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The Warrior's Spirit (Chpt 9)

(Here it is, and I hope it has been worth the wait. Here is the Chapter 9, the first segment of Book 2: A Warrior's Ghost, from "The Warrior's Spirit)

Mother and daughter clung fast to one another, shuddering more with each intense noise that crept into their ears. Joya Humquill stroked her child's headspikes gently, trying to keep the fearful weeping hushed. Nightmarish visions appeared in her mind of what their tormentors would do if they were found. Her husband had gone out to defend their home, and had not returned to them. "What have we done to deserve such dreadful times?" she thought to herself. But corsairs only care about their greed, never caring for the innocent creatures whose blood was spilled to pay for their avarice.

The vermin had nearly finished their raid of the shack, having stuffed their ragged sacks with everything they deemed to be of value. Their pewter dishes, which had been in the mother’s family for generations, were carelessly tossed around like frisbees inside the simple hut. Toying with plunder was not exactly forbidden, but their captain always made sure every jewel or bauble stolen was placed in the ship’s hold. No one was holding back from the shares given to the whole crew.

“’Ere! Give it up, Grubs!” shouted one of the crew. The assistant of the ship’s cook was fingering the plates with a sense of subtle ecstasy at the intricate design and patterns in the metal. “ Nah! The cap’n’ll like these for ‘is table. Find somethin’ else to play with!”

“Says yew, drip-snout!” With that pitiful comment, Grubs was set upon by his envious shipmate. The crewman inside the cabin did not help matters by circling around them, cheering for their favorite.

“Get the liddle snit, Krag!”

“You gonna take that, Grubs? He’d keep the cap’n from that lovely plate!”

In all the hustle and bustle, a remaining vase dropped from a stand. The loud, sudden shattering of the ceramic made the tiny hedgehog below them quietly shriek from fright. Though it was muffled by her mother’s soft fur, the crewbeasts grew silent as they knew they were not alone in the house. One of them suddenly started jumping up and down on the wooden floor, until the sound of hinges and a lock clanking on the floorboards. The door down to the cellar was soon discovered beneath the floor mat. Joya’s present nightmare had suddenly become worse as she watched the pirates descend the stairs to her basement with more than impish mischief in their beady eyes.

The morning dew was still fresh on the lawn as mother and daughter were dragged outside. A large prickly lump lay on the ground, surrounded by a few battered vermin bodies. The hedgehog mother only knew the body could be her husband’s corpse. His war hammer, which had dealt death blows to many vermin before this, and had served to defend his family for even a short period of time, lay stiff in his lifeless paw.

“This one was more troublesome than the band of cold-blooded cannibals we came across in the south seas, eh lads?!” The voice which lorded over the scene belonged to Captain Ziel, a femme-fatale among ferrets. The crew sounded off cheers of agreement, remembering the lizards which nearly left their ship, the Red Deck, without a crew. The Brotherhood of the South Seas had laughed at her boast of making it to the paradise of the uncharted northern lands. She had proved them wrong! After carving out her own territory, she’d head back to wave the fruits of her efforts beneath their tousled whiskers! It was only a matter of telling the locals who was boss. In this, the cruelty which Ziel was known for, would soon show itself when she spied the huddled pair of hedgehogs.

“Well!” she declared, stepping nonchalantly toward them. “What have we here? You must be his family!” Her voice was like fresh, dripping honey from the comb as she spoke. “You should be proud of how your dear one fought. However, I never could abide those ugly bashing weapons. My little lance,” she continued, pulling it out of the corpse of the dead hero, “has always been so faithful; good in tight spaces, and excellent for long range.” Looking down on the shivering babe, she bent down to stroke its headspikes.

That, however, was more than Joya Humquill could take! Upon seeing the hand that slew her husband come near her child, she lunged out, biting down hard for a second or two. Captain Ziel’s sugarcoated tone left as she shrieked like a typhoon, grasping her right paw in agony. Hugging her child close, Joya cried out defiantly, “You’ll not lay one filthy claw on my ba-!”

A crewman behind the enraged mother had knocked her unconscious with a swift knock between the ears with a belaying pin. Collapsing in a heap, the tiny hedgehog was left to hold close to her mother’s body, not understanding why all this was happening. The captain, who now had venom shooting through the veins in her eyes, pointed a bloodied claw at the little one, booming, “Put that one on ship! She’ll spend her life as a galley slave to repay her mother’s injury to me! Her,” she hissed, “We’ll take aboard just to throw to the sharks when we get out to deep water!”

“The sharks will just have to settle for vermin tonight!”

The threat boomed all about the clearing like a clap of thunder. The corsairs looked about, their heads swiveling rapidly from left to right. The eyes of two crewmen, however, soon went dark as they felt a hard impact to their foreheads. Crack! In quick succession, five more soon littered the ground, with deep dents in their chins or foreheads. “Shall I take you out one by one, or do scum like you get my meaning?” mocked the sniper, who was thoroughly enjoying himself. The corsair captain took enough guff from the Brotherhood in her early career. Once she got her own vessel, she had vowed to silence anyone who took her lightly. This stranger was one such target, if only he would have the guts to show his face; then she’d have great joy in spilling them! Bunching her needle-like teeth, she barked out, “Come out if you got the nerve… coward! Get my meaning?!”

“Coward” was one word only the most humble creatures could forgive. The beast who had been slinging stones, however, felt his blood boil at the sickening sound of it! Rising up from the brush he had crouched in, the vermin could see sheer rage burning in his eyes. Fuming as only an insulted proud beast could, he roared as he charged into their ranks, “Harrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaa!” A loaded sling, buzzing like an angry hornet’s nest, whirled ‘round and ‘round in his paw. The earth pounded with each bounding stride as he closed the distance between himself and the now scattering mass of true cowards.

One! Two! The paw-held cyclone smashed into vermin skulls left and right! A weasel attempted to turn and stab out with his short spear, taking a quick chance at a lucky shot. Unfortunately, the spear was knocked aside as if it was a stray branch. A stunned face could hardly be made before the weasel’s eyes stared off into the blue. The last he saw before blacking out was the large shadow of his attacker, and a strange white blur passing by.

Ziel, though, had witnessed the carnage from a safe position behind a tree on the opposite side of the clearing. All her plans were dust now! What happened now was worse than the shark attack on her trip northward. Yes, the marine monster had managed to knock a few of her crew into the water for a meal, but she had come away relatively unscathed from that encounter. This foe, however, was relentless! The sheer existence of such a warrior had been impossible to her. The marking upon his head was even more rare.

She had to do something, at least to save her own skin. Crewbeasts were not all that hard to recruit, after all; and she had sensed a mutiny coming. The mysterious attacker simply saved her the job of execution. Her eyes darted about for an escape route, desperate for anything. Then she saw the unconscious, spiky heap of Joya Humquill stirring. At least she saw quills moving. A sly grin began stretching across her face. She had found her ticket out!

It was not long before the all the crew, which had numbered a score and five, was either dead, or running, frightened witless, through the woods, and those were few. The warrior stood there amid the bodies, breathing as if he had merely gone for a morning stroll. Something was missing, though: the wretch who called him “coward.” He would never allow her to walk away from here alive! “Where are you, scum? Are you hiding with the rest of the barnacles on the hull of your wreck?” Just as the word “coward” had stung the warrior, calling the Red Deck a “wreck” was the last straw for Ziel. Rushing out, teeth bared, the crewless captain jumped over the body of Joya Himquill. A tiny, but shrill, squeak came out near the body. As Ziel stood up, she revealed what she grasped in her left paw: the tiny hedgehog babe, who now shivered with fear. The ferret’s right paw slithered behind her back, drawing out a slender knife she saved for cutting the throats of fallen enemies. “Drop the sling,” she commanded, bringing the blade dangerously close to the innocent hostage, “Or you’ll be responsible for hedgepig blood on the grass!”

The warrior knew a sincere threat when he heard one. Loosening his grasp on the simple tool, he let it drop to the ground. “You want to kill me now or wait?” He had asked the right question. Ziel had no intention of letting this gargantuan upstart live after insulting her prize possession. “You catch on quickly, stranger.” Quickly tossing the knife in the air, she caught it by the tip of the blade, and hurled it at the fool who disarmed himself.

All eyes, even the few crewbeasts who had escaped came back to watch, now looked toward the warrior. He simply twisted to one side, gazing upon his reflection in the polished blade as the knife flew in front of his face. His right paw shot out, grasping the handle in mid-flight! Ziel’s jaw dropped in shock. The captain of the Red Deck never missed anything she aimed at! At the same time, the small hostage wriggled from her captor’s now shaking claws, running to embrace her stirring mother.

Riveted to the spot, the ferret could not move as the warrior stalked menacingly forward, pausing momentarily to pick up his sling. There was only one thing a vermin can do when such fear grips tightly: beg! Dropping to her knees, she folded her paws together, crying out, “Let me live, mighty one! I swear on the Brotherhood of the South Seas that I’ll never plunder again!” But the hollow oath fell on pitiless ears. Looking toward the hedgehogs, the stranger requested one action, simultaneously loading his weapon with a particularly large stone, “Cover the eyes of the young one.” The baby hedgehog saw nothing, but heard the deep sound of something crunching, and a sudden thud as a body hit the grass. “The Ghost of Montis keeps you to your oath, scum.”

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