bow of his head, then waved them away. She then walked off with Janus.

*********

Adian leaned back on the couch. He held the book Snow had been reading and was now browsing through it. He had opened it to her bookmark, and read a few sentences, finding it to be a book that covered the history and lore of her kind. He started to read through it, figuring he was long overdue to actually pay attention to such things.

He reached the place she had stopped again, and found it was in the middle of the section of unicorn delphin, and the healing ability many of those have. Adian sat the open book in his lap, then leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. Did Snow have some healing abilities? he thought. She’d never shown them. Even if he’d never heard of her doing so, why didn’t she try to heal herself the night she wound up in the hospital? “No,” he told himself, “she didn’t have the ability.”

He wondered why something that was almost common in her type of her species was not in her skill list. Maybe there was something in her history file. It wouldn’t be a long walk down the hall to where they stored the remaining slave records. He carefully stood from the couch, replacing the book on the coffee table as he had found it, then walked out of the room.

Everyone who had been freed had the chance to take their files with them, though many of the ones who had stayed left them in the record room. Since the records held not only records of birth and those related to the now former slave, but all their medical history and any other related notes, it was safer to keep them in the record room. That room was not only secured, but had been built with the intention of being able to survive fire or natural disasters that would have leveled the rest of the home.

He stopped at the door to the record room, and typed in the code, thankful this door wasn’t one that only used a key. The heavy door creaked on it’s hinges as he pushed it open, then slammed shut once he was inside. He felt on the wall for the light switch and his hand banged into the exposed box soon after he felt the metal pipe that protected the wires. He flipped the switch, temporarily blinded by the lights as they pushed away the darkness of the room, then turned to the filing cabinets once he had regained his vision. The cabinets were dusty, especially the ones on the end that were now empty. Some tiny slips of paper were thrown on the floor. Each had a range of letters on them, though the ranges were smaller than the ones on the first cabinets. He first went to the drawer marked for the “S” names, then stopped as he remembered she was one of the slaves who had come with a surname. “Alyandra,” he reminded himself, then moved to the top drawer of the first cabinet, sliding the drawer lock to the right with his thumb, then pulling the drawer free. Luckily, these cabinets were not locked, since having them locked, but losing the key, could endanger a life if the information was inaccessible.

He flipped through the folders, and found her file. It was a thicker folder than some of the others, with information on her birth and past, including the incidents she had had with the guards at Mather’s estate. “Let’s see,” he began, “mother died after childbirth while trying to escape from exposure to the snowy weather that night, Snow was found barely alive, but given her name as a reminder of what happens when slaves try to escape.” Adian stopped and shook his head at this. “What an ass,” he sighed, then continued. “Realized there was a ‘serious issue’ with her personality at age 7, not handle-able, placed into breeding program at age 8.” Adian stopped again, sighing as he placed the file on top of the cabinet for a moment. “That’s entirely too early.” He raised his hand to his forehead, then rubbed his brows and groaned. He picked up the file again after another minute, and continued reading. “Bred ‘multiple times’ but only had two foals survive. Males. Both sent to Di’aru and sold there. No wonder she had ‘serious issues.'” He continued to flip back and forth through the file, up to the point she was sent to the sales house. Nothing. There was no mention of even a hint of healing ability in the file. He frowned and placed the file back into the cabinet.

As he closed the cabinet door, he heard the sound of muffled yelling filtering in from the hallway. He turned too quick and felt a sharp pain as his stitches stretched the flesh they were holding together. He shook his head, trying to fight off the sudden feeling of nausea and lightheaded-ness that followed and moved toward the door. He had to limp again. He pressed his ear against the door, to see if he could make out what was going on. The sounds of arguing grew slowly louder as who ever was the cause moved down the hallway. He eventually heard someone yelling “Where is she?!” but he at first couldn’t place the voice.

He was in no shape to fight, so he picked up the phone in the room, since there was no service in the reinforced room, and called his brother’s phone.

“Yes?” his brother answered, sounding confused as to why he was receiving a call from within his own home.

“It’s me. Someone is in the hallway, causing an argument. I’m in the record room, but I’m in no shape to start anything. Where ever you are you may want to lock the door until my guards handle it.”

Janus was silent for a moment, then replied, “I can barely hear them, but I do hear it. I’ll find out if I can see who it is. And yes, please stay put. I don’t want to take you back to the hospital or have to redo your stitches myself.”

“Eh, I’d do that if it came to it.”

“Adian…” his brother warned.

“I’m staying. Just you be careful. I don’t really recognize the voice with this door and wall in the way.”

The phone clicked as his brother ended the call, so Adian placed it back on the receiver to wait behind the locked door.

*********

“What is it?” Snowhawk asked as Janus pressed the “End” button on his phone.

He looked at her as he tucked the phone back into his pocket. “Someone’s in the house. Adian heard them in the hallway.”

“Any idea who?” she asked as she stood from the bed she had been sitting on.

“No,” he replied, shaking his head. “I’m going to go see, stay here for a little bit. Lock the door after I’m out.”

“Like hell I’m staying put.” She walked to a dresser and opened the top drawer and removed a dark blue scarf and a pair of hoof boots. They were formed from a semi-hard rubber and had a cable buckle system to secure them to her hooves without the use of any nails or glue.

“Snow,” he began, but she cut him off as she wrapped the scarf over her head to cover her horn and any glints it may have made.

“For a wolf, you are awful at sneaking. Just wait back behind me and I’ll find out what’s going on, then we can go from there.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she was booted and out the door before he could say anything. She was right though, he wasn’t stealthy at all.

Snow moved down the hallway, the sound of her hoof falls dulled by the boots. The halls in the upper floors were not as wide as on the first, and had thin running rugs down the middle, but they would not have well hidden the sounds of bare hooves from the slick, stone tiles of the floor. She crept along to the stairs, hoping that the intruder would be visible once she reached the railing that overlooked the main hallway. There were several of these cut-outs in the larger areas of the upper halls, each placed where side hallways branched off or where a staircase connected the floors.

As she neared the railing, she signaled Janus to stop, then crouched lower and lower, finally crawling to the rail and looking below. She clearly heard the argument below her, then caught sight of a long silvery-brown mane and tail, and a dark cream coat. He was trying to free himself from several guards. “Shit,” she softly swore and backed away from the railing. She removed the scarf from around her horn and head as she returned to Janus.

“Did you see who it was?”

“Unfortunately,” she frowned. “Where’s your brother?”

She saw the look of confusion on Janus’s face as he cocked his head to the side. “He’s holed up in the record room. Why?”

“Because it’s Legacy down there, somehow, and I’m afraid Adian will do something stupid like try to fight him.”

“How did he get in?!”

She shrugged. “We can find that out later. Right now, we need to decide on what to do. Belligerent Guardians aren’t fun to deal with.”

He nodded in agreement. “Do you think the guards can handle it?”

“If they stop being nice. Do they have earpieces still?”

“Yeah, I don’t have a radio though.”

Snow looked to the side and thought for a moment, resting a hand on a nearby table and alternately tapping her forefinger and thumb on it. She tried to remember where the nearest one would be.

“Oh!” Janus cried out. “There should be one three rooms down from here,” he stated, pointing down the hallway, back toward her room.

The two hurried down the hall and ducked into the room Janus remembered the radio would be in. He picked it up from the charging dock and turned the dial on the top to the frequency the front door guards would be listening on. “Signal me if you are fighting with a pissed off delphin,” he said into the receiver.

A quick beep came back to him. He had to assume this was enough of a signal.

“I have word that you’re being too nice. Rough him up as much as you need to and get him back outside. Figure out how he got in while you’re at it.”

“Understood,” one of the guards replied.

Janus replaced the radio on the charger, and the two returned to the hallway. “I’m going to watch and make sure they don’t need any assistance,” she almost whispered after standing in the hall with her ear directed toward the now intensified sounds of a scuffle.

“Are you sure?” Janus asked.

She nodded an affirmative to him, then walked down the hall to the railing once more, though she took no steps to hide herself this time. She placed both hands on the railing, and looked below, as a feeling of sadness swept over her. She didn’t know Legacy that well, but had he responded more calmly to Adian a few days earlier, or had he at least not arrived as agitated as he currently was, perhaps he could have been her Guardian. But she suspected that he was interested in more than being just a Guardian. Why else would he have such anger. She thought briefly of calling down and asking him to stop resisting. If he was truly going to call himself her Guardian, he would be duty bound to follow this.

Legacy was fighting restraint by the three guards. She saw him stop for a moment as he looked up and spotted her. “Snowhawk!” he called out.

She didn’t get a chance to say anything before one of the guards too advantage of his distraction and walloped him in the back of his head and either knocked him out or stunned him enough for them to do a quick pat down on him. One of them found a set of keys in his pocket and held them up for her to see. They quickly checked him again, then the three of them lifted the delphin and carried him off.

Snow looked back, then turned around and walked to Janus. He was still standing in the hallway. “I believe that’s the end, for now at least.”

“I’ll call Adian.”

“They found some keys on him,” she told him, relaying what she had seen.

“Oh, so that’s where his keys went,” he responded. “I’ll let him know.”

*********

Legacy awoke, feeling like he was floating. No, not floating, being carried. He felt the pressure of hands on his arms, legs, and someone had a hold of his horn near the base so it would be less likely to break. His vision was blurred, and he was unable to see who had him. He soon felt himself dropped on the frosted grass. He sat up to see three lupino walking away from him, crossing the street to return to their guard positions. His vision still swam and he felt light-headed. “Wait,” he weakly called out, then nearly passed out again. The gates swung closed, and he heard the sound of the iron settling into place.

He lifted himself from the ground and stood. His legs wobbled under him, and he worried he would fall. They held, so he glared at the fence and building before him, then stalked away. That clearly didn’t work. Now what? he thought to himself. He gingerly touched the back of his head. He felt no blood. Why would she be there? he wondered. Why willingly go back? He gave a frustrated snort then grumbled at the night around him. Didn’t she realize what she had started? Wasn’t that something important? Something to continue to work for?

Too many questions. He had too many questions in his mind. He would have to find another way to make her see that being on this side of the fence was worth any sacrifices she would be making.

*********

Another week and a half passed. Thankfully, it was a quiet one. Adian had returned to his duties full time a couple of days ago. Security, especially near the back of the property had been increased, though no one had even attempted to breach the fence. He leaned back in his chair, watching the monitors in front of him. He was glad to be back at work, but felt distracted. He flinched as he moved and pulled his stitches. He only had a few more days of those to be left in his side. He thought he might remove them sooner, but the thought of something going wrong and the small, red delphin doctor yelling at him and possibly putting him back in the hospital was not an appealing thought. It made him shudder.

He stood and walked up the short ramp from the surveillance room then climbed the stairs to the upper part of the building. He stepped into the building’s kitchen and opened the refrigerator to look for something to eat, when he heard a knock at the door. He was at first confused at the sound, then remembered he had still not repaired the doorbell. He sent the fridge door swinging closed and walked toward the knock. More rapping followed. It was heavy enough to sound through the door, but lighter than any of his guards or his brother would have made.

He looked at the small monitor next to the door, and saw a familiar delphin female outside the door. She had either a blanket or a heavy shawl wrapped around her shoulders. He couldn’t tell from the lower quality, monochrome display. He unlatched and unlocked the door, and pulled it open. “Snow,” he began, “what are you doing here?”

She smiled at him. “I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay.”

Adian wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Both days since he had been back to work, she had checked on him at least twice. This was her second visit today. “I’m doing fine. Watching monitors isn’t the most physically demanding of jobs,” he finally replied. “What about you, though? You usually haven’t been so interested in how I’m doing.”

She sighed and dropped her head, folding her ears back. “I’m sorry, Adian. It’s my fault you got hurt.”

Adian motioned for her to come into the building. Once the door was closed, he turned to her. “Well, I’m not sure what to say to that. I can’t exactly argue against it.”

She flinched at his words.

“Not like that, Snow. Yes, I got hurt. That’s part of my job. It’s not like you told me to fight with Legacy, in any case.”

“I know, but,” she paused, still not having looked back up at him. “It wouldn’t have been an issue if I hadn’t ran away in the first place. Or if I had at least ignored him and walked back through the fence.”

“You did what you thought you should do.” He stepped toward her, then placed one hand on her right shoulder and she responded by looking up at him. “Don’t apologize for that.”

“I really fucked it up, though.” She looked away from him again and sighed.

He brought his other hand to her chin and turned her face toward him. “We talked about this. It was a long time coming, and while it may not have been the best way for this to have played out, things have been getting done. There’s going to be a lot more to do.” He dropped his hand and smiled.

“That doesn’t stop me from being worried about you getting injured.” She tapped at the tile floor with the toe of one of her hooves.

He chuckled and shook his head. “Well, apology accepted. But don’t worry too much, I’m a tough wolf.”

She nodded in agreement. “You are. I saw that often before.”

“In any case, if we’re going to talk about wounds, how has your scar been?” he asked, pointing to her throat.

“Eh,” she began, reaching up and rubbing the right side of her neck. “It’s started hurting again. Rather, it has been for a couple weeks, on this side, where I think it was deeper. Or at least where the blade bit in more.” She shrugged. “I kind of ignored the doctor’s orders after I escaped. I left that scar cream behind, as it wasn’t high on my list of things to grab.”

“I have some here, if you need it, it’s in the little kitchen. Shit keeps forever in the fridge, feels better when it’s cold too.”

“I’ll have to remember that. But I have been using it since I got back, though I don’t know what good it will do at this point.” She winced as she rubbed a particular spot toward the end of the scar. “It feels like there are knots, and they’re squishy. Almost like an old windpuff, but, you know, wrong place. They’re not lined up with the scar either. I haven’t been able to get a good look at them, and I keep forgetting to ask Janus. They only popped up a couple night ago.”

He nodded. The things she described occurred on the legs, and usually came with tendon injury in anthro and non-anthro equines. “Do you mind if I look?”

“No,” she replied, shaking her head, then followed him into the kitchen, where the light was brighter.

Adian pulled a chair out from the small table for her to sit on, and she leaned her head to the side and brushed her hair out of the way. He leaned over to look, and saw, about a half inch from the end of the scar were two small nodules. The fur on the center of each was missing, and the skin was every so slightly concave and shined like the scar tissue on her throat, but fresher. “These look like puncture wounds.”

“Puncture wounds?” she repeated, then her hands shot to her mouth as she gasped. “Those haven’t been dreams.”

He crouched next to her. “What do you mean?”

“I thought I was dreaming about… I don’t even know. A red and white unicorn delphin, piebald patterned coat, was perched on me. The first time it happened was the night you wound up in the hospital. Then it’s been a couple or three times since. Or,” she paused, confusion written on her face, “or more. I can’t exactly remember.” She held her head. “It’s the oddest damn thing. The first time he said something about wanting to check on me, then he like, examined me, and told me ‘not yet.’ I felt a bite at the end of each encounter, then I would wake up. I just thought they were dreams.”

Adian rested his chin in his hand. “Was my brother ever there when this happened?”

Snowhawk shook her head. “No, never. It was always when I was alone. One time, I was in the reading room.” She gave a very short, sharp whinny, then shook her head. “At least once.”

“Snow…” he began, concerned.

“Everything is so fuzzy. It’s almost like when I killed Chris, then later your uncle.”

He thought for a moment, then asked, “When were you in the reading room last? Or at least, the last time you remember it happening there. Maybe we can see something from the cameras.”

She looked down for a moment, then back to him. “Four days ago, I think.”

He nodded and cautiously stood, mindful of his still tender side. “Then let’s go look.”

Past Secrets – Version 2 – April 2016

Adian pulled up the video files from seven days past to the day before for the reading room’s camera. He sat at the monitor bank in the dark room, with Snowhawk standing behind his chair. They watched the sped up video, most of it seeming to never change, other than the time stamp in the lower left corner counting up each day in twenty-four hour time. On the seventh, fifth, and fourth days in the past, Snowhawk appeared on camera. The first two appearances were around the same time, each day, for three or so hours. The seventh and fifth days were uneventful. During her longer visit on the fourth day, later in the evening than she had previously been there, she fell asleep on the couch. They watched the footage on these days in a normal speed, but looking at the time on the fourth day, a section of the video was missing. The time jumped from 17:34 to 18:07.

Adian backed the video up several times. “We need to tell my brother about this,” he frowned, turning his chair toward her. “Part of this video is missing, and there’s no telling what happened there.”

“Who was on duty?” she asked, wondering if there was some dissent in the ranks of the guards.

“At that time, no one. I’m usually the only one in here, and I was in my room at that time.”

Snowhawk stepped back and folded her arms across her chest. She had a feeling in the back of her head, but wasn’t sure if she should say it aloud. “Do you think someone here is trying to get back at me?” That wasn’t the feeling she’d had, but maybe she could get something out of Adian.

“Whoever it was got access to these files. The cameras will alert some of the guard captains and myself if they’re tampered with.” He sighed and shook his head. “I may have to just start encrypting these files. The guard shack key apparently isn’t good enough, even though I have the only copies, and the lock was changed after we got my keys back from Legacy.”

Snowhawk folded her ears flat, frowning and drawing her arms closer to her. She had to ask the question, if he’d thought of it. “What if it’s not something we’d normally think of?”

“What do you mean?” the wolf returned, carefully standing.

She fidgeted and tapped the toe of her right hoof on the floor. “What if it’s like… something supernatural. Like a vampire.”

Adian brought his hand to his chin and he sighed as he thought. “I vaguely remember that there were reports, from shortly before the Delphin Empire came to power, so some 3,000 plus years back, reports that someone turned into some kind of vampiric creature in what’s now Juv. They had been a delphin.” Adian paused, looking off to the side. “There was some name I can’t quite remember right now, but that’s basically what he became.”

“Did he survive?”

The chocolate wolf shrugged. “I don’t know. But at this point, I would think it would be really unlikely he’s alive. I know you delphin live forever compared to the rest of us, but I think more than three millennia is a bit much.”

“I would hope so,” she fidgeted, “And that what ever affected him wasn’t able to be passed along.”

He gave her a small nod, then motioned toward the hallway out of the room. “Let’s go find Janus. We’re going to have to talk about what we should do.”

*********

Janus looked up from his paper work as he heard his door open. He first saw his brother, who strode directly into the room and to his desk, where he placed a hand then leaned for a rest. Directly following Adian was Snowhawk, her head slightly lowered, biting at her lip, with her arms crossed before her. Her ears were back and when she stopped at his desk, she sighed heavily. “Something I should be aware of?” the pale wolf began, pushing his chair back and standing.

“Someone keeps getting onto the grounds and into the house. Or they’re always here,” Adian stated, then looked over at Snowhawk. “And they’re fucking around with her.” Before Janus could say anything else, his brother continued. “And they may not be mortal.”

“How do you know?” Janus asked.

Snowhawk walked around the desk, then leaned over slightly. She moved her hair off of her neck, and showed him the two puncture wounds near the end of her scar. “These.”

He looked, and lightly touched the two knots. “This is like a bite wound.” Adian nodded in agreement. He placed both his hands on his desk, sighing and looking at the papers on it. He was quiet for a moment, then took a deep breath, and looked up at his love, then to his brother. “What would you suggest?”

“We don’t know who this is right now,” Adian began. “The one time when she remembered something, and was in a place where there was video, the files had been tampered with. I’ll be changing how those are saved today, but that was the biggest lead.” Janus saw his brother’s lip curl into a small snarl, then run his hands through his short, red hair. “I hate to say we need to wait but–”

“I’ll try to draw them out,” Snowhawk interrupted.

“Love–” Janus tried to begin.

“I just won’t be alone where there aren’t cameras. Or I’ll make sure I’m not in those spots long.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Adian cautiously questioned, turning towards her.

The mare nodded. “If that’s what it takes, yes.” She closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply as she straightened her posture. She opened her eyes, then looked at both wolves. “I’ve done more dangerous things.”

While Janus couldn’t deny that statement, the thought still worried him that she would potentially be alone with some unknown being and that being’s intentions. “I don’t particularly like that idea,” he frowned.

“I’m not thrilled about it either, love, but, it’s about all we have right now.”

He looked at his brother, frowning. “Adian?”

The younger wolf shrugged. “That’s not what I would have suggested but it’s better than what I was thinking of.”

Janus rapped his knuckles on the desk and bit at his lower lip. “Dammit. Fine,” he replied after several moments of silence. Let’s work out how we’re going to do this. You both have the tendency to just rush into things without thinking about them.”

Snowhawk glanced to Adian, then pointed his way. “He might. I just have too much shit go wrong when I do plan.”

“Which implies that you don’t always.” He grinned at her, then looked to the younger wolf. “What have you seen?”

“Not much,” Adian shrugged. “There was a little more than a half hour of video missing. What ever happened was during that time.”

“Snow?”

“Whoever it is seems to come by only when I’m asleep. I may not have woken up each time either. This has been going on since Adian and Legacy fought, and you went to the hospital for him.” She thought for a moment. “I know what they look like, though that might not mean much.”

“Could be a starting point, even if they shift forms,” Janus commented.

“As long as they’re not one of those that looks different in different forms. But what I saw was a male delphin, red and white piebald, brown hair, red horn with a golden spiral, and gold eyes. I swear they were glowing. His ears curled towards each other at the tips.”

He brought his hand to his chin, thinking. “Those lines died out though. The ones with that ear type.”

“Random recessive trait popping back up?” Adian asked.

“It would be the first in about 700 years, and I would think that unless they were hiding in Juv, they would have been pretty well known either here or in Di’aru.”

“Still, that’s something highly noticeable, beyond all the chrome.”

“Do you think you should alert your guards to be more watchful, or just leave it as is?”

“I would think if he was hiding in the guards or house staff, that knowing might make him more bold, if he feels like he’s too easily avoiding being seen,” Snowhawk mentioned.

Adian nodded in agreement. “It could make him more bold. Easier to catch. I won’t mention the missing video, because I could also catch him trying to change it. I’ll leave the locks alone for now as well.”

Janus agreed. “Right, and I wouldn’t mention that you have an idea of what the intruder looks like either.”

Another nod came from Adian. “The less that he thinks we know, the better.”

*********

Helaine found herself feeling relatively safe, for once, despite being with only one other delphin she knew. It had been a little more than two weeks since Jerome joined the group. She’d made friends with the last newcomer, Sunila, and having those two helped ease her anxiety.

She never stopped wondering, though, if her cousin was okay. If she was safe. If she was actually still free or if things had fallen back to the old ways.

People talked. They talked and said that they knew people on this property or that one that they were free, or they just looked free, or it wasn’t even attempting to look like freedom. It all really depended on who the owner was, or once was. She never heard any doubting thoughts about the Sinisusi property. But still, she worried.

Perhaps it was just because she had never been without her cousin for very long–

She stopped her thoughts. No, there had been a period of over a year where they were apart. Almost fifteen months, as she counted. When she had first been sold to Ulmer. Why had it been okay then, but not since? Perhaps she should ask. She stood from her perch that over looked a small pond in the city’s park, and wandered off to find Jerome.

The golden Guard was found carefully patrolling the edge of their group. Never far out of site, and never out of earshot. She trotted up to him, and he turned toward her as he heard the grass softly crunch under her hooves. “Is something wrong?” he quickly asked, his ears folding back. “You seem… concerned.”

“I needed to talk to someone. About Snow, and you’re about the only person I really know here.”

Jerome nodded his head slightly. “Let’s chat then. But a bit closer to the group so I can also keep an eye and ear out.”

“Right,” Helaine nodded. As they walked toward the group, she began, “Why am I so worried about her? We were separated for so long when I was sold over five years ago, but I didn’t worry half as much then as I do now.”

“Well,” Jerome began, “you’re a bit older now. You have also seen her go through quite a lot that she didn’t go through when Bryce owned you both.” He paused as they stopped. “And I’m sure the rumors that have been filtering in of places not exactly changing haven’t helped any. Just being an escapee at this point is probably a huge factor in how you are feeling.”

“Not in the least,” Helaine responded, shaking her head and frowning.

“What if I go check on her?” he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder and smiling. “I haven’t yet, and I should.”

Helaine first smiled, then her face darkened as the next thought crossed her mind. “What if you stepping away means someone will come after us?”

Another smile and a ruffle of her hair came from Jerome. “Have you noticed that liver chestnut delphin? The purple-eyed one?”

She nodded.

“I’ve been training them, as a Guardian. They’re no where near being fully-trained, and won’t be for some time, but now that the slavers are mostly out of power, we will need more Guardians.”

“Will they still be able to protect us in the mean time?” she asked.

“I won’t be gone long. Probably not even a day. But yes, I have confidence in them. They will do everything they can to protect you, and the others.”

Helaine smiled broadly and bounced forward to wrap her arms tightly around Jerome.

*********

The following evening, golden hooves clicked down the sidewalk as a few flakes of snow fluttered around him. It was quiet tonight, less foot traffic than usual. Perhaps it was just the time, Jerome thought. The city had slowly been regaining some of it’s population, though not everyone would return. It was also possible it was the temperature. It was still early in J’ari, and winter was only really starting.

There was a scent of ice in the air. It had only flurried until now, but he felt that actual snow would fall soon. A certain purple delphin would be pleased.

He saw the iron bars of the Sinisusi estate ahead of him. A hasty repair job had been performed on one section of fence, the one Helaine had described as being where her and her cousin had slipped out not three months earlier.

He saw someone ahead of him, standing and staring through the fence toward the house. The faint click of hooves as the figure shifted told him the species, and he soon also saw the glint of silver on a horn from the figure’s head. That hair color is familiar, he thought. He trotted up, not taking care to disguise the sound of his own hooves in an attempt to carefully draw attention, and not startle the other delphin.

The figure’s head turned, and the dark cream, dun-marked face and amber eyes of another former student of his faced him. “Legacy!” he called out, smiling.

The somber look on Legacy’s face melted away into a large grin. “Jerome!” he returned. “I was hoping I would find you soon.”

“Something of interest here?”

The younger Guardian-in-training nodded. “I know she came back here. But I can’t get in to see her and talk to her. I just want to talk!” he babbled.

“You mean Snowhawk?” Jerome asked, canting his head to the side.

Legacy nodded. “I think she’s the one. I thought so when I saw her years ago, but I found her like two weeks ago, scavenging. I invited her back to my place, and she stayed the night.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “Then those wolves showed up the a few days after.”

“And since then?”

“I grabbed the keys off one of them when I was fighting with him… Well, he dropped them and I picked them up. So I came back here a few days later and the damn guards knocked me out when I tried to get in.”

Jerome closed his eyes, and he knew the pain he felt at those words was visible on his face. The younger continued.

“But she was here! She was on the second floor and watching when they clocked me!”

The golden one grimaced and brought his hand to his head, rubbing just above his eyes. “Do you realize just what it sounds like you’re saying?”

“What do you mean?”

“Guardians are not stalkers, Legacy,” he sighed. “Have you attempted to just, I don’t know, knock and not break in with stolen keys?”

“They keep chasing me off!”

“Well, all things considered…”

“But–!”

Jerome gave a heavy sigh. “Look, come back with me. Give things time to kind of cool down here. I’m guessing you have them on higher alert, so I can’t exactly easily check on her either. Helaine is back at our camp, and you two can bitch to your heart’s content.”

Legacy frowned and fidgeted. “Alright, if you feel it’s best.”

Jerome turned next to Legacy, draping an arm across him and directed him back toward their camp. “I do. Besides, it’s getting really damn cold. We’re setting up in a larger shelter tonight. And being alone isn’t fun, so come make the best of it with us.”

*********

Over the following ten days, no one, especially Snowhawk, noticed any changes.

Except…

The spot on her neck was still sore, like it was freshly injured. She tracked each of those days she noticed it was worse than others. But she couldn’t place times. There were periods where she had no idea where she was or what she was doing. Memories from around then were just hazy.

Adian had said yesterday that chunks of time were still going missing from the recordings as well. No one could even see where the files were stored but him, and only two other guards were ever in the building to watch monitors. Neither of them ever reported seeing anything.

She sighed as she looked out the window of her room. The skies had been heavily overcast for a couple of days now. She had seen the flurries turn heavier, and there was a frosting of snow over the gardens now. Today, it was finally starting to really come down. I know I told them I would stay where I could be seen but, dammit, I want to go out and enjoy this. She nodded a bit to herself, then turned and trotted to her closet. She removed a heavy, hooded cloak to drape over her shoulders, then headed out to the hallway.

Few people were in the house today, but it was Terndi, after all. Their weekend was starting. Just the regularly posted guards, and a couple other delphin remained behind, and were now paid for their work.

Just before she opened the door into the gardens, she slung the cloak around her and fastened it. There were a few cameras outside of the doors, so she would just stay in range of those. That wasn’t going against what she had told Adian and Janus. Opening the door would set off a noise in the guard shack, as opening any window or outside door would do, so Adian should be able to easily track where she was.

Right?

She shrugged off the thought and turned the handle of the door, swinging it in, then stepping outside. The air hit her lungs sharply, and she inhaled deeply to take in the icy smells around her. The snow crunched beneath her hooves as she moved away from the door. Everything was frosted. She could see on the hedges around her, and felt under her hooves, a thin layer of ice beneath the three inches or so of snow.

She crunched away from the house, and out into the garden. A couple of small slips left her wondering if some hoof boots may have also been a good idea.

As the flakes fluttered down around her, and she moved further from the house into the garden, she tried to be mindful of the cameras on the sides of the house, and to stay in their field of view.

The hedge just head of her rustled, sending some of the snow piled on the evergreen leaves to the ground. She crouched and moved forward to investigate. Sometimes, there were small animals or birds living in the branches.

A false step sent her forward. She hadn’t been mindful of her footsteps, and her hoof slipped on the ice.

She never hit the ground, though. Someone caught her, but she hadn’t heard anyone anywhere near her. “Who–” she began to ask, turning her head to look behind her.

The golden eyes of the piebald unicorn stared back at her. She opened her mouth to either scream or curse or scream a curse, but quickly found her muzzle clamped shut with his hand. He hefted her to the hedge, and held her firmly despite her struggling. Once he had her near the thick branches, he turned her around to face him, never removing his hand from her muzzle.

She struggled to see behind him, to see if the cameras could still see her here. No, in trying to find out what was under the hedge, she had wandered to far away from them. Dammit, she thought, how could I have been so stupid!?

“Look at me, mare!” his voice commanded, as he snapped her head towards his own.

She whined and struggled, but his grip on her was vice-like. When her eyes met his gaze, she found herself unable to look away. Their gold-tone glowed. He wasn’t looking at her as much into her. Why couldn’t she look away from him? In her periphery, she saw the golden spiral of his horn begin to glow as well.

A name entered her mind, almost like being called for. A male voice calling out. Emerald? she heard. Are you awake? The message would pause, then repeat.

She couldn’t tell how long this continued. Her perception of time was distorted. She felt the soles of her hooves begin to numb, as well as the cold leaking in through her cloak where she had been held against the hedge for however long.

The piebald male’s eyes softened from harsh to almost sad, and he gave an almost disgusted sigh.

There was a flicker in her mind a moment later, and a female voice, not her own, answered back, Kieran?

The male’s expression instantly changed to one of almost joy. You’ll be back soon, my love, the male voice in her head responded. “Though now the question is: what do I do with you?” he grinned as the glow died from his horn.

It had been his voice, she thought. She hadn’t heard him speak enough to connect the two.

Who did you think it was? the female voice responded.

She didn’t have time to process the second voice in her head before she felt her head roughly jerked to the side and saw the piebald male’s head move toward her. The world went dark not half a moment later.

*********

Adian’s attention snapped to the monitor looking at the garden when he heard that door alarm trip. He saw Snowhawk tentatively make her way outside, taking careful steps on the ice-slicked stone of the garden’s path. He watched her cautious steps, until she managed to get to the outer range of the camera. She stopped where most off her, from hocks upward, were out of frame. “Dammit, Snowhawk. You need to be more careful.”

He saw her step forward, then she seemed to slip.

A shadow crossed where she just stood. Then the screen turned to static. “What the hell?!” he yelled as he jumped from his chair. He furiously poked at a the buttons on the console in front of him, trying to bring the camera back to life. “Shit.”

He turned and sprinted out of the room and up the short hall, then scrambled up the stairwell. He paused for only a half moment and grabbed his keys from the hook next to the guard shack’s exit, then barged through the heavy door. He ran towards the garden, hearing the solid thud of the door slamming behind him.

The garden was not far from the guard shack, but that shadow, followed by the camera going down was more than concerning. “Snowhawk!” he yelled as he approached where she should be. “Snowhawk!”

No response.

He continued to run through the garden.

He rounded a corner, and his legs went out from under him on the slippery ground. “Dammit!” he growled as he hauled himself up. “I hit that wound.” As he stalked forward, limping from pain, he could see the door she’d left from. Her hoof prints were beginning to blur from the still falling snow. He followed them to see where she’d slipped, but no signs of her knees or hands hitting the ground. Then he saw a second, larger set of hoof prints. The hedge right near where she’d slipped was missing the snow on it’s branches, and the two sets of prints were near the center of that. Only the larger set left, and her’s were no where to be seen.

“Snowhawk!?” he continued. “Where the hell did she go?”

“Oh,” an unknown male voice began, “You’re a speedy one, aren’t you?”

Adian spun around to see the piebald delphin with the curved ear tips standing before him. Over his left shoulder was the cloaked form of Snowhawk. He narrowed his eyes and growled softly. “Hand her over.”

The delphin smirked. “Not even a ‘Who are you?’ How rude.”

“I don’t really give a shit who you are. You need to give her to me, and then you need to get lost.”

“I don’t think so, wolf,” the unicorn smirked, reaching across with his other arm and lightly patting the back of her thigh. “She’s quite important to me, and until her purpose is fulfilled, I think I’ll be hanging onto her.” He grinned, and Adian saw sharp fangs in the other’s mouth.

Adian narrowed his eyes and snarled. “It’s been you.”

A small shrug came as the reply. “You never noticed until she pointed it out. You’re either slacking or not very good at your job. Though,” He inclined his head, pausing for a moment. “You’re not without potential. I could help you out–”

Adian snarled and tried to lunge at him, but his grip on the ground was tentative at best. He did move forward, but couldn’t close the gap quick enough to grab either delphin.

“Why are you so angry that I have her? Not like you have an interest just trying to protect your brother’s feelings. Or maybe,” he again paused and grinned, “you do have some interest in this mare.”

Adian growled again. “Just hand her over.”

“You are quite the rude wolf, not answering my question, not asking my name, just making your demands.”

This bastard is stalling. Why? Adian thought.

His thought would be answered momentarily. He felt his arms wrenched back and pinned behind him, and he was pulled backwards, then off his feet. He looked down to see a thick, leathery tail ending in a tuft of mulberry hair across his chest. He was jostled around as whoever had him pulled him closer to their chest and, with the tail’s strength supporting him against the attacker, one arm was freed from his, then wrapped around his chest, then the other. They were the same grey, leathery skin as the tail. The tail tip curled up and the tuft brushed under his chin. “Aren’t you a handsome looking wolf?” the heavily-accented female voice asked.

Adian twisted back as best he could to try and see who’s arms he was in. He saw an almost, but not quite, equine muzzle, with bare skin instead of fur. The large ears on the being sat low, resting along the curve of her neck, and her eyes were so lightly colored, they were nearly white. She grinned at him, revealing sharp, predatory teeth. “No fucking way,” he gasped. “An avizon!”

“Figured we were just myths?” she smirked. “Like his kind, too?” she continued, nodding in the male delphin’s direction.

Adian struggled against her, but his feet not touching the ground made it difficult to try and escape. Her hold on him was vice-like. He couldn’t even hook his leg behind her knee to try and pull her down.

Her tail slid down to wrap itself around his legs. “Hold still,” she chided.

The male delphin smirked and turned away. “I take it you have this, Anya?”

Adian felt her chin bump his shoulder as she nodded. “More than.”

The unicorn nodded in return to her over his shoulder and walked away.

Adian fought against Anya’s grip, but she was unrelenting. “Let me go, dammit!”

“Look, wolf, I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet, but you aren’t going anywhere. If you’ll hold still for just a bit more, I’ll let you go and be on my way.”

“Just what do you want, anyway?” Adian snarled, still trying to shake himself free.

He felt himself lifted slightly as she shrugged. “I’m not sure what exactly he’s doing but we just need you and your brother out of the way for a little bit.”

Adian growled and continued to try and break free from her grasp.

*********

Janus stopped outside of Snowhawk’s room. Her door was slightly open, but when he looked inside, she was missing. He saw her closet door opened, and an empty coat hanger had been hung from the mirror on the inside of the door. She usually did that with coats and cloaks that she would return to the closet shortly.

He looked out her window to see the snow falling, and with the missing outer garment, figured she must have stepped out into what might have been called her element. Neither of the boots she would have taken for a trip of any real length were missing from the closet. She must be in the gardens, he thought.

He left her room and headed downstairs to the garden’s doorway. Upon stepping outside, he heard his brother’s faint growl. He quietly closed the door, then made his way to where he had heard the growl from. As he walked, he saw the various hoof and paw prints leading to the same place. One set of paw prints looked like nothing he’d seen before.

“You really don’t understand the whole ‘hold still thing,’ do you?” an unknown female voice asked.

He peaked from behind one of the hedges to see his brother struggling against the grip of a very muscular, draconic looking, female being. A single word thought crossed his mind. Shit. He recognized her species, though they were so uncommon, they were generally though to be extinct.

Now what? he wondered while he listened to his brother fight against the avizon. He couldn’t remember most of what he’d learned about the species, not this quickly, in any case. Dammit, Adian. What did you get yourself into this time?

Past Secrets – Version 2 – Nov 2016

Janus watched as his brother struggled against the draconic female’s grasp. He thought of a plan for a moment, then just figured best to plan later. He popped out from behind the hedge, and lunged at her.

As best he could anyway. The ground was still incredibly slippery.

He managed to thrust his shoulder into the back of her legs, which sent her forward enough that Adian’s feet touched the ground again. He was then able to break free from her grasp.

“Finally!” his brother exclaimed. Adian turned and looked to Janus, who now was attempting to pin the avizon to the ground. “Keep her busy! I’m going after that asshole!”

“Who?!”Janus questioned.

“I’ll have to explain later, but he has Snowhawk! Just keep her there!” Adian shouted as he spun around and sprinted off.

The avizon went still under him. “He’s probably going to regret that…” she almost purred as she craned her neck back to look at Janus.

He could feel the fur on the back of his neck raise as she looked at him.

“You might as well,” she continued. “You know, usually, I like to at least find out the name of whoever is on top of me. Or who I’m on top of. Which ever.”

Janus gave her no reply, other than an uncomfortable stare.

“I’m Anya,” she grinned.

He still wouldn’t reply. What he didn’t realize was he was slowly withdrawing from her, leaning back and not really succeeding in keeping her pinned down. He did, however, realize this when her tail snapped him to his side and suddenly, she was on top of him. “Get off!” he demanded.

“Why should I? Your brother wanted me to stay near you, right?” she again purred, now pressing her weight onto him.

“Not like this! Get off!”

“Look, wolf. I need you to stay put for a bit. I really can’t let your brother fuck this up.” She leaned toward him, opening her mouth and he saw, just for a moment, a longer set of fangs swing down. She bit into the fleshy part of his shoulder, near his neck, and he felt the area around the bite turn to fire.

She leaned back, grinning, and he tried to reach and move her off him, but his arms would not respond.

“What did you do?” he growled.

She shrugged. “Nothing much, you just won’t be able to really move for a few minutes. Hope you have your winter coat in, it’d be a shame if you got frostbite and died.” She giggled and stood, then left him struggling in the still falling snow.

Janus could only watch as the avizon trotted away. He fought against the heaviness in his limbs, but they responded less and less the more he struggled. “Son of a bitch,” he fumed. “At least Adian went after them.”

He resigned himself to laying in the snow until the avizon’s venom released it’s hold on him.

*********

Adian struggled to remain upright as he ran after the two delphin. The male’s hoof prints were being quickly covered by the heavy snow, but there was still a faint scent to follow. He was taking her outside of the city, on a more south eastern route. Is he heading to Di’aru? he asked himself.

Despite the Delphin Empire’s reach, the port city of Di’aru remained a haven of slavery. When said Empire fell, not much changed there. While the southern-most city of Juv fortified it’s borders, Di’aru’s ever-existing population of slavers had simply shrugged at the fall of the delphin, then once again when the slaver rule in Ametition ended.

Still, this delphin didn’t strike him as being a slaver. Sure, delphin slavers existed, but this stallion seemed to have another motive. And those fangs he had… But barring all that, if she was being taken there, nothing good could come of it.

Adian did say a quiet thanks to whoever would listen for the location of the estate. Their home was on on the north western edge of the city, and Ametition was large. It was a not-insignificant amount of time to travel north to south, much less the diagonal. Tracking over the urban area would be easier than out in the forest and fields between the cities for him.

The scents of the stallion and Snowhawk both grew stronger and the set of large hoof prints he’d been following grew more defined. He finally caught up to them. Adian slowed his run to a trot, and strained his ears for the sound of hooves crunching ice and snow. His trot turned to a cautious walk as he followed the scent and prints into a small, wooded park.

The pea gravel path he was on wound around and through the trees. He stopped when he reached what seemed to be the center of the park where several benches were arranged around a large tree. Sitting, or rather propped, on one bench was Snowhawk’s cloaked figure. Her head was lowered, chin resting on her chest, ears drooped forward, and the silver spiral of her horn glinted in last rays of the short day’s sun as it filtered through the tree branches above. He could see her head slowly bob in rhythm to the small puffs of steam from her breath.

Adian glanced around him, looking for any sign of the unicorn stallion, but seeing none. Not even hoof prints leading away. He cautiously moved toward Snowhawk.

“Snow?” he began.

An ear twitched in response.

“Snowhawk!” he continued as he hastened his pace toward her.

Her head inclined ever so slightly. Adian now hurried toward her. As she turned her head toward him, he felt a sharp pain through his side, where his still fresh-healed wound from the scuffle with Legacy was. His hand instinctively went to his side, before he had even seen the area himself. When he did look down, he saw crimson flowing from him. “What the fuck?!” His head snapped up and he looked frantically around him.

The pinto unicorn was behind him. There was no weapon in his hands or near him, but his fingers dripped with blood. The nails looked like daggers. “I really didn’t want to have to do it this way, young wolf.”

Adian looked back to Snowhawk, who was now slumped to her side on the bench.

“Stop worrying about her,” the stallion continued. “I unfortunately can’t get my dear Emerald back just yet, so I’ll take her back when I’m done with you.”

Adian staggered back a step. Then another as the unicorn approached him. He had to be at least 7 feet in height, tall even for a delphin male.

“I was quite serious when I said you have some potential. I’ve been watching you almost as long as I have her. The way I see it right now, we can either work on exploring that, or you let it go to waste. Basically, this past month for you is for nothing since you’re going to be dead soon, and I’ll have a much easier time getting her when Emerald is fully awakened.”

Adian moved back another step, but his legs wobbled under him. The wound had not only been reopened, but seemed to be losing blood much faster this time.

“You’d at least have the option of fighting back if you cooperate for now. I’m sure you’re going to hate me even more soon enough.”

His legs buckled under him, and he found himself crumpled on the ground. He looked again to Snowhawk, who had not moved from moments earlier.

“You can have a lot more than just revenge on me,” the unicorn stated. “Most anything you want, in fact. I’m sure you want more than just to sit in a dark room and be jealous.”

Adian turned his gaze to the unicorn stallion. “And her?”

The equine shrugged. “I’ll leave her be for now. Things need to… settle, as it were.” His tone was more sincere than earlier in the evening. “I’m sure Anya will be along shortly, she will return her.”

“What are you?” he panted.

The unicorn grinned. “Well, that’s almost asking who I am. I am a Chernomor. One of the first. Some call us vampires, but we’re no more that than avizon. We’re just created.” He knelt next to Adian, and leaned uncomfortably close to him. “You’ll learn soon enough. You’ll pass out in a moment, then things will be very different when you wake up.”

Adian knew he was right, be he fought the darkness trying to overcome him. “Who…”

“There it is. I am Kieran. Now sleep.”

He continued to fight the dizzy feeling and the heaviness of his eyelids, but soon the darkness over took him.

*********

Snowhawk willed her eyes open. They hesitated to do so, but they did. She felt herself wrapped in several heavy blankets. Once she adjusted to the dim light, she found herself back in her room. She winced and whined as she sat up. Every muscle in her body ached, like she’d been exercising, or fighting someone, for too long. She looked to her left, and saw Janus, similarly bundled in several blankets. She freed an arm, and gently touched him, stroking the thick fur along his neck, near his jaw. He was cooler to the touch than he should have been. Wolves should not be cool to the touch.

She freed her other arm and laid herself on him, bringing the blankets with her. She reached up to pet both sides of his neck as she had earlier, and tucked her muzzle under his. “What happened?” she whispered, closing her eyes.

She felt him grow warmer in her hands after a few short moments and he gave a soft groan. “Snow?” he asked.

“How did…” she began, sitting up and looking at her hands. She touched them to her own face, and found them warmer than normal. But they had been in his fur.

“What the hell happened?” he continued, trying to sit up, fighting against the blankets he was wrapped in. “Where’s Adian?”

“I don’t know. I woke up in here just before you. And you were cold to touch.”

“I feel fine now. Better than, even.”

“You warmed up very quickly,” she replied, trailing off and looking back to her hands. She then shook her head, trying to clear a disturbing thought. “We need to find him, to find out what happened to us. I don’t remember much after blacking out in the garden.”

The two unbound themselves from their blankets, then stepped into the hallway. Just outside, apparently on watch, sat one of the more recent security hires. The long-furred, roman-nosed, sitehound typed male stood as the door opened and turned to face him. He was generally a light cream color, though his back, shoulders, hips, fold of his ears, and the top of his tail were marked with tan, and a darker sable splotched over that. His build was light and slender, almost appearing underweight. His dark blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and his eye color reminded Snowhawk of Janus’s eyes: an extremely pale blue. On top of being one of the less common types of lupino, he was also missing his right arm. He wore a mechanical prosthetic in it’s place, which allowed him to work as if he wasn’t missing a body part. He gave the pair a slight bow as they stepped from the room.

“Renner, have you seen my brother?” Janus asked.

Renner shook his head, then replied in the heavy accent typically found in the colder, northern regions. “No, we found Snowhawk just outside the estate, some hours after finding you in the garden. You were much like a wolf-sicle. We have not seen any sign of Adian since he left yesterday.”

Snowhawk looked to Janus, and found he was looking back at her. “That’s not like him,” she said, worry obvious over tone.

“Has anyone seen anything on the monitors? Especially regarding that piebald unicorn.”

Again, Renner shook his head. “Afraid not. Adian has the only set of keys, and we have not been able to get into the guard shack.”

Janus patted his sides, then frowned. “I guess I didn’t have my phone on me. I’ll go grab it and try to call him.” He turned and kissed her on the cheek, then walked away.

“Have you heard anything else, Renner?” Snowhawk asked.

“I am afraid not. The staff has been very light lately, so we are stretched pretty thin.”

Snowhawk sighed. “Thank you in any case. I might see if I can find a way into the guard shack. The delphin had to have gotten on one of the cameras.”

Renner canted his head to the side. “But the door is locked.”

“I can think of a few ways in that don’t involve keys,” she shrugged. “Though a couple wouldn’t make Adian too happy.”

She gave him a small bow, then turned and began to walk away. “Just a moment,” the slender lupino called out.

Snowhawk stopped and turned back to him. “Yes?”

He felt around in his pockets for a moment, then produced a few lockpicking tools. “I will give you a hand. Better than breaking down the door or putting a hole in the wall or whatever you were thinking of doing.”

Snowhawk smiled. “I appreciate it.”

*********

Adian peeled his eyes apart, then slowly sat up to look around. He found himself in a darkened room, decorated in dark, rich fabrics, woods, and colors. Across the room, a pair of glowing gold eyes opened.

“You were out longer than I anticipated,” Kieran said, standing from his chair.

“What did you do?” Adian groggily replied. He didn’t hurt, far from it, even the wound on his side felt healed. But he still felt… “off.”

“Do you really need to ask?” the piebald delphin returned, stopping at the edge of the bed.

Adian’s lips curled into a snarl. “No.”

Past Secrets – Version 2 – April 2017

Kieran leaned over to the groggy wolf and grinned at him. “Good. Most of you newbies are in denial.”

“Why? Why would you turn me instead of killing me? You know you’re on my list now.”

“Well, until you learn about your new self, I wouldn’t recommend killing me. That and until the few weeks pass while your body adjusts. Maybe wait a little while past that so I can at least teach you to not only survive, but to thrive. And, I think you might find this will aid you in your little job with your brother.”

“What did you mean that you couldn’t ‘get Emerald back?’ I’m sure this faff is some how related.”

Kieran straightened, still grinning. “True. Things will be easier with you not in the way.”

Adian glared at him, a low growl coming from his throat.

“You know her history, don’t you? Emerald’s and her relationship to that little mare of your brother’s?”

Adian gave a small, half head shake. “Can’t say I do.”

“Honestly, did your uncle teach you nothing?” Adian opened his mouth to ask how he knew he had been raised by Ulmer, but the delphin continued. “Oh, that’s right, your brother was her owner, and you weren’t really interested in the whole keeping slaves thing, were you?”

“Not par–”

Kieran waved his hand dismissively. “We can talk about that interesting little tidbit later. In the mean time, about my lovely Emerald.” He folded an arm across his chest, then rested his other on top of it, and then his chin on that hand. “On second thought, walk with me. I can explain on the way, and I think you should at least see the castle. You’ll be here for quite a while.”

As Kieran walked to the door, Adian pulled the covers away from himself and swung his legs out of the bed. He took a moment to look at his side and his wound there was fully healed.

“You don’t need to worry about little scratches like that anymore,” the delphin stated. “There are some nice perks that come from this state of being.”

“I would have assumed it’s because you are one of those unicorn delphin that can heal,” he responded as he stood and walked toward the other male.

“Only myself. I was not gifted with the ability to heal others, unlike Emerald’s bloodline.”

“Who was she, and why is Snowhawk important?”

Kieran opened the door and stepped into the hall, Adian following him. “Emerald was, once, to be the leader of the Delphin Empire. During the end days, as the slavers were beginning to seek out more valuable targets. Once upon a time, I was her Guardian That’s about the broadest, shortest way to explain that story. I was already in the state I’m in now when she was born. But that tale isn’t as important right now.”

“Maybe when I try to figure out how to undo this mess…” Adian grumbled.

“That’s your decision,” Kieran shrugged, turning and flashing a grin at the wolf. “Do you know the story of what happened at the end of the Empire?”

“The heiress was murdered by slavers. That was Emerald?”

A nod confirmed what Adian had said. “Indeed. She was searching for her mate’s killers. It was soon after she’d delivered her first foal. They captured her after she managed to take out far more than she had any right to take out, and I don’t believe the one who did it intended to kill her but,” Kieran paused and gave a small, disapproving shake of his head. “Well, think of how much of a mouth your brother’s mare has on her and make that 10-fold.”

“How to you know this?”

“I was tracking her. I did get the ability to sense familiar delphin nearby from my biological father.” A small puff of a sigh escaped him. “I came upon the scene as the blow was struck. I killed a couple of the remaining ones, and the rest ran away when they saw the fangs. I was perhaps too fond of her, and my young, stupid self decided to turn her, right there.”

“I thought you said you were her Guardian? How’d she even get to where she was?”

“Again, imagine your brother’s mare, but more headstrong and impulsive. And… much smaller.”

“Aah.” Nothing more needed to be said. Snowhawk, while headstrong and impulsive, was still tempered by her early life and the conditioning she received. That hadn’t been enough to keep her from trying to kill her first owner.

“Still, my days as her Guardian were years past at this point. I was the temporary one as her family’s Royal Guard was away with other parts of that line. When he returned, I went into the field to hunt slavers.”

“What happened after she was turned?”

“She never went back. I had hoped she would, but she stuck beside me, and we spent the next thousand years killing more slavers after finishing off the ones that had killed her mate. Our relationship deepened over time, as it’s hard not to when you spend a hundreds of years with someone you were already fond of, and then have the barriers between you removed. She fought with herself early on if she should stop the Empire’s fall but, at that point, she saw they took no interest in doing so themselves. Her family was eventually captured or killed after their personal guards were captured, killed, or ran. I think their Royal Guard was captured and that really set it all down hill.”

“And Emerald?”

“Her final death came one thousand and six years after she was turned. Again at the hands of some worthless slaver.” Kieran’s fists balled up and he stopped in the hallway. “She turned to dust before me.” He paused again, then straightened himself and continued walking. “I took pleasure in murdering that cat.”

Breaking the uncomfortable silence that followed, Adian asked, “And where does Snowhawk fit in to all of this?”

“Delphin spirits are reborn if they feel they have more to do. I was here almost 27 years ago when I suddenly, very faintly, sensed my dear Emerald again.”

Adian paused in the hallway, quickly going over dates in his head. “That’s how old Snowhawk will be next month.” He trotted after Kieran. “What are you saying?”

“For the past 26 years of her life, my beloved’s spirit has resided in her. She’s the great-great granddaughter of my love’s foal, so it was the easiest body to inhabit. And I know it’s been waking up lately, even before I gave it a little push.”

“Is that why she killed the old wolf?” Adian asked of his uncle’s death.

“That mare had no reason to do so, especially since she could have just slipped away. But no, something in her sent her toward your uncle’s study, convincing her she needed to rescue her cousin right then, who just happened to be that way, and you know the rest of that tale.”

“And you?”

“I’ve been watching her, waiting. Always somewhere near enough. I felt the presence of Emerald suddenly strengthen the night your mare almost died.”

“When she was fighting,” Adian added.

“Presumably. As I said, I was near, not next to. I didn’t see her until she’d collapsed in the hallway and nearly bled out on their white, marble tile.”

“Do you know what’s going to happen to Snowhawk, now that Emerald has awakened?”

“Well, she’s not fully awake yet, but no. I have no idea. Sometimes they “share” the physical body, and the form will shift depending on who has control, sometimes the host is strong enough to wall them off, and for others, the host is lost, the form surrendering to the reborn soul. Still other times, the host will kill themselves, unable to handle the extra voice.”

Adian stopped walking again.

Kieran turned to him a second later, realizing he was no longer being followed. “I doubt that will happen with her. Something about this bloodline is extremely resilient.”

*********

Snowhawk watched as Renner fiddled with the door lock on the guard shed. She had looked around the building, hoping for a vent large enough for her to crawl through, but found nothing.

She heard the heavy door creak as it swung open. “Ah ha!” the sitehound exclaimed. “We are in!”

Snowhawk returned to the front of the building, then paused just before entering. “Renner, would you wait out here? Just in case someone shows up. And maybe let Janus know we got in.”

He nodded an affirmative, and reached for the radio on his hip as she walked inside.

Before the door shut behind her completely, she held her hand against it, slowing it’s inward swing. After a quick search, she grabbed a folded chair and placed it between the frame and the door. Getting locked inside wasn’t something she was prepared to deal with right now.

She had never been in the shack without Adian before. This was not an experience she was interested in maintaining. She quickly made her way to the monitors, and began searching for any signs of…

She didn’t even want to think of his name.

“Dammit, Snowhawk. You need to pull yourself together” she scolded. “This isn’t the time to get this way.” She sighed and tried to collect herself. “He said he wasn’t a vampire. But he was obviously not mortal. Or some such.” She sighed and held her head in her hands. “What did he say he was? Chernomor? Something like that? Fucking bullshit, there’s no such thing,” she scoffed.

I don’t know why you are denying it, Snowhawk. The evidence is right there.

“No one asked for your opinion, Emerald.” Now she’s literally talking to a voice in her head. Who cares if the voice is her ancestor or whatever She’s not welcome.

I can read your thoughts, Snow.

“Fuck! Can you please just not for now!? I just want to find out what happened to Adian.”

Snowhawk dropped herself into the chair, then began reviewing the previous night’s video files. The there was a large gap in video data, around the late evening. Frustrated, she looked at the days before, hoping to find some earlier signs of this… Chernomor or the Avizon that was with him. Hours of searching later, nothing.

You know, Snow, if you’re looking for the Avizon, perhaps you should be looking for someone else…

“What are you talking about?”

Did you really never learn that they’re the ones that taught the others species how to shapeshift?

“… What?”

Yeah. They were the first and taught the other morphs how to. I guess you were never taught that.

“Kind of hard to learn things when you’re being forced to breed before maturity.”

Oh, right, you weren’t born free. Maybe I should be teaching you this, unless you have an old Guard around.

“My family’s Royal Guard is missing. He has been for some time. Last I heard, his owner fucked off to Di’aru with him, so who knows if he’s even still alive.”

That would be our family’s Royal Guard. Who took over, anyway?

“His name is Jerome. Onyx was training him until his death when I was four.”

The constant chatter in her head stopped. Onyx lived that long? She sounded shocked.

“Was he your’s too?” Snowhawk asked as she scanned the video files.

What she felt next was the impulsion to nod. Onyx was training Kieran to be a Guardian. No one knew, or they just didn’t acknowledge that he was a Chernomor. I didn’t know until he turned me as I lay dying from those damned slavers. There was another pause. Another long silence in Snowhawk’s mind. Do you remember? That night, and my rage, my thirst for their blood on my hands to avenge my lost love. Then the panic when realized that this night would be my last.

Snowhawk didn’t reply to her at first, she just continued to scan the previous week’s video. “Sort of. It’s all hazy and vague. Emotions are most of what I can recognize.” Before she could further respond, a strange lupino appeared in the footage. They would have been unnoticed were they not unusually large. “There. I think that’s Anya,” Snowhawk stated to no one, other than the voice in her head.

She jumped up to find Renner and to confirm that the lupino in the video was not one of the new security hires.

Past Secrets – Version 2 – Nov 2017

The site hound was back outside of the guard shack.

Renner shook his head at the description Snowhawk gave him of the lupino in the footage. “I have never seen one matching this description. If they are as big as you’ve said, they would stand out like a sore thumb.”

Snowhawk sat down and sighed. “How do you find a shapeshifter like an Avizon?”

“If she is working with with this Chernomor, she will probably return. Otherwise, you’re only going to have her eye color and height to go on. There are not many people left in this city, but plenty of places to hide.”

“Yeah, I found that to be pretty easy to do…”

“I will get word around to keep watch for these things, and call Chal and inform her of all of this, since she will be in charge in Adian’s absence, as she has before.”

“Thank you, Renner. I’m going to tell Janus.”

Snowhawk heard the heavy door slam closed as she trotted off, and into the house.

*********

Helaine sat on a bench, under a blanket with Sunila, and the two watched a fire in front of them pop and crackle. They would sometimes look at the sky, clear for once this night, and talk of the stars. The two kept each other warm most nights and remained companions thorough the day. They found solace in each other, one being herd bound and without the only family member she’d ever known, the other having left the only home she’d known, hoping for a chance to do more than she ever could in Juv, but arriving in town soon after the slave uprising.

Jerome watched as the liver chestnut delphin he’d been training walked to the pair, with a mug of a fire-warmed hot chocolate for each of the females, and one for themselves. In return, they offered to share their blanket with them. This was not the first time.

The old Guard grinned. “Nothing to worry about with those three,” he mused to himself, then turned and walked further through the camp. They’d set up in one of the abandoned apartment buildings in the center of the city several nights before, but some of the group would still spend time in the nearby park. Some weren’t comfortable being inside the building, others just wanted to be out after being locked away for so long.

As Jerome neared the center of the park, a small distance from the perimeter of their camp, he saw Legacy kneeling next to a bench, head down, and studying the area. His hooves crunched the pea gravel and ice under them as he neared the young Guardian. “What did you find?” he called out.

“Do you smell it?” Legacy asked, standing from where he was.

Jerome took several deep breaths of the air around him, slowly walking toward the bench. “A wolf. A delphin. And something else. Two something elses, one’s just very faint.” He paused, then drew back sharply as he scent hit his nose. “Wolf blood.”

Legacy pointed to the ground around them. “I can barely see the tracks, so they were here a few nights ago, when it last snowed. A set of large hooves, and a set of paws. And… I can’t make the third set out. But the delphin was here. The hoof prints are smaller.” He pointed to the ground under the bench, where he’d brushed away the snow over the ice. He pointed to another area. “There was a fight here, and the wolf bled… a lot. I just have this feeling Snowhawk was here, and I don’t think she was conscious,” Legacy stated as he surveyed the area.

“It’s a hell of a walk from the Sinisusi estate, but not out of the question. Do you want to use this as an excuse to politely check on her?”

Legacy stomped a hoof. “Yes… and no. I’m not sure if I have the right.”

Jerome shrugged. “She might need a Guardian, Legacy.”

“You’re right,” he sighed. “Can you–”

“I’ll go with you,” he answered before the other could finish. “Something is coming. Onyx warned me about her family line, but I can’t remember why.”

“Let’s go back to let the others know, then we’ll head to the Sinisusi estate.”

*********

A pair of hoof beats echoed through the city. As the Golden Guard and the young Guardian trotted toward the home of the former slaver, they walked mostly in silence. Legacy’s stomach felt like it was tying itself into knots, and his heart started to beat harder as they neared their destination. “Thank you for coming along, Jerome.”

He caught the glint from Jerome’s horn glinting in the light as he nodded. “I keep thinking about what Onyx said. It was so many years ago, my memories are fuzzy. I can’t keep track of both Snowhawk and Helaine, not if they’re separate like this. I don’t know what this wolf has left for security, but more help can’t hurt.”

“Are you suggesting I should work for them?”

“It couldn’t hurt.” Jerome paused, then placed a hand on Legacy’s shoulder and the two stopped walking. “I know you think you have feelings for her. I won’t say you don’t, but what I will say is to hide those feelings. You don’t know her yet, and she will need protection more than a suitor.” The old Guard sighed. “If you need a way to redirect those feelings, channel them into keeping her safe, however she needs.”

Legacy nodded. “Right.”

He felt Jerome gently push him forward. “We’re almost there.”

And they were. Within the next five minutes, the corner of the estate’s fence was next to them. “This isn’t far from where I found her last month.”

“And where I found you… what, almost two weeks ago?”

Legacy nodded.

“Well. Go knock on the door, or ring the bell or whatever they do here.”

He hesitated. Was this right? Should he even be here? “Right. They need the help.” He strode to the gate of the complex, then tested said gate to see if it would open. It was locked. He glanced around and saw a buzzer, which had a screen above the button, next to a number pad. He drew in a deep breath, then pressed the button.

The screen flickered on after a moment, and Legacy found himself staring at the long snout of a site hound. “Hello, are you lost?” the hound asked, his accent extremely thick for this area.

Legacy straightened himself. “I am the Guardian, Legacy. My charge has chosen to live here, so I am here to ask how we can work together, to keep her safe.”

The hound paused, scratching behind his own ear. “I am not the one who makes those decisions, but we can bring you into talk.”

“Thank you,” Legacy replied, bowing toward the screen. The canine waved his hand, in a “don’t worry about it” gesture. “It is no problem. I will send someone to the gate while I get in touch with the boss.”

The screen flickered off, and Legacy turned to Jerome. “I’m almost worried at how painless that was.”

“Understandable. Still, do you get the feeling something is off?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. This whole place feels more ‘off’ than usual.”

Legacy’s ears swung first, followed by his head, toward the sound of a heavy door closing. He saw a blonde-colored lupino quickly trot down the front stairs and jog to the gate. She had some white markings on her muzzle, ear tips, and neck, and her hair was dyed a bright, light blue which transitioned to a hot pink near the tips. Emerging from her head, just at her upright ears, were a pair of curved, ram-like horns, and shimmering on her forehead was what appeared to be a cabochon cut jewel. Both shared the colors of her hair. As she reached for a panel on her side of the gate, Legacy noticed the same colors on her claws.

Jerome stepped forward, inclining his head slightly as he spoke to the canid. “Would you happen to have some delphin blood in you, ma’am?”

A noise escaped Legacy that would be difficult to describe, but would have resulted in a puff of liquid if he’d been drinking. Jerome should know better than to ask someone what their blood line is, especially when that someone is a lupino. His mouth hung open, shocked at what his mentor had said.

She looked over, at first glaring, then she laughed. “Jerome, you damn well know the answer to that.”

“Good to see you alive, Chal.”

“You too, you old fart. Now stand back some,” she replied with a grin, pushing the last button on the panel she stood near, letting the gate swing out and open.

The two delphin stepped back to avoid the heavy gate, then once it was open far enough, walked through.

Jerome led Legacy toward the odd-looking, possibly part delphin, lupino. “Legacy, this is Chalcedony. Chal, this is Legacy. He’s a guardian in training.”

“There aren’t many of you left,” she replied, looking Legacy up and down, then walking around him.

Legacy wasn’t sure if it was her appearance or having had similar experiences while he was a slave, but he felt he was being appraised like a piece of meat.

Chal slapped him on the back and laughed. “Relax, you’re not on the menu.” She then stepped in front of him, and extended her hand. “I’m the second in command of security here.”

Legacy reached out and shook her hand. “I’m not sure–”

“Renner explained to me what you had said to him. You say your charge has chosen to live here.”

“Yes. Snowhawk.”

Chalcedony smirked and cocked her head. “Come on inside then. We’ll have a meeting.”

*********

“So, we’re just supposed to wait?” Janus asked, frowning as he looked at Snowhawk. He’d just heard the update about his brother, and the strangers that had crept around his home.

“Unless we either see the avizon, or I bait the Chernomor into showing back up,” she replied with a small shrug.

“I really don’t like that idea…”

“I don’t particularly care for it either but–”

Snowhawk’s statement was interrupted as she suddenly stopped and turned to look at the door. A second later, a knock was heard.

“It’s unlocked,” Janus called. The door opened a moment later, and both he and Snowhawk saw Chalcedony step through.

“We have a pair of… interesting visitors,” she said as the door slid closed behind her.

Janus noticed Snowhawk’s ears locked onto the doorway, and she straightened and stared at it, he couldn’t read her expression from where he sat. “She seems to think so,” he remarked, looking first at the lavender delphin then to his security team’s second. “Snow?”

“One is a golden delphin. I know the second, but not as well.”

He knew that some delphin can pick up when another of their kind is near. Snowhawk’s ability with this was never well developed.

“I would hope you know him. He claims he’s your Guardian.” She turned and opened the door again, then waved the pair in.

As the first of the two stepped in, the shimmering gold fur of the Royal Guard caught the light of the room. “Jerome,” she almost whispered. “I didn’t know you had…” She sniffed, and reached up to wipe at her eyes. Before she could say more to him, the second delphin walked through the door. “Legacy–”

Janus jumped up, seeing the second delphin enter.

Legacy raised his hands to try and pacify the wolf. “We’re not here for trouble.”

Jerome placed his hand on the younger delphin’s shoulder, then stepped in front of him. “Will you hear us, or specifically him, out?”

Snowhawk glanced to Janus, who gave her a slight nod, then walked toward the two male delphin. “Very well. Why are you here?”

“We know that something happened in the park, either last night or the one before. We saw the tracks, and smelled the blood. I don’t know what’s going on, but I just have this feeling that you could use some more help.”

Snowhawk sighed and nodded. “Chal, would you leave us?”

“Call if you need,” the horned lupino said as she waved and quickly stepped from the room.

“Well, catch up later!” Jerome called after her. She grinned and waved at him as she closed the door.

Snowhawk motioned to some chairs in the corner of the room. “Please, sit down, and I’ll tell you what we know.”

*********

All three males in the room, Janus, Jerome, and Legacy, had interlaced their fingers and had their elbows resting on their knees, with their muzzles resting on their thumbs. Snowhawk had told them all she was aware of. She hadn’t been able to tell Janus about Emerald’s voice in her head yet, but now he knew. She leaned against the desk behind her, her arms crossed in front of her, and her gaze diverted out the window.

Jerome was the first to break the silence. “Well, that was a little deeper than we were expecting.”

“I don’t expect help. The first thing I need to do is figure out where Adian is, and what this Chernomor has done with him. Whatever has happened to Adian is my fault–”

Janus interrupted her. “That’s what you said last year, after–” He couldn’t finish his own sentence.

“After I almost died. Again. I know.”

“I don’t want you walking into another trap.”

“I will have to get back to Helaine soon. If this Chernomor knows about her, she might be at risk. I’m training another Guardian for her, but they’re not ready to work alone yet.”

“We can work this out here,” Legacy said to his mentor. “If you feel like you should go now.”

Snowhawk looked at Janus. “How many open rooms are in the main house?”

He shrugged. “Most of them. A lot of the staff lives offsite or in the old barracks. This place was never even full when Ulmer was alive. It just felt that way.”

“Ask the group if they want to live here. But tell Helaine I really need her to come back, for her sake.”

Janus nodded at this idea. “I wanted to suggest that, but it sounds better coming from Snow.”

“Some of them are set up in an abandoned apartment complex near that park. But I will give them the offer.”

“Should I–” Legacy began.

“Stay here,” Jerome instructed. “It would help for you to get the grand tour, and to better get to know, at the least, Chal.” He looked at Snowhawk and Janus. “That is, of course, if you don’t mind him being around.”

Janus shook his head as Snowhawk shrugged. “Any extra help at this point would be useful. Just none of that “failure” business I’ve heard about is going to be allowed,” the wolf stated, lowering his head and glaring at the young Guardian.

Past Secrets – Version 2 – April 2018

Jerome stood and bowed to the group. “I’ll take my leave. If I see Chal on my way out, should I let her know about this one?” He gestured to Legacy as he addressed the wolf and the mare.

Janus nodded. “Yes, if you could. I’ll call her in a few moments in any case if we don’t see her first.”

“Will do.” He turned and strode to the door, then announced as he opened the door, “I’ll return shortly!”

After the Golden Guard had closed the door, the two remaining equines and the wolf, looked at each other in silence for a minute. “Well,” Snowhawk began, exhaling heavily as she first looked down, then back up, “what now?”

“We could take him on the grand tour, at least until we can meet up with Chal.”

Snowhawk gave a nod of agreement.

It’s cute you’re going through all this… Emerald’s voice snarked in Snowhawk’s mind, right as she went to stand.

Snowhawk reached a hand up to massage her head, under her horn. Can you just… not?

We need to talk.

Snowhawk grumbled, mouthing out, “That’s all you fucking do.”

Both Janus and Legacy looked at her. “Snow?” Janus asked, concerned.

“I need… a few moments,” she replied, sinking back into the chair. “Start showing Legacy around, I’ll catch up to you.”

Janus frowned. “I’m not keen on the idea of leaving you alone.”

She waved dismissively at him. “I’ll be fine for a few minutes.” Both he and Legacy started to protest, but she waved them off again. “I just need to talk to Emerald. I’ll catch up.”

Once the two males were out of the room, Emerald asked, Have you figured out where your protector wolf is?

“Would I be here if I had?”

Point taken. I might have a suggestion for you.

“Then just tell me and stop being cryptic. You being in my head gives me enough of a headache.”

Once again, Snowhawk had the urge to shrug. I could toy with you more, but at the same time, I know you’re impulsive enough to go there, so… Kieran has a home by the sea, just north of Di’aru.

She groaned, throwing her head back and leaning back in the chair. “If it wasn’t near the damn slaver city, I’d say something about it being a cliche location.”

Yes, well, that’s been pointed out to him before. He doesn’t care. It’s easy to find feeding there, should he need it. We found that, I should say.

“It’s concerning, more so than it would have been a few months ago. I have heard from a recent traveler that the city is worse than ever.”

Emerald gave a sharp, short laugh. Wonder why?

She narrowed her eyes, frowning. “Yeah, well, I’m sure if your empire had done it’s damn job and not ignored the problem when they started trickling in, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

Emerald was silent. The slavers were first noticed when I was 6. I was 11 when those laws went into effect. If you have blame to toss out, it’s not at me. I did what I could in the short time I had to do it. I was 36 when those bastards killed me, like you were when that mark sliced your throat open.

“I didn’t realize you were that young,” Snowhawk replied after her own silence.

Kieran was working with Onyx on tracking down the known cells. One small group slipped through the city borders we’d established. My mate was captured and soon after killed. You know the rest. Emerald sighed. Because of his duties, Kieran was not around when my mate was taken. But he had tracked them down and was, for what it’s worth, near by when they killed me.

“Did you regret it? Either going after them, or him turning you?”

I didn’t think about it at first. Then I realized I would never hold my child again. The only way I could not regret it was to continue tracking down the slavers and destroying them.

Her word, “destroy,” was perhaps a view into how much hurt she felt. She couldn’t just kill them, or chase them off. They would be destroyed, like a defective clock, or a rotten fruit. “I’m sorry.”

Emerald was silent again for a half minute. I can’t stand Janus. He’s one of them. The vitriol flowed from her words. And you willingly went back to him.

“He saved me. Had I not come here, and he not spoken up, I would’ve been killed.” She sighed. “Ulmer purchased me the day after I tried to kill a breeding stallion. Again. Apparently, I was meant for Adian, but he refused me. He didn’t know. Janus heard and stepped in. It’s all in my file…”

Then, now that you’re free, go to Kieran. I’m sure the other wolf is there. You can spend your time with him until I can return. I’d rather deal with the one that said no to a slave than the one who owned not only you, but your cousin.

“She was a show piece. And likely got the diplomatic nature. I seem to have your temper and attitude.”

Once I’m more than a voice in your head, I will see to it that you aren’t touched by him again.

“If I’m in control, that’s not your decision to make.”

We’ll see. Her words were terse, and the feeling she was “there” vanished from Snowhawk’s mind.

*********

Legacy bristled as he walked next to Janus. The wolf was just pointing out features of the home, but he was having a difficult time coming to terms with working with him. “Janus…” he began.

“Yes?”

“This wasn’t my first idea, and I’m not sure how to deal with… all of this.”

The wolf looked at him and gave a small nod. “You’re uncomfortable. I get it.” Janus sighed, then glanced around, and gestured into a nearby room. The two walked in, and sat on opposing chairs. Between them was a low table. “I know your history with the slavers isn’t pleasant. I know about you and that golden stallion, and your captures. You weren’t young, and I personally think that was a bad move on the captors part to keep you alive.”

Legacy recoiled at his words. “How would you know?”

The wolf shrugged. “Word travels. And my uncle did have a cordial relationship with your owner.”

“Bryce took off to Di’aru with Jerome and a small handful of others when the uprising started. I didn’t ask what happened to him, though I can’t assume he’s alive if Jerome is here.”

Janus nodded at this. “Likely not. That all said, I have no intention of even trying to bring the slavers back into power. Neither my brother or I were much in support of it, but we didn’t see an alternative. Ulmer’s death was an opening.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Snowhawk means the world to me. I’ll do whatever I can for her. I almost lost her a few months back, and that was nearly too much. I want you to know that we have the same goal.”

Legacy dropped his head, looking at his hooves as he scuffed them through the rugs. “I’m still not super comfortable with all of this.”

“I understand,” Janus nodded. “I want to reassure you as much as I can, but I know only time will bring trust.” The wolf stood, and gestured to the door. “Come on, let’s finish this tour.”

*********

“I don’t know why you’re waiting around, Kier,” Anya’s voice rung through the halls.

“Because neither the wolf or the mare are ready,” the Chernomor replied.

Adian’s eyes narrowed. The two were in one of the rooms near the front of the castle. He heard their conversation through partially open doors. He could likely have heard Anya with them fully closed. I have to get back, he thought. I’ve been here almost six weeks.

“Then just bring her here anyway! It’s not gonna make a difference if she’s here before or not! Might speed it all along if she sees some place she’s been to before.”

“It could, or it could set everything back, or even completely destabilize her. These things cannot be pushed.”

“Have you seen it before?” The disdain rolled into the hall on her words as he crept closer.

The Chernomor’s response was terse. “Once.” Adian couldn’t see his face, but the heavy silence afterward was enough. As long as he’d been here, he’d rarely not heard Anya if she was in the house and awake. Whatever the stallion had said, combined with whatever expression he had, silenced her.

Silence wasn’t ideal for him, though. If she was loud, it would, hopefully, hide his escape, at least enough to get him outside. He was fast on his own, and if any legends he had heard of Chernomor were true, then he may be able to outrun these two.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

The wolf crept past the partially open door, listening for either Anya or Kieran. It seemed that the Chernomor was going to continue his story.

“Snowhawk isn’t the first of Emerald’s descendants for her to attach to. I found the last one to. Another mare, more similar to Emerald than Snowhawk is.”

Adian wanted to hear more of this tale, but he’d reached his goal: a window that had been long broken, but the Chernomor wasn’t interested in repair of this worn-down building. At least not where he usually spent his time. He may not have been the owner, and just found the place after the last one died, but, who knows. Immortal or near immortal creatures likely have issues buying property.

The window regularly creaked as it swung with the wind. They were near the sea, so there was always, always wind. He waited for another moment, still listening for either hooves, or the click of Anya’s claws, and after hearing nothing, he hopped onto the window sill. He creaked the window open as little as needed for him to slip through, though it was still wider than the wind would usually have pushed it.

The faintest sound of hooves on hard floor came through the window. No voices, so perhaps he was just pacing, as he often did. He sighed with relief and crept away until he was out of direct line of sight, and then began to run, hoping he was heading north, and would find a road or path soon.

Adian didn’t have to travel long until he found a road, one of the more main ones, by the size and condition. None of the roads, main or not, were well groomed between the cities, and travel often took much longer than it would have otherwise.

He knew, based on where Kieran’s home was located at the sea side, which way was north, and towards Ametiton. He didn’t know if he was south of Di’aru or not. As a lupino, travel through Di’aru would be relatively safe, and he could perhaps hire a ride back there. Even if the city disgusted him.

Adian didn’t have to travel long before he found out the answer. Kieran’s home was indeed south of Di’aru. He sneered and gave a disgusted sigh as he saw the city appear before him. “Maybe I can at least find a fucking cab…”

Darkness was setting in as he entered the city. He hated the idea of being anywhere in this place, but it was this or who knew how long to travel back on foot. Sure, he might have some speedy movement now but he didn’t know what toll it would take on him to travel that far. He looked around for any advertisement or community board that might have information on it, but everything was either empty, vandalized, or otherwise non-existent.

He did, however, find a shady bar. “Good a place as any,” he shrugged as he walked toward the door.

Though it was dark, it was still only early evening. Winter and all. The bar was mostly deserted, except for the feln bar tender, a lupino bouncer who was currently downing some pain medication, based on the bottle near him, and a pair of dephin males at the bar. Near the door, opposite the bouncer, was a board with posting for folks looking to hire or be hired, local businesses, both legit and not so, and things for sale. Some of which included slaves. He knew he was not hiding his disgust well, but he also, at seeing the board with a handful of delphin and feln for sale on it, didn’t really care.

He did spot a for hire ad, and as he pulled it from the board to read closer, one of the delphin walked to him.

“You lost, friend?” the delphin asked, folding his arms across him and shifting his weight onto one hoof.

Adian paused and glanced at the other male first, then only turned his head toward him in the slightest, feigning an interest more in the paper in his hand. “You could say something like that.”

“That’s our ad you’re holding. Come over and chat.”

Adian gave a half shrug, then turned toward him. And promptly stopped. He hadn’t gotten anything resembling a close look at him, until now, but…

“Something wrong? You look like you just saw a ghost.”

He was nearly the spitting image of Snowhawk. “I think I know your mother.”

The delphin shrugged. “Maybe knew, based on what we were told.”

“No, I mean, know now.”

“See, now I’m really interested. So let’s go talk.” He turned and walked back toward the bar, waving the other delphin to him, then looked back to Adian and did the same. The other male’s resemblance wasn’t nearly as strong, though the golden tones that he carried led to a potential father.

Adian followed the two to the far end of the bar, joining them at a table away from any potential passers-by.

“What’s this about our mother?”

“I mean, what do you know?”

“Her name was Snow-something, and she supposedly died or almost died and is probably dead now. Because she was… kind of a bitch?”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Adian grinned. “The shortest version is: she almost killed a breeding stallion for the I can’t recall how many-th time, and her owner was fed up with her doing so, so she was sold. To my uncle.” He paused, thinking, “I mean, she did almost die after that but that wouldn’t have been a story you likely would know.”

“So are you–?” the golden-toned male began.

“If you’re asking if I’m her owner, not int he least,” Adian replied, shaking his head. “I’m just trying to get back to Ametiton.”

The two discussed between themselves for a moment, then the one who’d first spoken to Adian looked back at him. “We’d talked about going there, since most of the slavers have been booted. Not like we couldn’t handle ourselves if worse comes to worse.”

“I’d assume so, if you’re free in this city.”

“We worked, bought our ways out, and now, if they try anything…”

“I guess if what you say about our mother is true,” the golden-hued one continued, “then we take after her.”

Adian grinned again. “Get me to Ametiton. I’ll see to it you are both set up as well as we can make it, I can offer you jobs, if you want to do some security work, and you’d even be near your mother.”

They whispered to each other again, then each turned back to Adian, and extended their hands. “It’s a deal.” As Adian reached out and shook their hands, the first one he’d spoken to introduced himself finally. “I’m Jesse.”

“I’m Liam,” the golden-toned one replied.

Adian nodded. “I may I know who your father is as well.”

Jesse smirked and stood. “This sounds like it’ll be an interesting drive.”