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A Deal in the Darkness

A Deal in the Darkness

Vorschau lesen

A Deal in the Darkness

Länge:
455 Seiten
6 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Dec 14, 2016
ISBN:
9781941637364
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

When he wakes up as a fox, Renard Kendrick knows something has gone horribly wrong. Even though he’s lost his memory and knows little other than his name.

Not only is he imprisoned in a body he can barely control, he’s held captive by the vixen, Adriana. Suspicious of her motives to keep him, when escape presents itself in the form of a bird named Jabbers, Renard takes it.

Determined to discover the mystery of his past, Renard takes refuge with a group of “manimals” – a village of carnivores. But Adriana’s dog soldiers are not far behind, and she is willing to go to war to retrieve her prize.

Renard must decide whether he will escape yet again or stand and fight with his new friends. Both choices are risky and Renard’s inexperience as a manimal is a liability either way.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Dec 14, 2016
ISBN:
9781941637364
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor


Buchvorschau

A Deal in the Darkness - Allan B. Anderson

A DEAL IN

THE DARKNESS

The Last Chronicle of Azurden

Allan B. Anderson

Table of Contents

Dedication

Preface

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

About the Author

Also from Ellysian Press

About Ellysian Press

A Deal in the Darkness

Allan B. Anderson

www.ellysianpress.com

A Deal in the Darkness

© Copyright Allan B. Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.

Print ISBN: 978-1-941637-37-1

First Edition, 2016

Editor: Jen Ryan, Imagine That Editing

Cover Art: M Joseph Murphy

Ebooks/Books are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared, or given away, as this is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Dedication

Dedicated to my father for all his love and support.

You are missed.

Preface

As I sit here in the glow of the candlelight, I find myself asking: Why try to record history again? Sadly, this is not my world. I am not a part of its past, nor do I have much bearing on the things that happen here. Most everything I have known is lost, my library was destroyed, and my true master and age-old friend is long dead. In fact, my own continued existence is owed only to an act of mercy, or perhaps guilt. In either case, since I am no longer bound to the service for which I was created, why do I not just fly away, leave this all behind, and dwell in the memories of the past?

I suppose, if I’m honest with myself, it’s because, regardless of my circumstances, I enjoy recording history. It’s why I did it in the first place and why I feel I should try to do it again. But where to begin? Should I start with the creation stories of this world? Go into my own world’s history? Or perhaps discuss the events that caused their two paths to cross? No, I think in this case it would simply be better to pick up where I left off, at the end. For the end is but a prelude to a new beginning and the reason why I find myself here today.

So then, we start with a fox, a humble canine known for being clever, sly, and having an affinity for digging holes and stealing chickens. A common subject for children’s fables and stories about the consequences of theft and selfishness. Why a fox? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. Fate perhaps? Random chance? Even now, after having poured through all of my notes, my collected journals, and my maps, it still amazes me how it wound up that way.

But perhaps it shouldn’t. For as we open on a dark night, with the wind blowing faintly through an abandoned courtyard, it is indeed selfishness that motivates the figure approaching an old altar that reflects the moonlight as it sits in the middle of several metallic spires. The gleam of potential success shines in her eyes as she begins to chant, blind to the nature of what it is she is about to bring into her world.

-Archimede

Aka. The Sky Whale

Chapter One

The Vixen

The sudden shock of being dropped on cold metal came as a rude awakening to his senses. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t move. He could hardly breathe.

Make sure this one gets to the keep in one piece, came the voice of a young woman. Last thing I need are unexplained injuries. There was a grunt in response. A moment later a hand caressed the side of his face. I’m so glad I found you. The power . . . the promise . . . the answer to all of my prayers. He felt something pull at the back of his spine and the ground began to shift beneath him. Don’t drag him you morons! Carry him as I instructed you to!

Sorry, Madame, came a gruff but worried response. But you know how most of us feel about these . . . things. When they first come out . . .

Don’t make me repeat myself, replied the woman. Get him back to my keep and make sure he’s comfortable, or else.

He felt several hands grab him, and the cold ground fell away. After a moment, it returned, but instead of being cold, it was warm and covered in hair. Though his mind screamed for answers, he felt himself already slipping back into unconsciousness.

* * *

A ray of light pierced through the shadows. Feeling began to return, but as it did his skin felt odd, and everything else felt disjointed and out of place. Opening his eyes, something orange and fuzzy, with a black tip, poked out beneath his hazy vision, but still waking, he dismissed it, and rolled over on what he assumed to be a bed, given to him, perhaps, by the voices that claimed to have found him. The word found, however, suddenly triggered an alarm in his head. He tried to force his vision to clear more quickly and noticed his guess not far off as white sheets and a fluffy quilt came into focus around him.

Realizing the bed wasn’t his, or any bed he had ever seen before, he shot up and looked around to see stone walls of bluish gray, intricately carved wooden furniture, and a single window off to his right from which the light had come. For a moment, he sat there, taking it all in, but as his mind tried to make connections and rational thought began to return, he again noticed the protrusion beneath his vision. As he lifted a hand in an attempt to remove it, he gasped, unable to recognize the fuzzy thing he brought up instead. It still looked like a hand, in a sense, but the digits were shorter, and the fingertips and palm were black puffy pads instead of the skin he was used to. Black fur covered the rest of it, and each short finger now had a small black claw instead of a fingernail. With panic taking hold, it began to shake uncontrollably, and he kicked off the covers to see what else might now be horribly wrong with him.

His breath caught in his chest upon seeing that his feet and legs now looked like they belonged to a large dog. His feet were completely canid, both large paws with black fur and claws. His legs had rusty orange fur covering the outsides and white fur padding his inner thighs. Unable to believe what he saw, he tried to wiggle a toe, and nearly fainted when he saw it react. Slowly, his eyes followed the fur up his legs, hoping to see it end somewhere, but he only found more of it. Whatever sleep remained quickly left him, and as he became fully alert, he realized the orange protrusion at the bottom of his vision was a canine muzzle. His canine muzzle.

He sat there in disbelief, hoping it was all a lucid dream he would soon wake up from. For a short time, he found comfort in the thought. However, when he couldn’t wake, he took two claws and pinched the skin beneath a patch of fur on his arm. Pain answered, and as he began to bleed, the hope of illusion vanished. Panic rushed in to fill the void. Through quick and heavy breaths, his hand-like paws went everywhere, testing every inch of his strange body, hoping to find something familiar. All he found was more fur, more strange canine musculature. As he reached behind him, he froze upon discovering he could feel sensations through a large fluffy lump behind him. He turned his head, unable to believe the feeling, and discovered a large tail, covered in the same rusty fur as the rest of him, with a dash of white at the tip. He recognized it as a fox’s tail, answering, to some degree, the question of what he was, while making the still-pressing issue of why that much more important.

Shaking, he tried to remember what happened and how he got there. He wondered if he had gotten drunk, or if he had been ambushed. Perhaps he had unknowingly become part of some twisted experiment. No matter how hard he tried, nothing came, adding to his horror as even the unlikeliest of possibilities remained plausible. He struggled a bit more, eager to claw up anything he could grab hold of, and slowly, something surfaced. A name. His name. Renard Kendrick.

He sighed, exhausted but relieved, to have found a flickering beacon in the sea of darkness that was his mind. At least if he knew his name, he could discover who he was and what had happened to him. But as he again looked down at his canid body, he began to wonder if he would accept the answer. A prisoner, a lab rat, or an amnesiac fox, he was determined to find out which. As he looked around for any clues, his eyes landed on an open door in the right corner of the room. Eager to discover something, or escape, he lifted his legs over the side of the bed, but as he tried to stand upon them, he immediately fell to the hard stone floor. The balance had been all wrong, as if his legs were suddenly taken from him and replaced with sticks. Using his hands as another set of paws, he pushed himself up and found to his dismay that the stance seemed almost natural, as if he truly were now a four-legged creature, an animal. Tears began to well up in his eyes as thoughts of being someone’s pet, or some stray from the woods, began to seem more likely. But a part of him refused to accept that fate and knew for some reason it couldn’t be true. In an effort to maintain some dignity, he used the nearest post of the bed to pull himself back up to a two-legged position. It took him a few minutes to find a proper stance, and as he adjusted, he found his tail would sway to provide a counter to each movement, providing the balance necessary to stay upright. His legs protested under the weight, but he didn’t care. As he began to make small steps forward, he decided if he was going to be stuck like this, at least for a time, he would do so under his own rules.

Now able to walk, to a degree, he began to head for the door, but as he did so, a glint of light caught his attention. He turned to see a large standing mirror veiled in shadow at the opposite corner of the room. One foot at a time, and wobbling with almost every step, he approached it. He couldn’t help but be awestruck as he recognized nothing in his bright yellow vulpine eyes, or the strange way his black-tipped pointy ears now twitched in confusion atop his head. He looked very much like a large red fox, standing on its hind legs, with its tail slowly making its way between them. Only his hands looked different, as they possessed a small thumb instead of a dew claw, and the digits could still be flexed to some degree. As he watched however, taking in everything he now was, another flash of orange appeared in the mirror, and he quickly turned to see another fox standing in the doorway behind him.

I see you’re awake, came the alluring and familiar voice of the vixen. For some reason, she wore a lacy pink gown, and like him, also walked on her hind legs. He didn’t understand why, or what she wanted from him, but despite the soft voice and oddly comforting smile, he could tell there was something about her that made his spine run cold. So, how is my big, handsome boy doing this morning?

He stared back in silence, wondering if, or how, he should even answer.

The quiet type I see, she said as she approached and began to reach up to caress his muzzle. Come now, don’t be so shy.

He drew back in concern and almost fell over upon backing into the mirror. Wha— he shouted in surprise as the mirror began to flip and forced him to lean against the nearby wall for support. Hanging on with his claws, he quickly pulled himself back up and began to mouth things he wanted to say. I . . . I can talk? He recognized the voice as somehow being his, which pulled his thoughts and concerns in different directions while being somewhat grateful it hadn’t come out as yips or barks.

Of course you can talk, answered the vixen as she extended a paw as if to help. Did you think you couldn’t? I suppose if you had taken to barking I would still be able to understand you, but I find this method much more prefer—

What did you do to me? shouted Renard, his eyes becoming wild as he looked back up at the vixen. Noticing her paw, he snarled at it, forcing her to draw it away. Why am I here? Who are you?

The vixen stepped back as her smile disappeared. Who am I? I’m the one who saved you from an eternity of torment. That’s who I am. Don’t you remember anything? We had a deal, Renard.

Renard? asked the shaking fox as his anger gave way to even more confusion. How do you know my name? Who are you?

The vixen sighed and shook her head. I have to admit, this is one thing I do get tired of, but I suppose it’s not surprising. Memory loss is a common side effect of what you’ve been through. It should come back, with time. However, her smile returned and a mischievous gleam twinkled in her eyes, you have no need to worry about it. Whatever you left behind is just that, behind you. You have a new home now, and a new life. I’m sure you’ll grow to like it.

I don’t want . . . this! shouted Renard as he held his paw-like hands out in front of him. Change me back! Send me home!

Could you please stop with the shouting? asked the vixen. You’re hurting my ears. I could hear you at almost any volume you know. Your behavior is most unnecessary.

Unnecessary?! Renard began to stomp toward the vixen before tripping and falling over in front of her. She giggled at the sight, seeming to have no concern over his anger.

Still getting used to things I see. Honestly, Renard, you’re overreacting. Whatever horrifying scenarios you’re coming up with in that fuzzy head of yours, I can assure you there is little to no truth to them. With a flash of amusement and a subtle wag of her tail, she turned to leave. You obviously aren’t ready for introductions, so for now, consider this. If you cannot remember how you wound up here, why are you so certain you should want to go back?

Wait! he yelped, cringing as the demand came out more akin to a bark.

Yes? asked the vixen, looking back down at him.

He pushed himself up to all fours, presenting a slightly more dignified look than being sprawled. At least tell me where I am.

The vixen narrowed her eyes but maintained her calm, mischievous demeanor. You’re in my home, of course. What were you expecting?

I meant a name, replied Renard. A country. A continent.

What good would it do? asked the vixen. You would not recognize any name I gave you. It would only add to your fear and confusion. You need to relax. Get better acquainted with yourself. When you have calmed down and are ready to speak in a friendlier tone, then we can better discuss your situation.

We can discuss it now! snapped Renard.

The vixen sighed. With me standing over you as if you’re some mongrel? That’s degrading for both of us. She reached out as if to pet him, but again Renard backed away. Denied, she gave him a sour look, but quickly replaced it with another smile and again headed for the door. I’ll be by to check on you later. For now, just know that my home is open to you. Feel free to explore it, provided you don’t cause any problems.

Renard watched the vixen go, unsure of how to react to her. He supposed he could have been kinder given her claim to have saved him, but even with his memory loss, he could tell she was hiding something behind her coy grin.

Rising to his back legs, he wondered if it would be wise to take the vixen up on her invitation immediately. If she were hiding something, she would not simply let him stumble upon it. He turned his attention to the window and figured if she would not provide him answers, he would do what he could on his own. After stumbling up to it, he looked through the glass, but the latticing that crisscrossed it made things difficult to make out. He couldn’t get closer due to his nose, so he started fumbling around the frame for a latch. Finding one near the top, he removed it with his claws after some effort, and gave the window a gentle push.

A light cool breeze swept through the fur on his face as the window swung open, bringing with it a plethora of smells from the lush green garden below. Some smells he recognized, such as cherry blossoms, chives, and lilacs, but others he didn’t, and could only guess as to what they were. None, however, provided any clues as to his location since he could not remember where he had smelled even the scents he recognized. Looking down, any thought of an exit quickly faded as he discovered there was at least one more floor beneath him, making any attempt at jumping out likely to result in a broken leg. He sighed, looking over the garden to see if he could recognize anything.

In its center stood a large marble fountain with four statues of giant fish carved to look as if they were jumping out of the glistening basin. Trimmed hedges and rainbows of flower beds surrounded it, all crisscrossed by a mix of stone and dirt pathways. A nearby willow swayed back and forth in the wind, while the stone benches beneath invited passersby to rest. More cultivated trees and bushes blended together in the near distance, while just beyond them he could make out a tall stone wall. Unlike the garden however, the wall looked to be in a terrible state, with vines crawling up it, and stones missing from places the vines didn’t cover. Visible just over the wall, a broadleaf forest danced in the distance, and, though faint, his sharper ears could pick up the sounds of crashing waves.

So, there’s an ocean nearby, he said to himself, or at least a large lake. Still doesn’t tell me anything. This could be an island for all I know.

Still curious about the room, he looked back at the bed, wondering if anything might have fallen off him and been left upon the sheets and blankets. He found nothing, save for a smattering of rusty colored fur, but the bed’s headboard quickly drew his attention. Upon its surface was carved a scene that looked as if taken from a story book. Many animals stood at the edge of a forest, looking at a castle in the distance with the sun behind it. They were standing as he was, providing some clue, he hoped, as to the place’s inhabitants, but again he didn’t recognize any part of what the scene depicted. Instead, it only made his questions that much more prevalent, and though he was still foggy as to what he had looked like before waking up here, he knew he hadn’t been an animal.

On the other side of the bed was a beautifully carved nightstand, but as there was nothing on it, his eyes quickly moved to a wardrobe standing opposite. He slowly approached it, guessing he’d find clothes for a male fox, but there was nothing more than a bare hanging bar and the wooden paneling. Though the room still contained a dresser, he ignored it, suspecting it would be empty as well, and instead headed for the door.

Before stepping through, he poked his head out to see what awaited him. The room appeared to be at the end of a small corridor with another door opposite his. Red carpet ran down the length, crossing over what appeared to be a wooden balcony before reaching another corridor at the far end. A grand staircase branched off just before the second corridor. He stepped onto the soft carpet and tried the door opposite him first. To little surprise, he found it locked, providing further evidence as to the hollowness of the vixen’s invitation. As he went to try the other doors along the back wall and in the second corridor, he looked over the balustrade to see a large room below. Light poured in from two large windows, both in the same arched shape with latticing like the window in the bedroom he’d just left. They revealed more of the forest that appeared to surround the place. Looking down, he saw the floor beneath him fairly bare, save for a large rug depicting a woven white fox on a blue backdrop. It sat in front of a pair of sturdy wooden doors, placed to welcome any who came through them.

Torn between trying the other doors on the second floor or heading down and trying to get outside, he decided his time was better spent getting away from the vixen as opposed to exploring more of her home. Keeping a hand on the balustrade for support, he headed for the stairs while wondering if his balance was good enough to make it all the way down without tumbling. To bolster his courage, he took several deep breaths at the top before sticking out the first paw, hoping his pads wouldn’t slip on the polished wood. Though it took longer than he would have liked, having to pause on each step, a wave of relief washed over him as his paws touched the cold stone at the bottom.

He prepared to bolt for the doors, eager to test them, before noticing things he couldn’t see from the second floor. Along the back wall hung three paintings, all unfamiliar, uninteresting landscapes, while between them two archways led into another room. There was little to no light back there, however, and so he could only make out the dim outlines of several chairs and what he presumed was the end of a large table. A niggling sense of curiosity encouraged him to explore it, but a greater sense of urgency demanded he try and leave. After shaking off the former, he continued toward the doors, only to freeze as he came between the two archways on opposite walls. This time, he couldn’t bring himself to simply keep going, as off to his left he saw several large paintings, each of animal-like creatures such as himself, displayed as if in some form of small gallery. Again, he recognized nothing depicted, but the oddity presented more promise than he had come across thus far. Turning to his right, a comfortable looking sitting room was furnished with several chairs and a couch, but it was another unfamiliar painting that drew his attention, this time of a man fighting a dragon.

He decided to bury his curiosity, at least for the moment. If the doors were locked, as he suspected they might be, he could explore the rooms later, but if they weren’t, escape remained more important. Walking up to the doors, he carefully grabbed one of the iron ring handles and, with a slight tug, found the door opened with ease. He stepped back, expecting some form of trap, but as daylight washed over him and the fresh air once again greeted his nostrils, he saw why the door wasn’t locked.

The doors opened into a small courtyard surrounded by the same stone wall he had seen from the garden. But unlike the garden, only grass grew, with a small dirt track that meandered its way toward a quaint but sturdy stone gate house. An iron portcullis blocked the only visible exit, and two guards stood on either side of it. They weren’t foxes, but two large, pointy-eared dogs, that stood on their hind legs and stared forward as if they were statues. Each was a different color, with the dog on the right possessing a deep black coat that covered him from head to toe and the other sporting a white pelt with brown spots. Both held long spears at attention and wore a shining, unmarked breastplate, while on their heads rested bright metal helmets that looked like caps with gaps on each side for their ears. As he stepped from the building, neither dog seemed to pay much attention to him, so he began to approach, wondering if they would give him any of the answers the vixen wouldn’t.

Halfway down the path, he turned around to see if he recognized the place he had just walked out of. He didn’t, but at least he knew what it looked like. The vixen appeared to live in a stone manor house that had a sloped, shingled roof and two uniform rows of latticed windows. Given the walls, he had expected something more like a castle, but the only element even resembling such a structure was a single round tower on the manor’s left side. Its crenulated top rose above the roof, and it possessed only a small window that was high enough to look out over the wall and into the forest beyond. Above the doors, and between the upper windows, something appeared to have been carved into a large slab at one point and time, but whether through nature, or intent, it now looked like little more than rough stone shapes on a soupy backdrop. He thought he could make out a letter among the mess, but the damage was just too great, so he turned back toward the two canines and continued on his way.

Hi there, said Renard as he approached them. Either of you have any idea where we are?

Both guards stood silent, staring at him as if he had just ruined a joke.

All right then, he continued, do you know what this place is called?

Again, they gave no response.

Growing concerned, Renard thought it might be best to go back inside. However, as he began to turn around, a familiar voice cried out from the keep’s doorway.

They won’t talk to you, called the vixen as she started strolling down the path on her hind legs.

Why? asked Renard.

Still smiling as she approached, she quickly glanced at both of the sentries. Because I’ve told them not too.

What? said Renard, his face betraying a greater sense of caution than shock. Why not?

Because, what would be the point? replied the vixen. They don’t know who you are. They don’t care. They are only concerned with one simple fact. You are my guest, and you are not to be bothered. She turned to the guard with black fur. Isn’t that right? The dog nodded, and the vixen’s smile widened. Good boy.

Bothered? said Renard. I was the one bothering them. In fact, I’m more bothered by the fact they’re under orders not to answer any of my questions.

Why is that? asked the vixen, turning to face him. They are servants, laborers, hired help. They are not as educated or as intelligent as I am. Any answer they give you might well only add to your confusion, if they aren’t outright wrong.

Renard watched as the guard further away furrowed his brow, but as the vixen quickly turned to the dog, it returned to stony attention. But you’ve told me nothing, said Renard. You haven’t even told me your name.

Haven’t I? replied the vixen, again facing the fox as her eyes seemed to light up in surprise. Oh, but that’s right! How rude of me. But can you truly blame me, Renard? You were being a bit snappy.

Can you blame me? argued Renard.

The vixen’s smile seemed to falter, but after a deep breath and a few quick blinks, it remained. "You’re right. I should apologize. Perhaps I expected too much of you too soon. My name is Adriana. Some have taken it upon themselves to call me Adrian, but they are wrong. As my guest, I’d advise you against the use of such lazy slights.

Very well, Adriana, said Renard. When can I leave?

Leave? asked the vixen. Already? And where would you go? What would you do? She began walking around Renard, seeming to contemplate something as she looked him over. Surely you don’t mean to simply take your chances in the forest? After all, you aren’t a little woodland fox. You would starve, or be eaten. I can teach you much while you’re here. I will teach you much. But it will require time and patience.

Which is a lot to ask, said Renard, as I don’t even know what I’m doing here.

What is here? asked Adriana as her gaze again met Renard’s. As you don’t know what you’re doing here, where you’re from, or perhaps even what you were, how do you know this isn’t the place you came from?

I don’t recognize any of it, replied Renard, and I’ve certainly never been a fox before.

Perhaps you have, said the vixen, and perhaps you haven’t. But as I’ve told you before, Renard, it doesn’t matter. You are here now, thanks to me, and for that there is a small debt for which I am owed.

And why should I believe you?

Adriana flinched slightly at the comment, and one of her ears began to wiggle a little, but still she maintained her prim and courteous tone. I understand your skepticism, Renard, it is our nature after all. However, the question can also be asked as to why you shouldn’t believe me. I have not been cruel to you. In fact, I have been welcoming and tolerant. I have promised you answers and knowledge, even though I don’t believe it wise to present these to you all at once. In fact, our arrangement required I help you and take care of you, at least for a time, whereas—

And what’s my part of this arrangement? asked Renard.

Again Adriana looked as if brushing off an insult, A service, to be rendered when you are ready. Before you start asking what that service is, I’ll remind you it doesn’t matter whether you know or not. You agreed to it, and I promise I’ll tell you what it is when it comes time to perform it, if you haven’t already remembered. As she began to walk past Renard, she reached up and gently brushed a few claws across his shoulder. When he pulled back, looking ready to snap at her, she withdrew her hand with an innocent look. What’s the matter? You don’t like being touched?

You do? asked Renard.

Well I . . . Never mind, said Adriana, I’ll refrain if it bothers you. She turned and continued toward the manor. Come. Lunch will be served soon. The bedroom you woke up in is yours. And if you have further questions about my home, I’ll be glad to answer them.

Not knowing what else to do, Renard looked through the portcullis to see the dirt track continue into the woods. He then looked at each guard in turn, but both continued to act as if he wasn’t even there. If I were to try and leave, would you stop me?

Neither dog gave a response.

Defeated, Renard sighed and turned back to the manor house. Regardless of the circumstances, it appeared he had little choice but to accept the vixen’s invitation.

Chapter Two

Dark Secrets

The gentle trickle of the fountain helped calm Renard as he sat under one of the willows in the garden. Three weeks had passed since he awoke in the vixen’s home, and he was still no closer to discovering what had happened than he was on that first day. His memory had been very slow in returning; in fact, little of it had returned at all. Though he had pressed Adriana for the answers she promised, when she gave them, they seemed intentionally uninformative and misleading. Likewise, anything else that would have answered them, such as books or maps, he had found to be missing entirely, often with evidence left behind they had once been in the places he looked. That would have been bad enough, but he also found her home to be exceptionally well guarded for such a small keep. During the day, canine guards were posted in many of the hidden corners and shadowy areas of the place, staying out of sight, for the most part, and acting as if they were keeping watch for intruders. Like those at the gate, they too had been ordered into silence, and often he would catch their stares aimed at him. Fortunately, not all the dogs were of the watching variety. The keep did have one servant; a tall slender dog by the name of Clyde, who had white fur, black spots, droopy ears, and, for some reason, always seemed to wear a red button down vest wherever he went. Though Clyde did seem to try and avoid him whenever possible, unlike the guards, he was allowed to speak, and would often converse whenever the halls needed dusting or the bath was being prepared. As their conversations often consisted of little more than questions about each other’s experiences in the keep, inquiries about tasks needing to be done, or concerns about what should be prepared for the next meal, nothing could be learned from them. Any other topics Clyde quickly ignored. All of these things Renard found frustrating, but they were not what truly bothered him. An arrogant fox, he could live with. Silent dogs, he could try and ignore. And the house servant he actually liked. There was a feeling of concern from

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