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This is part two of the epic story, Death Knight. Comments=good. Editing=grrrr... Thanks for reading!
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 Fifteen: Loved Ones Departed To An Unmarked Tomb
Vulpo opened his eyes calmly. He was used to the sudden return to this place. He had arrived back countless times before. The ground, instead of the unadorned earth that it had previously been, was blanketed with gaudy reds and yellows.
He looked up. Kit and Lentil were huddled together staring at him as if witnessing a ghost. They shivered, not from the cold.
“What was that?” asked a frightened Lentil.
“Hmm? What was what?” replied Vulpo offhandedly.
“Well…First you stopped moving. Your eyes stared into nothing. Then a minute ago that chanting started.” Lentil explained.
“Odd. I didn’t know the chant transcended the worlds.”
“What in blazes are you talking about?” asked Kit.
Vulpo stood up. He impassively walked through the blood-soaked leaves to his claymore. He sheathed it and walked to the corpse of the wolverine with a scimitar through his throat. Kit and Lentil waited. When Vulpo pulled the sword from the vermin’s neck, accompanied by a nauseating crunching noise, they winced visibly. The fox walked to his other blade. The wolverine was lying still, scimitar still imbedded in its unrecognizable snout. With an equally nauseating noise, Vulpo pulled it out and wiped the metal against the wolverine’s filthy cloak. The fresh blood came off easily.
“Come, we must go to the Brigade Bastion. I will explain on the way,” Vulpo addressed the mice.
Vulpo set a brisk pace. The mice followed. The leaves crackling under their feet seemed sacrilegious against the grave face of Vulpo. After a few minutes, Lentil spoke.
Vulpo sighed. He cleared his head of thoughts and focused on the memories he had so long tried to ignore except as motivation. The wind whispered through the trees as he began to speak.
Vulpo could have sung with joy. He hopped over the stone in his path. Once again, his paw went to his chest to feel the new black mark there.
“How’d you get it?” Lentil interrupted. Vulpo waved the question away, “Irrelevant.”
Things were looking up for Vulpo. He would be back at the Black Star village within half an hour. Then would come celebration. Vulpo threw his head back and laughed in aimless mirth.
The forest was quiet this morning. Vulpo missed a step and nearly tripped. The forest hadn’t been quiet for as long as he could remember. There was always something making noise. Silence meant something was wrong.
Vulpo sniffed deeply. It smelled like a fire. Nothing to worry about though, cooking fires could surely reach this distance. A strong gust of wind blew in his face as he inhaled again. He coughed roughly and gasped. That wasn’t the scent of cooking fish. That was fur. He sped up his pace. It could have been a simple accident. A kit got too close to a fire and the wind carried it.
Worry began digging into his head. Maybe it wasn’t a kit. Maybe it was someone else. Knowing he was probably being ridiculous, Vulpo sped to a jog.
A few minutes later he heard a scream. That was enough to get him to run. Blustering over stones in the path, Vulpo’s mind raced with theories ranging from plausible to ridiculous. Another sniff revealed something foul that he couldn’t identify. He ran faster.
Vulpo could see the orange flicker of fire in the distance, to large to be just a cooking fire. The smoke, acrid in his nostrils, was overpowering. With an uncontrollable gait, he reached the outermost building.
Blood ran in the streets, only partly dried. Fires burnt all around. Vulpo recognized the scent in the air now. Burning fur and flesh. What happened to his village?
Vulpo found the first body slumped against the entrance of a den. The fox’s throat was slit. The smell of smoke, of blood, and death made him gag. Vulpo ran around in a panic, looking for any breathing body. The bodies littered the ground like leaves. Despite his hysteria, Vulpo kept a count of bodies. Tears flowed freely, falling and splashing in pools of red.
“No…No, no, no…”
There were a few bodies without a black star emblazoned on their clothes. All were foxes with unmatching eyes. One brown, one green. They were all armed heavily and covered with to much blood to be there own.
Vulpo called out. From a distance was a soft gurgle followed by a cough. He ran away from the center of the village, into the forest, towards the sound. There, lying in a ditch, was his friend.
Raúl was cut all over his face. His paws covered his crimson stomach. Seeing Vulpo, he coughed up blood. Vulpo slid into the ditch and knelt.
“What happened!?!” he begged.
Raúl hacked again and mumbled. “Grim…envoy…raid…”
Raúl lifted a finger.
His friend nodded weakly. He gave a mighty bark, dislodging a lump of red. The he cleared his throat and spoke softly.
“They killed them all…Hardly any prisoners…we didn’t join them so they killed them all…” Raúl moved one paw to his face. “Sylvia…my child…all gone…”
“Come on, hold yourself together.” Vulpo gripped his friend’s shoulders to lift him from the blood pool. The paw abruptly shot out to catch his before he could touch Raúl.
“I’m too far gone. Get out…They are coming back to pillage the rest of the dens” Raúl coughed again.
“I’m not leaving you, mate. How could this have happened?”
Raúl shook his head, his speech punctuated by coughs. “Few days after you left…envoy came from the Grim tribe…wanted Black Star to join. We refused them two days ago. Yesterday, when the sun rose, I heard screams. I came from my den with my scimitars. There must have been a hundred of them…Killing everything that moved, setting alight everything that didn’t, and some that did. Dear spirits, the blood… A rat saw me. He fought like a coward, two big foxes and another rat with him. I killed the other rat, but one of the foxes brought me down. The rat called them off of me. They kicked me into this ditch. The foxes ran into my den.” Raúl gripped Vulpo’s shirt tightly. “I heard the screams, the death rattle of my wife…The rat stood over me…Then he did this to me,” The dying gestured to his face and split torso. “Just before he ended the agony, one of the foxes came up to him and said ‘Kayman, Grim wants you at the chief’s hut.’ The rat smiled at me, spat on me, then rushed off with the bootlicking fox behind him. I’ve been stewing in this torment since. They all thought I was dead…Last night, when the moon was at its highest, they left to the east, grumbling that Grim wanted them to pull back before finishing the pillage…After an eternity, I heard you…”
“What happened to Aspen? Is she alive?”
“Before they targeted me…I saw their leader grab her…He ordered some soldier to take her prisoner and bring her back to the camp…”
Vulpo felt like he was going to pass out. “I must get her back!”
“No…there are too many…”
“I need to get her!”
Raúl nodded. “I thought you’d say that.” He rolled onto his side, wincing in pain. “Take the blades. They will serve you better than the claymore, and I will soon not have a use for them.”
Vulpo gently lifted the sheathes from his weak friend’s back. He felt his sadness turn to anger. “I will get her back.”
“I know you will, Vulpo…Get going…” Raúl’s eyes glazed over, his breathing grew shallow. “It’s time to go to Sylvia…and my child.”
Vulpo gripped his friend’s hand tightly. The other fox held on just as strongly. “I am going, Vulpo, my friend…I am going to someplace…someplace different…”
As his hand’s grip faded, so did Raúl’s breathing. Vulpo lifted his friend up. Carrion birds would not pick at this fox. His body would be laid to rest properly.
After a quick burial, Vulpo began running to the east.
“By Martin…” was all Kit could say. Lentil unsuccessfully hid tears. Vulpo looked more solemn than ever.
“That is why I hunt these vermin. The Grim Empire’s first attack. Only Grim warriors participated. As I bear the black star on my chest, Grim tribesman have two different-colored eyes. This emblem marks them for destruction.”
The three walked in silence. The stink of death followed them, carried by the wind.
Part Sixteen: Stix and Stones
General Frost stared wide-eyed out to the peaks surrounding the Brigade Bastion. The stone wall he was perched upon gave him an excellent view of the army undoubtedly not here to give them a hug and kiss. Beside him, wringing her wrists, was Archery Commander “Hops” Stix.
“We are in a tough situation,” said the squirrel.
“Understatement of the year, Hops.” The surprisingly deep-voiced general coughed up a wad of phlegm and spat over the walls.
A deeper voice boomed from behind the pair. “I agree, Cornyloss.”
The mouse turned around and shouted angrily at Defense Commander Stone. “The name is Cornelius, you moronic badger!”
The two commanders faced each other with indignant looks. Then, Hops snorted. The three burst out laughing. They quieted only when footsteps echoed over the wall. The three looked up to see the Bastion Foremole and Head Commander Riptide. His serene presence hushed them better than any words.
“Good. Everyone is here.” The otter looked past the officers to the black columns streaming into the mountains and valleys.
“I beg to differ, Commander,” said Hops, “Healer Hemlock is not here yet.”
“No, our ironically-named friend is overseeing the treatment of some of the scouting parties. Those that returned, anyway.”
The otter rested a paw on a crenellation in the wall, the other on his sword. His sigh echoed the sentiments of the four around him.
“Well…does anyone have a plan?”
Commander Stone leaned against the wall. “The way I see it, we’re utterly outnumbered, our supply caravan can’t reach us, and we aren’t exactly in a position to negotiate. We need reinforcements.”
Riptide nodded at the suggestion, but Stix was dubious.
“From where? There are only two patrols out who may or may not still be alive. The recruitment group just came back and hasn’t left for more yet. I don’t see where we can get any more soldiers!”
Foremole mentioned what they were all thinking. “Whoit ‘bout dee h’abbey? Ur solduh curd get to ‘em wurhout du much difficoalty.”
“Those cowards? They can preach their ‘peace’ and ‘lay down your arms’ all they want, but that doesn’t do much when a rat has your throat and a stoat has your children! To refuse to fight evil is to accept it!” the mouse said icily.
The commanders sighed. They had all heard Frost’s rants before, and his speech hadn’t changed in all the time they had known him. At least nobody had suggested talking to the vermin to see what they wanted.
“I don’t think it will matter if we call on the Abbey or not,” said Stone.
“Whoi is tha?” asked Foremole. The commanders turned their focus to the army, as Stone was. A part of the camp already set up appeared to have cleared area. Vermin just large enough to be seen were constructing something. Others were finishing smaller, already-built devices. Riptide, an expert of siege engines, moaned.
“I don’t think we have that long.”
Part Seventeen: Blunts and Broadheads
“Soldier! What kind of a shot was that?” shouted the captain.
“Er…A bad one, Captain Stix?” mumbled the nervous archer.
“Platoon, cease fire! Retrieve arrows!”
Captain Stix had a lot to live up to, and this was her chance to prove herself. Sure that no one was looking, she sighed and shook her head. She would have preferred that the chance came in more favorable circumstances. When the army showed up two days ago, every officer was up to the elbows in training drills.
“Tired, Captain?” asked a gentle voice behind her.
Captain Stix turned. “Nervous more, Commander. The good news is that we have a surplus of blunt-heads for practice shots. The bad news is that all our other arrows are unhardened bodkins, and a few hundred broadheads.”
Commander Stix placed her hand on the captain’s arm. “So formal. Safera, just because I’m a superior officer doesn’t mean I’m not your mother.”
Safera smiled sheepishly. “If I’m not formal, the other captains will think I’m asking for favors.”
“Orove is smelting another set of broadheads right now. If we had another wagon of ore…” she shook her head, not bothering with what ifs.
The older squirrel departed soon after. As she walked off of the range, another squirrel walked on. Safera rolled her eyes. Shouldn’t he be drilling the swordsquirrels?
“Getting more preferential treatment, I see.”
Stix punched the other captain in the arm.
“Shut up, Ashtail”
Ashtail grinned and rubbed his arm. Stix punched hard. There would probably be a bruise there by dinnertime.
“Was that necessary? That was my sword arm, you know.”
Safera rolled her eyes again. “How is the practice going?”
“My squirrels are fine, thank you very much,” his voice lowered as soldiers laden with arrows came back from the targets. “But in one-on-one with a group of those bilge rats we saw, the end result is not good.”
“What are they doing with bilge rats? We’re not anywhere near the shores! They don’t have corsairs, do they?”
“I don’t know, but there are so-”
Ashtail was cut off by the alarming shout of a badger guarding the wall.
“HIT THE DIRT!”
The officers and archers unquestioningly fell to the ground and shielded their heads. Stix heard the sound of an object swishing through the air. With a thud, it landed near her. Ashtail grunted and swore loudly. Stix came to her knees. The squirrel had what appeared to be a giant crossbow bolt in his arm. His face was contorted in pain.
“If you would be so kind as to get Madame Hemlock…” he grimaced
Stix stood and relayed orders to the soldiers. One group ran to the infirmary. A mouse dashed to Commander Stone’s post. The siege had begun.
Commander Stone crumpled up yet another length of parchment and tossed it into the fireplace. Commander Frost sat next to him, poring over the diagrams spread over the table. None of their prewritten defense plans covered an attack of this scale. When he had written the plans, they made sense because he assumed an attack would be a smaller-scale. Then there was the problem of the siege weaponry that was still being built. The enemy was spread out over three peaks in view but not in range of the fortress. Countless fires and tents were set up. The gate was, needless to say, useless. The vermin had a perfect view of the wall.
The Brigade Bastion was not in any real way a castle. Construction of something that elaborate and time-consuming would be overrun by raids almost as quickly as vermin discovered it. Instead, small groups of skilled masons had been sent to a steep valley. The valley was wide at one side, the wall’s side, while the opposite end sharply rose to the ridge connecting the surrounding mountains. The three unopen sides were veritable cliffs. There, the masons had cut stones. The workers kept their work hidden, stored in a cave or surrounded by foliage. When a sizable chunk of stone had been gathered, a large group of builders were sent. Avoiding tribes, the roving messengers, and bandits, they made their way to the valley. When they arrived, they worked day and night to essentially seal up the open side. A carpenter fashioned a giant door made out of two trees. Over several weeks more workers and soldiers came to the newly built Brigade Bastion.
General Frost leaned back and sighed. “Well, if Foremole could dig some form of…no that won’t work.” The mouse rubbed his temple in thought.
Outside the door, footsteps carried down the hall. Moments later a mouse rushed in. The soldier addressed them both.
“Commander Stone! Captain Ashtail was injured by a ballista shot! Captain Stix would ask you to hurry to the walls! The horde is launching its first sortie!” The soldier finished breathlessly and collapsed into a chair. The badger hurried out of the study.
“How badly was Captain Ashtail injured, soldier?” inquired Commander Frost.
The soldier shook his head in wonder. “How he’s not screaming is beyond me. When I was coming here, I saw through a window that Captain Stix and Healer Hemlock practically had to rip the bolt out of the earth just to get his arm free. Not his sword arm luckily. The wound looks recoverable, from what I saw of it.”
“Good. That squirrel is a fine officer. Best our swordsquirrel leader is not taken down by a lucky shot.”
“COVER!” bellowed Commander Stone as another volley of ballista bolts came flying. The guards ducked under the stone crenellations. After the shafts of death past, they all stood again. The higher voice of Commander Stix rang out.
“Badgers! Fire crossbows! Intended targets!”
Captain Sefara called out from further down the wall.
“Archers! Bodkin heads! Turn the skies black!”
Commander Stone grinned in spite of the situation. That maid was smart. Complement the badger’s powerful sniper fire with sheer numbers of arrows. Frowning again, he turned to Sergeant Fields. The hare was posted in a special part of the wall. Every five regular crenellations came one of these posts. Instead of a regular place, where only ducking could provide full cover, these stones went up high enough to cover a standing badger. In the middle was an arrow slit.
The hare hopped in place and peered through the slit.
“A group of footrats is linin up by the machines, sir! They’re movin’ in some wagons of som‘n, Commander! Looks kinda like…chains? Or metal rope?”
Commander Stone’s head churned. What could ballistae use a chain for?
“They appear to be movin a bit closer, the fire team is…loadin the chains? Oh! Commander! The chains have things on ‘em, like some big ol’ spearhead…COVER!!!” the hare shouted. The click of many machines launching at once seemed tiny in Stone’s mind as he thought. In one instant, Commander Stone heard metal hitting rock. The next, he heard the hiss of a projectile pass over his head. After that, he heard the agonizing wails of a mouse to his left. He turned to look.
Evidently, some cruel blacksmith had taken a chain and added a head to it, as Sergeant Fields had said. This head was akin to grappling hook, three wide prongs spread out to grip a ledge. On each was another set of prongs. However, a fourth spike had been added as well, sharp and pointed straight out. This spike was currently buried into the mouse’s chest. Sergeant Fields, understanding the situation at miraculous speed, gave a running report.
“The footrats are grabbin the hook’s lines, sir!” Almost inaudibly, the hare whispered something, then shouted at the top of his lungs. “They’re gonna yank the lines and climb ‘em, Commander Stone!”
The impaled mouse, hearing this, screamed. He grabbed at the spike and pulled at it. Commander Stone couldn’t imagine the panicked strength it took, especially as a red stain spread over the mouse’s studded leather armor. Gripping two prongs, the soldier eased the spike out. However, just before he got the bloody tip out, the rats yanked. Ironically, they did the mouse’s job for him. The tip came out. However, the soldier still had a death hold on the head, so he was thrown violently over the wall, taking the line with him. He plunged the entire length of the wall. His final screams were drowned out by the newly-arrived Commander Frost.
“Get the hooks out! They’re climbing! Archers! Bring those slimeballs to the ground! Stone, help me with this thing!”
The badger pushed aside the horror and ran down the wall to the infantry commander. Together, they pulled at the grappling hook embedding itself in the wall. The weight of the rats and the depth of the prongs prevented them from making any headway. Rats scurried up the chains, laughing maniacally and relishing the battle to come.
“Oh lovely, the Ironhide Tribe joined them,” said Vulpo dryly. Kit and Lentil ran next to him, standing on the peak. From here, they could see, if not hear the siege raging.
“What do you mean?” asked Kit.
The fox pointed to the rats scrambling up the almost invisible chains.
“Only Ironhide stoats have the iron of high enough grade to make that chain and the knowledge to create it.”
A rat, evidently struck by a projectile, fell to his doom below. Kit smiled. That would be Sefara. Another rat on a different chain fell. Yes, definitely Sefara.
For the past two and a half days the three had traveled. Despite repeated questions, the brothers had been lucky to get a grunt out of the fox after his first account. From his nature or the topic of conversation, Vulpo had hardly said a word. This was the most he had spoken for a long time.
“How do we get in?” asked Vulpo.
Lentil blanked out. In a characteristic lack of forethought, he hadn’t considered it. Kit, however rolled his eyes and explained his plan.
“There’s a cave entrance that we can go through.”
Vulpo looked skeptical “A cave entrance? Why would there be a door into that fortress?”
“Well, when the Bastion was under construction, stone-workers hid their cut rock in a deep cave. When they looked in deeper, they found that it was not a cave but a tunnel. A cavern is still used for food storage. There’s a locked door leading in.”
“How do you know about this?” asked Lentil.
“Lentil! Grandad was one of the masons! He told us about it! How do you not know this? It’s not exactly a secret amongst the Brigade.”
As Kit continued berating his brother, Vulpo yawned and walked off. Circumventing the Grim Horde’s camp would mean they would arrive at the Bastion at nightfall.
Part Eighteen: An Awkward Meeting
“Are you sure this is it?” asked Lentil. His brother nodded.
“It should be through the prickly bush and around the tree.”
Lentil grumbled something about bushes before following Vulpo through the foliage. Vulpo, as usual, hadn’t said a word. They arrived at a collection of rocks larger than Vulpo. The rocks were against the sheer slope surrounding the Brigade Bastion.
Kit continued. “In between the pinkish one and the big gray one is a small entrance. We’ll have to crawl, but there’s enough clearance to get through.”
The fox slipped between the stones and bent, apparently at a collection of smaller rocks and a shrub. He shoved the rocks aside, revealing a hole. Vulpo slid in wordlessly. The twins followed on paw and knee. Minutes later Lentil started mumbling.
“Would it have killed them to put in a torch or something?”
“You realize, of course, that a torch would do little other than blow smoke in our faces and suck in the air, right?” said Vulpo. Lentil stopped talking.
The three kept moving deeper into the darkness. “The passage is widening, finally,” said Kit.
Soon, The mice and then Vulpo could stand. They kept a paw on the wall and moved slowly. Kit walked up beside the fox.
“We should reach the storage chamber in-” Suddenly Kit grunted. “What was that?” he exclaimed. “I hit something!” In the darkness, the others couldn’t see him. After a moment, he said “It’s a storage crate. We’re there.”
“Finally we can get out of this dark,” grumbled Lentil.
The three stumbled around in the black until Lentil put his hand on the door. Kit rapped loudly on the door. There was a muffled shout and oath. Then, a worried voice came from beyond the door.
“It’s Kit, Lentil, and-”
Before he could finish, the door opened, washing the three’s faces in light. A rather heavy hedgehog stood on the other side.
“Kit! Lentil! We thought you were dead! It’s so good to see you have-” The hedgehog looked up. “Eeeeep!!!” The woodlander jumped back into the room.
Vulpo stared nonchalantly. He had been expecting this. Through the door, he could see a kitchen. There was a massive pot of fragrant stew bubbling over a fireplace. On a table were several piles of mostly-diced vegetables. One pile only half-chopped had a bit of blood on it. That explained the shout. Vulpo looked back to the hedgehog. Now, he was holding a heavy knife. Vulpo’s paw slid smoothly over his shoulder to the hilt of one of his scimitars. He imagined that killing the chef would not make a nice impression, but he would do what he had to.
Preventing that bloody option, Kit leaped forward to calm the chef. Vulpo and Lentil watched the spectacle.
“But! But! But! A fox!” the overwhelmed hedgehog shouted through Kit’s rushed explanations.
Lentil put a paw on Vulpo’s shoulder and pushed him around the two.
“Best we get you out of here before he gets a heart attack,” said the mouse.
Vulpo allowed himself to be led outside another door. They stepped out to an orange sunset. Left, right, and far ahead of him, were more stone buildings. Between the buildings ahead of him and the kitchen were practice grounds for various types of warfare. Lentil pushed him to his right, following the row of stone buildings and in the direction of the wall. The ballista attack had apparently been repelled, as only a guard squad was posted.
Some buildings were several stories. As they went farther, the buildings grew taller and formed together, ending at the wall. In the empty doors they passed Vulpo could see craftsmen’s workshops such as those of a fletcher, carpenter, and blacksmith. From the latter a wave of heat shot past them into the cool air.
Not every doorway was empty. Twice, the woodlander standing outside saw him and froze. Others backed inside. One otter ran away in the direction they were headed. Waiting nervously outside one door was a squad of squirrels. Each bore swords. When the otter rushed through them, they turned. All simultaneously drew arms. Vulpo smiled. Smart ones, this group. One, an officer by the single bar on his sleeve, called out.
“What is the meaning of this, Private Lentil?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Lieutenant Yew. I think I should be getting to the commanders.”
Lieutenant Yew stepped back to let the odd pair pass, slightly startled by Lentil’s firm response. The other squirrels followed suit. After several paces, he regained his composure. He tapped two squirrels to follow and trailed the fox and mouse. His sword was still out.
Lentil led Vulpo through a door near the wall. They walked through and immediately went up a staircase. The soldiers stayed close behind. After passing several doors, Lentil pushed open one. They entered a hallway. Windows looked out over the practice grounds. Against the other wall were periodic tapestries and coats-of-arms.
Coming to a wider, more ornate door, Lentil sighed and whispered. “Here we go”
Just before he gripped the handle, the door opened. A harried mouse with chainmail armor and white fur on his chin jumped in surprise.
“Commander Frost, I believe that you should speak to this fox” said Lentil hurriedly.
The general froze, so startled he couldn’t move. Vulpo simply pushed him aside and walked into the room. The lieutenant behind him protested loudly and stepped forward to try to hold Vulpo. The fox brushed his paws off as if they were dust.
In the room were four other woodlanders. One was the otter that ran away from Lentil and Vulpo earlier. One was a massive badger with plated armor, seated at a parchment-lade table. He was staring in surprise. Another squirrel, sitting next to him, was in the process of pulling out a knife. The last was an otter making a rapid movement. Then, he was standing as if he was simply watching. Vulpo had seen the blade partway out of its scabbard, though. A beautiful gleaming blade. The edge’s were waves, and had an infinitesimal hint of blue to it. Interesting.
Lentil rushed to speak. “This is Vulpo. He’s here to…er, perhaps he should explain.”
Vulpo sat in one of several empty chairs. He passed his paw over the various contents of the table: several plans, a signet ring, an ink bottle, a book, and a few quills, as if inspecting them.
“I am here to eliminate your vermin problem.”
“What possible reason could a fox have to kill his own kind?” blustered the recovered mouse.
Vulpo gazed into the mouse’s eyes. His hypnotic and chilling eyes silenced his complaints. He turned back and faced the otter.
“Why?” asked the otter simply.
Lentil started to speak up, but Vulpo raised a hand.
“My reasons are insignificant to you. I will require no payment, if that is what you are wondering.”
“What I am wondering is why we shouldn’t gut this vermin right now,” threatened the badger. Vulpo looked at him insolently.
“Better you not try, badger. With respect, I must say you would be quite unable to accomplish that feat.”
Before the badger could retort angrily, the otter quieted him.
“How do expect us to believe you are not a spy?” he asked coolly.
“To be honest, I don’t. Interview the mice, they can tell you that I bear no love for the Grim Empire.” Lentil nodded vigorously.
The otter weighed his options and decided not to pass judgement too early. If the fox had made it this far with the twins, there was something different about him. He offered the fox a paw.
“Before you agree, otter, I have a condition.”
“I thought you said you required no payment.”
“Actually, I suppose I’d be doing you a favor.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“When it comes to it, Grim is mine and mine alone.”
“Very well, Mr…Vulpo. For now, you are free to stay here, under a watch. I am Head Commander Riptide.”
The fox and otter shook paws. The others stared in shock.
Suddenly, a squirrel, followed by Kit, burst into the room. The squirrel had an arm in a sling, the other paw gripping a sword at his waist.
“What is going on?” he asked, staring at Vulpo.
Riptide ignored to squirrel. He pointed at the young mice brothers. “This fox is your responsibility for now. See that one of you is always with him. Now, if everyone not above a rank of general could leave the study.”
The woodlanders filed out.
Vulpo was pushed to the middle of the procession, a mouse on each side and the squirrels to the front and behind. When nobody was looking, he smiled and stroked the item in his paw. A wave pattern flowed around the band of gold. Funny that they would leave such an item lying around.
Part Nineteen: What Do You Mean He Isn’t Here?
Lentil slipped through the door to the foyer of the guestroom. Kit looked up at him, curious. The twins had been guarding Vulpo for the last two hours.
“Is Vulpo still in the bedroom?” asked Lentil, sitting down heavily next to Kit on the wooden bench.
Kit stared at him.
“Is he there?” Lentil asked again.
“He was with you.”
“What do you mean? I left to check if we had guard duty tomorrow, and he stayed here.”
“He isn’t here. He said he wanted to go with you to look over the wall. I watched him come right behind you, then I came back and sat here.”
“What do you mean he isn’t here? We were supposed to be with him at all times!”
“I thought he was with you! Now he loose in the bastion!”
The gravity of this statement struck the brothers at the same time. They hurried outside.
Captain Ashtail turned from his platoon’s sparring. They should have finished practicing hours ago, but his injury delayed it until past darkness. Ashtail sighed and looked to the speaker. He stared into the cold eyes of Vulpo. He was alone and fully armed.
“Shouldn’t Privates Lentil and Kit be with you, sly one?”
“No, I have spoken with Commander Riptide. He reconsidered. He gave me permission to lead a raid.”
“That’s preposterous. Commander Riptide would never let you lead a raid. And what kind of raid would it be, we’re the defenders!”
Vulpo reached inside his cloak and produced a ring.
“If that was true, would the commander give me his signet ring?”
Ashtail inspected the ring incredulously. It was indeed the ring. Waves rose and fell around the band. He looked at the fox in new light.
“Very well. And what does this raid have to do with me?”
“I want you with me. You and two squads of swordsquirrels. See that you also bring that lieutenant, Yew. I like him, he’s wary.”
Captain Ashtail nodded in agreement.
“Also, I need a team of ten archers, only with bows. Crossbows and slings won’t work for what I have in mind. Before you get them, get Yew. I need some supplies. Assemble by the kitchen.”
Ashtail called to the lieutenant. These were a strange set of instructions. As the fox began instructing the other officer, he walked away. He desperately hoped Sefara didn’t mind getting woken up.
“Where could he be?” asked Kit frantically. The twins had just gone down the length of the wall. They had told no one of their worry. They gambled on the chance that they could find Vulpo before they could get in trouble.
Ashtail gathered the woodlanders together. Vulpo was leaning against the kitchen wall, but stood as he approached.
“Lieutenant Yew assures me that everything is together, fox. We are ready.”
“Good. I assume you know about the cave?”
“Let’s get going then.”
Kit and Lentil had an alarmed meeting in front of the gatehouse. Kit had been down the wall walkway again. Lentil had checked the barracks.
“Where could he be?”
“Are we all here, captain?”
“Yes, including the two barrels of rum. Private Jents had a bit of a workout getting them through the tunnel, apparently.”
“Alright, let’s go, quietly.”
Vulpo and the woodlanders slithered into the darkness. The cold winds of winter’s first breaths chilled them. After several minutes of walking, Vulpo signaled for the group to halt. A squirrel rolling a barrel nearly tripped. Vulpo pulled Captain Ashtail forward twenty paces and then behind a tree.
“There’s a guard past the next group of trees. I’ll take care of him.”
Vulpo reached under his black cloak. From a pack he produced a wire strung between two wooden handles.
“This is a garrote. The stoat over there will soon find his throat a bit uncomfortable.”
Ashtail wondered how the fox could tell the guard was a stoat. Before he realized, the fox had melted into the shadows.
Ashtail felt nervous. What if the fox had lied? What if this was just some story? What if now he was making his way to tell the invaders everything he had learned by being in their base?
There was a rustling. Vulpo came out of the shadows, clutching a limp stoat. The vermin’s tongue was lolling out, and his glazed eyes were still open.
“Stop complaining. Get Lieutenant Yew and Captain Sefera. It’s time to outline my plan.”
Ashtail shrugged and walked back to the main group. Moments later, he returned with the two other officers. The fox had removed his cloak and scimitars, and now appeared to be taking off his shirt.
“What are you doing?” asked Yew, slightly disturbed.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“It looks like you’re taking off your clothes.”
Vulpo removed his shirt.
“Wow,” exclaimed Sefera, just loud enough for Ashtail, and unbeknownst to her, Vulpo, to hear.
“Are you admiring that fox’s muscles?” whispered Ashtail.
The conversation ended when Vulpo produced a knife. He gripped the dead stoat’s arm and cut his wrist. Blood oozed from the postmortem wound.
“He’s already dead, you don’t have to desecrate the corpse,” said Ashtail.
Vulpo ignored the statement. He drew his paw through the blood and then traced a line down his arm. As he continued the process, he explained his plan.
Vulpo crouched next to Ashtail and Sefera in the tree. His exposed upper body was covered in bizarre patterns made of blood. The two looked out over the vermin camp. The din of vermin carried well.
“Time to begin, Ashtail.”
“No mercy then, Vulpo?”
“Mercy is for those with no resolve.”
“Should you really be fighting with that sling, Ashtail?” asked Sefera.
“If a broken arm kept me from killing vermin, I’m not much of a brigadier.” Sefara began to protest, but Vulpo cut her off.
“Stop bickering. Ashtail, give me the bottle. Sefera, get to the archers.”
Ashtail passed the fox the bottle he was carrying, marveling that a fox and a squirrel were on a first-name basis. Vulpo pulled out the damp cloth coming out of the lip of the dark brown bottle. He sniffed the contents, then took a shallow draught. He nodded and replaced the rag. Sefera slipped away.
“Fine rum. Almost to good to use for this.”
Vulpo stood. He reached to his pack, lying against a tree, and withdrew his mask. The fox slid the dark fabric over his face. In the dark, the slits of eyeholes seemed nonexistent to Ashtail. Truly, he appeared to be a faceless demon. He drew one scimitar and gripped the bottle in the other. It was time for the Death Knight to demonstrate his favorite attack method. Fast, overwhelmingly powerful, and frightening as a horde of infernal demons.
Part Twenty: Voices
Grim lounged back in his chair. Around him was a lavish tent. No reason for the grand commander to be uncomfortable in the campaign. Grim fingered an open chest next to him, relishing the feel of gold and silver.
Tomorrow began another attack, but he was done planning for now. The Brigade Bastion would be his soon. If all else failed, he could just wait them out. The woodlanders would find they ran out of food quite quickly.
The clamor of the army was growing intolerable. Without orders, his troops soon degenerated into a group of noisy attendants at a raucous party. Not that it mattered. When he gave the word, they would become rank and file or suffer the unforgiving consequences.
The commander’s tent was, luckily, set off from the rest of the army’s. The tents of skilled bodyguards surrounded his. Two bulky vermin stood outside the tent flap right now.
A set of feet appeared next to the guard’s, showing under the tent flap blowing in the wind. Grim heard the sound of a panicked voice. The guards moved aside from the entrance, and Grim’s second-in-command stepped in.
“I dearly hope you bring news worth my time, Foulfur.”
The rat fingered an infected hole in his ear, a reminder of the last time he brought “unworthy” news.
“No, lord. This is important, I assure you.”
“What is it, underling?”
“An injured stoat came up to me. He was bleeding all over the place. Before he passed out he said that the eastern tent area is under attack by malignant spirits. Demons seemed to rain fire down upon them. I saw the blaze from the officer’s mess tent, that much is true. He was raving, but I think you should check on the area.”
The white, scarred warlord rose to his feet. He shouldered his spiked shield.
“This had better be a real concern, Foulfur.”
“I assure you, my lord, something is going on over there.”
Grim shoved the rat aside. He went sprawling and landed painfully on a rack of decorated daggers, more plunder from the conquest. Foulfur would have a few more scars soon. Some vermin thought being second-in-command was a comfortable job. Foulfur’s steady increase of injuries ended that rumor quickly. The coward should have realized of that earlier. At least he was better than Kayman. The brown-nose did little than attempt to stroke his ego. Grim needed a competent officer, not a larger ego.
Grim walked off into the camp, bodyguards silently falling in step behind him. They were there as intimidation rather than protection. Grim had no need of more combat skill. He had enough of his own.
Vulpo wondered if he should be enjoying himself as much as he was. This thought was silenced as he beheaded yet another frantic soldier. They weren’t Grim’s original warriors, but this revenge was nearly as sweet. Not that there were any Grim foxes left anyway. All had suffered ‘accidents.’ All save one.
The patterns were rapidly fading from his torso and arms, hidden under fresh blood. Vulpo turned from the corpse and looked for another target. Next to him, Ashtail, almost as blood-stained, looked at him. His sword dripped. The pair stopped for a moment to listen to the screams. Vulpo laughed in pleasure as another volley of flaming arrows flew overhead.
Vulpo had begun the attack by lighting and throwing his bottle. The brown glass shattered against some ferret’s skull. The ferret’s fur soon turned black under the flames.
After that initial confusion, he ordered Captain Sefara to unleash her first volley. Their arrowheads had been bound in strands of grass or leaves, then dipped in oil. When lit and shot, they started a wonderful conflagration.
With the swordsquirrels behind him, Vulpo rushed into the increasingly chaotic tents. Most vermin froze, transfixed by approaching wave of warriors. Some of them recovered quickly and drew weapons to defend themselves. Those that didn’t were cut down swiftly.
Vulpo saw a fox, white fur almost as bloodied as his own, bring down a squirrel. As he flipped his dirk to point downward, Vulpo rushed him. As the dirk flew downward, inches from the squirrel’s face, Vulpo collided with the fox. The two went down. The fox barked and wrestled with him. They rolled, attempting to get on top of the other. Vulpo’s strength won out. Vulpo brought the hilt of his scimitar down on his opponent’s face. Whether out cold or dead, he didn’t care. The squirrel he had saved offered him a paw. Vulpo ignored it and jumped to his feet unaided. He looked down the line of flaming tents and saw Grim.
Grim hesitated for a moment. The ‘demon’ was a Black Star! They should have been slaughtered. Grim had made sure of it. Those that didn’t join were killed. Trying to cover his hesitation, Grim rallied the disoriented troops. “Kill the Black Star!” Grim shouted.
Vulpo felt the anger boil. The rage he felt before seemed tiny and insignificant now. Vulpo held his scimitars up and crossed them. Then, he crossed his arms and recrossed the blades, forming a double X above his head. Ashtail recognized the signal and called out.
“Fall back! Back to the hills!”
The squirrel waved to the concealed archers. His soldiers ran from their individual battles. Two squirrels hooked their arms under a fallen comrade and began dragging him. A few vermin, bolstered by the appearance of their leader, ran at them. Ashtail threw himself in front of the three squirrels and defended their retreat. Vulpo shouted at them.
“Get out, you fools! Run while you can!”
Ashtail ignored him. He wasn’t worth rat spit if he didn’t protect his followers. A bilge rat and a ferret attacked him simultaneously. Fending off the rat, Ashtail found himself exposed to the ferret. Before the vermin could slash him, the shiny tip of a blade erupted from his chest and a spray of blood covered his face. The ferret rose up from the ground. Vulpo held the vermin up on his scimitar, then threw him with such force he collided with a rat. Ashtail’s eyebrows rose. How strong was this fox?
“Get out of here!” the fox shouted in his face. Then, the fox turned to the gathering crowd of vermin. Ashtail picked up the feet of the injured soldier and ran with his squirrels, disappearing into the shadowy trees.
Vulpo watched the mob of enemies. They had stepped back when they saw him toss the ferret. Grim urged them on, baring his fangs at Vulpo.
“If you’re going to fight, then don’t shy away like infants!” taunted Vulpo. “Who dies first?”
The mob began surrounding him. Vulpo locked eyes with Grim, near the back of the crowd. The rage built again. Vulpo felt his reason slip away. The death of Grim was all that mattered. His breath came heavily. The Death Knight was rising.
“Come on, cowards!” roared Vulpo. He plunged into the stream of vermin surrounding him. He yelled in their faces as they shrunk back. Vulpo slashed at everyone in his path.
Let us help, my friend. A voice whispered in Vulpo’s mind.
No, thought Vulpo.
You have earned our help.
Not until he is dead.
I thought so. But, you cannot stop our voices.
The chanting slips between the worlds, why not our voices?
You can’t stop us.
Vulpo shouted again. This time, his voice seemed louder. The vermin noticed it too. The next wrathful shout was impossibly loud. Vermin froze in fear. What was Vulpo was gone. All that remained was the Death Knight. He plunged his scimitar in the gut of a fox, laughing maniacally.
“Fight back if you dare, curs!” This last taunt was like an icy dagger in the hearts of the vermin. Some turned and ran. The Death Knight drove his blade through the forehead of a rat. A spray of blood hit his mask. His laughs were deep bellows that echoed in the tents.
“He’s just one fox! Gut him like a fish! Gut him or I’ll gut you!” commanded Grim.
The soldiers turned from the new fear right back to the attacker. They pressed against each other to overwhelm the fox.
“Gut him! Gut him! Gut him!” they chanted.
A tiny fraction of Vulpo returned. He couldn’t fight all of them. The Death Knight stepped back, hacking any resistance to bits.
“Twin blades flash in moon and sun,
Those who will stop him, not a one.”
Vulpo’s lips weren’t moving. The vermin hesitated again, struck dumb by the ethereal voices. Vulpo took the chance to turn and run into the trees.
“After him, you worthless Catsmeat!” shouted Grim.
The vermin surged forward when Grim beheaded a still rat. Vulpo had disappeared into the darkness.
“Where is he?” asked Private Jents to no one in particular.
“I don’t know,” said Captain Ashtail “But it’s time to get through the passage.”
“We can’t just abandon him! He saved my life back there! Not to mention Coryn’s!” protested Jents.
“I know! He saved mine too! But now we need to get back before some vermin picks up our scent!”
Jents withered. Captain Sefera poked her head out of the cave entrance.
“Everyone but us is through the other side. Any news?”
“No. He’s still gone. I think it’s time to go. We’ve waited long enough.”
Sefera frowned, then ducked back inside the passage. Jents mumbled something insubordinate and followed. Ashtail sighed and crawled into the hole. He hated to abandon someone who he fought with, side-by-side. Just before he disappeared into the cave, something grabbed his ankle. Something wet and strong.
“Didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easy, did you?”
“Vulpo!” Ashtail exclaimed. “Sefera! Private Jents! He’s alive!”
“Now then, if you hurry up before some rat finds us.”
Ashtail laughed, then moved quickly.
“What happened back there?” called Sefera from further in the cave.
“Bastards chased me. I ran around to thin them out, then took out the last ten.”
“You took out ten on your own?” blurted Jents.
The private gave a low whistle.
“Were you injured?” asked Ashtail.
“I’m missing a few chunks, but I’m okay.”
“A few chunks? How bad is it?” asked Sefera.
Part Twenty-One: Battering at the Gates
“Foulfur! What are the casualties?” demanded Grim.
The rat hobbled closer to his leader. He had suffered another wound in a brawl in the night.
“I’ve spoken to some officers in the area. The total amount of soldiers camping there was two hundred. Then there were the troops that followed you when you headed over.”
“Casualties, underling! How many dead and injured!”
“One hundred seventy-odd dead, forty wounded. That includes all those that later died from injuries, and those in the fires. Survivors claim that at least seventy of these were the Black Star’s. He fought as if possessed. If you hadn’t arrived, all of them would undoubtedly be dead, my lord.”
“What about them?”
“There were two bodies, both squirrels. No news on how many wounded.”
Grim grunted and gestured for the rat to leave. Eager to get away, the rat hobbled off to one of the large fires. The short autumn in the North had ended, and his soldiers used the dying blazes to warm themselves. Over two of the pits were spits. Squirrel meat was a rarity this far north, and the soldiers eagerly gathered around the fire as much as for it as the warmth. Grim turned to the wolverine beside him.
“It is time for today’s attack to begin, Grssk.”
The muscled warrior nodded. He answered in a surprisingly articulate voice. “Easy enough. Where is my pack?”
“They haven’t shown up. They should be here by now.”
The wolverine spat. “I shall do without them, then. Which strategy are we using today?”
“Armored assault, straight for the gate.”
“Direct. My favorite.”
Ashtail and Sefera stood outside the infirmary, unconsciously stepping closer together in the early morning cold. They had sent uninjured soldiers back to the barracks and made sure Healer Hemlock was attending to the wounded.
“How many did we lose?” asked Sefera.
“Only two dead. We were amazingly lucky. If Vulpo hadn’t gotten us out in time…” Ashtail shuddered at the thought of what would have happened.
“How many do you think we took down?”
“At least a hundred. Most successful attack I’ve heard of.”
Sefera smiled. “Is that just blades, or my archers too?”
“Oh, you know that archers are worthless.”
Sefera punched him in the arm. Ashtail rubbed it.
“You really have to stop doing that, that hurts.”
Sefera laughed. The door to the infirmary creaked open, and a wizened mouse stepped out. The captains bowed deferentially.
“Ah, Sefera, Ashtail, I hear you had quite the raid! The squirrels I haven’t sedated somehow won’t stop babbling about what you two and the fox did.”
Though Healer Hemlock hadn’t seen combat for years, she still loved hearing of their battles. When her strokes began to slow, the mouse had abandoned warfare.
“How is the fox, Madame Hemlock?” asked Ashtail.
“Growing attached to a fox, young squirrel? Seems rather odd for a brigadier.”
Ashtail rolled his eyes. “Just how big are the ‘chunks’ he told us about?”
“Not very big in actual size. What’s more dangerous is the amount of blood he lost. He should be fully recovered in a week, though I doubt anything short of breaking his knees would keep him down for that long.”
“Is he awake?” asked Sefera.
“No. Soon after the uninjured left he fell asleep. His manner of sleep is odd to say the least. Sometimes he is so still I swear he is dead. Then, a minute later he is growling and rolling.”
A few woodlanders, nearly colliding with Captain Ashtail, interrupted the conversation.
Vulpo cracked open one eye. The old mouse was gone for now, and the squirrels had finally fallen asleep. There was some commotion outside. He knew the captains were outside, but he hadn’t heard any of their words. Now muffled exclamations were coming from through the door.
“Ashtail! What is the meaning of these rumors of a raid!” shouted a mouse, presumably Commander Frost.
“And why’s the rum gone?” asked a quieter voice, a hedgehog.
The response was muffled to much to be heard.
“But why’s the rum gone?” persisted the hedgehog.
“Who gave permission for that vermin to lead a raid?” demanded Frost.
There was a pause, then an otter shouted. “WHAT? I did no such thing!”
Vulpo almost laughed. He had hoped to keep up the deception a bit longer, but hearing the officers argue was almost worth it.
“Why would you let a fox lead a raid?” pressed General Frost.
Another pause. Then the otter began yelling again. The door slammed inward and soft twilight filled the room. The outline of a mouse filled the doorway. Commander Frost ran inside, swearing that he would kill the fox if it were the last thing he did. A handful of others followed him in. Ashtail was gripping the mouse’s shoulders, pulling his paws away from his scabbard. Vulpo watched in slight amusement.
Abandoning his sword, Frost grappled for Vulpo’s neck. When his fingers brushed his chin, Vulpo sat up and yawned in his face.
“Problem, commander?” Vulpo looked into the mouse’s increasingly enraged face.
“The problem, sly one, is that you have tricked my best Captains into following you into the heart of the enemy!” The general stared into his eyes, then shrunk back and looked a tad sheepish. He hadn’t meant to admit that Ashtail and Sefera were that good. Commander Riptide rushed to fill the pause.
“Why did you lead my soldiers into some hopeless attack? An attack that would-”
Vulpo pretended to listen for a few seconds, then spoke up.
“We killed almost two hundred of them.”
The otter kept talking for a minute, then stumbled over his words, then stopped.
“Captain Sefera, is this true?”
“Yessir. There was also a fair bit of property damage inflicted. At least forty tents went up in flames, along with a couple supply wagons.”
The commanders paused, subdued. They hadn’t expected that.
“How many did you lose?” asked Riptide
“Two swordsquirrels, sir,” said Sefera.
General Frost blinked. This was unheard of in the Northern Brigade.
“See me in my office, captains.” He said, then turned and walked out of the infirmary.
“Contact!” shouted a mouse.
Private Oakpaw Jents shook himself awake. The squirrel had been sent to an early guard duty, and still wasn’t alert. Couldn’t the vermin wait until a decent hour of the day to attack?
“Oakpaw, look alive, somethin’s a comin’!” shouted one of his friends. The private stood up from the stone bench. He was positioned directly over the gatehouse. He looked out over the crenellation. Approaching the gate was some kind of covered battering ram. Oakpaw had read about some types of siege weapons, but this was different. A cart was moving outside of the camp. This cart had a frame over it, and that was covered with a makeshift armor of hides.
Minutes later, the cart entered the archer’s range. Arrows hit the cart, but were unable to penetrate the leather. Though there were holes between the hides, the arrows couldn’t get through.
A distant officer was shouting. “Get me the oil! We need the cauldrons! Put up the portcullis!” Why would they raise the portcullis? The point of the portcullis was to keep the enemy out. The metal clanked as soldiers raised it up.
The ram was rapidly closing on the gatehouse. Oakpaw could see that the front of the ram’s covering had a large hole in it. Apparently suspended from within, the front of a log was poking out. The end was sharpened and hardened in fire. The hairy feet of vermin poked out as they marched. The roughly-sewn hides flapped.
Oakpaw was becoming alarmed. If the arrows couldn’t get it, then how were they supposed to stop it? A nearby squirrel chuckled.
“Idiots. They’re gonna walk right into it.” he said.
“Into what?” asked Oakpaw.
The other squirrel pointed to the floor that made up the roof of the covered gatehouse. On it was the grille that the soldiers stood on.
“What? It’s just the metal grille?”
“What, did they not tell any’un? Look closer.”
Oakpaw squatted down. He looked at the stone. In it were holes, just large enough for him to put a foot in, the grille not been there. Through it he could see the ground.
“Didja hear that of’cer yellin fer the oil?”
By now the battering ram had reached the gatehouse. The cart settled in front of the heavy wooden door. A metal clanking was coming from down the wall. Oakpaw looked to the source of the noise. Two pairs of soldiers were lugging two giant cauldrons towards him. The officer who had shouted earlier before was commanding them.
“Put them right over the holes. Step back, privates.”
Jents and his comrade duly stepped back, pressing themselves against the crenellation. The two teams positioned their cauldrons on opposite sides of the gatehouse. Below, a voice was directing the vermin.
“Grip the handles, you worthless catsmeat! Pull back in three…two…”
The brigade officer smiled and made a gesture over his head. Simultaneously, four things happened. One was that soldiers manning the portcullis unleashed it, causing the iron bars to speed back to the ground. The second was that the teams with the cauldrons upended them right into the holes. One of the soldiers, an older one, guffawed.
“Oh God I love this part.”
The last thing was that the battering ram team pulled back on the log. They pushed it forward against the door. Just as the tip crashed into the wood, the portcullis slammed into the ground.
The screams of rats and stoats emitted from the holes.
“I’m burning! I’m burning!”
“Get it off! No!”
Oakpaw looked down a hole in astonishment. The vermin were bursting from the covered cart.
“Blimey! What dja pour on ‘em?”
The older soldier, an otter, laughed some more. “Boilin’ oil. Hurts like a-”
The officer hurriedly cut off the undoubtedly vulgar statement with a command. “Archers! Pick them off!”
A squad of squirrels abandoned their posts and huddled around the holes in the grille. They drew arrows and struggled to poke them through the holes in the metal grille and through the holes in the stone. The trap below had turned into chaos. Every vermin for himself.
With a collective hiss, the vermin that hadn’t been killed by panicked compatriots fell.
“That will be an unpleasant mess to clean up” remarked the squirrel next to Oakpaw.