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Summary:

When Noonvale is attacked, a small party of Woodlanders sets out to locate their one hope of salvation: Martin the Warrior.

Dedicated to my family- Dad, Mom, V, B, J, and Z. Also for Rose, Finnbarr Galedeep, Skarlath, Felldoh, and for Ares. You were a true warrior and will live on in Lord Resa. Look out for spoilers from Martin the Warrior, Mossflower, The Legend of Luke, Outcast of Redwall, and Doomwyte.

All credit to Sambrook for that Wicked pic of Zounzdican! :D (which will be put back at the beginning of Book Two, Book One is the only place all the questers are assembled together, so it seemed like the best place for it.

All credit to LPG for the questers!



Prologue: Enter the Players

Whispering voices roused him from a deep sleep. His battle instincts, long unused, caused him to move quickly as he pulled his dagger from its place hanging above his bed, careful not to wake his slumbering wife. He noted with dismay the patches of rust and corrosion pitting the blade to the point of uselessness. He should have maintained it.

He opened the door outside and followed a faint light. It reminded him of that long night so many seasons ago, back when he had been a young 'un. He smiled, recalling his long-gone best friend's cocky smile and wholesome laugh.

The light entered Noonvale's library and he followed in silence. He lost it for a minute amidst the dusty shelves and old tomes, but arguing and sleepy voices soon got him back on track. “Wanga, why yoo bwing us here?” a cross Dibbun he recognized as his own son Riordan demanded, “I tired!”

He shook his head in amusment and sheathed the blade. Dibbuns. He should have known. The squirrelbabe Ranga was climbing a high shelf, scanning the titles as she responded to her inquisitive friend. “Wemember da stowy yoo Daddy wead us wast nigh'? Welw, da second book's here.”

“Dere's anover stowy wiv Martin ee Wurrior?” a plump harebabe asked.

Ranga nodded. “Yes. It after war wiv Badwung, back when Mommy and Daddy were likkle!” There were gasps.

“Dat old? Wow!”

“Did they figh' in da big battle!” Ranga squealed in triumph and pulled a tome nearly as big as she was from the shelf and threw it onto a nearby armchair. She nimbly leaped after it and opened it to the first page. She cleared her throat and began to read aloud, stumbling over the longer words. The adult who had followed them smiled as he heard long dusty memories brought into the light at last from the dark recesses of his mind. Ah yes. Those were the days. Back when he was young and strong, and free as the wind. Back when many friends who were now dead walked the world and were alive. Ah, yes. Those were the days . . .



Book One: The Chosen

48 Seasons Before, in the Summer of the Shining Water





5eige Group LPG

Chapter One: Zounzdican

Night had fallen over the village of Noonvale. Somewhere in the murky blackness, an owl hooted thrice, adding to the sense of foreboding and danger. On this night, precisely eight seasons ago, Badrang the Tyrant had slain Laterose of Noonvale. Unaware of the night's significance, two rats were bumbling blindly around in the woods. The older of the two was a bulky rat appropriately named Fatgutt. He leaned on a halberd, and a rusty iron helm graced his head. His companion was not very old- only aged about 12 seasons, but his face was scarred with traces of past battles, most notably the slash across his left eye. His name was Ripred, and his preferred weapon was a sabre.

“Admit it, we're lost.” Ripred said, more than slightly annoyed, “This is the second time we've passed that tree in an hour!"

"Come on, there's only one way left!" Ripred rolled his eyes but followed the older rat.

"What're we looking for, anyways?"

"Didn't ye listen? Her Ladyship gave precious orders-"

"Precise!" muttered Ripred.

Fatgutt dealt the young rat a blow. "Shud up, numbbrain! Anyways, she told us to scout out these woods and report anything of interest, like villages or fortresses."

The two vermin continued on their way, arguing. Silence descended once more on the woods- but not for long. A compact figure slid down the trunk of a nearby tree. Another popped out from behind a bush. The two converged in the center of the clearing. "Come on, Brome, let's follow 'em!" the second figure whispered. The first nodded and they followed the pair.

In the eight seasons since Badrang's defeat, Brome of Noonvale had grown much. He was now a very skilled healer, though still small for his age. His companion towered over him- though this was to be expected. Being the oldest otter at Noonvale, Keyla was taller than most of the populace, except Rowanoak and Ballaw De Quincewold. The pair crouched behind a rocky outcropping and peered over it. "By the fire, would you look at that!"

It was a massive army. Ferrets, foxes, weasels, stoats, and rats, a mass of unruly vermin- all led by a single pine marten. Her name was Zounzdican the Evil. Unlike most females, she scorned dresses, preferring instead the rough tunic and spiked armor of a warlord. In her paw rested a barbaric sword- longer and wider than your average claymore. It boasted barbs running up and down the blade, a pair of which stood at the tip of the sword, larger and even more fiercer than the rest. It looked rather heavy, but she easily wielded it with one paw. Her eyes were like two chips of stone, and just as cold. This was Zounzdican the Evil, Warbeast of the North.

"An army of vermin!" gasped Brome.

"That big 'un's about to speak," Keyla shushed. His eyes locked on her. Somewhere, in his mind's eye . . .

The gale bristled with thunder and flashed with lightning. He felt the hot passion of hate washing over him as he stared at the prostrate body of his father, blood pouring down his head. Something poked him and the memory vanished. Brome looked at his otter friend worriedly. "You alright?" Keyla shook his head to clear his thoughts. Whatever that was, it was gone now.

"Tell ye later," he muttered, eager to get off the topic, "Now shush."

"We are starting a new life here." Her voice rang and echoed off the rocks, intensifying her eloquent tone. "Here in the Northlands, we can regroup. Grow strong once more. And when we are, we will take vengeance." Deafening cheers rang from the shore. Keyla and Brome had to cover their ears until it died down. "If you remember, we were bested once by a tribe of mice from Mossflower Woods. Pah!" She spit on the ground in disgust. As well as dressing like one, she had the atrocious manners of a searat captain. "We shall conquer what ever pitiful tribes are left here. And then on to Mossflower, to exact our revenge! What is our goal?" her voice was screeching now, so high with rage you could hardly hear it.

All the vermin cried as one, "Revenge! Revenge!"

"And who will lead you to victory?"

"You, O Evil One!" Several rocks shattered under the intense sound waves.

"I think we've seen enough,” Brome muttered. Keyla tore his eyes away from the strangely familiar pine marten and nodded.

"You're right, mate. Let's get out o' 'ere while we can." They slipped off into the blackness.

On this night, precisely eight seasons ago, Badrang the Tyrant had slain Laterose of Noonvale.


Chapter Two: Prophecy

Extract from the writing of Germaine, first Abbess of Redwall, as dictated to Bella of Brockhall. Life at our abbey has been calm for many seasons now. Gonflet and Chugger, along with a season old Dibbun named Ivy have become tight friends- there is a constant watch on the Abbey kitchens now. Trimp, Vurg, and Beau have made their permanent home here at Redwall. Beau has become Assistant Cook to Goody Stickle. Despite his age, he is still an excellent cook, one that Redwall can be proud of. Martin, our Abbey Warrior, has been spending much time with the Dibbuns lately. I notice that he always seems melancholy round this time and season, though I have no idea why- even he seems to have no idea himself. A drought has come upon us. I incorporated the pond into the plans for the Abbey- all that is left of the flood tunnels we used to bring down Kotir. Now even if the generations to come have a drought this terrible, they will have an undying source of water.



***

"An army, you say? How many?"

"Ten thousand, at least."

There were gasps of horror around the council room. Urran Voh sighed and put his head into his paws. First Badrang, now this.

"Ten thousand? We'll be massacred!"

"Our children!"

"We must leave!"

"I'm not going!"


"Silence!" Everybeast turned in surprise to the normally soft-spoken Brome. "Shouting and panicking won't get us anywhere. My father-your chieftain- is talking, I suggest you listen." He nodded to Urran and sat back down.

Urran Voh turned to the populace. "The situation is grim, my friends. We are not warriors. We are healers, thinkers, creators. We know little of such matters. And so I have decided to reinstate the Fur and Freedom Fighters. Barkjon, Keyla, Ballaw, and Rowanoak know more on this subject than we do- you'll be in good paws. Now, does anybeast have any other ideas?" Almost immediately, Keyla's paw was in the air. "Yes, Keyla?"

The young otter stood and surveyed the populace. "Eight seasons ago, we faced a similar threat to our freedom. We faced Badrang the Tyrant, but overcame it with help." The otter's cerulean eyes were determined. "I vote we seek out that help." Urran Voh felt cold anger ignite with in him as he realized what the young otter was saying. Keyla's sea blue eyes met Urran Voh's. "I move we go to find Martin the Warrior." Conflicting murmurs ran through the populace.

Urran Voh, nearly blind with anger, managed to speak calmly. "Keyla, I need to talk to you in private." Almost as soon as they were out of earshot he turned on the young otter. "Are you mad? I wouldn't let Martin within a thousand miles of Noonvale if he was the only hope of peace!" Keyla waited while Urran continued his rant.

When he reached a stopping point, he spoke his argument. "That just shows how bitter ye are." Urran Voh opened his mouth to respond, but Keyla continued. "You're looking for someone to blame for Rose's death, and Martin makes a logical scapegoat. But he had nothing to do with it. He put her as far away from the action as possible. I know. There was little fighting where she was."

"Then how come she died?"

Keyla fought to control his rising temper. "Because Badrang was such a coward that he tried to escape through the tunnel dug. He hacked at Grumm, and Rose hurled herself at him. He threw her against the wall and you know the rest."

"If you know so much about it, where were you during all this?"

"Saving Brome's hide!" Their voices had both raised a few decibels by now, but they were too angry to care.

"I can't. You don't know what it's like, Keyla. To lose one you love."

The otter's blue eyes were filled with grief. "You at least remember Rose. I have few memories of my father and mother. Snippets of a lullaby, a voice, the rocking of a ship- scattered fragments of a previous life." Keyla laughed bitterly. "At least you were spared the sight of seeing Rose die. The only memory I have with clarity is seeing my father fall to the deck, covered in blood. At least you did not see that happen to Rose. Why can't you give Martin a chance?"

Urran Voh shook his head. "My verdict is final."



***


"Make your report." Her voice was curt.

"My Lady, we found this at a rocky outcropping just above our landing place." He handed her Keyla's sling. She examined it critically then sniffed it. "An otter's sling. Of otter make, and it reeks of otter too." She threw it over her shoulder carelessly. "Were there any footprints?" she inquired.

"Yes, my lady."

"Where did they lead?"

"We thought we'd report before we followed it, my l-" She slew him on the spot, the barbs on her sword ripping through his flesh. He didn't even have time to gasp, and if he did, he never heard it. She glared at the rat behind him. "Congratulations. You've just been promoted. Now follow those footprints! Do you understand?" The last words were a full-throated roar. The scouts fled. She settled back with a sigh. Idiots. They were the younger, unexperienced vermin. She'd have to keep them on their paws.



***


A door slammed and all of Noonvale looked up as Urran Voh walked into the room, with Keyla stalking in tow. The way his father ground his teeth and curled his lip, the way his friend's blue eyes sparked and his fists clenched was like an open book to Brome. Both were angry, presumably at each other. Keyla stalked over to Brome and sat next to him, still muttering angrily under his breath. Urran Voh stepped back up. "We decided that getting Martin was not a good idea, for tactical reasons-"

"Try personal," Keyla wrathfully growled. "

-And we have no idea where he is," finished Urran Voh. "Now, if anybeast has any other ideas-"

Without warning, Brome shrieked, a high, piercing, heartbroken sound, and fell off the scaffolding to hard rock where he lay unmoving.



***


Brome saw it happen, plain as day. The pine marten from last night was laughing like a maniac. Her sword was covered in blood, and at her paws lay corpses. Dad. Mum. Grumm. Keyla. Ballaw. Rowanoak. Tullgrew. All these and more lay dead, slain by the pine marten. He screamed and felt a paw on his shoulder. "This is what will happen should you fail."

“Martin?”

The other mouse had an apologetic look about him. "I'm Matthias, not Martin." For the first time, Brome saw the female standing next to Matthias. Rose! Before he could say anything, she began to speak:

"In Mossflower Wood, which grows thick and deep Where is the Warrior who will answer thy call? To lose to the Warbeast shall demand a cost steep; You shall find the Warrior at the Abbey of Redwall"


Rose stopped speaking, and Matthias took over:


"To seek the Warrior, who shall proceed? Which five travel forth through danger at need? First of the five, the first to be shown-

Healer of Wounds, thy skills will be known.

Next, Otter the swimmer, slinger of stone.

Your constant companion, whether you laugh or moan.

Player must go, though she be filled with fright,

Singer of song, and dancer of light.

Then the thrower of javelins- my words thou shalt heed,

Freed slave from Marshank, your presence we need Lastly, the strong, loyal digger of rows, A close friend to Rose- in thy heart still she grows."



An eerie silence followed. After a minute, three voices spoke in unison- Matthias, Rose and Felldoh. It was eerie; the way they spoke in unison- a dead healer, a slain hero, and an as of yet unborn Warrior. That just made the chanted lines all the more terrifying:


Tarry not, continue on your way When two have fallen in the land without rain, Beware the little folk, flee away, Do not trust their sweet refrain. One more shall be lost at the River Moss, An expense to Stormfin but to thee a gain.


Chapter Three: Parley

"Where did the footprints lead?" she asked with a frown. Hopefully, this rat was smarter than those other idiots she's met earlier.

"It led to that Loonvalley place."

"How many full-grown woodlanders were there?"

"Hmm, uh, no more than uh, two hundred? . . ."

Luckily, she didn't notice the question in his voice.

"Good. I want every member in my army fully armed and ready to march in one hour. I'm promoting you to second in command."

She reached into her cloak and produced a brooch in the likeness of a cobra ready to strike- identical to one she wore on her shoulder. "This is a sign of your rank." She roughly pinned it on his left shoulder. "I had a black cloak here somewhere- if you find it, you can have it. Now, don't fail me- one hour."

"Yes my lady." He ducked out the door with a slight frown. He had seen young ones at Noonvale. He didn't feel very comfortable attacking little 'uns. The others could call him soft if'n they wanted, but he wasn't going to hurt innocent babes.


***

Their conflict forgotten for the moment, Keyla and Urran Voh hovered by Brome's still form. "What happened, Keyla?"

"He screamed and fell. That's all."

"He's coming to!"

Brome groaned and sat up, holding his head. "What- what happened?"

"You fell off the scaffolding," Keyla said, "You were lucky you didn't land on yer 'ead."

"Brome, are you alright?" Urran Voh asked anxiously.

"I'm fine." Brome's eyes fell on the Laterose bush. His eyes widened. "Father, Rose sent me a message."

Urran Voh stared at his son. "She what?"

"Yes, Rose. And Felldoh." Barkjon stifled a gasp. "And some guy named Matthias who looked an awful lot like Martin . . ."

"What did they say?" Keyla asked.

"In Mossflower Wood, which grows thick and deep Where is the Warrior who will answer thy call? To lose to the Warbeast shall demand a cost steep;

You shall find the Warrior at the Abbey of Redwall"

"To seek the Warrior, who shall proceed?

Which five travel forth through danger at need?

First of the five, the first to be shown-

Healer of Wounds, thy skills will be known.

Next, Otter the swimmer, slinger of stone.

Your constant companion, whether you laugh or moan.

Player must go, though she be filled with fright,

Singer of song, and dancer of light.

Then the thrower of javelins- my words thou shalt heed,

Freed slave from Marshank, your presence we need

Lastly, the strong, loyal digger of rows,

A close friend to Rose- in thy heart still she grows."

Tarry not, continue on your way

When two have fallen in the land without rain,

Beware the little folk, flee away,

Do not trust their sweet refrain. One more shall be lost at the River Moss, An expense to Stormfin but to thee a gain.

"What does it mean?" a frustrated Brome finished.

"It means," Keyla began with a triumphant look at Urran Voh, "That we have to go find Martin."

Urran Voh's face darkened. "Keyla, we've been through this already-"

"It makes sense," mused Aryah,

"In Mossflower Wood, which grows thick and deep Where is the Warrior who will answer thy call? To lose to the Warbeast shall demand a cost steep; You shall find the Warrior at the Abbey of Redwall"

"She even went so far to even tell us where to find Martin."

"I can't believe you're considering this, Aryah," Urran Voh whispered brokenly.

"It's our only hope," she whispered softly, taking his paw.

Keyla placed a paw on the Chieftain's shoulder. Urran Voh was quiet, then he exhaled and slowly nodded. "You're right."

"To seek the Warrior, who shall proceed? Which five travel forth through danger at need? First of the five, the first to be shown- Healer of Wounds, thy skills will be known,"

Tullgrew quoted after a minute. Her brow furrowed "Basically, it's asking five of us to go find Martin. How do we know who the first of the five is?"

"It's me," Brome said softly, avoiding his father's gaze. "She showed me what would happen if we failed, and I was the first of the five questers to know of this."

"Here I draw the line!" Urran Voh burst out angrily. "Brome, you are not going!"

"I must. Father, Rose told me to go. Healer of wounds, thy skills will be known. What if I don't go and somebeast dies?"

He had nothing to say to that. "Continue," he muttered. Brome recited the next two lines.

”Next, Otter the swimmer, slinger of stone. Your constant companion, whether you laugh or moan.

"Keyla, guess you're on this boat as well."

The otter nodded. "Aye. I'm one o' two otters here at Noonvale, an' I'm with ye constantly. Got to be me."

"Why not Tullgrew?" asked Celandine.

"'Cause she uses javelins. Me, I still think nothin' beats a good sling."

Well, Urran Voh thought with relief, Keyla's no pushover. Least he won't let anything happen to Brome.

"
Player must go, though she be filled with fright, Singer of song, and dancer of light.

"Player? What's a player?"

"A Player, old lad, is a thespian! A flippin' actor! One of us Rambling Rosehip Players is in on the fun! Righto, time to pack my bags, toodle pip!"

"Sorry, Ballaw, it's not you."

The hare attempted to take a bite of pastie and speak at the same time but failed miserably. "Groomffansmoch!"

"Just live with it, Ballaw," chuckled Rowanoak, "If Keyla's going on the quest, somebeast needs to supervise the slingers."

"I was saying that- oh, never mind. Pack, up Celandine, guess you're the lucky quester!"

"Ballaw, don't joke!" Tullgrew said reproachfully.

"I don't think that was a joke, Tull'," Keyla said. Singer of song and dancer of light.

Celandine went pale. "Leave Noonvale? And go to potentially hazardous country?! Ohh-" she fainted and Buckler caught her.

Brome began cracking the next line.

Then the thrower of javelins- my words thou shalt heed, Freed slave from Marshank, your presence we need."

Before anybeast could say anything, a shout came up and a sentry ran over. "Vermin approaching!!"


The two rats waited outside of Noonvale. "How do you think it'll take them to notice us?" asked Fatgutt impatiently. A sentry ran from the outskirts of Noonvale into the centre of the village.


"Looks like they just did," Ripred replied.

"Father, don't go!" Brome cried, grabbing his father's arm, "They're armed!"

"I must, Brome. I must try to avert war."

"At least don't go alone," Keyla said, pulling Amballa's sword from its place on the wall and thrusting it into his belt.

Tullgrew joined the twain, holding a stave. "They're right." -


"Put down your blade, waterdog," snarled Fatgutt.

Keyla bristled angrily. "Once you drop your halberd!" Tullgrew placed a paw on his shoulder.

"Ignore him, Keyla. He's baiting you."

Urran Voh ignored the exchange. "What is it you wanted to say?" he inquired calmly.

"Will you surrender to Zounzdican the Evil, Warbeast of the North?"

"What are the consequences if we choose to fight?"

"Then Her Ladyship will wage all-out war on you. You will all be slain- down to the last babe!" Fatgutt said with a smirk.

How did I get in this mess again? wondered Ripred, You were stupid enough to run into Zounzdican. Then you have two choices. Join or die.

Urran Voh looked unnerved by Fatgutt's blood thirsty proclamation. "And if we surrender?"

"Don't!" Keyla hissed.

"Then we will enslave you and yours. All property will belong to Zounzdican and her horde. What say you?" Fatgutt asked.

Time stood at a stand still. Thoughts and memories flashed through his mind.

Brome tearfully telling him of Rose's fate at Badrang's paw

The freed slaves come awake screaming from nightmares in which they were again enslaved, watching friends wither and die around them

Seeing emaciated Dibbuns from Marshank

The intense hatred bestowed upon Felldoh as a result of his slavery since Dibbunhood

The horrendous scars on Keyla's back, scars that will never go away

All results of slavery.

"What is your answer?"

A rush of determination came over him. The woodlanders under his care would not be subjected to that tyranny. Urran Voh raised his brown eyes to meet Fatgutt's black ones. "I will not surrender."

Keyla relaxed visibly and Tullgrew smiled with relief.

"Come on, Fatty, let's go," Ripred ordered, hoping to avoid conflict.

The older rat ignored his higher-ranking officer and glared at Urran Voh. Suddenly his halberd was in motion. It cleaved through the air, slicing-

Nothing. The sinewy male otter had exploded into action, shoving Urran and Tullgrew out the path of the javelin the instant his paw had moved. The next thing Fatgutt knew, he was fighting for his life. He glanced at the otter's face and screamed in terror.

Keyla's sea blue eyes were now steel grey, seeing nothing but the traitorous rat. When the halberd had gone into motion, he had found himself knowing automatically its path. His vision had fragmented and his surroundings- Tullgrew, Urran, the other rat- faded. Areas of the rat showed- the unguarded eyes, the belly for which he took his name, his open mouth. Targets.

Urran Voh and Tullgrew stared in astonishment at their friend. The normally mellow otter was fighting like one possessed. He gave a hard strike with his paw and the halberd's wooden shaft shattered like glass. The rat, moaning in terror, tripped over his own tail and fell, staring up. It was clear that Keyla was going to kill him.

Tullgrew started forward and caught her friend's shoulder. "Keyla, stop!"

He turned his head towards her and briefly she wondered if he would attack her too. "Tullgrew?" he asked, disoriented.

"Don't kill him, Keyla. I've had enough fighting for one day."

From his position on the ground, Fatgutt saw the berserk otter's stony expression soften from her plea. The grey faded and his eyes retained their usual cerulean hue.

The younger rat helped the older one up, staring at Keyla, who shifted uncomfortably. Fatgutt glared at the trio. "this means war!" he threatened. He picked up the head to his shattered halberd and the pair slunk away.

Keyla stared after the twain, a puzzled expression on his face. "What happened? Why were they looking at me like that?"

Urran Voh looked at the otter, aghast. "You attacked him!"

There was genuine puzzlement in the otter's eyes. "I did?"

"I don't think he remembers, Urran."

"I attacked him? Why?" His expression became dismayed. "For no reason?"

"No, the scum made the first move," she assured him, "You saved our lives. Though I must admit, you scared me there for a second. Have you-"

"It doesn't matter now," Urran Voh interrupted, "We need to prepare Noonvale for war." In the light, he looked weary and careworn. "I never in my worst nightmare imagined that I would ever say those words."

Chapter Four: Dark Wave

It was quiet. The last golden rays of the sun faded as night fell on the Western Sea. In the slavehold of the Dark Wave, a brawny sea otter had no choice but to relive his memories.

Had he lived, his son would have been 15 winters old today. Brown eyes filled with tears of rage as he recalled the catastrophe he had brought onto his family . . .

I laughed as I wiped the blood off my swords with a rag, looking at the vermin that floated in the water. They'd never bother innocent creatures again. I felt a small paw tugging on mine and I smiled. Speak of the Ribbajack. "Farder, wet me twy!" a young voice pleaded. My heart swelled with pride as I turned to my son.

"Alrighty mate, let's see if'n ye can carry these yet." I pressed my sword into his paw. He wrinkled his nose.

"Bof of dem!" he begged. I gave in and handed him the other one. I hid a smile as he strained, trying to wield both blades with a single paw each. He got them about an inch of the deck. "I . . . nearwy . . . gorrit . . . whoa!" He toppled backwards and hit the deck. He sighed. "Guess I is too wikkwe," he muttered.

I smiled, reclaimed my swords and sheathed them, then picked up my offspring. "It's not your age that matters, Kay, nor you size or physical strength, or even your mental prowess. It's what's in here that matters," I said, placing my paw on his chest, "What you believe you can do and what you trust in." I pointed to the sky over head, where the stars were coming out. "See that star?"

"Da bwight one?"

"Yes. It's the smallest of all the stars."

He looked at me, cerulean eyes wide. "Da smawwest? But-"

"Do you know why that's my favorite star, Kay?" He shook his head.

"Because it's the brightest star. It doesn't let its size affect its light, or anything else." He stared at the bright point of light. The countless stars of heaven's field were mirrored in his eyes.

"Gammage!" Maris, my wife, came over. "You know it's Kay's bed time!"

"But I don' wanna go to . . . *yawn* bed!"

Maris shook her head and gently took our son and carried him down to his bed. We tucked him in. Just as I swept out of the room, his sleepy voice called after me. "Farder?"

"What is it, Kay?"

"When I gwow up, I wanna be jus' like oo'."

I smiled. "Good night, Kay."

I awoke when the door to my cabin slammed open. I sat up in astonishment as Seapaw, my steersbeast, stumbled in, a black-fletched arrow protruding from his chest. "Seapaw, what-"

He fell to his knees, gasping. "Redtide . . . Goreleech . . . many vermin . . ." his breath rattled and he went limp.

I pulled on a tunic and strapped on my swords. Maris was already dressed. "Maris, get to Kay. He's the only one on the ship who can't wield a sword." I offered her one of my swords, but she shook her head. "Maris,you have to."

"I don't want to kill anything- not while I have a choice."

Sounds of battle reached me. "I don't have time for this. Just make sure nothing happens to Kay and yourself." I raced on deck and threw myself into the fray. I saw them. A pine marten and the stoat. They must hate me bad if they actually stopped fighting among themselves long enough to attack me. I saw the pine marten, Zounzdisommat or other, working her way with the others to the door leading below decks. Maris! Kay! I hurled myself at them, screaming like a bunyip.

They had expected it and began fighting me all at once. I saw an opening and swung at the pine marten's head.

Too late I heard the paw step behind me. The next thing I knew was blackness.

Gammage Galedeep tugged at his chains, a futile action often repeated over the past 13 winters. He could feel Maris behind him. "What did we do wrong, Maris?" he whispered brokenly, "How did we let this happen?"

"If only I had used a sword-"

"No, it's my fault. I wasn't smart enough. I should 'ave guessed that they'd attack us next. It was my mistake and we all paid the price." His voice broke, for an instant, "especially Kay."

"Ach, stop blaming yerself ye wetblanket," ordered a voice with a heavy Highland accent, "Thair was nothin' ye could 'ave done."

Gammage forged ahead, unhearing. "I should have gone to protect Kay myself. Then maybe he-"

"We don't know for sure, Gammage. We don't know if he lived or died," Maris said.

"I'd give anything to know that he was alive and safe- my very life, even."

"Alive or dead, blaming yourself won't get us anywhere," a young mouse named Burdock said.

"Aye, the young'un's right. Don't blame yerself."

"Young 'un? Dell, you're not that much older than I am."

The squirrel sighed. "Ah wish ye'd ferget that already!"

Gammage turned to Maris, seated behind him, ignoring the bantering friends. "Maris, I swear- that fox will die by my blade. Then that stoat. And the pine marten. Then I won't rest until I find my son."

She reached forward as far as she could and touched his paw. "Where you go, I go."

Gammage looked out through the tiny porthole at the sky, his eyes landing on the smallest star of all. By far the brightest. Kay, please be alright, where ever you are.

***


Then the thrower of javelins- my words thou shalt heed, Freed slave from Marshank, your presence we need."


"If anyone else thinks that this line gets more infuriating by the minute, raise yer paw!"

There was a show of paws, quickly lowered at Urran Voh's stern gaze. "A bit of light-heartedness isn't gonna hurt any." Urran Voh shook his head at the young otter, but said nothing else.

"I vote we skip it and move on," Celandine said.

"We can narrow it down a little," Keyla said, Freed slave from Marshank- that kicks out about 7/8ths of the populace. And is there anybeast here who uses javelins?"

"About all of the Fur and Freedom Fighter, old lad," Ballaw said grimly.

"Not all of the Fur and Freedom Fighters escaped from Marshank," pointed out Tullgrew.

"Either ways, it's a dead end. Let's leave it for later," Barkjon said.

"Lastly, the strong, loyal digger of rows, A close friend to Rose- in thy heart still she grows."

"Huh, this one's easy!" Urran Voh said, "A digger is a mole. It could only be Grumm."

The mole stood and tugged on his snout. "Hurr, oi bees ready to go when you'm ees."

"Not yet," Keyla said grimly, "There's one more stanza:

"Tarry not, continue on your way When two have fallen in the land without rain, Beware the little folk, flee away, Do not trust their sweet refrain. One more shall be lost at the River Moss, An expense to Stormfin but to thee a gain.

"I don't know about you guys, but I don't think that sounds good. The land without rain is probably a desert, but who in the name of D- erm, fur and fire knows what little folk are?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, Keyla," Urran Voh said, "Who knows what will happen?"

"And we still need another quester," Rowanoak pointed out.

"Worry about it later. We'd better get a defense up for Noonvale. What's the good of going on a quest if there's going to be nothing to save?"

2 Days later

Tullgrew was tired. Exhaustion seeped through her muscles as she tried to get the tree trunk in place. Suddenly her strength gave way. She felt a momentary rush of panic as it started to fall back on her-

She needn't have worried. Keyla, seeing her predicament, darted under the tree and righted it, muscles standing out like a coiled snake ready to strike. "I'll finish up here, Tull'. You go an' rest up."

She smiled at him and stumbled back to Noonvale, tired but proud. The wall was near completion. Keyla, Barkjon, Ballaw and Rowanoak had designed it. Tree trunks were cut down from the surrounding forest and rolled into the valley, then set in holes dug deep to firmly ground them. The branches were entwined with each other and brambles, thorns, bells- anything to dissuade or warn of vermin.

She sat on a bench next to Brome and began picking thorns and brambles from her paws. "What happened earlier, Tullgrew?"

She looked at him, confused. "Earlier?"

"When you and my dad came back from the parley with the rats, Keyla seemed . . . upset."

She told him what had happened. He stayed quiet and when she finished, he spoke slowly, as if trying to recall. "Actually, I don't think that's the first time it's happened."

"What? How- when-"

"Remember when we were trapped in the tunnel under Marshank?"

She shook her head.

He slapped his face with his paw. "Stupid me, you'd already escaped with Barkjon and the others. Anyways, the entrance had collapsed and we were running out of air and the others were panicking. He pushed his way up to me and asked me what was wrong. I told him, and he just . . . . went into a rage, I guess. He flew at those rocks like they were foes to be killed, and by Darkfire," Brome shook his head, "He sure took it seriously. I couldn't see his eyes, so I can't say if it's the same thing or not."

"It could be the same thing."

"It could . . ." Brome chewed his lip thoughtfully. "I wonder if Keyla knows anything. I don't know much about his past- maybe there's a clue there."

"Just as clueless as you are, mates."

The twain jumped guiltily. Keyla materialized out of the mist and sat next to his friends, eyes unreadable. "I don't remember anything of my life before Badrang except my father dying and a few other . . . . trivial things."

She took the hint and steered the conversation away from his past. "How did you feel during the parley and the tunnel incident?"

He was quiet, as if trying to recall. Then at last he spoke, a puzzled tone to his voice. "I can't recall it at all. I mean, it's there, but when I try to remember, it . . . it won't come."

He sounded downcast. Tullgrew felt pity seep into her heart. She reached over and lightly touched his paw. "It'll be alright. You'll see."

He said nothing but turned his face to the star studded sky.


***


Never had Redwall Abbey seen such a storm. Lightning flared and thunder crashed, shattering the still night like glass. It was one such blast which awoke Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves. He'd always been a light sleeper, and this storm didn't help matters any. He groaned, rolled over and tried to go back to bed.

Then he heard it. "Badrang!" What was that? He sat up, fully awake. "Badrang!" It was coming from somewhere in the Abbey, nearly drowned by the storm.

But it was there.

He stood up and followed the sound, finally locating the door from which the sounds emanated. He kicked it open and beheld Martin the Warrior.

Martin was asleep, for his eyes were closed. But he was kicking, thrashing, and struggling like one in Bloodwrath. It was he who was shouting.

"I am a warrior! Martin son of Luke! I will live, I will not give in and die up here! Do you hear me, Badrang? I will live to take back my father's sword and slay you one day! Badraaaaaaaannggg!"

Gonff looked around wildly for a way to awake his friend.

Tied by my paws, I fought the storm. "Badrang! Badrang! Can you hear me? I am a warrior! Martin son of Luke! I will live, I will not give in and die up here! Do you hear me, Badrang? I will live to take back my father's sword and slay you one day! Badraaaaaaaannggg!" I shouted. Wind tore at my face.

"Martin son of Luke! Can you hear me?" I opened my mouth to respond and water filled it.

Choking and gagging, Martin came awake, disoriented. Where was Badrang? And while they were on the subject, who was Badrang in the first place? "Martin, what happened?" Gonff's worried face loomed over him. Martin sat up and noticed he was soaking wet.

"Gonff-"

"You wouldn't wake up!" Thunder chashed out side and the two mice jumped. "You were sleeping through that. I think you were having a nightmare."

Martin, confused, shook his head. "I don't remember anything."

"I do. You were shouting a name. Badrang."

Badrang. Martin felt a shudder of anger course through him. The name was evil. Of this he had no doubt.

Badrang. Badrang the Tyrant.

Chapter Five: Attacked

Dawn's early light shone down into Noonvale. The newly erected walls cut off much of the sunlight. Noonvale's life style continued as usual, save the sentries on the walls, and the fact that nearly all the creatures were armed. Keyla, Ballaw, Urran Voh, Brome, and Rowanoak were attempting to dissolve that last couplet.


"Then the thrower of javelins- my words thou shalt heed, Freed slave from Marshank, your presence we need."

Urran Voh shook his head in puzzlement. "Whose presence? That's a question we need an answer to."

Tullgrew poked her head in the door. "Breakfast has been ready for an hour now." There were murmurs of "wait another second" "Just a minute." Keyla looked up as she turned to go. His eyes widened as they lighted on the bundle of javelins strapped to her back, and a look of horror spread across his face.

"Tullgrew!"

"What?"

His voice was low and the horrified expression, with some difficulty, was held off his face. "I think you're the other quester."

"Don't grasp at straws, Keyla."

"I'm not! Do you think I'm happy about this? It has to be her. She escaped from Marshank and I bet you a pot of shrimp an' 'otroot soup that all the other Fur and Freedom Fighters forwent the javelins in favor of a bow and arrows- at least, the ones who escaped from Marshank."

"He's right," Rowanoak said after a moment of thought, "Almost everybeast selected a bow and quiver of arrows. The few who didn't were myself, Ballaw and Tullgrew here."

"We better leave soon," Brome said, "Say, about noon. We can get it together by then, right?"

Urran Voh nodded. "I think so."


"Tullgrew, wait." The female otter swept by Keyla, ignoring him. He stared after her, confused. "What did I do?"

"I think it's what you said earlier- that you weren't happy that she was coming. Why did you say that anyways?"

"Brome, at the end of this, three of us are going to be dead. Three out of five creatures. I don't like those odds."

"Oh."

"Not that I can tell her. She's not listening to anything I say. I don't think she's been this mad since the prank war."

An involuntary giggle escaped Brome. "Oooh, that was fun. Even Father started pranking people!"

Keyla smiled. "Don't you wish we could start another one and just forget this whole thing?"

Brome nodded.

"Keyla, Brome! Time to go!" Keyla shouldered his pack.

"Come on, mate."


Keyla and Grumm were pulled aside by Aryah. "Will you do something for me? Please, take care of Brome. Don't let anything happen to him, like Rose . . ." her voice trailed off and she bit her lip, fighting back tears.

"Hurr, oi'll guard him with moi loife."

"Marm, I swear it on me 'onor- I won't let anythin' 'appen to him while I'm with him. I will protect him as if he was my brother."

She smiled through the tears. "Thank you." She broke away and rejoined the main group, Grumm in tow.

"Farewell, Brome."

"Be careful, son!"

Urran Voh and Aryah embraced their only child, tears running down their cheeks. Keyla felt a hot stab of envy, watching his friend enjoy what he himself could not. He has a father and a mother to worry about him and to comfort him when he's sad. Somebeast who loves him. Me, I have no one. I did . . . once.

Pain shot through my arm as I was thrown roughly to the deck. Screaming in pain as the barbed whip was brought down on my back. My father lay on the deck, blood running down his face like a river. I shake him, futily calling him. No answer.

Angrily, the otter dashed the hot tears from his face. Tears were a luxury he could no longer afford. He felt a paw on his shoulder. Without turning, he knew it was Tullgrew. "I'm sorry. I know why you said what you said. I shouldn't have reacted that way. We've known each other forever and I should know better." He looked at her and she saw the faint echos of the liquid sadness in his eyes. "What's wrong?"

"It's nothin' ye could help with," he muttered, adjusting his pack.

The five questers slipped towards the exit tunnel under the wall, as it had no gate.

Aryah stared after the questers, eyes filled with worry. Is my son one of those fated to die?

***

"My lady!" Fatgutt stumbled into Zounzdican's room, panting. "Five woodlanders have broken away from the rest of the populace. They're going to get help. What do we do?"

Zounzdican pounded her paw on the stone wall in anger. Her army had moved into the ruins of Fort Marshank as a means of beginning occupation. "Ripred, take ten fighters, pursue those woodlanders and stop them. Kill them, capture them- I don't care how, just do it!!!!"

Ripred had no choice but to obey.

***

Sharp voice grating and scraping, she called her challenge. "I would speak with your chieftain!"

After a pause, Urran Voh's figure appeared on the wall tops, high above her head. Zounzdican stared him down, eyes poisonous green with hatred. A shudder raced through him at the way she looked down at him despite him being at least 16 feet above her. The wind billowed, spreading her black cloak and revealing her ebony armor, evilly twisted and spiked. Her black sword glinted in the red light of sunset, lusting for blood and death. You are a filthy worm, her eyes seemed to taunt, I will crush you and yours under my feet.

"I gave you every chance for you and yours to surrender. Lucky for you, I will still give you one last chance. Surrender and I will spare you miserable lives!"

Urran Voh felt a burst of anger. And subject those in his care to slavery? Never. "Go to Dark Forest!" he spat. The Noonvalers flinched, unaccustomed to hearing him speak in such a violent manner.

She raised her sword and dropped viciously. "Fire!"

Arrows hissed through the air, mingling with the battle cries and the screams of the wounded and dying.

War had come to Noonvale.

Chapter Six: The Waiting Game

"Brome, we have to stop for a minute," the otter whispered in his friend's ear, "I don't think Celandine's used to this type of travel."

Brome nodded his agreement. "Time to rest!" he called. With a groan, Celandine unslung her pack, leaned against a tree and slid to a sitting position, panting in air.

"Here, Cel," Tullgrew said gently, uncorking her canteen, "Need some water?"

The squirrelmaid accepted gratefully, sucking it in like a mouse who'd nearly drowned would suck in air. She sat up abruptly, spilling water all over her dress. She had seen a flash of color out of the corner of her eye.

"I saw something over there!" she cried, pointing in the general direction of the flash.

Keyla looked at her skeptically from his place at the edge of the camp, not far from the location of the flash. "You sure you weren't seeing things?"

Brome looked at his friend in surprise. This was uncharacteristic of the young otter.

Celandine bristled. "I saw-"

The otter was a blur as he threw himself sideways into the bushes. There was a brief struggle, a squeal, then Keyla dragged a small, tattooed thing into the clearing. It was about Brome's size yet obviously full grown, with a long skinny tail. The parts of his fur that weren't colored with dye were shaved off. "Sorry 'bout that, Cel, but I wanted to make sure I caught him by surprise."

"'S alright," she muttered, gratified.

"Now, what are-"

The young otter never finished his question. All Dark Fire shattered loose. Darts rained on the camp, followed by screams and howls.

Brome's frantic voice managed to rise above the din. "Split up! They can't get us all if-"

A creature clubbed viciously across the head, plunging him into unconsciousness.

***

"Land ho!"

Redeye stood at the prow of his ship and took in the Northern Coast at a glance. He recognized the horde of ships drawn up on the shallows- or, more accurately, the ship that led them. The Red Tide, ruled by his old Cap'n, Zounzdican the Evil. Oh yes, he knew of her- indeed, she had once had him as her first mate. Memories he did not look back on with fondness. He would have murdered her if he had been able to pull it off- but she trusted no one.

Maybe things worked out better this way. Captain of the best ship ever to sail the Nine Seas, a loyal crew, a full slave hold- what more could he want?

The memory buried deep in his mind stirred . . .

The battle raged. I was only a young fox then, just into adulthood. The plundering and killing around me was glorious! The deck was littered with woodlander bodies, cut down in the prime of life. I could kill all day . . .

"Redeye, he's coming!" snapped my Cap'n, Zounzdican, "Get into position!" I ducked behind the mast and watched, fascinated, as burly young otter with twin curved blades hurled himself out of the cabin below decks, wailing like a banshee. My Cap'n and the one she'd temporarily allied herself with, Vilu Daskar, engaged him in combat as planned.

I waited until the time was right, then I struck! The otter fell to the deck, blood foaming like a waterfall from the wound. The three of us looked at him and laughed.

"So much for the mighty Galedeep!" I laughed.

We turned to rejoin the battle when I felt something crush my leg with furious strength. I fell to deck, gasping, and looked on the face of my assaulter-

"Cap'n! Cap'n!"

His bosun's voice brought him out of his reminicing stupor. "What is it!" he snapped angrily.

"Orders, Cap'n."

Redeye smiled broadly.

***

Browntail, the second in Ripred's absence sat beside Zounzdican as she negotiated with her ex-first mate, Captain Redeye. He could tell that neither trusted the other.

"But if I quarter the slaves here, you could steal them."

Zounzdican sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Let's run through this again. You can join forces with me and jointly rule the army. Your slaves you may keep here, if you choose, you may also berth your crew here, if you wish, but we will jointly rule."

He was silent for a minute. "I will join with you, but my crew is berthed on my ship."

Her eyes glittered maliciously as they shook paws.

***

A soft, gentle rain fell upon the three questers huddled about the smoking remains of a campfire. One lay prone, dried blood crusting on his head. The other twain knew little of healing and had been unable to do more than a rough bandage and pressure to stop the bleeding, and were now trying to think of an appropriate plan of action.

"Hurr, we'um can't leave zurr Brome here by himself, bo urr."

"Then I'll go alone."

"Hurr, who knows what ee vermin are up to? If'n you bees captured, thur be nothin' oi can do. With zurr Brome in ee condition, staying here bees the best thing we kin do until ee wakes up and we know more, hurr." Keyla hesitated, and finally gave in. Privately he knew that the mole was right, and the blessed, lovely rain increased the feeling. A faint groan punctuated the silence. Brome's eyes flickered as his mind began to rise from its unconscious state.

***

He groaned as his eyes flickered open, his vision recalibrating. He sat up and immediately regretted it as an inevitable headache came to life with a rather painful bang. Grumm and Keyla hovered around him, faces concerned. "Hurr, do ee feel alright maister Brome?"

The young mouse cradled his head in his paws, hoping in vain that it would diminish the pain. "I'm fine, 'cept for this headache. Keyla, can you get some poppy seeds out of my bag, please?" After a moment of rummaging in the young mouse's pack, the otter located the seeds and pressed them into Brome's outstretched paw. "Thank you!" He popped them in his mouth and leaned against a boulder. "Any sign of the others?"

"None," Keyla replied sadly as Grumm shook his head mournfully.

"I'll stand guard," the mouse volunteered. He got to his paws, no sooner having done so when his head protested. The world swirled around him in a dizzying kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. The young otter darted forward and saved his friend from splitting his skull on the stone.

"Brome-"

"Just a dizzy spell. I'm fine, just give me a minute . . ."

"Maybe I should stand guard," the otter prompted.

The mouse shook his head and winced. "No. I'm the only one who's had any sleep-"

"Sleep!" the otter exploded, "If that was sleep than I'm a weasel!"

"He bees roight zurr Brome, you'm needs ee rest!"

The young mouse felt the black covering him. "But . . ." he protested weakly as the darkness gently closed in on him. Keyla gently laid him on the ground. Grumm covered him with a blanket and gently smoothed his fur. A blind rabbit could see that the mole loved him like his own son. Again, Keyla felt a jealous stab of envy, longing, and sadness. A tear slid down his cheek, but this time he ignored it, knowing the rain would conceal it.

"Get some sleep, Grumm. I will take first watch." The exhausted mole nodded his assent and huddled down. A moment later, the otter was alone with his dark thoughts.

Chapter Seven: Alliances Failed

The squirrelmaid raced blindly through the woods, Tullgrew's frantic shouts ringing in her ears. Run, Cel, run! Her foot caught on a branch and Celandine hit the ground with an oof. She sat up, her panic fading. She looked around at her surroundings and realized with a jolt that she was alone.

Tullgrew had not made it out of the clearing.

A paw landed on her shoulder and she screamed.

"Bad form, old chap, you scared the gel!" Celandine found herself looking at two hares. Both were clearly seasoned warriors, though the second of the two was only a few seasons out of adulthood. The older, and taller, of the twain was clearly a high-ranking official, at least a Colonel. He had a fencing saber at his waist and a small, but growing, handlebar mustache. The second hare, the one who had accosted her, had a blue tunic and was unarmed save for a sling and stone pouch. He made an elegant bow.

"Apologies, miss. Sergeant Lawdrel E. Nightshade at your service! Known as Lawd to me friends and death to me enemies!"

"And I am Colonel Julius Jeremy Jaruliam, but you may call me Jules! Now what's a pretty squirrelmaid like yerself doing wandering these dank woods, eh, wot wot!"

Celandine got to her paws, calmed by their manners and the kindness and nobility shining in their eyes.

"I am Celandine Treeflier, of the Rambling Rosehip Players." The two hares shot each other a look that clearly said they were familiar with the name but she missed it. "Please, could you help me? There are five of us in these woods, but we were attacked by vermin and we split up. I know that three of my friends got away, but I fear my friend Tullgrew has been taken prisoner. Could you help me?"

In response, the hares nodded. Jules drew his blade and Lawd cracked his knuckles. "Lead on, madam!"

***

"We're under attack!"

Barkjon leapt from his bed, snatching his sling from its place on the night stand. "Rally!"

The Noonvalers were unaccustomed to war, but did their best to follow the Fighter's example. A young mouse named Renin- too young to fight- was bringing water to the fighters. A grappling hook flew up and landed on the wall by him. He froze and faintly heard voices drifting up. "Idiot! Wait a minute!"

Renin froze as another voice spoke. "Shut up! Now or never! Fire at will!"

More grappling hooks flew up and hooked on the walls. Renin was frozen in sheer terror as the murderous face of a corsair popped over the wall.

***

The trio crouched behind a bush, concealed on the outskirts of the vermin's hideout. Lawd pointed into the gloom. "I think I see her, wot!"

Straining her eyes in the dawn light, Celandine could barely make out Tullgrew's prone form. She was tied by her paws to a overhanging bough, feet grazing the ground. She seemed to be unconscious.

Jules made a quick decision. "Lawd, provide a distraction. Celandine and I shall circle around and cut Tullgrew free."

Lawd twirled his sling expertly, a merry twinkle in his eye. "Ready when you are, old bean!" He loaded his sling and took the first shot.


Ignoring the chaos at one end of the camp, she heard a creature approaching and went limp, hoping to conceal her wakefulness. Slowly but surely, Tullgrew was loosing the bonds that held her to the branch. Something prodded her shoulder from behind and a spasm of pain raced down her arm. Her shoulder was sprained, probably due to being dragged through the underbrush. It prodded her again and something whispered her name. "Tullgrew! Are you alright?"

"I'm unharmed, but I think my shoulder's sprained. Any sign of Keyla or the others, Cel'?"

Jules sliced the ropes binding Tullgrew to the tree. Tullgrew rubbed her wrists, attempting to restore circulation, as Celandine answered her question. "None."

"No time for that now, wot? Got to go!" Jules muttered as he hustled the two away. They went several miles, stopping at a clearing filled with wildflowers. Lawd joined them a few minutes after their arrival. "So far so good, eh. Now what, wot?"

"We find their friends, me laddiebuck!"

"But how are we to find them?" Tullgrew asked as she plastered cool mud from the recent rain onto her shoulder, hoping to ease the pain. If anything, the pain redoubled, to her frustration.

"I'll see if I can locate them from up this tree," Celandine called as she scrambled up an aspen. A moment later she rejoined the trio, panting with exertion. "There's fire smoke from the way we came, like from a bonfire, and a smaller wisp like a campfire's over that way."

"Wouldn't they have left by now?"

"I don't know, but it bears a look."

***

Keyla fed the fire with a pawful of sticks and looked up to the sky moodily. Least it had stopped raining. Brome yawned and sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He saw the height of the sun and scowled at his otter friend. "Haven't you had any sleep?"

Keyla momentarily considered fibbing but decided against it. "No."

"You should have woken me!"

"Not a chance. You needed rest."

"What about Grumm?"

"Same reason."

"Keyla, get some sleep!"

"Not till you get some food in you." He removed a pot of soup. Inwardly, Brome cringed. He hated spicy food. However, his reaction wasn't missed by the other. "I've known you for eight seasons. I think I've learned by now how not to cook something you like." Chagrined, the young mouse decided to shut his trap and eat the soup.

When he finished and the young otter made no sign of holding up his end of the agreement, he cleared his throat. "Our bargain?"

"What bargain?" Keyla asked innocently.

"Fibber."

"Me? A fibber? Oh, the horror!"

The mouse got a mischievous look on his face. "I'll scream."

"No you won't. You'll wake up Grumm."

The mouse promptly burst into ear-bursting squeals, screams, and shrieks. The mole, used to this, remained comatose. Keyla, however, threw himself down on the sand, defeated for the moment and wondering how in the world the mole could sleep through such racket. "All right, all right, though you should know- you sound like a girl!" he shouted over the din.

Brome stopped in his tracks. "I do not!"

"Do too," the otter insisted cheekily.

"Do not!"

"Do too."

"Says who?"

"Me."

Brome opened his mouth and closed it. "Do not," he finished lamely. Keyla snorted. "Ask Grumm."

"I will. And Tullgrew and Celandine. If we find them. Or they find us."

"We- they will!" The otter sighed and put his head in his paws and his posture revealed just how exhausted he was.

"So, about that nap?" Brome piped up.

Keyla groaned. "I liked you better when you were asleep," he grumbled.

"So did I."

Keyla raised his head to look at Brome and froze, his eyes locked on something beyond the mouse's head. Then all exhaustion fell from him and he leapt forward with a joyful whoop. Brome followed his gaze and recognized with a leap of his heart Tullgrew, Celandine, and two hares. He moved to wake the slumbering mole.


The quartet stepped out of the woods and immediately saw the trio huddled around the campfire sighted by Celandine. An instant later one of them, presumably Keyla, broke away from the other two with a shout of excitement. Tullgrew's face lit up and she sped ahead. Celandine wasn't far behind. Lawd and Jules, not to be left out of the fun, joined in the race. Keyla and Tullgrew skidded to a stop in front of each other, panting. "You're . . . alright!"

"So are . . . you. But what was the . . . screaming? Did you meet a mousemaid or something?" Tullgrew was puzzled when the young otter burst into a laugh. "What did I say?"

The otter wiped tears of merriment from his eyes. "Tell ye later."

Brome hit his face with his paw. "I'm never going to hear the end of this," he moaned.

***

Renin backed away from the corsairs, eyes fearful. The glass jug of water in Renin's paws slipped and shattered on the wood. The rat snickered and vaulted onto the hardwood floor. He immediately howled in pain as the broken glass dug deeply into his bare paws.

Not the smartest move for a corsair.

Renin, acting on sheer instinct, shoved the corsair over the wall. He fell with a scream, impaling himself onto a tree branch. Renin backed away from the sight of the corpse he had killed, nearly tripping over his sandals. "No! I'm sorry! No no nonooo-"

Barkjon, having heard the commotion, raced over. He took the situation at a glance, drew his dagger and began to sever the grapnels. "Help me, Renin!"

The young mouse got over his battle daze and picked up the largest shard of glass, helping Barkjon mechanically.

When the last rope was severed, Renin began to sob. "What have I done?"

"What you had to, young one. You did well," Barkjon soothed.

Pallum joined the pair. "The attack's broken off."

"Our battling is done. Now we rebuild," Barkjon said softly.

***

Zounzdican paced the room, snarling angrily to her companion. "You and your ship-rats! Easily beaten by a mouse barely out of catchcloths and an old, half-senile squirrel!"

"I didn't see you trying to scale the walls, nitwit!"

"My job was to provide a distraction! You were supposed to follow the plan! You never follow orders! That's the whole reason that the stupid otter had to be t-"

"I don't take orders from you," he shouted, stung by the mention of the creature he hated and feared most, "In fact, me and mine are leaving, right now!"

He stormed out of the room in a black cloak of wrath. Zounzdican leaned against the wall. Well, not too big a loss. Idiots!

Chapter Eight: To Loved and Have Lost

Three days after the events at Noonvale and among the questers, a group of vermin met on board the Dark Wave. The leader, a burly male weasel named Holm, opened the meeting. "The Cap'n getting suspicious. I don't think he trusts any of us- not after the incident wit' 'is son. So how are we to get information?"

There was a moment's silence. Then a fox from the back group spoke up. "We all know from first hand experience how much he hates the line of Galedeep. So why not put that to our purposes? We get that wife of Gammage's, wot's 'er name, Marie I think, to spy for us. Tell the Cap'n that he deserves a personal maid, all pretty like like we means it. Really, she'll jest tell if'n he starts to suspect any of us. Cause Brogot, the first mate, is pretty tight with him and they'll probably talk it over so she can hear. Then she tells us wot they says."

There was a moment of stunned silence among the vermin. It was so simple it was beautiful- save one thing. "Redeye ain't stupid," pointed out Holm, "What if he catches her?"

"We claim to know nothing. Then get her to admit she was lying the same way we'll get her to do it."

"And what may that be?" Holm inquired.


The door to the slave hold creaked open. All the slaves ceased their whispering and saved energy for rowing. Holm and the fox, whose name was Strugeon, marched into the hold, lifting the keys from the peg. They stood by Maris, who was on the aisle. Next to her, Gammage looked downright murderous, glaring at the two pirates with clear meaning. Paws off. However, the twain were unmoved by the otter's open hostility. After all, what could a chained otter, now matter how spiteful, possibly do? They unlocked her.

"Let go of her, you-" Gammage immediately stood his full height and lunged at the corsairs. Or tried to. They danced out of the way and he reached the end of the chain, a mad, frantic light in his eyes. "Maris!" he cried desperately.

She looked back at him, fearful but not going to show it. "I'll be alright Gammage. Please don't do anything stupid!"

Defeated, he sat down, simmering with rage. Holm couldn't resist a parting shot. "Time to have some fun with you . . ."

Gammage howled with rage and leapt at them, all thoughts of not being stupid miles away. The buccaneers merely laughed and escorted an unwilling Maris to their hideout to discuss their proposition.


"What do you want from me?" she demanded, scared to death but trying not to show it. She hated several things about her situation- her being alone in a roomful of pirates, the way most of them were eyeing her like a trophy, and the way those who weren't looked at her like an oppurtunity.

One, a burly weasel, stepped forward. He had an air of command distinguishing him as the leader. He detailed his plan and looked at her expectantly. She was quiet, considering. "What if I turn you down?" she asked at last.

His tone of voice quite changed. "Then you'll be widowed as well as childless," he said harshly. She bit her lip until blood welled, regaining control of her feelings.

"I will do it," she whispered at last, beaten but not broken.

If the corsairs had known exactly how this was going to turn out, they would have chained her back up and thrown away the key.

But then, vermin aren't too bright.

Three days later

Laughter and cheer filled Redwall Abbey. Gonff was relieved that Martin had experienced no more nightmares, but that hadn't stopped Martin for combing the quite vast library for the slightest mention of Badrang the Tyrant. None. Quite frankly, it was a puzzle.

Vurg burst into the gatehouse. "Martin, time for supper!"

"One minute Vurg. Say, do you know anything about Badrang the Tyrant?"

Vurg stopped in mid step then slowly turned. "What do ye want to know about him for?"

"I had a dream about him, and I wondered who he was."

"He's an evil creature, Martin. Very evil. Remember Ranguvar?" Martin nodded. "He was responsible for the capture of her husband and son, Barkjon and Felldoh. She told me that if she ever got free of Vilu Daskar, he was her next target." Vurg shook his head sadly. "Such a brave maid, but so full of hate. I don't think any of us could hate more than her. Anyway, supper is ready Martin." The aged mouse swept from the room, leaving in his wake a rather upset and dazed Martin.

Memories locked behind the barrier in his mind began to come loose . . .

"Thanks, Felldoh. Thought I was birdmeat for a bit."

"You saved my old dad, so I did what I could for you."

"What's Badrang going to do with us?"

"Who's there?"

"This young feller's Brome."

"Brome? There's some outside called Rose-"

Martin jerked and the mug by his paw shattered on the floor, spraying hot tea everywhere.

Rose! Oh, no, Rose! How could he have forgotten her? How? The weight of her death came crashing down on his shoulders all over again. He cradled his head in his paws and said nothing. He didn't know what time it was when he heard the door creak open. "Mawtin, Bewwa say-"

"Get out!" he roared. Ivy squealed in terror and bolted, slamming the door behind her. A moment later, the door creaked again. He turned to give who ever it was a good piece of his mind.

It was Gonff. The thief's worried eyes deflated his anger and he turned away, hoping Gonff hadn't seen the tears on his face.

***

"What's taking him so long?" grumbled Beau, "We can't start without the chap."

"I go!" pronounced Ivy as she leapt from her seat and she climbed the stairs up to Great Hall, her bare paws making a slight pitter-patter on the sand stone. A moment later, a shockingly loud roar broke the peace. Ivy flew back into Cavern Hole in tears.

"That was Martin," Gonff said worriedly "I'd better go make sure he's alright."

He creaked the door of the gatehouse open. The warrior mouse's head flew up, ready to give another good shout when he identified the face. Gonff barely had time to register the tears on his friend's face before he turned away in shame and sorrow.

"Tell Ivy I'm sorry."

"This isn't like you, Martin. The only time you were remotely like this was when Timballisto died, but even then-" Gonff stopped in mid sentence as he recalled the tears rolling down his cheeks. Martin never cried- not with the pain of wounds or lost friends, even his father. Yet whatever it was he was upset about, it wasn't to be taken lightly. Something was seriously wrong with Martin. "You can tell me, Martin. Whatever it is, it wasn't your fault.

"How would you know? You weren't there," the warrior said bitterly.

"Tell me, Martin. Please. You can't carry this alone."

The warriormouse looked close to breaking down, but some hidden strength helped him to shoulder the heavy burden he bore. "No, Gonff. This burden is mine alone. I could not ask anyone else to bear it with me." He placed his head in his paws, signaling an end of the conversation.

Gonff would have loved to stay with him, but he knew Martin preferred to be alone and quietly left the room.


When Gonff left, it was too much. The thief was right. He couldn't bear this alone. He leapt up to follow the mouuse and knocked over a stack of blank paper. Martin bent to pick it up, and decided not to tell Gonff. He could not break an oath made on his honor. But he could write about it, get his thoughts down on paper. He took a blank sheaf and a quill pen and began to write.

A week later

Urran Voh paced the walltop, unsure what to think. There had been no attacks for the past fourteen days. Which could mean only one thing: the vermin had given up. He could not believe he had sent his only child and three others of Noonvale's young ones on a fruitless, suicidal task. They must have, somehow, misinterpreted Rose's poem. He walked down the steps to Rowanoak and Ballaw where they sat with Barkjon in the Great Hall, discussing battle plans. "My friends, I have made a desicion. Effective immediately, I am disbanding the Fur and Freedom Fighters."

Ballaw leapt to his paws, face dismayed. "It is merely a diversionary tactic, old bean! To disband us is exactly what they want, wot! They want to trick us, lull us into a sense of false security-"

"You've said yourself- vermin are bullies. They cannot abide it when they are stood up to. It is my opinion that they have left in search of easier prey."

"That may be true, but vermin like that pine marten are different. When something resists them they want to crush it, destroy it," Rowanoak retorted.

Urran Voh shook his head. "They could have attacked us yesterday or the day before! We have won, Ballaw. Tomorrow I shall have to send a group out after my son and the others."

The trio stared at each other. Barkjon spoke first. "Set guard tonight anyways. Tomorrow, I'm going out to see what they're up to. Who's with me?"

The hare and the badger presented their affirmation and they went back to planning, seriously re-thinking some of their stratagems.

***

Martin sat back with a sigh and looked at the formidable stack of papers in front of him. It had taken him a week to detail everything he remembered about his early life. He was taking no more chances with his memories. Everything, down to the slightest scent and the faintest shade of color had been recorded so he would never again forget her sacrifice. But where to conceal it? His quick dark eyes roamed the gatehouse, finally resting on the wooden planking under the doormat. Of course!

He tore the hood off his habit and wrapped them in the sturdy material, securing it with a spare piece of string he had in his pocket. Then he kicked the doormat aside and ripped up some of the planking, revealing a dirt floor. Working quickly, he dug dirt out with his empty tea mug, hastily dumping it in the fire as he went. Finally, he had a cavity big enough to hold the papers, making it a bit deeper to compensate for the wooden planks. Gently, as if handling a child, he reverently concealed the precious bundle in the hiding place. He replaced the planks, only stopping to carve his initials, MsoL (Martin son of Luke) into the wood. Martin noted with dismay that the planks he had tampered with were about a quarter inch higher than the others. Both bad and good. He just hoped the Dibbuns wouldn't get curious. He kicked the doormat back over the whole thing and he felt a weight off his shoulders- a weight he, in a way, missed.

Rest in peace, Rose of Noonvale.

***

The questers stared in awe at the great gates of Salamandastron. Solid oak and beech with mahogany and silver accenting, the great gates were nigh impregnable. "I say, open up! We have guests in time for the celebration tonight!"

The gates opened easily, with a speed that surprised them. They examined their surroundings, wide-eyed at the many terraces of an increaing variety of plants, some they had never seen before. There were apples, peaches, every type of berry you could imagine, cherries- the list went on. The herb gardens were what captured Brome's attention as he stared in fascination at several varieties he had never even heard of.

Keyla examined, without touching, an oddly shaped, curved yellow pod that grew in bunches on a tall, thin tree. "What in the name of fur and fire are those?"

"Bananas. Got the seeds off a corsair ship that was stupid enough to nose around here, eh wot!"

The questers had just reached the vegetable gardens when a booming voice erupted out of nowhere. "Welcome to Salamandastron, good travelers!"

Startled, they spun, coming face to face with a tall badger wearing sturdy work gloves and a straw hat. The tell-tale golden stripe on his forehead revealed his identity, but his gentle eyes and noble face were the true indication that he was Sunflash the Mace, Lord of Salamandastron. They hastily bowed or curtsied. Brome spoke up, being the leader of the group. "Thank you for you hospitality, My Lord-"

"Please, call me Sunflash. All my friends do."

"Yes, L- Sunflash. My name is Brome, and these are-"

"Tullgrew, Celandine, Grumm, and Keyla, I presume?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I shall introduce you to Skarlath, when that rogue turns up. He's a kestrel, and my right claw. My eye in the sky."

"Lord Sunflash!" A hare burst onto the balcony. "Cook sent me to tell you that they need one of those big cheeses for the feast tonight. The yellow one, with the basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary. The bigger the better, wot!"

The badger lord nodded, a smile creasing his face. "Tell cook I'll be there in a second." He felt the quester's questioning glances. "Lawd's recently become engaged to Captain Primrose. Due to recent corsair attacks and the recconointering trip I sent him and Jules on, we haven't celebrated it. Therefore, we've set up a surprise party to honor the occasion. Since we're also setting up an alliance with Holt Brogalaw, we figured to kill two vermin with one stone and invite them."

Celandine looked in dismay at her dirty, ragged dress. "But we've nothing to wear!"

"It's already been taken care of," the Badger Lord assured, "Rirel will escort you to your quarters. You must be tired after your journey, and I expect you want to freshen up."

"A bath would be nice," mused Celandine.

As Rirel escorted them to their quarters, Brome whispered in Grumm's ear, "How do you suppose they knew we were coming and our sizes?"

"Oi expect ee kestrel told ee, zurr Brome. Doant ee wurry about ee home. You'm desurves ee rest."

Brome said nothing. If only I could be so sure . . .


Chapter Nine: The Coffin's Nail

"So, what do you know?" muttered Sturgeon as they secretly met on the ship's deck.

Maris gritted her teeth in exapseration. Forced to obey the slightest whim of the creature who had murdered her son and crew. The only reason she put up with this was because if she didn't, Gammage was a dead beast. "They suspect no one, save Holm."

"Anything else?" the fox asked suspiciously, "did he say anything about me?"

"He mentioned to Fored that he had considered you for first mate but went with Brogot instead."

The shocked fox opened his mouth to respond, but a shout from Redeye caused Maris to scurry off, cursing the day she had laid eye on the fox.

Sturgeon watched the ottermaid go, mouth open. If what she had said was true, there was only one thing to do.


Redeye stood at the helm of the ship, feeling the wind through his face. Second to killing and plundering treasure, the thing he loved most was feeling the wind through his fur and the spray of the sea. "Cap'n, I need to talk to you."

Redeye groaned and turned to the speaker, a fox named Sturgeon. "What do you want?" he snapped.

"That otter slave, Marie? She's really a spy for a group of rebel corsairs. Brogot and Holm are the ringleaders. She's spying because they told her they'd kill-"

The Captain cut him off with a swift motion of his paw. "That's all I need to know. Gather the crew and that otter slave." He watched the other fox leave and snickered. Just how stupid did he think he was? Redeye walked to a 9-flogged whip hanging from a peg and made a few experimental swishes. The old, splintery wood entwined in the knots of the whips shone ominously as he slipped it under his cloak.

Less than five minutes later, all were gathered on deck by the main mast. As Redeye spoke, he paced back and forth among the line of vermin. "Recently I have discovered a conspiracy against me, your captain." He spun and faced Holm, eyes hard. "You are the ringleader, Holm. I can't trust you and if I punish you, you will just become more rebellious. You have to go!" With that, the curved blades sliced through the air, killing the hapless weasel on the spot. "Also, one of the ringleaders told me that my first mate Brogot was a traitor. However, I know he was lying because of the greed in his eyes, because he planned to be made first mate. Well, he forgot one thing." Sturgeon threw himself on the ground, begging for mercy, but the corsair fox killed him in cold blood. "I don't trust foxes."

He turned on his heel, adressing the entire crew. "If any of you ever try to cross me, I will do to you what I do to the last traitor. Slave, come here!"

Maris stepped forward, a swift flicker of fear flashing thhrough her eyes.

Be strong. Be strong for Kay and Gammage.

"If you beg for your life, I may just spare it."

She said nothing. The corsair sighed with mock regret. "What happens next is your own fault." He motioned to two corsairs and they grabbed her and forcibly circled her arms around the mast, securly tying them. Redeye drew out the nine-flogged whip and without hesitation began to flog her. The tarred, knotted rope and the old, splintery wood tore into the barely healed flesh on her back. She held in her screams as long as she could, but when the whip tore into her muscles, she could not control it.

She screamed. And each time the brutal whip tore into her back, she screamed anew.

As she faded into darkness, she would have sworn she heard Gammage calling her name. But no- she was alone in the long night.


Redeye finally stopped, satisfied with his work. He drew his dagger and sliced through the rope holding her to the mast. She slid limply to the ground just as all dark broke loose.

***

The first whiplashes startled the slaves down in the hold. Gammage stirred uneasily. When the screams began, it was all he needed. He leapt to his feet, straining to get to her. The steel chains, however, were cold and unyielding, holding him to the oar. "Maris!" He tugged futily, unabble to do nothing but listen in horror. Abruptly, the screams stopped.

But the flogging continued.

With a roar, Gammage hurled himself at the door. The chains gave a whine of protest and snapped near the oar. Amid the startled gasps of the slaves, Gammage stumbled forward, oblivious to everything but the whiplashes. He banged the door open in time to see her fall, limp as a broken doll. He darted to her side and pulled her into his trembling grip. She lay unmoving, face pale, blood congealing on her back. Was she even breathing? "Maris!" he cried, shaking her as much as he dared. When no response came, he lowered his head, bowed with grief.

One of the younger, thus stupider, corsairs snickered, finding the situation quite amusing. It was the last nail in his coffin. Gammage slowly lowered her to the ground, gentle as possible. He stood, eyes lowered. Then with a wild battle yell he charged into the ranks of corsairs, eyes red as flame.

They had taken his son, his freedom, his crew, his ship, and now his wife.

There would be dark to pay.

***

Tittering quietly, three small pairs of paws slipped into the kitchen, turning hungry eyes on the oatcakes and scones baked for the next morning's early meal. The ringleader, Gonflet, produced a pillowcase and began to stuff scones into it. "Chugga, you stan' guard. Ivy, hel' me." Chugger promptly posted himself by the door, peering out into the darkness.

"Wha we doin' again?"

"Runnin' h'away fwom da h'abbey, dumbeww," Gonflet said in exasperation, "We wooking for barried tweasure!"

"Oh. I fot we was jus' gonna go campin' wike Skippa."

"Dat's so joovineill!"

Having finished stripping the kitchen of scones and cheese, the terrible trio shouldered the bulging pillowcases and slipped out the unfinished wall, all alone in the night.

***

"All quiet?"

Barkjon nodded. "I wonder what they're up to. That pine marten didn't seem like the type to give up."

"What are you doing?"

The pair jumped guiltily as Urran Voh walked onto the walkway behind them holding a lantern.

Before they could answer, a sudden sheet of flame devoured the wall less than a foot away from where they stood. They rushed to the side of the wall and saw a ferret in the process of throwing more oil onto the wall with a torch in his paw.

Rowanoak's javelin took him to the place where the fires never go out and the worm is always hungry.

Urran Voh had enough sense to realize when he was wrong. "Get the others. I shall stand guard here. Who knows what they're up to!"

Rowanoak looked past him and hurriedly pressed her javelin and thrower into his paws. He began to protest, but she pointed. An army of vermin headed to Noonvale like a dark wave, sweeping all aside in its path.

***

The chains spun through the air, a roiling blur as Gammage released all the pent-up rage and fury that had accumulated through the years. Four corsairs lay dead, several more badly wounded. Redeye scrambled backwards, eyes wide. He finally could no longer take the pressure and dashed into his cabin. He tried to shut the door on the enraged otter, but Gammage knocked the door off its hinges, throwing the fox against the opposing wall. Gammage wrapped the chains around the fox's neck and began to squeeze.

Redeye felt as if her were floating in a blue haze. He wanted to scream, plead, beg for mercy- anything to live.

Then with a sharp whack he gasped in air, realizing he could breathe. He looked up and saw Brogot, standing over him with a worried expression and a club in his hand. Gammage lay on the floor, blood leaking from an abrasion on the back of his head, out cold.

"Cap'n are you all right?"

"I am fine. I'm glad I made you first mate- soon as we capture another ship I'm making you captain."

Brogot shrugged. "You've allus been fair to me, cap'n. I couldn't run a ship like you could, cap'n."

"That's why I didn't retire, stupid." He gestured dismissively at Gammage. "Chain him back up- use double chains this time- and throw the corpses overboard."

Brogot gawked. "Let 'im live, cap'n? After all this-"

Redeye placed an arm around the young corsair's shoulders condescendingly. "Think, Brogot. The only thing these woodlanders love more than freedom are their families. If we kill him, we reunite him with his wife and son and grant him freedom. To keep him here, knowing he has lost both his wife and his son . . . That is nothing short of genius pure."

Brogot shrugged and began to drag the otter away. "Whatever you say. By the way, cap'n, we need more crew."

"How many did he kill?"

"Ten dead, four mortally wounded, an' seven badly hurt."

Redeye tried to hide his surprise at the otter's berserk strength. Frankly, he didn't see what was so special about that one female.

But then, he was a woodlander. And woodlanders did crazy things now and then.

***

Keyla looked through the mass of whirling, twisting bodies. He wasn't too keen on dancing- last time he'd tripped, knocking Urran Voh over. Not exactly the kind of thing that gives you confidence in your dancing prowess.

Brome joined him, face flushed with excitment. "Aren't you going to dance?"

"No. And don't say a word, Brome of Noonvale. Last time you got that look, Noonvale erupted in a prank war."

"Hey, it wasn't my fault!"

"True, but you liked the idea."

Instead of continuing to defend his doubtful innocence in the prank war, Brome took another tack in attempting to convince his friend to dance.

"Everybody's dancing. Look- Celandine, Lawd, even Grumm!

"You're not," the otter was swift to point out.

Brome ignored him. "Even Tullgrew's out there- you know how shy she can be."

As planned, that got the otter's attention. "Where?"

The current dance ended with a flourish. Brome pointed her out as the dancers began to seek new partners. "If you hurry you can catch her."

He started forward then narrowed his eyes at the smirking mouse. "You planned this."

"Yes, now hurry up. That big 'un over there looks like he's about to offer you some competition."

"I'm gonna get you for this," Keyla muttered as he scurried off.

"You're welcome!" Brome called after him.

***

"Report, now!"

"They seemed to have been taken by surprise, my lady. Also, the flames are burning through the walls."

"Good. I want you to take out any leaders at the slightest chance. Cut off the head and the body will die."


Urran Voh held the javelin and thrower half-heartedly. He did not want to kill anything- even if it meant he lost his own life. The Noonvaler's forces were stretched too thin- some attempting to put out the fire, others trying to keep the vermin off, without much success.

Rain, Var'ryn, we need rain . . .

An arrow whizzed by his head and he ducked. Warriors like the ex-slaves were very brave to put up with this. He, however, was no warrior. He was so afraid that if it wasn't for the creatures under his care he might have turned and run. A glass slid into his hand and he looked up.

Aryah.

"Aryah, get away from here! You may get hurt!"

"No! They need water!" she argued. Urran Voh sighed.

And she wondered where Rose and Brome got their stubborness.

His gaze wandered the battlefield and rested on his enemy as she loaded an arrow into her bow and took aim at . . .

Aryah.

With a sudden shout that surprised him, Urran Voh leapt to his feet. With speed and ease he was unused to, he fitted a javelin to the thrower and released it. The javelin sped through the air, piercing the pine marten's armour and embedding in her shoulder just as she released her arrow, drastically altering her aim.

Urran Voh froze as the arrow sped towards him. If he moved it may hit someone else. So this is how it ends . . .

At that moment, the fire finished burning through the platform ropes. It gave way and he fell with a cry as wooden beams piled around and on him.

The last thing he was aware of were raindrops on his cheeks.

***

Brome smiled as he finally located his friend on the dance floor. Keyla was smiling- no, laughing- as he danced with Tullgrew. He had never seen his otter friend so joyful. Brome could have joined them, but he stayed, branding in his mind the night they were all so happy with no cares.

He knew in his heart that there would not be a happy hour like this again for many a long day.

Chapter Ten: Oath

The dancing had come to a temporary pause, as the engagement ceremony took place. Lawd, looking handsome but rather embarrassed in his finery, stuttered through the appropriate words as he placed a slender golden band on Prim's claw. "Through Dark, danger, death and despair, through a hard and evil day, I swear I shall always be here, to defend you if I may."

She repeated the couplet, slipping an identical ring onto his paw.

"Why don't they just do the wedding now?" Keyla muttered to Celandine.

"They need to plan everything! The flowers, the food, the guests, the clothes- ooh, I would love to plan a wedding someday!"

Keyla muttered under his breath about females, squirrels in paticular, which he would never understand. A paw tapped him on the shoulder and he cam face to face with an otter his age. "G'day. Name's Houstun Streambattle. What are you called?"

"Keyla."

"Keyla what?"

"Keyla of Noonvale."

The other one sighed, and altered his tone as if talking to an infant. "Your tail name. Are you a Wildlough? How about a Streambattle, like me?"

"I don't have one."

Houstun's eyeborws raised high. He looked Keyla over carefully, noting his sling make and lingering on his paws. "I see," he muttered. He hissed, sharp intake of breath as he examined Keyla's face. "It can't be-"

His expression changed and he swept off without a word.


"Father, there's a Halfbreed here."

"A Halfbreed? Here?"

"Over there, the blue tunic."

"The female?"

"No, the male. Doesn't know 'is tail name and 'is sling's squirrel made. And his paws- partially webbed. And he looks like-"

"Never speak his name again!"

"Excuse me, what's a Halfbreed?"

Both otters looked down at a young mouse with brown eyes, failing to notice the indignant expression stamped on his face.

"A Halfbreed is a disgrace! Part sea otter, part river otter. Those sea otters are a wild lot, not to be trusted! A child of mine was foolish enough to run off with that wild lot, and I bet the pair of them are dead or worse!"

"How can you speak like that about your own child?"

"You're too young to understand, mouseling. Sea otters are dangerous, playing around in those big ships. Pah!"

"But you use boats."

"There is a big difference between a ship and a boat! His father was a finagle-"

"Sir!" Brome was usually a calm mouse, but even he had his limits. "I shall not have you speak of my friend that way. Apologize at once."

The pair stared at him, aghast. "You would associate with such a rascal?"

"I call him friend. He has saved my life, and there are none here I would rather have my back in a fight."

"You are young, so I shall excuse you. You do not know Satai's tale, so I shall forgive you." He leaned in close. "Trouble follows these Halfbreeds like bees to honey! All have bad luck, those close to them dying or worse. I would watch my tail if I were you."


Brome found he had nothing to say to such an eerie warning and could only splutter and watch as the pair walked off.

***

"How is he?"

Aryah looked up, relief evident in her features. "He will be fine. He shall need to remain here for a day or so but he will recover."

Urran Voh's eyes opened. "Aryah?" he gasped.

"I'm here, Urran."

"I need to speak to Barkjon. Please bring him here."

The old squirrel was brought in. Urran Voh took a breath and began to speak. "I was wrong to not listen to you, Rowanoak and Ballaw. I am sorry."

"It was a simple mistake. You were not expected to know."

"You told me. I should have listened."

Aryah shooed Barkjon away. "He needs to rest!"

The squirrel left, smiling slightly at the memory of his own wife, Ranguvar. She was a fighter, she was. Where Felldoh had probably inherited his impulsive tendencies.

***


Cold. Freezing, swirling ice. Can't see. Cold. Where- where am I?

"I think he's beginning to come around!"

Throbbing pain. Head . . . hurts.

"What air we goin' tae do? Wot's to stop 'im from chargin' on deck again like 'e did last time?"

Charging? Are they talking about me?

"The chains. Doubly done this time. Not even a badger in bloodwrath could snap both of them."

"So you say. What if'n 'e goes postal again?"

Postal? Me? Only time I did that was when those clods called my son a disgra-

Son! Redeye. Whip. Screams. Maris. Oh Var'ryn, Maris!

"Dell, shut up! He's coming around!"

Gammage's bloodshot brown eyes flew open. "Maris?" His voice was a choking gasp, filled with desperate hope.

Burdock's eyes radiated sorrow as she placed a paw on his shoulder, as high as she could reach. What could she say? 'I'm sorry your wife was killed by evil corsairs and, since you asked, her corpse was thrown over board for the sharks and who knows what else? Remind me to stop by at the funeral sometime next millennium.'

That simple gesture told him all. Memory flooded back. The whipping, the screams, the corsairs standing and watching with glee, the screams, the blood, the screams, the chains biting into his paws and the heart-wrenching, mind-ripping, soul-shattering, blood-freezing screams.

And, above all, that fox's malevolent laughter.

By Dark Forest, he would pay.

Burdock had expected him to sob, or scream, or something. What he did instead?

Sat up and began rowing methodically. "Gammage?" she asked tentatively.

Dell shot her a loaded look. "Leave 'im be, lassie. He's mourning in 'is own way." The squirrel's eyes, young as they were, emitted understanding. "E's been hurt tae badly to cry. Only revenge is left tae him. By the Western Woods, I'd 'ate to be that fox. Someday, the last thing he'll ever hear will be that 'un's battle yell."

Maybe. One thing was sure.

There'd be Dark to pay.

***

Dawn's rosy light found three tired Dibbuns- exhausted, hungry, and lost.

"Dis is all you fault, Gonf'et," Ivy muttered, "We shoulda jus' stolen scones fwom da kicthen."

"Yoo fweaked out at da skider and ran away. We had to fowwow you! Dat's not my fault!"

"You an' Chugga put da skider in my fur!" Ivy accused petulantly, "I tired, I hungry, I wanna go home!"

With that dramatic statement, she promptly burst into tears.

"Look what you did, Gonf'et," the squirrelbabe accused, "I told you it was a bad idea."

"Not my fault she got mad!"

"She's a girl."

"Girls are gwoss," Gonflet stated.

"Here now, what's three little 'uns like you doing out here all by yourselves?"

Startled, the trio turned- even Ivy, who tried to wipe away her tears.

A big, friendly-looking male otter stood in the foilage behind them. He was about 35 winters old, yet his eyes were old as the ancient sun shining down upon them, made to look older by the kindness and honour shining out of them.

Chugger, strongly reminded of Folgrim, stepped up without fear only to be upstaged by Ivy.

"We is lost, mista," she said, with hints of a sob in her voice, "I tired and hungwy and Gonf'et put a skider in my fur!"

The otter, won over, picked her up gently. "Did 'e now? Guess we have to talk to his parents. Where are you three from, anyways?"

"Redhall Abbey."

Jeod shifted uncomfortably. "Redhall? You mean the big red-stone buildin' that's being erected?"

"Yes. Only we is losted. I is Ivy, dat bees Gonf'et-" here she paused to stick her tongue out at said Dibbun "-and he Chugga. Pwease, Mista, can you take us home?"

The otter hesitated. He had never much liked being around other people, save his family. A big community like that Abbey . . . but no, he had to do what was best for the Dibbuns.

He set off at a brisk pace. "Come on, follow me. I know the way."

"What'cha name?"

His heart gave a wrench. The inquisitive voice brought back painful memories.


"Unca Jeed, why does Farder kiss Mama? Does she taste nice?"

Jeod laughed, unable to help himself. "No, it's- um, ah, why don't you ask your mother, look, there she is now!"

The Dibbun obligingly leapt off his lap. "Mommy, why do you kiss Daddy?"

She blinked, taken by surprise. She looked at Jeod who shrugged. "Um, well-"

The Dibbun screwed his snout up in disgust. "It's ok Mama, you don't have to tell me if you don't know."


"The name's Jeod, little 'un. Jeod Streambattle."

***

For what seemed like the thousandth time Keyla ran his paw across his dagger, oiling it, freeing it of grime.

The thing that made them all feel better was that a legion of Long Patrol hares were leaving for Noonvale in less than five minutes, the same time they were leaving for Redwall.

He looked absently to the other four questers, laughing and talking to the Long Patrol. From what Sunflash had told them about Martin's previous visit, and what Skarlath knew of the terrain, it would be dangerous trip.

A trip in which three would die.

Keyla silently swore to himself that he would not let anything happen to the others while he had breath. Loyal Grumm, kind-hearted Celandine, gentle Brome, and Tullgrew.

He owed them that much, for taking him in, being his friend, and, in Tullgrew's case, saving his life.

The least he could do was try to return the favor.

***

"Columbine, have you checked the orchards yet?"

The mousewife sighed. "A thousand times! That settles it, they must have left the Abbey!"

"Has the infirmary been checked?"

"Yes! They must be gone!"

Gonff groaned in frustration. "Where's Skipper when ye need him?" In truth, Skipper of Otters had left with his tribe for the first hullabaloo since Greeneye's arrival in Mossflower. Only Folgrim had remained behind, preferring quiet Abbey life.

Folgrim gave a joyful shout. "I can see 'em! They're fine!"

Jeod and the Dibbuns emerged from the trees. Upon seeing Redwall, the Dibbuns eagerly surged ahead, dragging a reluctant Jeod along behind them.

Bella nodded to the otter. "Thank you for returning our young ones safely to us. I am Bella of Brockhall. What is your name?"

"My name's Jeod Streambattle. I live a ways out in Mossflower Woods. Best be getting back, I guess." He began to edge back, but Ivy grabbed his paw, wide brown eyes looking up at Bella.

"Can he stay at da Habbey? Pwease?"

"I don't know, Ivy- he has a home already."

The brown eyes drooped . . . so like her eyes . . . such a rich shade of chocolate . . .

"If'n ye'd have me, marm, I guess I don't mind," he muttered shyly. Ivy's face lit up like a firefly. She grabbed his wrist and began to drag him inside.

"Come on, Mista Jeed. We gorra show yoo da whowe h'abbey!"


Chapter Eleven: Unexpected

"Cum on, Shawna, get da baww!"

The Dibbuns had tried to play ball (note the keyword "tried") but it had ended up almost at the water, due to a wild throw. Shawna, the thrower, was trying to retrieve (note: keyword again)

"I twying, I twying- OUCH!" The three otter babes saw their friend fall with a squeal down the rocks. "I alwight. Boy, dis is messy!"

"Get the baww Shawna! I wanna play!"

The Dibbun responded with a panicked scream. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

"Shawna!" The oldest of the Dibbuns, Milon, grabbed a piece of driftwood. "Get Skippa!" The others Dibbuns took off without hesitation as Milon slid down the embankment, prepared to fight to the death.

***

Midday's searing heat beat down upon the five questers. Salamandastron was at their backs, ahead they faced ice-capped mountains- mountains that seemed no closer than when they had begun the next stage of their quest hours ago. In between, stretching ahead of them like an ocean of gold. The sinister lines o the prophecy kept running in Brome's head, endlessly repeating:


Tarry not, continue on your way,


When two have fallen in the land without rain.

He clenched his stave in a death grip. Don't think about it!

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that all the questers, even Celandine, had their paws near their weapons, or as near as you could get them while trying to keep your balance in this impossible sand. The sand, which was piled into dunes by the increasing wind, was constantly moving, shifting and sliding so that it was nearly impossible to navigate. Brome, Grumm, and Celandine had the best of it, being shorter and equipped with staves. For Keyla and Tullgrew, however, it was a completely different tune. They were taller and supportless, the result being they often tumbled down a sandy slope, occasionally taking out one or more of the other questers,

It was slow going.

"Grr This isn't working! Isn't there another way?" Keyla growled after what seemed like the thousandth fall, spitting sand out of his mouth and wiping it out of his eyes.

Brome shrugged helplessly. "Not that I know of."

The otter groaned and struggled to his knees, just as as Tullgrew lost her pawing and careened into him, knocking them both off the dune.

Celandine ran ahead, flying over the sand like a bird, then leapt into the air, landing gracefully on her feet.

"Show-off," Keyla muttered as he helped Tullgrew up.

The squirrelmaid jogged back. "There's smooth sand by the sea shore, about half a league that way," she reported.

"Hurr, we'm save toime, ee mountains r against ee bogland," mused Grumm.

"He's right. We can go faster through marshland than through this- we just have to watch our paws," Tullgrew added.

Brome, who was rather fed up with the sinking sand himself, nodded. "Come on then, we're wasting time!"

Time. One of the many things they were running out of. Patience, stamina, and time.


Tarry not, continue on your way,



When two have fallen in the land without rain.
***

From her place in the camp, Zounzdican scowled at the wooden walls of Noonvale. They stood there, taunting her long after she had challenged them. She ran through the things they had tried already. Intimidation, a full frontal assault, grappling, surprise attacks, and fire.

She narrowed here eyes. She had gotten lax in her battles. She needed something those woodlander bumpkins would not expect . .

The solution to her problem dawned beautifully in her mind like a glorious sunrise. She swept out her tent, barking orders.

"You there! I want to talk to you!"

***

Maris dead.

Those words rang in his mind, repeating over and over accusatively.

Maris dead.

Like Jeod, and most of his crew, and . . . and . . . and Kay.

Unbidden, a memory he had long fought to keep from his mind broke past his barrier . . .

I restlessly paced outside the cabin, feeling the cool air ruffle my fur. I felt a mixture of emotions- joy, anxiety, and fear. Joy, because today I would become a father. Anxiety, that I would lose one or both of those I love most: my unborn child or my gentle wife. Fear, that I would fail her. Or him. Terror that I would be unable to be there for s/he when s/he needed me the most. That I would be a terrible father.

That I would fail.

A scream of pain had me freeze, heart lurching with terror. Another scream sounded, then a thin wail echoed throughout the ship.

I was a father.

The door opened and I pushed past the midwife. My heart swelled at the scene unfolding. Maris lay on the bed, glowing both with sweat and with joy. A small, squirming bundle lay in her paws. "It's a he," she whispered, eyes shining with pride.

A male! I had expected a maid, but secretly hoped for a male. I walked to her side, suddenly afraid. Of what I hadn't the slightest idea, yet there it lurked, tearing at my spine. "You alright?" I asked her, running my paw down her face. She beamed at me and gently placed our son in my paws.

"Perhaps Kay?"

I considered it, avoiding my child's face.

"Kay? That's a girl's name. No, something else. Hmm . . . Dannblood?"

"Gammage!" Her voice was drifting. Afraid for a moment, I looked at her and realized with relief she was only falling asleep.

"G'night Maris," I said softly. I turned to leave when the bundle in my arms yawned. I couldn't help but look down. He was a blend of myself and Maris. He had my face, while retaining Maris' dark fur and delicately curved ears. When he opened his eyes I realized they were a startling shade of blue, extremely rare among woodlanders. He yawned again, and his eyes began to close as he snuggled deeper into my arms.

A lump formed in my throat. Already he trusted me and I had done nothing to earn it.

I swore than that nothing would ever harm him.

Gammage exhaled, and the white-hot pain from the memory slowly faded. He had failed. And now his son and his wife were both dead.

A fire of resolve kindled in him. Today was the last day he would mourn for the lost.

Then only revenge was left to him.

***

The wind was rising at an alarming rate. Sand was beginning to blow into their faces, blinding them. "Sandstorm! Find cover!" Tullgrew heard Brome howl over the rising wind just before it consumed her vision.

Brome felt a paw grasp his tunic and pull him steadily underground. Blackness swam at the edge of his eyes and he gasped for air, receiving only sand.

Then glorious air swept into his throat and he tried to sit up, gulping in air. Something held him down. "Loi still, zurr Brome, ee tunnel moight not 'old up. Hurr. drink ee watur."

Brome accepted, the cool water feeling like heaven. "Keyla, how you holding up?" he gasped.

There was no response.

"Keyla?" the mouse sat up, eyes adjusted to the light. The only person in the little mole-dug sand tunnel besides himself and Celandine. Brome gave a strangled gasp and instinctively started for the entrance. Grumm grabbed his tunic and pulled him back. "Zurr Brome, bai't nuthin' ee kin do." Tears leaked from the mole's eyes.

All fight went out of Brome and he collapsed, sobbing. No. Felldoh, Rose . . . Keyla, Tullgrew. No. How many more must die? How many more?

***


Night had fallen upon Redwall Abbey. Ivy, Chugger, and Gonflet lay snuggled together on the floor, snoring uproariously. Jeod gave a small smile and covered them with his cloak. A single tear made its way down his cheek and he hastily wiped it away.

The guilt and sorrow in his eyes were plain in the flickering firelight.

He walked over to a chair and sat in it by the fire, staring into the flames. After a moment he looked at Gonff, a sad smile tinging his face. “He’s a beautiful child. Clever ‘un too.”

“What’s your song, Jeod? You don’t seem like the kind of person who likes to be alone,” Martin said softly.

Jeod’s face went deathly still, eyes bright with long unshed tears. “I was kicked out my tribe when I was near-full grown, along with my little sister Maris because she pledeged her troth to a sea otter named Gammage. To marry out of the tribe was bad enough in theri eyes, but out of the species . . . they cast us out, but we didn't care. We wandered the seas with Gammage and his crew, fighting vermin and just having a good time.” He smiled, lost in the past. “Ahh, yes, those were the days. Vermin didn’t know what hit them! When we weren’t fighting, we had our paws full to control Maris' son- my nephew. He was a scalawag just as bad as that little ‘un ye have now, Gonff. If he wasn’t in time-out or the infirmary with some ailment due to his overly inquisitive nature, he was up to some prank or other.”

Jeod paused. He looked back at the sleeping Dibbuns and sighed. “Guess the warlords figured that sooner or later we’d go after them. One night, they ambushed us, Vilu Daskar an’ Zounzdican.”

He said nothing more, staring into the flames with intense rage and sorrow. Finally, he spoke again, his voice low and thick. “I’m only one warrior. What can I do against a horde of scum? Nothing. Blasted nothing!”

Before anybeast could think of anything to say, a shout rang from the outer Abbey Walls. “Ahoy, Redwall! Cue yer infirmary!”

Lady Amber was the first beast out there. “What happened, Skip?”

“No time to talk. Get her to the infirmary straight aways!”

Lady Amber gasped and covered her mouth when she saw the wounds inflicted upon the female otter lying prone on the stretcher. “What happened?”

“I don’t know, She’s not one of ours- a stranger. Shauna found her on the tideline. Crabs were crawling all over her back. Not a pretty sight.”

Jeod, not quite sure what was happening but ready to help, opened doors for the stretcher as they made their way to the infirmary. As they laid her on the bed, he finally laid eyes on her.

Her back was torn to shreds, muscle and flesh putrid, pale with loss of blood, and caked with salt. But that was not what made him stare, eyes filled with fear, joy and hope.

“What is it, Jeod?” Martin asked.

Jeod took a breath, eyes locked upon the prone form.

“She’s . . . she’s my sister, Maris.”

Chapter Twelve: Changing Tides

The world faded in from blackness. It was dark, but she could tell they were in a cave of some kind. Cool stone brushed her face when she sat up, hitting her head on the roof.

She froze as something stirred, disturbed by her movement. A surprised voice echoed out of the darkness, allaying her fears. "Heh, what do ye know- we're still alive!"

Tullgrew laughed. "Course we are, you brought us here didn't you?"

Keyla squirmed sheepishly. "I had no idea this cave was here," he confessed, "I just picked a random direction."

"Keyla!"

"What? You're alive aren't you?"

"The others might not be," she muttered testily. He turned away swiftly, as if she had struck him, and a barely audible gasp escaped his throat. She flushed with shame as she realized, too late, the effect her words would have on him. "Keyla, it's not your fault! I didn't mean-"

"Hush!" He had gone rigid, head cocked to the side as if listening. He clambered out the hole, standing in the cool desert air. Two fires burned, one on the shore, the other deeper into the desert.

"Keyla?" she asked, slightly annoyed as she scrambled out beside him, the javelins strapped to her back catching on the stone for a minute. He relaxed and helped her out, a puzzled look in his eyes.

"I thought I heard something. Either way, two fires . . ." he trailed off.

"Do you suppose those . . . little creatures trailed us?"

The other shook his head. "Jules, Lawd, or myself would have picked up on it sooner or later. And how could they have passed Salamandastron without being discovered by-"

Unobstructed by the stone walls of their shelter, the shrill cry of pain and terror was clearly audible.

The otter exploded into action, running swiftly across the sand like a deer, somehow overcoming his earlier problem of balance. Thrusting her puzzlement to the back of her mind,Tullgrew hastened after him as best she could, javelins at the ready. She slipped almost instantly on the sand, nearly impaling herself on a javelin. She groaned. Not again!

Blacknose looked on in puzzlement as Zounzdican examined carefully the device she had made with her own paws. "How is that going to do any good, my lady? They don't have a door!" She sat back, pleased with her handiwork, and smirked at the clueless weasel. "Precisely why they won't expect it!"

He scratched his snout. "But-"

She sighed condescendingly, wondering why in the world she had made a male her second in Ripred's absence. A slight hint of stupidity on her part. She couldn't afford stupidity.

"Just do as I say!"

The sun shone cheerily down on them, filling the day with glorious light.

They had been unaffected by the storm, watching the woodlanders seemingly get devoured by the swirling golden sand.

The youngest of the vermin, a stoat named Haddix, spoke first. "So, wot does we do now?"

A young female ferret named Crow (named for the first thing her dad had killed after she was born), spoke for half of the crew. "We should go back. There's no way they survived that storm. Even if'n they did make it, how do two woodlanders make a difference?"

Fatgutt bit into the leg of a seabird he had caught, ripping the flesh from the bone in one swift jerk. "There were five," he remarked icily, "And one of them happens to have an engagement with my halberd, if ye know what I mean." He ran a loving paw down its edge, which he always kept sharp.

"Then you can go on while the rest of us return, Fatty," she muttered, "You're the one who made a fool of the rest of us at negotiations."

The rat snarled and leapt to his feet but Ripred intervened. "Stop! Fighting among ourselves won't accomplish anything!"

Reluctantly the vermin settled down. "I'm sure I only saw two," maintained Crow with a glare at Fatgutt. "Two stinkin' woodlanders. Huh! Next we'll be running from woodp-" Haddix interrupted her. "Ripred's in charge and wot he says goes." All the vermin looked at him expectantly.

Ripred hesitated. What to do? No matter what he chose, Fatgutt would follow that male otter to the edge of the earth. If only Fatgutt didn't have such pride!

The best he could do was follow and ensure that none of those woodlanders came to harm.

"We keep following until we're sure they're dead," he said at last, "We have our orders. Now move!"

Inwardly he hoped he was doing the right thing.

Jeod remained at his sister's side, dabbing poultices and whatever she needed on her horrible wounds. The sun had risen and fallen since her arrival, and she was little better. Twice the sheer pain had nearly awoken her, screaming and vomiting bile and blood. Germaine worked next to him, face grave.

Finally, Germaine sat back. "There is nothing more we can do. The rest is up to her."

Jeod took a long breath and placed the jar of ointment down. "Even this is more than I had hoped for. Oh Maris, what happened? Why would he do this to you?"

Martin stared at the otter. "You know who did this?"

"Fairly certain. We were enslaved by an alliance of vermin, yet it was Redeye who brought myself, Gammage, and Maris down. Unless he was killed or defeated in battle, he would never give them up. He was always proud of the fact that he brought us down almost single-pawed. Something must have happened to change his mind."

"What happened to Kay?"

"He was given to Vilu Daskar. I don't understand it- Vilu Daskar could have asked for the ship or for the slaves as his share, but he and Zounzdican, fought over Kay."

"Vilu Daskar?" Martin asked.

The otter looked at him and nodded. "He's dead, isn't he?" Jeod said after a moment.

"The Goreleech was sunk by my father onto the tall rocks. The only survivors were members of my tribe and a few of my father's friends." Jeod said nothing. "I'm sorry."

"Did he die well?" he inquired at last, voice breaking, "Did he die like a Galedeep?"

Martin nodded. "Yes, he did," he promised, "He died with honour."

Jeod sighed, and bowed his head. "That, alone, is all I could hope for."

Crow grumbled as she walked along the sand. Why was she always chosen to hunt? Probably cause she was a girl.

She came over the dune and froze. A young mouse was walking on the shore, alone. An easy target. A prisoner would be useful.

Crow smiled and loaded her sling. The simplest shot she ever had. Careful aim. Just a slight clipping on the side of the head. That was all it would take . . .

She released the stone, just as he bent over to pick up a stick. The stone whistled over his head, and he looked up and saw her. He straightened and gave a shout. He had a pair of lungs like a bellows!

He run, but she gave chase. She had longer legs and was faster and easily overtook him. She knocked him over and held him down, drawing her dagger. "Where are the others?" she asked with a snarl.

He spit in her face and began to struggle. She gripped the dagger and without the slightest hesitation sliced his left ear off. Blood sprayed as he screamed unintelligibly.

A shout of fury was all she had to warn her.

Then he was upon her. Like a raging storm, he crackled with energy and roared with power, sweeping all away in his path. She struck at him with her dagger, yet it had about as much effect as a grain of sand against a mighty wind.

He grabbed her by the throat and pulled her up off the ground so she looked into his dark eyes. Brown, wide with fear, and grey with rage stared at each other for an instant.

"Keyla, no!"

Too late. One swift twist was all it took.

Tullgrew stared in horror as Keyla's muscles rippled, accompanied by a horrible crunch. The vermin dropped lifeless from his paws, almost in slow motion. "Keyla?" she asked uncertainly. He turned to her, eyes still dark with fury. She backed away from him as he approached her. "Keyla, it's me! Tullgrew!"

The darkness faded from his eyes. He lowered his head, breathing heavily, and when he raised his eyes there was puzzlement. "Wha- what happened?"

She stared at him, unsure what to say. Indeed, what could she say? She didn't even know if he could help it or not when he went . . . insane? Was that the word? As long as I don't say it to his face, she thought. "Tullgrew, get back to camp, I think it's that way but you'll have to follow Brome's footprints."

"Maybe I should stay with you," she prompted.

"But Brome needs attention now. If you get to camp before me, they can have all the supplies ready and waiting." "What if you're attacked again?" she tested.

Clearly he had not thought of this. "That's the last thing we need- a fight," he muttered, "I'd have to stop, and I don't think I can hold him stable and run at the same time, not to mention I'd be leading it to the camp . . ." He sighed in frustration, while Tullgrew decided not to point out the irony of the situation by not looking at the corpse. "We don't have time for this. Let's just go and deal with whatever comes our way."

He seemed fine. She gritted her teeth. Keyla... what's happening to you?

The Long Patrol had bedded down for the night, bedding arranged in precise, neat rows. Not wanting to risk any of Salamandastron's leverets- under assurance from Skarlath that Swartt was no where in the area, hence unable to attack- only seasoned warriors had been sent to aid Noonvale's plight. Lawdrel Nightshade looked with a hint of lonliness onto the spartan furnishings.

"What's botherin' you, Lawd ol' chap?" Jules knew his friend well- better than a brother.

Lawd smiled wanly. "I was just wonderin' what the new recuits are up to. We could use some of that."

Jules grinned widely. "Half of 'em are on dish duty, and the other half's cleanin' the forge. Don't worry about them, Lawd me matey, they're fine!"

A commotion from the far end got their attention. The two looked at each other and got up from their seats, appoaching the scene of the consternation.

"Oh, I'm a flippin' grub swiper, eh? You're a flippin' old fart!"

"I say! That remark-"

"Hold it!" The hares fell silent as their leader stepped into the mess, closely followed by his lieutenant. "And what, I say, is going on here, hmm?"

The cook, who had been referred to as 'a flippin' old fart,' was not in the best of moods. "An entire wedge of cheese has vanished from the packs, as well as three loaves of bread! And Bertey took them!" she accused.

Bertey, a fat hare known for swiping grub, protested vehemently. "I say, I did not! I don't even like cheese, wot wot!"

Unnoticed in the commotion, Lawd heard a soft rustle from the bushes. He whipped his head around, cocking his ears. He could hear the sound of munching- the sound one makes when gnawing hungrily on bread. He slipped away and circled around behind the noise. He waited one second, then two, then pounced.

"Owwch! Geroff, you rotter! Bounder! Cad! Hellllp! I'm being murdered!" The Long Patrol hares watched in fascination as the the true culprit was dragged from the bushes by his ear. It was a young leveret, no more than ten seasons old. None of the Long Patrol had ever laid eyes on him before, but it was plain from his bony frame and ragged clothes that he was an orphan.

"Please don't kill me!" he cried, "I'm tough and stringy! You don't want to eat me!"

Some of the hares burst into laughter at the situation, but Jules silenced them with a glare. "No one's going to eat you, old chap! Though if you wanted some of our grub, you jolly well should have asked instead of sneaking around like a flippin' weasel, eh, wot wot!"

The leveret looked up in surprise. "Y-you're not going to kill me?" he asked in astonishment.

"Course not! Come on, eh, you got a name?"

The leveret cocked his head in puzzlement, but before he could answer, the cook took over. "You poor thing! Half starved you are! Come along, Auntie Cooky's going to fix that right now!" She eyed the hares standing aroung looking at her. "Don't just stand there! Scout ahead or something! Sorry to blame you, Bertey. Come along, now!" They made an exit with laughter ringing in their ears.

Jules looked after the young hare thoughtfully. "Hmm, nice long arms, good eye-hand coordination... I wonder..."

"You thinking of taking on an apprentice at last, mate?" Lawd asked.

"We'll see," Jules returned cryptically.

The pine marten rolled out the aerial map, created with the aid of a vulture, paid with the corpses of the dead that had fallen in the battles. Her eyes roved the map, slowly and decisively. She marked with her claws the weak points of the wall, determined by its overall shape. She looked to the sky and smiled grimly. A red sun rose. Blood would be spilled that night.

"The bleeding won't stop!" Keyla muttered as he held a dockleaf to the stump of Brome's ear. Stupid stupid, should have been there...

Tullgrew handed her comrade some bandages, watching him closely. No sign that anything was out of the ordinary. And yet, the memory of his eyes, hard, angry, and ruthless as he looked back at her, a dead vermin clutched in his paws haunted her, and she shivered.

"Hurr, zurr Keyla, let me troi." The young otter gave his care over to Brome, watching closely as the mole expertly stopped the bleeding. He grinned sheepishly.

"Guess I still 'ave a lot to learn, eh?"

Brome smiled. "It's not that hard once you get the hang of it. It is an awful lot to remember, though." He winced and his paw started toward the stump. "Ouch."

"I better take watch tonight," Keyla said, face flushed with guilt, "Where there's one vermin, there might be more."

"No, I'll do it," Tullgrew volunteered.

Keyla looked at her in surprise. "But Tullgrew-"

"No buts, you've taken watch every day for the past week!"

He opened his mouth to protest, but Brome took the female's side. "She's right, Kay- you need rest." The name had slipped out of him, he did not know where it came from. Whatever the intention, it had a profound effect on the young otter.

Keyla flinched backwards, eyes wide, chest heaving. Tullgrew noticed his claws come out, digging into his paw and ripping fresh scabs off as blood flowed from his paw. The otter stood after a moment, shuddering. "Never call me Kay," he said, slowly, with an unusual presence in his voice. Then he turned and was gone, walking towards the water swiftly as his paws could carry him.

"Keyla, wait!" Brome called, but his friend slid into the water, vanishing like a vapour in the wind. Regret shone in the mouse's eyes, though he had done nothing wrong. He went to stand, but Tullgrew placed a firm paw on his shoulder.

"You shouldn't be moving with that ear. He's not angry with you. Something's wrong... he's never acted like this before..." her eyes widened. "Except..."

She stood and followed him, calling his name.

She found him standing on a rocky outcropping, facing the moon away from her. She hovered, unsure what to say, when he spoke first. "You know me too well.'

"Keyla... the nightmares... why didn't you tell me they were coming back?"

"I didn't want you to worry-"

"Keyla, don't give me that! Anything that happens on this quest affects us all! Failure means death, you know that as well as I!"

"Nightmares aren't going to show us how to get to the Abbey. Nightmares can't hurt you. I'm just being selfish." As usual, he though gloomily.

She stepped until she was close behind him. He turned, not knowing how close she was, and nearly stumbled back in surprise.

The moon shone out onto her softly, gentle eyes sparkling. She placed a paw on his chest. "But they tear you apart in there," she said in a low undertone, "To the point where you can't stand to sleep, don't they? I know what you're thinking. Brome's injury wasn't your fault. Neither was Rose's death, or Martin's leaving, or the attack. You had nothing to do with it."

He sighed. "You're right- as usual." Thank you. They stood awkwardly, unsure what to say. Tullgrew hesitated a moment and began to slip her paw into his, but met something warm and wet with a metallic stink. Blood... from his claws! He pulled away, looking at his bloodied paw in the moonlight as if seeing it for the first time.

She tore a strip off her skirt and bound the wound, the pale blue cloth shining almost white in the moonlight, slowly darkening as his blood spread onto it. Still, nothing passed between them.

"Better go apologize to Brome," the young otter said after a moment, "I was too harsh with him."

She nodded and wordlessly followed him.

"Too quiet... it's too quiet."

The badger nodded, looking to the sky. "Something's not right. Set dou-"

It was then that flaming arrows hit. They came from the foilage like flashes of death, taking the life of anybeast unfortunate enough to get in its way.

"Water! Get water! Archers, shoot back!" Barkjon ordered, nimbly swinging up onto the ramparts. His agility was unsullied by age.

The flaming arrows were excellent cover for the battering rams that were led out of the trees towards Noonvale. Ballaw barked out a laugh. "Battering rams, wot wot? Are the blighters insane or just stupid? We don't even have a door!" Rowanoak dodged a missile. "But the wall is made of entwined tree trunks, not stone. That ram is solid oak and tipped with metal. If she finds the right place in the wall, it'll come down like a house of sticks!"

"So then, old girl, what do you suggest we do?" the hare asked as he dodged an arrow.

Barkjon gave his idea as the rams loomed closer.

Chapter Thirteen: Useless

Grumm watched the other questers with a small smile on his kindly face. Yesterday's slight argument seemed to have been completely forgotten and forgiven. Brome's ear seemed to be coming along nicely indeed, he was currently schooling Keyla on the usage of various herbs, while Celandine and Tullgrew were talking in hushed terms about something or other. It didn't matter. He was happy to see the five of them together, united in friendship against the evil that loomed over them.

The smile fell from his face as he recalled the fact that only two would be standing at the end of this adventure. He looked at Brome, laughing at some joke that Keyla had cracked, his bandaged stump of an ear painfully obvious.

Grumm wondered about how things could have gone. If Keyla and Tullgrew had not showed up... If the vermin had been quicker with her blade...

Rose had already died for his sake. He would do everything in his power to keep Brome from suffering a similar fate.

***

Zounzdican watched from the center of the field as the rams faithfully battered away at the walls of Noonvale. She could see widening cracks in the tree trunks and she smirked to herself.

Then she saw white... somethings... being lowered on ropes between the walls and the battle rams. Mattresses? She almost smiled to herself. Oh yes, if this were just a game, quite a fun game it would be. But this was no game, it was reality. And the quicker she took the woodlanders, the better.

She watched, as they fought, some falling to her troops' arrows, others taken by the javelins, still more by the slingstones. It was not uncommon, she noted, for one woodlander to die while shielding a comrade from a missile that would have meant their certain death.

Her lip curled. Fools! What need was there to save your comrade, if one of you died anyway? There was no point to it, it did not preserve your numbers, it made no sense at all! Just a useless tactic. Let the fools die- you weed out the slow and weaker of the bunch.

Zounzdican eyed the white mattresses softening the blows from the ram. Metal hoops were now being lowered, and she realized their intent- to grasp the head of the battering ram and pull it up. The ram would fall back and crush her troops.

"Blacknose," she ordered, "Have your archers aim for those hoop they're lowering. If we get to it in time, we can stop the hoops before they catch-"

Too late. The hoop caught the tip of the ram and pulled up sharply. The ram was raised, as she expected, but she did not expect the hoop to break as it was being raised, dropping the ram onto her troops. She ground her teeth in frustration and loaded an arrow to her bow, aiming for the one who seemed to have engineered the fight against the rams- and old squirrel. She pulled the bow back, back, so far back that the string touched her ear. She breathed out and let it fly.

She scowled in disappointment. A young mouse had leapt into the arrow's path, taking it through the chest.

"Fall back," she ordered moodily. It would seem they were a tougher nut to crack than she thought. She looked over to the battlements, where the old squirrel was trying to staunch the bloodflow of his shield and obviously failing. She narrowed her eyes and turned away.

She would never understand the strange ways of the woodlanders.

***

"Yes, that's it! Parry, thrust!" The young hare, whose name was Sabretache, dodged to the side, avoiding Jules' flashing blade. The swordsbeast smiled to himself. It was plain that the young 'un had never been trained, and yet he showed an incredible amount of talent. His form was terrible, but his instincts and ability to make split-second decisions were excellent. Add that to his long arms and agility, and you had the makings of an excellent swordsman.

Sabretache gave an unexpected twist of his sword, but Jules, having seen the tell tale ripple in the other's arm muscles, twisted his sabre along with it. Sabretache lost hold of his blade and it went flying, embedding itself into a nearby tree. Jules smiled, pleased with the young hare's progress. "Good work! That's enough for today, we only took a short break. Here." Jules tossed the young hare a heavy cylinder of stone.

"What's this for?" It looks useless, he thought.

"Hold it in your wrist and twist it around while you march. It will build up strength in your wrists. Practice with both hands, as if it were a claymore, as well as with your left and right hands."

"But why me left hand, wot?"

"Because one day yer right hand or arm may be broken and ye'll have to use yer left hand."

"It's heavier than any sabre I'll use!" Sabretache argued.

"Someday, you may lose yer blade and have to rely on a stolen or borrowed weapon. That's no time to be picky. It may be lighter than yer used to, or it may be a flippin' claymore, eh?"

The leveret nodded and began to slowly twist the cylinder in his paw experimentally.

Lawd approached the two, a grin gracing his face. "Come on, or we'll leave without you! Break was only fifteen minutes, eh wot!"

***

Barkjon grabbed Ferndew's paw as she sank to the ground, the arrow meant for him embedded deeply into her chest. "Ferndew... hang on, we'll get a healer. Why did you do it?"

She smiled, blood leaking from the wound and the corners of her mouth. "Barkjon.. you're like... a father to us all... You led us... gave us hope during the dark days of Badrang's tyranny... and even now, even though... you're old... you fight to protect us... I am proud to fight... by your side..." She coughed up red liquid and lay still, eyes remaining open as they looked upon the sky.

***

By the time they found it, the body had already been set upon by the scavengers of the desert. Vultures tore at what was not covered by golden grains, trying to get to the sweet meat protected by the layers of skin and fur. The remainder of the vermin crew that set out from Zounzdican's camp looked down at Crow's body as the morning light spread over the desert. Fatgutt leaned on his spear as he looked down at her still form. "Huh, I allus knew she was stupid, a-trying to take on the woodlanders by herself."

Their tracker, Zilvana, eyed the body carefully, noting the tracks shielded from the sand and wind by the corpse. "Mouse tracks. And a few otters' print to."

"Only that big otter could have done something like that," growled Fatgutt, gesturing at the damage.

Ripred eyed her grotesquely twisted neck. He couldn't say he particularly liked her. She was loud, selfish, and obsessed with treasure, always demanding her own way, but she was a good pickpocket and an excellent navigator. "We should bury her and get moving," he said at last.

"Who knows how far ahead those woodlanders are by now? Why bother burying her?"

"She was still our crewmate. She deserves at least protection from the scavengers." Ripred looked Fatgutt in the eye. "That could have been you forgaing. Yer the best fighter here, but they have the advantage. You could have been the one who died."

Fatgutt met his gaze, and they stared like that for a long minute until finally Fatgutt looked away. "Aye," he muttered, disgruntled.

***

After several hours of brisk walking, Celandine stopped and put her hand to her eyes. "I can see something up ahead! I think it's a cloud bank, or maybe a mountain range..."

Keyla peered ahead, and could make out the espied ranges. He grinned. "Betcha Redwall's right over that mountain range!"

"Do you really think so?" Tullgrew asked.

"Martin can't travel forever. And if you go too far south, there's all sorts of vermin- nasty creatures."

"But that might actually be appealing to him- he might want to... you know..."

"Kill them? Maybe." Keyla looked back at the mountains, good mood spoiled. "He used te be like a brother to me. But after... well, after... I didn't know him any more." He fell silent, saying nothing, fixing his eyes on the mountain, except for shooting occasional glances in the direction of the other questers.

Brome fell back until he was even with Tullgrew. "How well did you get along with Martin?" he asked.

"Pretty well, though it's no secret that he was the closest to Keyla and Felldoh. They were practically brothers." She smiled softly to herself, engrossed in memory. "I guess I was the little sister of our little family, with Barkjon as the father."

Brome looked down, recalling Martin's quiet smile and Felldoh's oh-so-rare cheerful laugh. Tullgrew placed a hand on his shoulder. "Cheer up! They would not want to see you so glum."

Brome forced a smile and looked ahead to the mountains. He wondered if his family was safe and if he would have the strength to see this quest out to the end. His ear throbbed painfully, and he reached up to rub it. I am naught but baggage, he thought bitterly, I am a healer, I am supposed to heal the wounded, not get wounded!

There was a shout from ahead and he looked up just in time to see Grumm and Celandine vanish into the earth.

Chapter Fourteen: Tunnels

This will be the last update, for I am majorly reworking and rewriting this story. I found this chapter sitting on my harddrive and decided to share it.


"Grumm!" Brome raced to the new hole that his mole friend had vanished into. To his relief, the old mole looked up from the hole in the earth, shaking earth off his grey snout. "Well, stan' on moi tunnel! It bees a carvernen!"

Brome leaned over Keyla's shoulder to get a better look down the dark tunnel. "It goes on forever!"

"This isn't going to-" Keyla began, but before he could finish, the ground at his paws crumbled like old cheese and he fell with a shout, taking Brome, who had been leaning over his shoulder to see, with him. The otter twisting in midair to avoid crushing his friends and landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him.

Brome helped him up and looked up at Tullgrew, twenty feet above their heads. The pit was about four times as deep as Keyla was tall, but the ground was soft, due to a lot of fungus growing on it. "I don't suppose we have any rope?"

The javelineer dug through her bag, searching for the sturdy coil of hemp rope she had stowed in her pack. She frowned and dumped the contents on the ground, but it was evident that her rope was missing.

"I can't find it!" she shouted down frantically, "it's not here!"

Celandine sat up and winced as her arm exploded with pain, brushing the dirt out of her tail with her other paw and forcing the tears from her eyes. I will not cry... I am stronger than this! It's only a bruise, only a bruise. Rope, where did you see the rope? The winds had been horrible... they had tied their supplies to a rock to keep them flying off... it was her job to coil the rope... oh, no.

"I think we left it at the campsite!" she called up.

Keyla muttered a curse under his breath as he looked up to the sunlight. "We'll have to stack ourselves- like Brome, Martin, and Felldoh did in the Prison Pit." He scrutinized the group. "Grumm, get on my shoulders- I'm the heaviest, and you're stronger than Brome. Brome, get on Grumm's shoulders."

"Celandine, you're the lightest, and the best climber, so you'll climb to the top," Brome added. "Ahoy, Tullgrew," he shouted up to the ottermaid, "Help her up when she gets there!" The others winced and put their paws in their ears.

"Hoi, zurr Brome, ee needs to'um keep it down a bit, bo zurr. Who'm knows whurr ee vermin villyuns be, boi hokey."

Keyla knelt by the wall and braced himself against the wall of the cave. The mole, still limber despite his age, climb onto his back. Keyla slowly stood up, careful not to disturb Grumm's balance, and Brome clambered up onto his mentor's back. It was only when Celandine went to climb that trouble struck. She gave a shout and lost her grip, falling back onto the earth.

"What's the hold up?" Tullgrew called down.

Celandine sat up, tears coming to her eyes, clutching her arm with her other paw. Brome peered over his shoulder and, seeing her expression, jumped down to help her. "What's wrong?"

"Celandine!"

Brome knelt by the squirrelmaid, feeling her arm gently. "It's broken," he announced, unslinging his bag, "There's no way you can climb with that arm."

"Broken?" Keyla moaned, "How can it be broken? The ground's soft." He thumped his rudder for emphasis, the moss and fungi making a squelching sound. "Ouch!" He twisted his head back and saw a protrusion of solid rock sticking up through the mushrooms and moss about where the squirrelmaid had fallen.

Brome got out his bandages and borrowed two of Celandine's spare shafts, getting ready to wrench the bone back in to place. "OK, Cel, this is going to hurt."

Grumm climbed off Keyla's back and the otter stood, leaning backwards to stretch his spine.

"What's the hold up?" Tullgrew shouted down.

"Celandine broke her arm in the fall," Brome yelled in response, "I have to set it."

"Hey Brome," Keyla said, wincing as he rubbed his ear, "Why don't you let me call up to her from here on?"

The young mouse ignored or didn't hear the otter's question. "Hey, Keyla- can you hold her arm in the right position? Yeah, like that! Ok, on the count of five. One, two, five." Brome tugged the bones into place with a sudden jerk. Celandine cried out in pained shock and tried to pull away, but Keyla held her arm secure.

"Hurr, it bees alroight Celandine. Zurr Brome's got ee covered."

"What do we do now?" she asked through clenched teeth, "I mean, there's no way to get back up, but we can't leave Tullgrew alone up there and who knows where those tunnels go."

Keyla sighed. "She'll have to go on alone to Redwall. We can follow those tunnels, they have to lead out somewhere."

"Can you be sure of that, Keyla?" Brome asked.

"Hurr, zurr Brome, ee wullz be stonework." Indeed, the mole was right. Brickwork showed plainly through what little of the wall that wasn't covered in fungus or moss. The mole sniffed, then furrowed his brow in puzzlement. "Et beez marble. Burr okey, these cavernens smell loike clay. Whurr ee marble cum from, Oi wunder?"

Dirt crumbled down and they ducked as Tullgrew landed among them. "Tullgrew, what are you-"

"Shh!" she hissed sharply. Turning to Keyla, she made a few hand motions frantically. The male otter's eyes widened and he scooped Celandine onto his back.

"What is it?" Brome whispered.

"Vermin!" The otter mouthed,

"We have to go in the tunnel- they may look down here," Tullgrew added.

The five woodlanders quickly scuttled out of sight. Just in time. They could hear the bickering of the vermin as they approached, arguing amongst themselves.

"I tell ye, I saw something!"

"Ach, yew was seein' things- as usual!"

"I was not!"

"Quiet!" Ripred ordered, "Stop yer arguing and keep yer eyes peeled!"

Keyla glanced back out to the hole and his eyes widened. One of Celandine's arrows had slipped out of its quiver and lay in the fungi, its red fletching loud and obvious among the sea blue and pale green.

He leaned out, holding a paw up to stall the other's hisses of "Keyla get back here!" He clung to the shadow, finally within reach of the arrow. He grabbed it and looked up.

His blue eyes met dark, vermin brown orbs high above. Darkfire! Keyla straightened and drew his dagger. No way to hide now, had to fight-

Ripred looked away and stepped back from the edge of the hole. "There's nothing here," he said loudly, "Let's go!"

"Maybe that otter jumped down that big 'ole!"

"Stupid, it's over twenty paws deep! Nobeast could survive a fall like that- now let's go."

Keyla lowered his dagger in puzzlement, staring up at the vermin. A rock stung his rudder and he looked back to see Tullgrew signing frantically at him in the silent messaging system the slaves at Marshank had employed. Keyla, get back here! What are you doing? They could have seen you, idiot!

He joined them and handed Celandine her arrow, ignoring the question. Did that vermin just... save our lives? he wondered, That can't be possible... why would a vermin do that? What could he possibly gain from it?

"Keyla, come on!"

Shaking his head in bewilderment, the otter joined his friends, looking back once as he branded the event into his mind. He knew that they would cross paths again.

Reality twisted and warped around her. Her back... arched with pain... She could hear voices swimming around her, washing over her like cool waves. Is this Dark Forest?

"She's is out of danger, but her back will give her trouble for the rest of her life."

She felt a paw slip into hers. "Maris?"

Jeod? Her eyes cracked open and she looked her brother in the eye. "Jeod... where..."

Water, saltwater stinging her back. Falling, dying, roars of rage behind her...

"Maris, lie still."

She sat bolt upright, realizing that she was not dead, that her older brother still lived. "J-Jeod!" she gasped, staring at him, all the blood draining from her face.

"It's alright, Maris- I'm here now."

She stared at him in shock. This couldn't be. Jeod was dead- dead! He had been killed, she had accepted his death long ago and here he was, not dead, not dead...

Emotions welled within her- too many to count, swirling within her like a whirlwind. "Jeod- how-"

"Shh, Maris get some rest."

"Why?" she whispered, feeling the dark close in on her, "why didn't you come for us?" Then all was consumed in shadow and fire, and her last thought was that despite everything, she was glad he lived.

Urran Voh stood in the rain, watching the coffins get lowered into their holes. How had it come to this? From peace to war in the blink of an eye. He had failed his people, bringing them to naught but destruction and despair. Noonvale was falling to ruin, and nothing was left, nothing save this endless war. What could he have done- no, what could he do now- to prevent it! He was the leader of Noonvale, and as he lived he would not see it destroyed by war.

He straightened up and walked to his house, limping slightly from his badlybruised leg, but his eyes were hard with resolve. His wounds had mostly recovered from when the wall platform collapsed, but it would still be better if he had a staff. He shouldn't go completely defenseless, after all- but he wanted to show that he meant them no harm.

He could see only one way out of this that wouldn't cost more life: Parley with the vermin leader herself. He would go alone, to lessen the risk of being caught, and to keep his friends safe.

Moonlight shone on him as he slipped out of one of the concealed exit tunnels, before slipping away toward the vermin camp


A/N- If you have something to say, then say it, please. I can take criticism, it helps me grow as a writer. Don't be afraid you'll offend me. I can't force you to comment (perish the thought) but I like to hear input. Your voice is important to me!

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