A small bird flickered its blue feathers on top of a dry branch, staring at the mid-spring sun above. The smell of growing leaves blended with the fainter smell of rocks, grass and dirt, which covered the surrounding landscape.
No worms or other appetizing prey in sight, figures the poor sapphire-coloured fellow would have to look elsewhere. And he did, leaping off the branch and flapping its tiny wings towards the warm sun, leaving a small trail of floating feathers on its path.
A white hand brushed the wandering feather away idly, its owner not even bothering to look in said direction. His pale blue eyes were far too busy focusing on the cantaloupe-sized piece of rock in front of him, skillful hands carefully handling the tools that gradually modified its shape.
The figure hunching over the piece of rock was a white feline, with an appearance no older than 17. Leanly built, as per norm of his kin, and with equally traditional long, jet black locks. Dressed in simple dark garments, he was by no means unusual or wealthy-looking. By the standards of his own kind, anyway. Around him were the usual signs of someone out on a camping expedition. A worn-looking tent to his right, and an extinct fire sight behind him, neatly surrounded by rocks to prevent any unwanted bushfires. Plenty of spare firewood and an old pot in which to brew some tea in. He had been coming on these expeditions a long time, and his surroundings clearly showed what an experienced camper he was.
Actually, he came in these little get away trips awfully often, either to get some beloved peace and quiet, or to dedicate some time to his craft- at which he was pretty good at-, or both. These rocky hills were perfect for any of those goals, filled with carving resources, fruit bearing trees scattered around and a crystal clear creek not an hour away. They had all the essentials. Quite low in company of the speaking kind, though, but that suited him just fine. He often preferred to hear the chirping of sparrows over the babble of others, anyway.
A quick puff of air on the hacked and carved piece of grey rock to blow away unwanted specks of debris was in order. A quick glance revealed satisfying progress, for half a morning at least, and the unfinished project was set down. Wouldnt want to overwork his artistic libido. Not today. Not with such pleasant weather. Far more interesting things were at hand.
Dusting off his legs, he got up and stretched, feeling every bone on his aching back pleasantly pop. He exhaled a sigh of relief, perking his ears up to enjoy the singing of the birds while the sun gently warmed the skin beneath his fur. How much time he spent standing like this he could not tell, it couldve been quite a few minutes, even though the pleasantry of it all made it seem like just mere seconds to him. Suddenly, it all came to an end. Ears quickly changed direction to pay attention to the dry sound of footsteps closing in from behind him, few yards away.
There were two of them. A huge, bulky rotweiller and a smaller, weasely-looking German shepherd with quite the cocky aura on him. Dressed in earth-toned Empire uniforms -the rank of which Alexander could not tell, for his knowledge on the Empire and its army was fairly limited-, the two dogs, with their right hands resting firmly on the handle of their blades stared sternly at him.
Are you the sculptor from the nearest town of Felidae? The smallest barked out, referring to the white ones kin by the formal term. The people there were so kind as to let us know of your location here... you do know why were here, I assume... Alexander knew that being wanted for whatever reason- by members of the canine empire was certainly not a good thing, particularly In the last 100 or so years, so this whole situation was not pleasing him at all.
Whats the matter? Cat got your tongue? He barked again, getting no response from the feline. A chuckle escaped his parted lips for a fraction of a moment as he said it, the joke actually having deeply rooted meaning between the canine and feline factions. However, needless to mention, it is of utmost humorous nature to the canines, and quite the contrary to the felines. We all have the Stake Valley inquisitions about 75 years ago to thank for such term, and the memories and implied connotations that the term carries.
Barely blinking, the darkly clad one darted his eyes from one figure to another, trying to anticipate any threatening motion that could be carried out. He considered making a run for it, quite sure that his natural agility far surpassed his adversaries. However, most of his sculpting equipment was either in his bag, or scattered around the tent, and he wouldnt allow himself to basically let his most valuable possessions on the hands of canine kin, who, according to lore, were never hesitant to take their fair share of loot out of any situation.
The shepherd scoffed, the felines quietness starting to get to him. Maybe this will jog your memory His hand was thrust under his cape and into some inner pockets, producing a small amulet, carefully crafted in marble, hanging from a small chain. It resembled a cross, but with small pointy triangles on each end, much like a trident. Despite being visibly covered in scratches and dirt, it still glistened in the sun.
Our most sacred symbol
the shorter one once again began, anger audibly growing in his voice. However, the one who was supposedly being addressed to wasnt paying that much attention, examining the cross-like thing in the dogs hand. He recognized it, but
it couldnt be
could it? How on earth did it end up on a canines hands?
Crafted by the filthy paws of a feline! BLASPHEMY! The exasperated guards loud words snapped the cat right out of his mental fiddlings, thinking it was wise to pay extra attention and come up with some sort of plan, while he was at it to the canines, now that they started to get more aggressive. Well, particularly the smaller one. The large one mostly stood still, with a grim expression on his face, not saying a word.
This is clearly a despicable insult to our glorious Gods, to our elders, and to us! He still rambled on, pointing accusing fingers and bearing his white teeth.
and those Gods Honor must be protected at all costs. That is why our superiors demand your presence, so an adequate
punishment may be issued. Looking away for a few moments he snuck the amulet back inside the inner pockets of his cape, giving his large companion a slight nod with the head, clearly sending him into action, now that all the formalities were apparently over with. The large black and brown figure lurched forward without a sound, slowly stepping closer and closer to the feline, who was dwarfed in comparison. His eyes were pitch black, and he had a scar across his left brow and cheek, adding to his intimidating demeanor.
Standing on his tiptoes, the member of the Felidae persuasion stared at the large figure almost obsessively, debating whether to run or stand still, whether to scurry away or to attack. He found himself soon enough only inches away from the hulking soldier, so those decisions were now obsolete. The rotweiller stared down on him, and with a firm, almost artificial motion, grabbed his work vest, squeezing the leathery material between his fingers with a creak. By now the poor cat was almost as if a puppet on the canines hands, that is, if the cat decided to stand still. He did, for a fraction of a second, before, in a faster-than-lightning motion flip his body around, shuffling out of his sleeveless work vest, and stumbling a few yards away, leaving the dumbfounded guard with a surprised and quickly growing angrier- look on his scarred face. With a snort he threw the vest to the ground with a dry thud, causing a small cloud of dust to rise. The smaller canine stepped closer, standing beside his companion.
So this is how its going to be. Your wretched kind is all the same, isnt it. Not even when faced with overwhelmingly superior forces you care to put your insolence aside. You think youre so clever, struggling for that false sense of pride and self-entitlement complex that all of you have. Well, no matter. You may have your kinds typical reflexes that allow you to pull all the flowery stunts you want, but that doesnt change the fact that we are soldiers of The Empire. And that youre coming with us. The good way or the hard way. And
unfortunately for you
He snorted, pulling out his shining blade You just chose the hard way.
Just as the shepherd finished his eloquent speech, the bigger canine also pulled out his sword, both of the soldiers now wielding their weapons in a rather menacing way. Alexander had by now pulled himself to his feet, and inched a few steps back, finding it wise to try and keep some distance between the increasingly aggressive canines, which seemed determined to have their way. He had to think of something, fast. As both menacing figures stepped closer, it hit him! He waited for both of them to step just a bit closer, and quickly he picked up two medium sized stones off the floor, and threw them at the canines, taking advantage of the time they used to either dodge the stones or block them off with their swords to run past them. The canines jumped into defensive poses just as they realized the feline was running towards them with reasonable speed, however, he did not attack, merely running past them towards his dusty and forgotten work vest, and, in one swift, and rather theatrical motion, picked it up and turned around in mid-air, landing with his claws dragging along the soil, using them as leverage to slow himself down and eventually come to a stop in a cloud of dust and debris. Such theatrics only served to enrage his adversaries even further.
ENOUGH! The talkative one shouted at the top of his lungs Ive had had it with this charade! This ends here and now! Nobody makes a fool out of us, much less a piece of sniveling Felidae filth such as yourself, and gets away with it! Never! Oh, you will pay, heretic!
He cussed, shouting and pointing fingers at the white-furred one, who calmly got into his vest and poked around inside, looking for one or other of his sculpting tools that could be useful to him should push come to shove. And, by the look of things, push would most definitely come to shove, and not a moment too late. His fingers came in contact with a most adequate iron stake, which he normally used to carve smaller details into his stone cutting. It would have to make due to carve something else, now.
With skillful fingers, he clutched the tool on his right hand, carefully keeping it away from his enemies sight, lest he lose the factor of surprise. Torso lowered and feet firmly pressed against the dirt, he stood, prepared for anything -or so he dearly hoped-. One would expect his breathing to be labored, especially after the agility-demonstrating spectacle he performed for his foes not long ago, but he looked calmed and serene, with a look of determination in his eye
If one could ignore the sweat droplets trickling down his forehead that clearly hinted at the hidden turmoil within, that is, for he was young, somewhat naïve, and not used to such confrontations, especially involving other than his own kin. Therefore, despite trying to keep his composure, he was hoping for some sort of ridiculous stroke from Lady Luck to help him get out of his predicament. Preferably in one piece.
The brown and black mountain of muscle came at him in a clumsy, but frighteningly heavy leap, branding his blade in a display of little skill but massive amount of torque, slicing the air with every strike. However, it was not long after the first lash, powered by brute force, rage, and a good dose of over-confidence that the smaller, most agile, and much, much faster opponent managed to find a suitable, and vulnerable place along the jugular to sink his makeshift weapon in, rendering the attacker into nothing more than a meaty boulder that collapsed with a grunt, into a cloud of dust and ever-growing blood puddle. Alexander pulled himself to his feet, stumbling while coughing, spitting and wiping his face, for he got quite the crimson shower when he buried the iron utensil inside skin and arteries.
The shepherd was being heard no more. He had laid flat in his tracks the moment his large companion did fell, and stared, motionless, with a broken expression on his face. Thinking of this as another routine service where all they had to do was bully some peasants and put them into bonds, the sight of his fallen comrade and the blood sprayed Felidae just a few feet away made things a little bit too real. Who knew that flimsy, skinny feline would actually be of any threat and carry out anything else than just run around frightened and eventually, submit in resigned defeat? And yet, there he stood, over the dead body of one of his own brothers, dripping blood from hands and muzzle, in a terrifying reminiscence to the ancient lore that many thought of as doubtful or overblown.
The Gods would have to forgive him this time, such was the thought that went though his mind at some point, as he desperately raced for dear life through the plains and valleys from whence he came. Alexander simply stared, in place, as the dust rose in the distance, and the sound of desperate footsteps became fainter. He knew what he was seeing, but the shock of just having slain someone was apparently too overwhelming for him to instantly fully acknowledge what had just happened. So he stared. At the distance, at his hands, at the body lying at its feet, then at his hands again. He let himself fall into a sitting position, and there he sat, silently.
It had begun.
* * *