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Vengeance for the beloved =Chapter One: Awakening= “Blood…pain…Mother...Where’s my mother…?” A young sable lay among the wreckage of his burnt out home. His leg was covered in blood and a fine gray dust had settled over his chocolate-brown fur. He stood, slowly, painfully, and looked around himself. The remnants of a huge settlement were cast about around him, some still smoldering. He shivered, though he did not know why; it was stiflingly hot in this ruined house… The sable stepped outside, taking in the wreckage from a different point of view. The snow covering the ground had extinguished much of the burning wreckage, but whatever had remained somewhat intact was blazing with flames. He stepped forward, only to let out a gasp of pain as his wounded leg fell from beneath him. With agonizing slowness, he pulled himself along the ground until he was clear of the wreckage. As he lay back, unconsciousness falling upon him, memories flew through his head thick and fast: the face of a laughing weasel, a terrified female sable who was shouting a name, screams and cries from the dying and laughter…always cruel, high, cold maniacal laughter… The female sable was repeating a name…Natal…Natal…With a jolt, the young sable realized he recognized the name: it was HIS name. A sudden urgency enveloped his senses, and he forced himself to stand, wincing as the wounded leg bore his weight poorly. He limped back to the home he had lain in minutes before and searched the wreckage. He pulled planks from the ground and struggled to move furniture until he found what he was looking for: a small bracelet lying amidst the broken wood. He remembered vaguely his mother having owned something like this, and began to dig around the spot where he had found it. Soon, he unearthed the body of a young female sable, crushed and bleeding. Her eyes were closed, but her fur was identical to that of Natal. He picked up her limp paw and held it to him, weeping piteously. “Mother…Mother please…wake up…don’t leave me alone…” Something occurred to him as he sat. He remembered his mother singing to him when he was sick…she had had a beautiful voice, and, though it seemed childish, he could think of no better thing to do at the time. He sang the first few lines of a lullaby his mother had always sung to him when he had been sick. He looked upon her ruined body and knew what he feared most had come to pass, though he was loathe accepting it. His mother was dead, and she was not coming back. He felt defeated, wanting only to curl up beside his mother’s prone form and fall into eternal sleep. She was so vulnerable looking, stripped of all life and dignity… Yet, some kind of inner drive told him that he needed to stay alive for his family’s sake, for his people’s sake… He stood, scrubbing a grimy paw across his smoke-stung eyes and turned, vowing never to look upon his old home ever again. However, he could not resist turning back and placing a sheet over his mother’s body. He was alone…completely and utterly alone…Natal staggered off into the darkness, limping through the snow with only one though in his 7-season-old mind. “Need to get to shelter…away from here.” He limped onward, his body numb with cold. At one point, he collapsed with exhaustion, lying in the snow as he waited for death to take him. Natal wondered what it was like, dying. However, he would never find out, because he heard voices just as he was slipping into unconsciousness. He felt strong paws lift him as he fell into an unending darkness. =Chapter two: Healing= When Natal awoke, he was lying on a rush mat in a warm cave. His body was still exhausted, but at least he was warm. He lifted his paws to his eyes, and was shocked to see the same bracelet that he had found by his mother about his own wrist. He looked closer, examining it. It was made of woven grasses, intertwined with various colors. He made as if to stand, but yelped in pain as he put weight on his broken leg. He lay back, taking in the cave ceiling as he did so. It was just plain, dark earth and rock, nothing special to look at. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember what had happened just before he had awoken in his ruined home, but, much to his dismay and frustration, he could remember nothing save the face of his mother and the weasel. Pawsteps outside the cave brought Natal back to reality. An ottermaid walked around the corner carrying a pitcher and a washrag. She was about Natal’s age, maybe a bit younger. Upon seeing the sable awake, she squeaked in surprise and dropped the rag. Muttering apologies, she scooped up the rag and hurried from the room. A moment later, a female otter in a black tunic came in and sat next to his bed. “How do you feel?” she asked him in a slightly Slavic-accented voice. “Tired.” was all he answered. She nodded, standing. “Are you hungry?” Natal had not eaten in almost three days and nodded without needing a second request. She smiled and left the room, leaving Natal alone with his thoughts. When she returned, she was baring a tray laden with bread, water and steaming broth. As he ate, Natal questioned her. “Where am I?” “You are at a patrol outpost just north of Redwall abbey.” “Outpost? What?” The otter patiently explained. “Some three seasons ago, the abbot of Redwall appointed a crew of otters to build and inhabit a small outpost several leagues from Redwall. Not too far out, just far enough so that a runner could bring news of, say, a vermin horde, to Redwall.” “In this way, Redwall has eyes and ears outside of its walls.” Natal nodded slowly in understanding, silently returning to his meal. When he had finished, the otter took up the tray and told him to rest, and that, since they did not yet have the equipment necessary to treat his broken leg, he would be taken to Redwall upon awakening. =Chapter three: Dreaming= Natal was dreaming. Memories flew to his fevered mind; pushing and jostling for place amongst those already there. ''A huge colony, innocent creatures happily going about their business. Suddenly, there was a shout and the sentry on the colonies’ surrounding walls fell, transfixed by an arrow. The gates were thrown clear of their frames, crushing those in their path. Horde beasts streamed in, calling for blood and slaughtering for the pure amusement of watching those in pain writhe as the life ebbed from their torn bodies. Natal saw his mother, running to him, calling his name. One weasel, bigger than all the rest, caught her in a headlock and held her, laughing as she struggled to get free. ‘Natal! Natal! RUN!” Natal was hesitant, and this proved to be his biggest mistake. The weasel threw his mother into a wall, where she slid down and lay unmoving. The wall creaked, and fell upon her, crushing her to the ground. Natal looked on in horror as the huge creature laughed with apparent amusement. Suddenly, a passing soldier knocked Natal over. His head dashed on the rocky path, stunning him.'' He called his mother’s name, crying for her as he was lying there, ignored by all with no one to answer his pitiful cries. He heard a voice, concerned, break through his dream: “Mama! Come quick! I think he’s having a nightmare!” Natal partially awoke, felt himself being held down by strong reassuring paws. He was still calling his mother’s name as the creature that was holding him whispered reassuringly to him. At some point, Natal stopped calling out and buried his head in the tunic of the otter in front of him. When he lifted his eyes, he saw the female otter that had taken care of him earlier, and the ottermaid who had come in when he had first awoken here standing in a corner. He looked down at the bed and realized he must have been thrashing about, due to the rush mat having been scattered about the room. Slowly, he calmed his beating heart, struggling to keep his breathing under control. The otter looked up and said to the maid, “Khatada, stay here with him while I get ready to depart for Redwall.” As she left, Natal desperately tried to remember his mother’s name, but he couldn’t. He grated his teeth; he had just been screaming his mother’s name not three minutes ago and already he had forgotten it! The ottermaiden, Khatada, moved warily forward, seemingly afraid of Natal, who sighed and shook his head, ignoring her for the present. Suddenly, he looked up, and she took a step back. “Im not gonna bite, y’know.” She looked down at her feet, stammering: “I-im sorry…I j-just…” He laughed humorlessly. “Never seen a sable afore?” he sighed again. “It’s just as well…” The otter came back in, wearing a gray and brown drab travelling cloak and carrying a staff. “We have to go; I can’t care for you here.” Natal nodded, standing up and following her out, looking out of the corner of his eye to see Khatada watching at a distance. Slipping on a cloak over his tunic, he followed the otter closely. As they ascended steps, Natal noticed a large amount of soldiers in the outpost’s parade grounds. The gates were opened for them and they walked out onto a path, starting their journey to Redwall abbey. They walked in silence, not looking at each other, staring straight ahead. A clearing loomed up ahead, and harsh voices drifted to the pair of travelers as they neared it. The otter stiffened, placing a paw on Natal’s chest in order to stop him. “Can you find your way to Redwall alone?” she hissed to him as they hid behind a group of trees. Natal was not sure, so he asked: “How much farther?” “About an hour of so left, straight down the path. Ye can’t miss it.” Natal nodded. “What about you?” The otter looked at him. “We’ll see.” Natal was confused. “You’re coming with me, right?” The otter said nothing, only looked straight ahead. She turned to him and said: “There’s far too many of ‘em. Yore smaller than I am and you can sneak around them, Ill only slow ye down. If’n I can, I’ll follow ye. Im going to distract them.” Natal looked at her in a confused manner. “B-but, they’ll kill you!” She looked at him sadly and said: “Better me than you, right mate?” Natal could feel tears welling up in his eyes. The otter brushed them away and said gruffly: “This is my job, keeping yew safe.” “Now git goin’!” Natal nodded, and stumbled off into the woods. There he sat, watching with apprehensive eyes the scene that took place. A patrol of vermin walked out, shocked to see a fully grown female otter standing in the path. Natal could not hear their words, but he could tell they were wary. The leader walked up to the otter until they were nose to nose. He barked an order to his squad, who backed off. Natal was just about to breathe a sigh of relief, when the unthinkable happened. The stoat in the front turned to leave, and then spun quickly and ran the otter through. Natal gave a gasp of horror, and stumbled backwards, unable to watch the gruesome scene unfolding. He felt his tears in his eyes as he went as quickly as he could with a broken leg, straight to Redwall abbey, images from the recent murder still fresh in his mind. It was only then did he realize one thing: he did not even know the otter’s name.