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Paws Of Steel

The Dicer November 11, 2012 User blog:The Dicer

Disclaimer: This is a rather dark story (as I am bad at writing cheerful ones) and will be quite horrifying/disgusting/whatever. If you do not like this type of storytelling, read at your own risk. 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 Steel

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; really, there's nothing to mention about it, so let’s move on. The second stage is one that I consider “normal” madness (admittedly, as normal as madness gets). It ranges through a huge variety of symptoms, but you can fairly 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, such 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 (mostly physical) pain to them. 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 they encounter things that should not be laughed about. And nothing good comes from those who reside in the fifth layer.

-Unknown

Chapter One

Damian leaned back, content, resting against an old log he had dragged over from a nearby stream. The young ferret was unashamedly watching a group of girls laughing and joking at a small fire. They made the journey to this beach several hours ago, and though Damian wasn't invited, he decided to tag along regardless; with them, they had brought themselves some firewine, and nothing to eat with, which led to quite...interesting viewing. He himself had a bottle with him, and was about of the fourth of the way through it, which was more than enough to make him a little drunk. Not enough to actually make him drunk, but enough to where he would attempt things he wouldn't in a normal frame of mind.

All of the girls were beautiful; a lovely ferret named Clana in particular. She had gorgeous yellow eyes, a wonderfully witty tongue, and a beautiful slim figure that was illuminated seductively in the light of the fire. The group was 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 fits of giggling as one of them tried to stand up, drunk, but leaned over to one edge and sprawled over onto the sand, doubled over in laughter. The ferret yawned; 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 propose to her tonight, but, as usual, his courage had failed him, and he was again content to watch them revel. Perhaps some would find it a little creepy, what he was doing, but it wasn't like they were trying to hide or anything, so what was the problem? If they were in their homes, he understood where they were coming from, but this was just a beach; who knows, maybe he was just here to relax away from his busy life? What did they know? With a half-snarl, Damian took another sip of his firewine; the liquid burned with that amazing sweetness as it trickled down his throat.

Down on the beach, Shira, a cute brown-furred fox, drunkenly stood up and began dancing, to the tipsy cheers of the others. Damian leaned forward; though Clana was prettier, Shira was gorgeous herself, with a slightly full but still excellent figure. The ferret sighed happily and smiled... Shire was a great dancer...

And then, out of nowhere, an arrow thudded into her head, and she toppled over without even a scream. The other girls screamed in unison and whipped their heads toward the sea; Damian has jumped up, the firewine sent flying in his haste, and now saw a boat on the shore (how didn't he notice it), filled with shadowy silhouettes. 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 to the point of mutilation, and made all the more grotesque by his wicked smile.

“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, with no traces of their former drunkenness remaining.

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 too was mentally sobered by the sudden turn of events, but the firewine still burned and roiled in his stomach and he felt heated and like he had to go and do something right now! Wait. Wait - relax. Think this through. Perhaps he could try to make it back to the town - it was a good hour away, and he wasn’t confident that they would stay there for two hours (he had to go there and back, remember). Then he would have to try to take them on his own; would he have a chance? What choice did he have? The ferret 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 proudly declared, 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 knives 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. The weasel - Skinner, was it, looked to have a deranged strength about him, and he did have 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 at her friends 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 chin; 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. Why did he attack the ferrets first, he deliberately told himself he should have went for Blinder! Damian dashed toward the stocky weasel, quickly jabbed him in the stomach with quarterstaff, and smashed 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, Damian 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 sprang 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 it was Snarl's turn to collapse.

Throughout this battle, the girls had not had the initiative to move, 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 still 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 fell on her knees, 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 girls screamed in terror in the distant foreground. The weasel joined in the chorus 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, strangling 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 for him to be bound; 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 upon the realization, despite the pain doing anything involving his throat 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 whipped his head away, bile already painfully burning its way up to his mouth, and he threw up, crying in pain as he did so. When he was done, breathing heavily, he shakily looked toward the sea. 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 as it stared off into the sea. On its back was a huge broadsword, its pommel a large, perfectly round sapphire.

Upon seeing Damian awake, Skinner strode over to him, his eyes boiling with fury. Damian shrank back fearfully as the weasel walked towards him. Skinner 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, who grimly loomed over the rest of them.

“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 attack on his home town; 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'd 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, gritting his teeth as his shoulders screamed 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 savagely ripped out his claws, 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.

“No!”

Without a word, Blinder sunk his claws into Damian’s shoulder, and screaming in pain, the ferret convulsed for a few moments in Blinder's iron grip.. and blacked out. When he woke up, everyone still stood where they had before, watching and waiting for him to wake up. Blinder roughly hoisted him up, and snarled, “Kiss her!”

His shoulder hurting so much he could hardly think, Damian hesitantly managed to lean over and pecked her on the lips.

“Not like that, full on, like it’s your first kiss!”

Disgusted and horrified, Damian nevertheless complied, and as he shook and cried because of how much his shoulder hurt, he kissed 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.”

Chapter Two

After a certain point, Damian had lost all 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 it could not get any worse, 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 ever 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, somehow, 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 paws affixed to a wall with a thick iron chain. He dangled there, crying silently, though it hurt, oh how it hurt to do so. He felt like his entire body was on fire one second, then shook bitterly with cold the next, but all throughout every tendon and muscle in his body screamed for mercy. After who knows how long, a shadowy figure hovered into view and grabbed Damian’s mouth, roughly saying, “Drink.” He could force no more than a few sips down his throat, but those of few sips of whatever it was warmed him and lessened the pain, if not by much.

This happened several times, with Damian feeling a little better each time, his fever slowly abating, his pain a storm rather than a hurricane - before at last they came for Damian; two burly stoats, who promptly unchained him. He toppled to the ground, weak and pale and shaking, and they unceremoniously 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 of 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 from the brink of death; 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 slowly walking, his attendee there to hold him upright for his brief excursions.

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. She had tried talking with him, but he had been too delirious and wasn't responsive in the slightest. 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 eventually 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 propel the thing, and the first two levels under the deck were all for oar crews; the oars had to be 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 as large as a pair of wolverines. 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 none other than 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 that he could not resist him. 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 the same weasel 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 nervously 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 vehemently shook their heads; one gave a fearful glance down the hallway. Just then, the servant quietly stepped away, and Damian looked down to see his body covered in leather armor. One of the soldiers clapped him on the shoulder (Damian gritted his teeth in pain), 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 sympathetically looked over at 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 turning away to resume the conversation with the others. Damian couldn't hear what they were talking about; in fact, he couldn't hear anything except screaming in his head. He shuddered and shook as they made their way down, and 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. 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 scene.

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 savagely bit at, and the thing would 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 puny rats no taller than the waist of an average ferret or stoat, they were notoriously territorial, and lived deep within the woods, normally well avoided by Damian and the other inhabitants of his hometown. 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 massacre, the rats stopped dropping down from the trees, and it was all over.

Dozens upon dozens of corpses of those rats lay on the ground; many more crawled away, then managed to scuttle back up the 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 back on the ship was one of the dead.

After they had bandaged their wounds and rested for a little, the group strode on. Most of the vermin crowded together near 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, its oaken walls strong, towering above their heads. Toward the sea, however, the mighty walls burned, and the ship was anchored right next to city; they heard screams and shouts and clashes of weapons even from where they were, as waves of vermin poured from the ship, only to be repelled by the defenders on the walls. Ignoring the distant chaos, 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 shopkeeper who had come to the city a few nights before Damian was taken, and was now scraping and bowing to Blinder.

For a moment, Damian felt a burst of anger, an emotion he hadn't felt in a while, 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 body 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 tossing his body into 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 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 gently putting one paw on Damian’s shoulder (the ferret still winced in pain). Damian 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 carefully set his cleaver down 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... happiness, somehow, flickered 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.”

“Again!”

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 veins with one smooth motion. A scream of pure agony escaped the baker as he collapsed; 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 rushing back 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 fast as they could, desperate to get away from the massacre. 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.

“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, shaking to the point of having a fit, 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 and shrubs, 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. Be careful, he's crafty.”

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, anything with a long reached, and waved 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 shoved a long sword into his trembling paws and shouted, “Guys, we have to box him in! When he turns the other way, jab him in the back! We'll keep doing that until he bleeds out! Make sure to stay out of his reach!”

Damian didn't have a chance to refuse, his shaking paws limply holding the weapon. After a bit of calm consideration, Bertrand turned toward the ferret. Though he had cuts all over his body, he did not look tired at all; he appeared as relaxed and rested as he did when the day started. His blue eyes bored into Damian, fixating him, rooting him to where he stood. 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…

The sword clattered to the ground, and Damian, hardly aware of his best friend since he was born crying out, “Damian, what are you doing?!” scrambled backwards, mouth open in a silent scream, eyes wide as he thought he was in the massacre again, and Bertrand was Skinner, and there was blood, there was so much blood! His friend sluggishly 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.”

Chapter Three

Stay low. Stay low and quiet. Stay low and maybe he won’t see you, maybe he’ll ignore you. No, not he. Master. Maybe master will ignore you if you stay quiet, if you don’t budge. Master. You love him so much, you will do anything for him, you will-no. Don’t make a sound-he’s heard you, no, you fool, what have you done, what have you done!

“I’m sorry, master, I’m sorry, please forgive me master, I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything, please!” Damian whimpered as Blinder turned his head toward him. The ferret was on the ground, kneeling, tears silently trickling down his face as he pleaded and begged. Fear was not enough of a word to describe the relationship between Damian and Blinder. Terror was not enough, horror was not enough, no word was enough. Blinder did not just break Damian, he shattered him into a thousand pieces, and then crushed those pieces under his boot, and then threw those pieces in a fire.

To think that only hours before, Damian was mercilessly beating on the weasel, to think he thought his fear was conquered, to think that he thought it was all over. And now, here he lay, completely shattered-or at least, seemingly so. A tiny spark of hope remained, so small that it might not even exist, but it nevertheless remained. And Blinder knew this. He knew that no matter how much physical pain he inflicted on Damian, it would take a different kind of pain to destroy him until the end of his days.

“Your majesty! Your majesty!” A young, eager-to-please stoat burst into the room in which they were in, panting, no doubt from running all the way to Blinder’s room. “We have found the survivors! We’re subduing the last of them, not killing anyone just like you ordered! It should only be a matter of time!”

“Thank you,” replied Blinder, “you may now depart.”

With a bow, the stoat left the room. They were in Blinder’s cabin on the ship; after taking the city, they had discovered that the women and children had left some hours before the attack, along with quite a few of the elders and several warriors as well. No doubt they thought they could hide until the raiders left, and then resume their island life. How wrong could one be.

Blinder leaned down to the still cringing Damian, and grabbed his chin. He lifted the ferret’s face until they stared each other in the eyes; Damian’s eyes glazed over with fear and he shook and began crying again, whimpering unintelligibly.

“Remember the promise you made me when we first met?” Blinder crooned, “ I know you’re a little preoccupied to remember right now, so let me remind you. You had promised to kill your family in front of me; I had meant your parents and brothers and sisters, but after our little incident I’ve decided to extend the list to include your other relatives. Also, just killing them probably won’t be sufficient, it would be nice if you… played with them for a bit.”

With a savage smile, Blinder released Damian, whose head instantly fell onto the wooden floor. The weasel licked his lips in anticipation.


Damian had not reacted to what Blinder said because he did not comprehend anything coherently; his brain, after dealing with so much pain, turned off, so to speak, and he was hardly thinking, just lying there and begging Blinder not to hurt him. His eyes were dull, his vision blurry and faded, the only recognizable figure being Blinder-his master, he hastily corrected himself. It had been explained to him that he was to address Blinder as his master, and nothing else. Words had become a white noise to him, a prelude to pain with no actual meaning, so when Blinder released him without doing any harm, the only emotion Damian felt was relief, and of course the never-leaving sensation of agony.

The ferret lay prone, mumbling, perhaps to himself or to Blinder, until he was, to his surprise, hauled to his feet. He instantly sagged in the creature’s grasp, and when he was released, he toppled back to the ground. The creature shouted something unintelligible, and then left the room. Time had become meaningless to Damian, as preoccupied as he was with his agony, so it seemed like only seconds has passed when the creature had returned again.

The creature waved something under Damian’s nose, and the ferret bolted upright, the smell so sharp it jolted him into clarity. His vision snapped into focus, his body stopped shaking, and for a moment he was just a regular ferret. Then the memories flooded in, both from what happened before he became semi-comatose and since, and Damian’s eyes widened in horror. He only had a split second to think about those memories though, because he became aware of the creature in front of him yelling something.

“Hey! Are you awake? Are you deaf?! Answer me!”

“S-sorry sir, I-I’m listening. W-what do you want?” Damian replied. Though the reddish brownish fox in front of him was very clearly not Blinder, it would be best for Damian to stay on everyone’s good side. Or else they could complain to Blinder…

With a sigh, the fox leaned back, putting the pungent-smelling herb into a leather bag, and then promptly sealing it.

“I had thought Blinder deafened you for a moment, turns out you were just in a trance. Blinder wants to tell you it’s time. Oh, and don’t call me sir.”

Damian slowly stood up, and said, “Um, I-I’m sorry, s-sir,” wincing, he hastily corrected himself, “I-I mean, n-not sir, but time for what?”

“All Blinder told me was that it’s time for you to fulfill your promise. What that means, I don’t know.”

While they had been talking, Damian’s mind had been feverishly recollecting the events of the past hours, and now, with the fox’s statement, everything clicked. With a gasp of horror, Damian remembered. He thought for a split second, and then decided on his course of action. Damian fell to his knees, holding out his paws to the surprised fox, who backed away.

“Please, p-please, kill me!” Damian pleaded.

“What? What are you talking about?” the fox replied, his expression one of complete confusion.

“Kill me! Please! Blinder wants to make me do something terrible! Please, just kill me!”

“No! Are you crazy? Blinder will be furious if he finds out you died! He’ll probably torture me!”

“Please, you can say it was an accident, you can say I grabbed the dagger and stabbed myself and you couldn’t react, just please don’t make me go down there!”

There were tears in Damian’s eyes as he gazed at the fox; the soldier’s face showed disgust and unwillingness, but Damian could swear he saw pity in the fox’s eyes as well. “Sorry, but Blinder will hurt me even if it actually was an accident, you know that as well as I do. And anyway, what is he making you do? It can’t be that bad, can it?”

Damian’s frame sagged as he accepted defeat, he stood up, and shuffling toward the door replied in a soft voice, “He’s making me kill my family.”

The fox froze in horror, disgust and fear clear as day on his face, and he looked at Damian with real sympathy and pity, but only for a split second. Then, he gathered himself, and with another sigh softly took Damian by the shoulder and said, “As much as I hate to say this, kid, better your neck than mine. I’m sorry.”

Damian offered no reply, and after a moment, the fox removed his paw and led him out of the ship. As buried as he was in his thoughts, the walk seemed to take no time at all, and they arrived at their destination relatively quickly. They had walked off the ship and went to a water-front inn called “Family Matters”, no doubt chosen by Blinder on purpose. The tavern, normally so full and cheery, was now empty, tables overturned, counters wrecked, the dead bar keeper slumped over in the corner. Damian and the fox went upstairs, where Blinder and, surprisingly enough, Bertrand were waiting for them.

With a savage grin, Blinder stood up and heartily said, “Thank you Riff for bringing Damian here! You are free to leave now; if Skinner asks where I am, tell him I’ll be done in a few hours.”

Bowing, the fox retreated back downstairs without a word, careful not to show any emotions.

Blinder turned to Damian, still smiling, his eyes glinting insanely as he said, “Eight rooms, Damian. Your lovely little cousin Martha is in the first one; a nice warm-up don’t you think? Then, your cousins Claw and Flynn are in the next two, followed by your sister, then the foulmouthed Uncle Turnpike. Big brother’s up next, then good old daddy, and I’ve saved mommy for last. I expect you to spend at least fifteen minutes in each room, make sure you torture them nice and properly. Bertrand will go along with you to make sure you do everything right and don’t try any… tricks. I’ll be waiting downstairs. Clear?”

As much pain as he had endured, as afraid as he was of Blinder, Damian still had to resist the urge to punch Blinder in the face. His entire body trembling, tears trickling once more, all he could manage was a stiff nod. With a brutal grin on his face, Blinder handed Damian a curved, wickedly sharp, serrated knife, and whispered, “Don’t disappoint me.”

Damian did not reply, did not turn his head as Blinder left, only steeled himself, tightly grasping the knife with both hands. So this was the end. He had never thought he would leave this world by suicide, but he supposed it would be a fitting end for a coward like him. With a deep breath, he mentally said goodbye to the world, and plunged the knife into his heart.


That is, he would have, if something very strong did not grab his paws right before the knife went into his heart; the blade hung an inch away from granting him everlasting mercy. He glanced up, surprised, into Bertrand’s steely eyes and completely emotionless face.

“You do nobody any good by ending your life here. Do you think your family will be hurt any less if Blinder or Skinner are the ones torturing them to death?” Releasing him, the wolverine continued matter-of-factly, “Try it again, and I take you down to Blinder. Maybe after some of his work you’ll think twice before trying to end your life.”

With a snarl, Damian kicked open the first door. His little cousin, only four seasons of age, dangled from chains. Upon seeing Damian, she exclaimed, “Damian! Are you here to save me?”

Consumed with self-loathing and fear, Damian did not reply, just strode forward with a knife in hand, sobbing. Bertrand followed him, closing the door without a word as Martha fearfully said, “Damian?”

---

Shaking so hard the knife clattered to the ground, Damian exited the fifth room. Blood covered his paws and body; he had joined in the screaming by the third room. Partly he did this to mute out his family’s screams, partly to relieve his own pain, but it did not help. Nothing helped. He had tried to kill himself right after the second room again, and only desperate pleading had prevented Bertrand from dragging the ferret downstairs. He had used all his willpower not to try to do so again, but he felt he could not carry on. His sister had screamed oaths and curses at him, all three of his cousins begged and pleaded him, and his uncle had spat in his face. Sobbing and crying, Damian stumbled into the room where his brother dangled.

Like the others, his brother exclaimed, “Damian! What are you-why are you here? Why are you covered in blood?”

Damian silently shook his head, sobbing, striding forward, readying the knife.

“Damian, wait!” his brother cried.

Still he did not reply. He was almost upon his brother.

“Damian, wait!” his brother insisted.

The ferret lifted up the knife, ready to stab his brother, his own brother in the stomach… And stopped dead when he made eye contact. There was no fear in his brother’s eyes, no terror, no shock or surprise. Only steely determination.

“Damian… wait.”

Slowly, Damian lowered the knife, then dropped it. He fell to his knees, shaking, still not breaking eye contact with his brother. Behind them, Bertrand offered not a word of protest, quietly closing the door instead.

“Damian… who did this to you? Tell me, who did this to my brother? Who tortured you for so long, who caused you so much agony you would be willing to kill your own family?”

Damian could only shake his head. Blinder would know. Blinder would be angry.

“Tell me!” shouted his brother, eyes boring into Damian’s very soul.

“Blinder!” Damian gasped out, “his name is Blinder.”

His brother’s expression was the same as he asked, “Have you tried to end your life? Have you thought about killing yourself?”

“T-twice, I tried.” Damian replied.

“Well I want you,” Bertrand started forward here, no doubt expecting a third suicide attempt; Damian thought the same, fumbling near his knees for the knife, “to get every thought about suicide out of your head!”

Damian froze, befuddlement of his face. Why would his brother not let him die? For a moment, the silence in the room was complete and absolute.

“Get every single one of those thoughts out of your head,” his brother resumed, “and make sure they never return. The last thing I want happening is my brother killing my entire family and then committing suicide himself. Why? What’s the point? You don’t help us, you help Blinder! If you want to help us, if you want to avenge us, don’t hesitate to hurt us! We would have ended up tortured either way, and I would much rather it be done by you then by Blinder, who turned the brave, smart Damian I know into this! If you are to avenge us, kill Blinder! Kill him, end his life, end his empire, ruin him for eternity! He thinks he has broken you by making you kill your family, all he has done is make you invincible! Why, you ask? He has nothing left to threaten you with! Your family is dead, so the only one he can hurt is you! And the Damian I know, the fearless, brave Damian I know, would not let a little pain stop him in the path to avenging his family! The Damian I know would ignore it, would bear it in silence and would return it tenfold when he time came! The Damian I know would make this merciless scum of a creature regret every bad thing he had ever done, and the Damian I know would only be getting started!”

Though fear and doubt and pain and self-loathing still filled Damian, a pocket of emotions, ones he had not felt since he stood up to Blinder in that alleyway were re-kindled once more. Anger, desire for vengeance, and, Damian saw with surprise, bravery. He stood up, no longer shaking, knife clasped firmly in hand.

His brother grinned, and, with a wink, said, “It would be deliciously ironic if you were to blind him.”

Damian, smiled grimly and replied, “Consider it done.”

Though his happy emotions reseeded quickly, they were still there, a quiet pocket which would not die. He was still shaking, but not as much, and the tears were drying up. The negative emotions were still there, but muted, and the anger inside him burned brighter than any of them. As he turned to walk out, he lay eyes on Bertrand, and considered. Why not now? What was there to stop him? He spun the knife around in a very… deliberate fashion.

Bertrand smirked, and, as if he read his mind said, “The most important thing about revenge is picking a right time to execute it.”

Damian did not reply, and so Bertrand added, “Right now is not that time. You will not kill everyone, nor will you accomplish what you mean to do. Skinner will live on, and if Blinder dies he will become a greater monster than Skinner could ever be.” The ferret relaxed, and, taking a calming sigh, walked out of the room and into the next one. For a moment, his father looked shocked as Damian strode into the room, but he did not say anything, just narrowed his eyes and set his jaw.

Damian strode over and softly said, “Father, I-I am sorry. I cannot do anything about this, b-but I promise I will avenge you. I swear. Father? Do you hear me?”

A steely glint in his eyes, the ferret’s father replied, “You are no son of mine. I care not what you do.”

Damian jerked back with a gasp, tears pooling in his eyes. Turning his head toward Damian, his father angrily said, “Do your worst, you filth.”

As the ferret hacked at his father’s body, who remained stoically silent, Damian whispered, “I hate you, Blinder. I hate you.”

His anger grew and grew, as did his pain and sorrow, until at last he screamed, “I HATE YOU BLINDER!!”

He savagely kicked open the door on the way out and strode into the last room, the one with his mother. How she had guessed it would be Damian, it was a complete mystery, but she did not seem surprised in the least. As he walked toward her, she calmly said, “I love you, Damian, I always have and I always will. I will not let this get in the way.”

Damian steeled his resolve, raising the knife, then dropped his hand. He could not. His brother, his cousins, his sister, he could do it, but not his mother. Never his mother.

He thought of a better idea. “Scream, mother, scream like I’m doing terrible things to you.”

Without hesitation, she began screaming. Damian turned toward Bertrand, hoping the wolverine would not do anything. Though his face showed no signs of emotion, Damian could have sworn he seemed relieved.

“It takes a special type of mind,” Bertrand said, “to make someone torture their own mother in cold blood.”

They stood there for two or three minutes more, listening to the screams, as Damian shook with anger and loathing, both of himself and of Blinder, and at last he could hear no more and he whirled around and slit his mother’s throat, killing her instantly. He turned to leave and Bertrand softly said, “Blinder will check the bodies. Cut her up to make it look like you tortured her.”

Damian spat on the floor and walked out without doing any such thing, ignoring the wolverine, but halfway through the doorframe he turned back and went back to his mother’s body. As he hacked at it, hate and anger coursing through him like a river, he spat out, “The most important thing about revenge is picking the right time to execute it.”

Chapter Four

It had been two weeks since Damian had to kill his parents. Though an inner core of resolve was branded into his heart following his brother’s speech, but fear and misery and pain still ruled over him. The initial adrenaline was enough to keep him calm and prevent him from thinking about what he did, but after a few hours when the realization hit Damian collapsed into a shaking, screaming mess. It took three or four days for him to recover enough just to interact with others, and even then he had constant shaking fits and nightmares. His wounds from being tortured burned at times to the point where he had to stuff his paw in his mouth to choke back screams. Whenever anyone approached Damian he started hyperventilating, even if it was just a servant or slave of some sort.

In the meanwhile, after divvying up the initial loot and establishing a small garrison in the city, Skinner set off toward their home, a large tropical island three or four weeks from where Damian lived (depending on how fortuitous the wind was). There weren’t too many survivors from the city, Blinder electing instead to torture them to death, but those who did survive were all slaves. Damian stayed well away from them, wanting no additional contact with others from the town to trigger memories.

Damian himself wasn’t exactly a slave; due to his state it was deemed he wouldn’t be an efficient worker. Instead, he wandered around the ship, helping out crewmembers or other slaves or soldiers if they needed something. On his better days, he forgot the pain due to his mind being concentrated on errands; on his worse ones, he often sat quietly in a corner for hours, staring at nothing and rocking back and forth. It was a miserable existence, and coping with the simultaneous loss of so much was really hard for the ferret.

The others on the ship had gotten used to him; for most, they had seen creatures in such a state before, and so simply ignored it, or even helped him recover. While he was obviously nowhere near to being back to his former self, by the two weeks he could stutter through conversations without too much of a problem, and was even doing manual labor. Life on the ship wasn’t particularly hard; the work was divvied up evenly (among the slaves and lower ranked soldiers, of course), so while there was a lot of it collectively, individually they had a lot of free time.

Since Damian was so scared of an encounter with his fellow villagers, he did not interact with the slaves at all, and instead hung around the cells in the depth of the ship. There weren’t too many others there, and most of them were quiet and had memories that tormented them as much as Damian, which suited the ferret just fine. Most of the time, they simply sat there, each in a cell (Damian returned to the one he used to be in) in sort of companionable silence, the drip-drop of water and the steady rocking of the ship oddly comforting in the cool, gloomy depth of the ship.

When he did talk, it was to Ura. Ura was the rat he met in the cell next to him who had so unnerved the guards with her request to go on the raid (and had unnerved Damian as well due to the rather peculiar way she carried herself). However, she explained that it was simply an act of sorts to unnerve the guards and ensure her safety. She was quite attractive (though not as much so as Clana, who he remembered as well as his family), and had no wish to spend any more company with soldiers than was necessary for her survival. However, when there were no guards around, she turned into an extremely sociable, inquisitive character who was not ashamed of saying anything. Although she didn’t act like she was crazy, she constantly did things to make Damian uncomfortable, which was admittedly easier than normal to do given his state.

In addition to the rat, there were three other prisoners, all of whom Ura told Damian about. Two cells away from them was a sad clump of a mole she called Wex. Most of the time, he slept in a corner, his quiet snores only heard when everyone else was completely silent. When he was awake, he occupied himself with He had strung together several little elastic pieces of rope on two of the bars on his door, and spent his time sadly plucking them, tears silently trickling down his face. Occasionally, he burst out in a raucous eruption of completely nonsensical poetry, and came alive then, but those outbursts lasted only several minutes and happened infrequently. Ura did not know Wex before he came on the ship, nor was she able to find out who he actually was and where he was from.

Across the corridor from them, in a cell so covered in filth you could hardly see its inhabitant, gloomed a burly stoat with the most pessimistic outlook on life Damian had ever seen. He gruffly introduced himself as Gorn, though Ura insisted that wasn’t his real name. Gorn had a huge sword leaning against his cell door, its scabbard covered in rust and barnacles, and when Damian asked him why he didn’t try to escape he glumly replied, “What’s the point? I’m dead in here, I’m dead out there. Might as well have some peace and quiet.” He stayed quiet for the most part, his occasional contributions consisting of snarky comments.

And the last prisoner, Ura spoke of in kind of a hushed, respectful voice; he was the one who was several corridors away and normally howled for hours on end at night.

“Ramses and I go a long way back. He’s… he’s different. Mark my words, you’ve never met someone like him. He’s more intelligent than anyone I’ve ever met, but was also one of the most trusting, kind creatures I’ve ever seen, far trespassing the point of naivety. This was way back, before Blinder was alive, before you were alive, when Skinner was just ending his teenage years. Ramses and I had met as kids and he… he was amazing. His ideas were wild and daring, his thoughts brilliant and out of this world, and he himself was stronger and quicker and bigger than anyone I had ever seen. I was enchanted by him, and he found an interesting companion who didn’t judge him in me. And then… then Skinner came.”

She refused to elaborate anymore, only warning Damian to never go into the hallway where Ramses was imprisoned, or else he was guaranteed death. Perhaps not immediate, but he was as good as dead the moment he locked eyes with Ramses now.

In exchange for unabashedly sharing a lot about her life and about life on the ship, she demanded to know what happened to Damian. He was extremely reluctant to share, to the point where he avoided the cell for three days, until a wide-eyed dormouse sought him out and murmured that Ura would like to see him. When Damian refused, she quietly accepted and then proceeded to come back every ten minutes (despite the ferret’s best attempts to hide from her), until finally Damian agreed. It took another few hours actually persuading him to divulge the information, but he finally did tell the story from the very beginning. The rat proved to be a very good listener, seeming very engrossed and keeping quiet, encouraging him to go on when he faltered.

After he finished, even the normally well-spirited rat seemed rather shocked, and Gorn gave off that impression, his lack of any comments as good as confirmation of it. She comforted him in what way she could, but she knew it wasn’t enough. Though Damian had heard that telling everything bad to someone was a way to relieve stress, he felt the opposite, the rocking of the ship and the retelling of the story making him feel queasy, and he excused himself to bed.

It was the middle of the night when he awoke, startled, covered in sweat from his usual nightmares, as someone’s paw pounded on the door. He had been given a small, previously abandoned cabin in the middle of the ship. Wrenching the door open, he came face to face with a short, stout stoat, who barked out, “Come on! What took you so long?! You’re Damian, right?”

“Y-yes sir, b-but what-”

“You can fight, right?! What do you fight with?!”

“Q-quarterstaff sir, bu-”

“Wonderful!! Let’s go!”

And with that, he turned on his heel and strode off, leaving Damian to jog after him. The stoat was a sergeant named Blackstone; one of the kindest officers on the ship, he acted gruff but was never actually mean to anyone, spoke only in exclamations, and constantly referred to quotes from his deceased mama, who seemed to be worship-worthy in his book.

“S-sir, where are we g-going? W-what’s going on?”

“We’re going to the armory to get your quarterstaff, what else would we do?!”

“Why d-do we need-”

“AH-HA!” The shout was so loud Damian recoiled in surprise, “We’re here! The armory! Come on in, on the double now!”

They strode in to the dimly lit armory, where weapons were piled in a haphazard pile, ranging from swords to bows to maces to pikes. Blackstone dug around for a few seconds, exclaimed “AH-HA!” again, and pulled out a staff, handing it to Damian as he said. There you go boy, that one do the trick?”

“This… t-this is m-my quarterstaff, sir-”

“Fantastic! Up onto the deck we go then!”

Again, he dashed off, leaving Damian no time to ask any questions, and, utterly bewildered at this point, he followed the sergeant. In truth, he was kind of grateful for this excursion, as tonight the nightmares had been particularly unkind. Fighting was easily preferable to enduring the never-ending terror of his dreams; though his back and shoulders still ached, and he hadn’t practiced with the staff in a while, he was fairly sure of himself.

When they got on deck, the stoat dashed off to the railing, with a quick glance back to make sure Damian hadn’t fallen behind somewhere. The ferret turned and looked around, and saw dozens of soldiers standing in huddles on the ship, quietly murmuring amongst themselves. Along with the stars, the full moon cast light onto the ship and the sea, the clear skies making for good viewing. Off a few miles away was a small, densely forested island, most likely uninhabited. A thin trickle of them were coming onto the deck, while others were jogging back into the belly of the ship. Damian went up to the railing with Blackstone.

“See that ship over there?” asked Blackstone, his voice surprisingly quiet, as he pointed toward a ship several hundred yards away, steadily circling them. It was long, and thin, serrated spikes gleaming on her sides, long black sails carrying her fairly rapidly. Though she was a large ship, she was nowhere near the size of the behemoth Skinner captained.

“That ship right there is pirates; there’s three more circling us, and they’ve sent for help. We’re going to have a fight on our hands soon, and we need every paw we can get. As my mama used to say, half a bronze coin is still half of a bronze coin. That’s why you and your quarterstaff are here. Any questions?”

“W-why are we waiting f-for them to attack? Why not t-try and get out immediately?”

“Their leader isn’t with them-he’s been troubling us for nigh upon a year now,” a deep voice replied behind them, “Skinner wants him dead.”

Damian and Blackstone both turned to the third party; as his wont, Bertrand had shown up without a sound, and was quietly sharpening his broadsword, which already had a deadly gleam and oozed a feeling of death from it.

“A-and who is that?” Damian quietly asked, the questions more an attempt to calm his nerves than anything else. The actual information wasn’t important to him, but it was better than standing there silently, waiting for a battle that could spell his demise. Although he had agreed with his brother that he had nothing left to lose, in an odd way that goal to defeat Skinner and Blinder gave him that fear again, because he really needed to fulfill it and dying before would be a failure on his part.

“He calls himself Indigo,” said Bertrand, “an otter, supposedly the finest warrior on the seas.”

Blackstone guffawed and cried, “Why, we’ve got the finest warrior on the seas right here! Well, here’s to hoping you beat him and earn your honor, eh?”

The wolverine smiled as he replied, “I’ve earned my honor a thousand times over back in the tundras of the north. Tonight, I simply defend it.”

“For now though, we must wait,” Bertrand continued, “they’ve sent out ships to hail the rest of the fleet, which is probably somewhere on the other side of the island. Once they arrive, I don’t know what we’ll do.”

“Ah, but here’s who does! My lord!” exclaimed Blackstone, and Damian turned his head, toward the passageway leading from the officers cabins, and from them Skinner emerged, flanked by grim fox with a battleax and none other than the ferret Snarl. Damian shrank back; apparently, Rusty would now have migraines for the foreseeable future thanks to the wallop on the head Damian gave him, and Snarl was absolutely livid because of it. One slave confided to Damian that Snarl has exclaimed he would skin Damian alive when he had the chance.

A weasel dressed in chain mail and dark brown leggings strode up to Skinner and saluted as she said, “Everyone is in or taking their position, sir. I’ve told ‘em you intend to let them board, and gave them instructions for their retreat paths. We’ve gotten most of the slaves who are able to fight and scattered them around the ship. They sent out their messengers forty minutes ago; the rest of the pirates should be here soon.”

“Good work, Captain. And my son…?”

Now Blackstone stepped forward and, throwing of a smart salute, crisply replied, “Sir, I ran to him some twen’y five minutes ago and he said he’d be right up as soon as he was finished with his…work.”

Smirking, Skinner replied, “You have disapproval in your voice, Sergeant, but if you were halfway done with a meal would you just up and leave it lying there to rot?”

“If staying meant the possibility of my life being halfway done and me being the one left to rot you can bet anything I would,” barked out Blackstone.

“Heh, you’ll find that my son is a little more dedicated toward eating than you in that case, Sergeant.”

With that comment, Skinner turned back toward the captain and began asking her in detail about the defenses; Bertrand strode over and joined the conversation. Damian turned back to the sea, mulling over what he just saw. This was a side of Skinner he had not seen before; the ferret was used to a manic, sadistic Skinner, who knew nothing save enjoyment in pain and misery. This Skinner was cool, calm and collected, exuding an aura of power and giving every portrayal of a commander of an army. Damian had been terrified Skinner would recognize and do something to him, but the weasel’s gaze had slid over him without as much as a hint of recognition.

They waited there for about fifteen minutes, before a cry came down from the crow’s nest, “Here comes the fleet from the starboard side!” Damian jerked back to life; he had zoned out for the past five minutes, as his memories again took control over him. Though he didn’t know it, he had been quietly murmuring to himself and shaking like a leaf, garnering disturbed glances from two or three pockets of soldiers nearby.

Indeed, the fleet was heading towards them; six or seven more ships, two or three-masters, with one large ship in the middle. The entire pack was long and spiny, much like the ship still patrolling theirs, and they clung low to the water as they sped forward, cutting it apart silently, coming closer and closer. Damian swallowed, readjusting his grip on his quarterstaff. It was time for the battle to begin.

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