The midsummer sun had reached its zenith over the southern shores where the camp of High Captain Rilam, twin brother to the ferret Fergu Warlord, had made their camp. There ships lay, smashed on the coastline, as his troops tried vainly to fix the shattered remnants of their once-great fleet. At one campfire two ferrets, a male and a female, were sitting, talking in low tones.
- "I wonder what's takin' Darkeyes so long, she shoulda been back long before now," said the male.
- "You've got a point there, Barktooth. Well, she should be back any minute now, I just 'ope she hasn't been caught."
- "Aw, Jade, Darkeyes wouldn't let 'erself get caught, she's too smart fer that." said Barktooth but there was a hesitancy in his voice.
Just then another ferret slipped in beside him, she was sleek-furred with eyes as black as jet.
- She smiled and spoke to the other two as she sat down, "Nay, I didn't get caught this time."
- Jade leaned over, "But did yer get wot ye were goin' ter get?"
- A triumphant smile passed over her features, "I shore did," she whispered, "An' it was even better than I thought."
- Barktooth kept his voice low as the fox, Bluddbrush passed, "So is Cap'n Rilam goin' ter pay ye this time, or are ye gonna 'ave ter make 'im?"
- Darkeyes smiled knowingly, "Oh 'e'll pay fer sure. But this's a dangerous business so I'll need ye both t' be ready ter come wit me when th' time comes. 'Cause once Rilam's payed me ye can be sure he'll want 'is pament back, so I'm makin' plans t' get outta 'ere once I've got me pay. Right now he'll do wotever I ask 'cause 'e's frightfully afeared th' Dark One."
- Jade put a paw to the side of her mouth, "Stow th' gab, mates. I see Cap'n Gryllim headin' our way.
A tall dark silver fox dressed in dark green uniform, heading a column of rats in the same uniform, strode past and stopped in front of the tent of High Captain Rilam. The guards outside Rilam's tent, two rat brothers, Gunja and Zunja barred the way with their spears.
- The taller of the two, Zunja growled, "State yer business!"
- Gryllim brushed him aside with his halberd, "I report only to the Captain himself, so move if you value your life!"
The two rats stood to the side as Rilam threw aside the tent flaps. He was a ferret of fine physique, lean and sinewy. Taller than most ferrets, he stood an imposing head and a half taller than the fox.
- "You wish to speak with me? Make your report, Captain!"
Gryllim saluted and launched into his report.
- "We were scouting down by the coastline when we noticed something red floating in the shallows. When we went to investigate we found that it was one of your other captains, the weasel, Captain Triclaw. He was badly wounded. There was a gash running down his side that looked like it came from huge claws. As we scouted around, we found more of Triclaw's troops, though none were still alive. They all had the same clawmarks across their bodies. Captain Triclaw was still alive when we found him but he couldn't seem to remember what had happened to them. All he kept saying was, 'The Curse! The Curse!' over and over. By the time we got a stretcher made, he was gone. It was 'orrible!"
Rilam stroked his chin with a paw. It was unusual for the fox captain to lose his cool, so what had happened must have been bad to have shaken him, and he was clearly shaken. Rilam shuddered to think of the size of beast that would make clawmarks as huge as Captain Gryllim described. He turned so that he stood in front of his horde, paws akimbo.
- "Whatever this beast is I do not know, but I warn you to be on your guard and stay close to camp for a few days. Who knows? It may just pass us by. But still, be warned. Captain Triclaw was a good officer and I can't afford to lose more troops needlessly."
There was an uneasiness among the vermin standing before him, and they shifted restlessly on their paws. Rilam returned to his tent without another word and the vermin wandered back to their various tasks or their cooking fires.
When she reached them she quickly told them of the news in a low-voiced whisper.Darkeyes watched until the rest of the vermin went back to whatever they had been doing before she headed to Rilam's tent. The two rats, Zunja and Gunja were off guard duty so all she had to contend with was the new guards, a female weasel and a large stoat called Turg. She knew the weasel so she was admitted with a nod. She stopped just outside the entrance and made her presence known, "Captain Rilam, Darkeyes here." Rilam pulled aside the tent flaps and let her in. Rilam motioned for her to sit down and went to a small chest in the corner and pulled something out of it. It was a dagger belt with six perfectly matched, keen-bladed throwing daggers. He handed it to her and said, "It belonged to my father and now I give it to you for the invaluable service you have preformed for me. Thank you, my loyal assassin." Darkeyes put it on and bowed low as she backed out of the tent. Once out, she headed for the campfire, where her brother and sister were seated, waiting, "We leave tonight, or our lives are worth nothing," she glanced quickly at the sentry near them, "Don't look anxious or it'll call attention to us, and we don't need that." Jade picked up her cloak and laid it by her, "Where'd yer get those fine-lookin' daggers, sister?". Darkeyes looked at the landscape where fires were flickering against the darkening sky. "As I said before, it's payment fer services rendered. It's almost ev'nin' so we'd best be cookin' supper like th' rest." The three ferrets got up and headed to the shore to gather what they could find for supper.
The fox who had been on sentry duty earlier, Bluddbrush, woke from a short nap to find that it was now night. He was about to go back to sleep when he heard a noise from the forest edge, followed by a muffled yowl of pain. Curious, he got up and slipped quietly over toward the sound. Peering into the darkness, he could barely discern two dark shapes heading into the forest. He pulled his cloak tighter about him and followed into the forest blackness.
Later that night the two guards, Zunja and his brother Gunja were on duty outside High Captain Rilam's tent. There was a slight noise and a small gust of wind as somebeast passed in the darkness. Gunja turned to his brother and whispered, "Wot was that? I thought I saw the shadder o' somebeast pass just now." His brother nodded, "I thought so too-Hey, wot's that headin' fer th' forest? It looks like somebeast wid a cloak. Let's go see wot they're up to." Silently the two rats followed the cloaked figure as it blundered into the forest.
The merchant Elmond Velvette was a jolly plump mouse in his upper-middle seasons. He had done well in life on many voyages to far lands and was now reaping the benefits for all the hardship he had endured over the seasons as a sailing merchant. He loved the sea, had always loved it, so he and his wife were going on a cruise in his new vessel, Fair Millie to the shores of his growing up which he hadn't seen since he'd set off on his first voyage.
The trouble came when they were on the third day of the cruise. A large storm sprung up overnight, raging into a gale and blowing them far off course. Elmond stood at the tiller fighting a losing battle with the storm as the crew bailed furiously to keep her afloat. A bolt of blue lightning hit without warning and snapped the mainmast clean off with the unlucky lookout still clinging to it as it sunk below the waves. Elmond looked around to see his wife making her way along the rain-drenched deck towards him and rushed to her, taking her paw in his.
- "You shouldn't be out of the cabin in this kind of weather, darling. It's dangerous and I don't want to lose you."
She looked into his eyes, drawing strength from his calm hazel gaze.
- "I was afraid for you, Elmond. When the mast snapped I thought you might have been hurt." she laid her head on his shoulder "Oh, Elmond. What ever are we going to do? Will the ship sink? What about the lifeboat?"
Elmond held her closer in his arms "We should be alright if the storm lets up soon, then we can see if there's any land near to repair the mast." He looked into her wide blue eyes "Whatever happens, I'll be right beside you, dear." Letting go of her, he led her back to their cabin before going to consult the captain.