Tears of the Ocean; The Ocean's Echoes

By Sayna

Well seasons they passed,

And finally at last,

The mad eyed one hard and the same,

Three friends did send,

Straight for their ends,

Curse the emperor's name.

One pearl for wisdom ..

One pearl for mercy ..

And one for the sovereignty ..

Of Ignasa above.

Author's Note

It's 'The Ocean's Echoes'! I am super excited about this book, it (hopefully) will be awesome. We're going to see more woodlanders, our surviving pirate crew of 'Stolen Tears', and maybe a few phantoms as well. ;)

Ghost ships, mysterious killers, a wicked emperor, best friends turned against one another .. can the spirit of the dragons survive it? I guess we'll find out, eh? >:)

  • evil Sayna chuckle*

There may well be a few PG-13 type scenes, simply for violence. *whispers* The battle on the Waveworm ..

This book is dedicated especially to Lus, Reep, and Astar. Thanks for your enthusiasm, the time we've spent discussing these stories, and your comments, cause IDK if I'd have got to 'The Ocean's Echoes' .. or even 'Tears of the Ocean' without it. :3

And of course, it goes to all my friends, all who read, and my family. Thanks everybeast! :D

Also to my friend who introduced me to Redwall. Josiah, you may not know it ... but you really started something when you handed me that copy of 'Mossflower'! XD

And here's our fitting music :) [1] [2][3][4][5][6][7]

When I hear this, I just think of Sampetra, their love of adventure, the sea, and sailing. So like a cool anthem or something ^^ Seriously this is awesome. So listen to it, like really XD [8] (And these as well) [9] [10]

Chapter 13 Seven Seasons Gone

Seven seasons have passed since that fateful day. Today is the anniversary.

Romsca looked down at her work in the flickering light of her lantern, dipping her quill in ink and scratching down some more on the parchment before her.

Sampetra has had relative peace, though we have to live under a wretched usurper that has the nerve to call himself emperor and commands us with a rod of iron. As for the nations he sends us against, I find pity for them. He has not yet proclaimed a quest for his pearls, but I can only imagine it's going to be a matter of time.

As for me, I do the best I can. The emperor's taxes are harsh, and his punishments harsher .. sometimes I wonder if the spirit of dragons is left alive on Sampetra, or if it has been totally broken. Sometimes I wonder if it's left in me. The longer you serve somebeast, the more you feel yourself a servant.

The ferret half sighed, half yawned as she laid the parchment on the large stack beside her, picking out another. She picked up her mug of tea, pausing as she noticed it was empty.

Romsca scowled, standing up and tightening the tie on her robe as she picked up the cup and her lantern. She pushed open the door of her study, as a faint crash of thunder became audible. Romsca opened the bolted shutters of a hall window, slamming them shut again as a positive torrent of rain splashed down upon her.

Her lantern went out, leaving her in darkness that was only broken by the frequent flashes of lightning.

"Well ain't that just wonderful." Romsca grumbled, hitching her soggy nightdress and robe around her ankles and heading for her manor's kitchen. She left the lantern on a bench in the hallway, hurrying through the darkness by habit.

The ferret was crossing the dark foyer, when a loud knocking caused her to jump. She spun around, drawing the knife she continually carried. "Who's there?"

"Oh for cryin' out loud ... Romsca, lemme in! I'm drownin' out here an' I ain't even at sea!"

Romsca relaxed, suddenly smirking. She opened the door, and Xzaris hurried in, his gray fur so completely sodden it was nearly black and his messy hair covering his eyes. Romsca shut the door behind him. "So .. what went wrong this time?"

Xzaris pulled the black hair out of his blue eyes, sighing. "Now look we got her sea worthy an' everythin', she's ready ta sail. I jist ... fergot bout checkin' me cabin's windows an' the forcastle floor fer leaks ... Oh it ain't so funny!"

Romsca had a paw clamped over her muzzle. "Oh yea it is .. I ain't one ta laugh Xzaris, but ya can sure make me! Ya fergot ta make the capt'n's cabin water tight?"

The gray ferret scowled. "Look that part ain't inna water, ok? I've been slavin' away at her hull, an' so I didn't think 'bout that. Now can I pay ya another night's rent or am I gonna go sleep in yer stable?"

"Oh go get a towel. Yer ruinin' me rug here." Romsca sighed, pointing deeper into the manor. "I'll help ya with the leaks come daylight, though ya know how good I am at it."

Xzaris relaxed. "Well it's better'n nothin'."

He hurried off, his boots making squelching noises because they were so wet. Romsca padded into the kitchen, setting her mug down and reaching for the teapot as the side door burst open and a red and white vixen hopped in, hanging a sopping cloak on a peg. "I just love rain!"

Romsca had tensed, and now she relaxed, picking up the teapot. "Want some tea? It's cold, but it's better'n nothin'."

"Sure!" The fox yanked off her boots, bouncing to the cupboard. "I mean, rain's great! It's all wet, an there's lightnin' an' thunder an' ya can jump in puddles ..."

Romsca cast a glance at the boots her friend had shed, noticing how filthy they were. "I'm guessin' ya had a good night at the tavern, huh Val?"

Val grabbed the teapot, pouring some tea for herself. "Yup! There was only one fight an' Conza came while I was on break an' we had dinner tagether!"

Her face fell. "Though Conza's leavin' on a raid inna week. Wish he'd take me too sometime."

Romsca shrugged, as Xzaris walked in, holding his boots and looking slightly dryer. Val snorted into her tea, splashing it on her muzzle. "Oh look what came back ... fall inna sea an' fight a shark, huh Xzaris?"

The ferret gave her an unimpressed look, not answering as he set his boots by the side door. Val grinned. "What happen, yer boat sink ... what'd ya say .. Oh yea .. 'I'll be stayin' on me ship now, like her capt'n should be.' Looks like it failed!"

Xzaris sighed. "Look it's a minor .. adjustment I need ta make."

Val about fell over laughing, setting her tea on the counter. "Minor? Ya looks like a drowned rat an' ya say minor? When yer first mate comes ta ya an' says, "Capn't the ship's a sinkin'!" Whatda ya say? "Oh it's just a minor adjustment needs ta be made!"

The vixen fell into one of the table's chairs, nearly choking with mirth.

Xzaris rung some water from his black ponytail. "Can we ferget this happened?"

Romsca shrugged. "I doubt I'll forget, but I ain't gonna tell. I'm goin' ta bed, maybe I'll get some sleep, though it ain't likely. Ya know where the guest room is Xzaris, an' make sure ya put the rug over the porch railin'. It can't get no wetter'n it is now an' it's ruinin' the floor."

The ferret sighed, mumbling something that sounded like, "Jist when I was gettin' dry .."

Romsca paused, remembering how driving the rain was and called after him, "Oh never mind, just put it inna kitchen, it can't hurt the marble."

She headed down the hall to her rooms, closing the door behind her and locking it. The ferret hung her damp robe over a chair, crawling into bed and pulling the sheets to her chin. The flashes of lightning lit the ceiling and walls in soft bursts of light, making the shadows come alive.

Romsca turned over, staring at the wall. Shadows were the scourges of her nights, awake or asleep, and there was no escaping them.


Early morning cast the sun's rays over the time worn stones of Redwall Abbey, drifting through the stained glass windows and casting colorful patches on the floor of Great Hall. The door from the lawns opened a crack, and a reddish ottermaid with wonderful flaxen hair slipped in.

She shut the door behind her, taking a tighter hold of a book and some brushes, and hurrying quietly through the otherwise deserted hall.

As she neared the stairs leading to Redwall's second story, a golden and white spotted mouse pushed open the doors from Cavern Hole.

The otter smiled. "Good morning Martin!"

He jumped, looking around and putting his paw to his lips. "Can you be a little quieter Grath .. don't let on that I'm here."

Grath raised an eyebrow. "Hiding from Piknim again?"

"I'm not hiding .. I just don't want her to find me." Martin crossed his arms. "There's a difference."

"I guess." Grath stated. She opened her book, showing a picture to Martin. "I was painting the sunrise from the east wall top this morning ... do you like it?"

Martin looked at the painting for a moment, smiling, "It's great! I love how your paintings almost look real."

Grath looked down. "Thanks. Where's Tansy?"

Martin shrugged. "In the kitchen. Maybe we should hide from Piknim there."

Grath followed him. "What's so bad about her? I mean, ok .. she can be .. a little irritating, but she's not a bad creature."

"I'm just not ready for all that yet, and she's completely crazy about me! It's not that I don't like her as a creature .. but why won't she leave me alone?" Martin sighed. "Sometimes I wish there were more guys around here."

He quickly added, "Not that you and Tansy aren't great friends, but .. I sort of wish there were other male beasts my own age. To bad Log-a-Log doesn't visit more often, cause hanging out with Plogg and Welko is great fun."

"Oh .. he'll be here in a few weeks. He always visits us at the beginning of summer." Grath put in.

Martin nodded. "Yea, that's true."

"What are you two doing up so early?" The question came from a middle aged mouse who was sitting at one of Great Hall's tables along with Tansy and a large breakfast.

Martin jumped. "Oh .. father abbot! We were .. just seeing about getting an early breakfast."

Tansy grinned. "Well come have some of this, there's plenty, abbot says I made too much."

The two sat down, and Abbot Durral smiled. "You made a new picture, Grath? I saw you from my window, out on the wall. Can I see it?"

Grath looked self conscious, but handed the picture over. Durral looked it over, remarking, "Your paintings are lovely .. maybe I should appoint you abbey painter. You could certainly do us justice."

Grath shrugged. "I .. don't know .. I don't really like having a title."

"Oh daughter, I was just joking." Durral smiled, pushing a bowl of oatmeal in front of her. "You do take everything so seriously."

He handed the drawing book back to Grath, adding, "But I am serious when I say this. I've been thinking, Log-a-Log is always good to us here, he brings gifts and news and joy whenever he and the Guosim visit. So here's an idea .. what if we had a feast for them, to surprise them when they come!"

Tansy looked excited. "Really? With food and dancing .."

"And music?" Martin put it.

Grath looked interested. "And contests too?"

Durral laughed. "Yes, yes all of that. And even more if I can arrange it."

There was a sudden crash, causing all four to jump. One of the iron torch holders had fallen, bringing down a wall hanging in the process. In the midst of it all sat a little red squirrel dibbun, and Tansy sighed. "Arven! What are you up to now?"

The squirrel did not seem in the least disturbed about the mess as he pounced onto the abbot's lap and began eating his oatmeal. "I was climbin' Tansy Pansy!"

Tansy rolled her eyes in a half joking manner. "I am not Tansy Pansy you little rouge, now somebeast going to have to clean that up. Where's your sister?"

There was a scurrying noise, and a thump as a red squirrel maiden dropped from one of the rafters. "Right here. I was trying to catch up with him before he got into mischief .. but .. like that ever works."

She plopped down at the table, helping herself to a scone and munching happily. "So, I came to tell you something, father abbot."

Durral looked up from where he was playing with Arven, who was enjoying every bit of attention he got. "What is that Cracklyn?"

Cracklyn stuffed the rest of the scone in her mouth, reaching for some tea. "Well I was out on the wall tops, and it happens that I looked out on the path, and guess what?"

"Umm .. Log-a-Log's early?" Martin made a guess.

"Nope!" Cracklyn was pleased with herself. "Two strangers are coming toward the abbey, and I imagine they'll be knocking about now."

Durral sat up straight again. "Well come along then, we can't leave guests outside. Tansy, go get Friar Higgle, he's a sensible beast. Hopefully they come in peace and friendship."


The sound of bird song was the thing that awoke Romsca, since she kept her shutters closed and bolted. The ferret sat up, opening them to see a glorious dawn despite the terrible storm in the earliest hours of the morning.

She slipped out of bed, hurrying to put on her clothes, brush her hair and fur so she didn't look like she'd just got up. After all, elegance was a staple of Sampetra, and while Romsca really couldn't care less, she knew looking at least presentable was crucial.

The ferret closed her shutters, bolting them once more before heading down to the kitchen, where she could smell breakfast cooking. Val looked up, grinning, "Hey, breakkist'll be ready soon, go set the table."

Romsca obeyed, mostly because Val was nice enough to cook, something Romsca disliked to do. Xzaris came in, looking none the worse for his misadventure in the storm. Val grinned as she plopped some steaming rice into the bowls. "Ya survived I'm guessin'. Come have some breakkist, specialty a the house an' hot 'nough ta burn yer tongue so don't be eatin' ta fast see?"

She poured the tea so fast Romsca wondered how she kept from spilling it, adding honey and milk to the rice with amazing efficiency. The fox plopped down in her chair, stirring her rice as the two ferrets did the same. "So what's we doin' taday? Romsca's gonna help Xzaris sink his ship?"

Romsca gave Val an un-amused look. "I'm not a carpenter, but I'm not that stupid."

Val giggled, unfazed by Romsca's cold tone. She took a bite, when there was a knock on the door, and Romsca stiffened. Val jumped up. "Oh that'll be Conza, I asked 'im ta come!"

The vixen bolted off toward the foyer, and Romsca relaxed. Xzaris raised an eyebrow, picking up the two sticks beside his bowl and poising them between two fingers. "Yer awfully tense today. More so'n usual."

Romsca sighed, scooping up a bite of rice with the sticks she was holding. "Today is the day that Ublaz .. "

She let the rice fall back into the bowl, and Xzaris sighed. "Oh .. yea. Sorry. It's been seven seasons ain't it?"

Romsca nodded silently, and fell to eating. There were steps in the hallway as Val dashed in, ordering, "Have a seat, I'll getcha some breakkist."

The tall, broad shouldered dog fox that walked in completely dwarfed the vixen, being near two heads taller than her. He tipped his blue feathered hat to Romsca and Xzaris, sweeping his long blue sea coat out of the way as he sat down. "Good morning, I take Val forgot to tell you?"

Romsca shrugged. "Yea. But it wouldn't be the first time."

Xzaris grinned. "Hey Rasconza."

Val shoved the fox's breakfast in front of him, sitting down to her own. She took a drink of tea as Romsca asked, "You're really leaving on another raid so soon? I just got back, figured I'd give me crew the month."

Rasconza shrugged. "I want to buy another manor. It'll be small, sure, but it'd be nice to have a place on land again. After all, Sagitar's living in the one I used to have. I'm figuring two more good raids should do it."

The fox drank some tea as he asked, "So how's the ship coming along, eh Xzaris? You've been at her about three seasons, haven't you?"

Xzaris grinned. "Aye, but she's nearly done. Romsca's gonna help me fix a few leaks in the forcastle an' I've gotta replace her sail .. that's the hardest part."

Val raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Xzaris shrugged. "Yea, it costs the most. An' if I don't have the dragon on me sail I ain't legally a capt'n. So ya bet I'm gonna pay fer the sail, it's better'n loosin' me head over it."

Rasconza stretched. "I'll tell you what, Freebooter's sail's showing some wear, but it's still good. I'd sell it to you for way less than a new one .. come over and see if you want it."

Xzaris nodded. "Sounds fair 'nough, though I'll have ta cut it down ta fit Darkshroud. So, how was yer last raid? From the mood yer in, I'm guessin' it went well."

"Sure did." Rasconza ate some more, stating, "We got twice the taxes I pay on the ship, enough to pay the crew, and a tidy bit leftover. Also got some new oar slaves."

Romsca looked up, frowning. "How can you keep living creatures like that? Ever since my father .. and those poor otters were killed .. I .. can't make myself."

Rasconza sighed. "Romsca, matey, we've been through this before. You're the roughest beast I know except when it comes to prisoners. What's with that .. I mean, you raid too."

"Yea, but ya know me signature attack is swift an' silent .. I try to kill as few as possible an' I take no prisoners." Romsca scowled. "Ya couldn't understand Rasconza, ya .. just didn't see what I saw."

Rasconza rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, I guess. Now Val, how'd you like to walk to the tavern with me? It's on the way to my ship and all I need to do is chart my next course today."

Val grinned. "Great!"

Rasconza winked at her. "Besides, I thought we could stop by the market for a bit. I remember you said something about wanting new earrings?"

Val jumped up with a squeal. "Ooooh really?"

"Well I think I could spare a little. Besides, what's a few coins for me girlfriend?" Rasconza stood up, grinning at Xzaris. "And what does lover boy over here do .. ask his girl to help him fix his ship?"

Romsca rolled her eyes. "Good grief Rasconza, we've been over this before. I ain't Xzaris's girlfriend."

Xzaris looked embarrassed. "Yea .. well .. we best be off."

Rasconza laughed as Val pulled on her boots, shaking the mud off them. The vixen jumped up, rushing out onto the porch. "Isn't it the greatest day ever? Come on Conza, race ya!"

"Hey!" Rasconza leaped after her, coat tails flapping behind him.

Romsca walked past the still wet rug hanging over the railing, asking, "Hey Xzaris, walk or ride?"

Xzaris jumped down the stairs without blinking an eye. "Oh, let's walk. Give yer poor ol' horse a rest."

Romsca shrugged, buckling on the cutlass that had once been her father's. "Alright, deal."

The two walked out the courtyard gates, and Romsca locked them behind her, returning the key to it's hiding place in the neglected flowerbed outside. She hurried after Xzaris, into the street and down toward the docks.

She caught up to him, stating, "Hey Xzaris, for the record ... I know I was laughin' at ya last night but ya have done wonders ta Darkshroud."

Xzaris grinned. "Yea .. well, I know ya feel like that. Glad I made ya laugh, cause it ain't easy."

Romsca shrugged. "Normally there's no cause fer it."

They were crossing one of the busy streets, when a cry rang out. "Halt, by order of the emperor!"

The two ferrets froze, spinning around to see Sagitar pull her horse to a stop behind them, several of the ratguard with her. Romsca felt her heart skip a beat, and Xzaris bowed quickly. "General .. what kin we do fer ya?"

Sagitar dismounted easily, stating, "The emperor has requested your presence, both of you."

Xzaris looked surprised. "Milady .. Emperor Ublaz wants ta see .... me?"

The rat regarded him with an air of disinterest. "Yes. You will come with us immediately."

Romsca met Xzaris's confused eyes, knowing her own were horrified. "I have paid all the taxes from me last raid general, an' ..."

Sagitar looked irritated. "Now."

Xzaris shrugged, reaching out and laying a paw on Romsca's shoulder. "We're comin', general."

The journey to the palace was made in silence, and it was a tense silence. Romsca hadn't been escorted to the palace in this manner since the day her father had been executed, and she wondered if it was her turn.

No .. I haven't done anything wrong, neither has Xzaris!

As they made their way up the palace stairs, another thought came to her.

Ublaz wants to stamp out the House of the Dragons, he has since he killed Empress Meili. The only reason he kept me and my uncle alive was because he needed ship captains.

Panic was welling within her, and she attempted to shove it down with logic.

Xzaris is not of the House of the Dragons, but the House of the Falcons. And if he planned to kill the Dragons, why didn't he wait until Uncle Barranca was in port and not off raiding?

Still, the feelings of terror persisted.

He's planning something awful.

They came to the doors that led to the throne room, to see Rasconza standing there. Sagitar held out a paw. "No weapons are to be taken before Ublaz."

Romsca regretfully unbuckled her cutlass, giving it to the rat as Xzaris handed over his pike and a sizable knife. The rat general gave the weapons to one of her creatures, ordering, "You three. With us."

The red doors creaked open, showing the crimson colored hall, and the dragon throne where its grim but completely elegant occupant sat waiting for them.

The three cast a glance at each other, and Romsca tried to come up with a reason why she, Xzaris, and Rasconza would all be called before Ublaz at the same time.

Sagitar bowed. "Rasconza of the House of the Gulls, Xzaris of the House of the Falcons, and Romsca of the House of the Dragons, as you ordered sire."

The three instantly bowed, and Ublaz spoke. "Ah, nice of you to join me, my young captains."

Romsca's voice came off as fearful and blunt, and she wished she had not spoken. "What do you want?"

"To the point as ever, Captain Romsca." Ublaz smiled. "Very well, I will be upfront with you. My pearls are still out there."

He stood up, walking the length of his dias. "I need captains to find them. And since the last quest was such a disappointing failure ..."

The pine marten stopped in front of Romsca, smiling, his voice gentle. "I've decided to raise the stakes."

All three young beasts snuck glances at each other as their emperor continued. "It's amazing what a creature will do for their life, isn't it? There are three directions the pearls may be in, and there are three of you. You each will go in one of these directions, and the one who brings me my pearls keeps their life."

Xzaris slowly spoke. "An' .. the other two, sire?"

"Quite simply, they will die." Ublaz examined his pristine claws. "I could not allow Sampetra to think their emperor has weakened, now could I?"

Rasconza looked at his friends in horror, before stammering, "But ... if you kill two of us, you loose two able beasts that could serve you. And why us .. surely there are older captains."

Ublaz took a sip of wine from his chalice, sighing with pretend remorse, "Must I be so blunt with you? Yes, I expect I must. Well, it seems that you three share a .. rather remarkable bond. Best friends, wouldn't you say? And you all are captains now. I am simply taking a needed precaution my young captains, that being .. the last time there were close ties among captains .. well, it wasn't a pretty sight, was it."

The emperor did not bother asking it as a question, and Rasconza looked down.

Ublaz smiled. "No, it wasn't. And so I've come up with a .. rather ingenious plan for the three of you. You might say .. a sort of game. Fifteen of my Monitors will accompany each of you, and I expect you to leave in the week. General, whatever repairs Captain Xzaris's ship needs, do see to them."

Sagitar nodded, and Xzaris looked overwhelmed. "But .. but sire .. which ways will we be goin'?"

The pine marten emperor sat back down on his throne, clapping his paws as a ratguard hurried off. "Well that's a good question, isn't it? I rather expected you to ask it of me, so I prepared a way to do just that. After all, it wouldn't be fair if you didn't have a say in it, but we want it to be fair to everybeast, now don't we?"

Ublaz smiled at the silence that answered him. "Yes, indeed we do. You're the best of friends, you've played many a game together, I'm certain. So I thought I'd entertain you with one now."

The ratguard hurried back with a tray that had four wooden squares in it, and a dice. Ublaz picked up the items, smiling all the while. "This is quite simple, my captains. On the other side of these squares is a direction, North, South, West, and East. West does not concern us because there is no known land west of Sampetra, so should you turn that one over, you would have to go again. The idea is for you each to pick a direction, and then sail in it."

Romsca, Rasconza, and Xzaris exchanged glances ... glances that showed they were only just realizing how terrible this truly was.


"I am Cleckstarr Montisle Folger, of the northern mountains and the kingdom of Icetor. But you can bally well call me Clecky, a chap can barely remember a handle the length a mine." The light brown hare with chocolate colored headfur to his shoulders preformed an elegant bow for Durral, where a crowd was gathering in the main gate.

He turned to his companion, completely hooded in black with only two silky black ears, a white stained, sharp toothed muzzle, and brushy white tipped tail visible. "And this is me ever faithful companion and best matey, Valska Nighthood, but ya can bally well call him Hood, since his handle's a bit of a mouthful. Whom do we have the pleasure a meeting?"

Durral bowed, giving Hood a glance. "I am Durral, father abbot of Redwall .. do tell me, what manner of beast is your friend?"

Clecky smiled, clapping his companion on the back. "Hood? Hood here's a bally fox, what else'd the chap be? Of the royal line of Icetor, if I may say. Awful noble and all that .. by trade, a dead eye assassin and the most loyal pal anybeast could want. Isn't that right Hoody old chap?"

The creature flicked one ear, and Clecky grinned. "See, conformation and all that. Hearing once is knowing, that's what our other pal says."

Martin leaned forward. "Your .. other pal?"

Clecky nodded. "That's right, he oughta be around here someplace .. I say Gerul! Gerul matey, show that blinkin' feathered famine face a yours!"

There was a moment, before the air was split by a rustle of wings, and a young barn owl landed beside the hare. "Ach, what about a famine?"

Clecky nodded. "And this is Gerul, only one of us with a name wot can be said with one breath. So now your abbotship sir, long seasons ago, there was an alliance between Icetor and your jolly old Mossflower, and we were bally well wondering if we might stop in awhile."

He looked around, whispering, "Also, I here that vittles here are prime eatin, eh wot?"

Durral nodded. "Why certainly young sirs, it would be a pleasure to have you ..."

He paused, looking at Hood again. "All of you of course. But do mind yourselves in my abbey, no fighting or disruptiveness, alright?"

Clecky grinned. "Course not your abbot-highness! Nothin' of the sort, bein' bally visitors and all that. Isn't that the ticket chaps?"

Gurel nodded in agreement. "Why, a course. As me ould mother always said, if you can't be polite, why, don't be in company."

Hood dipped his head slightly.

Clecky winked at Durral. "Well there you have it, your abbotness! All three of us have sworn ta be on our best blinkin' behavior, and if we aren't, why you can jolly well give us the old boot. By the left, do I smell something cooking?"

Durral nodded. "Gracious, where are my manners? Yes, Grath, Martin, Tansy? Do take our visitors to breakfast, would you? And if it's not too much, maybe you could show them around and tell them the rules of our home?"

Martin nodded. "Of course father abbot!"

Grath smiled shyly, as Clecky noticed the wooden spoon stuck in the cloth belt that held on Tansy's apron. "I do say .. you happen to know the fine arts of cookery lassie?"

Tansy blinked. "Why yes! I love cooking. How about you?"

Clecky grinned. "Oh I may not be a cook, but this here chap's occupation is scoffin' wot? So it's a good thing I met ya, what sorts of things you cook best?"

Tansy obliged him without question. "Well, I like to bake. Flans, cakes, pies, scones, bread ... and I like cooking things too, soups, stew, fish .. salads .."

Martin broke in, looking at Clecky, who had a completely dreamy look on his face. "Um .. Tansy? You better take him where he can eat some, I think."

Gerul spoke up. "If Ah could tag along .. after all, as me ould mother always would say, young'uns should always have a good breakfast .."

Tansy laughed. "Oh come on, there's plenty for all."

"By all means me gel, lead the way! A poor chap needs some sustainin' vittles now and then, wot wot?" Clecky hurried after her.

Martin and Grath exchanged a glance, being left with the hooded creature. Martin looked around, stating, "So .. did you travel far?"

The creature turned his head in Martin's direction, before nodding. The mouse tried again. "Must be .. pretty far to Icetor, isn't it?"

The hooded fox nodded. Grath raised an eyebrow, suddenly blurting, "Can you talk?"

Hood turned to her, before he nodded. Martin scratched an ear. "Can you prove that .. I mean .. like say something?"

The fox sighed, his ears flicking back a little. He perked them up again, and when he spoke, his voice was soft but commanded a strange sort of nobility. It was free of all slurs that vermin normally possessed, with a taint of northern accent. "Yes, I can talk."

Martin nodded. "Oh .. ok .. yea .. well, breakfast is this way. Do you .. want any?"

"I would, if it isn't any trouble." Hood placed his black paws in the wide sleeves of his black hood, falling silent again.

Grath gave him a suspicious look, and Martin shrugged. "Alright .. follow us. Um .. are you .. blind?"

Hood sighed, walking past them into Great Hall. "No."

Grath fell in step with Martin, muttering, "I don't think I trust him."

Martin nodded. "You and me both. Let's keep our eyes open."


Romsca rubbed the dice between her gloved paws as she always did, before rolling it. The polished wooden cube clattered over the marble, clacking against the tray of wood squares.

Ublaz smiled, fangs gleaming softly, and Romsca cringed, reaching for a square. She picked it up, staring at the letter that stared back at her .. west.

The pine marten emperor sighed mockingly, obviously enjoying this. "Too bad ... it looks as though you'll have to go again, won't you. Captain Rasconza?"

Rasconza picked up the dice, doing as he was bid. The fox picked up one of the polished squares, turning it slowly over ... north. He took a deep breath, handing the dice to Xzaris.

The ferret shook the cube a moment, before throwing it gently. It came to a stop, and Xzaris glanced at it, reaching out and picking up a square. He paused, before laying it in front of him .. south.

Romsca looked up, as Ublaz smiled. "Well Captain Romsca, we're waiting."

She rubbed the dice between her paws again, knowing exactly which direction she would be going no matter how the lots fell. The ferret clenched her teeth together as she turned over the last square ... east.

Ublaz leaned forward. "Well, isn't this interesting. Almost ... an irony isn't it?"

Romsca didn't meet his gaze, trying not to bare her fangs due to the boiling anger in her heart. Ublaz smiled even wider, his obvious enjoyment of this cruelty sickening. "I suggest you get ready, you will be leaving within the week, in other words, the next three days. Sagitar, escort my captains out, they are busy beasts with much to attend to, and I really can't keep them any longer."

The rat general smirked a little, as the three captains stood. "This way, the three of you."

Romsca cast one glance behind her as the throne room's red doors were closed, and Ublaz was standing, watching them, smiling all the while.

Sagitar dropped her cutlass unceremoniously into her paws as others returned Xzaris's pike and Rasconza's belts of knives of every variety. Romsca buckled the sheathed weapon to her belt, her mouth a grim line.

Once at the bottom of the palace steps, Romsca slowly looked at her two friends. Rasconza met her gaze, shaking his head, his brown eyes glittering with as much fear and pain as she felt. "I .. I've got to make Freebooter ready to sail .. and talk to Val."

He looked down, before hurrying away. Romsca and Xzaris exchanged a glance, before continuing down toward the dock as they had been .. what seemed days ago now. They did not speak to one another, for there was very little to say, and Romsca felt more insecure than she had in seasons.

The two ferrets slowly made their way in and out of pedestrians, all going about their business as if this was nothing more than a normal day. But it wasn't .. Romsca knew so much better.

Xzaris slowly spoke. "I .. sure never thought .. this'd be how it ends."

Romsca didn't look up. "It ain't ended. It ain't, an' it can't ... it can't end this way!"

"Why not .. with his Monitors, there's jist nothin' we can do." Xzaris's voice was sad.

"I know .." Romsca took a shuddering breath. "I know but he can't do this! He can't .. he .. I won't let him!"

A firm paw gripped her shoulder, and she met Xzaris's blue eyes. "Ya know good an' well that's fool's talk, so don't talk it, ya here me?"

"Ya ain't me boss Xzaris." Romsca grumbled.

The ferret forced her to stop. "I know ya agree with me."

Her eyes snapped. "A course I do! But I don't want ta .. it ain't right .. what he's done and what he's doin' ... oh Xzaris .."

She clapped her paws to her face to hide the tears that wanted to spill. Two arms suddenly wrapped around her, and she blinked her eyes open in surprise.

Xzaris quickly let go of her, sighing. "I know .. I know it ain't. But I can't help rememberin' .. how yer dad was ..."

"I don't wanna think about dad." Romsca wrapped her arms around herself as they continued walking.

"But maybe we should." Her friend argued. "How he acted ta those otters ..."

Romsca glared at him, snapping, "Stop it! I don't wanna think about any a it ever again, ya hear me! It .. it hurts ta much."

Nothing was said for a moment, before Xzaris shrugged. "Ok."

"It ain't ok." Romsca grumbled under her breath.

"No it ain't." Xzaris agreed. "I meant I un'erstand."

Romsca looked up, shaking her head. "What'd I ever do without ya matey?"

The gray ferret smirked. "Looks like yer gonna find out."

Romsca looked down, and Xzaris quickly corrected himself. "I'm sorry Romsca ..."

"No, I am. I shoulda thought farther." Her voice was soft, but it was cold.

She heaved a sigh. "Aw Xzaris, I'm gonna miss ya somethin' awful."

"Let's jist .. not talk bout that right now, ok? We ain't gotta leave fer three days an' all." Xzaris tried smiling, but it failed.

Romsca shrugged. "Right, guess so."

They stopped on the old dock Darkshroud was moored on, and stared for a moment. A crew of beasts were working on the small ship, and most amazing of all was the beautiful new sail being hoisted up the mast, the woven blue dragon on it waving proudly in the breeze.

Xzaris shook his head speechlessly for awhile, before murmuring, "Lookit that ... I'd a slaved another two seasons ta make 'nough money ta buy a new sail. Now I gits one fer nothin' .. an' I can't even enjoy it."

He heaved a sigh. "Ublaz sure has a way a makin' somethin' really good seem really awful."

Chapter 14 Destiny's Whisper

Abbot Durral had decided supper should be a slightly fancier affair, with the arrival of guests. Grath had to admit, she found Clecky and Gerul's antics funny, and soon was laughing along with Martin and Tansy.

Clecky took a large bite of flan, talking with his mouth full. "I say ..."

He swallowed. "I say now, fess up! Who made that amazin' stuff?"

Tansy smiled. "I did! Do you like it?"

"Like it?" Clecky ate some more. "Ya don't just like something that good! I say Hood, have some!"

He shoved a plateful in front of the fox, who picked up his fork and took a bite that was dainty in comparison to Clecky's. Gerul had swiped the hare's plate away from him while he was looking away, and had finished it off.

Clecky was indignant. "I say, awful bad form feather bag!"

Gerul looked smug, and Grath clapped her paws to her muzzle, giggling.

"It is good to see you laugh."

Grath, Martin, and Tansy all wheeled around in their seats, and Clecky dipped his head. "Good evenin' marm. I do say, is that pudding?"

Sayna brushed her flowing black skirt out of the way, sitting beside Hood without the slightest bit of hesitation. Grath smiled. "Oh, hello Sayna. Where've you been .. I was wondering when we'd see you again."

The mouse folded her paws. "I had some trading business down south a ways. Have you kept up with archery?"

"Of course, it's one of the things I love .. and I can do." Grath shrugged.

Sayna smiled slightly. "That is good, skills like that are always needed."

She turned to Hood. "I take it you are new at Redwall?"

The fox looked down at her a moment, as if in surprise, before he nodded. Sayna pulled a plate of food in front of her, remarking, "Rumor has it you are from Icetor? Being a fox, are you related to Queen Azul, Icetor's founder?"

Hood paused, before he nodded. "I am. How do you know of the Ice Queen?"

Sayna smiled. "I fought beside her once, long ago."

Clecky looked up from where he was demolishing a bowl of salad. "Now hang on two ticks, you bally well couldn't of!"

Sayna laughed. "You must be a Folger, you look it. You come from Icetor, how do you not wonder at my ridiculously long hair?"

Gerul leaned forward. "Now .. you don't mean .."

"Oh yes I do." Sayna took a bite of a scone. "Of all beasts, I thought you might believe my wild stories."

Clecky blinked. "Flippen amzain' .. downright wondrous if I do say so myself! Quite extra-ordinary and all that. You live in this blinkin' lovely place?"

Sayna smiled drily. "No, I live in Mossflower. I happen to be a sword smith, something Durral does not exactly approve of."

"You mean his abbotness? Well the food alone's enough ta convince a chap to be peaceful, I'll say." Clecky had finished his salad and moved on to the mole favorite, deeper'n'ever turnip'n'tater'n'beetroot pie.

Cracklyn plopped down beside Grath. "So, I just convinced Arven to stay with the other dibbuns ..."

She stopped when she noticed Sayna. "Umm .."

Sayna dipped her head to the squirrel, continuing, "So, I hear Log-a-Log's on his way."

Both Martin and Grath looked excited, and the older mouse smiled. "I'm always glad to see that shrew and those two rouges of his."

Durral walked by, stopping still. Sayna smiled, almost a smirk. "Good evening Durral. It's been a while, no?"

The abbot flicked one ear. "Sayna .. to what do we owe this .. unexpected visit?"

The mouse maid took a drink of water. "Oh, I thought I'd drop in. In fact, I think I may stay a while, until Log-a-Log's visit at least."

Durral made a quick face, sighing, "Our doors are always open ... but don't be teaching the dibbuns the arts of warfare, please?"

"Durral, you know that is not what I've been doing. If we are referring to Grath's archery, if Mattimeo teaches his son the sword, why should I not help her learn something that may well save her life someday?" Sayna raised one eyebrow in a challenging manner.

The abbot muttered something, but sighed. "Why must I always fight you every time you visit us?"

Sayna shrugged. "I expect it has something to do with our philosophies."

Durral sighed. "Just abide by our rules while you stay here."

"I cannot promise that." Sayna smiled a little. "But I will take Grath outside the abbey to practice. It would probably be best anyway."

Durral rolled his eyes. "If you must, you must, I suppose."


"Rafglan .. ya .. have been more'n a first mate ta me. Ya've been my right paw ever since ... I got Waveworm, an' I donno if I'd still have her without ya .."

The rat held up a paw. "Yer nervous Capt'n. I only did what yer dad woulda wanted, so ya needn't stumble on about it .. git ta the point, if ya would."

Romsca sighed. "What I mean is .. this could be me last voyage, an' .. ya don't gotta come if ya don't want ta."

There was silence a moment, and Romsca wondered if he was going to take her offer, but the rat snorted. "Capt'n. I'd sail ta the ends a the earth with ya, don't ya know that? I'll tell ya somethin' .. the night fore he died, yer daddy made me promise ta stand by ya in storm or fair winds, an' I don't break me promises."

He clapped her on the arm. "So ol' Rafglan's sailin' with ya honey .. I mean Capt'n. I don't got a lot more voyages I can make, the sea an' me years is catchin' up with me .. so I'm standin' firm beside ya. Ya have the makin'sa a great capt'n .. Imma do me best ta see ya survive this."

Romsca let a rare smile pass across her lips. "Thank ya .. an' I mean that."

Rafglan nodded. "Think nothin' a it. I'll seek out the best crew I can git ya considerin' the nature a the voyage. An' I'm sure ol' Rubby'll be comin' along."

Romsca straightened up, lifting her head once more. "Right, we'll be leaving just as soon as we have a full crew an' provisions. See ta it everybeast is prepared fer the dangers we're gonna face, an' knows full well what he's gettin' inta."

Rafglan smiled. "Aye aye Capn't, that's the spirit an' how ta give orders. The crew we're gonna have'll be rough. Remember. Ya are the one in charge, nobeast else is .. ya look down ta nobeast an' take no nonsense off anyone. Ya are capt'n."

"I've got it Rafglan ... I'm .. as ready as I'll ever be. Now let's move." Romsca tilted her chin upward the tiniest bit, and Rafglan bowed, hurrying of.

The ferret stroked her cutlass hilt, staring out to sea, past the dark form of Waveworm, anchored at one of the piers. She knew there were things to do, but there was something transfixing about the night breeze filled with the moisture and salt-smell of the sea.

"Romsca! Hey, Romsca!"

She wheeled around, to see Val come running out of the gloom. The ferret raised an eyebrow, asking, "Aren't ya supposed ta be at work?"

Val stopped in front of her, barely panting. "Yea .. but .. I heard! And Rasconza paid Kia off so I could go ta dinner with ya guys .."

"Dinner?" Romsca was confused.

"Oh yea." Val grabbed her paw, leading her off. "We're goin' ta dinner with Rasconza, I'm takin' ya, come on."

Romsca followed her. "But I ..."

Val wouldn't take no for an answer. "Romsca, yer work .. it's awful important bein' the Capt'n I'm sure. But this could be the last time we ....."

Romsca sighed, falling into step with the vixen. "Point taken."

The two made their way up from the docks, taking the main streets to avoid being found alone by a Monitor. Val stopped in front of a pretty little tavern, barely able to be called a tavern any longer due to its elegance.

Rasconza and Xzaris were standing on the steps, talking in the warm glow of paper lanterns that hung from the roof's curving eaves. The dog fox smiled when he saw them, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Ah, there you are. I was wondering how long we'd have to wait .. come on."

He offered his arm to Val and she took it, walking through the open doorway with him, Romsca and Xzaris close behind. A pretty young ratmaid showed them to their table, and Val plopped herself down next to Rasconza, grinning. "Yer gonna have ta sit with Xzaris, Romsca."

She shrugged, sitting beside the ferret. "Is that supposed ta bother me?"

Val looked innocent but cheeky at the same time, and Romsca rolled her eyes. Xzaris, who'd remained silent until now, tapped his claws on the table, a habit of his when he was thinking. "So ..."

Rasconza sighed, rubbing at his head, "I .. I really don't know, to be honest. I just thought we should have .. a little time together before we all go our separate ways."

Val didn't say anything for a moment, before blurting, "Why .. why does it .. I mean .."

She shook her head. "Do we really gotta do this?"

Romsca growled. "We shouldn't have ta."

"There's a lotta things we shouldn't have ta do, Romsca." Xzaris laid his elbow on the table, resting his head on his paw. "But we gotta do 'em. What are ya really gonna do?"

Romsca scowled, before muttering darkly, "Nothin'."

Xzaris smirked. "S'what I thought."

Romsca glared at him, and he sighed. "Look Rom, I think ya live in those made up books a yers sometimes. And this .. it just ain't like that."

"Is it wrong ta want more outa life?" Romsca growled, sinking her claws into her napkin. "I don't wanna serve some rotten ..."

She halted herself, ducking her head. "I'm sorry."

Rasconza sighed. "But she's right. This'll end in two of our executions, you do realize that. The emperor doesn't care about us, we're just pawns to him."

"I know, but .. what are we goin' ta do about it? Ublaz is unstoppable .. we're just some kids who're lucky ta be livin' an' manage ta call ourselves capt'ns. Yer the oldest Rasconza, yer twenty-two .. Ublaz .. he's .."

Xzaris paused as Val laid her head on the table, muttering, "He's Emperor."

"So we're just gonna play his game." Romsca sulked. "I can't believe I've gotta let me own best friends die ta keep me own life."

She lowered her voice, growling deep in her throat. "I hate him."

There was silence for a moment, before Xzaris sighed. "We all do. An' he loves it ... have ya seen him? Just the way he looked at me an' smiled .. like he could feel jist how much I hated him an' he was glad a it."

Val grimaced. "But .. ain't there somethin' we can do? Anythin'? Like maybe start off how he wants an' then turn round an' ..."

Rasconza laid a paw on her arm. "Val. Please. I've thought of it .. but with the Monitors, there's little we can do."

The four fell into gloomy silence, reflective, and in Romsca's case, dark. The ferret didn't look up as the ratmaid returned, setting drinks on the table and asking what they would like. Romsca wasn't hungry, but ordered something anyway, mostly because Rasconza was watching.

As the young waitress walked over to another table, the low conversation of the beasts in the booth behind them could be heard.

"You hear about the three captains?"

"Yes." The reply was soft, like a lady's. "The poor young ones."

"It ain't right what he does. But who's going to stop him? Not me, and nobeast on Sampetra would dare to defy him, not after all his displays of power."

There was a sigh, before the feminine voice spoke again. "Well, it cannot be helped. What of your standing in the ratguard?"

The first creature's voice was a grumbling sound. "General Sagitar is a hard master. She is prone to a terrible temper, she is, an' she stands for no nonsense, that one. We lost four guards last night, one dead on the wall .. shot by an arrow, the others simply missing."

"How does that happen?" The lady's voice sounded worried. "The ratguard are trained hard to defend us, how do the killers manage to escape them?"

"I don't know sweetheart. We do our best .. Sagitar sends us outside the walls to search, but there ain't a trace. And we can't get far .. anybeast outside the walls after dark is never seen again." The male creature paused. "I take stock in the legends myself. They're ghosts of somethin' we upset."

Romsca was jolted away from listening as the ratmaid came back, setting their dinners in front of them. It smelled wonderful, but Romsca didn't feel like eating, and neither did anybeast else from the way they picked at their food.

Rasconza tried to steer the train of thought off their impending separation. "So. What do you think about how the wall guards are killed? Who really does it, do you think?"

Xzaris smirked. "How about ghosts?"

"Oh come on." Rasconza rolled his eyes. "Like I believe that. There's got to be something real out there."

"Aye .." Romsca scratched her chin, looking at Rasconza and then Xzaris. "I donno. What do ya think, Val?"

The vixen swallowed the rest of her drink in one gulp, remarking, "Oh lookit that .. I'm outa water a'ready."

"Seriously Val," Xzaris pressed her. "What do ya think about it?"

"Me?" Val looked innocent. "Why I ain't the one ta ask, I ain't never been outside the walls."

Romsca sighed. "Well yea, none of us have, but ya gotta have some guess as ta what the things are."

Val blinked for a moment, before shrugging. "Nah .. I donno nothin'. But I did wanna talk ta ya all for .. yea. So I was thinkin' ... Xzaris, ya ain't gotta full crew yet?"

Xzaris looked downcast again. "No. And I don't know where I'm gonna git one ..."

Val interrupted. "Will ya take me on? I'll be yer deck scrubber or cook or whatever, I'm jist tired a workin' fer Kia an' gettin' paid hardly nothin'. I don't wanna be a barmaid anyway, I wanna be a pirate!"

Xzaris stared at her, then at Rasconza, who held up a paw. "Whoa, hold it now ... Val, you could get killed!"

The vixen grinned challengingly. "Are ya gonna take me 'stead?"

Rasconza backed up at that point. "Val, I love you and all .. don't get me wrong .. but .. I've got a full crew. And I don't know how you'd get on with them. Besides ... honey you're not .. really .."

The fox was having trouble. Val stuck her nose in the air. "Rasconza, I don't care if'n I'm small, I can still be a pirate, so there."

Xzaris smirked, winking at Romsca. "Uh-oh, she said 'is full name, he's in fer it."

Rasconza glared at the gray ferret, sighing. "Val .. I don't want to loose you, ok? Maybe you should stay here .."

"Ya ain't me boss, as Romsca says, I wanna sail, an' I'm gonna sail." Val closed her eyes airily. "I wanna be a capt'n someday, an' I'm gonna be one."

Rasconza rubbed at the side of his head, sighing, "Oh ... Val .. sometimes .."

"I can be irritatin'?" She helped him.

"Yes! Exactly. But if you're determined .."

Val grinned. "Oh I am. But here's the question .. am I sailin' with ya or with Xzaris?"

Rasconza paused, seeming to think about it a moment, before shaking his head. "I don't know how to answer that .. I just can't take you Val. You're not experienced, my crew's .. just not understanding, see?"

The fox turned to Xzaris, sighing, "If she's determined to go with you .. you look out for her, see?"

Xzaris held up his paws. "I'll do me very best, I swear on Astraria."

He paused, turning to Romsca. "Have ya got a crew yet?"

"I donno." Romsca sighed. "Rafglan's been helpin' me with pickin' crews these last seasons, but I can't get the normal sorta beast. Raf said he'd do his best an' talk it over with me in the mornin'."

"Ya be careful." Xzaris warned her. "You're the only .. well .. the only girl capt'n on Sampetra. An' that's great, but yer gonna have ta prove it ta a new crew ya ain't used ta."

Romsca cracked her knuckles, sitting up straight. "Don't worry Xzaris, ya've sailed with me before, ya oughta know I'm not a weaklin'."

Xzaris nodded. "Yea I know that, but they don't."

Romsca shrugged. Rasconza took a bite of his meal, sighing, "And that goes for you too Val, I know I've taught you fencing and you're pretty good with your saber, but ... let's practice tomorrow before you go to work."

"I ain't goin' ta work." Val leaned against the back of her seat. "I'll drop in ta give that ol' witch me resignation. I'm tired a her bossin' me 'round so I am. I'll practice with anybeast if they've got the time an' pack me stuff up."

Rasconza made a face, but sighed in resignation. "I guess it's settled then."


"Up, blade up Val! Never drop yer guard ... yeek!" Romsca dodged nimbly, bringing her cutlass up as there was the resounding clash of steel.

Val jumped to the side with the speed of lightning, bringing a cut at her opponent's legs. Romsca jumped, slashing at the vixen's head, and she ducked. The two circled each other a moment, before Val thrust, and Romsca parried with a powerful bind, blasting the fox's sword from her grip.

She tapped her cutlass on Val's side. "Gotcha."

Val stuck her lip out, pouting. "Ya always win!"

Romsca nodded wordlessly, getting her breath back. Val retrieved her saber, tossing it in the air and catching it. "Oh well. Wanna go again?"

Romsca leaned against a bench in her manor's courtyard, sitting down. "Oh for Atlas's sake ... that was the eighteenth time Val, ya ain't tired yet?"

"Nope! Are ya?" Val was challenging.

"No I ain't." Romsca stood up in a swift move. "If ya wanna go again, be me guest."

Val adopted a hanging guard stance. "Ladies first!"

Fox and ferret met in a clash of steel, Romsca leaping to the side, cutlass held ready. "Ya sure know how ta be irritatin'!"

"Prouda it!" Val grinned, advancing with a flurry of cuts, backing Romsca against the stable. "Had 'nough melady?"

Romsca snorted. "Enough? I ain't started!"

She kicked Val in the legs, dropping to the paving and rolling away, leaping back onto her paws in nearly the same movement. "Ya want some more?"

Val had winced, but now seemed in good repair again. "Bring it on capt'n!"

Romsca advanced with amazing power and speed, driving Val against the stable and plowing her weapon out of her paw. "Aye aye melady. That's nineteen in my favor, care for a rematch?"

Val scurried after her saber, seizing it and holding it forward. "Anythin' fer me sis!"

The two ran at each other again, and Val slid to the side. Romsca spun with her, bringing a paw-numbing cut on the vixen's saber. However Val ducked behind her, and Romsca dropped to the ground, letting the blow cut through air. She brought a powerful cut upward, sending Val's weapon flying again.

The ferret was panting, but grinning. "Twenty fer me, what'd ya say I win?"

Val tried to scowl, before she burst out laughing. "Ok, ok, ya win. But someday I'm gonna win!"

"In yer dreams." Romsca laughed, standing up again.

Val sheathed her saber, rolling her eyes. "But was I any good at all?"

Romsca paused, before nodding, "Ya know, ya was. Yer stronger'n before .. I think ya might do better than Rasconza thinks."

Val grinned. "I'll show 'im .. he can be over protectin' sometimes. An' I love the sea .. I wanna sail it. See other places an' the like."

"Aye, sailin's wonderful." Romsca sheathed her own weapon, adding, "A course .. it can be dangerous. I always had a good, steady crew .. mostly older beasts .. an' Rafglan's always me advisor. But I donno what it's gonna be like now."

She shook her head. "Ya watch out fer yerself see? Rasconza ain't gonna be there ta do it fer ya, an' neither am I. An' look out fer Xzaris fer me, ok?"

Val saluted. "Aye aye capt'n, keep meself in one piece an' look after yer boyfriend fer ya!"

Romsca scowled. "Will ya quit that already? It ain't the truth an' it wouldn't matter even if it was, one or botha us is gonna die."

Val fell silent with a sigh, nodding. "Yea .. Guess so."

The two stopped as the courtyard doors opened slightly, and Romsca's paw fell to the hilt of her cutlass. However Rafglan walked in, asking, "Capt'n, a word?"

Romsca nodded to him. "Yea .. come up on the porch."

The rat did so, and Val went into the manor, leaving them alone. Rafglan sighed. "Wull, the good news is, we have more'n enough beasts ta make a crew willin' ta sail. But .. that's also the bad news."

"How so?" Romsca raised an eyebrow, confused. "If ya can find beasts willin' ta go on this crazy mission ..."

"Capt'n, that's just the blasted thing. Mosta our normal crew admit yer becomin' a great capt'n, but they ain't goin' ta sail. Oh Rubby is, he alwus does, ya know. No, the only beasts that'll sign up are a buncha young idiots .. really, they jist want money an' adventure an' a chance ta git their pretty capt'n ta like em." Rafglan made a face.

Romsca stared at him a moment, before she spit off the porch into the bushes beside it in disgust. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard! I ain't gonna like any of 'em, they can go boil their rotten heads!"

Rafglan nodded. "Aye an' that's what I told the most a 'em. But there's a number I kept ... they ain't what yer used ta fer sure, but they ain't bad beasts as such go an' they'll do in a pinch. We gotta leave tomorrow capt'n."

"I know ..." Romsca scowled. "But the idiocy a some fools!"

"Just show 'em who's boss, good'n proper capt'n. Ye'll do fine, ya can deal with storms'n leaks'n battle plans, ya can deal with the lot a young idiots." Rafglan assured his captain. "They may be yer own age an' older'n ya, but it's all about who's bravest an' toughest .. an' who owns the ship. They don't. So show 'em what yer made of."

Romsca sneered. "Don't worry."

Rafglan nodded. "Good fer that capt'n, jist thought I should warn ya. Cause we're leavin' first thing inna mornin' and ya need ta look like ya know what yer doin', see?"

"Yah .. thanks fer the warnin'." Romsca narrowed her eyes. "I'll be ready, Raf."

The rat smiled crookedly, tipping his ragged hat. "See ya inna mornin' then, Capt'n."

Val stepped out of the doorway, where she'd been leaning against the frame, listening all the while. "So ya get yerself a crew a admirers?"

Romsca raised one lip in a snarl. "Ha. Like that's what I need. I'll show 'em ... losers the lot a 'em if that's all they can think bout."


The afternoon sun over Mossflower lit a landscape of pure serenity and peace .. almost completely so.


The sound of an arrow sinking into a target split the silence, and another followed it in a matter of seconds.

Grath pulled another arrow from her quiver, dropping to one knee and holding the bow flat instead of upright. She let the arrow fly, the string slipping smoothly off her fingers.


The sound of arrow shaft hitting arrow shaft broke the silence, and Sayna stood up. "Alright, no more. You loose more arrows that way."

Grath looked slightly nervous. "How'd I do?"

Sayna smiled. "From what I can see, quite well."

Martin slid down from the rock he'd been sitting on, tuning his lute. He raised an eyebrow. "It's not that far away."

"Neither do I see as well as I used to." Sayna shrugged. "Let's get them."

Grath followed Sayna, pausing at the target. The three arrow's shafts were nearly touching and crossing one another, they were so close. Sayna nodded. "Now that is impressive."

She yanked one out, and Grath did the others, placing all three in her quiver. "Am I getting better at it?"

"You're practically better than me." Sayna laughed. "Considering how many years I've practiced, that's saying something."

Grath smiled, a truly happy smile, and Sayna nodded to her. "Good job. And I know what Durral says and thinks .. the mouse means well. But sometimes he's so blind to danger it's infuriating."

"What .. do you mean, Sayna?" Grath asked. "Is there a real danger?"

"Oh Grath, how can there not be one? In this wicked world?" Sayna shook her head. "Mark my words, danger is constantly around us, and peace, however firm it may seem, is always shaky."

Grath fell silent, feeling her paw clenching around her bow. "Yes."

Sayna turned, pausing. Grath rubbed her left paw across her muzzle. "We never saw those pirates coming, but they came anyway."

She flattened her ears, muttering, "I'm sorry. I don't want to think about it, but ..."

"But sometimes some things cannot be forgotten." Sayna's black eyes sparkled. "And Grath, some things shouldn't be forgotten."

The mouse shrugged. "Yet sometimes we remember too long. I've found it's quite a delicate balance."

Grath watched her walk for a moment, before catching up to her. "That ... doesn't really help as such."

"It wasn't necessarily supposed to." Sayna didn't turn around. "It was simply an observation on my part."

As they came up, Martin finished testing his instrument and began playing something from memory. Grath raised an eyebrow. "I've never heard that before."

"You won't have." Martin explained. "I wrote it last night ... no, that's not the right one .."

He strummed at the strings a moment, before continuing on with his playing.

"Jolly well musically talented eh?"

Martin jumped, as Clecky borrowed his lute, remarking, "I've been known to play a bally instrument or two .. here we go, let's see ... ah yes, wot?"

Hood, standing nearby, flattened his ears. Clecky strummed away at the lute, singing in an off key voice, some ballad of Icetor. Sayna made a face and snatched the instrument back. "Leave that to Martin would you? My ears!"

Clecky pouted. "I say, bally rotten of ya marm, jolly bad form wot, ruinin' a chap's serenade!"

"Serenade my foot." Sayna wiggled a paw in one ear. "More like instant deafness!"

Hood pricked his ears forward again as Martin took his lute back, and Clecky chunnered. "You have no ear for jolly good music marm, downright rude stoppin' a chap practicin'!"

Sayna rolled her eyes, not bothering with an answer. Martin spoke instead. "So, what's going on?"

"The abbot asked us to tell you afternoon tea was ready." If it were not for his distinctive voice and the fact his muzzle moved, nobeast would have guessed Hood had spoken.

Clecky brightened up again. "I say, that's so! Let's be jolly well off, before ol' famine feather face scoffs all the lunch!"

Hood fell in step with Sayna, muttering softly, "He's one to talk."

Sayna's eyes twinkled. "Indeed."

Hood stood straight again, a small smile tugging at the corners of his muzzle.

Grath blinked at how completely at ease Sayna was with the dog fox, and wondered if her earlier suspicions were ungrounded. Martin was walking with Clecky, laughing and talking, and Grath suddenly felt left out.

She caught up to Sayna and Hood letting her own thoughts take hold of her. Could something terrible happen to the Redwallers, just like Holt Lutra? They had walls to protect them, Grath knew archery, Martin and Mattimeo could wield the sword, and of course there was Sayna. But was that really enough?


The docks were quiet in the predawn light, though the screeches of gulls filled the air. Romsca had not been able to sleep whatsoever, so she stood there, watching the sun rise from the sea in a wash of yellows and blues.

Rafglan would come soon, and then they would be off .. on a quest uncertain and truly hopeless. There was a thump from behind her, and Val sighed. "Wull .. I'm off ta the Darkshroud .. golly, I donno who I want ta win this awful thing! I'm gonna miss ya somethin' awful Romsca."

Romsca turned around, nodding. "Yea .. I'm sure gonna miss ya too."

"Awesome pirate sisters ferever?" Val raised an eyebrow.

Romsca smirked. "Course, what do ya take me fer anyway? If I live."

Val rubbed a paw across her muzzle. "Ya just gotta live .. ya an' Conza, an' Xzaris too .."

Romsca gave her a look, and the fox fell silent. Rasconza walked over to them, the breeze rustling the blue feathers in his hat. Val smiled, though insincerely. Rasconza sighed. "So .. you hoisting anchor soon?"

Romsca nodded. "Just waitin' for Raf."

Rasconza scratched the back of his head. "Well ... fair winds to your sails and the best of luck to you. May Astraria give you her blessing."

"Thanks." Romsca looked down. "An' too ya as well."

The fox nodded, before turning to Val. "You sure you want to sail? You won't back down?"

"Nope." Val shook her head. "I'm doin' this Conza."

Rasconza slowly allowed a smile to cross his face. "That's what I like about you, you know."

He kissed the top of her head, stating. "That's for luck, for both of us. Don't worry about me, I won't give up easy, so neither do you."

Xzaris had joined them silently, and Rasconza clapped him of the shoulder. "The best of luck to you too matey, fair winds to your sails. And look out for my girlfriend, you see?"

The ferret shrugged. "I'll do everythin' I can, that's all I can tell ya. But good luck ta ya too, and thanks fer bein' a true mate a mine."

Rasconza smiled, tipping his hat. "Thank you, all of you. I must be going ..."

His face fell as he sighed. "I wish we could part on happier terms, but fate is a cruel beast, isn't she? I'll miss you all."

The fox turned on his heel, slowly walking back toward his own ship. Xzaris turned to Val, stating, "Well .. ya best git aboard. We're leavin' in the hour."

Val nodded, before throwing her arms around Romsca in a tight hug, sniffing, grabbing her satchel of belongings and hurrying off toward where the Darkshroud was moored.

Xzaris slowly turned to Romsca, who swiped some black hair out of her face, biting her lip. "Goodbye Xzaris .. good luck ta ya."

The gray ferret didn't do anything for a moment, before he grabbed her shoulders, staring into her eyes like he was staring into her very soul. Romsca felt frozen, unable to do anything, and Xzaris stammered, "Romsca ..."

His grip tightened a little before he suddenly let go. "I hopes ya find those pearls."

Romsca stared at him blankly, but he simply shot her a half-hearted grin, and hurried away. She watched the blue-gray ferret until he vanished from her sight, and she wanted to call him back, for some reason.

"Capt'n?" Romsca turned to face Rafglan, who made a face. "Sagitar's comin'. With the Monitors. Mosta the crew are already on board .. so should we .."

Romsca's gaze hardened, and she stood straight. "Aye, we should. Let's be off."

The ferret's paw fell to her cutlass hilt, stroking it as she strode past the rat and down the pier toward the gangplank of her ship. The blue dragon motif on Waveworm's sail rustled in the wind, as did the blue flag at the top of the mast, it's picture of the turquoise dragon telling proudly exactly which house the ship belonged to.

Romsca jumped from the gangplank to Waveworm's deck, staring challengingly at all the crewbeasts who had instantly looked up at her arrival. Rafglan joined her quickly, and Romsca stalked forward, feeling her tail twitch with disgust at the admiring glances she was getting.

The ferret stopped next to the mast, as a couple other crew beasts came out of the galley, as well as Rubby. For once, Romsca was truly glad to see him. She turned to Rafglan. "Is that all a them?"

Rafglan paused. "Where's Cheng? Anybeast?"

A scrawny young rat shrugged, as a powerful looking tawny weasel stepped on the deck from the gangplank, and something in his very stance that made Romsca's lip curl up in a snarl. The weasel met her gaze, smiling daringly .. almost challengingly, and she felt her teeth grind together.

She stalked forward a little, snarling, "Listen up, all a ya! This ain't a pleasure trip, see? We're gonna be goin' against unknown odds ta find these pearls, an' we'll have Monitors with us. So if any a ya wants to back down ... back down now if yer a coward, an' don't do it later."

Romsca glared pointedly at the insolent weasel, Cheng, who simply sneered back. The ferret showed her fangs slightly, before Sagitar walked up the gangplank, a huge Monitor behind her.

The rat smiled. "Ah, Captain Romsca .. allow me to introduce you to your escort .. Lask Frildur."

Romsca could not keep her horror from flashing in her eyes as the massive lizard crawled on the deck, and even Cheng quickly backed away. Lask smiled at Romsca, and something strange glittered in his eyes unlike that of which she had seen in any Monitor ... it could almost be called proper intelligence. His yellow eyes were just a little too bright.

His wicked looking companions filed on after him, all fifteen of them, and Sagitar bowed mockingly. "Fair winds, captain."

Chapter 15 To the Ends of the Earth

It had been five days since Waveworm had left Sampetra, and while the crew was edgy, especially Cheng, Romsca hadn't had any real trouble. Simply looking at Lask Frildur made her skin crawl, and her hackles raise .. he was truly terrible, and nearly always watching her.

She was sitting at the desk that had once been her father's, looking over the maps. The ferret tapped her claws on the depiction of Mossflower's coast. Romsca had pointedly avoided that shore, for she loathed the memories that went with it.

However now that she had been sent to find those cursed pearls, the ones that had claimed so many lives already.

"And now I'm gonna find 'em for that beast so he can claim more?" Romsca rubbed the side of her head, breathing out in a sigh.

If she didn't, it'd be her life. Romsca stirred her inkwell with the tip of her quill. "I don't wanna die, I don't want ta! Is that ... wrong?"

Nobeast answered, nobeast ever did. Romsca corked her ink, wiping her quill off and shoving her chair backward. She picked up her axe, holding it loosely in one paw as she pushed open the cabin door, striding out on deck.

Lask paused near the mast, fixing his eyes upon her again. Romsca curled her lip, and the lizard smiled, much to the ferret's discomfort.

About that second there was a crash from the galley, and Cheng came running out on deck, Rubby close behind. The rat snarled. "Ya put that back, thief! Or I'll tell the capt'n!"

The tawny weasel hadn't seen Romsca, who had already seen the bottle of wine in his paw, and ground her teeth together. Cheng wasn't concerned with Rubby's threat. "Ah, shut up ya fat fool, I ain't scared of a girl. Like she can do nothin' ta me .. I bet she's too taken with me good looks ta lift a paw against me!"

Rubby, who was facing Romsca, smirked. "Oh is that so?"

"Yea, no maid can resist me long." Cheng laughed. "Thanks fer the wine!"

Romsca's voice was a guttural sound. "I'd like ta take yer rotten head off, fool."

Cheng jumped, before smirking. "Oh capt'n. I was simply borrowin' a drink."

"Ye'll put it back now." Romsca pointed her axe at him. "An' ya will face a thief's punishment."

The weasel smirked. "Ye'll whip me? Come on honey, why'd ya wanna do somethin' like that?"

Romsca moved like lightning, belting a hard left across his jaw. "Because ya are a thief, an' I am yer capt'n, worm!"

Cheng stumbled back, dropping the wine as he clapped a paw to his face. Rubby retrieved his possession and Romsca advanced on the weasel, claws clenching around her axe shaft. "Rubby, tell Raf ta bring the chains fer this scum."

The tawny weasel glared angrily at her, yanking his spear off his back .. his voice was slightly muffled, and Romsca felt a bit of satisfaction. "Hoi, girl or not, nobeast does that ta me!"

Romsca swung her axe expertly, blasting Cheng's spear from his paws. She ducked his fist, heading for her jaw, and kicked him hard in the legs. The weasel stumbled, falling, and Romsca planted a knee between his shoulder blades, slamming his face against the deck. Her voice was a growl. "I just did."

One of the monitors, who'd been watching tensely, now hissed in Cheng's face. "You do not harm captain, captain izzz the one who will find Mazzter'zzz pearlzzz. You touch captain, and we kill you, weazzel might tazzte nizzze."

Rafglan came running, a snarl crossing his face when he saw who was responsible for the commotion. He clapped the chains on the weasel's paws, and Romsca half hoisted him to his paws. Her first mate wasted no time in shoving Cheng against the mast and securing him to it, despite his struggles.

The rat snarled, "Capt'n, lemme whip him fer ya!"

Romsca gave Rafglan a look. "An' what would that say about me? Make sure the crew's on deck, an' bring me my whip."

Rafglan paused, before a slow smirk grew on his features, and he hurried off.

Cheng looked a little nervous now that he was at the obvious mercy of his captain, but he still had a few cards to play. "Come on .. capt'n, honey, yer a real purty beast .."

Romsca's fangs glittered, and she snarled. "Is that supposed ta be flattery, thief? It ain't gonna save ya ten lashes, or three days inna brig, so shut yer mouth. An' I ain't yer honey, I'm yer capt'n, so call me such."

Rafglan ran up, thrusting the whip into her paw, and Romsca uncurled the long lash with a crack. The entire crew had gathered now, including the Monitors.

Cheng had a lot of confidence in his appearance, something he made very clear. "But I'm an' good lookin' beast capt'n .."

"Ya really drive me crazy." Romsca snapped.

The weasel smirked suddenly. "Wull a lotta girls say that ... fer a good reason ya know .."

Romsca hardly knew what she was doing, but her temper took control of her. "Enough!"

Cheng screamed as the lash ripped across the side of his face, and blood splattered to the deck. Romsca had over swung the whip, causing it to flick up and bite her arm, but she barely felt the sting or the warm wetness that followed. The ferret swung the lash again, tearing it across the weasel's back, though this time he gritted his teeth together with no more than a whimper.

Romsca brought the lash down once more, over and over, almost feeling pleasure at her rival's cries. However the rush of fury was dimming, and the seventh lash was harder to bring down.

Even if she hated a beast, Romsca didn't like to see them suffer. Because she knew how endless pain felt, at least of the soul.

I have to do this .. the crew won't respect me if I don't, they've already proven that.

Romsca set her face, lashing down three more times, before standing still a moment, letting her breathing even out. She turned to the quiet, rather stunned crew, and she flicked the bloody whip at them. "Right, if any other beast wants ta join him, speak up now."

Nobeast moved, though a couple were nudging each other, looking meaningfully at the bloody form of Chang, now almost hanging from his bonds. Romsca found she felt a boiling anger toward them, simply for their cruel enjoyment of the spectacle. "Why do ya mock him, scum? Yer as much the fool as he is, an' watch it, cause I ain't one bit tired!"

The two creatures fell silent, the foolish admiration in their eyes changed to new respect mingled with a little fear. Romsca forced the anger from her eyes, asking, "Does any a ya lot know healin'?"

One beast, a scrawny little rat, raised a paw. "I do, capt'n."

Romsca nodded. "Good, Rafglan will take that one ta the brig, if ya would, help him."

She wheeled around to face the crew. "I need strong crew beasts ta stand by me. I ain't here ta be none a ya's sweetheart, I'm here ta find the emperor's pearls, an so are ya. I don't care one bit about yer rotten looks, none a ya, all I care about is yer loyalty an' yer strength in battle, ya hear me? Yer either with me or against me, an' all those against me are me enemies. So where do ya stand?"

Rafglan grinned. "With ya ta the end capt'n!"

Rubby confirmed this, and one by one, so did the others. Romsca raised her axe, the blade flashing in the light. "Fer the Dragons!"

The reply came back as a sort of cheer. "Fer the Dragons!"


Rasconza was studying the maps laid out on his desk, rubbing at the side of his head as he always did when thinking or depressed. The fox picked up the bottle of wine sitting nearby, taking a drink and setting it back down.

The cabin's only other occupant, a mouse maiden dusting a shelf of books and instruments used for finding the ship's position, looked up momentarily. She met Rasconza's gaze, before looking down, her messy, white-blonde hair falling back into her face.

There was a loud knocking on his cabin door, and Rasconza pulled the brim of his hat down a little. "Come in."

His first mate walked in, stopping in front of his desk. "Capt'n, with all respect. What is our course?"

Rasconza rolled his eyes. "I told you which direction to go, Slashback."

The rat crossed his arms. "Capt'n, ya know I'm faithful ta ya. But I need a course."

"Of course." Rasconza smirked. "I figure we will go to the north coast, and search the highlands. It's the best I can do, if Graylunk and Flairnose had any sense at all, they'd have gone inland in effort to escape Sampetra's reach."

He shook his head. "Romsca might be the one with the best chance to find these things, she was sent east, and that was where they were last seen."

Slashback shrugged. "Perhaps. But if they ran, they woulda run as far as they could .. in truth, you might have the best chance."

"Or Xzaris." Rasconza mused. "Beasts rarely like going to the wild highlands .. a city of wealth and longstanding like Southsward is far more appealing."

"True, but in a ship the siza his, with Sampetra's dragon on the sail, Capt'n Xzaris don't have a chance of nearin' Southsward. They'll scuttle him long before he sights land." Slashback pointed this out, and Rasconza gave him a look.

"That's my friend you're talking about Slashback, I'm well aware of the danger. I think you should go."

The rat sighed, bowing. He turned on his heel, running full into the mousemaid and knocking her down. The scrolls she was carrying scattered, and Slashback growled bad temperedly striking her across the face. "Little wench, watch where your going!"

He raised a paw to strike her yet again, but a strong, red furred paw gripped his wrist, and Rasconza effortlessly lifted him off the ground. "Enough, why don't you look where you're going? How about you pick up all my scrolls you made her drop? Temper Slashback, I warned you about the temper."

The rat dropped his gaze. "Aye aye Capt'n."

Rasconza set him down on the floor, as the mousemaid tried to struggle to her paws, but the chains about her feet tangled and she fell again. The dog fox sighed, lifting her to her paws as though she weighed nothing. "Next time, see you are more careful."

She bowed low. "Yes captain."

Slashback begrudgingly handed her the scrolls he had collected, just as there was a knocking on the door and it swung open without Rasconza having time to say a word. "Capt'n? I had a bit a trouble .."

Rasconza stared at the beast, his slave driver. The weasel was bleeding on multiple accounts, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. "Cateye, what was it this time?"

"It's that stupid rabbit capt'n .. She called me an awful name she did, an' as I was layin' about her, she grabbed me whip's lash an' set about me! I tried ta grab me whip an' she punched me in the eye .. ya gotta git ridda that rabbit capt'n, she's from Hellgates themselves!"

Rasconza pressed his lips together, not noticing how pale the mousemaid was as she set the documents on his shelf. The fox showed one fang. "How many times has she thrashed you, Cateye?"

The weasel scowled. "This is the sixth time capt'n, I'm about ready ta kill her if ya don't .."

Rasconza suddenly growled, shoving Cateye against the doorframe. "Oh no you won't, I'm the only beast on this ship that does that. In that case, you can be lookout, I'll get somebeast else to do your job."

Cateye nodded. "Aye aye capt'n, jist keep me away from that crazy rabbit wench before one'a us kills the other!"

Rasconza let him drop to the deck. "Very well, it shall be done. As for the crazy rabbit wench, as you so call her, Slashback, see she is flogged and not fed for two days. If she continues in this behavior, I'm afraid I'll have to kill her."

The mousemaid was staring at him in horror, and now at last, he noticed it. Her hazel eyes widened momentarily as she met his gaze, and quickly looked down, but her paws shook as she picked up her broom.

Rasconza said nothing, the mouse had been a good slave for several seasons, and that rabbit was one he had only recently taken. Yet they must have some sort of bond, and the fox resolved to be wary.

Likely as not it was not worth any worry, but a captain could never be too careful.


"Oh yea? I am not backin' down lizard face, go boil yer head!"

"Little wench, I don't care if'n yer cook, ya go scrub the deck!"

"Capt'n didn't tell me ta do that, so ya go scrub the rotten deck! Who ya think is gonna cook breakist? An' besides, ya ain't the first mate or nothin', what are ya, cabin boy or somethin'?"

Xzaris had been up late, and it was early in the morning now, judging by the soft light filtering through his windows. The angry shouts rose to a crescendo outside, and there was the sound of steel being drawn.

The gray ferret clenched his teeth together. These last five days he'd tried his best to be patient, but the lack of sleep and constant bickering among his crew was telling on him. He grabbed his pike, jumping out of bed and heading for his cabin's door.

Xzaris shoved the door open, to see Val and a weasel swing swords at each other, and a clash split the morning air.

Val dodged to the side like a streak of lightning, scoring a shallow cut across the weasel's face. He showed his fangs in fury, snarling, "I'll send ya ta Hellgates dog!"

Val grinned, blocking his downward cut. "Oh I'm sorry yer so dumb, I ain't a dog, I'm a vixen."

"Worthless wench, I'll show ya ...."

Xzaris yanked Val back, meeting the weasel's blade and swiftly disarming him. "Enough a this, yer all fools! Ya too Val, what is this about?"

Val looked injured. "He had the nerve ta tell me ta scrub the stupid deck when I was workin' on breakist. Guess yer all eatin' burnt rice this mornin', how's that?"

Xzaris bit his tongue to keep from lashing out at somebeast. He took a breath, slinging his pike across his back and crossing his arms. "Val, see ta breakist. An' ya, who do ya think ya are ta give her orders? Aren't ya the mornin' lookout? Well how's about this ... ya scrub the deck."

The weasel glared at him. "Ya think yer special cause yer capt'n? Ya shouldn't even be capt'n .. alla Sampetra knows were ya come from .. polecat."

Xzaris felt his ears pin back of their own accord. "Yer challenin' me?"

The weasel paused, and Xzaris circled him, deliberately drawing his pike. "I know what I am, ya needn't tell me."

He swung the weapon in a swift arch, adding depth to the cut Val had bestowed upon the troublemaker. "I am yer capt'n, an' if ya are suggestin' mutiny I'll save meself the food an' water an' jist .."

He didn't get to finish, as there was a flash of green scales, and a Monitor plowed the weasel to the ground, bending close to his face. The lizard dug it's wickedly long claws into the creature's shoulders, snarling, "We will feazzzt on you. Mutiny will not get Mazzzter'zzz pearlzzz."

The weasel had time for a despairing shriek, and Xzaris didn't have time to lift a paw. The Monitor sank it's fangs into the beast's throat, breaking his neck with one swift move.

There was another flash of green, and the first Monitor was knocked backwards by the lizard Xzaris knew was called Zurgat, the leader. She roared wordlessly in his face, and he seemed to get her message, for he flattened his neck frills and backed quickly away.

Zurgat growled, lashing her tail. "We need beazzztzzz to zzail the zzzhip, leave them be!"

The first Monitor showed his fangs, letting forth an odd succession of shrieks. Zurgat flicked her tongue out, finally hissing. "I zzzee. Then you did right, we will feazzzt upon thizzz one."

Without farther ado, she sank her fangs into the deadbeast for a moment, then lifted her head, blood dripping from her muzzle. Xzaris took one step backward, stammering defensively, "I .. was gonna kill him!"

Zurgat twitched her frills. "He izzz dead."

Xzaris felt his paw clench around his pike shaft, before turning to the stunned crew. "Right, as she says. We're here ta git .. the emperor's pearls, so nobeast act otherwise. Unless ya .. wanna die."

He gave the Monitors a pointed glance, and quickly looked away, as they were devouring the dead weasel.

Val hopped out of the galley, asking, "Who wants breakist?"

She stopped still at the grisly scenario, and Xzaris made a face. "I think some a us .. already ate."

Val curled her lip. "Urrk .. uh, yea .. well I'm gonna .. make some .. sushi or somethin'. Yea. Mmmpph .. ugg!"

She vanished, and Xzaris strode pointedly toward the forecastle and the steering wheel. "Nobeast play the fool like that again. If the Monitors don't kill 'im, I will! I am capt'n, an' I ain't standin' fer mutiny."


Ublaz smiled, stirring his paw over his crystal ball's surface. "I'm sure you won't, Captain Xzaris. The question is can you keep your crew's respect?"

The pine marten stood, walking to his study's window and opening the latticed shutters. From here, all of Sampetra sprawled out before him, ending at the bay that sparkled a gorgeous indigo. Ships, fishing boats, and skiffs were going about their daily business, and all manner of beasts milled through the streets.

The wealthy, the poor, merchants, carpenters, sailors, and beggers .. from the clatter of horse hooves on cobblestones to the gleaming pagoda roofs of manors, Sampetra was strangely beautiful.

And he ruled it all.


Ublaz turned fluidly around, to see Sagitar standing in his doorway. He raised an eyebrow. "Yes general?"

Sagitar looked grim. "It's happened again Sire."

"How many this time?" Ublaz's voice betrayed nothing.

"Two dead on the walls, three missing. Here is one of their arrows." The rat general handed him the missile, a sleek and aerodynamic design with sharply cut green fletching.

Ublaz ran his paw along the jet black shaft, nodding, "They're getting thirstier, aren't they?"

He examined the barbed, steel arrow head, remarking, "These creatures, whatever they are, are skilled craftsbeasts to make such arrows."

The pine marten set the arrow on his desk, asking, "General, how many beasts do we loose in a month on average?"

"Four or five." Sagitar stated, shrugging. "But obviously they are getting bolder."

"Obviously." Ublaz adjusted his flowing purple cape. "General, whatever these things are, we must kill them. Lay a trap."

Sagitar nodded. "I was hoping you'd say that, Sire. And might I add, your alliance with those gulls might come in handy at this point."

Ublaz curled his whiskers around one finger, nodding. "Hmmm ... quite true, Grall has yet to really hold up his end of the deal, he can prove himself. Though gulls are not nocturnal, and these beasts are. General, prepare a score of beasts."

Sagitar nodded. "Aye sire. Could you tell me the plan?"

Ublaz smiled. "Of course, the way I see it, these killers aren't at all that great in numbers. They attack fast and vanish fast, in small groups. They key is just getting one, and obtaining the location of their hideout .. which surprisingly, Grall has had no luck in finding."

"What if the beast won't talk, Sire?" Sagitar asked.

Ublaz laughed softly. "A very good point General. But I can make the hardest beast babble secrets like a brook in spring, never fear."

Sagitar nodded. "Aye, so you can. I will see to it, when should we lay our trap?"

Ublaz smiled. "Tonight. And every night after. Stay hidden in the shadows of the walls, have archers with you. On the night of the new moon, in a week, I will join you. I have a .. feeling about it."


The evening breeze blew quietly over Redwall, washing away the warm hues of the day and turning the red stones a soft gray. Grath sat atop the west wall, industriously working on a painting.

Her thoughts were awhirl with what Sayna had said, for it wasn't easy to get much that the mouse said out of one's head.

She looked down at her painting, sighing. For some reason, she just wasn't interested in painting another sunset over Redwall. She'd painted just about everything that was to be seen about the abbey, and a restless spirit was stirring within her.

No, this is my home. It's safe here, and ... they might need me. Besides .. I don't know if I'm really brave enough to leave.

Grath closed her eyes, suddenly opening them and dipping her brush in black paint. With quick, practiced strokes, the otter did something she'd never done before .. she was painting something that she saw in her mind, and not before her.

She'd never let herself do this before, but something had shifted. It wasn't anything around her that had changed .. it was very odd. Somehow .. she felt different.

The otter looked down at her picture, staring at it for a moment. "You were my best friend."

Grath stroked the image, whispering, "I miss you, I hope you're happy .. wherever you are, Lutran."

She suddenly clutched the book to her, hanging her head over it. "Why did it have to happen? I .. I don't understand."

The soft breeze through her hair was her only answer, and she answered herself. "They were just .. greedy, ruthless murderers. Just like all vermin are. I don't want to be the sort of beast that lives for revenge, I want to do more with my life .. but .."

She slowly looked down at her picture, muttering, "Who am I kidding, I can't be a pirate hunter."

"What about hunting pirates?" Tansy was walking along the parapet, and she paused at this point.

Grath sat up, shaking herself. "Nothing."

"That's pretty." Tansy picked up Grath's picture. "Who is it?"

"It's my .." Grath paused, sighing, "My brother. One of them. I had two .. once."

The hedgehog sat down, handing Grath the paper. "Oh .. I'm sorry."

Grath stared at her painting, murmuring, "I'm forgetting what he looked like."

Tansy didn't say anything, just stared up at the evening's first stars. Grath looked at her a moment, before doing the same.

"They're so far away and untouchable .. kind of like the future, you know?"

Grath looked at Tansy, before looking up again, and nodding. "Yea."

"Sort of like the past too. You can see them up there, but you can't change them or reach them. They're just .. up there. Like .. some sort of promise .. or reminder, or .. something." Tansy smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry, that sounds so silly when I say it."

Grath sighed. "It's not that silly .. I sort of understand what you mean."

The two smiled at each other, and Tansy rubbed a paw across her nose. "Really? Nobeast's ever said that to me. Of course .. I've never really voiced my thoughts either."

Grath looked up at the sky. "I wonder what our future is. Are we meant to be peaceful abbeybeasts our whole lives, or is there .. something more, something greater, just waiting for us?"

Tansy looked oddly at her. "What could be better than living in peace and happiness all our lives with our friends?"

"Oh I don't know." Grath shook her head. "Some .. magnificent adventure to help the oppressed and free them from the clutches of evil beasts. You know what I mean?"

Tansy shrugged. "Not really. I think the kitchens might miss me if I was gone that long. Or I might miss the kitchens .. or yea. Something like that. Why would you want to leave our home, don't you love it here?"

Grath nodded. "Yes, of course .."

She stood up. "But there is a restless voice in my heart, and I know someday .. I'm going to have to follow a different path than all of you. I hope we'll always be friends, but .. there's something in me unlike the rest of Redwall."

The otter leaned over the battlements, looking across the western flatlands, now darkened by the grip of night.

"It's a warrior's spirit, isn't it?" Tansy asked.

"Yes ... I think so, anyway. I almost .. hope so." Grath turned around. "How did you know?"

Tansy looked up at her. "Abbot Durral said it about you once, when he first saw you."


After the incident with the Monitors, Xzaris and his crew tread equally as carefully. It had been three days, and nobeast had dared raise a paw against their captain, though Xzaris sensed an undercurrent of tension, and figured he'd be forced to deal with it sooner or later.

There was a knocking on his cabin door, and Val burst in, shoving a plate of sushi under his nose. "I made ya sonethin' capt'n! Thought ya could use somethin' nice ta eat. Cause ya haven't been eatin' much. An' Romsca said I gotta keep an' eye on her boyfriend."

Xzaris stopped chewing on his quill, looking up. "She said what?"

"That I gotta keep an' eye on her boyfriend!" Val was cheerful.

Xzaris was dubious, raising an eyebrow in a sort of unimpressed fashion. "She .. said it sorta different though, didn't she?"

Val flicked an ear, rolling her eyes. "Weeeelll .... yea, sorta. But I know what she meant!"

"Aha .. yea." Xzaris didn't look convinced. "I can im'gine."

He turned back to his maps, but Val didn't move, just stared at him, smiling broadly. Xzaris tried to ignore her for a minute, but that was nearly impossible, so he sighed. "What do ya want Val?"

The vixen grinned. "I'm keepin' an eye on ya, what else. Aren't ya gonna eat that?"

Xzaris cast a glance at the sushi, which did look appetizing, he had to admit. The ferret popped a piece into his mouth, smiling a bit forcedly. "Yea. Good stuff."

Val grabbed one, dunking it in a dish of greenish sauce. "Aren't ya gonna try me wasabi dip with that?"

Xzaris opened his mouth to say he planned to, and Val shoved the item in. "Extra spicy!"

The ferret swallowed with difficulty, coughing and rubbing at his eyes as he dug through his desk, pulling out a bottle of wine and quickly draining a sixth of it. "Aggh ... no .. kiddin'!"

Val grinned. "I know right?"

Xzaris rolled his eyes, sighing. "Look Val, I'll eat it. It's real great. I'm jist depressed right now, an' I donno if I can really do this, ok?"

He scowled. "An' if I do git it done ... what's the reward .. me life? I don't want .. jist me life, but I'm .. jist a rotten coward an' I donno what ta do."

Val blinked, before stating, "Oh, ya ain't no coward .."

"Yes, I am." Xzaris snapped. "I jist am, see? An' I ain't gonna explain why, please .. jist leave me alone."

Val sighed. "Alright capt'n."

She paused in the doorway. "But you eat alla that see, no throwin' it out the windows or I will find out!"

The vixen turned around. "Um .. capt'n? Quick question .. been lookin' at the sky?"

Xzaris looked up. "Yes, this mornin'. Looked a bit cloudy .."

"Well it's more than a bit." Val remarked, and Xzaris joined her in the doorway. The entire western horizon was filled with dark gray, angry clouds, and the ferret captain groaned.

"Great. It's gonna blow us off course fer sure .. Darkshroud ain't big enough ta maintain a straight path in somethin' like that .. fact I doubt any ship is."

"Ye'll get us through though, ain't ya?" Val asked a bit nervously.

Xzaris pulled the door of his cabin shut. "I'll do me best."

He walked forward, yelling, "On yer feet, furl the mainsail!"

The ferret bounded up the forecastle stairs two at a time, taking hold of the wheel. He looked again to the wall of black clouds, filled with sheet lightning.

Xzaris shook his head, gripping the wheel more tightly. He'd been in storms before, on the many voyages he'd been on as a crew member. But being the captain, responsible for the outcome of whatever choices he made .. that was far harder.


"Furl the mainsail, batten the hatches an' all those not on duty, get below!"

Romsca strode swiftly across the deck, running up the forecastle steps to the wheel, taking it from Rafglan. The rat cast a glance at the quickly advancing clouds, stating, "It should be a'right, so long as ya keep our back ta it. Should git us ta Mossflower faster. We gonna go .. where yer father went?"

"Yes." Romsca looked behind her once, before turning to the east again. "There might be some answers."

"Wull it should be safe 'nough. There ain't gonna be no otters." Rafglan shrugged.

Romsca took a deep breath, thinking of a long ago day, when she'd had compassion on an ottermaid her own age. "Never mind that, we're gonna be careful. Who knows what sorts a beasts might live there now."

Rafglan nodded. "Fair nough."

He paused, asking, "Yer arm better, Capt'n?

Romsca glanced at the bandage and the gash through her shirt where she'd caught herself with the whip. "It's fine."

The wind suddenly whistled through the rigging, billowing Romsca's hair about her face. Rafglan sighed. "We're in fer it."

The first sheet of rain hit Waveworm, and the sea soon became choppy, tossing the ship about like a toy. Romsca kept a tight hold on the wheel, despite the heavy pull on the rudder from the rolling waves.

"How long ya think it's gonna last?" Romsca had to yell above the wind.

Rafglan held onto the railing, shaking his head. "Donno, this one's a big'un like they is in summer .. could last as long as a week!"

Romsca scowled, gripping the wheel tightly as a wave threw spray across the deck. She kept her eyes fixed ahead, but her mind was elsewhere, on her friends.

Her teeth didn't part as she mumbled, "Oh Xzaris, Rasconza, Val ... may Atlas go with ya."


"Port oars! We'll ride the storm out, come on, move it!"

The stoat cracked his whip above one of the slave's ears, a young haremaid with dull indigo eyes. She glared at him almost threateningly, and he flicked his lash out again, stinging one ear expertly. "Har, I ain't Cateye me pretty, but you'll wish I was."

He snickered, coiling the lash and hurrying out of the galley. The hare glared after him, her short claws digging into the wood of her oar.

The blonde haired mouse beside her laid a paw on her arm. "Wind ... don't do it. Just don't, please."

The hare's voice was pretty flat, tinged slightly by anger. "Why do you put up with them."

"Because if I don't, I will die, and Captain Rasconza is not a bad master." The mouse's voice was softer then her rowing partner.

"Selina, he's a pirate, an' he killed all the family I had in the world, of course I hate him. Why don't you, you should." Wind's voice was surprisingly monotone.

Selina shrugged. "I know what he is .."

"And he doesn't exactly treat us well, we row his ship for him an' get whipped for it." Wind scowled.

The mouse sighed. "You get whipped because you fight them. I don't, and you don't see me getting whipped. Just .. give up."

Wind gave Selina a look, voice flat. "The day I give up is the day I die."

Selina looked down. "That's what I'm worried about. Captain Rasconza has patience unlike any master I've ever served .. he's not a rich beast, and he needs us to row for him. But if you don't stop antagonizing him, he's going to kill you or sell you, so please don't!"

Wind curled her lip. "Are you defending him."

"Well .. in a way." Selina shrugged. "He just took you in a raid, but I've been a slave for most of my life. I was born on Terramort, but they took me when I was ten seasons or so."

She paused, adding, "Rasconza wasn't always my master, the beast who took me was a cruel captain. He worked me to death, literally, and then sold me .. I didn't have much hope but to die. However Rasconza bought me, along with some others, and he saved us. Of course .. I see his motives, we were inexpensive and all we really needed was rest. But I'm not going to hate him, Wind."

Wind opened her mouth to say something, but Selina beat her to it. "He also feeds us well, we have enough water, he switches us from one side of the ship to the other, when we're in port, he lets the obedient creatures bathe, and if you noticed, they don't actually whip you unless you disobey."

"It's only cause he wants more work out of us." Wind pointed out.

Selina nodded. "I don't doubt it, but it's a better life than most oar slaves have. So don't abuse it, when you do, you only make it harder for the rest of us."


On the Darkshroud, life was pretty miserable for everybeast. Day and night became one, turned black by the violent storm the little ship was caught in.

Crew, cook, and captain alike fought the sea, the only creatures who did nothing were the Monitors, who stayed in the hold as much as possible. Xzaris barely had time to check the maps, and there was no way for him to determine their position, both the sun and the stars blotted out by wicked black clouds.

The ferret captain had ahold of the wheel at that very moment, straining against the roiling sea, completely soaked and bone weary. Val ran up the forecastle steps, flashing him a stalwart grin. "Capt'n, dinner's ready. Least I think it's dinner. Might be breakist fer all I know, haha!"

Xzaris spit some water out of his mouth, yelling above the wind. "Yea, what 'bout the bailin' crew, how much water have we taken?"

Val shrugged. "Way ta many buckits full fer me ta count 'em, but we're keepin' the sea out purty well, aye aye!"

Xzaris coughed, nodding as Val grinned. "Hey, there's one good thing 'bout alla this ... we don't gotta scrub the deck!"

The ferret gave her a look, as a giant wave lashed over the deck, soaking him even further. Val grinned. "I love bein' wet! Wull, I'll see about the bailin' an' all!"

Xzaris groaned, cursing as the wheel suddenly ripped itself from his paws, spinning madly. He grabbed it again, forcing it to still as there was a frantic shout from one of the lookouts. "Capt'n! Capt'n!"

The rest of his words were cut off by the wind, but Xzaris yelled for his first mate, helping to bail water. "Skarbod! Take the wheel, now!"

The stoat ran to do as he said, taking hold of the wheel as Xzaris added, "Keep her course straight!"

Xzaris lurched down the forecastle steps, hurrying along the rocking deck to where the lookout was. By now there was widespread panic, and the ferret grabbed the nearest beast. "Well, what is it? Speak!"

The creature struggled, stammering, "The Maelstrom Capt'n!"

Xzaris dropped him, running to the railing, just as a brilliant bolt of lightning ripped across the sky, turning night to day for one minute. The ferret stood frozen for one second, staring at the swirling mass of greenish gray water they were headed straight for.

Val skidded to a stop beside him, all cheerfulness stripped from her voice, leaving only terror. "The Green Maelstrom an' the Roarin'burn!"

"The Roaringburn .." Xzaris held up a paw, testing the wind. "That's it Val, the Roaringburn!"

The ferret ran back along the deck, shouting at the top of his lungs, "All hands ta the mainmast, prepare ta loose the sail! Now, now if ya don't wanna be knockin' on Hellgates!"

Xzaris stumbled up the forecastle stairs, gripping the wheel and growling through teeth clenched from exertion. "Help me turn her Skarbod, fer the mercy a Atlas!"

The stoat did as he was told, and between them, they managed to turn Darkshroud abreast of the swirling Maelstrom, which they were nearing by the minute. Xzaris nodded. "Now hold her, hold her fer yer life!"

Skarbod strained against the sea's will as Xzaris leaned over the forecastle railing, shouting, "Loose the sail, loose the sail now!"

For one split second, all those who heard stood still in shock. Xzaris broke them from their indecision. "Move ya lazy dogs! Move lest ya send us ta our graves!"

The crew ran forward, untying the ropes as quickly as they could. Xzaris gripped the wheel along with Skarbod, as the ship began to shudder with the increasing pull of the maelstrom. Xzaris's voice was a hoarse rasping as he yelled, "Now! 'For it's too late!"

Val suddenly pushed through the beasts around the mainmast, drawing her saber and slashing through the ropes. "He said now!"

The sail came plummeting down, catching the wind and billowing out. Val seized one of the ropes she'd cut, screaming, "Secure it!"

Crewbeasts did as she said, with no other option. Darkshroud leapt forward like a wild stallion, plunging directly past the mass of roiling green water, and continuing its mad rush.

Skarbod gripped the wheel, panting, "I never did see the like!"

There was an ominous creaking from the mast, and Xzaris ran down the forecastle stairs, yelling, "Furl the sail, quick, she can't take it!"

Already, rips were showing in the once perfect sail, and Xzaris could hear the mast cracking under the strain. "Hoist her, now!"

The ferret gripped one of the ropes, yanking with all his might. Val appeared at his side, grabbing the rope. "Right with ya Capt'n, let's do this!"

Another crew member joined them, as others took hold of the other ropes. Xzaris nodded, shouting, "All tagether, pull!"

Little by little, the sail was hoisted to it's former position, and the ropes tied back down with some difficulty due to the fact they were shorter than before. Xzaris leaned against the mast for a moment, the wind and rain lashing through his fur, hanging from him like rags.

Val yanked her saber from the mast, sheathing it as Xzaris noticed her. "Thank ya Val .. we'd be at the bottom a the sea if it weren't fer ya."

The vixen grinned again, wiping sopping red hair from her eyes. "No problem capt'n, sure I promised Romsca I'd look after her boyfriend."

Xzaris stood up straight again, sighing, "Yea. Sure."

He hurried back to the wheel, taking it from Skarbod. "Thanks fer holdin' it."

The stoat blinked at him. "I was just doin' what ya said Capt'n. An' sure was a good thing ta .. without yer quick thinkin', we'd all be dead .. none a us woulda thoughta it."

Xzaris paused, before shrugging as a clap of angry thunder rumbled through the heavens. "I only did what needed done. See about the bailin' Skarbod, we ain't outa this yet."

Chapter 16 Sojourners

TotO &#039;Falsehoods&#039;

Clecky tells falsehoods .. about Hood ..

Skarbod and Val had forced Xzaris to go to bed sometime in the early morning, and he'd protested, but been more than glad, deep down, to flop down in his hammock for a few hours.

However his repose was far from enough, as a rapping rang out on his cabin door. It took him a few minutes to wake up fully, his sleep was so complete.

The knocking continued, accompanied by Val's voice. "Hey capt'n, ya all right? Brought ya some breakist."

Xzaris groaned, coming awake enough to realize that he and his hammock were dripping, and the ship wasn't rocking as much. The ferret forced his eyes open, to see a shaft of welcoming sunshine streaming through his window.

Val came in, grinning as he sat up. "Oh good, ya ain't dead, I was wonderin'. Storm blew itself out early this mornin' .. Ya haven't eatin' nothing fer a couple days Capt'n, sure donno how ya do it, but here ya is."

Xzaris took what she handed him, and suddenly rice porridge sounded incredibly wonderful. He tipped the bowl up, pouring some into his mouth. Val raised an eyebrow, pulling out a spoon. "Think ya fergot this?"

He nodded, swallowing and taking the item, eating ravenously. Val shook her head. "Ya gotta eat more often. I know sailin' Darkshroud's awful important ta ya, but still, starvin' yerself ain't gettin' ya no place."

Xzaris finished the last of the porridge, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "It's fine, I know what I'm doin'."

Val handed him a cup of water, and the ferret drank some, realizing how thirsty he was. Xzaris looked around, asking, "Do ya have any meat, I'm dyin' fer some."

The fox nodded, handing him a bowl with fish in it. "That was yer supper last night."

Xzaris dug in without another thought, asking, "How's the damage from the storm?"

"Well .. uhh ..." Val folded her paws together. "I .. donno if yer really gonna like it .. it ain't real purty."

The ferret swallowed the last of his fish, setting the bowl aside and standing up. "That don't sound promisin'."

Val grimaced. "Yea .. it ain't. The mast is cracked, the sail's ripped up .. that ain't sayin' nothin' bout the mess the riggin's in .."

Xzaris hurried past her and out of his cabin to see for himself. He groaned .. Val was right.

The sail was torn in multiple places, parts of the rigging were tangled, but worst of all, the mast was splintering about eight foot up, a crack running down it to where it met the deck.

Xzaris winced, and Val trotted to his side. “Yea .... told ya it weren’t real purty.” Skarbod joined the two. “Wull .. as ya can see, Darkshroud paid fer getting’ us outa our mess last night .. donno quite what ta do.”

Xzaris scratched the back of his neck. “I know what ta do, but it’s better done in port. It can’t be done at sea .. she needs a whole new mast.”

Val crossed her arms. “Well ... could we fix it somehow .. tie ropes ‘round it ta brace it or somethin’?”

Skarbod snorted, and Xzaris shook his head. “No rope could hold the strain a the sail .. least no rope we’ve got on board. Now .. if we could make bands outa steel or somethin’ ...”

He sighed. “Nah, that’s crazy. At least at sea .. we’d have ta be on land. An’ until we fix it, we can’t use the wind .. fact we’d best just take the sail off, we’re gonna have ta sew it back tagether anyhow.”

Skarbod made a face. “Won’erful .. least we’re in the Roarin’burn, without it we’d never reach land rowin’ on the rations we get.”

Xzaris hurried to the rail, looking out over the water .. sure enough, he could see the placid sea beyond them, and the swiftly flowing current they were caught in. The ferret turned back to his companions, nodding. “That might be a good thing, as ya say, at least we'll git somewhere."

"But where does the Roarin'burn go?" Val asked. "Not ta Southsward I hope!"

Xzaris nodded. "Wull, actually it does. But it'll take us ta a liddle deserted island first .. no ships sail round that place cause'a the dangerous currents. Still, it's our best hope, an' it's where we'll haveta go."

Skarbod shrugged. "Whatever ya say capt'n, I sup'ose. Though we might git stuck there without our sail."

"I'm hopin' I kin fix it." Xzaris looked at the cracking mast, shaking his head. "In the meantime .. git the sail down. In fact .. jist take off the yardarm. It's no good up there, an' the mast don't need anymore strain."


The darkness over Sampetra was near complete, for no moon graced the heavens. In the shadow of the rearing wall, all was shrouded in dark silence .. and all was still.

Ublaz and Sagitar stood completely motionless, a number of ratguard and near a score of Monitors around them. The rat general's voice was the softest of sounds as she murmured, "Sire, Grall hasn't been able to turn anything up, and nothing has happened. Do you think that somehow, these beast anticipate our ambush?"

"They will come." Ublaz's voice was certain. "Isn't the new moon the cycle that strikes the most fear into Sampetra, when Lady Astraria hides the glory of the night's greatest light?"

Sagitar nodded. "It is so."

Ublaz smiled. "And wouldn't it be even more terrifying if many wall guard should be murdered?"

"Your thinking is truly admirable, Sire." Sagitar's voice held respect. "You seem to be able to read your enemy's thoughts."

"Indeed." Ublaz stroked the hilt of his cutlass. "But I feel that I am not the only one who is observant. Somehow, these creatures know our customs, if I am not mistaken."

The two fell silent, waiting. The night wore on endlessly, but neither emperor or general showed the least bit of weariness or impatience.

Far off in the distance, the soft sound of endless surf crashed against the shore, over and over, creating a strange music. Ublaz's stance was one of complete ease but complete awareness .. Sagitar looked slightly more stiff.

Their guards, however, were clearly afraid and trying desperately not to show it. One of the Monitors suddenly lifted its head, nostrils flaring as its frills unfolded in aggression. Ublaz laid a paw on the creature's head. "Which way, my pet?"

The creature turned its muzzle toward the forest, tongue flicking out in a silent hiss. Sagitar looked to her ratguard, and they tensed instantly, ready.

There was a sudden flicker in the shadows, and one of the guards raised his crossbow, taking careful aim. He looked to Sagitar, who nodded. The rat closed one eye, claw curling around the trigger .. when there was a swish of air, like the whistle of a finely sharpened blade.

Something shimmered dull silver in the faint starlight, and there was a shrill shriek, not unlike a terrified lady, but more wild and throaty. An answering roar came back, and Sagitar burst into action. "Attack!"

Ublaz grabbed her arm before she could lead her troops, and they rushed forward alone. "Stay, general. Let them go first."

Sagitar shrugged him off. "With all respect, Sire, I lead the army .. and not from behind."

There was a crash, and a flash of white accompanied by the thudding of heavy footfalls. Three ratguards surrounded the beast, a small horse, but the creature reared, twisting around and yanking a short handled, long bladed spear from across its shoulders.

The beast held the weapon in its mouth, slashing through the first guard's throat as it kicked the one sneaking up behind it with its powerful hind hooves. The horse reared, striking out with its forefeet, plowing a guard over and trampling them as it raced for the woods.

Ublaz snatched the crossbow from the astonished beast beside him, sighting down it and firing in nearly the same moment. The horse screamed in pain, falling to its side and thrashing its hooves in effort to rise .. vain effort. Sagitar ran forward along with some others, while Ublaz followed calmly, dropping the crossbow back into its owner's paws.

The pine marten surveyed the results of his deed coolly, without a shred of remorse. The horse lay still now, sides heaving as it fought to breathe, a crossbow bolt buried deep in its side behind the shoulder.

The creature groaned, lifting its head defiantly. Ublaz smiled ever so slightly in the darkness, catching the animal's gaze with his own. "Speak horse .. I know you can. What are your friends, and where do they hide .. come, your secrets are mine."

The silvery white horse was frozen, caught by the emperor's hypnotic stare, but his efforts to speak were useless. The creature's eyes rolled back, and his head fell to the ground, blood dripping from his mouth. Sagitar kicked him, but he didn't stir, not even to breathe.

Ublaz did not show anger, just picked up his victim's spear, turning it over and over in his paws. "Intelligent or not, no horse could craft this. There's something else out there."


"No, no .... dad!"

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Romsca knew she was dreaming. How many times had nightmares tortured her with this scene? She was frozen stiff .. no matter how hard she struggled, she couldn't move.

Ublaz had Conva before him, just like that day, seven seasons ago. Romsca tried to throw herself forward, but her legs would not move, and she found herself held back by shadowy paws of iron.

"Don't! Don't, not again!" Romsca's voice echoed oddly through her own mind, and almost at her command, the dreamscape morphed.

Ublaz raised his gleaming cutlass, a hideous smirk on his face as Conva changed, his dusky fur fading to iridescent blue gray. Romsca gasped as the apparition of her father turned into Xzaris, bound and on his knees before the pine marten.

The emperor met Romsca's gaze, sneering, "Why don't you save him?"

Romsca screamed in fury and terror, fighting against whatever was holding her back. "No! Don't kill him! Not him too! Don't, please don't!"

Ublaz laughed. "What a wonderful friend you are .. I guess you'll just have to watch him die."

Romsca fought harder, her eyes refusing to close as the emperor brought his weapon down without remorse. The ferret felt herself fall to the ground with a choking wail, and her landing was far harder than she'd expected.

Romsca's eyes snapped open as she awoke with a sharp gasp, her gaze adjusting to the darkness of her cabin. She was laying on the floor in a heap, her hammock swinging empty above her.

The ferret groaned, rubbing her head and trying to shove the nightmare away. It was only a dream .. nothing but a dream ...

But then Ublaz's cruel sneer rang through her mind mockingly. "The one who brings me my pearls keeps their life. One ... and only one."

Romsca shuddered, standing slowly .. knowing full well there would be no more sleep for her that night.

She picked her short cape off its hook, drawing it about her shoulders as she walked to the large glass windows and their well worn but still elegant seat. The night darkened waves stretched endlessly behind the ship, dancing momentarily in its wake, before returning to their former patterns.

Romsca sat down, drawing her knees to herself as she strove to erase the image of Xzaris being beheaded from her mind, but it was firmly imprinted.

It won't happen .. I can't let it.

But Romsca knew all to well, it might happen. And she would be powerless against it, just like she was powerless to save her father.

"Land ho! Mossflower, port side!"

Glad of something to do, Romsca grabbed her cutlass, buckling it on and hurrying onto the deck. The scrawny rat, whom she remembered as the healer, ran up. "C .. capt'n ... we've .. sighted land an' .. thought ya should know .."

Romsca raised an eyebrow, wondering at how nervous he was. "Is somethin' wrong?"

"N .. no. Course not .. C .. capt'n." The creature swallowed hard.

Romsca didn't look convinced, but she shrugged, figuring if something was amiss, she'd find out what soon enough. Besides, that little rat was a coward.

She headed up the forecastle steps, stopping beside Rafglan, holding the wheel. "Raf, where are we exactly?"

"'Bout a mile up a that otter holt, the storm didn't blow us off that much." The rat shrugged.

"Good." Romsca nodded. "That's what I'm plannin' .. we're gonna anchor half a mile up the shore an' make our way there on foot. See we stay on course."

She swung down the steps onto the main deck, calling, "Crew! I'll be takin' half a ya ta scout the shore first light a dawn! See to it yer all ready, all weapons clean an' in good repair less ya wanna answer ta me!"

A sullen voice replied. "Do we git ta eat first, capt'n?"

Romsca wheeled around to see Cheng, arms and shoulders still bandaged, but eyes defiant. She advanced on him, snarling, "If I say yes, then yes, an' if I say no, no! Yer in no place ta speak, thief. So keep yer mouth shut, I don't got one bit a tolerance fer ya."

The ferret glared at him as he slunk off, and she turned to Rubby, watching from the galley door. "See everybeast has a quick breakfast."

The old cook disappeared with a nod, and Romsca walked to her cabin to retrieve her axe, satchel, and a few writing materials. She slowly felt the shark's tooth on her necklace, flicking one ear from uncertainty.

She couldn't be sure Graylunk and Flairnose had run into Mossflower. Still .. the best place to find any clues at all would probably be the otter holt.

Romsca tried not to think about the little blonde otter maid she had spared so long ago, but something about her haunted green eyes refused to leave.

"I'll never see her again." Romsca told herself. "An' it wouldn't matter if I did. I am a pirate, I'm an enemy of all woodlanders, an' that's just the way it is."

She thought of how Conva had acted, and the mad things he had said. Of how protective he had been toward those three otters in his last days. Even of her own pain and grief when he was taken from her.

The ferret slowly turned to her reflection in the glass windows. "I .. I'm not a monster. I know what loss is .. an' I only do what needs done."

Out on deck, she could hear Rubby yelling something about breakfast, and she sighed. The ferret straightened her shoulders, lifting her chin. "It's me livin', nothin' more. I may hate Ublaz, but I'm prouda Sampetra .. it ain't perfect, but it's me country an' I wouldn't want ta live anywhere else."

Romsca turned on her heel, walking out into the gray light of early dawn. She narrowed her eyes, slinging her satchel over one shoulder. "Ublaz won't get me without a good fight."


Mossflower was just as Romsca remembered, murky shores, thick stands of massive trees close upon the beaches, and golden sunlight filtering through the thick canopy of leaves. In fact it was so the same, Romsca almost expected to see Conva walk out of the forest, just as alive as he had been then.

She tried to shove such stupid thoughts from her mind, all they did was hurt. And yet this place held so much hurt .. from her stupid mistakes to their horrible consequences.

"Capt'n, this look familiar?" Rafglan was looking up at her questioningly.

Romsca brought her wandering mind back to the task at hand, admitting this place looked hauntingly familiar indeed. A blurry picture of three otters playing in a stream leaped into her memory, and she nodded. "Yea .. we're close. Everybeast, be silent. Raf, take five an' we'll go on ahead."

She pulled her axe off her back, creeping silently down the hill as her first mate did as she said. Down in the natural hollow created by the River Moss's delta, things looked less familiar, but Romsca knew she was in the heart of what had once been Holt Lutra.

Weeds and brush grew wild now, having taken possession of the abandoned fields and gardens. The uncovered mouths of caves gaped emptily, and somehow, it was truly melancholy. Rafglan looked more relaxed now. "Wull, sure looks abandoned. What are we lookin' fer?

Romsca pushed some hanging branches out of her way, shaking her head. "Almost anythin' Raf .. almost anythin'."

Lask, who'd insisted on coming with them, gave her a scornful look, but said nothing. This clearing was one that made Romsca pause, for it was littered with stones, almost set in rows. The ferret raise an eyebrow. "What was this place?"

Rafglan was inspecting some of the stones, and he looked up. "It's graves, capt'n .. an as I remember, this was where we fought 'em."

Romsca laid her paw on the largest stone, reading the plain inscription in silence.

Here lie the otters of Holt Lutra,

Murdered by sea scum,

May Ignasa avenge their blood.

The ferret slowly drew her paw back, flicking her ears back at the sinking feeling in her heart. She shoved it away, voice harder than she meant it to be. "We weren't the last ones here."

On a sudden impulse, she wheeled around, hurrying toward a place she had thought of many, many times. A little, book filled cave nestled on the bank of a tributary. She reached the spot, slowly brushing away the tattered covering as she slipped under the dark overhang of rock, clenching her axe even tighter.

Romsca slipped into the familiar room, dimly lit by a natural skylight formed from a crack in the rocks of the ceiling.

Shelves still lined the walls, though books were falling off them in places, and cobwebs were everywhere. The ferret swiped a web away, stopping before the little writing desk and tipped over chair, looking down at the half rotted quill still stuck in a bottle of dried ink. A pile of papers cascaded onto the fallen chair and then the floor, but only one thing caught Romsca's interest. The cracked and yellowed book laying open on the desk.

Open to a depiction of the six pearls.

Romsca tucked the axe under her arm, laying her gloved paws on the book as Rafglan came in, followed by one of the Monitors. The ferret turned the page, freezing at the illustration that stared nobly back at her. For this face was one she knew well .. the face of the Unknown Lord.

The words beneath it surprised her even more .. Lord Ignasa. This was the one her father had given his heart to, and the Unknown Lord of Sampetra was a woodlander's deity?

She flipped the page back to the picture of the pearls in their shell-case, before slowly closing the book and looking at the cover. Romsca murmured the title to herself. "The History of Holt Lutra. Hmm .."

The ferret carefully put the thick old book in her satchel, determined to look at it more when she got the chance.

Rafglan raised an eyebrow. "Capt'n .. where are we goin'?"

He cast a meaningful glance at the Monitor, which was sniffing around the cavern. Romsca nodded, stating, "Well .. there ain't much here. Think Graylunk and Flairnose might'a followed the river inland?"

"Sounds possible Capt'n, they'd have wanted ta go inland, an' they'd have needed fresh water." Rafglan agreed with her.

Romsca nodded. "Right .. then we'll have ta follow them. We can take two of the lifeboats an' the best of the crew .. course we'll have ta bring the Monitors."

Rafglan shrugged. "An' Waveworm?"

"I hate ta, but I'll have ta leave the resta the crew an' maybe some Monitors ta guard her." Romsca sighed. "What else can I do?"


"Tansy, Cracklyn, be careful with that china .." Friar Higgle winced as the squirrel in question tripped, dropping one of the plates.

"Friar, where do you want this?" Grath and Martin were coming down the kitchen stairs, lugging a couple large sacks between them.

The hedgehog sighed. "Ah yes ... just put it in the pantry. Cracklyn, I told you to be careful!"

The squirrel's tail drooped. "I was trying! My paws just got tangled!"

"Oh .. go wash the dishes please, you can't hurt anything doing that." Higgle looked frazzled.

Durral walked in, looking around. "Everything alright?"

Higgle sighed. "Yes, we're just cleaning the kitchens, getting ready for the feast and all."

Durral picked up a broom, sweeping up the remains of the china plate. "You look like you could use some help. I had Clecky help the dibbuns and Piknim make the paper lanterns for the orchard, at least it'll keep him away from the kitchens.

"Well that's a good thing." Higgle wiped a paw across his brow. "The last thing I need is that hare .. he's bottomless, you can never feed him enough."

Durral nodded. "Isn't that the truth. Oh Grath, Martin .. can you get the fancy table cloths from Tess, I think they're in the gatehouse. We'll need to store them in the kitchens to be ready."

Always helpful, Martin nodded. "Sure, we'll get them, I know where my mother keeps them."

The two hurried up the steps, and out into the lawns, warmed by the late spring sun.

"Hey, I'll race you." Martin grinned, running ahead a little.

Grath raised an eyebrow. "You know I can't do that."

The mouse trotted back. "Sorry .. I forgot. Clecky was racing me the other day, and I didn't think about your problem with running."

Grath shook her head. "I don't understand it .. but I've always been that way, ever since I can remember. Swimming .. I have no problem, but running .. it's like I can barely breath."

Martin nodded. "Yea, I might be able to outrun you, but nobeast can outswim you, that's for sure."

They were passing the creatures making décor, and Piknim noticed Martin. "Oooh hey, do you want to help us?"

The mouse looked uncomfortable. "Uhh .. no .. well .. not right now .. we're .. that is .."

Grath helped him. "We're getting tablecloths for the abbot."

"Yea, that's right. Tablecloths. For the abbot."

Piknim looked disappointed. "Oh but he can't need them right this minute .."

Martin shook his head. "No .. uhh .. he does. For lunch."

Clecky looked up. "Golly, he's that hungry? Of all the scoff I've scoffed, tablecloths wasn't part a that, wot?"

"No .. not like that." Martin looked frustrated. "He needs them .. for .. lunch!"

Grath sighed, as Clecky shook his head. "Tut tut .. must be dreadful ta be that peckish."

Martin scowled, hurrying away, and Grath followed him, a little more slowly. The mouse cast her a sideways glance. "I always sound so stupid around girls like Piknim, I really can't stand it."

Grath shrugged in silent sympathy, and Martin straightened up again. "One thing's for sure, I don't want to marry her, even if everybeast seems to think we're made for each other or something like that."

He shook his head. "But they expect me to marry somebeast, because the abbey's got to have warriors, and ... oh .. I almost wish my dad wasn't the warrior. It's such a .. a .."

"Responsibility?" Grath asked.

"Yes." Martin nodded. "Exactly. I'm just one beast .. I don't know how dad does it. He's so wise, and then there's me .. all I can do is sound dumb."

"You aren't though .." Grath observed. "You're just a lot like me, you can't think of what to say when it needs to be said."

Her friend looked down. "I just don't want to let anybeast down, though sometimes I feel like the only thing I was born to do is fail. And I realize it might not look all that bad to you, but I'm not the brave warrior they expect me to be. I know the first time I'm tested with real danger, I'll just freeze up .. all I can do is hope I'll never be faced with it."

Martin paused at his door, smirking. "And with my luck, I'll fail while everybeast's watching."

"I think I know the feeling." Grath muttered under her breath as she followed him into the gatehouse.


Out on the lawns, the squirrel dibbun Arven found opportunity to sidle up to Clecky. The hare said nothing for a moment, before he seemed to notice his young companion. "Oh I say, what can I do for you?"

Arven looked up at the hare with wide eyes. "Mr. Clecky .. what's under Mr. Hood's hood? Cause everybeast wonders, you know."

Clecky paused, before his dark eyes danced with mischief. He leaned over, lowering his voice as he whispered, "Well you know why they call Hood, hood don'tcha?"

The little squirrel shook his head, and Clecky blinked. "Why, you don't? Then I'll tell you .. they call him that cause he's a mighty warrior .. vanquished bally hundreds a vermin-type beasts, but when the fightin' was done, he was nothin' but bones!"

Arven looked both amazed and shocked. "Really?"

"Yup." Clecky looked rather proud of his tale. "And now he wears that hood all the time, to frighten his enemies and hide his unsightly appearance from the general public, wot, wot?"

"Then Mr. Hood's .. a skel'ton? Just bones and nothing more?" Arven's eyes were round with awe.

"Well .." Clecky thought for a moment, before stating, "Yea, there sure are bones under his hood."

Arven stared at the ground a moment, stammering, "Whoa .... a .. real live skel'ton!"

He looked up at Clecky. "Can you see Meadowcream flan going down?"

The hare blinked, before covering for himself. "Why .. uhm .. he always wears the hood, and you can't bally well see under it."

"But if you could. If you could, would you see Meadowcream flan going down?" Arven was persistent.

Clecky felt this might be going a bit too far. "Well .. I've never seen under the jolly old hood since his battle-type run in with those vermin."

"Golly." Arven sighed. "Golly, I'd sure like to see under it. If I ask him nicely Mr. Clecky, do you think he'd let me?"

"Oh, I don't think .."

"Just one teeny tiny peek?" Arven pressed. "I'd close one eye an promise to tell nobeast."

Clecky found large, hopeful hazel eyes gazing up at him, and sighed. "Eh .. well .. Hood's not goin' to go for that. But ... perhaps if you got his hood a tad dirty, he'd have to wash it."

Arven grinned instantly. "And he'd take it off?"

Clecky smirked, suddenly realizing what a great joke this could turn out to be. "Well of course. I'm sure a smart chap like you could come up with a way to get his hood just a tad dirty. Mind though .. not too awful much."


The flickering light from a small fire was all Romsca had to see by, and she missed having a door to lock at night. The two rowboats were moored on the stream, and the ferret sat with her back to a fallen log, cutlass, knives, and axe close at paw.

The Monitors had made a ring around their camp, to see nobeast got in .. and Romsca could tell, to see nobeast got out.

She sighed, knowing that without a solid door between her and those things, she wouldn't sleep at all. Romsca leaned fully against the log, before sitting up and rubbing her side with a wince.

The ferret pulled the offender from her satchel, the book from the ruined holt of Lutra. She brushed dust off the gold filigree cover, slowly opening it. The first page was a dedication, the next a list of names and families.

Romsca flipped through a couple pages, uninterested. The handwriting was sweeping and beautiful, but in some cases, hard to read.

I and my dear husband, Vinwyte, have done our best to live among my father's holt, but we have never completely been accepted. As princess, I know I am not they reason for the discomfort, rather he is. I find it cruel the way the mark of the outcast seems to define Vinwyte wherever he goes, and we have decided to make a new holt, a ways from Redwall, near the sea. We shall call this holt Lutra, and our mark will be the six pearls .. the two of us have discussed it much this winter. I will miss all my friends, as will he, but it is for the best. Let my sister Mayberry rule the Mossflowerian otters, and we will be otters of both sea and river, living peacefully on the west coasts. At least, this is our hope.

Romsca yawned, flipping the pages. Apparently the author and her husband, Vinwyte, had created Holt Lutra, and hidden the pearls for safekeeping. After a while, the handwriting and writing style changed, telling of trade that was being developed with other nations.

None of it was much interest to the young ferret, and she was thinking about pulling out the story she was writing and working on it. Out of repetitive boredom, Romsca turned the page ... and froze.

Here on the double page spread before her, was a life-like representation of a sleek, double-masted vessel. Romsca knew ships, and even if the illustration had not proudly shown the dragon on the sail, the elegance alone was enough to tell her this was a Sampetrian design.

The ferret scanned the page, reading the description in stunned amazement. A ship of the trading nation Sampetra, masters of craftsbeastship and arts. Regular goods they bring include; silver, gold, and all things that can be made of these, food, silk, fine horses, and even finer weapons.

Romsca turned the page, reading on almost dazedly. Lately, the nation Sampetra has risen to great influence as traders, fearless seabeasts, the best to ride waves. We have in fact made alliance with them, trading raw materials such as iron and silver for their beautiful jewelry and weapons. Never before has the world known such a quickly rising star .. composed mostly of vermin, nonetheless. Still, they have ties with nearly every nation and port that exists, their goods are unsurpassable, and they themselves are fair to look upon and as bold as any woodland warrior. They uphold honor and have been known to aid those in need, even killing beasts of their own kind to defend peaceful creatures. A strange and wonderful people, many say the children of Sampetra may change the way woodlanders see vermin forever.

Romsca didn't move for several minutes, eyes riveted to the cracked pages. How could this be? Hadn't she been taught that Sampetrians had always been pirates and fought woodlanders since time began? Hadn't she been told, when she asked her father why, that this simply was what fate had chosen when the lords and ladies came up from the sea and enlightened Scound and Aisha to create a country of murderers? That woodlanders were their enemies, having always been and would forever be?

Then what was she reading .. that Sampetra had once done trade with Holt Lutra ... the very people they had wiped out!

It has to be a lie .. a woodlander wrote this, and you can't really trust a woodlander.

Romsca paused, shaking her head.

But what would it benefit the author to lie? There's no reason for it.

The ferret turned back to the picture of the ship, stroking her gloved paw across the depiction of the dragon sail. Sampetra had changed drastically from this account, and this piece of history had been lost in the archives of time by vermin and woodlander alike.

But why?


On the Darkshroud, problems seemed to abound. The mast was unstable, and now it had been discovered that the hull had been damaged and they were slowly taking water.

Xzaris was on his hands and knees in dirty water, trying to repair the damage. Val was trying to help by getting some of the crew to bail, and Skarbod held the ship on course, though there was little need for it.

The ferret captain stood up at long last sighing, "That's the best I kin do, I hope she holds fer a week."

He turned to the crew, ordering, "If'n this starts again, tell me first off .. we gotta last til that island, see?"

"An' then what?" One of the creatures spoke up. "How're we gonna git home? I can't be marooned on some island, I got a farm ta pay off an a family waitin' fer me."

Xzaris rubbed some dirt off his face, succeeding in smearing it. "We ain't gonna be marooned, if I'm jist in a bay, I kin repair Darkshroud an' sail her again."

Nobeast looked completely convinced, and the young ferret growled in frustration. "I swear it on Atlas, see? Now git about yer work, an' Val, cook supper."

"Aye, aye capt'n, what'll it be, seaweed an' water stew or rice porridge?"

Xzaris gave her a look. "What about meat?"

"Eh .. wull we ain't got none left, it's those Monitors. Darkshroud ain't big 'nough ta carry 'nough food for em." Val admitted.

The crew looked uncertain, and Xzaris groaned under his breath, grabbing Val's arm and dragging her out of the hold and to her galley. "Do ya have ta say that in front a the crew? I got a hard 'nough job already, ya gotta make it harder?"

Val shrugged. "Sorry capt'n, I was jist sayin' .."

"Wull say it ta me in private!" Xzaris's voice was sharp, and he slowly drew back, letting go of the fox. "I'm sorry Val."

The vixen sighed. "Nah .. it's ok capt'n, I wasn't really thinkin' .. I'm still gettin' used ta bein' a real pirate an' everythin'. Guess I ain't real good at it yet."

"Jist ... wull .. be careful. I know ya ain't good at lyin' Val, ya've never been good at it .. so how about ya jist don't say nothin' fer now, ok?" Xzaris sighed, adding, "I've gotta keep this crew on me side, an' I always knew that was gonna be hard. An' it is."

"Right capt'n .. an' .. what's we gonna do when we git ta this island an' fix the ship, what's we doin' then?" Val raised one eyebrow.

Xzaris shook his head. "I donno, I'm takin' one day at a time. I don't dare think farther."


"Everythin' is in good order capt'n, an' we've made good time. The storm threw us off course a little, but I got her back on .. we should be reachin' the lower highland ranges in about a week."

Rasconza looked up from his documents as Slashback paused, adding, "We have a good store a food an' water still, enough for several weeks."

The fox stood, slowly walking past his first mate to the door, looking out. "It's getting a bit cool, don't you think?"

Slashback nodded. "Well .. a course capt'n, we're goin' north an all."

Rasconza scratched his scruffy beard, watching the Monitors roam the decks, and noted the ones that congregated in the sun, as if slightly chilled.

"Slashback, if I am correct, the Monitors are like every other reptile, cold-blooded. So I am devising a little plan .. can I trust you with it?"

The rat dipped his head. "I'm here ta serve ya capt'n."

"Good answer." Rasconza smiled, voice soft as he shut the cabin door. "Now look. I don't intend to be murdered like my father was. If those lizards need the constant warmth of Sampetra, how would they like the high northlands, that are cold even in the summer?"

Slashback did nothing for a moment, before he slowly grinned. "Capt'n .. that's brilliant!"

Rasconza nodded. "Aye. And once we've killed them, let the emperor and his worthless pearls go to Hellgates. We will return to Sampetra to help my friends, kill Ublaz, and reclaim our country."

Chapter 17 Things Time Forgot

TotO &#039;Things Time Forgot&#039;

Xzaris makes a discovery ...

"When do you think they'll get here?" Cracklyn bounced around Tansy excitedly as the two and Piknim worked in the abbey flowerbed. "I mean, it's basically summer and they aren't here!"

Tansy shrugged, clipping a few roses and putting them in her basket. "As I remember, Log-a-Log always comes when we least expect it."

The squirrel sighed, flopping against a trellis and jumping back with a yelp, as it was already home to a rose bush. Cracklyn rubbed her shoulder, shooting the trellis a glare as she grumbled, "Yea, I know. I just don't like waiting!"

Piknim ran her claws through her wavy hazel hair, tossing her head, though her voice was teasing. "Yes, we can see that."

Cracklyn rolled her eyes, joking back, "Oh come on, you're just as excited as me, so stop trying to hide it under your primness."

"Primness, is it?" Piknim pretended to be shocked, but her eyes sparkled. "It's not primness, it's simply called style."

Tansy picked up the baskets of flowers, stating, "Come on you two, we should take these to Sister Cicely and Viola. They're decorating Cavern Hole, you know."

Cracklyn grinned, "Oh I like decorating! Come on Piknim, race you! Last one to Cavern Hole's a fried frog!"

Piknim chased after the squirrel, calling, "You will make me mess up my hair ... I'm not a fried frog!"

Tansy shrugged, following a little slower as she adjusted her straw hat. She walked past Arven and some of his mole dibbun friends, who were grinning and snickering amongst themselves. The hedgehog stopped, raising one eyebrow. "What are you up to now, hmm?"

Arven stuck his paws behind his back, grinning ever so cheekily. "Nothin' Tansy Pansy, we're just makin .."

He paused, as if thinking, and the little molemaid beside him spoke up. "Hurr, it do be a gurt surpriose, Tan'y."

"Oh it is, is it Diggum?" Tansy squinted one eye sternly at them. "Well that's fine, but it best not have anything to do with the kitchens, like the last time you made a surprise."

Arven giggled, stopping at the look Tansy had fixed upon him. "No, it's got to do with Mr. Hood, that's all."

The hedgehog opened her mouth to say something, when a high pitched voice rang across the abbey lawns. "Taanssyy! Where are our roses?"

Tansy made a face, hurrying toward the building. She was met by a volemaid, who grabbed two of her baskets. "How long can you take? Why the abbot thinks you're so special, I'll never know."

The hedgehog tried to ignore this comment, asking, "Do you need any help?"

"Not from you, miss goody-goody. How about you go back to the kitchens where you belong?" The vole seemed to be in a bad mood.

"Oh come off it Viola." Cracklyn grabbed Tansy's paw. "She can come help if she wants."

The vole scowled, before hurrying back into Cavern Hole. Tansy sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't."

"Nah, it's fine." Cracklyn promised. "Viola's just being .. well .. herself. She's jealous cause Abbot Durral favors you and all."

"I didn't mean for that, I can't help the abbot likes cooking and likes to teach me." Tansy let her ears droop slightly. "I wish Viola wasn't so mean about it. I don't like fighting her, and she wants to make me."

"Yea ..." Cracklyn scowled. "She sure would like that, wouldn't she? Well don't take the bait. She can't get you in trouble that way."

The two walked down the steps, where a crew of beasts were decorating the normally bare walls. Gural was hanging garlands on the walls, aided by Clecky. Cicely seemed to be everywhere at once, giving out orders. "Grath, Martin, Clecky .. you be careful with that garland. You too Gural, don't cut it with those talons of yours. Oh, Viola, give me those roses .. what? Friar Higgle said what? Oh .."

The mouse looked around, spying the nearest beast, Hood, and shoving the roses into his paws. "You hold those for a minute. Yes, I'm coming Higgle!"

Tansy giggled a little, Hood holding a pile of roses was rather funny, especially the even droller look on his muzzle than usual. Clecky grinned. "Oh I say chap, good to see you gettin' into the jolly old spirit a things!"

The fox flicked an ear in response, though he didn't look at all enthusiastic. The doors opened a little, and Sayna walked down the flight of stairs, light glinting off chain mail and blue cape flowing regally behind her. Viola, who'd been standing near the doors, gulped and hurried away.

Tansy felt the smallest twinge of satisfaction at the vole's discomfort .. Sayna might be .. well .. strange, but the hedgehog wasn't truly afraid of her.

The tall mouse walked deliberately down the steps, singling out the abbot and stopping beside him. "Durral?"

He jumped, spinning around, before sighing. "Oh. Sayna .. yes .. what is it? Might I ask also .. has there been a war?"

Sayna shrugged, folding her leather gloved paws, unconcerned with the stares she was getting. "Perhaps. I dress as I wish. I came to tell you Log-a-Log is nearly here, he'll be knocking on the gates soon. So I opened them, but you may want to great him."

Durral blinked, before nodding. "I see .. ah .. yes, thank you for telling us. I suppose you're coming to the feast?"

Sayna's mouth twitched in the faintest echo of a smile, perhaps a bit smug. "I may."

She turned away, lifting her sweeping cape a little and walking back up the steps. The mouse vanished with a slight jingle of metal, and Durral rolled his eyes in a bit of exasperation. He shook himself, stating, "Well then .. let's not leave our guests waiting."


The journey into Mossflower had been uneventful. Too uneventful, at least for a week and a half of travel. Romsca didn't like it at all .. no rival bands of vermin had opposed her, and she'd been faced with not one woodlander. Perhaps they all hid, the ones that were not warriors .. at least that was all she could tell herself by way of explanation.

Still, they were spending most of the time on the river itself, and they weren't really spending any time on the bank, except to rest and fish. So perhaps that accounted for it.

Romsca had sent one of the crew on ahead to scout their course and the condition of the river ahead, and presently, he came running back. "Capt'n .. capt'n, ya better git over ta shore quick! There's a bunch a rapids an' a waterfall up ahead, a big one!"

Without a moments hesitation, Rafglan ordered they pull for shore, and Romsca turned the tiller. They beached the two boats as the scout panted, "I ran all the way back ta tell ya before it was too late .. it's not far up ahead."

Romsca nodded, asking, "How far?"

"Just 'round these next few bends."

The ferret paused, before stating, "Let's walk ta at least see it. If Graylunk and Flairnose came this way, there might be a clue."

There was an assortment of grumbling from the crew, and Romsca turned on them, noting Lask and his Monitors. "We're gonna go ta all lengths ta find those pearls, see? Do it or face me."

The noise fell silent, and the ferret nodded. "Good. Forward!"

Trekking through Mossflower wasn't easy, especially for a full crew of seabeasts, who weren't used to the woodlands. Romsca herself found it difficult, and was glad she'd decided to cut several inches off her hair before she left on this stupid mission.

As it was, clothing, fur, and tails were getting caught in branches and brush, and quite a few beasts let loose some curses. Romsca kept her teeth clenched together, trudging on doggedly.

Cheng pulled his tail out of some brambles, cursing, and glared at Romsca. "What good will it do ta look at some dumb waterfalls? Why don't we catch some woodlander an' make 'em tell?"

Romsca sneered. "A lot ya know. Fool, do ya really think two Sampetrians would let mere woodlanders know about those pearls? Keep yer mouth shut less I ask ya ta open it."

The weasel glowered for a moment, stomping off, his ears pinned. Romsca glared balefully after him, knowing that somehow, she'd have to cross blades with that beast again. Part of her truly looked forward to the day she could.

"Hoi, capt'n! There they is!"

Sure enough, the scout was right. Romsca could see the spray being flung high into the air, and hear the roar of the river. The ferret stopped on a flat rock that had a full view of the falls, watching the endless torrent of crashing water, spilling over sharp, jutting rocks and into a dark pool below.

Romsca shook her head as Rafglan stated, "If Flairnose and Graylunk went over that .. they'd 'ave been torn ta pieces."

"Aye." Romsca watched the water splashing endlessly into the deep pool. "And the pearls will have been washed away .. gone ferever."


"Capt'n! Capt'n! Ya better come quick!"

Xzaris had been following the Roaringburn for near a week, and rations were short. Tempers had a way of being even shorter, and worse yet, the Monitors were hungry.

The ferret came running at Val's call, skidding to a stop on the main deck. Val had her saber out, and the crew that was there had weapons drawn as well. Zurgat and three Monitors were menacing them, advancing slowly forward.

Xzaris's paw flew up to the shaft of his pike, whipping it off his back in one swift move as he leaped between the lizards and Val. "What are ya doin'?"

Zurgat flicked her tongue out in a hiss. "The vixen will not feed uzzz, zzzo we will feed ourzzzelvezzz. You do not need all thezzze beazzztzzz to zzzail zzhip."

Xzaris drew his long knife with his left paw, snarling, "Ya will not lay a paw on any a me crew, ya hear me?"

The lizards looked at one another, before Zurgat advanced on the ferret captain. "Then perhapzzz we will feazzzt on you."

Xzaris's mind was racing, and he blurted, "What about Master's pearls? I can't git 'em fer him if'n I'm dead!"

Zurgat halted in her tracks, before hissing, "We are hungry. Give uzzz a crew beazzt, and I will let you live."

"Yu'll lemme live, will ya?" Xzaris flicked his pike in the lizard's face. "Wull I ain't givin' ya one a this crew, I'm their capt'n, an' ya really expect me ta go against me honor like that? We're all hungry Zurgat, but killin' each other ain't gonna help. An' it sure ain't gonna git Master's pearls, see?"

The Monitor didn't say anything for a few moments, before she snarled. "We have had no meat for a week, we are zzztarving. Eating one crew beazzzt will not zzztop uzz from getting Mazzzter'zz pearlzz. Zzzo give uzzz one, or we will take one."

Xzaris cast a glance behind him, catching Val's eye. He showed his fangs. "No. Ya will have ta fight me first!"

Zurgat's tail slowing swished back and forth, the sharp spikes on it scraping the wood. She seemed caught in indecision, between defying her masters wishes and satisfying her hunger. Xzaris was tense, ready to spring at any moment, and he did have to admit the lizard's ribs were beginning to show beneath their scales. Used to devouring large portions of meat every one or two days, nothing but seaweed for a week was as good as starvation.

One of the lizards jumped toward a crew member before Zurgat made her choice, and the beast scrambled back, his sword smashing uselessly on the back of the creature's heavily plated neck.

Xzaris leaped forward as the monitor tore at the creature's legs, shredding his boots and pulling him to the deck amid his vain attempts to defend himself. The creature screamed in agony as his captain threw himself at the lizard, slashing his gleaming pike at the beast's throat.

The Montior pulled away with a hissing cry, blood from a shallow wound running down its long neck. It snarled in anger, throwing itself at Xzaris with fury. The ferret leaped to the side, falling to one knee as the creature thundered forward again.

He made as if to slash at the beast's throat with his long knife, and it jerked itself back, pulling its belly slightly off the deck. Xzaris thrust his pike with all his might, and the weapon sank into the lizard's underside, slicing down it.

The creature screeched, thrashing in agony of death, and Xzaris found himself thrown backwards from the sheer power of the Monitor. The back of his head collided with the ship's railing, and he sank to the deck, vision swimming. Pain seared through his right footpaw as the lizard's thrashing claws caught it, and the burning sensation cleared his head.

Xzaris dragged himself up using the railing, not daring to put all his weight on the injury. The Monitor lay stiller now, though it fought to stand again every few seconds, hissing and snarling in agony.

The ferret retrieved his pike, curling his lip as he thrust the weapon up through the dying lizard's belly in a bit of twisted mercy. Zurgat didn't move for a moment, before she hissed, "Very well, thizzz one wazzz not needed. We will eat him inzztead."

Xzaris and all the crew stood frozen in shock as the living Monitors fell to devouring their dead companion without a shred of feeling. Val made a face, choking to keep what little dinner she'd eaten down. "Oh ... ugg! I .. think I'm gonna be terrible sick .. they're cannibals!"

Xzaris himself felt a surge of repulsion run through him, and he backed away as several of the crew dragged away the groaning rat he'd saved. The ferret looked quickly away, covering his muzzle with a paw. "Val .. see about the wounded beast."

"An' ya too capt'n." Val pointed out, steadying him as he stumbled from the pain in his footpaw.

Xzaris winced, leaning against the galley doorframe. "Him first .. I kin hang on. I'm fine."

Val led him down toward her kitchen, shaking her head. "Nah ya ain't, ya can't fool me. Ya come down here an wait fer me, ya shouldn't be walkin' on that paw anyway .. it's bad hurt."

The ferret looked down at his torn a bloody boot, and had to agree with Val, as much as he would have liked to keep going. However he knew of the horrible tales of infected wounds at sea, and decided looking after it now was better than being a peg-footed pirate.


At Redwall, Log-a-Log and his shrews had been joyously welcomed, and more work was done for the feast, which Durral declared would be tomorrow night. However dinner was a miniature feast in and of itself, Higgle and Tansy had seen to that.

Much laughter and talking filled Cavern Hole as beasts came to supper, Martin insisting that Plogg and Welko sit with him and Clecky. Grath joined them with Gural, and Hood sat down at their table last, at the far end near his owl companion.

Clecky set about demolishing a salad straight away, hardly able to talk around the food in his mouth, though he made a valiant attempt. "I .. mmmpphh .. I say .. Redwall salad .. never fails to .. hhrummpph .. amaze a chap."

Hood flicked one ear, a common expression of his. "As do your table manners."

Gural stuffed a pastry in his beak, speaking as soon as he was able. "As my ould mother always would say .. don't talk with your beak full."

Grath giggled a little, because the owl's statement contradicted his actions. Plogg elbowed Martin. "So, how's the training with old Mattimeo going? As good as your music?"

Martin shrugged, grinning. "Oh, I'm pretty good at it, at least that's what dad says."

Welko laughed. "Probably not as good as I am with my bow!"

"Oh is that so?" Martin raised an eyebrow. "How about you challenge Grath, I bet she can beat you."

Welko grinned. "Nah .. she might be good, but I'm even better."

"Now how do you bally well know that chap, I've seen her shoot, wot? Jolly good if you ask me." Clecky looked up from his food.

Plogg shoved his brother. "Hey, you know when you've been challenged?"

Grath held up a paw. "Now .. wait a minute .."

Welko blinked. "Uhh .. well I don't know .."

Martin smiled encouragingly. "Hey, you can do it Grath, you're incredible with that bow. I bet you could hit a moving target sixty yards away!"

"I can not!" Grath exclaimed, a little dismayed. "Martin .. that's just impossible .. believe me, I've tried."

"Yea." Welko agreed. "That is pretty crazy."

The mouse shrugged. "Ok, so I'm not an archer."

Grath tried to make a face, but laughed instead. "No, you're not. That's for sure."

Arven suddenly scrambled onto the bench beside Clecky, looking undeniably cheerful and rather mischievous as well. The hare smiled at the squirrel dibbun, offering him a slice of flan. "Why hello chap, try some of this! Top hole scoff, if I do say so myself, wot, wot?"

The dibbun accepted to food, digging in heartily, and Clecky grinned. "That's the spirit, scoff like you mean it, eh wot?"

Arven looked up, meadowcream flecking his muzzle. He tugged on the hare's three-quarter blue cape, grinning cheekily as he whispered. "Mr. Clecky, is Mr. Hood scared of loud noises?"

Clecky blinked a bit confusedly as he whispered back, "Well I suppose if it's loud enough, eh wot? But .."

"And if he sat in flan, would that get his hood dirty enough?" Arven was persistent.

The hare narrowed his eyes. "I say now .. what are you up to laddie buck?"

The squirrel giggled softly. "Just our surprise, like we told Tansy Pansy. We're gonna see the bones, an' if Diggum's ready, he'll sit in flan!"

"Now I say .." Clecky began, but his words broke off as there was a loud crash, directly behind Hood. Everybeast at the table and at tables around it leapt to their feet .. and Hood tried his best to do the same.

However his robe-like cloak pulled back, his hood tightening about his face and practically yanking him off his paws. His arms were still stuck in the sleeves but the front of the robe was ripped back by the force of his jumping up, revealing no bones, simply normal fur.

Hood struggled to pull the front of his cloak back together, but was forced to sit down to do so because of the tension. The fox's ears shot straight up as he did this, a surprised look written all over the small part of his face that could be seen.

Arven jumped up, cry reverberating through Cavern Hole. "Mr. Clecky .. there aren't any bones at all! Not any!"

Everybeast in the vicinity looked at Clecky, including Arven, who was accusing. The hare stammered, for once at a loss for words. "Well now .. that is .. I mean .. he does have bones. You know, inside his fur, like every other beast, wot?"

"That's not how you said it!" Arven stamped a paw. "You said he was nothin but bones!"

Hood's ears rotated back grumpily as Clecky blinked. "I mean .. well now .. Arven chap, I .. that was .. well, a bit of a jolly story. You weren't .. supposed ta take it .. so serious, you know?"

Arven was upset. "Mr. Clecky, you fibbed! Fibbing is awful bad, Sis'er Cicely says so! She should make you eat her nettle broth, and that's terrible awful .. as bad as the fib!"

Cicely snagged Arven by the tunic, voice stern. "Oh is it? And what about what you did .. tipped a whole tea-trolley of dishes over and embarrassed a guest? Of to bed with you, Master Arven."

The squirrel sniffed. "I just wanted to see the bones."

Tansy came over at that moment, asking, "Sister Cicely, have you seen the big flan I made specially for the abbot? It's gone missing, and I swear I can remember where I put it."

Arven looked guilty. "I never touched it Tansy .. Pansy. Diggum was the one that put it under Mr. Hood so he'd sit in it, not me!"

Tansy's mouth dropped open. "What? You wouldn't have!"

Plogg and Welko were leaning on one another, laughing so hard they nearly fell off their seat, and Martin had his paws clamped tightly over his mouth. Grath looked like she felt bad for Tansy, but was having a hard time keeping a straight face.

Cicely was rounding up all the dibbuns, escorting them upstairs toward the dormitories. Arven's voice was forlorn as he was forced to leave. "But I just wanted to see the bones! I just wanted to see the flan going down! And we planned so much .. we even carted that great big rock in before dinner to put on his hood .. and we got the biggest flan ever .. and Mr. Clecky said .."

His voice faded away, and Hood tried to creep off, but the sizable rock on the hem of his cloak pulled him back. The fox removed it, keeping his head and ears down rather ashamedly as he quickly made for the door.

Tansy picked up the smashed remnants of her flan, looked sadly at it. "My biggest, nicest flan yet ... Oh, I'd have liked to have eaten a little bit."

Clecky shook his head. "Errr .. my humblest apologies miss, it does look .. spiffen grand .. or it would have .. hmmph. Wasting marvelous scoff like that .. "

Durral looked sternly at the hare, whose ears drooped. "Well now .. I say .. how was I to know the little chap had such a .. well .. an imagination. I mean, he's such a .. small lad .. and I thought I'd just amuse him with a bit of a tale ..."

Plogg gasped for breath, laughing, "Well you sure amused us!"

Durral sighed. "Please do not tell the dibbuns any more of your stories, they are quite imaginative. I'm afraid you'll have to clean up the mess they made. Does your .. friend need anything?"

Gerul spoke up. "He just wants to be by his ould self, he won't be glad to see anybeast at this point. He'll be right as rain in the morning, just has to cool off, so to speak."

"And take a jolly bath .." Clecky stated, pausing as a little laughter crept into his voice.

His owl companion looked at Welko and Plogg, just managing to stop laughing, and chuckled. "But it was rather funny to see Hood sit in flan, wasn't it?"

Gerul stopped as he caught Tansy's glare, quickly adding, "Of course .. not miss Tansy's flan .."

The hedgehog huffed, stomping off to the kitchens disgustedly. Clecky sighed. "I say ... I hope we haven't offended the lovely cook too awful much. Her cookin's too marvelous to have her mad at a jolly old chap .. he might blinkin' starve."


The crashing of the waterfall created a soft, almost mesmerizing rhythm, but Romsca resisted its magic, refusing sleep. To occupy herself, she opened the old otter book again, flipping to the depiction of the Sampetrian ship. The illustration confused her, made her doubt .. made her wonder.

Was it right, what Sampetra did to other nations .. nations that weren't truly its enemies? Before, she would have said, There is no other way .. this is the way it has always been.

But now, she knew better.

Unless it's all made up. It might be false.

But why? What reason was there for it to be? The author had known what they were talking about, the eloquence of the writing alone was enough to prove to her it wasn't a joke. Besides, somebeast had drawn that detailed picture .. no, they were completely serious.

Still .. how? Why had she been taught a lie?

A lie that everybeast believed.

"And the worst thing is, unless the alliance was broken, we've murdered the very beasts we was supposed to aid." Romsca stared at the book. "It's so despicable I could spit."

"What is? Cheng?" Rafglan sat on the log behind her.

Romsca snorted. "Nah, but he is too. Raf ... it's this book. It says ... that once we had alliance with Holt Lutra .. ya know, the otters me father an' uncle wiped out!"

The rat stared at her before he sneered. "What? Impossible. 'Ow could pirates 'ave alliance with woodlanders? There's alwus been war between us an' them."

Romsca shook her head. "No .. this book says that once we was a trading nation with the best ships anybeast laid eyes on. It says we traded gold an' silver .. grain! We can hardly grow enough a that fer ourselves, how could we trade it? All our gold's what we've stolen, an' we're hard pressed ta grow enough rice an' bamboo ta feed the city .. I don't unnerstand."

Rafglan took the book, reading it slowly and staring at the depiction of the ship. He finally handed it back, shaking his head. "An' neither do I .. but ya know ya kin never trust a woodlander."

"That's what I said .. but Raf, why would they lie about this? There's no plausible reason .. there just ain't. I .. I think it's true." Romsca paused, adding, "An' Raf, think about how many a us die on raids. If we was traders, those beast might not have ta die!"

The rat shook his head, looking around, before sighing, "Honey. I know how yer thinkin', yer thinkin' a yer dad. An' I know .. but it can't never be. Even if Ublaz weren't there ta boss us, how could we trade with the nations we've raided? Nah, honey we was born ta murder. Ya, me .. every one a these beasts. It's in our blood an' in our hearts .. ya just gotta unnerstand."

Romsca shut the book with a snap, glaring at the rat. "Don't ya git me wrong Raf."

Her voice was low, but earnest. "I love the sea. I love ta sail. Sometimes I even love ta fight, an' killin' me enemies don't bother me none. But ta kill those that never did me wrong, to see families broken .. a girl's father taken from her .. just like mine was .. it makes me feel as bad as Ublaz. An' I hate to mimic that monster in any way."

Rafglan sighed, voice stern. "Capt'n. I know. But that's jist the way it is. Without the grain we take in raidin', we would have mayhem on our paws. 'Sides, what about the seabeasts? Creatures would have no jobs .. beasts would be starvin' an' let's be perfectly honest. Without the beasts we loose in war, we'd soon over-populate our city. It'd destroy Sampetra, an' that's the short an' long a it."

Romsca looked away, slipping the book in her satchel. "I donno if I can do this the way it's supposed ta be done."

"Then Capt'n .." Rafglan paused, stating, "Don't take this wrong, but maybe ya ain't meant ta be a capt'n."

Romsca turned on him, snarling, "I am! I will sail me father's ship, I will be as good as a son ta him, an' I will be a worthy beast a the House a the Dragons! Being a lady of the Dragons isn't good enough, I will be a capt'n, a warrior, and I will be as good as any male, better than 'em even! Do you unnerstand that Rafglan? It's what I've trained ta be since I could talk, it's me greatest dream! It's all I can give me father, now that I brought about his death, so do not dare tell me I should not be what I am!"

The rat met her blazing green stare for a moment, before he dropped his gaze. "Then with respect Capt'n, meet the demands."

Romsca let her eyes close, before opening them, narrowly. "I will do what I must."

"Don't be afraid ta kill capt'n .. they'd kill ya if they could." Rafglan stated by way of encouragement.

His young captain's gaze was as sharp as her axe. "Only because of what I am, a murderer. But I said I will do what I must .."

Her eyes burned with a wild, intense fire as she sneered. "An' I ain't afraid ta kill."


Xzaris's paws clenched in pain as he ground his teeth together to remain silent. Val looked up from where she was washing his wound, stating, "Sorry capt'n .. I bet it do hurt. An' somethin' awful, that thing got yer paw purty good."

"Course .." Val dipped her rag into the bowl of boiled sea water she was using, gently sweeping it across his foot. "Nobeasts never killed one a them before .. so I'm su'prised ya got out as good as ya did."

The ferret nodded, wincing, "Am I gonna be able ta keep me paw er not?"

Val flicked an ear, shrugging. "Wull I donno fer sure, if we kin keep it clean an it don't git infected, yea. But ya might limp forever anyhow, cause yer paw's torn up .. those thing's claws ain't nothin' ta laugh at."

"That's fer sure." Xzaris muttered, asking, "What 'bout the other beast?"

The white vixen shook her head. "I don't think he'll live that long .. not with all I know of healin'. I kin only do so much ya know."

Xzaris sighed. "Yea."

He tried to wiggle his toes, but the lance of pain that shot up his leg forbade him to do that again. Val grimaced as she began to bind the injury, stating, "Be glad ya can feel it .. shows it might heal."

She paused, adding, "An' I gotta say what ya did with that lizard was stupid. Brave an' all, but stupid. Purty tough an' darin' an' everythin', but stupid."

Xzaris rolled his eyes. "I know it was stupid. Real stupid, an' it coulda well been the end a me."

"Why'd ya do it then? I mean .. I git we don't want em eatin' us, but there's a point when ya can't do no more. That rat .. he probably wishes ya let him be eaten, cause now he'll jist die far slower." Val pointed this out sadly.

Her captain nodded bleakly. "I wish we coulda saved him, or at least that he wouldn't have ta suffer like this .. but as fer what I did .." He paused.

"I had ta." Xzaris shrugged. "I donno why but I did. Maybe ta prove somethin' to meself."

A little dry laughter returned to his voice as he snorted, "I can't believe I killed that thing an' came out with no more'n a torn paw .. I really can't. It all 'appened so fast .. what'd I do anyway?"

Val shrugged, a slow grin forming on her muzzle. "Ya gutted it capt'n, an' that must be the only way ta kill 'em, cause their unnerbellies must be softer than the scales on top .. good grief, on top they're purty much un-killable!"

She thought about this a moment, before stating, "Ya know, that must be why they alwus attack so low ta the ground."

"Could be yer right." Xzaris looked thoughtful. "I wonder .."

"Ya wonder what?" The vixen cocked one ear forward.

"Nothin'." Xzaris shook his head as he carefully slipped his boot on over the bandages. "Nothin' really. Jist a thought."

Their conversation was interrupted by a shout from on deck. "Hoi, Land ho! Dead ahead!"

Xzaris staggered up, using his pikeshaft to steady himself. "Sounds like I'm needed up there .."

He paused, looking at the unconscious creature, lying bandaged but still bloody on a makeshift pallet. "Try ta keep 'im as comfert'ble as ya can .. give him some ale if'n ya need ta. It's all we kin do."

Val nodded as her captain limped up the galley stairs, brushy black-tipped tail vanishing through the open hatch. Xzaris had to keep most of his weight on the uninjured limb, and was forced to lean heavily on his pike, as his wounded foot was barely movable.

He was met by Skarbod, who grimaced. "The island's comin' up fast cause a this currant .. there's bound ta be reefs."

"Post lookouts on the for'ard end, Ya go git me spyglass an' help me with sightin', an' I'll steer her. All hands ta the main deck!" Xzaris finished giving orders as he limped up the forcastle stairs, using the railing for support.

He slipped his pike into its sheeth, taking hold of the wheel as Skarbod ran up the steps with the spyglass. The stoat joined his captain quickly, putting the device to his eye and adjusting it.

The little ship was approaching the island rapidly indeed, for the Roaringburn was swift. Xzaris squinted, noting the whitecaps where the waves crashed upon some obstacle. The pale light of early dawn illuminated the seascape, though not as fully as would have been ideal.

Skarbod adjusted the spyglass, stating, "We've got our first reef .. on the port side, ta starboard!"

Xzaris turned the wheel, and Darkshroud obeyed him, skirting the treacherous rocks in a wide arch.

"Hard to port!" Skarbod pointed with his free paw, keeping the spyglass to his eye continually.

Xzaris struggled against the force of the Roaringburn, turning the wheel again. Skarbod made a face. "I hope this is low tide, but from the tales a this place, I bet it ain't."

Tall cliffs of the island itself towered nearer and nearer, and their speed seemed to increase. Xzaris could see the obvious bay now, the island was really a very large, half eroded atoll. However surf dotted their path on multiple accounts, reef after reef threatening to be the end of them.

Skarbod grimaced. "We're dead."

"No, wait! There!" Xzaris pointed, grabbing the spyglass from his first mate and quickly turning it. Sure enough, a little to one side of the ship, was a path of water that seemed clear.

The ferret thrust the item back into the stoat's paws and hauling on the wheel, making for that stretch of ocean. Darkshroud slipped into it, moving even faster.

"This must be the heart a the Roarin'burn .. it erodes anythin' in it's path." Xzaris kept a tight hold on the wheel as the morning breeze whipped his black hair out of his face. A sharp cliff rose above them, forming a large sea-arch where the Roaringburn had driven a hole through solid rock.

The ship swept underneath it, almost being tossed into what seemed a giant eddy. Their pace instantly slowed, and they floated slowly forward in a massive bay, the center of the ancient volcano's cinder-cone.

Skarbod blinked in amazement. "Have ya ever seen the like?"

Xzaris shook his head, for this place, while beautiful, was haunting. Skeletal wrecks sat in this deep indigo water, sheltered from sea and storm as they slowly rotted away to nothing. Some seemed younger, their broken glass windows still in them and their masts hanging from them at crazy angles, rotting sailcloth billowing in the quiet water. Others were poor, decrepit things, half rearing in the sea as if protesting their inevitable fate as they slowly became completely water-logged and slipped beneath the surface forever.

Ships of every kind, large and small, some modern designs, some obviously hundreds of years old populated this mournful graveyard. Not a soul was to be seen, living or otherwise .. just wreck after wreck, proof of the wild sea's murders.

Xzaris limped to the rail, looking down into the wonderfully clear water. Far, far below, resting on the bottom, were the vague shapes of those wrecks that had succumbed to the wiles of time.

Northern made ships, Southswardian vessels, otter crafts, fishing boats, and even sleek raiders of Sampetra all populated this place of peaceful death, either their hulls stoved in or their masts snapped in two .. all ravaged by the ruthless oceans.

The Darkshroud's crew was silent in awe and some fear, and Xzaris felt the peace of this place wrap around him .. like it was enchanted. "We're probably some'a the first livin' beasts ta see this."

Val joined him, having done all she could for the wounded beast. For once the vixen was silent, the soft breeze rustling her red hair.

Darkshroud came to a slow stop, almost as if it was sighing with relief and wished to meet a peaceful end in the sheltered bay. After all, it was nothing but an old wreck he'd restored, and with the damage that had been done, it almost looked like it belonged.

Xzaris scowled at his thoughts, shaking his head. "Skarbod, lower a boat. We'll go ashore an' look fer fresh water. Others kin fish, there's bound ta be a lot in waters as undisturbed as this."


The dawn was turning Redwall's walls from nightwashed gray to their real ruddy hues as Blacksnow allowed Durral to hitch him to the abbey cart.

Mattimeo saw him from the gatehouse and came out, with Martin close behind. "Ho, Durral .. where are you off to this early?"

The mouse clipped some of the harness together, smiling, "Good morning Mattimeo, Martin. I thought I'd get some herbs to surprise Cicely, she's worked hard to prepare for this feast, you know."

Mattimeo scratched his head. "Alright .. but by yourself?"

"Why not?" Durral asked. "After all, it's been too long since I spent some time in Mossflower, just me and nature. Besides, Blacksnow can look after whatever trouble might arise .. he did fight alongside your father, after all."

The appaloosa was not paying attention, his head was down and one back hoof was cocked, a sure sign he was snoozing. Mattimeo nodded. "Hmm .. yes. And he's quite a loyal beast. But he's a bit past his fighting days, if you ask me."

Durral climbed into the driver's seat, laughing. "For that matter, I'm not young. No, it will be fine, and I'll be back before lunch. Martin? You and Grath see everything goes smoothly."

Martin nodded. "Right, we will."

The abbot tugged gently on the reigns, and Blacksnow jerked his head up. "Mmmm .. hrrrmmpph, are we ready to go? Well you might say something."

The old horse stretched forward, tossing his thinning black mane and opening his jaws in a wide yawn. He started forward at a slow walk, and Durral settled back in in seat, waving. "Tell Tansy all I want for lunch is spring salad and tea, alright? I'll be back around noon."


Romsca awoke to the rushing water of the falls and the sweet sound of birdsong. She lifted her head a little blearily .. she'd been asleep?

The ferret shook herself, starting as she saw Lask watching her.

"Well what're ya lookin' at?" Romsca snapped, not in the best mood.

The Monitor actually smiled, almost patronizing. "Juzzt watching azzz you zzzlept. We would want nothing to happen to our captain, who will find Mazzter'zzz pearlzz."

Romsca rolled her eyes. "Yea. A course. Master's pearls."

She stood up, tossing her black hair over her shoulders and shaking herself. "I'm starved, where's Rubby?"

The rat cook walked up behind her, carrying a net of fish. "I'm right 'ere capt'n. I'll make somthin' that'll wake ya up proper so I will."

Romsca yawned, still awaking totally. "Uh-huh. I bet so."

The ferret checked the buckle on her satchel, vowing to not sleep again without the protection of her cabin or manor. Fool she was to give in to her weariness even once.

Rubby was stirring something over the fire, when the scout came into camp. "Capt'n?"

Romsca looked up. "Yes?"

The creature shrugged. "There's some old run-down buildin' over there a bit. Looks abandoned if ya ask me. But I thought ya might wanna know."

Romsca nodded. "Aye, I do. How far off is it?"

"Uhh .. 'bout ten minutes walk from here, not far at all."

The ferret stood up. "Right. Rubby, keep makin' breakfast, we'll scope it out. Shouldn't take long."

Lask stepped forward, hissing smugly. "Three of my Monitorzzz go with you."

Romsca bowed slightly in acknowledgment, the faintest sarcasm in her voice. "Of course, Lask Frildur. We wouldn't think of leaving them."

Rafglan joined her, and she felt a twinge of anger toward her first mate, for the things he'd said last night. She'd always leaned upon the rat and his wise council, but now she wished he'd vanish for a while as she got over the stinging blow he'd delivered to her, her honor, and her confidence.

She hurried on, not speaking to him. Lask's Monitors swept through the dense foliage with amazing efficiency; if they could not skirt around something, they plowed through it.

After a little while, the group reached the building the scout had spoken of. It was exactly what he'd said .. decrepit. Sagging, crumbling, and leaning in some cases, a half broken down metal fence ran around the front of it, forming a large yard filled with mournful old gravestones.

Romsca felt a shudder run down her spine .. if a beast was not buried at sea, Atlas could not guide them to the afterlife, therefore their spirit would be condemned to haunt their burial place forever.

The ferret shook her head, shoving such thoughts from her mind. "Come on, the sooner we take a quick look 'round, the sooner we git fed."

The Monitors showed no fear as they headed toward the structure, but Romsca felt like her fur was on end. Reaching up to rub her neck, she found the fur around her spine was indeed bristling.

Other crew beasts looked uneasy, and Romsca knew she had to put on an act for their sake as well as her own. "Come on, ghosts only haunt after dark, ya ought'a know that."

She strode purposefully to the building's doors, pushing one open with an echoing creaking. The ferret swallowed as she looked around at the cobwebs, broken banister and half crumbled stairs. Her companions came in after her, looking nervous.

Romsca tossed her head, walking across this open space, like some giant foyer, and began trying doors leading off of it. The first few yielded nothing, just crumbling old rooms, empty and forlorn. However the next opened into a hallway.

There was a faint scurrying sound from farther down it, and Romsca pulled her axe off her back as a precaution.

She crept along it, opening the nearest door, biting back a shriek as something dark scurried across her boot, running up the opposite wall. Romsca relaxed to see it was only a speckled gray and black salamander, and proceeded into the room.

The ferret stopped dead at what she saw .. this place was furnished! And not with old, rotting furnishings, though cobwebs and dust were everywhere. Limp curtains, stained and dirty, hung from the windows .. that still had glass. A cold fireplace sported dusty pots and pans on its mantel, with a fallen, cobweb-strung stool to complete the look.

Old, dusty stubs of candle and a crystal-cut lantern sat on a table, with a dirty checkered cloth beneath them and a few eating utensils nearby. In the far corner, the small bed still had it's sheets and pillows .. and they were not unoccupied.

Romsca made a face, for there was a complete, undisturbed skeleton lying in them, just as it would have in life .. obviously the owner of this place.

Her boots stirred through the dust and debris on the floor as she picked an opened journal from the table, blowing the dust from it as she read the entry.

This sickness has taken ahold of me now, I feel it will likely be my last. If it is to be, I shall not complain, only I would that it be over, so I may meet my Lord Ignasa, who has been my comfort these long seasons since my brother died. I suppose I could go to the good beasts of Redwall for help, but do I truly wish to prolong my life or the pain of this fever? No, it is best I should die where I have lived so long, the place I love, my dear old home. That is simply the way of the world.

Romsca scanned down the words, freezing at the next sentence.

I do wonder if Graylunk's brethren may one day come looking for the stolen pearls, but I don't suppose I shall be here to greet them. Either way my poor friend, I hid them quite well, and if you truly came to Ignasa, I hope to see you very soon. Let pearls and war rest upon our fellow beasts who still live, for I draw nigh to death's door, and such things cannot harm the dead. I'm sorry to speak in such morbid ways, my journal, you have carried the thoughts of my old heart for many a season. But I fear the time has come we must part, perhaps, someday, you will be of use to some other beast. I can only hope so, for you have little use to me any longer.



Romsca jumped a little as Rafglan stuck his head in the door. "Oh there ya is."

"Quiet." Romsca snapped, still slightly sore. "I think I've found somethin' worthwhile."

She flipped back through entries, having to go back quite a ways before finding what she was looking for.

The harvest was good this season .. no .. It's been one of the stormiest summers I can remember .. no .. Spring, winter, fall, summer ... Romsca stopped as her eyes fell upon one irregular entry.

I know it is late at night, but I have met the strangest beast. Wandering about Saint Ninian's graveyard with a horrific head wound, sobbing about ghosts and pearls and other nonsense, he is a gray weasel of about twenty or thirty seasons. I have taken him in and attempted to care for him, but he is sore hurt, and I fear there is little I can do but make him comfortable as he dies.

Romsca skipped on ahead, reading the next bit of writing.

Graylunk, as I learned he was called, did indeed die, as I suspected. However he has given me the most amazing set of six rose colored pearls before he passed away, begging me most brokenly to take them to his captain, who apparently faces death without them. When I explained there was nothing I, an old squirrel, could possibly do, he begged me to hide them from his ruthless emperor, somebeast called Ublaz. This I have done .. not to brag, but I believe I'll have made quite a little puzzle for anybeast who'd be looking for them. I even made a little ditty on the subject.

Beneath the sepulchers of stone,

These rose teardrops abide.

Here they lie though not alone,

With Icetor's Ice a guide.

So if you seek this treasure,

What's the opposite of pride?

Find value you cannot measure,

Where six echoes hide.

~ Fermald

Romsca stared vacantly at the page for a moment, before growling in frustration. What kind of crazy joke was this? Besides that, Graylunk was dead? He wasn't supposed to be dead, not after what he had done. She should have gotten to kill him.

The ferret shoved these thoughts from her mind, none of it would do any good. She looked at Rafglan, reading beside her, and snapped, "Well, there's a mess. What's yer plan fer that one?"

The rat studied the words a moment, before shrugging. "My answer is not the one you'll want ta hear, Capt'n."

"Don't patronize me Rafglan, I'm in a bad mood as it is." Romsca's voice was testy.

Rafglan shrugged. "Very well, if I was ya, I'd catch some local woodlander around here an' make 'em tell."

Romsca rolled her eyes. "The pearls were hidden. This Fermald person didn't go tellin' everybeast, I don't reckon."

"Nah, course not capt'n, but woodlanders think like other woodlanders." Rafglan pointed out.

"Well .." Romsca gave in. "I guess ya got a point. But there ain't no local woodlanders about ta catch! Do ya see a bunch a mice or somethin' pickin' daisies out there?"

Rafglan put a paw to his lips, and in the silence, Romsca could here the clopping of trotting hooves. Her first mate looked smug. "Hark, there's yer mice pickin' daisies, comin' jist when we need 'em."

Romsca looked out the window, and sure enough, a mouse driving a cart hitched to an old, swaybacked appaloosa was making his way toward the building.

The ferret winced inwardly, but she caught Rafglan's pointed look and ordered him sharply. "Tell the crew ta be silent. We'll surround him an' .. enlist his help."

Rafglan nodded, hurrying away, and Romsca watched the innocent, green-robed mouse coming ever closer .. something tugged at her heart. She exhaled the softest of all sighs, her thoughts far from the dark scowl on her face.

I probably could have found them on my own .. why couldn't you stay away?


Xzaris would have liked to go on the search for a stream with the ones he'd sent, but Val had pulled him aside, explaining hiking would not help his injury.

He'd fished instead, and now sat by the fire with Val, roasting some of what had been caught. Zurgat and her Monitors were ravenously devouring a pile of fish and a few seagulls .. at least there was plenty for them to eat here.

The ferret was finishing the best meal he'd had in several weeks, staring out into the bay thoughtfully as Val plopped down beside him, eating hungrily. "Ya know somethin'? There's so many old ships out there .. what if we could find a mast ta replace Darkshroud's?"

"Nah .." Xzaris sighed. "I've thought'a it. But unless there's some won'erful piece a luck out there, they've all been cracked an' smashed. Still .. if we kin find enough metal, I kin forge bands ta stabilize our mast with. We'd best git ta mendin' that sail too."

Val made a face. "Oh yea .. that."

She finished her meal, asking, "Hey, kin we git on one a those wrecks an' look? There's one beached real close ta here, ya kin see it."

Xzaris looked around, noting that the Monitors and the crew were busy eating, satisfied now there was food to be had. He nodded, standing with the help of his pike. "A'right, might as wull."

Fox and ferret made their way down the strand, Xzaris limping slowly while Val dashed here and there, looking at all sorts of things. At one point she stopped, picking up a rusted metal object to examine.

"What ya got there?" Xzaris called to her and she ran back, showing him.

It was an old dagger, encrusted by rust and salt crystals. Val continued forward, and as he walked along, Xzaris examined the weapon. It would have been a fine one once, and it looked quite like his own, handle and blade nearly one, the cross-hilt being very small.

There was a design at the base of the blade, but it was obscured, and Xzaris began to chip at the grime with a claw.

"Hellooo .. ya comin' aboard or not?"

Xzaris realized he'd stopped in the shadow of the wreck, focused on revealing the design. It took a few tries, but he got aboard with Val's help. She grinned, stating, "Let's split up, I'll take the hold an' ya take the capt'n's cabin."

The vixen hurried off, and Xzaris limped to where he was supposed to go, working on the odd knife a little more. Suddenly there was a crack beneath him, and he jumped aside, wincing at the pain in his foot. Val's voice floated up to him. "Uh .. yea, the deck's got some weak spots I'll bet."

The ferret rolled his eyes, pushing open the sagging, half-broken door of the captain's cabin and stepping inside. Light shone in through the broken windows and the many cracks in the forecastle floor .. as well as a gaping hole in the wall, smashed by some terrible force. Broken wood was everywhere, as well as the remains of what might have once been a table. The faint glitter of gold drew Xzaris forward, and he stooped near a broken chest, picking up a handful of coins and letting them fall back in a tinkling shower.

He paused only a moment, before he pulled out his satchel and began stuffing gold in it. Just think of what he could do with this stuff! All the upgrades his old ship still desperately needed, he could make her just like new with this much wealth! Maybe a new set of clothes for himself as well. He could even take Romsca to dinner for once .. instead of the other way around. Or maybe buy her something. She'd always been the one to buy things, since she sometimes had money to spare .. but not anymore. Just think .. what if there were other treasures like this, he could truly be a wealthy beast, even after paying the emperor!

The emperor.

Xzaris's busy paws slowed as he let himself slip into a sitting position. The ferret looked at the gold with a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of his soul. Yes, all that could have been, if not for the emperor.

But all the gold in the world could not change his miserable fate.

No dreams he had once had could be fulfilled, he wouldn't ever get to fully restore his beloved ship or sail her as a real pirate. He wouldn't ever get to see Romsca again, let alone any hopes he might have had of being anything more than her friend.

Her friend who would be tragically murdered by Ublaz, just another thing to haunt her, just another thing she would blame herself for.

Xzaris scowled, flinging the gold out of his satchel and burying his face in his paws with a low growling sob.

Why, out of all the beasts on Sampetra, why did this fate befall him and his best friends? Even money could not aid him, all the gold he could desire, and certainly more than he'd seen in his dirt-poor existence.

He took a deep breath, straightening up again and noticing a tarnished gold object laying nearby that wasn't a coin. The ferret picked it up, turning it over in his paw. It was a ring, in the shape of a twisting dragon, with a glinting sapphire eye and tiny opals adorning the spines and claws.

"The House a the Dragons .." Xzaris wiped a paw across his muzzle, before dropping the ornate item into his satchel.

There was a soft step behind him, and Xzaris cleared his throat. "Val? Find somethin'?"

"Who are ye, stranger, an' how did ye come to be on me island?"

He spun around, barely feeling the pain in his foot thanks to his surprise. Silhouetted in the doorway was a creature taller than Val, and with considerably better speech. She stepped in the room as Xzaris got to his feet, and he stared in wonder. For this beast reminded him of another creature .. hauntingly so.

She wore a tattered mix of quite a few cultures, Sampatrian, Southswardian, and even a bone otter tail ring. Her black hair was braided in two braids, and a strip of leather adorned her brow; silky, multiply pierced reddish ears cocked forward in question.

Xzaris realized his mouth was hanging open, and he closed it. "Uhh .."

The ferret's sharp brown stare watched him closely, and he tried again. "Uhh .. I .. "

"What is the matter, Sampetrian, and of the House of the Falcons, by the flag ye fly."

Xzaris stared at her, before asking warily, "Who are ya?"

She smirked. "I should ask the same of ye. So speak."

The ferret captain cleared his throat. "I'm Xzaris, Capt'n a the Darkshroud."

He raised an eyebrow, demanding, "Now who are ya?"

"Nobody really, though I was somebody once. Many a season ago now, so many I'm not sure the number. Just a marooned pirate, once of your nation, young Xzaris of the Falcons."

"I ain't really a Falcon, I jist says I is ta have a flag as a capt'n." Xzaris blurted this darkly, before catching himself and quickly asking, "What's yer house if ya came from Sampetra as ya say?"

The ferret smiled a little smugly. "I had two."

She was standing in a shaft of light now, and Xzaris knew well her younger and brighter mirror image, complete with snarky temperament. His words were soft and amazed. "Romsca ...?"

This got a reaction; the ferret's ears shot up, and her eyes glittered. "What?"

Xzaris looked down at the old knife, still in his paw, and he knew what the symbol was now. "Yer of the Dragons! Yer .. Romsca's mother .. ain't ya?"

He shook his head quickly after saying this. "Nah, ya can't be! Or .. could ya?"

"Ye know me daughter?" The ferret surprised him, Xzaris hadn't really thought his guess was actually correct.

He blinked. "What? Yea .. I know Romsca .. but .. yer really Conva's wife? I thought there was a rumor ya were lost at sea!"

"I was." The ferret stated, "But I'm not a pirate for nothing, and I had a little help as well. Is my daughter well? Is Conva well?"

Xzaris did not really want to be the bearer of bad news, not with the hope shining in the older beast's eyes. "What's yer name, kin I ask?"

She shrugged. "Arashi. But is my family alright, and Barranca too?"

"Wull .." Xzaris began carefully, knowing she would get the truth out of him sooner or later. "Romsca's .. alive, last I knew."

"She must be .. seventeen? Eighteen?" Arashi interrupted. "She was so young last I saw her, I hardly remember quite what she looked like. Only that she was an ornery little thing, for sure."

"She's about twenty, I thinks." Xzaris corrected. "But .. Wull .. about Conva .. milady."

Arashi looked concerned. "What? He isn't .."

She paused, and Xzaris looked down. "I donno how ta tell ya this, but .. he's .. gone. Dead, an' .. I'm sorry. That's all I kin say."

The ferret didn't move for a moment, before she leaned against the doorway, staring almost wildly at the ground, but saying nothing. After a moment, she looked up, voice strained. "How?"

"Uhm .. I'm not sure ya wanna hear that." Xzaris made a face.

Arashi grabbed him by the jacket, giving him a shake that belied her smaller size. "Yes I do!"

She let go, turning away. "I am sorry. But please, tell me."

Xzaris sighed. "Wull .. it was Ublaz. Ya won't know about him .. but he usurped, killed Meili .. an' tried to kill all the House a the Dragons. Conva convinced him to spare .. yer family, if he'd git the tears a the oceans .. the six pearls? Wull .. he got 'em, then they was stolen .. an' Ublaz beheaded him."

Arashi's claws were digging into the wood of the door, and her teeth were clenched together. "Romsca an' Barranca .."

"They .. saw. But there was a rebellion, an' Ublaz had killed so many capt'ns he couldn't afford ta make more'n one example." Xzaris paused, sighing, "But he'd like ta kill every last beast a the House a the Dragons, it's jist sorta a matter a time."

"Whoever this Ublaz is .." Arashi snarled, "I'd like to gut him."

"Yea, we all would." Xzaris shook his head. "But we can't, nobeast can .. he's got magic powers, an' he made those awful lizards his pets. He made us take 'em with us, so don't say nothin' bad about him in front a them, they'll eat ya alive. An' I ain't kiddin'."

Arashi looked away. "I wanted to see Conva one more time .. just one more. I .. needed to tell him. But it's too late .. he'll never know what I do now .. and .."

Her voice was hoarse with emotion. "And I'll never see him again."

Xzaris didn't know what to say, for nothing could really be said. About that moment, Val came in, and stood blinking at the newcomer. "Uhh .. an who is this capt'n?"

He shrugged, a little dazed by all that had happened. "Romsca's mother."

"Arashi." She dully held out a paw, and Val shook it heartily.

"No kiddin'? Yer me awesome pirate sister's mother? Like seriously? Besties! I mean that's great!"

"You know me daughter?" Arashi raised an eyebrow.

Val laughed. "Know her? Yah, a course I know her, I made her my awesome pirate sister after all. We're like the bestest a besties! An' Xzaris here's like .. my brother an' Romsca's boyfriend. I got another boyfriend, cause I'm a fox after all. An' .."

Xzaris shoved her rather crossly. "Val .. ya don't have ta embarrass me in fronta everybeast I meet, do ya? Now there's a sail ta be mended, ain't there?"

"But we was lookin' fer metal stuff." Val pointed out.

"Ehh .. yea. True. Wull go do that."

She shrugged, obeying him. Xzaris met Arashi's gaze, shaking his head. The ferret shook herself. "You must take me back to Sampetra .. I must see Romsca again. Please? I could pay you well."

"Gold'll do me no good." Xzaris sighed. "I'm goin' ta me death. But yer Romsca's mother, an' ... I'll do it fer her. But you'll haveta be careful .. I gotta come up with some way ta explain this ta the Monitors."

Chapter 18 Test of Strength

TotO &#039;Captured&#039;

Romsca capturing Durral

Romsca watched the mouse unhitch his old, large horse, and the creature fell to grazing .. the ferret was honestly a little surprised it didn't wander off.

The mouse drew a small knife, kneeling and cutting the stems of some plants. Romsca could see Rafglan was in position, as were the others.

She felt reluctance. She had indeed raided settlements and carried off wealth, but she'd never had to capture an innocent woodlander in cold blood like this.

I'll do my best not to kill him. Maybe tie him up once we have the pearls. His woodland friends will find him and let him go .. I hope.

The draft-like appaloosa suddenly raised his head, sniffing the air and flicking his ears back with a snort. The mouse looked up, and Romsca knew it was now or never.

She stepped forward quickly, as did the others, forming a circle around the two woodlanders. The mouse backed up a little, holding his small knife tightly as he stammered, "Can .. I help you ... gentlebeasts?"

Romsca smirked, swinging her axe idly. "Yea, I think ya can, actually. Why don't ya drop the little toy mouse, cause ya can't use it anyway."

The creature looked down at the knife in his paw, though he didn't drop it right away. "Wh .. What do you want?"

Romsca looked unimpressed, moving like lighting and wrenching the weapon away from him. The horse suddenly did a half rear, snorting angrily, "Let him be, ferret!"

Romsca jerked her head up, mouth hanging open in amazement, before she closed it. She'd heard tales of talking horses, but had never encountered one before. The creature tried to run forward, but one of the Monitors jumped in front of him, hissing balefully.

"Raf, tie the horse up, if he talks, he can't be allowed ta git away an' tell his friends!" Romsca exclaimed.

As the others ran foreword to do this, she grabbed the mouse by his green robe, muttering darkly, "I jist need ya ta help me find six pearls. If ya can do that, I won't hurt ya, see?"

The mouse nodded quickly, clearly intimidated. "But .. I don't know of any pearls .. ma'am .."

"Call me Capt'n." Romsca ordered as her crew subdued the horse, thanks to the Monitors. Rafglan tied the creature to a leaning stone, and while he fought, he seemed secure.

"Wull Capt'n, what's we gonna do wif the mouse? Come on, make him tell!"

Romsca glared at her first mate, who looked pointedly at their prisoner. "I'm handlin' this Rafglan, lemme deal with it."

She turned to the mouse, whom she still had a grip on. "What is this place?"

He shrugged nervously. "This? It's old Saint Ninian's church."

"Right. Do ya know of any 'Sepulchers of stone' about these parts? Where do ya woodlanders bury yer dead, aside from the ground?"

The mouse looked so bewildered, Romsca felt her heart sink. He swallowed, looking at the Monitors fearfully. "Umm .. I'm not sure. Are you looking for a crypt .. or something like that? Those are normally in the foundations of buildings."

Romsca made a face .. what a horrible, creepy thing to do .. bury a creature in a basement. She nodded. "Alright, then tell me what 'Icetor's Ice' is."

"I .." The mouse looked, honestly, blank. "Well, Icetor is a northern kingdom, but it's far from here, in the northern mountains .."

Romsca rolled her eyes. "I know what Icetor is an' I know where it is. But whatever this ice is, it's gotta be cryptic. Think mouse, what else'd be called Icetor's ice?"

However, while he seemed to think a good deal, no spark of understanding came into his blueish-brown eyes. "I .. I don't know milady, I'm sorry, I really don't."

"Capt'n!" Romsca reminded him sharply, before thinking a moment. The creature that had hidden the pearls said they were old, so they couldn't have possibly gone far. She looked back at her prisoner, demanding, "Would there be any sepulchers in this buildin's basement, by any chance?"

"I .. don't know."

She sighed. "Oh come on, you've explored this place, bein' a local ta these parts, ain't ya?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm the abbot of Redwall .. we don't come here hardly at all! I've never explored in there."

Romsca glared at him, growing a little irritated with his confusion. "Well I guess yer gonna get ta, ain't ya? Come on crew, we gotta find those pearls! Fan out and search the place fer an openin' ta a basement, see? Git ta it!"

The group hurried into the old church, searching every nook and cranny for a lower level, but nothing seemed to turn up, even after several minutes.

Romsca was becoming worried her guess was wrong, when there was the crash of falling rubble, and one of the Monitors hissed, "Over here."

Keeping ahold of the mouse, Romsca hurried over, looking down the once partly debris filled doorway. "Raf, git a torch."

He did so quickly, improvising one from a stick and a lesser crewbeast's borrowed head band. The rat hurried over, holding the lit torch up, illuminating the darkness.

A set of steps ran down, turning a corner and cutting off Romsca's line of vision. Rafglan started down them. Romsca turned to the others. "Ya! Go git the others from the camp. the rest, with me."

She started down the steps after her first mate, taking the mouse with her. It was cold and silent here, in this dark and suffocating netherworld; Romsca wished to be out in the pure sunlight once more, with all honesty. The steps curved down to a sort of landing, and then down another flight into a damp, long, and musty corridor.

There were ancient torch brackets on the walls, some even occupied by unburned torches. Rafglan lit a few of these, passing them out to certain crew members as they made their way along the hallway.

They came to a vast, high ceilinged room, dismal and filled with countless box-like graves, some sticking up from the floor, some in the walls. Rafglan looked at Romsca, asking, "Which one is it, Capt'n?"

She shrugged, scowling. "Guess that's what we gotta find out, the pearls are in onea these. So open 'em, every last one if ya have ta."

The crew hesitated, not convinced this was a good idea. Romsca turned on them, snarling, "I said open 'em!"

"Why don't ya open 'em yerself?" A sneering voice replied, whom Romsca knew to be Cheng. She shoved Durral into Rafglan's paws, pulling her axe out and stocking toward the trouble-maker.

"Because I'm the Capt'n, that's why. So git ta it!"

She pretended to turn away, before whirling around and ripping the tip of her axe blade across the weasel's cheek. "An' don't talk back again, lest I loose me temper! Git goin', all a ya!"

They hurriedly did as she said, and she grabbed the mouse's shoulder, a little puzzled by the look of shock on his face. "What's the matter mouse?"

He blinked as the crew shoved the slab off the first several crypts, and moved on to the next. "You don't find any problem with robbing graves and wounding your own creatures?"

Romsca looked at him a moment, before rolling her eyes. "Shut up mouse, it's a living."

She fell to thinking of the odd riddle, after all, they weren't getting anywhere very fast. She glared at her prisoner, asking, "Yer sure ya have no clue what Icetor's Ice is?"

He shook his head quickly, before pausing. "Well .. there are stories of the magic flowers of Icetor .. all nonsense, of course. But I guess .."

"A flower?" Romsca raised an eyebrow. "That's stupid, it'll have wilted long ago."

Rafglan came back, shaking his head. "There's nothin' capt'n. We've been all through all these crypts, an' we ain't findin' no pearls."

Romsca snarled. "Well they must be here. The riddle said 'Beneath Sepulchers of Stone."

She paused instantly. "Yes .. it said beneath them! Mouse, do ya know anything about this? What would a beast mean by sayin' it was beneath a stone grave?"

"I .."

Rafglan interupted him. "An' it said, 'What's the opposite a pride?' Maybe this would be a grave fer a poor beast."

Romsca nodded. "Ya might be right .. look fer one a these crypts that might move or slide or somethin'. I don't think the old beast that wrote the poem could really dig up graves."

The crew hurried to do as she said, and the ferret walked foreward herself, leaving her prisoner with Rafglan. The box-like buiral places were varying in wealth, some richly decorated, others were plain as plain could be. Romsca stopped in one of the darker corners of the room, beside an old, tired looking stone box with half worn away writing upon it's flat lid.

She leaned against it, looking up at the ceiling in hope of inspiration. None was forthcoming, however, it wasn't really needed. As she leaned her full weight back, the old crypt slid fractionly.

Romsca wheeled around, pausing, before trying again. Now that she was pushing with intent to move it, it slid even more, and a faint blue glow began to illuminate the room as the crack was widened.

"Everybeast, over here!"

Romsca threw herself against the rock again, shoving with all her might. It scraped over the floor, and the glow increased. The crew gathered around, helping to push the rock away, reveiling a shallow grave sunk in the rock ground.

The skeleton of a weasel lay here, perhaps with the long ago remains of some other beast. It held nothing less than the shell case, and a bluish, glowing flower.

Romsca snatched the case from its resting place, holding it tightly as she undid the clasp. The ferret slowly lifted the lid, and the glow of torchlight caught on those shimmering pearls, turning them to a glimmering rose.

For a few moments, Romsca was fixated. She had seen these once, long ago, and she had felt the desire to own them then. But now it was far stronger, far more convincing. She wanted the pearls .. no .. she needed them. With all her being she needed them, the feeling was very strange.

It was almost like these pearls were the very echo of perfection, they were like the image of something everybeast desired, desired to be .. or at least desired to use for their own purposses. Romsca reached to touch one .. as a feeling of wonderful power seemed to wrap around her.

They are not Ublaz's, they will never be Ulbaz's .. they are mine!

However as her fingers brushed across one of the smooth surfaces, new pictures formed in her mind's eye, pictures she'd tried to forget.

Conva being beheaded, the otters being killed .. Graylunk and Flairnose escaping. And then one more arose, one that made Romsca wince. The little ottermaid, with her terrified green eyes, scratches, and flowing blonde hair.

The ferret looked down at the pearls, a snarl forming on her face.

These things bring evil to whatever beasts dares want them, and they're not mine, they'll never be mine .. they're hers.

She closed the shell-case with an angry snap, growling, "Nobeast is ta look at these, nobeast, under pain a death, see?"

Romsca stuffed it into her satchel, before reaching for the flower. She turned it over and over in her paws several times, before shaking her head. This was a wonder of the world, for who knew how long it had been here, and it showed not even the slightest sign of decay.

She slowly looked down at the weasel's skeleton, and she knew. It was Graylunk, who'd condemed her father to death, and then died before she could kill him. Romsca let her teeth show in an angry snarl, before she clenched her paw around her axe, throwing it down with all the strength she could muster.

There was a splintering, cracking sound, as the axe broke the creature's remains to bits, scattering pieces onto the floor of the burial chamber.

Romsca glared at Rafglan, snarling, "We've got what we want. Now let's git outa here, and I hope that filthy traitor went ta Hellates, aye, with all me heart. Come on."

She whirled around, grabbing the mouse and dragging him back down the corridor. As quickly as they could, the rest of the crew followed.


The soft clopping of horse hooves mingled with the sounds of late morning bird song in a strange melody as the ghost of Mossflower rode through the woods in silence. Dressed fully for battle, and armed to the teeth, she would have worried anybeast who had chanced to see her .. but none did.

Sayna's black eyes had a strange sharpness, a strange life within them, unlike their normal, soft, dull state. The mouse sat completely relaxed, though a sort of tension seemed to exude from her .. almost what could be called anticipation.

She kicked her horse into a trot as she neared old Saint Ninian's church, her long hair bound as tightly as was possible.

The ghost of Mossflower was ready to fight, and something near excitement glimmered in her expression.

Sayna pulled her mount to a stop once in sight of the old building, tying her horse to the old fence. She slipped forward, gracefully unsheathing her elegant sword, no fear, only caution, in her countenance.

There was a sudden, hoarse whinny from around one side of the church, and Sayna ran silently forward, booted paws making only the softest sounds.

The neigh came again, and the mouse warrior sniffed the air, suddenly curling her lip in slight confusion. She took a deep breath, raising her sword and leaping around the corner .. and something flashed in the side of her vision, low to the ground and accompanied by a spine chilling hiss.

Sayna jumped to the side as the long, spiny green lizard flashed past, tail spikes swiping dangerously near her side. The creature spun around, opening it's mouth to reveal rows of razor sharp teeth in an angry snarl.

The mouse glared back at it, running straight at her opponent, sword flashing blue in the sunlight. The lizard streaked forward, jaws seeking it's enemy's legs, but Sayna was slightly faster.

She jumped up, slashing down with her glowing sword, and nearly severing the creature's head from it's body. The lizard collapsed, and Sayna paid little heed to it, running toward Blacksnow, tied and hobbled. She quickly cut through his bonds, asking, "What happened?"

The horse stretched his now-free jaws a little, stomping a hoof. "Pirates! A crew of them .. they took Durral, and were talking about pearls and making him help .. they went in Saint Ninian's!"

Sayna nodded firmly. "Right. Go get help from Redwall, I'll hold them here. Hurry!"

Blacksnow paused only a minute, before loping off into Mossflower, and Sayna made her way toward the back of the church, starting to climb toward the second story windows by way of the thick ivy vines, her now-normal sword clenched in her teeth. The mouse narrowed her eyes as one of her boots slipped, but she kept a tight hold on the vines, growling with exertion as she climbed up, black gaze snapping.

She hauled herself onto the upper window sill, taking her sword in her paw, watching the blue glow flow down the blade once again. Sayna sat still for a few minutes, letting her breathing slow as she got to her paws, shaking herself.

The mouse slipped forward, ears pricking forward as she heard the first voices from below. She stepped from the room she'd entered through, out onto the ancient balcony.

There was Durral, in the grip of a strong, but young looking ferret maiden with a drawn axe. Sayna sighed .. just like the peaceful abbot of Redwall, to give in and not fight the pirates.

She headed silently toward the still intact set of stairs, keeping an eye on the creatures gathering in the foyer. The mouse curled her lip, starting down the stairs rather deliberately as she yelled, "Hey! How about you face somebeast who can fight, not a helpless woodlander!"


Romsca jerked her head up, staring at the tall golden mouse almost stalking down the stairs with the air of a hunter. One of the Monitors ran forward instantly, hissing as it bounded up the old stairs with surprising grace for it's stature.

The mouse smirked the tiniest bit, holding her sword ready to meet the advancing creature, and Romsca smirked. What was this creature thinking? She was brave, yes, but a fool, and about to be torn apart for it.

However the next occurrence made the ferret freeze, and a cold chill of pure wonder run over her. The mouse snarled, making a downward cut at the creature's head .. and blood splattered as her gleaming, blue-bladed sword slashed the lizard's neck in two, slaying it instantly.

She stepped over the body, walking fearlessly forward, and Durral tried to yank his shoulder away from Romsca and bolt. The ferret caught him, dragging him back and pressing her axe against his throat. "I wouldn't come no closer mouse!"

The golden creature paused, before sneering, "A brave thing to do, use a helpless mouse as leverage. You must be a fearless creature indeed, to hide from a fight like this."

Romsca snarled instantly. "What makes ya think I'm scareda a mousewife like ya? I'll shred ya fer that!"

"Then prove it sea scum." The mouse smirked, black, sparkling gaze mocking.

Romsca shoved her prisoner at Rafglan. "I'll fight ya sword ta sword mouse, an' ya will pay fer that!"

She drew her cutlass, the cutlass that had been her father's, and she ran at the woodlander, fury burning in her green gaze.

The mouse took one step back, letting the ferrets rush take her past, and Romsca spun around, bringing her cutlass down with fury. There was a loud clash, and Romsca was honestly surprised by the strength of this oldish-looking mousewife.

She staggered back, growling in anger at the deep nick in her once perfect blade, and jumped forward again, this time keeping her sword flat in a slicing motion. The mouse ducked, deflecting the blade expertly to the side.

Romsca regretted underestimating this mouse's mastery, she was a true warrior, the kind of woodland warrior vermin cowered before and fled from.

I will never flee!

Romsca brought her cutlass up to avoid being beheaded.

I will not be a coward!

She spun around to the side, thrusting with all her strength. She felt the wild rush of battle flowing through her, and her eyes glowed with the power she felt surging up within her.

The mouse ran forward, attacking with a quick, stunning combination, and Romsca staggered back, falling against the wall. She shoved forward, throwing all her weight into the fight, and the mouse spun to the side.

"You fight well .. for a vermin."

Romsca sneered. "So do ya .. fer a woodlander."

She slashed out, but the mouse took a two-pawed grip on her sword, and its blue glow increased with a flash. Their weapons met in a deafening clash, and Romsca's shattered into a million bits.

The ferret found herself thrown back against the wall by some amazing force, and the mouse's sword caught her in the cheek.

Romsca collapsed to the floor with the acrid scent of her own burnt fur in her nostrils, broken cutlass hilt clenched in her paw, as the last Monitor ran at the mouse, attacking with some hesitance, but almost as though it had no choice. Rafglan started forward, but Romsca snarled, stopping him in his tracks. "No! I'll fight this one, an' nobeast else!"

The mouse slashed her lizard opponent apart with three swift cuts, wheeling around to face Romsca, and the ferret paused in shock. The creature's eyes were turning from black to an insane red, and the tales of unstoppable, Bloodwrathing badger lords came to Romsca's mind. But this was just a mouse!

The golden beast ran forward as Romsca whipped out her axe and a knife, crouching and lashing out. The mouse's eyes grew even redder, and she blasted Romsca's axe to the side, taking her shallowly across the shoulder.

No .. this is not just a mouse!

There was a feeling like pure fire in her shoulder, and Romsca screamed, half in rage, half in terrible agony. She kicked the mouse hard in the legs, stabbing at her with her knife, and catching her opponent under the eye, ripping a gash down her cheek.

The mouse's eyes grew a little darker again, and Romsca panted, sneering, "Well ya bleed like every other beast."

She advanced swiftly, driving her enemy against the wall while she was recovering. The mouse gasped in pain as the ferret's axe smashed into her armored side, throwing her heavily to the ground, and for some reason, she seemed weaker. Her sword spun from her grasp, and she lay still for a second, her face turned away.

Caught in her fury, Romsca raised her axe, and the mouse suddenly threw herself forward, empty pawed and eyes blazing crimson. She thrust one paw forward, reaching for the ferret's axe, and in that split second, Romsca saw it.

She jumped to the side, and the mouse's rush threw her forward and to the ground, where she collapsed. Romsca was on her in a heartbeat, pinning her down.

The ferret slung her axe across her back, and Rafglan gasped. "What're ya doin'? She woulda killed ya, kill her!"

"No!" Romsca's voice was sharp. "I need ta question this one. Tie her up!"

The mouse didn't struggle as she was bound, the red was gone from her eyes, and her head hung forward. In fact, she seemed almost incoherent.

Romsca stood, feeling the sharp sting of her wounds come fully to her, and she saw the two dead Monitors again. Her eyes fell to the glowing blue sword, and she grinned .. this was her ticket out of this mess!

"This here's mine, nobeast else's!" Romsca seized the hilt, and the blue glow vanished in a flash.

The ferret's mouth dropped open. "What? What in Hellgates?"

She set the sword down again, but nothing happened. Romsca picked it up, shaking her head. "No! Why won't it work?"

She put two paws on the hilt, swinging the weapon. "Oh .. come on .. glow!"

The mouse raised her head weakly, voice a rasping growl. "Try what you will ferret, only a servant of Ignasa can wield that sword."

Romsca blinked, staring at the creature, who slumped forward again. She turned to the other mouse, who looked as stunned as the rest of her crew. "What'da ya know about this one?"

He looked unsure. "Well .. that's Sayna. She's .. well .. she's .. a warrior, unlike most of us."

"Does she live in yer red castle place?"

Sayna lifted her head, snarling, "No, I don't! And why would it bother you, ferret? Leave the abbot be, I fought you, he didn't."

Romsca sneered. "I'm concerned with both a ya at the moment."

There was the pounding of scratching claws on stone as Lask ran in, followed by the rest of his Monitors, and the remainder of the crew behind him. The Monitor froze at the sight of his dead lizards, snarling, "Who did thizzz?"

He jumped on one of the crew members, pinning him down. "Anzzwer me!"

"S .. she .. did!" The creature quickly pointed at the mouse, and Lask snarled.

Romsca spoke up quickly. "And now she is bound an' me prisoner."

The Monitor snarled. "I do not care. Zzzhe cannot kill Monitorzz and live, zzhe muzzt die!"

Romsca cast a glance at the mouse, who seemed to be recovering quickly, enough to spit in Lask's direction. The ferret felt something in her heart wrench .. she had to know more about this mouse. For as the creature had reached to grab her axe, Romsca had caught sight of the sweeping feather mark in the fur of her paw.

The ferret bolted between Lask and her prisoner, stating, "Lask, stop! The pearls, yer Master's pearls .. I found 'em!"

She whipped out the shell case, opening it for him to see. All the lizards and crewbeasts that had not been there previously stared in awe, and Lask's frills unfolded in surprise. He slowly let them fall back into place, before sneering, "Well then, you are our winner, are you not, Captain Romzzzca?"

As he said this, Romsca felt a pang jerk through her, because she knew all too well what winning meant. "An' this mouse has a magic sword only she can make work, that's how she killed yer Monitors. Don't ya think .. Master .. wants ta git her ta tell him how her magic sword works?"

Lask suddenly smiled at the mouse. "Yezzz .. I zzuppozze he might."

Sayna sneered. "Well if he's anything like you, he won't have a chance."

Lask shoved his face close to hers, flicking his tongue out. "Oh mouzze, Emperor Ublaz izz the mozzt powerful beazzt on thizz earth."

Sayna curled her lip, wrinkling her nose in disgust at his rancid breath. "On this earth maybe. But my lord is greater than all!"

Romsca wanted to kick the mouse to make her be silent, as Lask looked angry. However he looked from the pearls, to the sword, to the daring creature, and he smiled. "A likely zztory mouzze. Very well captain, we will take her to Mazzter."

He turned to the male mouse Rafglan had ahold of. "What about thizz one? Thizz one izz not uzzeful? We will eat him if not."

The mouse went pale, trying to pull away from Rafglan as he seemed to loose all the dignity he'd had left in the face of this new terror. He met Romsca's gaze, gasping, "No .. please no .. I helped you, I did what you wanted! I'm just a peaceful beast, I never harmed you, I did the opposite!"

Romsca clenched her paws together, her conscience stinging worse than the wounds the female mouse had bestowed upon her, and she could not allow the brutality of what Lask wished. "He helped us find the pearls."

"And now they are found." The lizard lashed his tail. "Zzo we do not need him anymore."

"That's not true!" Romsca desperately searched for something that would prove her right, and then she had it. "He's the leader of that red castle place, the one that's stood against vermin ferever! Don't ya think Emperor Ublaz wants the leader a that place?"

Lask paused, before scowling, and calming himself. "I zzuppozze he might, captain."

The lizard turned around, ordering, "Now, we return to Mazzzter with hizz pearlzz. Take them both, for Mazzter."

He stalked off, and Romsca caught herself to keep from sighing with relief. She turned on Rafglan, who was staring at her. The ferret snarled. "Tie him up. Get his horse an' cart an' let's get outa here!"

Some of the crew ran off to do her bidding, and Rafglan shoved the mouse into another's paws, stepping near Romsca, asking, "What're ya doin' capt'n? We talked 'bout this!"

"Aye we did." Romsca snarled. "An' I thought I made meself clear, I'll do what needs ta be done. Jist cause I'm a capt'n don't mean I gotta stoop as low as some do."

Rafglan didn't look stung, as Romsca had hoped. The argument might have been continued, if one of the crew hadn't run in. "We got the horse hitched up .. had ta untack it first, but .."

"What'da ya mean, untack it?" Romsca looked incredulous, before hurrying to the doorway. The cart was there, but the horse that stood stamping in its traces was anything but the appaloosa draft they'd captured. This was a regular chestnut, and a mare at that.

"That ain't the horse, where's the black one?"

The crewbeast looked confused. "Uhh .. capt'n, I didn't see no black un .."

Romsca ran out into the yard, and sure enough, the black draft was gone. "He got away! Quick, make fer the Moss an' the ship, we don't want those red warriors after us!"


Grath, Martin, Plogg, and Welko were working on setting up tables on the lawns, while Tansy and Piknim set them for lunch.

"When do you suppose the abbot will get back?"

Martin looked at Grath, shrugging. "I don't know .. sometime soon I imagine."

Clecky came up, carrying a table with Hood, who seemed more cool then usual, after the incident the night before with Arven. The hare however, seemed in his normal self. "Oh I imagine his abbotness will be back for lunch. Fancy missing a jolly delightful lunch miss Tansy made .."

The hedgehog gave him a slight glare, and he wilted a little, walking on.

Grath paused next to Tansy. "The flan?"

"Yes." She sighed. "I won't be mad for long, but it was terribly disappointing."

"I can agree with you." Hood came walking past, voice a tad sulky. He suddenly looked up, pricking his ears toward the open gates.

Clecky paused by his side, asking, "I say, what is it matey?"

"A horse. The one who lives here, it sounds like."

Martin shrugged. "Well, I guess abbot's back. Let's hurry ..."

Hood flicked one ear. "No, I do not hear the cart. And the horse is galloping."

Martin looked bewildered, and Plogg laughed. "Maybe Blacksnow's getting geared up for the race tonight."

Welko socked his brother on the shoulder. "Haha, but he won't beat us!"

However at that moment the horse ran through the gates, slowing as he neared them, his head hanging and his coat slick from sweat. Clecky shook his head, calling, "Chap, the race isn't worth all that, it's in fun ya'know. Say, where's the cart and his abbotfulness?"

Blacksnow lifted his head, stamping one foot as he let out a distraught whinny, forgetting to speak in woodland momentarily. Grath had been standing still until now, as she hurried forward. "Something's wrong! Really wrong!"

Martin followed her, and now others were gathering. The old horse knelt down, rolling onto his side, too exhausted to stand. However he kept his head up and his ears pinned, eyes wild, as if he was afraid of all of them. Grath knelt beside him, running a paw along his forhead. "It's ok .. tell me, come on Snow, it's Grath. You can tell me!"

The horse suddenly raised his head, the whites of his eyes disappearing as he calmed himself. His voice was raspy, but sane and understandable. "Pirates .. they took Durral, and Sayna's fighting them .."

"By herself?" Grath interrupted, sitting down hard and suddenly wrapping her arms over one another and staring at seemingly nothing. Mattimeo was there then, asking questions, and Martin knelt beside Grath, laying a paw on her shoulder.

"Hey .. are you ok?"

The otter looked up with a sudden shiver. "Martin? No .. no .. I don't .. really think so."

Her friend was concerned. "Well .. will you be ok? Because I've never seen you like this."

Grath looked away, before she suddenly scrambled to her paws. "It's just like what pirates did to my family! And they can't get away with it now .. we've got to go after them!"

Everybeast was staring at her, and Grath looked down, before muttering, "I'll go .. get my bow."

Plogg poked Martin, muttering, "I didn't know she could yell that loud, did you know she could yell that loud?"

The spotted mouse shook his head. Mattimeo straightened up, taking immediate charge. "Blacksnow says they're at Saint Ninian's. Everybeast willing to fight, volunteer now!"

Clecky was chunnering. "The nerve of those rotten blighters, taking a poor defenseless abbot-type peaceful beast like his abbotship! I say I'm jolly well in!"

"Me too!" Gerul landed beside him. "As me ould mother used to say, the only good vermin's a dead one!"

Hood simply nodded as he pulled his crossbow out from its place under his cloak, agreeing with somebeast, though whether it was Gerul or Mattimeo, it was hard to tell. "Yes."

"Well we're in on it!" Plogg and Welko spoke nearly as one, then glared at each other.

Log-a-Log stepped forward. "As is the rest of the Guosim."

"Well son?" Mattimeo looked at Martin, and the younger mouse swallowed.

"Me?" He looked around at the expectant faces, and nodded a little downheartedly. "Yes .. well .. I guess I thought that was .. a given."

Log-a-Log nodded. "Right then. Arm yourselves! Be back here in five minutes, this is war, so move!"

Grath was the first one there, she was waiting even when Martin hurried up, his sword ready in its sheath. Clecky arrived soon after, with Gerul and Hood. Martin raised an eyebrow. "Where's your weapons?"

The hare grinned, pulling a seventeen or eighteen inch dirk from where it was sheathed cleverly beneath his kilt, next to his tunic. "This right here, wot?"

He sheathed it again. "An' for steel weapons, that's all I bally well need."

Grath looked confused, and Hood explained. "He's a boxing hare."

Welko strung his bow, asking, "Right, and you are ..?"

"An assassin." Hood said this without emotion, as he loaded a black-fletched bolt on his crossbow.

Mattimeo hurried up, dressed in the legendary armor of Matthias, and once the great King Martin's. He held the sword and shield of old as well, his blue eyes snapping with the fire of war.

Tess was with him, seemingly in an argument. "Mattimeo, you know good and well I can wield a sling. Let me come too!"

"No." He was equally as determined. "I am taking nearly every fighter with me, we need some here."

She grabbed his arm, closing her eyes for a moment, before nodding. "Alright. Alright. But what about the otters, Holt Willow? Skipper Cheek's going to want to help, you know."

"I know." Mattimeo nodded. "But it is summer, and have you forgotten they have already started for the coast? There won't be many fighters there, and I don't want to get them involved unless we have to."

Tess tightened her grip. "Be careful. And be careful of our son!"

Mattimeo gently pried her paw loose. "I will. And we will come back Tess, we will."

He turned to the small army, nodding. "Let's move out. Quick march, and quietly if at all possible."

Blacksnow staggered forward, just getting his breath back properly. "I am coming."

One look into the horse's flashing brown eyes, and Mattimeo nodded. "Very well."

The company hurried out into the vastness of Mossflower, soon leaving the path behind. Grath cast one glance at the abbey, and the gates were now shut. Blacksnow trotted forward, snorting, "This way!"

They followed his lead quickly, and Grath soon fell behind. Martin let himself fall in step with her, and she sighed. "You can run with the others, why don't you?"

"I don't think it's a good idea to leave you like that."

"I'd be fine, I'm not really that good on the front line of a fight, I'm an archer. But you're a swordsbeast."

Martin met her gaze a little darkly. "I want to save the abbot, of course. But I'm not excited about the fight. How skilled were the pirates that ... attacked your home?"

Grath sighed. "You saw the aftermath of it."

"Yea." Martin looked grim. "That's what I'm worried about."


"Was Romsca close to her father?"

Xzaris sat at the fire onshore that Val had made, Arashi across from him. He'd convinced the Monitors she would help them fix the ship, which in turn would help Ublaz, and having had a full meal, they didn't complain.

The ferret stretched his wounded leg out, grimacing. "Yea .. she loved him. She still does."

Arashi's eyes were dull, but honest. "I'm glad to hear that, at least."

Xzaris sighed. "Conva .. I was close ta him ta, sorta like .. the father I never met, I guess."

"I'd hoped .." Arashi closed her eyes. "No, I cannot let myself think about it. Is my daughter happy?"

"Of all the things Romsca is .." Xzaris looked down. "Happy ain't one a 'em. Probably 'bout as happy as I am right now."

Arashi's sharp eyes softened. "You know her well I take it."

Xzaris stared into the fire, closing his eyes and letting memories play through his mind. "Wull .. she was the first one ta ever treat me like I was worth somethin'. She's me first friend. An' since she don't really make a lot a friends anymore, we're still close."

Val plopped down in-between them. "Fresh fried fish fer ya. Kin ya say that twenny times an' not mess up?"

Xzaris rolled his eyes. "No."

Val sighed. "Ok so it's really grilled. Ya got me. Why's everbeast so .. down?"

Xzaris gave her a long look. "Think really hard."

"Yea I know that, I'm tryin' nota thinka it, ok?" Val made a face.

"Well I can't keep from it." Xzaris's answer was short, clipped.

Val sighed. "Ok, ok. I know when I ain't wanted. Guess yer right, cheerin' up ain't gonna help this one, is it?"

She slowly stood, walking sadly away. "I know capt'n. I'm sorry capt'n."

Arashi looked confused. "What is the matter?"

Xzaris poked the flames idly, shrugging. "It's a long story. But since Rom's involved .. guess I better tell ya."

The ferret fell silent for a minute, before shrugging. "Me .. Rasconza .. Romsca, an' Val .. we're the closest a friends. Val, she don't got a ship, so she don't really gotta worry. But the rest of us do. Ublaz don't like friends among his capt'ns."

He put his head in his paws, mumbling, "So he made the three a us go three different ways ta look fer the pearls. The one that brings 'em ta him lives ...."

He fell silent, staring dully into the fire.

Arashi seemed to guess, even as she asked, "And the others?"

Xzaris shook his head, turning and looking out into the bay. "They don't."


Romsca and her crew were quickly making their way through Mossflower, the two prisoners tied up in the cart, among the objects used for making camp. The ferret herself was walking beside the horse, behind the rest of the creatures, mostly due to the fact her wounds pained her.

She looked at the now-dull sword in her belt, sighing. When the mouse had used it, it had glowed and even burned, in a odd way. The wounds it had inflicted on her had barely bled .. they'd been cauterized almost the instant they'd been made.

If only she could find some way to make the sword glow again! Then she could kill the Monitors, and come up with a plan to save her friends!

But the mouse said only a servant of Ignasa could wield the sword. Ignasa was the one her father had turned to, and according to the picture in the otter's book, one and the same with the Unknown Lord of Sampetra .. Romsca felt a shiver run down her spine. Deities were cold and dangerous, they might answer, but they might kill you on the spot too.

Her father had not seemed to think so. She paused as she thought of this, and again as she thought of something else. Ublaz said he served the Unknown Lord. Did that mean he was the sort of beast that followed this Ignasa?

She cast a wary glance at the mouse in the cart. Her sword had glowed blue, just like Ublaz could kill beasts with glowing green fire.

But father .. father couldn't have followed the same lord Ublaz does!

Romsca winced. She knew he'd been so desperate, he might have done anything. He might not have known. She could remember, during the times her father had visited the great temple to pray, looking up at the statue of the Unknown Lord.

She'd always felt .. a sort of peace while looking at him, unlike the creeps the towering statues of the lords and ladies of the elements had given her. She'd wanted to know more about the strange lord that walked on four paws, and was great enough to guard the pearl.

But now she wasn't so sure. She felt her paw touch the hilt of the mouse's sword, and jerked it back. As soon as she could, she must wrap it up and carry it somewhere safe, but not on her. Not if she didn't want the wrath of a lord upon her.


Rafglan was back. Romsca made a face, regretting it as her cheek burned. "Yes Rafglan?"

The rat's voice low. "Capt'n, the mouse. Why didn't ya kill the mouse? She'd a killed ya, let's be honest, if she got away, she'd give it another try."

"She ain't gonna git away." Romsca's voice was cold.

Rafglan looked frustrated. "That ain't the point Capt'n, ya gotta prove yer strength."

Romsca bared her fangs. "Has it occurred ta ya I don't gotta always kill ta prove me strength, Raf?"

"She's yer enemy Capt'n. She attacked ya, remember?"

"As I remember, she told me ta let the other one go an' then I attacked her." Romsca snarled. "Put blame where blame is due."

There was silence, and Rafglan huffed. "Look, I know yer tryin' ta be all tender-hearted, but we gotta ..."

Romsca barely knew what she was doing as she grabbed the rat by his sea-vest, slamming him against a tree trunk so hard she surprised herself. Her teeth glimmered inches from his nose as she snarled, "I ain't feelin' very tender-hearted right now, rat! Do ya think I'm just sparin' her fer kindness' sake? There's a feather shape inna fur of her paw. She's marked!"

Rafglan looked unimpressed, though his feet hung a good foot off the ground. "So what?"

"I am too!" Romsca's eyes blazed as she said this, and she quickly looked around, relieved to see the rest of the company had gone on ahead.

Rafglan blinked, and Romsca shook him. "An' don't ya tell nobeast, or I'll ..."

"Or you'll what?" The rat looked cool.

Romsca suddenly grinned demonically. "Or I'll do somethin' we'll both regret later, see?"

A sudden smile passed over the rat's rugged features. "So I see. Yer growin' up, ain't ya?"

"Aye, I am, an' ..... what?" Romsca slowly set the rat back down.

He shrugged, looking smug. And then Romsca knew. She grumbled, a little flustered. "Ya .. that .. ya was testin' me?"

The two started after the others, and Rafglan rubbed his shoulder. "Yea. An' I'd say ya did a good job."

He shrugged. "Can't say I agree with yer methods, but as ya wish, capt'n. The mouse is yer problem. Deal with it honey, cause I'd say ya can."

Romsca followed him, stopping in her tracks the next second as a black fletched bolt sank into a tree a hair's breadth from her head.

The ferret ducked down, not bothering to look for the offender ... as she could really see nothing but woodland at first glance. "We're under attack! Get ta the others, now!"


Hood muttered something dark under his breath, straining to reload his crossbow. Grath had been catching her second wind, but now she whipped out an arrow, loading it and starting forward. "Come on, we've got to follow them!"

"Right on it!" Welko ran past, loading his bow as he did.

Hood slid another bolt into his crossbow, stating, "I'll find a way to circle around behind them. You two stick together."

Grath raised an eyebrow, looking at Welko. "Do you trust him?"

The shrew shrugged. "Don't got much of a choice."

Grath nodded in agreement as they hurried forward, arrows on the string. Welko was taking in their surroundings quickly and easily, completely familiar with Mossflower woods. "Looks like they're following' the Moss west .. probably heading toward the shore, where they have a ship."

"So we're definitely on the right track?" Grath confirmed.

"Oh yes." Welko nodded. "They've not done a good job of coverin' their trail, as you can see."

And Grath did see, there were broken branches everywhere. The two hurried along the path, as Welko added, "I know Mattimeo and dad'll be trying to cut them off, our job is to assassinate."

Grath paused, before something rose up in her. And she saw again all the death and blood of that night, the night pirates had taken so much from her.

" .. sure you can do that?" Welko was looking at her questioningly.

Grath set her jaw. "They did it to me."

She rubbed the fletching of an arrow, feeling the feathers shift fluidly beneath her claws. "I think so."

The two had reached a hill, and set about climbing it, when there was a cracking noise to their right. Welko spun around, and was just in time to draw his bow and shoot at the terror running at him.

The arrow split from the force of hitting the lizard's scales at such a short range, and the shrew raised his left arm to protect his face as the creature plowed him over, sending him rolling down the hill.

Grath was in the act of drawing her bow back, and she fired the next second, as the lizard bounded after the shrew. The otter's arrow bounced off the creature's shoulder, as Welko threw his knife, scoring a shallow wound on the beast's lower jaw.

The lizard had paused, as if trying to decide who to attack, but now it went after the shrew with vengeance. Welko yelped, scrambling up the nearest tree as fast as he could, and the creature let out an odd, hissing roar, trying to claw its way after him.

The shrew held on for dear life as the tree shook violently, and Grath loaded another arrow, climbing up onto a nearby rock, before releasing. The missile pierced one of the lizard's frills, and it screeched, before turning on the otter.

The beast yanked the arrow out, snapping the strong beech shaft like matchwood between it's teeth, and stalked forward.

Grath was breathing quickly and shallowly, she'd antagonized the creature, and there would be no mercy now. She whipped out another arrow, drawing back as the lizard broke into a run.

Arrows cannot pierce the scales ..

Sayna's voice rang in her head, something the mouse had said many times.

Even the strongest beast has a weakness. Find that weakness, exploit it, and you have found victory.

A weakness ..

Grath adjusted her aim, not daring to think about how crazy this was. She let the arrow fly just as the lizard leapt forward, and it screamed, convulsing in midair and plowing into the rock she was standing on. The stone was jolted backwards, and Grath let loose a little shriek as she toppled over, landing in the leaves of the forest floor and rolling a few feet.

The lizard was thrashing and hissing, its deadly spiked tail swinging madly. Grath yelped as the long spikes sank into the loam a few inches from her head, and she scrambled back, keeping a tight hold on her bow.

Welko scrambled down, mouth hanging open as the creature went still, twitching now and then. Both shrew and otter were silent a bit, and Welko shook his head. "You know that archery contest Plogg thought we should have? I yield. I can't shoot somethin' in the eye like that."

Grath shook herself, barely able to believe the thing she'd done. For sure enough, her arrow, shattered from the beast crashing into the rock, was lodged deep in its eye. Welko nodded, retrieving his bow and his knife. "Thanks. Don't let anybeast tell you you're not a good archer. Ha! That was actually pretty cool. Come on, let's find the others."

There was a faint shout from farther out in the woods, and clashes of steel. Grath straightened her shoulders. "That's not going to be hard to do."


Romsca found herself being chased by a crew of woodlanders, all who were a lot fresher than she was. The ferret gripped her axe tightly, feeling a strange mixture of emotions swirl within her. They were just angry about the mice .. who she had taken. But she couldn't let them go now, not with how she'd saved them from Lask. The Monitor expected them to be taken to Ublaz.

She had the strange and sudden urge to simply cut the traces of the cart, jump on the horse, and bolt, but she knew the consequences would be horrific. Besides .. she had to know more about the strange mousewife that could make swords glow blue and had a feather mark on her paw.

"Get them!"

The chestnut horse stopped, half rearing, as they were overtaken. Romsca drew a knife, yelling, "Form ranks! Stand an' fight!"

Lask let out a roar, bounding forward with his Monitors behind him, and Romsca found herself faced with another golden mouse, male this time.

The beast took a two pawed grip on his sword, coiling back to strike, and a soft flash of blue ran down the engraved blade. Romsca ducked, meeting the cut with her knife, and swinging her axe in the same moment.

The noise of battle filled the air, the rush slowly flowing into her, and she drew her lips back in a snarl. The mouse sheared her knife in half with his faintly, but now steadily glowing sword, and Romsca swiped at him with her axe, drawing another one.

There was a sudden screech, and Romsca ducked to avoid seeking talons from above, but they snagged her anyway, digging into her shoulders as they lifted her off the ground. The ferret struggled violently, but could not free herself, not even enough to use her axe.

"Capt'n!" Rafglan's voice rang out, and Romsca found she was looking down the shaft of an arrow the rat had on a drawn bow.

Time seemed to freeze for one second, before the arrow sped toward her with a whistle, taking the bird through the left wing. The owl let loose a cry of pain, and Romsca found herself plummeting to the ground.

She hit it as the mouse came at her once more, and she forced herself to her paws, despite the pain surging through her knees.

Everybeast was fighting now, down to Rubby. The rat was next to the cart, faced with a hare. "I say old scum, jolly rotten of you. We'll just be takin' those mice now, wot!"

Rubby drew his dagger, but the hare belted it out of his paw with a quick right. "That'll teach ya, fattyguts .. mmmmph!"

The rat stabbed forward with the wooden spoon he constantly carried, plowing the hare in the stomach. As the beast doubled over, Rubby grabbed a panful of what he'd made for breakfast, and threw it in his face.

Romsca was hard pressed to defend herself, tired from her previous wounds and unable to fully move her injured shoulder. She swung her axe again, and the mouse blasted it out of her paw. The ferret ducked down, letting the cut whistle over her head, and she drew the only weapon she had in paw .. the golden mousewife's sword.

Her opponent recoiled to strike again, and Romsca did the same. The two swords met with a deafening clash, and a brilliant blue glow. Romsca felt herself be hurled backwards by an invisible paw, nearly, and as she crashed heavily against the cart, she saw the mouse had been affected in the same way.

Her paw fell to the ground, the dull sword slipping from it as she gasped in a breath. She blinked hard, shuddering as she felt the crushing power still reverberating through her. The wrath of the Unknown Lord, it must be.

Romsca struggled to her feet as one of the Monitors ran past her. "Lazzzk izz holding them off, now we run!"

The ferret threw herself forward, grabbing both the sword and her axe as crew did so, most of them wounded. Romsca didn't have the heart, or the courage left to argue. She hoisted herself into the driver's seat of the cart, slapping the reins on the already nervous horse

The animal loped off into the woods, as Rafglan pulled himself up beside Romsca, and Rubby and several others hopped onto the back.

Lask and most of the Monitors held the woodlanders, and while they were soon lost to view, the noise wasn't.

Romsca cast a glance at the forest sweeping quickly by, and sighed. She looked down into the cart, to be met with a hard black stare. The ferret sighed, wanting to cringe, but not letting herself.

She narrowed her gaze, slapping the reins on the horse's back again.

She had to do this.


Late afternoon shadows were sweeping over the time worn city of Sampetra as a party of ratguards met a party of pirates back from a raid. Sagitar did not dismount as she sneered down at the stoat with the air of a master toward a slave. "Captain Barranca of the Dragons. It's been too long."

He stood tall, curling his lip ever so slightly. "Hasn't it, general?"

Sagitar's lips tightened at his veiled defiance, and she jerked her head in the direction of the palace. "With us. The emperor desires your report."

She wheeled her horse around, clapping her heels on its sides, and the procession started forward. As they made their way through the streets, Barranca couldn't help noticing the many stares he received, and how much whispering his presence seemed to arouse. But the pity in the gazes he met was what brought the feeling of fear to his heart.

What did he not know? Was Ublaz angry with him? But what, throughout the seasons since his brother's untimely death, had he not done to aid the emperor? How many raids had he gone on, almost every month or two? So many he was constantly weary and his black hair was streaked with silver, just as he was laced with the scars of many a forced, ill-planned campaign.

All to keep his own neck intact, to keep what little wealth he had left, and to help his niece, who would have lost everything her father had once owned without his efforts.

Romsca. Was that what this was about? Had something happened to Romsca?

The stoat felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. He caught up the Sagitar on her horse, who looked cruelly smug. "General. What has happened?"

She slowly sneered, before lifting her chin. "Simply what was destined to happen from the beginning captain. Your house lives on the line between life and death, and well you know it."

"What do you mean?" Barranca's voice was forceful, and he forgot to address the rat with her title.

She paused, before dismounting, as they were at the palace steps. "Perhaps the emperor would like to tell you himself. Come."

Barranca clenched a paw into a fist, following Sagitar in bitter silence. They entered the crimson throne room and the stoat knelt on the steps of the dias, spreading his paws forward, though the words he spoke were from required habit. "Hail, Emperor of the setting sun, of the land of dragons, great Ublaz."

The pine marten smiled, holding forth his paw and it's ruby set ring, and Barranca kissed it. "I was expecting you, Captain Barranca. What have you brought this time?"

The stoat stood, motioning to the two crew members he had brought along, and they dragged a trunk forward, opening the lid, and dropping to their knees.

Barranca was aching to know what was behind the pitying gazes he'd been beset with on the way to the palace, but he knew Ublaz would not tell him until he was completely ready, and pressing the subject would bring punishment.

He pulled a tray of gold from the chest, stating, "Three hundred sheckles of pure gold .."

More items came out, an engraved golden dagger, silver challises, jewelry, and purple cloth; Barranca having to name each thing. "As well milord, I took forty pounds of grain, half of which is yours."

"You do mean two thirds of which is mine, don't you captain?" Ublaz stroked the carved armrest of his throne as if it lived.

Barranca stared at him, stammering, "But sire, I pay your taxes on my lands and ship with what I sell ..."

Ublaz's smile was sickening. "Why then, did you not bring several hundred pounds? You really should think of these things sooner, captain."

"It's not the season for grain, it's all still growing! There was very little to take .." Barranca cut himself off, slowly bowing his head. "Yes milord. Two thirds of it is yours."

Ublaz nodded. "Good. That is all."

Sagitar walked forward to escort him out, but the stoat held up a paw. "Wait! Milord .. what has become of my niece?"

The pine marten looked interested. "Oh, you don't know? It is the talk of all Sampetra, who will win."

Something like joyful, hungry greed burned in his pale, glimmering eyes, and Barranca got the feeling he knew something he wasn't telling. The emperor continued in mock pity. "Ah, of course you would not know. You were off sailing .. for me. Yes, yes, very loyal of you."

Barranca's paw curled into an angry fist, for he knew Ublaz was toying with him. The pine marten seemed to take his anger in, almost basking in it. "You see, after the terrible rebellion Captain Kastaa led, I deemed it necessary to take .. a few simple precautions. And I figured a reward and a little sport might make it more interesting."

Barranca was not in the mood for games, and he burst out, "Just tell me what you've done to her!"

"Done to her? Me?" Ublaz laughed mockingly. "I haven't done anything to her yet, Captain. And whether or not I do is really up to her."

His eyes gleamed. "Something she's handling ... admirably well, in her own way."

Barranca took a deep breath. "Please, sire. Just tell me."

"As to the point as she is." Ublaz chuckled, though it was a sinister sound. "A true Dragon, yes. Captain, I simply declared a contest between the young captains, Rasconza, Romsca, and Xzaris. That they should each go north, south, or east to find my pearls. The one who does, lives."

A smile curled darkly across his muzzle. "The other two don't. Now Captain, you must be tired from your journey. I assume you'll be leaving again soon?"

Barranca had been frozen, before he stammered, "No."

His blue eyes snapped a little. "I will remain here to see the end of this ... contest."

Ublaz smiled again. "As you wish. Now. I think you should go home."

Sagitar stepped forward, and Barranca spun around on the heel of his boot, stalking off, his tail switching. His two crew members hurried after him, as did their escort of ratguards.

Barranca hurried down the palace steps, paws clenched so tightly his claws dug into his own flesh. The stoat followed paths he knew quite well, stopping at the bank of the river, sitting down on one of the many docks, the one adjoining his own manor.

He cast a glance at it in the waning light. Once it had been a grand estate, though an older one. However, while still quite presentable, he'd been forced to neglect aspects of it through his long absences and dwindled resources. The gardens behind him grew wild and unkempt, with sagging arbors and trellises.

Still, he could remember the long ago nights when he'd entertained his brother, his niece, and her two friends here. The times they would feast and laugh, and he and Conva would watch the children play hide-and-seek in the gardens. The times they would even join in.

In fact the laughter and joy seemed to hang dully in the air, a reminder of the time before Meili's death. Before Ublaz. He could almost see it.

The stoat clasped his paws together, folding them over his muzzle a moment, before letting them drop into his lap. "Ublaz .. you've gone too far this time."

His words were empty though, and they made way for his tears. He buried his face in his paws, and while no sound came from him, his shoulders shook as the wind keened sadly through the old garden.


It was a sad and bedraggled group of pirates that sat around a small campfire as the day waned. Lask had rejoined them less than an hour after their escape, with all the remaining Monitors, except one that was mysteriously missing.

Beasts were tending to wounds, and the little rat healer had his work cut out for him. Only Rubby had escaped unscratched, and he was complaining about a stupid rabbit that had run off with his best pan.

Romsca ground her teeth together as the rat cleaned her shoulder wound, the flesh around it burned and badly damaged. While the initial wound seemed numb, the area around it stung like fire. She closed her eyes against the pain, a tiny whimper escaping her as a few tears ran down her cheeks, she could not help it.

From over where she was tied to a tree with the abbot creature, Romsca saw the golden mouse smirk dryly.

The ferret sucked in an uneven breath, letting it out slowly as the rat wound a bandage around her shoulder. "It should be ok .. capt'n .. ya .. wull yer gonna have that scar forever .. but .."

Romsca was confused at why he looked so nervous. "As if that would bother me, every pirate needs a few good scars. But will I have full movement a me arm again?"

"Yea .. I think so. Inna few weeks a course."

"Yea, I know that." Romsca shook her head. "Go see ta somebeast else."

She picked up the plate of dinner Rubby had dished up for her, foregoing the glop of unrecognizable substance and gnawing on the rock-like biscuit. Her wounded cheek refused to move properly still, so she chewed with the other side of her mouth.

Romsca washed it down with a mug of water, before standing up and yanking her axe from where it had been lodged in the fallen log beside her. The ferret stalked over to the prisoners, and the two Monitors that had been watching the mice hungrily scurried off.

The mousewife looked unimpressed. "What do you want?"

Romsca was slightly angered by her lack of natural fear. "I'm doin' the talkin' mouse, ya don't speak less I speak ta ya first."

"I'll talk if I please." The mouse's black eyes snapped, as the other one broke in.

"Oh no Sayna, please don't antagonize them!" He looked afraid. "They'll only make it worse for us."

The mouse called Sayna rolled her eyes. "Oh come Durral, do you think I'm afraid of a bunch of pirates?"

Romsca sneered. "Ya must not know who we are, mouse."

Sayna smirked. "Oh I know good and well who you are, you're a pirate captain of Sampetra. You speak with the accent and your signet ring bears the mark of a dragon. Not to mention your dress, weapons, and attitude all betray you."

Durral was staring at her. "Wha ... how do you know so much about pirates, of all beasts? Don't tell me you associate with them."

Sayna's voice was a dry monotone. "Let's just say I'm an observer of life."

Durral looked slightly disturbed, and Romsca shook herself. "Look .. whatever. Now. Mouse. Ya have a feather mark on yer paw. What's with that?"

For the first time that Romsca had seen, Sayna looked surprised and dumbfounded. After a second, she spoke. "I was born with it ferret, what else? Why do you ask?"

"Never ya mind that." Romsca snapped. "But if yer so wise an' a know it all, tell me what it means."

The mouse said nothing, before sneering. "It is not something a pirate could understand. But a mark is a call, the call of Ignasa. Through it he called me to be High Queen of Mossflower, and the defender of Redwall."

"Yer a high queen?" Romsca's mouth dropped open, and Durral craned his head around to see Sayna better.

She nodded, voice quiet. "I was once. But I've long outlived my throne."

Her black eyes were sad, truly sad and soft .. and tired. It was strange to see Sayna look sad, and Romsca rubbed the side of her head. "Yea, yea ... ya talk in riddles."

She turned on Durral. "Ya, tell me about this one, since yer such good friends."

The abbot looked uncomfortable, and shrugged. "Well .. Sayna doesn't live in my abbey. All I know is she comes and goes as she likes, she trains some of my young creatures in weapons .. and .."

Sayna rolled her eyes. "Oh, say what you want to say Durral. As if I don't know perfectly well what you all call me behind my back."

"And .." Durral paused, stating, "It's been said she's a ghost."

"And you believe it." Sayna added.

Romsca snorted. "A ghost? That's the dumbest thing I ever heard."

She pulled on the mouse's arm to prove her point. "See? She can't float outa her bonds. Me paw can't go through her. A ghost? Nah. Now if ya told me she was a witch, I might believe that."

Sayna yawned. "They say that too."

Romsca looked skeptical. "Well I donno. I guess it'll have ta be seen .. can she cast magic spells an' hex beasts?"

"I cannot hex beasts!" Sayna looked indignant. "Those are the skills of a Shadow Fighter, a servant of the wicked lord Malimore! Of whom you seem to serve quite well, ferret."

Romsca sneered. "I know no lord called Malimore, mouse. An' I don't serve yer woodland deities. As fer ya bein' a ghost, ya bleed like anybeast else, I gave ya a scar ya ain't gonna get loose a fer the rest a yer life."

She grabbed the mouse's chin, twisting her head to one side to better see the injury she'd bestowed upon her, and stared. She'd thought she could not see the wound because it was farther back on the jaw, but only the faintest scar ran down the golden cheek, and Romsca jerked her paw back, staring.

Sayna smirked, black eyes gleaming with something akin to dark amusement. "That's what you think."

Romsca twitched her lip, unable to explain the strange phenomenon in her own mind. She drew herself to her full height, sneering, "Ya is still me prisoners, an' will remain so until I deliver ya ta me emperor."

She spun around, stalking off, and making up her mind to keep a very close eye on those two.


At Redwall, Cicely was busy with herbs and healing, and was keeping Viola busy too. She was cleaning Gerul's wounded wing; the arrow having caught the owl near the bone, it was proving painful.

The bird let out a sharp squawk every now and then, and Clecky sat nearby, wiping his face with a towel and chunnering. "I say blinkin' awful a them .. rotters, the whole lot! If I went around eatin' slop like that, I'd be evil too, wot!"

Hood turned his head in the hare's direction, voice a little disapproving. "Clecky, beasts have died. What the vermin threw on your head doesn't make a difference. Be glad you made it out alive, others weren't as lucky."

"Doesn't make a difference ..." Clecky began indignantly, before looking around at the many wounded, and sighing, "Oh .. I guess you're right Hood matey. You normally are."

Martin was holding a damp, bloodstained cloth on his arm, when Grath sat next to him. "What happened?"

The mouse shivered, staring blankly at nothing in particular. "I'm not cut out for this .. it was those lizards. I don't think the pirates ever really killed many of us .. it was those lizards! I got thrown back by one .. I guess I slammed into something and blacked out. But when I came to there were deadbeasts all around me .. even on top of me .. and I .."

He buried his head in his paws. "I can't! I can't do this!"

Grath didn't say anything for a moment, before sighing, "I wish I could have been there .. to help you. Like a true friend would."

Plogg walked up, shaking her paw before anything more could be said. "But you saved my brother .. I donno what I'd do without Welko. So thanks. I'd miss him somethin' terrible .. there wouldn't be nobeast to fight with."

Martin looked up, asking, "You saved Welko? How'd you save Welko?"

Grath scuffed a paw in the dirt. "Well .. anybeast would have of course .."

Plogg was more than happy to tell the tale he knew. "She shot one of those lizards, shot it clean in the eye! That's admirable ya know .. Grath's like .. the hero of the battle."

"No I'm not." Grath stood up, looking around at the growing shadows. "I killed one lizard. I didn't even make it to the battle. A hero can save everybeast .. but look how many were killed. And wounded .. Mattimeo, Log-a-Log, Gerul. A hero could have helped them, but I couldn't."

She stalked off, toward the abbey. Plogg looked at Martin, asking, "Golly, what's with her? I've never seen her act so .. depressed."

The mouse shook his head, standing. "No. But I know the feeling."

Chapter 19 The Call

TotO &#039;The Motely Crew&#039;

The Redwall questers :3

Grath walked through the tinted pools of setting sun as she slipped through Great Hall and up the stairs. She entered the dormitories, looking around for anybeast, but the rooms were empty.

Satisfied, the otter flopped down on her bed, staring blankly at the wall until her vision swam.

"Lutran .. Marine .. Aqua .." She closed her eyes, muttering, "Coral, mother .. father .. Waterlily .. I've .. tried to forget you."

Grath felt a tear run down her cheek, as she whispered, "How could I?"

She curled up on her sheets, wrapping her arms about herself, and her tears would not be stopped. "How dare I leave you to memory and not care what your killers did? They will only kill more, like they did today!"

The otter slowly opened her emerald eyes, staring up at the window that cast a shaft of dying light across her bed. "But what can I do? I was always the small, weak one .. the one that couldn't run and couldn't fight. I cannot be the one to chase pirates .."

She rolled onto her side, murmuring, "Surely Ignasa will pick a better beast than me .. a stronger one."

Her golden hair suddenly slipped off the bed in a waterfall, and she closed her eyes again, rubbing her tears away. Weariness and ache was dragging at her now, dragging her down into the dark depths of sleep, and she did not fight it.

Her shaky breathing evened out as the last drops of sunlight faded from the window, and she lay still, not opening her eyes even when she heard the voices of other creatures. They would not bother her, thinking she was asleep.

And even the noises of beasts getting ready for bed faded to nothing as the darkness of rest overtook her completely.

When she came to, it was dark, with the moonlight streaming across the dormitories, illuminating the sleeping forms of the other Redwallers. Grath sat up slowly, trying to keep her bed from creaking beneath her.

As she looked out the window nearest her, facing the west, one of the stars seemed to gleam brighter then the others, and the otter stood, walking slowly to the opening. The glass panels were already ajar, and Grath pushed them silently open just far enough for her to slip out onto the balcony.

She stared out at the night sky, trying to find that one gleaming star she'd seen, but they all looked the same now. The otter tipped her head back, looking at the constellations, and smiled as she located her favorite. "Lord Ignasa, you truly made a beautiful world."

Grath let her head drop again, sighing, "If only it was not so evil."

"I wish the same, daughter."

The otter gasped, freezing in her tracks and looking around for the owner of the voice. It spoke again, fondly. "Behind you, Grath."

She spun around, staring into the glass windowpane, where she did not see her reflection, but Ignasa's .. though he did not stand beside her to cast it. Grath swallowed, bowing. "Milord."

Something made her lift her chin again, a gentle, invisible force. "Grath, I let you be taken to Redwall that you might know friendship and love as you grew. But you have grown, and others need you now."

She met his transparent blue gaze with a shiver. "You mean you wish .. me to go fight the pirates to save Durral and Sayna? Me?"

"You hold the key to the ocean my daughter. No other beast knows the way to follow them, but you." Ignasa's gaze was steady.

Grath's eyes suddenly flashed with understanding. "The ship .."

She shook her head. "But I can't sail it."

"No, not alone." Ignasa nodded. "But I have called others to aid you."

Grath was silent for a moment, before asking, "Milord .. do not be angry .. but why .."

"Speak your heart Grath, I am not angry." Ignasa's eyes shone with sorrow, as if he knew well what she would say.

"Why did you let my family be killed?"

The great cat didn't move from his reflection in the glass, but an ivisable warmth blanketed her, almost as though he had laid his head over her shoulder. "My daughter, the things you must face bring sorrow to me, just as much .. do you think it is easy for me to see what evil does?"

Grath wiped a tear away, murmuring, "Then .. why didn't you stop it?"

Ignasa closed his eyes for a moment, before sighing, "Child .. a king must uphold his own laws. If he does not, what sort of king is he? No .. some things must follow their set courses, from choices that were made."

He looked up again. "One day, you will understand my meaning. But for now, I give you the call to adventure I know you've longed for .. you must cross the western sea, to the land of the setting sun. Those with the dragon's heart have need of you, as you have need of them."

Grath opened her mouth to say something, but Ignasa continued. "Remember this daughter .. do not let anger be your guide. For Woodlanders never trust scum of the sea;

The Ocean's wild echoes feel mutually.

But common threats unite oldest of foes,

Born enemies with the deepest of woes."

"What?" Grath sounded confused. "What do you mean?"

The reflection smiled, before vanishing in a soft blue flash. "I will be with you."

Grath grabbed the window pane, staring at it. "No .. don't leave me! I need your help .. where do I start? Will anybeast believe me? How can I convince them you spoke to me .."

"I will be with you."

More in her head now than anywhere else, Ignasa's voice echoed warmly. Grath leaned against the balcony railing, running webbed claws through her hair as she tried to make sense of what had happened.

But she was tired now .. very tired .. and she almost felt the sensation of slipping ...


Grath lifted her head, blinking hard as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She was lying sprawled on the floor next to her bed, and moonlight was streaming through the dormitories. The otter rubbed her arms, slowly standing and walking to the window where she'd seen Ignasa. She opened it, walking out onto the balcony and rubbing her paw on the glass, whispering, "Milord ... did I really see you?"

However there was no answer, and Grath sighed. She walked over to the balcony, leaning against it. "Or maybe I'm just crazy."

"Ignasa .." She looked up at the sky, shaking her head. "Give me a sign. Anything .. just something .. out of the ordinary."

Nothing happened for a moment, before a gleaming star streaked across the night sky in a glorious arch, vanishing in the west. Grath didn't move instantly, finally hurrying back inside to grab the bow and arrows she'd left beside her bed.

She buckled her quiver on, pausing once to look around at the sleeping creatures she knew so well.

Am I really doing this?

Grath pulled her bow over one shoulder, casting a glance at Tansy's bed. It was empty and tidily made, and the otter smiled. The hedgehog was probably working all night on some wonderful new creation for breakfast, or had gone to sleep in the kitchens.

The otter made her way down the stairs to Great Hall, shaking her head. "I'm really doing this. I'm really going to chase pirates .. on my own .."

Grath closed her eyes. "No, I can't think about it. I can't. I've just got to do it."

She fastened her satchel better about her shoulder, taking a deep breath and walking out onto the abbey lawns. The otter stopped still in her tracks, for the lawns were not unoccupied. Tansy, Cracklyn, and Clecky were already there, talking and laughing, though quietly.

Cracklyn grinned, bouncing a little from excitement. "Ooh, ooh, I'm glad you're coming too Grath!"

Grath was confused. "Am I missing something?"

"Well me gel, I don't jolly well know. We all had the same dream, that we need to chase the pirates to get his abbotness and Sayna back. Didn't you?" Clecky cocked his ears forward.

"I did." Before Grath could say a word, Hood did, slipping from the shadows.

Clecky grinned. "Wot ho chap, I'm glad you'll be joining the jolly lark .. pity about Gerul, he'd have loved to come, wot."

Hood shrugged. "With the kitchens Redwall has, he'll love to stay here."

"Oh I suppose you're right chap .. for that matter, I might feel the same .." Clecky gave the abbey building a sad glance.

Grath broke in. "We all had the same dream?"

Tansy nodded. "Well, it sounds that way."

There was the soft sound of the gatehouse door clicking shut, and Martin came out, holding the legendary sword and his lute, and looking guilty.

He walked over, sighing, "You too huh?"

"Fraid so chap." Clecky confirmed, though he looked less than sorry.

"I sort of hoped it was just a dream." Martin sighed. "But I guess we're really going."

"Are you psychic? Cause that's the only explanation .. rotten of ya Welko, stealing your twin's dream."

Welko sounded indignant. "Hey, what if I dreamed it first an' you're the psychic dream-stealer? It's not always me that does it ya know."

Grath looked around, asking, "Any more to come?"

Tansy dusted her paws off. "Well if there are, we'll still need to pack supplies. That'll take long enough that whoever is going to show up will."

Clecky was in favor. "I say, a smart little lass, that one. I'm with her wot wot? Now miss Tansy, about the packing of scoff ..."


Morning saw Xzaris stoking a large fire on the beach, near some flat rocks. Skarbod hurried up with a collection of various metal pieces. "Need anythin' else capt'n?"

The ferret turned an old door hinge over in his paw. "Yea, a forge hammer an' tongs. Val's cookin' tongs an' me ol' hammer is jist gonna have ta do."

He turned to Skarbod, ordering, "Have somebeast measure how big aroun' that mast is. I'm gonna haveta make ten or so braces fer that thing .. I'm gonna do twenny ta be safe."

The stoat nodded, hurrying off as Xzaris pulled the hammer out of his old silk sash, picking up the tongs and seizing the hinge in it. He placed it in the hottest part of the fire, looking over at Val, muddling over mending the sail.

She yelped suddenly, popping her fingers into her mouth and sucking on them. The vixen glared at the needle she held in her other paw, snarling something muffled. Arashi took her place beside the fox, shaking her head and taking the needle.

The ferretwife expertly sewed one of the rips up, and Xzaris couldn't help but think of how new and beautiful that sail had been when they had set out. Of course .. the mast had been intact too.

He pulled the now hot hinge from the fire, pounding on it with his hammer to flatten it, and put it back in the coals for a few minutes. There was a pile of scrap metal his crew had salvaged from various wrecks .. hinges, door handles, old hardware from trunks, even tarnished weapons and chains that had once held oar slaves.

Xzaris felt comfortable again, thanks the heat of the fire and the familiar sound of steel being beaten out. There was something relaxing about it, even when he was doing it.

While his heart called him out onto the seas for adventure, he would always feel at home in a forge, almost as much as with deck beneath his paws.

Hours passed in this manner, with beasts fishing, cooking, sewing the sail, and the constant sound of metal pounding on metal. When the noon sun shone brightly overhead, Xzaris took a break, limping over to a flat rock and sitting on it.

He stared out to where Darkshroud was anchored, sighing. Val trudged over, her left paw bandaged. She looked weary, as her normally upright ears laid flat on her neck. "Ugg .. here's some lunch fer ya capt'n .. I sure hate sewin'. Cookin' is fine, sewin' ain't."

She looked at her bandaged paw, scowling. "Ya know, Romsca's mum is way better at it then me. Good thing ya found her."

Xzaris absently poked at his food, sighing, "I .. ain't really hungry Val."

"What'da ya mean ya ain't hungry?" Val put her paws on her hips. "Ya gotta be hungry."

"I don't feel like eatin'" Xzaris snapped. "What's the point? I'm doin' all this work ta git me ship fixed up so I kin sail back ta me death. I'm sorry Val, but that ain't inspirin'!"

Val made a face. "Wull .. yer lookin' at it the wrong way. Come on Xzari ... I mean capt'n .. ya an I was alwus the .. wull, the cheerful ones. Ya know, Conza and Rom weren't really .. wull Conza was sometimes an' Romsca never was. But ... we jist gotta find someway ta look at the bright side a this."

Xzaris stared at the ground, eyes hardening. "There ain't a bright side, Val. Think about it .. if Rasconza don't find them cursed pearls, he's dyin' too."

Val drooped, plopping down on the rock opposite him and putting her paws on either side of her face. "Yea ..."

Her voice shuddered a little as she mumbled, "I know. I been tryin' not ta think 'bout it, but yea, I know .. but there's gotta be some way ta .. wull .. ta git the better a Madeyes or somethin'."

Xzaris snorted. "Nah. I've thought an' I've thought. I killed one Monitor .. but in an open fight, they'd murder us. It's no good. If'n we can't loose the Monitors, we ain't gonna be able ta escape Ublaz."

He kicked some pebbles angrily, with his good footpaw. "We're nothin' but his playthings .. ta torture, ta kill .. an' ta kill others. An' I'm startin' ta think like Conva .. I can't stand it!"

"Yea but .." Val paused, asking, "Ya ain't gonna do what he did .. is ya?"

"Stand in fronta Ublaz an' defy him?" Xzaris shook his head. "I might wish ta, but I'd probably cower, more likely. Conva went crazy .. ya know that. No beast in their right mind is bold 'nough ta do what he did."

"What did he do?"

Both creatures looked up, to see Arashi watching them. They exchanged a glance, before Xzaris looked sad. "I donno if'n ya really wanna hear that."

"Oh yes I do, an' ye will tell me." Arashi crossed her arms.

Xzaris sighed. "Fine. Wull .. Conva .. he'd alwus been a steady beast ya know. Sensible an logical an' all that .. but on our way back ta Sampetra, he went mad. Guess .. goin' ta yer death sorta .."

He stared blankly across the water of the bay, muttering, "Guess it jist does that ta ya."

Arashi raised an eyebrow. "How do ye mean, mad?"

Val shrugged. "Romsca said he started talkin' bout all sorts a weird things .. bout followin' some woodland lord an' bein' kind ta prisoners."

There was a slight tremor in the older ferret's voice as she asked, "What woodland lord? What was his name?"

Xzaris and Val exchanged a sideways glance, before he shrugged. "Wull .. I donno if'n I kin remember really .. me an' Rom was so shocked by his change we wasn't payin' much attention. Though I think it was somethin' like .. Ignasa."

"Ignasa!" Arashi's eyes shone. "Conva said he followed Ignasa?"

"Yea ..." Xzaris scratched an ear.

The ferretwife seemed far happier than he'd ever seen her as her eyes gleamed with the life that had seemed to seep from them when she'd heard of Conva's death. "Then there is hope .. I will see him again!"

Val looked pitying. "Oh no .. ya won't be doin' that. I saw what was left a him on the shore .. an' jist believe me, his head weren't on him."

Xzaris shot her a warning glance, but Arashi didn't seem effected. "No, I know I'll not see him in this world. But when I die, I will .. I feared so that he went to Hellgates, but praise Ignasa he found the truth, and I will see him once more, as I dreamed!"

The two pirates stared at her, and Xzaris stammered, "Ya .. follow him too?"

"Yes, and ye don't ..?" Arashi stopped. "Oh yes .. I've been away from Sampetra so long, I'm beginning to forget the way things are there."

Val and Xzaris said nothing, just looked dumbfounded. Arashi sighed. "And me daughter .. is she as ye?"

"She .. follows the Lords an' Ladies a the elements, if'n that's what yer askin'." Xzaris stammered. "Jist like alla us."

Arashi paused, before sighing. "I see."

She walked back to where the sail was being mended, and Val looked at Xzaris. "Capt'n .. what's we gonna tell Rom .. both her parents is crazy!"

Xzaris watched Arashi go for a moment, before shrugging dryly, almost ironically. "Guess that's up ta ya ta figger out, I'm gonna be dead."

Val blinked, before making a face. "Yea, that's real helpful."


"How far do you think we've gotten, Grath?"

Tansy walked up next to the otter, sighing, "I'm not one to complain, of course, but I'm getting a little tired. And it's still dark out."

Grath knew what she meant, her paws were already aching some. But she could expect no better, she might have been a good archer, but she wasn't used to walking for hours on end .. or getting up in the middle of the night either.

Plogg, Welko, Clecky, and Hood did not seem effected, though all those from Redwall did.

"I say, does any other beast think it's time for jolly ol' breakfast .."

Hood's eyes might have been covered, but from the sound of his voice, Grath guessed he'd rolled them. "No, let's put a little distance between us and the abbey first."

Plogg and Welko were arguing amongst themselves, as they usually did, though it was a bit more heated then their normal half-joking bickering. "I'm tellin' ya Welko, this isn't the way! We're goin' the long way round an wastin' loads of time. We need ta get to where dad moored the logboats, cause ya ought'a know our Redwall friends aren't used to hiking."

"Well don't blame me, an' how are we to know your way was gonna be any better? We'll get there." Welko yawned, running a paw through his spiky headfur.

Plogg scowled. "Yea, in time for them to come after us an' stop us. Ya've got fur between your lugs if ya think they'll just let us go."

"Oh really?" Welko looked insulted. "Just say that again an' I'll lam ya a good one!"

Plogg rolled his eyes, stating clearly, "Ya've got fur between your lugs if ya think they'll just let us go!"

Welko growled, jumping on his brother, and the two rolled down the hill they'd been on top of, Welko's arrows scattering every which way.

Grath stopped walking, leaning against a nearby tree with a sigh as Cracklyn scurried up it. Martin stopped next to her, looking sideways for a moment, before asking, "Grath, are you sure we're doing the right thing? I feel awful about leaving my parents like this, and taking the sword too .."

"I know .." The otter sighed. "It does sort of feel like we're betraying somebeast .. but .. well .. what about Abbot Durral and Sayna? They .. need us. Who's going to help them otherwise .. your dad is wounded, Log-a-Log is too, and the Guosim lost quite a few. If we don't do this .. we're leaving them to the mercy of their wicked captors .. and I can't do that. It's .. wrong."

Martin didn't look excited, but he nodded in genuine agreement. "Well .. when you put it that way."

"Hey!" Cracklyn's voice came from up in the tree. "Hey, I can see my home from here!"

Martin cocked his head back, sounding confused. "But you live at the abbey."

The squirrel's voice was cheerful. "Yep, and it's a really great view from up here, now that it's getting a bit light .. I can see over the walls and into the lawns and everything."

Grath groaned, rubbing the side of her head. Plogg came back up the hill, having overheard."Ugg .. this isn't workin'. Come on, with me. I know a better way."

Tansy shrugged and followed him, and the others did too, Welko being last and busy picking up the arrows he'd lost.

After quite a bit more walking, they finally reached the Moss and the neatly moored Guosim logboats just waiting for them. Welko jumped in the nearest one, undoing the ropes that held the boat in place. "Come on .. let's take two an' be on our way."


"Show me Romsca."

Ublaz stroked his crystal ball, smiling into the shimmering surface as the images emerged. The ferret's camp was just coming to life, beasts awaking and packing, readying for a full day of travel.

Romsca herself was awake, looking like she'd never even slept, or even really laid down once that night, for her drab green eyes were dull and listless. Ublaz smirked. Maybe he wouldn't have to kill her, since she insisted on killing herself.

The pine marten's eyes shone as he looked at her satchel, where he had seen her put the pearls. So she was the one that succeeded .. how interesting.

But it wouldn't save her life, nothing could. She was a Dragon, as was her uncle, and he'd been forced into sparing them through the loss of so many captains in Kastaa's ill-fated rebellion.

Since then, in the past seven seasons, many new captains had risen, and it was time to put an end to the House of the Dragons and all captains sympathetic to them. Perhaps if Rasconza or Xzaris had found the pearls, he would have spared them, but maybe all four dying was better anyway.

When Romsca got back, he'd have to arrange an execution for both her and Barranca .. they'd served their purpose.

Ublaz turned his attention back to the far away camp in Mossflower, smiling evilly at the two mice his pawn had captured. The abbot would be a useful tool in his world takeover, the key into the stronghold of Redwall. As for the Prophet mouse, he would dispose of her and keep the sword that could kill even Monitors.

And even better, Romsca had taken a Flower of Icetor! Ublaz chuckled to himself, pale eyes gleaming with greed. "Oh you don't know how to use that my dear, if only you did! But it's better you don't .. perhaps I'll thank you for making me invincible and immortal before I kill you. Yes, Emperor Ublaz will not fade away, but will live hundreds of seasons .. all I must do is conquer Icetor, and then I will reign forever!"

"Oh if only you knew." Ublaz stroked the crystal ball, sneering joyfully, "Romsca, if only you knew how powerful you'll make me. It's almost too bad you won't live to see it."

The pine marten picked up his chalice, taking a sip of wine as he tapped the glassy surface, ordering, "Show me Xzaris."

The landscape morphed, turning from lush woodlands to the rocky cliffs and beaches of a volcanic island atoll. Ublaz hadn't really checked up on the others, since Romsca had found the pearls, but now it was time to plan out their demises. It would be fun if Romsca and Xzaris both got into port at the same, for it wasn't lost on him that they shared a deeper bond than even with Rasconza.

At this time, it seemed the gray ferret and his crew were already hard at work on their scrappy little ship, trying to repair it from the damage done in the storm a few weeks earlier. Ublaz smiled cruelly. "Tsk tsk .. what a hard worker young Xzaris is. He might have made a fine captain. He just picked the wrong friends. That will be a good lesson for the rest of Sampetra to learn .. and when I am done, they will have learned it well."

The pine martin grinned at his own words, pondering what demise Xzaris would suffer, as he tapped the glass again. "Show me Rasconza."

The images in the crystal surface changed now, to the deck of the Bloodkeel, and a bleak, cheerless dawn. The sky was overcast, and the sea was choppy and gray .. drops of rain pattered to the deck in a dismal drizzle.

One of the other Monitors, not the one he was seeing through, was in view, and acting strangely. Its head was down, its yellow eyes dull as it huddled almost miserably in the overhang of the forecastle, trying to stay out of the rain.

But the lizards did not mind rain!

Ublaz stopped, gaze hardening. No, they didn't mind the warm, tropical rains of Sampetra. But cold, northern rain would be an entirely different matter.

The pine marten's nostrils flared, though he did not allow the boiling anger within him to show any more than that one gesture. That Hellgates spawn, he was going to freeze the Monitors!

His voice was a silken, but dark sound. "I should have never sent him north .. sly as a fox, and aye, that one is no disgrace to his species."


Days passed, and Romsca's wounds began to heal, though the skin around them was badly scared and now furless, as the fur around the initial injuries had fallen out.

It was dusk on the fifth day since the pearls had been found, and Romsca had kept the tears of the ocean buckled tightly in her satchel with the glowing flower, refusing to open it for anybeast, even herself. But oh, how those pearls called out to her, and how she wanted them!

Like the echo of the perfection she could never attain. She wanted to be strong .. the best pirate Sampetra had ever seen. They could make her that. She could feel it .. if she just had the seventh pearl and discovered how to unlock their magic, she was sure they could make her anything she wanted to be.

The ferret stared dully into the fire, stroking the wound on her cheek ever so gently. Was she really going to give them to Ublaz?

She slowly looked over at Lask, staring out into the darkening woodlands, and she scowled. It wasn't like she really had a choice.

And then, there was the little otter maid. Whenever Romsca closed her eyes that reflection seemed to follow her, if she wasn't being tormented by images of somebeast she cared about being killed. The ferret rubbed at her forehead, feeling the weariness of sleep drag at her, but she refused to let it do its will.

The otter's face was the embodiment of all Sampetra did, all its cruelty, and all its evil.

Maybe Raf's right. Romsca stared dully at the fire. Maybe I'm really not a captain at all. Maybe I am just meant to be a lady of the Dragons.

Her green eyes gleamed with fury toward her own thoughts. She was no lady. She was a pirate, and a captain in her own right, and nobeast could ever take that from her. How dare she falter in her purpose for even one second?

"I'm doin' this fer ya dad." Her voice was a low mutter. "I hope it'll sorta make up fer how I failed before."

No, my time has run out. But yours hasn't. So don't be a murderer me girl, don't go down that path. This is all it leads to.

Conva's voice echoed in her head, and she put her face in her paws. "There's gotta be a way ta be who I wanna be .. without bein' a murderer."

But there was no way. If she didn't sail, what would she do? Write? Nobeast would ever pay for her wild tales, they were written for her and her alone. Maybe she could draw, but she couldn't sell much of that, as she refused to draw the traditional way. Without her ship, she had no career.

"And one things fer sure, I ain't never gonna be a barmaid." She scowled at the flames. "I'd kill too many beasts outa fury. I wonder how woodlanders do it."

Almost as she thought this, there was a commotion from where the prisoners were kept, one that snapped her from her reverie.

Rafglan had the mousewife pinned down, and even though he was twisting her arms behind her, she was striving to throw him off, and coming close to succeeding. Romsca ran up as her first mate wound the ropes back around the mouse's paws, cinching them tight with angry strength.

The golden mouse lay still now, though from the sparkle in her black eyes, Romsca guessed she was calculating her next move. Something about the beast's quick and often sharp wit, her fearlessness, and her strength was admirable ... when she wasn't infuriating.

"What's goin' on? Raf, what happened?"

The rat yanked the mouse onto her paws, snarling, "I should'a known she'd find a sharp rock an try ta git her an' the other one loose. She's a trouble-maker capt'n, come on, kill her!"

Romsca glared at the rat. "Who's capt'n 'round here anyway? If I say she dies, then yea, but not a moment before that. An' I say I ain't killin' her yet!"

"Fine capt'n, yer right. I ain't in charge. But lemme just warn ya, prisoners are killed fer less .. far less, an' if she pushes it anymore, yer gonna haveta git rid a her if'n ya want the crew's respect."

Rafglan shrugged. "That's jist the way it is. An' if ya got control a things here, I'll jist be on me way ta bed."

The rat walked off, and Romsca growled, shoving the mouse against the tree the other one was tied to. "Look wench, I don't wanna haveta kill ya, but yer gonna make me!"

Sayna sneered. "Good."

Romsca stared at her. "What?"

"You'll be doing me a favor ferret." The mouse's eyes snapped. "But you won't be able to. My lord has told me I will not die until I find a successor, and guess what, I haven't! So you can't kill me, even if I might wish you could."

Romsca imagined she looked shocked. "Mouse, yer too creepy fer words!"

Sayna smirked. "I'll take that as a complement, thank you."

Romsca glared at her, snarling, "Like I said before .. ya talk in riddles! Will ya just speak like a normal beast?"

"Ferret," The mouse's eyes flashed almost mockingly. "Let's just say I am a riddle."

"Yea, I can see that." Romsca growled, tying Sayna back against the tree.

She noticed the other mouse staring at her with his wide, blue-brown eyes, and once again felt a pang of guilt for her actions. She flattened her ears, showing her teeth as she growled, "What're ya lookin' at mouse?"

He looked afraid, yes, but almost pitying, and Romsca had to wonder what he was thinking. He made it quite clear in the next second, though it would have been better if he had said nothing. "You must have had a terrible childhood .. to make you this way. You can't be much over twenty seasons."

Romsca scowled at him, though she totally agreed about having a terrible childhood. However, he didn't stop, just looked down. "The way vermin treat their own children is horrible .. making them sail ships and kill .."

Romsca's ears snapped up, and she shoved him even harder against the tree, seething, "What? How dare ya even think my father would treat me wrong? He loved me, I loved him, an' if he was still alive I might not even be a capt'n yet!"

She felt tears of pure fury growing on her lashes as the horrific scene of Conva's death played in her mind, and she growled deep in her throat. "Don't ya ever disrespect me dad or me family never again mouse, never! Or ya will pay! They mean the world ta me, an' they never treated me wrong, how would ya know nothin', keep yer rotten woodland mouth shut!"

She wheeled around, storming away, and quickly wiping her eyes, though her breathing would not be calm on an instant. The ferret sat back down on her log, wrapping her arms about herself, and shoving he tears away with one, determined swallow.

Was that really what woodlanders thought about vermin? All vermin? That their parents had to hate them?

Yes .. Xzaris's mother was that way. But her father hadn't been, and her uncle wasn't either. How dare he pity her, and dream that her family had been cruel to her .. how dare he?

As her anger slowly abated, she sighed. She supposed she could not blame him. What would a woodlander know about a vermin? About as much as a vermin knew about a woodlander .. just that the other was an enemy to be destroyed.

Romsca looked back over at the mouse, slumped in his bonds and trembling a little, and she felt another slash of guilt rend her soul.

I want .. no, I must .. do this. No quarter. No fear. No weakness!

She looked away, muttering, "It ain't personal ol' mouse. I can't help it if'n ya was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Deep down, she knew it wasn't true. She could have refused to capture the abbot if she had wanted. But how could she? With the Monitors and her crew? What excuse could she have made? And all for a woodlander?

But just like that otter maid, the abbot inspired her pity .. he was a weaker beast, the kind of beast she should protect, not harm. Still, as a captain, how could she refuse to capture a woodlander?

I gave into them, I let them manipulate me! Nobeast tells me what to do, I should have shown that Rafglan who was boss right then and there, I should have scared the mouse off and never taken him!

Romsca scowled at her own thoughts. How could she even think such stupid things? But she thought them.

She would likely never have the guts to carry them out, but she thought them.


It took days to repair Darkshroud, Xzaris gave up counting them. They reinforced the mast with twenty thick bands of steel, each of which he'd made from the metal components of other ships.

This done, they replaced the yardarm, and put their full effort into mending the sail. It took a week to see it back in its place, mended and stitched, but still sporting the dragon motif proudly.

Beyond that, a leak in the hull was discovered, and another three days were spent repairing it.

The crew was tired, Xzaris was tired on top of his depression, and the Monitors were eager to be on their way once again, having done nothing but eat and bask in the sun.

It came to a head after about a week and a half, after the pirates were enjoying some well earned rest and food in their camp on the beach. Xzaris was testing the footpaw that had been injured in the fight with the Monitor; he'd pulled his boot off and was looking at it. Scars from the creature's claws tore their way up it, all the way past the ankle.

Xzaris strained to rotate his foot, but while only dull pain greeted him, the paw moved only slightly. The ferret scowled, turning his ankle with his paw, however the instant he let go, it slipped back into it's former position.

He shook his head, slipping his boot back on. After all, it probably didn't matter much in the long run.

Val trotted up. "Capt'n ..."

"Ya want me ta eat somethin' I guess?" Xzaris grumbled, before he met her wild blue gaze. "What's wrong?"

She pointed, panting, "The Monitors .. they're threatenin' Skarbod .."

Xzaris grabbed his pike, running forward, with Val behind. Sure enough, Zurgat had Skarbod backed up against a pile of boulders, and Xzaris jumped beside his first mate, slashing his pike a few inches from the lizard's nose. "Hoi, what goes on anyhow? Ya ain't supposed ta threaten him, if ya gotta complaint, ya bring it ta me!"

Zurgat backed up a little, before hissing, "Mazzter'zz pearlzz are not here .. we muzzt go farther to find them, or you muzzt return. We are wazzting time zzitting and doing nothing."

"We ain't doin' nothin, we're fixin' the ship." Xzaris struggled to keep the anger from his voice. "If we don't fix her right, she's gonna sink, an' we'll all be dead."

The Monitor glared at him a moment, before snarling, "Fine, but you've done a lot with the zzhip. We will wait one more week, and then we will go, either to find the pearlzz, or back to Mazzter."

Xzaris glared at her, unable to suppress the shiver that ran down his back. As the lizard walked off, Skarbod nodded to him. "Thanks capt'n .. when are we gonna leave?"

Xzaris shook his head. "I lied ta her, we got maybe two days lefta work on Darkshroud .. but til we git a stiff breeze from the south, we ain't gonna be able ta git past the Roarin'burn, it'll dash us onna reefs. We don't gotta nough oars .. we're at the mercy a the wind."


It had been a good week and a half of travel for Romsca, hard travel. Tempers were short, Lask was overbearing, and the ferret had caught some of her crew members casting greedy glances at her satchel.

Her own temper was extremely moody, changing from dark and depressed to wrathful at whim, she barely had control of it. But she didn't smile, not even disturbingly, she hadn't hardly smiled since she'd been torn away from her friends.

She was sitting in the driver's seat of the cart, keeping the mousewife's sorrel at a brisk walk. The horse was well trained, but older, and while a willing animal, it tired fast under the rigors of its new surroundings.

The two prisoners hadn't caused more trouble, after her outburst at the male mouse, he'd been silent and wary around her. Sayna's black eyes were always roving for an avenue of escape, but she hadn't had a chance to run since her last disturbance.

Romsca took a deep breath, and paused. She could smell salt in the air, faintly, but obvious.

Rafglan looked over at her from his place at the other end of the driver's seat, not having been in good favor of late. "Sea's nearby."

"I know." Romsca's voice was slightly clipped.

The rat shrugged, looking the other direction again, into the woodlands.

Silence reigned among the pirates, though the chirping of birds, the thud of hooves, and the creaking of the cart dominated their surroundings.

The scout came running up, excitement shining on his face. "Capt'n, we're almost back ta the ship! You'll be able ta see her inna few minutes!"

Romsca felt a surge of relief, and she nodded. "Good, in that case, ya can ride in the cart the resta the way."

He waited until the cart passed where he was, and hopped aboard. Romsca sighed inwardly. Good, they'd soon be free of these choking, sky smothering trees and out on the open sea. It didn't take long in truth, but it seemed to take hours before they caught sight of the beautiful, sparkling water.

The surf rolled briskly up the beach, and Romsca wished she could run into it, laughing and splashing. She wished she could wade out to where it was up to her waist and let the waves splash over her .. just like she and her friends had often done together on the shores of Sampetra.

But no .. she had to be a captain. Romsca scowled, flicking the horse's reins across its back and heading down toward the beach and her ship.

As they neared the Waveworm, anchored not far from the shore, several of the lizards they had left appeared on deck. Romsca felt her ears droop against the back of her head as she muttered, "Well I'm glad ta see nothin' has changed."

It didn't take long to start loading the ship, and Romsca grabbed the two prisoners, eager to get them into the brig where they'd be secure. She was forced to drag the mouse up the rope ladder onto the deck, while several others dealt with the mousewife, because there was no dock to attach the gangplank to.

However the moment Romsca set foot on deck and turned around, she gaped at the filthy mess the ship was. There was half-eaten fish scattered everywhere, rotting and smelling wretched, and blood smeared the planking here and there.

The ferret's voice was a growl. "What is this? Where are the four I left ta guard with ya?"

The lizard she'd addressed met her gaze fearlessly. "We were hungry, they did not fizzh enough for uzz. We do not clean your zzhip, that izz your job."

Romsca's hackles raised in anger as she caught sight of a moldering heap of bloodstained fur, and she snarled. "Arrgg .. Some a ya clean up this mess! See what's lefta our beasts gets a descent burial."

She pulled the wide eyed mouse along, dragging him down into the galley towards the brig. As she undid the ropes about his paws and clamped them in shackles, he gulped, "W .. why do you bring those horrible things with you?"

Rafglan was securing the mousewife, and Romsca sneered, "Do ya really think I want ta?"

She pulled on Sayna's chains to ensure they were tight, slipping out of the brig and locking the steel bars in place as Rafglan hurried upstairs, and the ferret paused, meeting the abbot's gaze.

"Look mouse .. this ain't my idea a fun." Her voice softened, to a sad sound. "None a it is."

Romsca turned around, fastening the keys on her belt and hurrying through the galley, feeling more lost and unsettled than before.

She slipped out onto the deck, curling her lip at the mess it was in, and upon seeing Lask, snarled, "Hey! What right do ya have ta let yer lizards eat me crew?"

The Monitor turned deliberately around, and Romsca felt cold wash over her .. maybe this was one case where she shouldn't have been so vocal. He smiled, showing his teeth. "Four guardzz will not zztop uzz from crozzing the zzea, we do not need them."

Romsca clenched her teeth together, wanting to say more, but the Monitor's yellow eyes dug into her .. frightening, strange eyes that seemed too intelligent for their owner.

She scowled, walking away, though her paw clenched on its own. The crew was working on unloading the cart, and Rubby hurried up. "Capt'n .. I hate ta say this .. but we don't got very much water. We gotta git more while we're still docked .."

Romsca groaned, before nodding, yelling, "Raf, see the water's resupplied!"

She swung over the side, lowering herself easily down the rope ladder, and swimming for shore, as the others had the boat beached. The ferret soon found the bottom with her feet, and waded the rest of the way, ignoring the pull of the waves.

The scout was one on the shore, and as soon as he saw her come ashore dripping, he winced. "Sorry capt'n .. didn't notice ya was needin' the boat .."

Romsca shrugged. "I didn't need the boat."

The stoat scratched an ear, before nodding. "Aye aye, capt'n."

Romsca thought she caught sight of a slight grin, perhaps of admiration on his face, and she rolled her eyes. "Do we got everythin'?"

"Yea, we jist donno what ta do with the horse, we can't take it .. Waveworm ain't set up fer that."

Romsca raised an eyebrow. "Yer tellin' me what me ship can't do? I know what she can do an' what she can't."

He shrugged, and she shook her head. "Lemme deal with the horse."

The ferret stepped beside the animal, running her paw along the side of its neck as she undid the bridle. "Whoa .. easy now. Ya served me well .. I ain't gonna let harm befall ya."

She loosed the traces, just as the sorrel stamped a hoof, tossing its head. Romsca looked around to see one of the Monitors watching, and she could just imagine what they would want .. to eat the horse.

Romsca curled her lip, slapping her paw on the horse's flank. "Ya!"

The creature trotted a few feet, before turning around confusedly, and neighing. However it reared the next second, galloping down the beach as the lizard bounded after it, amazingly fast for its thick stature.

The horse was naturally faster though, and outdistanced it quickly, flying down the strand, its flaxen mane and tail streaming behind it. The Monitor gave up, turning around and crawling back toward the boats, giving Romsca a dirty look.

She smirked, turning around to see her scout watching her with a grin. "That's one way ta show 'em capt'n."

Romsca raised an eyebrow, before shrugging. She could see several beasts bringing back water casks in the other lifeboat, and she ordered, "All beasts back ta the ship .. we raise anchor an' resupply our food elsewhere, this ain't the place."


"I'm jolly well famished .. could we have a spot of lunch, my charmin' cook?"

Tansy rolled her eyes good naturedly. "Oh, would you listen to him?"

Hood walked by, voice tinged with the slightest bit of amusement. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

Clecky chased after the fox, exclaiming, "Why, don't go feedin' the lovely gel bad ideas .. wot a spiffin' chum you are, wot?"

Normally, Grath might have laughed at the antics of the hare and the fox, but today was different. They had been traveling for weeks, mostly with the Moss, but sometimes on land, as they were now. But the otter knew they would soon reach her old home, they would have to, in order to reach the ship.

Grath had grown far more silent then usual, she tried to avoid talking with anybeast, even Martin, and he didn't press her. She looked over at the mouse, who was strumming softly on his lute, humming a little tune and putting in a few words here and there.

He smiled as something seemed to come to him, then went back and played it again.

Plogg and Welko were off acting as scouts, and Cracklyn was practicing tree-jumping. There was a snap from above, and a twig landed on Grath's head, accompanied by a "Whoops!"

The otter shook it off, taking a deep breath of the afternoon air, and pausing. She could smell the sea .. something that had faded to a vague memory of earlier days .. but now it came rushing back.

"Hey! Look .. wow .. that's the sea?" There was a cracking, and Cracklyn dropped down beside Grath.

The otter ran forward a few steps, shoving some branches away and stopping at the edge of a small precipice. There it was, the shining, lapping, wonderful expanse of water she had often walked along in dreams .. only this time it was real.

Grath took a deep breath of the salt air, air that felt wonderful on her constantly dry throat, and somehow, it brought tears to her eyes, though she was anything but sad.

I was meant to live near the sea. I was made for it!

She found herself sliding down the incline, forgetting to walk as she ran forward. "Come on!"

Tansy held onto her straw hat as she tried to keep up, and Grath soon was forced to slow down due to her shortness of breath. However Clecky bounded forward, laughing, "C'mon Hood, last one there's a rotten salad!"

The fox paused only a minute, flicking his ears back a bit, before he ran after the hare, cloak flowing out behind him. Cracklyn scurried up a tree, bounding from branch to branch and jumping to the ground as the trees thinned out.

Martin caught up to Grath and Tansy, asking, "Where do you think Plogg and Welko went? I thought they were supposed to tell us when they reached the sea."

Grath squinted, pointing to where Clecky and Hood had just reached the surf. "Isn't that them, already there?"

"Probably." Tansy had been looking, and now she agreed.

They'd reached the dunes now, as there was very little space between forest and sand. Grath found enough wind to run forward again, her paws digging through the sand and quickly into the water.

She felt the wide smile spread across her face, and let herself fall to her knees in the knee deep water with a laugh. Somebeast splashed her, and Grath grinned widely at Welko, splashing a large amount of water at him with her strong, webbed claws.

There was something magical about being back in the surf, with the cry of gulls all around her .. even Tansy was wading in the ankle-deep tide running up the sand.

"Wheee!" Cracklyn leapt in, getting plowed over by a wavelet, admittedly a large one. The squirrel surfaced the next second, staring blankly at her sopping tail.

"You really lived her me gel? I say, spiffin' place!"

Grath looked at Clecky, a warm smile upon her face. "I really did."

Her happy look faded abruptly, and she stood slowly. "I .. really did."

Clecky looked questioningly at Grath as she walked farther up the beach, for she remembered this place, they were not far from what had once been Holt Lutra.

The sea breeze ruffled her hair as she placed one bare foot in front of the other, anxiety and sorrow rising together within her. There was the pattering of paws as Martin caught up with her, asking, "Can I come?"

Grath paused, considering refusing, but the mouse spoke quickly. "I promise not to bother you, I just don't think splitting up is a good idea."

She nodded, voice quiet as she looked at the ground. "Alright."

Martin shrugged. "Ok .. I told the others to stay where they are until I go get them."

Grath nodded again, not wanting to start a conversation, and her friend fell silent as well.

They'd left the beach, and were walking through the quiet, time-forgotten woodlands. Birds sang, and the soft sound of the surf could faintly be heard in the background .. but Grath paid no attention to these things.

Her mind was on all the memories this place brought. Things she had pushed to the back of her mind for seasons, but now they were all coming back in a flood.

Like here, in these very clearings, Lutran had taught her the basics of archery. Coral had taught her about herbs and what their uses were, her whole family and other members of her holt had picked berries and gone fishing in these now silent glades.

Grath slipped over an incline, looking sadly around at what once had been the central clearing and part of the stream most of the caves sat in. They were still there, uncovered and gaping, like mouths.

She looked over at the one that had once been her home, before looking questioningly at Martin .. would he insist on coming?

But he shook his head. "No .. If you'd rather go alone, I'll just wait out here."

Grath nodded thankfully .. for some reason, she didn't want Martin, or anybeast else, looking over her shoulder. She was the only survivor of Holt Lutra, and this was the place so many had died .. she should go alone.

She slipped through the familiar doorway, almost expecting to hear her mother call a cheery hello from the kitchen, or Marine or her father to look up from their whittling in the cozy little sitting room.

But the cave was cold and empty, just as she'd known it would be, even if she'd wished it to be otherwise.

The furnishings of the sitting room were strewn about, and that stubborn old crack in the cave's roof above them had broken open again with nobeast to fight it. Grath tried to right the ornately carved chair her father had made for her mother, but it fell apart in her paws, half rotted away from the leak in the ceiling.

She took a shuddering breath, walking through the dimness of the hallway, light from the few skylights showing her where to walk. Some of the torch brackets had fallen or been torn from the walls, and the doors to the rooms were open, some hanging askew as if broken into.

Grath paused at the door of the room she'd once shared with Aqua, before walking in slowly. The furniture was scattered and in some cases smashed, the one skylight seemed to have developed a leak, as the area around it looked damp. Combs and jewelry were scattered on the dresser and floor around it, everything valuable missing.

She slowly picked up a damp, ruined lump of color used to put streaks in hair and the symbol of Holt Lutra upon the shoulder, as only warriors were tattooed.

The otter looked at her reflection in the cracked mirror, noting her simple, habit-like dress and neatly done hair, and suddenly pulled the ribbon from it, letting it fall loose. She picked a chipped shell clip off the dresser, and pinned one side of her hair with it.

She lifted her chin, before smearing the color on her fingers, running them through her headfur, creating a long, green streak. Grath reached to do her shoulder, but realized her sleeves were in the way.

She looked around, noting the open trunk at the foot of a sagging bed, and knelt beside it, pulling out damp, ruined dresses and tunics, pausing as her claws touched leather.

The otter pulled out the close fitting, simple two-piece armor that had once been Aqua's though she'd very rarely worn it. Grath looked around for the fishtailed, sleeveless dress that was meant to act as the under layer, and found it laying torn nearby on the floor.

She sighed, for the top was destroyed, trampled and ripped by some careless looter. Grath looked darkly at it a moment, before drawing her short dagger and cutting it off at the waist, at least the skirt had some life in it.

She pulled off her bow and quiver, then her dress. It took a few moments to pull on the fishtail skirt, and the leather armor, but she was soon done and buckled her weapons' belt back on.

Grath stood, walking over to the mirror and looking hesitantly into it. The quiet, neatly dressed abbeymaid was gone, in her place stood a wild looking otter .. a real otter. While she would miss the old her, she somehow knew that was gone for good, and it brought wetness to her eyes.

She dipped her paws in the dye, making a careful wavy line down one shoulder, before rubbing on six dots, three on each side. She then smeared it across the bridge of her nose, continuing the line up her forehead and around her eyes, and repeated the holt symbol on her other shoulder.

Once the dye dried, it would not wash out until she washed with fresh water and soap, and even then it might leave faint stains on her fur. Grath had heard Aqua complain once when Lutran had made her jump and smear it halfway down her face.

She grabbed a small jewelry box, dropping the dye in it and placing it in her satchel should she need it again. The otter grabbed the shell necklace Lutran had made her, slipping it over her head as she noticed Aqua's spare harpoon was still mounted above the doorway .. apparently the corsairs had not deemed it valuable enough to take.

Grath pulled it down, turning and looking in the mirror again. Her voice was soft as she murmured, "I may look a true daughter of Holt Lutra .. but I do not feel it."

Her reflection watched her sadly as she shook her head, hugging the harpoon to herself. "Why? Why did I live when all of you died? Why didn't I die with you?"

She slowly sat on the lid of the trunk, thinking insane thoughts. Thoughts she new well were in her heart, she'd just never dared to let herself think them. "Ignasa .. Ignasa I would be dead long ago had I not believed in you. Would it really be so wrong .. just to die? What use do I have in this world .. this cold, bitter world .. it's too big for me to save. If I was dead, I would see them again .. Coral .. Lutran .. my parents .."

Grath let her head drop forward in her paws, letting tears come into her eyes, though they did not fall. "I've tried not to think of it, but I can't help it .. maybe I really should be dead. They all are .. and I am not worthy to carry the name I bear. I cannot bring justice .. I cannot ... can I?"

She fell silent as she recalled the reflection of Lord Ignasa in the glass, and his words came back.

"I will be with you."

"Will you?" Grath sighed, looking at her sister's harpoon. This really was a matter of trust. Did she really trust that Ignasa knew what he was doing?

She looked around the room, closing her eyes. "Sometimes it doesn't feel like he does."

But then she thought of Redwall, and all the kindness that had been shown to her. "He did let me be taken there. And he wants me to get the abbot back .. and I guess I do trust him. He would not have spoken to me if he thought I could not do it."

Grath snapped her eyes open, shoving herself onto her paws. "There must be a reason I was left alive .. and I've got to find out what."

She looked down at her old dress, before shoving it into her satchel. "This is war .. and it won't be done until we catch that pirate and get our friends back."

Martin was waiting outside, strumming a soft melody on his lute, and he looked around as she approached. "Are you better ...."

His voice faded off as he got a good look at her, and his mouth dropped open. "What happened to you?"

"I .. well I thought I should look like a warrior of Lutra .. even if I'm probably not a very good one." Grath looked self-consciously down at her attire, blushing a little. "And .. the top of the dress was ruined .. so .. I guess this will have to do."

Martin blinked. Grath raised an eyebrow. "What? It is otter armor .. you've seen the Holt Willow otters wear two pieces."

"Yes, but .." Martin paused, stating, "I've never seen you wear it. I'll get used to it."

"That's .." Grath rubbed the side of her head. "Comforting."

The mouse shook his head. "No, it's fine, I just .. well I'm not used to it yet. But .. I'll get used to it. Cause .. oh .. anyway. Now what?"

"Remember I told you about the ship? Well .. I guess we're going to have to fix it up, you know, because it's sat so long." Grath shrugged. "We should go get the others and get started .. it's a little bit of a hike from here."


"That's your ship?" Plogg was staring at the beautifully sleek raider, sitting quietly in a little, sheltered side stream.

Welko nodded. "You said you had a ship, but you forgot to mention she was a galleon! I thought you meant a sailboat or a fishing skiff!"

Grath frowned. "Is that ok?"

"Ok?" Plogg gasped, "It's way better than ok .."

"It's awesome!" Welko finished. "We're going to sail a galleon! A real, respectable sea vessel!"

Clecky, too, was impressed. "I say spiffin' me gel, let's go aboard shall we?"

Cracklyn scurried up the side, unrolling the rope ladder for the others. "This is so amazing! I get to climb the ropes first!"

Grath started up the ladder, Martin and the shrews behind her. The deck was littered with dried leaves from the encompassing trees, and broken branches .. birds had even decided to make nests on the figurehead.

Tansy scrambled up last, and Hood silently helped her. The hedgehog nodded to him, adjusting her hat as she looked around. "Goodness, this place is a mess! The first thing we should do is clear the deck."

"Nah, we should look for leaks first." Plogg disagreed.

Grath shrugged. "We can do both .. and the sail's been left up all these years."

She looked at the torn cloth in dismay. "We aren't going anywhere with that."

"But Grath, what will we make a new sail with?" Tansy asked. "We don't have enough cloth to make something so big."

The otter shook her head, feeling depressed. "I know .. we'll have to look around, and if worst comes to worst, there's a town two days journey north of here. Maybe we can buy something there .. but it'll waste time."

"I say, look on the bright side, it's better then settin' out to sea in a washtub, wot!"

Everybeast looked at Clecky, who defended himself. "I say, I was just pointin' out a jolly bit of truth."

"Aha .." Martin looked dubious. "Right, well we should get started with repairing, I think."

Clecky was willing. "Right ho, you're bally well right my good chap. I've never actually seen one'a these before, but I should make a fine job of fixin' one."

"A fine mess, you mean." Welko laughed.

Plogg nodded. "Yea, leave the repairs to us, and you take down the sail an' see the deck is clean."

Chapter 20 Across the Western Sea

TotO &#039;Facing the Truth&#039;

Arashi talks with Xzaris ..

Xzaris awoke on the fourth morning since his argument with Zurgat, though slowly. He hadn't slept much since he'd set off on this voyage, and when he did, he slept like he was dead.

This must be what Romsca felt like all the time.

The ferret lifted his head from his pallet on the sand, brushing loose hair out of his eyes. It was predawn light, and not many of the crew were up and about, in fact he saw none.

He stood, walking toward the waters of the bay .. or limping, more realistically, as his foot was unresponsive to his wishes. The water gleamed dully in the rising light, and he fingered the light chain he wore doubled around his neck, holding the longer loop out were he could see it.

It didn't look like much, just a dull silver chain, but it was pure silver, though tarnished. He should clean it more often, but he rarely took it off.

Romsca had given it to him several seasons back, as part of his payment for sailing as one of her crew. He could have sold it, but nothing could make him part with it, and he clenched his paw around it, muttering, "If only I was brave 'nough ta say with all me heart that I'd rather die than ya."

Xzaris looked at the chain again, before closing his eyes. "Oh Rom .. find those things. Find 'em so I won't have the guilt a findin' 'em an' seein' ya die. Cause I'd be frozen like I alwus is 'round that Madeyes .. jist find 'em so I kin die an' not think about it."

"Ye care for me daughter, I can see."

Xzaris spun around, finding Arashi watching him, and shook his head wordlessly.

"No, ye do." The older ferret smiled, almost a smirk. "One doesn't need your fox to tell them to guess that."

She sighed, asking, "I suppose Romsca sees ye as a friend and no more?"

Xzaris met her gaze a moment, before looking out across the bay. "How did ya know?"

"Because I was the same way with Conva." Arashi laughed fondly. "The poor beast tried to tell me many times, but I did not see. I was so focused on being the best pirate that ever lived, I truly didn't notice."

She looked like her mind was elsewhere as she shrugged. "Ye see things clearer when ye are older. When ye're young, it's all about proving something. Maybe finding who ye really are. Maybe finding what ye really believe in. And ye miss things. I did .. I'll never know why he loved me."

"When .." Xzaris paused, and Arashi smiled a little.

"Ye can ask me, whatever it is."

He looked up. "What made ya pay attention?"

"Ah, Conva managed to stammer the truth and tell me, after five seasons." Arashi smirked. "I didn't know what to think, but I'd grown fond of him, Romsca's probably the same."

"I .. donno if'n I'd go that far." Xzaris sighed. "An' it wouldn't matter if'n she cared or didn't .. one or botha us are gonna die."

Arashi nodded soberly. "Aye, tell me .. what will ye do if we get off this island?"

"I .." Xzaris shook his head. "I've got ta try an' go farther south. I can't make meself go back .. not yet .. not yet .."

He looked slowly up. "Ya probably think me a coward."

Arashi shrugged. "It is a hard thing ye face."

"I ain't gonna blame ya." Xzaris shuddered. "I am a coward .. around Ublaz at least. Almost anybeast in their right mind is gonna be .. he could tell ya to walk through fire an ya'd do it without a thought. His word is law .. all he has ta do is git ya ta look inta his eyes."

"Me lord is stronger than him." Arashi's brown eyes flickered with something like anger, or perhaps defiance.

Xzaris turned his head a little. "Not strong 'nough ta save Conva, though."

"That is not true." Arashi's answer was sharp. "He did save him."

Xzaris raised an eyebrow, as the older ferret met his gaze. "I'm not crazy. This world isn't made up only of what we can see, and neither are we. Ignasa saved his soul, if he truly repented, or he would be in Hellgates as we speak."

Arashi looked away, and Xzaris felt bad he had brought Conva up, so he tried to reassure her. "Hellgates is only fer wicked beasts .. Conva was a noble capt'n, an' a fair un ta. He'd have gone ta Land of the Sun, I'm sure a it."

"Then ye are gravely mistaken." Arashi's eye were cold. "Me young friend, how would ye have seen all the raids we went on, or how many beasts we killed? No, it was richly deserved, death, and I live on borrowed time. I only wish to see me daughter set in the right path, saved from the evil, and then I will except whatever fate I am given without fear or complaint. At least then, I would be free of guilt."

Xzaris realized he was staring at her. "Where .. did ya hear these things?"

Arashi's eyes flashed with some pain, but she shrugged. "When the Roaringburn threw me and the wreckage I had lashed myself to upon this island, I was delirious and near death, I could not have dragged myself ashore had I comprehended what had happened. No, there was an old shipwrecked sailor living here, a Southswardian jerbilrat, and he'd lived here thirty seasons, alone."

She looked away. "I guess he was glad of any company, and he fished me out and nursed me back to health, though me clothes betrayed me as a Sampetrian and he treated me warily at first. However I only wanted to go home, and nearly killed meself again trying to sail a skiff out of those rip currents .. once again, he fished me out and brought me back from Hellgates. He taught me of his lord, Ignasa, and I believed .. I hoped to one day escape this place and tell me family. The poor beast died of illness three winters ago, the rain always bothered his old joints anyway .. and I guess he just couldn't take it. He must have been over eighty seasons by then anyway."

The ferret met Xzaris's gaze. "Then a storm happened to throw a repairable ship on these rocks, ye, and I suppose what happens next is in your paws, Captain Xzaris."

Xzaris could not meet her gaze. "Ya want ta go ta Sampetra, don't ya."

"I cannot speak. I am not the one going to me death."

Xzaris looked away. "I can't make meself jist go back like that. I gotta try .. though there ain't any joy if'n I find 'em. But I jist .. wull I gotta try. I can't go back til I'm made ta."

He shrugged. "And besides, til the wind changes, we ain't gotta worry about leavin'. We jist gotta wait it out."

Arashi looked around, stating, "I don't think we'll be waiting much longer."

Xzaris lifted his head, eyes fixed on the bay as he paid attention to the soft but steady breeze around him. Sure enough, it was from the south.

If it was strong enough to pull them past the Roaringburn and out to sea, that remained to be seen.


"I say Hood, whatcha got there?"

The fox looked up, before returning to his task, coiling spare rope. "Ropes. Plogg and Welko wish to replace some of the rigging."

His companion crossed the storeroom quickly, piling rope into his arms. "Like this matey, makes it bally fasteeeerrr .."

Some lose coils caught around his paws, sending him toppling into a nearby open sea chest. The lid fell down, and there was an amused snort from Hood, as Clecky's legs, an arm, and ears were still visible, amid piles of rope.

Clecky popped up indignantly, shoving the lid back open. "Is that any way to treat a pal? Laughin' at his jolly calamities?"

"Jolly calamities would be the correct description." Hood's voice held undeniable amusement.

"Rotter." Celcky muttered darkly as he climbed from the trunk, shaking himself. "I say what's in here? Bed sheets? Dish towels? Golly there's a lot of it, whatever the bally stuff is .."

Hood set his rope on a nearby barrel, helping Clecky drag yard after yard of coarse white material out of the trunk. "I believe you found a sail."

Blue and turquoise embroidery was visible now, stitched by expert paws to form a massive dragon motif in the middle of the white expanse. Clecky stared at it. "Good grief, whoever made that knew what they were doing .. an' it must have taken bally forever, wot!"

"Well, Grath will be glad of this." Hood remarked. "And it seems in near perfect condition."

Clecky brightened. "Well there you see, the beast that laughs best laughs last! I'll go tell the lass, wot!"

Hood smirked as his companion bolted up the galley stairs, calling out the good news. Soon everyone had gathered to see Clecky's discovery. Grath stared at the sail, and she looked relieved. "Well we won't have to travel two days north at least."

"Why do you suppose it was down here all this time?" Cracklyn was curious.

"It's the original sail." Grath explained. "When my holt captured this ship and killed every corsair aboard it, they made it a new sail and called it the Seawarrior. But I guess they saved the old pirate sail."

Martin looked relieved. "Lucky for us."

Clecky was digging through the trunk, and pulled out a square of blue cloth with a crouching, winged dragon embroidered on it. "I say, these pirate chaps must be very fond a large lizard types. Well Grath me gel, you get a matching sail and flag, courtesy of sea-beast Clecky!"

The otter smirked, before shaking her head. "I'm not flying their flag .."

She walked over to another trunk, pulling a green cloth out, embroidered with a white and green creature of which the top half was horse and the bottom half was fish. Dark green chevrons ran up the shorter sides of the flag, with three circles on each side. "I'll fly my own."

Tansy blinked. "Ooh, it's so pretty!"

"Uh-huh." Cracklyn agreed. "With the cool fish-horse thing .. hey, can I put it up there? I've been up in the crow's nest and it's an awesome view."

"I say, didn't get height-sick?" Clecky asked.

Cracklyn snorted. "I'm a squirrel Clecky, now can I?"

Grath handed her the flag. "Ok. And can you untie the old sail?"

"No problem!" The squirrel skipped up toward the deck, and Hood started to fold up the dragon sail.

Grath helped him, as did Martin. "Well .. let's get this up on deck. It looks like we've got our work cut out for us today."


Romsca sat on Waveworm's window seat, staring out at the sea dully. They'd spent a few days fishing along the shores of Mossflower, but now they were headed across the ocean toward Sampetra.

Lask was antsy to be on his way, so they didn't have as much food as Romsca would have liked, but she figured what they had would get them home.


What awaited her there? Seeing her friends brutally murdered, just like her father?

"Oh Xzaris .."

She paused, wondering why she would think of him first, Rasconza was in the same danger. But then, Xzaris had grown closer to her over the last seven seasons, and she no longer felt that deep a connection with the dog-fox. He was still a good friend, but he wasn't her best friend, unlike how it had almost been the opposite when they were younger.

And what about Val? Where would she land in all this chaos? Back at the tavern with Kia? Boyfriend-less?

Romsca smirked, thinking of how Rasconza and Val would fight and then kiss each other in the same day. She'd always rolled her eyes at them, but she knew Val would be devastated to see Rasconza die.

I'll take care of her. Romsca promised herself. As long as I'm alive. She might be frustrating sometimes, but she's still .. my awesome pirate sister.

The ferret was smiling at the thought of the hyperactive vixen, when she heard the faint sound of voices from below. At first she passed them off as crewbeasts, but soon it was obvious it wasn't .. it was the mice in the brig.

Romsca knelt, laying her head on the floor of her cabin as the male mouse spoke. "Well, she doesn't seem so bad .. you know what I mean .. for a pirate. Maybe we could get her on our side .. maybe she's not entirely evil."

"Durral." The way the mousewife said his name, it was obvious she was unimpressed. "Not because she's a pirate, and a ferret, but because she is a mortal without the grace of Ignasa .. she is fully evil. And not to be biased, but I know a thing or two about Sampetra. Don't trust her, no matter what."

The male sounded indignant. "I didn't say I trusted her. You put words in my mouth. Just because I'm the abbot of Redwall doesn't mean I'm stupid, in fact, it has the opposite connotation last time I checked."

There was a pause, and Romsca could imagine the two glaring defiantly at each other.

"Of course not." Sayna's tone was clipped. "You probably have great knowledge of the scholarly sort. But how about real life .. wickedness, cutthroats, war, and pirates, how much do you know about that? Making some unruly dibbuns wash the supper dishes hardly qualifies."

Durral sounded disgusted. "Well you needn't insult me. Running an abbey is not as easy as it looks."

"Whatever Durral." There was a clinking, indicating Sayna had shifted her position.

"Besides that." The mouse stated, a little frustrated. "What of the pearls she found? She's going to give them to her evil master."

"I know."

"And? Are you going to let her?"

There was a clanking, and Sayna's voice was confused. "Durral, I thought you were the peaceful abbot. Why do you care about these pearls?"

A moment of silence followed, before Durral stammered, "Well .. I mean .. you didn't see them! They're beautiful .. I .. "

"You want them." Was the conclusion.

"Well .. not in a bad way, just to see them again." The mouse's voice sounded awed as he spoke of them. "They're wonderful .. the moment I saw them, I knew they could make me a perfect abbot, and help me rule Redwall in peace and friendship without mistake. If only I had them! You wouldn't understand."

There was a long pause, and Sayna finally replied, albeit a bit grimly. "I think I might."

Durral's chains clanked as he moved a little bit. "What do you mean by that? Do you want them too? I saw them first you know."

"No. I don't. And if you knew the legend of them, you might be the wiser beast and leave them be." Sayna's voice was hard, and she volunteered no reason for her mindset, even though Romsca wished she would.

And she did the next moment, when Durral pressed her. "Why? What harm can they bring?"

"I've seen your pearls, the six rose-colored tears of the oceans. I could go into detail of when, but you wouldn't believe me. However I saw them, that is what matters, and found them quite beautiful .. which led me to research history for any sign of them .. and there is little, but enough."

Sayna paused, before stating, "In this world, there are certain things, special things, that abide in it but are not of it. And from all I see, these pearls are one of those. They are perfect, but we are not. However .. we were created perfect, therefore we will always strive to be perfect again, and in our evil, we think we can perfect ourselves. Do you follow me?"

There was silence.

Sayna sighed. "That's what I thought. Short and long of it, we long for a perfection, however twisted our understanding of perfection is. So as mortals, we tamper with what we should not and look to anything we imagine can bring us what we desire, anything except Ignasa. Now if you don't mind Durral, I'm going to sleep. I'm not as young as I once was and being jostled around in a cart for two weeks and chained to the wall in a brig doesn't agree with me as well as it would have two hundred seasons ago."

There was silence for a moment, before the male mouse sighed. "I don't think I'll ever understand you."

Sayna's voice was muffled, as if she had laid down on the floor and put her head on her arm. "The feeling is mutual."

Romsca waited a few moments, but no more conversation was forthcoming. The ferret sat up slowly, leaning up against the window seat and rubbing the back of her neck.

Why did that mousewife have to talk in riddles? Why couldn't she just be honest and say what she meant? Listening to her had a way of making Romsca's head ache infernally, as if it didn't ache enough.

She didn't have much time to ponder what she had heard, as there was a soft knock on her door. Romsca leapt nimbly onto her paws, snarling, "What'da ya want Raf?"

"Capt'n, it ain't Rafglan, it's yer scout, Kage."

Romsca raised an eyebrow, confused. "Well .. what'd ya want? Is there a problem? Yer interuptin' me."

His voice was a bit hard to hear, as if he was keeping it low on purpose. "No capt'n, sorry .. an' yes capt'n .. kin I come in?"

"Why?" Romsca was slightly suspicious. "Ya know Rafglan's the only one that comes in here, sides Rubby bringin' me meals. State yer purpose."

"Please capt'n, I'm tryin' ta help ya, but if'n I'm seen, I might not be able ta."

Her curiosity aroused, Romsca grabbed her axe from where it lay on her desk and unbolted the door, letting the dusky stoat in. "Alright, but ya better be on the level. If this is a joke I'll make ya pay, an if ya play me false, I'll kill ya, unnerstood?"

Kage nodded. "Perfectly capt'n."

"Then what have ya got ta tell me?"

He looked around, and Romsca bolted the door, motioning to the window. "If yer worried bout bein' heard, come over here."

The stoat nodded. "Look, it ain't me, an' when Hellgates break loose, ya gotta remember I was good 'nough ta warn ya."

"I have a good mem'ry. What do ya speak of?" Romsca lifted her chin a little.

"It's Cheng." Kage stated. "Now I knew Cheng from the streets, an' if'n he don't git what he wants, he'll take it or take revenge. Ya didn't give him what he wanted, capt'n."

Romsca sneered. "I'd sooner gut him then kiss him, dog that he is. So he's leadin' a mutiny 'gainst me, eh? I figgered he'd try somethin' sooner or later."

"I kinda guessed ya felt that way capt'n. But I never seen him this mad an' hateful. He ain't gonna give up easy." Kage warned.

Romsca grinned. "All beasts give up when they're dead."

Kage paused before smirking. "Point taken. He says he ain't gonna move til he has a good chance."

"I ain't gonna give him one. He'll die today."

"I donno if that's a good idea capt'n. The thing is, all the crew that saw those pearls are goin' along with him." Kage stated. "They wanna kill ya an' take 'em."

Romsca gave him a look. "Well why ain't ya with 'em? Don't ya want the pearls too?"

Kage shrugged. "I didn't see 'em capt'n, r'member, ya sent me off ta git the others."

"Aye, I do now." She scowled. "An' I suppose ya is right, the Monitors'll defend me, kill a lot a the crew, an' I won't git ta kill Cheng meself. Ya seem a clever beast. Sides bein' scout on land, how 'bout ya be me chief lookout, an' me spy among the crew. I'll give ya a raise."

"How much'a one?" Kage raised an eyebrow.

Romsca scratched her chin. "How 'bout double, an' I'll throw in a few gold trinkets."

She reached into her desk, pulling out some bejeweled gold hair pins. "How about these as down payment? They'll fetch ya a good price on Sampetra."

Kage took the pins, and nodded. "Aye, I'll do it."

"Good. An' stay loyal." Romsca ran her gloved paw softly along the blade of her axe. "There ain't nothin' I hate more'n disloyalty. An' if ya turn, ya better pray I'm killed, or I'll make yer life short an' yer death agony."

"I hear ya capt'n." Kage smirked, and Romsca met his gaze steadily. This was no conceited fool like Cheng. Kage would be a worthy adversary, and for now, a most useful spy.

She sneered, though it was good naturedly this time. "Thank ya fer tellin' me. Go do what yer supposed ta."


TotO &#039;No, That Way!&#039;

Steering Darkshroud .. :P

By midmorning, Darkshroud was fully supplied and everybeast was aboard, minus one crew member and with a new recruit. The rat that had been attacked by the monitor Xzaris had killed had died, and Arashi had joined up as a lookout.

Xzaris and Skarbod stood by the wheel, watching the sail billow in the wind, which had picked up. The ferret looked at his first mate. "I donno Skarbod .. think we kin pull this off?"

"We ain't gonna git a better chance capt'n." Skarbod pointed this out calmly, shrugging. "The Monitors ain't willin' ta stay here much longer."

Xzaris sighed. "Aye, that's the truth."

He leaned over the forecastle railing, shouting, "Hoist the anchor! Alla ya I assigned ta oars, git ta 'em!"

There was a general flurry of activity, and the ship shuddered as the clanks of the anchor rising were heard. Xzaris gripped the wheel, nodding to Skarbod. "Git ready ta help me hold this .. we've got ta keep her goin' straight 'cross the Roarin'burn or we'll git smashed ta pieces."

The wind had caught the sail, and Darkshroud was moving forward quickly, toward the opening of the atoll's crater. Skardbod pointed toward the whitecaps breaking against the reefs, asking, "Yer sure we're in the right place?"

"Arashi took me out ta the cliffs an' showed me the path with no rocks." Xzaris tensed as the ship picked up a little speed, the creatures using the oars having begun to row. "Yer jist gonna have ta trust me."

Skarbod nodded. "A'right capt'n."

The ship was caught in the outer edge of the Roaringburn, and Xzaris could feel the heavy pull on the tiller .. it wanted to jerk the wheel from his paws, and he tightened his grip.

"Row!" The ferret's yell was tight as he called to the oarsbeasts below deck. "Row with all yer strength til I tell ya not ta!"

Xzaris braced himself as the current battered against the tiller, and he nodded to Skarbod. "Help me hold her. We gotta steer round one reef, come'n up here .."

The stoat helped to hold the tiller, and Xzaris watched the surf come closer, before shoving on the wheel. "Now! Turn her inta the current!"

"Inta it?" Skarbod's voice was a gasp, and the two strained to turn the ship, but the wheel rotated only a fractional amount thanks to the driving Roaringburn.

"I said turn her!" Xzaris's teeth were clenched.

Skarbod groaned, shoving up on the ship's wheel again. "I'm .. tryin' capt'n .."

Xzaris caught sight of Val, running along the deck toward the forecastle. "Val! Git up here an' help us!"

He looked at the quickly approaching reef as the vixen hurried up the stairs. She seemed to put two and two together in the one moment she took to look at them, grabbed the wheel near the top, and jumped up, curling her legs beneath her as she yanked down.

The added weight jerked the wheel around, turning Darkshroud away from the treacherous reef, though too slow. There was a jolt and a terrible scraping sound as the hull ran over submerged rocks.

Xzaris's hair billowed around his face as a burst of wind caught the sail, sending the ship jolting forward and out of the Roaringburn, into open sea.

Val opened one eye, still crouching on the deck and holding the wheel in a death grip. "Did it work?"

Zurgat came bounding up the stairs, hissing, "Get down there and zzee what we hit! Thizzz zzhip cannot zzzink! Go fix it, zzzee there izz no water!"

"Oh." Val sighed. "Guess it didn't."

Skarbod pulled himself to his paws. "I got her now capt'n."

Xzaris nodded his thanks, bolting down the stairs to see what damage had been done. Arashi appeared at the hatch, yelling, "Hey, we got trouble down here!"

As he ran across the deck, Xzaris shouted orders. "Furl the sail! Turn her inta the wind, we're goin' south!"

He swung down the hatch, landing with a splash. "Hellgates .."

The ferret grabbed the nearest beast, shaking them a little. "Ya! Git me tools!"

Arashi grabbed his arm. "Over there, the leaks there .. Hey, some a ye, get to bailing!"

"Aye, ya heard her, move!" Xzaris turned to the older ferret. "Git me some boards. If ya gotta break down the galley door, by Atlas git me some boards!"

He threw himself to his knees in the brackish water, seeing the source of their troubles, a crack running a few feet. It was just at the water level, but each time a wave slapped against the hull more water came in .. every ten seconds or so.

By now beasts were throwing themselves into bailing, and the beast he had sent for his tools came sloshing quickly back through the ankle-deep water.

Xzaris grabbed his hammer and some nails as Arashi came running with an armload of boards. He seized a longish one, laying it across the crack and pounding a nail into one side. "Somebeast hold her up!"

Arashi did so, clamping the board firmly to the wall, and Xzaris pounded his side down, before moving on to the one she was holding. This stemmed the leak most of the way, and Xzaris added more boards around the first, before nailing some shorter boards across them to help hold them in place.

The water level had dwindled now, thanks to the bailing crew, and Xzaris rubbed a grimy paw across his forehead. "Let's look fer more, jist in case."

However there was a shout from above deck, Skarbod. "Capt'n! Git up here quick, we got company!"


Ublaz might have been watching any number of places at any given moment, but at this particular moment he was watching Rasconza's ship, and darkly.

He showed no emotion beyond knitting his eyebrows and tightening his otherwise expressionless jaw. For once, he did not smile. And while one might have thought his smile conveyed anger as well as a frown, to see not one drop of mirth on the Emperor's face was to see fury.

Through the glass of his crystal ball, he could see the deck of the Bloodkeel, and what should have been a terrible battle .. as it was, it was more of a slaughter, with a weak scramble here and there.

The Monitors simply could not fight back, though they tried. But Rasconza's beasts fought as one, distracting, charging, leaping out of the way until the lizard pulled itself off the ground .. only to be impaled.

Ublaz's paw slowly curled into a fist, his many rings tightening about his knuckles. That fox had dared to defy him? He would face torture after torture .. he would have a chance to experience Hellgates fully before he took up residence there.

He could see the fox now, goading one of the Monitors with his long dirk, dancing always out of reach. Suddenly he spun around, kicking the lizard hard across the face, his expression a grim smile.

The Monitor jumped at him, only to be brought down by a waiting crewbeast; and as it was a shivering, sick looking heap of misery, it struggled little.

Rasconza suddenly looked toward Ublaz, a twisted grin on his muzzle, and the pine marten realized he must be looking at the last living Monitor. The fox and several others ran forward, and Ublaz's vision backed away from them .. he could hear its feeble hiss in his ears.

There was truly nothing he could do but watch as the pirates attacked, pulling the struggling lizard to the ground, and the image on the crystal surface faded away.

Ublaz slowly stood, expression tense with suppressed anger.

"Sire? Are you alright?"

He looked toward the doorway, to see Sagitar standing there, expression honestly concerned.

Ublaz blinked, letting his stiffness drain away and replacing it with a smile. "Our little fox boy thinks he has gotten away from us. He'll learn just how powerful the emperor is."

"Having .. difficulties, sire?" Sagitar looked dubious.

"Nothing we can't handle." Ublaz smirked. "Rasconza has chosen to follow in his father's pawprints. We'll have to help him do that fully."

Sagitar smiled darkly. "I can guess where this is going. But what did you mean by him thinking he's gotten away?"

Ublaz grew serious again. "It is a very minor setback. In fact it's really no setback at all. Rasconza went far enough north that the Monitors froze, and he has killed them. But he can gain no real following up there, where is he to go? The highlands? Terramort? I doubt any northerner will be glad to see a Sampetrian."

"That is true .." Sagitar paused. "But that means you cannot see him!"

The pine marten smiled a little, sighing. "Of course general. Now I suppose he might try to sneak along Mossflower's coast, he might."

He looked at Sagitar expectantly, and she suddenly sneered, "Aye, but his friends are coming here."

"Exactly." Ublaz pulled a bottle of wine from his desk, asking, "Won't you join me general?"

She bowed. "If it is your desire, milord."

"It is." Ublaz poured her a drink, handing it to her and pulling up a chair. "Do have a seat."

He handed her a chalice, before sitting down himself. "Now understandably, he won't want to leave his friends to suffer and die all by themselves .. he'll want to save them. So when he does come back, we need to be ready for him."

Sagitar smiled. "Well that is simple enough, we'll simply send the captains to patrol the northern waters .. say twenty miles or so north of Sampetra."

"A rat after my own heart, general." Ublaz smirked. "Order that all the captains stay in port and that they do not go anywhere without my approval."

"Well, one just left, the day before last .. but we have about twenty in port at this time."

Sagitar cocked one ear to the side. "But if he's coming back, why don't we send them out now?"

"Too rash my dear, too rash." Ublaz twirled his whiskers. "The boy can't possibly make it back in less than three weeks, the winds are steady from the south. To send captains out now would simply be a waste of resources, but I need them here, available. I'll send them out in two weeks or so, to be safe."

"As always, you know best, sire." Sagitar nodded. "If the winds are from the south, does that mean your little gray ferret is on his way back?"

Ublaz smiled. "Hmm .. now that is a good thought general. How about we take a look?"

He turned his chair a little, tapping on the crystal ball. "Show me Xzaris."

The image on the glassy surface swirled into focus, to a scene of chaos.


Xzaris bolted up on the deck, and Skarbod was waiting for him. "Capt'n, it's a Southswardian ship, by Hellgates she's a lot bigger'n us!"

The ferret grabbed the spyglass from his first mate, putting it to his eye and twisting it around until the other ship was clearly visible. Sure enough, it was a ship from Southsward, evidenced by the chunky design and many oars, and Xzaris's voice was tight. "It looks like a large merchant at least .. might be a battle ship, though those ain't often caught outa lone."

He looked up at the sail, to see it was still down, sporting the dragon for all to see. "I thought I said furl the sail!"

"Aye ya did capt'n .. but mosta the crew was a bailin'." Skarbod made a face. "What're we gonna do now?"

Xzaris hesitated a moment, before turning to the stoat. "We run. Git the crew ready in case we're boarded."

"Boarded?" Val grabbed the hilt of her saber, and Xzaris groaned.

"I ain't sayin' this minute, jist in case. I'm gonna turn her 'bout."

He tucked the spyglass into his silk sash, hobbling quickly up the forecastle steps and taking the wheel from Arashi. She walked to the railing as Xzaris turned Darkshroud about, and the ferret's voice was grim. "They're after us. Hope ye got that mast right."

"Me ta." Xzaris muttered, looking up at the billowing sail.

The ship responded quickly, as the breeze was stiff, but the other ship had the same winds and at least twice as many rowers. It wasn't lost on Xzaris they were going to be caught in less than ten minutes, there was simply no way around it.

"They will show no mercy." Arashi's voice was tight, yet tinged with sorrow. "For the mercy we show them."

Xzaris met her gaze. "They ain't takin' me ship with me sittin' down. I weren't after them, I only ever killed one beast in a raid an' it was cause they wouldn't stop fightin' .. I don't like killin' beasts."

His eyes snapped. "But if ya gotta, ya gotta."

Zurgat came leaping up the stairs for the second time that day, snarling, "Where izz that other zzhip from? What are they doing following uzz?"

"They wanna kill us an' take the ship, ain't that obvious? They're Southswardians, and they won't let a Sampetrian ship go if'n they think they kin take her. An' they kin take us real easy, we're nothin' but prey fer a ship that big." Xzaris snapped this, not in the best of humors.

The Monitor watched him a moment, before showing her teeth. "I know who will be prey, them. A feazzt for uzz."

Xzaris glared at her. "Ya can't stop 'em ferever."

"They don't know how to fight uzz." Zurgat paused at the top of the stairs. "Prepare for battle, captain."

She leapt down to the lower deck, scales rippling in the sunlight, and let out a screeching roar, her frills standing up aggressively. In a few seconds the fourteen lizards in her command congregated around her, hissing excitedly.

Xzaris sighed. "Then again .."

Arashi was watching them disdainfully. "Disgusting, bloody beasts."

"Wull they might jist get us outa this mess," Xzaris pointed out. "Much as I hate 'em."

There was the sound of steel being drawn, and he looked around to see Arashi draw both her blades at once. Her eyes were dark with many an emotion, and Xzaris paused. "Will ya fight with us?"

"I don't want to kill woodlanders." Arashi's voice was hard. "But it's not like I'll have much of a choice. It's not like they would listen to a vermin like me."

Xzaris met her gaze for a moment, before sighing, nodding, and turning to the waiting Skarbod. "Prepare ta repel boarders."

"No." Both looked at Arashi, who shook her head. "As long as we keep them off this ship, they'll shoot us to death easily. When they get their beasts on our decks, they'll stop to avoid shooting their own, and with your .. lizards, that's how we'll drive them away."

Xzaris paused, before nodding. "I got a plan .. it's crazy but it's our only chance."

He limped quickly down the stairs, yelling, "Zurgat! Zurgat hide yer beasts, when we start fightin' ya come out an' overwhelm 'em. Val? Ya got a fire goin' in the galley?"

"Me lantern .."

"That'll work. Skarbod, yer an' archer ain't ya? Wull here's the plan .."

He grabbed the stoat, whispering a few things in his ear. "And hurry!"

The other ship was drawing alongside them now, and Xzaris drew his pike and long knife, snarling, "Form ranks!"

Arashi crouched down, holding both swords ready, one before her and one behind. There was a swishing as a grappling hook swung through the air, catching on the railing with a foreboding clunk.

A dozen or so more followed it.

Xzaris braced himself as there was the jolt of the two ships bumping each other, and he caught sight of Val and Skarbod climbing the rigging from the corner of his eye. They better do their job well, or this was a lost cause.

A few arrows hissed through the air, and Xzaris ducked as one sped past his ear. "Stand firm!"

"Attack! Send the scum to Hellgates!"

This cry came from the other ship, and in an instant, a menagerie of well-armed squirrels, jerbilrats, mice, and even a few weasel-like beasts jumped to the Darkshroud's deck, and the battle erupted in full fury.

Xzaris crossed blades with a mouse first, whose flashing eyes mirrored the intensity in his own. The creature blocked his thrust, snarling hatefully as the ferret slashed at him with his knife.

He dropped to one knee, raising his shield above his head as he cut at Xzaris's legs, but his opponent was too well trained to fall for the trick.

Xzaris sneered, jumping and curling his tail up in the same second. As he came down however, his bad ankle buckled beneath him, sending him sprawling at his enemy's feet.

He didn't have time to raise his pike before the mouse pinned his saber across his throat. "Some pirate ..."

The Southswardian had no time for more as Xzaris kicked him hard in the legs, thrusting with his pike in the same moment. There was a flash of pain along the side of his neck from this sudden movement, but the other beast fell in a heap.

Xzaris recovered his feet in a heartbeat as Zurgat ran past him, plowing an attacker down and tearing them savagely. He clamped a paw on the side of his neck, feeling the warm blood running down his shoulder and chest, and he looked back up at the rigging. Where were Val and Skarbod?

The two in question were in the crow's nest; Val dipping rags in oil, tying them around arrows, lighting them, and handing them to Skarbod. He fitted them quickly on his bow, drew back, and shot them into the larger ship's sail, a target he was unable to miss.

"Why ain't it catchin'?" Val's voice was tight. "We've shot five or so in it, why ain't it on fire?"

Skarbod shook his head. "Wind's too strong .. it's blowin' the fire out before it has a chance ta git goin'!"

Val made a face, suddenly grabbing the bucket of oil and swinging down onto the rigging. Skarbod stared at her. "What're ya doin'?"

"I'm gonna help it burn." The vixen clamped the handle in her teeth, swinging down the ropes and getting a good view of the battle in doing so.

Xzaris's left shoulder and his white tunic were covered in blood, but he fought still, Arashi defending his back with her two flashing swords. The Monitors were wreaking havoc, but the Southswardians refused to retreat, probably banking on wearing them down with their greater numbers.

Still, they were focused on the deck of the Darkshroud, and that was the good thing. The two ships were lashed together by the grappling hooks, their hulls practically touching .. it was a long jump, but if she could save Xzaris ..

The vixen tensed, not giving herself time to think about how crazy this was. She did a lot of crazy things, the key was to do them without thinking of possible outcomes and hope everything went well.

She jumped, and the world sped by for a split second before she landed clumsily on the other ship's rigging, sloshing some of the oil on herself .. thankfully not enough to ruin her plan.

Val scrambled up the rigging, until she was even with the sail. It's just like throwing water across the deck. Yea! Like that!

She hurled the oil at the sail, and it splattered across the white surface a ways. Val slid down the rigging, leaping back on the ropes of the Darkshroud as a flaming arrow spun through the air, sinking into the oily patch of sail cloth.

For one moment, nothing happened. Then flames began licking up the sail, turning it into a roaring inferno in less than a minute.

"Ha!" Val looked up at Skarbod. "That's how ya do it!"

She planted her boot better on the rigging, just as there was a sharp hiss, and something sank into her shoulder, sending her reeling back. Her claws caught on the rope ladder for one second as she let out a yip of pain, and then they tore through the fibers and she was toppling off into oblivion.

The next second she was hitting something hard .. and wet .. no, she was underwater! She struggled to reach the surface, but her right arm would not cooperate and she wasn't even sure which way was up.

Still, she should have come up by now .. sea water was so hard to sink in .. normally. But it was almost like she was caught in an eddy .. maybe she was spinning. Or falling .. but darkness overwhelmed her, and now she was sinking in that instead of water.

Xzaris had seen what Val had done .. jumping over to the other ship .. throwing oil onto their sail .. jumping back on the Darkshroud and forgetting about everything .. just like her to do so.

The Southswardians were running back to their burning ship now, desperate to put out the fire .. but not in such a hurry that one didn't take a shot at the one who was responsible for the damage.

Val took the arrow clean through her right shoulder, and of course, toppled into the water.

"No!" Xzaris heard his own voice ring out as he bolted for the railing, his accursed clubfoot buckling beneath him as he was almost there. Somebeast ran past him, leaping gracefully overboard in a flash of orangey fur.

He grabbed a nearby coil of rope, staggering back on his paws and grabbing the railing, scanning the waters for any sign of the two, rope poised to throw.

With the grappling hooks cut and the other ship's sail all but burnt, Darkshroud was making good speed away, but that also left a sickening feeling in Xzaris's stomach.

Let me see them .. just let me see them!

Arashi appeared the next second, a limp Val's tunic between gritted teeth. Xzaris hurled the rope at her, yelling, "Grab on!"

The ferret did so, and Xzaris hauled on the rope, yanking them toward the ship. In those few minutes, he felt he had the strength to do anything, so powerful was his desperation not to loose Val or Arashi .. both of who had found an irreplaceable part in his life, especially Val.

The ferretwife's paw suddenly gripped the railing, and Xzaris grabbed it, helping to pull her on board. Val was gasping now, coughing, and trying to shake herself all in the same moment. Arashi laid her down on the deck, and the vixen let out a sudden yelp of pain from the arrow in her shoulder.

Arashi held her down, shaking her head. "Don't move .. hang on, I'll get it out .. somebeast get me some bandages!"

Xzaris made a move to do what she said, but his legs buckled beneath him .. both of them this time .. and he collapsed to the deck, the rush of excitement fading away and leaving him limp. He drew in a shuddering breath, realizing the side of his neck throbbed, and he could smell blood .. his own or other beasts', he did not know.

There was a flurry of activity around him, and somebeast's paws lifted his head.

"Val first .. I ain't that bad .. help her first ..."

But he couldn't even hear his own voice anymore, and he gave into the blackness, at least it brought mercy from the pain.


Grath sat on the railing of the Seawarrior, holding a fishing pole idly. All that day she'd been fishing and helping repair the ship, thankfully the vessel had been sheltered enough that aside from the sail, some torn rigging, and a few leaks, there wasn't that much to do.

Tansy and Cracklyn had been gathering wild vegetables, roots, and nuts all day, and they had a sizable collection.

There was a scuffing behind her, and Martin swung himself up onto the railing a few feet away, his fur and hair ruffled and grimy. "Phew .. I'm glad Clecky decided it was time for dinner. That hold is a mess."

He scrubbed a paw across his brow, leaving a dirty streak. "What?"

"You're filthy .. what's wrong down there?" Grath raised an eyebrow.

Martin shook his head. "Nothing really, Welko says it's normal. There's been a few leaks develop over the seasons, and the water made an awful sludge in the bottom. Hood, Clecky, and I have spent the whole day cleaning it out."

Grath looked down at the water, tugging on her fishing pole a little bit to attract something, if any fish happened to be paying attention. Martin rubbed his paws together, trying to get some of the dirt off, but only succeeded in smearing it. He sighed. "The truth is .. do we really know what we're getting into?"

Grath shook her head. "Probably not. But I'm going to face whatever we must face .. as well as I possibly can. It's all I can do."

She smirked, laying her head on one paw. "I could say I'm not afraid, but that'd be a lie. And I don't like lying."

"Yea." Martin copied her action, sitting straight up again as his paw left a dirty streak along the side of his face. "The truth is we're just a bunch of silly youngbeasts who might have all had a weird dream."

"Well .." Grath looked up. "I saw Ignasa!"

Martin met her gaze a moment, before nodded. "I believe you .. and I know what I saw. But it's fading now, and I can't help but wonder if it was just rash, and we're all going to die for it."

Grath gave him an unimpressed look, and Martin gestured out at the surrounding forest and river with one paw. "I don't like to be the naysayer, but we're messing with one of the most powerful vermin nations the world has ever known. Sayna told me some about them .. and oh boy. I hope we're okay."

He slumped down a little. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm crazy."

Grath paused, before pulling her hook up to see some clever fish had nibbled every speck of bait from it. "Don't think you're alone it that."

"Of course .." Martin sighed. "It is the right thing. It is and I know it .. and I want to do it .. but .."

He flopped backwards onto the deck, staring up at the sky. "If only I was braver."

Grath didn't say anything, just stared across the quiet, moonlit river. If only she was braver as well. And just generally stronger. She sighed wordlessly, and Martin added, "At least I won't have to worry about Piknim."

"At least I won't have to worry about learning healing with Viola, like Cicely wanted." Grath shrugged.

"Yea." Martin's voice was faraway. "At least we won't have to worry about trimming the orchard like my dad wanted us to do this summer."

There was silence, before Martin sighed. "I hope mom and dad aren't too worried."

"I left a note." Grath stated. "Maybe it will help."

"I doubt it. After her childhood .. being captured by Slagar the Slaver and all, mom wanted to keep me out of battles." He shrugged. "I guess war isn't something you can really avoid."

Grath looked at the shimmering water far below. "No. Either you go to it or it comes to you, sooner or later. I've seen what happens when it comes to you. This time, I'm coming to it."

Martin sat up, nodding. "I hope Abbot and Sayna are alright."

"At least they can help each other .. being pirates, they might have separated them." Grath paused. "Sayna can take care of herself, but I don't know about father abbot."

"Sayna will protect him .. then we'll save them both. I hope." Martin laid his head back down on the deck.

The galley door swung open, letting out a gleam of lantern light. Clecky stepped out. "Oh I say, there you are. Well come and have some scoff, the darlin' cook has done it again."

Tansy's voice sounded embarrassed, but pleased. "Oh Clecky .."


"Ahh .." Xzaris came awake slowly, murmuring a little at the pain in his neck. There was a firm but gentle paw laid on his shoulder, and Arashi's voice came to him.

"Don't move too fast, ye took a hard hit back there."

He blinked his eyes open, to find he was laying in his hammock, bandages around the side of his neck and shoulder. Arashi shook her head. "How ye pulled the foxmaid and I out of the sea, I'll never know. Ye lost enough blood ye are lucky it didn't kill ye."

Xzaris laid a gentle paw on the bandages. "What .. happened?"

"Ye got us on deck, and then ye fainted." Arashi smirked. "Surprised ye didn't do it sooner. Ye had a gash between yer neck and shoulder that was bad enough to scare me."

"Wull .. I'm ok." Xzaris protested.

"Yes, yes, I know." Arashi sounded sarcastic. "Ye are one who is always ok, until he is dead."

Xzaris sighed, sensing the ferretwife had her mind made up. "What 'bout Val?"

Arashi shrugged. "She is stiff and hurting, but she is recovering well for her injury. Skarbod and I are taking care of the ship for ye while ye heal."

"Wait .." He turned his head a little, and wished he hadn't. "How long've I been sleepin'?"

"Two days." Arashi lifted his head, pouring a little water into his mouth. "Not really a surprise to me. Val's up and about though .. wanted to go back to cooking, so I let her."

Xzaris tried to sit up, but fell back with a groan. "Ok if'n I go back ta capt'nin'?"

Arashi rolled her eyes. "Didn't ye just prove to yeself ye aren't ready?"

"I s'pose not .. but what 'bout me ship? An' the Monitors? An' where is we goin'?"

"Captain, I'm sorry. We sighted another Southswardian ship .. we're caught in steady southern winds, and I .." Arashi paused. "There's really nothing we can do. If we fight it to go south again, we may meet more from Southsward, or we may row against the winds long enough we run out of rations for the lizards .. which of course means .."

"They'll eat us." Xzaris sounded disgusted. "I think I'd rather be killed by Southswardians or eaten by lizards .. than face what that mad-eyed marten's gonna do ta me."

He looked down, lifting his gaze to met hers, then dropped it with a heavy sigh. "But ya don't deserve that. Not ya, not Val, or Skarbod, or any a this crew. I'm jist the one the Elements hate, they've hated me since I was born. Everybeast has .. sept Rom, Rasconza, an' Val. An' Barranca an' yer Conva."

Xzaris shifted his gaze to the ceiling with a sigh. "Guess some are jist born with all the bad luck. Maybe if'n I git it all, Romsca won't."

He thought for a moment, before snorting, "Like that's really been workin'. Nah. I wasn't never worth much ta nobeast. Jist a dirty commoner, with no dad an' no real family. Except ta me three friends an' Rom's family. They really didn't see me like that. Not that it really matters. Ya should'a jist let me die."

Arashi raised an' eyebrow. "Perhaps ye are not just a dirty commoner to me either."

"It don't really matter, do it?" Xzaris closed his eyes. "I'm goin' ta die some horrible way, an' then things'll go on like they always have. But I know it'll hurt Romsca even more, an' .. that's one a the things that hurts the most."

"I don't think ye mean so little. No living creature does." Arashi's brown gaze was steady. "Not to me, and not to Ignasa."

Xzaris watched her a moment, before sighing, "I saw what happened ta Conva. Somethin' .. I don't even gotta name fer. Somethin' real, or at least what it seemed like. He did stuff I didn't know he had it in him ta do. He made me wonder if'n there really was a Lord called Ignasa, one who really did care."

He dropped his gaze. "But that couldn't save him. I thought maybe his Ignasa would kill Ublaz on the spot an' stop Conva dyin', but he didn't. An' if he don't care bout a beast like Conva, there's no way he's gonna care bout a beast like me."

Arashi shook her head. "He did care about Conva, and he does care about ye. He cares for every creature on this earth .. he made us, after all."

She laid a paw on his shoulder. "Ignasa may not have saved my husband from death, but he saved his soul from death. He can do that for ye. After all .."

She poked him gently. "It's what's inside that matters. Not what's on the outside."

"Wull .." Xzaris smiled the tiniest bit. "Ya'd be the first ta tell me that, I think."

He sighed, realizing how tired just talking had made him. Arashi smiled a little, stating, "Rest. It is what ye need at this point."


The slow lap of waves was a constant, peaceful sound. Romsca leaned against the wall behind the long, bench window seat, her head resting on the frame of one of the tall but simple windows.

The scratch of pen on paper filled her silkily furred ears, and she paused, reading her writing as she rubbed the healing scar on her cheek.

Mutineers, lizards, and Ublaz. That's what I have to deal with. I'm not going to ask if my life can get worse, because it can, and it will. If this crew of fools isn't the end of me, the emperor will be.

She sighed, scratching down some more.

Raf's no help, I can't play by his rules. Anyway, who owns this ship? Him or me? Course he'd really like it if I just hired him to be captain while I stayed on Sampetra, but to Hellgates with that. I'm this ship's captain, and I'll kill to keep it that way.

"Of course .. that's probably his whole plan."

She stopped writing, slowly closing her journal. "Of course it is."

The ferret stood up, looking at her transparent reflection in the window and the waves beyond. "I've been a fool, haven't I?"

She laid a paw on the glass. "A course he trained me. He was me father's friend, an' he wasn't young enough ta get a better position on a different ship. But all along, he's been hopin' I'd give up an' let him captain the ship fer me."

Romsca curled her lip. "But I didn't, an' now he's hopin' Ublaz'll kill me so he kin have me ship. Under normal circumstances I'd will her ta Xzaris, but .. guess that ain't much a an option."

She laid her ears back with a sigh. "Should'a seen it comin' really. Me stuff's all that matters ta Raf, not me. Oh, maybe he'd be sad, but he'll get over it ta enjoy me money, what's left a it."

The ferret tucked her journal into a drawer of her desk, before tucking a few knives into her belt, and slinging her axe across her back. "Everybeast fer himself."

It was likely true, it was simple, it wasn't to be taken as any surprise. But it hurt still. She shouldn't let it, that was just the way the world worked. At least the vermin world. Romsca unbolted her door, slipping out and suppressing a snarl of surprised disgust at the Monitor watching her with cold, reptilian eyes.

She walked darkly past the beast, pinning her ears.

Great. Now Lask has placed a watch on my cabin. I hate lizards.

Her paws took her down into the galley, where she almost ran into Cheng. She curled her lip, growling, "Watch yerself."

The weasel dipped his head, but the glimmer of mocking hate in his eyes told Romsca he was anything but respectful. She met his gaze boldly, sneeringly, and he slunk away.

Kage was watching her, and he jerked his head pointedly in the direction Cheng had gone, gray-blue eyes meaningful. Romsca nodded grimly in reply, before pausing as she passed him. "How many?"

The stoat dipped his head as though paying his respect, but he murmured, "A third."

He walked off down the hallway, and Romsca scowled. Cheng had a third of the crew on his side. That was a hard hit.

Am I really that bad of a captain, that they hate me?

She paused at the kitchen door, shooting a glare out in the empty hallway. "As if I need their acceptance. All I need is their fear. An' I'm gonna have it by the end'a this."

Rubby looked up as she came in, before bustling about his business. "Need somthin' capt'n? Some biscuits, stew, or .. erm .. stew .. an' maybe some biscuits?"

"I'm good. Ain't hungry." Romsca shut the door behind her. "Can I still trust ya Rubby?"

The cook blinked, before shrugging. "Oh, ya mean bout Cheng? He don't got no use fer me, most beasts wouldn't. Ya and yer daddy was the only ones, an' it means a lot ta an' ol' beast like me. I'd be out on the streets if'n it weren't fer ya, havin' me cook."

He tested his stew, spitting it on the floor. "Blargge! Ukk! Needs more salt. That way ya can't taste me awful cookin'."

"Aha .." Romsca wondered how bad his cooking was without salt, since he seemed to think salt made it better.

The rat sighed, picking up where he'd left off. "An' the truth is, I'm jist a bad cook. I weren't never made ta be one."

Romsca frowned. "Then why .."

"Why do I alwus stick around as cook?" Rubby chuckled. "Honey I'm .. I means capt'n a course .. I'm sevendy or so seasons ol .. probly goin' on eighty by now. I was only ever a sailor, I don't know nothin' but sailin' .. if it weren't fer ya I'da rotted in some alley long ago. I knows ya hate me cookin', but ya've kept me round this long, an' it do mean a lot ta ol' Rubby, I hopes ya knows that."

Romsca felt a surge of guilt at his words. "Yea .. I mean .. sure .. I don't really mind yer cookin', Rubby."

The rat chuckled. "Yer a poor liar honey .. erm .. capt'n .. though yer a fine beast. I knows ya've kept me around cause ya didn't have ta pay me hardly nothin'. But it don't matter ta me, cause I knows any other beast woulda kicked me off their ship long time ago."

He rummaged in a cupboard, shrugging, "Course .. Ya could dump me now too .. but what I mean by alla that is I ain't with Cheng. I'm with ya capt'n, an' I alwus will be, ta the bloody end."

"Thanks." Romsca sighed. "You'll be one a the only ones."

"Like I said long ago honey .. that is capt'n .." Rubby hung up some spoons, brown eyes smiling. "Yer sun's up in those clouds someplace. One day it's gonna come out."

She met his gaze, before shaking her head. "If there's any sun up there at all, the clouds are so thick it ain't got a chance."

The ferret fiddled with the key hidden in her belt. "But thanks Rubby."

Romsca turned away, leaving the kitchen and heading farther down into the hold, toward the brig. She pulled her key out, carefully, quietly opening the door, as she listened to the conversation within.

"I am not eating one more bite of this filth. I don't know who cooks for that ferret captain, but whoever it is, they must be a poisoner." Sayna's voice was disgusted. "I'll stick to water."

Romsca could just make out the two in the dimness, and Durral looked incredulous. "You'll starve."

Sayna sighed. "No, I won't. I can't really, you see."

"Oh you and your silly stories." Durral rubbed his stomach. "That's not going to get us something decent to eat, and it won't get us out of here."

The mousewife glared at her companion. "Perhaps not. I was simply pointing out the fact that I really would have a hard time dying of starvation. And if you are so wise, what do you suggest?"

The abbot tightened his habit cord miserably, snapping a little. "Don't expect me to know .."

He hung his head. "Because I don't."

Sayna pulled on the chains around her paws, grumbling, "Well as little as I like to admit it .. I'm in the same situation you are."

"Oh come on .. you? Sayna? The magical .. defender of Redwall? You don't know how to get away from some pirates?" Durral sounded incredulous.

Sayna didn't look up. "No."

Durral shook his head. "Then why do you say you're .. our defender, and go about pretending you're different from every other beast? You're just like us, why do you insist on being a loner .. you should live at Redwall, like us."

She slowly met his gaze. "I cannot be any less or more than what I am Durral. I have seen wars and blood and ages, I'm sorry, I won't pretend to be normal and wear your silly habits. If fitting in means altering me, then I'd rather be the ghost of Mossflower woods. I doubt a beast like you could ever understand."

Romsca watched them in silence, standing in the accumulation of shadows in the doorway. She did not know what to make of these two, very different, very strange woodlanders. She wasn't sure either was quite right in the head.

Durral said nothing, just sighed in a long-suffering manner. Sayna suddenly lifted her head, nose twitching a little. "Oh I smell you ferret. Might as well come out, standing in the doorway won't get you what you want."

Romsca felt a tingle run up her spine .. maybe this mouse really was a witch. Did she really have that good a sense of smell naturally?

Sayna turned her head around, meeting Romsca's gaze with her sharp, cutting black eyes. "I said come out, ferret."

And she did, as if compelled by some unseen force, some invisible power that relentlessly drew her foreword. Romsca stood still in the corridor outside the brig, feeling more of a guilty culprit than a captain and captor.

Nobeast said anything for a moment, Durral watching both Romsca and Sayna with apprehension. Sayna's hair was falling slowly from the tight braid she wore it in, falling around her face and surprising Romsca by how long it really was.

"Why did you spare me?"

Romsca blinked. "What?"

"You." Sayna's eyes were cutting, but also questioning. "You spared my life at the last second when you kicked me against the wall. I know what death looks like in a beast's eyes, and you intended to kill me. But in that last second, you saw something about me that made you stop in pure shock. What was it?"

"I .." Romsca suddenly realized she'd been about to actually tell the mouse the reason, and stopped herself with a sneer. "Yer me prisoner, I don't have ta tell ya nothin'. I ask the questions around here, mousewife."

Sayna acted like she hadn't heard the threat in Romsca's voice, acted like she hadn't even spoken. "Then you asked me about my mark, and what it means. You've been very demanding, ferret, taking us from our home, locking us down here, and feeding us filth that would poison a lesser beast."

In this moment, she gave Durral a look, then continued. "So it's time you answered my question. Why would a pirate spare a woodlander over a mark?"

"How do ya know I spared ya cause a that?" Romsca scowled. "Ya might just be a little somethin' fer me emperor."

"You do not care for your emperor, I can see the hate in your eyes when you speak of him. No, I am not a fool. What I saw in your eyes was a personal matter." Sayna blinked once, her gaze remaining hauntingly steady.

Romsca swallowed a little, the creak of the ship and the dark shadows in the brig making her paranoia worse. What spell had this witch cast upon her?

She slowly slid her gloved left paw over her gloved right one. Her father had warned her never to show or tell anybeast about the mark, for fear it would be considered a threat to Empress Meili or a curse of the elements and that she would be executed.

She growled to hide her fear. "It is personal. An' that means it's fer only one beast ta know .. me."

Romsca hurried away, slipping out of the door. But Sayna's voice echoed in her ears anyway. "I wonder .."

Romsca shivered, making for the sunny deck.

She wondered what?

Chapter 21 Of Faithful and Faithless

TotO &#039;Looking for me&#039;

Two traitors.

"I say .. this is .. bally rotten .. work .. rowin' .." Clecky hauled on his oar, and Hood flicked one ear in his direction, pulling his own oar resolutely, in silence.

Martin cast a glance over at the hare, panting, "But .. how will we get .. the ship .. out of the river .. if we don't?"

"Oh I know that .." Clecky grumbled. "Can't imagine what it's like bein' an oar slave .. bally awful occupation, wot?"

Grath gave him an unimpressed look, and Cracklyn sounded sarcastic. "What .. a .. revelation."

Tansy was helping Grath, and Welko struggled with his own oar. "You go row Welko, he says, I'll steer the ship. Gee thanks Plogg."

There was a sudden jolt, and the shrew fell over backwards into the gap between his bench and the one behind it. He sat up, exclaiming, "And now he's run us aground! Oh see if I don't go talk to him .. Plogg! Plogg, let somebeast who can steer do the job!"

"Whaddaya mean?" Plogg's voice came from above decks. "Port the oars, we're in the Moss's delta. We can use the wind from here!"

"I say, you don't have to tell this chap twice!" Clecky pulled his oar in, standing up and heading for the galley stairs. "Tansy me darlin' cook, how about a snack, wot? I'm positively peckish!"

Hood passed him, voice a smirk. "Aren't you always?"

Clecky defended himself. "I've been providin' the brute strength to make this jolly tub move, wot? Army marches on it's stomach don'tcha know. Bad form Hoody, less then appreciative wot, wot?"

The black fox swiveled his ears, the equivalent of rolling his eyes. Welko walked past the hare, stating airily, "This, good sir, is no tub. It's a magnificent raider, built for coastal attacks and streamlined for speed .. "

"Right'o, eh .. wot. Got that chap, with all the bally terms I don't know yet. It's an expression." He followed Tansy, who was making her way out. "I say, about that snack .."

Grath paused as Cracklyn bounced past her across some of the benches, scurrying up the stairs. Martin smiled. "After you."

She grinned, laughing a little, and nodded. "Thanks."

The two climbed the stairs together, as Martin joked, "Well you are the captain."

"I am?" Grath stopped dead.

Martin shrugged. "It's your ship, isn't it?"

"Yes .. I suppose." Grath walked out onto the deck, stating, "But I wasn't old enough to learn much about sailing before .. the pirates. Plogg and Welko know more than I. Besides, I like to think of it as our ship, not just mine. It's .. oh .. friendlier. You're my friends, not my subjects."

"Fair enough." Martin agreed. "It makes it feel more like Redwall Abbey."

They were at the railing now, looking out across the Moss's fast flowing delta, and the sea was quickly approaching. Grath leaned her paws on the rail, her hair being swept back by the breeze. "We're really doing this. I can't believe it."

Martin nodded in silence as Tansy joined them, staring at the sea, then at the woods, slightly behind them now. "Redwall's .. so far away. I wonder if we'll ever go back."

Grath and Martin exchanged a look, and the otter took a deep breath. "Not until we've got Abbot Durral and Sayna with us."


When Xzaris came awake again, his cabin was lit with daylight, he was alone, lying in his hammock, and he was ravenously hungry. Somebeast had left a bowl of rice and fish sitting on the nearby table, along with a glass of water.

The ferret sat up slowly, wincing as the muscles in his neck pulled tight, along with a lance of pain. He grabbed the water, drinking half of it in a few swallows, then grabbing the bowl and eating quickly.

"Ya keep that up an' yu'll be sick."

Xzaris looked up to see Val standing in the doorway, shoulder still bandaged. He shook his head. "It don't bother me."

Val snorted, "Ya wish. Course knowin' ya lucky dog, it probably don't."

She poured some more water in his glass, looking around and stating, "Look capt'n, we're makin' good time .. but .."

"Toward Sampetra." Xzaris sighed, voice laden with dread. He was silent a moment, before he asked, "But what?"

"But the thing is .. this ship ain't big 'nough ta carry food fer fifteen Monitors." She grimaced. "Ina a week or so, we're gonna have the same problem we had on the way down."

Xzaris looked up at this, the numbness in his damaged footpaw reminding him of what happened when the vicious animals became hungry. He nodded. "Aye, point taken. I'll .. think'a somethin'. I hope."

Val turned to go, but Xzaris stopped her. "I want ya ta know .. what ya did with that sail was crazy an' stupid."

She turned around, cocking one ear as Xzaris grinned feebly. "Darn brave a ya, though. Thank ya."

A wide grin spread across her face. "All ina day's work capt'n, jist keepin' yer pelt in one piece. An I'ma tell Rom, next time it's her job, cause it's dangerous work."

Val cast a glance at her shoulder, before gathering some dishes. "Glad ta see yer back with the livin' capt'n."

Xzaris watched her go, before stroking the wounded side of his neck. "Fer the moment, anyway."


"This just ain't a year for sailin', is it?" Romsca stood on the Waveworm's deck, watching the black clouds grow on the horizon. "We've already had a storm in the last month, and it's still summer! Just wait fer fall and winter."

Kage sighed. "Can't wait. I'm already signed onta two more ships after yer's, capt'n. Hope I come out alive."

Romsca didn't say anything a moment, before stating, "I suppose that's why yer helpin' me, ya don't wanna dirty yer name as a sailor with mutiny."

"Wull .." Kage shrugged. "Yah, purty much."

"Wise a ya." Romsca nodded.

She looked at the sky, ordering, "Go get Rafglan. Tell him ta batten all hatches an' furl the sail. We'll have ta ride this'un out."

Kage turned to go, and stopped dead at the sight of Lask, watching the two closely. The stoat skirted him quickly, disappearing down the forecastle stairs. The lizard watched Romsca with his cold, sparkling yellow eyes, and she closed her fingers about her axe as a precaution.


Lask ruffled his frills a little, stating, "I want to zzzee the pearlzz."

Romsca didn't move for a moment, as this was such a strange request. "What? They're bein' kept safe fer the Emperor."

"I want to zzee them. To zzee you have not hidden them like your father." Lask was determined.

Romsca scowled. "He did not hide 'em, they were stolen from him! And why don't you say they're Master's pearls, like the resta yer beasts?"

Lask didn't move for a moment, before smiling, "All thingzz are Mazzter'zz until zzzomeone zztronger takezz them."

"What?" Romsca was shocked. Never once in her life had she seen a Monitor even suggest rebellion against Ublaz. They followed him around like tame geckos, gigantic ones, and did his every bidding to the very best they could.

"But he's Emperor! Yer emperor, an' mine, an' his word is law."

The lizard looked hesitant, before hissing, "Yezzz .. it izz true."

He said nothing a moment, before looking up again. "But you will zzzhow me the pearlzzz, lezzt I tell Mazzter you have zzzaid you would like to kill him."

"I said no such thing!" Romsca was indignant.

Lask's eyes sparkled again. "It izzz true. But you and I are the only onezz who know that, and Mazzter wantzzz very much to kill the Houzze of the Dragonzzz."

Romsca scowled hatred at the Monitor, pondering her situation for a moment, and in the moment, the first heavy winds of the storm keened through the rigging, and the first drops of rain spattered to the deck. Never before had she been so glad to see a storm hit. "Look, less ya wanna end up at the bottom a the sea, I got a ship ta steer!"

Lask pinned his frills against his neck, looking about a bit nervously and sneering, "Very well, you will zzteer. But later I will zzee them, or you will pay the prizzze."

Romsca hurried to the wheel, watching him slink down the forecastle stairs with disgusted bewilderment. What in the name of Astraria had possessed him to act as he had?

Unless it was the greed the pearls inspired in any mortal beast. But a Monitor had never seemed to be affected before!


Clang, clang!

Grath mumbled a little, before lifting her head, blinking blearily. "Whu .."

"Hey wake up sleepy head, what were you on, night watch?" Cracklyn was hanging from the hammock above Grath's by her footpaws, her curly red hair dangling wildly from her head.

Grath rubbed her eyes, mumbling, "Yes."

"Whoops .." Cracklyn let herself drop, flipping around in mid-air and landing on her feet. "My bad. Anyway, that's Tansy banging on a pan to tell us breakfast's ready."

"Why aren't you up in the crow's nest?" Grath was confused. "I thought you had morning watch."

The squirrel's ears perked forward, then flipped back. "Uhh .. yea, I do. I was just going to eat breakfast first."

Grath rubbed her paw across her face with a sigh. She didn't like to press her friends, but her fellow Redwallians didn't know hardly anything about discipline or sailing; Martin tried his best, but even he slept in now and then. At least Hood was reliable, and Plogg and Welko, though they fought about everything, it seemed. Clecky spent far too much time eating.

The otter stretched, stating, "Well .. why don't you take a quick look from the crow's nest before breakfast, just in case. It's summer, and after the storm we had last night .. well I'm not sure quite where we are. Pirates abound in the western sea .. and if they catch us .."

She looked meaningfully at Cracklyn, who nodded. "Ok, ok, good point. I'll take a quick peek before eating."

"Thanks." Grath smiled as the younger beast bounced out of the cabin the three females shared. The otter stood up, sticking the shell pin in her blonde head fur and grabbing her bow and arrows. She buckled on her quiver as she made her way out on decks, noticing Cracklyn climbing the rigging.

Tansy poked her head out of the galley. "Grath, do you want something to eat? It's hazelnut flan!"

"Hazelnut flan! You needn't tell a chap that twice, fill up the jolly mess and let's get to scoffin'!" Clecky hurried past Grath into the kitchen, but Hood stopped outside, running his claws through his scruffy white chin-fur.

There was a shout from Cracklyn. "Hey, I see something! Another ship .. erm .. to starboard!"

Grath and Hood both ran to the rail, but while she scanned the water closely, she saw nothing. Cracklyn's voice was apologetic. "I really meant port, not starboard!"

The two wheeled around, running to the other side of the ship and stopping dead. Hood lifted his cloak ever so slightly, before letting it drop again. "Oh no."

"You said it." Grath dug her claws into the railing, the wind whipping her hair to the side. A smaller ship was approaching theirs, the blue dragon motif clear on their billowing sail. The otter looked at Hood for hope of inspiration. "What do we do?"

He didn't move for a moment, before he turned around, rubbing the back of his neck. Grath looked back at the pirate ship, coming ever closer. "Well we've got to do something Hood! We can't just let them take us!"

"I'm thinking!" The fox's voice held a sharp edge for a moment, before it returned to normal. "Go get the others, see Tansy stays inside. I'm thinking."

Grath paused one moment, before running for the galley. She shoved the doors open with a slam, exclaiming, "Pirates! There's pirates coming, we have to be ready to fight them!"

There was stunned silence for a split second, before Clecky slammed a paw on the table. "The nerve of those rotten blighters! Attacking during breakfast! Humph, it's disgraceful. Righto, let's teach these cads a lesson!"

"But they'll have several times as many as we do!" Martin gasped, reaching for his sword hilt. "We won't stand a chance!"

"Forward to the bluffs chap, no quarter, no surrender!" Clecky doubled his fists. "Numbers aren't what define a day, we're smarter than those sea scum."

"We've got to try, no matter what happens." Grath pointed out the door. "And we've got to get out there now!"

Plogg drew his rapier, calling, "Welko, I bet I kill more'n you do!"

His brother chased him out onto the deck. "Ha, you wish!"

"But what do I do?" Tansy looked up at Grath, eyes frightened.

The otter looked around, grabbing a kitchen knife from the table. "Here, use this. If they get in here, stab them."

Tansy gulped. "I'm not sure I really can .."

"Well .. try. I've got to help the others." Grath ran out of the kitchen, shutting the door behind her. The others had gathered near the mast, and Cracklyn dropped out of the rigging as Grath hurried up, panting.

"What's the plan?"

Hood nodded. "You hide behind the mast and pick off as many as you can. Welko and Plogg, get on the forecastle and be ready to attack from the side .. everyone else, get down, don't let yourselves be seen. Wait for them to attack first .. go, quickly."

Grath did as he said, ducking behind the mast and loading an arrow. Martin, Clecky, and Cracklyn got behind the forecastle stairs as Plogg and Welko ran up them. Hood stood silently and motionlessly at the rail, watching as the other ship drew alongside them, though slightly too far away to board. Grath waited for grappling hooks to be hurled across, but none came, instead there was a shout. "Ahoy there mateys!"

Grath froze, as the shout came again. "I said ahoy!"

Hood replied this time. "Aye, ahoy to you."

The otter moved so she had a better vantage point, and saw a rat leaning over the rail of the other ship. "Back from a raid eh? How'd ya do? We're off ta raid the northern coast."

There was a pause, before Hood shrugged. "Well enough."

"I ain't seen ya or yer ship about, I'm guessin' yer one'a Ublaz's newer capt'ns?" The rat seemed quite sociable, and the wind wasn't blowing fast enough to move the two ships apart very quickly.

Hood played along. "Aye."

The rat was looking up at their flag, and he laughed. "Say, what's yer House anyway? House'a the Sea-horse?"

"Yea, that it is." Hood did not argue.

"Funny House matey." The rat captain snickered, before shrugging. "Wull watch yer step back home, blood's gonna spill one way or other. Hey, ya might git back in time fer the executions, so as a mate, I'm tellin' ya ta be careful. Dragons don't die easy, ya know."

Hood's voice was honestly interested. "Executions?"

"Oh yea, ya've been gone. Ublaz sent those three young capt'ns, Rasconza a the Gulls, Romsca a the Dragons, an' Xzaris a the Falcons three different directions ta git his pearls. One that gits 'em lives, one's that don't die. Ya know how the Emperor is." The rat shrugged.

"Right." Hood sounded the slightest bit disturbed.

The two vessels were moving apart now, and the rat hollered across the distance. "Fair winds ta ya .. say, ya don't got much of a crew .. loose 'em in yer raidin'?"

Hood shrugged, calling back, "Some. Others are having breakfast."

There was a response, but it was too far away to be heard clearly, as the pirate vessel was moving steadily in the direction they had come from. Several minutes later, the woodland crew slipped out one by one. Grath spoke first. "They're still after my family's pearls?"

Clecky snorted. "Attack the northern coast indeed, rotters!"

"They have an Emperor?" Martin scratched his head. "I guess it makes sense, but I guess I always thought of pirates as freer beasts."

Cracklyn looked worried. "Executions? I hope they won't be ours!"

Tansy poked her head out of the kitchens. "Did we win?"

"No, we didn't even get to fight!" Plogg sounded disgusted as he made his way down the forecastle stairs.

Welko put his arrow back in his quiver. "But what he said .. the pirates are killing each other?"

Plogg grinned. "Hey, what if you're right! We wouldn't have to kill as many that way."

"But why didn't they attack us?" Tansy sounded confused. "That's what pirates do, right?"

Hood looked up at their sail. "I think it is because I am a fox, our sail has the same motif as theirs, and Plogg and Welko look like small, scruffy rats from a distance."

Welko looked offended. "We do not!"

Grath slowly walked to the rail, staring across the waters and trying to process what she'd just heard. Martin walked over, asking, "Are you alright?"

"Yes." Grath nodded. "I'm just thinking this might not be only about the abbot or Sayna or even us. Maybe that's what Ignasa meant, that this is a bigger problem than one pirate raiding for themselves .. far bigger."


Two weeks had passed on the Darkshroud, and things had only gone downhill. Just as Val had predicted, they were running out of food, and the Monitors were beginning to act and look hungry.

Xzaris knew it was only a matter of time before they started to demand to be fed crewbeasts. The ferret rubbed his ankle, looking blankly at the maps on his desk. "I can't kill one again .. that was nothin' but pure luck."

He laid his elbow on his desk, massaging is forehead as he tried to think of a solution. Should he just give up and let the Monitors eat some of his crew? It wasn't like he had a life left to keep a reputation for. What was the point of fighting it?

"Ya is nothing but a dead weight ta me, an' ta everybeast else!"

Xzaris pinned his ears as his mother's mocking snarl rang in them, and his voice was a low growl. "I ain't."

But Kia's hateful words stayed with him, no matter how he tried to forget.

"Why don't ya jist die someplace, worthless mistake that ya are?"

He buried his face in his arm, closing his eyes. "That ain't the way everybeast feels."

Or was it?

No, he would not think that. It wasn't true. It was what Kia thought, and it wasn't like everyone agreed with her, the double-dealing wench that she was.

A sudden shriek of agony brought Xzaris bolt upright, and his ears shot foreword. He jumped to his feet as the door was shoved open and Val ran in. "Capt'n, we got trouble!"

"I can tell .." Xzaris grabbed his pike, asking, "What now?"

Val didn't have to say anything, as they'd run out on deck, and everybeast had weapons drawn. Zurgat and her lizards stood in a circle, and the female Monitor had her claws in the heap of fur that had once been a crew member.

Xzaris ran forward, snarling, "Hey! It was bad 'nough before, but now yer jist gonna pick me crew off with no warnin'?"

Zurgat licked blood from her muzzle, hissing, "We are hungry. Feed uzz or become our food."

"Ya can't do this ta us! Who will take ya back ta yer Master?" Xzaris yelled, pointing at the bloody body. "He ain't gonna, an' if ya eat us all, ya will never see yer precious Emperor ever again!"

Zurgat and all the Monitors took a step or two back, flattening their frills against their necks and hissing almost fearfully. Xzaris clenched his paws, seething as the lizard regained her lost composure. "We will eat only what we need .. there will zztill be enough beazztzz to take uzz back to Mazzter."

"Oh that's jist great!" Xzaris's normal, calm demeanor was fast disappearing as his fear aroused his temper. "An' our choice is ta jist let ya kill us? We ain't standin' fer it, we'll fight ya bunch a scaly Hellgates spawn sooner!"

"Capt'n!" Skarbod sounded shocked. "We can't fight them, they're ta strong!"

The ferret wheeled around, teeth gleaming white in the afternoon sun. "I'd rather die fightin' these things'n die however Ublaz planned fer me ta! Ha, maybe I'll cheat him an' not die like a dog!"

He grabbed Skarbod by his silk shirt, blue eyes flashing madly. "Maybe I'll die like a Sampetrian should .. with honor!"

Zurgat took a step foreword, extending her claws to their full length. "You zzhould dezzide .. we need two more to even barely zzzatizzfy uzz."

Val drew her saber as Arashi dropped out of the rigging, and Skarbod pulled out his spear. Zurgat ruffled her frills, snarling, "Perhapzzz I'll kill you firzzzt."

Xzaris raised his pike, holding one paw flat before him. "It'd be a mercy, ta die like a warrior."

Zurgat snarled. "Attack! Kill five, that way they will be to afraid to defy uzz!"

She jumped at Xzaris, and he leapt over her, letting her run past. She spun around like lighting, her spiked tail swinging through the air and tearing into Skarbod's side, sending him flying. "What do you think thizzz will avail you? You will but die."

"I don't care!" Xzaris's voice held an insane edge. "I want ta die, I want it over with! But maybe I'll take some'a ya with me!"

Zurgat charged him again, and he jumped to the side, kicking out with his good foot in the same moment and belting her hard across the jaw. The Monitor staggered for a second, and Xzaris's clubfoot buckled beneath him, taking him to the deck.

His opponent lashed out with her claws, sending him tumbling head over hind-paws and straight down the hatch. Xzaris yelped as he landed hard on the floor, a good five or six feet below the opening, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to pull himself painfully back on his paws. There was a wump as Val landed beside him, one paw on the ground, the other holding her sword, and blood running down her cheek.

Zurgat stepped across the open hatch just as Val started to climb the stairs up, snarling, "Zzztop!"

All activity above ceased as the Monitor snarled, "No more killing, we muzzzt have beazztzz to take uzzz back to Mazzter. We will eat Captain Xzarizz and hizzz friend inzztead."

Xzaris groaned, one knee torn, bloody, and refusing to move without great pain. So this was how it ended? Well, it was better than Ublaz at least.

He looked up at Val, and winced. She shouldn't have to die this way. He met her gaze, whispering, "I'm sorry .."

Zurgat's voice reminded him of her master's. "After all, it izzz better a few die to zzave many."

Val looked exasperated. "She's gittin' on me nerves."

The vixen slashed upward with her blade without a moment's hesitation, and Zurgat screeched in terrible agony, convulsing at the saber imbedded in her stomach. The hilt was torn from Val's paw, knocking her back down the stairs, and she flopped across Xzaris.

Zurgat disappeared from view, taking the blade with her, her hissing and screeching a terrible, frightening sound. Arashi came swinging down the hatch as Val got to her paws, and Xzaris forced himself up, staggering. The older ferret steadied him as the cries of the dying Monitor became weaker and fainter.

"Help me up there .. " Xzaris's voice was a mumble, almost, as his teeth were still clenched.

Arashi did so, and Val came behind them. The lizards had backed away, dragging a few bodies with them, but their leader lay struggling feebly in her own blood, and they seemed willing to stop for the moment.

The crew was tense and some were wounded, but most were still alive. Val looked around, calling, "Skarbod?"

There was no answer, and Xzaris limped toward where he'd seen his first mate go down, using his pike as a staff. The stoat was laying crumpled against the forecastle stairs, blood splattered everywhere from the horrific gash in his side, caused by the cruel spikes of Zurgat's tail.

He lifted his head a little, rasping, " .. got me .. awful good ... sorry capt'n."

Xzaris knelt carefully beside him, sighing, "It weren't yer fault Skarbod .. it was mine .. I'm sorry .. it'd shoulda been me lyin' there, not ya."

The stoat licked a little blood from his lips, coughing, "Yer a good capt'n .. capt'n. I was glad ta be yer first mate .. first time I ever had .. such an' honor."

He fell back against the stairs, eyes flickering dully as he sighed one last time. Xzaris hung his head, holding back the tears of anger, fear, and sorrow, as one of the crew asked, "Who's gonna be first mate now?"

The ferret didn't move for a moment, thinking. The rest of his crew he didn't really trust .. Arashi? No .. that would bring suspicion upon her, with her alikeness to Romsca.

"Capt'n? Who?"

Xzaris turned on the beast, snarling, "Val! Val'll be first mate, an' I don't want no problems about it! Now see Skarbod gets a proper burial afore those scum eat him."

He hobbled into his cabin, slamming the door shut behind him and slowly letting himself drop into his hammock. His shoulders shook bitterly as he let his pike drop to the floor with a clatter.

Xzaris slowly reached up, taking hold of the tarnished silver chain and clasping it in his paw, more lost than before.


"Hey, I see something!"

Everybeast came running at Cracklyn's yell this time. It had been two weeks since the incident with the pirates, but it was still fresh on their minds.

Grath was honestly a little stunned about just how close they had been to death or imprisonment.

"What is it? More pirates?" Grath looked around for their impending doom as she asked this.

Clecky popped up out of the hatch, exclaiming, "I say, are we gonna take the cads on this time?"

"It's not pirates, it's some weird rocks." Cracklyn called down.

Plogg looked around the wheel, yelling, "There's rocks? Where?"

Cracklyn reassured him. "A long ways out, we won't hit them any time soon."

Grath swung up into the rigging, climbing a ways and shielding her eyes against the sun. Cracklyn swung down beside her, putting the spyglass in her paw. "Use this, look that way."

The otter did so, catching sight of what her friend had seen. It was a rocky island, or perhaps an atoll of some sort, but it reminded Grath most of a mountain. A mountain sticking up out of the sea.

She handed the spyglass back to Cracklyn, frowning in a little confusion. The squirrel shrugged. "What is that?"

"I'm not sure." Grath climbed down, dropping to the deck. "I'll look at the maps and try to find out."

She hurried to the captain's cabin, Martin and Tansy behind. There was a map spread across the desk, and the otter looked it over, sighing, "No, this is just a map Holt Lutra made of the coast, we need one of the old pirate maps."

Martin was digging through the desk drawers, turning up all sorts of things .. ink, pens, documents, and even a few gold coins. "Where would it be?"

"I don't know, that's the thing." Grath sighed. "I really don't know much about this ship."

"What about over here?" Tansy was rummaging through the tall set of shelves and cabinets that were mounted on the wall. She pulled open a door, and a sudden shower of rolled parchments rained down open her.

Martin grinned. "Hey, I think you found them. Let's see .. which one?"

Grath picked up a couple, looking them over. "Hmm .. the southern seas .. no .. the northern seas .. I want the western seas."

"Like this, maybe?" Tansy handed her one that had gotten stuck in her head-spikes.

"Yes, this is perfect!" Grath spread it out on the desk. "Now let's see. Mossflower .. Sampetra .. here, this must be it. It's the only rocks marked in the middle of the ocean .. it's called Black Mountain."

Tansy made a face. "That sounds so .. welcoming."

"Yea .." Martin nodded. "But maybe it would be a good place to resupply, Clecky's been hard on the rations."

"That's true." Grath sighed. "I bet it would be a good place to fish. Let's ask Plogg and Welko what they think."

Tansy began putting the maps away. "You go, I'll deal with this."

The two did so, and as they came on deck, they saw the rocks were quite a bit closer. Martin frowned. "Do you think somebeast already lives there?"

"It looks pretty barren if you ask me." Grath shrugged. "But you never know. Hey Welko!"

The shrew paused on the forecastle stairs, and Grath asked, "What do you think about laying anchor near that mountain and doing some fishing?"

Welko nodded. "Plogg wanted to ask you the same thing, after all, with Clecky along .."

"What about me chaps?" The hare had been listening. "I say, have I done anything wrong?"

"Well .. you just .. eat quite a bit, that's all." Grath tried to put it nicely.

Clecky didn't get the point. "Naturally me gel, army marches on it's jolly stomach don'tcha know?"

Welko snickered. "If you'd been marching on your stomach, it'd be flat by now an' we'd have a lot more for rations."

Clecky blinked, defending himself. "Well I say, a chaps got to keep his strength up!"

"It's ok, we'll do some fishing and maybe get some seaweed, and that should hold us over until we get to the pirate island." Grath smoothed things over.

"Fishing?" Clecky grinned. "I bet I'm a rather good fisherbeast .."

"Even though you've never done it before?" Welko's voice was laughing.

Clecky followed the shrew up the steps, chunnering. "I say, what's that supposed to mean?"

Grath smirked, before walking to the railing and staring out at the mass of sharp cliffs and rock spires they were approaching. It looked completely lifeless, rising out of the sea like a grim sentinel, most of its rocks a dark gray or black.

"I think I know why they call it Black Mountain now." She observed.

Martin nodded. "Yea. Tell you what, I'll get the fishing gear."

It took a while, but they found a place to lay anchor. Above the water, Black Mountain seemed dead, but below it was a positive rainbow of corals, oysters, eels, and fish; the sea was teaming with glorious life.

Grath sat on the railing, holding a fishing pole as Cracklyn gawked at the colors below them. "It's so pretty!"

Grath grinned. "Isn't the sea amazing? I want to paint this."

"Why don't you?" Cracklyn held out her paw. "I'll fish while you do, we can take turns."

"Oh .." Grath gave in. "Alright, at least for a while."

The afternoon sun was warm above them and time seemed to pass slowly as Grath painted and Cracklyn fished. The squirrel reeled in a good sized silver fish, trying to hold onto the slimy, flopping thing. "Yikes .. it's .. strong!"

Grath quickly set her book down, running forward and helping Cracklyn get the fish in a bucket with some others. The squirrel shook herself and made a face. "Ugg I'm covered in scales."

"Go get cleaned up, I'll fish for now." Grath put her painting in her satchel, handing it to Cracklyn. "Put this in our cabin for now, can you?"

"Sure!" Cracklyn hurried off, and Grath picked up the fishing pole as Hood walked over and pricked his ears forward in question.

"We've gotten six now, what about on the other side?" Grath asked, looking down a little at her bucket.

Hood shrugged. "They have about fifteen. I've never seen so many fish."

Grath nodded. "There's a lot of them, aren't there?"

The fox nodded, pointing at the bucket. "I'll take that."

"Thank you." Grath handed it to him, hanging her head. "Hood, I've been wanting to tell you .. well I didn't trust you when we first met. I thought you'd be just another vermin."

"I kind of thought you did." He didn't sound upset. "Before we left Icetor, I didn't know there was any difference between vermin and woodlanders, as there is no real distinction in my old home. But as we journeyed, I learned quickly .. villagers and farmers would trust Clecky and Gerul, but they watched me like a hawk, and some tried to run me off or even kill me."

He paused, before shrugging. "It hurt at first, to be viewed as something I am not just because I'm a fox, but I got used to it."

Grath felt her shoulders slump a little. "I'm sorry .. you saved our lives with the pirates, and we haven't been true friends to you. I wish we'd have included you more .."

Hood held up a paw, the ghost of a smile passing across his muzzle. "It's fine. I'm glad to know you have decided to trust me, but I am fine with being ignored, in fact I'd rather not have a lot of attention, if you know what I mean."

Grath smiled, looking up slightly. "Yes. Yes I do."

"That's probably the most I've talked in a good while." Hood smirked softly.

"Well .. you're a lot less mysterious now that we've talked ... and I know you aren't 'nothing but bones'" Grath straightened up, leaning against the railing, with a laughing edge to her voice.

Hood's muzzle curled into a scowl, then a grin. "If Clecky thinks he has gotten away with that, he is quite mistaken. I'll find some way to pull a joke on him for that."

Grath raised an eyebrow with a smile "Ok."

She looked around. "It's so beautiful here .. so peaceful."

Hood shrugged, looking up at the sky for a moment. There was a scraping clatter from behind her, and as Grath began to turn around, something wrapped around her waist, yanking her backwards off the ship's railing and into thin air.

Grath yelped, struggling as she and whatever had grabbed her plummeted from the Seawarrior and hit the water. The otter's world turned into a cascade of sunlight and aqua-marine blues, and she kicked out hard at the thing that was holding her.

It released its grip instantly, and Grath swam strongly for the surface, bursting out of the water with a gasp. She coughed, hearing Martin's cry of dismay from somewhere above her.

A darkly furred head surfaced only a few feet from her own with a splashing, and Grath let out a little scream, lashing out with her webbed claws. The creature recoiled with a choking cry, a little blood splattering into the clear water.

He clamped a dark brown, thickly webbed paw to the side of his muzzle and mouth, blood running from the rips in one side of it. "Mmmpph .. what was that for!?"

She could see him properly now, he was another otter, bulkier and with thicker fur than most. Surprised and confused amber eyes met her own, and she blinked, before exclaiming, "No, I should ask you that! What do you expect when you pull me off my own ship with no warning? Who are you anyway? Why did you do that?"

"You better not move sah, you've got a lot to explain!" Clecky had his arms crossed, standing beside Hood, who had his crossbow trained on the newcomer.

The otter slowly let his paw drop from his muzzle, looking mostly confused, but somewhat remorseful. "This .. is your ship? You aren't the fox's prisoner?"

"No! Why would I be his prisoner?" Grath scowled. "He's our friend, he's one of us."

"But I .. but you .. I mean .." The otter ran a paw through his rich chocolate-colored headfur. "But your ship has a Sampetrian mark on the sail, and he's a fox .. and you were looking down and I thought he was threatening you .."

Plogg leaned over the railing. "Well you thought wrong!"

"Well .. I think I might see that .." He looked remorseful, and Grath sighed as she grabbed the rope Martin had thrown to her.

"Look, why don't you come on board and .. explain why you did .. what you did."

The otter looked up at Hood's crossbow and agreed. "Ok .. I guess."

Grath climbed up on deck, shaking herself off before the other creature pulled himself up over the railing, standing a little guiltily in their midst. He was as tall as Clecky or a even a little taller, and far stockier. "I'm sorry, honest .. but I've seen what pirates can do and I ... didn't want that to happen again."

Grath's eyes softened at this. "Who are you?"

A little grin appeared on his face. "I'm Inbar ... Inbar Trueflight of Holt Rudderwake."

Clecky circled him, chunnering. "Oh is that so? An' what is this Rudderwake place you young ruffian?"

Inbar looked slightly insulted. "I can't be much younger than you .. you .. erm .. whatever you're supposed to be."

He finished lamely, and Clecky's ears perked foreword in indignation. "I, sah, am a wild northern hare. Ya are adressin' Cleckstarr Montisle Ffolger of Icetor."

"Aha .. well I see you have hair .." The otter was honestly confused.

Clecky rolled his eyes. "No, not hair! Hare! H, A, R, E, Hare, of the wild northern type."

Hood shrugged. "In other words, a big rabbit."

Clecky scowled. "A rabbit indeed, some pal you are!"

Inbar looked blank. "What's a rabbit?"

Neither Clecky or Hood moved for a second, before Clecky muttered, "Hoody ol chap, I was angry with this poor beast a moment ago, but now I feel downright sorry for the cad."

Inbar raised an eyebrow, stating, "Well I've never seen creatures like you .. except the fox and ottermaid. I mean .. spikey rats .. really spikey rats .. spotted rats .. and a creature who thinks he's a hair .."

Plogg, Welko, Martin, and Tansy looked offended, and Cracklyn dropped out of the rigging, flicking her tail over her back as she landed. Inbar stared at her. "And a really tiny fox with a ... painfully flexible tail?"

"I am not a fox!" Cracklyn drew herself to her full height, flicking her tail up even higher. "I'm a squirrel."

Inbar winced. "Ouch. How can you even do that? Are you .. I mean .. doesn't that hurt like crazy?"

Cracklyn huffed.

"Ok .. look .. I think maybe I should just go." Inbar frowned. "I really get the feeling I'm just offending you."

Clecky scowled. "You most certainly are. But you won't be going either, wot!"

He grabbed the otter by his orange and red tunic. "You'll be telling us where you bally well came from .. you couldn't just randomly pop out of the sea."

"I come from Holt Rudderwake, didn't I tell you that?" Inbar looked unimpressed.

Clecky looked equally as unimpressed. "Fine an' dandy chap, but where is it?"

Inbar sighed. "Look behind you."

Grath shook her head. "But Inbar .. sir .. that's just a bunch of rocks. There's a holt there?"

There was a whistle, and an orange and red fletched arrow sank into the mast above Clecky's head, and a loud voice rang out. "Unhand the prince of Rudderwake or die, pirate scum!"

Inbar wrenched himself free of Clecky, and the hare staggered. The otter ran to the ship's railing, yelling, "Dad, dad, don't shoot! Don't! They aren't pirates .. and they have an otter with them! I know what they have on their sail, but they aren't Sampetrians, they'd have tied me up already if they were!"

There was a pause, before a richly furred otter stepped from behind some rocks. "This is true."

Several other otters appeared, bows loaded and ready. The first otter lowered his own bow, asking, "Who are they then?"

Inbar looked questioningly at them, and Martin stepped forward. "We are from Redwall Abbey, and we mean no harm to any woodlander or goodbeast!"

"Redwall Abbey .." The male otter scratched his chin. "I have heard of such a place in tales. Very well. Inbar, I suppose since you were so adventurous to cause us to reveal ourselves, you'd better bring your new friends to dinner."

Grath shook her head. "I'm very grateful .. it would be an honor, but we must go."

Inbar stared at her like she was crazy. "Miss, you can't refuse my father's hospitality. It would be extremely unwise, let me warn you as a friend."

"But I .."

Clecky interrupted Grath. "I say, dinner! An invitation to the jolly mess isn't to be discarded, wot?"

Grath sighed. "But Clecky .."

Martin shook his head. "Maybe we should just do it .. one night won't make too much of a difference, will it? It's not like you're going to catch that pirate before they reach their island anyway, they're too far ahead."

"Please miss?" Inbar raised an eyebrow. "My father will be insulted if you don't."

"Well I .. I guess." Grath gave in at last. "We could rest up a little, and be fresher for whatever confrontation must come."

A wide grin crossed the other otter's face, the biggest smile she'd ever seen on him so far. "It's around the other side of the island .. this ship is really amazing by the way, I've seen a ton of these and always wanted to get on one. How does it work?"

Grath smiled. "Plogg and Welko can tell you that more than I can."

"Right .." Inbar shrugged a little awkwardly. "I'm sorry I called you spikey rats .. though what are you?"

Welko grinned. "We're Guosim shrews, what else would we be?"

Inbar looked blank again, before nodding. "Whatever you say, I guess. What's your name, miss? And I'm sorry I pulled you off your ship."

He'd turned to Grath, and she looked down slightly, before stating, "I'm Grath."

"Just Grath? No chosen name, no holt? Me, I named myself 'Trueflight' because I don't miss a target very much." Inbar cocked an ear. "Now that I think about it, maybe that was kind of bragging."

Grath had been rubbing one of her arrow shafts out of habit, and she looked down at it. Sayna had made these, the finest, strongest arrows she had ever seen, iconic due to their long, chiseled green fletching.

Inbar shrugged. "Sooo .. I guess it is just Grath."

She looked up, shaking her head. "No, I am Grath .. Longfletch. Of Holt Lutra."


Romsca struggled, but it was in vain, and she'd not expected much else. She'd dreamed enough to know. The darkness was pulling her down with invisible, unbreakable chains, but she fought anyway, she would never give into it.

"Let me go! I won't watch again! I won't!"

Even as she screamed this, she knew she would. Darkness was swirling around her, pulling her down as disjointed jeers and accusations rang out, though she saw nobeast.




"I am not a failure!" Her voice echoed strangely in her own ears, as if somebeast else had said it. "Leave me alone! I only did what needed done!"

She landed hard in a pool of water, on her hands and knees, and drew in a shuddering breath. A new voice rang out now, and she knew it from long ago .. it was her own, when she was a young maid.

"It needed done, is it so?"

Romsca slowly looked up, drawing in a sharp gasp of horror. The little ottermaid stood before her, blood dripping from wounds far worse than the scratches she had born when they had met. She looked as one dead, though still alive, standing motionless, her golden hair whipping around her face. The apparition raised a paw, pointing it with deathly surety.

"Your father did this to me, was it what needed done? You tore my heart away that night, was it what needed done?"

Romsca tried to scramble backwards, but she couldn't move. The wane, half dead creature with her own voice laughed a terrible, mocking, broken laugh.

"Your country has shattered many hearts, tell me this .. was that what needed to happen? Answer, you scum, you beast from Hellgates themselves!"

Romsca tried to choke out a reply, tried to defend herself, but no words came, no words could. The ghastly shade laughed cruelly, fire burning in her green eyes, her voice ringing insanely.

"You think you lost your heart that day your father died? Wait, just wait, until your loved ones suffer and die around you, wait until all you knew and loved is destroyed, wait until your murderous nation is bathed in the blood of its helpless from one end to the other! Then you will know true despair!"

"No!" Romsca's desperate cry almost ripped itself from her throat. "No, phantom, I beg ya! I spared yer life, I did ya a good turn, do not cast this upon me! Spare me this, as I spared you!"

The otter sneered, licking blood from her muzzle, eyes wild. "You spared me? What do you see before you? Do you think this is about you? Fool, this is about every innocent life Sampetra has murdered, every heart they have broken, and all the tears they have stolen or spilled in all of history! You have had your chance to repent, but you have thrown it away, and mercy waits not forever. Your doom rides on one word .. justice!"

She raised her harpoon, slamming in into the water Romsca was kneeling in. "Justice!"

Romsca struggled as the pool of water transformed into one of blood, and the mists swirled around her to the reverberating echoes of the phantom's voice.

"Justice! It is coming, coming by the paws of your own kind .. justice!"

"I didn't want this! No! Stop this!" Romsca fought to be free of the stench of death, only now she was sinking in it, up to her waist and unable to move as it rose around her. "Help me, otter .. please!"

"She cannot."

Romsca coughed, gasping as she saw Conva standing where the ottermaid had. His head was on him again, and he looked far more alive than the previous apparition. She struggled, reaching out for him. "Dad .. help me! Get me outa here 'fore I drown in this!"

He sighed, a tear dripping down his cheek. "Didn't I say not to be a murderer? This is the only end it leads to."

The sickly, bloody water was splashing around her neck now, and no matter how she fought, her knees seemed clenched to the ground. "Dad .. please .. please .."

Conva shook his head, eyes sad. "I cannot. Only one can."

Suddenly her knees were free, and she was being swept along by the river of death, falling, falling into absolute darkness. But Conva's words still rang in her ears.

"Only one can save you from this, only Ignasa."

She could not breath, she was drowning in blood and the terrible smell of death, she was falling, or sinking, and nothing she did could reverse it. Nothing.

She struggled violently, trying to breath, trying to surface, trying anything ...


Romsca sat up, gasping as her eyes adjusted to the darkness of night in her cabin. Her heart was pounding, her fur was clammy and damp from sweat, and her hammock was twisted tightly around her legs as she hung half upside down from it, sheets wrapped around her upper body.

She twisted around, falling to the floor as her breathing began to slow, and she tried to untangle herself from her sheets, only to find her head sticking through a hole in the fabric. The ferret scowled, pulling it off and slumping to the floor, staring blankly at nothing.

Never before had she had a nightmare like that. She had dreamed of Xzaris being killed, of Rasconza being killed, of Val being killed and many, many times of her father being killed. And while they were vivid and horrific, while she'd feared them for seasons, they were not like this.

This rose a strange paranoia in her, a terror that was indescribable. These things would happen. It was somehow assured in her mind, all the ottermaid had said would surely come to pass, unlike other nightmares which stirred up the dead of the past. This was not in the past, this was the future, and this could not be changed. It was to happen.

It was so much more vivid than other dreams, it was not something her memory had created to torture her with. Even now, the subtle stench of blood danced in her nostrils. She looked at her claws, to see a little red staining them, and the scratches she'd torn in her own face when she was suffocating in her sheets began to sting for the first time.

Romsca slumped to the floor, murmuring, "Am I gonna die too? .. Is Xzaris? Rasconza .. Val .. me uncle ... no .. no please! Please, no!"

She curled up, wrapping her tail around her face and forepaws, shaking with dry, empty sobs. "Do not do this ta me! All the powers above must despise me ... that others can go on with their lives despite tragedy .. but me life is so entangled with it there is no hope!"

Romsca lay still, exhausted, her ear pressed against the floor ... and the voices of her prisoners came to her from below, in the brig.

"What was that?"

The male had spoken, and Sayna responded sleepily. "How'm I to know? Mmm .. aaack .. rotten, sleeping on the floor."

Durral sighed. "What I wouldn't give for my soft bed at Redwall."

"For once we agree on something." There was the clink of chains as Sayna stretched or shifted her position.

"But .." Durral's voice was confused. "I swear I can hear somebeast crying."

Romsca clamped her mouth shut, realizing her breathing was still shaking gasps. Sayna yawned. "Yes, and I swear I heard something fall on the floor above us a few moments ago. But whatever it is, it's not like we can go up there and find out."

"I suppose not." There was a clinking, then silence.

Romsca slowly sat up, trying to make as little noise as possible. She piled the strewn sheets into her hammock, scowling a little as she sat down on the window seat, muttering, "How can I live like this? Now me nightmares become prophetic .. an' of death an' blood .. an' justice. What did she mean by justice? With Ublaz, there ain't any."

Never before in her dreams, had she spoken to her father. Many times she had seen him and his death, but she'd never gotten a chance to say a word to him, and he'd certainly never said anything to her.

"This is what murder leads to. Only one can save you from this, only Ignasa."

Could the woodland lord her father turned to stop the horrible words of that dream from coming true? Could he save her friends and her people from what the ottermaid had prophesied?

Romsca stood up quickly, grabbing her short cape from its hook and fastening it about her shoulders, and slipping her paw around her axe's handle. She unlocked her door, shutting it quietly and walking quickly past the Monitor watching her.

"Capt'n? You alright?" Kage was watching her from the shadows.

She started. "What are ya doin' there?"

Kage shrugged. "Night watch capt'n, what else?"

"Right." Romsca could of kicked herself for forgetting who she'd assigned to night watch. "Carry on."

She strode past him toward the galley, quickly and quietly slipping into it. The lantern was hanging behind the door, burning softly, and she took hold of it, making her way down the steps. Waveworm was filled with a constant creaking, and the faint sounds of lapping water on the outside of the hull.

Romsca stopped on the outside of the door leading into the larger storage room that housed the brig. Was she really going to go talk to that creepy, prying witch again? But she was the only one that might have some answers.

The ferret unlocked the door, pushing it easily open. Durral saw her, and his eyes widened. He stretched his foot out, tapping Sayna on the side, and she slowly looked up. The mouse didn't move for a second, before sitting up and yawning. "What now ferret?"

"Capt'n." Romsca snapped. "An' I wanna talk ta ya."

Sayna did not look at her as she cooly stretched. "About what?"

"About .." Romsca paused, saying the name she had never uttered before, though she had thought it. "Ignasa."

The mouse stopped in mid-stretch, turning about instantly. "What?"

Nobeast moved for a second, before Romsca pressed. "Yer lord? Deity, ruler .. whatever ya call him. Ignasa."

"Ignasa, Lord of all, the Healing Fire." Sayna met her gaze with her cutting black eyes. "What do you wish to know, ferret?"

"I .. well .. I .." Romsca found herself at a loss for words, incapable of saying what she desired. She scowled, blurting, "Me father knew him."

Sayna looked surprised, and so did Durral. In fact, he was the one reply. "How? How could a pirate follow Lord Ignasa, when he didn't have anybeast to teach him?"

"He did, an ottermaid he took in a raid. She told him about her lord, and while he'd never shone favor to any prisoner before, he was so desperate fer anythin' ta calm him, he started actin' crazy. He said he followed Ignasa, an' ordered that I look after the otters." Romsca stared at the ground. "But it didn't work."

"Otters?" Sayna broke in. "How long ago was this?"

Romsca slowly looked up. "Nearly eight seasons."

Durral looked confused. "There is sorrow in your eyes .. but why?"

"Do you woodlanders think that a pirate has nothing ta suffer?" Romsca looked away. "What would you know? My father is dead, killed by a murderer in fronta me eyes, an' so are the otters he charged me ta protect. Me friends are ta die cause I found the cursed pearls and they didn't. The country I love lies in the grip a me father's killer, an' I cannot take revenge. Do ya find it strange I know pain?"

Sayna suddenly spoke. "You were the ones! You killed Holt Lutra!"

Romsca pinned her ears. "He didn't wanna go! Dad hated an' feared Mossflower's coast, he did it fer me, ta save me from Ublaz when he wanted ta kill our whole family."

She clenched her teeth bitterly. "But I failed him. He wouldn't of had ta die. I let the pearls be stolen, I killed me own father! An' he wouldn't hate me, he forgave me, because of the lord he called Ignasa. Now I face many of the same fears, so tell me of this lord I do not understand."

There was silence for a few moments, before Sayna crossed her arms with a clank of chains. "Ignasa is lord of everything in this world, and hates all evil. He has the right to judge everybeast, and he will judge you ferret, if you do not repent."

"That won't encourage her!" Durral exclaimed. "You heard her story, you could at least try to help her."

"I am helping her. I'm telling her the truth, and that is what she needs to hear." Sayna's voice was blunt.

Durral shook his head, obvious pity in his eyes. "My child, Ignasa is a loving lord. He cares for everybeast, and he is merciful unlike any other. He will comfort you and strengthen you if you put aside your evil deeds."

"No, just trying to reform does no good! She must repent of her wickedness and let Ignasa save her from it!" Sayna's eyes flashed, before they softened and she looked at Romsca. "In part, what Durral says is true. If you repent, Ignasa in his mercy will heal you. He will comfort you and will never leave you once. But if you attempt to save yourself and turn yourself into something good with your own power, you are a hypocrite and you are your own destruction."

Durral stared at her, before huffing. "You have a terrible way with words."

Sayna stared coldly at him. "I speak nothing but the truth, I will not bend it to make a beast feel better."

Romsca blinked. Had that otter .. Coral .. told her father about Ignasa like this? In honesty, she was still shocked by Sayna's complete daring, and yet it forced her to respect the mouse. She was what Romsca aspired to be .. she was fearless.

It was slightly angering, how little respect the mouse had for her, but her respect for this strange woodlander was growing quickly, despite her stinging words.

"But I am a vermin .."

Sayna interrupted. "Ferret, do not insinuate Ignasa loves vermin less. I have known ferrets with more loyalty and dedication than mice, cats with honor greater than squirrels, and I loved and married a beast who's mother was a rat. Your kind has the ability to be the strongest and most noble of creatures, those who aren't disgrace everything they could be."

Durral stared at the mouse for a moment, before crossing his arms. "Well that is one opinion."

Romsca made a face, before growling, "Why can't ya two agree about this? Ya serve the same lord, why do ya argue so much about him?"

Sayna didn't say anything for a moment, before stating, "I said I follow Ignasa. I'll let Durral speak for himself."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Durral sounded insulted.

Romsca rolled her eyes out of disgust, when there was a crash from on deck, yells, and a sudden pounding on something above her .. the door to her cabin. "Capt'n! Capt'n git out here!"

That was Rafglan's voice. Romsca bolted toward the galley door, hanging her lantern up and blowing it out, mentally cursing whichever fool had left it burning in the first place. She yanked open the door, leaping out on deck and drawing her axe in the same movement, yelling, "What's goin' on?"

Rafglan whirled around from his place near her door, and she noted the three Monitors between them. Kage stood a little to the side, a knife poised to throw in each paw. Romsca took an aggressive step forward, snarling at the lizards as several other crew members gathered. "What is the meanin' a this?"

Nobeast spoke for a moment, before one lizard hissed. "We are hungry. You muzzzt feed us more."

"I'm feedin' ya all I can." Romsca sneered. "Stay away from me first mate."

"We do not want him, we wanted to azzk him for the prizzonerzz." Another of the lizards spoke.

Romsca showed her teeth. "But those prisoners are fer yer master. He wants them, you would dare disobey him?"

They shrank back, hissing a little, until another voice rang out. "Mazzter didn't zzay he wanted prizzonerzz."

Lask took his place between Romsca and his lizards. "He zzaid he wanted pearlzzz. We got thozze for him, what do a few mizze matter? Mazzter hazz enough magic to uzze the zzzword and enough power to take the Redzztone cazztle. We do not need the mizze, give them to uzz, captain."

Romsca glared him down, and he sneered. "Unlezz you want to give uzz crewbeazztzz inzztead."

All movement ceased in the instant. Romsca was frozen in shock for a second, pondering. She clenched her marked paw together, her lip curling up in a snarl.

No! I must know, I must learn about the lord my father served, about my mark, about what I am supposed to be! Those mice are my answer!

"Are we worth less ta ya then a couple worthless woodlanders?" Cheng's voice was a snarl. "We are yer own kind, they are our enemies! They were born ta serve us, an' ya would pertect em over yer own crew? Traitor!"

"Enough!" Romsca's voice was a roar. "Shut it an' go ta Hellgates ya scum, I'd like ta stick me axe in ya! Nobeast is gettin' eaten, ya hear me, nobeast!"

Lask opened his mouth in a sneering manner, but he never said a word. Romsca yanked the shell-case of pearls from her satchel, holding it over the railing of the ship. "If ya make one move toward me or one a me crew, I'll drop this. Do I make meself clear?"

The creak of rigging and splash of waves was the only sound, before Lask spoke, voice guttural. "Put those back, captain."

Romsca grinned crazily. "What's it gonna be Lask? Meat, or yer master's pearls? Cause if'n ya don't get down in the hold, I will drop these!"

"We muzzt obey her, we cannot loozze mazzter'zz pearlzz!" One of the other Monitors hissed fearfully.

Lask looked like he wished with all his might to argue, but something was holding him back. "Ublazz will make your death long."

"Ha! Only if he gets me!" Romsca laughed dementedly. "Maybe I'll drop these an' die killin' ya, than yer Master won't get his pearls or his wretched servant back either .. ha, maybe it's worth it."

Lask was struggling with two inner forces, it was obvious from his face. But one won out, and he started to back up toward the hold, his lizards swiftly doing the same. "Thizz izzn't over."

"I know it." Romsca licked her teeth, eyes flashing. "It's been too long since I spilled blood."

The Monitor slowly slipped halfway down onto the hold's ladder, snarling, "Another time, you'll pay for thizz. You will pay in agony captain, you will pay!"

"Chase yer tail, Hellgate ridden scum!" Romsca laughed, an insane shine in her eyes. "An' don't ask ta eat anybeast on me ship again!"

He vanished, and Romsca slipped the pearls back into her satchel, taking a second to buckle it before she turned on Cheng, running him hard against the mast before he realized what was happening. "An' ya, I oughta run a knife through yer rotten gut, ya two-faced son of a dog! Do not call me a traitor again, I am loyal ta those under me. It is me duty ta pertect me crew an' by Astraria I'll do me best! But if ya disrespect me once more, I'll flog ya ta shreds an' give Lask some meat, do ya unnerstand?"

The weasel grappled with her a moment, before she kicked him hard in the legs, shoving an arm hard across his throat. He glared at her, choking, "What 'appened ta 'I'll pertect me crew?'"

Romsca snarled, pushing her arm harder against his neck, standing to the side so he could not kick her. "Yer givin' me enough trouble, I ain't thinkin' a ya so much as me crew. I'm startin' ta think a ya as a mutineer, do I make meself quite clear?"

Cheng was gasping now, face a grimace as he fought for air, and Romsca snarled, "I said, do I make meself clear?"

"Y .. Yes .... Capt'n!" His voice was a rasping choke, and Romsca withdrew her arm, paying no heed to the rips his desperate claws had torn in it. The weasel collapsed to the deck, clutching his throat and gasping.

Romsca pointed her paw at him as blood slowly ran down her arm, staining her sleeve. "Once more an' ya die. Keep yer life an what little dignity ya have left, an' be a loyal crewbeast."

"Ya .. hate me .. you'll .. never give me .. no chance .." Cheng didn't look up, though his voice was hard.

"I'd give ya a chance if'n ya was worth somethin', an' I'm too nice ta ya cause I'm givin' ya one now. This is yer last chance, Cheng. I don't got a lot a patience, but I'm gonna let ya try once more. If'n ya fail this time, ya die."

Romsca turned away, meeting the startled gazes of both Rafglan and Kage. "An' that goes fer alla ya! Get back ta work!"

Rafglan walked away, though something danced in his eyes. Kage didn't move until she passed him, and he raised an eyebrow. "Ya alright capt'n?"

Romsca didn't meet his blue gaze for a second as the insanity faded from her eyes. "No. What'da ya really expect?"

"Ya looked a bit insane fer a moment." He pointed out.

"I was." Romsca snorted. "Ya oughta know I'm mad Kage, ya oughta know jist from sailin' this long with me. I'm able ta function, but I'm totally insane. It ain't a secret. An' I ain't hidin' it either."

Kage didn't say anything for a moment, before stating, "Guess ya trust me pretty well ta tell me that."

"Trust ya? I don't trust nobeast but meself an' not even that sometimes." Romsca laughed harshly. "I used ta trust, but it's fer fools. Every onea us is a killer at heart, everybeast fer himself, kill or be killed. That's the way the world works. I paid ya. I don't trust ya, an' if I were ya I wouldn't trust me. We're partners fer awhile, til we turn on each other. Get used ta it."

He slowly grinned. "Yer a smart beast capt'n. Smarter than most I ever met."

Romsca shrugged. "I had good teachers. Get back ta yer guard, an' goodnight."

She closed her door in his face, locking it and slowly letting herself drop into her hammock. It swayed gently with the ship as she stared dully at the ceiling, not allowing the sound of lapping waves to lull her to sleep. She'd slept enough for one night.


"This is were you live? It's so .. well .. How do you do it?"

They had docked the ship in a small, nearly enclosed harbor, and had spent the night in the rocky bay, in some small, simple caves in the tall rock walls. Now Grath was watching Inbar questioningly as he stood on the pebbly shore, the rising sun turning his dark fur iridescent.

He turned slightly, with a slow grin. "How we live here? Well it's not that hard, having done it all my life."

He sighed, smile fading a little. "And .. it's a good thing I'm used to it, because it's not like I'll ever get to leave."

Grath swiped some loose hair from her eyes. "Why do you say that?"

"Well .. you probably get that my father's not very welcoming of outsiders." He paused, quickly defending against any bad thoughts toward his previous statement. "And .. you know, it's not his fault, what with the pirates .. and .. and all."

The otter rubbed the back of his neck, shrugging. "And Holt Rudderwake .. well, we're pretty much alone. The otters that are born here, live their days in peace here, and they die here. We aren't big on exploration. We have everything we need right here .. so I guess we shouldn't care. And for the prince .. to wish to see other places sometimes, it doesn't really .. work."

His amber eyes were apologetic. "Am I making any sense at all to you?"

"Well, yes. And no. You talk as if you have a whole holt here, with families and young ones, but I've only seen a few adults." Grath shrugged. "I had a holt once, and I thought ..."

She broke off. Inbar had been looking slightly uncomfortable, but at this he perked his ears up. "What do you mean?"

Grath hung her head. "When you said you'd seen what pirates could do and your holt seems so small, I'd thought you meant they'd attacked you like they'd attacked me. They .. killed everyone."

"No .. no I didn't mean anything like that." Inbar shook his head. "They fish in our waters and I've seen them kill old oar slaves .. once. I was ten or so. Yea .. it left an impression on me. I'd not really understood what they were about to do to them .. it was the first time I saw another talking beast die. And I swore if I ever saw anybeast in trouble like that again, I wouldn't just stand by and do nothing. Which is why I .. well .. sort of .. abducted you. I didn't want you to die like those two otters did."

He coughed, shaking himself. "Anyway, to happier subjects. They killed everyone? .. I mean, that's not quite what I meant by happy .."

"They did. Well, everyone but me." Grath stared across the little bay, the sun setting her eyes alight. "And now I'm going to bring .. justice. That's the right word. I'm going to bring justice."

Her voice suddenly slipped from the determined sound it was to a shyer note. "I mean .. I'm going to try."

"It's so important to you?" Inbar looked interested.

Grath nodded. "It is. I mean, not as important as my friends, but .. but .."

Her eyes hardened. "But they can't be allowed to roam around, killing whoever they please and taking whatever they want. Sayna says they've been doing this for over seven hundred years .. well it's got to stop. And if I'm the one Ignasa wants to stop it .. that's what I intend to do."

"But you .. how do you plan to do anything against the most powerful nation on these seas?" Inbar shook his head. "You and your .. strange friends .. well you wouldn't stand a chance against those pirates."

Grath gave him a hard look, and he looked away. "Sorry."

The ottermaid quickly fell to looking at the ground as she usually did, with a sigh. "I know. It's stupid, but I have to try my best. I just have to. Or else this tyranny may go on forever."

Inbar blinked, but didn't say anything. And there wasn't much time to either, as there was a step behind them. "I see you are getting to know our guest, son."

The otter's voice was neutral, but his son jumped. "Dad! Oh .. we were just talking. About things."

A small smile, or perhaps really a grimace passed across the older otter's face. "It is good to get to know a beast, indeed. And you will be pleased to know I've decided to accept our guests."

Inbar's ears flicked forward, before cocking in confusion. "Really?"

"Yes. I will see the others awaken and come with us. You may take the young ottermaid on ahead if you desire."

Inbar nodded his thanks quickly, before calling, "Come on! Now I can show you where I really live .. I think you'll like it."

Grath looked around for one second, before trotting after him. He bounded along the shore easily, looking over his shoulder after a few minutes. "Hey .. are you coming?"

"Yes." Grath had slowed to a walk. "Can we go a little slower?"

Inbar shrugged. "If you want, but why?"

"I .." She drew in quick breath. "Like walking better."

He looked confused, but nodded, laughing. "Ok. This way."

The cliffs were more of a sharply inclined hill here, and Inbar bounded up onto some rocks at the base of it. "There's a staircase of sorts, but watch your step. It's a little narrow in some places."

Grath followed him up the hewn steps, worn by time. "How long has your holt been here?"

"Legend is we were founded by an otter who escaped Sampetra. He gathered his people, the sea otters, widespread at that time, and built a holt to protect us from the fate so many suffer. It is said the ship he rowed on sank in a storm, and by some divine mercy, he was thrown upon this island."

Inbar paused. "It is said that happened five hundred seasons ago. Around two hundred after Sampetra began it's domination of the seas. At one time Terramort stood opposed to them .. as pirates themselves .. but when they were defeated long ago, Sampetra beat them down before they could rise again and held them in terror and submission ever since. Now they have grown nearly unstoppable, until the last five or seven seasons .. in which something strange has happened to them."

"What exactly?" Grath climbed a few steps. "And how do you know all this?"

"I like to study history, it fascinates me how it constantly changes, and yet only repeats. And I spy on all pirate ships that fish in our waters."

Inbar stopped, giving her a nervous look. "Don't tell dad I said that. He'd think I was being foolish, but I just know .. that it's .. well .."

"The right thing to do?" Grath looked down. "Sometimes running risks is."

"You know, you're a strange creature." Inbar paused, quickly adding, "And I mean that in a good way."

Grath looked up a little, smiling slightly, before changing the subject. "Where are we going?"

They had reached a cleft in the rock, which the staircase went through. Inbar grinned. "Right this way."

Light slanted over the towering walls, creating jagged pools of sun on the dark rocks around them. "What makes the rocks so dark? I can see why you call it Black Mountain."

Inbar's eyes twinkled. "They're volcanic, hardened lava. And who said we call it Black Mountain? That's what pirates say."

They came out into the morning light, and the center of the island spread out before them, houses, fields, and a river decorating the interior. "This is Ruddaring."

Grath didn't move for a moment, staring at the land before her. Otters were going about their business, fishing, farming, washing clothes. Young ones played in the water of the river or the shade of the high stone walls, and it was familiar. "It reminds me of my holt. How it used to be."

Inbar didn't speak right away, before he stated, "Well, you could join us. This could be your holt if you wanted."

There was silence for a moment, before Grath asked, "My friends?"

"They could stay too, as long as they don't disobey any rules." Inbar shrugged. "I'm not sure if they'd really be Rudderwake otters .. since they aren't otters .. but dad could work something out. You wouldn't have to chase pirates, you could live safely here instead."

Grath sighed. "Inbar .. honestly, I almost wish I could. But I can't."

He nodded slowly. "Right .. well how about you visit a bit. It's almost time for the summer feast, you could be our guests for that at least? It's tomorrow night."

"Well .." Grath suddenly could hear the faint sounds of the others from behind them, and paused. Maybe they should, a little fun sounded tempting even to her. "I guess. But then we will have to leave."

“I see.” Inbar didn’t sound very sure of himself. “Because of your quest.” Grath nodded. “Basically. Maybe, if we lived, we could come back. Thank you though, I’m sorry it won’t work right now.”

“Don’t mention it.” Inbar scratched the back of his neck, stating, “Look .. I don’t think .. well .. never mind.”

The others had caught up to them, and Inbar’s father dipped his head to Grath. “Your friends want to stay for our feast, what do you think?”

She sighed. “I suppose that would be fine, but we will have to leave afterward. It’s very kind of you.”

He smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Of course. I am Wallyum, skipper of Holt Rudderwake, as you know.”

Grath nodded, dipping her head. He looked at a few of the otters with them, stating, “Take our guests to my wife, she will see about accommodating them. I need a word with Inbar.

Grath cast a glance at him, and he smiled in a carefree manner. “I’ll catch up in a minute.”

As they disappeared, Inbar turned to the older otter. “Dad ..”

“You know what is at stake, son. Our freedom, our peace, our very lives .. this is not a simple matter.” Wallyum’s voice was slightly hard. “Tell me you understand this much.”

“Of course dad .. but they aren’t pirates.” Inbar protested.

Wallyum crossed his arms. “No, they just want to chase down the pirates. Inbar, you’ve heard the pirates themselves tell each other stories of the Emperor who can make even the hardest beast tell him secrets they didn’t even know themselves. He’s a hypnotist and a beast who wields black magic, don’t they say?”

Inbar sighed. “Yes. That’s what they say.”

“Now just imagine son, when that little crew of friends get there. Maybe they’ll take out twenty or thirty beasts, but they will be captured. The pirate emperor will question them, force them to tell him anything he wishes to know.” Wallyum frowned. “And they have been here, seen us .. and know we exist. It won’t be long before the pirates do too if they go, and they will bring war, death, and destruction. That is why I told you to never give away our location!”

“I know, but I thought they were going to kill her! Just like .. those other beasts. And all the goodbeasts they have killed.” Inbar defended himself. Wallyum’s eyes softened a little. “Yes .. I suppose I cannot blame your motives. But the question is what to do now? They can’t leave Ruddaring.”

“But they have a quest .. and her whole holt was slaughtered by those wicked beasts!”

“And if they leave here and continue on their journey, there will be another entire holt that will die!” Wallyum’s eyes flashed. “Do you want that for your mother or sister Inbar? Do you want it for yourself?”

His son hung his head. “No. But it doesn’t feel right.”

“But it is what must be done.” Wallyum sighed, laying a paw on Inbar’s shoulder. “I know it may not seem right, but it is. If they go Inbar, they will but die. Keeping them here is not just for us, it’s for them too. Do you understand?”

“Yes father.” Inbar sighed.

Wallyum crossed his arms. “Now I know things haven’t been going well lately, what with you, and the holt. Admittedly, I’ve been frustrated with you myself. But I’m going to trust you with this, because I trust you understand what will happen if they continue.” Inbar nodded. “Yes .. I do. But what do you want me to do?”

“Simply try to convince them to stay here. If they simply want revenge, or maybe if the ottermaid wants revenge and convinced the others to help her .. they must know they stare death in the face. And they would likely rather live peacefully, from the looks of them.”

“That’s true.” Inbar added quickly. “Grath said she would like to live here, if not for her quest.”

Wallyum nodded. “In that case, perhaps it will be easier than I thought.” There was a pause, before Inbar asked, “And if they insist to go?” His father sighed heavily, clearing his throat. “I don’t want you to think of me poorly, but understand I’m only doing this for the good of everybeast. We’ll be forced to sink their ship if it comes down to that.”

“But that’s .. I mean ..”

“It’s wrong? Perhaps so, but you see there is no other way.” Inbar sighed, holding out a paw. “But what if they could actually stop the pirates? Then we wouldn’t be forced to do things like this.”

Wallyum shook his head. “I would love to see that day. I would give a lot to see that day. But we are not warriors son, and neither are they. Even if they were, what could eight beasts do against all Sampetra? No, it is impossible, even you know that.”

“Yea.” The darkly furred otter agreed regretfully. Wallyum nodded. “I’ve entrusted you not to warn them, or help them leave, they must never leave Ruddaring. Follow your head for once Inbar, instead of rushing about after gut feelings. They’re often wrong. And please son, please do not fail me in this. If you do, you’ll have condemned us all.”

His father clapped him on the shoulder. “Now I am going to help your mother with preparing the feast, and you should do the same.”

Inbar watched him go for a moment, before following him slowly. “I’ll do my best, dad.”


Everybeast was on edge and wary of each other, after the incident with Lask, the pearls, and Cheng. Romsca found herself regarding each crew member with customized doubts, paranoias, and suspicions .. something she’d already been doing, only now it was worse.

It had been nearly two days since Lask’s hunger had tempted him to threaten her, and as there was little food on the ship, it wasn’t getting better. She’d simply delayed the confrontation for a while, but it was destined to come, as sure as dusk and dawn.

He would have confronted her far sooner, had the lizards under him not been so petrified by how close they had come to losing the pearls.

Pretty much everybeast on the ship hated Romsca, and vise-versa. The ferret could feel the disgust in every stare that burned into her pelt, but she held her head high, a sneer on her lips and her axe in her paw.

Still, she could only hold this crew under fear of her for so long, and with Lask, it might be shorter than she liked.

Sure enough, as she climbed down the steps, Kage came running up. “Capt’n, it’s Lask again .. I heard him talkin’. An’ Capt’n, Cheng and his bunch are onta me, that I’m yer spy .. I can’t ..”


Romsca pushed Kage behind her, pointing her axe at the one before her. “Whatda ya want Lask?” The lizard sneered. “You may have pulled a clever little trick captain, but you muzzt underzztand we cannot wait forever. We are zztarving, zzzo you muzzt feed uzz the prizzonerzz.”

“I don’t gotta do no such thing!”

A paw grabbed her arm, and Kage’s voice rang in her ear. “Capt’n, ya gotta! They’ll eat us if’n ya don’t ..”

Romsca shook him off with vicious strength. “Shut yer mouth! They ain’t eatin’ me prisoners an’ they ain’t eatin’ me crew, ya got that?”

“But ya gotta give in at some point ..”

Romsca pushed Kage backwards, eyes flashing. “I will always fight!”

She turned on Lask. “An’ you! Who do ya think ya are, threatenin’ me an’ me crew like this! If yer gonna be on me ship, ya oughta be on me side .. what we suffer, ya oughta do the same! We’re all hungry! But what do ya do? Ya try ta eat us, an’ ya never help out ‘round this ship, just lay around in the sun and waste resources! I’m about through with it all!”

Lask snarled. “You cannot zztop me captain. Now give uzz the prizzonerzz or we will take them.”

“Ya really think ya can break through that door? Oh sure, ya probably could, but it’ll take ya a good while an some bruises, that’s a brig.” Romsca sneered. “It’s not meant ta be opened without a key.”

Lask advanced on her, growling, “Open the door.”

Romsca’s eyes gleamed madly as she laughed. “That’s a challenge? I ain’t gonna snivel at yer claws like ya snivel and yer master’s!”

Several other lizards had gathered, and Kage had backed up, probably thinking his captain was not partially insane, but completely so. Romsca licked her fangs, laughing harshly at her own thoughts. Maybe she was.

Lask snarled, rushing forward, and Romsca leapt high into the air, letting him run under her. He spun around, growling and dashing toward her again, spiked tail digging deep grooves in the deck’s planking, and this time, Romsca ducked aside.

However now Lask had her unbalanced, and his forelimb shot out, catching her in the side and sending her flying. Romsca hit something hard, sprawling to ground as the rush of insanity was diminished from the jolt of pain that instantly followed.

Her vision swam as she braced herself for shredding claws to tear her apart, but Lask just sneered. “I’ll wait one night captain. Tonight. And then you muzzt make a choizze. Becauzze we all zzhould have the chanzze to make choizzezz, zzhouldn’t we?”

Romsca pulled herself to her knees as Lask thrust his muzzle in her face. “You will remain in your cabin until dawn, when you will give uzz our anzzwer .. if you don’t open that door, we will eat beazztzz of your crew. Zzzimple enough for you, captain?”

Romsca groaned, curling her lip, and Lask shoved her hard, sending her toppling into her own cabin. She slowly pulled herself to her paws, standing erect and stiff, ears pinned hatefully as Lask and three other Monitors took their place outside her door.

The ferret limped forward, face frozen in a snarl as she slammed the door hard in their faces, drawing the bolt. She rubbed her side regretfully, slowly collapsing on the window seat, and slowly letting her eyes close, though not in sleep.

What fool was she?

She couldn't stop them.


Grath and Inbar (by Sayna)

Archery among friends ;)

The Rudderwake otters were wary at first, but they were also curious, and soon this overcame their fear. It also seemed quite a few of them had at least an interest in archery, so Grath and Welko were asked about their skills with the bow enough, Welko suggested a demonstration.

About this time Inbar rejoined them, and was in agreement with Welko.

“We could all do some shooting, we have a range.” He motioned in the direction. “This way. I’ll get my bow.”

Grath shrugged. “Ok .. if you want that ..”

Inbar grinned. “Think you can beat me?”

“I didn’t say that.” Grath protested.

Welko nudged Inbar, winking, “Grath just doesn’t like to show off. She actually shot a giant lizard thing in the eye once, and saved my life.”

Inbar looked impressed. “Really?”

Grath poked Welko. “Oh stop it.”

She walked on ahead, and Welko looked mischievous. “Heeey .. she likes you! And I forgive you for calling me a spikey rat.”

He skipped after Grath, leaving Inbar to ponder this for a moment. He caught up soon after, and they stopped at the glade with targets set in it. Welko scratched the few scruffy hairs on his chin, asking, “How far is that?”

“It’s just forty yards.” Inbar shrugged, adding, “You can shoot forty yards, right?”

“Of course I can!” Welko replied quickly. “And Grath can too.”

Inbar smiled, bowing a little to Grath. “In that case, you can go first, Longfletch.”

Grath blinked, before remembering the name she’d given herself, and shrugged. “Ok ..”

She slowly pulled an arrow from her quiver, loading it and drawing back slowly. The otter closed one eye, sighting along the arrow and slowly letting the string slip from her fingers as she exhaled. There was a faint whistle for one second, then a thwack.

“Whoa, you are a good shot!” Inbar squinted. “If that’s not a bullseye it’s got to be close.”

Welko grinned. “Very good, but you haven’t seen anything yet!”

He whipped out an arrow, drawing back and closing one eye, before releasing. A cracking sound split the air, and Grath glared at him. “How do you do that Welko? That was my arrow, you split it.”

She groaned. “I only have so many, and it’s not like I can ask Sayna to make me more at the moment.”

“Sorry ..” The shrew sighed. “Well .. shall we go take stock of the damage?”

“I guess.” Grath grumbled a little, even though she knew it wasn’t something to get worked up about, things like that just happened in archery.

Inbar fell in step with Grath, asking, “Who’s Sayna?”

“She’s my mentor .. she taught me to shoot.” The otter looked down. “She was a strange sort of friend .. maybe like a mother. Or an aunt, or something. But she made my bow and arrows, and while she tried to teach me to make arrows myself, I was never much good at it.”

“Ah. And you can’t have her make you more now that you left your home on your quest.”

Grath looked up, quickly shaking her head. “No, Sayna was captured by pirates, and that’s why we’re chasing them, to save her and Abbot Durral.”

Inbar was silent, before asking, “You mean it’s not just about you avenging your family?”

“No, not at all!” Grath was surprised. “I mean .. I admit it’s a part of that, but some pirates captured Redwall’s abbot, and Sayna too. They’ll do something terrible to them if we don’t get them back, and father abbot ... well he’s not a fighter. Sayna can defend herself better than anybeast I’ve ever met, but the abbot’s always been a peaceful beast.”

She looked down. “So you see, we have to save them.”

Welko yanked the arrows from the target, handing Grath’s splintered arrow to her ashamedly. “Here .. uh .. sorry about that. I’ll make you another if we find some feathers.”

“It’s alright.” She gave in, pulling the head from the ruined shaft.

Inbar was strangely silent, and seemed preoccupied by something. Welko broke the silence. “Sooo .. are we going to get to see you shoot?”

The otter blinked, rubbing his head. “What? Uh .. oh yea. Sure.”

Grath wondered at the sudden change. “Hey, is something wrong?”

“No, no nothing. I was just thinking ..” He replied quickly, though he didn’t exactly finish his sentence. They’d reached the front of the little glade, and Grath found herself faced with a young ottermaid of seven or so, with fur the color of sunshine.


The ottermaid wrinkled her nose in careful scrutiny of Grath. “Your fur’s not thick like most otters.”

Grath blinked. “Well .. yes. I’m a river otter, not a sea otter.”

“What are you up to Winniegold?” Inbar raised an eyebrow.

Winniegold was looking from Grath, to Inbar, and back to Grath with underlying suspicion. “Mother says you aren’t supposed to be shooting when she needs you to carry tables for the feast.”

“Oh ..” Inbar turned to Grath and Welko. “I’m sorry, I really am .. I’ll be back soon. Feel free to practice all you want.”

He hurried off, but Winniegold didn’t move. She raised one eyebrow without so much as twitching the other. “Do you like my brother?”

“Me?” Grath was startled. “Well .. I mean .. I ..”

“Most girls do you know.” Winniegold was straight to the point. “He’s my brother, not your boyfriend, and so there.”

Grath blinked, before flushing a little. “No, of course not! I barely know him.”

Winniegold looked exceedingly unconvinced. “He’s my best friend, and I don’t care if he’s nine seasons older than me. So leave him alone.”

She stomped off, and Welko poked Grath. “Wonderfully friendly, that one.”

He pulled out an arrow, inspected it, notched it on the string of his bow and shot. It hit the target with a splitting thunk, and the shrew grinned. “Ha! When we get to that pirate island, I’ll give them something to think about! Hey, think they’ll have any buried treasure?”

Grath rubbed her shoulder. “I think they’re confident enough they won’t be burying it.”

“Oh good.” Welko shot again. “Makes things easier for us.”

He paused, adding a little lamely. “I mean in finding the treasure, Not in everything else.”

“I .. just have to believe that Ignasa will help us.” Grath sighed. “Otherwise I’d have given up long ago.”

Not far away, in the area where the feast was being set up, Hood was hanging about in the vague hope he might keep Clecky out of whatever food was to be had. Tansy and Plogg had gone to help with cooking, Cracklyn found a warm reception hanging lanterns, and Martin found himself playing songs by popular demand.

In fact, everybeast was getting on quite well except for Hood. As usual, the fox found himself faced with suspicion and a rather cold shoulder. He wandered away from the general crowd of creatures, behind some tables and the stone fire-pit where fish was roasting and a cauldron of spicy-smelling soup was bubbling.

The fox leaned against the wall of a nearby house, closing his eyes for a moment. His sensitive ears picked up the faint sound of a sort of soft scraping. In interest, he slipped around the corner, to see a young, golden-furred ottermaid stirring a bowl of something.

Hood said nothing, just watched in silence as the otter grabbed a shaker and added some of what was in it to the bowl. She slowly noticed him, paw poised in mid-shake. Neither moved for a moment, before she stuck the shaker behind her back. There was a pause, and she suddenly asked, “Are you blind?”

Hood sighed. “No.”

“Well .. uh .. can you actually see through that hood?”


The otter held her paws out in a stopping motion. “Then you didn’t see anything.”

Hood smirked. “Actually, I saw you mixing something in a bowl.”

“That must have been your imagination.” She was adamant.

“In that case, it must be vivid. I suppose the bowl on the ground in front of you is also my imagination?” Hood realized he hadn’t been sarcastic in too long.

She shoved the bowl behind her, nodding. “It was.”

Hood said nothing, but neither did he move. The otter seemed to wilt underneath his stare, which she must have been imagining was cutting through her pelt or something equally as preposterous. She suddenly broke her silence. “Ahh! Don’t tell on me, it’s a matter of life and death!”

“Is it?” Hood perked his ears forward.

“Yes.” She was firm. “I can’t let my brother get married! My friend’s older sister got married, and now she has no time to pay any attention to her. So I’ve got to keep Inbar single, and I’ve done a good job of it ... until now.”

Hood was finding this slightly amusing. “Really?”

She nodded vigorously. “Yes! He’s never paid attention to any girl before, and now he finds this blonde stranger and goes totally head over heels! It’s really disgusting.”

“Indeed?” Hood flicked an ear, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. “What if Grath doesn’t feel the same way?”

“I’ve yet to see that.” The otter had her mind made up. “But you can’t tell!”

“And what is that then?” Hood asked. “Poison?”

“No!” She seemed honestly shocked. “That’s just awful! This is hotroot. The especially spicy kind. If she’s an otter, let’s see if she can eat this.”

“Hmm ..” Hood scratched his chin. “And you’re sure a perfect stranger deserves that?”

“Well ... no, when you say it like that I guess she doesn’t deserve it ... but I have to save my brother.”

Hood coughed into his paw, holding in the mad desire to laugh. He had truly had a brilliant idea.

She begged. “So please don’t tell! This is important!”

“Well now .. I’m not much of a talker, if you noticed. I think I can keep a secret, at least one.”

The otter looked immensely relieved, and Hood turned away, rubbing his muzzle on his sleeve. Grath might not deserve the prank looming over her head, but Hood knew exactly who did.


I hate lizards. Now Lask is going to force me to let him eat those mice ... I can’t! I still have so much to learn from them! And it may be soft for me to think this, but .. they didn’t deserve any of what I’ve brought upon them.

Romsca stared at the pages of her journal, before writing again.

Still .. there’s nothing for me to do. As much as I hate it, Kage, Raf, and Cheng are right. I can’t save them .. my crew have to come first.

She felt terrible guilt as she looked at these words, cold as the blue ink she was writing them in.

I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want to come to Mossflower. I just wanted to be the best sea captain Sampetra had known, just like my father and uncle. And I will be. I guess things like this .. are just part of the occupation, and I should get used to them. I must accept the hurt and continue .. like I do with everything else. This is simply a part of being what I am.

Romsca stared at her journal, before slamming it shut. Her logical words did nothing to sooth the crushing feeling in her heart, in fact, they made it worse.

She slipped the dog-eared book under her pillow, corking her ink and walking to her desk, opening a drawer and putting the items in it. As she shut the drawer, there was a spontaneous, soft thump. Romsca raised her head slowly, feeling a chill run up her spine as she looked for the reason, but saw no real offender.

There were plenty of things to make the noise, but she remained still and silent for moments afterward, waiting for it to be repeated.

It was not, however, there was a different sounding thump, and a soft hiss of a voice. “Ya fool, I said silently! Ya could wake the dead with that racket!”

“Heh, she may be a tough wench, but she ain’t that tough. When we’re done with her, nothin’ I do’ll wake her.”

“Yea well, shut up so we kin do this before she runs squealin’ ta her first mate.”

Romsca slowly clenched her jaw. Squealing to her first mate was it? Well perhaps they needed to see the true metal of a dragon.

She cast one glance at her door, bolted from the inside. Perfect.

The ferret grabbed her axe, slowly backing into the shadows beside the windows as a soft scraping began at the latch of the nearest one. Romsca narrowed her eyes, wondering how many would come, though she was sure it wouldn’t be many .. this was assassination after all.

A slow chill ran through her .. if she’d been asleep, she would never have heard those soft voices.

As it faded, a nasty grin replaced it. But she had heard, and she was ready.

Romsca slowly drew a knife, readying her axe.

Tonight, there were games afoot.

The window swung open silently, and a silver-gray rat slipped in, Romsca remembered him as one of the lookouts. She narrowed her eyes as Cheng came in next, holding a knife to thrust down with. He nodded to accomplice. “Quickly.”

Romsca didn’t move an inch as the tawny weasel slipped toward her hammock, raising his knife and freezing as he found it empty. “What ...”

The silver rat wheeled around, eyes wide as he looked for his missing captain, and Romsca hurled the knife in her paw with vicious strength. The rat gasped, clamping his paws on the hilt of the knife that had buried itself in his ribs as he crumpled to the floor, coughing, blood flecking his lips.

Romsca’s eyes gleamed as she stepped from the shadows, sneering, “Lookin’ fer me, Cheng?”

His mouth had fallen open in shock, but he quickly recovered his wits, and threw his knife.

Romsca threw herself to the side, wincing as the blade tore a jagged wound across the lower portion of her jaw, shattering the fine glass of the bookshelf behind her.

Cheng rushed forward, empty pawed in hopes of strangling her while she was overballenced, but Romsca fell into a squat, slamming one leg into his. The weasel fell directly into the shelf, and more glass shattered, tearing into his face and shoulders.

He let out a half-sane roar, wheeling about and taking his knife with him, blood flowing from a wound on his forehead. “I’ve got ya now dog of a wench!”

Romsca sneered. “I think ya have that a little twisted.”

“Ha, yer door’s locked, I got ya cornered!” Cheng dashed at her, and Romsca leapt onto her desk, kicking a collection of ink and papers into his face.

“Are ya sure it ain’t ya the one that’s cornered? This is my cabin, not yers.”

Cheng wiped ink out of his eyes. “When I’m done with ya, it’ll be mine!”

Romsca threw herself at him, slamming both feet hard into his chest and sending him reeling. She landed on one knee, axe poised. “Then try an’ take it.”

“Capt’n!” There was a pounding on her door, and Rafglan’s voice. “Capt’n, git this door open!”

Romsca laughed. “Not on yer life Raf! This one’s mine at last.”

Cheng growled, holding his knife out flat, before spinning around and thrusting with blinding speed. Romsca tumbled to the side, rolling twice and shoving herself back on her feet.

“Yer good.”

Cheng leapt up, grabbing the rafters and swinging himself at her, his boot smashing across her muzzle before she could move an inch, evoking a gasp of pain. The weasel landed smoothly, one paw gripping the floor, knife held out straight and flat. “But are ya good enough?”

Romsca could not keep from holding her burning nose, snorting blood from it as blackness swam in her vision.

“Aww, is the poor liddle wench havin’ a hard time?”

Romsca’s eyes blazed as she hurled her axe at him, and he threw himself to the ground, the blade slicing his right ear off and ripping part of his scalp away with it.

The weasel screamed, throwing his knife at her on impulse, and it tore shallowly across her side, though his aim was poor. The two jumped at each other again, Romsca seizing his arm and twisting it brutally behind his back, kicking him in the backs of the knees.

Cheng lashed out with his free elbow, sending Romsca tumbling to the ground, and he pounced on her in the second, slamming one knee into her stomach and clamping his paws around her neck, laughing, “Ya lost wench.”

Romsca’s right paw was pinned under her hip, and she could feel the hilt of one of her hidden knives. All she needed was time. “Ya think?”

“I know.” Cheng sneered. “I think I’m gonna wring yer purty neck polecat, maybe I’ll kiss ya first jist ta spite ya.”

Romsca drew the knife silently, but thrust with shocking speed. “Or maybe, I’ll stick a knife in yer gut. Ya know somethin’ Cheng? I think that suits me better.”

The weasel’s eyes were wide as he collapsed on top of her, and Romsca hurled him off, dragging herself into a sitting position. He lay in a miserable heap, clutching at the blade sunk full length in his midriff, and his killer slowly stood, a sneer forming on her muzzle. “Ya know weasel, I think ya an’ yer pal jist gave me the answer ta me troubles.”

Cheng had been staring at her with half-closed eyes, but now they widened. “N .. no! Capt’n .. don’t .. don’t .. mercy!”

Romsca kicked him. “Silence! I ain’t yer capt’n, traitor, I’m yer executioner.”

She yanked his arms behind him, struggling with his weight as she stumbled to the door, undoing to bolt and kicking it open. The ferret threw him to the deck, licking blood from her muzzle as she met Kage’s startled gaze. “Get the other one. Raf, gather everybeast. I’m making a couple .. examples.”

The rat nodded, a smirk of admiration on his face. “Aye, aye capt’n”

“I zzmell blood.” Lask was watching with cold eyes as Kage threw the incoherent or dead rat beside his partner.

Romsca nodded. “Aye, ya do. Ya said I had ta make a choice Lask, I made it. I have meat for ya. Just let me give a quick speech ta this crew a mine before ya feast.”

The lizard slowly smirked, before sitting on his haunches. Rafglan hurried up, dipping his head. “Everybeast accounted fer capt’n.”

“Good.” Romsca lift her chin, ignoring the blood from her nose and the wound on her jaw that was drying into her fur. She stalked forward, tail twitching. “Listen up ya lot! These two thought they’d sneak inta me cabin an’ dispose a me while I was sleepin’. There’s just one problem with that. I don’t sleep. I don’t need ta.”

Nobeast spoke, and she continued. “I heard them comin’ long ‘for they got in. I coulda got the Monitors or Raf involved, but the thing is, when somebeast plans ta assassinate me .. I wanna kill ‘em. An’ as ya see, I may get a few scars ta be proud a, but he’s the one that ends up dead. Seems ta me, that I heard he was a favorite around here. He’s yer pal huh? Anybeast wanna join him?”

There was no sound from any creature, except an agonized groan from Cheng.

“That’s what I thought, pack a cowards. You’ll plot behind me back, but can one a ya dare ta stand before me face? Ha, sniveling worms. Once ya see this one die, remember it, cause that’s how I’m gonna treat mutiny on me ship. Ublaz don’t say I gotta bring mutaneers back fer trial, like it used ta be. So we’ll have us an execution here an’ now.”

She yanked her knife out of the fading weasel, stepping back. “Lask. If ya please?”

He grinned horribly. “With pleasure.”

Romsca wanted to turn away, she really did. However she steeled herself, watching with her jaw clenched and emotion banished from her eyes. Lask and his lizards fell upon the two, tearing them apart in their hunger, and Cheng had time for one despairing wail, before his life was ripped from him.

In a way, Romsca was glad it took so little time, but the increasingly cruel side of her whispered in her ear, wishing the agony had lasted longer. She strove to ignore it, but it sneered in every corner of her mind.

He was a traitor, perverse, and a total loser. You should be glad to see him die, you should love to see him die .. it should make you proud and delighted. Are you weak?

Romsca pinned her ears, countering mentally. He was all that, yes, and more. But he is dead, and that’s all I care about.

She turned to face Kage and Rafglan, and the stoat frowned. “Ya should get those wounds seen ta capt’n .. should I call the healer?”

Romsca’s eyes snapped for a moment, before she nodded. “Aye. Do so.”

He hurried off, and she met Rafglan’s gaze. “Now who’s weak and unfit ta be capt’n?”

“Him.” Rafglan gave the shredded, bloody remains of Cheng a sideways glance. “Yer gettin’ better, capt’n.”

Chapter 22 Young Blood

TotO &#039;A Demon&#039;s Master&#039;

Ublaz before Malimore.

Ublaz paced his office, slowly, deliberately walking in a circle from his desk to the latticed window with a panoramic view of the city. He was highly displeased with how Lask was acting .. could it be possible, that despite his immaculate spells, something had gone awry and the lizard was beginning to develop a true will of his own?

It was something to be considered and taken very seriously.

If Lask could somehow break through the barriers Ublaz had set, he would be more than a four-hundred pound, thirteen foot long weapon of ultimate destruction. He would be all that, with at least some level of intelligence. He wouldn’t be a clone anymore.

The pine marten buffed pristine claws on his tunic, face emotionless as he pondered this. It was not like he couldn’t blast Lask to oblivion in the second, that was not the obstacle in his path. He had poured more power into that lizard than any other of his Monitors, and as long as Lask lived, Ublaz didn’t feel the sting of losing that magic. But if he were forced to kill the monster he had created, he would .. unless.

Unless he could find some way to withdraw his power from Lask should the lizard get too big for his scales. But how? Logically, it should be able to be done. The spells he had used were not complicated, at least not for possessing a dim-witted animal with no real intelligence of their own. But then, magic did not always work according to logic.

There should be a way to pull his power out of lizards that became rebellious or were caught in a situation that meant certain death. Ublaz had been feeling quite a bit of that lately, with the trickery Rasconza had used, and how Zurgat, another experiment of his, had been killed on the Darkshroud.

How? That was the question, and now that he had asked himself it, he must find the answer. It would be wonderfully practical .. if a Monitor grew elderly or was injured in battle, Ublaz could simply withdraw the beast’s artificial intelligence, dispose of the feral animal, and put the magic into a young, strong one. If a group of them was surrounded by a greater force, he could turn them irrational and feral on whim, which could make them even more destructive .. the ones that survived the encounter, he could put the spell back into.

Ublaz grinned, slightly akin to a young beast who has found some new toy to play with or a new bit of mischief with which to amuse themselves.

He stalked quickly to his door, pulling it open, to see Sagitar holding her paw up to knock. She blinked. “Oh .. sire. I came to report that I have personally seen a ring of spies is in place. If Rasconza manages to get past the ships .. which I seriously doubt .. he will not escape me or my informers.”

“General, I think our young fox will be on a sharp lookout for your ratguards, no matter what disguise he tries to fool you with.” Ublaz pointed this out as a simple observation.

Sagitar smiled. “Ah, you are always one step ahead of me sire. But this time, not one of my spies is a rat.”

Ublaz raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Yes. They are locals that have fallen upon hard times and need a bit of extra money. I’ve questioned each carefully, selected only the best, and promised each twenty silver, and ten gold coins a month. I also promised I would ask you to make them exempt from taxes as long as they are in our service.”

Ublaz smiled, nodding. “That is what I like about you general. Your ingenuity. But there are complications to every plan .. how do we know these individuals will not play at two sides?”

Sagitar nodded. “There is always risk sire. But I have personally selected the ones I feel, while in no way trustworthy, are the least likely to turn. They all have trades all beasts want or need .. restaurants, smiths, cart drivers, market stall owners, tavern keepers, and ship builders and repair beasts. Where Monitors and ratguard cannot spy, they will be your eyes and ears through me.”

“Impressive, general. You made clear the punishment for a turncoat?”

“Yes sire, the gallows.”

“Good.” Ublaz smiled. “Have you checked on the young Monitors?”

Sagitar nodded. “Certainly sire, there should a hatch of about two hundred this season.”

Ublaz laid a paw on her shoulder. “General, you work endlessly for me. Tell me, how is your son coming along in the ratguard?”

She sighed heavily, partly in disgust. “The boy is a disgrace to me and all of Sampetra. Never in my life have I seen such a coward! Why did that have to be my son’s curse .. cowardice? I thought once he would honor my life and my effort, but he is timid and fearful and clumsy .. he does nothing well at all.”

“Come general, he is still a child isn’t he?”

“He is fourteen, yes.” Sagitar consented.

Ublaz smiled. “Then he still has room to improve. I have the feeling it’s your methods general, you’re strict and brutally effective at installing fear in a beast. Give the boy a chance, he’ll prove himself by and by. I speak from experience, you know.”

He straightened his flowing cape. “I went through a lot to get where I am, and by all the fire in Hellgates, I will advance even higher.”

The pine marten smiled. “Keep an eye on things, general. I have business in the temple.”

“What’s the point in that sire? None of those old deities exist.”

“Of course they don’t.” Ublaz’s voice was jovial. “I’m not going to speak to stones, I’m going to bargain with the devil.”


“So this is a real otter feast.” Grath was looking about in wonder. “It’s been so long .. I could barely remember. But it’s all coming back now.”

Inbar grinned. “Liking it?”

Grath laughed happily. “Liking it? It’s wonderful! I missed .. well I think the most I missed, was just being an otter.”

“Come on, let’s see what your .. spotted friend is up to. Looks like he’s in no lack of company.”

“Martin.” Grath supplied.

Inbar nodded. “Right, Martin. Every Rudderwake otter loves a good reel or ballad .. good for you, bringing a minstrel.”

The mouse was singing in his fair baritone voice, a traditional ballad of ancient Mossflower, and suddenly Grath frowned. “Sayna taught him that.”

Inbar didn’t speak for a moment, before asking, “She lived at your .. Redwall?”

“Well .. no. That was the strange thing about Sayna, nobeast really knew where she lived. She would come and go as she pleased, disappear for months and even seasons, wear armor one day and a ball gown the next. Nobeast could explain her .. and some say ..”

She paused, and Inbar pressed her. “They say what?”

“Some say she has lived a hundred lifetimes and fought a thousand wars .. that she’s nothing but a restless spirit of the woods, and she haunts Redwall.”

“What a lovely beast.” Inbar sounded dubious.

Grath shook her head. “She’s not what they think, they don’t bother to get to know her at all. She’s eccentric, opinionated, and fears no mortal creature .. but she is kind to those who are kind to her, or earn her respect. I can’t believe she’s anything they say about her.”

The otter looked down. “Though it’s true .. no wall can keep her out, and no door can deter her.”

“Then .. couldn’t she escape on her own?” Inbar asked.

“Well I ...” Grath paused, before looking down. “I don’t know.”

She sighed. “I guess she probably could, now that I think about it. It would take more than some disorganized crew of vermin to take Sayna down. But then, Durral’s involved. He’s a kind, wise abbot; he knows all about healing herbs, nature, and cooking wonderful food, but he’s .. well he wouldn’t stand a chance. Sayna might not be able to do anything for fear of her actions bringing harm to him.”

“Oh. I see.” Inbar sounded less hopeful.

Grath could not help feeling he was keeping something from her. “Inbar .. I know we just met, but if something’s wrong ... well, you can tell me.”

Inbar sighed. “I’d like to Grath, I really would. But I can’t right now, it’s .. sort of personal.”

“Alright.” She smiled. “I won’t pry, it’s none of my business.”

“Right ...” Inbar nodded, but something was hiding in his amber eyes. “Anyway. Have you tried some of the food? You should .. here, I’ll show you the best things to eat.”

Grath followed him, though she was slightly confused by his behavior. Was Inbar hiding something? But why would he do that? He had been nothing but friendly to her and the others, and she hated to think poorly of him. What could possibly be against them in this place of peace?

“Do you like hotroot?”

She came back to the present. “Yes! I didn’t get much of it at Redwall, but occasionally, when the Holt Willow otters would visit.”

Inbar picked a dish off a table, dodging as a couple young otters ran past, laughing happily. “Umph .. if you missed the holt way of life, why didn’t you join that one?”

“I ..” Grath sighed. “For a long time, I just wanted to forget. It was like there were two me’s .. one who wanted adventure and freedom, and one who just wanted to hide forever and never let the world hurt her again. I wasn’t sure which one I was. It wasn’t until I realized that when you hide, evil always catches up with you .. that you have to face things and fight them, that I found out which one I was.”

She looked down. “Or at least .. which side was stronger.”

Inbar didn’t say anything for a moment, before sighing. “Humm. I think I know the feeling rather well. Here, try some of this flan .. the best in Rudderwake.”

Grath took it with a smile, nibbling, and quickly taking a bigger bite. “Mmm .. who makes this? It’s amazing!”

“My mother, Dorumee .. she’s the best cook in all the holt.” Inbar winked. “Or at least that’s what my father says. And who am I to argue?”

He laughed a little, taking some flan for himself. The chocolate-furred otter paused, suddenly remarking, “Your friend with the hood .. he’s awfully quiet and secretive. He doesn’t talk to anybeast hardly.”

Grath was a little indignant. “Would you, if everywhere you went you were looked down upon and scorned just because of what you are? Just because what made you who you were, was something that all the blind and foolish creatures in this world thought was wrong?”

Inbar’s eyes widened a little, as he stammered, “How did you .. I mean .. no. No, of course I wouldn’t. I’d keep to myself.”

“How did I what?” Grath cocked her head.

“Look ..” Inbar scowled a little. “I shouldn’t have said that. Let’s just suffice to say that I didn’t ask to be the prince and future skipper. I’m not a good leader. I like to be alone and .. make things. New things, things that nobeast has ever made before. It’s a wonderful feeling, to create something brand new, something that’s .. well it’s just yours.”

Grath paused, before smiling. “That doesn’t sound bad at all.”

“No, it doesn’t. And it wouldn’t be either, if I didn’t make a mess of whatever I do.”

Inbar turned away, setting his plate on the table. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be bothering you with my troubles. What’s your .. Mossflower like? It sound’s beautiful.”

“It is.” Grath smiled. “There’s trees .. so many you never really see the sky, unless you’re on the western flatlands. There are rivers and streams everywhere .. marshes and water meadows too. Though you shouldn’t mess about in the swamps ...”

The two had turned around, with their backs toward Hood and the table. The fox didn’t move hardly at all, just lifted his head slightly as a group of otters strolled past, giving him a few dark looks. He didn’t show any emotion to this, just waited in total silence.

Sure enough, a few moments later, the beast he was silently waiting for appeared. He didn’t even know her name, but her antics brought a quiet smile to his face. The little golden ottermaid scurried quickly to the table Grath and Inbar were standing in front of, slipped the bowl of soup within inches of Inbar’s paw, and wriggled under the table cloth, dragging her rudder of a tail in with her.

Hood chuckled quietly. That little girl might make quite a spy with the right training. The two older otters were still watching the dancing in the middle of the ring of tables, so Hood silently walked to the bowl in question, guessing the young otter would be watching Inbar and Grath, not his side of the table.

He picked up the offending item, and slid a perfectly harmless one into its place, walking away as though nothing had happened. Hood sniffed the soup, dipping his tongue in it, just to see if by some chance it really was poisoned. Though by the ottermaid’s reaction to the notion, he judged she had never dreamed of such wickedness. Still, one could never be too careful.

Nothing happened for the first few moments, before an unpleasant sting began on his tongue, quickly becoming unbearable, as if his mouth was on fire. Hood stopped by the table he was walking past, grabbed a mug of water, and took several large swallows. It didn’t put out the fire, but it made it bearable.

The fox blinked down at the bowl for a moment before smirking and continuing on in his path. Clecky was busy demolishing a large pie, and did not notice his friend as he slipped the item onto the table within easy reaching distance of the hare.

He then walked swiftly away, stopping near the table from which he’d gotten the bowl. Inbar picked up the substitute, stating, “Here, you should try some of our hotroot soup. Not too spicy, but just enough to curl your whiskers.”

Grath smiled, taking the bowl and taking a sip. “Mmmm delicious!”

Hood thought he heard a giggle from under the table. However it faded as Grath did not seem affected. “This really is wonderful.”

Hood looked over at where Clecky was, in time to see him grab the dish, and drain it in two swallows. The fox’s ears shot up in surprise at this action, the idea was for the hare to eat a few bites, yell about how hot it was, and everybeast to have a good laugh. However Clecky had done himself in yet again.

A sudden, blood-curdling scream rang out, causing everyone present to jump nearly three feet. Martin’s lute gave out a strange squawk as he jammed his paw through the strings, Tansy, Plogg, and Welko dropped the cake they were carrying, and Cracklyn fell off the low roof of the shed she was sitting on.

There was a bang and an “Ouch!” as the little otter under the table jumped and hit her head, Grath dropped the soup, and Inbar tripped on the table, knocking it over. It landed on Hood, and all four sat in the ruins, shocked, as Clecky ran .. or really .. hopped about, screaming and wailing in agony.

The hare was yelling a lot, only twenty percent of it being understandable. “Hot ... Blllarrrge! Put it .. Aaaahhhh! I say put it out chaps, put it out .. iiieeeeee!!!”

The golden ottermaid scratched her head, completely bewildered. “How .. what .. I don’t understand!”

“You and me both, Winniegold.” Inbar shook his head. “You and me both.”

Clecky was still raving. “Poison! Aaarrrrgge! Rotters! Yeeeeeeoooww! Hot! Hot! Put it out, somebeast have mercy! Yeeeeeeeek!”

Presently, he came to an opened cask of ale, gripped the rim, splashing his muzzle in it and guzzling desperately.

“Oh no ..” Hood dragged himself onto his paws. “I better stop the fool before he kills himself.”

The hare did not stop until Hood dragged him away, and by that time, the damage had been done .. meaning Clecky had ingested quite a large amount of ale atop quite a large amount of hotroot. He coughed, gasping for air, and partially due to the terrible stomach-ache Hood could imagine he was rapidly developing.

This suspicion was proven as Clecky wrapped his paws around his torso and groaned, mumbling, “Hoody ol’ chap .. don’t feel bally spiffin’ ...”

He crumpled into a miserable heap, curling up in agony and moaning. Hood sighed. “I don’t reckon you do Clecky.”

“Ohh .. a chap’s bound to lose his bally supper in a case like this .. Get a healer, somebeast!”

Hood got his paws under Clecky’s arms, dragging him backwards. “Well if you weren’t so greedy and gluttonous, things like this wouldn’t happen to you. Why would you eat an entire bowl of soup in two swallows? Because you could, I suppose.”

“Ugg ... Ohh ... s’awful .. bally’n rotten ... healer .. Hoody chap, do something ‘fore it’s too late for me poor young self .. you can have everythin’ I own if this is the .. way it ends ... Oooohhh .. See Gerul gets the pass to Redwall’s kitchen’s though ... he’ll put that to better use than you ...”

“Come on Clecky, you’re over doing it. You just drank hotroot and ale in large quantities and one right after the other. It’s quite natural.”


“What do you want with me, Ublaz?”

The voice was a guttural sound, the sound of absolute evil. And yet it was also darkly beckoning, in a strange way. The great emperor of Sampetra had been on his knees before his altar, but now he stood. “I wish for new magic, lord.”

“Ahh.” A dark shape slowly began to form atop the gilded altar and among the smoldering embers upon it. “But what will you pay for it?”

Ublaz crossed his arms. “What do you want?”

Malimore himself materialized from the smoke and darkness, red eyes and green warpaint glowing. “That depends. You like to play games Ublaz, I know that about you. I have already granted you much magic, and you use it well .. but if you want more now, you should play a game with me.”

“A game with darkness itself.” Ublaz stated.

The shadow chuckled. “You mean darkness himself, Ublaz. I am the father of it all. Do you accept, or do you decline?”

Ublaz didn’t move as Malimore circled him. “What is the game, and what are the terms of the outcome?”

“To ask for the power to withdraw and bestow magic spells at whim is not to be taken lightly. Ordinarily, I would say twenty seasons of your life, but I am willing to make an exception.”

“Twenty? Milord, I have never paid so much at once.”

Malimore smirked. “This would give you power beyond your dim lizards. This translates into anybeast, anywhere, anytime.”

“Even the followers?” Ublaz looked interested.

His lord’s eyes darkened. “No. Not completely. You know the enemy of darkness has set his seal of light upon them.”

“But they can be such fools; blind, ignorant, and deaf to their lord, unlike us.” Ublaz stated. “Your power is so much more than them!”

Malimore showed his teeth. “You try me Ublaz. I hold the power of death and darkness, not life or light. Now do you accept my game, or do you decline.”

There was a pause of perhaps ten seconds, before Ublaz nodded. “I accept. What are the terms.”

“I will not take any of your life, if you can do one thing for me.” Malimore narrowed his eyes. “Get me the pearls.”

Ublaz blinked. “You mean give them to you?”

The dark wolf sat down, though he still towered above Ublaz. “You desire them? You cannot hold them Ublaz, they are too powerful for mortals, they aren’t mortal.”

“You can make me that powerful, lord.”

“Why would I?”

Ublaz smiled with a little more of his normal demeanor. “Because I can kill followers for you, I am mortal just like they are. You can’t kill them on your own, with somebeast to work through ...”

“Do not dare to presume to tell me what I cannot do! Know your place!”

Malimore’s roar sent Ublaz tumbling head over hind paws and sprawling to the floor. The dark shadow stalked around him. “You grow too bold Ublaz. Who is master here? Tell me!”

All elegance was stripped from the pine marten as he stammered, “Y .. y .. you lord!”

The wolf lifted his head in a sharp nod. “I will always be master of darkness, and I will always be master of you. You sold me your soul, remember?”

Ublaz didn’t even move to adjust his drooping turban, just nodded speechlessly. Malimore slowly smirked a little. “I suppose you are right. If you get the pearls, you can keep them .. for the rest of your life. We will see what greatness a beast like you can achieve with them.”

The pine marten slowly got to his knees, his cunning returning. “But that can’t be all there is to it milord. You never give power freely.”

“No. I don’t.” Malimore’s tail swished behind him, darkness seeping into the cracks of the old temple floor. “Seven are called by my adversary in the high heavens, seven mortals, for seven pearls. If they unite the set, the power will be unleashed for him. So you will seek out and kill these seven. They are the likely, and the unlikely, the eager and the reluctant, some called from darkness and some called from light .. and some called from dusk, between day and the night. Kill these seven, and I won’t take any of your life.”

“And should I fail?”

Malimore sneered. “I shall take what is mine. Are we clear?”

Ublaz nodded. “Quite.”

The black seeping from Malimore’s paws billowed around him, and he rocked onto his back paws bringing them thudding to the ground again. A wave of swirling darkness swept around Ublaz, blending around him, and disappearing into his fur with a green flash.

Malimore laughed darkly. “The power is yours Ublaz. No more will you have to hold a beast’s gaze to keep them hypnotized. Simply meet it, and they will put a knife through their own heart if you tell them to. Manipulate at will .. anything. Your Monitors, your servants, your foes, and even yourself. Bestow it upon whoever you want .. just master this power, and kill the seven. Or suffer the fate you have bargained with.”

The dark wolf swept his tail around, stomping one back paw on the ground and fading to black mist that was quick to seep away.

Ublaz stood still a few moments, before straightening his turban and looking down at his paws. More power than he had ever known was flowing through him, so much it hurt, tugging at his innermost being. But it was a good pain. Once he had the pearls .. well. Maybe even Malimore couldn’t stop him then.

The servant only served until they could take their place as master.


Little had passed on the Darkshroud since Val had killed Zurgat. Her lizards had devoured her, and thankfully, she had been a large Monitor, holding their hunger to a dull roar. Now a male they all referred to as Lussak had made himself their leader, mostly because he was the biggest and toughest of the ones who were left.

Xzaris didn’t bother looking at himself in the mirror anymore, he was thin and haggard and dirty. Even though he had been a filthy commoner all his life, he had strove to look as clean and elegant as the upper class. Now there was no reason to care. No hope. No life.

The world was nothing but pain, and he wanted to die, but he did not want Ublaz to bring it about. He had considered killing himself more than once, but some faint echo of hope, some flickering fire of longing to live kept him from death. Though he slept and ate little, and that alone was destroying him. But it wouldn’t bring death before he reached Sampetra, and he knew he would have to make a choice.

Would it hurt her more if Ublaz killed me or if I did it myself?

The ferret snarled at his own thoughts.

Don’t be a fool, if you’re dead, you’re dead. Romsca wouldn’t give up, she never has, and neither will I. I hope. There has to be some way out of this. Some way to live! But what? How?

He stared at the ceiling in the falling dusk, the ship rocking his hammock gently. He’d been over this hundreds of times, but there was no answer. There had never been one.

So there wasn’t one. He was going to have to make one or die trying. It was better to die trying than die giving up.

Xzaris rubbed his tarnished chain, sighing. But there was nowhere on Sampetra that was safe from that mad-eyed marten!

Or was there?

He groaned at his own thoughts. “No, that’s crazy! Those ghost’ll git ya sooner’n ya kin blink an’ eye!”

The ferret turned his head, looking out the small windows. “On second thought, maybe that ain’t so bad.”

Why was his life so complicated? When he was a little boy, he would wander the docks just to see the magnificent ships, the seabeasts, and the treasures from far off lands. The ferret smirked a little at the memory .. he’d picked up sailor’s terms for parts of ships before he was seven.

While the warm fires of forges had always drawn him as well, with their rhythm of steel being pounded out and the cleverness of making new things from old, the ship yards had called him far more. The idea of adventure.

“I’ve have ‘nough adventure, I think.” Xzaris sighed. “At least fer a while. Or at least a this sort.”

“Haven’t we all?”

Xzaris started, looking around to see Arashi standing by the door and drawing the bolt. “You forgot to lock your door.”

“It don’t matter much now, does it? We’re five days from Sampetra. I’m five days from death. Why doesn’t one of those filthy things come in an’ eat me fore I kin do nothin’ ‘bout it?”

“Mmm.” Arashi walked to the window. “You are near giving up, aren’t you? Don’t.”

Xzaris gave her a glare. “What would ya know?”

Arashi sneered. “Quite a lot really. I suppose being trapped on an island for twenty seasons, cut off from all ye love, with no hope of ever seeing it again doesn’t count? Hmph. Yes, it does. And then to hear that all ye love has been destroyed or is in jeopardy, do ye really think that’s easy for me to hear?”

“No.” He looked down. “I’m sorry.”

“The past .. I cannot let it concern me. All that concerns me is how well we fight now. For what we love. I will fight for everything that ever mattered to me young one, will ye?” Arashi raised an eyebrow.

Xzaris sighed. “I wish I could. But I ain’t gonna git the chance, those Monitors are still too strong ta defeat. Why did ya come in here anyway? Are they causin’ trouble again?”

Arashi smirked. “Every moment I smell their filthy hides they cause trouble. But no. Not out of the ordinary. I came to ask what your plans were when ye reach Sampetra.”

“It’s purty simple.” Xzaris closed his eyes. “I git led into Ublaz’s palace, and he publicly and horrifically kills me.”

“I’m in no mood for sarcasm.” Arashi’s voice held an edge.

Xzaris opened one eye, before rolling over in his hammock. “Who said I was bein’ sarcastic? Will ya leave me alone?”

A rough paw grabbed his shoulder, spinning him onto his back again. “Captain Xzaris, there isn’t time for this. What will Ublaz do if he sees me, tell me that? Romsca looks a lot like me, as I remember.”

“Yes. Ya remind me a lot a her, maybe it’s why I ain’t dead yet. She’s brighter’n ya, an’ her mask is cream, but besides bein’ younger, those are the only differences. Ublaz’ll suspect a relation right away. He might never’a met Conva’s wife, but he knows he’d had ta have had some sorta partner if he has a daughter. With the way ya look, he’ll put two an’ two tagether fast.” Xzaris pushed her paw away, sinking down into his hammock. “There’s nowhere ta go but the city. From livin’ there, ya know it well. I donno what ta do.”

Arashi stalked away, her teeth clenched. “I’ll swim then. Put on some disguise. I know where Barranca keeps the key to his manor is he’s off raiding .. presuming he hasn’t moved it. A lot to presume, but it’s a fighting chance .. what?”

Xzaris sat up, staring at her. “You’ll never make it .. security’s increased by ten.”

“Ye aren’t helping.”

“But I might be able ta!” Xzaris stated quickly. “That’s what I meant. You’ll never make it, but I know more ‘bout where guards’ll be an’ when they’ll be there. I could git ya ta Barranca’s. An’ fer the matter, I know where Rom’s spare key is.”

Arashi turned around, a slow smile running across her face. “That’s the courage I like to see in a beast.”

Xzaris shook his head. “It ain’t courage, it’s runnin’. Lemme think up a plan ta git us off Darkshroud. Then I might git ta see Romsca again fore he catches up with me. Maybe I kin save her if she don’t got the pearls. I told her I hoped she’d find ‘em .. I still mean it. I hope she found those cursed things to save her skin.”

“Ye fear much because ye love much, Xzaris. Ye have many things ye care about .. Val, this ship .. me daughter. That is a rare thing in a Sampetrian. What made ye the way ye are?” Arashi raised an eyebrow.

Xzaris sighed. “I donno. Maybe cause I saw me mother. She hated .. everything. I think she was angry that the beast who was my father left her, because I think .. maybe, she really did love him. But that was broken, and she vowed to hate. To hate the world, to hate him, and to hate me. I despised and feared her. I’d seen other mothers who loved their children, I wanted that from her, but I could never be good enough, I could never please her. So I came to loath her ways, I wanted nothing to do with hate, I wanted friends. I guess I wanted love for once. I wanted to love. I wanted to be everything she was not.”

Arashi smiled. “I think there is a word for what is in your heart .. nobility. But you are close to succumbing to evil .. it is tempting you. And alone, you cannot resist it forever.”

“I know.” Xzaris laid back down in his hammock. “I don’t wanna persevere through this. It’s too hard for one beast.”

Arashi paused at the door. “For one beast. But not for two, when one of them is Lord of Light?”

Xzaris shook his head. “Ya mean yer Ignasa don’t ya? How could he help me now?”

“Repent, believe, and trust. Then he can do anything .. even bring the dead back to life.” She slipped out, and was gone.

“Yea, maybe.” Xzaris looked back up at the ceiling. “But he don’t.”


“You are a trickzzy beazzt captin Romzzca .. but we are finizzhed with gamezz.”

Romsca felt her knees lock in place as she clenched a paw around the handle of her axe. “We aren’t far from Sampetra Lask. I won’t say this again .. I don’t care what ya threaten me with, I will not cowar like a rabbit! This ain’t just about prisoners, this is about me honor as a capt’n! It is law of Sampetra that prisoners are brought before the Emperor, an’ by Atlas I plan ta do just that. It’ll take more’n an overgrown gecko ta make me back down!”

“I am the law on thizzz zzhip.” Lask snarled. “You obey me.”

“Like Hellgates ya is!” Romsca spat directly in his face. “I am capt’n, ya is a groveling pawn!”

Lask’s frills extended a little. “Obey me or die! I am a reprozzenting your emperor!”

Romsca laughed harshly. “Oh yea? I thought ya said ya wanted ta kill him!”

“Give me an anzzwer Romzzca. Or I will tear you apart zzowly zzo you zzzuffer long .. I will paint thizz zzhip with your blood!”

Nobeast moved for a second, before there was a shriek of terror from below decks, one that was quickly repeated. Romsca glared at him. “I will deal with whatever that is first.”

She turned, bolting for the galley stairs and leaping down them, landing heavily and bolting down the corridor. Kage caught up to her, gasping, “Capt’n, what are ya doing?”

“It was bound ta come down to this.” Romsca did not meet his gaze, just looked straight ahead. “Make a choice Kage, what will ya fight fer? I’m makin’ mine.”

A few other crewbeasts were behind her, and Romsca cast a glance at them, yelling, “Gather the crew near the stairs, go!”

They did as she said, but Kage skidded around the corner with her. “What am I ta do capt’n?”

Romsca met his gaze with wild eyes. “Will ya stand with me in the face a death?”

He was silent a moment, before growling, “Yes.”

“Then those are my orders. Hurry!”

They slid to a stop at the door of the brig, which was leaning at a crazy angle, the hinge pins removed. Romsca’s voice was a snarl. “Curse him, I should’a known! That lizard’s too smart fer one’a his kind, he was distractin’ me all the while!”

She leapt forward, kicking the door in with a tremendous crash, and skidding to the floor on her hands and knees.

One of the two lizards rushed her on the instant, before she had a chance to move, plowing her backwards.

“Ahhg!” Romsca smashed the blunt pole of her axe on the side of the creature’s head, and it recoiled slightly, as a knife spun through the air, slashing across its jaw.

Kage leapt into the air, smashing both hind paws into the side of the lizard’s face, causing it to collapse to the side with an angry, pained hiss. Romsca pushed herself onto her feet, startled by this. “Th .. thank ya.”

The Monitor stood again as its companion rushed to its side, hissing. Romsca slashed her axe only inches from their muzzles. “Ya want an answer? Go up ta yer leader an’ tell him I have one fer him! Go!”

They paused for one second, before bolting out.

Romsca put her paws on her knees for a moment, hair falling in her face as she got her breath back. “That’s torn it. I’ve made me choice. I am done hidin’ like a dog.”

She pulled the key from her belt, turning it in the lock of the brig and yanking the bars open. Sayna was kneeling in front of Durral, who was trembling, blood running down his foot.

Romsca looked down at them, before growling, “Kage. Unchain them.”

Durral shied away as Kage dragged him onto his paws, and Romsca seized hold of Sayna. The mouse was scrawny and haggard, but her voice was strong. “Whatever evil you have planned, Ignasa will judge you with hell itself!”

Romsca laughed. “It couldn’t be much of a change from what I live in every day mouse. Trust me or don’t.”

Those piercing black eyes met her flashing green ones for a moment, probing, searching. “Very well captain. I will trust you.”

“No! We can’t ..” Kage wrenched Durral’s paw behind his back so he cried out.

“She is the law here, ya will do as she says!”

“Enough!” Romsca snarled. “Do not hurt him, Kage. Quickly, ta the others.”

She hurried down the hall, keeping a tight grip on Sayna. Her pale hair swept behind them as she gasped, “What is your plan?”

Romsca sneered. “I guess you’ll find that out, won’t ya?”

“Who do you serve? Good or evil? Ignasa or Malimore?” Sayna narrowed her eyes. “There are no other choices.”

“I ..” Romsca skidded around a corner, dragging the mouse with her. “I don’t know.”

She was met by Rafglan and the rest of the crew, the rat being in less than a good mood. “What are ya doin’ capt’n? What’s gotten inta that fool head a yers?”

“Face it Raf.” Romsca snapped. “I’m not yer apprentice no more. I’m yer capt’n, an’ ya will treat me as such.”

She looked at the crew. “Alla ya will. The way I see it is this. We are eight days from Sampetra. Two mice will not satisfy those beasts that long, they will turn on us. An’ we won’t have the mice ta tempt them. I’m doin’ this fer ya, allay a, so that we may see another year. So that ya can go home ta yer families or friends if’n ya got any. We are trapped on a ship inna middle a the sea with cannibals that will insist I feed ya ta them. I refuse the dishonor. The only escape we can hope fer is ta kill those vile things, do ya unnerstand?”

Nobeast answered, and Romsca snarled. “Are ya warriors of Sampetra or are ya cowards? The only way ta escape this is ta defeat it, tell me some a ya thick heads comprehend this!”

“We could all die!” One crewbeast snapped.”

Romsca turned on him. “Aye, ya could. We could. But if we don’t fight, think ‘bout how many a us they can eat ‘fore we get home? If I feed them out of fear once, they’ll only force me more!”

“She’s right.” Rafglan looked around. “I warned ya when ya signed up fer this .. there would be dangers. Ya agreed ta it, fer whatever reasons. Ya are bound ta yer capt’n’s wishes, ya must carry out her commands.”

“And I mean it when I say this. I’ll be fightin’ side the lot a ya. If ya refuse ta fight, I’ll consider ya a mutineer .. remember what happened ta yer pal Cheng? Ya can still join him. Where do ya stand!”

There was silence for a second, before replies came back quickly.

“With ya capt’n!”

“Aye ta the end!”

Rubby nodded. “With ya ferever, as I always have been.”

Rafglan crossed his arms. “We’ll face this beside ya.”

“Always.” Kage grinned. “If we’re gonna die, let’s make a good show a it.”

“If you are fighting the lizards, let me as well.” Sayna interrupted.

Romsca snarled. “Not on yer life. I wanna git a few things straight with ya sometime.”

“Give me my sword ferret!”

“Shut yer mouth mouse. I got ya an’ the old one inta this, I can get ya out.” Romsca grabbed hold of Durral as Lask’s voice rang out.

“I’m waiting Romzzca!” Lask’s hiss came from above decks. “I will not wait forever!”

“Now!” Romsca snarled. “Half of you come through the hatch. Raf, lead them. The rest with me.” She kept a tight hold of Sayna, shoving Durral back into Kage’s paws due to the female mouse’s struggles.

“Let me fight ferret! I order you!”

Romsca kept Sayna’s paws behind her. “Ya don’t give me orders mouse, it’s the other way around. This is a vermin’s fight.”

She shouldered the door open, dragging the glowering Sayna along with her. She might have desired to let the mouse wield her glowing sword, but she could feel how powerless her struggles were. She seemed drained of energy and even frail, if she could in any way be thought of as such.

If I allow her to fight and she is killed, the lord she serves, the lord that makes swords glow blue .. he will punish me. I have to protect her. She is something rare and priceless. Something magnificent.

Lask grinned as Romsca and Kage dragged the two mice on deck. “Finally, you give in. Good captain, now let uzzz eat.”

“Oh indeed?” Romsca pulled open the door of her cabin, flinging Sayna into it as Kage did the same with Durral. The ferret yanked the door shut with a slam, turning the lock with her key. “This is war Lask.”

She could hear Sayna pounding on the door, snarling. “Let me out you fool! Why do you do this? To keep me alive? Fool! You do not understand! You cannot die! You cannot!” Romsca smirked. Woodlanders.

Lask advanced slowly, snarling, “For two mizze?”

“Those two mice, I promised to deliver to Ublaz.” She had to buy time for Rafglan to get the rest of the crew in position. “Would your master want this? For ya ta eat beasts he might have need of?”

Lask’s Monitors looked unsure, backing up a little. Lask countered with a snarl. “Zzhe’zz lying! Izz zzhe one of Mazzzterzz advizzorzz? What doezz zzhe know about Mazzter? Not more than Lazzk Frildur, you think?”

The lizards looked at one another, before advancing again.

“Would Ublaz want this?” Romsca’s eyes flashed.

Lask snarled. “Zzzhe feedzzz you liezz! Zzzhe dezzervezz nothing but death! Attack!”

“Take them! Destroy them all!” Romsca yelled, leaping forward and drawing a knife in addition to her axe.

The first Monitor bounded to meet her as Rafglan and the others rushed in from behind. Romsca slid across the deck, growling, “That yer best? Come an’ get me scale-face!”

The beast spun around like lightning, slamming its wicked tail spikes into a rat’s torso, and the creature fell transfixed, blood staining the deck on which he fell. Romsca snarled, charging forward to meet the Monitor and leaping halfway there, swinging her legs in front of her and smashing them into the side of the lizard’s neck.

This action sent both her and the beast to the deck, and her knees hit the boards hard, ripping holes in her trousers. Romsca rolled to the side as a different Monitor leapt for her, claws flashing, and she swung her axe to meet the blow. The lizard barely paused, just hit her head on, sending her flying.

Romsca pulled herself to her paws with a wince, yelling, “Ta me! Crew ta me!”

Seven or so of the nearest beasts rallied behind her, and she raised her axe, running forward again. “Attack in teams! Maybe we could land a fatal blow if one distracts while one strikes! For the Dragons, eeeyaaah!”

She slammed the blade of her axe into one lizard’s head, ripping through one of its frills. It turned on her with fury, and she leapt back as another crewbeast jabbed at the creature with a spear. A third brought a cutlass at the Monitor’s legs, but couldn’t avoid the swinging tail. He crumpled and a heap, his weapon clattering to the deck as the lizard threw itself at the other crewbeast, plowing him to the floor.

Romsca ran forward as the creature thrust with his spear, landing a terrible blow on the Monitor’s neck, one that should have come out the other side if it had been a normal beast. However the lizard just let out a screech of anger as the weapon made a shallow gash across it’s throat, and it tore its wicked claws from its adversary’s shoulder to his side, mortally wounding him.

There was no time to waste on a yell of fury, Romsca smashed her axe down on the creature’s head with all her strength, but while it was stunned, its amazingly thick skull did not give way. It did stumble onto its side, and without really aiming at anything, Romsca swung her axe again.

It tore through the creature’s chest and belly, evoking a cry of agony, and Romsca leapt back to avoid the wildly thrashing tail. She was hit by something hard from behind, and she stumbled onto all fours, throwing herself out of the way of flashing teeth.

Beyond the noises of battle, Romsca could hear a pounding on the door of her cabin. That mouse really was crazy .. to desire a battlefield over safety. She was just like her .. she was insane, and she wouldn’t give up either. It was a good thing that door was solid oak, and thick at that.

She swung onto the rigging for a moment, looking out across the melee. Many crewbeasts lay still, trampled and torn brutally, but four lizards lay still and bloody as well. Lask stayed backed against the mast, slashing at any that got within his reach, and urging his lizards on.

Suddenly, one weasel ran toward her and the railing, an enraged Monitor close behind him, blood flowing from a wound across its chest, low down. The beast was now weaponless, and Romsca readied herself to jump to his defense, but instead of skidding around like she thought he would, he jumped over the rail and over the side. The lizard followed him without a pause, snarling .. Romsca doubted the maddened creature really knew what it was doing.

There was a splash as the weasel hit the water, and a tremendous one as the Monitor did. The lizard’s claws caught on the weasel’s leg, and he had time for one scream, before the weight of the creature grabbing him dragged them both under, and down, endlessly down.

Romsca was frozen for a second, before she clenched her paw around her axe handle. “They sink. They .. can’t swim, water can defeat them!”

She jumped to the deck, her feet sliding out from under her as she ran across a thick spill of blood, and she sprawled to the ground, knife spinning from her paw as another Monitor ran at her. She held her axe to strike, paw groping for her knife, but finding the hilt of a fallen cutlass instead. The ferret slashed it into the beast’s eyes, causing it to stagger, though the weapon flew from her paw.

Another three beasts attacked it, and Romsca turned around to see four crewbeasts climbing into one of the lifeboats. She didn’t move for a second, before she ran forward, yelling, “On no ya don’t!”

Kage got there first, and grabbed one of the lowering ropes. “What’da ya think yer doin’, huh? Runnin’ off?”

A Monitor leapt at him, and Romsca saw its lethal claws glint. She held up her axe, ready to swing, and shoved Kage hard, sending him over the rail as she slashed her axe into the creature’s wide open mouth. It let out a strangled scream, yanking her axe away as blood splattered everywhere, and Romsca was dragged to the ground, thoroughly painted in it.

Another lizard answered the screeches of its wounded companion almost instantly, and while Romsca struggled the defend herself; she could not yank her axe free of the first’s jaw. Rubby suddenly jumped from somewhere behind her, thrusting his spear into the creature’s chest and underbelly as it leapt forward.

It screeched horribly, turning on the old rat and plowing him to the ground, tearing its brutal fangs into his side before Romsca could do a thing. Two other beasts leapt at it as Romsca struggled with her axe, lodged in the now limp Monitor, choked by its own blood.

The living monster swung its tail into the first one, killing him instantly, but the second slammed a foot in the creatures neck, throwing it to the side, and as it spun around, mouth open, he stabbed his sword into its throat. The thing let out a choking sound, slashing its killer’s torso open with furious, dying claws.

Romsca ripped the stubborn axe from the dead lizard’s mouth, almost tearing the lower jaw clean off. She seized hold of a fallen cutlass laying nearby, as Rafglan’s voice rang out. “Capt’n .. help me!”

Lask had him backed against the mast, blood flowing from a wound in the rat’s side. He menaced the lizard with a spear, but he was obviously weak, and Romsca’s eyes burned with fury. “Lask! Leave me beasts be! Face me if any!”

Rafglan did his best to slash at Lask, but his spear was deflected by the scales, and the lizard smashed his claws into the side of the rat’s neck, breaking it instantly. His face was a mocking smile as he turned to face Romsca. “Thizzz izzz the fate of thozzz who defy the emperor, Captain Romzzca."

She skidded to a halt now that nothing could be done for Rafglan, and an eerie silence fell over the ship .. the silence of death. The deck was littered with corpses and painted crimson .. everything was crimson.

Waves lapped gently against the hull as Romsca realized that apart from the prisoners in her cabin, and Lask himself, she was the only one left alive. She swallowed hard, panting, "Your beasts is as dead as mine .. looks like it's just ya an' me."

Lask grinned. “It will be pleazzing to kill you, traitor.”

Romsca jumped back as the massive lizard advanced on her. "We'll see who kills who!" She leaped into action the next minute, running to the side and causing the lizard to spin around, mouth opening in a hiss that revealed his many, sharpened teeth. Romsca jumped over his swinging, club like tail, throwing her axe down with all her strength.

Lask roared in pain as his tail was severed from his body, and he lunged viscously, knocking Romsca over backwards and tearing his claws into her leg. The ferret choked back a scream, kicking the lizard hard in the muzzle with her good leg, and rolling desperately away, gripping her cutlass tightly.

Romsca could vaguely hear noise coming from her cabin, and she knew at least Sayna would be trying to get out and help her. But it was not their time to die .. even if it was hers.

The ferret staggered to her feet again .. she must not fall .. it would be the end of her if Lask got her on the ground. She met his gaze for one second, and in that second, she saw something that would not soon allow itself to be forgotten. His gleaming, intelligent eyes went dull. Not dull with death, but rather, something else. Something Romsca could not explain. However the lizard was still in a terrible fit of rage from the pain of his missing tail, and he was too fast to avoid.

His claws shot out, catching Romsca in the side and sending her flying against the mast like she weighed nothing. The ferret's world swam, and she tried to force herself up again, but Lask was a upon her, his claws tearing into her back.

Romsca heard herself scream in agony .. and she knew good and well, her neck would be next.


Sayna was desperately trying to pick the lock .. she’d tried smashing the door with various instruments of opportunity, but it was no use. The door was thick, the lock was solid, and her strength was drained to what seemed almost nothing.

If only she still possessed the powerful frame she had just seven or eight seasons ago! Strength she had built relentlessly for hundreds of seasons, the door would have been nothing to her.

But all that was fading now .. she was still strong, but not half so much as before, and she was easily tired.

How long did she have? That fool ferret could not kill herself .. not now. Not now.

“Why are you doing that? If you open it, they’ll get in here!”

Sayna glared at Durral. “And I’ll get out there!”

The abbot scowled, his kindness and patience worn thin. “So you can die? Well some of us want to live! What about me?”

“What about you?” Sayna snapped. “I have stayed on this ship, I have not tried to escape, for fear of bringing harm to you! I could have gotten away long ago, but I could not leave you, and you .. you .. are so .. helpless!”

The thick wire she was using snapped in half, part of it getting stuck in the lock.

“I am not .. I just don’t understand all this war! Why must there be so much hate and bloodshed?”

Sayna made a face. “Because the world is evil, filled with evil beasts.”

“Ohh .. you are so .. pessimistic.” Durral looked frusterated.

The female mouse didn’t move for a second, before wheeling around. “Why are you surprised? I have been hated, shunned, rejected, and feared most of my life! I have been alone. Once I thought I wanted that. I have become accustomed to it .. hardened, seasoned. I have learned to accept those negative emotions as a part of normality, but do you expect me to be happy about it? Maybe I should be. At least it makes me different.”

Her knees suddenly buckled under her, and she fell to the flooring, hair spilling over her eyes. “And now, finally, I had the foolish hope it might almost be over. That I might find a way to die at long last. That I might find my successor.”

Durral stared at her. “What do you mean?”

“Oh I know it’s crazy. I thought it was too. I, even I, the vermin-lover ... I did not think this would be the way it would happen. If you think I planned to spend my summer on a pirate’s ship, you are wrong, but I am done grousing about it. There was a reason we were captured. And if that ferret is killed, I’ll never know what she is!”

The mouse’s paw fell to where her sword should have been, and she clenched her teeth. “If only I had my sword!”

Durral huffed. “Well she doesn’t have it, at least not on her. She probably hid it somewhere.”

Sayna slowly stood, looking around. “And this is the captain’s cabin .. she is the captain .. this is her cabin .. it must be in here! Yes! Thank you Durral .. that’s it! My sword can take that door out .. but where is it .. where is it?”

Durral scrambled up on the window seat, holding his injured foot tightly. “Please Sayna .. I can’t fight! I don’t know how .. they’ll kill me.”

Sayna was digging through a trunk now, throwing clothes aside. “I don’t think there’s many left .. it’s not that loud out there anymore ..”

She pulled out a small wooden box, before dropping it on the pile of clothes. It toppled off, landing on the floor and spilling blue light into the cabin as the lid popped open.

Sayna stared at it, fur pallid in the aqua glow. “A Flower of Icetor?”

“Oh .. yes, she found that in the tomes under Saint Ninians ..” Durral explained.

“Well it won’t help me. Those have helped me enough.” Sayna shut the box, standing up and running to the desk. “Where would she put it? If I can just find it, I’ll smash that door to splinters.”

Durral stumbled into the corner by a tall cabinet, one which had broken glass doors; and he opened the large cupboard doors at the bottom. “Well I’m going to find a place to hide while you’re at that ..”

He paused, and Sayna ran over. “What is it ..”

The next second she seized her sword hilt, exclaiming, “Thank Ignasa .. good eye Durral.”

“Mmm .. I suppose .. must you really break the door down?”

“Yes. Get somewhere safe .. as safe as it can be. I must know the truth.”

She gripped the sword hilt tightly as blue flowed down the blade, and she ran at the door, swinging her weapon into it with a crash. The mouse slashed again, and again, relentless, even if this would drain most of the energy she had left .. she had to get out there .. she had to do something.


Hood had to drag Clecky off after the hare’s unfortunate misadventure with the hotroot, and the festivities went on, though Grath noticed a lot of the otters giving her and her friends funny or laughing looks. After all, hotroot probably didn’t bother many of them, they’d been raised on it.

She’d slowly sort of wandered away, feeling out of place. They were happy and carefree, just like she had been once, and somehow, it only made the loss hurt again. Maybe she was not meant to live in a holt anymore .. as many found memories as it brought, it brought sorrow as well.

“I don’t know where I’m supposed to be. Redwall was wonderful .. but too quiet. Holt Ruddarwake is beautiful, but it reminds me so much of home that I .. I can’t. There must be some world where I could live .. happily .. isn’t there?”

She was still unsettled. There was still a quest to fulfill, and she must continue to finish what she had chosen .. she had chosen to save her fellow beasts, and to fail was not just failing Ignasa, it was failing herself.

Grath sat on a rock near the clear stream flowing through this strange island, and stared into the starlit water. “It really is time to go. Tommorow.”

There was a step behind her, and she turned to see Inbar. “Oh .. I thought you were still at the feast.”

“Well, I noticed you left.” He raised an eyebrow.

“I .. was thinking. You have been wonderful to us, and I thank you .. all of you .. but we need to go.”

Inbar was silent, before stating. “For your Sayna .. and your abbot. Right?”

“Yes .. I fear they’ll die without us. Every moment we delay might be their last .. and I fear it will be.”

“But .. you could die as well.”

Grath sighed, looking irritated. “Don’t remind me .. but I’m not going to run from fear. A noble warrior must face it .. or they are neither noble, nor a warrior.”

Inbar looked away, biting his lip. Grath looked confused. “Is something wrong?”

He didn’t answer for long enough she wondered if he would. At long last, he hung his head. “Yes.”

“What do you mean?” She was concerned by this answer, not the one she’d really expected.

Inbar didn’t meet her gaze. “Yes, something’s wrong. I didn’t want to tell you at first .. but you’re so .. honest. Determined. You know it’ll be your end but you won’t back down if it means sacrificing your friends.”

He sighed. “I’d always wanted to meet somebeast like that. And you have to leave .. now, tonight, as soon as you can .. or you will never get to .. your ship will be sunk.”

Grath scooted slowly away, eyes widening. “What?”

“My father wants to protect us ... that’s why we were so careful around you at first .. that’s why we never let anybeast see us. Until .. that is .. I was dumb enough to blow our cover. Now .. now he’s afraid your leaving will endanger Rudderwake. And the thing is, he’s probably right.”

“But we would never ..”

“You wouldn’t mean to.” Inbar corrected. “But you haven’t heard the stories about Emperor Ublaz that I have. He’s a hypnotist, and a good one too ... all he has to do is make eye contact with you, and you will tell him whatever he wants to know.”

Grath blinked, as Inbar continued. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you .. and now that I have, my father will be furious with me. But I have a wonderful track record of messing everything up, so why break it now?”

His amber eyes were almost pleading. “Do you really have to go?”

“Y .. yes.” Grath scrambled back, standing quickly up. “We have to leave .. now. As soon as it’s remotely possible.”

She was terribly unsettled by Inbar’s revelation, so startled in fact, she didn’t even thank him for telling her. Somewhere deep down, she wanted to. But such treachery among woodlanders sowed a seed of fear in her heart, and she simply bolted away, leaving him looking forlorn.

Would he tell? Would they be stopped?

No! We must find the pirate island and save Sayna and Father Abbot, or I will never have peace again!


Romsca heard a dire shriek of absolute pain resound in her ears, one that was torn from her throat from the horrific agony she felt. She had been hit, cut, bruised, and knocked about many a time, so many they could not be counted, but this was unlike anything she had ever endured.

Pure fire spilled from Lask’s brutal claws, and while Romsca struggled wildly, he held her firmly to the floor, rancid breath all around her.

This .. can’t be how it ends ..

There was a splintering crash, and Sayna shot through the captain’s cabin’s door, broken pieces flying around her, her glowing blue sword in the extension of a two-pawed swing. The mouse hit the deck hard and stumbled, her pale hair spilling about her in a silver cascade.

She didn’t stop, just clamped her paws around the sword hilt, causing the bright blue power flowing down the blade to intensify. “Ignasa, may my sword fly true!”

The burning, white steeled blade spun through the air as she flung it, tearing a deep gash down Lask’s side, and his torment resided as he turned upon this new attacker. Romsca coughed, blood flowing into her mouth, and she almost choked on it as she stared a little blankly at the still glowing sword, fallen before her.

Sayna had picked up a fallen sword, and Romsca felt a wave of guilt crash over her.

I captured that mouse. I threatened her .. I threatened to kill her. And yet she fights for me. Why? Is that what this Lord Ignasa can do in a beast? Just like my father ..

The nightmare with the little ottermaid came back, and how she had begged her father to save her from that engulfing river of blood and death.

“Only Ignasa can save you”

Why hadn’t she listened? Now it was reality! Was it too late? Yes .. yes it must be. She had ignored the omen, and it was over.

“Don’t be a murderer me little girl .. this is all it leads to.”

“Me little girl ..”

A crash and a shriek caused her to look up with her graying vision as Lask threw Sayna into the ship’s railing with amazing force. Her head snapped back, and she crumpled in a heap on the instant.

The lizard turned around .. tailless, bloody, and enraged, he looked like he came straight from Hellgates themselves. With a spine chilling roar he lumbered forward, regardless of caution or tactics; he was mad with agony and desired nothing but blood.

Romsca groaned as she slid her paws onto the glowing sword, and the blue vanished with a flash, but it was the only hope of putting an end to this. It took all her faltering strength to hold the weapon up, but she did, just in time for Lask to run full force onto the blade. He impaled himself on the instant, the sword emmbedding in his chest to its hilt, and Romsca was thrown violently backwards, slamming hard against the mast.

If she’d had the energy left to scream, she would have, but she let out no more than a whimper of pain; pain so terrible she could barely make a sound. She fell to the deck, feeling the warmth spreading beneath her in contrast with how cold and leaden she felt.

So this was what dying felt like? At least she’d only have to do it once.

But the guilt she’d felt earlier would not let her die in peace. She barely knew what she was doing, maybe it was due to the fear of knowing she had not led the best of lives.

“Only Ignasa can save you.”

It seemed to resound in her now, like somebeast was crying it out to her, begging her to believe. Maybe it was her own soul.

“I .. Igna ..” She tried to speak that foreign name .. vivid in her mind but not on her tongue .. but the powers of speech were draining from her now.

Ignasa .. if you could hear a pirate's plea .. forgive me ..

Her last thought was a depressing one.

I will never be able to right the wrongs .. my life has been sorely wasted ..

Somebeast was speaking, though their voice was far away and muffled. "My daughter ..."

Romsca may not have smiled, but her heart did, faintly. When had she last heard such words?

A strange sort of peace enfolded her, a peace she had not felt for many seasons, and a tear rolled down her cheek .. one tear.

I wronged innocents! I wronged you! Forgive me, lord of the heavens ... I wish I had never done any of it!


Darkness swirled around her, blacker than night. Shadows, sweeping and terrible brushed against her fur with the clammy touch of death.

Romsca could not recoil, could not move. Somehow, she was still conscience of the world around her, though she wasn’t sure she was even breathing anymore. She was almost floating, and she slowly came to rest in the shadowy grass of a misty field, dark and dismal.

What have I done?

Romsca doubted she would ever know the extent of her actions. Was this the afterlife? It was gloomy, but it was not the terror she should deserve.

She tried to move, but she was unable to, and in a flash, all the pain of the wounds she had left earth with crashed down upon her.

The ferret also realized she could not breathe, or do so much as wiggle a claw, and yet she could see. A glow of light pierced the shadowy mist, and slowly, he appeared .. him.

It was Ignasa; he looked like the marble statue in the temple come to life, only far more majestic. The cat towered above her, and she wanted to bow, every fiber of her desired to, but all she could do was stare at him through death-grayed eyes.

“What have you done?”

His voice was a stern sound, a disappointed sound, and Romsca was confused. He was disappointed? Why did he care, why wasn’t he just angry?

“Because I have been calling you all your life. Romsca .. why did you have to bring me to this? Why did it take this much agony to make you see?”

“I don’t know!” Romsca wanted to say. “All my life? But where were you? Why didn’t you show me sooner?”

“I did.” Ignasa shook his head. “I gave you Coral. I gave you your father. I gave you the book you found in Holt Lutra, and I gave you Sayna. I have always cared, I have always been here, but no, you needed proof. More proof. You needed to see me. Now you see me Romsca. Is the price you are paying in agony worth it? Is having your own way worth all this suffering?” Agony was indeed the word for the racking fire tormenting every piece of her.

“Forgive me great lord .. I am a fool.”

Ignasa’s eyes softened slightly. “I have forgiven you. And you say well you have been a fool. But the question now is this; What will you do?”

“Am I not dead, lord?”

“No.” Ignasa shook his head. “Not yet, and you will not die unless I give the word. If you had a chance to live, what would you do?”

What would she do? There were many things she wanted to do; stop Ublaz, save her friends, and free her country. Live a different way, so guilt would not cling to her pelt at every turn. As she looked into those glowing eyes, blue-white like the hottest flames of a fire, she came to a strange understanding. Nothing she could do could ever take that guilt away. She had stolen, she had killed, she had cowered, and she had abandoned her friends out of fear. She could not save herself from the river of death she had chosen, but Conva had said Ignasa could.

“I will do whatever you tell me. I will pay whatever price you desire.”

It felt .. right to say that. The large cat slowly crouched down before her. “You have no power to pay for any of this.”

The cold dragging on her limbs was numbing the racking pain in her body, but with it came crushing depression. He was right.

“I have paid for it instead.” He slowly stretched his muzzle out, until it was nearly touching her hair. “And I have taken your punishment from you, because I and I alone have the power to pay.”

Romsca felt his muzzle gently touch her head, and his warm breath cascaded around her. In that second, her lungs seemed to work again, and she gasped in air as a blinding light surrounded her, forcing her to close her eyes.

Ice cold engulfed her, washing the pain away, numbing her senses completely, until she was certain she must be completely ice. After what could have been anywhere from hours to a few seconds, the light faded, and she felt herself crumple gently to the ground, only this ground was warm.

The ferret coughed, slowly lifting her head, but letting it fall again the next second. Ignasa’s eyes were sad as he laid down, sighing. “Do you think the pain in my world and in my creatures doesn’t affect me, Romsca?”

“Yer creatures milord? Woodlanders?” Romsca was a little breathless, but couldn’t keep from asking.

The sorrow of over a thousand ages mixed strangely with a sort of honest anger gleamed in the cat’s eyes, and Romsca wished she had not said a word. He laid his head on his forepaws, heaving the deepest of sighs. “No. I made every living creature in the world. I gave them intelligence, I gave them life, and I loved them all. They betrayed me, but I still love every creature; every mouse, every otter, every rat, and every ferret. All of them.”

Romsca tried to wrap her mind around this, and stammered, “Even Ublaz?”

Ignasa’s eyes were sober. “Ublaz has rejected me. He has declared war on those I love, and his pride blinds him from all danger, just as yours did you. Ublaz has said he does not need me, and has rejected my forgiveness. He is one with his master now, and because there is no place in his heart to repent, there is no place in my kingdom for him.”

The cat shook his head. “There are many such creatures, deadened, cold, and without mercy. They are my enemies.”

Romsca slowly sat up. “Then I do not see why I ain’t the same.”

“Because you were searching. You could have easily become just like Ublaz, but you were still searching, you still had a conscience. You forced me to put you through more trials than I wanted for you, but you did listen in the end .. my daughter.”

Romsca looked away, knowing she could never deserve to have a perfect creature like this call her daughter, but she did not want to offend him in any way.

“I will not be offended.”

She looked at him as he stood, wrapping his tail around his paws, and she blurted, “Lord, I am a disgrace to my own father; I let him die, I brought about his death, in fact. I was a fool and a girl who thought she could be more. I thought I could be a worthy heir to him, but I can never be! I wish .. I wish I had been his son.”

Ignasa raised one eyebrow. “Do you honestly think that would have changed everything in your life? If you had been born his son, Romsca, would that have made your life perfect?”

She slowly dropped her gaze. “No.”

“Conva did not judge you for that, Romsca, he never did. He loved you from the moment you were born, and he loved you for you. Not for what you might be, or would be, or couldn’t be. He loved you as well as any father loves a daughter.” Ignasa’s eyes were piercing, and Romsca could not look into them.

The lynx-like cat stood, nodding to her. “Your time here is short. Follow me.”

He walked through the now lush grass, tail sweeping behind him, and Romsca obeyed. As they walked to nowhere in particular, Ignasa spoke. “You hold great power on Sampetra, my daughter. You are of royal blood.”

“Yea, a halfblood wearet who’s family was considered the lowest of all royalty.”

Ignasa smiled ever so slightly. “And now the halfblood wearets are the only ones left.”

Romsca was slightly surprised to find he countered her sarcasm with actual humor. Deities were supposed to be cold and impersonal, weren’t they?

“I am not impersonal. And yes Romsca, I do have a sense of humor. I may be the creator and ruler of all, but I am also a person.” Ignasa’s eyes were steady.

Romsca was having a hard time fully comprehending all this, and Ignasa sensed it. “Sit down here.”

She did, and he crouched in front of her, stating, “Sampetra has brought death and destruction to thousands of those who did nothing to them. They steal and enslave and murder; for seasons I have called to them, but they grew ever harder. Now there is only one way to end this, to make them see, and it is the same way I finally used to reach you. The tyranny must end, and that is why I allowed Ublaz to overtake you.”

His words sank in for a moment, and Romsca sighed. “So he’s our punishment.”

“No.” Ignasa’s eyes glimmered. “He is your warning.”

Romsca stared at him, trying with all her might to imagine anything worse than Ublaz, and failing. Ignasa was dead serious. “My daughter, I do not wish those lost in darkness to fall, but when my enemies arouse my wrath, Ublaz would seem like nothing.”

His eyes were earnest. “Beasts on Sampetra are starting to see. They are starting to heed. Be a light in the darkness, be the righter of wrongs.”

“M .. me? Right .. right the wrongs? All of them?” Romsca’s voice was honestly, an uncharacteristically terrified squeak.

“You will not be alone, you will never be alone again. I will be there for you. I will give you friends and allies, mortal and immortal. The path you tread is one you brought upon yourself; it will be full of pain, loss, and suffering .. and yet through it, there will be joy, peace, and there will be love.”

Romsca wrapped her arms around herself. “I ain’t sure I can love anymore. I can be loyal perhaps, but kindness and mercy and love .. I .. I think I’ve forgotten.”

Ignasa smiled sadly. “I have given you ones to guide you, one in particular. But it is up to you to find them. I am preparing you for a great responsibility, and a great purpose. Like I told your father long ago, Sampetra must suffer for its black deeds, but the red dawn of a Dragon Queen brings hope for a new people, and a new age. Now you must return.”

“Wait!” Romsca blurted. “Did ya really save me father? Is he really safe with ya?”

“The only way for you to know that for sure is to enter the Lands Beyond.” Ignasa laid his head over her shoulder, pulling her against him for a moment. “But I protect my followers Romsca. You saw the faith he had. Conva was Sampetra’s first light, and you will now carry on his belief. He stood against evil. He fought well. I would not abandon him.”

Ignasa let out a gentle sigh. “Now return. There are those that need you.”


The sounds of fighting faded to nothing before Durral dared to creep out of the cupboard. He shivered as a frightening smell came to him, the smell of blood, the smell of death.

He froze, but forced himself to breath, and stand up. This was a perfect time to panic, but he knew he had to keep calm if he wanted to find out just what had happened. The mouse slunk toward the doorway, the door laying in smashed, seared pieces all over the deck. He slowly looked out, and wished he had not.

Durral could imagine his face was five times paler than it should be, and he felt sick. Not one creature moved, though thirty some beasts lay fallen on a deck slick with blood and gouged by the wicked spikes on the lizard’s tails.

The mouse did his very best not to look closely at any of the corpses, with their hideous wounds and features frozen in pain, anger, or blank shock. They were vermin .. yes .. they were vermin. He had to remind himself this over and over. They weren’t woodlanders, they weren’t his people, they were his enemies.

Still, he could not help but feel pity for them. Some looked his own age, in the beginning of their upper seasons, some looked in the prime of life, some looked like teenagers, and some looked like children. And vermin or not, Durral could not keep tears from rising up as he saw one poor little rat that couldn’t have been over thirteen.

He hurried on, reasoning it safe to speak as at least eleven lizards lay dead on the deck. “S .. Sayna?”

His voice shook more than he’d have liked, but there was no response.

“Sayna?” He’d have given anything to hear her matter-of-fact, commanding voice, even if it was derogatory. Had he alone escaped this slaughter?

Then he saw her, crumpled to the deck near the rail, crimson trickling from one corner of her mouth and down her cheek. Durral threw himself beside her, grabbing a limp and disturbingly clammy paw. “Sayna .. no .. Sayna, I can’t steer a ship! I can’t survive on a pirate island! I need you .. you can’t be dead, I need you!”

Her silver hair spilled across the deck, and it almost looked more silver than before. Then he realized it .. the golden streak that normally framed her face was gone. Some gold still mixed with gray, yes .. but how ..

Durral shook his head. She was gone; that was really all that mattered. She could not help him, and he needed to find somebeast who could. Where was that captain? She had done this to protect him, she would aid him, wouldn’t she?

As he stood again, his stomach lurched with that realization. She had done this to protect him. That’s why all this horror had taken place, to save his life. And in that second, Durral felt very small, and very unworthy.

However he shook it away as something else whispered in his head. She had captured him, hadn’t she? She owed him this, and besides, they were only vermin.

Even as he thought it, it horrified him, and he clapped his paws to the sides of his head. What was happening to the wise and kind abbot he had worked so hard to be? This wretched place was playing with his mind.

“My … my daughter? Captain? Answer me, answer me please!”

There was a faint sound, a strangled sort of whimper, from the other side of the mast. Durral hurried there as fast as he could, taking care to hitch his robe about his knees as he stepped over the grotesque form of a dead, tailless lizard, Sayna’s sword buried in its chest.

However the sight that greeted him next was even worse. The ferret captain lay at his feet, fighting to breathe as she lay in a pool of crimson, her back torn and mangled, her face contorted with agony.

Durral knelt beside her, taking her paw, and it clasped his in return, doubtless an involuntary response. He lifted her head a little, shaking his own. “Oh .. ferret .. was it worth this?”

Was anything worth this kind of suffering?

Nothing could heal her, she had lost too much blood, and the wound was too grievous. He looked at Sayna, then at the ferret, and let out a little whimper himself. He was as good as dead. He had no idea what to do. They were the only two who knew what to do, and now they were gone. No .. the ferret was alive, but dying. But ... even at that ..

Durral looked at Sayna, and her flowing hair, and a sudden thought came to him. The Flower. The Flower was said to heal .. Sayna had said it had healed her. And it wasn’t like there were any other options.

“Stay here ... don’t move ... don’t die!” Durral didn’t care how crazy he sounded. He needed somebeast to steer this ship.

He limped as fast as he could, getting back to the cabin and picking up the little box. Water. And a bowl .. he could remember being dragged past the kitchen on his way from the brig. He scurried down the galley stairs, running into the kitchen. It took him a few moments to find the bowl and water, but it might as well have been forever. He set the box on the table, opening it and staring at the glowing, blue-white flower, before he took it in his paws. It tingled in his paws, making him shiver, and he wondered how to go about this.

He gently bent one of the petals back until it snapped like a brittle piece of ice. Glowing liquid dripped into the water, giving it a glow of its own. Durral quickly crushed the rest of the flower, until the water was like a lantern, or brighter.

The mouse grabbed the bowl, stumbling a little because of his wounded footpaw. Several drips of water spilled on the injury, and it vanished in a flash of blue light as cold flowed through his entire body. He didn’t wait to gawk at this, just hurried up the stairs as fast as he could. If it worked on his foot .. maybe, just maybe ..

The ferret lay where he had left her, eyes closed and breathing a mere rattle. He knelt beside her again, dipping his paw in the glowing liquid and smearing it across her wounds, but while it shone, nothing really seemed to happen.

He lifted her head, pouring a little into her mouth and praying she would be able to swallow. She did, though a little ran out on side of her mouth. He tried again, and once again she swallowed. The rest he poured on her terrible injuries, and it simply seemed to melt into her, leaving them glowing.

She drew in a weak breath, and slumped against him .. if she inhaled again, it was so faint he could not tell. “Don’t die ... don’t ..”

Durral ran a paw across her forehead. She was a strange-looking ferret, maybe she wasn’t fully a ferret. Her orange fur, cream mask, and black hair mixed oddly, yet they defined her well. She was unique.

What had made her act like she had? What had possessed her to risk her entire crew, and her own life, to save two of her enemies?

He slipped backwards, folding his paws and hanging his head. What was he supposed to do now?

However there wasn’t much time to worry over it, as a strange glow began to cover the ferret. It started at her wounds and spread across her entire body, sweeping up into her messy, bloody hair, and it froze there for a moment. Then her black headfur gleamed blue, and it spilled across the deck .. twisting, cascading ... and growing.

The scars torn across her face glowed, and then disappeared. Every scar she bore simply melted, giving way to fur free of all blemishes, and the gashes on her back healed. Blood still soaked her, but no injuries remained for it to have flown from.

The glow around her vanished into her fur, and she inhaled again, strongly this time.

Durral scooted away, apprehension rising in him. What had he done? What if she really wasn’t any different? What if he’d brought a monster back to life? What if she killed him in return? Should he just have left her to die?

The ferret moaned a little, opening her green eyes and staring oddly at him. “Ya .. ya ain’t Ignasa. Abbot-mouse? Is it ya?”

Durral didn’t say anything for a moment, before stammering, “W .. Were you dead?”

“Mmm .. ahh.” She rubbed her jaw. “I ain’t sure. Maybe.”

She didn’t bother getting up, just looked strangely at him. “Did ya save me? Why?”

“I .. I .. well .. I mean, I needed somebeast to steer the ship. Besides .. you did .. fight for us, and I .. yes. I healed you.”

She slowly pushed herself up until she was sitting. “Wha .. me crew. Me crew is all dead, ain’t they?”

Durral nodded, and she drew her knees to herself, wrapping her arms around them. “I’m an awful capt’n. I shoulda .. I wish ..”

She looked around at the dead, murmuring, “I wish I coulda got ya home safe. Ya was brave warriors, an’ ya gave yer lives fer me an’ me prisoners. I’m sorry.”

Durral was surprised she had that much feeling for them, but he did not interrupt her sorrow as she looked down. “An’ ya didn’t know him. If only I’da listened sooner .. I coulda stopped all this.”

She looked around. “Where’s Sayna?”

“She ..” Durral looked at where the mouse had been sprawled on the deck, and froze. She wasn’t there. “Is there one of those lizards still left?”

“No, there is not.”

Durral spun around, let out a startled scream, and scrambled behind the dead body of the chief lizard; he couldn’t help it. “You .. you were dead! You were dead! You cannot be alive .. there was no pulse .. no warmth .. you ..”

Sayna sighed with longsuffering. “Yes. I can do that, Durral.”

“You really are a witch!”

Sayna growled. “I am not a witch! On the contrary! And what have you done?”

Durral stared at her. “What have I done? What do you mean?”

Sayna pointed a claw at the ferret. “To her.”

“I saved her life!” Durral defended himself. “She was dying, and I saved her. How is that wrong?”

“Durral ...” Sayna raised her eyes heavenwards. “If only you could do something right, not almost right! You have made her like me!”

“What’s wrong?” The ferret sounded unsure. “Ignasa sent me back, he said I was gonna live. I’m alive ain’t I?”

Sayna sighed. “You are .. Ignasa sent you back?”

“Yes .. he spoke ta me. I saw him. He said a lotta things, but he said he was sending me back to the ones that needed me.” The ferret’s green eyes were challenging. “An’ I trust him.”

“That’s good.” Sayna sighed. “This is sounding too familiar. May I see your paws?”

She looked suspicious. “Uhh. Why?”

“Because.” Sayna knelt in front of her, holding her paws out, and slowly, reluctantly, the ferret pulled her black gloves off, looking a little frustrated.

Sayna stared at the left paw, before seizing it and stroking the palm. “You are the one. The one who will take my place. You are the mark of the storm, and my rightful successor! Thank you Ignasa! At long last, I have found the one I have searched the ages for!”

She turned back to the ferret. “What is your name? I can’t call you ‘ferret’ forever.”

“I .. am Romsca. Capt’n Romsca a the House a the Dragons, and a warrior of Sampetra.” She looked down. “At least .. I was. I ain’t sure what I am anymore.”

She tried to get up, but was stopped by the weight of her hair. “What in Hellgates ...”

Sayna sighed in reply. “Your hair.”

“What about it?”

“It’s long.” Sayna smirked.

Romsca rolled her eyes. “Yes. My father liked my long hair, an’ I keep it this way in his memory.”

She reached behind her, freezing as her fingers touched the flowing, floor-length black hair she now possessed. “Wha .. what is this? Me hair? That ain’t me hair, it can’t be!”

The ferret grasped the long locks, growling, “What’d ya do ta me? I can’t fight like this! Get me a knife, this has got ta be cut.”

Sayna held up a paw. "Oh no you don't! I have not lived a thousand seasons to see my successor kill themselves out of rash foolishness!"

“Rash foolishness? This ain’t bearable! It was plenty long ‘nough before .. how will I fight like this?”

“You’ll manage.” Sayna sounded sarcastic. “But whatever you do, do not cut your hair, or allow it to be cut. You aren’t the one who’s alive, your hair is. If it is cut off, you will die.”

Romsca stared blankly at the mouse. “So .. yer sayin’ I’m a zombie. With really long hair.”

“And a perfect complexion, yes.” Sayna smirked. “There are a few benefits to this. For one thing, somebeast could run a sword through you, and you wouldn’t die, as long as it wasn’t instantly fatal. You won’t get sick much either.”

The ferret slowly picked herself off the deck, swaying a little. “Me head aches.”

Sayna nodded. “I’m not surprised. You did just die, or nearly. You need a good rest, come along.”

“Hey .. who’s capt’n ‘round here anyhow?” Romsca complained, though weakly. “Ya can’t get us back on course!”

“No, but I know enough to drop anchor and furl the sail.” Sayna wasn’t at all flustered. “Just go to sleep, and you’ll explain the events of the last few weeks to me in detail when you wake up.”

Romsca allowed herself to be forced into her hammock, though she mumbled, “Don’t ya dare wreck me ship. It’s me dad’s ship, an’ it’s all I got left’a him after ya broke his cutlass ..”

“I promise you I won’t.” Sayna slipped out on deck. “Just rest.”

She looked at Durral and the deck around him, before sighing. “No rest for us. We have a lot of work to do.”

Durral watched her dubiously, as she leaned against the mast. “Are you sure you can cope with that? Didn’t you just .. die .. too?”

“Yes, but I have done it many times. I ought to be used to it by now. How many streaks of gold are left in my hair?”

“One.” Durral shrugged.

Sayna blinked, before nodding. “One. So be it. No wonder I feel light-headed.”

Durral raised an eyebrow. “It’s probably because you haven’t eaten a proper meal in weeks.”

“That too.” She agreed. “I’ll see the anchor is lowered, you see what you can find in the kitchen.”


Inbar was at the edge of the river, packing his canoe. He’d let them go, and it was high time for him to be gone as well, before the sun rose properly. Already, the island was washed in pre-dawn light, and if he waited much longer, he’d have to face Wallyum.

He’d decided to take his chances with the pirate Emperor. At least he could protect his home that way, after having endangered it.

Then his father wouldn’t have to make decisions like this anymore.

He had his bow, a good quantity of arrows, his harpoon, some extra clothes, and other supplies. That should be enough.

Inbar was putting one foot into his canoe, when a familiar voice rang out behind him. “What are you doing?”

He faced Winniegold, shrugging. “I’m going to stop a war, what else?”

“You’re running away again?” His sister pouted. “I’ll tell daddy!”

“No you won’t!” Inbar thought fast. “You can tell him when he wakes up, ok? Tell him I’m going to do something worthwhile with my life, cause hiding on a chunk of rock and causing trouble isn’t my choice profession.”

Winniegold looked confused. “But you always told me to keep mum before.”

“Yea, but this is different. This is important.”

“Oh come on, you said you wouldn’t disappear anymore!”

Inbar sighed. “I know what I said. But that was before ..”

Winniegold made a face. “Before you met her. This is about her, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s about something bigger than her.” Inbar was frustrated. “And she made me see I have to do something about it. The pirates are going to find us sometime or other, but I’m going to make sure they don’t.”

His sister perked up. “Fighting pirates is cool. I thought you were going to run off into the sunset with her, but fighting pirates is better.”

Inbar rolled his eyes. “Ahg .. you make sure ma and father are alright. In case I don’t come back, you’ll have to protect Rudderwake with father instead of me.”

“But why wouldn’t you come back? You’ve got to come back!”

He hugged his sister. “I’ll try Winniegold. I’ll try. Now I need to go.”


“Why would they do that to us .. try to keep us there and even sink our ship? They were wonderful creatures!”

Grath looked at Tansy as they stood on the forecastle of Seawarrior, watching the sun rise in all its glory. “War makes a mess of everything. They were only trying to protect themselves.”

Martin shook his head. “Maybe so, but it was wrong for them to hide it from us. Dishonest. If they’d have wanted us to stay, they should have just ordered that we did.”

“I’m sure they were hoping to settle it peacefully.” Grath sighed. “I’m just glad Inbar told me when he did .. or by now, we’d be stuck there for good.”

She leaned on the rail, looking at the fading mass of Ruddering. “You know, I was so upset I didn’t even tell him thank you, or even good-bye. I wish I had, he was kind to me, and I was downright rude.”

Cracklyn jumped on the rail, flicking her tail over her back. “Do you like him?”

Grath blushed. “Not like that Cracklyn .... but I do hope he won’t get into trouble with his father for telling me the truth.”

“Well I won’t, actually.”

Grath wheeled around, to see Hood holding Inbar by the collar. “We seem to have a stowaway.”

Inbar shrugged him off. “Hey I rowed all the way here ok? I’m just drafting myself, that’s all. If you’ll pull my canoe on board, I brought you some supplies in case you needed some.”

“Oh.” Martin shrugged. “Well Hood already .. enlisted some leftovers from the feast.”

“I stand accused.” Hood sounded almost amused.

Grath stepped forward, asking, “Why .. are you here? I thought .. you said ..”

“I thought about what you said.” Inbar smiled. “About a beast that runs from fear being neither noble, nor a warrior. I decided I wanted to be both.”

He grinned. “You have a way with words Longfletch. You really do.”

Chapter 23 In the Face of Death

TotO &#039;Gray Day&#039;

Arashi arrives on Sampetra

“Whatever happens, I can’t let Ublaz see ya, or know yer there. Ya can’t either, not if ya ever hope ta see Romsca again.”

“I know, ye’ve said that ten times now.” Arashi raised an eyebrow.

Xzaris rubbed his forehead. “Sorry. I’m thinkin’ up a plan here, ok? We’ll be home by tonight ... evenin’. Maybe if I stall us some, we kin git inta harbor under cover a darkness, an’ convince the Monitors not ta take us in ‘til mornin’. After all, Zurgat was the smartest one, and she’s dead.”

“True.” Arashi agreed. “Then what?”

“As we come in, look an’ see if ya kin spot Freebooter, that’ll mean Capt’n Barranca’s home. An’ stay outa sight a the ratguard. They’re everywhere, an’ Sagitar always has a ring a spies in place.” Xzaris stated. “We’ll slip overboard an’ row one a the lifeboats in. After that .. it’s up ta luck.”

Arashi shrugged. “Ye mean Ignasa.”

“As long as it gits us safe, I don’t care what it is.” Xzaris sighed, leaning against the back of his chair.

She didn’t counter him, just asked, “What about Val?”

Xzaris looked at the ground, shaking his head. “I donno.”

“Ye made her first mate, didn’t ye? She will have to appear before Ublaz, won’t she?”

“I’m tryin’ ta work out what ta do.” Xzaris groaned. “I donno yet. If only Skarbod hadn’t .... but none a that helps now. I jist donno.”

Arashi nodded grimly. “I understand. I’ll take the watch.”

She vanished out the doorway, and Xzaris fiddled with the quill on his desk, shaking his head. What would he do to help Val? He couldn’t leave her to face the wrath of Ublaz alone .. could he? But getting three beasts out from under the Monitor’s noses .. two would be hard enough!

You could stay here. You could send Val with Arashi instead.

Xzaris stared blankly at the desk, thinking of the stories. How Romsca never wanted to speak of what she saw in that throne room, of how Rasconza looked darkly at the ground whenever the rebellion was mentioned.

He’d seen beasts beaten to death for a minor infraction and tortured for not paying taxes.

He’d seen children that were orphaned by Ublaz’s cruelty and ravished by the Monitors on the streets, or if they were lucky, recruited into the ratguard to face Sagitar’s brutality.

Did he want to face that monster, have to look him in the eyes and tell him he could not find the pearls? No .. oh no. He wanted to get as far away as possible.

No matter the cost.


Romsca awoke slowly, to see the warm light of evening streaming through her doorway, and she subtly wondered why her door wasn’t closed. Then she remembered it had been destroyed, and why.

In the back of her mind, she expected herself to ache all over, but she did not. She felt truly refreshed. Invigorated. Alive. And she hadn’t dreamed a single thing, at least not that she could remember, as if some tormented piece of her spirit had finally come to rest.

The encounter with Ignasa was disturbingly fuzzy, all the details she wished to hang onto forever seeping away from her, but his noble face was still clear in her memory.

“I will serve ya lord. I will serve ya an’ only ya.”

Was this how her father had felt? Standing in the face of death, but still so alive?

“I see why ya weren’t afraid dad, I really do.” A slow and strangely happy smile spread across her face as she realized her father truly was safe. Dead, yes, but safe. Ublaz had no power over him anymore.

“An’ he has no power over me either.” Romsca said this resolutely, but she only wished she felt as sure as she sounded.

“Who doesn’t?”

Romsca turned to face Sayna, who handed her a bowl of soup that actually smelled like it was edible. “Uh .. Ublaz. He’s .. he was me emperor.”

Sayna nodded, before motioning to the window seat. “Sit down and talk to me while you eat, captain. If I am to be equipped for whatever we will face, let me know my enemy.”

Romsca almost rebuked the mouse for giving her orders, but remembered how different things were now and caught herself. “I can only tell what I know.”

“I understand.” Sayna sat beside her. “I believe you have the power of the Healing Fire within you, but you were one of them. Who is this Ublaz?”

“He’s a pine marten.” Romsca took a bite of soup. “Those lizards I had on me ship? He has hundreds of them in his command, all loyal past the point a reason and terrible weapons a destruction. He also has at least seven-hundred ratguard in his service, as well as the allegiance of some seventy able capt’ns, their crews, an’ their ships.”

Sayna blinked, before nodding. “That does make things difficult.”

Romsca nodded. “That’s not to mention his spies, his wealth, and his powers.”

“Powers?” Sayna looked interested.

“Yes. He can hypnotize a beast into killing even their dearest friend by meeting their gaze. He can make those lizards seem like sleepy kits, an’ he can make green fire shoot from his paws, fire that burns an’ kills on contact.”

“A Shadow Fighter.” Sayna looked grim. “And a powerful one, from what you describe. Yes, that does make things far more difficult than I thought. Any weaknesses?”

Romsca shrugged. “Not a lot. Maybe his tendency ta ignore beasts who don’t seem important ta him. Or his fondness of playin’ games with his victims. But ta outsmart him .. well me father’s the only one who did it. He outsmarted Ublaz by getting’ him ta behead him instead a torturin’ him ta death.”

“That does complicate things.” Sayna nodded. “Is beheading a favorite manner of execution for him?”

“Sometimes.” Romsca sneered. “Mosta the time though, he’d rather impale a beast. Or whip ‘em ta death, he seems ta like that too.”

Sayna made a face. “Sounds wonderful. Well. I suppose since you answered my question, I should answer one for you, if you have any.”

“Well .... Yea, I do.” Romsca nodded, picking her hair up an letting it spill across her lap. “What .. abilities do I really have now? I’ve seen how ya healed quickly when I cut ya that one time. An’ maybe I should .. say sorry fer that now that we’re talkin’ bout this.”

“I’ve had far worse.” Sayna smirked, and Romsca believed her. “You will experience impossible things with that hair to protect you. You will die many times, only to live again .. in theory you are invincible, but there are five deaths that can easily take you down once and for all; beheading, poisoning, drowning, being buried alive or suffocated extensively, and cutting your hair.”

“I’ll .. keep me eyes open.” Romsca made a face.

Sayna nodded. “You do possess the power of healing, though. In a sense. If you apply a thin lock of your hair to another’s injury and cut it, no matter how bad it is, as long as they draw breath, you can save them. You will die in their stead however. You will vividly and completely experience the pain they suffer, as you are taking it for them, and depending on how much hair you cut, you may be dead for over an hour .. the longest I’ve ever been dead is three hours. You do not want to do that, let me warn you .. you will be exhausted for days afterward. Every time you die, the flower weakens within you and a lock of your hair turns gray.”

“But ...” Romsca stared at Sayna’s wispy silver hair. “That’d mean ..”

“It would mean I am very close to dying forever. And I am ready, more than ready. I’m nothing but a lost echo of the past, and I belong with a people that died out years ago.”

Romsca frowned. “What do ya mean by that .. ya is a woodlander, an’ there are many woodlanders.”

“Ah, but my kind of woodlanders are few and far between. I am a warrior. Once many woodlanders were warriors. We were feared, even by the greatest of vermin kings. We were known for our strength, our skill, and our names were renowned for our nobility.” Sayna looked down with a deep sigh. “But apathy has risen within my people, breaking them. They are a mere echo of what they once were, and what they could be. It breaks my heart to see their unwillingness to fight evil, their desire to preserve peace at the cost of justice. Where is the self-sacrifice and feats of daring, the power of love, and the raging fire of freedom that I once knew? It echoes here and there Romsca, but it is being shunned for comfort. I fear for my kind, they will be their own undoing.”

“I ..” Romsca didn’t know what to say. “But they are the goodbeasts of the world.”

Sayna sighed. “A goodbeast who hides from the wake of evil and allows his brothers to fall to it is not what I would call good. In my day, everybeast stood, and we stood together. There were the peaceful beasts, like my own sister Laterose .. but even she, the gentle, loving wife that she was, drew steel and fought beside the warriors in battle, because there was a fire in her heart. A fire for justice, a fire of loyalty to those she loved. But that fire has grown cold in many a heart. And it troubles me, more than I could ever say.”

Romsca finished her soup, slowly standing up. “I .. donno how ta respond ta that.”

“You don’t need to.” Sayna stood as well. “I find it interesting you call woodlanders the goodbeasts of the world. Don’t vermin consider themselves good as well?”

“Yes.” Romsca slowly turned around. “I was taught that our kind was the better one. That we were the heroes and they were the villains. What a screwed up lie from Hellgates.”

Sayna raised an eyebrow. “What changed your mind?”

“I saw .. well .. a lot of things.” Romsca looked down at her paws. “I saw what I could do, for one. I ain’t innocent a bloodshed. I tried ta not capture an’ enslave woodlanders ta make meself feel better. I was lyin’ .. ta meself .. cause I knew. I knew what me father had said, an’ I knew I was wicked an’ everythin’ Sampetra did was too. I was just too scared .. too cowardly .... too pathetic .. ta do what I knew was right. I tried ta make meself a better pirate so I wouldn’t feel so guilty. It just made me empty. So when Lask ... tried ta eat ya .. it was too much. I knew I could either die defendin’ ya or see yer faces in my nightmares ferever .. an’ now .. me crew is dead, an’ I should be dead with em.”

The ferret’s shoulders slumped as she met Sayna’s gaze. “Why did ya save me? Why didn’t ya just let me die? I deserved what Lask gave me .. I do not deserve this.”

“Do any of us?” Sayna’s black eyes glittered. “Forgiveness is not something you earn, Romsca. But trust is. And since it was Durral that saved you, not me, I suggest you thank him. It’ll be awhile before you earn his trust, after all, you did take him away from everything he loved, lock him up with me, and put him through a considerable amount of danger.”

Romsca sighed. “Yea. An’ I need ta get us back on course. But .. yea .. I’ll talk ta him .. donno what I’ll say.”

She walked away, stopping on deck. The dead Monitors were still there, and Romsca made a face. “Ugg .. wonderful.”

“Yes, we decided to wait for your help with those.” Sayna shook her head. “They weigh a terrible amount.”

Romsca scowled. “Yea. About five hundred pounds apiece. Where’s the abbotmouse?”

“In the galley. Just so you know, I didn’t make that, he did.” Sayna shrugged.

“Huh. I thought we were almost out a rations.” Romsca frowned. “I hope we have enough to make it home.”

She walked to the galley, and Sayna followed her. “How far is it?”

The ferret shrugged. “Probably a day or so. I hope ... me uncle’s home.”

“Will your uncle help woodlanders?”

“I ..” Romsca shook her head. “I donno. Uncle don’t like woodlanders one bit, but I don’t think he’d turn on me. I think he’d help fer me sake, an’ anyway, since me others friends are gonna die .. less I can do somthin’ .. Barranca’s probably our best bet.”

She stopped in the kitchen, and Durral looked nervously up, looking like he didn’t know what to say or expect.

Romsca made a face, suddenly blurting, “I’m sorry .. it ain’t gonna make up fer nothin’ but I shouldn’t a done it. An’ I’m sorry I shoved ya against that tree on the way. An’ I wish I could send ya back ta yer .. red castle place.”

Hope flashed across his face. “Can you?”

“No ..” Romsca looked down. “No, I can’t, not right now. Things .. are complicated. Really .. complicated.”

“Maybe you should tell us how much.” Sayna prodded.

Romsca sighed. “I guess ya deserve ta know. Ublaz .. I had two other friends who was captains. Ublaz made us sail three different directions, an’ he said he’d spare the one who got the pearls. I got ‘em .. an’ that means ... Xzaris and Rasconza are gonna die unless I can git back there and stop it. Besides that .. we don’t have rations ta go back ta Mossflower. An’ once we git on Sampetra, I don’t know if we can get off.”

She sat down at the table, putting her head in her paws. “My nation is enslaved themselves. It weren’t always this way .. but I guess we deserved it. All the death, all the pain ... I wonder if we coulda stopped that. If I coulda.”

He hair spilled over her face as she clenched her teeth. “I got ya inta an awful mess abbotmouse. An’ I’m sorry.”

Durral blinked several times, before sighing. “Well .. I suppose .. I should forgive you. As long as you take me back to Redwall .. when you can.”

“When I can, I will take ya there meself.” Romsca paused. “Unless after that battle we had ... it wouldn’t be a good plan. Which it probably .. wouldn’t.”

“Never mind that at this moment.” Sayna crossed her arms. “For now, what’s the plan.”

Romsca slowly stood. “Let’s get rid a those filthy carcasses. When night falls I’ll determine our position by the stars. An’ keep a sharp eye fer gulls, shoot them on sight if you see them. I wanna take Ublaz unawares, an’ those gulls made a pact with him, so don’t let them report back.”


Night came, and with it pounding rain. Very little thunder or lightning, just moderate winds and a soaking, non-stop deluge. Xzaris had never been more delighted about a sopping fur coat than now. He could barely see the lights of Sampetra, though he knew they were in the harbor, and the Monitors seemed to know it.

Lussak walked slowly by Xzaris, hissing, “You muzzt go before the emperor.”

Arashi met Xzaris’s gaze, and the male ferret spoke quickly. “Aye. I must. But it’s night .. do ya think we should wait ‘til mornin’? After all, he’s probably sleepin’ an’ ya wouldn’t wanna disturb him. Tell ya what, we’ll moor on one’a the piers, wait out the storm an’ night, an’ go first thing inna mornin’.”

Lussak paused, seemingly thinking, before he nodded. “Yezzz. We will do that, but you will zztay in your cabin until morning.”

He shoved the ferret from behind, and Xzaris’s bad leg crumpled beneath him, sending him reeling to the deck. Val was there the next second, helping him onto his feet. “Ok, ok, ya don’t gotta push him around.”

“Crippled ferret.” Lussak grinned. “Cannot run far. Zzzeemzz like a good feazzt after Mazzter zzeezz.”

Xzaris glared at him. “Wull let’s leave it ta the Emperor.”

The lizard sneered. “I would not think of elzze.”

Val pulled the door shut in Lussak’s face as Xzaris sat down in his hammock, rubbing his ankle. The fox didn’t move for a moment, before she hugged him suddenly. “It’s gonna be ok! It’s gotta be!”

“It don’t gotta be.” He planted his foot on the floor, twisting it a little this way and that. “But I do gotta plan.”

The vixen perked her ears up. “Ya do? Finally?”

“Yea, I’ve been mopin’ too long, an’ Arashi made me see it. We’re gonna slip overboard an’ swim fer shore. It ain’t far. An’ sides, it’s better’n Ublaz.”

Val cocked her head. “An’ .. where do we go after that?”

“To Barranca’s manor, if’n he’s here. If not, we’ll hide at Romsca’s til she get’s back.” Xzaris raised an’ eyebrow. “Ya got a better idea?”

“Nah. Not really, that sounds about as good as it gits.” Val agreed. “How we gonna pull it off?”

“Yeaaa .. an’ getting’ past the guards.” Val pointed out.

“Ugh, one thing at a time.”

He rubbed his forehead. “An’ I wanna git Arashi out too. So ya see we gotta a problem.”

“Maybe I kin get out if’n I tell ‘em I’m gonna cook supper.” Val suggested.

Xzaris raised an eyebrow. “Cook what?”

She rolled her eyes. “Come on, we’ve gotta little left. I’ve sorta .. hid it. So we’d have it long nough ta last.”

“Well then ..” He smiled slowly. “Yer doin’ good. Yea. Do that. An’ tell Arashi ta be ready.”

The ferret limped to the windows, looking out at the pounding rain outside. “I’d say meet when the moon’s at its zenith, but since ya can’t see the moon .. try fer an hour.”

Val nodded, going to the door and pulling it open. A Monitor growled at her, but she spoke quickly. “Hey, I ain’t the capt’n. I’m gonna make supper.”

Lussak appeared in front of her, growling. “But you are the firzzzt mate.”

“Aye, an’ ya don’t have another cook, do ya?”

He watched her for a few moments, as if looking for a trick. Finally he gave up, growling, “Fine, you will cook. But one of you watch her, and zzee zzhe doezzz not get away.”

Xzaris met her gaze with a wince, before the door was slammed shut. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Now Val was stuck in the kitchen, with no real way to tell Arashi, and no real way to escape, either.

He knelt silently on the floor beside the closed door, looking through the crack. A Monitor was guarding it, and three others were on the side of Darkshroud that was moored on the pier. There was no getting off that way.

However, the seaward side of the ship was more promising .. not a Monitor in sight. They must not think anybeast would be stupid enough to brave the sea, even in the bay, on a night like this. Well, they were dead wrong.

The ferret stood up slowly, walking away, and fell to pacing. After a bit, he sat down at his desk and fiddled with his quill, staring at the paper in front of him. The words came to him, and he scratched them down, smiling in some places, looking sad in others. But it was all worthwhile, in case he didn’t survive, because she needed to know what he feared to tell her. He sealed it with his signet ring, before pondering who to give it to. Who could he trust, that would be sure to give it to Romsca .. and wouldn’t die?

Anybeast he entrusted it with could die or be captured, but maybe Arashi. Or Val if needed. He slipped the scroll into his satchel, and knelt beside the door again, watching the Monitor closely. It had been awhile, it was cool and wet outside, and it was night .. all things that made the beasts lethargic.

Xzaris slowly tried the door handle, pushing it open a crack, but there was no sound that showed this had been spotted. He opened the door inch by inch, breathing as softly as he possibly could, and nothing moved. The Monitor that should have been watching had let its head droop forward and its eyes film over. They weren’t closed yet, but the creature was obviously in a light sleep. One false move would awaken it.

The seconds crawled by as he silently shut the door, thanking fate he’d remembered to oil the hinges on the island of wrecked ships. Out in the rain he quickly limped into the shadows, hidden by darkness and his scent masked by water.

Arashi was already waiting, soaked to the bone, but not showing the slightest sign of discomfort. “There ye are.”

“Why didn’t ya go without me?” Xzaris knew he was late.

The ferret shook her head. “Dragons are known for their stubbornness. It brushed off on me.”

Xzaris smirked, before asking, “What about Val?”

“I don’t know. She hasn’t come out of the galley, I don’t think she can.” Arashi frowned.

Xzaris didn’t move for a moment, just stood still, gritting his teeth. If he escaped and Val didn’t, she would have to take the full wrath of Ublaz .. alone.

“Well? What will we do?”

“I donno. I’m thinkin’. How can we get her outa there?” Xzaris leaned against the railing, before Arashi pulled him to the ground the next second.

“Hush. Somebeast’s coming.”

Neither ferret moved an inch for a split second, before Xzaris hissed, “Quick, git over that rail. Use the anchor chain .. move!”

He glared at Arashi with fire smoldering in his blue eyes, and she silently did as he said. Xzaris pressed himself against the rail, for there was no time to flee, and the scraping sound told him it was a Monitor even before the scaly green legs appeared in his vantage point.

If he didn’t move, and it didn’t look directly at him, maybe the rain would mask his scent enough he wouldn’t be caught.

A sudden, searing pain lanced through his tail, and he bit his own tongue hard enough he could taste blood, least he yelp.

“Funny. Somebeast musta lefta rope.” There was a splashing as Val dumped something overboard, and Xzaris couldn’t tell if she was covering for him or if she simply didn’t know better. Since she didn’t move her foot, he guessed it was the latter.

The Monitor behind her was sniffing about her feet now, and the ferret knew his cover would be blown in a matter of seconds. He grabbed his tail with one paw and his pike with the other just as the lizard looked up with a vicious growl.

Xzaris leapt into action, fear taking hold of him. He ripped his tail from beneath Val’s boot, using the pike to vault himself over the rail .. or at least halfway.

The Monitor was lighting fast as it lunged, seizing his vest in its teeth and yanking backwards. Xzaris didn’t have time to make any noise whatsoever, he was flung to the deck and pinned down by an iron weight the next second.

“You are not going anywhere, captain.”

Lussak shoved down on his chest, making breathing difficult and escape impossible. Val slowly stood up, as the Monitor dug his claws into skin, sneering, “Thought you’d get away?”

“Let him go!” Val exclaimed as Xzaris coughed, gasping for breath.

The lizard growled for a moment, before licking his fangs. “I would love to eat him now little foxzz. But Mazzter wantzz him.”

Val glared back. “Well let him breathe, or master won’t get him.”

Lussak took a step back, and Xzaris gasped in air, holding his throat as the Monitor snarled. “We will not wait for morning. We will go tonight.”

Xzaris didn’t move as Lussak advanced on Val. “And you are hizzz firzzt mate. You will come with uzzz.”


Arashi could not hear every word said, but she got a good idea of what went on. She slowly let herself down the anchor chain, eyes wide as she searched her mind for some way, any way to stop this, but nothing seemed possible.

One beast could not defeat thirteen Monitors on a ship that was moored on a dock that ratguards would likely patrol. And forget the ratguards, the lizards would decimate them in a matter of minutes.

This was not something she could do alone.

The ferret dropped into the agitated sea, holding her breath as she plunged underwater for a moment. She came to the surface quickly, for the waves, while tossing, were nothing like they must be outside the sheltered bay.

The rain was thick, and blinding, but Arashi kicked out strongly, making for the blurry lights of the city. It didn’t take as long as she’d expected, though the surf tossed her roughly on the sand, trying to drag her back the next instant.

She crawled up the beach, soaked, cold, and alone in her old home .. hostile now. The ferret flattened herself against the water darkened sand, glad of the incline as a group of ratguards, Monitors .. and Val and Xzaris walked by her, before turning on one of the streets and vanishing into the maze of buildings.

Arashi slowly stood, shaking herself. It was no use however, as the rain re-soaked her the next minute. She needed help, somebeast who would work with her. Perhaps Romsca, but with the rain, she had no way of telling if Conva’s old ship was in harbor or not, and breaking into her twenty season old daughter’s manor was probably not the best idea. Especially when that daughter would almost certainly have no true memory of her.

Barranca. He would likely be shocked, but everybeast was going to have to go through that sooner or later.

Arashi hurried through the rain, as a gust of wind drove it into her eyes and the sky lit softly with sheet lightning. The storm was either nearing its end, or gaining strength.

It had been forever, it may as well have been eternity, but she remembered the way. Now she was forced to stick to the side of the rode, as she saw several patrols of ratguards and Monitors. However in the driving rain, the beasts were not as alert, and the guard would only be thinking of finishing their patrol.

She finally reached Barranca’s manor, as more lighting ripped across the sky, followed by thunder. The storm was a determined thing indeed. Knocking on the outer courtyard would be completely useless, but the ferret dug the key out of its hiding place behind a loose brick.

“Bless ye Barranca, ever a creature of habit.”

Arashi unlocked the gates, pulling them shut and bolting them behind her once more. Lightning lit her way, followed by ominous rumbling. The ferret hurried onto the porch, and pounded on the door multiple times, with no response.

“Arg, blast ye Barranca, ever the hard sleeper!”

But it was useless. Maybe he wasn’t even there. For all she knew, he was halfway across the world on a raid.

She went around to the back door, but it too was locked, and pounding was futile. Arashi considered breaking one of the windows, but decided against it. Worn out from hopeless shouting, slamming, and throwing rocks at the shutters ... most of these efforts drowned out by the storm anyway .. she made her way to the stables. Conva’s old palomino and Barranca’s gray greeted her, first with alarm, then with hopefulness.

She patted the palomino on the muzzle, whispering, “It is good to see ye Summer. I suppose ye don’t remember me.”

He nudged her, and she ruffled his forelock. “If only I could get in! You’re here, so that means Barranca must be ... by morning .. it could be too late.”

She laid her head against his, sighing, “Of course, there’s nothing even he can do, is there? To defeat a beast like this Ublaz .. one would need an army.”

Arashi slowly let herself into the tack room, grabbing a horse blanket and laying down in front of the old horse’s stall. “I remember when ye were just a young stallion, Summer. So long ago .. so long.”

She laid her head on her arm, closing her eyes. “Oh Xzaris. And Val ... I can’t be with ye. Ignasa, protect them. I beg ye, protect them, for only ye can.”


TotO &#039;Traitor to the Crown&#039;

Ublaz's punishment .. :(

Xzaris didn’t look at Val as they were escorted through winding streets toward the palace. The rain still pounded down, and though he’d tried looking for his friend’s ships, it was futile. He could see nothing but darkness and water.

Part of him was mad she had blown his cover, part of him hated himself for being willing to leave her to Ublaz’s wrath, and most of him just wished none of this had ever happened.

Sagitar met them at the top of the steps, a scrawny black rat on her left and a thickly built silver one on her right. “Well well. We’ve been expecting you, captain Xzaris.”

He shuddered, and did not answer.

“A bit out of tongue, I see.” She nodded, turning to the silver rat. “Cruith, inform the Emperor we are coming.”

He vanished into the palace, and Sagitar smiled condescendingly. “Come with us.”

Xzaris and Val had no choice but to obey, and their gazes met for a second. Val’s eyes were terrified, and a little betrayed as well ... it all made him feel worse. Maybe he deserved this.

The corridors were dim, lit sporadically by paper lanterns and now and then, a flash of lightning. The reached the red doors that led into the throne room, and Xzaris suddenly saw himself here just several months ago with his friends, confused and afraid of what might be. Not much had changed, only now he was alone. Even though Val was with him, he wouldn’t blame her if she despised him now, for his cowardice.

Sagitar stopped at them for a moment, the small black rat at her side flattening his ears and reaching for the handles. “The Emperor will see you. Where is Zurgat?”

Lussak stepped forward. “Zzurgat izz dead. I took over for her.”

“Very well, you will give the report to Ublaz. Shilo! Open the doors.” She glared at the scrawny beast, who scurried to obey her.

They swung silently open, the crimson hall shrouded in the darkness of night. The warm glow of lanterns illuminated the dragon throne and its dark occupant, who was watching them with his usual, sickening smile.

Xzaris knelt, as did Lussak and Val, the vixen keeping her ears pinned tightly to the nape of her neck and her eyes averted.

Ublaz slowly stood, rich purple cape spilling out behind him. “Captain Xzaris, Lussak .. and this one .. hmm .. she seems familiar to me for some reason. Ah yes. Valentine Bloodpaws, isn’t that right? My little kitchen slave that made a .. quite admirable escape eight seasons ago.”

Val shivered in obvious terror, and Xzaris felt a rising anger. That sick monster.

“Lussak, what is your report?”

The Monitor kept his head lowered. “We lozzzt two beazztzz, Zzurgat wazz one of them.”

Ublaz shook his head in mock sorrow. “A pity. Well Captain Xzaris, I assume you made this sacrifice worthwhile? I assume you found my pearls?”

“M .. Milord ...” Xzaris found himself stammering the words he guessed the pine marten knew anyway. “We searched .. the southern seas as well as we could .. but they weren’t anywhere ta be found.”

“An even greater pity.” Ublaz slowly stood, folding his paws together. “And I had such high hopes for you, young captain. But what is cannot be changed, can it?”

There was a sudden movement as Val stood up, and something in her eyes snapped. “Xzaris did his best, this ain’t right! It ain’t fair!”

Ublaz looked interested, and he stepped forward, slowly circling the vixen. “Really now, is that so? Well it’s a simple fact that life isn’t fair, my dear.”

He smiled. “And I agree with you, it isn’t fair, is it? You worked so hard, but it just wasn’t hard enough.”

“Don’t do this ... please sire!” Val’s eyes filled with tears. “I beg ya .. please.”

“My poor child, I can’t go back on my word, can I?” Ublaz sneered. “I am always a beast of my word.”

Xzaris met Val’s gaze and shook his head to tell her to be silent. All she could possibly do was make her situation worse, because nobeast could save him.

Ublaz turned to Sagitar. “General, I do believe I had something planned for our friend Xzaris, if you would ...”

Val’s eyes smoldered, and she suddenly burst out with no warning, as though she could not control herself. “Ya always have ta have somebeast else do yer dirty work fer ya, don’t ya? Jist like what ya did ta me family! Yer not brave ‘nough ta do yer own wickedness, is ya?”

Sagitar growled, raising her trident, but Ublaz held up a paw. “Now General, don’t be hasty. Valentine actually has quite a good point, don’t you think?”

Val took a slow step back as the fear returned to her eyes, and the fur along her spine flattened. Xzaris closed his own eyes a moment, before stepping in front of her and pinning his ears. “Don’t hurt her, it weren’t her job ta find yer pearls, it was mine. So let the blame fall where blame’s due.”

“Ever the noble one, are you not? Always the one to do the right thing?” Ublaz laughed softly. “Do not fear little captain, your wish is my command.”

He nodded to Sagitar, who grabbed Val and dragged her back, forcing her onto her knees and holding her paws tightly behind her. Xzaris retreated one step, teeth slowly clenching in a growl of anger. “Leave her alone.”

Ublaz smiled patronizingly. “Oh I will captain. Might it interest you to know that Valentine will take everything you worked so long for, everything you invested your life into? While you die slowly in more agony then you have ever experienced, acting as bait for your friends .. especially the one you are so deeply attached to. A pity she never cared that much for you while you lived, isn’t it? Of course .. what was there to care for?”

“Yer a liar.” Xzaris snarled.

“Am I?” Ublaz sneered, almost joyful at the ferret’s defiance. “When I am through with you, captain Xzaris, she will never want to look at you again, let alone love you. Let me assure you that.”

He spread his claws, fangs gleaming in a terrible smile. “You are right Valentine. It’s been too long since I tasted blood on my own claws.”

The vixen struggled against Sagitar, growling, but in was useless. Xzaris looked around at the Monitors and ratguards, his hackles rising with both terror and hatred. Ublaz stalked forward, pale eyes alight with the glow of the lanterns. “Come captain. You know there is no escape.”

He dared to meet that terrible gaze for one second, and that second was more than enough. He froze, unable to move, the choice of defiance stripped from him in the instant. Ublaz ran one claw gently under the ferret’s chin as he circled him. “You failed to bring me the tears of the oceans, so you shall never shed another tear. You will desire to with all your might, but you will be powerless to do so, just as you will be powerless to do anything else. I will make you your greatest fear, captain.”

The pine marten’s voice was a whisper as he passed Xzaris’s ear. “I will make you worthless.”

Xzaris had no choice but to remain frozen, he couldn’t even close his eyes to protect them, as Ublaz spun around, slashing his claws across his face. There was a cry from somewhere, but Xzaris couldn’t tell if it came from Val, or him.

He staggered from the force of the blow, falling against something smooth and hard; through his blurred vision, he could see it was a pillar.

Ublaz tore into his face again, ripping razor sharp claws across his eyes, cheeks and forehead with no mercy. This time, Xzaris knew the scream was his own, but there was nothing he could possibly do to hold it in, the pain was too agonizing.

He could no longer see a thing as the horrific punishment continued, but he still had no ability to resist, somehow, he was still caught under the Emperor’s spell. Ublaz’s claws ripped through his fur like liquid fire, relentless, brutal, and unbearable.

Xzaris felt his knees buckle and he collapsed on the floor, gasping for breath. He struggled to lift his head, but the wave of pain that crashed down upon him rebuked this. Blood was everywhere .. threatening to suffocate him, but it was too much, everything was.

Why couldn’t he have at least made a bold stand like Romsca said her father had? But no .. he was a worthless coward.

And this was how a coward died.


Val shivered from head to tail-tip as Sagitar let go of her, and she fell to her hands and knees, her vision blurring.

Ublaz pulled out his silk handkerchief, wiping blood off his paws like he had spilled something as trivial as tea or crumbs on them. He shook his head, smiling at Val. “I always win Valentine, in the end. You can run, you can make shows of petty defiance, but all they really do is confuse you about who really rules your life. I do. I choose what you will be, I choose when you live, and I choose when you die.”

He knelt beside the vixen, speaking as though he was explaining some small thing to a cub. “I am the Lord of Sampetra, and soon, I will be lord of all.”

Val’s forepaws shook, and her voice was a whisper. “I find pity even fer the woodlanders, if they will face ya.”

“Woodlanders deserve nothing.” Ublaz sneered, before smiling again. “They are pawns to me, and I will wipe their kind from the face of the earth entirely. Never forget that. A woodlander deserves no sympathy.”

Val wrapped her arms around herself, closing her eyes against him. She glanced at Xzaris, laying broken on the rose marble, blood soaking his black hair and trickling into the cracks between the floor stones .. no wonder he’d been so eager to escape.

What would she tell Romsca?”

Ublaz laughed, stalking around her, and she sniffled rebelliously. “Why don’tcha jist kill me?”

“Because you have spirit.” Ublaz smiled. “I have hurt you, yes, but I have not broken your spirit. If I kill you now, it is like a defeat. You will sail Xzaris’s ship for me. I will turn you cold, and bitter, and cruel, until everything that made you unique is destroyed. Then I might kill you, but only then. Because I know that will cause you more suffering then killing you would. And you will do it too ..”

He grabbed her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Won’t you?”

The ability to move was stolen in that second, and Val could do nothing but meet his gaze and nod.

Ublaz sneered. “I though so.”

He held his paw out, ring twinkling in the light. “Swear your allegiance, captian.”

Val had no choice but to obey, and Ublaz grinned demonically. “Good, my little pawn.”

He dropped his paw, and she returned to normal, eyes brightening again.

“Are you afraid?”

She didn’t look up, just shivered, and he laughed calmly. “I thought so.”

Ublaz turned to the two ratguards with Sagitar, ordering, “Take this mess off my marble. Put him in the cells and clean the wounds, if he lives, I might use him as bait and leverage. If he doesn’t .. it’s not like I need him. He’d be just a bit more torment for Romsca and Rasconza.”

The little black rat scurried to obey, struggling with the limp ferret’s weight. Sagitar huffed. “Cruith, assist him.”

The bigger rat did so, and the two dragged Xzaris away, blood from his face and sopping hair marking his path to the dungeons.

Ublaz turned to Sagitar, stating, “Valentine has a ship to take care of, see that she gets there.”

“But sire ..” Val’s eyes widened. “I ain’t really a capt’n .. how’m I supposed ta be somethin’ I’m still learnin’ about?”

“That is not my concern. I give position, it’s up to you to use it .. and I assume you’ll learn quickly.” He turned around, cape flowing behind him. “Escort Bloodpaws out, General. And see somebeast cleans the hall.”


Romsca had not bothered to go to sleep, for she truly did not seem to need it, and with a storm and only three beasts aboard, it would have been stupid. The rain had been driving, but thankfully, for all the lightning toward the end, the waves had been relatively small at least out in the open sea. Near reefs, it had probably been far worse.

She stood by the wheel now, trying to determine their position by the dawn, since the stars had afforded her nothing during the storm. They would be at Sampetra by tonight or even before, and she had no doubt in her mind about this.

“Well captain, are we close?”

Romsca glanced at Sayna, nodding. “Very close. I hardly dare hope .. but do ya shoot worth anythin’?”

The mouse nodded. “I am an archer, yes. Why?”

“Ta shoot down all an’ any seagulls we see. If they get word of us ta Ublaz, all is lost.”

Romsca paused as Durral came out on deck, and she frowned. “Also, I want to sneak in unnoticed. I ain’t tryin’ ta boss ya, but yer gonna need some proper clothes ta pull this off. No offence.”

“None taken, you make an excellent point. We need some disguises.” She smirked. “And honestly, it might be slightly amusing, seeing Durral dressed like a pirate. Do you have some we would fit into?”

“Yea, I think so.” Romsca sighed. “Raf always had some spare outfits.”

She tied the wheel down, before nodding to Sayna. “Follow me. Abbotmouse, can ya keep an eye out fer gulls? Don’t let ‘em see ya.”

Durral looked rather unsure, but he nodded. Romsca walked down the galley steps, Sayna behind her. She opened a side door, walking into a small cabin and opening a trunk that was against the wall. “Let’s see .. yea, here’s somethin’. He’s got ‘bout three changes in here, ya can take what ya want. I’ll send Durral down an’ look fer gulls while ya do that. Oh, an’ I’ll get ya a bow.”

She hurried out, going back on deck and telling the abbotmouse to go join Sayna. The next order of business was to get a bow from the armory, but that was soon accomplished, leaving her alone on deck with nothing to do but scan the skies for gulls and look for land on the horizon.

Romsca fell to pacing, before she leaned over the railing, looking westward. Would she be too late? What would she find when she arrived? Were her friends alive?

The time would pass slowly until she knew, that was a certainty.

“Oh Xzaris .. Val .. Rasconza .. I hope yer ok. I hope ya is .. Ignasa ..”

It felt odd to pray to anyone and truly mean it, but she was completely sincere. “Protect them milord .. cause I can’t right now. Lemme see ‘em all again .. please lord .. please.”

There was a step behind her, and Sayna looked out over the rail. “He will. In his own way, he will. He has never failed me, all these long seasons.”

Romsca looked at the mouse, blinking, and Sayna raised an eyebrow. “Well, do I look the part?”

“Ya do.” Romsca admitted. “Now ya just gotta learn ta talk like us.”

Sayna smirked. “I think Durral ain’t likin’ wearin’ breaches. He’s used ta dresses.”

The abbot made a face. “It’s not a dress, it’s a robe. And is this really necessary?”

“If ya wanna live it is.” Romsca handed him a spear. “You’ll need this.”

“But I don’t know how to use a weapon like that, I’m a peaceful abbot!” Durral protested, holding the item in question gingerly.

Romsca looked at Sayna, who nodded. “He means it.”

“Well ..” The ferret shook her head. “Will ya lemme teach ya, abbotmouse?”

Durral looked down at the spear dubiously, and Sayna sighed. “Durral. Think about this; you are about to barge into a city full a bloodthirsty murders, who would all love nothing more than killing you. You might need that.”

Romsca flattened her ears slightly. “That’s not ... I mean .. if I may speak. Alla my people ain’t like that. Oh, there are ones that are, trust me, an’ there are plenty that’ll turn on ya ta save their own skins. But most would rather just leave ya alone. They aren’t all wave-riders like me. We’re a nation .. there are families, merchants, ship-builders .. I ain’t excusin’ ‘em, but we think a other things aside a killin’.”

Sayna paused, before nodding. “I will accept that. But I’m in favor of you teaching Durral a few moves.”

“Not to sound .. cowardly, but I don’t know if I could honestly take a life.” The abbot protested.

Sayna looked irritated. “I want you to be able to defend yourself. I won’t be able to defend you forever.”

“She’s gotta point Abbotmouse. Cause we’ll try an’ keep outa fightin’, but I can’t promise ya there won’t be any.” Romsca shrugged.

Durral looked down, and Romsca added, “An’ .. can ya try an’ talk proper .. ya know, like us?”

He shook his head. “Captain, I am sorry, but I was never much good at impersonations. Besides .. being a scholar myself .. well, I just don’t think it’s possible.”

“Alright, that’s fine. Just don’t talk.” Romsca shrugged. “Pretend ta be a sad old drunk, nobeast’ll pay ya mind.”

Durral was somewhat insulted. “Captain, not to be rude, but is there anything else I could impersonate? I feel more fearful than depressed at the moment.”

Romsca scratched an ear, pondering, but Sayna broke in. “I know what will help. It’s not nice Durral, but it might help if you ponder the truth of the matter. You are about to embark on a dangerous mission into the heart of a Shadow Fighter’s abode. You are by far outnumbered, and quite possibly could wind up being killed, meaning you would never see Redwall again.”

The abbot looked both offended and horrified at the same time. “What awful thoughts you have.”

Romsca frowned, interrupting. “Abbotmouse, ya don’t gotta think a that if ya don’t want ta. Instead, ya could pretend ya are a poor fisherbeast who’s caught nothin’ ta sell, meanin’ yer shack will be reclaimed by the emperer tanight, an’ ya an yer starvin’ family will be left in the streets where the lizards’ll eat ya afore mornin’.”

Durral shivered, and Sayna raised an eyebrow in a nearly amused fashion. “I was completely serious when I spoke captain, but you do have an interesting sense of humor.”

Romsca looked blank. “I wasn’t jokin’.”

The two mice looked at each other, then at the ferret. She flicked her ears back. “Do ya honestly think we don’t suffer wrong ourselves?”

Sayna shook her head. “I ask your forgiveness captain, it is just hard for me to imagine a nation that steals from others as being poor.”

Romsca sighed, looking away. “We keep very little fer ourselves. Ublaz takes it. It don’t matter how much we work, he keeps us poor or impoverished, saying it will prevent rebellions. And ain’t he right about that! Everybeast’s too worried bout keepin’ what they got an’ earnin’ their next meal ta fight him. I ain’t rich, but I is lucky. Others .. they ain’t. Many die every four seasons. Many are born, but many die. An’ it hurts ta watch. But if they can’t pay their taxes .. well, beasts that might wanna aid ‘em can get in trouble fer doin’ so.”

She closed her eyes. “That’s just how the world works. An’ the memories a better days have faded fer me .. I know little else. Yea, we deserve it, I can see that. We’ve tormented others in the way we’re sufferin’ now. But it ain’t right, none a it is. Not what we did, an’ not what he does. I don’t think nothin’ will ever be right again. An’ fer me ta .. right the wrongs like Ignasa said .. I can’t. I just can’t.”

A paw was laid on her shoulder, and Sayna shook her head. “I am sorry. There are still things I don’t understand, and I sometimes forget that.”

Romsca shrugged, rubbing a paw across her nose. “It don’t matter. I couldn’t expect more from a woodlander.”

She paused, before shaking her head. “An’ I didn’t mean it like that, I meant .. I mean .. I .. arg. Come’n Abbotmouse, I’ll teach ya.”

Sayna picked up the bow and quiver as Romsca fell into a battle ready stance. “Come at me.” “But you haven’t even drawn your weapon yet!” He protested.

“Who said I needed a weapon?” Romsca shook her head. “Ta be perfectly honest, I ‘fraid ta use a blade on ya at first, as I don’t often know me own strength. Now come on, pertend I’m after ya.”

Durral made a half-hearted swipe that came within a few inches of the ferret, and she didn’t even move. “What? Seriously Abbotmouse, I don’t got all day here. You’re supposed ta be defendin’ yerself .. try an’ kill me.”

“If you’re sure you want that ..” Durral looked uncomfortable with the whole situation, but he obeyed, jumping forward and swinging the spear at the same time.

Romsca blocked the pole with her arm, clasping her paw around it the next second and pulling it from his grasp. “Hmm .. better. But ya gotta guard yer attack more. Like this.”

She held the spear out straight, crouching with one paw on the ground, before launching herself forward, slashing through the air with a sharp swish. The ferret skidded smoothly to the side, a slow smile growing on her face as she ran forward again, hurling the spear into the mast with a thwack that split the silence.

Romsca stood straight again, walking to the spear and pulling it out. “That’s how ya do it Abbotmouse. Simple.”

Durral took the weapon slowly, shaking his head. “You must practice this ..”

“Every day usually. Since I was five. Me dad put a hatchet in me paw an’ told me ta hit a target. I won’t ever ferget the day I did it the first time.” Romsca smiled. “He was so proud a me. It was the best feelin’ in the world, ta know I’d done somethin’ he was proud a. He was me hero growin’ up, an’ I wanted ta be just like him.”

Her face fell. “Don’t suppose I did a very good job a it.”

She looked down at her paws, before sighing, “Or maybe I did too good a job. I don’t think he’d be very proud now, not after he followed Ignasa, an’ all that I did.”

“My daughter ..” Durral looked hesitant, but he spoke anyway. “If your father truly did follow Ignasa .. well, I won’t say you haven’t done some pretty terrible things. But you are trying to help us now, I guess .. and from what I can see, I guess you’re sorry.”

“I am. An’ I don’t know how .. an’ why I didn’t see it before!” Romsca looked angry. “I’ve always prided myself fer bein’ strong. Bein’ me own beast. I weren’t my own beast, I was a fool an’ a pawn .. I was a murderer! Beasts have died at my paws Abbotmouse, or at my orders .. an’ they won’t ever be cleared a that.”

She looked up, asking, “What’s it like ta be a woodlander mouse? Ta be born inta a life where all the things that I did without even thinkin’ nothin’ about .. are bad? I didn’t know it was wrong .. oh that’s a lie, I did. But nobeast else .. an’ I .. I was a coward. I said Ublaz would never break me .. but every moment I served him .. I was broken. He broke my spirit and I didn’t even know it .. I couldn’t even see it for what it was.”

Durral didn’t look like he knew how to answer, but he stammered, “Well .. I don’t know anything about being a vermin, my daughter .. so all I can tell you is this. You can’t live in the past. I know that from being an abbot. You make mistakes, but you have to keep going, you have to try again.”

Romsca didn’t move for a moment, before she looked at him, smirking, “Me daughter? That’s how ya address beasts in Mossflower?”

“I meant Captain .. you want to be called captain .. I forgot that, my d .. captain.” Durral quickly corrected himself.

“I don’t care anymore.” Romsca sighed. “Call me what’cha want. Maybe ‘Seascum’ would fit. Or somethin’ worse.”

Durral held the spear cautiously, as he stated, “I don’t know what to think of you yet captain. I saved you ...”

He scuffed a paw. “Somewhat for my own good, but you are no longer acting like those ‘Seascum’ would describe. I think I’ll call you captain until you prove yourself worthy of else.”

She straightened up, towering over Durral, yet her eyes were lowered, “I can take that Abbotmouse. Now, back to the matter at paw. Teachin’ ya ta use that thing. Fergive me sayin’ it ain’t gonna be easy.”

Durral frowned. “Captain, I don’t want to kill a beast like this. Shedding blood would make me feel .. like a murderer. You did not need a weapon to deflect me .. can you teach me that instead?”

“Well any eight season old could deflect ya ..” She paused. “I mean, yea. I can teach ya how ta fight empty-pawed. Me matey Razconza, now he could teach ya how ta do it proper. But I can try. You have ta use yer opponent’s strength an’ movements against them. How high can ya jump?”

Durral set the spear down, crouching down, and leaping up perhaps a foot or so. Romsca scratched an ear. “Uh .. ok. How hard can ya kick?”


Romsca sighed, before launching herself two feet into the air and spinning around with a somewhat clumsy yet powerful circular kick. She landed with a slight stumble, regaining her balance and shrugging. “Like that. If ya ain’t usin’ a weapon, yer paws have gotta take it’s place.”

Durral looked down at his paws, shaking his head. “Oh my ...”

“Back ta the spear?” Romsca looked slightly hopeful.

“No.” He shook his head. “I’ll try using my paws.”

Romsca sighed. “Ok. Well ya gotta be more .. uhh .. flexible, if ya know what I mean. What were ya good at in yer red castle place?”

“Well .. I was good at cooking. And I liked gardening too ... also healing.” Romsca scratched an ear, sighing, “Ya ain’t givin’ me much ta work with, ya know.”

Durral shook his head. “I’m sorry captain, I never wanted anything to do with fighting. I’ve never practiced anything having to do with it.”

The ferret rubbed her forehead, muttering, “Woodlanders .... I mean .. ugg. Alright. I’m gonna have ta start from the very beginnin’, aren’t I?”

She crossed her arms. “Kick me.”

“Are you sure .. I mean ..”

Romsca was getting exasperated. “Abbotmouse, when I say somethin’, I mean it. Now ki ..”

Durral kicked her in the leg as hard as he could, then stumbled and fell. She winced, leaning down and gripping her leg for a moment, before the pain vanished from her face, and she looked bewildered. “Wha ..”

Durral jumped up, asking, “Are you alright?”

“I am .. I don’t get it though. Ya kicked me way harder’n I thought ya could .. but it only hurt fer a second.” New respect shone in her eyes. “Alright. Yer stronger’n I thought, an’ that’s good. I think I can teach ya a little. But yer balance is awful, we’re gonna work on that first.”

The abbot looked unsure, but nodded slowly. Romsca opened her mouth to give instruction, but stopped as Sayna came running down from her post on the forecastle. “Captain, we’ve got trouble.”

Romsca looked up, yanking her spyglass from her belt and holding to her eye. “Yer right. Abbotmouse, if ya can’t shoot or throw knives, get outa sight. Ublaz don’t need ta know ya exist if we don’t kill ‘em all.”

She tucked the instrument away, picking up the spear Durral had dropped. “Get outa sight .. everybeast.”

Sayna looked confused. “You think they don’t know who’s ship it is?”

“I guaranty they do.” Romsca ducked behind some barrels. “They’re lookin’ fer survivors, that’s all.”

Sayna took cover behind the mast, asking, “Survivors? How would they know about the battle?” Romsca’s eyes flashed. “Do not underestimate the Emperor. It’ll be the last thing ya ever do.”

Sayna nodded sharply, before loading an arrow and positioning herself. Romsca gripped the spear, snarling softly, “Wait til ya can’t miss.”

The three gulls broke apart to circle the ship, one landing on the crow’s nest as the other two flew low to the deck, searching. Sayna dropped to one knee behind the barrels with Romsca. She drew her bow back, sighting up at the gull on the crow’s nest.

The mouse let the string roll silently off her fingers, and her arrow pierced the gull through so accurately it died before it could squawk, slumping soundlessly to the planks below it.

The other two were still circling, unaware of the fate that had befallen their companion. Sayna took aim at the nearest as it swooped towards them, releasing seconds before the bird passed her aiming point.

It squawked as the arrow impaled it, bringing it flopping weakly to the water. However its companion pulled up short, looking for the source of the attack, and Romsca leapt up, hurling the spear at it with vengeance.

The weapon clipped across one of its wings, and the next second, one of Sayna’s arrows took it through the throat.

Romsca slowly stepped out, pulling out her spyglass and scanning the sky in silence. Sayna rubbed her left shoulder, asking, “Well? Any more?”

“That’s what I’m worried about. There aren’t.”

Durral stepped out of the galley, remarking, “If you ask me, we should be glad there aren’t.”

Romsca rolled her eyes. “An’ that means Abbotmouse, that they’re somewhere else.”

“So long as they aren’t here ..”

“Shut up ok!” Romsca snarled, before hanging her head. “I’m sorry Abbotmouse. But if the gulls aren’t here, it means Ublaz has ‘em up ta other evil. An’ I bet .. I bet it has everythin’ ta do with me friends.”


Barranca awoke with the dawn, and dressed in no particular hurry. There was no news of any of the captains, the only thing that Sampetra knew was that their Emperor was in a very serious mood, and rumored to be rather tense.

As always, he went to care for the horses before eating, as he was the sole occupant of his manor at the moment.

The stoat grabbed a bucket, filling it with rainwater in a nearby trough, before walking into the stable. A second later he stopped dead, and the bucket smashed against the stone floor, splashing water everywhere.

He did not move however, for he knew he had to be dreaming. Either that or the past was vividly haunting him.

The familiar russet ferret stretched, slowly opening her dark brown eyes and looking at him a moment. She yawned, remarking, “Ye sleep as hard as ever I see.”

Barranca shook his head dumbly.

“Yes ye do. I pounded on that door of yours loud enough to wake the dead, but did it wake ye? No, such never did.”

He swallowed a little, wishing he’d brought his saber just in case. “Are .. Are you who I think you are?”

She sat up. “Who do ye think I am, Barranca?”

“You .. look like Arashi of the Dolphins, later the Dragons .. but .. you .. you’ve been dead for nineteen seasons!”

“Correction, ye thought I was dead for nineteen seasons.” Arashi stood, crossing her arms. “I was marooned on the Isle of Wrecked Ships. Captain Xzaris found me and brought me home.”

Barranca didn’t speak for a moment, before asking, “Xzaris came in last night?”

“That is correct.”

“Did he .. find the pearls?”

Arashi looked down. “No. He did not.”

Barranca absently picked up the horse blanket Arashi had slept on and draped it over an empty stall. “Then he is already dead. I don’t want to be the one to tell Romsca.”

He slowly met Arashi’s gaze. “I .. assume .. he told you?”

“Everything.” Her eyes were hard. “I have quite a few thoughts on this Ublaz Madeyes.”

She sighed. “Is me daughter back yet?”

“Romsca? No. And there has been no word of her either.” Barranca shook his head. “You’ve come home to dark days, Arashi.”

The ferret looked down. “I see that. Is there any way to find out Xzaris’s fate?”

Barranca sighed. “I told you, he’s already dead. And I assure you, you do not want to know how it was brought about.”

“I assure you I do.” Arashi crossed her arms. “I feel a responsibility toward the captain; he did save me, actually several times, and I will not stand and do nothing.”

“There’s nothing you can do!” The stoat protested. “You will only earn yourself execution, and endanger me too.”

Arashi swished her tail across the ground. “Barranca, your greatest trouble is your hesitance.”

“And yours is your impetuous nature!” He exclaimed. “Sampetra is not what it once was!”

“I can see that. But it’s all the more reason to protect Xzaris, and Val. I am going out there, with or without ye.”

Barranca groaned. “It’s good to see you haven’t changed.”

He scowled. “Fine, I can’t stop you, and I can’t let you die either. But go in disguise at least.”

Arashi nodded. “Now you’re talking sense. Do ye have any clothes I could borrow?”

“Since when did I keep clothes that weren’t my own?” Barranca looked grumpy about the whole situation, and he quickly measured to grain for the horses.

“How am I to know?” Arashi shrugged. “Last I knew, ye were quite the charmer. Entertained ladies left and right. For all I know, you’re married.”

Barranca flattened his ears. “Well I’m not. I never was, and I never will be. I did find love, even after you chose Conva over me .. but it didn’t work out.”

Arashi sighed. “Ye are a fine beast Barranca, and I’ve always respected ye, but I loved Conva. Let’s let bygones be bygones, because to be honest, ye and I couldn’t get along married. We’re both too stubborn and cross. Can we leave it at that and be friends? We aren’t children anymore.”

“I saw that after half a season.” Barranca stated. “I’m not mad at you. What happened .. it was after you .. left. You can’t understand, and I do not want to think about it. I’ll buy you some new clothes .. you do look like you need some.”

Arashi nodded. “Thank ye .. while you’re at it, I’ll disguise myself. And after that, I plan to learn some gossip. Are the taverns still the best places to hear it?”

“Of course.” Barranca snorted. “But depending on which one you end up in, you might find yourself in a syndicate of spies.”

It was likely ten in the morning before they were ready, Arashi having thoroughly coated herself in soot, rubbing it carefully through her coat, combing it into her fur until she was entirely black. She came into the foyer, dressed in the wrapping tunic, breaches, and boots Barranca had purchased.

“I’m a black stoat, if anyone asks. Arashi of the House of the Storm.”

Barranca snickered. “You do know that’s not a registered house, and you just made your name ‘Storm of the house of the Storm’, don’t you?”

She looked unimpressed. “Any better ideas?”

“Sure. Arashi of the house of the Crab. That house is completely stoats and weasels, and there are so many of them running around, they don’t know who’s who. One of them mistook me for his cousin the other day.” Barranca shrugged. “Does that work for you?”

“Yea. Let’s get going.”

Barranca stood. “If you’re determined. I saddled the horses, they’re waiting in the courtyard.”

“It will be odd to ride after all these seasons.” Arashi opened the front door, walking out onto the porch.

“I forgot about that.” Barranca remarked as he followed her out. “Are you up for it?”

Arashi smirked. “Of course. But it might take a little to get used to.”

She gripped Summer’s reins, mounting clumsily. Barranca led his gray outside the courtyard gates, shutting them behind him and locking them, before swinging easily into his saddle. “Keep beside or behind me .. stop when I stop .. do what I do. And try not to look aghast at the unfamiliar things you may see. Remember, all these have been commonplace for the last eight seasons.”

Arashi nodded, and the two trotted their horses onto the street the manor sat on. Right away, the ferret could see what Barranca meant .. the Monitors roamed loose, and beasts no longer stood and talked leisurely in the streets.

Everything looked generally shabbier. There had always been street rats and beggars, but strangely, there were very few sitting by the fountains; and no orphans ran through the crowds. In fact, crowds barely existed. All those who could were mounted, or walked in groups.

Arashi met the gazes of some she passed, the poor, the better off, the young, and the old. There was fear in their gazes, hopelessness, sorrow, and hatred. But all cheer seemed stripped from most faces. Deceit, selfishness, cowardice, and thievery shone in those eyes.

“Look a little less shocked, if that’s possible.” Barranca leaned over, whispering this in her ear.

She shook herself, pulling Summer to a stop as a little ferret scurried in front of the horse, cowering as he saw the danger he’d put himself in. Arashi frowned. “Ye watch where you’re going son. A horse could kill a small beast like ye.”

He was positively filthy, and his clothing was tattered and falling apart. “P .. please lady .. I’m sorry ..”

His eyes were fearful, as he looked around. “I .. I gotta get outa here lady. Me .. mother needs me help.”

They were standing at the side of the street, and the child looked around. “Can ya spare a little fer starvin’ beasts?”

Barranca rode his gray up, shaking his head. “No, don’t Arashi, Sagitar has always despised me, and she’d just love to snap me up for something like this. Besides, he’s probably just grabbing money for the scoundrel who makes him.”

“No .. no it’s not like that ..” Something snapped within him, evidenced in his lavender eyes. “I just have to protect Tai! Just lemme help me sister!”

Arashi looked around, but the small street they stood on seemed empty of all. She slowly dismounted, asking, “What do ye need?”

“J .. just a little money lady .. anythin’ .. anythin’ at all!”

“And it’s for your sister?”

The ferret nodded. “Yea .. I beg on the streets so she don’t gotta .. cause .. cause the lizards .. an’ if I don’t make enough .. Tai will have to! They’ll .. eat her .. just like they ate our brother ..”

He whimpered a little, and Arashi knelt, placing a paw on his shoulder. “What is your name, son?”

“Q .. Qi lady.” He seemed confused that she would ask such a thing.

“And ye need the money to help your sister and mother?” She looked deep into his eyes, and something in him broke further.

“I .. I don’t gotta mother .. she got sick an’ died. Tai’s all I got left.”

“Arashi ....” Barranca’s voice was a hiss. “We can’t stay here long; the guard could come any minute!”

The ferretwife dug in her satchel, pulling out an empty drawstring bag and laying it on the cobblestones. She looked around a little, before scooping a large pawful of gold and silver coins from the satchel, and slipping them into the bag. She closed it quickly, dropping it into the boy’s paws, before swinging quickly into her saddle, a sad smile on her face. “Don’t ye spend it all at once son. Sorry I can’t do more.”

Qi stood stock still, gaping at her, before joy shone in his eyes, and he clutched the little bag to himself. “Thank ya lady .. thank ya .. yer the finest lady in all the world .. thank ya!”

He bolted away, disappearing into an alley nearby. Arashi nudged Summer with her heels, and

Barranca caught up with her quickly. “Where .. how .. you ..”

“I pillaged a lot of shipwrecks Barranca. There’s more where that came from, but I certainly don’t plan to make a show if it.” She reached up, rubbing the hilt of her sword. “Not in this place.”

Barranca nodded quickly. “Aye, wealth like that’ll bring you death on these streets.”

“I can imagine that.” Arashi looked over at the stoat. “Where do ye plan to go?”

“There’s a little place down here that’s stayed in business despite the taxes. It’s no fine dining experience, and it’s frequented by the dirt of society. Also the lower-ranking ratguards. A perfect melding of all forms of dishonesty. And the perfect place for all kinds of news.”

Arashi nodded. “That sounds about right.”

Barranca shrugged. “The only difficulty is that I don’t spend a lot of time around such places and could arouse suspicion. Our only bit of luck is that Val used to work there, and is a close friend of my niece, which merits me asking about her.”

“Is that convincing enough?”

“It’ll have to be.” Barranca remarked. “And you probably should remain silent about Xzaris. Kia runs this tavern, and she’s always hated her son.”

Arashi blinked, but nodded. They were on the docks now, and the Darkshroud was moored relatively nearby, though it seemed vacant.

Barranca stopped his gray beside a shabby old building and dismounted. He looped his horse’s reins over a leaning hitching post, holding a paw out. Arashi tossed Summer’s reins to the stoat, swinging out of her saddle.

He flicked an ear, muttering, “Let me do the talking.” Arashi nodded.

They walked up the shabby steps an under the sagging overhang, ducking under a sign so weather-beaten it was unreadable. Barranca opened the door, and Arashi jumped as a strange squawking broke out.

“Raack! Two beasts!”

The ferret found the source of the noise in a stunning green parrot perched on a rafter. A door behind the counter swung open, and a dusky brown ferret in a crimson dress stepped out, leaning against the counter, her darkened eyelashes hooding blue eyes. “Well, well. If it ain’t capt’n Barranca. What’cha doin’ in this parta town, aristocrat?”

“Watch your tongue Kia, let us not forget who I am, and who you are.” Barranca glared at her. She smirked. “Oh I know .. I’m just a tavern wench, ain’t that right? Well we all know yer days are numbered, capt’n. I’ll be sure ta come ta yer execution.”

Barranca sneered. “How thoughtful. Look, I came to inquire about Val. I haven’t seen her since the Darkshroud pulled in.”

“What makes ya think she’ll be here?” Kia raised an eyebrow. “She left me, she ain’t welcome here. In fact ya ain’t either, capt’n. Ya an yer high’n mighty niece an’ my worthless son who likes ta play capt’n.”

“You have no humanity, I swear.” Barranca snarled. “He is your flesh and blood!”

“Ha! I disowned him, an’ now he’s dead. Good riddance.” Kia growled back. “Now if’n ya got what ya came fer, get out.”

Barranca seemed to think for a moment, before nodding. “Very well.”

He motioned that Arashi follow, and they walked out, stopping by their horses. The ferret scowled. “What a lovely creature. Now what?”

Barranca shook his head. “It seems we’re at an impasse at this moment. I hoped to hear gossip from the ratguards, but arguing with her would arouse suspicion. Still, there are a few other taverns, we may as well get moving.

They mounted again, but before they could leave, Arashi squinted down the beach a ways. “What’s going on down there?”

“I’m not sure .. but we’ll tread carefully. Pretend we were checking on Freebooter, if anybeast asks.” Barranca reined his gray around, trotting toward the group of ratguards, Monitors, and shipbeasts on the shore near Kia’s tavern.

Arashi followed him, and they slowed as they neared the growing crowd. As they were mounted, they got a good view of what had attracted so much attention.

The smashed remnants of a boat had been washed ashore, as well as a mangled corpse entangled in the mooring rope, still tied to the shattered stern. Nearby, another soaked body lay, dead paws still clinging to a broken board.

Barranca and Arashi exchanged a glance as the clopping of hooves rang out, and Sagitar arrived. She dismounted, stalking forward, and the crowd instantly made way for her and her guards. “Captain, explain your reasons for calling me to see a few fisherbeasts the storm took?”

The rat in question shook his head. “It’s more than that general.”

He held up a shattered plank of wood. “Look at the name on her.”

Sagitar took the plank, and her eyebrows arched up. “I see. You had valid reasons captain, and this must be reported to the Emperor at once.”

She nodded to the guard at her side, and he bolted off.

Sagitar tapped her claws on the board, before handing it the captain. “With me. The rest of you stop gawking like half-wits and dispose of the bodies.”

Arashi looked confused as the general rode quickly away, and the crowd broke into nervous murmuring. Barranca leaned down, tapping one of the seabeasts near his horse on the shoulder. “Bellay matey, tell me what that boat’s name was.”

The weasel shook his head. “Ya ain’t gonna be pleased capt’n.”

“I’ll be less pleased if you evade my question.” Barranca glared him down, and the beast nodded.

“Aye, if’n ya want ta know .. remember, ya asked. The name was Waveworm.” Arashi inhaled sharply. “What?”

Barranca quickly pulled his horse in front of hers. “You mean to say this boat came from my niece’s ship?”

“Yes capt’n. I told ya, ya wouldn’t be pleased.” The stoat did nothing for a moment, before sighing, “Thank you. Have they found anything else?”

“Captain .. General ..!”

Barranca and Arashi looked around to see a scrawny ratguard running toward them. One of the guards scowled at him. “What do ya want?”

“W.. where’s the General? I found a survivor!”

The one ratguard who seemed to be somewhat in charge crossed his arms. “General Sagitar has gone to make a report to the emperor. We’ll look into this. Where is this survivor?”

The thin black creature pointed toward Kia’s tavern. “Th .. this way!”

Barranca looked at Arashi, who nodded grimly. They followed the crowd to where the ratguard led them, and sure enough, a beast lay on the shore.

He was soaked, his dark fur matted with grime and blood. The little ratguard knelt beside him, running a metal-clad paw gently across the creature’s cheek. “See sir? He’s still alive.”

“Get back boy.”

The older guard shoved him forcibly back, so hard he fell on the sand. “You’re supposed to be on patrol, not sticking your nose into things that don’t concern you. Go polish every grain of sand out of your armor or face five lashes for deserting your post! Don’t think mommy dearest will spare you.”

The young beast hung his head, before scrambling to his paws. “Yes sir!”

The guard roughly examined the injured beast, who seemed to be coming around. His dull blue eyes flickered open, and he coughed, groaning.

“Are you or are you not a sailor of the Waveworm?” The guard was not in any way the gentlest of creatures.

The sailor clutched his paws to a bloody cut across his torso, crimson trickling from his mouth as he tried to answer.


Arashi began to dismount, but Barranca stopped her, whispering, “No! Don’t do it, he’s wet .. your disguise!”

“But we can’t just do nothing .. he may know about my daughter! That fool is going to kill him!” Arashi snarled low in her throat.

However the next second, the answer came in the form of one of the barmaids from Kia’s tavern. She ignored her mistress’s call, bounding down the steps and running down the strand. The light brown stoatmaid fell to her knees beside the unfortunate, holding up a paw to stop the guard who looked about to strike him out of vexation. “Please! I’ll git him ta talk! Don’t hurt him more!”

The rat looked angry, but backed up a little.

The stoatmaid shook her head, wincing. “Kage? Is it ya .. what happened? Kage, talk ta me! Don’t be dead!”

“I’m .. not .. yet ..” he coughed, and the barmaid glared at the beasts standing around.

“Ya lot a fools! If ya want him ta tell ya nothin’, how about ya git him some water? Well? Somebeast git some water!”

Before Barranca could move, Arashi had Summer galloping toward the tavern, and with a groan, the stoat followed her, sure she would get them both executed by the end of the day. Arashi pulled her horse to a stop, bolting up the steps to where Kia and a few others were watching. “Get me some water!”

Kia sneered. “Why should I?”

“Cause I have this.” Arashi held up a silver piece.

Kia blinked, before nodding to one of her barmaids. “Git the lady some water, scat!”

She snatched the silver piece, looking it over, before dropping it sagely into her petticoats. “Hmm. Fancy.”

Arashi snatched the water from the returning barmaid, running past her mount and down the beach. Barranca picked up Summer’s reins, as Kia blinked hooded lashes at him. “Yer lady-friends a aristocrat do-gooder, huh?”

Barranca sneered. “Well she’s got more compassion than a tavern-wench I know.”

Kia smirked nastily. “Indeed.”

The stoat scowled, leading the horses down the beach and wondering how he could get Arashi back to the manor and keep her there before she ensured their deaths.

He stopped their mounts near were the ferret was handing the barmaid the water, and he sighed, putting a hint of meaning into his voice. “Arashi ..”

She nodded subtly, backing away as a youthful rat from Kia’s tavern slunk over to her fellow beast and handed her some rags. “Here Merith .. Kia’s not happy .. ya know ..”

“A pox on Kia.” The stoat growled. “Ya go tell her I’ve served her day an’ night fer nine seasons, never complainin’ at her poor pay an’ poor temper, an’ she kin gimme this one thing.”

The rat swallowed, but nodded, creeping away. Arashi stood beside Barranca, muttering, “That ferret is Xzaris’s mother?”

He nodded, and she shook her head. “They are as different as night and day. But he said as much.”

The ratguard was getting impatient, but he said nothing as the stoatmaid bound up the other’s wounds and helped him drink. A little life was returning to his flat blue eyes, and he struggled to pull himself into a sitting position.

“Well? State your name and the ship you were sailing on.”

Upon closer scrutiny, it was clear the beast in question was more stoat than weasel, with dark brown fur and a grimy white underbelly. He let himself fall back onto the sand, his voice slightly muffled. “Kage a the House a the Crab sir. I was a sailor on Waveworm.”

The ratguard raised an eyebrow. “And? What caused you to end up here?”

“The Monitors attacked us fer food, cause we’d been delayed by several storms an’ ran out. We were bein’ defeated, an’ several a the crew tried ta escape inna lifeboat, an’ I tried ta stop ‘em. After that .. I don’t remember much .. bein’ hit by somethin’ hard, fallin’ .. an’ then I was in the water. I made it ta the deserter’s boat, but I don’t remember a ton, like I said.” He winced, closing his eyes.

“Was it in a storm?” The ratguard snarled. “Did the Waveworm go down or not?”

Kage glared at him, clenching his teeth together. “I donno! I said it already .. now please lemme stop talkin’.”

Merith added her glare to his, and the rat growled. “Very well. Though General Sagitar may insist on an audience with you later.”

He turned on the guards in the crowd. “And get back to your posts!”

Beasts slowly dispersed, and Barranca grabbed a frozen Arashi’s arm, whispering, “Come on. You look far too emotionally invested in this.”

“I am emotionally invested! What if my daughter is dead .. what if .. I never get the chance to see her again?”

“I know ..” He hung his head slightly. “I know. But you’re blowing your cover .. come on. Let’s get out of here.”

The stoat cast a glance over his shoulder to see the barmaid helping the sailor Kage struggle to his feet, and he scratched an ear. What had happened to his niece? Did the stoat know? The doubt and the worry would not leave him be until he knew for sure.


The mid-afternoon sun shone across a strange and watery plateau, three ships, one facing two, and all sporting the same emblem.

Rasconza stood still on the forecastle, the wind whipping softly around him. Slashback stood beside him, and the fox spoke without looking from the opposing ships. “Ready the crew. Madeyes has a party to greet us, and today we go to war.”

“Capt’n … the crew didn’t sign up fer this.”

Rasconza sneered at him. “They signed onto my ship, they submitted to my choices. I say we war, and we war, do you understand me clear enough?”

Slashback slowly nodded. “Aye, aye capt’n. But the crew ain’t gonna like it.”

“The crew is frozen in useless fear.” Rasconza chuckled almost pleasantly, before his eyes grew dark. “Ublaz taught me a good lesson the day he made me watch my father die. He taught me how to persevere. And by all heaven above and Hellgates eternal, I will overthrow him and give this people something they are learning to forget .. freedom! He may have thought he sent me to my death, but he just ensured his own.”

The fox walked forward, coattails snapping behind him, and he stopped at the railing. “Crew, to me!”

At the call of their captain, they came forward, uncertainty and reluctance on their faces. Rasconza leaned over the rail, calling, “Is this what Ublaz has made of you? Are we woodlanders or are we vermin? Are we land-beasts or wave-riders? Tell me now!”

There was a pause, before a broken cry rang out. “Vermin! Wave-riders!”

Rasconza shook his head. “Do you see what’s been done? He’s turned the world’s most feared nation into a pack of mice and rabbits! Those are the creatures that serve us, they are the weak ones, not us. I will stand for something that has been lost on Sampetra. I will stand for justice!”

Silence answered him, and he folded his paws behind his back. “You don’t think it is possible? It is! All it takes is one beast, one who dares to stand up for his country, for his passions, for his friends, to ensure a victory. I will be that beast. Blood will spill this day, and more blood will be shed in the future, but if we do nothing to stop the evil, the blood of our fellow beasts lays on our shoulders. We are the land of the Dragons, and dragons fight! We are pirates! We are vermin! We laugh in the face of death, or we cowar at its feet. What will you be .. cowards or heroes?”

Murmers rang out, and Rasconza held up a paw. “Vermin or woodlanders? Cowards or pirates?”

The voices were stronger now, growing in rebellion. “Vermin! Pirates!”

Rasconza clenched his claws into a fist, his voice ringing over the waters. “We are dragons! We will defy!”

Chapter 24 Twenty-Four Hours too Late

Romsca and the abbot were eating on the forecastle, weapons close to paw. Durral shrugged. “This is the last of the food captain. And there’s very little water.”

“That’s fine.” Romsca shrugged. “It’s getting late in the day, we’ll sight Sampetra any time now.”

She pulled out her spyglass and scanned the waves, before returning it to her belt. “What I don’t unnerstand is how we had this food inna first place. I thought it was about gone. Maybe yer just such a good cook ya can make anythin’ taste good. Course I have been eatin’ Rubby’s food .. rest his soul, but I’d rather eat hay like me horse.”

Durral made a face. “He .. was a pretty terrible cook.”

“A course he was, he was a sailor, just too old ta sail. A beast like that has a hard time findin’ a job .. he’d always been loyal ta me father, since me father was the only one who’d take pity on him, an’ he was a true friend a mine.”

Romsca looked down. “I just shut everybeast out .. cause I was afraid ta trust. I still am Abbotmouse.”

He looked confused. “Why?”

“Cause .. I was dumb enough ta think some beasts were actually on me side, an’ then I realized they were on their own. It’s everybeast fer themselves on Sampetra; it’s somethin’ ya learn early. But me dad wasn’t like that, and I guess I hoped some others weren’t too. Stupid thinkin’.”

“Everybeast isn’t like that captain.” Durral brushed a paw against her sleeve fractionally, before letting it slip to his side.

Romsca stared across the sea. “Maybe among woodlanders Abbotmouse. But ya can’t say it a vermin. There’s very few I would trust on that island.”

Durral looked nervous. “But can you trust any? Will we have any help?”

Romsca smiled slightly. “A few. And very few, but I can think of perhaps four.”

She looked around, asking, “Is Sayna still asleep?”

“I think so, she was tired after the seagulls and staying up all night to fight the storm.” Durral shrugged, collecting the dishes.

“I’m awake.” Sayna’s voice rang out from behind them. “I just needed a little sleep.”

Durral blinked at her. “Your ear’s white.”

Romsca looked at the mousewife, to see the abbotmouse was right. The tip of her left ear was pure white, fading to silver and then the normal gold at the base.

Sayna raised an eyebrow. “Durral, I don’t have a white ear; I never have.”

“But he’s right ya know.” Romsca broke in. “Ya do now.”

The mouse looked around for something to use as a mirror, and picked up a shield left over from the battle. She looked into it for a moment, before setting it down.

“Well?” Romsca asked. “What’s with it?”

Sayna shrugged. “At this time, I’m uncertain. But I don’t really have time to think about it ... would you say there’s a smudge on the horizon, captain? Or is it my eyes playing tricks?”

Romsca whipped out her spyglass, looking at where Sayna had pointed. “That’s no trick. Lower the anchor quickly, we should be on the east side, an’ I’m aiming for the north-east coast. Let’s review the plan an’ then sail in under cover a dusk.”

She looked at Durral. “The map please?”

He pulled the item in question out of his belt, and she spread it on the deck. “Right, our chief concern is to avoid the city, here.”

“But even outside the city, won’t some farmer or fisherbeast see us?” Durral looked confused.

“Are ya mad?” Romsca suddenly seemed to realize who she was talking to. “I mean .. I’m sorry Abbotmouse. But we don’t leave our walls, not more than a day’s journey, an’ only a suicidal fool would be fishing far beyond the city after dark.”

Durral looked unsure. “And .. why would that be?”

“Seriously? Where’ve ya been the last thousand years?”

Sayna’s face was expressionless, and her voice carried a hint of dry humor. “Various places.”

Romsca coughed. “Oh yea, never mind. It’s cause a the ghosts .. the things that occupy our island and hunt us like prey. We thought it was the Monitors fer a long time, but now that Ublaz made pets outa ‘em .. well .. bottom line, there’s still somethin’ out there.”

“How do you really know for sure, if you haven’t seen them for yourself?” Durral was hopeful.

Romsca looked unimpressed. “Let’see, ratguard are found dead at their post, shot with arrows. Some vanish and are never seen alive again. But don’t ya worry, we find their armor shredded like it was fabric, and their bones are always lyin’ around snapped and gouged with giant tooth marks.”

Durral shuddered. “I’m sorry I asked.”

“Apparently whatever they are, they can swim, since small fishing boats too far from home after nightfall are sometimes found smashed ta bits ona shore the next mornin’, on clear nights.” Romsca continued. “The wood is slashed and splintered as if by the finest of blades, over an’ over, an’ the owners are a few smashed bones. So don’t tell me it ain’t real.”

“P .. point taken.” Durral nodded. “And .. we’re sailing in after dark?”

“No, we’re rowin’ a row boat in after dark.” Romsca rolled up the map, standing up. “Be ready fer anythin’.”

As she swung down the stairs, Durral looked at Sayna. “Are you really agreeing to this?”

“What else can we do?” Sayna shrugged. “Sit on a ship and starve or wait for them to find us? No, ghosts or not, I’m not going to do that.”

Durral followed her, muttering something that sounded rather like, “I’m just a peaceful abbot ..”


The cool night breeze swept softly over the sea and the shore of Sampetra as Romsca guided the Waveworm ever closer. She handed Sayna the spyglass, stating, “Look fer a small bay .. rocky. I’ve seen it several times in passin’.”

“But won’t it be too shallow?” Durral asked.

Sayna sighed. “This is a Sampetrian raider.”

“And that means ..”

“It’s flat bottomed.” Sayna sighed.

Durral looked slightly offended. “I don’t read pirate culture.”

Sayna rolled her eyes. “Do you read ours? Have you heard of Bloodwake?”

“Heard of what?” Durral was confused.

“Arg. How about Wuddship?”

At that, the abbot’s eyes brightened with understanding. “Martin the Warrior’s vessel, yes Sayna, I do know of that. But why?”

Sayna sighed. “Point being, we stole that ship from Ripfang, whom Scound served; and he in turn incorporated the design into the ships of the nation he built. Sampetra.”

“Scound?” Durral was not comprehending. “We?”

Romsca broke in a little gruffly. “Look, we are going into the mouth of a dragon here, ya mind leavin’ history debates ta the past an’ help me with the present?”

Sayna nodded. “Aye, aye, sorry captain. You have a good point.”

Her eyes twinkled a little as she looked through the spyglass, stating, “I see high cliffs, mostly.”

“Right. Abbotmouse, are ya keepin’ an eye out fer gulls?”

He blinked. “But .. they aren’t nocturnal.”

Romsca gave him a dark look. “Don’t underestimate nothin’ on Sampetra. It’s a good way ta die.”

“I hate this place already.” Durral muttered.

“Ha. Ya haven’t seen nothing’ Abbotmouse .. lemme asure ya a that.” Romsca huffed. “Now focus.”

The coast of Sampetra was dark and rocky here, lacking in beaches, with cliffs that met the sea. The wild bamboo forest was visible, shadowed in darkness but growing near the shore.

“I’m lookin’ fer a lagoon a sorts .. should be around here somewhere ..”

Sayna squinted through the glass, asking, “Right there, perhaps?”

Romsca took the item, observing for a moment, before handing it back. “Yea, that looks right. Good thing we gotta breeze from the south east. Keep your eyes peeled .. Abbotmouse, watch the sky! Sayna, watch for whitecaps, that means a reef, so tell me instantly.”

She gripped the wheel, and Durral broke in. “You seem awfully tense ..”

“Yer supposed ta be watchin’ the sky Abbotmouse. An’ I ain’t tense.”

“Hard right!” Sayna pointed left at the chunk of spray washes rock jutting from the waves, and Romsca spun the wheel to the right.

“Steady as she goes .... further right!”

Romsca reacted spontaneously, he voice holding a bit of a threat. “I’m trustin’ ya ta guide me ship mouse .. ya better be correct, cause if ya wreck me .. I’ll be minus a ship an’ our presence won’t be a secret no more.”

“I understand captain .. hard left!” Sayna ordered.

“Ya could just say port’n starboard, I know them better.” Romsca grumbled, obeying.

Sayna nodded. “That’s right. And go right!”

“Arg .. ya better pull through with this ..” Romsca turned the wheel.

A gust of wind caught the sail, sending the ship forward, and Sayna exclaimed. “Further right! Quickly!”

Romsca growled, spinning the wheel right as fast as she could. There was a jolt and a scraping, before the ship slid free of the reef, sailing slowly toward the island. “Hey, somebeast go check fer damage!”

Romsca paused as she realized she had no crew left. “Grrumph .. fine. It didn’t sound too awful .. I think we can afford to check it in port.”

It took a little careful maneuvering to get the ship into the small lagoon, and without the blessed night breeze, it would have never happened, for there were nowhere near enough beasts to row. Romsca cranked the anchor winch to lower it, looking up at the sails with a glare. “We’ve gotta secure those things.”

“Do we really have time?” Sayna looked up from where she and Durral were loading the last lifeboat with some of the fishing tackle kept aboard Waveworm.

Romsca shook her head. “That’s the thing .. I donno.”

Durral looked at her. “Weren’t you going to disguise yourself?”

“Right. Thank ya Abbotmouse.” She nodded hurrying down to the galley and rubbing her paws in the soot of the cooking fire. She scrubbed it into her cream mask, then her cream tail-tip. Romsca dusted her paws off, before running up to her cabin and pulling her long black cloak from her trunk of clothes. She used it for rain, but fisherbeasts often wore similar to protect from the thick sea mist that often dampened the night.

She grabbed her axe and checked to see her knives were all in place, before scanning the room and grabbing her spyglass and compass. It would have to do.

Sayna and Durral were waiting for her, and she cast a regretful glance at the sails, but shook her head. “Yer right, we gotta go. The later it is, the more dangerous as well.”

They climbed aboard the little boat, lowering it to the water, and Romsca picked up the oars, pulling on them. “I don’t wanna be out here longer’n I have ta.”

The mist was slowly rolling in, but the stars shone brightly with the quarter moon, lighting everything eerily. A few clouds spiraled across the otherwise clear sky, and Durral was ill at ease. Sayna too, had an alert look about her .. even more alert then normal.

“What’s the plan again?” Durral asked nervously.

“Pertend ta be fisherbeasts that ain’t caught nothin’. Then act like creatures tryin’ ta git home after a day in the shipyards, and get to me uncles house. Let me cover fer us if needed .. please.” Romsca spoke as she rowed. “Can ya see any lights?”

“I’m not sure.” Sayna frowned, before pointing. “Yes, right there.”

Sure enough, the faint lights of Sampetra were visible through the darkness, and Romsca rowed harder. Sayna raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you don’t need help with that?”

“No .. it’s fine, I don’t feel tired at all.” Romsca shook her head. “We’ve got ta move fast .. they normally strike starting an hour after dark .. an’ it’s plenty late. Besides, I feel like I have the strength ta take on all the ratguard. Just not phantom beasts on the open sea inna rowboat.”

Sayna frowned. “You shouldn’t overdo it captain.”

“Ya already told me I’m practically invincible, what harm can it do?” Romsca raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Practically.” Sayna nodded. “Wait until you die the first time, then you’ll pay for your misuse of the Flowers. You’ve barely eaten and not slept at all the last three days, and you overwork yourself continually .. as soon as we find any safety at all, you will rest, even if I have to tie you down.”

Romsca rolled her eyes. “Yer gonna be waitin’ awhile fer that. I say if my physical limits are immortal, I’ll make the best a it.”

Sayna rubbed her forehead. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

They were in the bay now, and Durral stared about them at the looming ships, shrouded in the thin mist. “These are your ships?”

“Not mine Abbotmouse, most times the capt’n owns his own ship, but sometimes they’re hired by another. The Imperial fleet is a grand sight though, ain’t it? I’m proud ta sail fer me country.” Romsca looked down. “At least .. I was. I donno what ta be prouda now. But this is my home .. I just wish it could be somethin’ better’n it is.”

She looked around, an odd look on her face. “Although .. there’s not half as many ships as I would expect.”

Romsca looked confused. “This many can’t be out raidin’ .. it ain’t rational. Even Madeyes wouldn’t be fool enough ta raid this much in one summer .. he couldn’t.”

Understanding flashed in her eyes. “Then they must be out doin’ else .. if one a me friends managed ta kill the Monitors like me .. Ublaz wouldn’t have anybeast ta bring them back. So he’d comb the seas til he found them .. what if they’d found the pearls? He’ll do anything ta get those things.”

“Speaking of which,” Durral asked with some concern. “You didn’t leave them on your ship to be smashed by the ghost creatures?”

“Of course not.” Romsca scowled. “Ta be honest I thought bout it. But it ain’t my duty ta decide what happens ta them, an’ maybe they’d help an honest beast as much as a villain. Now hold on .. this might be a little bumpy.”

“But you know lots about boats ..” Durral protested.

Romsca grumbled. “Big ones, but I’m a capt’n, not a ferrybeast.”

“Pier!” Sayna pointed, but it was too late, as the boat smacked into one of the wooden supports, sending all three occupants sprawling onto the tackle in the bottom of it.

Romsca’s paw slammed onto a fishing hook, and she sat up, wincing a little as she pulled it out. A little blood beaded on her black fur, but the injury vanished with a flash. She swung up onto the dock, helping Durral up as she asked, “Is it always gonna be this way?”

Sayna climbed slowly after them, nodding. “For a long while at least. I heal far slower, but there is far less Flower left within me.”

“Can we move?” Durral shivered, looking frightened of the dank shipyards.

Romsca nodded. “Aye. But ya ain’t supposed ta look scared Abbotmouse, we’re goin’ fer sad old drunk here, remember?”

Durral scowled. “How could I forget?”

Sayna drew Romsca’s short cape around her shoulders, mostly concealing her sword. The ferret walked forward, shivering once as her boots left the old dock and landed once again on Sampetrian soil. As she and her companions walked along the worn cobblestone road running parallel with the sea, Romsca spoke again. “An’ I should warn ya. My people are usually more than welcomin’ ta beasts a their own class.”

“They are pirates.” Durral sounded confused.

Romsca smiled dryly. “Ah yes, but Abbotmouse, yer a pirate now too.”

She scowled. “These taverns .. we’re gonna have ta pass one here. Don’t be surprised if ..”

Romsca broke off as one of the beasts, a rat leaning against the railing of the shabby building’s occupied porch hailed them. “Hoi mates, tough luck fishin’? Care ta share a glass or so?”

Romsca shrugged swiftly. “Sorry mate, love ta, but we ain’t caught nothin’ an’ funds is scarce.”

“Aw, tough luck mates. Anyhow, care ta hear the news anyway? Come’on, maybe some a yer mates’ll treat ya if’n they’s hear.”

“But matey, we’s plain done in.” Sayna replied wittily. “Fishin’ was tirin’, an’ we need a good night’s rest ta fish tomorrow.”

The rat who had hailed them nodded. “I unnerstan’, but ain’t right not ta tell the news this time, not when it’s bout Capt’n Romsca!”

Romsca froze, as Durral stammered in a un-vermin manner, “W.. what?”

“Aye, a wrecked lifeboat was found on’a shore after that last storm .. one’a her sailors, Kage a the Crab I thinks, he was alive an’ told Sagitar he thought the ship’d gone down!” The creature was obviously tipsy. “Ain’t that rich? If it don’t rain, it pours ya know? Right after Capt’n Xzaris came in!”

Romsca froze, her clenched fangs gleaming from under her hood, and Sayna acted fast, yawning. “Aye, it’s pourin’ fer sure. I think we’d best git home afore we git soaked.”

The rat found this funny, and laughed heartily. “I like ya missy, ya come ta this tavern some? Ain’t seen ya round much, ya gotta boyfriend?”

Sayna raised an eyebrow, voice dry. “No.”

“Wanna drink? I’ll by ya one if’n you’ll hang ‘round a bit, yer right purty.” He grinned foolishly, and Sayna looked less than impressed.

“Sorry, I’ve got other commitments tanight. Ain’t that right mateys?”

She poked Durral, who nodded quickly. “Yes .. yes quite ..”

Sayna slapped him on the back and he coughed, interrupting his poor slang. “Aye, that’s the spirit mate. We best be goin’.”

Romsca came alive again, nodding, and they hurried away. As soon as they were out of hearing rang, Durral shook himself, asking, “He wanted to romance you?”

Sayna rolled her eyes. “He’s half drunk and obviously thinks I’m a fellow rat. At least the disguise is working so far.”

“He has Xzaris!”

Durral looked oddly at Romsca. “He does?”

She growled, “No, not the rat, Madeyes! Ublaz has him and it means .....”

She closed her eyes, voice breaking. “He’s .. already dead. Xzaris .. not ya! Me, not ya! Oh why Ignasa? Why?”


The darkness was complete, though the silence was broken by the footsteps of the guard in the corridor.

Xzaris’s world was swimming with terrible pain; he had endured pain before, but nothing like this. The scent of blood was everywhere, and even in his state, he knew whose it was.

The memory of Ublaz ripping his claws into his eyes multiple times returned, and Xzaris tried to open them. It nearly made him shriek, and even as it was, a whimper of pain slid through his clenched teeth. The steps outside stopped, and he braced himself for a shout or snarl, but none came.

There was a soft clink, as if paws had gripped something metal, a pause, and then the soft click of a lock turning.

Somebeast knelt beside him, and a gentle paw brushed across his forehead. “You’re awake, captain?”

“Who .. is ya ..?” Xzaris mumbled and groaned at the same time.

“N .. nobeast.” The voice sighed. “Nobeast important anyway. My name’s Shilo, I’m just a ratguard.”

“How bad off ... am I?” Xzaris coughed.

Shilo laid a paw on his shoulder, pressing him back on the straw covered cell floor, but he did not answer.

“I’m blind ... ain’t I? An’.. dyin’ atop it. Ain’t that right?”

The ratguard sounded young and insecure, Xzaris imagined the frightened face of a child behind that shaking voice. “Y .. yes captain.”

Xzaris didn’t reply instantly, as he felt all he had dared to hope for slip away. He’d failed. Ublaz’s words came back to him, mocking him.

“I will make you what you fear most ... I will make you useless.”

He was useless, just like his mother had always said. She was right. He was blind, and probably disfigured beyond recognition. He would never sail the ship he’d worked so hard for, and even if she saw him, Romsca would not want anything to do with him.

Tears wanted to fall, but it was impossible, and his shoulders shook once with a dry, bitter sob. He was worthless, a cowardly blind polecat who couldn’t even cry. It was over. There was no more hope left in the world for him.

“Good thing I’m dyin’ then ..” Xzaris muttered coldly. Life held nothing.

“I’m .. I’m sorry captain, I .. I wish I could do something, but ..”

“There .. ain’t nothin’ nobeast could do. Maybe fate chose .. this fer me.” Xzaris gave up fighting to move and relaxed, wishing he could see something .. anything. But that was forever taken from him.

A sudden thought occurred to him, and he murmured, “Is me satchel still here?”

“G .. General took the .. money, but yea ..”

Xzaris groaned. “Ta Hellgates with money, is me scroll still there?”

There was a rummaging sound, before Shilo replied. “Yes.”

“Then .. ya kin do somethin’ fer me after all .. is Val alright?” Xzaris mumbled.

“She .. was given yer ship, yea ..” The voice of the child stammered.

Xzaris found the young beast’s small paw, tiny even for a rat. “Then .. give this ta her. Tell her it’s fer capt’n Romsca. Tell her .. I hope she found those pearls.”

Shilo stammered. “C .. captain Romsca?”

Something about his voice was off, like he knew more than he said. Xzaris felt a wave of fear wash over him .. had she suffered his fate? How long had he been unconscious? “What ‘bout her? Is somethin’ wrong .. did Ublaz ...”

“N .. no .. nothing like that.” Shilo said it a little too quickly. “I .. I’ll .. try I guess .. when I can.”

“Please see .. she gets it ..” Talking hurt, everything hurt, and blackness crowded the edges of his mind. He wanted nothing more than to sink into it, but coherency refused to slip away.

There was a scuffling and clinking as Shilo stood, and more as the cell door latched behind him and the lock turned. The clinks of Shilo’s armored boots faded, and he was left alone .. and how alone it felt. He faced death, it was coming quickly, and he could sense its presence .. his entire being was racked with agony, yet a cold nothingness was following close on its heels.

What would follow the end of this life? He had never spent much time thinking about it, mostly because he feared it, and now he feared it even more. Every Sampetrian who believed in the deities feared .. and who knew if he would be buried at sea so Lady Atlas could come for him? Most likely the Monitors would eat him .. his spirit would never have rest, he would be forced to wander the earth at night, watching the ones he loved but never interacting with them again, not even when they died.

Or would Lord Fora come for him instead, the lord of death itself, and choose he deserved eternal torment?

The lords were cynical and uncaring in their approach to mortals, only the strongest and most virtuous were accepted into eternal paradise, the Land of the Sun, ruled by the sun lord, Rayith.

"I don't think ye mean so little. No living creature does. Not to me, and not to Ignasa."

For some reason, Arashi’s words came back to him. Her strength even after she had lost so much. Her faith in a foreign lord, faith that could not be explained by mortals.

"Ignasa may not have saved my husband from death, but he saved his soul from death. He can do that for ye. After all, it's what's inside that matters. Not what's on the outside."

Would he really? What sort of Lord would actually heed a mortal’s cry?

But there was nothing to lose, there was no other spark of hope left, only one memory; the strange faith of a strange beast .. to an even stranger lord.


Romsca didn’t bother with knocking on the courtyard gates, in fact, she didn’t bother knocking at all. She pulled the key from behind it’s brick hiding place, opened the gates, and quickly ushered the two mice in.

After locking them again, she led Sayna and Durral across the courtyard and into the foyer of the manor. “Take a seat .. please don’t touch anythin’. An’ mind yerself round me uncle, he’s a vetran warrior an’ famed fer mastery a the blade. He’s got a long fuse, but I’ll just tell ya straight up, his fiancé was killed by woodlanders, an’ she was nothin’ but a healer, she couldn’t defend herself. I ain’t sayin’ he’s right, but he’s touchy ‘bout woodlanders. Ya know. I’m gonna go get him, ya stay put.”

She hurried deeper into the manor, the moonlight streaming through the un-shuttered windows lighting her way. Romsca found her uncle’s door in the long hallway, opening it quietly. “Uncle ..”

He was asleep in bed, even snoring. Romsca rolled her eyes. “Uncle! Wake up!”

“Yes .. yes .. in a minute ..” He mumbled, rolling over and snoring spontaneously.

Romsca shook him, growling, “No, not inna minute. Come on uncle, I need ya now!”

Barranca slowly opened his eyes, mumbling something that could not be understood. Romsca sighed. “Wake up!”

He squinted, then threw his covers off, leapt up, and knocked her over in the same movement. Romsca rolled away, springing to her feet as there was the sound of steal being drawn. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?!”

She drew her axe, hissing, “Uncle, it’s me!”

Barranca slowly lowered his blade. “Romsca?”

“Yea. Me. Now ya ain’t gonna try’n kill me, is ya?” Romsca indicated his saber, and he slowly sheathed it.

“What .. how?” Barranca was confused. “How did you get here? You didn’t go down in the storm? Does Ublaz know you’re here?”

Romsca shook her head. “Long story, no, an’ no. An’ we’re gonna keep it that way. Now what happened to Xzaris?”

Barranca was silent, and Romsca’s eyes flashed. “Tell me!”

“I .. don’t know for sure. Nobeast does.” Barranca said the words carefully. “Ublaz didn’t reveal it to the public.”

“You mean he didn’t publicly execute him?” Romsca blinked.


Romsca shook herself. “Ok, what about Val?”

“She .. was given Darkshroud. At least that is the word on the streets, but she hasn’t come here.” Barranca approached the subject gingerly.

Romsca thought for a moment, before grabbing his arm. “Come with me, ya gotta help. I have two other beasts with me, the only others that survived the Monitor’s attack on me ship ..”

“You fought the Monitors?”

“Aye, an’ killed them all. But all me crew died too.”

Barranca stopped. “You mean Rafglan and Rubby .. are dead?”

Romsca hung her head for a moment, before nodding. “Yea. I .. I couldn’t save them. In fact if it weren’t fer these last two, I’da died as well.”

Barranca started walking again. “Then I will treat them with the highest regard.”

“Uncle!” Romsca grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop. “Ya need ta know somethin’ first. They’re woodlanders ... a Mossflower warrior an’ the king a that red castle, his Abbotness or somethin’.”

The stoat stared at her. “What? And you brought them into my house?”

“They ain’t what ya think, I swear. I was dyin’, they coulda left me or killed me, but they didn’t. No more a me crew was alive, they was the only ones. So please Uncle ..” She paused, before sighing, “I know what ya told me happened with yer ladyfreind an all. But these ain’t that kind a woodlander. Please treat them just like ya’d treat another vermin, that’s what I do.”

Barranca rubbed his forehead. “Alright .. alright .. let me get used to this idea. But the king of the red castle? That place is an eternal curse to us .. they resist our kind like no other!”

“Believe me uncle, he’s .. not really the sort of beast ya’d think’d be the king a the red warriors.” Romsca chose the nicest description she could think of.

“Ok .. just .. introduce them to me, please. Let me put some proper clothes on.”

“No time fer that!” Romsca pulled him with her. “If Val’s on Darkshroud then I gotta get the story from her.”

Barranca sighed, shaking his head. “It’s no good Romsca. Nobeast defies the emperor.”

“I tried once ..”

“And he broke you. The same thing will happen again.” Barranca protested. “Please Romsca, don’t.”

Romsca’s eyes flashed. “He killed father, and he stole love from me .. by Ignasa he won’t kill my friend!”

Barranca stared at her. “What?”

It was enough of a pause for Romsca to lead him into the foyer, where Sayna and Durral sat on opposite sides of one of the couches. “Alright, Sayna, Abbotmouse, this is me uncle, Barranca. Uncle, this is Sayna the warrior, and Abbotmouse Durral. Ok? Ok. I’ve got ta go, an’ now.”

Durral and Barranca protested at the same time.

“You’re leaving us with him?”

“You can’t just leave them with me!”

Romsca groaned. “I’m sorry! I wish I didn’t have ta, but I can’t wait! Who knows what’s happened ta Xzaris! Just .... please try’n get along til I get back. I must know, now!”

She bolted out the door before Barranca could say otherwise, cloak snapping behind her as she ran across the courtyard.

“Ahhgg ..” Barranca rubbed a paw on his forehead as he slowly closed the door behind her.

“We’re going to let her go who knows where?” Sayna asked.

Barranca scowled. “Look, mouse-lady, she’s twenty seasons. She’s old enough to make her own choices and deal with the consequences. She won’t take me trying to stop her, and I’m not her father, I really don’t have the ability to do any such thing. She’s an adult.”

A door opposite the one Barranca had entered creaked open, and Arashi yawned. “Barranca? Why do ye have guests at this time?”

Barranca sighed, grumbling, “Arashi .. your daughter has brought the king of the red castle and one of his warriors into my house .. and left them here!”

“What? Where is she?” Arashi exclaimed, ignoring the stoat’s accusation.

Sayna shook her head. “Gone. She just left.”

“To discover Xzaris’s fate.” Barranca added.

“What?” Arashi looked afraid. “I’ve got to go after her!”

Barranca grabbed her arm in the instant. “No! Arashi, you nearly exposed yourself out there yesterday .. how do I put this? It comes down to this. Romsca knows what she’s doing. She’s going to go down to the Darkshroud. You don’t know what you’re doing. By following her, you’ll only endanger her, so I’m putting my foot down .. you are not going out there. Romsca’s a captain. She won’t take risks when there’s no hope, and she won’t rush into danger with no plan. We have to trust her this time.”


The streets were dark, and Romsca stuck to the even darker shadows, running at times, walking at others. The mist was rolling in earnestly now; shrouding the black shipyards and making the anchored vessels look skeletal.

Her boots pounded on the cobblestones of the ocean-side road, her eyes scanning the surroundings for movement. Though she was practically sprinting, it seemed far too slow; every second might as well have been an hour.

At least Val was alive. That was all she could hold onto, and it wasn’t enough. A series of flashbacks flung themselves at her, but she didn’t have time to ponder even one of them. Now was everything. This moment was all that had ever existed.

As she was nearing the dock Xzaris usually docked his ship on, her sensitive ears caught the sound of voices, and she left the road, sliding down the incline leading to the beach. Her foot caught on a stone, throwing her face-down into sand and filth, and she didn’t move an inch. Pain lanced through her for a few moments, before fading away. She lay perfectly still, breathing as quietly as possible as several ratguards passed her vantage point.

“I’ll tell ya mates, some nights is creepier than others. General must hate us, sendin’ us ta do night patrol on a night like this .. easy ta get eaten by Monitors.”

“Ha, General hates everybeast!”

“Har har, ain’t that the truth.”

Romsca waited until they were a ways away, before pulling herself to her feet and running along the beach toward the shadow of the pier and the ship she sought. She scrambled up the incline, claws digging into damp soil and gravel, finally making it to the road again.

After letting herself catch her breath for a few seconds, Romsca threw herself forward again, running the last paces onto the dock.

Darkshroud looked deserted, and the gangplank had been removed, but a rope ladder still offered a way up. Romsca grabbed it, hauling herself paw over paw with steely determination. She stumbled onto the deck, crouching and looking around carefully.

In the silence, she could hear the faint sound of sniffling, and she slowly moved toward the source. Now that she was on the deck of a docked ship that had just come in, she would be instantly suspicious, so she stayed low.

She reached the captain’s cabin door, slowly knocking on it. There was a pause, before an sniffling voice answered. “Wh .. Who is ya?”

“Come on Val, lemme in!” Romsca hissed.

The vixen’s voice sounded downright afraid. “H .. how do I know ya ain’t fer Ublaz?”

“Fer cryin’ out loud ..” Romsca laid her paws on the door. “Val, awesome pirate sisters ferever!”

There was a sharp gasp, before the door was flung open, and Romsca found herself caught in a vice-like hug. “Romsca, Romsca it’s ya! How can it be ya? Thank the fates .. does Ublaz know yer here?”

“No.” Romsca extracted herself from Val’s grip, shutting the door. “An’ I wanna keep it that way.”

In the softly moonlit cabin, she could see her friend’s eyes were red and the fur around them was damp and smudged from crying and rubbing tears away. “What’d that filth do ta ya? Are ya ok?”

“I .. I’m ok.” Val rubbed at her eyes, before cocking her head. “Wait .. what’s with yer face? Yer filthy.”

“I rubbed soot on it and I fell inta some mud.” Romsca shrugged. “But that’s not important .. what happened ta Xzaris, do ya know?”

Val swallowed hard, whimpering, “I was there … but .. do I really gotta tell ya?”

Romsca’s gaze was intense. “Yes ya really gotta tell me, this is our friend.”

“Oh Romsca .. I .. I tried ..” Val’s voice was a choke. “I tried ta pertect him like ya said .. tried so hard .. but .. Ublaz .. he ..”

Romsca grabbed the vixen. “Well? Did he kill him? What happened?”

“H .. he clawed his eyes out!” Val wailed suddenly, and Romsca slowly took a step back as a paw flew to her mouth.

Val sniffed. “I .. I had ta watch .. oh I’m sorry Romsca! I’m sorry!”

Romsca’s eyes were closed, but she suddenly open them again, voice a guttural growl from deep within her throat. “It ain’t yer fault .. but there’s one beast I wanna skin alive right now! Ublaz! I’d like ta rip him apart! Ta kill me friend .. an’ like that!”

“Wull ... wull I donno if he’s quite dead yet.” Val sniffed. “B .. but yea, he’s gonna be.”

Romsca’s eyes shone with unquenchable fire. “What? What do ya mean?”

Val shivered. “Ublaz didn’t kill him .. ordered he be thrown in the palace dungeons so if’n he lived .. he could be bait fer ya an’ Conza!”

“Ya mean he ain’t dead?” Romsca gasped.

“Not .. yet, I don’t think.” Val rubbed her muzzle.

Romsca stood stock still, thinking, and Val shook her head. “Oh .. oh no Romsca, ya can’t save him. His face was jist torn apart .. there was blood everywhere .... I couldn’t a healed him, an’ neither can ya.”

Romsca open her mouth to say something, but there was a sudden knocking on the door. The two froze, before Val shoved Romsca in the direction of some shelving, hissing, “Hide inna shadows, I’ll git ridda them, whoever they is!”

Romsca stumbled into the dark shadows, wrapping her cloak tightly about her as she heard the door creak open slightly. “Yea? Who is it?”

“P .. please .. captain Valentine? I .. I have a message for you.” The voice was shaky and youthful.

“That’s Val ta ya, an’ how do I know ya ain’t some sorta spy, yer a ratguard. Where’s yer patrol?”

Romsca could imagine Val sticking her muzzle a few inches from the other beast’s face with a snarling expression.

“N .. no, it’s from captain X .. Xzaris, and I’ve got to go back quickly .. he just really wanted m .. me to give this to you. It’s .. for captain Romsca .. but we .. both know she went down at sea ..”

Val sounded suspicious. “Weeell .. ok, ya better come in here.”

There was some scuffling, and the sound of the door shutting. “Ok, gimme it.”

Romsca turned her head, to see a scrawny little rat hand Val a scroll of paper, before stammering, “Pl .. please, I’ve got to get back to my post.”

“Wait a minute, is Xzaris alive?” Val demanded.

“I .. think so, he was when I left .. but he won’t last the night I fear. I .. wish you really could give it to Romsca .. ”

Romsca could stand no more, and rational thought fled from her. She jumped out, cloak swinging behind her. “She can.”

The ratguard started, stumbling back into a chair and toppling onto his back. He scramble away, gasping, “C .. c .. captain .. Romsca? B .. but .. but you .. you’re .. you’re dead!”

A sudden thought sprang into her mind, it was pure madness, but she had to do it. “That’s right, I am.”

Val stared at her. “Really?”

“Yea, ya wondered why ya found that wreckage? Me ship did go down, an’ I’m a ghost.”

“Whoa ....” Val was clearly impressed. “Seriously? Like .. I could stick me paw through ya an’ ya can float through walls an’ ...”

Romsca desperately wanted to tell Val to shut up, but she simply blurted, “An’ I can save Xzaris an’ that’s all that matters!”

The guard was considerably less fascinated than Val, in fact, he looked petrified. “W .. wh .. what do you want with m .. me?”

It felt wrong to deceive him and cause him this much fear, but Romsca was desperate. “Ya will take me ta Xzaris.”

“Y .. you mean t .. take you into the .. the palace? B .. but .. I can’t! I just wanted to help a little .. I don’t want .. a .. any part in rebellion!”

Val blinked, before flicking an ear. “But ya can’t like bein’ a ratguard! Not if’n ya’d risk it just ta bring a dyin’ beast’s message ta me.”

He shivered. “O .. of course I don’t .. I .. I hate it .. but I just felt bad .. I don’t want to go against Ublaz! G .. general .. she’ll .. kill me! Torture me! I can’t!”

Romsca’s eyes flashed. “Doin’ the right thing is always hard .. I should know. But it don’t give us the right ta look away.”

He looked down, before whimpering, “I .. I can’t. G .. General will .. have my head!”

Romsca growled, desperation taking over again. “She might if we get caught. But if ya don’t help, I’ll have yer soul past yer dyin’ day! Do ya really want me ta haunt ya before an’ after the grave?”

“Golly, that’s rough.” Val remarked, nodding to the rat. “From experience, ya don’t want the live Romsca mad at ya. The dead one’s gotta be like .. a million times worse. By the way Rom ..... Ya wouldn’t be mad bout that one time I painted yer nails while ya was sleepin’? Ya know .. as a friend?”

“Oh ferget that Val!” Romsca couldn’t believe her friend’s multi-tasking mind; everywhere at once. “Go tell me uncle what I’m doin’.”

Val nodded. “Sure .. what’s ya doin’ exactly?”

“I’m gonna go inta Ublaz’z dungeons an’ save Xzaris’s life!” She snarled, before adding, “Cause ghosts can do that. An’ this liddle rat’s gonna make me look official-like.”

“Oh .. uh .. I really gotta tell him that? Does he know yer a ghost?” Val didn’t look excited.

“Hellgates, just tell him!” Romsca growled.

She grabbed the ratguard, ordering, “Ya will escort me inta the palace as a prisoner.”

“D … do I .. r .. really have to?”

“Yes, let’s move!” Romsca was about through with whatever pretense of patience she’d had.

He suddenly moved forward, eyes flicking from side to side nervously. “Th .. then I kn .. know a better way.”


The journey to the palace was essentially uneventful; the ratguard seemed to know pretty well how to avoid everyone. He stopped in the looming shadows of the palace, leading her into a dark, overgrown garden.

Romsca pinned her ears, asking, “Where’re ya takin’ me, what is this?”

As an answer, he disappeared into a thick stand of bamboo. “Through here.”

She gathered her cloak in one arm and followed him carefully, pushing through the wild stalks until she came into a dark hole. Romsca’s eyes slowly adjusted to the nearly pitch-black darkness as the ratguard picked up something. There was a clack and a sudden spark, before a flame leapt up. He held the torch gingerly, illuminating the tunnel they stood in.

Romsca stared at something she’d never known existed, as her companion led her deeper into it. Ancient carvings and words decorated the walls, in a language she could not read. Roots snaked through the expertly fitted stones, and the place smelled damp and old.

“Where does it go?” The ferret asked at length.

“Shh.” The ratguard shook his head. “Qu .. quiet now. We’re close ... have I really got to do this?”

Romsca glared at him. “What if it was yer friend dyin’? What’d ya do?”

“I .. I don’t have any friends.”

Romsca’s ears drooped a little out of pity, but she knew she could not give herself away, not now. “Is a guard ever supposed ta abandon a fellow guard? Even when there ain’t no hope left?”

Something flashed in his deep brown eyes, and he straightened up. “Never captain.”

“That’s what a friend does too. Now take me in there.”

He swallowed, before nodding, “O .. ok. But you’re going to have to let me chain you.”

“Ya better not play me false.” Romsca held out her paw, trying to quell the apprehension as she realized how stupid this really was. “Do it.”

The manacle clamped onto her wrist, cold and foreign, but she held on to the comfort she could probably throw the scrawny ratguard over her head with minimal difficulty. “Y .. you can’t take any .. weapons in.”

Romsca glared at him. “If ya think I’m buyin’ that yer a fool .. but I’ll leave me axe here.”

She slowly set it down and the ratguard closed the other manacle on his own wrist, and laid his free paw on a stone set in the side of the tunnel right where it abruptly ended. There was a scraping, and with a slight push, the dead end pivoted inward .. into the palace, and all its evil.

The ratguard looked frightened, and he whispered, “Can you .. walk twisted over like an old beast? Y .. you walk too much like a captain.”

Romsca slowly did as he said, following him down the dark corridor. Now that she was in .. truly in the palace, misgivings and fears beset her. Would this really work?

Sayna had said so ... and she really had no reason not to trust the mouse. Aside from the fact she was a mouse .. but no, no, she must stop thinking like that. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t true. Besides .. this had to work. Failure wasn’t an option.

The corridors here twisted and turned, but the ratguard seemed to know where he was going. He also didn’t like being chained to her, from the way he hurried and kept his ears pinned. She couldn’t blame him, not after the way she’d got him to cooperate.

He slowed as they entered another corridor, and Romsca tensed as she saw another ratguard, and older one. This beast looked curious. “Hoi, Shilo, what’s ya got there?”

“J .. just transferring a prisoner t .. to another cell sir.”

Romsca wondered what the creature’s response would be, but he just laughed. “Ya don’t gotta sir me, Shilo. Ya know I don’t se ya like that.”

A tiny, nervous smile appeared on Shilo’s face. “Th .. thanks Rum .. w .. well I have to get this prisoner to their .. c .. cell.”

“Alrighty .. say, ya wanna drink afterward? I sneaked some in .. don’t tell general.”

“S .. sorry Rum, I have to watch the other prisoner all night since I left my patrol earlier.” The older rat shook his head. “Aw, ta bad matey. It’s that niceness a yers that’ll get ya in trouble someday. Course, it’s also what I like ‘bout ya.”

He opened the door, and Romsca followed the ratguard, apparently Shilo, into another corridor, one full of cells, most of them empty. Ublaz seldom kept prisoners long, perhaps a week or so, but never indefinitely.

Their paws made soft clacks on the stone floor, and Shilo stopped beside one of the cells, setting his torch in a bracket nearby. The hall was empty and shrouded in dark shadows; only one other lantern offered light.

The ratguard pulled out a key, looking around, before unlocking her shackle. “B .. be quiet. There’s another guard on the other side of this corridor.”

Romsca nodded dumbly, as he slid the heavy bolt aside. “H .. he’s in an awful state .. let me tell him f .. first.”

The cell was dark, but Romsca could smell blood, and worse, the faint scent of death. Was she already too late .. was all this in vain?

“C .. captain? It’s me, Shilo ..”

There wasn’t an answer right away, but the ratguard continued. “C .. can you hear me?”

The voice that replied was distorted, so agonized it didn’t even sound like Xzaris. “Did .. ya ..”

“I .. I did, and I found somebeast ..”

Romsca shoved him aside, dropping to her knees as her eyes grew used to the shadows. She had seen blood and death; that was not what brought nausea to her. It was the horrific wounds Xzaris had sustained; one look at his face was more than enough. “Xzaris .. Xzaris .. how could he ..”

But she knew it should not surprise her. She frantically reached for her hair, tightly braided by Sayna, as he stirred fractionally, his voice an uncharacteristic whimper of pain. “Romsca? How .. kin ya .. be here?”

“Don’t talk, just hang on!” Her voice was a snarl as she struggled to get her hair undone. “Ya! Ratguard, undo me hair .. now!”

The rat was hesitant, but he slowly reached out and started tugging the hair tie out.

Romsca gripped Xzaris’s paw tightly, growling, “Don’t ya dare die on me, not now!”

He muttered something, but all it amounted to was a groan. At that second, her braid unwound as Shilo’s efforts were successful, and the black hair spilled around her. She grabbed a fairly thick clump, sliding a paw under Xzaris’s head and lifting it as gently as she could in her haste.

The wounded ferret’s paw clenched, and Romsca knew she must be hurting him as she swiftly wound the hair around his head, setting him back down softly, and reaching for the knife in her boot. Her hair pulled tight, and she grabbed the hilt, drawing it.

Shilo was looking nervous, still standing nearby, and Romsca met his gaze with intensity. “I’m gonna die fer awhile, see? But do not leave me here, do ya hear me? Cause I’ll come back ta life .. ghosts can do that, got it?”

He shivered, nodding hurriedly. “R .. r .. right .. I .. won’t ..”

Romsca cast a glance at the gleaming blade in her paw, before clenching her teeth and slicing it through the lock of hair.

The world seemed to freeze for several seconds, before pain lanced through her entire being, and she felt herself crumple to the straw of the cell, unable to shriek, but desiring to. She couldn’t move .. couldn’t breathe .. then the cold hit her like a crashing wave, freezing her senses.


“Ye really want me to trust her? Do ye really think we can do that? What if she does something crazy .. what if she ..”

Barranca interrupted Arashi. “Yes, I really do. She won’t do anything .. too insane. She can have a lot of tact when she puts her mind to it.”

“What if she didn’t this time?” Arashi countered.

Durral and Sayna hadn’t moved from the couch, in fact Sayna didn’t even look like she was properly awake.

“There’s nothing we can do, will you stop it Arashi? I have to trust she will come back in her own time; I’m as worried as you, but even if I wandered the streets all night, I probably wouldn’t find her.” Barranca sighed. “Now will you stop pacing?”

Arashi growled threateningly, but slowly sat down in an empty chair. “She’d best come back alive.”

Barranca didn’t reply, and silence filled the foyer for a few minutes. A sudden knocking rang out, and Arashi leapt to her feet, hope in her eyes. She yanked open the door, stopping at who she saw.


The fox nodded. “Yea. An’ I wish ya didn’t hide the key so well. Ya an’ Romsca both do it different an’ it’s really confusin’. Sides, I’ve never had ta break inta yer manor afore Capt’n Barranca. An’ ya made it Arashi .. great!”

“Ye .. seem positive.” The ferret raised an eyebrow.

Val nodded. “I’m here ta deliver a message .. fer .. everybeast I guess. Hey, are they in on this?”

She pointed at Durral and Sayna, who had looked up. Barranca sighed. “Yes. They’re Romsca’s ... friends.”

The vixen shut the door, nodding. “Ok. So Rom says everythin’s fine, an’ not ta worry. She’s just breakin’ inta the palace ta save Xzaris.”

“What?” Arashi exclaimed.

“Yea, I felt that way too …” Val looked less sure of herself. “But Romsca’s ship went down an’ now she’s a ghost. I think. I .. really hope she was tellin’ the truth this time.”

She winced. “Of course ... somehow it doesn’t seem right .. but I jist can’t see Rom doin’ somethin’ that dumb if there was no hope. An’ trust me .. unless she’s a ghost .. there .. really isn’t a lot.”

Durral looked confused. “Captain Romsca’s ship didn’t go down at all ... she docked it in a hidden bay and we rowed into the city in a lifeboat.”

Val cocked her head. “Oh .. that does make sense.”

She frowned. “But she jist went inta the palace dungeons ta save somebeast who’s dyin’ fer sure .. unless she had .. at least some sorta magic, she wouldn’t risk that. All she’d do was .. drag a deadbeast out.”

Val looked away. “I know she cares an’ awful lot bout Xzaris .. but Rom cares ‘bout us too. An’ she wouldn’t leave us like that .. she’s too .. loyal fer that.”

Arashi relaxed a little, until Sayna stood up. “She does have magic.”

Everybeast looked at her with confusion except Durral, who looked moderately guilty. Val looked relieved. “Oh good ... she is a ghost then. Not quite what I wanted fer her an’ all, but still cool .. an’ since ghosts can vanish .. maybe she’ll be ok!”

“She’s not a ghost.” Sayna looked irritated. “She’s a Defender, and she bears the double-edged blessing and curse of the Flowers of Icetor.”

Arashi was concerned, to say the least. “What do ye mean by that?”

“How fond is she of this Xzaris, and would there be a chance, dying or otherwise, that he would be alive? Because that is the answer, as long as he has a spark of life left in him, she can save him. She can save anybeast she chooses to.” Sayna’s black eyes narrowed. “But she has to be willing to die to do it.”

“Are you saying she’s dead?” Barranca started in his seat.

Sayna looked away. “Perhaps, for the moment. She will come back, she will always come back .. it’s a never-ending cycle. She can die permanently .. but trust me when I say, death does not come easily to a Defender.”

By this time, even Durral looked confused.

Sayna sighed. “Fine. Romsca was overdosed with a Flower of Icetor, just as I was long ago. It gives her the ability to be wounded in any manner, and as long as the injury is not instantly fatal, the Flower is so young within her she will not die even once. She is immune to sickness and age alike.”

The mouse clenched her teeth. “It gives her the ability to heal any injury as long as the other beast is alive. If she cuts a strand of her hair .. but she will take their death upon her shoulders and die for them. She will remain in a strange sort of stasis, not breathing, but somehow not dead, and will return to life in thirty minutes at the least.”

“And .. how do ye know this?” Arashi looked stunned, not sure what to believe.

“Because I’ve done it many times.” Sayna flicked her ears back. “I can no longer. She is destined to take my place.”

Nobeast answered, and Sayna sighed. “If you don’t understand .. fine. But I don’t think we should just leave her.”

Arashi scowled. “Ye heard Barranca here. With those Monitors, he’s right. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Sayna tossed a side of her cape away from herself, drawing her sword with a blue flash. “I can kill them.”


Romsca crumpled to the ground the instant she cut the hair, motionless, and Shilo took a step back. The thick black lock spun around Xzaris’s face began to glow surreally, suddenly brightening, only to seep softly into his fur, and the hair itself faded to a shimmering gray that quietly disintegrated in a shower of silver.

The shorn end of hair on Romsca’s head glowed faintly, before it grew in a matter of seconds, snaking across the straw in a shimmer of silver white. However she remained perfectly still, not even drawing breath.

Shilo scrambled back against the wall, swallowing hard. He’d had misgivings about the authenticity of her claims, but no longer. She truly was a ghost .. how else did her hair glow?

Xzaris’s breathing had been faint and strained before, but now it was even and quiet. Shilo slipped out of the cell, drawing the bolt shut as he tried to wrap his mind about what he’d just seen.

He leaned against the outside wall, taking a few deep breaths.

There was a ghost in the cell behind him.

He shivered, closing his eyes for a moment. Compassion always seemed to backfire on him. A sudden thought came to him .. both Romsca and Xzaris were in the cell behind him .. if he told the General ... He clenched a paw. What was he thinking? If there was a way to be haunted forever, that was it. Besides, it wouldn’t be like the General would throw a hero’s welcome for him .. he’d be whipped for deserting his post, and more blood would spill.

The rat slowly wrapped his arms around himself, exhaling heavily. What a mess.

A few moments slipped by, before footsteps sounded in the corridor outside, and Shilo gasped. Of course the general would send somebeast to check up on him and see he wasn’t sleeping. He grabbed his trident, standing up straight as the outer hall’s door swung inward.

Shilo suddenly realized he was still holding the key to the chains he’d escorted Romsca in with, and dropped it, stomping his boot on top.

He froze as he saw who’d come to inspect his work .. the general herself, and two escorts. Sagitar’s boots made hollow thuds on the stone floor as she stalked forward, eyes narrow. She stopped in front of him, and he did his best to stand straight and tall, though he really wanted to disappear into the floor.

“Well? What is your report?”

“N .. n .. nothing General. Nothing to report, all’s been quiet.”

“Really?” She did not look convinced. “Then what’s that on your arm?”

Shilo looked at the manacle on his wrist, blinking. “O .. oh this? Th .. this is just .. well you see .. it was an interesting card game General.”

She raised an eyebrow, and he sighed. “And .. I .. I lost. Th .. that was the forfeit .. stand guard with a chain on your wrist.”

Sagitar gave him a long glare, before sneering. “Why am I not surprised? Is he still alive?”

Shilo cast a glance at the deeply shadowed cell, swallowing hard. “H .. he is, I think. N .. not too lively though.”

“He shouldn’t be.” Sagitar looked through the bars as Xzaris stirred slightly, with a soft groan. She shrugged. “If he dies before morning, get a patrol to help you drag him out and throw him on the shore.”

“R .. right. Yes General.” Shilo hoped desperately she would just leave,

She narrowed her eyes, looking from side to side for a moment. “I can’t see what’s wrong here, but I swear ...”

The rat pointed a claw at Shilo. “See your watch is uneventful. So help me if something goes wrong and you make a fool of me .. I’ll lash you myself, is that understood?”

“Y .. y .. yes .. G .. General .. I’ll see too it.” Shilo shuddered hopelessly.

Sagitar growled, turning on her heel and stalking away, her guards with her. Shilo waited a few moments after the outer door shut, before leaning heavily on his trident and shaking all over.

See his watch was uneventful? There was no way his watch could be uneventful!

He slowly leaned against the wall, holding his trident tightly, and choking back a sob. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no way this could end in his favor.

A sudden movement in the cell behind him caught his attention, and he leaned against the bars, looking in. He waited a few more minutes, before sliding the bolt and opening the door. “C .. captain Xzaris?”

The ferret stirred, trying to sit up. “Ugh .. where .. what happened?”

Shilo didn’t answer out of amazement for a moment, and Xzaris groaned. “Is anybeast there?”

“I .. I .. I am captain.”

Xzaris cocked his head, sniffing the air for a moment. “Shilo? Yer .. I’m still here? But I thought .. I was dead.”

“Y .. you weren’t. Aren’t. You’re .. alive. I think.” Shilo gulped.

“Arg, is it dark in here? I can’t see a blasted thing ...” He broke off, suddenly lifting a paw to his face. “I .. It doesn’t hurt! The wounds .. it’s like they ain’t there .. I can’t see .. but .. there .. jist ain’t any explainin’ it .. Shilo, what happened?”

The rat bit his lip. “W .. well do you remember me saying .. I found somebeast when I went to deliver your message?”

Xzaris tried to brush hair stiff with dried blood out of his face as he shook his head. “No ..”

“W .. w .. well I did. I found a ghost see, the ghost of captain .. R .. Romsca.” Shilo gulped. “And pl .. please be quiet!”

“Romsca?” Xzaris lowered his voice. “Ghost? What are ya talkin’ bout, ya ain’t makin’ a bit a sense. Where’s Romsca?”

Shilo scuffed a paw. “R .. right beside you.”

Xzaris looked unconvinced for a moment, before reaching out. “But she’s out at sea same as we all were ..”

His paws came in contact with the motionless form crumpled next to him, and froze. “What ... Romsca?”

He pulled the cloak off, blindly finding her face and stroking it. “Romsca? Rom .. answer me! Please .. please answer me ..”

She didn’t stir, and Shilo raised a paw gingerly. “She .. w .. well .. I know it looks bad .. but actually, she’s fine. I .. I think.”

“What do ya mean she’s fine?” Xzaris snarled. “She’s dead! She’s .. dead. How kin ya even say that?”

“C .. cause she’s a ghost!” Shilo protested, voice a hiss. “And k .. keep it down! She’s a ghost, and ghosts can do that.”

Xzaris turned his head in the rat’s direction, stammering, “What .. what do ya mean .. ya make no sense! Ghosts ain’t real .. not really .. an’ Romsca ain’t a ghost!”

“A .. actually we found a lifeboat from her ship .. smashed on the shore after the storm .. y .. you arrived in. N .. now she reappeared .. and she has .. very .. gh .. ghostly properties. Sh .. she brought you back to life!” Shilo was serious.

Xzaris slowly put an arm under Romsca’s shoulders, lifting her a little. “Tell me what really happened .. Ublaz .. killed her, didn’t he?”

The ferret picked her up once he seemed to come to the realization she wasn’t going to move.

Shilo shook his head. “N .. no, he doesn’t know she’s here. She made me take her in here .. and then .. she sort of .. killed herself.”


“N .. not really like that .. she wrapped her hair around you .. and cut it .. and just .. d .. died. It glowed and .. you .. got better. S .. see what I mean? Sh .. she is a ghost!”

Xzaris turned a glare blindly upon him. “How is that possible? Yer .. ya .. gotta be lyin’ .. I can’t .. even ..”

Shilo held his paws out defensively. “I .. I know, I know! B .. but she .. really did! A .. and you don’t have any more wounds, do you?”

“I .. don’t. Not really ..” Xzaris admitted. “But .. this .. can’t be what it cost! It .. can’t.”

He hung his head, and Shilo looked at the dimly lit corridor outside. “L .. look .. we .. we’ve got to get out!”

Xzaris flattened his ears. “How? Nobeast escapes the palace!”

“Th .. the tunnel I brought captain Romsca through .. that’ll take us out.”

“Wait .. yer gonna tell me ya brought her here?” Xzaris groaned softly.

Shilo sighed. “Y .. yea that’s what I said .. she made me!”

“But why would ya do something like that?” Xzaris pulled Romsca against him, whispering, “Ya ought’a know how crazy she is ...”

“Sh .. she said she was a ghost! She said she’d haunt me forever if I didn’t!”

Xzaris glared at Shilo, growling, “She’s a liar, she’s been a habitual liar since we met! Don’t ya know that .. ya can’t trust her when she says stuff like that, she lies ta get what she wants!”

Shilo shook his head. “O .. oh no, sh .. she’s a ghost. Y .. you didn’t see .. her hair ..”

“Will ya shut up, she ain’t a ghost! Or at least she weren’t .. Romsca, I donno how ya did it .. but it ain’t worth yer life.” He whispered the last bit to her, ignoring Shilo.

The rat looked around, shivering. “W .. well, we have to g .. get out of here .. and we can’t leave her.”

Xzaris growled. “Leave her? Over me dead body .. who knows what Ublaz’d do .. let her rot in the central square lika criminal or feed her ta the lizards? Not on yer life. But can we git out? This is the palace!”

Shilo sighed with relief. “N .. now you’ll listen to me? I may not be the bravest ratguard .. but I am a ratguard, and I know a way out. The ancient escape tunnels.”

“But those were all filled in a hundred seasons ago.” Xzaris protested. “They were unstable, weren’t they?”

“Y .. yea, most of them. But I found one that was either .. f .. forgotten or left open on purpose. If you’ll do what I say .. I think I can get you out.”

Xzaris flicked his ears back. “Look .. I donno why you’ve helped ta this extent, but what ..”

“W .. what’s in it for me? W .. well if I had known how much trouble one little act of kindness would bring ... I’d likely have refused. I .. I’d have been sorry, but still would have refused.” Shilo groaned. “At this point captain Xzaris, I’m trapped. M .. my only hope is you. You and captain Romsca .. i .. if I did her a good turn here, maybe she’ll use her ghostly abilities to .. k .. keep me alive.”

He paused. “B .. but we’re going to h .. have to get past the guard.”

Xzaris sighed, and Shilo spoke again quickly. “H .. he’s a drinker, and he’s tipsy. W .. we’ve got to get through before his watch ends .. and we need a ..”

He looked down at Romsca’s cloak. “D .. disguise. I .. I know, you carry her while wearing the cloak .. walk hunched over .. j .. just like she did when I brought her in, and Rumgut won’t know the difference.”

“Carry her.” Xzaris seemed uncertain. “How far’d I be doin’ that?”

“T .. to captain Barranca’s manor .. sh .. she told captain Valentine to tell him were she was going.” Shilo picked up the cloak as Xzaris gently set Romsca down, shakily getting to his feet.

“I’ve gotta club foot, an’ even with two good legs ..” He broke off as he tested the immobile ankle, and started. “It .. it’s fine .. good as the day I was born .. I don’t unnerstand it!”

Shilo looked confused, and Xzaris sighed. “Even with two legs I donno if I can carry her that far. She’s downright heavy .. an’ bent over .. I don’t think I can. There’s gotta be another way.”

Shilo thought for a moment, before shrugging. “I .. I don’t know ... dragging her out in a sack would look suspicious.”

“Ya ain’t puttin’ her inna sack.” Xzaris gave him a dark look. “I don’t care if she is dead, ya ain’t. Maybe I could carry her on me shoulders.”

“Y .. yea .. that’s it! T .. then we put the cloak on you’ll look like a hunchback .. th .. that might work, let’s hurry!”

It took some work to get Romsca draped over Xzaris’s shoulders, and Shilo helped to pull the cloak on over them. He surveyed the effect. “I .. I think that .. sh .. should work.”

“Can ya please hurry?” Xzaris asked, his voice a little strained. “This ain’t easy on me neck.”

“R .. right.” Shilo grabbed the dangling end of the chain around his wrist, clamping it over Xzaris’s. “N .. now follow my lead.”

He pushed open the cell door, leading Xzaris into the corridor. The ferret’s voice was muffled. “I can’t see a thing unner this hood.”

“J .. just keep it over your face .. I .. I .. I’ll see you won’t run into anything, j .. just stay right behind me.”

Shilo grabbed the chain close to Xzaris’s wrist, holding his trident in the other paw. They slowly made their way toward the far end of the corridor, where the ratguard cautiously opened the door.

“Hoi, come ta have a drink after all?”

Shilo shook his head. “N .. not that I wouldn’t l .. like to Rum ... b .. but I gotta put this prisoner back. G .. General ch .. changed her mind.”

Rumgut shook his head. “S’never nice when the General changes her mind.”

“Y .. you c .. can say that again.” Shilo shivered. “I .. I .. I’d better hurry.”

“Oh, right mate. Don’t want ya on General’s bad side .. there’s only a few beast I’d wish that on an’ I ain’t sayin’ any names.” The guard shook his head.

Shilo nodded with a shiver, leading Xzaris away as quickly as he could without causing undue suspicion. He hurried down the twisting tunnels, stopping in front of a blank wall. Xzaris sniffed the air from under his hood, asking, “What’re ya doin’?”

The rat pressed his paw on a stone set in the wall, then stuck his small claws into a crack and pulled a section of it outward. “C .. come on .. I just had to open it.”

He led Xzaris in, then struggled to pull it shut with only one paw. The ferret fumbled to help him, grabbing the wall and pulling it shut with a scraping noise. He leaned against it for a moment, before Shilo muttered, “I .. I forgot a torch.”

“I kin tell, it’s pitch black in here.”

“S ... sure is .. l .. look, I can’t go back for a torch .. I think I can find the way out w .. without it.”

Xzaris sighed. “I hope ya kin .. is it night?”

Shilo nodded in the darkness as he started down the tunnel. “A .. Aye.”

“Which means the lizards’ll be everywhere.” Xzaris slowly grasped Romsca’s limp paw, hanging against his chest. “There’s no way we’ll make it across the city.”

Shilo didn’t answer right away, and Xzaris pressed. “Tell me ya have a plan?”

“Th .. the lizards are .. t .. terribly powerful.” The rat’s vioce echoed hollowly in the darkness. “B .. but they are very d .. dull witted. Th .. that is our only advantage, and .. I .. I’m not sure how much it’ll help us.”

“Not stupid enough.” Xzaris groaned. “They’re dumb .. but they ain’t that dumb, an’ because they are, I swear it heightens their feral instincts.”

“I .. I know. But it’s our only hope.”

Xzaris sighed. “We can’t stay here.”

Shilo paused, before leading the way along the tunnel again. “W .. we’re nearly there. It .. it’ll probably be almost two hours after sundown.”

He stopped again, as the soft glow of moonlight flooded the tunnel. “Right here.”

The two pushed through the thick bamboo, stepping into moonlit garden, turned shadowy and cold by the silver light. Xzaris pushed his hood up to see properly, before he looked around for Shilo. “Where are ya? Is it the new moon or somethin’? Nah, it couldn’t be .. is it cloudy? I still can’t see nothin’.”

Shilo was staring at him blankly, before he stammered, “Y .. you can’t .. s .. see? Y .. your eyes .. don’t .. l .. look quite right .. to be honest.”

“What’da ya mean, they don’t look quite right?” Xzaris blinked hard, shaking his head.

“W .. well .. they’re .. cloudy. A .. and covered in scars.” Shilo winced. “I .. don’t think .. wh .. whatever she did healed you completely.”

He paused, quickly adding, “B .. but .. maybe it’s healing .. sl .. slowly. W .. we can hope.”

Xzaris didn’t reply for a moment, before sighing, “Do ya know where me pike is?”

“N .. no idea.” Shilo shrugged, drawing a dagger. “B .. but you can h .. have this.”

The ferret took the knife, asking, “Where are we?”

“Th .. the palace gardens .. one of them. Th .. this one’s pretty o .. overgrown.” Shilo gripped the chain again. “F .. follow me.”

Their footsteps were soft in the quiet, misty night, and both were alert; Xzaris was sniffing the air constantly. The garden was tucked near the palace foundations, but soon they were out on the open streets again, and Shilo was in a terrible hurry. “I .. I’m not sure .. h .. how much time has p .. passed .. so I don’t know .. q .. quite where the patrols will be. An .. and we can’t be caught on the main streets .. w .. we’ll be instantly suspicious.”

He turned onto a small side street, leading Xzaris as quickly as he could. The streets were all but empty at this hour, as any wise beast had locked themselves in their houses. They made it a good ways without trouble, thanks to Shilo’s guesses at when the patrols would be where, and all in all, the city seemed to be lacking in Monitors.

Xzaris paused at the dark corner of street, muttering, “Shilo, I gotta set her down a moment .. I can’t do it anymore, me neck feels like it’s fit ta break.”

The small ratguard sighed. “I .. I guess. But c .. can you just carry her then? C .. cause we gotta keep moving .. wh .. when do you think she’ll wake up again?”

Xzaris scowled darkly at him, sightless eyes hollow. “Idiot. I donno what happened ta save me, I donno how she did it, but however it worked, it killed her.”

He yanked the cloak off, and Romsca practically fell to the ground, stopped only by his paws.

She was entirely limp, with no power to move, not even to breathe. Xzaris picked her up with some difficulty. “I donno why she did it or what she thought’d happen, but she’s dead, an’ fer nothin’.”

His voice broke a little. “Nothin’ at all.”

Shilo reached to pick up the cloak, but the chain pulled tight, and he paused. “I .. I don’t think we really .. n .. need this.”

He dug in the small satchel on his belt, a frown growing on his face, until he clapped his free paw to his forehead. “O .. oh no .. I didn’t .. I didn’t leave it in the hallway .. d .. did I?”

“Did ya?” Xzaris asked.

“W .. well General .. almost caught us .. and I had to hide it ..” Shilo groaned. “I .. if any Monitors see us .. w .. wer’re dead. W .. we won’t even have a chance.”

Xzaris didn’t say anything for a moment, then asked, “How close is Barranca’s manor?”

“I .. I’m not sure yet .. let’s k .. keep going.”

He stepped around the corner cautiously, but froze the next second at the sight of two Monitors slinking down the street. They saw him in the instant, and hissed, unfolding their frills, slinking forward.

Shilo backed away, the chain between him and Xzaris pulling tight as one of the creatures dashed forward, dealing the little rat a blow that sent him reeling into the wall of a nearby house like he weighed nothing.

Xzaris was yanked to the ground on top of Romsca as Shilo slammed into the wall with a little squeak, crumpling in a heap. Xzaris flattened his ears, clenching the hilt of the dagger tightly as he attempted to guess where the lizards were.

Shilo weakly lifted his head as the Monitor pounced on him, opening vice-like jaws with a hiss of triumph. There was a sudden swish of air being sliced; a flash of blue, and the next second the lizard crumpled to the side, headless.

Sayna stood over the young rat, pointing her sword at the remaining Monitor, which blinked at her, before taking several hasty steps back, hissing fearfully.

A shadow separated from those across the small side street and darted forward, double blades slashing at the back of the creature’s neck. They were deflected, and Arashi leapt back as the lizard turned its head, snapping at her. Barranca bolted out of his cover at that moment, thrusting his saber into the Monitor’s underbelly.

He ripped his weapon free the next second, darting back to escape the lizard’s death struggle, and it’s claws caught his leg, ripping into it. The stoat stumbled to the ground as Arashi sliced one of her katanas into the wound Barranca had inflicted, and the lizard fell still.

Sayna leaned on her sword, legs shaking a little. “We’ve .. got to dispose of the evidence.”

“Are you alright?” Barranca got to his feet slowly.

The mouse sighed. “Yes. Are you? It was you who was injured.”

“I’ll .. be fine.” Barranca winced, holding his bleeding leg off the ground.

Xzaris flicked an ear, sniffing the air for a second, before asking, “Capt’n Barranca? Who’s there?”

Sayna took one look at him and Romsca, before sighing, “She cut too much hair, didn’t she?”

Arashi hurried to her side, staring. Sayna was more disgusted than anything. “The little idiot. I thought I told her a thin lock .. she just healed him about five times over with what she cut. Oh .. I suppose I wasn’t very clear.”

“Is .. that Romsca? Is she .. dead?” Arashi sounded like she was bordering on being distraught.

Sayna sighed. “Yes, and yes .. now we need ..

Arashi grabbed the mouse, yanking her feet off the ground. “Yes? What do ye mean, yes?”

“I explained it to you, didn’t I?” Sayna looked unimpressed, boots dangling a few inches above the ground. “A word to the wise suffices, now please put me down.”

Arashi slowly set her down, as Barranca broke in. “She’s .. dead?”

Sayna scowled. “Are we going to stand in the street gawking over the obvious facts until more Monitors smell the fresh blood of these and come overpower us, or are we going to dispose of the evidence and get to the manor? Given the proper amount of time, she’s going to wake up, but if she’s eaten by lizards I assure you she won’t.”

Nobeast moved for a moment, before Barranca laid a paw on Arashi’s shoulder. “Mouse, you’re crazy. But you’re right to some extent. We need to get back.”

He led Arashi away, sighing, “We’ll deal with the Monitors.”

Sayna nodded, slowly kneeling beside the rat. She pulled his helmet off, holding a paw over his muzzle for a moment, before smiling softly. “You will be alright.”

She looked over at the gray ferret he was chained to, stating, “I assume you are Xzaris?”

He nodded silently, and something in his eyes made hers soften. “She will come back to you.”

“She was never mine.” His voice was flat. “She was hers. Always has been.”

Sayna smirked slightly. “I know that. But she will come back, none the less.”

He was silent a moment, before he muttered, “I donno who ya is .. I can’t even see ya, but death ain’t reversible, an’ any fool who’s lived a week kin tell ya that. Is there any way ta unchain me?”

Sayna stood up, raising her sword, before slicing down with it, snapping the chain in half with a clink. She sheathed the weapon, sighing, “Yes. I’ll carry the young rat .. that is .. if he is a friend.”

Xzaris sat up, nodding, “Aye. He is.”

Barranca and Arashi returned, and the stoat pointed at Shilo. “Who is that? That’s a ratguard, should we kill him here?”

“No!” Xzaris protested. “He .. helped us.”

Barranca looked suspicious, but nodded. “Fine. He doesn’t look like he’d be much of a problem if he turned out wrong.”

Sayna struggled to lift him, but Barranca pushed her away. “You keep that sword of yours ready, we may well need it. Hurry, everybeast.”

The stoat tossed Shilo over one shoulder effortlessly as Xzaris struggled to lift Romsca again. Arashi laid a paw on his arm, stopping him. “I’ll help ye.”

Sayna laid a paw on her sword hilt, before drawing it, the blade glowing faintly. “This will light the way. We must get back to the foxmaid and Durral, before worse happens.”

They moved at as fast a pace as they were able, Barranca saw to that. He was more nervous than he’d openly showed in seasons. Arashi didn’t speak a word or show emotion whatsoever. Sayna just focused on the task at paw.

It took longer than anybeast liked, but they reached the manor without incident. As they walked through the manor gates, Sayna sheathed her blade. “Honestly, I expected more resistance.”

“So did I.” Barranca seemed disturbed as he locked the gates. “It makes me wonder where they all are. We normally should have met ten or more just in doing that.”

Xzaris tripped on the stairs leading up to the porch, and Barranca scooped Romsca out of his paws, handing the rat to Arashi. “I’ll take her.”

Xzaris carefully got to his paws, and Sayna laid a paw on his arm, “I’ll help you.”

He nodded dumbly, as she asked, “You’re completely blind?”

“Seems so.” Xzaris scowled, before he turned a sightless gaze to the ground. “Why did she do it? She .. saved nothin’. I’d wouldn’t a been worth it before .. now I can’t do anythin’ .. Ublaz was right. He did make me worthless. Why .. would she do somethin’ like this?”

“Why?” Sayna smiled. “I find it interesting you continue to ask ‘why’ and not fret on ‘how’. Do you really want me to answer that question, or do you want to answer it yourself?”

“How kin I? Romsca .. will always be somewhat of a mystery. But this ..”

Sayna shrugged. “It’s not obvious to you? The gift of the Flower is not something easily given away, only one in a million is lucky enough to receive life at the cost of another. Do not take it for granted and wish the honor away, it is an insult to her .. she literally risked everything to save you, herself, and all of us too.”

Xzaris shook his head. “I know .. an’ fer nothin’.”

“She must not think so.” Sayna’s eyes hardened. “If you talk like that when she wakes up, expect her to be out of sorts.”

“What is with ya? First Shilo, an’ now ya too?” He stumbled through the doorway, scowling, “Leave me alone.”

Barranca gently set Romsca down on a nearby couch, before turning to Sayna. “Mouse, she’s dead. She won’t wake up.”

“I tell you she will!” Sayna clenched a paw. “And whatever you do, don’t bury her!”

Val came out of the kitchen, announcing, “The Abbotmouse wanted ta make supper capt’n Barranca, so I let him. Did ya find … Romsca ..”

She broke off as she saw the one she spoke of. “Romsca! What happened? Is she .. but she said ..”

Val pointed an accusing paw at Sayna. “But ya said .. ya said she wouldn’t die! How can she be dead .. me .. me sister.”

The fox backed against a wall, “Just .. like .. all the others ..”

A glittering tear coursed down her cheek, before she clenched her teeth in sorrow. “Why .. does it have ta happen? Why?”

Barranca was looking unwell, and he suddenly scowled. “You woodlanders are a curse I swear! Do you want to bring more death upon us than there already is?”

“We had nothing to do with ..” Sayna protested.

The stoat clenched a paw, before loosening it and interrupting. “I’m getting a drink.”

Arashi had stood stock still after depositing Shilo in a chair, but now she followed him. “I think .. I’ll have one too.”

Xzaris stumbled against a table, knocking an empty vase to the floor, where the glass shattered into a million bits. Shilo murmured, blinking his eyes open at this disturbance, and looked around in bewilderment. “Where .. am I .. I .. thought the Monitors ..”

He broke off as he noticed Sayna. “Wh .. who are you? Wh .. what happened?”

Sayna shrugged. “The lizards must have knocked you unconscious, and if you ask me, you’re lucky it wasn’t worse. My name is Sayna .. I’m just a .. friend of Romsca’s, I guess.”

Shilo rubbed his head, before relaxing against the back of the chair. “Ugh .. th .. this headache ... Where’s c .. captain Xzaris .. he didn’t get .. eaten, did he?”

“I’m right here.” Xzaris nearly tripped over a stool near the couch Romsca was lying on, but steadied himself and carefully sat on it.

“W .. well what about Romsca? I .. Is she ok?”

Xzaris pinned his ears, growling, “Does she look ok?”

Shilo shook his head, then winced from doing so. “N .. not really .. but I know she’ll come back .. she’s a ghost. I .. I .. s .. saw her hair. It gl .. glows, and only ghosts c .. can glow.”

“Will ya all jist have the decency ta shut up?” Xzaris groaned. “She’s dead! She can’t come back .. what kinda infants are ya? She .. she’s gone. I’ll .. never get ta see her again .. even if she was alive I’d never see her again .. so will ya jist stop with the nonsense?”

Shilo opened his mouth to speak, but Sayna held out a paw. “No, do as he wishes. Rest more if you need it. I will stand guard. Miss?”

Val looked up, and Sayna nodded. “Supper is fine, but we need a plan of action. Can you please try and get the others to realize it?”

“Why don’t ya talk ta them yerself?” Val sniffed.

“I get the feeling they don’t like me very much at the moment. Please. Do you want to be caught here? We need a plan of escape or remaining undercover.” Sayna’s black eyes glittered, before she walked out the front door, shutting it.

Val slowly stood, before walking down the hallway toward the kitchen, and Shilo stood shakily. “Th .. they don’t like .. r .. ratguards much .. d .. do they?”

Xzaris turned a sightless glare upon him, sighing, “Yer in capt’n Barranca’s manor, what’da ya really think?”

“C .. captain Barranca .. of .. th .. the Dragons?” Shilo paused. “I .. I think I’m going to .. go st .. stand guard with .. with her.”

He limped toward the door, hurrying out and shutting it behind him. Xzaris hung his head, rubbing a paw across his nose.

Silence filled the manor, broken only by an occasional soft stray noise from the kitchen. The ferret sighed heavily, finally allowing himself to think. Slowly, tears grew in his eyes, real, wet tears; something he’d figured was as lost as his sight was.

He found Romsc’s paw, slowly picking it up and muttering, “What’d ya do? Ya’ve done a lotta stupid things .. but this tops it all.”

She didn’t respond, naturally, and he would never have been this open with her if she could of. “I wish .. I coulda had the guts ta tell ya the truth .. but I never could. But fer what it’s worth .. I did. I love ya .. I never said .. cause ya never wanted that. But I was proud ta be yer friend .. yer fellow capt’n. I donno why ya chose me, those seasons ago. But ya did .. an’ now .. now this. I just wish .. I’d get a chance to ask ya.”

Her paw was as cold as death itself, and he tightened his grip. “I never will. Lord of the heavens .. Ignasa .. I asked ya a favor before .. I hardly dare ask again. But please .. give her back .. let her live again, me life ain’t worth hers.”

“And why do you think she amounts to so much more than you?”

The thought ran through his mind, and he was startled by it. Had he truly thought it?

“I ask, why?”

No, it was not him, it was a question. Xzaris sighed, murmuring, “Look at her family, her strength, her wealth .. I could be jealous .. but I feel inferior. I’m common dirt in comparison.”

“Then why aren’t you jealous?”

“Deep down .. maybe I am.” He hung his head. “I wanted ta be just good as her before I told the truth. I .. wanted ta prove somethin’, I guess. I wanted ta give her somethin’ instead a it always bein’ the other way around.”

Silence filled his thoughts once more, and he clenched his teeth. This .. was goodbye? How it ended?

In truth, he was numb. Of all the ways he’d thought these disasters might play out, it was not like this.

“It may be stupid an’ sentimental .. but I want ya back Rom. Ya was me first real friend, an’ while we’d scrap an’ argue sometimes .. ya never left. I want ta hear ya again .. see ya again .. why is this how it ends?”

He fell silent, and the silence was empty .. and he didn’t want it to end. Once it ended, time would have to move on, and more than anything, Xzaris wanted time to stop.

He gently set Romsca’s paw down, before burying he face in his own. There was nothing left. Moments passed as he clenched his teeth in sorrow. He’d known well that the day they all left Sampetra might be the last time he saw any of his friends, and it was all too true.

The next second his froze, every fiber of his body tense. For the silence was broken by a groan, then a sharp intake of breath .. he’d have given anything to see, and his voice trembled soflty, “Ro .. Romsca?”

She moaned, before muttering, “Did .. it work?”

Xzaris didn’t think about his next actions, clumsily grabbing her in a vice-like hug. His claws sifted through her hair as he did this, and for the first time, he realized how long it truly was.

“Xzaris ...” Her voice was still a mumble, though questioning.

She was limp, and while she could speak, it didn’t seem like she could move. Xzaris’s voice trembled a little. “Is .. is ya alright?”

Her words slurred together the slightest bit. “I .. can’t even move me claws ... an’ ..”

She paused, asking in her drowsy sounding tone, “Are .. ya holdin’ me, or is this ... some weird dream?”

Xzaris felt warmth creep across his cheeks, and he slowly laid her back down. Romsca let out a sigh. “Yer .. alright though. Thank .. Ignasa.”

“I ain’t.” He muttered.


“I ain’t alright .. ya almost died. No .. ya did. Romsca .. how could ya?”

Her voice was weakly sarcastic. “It was ya or me. Since I can die an’ come back ... logically it was me that had ta do it.”

“Ya terrified me!” Xzaris hissed crossly. “An’ what do ya mean .. die an’ come back?”

“I .. can do that.” She sounded tired and faint, something foreign to her. “It’s .. a long story, an’ .. I don’t really feel up ta tellin’ it at the moment. I’m glad yer alive matey.”

Xzaris froze as she laid her paw on his. He caught hold of it before it could slip off again, sighing heavily. “What’ll I do with ya anyway? Now ya have some sorta magic powers?”

“Actually, I’m dead .. an’ alive at the same time .. Sayna says I’m cursed.” There was a pause, and her paw went limp as she mumbled, “Yer a real mess .. yer hair’s everywhere, how can ya see?”

The feeling of joy faded away, and Xzaris closed his eyes. “I .. I can’t.”

“Wull get yer bangs outa yer face.” She was joking dryly, but there was nothing amusing about it.

“Nah .. Rom ... I ain’t gonna see nothin’ again. Ublaz made sure a that.”

Now she sounded confused, and her paw twitched in his. “But me hair’s .. supposed ta heal any wound. Yer sayin’ yer blind .. that can’t be right.”

Xzaris swept his hair away to reveal his ravished features, and Romsca’s paw clenched spontaneously. “That .. demon ..”

Her voice held an element of passion he only heard in it when she spoke of her father’s death or honoring him, and it felt odd to know she had this much feeling for his state. But then, it could be just another thing she was adding to her list to despise Ublaz for.

“He .. can’t have done this ta ya! Ya .. never deserved .. any a this .. Xzaris, why couldn’t ya have found those stupid pearls instead? Ya was always so much better’n me as a creature .. I .. I thought I could save ya, alla ya.”

Despite the loss and the fear of the future, warmth washed over him for a few seconds. She did care. “Rom .. I told ya when this started I hoped ya’d find those pearls, didn’t I?”

“Yea but ..”

He fumblingly laid a paw on her cheek, trying to recall her features perfectly through his claws. “I donno what ta do now, I’m jist what Kia always said .. worthless. But I did mean what I said. Looks like neither one a us got ‘em, but yer alive. An’ that’s what I really meant.”

Her face moved slightly beneath his paw, but he wasn’t sure if it was in a smile or a frown. “Xzaris .. why would ya value me life over yers?”

Tell her, just tell her ...

He sighed, but all that came out was, “Why’d ya? Ya proved the same.”

“I .. I ain’t that noble.” Her voice fell a little. “I had the power ta save ya, but if I hadn’t ..”

“Ya went ta all lengths ta keep me in the land a the livin’ .. I donno how, but ya did.” Xzaris protested. “Don’t lie ta me, not this time. Please .. I wanna tell the truth fer once.”

She spoke after a few minutes. “Yea. I’ve lived a lie too long.”

He felt a surge of hope, but she wasn’t quite understanding his meaning. “I can’t be a pirate no more Xzaris, an’ none a us can. Killin’ beasts is wrong .. woodlanders ain’t any different from us .. I mean .. yea, they is, but if anythin’ they’re better’n us. But I’m tired a servin’ me father’s murderer, an’ I’m tired a bein’ ruled by fear. It ain’t what I’m meant ta do in life, an’ it ain’t yer destiny either. Tell me ya agree with me .. please?”

The gray ferret didn’t move for a few seconds, before stroking her face gently, “Rom .. what’s with ya? Is ya ok?”

“Yea .. a lot has happened mate, but tell me .. tell me ya don’t like hurtin’ others at least.”

He could almost feel her passion radiate through him .. a spark of true vigor for life. Before she had been depressed, teetering on the edge of hopelessness, but now .. the change was wonderfully evident. It brought him hope, and he removed the paw from her cheek, rubbing it across his eyes.

“No. But ain’t that a pirate’s life?”

“It don’t gotta be. Sampetra weren’t always pirates .. if you look in me satchel, there’s a book .. from Holt Lutra. It claims we was once their allies!”

If Xzaris had possessed the power to stare, he’d have put it to use. This new Romsca .. was she even his Romsca? The girl he had played with as a child and come to love as an adult .. was it really her? But this vigor wasn’t new, he realized. It was what had been erased years ago.

“What happened ta ya?”

From the strength that was returning to her voice, he could imagine the shine in her determined eyes. He desperately wished to look into them, just one last time, but it would never happen.

“Xzaris. I don’t want ya ta freak out, but I follow Lord Ignasa. He .. saved me .. in more ways than one. Lask ... ripped me apart, but Ignasa put me back together .. inside an’ out.”

Her paw clenched around his, as her voice dropped a little. “I .. just hope you’ll fight beside me in this.”

A crooked smile ran across Xzaris’s face, and he tightened his grip. “I pray I’ll always fight beside ya. I .. I spoke ta Ignasa too, an’ I hoped ya’d understand the change. I donno how this could even work out, I’m helpless Romsca, but I know yer never gonna be that. An’ I kin stand at yer side as long as I survive.”

His face fell. “But who am I kiddin’ Rom. I’m over. All I kin hope is ta encourage ya. If ya’d take the help of a worthless beast ... well, I’ll be here.”

“Ya ain’t worthless Xzaris ...”

“Don’t lie ta us, it jist makes it harder.” Xzaris sighed deeply. “I’m glad ya ain’t dead, an’ I got somethin’ ta tell ya .. don’t ya dare die on me like that again, ok? Yer me dearest friend shipmate, an’ even if the world hates ya, I’ll always need ya.”

She gripped his free paw in a silent gesture, but he understood she meant she was grateful. After a few moments, she asked, “How did ya know ‘bout Ignasa?”

“Arashi told me .. she said nobeast was worthless, not ta him. An’ I believed .. dyin’ in prison. I sure was stubborn .. wonder what woulda happened if I’d listened when she’d told me.”

Her paw suddenly gripped his shoulder. “Yer for him?”

“He saved me too.” Xzaris couldn’t help himself, and hugged her tightly. “He sent ya.”

She didn’t move for a second, before her arms wrapped around him in return. “Thank the elements ... I mean, thank Ignasa.”

Blind or not, Xzaris allowed himself a grin that exposed his glittering fangs. Romsca let go, and he drew back as well, before she spoke again. “Who’s Arashi anyway? I don’t remember ya havin’ nobeast on yer crew named that.”

“She weren’t on me crew, I found her on the Isle of wrecked ships.”

Suddenly, Xzaris clenched Romsca’s paw tightly. “Rom! I fergot all about it but ... Arashi is yer mother!”

“I .. what?” Her voice was gaining strength, though her movements were still sluggish. “Me mother is dead, Conva said ...”

“But he was wrong. She’s alive .. an’ .. actually pretty upset right now.” Xzaris suddenly had the wish to go tell her, but the thought of making it down the hallway and to the kitchen was impossible. “She’s .. in the kitchen .. can ya walk?”

There was a creaking and Romsca tried to sit up, but fell back down with a groan. “Mmph .. still weak .. but I think so.”

The couch creaked again and the ferret’s boots made thumps on the hard wood floor as she stood. She gasped the next moment, almost in pain, and before Xzaris could move she collapsed on top of him. The stool he was sitting on fell over backwards with a crash as he fell into the low table in the middle of the room, and Romsca slumped helplessly over him.

“On second thought ..” She groaned, not trying to move. “Maybe not.”

Xzaris rubbed the back of his head where it had hit the edge of the table. There was a tingling under his claws, and the pain vanished in the instant. “What ...”

Romsca gripped his shoulder, trying to get to her knees, but it was worthless, and she just collapsed again.

“Ugg .. I give up.” Her voice was weak and disgusted.

Even as she said it, she fought to move, and Xzaris grabbed her. “Nah, stop it will ya? Whatever ya did ta save me hurt ya, an’ ya can’t spend energy like that yet.”

She relaxed in his arms just as footsteps sounded in the hall, and Xzaris blushed, realizing what this whole situation might very well look like. The steps stopped still, and Romsca turned her head, muttering, “Val?”

For two seconds, there was silence. Then there was a shriek of, “Ghost!”

“Val, will ya shut it .. I ain’t a ghost.” Romsca’s vioce was too faint to be heard over her friend’s shock.

Xzaris broke in sharply. “Val, shut up!”

She did so on the instant, and Xzaris got the mental image of the vixen backed against the doorframe, paw on her katana hilt, unsure whether to scream again or not.

“I’m alright Val .. I ain’t a ghost ..” Romsca’s energy had been spent on trying to stand, and now she seemed as weak as when she’d awoken.

“What’s ...” Arashi’s voice stopped instantly, and Xzaris mentally cursed not being able to see .. he didn’t even know where she was, because he didn’t know which way the door was.

However the next second there was a scuffling, and Arashi dropped to the floor beside him. “She’s ... alive?”

“I told you she would be.” The new voice added itself to the others, and Xzaris recognized it as the one who had tried to insist Romsca was fine earlier.

The ferret in question struggled to move again, mumbling, “I’m .. fine .. let me up Xzaris ..”

“Not a chance matey.” Xzaris got to his knees, lifting her back onto the couch. “Ya ain’t movin’ .. not fer a while anyway.”

Somebeast walked by him, adding on to his statement. “Oh no, I said the moment we reached a relatively safe place you were going to rest, and by heaven you will, even if I have to tie you to that couch.”

“Sayna ..” Romsca muttered in what sounded like weak frustration. “We’re in my uncle’s manor .. right? We can’t stay here!”

“You will stay here.” Sayna was adamant. “At least until we have a plan. But I suppose you should be in on it.”


A few explanations later, everybeast was gathered in the main foyer around the low table. Only Xzaris and Sayna seemed relatively at ease around Romsca, all the others were reserved, for various reasons.

Barranca pulled out a map, spreading it out, and Sayna asked, “Did you come up with a plan already?”

“Not me as such.” The stoat pointed at Val. “She has a crazy idea.”

She tossed her red hair, protesting, “It’s not that crazy!”

Arashi muttered something under her breath as Romsca asked, “Well, what is it?”

“Weeeell ... it kinda requires a backstory ta unnerstand. I .. know somebeast outside the wall.”

“You what?” Several voices rang out at once, Romsca half sat up, and then collapsed on the couch again.

Val held up her paws. “I know ... it seems weird. But I swear it’s true ... I helped someone, seasons ago, an’ he said he’d help me.”

“He?” Xzaris asked.

“Uhh .. yea. My friend.” Val didn’t seem excited to tell who it was.

Romsca pressed her. “What’s his name .. do we know him?”

Val frowned. “No ... uh .. maybe. Sorta. Ya .. gotta keep an open mind ‘bout this one. I know woodlanders is supposed ta be bad an’ all, but he ... needed help .. my help.”

“Woodlander?” Barranca broke in. “This is a woodlander?”

“Technically ... he’s an otter.”

Romsca gaped. “An .. otter? Ya .. helped an otter? Val ... Ublaz woulda murdered ya if’n he found out! Ya know how he hates them!”

“I know.” Val snapped. “An’ that’s why I did it!”

Her eyes flashed. “Ublaz thinks he’s got the right ta kill anybeast he wants ta. Like me little brother. An’ this time .. he lost out ta an undersized vixen with red hair. Ha!”

“Ya have a point, I suppose.” Romsca sighed. “I’d probably try the same thing.”

Xzaris raised an eyebrow. “How long ‘go was this?”

Val cast a glance at the ornamental rug on the floor. “Eight seasons ago.”

“Wait.” Romsca broke the silence. “Ya can’t ... that’s ... that’s when dad was killed .. ya don’t mean one’a those otters, do ya?”

“Uhh ... yea.”

“Which one? They were all dead right?” Romsca laid a paw on her forehead. “They ... were my responsibility. Val, why didn’t ya tell me?”

Val hugged her knees, laying her chin on them. “I .. I couldn’t. Yer me awesome pirate sister. An’ ya was one’a me first friends .. ya an Conza and Xzaris. I knew if I told ya .. an’ Ublaz found out .. ya’d be killed. An’ I didn’t wanna blame myself fer somethin’ like that.”

She sighed. “It was hard keepin’ it from everybeast, but .. I did. Til now.”

There was silence, and Val grinned sheepishly. “On the bright side, we have an ally in the wilds.”

Sayna spoke up. “Can you really trust him?”

“Well .. I think so.” Val folded her paws together. “He doesn’t like vermin ... kinda understandable, that, but we got along fine. He’s me friend, an’ he said he’d help me cause I helped him. After all .. we don’t have much of a choice.”

“That’s fer sure. Ublaz or ghosts?” Romsca growled.

Barranca pointed to the map. “I’d say ghosts. We don’t know they’ll find us, we might be able to avoid them.”

“But what exactly are they?” Sayna interrupted. “Romsca said she didn’t know, and mentioned huge tooth marks on bones. That sounds more like those Monitors than some supernatural creature.”

Arashi nodded. “Aye, I thought that too.”

“It’s a good theory, but only in theory. Ublaz rounded them all up; even the ones he doesn’t have on his guard. He keeps them in some sort of nesting area.” Barranca shook his head. “No, I’m afraid whatever’s out there is like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Romsca raised a paw for a moment, and then dropped it again. “I have a solution. Me ship is docked around the island a ways. She don’t gotta scrap a food left on her, or a drop a fresh water, but we could take some. Anyway, it’s better’n barging into the wilds at night.”

There was a pause, and Xzaris nodded. “I’m fer that.”

“Yes.” Sayna agreed. “If you’re blind, you’d be dead meat in a battle with monsters.”

“Aye. Thanks.” Xzaris sounded sarcastic.

Durral had been sitting silently, but now he protested. “Back to that horrible, rocking ship? I was just getting used to dry land again ... would we really be safer there? Didn’t you say the monsters attack ships?”

“Not ships the size a Waveworm Abbotmouse.” Romsca shook her head. “Not normally.”

Arashi added in. “Aye, and if we stay here, it’s just a matter of time before we’re caught. Then, let me assure ye, there will be no escape.”

“Alright ...” Durral groaned.

“There’s a problem, tanight’s the best night ta git out .. how does Romsca make it?” Xzaris asked.

Romsca tried to sit up. “I can walk …”

She fell back with a groan, and Sayna shook her head. “No, you can’t. However I noticed there are two horses in your stable, captain. Can they swim?”

Barranca nodded. “Of course, most horses on Sampetra are trained to do so.”

“Then we’d better take them with us. They may come in handy.”

Durral shuffled his paws. “If .. we’re really leaving, maybe I should pack some food?”

“Good idea Durral.” Sayna nodded firmly. “I can help with that.”

Barranca looked slightly suspicious, as if wondering if they would poison it, but he gave in. “Hmph. I suppose. Arashi, could you show them where everything is? I’ll saddle the horses.”

He pointed at Shilo, standing silent in the doorway. “And what do we do with him?”

“He’s coming with us.” Sayna laid a paw on the little rat’s shoulder, and he smiled the tiniest bit.

“Aye, but can I trust him?” Barranca crossed his arms.

Shilo stepped forward, laying his ears flat against his neck and kneeling, “C ... captain ... I .. can’t go back to being .. a r .. ratguard. I ... I don’t want to .. either. I .. wish t .. to swear allegiance to you.”

“He’s the leader?” Romsca asked from the couch.

Barranca’s features softened, and he chuckled. “You know, there are technically four captains in this room.”

“W ... well you’re the .. oldest.” Shilo looked nervous. “I … I thought that would .. m .. make you the final authority.”

For the first time in a long while, the stoat laughed. “Ha ... son, is that how the ratguard functions? The oldest is the leader?”

“W .. well .. n .. not always …”

Barranca winked at Romsca. “He has a point, don’t you think? But in all honesty, captains are equals. They rule their own crews, but they don’t rule each other.”

“Y .. yes I .. I know that ..” Shilo looked embarrassed.

Sayna clapped him on the back. “I think you broke the ice. Can you saddle a horse?”

The rat nodded. “O .. of course.”

Arashi stood, motioning Durral follow her. Sayna moved to follow them, but pointed a claw at Romsca as she did so. “You stay put.”

She gave Xzaris a look. “You see she does.”

Barranca led Shilo out the front door, and Val followed them. “Hey, I can help.”

Arashi and the two mice left for the kitchen, and Romsca sighed. “Sayna’s good at giving orders, ain’t she?”

“She’s ‘bout as good as a capt’n.” Xzaris agreed.

“Well she said she was a queen once.” Romsca closed her eyes. “Guess that’d explain her bossiness.”

Xzaris smiled faintly. “She saved ya, didn’t she?”


“Then I kin take some orders from her, she’s worthy a that.”

Romsca didn’t open her eyes, but a smile stained her muzzle. “At least our family’s back tagether. Sept Rasconza ... pray fer him matey. The wrath of Ublaz ain’t easy ta bear.”

Xzaris slipped his paw into hers. “Pray with me .. that there would be a solution ta this. That one day, we might all be tagether again. Someday.”

“Aye.” Romsca sighed. “Someday.”


The lights of Sampetra looked far different from above then on the ground. Like a patch of starlight had fallen from the heavens and taken residence on earth.


The silvery white wolf looked up from where he was gazing into the fountain in Ignasa’s courtyard. The speaker trotted to his side, a wolf with snow white, nearly glowing fur. “What are you occupying yourself with at this time?”

“Watching the mortals.” Aquilo shook his head. “Something is changing, Malcheus.”

“I know. You’ve felt it too, then?”

The silver-tipped wolf nodded. “I think we all have. The balance of the world is shifting like it only did once before.”

“Ah, those days.” Malcheus sat down beside his friend. “Long lost to the mortal’s history, or at least, mostly. The pearls will be unleashed again.”

Aquilo turned his head slightly. “But it will be different this time. Even we do not understand why our Lord left the pearls in the realm of mortals.”

There was a soft breath behind them, and the two looked around quickly, before bowing low.

Ignasa sat between them, looking into the fountain for a moment. “Because they are a reminder. A reminder for beasts to follow the light instead of darkness. Sadly, the evil of the world around them plays with the mortal’s minds … but they still have a part to play.”

His eyes betrayed deep sadness, and the two wolves let their ears droop. Malcheus hung his head. “We ask your forgiveness Lord.”

“We did not mean disrespect.” Aquilo added, in his soft voice.

“And I did not come to judge.” Ignasa smiled. “You are my captains, and I have a task for you.”

The two sat up straight as the cat switched his tail. “From among the ranks, find the strongest, the swiftest, the bravest, the kindest, and the wisest. We prepare for war, but a war unlike the others we have fought. There is always war in the heavens when there is war on the earth, however this time, the warriors of heaven will fight on the earth. Your mission is to guard all those who follow me.”

“Yes sire ...” Malcheus looked slightly confused, but he bowed his head. “It shall be as you say.”

Ignasa nodded. “Good. And from the ones you choose, choose seven. These will have the hardest task of all, to defend the seven mortals who are given the pearls. At this time, they are not all my followers.”

Aquilo blinked. “Milord, if they do not follow you, their minds are exposed to Malimore’s attacks ... how do we guard them against that? If Malimore knows who they are ...”

“He will spare no expense to warp their hearts into his evil.” Ignasa’s words were laced with certainty. “So for the sake of the ones I call, the seventh is hidden until the darkest hour.

The beast must be defended at all costs, but they must also be defended in secret.”

Malcheus and Aquilo exchanged glances, before nodding. “Yes Lord.”

Ignasa laid his muzzle on each of their foreheads. “I will give you the strength you need to face this. Be strong my warriors, let the courage of lions flow through your veins ... and do not fear the darkness.”

He turned to the fountain, eyes glowing softly. “A new age is coming. An age like none other.”

The End

Oh the waves crash in, the tide pulls out,

It’s an angry sea but there is no doubt,

That the lighthouse will keep shining out,

To warn the lonely sailor.

The lightning strikes and the wind cuts cold,

Through the sailor’s bones and the sailor’s soul,

Til there’s nothing left that he can hold,

Except the roaring ocean.

And I am ready for the storm,

Yes I’m ready oh,

I am ready for the storm,

I’m ready for the storm.

And oh give me mercy for my dreams,

Cause every confrontation seems,

To tell me what it really means,

To be this lonely sailor.

But when the sky begins to clear,

And the sun it melts away my fear,

I can promise you that I’ll return,

Alive for you to love me.

And I am ready for the storm,

Yes I’m ready oh,

I am ready for the storm,

I’m ready for the storm.

~ From Ready for the Storm, a Celtic ballad

Final Note

The Ocean’s Echoes is finally done! So far the book that took the longest to write ... (glares at youtube) But seriously, I’m working on three books at once *sigh* tiring.

Anyway, life’s .. not necessarily been bad to me, but it’s been //very// busy. Agh. *dies* It’s not even funny. Not even. DX So that’s why updates are irregular.

But! I did it. So you can give me a cookie now. (Nah, jkjk. I’m the one who gives the cookies) ;P *Gives everyone chocolate-chip cookie ice cream sandwiches* (Yea, guess what my favorite treat is at the pool XD best thing ever, since french-fries dipped in chocolate ice cream) What? That’s weird? :P

Ack, this has been a hard road. I’m stuck in a writer’s block crisis, but I write anyway. And here it has paid off. :D

So, without further ado I present to you (*coughcough* three months behind schedule) Tears of the Ocean book three; Seven Tears Shed! :D

~ Sayna Romsca Romsca for signature The Terror of the seas 20:44, June 25, 2016 (UTC)

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