A Friend in Need

by Oberon Snowcat and Christian O'Kane and Hallan Mirayas

I wearily walked into my apartment in Metamor Keep and looked around before I spotted a piece of paper on the floor. I placed my long range scout pack on my bed before I picked up the paper and read it.

Adon Naharel you are commanded to present yourself in hall 1437 in the Scout Hall on June 17th 707 at 12:00 for orders concerning your future operations.

George, Patrol Master of Metamor Keep

Oh great. That was just what I needed, him digging into my business. I was, after all, doing things that most of the people here probably didn’t want to hear about. I just hoped that I could continue to operate as I had. I had probably made a bigger impact on lutin operations in the area in the past month and a half than I had in the entire rest of my time at the Keep.

On my latest operation, I had actually overheard a pair of them whispering together about a strange force that was making its presence known in the lands north of the Keep.

“I be hearing there is new Long to be afraid of.”

“He more than normal Long. He as bad as Brightleaf with Whisper at his side.”

“What you mean?”

“This new one black as night and just as deadly. The chieftain calls him Black Tiger and he carry the Icicle at his side.”

“What big deal about him?”

“He leaves nothing but corpses and piles of heads behind him. He also removes right thumb from all victims and keeps them, like Brightleaf keeps ears.”

“That bad.”

“That very BAD!” They didn’t say anything else ever again because I put the same arrow through both of their necks.

Now here I was back at the Keep for re-supply, and George wanted to ask me what I had been up to. This was almost as bad as when I had run into him at the bathhouse more than a month ago. He had treated my whole attitude about my missions as a destructive thing. Well, I would show up to his little interview and listen to him ramble on before I went out again, if only to make the old jackal happy. I knew that the Solstice Festival was coming up, and I had no intention of wasting my time celebrating it.

The patrol forces of the Keep would be at their weakest point during the Festival; which would make an excellent time for the lutins to strike. Hence, I would do my part to ensure that the Festival would be safe, and that the lutins wouldn’t be able to exploit this loosening of the Keep’s patrols.

After I sorted through my pack, I lifted out the large oilcloth-wrapped package of lutin thumbs that I had harvested on my last trip. For some reason, despite my campaign of deliberate terror against the lutins, my haul had gotten larger instead of smaller. This time, I had close to sixty-five thumbs in the package.

The stupid creatures weren't taking the hint to clear out. I placed the entire haul of thumbs into a wire basket before I lowering them into a caustic solution that I normally used for etching steel to let the fluid do its work in removing the flesh from the bones in half a day or so. With that taken care of, I looked out the window at the sun sinking in the west and decided that I needed to get some sleep. I had been operating on short sleep for the past two and half weeks, and had been looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for a change instead of up in some tree at odd hours of the day.

The next morning, I slept in quite late before I finally pulled my ancient carcass out of bed. For some reason, I was feeling every single one of my seventy-two years this morning, though few people realized my age. Only my eyes showed people how old I really was. Once I finished with my normal stretching, I quickly got dressed and put on my latest necklace. This one was made with twenty lutin thumbs and one ogre thumb.

The ogre had probably been the most challenging opponent that I had run into yet north of the Keep. Even though he was a little smaller than the troll that I had faced before I started my hunts as the Black Tiger, he had been a much better fighter. Instead of a great clumsy club, the ogre had used a two handed sword, a weapon much more suited to the kind of fighting that I preferred. In the end, he had ended up making a stupid mistake that I had been able to capitalize on for the kill. I dressed for hunting, black on black, since I planned on leaving again immediately after the interview. The only things that relieved the black was the silver buckle on my sword belt and the hilts of my weapons: the Claw of the Dragon, a short sword, and a dagger, all attached to my belt.

At exactly noon I arrived at Hall 1437 in Scout Hall, my orders in my belt pouch along with the most recent report of my actions.

When I opened the door, I found myself in a room full of people seated around a long table, all of whom I recognized: George, Misha, Drift, Caroline, and Finbar along with at least a dozen others. There was only one I did not: a female pine marten morph seated beside Finbar.

George stepped forward and said, “Sit down, Oberon. We have some things to say which I believe you would do well to listen to.”

I looked around at them all before I sat down, weighing the look of each in turn. "Alright, then." I said, tailtip twitching with annoyance at my wasted time. "You've called me here when I could be getting ready for another hunt. What do you want, and why should I wait to hear it?"

Finbar went over and closed the door, which I had left open, before he sat back down beside the pine marten.

Misha fixed his eyes on mine and said, “We are your friends, Oberon, and we want to help you.”

“Over the past thirty years, I’ve found that friends are a luxury that I can do without,” I replied coldly.

“All you need are your weapons?”

“At least they are reliable and they won’t die on you like people.”

Finbar glanced over at Misha before he sarcastically said, “They’re not generally chatty, though, at least when they don’t have some spooky thing in them.”

I looked the ferret over, lifting my chin in disdain. “The Claw isn’t spooky, he’s dignified and sombre almost all of the time. Which is more than I can say for you.”

“But he’s still just a weapon. A tool meant to kill people with,” Caroline countered.

“And I have to wonder how he feels about massacres,” Drift added thoughtfully.

“He’s never uttered a word to me against my actions in the past couple of weeks.”

The Samoyed looked over at me with that same thoughtful expression on his face, “Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to see fewer lutins around, but... Something’s not right, Oberon.”

“When was the last time you worked in you forge, Oberon? When was the last time you relaxed and didn’t think of killing?” Caroline added.

“More than a month and a half, and that was before my unit was ambushed by those little fiends.”

“So since then, your whole life has been just killing things," Misha pointed out. "No friends, no enjoyment. When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep with no nightmares?”

“I don’t have nightmares.”

“Do you ever dream?” Caroline asked softly. Drift looked away suddenly and his ears started to dip, but he forced them back up. For some reason, it seemed that Drift didn’t dream, either. However, that wasn’t something that I was about to point out.

“I haven’t dreamed since I left my homeland, more than thirty years ago.”

“And you don’t think that’s a little strange?” she went on.

“Not really.”

Drift shook his head, “You think you’ve got it all locked away, then? It must be nice. Right up until that lock breaks. Which it will. It always does.”

“Believe me I’ve had my troubles, but they are all long gone into the past.”

George laughed openly. “That’s what you think. We know better.”

I growled low in my throat before I countered, “What do you know about me? NOTHING, really.”

George was slow to respond, but when he did he said, “I know that you stopped being alive thirty years ago. Since then you’ve only existed, but not really lived.”

“How in the name of the Three Forsaken Ones can you possibly say THAT?” I shouted

“You don’t drink, you don’t laugh, you don’t enjoy going out with friends. That is living.”

“I tried that here, but all it got was people KILLED. They were my responsibility but they DIED.” My ears were by now flat against my skull, and my tail, which had been lashing in anger, fell to the ground with an almost audible plop as I remembered the faces of those who had died under my command.,

“And you think that all of them died because of you? You didn’t stab them in the heart. Your enemies did.”

“If I had been paying attention, they might not have died.”

George snorted. "That’s a lie, and you know it.”

“HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?” I roared, causing nearly everyone in the room to clutch their ears.

George, however, didn’t even flinch. “I can see it in your eyes. I’ve spent my whole life burying friends and enemies.”

Drift had flattened his ears against his skull and closed his eyes at my roar. He waited until the echoes died down before replying, “You're not the only one here who’s lost people.” His head was bowed, his hands flat on the table as if to steady himself, his expression sad.

“You think that any of you has anything to compare with the loss of an entire clan of relatives?”

Drift’s head came up, eyes flashing in anger. “Don’t talk down to me, Oberon. I am the last child of an only child. Yes, I do know what it’s like.”

“I had brothers, I had sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and hundreds of others who died, and yet I alone survived.”

“At least you had them in the first place.”

“We’ve all lost people, Oberon. Not just you,” George softly said.

“Do you have any clue what it’s like to see your youngest brother lying on the ground, dying from an arrow wound while you hold him, unable to do anything?”

“How does being trapped in sight of your home burning and under siege, unable to get to it or do anything for three days but hide and pray that you'll have something to come back to strike you?” Drift asked again, ears flattening and his hackles rising.

I growled again, my temper rising before a small figure tugged on my tail. It was Guy DeHarancourt, and he looked frightened. He held out his arms in a silent request to be picked up, but I coldly turned my back on him and concentrated on the conversation.

"This is Metamor, Oberon. I'd say over half the town has been through a similar scenario." He paused. "And at least you got to say goodbye," the Samoyed continued bitterly. "I didn't even get that much."

“How did I get to say goodbye? If you mean I got to watch as the life drained from him like a sieve, then yes, I did get to say goodbye," I roared. "But he was only seventeen years old! He was barely even a man!!"

Drift rose snarling from his chair, eyes snapping, ears down, and his hackles up all the way down his back. His bared teeth flashed as he yelled back, "At least you got to hold him! Do you know what I would have given for that chance? When my mother died, my father wouldn't even let me in the room! -He- was murdered outside Glen Avery! My brother-in-law froze to death while I was trapped outside the Keep during the Yule attack! I -fought- with my sister the last time I saw her! Who do you think you are, you self-centered son of a-."

“Sit down, Drift,” Misha warned coldly.

As Drift shouted, Guy tugged on my hand once more. This time I could hear him crying softly. Without even thinking, I picked him up and placed him in my lap, like I had done so long ago for my youngest cousin.

At the same time, Drift checked himself and sat down, though not without a growl of anger. His hackles stayed up.

“Why did you just do that, Oberon?” Misha asked me softly, looking to the young wildcat in my lap.

“I don’t know. For some reason he reminded me of my youngest cousin, Jacques Naharél, but he died more than thirty years ago,” I replied in an equally soft tone.

“For someone with no family, you’re treating him an awful lot like family,” Caroline commented.

“I’m sorry, but I just have a weakness for children. To see one killed is the worst thing that you can possibly imagine.”

Drift smoothed down the fur of his hackles with one hand. I could see that he was bringing his temper back under control for the time being.

For some reason I was glad of that, but I didn’t really know why. I looked him in the eyes and apologized, “I’m sorry for angering you, Drift.”

He nodded before responding, “I shouldn’t have let my temper get away from me like that. It’s going to get me in a lot of trouble someday.”

Misha nodded. “Both of you need to control your anger better.”

I nodded in response to Misha before I looked around the table and said, “It's just that you don’t understand what could happen to you if you insist on this course of action.”

“Then explain to us what could happen,” Misha asked, though I could sense that it was really an order.

“There are risks in my life that none of you are even remotely prepared to deal with.”

“Oberon, in my life I have faced death a hundred times. I have been personally attacked a dozen times JUST by someone who wants to get a hold of my axe. What could be worse then that?”

“Well I can think of about a hundred things, but assassins from my homeland are the biggest threat that come to my mind right now.”

“Is that all?” George asks. “You’re worried about some knife- wielding killer?”

“I’ve dealt with assassins before,” Misha added. “Killed a few of them too.”

I shook my head before looking at him in a patient manner. “These assassins are unlike anything that you have every experienced. They operate in cells of four and use a drug called Narrelat to enhance their reflexes and speed. They will not stop coming until their target is dead or their employer impoverished.”

“So? If you cut off their heads, they’ll die just as easily as the rest of us,” George commented. “But we will need to come up with a plan to deal with them.”

“That will be hard to do, because their employer is the richest man in the Kelmar Clanlands. He can afford to send assassins until the day I die, more than four hundred years from now.”

“When were you planning on telling Misha and George about them, Oberon?” Drift asked me pointedly.

“It is my own danger to face, and I wouldn’t want any of you to risk your lives trying to help me.”

“And what if they came after others to get at you?” Drift went on.

“They WILL come after us no matter what you think,” Misha commented. “So we are already targets.”

“These assassins are completely devoted to their targets, and they virtually ignore other people unless they get in their way.”

“Killers like that WILL kill anyone that gets in their way, and we Keepers ARE in the way,” Misha pointed out.

“Do you really think people are going to stand by and do nothing if they see you in trouble?” Drift asked, his expression suggesting the question was rhetorical.

I reached into my right side belt pouch and pulled out the vial of Narrelat, that I had taken from the body of one of the assassins that had tried to kill me more than two months ago, and flung it onto table. “If you want to help out, then it’s your funeral, but in any case you should all get a good sniff of that. I can guarantee that you will be smelling it in the future.”

Misha picked the vial up, worked out the stopper and took a sniff. “Smells like vanilla… and something else.”

He handed it to Drift, who also took a sniff before asking, “What is it?”

“It’s called narrelat. One swig of it and you’ll be moving three times faster than normal. It is one of the reason why the Racteganect are so dangerous.”

Drift’s ears tipped forward with interest. “How does it work?” he asked.

"I'm no physician, so I don't know how it works, but I can tell you that it does, and that the results are scary. The Racteganect have cultivated the herbs used in it for millennia, coupled with magic that they have developed for that very purpose."

“A trick,” George commented in disgust. “A mere trick. A trick will never replace skill.”

“Narrelat isn’t the only reason that these assassins are so dangerous. They are trained like every other Kelmar Warrior, from childhood. ” I looked over and noticed that Drift’s tail had started to wag. From the look in his eyes, I could tell that he was thinking over some ideas involving narrelat, and maybe he was trying to puzzle out what it was made of. Sir Saulius, who was sitting beside Drift, gave him an elbow in the ribs at that point to get his attention back on the matter at hand. I looked around at everyone before I asked, “So can you all see why I can’t socialize too much?”

“No, I don’t,” Caroline answered flatly. “Life is full of risks, Oberon. I’ve survived three attacks on my town, and I’ve...” She paused at that point before she finally said, “I’ve been raped. Life is hard sometimes.” As soon as she finished saying that Misha hugged Caroline and kissed her gently.

At her mention of rape my eyes went flat and I quietly, with deadly intent, asked, “Who was responsible for that travesty?” I noticed that Drift turned to look at Caroline with shock written on his features. Apparently, this was news to him, too.

“Doesn’t matter,” She answered flatly. “They’re all dead now.” Misha nodded and gave a feral grin that suggested he had seen to it personally.

Drift’s ears flickered, and his head bowed slightly. “I’d heard something about that, but I never knew it was... you. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” she answered softly.

“That is the second most despicable crime in the world. The first is killing a child.”

“We got through that, Oberon. Those enemies died. All that’s left of them is bones and the terror that the lutins have for me,” Misha pointed out grimly. Just then the door opened and a young woman came in bearing food on a large tray,

“I though that you all would want something to eat,” she said cheerily.

“Thank you,” George answered. “Now, please leave.” She placed the tray on the table and left. I shook my head and looked down at the now sleeping figure of DeHarancourt before asking Father Hough, “Do you mind taking him out of my hands now?”

At the same time Drift glanced over toward Misha and George. After a second he took his cue from their reactions, or lack of reaction, and reached for a piece of cheese from the tray.

“Who ordered the food?” Finbar asked. “I don’t remember anyone asking.”

Father Hough stood up and took the sleeping child from me, before returning to his own seat without waking the little guy up. I thanked him before I grabbed a piece of smoked meat off of the tray and then said, “If that is all that you folks want to talk to me about then I think that I’ll be bidding you a good day. I have to get ready for my next patrol up north.”

As soon as Finbar made his comment about the food Drift’s hand had stopped. He looked over at me and said, “Oberon, wait. Don’t eat that.”

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked before I took a sniff of the meat. It smelled fine to me.

“You’re under an assassination threat, and you’re going to eat food that nobody ordered, without testing it?”

George picked up a piece of cheese from the tray and sniffed it before he popped it into his mouth. As soon as he swallowed the morsel he said, “I trust the girl. It's safe.”

Misha looked at me as I laid the piece of meat in my hand back on the tray before he asked, "Why exactly do they want you dead, Oberon?”

I sighed and looked into his eyes before I slowly said, “I wasn’t just some simple warrior in my Clan: I was much, much more. The reality is that I am the fourth, and last surviving, son of my father. He held the position of Lord of the Sundering Stone Clan.”

“And,” George asked, “why did they wipe out your clan and yet still want you dead?”

“Since my father was the Lord of the Sundering Stone, and I am his only surviving heir, then I am in fact the Clanlord of that clan, and I can prove it as well.” I reached into one of my belt pouches and pulled out a thick gold ring, tossing it onto the table with a heavy thunk. It was a signet ring that I had held onto of a long time, the engraving on the ring depicted an eagle holding a lightning bolt cracking a stone in half. Misha examined it without picking it up.

“Family ring?” George’s pronouncement on the safety of the food appeared to have satisfied Drift and he snagged some cheese, tipping his ears towards Misha to listen.

“That is the hereditary treasure of the Sundering Stone Clan, along with this.” I unhooked the sheathed Claw of the Dragon from my side and laid it on the table in front of me. George picked up the ring with one hand while holding a second piece of cheese in his other.

“This is the symbol of your whole clan, isn’t it?”

“Yes, the eagle sundering a stone with a lightning bolt is the symbol of the Sundering Stone Clan.”

“Who is attacking you, and why do they want you all dead?”

“As the Clanlord of the Sundering Stone Clan, I have two things that my enemies wish to possess. My sword,” I laid my hand on the Claw, “and my life.”

George placed the ring on the table with a loud clack. “Who wants you dead?”

“I suspect that it is the Clanlord of the Bleeding Sun Clan. He’s already broken Kelmar Law by killing four other Clanlords.”

George shook his head. “I don’t need to know why. People like that always seem to find some stupid reason to butcher others.”

“In this case, it is because he wants to rule the Kelmar Clanlands with no opposition in any form.”

“It doesn’t matter what language they speak – a tyrant is a tyrant, and they always wind up dead sooner or later.”

“I certainly hope so, because this man has broken so many Kelmar laws that he is in dire need of killing.”

“There are a lot of people who need killing,” Misha answered. “Nasoj for one.”

I looked at each of the people around the table before I said, “If that is everything that you want to talk about George I have better things to be doing than sitting here rehashing the past.” With that said, I stood up.

“Sit, cat!” the jackal ordered. “That door stays closed until I decide to open it.”

“WHAT do you want from me?” I roared out, my temper rapidly rising once more.

“We want you to stop cutting yourself off from everyone who cares about you!” Caroline shouted.

“What if I like myself the way that I am?”

Drift, unlike the others maintained a normal voice. “How long before you snap, Oberon? Any bets?”

“What do you mean SNAP? I am in PERFECT control of myself at all times.”

Drift laughed. “Says the guy who’s making my ears ring with all his yelling.”

George shook his head. “You're as taut as a bow string.”

I could think of nothing to say in reply and my anger was rapidly rising. In response, I let out my loudest roar yet, shaking the fittings on the window in the far wall. This roar wasn’t coherent; it was merely an expression of my frustration at what they were trying to do.

Drift rubbed his ears. “Yeah, that’s about what I thought.”

At the same time that I roared, I felt my finger-claws flex out of their hidden sheathes and penetrate into the thick wood of the table. These people were really trying my patience. I was about to let out another, louder roar when I felt something tug on my tail. It was Guy DeHarancourt; I guess that the noise that we had been making had woken him up. This time I didn’t take any prompting; I picked him up and settled him on my lap before I looked over at Misha

“You know that you can’t-” Guy’s finger snuck up and placed itself on my lower lip.

Misha laughed and even George snickered. “It seems that Guy has a comment to make,” Misha said.

“What do you-” Again the finger came up and placed itself on my lip.

“What?” Caroline asked softly. I noticed that Drift had put a knuckle to his lips to hide a growing smile.

“I’m not going-” Guy stopped me again with his finger. Finally, I looked down at the kid and saw nothing but love come back at me from his eyes. “Why does this-”

“It seems that you have a family. Whether you want it or not,” Caroline said softly.

“But I don’t-”

Misha shook his head.

“Just accept it my friend. He won’t take no for an answer.”

“Why should-”

“Tell him no,” George said simply and pointed at the young face of Guy. I looked down at the child’s face, and I could still see his open feelings on his face. I tore my gaze away from him, but he did something that brought all of the pain that I had buried for the past thirty years to the surface. He said a word, one word that brought all of my suffering to the surface, “Papa.” I crumpled on the spot, hot tears running down my muzzle as the pain of my life ever since my Clan had died came to the surface. I didn’t even look up as I felt another pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders. After a moment of letting the hot tears run down my muzzle I managed to say, “I don’t know what I would do without people like you around me.”

“You will never need to find that out ever again,” Misha said calmly from behind me, his arm around my shoulder. My voice betrayed me and I could do nothing more than let the tears course their way down my muzzle. I could just barely make out Drift sitting across from me at the table, nodding his head in apparent empathy. I felt a second set of arms wrap themselves around my shoulders and I tried to bring my emotions back under control. The control that I sought, though, was as elusive as a roach in a barn full to the rafters with hay.

“You’re as tense and taut as a drawn bowstring.”

I tried once more to regain control; I got enough back to respond, “Would you expect any less if you-" That was all that I got out before I was swept away in another heavy bout of weeping.

Someone hugged me tighter and then I heard Caroline’s voice say, “Let it all out.” Then a strong pair of hands slowly began to massage the huge muscles behind my shoulders. After a few moments the storm began to fade and I managed to get back some of my control.

“How can I ever thank you?” I finally managed to ask.

“No thanks needed. So long as you are well.” I finally managed to sit up and looked into the eyes of the child on my lap. His eyes reflected nothing but love. He opened his mouth and uttered one word that almost caused me to lose control again,

“Papa.”

“It looks like Guy has made up his mind. You are his family now.”

“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a family that has loved me?”

“Too long,” George answered my question. I looked up at the people around the table and realized that the best friends that a man could ever ask for surrounded me. Slowly, I stood up and smiled, with my tail, ears, whiskers, and a grin. This was the first time that I had really smiled in a very long time.

“You are right there, George. It has been far too long since I was able to truly call someone my friend.” As I said that, I stepped from where I had been sitting and held out a large hand to George to thank him for what he had obviously arranged here. George took my hand and shook it with a strength that surprised me. I smiled down at the jackal while a series of soft snores announced to me that Guy had fallen asleep once more. I continued going around the room, shaking everyone’s hands. When I got to Misha, I said, “Even though this has changed me, don’t expect me to stop with my object lessons out there when I’m on patrol.”

“No, I don’t expect those to stop. We need to put the fear of you into the lutins. Just understand when to back off.”

“Yes sir. When do you want me to return to my patrol duties?” At that, George came over to where Misha and I were standing,

“At least a month. Do not come back to my office for duty for a least a month.” The jackal ordered.

“What am I supposed to do? Sit around and twiddle my thumbs?”

“You are supposed to relax, Oberon. Drink, sleep late, write, play, go fishing and hunting. Relax!”

“Relax? I haven’t done anything like that in...”

“Then you are long overdue,” Misha added.

“I guess that once this month is up, I’ll go report to you again, George.”

“No. When you do come back, report to Misha, not me. We’ve decided to change things a little.”

“Why?”

“We’ve decided to let you join the Long Scouts.”

I felt my ears perk forward and I smiled before I finally said, “I would consider it a great honour. I will do my best to ensure that I will live up to your standards, Misha.”

“You will have to work a lot to uphold that honour, Oberon, but you do deserve it.”

I nodded slowly before I sniffed the air. “Do either of you know where Father Hough is, I think that his charge needs him right now.”

Misha laughed. “I’m not sure that he wants him right now, but I do know that he is nearby.”

“Well nonetheless, unless either of you is in possession of his supplies, I can’t really do anything about this little problem.”

George shook his head and backed off. “I am the scout master. Not a baby changer.”

I looked at George, “You’ve never had any children George? That is a real pity; you would make someone a very good father. Even with all of your faults.”

“Thank you. I have no kids,” George said.

“At least, none that you know of,” Misha added. George gave a slight cough and I could see from the look on his face that he was a little chagrined. He quickly took a couple more steps back before he turned and went to the door, which he opened before leaving the room.

“I see that he doesn’t really like to stick around when there is a question that involves children.”

“He’s never been good with kids,” the fox explained.

“That’s a real pity. In my homeland, a man is considered a success if he has a good family and numerous friends who would trust him with their lives.”

“George hasn’t seen any of his family in twenty years,” Misha answered. I shook my head slowly before Guy began to whine out in distress. The cries were almost heart-rending, and also highly disturbing because of their pitch.

“What’s wrong with him?” I wrinkled my nose and replied with a sarcastic comment

“What, your nose stopped working?”

“Eh!!!!!!!” came the groan, and everyone stepped back.

“He seems to be in desperate need of a change.”

“Well, I would, if someone would tell me where Father Hough has vanished off to.”

“With that smell here? He’s probably halfway back to the cathedral by now.”

“How are we going to deal with this then?” Then there was a shout from the far end of the table, and Caroline pulled a large satchel out from beneath the table.

“I think that you’ll find all of the supplies that you need in this bag.” I rolled my eyes as the rest of the people retreated from me like I was carrying the plague. Drift even had a hand over his nose.

“Is everyone in here afraid of a little work?”

“Work, no, but clearing poo off of someone’s butt is NOT taught in scout training,” Misha commented.

I rolled my eyes again and then moved closer to the table. “Well, having a family as big as I used to have, this was something that I had to learn before I was fifteen years old.”

“I was an only child,” Caroline commented. “Thankfully.”

I chuckled softly.

“Misha, you and Caroline will probably have to deal with something like this within the next couple of years.”

“I’ll worry about that task when the time comes, but not before then!” Misha joked.

I shook my head and quickly finished with the distasteful operation as quickly as possible before I said, “Well I guess I had better get this little guy back to his caretaker.” A small babbling childish voice spoke up then.

“No, Papa.”

Misha laughed. “He has other ideas for you, Papa.”

“What about when I have to go out on patrol?”

“Perhaps the good Father can let you share in raising Guy. Helping out while you can.”

“I will certainly think about it, Misha. What do you think about that, Caroline?”

“I think that you both need each other,” the otter explained. “You are now a big part of his life.”

I could do nothing more than nod my head before I asked myself rhetorically, “How did I get myself into this mess in the first place?”

“Life has a way of sneaking up on you and smacking you on the back.”

“That’s for sure, Caroline.” I shook my head slowly. “Right now, though, I’m not really prepared to take care of a child.”

“If not now, perhaps later. I’m sure Father Hough will be willing to help with the child until you are ready.” I could do nothing more than nod before I headed for the door, pausing only to pick my ring and my sword off of the table. I reattached the sword to my belt and looked at my ring for a second before I slid it onto my right middle finger. With that done, I headed for the door, stopping once more to shake Drift’s hand.

He looked up into my eyes before he said, “Welcome back, Oberon.” I laughed at his comment and then headed out the door with the child in one arm and his bag in the other. Before I went home to my own apartment, I stopped at Father Hough’s chapel to drop off Guy and explain to him the situation. He fully understood me and told me that everything would work out in the end. Guy didn’t take our parting well, but I had promised Father Hough that I would be by in a few days to take Guy out to see the first day of the Solstice Festival. That was going to be a real experience, and I was looking forward to it.

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"A Friend in Need", copyright Oberon Snowcat and Christian O'Kane and Hallan Mirayas