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Sisters, but they aren't

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Sisters, but they aren't.

Cover art by Kalm Treeblade


Introduction: PLEASE READ THIS!

This fanfiction was NOT originially mine; but I adopted it. It was originially created on the Redwall Fanfiction Wiki (Where fanfiction doesn't have to be on blogs) and was originially written by a user named Springfern, who was hardly ever on. (http://redwallfanfiction.wikia.com/wiki/User:Springfern) I want no negative comments, ie "Oh this story has a crazy plot!" Or "These characters are nuts!" because remember; a different person started writing this (everything after the end of Chapter 2 is my writing) However constructive criticism and advice is welcome. Enjoy.

Also; I will be making some minor changes in this story as I go along so if anything seems inconsisent, that's most likely because I have changed it from Springfern's original design; but hopefully slightly.


Book One: Separated!

"Is solace anywhere more comforting than that in the arms of a sister?" -Alice Walker

Prolouge

The aging ratwife looked out the window at her two adopted daughters, who were practicing with their quarterstaves. "Take that!"

Called the older one striking out.The younger one blocked.

"Missed! You couldn't hit a tree in front of you."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah!"

The mother grinned at them; they were her daughters, but yet they weren't.

She ran a paw over the scar on her leg, she used to be a war-like beast; until that happened. After that, she had taken the path of a healer. She had assisted in delivering her older daughter, and had been away gathering herbs for the next day (when she had thought the birth would occur) when her younger daughter had been born.

"Mama! I hit Onepaw's 'ook, and it shattered, she has a piece stuck in her pawstump!"

Slicktail shook herself out of her memories.

"Ye know whot I need, go get it."

She said to Redwood. The older daughter nodded and dashed to the herb rack and took down the herbs. She also picked up a few tools. Slicktail nodded her thanks and held out a stick to Onepaw; this sort of thing happened a lot. Onepaw took the stick and put it in her mouth. Slicktail easily pulled out the fragment and put on the poltice Redwood had made. She then looked up and said

"Whot 'ave I told ye two? Carful 'bout each othars paws and 'ook!"

She scolded Redwood shifted uncomfortably.

"I know. It's just, we get carried away."

Onepaw nodded and spat out the stick "

"Don't be mad, Mama. Please."

Slicktail relented.

"All right, but that 'appens too of'en fur mah tase."

Redwood grinned

"Well Mother Slicktail, I didn't know you hate accidents."

Slicktail picked up a broom.

"Out! Out! Wildbeasts!"

Onepaw and Redwood ran out, laughing.

Yes, they were a family, as much as a rat raising a one-pawed ferret and squirrel could be.


Chapter 1

It was a night of nightmares. Redwood tossed and turned, scenes from her early life haunted her dreams. Slicktail, before she'd changed, sneering down at her "Littl' squirrel, cume on nah, get up." Running, fleeing, tripping, a hedgehog, picking her up and carrying her. That hedgehog being cut down by an arrow. A ferret killing a molebabe. Running again, a burning house, carrying a babe. Her sister. The house, collapsing, get out!

"MAMA!"

Redwood screamed, waking. Slicktail ran in,

"Whot's the matter?"

She said as she held the shaking Redwood close. Redwood said

"Just a bad dream but oh! It was scary."

Slicktail said

"There there, nah I 'ave some 'erbs that will 'elp yuh sleep."

Redwood followed her mother into the kitchen and accepted the herbs given to her.

"Take these, that should calm your sleep."

Redwood nodded and did as she said.

"Nah go back to bed, go on now."

Redwood went and lay down, she soon was fast asleep. Slicktail took a dose of them herself, she had been having nightmares too, all that killing she had done as a youngbeast, under that warlord, Jisky Bloodtooth, so named for the way he executed prisoners. Who knew he could sire such a goodbeast as Onepaw?

"MAMA!"

The cry came from Onepaw's room. Slicktail dashed in,

"Whot's the matter?"

Onepaw was looking frightened,

"There was anouther ferret, he looked like me, he was holding me and my paw hurt, the one that's missing. I was underneath anouther ferret and I couldn't breathe and there was fire and- oh Mama!"

Onepaw grabbed onto the rat and cried into her fur. Slicktail hugged her,

"There there, just a dream just a dream. Cum on, we'll take some herbs." Slicktail was thinking, Redwood had had a nightmare of her early seasons, that wasn't as suprising as Onepaw having one of the exact same day! And they both mentioned Jisky Bloodtooth in their dreams, Slicktail's had involved him too, was that a coincidence?

________________________________________________________________________________________

The warlord was at that moment, camping not more than an hour's march away. He was returning to the place where he had slain his mate thirteen years before. He believed that he also had killed his daughter by cutting off her paw and then setting the area ablaze, leaving her to die. Now he would kill the other deserter, his healer, Slicktail.

The scout walked on, grumbling to himself. He had to get up in the middle of the night and go find a cabin, a cabin that had burned down seasons ago!

"That warlord is gonna get us killed and. . ."

He trailed off as he spotted the cabin. It wasn't burned down and there was a light inside! He gulped, thinking to the legend of the ghost told to him before he went to his bed and fled the scene in a panic.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Slicktail was trying to figure out why all three of the Springferns (as they callled themselves) had nightmares of Jisky Bloodtooth. Only she had taken a dose of sleeping herbs, and she felt her eyes. Get. Heavy. And. She. Was. So. Tired. Slicktail fell asleep, at the kitchen table with a light beaming out, showing the vermin the way to her house.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Jisky Bloodtooth led his horde up to the place where the house was, according to that gibbering idiot of a scout. He hadn't been very happy with the way that weasel had delivered his report, now fresh blood was staining the already blood-stained teeth, hence his name, Bloodtooth.

He halted the horde at the base of a hill, and took ten beasts with him from that point on. They trooped up the hill and stood at the door, waiting for the signal. Jisky gave it, they all burst in and found the ex-captain ex-healer of Jisky's horde. Jisky pulled his dagger out of his snakeskin belt, the same one he had used to cut off his daughter's paw and kill his mate, and poked Slicktail gently with it, she stirred and muttered

"Go 'way, trying ta sleep."

Jisky gestured to a fox with him to hand him the bucket of water that was by the door. The fox did and he dumped it on Slicktail's head.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Slicktail awoke, and the first thing she saw was bloody teeth. Her gazed traveled upwards to the eyes of Jisky Bloodtooth. Slicktail stood up quickly, so quickly her chair tipped over, and ran for the door that wasn't there! Mentally bearting herself for putting herself in a bad spot, she turned and faced the warlord, taking him in.

He hadn't changed much: a little older, his sharp, savage fangs stained scarlet with blood. His fur was a mottled grayish-blue in color, and constrasted sharply with his hazel eyes. A vest of chainmail hung loosely on his thin, wiry frame, and he also wore a dark blue, practically black cloak. Jisky still wore the snakeskin belt; once worn by his distant descendant of Swartt Sixclaw. She knew she had changed, in more ways than looks since he had last seen her.

"Well well, a deserter, you know how I treat deserters, Slicktail."

Slicktail nodded, her thoughts jumping to her daughters, did he know about them?

"Ah suppose you are going to do to meh whot you did to Thurn and your daug'er, kill me and let my body burn with the 'ouse?"

Jisky looked at her partronizingly,

"I didn't kill the whelp, I let the flames do that."

Slicktail's last thought was, He doesn't know! Before the dagger came down and snuffed out her life.


Jisky turned away from the body and said "You, set fire to the place." pointing to the fox who'd given him the water bucket. He then left, believing that all that would be left would be a pile of ashes, not knowing that their would also be survivors, memories, and a quest for vengeance.


Redwood felt something hot on her paw, she groaned and flicked it muttering

"Go away Onepaw, I'm trying to sleep."

The heat persisted, and got worse. Redwood suddenly woke up and realized that her house was on fire. Still sleepy, the herbs she'd been given were strong, she got up and limped across the floor. Her footpaw had been burned. The fire was catching onto the rug Onepaw had made for her as a seasonsday present. No time for memories, get out of the house, find Mama and Onepaw. Redwood opened the window and climbed out, falling a bit for she was still woozy and her paw really hurt. Redwood went to a safe distance and found some tracks. She recognized a ferret's tracks before she curled up and fell asleep.


Onepaw woke slightly before Redwood did, and in about the same way except for the fact it was her pawstump and not her footpaw that was burned. She reacted initally as Redwood had

"Go 'way sister, tryin ta sleep."

She muttered and turned over, and woke up when she relized that the house was on fire. Onepaw climbed out of bed and decided to go out the door, that was on the other side of the house than Redwood's window. She walked out her door and saw that the entryhall was about ready to collapse. Onepaw was still woozy, but that didn't slow her down in her sprint across the room, and didn't stop her from busting the door open. By this time Redwood was fast asleep over on the other side of the hill. Onepaw looked about, seeing so sign of her mother or sister she yelled as loud as her smoke-filled lungs would let her

"Redwood! Mama! Ere you all right!"

No answer. Onepaw felt tears fill her eyes, They're both dead! was the thought that popped into her mind, and beliving it was true, Onepaw dashed away, running blindly, sobbing, crying. This was the first time when she was old enough to understand what was going on that she had lost anybeast close to her. Eventually she collapsed and lay there, sobbing herself to sleep.


Redwood awoke first, she stood up and saw nobeast so she did what Onepaw had done

"Mama, Onepaw, where are you?!"

She got no reply either. Remembering the pawprints she'd seen the night before she looked at them, and followed them. Up to the house they went, and they came back in a hurry. They set that fire that killed my family! She realized and to herself she swore an oath.

"Evr'y one of these beasts will die by my paw, this I swear on the memory of my mother and sister."

Redwood was an excellet tracker, self-taught with Onepaw's help. She had no trouble finding the place were the horde were camped. Redwood was about to go down and take on the whole horde single-pawed when her burned paw gave out on her. Glancing about she spotted some herbs she knew were good for burns, she tied them to her paw with strips of her tunic. By then she was thinking rationally, If I go down there and just light into them, I'll be killed and then who would avenge my family? No I'll follow, find out and kill whoever was there, maybe slay a few extra vermin while I'm at it.


Onepaw woke about that time. Something in her had snapped, she was angry at everything, hated everybeast. Fate had been cruel, and she would be cruel back. Maybe she hadn't killed anybeast in her life, mabye she hadn't set any fires to a building, and let it burn, for the sole purpose of killing a babe, but at heart, she was just as bad as the father she never knew.

She wandered down the road, not caring about the burn on her pawstump. A mouse saw her, and ran and hid. He was in the woods off to her side, she acted like she hadn't seen him, but she had. She stopped and sat on a log, right side to the bushes were he was hiding. The mouse kept still, Onepaw acted like she wasn't used to a lot of walking, groaning and examining her feet and complaining aloud.

"Ah dunna why dis is so hard on mah back paws. Oh lookit dis, a b'ister! Ah well, Ah'll git used ta it!"


After wandering down the road a bit; Onepaw found a rusted hatchet lying in the dirt. As their was nobeast around....Well; finders keepers!


Onepaw continued down the road, examining her new weapon. It was small, light, but very sharp and on impulse she threw it at a tree. It struck, slightly off from where she had been aiming, but that was more Onepaw's fault than the hatchet. She pulled it out musing aloud "Vera good 'atchet, good fa close an' fah ran'ed."


Redwood was at this time sneaking up on a guard; the horde seemed to be resting today. It was a rat; and it was sleeping, also it hadn't bothered to wash the soot off its fur. Redwood had in her paws a piece of her tunic, for strangling it. It was over very quickly, afterwards Redwood took the rat's dirk, a fine one, too fine for vermin.

The warlord's tent was nearby, maybe he had been there. Redwood snuck over, she was quiet on her paws, even with a limp. She entered through the flaps, there was a hole in the tent, These vermin can't even take care of their tents the thought passed through her head. Slilently and slowly, Redwood moved, silently and slowly, up to the warlord, and then she raised the dirk and plunged down, just as Jisky Bloodtooth turned, so that the light from the full moon hit him full in the face. Redwood gasped and instinctivly jerked, and Jisky Bloodtooth awoke to see a bushy tail disappear through a hole in his tent, and with a wound in his shoulder.

He flew out of bed, grabbing the blanket to staunch the blood flow and yelling

"Get that squirrel! Get it!"

He exited the tent to find most of his horde sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. He continued yelling

"Get the squirrel! Get that squirrel you mangy lot!"

And so forth, kicking the sounder sleepers that hadn't awoken yet. The horde had no idea which way to go, so they stood about, a few asking their messmates what was going on. Jisky Bloodtooth was really angry, he began attacking some of the ones standing about, after that the horde just ran into the woods, looking for a squirrel, who was at that moment, sitting in a nearby tree, badly shaken.

Redwood was panting, examining her footpaw, it was bleeding now, and she was wondering. Wondering why that ferret looked so much like Onepaw used to, he could have been her father! But Mama had said that all four blood parents were dead, so he couldn't have been. Mama cou'd have lied. No! She'd never do that! Those were the thoughts running through Redwood's head, finally she convinced herself it was the moonlight; that she missed her so much, that made her think he looked like her sister. Convinced, and having stopped the blood coming from her paw, she examined the dirk she had stuck in her belt.

It was a very beautiful weapon, in a deadly way. The handle was wood, wrapped in leather. The steel was of excellent quality, and forged wonderfully.

"Where'd a rat get a dirk like this??"

She whispered aloud. Then shrugged and stuck it back in her belt. Then she leaned back and fell asleep.


Onepaw had practiced for most of the day with her new hatchet, eventully continuing down the path after she had nearly perfeced her skill with it. The moon was rising when she spotted a building, "Ah ne'er!" she exclaimed, for she never until that moment believed Redwall Abbey was nothing but a legend.

Onepaw approached, being careful, she had heard about Redwall's hospitality, but who knew what got exaggerated, and what got left out? She walked up to the main gate and stood there, nervous. Onepaw realized she still had blood on her hatchet, so she rubbed it in the grass until she couldn't see anymore. Onepaw then tucked it in her belt, and knocked.

Jarek the hedgehog gatekeeper was awoke by a pounding on the main gate, accompanied by a shout

"'Ey! Is anyabeas' gonna opeen dis door?"

Jarek grumbled to himself as he climbed out of bed.

"'EY!"

"I 'eard you!"

he snapped as he exited the gatehouse. He pulled back the bar and opened the door, a ferret stood there!

Onepaw looked at the hedgehog, he seemed about to say something but she cut him off

"I not kum ta cuse truble, I jus' want a bed fir tinight, and Ah'll be on mah way tamorra."

He looked at her hatchet.

"Well a beas' 'as go'a defend 'erself."

He hesitated, and held out his paw

"Turn that over, and we'll go see the Abbot."

Onepaw shook her head

"I dunno how much da t'uth bin st'eched."

Jarek grunted

"Wait here."

Rumwold; the Abbot of Redwall was a sleek otter who was the son of Abbess Mhera, and the only other otter Abbot or Abbess before him. The green-eyed Abbey leader was in his bed, snoring when Jarek woke him.

"Hmm....What?" A moment later, he sat up, rubbing his eyes.

Jarek shuffled his footpaws nervously.

"I don't mean to disturb ye, Lord Abbot but there's a ferret 'ere who want to see you."

"A ferret? Here at Redwall?"

"Aye, she's a feisty one."

"Well if she wants to see me let's not keep her waiting, eh?" By now the Abbot was out of bed. "Come on."

A few moments later, Onepaw watched as Rumwold approached her (with Jarek close behind) and said:

"Oh, are you the ferret Jarek wanted me to see?"

Onepaw shrugged

"Depen's is dere any oder one-'awed fe'et 'roud 'ere?"

Rumwold nodded, and said

"Now, what is all this about, hmmm?"

Onepaw shrugged

"I jus' wanna plice ta staiy fir da night, den Ah'll beh on mah way tamorra. Ah won' tun ova mah 'achet."

The otter Abbot's brow wrinkled as he though, and then he said

"Jarek, there's a bed in that small room back in the gatehouse, put her in there. Ah- I suppose she will be alright there for the night in there."

Jarek grunted and said

"C'mon in then, but don't try nuthin'."

Onepaw just smiled and walked through the gate, and into the gatehouse.


"Back there."

Jarek said as he pointed. Onepaw nodded and entered the small room. Jarek promptly slammed the door behind her, and locked it, muttering to himself,

"Give her a bed for the night in an unlocked room, and we'll wake up dead."

He climbed into his own bed, and fell to snoring. Onepaw was in her room, afraid. She needed a way to get out, what if the gatehouse caught on fire, and she couldn't get out? Onepaw calmed herself by thinking Easy nahw, its jus' a lock Onepaw fumbled around in her room, and found a stick, she felt it. It was thin and bendable, long too, perfect. She fumbled her way around to the door, and felt around with her pawstump for the lock. Finding it, she inserted the stick. This time she didn't fumble, she and Redwood had enjoyed picking locks. Stip t'inkin' 'bout Re'woo', sheh's gone, pick da lock. It didn't take long, maybe two minutes, before she heard a click; it was unlocked. Grinning to herself she opened the door, quietly. Then she climbed into her bed and fell asleep.


Chapter 2

Redwood awoke early to the sound of a couple of vermin bickering. She ignored them; what they were saying wasn't important, just something about who the bow really belonged to. She brought her footpaw up and took off the bandage and examined her paw. It was a bit better but she still better keep the bandage on. Wait, where did it go? She looked down, and saw a fox and a ferret looking up at her, the fox had her bandage on his head. "It's the bushtail! Get 'er!" Said the ferret as he reached for the bow they had been arguing about.

"Gimme the bow. I'm a better shot than you."

The fox shook his head and clutched it close.

"You won't give it back."

The ferret grunted.

"Yes I will, 'sides, that ain't even your bow."

"Is too!"

Redwood was about to slip away when the ferret's reply caught her off-guard.

"No it ain't, you took it from that 'ouse, the one Bloodtooth 'ad you burn down."

Redwood trembled with anger, that was probably her bow! I'm not going to let vermin kill creatures with my bow! she thought, and swung down to a lower branch just as an arrow zipped through where she had been sitting a second before. Carefu' Re'woo', ye might be the fi'st beast dead by that bow. The voice wasn't her's it was Onepaw's. Go away Onepaw, you're dead.

"Tink we got 'er?" asked the ferret, looking up in the tree. The fox shook his head,

"No I don't now gimme some more- arrcckk!"

He was cut off with a dirk down his throat. The ferret jumped, and opened his mouth to yell an alarm, Redwood swung down quickly. The same piece of tunic that she used to kill the rat guard, she used to gag that ferret.

"Were you there?"

She asked, trembling with hatred, the ferret looked confused.

"Were you one of the ones at the cabin?" she said, the ferret looked panicked.

"Were YOU one of the monsters that killed my family?!?" she shouted, but she never received an answer. She had grabbed his neck, and at that question she squeezed with all the strength in her paws. The ferret lay there, his neck broken. You don't look like my sister. Of course it's not Onepaw!!. Redwood shook thoughts like that away, it was upsetting. She counted off the vermin on her paws, seven or eight left, depending on if the ferret had been there.


Onepaw woke early; Jarek was still in bed, but his snores were not as loud. Onepaw moved out of her room, intending to simply slip by, and exit Redwall, but an idea sprang up in her head. She stopped and thought on it for a few seconds. She'd do it! Oh, and maybe she could play a small joke on Jarek as well.

Onepaw drew her hachet, and stuck it in the headboard of Jarek's bed. Right over his head, Nah, does that pruve ye wrong?' Ye can wake up alive if I stay da night.

Jarek woke, and sat up yawning. There was some kind of stick there. Those Dibbuns, he thought, before he pulled it over his head to see it was a hatchet. There was blood on the head!

"Now, see, ye can wake up alive, if Ah 'ave a room, unlocked." Came a voice. Jarek needed nobeast to tell him, it was the ferret. He turned to face her, sitting on a chair across the room.

"Kin Ah 'ave it back now?"

She asked, an evil smile exposing her teeth. Jarek held back,

"There's blood on it." He stated, showing her. Onepaw's brow wrinkled,

"Ah though' Ah go' rid o' that. Oh will." She held out her paw, "Now, Ah want mah 'achet."

Jarek hesitated too long. Very quickly Onepaw got up from her chair and crossed the room. She snatched it from his paws fast.

"Yew can wake up alive, 'cause I don't like killin' sleepin' beasts!"

Onepaw sauntered out of the gatehouse, nobeast knew what she'd done, and she wasn't going to let them find out until she'd gone.

Onepaw wandered around the Abbey, only a few beasts were awake and they were the ones in the kitchen. She explored the grounds, taking note of everything. Walls, trees, pond, anything and everything. She looked at the sun and guessed it was about six. Dat would be the' bes' time. She thought, and went down to the kitchen.

" 'Ello." she said frightened the mouse she was speaking too.

"Ahhhh! Vermin!" the frightened mouse screamed, causing some of the kitchen helpers to run and hide, and most to grab some sort of weapon and run over there.

"I'm peacbl'." Onepaw said, "But I'm 'ungry."

The friar, a fat squirrel, studied her intently. "How did you get in?" he asked, pointing his weapon -an oven paddle- at Onepaw.

"Da gatekipper lit meh in. Abbot tol' 'im too."

The young mouse that had screamed asked "Should we feed it Friar Yasen?" the friar thought a moment.


"Go ahead Alta. Larjay, you go get the Abbot."

Onepaw sat on the counter, half-grinning in a way that made her look like a maniac or a killer. She accepted the tray handed to her by the mouse, Alta, having gotten over her fright, said "If you would not mind, we would appreciate you going away and not scaring the wits out of helpless mousemaids."

Onepaw couldn't help but smile at this as she slid off the counter.

"Ah see ye's not afeared of meh anymur."

She said as she walked by, Alta didn't reply, but as Onepaw went into Cavern Hole, she wondered where in the world she got the courage to do that.

Onepaw wandered about Cavern Hole, noticing this and that, making mental notes on this and that. Her tray lay on a table, mostly forgotten. Finished with Cavern Hole Onepaw moved on to the Great Hall.

As she walked around, Onepaw noticed a tapestry with a picture of a mouse on it. The mouse was wearing armor and had a sword; many vermin were fleeing from him.

"That is the founder of the Abbey, Martin the Warrior." Came a voice from behind. Onepaw turned and stared as she saw the strangest beast she had ever seen. She was slightly shorter than an average hare, not counting the ears, and sandy colored with dark stripes.

"I'm a meerkat, the only one at Redwall. My name is Blossom." She smiled at Onepaw. Onepaw gave a nod in reply. "M'name be Onepaw; where do ye come from?" Blossom looked a bit confused Pretty good

"You mean where was I born?"

Onepaw nodded "Aye, dat's whot I mean."

Blossom shrugged, "I can't really remember. You see, when I was eight seasons my sister brought me here. Apparently I'd gone out of my head, I can't remember anything before waking up in the imfirmaty. My sister is mute, so she couldn't tell."

Onepaw looked at the smiling meerkat, and idea forming in her mind.

"Den, ye's knows da Abbey verry well?"

Blossom nodded vigorosly, "Oh yes! Very well."

"Den, ye could show meh round? Relly well?"

Blossom grinned, "Oh better than anybeast else! Come on!"

Onepaw smiled evilly to herself as the simple meerkat showed her around showing her the Abbey. In more ways than one.


Redwood moved about quietly and silently, going back where she'd killed the rat the night before. The body wasn't there, but a different vermin, again a rat, was there on guard. Clutching her dirk, Redwood moved a little into a better position. The rat didn't notice; he was too busy jumping at shadows. Redwood picked up a stone and flung it. When it landed the rat jumped and pointed his spear at the general area it landed in.

"Who goes there?"

He called, timidly as if he was afraid that somebeast would jump out and kill him. It wasn't to be yet, Redwood quickly clapped her paw over his mouth and pressed her dirk lightly against his neck.

"Make a sound and I kill you. We're going over there and you'll tell me if you were on the raid."

The rat swallowed fearfully. Redwood gave him a bit of room so he could walk and began marching him over to the bodies of the two vermin she'd killed earlier today.

Half-way there, the rat tripped over a rock. Falling with a small squeak of fear face-first on the ground, with a near-deathly cut on his neck from Redwood's dirk. Even though she had jerked away as fast as she could. "Be more careful next time." Redwood snapped quietly as she pressed anouther tunic piece on the cut. " Now hold that." she whispered, as she scanned the immediate area for any helpful herbs. There was none that she could see. She let out a bit of a hiss, disappointed. "Let me see that." she said, still snapping at the rat. It nodded mutely and slowly pulled the makeshift bandage off.

"If you're careful and don't move a lot you might not bleed to death."

She said, and pressed the piece of her tunic back on.

"Now move." she exclaimed, quietly. After getting to the place without any further incident, Redwood pulled the rat over to the ferret.

"Were you on the raid?" she growled. The rat swallowed again, before shaking his head.

"Are you sure?"

Redwood demanded. The rat nodded.

"Were you there?"

The rat shook his head again, violently.

"Are you lying?" The rat shook his head even harder.

"You're lying to me!!"

The rat looked panicky and fearful, but he didn't shake or nod his head this time. Redwood thought a bit more.

"You weren't there?" she asked, calmly. The rat nodded, relieved, Redwood nodded, and thrust her still-unsheathed dirk into the rat's chest.

"You're still vermin." she said to the body, as she looked down at it. The squirrel looked up, a bit frightened as she heard a rustling in the nearby pine trees; perhaps vermin reinforcements.


"Who's there?" Too late. Redwood just nearly missed getting hit by the dark shape that leapt from the trees.



Chapter 3

Jisky Bloodtooth was not in a good mood. It had been half an hour since a renegade squirrel had stabbed him in the shoulder; and he had since sent for his healer, Ravanna, an ancient sable who dressed in tattered robes of forest green. Jisky winced as the bone needle slid in and out of his silver-white fur. He winced, swallowing, and then looking up at Ravanna's icy gaze.

She chuckled at her patient, saying "How would ye like te'hear of Scirius the Renegade, eh si're? Dat's anudder skurrel to luke out fowr, in fact, may'ap it waz him who tried to slay ye."


Jisky snorted in disbelief. "That 'un was female. She was wearing a skirt. Scrius is nought but a legend made to scare whelps like my daughter."


Ravanna laughed and wagged a claw. "That I wouldn't be so sure of, yer Mightiness, p'raps ye're wrong... May'ap someday Scirius'll smite ye with 'is curssed bow!"


Jisky rolled his eyes and then bared his blood-red teeth. "Go on, be out with you, ancient one! Leave me, I am healing. If I need your services I'll inform you. And assassin squirrels or none, I want a guard posted outside my tent starting today. I don't want another night like this one."


As the sniggering Ravanna collected her belongings and left the isolated tent, Jisky Bloodtooth went to sleep, but not before sharpening his dagger on a small sharpening stone, chuckeling evilly. "Assassin squirrels? No problem.... Not a problem at all..."



As Blossom took Onepaw by the arm and led her through the Abbey’s various rooms; the one thing that held her attention most was the stares. As they passed through each room, creatures stopped what they were doing to look at Onepaw, but as she would give them her eye contact, they would turn away and begin whispering in hushed tones with one another.

The presence of a species termed ‘Vermin’ in the Abbey had not been uncommon in the distant past, but all the vermin who had visited had only sought to take the Abbey; and the notion of one such creature as being peaceful was a strange concept for many.

Along the way; Onepaw also encountered a creature to reckon with: They stopped for a moment at Cavern Hole. It was a long; rectangular room where meals were served and sometimes meetings and councils were held, as Blossom said:

“This ‘ere’s Cavern ‘Ole, where we eat, and have meetings and talk…” But Onepaw was no longer listening. Sitting in a chair in the great wooden table was a mouse, Alkanet, the current infirmary keeper, a mouse who accepted no riffraff in her infirmary- or anywhere else.


“Hew’s dat?” Onepaw said in a low voice, wincing as her left wrist flared up with pain.

“Sista Alkanet; she stares at t’everybeast. C’mon, let’s go.”


But as Blossom took Onepaw’s arm and led her out of Cavern Hole, she had the feeling that she had found an enemy in Sister Alkanet. And Onepaw, being who she was, would certainly look forward to that rivalry with pleasure.


"Ahhhpfk!" Redwood yelped in pain as the unidentified creature (which she now recognized as a squirrel) That had leapt down from the tree fell on top of her. "Get off me!" Redwood yelled, only to be met with a "Not on your life, sister!" From the other squirrel; who was male and spoke in a low, gruff voice. They wrestled in the dirt for a little bit until Redwood seized an opportunity to drag herself a few inches away, drawing her dirk. Grinning wickedly and pulling out a rapier, the other squirrel got up and Redwood could see her attacker clearly now: He was thin, gaunt and dark gray in color, with amber eyes much like Onepaw's. His body was covered by old; age-whitened scars and he wore a ragged cape of dark blue and a matching tunic. Immeadiately the other squirrel charged at Redwood.

The fight resumed. Metal struck metal as the dirk and the rapier struck each other in harmony; the rising sun glinting off them. It continued all the way until the large rapier was positioned under Redwood's throat. Feeling her fighting spirit ebbing, Redwood spoke

"Don't hurt me. I'm just passing through. I'm looking for a Warlord named Jisky Bloodtooth..." Something in the other squirrel's eyes changed. He pulled the blade from where he'd positioned it.

"Bloodtooth?! Hah. I'd know the scum anywhere...."

Now that the fight was over, the other squirrel looked quite sheepish. "Er....Forgive me for what I'd done; I couldn't see you very clearly from how high up I was. Who are you and what do you want to know about Bloodtooth?" "M'name's Redwood; and I'm looking for Jisky because.... Because he killed my mother and my sister!" The male squirrel froze. He stared firmly at Redwood "...He killed my family, too. That's why I became an assassin; so I could slay anybeast that got in my way...The name's Scirius. Can I trust you, Redwood?" Redwood got up, but a bit shakily.

"Yes you can... So long as you don't try to kill me again!"

"On my honor I won't."

"Deal." Redwood sheathed her dirk and Scirius put away his rapier.

After a pause Redwood said "Maybe we could um...Travel together? I'm looking for my sister, Onepaw... I thought she was dead at first but I found some of her tracks earlier, so I don't think so." Scirius straightened. "Sure; where're you going?" "Straight east." "East... I've got my own score to settle there. So be it. We travel together." And as the two vengeance-seeking squirrels made their way down the forest path, lit by the barely rising sun, in other parts of the forest, evil eyes were watching.......

Chapter 4

Afternoon came blazing into summer Mossflower. At Redwall; Onepaw’s tour was nearing its end. Blossom and Onepaw stood in the cloisters; Blossom’s brown eyes roving between the halfscore of young creatures playing various rough games on the lawn bordering the orchards. “Where’s my sister, I wonder?” Blossom murmured, scanning the group of youngsters.

“Oh, there she is!” Blossom glanced over at a thin, grayish-brown meerkat with darker brown stripes seated under a shaded apple tree, reading a book. “Onepaw, would you like to meet Crowbait, my sister?”

Onepaw nodded, clutching uncomfortably on her left wrist, a habit she did when she was a little nervous. With Blossom alongside her, Onepaw crossed over from the shaded cloisters and into the scorching summer afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Alta, the mousemaid who had screamed at her in the kitchen, and a squirrel she peripherally remembered was named Larjay. They were whispering something together that Onepaw couldn't quiet hear.

“Look, Jay.” Alta whispered into her friend’s ear as they sat on the grass eating a picnic lunch. “ s’that vermin I told you about from the kitchen.” Onepaw froze.

She muttered to Blossom “Yew go meet yer sister. I’ll be right ‘ere.”

Larjay laughed and said mockingly “I wonder if she’ll kill us all?”

“Oh I wouldn’t doubt that if’n I were you.”

Soon a few more of the young creatures outside began murmuring and whispering to each other. Onepaw vaguely caught their words. She wanted to move but seemed to be rooted to the spot.

“Vermin…”

“She’s evil!”

“Murderer…Liar…Thief!”

“…Monster……”

“D’ya hear me? She’ll kill us…”

“Kill us…Kill us… Kill us……”

A bead of sweat ran down Onepaw’s back. Breathing heavily, she staggered towards the tree where Blossom sat chattering away to Crowbait who, of course, couldn’t answer. As the tree’s lowest-hanging branch grew near, Onepaw frantically grabbed at it with her right paw and tried to stay upright by holding it but it was too late.

The last thing she was before blacking out was Blossom and Crowbait running towards her with worried looks on their faces.


THIRTEEN YEARS BEFORE

Somewhere in a lonely, winter forest of pine and maple, there was a small log cabin with smoke curling up from its chimney. The inside was warm; and lit only by a few small candles burning in various places around the room, and the fireplace.

A young, silver ferret was giggling was he bounced a wooden ball and sat in front of the fire. Strangely, his face was blurry and hard to see. His little sister, a babe a season younger then him, was grinning and picking up marbles in the six-clawed left paw that matched her brother’s. “Lookit me, Risko, I fierce warrior!” She said; and did an imitation of her father, baring her small little fangs in a mock version of viciousness.

They were unaware what had happened to her mother. She had been slain and buried the night before; but their father had told his children their mother had merely gone away and wouldn’t be coming back. Being as young as they were, they believed this.

So the two ferretbabes continued to play and laugh until their father entered the cabin. His sword was sheathed in his belt; and the wind was blowing coldly around him. He carried a metal bucket in his six-clawed paw.

The Warlord crossed the room to the old, creaky rocking chair. He placed the bucket to his left side and gestured for his little daughter to come. “Alia, come here and sit on my lap.”

Wordlessly, the babe did as she was told. “Risko, you come here too.” Soon, Alia was sitting in her father’s lap, and Risko was protectively standing beside her and gripping her left arm.

Both babes watched in terrified silence as their father unsheathed his sword and held it in the air. It seemed to hang their for an eternity before he brought it down towards Alia’s left paw, the one with six claws on it. Alia screamed in agony and went limp in her father’s arms. Risko stared at his parent, terrified. A moment of silence passed before a tall fox entered and saluted Risko and his father. “M’lord, must we wait longer?” He held a pail full of kerosene.

“No. Do what you must.”

“As ye wish…” Risko was shoved roughly out the door with his father as the fox hurled the pail of kerosene at the wall. Flames began to lick slowly up the walls, and then towards the thatched roof.

A slow, anguished howl built up in Risko’s throat. “ALIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Darkness.


~THE PRESENT~

“Risko?! Risko where in Hellgates are you??”


Jisky Bloodtooth sighed as he somberly patrolled his camp. His only son was wayward again! What if he’ll turn out like her…? Jisky silently shook his head. No. he corrected himself. Alia was not your daughter. She wasn’t even a she. She was an it. A curse. A monstrosity; a blight on this horde. The ferret stalked through camp, his shoulder still in bandages from the assassination attempt.

Eventually he encountered Fireclaw, the fox who was his second-in-command, sitting over a small fire and finishing up the trout that had been his lunch.

“Fireclaw.” Jisky growled, digging his claws into the fox’s shoulderblades. “Have you seen my son?” Fireclaw’s eyes went wide with fright. He almost choked on a fishbone. Spitting out the bone, he shook his head fervently. “Nay, Lord. Risko’s off ‘n about agin sure as ye please…. Methinks he might’ve gone this way though.” The slender fox pointed with his spear to a shaded bridle path. “Thank you, Fireclaw.” Jisky removed his claws from his hordebeast’s shoulder. “Don’t organize the patrol until I’m back. In the meantime I have some serious business to discuss with my son….”

So Jisky traipsed down the path, the high warm sun shining down through the maple leaves, making them seem clear. The pine trees swayed slightly in the wind, in a mystic sort of chant.

Jisky passed the wide lake where several of his Captains were fishing, laughing as they landed a catch. One of them waved. Jisky walked right past them stiffly as though he hadn’t seen.

Several crudely-made wooden signs loomed in front of him, with names painted on them in berry juice like: THE LAND OF ICE AND SNOW → and, THE EXTREME SOUTH → (the word extreme had been repeated, making the sign read: THE EXTREME EXTREME SOUTH)

“Fools,” The warlord muttered curtly, hearing a SPLASH! Coming from the lake. The forest in which they were encamped was an absolute fool’s paradise, and he couldn’t possibly care less.

He turned sharply down a trail to the right, and stopped at a clearing. A smile curved on Jisky’s hardened features. Risko was sitting in a vast windswept meadow, surrounded by wisteria, dandelions and buttercup, all blowing softly in the breeze.

The young ferret was tall for his age, and silver in color like his father, with piercing jade-green eyes. He wore a mustard-colored tunic, and there was a jagged dagger pocketed in a sheath in his belt. Risko sat hunched over a pond, filling his canteen.

Jisky was so silent he knew his son didn’t sense his presence. Creeping stealthily through the grass, the older ferret grabbed Risko by the shoulderblades and spun him around to face him.

“Risko!” He grated. “What’re you doing out here?!”

Risko leapt up. “Nothing.” He said defensively.

“Sure, I’ll believe that.” Jisky mumbled.

“Did you want to run away? Is that it?” Jisky mocked, placing his paws on his hips.

Risko was silent. Jisky drew a sword from his sheath and put it under his son’s throat.

“Tell the truth or you’re a deadbeast.”

Risko glared at his father icily, eyes flashing.

“All right, so I DID try to run away. Happy, father?”

Jisky grinned curtly. “Yes.” He said and put his sword away.

“Risko, it’s high time you learned what it really means to be the son of a Warlord! You’re getting older fast now, and I want you to have more responsibilities but at the moment it doesn’t seem so. You’re always doing something idle, like reading, or fishing or watching the stars…. Hell’s teeth, you’re just like your mother!”

“And what’s wrong with that??”

Jisky did not answer. Instead, he looked up at the sky, blinking. He yanked Risko roughly by his gloved paw.

“Come on, we need to be getting back to camp! It’s high time we’ve gone patrolling.”

Risko muttered something unintelligible. Jisky laughed.

“You’re coming whether you want to or not.”

Risko forced himself ahead of his father and walked, slowly back to camp, almost in the same fashion of a creature condemned to death. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Early afternoon sun slanted through the trees as Redwood and Scirius plodded along. The two squirrels were gradually growing a bit closer, but they still fought and bickered occasionally as could be expected when creatures of the opposite gender were traveling companions. Along with his bow, Scirius had a fair amount of weapons including his sword, and a wide array of throwing daggers hidden in pouches within his cloak.

“Are we REALLY getting any closer to Jisky’s camp? It looks like we’ve been going around in circles!”

The two squirrels had decided to plan an ambush on the warlord who had ruined them. But these parts of the forest were new to Redwood, and although she was a decent tracker, all these trails were confusing to her; and so she had to rely on Scirius (who knew the woods like the back of his paw) for directions sometimes.


“Aye.”

Scirius whispered conspiratorially, and held a claw to his lips for silence.

“In fact, I think I see it now….”

Redwood’s eyes widened. She could see clearly the area where Jisky and his horde had been camping.

“One….two….three….GO!”

The two squirrels charged in, red and silver blurs, hackles raised and weapons ready. All that greeted them was nothing more than a peaceful clearing.

“Seasons! The villains moved themselves out before we could get to them.”

Redwood spat.

Scirius gritted his teeth.

“I know it’s frustrating but we’ll find them. Can you track?”

“Aye. My sister taught me.”

Redwood walked a good distance from Scirius and stooped in the dirt, making out a faint set of pawtracks that some half-witted soldier had tried to cover but failed to.

“They went northwest.”

Scirius examined Redwood’s find and nodded. “Let’s get a move on.”

Redwood muttered tartly and took a few steps ahead. Scirius followed her. “So this sister of yours….”

Scirius said more to himself than to Redwood as they walked down the sloping bridle path.

“What was she like?”

Redwood swatted at a mosquito that had been perching on her arm. “Onepaw always was headstrong and independent. She never listened to what our mother said unless she knew it was important. Onepaw was energetic, I always was the wary one in the family…. Growing up I was a bit shy, and she would always tease me for it.”

Redwood smiled a bit at the memory, but the smile soon faded.

“So….What about your parents? How were they?”

Redwood shrugged.

“Our mother always was mysterious. She always told Onepaw and I to always call her by her name, Slicktail and not mum or mommy or mama or anything like that. And Slicktail just adopted us. Onepaw and I never knew who our real parents were, but Slicktail would mention Onepaw’s father sometimes.” “Did you ever wonder?”

“All the time! When we were babes, Onepaw and I would make up little games and stories about us being two sisters who went on great adventures to find our lost family, but we never did it when Slicktail was around. For some reason, she hated it when we played games like that. Slicktail was a very strange mother but I can’t say that I don’t miss her….”

Redwood sighed, but then managed a smile.

“I must be boring you by now.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“But there’s something I never told you.”

“What’s that?”

“Onepaw is a ferret. And Slicktail was a rat.”


“WHAT?! YOU WERE RAISED….BY VERMIN??”

Scirius’s voice was tinged with surprise and bitter contempt. Redwood gritted her teeth.

“The only good vermin is a dead one.”

Scirius’s voice was black ice.

“That’s not what Slicktail taught me! And Onepaw wasn’t evil. She was my sister! She wouldn’t have hurt anyone unless it was in self-defense.”

“Is that really true? Ever hear of Veil Sixclaw?”

The name was not familiar to Redwood.

“No. Who was he?”

“Veil Sixclaw was a ferret my mum and dad told me about once before they died. Veil lived I suspect hundreds of seasons ago. His mother died when he was born, and his father was an infamous warlord named Swartt Sixclaw; who got his name from the six claws he had on one paw.”

“Slicktail always said Onepaw’s father was a warlord.”

Redwood muttered under her breath. Scirius glared at her. “Anyway, to make a long story short, Veil’s father abandoned him after he was born, and he was found and taken in by the creatures of Redwall Abbey. A young mouse named Bryony took an interest in Veil and raised him as her own son. As the ferret grew up, he would steal, lie and disrespect his elders. Everyone in the abbey was ashamed of him except for Byrony, who never doubted there was good in him somewhere. When Veil was around our age, he was exiled from Redwall for trying to murder an innocent hedgehog named Myrtle. Bryony went after him but by then it was too late. Veil had realized what it meant to be a vermin and he wasn’t about to give up his new life. Sooner or later, something like that will befall your ‘sister’ if it hasn’t already.”

“Onepaw would never let that happen to her! I just know it, Scirius! She might be to you, but Onepaw isn’t just another vermin to me. She’s my sister; my family….I love her.”

Redwood’s eyes were shining with pain. Scirius sighed.

“Redwood…..I’m sorry for the outburst. But I can’t help but feel a hatred towards vermin, especially considering it was them who murdered my family. Like I said, that’s why I became an assassin; so I could let out all that hate before it consumed me. But maybe I’M the evil one here.”

“You’re not. The only truly evil beast out there now…..is Jisky Bloodtooth. Onepaw’s father.”

“Onepaw is Bloodtooth’s daughter?”

“Aye, but like I said there isn’t a drop of evil in her.”

Scirius took a deep breath.

“Let’s keep going. I’ll tell you about my family while we go.”

“All right.”

And with that, the two squirrels continued walking, unaware that in the noontide shadows, somebeast was watching….


Chapter 5

As afternoon drifted on, Onepaw had not woken up just yet. Crowbait and Blossom had taken her to the infirmary, where Sister Alkanet declared that there was nothing wrong with the ferret other than that she’d suffered a little heat stroke, and quite possibly her left wrist had been acting up. The no-nonsense mouse infirmary keeper had said that more space was needed in the infirmary for sicker beasts, so Onepaw was brought back to the gatehouse cottage where she had remained for the past hour.


Onepaw woke slowly. Her head and wrist hurt a little but other than that she was fine. She was lying on a small bed with a thin handmade quilt over her, and an embroidered pillow propped behind her head. A small three-legged table at her bedside had Onepaw’s metal hook on it, with the rope she used to keep it on her wrist still attached, thankfully.

As Onepaw fully regained her senses, it quickly came to her that she was in the cozy back bedroom of the gatehouse, where Jarek had instructed her to stay last night. (The gruff hedgehog was currently nowhere in the vicinity)


Onepaw glanced about. A multicolored stained-glass window had been opened at her bedside, letting in warmth and afternoon light. The sky was still bright and crisscrossed with fluffy clouds.

Turning her head a bit, Onepaw saw Crowbait and Blossom sitting at a table by the fireplace. Blossom was reading a book she’d taken from the small bookshelf, and Crowbait had her head in her paws and generally looked miserable, as she often did. But a look of surprise came onto her face when she saw that Onepaw was awake.


When Blossom did a moment later, she dragged her chair over to the side of Onepaw’s bed and sat down, and said:

“You’re awake! How do you feel?”

Onepaw, now sitting up, shrugged weakly.

“Gudd enouh’.”


Onepaw had to repeat what she’d said slowly and more clearly so that Blossom understood her accent. The simple-minded meerkat heaved a sigh.

“We’ll have to do something about that grammar later. Oh well. That can wait. I’m glad to see you’re awake, Onepaw.”

She paused.

“Would you like something to read? There are plenty of books here.”

Onepaw thought about it. She’d walked past the books in the bookcase before but hadn’t really paid them any mind until now. She liked reading, so why not?

“Shurr.”

Blossom got up and went to the bookcase. She picked a ratty-looking dark green volume. Onepaw shakily got up from the bed, tied her hook back on her wrist and sat in the chair Blossom had brought over. She took the book from the meerkat, who went back to sitting at the table and trying to convince Crowbait to play some game with her.


Onepaw coughed a little as she opened the book. It was dusty and falling apart inside. Indeed; it was just a book that a traveler had found and brought to the abbey one day, never to return. As Onepaw opened to the first page, she was shocked and surprised to see that the author had written with a handwriting eerily similar to her own. It appeared to be some sort of diary……

The first pages were yellowed, ragged and were so stuck together Onepaw had to forcibly pry them apart with her claws and fingers. The first entry of the apparent diary read:

March 8th

Today marks my first entry between your pages, dear diary. And seasons what a day it is! It's gotten so much warmer out and the snow is entirely almost gone. Good. It'd be a terrible thing, getting married in the snow. Horsed around with Jisky and his captains today; Jisky was very sweet to me and kissed me in front of the whole horde(!) I know being the mate of a warlord is a difficult job but I'm well-aware of all the strings attached. We're to be married in two weeks on the twenty-second. I should hope it doesn't snow then! Much love, Thurn

Onepaw laughed a bit and flipped ahead two weeks, eager to read more suddenly.


March 22nd

Today was the happiest day of my life and I have no idea where to start! Dear diary, the wedding was fabulous, and soon I will retire for a peaceful night under the stars. This, I hope, will be the first of many calming windswept nights; at the peak of my happiness. Seasons; I'm the luckiest ferret alive!


Thurn was a fanciful and lovesick ferret indeed, and Onepaw grimly noticed this. Despite the diarist's florid writing prose, Onepaw decided she found Thurn's diary interesting enough to keep reading. Onepaw turned the pages to April of a year later.


April 19th

Today is a banner day! I have given birth to a silver son, Risko, who is his father's image, however he has my green eyes. Despite the joyful occaison of this day, Jisky seemed.... Changed. He wasn't the silly, teasing creature I knew him as on our wedding night one year before. He seemed cold, uncaring and even downright unkind. What has caused this change in him? I continue to speculate.


Because the next series of entries were a bit dull and very unimportant, Onepaw skipped forward another year, to May 5th.


May 5th


Jisky seems devoted to Risko; a good thing I guess. However, spoiling his only son was put aside today. Jisky and I now have a little daughter, Alia. Again I saw that coldness in Jisky, when he looked into her bright little eyes. Whatever has possessed my husband I fear it is getting worse.


Onepaw read sporadically over the next nearly-five years recorded in the diary. Thurn's writing became increasingly dark in mood. Two entries in particular (the first written in the second year; and the next written in the final year) stood out to her.


December 11th

Snow, ice and gloom settled over our camp in southsward like a dark, leaden cloud. We'll be returning for another Mossflower campaign in February and I can't wait! The welcoming woods of Mossflower have always been warmer then this forbidding land of sleet and snow and black ice. My only joys are my children. Jisky is a complete stranger to me. Speaking of Jisky; we got into our first real fight today (previously we'd simply ignored each other) It ended with Jisky holding a dagger at my throat and grating "If you try to leave me, Thurn, you're DEAD!" And his voice.....It was cold; colder than all wind and snow in this wretched land!

Oddly, the next paragraphs were crossed out in dark ink. Here is how Thurn's diary continued:

.....I've been spending more and more time with the children now. Risko is very mellow and would sleep in my lap all day if he could, and all dear little Alia ever wants to do is play with the toy dagger her father gave her back when he still cared for her. What kind of creatures will they grow into being? Not their father, I hope!

Onepaw stopped at the last entry, only pages from the diary's end. It read:

December 18th

Time is strange. Alia and Risko are now three and four; and will be four and five in the spring. If anything happens to them, I fear I will lose my own life as well. Jisky and I have been fighting constantly when we've spoken at all. He's indicated that something good will soon befall me, so I've been trying to stay positive. I hope it isn't in vain. I'll have to stop writing soon. Jisky just entered.......Carrying an axe.

Here ended the diary of Thurn Bloodtooth the ferret. Her final bark-parchment page was stained with a faded splotch of red. A stain of red that looked suspiciously like BLOOD.


Scirius and Redwood's tracking mission had taken a turn for the worse. Chatting casually as they went; the two squirrels soon noticed that the tracks stopped abruptly, as did the thick scent of passing vermin.

"Where are they??"


"I've no idea; the trail's cold as ice."


A large patch of ferns and bush rustled subtly, but not noisily. The source of the noise could easily have been a passing quail or grouse. Crouching under the undergrowth was Sawtooth; the fox scout Jisky had sent to make sure they weren't being followed. However; he had happened upon a much more rewarding bounty: The escaped prisoners!!


Although he had fallen out of favor with the Chief in recent times; Sawtooth hoped to prove him wrong and earn promotion.

Huh, these brushtails sure are easy t'track.....


His thoughts returned to the female squirrel's mention of a 'good ferret' how odd. This was definitely information the Chief should hear. As Redwood and Scirius ventured down a trail to the left; Sawtooth hurried back to camp, blending in perfectly with his environment. Promotion, he knew, was within his grasp!


"CHIEF!!! I've brought excellent news for you; sire! Do come quick!"


"Hmm?"


In his horde's new camp; Jisky Bloodtooth was sharpening his rapier idly. Laziness was Vulpuz's playground and he couldn't possibly have cared less. He eased himself from the moss-covered rock he'd been using as a seat and strolled casually up to Sawtooth the fox. He'd handled things like this before.

"Sawtooth. What news do you bring me?"


Sawtooth bowed before saying


"Well, um, Lord, you told me to go into the woods and make sure nobeast was followin' or spyin', er, sire. So I went into the woods; and I found the two squirrels who escaped! An' I heard sommat about a good ferret too."


A good ferret?


A shadow of doubt crept across Jisky's mind; but as soon as it entered he tried to banish it. His daughter Alia was dead; bled to death, and her body burned. Ghosts of the past needed to stay in the past, and his young daughter was among them.

"Well..."

Jisky grinned.


"Excellent, Sawtooth. Maybe I can trust you after all. You stay here and help yourself to extra food and maybe a few new weapons. I'll send out six or so beasts to go after the brushtails."


Sawtooth saluted.


"Aye, sire!"


The fox walked away, humming a merry tune. Things were looking up for him indeed!


Scirius and Redwood were encountering more dead ends. Redwood was stooping on the ground and helping Scirius look for tracks; but her mind was elsewhere. Onepaw. The pain of missing her was a dull, constant ache throbbing in Redwood's heart and in her head. Onepaw; who had never been told the truth about her father because Slicktail had died before she could tell her.


The squirrel took a silent vow that she would see Onepaw again, and knew in her heart that the plucky ferret would never turn out like her father.

"Scirius? It's a dead end. We'll have to try going east again."


Scirius shook his fist.

"Oh hellgates!"

He cursed.

"We're going in circles."


Redwood knew he was right and sighed exasperatedly. She sat down and took a swig of water from her canteen; which she'd refilled when they'd stopped by a stream earlier.

"Maybe we should just split up....?"


While the two thought of solutions, six vermin scouts sent by Jisky to recapture Scirius and Redwood waited in the undergrowth; among them Fireclaw and Sawtooth (who had earned his rewards and gone along with the patrol, hoping for more)

"One. Two. Three."

Fireclaw's words were barely audible whispers.


They charged out of the foliage.

"REDWOOD!!!!"


It was Scirius who had seen the vermin charge first. He unsheathed his rapier.

"I'm no damsel. I can protect myself."

She said urgently; but accepted Scirius's saber; as it was a good weapon to have in combat against multiple beasts from a close range (Unlike her stolen dirk)

The two squirrels took their weapons and hurried into battle.

"Hah! Ye brushtails will never win."

Fireclaw laughed; half to himself. He didn't see Redwood's borrowed saber hacking into his throat.

Meanwhile, Scirius axe-kicked Sawtooth in the stomach and stabbed him in the back while he was still out of breath. In the cloud of dust and wind that had been kicked up; Redwood and Scirius managed to slay the other four vermin relatively easily, but the air of danger lingered.

"Did they send reinforcements?"

Scirius asked; repeatedly looking over his shoulder.

Redwood shook her head.

"I think the coast is clear. Let's go."

They picked up their weapons and ran; hoping to avoid their pursuers. As the heap of bodies got farther and farther behind them, Scirius heaved a sigh of relief.

"That was really close. Ha, ye'll never get us, scum!"


Redwood had to smile.


The travelers had not gotten much farther when about Five hundred cloaked beasts emerged from the shadows; led by a golden fox covered in clan tattoos.


Ruggan Bor.


Scirius thought he heard Redwood say something about this not being the Juska's territory; but it was too late now. He felt something hard crash against his skull, and then darkness.

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