And one more drabble for the road! Yes, we will actually be getting back to the story after this, I swear. (This is what happens when you wait too long to start taking your drabble collection seriously.)

I doubt you guys will complain about this one though.


Drabble 10: Castlemania: Lords of Shallow

The Nocturnal District

Castle Fangpyre

20 Years Ago

"Are we all assembled?"

"There's only six of us, Big. You can count."

"Do not insult Mr. Big's mathematical ability."

"It's quite alright, Koslov. We must make a good impression for our newest member."

"And I appreciate the sentiment. Thank you all for this warm welcome."

"Still can't believe you made me come all the way down here for this."

"Quiet, Preston. You spend too much time on your remote little island as is."

"Says the so-called 'lady' who no one can even find half the time."

"Miss Lang is a very busy mammal."

"Stand down, Felix."

"Yes, Miss Lang."

"So can we get this show on the road or what? I'm getting jumpy!"

"WAAAAAAAH!"

"Now look at what you've done! Hush now, niño. It's alright."

There were two clicks and a buzz.

"Mr. Narwhalter agrees with the sentiment of starting this meeting posthaste, intoned in such a way as to imply general displeasure towards being in the same room as any of you."

"He's not in the same room!"

"WAAAAAAAH!"

"You are upsetting my son!"

"Why did you even bring that little brat here?!"

"Everyone, please! This is a time of celebration! Russ, Sprock, dim the lights and let's get started."

"Yes, boss."

"No no, that's too dim! We have guests from the surface here! Light some candles, make it appropriately foreboding."

"Yes, boss."

"Excellent." The finely-dressed bat looked around appreciatively at the meeting hall.

The room itself was fairly plain, with only a large violet carpet stretched across the floor and a sizable round table set up in the middle, surrounded by a ring of chairs. On the far wall, a colorful display of purple and black stained-glass windows more than made up for the dreariness, while the aforementioned candles helped to set the atmosphere, as much as the room's occupants threatened to destroy it. And what a colorful bunch they were.

There was Mr. Big, the crime lord of Tundratown. The diminutive arctic shrew sat in a chair in the outstretched paw of his eternally faithful bodyguard, Koslov. Neither were an appropriate size for the actual chair that had been prepared for them, which Koslov's girth aimed to collapse any second. Nevertheless, both of them looked very comfortable to be there, the former being one of the oldest attendees and the latter rarely showing his displeasure for anything.

Across from them sat Preston Thornbrush, the crime lord of Outback Island. He was an elderly koala, and the cantankerous sort of elderly at that, dressed in a spiffy black suit with fur several shades greyer than normal. He was actively smoking a cigar of eucalyptus, as if his personality weren't toxic enough, and blowing the fumes distastefully into the air. Behind him stood his own bodyguard, a suited hippo known as Tractor. He spoke softly and carried a big pipe.

To their right was Annamarie Luna, more commonly known as Lady Lang, crime lord of the Rainforest District. Dressed in a dark blue blazer and high heels, the whiter wolf clasped her painted claws in front of her, tail softly flicking as she patiently waited for the proceedings to begin. The other crime lords could only assume that she chose not to bring a bodyguard, as the only mammal with her was a wolf pup in a dark blue shirt and black pants. He was a bit tall for his age and looked way more serious than any child should, but was otherwise unimpressive.

Across from them sat Sandcat Serena, the crime lord of Sahara Square. The feline wore a very festive and colorful dress, lined with glitter and jewels like she had just come here from Meowdi Gras. She completed the look with the upper half of a sun mask that concealed her eyes. It was actually somewhat intimidating, especially with the presence of her bodyguard, the young matador, Gomez. Less so because she had brought her infant son as well and he was a bit of a crybaby.

Right of them was a seat without a guest, and then a guest without a seat. Piers Narwhalter, crime lord of the Docks, never attended these meetings in person, which was nigh-impossible for multiple reasons. Instead, a large monitor had been set up for him to video conference from. Even then, the reclusive marine mammal didn't show his own face. He communicated through his native tongue somewhere in the background while his interpreter, the bespectacled Dolphonics, took front and center.

The last seat was taken by the newly-appointed crime lord of the Nocturnal District, who also happened to be their host, Vladzotz Fangypre III. The bat wore a white undershirt beneath a black vest and black overcoat with a vampiric collar and tail, all sleeveless to allow room for his wings to stretch. He also sported a red bow tie in the shape of a pair of outstretched bat wings. Accompanying him on his left was Russ, a quiet, bulky badger in an equally bulky black suit and tie with a red trim. On his right was Sprock, a wry and wiry raccoon in a black vest and red trench coat. His fur was a mess and his teeth were dirty, but he was smiling anyway. "So...we all just gonna stare at each other or…?"

Vlad cleared his throat. "Right. As I was saying, I thank you all for welcoming me into the fold with this conference of the Zootopian crime lords. I may not have been a part of this for very long, but if I didn't know any better, I'd almost feel as if my inclusion were planned from the very beginning. Almost." He lifted a wine glass off the table in front of him. "A toast to organized crime." He brought it to his lips, the other crime lords joining him in downing the red liquid. Except Narwhalter.

Sprock suddenly spoke up again. "Oh wait, is this where you're sitting, boss? I probably should've asked about that before setting the drinks."

Every other crime lord did an immediate spit-take. Except Narwhalter.

The raccoon laughed. "Kidding! That one never gets old!"

"Shut up, you idiot," Russ growled, about the only thing he said regularly.

The other crime lords were unamused. Even Narwhalter. "Mr. Narwhalter does not appreciate your attempt to poison him."

"But it's not...he's not even...what?"

"Very amusing," Vlad said dryly. "For the sake of your joke, I hope you don't mind cleaning up the mess you made."

The raccoon muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'worth it' as he set to work wiping up the spilled wine with a rag.

"In the meantime, why don't the rest of you fill me in on your own activities?" Vlad suggested. "My father has given me an idea of what each of you do, but I would prefer to hear it straight from the source."

"Sounds reasonable," Preston said, rolling his cigar around in his mouth. "So who's going first?"

"I feel somewhat obligated to," Mr. Big replied. "I am a mogul of transportation. I get mammals and goods where they need to go, make sure everything is in order and that all debts are paid. Otherwise, mammals don't like where they go so much." Most of the attendees chuckled, as if sharing in a particularly dark inside joke. "For you, Vladzotz, I would be happy to give a ride should you ever feel inclined to visit."

"Thank you for the offer, but I would prefer to stay down here for the foreseeable future," Vlad said bluntly, but politely.

"Saw that one coming," said Lang. "His father was the same way. I don't know why you even bothered to ask."

"Professional courtesy."

"Fair enough." The wolfess tilted her head very slightly to address Vlad. "I suppose I will go next then. As Preston said, you likely won't see very much of me, but I run a large extortion racket in the Rainforest District. I own several businesses there, because their original owners know better than to incite the wrath of my pack."

"Meaning she sics her pups on them if they don't pay up," Preston said shortly.

"I suppose that's one way of putting it," she admitted. "But my pups, as you refer to them, are far more than mere hired muscle. They are my family."

"What about him?" Vlad asked curiously, gesturing to the young wolf standing at her side. "He does appear to be more family than muscle."

She smiled softly. "Appearances can be deceiving. Felix here is training to be my personal bodyguard one day. I thought this experience would be beneficial."

Preston snorted. "You're joking."

"Felix, a demonstration, please?"

"Yes, Miss Lang."

Tractor suddenly let out a yell and dropped to one knee. The entire assembly watched as Felix leapt right into the center of the table, scaring the crap out of Sprock, then surged over Preston's head and kicked his bodyguard under the chin, successfully tipping the hippo off-balance and knocking him onto his back. "A simple matter of physics," the wolf pup explained, hopping back down to Lang's side. "I believe the saying goes, 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall.'"

"Alright, you made your point, Lang," Preston growled. "Tractor, get up. You're a disgrace."

"Yes, sir." The hippo glared at Felix as he stood back up, but the wolf didn't even look back.

Vlad clapped lightly. "Very impressive. If I may ask, from whom did the boy learn such skills?"

"From his mother," Lang replied simply, and just a tiny bit smugly.

"She did not always wear high heels," Serena added, smiling from beneath her mask. "And you do not want her to take them off."

"Duly noted."

"This reminds me...Mr. Big?" Lang tilted her head very slightly again back at the shrew. "I believe you told me earlier that you were interested in making me a business proposal."

"I did indeed," he affirmed. "My influx of new vehicles has increased greatly as of late. While this is good for business, I am lacking in mechanical assistance to keep them all up and running. I would like to hire the services of some of your children for maintenance, and in exchange, I shall provide more funding for those 'derbies' they enjoy so much."

"A little too much," Lang replied. "But my children do like them and they are surprisingly expensive affairs, so color me interested. Let's discuss this aside, shall we?"

"Let's." Big, well Koslov, got up and followed Lang and Felix away from the table to continue discussing their deal. Even if this was a meeting of cooperation, the crime lords weren't privy to sharing everything with everyone and so no one batted an eye.

"I shall go next," Serena said. "Only because I don't think Preston has calmed himself yet."

"Bugger off."

"I am in charge of Zootopia's largest gambling ring, and owner of the Oasis Casino in the Grand Palms Hotel." Serena let out a coy giggle. "Well, I own pretty much the entire hotel actually, but not publically. Do you enjoy games, Vladzotz?"

"I'm afraid I don't have much time to indulge," the bat said. "On games, that is."

"What about music?"

That got his attention, his large ears perking up. "What kind of music?"

"Flamenco, mariachi, classical guitar…"

"Oh." His ears lowered. "That is not exactly my genre."

She smirked. "I figured, but I had to ask. It wouldn't hurt to broaden your horizons a bit though. You are one of us now. A whole new world of possibilities is open to you."

"You may have a point," Vlad conceded. "I'll consider it. But only at night, and only if you can ensure I won't be mobbed by curious surface-dwellers."

"Agreed," she said, tipping her mask to him. He caught a brief glimpse of beautiful gold eyes before she refastened it. "You see? Your first night as a crime lord and already you are making deals."

"It appears so!" he laughed.

"WAAAAAAAH!"

"Oh no, not again!" Serena looked down at the bundled kitten in her arms. "I knew this was not a good place to bring him."

"You think?!" Preston asked.

She ignored him, turning to her bodyguard instead. "Gomez, help me out here."

"Si, jefe." The bull pulled out a pair of maracas while Serena softly began to sing.

"My little onnnnnnnne, please do not cryyyyyyyy."

"Think of the staaaaaars, up in the skyyyyyyyyy."

"They shine so briiiiiiiiiight, they shine so loooooooong."

"Now say goodniiiiiiiight, when I end this soooooooong."

The kitten yawned, his beady eyes slowly falling shut. The rest of the room was silent as well, even Preston, mesmerized by her enchanting voice. "That was incredible," Vlad finally said, quietly.

"Gracias. I apologize for the commotion. Little Sanchez has some powerful vocal cords, just like his mother."

"I dearly hope that he grows up to sing just like his mother as well."

"Because right now, he's pretty offensive to the ears," Preston said, not mesmerized for long.

She hissed at him. "Your turn."

"If you insist." The koala finally put out his cigar, in what was left of his drink. "I'm a drug runner. Name something that's big, hot, and spreading like wildfire, and I'm probably controlling it."

"Blood."

Preston froze, whatever spiel he had prepared dying in his throat. Slowly, he looked down at his drink, clearly wishing he could have that last sip after all. "I...I don't...control that...no…"

"You shut him up," said a stunned Lady Lang, returning to her seat. "No one has ever shut him up before."

"An impressive feat," Mr. Big agreed as Koslov sat them back down. Against all odds, the chair endured.

"I couldn't resist," Vlad said, smiling devilishly at the still-horrified koala. Having finished with the table, Sprock snickered as well. "It is the nature of the job to know how to silence those who talk too much."

Preston didn't respond even to that.

"But speaking of silence…" Vlad turned to the only other crime lord yet to introduce themselves, "Mr. Narwhalter has not chimed in for quite some time now."

A long stream of buzzes and whistles came from behind Dolphonics. "Mr. Narwhalter prefers to listen rather than speak, said derisively," his translator clarified. "He is an information broker, skilled in gathering intelligence from all corners of Zootopia, and using it towards whatever means he sees fit."

"That includes information on all of us, I assume?"

"But of course." Dolphonics pushed up the rim of his glasses and smirked. "Lord Vladzotz Canomir Fangpyre III, born and raised in the Nocturnal District beneath two stern, conservative parents who instilled those very same traits within you. In particular, your father, Vladzotz II, raised you to be heir to the Nocturnal Mob, teaching you about business, finances, the underworld, and anything else he deemed useful to run a large and successful criminal empire. He also taught you how to play the organ, which you now do regularly on most nights. When you were younger, you often asked to accompany your father on business trips to the surface world, even though you both despise it and want to see it burn for the neglect it has shown to your species and the Nocturnal District as a whole. You grew up exclusively drinking blood and have generally lived an elusive, some might even say sheltered, life before your father died and you took control of the Nocturnal Mob, which has brought us to this very meeting. Shall I continue?"

Even Vlad was visibly unnerved now. "How did you learn all of that?"

"It wasn't easy, not even for Mr. Narwhalter. You hide your secrets well, Vladzotz. But not well enough."

"Your borderline-stalkerish tendencies have been noted, Piers," said Lang, shifting a bit uncomfortably herself.

"Mr. Narwhalter learns whatever he can, whenever he can," Dolphonics justified. "It is why he will be the only one left when the end comes." A sharp series of clicks cut him off. "Mr. Narwhalter would have preferred I not said that, and asks you to strike the previous statement from memory."

"We'll get right on that," Serena replied dryly.

"It should be noted that Piers is also somewhat of a conspiracy theorist," said Mr. Big. "Before we proceed, we should probably ask if there is anything of the sort he wishes to discuss."

"Best to get it over with," Lang agreed.

An excited buzz answered them. "As a matter of fact, there are some topics Mr. Narwhalter wishes to bring up," Dolphonics said. "Among them are surveillance probes hidden with Bug Burga's napkins, subliminal messages in Jerry Vole music, brainwashed foreign spies disguised as migrant workers, and of course, the Marine Cannibalism Agenda…"

"Oh my, we appear to be falling behind schedule!" Serena said loudly, shuffling through a stack of papers that hadn't even been there a moment earlier. "We'll have to move on for now and get back to that. Uh...I believe we were going to hear a favor today?"

Someone cleared their throat. "Yes, yes you were. If that's okay with you…?"

All six crime lords and their bodyguards turned their heads to the entrance of the room, where there was suddenly another mammal standing. "How long has he been there?" Mr. Big whispered to Serena, who shrugged in response.

"Not our fault," Koslov said. "Scrawny fox lacks presence."

"Um...yes, I suppose compared to you all, I would." Said scrawny fox shuffled up to the table, smiling nervously. He wore a black suit, one that had been worn for quite some time as evidenced by the scuff marks and slight tears. His fur was mostly well-groomed, but off in just a few spots. And he smelled just a bit too heavily of cologne. It all gave the impression of someone who had tried their best to look good for this meeting, but didn't have much to work with. "Greetings, everyone. My name is John Wilde. A few of you have met me already."

"Ah, Johnny! Good to see ya!" Preston greeted warmly, having finally snapped out of his stupor. "This suit is your finest work yet!" He showed off his attire proudly.

"Thank you," he said bashfully. "Suitopia appreciates your business."

"And my funding," he added, winking.

"Yes, that too."

"You can discuss business later," Mr. Big cut in, somewhat amused as it was normally Preston himself who didn't want to waste time. "We wish to hear your favor now, Mr. Wilde."

"R-Right." He took a deep breath. "The thing is, I've been in a bit of a rough spot lately, having just been kicked out of the house by my wife, and right now I'm living in this run-down shack in Rainforest..."

"My sympathies," Serena said genuinely.

"Are you looking for a loan?" asked Lang, her ears perking up at the mention of her territory.

"No, this isn't about me," John insisted. "I can manage on my own. I have for many years. This is for the sake of my son, Nicholas Wilde. Having to leave him was awful enough, but now I've found out that he's run away from home. The boy is only twelve! He can't survive like I have!"

"The solution seems fairly clear-cut to me," Vlad said, somewhat confused. "Could you not just take care of him yourself?"

"I wish I could, but I don't even know where he is right now." John sighed. "And even if I did find him, I don't have the ability to look after him any more. I've lost everything in one night."

"Are you sure you don't want a loan?" Lang asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes. Marian made it quite clear that she doesn't want me around my own son anymore. I'm going to be leaving this city for good soon, and I don't know if I'll ever be coming back, but...I can't just leave without knowing that my son is safe." He looked up at them, his eyes focused and determined. "That's why I've come to you today. I humbly request that one of you find my son and take him under your care, molding him into someone that can survive out in the real world."

The weight of his request crashed down on the assembled lords, leaving them stunned into silence. Slowly, they started to exchange glances, as if to say, "You didn't see this coming, did you?"

Shortly after that, he got the first response. "Mr. Narwhalter rejects your favor."

"No surprise there," John said without considering his surroundings. Luckily for him, he knew that most of them had a decent sense of humor and his comment actually got a few chuckles.

But then came the next response. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Johnny," said Preston. He actually sounded a bit apologetic, but only a bit. "I'm grateful to you and your business, really I am, but it's hard enough keeping track of a bunch of drug addicts without having to worry about some little fox brat getting into the stash." He didn't bother adding a "No offense". "Besides...this little development means that Suitopia is out of business, doesn't it?"

John shifted nervously. "W-Well...yes."

"I see." He gestured to Tractor to light him another cigar, just so he could put it out into the glass again. "I gave you a very sizable loan to get that establishment up and running, you know. For the most part, you've paid it back in full." He gestured to the suit he was wearing. "But not entirely. So tell you what, in lieu of watching your brat, I'll reward your good service by letting you walk out on me with your legs intact. Deal?"

What else could he say? "Deal…" This wasn't good. Preston Thornbrush had been his best bet coming in, and now he was firmly off the table. Even as a pro gambler, this wasn't a game of risk he wanted to play with him. "Um...anyone else? I've taught Nicholas as much as I could. I promise he won't be a burden."

"Be that as it may, he is still just a child," Mr. Big replied. "I fear the cold of Tundratown may prove miserable for a fox kit. Not to mention that the services I provide are generally geared towards larger mammals." He gestured to Koslov, who nodded in agreement.

Another wisecrack instantly came to John's mind, but this one he knew better than to say aloud.

"I must raise similar concerns," Vlad stated. "The Nocturnal Mob has never been shy about indoctrinating young minds under our cause, but we are not a nightcare-"

"Daycare," Sprock corrected.

"Daycare center. I do not know your child. I am wary of investing effort into his nurturing."

"Of course," John allowed. "But if you just give him a chance, I'm sure you will see the boy's potential."

"You do understand what that means, yes? He would not have an ordinary kithood. The Nocturnal Mob would put him to work doing tasks both dangerous and destructive. Under my employ, he would also be required to make a…" Vlad paused, licking his fangs, "...weekly contribution, for the sake of his employer." Russ and Sprock tilted their heads back, showing puncture marks on their necks. "Is that what you want for your son?" Vlad asked.

The thought made John shudder involuntarily, which was all the answer the bat lord needed. "I thought as much."

"N-No, wait! It could work! I didn't mean to-!"

"I can tell what you meant," he said sharply. "My answer is no."

"As is mine," Mr. Big confirmed.

John was starting to panic now. Six crime lords to choose from, and he'd already been rejected by more than half.

"Maybe I could do it."

The fox looked up with surprise as one of the female crime lords volunteered, and not the one he would have expected. "Serena? You would be willing?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course. I already have plenty of experience raising a little niño. I don't see why I can't look after one more, especially with the help of my underlings," she answered with a friendly smile. "I've always wanted to help further relations between cats and dogs anyhow."

"Excellent! I-!"

*SNAP*

Without warning, Koslov's chair finally buckled beneath him, sending both bear and boss to the floor.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

Serena gasped. "This is worse than before! Gomez! We must calm him!"

The bull hurriedly pulled out his maracas as Serena sang to him again.

"My little onnnnnnne, it's just a chaaaaaaair!"

"There is no neeeeeed, for you to caaaaaaaare!"

He cared. "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" The sounds of his cry started to shake the entire room, making everyone inside desperately shield their ears.

"It isn't enough this time!" Serena yelled. "We must assemble the entire band for this! Quickly! Before it's too late!"

"H-Hey! What about-?"

Before John could even finish his sentence, Serena and Gomez rushed past him and out of the chamber. Sanchez's wailing echoed from the distance for some time after. "Don't think she'll be back tonight," Preston noted. "Not to say I told her so, but…"

John swallowed. Just like that, he only had one option left. "Lady Lang…?"

"Be quiet."

John flinched, caught off-guard by the sheer coldness in her tone. "What? But I thought you of all mammals would-"

"I said be quiet," she snapped. Lady Lang was his best option next to Preston, or so he thought. Right now, she was glaring at him with uncharacteristic intensity. "While it is true that the Lang Family was formed to take in lost pups without a home, and I am not above doing so for pups of another species, the fact of the matter is, young Nicholas isn't a pup without a home, is he?"

"W-Well, technically speaking-"

"He has a mother. You just don't want him to go back to her." She leaned in towards him. "Now why is that? Is she sick?"

"No."

"Disabled?"

"No."

"In any way incapable of raising a child?"

"Physically no," he admitted. "But Marian doesn't understand what a fox kit needs to survive in this world. I fear what could become of my boy if he isn't properly educated on the matter. Like I said, I would do that myself, but-"

Lang raised a paw to stop him. She was treating him coldly before, but now she was shaking with barely-contained fury. "So let me get this straight. You are so self-assured that your way is the only way for a fox to live that you would rather entrust your son's livelihood to a criminal you barely know than to return him to the love and protection of his own mother who is likely worried sick about him?"

"Uh...when you put it that way, it sounds kinda-"

"How dare you!" she snarled, digging her claws into the table. "Do you have any idea what most of my children would give to have a real family to go home to?! To even have that option?! And you so easily toss that privilege aside over...over nothing more than pride and petty ideology! You disgust me as a father, John Wilde! Get out of my sight!"

The other crime lords gaped at her openly, having rarely seen Lady Lang even raise her voice, let alone go on the kind of tirade they had just witnessed. The wolfess herself had already calmed down, merely simmering now instead of boiling over. She seemed to have heeded her own demand by simply refusing to look at the fox a second longer.

John stood rooted to the spot for a long while, petrified with shock and horror. "No…" he breathed. "You can't all reject me! I-I don't have anywhere else to go!"

"Nevertheless, it appears we have come to an agreement," Vladzotz said bluntly. "You will have to find another way to support your son."

"No!" Tossing all semblance of dignity and shame to the wayside, John flung himself to the floor on his paws and knees. "Please! I can't fail him again! Nicholas needs help! If not for me, do it for his sake! I'm begging you here!"

The crime lords' respective bodyguards growled and went on alert. John Wilde was committing a major breach of etiquette by continuing to grovel after already being rejected. Not only was it disrespectful, it was just plain embarrassing to look at.

Unsurprisingly, Lady Lang was the first to lose her patience, still not so much as actually glancing in his direction. "Felix, please remove this stain from our host's carpet."

"Yes, Miss Lang."

John only ceased groveling when his head was forcefully lifted off the floor and a sharp knife was put at his throat. "Perhaps I should gift our host with a free drink as well."

"That is one dark child," said Vlad.

"I noticed," Lang replied.

"Wait."

Felix's paw was stayed, respecting the authority of a crime lord even if it wasn't his own. But if Lang outright ordered him to kill the whimpering fox, no force on Earth would save him. "Yes, Mr. Big?"

"I have reconsidered my stance on the matter," the shrew said, looking down at John. "Given your dire circumstances, and knowing now that none of my fellow lords are willing to help, I might be persuaded to give your boy a chance after all."

"Really?" John asked, smiling up at him through watery eyes.

"Really?" Koslov asked, grimacing at the fox with clear disdain.

"Really," Big answered. "Not for free, of course. I know that you are lacking in funds, so I will be taking possession of your 'Suitopia' business and any other assets you leave behind. Don't expect me to go easy on your boy either. This is a hefty burden you are placing upon me, and I will treat him hard, but fair. If Nicholas is as talented as you claim, then I should hope he presents no problems for me."

Koslov grunted in displeasure, but otherwise did not object.

"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" Felix had no sooner stepped off of John's backside when the fox once again broke etiquette and started kissing Mr. Big's small paw loudly and repeatedly.

"Alright, this is disturbing."

"May I escort scrawny fox from premises?" Koslov asked.

"That won't be necessary," Big replied, leaving the bear noticeably disappointed. "This is not our property after all."

"Indeed," Vlad said. "Sprock, Russ, you get him out of here."

The badger and raccoon grabbed John by the back of his suit and started literally dragging him away. "Okay, that's fine!" he called out. "Oh, but you're going to need this!" He quickly dug into his front pocket and pulled out a key that he tossed in Mr. Big's general direction, making Koslov once again tense up for nothing. "That's the key to my cabin in the Rainforest District! Just so Nicholas has somewhere to stay! But don't tell him I set this up! Also, he eats most fish and bugs, but he also really likes blueberries! And he uses a #2 fur brush for his personal grooming! And he's good at math, so maybe involve him with stuff like that! And-"

Mercifully, he left everyone's hearing range soon after.

"Well, that was annoying," Preston said bluntly. Everyone else nodded in agreement.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Big," Lang said bitterly.

"Not entirely, but I hope it to be a worthy investment. I trust this will not impact our business agreement?"

"I will treat the boy with respect should I ever meet him. It's his father I take issue with." She looked away. "As for his mother...I will look into the matter further."

"Even Mr. Narwhalter finds this to be a questionable parenting strategy, but that is outweighed by his relief to not have to listen to it anymore."

"I keep forgetting you're even here, honestly," Preston admitted. "Shame that Serena had to bail out though. I like her just fine without her own bundle of joy around."

"A dreadful business, to be sure," Vlad said sardonically. "Now then, shall we move on?"

"Yes. Mr. Narwhalter would like to get back to that business about-"

"Anyone else?" Lang asked quickly.

"Actually, there is something else I wanted to bring up," the bat lord replied, suddenly growing more serious. He glanced over at the sole empty seat. "Have you ever heard of the Felidae Infernum?"

Preston snorted. "Of course. Who hasn't?"


Still 20 Years Ago

"And get him a Rabbik's cube or something! He enjoys mental stimulation! Maybe physical stimulation too when he's older! And-yaaaaaaaagh!"

That was the sound of Russ and Sprock tossing John Wilde out the door and onto the hard ground. "Ow...okay then! Just let Mr. Big know all of that, alright?"

His only answer was a pair of heavy doors being slammed behind him.

The middle-aged tod stood back up, dusting himself off as best he could. With a big brown stain now on the front of his suit, it hardly did any good. He pulled off his glasses, seeing that they had been cracked in the impact. Finding a clean piece of his suit, he wiped them off, creating just enough of a shine that he could see his own reflection for an instant.

He wasn't pleased by what he saw. "Who am I kidding? Lady Lang was right. I'm a disgrace of a father."

He didn't know what to do anymore. As Honest John, it had never been much of a question. He'd survived on his own, learned the ways of the world, and led a pretty successful life. That all changed once he got married. Not that he ever regretted getting involved with Marian, and certainly not getting to raise Nicholas, but it had been a challenge sometimes, and not a challenge that he was always able to overcome.

He'd never realized how cruel this city could truly be to foxes until he'd had others to protect from it. Yes, he could survive on his own just fine. Even this humiliation he could eventually bounce back from. But Marian had always been naive, adorably so he had to admit, and Nicholas still had so much to learn from him that he'd never gotten the chance to teach. Protecting his family from society's hatred had been somewhat of his life mission for a long time now.

Which was only a problem because he'd failed so utterly at it.

He couldn't teach Nicholas everything he needed to know, he could never convince Marian that he did need to know it, he couldn't start his tailoring business without relying on his old connections, he couldn't keep Nicholas from being traumatized by those awful Junior Ranger Scouts, he couldn't keep Marian from throwing him out, he couldn't stop Nicholas from running away, and had Mr. Big not had a change of heart at the last second, he couldn't even keep a roof over his head anymore.

That had been far too close for comfort. John didn't even want to think about what could've happened to his son had he not done what he did, and even then, he had almost failed. If he had, there was nothing he could do about it either. The fate of his own family was now completely out of his control.

John Wilde refused to accept that, and that refusal would drive everything he did for the next twenty years. "Then I'll just have to be a better father," he said to himself like a mantra. "A stronger father. A father who is always in control. A father who won't let society or the crime lords walk all over him anymore. Yes...that's the kind of father I'll be…heh heh...ha ha ha ha…"

Chuckling to himself, John Wilde turned his back on the imposing castle and walked away, ideas already flooding through his mind. He would find a solution to this problem, as he always did. By any means necessary.


Not the longest drabble so far, but definitely one of the biggest. Bordering, in fact, on being too important to relegate to a drabble at all, but when it comes down to it, everything you've just glimpsed about Reynard's backstory has already been explained by the fox himself. Granted, the plan at the time was to have him go to each of the crime lords individually to get shot down, but we also wanted to have a drabble about a crime lord meeting to show them all actually interacting for once, so this became a case of hitting two drabbles with one update.

Once again, Vladzotz Fangpyre, Castle Fangpyre, and Russ and Sprock all belong to Upplet, who also provided some of the descriptions and dialogue for them. Preston Thornbrush and Sandcat Serena belong to myself, by virtue of their current incarnations being too young to have been active twenty years ago. That's something that we in the industry call "emergency character creation."

But like I said, the next update will be the main fic again. While still not required reading, expect this drabble, and the last one, to be...relevant.