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Authors Note: If you have read this and like it, be sure to check back often. I update regularly.
Who's there? Ah, a young traveler caught out in the storm. Come, come, there's nothing to fear. Sit by the fire and have some hot mint tea. Now, you are comfortable, yes? Good. Now, let me tell you the story of a great warrior. She led the hardest life you can imagine, and endured hardships that would have slain a lesser beast. You think you know who this warrior is? Ah, we shall see if young mind proves correct. Stare into the fire and listen. For I am the Teller of Tales, and the Weaver of Dreams.
Book One: Zu-Mor
Sheth Moonfur ran. She ran as she had never run before. The silver furred ferret had been part of Rakra Speartails horde when they attacked Salamandastron. The home of the Badger Lords. There, they had their first taste of a Bloodwrath badger. Vermin fell before him like chaff before the wind. This thought spurred her towards the building in the distance.
Abbot Saxagus Was strolling the orchard of Redwall Abbey. The old mouse enjoyed the trees of plum, damson, apple and pear. The peace was shattered by the Matthias and Methusulah bells booming out. Bongboomclangboom! Skipper of Otters Danos Bounded up the wallsteps shouting "There's a creature on the path! Looks like a vermin!" Saxagus hurried up the steps to the west wall threshold. "Danos, please hold your ottercrew back. That beast looks exausted. Vermin or not, Redwall has never turned down anybeast in need." Skipper opened his mouth to argue, thought better of it, and shut it again. Two burly young otters hauled Sheth indoors and up to the Imfirmary. The ferret regained her senses slowly. Noticing the strange surroundings, She tried to sit up, but a paw pressed her back down. Sister Salep the Sickbay keeper bathed The ferrets forehead with a damp cloth. The Abbot took stock of the well muscled ferret. She did not wear anything but an extremly long hooded cloak patterned with every hue and dye of green and mottled white. Sheths footpaws and tailtip were so black that they shimmered when she moved them. Buckled across her back, the ferret wore a long, cross hilted sword, that she appeared to be very skilled at wielding. "Where'm I?" She mumbled. "You are at Redwall Abbey, my child. I am Abbot Saxagus, and this is Sister Salep, the Sickbay keeper." Salep helped Sheth up. "Come down to Cavern Hole and have supper. You look starved." The ferret grunted in aggrement. As the trio went downstairs, little did they know, two pairs of dark, beady eyes were watching them from the open window!
After supper, Sheth strode the orchard, enjoying the fruit trees when she felt her scabbard seized and herself lifted up into the air. The ferret yelled and Skipper along with several otters bounded out the door, armed with javalins. Sheth whipped out her sword and slashed at something dark, and it dropped her. The otters speared two more of the things and they to fell to earth, dead. Sheth inspected them, and found them to be rooks. "I wonder where they came from?" Mused Skipper, looking about. "Who knows." Said Sheth.
Up in the roofspaces, Krokan, the leader of the rooks fumed about, screeching madly. "Kraaaaa! Why could the rooks not slay the cloaked one? Yak! Because they are fools! That is why! Kwaaaar!" The other rooks huddled in corners, knowing the crow was looking for somebeast to vent his wrath upon. "Jaldi! Get over here! I have things to discuss with you." An old raven flew over to the irate crow. "Your wish is my command, master." The pair flew off the the Belltower together.
Far across the heaving deeps of the Western Sea, on the isle of Romaga, stood Zu-Mor.The wildcat had been shipwrecked on the rocky coast, and had pressed inland with his crew of cats, all armed with an array of pikes, spears and lances. But Zu-Mors chosen weapon was a long oak staff, with a bronze circle on the end with a cross through it, that he called the Hist. It was the perfect weapon for stabbing and swinging. The wildcat had enslaved all the squirrels exept a few rebels. For the umpteenth time, he stormed down the stairs of his tower chamber, in the granite fortress. "Ulex! take ten of your best spear and archer cats, and find those rebels! Don't you dare come back empty pawed!" Scorecat Ulex scurried to obey orders, though none where eager to go out where the great two headed adder, Valiss Thundercoil, lurked. The chosen cats clattered out of the gates, and instantly began to feel edgy. One cat, named Rach, strayed further and further west, until he stepped on a piece of granite. That was when he realized he had gone to far. The thought proved right, as something, no, two somethings, struck him hard in the back. Rach lay, staring up in horror, at the biggest, strongest, most evil looking adder he could ever hope to see! Yet, the snake had been born with some sort of birth defect, so the scaly hide was split about a third of the way down, yet continued on to form a second head! Rach would never live to tell of this, as the two heads hissed malevalontly over their prey. "Sssssilent now. Do not ssssscreech, or sssssstruggle."Yesssssss. Ssssssleep, the sssssssleep from which there isssssss no awakening." Ulex, the patrol leader, jumped when he heard an ear-splitting scream, which was abrubtly cut off. Shivering, he turned to the other cats. "Mateys, the only time we hears a scream like that, is when Thundercoils lurkin' about." The cat felt every hair on his neck rise, as a bittersweet odor hit them like a solid wall moving forward. That was where nerve snapped. The patrol took off, chain mail tunics clattering as they pelted through the woodland. Leaving behind them, the small clearing, several spears, and the sickly sweet odor of death.
Zu-Mor was striding into the stone fortress, when there was a draft behind him, and an enormous bird, of that breed called crane hawk, landed in front of the wildcat. "Kreeeeeaaaaa! The Guardians of the Sky await your orders, lord! Kraaaaaa!" Zu-Mor blinked. "Ah, Falcontail. I was waiting for you. Any news?" Falcontail preened his glossy blue-black plumage and fanned his white striped tail feathers. "Kwark! Methinks ye should keep a an eye and an ear on Shiz and Talaz. This bird think they up to no good." "Thank you. I will take your advise." Zu-Mor called over his shoulder as he strode indoors. Rounding a corner, the wildcat nearly ran into the two cats Falcontail had mentioned. Ducking back behind the corner, he slowly unbuckled the Hist from his back, and listened in on the cats conversation. "So," Began Shiz, who had his back to Zu-Mor. "After tonight, Zu-Mor will be at Hellgates and nobeast will know who killed him." "I still don't think this is such a good idea." Talaz grumbled. Shiz started to say something else to Talaz as Zu-Mor raised the Hist. Talaz stared as Shiz' eyes rolled up to the whites and with a sigh he fell forward onto Talaz with the Hist in his back. The body was heaved off him, and flung to one side as the Hist was yanked out of it. The cats eyes widened in horror at Zu-Mor. The wildcat placed a footpaw none to gently on Talaz' chest. "So you think you can asassinate me, cat?" The wilcat rasped. "N-n-n-n..." Stammered Talaz. "Never try to outsmart Zu-Mor, deadbeast!" Mor snarled as he swung the Hist. Wiping the weapon on Talaz' headless carcass, he strode off, chuckling. What a fool!
Sheth, Danos, and the Abbot stood in Great Hall gazing at the Tapestry of Martin the Warrior. It was impossible not to be impressed by the mouse' strong features. Skipper went over to the Tapestry and lifted Martins sword from it's holder. "Here matey, try this out. See 'ow it suits ye." Sheth took the wonderous blade and stared at her reflection in it. It was not hers! The beast staring back at her, was that of a heroic mouse, clad in armor. The ferret looked up. "Do you think I was meant to hold this blade?" Skipper laid a paw on the ferrets muscular shoulder. "I think thats for ye to decide, matey." As the otter stepped back, Sheth swung the blade, and sliced the wick off of an unlit candle, sitting in it's wall sconce. "Yes."
Early the next morning, Sheth, with Skipper, and the Abbot as witnesses, slipped out of the north wallgate, with Martins sword buckled across her back and a haversack of food. After she had walked awhile up the dusty path, the ferret sensed movement, but did not stop until four weasels armed with spears jumped out of the woodland and barred her path. One, a fat male named Jigger, faced the ferret with a rusty cutlass. "Give us the vittles an' the blade an' we won't kill ye... yet." Sheth seemed unfazed. "Okay, seein' as i'm outnumbered, you win." As Jigger turned to his mates, Sheth took two steps back and then leaped forward, catching the weasel a flying double-kick in his oversized stomach. As he crumpled, gasping for air, Sheth grabbed the spear off of another weasel and vaulted straight over their heads and knocked three pairs of legs flying out from under them. Flinging the spear into the ditch, Sheth strode off. "Come an' visit me if ye want more, fatbelly." The ferret had only gotten a short way when she heard a muffled groan coming from the woodlands. Walking in a short way, she came upon a young otter strung by his footpaws off of an alder branch. Hearing the four weasels on the path, Sheth scrambled up the tree, whispering to the nearly passed out otter, "Don't worry mate." Perched on a leafy bough, the ferrets long cloak made her virtualy invisible because of the sunlight filtering in through the leaves. Jigger, having arrived at the tree, tickled the otters nose with his cutlass. "I ain't never tasted riverdog before. 'Ave yew mates? Lets roast 'im. Nice an' slow." Sheth decided the time was right. launching herself from the tree, the ferret landed square on top of Jigger, flattening him. "Well, well. look who's come back for more." Slicing the otter down with the weasels cutlass, she bound the foursome together by their footpaws. "You lot got off easy. If I ever see yore ugly mugs here again, You, are, deadbeasts!"
After getting out of eye and ear range of the weasels, Sheth came upon a small brook. Laying the otter down on some moss, the ferret produced a small flintstone from a hidden pocket in her cloak, struck it to Martins sword, and soon had a merry blaze going. Checking on the otter, Sheth drew a long dagger from her belt, sighted, and hurled it up high into the tree foliage. There was a screech, and and fat thrush tumbled down in a bundle of feathers. The otter was just stirring when she got back to their makeshift camp. Seeing the ferret spitting the thrush on a stick, his eyes widened. "Yore gonna kill me! I just know ye are!" Sheth put her head to one side. Her blue-gray eyes sparkled as she answered. "Kill ye? Wotever put that thought inta yore head, eh? Ask yoreself this question. Did I tie ye up by yore footpaws off a branch like those four uglymugs back there? No! I'm not goin' t' kill ye. Now, wots yore name you young rip?" The otter sat up and held a paw forth. "Ma used t' call me Venice. Venice Currentstone, at yore service. Wots yore name, matey?" Sheth prodded the half-cooked thrush. "Most calls me Sheth Moonfur. I've been living on my own almost all my life. Would you like to travel with me to Salamandastron?" Venice' eyes widened. "Yore goin' t' Salawotsit? I've heard incredible tales about it! You sure they'll let ye in? Wot with yore bein' a vermin an' all." Sheth tossed half of the cooked thrush to the otter, who tucked in hungrily. "Of course. The Badger Lord there has got to take me. I feel as if that's my destiny."
The Abbey kitchens were a scene of chaos. After the strawberry picking the day before, all the berries had been stored in the kitchens. As soon as the Dibbuns, (This was the name given to all abbeybabes) heard about it, they thundered down to the kitchen to have their idea of a sample. As squirrelbabe Rugg said, "Us gorra test an' see if theys good." All the biggest strawberrys were being scoffed by the babes. Friar Halaz was at the end of his wits. "Put those down, Fruffle! No, not on the floor! they'll spoil! You want strawberry fizz right? Well, Cellarhog Aven can't make it with out good ripe strawberrys!" The fat squirrel was ready to throw himself from the walltops, when there was a thunderous roar. "If I see any Dibbun pinching strawberrys in the next two seconds, i'll deal with him! By the thunderin' seasons o' strife!" All activity ceased. For there, framed in the doorway, stood Mellanus. Badger Mother of Redwall Abbey. A tiny mousemaid raised a paw. "Bu' Ma, you didn' say anyfink bou' maids." Followed by the other babes, she trundled past the irate Mellanus and out the main Abbey door. No sooner had it slammed behind them, than there was a loud cawing, and a Dibbun screaming. "Eeeeee! Bigga bird 'bouta take Fruffle! Eeeeeee" Mellanus grabbed an iron fire poker and thundered out the door. A huge rook was harassing the squirrelbabe Fruffle. Mellanus swung out at the bird. There was a crack of splintering bone, and a croak as the rook fell dead. "Is everybeast alright?" Fruffle showed the badger a tiny scratch on her paw. "I gorra scar, Ma." Mellanus heaved her up with one paw. "Well then, off to the Infirmary you go." Fruffle squealed and struggled to get away. "No, no I don' wanna gorra 'firmary! Sissi Salep feeda me tonna nekkle broth!" The badger mum turned to the other babes. "And if I see you rabble going about pinching strawberrys, he or she will have to answer to me."
Zu-Mor rose in high bad temper. The night before, seeing the patrol returning captiveless, they had been soundly flogged, and ordered starved until further notice. Donning his crimson, fur trimed cloak, he stormed down the stairs. Coming out into the open, the wildcat bellowed. "Falcontail! Get your mangy hide over here!" No answer. "Falc-" Whoosh! The crane hawk landed in front of the wildcat, with a young male squirrel dangling from his talon. "Kwaaar! This creature make run for it. Falcontail catch him and bring back for lord to deal with! Kraaaa!" Zu-Mor grinned evily as the squirrel dangled from the birds talon. He raised the Hist. The slave shut his eyes tight as the wildcat swung the bronze weapon. It missed him by a hair and sheared the squirrels whiskers off the right side of his face. A harsh grating laugh erupted from the wildcat. "Hahahaha! If I had meant to slay you, they'd be burying ye in two pieces now. Hahahahaha!" His expression hardened. "Take him to the cells!" Falcontail flung the slave to a waiting catguard, who dragged the squirrel by his tail indoors. Falcontail fanned his tail feathers "Kwark! This bird see omen. Silver beast. From far across the sea with great sword. Kraaa! Destroy Zu-Mor." For an instant, a flicker of uncertinty showed in the wildcats eyes, but vanished in a twinkling. "Rubbish! Who told you this?" The hawks eyes narrowed. "Krrrrra! That for my ears only." Fuming inwardly, Zu-Mor turned on his heel and strode off without another word.
Sheth was drifting into a light doze, lying underneath her long cloak with Venice the otter lying near her. Something tickled her nose. She brushed it away. It tickled again. Grabbing a stick, the ferret swiped at it. Thonk! Sheths eyes shot open. There was the weasel Jigger standing over her dangling his cutlass over her nose. Quick as a flash, two jet-black footpaws shot out, catching the weasel square in his flabby stomach. Jigger exhaled in a loud woosh, As the two muscular footpaws hit him. Jumping up, the ferret grabbed for the sword, but it was not there! Grabbing Venice, she scrabbled about for rocks, and clambered up the tree they had been resting under, booting a weasel soundly on the bottom as she did so. Luckily, the tree was dead with few leaves on it. Sliding out of her thin belt, which was really a long piece of leather, Sheth loaded the stone into her belt as a sling of sorts. Glancing at Venice, who, although his eyes sparkled when he saw what the ferret was getting at, simply blinked in understanding. Twirling the sling until it hummed, the ferret shot the stone down towards the weasels, who had given up on the ferret and otter and were now digging through the haversack in search of food. As the stone whistled down, one weasel, named Wejje, happened to look up, exposing his right footpaw. Crack! "Yeeeeeeooooow!" He hopped about on one footpaw rubbing at it, and all the while bellowing the most colorful oaths and curses. Crack! Crack! Crack! The weasels took off into the woodland, all on one footpaw, bellowing curses.
Sheth stared after the retreating weasels. The ferret picked up Martins sword from where one of the weasels had dropped it. "I don't think we've seen the last of that rabble." Venice was gathering the food back into the battered haversack. "Aye, matey. 'Ow are we gonna get t' Salawotsit anyway? It's down southwest of here." Sheth smiled. "Easy. We just find the River Moss and follow that to the sea. Then, we travel down the coast until we reach the mountain."
Zu-Mor was having nightmares. He was standing in a long dark corridor, when he heard a moaning. Looking over his shoulder, the wildcat saw the bloated body of Rach, staggering towards him. He whirled and took off down the passage. Then, Mor saw it. Two piercing blue-gray eyes stared at him out of the darkness. The strange beast stepped out towards him. Zu-Mor gasped. This beast was truly a creature to be feared! It drew a great sword from its belt. The wildcat turned to run, but it was like wading through deep cold water. Looking back, Mor saw the beast raise the sword. A million tiny lights flashed off of the blade as the creature swung it. Crack! The wilcats eyes snapped open. Ulex the catguard was trying to clear away the dishes Mor had eaten off of earlier. Glancing down, the wildcat noticed the broken dish that had awakened him. He glared at Ulex "Aaaaaaah! What are you staring at? Get out of my sight mudbrain!" As Ulex raced out the chamber door, Mor sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his paws. Who was the strange beast with the great sword? Where did it come from? Did it have anything to do with Falcontails prophecy? What could he do to stop it? If anything? Pushing the thought out of his mind, the wildcat strode down the long spiral staircase and out the door. The slaves where being lined up and told there duties. One young male stuck out his lip and said stoutly, "No! I ain't servin' any fleabag toad if you gave me all the acorns on the island!" The catguard was slightly taken aback. Striding over, Zu-Mor shoved the cat out of the way and confronted the squirrel. "So," He rasped. "You think i'm a mangy fleabag toad, eh?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "Well, lets hear you say that to the Sessterada!" The slave screeched as the guards dragged him away. "No! No! I didn't mean it! Pleeze! Eeeeeeaaaaaa!" Zu-Mor whirled on the catguards. "Take the slaves to the cliffs to watch what happens to those who disobey Zu-Mor!"
The cliffs where high and steep. As the guards approached them, the sentenced slave started to screech and struggle again. A guard named Rigona struck the slave over the head with his spearbutt. Another guard hurled several dead fish out of a bucket into the sea. After a moments pause, a huge shape broke the surface and gulped down the fish. Several more of the shapes started to make the coastal waters to heave and roll. The slaves could now see what the beasts where. They were huge Orca whales! The sleek jet-black bodies reflected the noontide sun as they breached and called out in their high pitched screeches. The slave dug in his footpaws, whimpering, as he saw his fate. There was no mercy in the cold eyes of Zu-Mor. "You disobeyed me, slave. Now you must pay the price!" Rigona booted the squirrel over the edge of the high rocks. the slave screeched once, then bounced several times off the rocky cliff face, then landed with a dull splash. Instantly, the body was set upon by the Sessterada. Soon, there was nothing left but a few scraps of clothing. There were some strangled sobs, as the slaves were hustled along back to the fortress.
"I still don't see why we have t' take the long way t' the mountain." Complained Venice for the umpteenth time that day after getting a scorched tail when he fell backwards on to the embers of the previous nights fire. Sheth rolled her eyes as the pair trudged through the summertime woodlands. "Well," Said Sheth."Would you rather face a pile o' toads an' a huge mountain range?" Venice bristled but said nothing. Suddenly, he stared downstream. "Wot're ye lookin' at?" Sheth glanced down the river, then gaped. About two hundred yards downstream, was the sea! Venice whooped, and pelted off, with Sheth hard on his tale. Upon reaching the sandy dunes, the otter thundered clear across the shore and dived headfirst into the rolling surf. C'mon, this is great!" But Sheth tripped on a tussock of coarse grass and was sent flying. The ferret landed with a soft thump on something thick and feathery. There was an outraged squawk. "Krreeeeaaaaa! Whata ye what with Kjallior? Krrraaaa!" (Kjallior pronounced sha-lee-or.) Sheth scrambled free of the suffocating feathers and stared slack-jawed, not even noticing when one of its talons clipped her ear. There, towering over the ferret, was a huge griffin! Everything about this half lion half eagle creature was magnificent! From the bright golden eyes to the light copper beak and tawny pelt, and razor sharp eagles talons on both pairs of long legs. Its dark brown wings churned up the loose sand as they flapped irritably. Venice was now standing next to Sheth as the griffin advanced on the pair, its eyes glinting angrily.
Razcona, the corsair cat, stood at the prow of his ship Nighthawk. The cat had been a corsair for many seasons, with his crew of mink. His long black and white fur swirled as he turned to bellow at the steersbeast. "Any sigh o' land yet matey?" The mink Juxxa, who was a skilled archer as well as being steersbeast yelled back. "None yet! Oh wait yes! Land ho!" Razcona raced over to him and scanned the horizon. Sure enough, a dark smudge was growing on the horizon. "Hmmmm, looks like a cliff or a buildin' there on the coast." Juxxa mused "Aha! It's gotta be the ole landspace where me shipmate Mors livin'!" Shouted the cat. "Harrharr! We'll just drop by fer a visit to me ole mate. An' me mortal enemy." He peered at his tattered corsair tunic. "Ha! I can't go ashore lookin' like this. I'll jus' go an' spiff up a bit." The cat strode off to his cabin and slammed the door.
Kjallior swiped with a talon and swept up Sheth by the back of her cloak. The ferret stared into an unblinking golden eye. "Kraaaa! Ye be brash for earthcrawler. Yirrr." Sheth kicked at air. "My name is not earthcrawler! I be Sheth Moonfur! Put me down ye great featherbag!" Kjallior dropped her, let out a squawking chuckle. "Kwar-ar-ar-ar-ar. Ye have spirit as well, Sheth Moonfur. Where be ye off to that ye would stumble upon me, Kjallior Skywatcher?" The ferret dusted herself off indignantly. "Me and the otter-" "The otter has name, y'know!" Cut in Venice. "Yes, me and Venice here are going to Salamandastron." The griffin shuffled the sand with both wingtips. "Saladanascone? Ye have-" "Salad and a scone? That sound like lunch t' me!" Venice crowed. Seeing no laughter coming from his friends, the otters ears turned a pretty shade of pink. He looked up to see Sheth and Kjallior striding down the beach chatting like old friends. " 'Ey, wait f' meeeeeee!"
That evening, the trio settled in the dip of a large dune. Sheth lit a fire and sat warming herself and staring out at the glorious sunset, when she noticed, Kjallior was gone! Whump! Woosh! A miniature sandstorm hit the ferret full in the face. She gagged on the cascade of sand that clogged her eyes and mouth. Venice hurled a bagfull of water straight into her face. This of course, made the sand stick in clumps and all the harder to get out. "Yaaarrrrggghhh! Ya great clod 'oppin riverdog! If I be choked t' death on this sand, my spirit'll come back an' haunt ye! Yaaahhaarrrggghh!" The griffin, who had caused the cloud of grit, stood on the other side of the fire with a huge silver scaled fish in his talons. "Kwaarrr! This be good fer supper yirr?" The griffin knocked the otter to one side and pounded the ferret one the back several times. After the ferret had vomited up the sand, she sat bolt upright. Then, a slow smile spread across her face as she slunk of into the dunes. Venice tried to follow, but the griffin stopped him. Sheth poked her head up over the dunes and saw a familiar figure digging up the dune roots with a long dagger with its back towards the ferret. Sheth stood up silently, and launched herself straight onto the creatures back with a whoop. Surprisingly, it did not start jumping about trying to dislodge the ferret, as any other beast would. Instead, it grabbed Sheths shoulders in a vise-like grip, and yanked her over its head and flat onto her back in front of it. The ferret lay winded on the sand as she gasped out. "Jaguar, me ole mate. Wot're ye doin' up this far? Ye said ye'd stay at the mountain an' wait f' me." Jaguar, as Sheth called him, was a muscular blue-gray polecat. He did not speak much, but was expert with his long silver bladed dagger he always kept in his jewel-incrusted belt. Other than the belt, the polecat did not wear a single garment of any sort. When he did speak, however, his voice was as smooth as silk, yet carried a tone that was colder than ice, and harder than stone. "You are getting better at zzztealing up on me, ferret." He hissed. The otter Venice topped the dune. Seeing the strange polecat standing over the ferret- who was still lying on the ground trying to get her breath back- he let out a shout, and hurtled towards Jaguar. Instead of the polecats back he felt, it was a mass of feathers. "Krrrrraaaaa! Be ye deaf, riverhound? Ye might have listened to yon ferret Sheth! She know who strangebeast be! Kwwwaaarrr!" Sheth slowly got up. "Ye fancy a nice fish supper, mate?" The polecat did not reply, but went over the dune and into the camp amidst the dip in the sandy landscape. There, he sat down by the fire, dug up a good sized stone, and began honing his blade on it. After the incredible meal, the foursome lay down, and drifted into the depths of sleep.
That same evening, Grayback Silverstripe, the lord of Salamandastron, paced his large chamber in the mountain fortress. A knock sounded on the oaken door. The silver-and-gray badger looked up. "Yes?" A lanky brown and white hare entered. "Sah! Lieutenant Casey Spedradll Hodwell Leradster-" "Enough! Address your self as Casey Spedradll from henceforth! Report! Eyes to the front, shoulders back! Chin up and whiskers well trimmed!" The hare stood the proper position and saluted smartly. "Ahem, Sah! Casey Spedrall reportin' sah! Signs of shrews, sah! Traces old, though. All's quiet at the moment sah! End of report, sah!" Grayback waved a paw distractedly. "Yes, yes. Dismissed lieutenant." As Casey strode out the door, the badger leaned on the wide window sill and stared out at the dark calm summer seas. "The silver beast is coming." He murmured. "My badger ancestors told me that this beast would be friend yet foe." A timid tapping sounded on the door. "Sah?" Came a voice. "Yes, come in." Said the badger. An pretty young Runner entered. "Sah! Ambrevia Alderbough reportin, Sah! Patroled three weeks up north, saw a fire in the distance, m'lord! Four beasts near it, wot! One was a big creature with wings! End of report, sah!" As Ambrevia strode out the door, Grayback murmured to himself again. "The silver beast is getting nearer."
Zu-Mor stood at the cliff edge, staring out across the rolling late evening sea where the Sessterada leaped high and came down with a booming splash. A timid tapping on the wildcats shoulder made him look up. Ulex was staring out to sea. "Er, Lord, there's a black ship headin' this way." Mor stared in the direction the cat was pointing. His stomach lurched at what he saw. "Quick, everybeast back to the fortress! It's Razcona and his crew!" At the fortress, all guards were armed to the teeth and ordered to stand on either side of the gateway, weapons at the ready. Mors calm mood had returned now that he ha the upper claw. The wilcat stood on the west ramparts. Bullhide, the slavemaster came hurrying up to watch the corsairs make anchor a ways down the beach. The fat guard gasped when he saw the numbers of the seagoing beasts. "There's dozens of 'em! Wot we gonna do?" Zu-Mor smiled smugly as the corsairs made camp for the night. "Invite them in, of course, matey."
Traycot Beechpaw was a squirrel of cleverness and cunning. As a rebel, and therefor free, it was his duty to liberate as many slaves as possible. He was standing behind a wall at the back of the slave pen. The squirrel flicked a small pebble through a crack. His aim was good. The stone pinged off of a young slave. She sat up. "Wot n' the..." Traycot hissed to her. "Shhh. Be quiet. Wake the others, but tell them to stay silent. I'm going to take a few of you to freedom." The squirrel, who's name was Cedar, Quietly shook the other slaves out of their doze. "C'mon dozychops. We're goin' t' sleep in a warm bed t'night." The other slaves eyes gleamed in the last rays of the sun. As climbing was impossible because the stone pillars had been smoothed and the slaves claws trimmed, Traycot whipped a small grappling hook up and wedged it in a small crack. The squirrel shinned up the rope and Cedar passed a young male slave up to Traycot who laid him gently on the ground. Three more of the slaves were passed up to the rebel who decided he had enough and snapped the hook up and down to free it. As Traycot clambered up the rough fortress wall, one slave could not hold himself any longer, and let loose with a whoop. "Wheehaa! We're gonna be free mates!" Traycot cursed inwardly. "Now ye've done it! Get going! Move!" A nearby catguard raced along to a wallgate to intercept the slaves. Traycot hustled them along as fast as he could over the wall and into the foliage of the nighttime forest. The slaves bounded through the trees with the fleet-footed guard hot on there tails. The cat did not hear the eerie hissing until it was to late. The coils of Valiss Thundercoil writhed in pleasure at the unexpected bonus to their night hunting. Grim satisfaction was written on Traycots face and fear stamped upon the slaves as they left the horrible screaming behind them.
Sleep did not come easily to Sheth Moonfur. After much tossing and turning, the ferret slipped out from under Kjalliors large wing and crept past the sleeping griffin. Climbing up to the top of the dune, she stood staring out at the full moon that hung over the night sea. A slight breeze ruffled her silver fur, making her shudder. Sheth wrapped her cloak tighter about her. A tap on her shoulder made her jump. Turning, she saw Jaguar standing beside her. The polecat beckoned her to follow him. He took her far out of earshot of Venice and Kjalloir. There, atop a massive dune, Jaguar suddenly grabbed Sheth by the scruff of her neck and sank his teeth in until blood flowed. The ferret screeched and allowed herself to be dragged about by her neck and the polecats teeth. Even though the ferret struggled, Jaguar held on tightly. The ordeal was over, Sheth collapsed sobbing as the polecat licked blood from his teeth and performed a flying dance of twists and acrobatic whirls. However, the ferret was sobbing for joy. For, she now knew that she and Jaguar were now mates for life. Sheth nursed her neck as the couple quietly returned to the embers of the fire and drifted into a deep sleep. Sheths sleep was filled with dreams. She was standing in a rusty colored void. A laughing wildcat bearing a strange weapon advanced on her. The ferret backed away and it vanished. Turning, she saw a long scaly creature with two pairs of blazing eyes looking intently at something on the ground. Sheth gasped as she saw what it was. It was herself, under a huge oak tree. Sheth looked away as the creature struck. Looking back, the ferret saw herself again. But, the right side of her face was stripped away, the skin a pinkish-gray, loose and lifeless. Her blue-gray eyes were quite strange. One was clouded and sightless. The other was a blazing amber. Sheth struggled as the scaled beast slithered towards her. It was face-to-face with the ferret now. It struck with lightning speed. "Kreeeeegaaaa! Be ye going to sleep all day like a squirrel in winter? Korraaaa! We have traveling to do, yirraa!" Sheth jolted awake. Kjallior was standing over her, blotting out the bright, midmorning sun. Sheth stood up dusting herself off. "Yes, yes. Let us go." The ferret slung the slack ration bag over her shoulder and strode off south with the other three trailing behind her.
Razcona and his crew were just waking up in the midmorning warmth. The fire had died to a pile of white ash as gannets soared in search of crabs and fish. Juxxa strode over to three mink sitting by a fire apart from the rest of the crew. Sparktail, so name because his bush of a tail had many small black dots on it, pretended to ignore his brother Juxxa. "Hoi, get movin' yew lot! We got marchin' t' do!" Angitara, a female mink, sneered at him. "Hah! Who died an' left captainship t' yew, huh?" Kalah, the self-proclaimed leader of the trio, stood and faced Juxxa. "She's right. We take orders from Razcona, and Razcona only, barnacle-breath!" Razcona, unknown to Kalah, had strode up behind the unsuspecting mink. He now roared into the crewbeasts ear. "I say, move out ya lily-liver slime! You said yourself that you take orders from Razcona, so, I order you to move out! Get going!" Kalah, Sparktail and Angitara marched inland sulkily with the rest of the crew. As they tramped along, Juxxa slipped away into the forest. He later returned with two struggling catguards, pinned by their necks with the minks bowstring. "Well, well. What do we have here?" Asked the corsair cat. He prodded the two terrified creatures with his scimatar point. "I caught these two spyin' on us, Capn'." Razcona grinned. He looked to the two hapless guards. "Well, you can go and tell your master that I, Razcona, is within four miles of his lovely fortress." The guards sped off, glad to be alive. Razcona turned to Juxxa. "How many creatures do you think it takes to deliver a message?" Juxxa noched an arrow to his bow and took aim. "One."
Zu-Mor grabbed Rigona by the back of his chain-mail tunic. "Where are those two guards you sent out to spy on Razcona? You said they would be back long before now!" The guard was about to reply when there was a pounding on the fortress gate. Rigona opened it, and was nearly knocked flat by the remaining guard that had been sent out. Mor grabbed him and shook the cat like a rag doll while roaring into his face. "What did you find out? Tell me, or i'll flay you alive! Tell me!" The guard managed to stammer out between chattering teeth. "R-Razcona s-said to t-tell you that he's w-within four miles of t-the f-fortress, l-lord." Mor released the cat and bellowed. "Everybeast arm yourselves to the teeth! Razcona is coming, and with a full crew of corsairs!" There was much clattering of spears and lances and the ring of chain mail against chain mail as the guards pelted up the wallsteps. Amidst all this, Falcontail and three other hawks had landed behind the wildcat. Now Falcontail spoke. "Kchaka! Fools. Should I take the Guardians of the Sky and destroy this Razcona and his crew?" Mor did not turn from the space in the dirt by the gate. "No. That would be too easy. I want them alive."
Kodus Leapstar Shellscut rapped a paw on Graybacks chamber door. "Sah! Requestin' permission to take a patrol and go north, sah!" Graybacks deep voice came in reply. "Permission granted, Sargent. You go now." The hares pawsteps faded away down the passage. Grayback pounded away at a spearblade with his mighty forge hammer. Soon the piece of steel was thin as a dead leaf. The badger flicked the red-hot metal with an expert twist of his bare paws into a trough of water where it steamed and hissed. He sat on a stone bench sipping dandelion and burdock cordial, staring out at the calm noontide sea where gannets soared and screamed to each other in the hot shore sun. A knock on the door made Grayback look up. "Yes, come in." Casey Spedrall entered. The hare sat by the badger on the bench. "Sah, sure is a quiet day out today, old stick, er, m'lord." Grayback offered the lieutenant a beaker of cordial. "Casey, my old friend. You can call me whatever you like. Old stick, or old chap, or whatever. When I was a young beast, you traveled with me down from the northlands to this mountain." Casey quaffed the fizzing cordial. "Quite right, m'lord. You said that you were travlin' t' some bally place in the far south, wot." Grayback refilled the hares beaker. "Yes. I think another beast such as myself shall come from the north. She shall have the greatest destiny you can imagine." Casey choked on a mouthful of cordial. "Phhhhtt! Wot? Ye never told me, your best pal since that day in the north? Sah! I thought you knew better than that!" The hare fumed mockingly. Grayback chuckled and patted Casey on the back with what he judged to be lightly. The force nearly knocked the hare flat. He picked himself up indignantly. "Well, two can play at this game. Up on your paws, m'lord. Face the champion boxin' hare o' Salamandastron." He bounced on the balls of his footpaws, punching at air. Grayback sighed. "I'm too old for that type of stuff." Casey continued punching air. "C'mon, lord. Just one round?" Grayback placed his beaker on the bench. "Oh, if you say so lieutenant." Despite his bulk, the badger lord was quite nimble. He whirled and struck the hare on the chin with what he thought to be a light tap. For the second time that day, Casey Spedrall was knocked flat. Instantly, Grayback was at his side, worry creasing his brow. "Are you alright, friend?" The hare sat up, rubbing his jaw. "Good thing you never punched your weight, or you'd have knocked me bloomin' bonce off, wot!" The pairs laughter rang out over the shoreline.
Days dragged into weeks as the foursome trudged along the western coast. Sheths belly was swollen with child by the time they reach the top of the last dune and looked up at Salamandastron. At once, Sheth unhooked the sword of Martin from her back and handed it to Venice. "I go alone. The hares might see an unarmed beast as less of a threat." Without another word, the ferret clambered down the steep dune and began trotting across the expanse of sand between her and the mountain. Venice began prodding amongst the dune grass with the sword. "C'mon, mates. No time t' waste. She'll be back for us when she's good 'n ready.
In the mountain, Kodus Shellscut, or Kody as he was better known as, spotted the lone figure coming across the sandy shore. Being so far off, Venice, Jaguar and Kjallior were out of sight. The hare began to organize a party to capture the lone vermin. Kody whispered to Ambrevia Alderbough. "It could be another army like that bally stoats horde, wot!"
Sheth stood at the base of Salamandastron. It towered above her like some colossal giant. The ferret did not hear the six hares slowly closing in on her until it was too late. The next thing she knew, she was set upon by large, burly hares and swiftly bundled her into a burlap sack, where she kicked and snarled furiously every step of the way up to Graybacks chamber. A smartly dressed officer joined the hares. "Wot've ye got in that sack?" He nodded to the writhing bag that sprouted odd lumps with the ferrets furious kicking. "Looks like ye've got a floppin' fish in there, wot!" Kody saluted. "Vermin, Colonel. Takin' the beast up f' questionin', Crawford." When the party reached the door of Graybacks study, the door was shoved open, and Sheth dumped at the badgers footpaws where she lay, breathing heavily, a slight snarl curling her lip. She tried to rise, but was knocked flat again. The ferret looked up into the badger lords strong features. "Why did your hares do this to me? I did not have a weapon! Your hares are very good at attacking unarmed creatures, aren't they!" She hissed through clenched teeth. Grayback lifted his eyes to stare at Kody. "She's right. She did not have a weapon. And with child, too. I expected better of you, Kodus." The badger hefted the ferret up with one paw. "You will stay in the mountain as long as you like, ferretmaiden." Sheth stood awkwardly on shaking legs because of her swollen middle. "My name is Sheth Moonfur, sir. I am honored to stay in your home, lord. I have three friends in the dunes. An otter named Venice, a polecat named Jaguar, and a griffin named Kjallior." Grayback stroked his chin. "A griffin, eh? I knew one or two of them in my younger days in the north. They were very short-tempered." He escorted the ferret out the door past the the outraged Kody. The hares ears were almost red with fury. "B-but sah! A vermin? I mean, can we trust her?" Grayback ignored him and strode out the door.
That night, the three travelers still in the dunes laid down on the warm sand. Venice was almost in a doze when... "I say, you lot look like you've traveled a long way, wot!" The otter murmured dozily. "Mmm, yes. We've come all the way from Mossfl-" He jumped up, sword at the ready. Three hares were lying by the fire. Venice eyed them warily. "H-how did you get here?" He stammered. The largest of the trio rose. "Oh, duck an' weave, wot! I'm Casey. This is Ambrivia, and this is Crystal." The white hare named Crystal held out a paw. "The jolly old Long Patrol, at your service, wot! We've come to escort ye to your friend the ferret. But the big'un will have to stay outside. Kjallior winked a golden eye. "Kchak! This beast not like shut in small place. I catch fish, yirr."
In the mountain, the trio were given leftover fish and barley soup from the mess hall. Sheth came in the door of the chamber and sat by Venice. "Grayback told me you lot were here. How d'you like it?" Venice gulped down his soup with a will. "Oh, it's incredible matey! I've never seen anything like it!" Only Jaguars eyes that shone like stars gave the fact that he was as exited as the otter. Sheth looked about. "Where's Kjallior?" Venice licked his empty bowl. "'E said he'd like to stay outside." Just then, Crystal entered. "Pardon, sah, but you'll have to have a chamber to yourself, wot. The beds can barely fit two, let alone three, wot." Venice grinned. "Good. Then I won't have to listen to old windbag Sheth snorin'" Sheth glowered at him as the otter went out the door snickering.
That night, Jaguar was wakened by a muffled groan. Turning to look at Sheth, he saw her legs spread wide apart and she was biting hard on a wad of her cloak as a spasm rippled down her body, which was damp with sweat. Jaguar knew what was coming and jumped out of bed. The polecat ran to a trunk in a corner and jerking it open, sent old tunics and patched blankets flying left and right until he found what he was looking for. A downy green blanket was at the very bottom of the oaken chest. Spreading it under the ferrets twitching tail, he stroked her head lightly, purring soothing words into the agonized ferrets ear to help her with what was to come.
Zu-Mor rose early that morning and hurried to the walltop to see Razconas crew that had long since camped outside the stone fortress. Bullhide, the fat slavemaster, came up next to the wildcat and stared at the ful crew of strong mink. "There's a lot o' them, master. D'you think we can hold them off?" Mor did not look up. "Of course, fool. We have the fortress on our side. Those fools don't think this place is well defended. Well, they're wrong. When we do...invite... them in, they won't know what hit them." Bullhide did not like the way the wildcat said the word invite. He shuddered. He did not know what his lord was planning, but he knew it would be for the worst for the corairs.
That same morning, Venice opened his eyes to the bright glare of a beautiful sunrise. Jumping out of bed, the jolly otter threw on his tunic and sat on a window seat and gulped down a bowl of shrimp and hotroot soup a hare had left on a small table with a flask of elderberry cider. Glancing out the window, he saw the remains of a large fish, and Kjallior sleeping, splayed on one side. Finishing his soup, the otter stepped out the door and nearly ran into Ambrevia who was carrying a tray of bread and a thick leek and mushroom soup to Sheth and Jaguars room. She chuckled. "Whoops! Watch your rudder there, young one! Soup can't be wasted. It's the best thing for these cool coast mornings, eh, old chap!" Venice took two bowls to ease the hares burden. "Sorry, miss. I wanted to see Sheth. The door was now in front of them. Opening it quietly, Venice saw Sheth still asleep in bed, and Jaguar repacking the blankets back into the trunk. What caught the otters eye, was a small bundle wrapped in the green blanket lying next to the ferret. Sheths eyes flickered open with the doors opening. She sat up and caught sight of the bundle. Seeing that his mate was awake, Jaguar hurried over to the bed, beckoning to the otter and Ambrevia. The ferrets eyes were brimming with happiness as she unwrapped the bundle to reveal a tiny newborn ferretbabe! It had dark brown fur and shining bright green eyes. Sheth hugged the babe close to her as she whispered, "It was worth the pain." Ambrevia looked at the babe with all the love of a mother as the she-child waved a strong fist in Sheths face. The hares eyes were shining as she said to the ferret, "Shall I fetch Lord Grayback? He'll want to see the newest addition to the world." The ferret was nursing the infant when Grayback came in. The badgers eyes lit up when he saw the babe. "What are you going to name her?" He asked. Sheth looked at the dark brown fur. "I think she shall be called.... Lynx. Yes, a perfect name for a perfect child." The newly named Lynx began to wriggle in the ferrets grasp so Sheth let her down on the floor where she crawled over to Jaguars footpaws and latched on. The polecat lifted her up and tickled the ferrets nose. She growled and bit his paw hard. He chuckled. "She has the makings of her mother. A fine warrior she will be." Sheth glared at the smiling polecat. Just then, Kody came in the door, then stopped and clapped a paw to his brow while declaiming mockingly. "Oh, seasons o' scoff, they've multiplied! Wots this world comin' to?" Grayback turned. "Now, you raise on paw against that babe and you'll have me to answer to." The hare crossed his arms indignantly. "Who said I was goin' to do that, wot! I'd never think of harmin' a little scrap like that, wot!" Unknown to the hare, Lynx had crawled up behind him and stood up on shaking legs. Now, the ferretbabe grabbed the hares scut and hung on tight. Kody leaped high in the air and began jumping about the chamber, much to everybeasts amusment. Lynx of course, thought it was all the big game. She squeaked and laughed at her free ride on the scut of the yelling hare. Finally, her grip loosed and the infant flew into the air, and landed straight in Sheths arms where she lay, out of breath and chuckling.
Traycot Beechpaw sat at the edge of a cliff amidst the high mountains that bordered the north coast of Romaga Isle. The mountains gave a fine place for the rebels and their familys to lodge. The natural caves carved by water out of the living rock were massive hideaways for himself and the escaped slaves. Some were as large as Great Hall, some so small that they were used as pigeon holes to store food and drink. A massive waterfall cascaded down the mountainside, supplying water, as well as freshwater shrimp and fish from a huge pool at the top of the falls. The incredible place was named Summerdrey. Such as was the name for a squirrels home, drey. The squirrel stared out across the woodland of the island. How many more creatures were slaving away beneath the cruel whips of the cats? The though of innocent beasts toiling under the unmerciful lash hung in his heart like a stone. He went into a cave and traveled down the long winding passages down the mountain until he emerged blinking in the bright sunlight on the ground. A small stretch of open land was before the squirrel, that he crossed to the woodland and shot up a hornbeam. With Valiss Thundercoil lurking in the most unexpected places, and cats abroad in the forest, the squirrel took no chances as he raced through the leafy summer foliage, the trees a blur as they whipped past him. The stone fortress stood in the distance like a great beast of ill omen. Traycot wrinkled his nose as he passed the grizzly carcass of an unfortunate cat that had fallen prey to the great two-headed adder, Valiss. Suddenly, he was at the fort. The granite walls loomed in front of him. Bounding up the rough wall, the squirrel drew a loaded sling from his waist and knocked a catguard spark out with a resounding crack. Propping the slumped cat on the wall to make it look like he was still on guard, Traycot checked that none were watching, crept down the wallsteps to the north side of the fortress where the slave pens were. A grizzled old male slave named Barkleaf spotted the rebel. "Traycot? Wot're ye doin' here? Ye aren't safe!" Traycots smile flashed in the midmorning sun. "Me? Not safe? Surely you must be joking! C'mon. Get the others, you old foggy." Most of the slaves were out working, but those deemed to young or to old had been ordered on half rations until such times as they were able too work. Barkleaf picked the lock of a young female with a sliver of flint he had sneaked past the guards. The squirrel handed Traycot the slave, a young female.
Crack! Bullhide whipped a slave savagely. "Get movin' ye lazy lump! I must be gettin' soft in me old age! Work for food, bend your backs ye layabouts!" The slave arched his back and screamed as he hauled a chunk of stone to the workings of a new barracks for the guards. Bullhide was about to lay on the whip more when he heard a noise coming from the slave pen. Hurrying over, the fat slavemaster stood stock still at what he saw, then bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Escape! Escape! Help! The slaves are escapin'! Help!" Zu-Mor came pounding out from the fortress. "Where's that blasted Falcontail when I need him? Stop those creatures!" Bounding up the wallstairs, Mor grabbed the tail of the last slave and yanked him back. The wildcat held him by the throat above his head. "You are a fool to try and escape Zu-Mor, slave!" The squirrel struggled in the warlords grip. "Scum!" Mors eyes widened. "Scum?" The slave gritted out between clenched teeth. "Scum and a thief. This island does not belong to you. It belonged to my father, the Talacon of all Romaga, whom you slew!" The wildcat held the Hist at the squirrels middle. "I should run you through now and get it over with. I care not for a dead squirrel. What is your name, slave?" The slave squared up the the grinning wildcat. "My name is Recanis. Son of Trezenalon the Warrior." Mor sneered. "I do not care who's son you are, slave." He flung Recanis to a catguard. "Take him to the cells. I'll deal with him after i've finished with Razcona!"
Sheth sat in lord Graybacks chamber with Venice and Jaguar, Lynx content to make a small tower with pieces of wood. Grayback addressed the ferret. How did you come to my mountain, Sheth?" Sheth recalled as much of her life as she could before beginning her tale. "I was born in the Northlands. My father and mother worked hard to scrape a living out of the frozen soil. Then one day, a band of foxes ambushed us. My mother wrapped me in a blanket and put me inside a trunk. All I heard was screams and the foxes laughter, and the very chest I am in is knocked over, then silence. I crawl out to see my home wreaked and my parents both dead. I sit by them for a long time before burying them. I pack up what belongings I could find and travel south. It was a hard journey. One of vermin attacks and strange birds that swoop down on me. One day, a band of rats capture me. They are about to start on me when Jaguar arrives. He slays every rat and frees me. Jaguar and I travel south until Rakras scouts find us. I feel odd about fighting your mountain, so I do not and Rakra calls me a coward and a traitor. He tries to slay me so I desert." By now, the ferrets eyes were clouded over as she remembered all. There was a clatter as Lynx's tower collapsed. The infant ferret snickered. The noise jerked the Sheth back to reality. The ferret's eyes harden. "That coward tried to slay me. But I have a greater destiny than dying under the paw of a stoat. This I vow."
Outside the fortress, Sparktail the mink grumbled to Angitara and Kalah. "When are we gonna attack this place? We've been sittin' out 'ere f' weeks! If I was captain, we'd 'ave been inside o' that place long ago! Me bruvver Juxxa 's actin' to big fer 'is fur these days. We need to get rid o' 'im. Right?" Angitara nodded. "Aye, Razcona treats 'im like a son, and if we complain, what do we get? Leftover scraps an' a taste o' Razcona temper, that what!" Kalah, the leader of the trio poked the embers of the previous nights fire. "Right. Razcona's gettin' old. Long on seasons, and we're all still young! So, at the end o' 'is days, the cap'n will appoint a new one right? Well, stands t' reason that Juxxa, as first mate, will be the new cap'n. But, he can't be cap'n if he's dead right? So-" "What're you lot grumblin' about? Can't ya see? The gate's openin'! Get a move on! Go!" Razcona yanked the trio upright. "Move afore Mor changes 'is mind!" The three mink sulked into the fortress. Razcona looked at the catguards lined on either side of the gateway. Drawing his scimitar, the cat made a mock rush at the cats who recoiled and some fell over. Sheathing his sword, Razcona roared at the confused cats. "Hahahahahaaa! Caught yer nappin' landlubbers! Hahahahahahahaaaaa!" Zu-Mor stood at the head of the cats. Now he came forward. "Ah, Razcona, me old matey! Tis good t' see ye again! How's life aboard ol' Nighthawk?" The corsair cat beckoned to two mink, who came forward with a barrel of wine. The lid was smashed and Razcona dunked two beakers in to it and handed one to the wildcat. "Never mind that! Here, old ginger ale! The best around!" The cat gulped his down. Mor sniffed at his beaker but did not drink it. Razcona stared at him for a moment before bursting out into a fit of laughter. "Hahahahahahaha! 'Taint poisoned matey! Come on! Swig 'er down! I won't take no fer an answer!" The wildcat took a drink, which was more of a sip that a swig. "Well, you seem well, Razcona. You had a friend who's name I cannot recall. Refresh my memory?" Racona tossed his beaker aside. "Yes, Darrow the Dark was 'is name. Still residin' at the far south coasts. "'E was a warlord. I, as a corsair, don't bother with warlords. He mentioned a group o' wanderin' rabbits called "The Bright Liberate" or something. Ha! nonsense." Mor glared at the cat. "So, the only reason you came here was to gossip about rabbits and dead warlords? I will speak with my advisers about letting you live." The cat raised a paw, and instantly the whole of Falcontails crane hawks perched on the walls and gate of the fortress. Falcontail himself came to rest next to Zu-Mor. He fanned his striped tail feathers. "Kreeeeeaaaaa! Intruders upon lord Mor's land! Lord, shall we slay them and feed their carcasses to the Sessterada? Kraaaaaaeeeeee!" Mor turned to the hawk. "No. You will see."
Out in the forest of Romaga, Traycot Beechpaw hurtled through the trees with the slaves behind him. The rebel had seen the corsairs, and decided he had nothing to do with them. Unknown to him, a young female slave misjudged the leap from a fairly wide space in between trees. With a slight yelp, she plummeted to the woodland floor. That would be the most unfortunate day of her life. The slave was half stunned as Valiss Thundercoil slithered out of the undergrowth. The slave felt scaly coils wrap round her and found herself staring into a pair of reptilian eyes. They shone like twin pools of evil. "Sssssleep now, little one. Ssssssleep. Valisssssss hasssssss come to kisssssssss you goodnight." The last thing the squirrel saw, were the two pairs of gleaming eyes, and the quiet hiss of eternity. "Valissssssssssssss...."
Traycot reached the base of the mountain. He shifted a few rocks, and a cave opened up in front of the slaves. Before entering, the rebel took a quick count of the slaves. Twenty-two. This could not be right! He counted again. Twenty-two. He had started out with twenty-three. This had the rebel worried. He hurried the slaves into the cave and into a dim passage lit by oil lanterns along the wall. The slaves wondered at the natural caves and side-passages. Then, the hall opened out into a huge cavern, lit warmly by many lamps. The slaves gasped. In the cave, many squirrels of all colors, from pale red to black, were going about different tasks in the cave. There were about one hundred and fifty of the squirrels. Traycot took a drumstick, and brought it crashing down on a huge leather-skined drum. Boom! Boom! Boom! Every creature present halted. Traycot stood on top of the drum and yelled to the audience. "We have visitors. Let us introduce ourselves in the way of out kind! Do I see a Browntail?" A voice called back. "Aye, ye see a Browntail! The clan who know the scars o' battle well!" Traycot shouted out once again. "Do I see a Leafbough?" Yet another voice was raised. "Ye see a Leafbough! The avenger of our loved ones!" Traycot shouted out once again. "Do I see a Barkfall?" Yet another voice was raised in answer. "Aye! Ye see a Barkfall! The clan who's family were the first to set paw on this Isle!" The list continued on until all had been called. Then the whole group cried out. "An' do we see a Beechpaw?" Traycot jumped down from the drum. "Ye see a Beechpaw! I havn't kith nor kin nor family! But by the thunder, I'm still here and fightin'! A rousing cheer came from the crowd that echoed about the cavern.
The afternoon sun shone down on the western coast. Lynx, the ferretbabe, splashed about in the shallows of the sea while Casey taught Sheth to box. "Left! Hook! Uppercut! That's the way!" Sheth bounced about on the warm sand as the hare instructed her. The ferret dodged a swing and landed a flying right square on his jaw. Casey staggered. "Well, you're gettin' better, wot! See if you can move fast enough to avoid this!" Without warning, the hare swung an uppercut and thwacked the ferret smack on the chin. Sheth landed flat on her back. She sat up, rubbing her chin. "Yore a good teacher, Casey. These will come in handy, some day. Now, how's this?" Her footpaws shot out, connecting with Caseys legs. The hare fell over with a yell. Sheth was on top of him. "How's that, Mr. Casey?" Before the hare could answer, a large shadow fell across them both. "Krrrrraaaakaachaaaa! I see friend Sheth with new friend! Ye have offspring, I see, yirr!" Lynx gave a shout and pelted across the sand to grasp one of Kjallior's talons. The griffin hooked her up with one huge claw. Kchaka! New beast. Good beast. She will make fine warrior. Kraaa!" Casey, who was still pinned beneath Sheth, did not seem fazed. "A griffin? I though your kind only lived in the Land of Ice and Snow!" Kjallior placed Lynx in Sheth's arms. "Kraa! I care not for that place! Kreacka! War, blizzards, strife. Korra!" Sheth thought for a moment. "Why don't we go for a swim!" She nodded to the rolling waves. "That'll be a perfect place to try!" Lynx didn't hesitate. She rushed across the sand with Sheth hard in her wake. Just before the babe reached to water, Sheth snatched her up and tied two pieces of drift wood about the ferretbabes waist. Releasing her, Lynx splashed into the waves, spraying foam and salty water everywhere. Sheth bounded into the breakers, swimming against the powerful rollers until she was past them. Then, the ferret let herself ride the swells of waves not yet broken. She waved to Venice. "C'mon, mate! This is wonderful!" Diving down, Sheth let herself body surf to shore, feeling the strong current tug her along. She poked her head up out of the water. Lynx was bobbing about in a deep tidal pool. The ferret was still a ways out, so she ducked back under. Opening her eyes, she looked about at the murky greeny-yellow sea. Her paw caught on a small sandbank, sending up a cloud of sand. The ferret stood up in the water, which by now was down to her chest, wheras it had been over her head. Waves slapped her back and chest as she let herself be swept along into the pool were Lynx was. The water was incredibly deep; it came up to the ferrets chest. Lynx grinned at her mother and said in her gruff baby tones: "Ma!" Sheth smiled and untied the pieces of driftwood to let the infant swim while grasping a section of the wood. The silver-furred ferret waded out of the pool as water streamed off of her and her cloak clung to her. Looking about, Sheth saw Venice whooping as he leaped about in the waves. Then, she saw Jaguar standing with his back to her. Leaping forward, the ferret floored the polecat with a flying tackle. Jaguar, in turn, rolled over, squashing the breath out of Sheth. Lynx pelted over and flung herself on top of her writhing kin. Venice, Kjallior and Casey watched in humor at the tangle of sand-plastered creatures.
Zu-Mor watched as Razcona conversed with Juxxa. Without warning, The cat made a flying rush at the wildcat, who ducked the blade slash and grabbed the cat by his neck and held a dagger to his throat. "Throw down your weapons, you seascum! This blade in poisoned! And the tips of my bird's talons!" The mink looked at each other for a moment. There was a clatter as swords, daggers, and bows and arrows hit the ground. Mor released Razcona, who stood rubbing his neck. "Hahaha! Never thought ye'd go so far as to use poisoned weapons matey!" The wildcat threw an arm about the cats shoulders. "Razcona! Me ol' matey! Why don't you and your crew of bilge just get your scummy behinds out of my fortress!" His eyes hardened. "Or, you will face this!" The wildcat waved a paw, and Falcontail flashed down, and seized a mink in his talons. The crewbeast screamed as the poisoned claws drove into him. His body jerked and convulsed and the venom traveled through it. He gave one last shudder, and fell limp. The hawk dropped the lifeless form in front of Razcona. The cat appeared unfazed. "Fine then. We will leave." He stalked out the gate, followed by his mink. Zu-Mor went up to the ramparts to watch the corsairs retreat. Razcona stopped and turned back to the fortress. "This isn't over, Mor! I'll be back, when you least expect it! One dark night, I'll come in there, an' slit yer gizzard!" The wildcat clenched his paws. "Get goin' afore I uses ye for target practice seascum!"
Lord Grayback watched a small dot on the horizon. His keen eyes recognized it as a ship. He knew it was not searat. He called to Kody. "Colonel, would you come and take a look at this?" The lanky hare peered at the speck. "That's Jegrand's ship Saberwave. They'd best dock here to see ye sah!" The badger turned, and was out the door and down the passage in a twinkling. "Come on then, Kodus. We'd best go and meet them." On the beach, Lynx was making a mound of sand and poking shells and twigs into it. Sheth was boxing with Casey as the Badger Lord strode out. "Sheth? A ship is coming this way." He gestured to the shape, that was rapidly growing larger. "We'd best get some more beasts out here." Kody raced back indoors, and returned with Crystal, Crawford, and Ambrevia. "Shall I bring more, sah?" Grayback shook his striped head. "No. Look, they are here." He waved a paw to the ship. She was a fine craft, with three large sails. A sea otter dived off the side, followed by three others. Then they were on the shore, shaking Graybacks paw, and clapping the hares on the back. "Harrharr! Kody! Me old matey! 'Ow're ye doin' these days?" A young female otter shook Venice's paw. Her fur was a creamy brown, highlighted with darker hues. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with daring. "'Ello matey! I'm Ashbud! Old Jegrand's my Pa! Wot's yore name?" Venice could not take his eyes off the pretty young ottermaid. "Er, I'm Venice Currentstone." A huge sea otter strode up to Venice. "'Ello, mate. I'm Jegrand. Cap'n o' the Saberwave. He noticed the family of ferrets. He scooped up Lynx, who doubled over and bit his paw hard. The jolly otter roared. "Hahahahahahaha! She has temper! You raised her well, my friend!" Sheth was about to shake Jegrand's paw, when he saw the ferrets apparent lack of garments. He waved to another otter, who dived into the waves back to the ship, and returned with a blue tunic, a sleeveless overgarment made of the fur of some strange creature. What cought the ferrets eye, was a green skirt that shone in the sun. Jegrand nodded to Sheth. "These were for Ashbud, but she was so foolish as to grow during the time they were being made. So, here you are." Sheth slid into the tunic and skirt. They were a perfect fit. Her cloak trailed down the back to where her tailtip poked out from the edge of the green cloth that reached her footpaws. "I love it." She beamed. Jaguar sqeezed the breath from her in a big bear hug. Sheth turned to Jegrand. "Sir, will you take us to Romaga Isle?" The large otters eyes widened. "You? Want'n t' go to Romaga? The place of the cats? Us otters have a poem about that place. Listen." He began an eerie chant.
The place of the cats.
The water is death,
Young and old,
All who watch, and rest,
Shall die at the mercy
Of the sky and sea.
Place of the cats.
Across the water, seek and you
Will see. The place of death.
The place of the cats."
In the silence that followed, Ashbud ran to her father. "Pa? Are we gonna refuse these kind beasts passage?" Jegrand scratched his rudder. "I don't know, Ashbud. I'll think about it." Sheth picked up Lynx from the sands. "We must go to Romaga. It is my destiny."
The next day, Jegrand the otter poked his head into the chamber of Sheth and Jaguar. "Ahoy, mateys! We're leavin' for Romaga at noon. Best hurry up an' get ready!" Sheth rolled out of bed and flung on her tunic and cloak, stumbling about trying to get into her skirt. "Oh, thank you Jegrand. C'mon Jaguar! Get Lynx!" The infant ferret had come to adopt the soft green blanket as her own. She held it flung over one shoulder as she was led by her father and mother down the winding passages to the beach. Sabrewave bobbed at anchor in the high morning tide. Lynx trundled across the beach to a tiny otterbabe named Slitch. She flung herself on him, and the two tumbled about on the warm sand as Sheth helped to lug supplies onto a small rowboat to be hauled back to the ship. The ferret hurled a sack of hazelnuts into the boat as she inquired of Jegrand. "What will we find at Romaga?" The otter's eyes hardened. "Orca whales. Crane hawks. Cats." Sheth was puzzled. "Orca whales? Crane hawks? What are they?" The otter heaved a bag into the boat as he replied. "Orca whales are the largest creatures you've ever seen. They can smash a boat with a blow of their tails. "Crane hawks are huge jet-black birds that swoop down and slay you silently. Ashbud's mother was killed protectin' her from one o' those birds." The ferret merely nodded, then sniffed the heavy air. "Rain soon." Jegrand looked up to the horizon where the first traces of clouds were gathering. "Yes. Get everybeast who's coming aboard. I'll go speak with Lord Grayback." With that, he strode over to the badger, who had appeared out of the mountain with the three hares, Kody, Casey, and Ambrevia. The trio bounded over to Sheth. Casey saluted. "We're comin' with ye, wot!" Kody didn't say anything, looking as though he still resented having a ferret in the mountain, but Ambrevia scooped up Lynx and Slitch. "Oh, yes. Now, the riverdog said to get allbeast aboard, right? Get the otters, and Jaguar and lets go." With that, the hare stepped into the rowboat while Ashbud, Jaguar, Venice, Kody, Casey and Sheth bundled in behind her. The ferret turned to Kjallior. "Aren't you comin' Kjallior?" The griffin blinked his golden eyes. "Kraaa! I to big to fit inside yonder boat. Kchacka! I stay here with Grayback and hares until friend Sheth return. Kreeeeaaa! I wish ye all my luck, Sheth Moonfur. Kreeeeeggaaa!" Jegrand bounded over and squeezed in to the boat with the others. It did not take long to reach the ship, but now, clouds had obscured the sun, and the seas were getting choppy as all were hauled up the side of the ship. Sheth stood at the prow as the anchor was lifted and Sabrewave set a course for Romaga Isle.
Valiss Thundercoil slithered silently through the undergrowth. The adder's two heads weaved from side to side, and two paired of golden eyes glittered in the sunlight. A cat was just ahead of the snake, who slid slowly up behind his unsuspecting prey. The cat was armed with a spear, and was gazing up into the trees in the hope of bringing down a squirrel and returning to Zu-Mor. He did not hear, nor sense the snake until it was to late. A heavy weight struck him hard in the back, sending him sprawling. The unfortunates eyes widened with dread, as his fate glided out of the loam and loomed over him. "Valiss, Valissssssssss. Ssssssleep now, little one. Ssssssleep. Valisssssssss will ssssshow you the way, to eternity." The snake struck with lightning speed. All the cat felt, was a sharp sting on the side of his neck. Then, his limbs became stiff, and darkness clouded the edges of his vision. The last thing the cat ever heard on this earth, was the quiet hiss. "Valisssssssssssss...."
High up in the foliage, Traycot Beechpaw looked away as the snake began his grizzly work. Bounding off, he caught sight of more cats in the distance. He hurtled away towards the group, and stood in the trees above them. Ulex, the leader, was speaking to the group in a hushed tone. "Keep an eye and an ear open for those scummy mink. I want to catch one, and drag 'im back for Lord Mor to deal with. The cat he was speaking to suddenly gave a small sigh, and slumped to the ground. Another cat howled as the base of his tail was cracked by a stone. Ulex screeched as half his ear was ripped off by a well-aimed pebble. Yelping and shouting, the cats made off through the woodland, still pelted by stray stones. Traycot Beechpaw nodded in satisfaction as he bounded away.
Rain spattered on the deck of Sabrewave as she bobbed westward on the rolling sea. Jegrand the otter flung open a trap door in the wood, and climbed down with Sheth, Jaguar, Lynx and Venice behind him. The hares had dismissed themselves to cabin, as they had seen the ship many times before. The lower deck was an array of benches, neatly lined alongside small holes, where the ends of shipped oars protruded across each bench. The otter nodded to one. "Those benches are really chests, y'know. Saves room in the cargo hold. We only use the oars when it is required." Sheth nodded. "This is a fine craft, Jegrand. I could not ask for a better way to get to Romaga." Coming to the end of the room, the otter opened another door, and climbed down into a large airy space, lined with hammocks. "This is where the crew sleep. They couldn't ask for better, they say." Leading them back up to the main deck, the otter hunched against the rain as he lead the ferrets across the ship to a cabin situated on the bulkhead. Flinging open the door, he hurried them inside as the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. Otters hurried up rigging to furl sails as the wind began to blow harder. The cabin was quite spacious. It had three hammocks, a small porthole, and a table on which lay a plate of bread, a flagon of cider, and a half a fish. Lynx squirmed out of Sheth's arms and clambered onto a hammock. "Ma, I ready f' bed now!" Sheth's stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had not eaten since that morning. Ashbud poked her head in the door. "C'mon, Venice. I'll show you my cabin! You to, Pa!" The three otters retreated, leaving the ferrets to eat their fill as rain and waves slapped the window.
Razcona was in a foul mood. A mink had come screeching into camp with reports of a monster serpent with two heads. The cat had not believed it, but soon changed when the mangled carcass of a mink was dragged into camp. Storming over, he grabbed the two crewbeasts and smacked their heads together hard. "What'd you bring that piece of crow-food to the camp for? You barnacle-brains! I should skin ye alive and roast ye for supper! Gerrout o' my sight afore I slices yer tails off!" The mink staggered away to sit by a fire rubbing there heads. Juxxa came bounding up. "Cap'n, a monster snake 'as been sighted near the fortress. What d'you think we should do?" Razcona was in no mood for this. Giving the mink a hard kick to the rear, he bellowed to the sprawled first mate. "So what? If it's near the fort, good! More for Zu-Mor to deal with! I care not for two-headed pieces of soggy rope! Get out o' me sight!"
Zu-Mor stared out his chamber window. The wildcat had been tormented by nightmares. Now, he looked out over the courtyard of the fortress. A light tapping sounded on the door. Mor whirled. "Yes?" Ulex poked his head in. "Er, sire, are ye alright? Ye seem unwell of late." The wildcat leaped over and, grabbing the cat by his tunic, flung him out the door and down the stairs. "Whatever mad ye think that, seed-brain! The Lord of Romaga does not get unwell! Get out of this room before I feed ye to the Sessterada! Move!" Ulex stumbled down the stairs, glad he had escaped with his life, with the outraged bellowing of his Lord echoing in his ears.
That night, sleep avoided Sheth Moonfur at all costs. Swinging out of her hammock, the silver-furred ferret looked out the porthole to see the rain had slackened off. Quietly tip-pawing past Jaguar and Lynx, she slipped out the door and onto the deck. A light breeze caused the sails to flap slightly as the ferret padded onto the prow. Dipping down, Sabrewave hit a small wave, showering her with spray. Shivering, she stood on the deck and stared westward. What destiny awaited her at Romaga? The ferret new she would have to face hardships that would kill a lesser beast. Yet, she would have to face them, and she could not change that. Curling up next to the rail, she listened to the gentle swish of the waves, and slowly drifted into a dreamless sleep.
"Ma! Ma! Why're ya sleepin' outside onna deck?" Sheth was jolted awake by Lynx as she tumbled onto her mother. "Wakey up Ma! I hung'y!" Sheth stretched her cramped limbs and looked out at the pale dawn sky. "I'm up Lynx." Staggering groggily to her paws, the ferret glanced at the prow of the ship, which was sending up waves as Sabrewave sped westward with a brisk breeze behind her. Ambrevia bounded up to the two ferrets. "Looks like we've got a couple of early birds, wot! I say, you look rather peckish there, old stick." Sheth rubbed her complaining stomach. "Yes. What's for breakfast?" The hare's eyes twinkled. "I dunno, but I think we'll be havin' a early brekkers yet, wot!" With that, she raced of towards the galley, to reappear a moment later with a tray of warm bread, and three bowls of barley and fish soup. "Old cooky was sleepin' on the job, doncha know! Tuck in, wot!"
Razcona was attacking the fortress. In the early dawn light, the crew of mink had stolen up to the fort with a longboat as a battering ram. The cats had been so confused with the first crashes, that they proved easy prey to the archer mink and grappling hooks that hissed upward. Soon, there was much paw-to-paw combat on the ramparts. Zu-mor was everywhere at once, stabbing here and slicing there with deadly accuracy. The Hist whistled in the dawn air as the wildcat took out a mink on its point. He bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Fight you layabouts! Fight! If I catch one o' you hiding, you'll curse the day your mother birthed you! Fight with all your strength!" The cats did fight, and soon the mink were forced back down the ropes, many with scratches and cuts. The shabby band retreated into the woodland, as Razcona stood glowering at the cats as he vowed. "Don't think this is over, Zu-Mor. I'll bring that fortress down 'round yore ears some day. Just you wait!"
"Land hooooooooo!" Came the cry of the lookout otter. Everybeast crowded to the rail to see the dark mound on the horizon. Jegrand nodded. "Aye, that's land alright. Prepare the rowboats!" Sabrewave glided to the shore, where the anchor was dropped and otter, ferret, and hare alike stared out over the wooded island. Birdcall sounded from within the trees as the first boats were rowed to shore. Sheth jumped out, and shed all but her cloak. I'm going to go take a look around. Be back soon!" With that, the she-ferret vanished into the trees. Keeping a steady pace, she was soon out of sight or hearing of the sea. Birds and insects chirruped in the high leafy foliage. A rustle to her left made her glance around. Feeling she was being watched, the silver-furred ferret kept walking as though she suspected nothing. A flash of white fur in the undergrowth and a gleam of amber eyes did not turn her head. Suddenly, the creature thundered out of the bushes to knock the ferret flat with one massive paw. Sheth lay on her back, with a swordtip at her throat. The unknown beast's voice came out as a vicious snarl. "Who are ye and what be ye doing here?"
The swordtip prodded Sheths throat as the creature hissed again. "Well? What be ye doing on this island? Tell me, or face a worse death than ye could imagine!" Sheth could only make a strangled grunt as the sword was so tightly pressed against her throat. Seeing he would get no information out of her, the beast sheathed his sword in a large sheath strapped to his back. "Well?" Sheth rose slowly, rubbing her throat. "I be Sheth Moonfur. Who are you?" The creature, a large black-and-white cat with a dark mask of black fur about his amber eyes smiled, showing sharp teeth. "Ye are brave, Sheth Moonfur. I be Birdax Piketalon. Head of the Tribe of the River Gorge. Are there any more of you?" Sheth nodded. "Yes. A whole crew of sea otters, three hares and two more ferrets." Birdax nodded. "Yes. Let us go and get them. I would like to show you my home."
Everybeast was amazed as Sheth strode into camp followed by a massive cat. Striding over to Jegrand, Birdax bowed. "I am Birdax Piketalon. Who are you, honorable captain?" Jegrand shook the mighty paw, trying not to wince as hooked claws dug into it. "My name is Jegrand. Captain o' Sabrewave. May we see your home?" Birdax nodded. "Leave otters here to guard ship. Rest of you, come." The cat lead the way through the forest, as the others wondered at the strange birds and insects that trilled and squawked in the trees. A small creek wound its way across their path. Birdax slpashed through it, sending crawfish scurrying for the cover of rock that were scattered helter-skelter across the muddy bed. sheth began to notice a small path forming under her paws as Birdax led them farther inland. Suddenly, the trees opened out and the ground dropped away into a huge gorge, cut through by a wide, slow river that cut a path through the lush green valley. Birdax swept a paw out over the land. "See, the River Gorge. home to countless generations of my tribe." Sheth saw eagles soaring high above the terrain, and cats crouched on small ledges on the rocky cliff face to either side of her. One, a jet-black male with a bow and arrows, drew the bowstring back to his jaw line and let fly. A scream from the eagle told everybeast he had hit his mark. Birdax smiled. "Yes, that is Tawny. Never expect him to miss. He could shoot and acorn through the stem and hit a hummingbird through the neck at full flight." A small rocky path led down the cliff face, littered with sharp pebbles, but the cat did not seem to notice as he walked with ease down the cliff. At the bottom, the path continued, and all began to notice a steady roar, that grew louder as they progressed. Rounding a tremendous boulder, everybeast gasped at the sight. A huge waterfall cascaded over the rocks, sending up a continuous cloud of spray and mist. Jaguar, Venice and Ashbud stood stock still, while Lynx wriggled in the polecats arms. Ashbud was the first to break the silence. "Mister Birdax, sir, do you live behind that wall o' water?" Bridax's eyes sparkled. "How'd ye know that ye clever young riverpup? Of course we do!" The cat named Tawny came bounding down the path with a large eagle trailing in the dust behind him. He spoke with a thick accent as he addressed Birdax. "Ah shot the bird for yer dinner, meh lud." Birdax smiled. "Yes. That will feed many tonight. Thank you Tawny." Sheth began to notice the features of the dark cat. He had rather long fur, crisscrossed with scars, and a broad, flattened face before he bounded off towards the waterfall and vanished behind it. A rough, harsh voice came out from atop a high ledge. "Birdax? Who have you brought this time?" A dark tortiseshell she-cat came slinking down from her perch. "Who are they?" She eyed the visitors suspiciously. Casey did not hesitate to shake the cats paw. "H'I'm Casey Speedrall o' the Long Patrol, marm. Pleased t' meet ye m'gel." Kody and Ambrevia did likewise; them encouraging Sheth, Jegrand, Ashbud, Venice and Jaguar. Ashbud turned to Birdax. "I smell cookin' sir. Is it supper already?" All noticed the sunset-colored sky and began to feel hunger pangs from the long trek through the forest. Birdax nodded. "Yes. Let us hurry to the waterfall. Wild creatures come out of the hills at dark." The waterfall thundered in their ears as the group hurried around the scattered boulders and to the cliff edge, where a tiny path hugged the cliff, leading into the mist. Birdax padded along it with ease, while every other beast but the black she-cat flattened themselves to the rock wall, fearing for his or her life at the drop into the mist. Then, the cloud vanished and they found themselves in a large cave, with about thirty or so cats going about various tasks. The black she-cat hurried over to a large cauldron where Tawny was finishing slicing the eagle he had caught and throwing meat into the simmering pot. A huge pile of feathers lay beside him, and the black cat set to work tossing in fish, wild barley and various vegetables. A young cat hurled herself into the feathers, showering Tawny with down. The black cat glowered at the young one, who whirled and pelted off, squeaking with Tawny's shouts of mock outrage behind her. "Go on, ye young rip! Or ye be gettin' the beak an' claws o' that bird fer supper!"
Zu-Mor strode out of the fortress gate and towards the camp of Razcona. The wildcat had been thinking, and he knew what he had come to was right. Two catguards flanked him, armed with spears. Several mink were dozing in the early-evening warmth, but jumped up when they saw the cats. Juxxa hurried to the largest campfire to roust Razcona, who in turn came striding to meet the wildcat. Mor did not waste time with other things, he got right to the point. "I think we should stop fighting amongst ourselves, and face the real enemy. Those rebel squirrels to the north, they're the ones that need to be fought against. I think we should join your mink with my catguards, and rule together. What do you say?" Razcona did not show any expression, but Mor could see he was thinking carefully about what the wildcat had proposed. Finally, he nodded. "Yes. That red squirrel, the one called Traycot, he stole some of our supplies. Yes, yes, let us join. We shall travel to the mountains in due time, and attack the rebels in their own hideout!"
Traycot himself sat high in the branches of an oak, with a pale-furred squirrel named Patin Browntail beside him. Patin grimaced as a twig dug into his side, but did not move. For below them, gliding along the forest floor, was Valiss Thundercoil. The serpent's two heads wove from side to side, and two pairs of gleaming eyes searched the undergrowth for prey. Suddenly, he stopped, and began to slide forward even quieter, the fangs ready to strike. a thrush was pecking at the dirt, to intent on finding a bug of some sort to notice the horrible odor of death until in was to late. The birds ear-splitting shriek echoed to the still woodland, as the two-headed adder once again proved himself the master of the forest. Traycot and Patin could not bear to watch further, and quietly slunk off through the trees, and back to the mountains.
Several dawns later, a fine summer morn saw Birdax, Tawny, and the black she-cat-who's name was Jasmine-leading the nine travelers back through the forest path towards the shore and Sabrewave. Sheth had insisted they not stay long, as her destiny was pulling her towards the isle of Romaga. As they emerged on the beach, Casey rubbing one footpaw, the ottercrew bounded to meet them. Jegrand wasted no time in getting everybeast aboard. Birdax had said Romaga was several days journey west. Jegrand calculated that, traveling at full sail and having the weather on their side, they would reach Romaga in about five days time. Ambrevia scooped up the otterbabe Slitch. "Oh, I can't wait to get t' jolly old Romaga. It's been seasons since I got t' wallop a cat, wot!" She whooped. Venice yelled as a wad of wet sand plastered his back. He whirled to see Ashbud standing in the shallows, grinning from ear to ear, and holding a dripping ball of sand in one paw. As she hurled it, Venice jumped aside, leaving it to splatter on Jaguar's chest. The polecat carefully took aim with his dagger, and sent it whizzing across the beach to zip past the tip of Ashbud's ear. Sheth, having been slightly instructed in the arts of spear, dagger and archery, sent a skinning knife whistling past Jaguars nose. Birdax had had quite enough of this. He let out a tremendous caterwaul, silencing everybeast. "I don't wanna see no more goofin' around. D'you here me?" Even though the cats voice was stern, his amber eyes twinkled with amusement. "Now, are we gonna it here like a pile o' dead frogs, or are we gonna git goin' for Romaga?" Everybeast ran to the rowboats to get aboard Sabrewave. In a early morning sun, Sabrewave sailed due west for Romaga Isle.
The slaves had been worked twice as hard since Razcona had moved in with his mink. Some had been moved to house servants, and they were lucky to get extra scraps from a mink. The corsairs had made themselves at home in the barracks, and slaves were sent off to work, with the jeers of the early-rising mink echoing in their ears. Traycot could not liberate as many now, as the mink kept a close eye on the walls. Patin Browntail had paid with the tip of one ear for trying to come over the walls. The mink were preparing to leave for the mountains, though this would not be for many days. Razcona sneered at the efforts of a cat to shift a log from a corner of the fortress. Shoving the guard aside, the cat heaved the log up and threw it behind him, waiting to hear the thud as it hit the dirt. Nothing. Turning, the corsair staggered at the size of Falcontail, who had caught the log with one clawed foot. The crane hawk lifted the log, and hurled it over the wall to land with a crash outside the walls. The jet-black eyes glared at the cat. "Krakacha! I not trust corsairs, kwark! I never will trust seascum!" Korraaaa! Razcona eyed the lethal beak and razor-like claws. "Oh, an' who entitled ya t' be meddlin' in my affairs, ye featherbag?" Falcontail clawed the earth with his talons. "I take permission from nobeast. Ye will see your death from those whom ye may not expect. Beware, for ye will find what has been lost. Kreeeeeaaaa!" with that, a gust of wind nearly knocked the cat flat as the hawk took off and soared off.
Book 2: Romaga
A foggy dawn, several days after leaving for Romaga, Sabrewave was sailing with her sails taunt before a brisk breeze. The fog made it impossible for anybeast to see more that three yards ahead of the prow. Sheth stood at the bow, peering into the mist for any sight of land. Then, from out of the fog, came a low, drawn out cry, halfway between a moan and a howl. Sheth shivered at the eerie sound. Jaguar and Ashbud came up beside the ferret. Ashbud strained to see into the clouded morn. "Wot was that matey? It was the creepiest thing I've ever heard!" Casey bounded up from the lower decks. "I say, whoever made that noise is jolly good at wakin' up a creature, wot!" Suddenly, just as Sheth was leaning over the rail to peer out, the ship lurched to one side, and something smashed into the starboard bow. A huge creature with jet-black skin and a white patch about its' eyes leaped high and came down with a thunderous splash. Jegrand came leaping down from the rigging. "It's the Sessterada! Brace yerselfs everybeast!" Sheth staggered against the rail as the ship jolted again, and with the next lurch, was knocked with a screech into the rolling sea! Orca whales dived and slapped the ferret with their huge fins. Water got up into her mouth, nose, and eyes. Tossed about like a leaf in the heaving sea, the ferret slipped away from consciousness as waves battered her body, tossing it far away from Sabrewave.
Ulex yelped as a mink stepped on his footpaw as the crewbeast stalked by on some errand. Hopping about for a moment, the cat went indoors to Zu-Mor's chamber. "Lord, will ye come with us to patrol the shore? Ye could use the peace from Razcona." The wildcat looked up from the parchment he was studying. "I hate to leave the fortress in the paws of Razcona, but you are right. Take two archerbeasts and four spearbeasts. If we do spot anything, it would be wise to be prepared." The cat did not take long in rounding up six guards to take. Mor told Razcona about his plan, and the corsair agreed readily. Soon, the eight creatures were trudging east towards the shore. Thr trees opened out onto the mist-covered beach. Ragged patched of sunlight promised the clearing of the clouds, which did not take long in happening with the breeze. Far out in the deep water, the Sessterada shrieked and moaned, making the waves hiss and boom on the shore. Gradually, the whales quieted and the fog lifted, revealing a fine midmorning sun. Suddenly, Ulex shouted. "Look, what's that?" A gray bundle lay half in and half out of the water.
Sheth awoke to see herself staring into the sneering face of Ulex. A flying right landed square on the cat's jaw, sending him sprawling. In a twinkling, the ferret was up and pounding down the beach, with the outraged shouts of the cats behind her. She grunted as an arrow thudded into her back. Staggering to her knees, the ferret tried to rise through the pain, but a footpaw kicked her flat, and the ferret let herself be swept into darkness once again. Zu-Mor ran up and heaved Sheth up by her tunic front while hissing into her face. "Why you little serpent you..." Rigona tapped the shoulder of the furious wildcat. "Don't 'urt 'er Lord. She looks t' have the strength o' ten slaves. Look." Mor did look, and saw the cat was right. "Make something to carry her on! We're takin' 'er back to the fortress! Move it!"
Through a dark mist, Sheth saw cats, and felt paws feeling her arms, legs and chest. An agonizing pain burned in her back. She also heard voices, though only snatches. "...Look at her..." "...Seasons hard work..." "...ye can heal her..." Then, the ferret did not resist to the wave of merciful darkness that rose to meet her. Then, she saw a filter of light, and the world blinked open in front of her. Looking around, the ferret saw she was in a small cell. She was lying on a pile of musty straw, and her middle was wrapped 'round with white cloth. The door of the cell was open. The cats must not think she would try to escape. By the light that filtered through a small window, the ferret saw that it was about noon. Staggering to her paws through the waves of pain from her back, she grasped the wall as she made her way to the door of the small space. There was not a trace of cats or mink. The heat hinted they were all in the barracks, resting from the midday heat. Making her way down the passage and out the door, the ferret came out blinking into the grounds of the fortress. A lone cat stood dozing on the walltop. No escape there. Spotting a small walldoor, she half walked, half crawled to it. Just as she was turning the handle, a shout came from behind her. "Hi! What're ye doin' there?" Yanking open the door, Sheth pounded out into the woodland as fast as her wound would allow. Rigona pelted out after her, brandishing a spear. Tripping over roots and fighting through gorse, the ferret came to a huge hornbeam with a hole between the root. Diving in, Sheth crouched biting her lip to keep from screeching in pain at the fire in her pack. A hiss sounded behind her. Whirling, the ferret stared into two pair of serpentine eyes. Shooting out of the hole with Valiss behind her, the ferret pelted through the woodland regardless of her wound. Glancing over her shoulder, Sheth crashed head-on into the trunk of an oak. Collapsing, she lay groaning as Valiss slithered out of the bushes. The ferret moaned as scaly coils wrapped around her. A pair of amber eyes stared into hers as the sickly odor of death enveloped her, as darkness closed in.
"Reeeeeooooorrrrrrrr!" Birdax let out a loud screech which sent a large thrush fluttering up in alarm, only to fall back with a croaking squawk as Jasmine's dagger stabbed out its life. Picking up the carcass, Birdax picked his way over the roots and bushes of the Romaga woodland until he and Jasmine came out into the southeast coast where Sabrewave bobbed at anchor. Jaguar paced back and forth, ignoring the smell of a roasted bass Jegrand had caught. Lynx was not as worried as her kin about her mother, but the green eyes were darkened with wonder. Ambrevia turned a cartweel on the warm noonday sand. "I say, it's a jolly nice day, wot!" Casey agreed with her. "Yes, it almost makes a chap forget that poor sheth could be who knows where, wot wot!" Jaguar stopped his pacing only long enough to glare and the hare before resuming his agitated course.
Evening light was fading from the sky as three cats sat on the battlements of the fortress. One of them, Rigona, told the tale of Sheth's escape before the wide-eyes guards. "She jus' ran out the wallgate an' out inna the woodlan'! Then, next thing I knows, she's goin outta a hole inna tree, an' Valiss is comin' after 'er! Then, I lose 'em, but I hear Valiss hissin' and I takes off!" One cat name Mitch slung a bow and arrows across his back. "I can't see 'ow she could escape from Valiss! Good-" He broke off with a gurgle, and with a hoarse rattle, toppled from the battlements to land with a dull thud in the grass and leaf mold below. Rigona stared thunderstruck, as a shadowy figure emerged from the trees to glare at the cats with amber eyes that shone in the weak lantern light. Then, it removed a long skinning knife from its victims neck, and took the bow and arrows from Mitch's back. Turning, it bounded into the trees with a last look back at the awestruck cats before vanishing into the darkness. It took several moments before one cat named Khia broke the silence. "Wot was that mates?" Rigona was shaking from nose to tailtip, but he managed to push it down and continue. "Wotever it was, it slew Mitch. Besides, if Valiss slayed the ferret, and lord Mor finds out, it'll be out necks! Khia, ya gots to go an' find 'er! See if'n she lived, and bring 'er back! move or I'll tell Master you wouldn't do it cause yer scared o' the dark!" With that threat, the unfortunate scuttled down the wallsteps and inched carefully out the wallgate, grimicing at the body of his former companion. Spear held ready, he slowly went into the trees, whirling at the call of a nightingale, and jumping at the sound of some small creature going on some nighttime errand. The fortress was well out of sight when Khia began to feel as if he were being watched. A twig snapped in the brush, causeing his to jump. Feeling his neck fur rising, the cat held his spear out and called: "Come outta there an' show yoreself!" Nothing. Relief flooding him, he walk on with a light step. Then, it struck. Clapping a paw over its victims mouth, the unknown beast held Khia in a grip of iron, ignoring the cats wild struggles. Khis caught a flash of bright amber eyes, and a whiff of foul breath before stars exploded in his vision as his head was slammed against a tree, and a wave of blackness rose to meet him, and he sank limply in his captors arms.
Traycot Beechpaw sat in a tall poplar tree at the edge of the forest looking out over the camp of Sabrewave's crew. Patin Browntail flicked his torn ear at an inquisitive gnat before murmuring to Traycot: "D'you think they're friends? Should we take 'em to the mountains to be safe from the cats?" Traycot replied without turning his head. "Yes. No corsair crew would have a babe with them, con't you think, Brown-Eyes?" Patin was known by the nickname Brown-Eyes because of his dark, chocolaty-colored eyes. The squirrel nodded. "Wot're we waitin' for then?" Jumping down from the poplar, the two strode out into the night camp. Jaguar, Jegrand, and Venice jumped up at the two. Traycot held out his paws in the firelight to show he was unarmed. "We come in peace, friends. We came to take you to the mountains to keep you safe from all the dangers of this isle." Jegrand looked both squirrels up and down before answering. "Dangers? Like what?" Patin stepped forward this time. "There are the cats, as you might know, and there's a monster serpent named Valiss Thundercoil with two 'eads." Birdax and Jasmine rose from a fir farther down the beach. "Then take us to your mountains."
Khia the cat came to his senses slowly. The first thing he was aware of, was a painful lump on the back of his head. Then, the cat realized he was tied to a large slab of granite, and that his mouth was gagged with foul-tasting leaves and earth, and tied shut with is own belt. Then, terror enveloped him as a creature stroked his head lightly from behind, and the unknown beast rested its chin upon his shoulder. Soft breath tickled Khia's ear fur, and a gentle, yet menacing voice hiss into his ear. "Life, is sweet. Do you wish...to live?" The terrified cat could only nod, as his mouth was gagged. The creature sat perched on the rock, stroking Khia's head, while seeming to talk to nobeast. "Then, you shall lead me to the mountains, yes?" The cat managed a strangle grunt, then a half-wail as his head was jerked back and a dagger pressed against his throat. "You will obey my orders, or die! Repeat that!" A slash from the dagger severed the belt, and the cat spat out the leaf mold before stammering in a terrified croak. "I-I will ob-bey yore o-orders, or d-die!" The beast removed the dagger, and rested its chin upon his shoulder once more. "Good, yarr, you take me to mountains, yes, but to make sure you not change mind, you shall see me before we go." With that, the creature leaped over Khia's head, and landed in full view of the cat. Khia gasped at what he saw. The creature standing in front of him could surely not be that half-dead ferret they had dragged in from the shores! Sheth's sleek fur was tangled and matted, and tip of one ear was missing, and the long cloak was torn and ripped. But, what amazed the cat the most, was her face. The fur, from ear to jaw, was gone, leaving the skin a pinkish-gray, loose, limp, and lifeless. Both eyes were a blazing amber, and they shone with an insane light. "Aren't I the pretty one! Now, we go. But remember, play me false, and I shall make your death long and slow, bit by by bit until you scream for me to finish it!" A swift slice from the skinning dagger left the rope slack on the loam. Without warning, Khia leaped up, and was away bounding through the forest. Quickly, Sheth raced after him, and with a flying leap floored the cat with a hefty tackle. Turning him over with a footpaw, the ferret twirled her knife in her paw until it was in the correct position. Then, she leaned down and hissed into the cats ear. "Never mind, when I'm done with ye, I'll find my way myself!" The cat managed one last desperate scream as she set upon him. "Eeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!"
Sheth cleaned her blade on the hem of the cat's discarded tunic as she stared with a satisfied eye at the mangled and bloody carcass of the cat. She had toyed with him, making his death last, until his screams echoed through the still summer trees. Finally, she had finished him, wanting to get to the mountains as fast as possible. Slinking off into the trees, she left her victims carcass staring with sightless eyes at the afternoon woodland foliage. The ferret had only one purpose in life now. Revenge on the cats. Filled with a mad rage against anybeast who would do such a thing, the ferret dropped onto all fours, her head hanging. Then, she reared up the screeched to the summer day. "Rrrrreeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeennngggggeeee!"
Several squirrels peeked out the entrance to the cave leading into the mountains. Two of the Browntail clan, a squirrelmum and her child, were going to pick berrys in the forest. Traycot had greatly disapproved of this, but the mum persisted until the rebel leader was forced to give in. Two squirrels of the Barklad tribe guarded the two, in case of a surprise vist from Valiss, or any of Zu-Mor's cats. The little squirrelmaid, named Rosebud, went over to a gooseberry bush, and began to pick them. Her mother paid to attention to her babe, as she was intent on a blackberry bush, trying not to get a thorn in her paw. Soon, Rosebud strayed farther and farther from her mother. She looked up from a patch of wildflowers, to find she could not see or hear any trace of her kin. But, the infant maid heard other noises. Shouts, and cries, and the clash of steel upon steel. Treading over the carpet of dead leaves and loam, she came to a small clearing that branched off, but the branch was hidden by a thick thorn bush. In the clearing, Rosebud saw the bodies of several unconscious cats. A cry came from behind the bush, and the body of a cat came hurtling past the thorns to land with a thud in the loam. Setting down her small basket, the squirrel ran to the cats, feeling pity for any injured creature. A noise, like a half growl half wheeze, came from the other side of the thorn bush. Carefully avioding the tangled gorse and briar, she peered around to see a silver-furred creature slumped against the slim trunk of an aspen. In its paw, it grasped the handle of a long knife loosely. Coming around the bush, Rosebud stepped on a brittle dry stick. Crack. The creature's head jerked up, and saw the squirrelmaid instantly. Its good eye widened, and it shrank back against the trunk of the tree as Rosebud approached it. The beast tried to cover its face with one paw, but the maid laid her paw on its shoulder. The creature took its paw away from its face, and looked at the infant with a glittering golden eye. When it spoke, its voice was harsh and gruff, but held a tone that told of a better life once. "Who are you?" Rosebud's chocolaty brown eyes darkened with pity as she saw the horrible scars down the side of the creatures face. "I-I'm Rosebud. My Nana calls me Rosalie. What's your name?" The beast's shining eyes dimmed a little as she stared as the innocent squirrelmaid. "I be... Sheth....Moonfur." Rosebud examined the side of Sheth's face. "Are you hurt? Oh, you are, aren't you?" Her infant's smock swished against her bushy tail as she hurried to a patch of yellow flowers. "Nana taught me how ta heal. I hopes t' be a healer like 'er someday. Here. Put these on your face, an' bind 'em wiv dock." Sheth did so, wincing at the lancing pain. "Where be your mama, little beast?" Rosebud's eyes darkened with sorrow. "Mama.... Mama's dead."
"Kreeeeeeeeeeeeeeewaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!" Sheth and Rosebud were jerked out of a doze by the screech of a bird. Sheth jumped up to see the pair surrounded by the dark crane hawks. Discarding her cloak and whipping out her dagger, and ferret was a flash of silver as she hurtled forward and dispatched two hawks on the spot. Then, the flock was upon her. Scratching and pecking, they forced her down, though many a bird bore the scars of that day for many seasons. Falcontail was about to drive his lethal beak into the ferret's chest, when a wild off-key screech cut through the summer haze. "Rrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr!" An arrow cam whistling out of nowhere and pinned a hawk through the throat, and a cry sounded as two more arrows slew their share of the birds. "Euuuuuulalllllliiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaa!" Long Patrol Captain Casey, along with Birdax, Jasmine, Ambrevia, Jaguar, and Captain Jegrand came thundering in to take the hawks by surprise. Sword and dagger slashed, and arrow pierced as the group battered the hawks savagely. The birds flapped noisily into the air, squawking harshly, but not without snatching their prize. Sheth dangled, stunned, by her shoulders from the talons of Falcontail. Jaguar roared, and attempted to leap up and grab the hawk's talons, but only succededd in crashing to the group, hissing and snarling at the rapidly dwindling hawks.
Cedar the squirrel slave, looked out of the slave pen to see the figure of Zu-Mor under an awning made of several spears and sheets, then to the shapes of several crane hawks growing larger in the sky. "Hey, lookit! Wot's ol' feather bottom brought this time?" Then, they swooped down to drop the motionless bundle of fur that was the she-ferret Sheth. The wildcat looked with distaste at the scars on Sheth's face, then turned to Falcontail. "What is this... this... mess you have brought me?" The leader of the crane hawks inspected a gash on one wing as he replied. "Krah! This beast be no mess! She have strength of ox, and spirit of wolf! Kraa! Looksee! She come round!" Sheth groaned and turned onto her back, blinking up at the bright afternoon sun. Then, rising, Mor strode over and placed one footpaw firmly on the ferret's throat. "You are fortunate, to survive my crane hawks, ferret. You shall be my slave from this day forth. Is that clear?" The ferret, now wide awake, stiffened. Thedn, her golden eyes blazed with fury, and heaving up, bit the wildcat's footpaw so hard, several catguards later said they heard bones crunching. The wildcat roared and bellowed in pain, raising his footpaw. Sheth shot out from under him, and rushing behind him, floored the wildcat and, with her dagger nowhere to be seen, prepared to sink her teeth into Mor's throat. Then, five catguards heaved her up, and away from the wildcat lord. Mor's voice, tight with pain and fury, managed to strangle out: "Never mind the slave! She's far too dangerous to be in my fortress! Stake 'er out for the serpent! That'll teach her to attack Zu-Mor!"
Soundly cudgeled out again, Sheth was staked out in a small clearing, with several guards in the surrounding bushes. Insects buzzed, and the odd bird chirruped in the trees, and the cats soon dozed in the warm haze of summer. Then, the birds, and even the insects quieted, and a hiss sounded in the bushed on the far edge on the clearing. Sheth, now fully awake, stiffened. Rustling in the bushed signaled the arrival of the massive two-headed adder, Valiss Thundercoil. The ferret quickly relaxed, and closed her eyes as if still unconscious. A large, serpentine head emerged from the undergrowth. The cats, still dozing in full view of the adder, remained blissfully unaware of the danger. The snake's two heads looked from the ferret to the cats, and back again. Then, it slithered forward to loom over the she-ferret. This beast was the scrawniest piece of prey the summer forest could possibly have to offer. She already bore the bite marks of the first attack, and if she had survived that, then it was not worth eating her on the spot. The second head hissed quietly. "Ssssssssssss.... Thisssssss beasssssst have ssspirit. I sssssssee that... We take her back, to quarry? Yesssssssssss?" The first head looked at the sleeping cats. "Yesssssssssss.... catssssssss be much tasssssstier than ssssssscrawny ferret. Let ussssssss.... take care of catsssssssss, then, we deal with ferret. Sssssssssssss......"
One cat, smart enough to have made his post in the branches of a tall poplar, grimaced and looked away at the awful sight. The adder's two heads struck silently, and swiftly. Most died without a sound, and some managed one gurgle before they too, began on the pathway to the gates of Dark Forest. Then, Valiss, having taken its fill, wrapped his thick tail about the ferret's legs and middle, and began dragging her backwards the way the serpent had come. Before they vanished into the undergrowth, the cat saw one of the ferret's eyes was open the tiniest slit, and was glittering with terror.
High in the foliage, another pair of eyes watched Sheth being dragged backwards into the undergrowth. Patin Browntail saw all that had happened, and he dearly hoped the serpent Valiss would not harm the silver-furred ferret. Bounding off towards the mountains, the brown-furred squirrel knew he would have to tell Traycot and the others of the disaster. Tunic flapping, Patin hurtled through the trees northward. Back in the clearing, a few specks of blood were the only traces that Valiss Thundercoil had ever visited that spot.
Razcona ambled up to Zu-Mor with a nasty smile on his face. "So, a girl ferret broke yer footpaw an' nearly killed ye? Hah! Some lord of Romaga!" The wildcat looked up at the corsair from his bed, ignoring the comment as he nursed his footpaw. "Never mind the ferret. She'll be at the gates of hell by now if I knows that serpent. I've had enough of dilly-dallying about. Tomorrow, we march to the mountains to make an end of those idiot squirrels once and for all."
Birdax Piketalon peered about from his perch on the topmost boughs of a leafy oak. Sliding out his sword, he held it up to the sun and angled it so that a bright flash was beamed off about a quarter mile to the west. An answering flash came a heartbeat later. Whisking down the rough trunk, the black-and-white cat set off at a trot towards the camp, where Traycot, Jaguar, the three hares, Jegrand, Ashbud, Lynx, Jasmine and Venice were waiting. As he trotted into the makeshift camp, furious rustling sounded in the foliage above, and Patin Browntail dropped down, chest heaving like bellows, and damp with sweat. He was hastily handed a bowl of water, which he gulped down readily. After a few moments of catching his breath, the brown-eyes squirrel began his tale. "Well, I'm sittin' in a tree outside o' the fortress. An' the big black hawk-Falcontail, I think 'is name is- Comes flyin' in with the ferret Sheth danglin' from 'is claws. Doesn't take long for 'er to come 'round, but when she does, the first thing she tries to do is slay the ol' wildcat! She nearly does, too. After that, they beat 'er until she's knocked out again, then they takes 'er out inta the forest an' stakes 'er down for a monster two-'eaded serpent!" Jaguar's eyes widened, but he said nothing. "Then, some 'o the cats are sittin' in the bushes, dozin' a when the snake shows up! 'E goes right ove to Sheth, but then 'e doesn't kill 'er! I see's the 'eads talkin' to each other, but I can't 'ear what they're sayin'. Then, the serpent goes right past the ferret, an' attacks the cats in the bushes! Then, 'e wraps 'is tail around Sheth's legs an' waist, an' dragges 'er off south....west I thinks. That's all I saw, after that I comes back 'ere to report." Traycot patted the squirrels still damp back. "You did well, young one. If Valiss has got Sheth, then there's not much we can do, mates. Maybe she'll live, and maybe she won't. It's no use goin' to the farthest corner of the island away from the mountains to look for 'er. We gotta continue. I'm sorry Jaguar, Venice, but there's not much we can do."
A hard knock on the head from a stone had left Sheth senseless as Valiss dragged her to the granite quarry on the southwest end of Romaga. Now, the ferret came around to feel something prodding her chest. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring into the golden eyes of Valiss. Her eyes widening, the ferret scrabbled backwards on the grayish stone floor, only to freeze, her neck hairs prickling, as another blunt snout touched her back. One glance sent her scrambling over the tangle of dry coils to a tunnel that led out into a huge cavern. The serpent's tail snaked out, whipping around the ferret's chest, pinning her arms to her sides and dragging her back into the small chamber. Sheth scratched the floor with her footclaws, trying to resist as the snake drew her into his coils. Despite all her efforts, Valiss had her locked in the scaly embrace within a moment. Sheth cringed at the dry scaly coils and musty odor before asking: "What....you want with.... Sheth?" The body of Valiss shifted, sliding the ferret closer to the two heads before they leaned down to answer. "We ssssssssee you have sssssspirit, little one..... our inssssstinctssssss usssssssually do not care for ssssssssspirit, but thissssssss time, they ssssssssssee you have a different time to die...." Sheth relaxed her stiff muscles slightly as she answered. "You not....slay Sheth?" The two heads let out a small hiss of amusement. "Did we not explain why? Ferret not die here, sssssssshe live to ssssssslay wildcat. Now, Ssssssssheth sssssstay here, Valissssssss will go now, and ferret shall ssssstay here, if ssssshe knowssss what issss good for her." Sheth muttered something about the snake could ever be good, and lapsed into stoney silence. The coils relaxed, letting the ferret sink onto the hard stone floor. Valiss slithered out of the small entrance, one coil after another sliding away, then, he was gone. Still uncertain whether the snake would keep his word, the ferret hunched down by a slab of granite, and awaited the snake's return. About ten minutes later, Sheth peered out of the small round opening, and into a huge cavern, with ceilings that arched high overhead. A still pool of water sat in the middle, broken only by a single spearhead of stone that hung down from the high ceiling, dripping water every so often. Creeping out, the ferret took one last look about before bolting for the nearest tunnel. As she entered it, she heard the sound of dry coils sliding over rock, and could not hold back a small cry as she fled. The sound of coils grew louder, along with the outraged hisses of the two heads as the adder pursued her. Then, the tunnel ended, and Sheth found herself staring at a dead end. Whirling, she saw the shadow of Valiss in the faint glow of the cave walls. Then, the serpentine head rounded the corner, and two pairs of glittering golden eyes shone with fury as the snake advanced on the terrified ferret. "Come here, little one..."
Taking another step back towards the stone wall, Sheth's footpaw shot down into a crack in the floor, and twisted, sending the ferret crashing to the floor, holding her footpaw and moaning in pain. Valiss slithered up, holding back the urge to slay the ferret on the spot. Looming over the ferret, the serpent hissed, and opened both mouths to show two pairs of needle-like fangs. Then, he lashed out with his powerful coils, whipping Sheth savagely, before wrapping her in a grip of iron, and, ignoring her whimpers and moans of pain, began to drag the agonized and terrified ferret back up the tunnel. When the snake reached the main cavern, instead of going back to the small anti-chamber, the serpent whipped up his coils, sending the ferret hurling across the cave, to land with a dull thump near the edge of the pool. The ferret tried to rise and crawl away, but, gasped and collapsed again as she put wieght on her left shoulder. Siding over with unhurried grace, and snake glided up to the whimpering ferret , wrapped his powerful tail about her middle, and hurled her to th far side to the cave to land with a screech against a jagged rock. Lurching to all fours, Sheth was gasping in pain, yet attempted to climb up a small rock face to a ledge near the cave ceiling. About halfway up, something warm and slimy grabbed her injured footpaw, tugging until she tumbled down, straight into the coils of Valiss, who then tossed her like a leaf to land with a splash, her lower half submerged in the icy pool. Moaning, she lay completely helpless. Again and again, the adder flung the ferret far, until his wrath was satisfied. Then, wrapping the battered and bruised Sheth, dragged her back into the small side cave, and, without regard for her many bruises, coiled tightly around her, so that she could not move an inch. Then, one head weaved over to grab a bundle of leaves in his mouth, while the other head hissed into the ferret's ear. "Sssssssssss.... Ferret wassssssss fool to try and esssssssscape Valisssssssss....Sssssssshe issssssss lucky to sssssssurvive our anger...... Now..... Ssssssssheth musssssssssst sssssssssleep, and ssssssssleep deep...." The second head held the bunch of leaves under Sheth's nose. They smelled awful, and the ferret tried to twist her head away. The first head shot down, and shoved his nose into the back of the ferret's neck, keeping her head still. A drowsiness came over the ferret, and the cave walls, the head of Valiss, and the smell of the leaves all vanished. The last thing she heard before she slipped away from the world was the quiet, but menacing hiss of Valiss. "Ssssssssleep, little one....Sssssssssleeeeeeeep....."
Lynx and Rosebud were instant companions. The young ferretmaid was growing fast, and could speak properly now. Her mother, Sheth, had been gone three sunrises since she was knocked overboard by the orca whales. Meanwhile, her father Jaguar had cared for her with a will. The mountains loomed ahead, and Traycot ordered a halt to rest. Casey flopped over on a fallen log. "H'I say, I hope h'I never have to jolly well do a journey this long again in me flippin' life, wot!" Ambrevia gave the champion boxer a clap on the back. "Tcha! Ye're just sayin' that so we'll jolly well get movin'! 'Ow about a song, wot?" All agreed, so the Long Patrol galloper launched into a fine ditty.
Heya hiya huppa ho!
We're the Long Patrol!
Off to battle, off to battle!
O'er hill an' dune we march 'till noon,
Ten, twenty, thirty leagues from Sala-manda-stron!
Hiyya heya huppa ho!
We're the Long Patrol!
Hiya heyya huppa ho!
We're the Long Patrol!
The vermin turn tail, we prevail!
Oh, sing out! Sing out!
Sing out with all your might!
Much applause followed, as Ambrevia made an elegant bow. Traycot then challenged everybeast to see who could give the best bird call. Patin did an impressive barn owl cry, then the black cat Tawny pulled off a red-tailed hawk. Jasmine made the sound of a gannet then. Birdax grinned. "Ye lot don't 'ave a clue t'wot a Tribe o' the River Gorge cat c'n do. Lissen." Everybeast's paws shot to his ears as the black-and-white cat let loose with a piercing screech, that was unmistakably that of a fish eagle. "'Ow's that for good mates?" Traycot wiggle a paw in one ear. "I think I'll be deaf for the rest o' me life. That was pretty good, Birdax." Just then, the ferretmaid Lynx stood and sniffed the light breeze coming from the northwest. Her green eyes widened, and she shot off, a blur of dark brown fur. The instant she vanished into the bushes, Jaguar took a quick sniff of the breeze and shot off after her.
Lynx peered through the branches of a large bush at the mound of silver-gray fur that lay amidst a trail of flattened leaf mold and other woodland litter. Shoving aside the tangling branched, the young ferret pushed out into the clearing to the figure, and looking at the scarred, bruised face, knew who it was instantly.