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The Ultimate War

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These updates are dedicated to Thorny's mother :) Thanks for being a fan :)

Book One- Introductions

Prologue- Captains and Leaders

With a loud bang!, thunder shoved it's way through the skies, and released itself as lightning, which lit up the barren world below. A large, black fortress stood below, with it's grisly flags waving. A shape sat; it was dark and mysterious. The shape sighed, content. “The storm rages, Captain Rakepaw. Cannot you understand the power of it?”
A short, grey-furred rat shook his head. He had dark, cunning eyes, and wore a tattered cloak and a belt that held his dagger and cutlass. “On'ee yew unnerstand th'igher things, Lord Shadowbane.”
Bang! Another bolt of lightning lit up the sky, and Rakepaw saw his master, although he didn't need to. He had faithfully served his master for a while now, and had long-since memorized every detail of the dark fox.
Shadowbane was a ferocious sight. He was a pitch-black fox, with a tattered traveling cloak, and a belt that held his scimitar and a satchel with his reading glasses (Shadowbane had issued a penalty- whoever broke his reading glasses would be strung up by their hind paws and dangled into a lightning storm). He wore a gauntlet on his left forepaw that shot arrows or a grappling hook from it, and his large axe was lying next to him. Shadowbane never went anywhere without his axe; he'd gotten it from a Marlfox that he had killed long ago; the Marlfox had been a fool named Marccan. He'd even had a family and a wife. Hah! It made Shadowbane spit to think of it. His own mate, another fox named Antga, was his mate only because he was sure of her loyalty.
“Good, good, Captain. You learn quickly.” Shadowbane smiled coldly.
Rakepaw smiled back, a little too quickly. Shadowbane's smile grew larger. “You're not afraid of me, are you, Captain?”
Oh, darn! If I say yes, I am, he'll ask why, and if I tell him why, he'll kill me for being a coward. If I say no, I'm not, he'll torture me to prove to me why I should be afraid of him! Rakepaw thought desperately. He opened his mouth, “Lord, I-”
Shhhhhhh! With a sound that greatly resembled a sigh, the clouds opened up. Rain fell in torrents. Shadowbane spluttered as rain splashed around him. He pulled his cloak up, but a huge blow of wind blew it off again.
“My lord!” Rakepaw yowled. “Are you there?”
“Yes.” The rat jumped as Shadowbane's voice sounded close to his ear.
“My lord!”
A snarl sounded in the fox's voice. “Meet me in the Gathering Chamber. Bring my whole Horde. I want everybeast present for my announcement.”

Chapter One- “You Know The Dangers.”

“Pinedance! Come on! Oakfur has an announcement to make!” A tannish-colored squirrel with brilliant blue eyes stood on a tall branch, calling to her friend. The squirrel wore a faded, once-sky-blue tunic and her sword belt; from her sword belt, a dark hilt protruded. An empty quiver hung over her shoulder, with the tip of the bow pointing outward, towards the sky. Her name was Hollyfire Thornblade.
Another squirrel popped her head out of the tree next to the tannish-squirrel's tree. “Oh, come on, Holly. Oakfur always has an announcement to make.” This squirrel, Pinedance Coneslinger, was a darker brown color; she had dark blue eyes with hazel highlights. Her throat and paws were reddish-colored, and a long, black scar ran from the tip of her nose to her chin. Her eyebrows slanted upward ever-so-slightly, and she was indeed beautiful- in a sad and dangerous way. Pinedance wore a blue tunic with green edging, a baldric, black leggings, and brown boots. Her tunic was divided by a belt, which held Pinedance's choice weapon- a hack dagger- and a pouch of sharp stones, for the sling wrapped around the squirrel's right paw. Her mature face was hardened by years of work, war, and heartache.
Holly shook her head, making the branches around her quiver. “He says it's real, this time.”
Pinedance groaned. That Oakfur, he thinks he's so great! Maybe a demotion? As soon as the thought entered Pinedance's head, the leader of the Coneslingers banished it. It's not that he's bad at his job; he's great at it. It's just that he likes to be the bearer of news, both good and bad.
Holly shrugged. “You wanna miss his news, go right ahead, Pinedance.” She scampered off, heading for the Coneslinger camp. She didn't look back once; she knew her best friend would be hot on her heels.
When she did turn around, she was surprised to see that Pinedance wasn't there at all. Holly slowed down, and whirled to a stop. “Pine?”
“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehawww! Race ya back to camp!” With a loud yell, Holly looked up to see Pinedance flying over her. Holly grinned. She loved Pinedance's competition; striving to be the best they could be was what made them such good friends.
“Oh, yeah. It's own!” Holly pelted after Pinedance, passing her quickly. Holly stopped. Pinedance never let her pass without a fight. Once again, Holly turned back around to look for her friend.
“Oh, dearie, I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to simply land on ye like that! Are you okay?” That's not Pinedance's voice! Holly thought in anguish. Who has my friend? Who landed on her? I'm gonna rip them apart if Pine's not perfectly... Oh.
The aggressive thoughts ceased as Holly gazed at a young squirrelmaid, not unlike herself. The squirrel was a dark, grayish-brown with deep green eyes. She wore a dark green cloak with a broad black belt around her skinny waist, and a dark grey cloak. Her belt held five throwing daggers, but Holly could see the rest of her weapons. As the squirrel knelt by Pinedance, her back to Holly, Holly could see the two sabers, in a crisscross on her back, with a handle above each shoulder so she could easily reach her weapons. Four more daggers were under her tunic, Holly could see the straps attached to the hidden weapons, and she suspected that the squirrel probably had a few daggers in the satchel she held.
The squirrel looked up at Holly. She smiled, a little uncertainly. No need to worry; I'm never gonna attack a creature that heavily guarded, Holly thought, as she smiled back.
“I'm Sister Armel MacBurl, the Infirmary Sister of Redwall Abbey.” Sister Armel smiled again.
Holly could see that she wore a braided band on her left paw, and that she had a white scar running diagonally through her face. It ran from the right side of her forehead; over her left eye and cheek down to her chin. Mrs. MacBurl has seen some action! “I'm Hollyfire Thornblade, I prefer Holly.”
“As I prefer Armel, or Sister. As we are not in Redwall Abbey, I'd like Armel.” Armel turned back to Pinedance, who was groaning a bit.
“Wh-where am I?” Pinedance asked groggily.
“Hush, now dear, I just landed on you, took the wind out. Whereever were you going, so quickly?” Armel reached down into her satchel and Holly saw the flash of daggers. Why does she need to be so heavily armed? She wondered. She spoke her thoughts.
Armel gave her a look. “Dangerous beasts roam these woods. You roamed, yourself, before settling with your friend. You know the dangers.”
Pinedance pulled herself up from the branch, and swayed a bit. “I'm Pinedance Coneslinger, leader of the Coneslingers. A squirrel back at camp has 'important news'.”
Armel smiled. “Do you mind if I return with you? I've a mind to see the famous Coneslingers' camp. By the way, would you like a scone?”
“Why, thank you. But our camp isn't much, it's just a grouping of trees...” Pinedance and Armel walked together, but Holly lagged behind. Armel's words had unnerved her. Hated being reminded of her past, the words, You roamed yourself, before settling down with your friend. You know the dangers, frightened her, in a way. What's out there, that a Redwall citizen comes with twelve blades?

~*~&~*~%~

An ottermaid sat on the edge of the cliff, looking down into the dark, rushing river below. She was a half river, half sea otter with tannish fur and blue eyes. She was about fifty-two seasons old, thirteen years, and wore a grey tunic, complimented by a black swordbelt. Following its name, her swordbelt held a large sword, and a red strap, holding a quiver-full of red-fletched arrows and her longbow, looped over her shoulder. She was a dead-shot with arrows; her name was Segalia Riverstorm, leader of Holt Waveflow.
It's no use, Segalia. She's gone. The ottermaid thought to herself. Segalia stumbled to her feet, lurching forward, but catching herself before she fell over the edge. No beast could survive that fall.
Narrowing her eyes, fighting off tears, Segalia reached down for a stone. She threw it into the gorge, and listened. After about fifteen minutes of patient waiting, she heard a faint, so faint that she could almost have imagined it, plink!
No. No one could survive that. Segalia turned back towards the hill which led you off the clifftop. She saw the sea roaring on the other side of the cliff, and nodded once when she saw her boat, the Silver Falcon, was still there. As she climbed aboard, a squirrel, with light brown fur, green eyes, and a scar down one cheek, wearing a grey tunic as well, a black dagger-belt, and a light blue cloak, crawled over to her. “No sign of Laria, Segalia?”
The ottermaid shook her head. “Not at all, Ampanna. Are you sure you saw her go over the cliff edge?”
“I did not. Lijel and Nightpaw said they did.” Ampanna, shaking her head sadly, untied Silver Falcon and began to row it towards an island in the distance.
“Then we shall have to ask them.” Segalia settled back, watching the clouds.
“If she did, there's no use searching, is there?” Ampanna asked gently.
“No. It took fifteen minutes for a pebble to hit the river, and it was so faint... it might not've even hit anythin'. Although we will search.” Segalia said forcefully.
“Of course. As Laria would do the same for us.” The squirrel shipped oars as they coasted into the island.
Both Segalia and Ampanna just sat there for a few minutes after Silver Falcon had been tied to the dock. Then the ottermaid sighed. “Well...”
“Let's go ask Nightpaw or Lijel; she's not gone yet!” Ampanna, always optimistic, hopped overboard. She spluttered as she hit the water- although she lived with otters, the squirrel still did not feel at home in the water- and waded to the shore. Segalia followed, lost in memories of her friend Laria Wavedeep.

~*~&~*~%~

“Uhhhh...” Feeling black and blue all over, Laria Wavedeep rolled over out of the river onto a patch of rocks. “Ouch!” she groaned, and rolled back into the shallows. The water was cold, and bit into the wounds and bruises that she'd gained from her fall from the gorge, but it felt good, and the ottermaid lay there.
She was a normally-pretty young sea otter with sky blue eyes, dark brown fur with lighter chest fur and a white spot on her left forepaw. She was lean and tall, which her tattered green tunic complimented. Her brown belt lay next to her, on the patch of rocks, with her dirk and her sling hanging limp and wet from it. Her yellow bracelet, which belonged on her left paw, lay next to her belt. Her body was covered with bruises and cuts, and her right forepaw was bleeding into the water.
Laria vaguely wondered what had happened to her. All I remember is his face- aye, a leering, dark brown face, with green eyes; he was a pine marten, I think, or a stoat- then his sapphire-pommeled dagger at my throat... what did he say? Oh, “Jump, mon cheri, or zis dagger goez into ze thedoat.” And I'd thought he was so kind... then I'd reached for my spear and was aiming, and then I felt a shove, and I was flying... I remember the face of a tall, female rat with pale eyes and dark grey fur with black stripes, she was so worried, I remember her pushing the pine marten or the stoat after me... then I was falling and falling, then I was in the river...
Hey, if he fell, that he'd be here too! Laria sat up quickly, and her head spun. She felt her whole body throb, and she fell back into the water, letting her sight adjust. She groaned, and, very slowly, she sat up.
She gasped at the sight of the dark green-cloaked heap. Well, he's certainly a pine marten, Laria decided. But not just any pine marten. I had to have been pushed by Razgath the Mercenary!
As if the thought had awakened him, Razgath began to stir. He turned his dark brown face to the ottermaid, his green eyes staring coldly at her, and a passing breeze made his green beret and cloak stir around him, with his brown jerkin and belt, both sopping, hung on him, while his bola, whip, and sapphire-pommeled dagger limply stood from Razgath's belt. He smiled icily when he saw Laria staring at him. “Remembeh me, mon cheri?”
Laria growled, “How dare you push me off of Death Cliff? And then have the nerve to follow me down here to torture me, or to spit on my dead body?”
Razgath's smile faded. “Zat fool Waynalay, ze pushed me afteh you, mon cheri. A merzenary 'as t'do what a merzenary 'as t'do. I gets paid do keel beaztz, I wuz paid do keel yew, mon cheri. I haz failed, but I can suczeed in one mizzion.” The pine marten clapped his paws together. “Get hers.”
Three rats, swiftly moving from the shadows made from the sides of the gorge, approached the weakened ottermaid. “You are now the prisoner of Lord Macbeth Ravencliff.” One of the rats, although Laria couldn't see any of the them, spoke mechanically, and a distant voice in her head said, You've seen him before, haven't you, Laria?
Have I? She wondered, before she was blindfolded and handcuffed. “I hate you, Razgath! I swear I will kill you! I swear before all three of your cronies! I... umph!” The ottermaid was gagged roughly, as a musty rag was stuffed in her mouth.
Laria could hear Razgath sniggering. “No beazt can keel me, mon cheri. Enjoy yer stay wiv Macbeth.”
With that, Laria was dragged off, blindfolded, gagged, and locked in place by heavy chains, her thoughts cursing Razgath the Mercenary, her oath to kill him was fresh and burning in her mind.

~*~&~*~%~

A tannish, reddish-colored female fox stood in a sunny glade in the middle of Mossflower Woods. She had large, green eyes that were always alert (some even said that she slept with her eyes open), and was missing a right ear. She wore a light brown tunic and a dark brown belt, which held her rapier and sword; both were durable, yet flexible. Her name was Windflin Wildbrush, although she prefered Windy, and she was the well-known leader of her Horde, the Darkbringers.
Windy sucked in fresh air, and let it out slowly. “It's so nice, just strolling in Mossflower, without the troubles of bringing your Horde,” She sighed.
“So don' bother,” A voice from the bushes told her coldly. “You'll save all o'us the noise an'eadache o'yer visit.”
Windy looked around suspiciously. “Who's there!? Show yerself!”
A tall and skinny squirrelmaid stepped daintily out of the underbrush. She had a long scar running from the tip of her ear, across the middle of her cheek, and ending in the middle of her cheek, and a long quiver was strung across her back, full of finely-fletched arrows and her strong longbow. “Hi.” She said, glaring coldly at the fox.
“Who are you?” The contempt was obvious in Windy's sneer.
“I am Lady Yunzhi, that's Lady Yuni to you, scum.”
Windy growled, “Scum, hah! You name yourself, Loony. I am Windflin Wildbrush, that's Lady Windy to you.”
“Rather be Loony than scum, vermin. You have until the count of five to get out of my glen.” Lady Yuni took her bow and an arrow out, fitting the arrow to the bow. She aimed the arrow at Windy.
“It's not your glen, Loony. Mossflower belongs to nobeast.” Windy stretched as a cloud covered the sun.
“One. And I think you have the right to be warned- I never miss.” Lady Yuni blinked slowly and seriously at the fox.
Windy sat down with a bump. She plastered a grin on her face to mask the fear. “You can't hurt me, Loony.”
“Two.”
“You can't be serious!”
“Three.” Yuni certainly looked serious.
“You wouldn't kill me.”
“You. Are. Testing. My. Patience. I. Have. Warned. You. Get. Out. Now.” Yuni gritted her teeth. “I'm at Four. You don't want to see what happens at Five.”
“Fine.” Windy melted back into the background.
Yuni nodded once, and lowered her bow.
“Yarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” Startled, Yuni turned around in time to see Windy flying at her, with claws outstretched.
Eyes wide with fear, the squirrelmaid jumped backward, and shot an arrow at a stunned foxmaid. It missed, whistling by Windy's ear. The fox jumped up, growling. “You don't shoot at Windflin Wildbrush!”
“I just did, scum.” Yuni snarled. She grabbed at the bush that she had first appeared from, and reappeared with a sword. Shock flared in Windy's eyes briefly, but it was soon appeared with pure anger. She unsheathed her sword, and, calculatingly, she circled Lady Yuni. Suddenly, smiling inwardly, Windy gasped and fell over, making it look as though she'd fallen on her sword.
Yuni, grinning triumphantly, approached the fox, sword out. Windy's eyes flickered, and, before Lady Yuni knew what'd happened, she found herself against a tree, Windy's sword at her throat.
“Admit it- I can use your glade.” The fox's eyes gleamed evilly.
“Never!” One giant heave, and Yuni had Windy in a very awkward position. “Now, leave, before I kill you!”
The fox stood up, Lady Yuni slid off of her. Windy, who was cut in a few places, nothing very serious, but she knew she was weakened, snarled, “I'll be back, squirrel.” She began to fade into the trees, as the sun re-appeared.
“And I'll be ready.” Yuni snarled back.
Although the squirrel waited a little longer, Windflin Wildbrush did not return. At least, not that night.

Chapter Two- The Dark Soul of the Rangers

A black-haired, female ferret stalked around the old, burned-out camp of the Rangers. She had dull black eyes and wore a black dress with a grey cloak. She clutched her bow tightly in one paw, and her other was clenched tightly on an emeraldlike-shade-of-green-fletched arrowshaft. “You left me, Thorn! You broke your promise!” She cried out to the clouded sky.
Only silence answered her. “You broke yours, I break mine!” Screaming in anger, the ferret snapped the arrow, and tore off her grey cloak. She tore it apart. “I renounce my vows as a Ranger! I am no longer known as Stormcloud!” With each word, she ripped her cloak apart, until a pile of grey threads lay on the ground. In anger, the previously-named-Stormcloud stomped on them.
“I'm sick of being a goodbeast! I'm a caged murderer! I tried to be good, Thorn! But no longer! Call me Darksoul, and I hereby swear an oath to destroy all goodbeasts! Do you here me, Thornclaw Braveheart, leader of the fools known as Rangers? More like Scavengers! Hah! You will be known as “dead” when I'm done with you! You abandoned me! I was never a member of your foolish band! I, Darksoul, swear I will destroy all of the Rangers, and Thornclaw Cowardheart, or die trying!”
The ferret sneered, and her black eyes gleamed with a new, insane light. “You hear me, Thornclaw Braveheart? You have unleashed a terror on the world! Beasts will follow your name with a sob, you fool! Hero? Hah! You only wish! You are a mindless idiot! Call yourself a stoat? You are a disgrace to your family and species!”
Darksoul cackled happily as it began to storm. “And you're gonna be cowering with your band, won't you, Thorny? Does the widdle baby need his botwel? You are a coward, you hear me, Thornclaw? Go cower- there's no place in the world for you, you idiot, fool, you belong nowhere, nobeast'll trust you, you'll be an outcast everywhere you go, you'll rue the day you abandoned Darksoul! You'll beg to be killed! But I'll string out your guts and your organs, throwing your treasures to my followers and your remains to the crows! You hear me? You're dead, Thornclaw Braveheart!”

~*~&~*~%~

A tall female fox stood on the deck of her ship, Wintertide. She wore a red and black tattered leather jacket, the mark of a corsair captain, and a golden earring hung from one ear; the other had a ripped earring hole, as if someone had grabbed the earring and yanked it out fiercely. Her cutlass was visible under the leather jacket, in an easily accessible place, and a rapier was also visible, just to make her look fierce, although the fox tried not to ever use her rapier.
The fox looked around, straining her eyes. No land was anywhere in sight, although there was a ship off to starboard. She sighed. More plunder? The corsair wondered.
“Captain Merlot?” A wheezy voice from behind the fox made her turn around.
The speaker was a short rat, who wore a black tunic and a red cloak. He also had an earring, but not a tattered ear, and he had a dagger belt, which did its job by holding all manner of hilts. The rat held The Chest, which was a large and heavy, symbolic, empty oak-wood chest that Merlot used for raids. The crafty pirate fox would “trade” with the other party, by giving them the chest in return for a full chest. Naturally, the other party would be quite mad when they found out how Merlot had cheated them, and her corsairs, loyal to a “T”, would return later go gather more plunder, and rub in the defeat. They would also recover The Chest.
“Yes, Maran?” Merlot had a bit of a masculine voice, but enough feminine lilt was in it to define her gender, if one had never met her before.
“Ship off to starboard of Wintertide. Trading ship from Guosim headquarters. Cwyru gave orders to prepare The Chest. We go to trade tonight.” Maran did his best to salute, but, as The Chest slipped from his paws, he steadied it in alarm and contented himself and his captain with a mere bow.
“Who's on Steering Duty?” Merlot asked.
“Cwyru, Captain.” Cwyru was Merlot's second mate, a sly, handsome corsair fox. He and Merlot shared the power on the ship, although, since it was Merlot's ship, she was the Captain.
“Tell him that I approve. Fill The Chest with anything rubbishy you'd like- this is our chance to be rid of it all. Those Guosim will throw it all around, and, when we regain The Chest, I'll be willing to bet that it'll all be gone.” The fox nodded. “You may set The Chest in the Mess Hall, open, where all of our loyal crewbeast can place the items they wish to be rid of. And send Cwyru to me. You are dismissed, Maran.”
The rat nodded, and steadied The Chest again in his short paws. “As you wish, Captain Merlot.” Swaying as he walked, Maran thought, We are lucky we're not the Guosim!

~*~&~*~%~

Extracted from the writings of Sister Kailee Windscutt, recorder and hare-guardian of Redwall Abbey in Mossflower:
It's a lovely evening at Redwall, wot! As the sun sets and the fireflies began to twinkle, as the moon and stars rise and the sky is painted pastel-like, it makes me so proud to know I live at Redwall; and it makes me proud to be free.
Anyway, enough of my flippin' foolish reviews, wot! Sister Armel Macburl, the brave Infirmary Sister, left the Abbey the other day, returnin' a bit later with the news that danger is abroad. “Which danger?” Abbot Crondyk asked. But Armel wouldn't tell. She left a few days ago, and hasn't come back yet. She was to scout around the area, and maybe even pay a visit to good Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe, the current Lord of Salamandastron.
Speak of badgers, we were paid a visit by one only last week! A large fellow, with scars, tattoos, and a blue stripe down his back! He begged to be pointed the direction to Salamandastron, which we happily showed him. Said he was Bluestripe the Wild, and he needed to get to the mountain before another badger fellow named Kytrae Wingblade did. Kytrae himself stopped for a breather the same night after Bluestripe had left. Kytrae was a big, silver, rough fellow. He demanded that we hand Bluestripe over, and it took all of good Abbot Crondyk's patience to tell him that Bluestripe had gone. He growled loudly when he heard this, and demanded provisions for his journey. Friar Muno, the cook, had to explain that we were in the middle of a famine, and we have no more food to spare; especially after Major Peony Laminar's regiment and Bluestripe both came through, Peony's regiment a few days before Bluestripe. I don't know who Kytrae thinks he is, but he flippin' well threatened good ol'Friar Muno!
“Give me good, you fat ole excuse for a mouse!” He snarled. Then faithful Skipper Riverstreak came in with Log-a-log Tarno, and Kytrae finally left. But, as he left, he said something that made all of us listening, that would be Skipper Riverstreak, Log-a-log Tarno, Abbot Crondyk, Friar Muno, and I, freeze. “I have powerful allies!” He roared like a beast demented. “I will wreck havoc on your foolish Abbey, and we'll see who experiences a famine then!”
Oh, well, demented badgers will be demented badgers, I suppose. Bluestripe beat Kytrae to Salamandastron anyway, so good Bluestripe the Wild shall rule after Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe. But it leads me to wonder where Kytrae Wingblade will go off to...
Well, pardon my leave, I must go and help Brother Hethro with the harvest; that squirrel cannot handle the whole orchard on his own. Besides, there's nothing like fresh fruit, straight out of the orchard... er, in a pie, that is! Well, farewell until next time!
-Written by Sister Kailee Windscutt, recorder and hare-guardian of Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Country.

Kailee Windscutt got up from her Recorder's bench and stretched. She was a light grey hare, with blue eyes rimmed with glasses. She wore a mid-length, light blue dress with a yellow sash from shoulder to hip. She also wore a black belt with her knife, a kitchen knife called the Carrot Chopper, thrust into it. It really is too nice of a day to spend indoors, she thought, as she looked out the window into the bright sunshine. She stretched again, and headed out the door, towards the Redwall Abbey orchard.

~*~&~*~%~

A weasel and a fox stood side by side, gazing up at Redwall Abbey from the shelter of Mossflower Woods. Both were thieves; both had their eyes on the prize of all of the riches in the Abbey.
The weasel was obviously in charge. He had pitch black fur and glinting black eyes. He wore a dark cloak and his head with hooded with that cloak. He had his knives and daggers hidden inside his cloak; he knew how to use them.
The fox was white, with black eyes and a long black stripe down his back, like an arrow, that widened as it neared his tail, which was pure black. He also had black paws, and a black stripe down his muzzle. He, too, wore a black cloak and hood, even though it was really too warm for a black cloak, and his weapons, a large axe, were hidden under his cloak as well, although strapped on his back.
“Were waiting fer night.” The weasel growled in an undertone. You never can trust those Mossflower bumpkins.
“But Umbar,” the fox began.
“Silence!” Umbar, the weasel, commanded. “I'm in charge, yew have no right t'question me orders, Sarren!”
Sarren bared razor sharp fangs. “An'oo put yew in charge, weasel?”
“Me brawn an'muscool, foxy.” Umbar growled, but then pumped his arm to show his muscles.
“I'll give yew brawn and muscool, ye ole weasel!” Sarren snarled, jumping at Umbar. With one whomp!, the fox's axe was out, and swinging for the weasel-thief. Clank! The impact sent them both flying apart, as Sarren's arm vibrated and the dagger went flying out of Umbar's paws. They crashed into trees, and lay still for a few minutes.
Stirring groggily, Sarren, very blurry, saw Umbar standing and regaining his dagger. Muscles screaming, the fox did the same with his axe. Both swaying, they turned to face each other. Suddenly Umbar dropped his dagger. “Were fightin' stoopidlike, Sarren. Wotsay we call it a draw?”
“Aye. But yew not my orderer!” Sarren dropped his axe. “Now, tis nearly noontide. We got a while 'fore night. I'm sleepin'.”
“Aye, me too.”
The fox crawled over to a shady tree, and lay down. Within moments, he was snoring loudly.
Grr... Umbar thought, as he found sleep next to impossible because of Sarren's snores. Silently, Umbar drew his dagger, stood up, and tiptoed over to Sarren. The weasel threw the knife into the fox's chest- while he wasn't sure if it hit his heart, it would surely kill him eventually, for he couldn't move- and crawled back over to his place. He still couldn't sleep, for all of Sarren's labored breathing.
Fine! I'll attack Redwall now! The weasel packed his stuff- not much- and headed in the direction of the Abbey... leaving the fox behind.

~*~&~*~%~

Abbot Crondyk, a tall, thin, old mouse with grey fur and spectacles that framed wise green eyes, let out a loud sigh. His silver tunic flapped in the breeze, and he was throughly enjoying his walk. Redwall is fine, but sometimes you need to get out and experience the world. He thought.
“Huh, ha. Huh, ha.” The Abbot was shocked at the strange breathing noise he heard. “Huh, ha. Huh, ha.”
Intrigued, the mouse turned off the path into the trees. He found a strangely-marked fox laying there, a knife very near his heart. He is vermin- doubtlessly he's killed somebeast. But I have a duty as Abbot of Redwall. I must return him to the Abbey. Sister Armel returned this morning... surely she'll fix him, then we can send him back.
The Abbot rushed a bit to return to the Abbey, and met Kailee Windscutt, the Abbey recorder and hare-guardian, at the gates. “Kai! Fetch Sister-Armel.” He panted.
“Yes, sir.” Kailee, after propping the Abbot against the gate, returned a few minutes later with Sister Armel, the infirmary sister, and Dopple, a mole babe that had insisted upon coming too. Dopple was grey with blue eyes and he wore a sticky yellow habit.
“What's wrong, Father Abbot? Coughing? Sprained paw?” Armel asked, after sweeping Dopple off of her.
“Not me. There's a fox in the woods, with a knife near his heart.”
“Burr, hurr comes ze weasely, hurr hurr!” Dopple suddenly exclaimed.
“It's our duty as Redwall Citizens to protect the hurt and the injured.” Abbot Crondyk whispered to Armel, and Kailee called to the weasel below, “Ahoy! What do you wish at our great Abbey?”
“Kai, it's-” Armel began.
“Shush!” Kailee snapped. “Sorry, Sister, but-”
“Please!” Abbot Crondyk muttered, as he strained his ears to listen to Umbar's response.
“Thar's a yondeh fox in the woods, bewarr of him! He is dangerous!” The weasel warned, barely keeping from laughing.
“With a knife in his heart?” Kailee called back.
“Then you have seen him?”
Kailee gestured to Abbot Crondyk and Sister Armel. “Go, out the back way. Dopple an' I'll keep this fella busy.” She patted the molebabe on the head. “Mayhaps we have, mayhaps we haven't. What did you do with him?”
“He tried to kill me!” Umbar replied, not noticing the mouse and the squirrel coming around behind him.
A few minutes later, Abbot Crondyk and Sister Armel had returned with Sarren to find that Kailee and Umbar were still conferring, although much less politely.
“Have a good evening, vermin. You'll never breach our Abbey walls!” With those final words, Kailee entered the Abbey again.
“Oh, yeah? We'll see about that, rabbet.”

~*~&~*~%~

A tannish-colored field mouse with caramel eyes sat down among the reeds in the marsh. He wore a green tunic for camouflage and a brown cloak. His dagger and other weapon, a tube and darts, were hidden on the field mouse, where only he knew. He yawned.
Suddenly he heard a little squeak, “Help me, sir! Or I shall surely die.”
The field mouse stood up and looked around. “Where are you?”
“Over here!” The squeaks grew fainter.
The mouse searched harder, looking all over the marshes. “Put something up! A stick or something!”
The reply was faint. “I'm... gonna... try...” Suddenly a big branch swayed in front of the mouse. “See it?”
“Yes.” The mouse began to half-jog over to where the voice was. Suddenly it commanded, “Stop! I don't wanna you to fall in too!”
The mouse stopped, and noticed the squelching mud. In the center of it was a dark colored squirrel, but the mouse didn't know if that was mud or true coloring.
“What's your name?” The mouse called.
The squirrel was silent for a while, then called back, “I don't have one! Do you?”
“I'm Gonff the Thief, Prince of Awesomeness.”
The squirrel grinned.
“Can you get that stick again, and hand me one end?” Gonff asked the squirrel.
He leaned over, and Gonff knew that half his waist was submerged in the mud, and sinking fast. Struggling, he finally lifted the stick in triumph. Gonff grinned.
The mouse grabbed the end of the stick, and ran backward with it. Soon, though, Gonff himself was slipping back into the swamp. This won't do, old buckler. Gonff told himself. He strained harder. There was suddenly a pop! noise and the end of the stick went limp, lying in the muddy water. Bubbles rose where the squirrel had been a few seconds ago. Gonff let go of the stick, letting it sink back into the swamp, and collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. Suddenly he jumped back up again. “Where are you?”
“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” splash! The squirrel sailed overhead and out of sight with a splash.
Gonff, cautiously, ran over to where the squirrel had disappeared in time to see him splashing around in a clear pool of water. The mouse jumped in and wallowed a bit too, before he and the squirrel turned to each other.
The squirrel was indeed a dark brown shade, and he had deep, black eyes, and a soaking-wet green tunic lay, drying in the sun, on a rock nearby. He had only a small dagger belt there, and it had one dagger and one knife, but Gonff had no doubt that the squirrel knew how to use them.
“I need to name you.” The mousethief said.
“I owe you thanks for my life, mouse thief.” The squirrel nodded, then kicked water into his face.
Spluttering, Gonff thought happily, This is my kinda fellow! “How about... Dusk?”
“Dusk?” The squirrel froze, mid-waterkick. “As-as a name?”
“Yeah. It suits you.”
“Uh, alright...” Dusk frowned, and looked both ways quickly.
Ignoring him, Gonff played a bit longer, then crawled out of the bank of the left side, the opposite one that he'd jumped in on. “Wait!” Dusk cried, jumping out of the pool and running to push Gonff back into the water, but it was too late. The adders already had them trapped.

Chapter Three- The Prophecy

“Arka Wavetide, get over here. Segalia'll be back soon, an' I'd 'ate fer 'er t'see ye like this, darlin'.” A sleek, dark brown otter called. His eyes gleamed a goodnaturedly-green, and his tunic, wet and sopping as he knelt in his small fishing boat, hung limply, although it was a dark blue.
The air was smooth and clear; there were clouds, but they were just a fluffy white-silver color. The sky, a deep blue, was reflected in the lake, and the otter could even see his reflection as he knelt in his friend Arka's fishing boat.
A creamy brown ottermaid with a long wavy grey stripe down her back, a scar on her left forepaw and her left cheek, and shining green eyes popped her head out of the smooth lake water. “I can' really get out now, can I, Meira? You have my tunic and belt!”
Meira looked down into the boat. “I do?” He grinned as he saw his friend's carefully folded white tunic, with the fringe of the green cloak beneath showing, and a dagger belt folded on top. “Ah. I do. Why don't you just get out?”
Arka gave him a belittling look. “Because, fishbrain, you're not my mate, you're a friend, and I have too much pride to get dressed in front of you. Throw the cloak and the tunic in. I'll get the dagger belt after I crawl into the ship.”
“But darlin'! If I throw them in, they'll get wet.” Meira gasped, picking up her tunic and surprised by how warm it felt.
“Oh, never mind then. I'll melt if I get wet.” Arka rolled her eyes. “Please, hon, just throw them in. I'll dry soon enough in this sun.” She glared up at the sun, and noticed that a few more clouds had formed. She frowned.
“You speak the truth, darlin'.” Meira threw them at his lifelong friend. “Here ya go. Shore ye don' want the belt?”
“No one's gonna capture me between here and the Darkfire, honey. Don't worry.” Arka didn't splash much as she dove underwater and appeared next to her clothes. Within minutes, she was dressed. “Coming, Meira. I'll be there in a sec.”
She splashed again and appeared in front of Darkfire.
“Darlin', what'er ya doin'?” Meira's voice had evident worry in it. “We don' know these waters.”
The ottermaid's voice sounded a bit annoyed, although she didn't show it. “Don't worry, please. I'll be fine.”
A few moments later, Arka pulled herself out of the water, letting out a cascade of clear water from her tunic, and sat down next to Meira. “Go! Go!” she ordered, quickly setting down a bulging, tan-colored sack.
“What's that?” He nodded at the sack, but obediently picked up the oars.
Arka let out a sigh, and picked up her oars. After a few strokes, she sighed again. “Meira Lakesplash, you've known me ever since we were babes. You remember your family? I don't.”
Meira and Arka had lived in an old Holt, Holt Lutra. Arka's grandfather, Inbar Trueflight, and grandmother, Grath Longfletch, had revived it, and Arka's father had been the Skipper. Meira's father had been the second-in-command, and the two families had had a healthy friendship. But, a little after Arka's and Meira's births, a group of mercenary squirrels, led by Irzin the Fierce, had come, and, acting on another beast's will, had come and destroyed the entire Holt. All but the two babes and their mothers, Sayope Wavetide and Jurnpi Lakesplash. They had hidden the two babes, then they died together. The last memory Arka had of her mother was the last night they had all spent together. Oh, Jurnpi, the Holt survived everything through Grath. Can it stand with Ark an' Meir? Arka felt it could, and she was nearly sure that Meira felt the same.
Meira shook his head slowly. “I don't remember anything but blood, darlin'.”
Arka groaned. “Yes, me too.” She shipped her oars for a bit and gazed up at the somewhat-clouded sky. “But remember the legend in Holt Lutra- that a stoat would come to deliver us in our darkest hour? I think that it is finally time for an ancient prophecy to come true. Surely there is no darker time that this?”
Meira shipped his oars too, and let them glide along a bit. “Grath felt the same, I am sure.”
“Aye. But Grath made the prophecy.” Arka turned to gaze at Meira with wide green eyes. “What was his name?”
Meira's green eyes gazed back just as intently. “Thornclaw Braveheart, I believe. Ah, here we go. Home at last!”
“Wait a minute. This isn't Holt Lakewander!” Arka frowned.
“Yes it is!” Meira exclaimed. “Don't you remember? Segalia moved it!”
“No. This isn't the new Holt Lakewander, either.” Arka shook her head, as she gazed at the trees and barren rocks. The sun went behind a cloud, giving a strange shine to everything, especially the Holt cave.
Meira, starting to get a bit aggravated because he was beginning to feel that Arka was right, growled, “Prove it, then.” He sat back down in the boat.
“Segallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllia!” Arka called. If she's here, she'll answer.
No answer.
“Anybody?” Arka called again.
Still, no answer.
“I'm going in there.” She stood up, worry clouding her eyes and her judgment.
“No!” Meira attempted to pull her back down again, to no avail. “Arka, darlin', I was kidding. I'm sure they're just out for a bit...”
“Then there's no danger, is there, honey? Just let me, please. Come with me if you don't want me to go alone.” Arka Wavetide gazed clearly into her best friend's eyes.
“I shall, then.” Stepping out of the boat and into the swamps, the two otters headed, side by side, towards the Holt Cave. When they got there, Arka entered first. She gasped. In front of them was a dead otter, with fifteen words written above the dead otter on the wall, in blood, reading:

Help us! Macbeth Ravencliff has us for prisoners. Silverfalcon Pikehawk will help you. -Segalia Riverstorm

Arka gasped, and clung to Meira. “It's happened!” she choked out, hoarsely.
He wrapped her in his arms. “What has?”
She buried her face in his neckfur and sobbed. “The-the other half-of... the...the prophecy.” She coughed. “You know, One Will Be Destroyed, The Other Dismantled; Then Thorn Claws Will Save Both, Aided With The Ark, The Mirror, and The Falcon.”
“That would be you two, Thornclaw Braveheart, and I,” said a cold voice from behind them. Arka and Meira whirled, still holding each other, to see an older otter standing there. He had falcon-brown fur, was tall and lean, and gold eyes gleamed from his face. He wore a white outfit, and, this is what really amazed Meira, he was so heavily armed, that both otters were shocked that he could even walk, let alone swim. He had eight long swords hanging from a sagging black belt at his waist, although the blades nearly dragged on the ground, multiple daggers, dirks, knives, stilettos and many throwing implements also hung alongside the daggers. Another sword also hung from the belt, and another was in the otter's hand. A quiver of grey-fletched arrows were slung on his back, along with a longbow. A five-and-a-half-foot claymore was also poking up past the otter's shoulder. “I am Silverfalcon Pikehawk, veteran of the Mossflower War. Excuse me for eavesdropping, but I must ask, are you two really from Holt Lutra?”
“Yes, sir, we are.” Meira looked both ways before bowing to Silverfalcon, releasing Arka at the same time. “I am Meira Lakesplash.”
“And I am Arka Wavetide. I must ask, sir, how you snuck up on us. I thought my protector was protecting me.” She shot Meira an accusing look.
The otter chucked. “Darlin', Silverfalcon cannot be heard. He appears when he wants, where he wants.” He tsked. “If you'd payed attention at school, you would've known that.”
Arka shrugged. “School's for misbehaving in. Had I known that I would one day meet the great Silverfalcon Pikehawk, well... I'd've payed more attention that I did.”
Silverfalcon grinned. “You can all call me Silver. Thank you, Meira, he's quite right, you know. And I must say thank you to you too, Arka. I can see your grandparents in you.”
“You knew my grandparents?” She asked eagerly.
“Heck no. But I heard enough about them... Skipper Frenpur was my father, you know.” Silver looked at them, a little sadly, a little distantly.
Arka gaped at him. “Th-then, you're my... my brother.” Her voice was low and quiet.

~*~&~*~%~

A tall, lean brown half-sea, half-river otter popped out of the bushes, the moonlight gleaming on his sleek fur. He glanced around the vermin camp he had been watching, and, seeing no sign of a sentry, he continued to search. The otter was fierce looking, with his sharp eyes and Juska markings. There were blue lightning bolts down each cheek, an orange stripe from his forehead to his chin, and two black dots above his eyes. He wore green shorts that ended above his knees, held up by a black belt, which also held his twin assassin's daggers- one had an amber hilt with a sapphire, the other had a black hilt with an emerald. The otter held his sapphire-pommeled one and idly twirled it in his right paw as he scanned the camp.
“Rorc!”A voice hissed from behind. The otter ignored it, believing it to be a figment of his imagination.
“Rorc Nightblade!” It was a bit louder now.
Hellsteeth, be quiet! thought Rorc angrily. He whirled around, dagger pointed at the bushes where an otter's head popped out. “What?” he barked roughly.
The otter looked taken aback. It was only then that Rorc noticed the falcon-brown fur and the golden eyes. “I have the Two.”
“Good. And Silverfalcon?” Silver, who was turning away, turned back, and saw Rorc looking at the ground. He guessed what was coming next.
“It's okay, buddy. I shouldn't've snuck up on ye like I did.” He turned back around and vanished into the bushes, returning a few moments later with Arka and Meira.
“This is Arka Wavetide and Meira Lakesplash; survivors of Holt Lutra and the offspring of the Holt's two best warriors. They are the ones in the prophecy; they will save Holt Lakewander and Holt Lutra, with the help of myself and Thornclaw.” Silver nodded at each otter as he introduced it. “Little 'uns, this is Rorc Nightblade, he is the protector of Holt Lakewander. You will go with him in your first mission, to save Laria Wavedeep.”
“Lar-what?” Meira asked, as if in a daze. “Mission? I don't get this whole 'prophecy' idea. So we revive our Holt, and regather your dismantled one. Why do we need a mission?”
Rorc groaned. “Hellsteeth, Silverfalcon! Why didn't you tell them? We can't waste time; Macbeth is just inconsistent enough with the guards to make me nervous.”
Silver smiled calmly. “Take a chill pill, Rorc. You see, Meira, it will be no easy task saving Holt Lakewander.” He began to back into the undergrowth.
“It won't? Why not?” The otter's eyes were huge.
Silver's grin faded a bit. “Because there's a curse on the Holt. Good luck, little one. You will need it.” With those cheerful parting words, Silverfalcon Pikehawk was gone.
“A...a curse?” Arka's voice shook a bit.
Rorc was staring, a bit disgustedly, at the spot where the otter warrior had vanished. He shook his head to clear his vision, then turned back to the frightened young otters. “Don't pay him any mind.” Rorc established a brisk pace, and Arka and Meira followed, doing their best to keep up with him as silently as they could, as the three weaved their way through the sleeping vermin camp towards a flickering light.
“Rorc?” Arka ventured.
There was no answer from the impassive otter, but the ottermaid pressed onward tentatively. “Will we ever see Silver again?”
“He'll show up again somewhere, somehow, when we least want him.” Arka wasn't sure if Rorc was joking or not; his face revealed nothing.
“Oh, okay.” She fell silent again, straining her senses for a sound or a movement.
Suddenly, she and Meira were both pushed into a bush. “Shhhh!” Rorc hissed. “Just be quiet, and come when I say, 'I have the prisoners, you fool!' Oh, and be nice to the rat. She's on our side. Got it?”
“Yes.” Meira said as he helped Arka into a sitting position.
Unable to see anything, the two otters, Arka with her head on Meira's shoulder, listened to Rorc as he confronted the guards. There was no doubt about it, the prisoners were in there. Meira thought, as figured that there was probably some tent behind the bright light.
“Wot de yer want, streamdawg?” A suspicious vermin voice asked.
Rorc's voice was pitched a tone higher than normal, and sounded almost like Meira's. “I has de prizonerz!”
Arka tensed up, but no 'you fool' followed. She relaxed against Meira again, and the argument outside continued. “How can we trust yew, riverdog?” That was a second guard.
“Yeah, yew bein'un yerself.” Good gosh, three guards? Meira thought in surprise.
“I haz ze prisoners, yew fool!” Rorc snapped.
“Arrrrrr,” Meira cried, Arka following, and did their best to look like they were prisoners.
“Eh, now, where'd these beauties come from?” The third guard asked.
He was a big, brown fox with gleaming black eyes. He held a huge axe and wore a black cloak; the only part of his body visible was the tip of his brown tail, his brown muzzle, and his eyes.
The second guard was a tall, dark gray rat with pale eyes and black stripes. She wore a silver necklace with a purple stone, a grey outfit, and the required black cloak, along with a black belt, which held her twin long, silver knives; each had a hole in the middle and dark-colored hilts.
The first guard was a dumb-looking fellow, another rat, but this one had no sharpness at all about him. He was a dull grey with black eyes and a pink tail; he had a black streak down his neck. He wore all black, and only the end of a short dagger showed out of his belt. He looks pitiful. Meira decided, and it was obvious that the leader- What was his name? Oh, right. Macbeth Ravencliff.- thought the same.
“I told you; they were the escaped prisoners.” Rorc rolled his eyes, the picture of annoyance.
The fox narrowed his eyes. “Escaped prisoners? We didn'ear no such thing, did we, Blakstreek?” He nudged the dull rat.
“Eh, wotsit? No, no we didn'!” Blakstreek shook himself as if he had just woken up.
“Mapo, go find Lord Macbeth. Tell him that we need rope.” The second guard called to the fox.
Mapo stared stupidly at her. “Wot?”
“That's what, Commander! Now get some rope and find Lord Macbeth!” She ordered, turning to Blakstreek. “And you... go to sleep.”
“But... Commander! I'm on guard duteh!” Blakstreek blinked a few times.
“Well, I'm your better, and I'm issuing orders! Are you disobeying orders?” The rat blinked to find a dagger blade tickling his neck fur.
“N-no, Commander.” The rat backed away, and soon was gone. The other rat turned to the three, and was stunned to find Mapo still there. “Go!” She snapped, and he blinked as well, and soon was gone.
Something's up. Mapo thought. He hid in the surrounding bushes, and watched.
As soon as the rat was sure that everyone was gone, she smiled. “I'm Commander Waynalay Dragoon, the Commander of the Prisoners in Lord Macbeth Ravencliff's Horde.” She leaned in closer, and whispered, “But I'm on your side of the war. The prisoners always escape, and poor ole me gets blamed.” She winked at Arka and Meira, who were picking themselves up and dusting each other off.
“Rorc. You know your job?” Waynalay asked, staring straight at the otter as she straightened up.
“Aye. Find Segalia and free the rest of the Holt.” Rorc nodded. “And Segalia's...”
“Right here.” Rorc, Arka, Meira, and Waynalay whirled around to see a semi-shadowed, tall half-sea, half-river ottermaid standing there. She had tannish-fur and blue eyes, and she wore a black cloak and a black belt, for camouflage. Her belt held something that looked to Meira, the self-pronounced “weapon expert”, like a sword, and she had a quiver of red-fletched arrows and her longbow slung over her shoulder. “Ready, Commander.”
Arka gasped. “B-but, I thought you-you were... captured?”
Segalia Riverstorm grinned at her. “I was. You can't stop Waynalay when she's 'ad 'er mind stuck on summat.” Arka frowned, and, seeing her confusion, Segalia rephrased, “She freed me.”
“Ah.” The ottermaid nodded, and stepped a little bit closer to her friend. Meira squeezed her paw, but his eyes never left Rorc, who was talking.
“And you two know what you're doing?” He asked Arka and Meira.
The two exchanged looks, then admitted, “No. Not really.”
Segalia nodded, and shifted position so she was next to Rorc, and next to the two younger otters. “Laria Wavedeep, I'm sure you've heard of her, legend that she is?” They nodded mutely. “Well, Rorc and I have our hands full with freeing the rest of my Holt, that's Holt Lakewander. And Waynalay here has to continue to play the part of being Macbeth's pawn. So we need you two to go find Laria. We have no idea where she is, but, very likely, she'll be with a pine marten named Razgath the Mercenary. He's very inconsistent, like Macbeth, and is known to sometimes not sleep. So beware.”
“Actually.” Waynalay stated, edging a bit closer to the two. “Laria is in the woods, surrounded by Ganal's henchmen. Her execution is set for tomorrow- so go swiftly and quietly, for if they find you... well... I'd hate to have to get Silver to come in.” Out of the corner of her eye, the pale rat saw Rorc roll his eyes. She grinned inwardly. They won't fail. I can feel it. “Rorc would be devastated if he had to call on Silverfalcon Pikehawk for help.”
The otter froze. “W-what? I didn't say anythin' o'the sort! Where'd ye ever get that idea, eh?”
Waynalay grinned, but didn't reply. “Laria is a tall and lean ottermaid, with brown fur and white patches on various parts of her, like her chest, namely. She's wearing green, I think, and she won't be asleep. You have weapons?”
Arka patted her dagger belt. She had one or two throwing daggers in it. Meira pulled back his cloak, revealing a few hundred knives. Arka's eyes went wide. He... was protecting me. She felt light-headed, for some strange reason. “Y-yes.” She muttered, as she recovered her mentality.
Waynalay nodded. “Good. Laria's belt is here.” The rat passed them a belt with a dirk and a sling attacked to it. “Give it to her, and she'll do the rest. Comprehend?”
“Yes ma'am.” Meira took the belt.
The rat nodded, smiling. “Good. Best of luck to you both. Rorc, Segalia, follow me.”
In the bushes, Mapo smiled. I must inform Lord Macbeth! The thought roared in his mind as he rushed away, towards his Lord's tent.

~*~&~*~%~

A big rat leaned over and spat into the dying fire. “Arrr, night in Mossfler! Ain't nuttin' lack it.” He was tall and lean, dark grey with black eyes, and he wore a huge black tunic that extended to the ends of both of his paws. He wore a black cloak as well, and carried a huge axe. “'Specially when ye got a prisner t'guard, arrr!”
“My Lord Ganal.” A tall, skinny white fox with dark black eyes came over and bowed to him. The fox wore black as well, but the rat, Ganal, knew that there was a long black arrow down his back, getting wider as it went down his spine until his tail was fully black. He also wore a black cloak, and had all manner of suspicious vials on his belt. “We have a visitor.”
“Arrr, so we do, do we, Whiteblaze? Who is it?” Ganal straightened up and stared into Whiteblaze's eyes.
“Her name is Shayra Darkblaze, raccoon lady with a score to settle with Thornclaw as well, my Lord. Shall I allow her to come see you?” Whiteblaze's eyes gleamed in anticipation.
“Warr is she now?”
“Torturing the prisner, my Lord, with Bloodthirsty and Freng.” Whiteblaze dipped his head again.
Ganal pulled up his black hood, and looked much like the grim reaper. “She's torturin' mah prisner? Prepare the Rope!” The Rope, a long-dead mamba snake, had some of the most deadly poison in the world in her fangs. Ganal used her for the most painful deaths.
Whiteblaze's white fangs glinted in the dying firelight. “Yes, my Lord.” With another bow, he headed off towards the Rope's chest, then carried it to his master.
Shayra Darkblaze was a tall, beautiful warlady raccoon, with the typical mask and glittering green eyes. She wore a dark green tunic and a royal blue cloak, and, in her left paw, she carried a long spear with a barbed head and she also wore a black belt with a short sword in it- The Executioner.
Ganal found her near Laria, the beautiful ottermaid that Lord Macbeth had given to him to keep. She was tethered to an oak tree, and Shayra was doing her best to provoke the ottermaid. “You fool!” she hissed. “Call yourself a legend, letting yourself get captured by that brainless rat, Ganal, and that idiot Macbeth?”
Gagged, Laria couldn't reply.
“Oh, I'm an idiot, am I?” Shayra whirled as Ganal stood there, axe in one paw, the Rope in the other, and Whiteblaze standing beside him, twirling a poisoned dagger aimlessly.
“Whiteblaze!” Shayra called.
Ganal turned, frowning, to his accomplice. “How does she know you?”
The fox smirked at Ganal, and marched over to Shayra's right paw. “You fool; I am Shayra's right paw! And you thought I was yours.”
Ganal felt his eyes glaze over with a black fire, and he became deadly calm. “Come now, Whiteblaze, surely you don't want to be on that end of the deal? You know that I never lose.”
“Shore you do, an'I dun'wanna lose.”
“You already have.” With one lunge, the Rope's fangs were in Whiteblaze's heart. He blinked a few times, then grinned.
“I'll be back, Ganal, with my kin. They will hunt you forever, grasping for your blood and flesh. You'll never rest. Gah!” With one, last, strangled sound, the fox keeled over, pain and torture all over his face as his eyes glazed with death.
Ganal kicked his carcass to one side. “Fool. I told him, I never lose. What do I care if a bunch of foolish white fox cubs are chasing me? Hah! I'll bet he doesn't even have kin.”
“He wouldn't have said it if he hadn't meant it.” The light voice came from behind. Ganal whirled around to see Shayra standing there. “Deathbed words aren't to be taken lightly.”
“Oh, so now you have infinite wisdom, eh? You want me to bow to you, “m'lady”? If we're gonna talk, we're gonna do it my way. We're gonna go to my tent, aye, I have a tent, I'm the right paw of my Lord Macbeth Ravencliff, and we're gonna talk civilized-like.”
As they prepared to go, Shayra said softly, “I'm sorry about your accomplice. Had I known that would happen... well, when I recruited him, he said he was a wandering mercenary. I'm sorry, truly I am.”
Ganal gave her a long look, then growled gruffly, “S'alright. He needed to die anyway. Seen an'eard too much.” With that, the two marched off into the woods.
Laria, who had seen it all, suddenly nodded, and Arka and Meira sprang out of the bushes. “You were right!” Arka exclaimed, as they untied Laria. “They are teaming up.”
“Good, because Macbeth is planning a mass-slaughter tomorrow- his horde as well as the prisoners. He dudn't like th'hole 'Horde' idea. Prefers himself.” Laria stated, rubbing her sore, blood-lacking paws together.
She is pretty... Meira thought. But too old for me. I'll stick with Arka. He looked for a long time at his friend. But she doesn't like me back.
As they dove into the bushes, Arka in turn looked for a while at Meira. He really is handsome. Rorc is too old for me, and I'd stay with Meira anyway... but he doesn't like me back.

Chapter Four- Warning or Ambush?

“Corporal March! Find me Private Dawnsorrow!” A tall, lean lieutenant haremaid ordered. She had a long scar running across her face, from her right eye to the left side of her jaw, making her look fierce, and, quiet frankly, scary. She also had a scar on the bottom of her footpad, making her limp sometimes. Her green eyes were bright, never missing anything, and she wore a long-sleeved, green-and-brown tunic. She wore a leather belt around her waist with a satchel on the side for provisions, and she wore another belt that went over her right shoulder and around her left hip, like a sash. A scabbard was attached to it, hanging down her back, and a huge scimitar was thrust in it. She was Lieutenant Perrylane Rigglejaw Mugsworthy, and she was as fierce a warrior as the next hare in line; probably more.
Another, smaller hare saluted her. “Yes ma'am, Lieutenant Perry, ma'am!” He was Corporal March Stutterin Usagi Bosworth Ejecutar, or Corporal March. He was a young hare with brown fur and hazel-colored eyes; he wore a baby-blue tunic with a leather belt that he had stolen from some vermin a few years ago; his belt held his dirk, and he carried his staff with him most of the time, however, he didn't have it on him now. “Wot shall I tell her?”
“That the new badger lord is approaching.” Perry turned back to the window she had been looking out.
March's eyes widened. “Then... shouldn't we fetch Major Peony as well?”
“No.” The automatic answer surprised them both, even though it was well known that Peony Laminar and Perrylane did not get along very well. “Actually... yes. Tell her that three o'clock is correct, and send Hemrut to me as well.”
“Yes ma'am, Lieutenant ma'am.” Automated as well, the corporal saluted again, and marched out of the chamber.
A few moments later, he reappeared in the doorway with three hares. One, Private Dawnsorrow Whopplescoffer, was a tannish-hair with a white tail and a white underbelly. She gripped a long javelin in her left paw, and the point grazed the end of her long silver tunic.
The second, Major Peony Laminar, was a petite hare. She was dark brown with sharp grey eyes, and she wore a light green tunic. She also had a black belt, with her rapier in it.
The third hare, Hemrut Braeblade, was in his upper “middle-seasons”, although most called him old, and he had white fur and dark blue eyes. He wore a clean blue uniform, and a monocle was in his right chest pocket, along with a few hidden knives and daggers.
Corporal March saluted Perry. “I have them, Lieutenant, ma'am.”
“Thank you. You may go.” She dismissed him, and he saluted and left.
“Now,” Perrylane began. “You may be wondering why I called you-” she glanced distastefully at the Major- “Of all hares to come here. Well, I don't know if March told you, but the new badger lord is swiftly approaching.”
“What is wrong with our current lord, Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe?” Hemrut asked stiffly. He was known for his loyalty to anyone in higher ranks than him- which wasn't many. He didn't even have a rank, his rank was so high!
“Nothing is wrong with Lord Trawnbull.” Perry replied. “But, we have to face it, Hem, he's getting older. Not that there's a thing wrong with getting older, but, as history proves, Lord Trawnbull needs to train a young badger while he can.”
“But why tell us?” Dawnsorrow, or Dawn, as she preferred, asked.
Perry sighed, glanced out the window at the lumbering shapes in the distance, and looked back. “Lord Bluestripe is, or soon will be, our master. We owe it to him to protect him.”
“Yes.” Dawn agreed. “But a fine badger lord he'll make if he cannot even make it 'ere, wot!”
Peony Laminar nodded. “He can take care of himself.”
Perry shook her head, a half-smile on her lips. “Ah, but he can't if he gets attacked in his sleep.”
“A fine badger lord he'll make if he leads the enemies to our doorstep.” Dawn replied hotly. She was known for pressing a point, if given the leverage to press it.
Perry gritted her teeth, reaching into her stock of Lieutenant-patience which she often was forced to use. “He. Does. Not. Know. That. He. Is. Being. Followed. He. Does. Not. Know. That. He. Will. Be. Ambushed. He. Does. Not. Know. That. He. Has. An. Enemy.”
Dawn looked taken aback. “Th-then, how do you?”
Perry smiled. “Because I look. And I see Bluestripe, heading for our mountain, and I see another badger, Kytrae Wingblade, following close behind. And I know, because I have fought against Ky a few times, that he knows he can't fight Blue outright.”
“So he'll take the cowardly approach. He'll ambush Bluestripe!” Peony crowed angrily, her eyes shining fiercely.
“Exactly.” Perry nodded coldly at Peony without looking at her, keeping her gaze firm on Dawn. “So we need to either warn Bluestripe, or, if your leader so wishes, you could ambush Ky yourselves. I would not recommend ambushing him, as he is a full-grown badger hell-bent on beating Bluestripe to the throne, but your leader is not known for making smart decisions.”
Peony. The name hung in the air. Peony will be our leader.
“I'm sure you all have guessed, but Major Peony Laminar will be your leader. You will leave later after an early supper. Hem... I'm sorry, old buck. You can go, or stay, it doesn't bloomin' well matter to me.” She lowered her voice as she watched Dawn and Peony packing up. “I think it would be wise if you did not go.”
“They need me, Perrylane. I will be their advisor. They need an advisor. Admit it. They are quite unruly.” Hemrut gave her a meaningful look.
“I shall be the first to admit it, Hem; but, much as it kills me to admit it, Peony has the guts to succeed in this mission. And, if she picks the “attack Kytrae” option, as I feel she will, then... well... you are too valuable an advisor and warrior to lose. Lord Trawnbull is not feeble yet.”
“Then why not send him out? Why send some fresh hares out to do the job of a seasoned warrior?” Hemrut asked, his voice icy. “If the mission means enough to you for you to send out a crew, then it needs to succeed. But if you do not wish me to go, I shall stay here.”
He dipped his head to the Lieutenant.
“But Hem! You can make your own decisions, don't forget.”
“Oh, that is something I shall never forget.” Hemrut winked at her. “I will stay here... but I will be on guard duty, and, if the slightest thing goes wrong, my dear, I will be out there fighting. You cannot stop me twice.” With that, he nodded in recognition to the high-ranking officer, then exited the chamber.
Outside the window, Kytrae had stopped for a minute, it looked like. But she was so high up, and they were so far away, that it was hard to tell, sometimes, if it was even Kytrae Wingblade at all.

~*~&~*~%~

Rorc Nightblade and Segalia Riverstorm, stealth in the night, slipped through Macbeth's camp. They knew, from Waynalay's direction, where everyone was kept, and she said that the guards were probably drunk anyway. Good. The pale rat herself was staying back there, Rorc and Segalia had tied her up and gagged her, and, when Mapo and Blakstreek returned, she was to tell them that the two otters had tied her up, taken after Laria (who they knew was free by now), taken the other two prisoners, which weren't ever really prisoners, and that she didn't know where they were.
Segalia elbowed Rorc in the stomach, interrupting his silent reflection of their full-of-holes plan, and pointed. Ahead, the light, which Waynalay had said was a bonfire for burning dead bodies because Macbeth was planning a mass slaughter tomorrow, but that the prisoners would be close by, giving them the feeling that they would be burned alive, was getting brighter. Rorc nodded, and the two dove into a bush, but continued their approach. Waynalay was right- there was one guard, and he was severely drunk.
Segalia stepped out of the bush, while Rorc crept around so he was behind the prisoners, and began to free them. “Excuse me, sir, but I have direct orders from Lord Macbeth Ravencliff to relieve you. You may go to bed.”
The guard was a skinny rat with dull black eyes and grey underfur and paws. He wore a grey tunic, with a daggerbelt chock-full of thorny leaves and with only one dagger, and a green cloak. He grinned, but it looked more like a very-toothy grimace. “Arrgh, pretty, I shaell in a momen'. Tell me, when's ol'Cap'n Maira sailing, eh?”
Segalia kept a straight face with an enormous amount of effort. “I am sorry, sir. I do not know. I am a Hordesbeast, not a corsair. And I am a low-ranking Hordesbeast. I am dreadfully sorry, sir.”
“S'fine. I'ma no'corsair, iver. I'ma goin't'bed now, ma'am.” The rat bowed to her. “G'night, m'lady.”
Segalia waved at him, then nodded to the bush. Rorc popped out. The two crawled over to where Holt Lakewander sat in a tight circle.
“Nightpaw, Dargen, Zora! Are you there?” Segalia hissed.
Three heads popped up. A male otter called, “Segalia? Is that really Segalia Riverstorm?”
“Aye, Nightpaw Streamspliter. Where's yer bonds? This is Rorc Nightblade, he's with me, he's gonna help me break ya out. Where is everyone?”
Nightpaw tried to stand up, and fell over. “I'm 'ere, Segalia.” “Rorc, you get Dargen Seadiver, over there, then Zora Foxtail.” Segalia nodded to two otters, side by side, who were bound tighter than normal together. “Then get anyone else ya can find. I'm gonna release Nightpaw, and we two can work much faster. Reminder- Go as fast as ya can, because once Mapo and Blakstreek return to Waynalay, game's up. Plus Macbeth or Razgath could be up at any time, so go silently too. The sea is that way, beyond the bushes.” Segalia nodded at to the right of the camp. “Unless you're Nightpaw, go as soon as you're released. Once we're done, Night, you follow Rorc. I want to make sure that Laria, Arka, and Meira got away.”
“Yore a fool if yew think that yore gonna do that alone,” Rorc said flatly. “Nightpaw can go, and I'll go with you.”
“No. We all go.” Nightpaw replied. “Free Dargen, Zora, and Nema first; they know where the longboats that Log-a-log let us borrow are hidden.”
“You heard him, Rorc. Get them, and, to everyone else, meet those three about five boatlengths from the shore. If, by some twist of fate, we get caught, go anyway. Don't worry about us. Get back to the Holt, and find Arka Wavetide, Meira Lakesplash, Laria Wavedeep, and Silverfalcon Pikehawk. They know what's goin' on. But it's important that you don't return fer us if'n we get caught. Do. You. Understand?”
“Yes, we do.” It was a soft chorus, led by the feisty Zora Foxtail.
“Good.” Segalia strode over to Nightpaw.
Nightpaw Streamspliter was a strong, swift river otter. He had a black paw, which he gained his name from, and he wore a vest, which held his daggers and sling, as well as a few pebbles for the sling. His paws were bound together, and he was tied to a tree next to Menga Streamspliter, his brother. Menga was a guard at Holt Lakewander alongside Zora. He was a tall and sleek half-sea, half-river otter, and he was very muscular. Menga had a black stripe running down his back to his rudder, and he wore a long tunic, almost like a dress, but he would NEVER call it a dress, which held Menga's daggers and throwing knives.
After a few moments of hard sawing, Nightpaw broke free. “Catch!” Segalia threw a knife at him. “Go free!”
Nightpaw caught it, surprised, then grinned. “Where're our weapons? Send Menga after them.”
“M'kay.” Within moments, Menga Streamspliter was free as well. “The weapons are in Razgath the Mercenary's tent, but go verrrrry carefully. After you get them, we'll probably still be here, so you can give them to us. Also...” Segalia, thinking hard, added as an afterthought. “If you can get in and get out with the weapons, and if you think that you can do so again without getting killed, then... well, by all means...”
“Kaell Raezgaeth?” Menga asked.
“Yep. Good boy.” Segalia turned back to freeing the otters.

~*~&~*~%~

Menga slipped into Razgath the Mercenary's tent, scouting around. It was a rather small tent, with the pine marten's cot in one corner. In the other, tunics and belts lay on the floor, and the only thing tidy about the room was the little chest in the left corner. Dodging strange-looking things, Menga weaved his way over to the chest. Razgath, sprawled on the cot, was snoring loudly. Hellsteeth, how he snores! The otter sneered silently.
Opening the chest, it was like opening the gates to an armourer's heaven. There were all of the captured Holt's knives, daggers, slings, swords, javelins, spears... it all. He hoisted the chest up on his shoulders, and silently thanked his brother Nightpaw for all of the boats he had had to move for him. Slipping out again, like a shadow, the otter hurried, as fast as he could with a chestful of blades on his shoulder. He arrived, panting hard, back to the spot where there was only three otters left tied; Nightpaw, Rorc, and Segalia were untying them. Menga dragged the chest into the clearing. “Here!” he snapped, his patience at wits end. He was ready to wreck the revenge on that Razgath the Mercenary.
“Everything went alright?” Segalia questioned, as she dove into the chest and came up with Menga's daggers, which she handed to him.
“Yes.” He placed the daggers into the empty sheathes.
Segalia handed Nightpaw his sling. “So... could you get at him?”
Menga smiled in a bloodthirsty way. “Yes. I go now. And... if I don't return... give Laria my love.”
Nightpaw smiled sadly. “I shall give it to her, although I know that you will give it to her yourself.”

~*~&~*~%~

A huge, scarred, tattooed badger with a blue stripe down his back let out a low growl. Storms! Just what I needed! Especially with that idiot Kytrae breathing down my neck, racing me to Salamandastron like he is. Bluestripe turned and checked behind himself. While he could here the huge silver badger, Ky wasn't in sight yet. Good. Bluestripe knew that he couldn't fight and beat Kytrae, unless it was in a battle of wits.
“I say, old chap, quite the fellow, ain't ye?”
Bluestripe glanced around himself, surprised. “Who's there?”
“It's me, Major Peony Laminar assisted by Private Dawnsorrow Whopplescoffer and Corporal March... er, Ejecutar. We're Salamandastron hares, sent by Lieutenant Perrylane.”
Bluestripe cocked an eyebrow. “Sent by a Lieutenant, Major? Aren't you a higher rank than her, and could therefore make your own calls?”
Peony scuffed her paw on the ground. “Yeah, I guess. But Perry's older, and I'm used to her bossing me around... I've not been a Major very long, m'Lord.”
“Hmm, I see.” Bluestripe did not see, but he didn't wish to argue with the hare anymore. “So, ol'Ky's gonna play a fast 'un on me?”
“Yessir.” Corporal March spoke for the first time. “You can come into the fortress with us, or we can fight.”
“I would prefer not to fight,” Dawnsorrow said, just as Peony said, “I would really prefer to fight.” The two glanced at each other, then looked back at Bluestripe.
“Wot she said.” March smiled. “If we attack, and are losing, Hemrut Braeblade is watching.”
Bluestripe's eyes went wide. “Hemrut Braeblade? The legend?”
“Aye, the very same. So it's really up to you, m'lord. Although if we attack, we must win.” Peony replied, shrugging off Hemrut's name as nothing more than... a name.
“Why do you call me that? M'lord? Isn't Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe still living?”
“Of course. But whichever of you, Kytrae or Bluestripe, gets to Salamandastron first will be the next badger lord.” Dawnsorrow's eyes were wide with anxiety at his choice.
Bluestripe's eyes widened too. “Then we must beat Ky there! Imagine, him as Lord.” He shook his head in disgust, then raised it again. “We must chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarge!” With that, Bluestripe took off running for the mountain, which was a blob in the distance.
March took off running after Blue, without a backwards glance. After both of them were gone, Peony nodded at Dawnsorrow. Dawn winked in return, and the two took off in the opposite direction of the badger and the Corporal.
After a while, Peony put a paw to her lips. Dawn nodded to show she understood. In front of them, there was labored breathing. Hiding in the trees that hugged the path, Dawn and Peony looked out at Kytrae Wingblade, who looked more insane that anything. He was a huge silver badger with a grey stripe down his back. His silver eyes were bloodshot, but there was nothing deranged about the giant broadsword on his waist. He was leaning over a log, blowing like he was trying to set it on fire.
Suddenly, it roared to life. Kytrae smiled, his teeth long and bloodstained. “Finally!” he growled. “I will have my revenge on those stupid Guosim shrews!”
Peony felt Dawn shrink beside her and winced. But she motioned to Dawn to be still, and, reluctantly, she obeyed. The badger suddenly straightened up and snarled, “Come out, harelings. I can see and hear you in there.”
Eyes wide with fear, Dawn looked at Peony, who nodded. The two stepped out. Kytrae smiled in satisfaction, although it was tinged with something else... something that neither hare could place. “Ah, I am never wrong. You were sent by Major Perrylane, were you not?”
Dawn whimpered, “Y-yes. H-how did you know?”
Kytrae grinned broadly, showing bloody teeth. “You did not know? I have spies everywhere... in your mountain which you think is safe.”
“It is safe!” Peony shouted, anger clouding her judgment. “You are lying to just to frighten us into playing your game!”
Kytrae smiled again. “Am I? Then how did I know that?”
Peony couldn't answer that.
The grin grew larger, red and deadly. “Aha. Then crawl, scamper, and anything yew need to do, but go back to yore likkle mountain. The fool Bluestripe can have my rightful position. Leave me alone,” and his smile faded. “But I shalln't leave yew alone forever. Yew will regret calling me a liar. Now scram!”
“You don't order me around!” Peony spat.
Kytrae drew his broadsword. “Are you shore about that, rabbit?”
“I'm a hare!”
The badger swung his sword at the two hares. “Go away!”
Fear in their eyes, Dawn and Peony left... right before the whole forest erupted into flames.

~*~&~*~%~

An arrow flew out of the Mossflower underbrush and soared over Fiona Fox's head. She was a carrot-orange-colored vixen with a bushy tail and sky blue eyes. Her right ear flopped down on her head, she was deaf in that ear, and she wore a forest-green tunic held up by a rope belt. A necklace with a gem on it hung from her neck; it was a secret weapon of Fiona's. When it was twisted, the gem produced a poisoned spike. There was a dagger in her tunic pocket, and its hilt protruded just a bit. The vixen grimaced, flexing her wickedly sharp claws, and her teeth were as sharp as a dagger blade.
“Crowley, you idjit! You nearly 'it me there!” Fiona hissed.
Crowley was a tall stoat with hazel eyes and dark fur. He wore a mud-streaked tunic, so mud-streaked, in fact, that it was hard to tell what color it originally had been. He had a few daggers in his small belt, and a few knives hidden in various places on himself, although the impressive thing was the longsword in his belt, mostly because Crowley was well-known for his ability with it. But it was nothing compared to his leader and best friend, Thornclaw Braveheart, who was so deadly with his Zweihander that he was one of the most dangerous stoats in Mossflower. He was also good friends with Fiona, since they were both “good vermin;” they were of a “vermin” species, but they were certainly good fighters.
“Sorry, Fiona. Thought you were some other manner o'vermin tha'roam around 'ere.” Crowley shrugged. “So. Ya come t'join Thorny and 'is merry liddle band o'roamers?”
Thornclaw Braveheart's band, the Rangers, were well known as outcasts and even as outlaws. They were fierce and strong, brave and cunning, yet they could also be quiet, sensitive, caring, and even merciful. They were a good ally; Fiona counted herself lucky to know them as well as she did.
“Not today, ol'chap. Simply came t'talk t'ol'Thorny 'imself.” Fiona shook herself off, and gave the stoat a wicked look. “Hey, Crow?”
“Don'look at me like that, Fiona Fox!” Crowley led the vixen into the underbrush, towards Thornclaw's current camp, and he collected his arrows as they went. “An'wot der ye want, eh?”
“Did y'start that fire up, near Log-a-log's place?”
The stoat looked stricken. “Tarno's on fire?”
“Aye. But they said 'e was at Red'all instead. Takin'ye didn'?”
Crowley still looked upset. “Thorny an'I owe 'im a favor... have ye any idea who set it alight?”
“Aye. I jus'left Salamannastron, an'Major Peony an'Private Dawnsorrow said twas Kytrae Wingblade th'mennally messed-up badger tha'did it. Said 'e wann-ed revenge on Guosim, an'tried t'burn 'em out, while 'e waited outside, wi'daggers an'knives. But no, they was all gone, an'nobeast's seen Ky since.”
“No fire'll kill 'im.” Crowley shrugged. “Like yew.”
“Nope. Fire'll kill meh, for shore.” Fiona Fox was well known for her fear of both fire and water, although she'd mostly gotten over her fear of water.
“True.” Crowley shrugged again. “We're al'ost 'ere, now. Remember, Thorny ain't take kind'y t'bossin' an'roughin'! Yore 'is guest, don'forget, an'...”
“Crowley. I. Haven't. Been. Here. Before.” Fiona rolled her beautiful blue eyes.
The stoat blushed and quit talking. “Sorry.”
The vixen shrugged. “Yah.”
Crowley suddenly straightened. “Thornclaw, sir, this is Fiona Fox, here to speak wi'yew.”
Fiona turned to see a tall, dark-brown stoat wearing a hooded camo cloak and a metal-plate jerkin. He also had a right-paw gauntlet with a crossed-sword emblem on it, and he wore a huge swordbelt. Well, it had to be huge, thought the vixen. Thornclaw Braveheart had Mossflower's largest sword, a Zweihander, and also a few more knives, daggers, and a longbow which he didn't have on him at the moment.
“So, still the hero of the day, I see.” Fiona said dryly. She and Thornclaw had grown up together, telling stories of great warriors like Silverfalcon Pikehawk and Meeka Swiftblade while they hid on the side of Salamandastron from the vermin hordes that had exiled them for being fair and caring. Fiona (and Crowley) was the only one who could sass Thornclaw and get out alive- not because they were good friends, the best, in fact, but because they simply understood and accepted each other like that; Thornclaw knew that Fiona was born with a sassy tongue, and he couldn't do a thing about it.
“Aye. And yore still roamin', lookin' fer a mate, eh? Couldn't leave me for long, could'cha?” Thorn teased. Fiona and Thorn had both sworn that they would be a warrior, and not let family come into the way; besides, Thorn had his band, which was family enough for him, and Fiona enjoyed being alone. And, even had they wanted to mate, they would've had a hard time finding someone else to accept them as “good vermin”.
“Nah.” Fiona shrugged, taking in the camp. Hooded stoats bustled around, appearing in one tent, then popping out and heading into another. One stoat had a fire going in the center of the shady glade, and another two were dragging a huge pot towards the fire. Fiona watched as yet another stoat carried in about five huge fish, hoisting them high over his shoulder in a silent way of showing off his muscular build, and then heard someone shout to him. The stoat with the fish lowered them quickly, shouted back at the first shouter, then went over and threw the fish into the pot, which was now on top of the fire. “Got a nice likkle place here, Thorny. Just askin'fer an attack.”
Thornclaw turned around and surveyed the camp quickly, then shrugged in reply. “So I do. But there's nobeast who'll attack me, Foxy, dear.”
Fiona grinned. “'Erd o'Windy Wildbrush? She was 'ere earlier!”
“How der ye know? You was up near Salamannastron where Log-a-log Tarno's place usually is.” Thorn winked at her. “I know yer tricks.”
“Oh, do yer? Then do yer know me sis?” Fiona winked at Thornclaw, then watched Crowley hurry over to the fire, and say something to the cook, which agitated him, because he started waving his arms. The fish-stoat, as Fiona was mentally calling him, said something, which calmed the cook, then Crowley went off into another tent. A few seconds later, there was a bang! noise, and about ten stoats tumbled head-over-heels out of the tent. The cook and the fish-stoat fell in heaps of laughter.
“Sis? Yew have a sis?” Thorn asked.
Fiona turned back to him. “Yep. See, you didn't even know me sis! She don't look like me, though.”
The stoat leader fingered his Zweihander's hilt. “An'wot's'er name, eh? Wait, der I wanna know?”
The vixen shrugged. “She ain't a mass-murderer, er somethin'. She a corsair.”
Thorn held up his paw. “I-”
Fiona cut him off. “Her name's Merlot,” she announced.

Chapter Five- Darkness

Light exploded in Jadefang's head, causing her to stagger to the ground. She looked up into the murderous eyes of Neil Down, her old, once-friend. “Neil, please!” she begged, horrified at the hazel-blue pits of death that glared back at her.
“You kill my family, and expect me to spare you?!” the fox asked, raising his dagger. “No. I do not forgive easily, you should know, Jadefang!”
Jadefang flinched away from his icy stare. “I didn't kill them! It was Razgath's poisons that got Serna, and her death that took Maram and Incis!”
Neil bought the daggertip down to tickle Jadefang's throat. “And what of Ming? What happened to her, eh?”
Jadefang stammered, “Nobody knows what happened to her! She went missing, supposedly stolen by Shadowbane, and...” She rose from the ground, and inched away from the murderous fox.
Neil let out a low growl. “I know that, fool!” Then he threw his dagger away, and shut his eyes tightly in self-disgust. He threw Jadefang to the ground again, away from him. “I can't do it, I can't kill you. After all that, tracking you all over Mossflower, I can't even kill you! What kind of assassin am I?”
Cautiously, Jadefang crawled over to her old friend, and threw her arms around his legs in a kind of bow-hug. “You're no assassin, Neil Down. You're a good friend, a true-”
“Get off me!” He kicked her, sending her into a thorn bush where she hung, fur matted, eyes wide with fear, and watched Neil approach her. “You had a problem with my allies, do I remember correctly?” Jadefang nodded slowly and warily. “So we're not friends anymore, are we?” Jadefang just gazed at him, eyes wide and sad. Neil growled, “ARE WE?” He shook the thorn bush, making them dig deep into the fox's fur. Even slower, Jadefang finally nodded. “I may not be your friend, but you will always be mine, Neil Down. I'm sorry everything had to end like this, though.”
“Everything?! EVERYTHING?! There is no everything, there never was an everything!” Neil snarled, his teeth long and sharp. “We were just friends, and now, because of some stupid argument, we aren't anymore! 'Everything' was in YOUR imagination, and all of this 'everything' was caused because you had to get into my business! The war that's coming isn't... oh, never mind! Because I'm such a pushover, I won't kill you here. You know what? I'll spare your miserable life if you can find my sister Ming, and return her to me, alive. If she's not alive, well, you always did like her more than me. You can go meet her at the Dark Forest.” He retrieved his dagger, and licked it savagely.
“No, Neil!” Jadefang screamed as he retreated into the forest. “No! You don't understand! At all!” But her screams just faded away into the forest, echoing...
“Jade! Jadefang! If you can hear me, wake up! Now! You need to, because Snowpaw and Romeo will be here soon!” Jadefang flicked open her amber eyes, wide awake as usual, to stare into Gandr Adderbane's dark ones.
The fox stood up, groaning. Gandr groaned back in sympathy. “That dream again, Jade?”
She nodded. “Yes. It's always Neil leaving me, telling me to find Ming and return her to him alive, or he'd kill me.”
Jadefang was a strange fox, even stranger for traveling with a squirrel to meet a few other squirrels, but she was a healer on a mission; you gotta do what you gotta do. She was a mottled silver vixen, with amber eyes and an unusual add-on. She had many sharp teeth, but one was longer than all the others- and it was jade-colored green, giving the fox her name. She also had sharp claws, and uncommon weapons. She wore a dark blue cloak and a black leather belt, which held a small bag of herbs and her choice weapons- a few poisoned daggers, and a club-like bone. Jadefang shook her head, clearing sleep from it, and yawned. Gandr looked down her throat anxiously; although he and Jade had traveled for a while together, she was still something fearsome.
Gandr Adderbane was nothing to sneeze at, either. He was abnormally tall, with a light build, reddish fur, dark eyes, and a scar on his left paw. He wore steel vambraces on his muscular arms; the one on his right arm held a hidden dagger, and he wore a green tunic for camouflage. Gandr had, for his main weapon, a long black quarterstaff with a short, curved, single-blade on one end of it, hence his name. His last name had come from a group of adders that he'd killed a few years ago, and Gandr had thought that it went well with his first name. He and Jadefang had both been close friends of Neil Down's, before he became allies with a few “shady characters”, and became “a most disagreeable chap, wot” as one hare had once called Neil, to his face. The hare hadn't seen the next meal. That was another thing- Neil had suddenly become a killed. Gandr shuddered; this wasn't his friend, at all.
The squirrel sighed and brought out a loaf of bread that they had gotten at Redwall Abbey a while back. “Neil... changed... some.”
The fox raised her eyebrows. “No kidding.” She took the slice of bread that was handed to her, and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully. “Who did you say was coming? Snowypaws and Romindro?”
Gandr chuckled. “When you wake up, Jade, yore not as “wide-awake” as yew think yew are! Snowpaw the Wild and Romiedrell Voh are coming to visit; they have recently seen and talked to Ming, according to Kailee Windscutt back at Redwall.”
“Ah,” Jade replied, thinking again. “How did you get them?”
The squirrel gave her a weird look. “Did you hear that?”
Jadefang grinned, knowing what Gandr was doing (distracting her), but shook her head. “No, I didn-”
“Aiiiie!” The noise was a shriek that made Jade cover her ears.
“Romeo!” Gandr grinned at a mouse, and Jade noticed that they looked so at ease with each other.
“They're best friends, brothers, almost.” Jadefang jumped as another voice, feminine, spoke to her. She whirled around to find a reddish-brown squirrel with grey-blue eyes, a white left paw, and an unusually large tail, although to Jadefang, who was no expert in squirrels, it appeared to go well with the rest of the warrior's build. She wore a loose-fitting blue dress, but it didn't obstruct her movements in the least. She idly twirled a sling in her right paw, and a dirk and throwing knife sat patiently in the squirrel's belt.
“Oh, did I scare you? I'm sorry.” The squirrel held out her right paw. “I'm Snowpaw Keeneblade, the Wild One.”
Still a bit wary of anyone who called themselves 'the wild one', Jadefang cautiously extended her paw as well. “And I'm Jadefang. Don't worry about scaring me, I get it all the time traveling with him.” She jerked her head back at Gandr.
“Who, the trees?” Snowpaw frowned, looking over Jade's head, and was rather surprised to find... nothing.
Jade frowned back, though not at Snowpaw, and whirled around. “Gandr?” she called, and Snowpaw called as well, “Romeo?”
“Aieeee!” With the high-pitched squeal again, a mouse and a squirrel dropped down on their heads. Growling, the fox looked up to find Gandr Adderbane grinning down at her. “Hi,” he said.
With clenched teeth Jadefang replied, “Get. Off. Me. Please.”
“Okay.” he hopped off her.
Snowpaw stood up, and dusted herself off. “Well.” she said. “Since we're all here, we can all introduce ourselves to those who... didn't know.” She held out her white paw, switching the sling to the right, towards Gandr. “I'm Snowpaw Keeneblade, the Wild One.”
Gandr stood up too and grabbed her paw, shaking it jerkily and dropped it too quickly, then fiddled with his staff a bit. “I'm Gandr Adderbane,” he mumbled.
So unlike him! Jadefang thought suspiciously. Maybe...
Snowpaw thought the same, and her puzzlement was obvious in her eyes. “Oh, okay. Nice to meet you, Gandr.”
Next in line was Romiedrell Voh, a grey mouse with soft grey eyes and big ears, with white belly-fur and a low-but-soft voice. He wore a loose brown tunic belted at the waist with a black leather belt and a pair of wool boots. His belt held his knife, and he had a quiver of arrows over his shoulder. “I'm Romiedrell Voh, but Romeo'll do.” He shook Jadefang's paw.
“So.” Snowpaw and Jadefang said at the same time, rising up, then they shook their heads. “Go first.” they said, again at the same time. Then both were silent, watching the other. Finally, Snowpaw shrugged. “I go?”
“Shore.” Jadefang sat down again.
Snowpaw nodded at her. “So. We are all here- Romeo, please pay attention and stop giggling with Gandr like a bunch of Dibbuns- to-”
“Sorry.”
Snowpaw stopped abruptly. “What?”
Gandr ducked his head. “I said, sorry,” he mumbled. “Sorry, you know, for interrupting?”
Okay, that is SO not like him! Jadefang thought. What's special about Snowpaw, eh?
Confusion filled the squirrel's eyes, but she just shrugged again. “Uh... don't worry about it.” She yawned, then covered her mouth quickly with her paw. “So, we all know what we're traveling together for, right?”
Romeo shook his head. “No.”
“Well, there is a fox hunting Jade and Gandr, his name is... uh... Neil Down? I think that's right. His sister is Ming, whom we just departed with the other day. Neil is, um, kinda mad with Jadefang because she couldn't save the life of his parents, and he's mad with Gandr because Gandr dislikes some of the folks that Neil's 'hanging out with', to put it into his words. Neil has told them that the only way to get back into favor with him is to find his sister Ming, and bring her back to him.”
Romeo growled, his voice lower than usual, “Well, if he's threatening them into actually doing something for him, why are doing something for him? He can't force us! We don't need him as an ally! We have each other!” He and Gandr slapped high-fives.
Snowpaw watched him, a bit of amusement on her face. “Actually, we do need him as an ally. Because, see, Neil's a mercenary, right?”
“Like us.” Romeo added.
“Well, we're special. We don't fight for just anyone, we make sure we fight because we believe in the cause. Well, Neil fights for anyone. So, if we don't get back on his good side, and he joins up with a certain fox named Shadowbane, well... Shadow has a score of his own to settle with Jadefang. His big axe, you recall? He got that off of a Marlfox he killed, named Marccan. Marccan was... Jadefang's uncle, making her part-Marlfox, which explains her color, yada yada yada. Anyway, Marccan's brother, only a part-Marlfox and Jadefang's father, was furious at Shadowbane for killing Marccan. He vowed to hunt him all over Mossflower to revenge his brother. He finally found Shadowbane and his wife, Antga, and his son, who was named Ignite. Ignite was... not as cruel as his father, but he wasn't the nicest fox in the bunch; his main claim-to-fame was that he had his father's looks, and he was already his father's size. Mistaking Ignite for Shadowbane, Marccan's brother, what was his name, oh, Silent, well, Silent killed Ignite. While Shadowbane never truly loved Ignite, he was looking forward to teaching his son a few things for when he grew up, and that evil fox was even looking forward to killing Ignite himself. When Silent got him, well, that annoyed and anger Shadow to no end. He vowed that they find Silent at all costs, and bring him back, alive, to him.” Snowpaw paused to sigh, and looked at Jadefang, who was staring off into space, with nothing moving except a few ear-twitches to show she was listening. “Silent ran and hid, always running and hiding. Soon, however, he ran out of places to hide. Shadowbane's Captain, Rakepaw, caught him outside of Salamandastron's gates. Little Perrylane, a young Private at the time and on guard, didn't know that Silent was good; she denied him entrance, and therefore forfeited his life. In front of her very eyes, Silent was knocked out and dragged back to Shadowbane. When he got there, he was tortured, then torn apart by Shadowbane, limb-by-limb. But Shadowbane didn't think that this was revenge enough against Ignite's death. He vowed to kill the rest of Silent's and Marccan's families. Jade's mother was already captured by Shadowbane and was near death, but she'd done that so Jadefang could go free; and free she was. Marccan also had a son and a daughter, but nobody knew what happened to them- since Shadowbane hasn't withdrew his vow to kill them all, he probably didn't find them yet. They were last seen a year and a half ago, after Marccan was killed. His mate, Arra, is also missing, although she was seen not too long ago.” Snowpaw finished.
Romeo and Gandr were staring at Jadefang, pity and horror in their eyes. She looked up, and they were shocked to find them blazing in anger. “Don't pity me.” Her tone was dangerously low, and everyone there recognized that she was hiding the sadness, anger and horror that she herself was thinking.
Romeo finally breathed, “So why tell us this?”
“Because you need to understand- if we can't get on Neil's side, right now he's with Razgath the Mercenary, who's working with Macbeth Ravencliff, who is also a time bomb waiting to go off because he's about to kill most of his Horde, then you can probably see who Razgath and Neil would go to next- Shadowbane. And Neil's first mission would be obvious, once Shadow realizes how close that Neil and Jade were- bring Jadefang back to Shadowbane. Which we obviously can't let happen. Gandr was a fellow mercenary with Neil, and knows his prices.” She beamed at Gandr, who blushed. “After we get Ming, we're gonna aim for getting her to Neil before Razgath moves from Macbeth to Shadowbane, which'll be either tomorrow or the day after; we'll have to hurry. Then we can pay Neil to work for us instead of Shadowbane; and we'll make sure that we keep Neil away from Shadow or Antga, his mate. We don't have to worry about any more of Shadow's heirs, because Ant can't have anymore young. Ignite was his only one. Poor Silent took care of him for us. So are we ready?!” She roared the last word to the somewhat-cloudy sky, startling Gandr and Jade (but not Romeo, because he knew Snowpaw too well), who recovered quickly from their shock.
“WE ARE READY!” They roared back. All four of them went flying through Mossflower, racing towards Salamandastron, where Ming had been last sighted (Ironic, though Snowpaw, that we find Ming in the exact place where Silent was dragged off to his doom).
So it was only logical that nobody saw the raccoon-shaped lump set off at an eye-popping speed after them, with his large, double-sided axe called Taloman out in front of him in an executioner's position.

~*~&~*~%~

“No! Go away! I hate you!” A light brown ferretmaid screamed. She had a white-mask-like-thing around her blue eyes, and dark headfur extended down her back. She wore a crimson bandanna around her brow, a navy blue tunic, beige trousers, and a broad brown belt which held a sling, a small hidden dagger, and a very special saber; it had tassels and engraved markings along the blade.
An older ferret gritted his teeth and reached deep into his shallow pool of patience. “But Frentiza darling, you must attend the execution. You don't have to kill them, but you must attend it. It would not be proper for you to skip it, as my daughter.” He was a darker brown than his daughter, with calculatingly dark brown eyes with streaks of black in them. He wore crimson robes with a black cloak, and his headfur, the same color as the rest of himself, appeared darker for some strange reason. His paw was straying towards a huge battleaxe handle, with a blue grip and an emerald pommel, and he already had a broadsword hidden under his cloak along with a few other daggers. He was Vherdan Kozdru the Merciless, although Impatient would also have worked, and he was being tested, once again, by Frentiza Kozdru, his daughter, who didn't see the point in public executions.
“I don't care. I'M NOT GOING!” She threw the last words carelessly at her father as she stalked out of the tent.
“Come back here, Fren!” Vherdan called at her back. She didn't look back. “Frentiza Kozdru. Get back over here.” When she ignored him again, the ferret gestured to a foxguard standing nearby, in crimson robes and a crimson cloak with only the tip of her silver tail, the tip of her dagger-blades, and the gleam of her black eyes showing. The foxguard saluted, and followed Fren, walking swiftly enough to catch up with the young ferretmaid. Fren had seen her coming, and had chosen not to break her stride.
“Fren. Please return and listen to Vherdan. The time to prove yourself is at the execution, not now. We'll both stand united together, Frentiza, under your rule. But you musn't make it seem, to Vherdan, as if anything out of the ordinary is happening.” The foxguard spoke quietly and urgently to the young ferret. “Please.”
Fren rolled her eyes, but listened and pondered the fox's words. “Fine.” She huffed, and turned around abruptly towards Vherdan's tent. “Arra?”
The foxguard nodded.
“Tell my troops to bring everything to the execution by any way they can.” Fren ordered.
Arra, the former mate of Marccan, nodded again. “And what shall we do once we break out of Vherdan's terrible rule?”
Fren mentally smiled. The thought of killing her father, whom she hated so deeply that the thought of him stirred her Bloodwrath a bit, pleased her so totally that she hadn't thought beyond his death. But she would have to do something. The corners of the ferret's mouth twitched. “We'll find Meeka Swiftblade; she promised me last time she left that she'd help me hunt anybeast except my father. We'll get Meeks, then go after Shadowbane to revenge your husband, Arra.”
The foxguard smiled. “I owe everything to you, Lady Frentiza. We shall prevail in the killing of our tyrant; I can feel it!”

~*~&~*~%~

Menga Streamspliter snuck into Razgath the Mercenary's tent, listening to the pine marten snoring. He giggled mentally. That fool Razgath! Snoring like a granddaddy! Well, I'll certainly show him!
The otter crept up to his bed, and felt around his knife belt. That fool! Razgath had taken Menga's knives. He cursed silently, and looked around the tent, messy and illuminated by moonlight. There was a small hilt poking out from beneath a dismantled chest... could it be...? Menga crept over to it, sneaking softly, and unsheathed it slowly and silently. It made a little shing noise, and soon Menga was holding a beautiful blade, Laria Wavedeep's javelin.
Holding it in his paw brought back all sorts of memories, from when Menga and Laria were growing up together, from when Menga first saw her shining sky-blue eyes, first gave her the yellow bracelet... Gosh, she was so beautiful... if I survive this, I'll settle down with her, maybe have a family... No, no, Menga, stay focused! You must kill Razgath if this war is to end, and if you're to live happily with Laria... With the image of his beloved in his mind, Menga stole back over to the side of Razgath's cot. He looked down with cold eyes, ice blazing from his gaze. He lifted the sword, and stabbed on the dark shape, what looked like the pine marten's head. Blood spurted from the wound, and soon both the cot and the blade were stained dark red. Menga snorted with cold satisfaction. One less worthless vermin in this world, he thought in mild happiness at the Mercenary's death.
“Zo predictable.” Came a familiar voice from the tent's doorway.
As soon as Menga heard it, he knew that the creature he had just killed had been innocent. I shoulda known something was up as soon as I saw the tent a mess! Razgath's always neat! Menga closed his eyes, steeling himself for the death that was imminent, and opened them to see the pine marten lounging in the tent doorway. “I'm so glad I provided amusement for you, your Highness,” he mocked. Menga was pleased at how little his voice shook.
“It iz not ove'yet.” Razgath smiled acidly. His voice was filled with suppressed excitement. “I vant ye to prolong eet az long az ve can.” He stepped over to the cot and beckoned the otter to him.
Menga glanced from the doorway to Razgath, and didn't move. Now's your chance! Run for it! his mind screamed.
Razgath looked up, and saw him edging towards the doorway. “Ze are not going anyvere, zir.” Three armed rats, all cloaked and hooded in dark cloaks with shining axes out in front, blocked the doorway. Menga bowed his head, accepting the death that fate had thrown on him, and, silently wishing love to Laria, he stepped over next to Razgath and gazed at the dead mass on the pillows. The rats stepped back, but Menga knew they were waiting, egging him on to attempt to escape. Then they'd attack, slaying him mercilessly with their swords, watching blood fly...
The otter cleared the image from his mind and focused on the reality. Maybe fast talk'll get me out of this... It wasn't that he was afraid of death, no, far from it. He didn't want to leave his love and his future...
“Ze killed Bloodclaw, zir. Ze killed an innozent vermin. Now vant sall ve do zoo revenge 'im, eh, ztreamdog?” Razgath motioned to the dead mass, and Menga was overcome with a sense of irony that Bloodclaw's name fit him well in death.
“And you never killed an innocent creature,” Menga spat.
Razgath smiled that deadly smile again. “Zo vat if I haz? Eet iz your crime that countz now, ztreamdog.”
Menga steeled himself against the pine marten. “I don't care if I get killed; my Holt got away.”
“I ztill haz Lavia az prizoner.”
“Arka and Meira took care of her!” Menga snarled.
“Oh, zo are zey ze new prizonerz's namez?” Razgath asked innocently.
The otter gasped. “Then I have nothing left to live for. You have my mate and my half-sister. Kill me now.”
Razgath shook his dark head; neither could see each other very well. “I vant ze to zuffer more.”
Menga snarled, and clutched Laria's javelin harder. I could kill Razgath, but Arka, Meira, and Laria would be out of range... I could never free them, and they'd be killed... living no longer has meaning. Laria, my love, if, by some miracle, you can hear me, I love you, and, if you can get free, enjoy life. Tell Nightpaw I love him too, and tell Arka the truth... “I'm telling you, Razgath, kill me!”
“I zay no.”
“Then I'll do it,” the otter clutched his love's javelin, and, before Razgath could stop him, he plunged it into his heart.

Chapter Six- The Death Bringer Brings Death

Ralon Deathbringer nodded in satisfaction as he watched the creatures he was following stop to camp for the night. He was an immense raccoon; tall, muscular, and heavily scarred. He had gleaming red eyes and the usual raccoon markings, however, he was... cloaked. He wore a green-brown tunic and a black cloth waist sash with a cutlass and a curved dagger in it, and light leather armour. In his paw was the axe Taloman that Holt Riverdale was destroyed for; at the top of the haft there was a double-bladed axehead with a spike driven into the haft a few inches below the axehead. At the bottom of the haft there is a single-bladed axehead with four spikes parallel to it.
Ralon made a few practice cleaves with Taloman, then nodded and smiled. He whistled, once, very high, and many black hooded beasts with smaller axes popped out. One turned to Ralon and nodded gravely. “Umbar has reached Redwall, m'lord. He'll be dead by midnight.”
Ralon's smile grew, showing sharp, sharp teeth. “Good. I would prefer to be the one that killed that traitor, but if Redwall gets the honor, then when we conquer it, we'll smash his grave.”
The hooded beast nodded. “Yes, captain. And no sign of Lady Shayra.”
Good. The last thing I need is my sister meddling with me stopping this squirrel that I owe a death to. Ralon snarled out loud. “Good.”
“Yes sir.” He bowed again, and the hooded creatures disappeared again.
“Wait! Riay!” Ralon hissed.
The creature turned around again. “Yes, m'lord?”
“Come with me, silently.”
Riay looked a bit confused, but the creatures turned back and followed their leader.
Ralon nodded, and swiftly walked over to the camp that Jadefang, Gandr, Snowpaw, and Romeo had made. He looked around it, at the black lump, the grey lump, and the two squirrel lumps. Ralon sneered when he saw that Gandr and Snowpaw were cuddled close to each other. Love. Ha.
Ralon snuck around the charred logs in the center of the camp, towards Gandr and Snowpaw. He grabbed Snowpaw, then put a paw over her mouth. “I owe you, treerat.” He sneered at the squirrel, who's grey-blue eyes were wide with shock now.
Ralon carried Snowpaw for a while, until they were out of earshot of the rest of the gang. The raccoon set Snowpaw down, then the guards circled around her. “Don't try anything.” Riay warned.
She sneered silently.
Suddenly, she leaped up, dirk in her hand. She jumped on Riay, and soon he was dead. She jumped on another, and soon she was surrounded by dead bodies. Weary and bleeding, Snowpaw fought on, but, just as she killed the third-to-last of Ralon's crewbeasts, he took his axe and cracked her spine.
He winced as he looked around and saw that only three of his crew were remaining. He didn't even feel her dirk, but it was there, he knew. He looked down and was mildly surprised that it was bleeding as much as it was. He shrugged and pulled it out, and soon the grass was dappled with red. He threw the dirk into Snowpaw's head, and lifted her again.
Soon Ralon was limping back into the camp. He silently laid the squirrel back next to her friend, in the sleeping position, then stole off into the lightening dawn.
Only when he, and his three crewbeasts left, were sure they were out of earshot, they burst into gleeful peals of laughter at the feat... Snowpaw Keeneblade the Wild One... was dead!

~*~&~*~%~

Hollyfire Thornblade knocked softly on the door of Pinedance Coneslinger's house, which had a view of the now-silent Coneslinger camp. “Come in.” Pinedance said, softly.
Holly entered quietly, into the firelit haven. Pinedance's cabin was illuminated by a large fire in the center of the room, which she had under control, and a large cabinet stood behind it, which Holly couldn't see very well through the smoke. A small cot stood in another corner, and a bed-side table with a scroll, weighted by a small pebble, was glowing with a small candle. Pinedance herself sat near the fire, the flames sending shadows over her impassive features. The squirrelmaid looked up as her friend approached, but said nothing while Holly settled next to her.
“Where is the Sister?” Holly asked.
Pinedance nodded to a door near the food-cabinet. “There. She was so tuckered out from running with Oakfur and Nightheart today... it did my heart good to see those old, crotchety males playin' wi'a nice gal like Armel.”
Holly snickered. Oakfur and Nightheart weren't old, but they were crotchety, no-fun, and stuck-up. “They had fun?”
Pinedance stretched. “Of course. Why wouldn't they?” Sarcasm rang from the last sentence, but she lowered her voice and said, seriously, “I feel sorry for Armel; stuck in a pine tree with those two barrels of fun? She must know more about the Coneslingers than I do!”
Holly smiled. “Heh.” She was silent, lost in though, for a minute, then spoke softly. “I didn't come here to discuss Armel, Nightheart, and Oakfur having a playdate.”
Pinedance nodded agreeably. “I know you didn't.” She nodded again. “You came to tell me that you'd like to leave tomorrow, 'cause Sissy's warning scared you and got you thinkin' of fightin' vermin again.”
Holly nodded; Pinedance knew her that well. “I didn't want to just say, 'Pinedance, I'm leaving.' I wanted to be more...”
“Subtle?” Pinedance supplied.
Holly nodded, her blue eyes reflecting the firelight. “Aye. Thankee.” She looked into the fire, and muttered, “I'd be honored to have another warrior with me, seeing as Sissy'll go back to her Abbey long afore I leave.”
Pinedance winced unhappily, looking from the flames to her friend's face. “Holly, I'd love more than many other things to come with you. But... I can't. Not with Sissy's warning being what it is, I take it as seriously as you do, and not with my responsibility to the remainder of the Swifteyes and the Coneslingers.”
Holly nodded sadly. “I had figured you would say that, and I can certainly respect it. We all have responsibilities, and yours is with the Coneslinger tribe. If you ever need anything, though...” Holly stood up and spread her paws out sisterly.
Pinedance watched her with sarcastic amusement, then she let out a huge, false cry. “I'm never gonna see you again! Boohoohoo!” She rubbed her eyes like a Dibbun, then stopped and gave her friend, who was grinning hugely, a look, as if to say, You idiot. I'll kill you if you abandon me.
Holly grinned even larger. “I wasn't gonna leave you. I couldn't do that.”
They hugged, and Holly's smile faded. “Well, guess I'm gonna go on to bed now. Bye.”
Pinedance winked, and smiled. “Bye now.”
After Holly had left, Pinedance's smile faded almost instantly, and she returned to her problem: There were too many vermin, and too little warriors in the Coneslinger tribe. Well, Pinedance decided. We'll have to start training tomorrow. That's the back and front of it.

~*~&~*~%~

Trent was small for a Guosim lookout. He had stubby legs, ending with sharp claws, though, that were covered with mud-stains and salt-water. He had a dark blue habit and he held a spyglass up to his left eye. He had a dagger belt on his waist that had a knife in it, and he looked a lot like a mole. “Ahoy! Ship t'starbeard!” Trent called, as he caught sight of Merlot's ship. Cwyru, on deck, raised and lowered the sails. Trent saw him. “Friendly ship!” he amended.
The Captain of the ship, Cap'n Malka, came hurrying over. He wore a red habit and a black cloak with a dagger belt; he looked a lot like a pirate, however, he wore a black bandanna on his head and his dagger belt was empty except for a single dagger. Malka grimaced as he saw the white sails. “Fine. Acknowledge them, and ask them what they want.” Malka had little to no sailing experience, and relied solely on his crew. In fact, he got so dreadfully seasick that he rarely left his cabin. Trent saluted. “Aye, aye, cap'n.”
The lookout called to a few shrews, who, standing around on the deck below, were drinking lots of ale and roaring loudly. “Ahoy! Mateys! Furl the-” Trent began.
“Awww,” One, dressed all in black, shook his fist at Trent, who snarled angrily back at him.
“Now!” He snarled. “Cap'n's orders.”
The shrew in black, named Meniu, grunted, “Aww, Cap'n, eh? Ol'Malka couldn' tell th'difference between a mizzenmast and a starboard!” Suddenly, he stiffened and fell over, eyes rolling back into his head, his legs buckling. Behind him stood Captain Malka, holding a bloody dagger and looking grim, his amber eyes gleaming icily.
“Does anybody else have a problem with me?” He asked calmly, wiping off the dagger.
Wide-eyed and startled out of their previous state, the shrews shook their heads.
Malka looked over them for a long time. “Alright. If you do, I'm always here.” He stuffed the dagger back in his belt. He swaggered away, then turned back to the stunned crew. “Also. Throw Meniu overboard, then obey Trent. He was right. I don't know much about sailing. But Trent does; that's why he's my mate.” The shrew winked at the startled lookout, and stalked off.
Trent quickly grasped the situation. “Right, m'mateys. Let's get this cargo off...” He grabbed Meniu and began to drag him towards the side.
“Uh... Trent?” One shrew, a female named Parinia who was in sea-green rags and wooden clogs with a meager blue cloak covering her dagger belt, spoke up. She was Trent's sister, and the only one, other than Captain Malka, who could call the lookout by his given, and hated, name.
He looked up and met his sister's green eyes. “Yah?”
“That ship shore is fast approachin'.” Parinia sounded a bit frightened, uncharacteristically so. She was a tough little shrewmaid.
Trent looked up, now at the side of the boat, and practically saw the gleam in Cwyru's eyes. “Holy oatscones...!” He breathed as he looked over the Wintertide. He called to the fox, “Ahoy! Ye've got a beauty!”
Cwyru nodded and turned, saying something to a crewbeast behind him. Then he turned back to the shrew and tossed a rope aboard the Guosim ship. “Thank ya sir. We're friends, come to trade wi' ye. Be abladged if'n ye'd 'tach us.”
Trent nodded to Parinia, who took the rope. “You certainly seem friendly, sir. But how do we know we can trust you?”
Cwyru let out a bark of laughter. “Maran! Bring the Trading Chest!” The short rat staggered up with The Chest.
Pretending not to see Trent and the Guosim, Maran wheezed, “T's 'eavy t'night, Lord. The Cap'n was pleased. Wants t'make a good impress'on on ol'Cap'n Malka. 'Parently they're good friends?”
Maran deposited The Chest at Cwyru's feet. “Yes, Merlot and Malka go far back. Thank you, Maran. Dismissed. Tell the crew that we won't be long here.”
Maran nodded once, as if sharing a secret, and hurried off. Cwyru turned back to Trent and spread his paws wide. “Surely you are not Captain Malka, or you wouldn't accuse us'f not bein' friendly!”
Trent shook his head. “I am but the lookout, Trent Broadstream. I am acting Captain.”
Parinia and another shrew behind her drew in a sharp breath. Trent's on thin ice if Malka hears!
Cwyru smiled over Trent's head. “Luvverly shrewmaid ye got there, mate. I say, tie us up, and I'll speak to the Cap'n fer yew while me mates trade wi'ye?”
Trent looked at his sister, who stared back, and finally took the rope from her. He attached it to the lookout-mast of the ship. “You keep your promise, sir. Straight to Cap'n Malka.”
Cwyru nodded and hopped onto the Guosim ship. He looked a lot like Merlot, with a fluffy tail and black eyes, the earring in the left ear and the torn right one, and the fox wore a black vest with, it appeared, a bone-head and two bones, crossed, behind it. He had a red cloak with the bone-head on it, and a dagger-belt with lots of bone-blades. The shrews drew back at the fearful sight, but Cwyru just smiled. “Ye got a luvverly ship 'ere, mate.”
“Yiss.” Trent was a little shaken at the sight of the fox, but he pressed on. “We are well guarded, however.” He was unsure of the fox's motives in coming, and he wanted to make it clear that they wouldn't go down without a fight. Cwyru laughed. “I could kill you now, little shrew. But don't fear. I told you, I am a friend.”
Trent was mildly offended, and did not say anything until they reached Malka's cabin. “In ye pop.” Trent opened the cabin door, and slammed it behind Cwyru.
The fox was taken aback, and walked into a room where there was a shrew sitting in it- a shrew that wasn't Captain Malka. Cwyru hid, eyes narrowed in suspicion, and watched as the shrew slipped a powder into Malka's goblet. Suddenly, he slid out of hiding and grasped the shrew by the neck. “What are you doing?” He growled.
The cabin door slammed and Malka stormed in. When he saw Cwyru strangling the shrew, he let out a scream of rage. Winking briefly at the fox, the shrew captain screeched at him, telling him to release the shrew, named Shunt. Shunt was a large, fat shrew with bulging cheeks and nervous yet defiant black eyes. He wore all white, a non-flattering color, and woolen socks with a sword who's scabbard was in a pocket in his outfit (and dragged through the hole in the poor pocket).
Cwyru looked remorsefully at the shrew and released him. Shunt sat gasping in a chair. Malka looked at him sympathetically. “Would a drink help? I'll even let you use my goblet.”
Completely forgetting the powder, Shunt nodded greedily. “Thank ye cap'n.”
“Not at all! Not at all!” Malka smiled even larger and poured a generous bit of wine out into the shrew's cup. “Would you prefer to drink it outside with yer mates?”
Shunt nodded again and took the goblet. “Thank ye, matey cap'n! I'll wash it an' return it t'ye as soon as I can!”
He lumbered out, slamming the door behind him.
Malka turned back to his guest. Cwyru was looking at him with a cocked head. “That is interesting,” the fox remarked.
The shrew captain shrugged. “Eat your own medicine. Although I wish ye hadn't strangled the poor thing.”
Cwyru nodded. “Sorry.”
Malka shrugged again. “So. Ye've come from Merlot. Ye ought t'know, that ould foxy's stolen more things from me... than a fox from a shrew. I'm not liable to trade wi'her readily.”
Cwyru nodded again. “She's me mate, so I'd know. But she's turned good, ye know?” Just running through the paces... they always believe it all! “Had a few o'er best jew'ls stol'n, and realized wot a dreadfel bovver 'tis, decided to quit the piratin' business an' go int'fair trade.”
The Guosim shrew nodded, closing his eyes and thinking. Finally, he asked, “She ain't a pirate no more?”
The fox lowered his voice, as if Merlot could hear him even here. “She likes t'think she is, aye. But nay, t'ain't piratin', what she does. Likes t'think it is, but next t'wot she was doin'? It ain't nothin' bad, won't cause 'arm to people or things. And doesn' have nothin' t'do w'thievin'. We hates that.”
Malka nodded again, thinking some more. “Well, I suppose t'won't 'urt t'try. No harm? I have your life's blood on no harm to me, or any of my shrews?”
Cwyru stood and bowed formally. “You may kill me if you get hurt, and 'tis not an obvious accident.”
“I don't know if you understand me fully, sir. Merlot and I were hardly friendly in our earlier years. I have my doubts about boarding a boat-”
“Ship,” Cwyru corrected smoothly.
Malka looked as if he wished to spit at the fox. “Whatever, with her mate, when she took all our stuff earlier.”
Cwyru looked hurt. “Yore mates 'ave alr'dy traded wi'mine, though! Remember The Chest?”
Malka looked suspicious. “Yes, well. Let's go look, shall we?”
As he opened the cabin door, he was assailed with questions about Shunt's death, which he declined, and about whether he had killed Cwyru. When they saw him, of course, they all blushed and backed into the background, but he just laughed. “SHOW ME THE CHEST! I DO NOT WISH TO TRADE WITH THEM!” Malka roared.
Bells aboard Wintertide, Merlot's ship, began to chime. Cwyru looked up at them with false alarm. “Oh dear! I better go, if'n ye don' wish t'trade.”
Malka was close to the end of patience. “Take your stupid Chest and get off my ship!”
Cwyru shook his head. “Keep The Chest as a symbol of our good will. I'm sorry for any displeasures I may have caused.”
Malka snarled, “We'll keep what's in The Chest too, ye know, pirate!”
The fox smiled and jumped onto his ship. “Alright. Have I your word?” He turned to the wheel. “Maran! Full oar speed! Get out of here!”
Malka laughed as they left. “Cowards!” he screamed in delight.
Trent poked him lightly. “C-cap'n?”
“Yes?” Malka's bad mood evaporated.
The lookout's voice shook. “I-in The C-chest? F-filled with r-rocks.”
“ROCKS?”
“Y-yes.”
“MERLOT! I'LL GET YOU SOMEDAY!” Malka screeched at the nearly-gone Wintertide, waving his fist in the air. “IF IT'S THE LAST THING I'LL DO, I WON'T LOOK LIKE A FOOL!”

~*~&~*~%~

“Let's go.” Nightpaw Streamspliter said. Rorc Nightblade and Segalia Riverstorm, trailing behind a bit, nodded, and caught up. The three otters paused at the edge of the clearing to survey their work proudly- not a single otter remained hostage. Well, except for Laria, Arka, and Meira. We don't know about them... yet. But I think they got away, Nightpaw thought.
“We did well.” Rorc murmured.
Segalia looked at him calculatingly. “I suppose we did. But do you think Menga made it?” She had lowered her voice to Nightpaw couldn't hear.
“I... I don't know. I'm afraid he got himself killed because Razgath tricked him.” Rorc admitted. It felt good to finally speak his worry.
“Menga is smart; he got a good gal, didn't 'e?” Nightpaw joked. When nobeast smiled, he became serious. “No, seriously. Menga can get out of a situation. I'm not worrying at all.” Could they tell how much of a lie that was?
“Hmm.” Rorc said, unconvinced. “Well, when we go by there, you can pop in and get Menga, if he's there. If he's not, bring Razgath's body for a burning, or, if... if...” He couldn't finish it.
Segalia did, for him. “If Menga didn't make it, bring his body out for a warrior's burial.”
Nightpaw nodded. “He made it.” Nobody was very convinced, but they all nodded.
The three walked in silence, listening to the snores the vermin's tents were emitting. Soon they arrived at Razgath's tent. Rorc nodded at it. “We'll wait, Nightpaw.”
He nodded, and tentatively took a step forward. All was silent. He turned back to look at Segalia and Rorc. They were huddled in the shadows, watching him. All he could see were their eyes. Nightpaw was reassured. Nothing will happen; Menga will be alright. He told himself unconvincingly.
Nightpaw reached out a black paw and lifted the tent flap. A second later, he disappeared into it. The tent inside was a mess. Nightpaw shrank back against the side of the tent. He knew immediately that something had happened; Razgath was never messy. He stumbled over another carcass; it was bloody and mangled, with one deep wound in it. Nightpaw stared at it, numb with shock. He couldn't tell what species it once had been. Menga...! Then he relaxed. It wasn't his brother, but another creature, obviously killed by his brother.
Nightpaw edged towards the bloody cot. He tripped over something else, with a long javelin sticking out. Laria's javelin! Nightpaw gasped with horror. He had never imagined that Menga had been killed.
Tears blurred his vision. “He can't be,” the otter gasped hoarsely. Nightpaw turned the carcass over. His brother wore a grimace of pain, but he was dead. A tear dripped on the still face-fur of Menga.
The otter warrior dragged his brother outside, where Rorc and Segalia were waited impatiently. The sun was beginning to rise, but the vermin snored on, unaware of the holocaust that would happen the next day. Segalia looked up expectantly as Nightpaw returned. “You were fast! So everything was okay?”
Then she looked at his face, broken with grief, and looked down at Menga's dead body. “Oh Nightpaw,” she breathed. “I'm so sorry!”
Rorc walked over to Nightpaw and gave his paw a squeeze, the closest Nightpaw knew he'd get as sympathy from the strong warrior. He didn't care. Nothing matters anymore. My brother's dead, like our parents were. All I have is his wife, and my half-siblings, who I didn't even know until today. He sighed, and a lone tear streamed down his face.
Segalia hugged Nightpaw tightly, then let go and searched his broken face. Finally she whispered, “Rorc an' I'll help you take him back to the Holt.” She bent to pick up Menga, but Nightpaw's black paw stopped her.
“No. You go on and make sure Laria, Arka and Meira got away. I can take him. I'll meet you back at the Holt.” Nightpaw pushed her paw away.
Segalia searched his face again, but his impassive black eyes revealed nothing. She nodded again. “Fine. Come on, Rorc. Nightpaw...” She turned to go, with Rorc on her tail, and stopped, looking back at her friend.
Nightpaw waved a paw at her. “Just go. I'll be fine.”
“But the guards...!”
The grief-stricken otter patted his sling. “Just let them try. I'm in a killer's mood right now.”
Segalia nodded. “Alright. Holler if you need us.”
Rorc coughed lightly. “Wouldn't that wake up more guards?”
Nightpaw waved them on again. “Don't worry about me!” he snapped. “Now hurry, before-” A loud whoop interrupted him.
“Oi! Waynalay! Vere are de otters?” A loud voice, though not Razgath's, to Nightpaw's relief, called out.
He heard a high-pitched reply, that of Waynalay's. “I don' know, I wasn't guardin' dem! Mapo an' Blakstreek was!”
There was a snarl. “I heard otter noises by Razgaf's tent. Vet's go check it out!” There was a patter of paws.
“Go!” Came the order from Rorc and Segalia, then they vanished behind a tent farther up. Nightpaw searched around for a place to hide with his brother. He settled on being behind Razgath's tent, then he would run for the clearing where the otters had hid, then run for the shore, where there were logboats waiting.
Nightpaw crouched, listening to paws running into Razgath's tent. He sprung, landing behind another tent. Suddenly, there was a shout of, “There 'e goes!”
Nightpaw looked up, wide-eyed. Unsure if they meant him, he sprang onto the path and sprinted for the clearing. Shouts reached his ears, shouts of, “De otter!”
Nightpaw held his brother close to his body and ran. He tripped out of the bushes and into the shore. A muscular, creamy-brown colored otter looked up, his wooden club out, his dark eyes reflecting the moonlight. A snarl curled his lip, and Nightpaw noticed his orange tunic was ripped and bloody, as if he had already had a fight. The seashell amulet that he always wore was lopsided, and his black woven belt, which always held three daggers and a sling, was missing a dagger. The big otter's half-black rudder slapped the ground, and he barked, “Stop- oh.” A smile crossed the guard's face, then faded as the broken carcass of Menga Streamspliter came into view.
Nightpaw stopped short and stared at the otter. “Kwint? What happened?” He was relieved, at least, to see that all but one of the boats had departed.
Shouts of, “Where'd 'e go?” And “I found a 'ole! 'E's at de shore!” And “De shark's'll get 'im” came from behind the bushes. A glinting blade poked through the bushes.
Kwint Blackrudder, the guard, shook his head. “No time, Nightpaw. Get Menga in the boat and we'll take off in a moment. The vermin can't catch us. Where are Rorc and Segalia?”
Nightpaw hurried over to the otters' nearly loaded boat and laid his brother's body into it. The otters already in the boat looked from Menga to Nightpaw, then let out a low keening. They knew that Menga was gone. The otter turned back to Kwint. “Went to see if the young 'uns an' Laria made it.”
Kwint swore softly. “When?”
“While back. I'll go get 'em.”
The guard shook his head. “Take them-” he jerked his head at the boatload of otters- “to the Holt. I'll send 'em on.” Kwint's dark eyes met Nightpaw's.
The otter warrior shook his head slightly. “No.” He turned to check on the vermins' progress, and felt a quick flash of discouragement. Well, you knew it would never be easy, he reminded himself. “Zora!” Nightpaw blurted.
Kwint shook his head. “I made sure she went on.”
“Ah. How about... Marikah? Marikah Swiftstream?”
A female poked her head above the other otters'. “I'm here, Nightpaw.”
“Good. I'm putting you in charge of that boatload. Make sure you get them all there safely, then bring the boat back for us. Kwint an' I'll 'ide an' wait fer Segalia an' Rorc, an' when they get here, you'll be bringin' 'er back around,” Nightpaw ordered, watching her face for signs of emotion, and found none in the limited view of her almost-black face. Dark eyes watched him back, and she nodded.
“We're trusting you, Bloodhound.” Kwint warned teasingly.
Marikah, at the sound of her nickname, turned and watched him as well. “I will not fail you, brother.” She said, almost as if the words were passing through a waterfall. Marikah cleared her throat. “I go now.”
“Of course. May the winds be at your back,” Nightpaw told her. Marikah nodded and, sitting down again, began to row, in beat with the others. They made quick progress.
Once Kwint and Nightpaw couldn't hear the old rowing shanty anymore, they turned back to the vermin. They watched the vermin struggling through the bracken fronds. They still hadn't been seen yet.
Two paws clamped down on the otters' shoulders. Nightpaw drew his sling and whirled, seeing, out of the corner of his eyes, Kwint do the same.
“Matey, where's ev'ry'un?” Nightpaw looked up into the tattooed face of Rorc Nightblade, and Kwint looked into Segalia's.
“They left.” Nightpaw whispered, still recovering from the shock of seeing Rorc and Segalia.
“Left?” Segalia gasped hoarsely. “B-but...”
Rorc patted her paw. “Don' worry.”
“I ain't worryin' fer me!”
“Well, did they get away?” Kwint asked impatiently.
Rorc and Segalia exchanged looks. “Well, yes...”
“Then where's the problem?” Nightpaw shrugged. “Marikah's coming back for us!”
Segalia gulped, and, when Rorc said nothing, she replied, “Well, we kinda angered some vermin, and they're...”
A loud whoop startled them. Turning, they found that nearly all the vermin had breached the bushes. They all looked bloodthirsty.
The four otters stared, dumbstruck. “'Ow many ye reckon?” Kwint managed to gasp.
Nightpaw shrugged coolly. “Two score? We gonn' make a dent on ol'Macbeth's 'Orde.”
“Then let's let our last stand be allowing our Oltmates t'escape,” Rorc vowed.
Segalia nodded, and they all drew their respective blades. “Attaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” She screeched, and they dove into the vermin.
Nightpaw looked up to find him facing a huge fox in black, wielding a large broadsword. The otter loaded his sling and whacked him in the jaw with it. The fox stumbled, crying incomprehensible things, and swung his sword at a crazy angle, clipping Nightpaw's side. Pain lanced through him, and his vision began to go blurry. Then he thought of Menga, and grabbed his double-sided javelin, anger giving him strength. Swinging back for momentum, his unconsciously felled a rat sneaking up behind him. Nightpaw plunged the javelin into the fox's chest and grimaced, pleased in a deadly way that frightened him when he saw the red blossom on the fox's chest. He stabbed the fox again in the head, and, convinced he was dead, Nightpaw hopped over the rat behind him in time to see Kwint fall. With a fierce screech, the otter warrior hacked at the stoat looming over his friend. “Thanks!” Kwint gasped.
Nightpaw grunted and returned to the fight. All he remembered was swinging and blood, pain and one thought- REVENGE!
Finally, when his arms felt leaden, Nightpaw turned around to see Rorc, Segalia, and himself standing in a lake of dead bodies. He grunted. “We won. But where the heck is Kwint?”
Suddenly, darkness fell over him, and he never remembered hitting the ground.

Chapter Seven- Morning Massacre

Macbeth Ravencliff sat in his tent, honing the blade of his beautiful broadsword. An' not just any broadsword, he reflected proudly. It was special- the hilt was like an hourglass, held by the center, the thinnest part, and the crosshilt was shaped like a pair of raven wings to honor his name.
Macbeth was an interesting ferret; he was silver with turquoise eyes as well as white ears, a white tail tip, and footpaws. He wore a mahogany leather vest that covered half his chest, a green kilt with darker green and red plaid, and a brown Highlander's cap with a golden feather. Around his waist was a brown leather belt, with the buckle as a pair of raven wings as well, and a small scabbard to hold the sword, which was brown leather as well, with a gold raven, gutted through the middle by a sword.
A guard, clad in black, entered Macbeth's tent. “M'lod. Razgath the Mercenary reporting, suh. Admission request for Razgath the Mercenary, suh.” The guard's wandering black eyes avoided Macbeth's.
The ferret looked up. “Ach. 'Im aga-in? Jus' braw. Let 'im in, ah suppose.”
“Thank you, M'lod.” The guard bowed, and turned to leave.
“Jus' a min't.” Macbeth snapped sharply.
The guard turned around.
“Wat kind o' beastie is ye?” The Highlander asked.
“I am a fox, M'lod. An' I belongs to yew.” The guard bowed again.
Macbeth nodded. He didn't want loyalty, he wanted death, but he knew that this fox would find the beast he needed. “Fetch Nail Down.”
“Neil Down, M'lod?”
The guard found the swordtip tickling his throat. “Ach, isn' thaet what ah said? Nail Down! Faind 'im! NOW!”
The fox backed away from the sword and out of the tent. He barked something to another beast, and Macbeth smiled as he heard the harsh accent of Razgath teasing the poor guard. “Ach, Raezgath, me braw beastie. Get in 'ere, let us tawlk business.”
The pine marten strolled into the tent, surveying everything with an air of cold indifference. Macbeth was loath to admit anything kind about his cool ally, but he looked... like the Mercenary known and feared all around. Sleek. Deadly. The image Macbeth desperately wanted for himself. No. In that instant, Macbeth knew what he wanted- Macbeth Ravencliff- Murderer and Massacrer.
“Heddo, dear ally. Vat have yew for today, eh? I am zorry vor vat I did to your guard... he vill live, though.” Razgath smiled winningly at the silver ferret.
Macbeth jerked his head at a hard wooden chair. “Sait.”
“Vank you.” Impeccable manners as always, Macbeth thought grudgingly. It would be much easier to work with him if he were as rough as they usually are... but he and Shadowbane both... slippery as snakes. He would have to watch out. “Zo.”
“So.” Macbeth nodded. He sheathed his sword and stood up.
Razgath looked up at the ferret; they were nearly eye-level with each other. Another thing I HATE about him! Macbeth thought scornfully. He disapproved of creatures that were too tall. He was proud of his medium stature.
“You zummoned me. You ztill need me?” Razgath's eyes seemed to gleam with the hidden secrets behind them.
“Yaes. Nail is comin'.”
“Sorry, guys. The guard was a bit... rough. I 'ad t'make 'im a bit rougher.” A semi-tall, lean fox swept into the tent. He was dark silver-grey with lighter silver-grey fur from the bottom of his snout to his upper chest. He had black ear tips and bright hazel-blue eyes. He wore a faded black waist coat and khaki pants with a small, hidden belt in the waist and under the bottom of his waistcoat. The hidden belt hid Neil's weapons- a hack dagger, a long, needle-shaped knife called a file, and a length of thin rope. A staff was in his right paw, and a wolfish grin lit up his face. I hate working with these guys, but Macbeth pays well... plus a chance to be repaid in blood for my family against Jadefang. Jadefang! The very name made Neil tremble with anger at the traitor. He had trusted her... but he would be avenged. He would avenge his family. And he would find Ming, if he died in the process. She was all he had... He had been promised a chance to regain her. Nobody broke their promised to him.
Razgath nodded at Neil. “Hello young vun. How are you dis fine morning, eh?”
Macbeth didn't give him a chance to answer. “Hi, Nail. Sait.” He nodded at another hardwood chair.
Neil took the chair, not because he wanted to, but because he knew he would have to in the end. “Thank you. What have you called to tell us about?”
Macbeth nodded and stood up. He unsheathed his sword, watching himself in the blade. He swung it a few times as he spoke. “Ah neveh wanted tae be a warlod. Dese beasties... ach, came t'm'! Ah want tae be rid o'dem, an' they ain't goin' sae fast.”
Razgath nodded. “Yez, I underztand. You vant us to drive dem avay, thveathening them.”
Macbeth's turquoise eyes gleamed. “Nay. Ah want us aell t'kaell them all!”
“But that would be a massacre,” Neil exclaimed. Something deep inside him warned him that what he was listening to was wrong.
“Yez... ven vould we do diz?”
“You're actually considering it?!” Neil shrieked. “You're going to help Macbeth kill scores of soldiers, vermin who would die for both of you?”
Macbeth and Razgath exchanged a look. Razgath sighed. “Neil my boy, none of dese vermin vould die for us... on'y vor Macbev here. Ve haz no connection to dem, yah? You alzo zay to Macbev and I, “I help you,” did you not?”
Neil looked from one to the other, and finally lowered his head. “I did,” he gasped hoarsely.
Macbeth sighed. “Ach, ah know what tis laike, Nail. Would ye prefer t'kaell the impris'ned otters?”
Razgath smiled icily. “Vat imprezzoned otters, eh? Ganal let Lavia go, an' Mapo an' Blakztreek let de rest go. One sneaked into my tent; I trick into kill zelf.”
The ferret looked murderous. “Ach! Who was Commander?”
“Vaynalay Draggoon, but she vas not dere, she vas patrolling and doing guard duties.” Razgath smiled again, although a bit uncertainly.
Macbeth sheathed his sword. “Help me aef ye wan', but I am killin' mah 'Orde. Once ah'm done, ah wan' ye gown.”
Razgath stood abruptly. “We'll go,” he promised, pushing Neil out the door.
Once outside, the fox and the pine marten heard Macbeth calling for the guard to, “bring mah collection o'sords!”

~*~&~*~%~

Hollyfire Thornblade stalked through the trees, not overly cautious but alert to danger. She was careful not to snap any twigs, especially since she had no idea who roamed these areas. After a few miles of closely-branched pines, the squirrelmaid was glad to get to some oaks and wider-spread pines, where she could stretch her legs and paws by jumping.
I wonder what Pinedance is doing right now, she thought. Holly remembered the look on her face, surprise, yet not surprise, when she had told her friend she was leaving.
WHOMP! Holly winced as she sat on the ground, dazed. The squirrel looked up at the aspen tree she had just fallen out of. How did I...? But Holly looked around, and realized something: She had walked out of the last tree. In front of her, a long expanse of meadow stretched out. On the other side, the faint outline of a forest was barely visible. To the left and right were forests, but none were closer than the one straight ahead. Holly looked back. Something told her that she should go straight, and the woods behind her looked dark and forbidding. An owl called from somewhere far away. Startled, the squirrel looked up at the sky- it was bathed in colors; red and orange streaks, yellow dots, and a darkening blue sea above her. Cloud-splotches were positioned at random places, but Holly knew that a storm could brew quickly. I've got time. Let's see if I can make a dent in this meadow.
She strode out into it fearlessly, parting large grass fronds taller than her. When she couldn't just shove them away, she took out her sword and cut them. Suddenly, a noise behind her made her stop suspiciously. There was the sound of someone calling, “Oi!” then someone saying, in a much louder voice, “Shut up, idjit! She'll hear!” and a third voice, in an equally noisy rasp, “Both of ye, shush! Yer'll wake th'forest!” And “Shhhhhhh”s greeted this warning.
Holly snorted. What fools! But she turned to the left, circling back so she would be behind them. She heard someone say, “Well! We're campin' fer the night!” and more “Shhhhhh”s. The squirrelmaid shook her head, smiling at the foolishness of the beasts. Although it was getting to be quite dark, Holly wasn't ready to stop now. I've missed this excitement, she realized. Although my time with the Coneslingers was enjoyable, nothing compares to stalking... Her thoughts flashed to Alrescha Gingertail, the wildcat she had hunted, but she shook her head, clearing her mind. She needed her wits about her, even if she was stalking some idiots.
She was getting close. Holly peeked through some grass strands and saw the most curious trio, huddled around a fire. A fire! In a grass meadow! She wanted to laugh, but she was too amused by the sight of the three.
The first one, a cruel-looking pine marten, caught Holly's eye first. He was sinewy and tall, with glinting purple eyes that reflected the firelight. He wore a long purple cloak with a purple tunic, and he had a scythe in his right paw. He looked like he was a strategist; Holly made a mental note to stay away from him if she could.
The second was an albino squirrel; he was all white with white eyes. He appeared thin, but Holly could see the muscles in his legs and upper arms- he had quick reflexes, like those of a traveler. He wore a long, flowing light-blue cloak, and he had a quiver of arrows and a bow next to him. Holly could see a light in his white eyes, although she wasn't sure why it would be there. Curious... most curious.
The third one was a powerfully-built weasel with sharp, beady blue eyes. He wore a red and yellow tunic, and looked a bit like an oaf. He had a broad belt on with five throwing daggers on, and a pouch of something... Holly couldn't tell what it was. She was immediately suspicious of this pouch; the stars only knew what a weasel like him would carry.
Well. The squirrelmaid gave a barely audible sigh. These enemies would be a piece of cake to an experienced warrior like her.
The sky-blue eyes of Hollyfire were turned back to the obvious leader, the shady-looking pine marten. The squirrel scrutinized him, feeling a sort-of bond with him as a fellow leader. Stop that, Holly! You're not a leader anymore. Plus, he's a vermin! She shook her head.
“Ouch!” The squeal from behind her made Holly whirl around. The albino squirrel was holding his right footpaw and hopping around. Holly glared at him although she wasn't mad at him; rather, she was upset with herself for being so caught on watching the pine marten that she hadn't noticed him leave the camp.
“Dybra, you fool,” another voice hissed. “She'll 'ear ye!”
“She did, you moron,” a smooth, cold voice told them both. Holly didn't move as the pine marten and the weasel also slunk out of the grass.
Dybra, the squirrel, was sitting on the ground now, in a pile of fire ants, Holly noticed, and holding his paw as silent tears rolled down his face. “I-I'm s-sorry! I stepped on a s-stick!”
The weasel unsheathed a dagger. “Aww, does Dwybwa's widdle footpaw hurt?” His mocking tone became a deadly one. “May I hurt it further?”
The pine marten interfered. “Xydrab, stop that. Dybra, you idiot, pick yourself off, before...”
The squirrel finally seemed to realize where he was sitting. “YOUCH!” He howled, clutching his back end and running around in a circle. Finally, he stopped, and finally noticed Holly watching him with a cool, scornful blue gaze.
“Ydarb, we have a guest. And boy is she pretty!” Dybra smiled at Holly.
The squirrelmaid glared at him. She stepped up and slapped him once, across his face. “Wake up, antbottom,” Holly hissed. “Get your head out of the clouds, or I'll send it down to earth in a second!” Her paw was on her sword hilt.
“Enough!” Xydrab grabbed Holly's right paw, and Ydarb took the other. “Yore comin' wi'us!”
Holly smiled sassily. “And if I don't care to?”
“You have a choice?” Dybra snarled, finally recovering from his shock at being slapped by the squirrel. “You're coming to the mungeon. Where you eat squirrel fur and weasel blood.”
Xydrab stared at him. The albino's face flushed. “Er... dungeon... where you eat bold bread and slopbeer.”
“Yes, I have a choice,” Holly told the weasel icily, ignoring her fellow squirrel. “I could kick you in the shins hard enough to make let me go, and run.”
Ydarb smiled coldly. “Yes, you could. But we have your friend... and you won't sacrifice yourself for her.”
“Friend? I have no friends!” Holly snarled. “Well, none that would be out now,” she amended, seeing the startled look from the three.
“No little squirrely friends?” Ydarb placed the scythe blade under Holly's chin and lifted her face to meet his cruel smile. “She says she knows you. We'll have to see, won't we?” The pine marten looked over her head, and gave a curt nod. “Sleep tight! It's a bit past your bedtime.” Ydarb winked and turned on his heel, the purple cloak swirling behind him.
Holly turned to see that Xydrab had hefted a log and was about to swing it at her. Her last thought before she sank into oblivion was, Corks, I'm outsmarted by these buffoons, again! You're slippin, Holl...

~*~&~*~%~

Silverfalcon Pikehawk slipped through the woods as well, but heading away from Holly, avoiding light and skulking in the shadows. He had a meeting to go to that he normally would never have attended. Well, not since the First War, that is. He had tried to live peacefully. But the thought that vermin were living in his backyard... well, that was another story. His mind flickered back to the image of Aerothorn Shadowbaen, laying broken on the ground with the knife in his ribs. The otter froze, letting his mind take him back to the day, letting his mind see Vherdan Kozdru, the evil ferret, rear back, seeing Aerothorn slaying left and right, then falling with the dagger, remembering the anguish Silverfalcon had felt, running to his friend and striking out at all. Blood flew around the otter as he snarled icily at all that came near him. Only one thought had remained- kill Vherdan!
But then Silverfalcon remembered his pain in seeing his mother fall as well, and remembered his oath to avenge her, as well. He had done so, but only after years of pain. He had fleeting images of his own death, of falling into the void, then of the fierce energy he felt when the lightening had restarted his heart. The otter clenched his paw. I avenged Sunfrost; I can avenge Aerothorn!
Silverfalcon slowly unclenched his paw. It was times like these that he really felt the pang of Aerothorn's loss. He looked around, his gold, falcon-like eyes taking in the sunlight on the leaves, the stream in the background... Oh Aerothorn, how could you leave this?
No tears sprang to Silverfalcon's eyes, which surprised him a little bit. Death does not faze me anymore? He wondered. No. I just cannot believe that he's really gone. He thought of Aerothorn's face as he had last seen it, twisted with the pain of breathing in and out. He was such a skilled warrior, Silverfalcon thought. He unsheathed his five-and-a-half-foot claymore and looked at it. Aerothorn had used this, and Silverfalcon had taken it with him after leaving his friend at Redwall Abbey, so he could slay his friend's killer with Aerothorn's own blade. While the claymore had frightened away many vermin, Silverfalcon knew he could never use it, except for on Vherdan.
Shaking his head to clear his memories, except for one- Aerothorn would have loved this meeting-Silverfalcon set out again towards his meeting with Ming, which was in the woods surrounding Salamandastron. How I distrust foxes! Even ones that have proven themselves to be 'good', I still cannot abide by the fact that they are vermin... and that I am expected to trust them as I would trust myself! Although I suppose that this is Jadefang's life on the line... Silverfalcon snarled softly to himself.
Jadefang. Another fox. The only reason Silverfalcon was even thinking about helping her was because of Neil. And Snowpaw. Silverfalcon and Aerothorn had fought alongside Neil in the last war... The only fox I've ever trusted. And look where it got me.
In the hunt to avenge Sunfrost, Silverfalcon's mother, Neil had spied on Razgath. The mercenary had known he was there, and mentioned knowing where Ming, Neil's sister, was. Silverfalcon had never seen Neil again, but he knew that he would still be friends with him... if Razgath hadn't taken his soul into a state of killing yet.
And Jadefang. Poor Jadefang. Losing Neil to something that wasn't her fault, then losing him... Silverfalcon recalled her last words to him: I loved him, Silver. It wasn't my fault that his family died. He's distraught over Ming's disappearance. I have to help him. Then, she slipped out of his life.
Silverfalcon had thought her long-dead until word had reached him last night of Snowpaw Keeneblade's death. While he had never actually known her, he had known of her. When he found out that she had been with Jadefang, well... after making sure Arka, Meira, and Laria got away, Silverfalcon found himself helping Ming. It's the least I can do for Neil and Jadefang.
The otter yawned, happy that he had forgotten about Aerothorn again. Silverfalcon had left him with a group of mice, not wanting to see his friend die. Maybe... The otter banished the thought, and resumed walking. The hope that had risen at the thought of his friends' unlikely death was quelled, and Silverfalcon walked on.
After a while, he stopped in a glade, filled to bursting with the dying sunlight. Silverfalcon looked around, then nonchalantly dove into a bush. “Ming!” he hissed. “Are you here?”
A sly-sounding voice answered. “Silver? Is that you? Are you alone? You didn't bring Jade, or Neil, did you? Or even Aero?”
Silverfalcon frowned. “Aero's dead, Neil's tearing up Mossflower looking for you, and Jade is running from Neil. So no, I didn't.” He couldn't believe these foxes. Neil, distraught over Ming, and she was worried about him bringing her brother to her! Silverfalcon snarled silently to himself, and his paw moved automatically to one of the swords hanging off his belt. “You can come out, if you're alone. I don't wish to fight today.”
A silky reply greeted him. “Nor I. My clash with my foster-father had left me in poor condition, and twas it not for the healer Seamus Mac Uider, I would be in a sorry state now.”
Silverfalcon's eyes widened. He had never heard Ming talk like this before. She had always been relaxed. “Foster-father? Healer? Ming, you have explaining to do.”
“So I do. I'm coming.” There was a great sigh, and Ming the Fox strode out of the bush next to Silverfalcon's. She was a pretty, dark-grey color with a white-tipped tail. Her eyes were the deep blue of the sky, and she wore a blood-red poppy behind her ear. Her body was covered with a purple battledress, cut in two by a gold weapon belt, which held her strange weapons- a katana, a chakram, a shriken, and five kunai knives. Silverfalcon noticed barely-visible scars on her arms and legs, although she tried to cover them.
Ming looked the otter over at the same instant he was studying her. Tough as always, with his falcon-colored fur and golden eyes, coupled with the enormous amount of weapons he held, Silverfalcon Pikehawk certainly was a sight as well.
“So. You are in good health, I suppose,” Ming started.
Silverfalcon shrugged. “As good as yours, I suppose. I found a long-lost sister, Arka Wavetide of Holt Lutra.”
Ming looked impressed. “I finally found a profession.”
Silverfalcon smiled. “Did you? What are you? A warrior, fighting against the forces of Shadowbane? Of Vherdan Kozdru?”
Ming's smile vanished. “I am a mercenary assassin.”
Although Silverfalcon looked surprised, he wasn't, not really. She was always a bit... out there, he admitted. Oh, well. Like brother, like sister, I suppose. “Who are you working for?”
“Now? My foster father, Lord Shadowbane. But I shall move on, as soon as I complete his orders.” Ming couldn't meet Silver's eyes.
Shadowbane? Ming, are you insane?!” Silverfalcon shrieked. His face was livid, and his eyes blazed as he gazed at the fox. “He'll kill you if you fail!”
The mercenary's calm blue eyes met his flaming golden ones. “Lady Antga will protect me. But enough of this. I called you to this meeting to discuss... things.” Lady Antga was the wife of Shadowbane; it was rumored that she held great power with the warlord, and helped him with his decisions.
Silverfalcon's eyes narrowed. “Things.” It wasn't a question.
“Yes. You see, Shadowbane would like to thank you for freeing the otters from Macbeth Ravencliff's clutches. It angered him against his horde, and he has doubtlessly killed them all by now. Razgath and my brother Neil will join Shadowbane. And Neil and I will become reunited.”
Silverfalcon mentally kicked himself, forgetting about the mercenaries. “By then... it-it will be too late. Neil will be too taken with Razgath to even remember you!”
“And I will have changed as well. Maybe it's for the best.” Ming's eyes shone now. “My father would like to offer you an invitation to join his Horde as the highest ranking Hordesbeast of them all- Supreme General. In return for your services, he will search and search to find Aerothorn... what do you say, Silver?”
The otter stared at the fox, unable to believe his ears. He started to back up slowly. “Y-you're not the Ming I remember. Neil cares about you.”
Ming matched him, step for step. “This isn't about Neil! It's about you!”
“What has Shadowbane turned you into?!” Without meaning to, Silverfalcon realized he was screaming at her.
She, however, remained calm. “Nothing. I am my own animal, Silver.” She looked deep into his eyes. “Please,” she begged, her voice calm and slow. “Please. He's not a monster, Sil-”
Silverfalcon jerked back. “Yes, he is! Tell him that I think he's a rotten, horrid, beast! I hope he rots at the Hellgates! I'll never join his Horde if he kills me and strings me on a linenline!”
Ming's eyes blazed black fire. “Fine.” Her voice was deadly icy, but a great deal quieter than hers. “Neil and I will remember this.” Turning on her heel, she stomped off into the trees.
Silverfalcon gazed back at her, anger making him watch her leave. Finally, he snarled loudly, “I don't care! I don't know either of you anymore!”
No answer greeted him.
Still rigid with rage, Silverfalcon turned and marched away, in the exact opposite direction from Ming.

~*~&~*~%~

Aerothorn Shadowbaen, very much alive, tied off his black cloak, checking his appearance again in a shard of broken glass. He was a tall, very muscular mink, with dark eyes and a few red tattoos. He wore a black leather tunic with a lot of the material wrapped over his arms, and a chain mail tunic over this one. He also wore a black cloak, a silver earring in each ear, black vambraces, two silver tailrings, and two gold arm rings on each arm. He had scars on his legs where blades could protrude, and, as they bled, they were a bit of a weak spot. On his back were two black longswords, and a quiver of black-fletched arrows, complete with a black longbow, were also slung over his shoulder. Halfway down Aerothorn's calves were three blades, in between each knuckle, that could protrude if he needed them to. Just below his wrist was a down-to-the-floor-length blade, along with half-a-bicep-length blades coming out of his elbows. Out of each fingertip came more down-to-the-floor-length blades. Surprisingly, Aerothorn's arms were the normal length, and his movement was not hindered at all by these blades. He also had a dagger and a small axe, and two throwing axes that had blades like regular axes, all kept tucked in hidden places in his garments. Aero had one more hidden blade; on the bottom of his shoulders, on his back and near his arms, another blade was concealed. This weapon caused him the most pain, and he avoided using it at all costs. The hidden blades on the bottom of his vambraces sometimes dug into his fur, but he didn't mind.
The mink triple-checked that his longswords on his shoulder were straight. His lady, Lady Shayra Darkblaze, for whom she worked as a bodyguard, was a stickler for appearances, especially now that they were dining in Lord Ganal's tent. It was their first night here, only hours after Whiteblaze's death. Poor fox; Shayra sent him to spy on Ganal, I know. But he let the rat know his intent. The fool. But a good fox nonetheless.
Nodding once, Aerothorn left the dressing tent out into the setting sun, bathing Macbeth's camp in blood-colored light. The hues of orange, yellow, gold, and scarlet made the mink's eyes widen, but he closed them back to normal size again quickly. Being a bodyguard, he was instructed to show little emotion.
A heavily-armoured ferret clanked by, holding a spear aloft. All that was visible was armor- silver chain mail, and the barbed spear. When he spoke, the words were metallic. “Aerothorn Shadowbaen. Lady Shayra Darkblaze is eating with Lord Ganal. You are requested to join them. You know the way to his tent?”
Aero wasn't sure if he worked for Shayra or Ganal, so he stayed his voice and kept it emotionless. “Yes,” he said carefully. Aerothorn's voice was deep and gruff-sounding. “I can find Lord Ganal's tent to dine with Lady Shayra. Thank you, kind sir.” Belatedly, Aero realized that the ferret could be a female.
The ferret didn't say anything, but nodded quickly, the armor helmet clanking against the chestplate. “Beware of the Hourglass,” he warned, and clanked away.
“Wait!” Aero turned and ran back to him, his cloak flying in the dust. “What do you mean?”
The ferret glared at him. “Go. Leave me be.” He started to brush past Aero, but the mink didn't let him.
“I must know what you mean!”
The barbed spearpoint was suddenly an inch away from Aero's unprotected face, but he did not flinch. “If you were smart, you would heed my warning. But remember, you did not hear it from me. To have done so would be an automatic death penalty. Sleep well, dear friend.”
Aerothorn couldn't help but see the irony in being called a friend by the creature who owned the spear in his face. “Alright. I thank you for the warning. Good evening.” The mink stepped around the ferret and headed towards Ganal's tent.
Once inside, Aero bowed to Shayra and moved to stand beside her chair. He glared impassively at Ganal's bodyguard, a weasel and a rat, both dressed like the ferret outside. Ganal himself wore all black, although he had taken his hood off to reveal a hideously ugly head. One eye was swollen nearly shut, and the other was an ugly hazel. His right ear was torn down the middle, and the left had a horrendously gaudy gold earring in it. Little fur remained on Ganal's head and fur, and he had six whiskers on the right side of his nose, and four on the left. Everything below his chin was covered in thick black cloth. Shayra, on the contrary, wore her customary dark green tunic and royal blue cloak, with her black belt and The Executioner, her short sword, in it. Aero noticed that her spear wasn't present; she obviously didn't assume that Ganal would try to attack her here. I wonder how she can still eat, looking at him like that!
The food was a roasted duck, swathed in vegetables (Aero felt some compassion for the poor creature), tossed green salad, vegetable soup, and peaches, drowning in their own juice. Cold, dark red wine served as a drink, and rather flat blackberry scones (Or blackberry STONES, thought Aerothorn) were dessert.
Ganal raised his goblet of wine. “To this dinner, sparse though it may be. And to our guards.” He raised his glance to Aerothorn, and the mink saw a glimmer of hate in his eye. Aero carefully kept his face neutral, and, although it took effort, it was worth it to see the annoyance flicker across the ugly rat's face.
Shayra smiled (Aero assumed) and raised her goblet as well. “To this lovely dinner, prepared for us by your dear friends, and to dear Aerothorn.” He smiled.
Ganal nodded, and the two drank. Aero was pleased to see that Shayra did not take any of the liquid herself. After this drought, Aero would drink; if there was poison, he would die instead of his mistress.
The raccoon passed the gold cup to her guard, who actually sipped. Aero felt the fiery liquid drip down his throat, but a moment passed, then two, and he had not yet fallen over. The mink handed it back to his mistress as Ganal's guards handed it back to him. They nodded, and fell on the food.
“Does not Macbeth know I am here?” Shayra asked, spearing a piece of meat and chewing it daintily.
“M'lod Macbeth is-” Ganal began.
“Ach, ah know ye're here, Shay'a.” There was a flare of light, and the white ferret stood, holding his hourglass sword in his right paw and a burning candle in the left. “Ganal, mate, ye've been a grate rat-'and rat. But ach, me'wee lad, tam's've changed.” With one swift stroke, Macbeth's sword had severed Ganal's head. He bowed to Shayra, who suddenly stood upright. Ganal's guards looked unsure of their purpose. Macbeth kicked the weasel in the chest, who fell, before he stepped on his neck, cracking it harshly. The flat of the swordblade was brought onto the rat's head, and he too crumpled. Macbeth stabbed him in the back of the neck and left him there to bleed. The armor ran red.
“Lass.” The ferret's voice betrayed none of the instability in his mind. “Ye may leaf naow.”
Aerothorn pulled back Shayra's chair, but she was already standing and out of it. He bowed, but it went unnoticed. The raccoon warlady was staring at Macbeth, confusion in green eyes. “You killed your own Hordesbeasts. Why?”
Macbeth twirled his sword idly. “Maybe ah dinnae want tae lead an 'Orde,” he said coldly.
A smile played on the cold-hardened yet beautiful face of Shayra Darkblaze. “If you ever need anything, Lord Ravencliff, you shall find me open. I thank you for the hospitality.” She curtsied.
Macbeth Ravencliff smiled. “Ah thank ye.” He watched Shayra leave.
Aerothorn Shadowbaen turned back as he followed his mistress out. Macbeth saw distrust and respect in his eyes, but not fear. The white ferret returned his suspicious glare, and the mink finally turned away for good.
The Highlander looked at his sword, and remembered Aerothorn's look. I hope I never have to fight that mink in a battle to the death. He looks as though he's met death before. B-but... that's impossible...

Chapter Eight- The Prisoners

A filthy mouse sat, his back against the cold stone wall. The air in the prison was hot and stifling, and the mossy, moldy water that ran through the crevices in the wall was warm as well, although the sound was welcome in the pressing dark. He yawned, feeling the dried dirt crack on his chin as the fur was drawn taut with the yawn, and sighed as he closed his mouth again. Reepicheep, you were a fool to allow yourself to be captured by these idiots! No sense of honor whatsoever! And where was your sense? The mental voice berated the mouse. He sighed again as another voice replied, Honor replaces sense. I couldn't let Sordak just be captured...
Had Reepicheep, actually, his full name was Sir Reepicheep the Second, been out in sunlight, and clean, he would have looked like the warrior he was. The mouse's fur was a darker shade of tan, and brown fur on the tip of his chin formed a sort of very short, stubby goatee. His headfur was slightly darker, but it set off his hazel eyes perfectly. He had an almost unrecognizably dirty grey tunic and a black belt with a rusty gold, oval-shaped buckle. A sheathe hung from the belt, containing an odd shape. The creatures that had captured Reepicheep had obviously taken the sword, but had he had it, it would have been strange looking; his sword was a hybrid between a few types of swords- part rapier, part sabre, and part espada ropera, a light, thin sword. The mouse yawned again and snorted accidentally upon finishing his yawn.
An equally dirty squirrel let out an impatient sound. “Ah, come off it, Reepicheep! Ye'll 'ave all o'us yawnin' by the end o'the day, if'n ye keep that up!”
Reepicheep smiled. “Hello, Sordak.”
The squirrel was Sordak Wildfur, the friend that Reepicheep had saved, getting him captured and, in the end, Sordak was caught as well. If the squirrel had been clean, he would have been seen as a warrior a little past his time. He had brown, black, and greying fur with greenish eyes, and wore a brown tunic and kilt with vambraces on his upper arms. He had a seven-foot, eight-inch empty claymore-sheathe strapped onto his back, and an empty belt along his waist. Had Sordak had his weapons, the belt would be full; a spatha (a straight sword), a shamshir and a bone-handled gladius adorned the belt, while two daggers were buckled to the tunic. The belt was attached to the claymore sheathe to hold it up, and the one other weapon he loved, the boar spear, had been snapped in the fight.
The fight. It made both Sordak Wildfur and Reepicheep tremble with rage. Sordak's abusive, murderous father, Vorpal, after joining up with Razgath the Mercenary and Dybra, Xydrab, and Ydarb, had betrayed Sordak's mother to them in a fit of rage. They attacked the house, killing his mother, but Sordak had fled to Reepicheep. The two had fled, much to the disappointment to Reepicheep, and been on the run for a while, until they had been ambushed. Reepicheep heard them coming, and stood to fight, allowing Sordak to run. But Ydarb had snuck around, and, after the squirrel collapsed in exhaustion, he caught him. They had been reunited in this dungeon, but the thought of their captors drove them crazy.
Another voice hissed, “Shh! I hear the guards.” This was Christain, or Chris, a female squirrel mercenary. She had light brown fur, a shade lighter than the sand dotting the seashore, and dark eyes. She wore a black tunic and a rope belt, which once held her daggers and knives, her specialty. A little squirrel, her younger brother, Pippin, sat next to her, and he let out a small wail. In the light, Pippin was the same color as Chris, but with lighter eyes. He was wearing black too, but no belt, and had one tattered sandal; a right one. Chris put her arm around him, and he snuggled against her.
Chris had also been captured by Vorpal and Razgath, and brought to Dybra's prison. She had been captured after being told that Pinedance Coneslinger was a prisoner.
Which she was. But she hadn't been when Chris was captured. Pine was the newest of the prisoners. Her fur was still glossy, and she said she still had a dagger hidden. Pinedance had brought both good and bad news: Razgath wasn't working with Dybra anymore, and neither was Vorpal, but the bad news was that nobody knew where they'd gone.
The heavy wood door opened with a bang. Xydrab stood in the doorway, holding a burlap sack. All the prisoners hearts sank. A new prisoner. It was what the bag meant. The powerfully-build weasel glowered at them and tossed the bag carelessly into the room. “Here ye go. Enjoy yer supper.” He cackled half-heartedly. “Would ye like a roastin' spit?”
Pinedance stared at him, the question not registering as serious, but Sordak knew more than her. “Yessir.”
Xydrab smiled, showing crooked teeth in the dim light reflecting from a lantern in the hall outside the cell. “Now yer talkin'. This is where I need a servant...” He turned and grabbed something outside the door. Turning back, he beckoned to Reepicheep. “Oi, yew. Yew look stout 'nough. C'mere.”
The mouse warrior approached him, head held high. The weasel handed a sharp-pointed stick to Reepicheep. “'Eere ye go. Cain't give ye fire, Dybra'd 'ave my 'ead, but you can 'least cut 'er apart now fer all o'ye. A'tho'-” he winked roughly at Pinedance, who was skulking in the shadows near Chris and Pippin- “Ye dun'ave tew, if ye dun'wan'tew.”
“Well, I believe I will.” Reepicheep took the stick and looked at it closely, blocking Xydrab's view of the sack, which Sordak was dragging into the corner. “Thank you, dear sir.”
“Yer welcome. Oh, and won uder thing.” He smiled again. “Keep it down, ye 'ere? Or I'll 'ave to be Mr. Mean prison-keeper. Er we understandin' each other?”
Christain piped up from the back, “Yes, sir.”
“Yes, sir.” Pippin giggled, echoing his sister.
“Yes, sir.” Xydrab mocked, sneering slightly. “Er well. Eat up, me 'earties!” He banged the door shut as he left.
Sordak walked over to Reepicheep, who still held the stick, and the two just looked at the door.
“He's so... ugh!” Pinedance winced. “And yesterday he was dragging out Mooncloke...”
Mooncloke had been an old hare who had been trapped in the dungeon longer than any of them, even Reepicheep. She had been subject to random spasms, and her last, the day before, had resulted in her hitting her head hard on the roof. Ydarb had decided, for some odd reason, that he had to talk to Mooncloke that day, and when Xydrab had come in to get her, she hadn't moved. Thinking she was simply asleep, he had whipped her, hard, but by the time she'd woken up, her time had expired.
Chris held Pippin closer as the memory of poor Mooncloke jumped into her mind. “They're so cruel.”
“Yes, they are. Sordak, who's in the bag?” Pinedance asked.
The squirrel started and turned away from the door. “A pretty young squirrelmaid, not unlike yerself. Go see 'er. She's shiverin' in the bag.”
Pinedance crawled over to the burlap sack and whispered, quietly, “It's okay, dear. You're among friends.” It was what she always said when she couldn't see the new addition; and Xydrab had taken the light with him, leaving the place dark as usual.
“I know. I'm with you again.” The familiar voice gave a harsh, bitter laugh. “I shouldn't've even left you, Pine.”
“You aren't... Hollyfire Thornblade? What are you doing here?” The shock was evident in Pine's semi-shaky voice.
“Why, I could ask you the very same question.” There was a sound of someone standing up, and a bit of dust blew into Pine's eyes and mouth. She coughed it out, her eyes watering. “Sorry. Did I get dust in your eyes?” Holly's voice did not sound overly concerned.
“Just a tad. I'm okay, though. They just... caught me. I was out gathering berries. Killed Greentough and took me. He... he was a good warrior.” Pine shook herself. “But it's not as bad here as you'd think. There's Christain and her brother, Pippin, in the corner over there.”
“Hi!” Pippin squeaked.
“Hello there.” There was a smile in Chris's voice.
“Reepicheep is over by the door still, I believe.” Pine continued.
The mouse croaked, “I can't understand for- oh, hello, Holly dear. Why he would...?”
“Bit of shock,” Pinedance whispered. “Yesterday, a friend of Reep's, a hare named Mooncloke, was whipped to death. He hasn't quite been the same since. But be honorable around him. You could burn Redwall Abbey down in front of him, killing all within, as long as it had an honorable justification.”
Hollyfire shuddered at the images that conjured up.
“And Sordak Wildfur is... around here somewhere. He-”
“I've met Sordak.”
“And I'm right here.” The squirrel's voice was near where Chris's had been.
Pine shrugged, although no one saw. “So there you have it. Our happy little group, minus poor Mooncloke.” She sighed. “We've been planning an unfruitful escape for a while. What else'd you have to do? But now that Xydrab gave Reep the roasting spit...”
“You seriously aren't going to eat me, are you?” Holly asked, a little incredulously.
Pippin giggled. “No, swilly! You a friend.” He cuddled down next to Chris and giggled again, softer.
“They aren't really that smart, but even a group of idiots like them would see us running towards them and figure out that we'd escaped.” Reepicheep came and settled down next to Pinedance and Holly. “But I know how we could do it. Holly, how well can you see in the nighttime?”
The squirrelmaid considered for a moment. “Not too bad,” she said finally. “Although Pine is better.”
“Well, you'll have to do. Listen to me...” As Reepicheep announced his plan, without violating any codes of honor, of course, the five squirrels nodded savagely. Anything to get back at the three fools who had killed their loved ones, either by accident or small, hidden skill.

~*~&~*~%~

A small shrewmaiden of about twenty-two seasons stood at the helm of a half-sinking boat, gazing out into the gloom beyond. She was named Renna, self-titled “The Rapier”, and she was a fierce, former- Guosim warrior. Renna looked like any typical shrew- she was short, with grey, spiky fur and black eyes; she wasn't pretty, but she wasn't ugly either. She was wearing a blue, green, and purple striped kilt that looked as if it had seen better days, as well as a light blue, sleeveless tunic, a broad brown belt around her waist, and gold earrings. Her ears had some tears in them from previous fights, mostly ones that she had started. The Rapier was not one to back down from a fight. In her belt was her rapier, which she had earned her name from, and a pouch for slingstones. At the present, she had exactly four stones left. Not very many, she thought ruefully. But it only takes one to gain the advantage. Renna was, quite obviously, not in the best of moods, but neither in the worst. I could be a lot grumpier, standing aboard this ship, while Rosheen is... where is Rosheen?
Renna turned away from the foggy beyond, and looked around the ship. It hadn't been her ship originally. It had been Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe's. Reena and Rosheen- her otter friend, where ever he was- had visited Salamandastron, and had been allowed to go with the Great Badger Lord. The Great Badger Lord. He had been known as such, just as this ship, The Broadsword, had been his best ship. Had. No one would argue that The Broadsword was not going through it's best time.
“Rosheen?” Renna called, suddenly wondering where her friend was. Had the corsairs returned?
“I'm 'ere, Renna. Tidyin' up th'cabin.” There was a loud thumping noise and a squeal, but Renna didn't bother about her friend anymore, just giving a brief “Okay” in response.
Her mind wandered, flying back to the battle against the corsairs....

The clouds were dark and heavy, filling the sky to the edges and sagging low. It was hot, so sticky-hot. The crew of The Broadsword wished, not for rain, which would have come down in buckets, but for wind, just to stir up the air. But when the wind came, it lashed at the ship, the masts swaying like a mere branch, not something built by Dargen Seadiver, the Holt Lakewander boat-builder (the ship itself had been a present from the Holt).
As the sails billowed around, Renna looked about her frantically, seeing hares screaming for help on something. A great dread suddenly built up inside of her. “Where is Lord Trawnbull?!” she shrieked. But the hares paid her no mind; they were too busy trying to keep the ship in order. Finally, she stormed up to Private Pardicut, a handsome young male hare that Renna had been instant friends with. “Pard! Where's the Great Lord?” Renna asked.
Pardicut looked at her for a second, then looked back at his work. “Lord Thickstripe is probably helping someone. You should go ask him what you could do, you know, if you want to. I would come with you, but you know General Sarge...” General Sarge was not his real name, but it was what all the hares called him, as he was both a General and a drill leader. “He's as stiff as nails, and would have me washing the dishes and on night duty for the rest of me life if I left me job now.”
Renna nodded and watched him for an instant as he struggled with the tiller. Finally, she left to go look for the badger lord. The rain began to fall hard, stinging them like wasps. “Lord Thickstripe!” Renna called, over and over. She finally found him in the below-hold, as she called it. He was hunched over a map, oblivious to all everything around him. “Lord Thickstripe!” Renna gasped out. The door slammed shut with a BANG! Renna jumped, but the badger didn't move.
He looked up, and the shrew was shocked to see the weariness in his deep eyes. “Yes, Renna. I am here.”
She suddenly felt ashamed of herself, and took a gulping breath. “Something is coming,” she said reluctantly. Renna wouldn't have told him that, but she felt like she couldn't just walk away from him, not after interrupting him like she did. “Something bad. I-I can feel it.”
Lord Trawnbull stared at her until she felt like she wanted to be swallowed up by the wooden floor beneath her paws. Finally, he said in a hoarse voice that was not his own, “There is a great battle coming, Renna. You and Rosheen will be the only survivors. My time is coming. We will win, but you must go back to Salamandastron and tell the True Heir, he will be there, that I have fallen. Tell him to defeat all enemies and use my hares for experience; he will be the next Great Lord.”
Renna recognized a prophecy, and she fell to her knees, speechless, gazing at the powerful badger. She did not know how long she knelt there, but she spoke, finally, when she could. “Lord Trawnbull! Please, you can't die!”
The badger shook his head to clear it, and looked down at her, puzzled. “Why are you there? Why aren't you out fighting? Can't you hear the corsairs?”
Renna, shocked, realized she could. How long have I been in here? She drew her rapier as Trawnbull stood up, drawing his broadsword. He lumbered to the door, Renna following. As he flung it open, the wind and rain attacked them. They heard the sound of metal upon metal as ugly rats fought against the valiant hares. “Pardicut!” Trawnbull roared as he stomped over to a motionless lump. “No!”
The shrewmaid gasped in horror, but, remembering the Lord's prophecy, threw herself into the battle. If she would be a survivor, she would give the corsairs blood and vinegar. And that was all she remembered. Blood and dead bodies. When the terrible battle was finished, Renna remembered looking across a sea of dead corpses and seeing only one standing, weakened body- Rosheen. With her last bit of energy, Renna scoured the wet deck, found her target, and crawled over to Lord Trawnbull. His great eyes flickered as they saw her. “Renna.” The voice was barely above a whisper.
She blinked the tears back. “Lord Trawnbull.”
He sighed a heavy sigh. “Don't forget. The Heir must rule.” And his powerful, dark eyes closed for the final time. Renna felt a deep heaviness settle over herself, and she called “Rosheen.”
Or maybe she didn't. The world became foggy and colors and shapes faded in and out of focus. A powerful throbbing in her head was all she was aware of, and Lord Trawnbull Thickstripe's last words ran through her head. “The Heir must rule. I can't forget, Rosheen.” Then welcoming darkness swallowed her up.
Renna swallowed the tears and bile that rose as she thought of the Great Badger Lord's death. He would be missed sorely by all, yet the shrewmaid couldn't help thinking about “The Heir”. Would he be kind? Would he be as good as Trawnbull had been? The Lord himself had said yes, he would be, but Lord Trawnbull had always been modest.
The shrewmaid shook her head briefly. “Rosheen. Are yew still in th'cabin?”
“Yeah.”
Renna nodded to herself and left the helm, walking down slippery stairs. The bloodstains were still evident, yet all the corpses but General Sarge, Pardicut, and Lord Trawnbull had been removed (most of them were far from being recognizable, anyway). She and Rosheen had cleaned up considerably, but The Broadsword would never be the same, even if they managed to make it back to Salamandastron.
The cabin was lit from one window; everything that Lord Trawnbull had had in the cabin was in shreds, shards, or splintered with blood. In the center of the wreckage was Rosheen, faithful, loyal, living Rosheen. He was tall and muscular, with pale-gold fur and hazel, bloodshot eyes. He wore a maroon, tattered kilt and a black swordbelt, complete with a longsword. He looked tired yet triumphant. Like Renna.
“Renna! Looky 'ere wot I found!” He waved a parcel over his head like it would save his life.
The shrewmaid squinted at it. “Wot is it?” she snapped. Renna liked knowing what was going on.
The otter grinned, unperturbed by her bad-natured tone. “A map! To Salamandystron!”
Even Renna had to smile at that. “Where'd you find it?”
“The Great Lord kept't 'idden in 'is scabbard. Built in, ye might say. So I was takin' the sword out t'clean it, 'cause I figgered this Heir'd might like it and't'wouldn't do fer it t'be all bloody and th'likes when 'e saw't, an'the map jus'fell out! Undamaged too.” Picking his way carefully over to her, Rosheen unfurled the map.
Renna glanced at it. A huge expanse of water, dotted by islands, covered the right side of the map, and a large mass labeled “Mossfl'wer Count'y” took up most of the left. “This is great. But where are we?”
Rosheen's smile quickly faded. “Erm, well.... I thought yew'd know. Bein' ed-u-cated an'all.”
I would know?” She snapped, then looked at the map again. “Well. We was here when the battle started yesterday mornin'.” She jabbed a point near the land, but north of Salamandastron. “We've been driftin' but southeast. So I estimate. My guess's we're.. right about 'ere.”
Rosheen leaned in. “There? Well, then. We're mighty close, 'ren't we?”
Renna looked skeptical. “Mayhaps we'll be there by dusk. Wish we 'ad a compass, though. I 'ate trusting just instincts.”
A shudder ran through the boat, and Rosheen crashed into Renna. They picked themselves up carefully, and Renna moved to go up to the deck. A shard of glass, stuck in her paw, jabbed her, however. Renna picked it out and glanced at it briefly. It was part of a vial, with many words on it. She absently stuck it in her stonepouch and continued climbing the stairs, Rosheen on her paws. When they got onto the deck, they noticed that the ship had stopped moving.
“Are we there?” Rosheen asked, confusion evident in his voice. “Rather cold t'be back at the mountain, 'ren't it?”
Renna's eyes darted back and forth. “Yes. In fact, Rosheen, I think... we are... in the...”
“Halt! In the name of Lord Ungatt Trunn! You are now a prisoner!” A loud, authoritative voice bellowed. Renna whirled to see a troop of blue-furred rats in armor, crudely-made spears drawn, glaring at them.
“Rosheen. Run,” Renna whispered.
“That is a very bad idea, sweetheart,” a condescending voice drawled.
“Who said that?!” Renna was infuriated to find her voice several pitches higher than normal. She snatched a stone our of her pouch and loaded her sling. “I'll show yew sweetheart...!”
The voice continued on in a bored way. “I suggest you drop the sling.”
“Who are you to suggest that to me? I'm Renna the Rapier! Back-”
“DROP THE SLING.” An arrow thudded into the ground in between her paws. “The next one will be in between your eyeballs! Listen to me.”
Stunned, Renna's sling slipped between her paws.
“Good.” It was practically purring. “Now. Captain. Tie them up and follow me.”
An overweight, blue-furred rat stood at attention. “Yes sir, Lord Vorpal!” He produced a coil of rope, and his troops began securing Rosheen and Renna, who stood, still peering into the heavy, oppressive fog, searching for the source of the voice.
It continued, “Shrew! Otter! You are now slaves of the Great Lord Ungatt Trunn, Earthshaker, and his second-in-command, Stiffener Medick. I am second only to them; call me Lord Vorpal Shade.”
Renna started, remembering the name from somewhere. If only she could recall where....
“You will obey all orders from us, or pay the price. I assure you, the consequences would not be.... pretty.”
The shrewmaid glanced at The Broadsword, then instantly regretted it as a Bluefur, as she thought of them, scurried over to it. He scanned it quickly, not going belowdeck, and called back, “Nothin'ere, Lord.”
“Good,” Vorpal hissed. “Burn it or sink it. They must not have any escape route.”
The Bluefur nodded and struck a match. He threw it on the deck and ran, leaping back on land. “Turn the slaves,” Vorpal's voice snarled.
Renna and Rosheen were jerked around, forced to watch their poor ship burn.
Once it was a pile of ashes, the fire sort of burned itself out, the Bluefurs finished tying them. Renna winced. They had done a good job. Soon, their circulation would be cut off. “Captain. Bring them back to camp. Lord Ungatt will see them shortly,” Vorpal ordered.
The lead Bluefur saluted again and signaled to other Bluefurs. They lifted the two prisoners up and slung them over their shoulders. Renna watched the waves lap against the shore until even that was swallowed by the fog. She gulped down her tears and wondered what Rosheen was thinking about.

Chapter Nine- Unlikely Allies

Fiona Fox looked around at the beautiful running water of the River Moss, the sunlight splintering the shadows but giving light to all of Mossflower's little, beautiful things. Of all the places she had gone, all the places she had seen... Mossflower Woods was definitely one of the prettiest.
The carrot-orange vixen grinned as she recalled Thornclaw Braveheart's expression, after telling him that Merlot was her sister. He firmly believed in the old saying, once bad, al'las bad. But Fiona believed in the friendly corsair. Merlot really did seem to have changed.
A twig snapped behind her. Fiona whirled around, her spike-dagger ready immediately. But no one was there. She looked up, remembering her father telling her, Al'las espect an attack from up north. Tis the one way no'un looks when scopin' a place. It had taken her years of suspicion towards northern beasts and countries to realize that his uneducated mind meant up.
But there was still nothing there. Except-wait! Was that a flicker of an eyelid? A flash of a dagger? Fiona took a step back and felt the bank of the river against her footpaws.... and the cold blade of a spear. She whirled, forgetting the unknowns in the woods, and found herself face-to-face with a very thug-ish looking rat. He was tall and fat, although he probably had some muscles in there somewhere, with dirty, unkempt mud-brown fur (that might not have been the real color but it was how he appeared. Did the loads of mud and blood have something to do with that? Probably) and bloodshot, permanently-crossed black eyes. He wore no shirt but a ripped pair of khakis that barely came down to his knees, and his spear was in his paw. The rat's eyes crossed further trying to make sense of Fiona, who had a very dangerous look in her eyes.
“Who 'er ye an'whadder ye wan'?” The threat was hidden in Fiona's voice yet it was obvious to everyone but the rat.
He glanced beyond her and smiled, then laughed a thug-ish laugh. “Huh, huh huh huh.”
Fiona snarled and slashed his right paw (the one holding the spear) open with the poisoned dagger. The rat screamed and dropped the spear. Red blood dripped down his hand, but suddenly he screeched, “Mother! Take me!” His eyes focused for a moment, then glazed over. He pitched back into the River Moss.
“Fascinating,” A sneering voice said from behind Fiona. She whirled again, dagger still ready, to see a strange, black-furred ferretmaid standing there. She had a bow strung in the quiver over her shoulder and a few green-fledged arrows left; the rest were black-fledged. Fiona focused on the arrows.
“Aren't those Ranger arrows? As in, Thornclaw Braveheart, Crowley, and the others?”
The ferret snarled and Fiona was scared of the demonic look in her eyes. Then she composed herself, plucked a green arrow from her quiver, and snapped it. Fiona remained emotionless, studying the insane hatred in the ferret's dark eyes.
“They were. But they renounced me.”
Fiona grimaced and muttered, “I can't imagine why.” Then she stuck out her paw. “I'm Fiona Fox.”
“Darksoul.” She ignored the paw and eyed Fiona's dagger. “Why do you still have that thing pulled on me? Attacking your allies is a death wish.”
Fiona twisted it back into a ring and put it on her paw. Darksoul's eyes sparkled but she didn't say anything. “Allies?” Fiona questioned.
“Yes. It's obvious you are against the Rangers too.”
“Um...” Fiona took a step back.
Darksoul matched her by stepping forward. “In fact, even if you aren't, you will be because I have the forest surrounded by my followers, and you will die painfully if you don't accept.”
Fiona's eyes widened involuntarily, and Darksoul felt a pang of relief that she had finally scored a point against the feisty vixen. Her eyes slipped from the ferret's and focused on the trees behind her. “Fine,” the word was barely audible.
“Good. And now you must give your word.”
Fiona's eyes flicked back up to Darksoul's in horror, but she merely smiled. “Oh, I know you pretty well, Fiona, from all the legends. You and Merlot, the good vixen sisters. I feel I must have a way of binding you, yes? Or you might get a notion that you could be the hero here. But I'm telling you, that would not be smart.” Now they were nose-to-nose. “So give me your word, Fiona Fox, to swear to fight alongside me, against the Rangers, until we kill them all or die ourselves. And if I die before you, you must swear to continue our work. Or.... your precious little life will end now. Think about it, Fiona. What has Thornclaw ever done for you?” Darksoul's voice was a seductive whisper. Then she stepped back and smiled again in a mocking way. “Your word, Fiona. Or your life.” She appeared to give a signal to someone in the woods. Again, Fiona turned, but whoever it was must have been good at silently walking, and walking without being seen, because she didn't see anyone.
I could break it later. My vow means nothing if it comes to a traitor, and an insane one at that. Fiona winced as she heard herself say in a slow voice, “I give you my word.”
Darksoul looked triumphant. “Then come on. We must return to my army now. We are equals,” she smiled.
As Fiona walked through the woods without feeling an emotions, next to Darksoul, all she could see was that Darksoul had bluffed all along; there were no soldiers in the woods.

~*~&~*~%~

A tall, slender male ermine stood in a burned out camp. His blue-gray eyes missed nothing of his surroundings, and the black line of fur from the top of his head down his back made him look just as fierce as he was. He wore a camouflage-green cloak, which concealed his weapons (he always kept them hidden unless necessary; he believed that advantages came with surprise, and the less the public knew about him, the better) of choice- two Stilettos, a sabre, a coil of rope (yes, it was a weapon), a stolen Yari, and a stolen basket-hilted claymore, which had the same pattern as a kilt on it's hilt. Armin Blanco was dangerous; yet even more dangerous was his status- bounty hunter, with no job.
Yet something had dragged him here. And looking at the mess of what was obviously once a Horde- burned-out fires still smoking, carcasses strewn haphazardly, blood on the ground, tents in tattered ruins everywhere- Armin had to wonder what had happened.
He picked his way carefully through the dead camp and saw scores of beasts lying, most of them dead. After walking for a few moments, a moan made him stop short. Armin stopped until he heard it again, then headed off towards it. Behind a tent on the left side was another ermine. He was lying on his side with an arrow in his chest, and blood covered everything but the hazel eyes. His head was lolling but his eyes were alert.... for now.
Armin dropped next to him, then gasped. “Brothor Erag?”
His dying brother met his gaze. “That's Captain Erag to ye, Armin.”
“Whot happened hyer?”
“Macbeth Ravencliff. We all was followin' 'im and 'e turned on us and killt us all. Some got away. The unlucky ones. Came after Razgath and that freak fox, Neil Down, left us. He even killt his second in command, Ganal, in a meeting he was having with Shayra Darkblaze an' Aerothorn.” Erag coughed blood. “And... wait. You still a bounty 'unter?”
“Si,” Armin replied, not sure where this was going.
Erag smiled, revealing crimson teeth. “Then I hirin' you to find Macbeth. I know you wants to be paid; I 'id a fortune at the mountain o'Salamandastron in the Badgers' Cave. Twas allowed to after I saved Trawnbull... Macbeth took off wi' 'is swords an'...” His voice became thinner and the words softer and harder to understand. “An' an 'aversack wi' food. Wanderin'. Look... look to Redwall Abbey. Goodbye, Armin.” And Erag died.
Armin Blanco sat back in shock. How could he refuse his brother's dying wish?
“Si, bro-ther. I will go and keel Makbeth.”

~*~&~*~%~

A tall otter strode through a moonlit forest. Everything was an eerie silver under the full moon, and everything cast an ominous-looking shadow. Bushes and trees blew lightly in a passing breeze, and a few clouds played around near the moon.
But the otter never strayed. His gold eyes gleamed in the darkness, making him look almost feral, and his blades glowed. There was a sort of aura about him, one that seemed to warn the shadows away.
There was a quiet hissing sound from a shadow behind him. The otter whirled, at the same time drawing one of many longswords that he had on himself. The muscles rippled and the otter gave a little smile. He felt invincible. “Let who is there, show himself,” he ordered.
A tall mink in all black slunk from the shadow. He was completely invisible until he straightened up; then, his red tattoos glowing like the otter's eyes. “Hello, Silverfalcon Pikehawk. Pleasant of you to drop in.”
Silverfalcon, for that was the otter's name, blinked, and sheathed the longsword, ashamed to have pulled it on his lifelong friend. “Aerothorn? B-but... you're dead.”
Aerothorn Shadowbaen smiled, but something seemed off to Silver. “Not quite. I owe my life and alligiance to Shayra Darkblaze, and I intend to remember that.” He leaned in, and Silver instinctively flinched away, somehow knowing what was coming. “I'm a different Aero; stronger, leaner, smarter, crueler. It was fun, fighting alongside you. It was almost... fit for a story. But all stories end, Silver. Even yours. You returned from death once. How much luck can you honestly expect to have left?” Aerothorn leaned back, and blinked his black eyes slowly.
He went on, “Shayra knows about your fighting talent. But I believe that I'm better. I have secret weapons that you don't know about.” His shape began to blur a little. “Our battle is coming, Silverfalcon. I am waiting. Death will welcome you back, I'm sure. He'll want to keep you with him this time.”
With those final words, Aerothorn Shadowbaen faded from view, leaving Silver in the forest. He spoke out loud, “What weapons? I know about his hidden blades. What else could Shayra have given him?” “Nothing. He was bluffing,” a voice called from the darkness behind the otter.
Silver turned and drew a different but nearly identical longsword. “I'm gettin' really sick of random beasts comin' from these shadows. Who in the name of Honor are you? My long-lost cousin?” The voice chuckled. “I appreciate your humor.” The amusement dropped completely from the voice. “But stop. No, my name is Moon Blayde. And since you are against Aerothorn, you would be against me too. I am a wolf, fierce and cruel. I lead an army, and I am coming to crush Redwall Abbey. Again.” Moon chuckled.
“Why are you telling me this?” Silver stepped towards Moon's voice, the longsword out in front. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
“I, my dear otter, am a big part of your future. And don't come any closer, or I will have to do something very terrible to you.”
Silver smiled uneasily. “What will you do to me? How do you know you're a part of my future? I don't understand any of this. Why are you going to attack Redwall? Why are you telling me? I'm not on your side!”
“This is hardly about 'sides'. The line between good and evil is not black and white. I would have thought you would know that, dear Silver. As for why I'm going to attack Redwall, there's no real reason. I already killed Abbot Opratus long ago. 'He wouldn't tell me anymore'. Ha, pathetic old mouse. He deserved to die, and in his sleep, no less! I was merciful.” The last word was a growl.
Silver hated the way he sounded so pleading. “Please, Moon Blayde, come out!”
The wolf chuckled. “Ah, but if I come out.... then your fate will be sealed.”
“What's my fate? What will you do to me? Isn't this all just a dream? It has to be; otherwise, Aero couldn't've just faded like that.” Silver snarled inwardly in disgust at how pathetic he sounded.
There was a rustling, and a black-clawed, grey paw poked out of a bush. “I will show myself, but you will not attack me, and then I will tell you your fate. You will then wake up, or be transported to another dream.”
“Wait!” Silver called out, and the wolf halted, a second paw showing. “Transported to another dream? And if I attacked you, wouldn't you just wake up?”
“Everything is different here. I don't understand why we're here. I don't understand why Aerothorn was here. But I intend to make the best of it, and warn you.” With that, Moon Blayde stepped from the bush. He was enormous, and covered in grey fur with white dapples. His claws were all black, and he wore wolf armor, heavy black chain mail covering everything but Moon's claws and eyes. His eyes were red, with yellow pupils, and his teeth glinted through the mail. Two sheaths hung at his side.
Involuntarily, Silverfalcon took a step backward. “Wh-” He stopped himself and steadied his voice. “Who are you?”
“I am Moon Blayde. I am clearly not someone to mess with,” he purred. “Redwall Abbey will not be the same after tomorrow night, I know it.”
“Don't attack,” Silver blurted. “I know the Abbess, and really, she wouldn't hurt any-”
Moon unsheathed the two longswords that hung on his waist. They each had a sinister green glow in the moonlight, but the hilts and grips were solid black. “Full Moon.” Moon Blayde nodded at the one in his right paw; it had a piece of obsidian in the crosshilt. “Shadow's Moon.” The longsword in his left paw had no jewel in the crosshilt; instead, it had a small skull.
He took an experimental swipe with them both, then brought them in front of his chest and slammed them together with a clang. Silver sparks flew. “These are my secret weapons. They obey my beck and call almost as well as my children, Full and Eagole, do. Full Blayde, now there's a good warrior-son. And Eagole Blayde is a female but she helps dear old Roat at the house.”
Moon slammed the blades together again and more sparks flew. Silver jumped backwards. “I love my family in my own, twisted way, Silverfalcon Pikehawk. Sometimes, I do things that I regret. But what can I say? I'm an evil wolf.” He took the blades apart and studied Shadow's Moon's blade. “Poisoned, both of them. A harsher death, I couldn't imagine.” He glanced at Full Moon's blade, then sheathed them. “I like you, Silverfalcon. I respect you. But soon, we shall meet on the field of battle. And this cruel death will be the one you will suffer.”
Silver stared at him. To the shock of the otter, he felt nothing at all. “I... I always thought I'd have a more noble death. Maybe overwhelmed with foes, or saving someone that I loved.”
Moon shrugged, as if this was of no concern to him. “I do not know all the details; the seer did not say anything in great detail. Rather, I know this, and I know that Aerothorn Shadowbaen will be at your side when you do fall. Maybe you are overwhelmed, and I just happen to stab you. Or maybe you are fighting me, and I win. I know one thing, though.” His shape began to blur. “You are not a coward, Silverfalcon. You will not run from this fate, but rather, face it bravely. You have my respect, which is not earned lightly. Until we meet again, brave warrior.” Moon Blayde faded from view.
Silverfalcon sat down hard on the ground, and just stared at the spot where Moon Blayde, the deliverer of his Death, had once stood. He didn't move until the forest itself blurred, and Silver found himself on his back in Mossflower Woods.

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