Disclaimer: This is a rather dark story (as I am bad at writing cheerful ones) and will be quite horrifying/disgusting/whatever. Just a heads up.
This runs parallel to my other story "The Shadow Jester" and characters may and will interact from the two novels.
Paws of SteelEdit
I consider there to be five states of mind; five layers, so to speak. The first is the one of normality, that most creatures reside in; nothing to mention about it really, so let’s move on. The second stage is one that I consider “normal” madness (as normal as madness gets). It ranges through a huge variety of symptoms, but you can easily tell when one resides in this layer. Creatures are normally born with this madness, and very rarely do events in one’s life cause someone to ascend to this layer. No, events much more often propel them to the third layer; the madness of anger. Though some creatures are born with this (Bloodwrath in badgers being the most known example) this is typically caused by the deaths or tortures of loved ones at the paws of enemies. This madness typically grants incredible resolve and determination to its bearer, and is much more helpful to them than it is hurtful. Then, there is the fourth state, the one that I like to call gibbering madness. The patient is “broken”, so to speak, and ruled by fear. They often laugh a lot, or cry, and it nigh impossible to get someone out of this state, which is normally caused by extreme pain. But it is the fifth layer which is the most worrying; what I call beyond madness. The creature will seem almost normal, but there is always an insane laughter in their eyes, even when there are things that should not be laughed about. And nothing good comes from those who reside in the fifth layer.
Chapter One Edit
Damian leaned back, content, resting against a solid oak log he had dragged over several hours before. The young ferret was watching a group of girls near a fire they had built; they had brought themselves some firewine, and were now all drunk of it; precisely why he was watching. All of them were beautiful; Clana in particular, her gorgeous yellow eyes enchanted by the redness of the firewine, her slim figure illuminated seductively in the light of the blaze. They were right next to the ocean; the waves were unusually quiet tonight, gently lapping at the coastline. The night sky was free of clouds, filled instead with hundreds upon hundreds of stars, and the huge disk of the full moon.
Down on the beach, the girls exploded into cries of laughter as one of them tried to stand up, drunk, but fell back down. The ferret shrugged dismissively; Sonia was the least pretty of the lot, and she was mean and rude. Not at all who Damian came to see. No, it was Clana, who looked even prettier laughing than she did normally, her perfect white teeth almost glowing in the night. Damian had meant to ask her to be his wife tonight, but, as usual, his courage had failed him, and he was again content to watch them revel.
Shira, a cute brown-furred fox, drunkenly stood up and began dancing, to the cheers of the others. Damian leaned forward; though Clana was prettier, Shira was gorgeous herself, with a slightly full but still excellent figure. And then, out of nowhere, an arrow thudded into her head, and she crashed down without a sound, dead. The other girls screamed and turned toward the sea; Damian has jumped up, and now saw a boat there, filled with shadowy figures. One of them was standing up, holding a crossbow in his paws. He jumped onto the shore, and the firelight illuminated a rugged weasel’s face, scarred, but yet smiling wickedly.
“Glad to see that this has caught your attention, ladies,” he sneered, licking his lips. Indeed, the corpse of their dead friend had a sobering effect on them, and they clustered together, horrified.
Clana called out, her voice high and filled with fear, “W-who are you? W-what will you do to us?”
“Oh, you don’t need to be scared,” he replied, grinning wickedly, “we’ll have a nice little talk and ask you a few questions; if we like your answers, you’ll be free to go. If we don’t like your answers… let’s not go into that, shall we? How about I introduce you to the rest of the cast, hmm?”
Damian realized he was standing there, motionless and horrified, and sat down again, head in paws, desperately trying to figure out what to do. He could try to make it back to the village, but they were a good hour away, and he wasn’t confident that they would stay there for two hours. Then he would have to try to take them on his own; would he have a chance? The weasel looked down at the fire, and listened intently.
“These two here are Rusty and Snarl; you’ll be hard pressed to find better cutlass fighters than them,” the weasel said, as two wicked looking ferrets clambered out of the boat, covered in tattoos; both looked almost identical as they grinned, showing their long fangs. One of the girls gave a sob of terror.
“Then, we have my son, Blinder.” A stocky, muscular weasel with jet black fur climbed out; in his paws was a short spear, to his back fastened a longer one. Around his waist was a belt with several knifes fastened to it.
“And I call myself Skinner,” he said, with a slight chuckle. The girls offered no reply; only their eyes roved the group, as they stayed perfectly still with fear. Damian, turned away, rapidly thinking. The two ferrets were no doubt good fighters, but he had trained with a quarterstaff his whole life, and there were few weapons to better counter cutlasses than quarterstaffs. Skinner looked to have a deranged strength about him, and he had a crossbow, but there was no way he could fire it off before Damian got to him; all he had besides that was a long knife at his belt. And his son, Blinder, looked to be the most dangerous of the lot; well-built and well-armed, it was him Damian would have to go for first.
With that in mind, he began going down through the thick underbrush, trying to move as quietly but as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, down on the beach, Skinner leered as he said, “Now, ladies, are you alone on this island, or are there others here?”
Clana, looking around to see if no one else wanted to answer, replied in a shaking voice, “T-there’s a town a few m-miles west of here, following the b-beach. T-that’s where we live.”
“Mhmm,” thoughtfully replied Skinner, “and about how many of you are in this town of yours? And call me sir; it makes me feel important.”
“A-about two hundred,” replied Clana, before quickly, fearfully adding, “s-sir.”
“A bit too much for our little crew to take, wouldn't you say, Rusty?” Skinner asked the ferret, who dutifully nodded.
“How many of your beasts,” continued Skinner, addressing the girls once again, “can actually put up a fight? You know, pose some sort of a threat to us?”
Clana seemed unsure, but replied, “I-I think there’s around a hundred w-who can fight, sir. I-I’m not really sure.”
“Not really sure, eh? That’s not good, not good at all…” Skinner said, stroking his crossbow. “If you can’t come up with a better answer, I may have to… punish you.” He used the arrow to gently lift up Clana’s head; she whimpered and closed her eyes, terrified.
And that was when Damian struck. He was a whirlwind that exploded from the shrubbery, his quarterstaff spinning in his paws. His first two blows nailed the twin ferrets in their heads; one hit was enough to knock Rusty out, while Snarl stumbled away, crying out in agony. Skinner let loose a bolt that by sheer luck Damian blocked with his staff; it still knocked him back a few paces. That saved his life, as Blinder’s spear streaked by where his face was moments ago. Damian dashed toward the stocky weasel, jabbing him in the stomach with quarterstaff, before smashing him over the head; once, twice, three times! – until at last he fell over.
He barely had time to whirl around and block Snarl’s cutlass, which embedded itself into the staff. Damian kicked out, and the ferret reeled away in pain, holding his stomach. Then, the weasel dashed toward Skinner, who had finished reloading his crossbow only to see the staff smash the device, breaking it beyond repair. With a curse, he sprung away, flinging the now useless contraption at Damian in a desperate try to stop him. But Damian was already dashing away, towards Snarl, who was now defenseless. He rained blows upon the ferret until two resounding hits to the head were enough to knock him out, and Snarl too toppled over.
Throughout this battle, the girls had not moved, and as Damian turned, he saw Skinner holding up one of them, a brown furred maiden named Anna, and his knife was at her throat. She sobbed with fear and stared imploringly at Damian as Skinner snarled, “Throw the staff down or the girl dies! As do her friends!”
Damian stood for a moment, before jumping forward, his arm fully extended, his staff hitting Skinner right in his eye. The weasel was knocked away, managing only to make a deep cut running parallel to Anna’s face instead of killing her; she collapsed, screaming, as Damian jumped after Skinner. A cleverly placed blow was enough to knock the knife out of his adversary’s paws, and Skinner stood unarmed before Damian, his eyes quick, darting, a bruise already forming over his eye.
“Now,” he panted, “would be an excellent time to help.”
Before Damian knew what was happening, a beast with immense strength lifted him up into the air, pulling his arms behind his back. The weasel screamed as he felt tendons ripping in his shoulders, so awfully powerful was the strength of the monster, who pulled his arms further and further back, unheeding Damian’s screams of agony. Then, as soon as it started, it was over, and Damian fell limply to the ground. The thing grabbed him by his neck with one huge, furry white arm, and easily lifted him up, choking him effortlessly. Damian stared into two huge blue orbs, the eyes of the beast, cold and remorseless, with no emotion in them at all. And then the world went black.
When Damian awoke, he realized he was tied tightly to a tree, but there was no need; his throat was bruised and felt crushed, so much so that he could hardly breathe, and his shoulders burned with such a fierce agony that he cried out, despite the pain it caused. He wasn't the only one hurt, however. Rusty lay on the ground, holding his head and moaning, and Snarl scowled fiercely, teeth clenched as he wrapped a bandage around his head. Blinder stood shakily, one paw clasping his forehead, the other leaning on the spear he was using to support himself. And Skinner gritted his teeth in pain as he bandaged his wounded arm.
Damian turned his head, wincing with pain as he did so, trying to find the girls, and saw them a little way off. They were all hanging from a tree, every last one of them dead. He gasped in fear, and turned away quickly. Near the boat was the last member of the group, that had remained hidden until Damian attacked. A huge, monstrous beast, it was a giant white wolverine, towering above the nearby Blinder. On its back was a huge broadsword, its pommel a large, perfectly round sapphire.
Upon seeing Damian awake, Skinner strode over to him, no longer smiling, his eyes boiling with fury. The ferret shrank back fearfully as Skinner walked towards him. The weasel snarled, “Your hastiness made me mad, and I, in my anger, took it out on these beautiful ladies. You killed them, boy, you and your desire to be a hero. Do you understand?”
The ferret didn't reply quickly enough for the weasel's liking, and Skinner grabbed him by the throat, spittle flying from his mouth as he yelled furiously, “Do you understand!!!”
Through screams of pain Damian forced out, “Y-yes!”, and the weasel dropped him, the fury retreating from his eyes. The metallic taste of blood was all too prevalent in the ferret’s mouth, but he ignored it, for the fear that gripped him was more powerful than any physical pain.
“Come, boys, gather round! We must decide about what to do with this,” Skinner spat out, “filth.”
Snarl walked over, dragging his brother, who moaned louder and clutched his head; Blinder tottered over as well, and stumbled once, but was caught in time by the wolverine.
“I forgot to introduce you to the last member of our crew,” Skinner said mockingly, grinning now.
“Meet Bertrand, the finest wolverine warrior on this side of the Great Ocean.” The wolverine gave a grim, silent nod of acknowledgement.
“Now, what should we do with you? Personally, I would like to skin you alive over the course of several days, burning your appendages off at points, maybe putting ants or spiders on your exposed flesh… What do you say?” The weasel leaned in close, his foul breath in Damian’s horrified face as Skinner grabbed his chin.
Snarl called out angrily, “As long as I get my revenge, I agree with you, captain!”
Then, his brother moaned, “Kill him, I don’t care how, just kill him!”
Skinner turned toward the wolverine, who calmly said in a deep voice, “You know my stance on this, captain. Interrogate him, and give him a quick death. Torture is not honorable, and I do not wish to partake in it.”
Blinder snarled, and stepped forward. “I propose a different idea. I will… acclimate him, and he will join our crew. Then, I’ll give him a few days to heal, and he personally will lead the assault on his home village; I’ll accompany him to make sure he doesn't do anything…rash. He’ll have to kill his family in front of me, or he’ll feel such agony that he’ll scream all the way to the Hellgates. Then, we’ll make him our slave at Sampetra.”
As Skinner gave a slow nod, starting to grin, the terrified Damian shouted, “I’ll never do that! I’d rather die than kill my own family!” Blinder leaned forward with a demonic grin, his eyes filled with a burning madness that took hold of Damian and made him shrink back in fear, and the weasel whispered, “Oh, you will. You’ll be my little puppet before I’m done with you.”
He pulled out a knife and cut Damian’s ropes, then motioned with his blade for him to stand. The ferret did so, his shoulders screaming in pain, and he leaned away fearfully from Blinder. Meanwhile, the wolverine lifted Rusty effortlessly up into the boat, and Snarl and Skinner climbed in as well. Blinder looked at Damian and said, “Which one of these girls was your sweetheart?”
Gulping, Damian shakily replied, “I-I didn't have a sweetheart.”
“You lie!” Blinder screeched, and gripped the ferret’s shoulder, sinking his claws into Damian’s flesh. The ferret screamed in agony, tears pouring down his face, and yelled out, “T-the one who talked! The one who talked!”
Blinder released him savagely, and Damian fell to the ground, sobbing. The weasel called over Bertrand and ordered him, loud enough for Damian to hear, to take Clana off the tree. Grim and silent, the wolverine obeyed. Blinder hoisted Damian up, holding him to keep the ferret standing, a knife at his throat. Bertrand pulled down Clana from the tree effortlessly, and brought her over. Even dead, she was beautiful, a thin trickle of blood down her face defacing her otherwise perfect, somehow peaceful features. The weasel called out, “Hold her up, Bertrand, like she’s standing!”
The wolverine did so, although disapproval lined his features. Blinder leaned over and whispered into Damian’s ear as the ferret recoiled, “Kiss her.”
“What?!” replied Damian, shocked.
“Kiss her. You've always wanted to, right? Well now’s your chance.”
Horrified, the ferret said, “No! That’s awful!”
“You will kiss her,” threateningly replied Blinder.
Without a word, Blinder sunk his claws into Damian’s shoulder, and screaming in pain, the ferret blacked out. When he woke up, nothing had changed, everyone still stood where they had before. Blinder roughly hoisted him up, and snarled, “Kiss her!”
His shoulder hurting so much he could hardly think, Damian hesitantly leaned over and pecked her on the lips.
“Not like that, full on, like it’s your first kiss!”
Disgusted and horrified, Damian nevertheless complied, kissing her like he would were she alive. When he came away, he was sobbing, his eyes wide open with horror.
“I think,” Blinder whispered with a smile, “that we’ll have a fun time together.”
After a certain point, Damian had lost track of time. He no longer knew how long he had been there, what he was doing, even what his name was; all he knew, all he felt was pain. When he was sure that he could feel no more pain, sure that no higher point of agony could be reached, his tormentor found a way to eclipse the previous anguish, to cause more torment than before. Varied every time, the monster that tortured him used hundreds of tools; knives, whips, flails, spears, ropes, fire, water… And through it all the mad laughter rang in Damian’s ears, the laughter that you could never stop hearing, the laughter that sometimes terrified Damian more than the pain.
He had screamed until his lungs felt like bursting, had cried until the taste of salt in his mouth was as great as the taste of blood, but nothing could stop the relentless, never-ending cycle of pain. And then finally, it ended. Blinder strode over and whispered in his ear as Damian flinched back, “I’ll leave you to hang for a while; let you recover. Then you’ll join our crew.”
Time had no meaning for him, as all he felt was pain. He was spread like a five point star, each of his arms and legs affixed to a wall with a thick iron chain. After some time, a figure strode in with a bottle, and grabbed Damian’s mouth, roughly saying, “Drink.”
This happened several times before at last they came for Damian; two burly stoats, who unchained Damian. He toppled to the ground, weak, and they lifted him up and carried him out. Up they went, past two, three flights, and Damian slowly came to grips with his surroundings, as the pain was no longer so great that he could not even think. When they emerged onto the deck, Damian cried out from the sunlight, so long had he not seen it.
Unceremoniously, the stoats dragged him across the deck and dumped him onto a bench, and he was propped between two others so he would not fall. Damian sat like that, motionless, for around five minutes, until a young, frightened squirrel slave with a bowl of oats came over, and, without a word, began feeding him. He did not even finish half the bowl before he could take no more, and, once more without a sound, the slave left.
As near as he could figure, it had been a month and a half since Damian was captured. For the first three days-though it seemed like far longer, Blinder had tortured him. Another four he spent recovering enough so he could be taken on deck. Then, the rest of the time, the ferret was gradually brought back to recovery; a young squirrelmaiden fed him a mushy soup and took care of him every day; he spent the rest of the time sleeping, or regaining his strength by walking.
Damian was locked in one one of the deepest parts of the ships; all around him, there were dozens of cells, the vast majority of which were empty. The one next to him was occupied by a jet black rat, who slept in the daytime and scuttled around at night, mumbling to herself, scratching the floor and tapping at the walls. A few corridors away, some monstrous creature was locked up, and it would give demonic screams like nothing Damian had ever heard every few weeks; once, he was sure that some screams were from an unlucky guardsman. Sometimes, those screams were of anger, but mostly they seemed to be of terror of some unknown thing that tormented the monster.
Every day, Damian was carried, and later walked up to the deck. There, all the slaves (of which there was about two hundred) were fed before their work began. The ship was anchored at the beach where the attack happened, so seemingly long ago, and the slaves were building a fort. Nobody gave Damian a second look; he was clearly not the only beast given such an “introduction” by Blinder; indeed, as time went on, he saw friends and acquaintances from his village, though he was never given a chance to talk with them.
Although he had mostly recovered physically, his shoulders still burned with agony when he tried to do physical labor, and his back was scarred terribly, and hurt whenever he was out in the sun. Almost every night, he had nightmares of Blinder, and would break out in chills and shudders whenever he saw him in real life; tears would well up in his eyes and he would automatically begin mumbling for mercy as his old wounds burned with agony again.
The ship he was on was colossal; on deck, it towered five stories above the ground. Five masts were built to move the thing, and the first two levels under the deck were all for oar crews; the oars were as long as trees to reach the ocean. All of the ship was painted a thick, oily black, and the outside was covered in spikes large enough to poke a gaping hole the size of a boulder. Dozens of ballistae were mounted on each side of the ship, pointing outward towards any threat. At the back were the captains’ cabins, currently occupied by Skinner and Blinder.
It was a late at night that a weasel strode into the corridor and tossed the surprised Damian his quarterstaff through the bars of the cell.
“You’re going out tomorrow to help raid the village,” said the weasel, sneering, “I hope you’re in good shape.” Without waiting for a reply, he strode out quickly, no doubt anxious to get back to gambling with his buddies. Damian had frozen, his expression that of shock and fear as he remembered the scene that seemed so very long ago.
…He’ll have to kill his family in front of me, or he’ll feel such agony that he’ll scream all the way to the Hellgates. Then, we’ll make him our slave at Sampetra.” As Skinner gave a slow nod, starting to grin, the terrified Damian shouted, “I’ll never do that! I’d rather die than kill my own family!” Blinder leaned forward with a demonic grin, his eyes filled with a burning madness that took hold of Damian and made him shrink back in fear, and the weasel whispered, “Oh, you will. You’ll be my little puppet before I’m done with you.”
Damian broke down, sobbing. He knew Blinder would make him do it, knew he could not resist Blinder. He was a pure demon, a monster, and no matter how hard he tried, Damian knew that he would bend to the weasel’s will, do whatever he wanted out of fear. As he sobbed, the creature several corridors away began its high pitched screams, and they continued their terrified duet deep into the night.
Damian had fallen asleep amidst his sobs, how he knew not. He was awakened by a stoat opening his cell, and saying with a sneer, “Come on, up you go, it’s your big day today!”
Several more soldiers stood in the corridor, idly talking to each other about the upcoming battle; a servant meekly walked up and began putting armor on the ferret. Damian stood, his mind far away, as he was still in a sort of shock, his eyes red and open wide with fear. The rat in the cell next to his slinked up to the bars of the cell, and, as all the guards stepped away, putting their paws to their blades, she purred, “I wouldn’t mind getting a little run out in the fresh air. I’ve been cooped up for so long, it’ll do me wonders. Come on, let me out, I won’t bite. Not you, at least.”
The guards looked at each other, before one replied, “No. We don’t need you in this raid. Maybe next time.”
Sighing in disappointment, the rat sagged away, before sitting up, smiling and murmuring slyly, “What about Ramses? Now he’s been locked up for a while? Surely you could give him a run, no?”
This time, there was no hesitation, as all four of the guards shook their head; one gave a fearful glance down the hallway. Just then, the servant quietly stepped away, and Damian looked down to see his armor all done. One of the soldiers clapped him on the shoulder, and they all began to walk up to the deck of the ship, the lonely rat still staring after them.
They emerged onto the deck, squinting do to the bright sunlight, and one of the soldiers said, “The raiding party is down near the fort. We best hurry up, afore Blinder gets mad.”
Indeed, on shore, Damian could see a small group of beasts assembled. Off to the side he recognized Snarl, though nowhere did he see his brother Rusty; towering over the others was the wolverine Bertrand, calmly sharpening his sword. And right in the middle, staring up onto the deck… was Blinder. Visibly trembling, the ferret quickly looked away, his back beginning to throb as he started to mumble. One of the guards walked up to him and quietly said, “Don’t worry, mate, it’ll pass in time. Just don’t anger him and he’ll eventually leave you be.”
Damian couldn’t reply, his mind too occupied with the thought of facing Blinder again, remembering the horrible things the weasel did to him. Sweat trickled down his brow, and his paw shook so badly that he dropped his quarterstaff. Wordlessly, the guardsman who spoke to him handed it back to Damian, before resuming the conversation with the others. Before the ferret knew it, they were down on the beach, and there was Blinder.
Bowing fearfully, Damian winced and recoiled as Blinder put a paw on his shoulder; grinning, the weasel said cheerfully, “Relax, you’re just walking with me. You’re so… twitchy as of late.”
Then, turning towards the entire group, he said, “We embark, gentlemen, to capture this city of theirs; we’ll be supported by the ship attacking from the sea. Our objective is to get in and wreck as much havoc as possible. That's pretty much it, so, Bertrand, you lead the way.”
The wolverine calmly finished sharpening his sword, put his whetstone away, and only then took the lead, his large stride leaving many hastening to keep up. Blinder walked steadily, keeping himself in the middle of the group, even though everyone but Bertrand kept their distance from him and Damian. The weasel had his arm around Damian, and began talking as soon as they were off.
“Are you ready? I feel I’ve prepared you sufficiently for today, but if you have a sudden… change of mind, I can always do some… work on you on the spot. Of course, I would prefer to do it on the ship, as there, I have all the… tools I need, but a regular knife should serve me just fine. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Damian nodded fearfully, too scared to speak. He still trembled, and felt hot and cold at the same time, his wounds throbbing. However, he had little thought for his physical condition, as he was too busy contemplating what he would have to do. Resistance would be pointless; he knew already that even the thought of resisting Blinder was foolish. He could try to escape somehow, but he would be punished if he was caught. The ferret shuddered, just thinking of what Blinder would do to him. Far too risky.
“Now over there, that’s Snarl. You remember Snarl, right? Well, his brother, the one you walloped on the head, still hasn’t healed up; he has chronic migraines and can’t do a thing. Snarl, of course, is quite mad; I’m sure he’d gut you given half the opportunity. But then you’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to be out of your misery, is that right?”
Blinder leaned in close, no longer smiling, his eyes growing hard and cold. Damian knew he had to answer carefully, extremely carefully. “N-no, master, of course n-not, I-I enjoy your company more than anything else in t-the world.”
A smile once more graced Blinder’s face, and Damian sighed in relief. For the moment, he would not be hurt. They had entered the woods; though there was no path, the forest was clear enough for them not to have to hack a way through. The weasel had gone silent, though he still kept his arm on Damian’s shoulder. Few of the others spoke; the forest was eerily silent today. They traveled this way for twenty, thirty minutes, the wolverine always leading the way, confident in where he was going. And suddenly, chaos broke loose.
Dozens of figures fell from trees with fierce war cries, holding little swords and axes and slings. They fought with a ferocity, ganging up on the helpless vermin, beating them and gouging them, overwhelming the group in minutes. Damian swung his quarterstaff in vain at his assailants, but they were far too numerous to do anything about. Next to him, Blinder had gone under in a sea of the creatures, and the ferret saw nothing but the tips of Blinder’s footpaws sticking out. Then, Bertrand entered the fray.
The few creatures foolish enough to jump on the wolverine were literally ripped to shreds, and, after doing so, Bertrand waded into the fray, keeping his sword sheathed and using his paws and teeth to fight instead. Anything that fell onto his head he bit, and the thing was leap away, screaming in agony, and he used his mighty paws to grab six or seven of them at once and throw them away, clawing them in the process. Damian realized what was going on now; they were being attacked by the Tribe.
A horde of small rats no taller than the waist of an average ferret or stoat, they were notoriously territorial, and lived deep within the woods, well avoided by the villagers. Just their luck that they should run into them, then. As soon as he was free from those creatures, he began fighting as well; not once did running away cross his mind. Bertrand was an absolute monster, killing every rat that went near him. Soon enough, the other members of the group that weren’t dead were up and fighting as well, and, after five or so minutes of this hectic battle, the rats stopped dropping down from the trees, and it was all over.
Dozens of corpses of those rats lay on the ground; many more crawled away, then scuttled back up their trees. Bertrand was covered in scratches and tiny bite marks, but did not seem to care, as he went around finishing off what wounded creatures he could before they got away. Five members of the group were dead; two more mortally wounded, all of them with minor injuries. Blinder has a gash on his head and a bite mark on his shoulder, Snarl was bleeding from seemingly everywhere, and the guard who had tried to give Damian advice was one of the dead.
After they had bandaged their wounds and recovered, they strode on. Most of the vermin were at the back, murmuring to one another, but Bertrand still led the way, with Blinder and Damian right behind him, both of whom were silent once more. They continued this way for probably an hour, until, at last, they came upon the city.
Situated right on the coastline, it was a fine structure, it walls strong and made of wood, towering above their heads. Toward the sea, the walls burned, and the ship was anchored right next to them; they heard screams and shouts and clashes of weapons even from over here, as waves of vermin poured from the ship, only to be repelled by the defenders on the walls. Bertrand calmly strode over to a small gate in the wall and knocked on it three times; it was opened instantly, by a timid fox, a merchant who had recently come to the city, and was now scraping and bowing.
For a moment, Damian felt a burst of anger, and thought “Traitor!” but then realized that if he was in his place, and was tortured by Blinder, he would have undoubtedly thought the same. Fear still coursed through his veins, but it was somewhat blocked out by the adrenaline still racing through his system from the battle earlier, as well as the one to come. He tried not to think about what he would have to do soon.
The fox walked over to Blinder and said in a whiny, nasally tone, “My reward, Master Blinder? I have done all you asked me; all I ask of you is a bag of gold. Master?”
Just as Blinder was about to reply Bertrand grabbed the fox and effortlessly snapped his neck in one smooth, clean motion, before throwing the body in the forest.
Blinder snarled, and called out, “Come, Bertrand, I was going to have fun with that one!”
The wolverine turned back, his face carefully blank, and respectfully replied, “My apologies, sir. I was not aware of your intention.”
They entered into the city, upon which Blinder said, “Now, all of you, go and enter the fray. If you strike them from behind it shall most likely be enough for our troops to break through, and for the city to be ours. Damian and I have a private…errand to run.”
The soldiers jogged toward the fighting, led as usual by the wolverine, and soon disappeared down the winding streets.
“So, where do you think your parents are, Damian? Would you like to kill your father first, or your mother?”
Damian froze, fearful, thinking desperately. They were alone; he could take Blinder, he knew he could, after all, he had already done so! It would be so easy! The weasel was unarmed, and yet… something stilled his paw. Blinder would do unspeakable things to him, things he couldn’t even begin to imagine. Damian did not want to feel the agony again; the fear grew inside him, threatening to consume him. He wanted to fall to his knees, beg Blinder for mercy; his body shook like a tree in the wind with fear.
“I see hesitation in your eyes,” Blinder said, as if disappointed, “no matter, we shall soon resolve that. I had thought your appetite for killing would have been awakened enough by that battle we had, but it appears not. Come, follow me.” Blinder went, leaving his back completely exposed, trusting that Damian would not hurt him. The ferret snarled, raising his quarterstaff… but again, terror stayed his paw, and, meek once more, he strode after Blinder, cheeks burning with shame. It was not long before they saw someone; a pretty girl, Anna, the baker’s daughter, a slim weasel with a good figure and pretty green eyes. Blinder smiled hungrily and said, “Come, I shall give her the honor of killing her.” He looked at Damian and cried, “Still you hesitate! I shall hold her for you; all you must do is strike the finishing blow! Come on!”
He ran toward Anna, and Damian had no choice but to follow; she ducked into a nearby street. They rounded the corner, and then, pairs of strong paws grabbed them, holding them tight.
“It seems someone has finally fallen into our trap! Anna, well done! Let’s see who we got here, now.” A pair of weasels firmly held Blinder, who was gagged; the baker’s sons, Martin and Jake; two more pairs of paws were clasped tightly onto Damian. The one who had spoken was the baker himself; tall, elegant, but intimidating with a cleaver in his paw. He studied Blinder slowly before turning toward the ferret, and recoiling with an oath.
“By the Black Forest! It’s Damian! Release him at once!” He was let go immediately, and a stoat and a fox(the butcher’s son and the weaver’s husband, respectively) stood up sheepishly, dusting off their paws.
“Did they capture you? What happened?” exclaimed the baker putting one paw on Damian’s shoulder. The ferret only nodded, his eyes affixed to the ones of Blinder, which were filled with a cold anger and a promise of agony. Damian shied away, scared.
The baker was always a smart one; he looked from Blinder to Damian and back again, and, with an oath, asked, “Did this scum torture you?”
Damian hesitated, then nodded slightly, fearful. With a snarl, the baker dropped his cleaver and strode over to Blinder; then, he punched him full on in the face. The stoat went next, adding a kick for good measure, and then the fox nailed him as well. All three turned toward Damian, and the baker said, “Your turn now. He’s not invincible, he won’t do anything to you. Use your quarterstaff; hit him!”
Damian took up his quarterstaff, and timidly hit Blinder. “Come on, harder than that! He tortured you, now it’s your turn! Show him what if feels like!” The ferret hit him, harder. Blinder gritted his teeth in pain. Encouraged, Damian hit him again, and once more, and before he knew it, he had dropped the quarterstaff, and was pummeling Blinder with his paws and his knees and elbows and the weasel could not hold it in as he howled in pain. Elation coursed through Damian’s veins, pushing away at the web of fear, breaking it as he yelled with triumph. He felt all-powerful, mighty, he felt like he could take anything. For he had overcome his fear of this monster, this pitiful thing; why had he been afraid in the first place?
At last, he stepped away, his desire for revenge sated. Blinder hung limply, blood dripping down his chest, his face a mass of bruises, his body covered in scratches. The baker smiled, proudly, and took up the cleaver again as he asked, “Shall I finish him off, or should you do the honors?”
Damian silently took the cleaver, a grim fury still in his eyes, but no fear. No longer. He raised it over his head… and turned, as did the others, to the sound of footsteps. Two burly, tall weasels with swords hanging at their waists turned into the alley, and in front of them strode Skinner, a bloody knife in his paw, a savage smile on his face. He looked at them, saw Blinder, and stopped dead; his eyes bulged, and his grin froze.
“What,” he said, his voice low and dangerous, “what is this?”
Now anger entered his visage, anger, and a strange madness in his eyes. Damian felt unease stirring deep inside him; he trembled slightly.
“What is this?! You-you little,” Skinner raised his voice, his eyes bulging still wider as he began screaming, “WHAT IS THIS?!!!!!”
Giving Damian a grim pat on the back, the baker silently took the cleaver from him and stepped forward. “We are not afraid of you,” he said, determined, ready to fight.
Just like that, the anger was gone in Skinner, and an insane smile appeared on his face. He began to stride forward, and snarled, “Say that again, would you?”
“We are not afraid of you.”
Now angry, the baker said, “We are not afraid of you!”
Almost within reach now, Skinner’s eyes revolved madly as he crooned, “Again! Say it again!”
“We are not afraid of you!!” the baker shouted, before bringing down his cleaver on Skinner in a mighty swing. Somehow, the weasel caught the baker’s wrist, and then, eyes fixating onto one spot, he calmly slit the baker’s wrist. A scream of pure agony escaped the baker as he fell; he was caught by Skinner who screamed, “Now are you afraid of me?! Do you now feel fear?! ANSWER ME!!”
As he did this, he hacked at the baker, who could only scream and scream again. The stoat dashed forward, swinging a short sword, but Skinner danced out of the way and stabbed him in the stomach as he shrieked, “WHAT ABOUT YOU?!! ARE YOU AFRAID OF ME?!!”
Crying out in agony, the stoat fell down, unable to answer, and Skinner came at them, wailing like a banshee, covered in blood, his mad eyes fixated on them. He darted forward and, with a terrifying laugh, gouged out the fox’s eye, and now everyone was screaming and there was blood everywhere and above it all Skinner screeched, “AND YOU?!! DO YOU FEAR ME?!!”
Damian felt the fear again, stronger than ever, and, crying at the horror of it all, he turned and fled. After a few seconds he looked back, and Skinner was in a bloodbath, laughing like a maniac, hacking at the screaming bodies of Martin and Jake, as his two bodyguards, eyes wide open in fear, quickly caught the unconscious body of Blinder and dragged him away as quickly as possible. Sobbing in fear, Damian turned and ran as fast as he could, the screams chasing him away from the awful scene.
Sometime later, he had ended up on the city wall, and ran right into a group of defenders, defenders he knew.
“Damian!” one cried as they all turned to him, “Where did you come from? Why are you covered in blood? Where have you been?”
The ferret only shook his head silently, unable to say a word. After a brief silence, one of his old friends, friends he thought he would never see again said, “No matter, help us Damian. There’s this wolverine we’ve been trying to kill, he’s been wreaking havoc on our troops. You and-where’s your quarterstaff? That could have been really useful.”
They led him to the wall, which overlooked a courtyard; there were dozens of small trees, and flowers, but there was no wolverine.
“Oh, curse it. He’s slipped by us. Spread out along the wall, we’ll find him again. Once we do, we’ll plan our next move.”
The few footsteps were the only warning; one of them had time to turn and scream before Bertrand was upon them. Four of them died right then and there, but the rest managed to get away and before the wolverine knew it, he was backed up against the wall. All of them pulled out spears, halberds, and other long weapons, waving at them at the beast. With Damian, there was exactly enough to encircle Bertrand.
His friend next to him, who was more like a brother than a friend considering how long they knew each other quickly handed him a long sword and said, “Box him in! When he turns the other way, jab him in the back! We’ll keep doing that until he bleeds out!”
Damian didn’t have a chance to refuse, his shaking paws limply holding the weapon. After a bit of calm consideration, the wolverine turned toward him. Though he had cuts all over his body, he did not look tired at all; he appeared as fresh as he did when the day started, his blue eyes boring into Damian. The ferret was pale, shaking, and sweating, his mind flashing back again and again to the bloodbath, to Skinner’s mad eyes, to the screams, and the blood, the blood everywhere…
He dropped his halberd, hardly aware of his best friend since he was born crying out, “Damian, what are you doing?!” as he scrambled backwards, mouth half-open in fear, eyes wide as he thought he was in the massacre again, and Bertrand was Skinner, with his mad grin and his terrifying shrieks. His friend tried to block the hole which Damian vacated, but he was too slow, and the bemused but delighted wolverine dashed through, before turning back and beheading him in one mighty swing.
Screaming in fear, Damian turned and bolted, the sound of clang and yells from behind him overcome by the sound of screams in his mind, his vision red from the blood he thought he saw. He sobbed with fear, so much his lungs burned with pain. After some time, he did not know how long he had been running, but regardless he collapsed, shaking and sobbing and gasping, not caring about the blood and tears mixing on his face and his paws, his whole body pulsating and juddering with terror.
He had no idea how long he lay there, but some time later, a silhouette loomed over him, and without a word, Bertrand bent down and grimly slung him over his shoulder. They walked for some while, Damian unaware of the present, his mind going back and back to the bloodbath. When at last he came back to the real time, he dimly heard Skinner say, “Ah, look who it is. Bertrand, you have an uncanny knack for finding lost toys.”
And then, no longer quiet, he heard his voice, completely devoid of emotion, but yet terrifying enough to seem like a death sentence to Damian. From inside a tent, Blinder said blankly, “You’ve brought Damian. Excellent. He and I need to have a little… talk.”