A gentle afternoon found Dai the 1312th staring peacefully out the balcony window of his office. He heard the door open behind him and he turned around to see his secretary, a small Lupus, quietly make her way in.
She made a small, respectful bow towards him: “Dai, a Vipera male is requesting an audience?”
“Did you recognize him?” asked the Dai, leaning back in his chair lazily.
“Yes Dai, it’s the Vipera known as Passerby.”
He smiled knowingly: “Ah, Passerby. It’s been awhile hasn’t it Cassandra?”
“It’s been two years, three months, and fourteen days since his last visit. Shall I send him in Dai?” asked his secretary, Cassandra, with no visible emotion.
“Please do.” he said while waving her off.
She bowed again and a few minutes later Passerby walked through into the Dai’s office. He looked at the bookshelves blanketing the walls and gave a small smile.
“Has your collection increased again?” asked Passerby.
“Ah, you noticed. I received quite a few as gifts and traded for the others.” said the Dai leaning forward. Passerby noticed his almost boyish passion for his collection and smiled again, but he remembered why he was there and the smile soon vanished.
“I’m afraid that today isn’t a social call, Dai. I’ve been hearing disturbing things in my wanderings lately and I’m no longer of the opinion that they can be ignored.” said Passerby.
The Dai’s smile had faded. He checked his watch and waved for Passerby to sit down.
“I have a little time before the burning ceremony. What’s on your mind?” asked the Dai.
Passerby, sensing time was short, took his seat and asked: “Have you heard about the children that have been going missing?”
“Yes, what of it?” responded the Dai flatly.
Passerby was a little startled by the Dai’s quick, emotionless response, but continued: “It doesn’t concern you that someone or a group of someones are collecting children? This isn’t an isolated clan incident: Even my clan, which is normally secretive, has been whispering about missing outcasts.”
The Dai leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh and looked at the ceiling.
“What would you have me do about it?” asked the Dai.
“I think it’s obvious,” said Passerby. “You should use your position to find them.”
“Passerby…” began the Dai, “Before I say anything I think I should know exactly why it is that you think we should find them. Are you worried about someone raising an army, or, are you concerned about the children’s safety?”
Passerby opened his mouth to respond, but he stopped when he realized what was being asked. The Dai smiled sadly and continued:
“The children who have gone missing aren’t the ones that are loved and protected by their clans. If they were, you wouldn’t even be here because the clans would have already started a war trying to find them. No, the children are the sons of deceased Leo pride leaders, they’re the defanged Viperas, they’re the orphaned Dracons, they’re the Phoenixes reincarnated from criminals, and they’re the Lupus cubs who could not complete the right of passage test to become adults: In short, they’re the abandoned. Even if I did manage to find them sending them back to their clans would be the same as murdering them myself.”
There was a short silence in the room and outside the sound of Thread residents could be heard as they went about their day unconcerned. Passerby tapped his finger against the arm of his chair and glanced at the books arranged neatly on the shelves as he collected his thoughts. He recognized one historical volume written by the 1160th Dai called “The War of the Scales”.
“I’ll be the first to agree with you that the clans are far from perfect,” said Passerby considering the book. “But the secrecy involved in the spiriting away of the children makes the whole thing feel like anything but a philanthropic gesture. Whatever the kids are being used for I find it hard to believe that it’s for their benefit. Either they are in danger or the rest of Thread is.”
The Dai shook his head: “This city is always in danger. Though it may look peaceful now that the Lupus and Leo clans aren’t murdering each other in the streets, we’re always just one incident away from the whole city erupting into an all-out war. It takes all of my influence and their fear of my power just to keep them from rising without provocation. If I spend my limited resources looking and trying to fight some unknown the clans of Thread will get restless and start pointing fingers at each other. The best method for keeping peace is to continue acting as if nothing is wrong.”
Passerby’s voice adopted a slight hint of temper as he responded: “Collecting an army from all the clans could produce the very war you seek to prevent by continuing a charade of ignorance. Wasn’t the war of the scales partially the responsibility of the 1160th for not acting even though he knew the Viperas were murdering members of other clans in secret? If you’re worried about using up too many of your resources why not just delegate the task to one of the clans?”
The Dai raised one of his eyebrows in mock humor, but his steely face made it quite clear that nothing about this conversation was funny.
“It’s more often the case that a Dai’s direct involvement causes a fight rather than preventing one. The war of the scales was an exception not the rule, just like you Passerby. I’m afraid though that giving that kind of executive power to any clan is not something I can give. Which clan would I trust with such a task? The new Lupus and Leo clan heads are full of bloodlust, the Dracons are still in disorder due to the increase of gold addiction, the Phoenix are far too proud to admit there’s a problem, and the Vipera’s are too unpredictable to be trustworthy.”
Passerby considered for a moment before responding.
“Then create a cross clan task force. Ask for representatives and volunteers from all five clans that would be answerable to you only during the investigation.”
The Dai shook his head again and smiled: “You’re creating the very thing you fear: An army consisting of all five clans answerable to someone the clans already resent. Either the task force would be considered too powerful and dangerous to exist by the clans or they would turn it into a joke. I cannot have this position become a joke.”
Passerby couldn’t keep the small contemptuous sneer from his face at those words. “You’re worried about your Prestige more than the city falling into chaos?”
The Dai shook his head “The power I hold isn’t that much Passerby. If the clans no longer respect me they will destroy me and then destroy each other. This city is hanging over a chasm with the tiniest of supports keeping it from falling. If someone cuts the chord we’re all finished.”
There was a knock on the office door and Cassandra poked her head into the office.
“Dai, it’s time for the burning ceremony.” said Cassandra.
“Ah, thank you Cassandra,” said the Dai. She exited the room and the Dai shifted his gaze back to Passerby. “If that will be all Passerby, I’m afraid I must be going. It would be disrespectful to be late.”
Passerby stood from his chair and gave a small respectful bow the Dai.
“I wouldn’t want you to be late and regret it,” said Passerby with the smallest hint of anger still present in his voice. “I take my leave now 1312, may your life be long and your wisdom undimmed.” He said more respectfully, but he was thinking: “You’re a fool Dai if you think someone hasn’t already cut the thread we’re hanging by.”
In the tunnel beneath the city of Thread Passerby had finally reached the stairs that lead to the surface. He was still carrying the sleeping Cloudless and his arms were burning from the exertion. Now that there wasn’t any danger of him touching gold he put him down safely on the stairs to take a short break before continuing.
Passerby’s hands found their way to the burned parts of his face and he winced in pain. The memory of his conversation with the Dai had been running through his head for a while now: Ever since he had walked into that stark white room with the 1312’s dead body.
“I guess you were more arrogant than I thought.” said Passerby to his memory as there was nothing conscious around to receive his words. “You’re dead, your son is missing, and the city didn’t erupt into an all-out war. I guess that just makes you a stupid, dumb, idiotic…” He didn’t finish. He moved his hands to his face again and discovered there was water running down his cheeks. Beside him Cloudless snorted himself awake. His vision was still hazy, but he squinted to get Passerby in focus.
“Do your wounds really hurt that much?” Cloudless asked when he saw the light reflecting water off Passerby’s face.
“No,” said Passerby wiping at his face with his sleeve. “I just splashed myself with some water.” He winced in pain when his burned tongue hit the top of the burned roof of his mouth.
“Is that so?” said Cloudless now unconcerned. “Water’s delicious, reminds me of this one time I… I…” he cut himself off with a giant yawn and his eyes started to close again.
“My eyelids feel so heavy today,” said Cloudless as his voice began to drift a little. “Normally Dracons only sleep well around other Dracons. Why do you think it’s so easy when I’m with you?” he asked though he wasn’t really concerned with the answer.
Before Passerby could answer though Cloudless’s eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright. “Someone’s coming?” he said to Passerby in a whisper.
Passerby got to his feet though he didn’t really feel like he had another fight in him. “How do you know someone’s there? I don’t hear or see anything.”
Cloudless beamed a smile at Passerby that lacked any resemblance to the sleepy face that had been present only a moment ago. “I woke up. There must be someone there.”
Sure enough a brilliant red light appeared from around the spiral stairway temporarily blinding Passerby and Cloudless who had grown used to the dim lighting of the tunnel.
For a moment Passerby thought Cece had returned to finish the pair of them off, but instead of the fire of a phoenix a heavy form tackled him backwards into the water. He thrashed wildly as his head under and the tackle had knocked the wind out of him: He was drowning. The heavy form continued to pin him and he felt his consciousness fading fast. He could hear some muffled noise above the water and the person pinning him released him and then lifted him effortlessly.
Passerby hacked for air for a few seconds while dots danced in front of his vision.
“I guess it really is Passerby,” said a voice Passerby recognized, but couldn’t place in his current circumstances. He looked up and discovered a Lupus hunting pack, one of which was standing above him, and the phoenix which had been responsible for the bright light. Cloudless was standing next to Passerby, defensively, and he could feel the cool air radiating around his body. There were scales covering his hands and his muscles were bulkier than they had been a second ago. He had partially transformed making him a very threatening figure.
“Relax Dracon,” said the Phoenix contemptuously. “We’ll accept that you’re part of the representative group that was sent to investigate the dead Dai.”
The Lupus who had tackled Passerby mumbled “my bad.” to him.
“You know why we’re here then… <cough cough> The question is why are you here?” asked Passerby getting a good look at them now. He recognized the two female and two males now that comprised the other four members of Jason’s hunting Pack. The males were: the one who had tackled him Alcaeus and the other was Marcus; the females were Andromache and Helen. The phoenix was Asher, a prince of one of the three noble houses. From what Passerby recalled he was an arrogant brat.
Asher’s eyes narrowed in anger at Passerby’s question, but he answered all the same. “I’m the Phoenix representative of course. I was attacked on my way to the meeting, no doubt people terrified of my vast power, and ended up being delayed as I dispensed of the trash.”
Alcaeus visibly winced at Asher’s tone while Andromache shrugged at Passerby and gave him a wink indicating he shouldn’t mind.
Cloudless looked a bit confused: “But wasn’t Cece the Phoenix representative.”
“No,” Passerby responded first. “It makes far more sense for him to be the representative than someone I didn’t know like Cece. It’s likely whoever attacked him was trying to plant Cece down here with us.”
Cloudless looked satisfied, but a look of horror replaced it a second later: “Than does that mean Jason and Keiri aren’t who they said they were either? Is one of them a villain sent to kill us all off?” he asked.
The hunting pack looked a little angry at Cloudless’s words so Passerby talked quickly again. “No, that’s not possible either. This is Jason’s hunting pack and Keiri is part of the Leo head’s pride. It’s very unlikely there were any other plants besides Cece.”
“Yes, quite…” said Asher. He was clearly annoyed that he was being ignored while Passerby answered Cloudless’s questions. Asher continued: “Now that I’m here things can progress the way that they are supposed. Now, you there, the Vipera Passerby fellow, I demand you answer all of my…”
“Where’s Jason?” asked Helen cutting off Asher completely. Asher looked like he was about to start yelling, but Alcaeus and Marcus gave him a look that made him turn away from the group to sulk.
Passerby pointed down the long tunnel and responded: “Jason led us here by following the scent of the 1313th, but there’s a fork in the tunnel. We split up to look for the Dai. I went right with the fake Phoenix representative Cece and was attacked. I managed to sink my fangs in her, but she disappeared. If Jason isn’t back by now he must still be down the left tunnel with the Leo Keiri. I haven’t seen anyone else, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility that there are more clan members working with Cece.”
The pack gave each other meaningful looks and seemed to come to a silent decision. They turned without speaking and began loping down the tunnel, almost silently if not for the splashing water.
Passerby called after them as they left, “I trust you to bring Keiri back as well.” Then after some consideration he also shouted: “And she better be alive!”
Keiri woke up in darkness. Her hands and feet were shackled to whatever she was laying on and her head hurt immensely. She tried pulling her hands through the shackles, but they were far too tight.
“Jason,” she called out into the darkness with the small hope that he was nearby.
“You’re awake,” responded a voice. It wasn’t Jason’s but she vaguely remembered it from somewhere. It was different though: Deeper, older. A bright light came on shining directly into her face. She closed her eyes and tried to look away, but due to the large metal slab she was shackled to, she couldn’t.
“I’m going to ask you a series of questions and you are going to answer them.” said the same voice. She squinted and could barely make out a shadowy figure standing behind the light.
Keiri smirked even though she was very uncomfortable: “What do you need help with your homework or something?”
“Question:” said the shadowy figure ignoring her provocation. “What does Bander Arro love the most?”
Keiri stopped smirking. Bander Arro was the head of her Pride. He had been for around the past thirteen years. Her Pride was also the in charge of all the others, thus making Bander Arro into something equivalent to the king of the Leo, also known as the head.
“I’ll repeat the question. What does…”
“I heard,” said Keiri cutting him off. The shadowy figure waited for her to continue. “He loves cotton candy.”
Keiri smirked again; it was about all she could do.
“You should be serious Keiri,” said the shadowy figure. There was no malice in the voice, but a shiver went up her spine all the same.
“How do you know who I am?” she asked the figure.
“What does Bander Arro love the most?” the voice in the darkness asked again.
“Rephrasing the question: Who does Bander Arro love the most?” asked the shadowy figure.
“His mother,” responded Keiri.
“Rephrasing the question: Who alive does Bander Arro love the most?” asked the shadowy figure.
Keiri thought about it seriously. Not because she was going to answer truthfully, but because it was actually a really good question. Did Bander love anyone? Before she could stop herself she answered what she actually thought:
The shadowy figure paused before continuing. “This is probably true. Next question: Thirteen years ago did you assist in hiding the young sons of the previous Leo head.”
Keiri was stunned. No one should know that, not even the boy’s mothers should know that it was her who helped hide them.
“Who are you?” asked Keiri.
“That was an affirmative answer. Next question: Did you lead Bander Arro to the hiding Leo cubs?” asked the voice with a quiet rumble.
“Rephrasing the question: Did you willfully participate in the slaughter of the twelve sons of the previous Leo head?”
“I would never!…” she began angrily, but the voice cut her off.
“You were the only one who knew where they were, yes?”
… She couldn’t respond.
“That’s an affirmative answer.” the shadowy figure continued, “Bander found them yes?”
“I didn’t lead…”
“That’s an affirmative answer.”
“I DIDN’T LEAD HIM TO THEM!” she shouted at the shadowy figure.
“Then how were they found!?” the voice snapped back. She recognized it now, the voice of the shadowy figured belonged to the Leo in the picture, the voice of a Leo who should not be among the living, the voice of a boy who was killed by Bander Arro thirteen years ago with all of his brothers.
“Dabookman?” she whispered to the shadowy figure.
“Next question: Where and when is the Lupus Leo summit?” said the shadowy figure regaining control of his emotions.
“Is that really you Dabookman?” asked Keiri.
“Repeating the question: Where and when is the Lupus Leo summit?”
“Dabookman, I don’t know how he found you. I thought only you, your brothers, and I knew where that hideout was, but when I went there and saw… and saw…” Keiri’s voice broke up a little. “I don’t like what happened,” she continued after regaining control of her voice. “I won’t say it’s the Leo way either, because it shouldn’t be. But, I’m so glad you’re alive…”
Dabookman had always been her favorite half-brother, so when their father, the previous head, had been killed she helped them hide. Bander had found them though, and killed all of them. Or so she had been told.
“Dabookman, are any of the others alive? Did anyone else manage to escape?”
“Liar…” whispered the shadowy figure.
“It’s your fault…” said Dabookman from behind the light. “You’re the reason they’re all dead.”
Keiri paused and listened to Dabookman’s now audible breathing from behind the light: “Dabookman I did not lead or tell Bander where you were hiding.”
“Then who did?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s your fault.”
“I didn’t do it.”
Dabookman mauled the light with his fist and it crashed into the ground leaving them in complete darkness.
“I knew he couldn’t handle it,” said a male voice from behind Keiri.
“Boookman be angry go ‘grrrr’” said the voice of a young female in the same general direction of the male voice.
“Sorry,” said Dabookman in the darkness. “That was too emotional of me. I thought I had left all of that behind. I guess I couldn’t face my betrayer afterall.”
“Dabookman I didn’t…” Keiri began.
“Shutup Keiri; I should have known you would be on his side. Even our mothers were on his side. I’m sick of your lies.” said Dabookman not concealing his rage.
“That’s no good Dabookman,” said the male voice from before, like a mother chastising her child. Only this time he was right next to Keiri and she felt a claw brush down the side of her cheek. “This kid has got some knowledge we’ll be needing for our little revenge plot.”
“What’s the point ~Baka, she’s not going to actually tell us anything?” asked Dabookman.
The male voice, ~Baka, laughed beside her. “Oh, she’ll tell us something. You just weren’t using the right motivation.”
Where there was no malice in Dabookman’s voice ~Baka’s voice was dripping with it.
“Blood goes ‘sploosh’” said the young female voice from before.
~Baka laughed again and replied “That’s right Daisy, blood goes ‘sploosh’.”
I hope you enjoyed part 4 of Thread. I had a lot of fun writing it! With any luck more will be coming soon as there are quite a few characters in motion now. I love comments :D!!