The Praetorians, a fantasy cop drama. (Game thread Started/CLOSED Prologue)

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"What're you hopin' to accomplish in here, with this kid, if you don't mind me askin'?"

"Simple really..." Jason replied, still waiting for the vending machines to do their work. "I want to get to the bottom of whoever's running this racket and take them off the streets before anyone else has their family pets murdered and their heirlooms stolen, and I reckon Mr. Mitten-Paws in there can give us the names we need. Whether or not he will depends on how smart he is, but it seems to me that you don't put the dumb kid on look-out duty. I think that we can make him see that, one way or another, he's better off on our side."

Jason drew himself up and looked to Rory, searching for any hint of accusation in his gaze.

"I don't plan on roughing him up, if that's what you're worried about. If the kid's not feeling chatty, I'll make him see that right now, we're the guys with the least intention of doing him any harm, and that's why he needs to keep talking lest we be forced to kick him out into the cold. He got caught, and that means he's damaged goods now. He's a link between us and whoever's at the head of this gang, so he can't be trusted any more; and if he's anywhere near as smart as I believe he is, then he already knows that.

Now..." Jason said, gathering up the evening's rations "It seems to me that I ought to ask you the same question; because if you'd had your own way back at that house, Prince Fluffykins, or maybe even the guy who was being robbed would have ended up on the receiving end of a snake-bite, no questions asked, and we'd be nowhere close to getting to the bottom of this case right now. What's your game, Red? If you've got anything terribly important to tell me you'd best say it now, because the kid in that room has got no reason to trust us if he senses that we don't trust each-other."

It seemed that the two who definitely shouldn't be working together had decided they were definitely working together. Rat sighed, closing his eyes and mimicking what Archie had done before, pushing an invisible glasses frame up on his nose. It wasn't like he could stop them at this point. Besides, he had been the one to catch the rat, he might as well follow up on it. He turned to where his partner had been and was shocked to see him almost to the door already. It seemed the man had remembered him at the same time.

"Uh unless you have another idea."

Rat shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately." He said it with a slight smile. He nodded to Cali, and with a quick "good night" followed after his current partner.

Cali left the room in order to go down to the locker room, intending to get a shower in before she left for home.

Quickly undressing, she cast her clothes aside before turning on the shower and stepping under the spray. She closed her eyes, letting the water wash over her.

That's just what I needed. Thank the Gods for indoor plumbing...

After a few minutes, she turned off the shower and grabbed a towel to wrap around her body, then went over to her locker. Soon Cali was dressed in a more casual outfit, a midnight blue tunic, black pants, and leather shoes, topped off by a brown leather jacket.

Well, that was my first day in the force. Not bad, all things considered. She thought.

Rory bent an ear to Officer Hunts explanation and ignored the looks that came with it. He had to marvel at the way the man's mind worked, always hunting, twisting and turning this way and that, but always honing back in on this ring leader who may or may not exist. It put Rory in the mind of the human hunters' hounds, barking and slathering in their pursuit, no real hunger in their bellies save for a hunger for their master's approval. The wolf in him scowled at the though of such short-sighted, demeaning work, but Rory bit back the impulse to judge. This was still strange ground, and he didn't have solid footing yet. City warg thinking had its own paths, its own mutations, and though it didn't match his own, that didn't mean it was without merit. Should this band of children have some taskmaster, that one had a great deal to answer. Hell... whoever was fencing for these kids had plenty to fucking answer for as well. It looked like most of those trades were for bread, not cash.

"Shit gang ta mark you after one run in with the blues, but they didn't seem the tight sort.... But you're right, one way or another, we're all he's got, fuck, we're all any of 'em's got," Rory worried over that knot in particular. That was the real problem, wasn't it? What needed solving? They'd need something preventative, something they could set up that would discourage this behavior and replace the need it seemed to fill. Whether that need was work or food... that'd be a thing to learn from their young captive.

Officer Hunt made his accusations and asked his questions. Rory cocked an eyebrow and gave the man a lingering look, wary and slightly incredulous. The first words came to the back of Rory's throat and the young wolf promptly swallowed them. First words were dangerous things, best to keep calm and think. When the second words rose to the surface, Rory had time to turn them over, examine them thoroughly and deem them worthy of speaking. They were reasonable and they were honest. Even on a job that required deceit, Rory made it a habit to speak honestly. His voice came out calm, cool, and deadly serious, "Hunt, if you came into that room and found some down from a bite of mine, it would've been our man. It's not a thing I'd do lightly. If it became necessary, I damn sure wouldn't waste time comin' out to see how you felt about it. My 'game' is seein' if we can be more effective than the racist, incompetent shits this city calls cops. Maybe not the most orthodox, mabye not the most commended, just the most effective. That means knowin' when to bite and when to coddle."

Rory stepped into the first interrogation room's antechamber, holding the door open for Hunt and closing it behind him, leaning against it gently, "But let's be clear, Hunt. I got no cause to trust you, and you got no cause to trust me, we might as well go ahead and use that, cuz it damn sure ain't gonna evaporate in the next five minutes. We can feel it, let him feel it. We use the first few minutes to fact find and let him think he might use one of us against the other. We'll see who he jives with first, then we can pull back. The one he likes goes in, plays up that secret confidence, and goes after the meat. Make sense?"

"Effective? Right..." Jason suppressed a derisive laugh as they pushed their way thought the doors to the ante-chamber. "See, hears the thing Red. I take it you're not from around here, and I imagine if we were somewhere different they'd be a lot of things you could teach me about the way the world works. Right here though, this is my turf, and it seems to me that I'm the one who needs to show you the ropes.

You want to know what an 'effective' force needs? It needs trust. Trust is what makes victims come to you for protection; it's what makes witnesses speak out when they'd otherwise keep their lips sealed tight; and it's what makes a jury believe the evidence you hold up in front of them in court. In short, trust gets results; but it takes time to build and no time at all to destroy, especially with shits like Archie Whatshisface on the force. Most importantly, nobody trusts the guy who only ever plays by his own rules.

This is the world I know Red. You see, before anyone even knew I was a warg, I was poor. Obviously, that meant I was also, dirty, lazy, and stupid. It wasn't even questioned whether anyone had ever taught me any morals, of course they hadn't! I'd come from nothing, and to nothing I would undoubtedly return. Now, I could have got angry at their ignorance. I could have lashed out and hurt them, or else rejected their rules and made a living for myself as a thief or a thug, and nothing that's good about my life right now ever would have happened. Instead, I showed them different. I worked hard, I kept my nose clean, and I took pride in it, until after a while they stopped looking at me like I was something nasty stuck to the bottom of their shoe. I earned their trust Red, and now those people know I'm worth it.

Now I don't have to hide that I'm a warg, it's the same story all over again. People look at me and they see an animal, and it's up to me to prove them wrong, something I'm sure as hell not gonna do if I act like an animal."

Jason didn't doubt that Rory was sincere about wanting to do some good in this city. What still concerned him, was what Rory would do the first time they met obstacles that they couldn't just ignore. However, he sensed that he wouldn't be getting the answer to that particular question right now.

"Make sense?"

"Sure," Jason replied. "but make sense of this. Until I can trust you, this city is my home, and the people in it are my people. So..." Jason placed his had firmly on the cell door. "I lead. You follow."

With that, Jason pushed his way inside, to find the kid, in human form this time, seated on the other side of the room. Smiling at him, though not making too big a show of it, Jason pulled up a chair and sat opposite him, placing the bottle of water and the snacks between them.

"Sorry I couldn't rustle up something a bit more filling," he told the kid. "but I figure every little helps. When was the last time you ate?"

"Um, Captain Ackerman? Apologies for interrupting, but would it be possible to have a word with you please, in that private that is feasible, there are one or two things that I would like to discuss with you; it may prove useful in the running of this precinct and the group in particular for the foreseeable future at least."

Ackerman held up a finger, signaling to wait a moment, as the volunteers found their way out of the room and towards their goals. "Hopefully they can handle themselves for a moment," she muttered to herself. Ackerman was beginning to doubt that she'd be getting any sleep tonight. "Alright then, Mordecai. Come to my office and then let's hear what you have to say." Almost before she'd begun talking she turned smartly on her heel and strode towards her office, expecting her subordinate to follow.

*****

Novak sipped at his coffee, cringing at its cold, bitter taste. Better than nothing, he supposed. It was likely that the rookies were just starting to dig into the kids. He wasn't sure who he pitied more. With kids, it could be hard to tell if you were getting information or just what they thought you wanted to hear. At least with three of them, the rookies could get some experiencing and he could get some real information. Lost in these thoughts, Novak nearly choked on his coffee, and had to take a few moments to recover. "It's even worse the second time around," he grumbled, and found his way to the captured warg.

Ackerman held a finger up at Mordecai, gesturing for him to wait whilst the volunteer interrogators made their way out of the room.

"Alright then, Mordecai. Come to my office and then let's hear what you have to say." She then said to Mordecai, before turning slightly on her heel and walked towards her office, Mordecai following on soon after.

"Thank you for granting me this opportunity to speak with you, I know how hard it must be on you both physically and psychologically; given that it is the first day of this new department and your dealing with fresh recruits rather than seasoned officers. I may sound as though I'm a bit overly optimistic, but rest assured Captain, over the next few days and weeks, we will improve, and we will show how capable a unified force the Praetorians can be; though I have my doubts regarding a certain member of the team."

"Alright then, here's how we'll handle this, I call it the Mad House Information Crack Down," Collin paused outside the holding cell where the rat/boy was contained to continue outlining his plan. "Now I wasn't there at the arrest and I barely know what all this about, some sort of infiltration of Warg thieves or something. Anyhow, if I try and get information I'll just be stumbling around in the dark so instead I'll go in there first and confuse him with nonsense. Once he's baffled enough and lets his guard down, you can move in. He'll probably talk to you just so he doesn't have to put up with me anymore." Collin grinned, immensely proud of his crackpot plan, he hadn't mentioned anything about an inspirational story though, presumably that was a later stage of the plan.

"All good? You're happy? You're ecstatic!" without further 'consultation' Collin barrelled into the holding cell and pointed an accusing finger at the boy across the room.

"You! What's your favourite colour?"

"Sorry I couldn't rustle up something a bit more filling," he told the kid. "but I figure every little helps. When was the last time you ate?"

"I eat all the time! Did it last night." The kid replied defensively, as if admitting otherwise would be the ultimate sign of weakness on his part.

Still he couldn't help but eye the snacks with hunger that was only offset by the guarded mistrust that he shot at the two adults in the room. They smelt different to the other cops, one was kind of like the earth and the other... well he couldn't say. His young mind wasn't trained enough to fully understand the instincts that were warning him of prowling predators.

But hunger usually wins over caution and this time was no different as he slowly reached for the the food at a snail like pace. As if the sight of police officers was based on movement.

***

"You! What's your favourite colour?"

"Fuck off!"

***

"...but rest assured Captain, over the next few days and weeks, we will improve, and we will show how capable a unified force the Praetorians can be; though I have my doubts regarding a certain member of the team."

Well the vote of optimism was something, at least he could bring a rational mind and a can do attitude to the mix. Maybe this one could even rise to become a poster boy one day, though considering his hair and eye situation it was probably best not to start calling the photographers yet.

Ah it'd be in black and white anyway what would anyone care. Oh it must have been late in the day if she was letting her mind wander onto things like PR. She needed some coffee.

"Constable, it is my duty to offer a safe and confidential ear for those under my command but I want this to be clear: If this is you officially raising a cause for concern then you will have to fill out the proper paperwork for it. It would of course be kept confidential BUT taking up an issue like this is one for serious concern. Are you sure you want to do it on the first day?"

The last thing they needed was interoffice gossip pulling at the seams so early on. Better to nip this in the bud.

"...Are you sure you want to do it on the first day?" Asked the Captain Ackerman as they entered her office and she sat down on at her desk. The question made Mordecai think for a moment; the far colder part of his mind was saying that this was a problem that needed to be sorted right then and there, whereas the rational side of him suggested that they give Archie the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

Option number two made the most sense in context, this was the first day of a new career for everyone, it was natural for there to be some issues; people needed the chance to get to know one another, and Mordecai wasn't the sort of Talin to make harsh judgments too soon.

"I suppose when you put it like that Captain, it might not be such a good idea, especially with it being the first day; perhaps the problem will sort itself out in time, I guess everyone is a little on edge at the moment. Our first case and already so much has happened."

"I eat all the time! Did it last night."

"Sure." Jason said with a smile, eyebrows raised as he watched the kid barely hold back from drooling all over the food. He waited, patient and relaxed, and the kid slowly leaned forward and too a bite, and then another, and another after that. For a while he just let him eat, setting the kid's mind at ease, before he spoke again.

The young warg was, as expected, slow to trust. However, he was also proud. There could be something in that.

"That was a pretty impressive operation you had going back there." Jason told him, his admiration not feigned. "Looked like you had everything running like clockwork. You've gotta be comfortable in your surroundings to pull off something like that. You've gotta know where the picking are, you've gotta get in without anyone seeing, and you've gotta know the quickest way to scram if things go south. I bet you know those streets like the back of your hand. Say, how well do you know Maple Way?"

Maple Way just happened to be where Jason was born.

If Collin was put off from his plan by this hostility he didn't show it, perhaps he was used to people greeting him with profanity whenever he entered a room? He merely clicked his tongue and shook his head in disappointment.

"I'm afraid I haven't heard of that colour. Looks like we won't be redecorating your cell after all. And here I thought you'd want to brighten this place up a little," he gestured around the dingy cell, "not very inspired if you know what I mean." Collin had initially thought that it might take some work to provoke his suspect but this moving along nicely, Rat should have no trouble with this miniature crook after Collin was finishing annoying him with inane garbage.

"Let's forget the redecorating then shall we? I'd like to get some of your values on thievery. For example, if you walk past a property and there's a pile of stuff outside with a sign next to it saying 'FOR FREE', would you take it, or does the fact it's free take the fun out of it for you?"

"I suppose when you put it like that Captain, it might not be such a good idea, especially with it being the first day; perhaps the problem will sort itself out in time, I guess everyone is a little on edge at the moment. Our first case and already so much has happened."

There you go. Good lad. "Very wise, Constable." Ackerman noted. "Then... if there's nothing else that you'd like to discuss, your free to make your time your own."

Please make yout time your own... She couldn't go home until they did.

***

The lad couldn't help but feel a little pride swell up in his scrawny chest. He knew it shouldn't have, he should have just shut down and kept quiet... but it wasn't like the others noticed how much he helped out... an' he worked real hard. Harder than the smaller kids, they just wandered around like idiots until you told them what to do. Little kids were so stupid.

"...how well do you know Maple Way?"

"Dunno. Dunno the names." He shrugged. "I got maples on it?" He always learned his way about by physical landmarks. Got a better feel for the streets that way. Plus he couldn't read but they didn't need to know that. Reading was human's game, who needed it anyway?"

***

"Let's forget the redecorating then shall we? I'd like to get some of your values on thievery. For example, if you walk past a property and there's a pile of stuff outside with a sign next to it saying 'FOR FREE', would you take it, or does the fact it's free take the fun out of it for you?"

What the hell was this? Were all humans like this? When they said that the cops asked questions he didn't think it would be like this.

"I dunno!" He barked, exasperated. "You take stuff cus you need stuff so yeah I'd take free stuff." That was the point of stealing, to make stuff free... right?

This was weird. He wanted out.

"I got maples on it?"

Jason laughed, but not in an unkind way.

"Not so much, no." he replied, grinning. "The 'Maple' part's for the colour of the bricks. They get stained a maple colour because it's so close to the factories."

As Jason spoke, he half deliberately allowed some of his old, more common lilt to come back into his speech, as opposed to the strictly disciplined speech that he preferred to use when at work. The kid wouldn't have to be a genius to pick up on it.

"I remember all the other kids would come home each night, covered in that red-brown dust, after they'd been kicking a ball around or something. Never joined in though, I didn't know my own strength back then, somebody could have got hurt...

What about you, you got any friends, besides those kids you were with last night?"

"What about you, you got any friends, besides those kids you were with last night?"

"Why? They're my pack. They look out for me." It wasn't like anyone else had since he got here. Maybe they didn't start off as a proper pack but they worked with what they had, even if the little ones were stupid sometimes. That wasn't their fault. What would this one know? Bet he lived in a fancy house with a super comfy bed an' never went hungry an' all.

"Who kicks a ball around anyway?" He muttered under his breath. because they were the stupid ones here.

"Very wise, Constable." Captain Ackerman remarked. "Then... if there's nothing else that you'd like to discuss, your free to make your time your own."

"Actually Captain, there was something that I wanted to talk to you about, it's the reason why I wished to speak with you, the "problem" as it were was a subject that suddenly sprung to mind as we were walking. Now, I'm not exactly sure how far your power and authority goes, but I was wondering if you would be able to acquire the medical records of everyone within this precinct, yourself and Sergeant Novak included." Said Mordecai as he took a seat on the opposite side of the Captain's desk.

"The reasoning behind such a request, is that it would help me greatly in the tending to our staff; as it may inform me to any pre-existing medical problems that someone may have. Using this information, I would be able to more accurately prescribe or perform the right sort of treatment, with the potential, and I mean potential added benefit of a sped up recovery process, meaning injured officers would be back on the field sooner, until such a time as we are able to procure additional staff."

"Who kicks a ball around anyway?"

"People who aren't too busy killing animals for the sake of a few trinkets." Jason said quietly, as he stared into the young warg's eyes. There was suddenly a menacing edge to his voice that hadn't been there before, and was gone just as quickly, as Jason continued to speak as if nothing had happened.

"So was that all of them then, the kinds from last night? Is that your whole pack, or are there more out there? I mean, while it would be even more impressive and all, something tells me you're not at the top of the food chain just yet."

"You take stuff cus you need stuff so yeah I'd take free stuff."

"Aha!" Collin looked as though he'd struck gold, despite how mundane the suspect's reply had been. "You steal stuff because you need it? That's brilliant! See the real crooks steal just because they want to, for profit or for a laugh. But you aren't like that are you? You only steal to survive?" Collin began to pace around the room, seemingly deep in thought. "You're part of that crime ring because whoever it is running the show protects you? This is bad, really bad." Collin suddenly stopped his erratic and strode straight to the door of the room with purpose.

"I see you're completely innocent of any wrongdoing," he announced boldly, "the only criminal in this room is me, for allowing myself to be part of a police force that lets people like you get roped into crime for a living. It's despicable, I should be the one in a cell! In fact I'll go and get one of the other officers to arrest me right away. I'd arrest myself if I thought I was worthy of holding a badge anymore. So sorry about this interrogation , someone else should pop around to talk to you while I get hurled in the slammer."

Collin beat a hasty retreat out of the room until he reached where Rat was standing well of out earshot of the holding room. "He's all yours my friend," he told Rat, "I think I've confused the living daylights out of him with that little routine. Oh and if he asks anything about me just tell him I've been thrown into prison for the rest of my life. Good luck!"

So men were not apt at introspection, hell, some men didn't ever truly listen to the words that came rattling out of their mouths. Rory had always found it rather darkly fascinating. Hunt spoke like a man relieving some great internal pressure, the words probably didn't matter to him much, so long as he spoke them and felt like he accomplished something, asserted some point of superiority. Yet the words revealed much, and all of it was troubling. How many generations of beatings, whippings, and simple rewards did it take for a dog to forget it was once a wolf? A dozen, a hundred, one? Hard to say, but it happened sure enough. And then the dog trotted alongside the hand that held the whip to hunt its former kin, without thought or hesitation. The dog though it did well. Hunt stank of dog. It lingered in the veins of his arguments, in the stress of his sentences, in the loaded contempt behind each utterance of the word 'animal.' As though humans were something superior, their laws, their systems something worthy of esteem. It was the warg's, the 'animal's' burden to 'earn' the human's 'trust.' To find worthiness in a human world. And what was the reward, the good? A home outside of Oldtown, outside of the 'filth,' willing compliance with a system that scorned it, approval?

Ahh... but this dog was confused, confused in thinking his masters thought him their equal. Oh they might learn to trust him, trust him to know his place, to do as ordered, but he was ever the inferior, ever the subordinate, even as he postured amongst those he called his peers. "I lead, you follow... my people." Rory didn't try to cap the chuckle such words brought to his throat, but in the laughter there was a pity of sort. This tame thing was no alpha, no matter what it spouted or how it strutted about. This was the prison trustee, the slave driver. What did it matter if his authority was ultimately subordinate? He could still crack his whip, he was still better than some common 'animal.' Regardless of his childhood, Hunt's logic faced a fatal flaw. In the past few years Oldtown had changed more than it had in the past few decades, and it was no longer a human place even if the humans lingered. Hunt's street cred was dated at best. But for now, Rory kept silent, and watched, watching was his specialty after all, and it had served him well thus far.

The interrogation played out as well as could be expected, and if nothing else, Hunt could be expected to cajole and coddle with a deft enough hand, enough to woo a child at least, though Rory wondered how long that temper would hold in check when someone with longer teeth than this boy was sitting in the hot seat. Rory leaned back against the door, arms folded, watching the boy, watching for the little signs, the ticks that showed pride, anger, fear, the useful points of stress. He broke off from his perch, pulled a chair and sat alongside the table, facing the boy, back to Hunt, leaning in slightly," A pack don't leave kin behind. You put out the call, you sniffed us out, and not a damn one of 'em lifted tooth, claw, or talon to help ya out, just pissed right off, the lot of 'em. No true 'pack' does that, and they damn sure wouldn't have ya playin' some hume's pet, collar and all, to get by. Your better than that."

Rory set the barbs, but didn't press further. He'd not go hounding after names, not yet. Names were the most intimate betrayal, and that was a lot to ask of the boy, even if his 'pack' had abandoned him. But information was information, and there were more roads to some answers than charging through the front door," How'd you sniff us out, anyway? That took some doin', impressive, useful. What set you to wailin' in the first place?"

"He's all yours my friend. I think I've confused the living daylights out of him with that little routine. Oh and if he asks anything about me just tell him I've been thrown into prison for the rest of my life. Good luck!"

Collin's plan must have worked on the kid, because it'd certainly worked on Rat. His brow furrowed and he shook his head, but opened the door and stepped inside, closing it behind him. He watched the boy in the relative gloom but made no movements. "So you look like that," he said absently. Rat leaned against the door and study the rest of the room. "What is your name?"

"-I mean potential added benefit of a sped up recovery process, meaning injured officers would be back on the field sooner, until such a time as we are able to procure additional staff."

Ackerman stroked at her chin for a moment, chewing at her bottom lip and looking into the middle distance. She did want every advantage she could get here. It wasn't like the other precincts could boast their own medic. Except this was the first day... and she was yet to see any of Mordecai's self proclaimed medical expertise for herself.

"I'll see what I can do, Constable. Though the bureaucratic side of things may take some time, I'd recommend focusing on your other duties for now."

***

"So you look like that," he said absently. Rat leaned against the door and study the rest of the room.

The young warg took a few seconds to snap himself back into reality and take stock of the newcomer. "That one's mental... you know that right?" He waved his arms in the direction of the door that Collin had left through. He didn't want to believe what everyone used to say about what the police were like in this city but what else could he think?

"What is your name?"

"Most just call me Rat." He muttered, throwing his walls back up. "Cus... y'know." He shrugged.

***

"So was that all of them then, the kinds from last night? Is that your whole pack, or are there more out there? I mean, while it would be even more impressive and all, something tells me you're not at the top of the food chain just yet."

"Pfftt!" The kid tried and failed to restrain his own little spiteful scoff. "Your kidding right? You two were going at it like an old married couple, wouldn't be surprised if you were, sick stuff you city folk get up to." His eyes flicked back and fourth between the two adult wargs as if they'd just tried to spit on his face.

"A pack don't leave kin behind. You put out the call, you sniffed us out, and not a damn one of 'em lifted tooth, claw, or talon to help ya out, just pissed right off, the lot of 'em. No true 'pack' does that, and they damn sure wouldn't have ya playin' some hume's pet, collar and all, to get by. Your better than that."

That one got some sparks. "What would you lot even know! You got fuckin' everythin' aint ya?" His teeth bared and sharpened away unconsciously like tiny bone needles. The boy almost hissed at them an all. What did this lot know about going hungry or being rejected by their own kind? Of having to fight everyday just to get by.

They ruined everything! If things had gone right maybe he could have stayed, could have lived without a fucking care in the world. Judy had been kind enough, she kept him warm and fed and she always wanted him around. She wanted Charlie around anyway. "I liked being Charlie." He whispered hoarsely, tiny voice catching in his throat as he shrank away.

"I'll see what I can do, Constable. Though the bureaucratic side of things may take some time, I'd recommend focusing on your other duties for now." Spoke the Captain as she stroked her chin whilst thinking over the proposal.

"Of course Captain, I understand such requests take their time. Now then, I think it's high time I retired for the evening, it has certainly been an eventful day wouldn't you agree?" Mordecai asked rhetorically as he stood up from the chair, making his way towards the door. As he was about to leave, he turned to face Captain Ackerman once more.

"By the way Captain, should any of our "guests" downstairs happen to injure themselves, either because of their own fault or as a result of the questioning, I'll be sure to look at them tomorrow; as well as our fellow officers. Good Night Captain." Mordecai said with a respectful nod as he left the office and towards the cloakroom, putting on his overcoat before exiting the building, waving goodbye to anyone he saw along the way.

His personal mistrust of the man notwithstanding, Jason had to admit that Rory had gotten a good measure of the kid, and his well-timed interjection had provoked a reaction that broke through the young warg's cocksure hostility.

"I liked being Charlie."

"Kid..." Jason said, softly. "Look at me. Go on, take a good long look."

He waited for the young warg to raise his eyes, studying the details. Jason's thick, perpetually messy hair, his ruddy, weather-beaten skin, the coarse stubble that covered the lower half of his face, and the huge arms ending in rough, callused hands. His may not have been the friendliest face at first glance, but it sure as hell wasn't the face of a pampered rich kid either. That was before you got to the eyes, where the beast half of him lurked behind.

"I understand better than you think." he continued eventually "I understand not knowing when you're next gonna get to eat. I understand how it feels when it seems like there's no-one in the world that cares; and this one..." he jerked his head towards Rory "knows what it feels like to be new blood in a place that probably doesn't seem like it wants you a lot of the time.

In any case, the only way either of us are gonna understand any better, is if you talk to us; and I want to understand kid, because I want to help. I want to know where you're from, how you got here, and what we have to do to make it so you don't have to come back and sit in that chair again. We're not the bad guys."

Jason paused for a few moments, giving the kid time to process what he'd just said.

"How about we start with your name? Take things nice and easy."

"That one's mental... you know that right?"

He chuckled, and nodded as the boy went on.

"Most just call me Rat. Cus... y'know."

This caught Rat's full attention. His eyes refocused on the child, studying him carefully. Had he heard them use his name and was trying to use it to buy sympathy? Of course, the boy really could turn into a rat, so that at least checked out. Nothing else he could do but believe him. Now the problem was if the boy would trust him.

"Me too. Around here, anyways. Home, they call me something else." Thrown off guard, he wasn't able to piece his sentences together as well, and his words spilled out. "Different reasons." Catching his slipping, he coughed to calm himself before carrying on. "I picked Rat. In this city, a human name is needed." He shrugged, as if to say he couldn't understand. "I came from outside, from the wilds, expecting opportunity. Found only crime. One day, opportunity caught me." He paused, remembering the chase Mabel had given him. If he had known how to soar back then, would he be in this child's shoes now? Or lack thereof, it seemed. "You?"

"By the way Captain, should any of our "guests" downstairs happen to injure themselves, either because of their own fault or as a result of the questioning, I'll be sure to look at them tomorrow; as well as our fellow officers. Good Night Captain."

"Goodnight, Constable." Ackerman said in the closest thing she had to a motherly tone. Some of these new recruits would prove interesting to say the least.

And it's the first day... oh gods it's only the first day!

***

The young warg listened intently with wide eyes as Jason went on about the city life and experiences he knew about all too well. The thief in him knew he shouldn't be suckered in but more than anything he was still a child and the child in him longed for an adult that could understand.

"How about we start with your name? Take things nice and easy."

"Dunno... just kid I guess. First real name anyone called me was Charlie." He fidgeted a little at that. "The others don't really go for names, I mean wargs aren't supposed to, right? Most are still trying to get their first animal sorted." He could still remember when Charlie the cat was brought to him and he went through his first shift. It still sent shivers through his skin.

***

"I picked Rat. In this city, a human name is needed."

"Yeah!" The kid scoffed. "What's with that?"

"I came from outside, from the wilds, expecting opportunity. Found only crime. One day, opportunity caught me. You?"

"I guess." He shrugged. "It's not like people want what we can do around here. I don't see why everyone keeps trying to get into the cities. I'd rather go to the forests. These humans are so uptight about EVERYTHING." This one apparently had a higher opinion of himself and his kind than the others.

"I mean wargs aren't supposed to, right? Most are still trying to get their first animal sorted."

"Warg's aren't supposed to have names huh..." Jason repeated "According to who? Whatever. Right now it's what you would like to be called that matters. If Charlie works for you, then it works for me."

Jason smiled again. For someone who's smiles were so few and far between, Jason's did wonders for his face, making him look almost gentle.

"How long have you been in this city, Charlie?"

"I guess. It's not like people want what we can do around here. I don't see why everyone keeps trying to get into the cities. I'd rather go to the forests. These humans are so uptight about EVERYTHING."

Rat blinked in surprise. "Rather? You never lived in forests?" He supposed it should be apparent, but for some reason it felt wrong for a warg to never experience living free and wild at least once. "Always inside these walls..." He stared at the wall of the cell, as if he could see the night sky outside through it.

"How long have you been in this city, Charlie?"

"I dunno, a few moons I guess." Charlie said sullenly, looking up at the looming officer from under his brows. That was the best kind of answer he could give. He'd been taught how to sneak and keep an eye out for good marks, how to blend in with the other animals and how to signal the rest of the gang. Things like reading and telling time were less important for his role. He could only guess that the adults hadn't gotten round to it yet.

If he was honest with himself he knew that these men wanted something from him, why else would they be being so nice to him? But maybe they could offer him something better than the others could, besides they had him now. Maybe he should play along with them, it would be all too easy for them to bring the boot down and make him their bitch. The stories of what the cops did to non-humans in this city were all too vivid.

***

"Always inside these walls..."

"I went outside too..." The little warg looked at his interrogator askance. "So... are you lot gunna send me to jail or something?" He asked, immediately regretting the question as a chill of worry creeping up his neck. He didn't want to give them ideas after all.

***

"We have a location." Novak stated flatly to his commanding officer.

"You didn't have too much trouble?" Ackerman raised an eyebrow at him as she leaned on the far wall, facing the doors of the holding cells.

"I didn't use any untoward means if that's what your asking." He grumbled. "We need to move on this fast. If the group hasn't gone to ground already then they will be soon."

"You best get busy on the phone and call the others back here then. I'll get on the wire to main precinct, see if they have anyone in the area who can lend support."

Novak sighed wearily as he trudged off to his task of contacting the as many of the other praetorians as he could and calling them back to the precinct. Apparently none of them were getting any sleep tonight. Ackerman gave one last lingering look at the sealed doors of the holding cells. She could give the recruits a little more time before she gathered them all, maybe they could gather any other useful snippets of information before they had to move out.

"I dunno, a few moons I guess."

"Must have been a very different world to adjust to." Jason replied. "You're a smart kid, but I reckon you needed someone to show you the ropes. Who is it that looks after you Charlie, and what do they get in return?"

Charlie let out a long sigh and his shoulders slumped, along with the rest of him. He seemed the very picture of defeat. He'd accepted that there was no way out of this but that didn't make it any easier.

"Sykes." He muttered. "Sykes is in charge. He tells us where to go and sorts out the loot."

"Sykes..." Jason responded, pressing the point. "and how might we recognise this Sykes? How old is he, what does he look like, is he a warg too and what can he turn into?"

"He's big 'an beardy." Charlie grumbled along. "There aren't to many grown ups there 'an... 'an he's always wearin' this big brown coat." He carried on hesitantly. "He aint a warg - least I don't think so - I never caught wind of him shiftin' into nothin'."

Charlie broke off eye contact after that, squinting his eyes as he stared at his fidgeting feet. "He just decides what we shift into, him an' the older ones."

"One more question." Jason said, not letting up just yet. "How many of the older ones are there, besides Sykes?"

"Five, I guess, including him. They're like his own little pack or something, they make sure everybody does they're share and... stuff."

Jason's body language relaxed, and he smiled at Charlie.

"You've helped a lot today kid. I won't forget it." he said kindly, before taking a piece of scrap paper and a pen out of his pocket, and scribbling, first an address, and second a sequence of directions represented by arrows.

"I'm gonna make you a deal, Charlie." Jason said as he finished up scribbling, before holding up the paper for the young warg to see. "This here tells you how to get to my house. If you come round once every night, you get fed, and by that I mean an actual meal. In time, if you can keep your end of the bargain, I might even be able to sort you out with a roof over your head and even a job. I still have a few favours I can call in with some old friends."

He started to pass the scrap of paper towards the kid, but stopped just short of it being within arms reach.

"That's my end of the deal, and now here's yours... no more stealing; no more killing pets; no more anything that puts you on the wrong side of people like me. You've got one chance. If we ever have to sit down in this room again like this, for any reason, then the deal's off. Are we clear?"

"I...I..." Charlie's eyes continued to get wider as the officer listed out his offer. This wasn't happening, was it? "Sure!" He blurted out. "S-sure! I promise!" He snatched up the directions, scanning them eagerly as if his life depended on it. Sure he only knew a few of the words but the arrows helped, he work it out... right?

Worse came to it he could just case this place and tail the big guy.

"Good." Jason added, before getting up and walking to the door. "I reckon you should be out of here soon enough. I the mean time, think about what I said."

Captain Ackerman was outside the door when Jason came out.

"The guy heading the operation goes by the name of Sykes." he told her. "He's large, bearded, and will probably be wearing a brown coat. He's probably human, though I can't say for sure that he's not a Shedder. The only real muscle are him and four other adults, according to the kid, though I can't say for sure that none of them will be armed."

"Very good, constable." The captain nodded. "Sergant Novak has managed to get us a location. I suggest you get yourself preped. We'll be moving out soon."

Cali grumbled to herself as trudged back into the station. She barely got an hour of rest before being called to come in to work. Still, they apparently got a lead for the case, so she grudgingly agreed to come in.

And considering how she had done so far, Cali decided to step up to prove herself and show she could get the job done.

As soon as she get her uniform on, Cali went straight to the meeting room, ready to face whatever came her way.

Mordecai was lounging in an armchair back at the apartment reading a newspaper he bought earlier in the day, when suddenly the telephone that was connected to the wall began to ring. He looked up from the paper, an eyebrow raised, wondering what the noise was. The phone rang a few more times before Mordecai realised where it was coming from. Tossing the paper onto a nearby table, he walked over to the phone, talking to himself as he did.

"Why would anyone call at this godforsaken hour?" He asked himself before picking up the handset.

"Hello? This is Vasir speaking. Who may I say is calling?" Mordecai asked, sounding half asleep.

"Vasir, it's Sergeant Novak down at the precinct. Sorry to disturb you at such an unholy hour, but a development has just come in. Our boys down interrogation have managed to get some details about the people that those young Wargs are working for, and the Captain thinks it's going to be big. We're going to need everyone on this one I'm afraid." Mordecai groaned as Novak gave him an update on the situation. He sighed before giving a response.

"But sir, why do I need to come along on this one? You know as well as I do that I'm more suited to a support role in this group."

"I realise that Constable, and if we were a bigger precinct with a better budget and more manpower to spare, I wouldn't be making this here phone call right now. But until that day comes, I'm afraid you'll have to spread your duties about." Mordecai had to admit, the Sergeant had made a valid point, they didn't exactly have a load of resources to hand.

"Point proven and understood. Let me get somethings together, and I'll be back as quick as I can."

"Thank you Vasir, and hurry." Was all Novak said before the line went dead, it was likely that Novak was making another phone call. Mordecai quickly put his coat, hat, goggles and scarf back on before locking the door to the apartment behind him and headed back to the precinct building.

Fifteen or so minutes later, Mordecai was back at the precinct, now with his uniform back on, and drinking from a glass of water in the meeting room.

Either because he was extremely optimistic or delusional, Collin believed his bizarre interrogation tactics had worked perfectly and that the suspect would crack and reveal everything to Rat in a matter of minutes. So of course, rather than going home, he had returned to his desk, expecting Rat to return very soon with a wealth of information about the criminal underworld. Unfortunately for Collin, posing as an escaped lunatic is not a highly successful interrogation technique and Rat did not show up in a matter of minutes, in fact he didn't show up at all. Collin fell asleep at his desk waiting for an event that would never occur and thus there was no need to call him back to the station when the news came in, Novak just had to thump his desk as he walked past.

"Wahh? Have I solved the case?" he asked in confusion, blinking sleep out of his eyes.

"Meeting Room Vandar, we've had some luck in the interrogation. Try to stay awake this time."

A thoroughly confused Collin stumbled away from his desk and entered the Meeting Room, ready to hear this new information.

Rory kept silent as the interrogation lingered on. He'd said enough, said about as much he figured he could manage without exploding. It was hard enough to keep his expression warm and somewhat concerned. Each statement out of the boy's mouth gave birth to a new blasphemy and hinted at the presence of a dozen others. The boy clicked with Hunt, that was easy enough to see, and as the conversation wore on, Rory realized that there could have been no other outcome. Rory could reach no basic common ground with this boy because no such ground existed. They might as well have spoken different languages. Rory still hadn't quite gotten over the boy's admission, that'd he'd liked being Charlie, that he'd liked being some collared pet. There was no pride here, no sense of self worth, nothing whatsoever, just one desperate bid to survive after the other. Rory knew of struggles to survive, but not like this, never like this. In the deepest woods, even when the winters were cold and food was scarce, the warg, and the wolf paramount among them, maintained a certain dignity, a certain nobility even. The realities were harsh, yes, savage even at times, but never in a way they'd felt made them lesser. But these city wargs... there was something here that Rory could not quite grasp, even as he listened to Hunt reassure the boy and draw him further and further out.

Some of the Red children expressed dismay over the plight of city wargs, others didn't even consider them kin, thinking them too far gone from the uncorrupted stock to be called brethren in truth. Rory had never counted himself among the latter group, warg was warg, regardless of upbringing. That must still be true, yes, but perhaps the gulf... while not insurmountable, was wider than Rory cared to admit. That life as a house pet might be the... the better fate of a street urchin, it set something hot and wild through the young copper's blood, something like outrage, something like fury. He'd lived in Oldtown for some years now, but isolated in a sense, wrapped up in a community that ran true old warg to the core, that had marked out its territory and pushed to expand those borders even now. They'd counted city wargs among their number, true enough, but they'd shown them way of things also, like teaching fool cousins the proper way to speak their words and hold themselves like civilized folk. To think that they might have their own ways and customs, stamped into them by the human yoke... was very nearly repugnant.

The interview came to an end, the boy gave a name, an adult, a ring leader, a human, and for his part, Hunt made a promise, a promise that shocked both Rory and the boy. Rory's glance lingered long on the large man, lingered even after they'd left the boy and Hunt made his report to Ackerman and she let out the call for the others to return to the station. As those who departed made their way back to base, Rory took a moment of offer a few words, about as conciliatory as his mood would allow," You were... good, in there, with the boy. Didn't think he'd give a name, didn't expect plenty for that matter.... He's right, you know... Warg don't name babes, who knows a babe? A pack, a people, give a name, shows they know you, and if you've neither... you name yourself, but... but that's rare and rarer. Why'd no one take that boy, Hunt, no one till you? He's healthy, he's sharp, why'd none claim him?"

"You were... good, in there, with the boy. Didn't think he'd give a name, didn't expect plenty for that matter..."

"Extraordinary isn't it, how far a little trust can get you?" Jason grunted, before checking himself and switching to a softer, more magnanimous tone. "Thanks. You weren't too bad yourself."

"He's healthy, he's sharp, why'd none claim him?"

"Because kids like Charlie aren't a valuable commodity in Rosenheim." he replied gravely. "You're right. He's sharp, sharp enough to nearly get the best of us at any rate, but the hard truth is there are a thousand kids just like him still out there. People like this Sykes guy, they aren't interested in brotherhood. They might adopt certain aspects of it when it suits them, but all they really care about is exploiting the desperate for their own gain. Why invite a kid like Charlie to your table, when you can teach him to be happy with the scraps you leave on the floor?"

Jason looked back towards the cell door, reminded of when he and Emilia had met. The first time he had ever been able to temper the rage of the beast inside of him, and make it stay its hand.

"All it takes is one person to believe that you can do better." he said quietly. "Maybe I can be that person to Charlie, I don't know yet, but if he can keep his end of the bargain, then maybe word will get around the young wargs of Old Town that they don't need people like Sykes, that there's a better way... Times are changing for everyone Rory. Sooner or later humans will have to accept that Shifters and Kin are here to stay, but that won't happen until we take it upon ourselves to prove that we can be more than thieves and scavengers. You see what I've been getting at now? It's one thing to know how bad a hand life dealt you, but that doesn't change a damn thing until you do."

Jason sighed and shook his head. "Whatever. One thing at a time right? Right now, we've got an arrest to make."

Rory listened to the words and fought to suppress a shuddering cringe, to silence the part of his mind that damned something apparently essential to Hunt's psyche. Why was he so conciliatory?! Why must it be the warg that bends before the human? Had it not been humans behind the terrible pogrom, the attempt to purge shifter kind from 'their lands? Humans had broken the peace they'd claim to cherish. If anyone needed to rebuild the trust that once was.... How was this not readily apparent? The humans were damned with their own prejudices, change was coming on a time table they could barely fathom. The seeds of it were here, they'd taken root, some of them Rory had played a hand in sewing. Let the years roll by, and the human opinion would not matter. A warg need not prove anything to anyone save himself and his kin. The circle turns and the humans had found their full moon, and what had they done with their moment on the top? They'd slaughtered with a liberal hand, so be it, it was their moment, their choice. But now that moon was waning, as surely as the circle turned, and the harvest they reaped would be brutal.

Hunt was a mystery of sorts, but he served a vital purpose. As best as Rory could figure, his attitudes must mirror those of his surroundings, and there would be those who shared his view. But even that would not halt the turn of the Circle. Wild born wargs swarmed into this city, and they would remember. How long would it be before Wild born, and Wild raised outnumbered their city cousins five to one? Would being one of the majority heal those old scars and remind them that they had nothing to prove? That such a burden didn't lie on them? Or was the human whip and yoke too fresh a memory? That remained to be seen, though it would be interesting to see if the tone of Hunt's words changed. For now, Rory would watch, as was his way, watch and test and probe.

"Sorry if this sounds odd, mate. But really... do you like what you are? Do you want to be a warg? When last did you shift true?"

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