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To the Readers-
This is my first FanFic based off of Redwall, and is a total "in progress" project right now. So, the odd style of mine may take a little getting used to. It may be confusing right now, but hopefully, the destinies of the character's will be intertwined properly as action rises. Prophecies, Ballads, and other literary work along these lines will be introduced later on. All credits of the characters, land, culture, and overall idea go to the fantastic author, Brian Jacques.
Try to figure out why its called "A Twisted Reality..."
I would like to thank all who have commented for encouraging me! It just makes my day when people have something nice to say, and helps me when they have a suggestion. I especially want to thank User:SaynaSLuke for helping me work up the confidence to start this.
Please feel free to leave helpful advice or comments!
Chapter 1- Lost in the Mind
Churning waters and waves crashed down upon the ship's sides like a dying animal. The sky was thick with massive dark clouds that loomed overhead, the deep rumbling of thunder tore from the veiled horizon, and below, several slaves jumped. As lightning arched in a bolt across the sky, it illuminated the desperate faces of the rowing slaves. They were gaunt, tired, and fearful; all of them were worn from the hard life, and for some of them, it was all they knew. The crack and sting of the lash across their fur and the heavy manacles that chained their paws, the bobbing of the great ship on the waves, and the cries of many a desperate beast; for some this had been their whole life.
Yet, there were some with spirit. Simple creatures, who had determination in their eyes. One of these such animals was Riah, a young squirrel-maid, who had lived most of her life on the cursed ship. She clenched her teeth, digging her footpaws into the ship's floor and heaving on the oar in count to the beat the drummer had set. Her breath was ragged and dry, arms tired, but she still carried on.
Thankfully for her, she had a strong rowing partner. He was a hare, a previous leveret of Salamandastron's Long Patrol. That was, until he made the decision of leaving the mountain for a season or two to escape his fussy parents, as he had told her anyway. Unluckily for him, the ship at been cruising the shoorline at the time, and he had been captured. Soon after he was chained next to Riah. It didn't take her long to realize hares were truly perilous beasts.
He was called Zevquain, or Zev for short. Lanky yet strong, with a small bit of fur that always curled up on his head. Of course, being a galley slave like her he was known as "slave" or "rabbit" by his captors. At these titles he often adopted a look of mutinously indignant protest, but rarely said anything to it. He had learned from hard lessons of pain it never was a good idea. Being a proud hare, he hated being called a different species, just as Riah hated being called a "treerat." Yet, it happened to be she was a bit more tolerant.
Lost in her thoughts for a moment, she had forgotten to keep stroke with the rowers, not even noticing when Zevquain elbowed her roughly to get her attention.
"Riah, get rowing, danger about and all that," He warned rapidly, comical voice at a whisper. As a flash of lightning illuminated the area around her, she couldn't stop herself from freezing. The notorious slavedriver, Magra had made his way toward her, swaggering confidently in a ragged outfit of searat's clothing, with a smirk on his malicious face, the hooplike earring in one of his ears swayed with the rocking of the ship as his paw holding a sharkskin whip was raised slowly. He always had a strong and uncivilized accent, and always spoke with strong contempt.
"Why, it somethin' tiring you tree-rat? Hungry per'aps?" He teased, still holding his tormenting weapon.
She forced herself to row, clenching her teeth to stop her from shouting a retort. Riah would not rise to his bait. The searat slavermaster continued.
"Of course' I know I would be if'n was a coward like you, stuck on barley meal n' water.Why' if I were you, I wouldn't accept such slop, a slave o'course deserves such vittles," The rat's voice was quieter now, hissing like poison honey. Magra sneered at her, letting the whip's tip flicker around her blistered paws.
Riah couldn't take it.
"I am not a coward, mangefur!" She retorted loudly.
There was a moment's silence, and a unheard gasp from the slave line. Zevquain looked shocked. His jaw dropped slightly, even the howling wind seemed to half soften to a whisper. The air hung with tension, like electricity from the lightning. Magra took full advantage of her outburst. He struck out hard, landing a strong blow on her shoulder, the hit stung like white hot metal, but she only raised her head higher in the heat of the moment.
Up and down the weapon flew, a flurry of lashes in pure rage. Her fur burned, and her throat hurt from dryness. Even the squirrelmaid's eyes glowed with the fire she felt. She was left on all floors, head looking down to the ground, chains keeping her stuck, bench helping her stay up.
Magra was panting heavily, holding in one paw the broken whip.
With a glint of anger in her eyes Riah dared to look up, her pretty face the picture of boiling rage. Red droplets of blood beaded her pelt. The cruel rat was smiling slightly, thinking he had broken her spirit, but his smile faded to anger as she met his gaze evenly with a glare. He signaled with a paw quickly to a couple more of the below deck crew.
"Unchain 'er," he ordered sharply. The two rats stepped forward swiftly, not wanting to disobey the cruel Taskmaster's orders. Riah fell onto the hard floor, blistered paws stinging and entire body aching as she hit the ground. She rubbed at her paws quickly in a rueful manner, inspecting the fur that had been rubbed away. Magra was smiling now, he signaled once more, and Riah was dragged off across the creaking ground.
"Come on darlin' We're goin' to visit dear ole Captin Firestreak, el'll he appy to see you!" He chortled mocklingly. The rat addressed another crew rat, "And bring the rabbit, e's no good by imself." The last that was seen of Riah by some of the slaves was the pretty maiden's frightened face, even though a glint of steely determination still shone in her eyes like a guiding star.
Far away, other creature's fates were much better off. At Redwall Abbey, it was a night of Celebration. The Autumn of Plentiful Harvest had arrived, and a feast was in session in the Great Hall. The Abbess had already said grace, and many of the creatures had practically thrown themselves upon the heaps of food, scoffing it without a care except the prospect of getting too full to swallow. Some how ever, had much more to think about.
Lisa, the current Badger Mother of the Abbey had heard news from her twin sister, Lady Lily that a leveret of Salamandastron had gone missing. The Badger Mother also had little things to worry about, but she truly enjoyed the little things, and didn't know where to be without them.
Currently, a small Dibbun hogbabe was making a terrible mess, he had fallen into a cask of newly brewed Strawberry wine, just trying to stick his snout in and see what it looked like. This had caused some annoyance from the Cellarhog, who had just finished brewing the wine, and now considered it possibly ruined. The little hedgehog, called Juni, was splashing happily, making small gurgling noises. Just before he had seemingly tasted the wine, Mother Lisa rushed forward and hauled the little one out. Her face was stern, but most older beasts knew that her scolding was only to stop the Dibbuns. Sometimes it seemed she only was happy when she had the Dibbuns to worry about.
Sister Sorrel, the current Abbey nurse had exited the Great Hall and quickly grabbed a clean Towel from the sickbay. She handed the towel to the badger, who promptly wrapped Juni in it. The small Dibbun protested, making small snuffling and grumbling noises as his soft spikes were flattened at odd angles in his soft prison of cloth. The gentle Sister Sorrel couldn't stop a little smile. Alongside Lisa the two creatures politely headed away, doubtless heading toward the bathrooms to clean Juni up before his bedtime. Even though the clouded sky outside covered the fertile land, and rain pounded against the fine glass windows, the Abbey folk inside chatted happily over a full table of many excellent foods.
The Abbess, at the head of the table, was speaking calmly to Friar Burr, talking about the skill of which the main course had been cookes. It was a large fish, perfectly cooked in a baking pit the mole team had dug only that morning. The Friar had added simple herbs, and sided it with a sauce. The Cellarmaster had complimented every food with a drink skillfully, and variety was simply underdescribing the amount of food. There were trifles, puddings, scones, rolls, salads, countless drinks, cheeses, flans, and so much more.
Everyone was considerably happy, and amount friends in the peaceful place, and there was not a single tear that night in their home.
The tapestry hanging on the wall overlooking the table's figure seemed to smile. Martin the Warrior was watching.
The red stones that had stood so many seasons, had stood one more.
Chapter 2- In the Dark
Riah closed her eyes tightly, trying to ignore the flash of lightning, the red scars that laced her pelt, the evil grin of searats, and the worried looks of slaves. She let the crew rats drag her, not caring right now about the splinters she was receiving from being hauled across the deck floor. It didn't seem that the rats were having trouble moving her, she hardly weighed enough anyway. She desperately regretted her thoughts now, how they had carried her away to stop moving. Magra had always loved to pick on slaves for the littlest thing, especially weak ones, or ones a who were pretty. He liked to ruin everything a slave had, and make their life worse than it already was. Rain dripped down her back, plastering her fur and making her look even more frail. At least it washed the staining blood away.
Then, she was no longer moving, and collapsed to the floor with a crash. They had dropped her. She made and effort to move, lifting her head ever so slightly. A tall door stretched up before her. The Captain's cabin door. The squirrelmaid heard the clanking of manacles against chain behind her and turned to look. For a moment, her heart soared with half joy, it was Zevquain! She almost called out, but stopped herself by biting her lip. She had to be cautious.
Magra prodded her none to gently with his cutlass, and spoke to her harshly. "Up on yer' paws, this is no time to laze aroun'!" Riah was forced to stand, limping slightly under the slavemaster's orders as the door swung creakily open.
If possible, and even crueler rat sat in the cabin chair, a thin smile spread on his face as he saw Magra and the unfortunate slave. He was dressed from head to whiplike tail in seafaring clothing, and had a belt studded with the teeth of his enimies. Riah noticed that his cabin was layered with the pelts of many animals, and the belt looped around his waist held an assortment of skinning daggers, each one wickedly sharp. There was no doubt on what he used them for, and she hated to think about it. The lesser rat, Magra, slauted quickly and made his report.
"Found this one slackin' in the gallies Cap'n," the rat spoke, his voice was not confident nor sneering now.
The foreboding figure nodded, staring unblinkingly at the slave in thought. He stroked his chin slowly, making his decision before speaking. As he spoke, his voice was lazy and dangerous, matching the danger of the raging storm.
"Hmm... I see, those slobs have been getting lazy lately... String them up and punish them how you'd like, it doesn't matter to me, just make sure they can still work, flog them maybe. Then test their strength when dawn rolls round. They need to know that slackers cause trouble for all, and it's survival of the fittest out on the sea! Oh, and keep this one in the prison cabin with no food or water, that should soften her spirit a bit, eh! Leave the rabbit with her, one slave's no good without another!" At the phrase of being called rabbit, behind her Zevquain gritted his teeth and scowled. "We'll dispose of the weakest as soon as we find more slaves, I can deal with any troublemakers personally for my sword practice..."
At the end of his words, Riah shuddered. What had she done?
The squirrel-maid's heart hammered in her chest as she was dragged off, Zevquain being towed behind her with an utterly reluctant look on his face. Electricity hung in the air, and her fur was one end in static, the very breath of nature seemed to crackle with heat, tense and ready to strike.
Soon, she breathed a last breath of the fresh air, before all around her was swallowed in darkness as if she had just entered the mouth of a great beast. The room they had just entered was stuffy and cold, she could hear the roaring storm outside, and felt the thrashing waves pound against the ship's sides, even the creaking floorboards beneath her paws quivered. To her utter suprise, there was the clink and clatter of chains, well as keys, then she could feel her manacles being tugged roughly off of her paws. The countless blisters worn into her fiery fur burned with new feeling, she instinctively tried to soothe them with her paws.
There was a small light of hope in her eyes, as she could see no beast in the darkness, but then that light faded as a metal collar connected to heavy chain rope was set around her next.
Riah breathed a quiet sigh of regret, and groped at her surroundings. The young maid slumped against the hard wood wall, her worn body resting on the floorboard of planks. She closed her eyes, not needing them in the pitch black, and let her head lean back against the wall. The rain had slowed now, and sounded calming, along with the soft whisper of wind washing across her. The air smelled salty, but somehow fresh from one direction. She guessed there was a breeze, maybe even from a window that carried across the clammy room. Her heartbeat was echoing the rain's actions now, slower and slower, lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. The squirrelmaid breathed in deeply with a small shiver, letting the fatigue at last overcome her. There was only the soft sound of raindrops hitting the ship's deck up above as she sunk into peaceful oblivion...
Pale green sails of the Bilgespray billowed in the gentle winds, and morning mist rose slowly, shining golden in the new dawn's sunlight. Yet, the ship had an aura of foreboding, and its creatures looked like those from a nightmare. Hearty laughter lined with maliciousness and crude humor rose steadily into the quiet morning, stretching across the water.
The Captain was in a good mood today, a very good mood indeed. He was Captain Swiftblade, fatally skilled with daggers, swords, rapiers, or almost any type of weapon that had a blade, as his name portrayed. He was a weasel, large, lithe and muscular, with an outrageous clothing choice to goodbeasts. Surprisingly, he wasn't like many of his type, whose look portrayed only that of evil. In fact, he looked cunning, evil yes, but not an ugly evil. In fact, some sailors would even go as far as to consider him charming or handsome. He was tall, standing taller than most weasels, a rich cedar-like brown with creamy markings. Still, there was something odd about him, and his impassive cruelty could drain the blood out of water. And, he just so happened to be only one of the weasels on the ship, as the rest were ferrets, stoats, and rats.
That was, other than Illusion, or Lus as some called her. No beast knew why she was called this, but she had a strong reputation in her name. She was definitely different than almost all other weasels, if she even was a weasel, a small type, lithe and slender, with silky fur the color of a midnight sky. Glistening black like the seawater at night. An odd color for any corsair. She often had a daring expression on her face, and there was always a light in her eyes no one could soften. She was quite a beautiful thing, so very much different than most vermin, and in her dark heart she was different as well. As no one could see, she had a light inside her, not like any on the ship, in the black sky of her heart, there was one radiant star of justice. Only one.
Of course, Captain Swiftblade did not know this, but he often teased her for her nature, or odd coloring, or even her unweasel-like appearance.
Today, things had been a little different. The Captain had strolled through the ship's deck as usual, shouting orders and picking on all beasts under him, when he had accidently ran into Illusion, who had been about to scale the mast and unfurl the sails as insructed. At this, the Captain had, expectedly, chosen it as an opportunity to pick on the small cosair. Stating a list of tedious tasks she was to do. Ever since then, he had been in a cheerful mood, swigging down seaweed grog with a flourish of his sword. Illusion, however was feeling utterly mutinous.
She scrubbed the ship's deck, muttering quietly under her breath in a whispering voice. Her sleek fur glittered with sweat of fatigue. Of course the Captain would be happy, he took every chance he got to mock the lesser of the crew. With a resentful sigh, she shrugged of the emotion and slumped with her back against the fore-mast pole.
For a moment, the corsair closed her eyes. And then, that moment was over. There was a rumbled crash, and a rough scraping noise, as another ship's keel grated along the side of the Bilgespray. All of the crew members not on deck instantly had gotten up, jumping out with confused excitement. A high pitched, creaking sound sounded, and it nearly deafened some creatures. The foremast was rent and torn, the side of the ship battered. Lus, having been in the moment of danger only a moment before had been pushed to the ship's edge by the sudden jolt. She kept her balance with her tail, wobbling precariously on the edge, then leapt lightly on deck.
Captain Swiftblade's good mood had quickly vanidshed, and now the astmosphere held a tone of tense hostility. This would not be a shopping trip. She sprung up, a thin bladed cutlass held firmly in her paw. As the deck swarmed with other crewbeasts, she heard the voice of a commanding rat shout out into the gloom.
"Attttaaaaaack!" After those words, both ships were alive with creatures. At first, it seemed the battle was in favor of the opposing ship, but in all reality this was quickly beginning to change.
Morning had arrived at Redwall, and its sweet dew glittered on foliage in the orchard, the golden sun sent rays down that hung in the air, glowing warmly. The aroma of hot oat scones with raspberry jam or butter filled the air, and dandelion cordial graced the table. The creatures of Redwall seated themselves, then dished up bowls of warm honeyed oatmeal, and helped serve the Dibbuns before havoc developed.
Abbess Dewtra, quite young, with wisdom beyond her age helped with the tasks, humble to do so. She was a mouse, ordinary but practical, kind and peaceful. Her nimble hands helped dish out bowls of warm oatmeal, until the last Abbeybeast was served. At last, with a soft sigh, she sat down, eagerly eating her food and surveying the rowdy crowd of younger creatures nearby. She did not envy Mother Lisa or her job, but still, the Dibbuns always managed to warm her heart and mind, even though chilly breezes were starting to drift from the Far North as Winter neared. Redwall had not known a time of such bountiful harvest since the time.
Then, the Great Hall's doors swung open, creaking on ancient hinges, a gust of cold air swept across the hall. A burly otter called Cota bounded paw over paw across the ground, balancing gracefully on his tail before dipping his head respectfully to the Abbess.
"Bader Lady of Salmandastron outside the gates mam', thought you'd want to know 'bout it." He reported efficiently, throwing her a lazy salute.
The young Abbess smiled a little, hiding a little bit of the grim foreboding with the expression. She rose quietly from the table, nodding in thanks to Cota before sweeping across the hall and out the doors. Abbess Dewtra glanced over the wall before pulling as hard as she could on the door handles. They swung open, casting huge shadows across the lawn. She ushered Lady Lily inside, expression worried.
"What brings you all the way to Redwall, friend?" The young Abess asked. The Badger ruler's voice was at a whisper when she spoke. "I had to come quickly, Lord Brawnstripe doesn't know I'm here... But I had to come, it a leveret of Salmandastron, gone missing. It's very urgent you see because this particular leveret was the son of Major Dustscut Woodsorrel, and we haven't seen trouble in seasons. Something's about to go wrong soon, it feels just like the calm before a storm, and I don't my son to get caught in the midst of this..." She explained, voice very anxious and fast.
The young Abess placed a comforting paw in the badger's arm, speaking in a sensible voice. "I know it can't be good, but come inside, we can hold a Council of War and sort it out, I get your feelings, I know the world can't stay peaceful forever, but we'll sort it out," she explained helpfully.
After they entered the Great Hall, the Abbess put on a false smile to comfort the little ones, them spoke in whispered tones to the older creatures. After breakfast, she gathered all growen beasts around her and started speaking, inspiration lighting in her eyes. She was so imersed in helping her friend, that she did not notice a tiny snout peeking through a cracked door, nor the headspikes poking through the curtain. The DSS were on the move.
Far away from the peaceful country, pale green sails were rent and torn over a rippling sea of cool gray water The peace would not hold forever.
Chapter 3- The Sound of Silence
Riah's long eyelashes fluttered open suddenly to pale half-light. Across the room, she could see Zevquain chained to the wall, but only by his fore-paws. With a groan, he shifted, swallowing dryly and mumbling through sleepiness.
"Nice woodland salad with warm oat farls, absoballaloutelly delicious...!" He shook his head from side to side, blinking his eyes open. His long ears sagged with disappointment, and his gaze met Riah's sympathetic one. She felt a hollow pang of guilt, it was her fault that he was here.
"Sorry Zev, I got us in this mess..." She appoligized guilty, the hare dismissed the words with a gleam of inspiration in his eyes.
"Never mind that now! Sharp's the word and quick's the action y'know. Maybe we're in this mess now, but talking about how we got in it won't do any good, we've got to get out of it. Wot, wot?" The pretty squirrelmaid attempted a weak smile.
"Well, I suppose so..." Even with her words, the feeling inside did not go away. She hated how much of a failure she felt at times, but that was not a thought to dwell on right now. Zevquain seemed to sense she was upset, and grinned encouragingly.
"Come on m'gel, we could be worse or, wot?" He asked cheerfully, swinging in his mancled paws slightly. But she knew from the thin scarlet lines it hurt to do so, and his hidden pain pushed her to action more than any words. Her expression was puzzled.
"So... The best place to start is by thinking of it logically," she suggested. Zevquain nodded enthusiastically.
"That's the spirit! So... How did we get in here?" The squirrelmaid looked puzzled, but spoke the obvious answer anyway.
"Well... The guards got us in here, through the door..."
"Therefore, we'll get out that way too. Through the door disguised as guards!" He exclaimed, quieting as Riah held a paw to her muzzle, signaling for silence. Thankfully for the creatures, the noise above had covered theirs. Still, her amber eyes lit up.
"Zev you're brilliant!" She responded, as grateful as possible at a whisper. The hare struck a noble pose through his bondage, smiling.
"Now we've got to get a couple of them down here..." He mulled, eyes concentrated. He closed his eyes for a moment, and called out in a loud voice in a replica of a searat's voice.
"Elp! Help! Some beast please help us! Me n' Woodplank is stuck down 'ere!" It was amazing how life-like his impersonation was. Still, she couldn't help from almost choking with helpless laughter at his name choice, and his stern glare silenced her. She fell silent, expresion apoligetic and now serious.
After a few moments, a few low ranked searats scrambled down the stairs, but not out of their order, it was out of fear. They crashed on the ground in a senseless heap next to Riah. She looked a little disgusted, but searched their paws and pockets for what she was seeking. In the next minute, her paw shot up so quickly she nearly punched herself, and in it she was holding a small, silver key. The leveret smiled, then had a look of grim concentration on his face. When he spoke, it was in whispered tones.
"Okay, now just unlock the bally lock and we can dress as those wretched creatures,"
Riah did not argue, and carefully twisted the key in the lock holes of the manacles keeping her imprisoned. The manacle around her neck fell loose, falling onto the floorboards with a loud clatter. For a moment after this she paused, not wanting to be caught. Her hare friend encouraged her, so the squirrelmaid unlocked the other clasps enveloping her paws. They too, dropped like stones in water onto the filthy floor.
As she used the shadows to edge across the room, a black paw curled around the doorframe, then its owner stepped inside the room. Who was that dark creature, dazzling like the nighttime sea's black surface? She had never seen that weasel before, if she even was a weasel. And the bloodied cutlass in the corsair's paw made her fur stand on end. Riah wasn't even quite sure how the creature had done it, but in one heartbeat there had been a black shadow across the room,and in the other, it was standing next to her. The bloodied cutlass point was pricking her neck, and she could see a thick scarlet fluid nearly stain her fur with its closeness. The squirrelmaid stayed silent, now daring to breath, her heart was hammering in her chest like a pounding drum, like the oarslave's rythym drum.
If this was her last heartbeat, she would make it brave...
"Dawn falls across the face,
Of the sea in great disgrace,
And sun nor wind can look upon,
The ocean's currents, for all is gone.
Moon shineth bright o'er mountains tall,
And ones who parish, will forev'r fall,
Yet when the tolling of great bells
Sounds, the toil with halt to tell.
Of faraway land in which..."
Far away, the rolling sea tossed a gigantic ship from side to side, turned it mercilessly, and cradled it among the murky turquoise water. It's sails were furled, and the mast swayed dangerously from side to side, controling the great ship. The rudder and tiller were roped down, sailing for one true direction.
Propelled by newly captured rowing slaves, the massive vessel inched forward over the water, and it was nearing the set destination. The ship began to slow a little, rocking steadily back and forth now. The front point hit sand, pushing into a cold beach.
A steersrat, seeing that they had landed, scurried quickly down the slippery deck toward the Captain's quarters. He held out a cautious paw, rapping on the door a few times, quivering with fear.
"Land ho, 'sir," the rat spoke, chin trembling. He did not receive and answer, and was brushed rather roughly aside by the Captain. All the crewbeasts were deafly solemn, and all knew where they were.
They had arrived at Vitra Isle.
This particular ship had come from Eastern waters far away, and contained many valuable riches in its hull. The Emperor of Vitra Isle had been waiting, none too patiently, for this ship to return, and was loosing patience quickly. His ax lay on an elegant table beside the throne. As he paced, hefted it up into one paw and swung it with ready anger. His eyes flashed with fire, and the blade cut clean through a delicate dish of fine food.
The Emperor was not known for his patience.
Fragments of valuable chin chipped away and cluttered to the ground. A slave rushed forward to clean up the mess, but was only rewarded with a none too gentle smack on the head from the Emperor. This sent the pitiful slave into unconsciousness, and the slave was carried away quickly by two others. No one else entered the room.
Cerberus Ahgorrun (ah-go-run) was the Emperor of Vitra Isle, he was a massive creature, like the palace and ships as well. In fact, he wasn't just any canine.
He was a wolf.
With the strength of a fully grown badger or more, there was almost no enemy that could defeat him. Long ago, one of his relatives had been killed by the claws of the cold, in a particularly bad winter. But not him. As far as he was concerned, he was invincible and that was all there was to the matter.
Strangely enough though, lately he had been having odd dreams. Ones of which a pale green fletched arrow arched through the sky, which was colored like the sea, and the arrow was connected to a strand of chain. He did not understand this, but it did not worry him. Sweeping across the chamber he strode toward and open window, breathing in salty sea air deeply.
Seaspray misted across from the waves, and then, the Emperor saw it. A ship, huge and swaying, was gliding across the waves, it had now just landed in the harbor. A evil grin spread across Cerberus's face, long yellow teeth showed out from his smiling muzzle.
"At last... My awaited ship has returned..." He muttered, flouncing off across the room toward the door like a mousemaid at a tea party. In the next minute, he became much more serious. "Grago, Shortclap, go anchor the ship and alert the Captain I want to speak with him, and don't make a mistake. Your fate will not be pretty if you do," he warned, letting a strong paw run gently over his blade.
The two rats under his command shuddered, scrambling off to do the dreadful Emperor's bidding. They did not dare to stop and think about their fates if they messed anything up. It was not a hard task, but the risk was still ever high. They rapped on the ship Captain's door, explaining the situation before helping to anchor the ship. Then, they reported back to the Emperor with a smart solute.
Cerberus smiled cunningly, a wry glint of cruelty ever in his yellow eyes.
"How delightful, I'll go an meet dear Captain Goretail right now, he must be simply dying to meet me..."
An unspoken wave of misery ran throughout the Isle, like water washing over sand, it erased everything else.
Juni, the mischevious hedgehog babe, was sitting on his dormitory bed with an expression of official seriousness. A group of four other Dibbuns sat around him, nodding their tiny heads solemnly.
They were each a different species, a mouse, a mole, a otter, a squirrel and of course, Juni the hedgehog. Still, all were the best of friends, part of the DSS, and very, very naughty. Only yesterday they had raided the kitchen, stolen bags of flour, as well as meadowcream and sneaked it off into the gatehouse.
Now, they were planning their next great prank, using the items they had just stolen. And some trick it was, they planned to spread cream on tables and walls, then spray flour everywhere, creating a terrible mess.
Unfortunately for them, they were not thinking about the consequences, nor the writing and knowledge that could possibly be destroyed. Gurgowl the mole was by far the most sensible, he seemed slightly weary of this plan, scratching his chin in thought. He was about to speak when Juni glared at him with a superior look of order.
"We needta mov'eh h'out now, DSS march!" He spoke sharply, receiving a look of admiration from the mousebabe. The infant mole grumbled, but fell in beside his otter friend.
Together, in two rows with Juni leading, the troupe of Dibbuns marched clumsily downstairs, thinking they were silent and invisible to all beasts around them. They cut a comical sight, flopping in lengthy habits with an expression of purpose, or in some cases worry, through the Redwall corridors.
No one layer much attention to them, as they were appearing to be playing one of their crazy games, as young creatures often do. So, their progress was smooth and sure. Huge doors creaked open, and out they went, slipping across the lush green grass in pretend silence, and entering the gatehouse.
Juni pushed open the door quietly on rusty hinges, tiptoeing across the ancient and creaky floorboards with his group behind him. The old Recorder, Tund, was sitting back in a torn and battered armchair, snoring loudly. His footpaws were propped on a stack of books, and his head was rolling to one side slightly.
Juni giggled, taking the bowl of meadowcream from the tiny squirrelmaid and spreading it across Tund's face to form a white bread. He guffawed, choking on his paw to stiffle the sound, then preceded to sprinkle flour on the Recorder's fur. The ancient creature ended up resembling a powdery lump of dough ready to go in the oven, even though he was snoring blissfully.
Juni and the DSS continued on with choas, starting to spread meadowcream on a cluttered wall. All five infants trundled, progressing in their ever growing silence. Gurgowl was sitting sulkily in one corner on a stack of books, with on paw propping up his head. His eyelids began to droop to a close...
The two little maids, a mouse and a squirrel, where now spreading cream in intricate patterns, making art out of the prank. The otter was now helping Juni, hefting the hedgehog up so he could reach higher up the wall.
They had just dusted flour everywhere when there was a quiet knock on the Gatehouse door...
Chapter 4- A Green Fletched Arrow
Under a serene sky that was stained with midday sun rays of gold, two corsair crafts bobbed and swayed in dark swirling waters. Foebeast's prone figures were lying scattered across both ship decks, and the rent cloth masts rippled softly in the breeze. There was an eerie feeling that hung like thick mist, some thing was wrong, just as something else was right.
Illusion kept careful pressure on the squirrelmaid's throat with her blade point, but not so hard as to draw blood. Without a sound she drew a small object from the tattered folds of her pocket and closed her eyes that so greatly resembled shards of smokey onyx. She held a chain necklace with pendant in one paw, and kept it in the shadows so it was not visible. As she spoke, her voice was a sharp whisper.
Riah shuddered slightly, visibly straining against the blade tip. Then, the corsair loosened the pressure slightly, giving the squirrelmaid space to breathe, as she began to speak the dark vermin halted her. Lus had very little accent to her voice, but was skilled at changing it.
"Silence maid! I did not come here to kill an unarmed beast, nor would I waste my time. I came here, because... A dream sent me." As her voice drifted and she continued, her tone was smoother and softer, showing more of her true personality behind the illusion.
The dark slender figure pressed the chain with pendant lightly into the squirrelmaid's bony paw, determination glinting in her eyes. "I am meant to give you this, told by a mouse, a warrior similar to yourself. Do not ask why I am to give it to you, and do not think of me as soft, just listen to what I say. The arrow flies true for you... And speak of this to no one, your very life depends upon it."
There was something like horrified pain the the weasel-like creature as she spoke, causing her the forced sharpness in which she spoke. She raised her head a little higher, almost haughtily, but it was just another act. "You and your petty hare friend may continue on with your plan of freedom, I will not stop you, nor will I give you away. Good luck where your fate takes you, mayhaps we will meet again one day, when the ground is stained red..."
Icy secrecy was audible, like freezing water down a pane of glass. The words had multiple meanings, one was obvious; the other, like an illusion for which she was named, was hidden...
Riah tensed, backing against the planked wall in effort to not touch the reddened blade. She couldn't help but be intrigued and enthralled by the black corsair's words. The squirrelmaid could feel the sharp edges of the pendant and held links of fine chain, the coldness of it similar to the cursed chains she had worn only a little while ago around her paws.
Then, the corsair removed the cutlass tip from her neck with a flourish, and sheathed it near a leather belt she wore. Then the dark figure departed, a shadow in the gloomy setting.
Okay, maybe that was a bit friendlier than most vermin acted, but this weasel had shown she was perfectly capable of playing the foebeast. This odd sailor's words were foreboding, and Riah couldn't help but wonder what she had meant.
As soon as her racing heartbeat calmed to normal, the squirrelmaid edged quietly over across to Zevquain, unlocking the chains on his fore-paws as if nothing had happened. Since the hare had not been able to hear the weasel's quiet words, he wasn't exactly sure what was going on. He spoke, making light of the bad situation and speaking with a comical flip of his ears.
"What was all off that jolly whispering about m' gel? Did that confounded verminthingy have her tail in a knot? Wait a minute... She was of the vermin type wot?" He rambled on with his words to a non-answering maiden. "Blood n' Vinegar! If she was a foebeast... Why didn't she have your tail for tucker Riah?" At this, Riah had to say something at least.
"Well... It's a long story, and I can explain later, for now let's just get out of here!" Her voice was urgent forward the end, and thankfully the ignorant hare caught on quickly enough. Zevquain nodded, rubbing his sore and blistered paws ruefully.
The two goodbeasts quickly dressed as two seacrew, not very convincing, but it was all they could do. Each holding a weapon, dressed with something simple, Zev's long ears folded under a bandana, and Riah's tail smoothed similar to a rat's using some type of grease, they set off.
Tiny bugs of disease and uncleanliness caused her fur to itch, but she pretended everything was normal, also ignoring the sharp pains of her injuries. She had never tasted freedom, but knew it would make up for all of the hardships she had sustained.
She would take her chances, no matter what path they led her; and that was a promise.
The perilous hare led the way, playing the lowly sea vermin, only... As soon as they reached the ship's deck, the two realized something had gone very wrong indeed...
The ship bobbed ever up and down on the shifting waves, its tattered folds of the sails rippled in the wind
The journey had taken far too long, and its result was about to go very badly. Cerberus was impatient, and was now striding out if the castle in great bounds toward the ship. He was a massive beast, silhouetted against the bleeding sunset. His fur was bristling irritably around his shoulders. There was an anger falling in his ruthless yellow eyes, but also an expectant pride. His ship had at last returned, with untold riches and greater glory, and it was almost time to seek conquest, as he did in tradition every year.
Once a year, he would contact the his Seer, and spread out the map of known and unknown lands. Then, blindfolded for a moment, he would throw his ax at the pinned map. According to tradition, where it landed he was destined to go, and conquer. If he failed, his Seer was to be put to death in the most cruel way any beast could think of. Thankfully, Cerberus never failed in battle, and the Seer's life was usually spared. Sometimes he would kill the Seer for unfortune, or even, for fun. This often caused horror among the crews.
All ten of his ships had a captain he had appointed, and he sent them where he wanted. They were corsairs, but had to obey his every wish, for if they did not, it was walking into the jaws of death.
Now, his favorite and largest ship had just returned from overseas, a long journey it had been. It had just returned from an already explored area that held valuable slaves and metals. Or so he thought. What he did not know, was the ship had actually been blown off course in a storm, and carried to an unexplored territory. Cerberus was not going to be happy.
Captain Goretail was in for a surprise, a deadly one. The slightly overweight stoat was sitting in his cabin, muzzle on paw, eyes slowly closing, out of lazyiness, and having drunken too much, he was beginning to fall asleep. His muzzle was about to touch the surface of a cask's contents when there was a sudden sound outside the door. The stoat's eyes shot open, and he almost jumped into the air. A second later, the door was smarshed, cracked thought he center by an immense amount of force, and a large, dark figure stepped inside, head fur touching the ceiling. The wolf Emperor tipped his hat in a gesture of mocking welcome.
"Why hello my dear, dear Captain Goretail, I hope I am not interupting you, I only wish to discuss our trade policies, of cource, that can be changed." The hidden meaning in the words was eerie, the stoat captain gulped, eyes fearful. Cerberus smiled a little, his long and carniverous yellow teeth revealing under his muzzle. "So what have you brought Ol'e Uncle Ceb this fine evening, anything wonderful?"
The stoat answered quickly, eyes rolling around desperatly to find words to say, lips moving in a chatter of sounds. "Well, we was blown off course in a storm you Excellency, and then we found this warm land over-"
"Stop chattering like a squirrel!" The wolf roared, spitting saliva over the stoat with the force of his words.
"Well yer Excellency, we found some new crop, new young, strong slaves- and speaking of squirrels, we found this odd looking one who knows about this precious stone type, shall I call him master," He gulped again, looking up at Cerberus hopfully. The wolf's yellow gaze was merciless.
"Not this time my fat friend, you have failed me, and I do not need beasts in my service who are in habit of failing me, I think, that you shall take this squirrel's place as a slave, unless you would rather have something else."Cerberus spoke slyly, voice as smooth and deadly as poisoned honey.
Goretail's greed and pride got the better of him. "I ain't becomin' no slave fer you!"
There was a tearing slash, and a thud. The stoat's head landed with a soft but hollow clunk on the wooden floor, he had been clearly decapitated. And Cerberus just walked away, gone to find the squirrel.
Soft brown eyes behind the panes of glasses the mouse wore widened in shock. The mouse was Abbess Dewtra, leader and adviser of Redwall Abbey. She was certainly in a reprimanding mood now, having just seen what she was viewing.
The precious gatehouse, was covered from floor to ceiling in flour, meadowcream, and utter chaos. She stood there for a moment, jaw dropping, spectacles slipping to the edge of her nose. Anger flared up inside her, but the peaceful mouse closed her eyes for a moment, breathing in deeply to calm herself.
In the corner, the mole infant-Gurgowl-had woken to a startled state of awareness. They were in deep trouble now! Her eyes opened, expression quiet and firm. "What have you five done? This is a mess, all of you, speak up. Now." An aura of soft anger radiated from the Abbess, Juni looked violent, the otter surprised, and the little maids terrified. Gurgowl was the only one to step forward.
"Yusturday, oi an e rest stoler flour an meadowcream, now, ou can see what happined Muther Abbess, and oi'm not pleased with mysolf eithur," He answered, little round head drooping on his silky shoulders, nose falling as his dark eyes stared at the messy ground.
Abbess Dewtra was impressed. She had not truly expected any one of the Dibbuns to own up on the matter, but Gurgowl had certainly surprised her. She stroked her dusky headfur in thought, then looked a little stern, trying to seem foreboding. It wasn't easy, being a mouse of peace, but it fooled all-but Gurgowl.
"Follow me, I shall speak with Mother Lisa about this, for now, you are all on Abbess's report!" She hated the sorrow and horror on their tiny faces, but knew it had to be done. Secondly, the mess they caused may have ruined very valuable information.
The five little Dibbuns sullenly walked off, heads and tails low, or in Juni's case, spikes flattened. They did not anticipate happily the thought of Mother Lisa bathing them or sending them to do chores, nor did they feel remotely successful for their deeds, all but Juni, that was. He was their little ringleader after all, and he was one of the only reasons they got in trouble. A few were rebelious, but not opening mutinous.
In Gurgowl's eyes, the grass seemed to wither up as they walked, the sun seemed duller somehow. In his mind's eye, he could see a disapproving Martin on the tapestry. His eyes always seemed so alight, flickering with a live will. He was so brave, so perfect, so courageous, filled with integrity. Why couldn't he, Gurgowl, do anything like him, anything right and true?
The Abbess seemed to know what he was thinking, for as soon as the six creatures stepped over the Abbey door's threshold, she pulled the little mole aside into the Great Hall gently. "Gurgowl, I know you did what you could, I want to tell you what you did was very brave of you, and I bet-" she spoke, looking over at Martin, "Martin would be proud." There was a little light in her eye, kind and understanding.
Gurgowl could only smile, lost for words. Still, that little smile of growing pride and delight, shone and echoed something greater. The little mole turned to the tapestry, awestruck.
Chapter 5- Dodging Death
A young slave opened his eyes quickly, blinded by the shafts of light that had broken the darkness. He had not been sleeping, for there was too much going on too sleep, now, he was sure he may have to pay the penalty for it. How foolish he had been! Why didn't he take the chance to regain energy while the chance was in reach. Then again, he had been wary that vermin might have punished him for that as well. Foul beasts they were. A spear end thwacked across his head, sending splinters of pain shooting through his skull.
Then, like water slipping through rocks in a stream, his senses faded, and everything went dark. He could not feel, see, nor hear. Before he knew what was happening, he woke roughly, freezing cold water seeping into his patterned fur. He gasped, breathing heavily in shock as he tried to prop himself up on feeble limbs.
"W-what was-" he was silenced almost immediately when someone's paw cuffed his ear none too gently. Who was he? Who am I? The squirrel fell silent, daring to look up. He deeply regretted this mistake when he met the merciless eyes of the dark Emperor. The cruel beast stood nearby, towering over him like the threat of arriving death.
"Welcome slave, these are your chambers, from now on, you be my personal waiter, and will serve me at my will. First, you will report to me of what cargo has arrived. If you fail me... Your pretty pelt will line the outside of my cloak. Understand?!" The wolf's breath was warm and rancid, harsh.
The slave could only nod quickly, wrinkling his nose in disgust. He managed to force his way to his paws. Maybe this would give him a chance to escape... His heart fell. Maybe not. He realized this as he looked down, he was wearing a type of chains that would not permit him to move fast enough to escape.
The horrifying Emperor gave the slave a nasty grin with jagged yellow teeth, with almost sent splinters of fear into his heart. The slave had never had such terrible experience, but with a grim knowledge, he knew he would have to learn fast.
"And don't even dare try to escape, slave, if you do, your death will be agony from dawn to dusk." He grinned, lips pulling back once more. A wave of putrid breath washed over him.
The squirrel knew his destiny had two options, escape, or die. He rushed off, ragged clothing rippling in the wind as he hurried along as fast as the chains would allow him to ship. His escort, a mean, large rat was following, leading him from behind to the ship. After that, the slave was to tally stolen cargo, and report back to the Emperor.
Thankfully for him, after he told the vermin in charge of supplies and gathered goods he was under Cerberus's direct order, things went much more smoothly. The stoat answered him very quickly, looking worried, probably wondering if the trip was successful enough for the Emperor.
"Well, we got lot o' slaves for his Majesty, we found this grain of some type, and this odd likkle type of rock, it's really sparkly, see? We also managed to discover a new stretch of land for the Emperor, and claimed it with 'is royal banner," the stoat said swiftly, passing the squirrel a rolled up piece of tattered parchment which he could only assume was a map of the new lands, or of the items found.
The slave nodded, thanking the stoat with his eyes, not mouth or voice, and hurried off, bounding across the wooden bridge from ship deck to shore, and through the fortress's gigantic wooden and iron gates. Breath heavy, legs aching with the chains, the squirrel managed to enter the Emperor's the one room all in the margin of 15 rushed minutes.
The wolf nodded, his expression neutral. What he pleased or disapproving? Even the slave wasn't sure what he preferred.
"Hmm, well done, for a pathetic slave, better than that stupid oaf Catpain Goretail!" The wolf's face broke into a evil smile, in a twisted way that made the slave want to not think about the Captain's fate. He knew it couldn't have been good. The Emperor became a little serious after that, waiting for the squirrel's report. He signaled for him to speak with an incline of his head, picking up his weapon in one paw to warn what could happen.
He hastened to speak, handing Cerberus the rolled up scroll. "New land was claimed for you, you Majesty, new slaves-" his voice trembled at the word slaves, "were captured for your service, a new grain was found, something called rice, and... There was a type of precious jewel found to grace his Majesty's head." He spoke smoothly, emphasizing the "Majesty" and "you's or your's," almost with hidden mocking.
Ahgorrun was too interested in the mention of a precious jewel to notice. He looked off into the distance for a mere moment, eyes growing a bit glazed in thought, when he answered his voice was sharp.
"Tell the cooks to prepare me this rice, with roasted seabird and the finest red wine from the cellars, then return and tell me more about this precious stone... No slacking now." Heart a bit lighter, the slave scurried off to carry out the Emperor's bidding. If he didn't want the plan he was forming inside of his head to fail, he would have to play by the wolf's own rules.
Little did the unfortunate creature know was that Cerberus Ahgorrun had his own plan, and was plotting the best way to kill the slave. The Emperor had no use for another common captured beast, but he did have to admit the squirrel had a pretty colored pelt, pretty that was, to line his new fur cape!
Unknowing of the danger ahead the patterned squirrel returned, panting after his race to the kitchens. With another signal from the malicious beast, he moved forward and began unfolding his plan through words, it would only work if the wolf was gullible and greedy enough, but it was all he had.
"You Excellency, this jewel is called diamond. To describe it... Just think of a drop of morning dew, sparkling and reflecting all light. A diamond is sort of like that, transparent, clear and shining when properly cut, there's something else about it. It is the sharpest type of stone in existence, also your Majesty. Do you like your ax-blade sharp, and clean silver so it shines like the ocean's face on a sunlit day, to show your new enemies how wonderful and powerful the Great Cerberus Ahgorrun really is? Well-" he was cut short by Cerberus in a bout of sudden anger.
"What new enemies, all enemies of the great Emperor Cerberus Ahgorran have been slain! What is this foolishness!?"
The squirrel thought fast as he spoke, praying mentally for some type of help. "Why your Majesty of course! I only mean the new enemies in undiscovered lands! After all, once a great conquer such as you passes through, not a beast can stand up against you. My point is, if you sharpen your blade on a stone of diamond, is will be sharp enough to split fur, not only for a while, but forever..."
The Emperor seemed content enough now, though suspicious, his pride was reestablished. And so the squirrel's tale of woven lies had begun...
Illusion slid around the corner of the main mast, wiping the corner of her eyes gently with filthy paws, trying to stop an onslaught of tears that were threatening to flow. She leaned against the poll closing her eyes and breathing in deeply for a moment to regain her senses and calm. You're fine, nothing's wrong
The more she thought, the more she remembered what was wrong. She got angry at herself with this, and with teeth clenched, paws into fists, she opened her eyes in frustration. Just stop it!
Even she was surprised at the carnage that had taken place in the matter of a few minutes. Bodies, of crew vermin, high and low, lay scattered across the wood. The casualties had been high. She gripped her sword a little tighter, feeling some blood trickle through her fur as the blade slid from her grasp into her paw. Ignoring the stinging pain, the pretty weasel-like creature climbed paw over paw, up the mast's ropes.
Sidling into the crow's nest, she looked carefully onto the deck below, not a figure stirred, and a wind swept across the deck, colder than she expected, or maybe it was just the coldness of her own heart. In alarm, she turned to the other ship gliding across the expanse of blue-green water, like a swallow on the wind. Her jaw dropped in shock, her own crew were leaving her! Sailing across the high seas like otters in a river fest! A bubbling anger burned in her gaze, she almost struck out without sense with her cutlass, but stopped herself in midstrike.
They left me! Though I suppose I never was much use anyway.... The anger and frustration faded, cooling to sorrow. I never was any good... It kept echoing in her mind, like the tormenting call of a bird, taunting and painful. Her thoughts were broken when she unexpectedly noticed the two slave creatures wandering out onto the deck. Not that she had forgotten, but was she really alone on a ship, her a corsair, with those two goodbeasts? Perhaps, but she was planning to play into fate's paws sensibly, not stupidly.
Like a snake of grace, she slid down the mast, using rope to keep balance, and flipped almost acrobatically onto the ship's deck. Lost memories of faded pain were hidden in the back of Illusion's dark eyes. Many of the creatures lying slain were foe, but out of the ones dead from the other crew, a few were friends. Not that she'd really had a great friends, but seeing them brought back memories of her short past she did not want to remember.
She hid herself easily as the hare and squirrel walked falteringly by, eyes surprised, their bodies frail and weakened from both hunger and injury. For one of the first times in her life, she felt a glimmer of pity, and stepped forward by the their side, letting all emotion be erased from her expression before speaking.
"Okay, here is where we stand. The other crew left us, headed to the Emperor's Isle no doubt. Most likely they took all other slaves with them, and killed any beast who did not join them. I was left, so if you need me, I may help. Any questions?" Her words were smooth, a little harsh even.
The pretty squirrelmaid looked shocked, but with a glitter if bravery she straightened up and smiled a little grimly. Something just with an odd beauty vermin did not know of was present. "Alright Captin'..." Her voice faded towards the end, unsure of what the black figure was called.
Illusion did not smile, but there was a new light that had not been there before when she spoke. "Call me Lus, I'm no Captain," she answered, a little quickly.
It was Zevquain who answered, saluting smartly with on ear, his lanky form swaying with the ship from the rolling waves. "Yes you are, reportan to Captain Lus sah! I meant marm, marm, cause you're a gel, not a sah..." His valiant attempts at respect were crushed.
Illusion only nodded, pointing a paw toward the way the other ship had gone. "There is pretty much only one way to go, due east! That's the closest land, and in this case, our only hope." The hare nodded sagely, "And our only chance at food I presume as well."
The squirrelmaid gave him a glare of silent laughing. Her smile widened, she was happy to be free, and the glare was all in good fun. "Trust you you think of food Zev! I think we'd better worry about what is in store once we reach the island."
Maybe they can be your friends Illusion, they haven't killed you yet. Wait, you have to remember, you don't have friends, you'll probably only lead them to their death.
Riah met her eyes, searching for anything there, but the weasel kept an empty expression. Illusion's eyes narrowed as she peered toward the eastern horizon, "I can tell you this much, it isn't bound to be good..."
The great mountain stood tall, silhouetted against the darkening sky, it was almost night now, and darkness had fallen across most of the land. Still with some light remaining, Major Dustscut Woodsorrel, a proud descendant of the Woodsorrel line, hung his head, defeated. His paws were dusty, mouth dry, stomach growling. Perched on his nose was a monacle, his officer jacket was layers with ribbons and medals. He was not completely old, but not young either, and he was not happy.
Day after day, he would travel down from the mountain to the shoreline at sunset, and sit silent vigil in wait. There was the quiet pad of footsteps on sand and stones behind him, an approaching creature. He stood straighter, turning quickly, paw on javelin hilt. He relaxed when he saw it was another hare, his wife in fact. She looked worried, and was bring a small pot of steaming soup with a basket of bread in her other paw.
"Sit down over on that stone sah, you're bound to catch the death of cold on a chilly night Major," she said, voice commanding. "And drink some of this soup up, it's good for you. Wot wot!" The Major thanked her quietly, letting his paws swing above the water as he sat on the shore.
From her basket, his wife pulled out a small linen tablecloth, and set it evenly on the ground, then began placing a wooden bowl of soup and a farl of warm bread near him. Then, she carefully poured a flask of dandelion cordial.
The food was gone as if eaten by a ravenous wolf. Like almost all hares, his appetite was hard fill, thirst hard to quench. He smiled, feeling a bit better having eaten food. "That's better now isn't it Major? Well, now that you've eaten, we can return to Salmandastron, the Lord wants to speak with you sah!"
Major Dustscut spat out cordial with a gasp of shock, eyes widening, he didn't speak to the badger Lord much at night, when he did, it was usually important. Or at least, hardly anything was important enough for the badger ruler to summon him from his night vigil.
"Really Tril? Do you know wot in Salmandastron for?" He asked, feeling bewildered. She shook her head as she answered, just as clueless as he was.
"I have no clue Dust, perhaps for news about our Zevquain?" There was a audible tone of hope in her voice, so painful and hopeful.
After she had said this, the Major moved with considerable speed. He forgot about the remaining food, and packed it swiftly, then leapt to his paws, ready to move. His wife nodded, and the two hares bounded off over the low dunes of stone and sand.
A while later, Major Dustscut Woodsorrel trudged through the threshold of Salmandastron, finding new energy as he stepped inside. In a flash, he was up the stairs, standing in impatient wait outside the door. He knocked timidly, ears back a little. "Permission to enter M'Lord?" The answer was bold, clear and a little booming. Only two words.
He pushed the door open, it hinges creaking, and hopped in, paws at his side. He saluted smartly, and waiting for the badger's signal to sit.
"Greeting Dustscut, I wanted to notify you that well... My wife has, left you see, to Redwall to spread news that your son is missing. She of course didn't exactly ask me, but I thought I'd ought to tell you that sightings of corsair ship's sails were spotted earlier today. With your... Vigils, you must be careful, I want to take your patrol out tomorrow at dawn to scout the area, if you spot ships, do not fight, report back to me immediately. That is an order Woodsorrel. Do you understand?" The badger lord's striped head rose a little, trying to show the hare it was important.
He gritted his teeth, a little reluctant, and gave one stiff nod. "Yes sah, is that all?"
"I am afraid so Major, is there anything else you wish to say?"
"No sah, I'll just be going..." The hare's ears sagged a little with disappointment, but he saluted all the same and departed.
As soon as he exited the room, there was a echoing crash that rung and bounced off the walls. Then, there was a wailing scream of despair that seeping though the floorboards. The Major took off like a rocket, leaping down to the sound...
The Abbess paced back and forth, striding from one end of the hall to the next, her hazel eyes were deeply troubled, and she gnawed at her fingernails anxiously. She hated dealing with the little ones trouble. The gentle mouse new she had to punish them, but she didn't want them to be mentally scarred.
So what could she do? Maybe, someone else could help her...
With an expression of utmost urgency on her face, she strode out of the Great Hall, headed toward the gatehouse! "Tund! I need you," the young mouse called, hoping the old Recorder was in a reasonable mood. She wouldn't blame him for not, after what had happened, but it was night now, and almost time for supper in the Abbey, he should have woken by now, and hopefully the badger Mother had spoken with him. If she hadn't, Dewtra would.
An old, weary voice answered her, sounding a little cross but welcoming as usual. "Yes? I'm in here, you're not one of those miscreants are you?"
Abbess Dewtra shook her head with silent laughter, then became serious as she opened the gatehouse door. "No of course not! And, its those miscrean- I mean Dibbuns, that I came to talk to you about; you're going to help me."
"Yes, that is if you don't mind of course," she added, feeling a little guilty. Tund was her friend, and she had no reason to be rude to him. The otter recorder sat up, holding on book in a withered paw, beside him was a small trolley with a steaming teapot. He looked as if he had been recently drenched in water, but he was an otter, so that wouldn't be too far fetched.
"No of course I don't mind, sit down young mouse," He invited, waving his free paw to indicate to another armchair. She sat lightly, as if afraid to sit on flour or cream. It was safe she reasoned, some kind Abbey beast must have cleaned up and from Tund chamomile tea to comfort him. The recorder was kindly, but he did not appreciate the damage done to his precious information. The otter poured another cup of tea, and passed it carefully to the Abbess.
She sipped at it slowly, fanning her mouth with on paw before swallowing and beginning to speak. "You of course have been notified of the Dibbuns raid earlier, and as Abbess, I have to do something. Their actions can not go without consequences. So... I came to see you, as a young mouse, you're the best creature with the most experience to help me, except Mother Lisa perhaps, but she is busy, and it seemed only right to come to you." She explained a little fast, nervous about his reply.
"Yes, yes I see, if I were you, send them off to the kitchens! It'd do them good!" Tund remarked, making the Abbess marvel at how different he spoke from many of this species.
The mouse sat for a moment, mulling over this deeply. Kitchens, kitchens... Wait a minute... Then, she set down her tea on the trolley, and rested her chin on paw, thinking in the silence. Not a sound was made, the suddenly, the Abbess leaped from her chair, retreated to the exit with a hasty farewell. "Thank you Tund! Goodbyes!" She tossed the words over her shoulder, not in an disrespectful way, just quick.
Then, as fast as she could, she hurried back into the Abbey, rushing along the ground to find the Friar and Mother Lisa. Her swift pawsteps could be heard against the ground from a ways off, proving she was quite young for being the leader of Redwall. She had an idea!
Chapter 6- A Fair Favor
It was a new dawn now. The sun's light bled crimson into the waters, a sunset that was favorite to Cerberus. After all it had been proclaimed that on the third dawn of a crimson sunrise, he would choose the annual land of which was to be explored. There was a slight flaw in his plans though, his Seer, had been executed last year for mere fun, no one wanted of knew how to be his next Seer. And the previous Seer apparently had no living relatives.
Cerberus knew them better though! That Seer had probably just hidden her family so their were safe, thinking she could outsmart him, the great Cerberus Ahgorran! A wolf at that!
With these thoughts in his vile mind, he got up from his throne, put on his cape and crown, then carried his treasured weapon in one paw and strode off toward the barracks. The wolf watched his battle ax blade, admiring it, but also disapproving. That squirrel, had he been right or lying? And besides, what harm was there in letting his ax be sharpened by diamond, if it worked, he could be unstoppable!
Though the squirrel had been thrown into a dungeon, he reasoned that the filthy creature would still except the offer. Yes, that would happen, and if he didn't accept, the wolf would make him! He would go to the island barracks, not the soldier barracks, that was where the Seers lived.
Satisfied with himself, Cerberus continued striding, paws thudding against the ground heavily from his bulky weight. As soon as he stepped into the island barracks, every creature shuddered in fear. They were all a bit gaunt, and a little thin. Half of them grew twice as pale when the massive wolf smiled, revealing terrifying teeth. On fainted, falling to the ground, probably the weakling wife of a soldier, he thought.
He stood taller, carrying a foreboding aura with him as he went. No one moved, and everything was silent except for the wash of waves and thud of his paws. The Emperor walked slowly, straight through toward the back barrack, the Seer's home.
Then, outstretching a paw, he knocked, rapping on the door twice. Nothing stirred, no creak of the door could be heard, only the wind whistled hollowly through a shattered window. With a echoing roar, his paws latched around the door frame. The cruel Emperor tugged, knowing the door was about to snap in half by its eerie creaking and cracking.
With little more effort, he pulled to the side, a clatter rent the air, he had thrown the unhinged door backward. No other beast on the isle could have torn the door clean off, only Cerberus.
To show his arrogant might, the wolf turned around, arms stretched wide in a show of strength. Knowing it was the smartest move, the creatures all let out an uproaring cheer, tension rose.
Inside, the Emperor was boiling over with hidden rage. Where were the Seers! Angry with his own stupidity. He leaped up onto a low roof, standing with head held high, towering over the lesser creatures.
"Listen to your Emperor, it is the time of last year and the previous, to choose a new Seer, and discover new land! New soldiers will be needed, every able bodied beast! Get ready my creatures, ready to fight! Our luck will be good this year, this I know. If you want fame and glory, be under my command at will! My soldiers will help convince you..."
A silent moan of fear swept through the crowd as Cerberus departed, no doubt there fate was shadowed now. They were no the only ones, far up near the castles top, in a dungeon sat the squirrel slave, twirling his tail in the dust, seeking a way out. What hope was there left after all.
For all he knew, the only chains may be the ones in his heart...
Riah held a rusty laddle in her hand, leaping swiftly after Zevquain with unusual anger in her eyes. The hare fled quickly, munching on something, the only rations they had found so far on the ship. The pretty squirrelmaid's eyes were narrowed, her voice high pitched and angry as she spoke.
"Zevquain Dustril Woodsorrel! How dare you!? That was our only food, our only food. Do you get that lanky-legs?!" She shouted, sharp white teeth bared furiously. She had never been so angry to any goodbeast, and the hare knew she was serious. In fact, it was almost un-Riah like, for normally she was so hopeful. Zev stopped, back against the main mast, ears sagging.
Seeing him look so dejected, the squirrel couldn't help but feel sympathetic. She rested a small paw on his shoulder in comfort.
"I know you're hungry friend, but we all need food, and I know you're hare but..." She couldn't help saying the words which to her was the real answer. Her soft voice trembled as she spoke. "And the know this is all my fault... I'm so sorry Zev... I ruin everything I touch don't I?" She held back threatening tears, eyes watering, vision going blurry.
So it went from one moment furious, to the next ashamed. The hare nodded. "Of course not gel, it's not your fault at all, it's that lot of bally vermin that got us into this mess, wot wot?" He reminded, speaking in a questioning manner to make sure she agreed.
Riah turned her head toward the crow nest, pretending to watch the tall figure standing there as she wiped forming tears from her dark eyes. She didn't want her friend to see her crying. Thankfully, the hare caught on.
"We'd best check to see if Captain Lus has any orders, wot?" He suggested, turning his head as well. To his obvious surprise, the squirrelmaid shook her head.
"We'd had better not Zev, I think it may be best to leave her alone until she wants to talk to us... She may need to be alone, being so used to it and all," she explained calmly, getting better at hiding her true feelings.
I wonder if Lus does that too...?
She shook of the question, knowing it was not her matter to wonder about. Instead, Riah peered at the horizon, trying to spot a glimpse of the other ship's sails. Nothing. No sound could be heard except the wash of water and whish of wind. Nothing. Were they even headed in the right direction. She hated do say it, but they were in a black weasel's paws. Thoughts she didn't fully trust Lus, she knew it was really there only choice.
Zevquain seemed to be thinking about entirely different topics altogether. He was staring off into the distance, eyes a little glazed. Riah adopted a true look of concern.
"You okay?" She asked quietly, voice barely audible over the sea's wind. The hare nodded slowly, as though not quite sure.
"I'm perfectly spiffin', except... I do miss my jolly old family... Y'know," he added, at a brave attempt to stay cheerful.
Riah gave him a weak smile, "I know I'm a poor replacement, but you'll see them again! Someday, just keep hoping. I do not know how I've dome it, but I've kept hope this long, and I'm sure you can too!"
Zevquain closed his eyes, leaning against the mast pole, "Thanks gel, I just can remember so many things, the taste of savory food, warm oat farls and onion gravy, being in the jolly Patrol, even doing the everyday chores. I miss them." After that, he opened his eyes to meet her gaze.
Her expression grew lonesome and sorrowful. "I have no idea what that's like, I've wanted to be free for as long as I can remember though... Even now, this is like a breath of fresh air in clammy darkness," she shook her head suddenly to clear her thoughts, standing up a little taller. "Not that I'm not glad to have a glutinous friend like you Zev, but we've really got to get somewhere. First I suggest we scour the entire ship for weapons or food, the other crew wouldn't have done all of that so quickly! Especially if they missed us, maybe they just stole from the deck and larders?" She suggested. Zevquain highly approved.
"I can't image that being a bad idea, especially if it involves food, wot wot?" At his words, Riah could only role her eyes, and turn to leave. She did not want to revisit terrible memories that the places down in the ship brought, but she new it was logically the best option.
With a little skip of enthusiasm, the hare followed. At the mere mention of food, he had a new spring in his step.
Unfortunately for them, they had little luck in their search, they managed to find a small drawstring bag of ship's biscuits, two flasks of water, and about three roots, probably closely related to potatoes. Still, if the journey was going to be short, it would tide them over, just barely. Having been slaves, it did not take a lot to feed the two of them. Riah one this was true, though maybe not for Zevquain.
Riah, watching the hungry hare carefully, took all precious rations they had discovered, and locked them tightly away, sure they would not be stolen. Now was her favorite part of the search, seeking weapons. A new light shone in the back of her eyes. She had held a weapon only one, as a squirrelbabe, so long ago to her... Memories seemed to flood back to her, white hot and painful, like iron heating in a forge.
Now that she thought about it, she could see it so clearly. By accident, she found her paw touching the arrow pendant on her neck, clasping it firmly. That arrow, why did it seem so familiar? The chain was cold, the mark of a slave, but the arrow, fletched with green, the color of a living thing. There was a connection, green, the color of the other ship's sails, green, the color of a living plant or rolling hills, green; little did she know it, but it was the color of a peaceful life so far away. The color of the very clothes all creatures of Redwall wore. And her destiny was connected, woven in between many others like a scrap of cloth.
In fact, even the first weapon she had ever held matched the one wore around her neck. This brought her roving mind back to Lus, rough outward as she acted. Riah couldn't help but know there was more to the mysterious black weasel. Why? So many questions, so little answers. Would she even live to see the next sunrise?
What if, what if everything was twisted this way... For a reason?
A bowl lay completely shattered on the floor, its once delicious contents spilling out onto the ground. The Major stopped, disappointed but relieved for a moment. He raised and eyebrow reprovingly.
"Is this what all the fuss was about, jolly good waste of food if you ask me! Wot wot?" Then, as the entire mountain shook and trembled with sound or force, his jaw dropped. "What in the name of woodland salad was that!" He asked loudly, trying to regain composure. No one answered, but the ground rumbled no more, and soon the residents of Salmandastron went back to the daily chores.
In result of the crashing events and loud sounds, Lord Brawnstripe had exited his chamber to follow Major Dustscut. He scratched his head in confusion, trying to find out exactly what had happened, though something in the badger's dark eyes showed Dustscut that maybe he knew more than it appeared.
He said nothing more, and only excited the mountain itself, headed to somewhere the Major did not know. Out of common sense, he thought it best not to follow. The hare knew he was probably right after Lord Bawnstripe returned, face set in a grim mask. Why was everybeast in Salmandastron not answering his questions anyway?
With a sigh of reluctance, the military based hare trudged off, no doubt headed toward his home. Unlike some, he did not actually live at the mountain, he lived only a little ways off, with his wife and children in a comfortable cabin nearby. If he was needed in Salmandastron, he would report back immediately.
Thankfully for him, today appeared to be a calm day. Looking out across the serene lsandscape, like a painted picture of rolling greens and yellows. The blue-green waters washed upon a sandy shore, countless times, and a few birds let loud calls chorus through the air. This was his home, and he loved it so dearly.
As the hare turned to leave, he did not notice how a bold dropped from the sky without warning, an arrow protruding from its feathery chest. Its fellow fled from the sky with a shrill cry, diving down to the cliffs. Major Dustscut continued on his way, already joyful that he could see a stack of smoke rising in the distance. His three other children, and his wife, who would have left Salmandastron a while before him, would be waiting, smiling with delight to see their father return from the mountain.
Perhaps he would tell the two infant leverets a story of his young days on the patrol, and they could gaze at his in distant admiration, wondering if they could have adventures like that one day. If they wanted to, he knew they could! One day, they would serve a badger lord proudly, being as brave as so many protectors of the mountain.
With these thoughts in mind, he picked up the pace a little, bounding over the stony ground. The slight tread of footsteps in the distance didn't halt him, and within a matter of minutes he had almost cross the threshold. As he neared, he new instantly something had gone terribly wrong. The smoke he had seen from the distance, had it really been the fire for cooking, when his wife had already brought him this dinner's soup.
Almost nothing could match the agonizing pain and shock, the horror of the expression on his face. None of the sights were beautiful in his eyes now, everything was ruined. No... Oh no. It just couldn't be!
It was morning in the Abbey. Birds let out fluent trills of song, fluttering from tree to tree in the way they so often did. The last bees whirled through the air, trying to gather the flower's sweet nectar before fall, and then winter enveloped them all. A small group of Dibbuns, secretly known as the DSS, were gathered in the kitchens, only this time, it was for a good objective. In fact, it had been the Abbess's and Gurgowl's idea. They planned to make a special breakfast for Tund in an act of forgiveness.
So there they were, with Friar Burr's help of course, wearing oversized aprons and oven mitts for some. The little mouse maid, standing on a stool, stirred a batch of thin dough with a wooden spoon, running out of energy quickly. A moment later, her eyes rolled wildly, and she rushed to cover her nose, sneezing against the fabric. This caused Mother Lisa to sigh in defeat at the seemingly impossible act of Dibbuns making a breakfast, and rush over to help.
"Wash your paws again... There's a good little maid! We don't was Tund to catch an illness!"
Gurgowl worked side by side with Juni, both of them laughing under their breath at some joke the Dibbun hedgehog had made. The little mole clutched the stich in his side, trying hard to not fall over. The young Abbess steadied him, allowing a smile to show on accident. She didn't know what was so hilarious, but Gurgowl guessed she wouldn't ask.
While the young maids stirred the batter for pancakes, Gurgowl and Juni readied toppings in small pottery bowls, fresh fall berries, and thick, golden honey. Juni stood near the large storage of honey, teetering precariously on the edge.
Gurgowl placed a fairly sturdy paw on his shoulder, stopping him, just barely from toppling into the thick sticky golden liquid. He didn't manage to hear Abbess Dewtra's breath of relief, but Juni thanked him, a little grudgingly, and they continued with the task. Soon, the air was thick with pancakes, as the otter got a lesson from Friar Burr to flip pancakes. It didn't exactly work well, and several pancakes landed on the ceiling, three the floor, and one the Friar's head.
Gurgowl pressed his hand over his mouth to squash a giggle at the luck of the pancakes, and finished pouring the last of the honey into a fine bowl of decorated pottery. It wasn't exactly the safest idea to have Juni deal with the honey, he was prone to falling and was liable to drop something messy.
Thankfully for them, and the supervisors, they managed to load a trolley with a large plate of pancakes, and several bowls of honey, then bowls of berries, and a container of fresh cream. Being watched intently, they traveled a good distance, across the Great Hall, and just outside the door. It was tricky, getting down the steps, but with Mother Lisa's strong paws they made it.
Once they reached the gatehouse, it was Juni who knocked on the door, being the main "miscreant" as the old recorder had called them. He was the ringleader after all. There was a quiet pause, then the shuffle of paws as the old otter got up to get the door. Once had opened if, he was surprised at what he saw, Gurgowl knew by the look on his face. All the same, once Abbess Dewtra nodded from the background, he realized it was safe to let the troupe of Dibbuns inside. From there, they proceeded to pour a cup of steaming tea, and load a plate with pancakes, putting beries, cream, and then honey on top.
Looking particularly mutinous, but a little guilty and respectful for once, Juni stepped forward, to speak for all of them, as it had been decided in the kitchens earlier.
"We needed to 'poligize for da mess, so we chose to make ou' a likkle brekfast. And well..." His voice trembled a little as he spoke, it seemed hard for the hedgehog to say the next words. "We're sorry,"
Tund smiled warmly, putting a large paw on Juni's shoulder. "Well done, young rip, and thank ye kindly, but how can I eat all this by myself? Its far too much for one as old as me, but I do have an idea..." Gurgowl just caught the recorder's friendly wink. "Why don't you help me and start eating?"
So, with his encouragement, that they did. The breakfast was delicious, pancakes loaded with sweet berries, fluffy cream, and smooth honey. Tund sat in the middle, with the DSS on either side of him, smiling with pure bliss of life. Though they had done wrong, they had managed to learn, and to apologize in a great way.
As they excited and went to the Great Hall, Gurgowl though he saw the great warrior on the tapestry wink, for his eyes always seemed to sparkle with a living light. Yet, he wasn't sure... It was almost as if he had said something, almost...
Chapter 7- What Eyes Can See
Riah realized her hare friend was gripping her shoulders and gently shaking her back and forth, his voice urgent.
"Riah! Lus just announced jolly land is ahead, I'd get your head out of the clouds! Wot wot?" She blinked a view times to clear her vision, returning to reality from her fantasy of thoughts. Lost for words with the small shock, the squirrelmaid could only nod in agreement, rushing off toward the main mast.
With all the born agility of a light squirrel, she climbed up the ropes, Zevquain following... With a bit more difficulty. Hauling herself over the circular structure's side, she joined beside the black weasel who was standing steadily upright, gazing out at the horizon.
Sure enough, a small form of land was visible on the horizon, and though Riah didn't have perfect eyesight, she knew that was were the other ship had headed. Zevquain gave a nervous gulp, and Riah felt sympathetic. She knew he had less experience with hardship than her or Lus. So it must be harder for him to face. For an odd reason, the pretty squirrelmaid knew that island held an important fate for all three of them, for better or worse. As the mysterious black weasel had hinted earlier, that place held little good.
Speaking of Lus, the dark creature stood rigid, seeming as silent and emotionless as ever. Though behind the mask, Riah knew there must be bottled up feelings. She was different somehow than most beast she would call vermin, and though they weren't exactly friends, there was so much hidden arpbout the weasel.
Okay, Lus had proved she was totally capable of harm, and had done it before. By now, the ship had been disposed of all the vermin's bodies, Lus mainly doing that, as she had known some of the crew, but Riah had helped her with the horrendous task.
Now, the ship was gliding across the turquoise waters, skimming through white caps slowly. With no one to row, all they could do was set the tiller for east. Riah hoped they had a plan once they reached the island. Lus knew more about the dreadful place than any of them, if anything, and most likely had an idea. But one crew member and two goodbeasts couldn't just march in could they?
A light bulb of though struck her suddenly! The two creatures in the dungeon cabin! They were vermin, and certainly could be of use! She felt a presence nearby, foreboding. "Zev... I have a feeling there's more than just the three of us on this ship, you may want to turn around..." She warned, whispering out of the corner of her mouth. Slowly, the hare turned, nose to sword point with a rat's blade. He gulped, knowing he had no weapon on him.
Swift as a breeze, Lus came to his rescue. Her face was set masklike, and she blocked the other creature's blade with on cut of her own blade. "Don't touch him rats. If you want to live, calmly set your weapons down. Now." Her silky voice was commanding, serious and orderly. Sensing the urgency in her tone, the two rats quickly obeyed.
It didn't seem like they were all too cruel, only confused. Why was a weasel defending a rabbit? That was what Riah guessed they thought, as it was what they would say if they could speak. With a flourish of her cutlass, Lus neatly stepped on the discarded blade's end. It flipped up through the air in a predictable manner. With a casual paw of skill, she caught it and stowed it in her belt. Riah was impressed, the two rats were slightly shocked.
Little did Riah know it was just a special trick, one of many Lus had learned. With the two rats taken care of, the sleek black weasel began unfolding her plan. Riah listened intently, hanging on to every word, knowing it could save any on of there lives. All the while, the ship grew neared and nearer to the Emperor's Isle.
So it was set, every able creature, which was all five of them, gathered their needed items and organized. Riah and Zevquain were to act as captured slaves, the two rats being crewbeast and independent "Seer" Lus as their leader. Riah had managed to find a trailing black cloak in the Cabin's chambers, to give Lus a more mysterious and impressive appearance.
What they would encounter they did not know, bit it was all they could do. Some creatures probably knew a lot more than the rest of them. All they had and could use was bravery.
Riah stood there, defiant, with a look of bold hope burning in her rich amber gaze, head fur tossed over her shoulder. This was her reality, and she lived off of the hope that elsewhere, live was better. She had spent ages living mentally in a stolen fantasy, dreaming. Now, she was ready to stand up and fight for that fantasy. Though she had probably hardly ever taken a bath of any kind, not many could deny she posed a pretty picture, little did they all know soon that pretty picture could very well fade.
Then, the bow of the ship struck gritty sand at the massive Isle of the Emperor...
The remanents of flames lapped as charred wood, cinders covered objects, and embers embroidered the ground. The brave Salmandastron hare's chin trembled, his voice trembled and was weak as he called out.
"T-tril! Tril... Where are you?" He sounded distraught, lost and alone in the smoking ruins. Nothing, nothing could have prepared him for this. Their beloved home had been detroyed, eaten away by fire. And the regimental hare could not find any trace, yet, of where his family were. Hopefully, Tril had arived in time to tend the children, maybe sneak them out the back. Or maybe, though he hated the thought. Maybe she had arrived on the scene like him, in despair.
It was ironic, terribly so, to think he had been thinking about them only a while before, and then this. Why had he lost everything but his loyalty? So, the mid aged hare trudged heavily through the ground of burned memories, his footpawss scorched by ashes, eyes stinging from smoke. He though he could see footprints, and found a spearhead, but wasn't sure to whom they belonged. The only traces of his lost of deceased family were , couple tufts of singed fur, and only metal objects survived through the flames.
Where could he go now? Where was there to turn? Instinctively he found hinself facing the sea, toward the great mountain of Salmandastron. That was where he would go. The badger lord would help him. Sniffing almost tearfully, full of grief, the hare tread across the ashen ground, headiung the way he had came, slowly, mournfully. Minutes passed, then and hour. Because he was walking so slowly, and it was now dark, Dust couldn't see a large figure approaching.
All of a sudden, Major Dustscut was knocked clear off of his paws. Then, he realized who it was.
"M'lady! I am so sorry, it's just so spiffin' dark out here and I-" he was cut short by the Badger Lady's large paw as she tried to stand him upright. Her voice was loud, with the hidden sorrow that was form him.
"Well I'll be ropebound! Major Dustscut? What are you going here!? Of all times, at night!"
"It's a long story marm, but if I may make a jolly suggestion, I think we should go back to Salmandastron, wot wot?" With the badger ruler's agreement, pace began to pick up once more. The Major still couldn't help his tearful sniffing once in a white, he was miserable. Lady Lilly seemed to recognize this easily, but she must have thought it best to say nothing. She had experience in such matters, and knew it was best to leave a proud warrior's problems to themselves unless the creatures wanted to talk about it.
So, hare and badger walked across the dusty ground, night misting the landscape. It was a sad day, and both of them knew it. The unmistakable feeling of pain hung forebodingly in the air. Dustscut remembered something that Lord Brawnstripe had said, Lady Lily had left Salmandastron to Redwall to inform them of news, and Lord Brawnstripe would be happy to see her, but most likely a little unhappy for her disapearance.
As for the badger lady, little did she know that a certain phrase of words she had just spoken may come true very soon.
Only, things got very much worse as soon as they entered the mountaijn and met Lord Brawnstripe.
"I'm perfectly fine, and welcome to go where I please! You did check the envelope on your bed-side desk, didn't you?" Her voice was a little quick, and slightly annoyed, but caring all the same, as if he was the one who had done wrong. Although truthfully she was probably feeling guilty. Her husband's answer was brief, and even quicker.
"Well, no, but I'm afraid we have much greater matters on our paws. It's been spread that vermin have infiltrated the mountain," he answered, strong voice booming out a little.
Meanwhile, Major Dustscut stood nearby, awaiting orders silently. At the mention of vermin, his ears stood stiff, eyes narrowing with suspicion. Had those vermin been the ones to kill his precious family? If they were... He would chase them to Hellgates and back.
Patrols were organized, guards set, weapons sharpened. They quickly prepared for any attacks, after all, Salmandastron hares were perilous beasts. While patroling an empty hallway, there was a earsplitting thud of rock against stone floor. As swiftly as he could, the Major backed against a windowless wall, and stretched out his paw to pick up the object. It was white, dry and hard, in other words, a stone wrapped with paper, a message.
As quickly as he could, Dustscut dashed down the corridor, footpaws thrumming against the ground as he raced to the badger rulers. He did not shout, knowing it could create havoc. Then, he felt a sharp impact on his head, and collapsed in a senseless heap, sinking into a painful darkness...
Extract from the Writings of Recorder Tund:
Something very odd occured this afternoon, I heard a quiet but sturdy knock on my Gatehouse door, and I grew questioning of who was there. The knock was polite, and oddly enough set very low on the door, as if carried out by a short beast. All the same, I shuffled to my paws, as I can only manage in my old age, and went to answer the door. To my greatest surprise, it was Gurgowl! He said while having his afternoon nap in the dormitory, he was visited by our Abbey spirit, Martin the Warrior! How odd, a very queer thing to occur, especially for one so young, but Martin makes few mistakes, so it must be important. At least, I think that was what young Gurgowl was trying to say, Dibbun molespeech can be difficult to comprehend you understand.
He was starting to speak, me beckoning him to a chair and eagerly pulling out a pocket notebook and quill, when there was the most uproaring shout and clatter from the kitchens! I was most dissapointed, as you see, Martin's words were probably very important, but I had little choice. Most unfortunately, he forgot the words entirely, appoligized, and left. Bidding him good day, and welcoming him to return if he feel the need to, I reclined in my chair and closed my eyes for a moment.
Martin's message must have been important, ho yes! For he came to me, to me! I was shocked, as before my sleeping eyes... He appeared, not fully armoured, as I have heard Martin did from past records, but holding his magnificent sword. My eyes seemed to adjust, and he came into greater focus. Instead od speaking in riddles now, he gave a warning.
"Danger is nearing, beware shades the color of your very habits, for both danger and help will come from them. Do not loose hope once danger falls, for hope if coming, coming as a green fletched arrow," Nonetheless, it was clearly urgent. I had no idea what Martin meant about green-feathered arrows and danger, but the meaning was obvious. When danger falls, do not loose hope, help is upon its way.
I spoke nothing to anybeast, yet that is, but I plan to notify the Abbess, what a sensible young mouse, so wise for so young she is, hopefully she has something to say. Martin had said all that was appropriate for the time, then departed by fading. I didn't want that figure, a rock of bravery and justice, to leave, I didn't want the understanding light in his eyes to fade, but alas. He did.
Illusion stood steady, tall, thin, but lithe on the ship's deck. Her eyes narrowed, scanning the island. She would try to know all she could before their plan was put into play. She looked even more mysterious, having changed into slightly different clothes. A belt was knotted tightly around her waist at a slight angle, holding a set of three daggers, one large, on slim, and one normal. Her silky cape of silver hemmed black fabric helped, she held it in her left paw, using it as an actor would.
That was pretty much what they all were at the moment, actors, acting for their lived. Even with plans, Lus had her own little secrets. The normal dagger was infused, or rather, tipped with poison, exract from a plant of nightshade. Of anybeast got to close, she could kill the. No ome but her knew of this, as she was an expert in poisons. Though if she had to, she may tell the hare and squirrel.
From hard experience, Lus knew she was in for trouble. In fact, she had purposfully chosen her position to get the others in the least of harms way. It may look like she wanted power, and maybe she did, but she was taking a great risk to help them. Leaders were usually killed by higher ranking leaders, captains killed by warlords, so she had a side plan. She wouldn't only play a Captain, she would be a Seer.
Seers were usually highly prized by Emperor's, Warlords, and other high ranks, so with this in mind it would help. She would be throwing herself in the face of danger repeatedly, but it could also help the goodbeasts' fates. So, she had to try. The warrior mouse in her dreams had been just, she knew the message with urgent.
Somehow, all of this ran through her mind very quickly, not slow as it seemed, and by the time all of them were leaping into the shallow water, she had switched topics. The cold water lapped steadily at her footpaws, not warm, but not frigid. She strode forward, not needing to lift her dress as it was a little high cut, but holding her cape clear of the water. They walked up on the shore, all of them acting their part well.
Illusion walked with visible confidence she did not feel, lifting her head high with a challenging gleam in her eyes. Her traditional and favorite cutlass, was clasped in her free paw, held expertly. Already, she knew what was going on. They had landed on the main side of the island, the side where boats ported usually. Just great, she thought, a little sarcastically. If they had landed on the unexplored side of the island, they would have been so much more lucky.
Heaving and inward sigh of dissapointment, the sleek black weasel led the group of five up across the shore. Riah and Zevquain were eavh being led by one of the vermin, who ironically were named Woodplank and Barrtail. All the same, she had to admit she was relived they weren't hightly intelligent or demanding, it hrlped her. This could go very badly as it was, and she didn't need another arrogant corsair inferior to her precious plans.
Clearly, to their greatest unfortune, notifications had spread across the island of their arrival. Lus, as well as the others she assumed, had now noticed that the Bilgespray had been docked nearby, green sails rolled and folded to their mast's. A huge fortress, made of ocean rock in gray-brown bricks loomed on the island's center, casting a dark shadow down. Lus could just see with keen eyes a beast, large and foreboding crossing the grounds. Though she could not hear, she would imagine that creature's paws sounded like rocks thudding on the ground. This could only be one place... She knew it all too well, and yet was afraid to recall.
Had they really landed on the Emperor's Isle...?
If so, things were about to get a lot worse. She had heard tales of the place, and knew it all too well. This was the place that creature's worst nightmares took place, where even vermin shuddered at the subject.
Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw a dark figure striding closer, a wolf. As he drew closer, she could see a smaller shape scurrying behind the Emperor, a slave probably. Though Illusion cared about the fate of slaves, she didn't have time to worry about even more slaves right now.
The wolf Emperor neared as far as he would, his teeth baring instinctively with a growl. Lus acted quickly, knowing she had to lay out her story out before he found reason to attack.
"Greeting your Excellency," she spoke silkily, bowing deeply in a graceful manner of false heartfelt respect. Under the black cape, she gripped her cutlass tighter, tensing mentally. She did not raise her head yet to prove her respect. Cerberus's answer was curt.
"Why do you dare enter my Isle eh? And who are you?"
"You Majesty, I am Lus the Seer, these are the beast under my order, two crew and two captured slavebeasts. I bring you no harm, but have heard of your greatness from faraway lands and wish to join in your service. Have you use of me?" She fluttered her dark eyelashes slightly, flourishing the cape in an act of utmost respect. Her voice was smooth, cool and even. Cerberus probably would have hit her but the mention of being a Seer and her flattering tone stopped him. His triangular ears perked.
"A Seer you say...?" The wolf tyrant seemed to have forgotten all else but his greatest task.
Lus nodded, raising her fine head a little, to meet his eyes. She wasn't lying, a big surprise, for often what she spoke was not true.
"Yes, I am a Seer,"
"Good, I can make use of you. Your crew can join my horde, and as for the slaves, they look like they have some life in them... So they may be taken to the castle dungeon while I decide what to do with them," He decided, voice returning to its usual menacing growl. The wolf gave Zev and Riah almost a cruel smile when they passed, he had plans for them, and it certainly was not going to be good.
Lus didn't understand why this Emperor, known as Cerberus if she was correct, was so interested in finding Seers. Normally she had a better grasp of situations than this, what was she missing anyway?
Little did she know it, but metaphorically they were all standing in the eye of a hurricane, and she was treading dangerously near the edge of the safe zone. What have I gotten myself into? She wondered, following Cerberus Ahgorrun as he let her into the mouth of the great castle.
Chapter 8- Choice or Chance?
Cerberus paced across his chambers, only needed to take a few strides to clear it's width. A growl formed on his muzzle, angry and agitated. He threw himself onto his bejewled throne huffily, annoyed. By now, he had worked himself into a rage, no beast wanted to face his wrath.
He had sent for the Seer, Lus, or whatever her name was, but she had not yet arrived from the barracks, most likely hordebeasts had gotten in her way. Stupid creatures! They needed to learn not to get in the way of Great Cerberus Ahgorrun!
Impatient and fuming, he decided to bark out orders to his guards, who stood just outside by the doors in case they wished of anything.
"Fogtail, Siclaw, fetch me the weasel-creature called Lus! She should be in the barracks right now, but I have already sent for a place in the castle to be prepared for her so silly delays like this won't occur again, but of course, there could always be a silly delay where you two oafs happened to trip over your own spears. But we wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?" His voice was sweet and mocking, but laced with foreboding poison, the wolf's yellow eyes glittered.
Fogtail, a masked ferret, wielding a rusty spear, named for his oddly short, but very furry and unruly tail. Though not the sharpest sword on the island, he wasn't altogether stupid. In fact, from a vermin standpoint, he wasn't two bad. Cerbeeus however, considered them all worthless.
His companion, Siclaw, was far more the intelligent of the two, but not altogether smart. He was a rat, evil written from his headfur to tail, had a sharp and cruel look. He was dark furred, slightly mangy, and wore a brass earing on one ear, the other ear had a large arrowshaped cut. He was a simple hordebeast, but gaining in popularity, and had one paw where the nerves had been twisted. This gave that paw a curled, dead look, contributing to his name, but he was no less fierce.
The two clumsy guards tripped over each other's paws in a mad scramble as they raced to be the first out of the Emperor's sight, and ax range. In their haste to leave, they slammed the heavy door behind them, cringing away and nearly running directly into somebeast with a crash.
There was the gentle but firm, timely thump of a paw on the wood door's surface. Cerberus growled out his response to the action in bad temper.
"Don't just stand there! Come in!"
When the slender black weasel slid through the opening between door and wall, Cerberus seemed satisfied, but not calm. He wouldn't let delays get off easy. The wolf raised his muzzle with burning pride and contempt.
"Finally decide to show up I see? Never mind. I will let the matter pass, but not without punishment, hurry next time. Now, we get down to buisness."
Lus, her name as he recalled stood unmoving at the room's edge, awaiting instruction serenly. Ceberus did not appreciate silence all the time, but now it was wise.
He stood from his throne, broad and powerful shoulders tensing as he lifted his battle ax, it was a formidable weapon, and caused the hideous picture to cause even more terror into the hearts of his foes and victims.
Pacing with weapon in hand, he strode closer and closer, little by litle as he spoke. "You are now under my service, serving me to he death, you are a Seer of Cerberus, understand?"
Lus bowed her head, and Cerberus just missed the light star of rebellious radiance as she did so. Her voice was clear, almost devious as she spoke. "Yes your Excellency, I am now Lus, Seer of Cerberus," she answered, letting the feeling of freedom die away as she dared to lift her head. No fear shone in her eyes as she met the Emperor's piercing yellow gaze.
Cerberus gave her a satisfied nod, seeming pleased. A glint of cheerful destructiom and hunger for power was readable in his expression. Good! All of my pieces are falling into place... Just perfectly... His dark thoughts cast out vibes of dangers, ones this Seer could not stop. With a surprise change of mood, the Emperor clapped his paws together cheerfully, standing straighter with triumph.
"Good! Tomorrow, at the traditional ceremony, you will help me cast the pin of Exploration! Soon, a new land will be mine for the taking!" His face was the picture of awaiting death, one faced with happiness on his part.
He sent the Seer a puzzled look. "Did I really just say all of that out loud? Yes... Of course I meant to do that. Nevermind."
The wolf hid his embarassment with newfound cruelty and cunning. Now that Fogtail and Siclaw had returned, he snapped out more chosen orders. "You two! Take this creature to her new room; top floor, third doorway on the left, overlooking the arena. Also, fetch me the funny looking squirrel slave, he was here yesterday. And be quick about it! You two are always so slow, it makes me wonder if you happen to fall asleep on your paws as well as trip over them!"
With satisfaction at the intellect in his words, he grinned broadly, a fearsome smile for a fearsome warlord! Or so he thought, in truth the grin was repulsive to some, and hideous to others. Power, the sweet taste of cruelty rules his life. Tomorrow, someone would be very upset...
All of a sudden, he was woken from his thoughts by a choppy, foul laughter. That oaf Fogtail! Apparently, the silly ferret had laughed at the Emperor's comment on the foreign squirrel slave being "funny looking," little did he know how that would repay him. The Emperor's heavy paw shot forward, pushing Fogtail's muzzle into the ground with distaste. "Silence fool! If you want funny looking, look in the mirror! Or better yet, look at the water's reflection after I'm done with you!"
Urgent fear aroused in Fogtail's dark eyes, he threw himself back as the Emperor removed his paw, and shot out of the room after Siclaw, and a slower moving Lus. At last, the door closed, leaving Emperor Ceberus Ahgorrun to ponder the fate of the beasts under his rule. A wicked laughter rose from his throat, echoing down the halls crazily through the Seer's ears.
Ah! Go run!
Tril was trapped, footpaws bound tightly with waxed twine made unexpertly of a vine, she could not run. Her children were frightened, the eldest daughter, just a little younger than Zevquain, sat at her side, in one arm she held an infant, and the other young leveret sat on her lap, supported by her arm. The second youngest crying, she comforted him, stroking his soft velvetly ears comfortingly. She whispered a song softly, humming the tune of a lullaby.
Cross the land, over sea,
The waters run free,
Through the dreams, reality,
One day you'll see...
Quira, eldest daughter, but younger than Zevquian wore an unreadable expression, over the past days of her brother's dissapearance, she had become more distant and colder. Her independance scared Tril, and the haremother was worried for her daughter. Tril rested one free paw on her shoulder gently, speaking in a quiet tone to prevent the cruel vermin from hearing.
"Are you alright Quira? I know this isn't the most jolly situation but—" She was cut short by a vermin's harsh words and spear-end.
"Shut up in there! The warlord want no talkin', got that rabbit?"
Tril's head was throbbing painful but she managed to swell in offense of the beast's words. "I'll have you know I am not a bally rabbit! Tell your warlord—," she stopped, only this time it was by herself. To keep her children safe, she needed to play it safe. The vermin's revolting cackling laughter echoed back.
"Smart choice rabbit! We wouldn't want one of those babes of yourn to loose... Let's just say an ear? Or perhaps we can just send one of them back all wrapped in a pretty package to the stripedog to see all the pieces? That would be a show!" Tril, gritted her teeth, clenching her daughter's shoulder tighter.
The kindly hare removed her paw before she did any damage, and passed both younger leverets to Quira. She turned her head away, gazing out a crack of the linen tent so none of them could see the burning tears rolling down her cheeks.
Oh Dust... Please hurry...
So much for the lullaby, so hopeful, now, that spark of hope was fading. Still in the pain, she raised head, guided by an unseen light. Dustscut's words seemed to replay in her head bravely, of the time she had first met him, both of them fighting hares of the Long Patrol. He had helped her up, as she had been trapped under a large log from the first attack, and they had both battled against massive odds. She had alomst died that day, but still he had smiled and said. "Keep a stiff upper lip wot!"
She brushed away her tears, and searched the tent with sharp eyes, looking for something. A glimmer of silver caught her attention, rusted, but sharp. With a voice of urgency she turned to Quira.
"Do you think Lark could fetch that Quira? I have a jolly plan..." She added, smiling a little. The haremaid nodded, convincing thw infant Lark it was a good idea or play toy. Tril ground her teeth in worry, hoping that the little hare wouldn't cut herself. To her relief, the little leveret picked the item up easily, investigating it with interest. Tril rolled her eyes a little, realizing Lark would probably just sit there and play. So she had to try something else.
"Bring Mommy the pretty toy little one! Daddy'll come and resque us from this jolly place! How's that sound wot?" She flashed her youngest daughter a winning smile, keeping her voice light and cheerful, but quiet. Obediently, the young haremaid scrambled over to Tril, rusty file in paw. Tril stroked her headfur kindly, thanking her. Then, she began to saw the the waxed ropes binding her paws.
It made little sound, thankfully, amd she made quick progress. One thread broke off, then another, then another dried piece of twine. It eventually broke, and her footpaw came unbound. Savoring the freedom, she passed the file to Quira, who begam to free herself. So far, so good, but a lot could still go wrong.
The effect her smile and tone had on the two youngest was amazing, no longer crying they seemed happier now, as if it were all a game. Tril rubbed her paws together for extra warmth, peeking out through the folds of the tent into fresh daylight. Next step, know the enemy...
Her plan had begun to fold out neatly. Row upon row of vermin stood in unison, flanked by a wall of rocks, made hastily it seemed, but sturdy. All of them were weasels, with shorter rather than very long tails, not large for vermin, but definetly not tiny. In fact, they all seemed very similar, Tril guessed that being different amoung their ranks meant certain death. She shuddered, trying not to imagine too far how the fates of those creatures could be. Not that she really had much compassion for them, having probably murdered and plundered and captured innocent woodlanders.
All of them wore the same clothing, tunics, died green to match leaves or plant life, with a black belt. And all had similar weapons, either daggers, or reed blowpipes, with a small leather pouch of brown probably containing poison. Then, there was also the semi-leaders, commanding the infantry, but not the warlord or whatever ruler there was. Instead of being the smaller type of short-tailed weasels, they were bigger, ordinary weasels. Still, with the air of authority they showed, it was obvious they were some type of officer.
Though Tril saw no warlord, she had a feeling what to expect, and they weren't in a good position. The harewife caught a glimpse of sleek mahogany, a tail of dense fur, and she felt the breeze ruffle the tent's yellowed canvas as a large creature ran by. Not good, not good at all. Short rounded ears, powerful, small sharp eyes and a sweeping tail. What other beast had such a rich coat of brown, similar to those under its rule?
At the Abbey, the sandstone was beginning to glow red from the sun's dying rays of light as they swept across the stone's face. The whispering winds were slowly, only rippling the fading yellow amd green leaves with their pressure. A small beetle scurried across the walltop's edge, rushing away with the last daylight. Outside, the pond sat serene, clear and tinged with blue, the air was chilly, but calm. Inside the warmth covered out any oncoming autumn coldness, with a fire dancing warmly in the hearth. Large candles provided light.
It was dinner time, and assistants to the cook were racing from place to place, quickly setting simple wear for dining. It wasn't planned to be anything fancy, but at Redwall, food was always good. Warm soup sat in large kettlepots on the sturdy tables, containing whatever the Friar had designed. Being a mole, it would probably be a hearty, savory concoction. As a side, there were warm farls oat bread, fresh, warm, and soft fdrom the oven. Creamy butter, freshly churned to be spread on it. Dessert was a suprise.
Gurgowl wasn't altogether glad at his current situation, he sat gruffily in a bathtub, soap bubbles hanging on his velvety head. He sneezed, irritated by the mess. Though soon, the torture was over, and he wore a clean new set of Redwall clothing. His eyes stung with the soap, and his fur felt damp, but he had been in a better position than Juni.
The little mole listened through a space in between door and wall as the rebellious Dibbun hedgehog had his turn. Water cascaded across the floor, flying through he air with soapbubbles in glittering arcs. There were several splashes, and it sounded like a creature thrashing as if drowing. Mother Lisa probably even had her paws full, as it sounded like she was venting her wrath verbally.
"Stay—still you ruffian! Why can't you be good like the rest of the young ones? Young rip! Why, if I wasn't alread middle aged—"
"Lisa, that's quite enough, my apoligies to you, but this isn't getting us anyware! We'll be late to supper!" Sister Sorrel's voice cut across the room like a knife, firm but respectful. She was a young mouse, the Abbess's sister, and needed to be respectful of Mother Lisa who was older than her. Thankfully, the badger seemed to realize the good sister meant no disrespect.
"Yes, yes of course, but it's as if this crazy little— I mean, lovely little Dibbun is doing us any good! I say he goes straight to bed without any supper! That would be such a shame too, I heard the Friar made blackberry crumble for dessert," she respomnded cunningly. Her voice was smooth, with mock sternness that made Gurgowl unsure if she was serious. Juni saw the light.
"No no! Ai'll be good! Me's a good innocent likkle Dibbun who never did anybeast harm, I bes good for baths!" At his hedgehog companion's quick words Gurgowl had to stuff his muzzle in his habit sleeve, to stop laughing. Apparently, they heard him, he tried to scramble back as heavy pawssteps sounded, but was too late. Mother Lisa's voice called out.
"What have we here? An eavesdropping Dibbun? Perhaps you'd like another bath, eh?"
Gurgowl shook his rounded head frantically, not eager to be soaked again. "No Moither, Oi was just listenin' an waiting for Juni to be doine," he answered quickly. By now, Sister Sorrel had Juni outfitted in a clean set of clothing. Mother Lisa looked like she was having a hard time not laughing, but seemed to manage.
"Let's get to the Great Hall then! Before someone comes to get us!"
As quickly as he could, the little mole ran after her, though the badger's bounding strides were much longer than his. Sister Sorrel helped Juni catch up, shaking with laughter at the sight of a fully dignified badger running though the stone corridor. She froze, then turned to depart as she remembered something. Gurgowl continued onward, heading toward the Great Hall.
The aroma of savory soup and frwsh bread wafted around him as he followed the badgee Mother, Juni behind him. The mole knew why Juni had a rebellious glint in his eye, and was wary. As Sister Sorrel seemly had gotten what she had forgotten, the other Dibbuns, Gurgowl noticed three who were not among their ranks. An otter, a mouse, and a squirrel.
The DSS were on the move!
The squirrel hardly knew what was going on, he was sitting in a cramped, dark and desolate dungeon area near the top of the tower when he had heard approaching footsteps. Four creatures, two guards, two slaves. The slaves he had seen earlier, a lanky looking creature with long ears and a boblike tail, something he had not seen before but had heard of. His fur was short, a little patchy but also tawny, and he walked with a confident look of easygoing personality. A hare, and then of course there was the squirrel. He couldn't help staring through the iron bars at her, as if there was something, a piece of the puzzle he was not getting.
In bad condition as she was, unclean and seemingly weak, she just took his breath away. He had not seen many squirrels that appeared like her, with rich fur as red as a late sunset. After all, where he had came from he mainly saw squirrels like himself. Or did he? Right now, he truthfully couldn't even remember who he was. It was like he was mentally trapped as well as physically, gazing out onto the outaide world through the iron bars of his hidden memory.
Who was he?
The question was lost as they passed, and his attention remained on the other squirrel slave. Somehow, ahe noticed the chain around her neck, not a slave chain, but one that held a pendant. A green arrow! Why did she had an arrow pendant. Didn't slaves usually have to give up their belongings? Then, his thoughts were swallowed into oblivion as a sharp knock sounded on his door. A masked face was peering in, his companion nearby wore a jeering expression.
The door swung open and the ferret, with a masklike marked face, clearly bitter and unhapoy, bumped him none too gently with his spearend.
"Come on' lazy paws, you've gotto see 'is Majesty for a tea party," The voice called, crude and cackling. The patterned squirrel almost gagged at the ferret's foul breath, and let the solitary safety of his prison quickly.
What was the Emperor going to do with him?
He didn't know, nor was he sure if he wanted to know. One thing was certain, soon he would find out.
With the ferret jabbing him in the ribs every once in a while and the other guard, a rat glaring at him with a malevolent expression, the squirrel couldn't help but feel pressured, and it seemed to take twice as long as it must have actually been. At last, completely tired of the jabbing and glaring, they had all made it to the Emperor's throne-chamber.
Without warning, the ferret and rat shoved him inside, not wanting to meet the wolf's yellow stare if they had done anything wrong or taken too long.
Boldly as he could, the squirrel slave took a few steps forward, lifting his head to dare meet the piercing yellow eyed gaze of the cruel leader. He tried to keep calm, finding it easier than some may, as his identity was unknown. Since the black wold didn't speak, he tried to.
"Hurry up next time slave, I don't need slow creatures under my service, that is if there is a next time..." The dark wolf paused before continuing. "Nevermind that though, I have new orders for you. The slaves that arrived just recently, I need them here, once you have fetched them you will be escorted to the Arena; there you will help clean for tomorrow's events. Got that squirrel?"
Hastily, the squirrel nodded, bowed stiffly, and dodged away to carry out the Emperor's bidding. Still, he though the wolf's plan was defective, having just sent the two slaves away, and then having them called back again? Silly. Unless...
How long had he been sitting and thinking before the ferret and rat had been sent to get him, had the two slaves left a while before.
In result of his confusion, the squirrel had to lean against a cool stone wall to rest, head spinning. What was wrong with him? What was going on?
Flashes of memories spun inside his mind, echoes of the forgotten. Why couldn't he just remember?
Frustration rose, like a choking cloud of anger, he pushed off the wall, and walked wearily down the hallway, trying to speed up, but his mind was sluggish. All he knew was that he could hardly remember who he was, where he was from, where he was, or what what even going on. His fur felt clammy, cold and hot flashes haunted him. There was only a few flights of stairs left to climb, and then three corridors, only one flight now. His pawsteps faltered shakily, his head spun, his breathing was heavy.
Someone help me, my mind isn't working...
Only two doors left, and he was limping along, slower, slower, only one door left now. His heart was racing, panic shone in his eyes, so much confusion. Only a few pawsteps left... The squirrel slave reached for the rusty doorknob, then turned it slowly, his legs coudn't control his weight, the door supported him, but only just. Since it was a door designed to only open on the outside, the two slaves could now exit. He had speak. Not even lookng up, he choked out his phrase breathlessly. It was a mind problems that affected him, as he was in fine physical shape. The squirrel didn't have the control to meet the other two creatures shocked faces.
"Ceberus wants you... In... His throne... Room." Gasping with the normally simple effort to stand, his limbs wouldn't obey his mind. His vision began to grow blurry, vingetted on the outsides, shadowed, then gone. All gone.
He collapsed, fallen onto the stone floor, slumped into a silent world of unconciousness...
Chapter 9- Forever a Slave
Soft whispers drifted through a slanted crack in the floor, as well as a single shaft of glowing light, illuminating the darkness a little more. The room was gloomy, small, and drafty. The walls were made of gray bricks, dappled with flecks of dirt and grim, and the floor was made of dusty planks of wood.
Illusion, or Lus as she had planned to have been known, was sitting with legs drawn up to her chest had her expectant suspicions. The room was cold, and she shivered, due to her thin sleek fur that didn't trap heat as well, dreary clouds where dappled across the sky, and from the rusted bars on the window she knew this had once been a prison. Even the crusty bloodstains warned her that victims may have died horribly here...
A faint echo of sound floated from the space between the floorboards, she undid her position, pressing one ear just above the crack to hear any sound she could. Though it was quiet, she could recognize the voices. A hare, cheerful and dangerous, it had to be Zevquain, she knew of no other hares.
Reminding herself that her newly found companions were not friends, only acquaintances, and she was not a safe friend, only a fatal death wish. Thinking with as much focus as she could manage, she listened intently, catching the phrases. Thank goodness her hearing was keen or she may have not been able to hear.
"We'd better...him Riah... He looks sick... By the way... You wouldn't happen to have a bit of spiffin' grub to keep my handsome fur n' bones together wot!" She noticed his last phrase was louder, clear, and almost laughed with a roll of her eyes, but she did not laugh, the situation was too grim. Riah, presumably the creature the hare had been talking to, was sympathetic, but not stupid. Carefully, the lithe weasel listened with more caution, trying hard to catch the squirrelmaid's words
"Not ...Zev, I'm sorry...all... have to help him. Plus... Cerberus... to see us," Lu's had to translate mentally. With this being said, she guessed they were trying to help some beast, as well as head to Cerberus's chambers. But why? She wanted to find out, she needed to find out.
Dusting off herself quickly she decided to get one last bearing on her surroundings before leaving. A castle slave had left a bundle of new clothes she apparently was supposed to wear, and a tray of some type of food on the bed. One, it was remotely unbedlike, a board of wood about one foot off the ground with a bundle of old, musty hay on top. Thankfully, she was no Princess, and was used to far worse. Also, the clothes was a bit... Well, not exactly what she would wear unless she had to. It was some type of silky tunic, and very short... Lus guessed Cerberus wanted her to look like an actual Seer, but in all reality didn't care about her health or happiness. Even the food was strange.
Of course, having missed meals far too often, she wasn't one to complain. Okay, not perfect, but with this in mind she shuddered to think of how the slaves were treated. Changing quickly into the strange costume, a little bewildered, but not entirely unexpectant, and gulped down a stale cracker with thin and cold broth, nearly gagging in disgust.
Then, covering her shoulders the dark black cloak, she stood, and planned her next move. She had little plan of what to do, except leave this room, and walk confidently down a floor or too, if anyone asked her what she was doing, she would state calmly she was to see Cerberus, on his orders of course. With any luck, a beast with sense wouldn't question it. Getting up and looping the thin leather belt at a slight angle over the outfit, she sheathed the three daggers. She needed those weapons, and was completely surprised the Emperor hadn't taken them away, yet.
At she tried to open the door, she wondered if it was just old and difficult to open. After heaving and tugging on the rusty handle, she realized this wasn't the case, she was locked in. That idiotic Emperor!' She though angrily, temper rising. No wonder he hadn't taken her weapons away, he didn't need to! Another thought also concerned her, why was it so important that she needed to be locked in? Was there something so dark that she needed to be locked in? Did Seers of Cerberus Ahgorrun usually try to escape?
Suddenly she wondered if her position was worse than being a slave. It was no excuse for her to find fear, and she wasn't going to let a silly lock get in the way of anything. If the door was locked on the outside, her daggers would be useless, and that she had guessed. Still, there were other options, in the extra set of clothing she had worn to the island, there was a small fishbone earring. If she just broke it in half and attached it to something longer, she could probably pick the lock. It was a small chance she was willing to take.
With little options, she decided to test the strategy, twisting the earring forcefully until she heard the satisfying snap of the bone. It took some searching, but she managed to find a piece of twisted wire, stiff and rusted. Then, fashioning her new tool she Edged as close as the space would alow to the door.
By the end of it, her paws and body ached from effort, and twice the tool almost got caught in the ancient lock, thankfully it hadn't. Approaching thuds of paws against stone warned her to be more cautious. She pressed against the wall blending nearly effortlessly into the shadows from her dark fur. Illusion's heart hammered a little quicker, but slowed when the coast was clear.
Then turning the doorknob with one paw very slowly, as it creaked threateningly, she stepped out into new light. Pale and sickening as the light was compared to daylight, she was still grateful. From there on she headed down the corridor, heart racing at every turn. What floor had she heard the voices again? She wasn't exactly sure, as the sound had been carried somehow, but she knew where they were headed. It took more time than she expected, as if slowed.
By the time she had made it to her goal, Riah and Zevquain were gone.
Sometimes she felt as though she was just trapped in a strange nightmare, living alone in her mind, in a strange coma that made her scared. More than most things in the world, she scared herself, sometimes she didn't know her own strength, or what she was capable of, she had no control it seemed. Yet she didn't think this was a dream, no, it was just a cruel reality, and she was in a living nightmare...
The Abbess was seated at the head of the table, paws clasped neatly, sitting as a perfect rolemodel. Of course, not any rolemodel Juni or his troupe would follow. She had guessed that by a few missing Dibbuns from the crowd Sister Sorrel, her sister, was leading that they were up to another one of their schemes. What she did not know was that this time they were going way to far. Somehow, with this in mind, she had managed to catch the attention of Gurgowl.
The young mole's expression was urgent, and he seemed distracted, as if about to say something but them secondguessing his thoughts.Instead of speaking with the Abbess, he leaned to one wide and said something quickly to Sister Sorrel, who nodded once.mthen, as fast as was acceptable, the Dibbun sped off out of the Great Hall.
Though Abbess Dewtra was curious as to why he had departed, she knew as the no one would wait forever to eat the delicious food set on the table. With an air of kind grace, she tapped her fork against an empty glass, creating a fine clang of sound. At once, the chatter slowed, then fell to a hushed silence. Dewtra cleared her throat quietly, then spoke in an even tone.
"For through the summer, through the fall
Through the seasons, and over all,
Every breath is precious here,
May we all keep holding it dear.
Nuts and grains, fruits and breads,
Bless this food to our minds, our hearts, and our heads."
After she had finished, she nodded, then signaled that it was now okay to eat. As expected, and usually occured at Redwall, the creatures fell upon the food as if they had survived a seven season famine. Of course, they had more manners than that, but all the same that was how good it was. With a smile, wondering how anything could go wrong, the young Abbess ate slowly, savoring the things she had, what so many would take for granted.
She didn't realize what was going wrong, and neither did any of them. Except Gurgowl. With everyone seated, eating and enjoying themselves, the Abbess wanted to stay put, but thay was difficult, she had the overwhelming feeling something was wrong. Whispering an excuse to those around her, she rose from the table, following where Gurgowl had left.
The last thing she saw before she sunk into darkness was the Sword of Martin, being lifted down from its perch, but not by paws. It had fallen, knocked down in sync with a falling creature.
Juni,so prone to loosing his balance, had fallen. He was alright,having the Abbess to break his fall, but she was not concious. The young Abbess had been inches away from death or fatal injury, but instead, the handle had come crashing down on her head. Scrambling to his paws, Juni looked horrified. All the rebellious mischief in his eyes was gone, the fire had died away to guilt. Being only a litle Dibbun, he had no clue if the Mother Abbess was okay, and felt all the worse for the fact that he had had a warning.
Unable to stand what he had done, he fled, eyes watering with what may have been tears. His face was hot, burning with the realization. Faster and faster his paws moved, thudding across the ground. Without any care as to where he was going, he exited, squeezing through the whicker gate to his freedom. Before long, he had no clue where he had gone. The trees towered arond him, reaching their skeletal arms into the sky.
He was getting fearful, knowing he had left the security of his beloved Redwall Abbey. Now, he had entered Mossflower Woods and had no clue on how to get back.
Warm water dripped steadily down his forehead, rolling onto a warm woolen blanket. His fur was damp, a little cold with sweat. Major Dustscut's eyes blinked open, trying to grasp his surroundings. Hushed voices whispered in the background, his body ached.
"Do you think he'll be alright sah? I've never known a hare to not wake to a jolly servin' of puddin' wot!"
"Shhh— Quiet Fralt, he needs all the sleep he can get,"
"But sire—look he's wakin' up sah!"
"Oh right. How about you fetch some food for this starving creature from the cooks, and tell them I sent you please!"
There was a patter if paws and the bubbly young hare sped off down the stone corridor. Duscut groaned, trying to shift, his limbs felt leaden, unable to obey him. And his head had a lump that was agonized. Still, the Major peered up into the concerned face of Lord Brawnstripe and managed to sit up.
"Rest Dust, you took a nasty knock, young Fralt found you, but with all his chatter he's bound to give you a headache before I managed to explain anything,"
Though the badger ruler sounded a little aggitated, worn out, and worried, Dustscut Woodsorrel managed to smile a little with a joke, but it looked more like a grimace.
"Sorry sah— but there's no need to worry about the blinkin' headache, I already have one! Wot!"
"You tell me Major! Such a headache I got over the worry about Lady Lilly! Thank the seasons she's back now!" Having experiences in such matters, Dustscut shared his knowledge heartfeltly.
"I know how yah feel sah, those missus's are always running off without tellin' a 'body where they're going. Still, be glad she's back... I just wish I could say the same for..." He trailed off, realizing there was no reason to speak further. Pain caused his voice to tremble, and thankfully for him, there was a knock on the door, and the badger Lord had no need to respond.
Fralt poked his head around the corner, then strode in carrying a large tray cheerfully. He set it on a nearby table and began unloading food. His ears flopped comically from one side to the other, his smile wide. Dust felt mournful watching him, think of his own son, how he missed Zevquain. Were all of them okay, his dear wife Tril and the other three children? What if they were thinking of him right now, counting on him? The Badger ruler's words broke his thoughts cleanly.
"Thank you Fralt, you may join us if you wish. That is if you have nothing to do, do you?"
"Well no sah, I got some help in cleaning up the Mess-hall earlier, all spiffin' n' ship-shape sah! Though I don't think I'm worthy of sharin' the jolly tucker with you M'lord, I'm only a leveret in training. Wot!"
"Perhaps, but I see it no harm, that is, if the Major aggrees?"
Since the question was directed to him, Dustscut answered quickly.
"Oh—no trouble at all sah! Perfectly fine by me," he added, glancing over at the younger hare, who smiled jubilantly at him in return. The badger's response was focussed, as if deep in thought.
"Good, also I have another matter to address. Young Fralt, how would you feel about being assigned to a mission?" As expected, the young hare was over enthusiastic. His ears shot straight up into the air, and his voice quivered with excitement.
"Really sah!? By flippin' pancakes of course— I mean, yes sah, of course, I would be beyond honored," he added, looking apoligetic at his informal beginning.
Lord Brawnstripe waved off the apology with a good natured flick of his large paw, striped head nodding.
"Yes Fralt, I do warn you though; it will be no easy task." His voice was firm, but expectant, he knew the young hare wanted a chance. Dustscut Woodsorrel realized that this could either help, or hurt. Maybe if he had given his own son a chance Zev wouldn't have run away... If Tril and him hadn't worried so much. Again, Fralt's voice broke his thoughts.
"I'd do my best sah! As a hare of the Long Patrol, I'll do it! But M'lord... What am I supposed to do?"
"I have an idea... But for this first part I would like Major Dustscut to accompany you. You are to find out where the missing creatures have gone and why Dust here got knocked out, I know he is not one to run headlong into the wall. Tril and those other three didn't just run away, I had a hunch they have been captured..." At this, the middle-aged hare became half overjoyed. He would have a chance, just a little hope, to rescue his family. Even if this was Fralt's quest, not his.
To conclude the meeting, the Badger Lord nodded, a grim smile fixed on his face. His voice was firm and low as he spoke.
"Be ready at dawn, waiting in the Messhall, I will speak with you there, Got it?"
Both young hare and officer nodded, one stiffly, one bobbing enthuasiastically. They both answered in sync, voices contrasting like a clash between sword and javelin.
All able bodied Redwallers were now searching for Juni, this did not include the Abbess, as she was in the Infirmary, however, if did include Cota. The young otter, along with his father, Skipper, and the rest of the ottercrew scoured the waterzones, searching for a little lost hedgehog. The sun was going down, and night was falling rapidly. They didn't have much time before they would have to return to the Abbey and continue during dawn. Now, he could hear the trickle and rush of the stream beside him, and the trees shadows cast long bars of gray across the forest floor. His thoughts were broken by a sudden order, and the otter's gaze looked up, in attention to his father. The Skipper was standing on a large tree trunk that was naturally propped up against a little hill, paw emphasizing his prep speech.
"Lissen up! We gotta find our little hog by sundown or else it's back to the h'Abbey mates! No ot'root soup for brekfast, an' you can bet yore rudders that'll be a sad sight! So what do we gotta do mates?"
The answer was roared back to him in a manner that caused all birds within a one mile radius light from the trees.
"Find the hogbabe!!" With a bold smile, the otter chieftain stepped down, sweeping his paws in a wide arch, he began directing the otters.
"You two, go that' n way over yonder, and Rapidflash, Streamscale, go east toward the little path. Rungal, Rushfur, head southwards, toward that tall tree. I'll go north a bit and Cota here can go west! Got that crew?"
There was a excited shuffle of paws, bobbing heads, before the Skipper dismissed them all. The strong chieftain bounded over to Cota, patting him heartily on the back. He winked cheerfully, but there was a bit of seriousness there.
"See ya later son—don't get inta any trouble without yore ole' pa now!" Cota couldn't help but return the smile greatfully.
"Of course dad, I'll do my best without ye," he answered, smile widening. Though his father was kind and humorous, he had also seen the serious, dangerous side of the otter chieftain, and that was not fun in any way. With one last goodbye, the Skipper was gone, leaping into the shadows on powerful paws. Taking a deep breath, Cota treaded though the forest he knew so well. Though he was an otter, and a chieftain's son at that, he was still a Redwaller and had little experience with evil.
It took some time to get anywhere, he though he had spotted pawprints, small but visible, and broken branches snapped, even a spike or two. Perhaps the hedgehog babe had gone this way... With this in mind, he continued onward, that was until, he heard something.
A looming shadow, tall, foreboding and black as the night itself was standing up tall, it's yellow eyes glinting evilly in the darkness. An ottermaid, smaller than most, tall in size ratio to her body, and with no clan-tattoos but a small blue mark on her cheek was visible. Her eyes, brown and sparkling with the firelight were tinged with fear. Her face was frightened, shocked, yet there was a wild sense of thrill and joy there.
Instinctively, when the black figure let out a yowl of triumph, he bounded forward. It's bared fangs, white and glittering, flashed in the orange glow. Cota pushed out with his forepaws, knocking the ottermaid off of her balance and into the water. Just before he saw the shock on the black shadow's face, or the mousecreature sitting nearby with a little hedgehog, he balanced precariously on the streambank's edge, and toppled into the rushing water with a splash.
Unable to catch his balance, he was swept downstream, no control or strength came to his paws. Water surged around him, he gasped for air. Then, somehow upright now, he managed to catch the control he needed. Only, he wasn't the only one in trouble. The ottermaid, having fallen like him, with no clue as to why, she was completely struggling. In fact, she didn't seem even remotely in control at all her paws were flailing, and the water only dragged her under constantly. What kind of otter are you anyway?
Though he wondered why she was having so much trouble anyway, he guessed it sort of was do to him anyway. Surely she wouldn't be angry, he had saved her from that black thing. Or at least... He hoped.
Letting his thoughts halt, he swam out strongly, gliding through the water. With the last strength he had, he lifted the ottermaid's head above the water, realizing she wasn't focused enough to do that, and the water kept pulling her under. Though she seemed outraged and confused,which he didn't understand, there was something else in her expression... As well as a great fear he didn't get. As they rounded the streambend, the water began to speed up, faster, churning and rippling.
For some reason, it looked like the otter was trying to speak, but didn't have the strength, her eyes were frantically frightened, desperate. Cota noticed her small paws were a little uncoordinated in water, as if she couldn't get any movement in order. That was about to get a lot worse. Thankfully, having grown up around rivers for about half of his life, he had a good idea of what to do.
"Just let the water carry you!" He shouted, voice barely loud enough over the cascading waters. Too late, there was no time for another warning. He felt a tug on his fur, harsher this time, and then, he felt like he was falling.
His paws weren't underneath him anymore, rather, Cota realized his paws were in the air. The air pressure around him forced his eyes to close a little, he felt all senses fading... Sinking into darkness.
Then, he hit the water and stones below with a tremendous amount of pressure. All breath was knocked out of him, as if he had just been punched in the stomach. His rudder and paws stung, having hit rocks uselessly on the way down. Now, the stream only coursed gently, carrying him to a streambank at a bend. All strength was gone, he couldn't find the energy to move from his uncomfortable position of lying on the sandy side.
It seemed the ottermaid had fared the fall no better. She wasn't even gasping for breath, and seemed to be using her last ounce of strength to drag her slender figure out of the water. It was odd, how she seemed to scramble out of the cool water, as if electrocuted. Cota didn't feel like making the effort of standing or moving out of the water, it was soothing on his cuts and bruises. Still, it seemed pretty silly of him to just lie there.
He managed to haul himself to his paws, standing shakily. The young otter could hardly see the ottermaid now, it was dark and there was no firelight. Still, he knew she's need help, or at least he thought. The least he could do now was start a fire, warmth and light was important.
To his surprise, by the time he had returned with dry wood, a small fire was already glowing warmly, it's flames flickering and dancing in a circle. The ottermaid whose name he did not know was sitting upright, looking angry for some reason, and weak. He was about to ask if she was alright but was interrupted. The ottermaid's deep brown eyes glinted with something he didn't understand as she spoke.
"What on earth were you doin'?!"
Cota was completely taken aback, how could a maid; weak, and innocent looking be so... Angry and fierce! He retorted in the only way he could think of, which at the moment wasn't nearly as fiery.
"I was tryin' save yore rudder! Ain't you greatful at all?"
"No! You nearly got me drowned!"
"Wull if you weren't being attacked I wouldn't have needed to! Or if you had actually moved while tha' creature attacked you!"
He was even more surprised to hear her response sound undeniably questioning and confused.
"What!? Wait— you thought I was being attacked?"
"Sure did— weren't you?"
"No! That was Bessie, she's my friend and we were acting—"
The ottermaid was cut short by Cota before she could finish her sentence.
"You have a huge n' wild furry shadow beast as a friend!?"
"Of course not!" Now he noticed, she even sounded a bit annoyed. "Bessie is not a huge, wild, furry, shadow beast— whatever that is."
To this, Cota sat down, back against a tree trunk. Right now, he didn't feel at all intelligent or accomplished, only stupid. He sat there for a moment in stunned silence, watching the firelight flicker and crackle.
Then, realizing it was best to move off of the conversation, the ottermaid spoke. "So do ya know where we are now then?"
"I reckon we're somewhere down in— wait, you're not from here are you?" He asked, then instantly felt guilty as he saw the female otter grow edgy and uncomfortable.
Her voice almost trembled as she spoke, and for some reason her paw drifted to the blue mark on her cheek.
"N-no, just down south really, I was traveling with my friends, yeah... But I'm not from here."
To change the subject again, Cota decided it would be best to actually locate where he was. Unfortunately, his experience failed him, he had no clue where they were. Trying to be honest, he struck up a new conversation, even though it was similar to the last.
"Yew know what? I'm actually not sure where we are..."
"So... We're lost?"
Cota sighed, feeling disappointed and strangely like a failure. He had failed her, his father, and the Abbey all in one night. Not only did he not know where he was, but he had almost drowned an ottermaid for a false reason and they would both have to wait until morning to journey back. Her word, "Great." pretty much summed up the situation. Again, his thoughts were broken.
"So... Who are you anyway?"
"M—Briar, I'm called Briar."
Though she seemed quite indecisive, he wasn't going to push the subject farther. To his surprise, she continued speaking.
"I wasn't goin' to admit it... But I'm frightened of water, so I apologize for overreacting..."
"It's no big deal, plus it's my fault really. And since you nearly drowned, I'd recommend getting some rest... Unless you're nocturnal too or somethin'" Cota added, smiling a little cheekily. "Briar's" retort was one of mock joking, light and cheerful like birdsong in spring.
"I am not! Just cause I don't like water doesn' mean I ain't an otter like you!"
He held his paws up defensively, shaking with laughter.
"Fine— How was I supposed to know, you look like a half drowned-beast to me!"
"And you look half-like a drowned vermin! No wonder you couldn't tell the difference between a cat and maniac," she added, punching his shoulder gently in the way otters sometimes did. To this, Cota didn't bother to reply in defense.
"Alright Briar, you win— though I dare say that dawn'll beat you!"
"Is that a challenge whither-whiskers?"
"You bet yore rudder it is!"
Both realizing how silly they sounded, and how much time was being wasted, they eventually stopped joking. Cota rested on his back, head on a thick treeroot. It was not at all comfortable, but better than the hard ground. The ottermaid's voice called out quietly from farther away, farther away from the water he guessed, cheerful, almost a little forced...
"Goodnight Cota," her voice called, though his eyelids felt leaden with fatigue already, he managed to respond.
" 'Night Briar,"
He didn't move for a while, waiting calmly until he could hear the sound of her breathing slow a little. Only when Briar was asleep did he fall into the blissful world of dreams. He was not going to worry about tomorrow, or fret over the past, but just live in the present. He wondered if she did the same, but maybe not, she seemed to live in past memories, perhaps not yet.
Perhaps he could help...
Somehow, a veil of fatal danger seemed to hang over Riah's head, enveloping her from the outside world. Her fate had just taken a turn for the worse, and she knew it. How cruel it was of the dark wolf ruler, he had purposely let her catch a glimpse of a terrible fate, and there was a good chance it was hers.
Still, she was learning quickly, about the Emperor's flaws and skills, which could be useful in later times. If she survived that was. Zevquain seemed to realize what was happening, or what was going to happen as well. His expression was grim, and he didn't dare mention food.
Riah fought back tears the best she could, turning her head away to wipe her eyes if she ever felt moisture gathering, she didn't want anyone to see her cry. She would be brave, like everyone else, even if she was walking straight to her own death. There was always hope, a brilliant star, somewhere in the sky, but now, with darkness covering her heart, she couldn't see the light.
Cerberus had told them hardly anything, but his words meant so much, too much, so much bad. He stated that they were to help clean the Arena before the next day's events, along with the other slaves. As soon as she saw the high-walled arena, her heart sank another inch . Some memory, violent and painful came back to her, blinding her vision of all else.
A squirrel, standing silhouetted against the vibrant sunset as red hues stained and bled into the sea. His eyes were gleaming, tinged with a mist of terrifying scarlet. There was the telltale swish of an ax, deadly close. In the background, a beautiful squirrel, his wife, was holding a very young maid tightly, stretching out a paw in mental anguish. The squirrel was in a fight to the death, he had been sent out, against one of the evil ruler's best fighters. Now, with the opposing warrior having been defeated, he had little choice left. So, he stood, victorious against the sunset. He had walked in, expecting his dying day, brave as he could be. He had never expected to win once, and it turned that this may still very well be his day to die.
There was a problem, he had not asked for the warlord's permission to kill his best fighter, a huge mistake. In the eyes of the young warlord, it was a death wish. Back then, the leader had been a wolf, much younger than he was now, but he was still the same creature. Cerberus Ahgorrun.
With a roar of fury, the black furred wolf lunged forward, swinging his double bladed ax with full force. Neatly, as if in a dance, the squirrel danced aside, darting just out of reach. Still, he heard the wind whistle and felt his fur tug as the blade just sliced out of reach. Unfortunately, he hadn't managed to fully escape the damage, the ax's blade had smashed his only weapon that he had with him, which was a thin javelin. Trust the wolf Emperor to makes things originally difficult, without making things worst at first.
Still, with a blazing gaze as cruel and untamed as a fire's tongue, the wolf kept attacked. With breathing already heavy, paws blistered, and chains shackling his paws, the squirrel knew it wouldn't be long before his time was running out. The little maid, his young daughter tried to rush forward, her tear streaked cheeks matted with tears and muck, but the wolf used a heavy and powerful paw to slam her out of the way. She had seen no more in the reality itself, but knew she was lucky not to have.
A cry of agony, heartrending tore itself from the squirrel's throat, Cerberus wiped a scarlet stained blade on the trampled grass, stepped over his victims body. He did not die instantly, at least, not before a little Riah had regained consciousness. The little maid, wide eyed and innocent, with tears running un-kept down her already beautiful face, sat faithfully at his side, crying into her father's shoulder, listening to his last words a he tried to comfort her. Riah's mother, had been taken away for questioning, dragged off by Cerberus's guards.
The young squirrelmaid couldn't cry any more, her heart was torn in half, she had no more tears to give. Though she would later forget the horrific memories until one fateful day, the scars of her past would always be there, haunting her at night, until she woke and forgot again.
Riah was relieved to find herself still walking down the dreary hallway. Wait— hallway, hadn't she just been walking down toward the dreaded Arena? Utterly confused, she tried to get a glimpse of her surroundings. If she was still in the Emperor's castle... Then where in the castle was she?
Glancing in all directions, she still couldn't manage to spot Zevquain. Worried and a little ashamed, Riah treaded softly across the worn stone ground.
She hated it somehow, how the memories, her few memories of her youmg life echoed and replayed in her head. The only good memories she had had happened such a long time ago she could hardly remember them. Though fate was cruel, she had a hope.
Somehow,someday she would be happy, or at least grant others happiness.
Hope was all she had, a dull light that seemed twice as bright in her eyes and heart than in the real world. For some reason she knew the memory she had recalled had not been an accident, it had been sent.
She departed from the depths of her mind, woken by two eartips, Zev.
Suddenly Riah felt a little guilty, realizing how vibrant her hope was, not dull at all. It was just how she accepted it, how she saw past the darkness cloaking her mind and heart from the world around her. Cautiously, the squirrelmaid raised her head a litle, callling out in a soft whisper.
"Zev! I'm over here!"
Almost instantly the faithful hare was by her side, smiling as if relieved. Even his voice made the situation lighter than it was.
"There you are Riah! You gave me a flippin' heart attack! Toddling off like that, wot!"
Riah nearly batted him with her tail in order to quiet the hare's excited tones, but refrained from creating more choas.
"Zev, you have to be quiet! What if guards are nearby?"
His smile faded a little, realizing he was not free again.
"Oh... Right. I forgot about that an' all. Well, the guards have already called for all slaves to return. Bounders 'n cads!"
Riah anwsered as quickly as she could, still in a hushed whisper.
"We'd better go then, before they catch up with us!"
Both hare and squirrelmaid sped off, avoiding guards and slaves as they went. Riah ran cautiously, paws in a blur of motion, eyes alert. Of course, Zevquain was faster, but he wouldn't go ahead of her.
Moments later, were on the second floor. Then, Riah departed from Zevquain's side and was escorted to her own cell. Had she not known it was fruitless to escape from the place she had been only a while before, she would have tried. Then, she had to help the sick squirrel, and Lus.
It had pained her to work with the other slaves, many of them were just like her when she was younger, so very alone... At least they had each other; and sitting alone on the wooden floor, Riah felt even lonlier. The memory of her father's death kept replaying her her mind, his last breath... Everything. She remembered that night, how she had never seen her beloved mother again. She wasn't sure if her mother had ever lived beyond Ceberus's questioning, nor if she had the will to live.
As a young maid, too young to row and oar, Riah had been a slave at the Emperor's Isle, and she had worked in both castle and alongside the other slaves. In fact, she could faintly recall working for the evil wolf at one point, how cruel he had been...
Constantly he had teased her about the death of her father, and the torture of her mother, just to see the little maid get upset. Just thinking about it caused her heart to ache, how she had seen the memories reflecting in her own eyes at the time, reflected in Cerberus Ahgorrun's out blade as he had threatened to kill her just like he had her father. Though when she had first reached this Isle, she had not recognized the Emperor, now she did; and she realized his intentions.
He wanted to kill her.
Instead of only sorrow this time, she felt as if she were radiating with something different. Determination? Yes, she would not die without a fight. Whether it maimed her for life, she was not going to give up. You've started a fire Cerberus, now I need to put it out; even if we all go down in flames.
Having made a mental vow to not die, Riah was considerably more serene. Still, looking out into the star strewn sky, barred off by heavy iron bars, there was an aching sorrow gleaming in her brown eyes.
Shadowed streaks were flung across the planked wooden floor, and highlights cast by the luminescent silver moonbeams. Her eyes glittered with the sparkling starlight, she was still Riah. Yet the maid was something more, not only a pretty squirrelmaid. She didn't look it and yet...
Somehow, she had become a deadly warrior, beautiful and fatal. Though she yearned revenge, her intentions were pure and just. So far away, the eyes of the brave figure on the tapestry gleamed...
Chapter 10- The Mark of an Outcast
Sleek furred eartips, a dark chocolate, then a menacing face and weasel-like build stepped inside, entering the tent. Quira held back a shudder of shock, then almost laughed, but knew better. This was their captor, some creature related to a weasel, she had heard of their kind only once.
Though the beast was not ugly, he appeared menacing, with small sharp eyes that held no respect for those below him. Around his belt a small pouch was attached, as well as a dagger, wickedly sharp. The haremaid, daughter of a seasoned military hare, was not foolish, in fact, she was considered one of the most intelligent of her family. So she had a bit of experience. Sort of anyway, her mother, thankfully had been a Long Patrol Runner before Zev was born. Though, with the strange creature having already entered, she knew it was probably best for her to move off of the thoughts.
As the Fisher swept to one side of the small tent, towering over the sitting hares, he let his gaze rove over them all critically, starting with Tril, and ending with his eyes on Quira. The haremaid glared back defiantly, feeling an anger toward him bubble beneath her fur, and still there was sorrow in her eyes. If she had been Zevquain, her parents would probably have praised her for her bravery, being Quira, anything good seemed to go unnoticed.
"So? You are residents of the mountain yonder? Am I right?" He asked, voice dangerously cool. Silence had seemingly fallen across the room, not even the infants made a sound, Trill and Quira sat tight lipped in unison. It was not as if he had truly expected them to speak, but he was foolish enough to try. He repeated himself, louder, sparks flying from his small sharp eyes.
"I said, am I right?!" His voice was not quite cool anymore, firm and commanding. Breathing in deeply, he spoke in a soft cheerful tone that was somehow even more fatal than the last. As he spoke, he managed to smile wickedly, flashing razorsharp teeth.
"Very well— I suppose we'll just have to question the lot of you! How about..."
To the haremaid's dismay and horror, his gaze rested on her, smiling with a dreadful sense of foreboding.
"Oh, let's go with the eldest daughter first? If she doesn't want to speak there's always the likkle ones. How does that sound?" His tone was so mocking and falsely sweet it reminded her of the teacher at Salmandastron who instructed the Long Patrol ballad unit. That made her want to laugh, or really, just start shouting angrily and laughing at once.
She didn't want to be questioned, but at least it wasn't the infants, she couldn't bear to see them hurt. Quira feared what would happen next, but already a plan was forming in her mind. She would not allow herself to be tortured, hopefully her wits would get the better of her captor's this time.
With a desperate backward glance at her mother, and then a reassuring but fake smile to the two younger leverets, the haremaid was led off, her eyes burning with a growing flame. Trying to focuss, she chose not to struggle much. Still, she assumed the more time she took, the better. Maybe her father and the Salmandastron rulers couldn't save them, so they would have to find a way out for themselves.
The haremaid did not walk as quickly as the warlord and his gaurds, the rope twine she had ben retied with prevented her from moving her paws. With her footpaws free, and being a Long Patrol trainee, she estimated that if she made a run for it she could escape, just maybe. Then again, there were many strange weasels, and surely they would cut her off.
Well, that cancels that option doesn't it? She asked herself, answering it instantly.
While walking she felt a sharp tug as the guards led her around a corner. Then, without meeting her confused eyes, in sync they both shoved her roughly forward. The haremaid stumbled, wondering why they seemed so obedient, almost without personality. After regaining her balance, she stood, daring to look up at the warlord. Though her temper was untamed, she was about to find out how bad that could get.
The sleek furred kin of weasel clearly had a high opinion of himself, just by his words Quira could tell that much. The sharp tone and keen eyes as he watched her cast a shard of fear into her heart, but also a bubbling anger.
"You are a hare, from the great mountain— yes?"
The haremaid couldn't help but throw a rude retort back.
"No duh. Are you blind as well as heartless? Of course I'm a hare! More than one could say for you." This obviously was one of the worst things to say. The Fisher's eyes flashed with fire, and a split-second later he struck out.
Quira was thrown back a few steps by the force of the blow, then she realized something. In that short momemt, the warlord had pulled out his dagger and had hit her across one cheek. The gleaming dagger, stained with a few drops of blood, also was coated with another color— a thick, poisoness green. The haremaid had a good guess that the dagger was dipped and dried in something that wasn't seaweed. Now, with little beads of scarlet gathered on the cut, it stung. Not just a faint sting as if from mainly force, but something... Different.
The Fisher even seemed a bit suprised, he hadn't expected to do that, it was just a rage of anger. When she tried to move, her limbs wouldn't obey. Her mind was becoming sluggish, she couldn't move and yet could feel pain. Now she was worried, standing at the mercy of her captor. Would the poison kill her? Why couldn't she move? Now what? Questions ran through her head, torn from the darkest part of her mind. A wicked smile had fashioned the Fisher's face. Though she didn't know his dreaded name, the warlord Rilvac Staja, held no mercy in his dark heart. Her fate was not yet sealed, she just had to keep holding on.
That was difficult, how long could she keep her silence? Would choas reap? She had to stay strong... For her families sake. She needed to buy them as much time as possible. The last thing she saw was a shadow flickering nearby, she felt the gentle wind of a beast's movement. Then, she could see nothing more, the pain was too great. A hot agony, sharp and burning, blazing, had just struck a gash on her arm. She swayed as she stood, unable to keep her balance. The feelong didn't yet stop, and she couldn't catch a glimpse of her attacker. Quira hardly could think, but had a vauge guess the Fisher had secretly ordered somebeast to hurt her for him. He probably didn't want to have blood on his paws.
Just in a sudden flash, she thought she faintly saw the grim face of a weasel, not triumphant, but tight lipped. Another wave of pain washed over her, veiling all vision, this time, it actually was in her eyes. The captive haremaid clenched her jaw, tensing and trying not to scream from the pain. By this time, she had no clue how long she could last. Her eyes stung, burning and watering, or was that... Blood? She didn't know, her head spun, she felt like falling. Would it be so nice... To just fall into darkness. Into the warmth of the comforting arms of oblivion? Never to rise again? Quira had to fight the feeling as she struggled even to breathe. Each breath was harsh and painful.
Her heart thudded in her chest, pounding. With the next lance of pain she just couldn't take it. She screamed— and a high wavering cry tore itself from her throat, echoing into the silence of the night...
Briar groaned sleepily, rubbing her eyes gently, then stretching. She opened her deep brown gaze to shimmering streaks of dawn's golden light. Everything hurt, from ears to tail tip, she felt utterly thrashed by the churning water. Since her headfur, usually so sleek, was tangled, the young ottermaid knew she could probably fix it. At least until Cota woke, he was sleepingly peacefully on the ground, snoring softly. She didn't want to bother him really, to her, that would be a bit rude. And though she wasn't the most innocent of ottermaids, she wouldn't even try to play a trick on him.
In her past, she had always stolen for fun, and played harmless pranks, usually that was. Of course there came a day when everything went wrong, and all the same, here she was. Briar had learned a lot since then, and become more of a goodbeast. On the cheerful side, it had given her a bit more character.
With the thoughts in mind, she walked quietly off into the forest, planning to be gone only a little while. Her whiskers twitched in amusement as she remembered Cota's words. "Alright Briar, you win— though I dare say that dawn'll beat you!" Apparently, he had been right, but only just. On the horizon, only a sliver of vibrant light was visible. It wasn't as if she had truly cared, striding through the forest, she prefered it the way fate had played out.
Briar, as she reminded herself to be called now, whistled softly, letting the melody echo quietly through the silent forest, she found herslef half skipping. The ottermaid stopped, feeling like a silly otterkit again, then again, she missed those days. Was she being too nostalgic?
Unexpectedly, fate gave her little time to ponder. She heard a faint crashing sound, snapping as if from twigs, and then somebeast cursing angrily in a language she did not recognize. She winced, grimacing at their obscene nature. Had they learned no manners? All the same, she knew she had to be ready for whatever was nearby. Briar carefully snapped of a fine ash pole to use as a stave, then combed though her hair calmly with a makeshift brush, pretending to be peaceful and innocent. Likely story.
As expected, she was attacked only a minute or so later. Only... her attackers were less intimidating than expected. They were both unmistakably vermin, but not exactly lived up to 'malicious' One was a slightly chunky stoat, with a horrifying grin, due to two yellowed teeth that jutted out at different angles.
The other, was a female ferret, unlike her male companion, was a little frail from age, but the sharp and fierce expression she wore made up for her whispy greyed fur. Briar clapped a dark paw over her mouth,feining shock, but it was really just to stop an onslaught of uncontrollable giggles. Thankfully, they didn't seem to guess that much.
When they had advanced too close for comfort, Briar attacked. She gripped her ash staff a little tighter, swinging out neatly in a sharp motion, the stoat fell suddenly like a dropped rock, out but not dead. At this, the elderly ferret became enraged and desperate. She was upset, and Briar couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her— at first. That was, until the ferret pulled out a blowpipe and set up a dart that did not contain fish oil. Briar's eyes narrowed, challengingly.
Not bad at acting are you? She asked herself teasingly. She didn't need to mentally answer, and strode forward, flipping her lengthy hair over one shoulder. Then, she spoke in a quaking voice, warningly.
"Dare not shoot, otherwise thy fate may be of thy companion's. Heed my warning and hearken carefully," Briar's words were laced with a dramatic flare. She pretended to be a force to be reckoned with easily. The ferret's paw hesitated, as if unsure of to shoot or not. The ottermaid continued. "Depart eastward and no beast shall touch you. Go now!"
Once her companion had risen shakily, both vermin scurried off, leaving Briar in the clearing alone, stiffling her laughter. Then she heard the bushes shaking, the snap of twigs. Wait a minute.... Bushes just don't shake on there own...
Cautiously, she edged forward, trying to stand her ground as the figure from the foliage emerged. Another otter. Once Briar had recognized the new otter's markings, as he was a Skipper, greatly resembling Cota, she hid the blue mark on her cheek by brushing a strand of dark hair over it. If he knew who she was...
The ottermaid was a little relieved when she saw he was shaking with hidden laughter, clearly he had seen her encounter with the stoat and ferret. There was certainly no lack of confidence in his voice when he spoke. Briar, surprised, was a bit lost for words.
"So, yore not dazed are you mate? Anyhow, what's yore name?" He asked, wiping a tear of laughter with one paw.
"I-I'm called Briar, just Briar." She stuttered slightly as she spoke, almost letting her real identity slip. The other otter, thankfully, didn't seem to notice.
"Nice to meet yah Briar; and by the way, have yew seen an otter 'round the age of yoreself? He looks a bit like me, fine an' all if I can safely say."
The thought had struck the ottermaid at how alike this Skipper resembled Cota. Now her words were easy, and came to her at will. This she was sure of.
"Yes actually, I left him round the streambend. I-Is this particular otter you're searching for named Cota by chance?" She asked, a little enthuasiastic, yet questioning. After the otter leader had nodded, the ottermaid gestured toward the way she had come.
Briar, as expected, saw no more of the stoat or his companion. It was once less creature to worry about. She didn't say anything more until she could see the spot where they had escaped from the stream. When she got there though, Cota wasn't asleep anymore, instead, he was leaning against a tree, waiting patiently. When Cota recognized the Skipper, he rushed forward, a smile spreading across his face.
"Hullo dad, how was the luck of yore crew?" Though he seemed joyful, Briar could tell from how his paws were tightly clenched he was worried. She didn't understand.
"Not good I'm affeared to say. We found nought but his tracks, Lisa's been locked up in her bedroom— sobbing, the entire morning. Sister Sorrel's treating the Abbess still, downright worried she is too! I see you found someone, not a hogbabe though! The pretty ottermaid calls herself Briar, how'd you run into her son?" Cota's father responded, winking a little in fake rougue manner with a laugh.
Briar felt her cheeks burn in a blush, it was a good thing her fur was dark. Even Cota seemed a little embarassed, who knew how, and was trying to answer in a calm tone.
"Well, I actually sort knocked her into the stream... False alarm and all, so I literally did run into her."
By the way the conversation was dragging on, Briar decided it was time to interject her own questions. She didn't know who Sister Sorrel, Lisa, or this 'Abbess' were, but it sounded like a lot more rules she had to follow. Just like at... Her old home. That was similar. Before her thoughts could wander further, she spoke up.
"So... Who's this 'hogbabe' creature you're looking for? Mayhaps I could be of help?"
It was Cota who answered.
"He's a young beast back at the Abbey, we're searchin' for him. He's a hedgehog in case you didn't catch that, have you seen him?"
"I'm not sure... I think Bessie and Jace may have, but I have no clue where they are. I can say one thing, if he's with Bessie, he's in good paws."
"Do you mean the huge and wild furry shadow beast that I saw earlier?"
"Yes— I mean her, but she's not dangerous. She's actually almost a second mother to me..." Briar added her last phrase in a hurt tone, showing she wasn't going to accept the fact that Bessie could possibly be dangerous.
"Oh." Was the only word of Cota's response. From that, the Skipper, took control of the conversation.
"I suggest we report back to the Abbey mates! That way Lisa'll have a bit of hope. Then after a nice breakfist we can gather my crew and find the liddle hog— and yore friends of course miss."
Briar's only response was to nod. She was too deep in thought. Though the coast seemed clear, the ottermaid carried her ash pole in case.
It was a while before they reached the great Abbey. Briar recognized it from the Paintings that hung in the hall of... Her home. And how her father had told her stories of it.
The red sandstone blocks built into a massive haven of safety and refuge glimmered in the morning sun. Everything about it was wellcoming, from the high up belfry, to the low set gatehouse. The planked wooden gates stood firm, locked firmly in place, already she started to guess from what she knew was inside. As the gates swung slowly open on ancient hinges to the Skipper's order, and they stepped inside, Briar was awed. A serene pound carved a watery crevice into the landscape. And though the grass, whithering with the coming ot fall, she knew it must have been bright green in summer. In a well tended orchard a ways off, the ottermaid could see berries dotting the bushes and ripe apples clinging to their branches.
"It's amazing...!" She breathed, coming to a halt as she tried to take in the scene. Too bad I won't be welcome here for long... She thought regretfully, expression becoming downcast. Already she could see a few creatures wearing green habits, and the otter crew flooding out onto the lawn. A sharp wind tugged at her fur, crips as if it was trying to tell her something. Something she didn't understand.
That was, until it was too late. She could no longer feel her headfur across her shoulder, or her face for that matter. Nonono... Please no. Not now... For Briar, her luck had just turned. The worst part was, she blamed herself. For stopping, for giving the otter chieftain the chance to see her mark. The only mark she had, a blue curve across her cheek.
The Mark of an Outcast.
Cota stood dumbfounded, confused by the the expression on his father's shocked face. The next thing Briar heard was an outraged shout from his father.
"You!? How dare you show your face here? Playin' on the Abbey's hospitality. You should be downrigh' ashamed!"
It was clear Cota didn't get it, but Briar did. She knew why the Skipper was yelling at her, and she hated it. Already she had been driven from her home by her entire clan, and now this. The cursed mark inflicted upon her caused her to be driven from every threshold that was not ignorant of the curse. The shouting continued, and all she could do was stand as the older otter stomped heavily forward, shoving his own son out of the way bad temperedly.
"Leave! You ain't welcome here! I don't care what your excuse is outcast— I will not be responsible for bringing misfortune to h'Abbey on your behalf! Begone with yeh!"
By now, a few Abbeybeasts stood nearby, in a deformed semi-circle out of the way, no one could remember a time the Skipper had been this angry, and no one dared challenge him except for the Abbess, who was currently unable. Briar could see shock and pain on Cota's face as she turned to leave. Her heart seared with a fiery pain, the ottermaid felt her face grow hot, and tears threatened to spill. She didn't had the will to speak, and started walking away, limbs falling to her sides. Before she left, she gently placed a paw on Cota's shoulder, speaking in a trembling voice that was not at all fake. The ottermaid couldn't find the strength to act anymore.
Though she hadn't known him long, she was grateful. For the first time in a long time, he had been the only one of her species to actually take her for what she was. Not some silly cursed outcast, but for a real ottermaid, a short timed friend. Something unsaid was between them, he didn't say anything, there was to much too say. Besides, she wouldn't dare say it. She should have known her moment's joy would end like this, alone once more. Briar didn't even attempt to smile.
"See you 'round oneday Cota, thanks for caring... Most don't even give me the chance to be normal. You did, and I won't forget that. I'd call you a friend, 'cause you were a friend for a moment. And well... This is goodbye," she added, removing her paw shakily. She wanted to scream about how it wasn't fair, that fate shouldn't be so cruel.
Yet something stopped her, glaring with a painful anger toward the Skipper once more, she trudged through the arching doorway, and didn't look back. The doors closed forcively behind her, like a hand of pressured air shoving her forward. She shut her eyes tightly, unable to stand the pain of facing reality by sight.
He had, again, little to no clue of what was going on. No one had warned him or given him any explanation of any type, not that he had expected it.
There was another thing he did not expect, though he had forgotten most everything, he destinctively remembered falling to one side, no it seemed he was facing upward. Why?
The squirrel slave, as he had simply become to be known by himself and everybeast else, was not in the same place. Now, he was sitting flat on his back on a hard, creaky surface of a wooden face. It was supposed to resemble a bed, more than the slaves got he knew, but still uncomfortable and poorly made. The rooms itself was dark, cold and even a bit clammy, with a presence that hung lightly in the air. Or— was someone there?
A cloth cloak brushed past his side, and he saw a swift shadowed figure walking forward. The squirrel tensed, heart speeding up. He was too weak to fight if need be, and couldn't think to make proper choices. The words the unseen creature spoke were definetly not what he had expected.
"Do not fear me, I am no threat to you just yet. You are safe here," It spoke, probably, almost certainly a she.
Quiet and calm, yet dangerous. Almost icy with the frost of dishonesty that made him shudder. He didn't trust this creature, though then again, she had helped him, and he wasn't in a state to help himself. How could that be? Perhaps he didn't want to find out just yet...
Thankfully, he hadn't the chance to find out, it was too dark to see accurately. The voice sounded again, quiter this time.
"So, what is your name?"
He didn't have a clue how to answer this, who was he? It was on the tip of his tail, just like a drop of water just out of reach in a furnaced room.
"I'm not sure anymore... Who are you...?"
The voice answered, quicker this time.
"Just call me Lus, or Lus the Seer as I'm known."
The squirrel sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say. Everything was all so confusing, and he felt so lost. Thankfully, the strange Seer as she called herself spoke instead of him.
"So, do you feel better?" Her voice asked, neutral between soothing and sharp. He wasn't even sure how to answer.
"Sort of—" The squirrel responded, trying to catch a glimpse of his veiled surroundings. "I still feel weak... But not so dizzy anymore." Strength wasn't exactly coursing through his veins, but he felt a bit better than before, that was better than nothing.
Still, there was a major problem. Cerberus was planning something dreadful, and doom was waiting just outside the door— most literally. Suddenly, he seemed to realize something. He sat up abruptly, supported by his arms. The words sprang to his lips in sudden epiphany. "What time is it?"
"Almost sunset, why?"
At this, the squirrel's response was frantic.
"You mean to tell me I've been out for nearly a day—the Emperor was expecting me! I'll be flayed for being late!"
Unfortunately, the stranger's response was hardly reassuring.
"Well, you have a little while to make it where you need. Nonetheless, my desination is the same as yours. I was only waiting a few last minutes to see if you would wake. Now I would recommend leaving." The Seer's spoke so calmly, he almost wanted to bang his head against a wall with frustration.
Sensibly he didn't, and managed to find the will to get up on his paws. The slave felt somehow better now, gaining strength physically. Yet as always, he felt sick inside, mentally. The Seer didn't bother to offer a paw of help, and pity wasn't in her nature, at least it didn't seem so.
By the time the two creatures had reached the dreaded Arena, the sun was sitting on the sea's waves, casting an orange glow across the horizon. Nearly night. The Seer, Lus as she called herself, seemed a bit cross with flattened ears. He guessed by the way she was crossing her arms this was partly due to her role of being a Seer of Cerberus. He didn't blame her, wearing that outfit and awaiting death at a mere mistake that may not be her own.
He had though her role was bad, but not in comparison to his, as he was about to learn. One he reached the gates, he was shoved roughly through a smaller side door, one with bars, and as he realized... Bones
Bones littered across the ground. As well as various bits of broken weapons. Confused and worried, the squirrel stood in a cramped corner, trying to catch a glimpse of understanding from his surroundings. Other slaves, a few that was, stood sullenly nearby. Some of the older creatures looked grim, others, like him, seemed confused. He thought he caught a glimpse of a familiar face, but wasn't sure.
Beyond the bars, he could see soldiers, standing in neat rows, higher up, in a throne-like status, sat Cerberus Ahgorrun. On his right side, sat the Seer he had spoken with moments before. There was a patter of paws as every beast rushed to stay in the correct positions, no one wanted punishment. A cruel looking rat on the Emperor's left stood, hastily unraveling a yellowed piece of parchment. His face was covered with scars, and a vile expression, as if he was almost cheerful about the coming doom and misfortune to anyone. Though the squirrel did not know it, that particular rat was certainly hated by most rowing slaves under his command on the ships. When he spoke, he cupped his paws to project more sound.
"'is Majasty, Emperor Cerberus Ahgorrun, Conquerer of da' Beyond, Ruler over all da' lesser creatures, an' Chooser of who Lives ore Dies, 'as gathered yo'all under 'is humble name taday ta present the annual Conquest. Today, 'Is Majasty will choose the voyage ta seek new lands. Aftarwards, a few chosenbeasts will provide him entertainment."
The rat took a breath, glancing over nervously at the Emperor for approval, who promptly dismissed him. The squirrel had a terrible hollow feeling in his stomach; suddenly he had a guess as to how the "chosenbeasts" would provide entertainment. Before he could get a better look around, the dark wolf stood, raising his head and beginning to speak. Only when he did, they were mere orders.
"Bring the map— and; no. That will wait until after. Carry on." Quickly with an air of agile grace, the Seer he had spoken too rose from her seat, expression emotionless as was possible. A hushed silence had fallen across the gathered crowd, it was a critical moment. Now, as the squirrel had just noticed, the Emperor held his ax in paw, waiting impatiently as Lus unfolded the ancient map. It was a giant map, dotted and splattered with islands and land, in red was all the area the Emperor had conquered. The squirrel was frightened to see how much was stained scarlet, like the color of blood; it was almost sickening.
How could anycreature have ruined so many others’s lives?
Cerberus knew the rules, anything he said was a rule; standards everyone except him had to yield to. In fact, most of his rules meant death or punishment for the unfortunate creature it affected. In this case, the Seer was in the most danger. Once Cerberus threw, it could easily be all over. Considering most of the map was land, the Seer often had a chance to survive. If the ax-blade touched the area stained red, there fate may very well echo that very color. For Lus's sake, he hoped the Emperor threw well.
The black wolf raised his paw, eyes narrowing, and then closed his eyes. Without another word, he tossed the blade, almost effortlessly with brawny skill. No one in the horrified crowd made a sound; it was hushed, almost peaceful. Except the silence made his fur rise, the tension was almost overwhelming.
Then, swallowing in an attempt to regain her normal calmness, the dark weasel stepped forward, daring to seek where on the map Ahgorrun's blade had fallen. She didn't let out a sigh of relief, only double checked the location before standing and turning to the Emperor. His tone was questioning and impatient, almost mocking.
"Well— where did it land?"
Lus spoke, tone secretly triumphant.
"Toward an unknown land your Excellency, I know of it."
"Yes yes, I got that. What is this land named then?!"
"Mossflower— far from your Vitra Isle."
The black wolf didn't speak; only let his cold gaze rove over those below him. No one could guess what he was thinking, and as far as the slave knew, no one dared to take a breath. Everyone waited, stood silent for the Emperor's decision. Unexpectedly, Cerberus only nodded, then signaled with his paw for the map to be removed.
Again, the rat to his left spoke, reading off of a scroll of paper.
"With 'Is Majasty's orders, bring out the slaves!"
A cold shiver ran down his back, like a speck of snow melting. Everything was about to get a lot worse...
To his dread, the squirrel found himself shoved forward to the front of the small space, surrounded by a few slaves with worried faces. A ferret pushed him farther forward, gesturing toward a small pile of weapons, all poorly constructed.
Am I supposed to fight someone? Is that what Cerberus counts as entertainment?
Evidently, his suspicions were correct, no matter how he didn't want them to be. The squirrel watched, stricken with confusion, as another slave across the wave received the same vague instructions. An elderly mouse, fur grayed with age, build worn from working, whispered something in his ear. It was a comment of help, but not what he wished to hear.
"You've got to fight, if you lose; well then the Emperor decides what is to happen, whether you live or die, he'll decide."
It sent fear into his heart, and only made him grip the wooden spear he had been assigned a little tighter. With baited breath he waited, trying to size up who his opponent across the Arena was. When the barred gate opened, he was utterly surprised at who the creature was. Truthfully, he had been expecting something dreadful... But instead there was a familiar face. A thin figure stepped forward, trembling just slightly, but clutching her own assigned spear bravely. She raised her head, just as surprised as him. A squirrelmaid, one he did not know the name of. Still, he was shocked. What did Cerberus expect him to do? Fight a goodbeast, a maid at that? Unfortunately, he didn't have the sense to keep that to himself.
"I will not fight a maid."
The problem was, he said it loudly, too loudly. Even Cerberus had heard him, as well as the other slave. She seemed to understand, but looked a little offended, and worried. The black wolf Emperor looked outraged.
"Oh you won't then? It seems you have little choice now don't you."
Then, he snarled out one last command.
"Fight or die."
Across from his side, as he stepped forward the maid nodded, expression set grim. When she neared he got the idea she had a plan. Neither of them could kill another good creature. It seemed to take a lifetime to cross the Arena, he walked slowly, silhouetted against the bleeding horizon, just like another had been so long ago.
Neither of them could find the will to throw the first blow.
The squirrel felt burning yellow eyes, the eyes of Cerberus Ahgorrun watching him with every step he took. His heart sped up, pounding in his chest faster, with more force. The squirrelmaid seemed lost for a moment, gazing out to sea before back at him. Something about her was... Different. Though she feigned confidence, her eyes spoke of a story that was otherwise.
He wondered, how was by mere chance he had been forced into this... Or have he been chosen? The suspicion was hard to think about, and that maid knew more than him, the distant look in her eyes portrayed a memory.
Somehow, she must have shaken it off, for her expression became one of urgency. He could just catch her whisper over the crowd's growing roars.
"Trust me— You need to at least pretend to fight me, but slowly edge toward the sea, okay?"
The squirrel nodded, confused, but confirming that he would follow whatever her plan was. It became some crazy show; parry and dodge, swing and advance. He just managed to sidestep a swift cut of her spear from the right, even though he knew she could have actually hurt him if she had really wanted to. He literally had no recollection of fighting, and guessed she was in a similar boat.
He stabbed forward, just an angle to the left to purposely close, and missed easily as the maid dodged to the opposite side. He had to admit, she certainly wasn't slow.
The slave knew neither of them were fighting to kill, but he hoped it looked as such. Slowly, ever slowly he danced across the Arena, nearing the sea's lapping and crashing waves as if he was being driven back. On accident with an attempt as a false blow he actually struck the maid, and was startled to see a thin line of blood ooze from the wound. With her encouraging grimace, he guessed that couldn't halt the battle, and though he felt guilty, it made the act look convincing.
Cerberus's yellow eyes were narrowing by the minute, suspicious and blazing. The dark wolf looked about ready to call in guards, bit something had seem to stop him, he seemed intrigued, but not in a good way.
When he felt a dull shove of the squirrelmaid's spear-end he got her intentions, so did the Emperor. With a moment's hesitation, the squirrel made a wild dash toward the Arena's shortest wall.
Then, an enraged roar sounded over the chaos.
"Stop those slaves!"
Urged forward by the wolf, a small group crowded forward, pressing around on three sides of the two slaves, all but the direction of the sea. Between the swarm, the Emperor was wading his way toward them, nearly jumping up and down in his rage.
"Fools! Idiots! Can't you see they can swim!?" And then, "Get out of my way you blundering buffoons!"
Clearly the Emperor did not mince his words. With every second he neared closer and closer, creatures under his command leaped to either side to escape his wrath. The squirrel felt several sharp blows by multiple weapons, but did his best to ignore the spreading pain. In a painfully slow manner, he tried to scale the wall, dragging himself upward after the maid. Her brown eyes were frantic, and like him, she must have been injured already.
The sea was only a ways off... And even it's darkness and pounding waves seemed like welcoming arms now compared to what was behind. He felt something grab his footpaw, snagging him and dragging him down, but another paw pulled him up by his wrist.
Pulling with all the strength she had was the maid. Her teeth were gritted, eyes hard with determination, he struggled to haul himself up. The crowd was louder than the waves now, threatening like their leader. Even the maid seemed to realize she didn't have the strength to pull him up, and that almost frightened him. Just go! Go now! He anted to shout, but his voice was lost among the noise and uproar. The maid wasn't going to settle with his thoughts, in fact, she had an opposite agenda.
To his surprise, she leaped down, past him and into the face of danger; into the paws of Cerberus Ahgorrun.
Momentarily distracted, the paw holding him down was released, and yet the squirrel slave hesitated. That was, until he heard another order.
"You go now! And hurry!" When he glanced nervously back, her voice sounded once again. "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine—" What she was going to say was cut short, keeping the maid's last order in mind, he didn't waste anymore time. Her freedom's sacrifice would not be in vain, he was going to make sure of that.
Taking his chance, he bounded over the wall, slipping into the bleeding wave's ripples, daring not to look back.
In a torrent of confusion, the dark wolf threw back his head, and a outburst of anger tore itself from his throat.
"Nooo!! You fools! You let the slave escape, quickly, gather the boats and cut him off, he's only a squirrel, not an otter!"
With blazing anger nobeast wanted to face, he turned to the weakly trembling maid, shoving her to the ground with his axblade's side, pressing it against her throat. In his rage he shook her mercilessly, almost like a puppet or rag doll. "And you! You silly squirel have interfered with Fate's Master one too many times!"
Seething with rage, the Emperor fumed, trying to find a horrific enough punishment for the maid. He was starting to regret the day when he had decided to spare her life for the first time, now, she would have to die.
A wry smile flickered across Cerberus's face, his eyes searching through the ground quicly, narrowing when he spotted a certain beast under his command. When he spoke again, it was directed toward the figure, soft and dangerous.
"Raithir? Come here."
The figure didn't need to be ordered twice. He was a fox, sporting a vibrant pelt, traditional o his species, and wore a tattered cloak over his tunic. Any creature who knew of him reverred him, though when they learned who he was, it was usually the last thing they ever learned...
"I need you to think of something fitting for this sack of peelings. Okay?" He pushed the squirrel with no restraint to make a point.
The fox's response was even, wicked with a slight corsair's accent.
"Well yer Majesty, since this creature caused another to escape by da water, mayhaps she should end her days in the water," He added, eyes glinting like shards of flint. Cerberus didn't bother to thank him, but the dark Emperor's yellow eyes lit up. The fox tried not to roll his eyes at what Ahgorrun said next.
"I've got it! I'll have my guards chain her to the pier, then... When the tide begins to roll in... It'll be a watery grave!" Out of constant cruelty, the Emperor didn't even bother to let the squirrelmaid not hear her fate. All those in range of his voice shuddered a little, even Raithir.
The dark wolf chuckled, shoving the squirrelmaid into the paws of the nearest guard, he strolled off, eyes narrowing. When he walked down the empty corridors of the castle, his laughter echoed through the hallways.
Little did he know, but hidden eyes were watching him from fissures in the rock.
Chapter 11- Rescue
"Muther Abbess! Muther Abbess! Please wake up naow," Gurgowl pleaded, sitting at the bedside of the motionless Abbess.
Her crystal lensed glasses, that she only sometimes wore, lay strewn on a table nearby. The clean linen blanket was tucked neatly under her paws, and a cool rag was folded over the swollen lump on her forehead.
Gurgowl sat, worried, now with his digging claws folded, dark eyes glancing in a nervous manner around the room. He glanced over to Sister Sorrel, the Infirmary and Sickbay tender.
"Wull she'm be okay miz Sorrel?"
The kindly but serious Sister nodded, her eyes trailing to Abbess Dewtra's closed eyes.
"Yes young one, she'll be alright. Don't you fret— it was a nasty bump but t'was no wound that can get an infection. She should wake soon, but in the meantime would you nip down to the Friar and ask him to send a trolley with tea and scones? It's late and both you and I missed supper.
Obediently, the little mole nodded and jumped off the stool he was seated on, trundling off down the empty hallway toward the Kitchens. Thankfully, the Friar didn't seem at all bothered to see the Dibbun. Gurgowl tugged his snout in the tradition manner of greeting.
Like Gurgowl, Friar Burr was a mole, and no less sensible. The Friar chuckled in a good-natured manner at Gurgowl's untimely request. Though it was late, and most other Abbeybeasts were asleep, the Friar had insisted on cleaning the last of the Kitchen.
The useful Dibbun helped by washing the last dishes while the older mole prepared tea with hot scones. Soon after, the two creatures pushed the trolley down the corridor, and Gurgowl was bidden goodbye.
Slipping inside the heavy doors to the Sickbay, he smiled triumphantly to the Infirmary Sister.
"All done naow!"
Before Sister Sorrel could answer, a fevered groan sounded from Abbess Dewtra. She was waking, painfully slow. The young Mother Abbess ruefully sat up, investigating the injury on her head. It clearly was painful, and Gurgowl felt a little guilty. If only he had stopped Juni from his foolish actions in time... And what of Juni now? He had not yet been found, and despite the little mole's thoughts about the hedgehog, he was concerned.
Already, the little mole put himself to use, setting out a steaming pot of tea carefully on a coaster on the table. Then, he set out a plate of scones, next to a small bowl of strawberry jam.
Though pained and confused, the kin Abbess gave both of them a small smile of gratitude. Then she spoke.
"I really do hate to ask— but what happened? One moment I was near the tapestry, and the next I'm lying here."
Thankfully, it was Sister Sorrel who answered, placing a caring paw on her younger sister's shoulder.
"It was pure accident that the sword fell, but not accident that Juni knocked it off the holders. The hedgehog fled; we haven't seen him since.
"Is the sword back in its rightful place? Have search parties been sent out for Juni? What about —"
"Please hush Abbess, I'll explain. Firstly, the sword is fine, as or Juni, we have suspicions of where he may be. There are more important matters to face. Only a while ago, earlier today at least. The rest of Skipper's otters showed up, and then Skipper and Cota with this strange ottermaid. I wasn't actually there m'self but I heard rumors that Skipper got so outraged that he drove the maid out of the Abbey!"
At this, Abbess Dewtra sat straight up, fumbling with her glasses to put them on. Gurgowl could tell she was dizzy, but also very unhappy, and the normally calm Abbess was fuming with anger.
"That otter! He has no right to drive anyone out of this Abbey without my consent, the nerve of him! As a Redwaller he should know that any good beast is allowed simple hospitality."
The Mother Abbess slammed her paw on the table forcefully, causing the plates and dishes to clatter. Then, seeming to realize herself, she drew back, glancing apologetically to her sister. Regaining composure, she spoke again.
"Forgive me Sister, I do not mind to play on your kindness; especially after you both have sat by my side so diligently. I can sort out the situation tomorrow."
The young mole nodded in agreement, passing a scone layered with jam to the Abbess.
Sister Sorrel gave the Abbess a look of mock severity.
"So you see sense at last then sister?"
"Why of course," Then, with a glint of laughter in her eyes she glanced over at the Dibbun, raising her scone in paw, "Gurgowl showed me that!"
Two figures sat, silhouetted against dawn's first light, one with a grim expression, the other ecstatic with excitement. It was chilly, and glittering frost just barely tipped the whithering grass. A first voice broke the silent, whispering in a quick tone.
"D'ya think they're down there sah? I hate to think of the scummy vermin capturin' yore missus and—"
"Hush Fralt— We're supposed to be quiet..."
"Righto sah. Quick's the word and sharp's the action wot!"
"Oops, my lips are sealed sah!"
The young hare just caught a fevered "you'd better be" from the older hare he sat next to and felt a little guilty.
Still, that couldn't stop Fralt's nature to be excited. After all, the information they were scouting for could help free his best friend's mother and siblings. Plus, you had to realize this was his very first important mission!
The Badger Lord had already warned them not to be seen, and to keep their caution at all times, to only seek information, yadda yadda yadda... Fralt hardly had heard a word of it. It wasn't that he wasn't trying, it was that he was willing to take risks.
Major Dustscut Woodsorrel was peering through squinted eyes at the hidden camp below. Both hares realized they would make an easy target for an enemy weapon at the hill they were observing from, but it was a risk they had to take. Besides, they didn't even know yet what weapon the enemy used.
Fralt didn't expect the answer to nearly hit him. There was an unmistakable sound, swift and short. A split second later, a small dart was protruding from the canteen of water he carried on his belt. The young hare nearly jumped, expression turning to one of outstanding surprise. He felt a calming paw on his shoulder, and looked over to the Major.
"We'd better go now before that lot below turns us into pincushions lad, wot?"
Fralt nodded, a little shakily as he unplugged the dart only to watch his water spill away into the ground. Something poisoness and thick green oozed from the dart's tip, only accelerating his views.
"Right you are sah, I think we'd better reestablish our jolly old position and all," he added, gulping. The two hares quickly packed up anything they needed and slipped out among the little ground cover there was, weaving across the land.
Following the Major's lead, Fralt cautiously edged toward the camp, ever closer. He sucked in his breath, narrowly missing brushing against the fold of the tent. With keen eyes, he could see creatures, all of the weasel family, carrying on with their duties in their strange camp. The rising sun shielded some of the camp from his vision, and he could tell Major Dustscut was having similar trouble.
Then, Fralt got an idea. Boldly, he winked to the Major, ignoring the older's hares disapproving gaze, before stepping farther into the camp. At this point, he could see what weapons the creatures used, who they were, and the general layout of the camp. A aggitated whisper met his ears from behind a tent.
"Fralt get back here!" Major Dustscut hissed, looking stern.
Stubbornly, the young hare shook his head, taking a few more steps. Carefully he glanced around each corner before progressing forward. Behind him, the Major let out an inward sigh, and must have decided he had little other choice but to assist the younger hare. Fralt peered though small cracks or open folds of tents as he passed, searching for tawny fur, the long ears of hares poking out, anything.
Then, the glint of silver caught his eyes, were those... Chains? Maybe, but he wasn't sure. If they were, it could mean captives were nearby... If not... Then he'd be in more trouble. And idea struck him suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, risky and unpredictable.
He turned and mouthed the words, 'should we split up?' When Dustscut nodded, Fralt smiled triumphantly. Hopefully his plan would work. If both of them looked for the captives, they could cover more ground. Once they found the captives, they could report back to the Lord Brawnstripe. Little did he no his intentions may soon quickly change.
The Major departed and took another route. Meanwhile, Fralt cautiously edged him way into the tent where he had seen chains. The young hare was completely surprised at what he saw.
There, the shadowed corner, lay the figure of a hard, in a position that made Fralt guess she had fallen that way. Though he had not met the haremaid before, logic told him it could only be one hare that he had heard of, Zev's sister. His best friend had told him about his family a few times, and had mentioned a haremaid named 'Quira' once or so, unfortunately, Zevquain seemed to have thought of her as a bit boring, and Fralt hadn't payed much attention. Now he wish he had.
Still, the young hare wasn't just going to leave a helpless maid lying there, even if it lead him to disobey orders. It was for a good cause, right?
The thing that astounded Fralt the most was the lack of guards. He didn't get it, if this haremaid was a prisoner, wouldn't it be normal to post a guard for her to stay there? Not that he wanted more trouble, but the absence of a guard made him feel as though he had walked into a trap. It was all too easy...
Fralt knew he really didn't have time to ponder whether it was a trap or not, he would take his chances. Edging against the side, he carefully picked the haremaid up, straining to carry her. She was lighter than he expected, but then again, he really didn't have a habit of carrying anyone.
No one said it was easy, that was certain, but somehow he managed to carry her without being seen. So far that was.
All went well until he turned the second corner. Fralt caught the sight of Major Dustscut racing around one side of the camp, following closely by a small pack of clonelike vermin. The young hare nearly dropped Quite out of surprise.
Tactfully, the older hare headed in the opposite direction, dodging all outstretched paws and weapons. Still, Fralt knew the Major wouldn't be able to keep that up forever, it would only be a moment of time before he was caught. So, the best thing to do was help. Only, there was little he could actually do. Maybe...
Before he had time to come up with a full fledged plan, Major Dustscut had little other choice but to head in his direction. Then, all of a sudden, the older hare stopped, his jaw dropping in shock at who Fralt was carrying.
"Quira?" He asked, taking a step forward; knowing Quira was obviously unconscious, Fralt chose to answer.
"Sah, it can't be anybeast else could it, wot? And for future reference, we'd better just blinkin' movin' or else these chaps'll have out tails for tea! Though I doubt they get any tea in these whereabouts."
After Fralt began to get distracted, Major Dustscut seemed to recover from shock quick enough to formulate a plan. He nodded stiffly, speaking in a sharp tone.
"Right. You keep takin' care of my gel there. I'll try to make a distraction while you escape, then I'll follow you once you give me some type of signal. Sound good, wot wot?!"
When the younger hare nodded to confirm this, the Major was off, straight into the paws of the crowd chasing him. Only, it didn't stay that way long; a born fighting hare, Dustscut slipped out of capture easily, ducking and dodging throughout the camp. The normally organized group of hordebeast were turned to chaos. Without there leader commanding them, they were utterly hopeless. Fralt stifled his laughter as he crept off among the tents, casting his eyes quickly inside each one for sight of the other prisoners.
He never saw them, before he could make another move, he heard a cry of realization over the clatter of voices and shouts. 'Look mates! There's another one of them!'
This was completely his cue to leave, he was off faster than he would normally go to mealtime, and that was saying something! In his haste to escape, he lost view of his pursuers, and made a mad scramble for the hill, holding tightly to the limb figure in his arms, he didn't want to drop her.
Gasping for breath, the young Long Patrol member finally made it to a rocky area, some protection from the eyes of clonelike vermin. Then, something caused his heart to speed up.
He had forgotten to ask what the signal would be!
The young hare's mind raced in panicked confusion. What could he do!?
In answer, he made the only sound he knew could possibly work.
Riah struggled weakly, tugging at the coarse ropes binding her paws and mouth, a thick leather hewn collar was enclosed around her neck, and the squirrelmaid struggled to get enough air.
Two guards urged her forward, one— Raithir the fox, and the other, a vicious ferret she didn't know. Cerberus Ahgorrun was watching closely by, as usual wearing a wicked grin through yellowed fangs.
Riah raised her head bravely, glancing back once more at the Emperor's fortress. All her friends, and the creatures she wished to help. Unless a miracle came, she wouldn't be any good to them.
Her paws touched freezing water, and she watched as it wreathed around her fur, dark yet clear. Slowly, she waded in, shoved roughly by the ferretmaid to her left. Up to her knees, soaking and cold. Farther, farther, into the icy plunge.
The squirrelmaid was guided beside the pier, up to her waist in the piercing cold, then just below her shoulders. She shivered, looking out to the sea.
It was sure going to be a long way to die.
Thinking about it, she felt sorrowfully accepting. So this would be the end, without ever finding the fate of her mother. At least she had plenty of time to think, the tide wasn't growing quickly.
She was up to her neck in black water now, and this was where she stopped.
Reluctant to stay in the water long, Raithir wound around all ropes connecting her to the pole in a sharp, inexpert fashion. The ferret assisted him, seeming caring less about the water. From the shore, the black wolf looked on darkly. His yellow eyes glowed with a twisted humor.
Riah took deep breaths, trying her best not to panic from the shock. Every once in a while larger waves would roll forward over her head, cashing her to cough and sputter. The salty taste burned her eyes and throat.
Yet, even in midst of it all, there was an overwhelming sense of calmness, if she wasn't tied to a poll to be drowned in freezing dark water as a death sentence, she would say it was almost beautiful. The sky was vibrant towards where the sun rose, a brilliant streak of light on the horizon, meanwhile higher up the sky paled to a fine powder blue. From the shore and farther toward the Emperor's fortress, slaves looked on her in pity, hordebeasts looked at her with contempt.
After Cerberus and the guards left she didn't know how long it was that she stood there. The squirrelmaid was only aware of the sun on the horizon, how it grew brighter in the pure sky; as well as the water rising to her chin.
In the time that passed, she though her faithful friend Zev, and Lus, how she had helped them so much, of her father, killed by Cerberus like she was awaiting now, her mother who she knew so little but loved so much, and she thought of her strange dreams; the dreams where she saw a strange redstone house, even another warrior, brave and true though she knew not the mouse's name. Her eyes were sewed with moisture and sea spray, she didn't want to leave yet, she didn't want to give up.
Of only she could keep fighting, keep breathing. When the water was almost over her head, she shuddered, convulsing with mixed emotions. She rued her mistakes, and greatly hoped her sacrifice to the squirrel hadn't been in vain.
Then, Riah took a last breath, watching though waterlogged eyes at the fading world around her. Before everything went dark, she heard a sharp screech, of a bird, and felt some tug on the tightened ropes that bound her.
Senseless and weak, she couldn't focus enough to realize the ropes were loosening, then fell away altogether.
At last, she saw no more and fell onto the rocky seabed, falling once again into a blissful silence...
Was it too late?
The squirrelmaid blinked open her deep brown eyes quickly, like a fawn in spring. She wondered— Was this dying? Or was she dead? If she was, it really wasn't much different than living. Now that she thought about it, her fur was drier, and billowed in wind. A blue expanse like the sky shimmered below.
Wait— wind, how was there wind?
Then she realized.
She was flying?
Or rather, something was flying her. Riah was actually sitting on the shoulders of a great bird, airborne. So startled from this realization, she nearly fell off, but was steadied by a black marked wing.
"Kkreee-aacck! Careful maid, I cannot catch you if you fall."
Glancing around, she realized this bird was flying over coast, and land was only a ways off. Riah felt shaky, weak from cold and hunger. It was like a wild beast, gnawing and ravaging. The freed slave directed her attention to the bird helping her. It was hard to shout over the wind, and her voice sounded strangely dry.
"W-who are you?"
"I'm called Silwark, last one of the South Seaward Cast."
"Not to be rude, but what is a cast?
The squirrelmaid sat in curiosu silence as the bird answered her question.
"Kree-aacck! A Cast, a groups of bird, or as you bushtails would call— a tribe."
Now she was just offended, but considering to the fact this creature had saved her life she had to be respectful. Riah decided to respond with another question.
"Oh. So where are we headed Silwark?"
"To the Island's Shadow, far from the Emperor's Fortress."
Despite the shock she was still in, Riah was mildly surprised.
"You know of the Emperor then?"
"Krreeaaaar— Yes! Both those below and above know of that terror."
Riah noticed the bird's feathers became distinctly ruffled with hate for the evil wolf. She didn't speak for a while, only watched the thick mist blanket the space below. Without warning, the bird angled his wings downward, throwing her back and off balance.
What lay beyond the mist, Riah did not know.
Scuro was a simple soldier of the Emperor's hordes; he was a lowly beast, and it was expected to stay that way. Like anyone, he half wished to hold and important position, but also had the sense to fear ambitions. Everybeast knew the death rate was highest among those closest to Cerberus Ahgorrun. He was a stoat, brown with cream as most stoats were, and was about the average size. For a weapon, he fought with a spear while under land command, but with a cutlass while on ships. Both weapons served him well, and that was all he really cared about as far as weapons went.
He wore his usual outfit, a tattered tunic, yellow to represent Cerberus.
As his usual morning routine, he rose wearily from him creaking and unstable bed in the soldier barracks, donned a worn cloak on chilly days, and left to follow orders. Today however was not normal. As every beast knew, the Emperor's ship would leave in a day's time, and preparations were well on the way to be done. This was due to the forced efforts of both slaves and crew, and Scuro was either lucky or unfortunate enough to be chosen for serving on Cerberus's chosen ship. There were two Captains accompanying on the journey, each with there own crew, yet still all under the command of Cerberus Ahgorrun.
Scuro was under the command of Captain Swiftblade, who was now almost more unbearable than before after a victory against a cunning Captain called Firestreak. Fortunately, the stoat rarely saw or spoke to his malicious captain, as he was so lowly in the sailing world he spent most of the day cleaning the kitchens or deck, and even sometimes unfurling the sails when he was lucky. The crew he served with had undergone major casualties recently, and knew crewbeasts were hired. Sometimes the stoat would silently run over the names of the fallen, some of them best mates he had known since childhood. Others, not so much. Somehow, he could even remember the mysterious disappearance of Lus, a dark weasel he must have spoken to only once.
Like him, she had been pushed around a lot, or at least that was how he remembered it being, and he felt a bit sorry for her, but there was no room for pity on a sea voyage. Captain Swiftblade had always said that, and held perhaps particular disdain for the black weasel he had not known well. With a sigh, he put the past in the past, and walked through the barracks quickly. It was not long before he was back to hauling barrels of supplies from dock to deck.
Later in the day, shivering from cold but tired from exhaustion, he traipsed toward the slavehold, following yet another order to inspect slaves to take on the journey. After last night's Arena fiasco, Cerberus would want only obedient slaves with broken spirits. Inspecting each fatigued and thin figure, the stoat felt sorry for them. There were a few who seemed stronger than others, and some with a free glint in there eyes, but most were frail and painfully week from hard and constant labor.
He helped as much as he could, before departing to the ship's deck itself. Since he had little as far as personal items went, there was no need to make any second trips. From there he continued to follow orders, but was beginning to feel a simmering resentment toward his life. Either it was boring, tedious, or continuously the same. When would he at last find adventure?
Chapter 12- Troubles and Trials
Juni sat on his new friend's lap happily, gazing around the clearing. Firelight flickered in the small pit that had been dug, and over it a medium cast iron pot boiled. Several strong sticks supported it, and under Bessie's watchful eye the hamster named Jase carefully sliced vegetables before tipping them into the golden mixture. He managed to sneak a piece of cheese for the soup when his cat friend catch him, and chided him reprimandingly. The little hedgehog laughed, sitting on the cat's lap and looking from creature to creature as the two argued. His earlier sorrows had been half forgotten.
Eventually, Bessie gave up and returned to her work of setting out a linen patchwork cloth on the grass, from a basket she had nearby, she arranged three plates with silverware and handmade cups to drink from. Knowing the little hedgehog was hungry, she had set to work on making a hearty lunch just a while earlier. Being large and slightly clumsy as she was she was surprisingly good at cooking. Usually Jase ended up with his cheek pouches crammed full by the end of one cooking session, having stolen food the entire time. Now he swallowed, not looking in the least bit guilty as he gulped down a slice of fruit that was supposed to be for them to eat. Rolling her eyes, Bessie sighed and poured cordial from flasks into cups and then stirred the bubbling concoction with a wooden spoon. Juni felt himself being lifted into the air and set down on the withering grass. It was getting colder, winter was quickly approaching, even he knew that.
As if in answer to his thoughts, a blustery wind swept across the area, rattling bushes and causing him to shiver. The Dibbun pressed himself against Bessie's side, feeling warmer when she also most magically rummaged through yet another bag and produced a knitted blanket.
Bundling up, he tried to make himself useful in helping Jase, but it turned out to be a fruitless attempt. By the time everything was done, all Juni had done was get his spikes dirty, not that he really cared. The black cat seated him on one side of the table, cooling his soup before passing it to him. By now, she had learned how prone he was to falling into things, including soup.
Warm and happy, he forgot the day's earlier events, how he had caused so much damage. In fact, he was paying more attention to marvel at how Jase the hamster ate so much and yet stayed so fit, while Bessie did the opposite. Not that this really was in his concerns either, but it was still amazing, and being a Dibbun, he was easily amazed. Then he found something to be really amazed about. There were a few snaps and the crackle of approaching paws over twigs, and a group of figures emerged. All of them wore shocked expressions, and the majority spoke in unison with confusion, jaws dropping in shock.
It was the Abbess, Gurgowl, Skipper, and numerous other Redwallers. The little hedgehog squirmed off the scene slightly in guilt, but was picked up by Bessie. The black cat gestured to the group of Abbeybeasts, inquiring sternly to the hedgehog.
"Juni, do you know them?"
Slowly but surely, Juni nodded, spikes quivering with nervous guilt, he gulped.
His day of consequence had at last arrived.
Quira didn't understand, her world was blurred. Everything was shut of, snuffed out to the point of unrecognizing unconciousness. Strangely enough, sounds were somehow magnified but also muffled, not crisp or clear but loud. Her vision was useless. Everything ached, like a searing pain that felt dull with confusion. She hardly felt alive, and there was the unmistakable darkness of sleep that welcomed her, promising no more pain nor confusion. Or... Was is sleep? Perhaps... She was dying?
In panic she thrashed like a drowning creature, only it was her mental state struggling. She could feel some cool on her forehead, strangely relieving, and a voice was calling to her, but it was so far away... So vague and echoed she couldn't understand what it said.
Images flashed through her head, of her family, of everything and one she cared about. Guilt seemed to have hit her as hard as a metal lance. How cruel she had been, jealous at the attention her brother had gotten! When really she should have been grateful for what she had...
It was too late now. All too late. She could and certainly wouldn't get the chance to apologize, if this was dying anyway. Though strangely, her world seemed to be getting clearer, less painful perhaps? She thought she could see eyes watching her, strained in the tension of the deadly fever she was inflicted by. Her injuries stung, even worse when some creature applied an ointment of some sort. Still, she didn't have the energy to wake, her eyes felt leaden.
By this time, she realized more, only, she still couldn't get up, as if she was glued by gravity to this fixed position, her eyes would not open. Somebeast was holding her paw, maybe it was her brother, trying to comfort her? Was he here? Was someone trying to move her?
Quira's world was spinning precariously...
One thing was certain; she couldn't take much more of this. There was the burning pain again... And the cool rag on her forehead... And lastly, the call of someone's voice. Only, she understood this time. Quira...!
She opened her eyes, fluttered them open for a split second before the effort was to much.
At long last, she sunk into an unsurpassable darkness; the last word she had heard resounding in her ears.
For the first time in a long time, Zevquain woke with a start. He sat unright in a split-second, eyes wide with fear, heart hammering in his chest. He had nightmares.
It had seemed so real, except he had been seeing from somebeast else's eyes. Quira's eyes. In his dream she was sick, very sick. Her immune system was trying to fight of the fever of infection, but was failing, and her temperature was rising dramatically. The worst part was the realness of it all, the fatal weight hung over her head, and hung over his heart.
He felt like it was his fault, of course she would have done something brave, to prove herself just as special as him. Even Zev had to admit it, their parents favored him, and that had always crushed Quira. Whatever she had or hadn't done, it had driven her to be injured, and that had brought on this poisoness fever. The strangest part was she didn't seem to be normal. From what he felt in her view, this sickness was brought on by more than a minor infection.
Then he began to address the other problems at hand; approaching footsteps, and that constant nagging hunger he felt. Being a hare, that was completely understandable, and Zevquain couldn't remember having missed so many meals in his life.
He hung, pitifully weakened and shackled heavily by ancient chains. A guard stood in efficient silence beside his door, spear in paw.
The hare had an idea, in a mocking voice, he called out.
"Hey, jolly old fleabag! Don't you have better things to do than to stand around an old prison cell all day?"
It was a daring thing to say, but Zev had never exactly been subtle.
"I won't take cheek from you, slave, it's my duty to stand guard until Cerberus says I'm done. Just close yore mouth unless you would like me to close it forever." The voice was sharp, surprisingly that of a female's, a ferretmaid. He was only a bit surprised because from what he had seen, Cerberus rarely had female soldier, and this particular ferret was clearly firece. So, he tried another approach, besides— what did he have to loose?
"So ferret, why do you carry a spear, is an ax like the one your top sah carries too heavy for a maid like you, wot!?"
Again the reply was sharp.
"I carry the weapon I am assigned, and I can use it too. By the way slave, I'm not 'ferret,' I'm called Adamine— don't overuse it."
"Okay— Adamine, how old do your guess they jolly old prison cages things are?"
The russet hued ferret's response was curt and flat, sending shiver's up Zevquain's spine.
"Long enough for you to have rotted."
As time passed, the hare began to realize this Adamine made a lot of empty threats, or at least threats she couldn't carry out. Then again, she was surely formidable... Based on the dangerous glint that flashed in her eyes. Sort of a I will kill you expression was common as her expression.
So, the young hare continued to talk, rambling on about useless information and stories. Slowly, and almost unnoticeably at first, the ferret's eyelids began to droop... Her breathing slowed. Zevquain smiled, glancing from one side of the hallway to the other before he made his critical move.
Keys where attached to the base of Adamine's spear, just out of his reach. He strained to reach it, sucking in his breath to reach farther. His paw just brushed agaimnst it, jangling the keys. Adamine's eyelids fluttered open for a second, and Zev stayed still, then, she drifted off to sleep again.
He stretched out farther, managing to grab the keyring in one paw, he slowly pulled the keys off the spear, holding his breath. The guard stayed asleep, and Zevquain almost pitied her. What would Cerberus Ahgorrun do to a guard he had no use for? The hare didn't want to know.
Carefully he unlocked the door, trying each key in turn before letting the door creak slowly open. In a flash he was off, tearing down the passageways as though he hadn't moved in days. There was no one to stop him, yet. He passed countless prison cells like his, empty. The floor was cold, hinting at the coming winter, but he didn't care much. He was free! Or, so far...
The thought made him think of Riah, his friend. Was she alright? Zevquain certainly hoped so, but he had his own problems to worry about. The very soft patter of bar paws echoed gently across the floor, someone quiet... But with ears like Zev's, it wasn't impossible to hear. He slowed, stowing himself in the arch of a door, hidden the best he could. When he saw who it was, he ws again, shocked.
There was no mistakening the ebony fur, cold gaze or small figure. It was obviously the weasel who he had once thought of as a friend. Now he wasn't sure who to trust. Her eyes widened a little in surprise, and she slowed to a halt, glancing to either side of her before speaking.
"Zevquain? Why are you out! It is dangerous, Cerberus is heading upstairs to chose slaves for his voyage just now! You should not be here." The hare thought he had never heard such urgency in her voice, he knew she meant it.
"Where do I go?!"
"Anywhere but here! Quick. Go back to your prison, Cerberus may choose you and at least that way you'll be alive... I'll take care of the rest. Make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again or I won't be here to save you."
Her last words didn't help, he knew, as Adamine did, she didn't make empty threats. He sped off down the corridor, Lus following silently behind him like a dark shadow...
The russet ferret was still asleep, and Lus gestured curtly for the hare to return to his prison cell. Once again, with the same painstaking effort as before, he let the door open and slipped inside. Zevquain watched in fascination as the cunning weasel woke Adamine, chiding her about falling asleep on duty before taking her place as guard on orders. Lus retrieved the keys he had taken, and stood to attention as a group of shapes appeared from the end of the hallway. Adamine grumbled something about the injustice of weasels correcting others, but wove her way around the group and stalked off.
Ever slowly, Cerberus and his groups of Captains checked each prison before moving on. When they came to Zevquain's prison, a small smirk flashed across Cerberus's face. He was told to stand up, and lift something to portray his strength. Apparently, he passed the test easily; which was the goal. In fact, Zevquain thought he had never wanted to pass a test so badly in his life. Then, the dark Emperor made a comment.
"I wouldn't worry too much about your dear little friend, rabbit, I've had my hordebeasts sent out as a search party."
It only made matters worse when Zev decided to roar out a retort.
"You couldn't stop that other squirrel from findin' freedom now did you sah! Eula—"
It was Lus who stopped him. She gave him a disapproving glare before smacking his head none-to-gently with Adamine's spearend, but not hard enough to render him unconscious. Still, he thought he saw a glimmer of pain in her eyes..
Cerberus laughed uproariously, and his Captains chuckled a bit as a supportive echo, then they marched on, carrying with them a cloud of hate and anguish. What a fantastic day this was turning out to be. Great, just fabulous.
Zevquain ignored Lus, sitting down and facing the wall, expression downcast. Riah would want him to have hope, but as far as he knew, Riah's fate as grim right now. She wasn't the only one.
The squirrel felt guilty. It should be he who was still a slave, not the maid, he should be the prisoner. After all, in truth she was a better fighter, and she had spared him, even sacrificed her freedom for his. Now, he was alone. It had only been a day or so, he had lost track of time, and he had already explored a little, as well as made a small shelter. He had even managed to find a few wild berries, the last of fall. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
It was strange here, he didn't recognize anything. Trees were different, and it was less humid. Wait— less humid than where? The thought had occurred to him before, but he could never put his paw on to where he was referring. He just couldn't remember...
He sat in solitude on a stump, listening to the wild calls of bird and the rattling of bushes.
There was another thing he couldn't understand. How could bushes rattle and make sound if no one was there too move them? It just didn't add up. What if... Somebeast was there? Somebeast dangerous...
A wicked face poked through the foliage, then others nearby in a wide circle, weapons were raised. He was surrounded!
Instinctively he leapt up, latching onto a tree limb before scurrying off into the treetops. His tail gave him balance, but the patterned squirrel had no camouflage with his bright pelt. Spears were hurled past him, so close he could hear the whistle of them speed by at times. Just below his paws, an angry crowd of vermin followed like a pack of wolves in a hunt, circling for the kill. He ducked, narrowly missing a hatchet decapitating him, but he was too shocked to stop. Some of the smarter hordebeasts had started climbing up ahead, he could see that, but they probably didn't expect him to swerve. He just hoped he wouldn't run out of trees.
Many angry calls of, "Catch that squirrel!" were audible, but the squirrel ignored them all, dodging and weaving the best he could. A well aimed dagger nicked his ear, and it bled profusely, blinding him a little.
There was no choice to keep running. Just when he thought he had outrun them, he looked back, making a final leap. He was in midair when he realized something had gone wrong. Very wrong.
The squirrel found himself entangled in a net, dangling over a huge gap in the land. Below him stretched out a crevice in the ground. The more he moved, the further he became tangled. At first, he had a fleeting image that the creatures chasing him had set this up as a trick, but when he investigated more, he realized this net was completely ancient. It was made of vines, old, and half rotted away. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, and if he wasn't so relieved he would have noticed the stench earlier. Then he realized a few bones lay strewn across the ground.
The squirrel closed his eyes tightly, trying to calm his panicked heartbeat and breathing. He sat there for what seemed like ages, watching the sun rise slowly in the sky. It was so cold, all the while wind blasted his fur, and the tide crept up upon the shore more and more. He needed help. All alone, confused and trapped, he truly needed help. Where was all that bravery, that skill he had once had? Or had he had it at all? It was just lost... lost like the bones beneath the waves. He had no clue when he would at last remember everything, but he wished it was soon. He hated being like this. He utterly missed something that was so far out of his reach, and yet so close.
When Riah saw the ground rushing toward her, she heard the twang of a bow being released, and the swish of a short arrow as it met it's target in Silwark's wing. The bird let out a strangled cry and fell from the air, Riah screamed, hanging on for dear life.
Thinking quickly, the squirrelmaid managed to leap off onto the ancient trunk of a nearby tree, and grabbed a ropelike vine with both paws, kicking off in an desperate attempt to rescue her newfound ally. Riah stretched one free paw out, grasping the bird's sharp talons; that in itself was difficult, as though a bird, Silwark wasn't exactly a featherweight. Plus, whenever she held on wrong one shearing point would slice into her paw. The squirrelmaid winced, and held her breath as the vine caused them both to swing back toward the tree trunk.
She hit the tree with a dull thud; thankfully for Silwark, the bird seemed to be dazed but unharmed. Leaping— or more falling, the squirrelmaid dropped to the unforgiving ground, aching from effort and the tree's impact. It was a good thing she had formulated that fast plan, Silwark would have been a pile of unmoving feathers to have fallen from that height onto that hard of ground.
Only, her troubles weren't exactly over when she was safely standing, five of the sturdiest, and emotionless hedgehogs were circled around them. Each one carried a crossbow with arrows in a quiver they wore on their sides, and each one wore the same intimidating expression. Then, one, presumably the leader, stepped forward and spoke in a rather gruff voice. "Halt treerat, bird— Why are you on our tribe's land without consent?" The hedgehog asked, keeping his crossbow aimed at them both.
Now Riah was offended, this was one to many times she had been called a strange name instead of squirrel, her fur bristled in irritation. She was perfectly aware of the fact that she had no weapon, and was thoroughly exhausted, but to her that had lost its meaning, and she had lost her patience.
The squirrelmaid, to the clear surprise of the burly hedgehogs, stepped forward and spoke out.
"I've only landed here on accident, how was I to know it was yours?"
Then, Riah launched into her story.
"I have just been a captive for a good deal of my life on a ship as a rowbeast, found a moment of freedom, lost it again to Cerberus, then was made to fight a friend and sentenced to be drowned as punishment for not killing another good creature," she took a quick breath to speak more, and continued," I woke up on the back of a seabird and flew to a place I never knew existed only to be shot down by a handful of puffed up thistles who think they have the right to take away my life. One, I will not be called treerat, and two, you have no right to hurt me nor my friends. Got that?"
Riah was surprised to be breathing heavily, glaring with a murderous burning gaze at the hedgehog leader, who was utterly bewildered. After she had said it, she had begun to rue her words. This could go very badly.
To her frustration and amazement, his stern face broke into a grin and he began laughing, as did the rest of his group.
"No need to get worked up lass! We 'handful of puffed up thistles' admire a beast who has a bit of boldness in their heart. Tis' only precautions what keep us hostile." He added, smiling warmly. The normally gentle squirrelmaid was shocked at his words. She calmed a bit, returning to her normal self. Then, the hedgehog leader stretched out a paw, Riah accepted the handshake decisively. "I'm Scral, leader of the escaped slaves through the generations 'round here, my tribes mostly hedgehogs though. Came from Peace Island at one time way back we did. Though I'm afraid that peace had to be changed a bit, with all the danger about."
Riah was lost for words, and decided to change the topic, gesturing to Silwark. With this, Scral nodded and led them into the shadows of the forest...
It wasn't long before Riah had been led to the hedgehog's main cavern, and Silwark to a separate passage to be healed. The squirrelmaid could tell the bird was bothered by his injury, for he walked in a lopsided manner, wing drooping. Still, it was a relieving sight when she smelled some type of food cooking.
Only then did she remember she was ravenously hungry. Out of courtesy she managed to ignore the prospect of eating, and smiled to the creatures around her.
With Scral's help, she was introduced to Scallopbloom, the hedgehog chieftain's kind but stern wife, and a rowdy crowd who must have been Scarl's crew.
Riah couldn't help but be extremely relieved when supper was called. Using the little manners she had, she forced herself to eat slowly. It was painful at first, after having been hungry for so long, but completely satisfying to eat her fill. She needn't have worried about manners, none of the others did at all. In fact, she found herself edging away little, to avoid flying carrots and shrimp.
Only a while later, the squirrelmaid found herself tapping placidly on the table top, grimacing a little each time an abrupt snore broke the silence. At least Riah had plenty of time to think, and now she happened to have a perfect plan. It was risky, but it was one of the few options left to her.
Riah lifted her head off of her paws, "Scarl, is it possible to sneak into Cerberus's slave compound? That you know off anyway, I'm not saying I'm going t of course,"
Obviously her meaning was too clear, even to the hedgehog attention. Several others, including Scarl's wife, looked up, as if in either awe or forewarning— she wasn't sure which. Scarl seemed to share his misgivings.
"Look maid, I know you want to help the other unfortunate creatures in there, but it's nigh' impossible to cross the Emperor's walls, you'll get yerself killed in the first hour!"
Riah's expression was sure though Scarl merely shook his head, though she was a maid, she was not lacking in abilities to fight. Slightly offended, she raised her head with an outburst on her tongue the moment she had escaped. "But my friends are in there! The creatures who saved me at one point... I can't just let them die..."
She found herself holding back tears, and her expression was one of desperation. Scarl calmed, and spoke in a slow fashion, breathing deeply in thought. "Ria', I know you're upset— we've all lost loved ones to that menace, but I can't risk any more of my crew's lives by any more plotting!"
The maid truly respected the hedgehog cheiftain's views, but she wasn't going to give up that easy.
"Scarl, I didn't ask you to. I'm going alone. I only ask for your help with getting me inside the fortress, nothing more."
With a deep sigh, Scral dropped his gaze. He looked up, setting his tankard of ale on the table decisively. "Alright girl, I'll help ye; but you must be careful."
For the first time in as while Riah truly smiled, answering with her own sarcastic comment. "Why Scral, careful's my middle name. I mean, I'm only trying to play the role of a slave, travel past a heavily guarded gate and sneak into Ahgorrun's slave compound. What could be easier?"
The hedgehog only smiled grimly, taking a sip of the drink.
All the while, Riah was considering the endless possibilities of things that could happen, most of them,
Cerberus watched the glitter of his blade in the sunlight, admiring its new edges diamond had cut into it.
His yellow gaze narrowed, and the wolf spoke to himself quietly.
"That's right, you can't escape this island, squirrel, and if you're still alive... I'll kill you, just like your brave father... Then who will cause my slaves to escape? Especially when the Great Cerberus Ahgorrun has captured every last inch of this Mossflower place!"
His teeth flashed a stained white when he smiled, and no one could counter the meaning of his fearsome grin.
Cerberus Ahgorrun did not make empty threats.
Chapter 13- The Calm before a Storm
Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in morning, sailor's warning...
Riah lay awake at night, eyes facing the serene night sky so far above. The stars shimmering radiantly, wind whispering soft tones across the grass and trees, at the cliffs, the waves rolled and crashed. The squirrelmaid waited in the moment, knowing all the while the silent peace would not last long. Soon she may be doing one of the most risky actions she had ever done.
Now she was restless, tossing and turning from one side to the other. Eventually, she gave up, and stood to weary paws. It was time to prepare anyway, no matter how much Scral had warned her and attempted to persuade her the act was suicide. Riah didn't care; she wanted to save her friends.
So, without a second thought, she set off, readying herself with the best idea she could think of. For one, Cerberus would most likely recognize her on the spot without a deceptive costume, that was going to have to change. There weren't many options; she couldn't look like anything but a squirrel slave, the color, however, could be changed. Unfortunately her only options were what she could find...
After politely asking Scallopbloom for help, the organized hogwife managed to extract the different colored dies from and overfilled closet near the back of the cave. Most of the colors were bright, with the exception of grey, brown, and black. Riah decided brown was too close to her redish-brown fur, and chose grey- hoping it would blend better with the other slaves.
It was frustrating for the young squirrelmaid to dye her fur, but after Scallopbloom's reassurance that the dye would wash out in seawater, she completed the task. By dawn's first light she saw a new creature standing in the reflection of a forest pond- a pale grey squirrelmaid.
She shredded the edges of her already ruined dress, and added gashes randomly across it to give the clothing a even more worn look. Then she forced herself to roll in dust, grimacing when she adjusted her headfur to look scraggly. Scallopbloom gave her a simple bag, which she packed one water canteen and a small loaf of bread. This would hold her strength up until she reached the gates, just in case of an emergency, then she could stow the bag in her hood.
Then, she returned to her lonely outlook over the sea, watching the red sky as it glowed with scarlet warning. A single droplet of rain fell on her open paw, forewarning the rain to fall.
There was no going back now.
Riah had not woken Silwark, she didn't want him to go with her to the slave compound, it was too much to ask of the swallow-tailed kite. He had helped her faithfully, and now needed to heal.
For some reason, she remembered a very similar setting, something from very long ago...
Three figures stood on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the wild sea; one very young and shorter, two grown adults. All three were squirrels, not residents of the island. A speck resembling a massive ship was just barely visible on the horizon, and with it went an aura of unsurpassed gloom.
Riah couldn't understand, why were her parents sad? Her father looked out to sea, one arm over his wife's shoulders, and both of their expressions were grim, forlorn. Still, the little maid's father faked a smile to comfort her, then guided his tiny daughter away from the cliff's edge, speaking softly as to not frighten her. "Riah, little one- soon we may move, so I want to leave my bow behind her, so one season you can find it and use it as I have," he spoke.
The young squirrel looked up with wide, confused eyes, reaching out to her father's weapon with a small paw. "Why Daddy? Do we really have to leave?"
She didn't understand, it was his prized possession, why get rid of the ornately carved bow?
He led her by the paw to a higher view of the faraway ship, pointing with one paw. "Yes Riah; though I know not when, it is best to be prepared. I ask you, if you must remember anything, remember where I place this bow, you may need it one day."
Riah's mother nodded in agreement, picking up her daughter in her arms with a quiet grunt of effort. To distract the maid's worry, she changed the subject, "Look Riah darling, see how much you've grown since last season? You're at least a paw length longer now!"
The young squirrel smiled, laughing lightly before glancing with large brown eyes out to sea. She hadn't forgotten her father's words, she would remember.
When they had hidden the treasured weapon that night before dusk, Riah let the spot burn it's way into her memory, and stood in silence. Then, she dashed off, trundling into the safety of her mother's arms. That night, she had slept restlessly, something in the air stirred a feeling in her. She realized something was drastically long a moment after she saw the glimmer of a blade reflecting off of the silver moonlight in the shadows. In the next second of noise and triumph, she saw, felt, and heard no more as a spear end connected with the back of her head.
Riah heard a terrified scream... then everything around the little squirrelmaid went as darker than the night itself...
Returning to the world of reality was almost like falling into a pool of icy cold water, pure shock.
One thing was certain, she knew where she had to journey first now.
Most was normal at Redwall, but normal wasn't altogether safe and peaceful. In fact, one particular hedgehog was sitting rebelliously in the bathroom with a towel clinging to his spikes, he glared mutinously at the ground, trying to find someone to take his anger out on.
After he had several bruises on his arms from hitting the stone floor, Juni decided that someone was not the rock hard ground. So, he had to rely on old tactics, but... they weren't that old. Only five minutes ago old, the ones nobeast but he knew about.
After having been placed on the Abbess's Report, sent to the Kitchens to clean a mountain of pots and pans, and down to wash up with a bath before breakfast, a rebellious idea had overcome the Dibbun's tricky mind. It was brilliant in his eyes.
All he would do was clog any source of running with cloth, and in general whatever he could get his paws on. Then, he would leave the water on and report to breakfast.
However, as usual, didn't think through to the consequences of this- on his part or for those of the other Abbey Creatures. Nor did he no it was an extremely bad idea to flood a room built near a corridor which led to a cellar which led to the ancient ruins the very Abbey was built on. Being no scholar, this did not concern him, and he was too frustrated to think it through.
Nobeast knew the disaster this simple act may cause if the water seeped into the ruins of Kotir, and if that happened, very few would be around to tell the tale.
"Hello? Briar, where are you!?"
Cota's voice called out, resounding into the morning air. The breeze was a bit strong than usual, ruffling his fur, almost clammy and cold at the same time. Clouds blocked the sunlight's path, so all that could be seen was a brighter circle in the sky, nothing more. For a fully day he had seen no sign of the ottermaid.
It was disappointing, and he felt guilty. His own father had driven the pretty ottermaid away, in a fit of rage driven by some silly otterwife's tale. And though he wasn't one to complain much, it truly was unfair. He had hoped not to return to the Abbey without Briar, but the chances of finding her were looking thin and far between. He hoped, just maybe there was still the slightest clues to her departure, but he had found none.
Cota leaned against an ash tree, a gusty sigh escaping his muzzle as he slumped to the ground. In the nearby stream, the water seemed quicker than usual, but he didn't care to investigate. He must be somewhere near where he had found Bri...
There was a sudden crack, probably from a twig trodden on under a beast's paw, and he leapt to his paws, turning around.
"W-who's there?" He asked, breathing in sharply.
To his relief, the creature was nothing but a friendly face, only it was one he hardly recognized. A black creature, tall and overweight, with yellow eyes. Was this the Bessie Briar had spoken of? She didn't seem intimidating or dangerous. Now that he realized... a certain creature the color of a apricot. A hamster.
The cat held up her paws in a friendly gesture, and the hamster waved, still trying to hide something in a cheek pouch on his left side. Cota stood dumbfounded.
'Bessie's' voice was calm and cheerful when she spoke for them both, "A lovely morning isn't it? We bring you no harm, but we heard rumors of our friend and decided to search. It appears we've found you instead." Her tone almost purred constantly when she spoke, even though Cota didn't think the weather was lovely as she had said. He knew enough about the world around him from his father to predict a storm was about to break, in a day or so anyway.
All the same, he stammered out a reply, "I... Yes, is the friend you speak of called Briar? and otter like me?"
The hamster nodded, "She is, though perhaps a bit slimmer... I suppose we should have introduced ourselves. I'm Jase-" the cat interjected with "I'm Bessie" before Jase got the chance to continue.
Cota opened his mouth to say something in answer to Jase's first comment, glancing at them both in confusion. What sort of welcome was that? It wasn't as Jase was exactly a moth when it came to eating, judging by the fact that he was now sneaking a scone from a bag in his pocket into his greedy mouth. He chewed vigorously before Bessie glared at him, and spoke. "Yes dear, our friend is Briar. Have you seen her? Do you now where she went? Is she saf-"
Cota interjected as politely as he could without being rude, "I haven't seen her, nor do I now where she is... but surely three heads are better than one when searching, right?"
The black furred feline nodded her agreement, lightly tapping Jase on the shoulder when he didn't share his opinion.
Trying his best not to get annoyed, Cota turned, beckoning the odd two to follow.
He still had an uneasy feeling about the whole situation, and something foreboding hung in the air- echoed by the leafs rattling in the trees as they traipsed off into Mossflower Woods...
"Does anybeast know if the haremaid they towed in yesterday is alright? I heard the gel was in a horrid state from her injuries, poor chapess. I do hope she gets better." Sounded out a hare's voice from the long table in the Mess hall.
His companion answered him mock reproachfully as a high officer may, whiskers twitching, "No word her her state yet. Though if I were you I'd start shovelin' the scoff in before the trainin' leverets get here— then they'll be rumors! Wot!"
Then a third voice sounded, this one feminine. "You lads! Stir yourselves to the Kitchens this instant wot! Or there'll be nigh a serving ahtween you if you don't see your duties done before chattin' like two fancy squirrels!"
The two hares nodded vigorously to the other's words, getting up from the table to scramble out an escape. "Yes sah! I mean marm... I mean Miss Cherlily!"
A whisper retorted from the latter's companion, just loud enough for the maid to hear. "Don't you mean, 'Your Royal Highness Oh Great and Powerful Cherlily', Fl—" his reply was cut short as he was elbowed in the ribs by the passing Cherily, who flounced up the corridor stairs.
A chamber door was pushed open to reveal a figure lying on a white sheeted bed.
Cherlily's main job was that of a healer, but right now she was running out of options. The haremaid she was supposed to be treating had three deep gashes, infected with a poison she had no antidote for. Of course, she was really only an apprentice healer, but she felt it was her duty. Now, she was helpless. The Major, Major Dustscut, sat on a chair nearby, as did a hare she did not recognize. Lady Lily and Lord Brawnstripe also were present, both looking worried. Another hare, Fralt as she recalled sat beside Dustscut; tension hung in the air like a thundercloud, and the dark sky outside didn't help.
The efficient healer carefully dabbed a disinfectant on one gash with a neatly folded scrap of cloth, not cringing like the badger Lady or Fralt, she had to admit though, the injuries weren't a pretty sight. Each was oozing slightly from infection, and the scabs weren't forming correctly. Perhaps the worst part was that Quira's fur was in the way, which only helped infection to clog and spread quicker.
Cherlily put a paw to her mouth, trying to banish the bile rising in her throat. Out of the small line of bottles on a table nearby, nobeast could find the correct antidote, what was there that they hadn't tried?
The situation only got worse and worse as the sick haremaid's fever rose dangerously higher, everybeast nearby was getting desperate.
As Cherlily picked up a delicate vial and began inspecting the gashes, the ground shook. It wasn't a normal shaking, everything literally rattled. All tools clanged and glass fell and shattered on the rock floor. No one moved for a moment, only to steady themselves. The glass bottle in her hand slipped, and fell to the ground with a crash, its precious contents spilling out onto the floor.Then, as soon as it had come, it was gone. Fralt, looking bewildered, was the first to speak.
"Wot in the name of chatterin' cake was that!?" His jaw was dropped, he glanced around in shock. Nobeast had an answer, but something still hung in the air that the minor shaking was just the beginning of something disastrous.
So that was it.
Waves crashed upon the shoreline uneasily, rearranging pebbles and stones. Riah squinted against the light reflected off of the waves, trying to catch a glimpse of something she could not yet see. Then, she saw it; a dark speck among the light, then it was gone. Sighing in frustration, the squirrelmaid sat down gingerly, paws dangling over the crashing waves. She stared down into the water, concentrated on remembering. As far as she knew, she was completely alone at the water's edge. Her eyes closed briefly.
The squirrelmaid's paw went instinctively to the pendant still secured around her neck. Riah let out a gasp of shock, the very neckless she wore looked forebodingly familiar to the bow from her sudden memory only moments before. There was some connection.
Slowly and idea fell into place in her imaginative mind.
She noticed something, the arrow's point seemed to be a guiding sign to her, perhaps it was pointing to the way she should go? No— that was silly, it couldn't be that easy. Could it? Still, she had to admit, the whole situation was too complex to have been a mere coincidence. What did she have to loose but time?
Only... Time was very important, did she really want to risk the precious hours she had to find a treasure of her father's? Yes, yes she did. There was no way she could survive in a vermin fort without a weapon.
Having finally decided upon action, Riah followed the direction of the arrow up a cliffside slope.
When she at last reached the place she was searching for, the squirrelmaid was utterly dissapointed.
Riah dropped to her knees, jaw open but no sound came out. Before her on the flat stretch of moss and stone lay a gaping square of black, or more realisticly, a hole leading down.
Where she expected to see a rock and years of moss covering the opening, only a broken spear was splintered between broken pieces of rock.
Riah only found herself speaking to the wind, yet she alone could hear her whispered words over the pressure buffeted her fur. "Somebeast's already been here."
No one answered, though it wasn't as if anyone was nearby anyway. It seemed she would have to look for her own answers. And those spear pieces looked to be a perfect example, engraved with a similar symbol on each piece.
The squirrelmaid got up, edging carefully down the ancient steps...
Two figures sat, well hidden behind full crates of food supplies not yet loaded onto the Emperor's ship. Both glared at the other with burning hatred in Adamine's case, and full annoyance in Illusion's. The shrill cries of seabirds drowned out their words so nobeast but the two could hear.
As it turned out, Illusion had just managed to save the russet ferret from punishment, but Adamine was far from greatful. Instead she insisted continually that she would have been fine, Illusion didn't have the time to listen to a stubborn ferret.
The dark weasel met Adamine's eyes evenly, looking around her quickly out of instinct before speaking. "Okay, listen up ferret- We've only got roughly half a day to get you on that boat if you want to go, and I have a lot to do. Don't even dare get in my way, alright?"
Adamine looked ready to spit of poison, but she rolled her eyes, and nodded, stating, "'Kay."
"Good, now I'll take you to somebeast I used to know... he can help you onto the ship," Illusion added, shifting her position to leave.
For a moment, the russet soldier's mouth opened to argue a protest, but she closed it, apparently changing her mind. Without another word, or sound for that matter, the shadowlike figure lead and Adamine followed. The ferret's expression changed from enraged to curious and questioning as the two at last reached the outskirts of the soldier barracks.
Adamine couldn't help speaking this time, "Why have ya brought me here?" Illusion silenced her with a well timed glare, she ingored the question, pushing past small crowds and approaching an ordinary wooden door. Hesitantly, her black paw knocked sharply a couple times, and when there was no answer she pushed the door open.
A figure sat on a makeshift bed made of a wooden plank and chains to suspend it, his gaze was directed toward the ground. The stoat looked up, obviously surprised.
"What are ya' doin' here?" He asked, not seeming angry, just confused.
Illusion answered readily, while Adamine looked confused and ready to argue. "I was wondering if you could help a bit."
He tipped his head to one side, expression quizical, "How?"
The black weasel gestured to Adamine, trying not to insult the easily offended-ferret. "I'd like you to help me get this unfortunate creature on the boat." After she spoke she silenced Adamine with a glare, as if daring her to argue.
The stoat, whom she knew as Scuro, again asked a question. "Wait— why?"
As she replied, Lus raised her head, "Scuro, I can't tell you now. Can't you just trust I know what I'm doing? Lives depend on it."
She was serious now, dead serious.
He hesitated for amoment, before nodding. "Alright then... I'll help ya, but only to get onto the ship, nothin' more. "
"That's all I need," Illusion answered smoothly, thanking him and turning to leave.
For once, Adamine didn't argue.
Leaving the ferret behind, the weasel rushed off to the main building, headed for an important room. The one where Cerberus kept his maps. She had a plan, to make things right. To undo the wrongs she had committed in her short lifetime,and to help where she could. Unfortunately, a thousand things could go wrong.
One of which was billowing her very fur, and would soon rock the ship's floor beneath her paws.
Riah found nothing of interest in the ancient chamber, only similar signs like those above. She knew there could only have been one beast who had taken the bow.
The very creature's fortress she would be sneaking into only a while later.
None other than Emperor Cerberus Ahgorran.
There was no doubt about where she would go next. It was time to act convincing.
The wind shifted suddenly, catching the wary squirrelmaid off guard for a moment. She steadied herself by gripping the remains of a washed up board, probably from a shipwreck. Not that she had the time to ponder it further, time was falling short.
Forcing herself to be vigilant, she scrambled up the last slope, the dark fortress loomed just ahead. The gale tore violently in the open now, and Riah could just see the shape of a tattered flag fluttering. She ducked behind shrubbery every time a guard on the walltop pivoted in her direction.
As time passed steadily, Riah made her way closer and closer toward the towering walls of wood. Looking up, the squirrelmaid realized she hadn't thought about how she was going to scale the walls nearly as much as she should have.
Riah looked up once more before latching onto the bark with paws made for climbing.
The bag looped tightly over her shoulder seemed to drag her down, damaging her speed of progress, but she gritted her teeth, hauling herself determinedly forward. At a sudden snap of movement, she froze, breathing as quietly as she could in her tired state.
A moment later, the trodding footsteps passed, and she was free to move again.
With one last gasp effort, Riah slid over the wall, and hung on tightly, letting herself drop to the hard ground below with a soft thud.
She stowed herself behind a pile of rubble, and made a dash for the slave compound when a moment's worth of safety showed itself.
The squirrelmaid could hear quiet cries and talking from her hiding spot, she shuddered, trying not to remember her life of slavery, which she may very well be returning to.
Riah knocked sharply, once of the base of the wall, pressing her ear against the wood to catch any returning sound. She waited in silence, hoping.
Nobeast of Cerberus's horde neared close enough to see her, but she wasn't out of the woods yet.
Suddenly, there was a thud that echoed through the wall, once, then a second time it sounded. Excited, the squirrel tried again, relieved to find the creature on the other side answered.
Somebeast was out there!
And there were good chances this creature was not one of Cerbeeus's fighting forces or residents, they could be slaves! If she had gotten her navigation right anyway...
With most signs pointing to what she had hoped for, she crept around the tall walled enclosure, searching for an entrance. Riah's best bet, though ludicrous itself, was t use the door. Climbing would attract too much attention, and she couldn't exactly dig without taking hours and therefore getting caught.
Again, taking care not to be seen by anybeast, she reached the spot where the door stood. No guard saw her, and in a moment, the squirrelmaid had slipped through the heavy door.
Riah couldn't believe her eyes. She had never seen a group of more pathetic, bedraggled, defeated looking creatures except sometimes on the for the ones in that old rowing galley... Moreover, she had actually made it through!
A second later, she was shocked as a young hedgehog maid bounded forward, and shook her paw. Most of the others hung back, wary and grim. It was clear the hedgehog must be a little new. "I'm Val! What about you?" She asked enthusiastically.
Riah hesitated, was it safe to use her real name? Probably not...
"She heasitated, " I'm R-Rena, just Rena." When the hedgehogmaid didn't seem to notice a thing she breathed a sigh of relief.
After explaining an excuse of why she was there, the other slaves shuffled away, letting her find a spot on the hard floor to stay at night. Though they seemed a bit suspicious, most were either too tired to care, or to shy to bother asking. She didn't blame them to speak little, the creatures they served didn't usually permit much sound.
Sunrise had dawned at last, and the horizon shimmered a bloodred against the sea, dark clouds hung in the air.
The creatures on the Isle woke early, and this was no exception with Riah. She shivered, sitting up sleepily. Yesterday had been a long day, and today would be even longer. Now she had to make sure she was among the slaves chosen to be taken on the journey, or else she would be left behind.
Shuffling casually to the spot she needed to be; Riah peered out through a crack in the wall, watching as hordebeasts loaded more boxes of supplies onto the massive ship.
The squirrel shuddered, struggling to untangle himself. Tidewater seeped into his fur, freezing cold and smelling of fish. In a few hours it would be up to his neck, and then a while after than over his head. The creatures who had built this trap sure had known what they were doing.
It looked like the end for him, hanging pitifully there in the ancient net, but in truth, it was not.
A speck flew, dark against the sunset, circling lower and lower like a shadow of foreboding. Only, the way it's wingstrokes were patterned proved it had been recently injured. He watched with interest, half disregarding the fact that a bird of prey would be a danger to him. As far as his life was concerned it couldn't get a lot worse.
The creature spiraled lower and lower, finally collapsing in an ungainly heap on the ground. It straightened up, lifting it's head and peering at him through beady eyes. As though recognizing somebeast, it let out a sound of surprise, then shook it's head, apparently confused.
The squirrel decided there was little options open to him, why not talk? "Who are you?" he asked timidly.
The bird croaked out a reply, saying "Silwark," before attempting to gulp down some water. Finding it was saltwater, he spat it out with a revolted expression.
"Can you help me?" He asked, hoping desperately. To his surprise Silwark let out a strange call that sent shivers down his spine, or perhaps that was the cold tidewater.
"Kree-aacck! Yes bushtail, I can help, that is, if you can help me." He confided, stepping forward. In one swift movement he slashed through a rope with his beak. There was an ominous creaking from the ropes suspending the net, and then the main one snapped.
The squirrel tumbled into tidewater with a gasp, struggling to stand. His paws were numb from cold and he could hardly feel lancing pain shooting through his limbs as the pressure of the net was released. "Thanks," he managed to say, pausing to catch his breath.
"So, how can I help you Silwark?
"Have you seen sign of the squirrelmaid, Riah?"
"Is she a small redish furred squirrel?"
"Kree-aacck! That's her!"
"Haven't seen her." He could see the disappointment in Silwark's yellow gaze. "At least not recently," he added quickly, then began explaining. "I was supposed to fight her, but neither of us had the heart to kill another goodbeast. Anyhow, she help me over the wall and sacrificed her freedom by staying behind. I assumed Cerberus would have her executed, but I can't pretend I didn't have hope that she'd escape..."
If bird's could smile, Silwark surely would have, for his eyes brightened a little and he made a sound resembling a laugh. "She escaped all right, but only just. The Emperor had her sentenced to be drowned, but I managed to save her before the tide took her. Kree-aacck!" Then the cheerfulness in his tone faded, be became somber. "We met hedgepigs later, I was injured, then she left..." he paused, sighing. "I had hoped she would not return to that fortress, only death follows in Ahgorrun's wake, but I fear the worst."
The squirrel was suddenly horrified.
"You mean she walked straight back into the paws of that murderer?"
Silwark nodded grimly.
Riah looked up at the sky, shivering at the sight of huge looming gray clouds, and the sight of the massive ship. She stayed quietly in the line of slaves leading toward the ship, head down to avoid arousing suspicion, luck had gotten her so far. Her heart sunk as the hordebeasts leading the line of slaves took a sharp turn, and went down the hatch leading to the oars. It looked like her old life had sprung back up at her, but then again, she was doing this for her friends.
The squirrelmaid thought she caught a sudden sight of a familiar face and long ears, but then it was gone. She allowed herself to be chained to the oarbenches alongside the young hedgehogmaid, Val, and waiting, listening intently for the sound of paws above deck.
Once everybeast had boarded, including Cerberus Ahgorrun, the ramp was pushed off and fell into the water with a tremendous splash that caused the water nearby to ripple. They were only a few feet from the dock when she heard the first drops of rain begin to fall. Then it began to pound across the floorboards, and thunder rolled ominously on the horizon.
Chapter 14- Ominous Warnings
Riah's stomach lurched unpleasantly as the ship rolled from side to side in an unstable fashion, tossed by the waves as easily as Cerberus had tossed his battle-axe, she had yet to get used to the pitching of the sea, and this was particularly bad weather. The familiar rhythmic beat of the drum helped her keep in time as she rowed, but her effort were slowed by Val, who had clearing never rowed in her life.
She spent most of the time waiting for the slavedriver to pass before whispering a quick bit of advice every so often to the hedgehogmaid, who looked clammy but grateful. After only an hour of rowing, Riah's paws became blistered and her muscles ached. She wasn't extremely strong as it was, and Zevquain had always been there before to help her, now she was in trouble.
To make matters worse, her paws were starting to look the tinge of familiar red fur, she could guess why. The dye was wearing away from the wood, and the efforts she put into the heavy worked caused her to sweat. Scallopbloom had told her the dye would be washed away in seawater, unfortunately sweat was close enough. How long the disguise would last, she did not know...
For countless amounts of time they rowed, Riah had stopped feeling, instead she turned to her other senses, sound. She could hear so many things, horrible things... the cries of helpless rowers, the sharp sound of the whip, the shouts of crewbeasts above, and finally the roar of the wild sea. She didn't need to open her eyes to see it, she knew it all to well.
Val, who sat next to her, whimpered quietly as the slavedriver passed, Riah cast her a look of sympathy, quickly tearing off a scrap of cloth from her sleeve, she gestured for the hedgehog to wrap it about her paws. Looking thankful, Val obliged, breathing a sigh of relief. tearing off a few more scraps she did the same for her own paws, before continuing to row in rhythm.
Several days passed like this, only with each day, the howling gale and tearing wind grew worse, and the situations above deck only got more and more disastrous. Riah noticed that everybeast was on edge, not just the slaves, but the horde as well. Only a day before two hordebeasts had attacked each other over a simple argument concerning which one was going to try and fix the mast. In the end, both of them were assigned to mast-duty, the most renowned job with the highest death rate. Indeed the two had gone pale and looked as though they had been sentenced to death.
Besides that, the sails had a huge rift torn through them by the wind and rain, and the main mast was creak ominously, as if about to snap. The slaves were almost lucky, almost
If the ship went down, so did they.
Quira lay still, eyes closed, and her mind wandering in and out of a hazy realm of consciousness. Only Fralt and Major Dustscut sat vigil beside her bed, Cherily was busy with other sick creatures, and thought there was nothing left to do but wait.
Then, for a second time, the ground shook. Vials of antidotes ratted, medical herbs fell from their spots where they hung on the wall, and the whole mountain rumbled. Just as before, as soon as it had came, it was gone, and only the remnants of disaster left behind showed it had been there. Yet the quake had been stronger than before. Both hares got to their paws, before the Major walked out of the room to help those below, with Fralt glancing hesitantly at Quira, before bounding after him.
Neither noticed that in the wake of the rattle, her eyes fluttered open.
"You sure this is a good idea?"
"Kree-aack! Of course bushtail, why would it not be?" retorted the sharp reply of Silwark.
The squirrel answered rather quietly, as though unsure of his own opinion. "Well, it's just two creatures can't exactly sail to who knows were in a giant ship alone... y'know?"
The swallow tailed laughed with a peculiar cackle, shaking his feathers head. "Aye, but who said we would sail alone? Kreeack! Nay, I assume the slaves would be willing to walk free?"
In reply, the squirrel stood dumbfounded, he hadn't thought of this. Yet, that certainly was going to be no easy task, if there were even slaves left... He had assumed Cerberus would have taken most of them to row. But maybe...
Glancing dubiously at the sky, which was overcast with a massive band of storm clouds, he turned back to the expectant bird. Reassuring himself with that maid saved you, the least you could do is try and help he gave Silwark a determined not.
With what might have been a smile, Silwark turned toward the fortress. "Alright then bushtail, it's settled then. We raid at dawn."
The squirrel had a bad feeling about this raid, surely there would be a few guards? Perhaps he would just have to trust Silwark knew what he was doing, and hopefully some slave knew a lot about the sea.
Night had fallen, but not peacefully as it usually had. Instead, the storm raged and the wind howled outside worse than ever. Thankfully, with the darkness came rest. The slaves had been allowed to stop rowing, and had been fed a measly amount of food and water, then were permitted to sleep. They were to be awoken at dawn, and begin the hard work once again.
Riah hated to think about it, she knew for day after day this would continue, but she wasn't sure how long the ship would hold out... The slaves obviously weren't the only worried ones. And with the uneasiness the Emperor had only become nastier.
Beside the squirrelmaid, Val, her rowing partner slept fitfully, mumbling unrecognizable words in her sleep and her prickly head rested again the oar. She clearly was having a nightmare, for her limbs twitched at random and her tone was high pitched and frightened. Regretting she could do nothing to help, Riah tried to close her eyes, but the roaring gale didn't allow her the luxury. It was midnight by the time she fell into a troubled dreams.
She was woken by the harsh "Git up, up to yer paws I say!" of the slavedriver, and rubbed her eyes fretfully, stirring to her position at the oar. The awful crack of the whip sounded nearby, and the squirrelmaid rushed to obey their orders, praying mentally Val would have the sense to do the same. She was weak enough without several injuries.
The next few days passed in the same manner, each one becoming worse. And that wasn't the only thing, by this time, the storm had gotten so bad most crewmembers were forced to stay in their cabins. There were rumors up deck that two had fallen over sea and been swept away in the waves, and that a sail had been shredded with hail, and lastly and worst of all that the main mast had an eerily foreboding crack running through the base.
Riah was forced to take drastic measures the next day, when a hole had been sighted by a slave in the floorboard. She had stolen an extra set of keys from one crewbeast as he passed, and hidden it in the helm of one of her dress sleeves. No doubt it would come in handy.
Everybeast was at the end of their rope. A glimpse of land had been spotted, but then is was gone, hidden by the mysteries of the sea.
Then the worst happened.
Finally the main mast had fallen, everybeast below and above heard the thud as it fell, and in the next second, the ship tipped from side to side in an unstable manner. The hordebeasts below driving the slaves fled and headed up deck, all paws were needed. The moment was ripe, Riah took action. Swiftly unlocking her shackles she helped every creature she could, desperately freeing those she could. Water had risen from cracks in the floorboards up to her ankles, and most were beginning to panic.
Nobeast up deck payed any attention to the slaves.
The squirrelmaid could see her fur slowly turning back to its familiar reddish hue, that meant trouble. She could only hope in the chaos Cerberus wouldn't notice.
Thankfully, in the reign on confusion, the dark Emperor didn't notice one reddish squirrelmaid, he was too busy shouting orders at his crew with fury in his eyes. Taking her chance, she finished helping the last slave rise to his weary paws, before turning to leave.
By now, the water was up to her waist, and quickly rising, it was so cold, sending shivers up her spine. Her dress, ragged and torn as it was, dragged her back and the water slowed her down, above the ceiling trembled and groaned. As she neared the staircase with seawater pouring down it as a waterfall would, a beam fell, and caught her on the shoulders.
For a moment, she was stunned, and struggled to rid herself of the weight of the wood. Desperately, Riah kicked out with her paws, swimming now, and scrambled up the slippery steps and top speed.
The ship was dying, or in a sense, as much as anything not alive could. The storm was like a raging animal, hungry for lives, and devouring whatever it could. Despite the trouble, Cerberus's crew was faring better than expected, at least their numbers didn't look too thinned, yet.
A paw grabbed her wrist, dragging her to the stern, before she realized who it was.
"Zev!" Riah exclaimed jubilantly, a grin flashed across his face, then a look of awe and fear.
Up ahead, the wind swirled in a show of power, sucking whatever was in it's grasp into a torrent of destruction. The rain pounded down into the sea, and was lost among the waves.
A thought occurred to her.
We have to jump...
The squirrel turned to Zevquain, shouting urgently over the noise. "We have to jump, now!"
His eyebrows raised in question, "I know, but what good will that do to the others? They're on the wrong end of the ship, wot!"
We'll have to tell them, quickly! i'll take this side, you can go around and tell everybeast you meet. Hopefully they'll have the sense to help the others..."
In another second, he was gone in a fleet flash of limbs. Riah set off in pursuit of her goal, shouting advice to anyone and everyone who would listen. It didn't matter what species they were, woodlander, slave, or so called vermin. They were all alive, and they wouldn't be if they stayed longer; even for the evil ones, if they were ever to have the choice to turn to good, it would be after, and an act of good couldn't harm them.
She saw quite a few of familiar faces, a terrified Val, Cerberus who she really had hoped would drown, but no sign of Lus... that worried her. What if she was trapped in one of the floors below, drowning in the flood, or maybe swept overboard, swallowed to the great blackness?
Forcing herself to look ahead, she turned back toward the stern, and caught sight of Zev's long ears. Most slaves had already deserted the ship, in fact, it was looking strangely empty...
The next moment, she didn't know what hit her. One moment she was running for her life to the stern, the next everything went dark...
And she was submerged into the world of unconscious and bleak dark water...
Two pairs of eyes peered over the crest of a hill, staring watchfully at the guarding fortress. Yellow eyes gleaming with excitement, Silwark gave one short nod, signaling to the squirrel whom he chose to call "Bushtail". That was their signal for the raid to begin.
Uneasily, the squirrel slid onto the bird's sleek white back, glancing around. In a flash, the great swallow-tailed kite unfurled his wings, and flapped hard, soaring upward. It took a while to reach full height, but soon his was soaring gleefully, silhouetted by the bleeding hues of the sunset.
Despite his misgivings, the squirrel found himself pleasantly surprised, he had rarely been in air before, and this was no exception to his enjoyment. Still, worry for the foolhardy plan gnawed in his stomach edgily. Just as he was about to talk, Silwark dove, tucking his wings closer to his sides with skill. Moments later their speed increased three-fold, now, the squirrel was hanging on for her life.
Without any notice by the vermin guards, they flew up and over the walls, landing neatly in the slave pen.
He stood to shaky paws, dusting himself off and finally beginning to realize all around him, scrawny slaves looked startled and were staring as if they could not believe their eyes. Then again, if he were them, he wouldn't have either, it was wilder than anybeast's dreams. And whether they saw it as a blessing or not, they certainly were shocked.
Introducing Silwark and himself (unnamed as usual) he began unfolding their plan, watching as the slave's expressions grew from shocked, to worried...
Though accepting of anything to set them free, some seemed quite dubious, even a few possibly mutinous, but he knew they had little option but to try. Silwark, oblivious to any danger, took action minutes later, assuring that the guards were asleep, or unconscious.
With their plan suceeding far better than he had expected, the squirrel began to only grow more worried. Silwark's confidence was growing, an with it, he was growing more reckless.
By the time the slaves had crossed the grounds, and were cautiously filing onto a small fleet of ships, Silwark was practically strutting near and open window. Breaking into a slow jog, the squirrel caught up to him, dropping his voice quietly so none of the slaves could hear his concerns and panick. "Silwark matey, don't you think we should be a bit more cautious... Cerberus wasn't stupid... he would have left reinforcements..."
The bird's answer was to cackle loudly with laughter and scoff at his words, he made no effort top be quiet "Kreeack! There's no need to worry, I took care of those guards," he paused, using his wing to pat the squirrel on the head reassuringly, "Trust me, those vermin won't catch wind of our plans"
Little did he know, that just as he walked up the ramp onto the ship a creature with a crossbow was watching him and Silwark intently, eyes narrowed...
It seemed as though the wind followed swiftly in their preferred direction, and luck was on their side, or so it seemed. The storm had begun to wane.
They had traveled quickly in the first day, and the slaves had offered to help row, morals high by the prospect of at last being free, and so, they had newfound strength.
An eldery otter with experience in the high seas offered to help steer, and so they were going in the right direction. But despite all the good luck, they did not know what was going wrong.
At dawn, somebeast had caught a glimpse of land not too far on the horizon, they set out for it, hoping to find provisions. After all, in his haste to set sail, Silwark had forgotten it.
A thin volemaid, who was in the Crow's Nest suddenly waved to him, and the squirrel hurried over. She had apparently spotted something in the water, floating, or several things really. Immediately, after he had seen what it was, he called Silwark over.
Broken pieces of boards from a ship bobbed up and down on the waves, a small reddish figure half supported by a beam caught his attention.
Riah woke suddenly, coughing and spluttering up seawater on all fours. Her fur was sodden with water, and the sand felt cool against her fevered head.
Somebeast supported her from falling, and she attempted to stand up shakily. A surge of nausea overcame her and she paused a a moment, leaning heavily on the creature next to her.
"Where am I?" She asked groggily, blinking for her vision to come into focus. It was a familiar face who answered her, Silwark the swallow tailed kite. Beside the bird stood the squirrel who she still did not know the name of.
"You're on the shore, just around the corner of River Moss." A voice nobeast expected spoke, all three heads turned to look at the creature who had just stepped out of the edge of the woods. It was a tall black furred figure, a weasel-like creature at that.
Riah recognized her instantly. "Lus?!"
With the ghost of a smile, she nodded, unfolding something from a pouch on her belt. She unrolled it, passing it to the squirrel, "Here, you're going to need this. I'd better go... Cerberus is injured, and he'd be angry if I didn't help..." With a wry smile of obvious destruction, she gave Riah a last somber look, before leaving and melting back into the forest.
Riah felt utterly shocked, stating, "Well, that wasn't a long visit was it?"
Silwark and the squirrel nodded their agreement, watching as Riah looked at the parchment. It was a map, clearly new otherwise it would have been destroyed in the water.
The bird let out his odd laugh once more, tipping his head at he looked at the map. "Kree-ack! What did the vermin give you that funny piece of parchment for?"
Riah sighed, shaking her head uselessly, "She's not vermin Sil, she's actually quite good when you get to know her... besides, this isn't a useless piece of paper, it's a map. Y'know, something that helps us get to where we need to go so we don't get lost..." For a moment, she stared at the dot of red on the map, marked just over a building labeled "Redwall."
Then she realized. Lus had just given them a clue, and it was so obvious. Cerberus was headed to Redwall.
The other squirrel summed up what they were all thinking easily. "We have to get there first."
They camped on the beach for the night, Silwark flew off to guide the ship they had brought and the squirrel helped Riah set up camp from what they could find. There wasn't much, but she managed to rummage trough the shore and find a few shells from clams that would work as bowls, so she washed them in the stream, which was freshwater. Then, she managed to start a fire, and made a simple stew out of the roots, plants she could find, as well as a small fish the other squirrel had caught.
Admittedly, it wasn't perfect, but it was food all the same, something Riah hadn't gotten enough of for a good portion of her life. The other squirrel didn't complain, and for that she was grateful. Silwark had guessed the ship would reach land at dawn, and Riah waited anxiously. After all, their goal was to reach Redwall before Cerberus, and time kept passing.
She also couldn't help but wonder where Zevquain was, if he was even alive, she hoped so... the wreck hadn't been very far from land, but the worst could have struck, or he could have been recaptured. The squirrelmaid shuddered at the thought.
As the flames flickered cheerfully, the other squirrel sat on the grass, not speaking a word, only staring into the depths of the blaze. She wondered what he was thinking, and where he was from, why he didn't even know his own name. In a way, she pitied him, at first, he had seemed empty of personality, but now he seemed to have gained some, and his knowledge of the world around him had grown too. Yet, it just didn't add up.
To her surprise her spoke, looking up as if he knew what she was thinking, "I don't remember much honestly, only vague memories and flashes of bits... I don't even really know where I came from, but I remember living with a family like me, they had patterned pelts. I can't even remember who I am anymore..."
Riah sat in silence for a moment, looking at the fiery glow of the embers. After a while, she found the words to speak.
"Maybe you'll remember... someday." She paused, "I used to wonder that sometimes... I mean, I know who I am, name and all. But sometimes as a slave I just didn't know what to think. Sometimes I thought I wasn't really anyone... Just another life that the vermin could use for their advantage. Deep down... I knew there was more there than that."
He thought for a moment, contemplating her words. "Maybe... It's not like that for me, I just can't remember anything. If I had been a slave for seasons, I suppose that may be an okay thing. But my head's so empty... I feel like I used to know more, and now I'm lost."
She didn't know how to respond, and sat there, looking at the scars that told the history of her slavery life. Where the manacles had been was a gash, as if seared there, a spot where the fur refused to grow back full, and whiplashes bore marks on her pelt.
"You never know, best not loose hope though." Riah added quietly, then continued. "Besides, you're not alone now, you have friends, and you can make new memories, learn new things."
He gave her a grateful smile, "I suppose so, but it's hard not to wonder about the past, y'know?"
The squirrelmaid nodded, "True, I can't even remember everything... but there's always a chance you'll remember."
After that, they fell silent, watching the waves crash onto the rocks, listening to the sounds of the water wash upon the shore. As the sun lowered, the moon rose, an orb of light. She looked up, gazing at the stars the hung as silver specks in the serene dark sky. With being beckoned to, she spoke, not looking at the nameless squirrel but keeping her field of vision fixed on the stars.
"I wasn't young when I was captured, old enough to remember, but quite young all the same. Before that, my life was happy. Then, when my father sighted the ship on the horizon, his expression changed to one of urgency... I didn't fully understand then, but he hid his prized weapon, and told my mother and I to go inside. I did as I was bidden, but it was no use, vermin from the great ship swarmed over our land and took us captive as slaves. I became a slave at the fortress, for I was too young to work as an oarslave, but it was hard nonetheless. Then, one day that year the Arena event occurred, and my father was chosen to fight just as we were not long ago... I watched from the sidelines uselessly, and my father was assigned to defend himself against on of the Emperor's best mercenaries. In a rush of self-defense, he stabbed the other creature, which was against the rules in Cerberus's eyes. The wolf came down into the Arena himself and killed my father personally... I was devastated, watching his life bleed out onto the sandy ground, My mother was taken away, and I never saw her again..." Her voice quavered, echoing quietly into the stillness of the night, there was a moment's pause before she continued somberly.
"Shortly after I was sent to become an oar-slave, and here I am today. It's sounds morbid, but I know to look ahead, because I have good times to remember before all of that... I pity the slaves born there. They have only one purpose they think... to work until they die. And to them death is the final reckoning of freedom. They know no other way, and I live for another purpose. To help them, and to stop those who fight for all against that cause. You may say the memories are a curse or a blessing, it depends on how you see the world around you. You never know if your memories will come back. I never could have guessed that I would remember what I had forgotten, nor did I think I'd ever be where I am today. Whatever you do, don't loose hope, you may as well die for something good rather then live for something evil..."
Again, his smile was visible by the orange firelight, only this time it had a slight grimness to it. "I'll try, and thanks, for everything Riah."
"You're welcome, thought there's really nothing to thank me for, it just words I've picked up over the seasons, any decent creature would help another who needs it..." Her voice trailed off, so she changed the subject with a slight grin. "About what you told Cerberus, how diamond would sharpen his blade permanently, is that true?"
The squirrel looked mildly surprised, but laughed at he spoke, shaking with mirth. "Nah, it was just a lie to save my skin, but he doesn't know that! If I'm correct it actually should make it duller..."
Riah imagined the dark wolf's expression when he found out his blade and began laughing, smiling wryly as she thought of the advantage the other squirrel had just given their side.
Eventually, she stopped laughing enough to calm down, and stood, brushing off the sand on her dress. Peering out into the dark, she spotted a glint of something metallic, and narrowed her eyes, walking slowly forward. Out of the corner of her mouth she whispered, "I'll be right back, stay here, please."
She carried no weapon in her paws, except for the link of heavy chain still bound to her left wrist, and she felt helpless against an attack, but that glint she had seen could have been something important, or someone...
When she neared, she realized what she had seen was an object, a storage chest at that, brazened with Cerberus's mark in gold, and the hinges and latch had made the metallic glow she had seen a moment before. Curious but cautious, she edged forward, hauling it out of the seawater.
Limbs aching with the effort of the heavy chest, she dragged it toward their camping spot, at last coming to a halt near the fire.
It was seemingly in poor condition, having been washed up onto shore from the wreck, and it was still plastered with seaweed. The other squirrel gave it a quizzical look but didn't say anything. Riah started trying to open it, tugging the latch upward, it seemed stuck, for the metal didn't budge for a long time. She took another approach.
Pulling away strands of slippery and slimy seaweed wasn't her favorite hobby, but it was necessary, and, the seaweed had also been the reason it wasn't opening. Thew latch was jammed, and thick green streaks were wrapped at random around it. She had no dagger, so it was slow going. Removing the last piece and flinging it onto the sand, the squirrelmaid heaved the lid open, brown eyes glistening in wonder at what she found inside.
It was something she thought to probably never see again. Carved neatly and intricately, with a bowstring braided finely and a perfect balance overall, it was her father's bow. The squirrelmaid's jaw dropped in shock, she lifted the object delicately out of the chest, testing it's strength carefully. Underneath was a battered quiver, except it had only one green feathered arrow left. Her face fell a little, disappointed. How was she to practice with one arrow alone?
She would just have to make some more. There must be plenty of good wood in the forest, but she'd have to wait for dawn to see properly. the other squirrel looked just as surprised, but his expression was one of wonder. No doubt a bow would come in handy, but he probably didn't recognize it as Riah's prized possession. She opened her mouth to explain,
"It's my fathers... he hid it long ago, but Cerberus must have taken it... See?" She asked softly, passing the weapon to him, her heart seemed reluctant to part with it for even a moment, but she wanted him to see it.
He smoothed one paws over the carvings, looking at the undamaged string with interest. He seemed ready to say something, then hesitated, confused. He handed the object back to her, unspeaking.
Riah tipped her head to one side, "Something wrong?" she asked, voice a little concerned. He seemed as if he was trying to remember something, then forgot.
He shook his head, as if convincing himself. "Nah... I just thought I remembered something familiar... but then I forgot, maybe I'll remember later."
The squirrel's expression looked crestfallen and Riah felt a twinge of pity.
"It's alright, maybe you'll remember in the morning. Besides... it's getting late. You get some sleep, I'll take first watch." Without waiting for an answer, she got to her paws, hid the bow and quiver away from the fire, and stood guard, watching as he shifted to the flimsy shelter they had built.
Soon, dusk faded into the dark peace of night. Only the sound of water washing upon the shore and the gentle breath of wind through the trees could be heard. The world was almost shrouded in a blanket of serenity, and for once, nothing disturbed it.
Gurgowl wandering toward the Dibbun's Dortmitories after supper, listening intently as his pawsteps resounded through the stone corridor, he had little else to do, nobeast was around. To his surprise, he stopped flatly, pausing as he heard the sound of rushing water. It seemed to be coming from the Bathrooms... and that wouldn't be odd, if someone was only washing their paws. But the sound didn't stop, so he trodded forward to investigate.
When the little mole got there, he was utterly shocked at what he saw. Water cascaded out onto the floor, and the Bathroom was already covered in a few inches of water so it looked like a miniature lake. His dark eyes flared in burning suspicion at the creature who had done this. Juni...
Turning off all sources of water and unplugging the towels that had been stuffed on the drainage areas, he began to mop up the floor, watching as the water drained away in little whirlpools. The whole room sounded weird... as if it was straining below the floorboards, but there was nothing else the dutiful mole could do. And so, after he had wiped up the last drop of water and put the towels in a dirty laundry basket, he hurried up the stairs to the Dormitory.
Bessie was there, sitting on a spare bed and telling a thrilling story to the Dibbuns gathered in a semi circle around her. Shoulders drooping with disappointment, the little mole sat down heavily on his own bed, listening.
The kind black cat seemed to notice he was upset, for her purr stopped as well as her speaking, she turned to him, asking in concern "What's wrong Gurgowl?"
He shrugged, stating plainly, "Oi just mizzed thoi story is all..."
She seemed sympathetic, and gestured to him to join the circle of Dibbuns, smiling. "Well come on, I have another story to tell! And if you'll believe it... this one is even more exciting! And it's a true story."
With a cheerful smile, he plopped on the ground with the rest of the Dibbun, listening as the motherly cat began to weave her tale.
"This story all took place a couple of seasons ago. My companion Jase and I were wandering near the sea down south on the very verge of the woodlands, and we were deciding whether or not to go to Southsward, when all of a sudden we heard something. A sob echoed from the river, and we heard approaching pawsteps..."
Though Jase and Briar and not continued on the search for Briar, Cota had. He didn't care if she had that stupid "Mark of the Outcast" or whatever it was, she was his friend, and he didn't like how his own father had been so cruel. His father would call his ignorant for not caring about her mark, and maybe he was, but as least he could see what was right and wrong. Besides, Briar didn't seem like the wrong sort, maybe not entirely truthful, but certainly not evil. It made him wonder... What did she do... what could she have done, that was so bad that she had the dreaded Mark of the Outcast? Every otter with a couple exceptions knew about it, and shunned the creature who bore the mark. But... Why?
He shook his head in confusion, focusing on the path ahead of him. He would try tracking, but he had no clue where to look, and he'd have to go all the way back to the Abbey gates. He sighed, sliding down the trunk of a tree and sitting on the grass with a defeated posture. Where could she be? Did she really want to leave that badly? Did she even care about those she had left behind; Bessie, Jase... and him?
Trill sat with her back to the tent, covering a draft in the place of her children. It was a colder dawn than some, and she knew the seasons were once again beginning to change. Mentally she wished Quira was okay, as she hadn't heard anything about her eldest daughter. Where was Dust? Wouldn't he come to rescue her? Couldn't the badger lord send out a force to stall while she and the leverets escaped?
Lark sat in Tril's lap, head curled to rest on a sack full of flour, meanwhile her younger brother was also asleep, snoring blissfully. Neither had the age nor experience to grasp how dangerous the situation at hand was. And now that Quira was gone, Tril felt alone. Her eldest daughter had always been more of the quiet type, but she certainly had a bit more intelligence in her young mind than some. For a moment, the harewife felt guilty, thinking of how her oldest daughter had been so somber, often found watching out a window into the distance. Maybe Dust and I should have payed more attention to her, she feels as we favor Zevquain, I'm sure of it, the harewife contemplated ruefully.
She stroked Lark's tuft of growing headfur, singing once more the lullaby that had been passed down for generations, her voice quavered with sorrow slightly at the last line.
"Cross the land, over sea,
The waters run free,
Through the dreams, reality,
One day you'll see
Though it's hard,
Look to the stars
And you'll see
The destiny's ours
You will be free
Little one, don't you fear,
In the dark yet I am here..."
Just as the harewife finished, her mind was struck with an idea. Now all she would have to do was wait... and she didn't have to wait long.
For the very next moment, somebeast lifted a flap of cloth from the opening and peered inside the tent, scanning once, then another creature stepped in.
He was a weasel, who appeared a little different than some, it was almost laughable really. He wore the uniform of a Captain, as well as the arrogant expression of one as well. without another word, he gestured toward her, and two hordebeasts who looked very similar rushed forward to drag Tril out.
With a start of fear and shock, she set the children behind her and leaped to her paws, lashing out violently with all the fury of a Long Patrol hare, as she had been before and still was at heart. Her paw came in contact with on beast's jaw sturdily and she heard a crack, he fell like a stone. Then she kicked out at the other, causing him to trip and fall on his muzzle comically.
The weasel stepped inside, ducking a little, before he raised his weapon rather calmly. That worried Tril, when somebeast was more confident that her... it made her nervous, but she wouldn't let them take her nor her children, they would have no one left if they took her. She struck out again, eyes burning with a fire she had not felt in some time.
"Get away!" Tril shouted warningly.
He merely smiled with that confident expression of one high in rank and experience, with a glimmer of sympathy in his eyes the hare couldn't understand. The weasel jumped swiftly to one side, lashing out with the spear he had. Only it wasn't the sharp end she saw racing toward her, so he didn't mean to kill her. Then, everything started to go dark...
She felt her world spin, and fell on the ground with a thud, succumbing to the blackness...
It was early dawn again, and Riah woke suddenly, eyes blinking open to faded sunlight. The other squirrel stood nearby, watching the water faithfully.
The squirrelmaid smiled, grateful that he hadn't fallen asleep. Especially since she had nearly done so herself, but just in time to wake him her watch had been over. She got to her paws shakily, brushing sand off of her ragged dress. Then, Riah made a quick trip to the stream, cupping her paws to drink a mouthful of fresh water.
Circling back to talk to the other squirrel, the maid spotted a flag on the mast of a ship not too far on the horizon. With new-found excitement, she broke into a run, sand flying form her paws as she sped onward.
"Look! The ship is nearly here now!" She explained to the other squirrel, pointing to express her words.
He nodded, smiling through a tired expression. Only then did she realize he probably just wanted rest.
Guiding him back to the makeshift shelter, Riah departed, climbing a tall tree on the edge of the forest to get a better look.
She had to squint, for her eyesight wasn't the best in this light from years of dark. But it was clearly the ship, with Silwark soaring ahead joyfully.
Riah chose to sit on the tree limb for a while, paws swinging below. She breathed in deeply, glad for the fresh air, even if it did smell like salt. The wind billowed strongly, ruffling her headfur and the leaves of the trees so it sounded almost like a gentle shower of rain.
She felt guilty and sorrowful at the same time, where was Zevquain, and the young hedgehog she had helped? And most importantly... where was Cerberus now?
The storm had passed. And despite her bliss... but not everything was perfect...
Chapter 15- Unlikely Allies
By the time the sun had risen to it's highest peak in the clearing sky, Silwark landed alongside the ship, and former slave creatures began leaping over the sides into the water, expressions of joy from them Riah had never seen before on their faces. Though it was fall, and the weather was cooling, they seemed not to care, splashing happily in the water like young ones.
The squirrelmaid dashed down the tree, prodding her friend who was fast asleep on the sandy grass. He woke slowly, opening his eyes with a yawn before sitting up with a dazed expression. "What is it...?" He asked sleepily, Riah looked toward the shore, gesturing.
"It's Silwark, and the ship as well! Come on, we have to get moving!" She responded urgently.
In an instant, they were both racing for the shore towards Silwark, Riah with her bow and quiver strapped over her shoulder. When they saw the swallow tailed kite, he let out his odd yet familiar sound, "Kree-aack!"
Meanwhile the creatures wading out of the water looked on the bird with little suprise. They did, however, look a bit shocked at Riah. Clearly the bird had not mentioned her much.
The elderly otter who had helped steer stepped onto the sand with dripping but now clean fur, looking to the three. "So we made it at last! But I dare say it ain't the end of our journey, is it mates?"
Riah shook her head a little despairingly, "Well, not really... I know Cerberus is planning something awful for the residents of a place called "Redwall Abbey" but... I can't just sit around and not stop him, we've got to warn those poor creatures..." the maid paused, realizing how tired they must all be, standing bedraggled and fatigued along the shore. A volemaid stepped forward a little, looking hesitant as if she was about to speak but fell silent. "Maybe there's somewhere nearby we can take you, I'm sure you all need a rest badly... and you've helped a lot, really."
Then the vole spoke up, looking worried. "I've heard of Redwall... I think, in fact, I believe I lived there seasons ago..."
Eveybeast else looked shocked, the vole ducked her head, anxious to not had all eyes watching and listening to her words. Riah beckoned encouraging with a small smile.
"You have...? If you're willing to answer, what are they like their? Can they defend themselves?" the squirrelmaid asked quietly, expression becoming anxious for the answer she would receive. She dearly hoped they were able to fight, otherwise they may be slaughtered...
To her dread, the vole shook her head sadly, "Alas no... They are peaceful creatures, but some say they are protected... by a warrior's spirit. Many warlords have attacked their gates... all perished."
Riah looked far from relieved, but determined all the same, shouldering her quiver and bow. "We'll just have to find help is all. Thanks...? I didn't realize... what is your name?"
At this, the weary vole smiled slightly, "Oh that... I'm called Karina, are you... Riah?"
The squirrelmaid nodded, looking a little quizzical. "Yes I am actually... but how did you know?"
The volemaid turned keen eyes toward the sea and ship, gaze flickering up to the crow's nest for a moment. "Well, I was on watch and spotted you floating in the water. Then Silwark and the other squirrel came and mentioned your name. So I guessed that was you, I recognized your red fur," she added, glancing over.
Riah looked at her reflection in the water. Her fur had returned to it's normal rich red and brown hue, she gasped.
"This is not good... but then again, I don't plan on being captured by Cerberus anytime soon..." She said quietly, whispering her thoughts to herself. Turning back, she pulled the map out of the quiver where she had been storing it, and searching the surrounding areas. I really wish Zevquain was here...' she thought, eyes scanning the mountain of Salmandastron thoughtfully. Perhaps, if he was still okay, he'd try to go there? And maybe the rulers there or at least Zev's family could help? Wasn't Salmandastron filled with warriors? Or at least a safe place for the slaves to regain their energy and health...
The squirrel raised her head, looking to Silwark and the other squirrel for support. "Does everybeast agree that our next destination should be Salmandastron?" she asked, hoping for somebeast else's opinion. After all, she could be quite indecisive at times.
A mottled shout of agreeing voices rang out.
Cerberus was lost. His hordebeasts blundered through the woods, being unused to such untouched land, and he growled in frustration under his breath at the situation.
Lus the Seer had several maps, and was reassuring him bluntly that they were indeed headed the right way, in fact, she would have already been dead except for the fact that he needed her. They were supposed to have crossed a stream by now, but they hadn't. They were also supposed to have made progress, but they hadn't. the dark Emperor temper was growing higher by the minute.
Finally he snapped, lashing out at an unfortunate hordebeast who happened to be in his way, the creature fell back, clutching a gash on their arm painstakingly. The wolf didn't show any signs of sympathy, only roared out his commands. "Listen up you lot! I want to see you in the correct formation, and at a faster pace. We need to get out of these confounded trees or you won't see another meal until this time tomorrow! Move out." Nobeast moved until he roared, "Now!" and lashed out once more.
The got the message, organizing quickly and breaking into a slow jog. Scuro sported an injured arm, running alongside Adamine with a grimace. He didn't complain, knowing the reputation of her temper.
Cerberus didn't even have to walk very fast, for his stride was much longer than the creatures in his command. He strolled forward, the dark weasel Seer hurrying to match his pace the best she could.
Like a raging fire they charged though the woods.
In nearly less than an hour, they halted, stopping at the edge of the trees where the last shade was. All were tired, thirsty and hungry, fur covered with sweat and tree sap. Ceberus allowed them to take a short break, to scavenge for what they could find and clean up before they crossed the empty landscape in front of them. The only thing that was ahead was the towering mountain close to the sea, labeled "Salmandastron" on the map.
Greedy as every, he had a plan. Maybe even to get some new, healthy, strong slaves at the ahead destination. Besides, they could always turn around and head toward Redwall, later.
In the shadows, unknown to him, Lus watched through narrowed stormy eyes, then without another sound, disappeared into the forest, quickening her pace to find her allies.
As she had hoped, Adamine and Scuro were not far off, though maybe not on best terms. The russet furred ferret sat huffily, facing away from Scuro and she used a shard of rock to hone the end of her spear. Scuro sat in a hunched position near the fire, adjusting his injured arm. Thankfully, Lus had inexpertly sewn a makeshift sling, and it was his left paw, but it didn't help to improve the situation.
Glancing casually around to ensure no unwanted eyes nor ears were nearby, she took a seat on the boulder in between the ferret and the stoat, sighing inwardly.
The dark weasel didn't know what she had really started, nor why, something just told her it was... the right thing to do. Maybe that something had come from Anita... just a few seasons ago.
Staring into the flickering blaze in serene silence was all she could do now. Admittedly, she didn't know what else to do.
Why she had made the decision to help that squirrelmaid she had not yet decided, and yet, there was no turning back now. Lus had to figure out how to not get caught as a double agent by Cerberus, or she'd be dead in a heartbeat. Thankfully, she guessed he hadn't caught on to her ploy, yet.
And still, it was only a matter of time before somebeast else betrayed her or caught on. She'd had to bide her time, and carefully.
In the distance, the mountain of Salmandastron stood proudly, facing the sea that washed endlessly upon the shore. It would be a hard journey, she was only thankful the hottest part of summer had passed.
The Seer heard an angry growl that could belong only to the Emperor. Scuro jumped to his paws beside her, charging on without them. It was obvious he didn't want another injury. Illusion followed suit, knowing it was probably a good idea to stay on the dark wolf's good side for the time being; and Adamine reluctantly followed, eyes narrowed.
Soon they had set off, charging over the landscape with Cerberus pacing ahead with ease. Being a wolf, his strides were so long he hardly had to jog.
Little did any of them know, but identical eyes watched from the valley, diligently scouring over the horde before the vanished to report what they had seen...
There was a sudden splash and icy cold water spilled over her face, soaking her fur and drenching her dress. The hare woke in an instant.
Her frontpaws were bound uselessly to her sides, footpaws roped together so she could not flee.
Across from her sat another creature, and by his side in a simple chair was the weasel who had brought her hear. Her eyes roved like the restless wind, taking in all around her.
She knew this couldn't be good.
And what had become or Quira? Was she going to meet the same fate as her poor daughter? Was she still alright?
Pondering the thought didn't last long, for only a moment later later the pine marten, Rilvac Staja, spoke quietly with calm frustration.
"As you know, your daughter has already been questioned, but proved to be no use for us, we turned to you-"
"What did you do to her?!" Tril cried angrily, cutting his words off short, ears standing and eyes narrowing in defiance.
"You cannot know until you tell us what we need to know, and besides- think of your little ones back at the tent, they will not last long without you. Choose wisely hare." The warlord responded keenly, raising his head in bubbling anger. He knew she would not to know about that haremaid, but he was bound to keep things quiet after the previous disaster. Hope would be a useful thing, and he would not hand it to Tril.
She hesitated, about to through back a rude retort when the realization of common sense stuck her. She could not barter lives of Salmandastron for the sake of her daughter, she would only have to hope Quira had made it out or was still okay. Tril slumped down into the chair, half-defeated of the forlorn situation. She raised her head, tensing.
"I will tell you nothing."
Her heart sped up, she prayed the pain she anticipated would not come. The weasel sitting beside Rilvac raised his spear, and this time it was not the end.
After that she didn't know what had happened, there was a flash, but no agony touched her, and confusion reigned. The pine marten leaped to his paws, abandoning her and fleeing to see what destruction had attacked his camp. Then, something mostly surprising happened, and Tril could only gaze in shock.
The weasel, the one who had previously knocked her unconscious on Rilvac's orders, was now freeing her. He used a small dagger stored in the helm of his sleeve and cut the ropes that bound her. His eyes glittered slightly with hesitation, and he kept glancing up to see what was going on outside, but continued all the same.
"This is you chance to escape," He spoke quietly, expression neutral, "Head toward the little tree just past the top of the hill, I'll meet you there with your children. Don't worry about them, they'll be safe with me."
Tril didn't trust him, knowing what he had the reputation for, he was Rilvac's second in command! Why on earth would he waste his time, rank, and even life helping her like this? Then again... she could see she had little choice but to trust him, it was her only chance right now. "Alright, I'll be there, but... why? Why are you helping?"
He didn't answer. His eyes darkened and he turned away, stowing the dagger away once more. Without another word, he strode away, leaving her to fend for herself.
After his figure had disappeared, she crept out through a large tear in the tent's wall, and looked around in amazement.
The scene was a world of chaos. Creatures were moving constantly, battling with all they could. She noticed the small clonelike weasels were unorganized, and were caught off guard. A huge figure, that looked as if it had been torn from a stormy night itself.
Catching a glimpse of a tree on the hill, Tril fled, blanketed in safety by the confusion.
Where serene quiet had been before, now was disaster.
Cerberus bounded forward with huge strides, ax at ready when he lead the charge. The dark wolf bared his jagged teeth, completely joyous at the looks of shock on the surprised creatures, triumphant at his army's easy progress. It may have ended well for the other side, had their scouts made it back in time, but Rilvac had never gotten to read the crumpled message that was lying untouched in his tent.
Not all was bad, Cerberus's command was not aiming to kill all of the little weasels, only looking for their leaders. The Emperor's yellow eyes narrowed decisively, he gestured to his forces on simple instruction. Capture them all. Meanwhile, in the chaos, he would find their leader....
It would not be easy to hide, being a wolf, but Cerberus had not need to hide from puny weasels anyway. And a moment later, he spotted his prey. With a calculating glance toward the pine martin ahead, he didn't notice the harewife fleeing past a sloping hill in the distance. Nor did anybeast else.
His pawsteps lengthened, as he sped across the cluttered ground, both sides stumbling over one another to escape his rage.
The Pine martin's eyes widened as Cerberus leaped, he moved away from the creature he was fighting and slid forward, straight under the wolf's grasp.
With a dull thud, the Emperor hit the ground solidly, ax slipping for a moment. With yellow eyes full of fury, he jumped to sturdy paws, unaware of the injuries he could have received. That moment was all the pine martin needed.
Rilvac shouldered his weapon, and charged, only this time, Cerberus was ready for him and anticipated the action, stepping neatly to one side despite his anger. Just like he had done before, the pine martin fell to the ground, only he did not get up quite as quickly. When he did, he stalked up the wolf, glaring at Cerberus with all the dignity he could muster.
For a moment, Cerberus had second thoughts about killing him, realizing it would probably be best if the clone-like little weasels thought their leader was still alive and in some command. Besides, this pine martin probably knew the area a little better than he did, and he could always kill him if things got out of paw.
It was just the way the dark Emperor thought, and little did he know his arrogance could one day very well be his downfall.
In the midst of chaos, Regn hastened to find the captives' tent. The weasel slipped off through the crowds of fighting, doing his best to avoid Rilvac, hiding behind tents and weaving neatly through the bushes that were remaining out of the trampled supply. Shouts of anguish, fury, and the clashing metallic ring of weapons kept his hurried pawsteps well hidden.
He should have found it by now... last time it had been just around the corner.
Only this time, he was stopped at the corner. There was a thud and before he could react, he was swept of his paws and tumbled to the ground, crashing into another creature who had apparently just made the same mistake to assume nobeast would be going that direction.
For a second he sat dazed, shaking his head to clear his blurred and dizzy vision; but from experience he knew to expect anything. The weasel found himself with weapon in paw, absentmindedly glaring with annoyance at the creature who had knocked him down. He was already trying to help somebeast, now what? He was going to punish whatever silly hordebeast had gotten in his way... Or have their rank lowered in the least.
When his vision cleared slightly, he was half surprised- and half confused.
With a similar angered expression and dagger posed to attack, was an ebony weasel. There were no creatures in the horde like her, and so she must be from the opposing army. Instinctively his eyes narrowed, she only smiled disarmingly.
"I am only a Healer, there is no need to be hostile," She explained, stowing her weapon but not taking her paw of the hilt as she added determinedly, "But if you wish to fight, I will not argue."
He shook his head, still surprised and got to his paws, not willing to turn around and leave only to have a knife through his back. His mistrust seemed apparent to her, for she also stood. For a moment they both stood there, not fully trusting and both questioning.
Finally, he spoke. "So. What are you doing Healer, while you comrades are lying injured?" It was almost a mocking tone, but he did not expect the similar answer he would receive.
"I could ask you the same, and certainly while your own leader is lying at the merciless paws of my patients' Emperor," she retorted smoothly, stalking off huffily with long headfur swishing over her shoulder.
He stared after her in shock, she had no loyalty to her leader! Then again... nor did he. He set off in pursuit of his goal, nearing the tent. He would have to hurry, time was running out...
And maybe he had no choice but to find help.
Tril waited anxiously, scanning the area for a figure that could be the weasel. Only, she knew things had gone to turmoil after she had left, and the strange creature who had offered help could have easily been killed or spotted with the captives. While the camp below slowly began to get quieter, her worry grew.
She hummed quietly to herself, a song she would normally have sung to Quira and Zev when they had only been tiny leverets, now... she wasn't sure where either of them were.
Zevquain was alive. Scratched, bruised and fatigued, but alive. In fact, he wasn't the only one. The mottled group of creatures were also survivors of the ship's downfall, but he had not seen Riah at all. He could only hope that if she was okay, she would have the sense to travel to Salmandastron, that was where he and the others were headed.
They had traveled for hours straight, floundering through foliage with lack coordination and energy. Most of the slaves were far to optimistic about finally being free to notice the signs and worry, but he knew. While they joked and smiled at every break, he kept watching the areas they passed.
Trampled bushes and paw prints set far apart, but condensed into one line showed him that a group had been through here at a fast pace, and it had most likely been Cerberus's. The wolf had clearly made no effort to cover his tracks.
Thankfully, Zev was not a normally pessimistic hare, and so he acted as usual, but something told his to be worried. In fact, he was the only creature who had family at Salmandastron, no wonder he was worried. The slaves had less reason to worry as he did, but some had lost family or had been separated from their friends, and nobeast was certain of what was going on. He tried to shake the feeling of dread away mentally by snacking on what meager supplies the forest provided, but for once, he didn't feel so hungry.
Night was falling once more. Riah was talking quietly to the volemaid, Karina and they tread forward across the yellow and dying grass. It had been over an hour since they had left the trees, and with Salmandastron in sight, creatures were getting more energetic. Beams of orange and red showered hopeful light for the travelers, and they fell to a stop at the crest of a hill.
Riah tried to help start a fire, but found most of the slaves who had been residents on Vitra Isle had better luck with it. She herself had little experience with fire, having been a rowing slave for the majority of her life; and looking at her reflection in a large puddle she realized it had taken a toll on her.
When she could stand watching no longer she turned away, sitting with a sigh on the ground beside the friends she had come to make on the journey. Silwark, being wary of fire, perched on a lone tree a ways off, glaring resentfully at the crackling flames. Karina, Riah, the elderly otter, the other squirrel, and a few others encircled the fire.
The red-brown squirrelmaid held her bow gently, running her paw over the carvings and gazing at the intricately woven bowstring. It was the last thing she had of her family, and she treasured it. Only, she had one arrow, and dared not to practice in case she lost it among the grass.
Watching her hold the single arrow protectively, the patterned squirrel seemed to guess what she was thinking. "Y'know, I could help you make some arrows..." He offered, looking at the forlorn stock of arrows in the ancient quiver. "I'm unsure of what wood to use, but I do know how to carve stones."
Riah raised her head to look at him, a hopeful glint sparking in her eyes. "Really... you could? I've been thinking its pretty useless about arrows... but I haven't had a lot of experience to shoot anyway..." she trailed off, unsure of what to say.
He unwound a small pouch carried around his neck, pouring it's contents into his paw carefully.
Three sparkling stones were there, all sharp and cut perfectly in the shape of arrowheads. He passed one to her to see, putting the rest away as he spoke. "Here, I only have a few left... but these will make better arrows than the rock around here. They're diamond, see? I know they're not easy to find... but you can have them. They'll make as good arrows as any, if not better."
The small stone was dangerously sharp, but glittered with orange hues the color of embers in the firelight. How could something so beautiful be so dangerous? She smiled gratefully to him, "Thank you... so much, who knows; maybe one day I can save somebeast's life with these. But really... Thank you." She answered earnestly, holding the gem carefully in her paw.
Tril was free. Her paws sped as she charged toward the looming Salmandastron.
Somehow, that new hope gave her enough strength to carry Lark and his sister. Though the wind brushed across the moorlike land strongly, they did not cry, it was almost as if the two young hares could sense something better, something brighter than before. Lark, being the elder of the two, pointed a paw and Salmandastron cheerfully, a smile of jubilant recognition lighting on her face as they slowed to a walk.
Tril set her daughter down, holding her paw but letting her walk all the same. It was dark, and truthfully Tril was thankful. The cover of darkness provided safety for her and her children, especially since they were in the open.
With the great mountain nearing, the harewife could hear the continuous crash of waves upon craggy rocks and the gently wash upon the sand. Even the air was different now that they had left the valley. Yet, she wondered about the creature who had helped them. Was it possible Salmandastron had an unlikely ally?
Perhaps, even if there was something the weasel wasn't saying, he hadn't double crossed them to make their fate worse, and he had risked his own life to do it. Buried in her thoughts, she hardly noticed Lark tugging on her sleeve timidly, trying to speak through a yawn. "-Mamma,are we almost home?"
The tawny harewife smiled, stroking her daughter's headfur gently. "Of course Lark, don't you see? Salmandastron isn't far now!"
The little hare let out another yawn, plopping onto the grass with tired eyes. "So we get to see sissy soon, right Mamma?"
Her heart deflated inside, but she tried to keep a hopeful expression and a faint smile as she spoke, sitting down slowly. Tril set her sleeping son down as well, watching as he fidgeted in dreams, then glanced over to Lark who watched her with pleading eyes.
"I think so sweetie... maybe she's at Salmandastron waiting for us," she added, silently begging this to be true. She couldn't bring herself to completely lie to her daughter, for inside she felt the same way, hoping someone could just tell her everything would be alright.
To her surprise, the little leveret got up, a determined glint lighting in her large eyes. She trudged toward the mountain, not bothering to say a word. Tril watched her gratefully, unable to stop herself from feeling proud. Despite her youngest daughter's shy nature, she would certainly be a brave hare one day.
Catching on, the harewife scooped her sleeping child into her arms gently, marching forward to follow Lark. And though separated in a sense, they strode forward, silhouetted by the sunset, not even noticing the sound of pawsteps that echoed behind.
They reached the mountain, relieved to find the entrance opened for them willingly.
Protesting quietly, Tril was guided to the healers, but she insisted her children stay with her. Cherlily washed her minor cuts efficiently, dabbing a disinfectant herb lightly onto the parted fur with a stoic expression. Lark sat next to her younger brother, watching quietly.
Her heart sunk when Cherlily explained that Major Dustscut was busy, but would return as soon as possible, stating that he had duties with the Badger Lord about the approaching enemies. Was the situation really that bad already? However, she became overjoyed to see Quira lying in a bed nearby, sound asleep. Her daughter seemed weak, but better all the same. Nonetheless, she was alive and that mattered. She would have woken Quira and hugged her had the healers not interfered and told her she needed rest.
For a moment, after her two youngest children had fallen asleep, she felt her eyes begin to droop to a close, for a moment she dozed, with no nightmares for the first time in as far as she could remember. Then, there was a jubilant shout and the doors swung open, a creature dashed in, looking exhausted but joyful all the same. His messy headfur was swept to one side, with a grin that nothing could damper the mood of.
It was Zevquain.
How amazing was the moment for Tril, to have all of her children back together for once. Only... she knew the moment was bound not to last.
And as she had predicted, it didn't. For the next moment the Major swept in, looking distraught and yet happy all at the same time when he had spotted his family. A grim smile was set on his face firmly. He pulled Tril aside quietly, and stated in a worrisome phrase. "Lord Brawnstripe says the mountain's under attack."
The harewife's jaw dropped, she turned to glance over at all four children, then back to her husband.
In a whisper she answered "What do we do Dust?"
He shook his head as if he did not know, then turned toward the door with a determined look. "We've got to get ready to defend Salmandastron. Send the kids to Aunt Syringa, she can watch over them. That way they'll be out of harm's way. Zevquain and Quira can stay if they want. They're old enough to make their own decisions." He said this all so nobeast else could here, waved at the children, then departed stiffly.
Her heart sank once more, this time to the equivalent of the bottom of the steely turquoise sea. It seemed the happiness rarely lasted long, and war was no peace, physically nor mentally.
Chapter 16- Into Air
When's Riah and her companions reached the looming mountain, they realized something had gone dramatically wrong. From the nearby valley, was a trampled trail of dust, and leading from that trail was a mass of fighters, positioned surrounding the mountain in large numbers. The creatures inside Salmandastron would throw a javelin with all the strength they possessed, and yet it would not reach far enough. So, for the time being, they appeared trapped. And with the numbers of the surrounding army, they were trying to tempt the Long Patrol to come out and fight, it was a disaster.
Karina tugged on the uneven sleeve of her dress, beckoning the squirrel to the side. Her voice was just above a worried whisper when she spoke. "We can't get inside yet, can we Riah?"
The squirrelmaid felt pressure, these creatures were now relying on her? She took a deep breath, observing the mountain carefully. "Not that I know off... we don't have enough moles to dig. And we can't just walk up there. Maybe..." Riah caught a flash of black and white feathers, then turned quickly to Silwark, who was joking raucously with the other creatures, completely oblivious of the desperation of their situation. The squirrelmaid couldn't help but let out a defeated sigh. "C'mon Sil, we don't have all day.
He hopped over, using his wings to balance himself before looking quizzically at her as she began to explain.
"Alright, it's risky... but maybe you can take a couple creatures at a time, and fly up the mountain, try to find some sort of window, that way we can at least communicate with the rulers and hares..." Riah pointed out, looking to Karina and then the bird for a reaction.
The volemaid looked slightly unsure, glancing at the mountain while Silwark's eyes narrowed, he ruffled his feathers as if offended.
"Kree-aack! Are you suggesting I cannot do that?" He demanded, yellow eyes sharp.
Riah shook her head, explaining quickly. "No, not at all. I just mean things could go wrong... We could get shot at, or they could see us and attack everyone else on ground here... or all the openings could be shut... or... well you get the idea." She trailed off, realizing this was getting them nowhere, though Silwark seemed satisfied and maybe even happy at the prospect of danger.
"So, I'll go... Karina, would you like to?" The squirrelmaid asked. The vole's eyes widened in shock.
"Oh no... I couldn't do that. Y'see, I'm very... afraid of heights. Water's fine, land's fine... but air..." She shuddered, closing her eyes for a moment and swaying precariously on her feet.
Riah nodded, "It's alright Karina, you don't need to go with us, don't worry about it."
To herself she wondered if the kite would be able to carry both squirrels, but she didn't argue, not wanting to risk offending him, only bid goodbye to Karina and stepped over to where they were. "Alright, so... are we ready?" she asked, knowing that with each passing minute, the situation grew more desperate. Soon it would be dawn, and the chances would be greater that the creatures attacking Salamandastron would see them, and attack as well. It would be best to travel at night, and quickly.
The squirrel nodded, with a calmer smile set on his face than Riah felt, meanwhile Silwark seemed to hardly care. Sometimes she wondered if he truly was oblivious and foolish, or was recklessly brave. Either way, he hadn't been killed yet, so he must have some caution.
Riah quickly told Karina that she was in charge, and needed to make sure the creatures remaining behind were not seen and stayed quiet, then she returned, glancing around toward the ground she would soon have to leave.
As a squirrel, heights didn't bother her too much. It wasn't that, it was Silwark.
"Ready." she confirmed, nodding with a determined light in her eyes. She shouldered her bow, adjusting her quiver with a grateful glance at the other squirrel.
Unfolding his wings, Silwark launched of the ground, taking them with him. When her balance shifted the squirrelmaid forced herself not to grab anyone for support, just held her breath and mentally hoped she would not fall.
She felt the air whirl around her strongly, whipping her headfur back, and the land below grew smaller.
"You stupid creature! Now we've lost the element of surprise!" Cerberus bared his teeth threateningly, glaring at the pine martin with hatred.
Almost disdainfully, Rilvac glanced at him, speaking slowly. "We never had it. Your Majesty And besides, what difference could it make? They're in a mountain after all, and your silly creatures are so loud they'd probably here you anyway. My horde is under perfect order, I don't take such nonsense. You forget that we have the advantage of numbers, and sooner or later, they'll have to come out." He added finally, playing with a map and a quill carelessly. Now, he did not at all seem like the defeated one, and he had just stepped over the line.
The wolf took a menacing step closer, wielding his ax dangerously, his voice dropped to a deadly whisper. "You seem to forget, that you and your creatures are under my command now. You do as I say. Or else, you die." He added, throwing his weapon to the map, Rilvac moved his paw away swiftly, but had he been any slower he would have lost it. "What's more, they could be in there for seasons!" Cerberus stated.
The pine martin flicked and offhand paw, ridding himself of the ink that had emitted from a now crushed jar. "You may say I am under your command, Your Majesty." He sneered, continuing. "But I remain to know more about this area than you, and if I die, my army can easily overpower yours. Unlike your forces, my army is loyal. And though they could be there for seasons, I have a plan to speed up that process." He lifted his head higher, meeting the wolf's gaze evenly. "You see, while you have been sulking like a pup about the situation being wrecked, I have been plotting." Rilvac finished and crossed his arms stubbornly, as if daring the wolf to retaliate.
The anger in the Emperor's yellow eyes was unmeasurable, even his whole frame seemed to burn with fury toward the warlord sitting nearby. He took a deep breath, words simmering with malice as he spoke. "Alright. We'll go by this plan of yours." He strode off stiffly, whispering out of the corner of his mouth so Rilvac could not here. "But one day, you will find my ax at your throat."
The landscape before them was dry, flat but rolling in some areas. Overhead, the sky was fading to it's daily shade of a serene midnight blue. The swallow-tailed kite's wings tipped down, he pulled into a dive recklessly, half seeming to forget the passengers he carried.
Riah was forced to grab onto the shoulders of the squirrel in front of her as Silwark dove, skimming over the grass without a thought of the enemy that could very well have seen them. She let go when the bird found an even elevation, redish brown fur buffeted by the winds.
Again, she felt her world tip downward and began to loose balance, slipping to one side precariously. The other squirrel helped, holding onto Silwark's neck feathers tightly with on paw while grabbing her wrist to help her stay on in the other. Only when the kite had stopped his decent did she breathe out. Only, this was getting silly.
"Sil, do you want to get us killed?" She asked, with a tone of sarcasm.
He looked over one rapidly moving wing at her nonchalantly, then suddenly laughed with amusement. "Kree-ack-ack! Silwark? A champion flier, kill anybeast?" He shook his feathered head, glancing to the ever nearing mountain. "You forget your place, squirrel- I would not expect a land creature to understand the air."
"That's not what I mean, Sil! I mean that we could be seen with all of this diving and soaring, you need to stay hidden!" She explained quickly, glancing anxiously below at the swarms of creatures that appeared like a colony of ants.
He looked around with sharp yellow eyes, as if just realizing that was possible, and glanced back to the other squirrel for help; who shrugged, not wanting to admit he agreed with the sensible squirrelmaid.
For a while, Silwark fell silent, and Riah was worried she had offended him, but there was little to be done. Salamandastron was nearing with every heartbeat and wingstroke, the danger increasing as well.
"Look- there's something!" The other squirrel said, pointing toward an opening in the rock.
In response, Silwark adjusted the angle of his wings, and began the decent toward the mountain.
They landed less than silently on the ledge, and glanced around while Silwark proceded to peck noisily at the window.
Riah held a paw to her forehead in defeated frustration at his tactless efforts, and began searching for a way to open the window. Nobeast was to be seen inside the room itself, so noise would unlikely be of use, and brute force could also be futile because it would either alert those or cause damage to themselves.
It took a while, but with the other squirrel's unexplained skill in the design patterns and structuring of object, they managed to loosen the hinges, and push the window inward.
She waited expectantly, tensed, for the clatter of shattering glass, but it never came. That was the most unexpected thing. So, they forged ahead.
Riah was the first to enter the room. She lowered herself carefully down from the windowsill, landing lightly on the floor. With a quick glanced around the room, she beckoned the others to follow.
After they were all inside, the other squirrel replaced the window, making it look as if the scheme had never happened.
Something told her this wasn't the place they would have been most welcome in, but there was no changing that now. They were in Salamandastron.
As quickly as they could, they exited the room, listening to find the sound of voices. Once they found hares, the could talk and warn them about the strength of the nearing army and explain why they were there. When the other squirrel convinced Silwark to remain behind, Riah breathed a sigh of relief. He would probably have managed to offend or annoy at least a dozen hares, had he gone with them.
The rock floor was smooth and dark, but the place well cared for. She heard the sound of whispering, and general chatter from around the corner as they made their descent, and peeked her head carefully around the corner, spotting a glimpse of a group of hares eating heartily. She prodded the other squirrel on the corner, gesturing to the large group as he caught up, he nodded in understanding, them continued to survey the scene- searching... looking for someone who wouldn't be completely unexpected.
They found that creature in the form of an older looking hare, pacing anxiously back and forth, a little ways off from the rest. He must have been a higher rank, and seemed concerned, knowing some knowledge the younger hares did not. Riah looked back at the other squirrel, whispering quietly. "I'm going to go over and talk to him, if you think it's okay, could you wait here until he's less alarmed, is that alright?"
"Sure, but if anybeast throws food at you, I'm not staying here." He warned, grinning slightly.
"Fine by me, I don't blame you," She answered, resisting the urge to laugh. She pulled off her battered quiver, and set the ornate bow gently on the ground next to it. "Just watch that please, I don't want them to think I'm going to fight."
Then, she carefully crept out,trying to decide a plan or how to get over to the older hare without being seen by the others. Carefully, she picked up a small stone, and lightly threw it directly toward a bowl of undevoured trifle. Lucky for her, the throw was accurate enough, and resulting in splattered cream, pudding, berries, and custard over the faces and clothes of the surrounding hares. She heard the other squirrel stifle a laugh behind, and tried not to laugh herself at their outraged reactions. I would make you another if I could cook, She thought.
Using the moment to her advantage, the red-brown squirrelmaid dashed over to the older hare, taking a deep breath. When she spoke, the tone quavered slightly, "Sir?"
It got his attention, he turned sharply around, as if expecting a haremaid by the voice, and was surprised. In that moment, she noticed who he looked so similar to, Zev! Could this be... his father? Maybe... Zevquain had said his father was higher in rank.
"Who are you?" He asked quickly, scanning over her as if trying to decide whether she was a threat or not, he seemed very stressed, for he looked tired and worried with long ears pinned back slightly. Luckily, she had thought about her response prior to his question.
"I'm Riah, sir- a friend of Zevquain's." She stated simply, then turned to where she had been hiding a moment before. She beckoned carefully to the other squirrel, gesturing for him to come out from the shadows. "This is a friend, we're the only ones here at the moment, not including Silwark..." The squirrelmaid added, trailing off, the Major looked at her sharply, eyes narrowing.
"And who is that miss? A dangerous creature, perhaps you left him behind to rally more creatures," the hare questioned, looking quite deranged with the critical expression he wore under the combined strain of the situation. Riah shook her head quickly, explaining.
"No, not at all. In fact, many of us- those outside the mountain have escaped from Cerberus himself, along with Zev but we got separated. Silwark's a bird, I only left him behind because I didn't want him to offend anybeast, he's a little... judgmental."
The Major suddenly heaved a fatigued sigh, flopping down into a nearby chair with his paw on forehead in defeat. "Yes... I suppose I'm being a bit suspicious, but you see with the approaching enemies and just after my family is all together again I worry they'll be hurt. I just... don't want to see that happen again- and if anybeast dangerous should enter the mountain on my watch I should never forgive myself..." He looked up at the two of them, hauling himself to shaky paws.
Riah nodded sympathetically, "I know sir, I'm not even sure how many we lost in the shipwreck... Wait- Zev's here? Is anybeast else?"
He looked thoughtful for a moment, then spoke while adjusting his tunic carefully. "Yes actually, he did bring a few others; most of them are up in the Infirmary. You're welcome to check, but I'll have to go with you for precaution's sake." Dust added, shouldering his javelin officially.
He turned around the corner from where they had just come, and strode off, leaving them to follow. It wasn't long before they had reached a corridor with hushed voices, one that she recognized among them. The squirrelmaid peered curiously around the corner, spotting a pair of familiar long ears.
She ran forward exclaiming, "Zev!"
His expression turned instantly to that of a relieved grin. "Riah! You're alright!"
The squirrelmaid raised one eyebrow jokingly, "Zevquain, do you really think after all we've been through I would just die off that easy?"
"Of course not, I just didn't know if you'd know to come here or..." Clearly, he wasn't too convinced, and privately she agreed, she certainly wasn't invincible, and that shipwreck had killed many others for sure.
The magnitude of the situation hung in her head heavily, she looked down in somber thought. "Oh..." "H-how many made it through?" She asked quietly, hardly daring to meet his gaze.
He smiled grimly. "Well, quite a few- thanks to the warnings. Val's alright, and some others, we lost a few creatures, but most made it through alright. Everyone's worn out now though, and I'm sure you realize Salamandastron's surrounded." He added, throwing a glance of concern toward his father, who returned the expression in his best stoic manner.
Meanwhile, the other squirrel stood nearby, taking all in, but not saying a word as he looked out the window at the enemy's forces calculatingly.
This seemed to remind the Major of something, for he glanced outside, then straightened up, speaking swiftly. "Come on you all, we've got to see Lord Brawnstripe and relay this to him, you'll have to come along again I'm afraid- he'll want to hear you out since you know more about this enemy than we do," Dustscut finished, beckoning for them to follow once more.
Riah fell in step beside the other squirrel and Zevquain, taking faster and more strides to keep up. Then stopped shortly after that, she held her breath as the Major raised his paw to knock sharply on the large doors before them. Then, ever smoothly, they swung open...
Cerberus paced angrily, as he was usually these days, back and force on the worn ground of his tent. He muttered under his breath, snarling with sharp teeth drawn in a scowl every once in a while as he watched the figure of his ally and enemy.
That stupid Fisher... Sometimes he wondered why he had ever allowed that creature to live, he certainly wasn't of any use, and acted so arrogant it was hard to imagine he hadn't yet been killed. But Cerberus Ahgorrun knew, he knew that soon, very soon that enemy would be of no more use to him, and he would dispose of him like every other useless creature under his command.
He grinned leeringly at the thought, examining his plans carefully on the desk. Rilvac knew nothing of them, yet, and he intended to keep it that way. For now, the dark wolf would plot his capture of the great mountain, and make the creatures inside sorry they had ever dared defy Emperor Cerberus Ahgorrun.
Only, how was he to do it? Rilvac would soon realize he was being tricked, and he'd either have to dispose of him, or find a way to convince him. Besides that, he needed a plan. The wolf got to his paws, pacing back and forth slowly. Was there anybeast he could trust that he could confide in for ideas? Obviously not Rilvac, nor any one of his side, and even among his own horde there were few he knew to be positively loyal. There was always his Seer, even though she was rather new she seemed trustworthy, but who was to say? Seers usually were the type who seemed perfect, soothing with words, but he would always catch them plotting behind his back.
Slowly, Cerberus unfolded the map that was carefully folded, surveying the landscape the scouts had charted only a little while before. His mind raced for a plot. Clearly a head on attack could be suicide for many in his forces, because the creatures of that mountain had the advantage. If only there was a way he could get them outside of the mountain so some of his creatures could go around and make their way inside while the fighters were distracted.
But that seemed a bit risky. He knew the fighters of Salamandastron were not clueless in the ways of war and may be expecting that. He'd need more than that... He could use fire to smoke them out? Or poison their food supply? Maybe send somebeast in to open the doors at night when they were least expecting it? If only he could regain the element of surprise.
Perhaps if he hosted a pretend argument between Rilvac and himself where their forces would split and part ways. No, the defenders would guess what they were up to. The best way wold be to lie low for a few days cause some type of mayhem to distract the creatures of Salamandastron, and send a small patrol to sneak in and open the mountain to his forces.
It was settled.
He folded the map back up and stowed it away, striding out of the tent wit a concealed smile.