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An Extraordinary Warrior

The Bloodwrath consumed me
I did not know what to do
Suddenly everything was red
I could not see!
The urge to kill
Overtook me
As I fought
The battle on the hill.
The sword was fast
The results instant
Blood stained the grass
As the breath he drew was his last.
In that instant I knew something was wrong.
He shouldn't be dead!
My conscious rips at me
But I calm before long.
It's one more dead
In the trail of murder,
That follows it's master
"Lyara the murderer," he said.
But I cannot help it.
I really can't.
If I could, I wouldn't kill.
But I hate the trust in his eyes.
The way he says, "Everything will be okay."
It won't. And why doesn't he understand that?
I'm a warrior, but a murderer.
Beware of Lyara!

Part 1

Lyara knelt by the edge of a rocky, bloody stream, her heart beating quickly as she watched the red water race down the rocks. The squirrelmaid's cloak was billowing in tatters around her, and the light drizzle had soaked her, but Lyara didn't notice.
It was my fault! Shreeda shouldn't have died! It was MY fault! The battle... was so... unnecessary! But it was... all... MY fault.
Unknown, a stranger approached the young maid. "Why are you crying?"
Lyara gasped and looked up at him. He was a young, rough looking otter.
The otter stared back at her. "I asked you a question, young lady. Why are you crying?"
Lyara squeezed her eyes shut tightly, then peeped through them at the otter.
He is kind of handsome... no! Don't think that way, or... you know what will happen.
She shook her head. "A battle was fought here. My best friend was killed. It was my fault."
"Why don't you go after her killer?" The otter asked.
"I do not have a weapon." Lyara replied steadily, hoping the otter would not notice her sword handle protruding from the scabbard, or the seven different knives and daggers in her belt.
The otter blinked. "Are you sure?"
Lyara shook her head and stood slowly. "It doesn't matter, anyway. I could never go after Shreeda's murderer."
"If you think that they are too far gone, that too does not matter. With me, you can catch them."
The squirrelmaid shook her head sadly. "I could never go after Shreeda's murderer. Neither could you."
The otter took her paw in his. "Little squirrelmaid, I care for you. But I need you to trust me, to tell me everything that happened here tonight. I... I trust you."
No! No! Don't trust me! You can't!
The squirrelmaid's eyes filled up again, this time with compassion. She was speechless, and barely gasped out, "I am Lyara."
"And I am Ludd Rightfloat. But please, Lyara, trust me. You have to. Together, we can hunt your friend's murderer before someone else is killed."
Don't say that either! I don't want you to hate! I don't want you to trust! Leave me alone! You have to! I'm protecting you, can't you see?
Lyara shook her head. "No one can stop her murderer."
Ludd frowned. "Do you know who killed her?"
"Will you tell me?"
"I can't."
"Why not?" The otter spread his arms out in frustration.
"I just... can't." Lyara looked at the ground. For the first time, she was aware of the rain.
"If they've threatened you, just tell me that."
Every second you spend with me puts you deeper and deeper in danger! Go, Ludd, before you, too, are hurt, maybe even killed.
"No, they haven't. But... I just... can't tell you!" Lyara broke down into a fit of hysterics and ran into Ludd's outstretched arms.
Please understand. I couldn't live with myself if I told you.
Shocked, Ludd stared at her, then slowly closed his arms.
Suddenly a shadow moved slightly.
An inhuman scream pierced the air. Ludd crumpled to the ground noiselessly.
Stunned, Lyara screamed and fled the scene.
The silent, impassive river ran a deeper red. With Ludd's blood, as well as Shreeda's.

Part 2

The woods glowed green with spring. Lyara lay in her hollowed out tree that she had found a while ago. Her thoughts raced in circles.
I have to stay here. Ludd's and Shreeda's deaths were both MY fault. You are a monster, Lyara. You have to stay away from that killer.
But I know their murderer as well as I know myself!
You should, too, Lyara. But... just know, you cannot trust. You cannot let yourself slip into that haze where you are in happiness. You shall have to contend with loneliness.
But loneliness is no way to live your life, Lyara. You have to get out, and experience things. Or your killer will strike again- at you.
The killer is unpredictable. Uncontrollable. But if I get out, into the world, terrible things will happen. Murder follows me. I know that.
Only you can control the murderer, Lyara. Only you.
It is impossible to control a Bloodwrath-inflicted beast!
Badgers control themselves.
Badgers aren't murderers!
To vermin they are, Lyara.
I'm not vermin, and I hate the trail of murder that follows me CONSISTENTLY!
Why not go to Salamandastron, then?
Because of what will happen. Imagine, the badger lord of Salamandastron-murdered!
Hmm... but you cannot stay in this tree your entire life, Lyara. You know that.
Yes. But I'm afraid.
You must face your fears.
How? The murderer is uncontrollable.
If you cannot control it, no beast can.
Then no beast can. Because if I could've helped it, neither Ludd nor Shreeda would be dead now. I'm a monster.
That's harsh.
But true!
Maybe it is, but...
Shut up! Just shut up! You're a stupid voice inside my head! Leave me alone!
As you wish, Lyara. But remember... a tree is not the world.
There was no reply. Lyara's mental conversation faded, leaving her puzzled. Should she leave? But, if she did, could she live with herself if someone else got killed?

Part 3

Finally, cramped and crabby, Lyara crawled out of the tree into the setting afternoon sun. Alright, I obeyed you, mental voice. But what, now that I've left my tree?
Go to Salamandastron.
GO, Lyara!
The squirrelmaid sighed. Alright. But how do I get there?
Go west, to the land of the otters.
You cannot always trust instinct. You need a guide.
But I cannot get one. They will die. I know that.
That is true. But you cannot always live alone- let this guide be a test.
So be it. It is useless to argue with oneself.
Lyara trusted her instincts with her life. When you are doomed to be forever alone, you have almost a sixth sense, one that acts as another's company. This sense was Lyara's guide, her companion, her advisor. While it may seem strange for me to talk to myself, many an occasion has been saved by my guide.
She dusted herself off and stood up. She moved onto the Mossflower Trail and walked west, towards the sinking sun.
Lyara? You will not always have to live uncontrollably.
Huh! Yeah, right.
The voice of her instincts paused as the squirrelmaid walked, then whispered, You are nearly there.
Good! It's almost dark.
"Halllllllllllloooooo!!!" The greeting was called from an otter who stood taller than the rest. His voice, deep and melodious, echoed throughout the woods.
My instinct is right, thought Lyara. I have missed talking to other beasts.
"Hallllllllllllllloooooo!!!" Lyara responded. "Iiiiiiiiiiisssss thiiiiiiiiiiissssssss the Skiiiiiiiiiipppperrrr of ooooooottttttterrrrrrrrrrrrss??
The otter walked over to her, and his voice was normal. "Hello miss. Yeppers, I'm the Skipper of these here Otters. What can I do fer a purty likkle maiden like you, eh?"
Stop talking like I'm a squirrelbabe and you were my father!
"I need an otterguide, a strong, enduring one to help me find Salamandastron. One that is not shy in the face of danger, for one traveling with me travels with murder itself. I need an otterguide- and I was told that to find one, I must come here." Lyara proclaimed.
All pretense of cooing left the otter's voice as he saw Lyara meant business. "You've found the right otter, matey."

Part 4

The next day, Skipper and Lyara set off east first, for Salamandastron. When they came back to Blood Stream, as Lyara called it, she paused.
Skipper saw her stop, and when he came back to the squirrelmaid, he saw her gazing spellbound at a huge rock that was blood red. He whistled, "Whhhhhhhhoooo! An' what 'appened 'ere, eh?"
Lyara choked, "Two of my friends were murdered here, Shreeda Rightfloat and Ludd..." Her voice lowered. "Rightfloat."
Shreeda and Ludd had been sister and brother!
Skipper's eyes widened. "Ludd and Shreeda are dead?? You know..." He bowed his head, and Lyara saw his black eyes fill with tears. "They... they... were my children."
Lyara couldn't believe her ears. "Then... you are..."
"Skipper Bardjad Rightfloat." His eyes spilled over and he sat down on the bank. "Wh...what happened??"
Lyara sighed and related the tale of last night. "Shreeda was visiting me, and she and I, old friends, as you know, took a walk here last night. Suddenly, the moon was covered and it started pouring. Snarls came out of the trees and we were surrounded by weasels and ferrets. Shreeda and I battled and killed all the weasels and... she was injured... and... she died. After I buried her, Ludd came by and saw me weeping and... a ferret came out of the trees and she killed Ludd. Both are buried here... Shreeda under the pine tree over there... and Ludd under the fir tree."
Skipper nodded mutely. He couldn't speak.
I am a liar! I lied about both deaths! Shreeda wasn't injured- she was the best warrior and escaped without a scrape! And a ferret didn't kill Ludd.
But if you do not trust Skipper enough to tell him the truth, he will not be killed.
I suppose... but he's my traveling companion- he shouldn't be lied to!
You're saving him.
I suppose.
I'm a liar.
You're saving his life, Lyara!
I'm lying to him.
Finally, when it appeared that Skipper wasn't going to move, Lyara offered, "I know a hollowed-out tree that we can use."
Skipper looked up, and some of his old self appeared as laughter danced in his eyes. "An otter in a tree? Nah, it's still early. We can make good headway yet."
As the two set off, Lyara feeling even guiltier with every step about her lie, Skipper suddenly said, "Lyara? Thank you for telling me the truth about their deaths."
Without thinking, Lyara said, "It wasn't the truth. It was a lie."

Part 5

"A lie?" Skipper asked.
Lyara hung her head. "Yes."
"Then who killed my children?!" Skipper demanded.
"I did."
"YOU DID?" the otter gasped. "Why? AND TELL ME THE TRUTH!"
Lyara sighed. "Skipper, honestly, I didn't want to kill them."
The otter's eyes were set hard. "Tell me, Lyara."
His unsaid threat hung in the air between them.
The squirrelmaid groaned and said quietly. "Shreeda and I were walking by the stream when vermin attacked. We were both outnumbered but Shreeda and I, fighting like twenty warriors, defeated all the vermin. By now, a red mist had settled in the clearing, and I couldn't see. Shreeda looked like some vermin to me, and... I killed her. Then the mist cleared and I saw what I'd done. I was horrified. I didn't know what to do, and Shreeda's blood was staining the stream red. I buried her and was grieving when Ludd came out of the woods behind. He asked me a lot of questions about Shreeda's death, and... he said he cared for me."
Skipper grimaced. While he hated putting Lyara through telling him this, he wanted no, needed to know what had happened to his son.
"Then, well, he hugged me, and the mist returned, and I... I got a dreadful feeling that he was tricking me, and I... put a knife in his back. When he fell over and I saw he was dead, well... I fled."
"You cannot run from yourself." Skipper breathed. Lyara almost didn't hear him.
"But if I knew what was wrong with me, I could do something!" Lyara whispered.
Skipper thought for a while as the two continued down the path. Finally he whistled quietly. "I think I got it, Ly."
Ly. I like that!
"Got what?" The squirrelmaid's ears perked up.
"Got what's wrong with ye." Skipper sighed. "But..."
Lyara could scarcely breathe. "But what?" She gasped.
"Well, I think you have the Bloodwrath. You say that when you are threatened or in battle, a red mist appears?"
Lyara nodded greedily. "Yes, yes. It makes it nearly impossible to see!"
"The mist is only in your eyes. All everybody else can see is a berserk squirrelwarrior." The otter chuckled.
"What can I do about the Bloodwrath?" The word Bloodwrath seemed right on Lyara's tongue.
Skipper grimaced. How do I tell Lyara that the only way out of this terrible disease is to either control it, or die? "There is no way out of it completely. You can control it."
"How?" Lyara wanted so badly to be rid of her killing obsession!
The otter frowned. Cloudsteeth, this squirrel is depressing me! I haven't frowned or grimaced so much in my life! But she needs me. Badly. "Well, I don't know, having not personally experienced Bloodwrath. We ought to go see Lord Darkstripe Blackblade. He would definitely know!"
Lord Darkstripe Blackblade was known far and wide as one of the most-afflicted Bloodwrathists in Mossflower Country.
"L...lord D...darks...stripe B...blackb...blade?" Lyara stuttered. The thought of sharing Bloodwrath with the ferocious Badger Lord depressed the squirrel.
"Well, yes." Skipper blinked. "If you want this resolved."
"Of course!" Lyara snapped.
"Good. We'll be at Darkstripe's forge by tomorrow evening."

Part 6

"Lord Darkstripe Blackblade will see you now." A large, proper-looking hare announced to Lyara and Skipper while trying to balance his spectacles on his nose. "Right this way." He turned and marched out the door with the squirrel and otter following him.
The walls they passed were heavily scarred with battle. This wasn't Salamandastron, this is the badger's forge, a separate building especially for his weapons that he made. "This place has seen some action."
The hare nodded and smiled, although Lyara could only see the nod. This was his favorite topic. "Yes ma'am. Why, long, long, LONG ago, in the time of Lord Rawnblade Widestripe, there was some foxes that decided they liked this place. Let's just say it didn' go well f'them..." he chattered on and on until Skipper interrupted him.
"Won't you please tell us your name?"
The hare glared at him reproachfully. "I am General Wollscutt Clarnifur Harescopt Whistbow Lingraw Siyfer! But you can call me Woll. And, my gentleman," he mocked, "pray tell who you are?"
Skipper nodded. "I am honored, General Woll, sir. I am Skipper Bardjad Rightfloat of the Western Otters."
"And I am Lyara Greenleaf of Mossflower Woods." Lyara dipped her head for they were walking too fast to curtsy.
Woll nodded again. "Mossfler, eh? W'part? Near Red'all?"
"Sort of." Lyara thought hard. Redwall... In fact, Lyara couldn't even recall hearing about it. "Not too close, because I've never been there, but I did hear legends of it." Now she was simply lying.
The hare raised his eyebrows, although they couldn't see it. "I see. Which legends?"
Lyara's heart thumped hard in her chest. Legend, legend... come on, Lyara! You call yerself a liar? "My favorite one was the... er... one about the otter! And the squirrel!"
Woll swallowed his laughter. The one about the otter and the squirrel? Could she mean Brag and Saro? "I do not know this legend. Maybe ye can tell it t'us later tonight?"
Lyara nodded quickly. "Maybe." Cloudsteeth, she hated lying!

"And I, esteemed sir, am Lady Lyara Greenleaf of Mossflower Woods, warrior." Lyara curtsied as she faced Lord Darkstripe Blackblade, the Fierce One.
Darkstripe nodded. "I am honored to meet you two. But, not to seem rude at all, but what can I do for you?"
Skipper Bardjad smiled ruefully. "We... have need of information from you, O Fierce One."
"Cut out the titles. What kind of information?" The huge badger shifted his weight to the other foot.
"My... er, that is, we have need of information that only you can give. Otherwise we would not bother you." Lyara whispered.
The Badger Lord set down his half-cooled swordhilt and motioned to a chair nearby. The two travelers sat while Darkstripe cleaned a few things up before he himself joined the two. "Now." he sighed when all three were comfortable. "Never a bother, my dear. In fact, you're the only company I've gotten in a week. Lonely work, being a creature of Bloodwrath. Everyone thinks that'cha afflicted all the time. But I'm sure you don't care about that. Getting to the point, about this information. If it's about my hares, I can't give you anything. Can't risk Claugh somehow gettin' a hold of it. When you're at war, you need t'be tight-lipped, ya know?"
No, I don't know, not having personally been at war. thought Lyara dryly. But she nodded anyway.
Darkstripe grinned. "But what do you want, my dear?
He's not so bad after all! Skipper smiled and turned to his squirrel traveling-companion.
Lyara gulped and whispered, "Lord Darkstripe Blackblade, you are the only one I can turn to. You see, I am afflicted with the Bloodwrath as well."
Darkstripe raised his eyebrows, making him look like a large black lump. "You, little one?"
The squirrel set her jaw. You're close, Lyara! So close! "Yes, sir, I have it."
Skipper, Lyara and Darkstripe looked up as Woll entered the room noisily. "Begging pardon, your Lordship sir, but dinner is served."
The badger groaned. "My life." he shrugged to Lyara. "We can talk again after supper."
Woll's eyes glowed in the forge's firelight. "Oh, did I interrupt something?"
The badger smiled. "You ol'scalawag! Get out o'here!"

Part 7

"And so, the squirrelmaid fled the scene. With trees blurring past, she felt her sanity slipping away. A fox stepped out on the path in front of her but she grabbed a dagger and with one slash, he was permanently fallen. She did not even stop her maniacal running. Red mist covered everything, and vermin surrounded the squirrelmaid as she ran on, unaware of everything. With one shout the vermin are on top of her. If she'd run, she would've escaped unscathed. But she turned to fight. Her friend whom she was once walking with had caught up to her. The two fought like madbeasts, and prevailed. But the mist remained on the squirrelmaid's vision. She did not see... did not see her friend, or, rather, her friend appeared as a vermin-fighter. In her... state, she... killed her friend." Lyara paused.
Woll's face was pale and his eyes shone sadly. "But what was wrong with her?"
"She had the Bloodwrath."
"But who was she?" the hare persevered.
"Me." Lyara said simply.
Woll gasped. "You... murdered your friend?"
"I didn't mean to!" The squirrelmaid replied in exasperation.
Lord Darkstripe stood in the great hall's doorway of his Great Forge. Lyara looked up at him and she saw an impossible question in his black eyes.
She indeed has the Bloodwrath, for that is the perfect description. But why has she come to me? Darkstripe thought.
"I have come to you for help- I need to control this beast." Lyara spoke the Badger Lord's thoughts. "You are afflicted, as am I. You surely have some way to tame the Bloodwrath?"
Lord Darkstripe Blackblade thought hard. Will it be too tough for her?
"I am ready to do anything." Lyara said softly.
Cloudsteeth, she's amazing! Tis almost as if she's reading my mind!
"Please, my Lord. Please help me." she begged.
Darkstripe sighed. "Alright, Lyara. You can control it, by focusing on something else other than the mist..." and he proceeded to explain it to her.
She smiled. "I think I get it! How can I ever thank you?"
The Badger looked rather abashed. "There is... one way."
"Name it. I'll fight all your battles for you if need-be!" Lyara promised.
Darkstripe lowered his eyes. "I would love it if you could help me in the war against Claugh."
Lyara was honestly stunned, but only briefly. "Yes, my Lord. I would be honored."

Darkness surrounded the camp as a dark badger-shape slipped out of the mountain fortress. Lord Darkstripe Blackblade looked around, making sure he wasn't followed, and slipped into the fringing trees.
"Dearest Darkstripe... how are you?" A silky voice purred in the badger lord's ear. Darkstripe turned to see a wildcat with gleaming yellow eyes and sharp white fangs smiling coyly at him. The badger noted the gold circlet on Claugh's forehead, and the regal-looking broadsword on his hip. All gifts from you.
"Claugh," Darkstripe nodded sharply. "I'm here."
The wildcat drew himself up and looked over his adopted son. "You got the squirrelmaid?"
"Of course."
"You told her nothing?" He pressed.
"I..." Darkstripe looked down. "I told her how to control her Bloodwrath."
Claugh let out a low growl. "You did what?!"
"She had it worse 'in any'un, if'n she'd gone berserk she might've even killed me!" Darkstripe babbled.
The wildcat growled and looked down at the ground. It was cold and icy. Nights are getting frigid, as is my army, he thought. I cannot pretend to fight this war any longer.
"Claugh? Why are we fighting?" The badger sounded like a frightened kit. He's right. It's time to tell him.
"My army... well, you know how vermin are." A harsh laugh escaped his lips. "They were going to murder me, we were immobile so long. They says, 'Let's take over Salamandastron!' And so what else could I do but say, 'Of course'?" Claugh looked at his adopted son. The badger shrugged. Death was hardly the answer when it could be so easily avoided.
"So we come, and I find that it's you... an' I pretend to lay siege to the mountain. Soon they're gonna demand that we attack. When that comes... get the squirrelmaid and follow me off the mountain. My troops will think I'm dead. Let them." The wildcat leaned in, eyes gleaming. "She is our key to... well, I doubt it's safe here." Claugh backed away. "Let's just say... I'll attack at dawn in three days. Get Lyara and be ready to bolt. Our armies can fend for themselves."
"Yes." Darkstripe liked the idea. "Good night."
The wildcat faded into the bushes. "Three days. And don't forget to act as if you hate my guts... nobody must know that we are fighting a non-existent war."

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