Short Stories: Master of the Pack

This latest work is inspired by Master of the Pack, by DusanMarkovic

I stood before him, the great Tiger of the Southern Wastes, and I tried not to tremble, but I could not help but appear sheepish, troubled, by the ferocity in those blue eyes, eyes rightfully harden by years of war and turmoil. His guards remained impassive, but stood ready to introduce me to the sharp end of their large spears.

“You sought an audience, now what do you want?” His gravelly voice rumbled.

“I… I have come to… to strike a bargain.”

Silence greeted me. The clouds parted briefly to permit gleaming moonlight down upon us, striking a powerful glare across his mighty sword, which he drove into the ground and used to winch himself to his feet.

“A bargain? What could you possibly have that could interest us?” He snarled.

I could not help but take in how tall he stood. I wasn’t exactly short – just over six foot in height – but he was a full head higher than myself. I did all I could to keep eye contact, to not show weakness, but I feared I was failing.

“Information…” I began, praying my voice wouldn’t crack.

“Information? About what?” He stepped closer, the heavy, ornate golden armour on his thick legs rattling, the razor-sharp claws on his feet clicking upon the cold stone ground.

“Our mutual enemy… they are on the march, they… they are coming for you.”

He was almost face to face with me now, nose to nose. The scar that ran across his right eye came into clear focus – red and angry, like the blood rushing through his veins.

“Let them come. They cannot defeat us.”

“They can… they have allies, help…” I closed my eyes briefly, before opening them again with a resolve I didn’t know I had. “Some of my people are helping them.”

Death was what I had expected, death from the extended claws on his hands, that I knew could shred even the toughest elephant hide, or perhaps death from his terrifying teeth, as he tore out my throat in an orgy of blood and flesh. Instead his gaze, his judging, intense stare, remained fixed upon my own eyes.

“Typical.” Sneered the Tiger. “Trust your kind to roll over so meekly for them.”

“Not all of us.” I replied hastily. “Not all of us.” I said again, more sombrely.

The Tiger turned, took a step, grabbed his blade’s hilt and casually spun it around. “Allow me to guess, the wolf packs are not enamoured with their human masters?”

“No, we are not.” I replied. “I know what they’ve done to you, to other feline tribes…”

“You know nothing!” The blade was swung around, stopping at my neck. I stiffened, ears flattening and my tail drooping. The Tiger stepped back toward me and placed his big paw on my cheek. “Canines have been in league with the humans since the days of our ancient ancestors. Whilst your kind were given warm homes and beds, plentiful food, love… my kind was hunted for our pelts, mutilated for medicines… you can never understand what they have done.”

“With respect…” I began slowly. “Wolves share the fate of felines. We too were hunted, killed, butchered, and we have never forgotten. We won’t fight for the humans, we will fight for you, and for our freedom.”

The Tiger lowered his weapon and his paw. “And do you possess any information beyond platitudes?”

“Yes.” I steeled myself. This was now the realm of betrayal. “They seek to attack with two forces. One is an open siege of your capitol, at your northern wall. The other will be mostly a canine assault force, using their noses to sniff out any means of secret entry to your fortress.”

“When does this attack begin?”

“In four days. The wolf packs will be part of the second attack force – when I give the signal, I will have them turn on the humans, and any canines that remain loyal to them.”

Where there had been anger in the Tiger’s eyes, was now a strange calm. “I can smell deceit, deception, lies. I do not smell that upon you.”

“That’s why I came. I have never… I’ve never been good at concealing how I feel. It’s a weakness of canines, I guess.”

“And ours is that we are too good at it.” The Tiger held out his paw. “If we truly join our forces, this will only be the beginning. The humans will never stop hunting you if you betray them.”

I took his paw and shook it. It felt warm, and strong. “They have always hunted us, used us, abused us. Not anymore.”

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