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Thanks to the influence of Some random redwall fan, I started writing this story in late September. This story is pretty dang violent, so Viewer Discretion is advised. And I admit that the first parts are pretty docile, but I, being the writer, know that people die...hard...bloodily...[insert favorite gruesome adjective here]. Any comments you have are welcome, however, editing is not so appreciated, please and thank you. Don't worry about any spelling or grammar mistakes, as somebody obnoxious will point them out and soon enough, I'll fix them. Special thanks go out to my friend, who you all know as Some random redwall fan. He helped out with some ideas and how to submit the story. Moments after I submitted this story, he helped me get rid of the submission errors (i.e. the stupid boxes). If you are enjoying this story, please check out Red Tide as well. Thank you and please enjoy.
Black hawk 00:46, 7 October 2008 (UTC)
As of time of this signature, Death Knight: Part Two is in existence. Check it out!
Black hawk 00:12, 30 October 2008 (UTC)
Yo. I know I haven't been around for a while. I also know that can I tell you that you can see Death Knight 2.0 on Booksie.com.
I'm rewriting the DK tale as an independent universe, (no fan fic). Readers will definitely recognize the story, but I had to change around a lot because now the characters are human. I think its been improved. I fixed a bunch of stupid mistakes from the first version, from grammar to conflicting descriptions of characters. Some names had to be changed. Vulpo is still Vulpo, though. Ashtail and the twins, however got brand new names.
SRRF's stories are up there to.
Death Knight, by Schizophrenia on Booksie  Hope to see your comment there.
Part One: Nightfang Tribe
A sleepy fox dozed at his post outside his post. Technically, he was supposed to be guarding his village from rival tribe’s raiders, but there were no wars effecting his clan for now, and he had lifted some cheap ale from Browncoat the brewer. Still, he stood on the platform of his guard tower, feeling very important.
The watchman looked around in a daze. Surely the other guard would come for his shift soon. Then he could go back to his den and sleep. Or, he thought with a throaty chuckle, he could head to the brewer’s storeroom again. Browncoat had fallen asleep earlier, and a certain enterprising guard had liberated his keys from his belt. The storeroom under the chief’s house was always kept closed to everyone but Chief Fang and his guests. Until now.
The bark-coated fox wobbled on his feet. The strain of thinking whether he should swipe some rum before he was caught or to sleep of his current intoxication was a little to much for his head right now. Maybe he’d just rest a minute…
The fox didn’t notice the cloaked figure behind him. As soon as he began to sink down for a nap, he noticed a slight touch on his neck. Thinking it was a leaf blown on by the cool wind, he started to reach up to brush it off. His hand never reached his throat.
The cloaked figure, had he been a normal intruder, would have laughed. A drunken guard was all that protected Nightfang clan. Instead, the invader soundlessly yanked on the handles he held in his paws. The wire wrapped around the neck of the unfortunate guard tightened. His mouth gave a final grunt before it was silent.
Vulpo unwrapped the wire. The corpse began to fall forward, but just before it fell over the edge, his paw snatched the dead shoulder and lowered the body onto the base of the platform. He adjusted the black cloth around his face before climbing down the ladder.
A gust of wind blew a few leaves around Vulpo’s feet. His paws tried the door of the storeroom. Locked. He leaned against the wall, thinking. It would be easier to break a window of the chief’s hut and attack directly, but this way would instill more fear, and leave a larger impression. Lucky that the idiot guard babbled in his inebriation, or he wouldn’t have found the alcohol cellar. Deciding to take the distant chance the lock was bad; Vulpo unsheathed a knife from his belt. The stiletto blade clicked quietly in the lock, probing the tumblers. The lock was old, and poor quality to begin with. With a louder clunk, the lock opened.
Browncoat the brewer was annoyed. First he fell asleep during his work, then he discovers the keys are missing. His pace quickened. The keys had probably just been left in the lock again. It had happened before. And if the door was locked and the keys were gone, then he had probably missed them while searching the distillery. Hopefully. Chief Fang would chop a chunk out of his tail if he lost the key to the cellar.
The old fox turned the handle on the door. It opened with a squeak. The key must be down with the barrels then. The worn pads of his fox feet gave a gentle pit-pat-pit-pat as they touched the wooden stairs. Darn lantern was missing too. He knew it was gone because he always hit his head on it when he came down. The large room wasn’t as dark as it should have been though. He saw a light down the corridor between the shelves containing barrels of drink. He stepped forward to investigate. The aroma of aging wood met him like an old friend. The light emanated from a different row of barrels. He turned a corner between the barrels and stopped.
Three rows from the entrance and between the first and second shelves stacked with barrels to the ceiling, Browncoat stood confused. A large cask of his favorite whiskey was on its side on the ground. Two small barrels of rum sat next to it like children under a parent. The plug of the whiskey barrel was missing. The liquid should have been pouring out, but a rope was stuffed in. The rope was lit on one end, flames greedily working their way along the dry fibers. It was now scant inches from the barrel’s hole. Sudden understanding flooded the senescent brewer.
The explosion rocked the forest. Vulpo blinked emotionlessly under the mask covering all but his ears and eyes. The chief’s house was gone, that was for sure. Not that Vulpo cared about the chief, whose lifeless remains were probably smoldering, plastered to a rock at the moment. Alcohol kills. A certain guest of the Nightfang tribe was surely little more than a black lump of fox-flesh and crisp hair. Vulpo pulled a scrap of parchment out of an inner pocket in his cloak. In the weak moonlight he scratched a name off of a list.
Vulpo walked off into the deeper parts of the forest. Knowing that no one would see him now, he pulled the fabric away from his head. His white fox muzzle twitched in the wind, delighted that it was exposed to the refreshing cold even if it’s owner wasn’t. Golden eyes shone in the night.
Part Two: The Mouse Brigade
Captain Ryce of the Mouse Brigade checked that his sword was clear in the scabbard. He had been doing this nervously ever since they had entered what most of Redwall Abbey called “The North.”
Bad enough that it was so darn cold. The sky above here never got lighter than the twilight back home. On top of that, the first snowfall of winter had hit early. Ryce had decided that if he was going to do another tour with the Mouse Brigade, he was doing it in the warmth of the South. Better to fight moronic rats than these foxes anyway.
Captain Ryce shook off these thoughts. The Mouse Brigade stood for courage and freedom. They operated outside of Redwall Abbey, and most of those mice didn’t know about them. The current abbot discouraged the Mouse Brigade’s methods. The Mouse Brigade had decided the best way to deal with vermin was to strike out at any time they thought about working together. Or any time they were polite enough to rear their ugly heads in a vulnerable way. Ryce smiled.
Ryce frowned again. They could prevent any cooperation between vermin only as far as killing off messengers or assassinating enterprising leaders. And even that only as far as they dared venture into enemy territory.
At least now they were almost out. Only two more day’s march until they were in friendly territory. Then it would be warm enough to shed these cloaks. The darn things got wet once and you were cold and damp for a week, it seemed. Before the Captain could continue his mental list of complaints, a forward scout emerged from the side of the trail they were marching down.
“Cap’n Ryce! There’s a fox on the road across the way. Heavily armed, too,” said the scout, Lentil.
“Then what’s the problem? You may as well just kill ‘im ‘fore ‘e notices us,” replied the frustrated and tired officer.
The anxious Lentil danced on his feet a bit, searching for words. “This’n is a bit different Cap’n.”
“Spit it out, Private Lentil!”
“Well, when my brother sneezed, ‘e looked in his direction, but didn’t do anythin’ else.”
The captain sighed. Lentil and his twin brother Kit were the least inconspicuous scouts ever under his command. The nervous mouse acted as if he had seen a ghost.
“How d’ya know ‘e in’t faking? Trying to lure us into a trap?”
“I don’t think so Cap’n. You should take a look.”
Ryce realized that the only way to get the energetic mouse to stop babbling was to go look. After leaving his second-in-command in charge, he let Lentil usher him off the trail and hurriedly through the dense trees. The two pushed their way through the brush. Ryce heard a sneeze, and Kit appeared from behind a tree. Lentil pointed in the direction of the trail. The trio quietly walked towards the path again, not even whispering to prevent the fox from noticing them.
Ryce soon made out the trail and a figure walking down it. He couldn’t get a good look without exposing himself, so he crept to a tree the figure was passing, and climbed up, making slightly more noise than a footstep. Hugging the trunk, he slowly spread himself out on a branch and stuck his head out through the red and gold leaves.
The mouse nearly fell out of the tree. The fox was ten strides away, staring right into his face. He calmly yawned, then turned to go on his way. The brief look at the fox blew the captain’s courage away light wind scattering leaves. The fox was larger than most foxes he had known. Most of his face and muzzle had turned white, but what exposed fur he had was a blend of brown and white. The fox was not old, but rather was changing to his winter coat. He was dressed in a black cloak, but the front of it was open, revealing layered leather armor. Along his belt was a dagger, and a large leather pouch. Poking out of the side of the cloak was the telltale bulge of a sword. When the fox turned, Ryce could see he had even more weaponry. On his back were to slightly to curved swords, their sheaths making an X on his back. In the middle of the X, the sheaths were held together by a plate with thin rope tied in knot. On the metal plate was the emblem of a fox tribe. Ryce had seen the emblem before.
Most shocking, though, had been the eyes. When he had stared into Ryce’s face, shining gold had shown. In those eyes was something that Ryce couldn’t pin a name to. It was not anger, though it reminded him of it. It was very similar to determination, certainly. This was the first vermin Ryce had seen that did not have hate towards him in his eyes.
The officer descended from the tree. He looked at the young scouts before him.
“Told you he was different, Cap,” said Lentil, realizing he shouldn’t have spoken before he started talking.
“Shut up! I’m thinkin’.”
The mouse gestured for his scouts to follow him back to the platoon. His tail flicked with anxiety. Finally he spoke.
“That one was indeed different, scouts. You were right to get me”
Lentil and Kit beamed, proud to be recognized, even if it wasn’t in front of a group.
“We need to know more about this one. He looks dangerous,”
“Yessir” The twins nodded.
“We need to keep an eye on ‘im”
“Yessir” The twins nodded.
“A fox like that could be our worst enemy.”
“Yessir” The twins nodded.
“So I need you two to follow him and find out what he’s doing.”
“Yessir” The twins nodded. Then, realizing what they said, they frowned.
“Us? Follow that barbaric vermin?” asked Kit
Lentil, however, brightened. “You’d trust us with that Cap’n?”
Kit lit up to, then. The trio came out of the forest, onto the path among the mouse soldiers. One hundred eyes stared at them.
“Yes. I need my best scouts on this. Tail him for a week or two, or until you figure out what he’s doing. Then, return to base camp in the South.”
Gleeful to have an important job, the two scurried amongst the soldiers, gathering extra supplies from friends, and a sack of food from the cook. With an excitable wave, they disappeared into the woods, off towards the other trail.
There was another reason Ryce had sent the twins. He had seen the emblem on the fox’s back before, and the tribe it represented wasn’t supposed to exist anymore.
Captain Ryce sighed. He desperately hoped he would see the amateur scouts again.
Part Three: The Rat
“I’m sorry, advisor, but you seem to have grown to old for the job,”
Kayman kissed his dagger, and immediately regretted it. He spat blood to the dirt and dropped the dead advisor he had just stabbed to the ground. Dark red spread in a circle from the hole in the back of his neck.
Kayman wiped his lucky dagger on the robe of the late councilor. No longer would he delay the plans of Kayman, Grim, and their soon-to-be-formed empire. Kayman smiled wickedly at the thought. Grim had promised Kayman rule over the Northern Rat Tribes for this! Remembering his task, he picked up the frail old rat at his feet. He hurriedly jogged to ridge farther away from the trail. He set down the body and gave it a healthy kick. The corpse rolled off the ridge and landed with a thud below.
Most unfortunate, thought Kayman, the advisor seems to have died after falling into the ravine on the way home.
The unkempt rat giggled madly. Then, he looked at his clothes. He winced. The council couldn’t see him like this. Murder for power was quite all right with them, but better to leave a little mystery as to who exactly was to perpetrator. The gleeful rat ran off to his home to change, then to get to the council meeting.
Now, the vote to join Grim would be ensured. The leader of the anti-union was dead now. Kayman giggled again. Ruler of the Rats of the North!
“The Rat Council has voted, and the motion is approved. The Rat Army of the council shall join the Grim Horde.” The crier shouted out to his mates in the street, and they began running the message to the tribes united under the Rat Council. The Rat Council did not rule over all rats of the North, but they did have the sizable dominion of over of one in three rat tribes.
Kayman giggled. All the plans, years in the making for his leader, were coming together. Grim would be pleased. Four Fox Tribes, the Rat Council, and some wandering band of wolverines were now united under the banner of Grim.
Then, Kayman was jarred out of his thoughts by another rat shaking him on the shoulder.
“When will Grim arrive with the Fox Army?” asked Kayman’s cousin and fellow councilman, Frizt.
“Within a fortnight Frizt. Grim was still negotiating with the Red Moon tribe when I left him.”
“That reminds me,” continued Frizt, “is what Grim did to the Black Star Tribe a few years ago true?”
“How do you know?”
“I was there.”
Part Four: A Story For Another Time
Vulpo walked at an unhurried pace. He knew where his next mark was, and it wouldn’t be moving far yet. When the sky darkened, he searched for a campsite. He was lucky this night. A giant pine tree had fallen to the ground years ago. The center had been rotted, a large, dry hole had formed inside.
Vulpo unclasped his waist pouch. From within he pulled out a small kettle no larger than his paws together, flint and steel, and some oats. Then he reached to his side, opposite his claymore, and retrieved his waterskin. The large fox made some short trips outside to gather wood. He cleared an area at the entrance of the great tree, arranged the kindling neatly, and lit a fire. Once it was burning nicely, he filled the kettle with water and oats, then placed it directly on the fire. As it heated, he unstrapped the outer layer of his leather armor. When the food was ready, Vulpo produced a long hook from his pack. He expertly used the hook to lift the kettle away from the flames. He produced a tin from the leather pouch and poured out his meal. Then, he began the process over again.
Soon, the fox had three steaming tins full of oatmeal. He looked to the forest.
“It’s going to get cold”
“It’s not like I haven’t known I’ve had followers since this morning.”
The fox drew the scimitars from his back. He lay them in the tree. Then he took the baldric holding the claymore from his shoulders. He unsheathed his belt knife and lay it next to them. Then, he returned to the fire, out of reach from the weapons, and began eating.
He paused, “Satisfied?”
Vulpo’s keen ears twitched. A quiet chattering came from a clump of bushes nearby. Two identical mice emerged nervously.
“Is this the part where you eat us?” asked the smaller one.
“I’m not going to eat you. I don’t have a big enough pan.”
Lentil wasn’t sure if the fox was lying or not. His tone was serious, and he wasn’t smiling. Kit decided that the two of them could take a fox armed with teeth, and slowly walked to the fire.
“Also, I would have killed you this morning before you had a chance to get your friend, if I had any intention of doing so.”
Lentil flinched. Had the fox really known, or was he just guessing? Anxiously, the mice picked up the tins, scooted away from the fox, and began eating. First, it was slow. Lentil knew that the oatmeal wasn’t poisoned, though. They had watched the fox the entire time as he worked, and now he was eating it too. Soon, the young mice ate more quickly.
Kit wiped food off a whisker. The warm meal was far better than cold field rations by far, simple though it was.
“You don’t seem unpleasant, for a…” Lentil’s words died in his throat when the fox stared into his eyes. Hypnotic.
“Well…yeah,” replied Kit.
“I’m not like most,” he replied simply.
“Why?” asked Lentil.
“A story for another time, I think. Now, if you insist upon following me, you must keep my pace. Best that we get some sleep.”
The fox then set down his tin. He lay down and abruptly fell asleep.
Kit and Lentil stared at each other. How could someone be so polite and so scary at the same time?
Part Five: We Shall Always Meet In Dreams
The harvest festival was going along even more cheerfully than usual. There were many more vixens than males, so the males were forced to dance with several vixens. Not that anyone minded that much.
Vulpo, at the urging of his friend Raúl, had asked Aspen to a dance. He couldn’t believe his luck. Not only was she delighted to dance with him, Raúl had convinced the musicians to play the song Vulpo was best at dancing to. Vulpo smiled even wider. Doing favors for your friends paid back rather quickly.
Vulpo twirled his partner melodramatically, much to the delight of onlookers. The lively song sped even faster, and he began to worry that his legs would give out.
When the song ended, the two foxes wandered to the sidelines of the main dancing.
“I think if that song lasted much longer, I would have fallen into you” confided Aspen.
Vulpo, who wouldn’t have been bothered by that, laughed. Before he could try to make a joke, Raúl called him over.
“I’d better make sure he didn’t break something again,” said Vulpo.
“What was the last thing he broke?”
“Remember the chief’s uncle’s cane?”
“That was him?” the vixen laughed.
Vulpo departed to see Raúl. His friend smiled.
“I owe you one. Or two. Maybe more” said Vulpo.
“Nah. Let’s call it even after you gave me that line to tell Sylvia.”
“All I said was to tell her ‘your coat shines like the full moon’ ”
“And that has made all the difference,” said Raúl, waving to his girlfriend, standing on the other side of the fire. Though dancing couples were in the way, the vixen waved back. Standing next to her was Aspen, smiling and waving as well.
Vulpo woke with a start. Despite the first icy chills of winter, he was covered in sweat. He sat up and held his head in his hands.
“Please my lady, don’t send me happy memories until I can enjoy them again.”
And in the dark of the forest, he cried.
Part Six: Whitewater Tribe
Driffin the fox surveyed the surrounding area. He was at full attention. News of the Nightfang tribe’s massacre had spread. Rumor was a crazy old man started off the explosion, after killing the guard at his post nearby. Driffin didn’t believe it though. A guard would be more vigilant than to get his neck snapped by some old coot who lost his sense.
There was one thing in his favor, though. Assuming it was an outside attacker, then most invaders would be kept away. Thirty representatives of the Grim Empire had arrived a week ago. They had attempted to annex Whitewater tribe. After much debate, that morning the elders had decided to stay on their own. The representatives, foxes, rats, a scary wolverine, and Grim himself had come. Most were armed, though it didn’t look like they were ready for war. Just a dagger for most, and a sword here and there.
Thwack! An arrow appeared in the wood of the guard tower. Driffin recoiled. Then, he began shouting. With one hand he drew his sword, with the other he rang the alarm bell. Then, the roar of warriors filled the night, thundering out from the forest beyond.
Driffin hurried down the ladder, falling more than climbing down. A river surrounded Whitewater Tribe. Their village was on an island. The only bridge lay strides away from the guard tower.
Driffin ran to the wooden bridge. Knowing that an attack would inevitably come from a warring tribe, Whitewater foxes had constructed the bridge so it could be razed at a moment’s notice. They had already decided the river would be an undesirable alternative, as this enemy would soon discover.
Three more arrows whizzed past Driffin’s head. Now the cry of Whitewater’s defenders had arisen. As Driffen reached the bridge and bent next to the mechanism for destroying the bridge, he looked to the forest.
Well over one hundred soldiers were charging the village, and that was just the wave emerging from the trees now. At their head was Grim, wielding a longsword and spiked metal shield. Grim was five steps from the bridge.
“Uh-oh,” said Driffin.
The guard adeptly manipulated the mechanism. Three paces.
The first soldier who attempted to swim across the narrow river discovered the surprise waiting at the bottom. As the rat crashed into the icy water, his scrawny foot crashed into the sharp metal spikes. Instinctively, he squealed and grabbed at his foot. As planned by the blacksmiths who made the spikes, the vermin lost his balance. The water was too far to jump, and to fast to wade in without a running start of momentum to push through. If the spike was in slow water, the rat would have made it. Without the spike, he would have made it across, though twenty feet down-river from where he started. Instead, the rat was shoved underwater by the current, scraping his head against another spike. As he twisted, his eye got a poke from a very sharp object. Two paces.
Driffin yanked at the final wooden latch. The latch stuck in place. One step.
The rest of the raiders wisely decided to not follow the soldiers who charged into the water. They began to funnel into the bridge.
The center spike of Grim’s shield slammed into Driffin’s shoulder. Blood flowing profusely, he was sent scrambling, away from the mechanism. Grim did not pause, running ahead to meet the rush of Whitewater warriors.
Driffin lay on the ground. He couldn’t feel his sword arm. He tried to lurch up. When he did, a rat stood in front of him, pausing from the rush on the village. The vermin smiled as he ran a sword through Driffin’s gut.
Grim reveled in the slaughter. Women and children scattered and hid. He gutted them as they ran, spilling hot entrails on the ground. Warm blood splashed on his face. His wicked eyes darted around, looking for another target. There were few that resisted. The rampaging soldiers cut down those who did.
“Prisoners tonight, boys!” he shouted. His cry was met with mixed emotions. Some were in full bloodlust, not wishing to let any, even those who surrendered, escape their blades. Others were eager to take slaves, to brand fellow foxes and force them to work.
The screams grew as the relentless torrent hit the center of town. Two Whitewater foxes rushed at Grim, swords overhead. When the three met, Grim slashed one, decapitating him. Blood gushed from the headless body as it fell. With his shield Grim deflected the sword. He then brought his shield down against the fox. Grim leapt at him. After grappling with him for a moment, the weaker fox fell to the ground, losing his sword. Grim pulled his shield back, then launched himself downward. His shield, locked in his arm, and brained the cowering fox.
Grim smiled with pleasure. He continued his merciless advance. His laughter filled the air, growing as loud as the screams. The voices laughed along with him.
Part Seven: Black Star
Lentil woke with a start. With a sudden panic, he realized that he had fallen asleep during his watch. The twins had tried to watch the fox all night, but Lentil had dozed off at some point after Kit’s first watch. He had not missed the fox’s cry in the night, however.
Lentil sat up. In front of him was the tall, broad-shouldered fox. Unlike last night, however, his weapons were fastened securely to himself. Now, he was leaning against a rock, fastening his armor. He was working the last few ties over his white chest. Lentil blinked. The fox had a dark patch just above his sternum.
Finishing the last clasp with a click, the fox stared at him. Lentil noticed for the first time that all evidence that a campsite here had been covered over. Even the leaves were spread out evenly.
“Better wake your friend up. I will be leaving soon.” he said.
Lentil turned to his brother. He began shaking the mouse awake. Then the sound of a sword being drawn slowly rang out, surprisingly loud in the early morning quiet. Lentil jerked to look behind him, fearing a beheading. The worst of his worries dissipated when he saw the fox rubbing the two-handed sword with an oily cloth.
“Still thinking I will be killing you, I see. Not to worry, I’ve only killed those who’ve done stupid things.”
“Such as?” asked Lentil.
Kit and Lentil stepped quickly to keep up with the fox’s long strides. He walked silently.
“What is your name?” Kit asked suddenly.
The imposing figure turned to them. Lentil wished he and his brother would learn to keep their big mouths shut.
“I’m Kit. This is my brother, Lentil”
Lentil grew more anxious by the word. This fox, this Vulpo, seemed like a bad person to speak to unless spoken to. Vulpo simply grunted.
“Aren’t you wonderin’ why we’re here?”
Vulpo slowed his pace. He looked over his shoulder.
“Well, you haven’t tried to kill me, and you aren’t interfering with me, so I don’t see why it would matter.”
Kit paused. This was either a very rare fox, or a very clever one. He was about to ask more when Vulpo stopped. Kit looked into his golden eyes. They shone with wrath.
Vulpo had not expected to catch up with his prey this quickly. The scent of another fox was tingling his nose. There would only be a few vermin crossing these remote roads. Anger gripped him.
“I suggest you step back. You might get blood in your fur.” He whispered to the diminutive twins on either side of him. Then he broke into a run. The two mice cried out and hurried to follow, not nearly fast enough.
Vulpo didn’t care about them though. They’d catch up soon enough. The pads of his feet made rustling noises against the carpet of red and gold leaves. He was close now. The scent on his nose was powerful. This was one of the ripest foxes Vulpo had ever smelled. He was almost as bad as that drunken guard. Vulpo’s paws went to his blades.
Soon, a clearing appeared next to the road. A single fox was leaning against a tree. Seeing Vulpo at a run, he jumped and gripped a sword at his waist.
“What in-” the lone fox cried.
He stopped talking when Vulpo drew his scimitars. No doubt to the intent now. Vulpo let the rage within him boil. The other fox drew his sword and began running at him. The two would meet within a few steps. The other fox began swinging his sword in a wide arc over his head.
Crossing his scimitars, Vulpo met the sword. With a loud crash it hit the center of the X-ed blades. Vulpo’s arms strained to hold the force of the attack, then stabilized.
“Let’s dance, you bastard,” he snarled.
He spat in to the swordsfox’s face. The three blades parted. The sword swung again, this time from the side. Vulpo met the edge with one of his own, then struck out with the other in a horizontal path to the neck.
The fox nimbly ducked, then smiled in Vulpo’s face, proud of his dodge. That was when a knee slammed into his crotch. With a sudden cry he fell to the ground. Vulpo kicked his loosely held sword away.
Vulpo stomped down on his gut. The wind was driven out of the lying fox. He dropped his right sword, and punched him in the face.
“Not so easy when it ain’t women and children, is it, you monstrosity?”
The statement was not so much a question as an exclamation point to another powerful stomp, this time to the chest. The crack of a rib breaking echoed in the trees. Vulpo brought the butt of his left sword smashing into the fox’s head. He fell to the ground hard. Blood dripped from the side of his mouth.
“Who…are you?” he hacked.
Vulpo ripped the top clasp of his leather armor with his free hand. He pulled down the jerkin. In stark black fur against his white chest was a black, eight-pointed star.
“Recognize this, slime?”
The fox’s face twisted, as if staring at a phantom, then he fainted.
Lentil and Kit stood speechless. Vulpo slit the throat of the incapacitated fox, then spat into the dead face. He picked up his other sword, and slammed them both home in their scabbards on his back. His chest heaved. He noticed them staring at the bludgeoned body.
“He’s lucky he died quick.”
Part Eight: Oh Dear
A bored mouse was perched on a high peak. Piers looked up. The outlying hills were white with new snow, as usual. Piers fiddled with a rogue strand of cloth on his shirt. After a few minutes, he looked up again. His breathing quickened. The hills in the distance were dark, as if a forest had sprung up since he had looked last. His commander needed to know about this. The mouse hurried along back to his camp.
The Mouse Brigade soldier hopped over small stones in his way. The trees on either side rushed past. Soon, Piers saw his commander leaning against a tree, back to him. The larger mouse had his head down, as if dozing. The camp looked partway packed away. The watch team was supposed to start the return to Mouse Brigade Command by noon.
Piers walked up to his commander and froze. Blood was running down the neck of the mouse. A sloppy cut penetrated deep into his throat. Dead, empty eyes stared into oblivion. The soldier’s sword was missing.
“Oh dear” was all Piers managed.
Then he wobbled, and vomited on the ground. Something had gone terribly wrong. Behind him, he heard a quiet chuckling. A foul stench met his nose. He turned, scrambling to get his sword out. He stopped abruptly when he saw what was behind him. His pants suddenly felt wet.
“Don’t have the stomach for war, mousy?” mocked the hulking wolverine, pulling a cruel ax from Piers’ chest.
Part Nine: Journey
Vulpo sighed and leaned against the wall of the chief’s house. Under the leaves of several trees and at the back of the house as he was, he felt he could be alone for a few minutes at least. Constant questions and preparations had tired him. On top of all that business, some envoy had shone up yesterday. He was almost on his way, though. At last.
Vulpo closed his eyes and sighed again. Soon he would be on his journey to become an adult Black Star fox. Suddenly something warm was pressed against his mouth. Paws gripped his arms.
“Finally they leave us both be for a second,” whispered Aspen, pulling back from Vulpo.
In answer, Vulpo returned her kiss.
“Did Raúl tell you anything about what you have to do?” she asked.
“He’s not allowed to. The only things I got from him is that each one is different, so his experience probably wouldn’t help me, and that it’s how the Black Star comes” he replied. He looked to his shirt, knowing that under it was all brown fur, not the Black Star mark of full members of the tribe.
“Regardless, I know you can do it. Don’t tell Raúl, but I think you’ll do better at whatever it is.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get you,” Vulpo assured her. Aspen smiled.
“Only a little longer until we can be married,” she pulled him close. Vulpo felt something tightening around his arm. He looked down to his bicep. Aspen finished tying a dark green cloth around his arm.
“I’m no knight, Aspen.”
“You are to me.”
“They’ll want us back.” Vulpo said sadly, drawing away. “I don’t know how Raúl’s not going crazy. Wife with child, apprentice blacksmith, and then he volunteers to dig out my den,” he smiled and kissed Aspen again. “Our den.”
“I love you.” Aspen whispered in his ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
The young foxes parted. Vulpo needed to finish preparations for his journey. He would leave before nightfall.
Part Ten: Wolverines
Kayman trailed along behind the restless wolverines. Each of the eight vermin was almost twice his height. He flicked his tail nervously. A messenger from Grim’s envoy had reached him two weeks ago.
“How much longer until the battle, Kayminnow?” asked Frug.
Kayman, long past correcting the wolverines, sighed. “Lord Grim rarely knows what time he battles, as you know, Frug.”
Kayman closed his eyes and rolled them. Best not to let the dumb muscle see. Kayman would be a king; they were just extra weapons. Albeit very large weapons.
“What about little fort? Brigged Batland? When we be attacking them?” asked another wolverine.
“The Brigade Bastion is still a week away. Our Lord Grim will decide the best course of action when we get there.”
Things were not going well for the rat at the moment. The Rat Council Army had been sent ahead of Kayman to meet the rest of the Grim Horde. The leaders of the wolverines went with them. After tying up affairs with the Council, he had been sent a message to escort the rest of the wolverines to the front. Kayman cringed inwardly. The wolverines were vicious. Some carried axes, but most relied on their natural skills to rip apart foes.
“Grim Horde not leave much war for wolverines.” Grumbled Frug’s brother, Grug.
“In due ti-” Kayman was cut off.
“Grug think wolverines do better on our own, like before.”
“It’s best that-”
“Little Kayminnow rat coward. He just no want to fight” growled the vermin.
“Now listen here you-”
Just before things turned violent, Frug froze. His nose twitched in excitement.
“Wait! Mouseflesh I smell. Blood!”
The eight wolverines instinctively began running towards the scent. Kayman, relieved of the distraction, followed suit.
Part Eleven: Contact
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?” shouted Lentil.
“Rest assured, he deserved it” replied Vulpo, his breath returning too normal.
Kit examined the fox’s corpse. Lentil continued his hysterical shouting.
“WHAT IS GOING ON, YOU CRAZY FOX?”
“What’s wrong with his eyes?” asked Kit’s quiet voice, truly mouse-like in comparison to his brother’s.
Lentil stopped a moment and looked at the cadaver, eyes still open in fear. One was mud brown. The other was a dull green.
“The mark of a Grim warrior” said Vulpo.
“Grim? That crazy fox chief from farther North?” quizzed Kit.
Vulpo just nodded. Lentil cooled. He had heard of Grim. Last he heard, he was assembling an army. In fact, it had been his squad’s mission to investigate. The Grim Horde was small. Scouts reported only a few hundred in total. Barely large enough to concern the Mouse Brigade and its father army, the Northern Brigade.
“But why?” asked Kit. “How is that a question? Doesn’t the Northern Brigade know about the Grim Empire and its horde?” Vulpo looked at the twins. Lentil got the feeling that they were about to have a sizable chunk of bad news dropped on them.
“But the Grim Empire is only a few fox chiefs in collaboration for raiding parties, right?”
“I’m not the laughing type, mouse. Stop joking.” Vulpo glared at Kit. Then, realizing that he was serious, his frown deepened.
“Great. I assumed that you and your little woodlander friends were less inept at information-gathering” the large fox said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lentil demanded.
“It means that the Northern Brigade is worth a bucket of spit and the rat who made it,” Vulpo shook his head.
Lentil looked like he wanted to backhand the fox, but Kit wisely held him in place.
“Okay then. Long or short version?” Vulpo looked at Kit. Before he could answer, he continued.
“If that is the current intelligence, the actual size of the Grim Horde makes your most pessimistic guess look like a band of newborns with slingshots. The Grim Horde is advancing South as we speak. In fact, I think they’re about four days from the Brigade Bastion.”
“What’s the long version?”
“That was the long version.”
“Then what’s the short version?”
“Uh…Grim is about to conquer the Bastion.”
The twins stared at Vulpo silently. Finally, Lentil broke the silence.
“So, assuming that is all true, wouldn’t the Brigade know about it?”
“I thought you did. Evidently, I was incorrect. A rare occasion indeed.”
“And how would every Grim warrior have two different-colored eyes? If every Grim warrior had those eyes, and your numbers are anywhere near correct, then three of four foxes in all of the North are of the Grim Horde!”
“There are more than just foxes. Only original warriors have the eyes. I hunt originals” explained the austere fox. “Though I’m not shy about killing any others.”
“Why?” asked Kit.
“The story for another time?” Lentil wondered aloud.
“How…close…are they?” puffed Kayman. His small legs gave him a distinct disadvantage.
“Close, Kayminnow. Close” said Grug effortlessly.
“Scent not strong. Pawful, maybe only one.”
“What…about…the blood?” coughed the rat.
“Fox blood. Concena…Conser…Real close together. Like when Grug throw sparrow and dagger in barrel and shake lots, then open.”
Kayman didn’t have the breath to ask how Grug knew that the blood was concentrated or how it was a fox’s. The wolverines were running with a carnivorous grace. Or at least as much grace as a mouth of teeth with arms could have.
“So what you’re saying is, the Grim Horde is bearing down on the only significant defenders of Mossflower as we speak” asked Kit.
“And that they have forces as massive as the legendary Rapscallion’s.”
“I’m not sure what this ‘Rapscallion’ thing is, but I’m going to say at least as massive.”
“And you knew this, and didn’t tell us.”
“Firstly, I thought you knew. Secondly, you didn’t ask.”
Kit stopped talking, his will deflated.
“How do you know all this?” Lentil filled in the quiet with more questioning.
“I’ve been gathering information for a while. Not about the Brigade, but when shooting a bow and arrow, you often hit more than your intended target.”
Suddenly Vulpo’s head snapped to Northeast.
“What is that stench?”
“Besides the corpse?”
Vulpo looked at Lentil witheringly. Then the mice smelled it too.
“By Martin, what is that?”
“There! In clearing!” said Frug excitedly.
“Uh-oh” said Lentil.
Vulpo chuckled emptily. The laugh had no mirth, and chilled the twins to the bone. His eyes glinted with slight dementia. His paws moved to his claymore.
“May I have this dance, death? The last was not nearly so exciting.”
Two mice and a fox? Kayman’s head churned, thinking of how that could be. He came up with nothing.
Part Twelve: The Brewing Storm
“General, the scouts from peak three are behind schedule.”
General Frost sighed. More complications to a busy season.
“Has their relief party returned?”
“No. They are due to reach the peak only now, sir.
“Also, the Mouse Brigade has arrived. Captain Ryce has asked to speak to you.”
“Very well, send him in.”
The aid walked out of the room. The mouse organized his paperwork a moment. The work never ceased, it seemed.
Captain Ryce walked into the office. He saluted the general. General Frost returned the salute.
“I assume something interesting happened while you were out on this patrol.”
“Yes sir. No important intelligence on enemy collaboration, however.”
Before the officer could continue, the general cut him off. “So why does it matter to me. I have pressing matters, Captain.”
Ryce seemed to shrink. He had hardly ever spoken with any generals of the Northern Brigade. General Frost especially had a commanding presence that made him nervous.
“On the way back we met a fox, sir. He was-”
“You bother me because you met a messenger of some tribe? The only good foxes are dead foxes. Did you find a message on the corpse?”
“Nu, Nu…No, sir. We didn’t kill him. He was…different. There was something about him that chilled me, but he didn’t seem to want to hurt us. He saw me. He just ignored me and kept walking. I don’t think he was a messenger.”
“So you let a fox see you? The Northern Brigade tries at all times to remain covert. We can’t have all the vermin of the Land of Ice and Snow banging on our door!”
“There was something else, sir. He had a tribe symbol on the sheathes of his scimitars.”
“Which one, Captain Ryce?”
“The Black Star Tribe, General.”
The mice stopped speaking and stared at each other. The fire crackled, oblivious to the heavy silence. General Frost broke the uncomfortable silence.
“The Black Stars should be dead.”
“I know, General.”
“You were in the party that found that hellhole of a village! Nothing escaped whoever raided the place! You saw the carrion birds picking at carcasses. Dried blood was everywhere! There could be no survivors.”
“I know, General.”
Before General Frost could question the other mouse further, the door burst open. A mole shouting at the top of his lungs charged in.
“An ermy ish a comin! Thar playuns ish blahk ash night! Genral Frosht! Cumendar ish a callin’ a meetin’! Yurr wanted at thar o’er look! Yuh need tuh geyet tuh thar o’er look fer thar meetin’!”
The general was grabbed and pushed bodily out the door, shouting for an explanation. He resisted, but the hysterical mole shoved him even harder.
Captain Ryce stood wide-eyed. The mole’s shouts were still echoing in the cavernous halls. He shook his head. This week had had to many events for this captain. It was time to see if the Autumn ale was ready yet.
Part Thirteen: The Wrath of Retribution
The wolverines bellowed.
“Kill the mice!”
“Capture the fox!” shouted the rat, realizing it was probably useless.
The vermin closed the distance remarkably quickly. The first to reach Vulpo threw his empty hands out to deliver a crushing bear hug. Before the beefy arms could embrace him, Vulpo’s paw, gripping the hilt of his claymore, shot out as if on a spring. It collided violently with his opponent’s sternum.
With a gasp, the wolverine fell back, gasping for air. Vulpo drew the two-handed sword clear from the scabbard. The mice, standing behind him, each scrambled to draw arms. Kit reached to his belt and pulled out a dirk. Lentil reached down likewise and unclasped a mace. The green scouts shied back as more vermin hurried forward.
Frug and Grug locked onto he clearly most threatening target. Frug held a simple hand axe. Grug used a less subtle giant axe wielded with two hands. Grug made an unforgiving swipe. Vulpo jumped forward and around the larger animal. To do so, he took a paw off the hilt. Frug took the opportunity to slam his axe into the sword, sending to the ground. Meanwhile, Vulpo sent a pawful of claws into Grug’s kidneys. With a yelp he hopped forward, straight at the twins.
Off-balance but still growling, the wolverine bared his teeth at mice instead of bringing his weapon up. Rather than shy away this time, Lentil’s mace and Grug’s skull engaged in a contest. The mace won. With a crack and moan, Grug crumpled to the carpet of leaves. Enraged to have a comrade die by a mouse, two wolverines charged the twins instead.
Vulpo took the chance to draw his twin blades. Frug stared stupidly at the body of Grug. Normally woodlanders scattered when they even thought they were around. His head made a thumping noise as it hit the ground.
Twirling around, his scimitar met another ax. The wolverine gave a guttural bark. Vulpo swung his other scimitar around. His fist hit the wolverine’s face. Unfortunately for the wolverine, the tip of the cross-guard also hit his face. His left eye was punctured, and he fell back.
The two wolverines facing Kit and Lentil grinned wickedly, oblivious to the battle close behind them. The mice simultaneously decided the wisest course of action was to run. Hopping over the dead fox, they nearly hit a tree. Instead, an ax embedded itself in the trunk. The bloodthirsty vermin gave chase.
The two wolverines next to Kayman hesitated momentarily. Then they rushed forward. The first ducked under Vulpo’s swing. The second recoiled. The first grabbed for the fox’s legs. The violent embrace knocked him backward. As he fell, Vulpo slammed the pommel of a blade into the offender’s head. The strangling hold weakened. The other scimitar smashed into his head. The grip stopped altogether. Vulpo hit the ground. The other wolverine chuckled at his luck. He would be the slayer of this troublesome fox.
The wolverine began to bend downward to ravage the fox’s throat. His legs pinned under the other wolverine, Vulpo brought a single blade up. Before the vermin’s brain knew what was coming, the back of his neck erupted with a spray of gore. Vulpo abandoned the embedded blade and shoved the beasts off of himself. He jumped to his feet with only one scimitar. The partly blind wolverine was struggling to get up. A quick stab stopped him. The first assailant, still clutching his chest, had finally recovered his breath and stood to meet Vulpo. His claws swiped at his face. Vulpo raked his claws at the wolverine’s powerful arms. The wolverine shoved him back, then lunged again. Dancing around his attack, Vulpo brought his weapon down to the exposed flank. With a gasp the wolverine fell.
“Aaiiiii!!!” squealed the mice, erupting from the trees, the two wolverines close behind them. Vulpo rushed towards them. When they met, the twins jumped over the fox’s corpse and twisted, landing with their weapons up next to Vulpo. Against all odds, one wolverine did not jump the fox and tripped. His forehead met Kit’s dirk at high speed. Shrieking even louder, Kit dropped the weapon and stepped back. The other wolverine jumped and overshot the trio, distracted by the events. He turned quickly. His timing perfectly matched the rotation of a the thrown scimitar. The tip swished cleanly down his snout, slicing it open like butter. He fell, screaming. Several feet behind him stood the rat.
Kayman was shrieking on the inside. He knew however, that this fox could outrun him, and that the fox was unarmed for the moment. He surged towards the mysterious fox. As he ran, he flicked his dagger up. When it fell, he caught it with the blade pointing downward. He brought his arm up at an angle in front of him. The fox charged at him. As they drew close, the fox brought his own right arm up at a similar angle. What, was the fox going to punch him as he stuck him?
Instead, the fox swung the arm into the crook of his elbow, locking the forearms. The knife swung to short, hanging uselessly over the fox’s right shoulder. The fox tightened his forearm and twisted hard to his left. The rat fell backwards, turning almost as much. Carrying the motion downward, one leg bent and was planted firmly on the ground. The other knee landed on the rat’s groin in a stunning blow. The fox’s left hand crushed into his face.
“Talk, rat! Who are you?”
Screaming in pain, the rat twisted and tried to escape. The weight was unyielding.
“Answer me, scumbag!” Vulpo punched Kayman in the snout again.
“Kay…Kay…Kayman!!!” wailed the rat underneath his knee.
“I knew it! Grim’s little helper!” raged Vulpo.
He stopped punching for a moment. He grabbed his knife, keeping the rat pinned all the time. Kayman screeched.
“Oh, you have not begun screaming, vermin!” Vulpo sliced off the rat’s ear. Blood flowed freely. Kayman howled pitifully.
“Did you enjoy it?” Vulpo roared. “Did you like it?”
The dagger slashed at Kayman’s eyes. The world faded in a rush of red.
“What? Stop! I didn’t do anything!” shrilled the rat.
“Did you like what you did to the Black Star?”
“Please! It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!”
The knife drew a long cut down the rat’s face.
“Did you like doing this to my friend?”
“Please! No! It wasn’t me!”
“Liar!” ranted Vulpo, tears of rage flowing from his eyes. “You did this to him! I know!”
“No! Please stop! I’m sorry!” The rat’s wails fell on deaf ears.
Finally removing his knee, Kayman gripped his face and cried. Then, another stab of pain ripped into his chest.
“I’ll do you a favor, rat. I’ll finish what you only started!”
Vulpo bent over the gash in the rat’s belly. He brought his knife cross-wise against the cut, carving a deep X. Small paws grasped his shoulders, pulling at him. He ignored them. All he could see was red.
“You will die slowly, vermin!”
Vulpo plunged his knife into the rat’s gut. He brought it out, a thick strand of viscera hanging from it. The paws grew more persistent. The wrath of retribution gripped him, red filled his vision. Suddenly, a foot landed squarely in his chest. He hit the ground. The world regained its color.
Kit and Lentil both hovered over his face. Both looked like they wanted to throw up.
“We need an explanation. Now”
Vulpo nearly bit them.
Vulpo lurched back up. Before the mice could stop him, he drove his knife into the rat’s forehead.
Then, the world turned white and misty.
Part Fourteen: Visions
Vulpo opened his eyes calmly. He was used to the sudden drop into this place. He had arrived here countless times before. The ground, instead of the gaudy reds and yellows that it had previously been, was unadorned earth. Vulpo couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead of him through the thick mist. Dark figures emerged from the gloom.
Vulpo stood up. Staring at the countless shadows coming from the gray, he put a finger to his lips and shushed softly. They would hear regardless.
“Raúl. I wish to speak with you alone,” he whispered.
One of the shadows stepped forward, becoming more defined as he approached. Vulpo’s late friend stood in front of him. Both foxes were white-furred. Not in the same way, Vulpo thought. He was white like a fox in winter. Raúl was whiter than snow.
“So you’ve let me come here, too” said Raúl, somber faced.
“It is good to see you, too,” replied Vulpo.
Raúl smiled sadly. “One more to join this list of avenged.”
“I have a question.”
“The same one you’ve asked all of these spirits?” Raúl gestured outward and around to the shadows in the mist.
“Yes. Do you think I am doing it right? Do you approve of my death crusade? I think I know the most common answers by now.” Vulpo pointed out a figure to his right. The shape focused, revealing a strongly built fox with a scar over his wise eyes.
“Father. He knows my reasons. He believes I should go South, where I might find peace.” Vulpo’s father faded back into the gray as he pointed to another shadow. An older vixen was exposed from the swirls of mist.
“Mother. She believes I should join the woodlanders and fight the Grim Horde.”
The figure dimmed.
“But what do you think, my friend?” asked Vulpo.
Raúl stepped closer. He reached out to touch Vulpo on the shoulder. His paw passed through Vulpo’s body, as if it were no more than the mist lying heavy in the air.
“I know why you feel you must avenge us. I know that you believe the great evil must be vanquished. I can not pass judgment on you, as I would do as you do now.” Raúl paused. “But please don’t lock your feelings away as you do.”
“I have nothing to live for but revenge. And plenty to die for.”
“I know that. Remember though, you can rebuild instead of living only for destruction.”
Vulpo shook his head. “I will not stop until all of them are dead. They can not stop the wind of death.”
Vulpo’s hard expression softened. “How is She?”
“Aspen is fine here, Vulpo. She misses you, but she urges you not to join us any time soon.”
Vulpo laughed coldly. “If I had any tendency to suicide, I would have joined you a long time ago. Do you know why I can’t see her?”
“No, that eludes me. I believe that your bond to this world and to your retribution prevents you from speaking to those you haven’t avenged.”
“I think I know that now. I haven’t spoken to you since I left for my journey.” Vulpo shook his head to banish the memories. “But now, I think it is time to go back to the living.”
Raúl turned and stepped back into the dark mist. All around Vulpo, voices from the shades chanted.
“The Land of Ice and Snow is faced with blight.
The last of Black Star goes into the night.
Twin blades flash in moon and sun,
Those who will stop him, not a one.
With heartless laugh and enemy’s moan,
Warrior cleaves limb from bone.
Not a rest for a single breath,
By mission and name, he is death.
He refused weak resignation,
He will fight the inflammation.
Loved ones departed to an unmarked tomb,
Their last cries began the killer’s doom.
The Land of Ice and Snow is faced with blight.
He will crusade to end it, the Death Knight.”