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HOENIX

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 1
 

The grey wolf almost didn't see the rugged stone the size of a grapefruit hurling toward his unprotected head as he stood his ground, feet firmly planted and fists ready to fight. The lupine humanoid was fast, however, and managed to dodge it just as he slammed a fist into the belly of the rangy lynx closest to him. The stone bounced harmlessly off the leg of a granite statue behind him, but the feline doubled over from the blow to his middle. The wolf whirled around with an upraised leg and planted a heel against the snout of another foe beside him.

He dodged another thrown rock and spun toward the one who had hurled it. A large muscular leopard reached for another fist-sized stone, but the wolf rushed him. The leopard laughed at his tenacity and turned to face him, the rock forgotten. He grinned to show his teeth as the wolf's fists ineffectively pounded his middle, then reached down and grabbed the lupine by the neck with both hands.

Struggling to free himself from the iron grip, the wolf could feel his windpipe start to collapse. Never fight fair when you're fighting for your life, he remembered from somewhere. The wolf brought his knee up hard into the leopard's crotch and the claw-tipped hands around his throat released him.

He staggered away from the writhing feline and gasped for breath. Two more cats jumped out of the shadows of the ancient ruins and the wolf shook his head quickly to clear the fog from his eyes. He bared his teeth and growled as he dove toward the nearest one.

The two wrestled to the ground, the wolf's dusty cloak tangling around them both. The lightweight, weatherworn fabric ripped as the other cat's claws fought to contain him. The wolf butted his head against the nose of the bobcat he grappled with and lashed out with a booted foot at the other. The tawny cat went down with a dislocated kneecap and the wolf scrambled back to his feet.

Four more felines surrounded him in the courtyard of the crumbling desert city and the wolf assessed his situation quickly with keen amber eyes. He heard the unmistakable click of a revolver's cocked hammer and he suddenly dove for the nearest thug, a scruffy orange cat with a face full of scars and half an ear missing. The wolf caught him by the left arm and swung him hard in an arc that surprised the feline. He hurled the cat into one of his cohorts in a squawling, wild flailing of arms and legs.

Taking advantage of the confusion, the wolf hurled himself at the feline with the revolver, but the lanky male lion was prepared. He whipped the gun around swiftly, but decided not to shoot, instead choosing to drive its hardened steel barrel across the wolf's snout.

The wolf spun twice before he hit the ground, but he was only momentarily dazed. It was enough, however, for the lion to pick up an ancient clay pot and bring it crashing down upon his head. The pot, which by itself would have commanded a high price on the archeological market, crumbled into worthless fragments as the wolf's head reeled from the impact. The lupine fighter dropped to the ground and rolled over onto his back. The last thing he saw before blacking out was the smug expression of the lion standing over him.

The felines who had fallen from the wolf's attack slowly got to their feet, rubbing their abused limbs and wounds. The lion looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw his leader descend a flight of weatherworn stone steps into the small arena. A broad-shouldered cougar scowled darkly and then scratched absently at an old scar that ran across the bridge of his nose and his left eyelid.

“It took you long enough to bring him down,” the cougar growled at his anthro-humanoid lackeys. “No matter, we have work to do.” He looked toward the leopard that was having trouble standing and shook his head. “Take him out and dump him into the pit, and then get back here to help load up the carts with these relics. If we can't find Thorne's gold, at least we won't have to go back completely empty-handed.”

“Randon,” the leopard said through clenched lips, “I can barely walk…” The cougar fixed him with an icy stare, but said nothing.

“Right...” the leopard muttered with a hard swallow. He shuffled over to where the wolf lay and then kicked him in the ribs with as much strength as he could muster; he needed a little compensation for his pains. Out of spite, he kicked him again on the back of the head. The wolf's head bounced once and then he lay still.

As the cougar barked out more orders to the others, the leopard grabbed the collar of the wolf's cloak roughly. With a muted grumble, he dragged the unconscious form across the sand and scrub brush toward the side of the mountains surrounding the weather-blasted ruins that had served as their hideout for the past week.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.