Book Three: Redemption and Retribution
Two cloaked and hooded figures marched south on the northern path in Mossflower Woods. One hefted a stocky war axe with the handle growing out from the front to serve as a spear.
The largest of the pair held up a paw, signaling a halt. He sniffed and breathed deeply. He smelled smoke.
And they ran toward its source.
Draz the robber fox and his gang sifted through the burning remains of the squirrel family’s cottage, wolfing down preserved scones and beakers of fizzy apple cider which was meant for the young squirrel less than a season old.
Draz’s second-in command, Torscar, tugged his raggedy ear in salute. “Eh, Boss, somebeasts’re comin’ down th’ path. Ye want me tah whack ‘im?” He twirled his sling with an evil grin.
Draz waved distractedly. “Eh, yeah, go. An, uh, see if’n they gots vittles!”
Torscar emerged from the cottage and walked boldly to the cloaked strangers, puffing out his chest.
“’ey yew, stop right there!” Torscar bellowed. The strangers walked by him as if they had not even heard him.
He rushed ahead of them, twirling his loaded sling.
“’ey, when I tells yew to stop, I mean stop!” Torscar poked the largest stranger in the chest.
“Put that paw on me again and you won’t get it back, fox,” The stranger rasped. His voice was like gravel.
“Oh reeeeely?” said Torscar slowly. He twirled his claw gracefully and prodded the stranger. The war axe flashed once, and Torscar’s paw fell bloodied to the earth. Torscar shrieked and grasped his stump, blood spurting on his other paw. The gang rushed out and met their demise at the hands of the strangers, the smaller one wielding a staff with a crescent-moon blade atop it.
Draz crawled away, his exposed hamstring darkening the dirt under him. He turned up in time to see the largest stranger swing down at him, the motion causing his hood to fall away. Draz’s eyes widened with terror.
“It-it-it can’t be… y-yer dead aaaagghhhhh!”
This is how Cluny the Scourge and Simu Cooper returned to Mossflower Country, from the Land of Ice and Snow.
Simu went about burying the squirrels and the foxes while Cluny rummaged about the cottage searching for provisions. He pried away sacks of flower and noticed the young squirrel. He sliced his bonds and awkwardly cradled him in his arms. Through sheer relief and exhaustion he passed out.
Simu dug his shovel in Draz’s grave and wiped a paw across his brow. He glanced toward the cottage at Cluny emerging with the squirrelbabe, and beamed.
“Oooo, lookit th’ little un’!” He cooed, gently seizing the babe from Cluny and tickled its nose. Cluny sighed and said, “True, but what are we going to do with him?”
Simu stopped cooing.
“Er, well… S’pose we could always take ‘im to Redw- er, another squirrel family.”
“And do you know where to find one? And they probably wouldn’t trust a stoat and a rat, much less me.”
“Hmm… We could always raise ‘im ourselves.”
Cluny laughed with paws on hips, and rested with his back against a rock. “Well, that would be one fer th’ ages- a rat an’ a stoat, both malebeasts, raising a squirrelbabe together. And prey, be, what would we name him?”
“Loxas.” Simu said it with such seriousness that none would dare oppose his decision.
Cluny lifted Loxas high to the noon sun. “Aye. Loxas!”
Spring turned to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter, and winter to spring. Salmon swam against the current, and larks and woodpigeons went off to find mates.
And Cluny got older.
But this did not impede his strength or mind; he was the same Cluny as always. He, Simu and Loxas had set up a den in the old sandstone quarry, living in a tunnel near the surface.
Loxas grew into a healthy youngbeast, sinew and chestnut fur covering his agile body.
Cluny stirred a heavy cauldron of parsley and turnip stew by light of a beeswax lamp, Simu and Loxas out fishing. He stared into the gray-green concoction, contemplating the nightmares of the previous night. Screams, fire, storms at sea, and Redwall. Always Redwall.
He was distracted from his ponderings by the arrival of Simu and Loxas, holding a netful of shrimp between them, both with a happy-go-lucky grin.
Cluny shouted at them with his eyes on the stew, “Hey there, you old fisherbeasts. Plump yourselves down- supper’s near done. Loxas, quit scoffing those shrimp raw, you’ll make yourself sick.”
Loxas gave a lopsided grin, a shrimp covering each tooth. “Eh, go boil your head, ancient one!”
“Ho ho ho ho! If’n anybeast ‘ere’s ancient, it’d be me!”
Simu had truly let himself go in all those seasons. His ample belly was covered by a beard that was so oiled you wouldn’t even think of mussing it up. Cluny often took the opportunity to make fun at this, as he did now.
“Hey bigbelly, take a seat on a rock, if you’re not afraid of breaking it.”
Simu clutched at his heart and swooned. “Ach, me poor achin’ ‘eart, why must ye ‘arm me so, ye villain?” Finally, his eyes rolled up and he landed face-first in the stew. A hollow moan of pleasure emanated with the bubbles.
Loxas grabbed an urn from a rock ledge filled with extremely spicy hotroot and dumped the whole thing in. Simu bolted out with his tongue lolling and eyes streaming. He upended a beaker of dandelion cordial from his belt and drunk without pause.
Cluny’s nightmares returned that night. Blood spurted upon his mind, visions of vast armies clashing in arid locations.
Suddenly, a wave of peace swept aside all his dreadful dreams, replaced by a vast whiteness, with Martin the Warrior in the middle. Cluny rushed forward and grabbed his paw. His voce was flustered.
“Martin, rid me of my nightmares. I cannot live like this.”
The whiteness evaporated, revealing the northern fortress of Sovlergash. They stood on the parapet facing the sea.
“Your mind is plagued by guilt and sorrow,” Martin explained. “You must seek redemption.”
“Fine. But how?!”
Sovlergash shattered like glass, revealing them to be on the threshold of Redwall Abbey.
“I don’t have to answer that.”
Cluny awoke in a cold sweat, with Simu and Loxas standing over him worriedly. It was still dark out. He rose himself on the cot and said, “We’re going to Redwall tomorrow.”
Cluny had often told tales of Redwall Abbey to the young squirrel. Loxas bounded up and down, whooping with joy. Simu simply stared down hard at his friend. “Matey, are ye sure about this?”
Cluny stood up and belted on the Glist. “I can’t run from my past.”
Cluny and Simu stood garbed in their hooded cloaks before the huge gates of Redwall Abbey. Cluny drunk in the immense structure, unspeakable anxiety welling up inside him, causing a lump in his throat. He took in a deep, shuddering breath. Loxas squeezed his paw.
“We’re here for you, Whiptail.”
Mattimeo, Warrior of Redwall Abbey, rose on a glorious autumn day. What made it so glorious? It was the first day of harvest! He breakfasted in Great Hall, enjoying the company of old friends, when a mousebabe tugged on his habit sleeve.
“Daddy, sumbeastie be knockin’ atta bigdoor!”
“Thank you, Martin. Go on to your mother, now.”
Mattimeo exited Great Hall and headed toward the main gate. Indeed, someone was banging. Constance the badger helped him to unbolt it, and it swung outward. Two cloaked figures and a young squirrel stood on the path, the squirrel holding the paws of the larger one. Mattimeo spread his paws wide and declared, “Welcome to Redwall Abbey, travelers. If you come with me quickly, Friar Durral may be able to find you something special.”
The smallest of the cloaked figures whispered inaudibly to the larger, “Should I keep it on or off, messmate?”
“They don’t know you, and they’re peaceable. Keep a straight tongue and don’t gorge yourself, however.”
He gleefully flipped back his hood, revealing himself to be a stoat. Despite the rigid expression on Constance’s face, he grinned foolishly and bowed deeply. “Pleased to meet ye, Sire and marm. Me name’s Simu Cooper, and this ‘ere’s Loxas and- err… Whiptail.”
At a brief nod from Constance, Mattimeo shook Simu by the paw. “Pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Cooper. Your arrival is most fortuitous- today’s the first day of Harvest. Mayhap you would care to assist?”
The one called Whiptail stalked forward and grasped Mattimeo by the arm. “You look… familiar.” His tone was undecipherable. “You say you are a Warrior here. Who was here before you?”
“Ah, you must be speaking of my father, Matthias.”
The stranger’s breath was sharp as he rasped in his gravelly voice, “I’d like to meet him. Where could I find him?”
“Well, I’m afraid he’s out with the Guosim shrews today. He will probably be back late tonight.”
Whiptail digested this information, and allowed himself to be showed to breakfast.
Cluny picked the fresh fruit and vegetables from the orchards delicately. He saw many familiar faces, but couldn’t recall any of their names. He understood now how ignorant he had been. He had not removed his hood the entire time; Matthias had to be here.
Cluny wandered up to the tapestry in the dead of night, standing alongside a mouse of middle seasons. He turned to Cluny.
“You have come to this abbey, seeking to meet me. I don’t know why, but I feel as though we have met before.”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“Who are you, really?”
“I am what Martin made me.”
“Martin? You know Martin?”
“Oh yes, we’ve had quite the conversations.”
Cluny walked in front of the tapestry, turned on his heels, and removed his hood.
Though the face was old and scarred, Matthias recognized it instantly. He nearly fell back with shock, but Cluny grabbed him by the arm and righted him. Cluny did nothing to stop Matthias jerking away from his grip.
“You’re… You’re dead!”
“Hmph. Felt like it.”
“But nobeast could survive what you went through!”
“I never said I understood it. But I survived, and no amount of denial could ever change that.”
Matthias wearily sat himself down at one of the Great Hall chairs, Cluny still standing. “I myself saw your injuries- your bones, where not totally crushed into powder, were cracked several times over. The impact sent your fangs inches deep into your gums and skull. Your tail was only keeping itself connected by a few loose veins.”
Cluny breathed in deep, gazing at the stained glass windows. Matthias said with a sigh, “You came here with a young squirrel who trusted you, therefore so must I. But I need to know more about your relationship with him, and how you survived.”
Cluny began by telling of Zorkaan and his father, the death of Glae, which brought tears to Matthias’s eyes. He then told of his time at sea, his battle with Markus, and his assault on the hedgehog village, Matthias looking disgusted. He told of the Land of Ice and Snow, and his near-death and subsequent visit with Glae. He told of how he came to find Loxas and how he and Sin had raised him, and finally, his visit here.
Matthias sat still for several minutes, digesting the epic life of Cluny the Scourge. His eyes snapped open as he asked, “This Glist… Could I see it?”
Cluny drew the Glist and pressed it into Matthias’s grip. He ran a paw over it reverently, whispering, “Yes… I can see the similarities… This is a fine weapon.”
With that, he laid the Glist on the long table.
And punched Cluny in the jaw.
Cluny had to pull back his head so that Matthias would not injure his paw on his clay implants.
It still hurt.
He winced as Matthias stated boldly, “You have my trust now, but I won’t speak for the entire Abbey. Now speak truly- why are you here?”
“No. Not now. Assemble everybeast in the orchard tomorrow, and then I will tell you.”
Everybeast in Mossflower milled about in the grounds of Redwall Abbey, waiting on the word of Matthias. Many questioned Abbot Mordalphus about it, but he knew just as little as them, only that, as Matthias had said, “It will be worth it.”
Matthias, Cluny (Still cloaked), Simu, and Loxas marched out from the main building. They stopped before the pond, where most of the woodlanders were gathered.
“I come before you a different creature than when I last was here,” said Cluny. “I was afraid of coming back here, because of what your reaction might be.”
He noted the look of puzzlement on the features of the Redwallers. It was time to end this.
“In the coastal fortress of Sovlergash, I was known as Whiptail, Brother of Glae. On the high seas I was Whiptail the Brave. At the mountain Salamandastron, I was Whiptail Badgerslayer. But here I am only… Cluny the Scourge!” And he flipped back his hood.
The younger beasts sat in terrified awe, while Mattimeo and Constance had to be restrained by order of Matthias. “Listen to him before making judgments!” He roared. Constance calmed down slightly, but Mattimeo still had a deep scowl.
Cluny began the narrative he had told Matthias the night before. As he progressed, Mattimeo slowly took on a cooler demeanor. When he had finished, he looked over at the looks of awe, sadness, and slight fear. Abbot Mordalphus slowly approached with his paws buried in his sleeves.
“You are a… fated creature,” he murmured. “None of us ever considered your past, that you were ever anything besides Warlord.
“The fox you spoke of was Slagar the Cruel. He tried to enslave our young ones long ago, and if you wish to explore the point, you can talk to our Recorder, Tim Churchmouse. But the main point is this: why are you here?”
Cluny twirled the green feather given to him by Glae, turning his back on the Abbot, staring at his reflection in the pond. “I… I did not know why I came here until I showed myself. I suppose I just came here to say… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I took from you.”
“’I’m sorry?’” accused Mattimeo. “That’s it? You slew our Abbot and uncountable others and you think an apology is going to make it better?” Cluny stiffened. “You think you can run away from it? What makes you think it does anything?”
“NOTHING!!” Cluny roared, swiveling to face him, thrusting his face to the Warrior’s. “Nothing makes it alright! Nothing makes it better! D’you hear me? When a creature dies and it’s your fault, words are meaningless! You have no idea what I live with day and night! You think I can sleep at all? You think I can live with myself? Fool!”
The utterly humbled Mattimeo sagged against his wife, Tess. Cluny glared at the pond stating boldly, “Hmph. I wasn’t always like this. Most of you lot have never taken life, let alone innocents and babes. I am certain that if I dwelled on it too long, I would go mad and slay every one of you.” He felt wide eyes on his back. He stood before the Abbot, bowed on his knee and took Mordalphus’s paw in his own.
“I have wronged you. I am indebted to you. My life is in your hands.”
Everybeast assembled was sent into stunned silence. Cluny was offering his paws, his blade, even his own life to the Abbot.
Mordalphus reverently hauled Cluny up by the shoulders. He was beaming. “You have done what no rat or any vermin have ever done before- you admitted your crimes and are willing to accept any punishment I could imagine. For that alone, you are forgiven. And, if you so wished, you could settle down here.
Even Mattimeo gasped at the tears in Cluny’s eyes as he squeezed the Abbot’s paws.
“Never… never in my life have I known such kindness. Thank you, and bless you all!”
The vermin band made their way through the dark, raining night. They marched in two files, with a score pulling a large, ornate silk carriage. Inside it were candles dotted all over the cabinets and stools from faraway, strange lands. Vials and bottles of medicine littered the rug as the carriage rocked back and forth.
Jeven, the young fox healer, stirred such items in a clay bowl with thoroughly meshed vegetables and fruits. His many necklaces clinked against his crimson and gold-laced robes as he rose and went to the rear of the carriage. A stone box with several holes cut into it was seated upon several cushions, all to hide its contents.
Jeven bowed low and said, “Father, the medicine is prepared.”
The reply that came back was something between a rasp and gargle, belying a beast of unprecedented age. “Then why are you still there, fool? Open the hatch and give it to me!”
Jeven unlocked a small latch on the side and slid the bowl in. Its occupant ripped from its son’s grasp and slurped it revoltingly. At its completion, it enquired, “Are we near our destination?”
“The clerics are on the correct path; I have seen to it personally.”
“Good, good… remember, my son, every step we take is one more step closer to Redwall, and more importantly, the Starblades.”
Jeven bowed low and peeked out of the carriage’s folds, beckoning two female stoats, Salisa and Ulsa, to join them.
Salisa was the smaller of the two, wearing a rusty necklace with a blotched emerald in its center.
The creature in the box addressed Ulsa: “When are we due for Redwall?”
“Master, we should be there in three seasons-“
Ulsa found herself unable to speak as an unseen force pushed on her throat until it literally collapsed and imploded, her spine spilling over her chest.
Salisa kept a perfect stare at a dresser, concealing her utter, naked terror. Jeven did not feel her sentiments as he casually tossed her elder sister’s corpse out, it being run over by the carriage’s wheels, concealed in the mud.
“Now then, Salisa, how long until we reach Redwall?”
Salisa bowed low and stuttered, “Three weeks, Lord Vulpuz!”
Dawn broke over Mossflower in early summer as Cluny and the wood gathering party rolled a four-foot wide log to the gates of Redwall Abbey. They set it upright against the eastern wall. Cluny mopped his brow with a paw, drew the Glist, and began the woodcutting.
Ambrose Spike collected the firewood, and said, “Hrmm, this’ll keep the Dibbuns warm fore the feast tonight. Just hope I ‘ave enuff Strawberry fizz; those little ‘uns can suck it up like plants!”
Cluny patted Ambrose on the shoulder with his corded tail. “Eh, don’t worry about it- you haven’t run out yet. Right, let’s get this in, shall we?”
Hefting firewood with two paws and a tail, Cluny head-butted the main gates, shouting, “Oi! Open up!”
The gates creaked open, and a fat stoat helped other beasts with their burdens, whistling a lively tune.
Simu smiled to himself. It would take more than a ballistae to dampen Simu’s spirits.
“Oh, Ambrose, gimme that log- Whiptail make ye carry it all by yerself? What an ‘eartless slavemaster he be, eh? ‘Ey, Tim, that be a flask ‘o celery scotch? Er, take these back, would ye, sir ‘edgehog?”
The feast in Great Hall that night was of the such to be remembered for many seasons, only added to by the sporting events, which had all been conceived by Loxas.
First there was the wrestling match between Constance and Auma, which struck awe in all beasts. Next was the pie-throwing contest with the Dibbuns, whose target was the Abbot, to great laughs.
And then, the main event.
Nobeast said a word as Cluny and Matthias walked to the front of the huge fireplace, blades drawn. When Loxas had suggested this idea, both were reluctant, but finally agreed. They gave each other the warrior’s salute, and charged at each other.
Matthias swung vertically overhead. Cluny ducked and stabbed with the Glist, but was parried. Cluny hacked again and again, but to no avail.
Matthias struck the pommel of Martin’s sword against the flat of the Glist, making a dull ping and thrust the tip of the sword, stopping half an inch from Cluny’s throat. He was quite surprised to see the Glist’s spearpoint pointing at his own.
Cavern Hole burst into wild cheers of amazement.
Vulpuz eyed the sandstone walls with the look of one about to take a plum from a sleeping beast. His ancient tongue hung down his temple as he gazed through his cage.
Perfect…so perfect! The Starblades, every single one, right here! Besides, this Abbey would serve as a grand place to rule the world.
He studied the three weasels throwing grappling hooks padded with leather up the ramparts. Soon, his plans would come to fruition!
Soon, he would be young again!
Cluny slept with his back leaning against the tapestry as he always did. This was probably the one thing that alerted him to the weasel’s presence.
Glakky the weasel was sent to seize the Xwedo, but was attracted by the marvelous picture. Just his luck that he would also find the Glist, too! He bent over and squeezed the hilt.
Cluny jabbed his head forward like a bird and seized Glakky by the throat. The sound of terrified gurgles was lost on him as he drew forth a dagger from his belt and stabbed the weasel in the heart.
“There may be others,” Cluny thought. He banged the Glist on the sandstone walls, shouting, “Intruders! Intruders! Rouse yourselves!”
A slingstone shot down from the stairs and impacted with his skull.
The Glist was removed from the Scourge’s claws.
Into the belt of Jeven, son of Vulpuz!
Simu and Matthias were both out cold.
The Hocain and Martin’s sword in the paws of vermin!
The following morning was chaos.
Matthias was in the Infirmary, as his head wound had proven more serious than that of Cluny or Simu.
Nobeast was truly in charge. Some nursemaids chased around those uninjured, not understanding the events of last night.
The only one with a sensible head that day was Cluny.
He had summoned the full force of the Sparras and Guosim to plan a counterstrike. Log a Log, the Guosim Chieftain, was against an all-out strike without even knowing the enemy’s numbers or position, so they sent Spearwing, the Sparra King, out for reconnaissance.
Spearwing was back by midday. He landed on the open window sill in the gatehouse, speaking in the bizarre Sparra tongue. “Chik! Spearwing Sparra see verminworm! Thirty-six wing flaps northeast, they mill ‘round. Spearwing see many foxworm in bigdress!”
Cluny sat hunched over the desk, drawing possible attack plans. Wads of parchment littered his footpaws. Upon Spearwing’s declaration, he flipped the parchment over and began an entirely new design.
“That’s about near the large elm at the stream, isn’t it?” said Mattimeo, leaning against the wall. “As I recall, the soil there is full of gases from underground. If we could puncture it, the vermin would be poisoned, as grotesque as it is.”
“No zurr, that thurr plan’d do nought,” said Foremole. “Yoo’d need one ‘o those cattypulters to get that deep so quickloike thy vermin’d ‘ave no chonce.”
“We could… er… tie ropes around a big rock an’ git the Sparras to drop it on their ‘eads!” Suggested Simu, who held a bag of ice to his eye, where he had been struck with a mace in his sleep.
Spearwing sadly shook his head. “Simooo friend could have fifty-and-thousand Sparra, but still not lift rock big ‘nough. Sparra bones too light.”
Cluny held up the parchment he was drawing, consisting of large and small dots, long and small arrows, and a tiny whip at the bottom right, representing a scourge. He laid it flat on the stool next to the bed. All gathered round, inspecting it.
Cluny had a gleam in his eye that had not been seen for many seasons. He outlined his plan: “We’ll attack them in a fusion of a flank and a pincer movement. Log a Log, have your Guosim attack from the left. Start off with bows and slings, but once the second group arrives, charge in. I’ll go with you.” The words fell from his tongue like water from a waterfall. “Simu and Matt, gather up the Redwallers and any locals you come across during the march. If they’re still alive… Bah, forget it. Your primary targets are most likely the robed foxes- they seem to be in command.”
Cluny tapped the top of the map, which had at least twenty-five dots. “Spearwing, these are your forces. You’ll be carrying bundles of anything you can find- pebbles, rotten fruit, I leave it up to you. Just make sure it’s light enough to make a quick dive. Stay high in the sky, as high as you can, until the battle is at a standstill or I start shouting the words to ‘the little lark of fall.’ When you hear or see either, come down as fast as possible and as close the enemy as you dare and release you payload.”
At the end of his speech, he took in a long breath and sipped from a cup of raspberry ale. All the commanders thought long and hard about the plan, then Simu said, “Mate, yer a genius.”
Cluny winked slyly at him, saying, “Well… Somebeast has to be.”
Jeven smiled broadly at the assembled horde. He smugly smoothed out his robe, showcasing his father’s victory. The clerics filed into the ruby tent, the Starblades held by three apiece. As they all entered, a strange chanting emitted from them, beginning the ritual.
An arrow whizzed by and impaled him in the neck.
Chaos erupted then. All the vermin broke ranks, scrambling every which way while being shot by arrows and smashed by slingstones.
A contingent of mice, squirrels, otters and moles charged in from the other side of the woods and collided with the adversary.
This lasted for ten minutes, when sparrows dived down like pebbles on a waterfall and unleashed rocks, rotten fruits, and even a small hornet nest upon the horde.
In simply half an hour, the vermin lay stone dead, not one alive. The Redwallers and Guosim busied themselves by burying the slain and taking whatever supplies had not been trampled.
Suddenly, a blinding white light burst from the red tent. For several moments, none could open their eyes, but then they did, and saw the fox.
The only true word for him was… beautiful. Pure silver fur covering a sinewy but thin frame he had a smile that would have charmed any female fox, if not for the charred skeletons forming a star around him.
Cluny, Simu and Mattimeo approached with caution. Cluny had a thin saber, Mattimeo a quarterstaff, and Simu a bow.
“Who are you?” barked Mattimeo.
The fox distractedly nudged one of the corpses with a footpaw. “Vulpuz,” he stated proudly, his voice like silk.
“How did those beasts burn?”
Vulpuz cocked his head at Mattimeo and, for the first time, saw the carnage of the battle. “You do realize,” he said, “that many of these creatures fought and bled and died so that they could witness my power. And now none can, and never will. Because of you.”
Then the most ghastly and revolting thing happened: Vulpuz’s left eye was enveloped in a dark film with a flik, rendering his eye completely black. His right eye rolled up in his head, showing complete whiteness.
“That annoys me.” And he pointed a fist at Mattimeo, and widened his paw in a single motion, like an explosion.
Mattimeo burst into a million pieces, bits of flesh soaring in every direction, blood spattering Cluny and Simu.
A hundred gasps and a single scream rent the air.
Cluny felt two things: one, an ever-increasing impulse to vomit, and a curiosity at how much resistance Vulpuz’s skull would yield against his saber.
Simu glanced at him.
And they charged at Vulpuz.
Vulpuz pointed a single claw at an enormous oak. With an upward jerk, he uprooted it.
Cluny and Simu were just about to reach him, but Vulpuz held out his palm forward. An invisible barrier struck rat and stoat in the snout.
Vulpuz pulled back his paw, and then shot it forward.
The tree mimicked his movements, and shattered the ribs, skull and left knee of Foremole and Spearwing.
“Get out of here!” roared Cluny. As one, the Redwallers and Guosim dashed into the woods.
All except for one little mouse.
Tess, wife of Mattimeo.
With a hoarse shriek, she charged headlong at Vulpuz, a broom held high.
With a childish chuckle, he swept Simu and Cluny aside. He made the motion of pulling a bowstring, and released.
A narrow, gaping hole appeared in her hamstring. Tess stumbled down on to all fours, glaring hatred at the approaching Vulpuz.
He glanced at a fallen axe, then looked at Tess. He was pleased to see the axe floating right in front of him, ready to throw.
A saber hilt hit him in the shoulder.
Vulpuz snorted with irritation, and lifted Cluny, who was twenty yards away, and threw him in the hole where the oak used to be.
He angrily threw the axe at Tess, which turned over and over in midair.
He was pleasantly surprised to see the stoat jump into harms way, so the axe buried itself in his heart.
Simu Cooper turned his head to Tess, winked, and died.
With a mental command of sleep, Tess fell face forward, snoring uproariously. With a jig in his step, he gracefully strided to the hole, and jumped in. It was not very deep, but wide enough for eight beasts.
Cluny was wedged in the dirt, struggling to free himself. Vulpuz floated down elegantly to the gap, and alighted upon the earth.
“What are you?” Cluny growled.
Vulpuz scratched at a rock jutting through the wall of soil. “Old.”
"As old as Salamandastron, the sea, and Hellgates itself. Maybe older. I forget which.”
“You don’t look it.”
Vulpuz’s eyes returned to normal as he smiled warmly at him. “I age slowly, rat. Very, very slowly. But I still age, nevertheless. And as I age, my power, my psychokinesis, lessens. I needed to resolve this… conundrum. I conceived Jeven, my son, as a servant. He would have lived for very long, too, but not as long as me. Not even closer. To achieve my youth, I needed the Starblades.”
“Starblades? What nonsense do you speak?”
Vulpuz smiled even more broadly, and shot his paw straight into the air. In but a few moments, the Glist, Hocain, and Martin’s sword floated above him in a vertical triangle.
“The Starblades, the weapons forged from a fallen star, unbreakable and without compare. The Glist, the Hocain, and the Xwedo.”
“You think Martin’s sword was always known as Martin’s sword? It had a name, just like its brothers. I once heard a legend that a fallen star, if with a strong will, can grant a wish. But pieces of a space rock are insufficient, the entire star is required. I spent millennia searching for a star, until I heard of a weapon made from a fallen star. I interrogated several creatures, until I found a hare by the name of Bucko- General Bucko, I think- and under… slight pressure against his eyes and heart… told me of two weapons forged by a Badger Lord, Brocktree. I tried several times to talk a deal for it, steal it, and even tear the mountain piece by piece with my mind until I found what I needed, but I was old by then, and my power lesser. I went about the business of forming an army, when I found myself ruler of a land of lazy, fat rats. But I realized that, with enough healthy generations, I would have the army I required.
“During those seven and fifty hundred seasons, word reached my ears of a third weapon forged from the star, made by Boar the Fighter, for your Martin. I went with due haste for this Martin, and met with him. I explained to him the importance of his blade and demanded he hand it over, but he resisted and fought me.”
Vulpuz chuckled, concealing his eyes for but a second. “What, did you really think Martin hid his sword for a worthy warrior to wield it, or to keep it from falling in the hands of vermin? No. He did it to hide the sword from me. If he had any sense, he would have thrown it into the ocean or buried it so deep not even a mole could reach it. But as it is, I suppose I should thank him. He kept it safe for me, no more. Then you and the stoat came…heh. Perfect. All three blades, under one roof! Ha ha ha ha! Glorious! And so easy! I am young forever, and stronger than I ever was! I thank you, Cluny the Scourge! I also thank your piteous need for forgiveness, which led you to Redwall in the first place!”
And before Cluny could say a word, Vulpuz placed two claws to his forehead, and all was blackness.
The first thing Cluny was aware of was a massive headache. The first sound he made was a groan. His first motion was to pinch his forehead. His first thought: Simu.
He leaped out of his bed in the infirmary, ran down the stairs (ignoring the startled squeaks of mice) and burst through the doors of Great Hall into the main grounds of Redwall Abbey.
To the left, the moles were digging graves, grunting and groaning their grief.
In the middle, Matthias sat crossed-legged, staring at the tears that fell upon the flat of the Xwedo, Martin’s sword.
And to the right, a group of Dibbuns were piled upon one another, wailing without words or direction to the sky.
None of that concerned he with one thought: Simu.
He questioned the moles, but they only avoided his gaze and intensified their mourning.
Matthias slapped the ground with his sword in answer.
The Dibbuns pointed to the Gatehouse.
Tess was there, sobbing quietly into a handkerchief. Cluny walked over and placed a paw on her shoulder. She stared up at him with glistening eyes and dripping whiskers.
“Where. Is. Simu?” he growled.
She motioned to the door.
And on the bed lay Simu Cooper, chest bloodied and smiling as if not a dark thing lived in the world.
No. No. No! NO!
Cluny slammed the door so hard, shattering the hinges so it fell inward. He snarled and turned to the world, his breath coming in raging gasps through gritted teeth.
He did not see the moles stop their grieving to stare at him. He did not see Matthias striding over to him. He saw only the main gate, the blessed gate that would open him to the world where Vulpuz roamed, where he would find him and tear him and slash him into a million pieces, and each of those million he would tear and slash until they were a million, and so on until all that ever was Vulpuz was gone from the world.
As he neared the logs that barred his way, Matthias blocked him.
“Get out my way,” he breathed.
“If you want to kill him, you plan it out. Stay.”
“I said, get out of my way.”
“You’re just going to get yourself killed.”
“Well then,” Cluny laughed through glistening eyes, “I guess you’ll just have to GLUE ME BACK TOGETHER!!”
The force and sincerity of his shout caused Matthias to back up a step. Then: “He killed my son, you realize. I want him dead just as much as you do, but we have to plan it.”
“Coward. If you cared for your son, you would be long gone.”
Matthias shoved Cluny back, returning his snarl. They stared at each other for long minutes, then Cluny underwent a significant change: he relaxed his mouth, letting his snarl fall, and in his eyes appeared a vast and immortal sadness that time would never obliterate.
He felt a hand touch his shoulder. He turned to see Loxas, sweet, sweet Loxas… and he sobbed once and buried his head in Loxas’s shoulder.
Cluny’s fists were so tight his palms cut into his palms as he waited on the tree trunk directly outside of Redwall. Plans, provisions- none of that mattered, only Vulpuz.
Finally, Matthias came, bearing a large haversack, and from the haversack sprouted the Starblades, the bronze of the Glist sparkling.
And behind him came Loxas.
“No,” barked Cluny, marching towards him. He knew in his heart and soul that Loxas was not coming.
Loxas gave him a hard glare. “Simu was my friend, too. If you expect me to just sit here, then you have a frog’s brain.”
Cluny’s expression was unreadable for several moments, and then: “All right. Go, fetch me some drink, and we will be off.”
And as Loxas turned around, Cluny gave the base of his neck a quick jab. Loxas fell, literally, right into Matthias’s paws.
"Leave him- no harm will come to him,” barked Cluny. And as Matthias bent over Cluny reached into the haversack, revealing the magnificence of the Starblades. As he held all three to the sun, a faint flicker of imagination ran through Cluny, and an idea was formed. If Vulpuz could make a wish... And he knew what he must do.
Cluny approached the tapestry with the Hocain in his left paw, the sword in his right, and the Glist was curled around by his tail. All Redwallers, young and old, followed. Cluny stared at the eyes of the mouse on the wall, and solemnenly closed his eyes. He touched the tips of all three weapons above his head, and felt a surge of unspeakable power rush through him. There was a blinding flash of light that penetrated even through his closed eyelids. When he opened them, the Warrior on the tapestry was gone! He felt a paw of unspeakable strength and kindness grasped his shoulder. He turned.
And there, for all creatures to see, stood Martin the Warrior.
Every creature present stood with their mouths agape, Cluny among them. Abbot Mordalphus fell to his knees, tears rolling down his cheeks unchecked. Martin leaned down and cupped his face and said, “You have ruled well here, Father. With you as Abbot, I am proud to call myself a Redwaller.” Mordalphus’s face radiated pure joy. Martin then cradled the babe which was sired by the late Mattimeo. “You posses a name of power, Martin. Bear it well, and protect your friends.” And Martin at last came upon the one who had brought him back. “You know, there were other wishes better than this one, other fighters who may be stronger than me.”
“But I picked you.”
“Aye, you did. I’ll try to make the most of it anyway. Now give me my sword, and let us slay the Dark King!”
The Three sprinted through the forest, stopping only to ask a local mole if he had witnessed Vulpuz. “Yurr, Zurr, Oi see thoi sykikik foxer, he’m goin’ to the Quarry.”
And to the Quarry they went.
The entrance had been just as Cluny, Simu and Loxas had left it so many seasons ago. He had to fight back tears at the old jars, the huge cauldron in the corner, but what pushed him over the edge was he stepped on a fluffy, ticklish object.
It was a green feather.
He held it up delicately, his iron claws as gentle as a mother’s touch. “Glae gave this to me,” he said without emotion. “When I was dead.”
He uttered a choked sob, held the feather to his chest for several moments, and then fell to the floor, bawling.
Matthias and Martin kneeled down and placed a paw respectively on his back. Cluny rocked back and forth, his paws digging into the back of his neck. He howled and screamed not at Vulpuz or Ugarth or even Zorkaan.
He screamed at himself.
If he had killed Zorkaan and everyone in Sovlergash instead of humiliating the boar Taggerung, Glae would still live.
If he had not charged so recklessly at Ugarth because the bear had taken his blade, Loxas, the Mouseking, would still be alive.
If he had stayed down and not thrown the saber at Vulpuz for spite, Simu would still be alive, for he may have jumped in front of that axe.
For his pride.
“This world would be better off without me,” he growled.
“If we fail, then yes,” said Matthias.
Cluny looked up at him with a glistening, yellow eye. A wave of respect washed over him for Martin.
He stuffed the feather in his bracelet, and then said, “Let’s get this over with.”
They traveled deep underground, deeper than any mouse or serpent ever dreamed. The minerals in the rock around them shone off enough light to see moderately.
They came upon a huge chamber, almost as big as the Abbey. It was shaped almost like a hollow dome, with a shallow lake in the middle.
And in the middle was a series of pillars, each a different height than the last, almost like a series of steps, and on the highest pillar stood Vulpuz.
He smiled charmingly at them. “Cluny, Martin, good to see you again. Especially you, Martin- you, who kept my sword in such good condition all these years. Aaaand… Matthias, isn’t it? You had a little son, didn’t you? Your face reminds me of his splattering intestines.”
All three glared with burning hatred at the fox.
Vulpuz sighed longingly, then said, “I don’t want to hurt you, any of you. Swear your obedience, and you can serve me until the end of time, for you, Martin, and you, Matthias, can still make a wish.”
Cluny twirled the Glist and spat into the lake. “Ah, just shut up and die, maggot-brain.”
Vulpuz frowned- even when frowning, he was still beautiful- and a black film descended over one eye, and the other rolled upward, revealing pure whiteness.
“So be it.”
And he pointed to Matthias and twirled his claw.
And Matthias’s head spun backwards, with his chest facing forwards and his face backwards and he crumpled to the ground.
“NO!” roared them both. Cluny picked up the Hocain and began the ascent towards the pillar, Martin directly behind him.
Vulpuz uprooted the two pillars they were on, sending them into the lake.
Vulpuz glared at Cluny with that beautiful smile, and snapped his fingers at him.
Both their faces registered shock.
Then Vulpuz smiled more than ever. “Interesting… my power, augmented by the Starblades, is useless against you because you used them. Fascinating!”
And he reached for the high wall, and out came a huge slab. It twisted and morphed into a tall, thinly scythe. It flew right into Vulpuz’s grip, and he twirled and twisted, and Cluny knew that he was a master scythebeast.
Cluny leapt from pillar to pillar, and chopped downward towards Vulpuz. He countered by holding the scythe by both ends vertically, blocking the Glist and the Hocain, and pushed him back, knocking him off the pillar.
Martin jumped up after him, but Vulpuz waved him away, felling Martin.
Cluny stared at Matthias and Martin (Who had hit his head on a rock), and a wave of unspeakable rage filled him, such that he had never felt before.
The Xwedo flew from Martin’s grasp and into the curl of his tail.
And when he looked at Vulpuz, he did not see disdain, or even disbelief.
He saw fear.
Vulpuz panicked; he drew several rocks from the walls, and threw them all at Cluny. But each and every one he deflected, for he had all the Starblades in his grip, and was unstoppable.
He jumped high, higher than any creature of flesh and blood…
Released the Hocain and the Glist, threw the Xwedo into his paw…
Flew down to Vulpuz…
And stabbed them both in the heart.
Vulpuz looked with shock at the blade that entered through his back and out Cluny’s. His eyes returned to their normal blue radiance, and he said, blood spilling from his mouth: It… It doesn’t change anything. They’re all still dead… because of you.”
“Yes,” Cluny gargled, “But now the price is paid, and I am cleansed.”
Vulpuz shook his head, cackling. “It doesn’t matter how save, the evils you slay; it will always be with you, even after your dying day. You will always be haunted, Cluny… But not by me, or your victims, or even your self-hatred… You can never let go of the past, you never forgive you never forget. Your memories are your own hell, hehehehe…hh…hh…………………….”
And Vulpuz nodded his head forward, one last time.
And Cluny passed out, more hopeless than ever.
“… you mean I can’t see him? Let me through!”
And Loxas burst through the doors of the Infirmary.
Cluny was on a small bed next to an open window, the light from the setting sun making him look like a bronze sentinel. A small, red welt was growing on the tightly tucked sheets.
Loxas pulled up a chair and gazed at the one-eyed face for several moments, then: “Why?”
“Oh, you know why.”
“I wanna hear you say it.”
Cluny shook his head, ever so slightly. “Don’t you get mad at me… Don’t you do that.”
Cluny’s yellow eye darted to him, without misplacing a single muscle. “I can’t live with Simu dead. I know that’s selfish, but I can’t just make it go away. I’m sick of watching my friends die, Loxas. I just want the story to end. Now, please, I need you to do something for me.
Loxas sniffled, looking out the window. “Name it.”
“I want you to melt down the Glist and the Hocain.”
“Please, listen to me. Others will hear about the Starblades, and come searching for them. All it takes is one bad wish, Loxas. Please.”
“Next, remove all records of my return to this place, or Vulpuz, or the Starblades.”
Before Loxas could interject, he said: “News travels quickly when it concerns power. If no one reads about the Starblades, then no one will know about the Starblades.”
“But why would you not want to exist in our hearts and minds?”
Cluny simply scowled at the window and said: “I’m no hero.”
Loxas left it at that, and patted his paw. “And Martin?” Cluny asked.
“Gone. When he brought you back, he turned into sand and blew away.”
Cluny stretched once, then said: “Well, that was fun.”
And then he died.
Dark Forest was in flames!
The starless night was lit up with the fire from the trees, giving everything an orange glow. Cluny ran and ran and ran, and he came upon the clearing with the door, and Martin was running toward him.
“Come with me! Now!” he shouted over the deafening roar of the flames.
“What’s going on?”
“I killed Vulpuz!”
“You killed his meatsuit!”
Cluny snarled in confusion. “What?!”
Martin roared in frustration. “You think any normal being can live that long or have those powers? That body wasn’t his! Vulpuz is just a spirit! He needs to take control of Somebeast to manifest in our world.”
Cluny thought this over, than said, “How do we kill him?”
Martin laughed out loud. “Vulpuz can’t be killed; he’s too powerful! All we can do is wait for him to take another vessel, and kill him then.”
“But what about the beasts he kills when he comes back?” Cluny accused. “What happens to them?”
“Just- just come on!”
“NO! Nothing is invincible, Martin! We can find him! We can kill him!”
He grasped the knob on the red door.
“If you go in there,” said Martin, “You’re never coming back! You will be trapped in there for all eternity, never again to see your friends and family!”
Cluny hesitated. Then he turned to Martin, winked, and said, “An acceptable outcome.”
Then he opened the door and entered Hellgates.