The last time the weather was this bad, the oldest creatures said they were still sprightly and agile, their muscles young and strong. Wind howled in the crevices and cracks in the cliffs, blowing stinging snow and hail into the driest caves and shelters. Our shelter was no exception; normally safe from the wind and rain, now the elements unleashed their rage even in there. We were a sorry picture indeed; both old and young huddled in corners, desperately trying to keep warm with the few rags we had. A few of us were trying to light a fire, or trying to erect some sort of barrier in the mouth of the cave. I was in the former category. Richard and I were trying to cover the fire from the wind, while Cubert was doing the actual lighting. It was, rather obviously, unsuccessful. A few sparks feebly came up when he hit his flint against a rock, but the wind quickly blew them out.
"By the gods, I don’t see why we’re wasting our time trying to make this stupid fire! We should be helping the others make a barrier first!" Robert angrily snarled.
Cubert chuckled darkly, and bitterly replied, "Like that's going any better!"
I looked unsurely, but he was right. Four mice were trying to hold up an oaken beam, while a fifth was directing them where to push it. However, each time they let it go, it collapsed with a crash, twice nearly hitting someone's foot. Sighing, I said, "Let's face it, guys, half of us are going to freeze to death before the night is over!" Just then, our leader, a scarred and grizzled otter, walked in from an adjacent cavern and said, "All right guys, it's time to relieve our sentries! Cubert, how's it going with the fire? How about the barrier?" Both leaders of the groups shook their heads, signifying a no, and the otter sighed, pulling out a golden coin and nervously fingering it while he said, "Robert, Evang, you're next on sentry duty! Come on!"
Robert and I (my name was indeed Evang) stood up and walked to the mouth of the cave, grabbing two spears on our way out. When I say spears, I actually mean an old, beaten stick with a rusty dagger tied to it. Robert looked back and snarled, "All our problems are because of that old otter and his "piece of eight"! If he had handed his precious little coin to the vermin right then and there, we would be still living in our beautiful homes instead of being in this cursed valley!"
"Come on, buddy, you know Rachet has reasons for everything, and he means the best for all of us!"
Sullenly, Robert muttered, "Yes, I'm sure it's a good idea for half of us to die before the night is over! Anyway, he’s went loony for the last couple of years, but no one paid any attention until the vermin came and he made us run away instead of giving them a piece of rusted metal!" As if in afterthought, he bitterly added, "And now it’s too late to turn back!"
I said nothing, probably because he was partly right. We walked out of our cave, and instantly, I felt the wind increase a hundred fold, as snow practically blanketed us. The two sentries whirled around, and both gave happy exclamations at seeing us. "See anything?" I asked, wrapping my cape around my shoulders even tighter than it was earlier. One of them, an old warrior hare, loudly said, "Listen, mate, you should sit down in one of the corners and try to keep warm as best you can! No idiot would attack in this type of weather!"
"Obviously, Rachet thinks someone will, cause he wouldn't have posted us if there was no threat!" I replied, in turn yelling to be heard.
"Listen, my little mole buddy, Rachet has gone weird this past year; I'm telling you, no one, no idiotic moronic stupid creature was have the brains to stage an attack when you can't see two feet in front of yourself! So get as warm as you can and here's to hoping you'll get relieved soon!"
With that cheerful comment, he walked into the cavern, while Robert and I miserably huddled down, ready to do our two hours of sentry duty. I already felt frozen, with both the blanket and my body being completely drenched. Seeing my discomfort, Robert let out a hollow laugh, calling, "What did you expect, Evang?!" I only sighed and sat down, staring into the darkness, where, indeed, I could only see a few feet in any direction before blankets of snow obscured my view.
Two rats sat on a ledge directly over Robert and Evang, with both of them shaking with cold and exhaustion. They had kept up a forced march all day to reach this valley, only to lurk near the entrance, freezing, holding their blades in numb grips, waiting for the signal. One of them muttered, "We should've stayed up top until this storm passed! By the time they give an order to attack, we'll all be frozen to death!"
With a low chuckle, the other one said, "Naw, we have this wonderful grog to warm us up!" And he chugged at a long empty flagon, his eyes derangedly whirring in their sockets. Ugh, thought the rat, I'm stuck with a crazy rat in the middle of nowhere, about to die from either cold or those spears that the mice are holding! Suddenly, there was a loud crash, followed by two more. "The signal!" cried the other rat, and threw his blade down at the mouse, slicing his head open. Robert collapsed without a word, blood fountaining from his head. The other rat was about to do the same, when a arrow thudded into his companion's throat, and he fell on Evang, his hand still holding a flagon. Jumping up from shock, the mole cried out, then pushed the dead body off of him, and ran inside, another arrow thudding into the spot where his head just was. A weasel walked out of the darkness, holding a bow in his left hand.
He called out, "Did I get him? Did I get him?" The rat jumped down, replying, "No, but you got poor old Marig! He won’t be drinking grog any time soon!"
"You have grog?!" yelled the weasel, pulling out his knife. "Give it or I'll gut you!"
The rat backed away, replying, "Easy, buddy, the crazy rat thought he had grog, but all it was was an empty flagon!"
"Oh. Curses! So where did that sentry go?"
"He went inside."
"You mean they know we're here?!"
Just then, a third figure, a stoat, walked out of the darkness, holding a large axe in his hands. His name sent chills racing down most backs, and these two soldiers were no exception. Gortan! The mercenary warrior had famed himself for his ruthlessness and cruelty, as well as his loyalty for his current master (up until the money ran out). He snarled in a thick voice, "What do you mean, they know we're here?!"
Trembling, the rat replied, "S-sir, he was trying to shoot the s-sentry but he missed and the senty r-ran inside!"
"What?! It was your job to kill the sentry, not mine!"
"Then why did you try to do my job?! I thought you had it covered!"
Interrupting their argument, Gortan banged their heads together and shouted, "Both of you are idiots!" He lifted each of them up by one of their ears and growled, "Now we'll have to kill every last one of those stupid creatures to get that coin that boss wants! Idiots, idiots, idiots!" Each time he said idiots, he banged their heads together, causing them to squeal in pain. He threw them to the ground, and then turned, booming out into the valley, "Bloodfang's horde, rally to me!" The vermin got up, rubbing their already swelling heads and whimpering in pain. Gortan turned back, an evil light glowing in his eyes. "You two will lead the way." They looked at each other and groaned, while the stoat evilly laughed.
Lord Phrixos's throne room inspired fear in the bravest of hearts, to say nothing about its owner. The room was dark and shadowy, with the the only light coming from four huge braziers affixed in each corner, casting a reddish light on the room. Cold black marble covered the floor, as well as the walls. Near the walls, huddled forms lay, sometimes shuddering or releasing a sob. The ceiling seemed to reach on endlessly upward; ropes hang from it, receding into the darkness. To most of these ropes, at least three skulls were attached, which clacked eerily if the slightest breeze disturbed them. Sometimes, one could hear a harsh cry come from up there, as though something living, something evil lurked there. The throne, unlike the floor and walls, was red, some say, painted with the blood of Phrixos's enemies. However, the part where he sat, as well as the armrests were covered with a thick, oily fur, that would cling to most bodies, sticking to them, not letting them stand up. But Phrixos was, by far, the most fearsome being in the throne room. He was a muscular, brown pine marten, encased in armor as red as his throne. His emerald green eyes seemed to glow in the firelight, as they roved the throne room, ready to pin into someone at any moment. Delicate, red lips could quickly open to expose the pine marten's cruel fangs, sharp enough to rip through meat and flesh. His sinewy body lounged in his throne, muscles relaxing as he retracted and exposed his claws, sinking them into imaginary prey. On his belt were two daggers, both with hilts made out of bone, one deadlier than the other. But his true weapon was the sword on his back; a curved sabre, serrated and with a hook at the end to cause the most pain possible.
In a sinister, sibilant voice that carried across the throne room, he whispered, "Page! Come here!" A young squirrel emerged from a secret passage in the front of the throne room, and quickly walked to his master, stopping about five paces from him.
"Come closer, boy." The page, who was visibly trembling all over, did as he asked, stopping right in front of Phrixos's throne. He put one of his hands on the squirrel's shoulder, smiling when the young page recoiled. "Can you call Captain Zugger to me? I need to have a little talk with him." The page trembled even more when he heard how Phrixos said talk, but he nodded and said, "Y-yes my lord. A-anything else you n-need?"
He thought for a moment, and then smiled. "Also bring me a bottle of my finest red wine, and perhaps a piece of roast meat. After that, clean up the mess."
"W-what mess, my lord?"
"What will be the remains of Captain Zugger, that's what. Go!" He pushed the page away from him, who stumbled and nearly fell, but then quickly got into the proper position and bowed, hurriying off as fast as he could go while not making it look like he was running. The lord laughed as he watched his servant run from him; it was an evil, chilling laugh of someone who knew how much fear they caused and who enjoyed it.
"Alert! Alert! Intruders!" The cry startled Rachet out of his reverie, and he quickly twisted the secret door, frantic to get back into the main cave before anyone noticed he was gone. He was in a separate cave, separated from the others by a secret door. A fire merrily burned in one corner, safe in the dry cave. Two other otters, both loyal to Rachet, kept his secret and helped guard him. Only they truly knew how important the Pieces of Eight were and that was why they helped him, not caring for anyone else. Ratchet ran through a small tunnel, followed closely by the two otters, then emerged into the adjacent room, in which the only people were three old, deaf and partly blind ones, as well as the squirrel Lambor, who he had bribed not to tell anyone about his hideout the previous evening. They hurried into the main cavern, where the woodland creatures where wildly arguing.
"Silence!" yelled Ratchet, wielding aloft a dagger. "Evang, explain what is going on!" I turned toward the otter, and hurriedly said, "Sir, a vermin fell on top of me, skewered by an arrow, then another one hit the spot where I was before. Robert was hit as well, because he wouldn't move when I called to him. Either that, or he froze to death." I knew I was lying a bit, but it was a white lie, and no one seemed to catch it anyway. Ratchet thought for a moment, and then said, "All right! Everyone too old or weak to fight, get in the adjacent cave! All of the others, get your weapons ready!" I turned to look at my compatriots as they prepared to weather the oncoming onslaught. A grayish light constantly shone on us from a crack in the ceiling (don't ask, I have no idea either) outlining my friends' features. There was Cubert, the optimist of our group, the one that (until today) never gave up. In his muscular hands he held a sword, passed down to him by his father at his deathbed. He calmly twirled his blade around, and I got a sense that he would be the last one of us to go.
But the others, too, looked like they would fight to the death. Robert's family, which consisted of eight young mice and their father, grimly held on to their spears and rusted swords, brushing aside tears that kept coming up for the loss of their loved one. Ratchet held a dirk in one hand, while flipping around the golden coin in the other. His two otter bodyguards pulled out magnificent scimitars and shields so well-polished, I could see my reflection in them. I looked into the closer one. There I was, in all my (not really) grandeur. The last mole in our tribe! My sharp digging claws dug rough scratches in the wood of the spear as I remembered that day. They were supposed to collapse a tunnel from underneath the vermin, instead, their own tunnel was sabotaged. The plan was a miserable failure, and the only reason I didn't go was because I had no digging talent. Ratchet's plan. I thought suddenly, and not without surprise did I feel anger. A little voice seemed to be whispering inside me, filling my head with poisonous thoughts. This is all Ratchet's fault, him and his stupid coin. If it wasn't for him, your mole friends, Robert, Anthony, the otter crew, all of them would still be alive.. I shook my head, and whispered, No! It's the vermin's fault!"
The voice merely chuckled. Just then, footsteps came from the corridor. I whirled around, nervously pawing my spear as Rachet said, "To your weapons!". After a few seconds of silence, there was a twang, and someone screamed "Hit the deck!" I fell with a thud, and heard an arrow whistle above me. The squirrel behind me fell down with a scream, an arrow through his throat. Another speedily followed, piercing my shoulder. I gave a yell of pain and rolled over, standing up again. My spear lay forgotten on the the floor. I only hoped for survival. Whispered commands came from our enemies, and after a bit of rustling, all was still. Then, a whole volley of arrows flew from the corridor, killing two more of us and wounding three. Someone tried to throw a spear in their direction, but we could not see our enemies, and the spear harmlessly clattered against the cave wall in the corridor. Suddenly, another volley. Only one of us fell, but three more were injured. Someone yelled, "We can't keep this up! Rachet, think of something!"
The otter gestured wildly, signifying that he had no idea what to do. His bodyguards looked at each other, and then moved to the mouth of the cave, holding their shields aloft. Another volley was fired, but they dodged what arrows they could not catch on their shields. We gathered up behind the otters, still giving them freedom of movement, but ready to step in if one of them fell. Things seemed to be looking up again, if you could say that in the situation we were in. That was before all hell was unleashed.
"Slash! Parry! Cut! Jab! Parry! Parry! Slash! Cut! Repeat!" A tall, young hare with sergeant's stripes on his shoulder shouted out the sequence as ten recruits frantically swung their blades, trying to keep up with his directions. "Rose, very good! Dime, Lever, blades higher! Anthony, move faster, Jeremy, move slower! Higher! Repeat the sequence, add two disarming moves of your choice at the end! Lois, what's up with your parries?! We're not trying to hit the insects flying around, we're trying to deflect an enemy's weapon! Charles, head higher, feet spread out! Lancy, same for you! Faster, Anthony, faster! Jimmy, Dimon, stop covering each other's backs! We're fighting alone in this case! Dime, his feet aren't wielding the blade, are they?! Repeat the sequence!"
He continued in this manner, berating the hares for incompetence and correcting their mistakes as waves pounded on the beach of Salamandastron. The sun was at its zenith, casting a beautiful reddish light over the sea. A figure walked out of the mountain, watching the figures energetically spar. As if alerted by some sixth sense, the sergeant whirled around, and the hollered, "Atten-shun! Superior officer present!" Having said that, he himself snapped to the position, yelling out, "All present and correct, Captain Blademaster sir!"
He studied the figures intently, nodding with approval as he looked at the young hares. Their bodies were trembling from adrenaline, sweat trickled down their faces. The Captain viewed this all with a slight smile on his face, and his blue eyes twinkled mysteriously in the sunset. His face was calm and gentle, with beautiful flowing features. His body was tanned and muscular, with a long rapier hanging at his side and the customary scarlet Long Patrol uniform on his chest and legs. Walking up to the candidates, he said, "One at a time, perform the Falling Leaf sequence. Dime, you go first."
The leveret saluted and did the sequence, finishing off with an extra backhand cut. "Hmm. Interesting improvisation, well executed, as were all of your backhand and overhand cuts. However, you resorted to striking an opponent's feet too often, and you poorly performed on your disarming maneuver, so work on that. Additionally, your head strike could use some work, as well as your footwork when the jabs are performed. I would recommend you learn the Rushing Tide sequence; it would help you improve. Lever, you're up next."
His critique was not overly harsh, nor was his tone, but it was the way he seemed to shrug at even their best moves that unnerved the leverets, making them nervous about the upcoming test. Only the last recruit, Rose, seemed to be calm. She was worthy of attention; the only girl in the group, she was also the only one who's moves seemed flawless to the sergeant. When it was her turn, the sergeant stepped forward, and said, "Captain, I'd like to present to you a bally prodigy, a real beauty with a blade! Her technique seems flawless to me, and I'd recommend her for a promotion, wot?"
The captains eyes gleamed for a split second, but it was instantly replaced by the look of calm indifference. "We'll see." he replied cryptically, before nodding, signifying Rose to go ahead. She bowed proudly, twirled her sword, and then began the sequence. After she finished, the other recruits gaped with open-mouthed awe, and she smiled winningly at the captain, expecting praise similar to what the sergeant said. But he merely looked at her and said the following words, which chased the smile away from her face in an instant. "Overall, a decent show, with quite good fakes and disarming. But you inserted extra showy moves which show a clear arrogance and which, in a fight, would almost certainly get you killed, if you were fighting against anyone with real skills. Although better than your other friends, I see nothing so special in you that you would be good enough to show such arrogance."
Then, he turned to the sergeant. Suddenly, he gasped, and shuddered, his eyes turning red, but then he came back, and, grimly looking at the younger hare, said through gritted teeth, "You too, sergeant. No, not the Falling Leaf, do, instead, the... Whirlwind. Yes, do the Whirlwind."
The sergeant had paled slightly but he did the complicated sequence, which took several minutes and which left even Rose shocked. He looked at the captain, and nodded sadly when he saw disappointment all over the Blademaster's face. "I'm sorry, wot, all right? I've been very busy, and I haven't-" "-had time to practice your swordplay for even ten minutes." finished the captain coldly. He swayed again, but quickly got control of himself, and seemed even colder than before, all traces of the earlier, friendly captain being gone. "You have preferred to hang out with Dariola and her sister and impress them with poorly executed swordplay rather than actually practice." The sergeant was blushing from the tips of his ears, not knowing what to do with himself from shame.
"The last time I saw you practice was two years ago back when you were still a corporal. I'll be having a lesson, tomorrow at seven." "I'll be there," mumbled the disgraced sergeant, trembling all over. Just then, Rose walked up, and said, "You big bully! You insult the swordsmanship of others, yet none of us have seen you in action! Prove it to us that you are worth something on the battlefield!"
Yet again, the captain had one of his seizures, this one lasting for several seconds. When it was cleared up, a snarl defaced his handsome features as he threatingly whispered, "It seems that you are asking for a duel."
"Yes! That is what I am asking for!" Rose lifted up her rapier! "Come on! Tis death, wot?!"
There was a whistle of the captain's blade, and Rose barely had time to block his first blow. They were face to face, and she blanched at the Blademaster's furious eyes.
"It's on, little girl!"
An explosion rocked the entire cavern, and boulders spewed from a crater in the middle of the cave. The mountain itself seemed to be roaring in fury as hundreds of monolith rolled into the cave, crushing vermin and woodlanders alike. Instantly, the place was filled with screams as everyone tried to get out, hacking at whatever was in their way, not caring if it was friend or foe. In the middle of the chaos, I was there too, floundering to get out. I ran right past a groaning otter, ignoring them as if they weren't there, I stumbled over a rat and dodged its wildly swinging blade, and suddenly, I was out, into the frigid wilderness. Sudden cold racked my body, and I fell to my knees, trying to warm myself up. Behind me, the mountain had finally ceased rumbling, and I whirled around, struggling to my feet, realizing there was still a fight to be had. I ran in, catching a weasel by surprise; he cursed, groping for his sword, but I was there first, and smashed him on the head with its pommel. Suddenly, I heard a cry from the left, down some sort of tunnel, and I followed the noise. Soon it branched into more tunnels, and more still, until I realized that not only had I failed to reach my quarry, I was also completely and hopelessly lost. I smelled the air, tasted it, tried to figure out which way the surface was, but I was never a good digger, and as such was not used to the underground. I sat down, sighing, and before I knew it, my eyelids were drooping and I was curled up on the floor, snoring.
Captain Zugger nervously limped to the door of Lord Phrixos's training hall; he a was a chubby, well-fed rat, with an easygoing expression and an appearance of a mild temperament. However, he was cunning and sly as well, but he kept those traits buried deep down, using his friendly character to gain friends and rise up in the ranks. He had just gotten back yesterday from a failed mission, during which he had severely injured his leg. Lord Phrixos had sent him to recover a piece of eight, not knowing that a rival warlord, Bloodfang, had sent his men that way as well.
Zugger was more a diplomat than a fighter, not to mention the fact that his troops were outnumbered and caught by surprise. What ensued next was a total massacre; his troops were wiped out, and all but a few were mercilessly slaughtered. Those who remained were instructed to go back and spread the word of their defeat; as injured and tired as the captain was, he had no choice but to agree.
These were good arguments; any commander would clearly see that he acted as best he could, if Zugger could explain well enough, of course. But Phrixos expected only success from his men, and punished them brutally if they failed. He would be lucky to get demoted, but the captain was not an optimist; the prospect of death weighed on his mind. He raised his hand to knock, and a voice called out from inside, "Enter!" before he even managed to touch the door. His hand slightly shaking, the rat pushed the gate open. The room inside was made of dark obsidian, much like the rest of the fortress; serrated blades, whips, maces and more hung on the walls, gleaming with a sickly glow in the flickering torchlight. Phrixos stood with his back to the door way, chest bare, baggy pants on his legs. His hands clutched a pair of daggers, his head bent down, as if in thought.
Gulping, Zugger muttered, "My lord? Is this about... you know?"
"Let's assume it is, for the sake of discussion." The marten chuckled, spinning a dagger around in his paws. "Please explain why you failed."
"Well, first of all, there was only fifty of us, and we were tired after a day of marching. They attacked us by surprise, more than a hundred of 'em, coming from every side and raining arrows on us. Before we knew it, more than a half of us were dead!" Zugger was agitated, waving his hands urgently in the air as he talked. His face was damp with sweat.
One of the daggers whirred from Phrixos's paws, thudding into a target on the wall. Dead center, as always. This did little to boost the rat's confidence, indeed, quite the opposite.
"What have I drilled into you every single day, hmm? What is the most important rule you must abide by?" "Fight to win, my lord, but-" "You did not fight. You were slaughtered by the dozen, as if helpless children. These are not the soldiers I want in my ranks. That speaks to me; not alert, can't react in time, why, I say, they almost deserve to die."
He stretched, and his back muscles rippled; a shudder of fear ran through Zugger. "My lord, we had no cover, we were surrounded, outnumbered, and not expecting an attack! We're not Badger Lords! We can't go into a Bloodwrath and pluck out arrows from our hide to stab the enemies with! You're being unreasonable, my lord! We're just soldiers!"
Phrixos turned his head halfway to Zugger, saying, "Unreasonable, eh?" The rat froze in fear as his brain caught up with his tongue. With a smile, the pine marten turned around and slowly advanced on Zugger, playfully tossing a knife back and forth. Murmuring incoherently in terror, the rat backed away, until he was pressed against the door. Phrixos walked right up to him, and put his left hand on the rat's shoulder, locking it in a tight grip.
"Say, Zugger, if I had a motto, what do think it would be?" "I-I don't k-know my lord. P-please, sir, don't-" "My motto would be, rule by fear, Zugger. And pain." Outside, the guards winced as the rat's high pitched screams came echoing into the halls, followed by Lord Phrixos's sibilant laughter.
Sweat trickled down Rose's face as she raised her saber to deflect the captain's attacks. Nicks and cuts covered her skin; she was exhausted, and she hadn't even landed a blow on the Blademaster yet. He wasn't even tired; calmly twirling his sword, he smiled slightly as her blade went clattering out of her paws. Shaking from fatigue, she dropped to her knees, and muttered, panting, "I-I surrender."
"Excellent. Don't ever think about challenging me again until you learn some basic skills. Sergeant, remember, tomorrow at seven." He stalked off sheathing his sword as he did so; one of his hands was in his pocket, fiddling with something, almost like a coin. Kneeling in the dust, Rose began to cry. Her friends knelt down to calm her, but she waved them away and ran off. Some were going to give chase, but the sergeant said, "Leave her. She needs time to think."
The Blademaster angrily strode through the corridor of Salamandastron. He felt odd, faint somehow, and yet curiously in control; none of that friendly wish-wash!- she challenged him to a duel, boy did she get one! What an arrogant brat! How anyone could be that way was- "Get out of my way! Can't you look where you're going?!" he yelled to someone he had just crashed into.
A deep baritone boomed out from above him, "My friend, I noticed that you were keeping your eyes fixated to the ground; if you want to berate me for not paying attention, at least watch were you're going yourself."
The captain deflated somewhat, and no surprise; he had just run into the badger lord! A gargantuan beast, the last thing countless vermin saw was his mace approaching at high speeds. Black furred, with a huge white stripe on his forehead, Lord Rootoak was far more intimidating than many of the vermin warlords he slew. Despite this, he was a gentle beast, preferring to spend his time engrossed in tales of past wars and battles. Snarling, the captain stood up and said, "My lord, can't you see I'm in a hurry? Please get out of my way!" Raising his eyebrows in surprise, the badger took a step back, and then suddenly nodded, as if understanding something. He quickly strode up to the hare and unhooked a necklace hanging from his neck; dangling on it was a golden coin.
As soon as he took the necklace off, the hare gasped with relief, clutching his chest. "Better?" Rootoak asked, pocketing the coin. "Much better, thanks. I hate those pieces of eight. Why can't we just keep 'em locked up?" "Well, I-" "Oh gods... What have I done?" "What have you done?" "I... I humiliated a sergeant in front of his students, then accepted a duel from one of said students and humiliated her, too. "... You might want to go apologize." "Oh gods... She was crying! I hate that coin! Why do you make me wear it?"
"You know why! We must know what these coins do to us!" "Oh yeah?! Than wear 'em yourself!" The Blademaster ran off, back the way he came. "Where are you going?" "To make amends!" The badger was left alone, staring at the dangling coin, almost hypnotized by it's gently spinning menace. "Such a small thing,"he murmured, "yet so dangerous." He quickly pocketed it and strode off into the opposite direction.