This story takes place after Doomwyte
Book One- The Serpent
Evening sunlight flickered through the trees as two creatures stalked through the woodlands of Mossflower. One of them, a tall, gaunt ferret, peered up into a tree, his eyes narrowed to shield them from the setting sun. The other creature, a tubby rat, asked his companion, “Do yer see anythin' Red?”
Redgo the ferret shook his head in frustration. “Naw, not a thing. I'm tellin' ye Flark, dat bird went inter a different tree. It twas an elm, not a sycamore.”
Flark the rat frowned. “I coulda swore dat it was dis tree.”
Redgo snorted and turned away. “Well ye swore wrong dere mate. Come on, we needs to get back to der Boss wid our load o' vittles.”
Flark eyed the meager supply of roots, berries and a few half-rotten eggs that they had gathered. “I'donno,” he said, “I don't think dat der Boss will like dis liddle bit.”
Redgo sneered, “Den dat's his problem! I'm tired an' hungry an' I'm going back whether you likes it or not.” He picked up the small sack and trudged back off through the woods, followed by the rat. They didn't get very far however, when Flark suddenly stopped and whispered, “Wait... what was dat?”
Redgo turned to him. “Wot was wot?”
The rat glanced back behind his shoulder and gulped, “I thought I heard a noise back dere...”
The ferret smirked, “Twas probably dat bird you lots back dere, makin' fun o' us. Let's keep goin' mate.”
But Flark was adamant. “No matey, it wasn't any bird. It was like a soft noise, like... like... hissing.” Before Redgo could reply, a sibilant, rasping voice was heard from the darkening forest around them, “Assssssmodeusssssssss!”
Redgo's eyes went wide with fear and he glanced at Flark, who was now shaking uncontrollably. The rat stammered, in a terrified voice, “It... it s-sounds like a... a...”
Then before either of the two vermin could move, a huge shape appeared in front of them. A pair of evil, luminous eyes gazed down at them as the long, dark form rose high into the air, swaying back and forth and hissing softly, “Assssssmodeusssssss hassssss found you!”
Both vermin suddenly took off in the opposite direction, fear adding speed to their paws. They could hear the ominous swooshing sound as the snake followed them at an alarming speed, still hissing, “Come to me, my friendssssss, and I will sssssshow you eternity!”
Suddenly Redgo tripped and fell flat on his face. He reached up for his companion, whimpering, “Flark matey! Don't leave me!”
But the rat was too scared to even notice. He ran on with all the speed he could muster, further into the woodlands. The terrified screams of Redgo echoed in his ears as he sped off into the night.
Shargg Ribsaw was known and feared throughout all Mossflower Woods for his sheer cunning and brutality. The weasel was large and fat, but he could move faster than anybeast would expect him to. His band of vermin followers numbered about forty, a motley gang of rats, stoats, weasels, and ferrets. Shargg had received his second name from the weapon that he carried: A long sword made from the rib-bone of some great sea creature that he had traded for from some searats. It was carved to a razor edge and it had many notches in the blade, forming it into a serrated saw-like weapon. Each notch represented a beast that Shargg has slain, so the more enemies that he killed, the deadlier his weapon became.
He sat on a stump in northern Mossflower, chewing on a fish bone and waiting for his foraging scouts to return. A female ferret named Zimla, who happened to be Redgo's mate, stood nearby, also watching for her mate's return. She did not necessarily like her chief, who was, in her opinion, an overweight, slovenly tyrant. But she knew better than to challenge or assassinate Shargg. It had been tried before, and always ended up with one less vermin in the clan, and one more notch on Shargg's sword.
Just then, Flark the rat came charging into the camp, panting and shaking like a leaf in a gale. Both Shargg and Zimla noticed the absence of Redgo, and the weasel chieftain was the first to say so. “Where in da name o' darkness is Redgo? An' why're yew runnin' like a serpent was after ye?”
Flark gasped and blurted out, “Cuz der was a serpent after me! A giant one! It got poor Redgo an' it's comin' dis way!”
Zimla ground her teeth audibly, but Shargg ignored her and grabbed Flark by the shoulders, snarling, “A giant serpent?! Are ye mad? Dere haven't been any giant serpents 'ere fer seasons!”
The rat nodded feebly, “But it was Boss! I big 'un wid glowy eyes and it kept sayin' 'Asssssmoodeiessssss'!”
Shargg threw the rat to the ground and stepped back, his ugly face contorted in thought. “Asmoodeies? Hm... dat name sounds fermilar.” He turned to an old rat who stood a short ways off and called, “Hoi Harflug! Do ye ever recall hearin' 'bout a giant snake named Asmoodeies?”
The old rat chewed thoughtfully on his toothless gums and nodded. “Aye, I did hear dat name afore. Asmodeus he was. Somethin' o legend. A great serpent wid glowin' eyes and poison fangs. But he was slayed long ago by der Redwall mice.”
Shargg spent a few moments digesting this information, then he snorted and spat at Flark. “Yew idgit! Didn't ye hear 'im? Asmodeus was slayed long ago. You're a liar just makin' excuses cause ol' Redgo was lost or somethin'!”
Flark whined, “But Boss, I ain't lyin'! I saw it wid me own eyes an' tis comin' dis way!”
Shargg kicked the rat full on in the mouth and snarled, “I told ye yew was a liar, so ye are! Say it! You're a lousy... stinkin'... liar!” Each word was extenuated by another savage kick. Flark groveled on the ground and moaned, “No more Boss! No more! Alright, I'm a liar! A stinkin' liar!”
The brutish weasel chieftain snorted and turned away from his victim. “O' course ye are. Now what vittles did ye bring?”
Suddenly Zimla interjected, grabbing Flark by his dirty shirt-collar and hissing, “Where's me mate Redgo?! What really happened ter 'im?”
The unfortunate rat gulped and stammered, “It... it was dere snake, he-” Shargg came bounding in again, this time with his sword drawn. He shoved Zimla out of the way and grabbed Flark by the shirt, holding his saw-edged sword at the rat's neck. “If'n I hears anudder word about dat snake from yew again, I'll be adding anudder notch on me blade! Would yew like dat, eh?” Flark shook his head rapidly. Shargg threw him down again and stalked off, muttering, “Dat's wot I thought!”
Zimla glared back and forth between Flark and Shargg, unsure of whom to question about the disappearance of her mate. She turned to Shargg, her paws on hips, and growled, “Wot if'n Flark is tellin' da truth? Wot if der really is a serpent out dere comin' dis way? Are ye just gonna sit 'ere an' get killed?”
The big weasel slowly turned around and faced the ferret, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “I said no more talk about der snake....”
But Zimla stood her ground. “Then if da snake does come, an' it kills us all, you'll be da one ter blame because o' your stupid puffed-up ways!”
Every one of the vermin stared in stunned silence first at Zimla, then Shargg. Nobeast had ever talked like that to Shargg Ribsaw. And lived to tell about it. The big weasel whirled on Zimla and raised his sword, snarling. But the ferret stood resolute, glaring at her chief. Shargg knew that what she said made perfect sense, but he wasn't about to admit it. He ground his teeth together and then lowered his sword, muttering, “I don't like dis place anyhow. It ain't got much food. We're goin' out ter anudder place.”
That was enough for the vermin band. They were all anxious to get away from the snake that Flark had reported, and they just awaited the word of their chieftain, as they were more afraid of him then of any serpent. As the vermin started to pack up their few belongings, Zimla still stood glaring at Shargg. “An' wot about my mate, Redgo?”
The weasel snorted and waved his sword dismissively. “Dat ol' fool probably deserved wot he got. An' even if'n he is still alive, 'e can catch up ter us later. Now get movin'!”
Zimla cursed under her breath and went off to roll up her ragged tent. One day she would avenge her mate, and she didn't care if she had to kill both Shargg and a giant adder to do it.
Down south along the River Moss, which flowed eastward out of Mossflower, five long, sleek shapes slid down the river, keeping in time with each other. Gruff voices coming from them echoed around the woodlands, telling everybeast within the area that the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower were about.
Log-a-Log Muggy, a short, strongly-built shrew stood at the prow of the lead log boat, surveying the surrounding area and trying to block out the raucous sounds of his tribe's constant bickering.
A tall young shrew named Grimp sat near the stern of the log boat, rowing and talking to a group of awed shrewbabes at the same time. “So I says to that big, savage ol' stoat, 'I don't care if'n you was just wandering along, you're a vermin, and therefore deserve to be killed!' So I sliced my rapier across his throat, whips it down and-” He was cut off by a growl from his leader,
“Grimp, I don't want you fillin' those little ones heads with stories o' killing and violence. I've told ye that before!”
Grimp frowned. “Well tis only vermin that're dying! The liddle 'uns need to know about the evils of vermin and how we can fix it!”
Log-a-Log turned and fixed the young shrew with an icy glare. “Slaying a helpless traveler is not how we fix it! I remember that stoat you was talking about. He didn't harm anybeast but the birds and fish that he caught; he didn't deserve to die the way you killed him!”
Grimp snorted. “Course he didn't! He deserved a lot worse!”
Log-a-Log Muggy would not stand blatant cruelty within his crew. He strode towards Grimp, a dangerous gleam in his eye. “Listen here Grimp, I understand completely at where yer comin' from. I'd be angry too if'n my family was killed by vermin. I respect that need of vengeance inside of you. But there's no need to be forcing the liddle 'uns to hate vermin as much as you do. Am I clear?”
Grimp lowered his gaze and muttered sullenly, “Aye, Chief.”
Muggy nodded. “Good. Now crew, let's keep paddlin' until we hit the bend in the river. There we can stop for the night. Come on Guosim! Keep on paddlin'!”
The Guosim reached their destination just before sunset. They tied their logboats to the bank and camouflaged them with branches. The cooks broke out the provisions and started to make supper. Log-a-Log Muggy sat by a fire with several other shrews. The Guosim chieftain leaned back against a tree, half-closing his eyes. He watched Grimp and several other young shrews by another fire, conversing with each other in hushed tones.
Another shrew sat down next to Muggy. “Nice spot we got, eh dad?” The Log-a-Log merely nodded. His son, who was named Pylom, followed his father's line of sight and saw Grimp's gang. Pylom sighed. “Are ye worried about Grimp an' his cronies again, dad?”
Muggy shrugged his shoulders and picked up his empty bowl. “Ah, I don't know son. Grimp's a good Guosim and a brave fighter, but he's rash and vengeful; more than he should be. I just hope that he doesn't decide to desert or rebel someday....”
Pylom put a paw on his father's shoulder, his other paw on the rapier at his side. “Don't worry dad, there's plenty of Guosim that are loyal to you. Like me.”
Muggy smiled at his son and patted his arm. “I know Pylom. Thanks.”
A few hours later, the Guosim tribe were all asleep, save for a few sentries. But none of them noticed the small, sleek figure winding its way through the underbrush. It slithered up to one shrew and raised its head to look down at him. The shrew was sound asleep. The creature slowly reached down and carefully slid the shrew's rapier from its sheath. The blade made a small rasping sound as it came out. The thief held its breath as it watched the sleeping shrew. Suddenly the shrew snuffled and rolled over. The rapier came loose and the creature went tumbling back. It looked around nervously, but nobeast had noticed. It gave a sigh of relief and put the stolen weapon into a bag at its side. Then it crept silently over to the next shrew to do the same.
Before the night was over, nearly every Guosim shrew was weaponless, and the mysterious thief had slid off into the night.
Redgo the ferret was not dead. Although when he first opened his groggy eyes, he had his doubts. He felt the rough, gritty surface of sandstone beneath him and a warm, sickly-sweet smell permeated the thick air. He blinked several times to clear his vision. But soon after he regretted it. He was in a dark sandstone cavern, stalactites and stalagmites piercing from the stone like deadly fangs. A pool of greenish water lay steaming a few yards away, and along the walls were numerous amounts of strange carvings, markings, and dripping moss.
Redgo gulped and looked back and forth, but there was no living thing in sight. He stood shakily and started to stumble from the small indent in the wall where he sat, when he fell back in fright as a loud, sinister, hissing voice echoed around the chamber, “Welcome to my humble home! I hope that your ssssstay here will be mossssst enjoyable!”
Seemingly out of nowhere appeared a fully-grown male adder. He was not very large as adders go, but he was still a menacing and terrifying presence. Redgo trembled in sheer terror as the evil, dark-amber eyes fixed him with a gaze that seemed to have a tinge of amusement in it. The ferret scrabbled back against the wall, stammering, “Who-who are ye, an' wot do yer want wid me?!”
The adder slid forward and slowly wrapped his tail around the trembling vermin. “Who I am doessss not matter now. And what I want from you I ssssshall explain in a moment.”
Redgo gulped as the scaly tip of the snake's tail gently caressed him. “Why d-din't yer eat me?”
The adder smiled. “Oh, I'm sssssorry, were you expecting me to? Well I can eassssily change that if you'd like....”
The ferret shook his head frantically. “No s-sire! I was just... just...” The snake interrupted him, “You are just going to ansssswer me a few quesssstionssss. Firsssst, do you know anything about the artssss of metal-working?”
The ferret frowned. “Ya mean like makin' weapons an' such?”
The viper nodded. “Precissssely.”
Redgo had somewhat overcome his fear, now that he knew the adder had no intention of eating him at the moment, so he continued, “Well, er... no, I don't really.”
The snake questioned further, “Doessss anybeasssst in your clan possssesssss that ability?”
Redgo thought for a moment, then said, “Uh... I don't think so. We got our weapons by tradin' 'em wid searats.”
The adder sat quietly for a moment, still staring at the nervous ferret with unblinking eyes. Then he said, “Then do you know of anybeasssst who can? Anybeasssst anywhere?”
Redgo racked his brain for ideas. He never gave any thought to where his weapons had come from. Then he remembered the non-vermin settlements. “Oh! Dere's a big ol' mountain at the edge o' da sea to der west dat I've heard of called, eh, Sallymandstrum or sumthin' like dat.”
The serpent nodded thoughtfully. “By the ssssea, hm? That issss too far. I need ssssomeplace closssser.”
Redgo thought for a moment then said, “Well der's dat big Redwall place just south o' here. But dey're peaceful beasts, an' dey don't make weapons or anyt'ing.” The moment that he heard the word 'Redwall' the adder's muscles tightened and he gave a low, venomous hiss.
Redgo thought that he had said something wrong, and he started to plead, “Oh please sire, I didn't mean it! Spare me!”
The snake glared down at him in disgust. “Sssshut up with your groveling and whining, furbearer! I know of the place called Redwall. It issss a bad place, and I hate it with every inch of my coilssss.” He flexed his long, muscular body as if to emphasize the fact.
Redgo wrung his paws nervously. “So, um.... what else do yer want from me sire?”
The snake raised his diamond-scaled head and hissed, “Well if you can't do what I wissssh and you know of nobeasssst who can.... then you are of no further ussssse to me.” He opened his mouth menacingly and a small drop of venom glistened on his long, sharp fangs.
Redgo scrabbled back, trying to get further back into his hole as he pleaded, “No sire! Please! I'll do anythin'! Please don't kill me!”
The adder lowered his head. “Very well. You will learn how to forge and sssshape metal before the leavessss fall.”
Redgo gasped in both relief and anxiety. “B-but, sire, how'll I get the stuff ter do it with?”
The snake smiled and wrapped his tail around the ferret. “Come. I will ssssshow you.”
He dragged the unhappy vermin out of the hole and through the dark, misty tunnels until they came into a large cavern room. In the center of the room lay a stone table and a small furnace. Next to them was a pile of metallic objects: Shields, weapons, armor, plates, knives, helmets, and all manner of metal-crafted things.
The adder tossed Redgo into the cavern and hissed, “You have until the autumn when the leavessss fall to create for me a full sssssuit of armor that will cover my head and neck completely. If you fail, then you ssssshall die and I will find sssssome other poor creature to fill your place. Undersssstood?” The unfortunate ferret nodded dumbly. The snake smiled. “Good! Very good!”
As the adder slid away, Redgo asked rather timidly, “Er, sire, is your name.... Asmodeus?”
The adder slowly turned his head around and stared directly into the ferret's eyes, whispering, “If you want me to be.... then yessssss, I am Asssssmodeussssss Poissssonteeth!”
“Hoi, my rapier's gone!”
“Yeah, mine too!”
“Alright, who's the trickster around here, eh?”
These were the sounds that awakened Log-a-Log Muggy. He sat up sharply and looked around. The Guosim were in a tizzy; arguing, fighting and blaming each other for the strange disappearance of their weaponry. Muggy's paws shot to his belt. He looked down. Yes, his rapier was missing too. Muggy leaped up and banged his paw on a stump, roaring above the chatter, “Silence Guosim!!” The shrews instantly went quiet.
Muggy glared back and forth across the group, growling, “Now, something strange happened last night. Most of us are missing our rapiers-”
He was cut off by a cry from one of the cooks, “Hey, some o' the pots an' metal spoons an' knives are missing too!”
The bickering started up again. Log-a-Log banged his paw on the stump again, harder, but all that he got was a sore paw and no response. His son Pylom strode up and nodded to his father. “I got this one, dad.” Pylom leaped on top of the stump and roared out, as loud as he could, “The next shrew that speaks without our Log-a-Log's permission gets tossed in the river!!”
The tribe went silent once more. Muggy grinned at his son. “Thanks again, Pylom.” Then he turned to his clan, “First of all, does anybeast still have their rapiers on them?”
A voice said, “Aye, Wildo an' Trigg do. They were on sentry duty last night.”
Log-a-Log turned to the two shrews in question. “Do you still have 'em?”
They both nodded and held out their weapons as proof. Muggy frowned. “Well obviously whoever took our blades didn't want to go near the sentries.” he spoke to the two guards, “You didn't see or hear anything strange did you?”
Trigg shook his head. “Nothing chief. None but the night birds an' insects.”
Grimp's voice came from the crowd, “Huh, some sentries! They let their whole tribe get robbed while they just sat their like stuffed frogs!”
Before Muggy could reply, Pylom leaped over to Grimp and grabbed him by the ears. Pylom was a tall, powerful shrew and he held on tight. He dragged the kicking and snarling Grimp over to the river and tossed him in. The Guosim all laughed out loud as Grimp resurfaced, spluttering and cursing. Pylom glanced sternly at him, and, without a word, strode back alongside his father.
Muggy sighed and grinned slightly at his son as the tribe's laughter faded away. Grimp pulled himself out and glared daggers of hatred at Pylom.
Log-a-Log said, “Well, er, anyway... we need to find out who or what has been stealing our blades and cooking supplies. Does anybeast have an idea?”
One shrew called out, “It could be a magpie or other black bird. They like shiny stuff.”
Another shrew scoffed, “Naw! Magpies and the like are only out during the day.”
Muggy nodded. “That's true. It was probably somebeast that knew what they were doing. It was probably planned.”
Grimp muttered, “Vermin most like...”
Everybeast expected Pylom to dunk him again, but instead Muggy said, “Yes, that is a possibility. But how did they stay so quiet, and why would they steal the pots and spoons?”
A shrewmaid said, “Hoi, look mates! I found some tracks on the ground!”
The Guosim all crowded around her, and Muggy pushed his way through. He bent down and observed the faint marks on the soil. He stood up and shrugged. “I've not a clue. Lirra, you're a tracker, can you tell what they are?”
The shrewmaid Lirra looked down and studied the faint scratches. “Hmm... well, they seems to be claw-marks of some kind, with a tail-line dragging behind. I'd say that its a reptile of some kind.”
Muggy stroked his short, scruffy beard. “A reptile, eh? Well everybeast be on the lookout for reptiles if'n you wants your swords back.”
Pylom then spoke the question that they were all thinking, “But what would reptiles want with rapiers, pots, and cooking ware?”
Log-a-Log shrugged. “Well, we won't know unless we find 'em. Come on Guosim, we need to catch that thief!”
“But how're we gonna get 'em back if'n we can't fight for 'em?” Grimp asked.
Muggy sighed and frowned. “Good question. You all still have your slings, right?”
The Guosim shrews all nodded.
“Well, we can use those. We can use 'em for close combat if we have too. Now, Pylom, you take a dozen beasts and search northward. Lirra, take another dozen and go east. Murbo, you take your dozen and go west. I'll take the rest going south. We meet back here before sunset. Now, spread out Guosim if'n you want's your rapiers back!”
The Guosim fanned out, searching vengefully for the reptilian robber.
The thieving reptile was at that moment, headed north. The weight of the metal slowed him down a bit, but he still hurried on. He soon came to the edge of a large sandstone quarry. He scrambled over the cliff-side with his burden, sliding and bumping his way down. When he reached the bottom, he hurried towards a large cave entrance near the back of the quarry. He stood panting and gasping at the edge of the cave and dropped his sack of stolen goods near the entrance. He suddenly froze when he heard the soft, sibilant voice rasp from the cavern's darkness,
“Ssssso my friend, what goodies have you brought for me today?”
The thief gulped and hissed nervously, “Zire, I have brought zome metals thingz ztolen from the zhrewbeaztz. My mate Sala iz out looking for more.”
He leaped back as the adder's head appeared in the doorway. The huge snake glanced down at the sack and brought his tail around to open it. The load of rapiers, pots, cooking ware and other metallic items stolen from the Guosim tumbled and clanged out. The adder's long, forked tongue sifted through the pile as he inspected it. Then he raised his head and nodded. “Yessss, thissss issss good. You have done well Vazz. Very well.”
Vazz the lizard bowed and said hurriedly, “Oh thank you zire! Now do I get my rewardzzz?”
The serpent glared at him. “All in due time Vazz. For now jussst go out and resssst. But be back here by sssssunsssset, for I will have need of you again.”
Vazz bowed again and scurried off as fast as he could.
The adder picked up the sack with his tail and turned back into his cave.
Redgo the ferret wiped sweat from his eyes as he hammered away at a piece of metal on the anvil. He had been hard at work all day and night, the fear of death making him work faster than ever before. Already he had completed two layers of neck-armor, and he was working on a third. He carefully picked up a piece of newly hammered red-hot metal and dropped it into a water bucket.
He had just turned to his fire to pick up another piece, when a hissing voice said, “How issss the armor coming along, furbearer?”
Redgo jumped in fright and his paw fell into the red-hot fire coals. He leaped back with a yelp of pain and plunged his paw into the water bucket. Tears squeezed from his eyes and he looked up into the grinning face of his reptilian captor. The adder brought his tail around and dropped the bag of rapiers on the ground beside the pile of other metallic objects. “Sssssome more materialsssss for your work!”
Redgo groaned and gasped, “But sire, I've already done two whole armor plates! An' besides, I've burned me paw!”
The snake shook his head in mock sympathy. “Poor, poor furbearer.... would you like a resssst from your work?”
Redgo nodded feebly. The adder bared his fangs, “How about an eternal resssst?” He raised his head as if to strike, and the ferret threw himself on the ground, pleading, “Oh no sire! I'll work, I give me oath on it!”
The adder lowered his head and smirked. “Good. Now about your paw.... can you still usssse it?”
Redgo touched it tenderly and winced. “Er, I think so....”
The adder turned away, hissing ominously, “Very well. Becausssse when your paw becomessss usssselesssss.... you become ussssselesssss! Remember that!”
Redgo gulped and nodded. As the snake slid back down the tunnel, the ferret asked nervously, “Er, if'n you don't mind me askin' sire...” his voice trailed away as the adder turned towards him, eyes glinting dangerously.
“What do you wisssssh to know, my friend?”
Redgo stood quivering under the serpent's gaze, but he gulped and said shakily, “W-why d-do you want to, er, make dis armor an' stuff? What're you gonna do wid it?”
The adder stared at him for a long time, and then he smiled; an eerie, deadly smile that sent a chill up the ferret's spine. Then the snake spoke,
“For many long seassssonsssss my kin and I have ssssought to bring Mossssflower under the reign and terror of the addersssss' race. Many great sssserpentssss have tried; Assssmodeussss, Zassssalissss and his brethren, Balisssss the Ssssslayer, and otherssssss. But all have failed. And all have failed for one reassssson: Redwall Abbey.”
His coils bunched together in anger as he spat, “Yessss.... the furbearerssss that dwell there have alwayssss defeated my ancesssstorsssss with their great ssssssword! But....” he pointed with his tail at the makeshift forge-room, “if I am protected by armor, nothing can sssssstop me! Not even thossssse pessssky Redwall beassssstsss and their puny sssssword! I will take over Mossssflower, dessstroy Redwall, and finally fulfill the vissssion that my ancesssstorssss ssssought!” His head reared back as he rasped in full fury, “The reign of Rassssssponissssss will go on through eternity!!”
Redgo was more than speechless with awe and terror. He stood rooted to the spot, his eyes fixed on the evil figure towering above him. He finally came out of his horrified trance and shook his head quickly as if to brush it away. Then something that the snake had said struck him, “But wait, er, sire.... you said dat you're name was Asmodeus.... who's Rasponiss?”
The adder jerked his head down and stared at him. Then he snarled and banged his tail against the ground, causing the room to shake. “Oh Hellssssteeth!” he cursed, “In my revelry I let that sssslip didn't I? Well no matter. Yessss, you are correct. My true name is not Assssmodeussss. I took that name to frighten the woodlandersssss; they will think that I am a ghosssst of sssssome sssort. But my real name, is Rasssssponissssss.”
Rasponiss turned and slid out through his tunnel. Redgo gulped and rubbed his injured paw. He had to get out of here soon and warn his gang. He couldn't care less about the Abbey, but he had friends in his clan and he had to warn them before this crazy serpent destroyed them all. Or worse.
The Guosim shrews in all four parties had been searching all day and into the evening. Up north, Pylom and his group were ready to head back. Pylom stood watching as a shrew came towards him from the brush.
“Well Jadd,” Pylom asked, “did those voles see any reptiles around recently?”
Jadd shrugged. “Don't think so. They got kinda scared at the mention of the word 'reptile', and ran back into their hut.”
Pylom frowned. “Hmm.... very suspicious. But it's getting late, we need to go back to camp.”
Just as soon as he had finished speaking, a low hiss echoed around them. “Asssssssmodeusssssss!”
Pylom froze, as did every other beast. A young shrew stammered, “W-what was that?”
Before Pylom could reply, the voice came again, this time closer, “Come to Asssssmodeusssssss! I will ssssshhhow you eternity!”
Jadd screamed and pointed, “It's a snake!!”
Pylom whirled around and stared in horror at the huge, scaled head that swayed above them. Rasponiss smiled. “Come to Asssssmodeusssssss!”
Shrews have a natural terror of snakes, and Pylom was no exception. He and his shrews stood rooted to the spot as the giant adder came slowly closer. Then suddenly Rasponiss struck. The diamond-pattered head shot down and grabbed the nearest shrew in its deadly jaws. When the unfortunate shrew's gurgling screams hit his ears, Pylom snapped out of his trace and yelled, “RUN!”
The shrews scattered, racing through the woods in all directions. Rasponiss swallowed down his first victim and smiled as he started after his prey.
Pylom ran harder than he ever had before, his breath rasping in fear. Suddenly a shrewmaid running next to him tripped and fell. He skidded to a halt and turned around to help her up. As soon as he did, however, Rasponiss was upon them.
The three other Guosim groups arrived back at their meeting spot. Log-a-Log Muggy sighed as he listened to the fruitless reports of the searchers. He turned to Lirra, the tracker. “Did you try following the tracks?”
Lirra nodded. “Aye, I did. But the villain was very good at hiding his trail, so we didn't get very far. We did hear from a robin about a big sandstone quarry just north-east of the Abbey. The robin said that adders used to live there, but not anymore.”
Muggy frowned. “Hmm.... interesting....” He suddenly looked around, “Has anybeast seen Pylom's group? They should be back by now.”
Just then, three shrews came running up from the north, panting, gasping, and sobbing. Muggy leaped up and ran over to the shrew named Jadd.
“What happened?!” Muggy asked frantically, “Where's Pylom and the rest?!”
Jadd gasped out through each fearful breath, “It.... it was a giant snake! It took.... it took Pylom and some others! I don't know if they're dead or alive...”
At the mention of the word 'snake', a murmur ran through the Guosim. Muggy stood staring at Jadd, his eyes wide in horror and disbelief. When he spoke, his voice was choked, “How... how far north was this?”
Jadd shrugged and moaned, “Not sure... about a half-mile or so....”
Log-a-Log Muggy suddenly leaped up and shouted, “Guosim, to your boats! Paddle to the north! Quickly now!”
The shrews all went to action immediately, racing for their log boats. Jadd came up to the Log-a-Log, asking warily, “Why are we going towards the snake? Don't we want to get away from it?”
As Muggy strode down towards the log boats, he answered, “Because if my son is alive, I am going to get him back. But if he's dead, I will slay that vile serpent with my own paws; even if I am slain in the process. That is my solemn vow.”
Soon the Guosim shrews were all aboard and paddling like mad up the river. Their stolen rapiers were forgotten now, as they went in search of the snake. Little did they know that both quests were one in the same.
Rasponiss the adder slid skillfully down the cliff to his cavern, with a full stomach and a full smile. When he reached his cave entrance, he found Vazz and Sala, his two lizard thieves, waiting for him. He looked down at the sack of weapons that Sala held.
“More metal, eh? Very good my friendssssss.”
Sala nodded. “Aye, zire, I ztole it from zome verminbeaztz. One chazed after me but Zala hide from it and ezcape.”
Rasponiss stopped and stared at her. “What?!”
Sala gulped, “He did not zee where I go, zire. I ezcape him, truly!”
Rasponiss sighed and motioned behind him. “Throw the ssssack on top of my other load. I will ussssse thisssss new metal.”
The lizards tossed the sack of weapons onto the net that the adder already held curled up in his tail.
Rasponiss hissed dangerously to them as he went into his tunnel, “Both of you ssssstay guard tonight. If nobeasssssst comessss, then I will reward you asssss promisssssed. But if the furbeaerssssss come for their weaponssssss becaussssse they sssssaw you, then you will both sssssssuffer!”
And with those ominous words, the great serpent slithered into his dark cave.
Redgo was tired. Dead tired. He had been working all day and his sore paw hurt madly. Now he didn't care if the snake killed him; at least he would be free of this horrible bondage. The unfortunate ferret slid to the ground in mid hammer-strike and gave a sob of despair. He shot up immediately as Rasponiss came into the cave.
“Congratulationssssss!” the snake announced, “You now have some little furbearer friendsssss to help you in your tassssssk!”
Redgo watched as the adder dumped his net on the floor. Within the net were the unconscious forms of Pylom and six other shrews. Redgo's eyes went wide. “B-but master Rasponiss, dey're shrews! Dey don't like vermin like me! Dey'll probably kill me!”
Rasponiss shrugged. “Well then that'sssss your problem. I need all the workersssss I can get, sssssso try to play niccccce.”
The ferret sighed and rubbed his paw. “Can I maybe take a liddle break now dat you got more workers? Me paw is hurtin' like blazes!”
Rasponiss stared at him for a moment, then he smiled and said, “Yessssss, you may have a resssssst. In fact, I'll let you go.”
Redgo stared at him in surprise. “Y-you mean I'm free to go?!”
The adder nodded. “Of coursssssse! Just go out that tunnel and you can be free assssss the wind!”
The next moment, Redgo was racing down the tunnel, his pawsteps echoing around the cavern.
Rasponiss watched him go until he was out of sight, then the devious serpent smiled to himself and whispered as he slowly followed the fleeing ferret, “That issss, if I don't catch you firssssssst!”
Log-a-Log Muggy and his Guosim had docked their logboats on the eastern bank of the River Moss and were now meeting to discuss their search plan.
Muggy spoke in a soft voice as he addressed his shrews, “Alright mates, this time we won't split up. Lirra and the other trackers will be in the lead. The rest of you follow, and I'll take up the rear.”
Grmip muttered to one of his cronies, “Yeah, o' course he's in the back while we fall right into some trap or other.”
Muggy heard the remark and glared at Grimp. “I am in the rear because that's most likely where a snake is going to attack from! So contrary to your opinions, I'm actually putting the lives of my crew before my own. Do you have anything else to say, Grimp?”
The rebellious young shrew just stood sullenly, looking at the ground.
Muggy nodded. “Good. Now Guosim, hold your slings ready and be prepared to fight for your lives! Let's move out, but quietly now!”
The Guosim shrews were experts at stealth and camouflage if they had to be, and now was no exception. They dodged and weaved through the bushes and grass, always alert and ready for danger to pop up at the next turn.
Trailing behind his crew, Log-a-Log Muggy carefully watched the surrounding brush, glancing back behind his shoulder every now and then. He thought he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He looked back, but the night woodlands remained still. Muggy turned back and proceeded onward.
Suddenly he was yanked back by a rough paw, and a cold, jagged blade was held to his throat. Muggy struggled to reach for his sling, but a vicious, evil voice snarled in his ear, “Don't try anyt'ing shrew; you an' yer crew are completely surrounded! So tell us where ye put our weapons, or die!”
Pylom's eyes flickered open and he groaned as he rolled over in the net that entangled him. He blinked in the dim, musty light that seeped in through the cracks near the ceiling of the quarry cave. The young shrew suddenly leaped up, dozens of thoughts racing through his mind. Where was he? What had happened? Where was the snake and why hadn't it killed them?
Just as he started to free himself of the net and help his companions, a voice echoed through the cave, “Hello there my friendssssss, and welcome to my little cavern! You'd better get usssssed to it, becaussssse you are all going to be ssssstaying here for a long time!”
Pylom and the several other shrews that were just awakening looked up sharply and stared in horror at the smiling face of Rasponiss.
Pylom snarled, “Where are we and who are you? What do you want with us?”
The adder held up his tail and said mockingly, “Ssssslow down, my friend, I can't anssssswer all of thosssse quesssstionssss at once! Now, assss for the firsssst one, you are here in my quarry cavern. Second, I am Rassssssponisssssss, the soon-to-be ruler of all Mosssssflower. And as to why you are here, well....” he slithered over to them and picked up the net in his tail.
One of the shrews sobbed. “What are you doing to us?!”
Rasponiss glared at the shrew. “Sssshut up and lissssten! Now...” he tossed the net into the cave where the small forge lay unattended. The snake continued, “you are to ussssse that forge, anvil, and pile of metal to make for me a sssssuit of armor that covers well my head and neck. No quessssstionssss assssked, okay?”
Most of the shrews nodded dumbly, but Pylom growled, “We can't make armor! Leastwise not for a creature your size!”
Rasponiss stared at him. “Then learn. There are ssssseven of you; at leasssst one in your number ssssshhhould pick it up eassssssily.”
The young shrew continued, “And what are you gonna do with it anyway? And with us?”
The adder gave a smile that made everybeast's blood run cold. “That isssss for me to know, and for you to wonder. Now I want that armor done before the leavessss fall. Do not fail me.”
As he turned to go, the snake added, “Oh, and one more thing. Don't bother trying to esssscape. My lasssst little helper did and well.... let'sssss jussssst ssssay that he won't be leaving thessssse tunnelssssss....”
And with that, Rasponiss was gone.
Pylom ripped his way out of the net and helped the other six shrews out as well. The shrewmaid that Pylom had stopped to help, broke down weeping in his arms. Pylom held her close and looked up at the other stone-faced Guosim. He took a deep breath and said, “Well, we can't wait all season. Let's get to work.”
One of the shrews sat down and moaned, “But even if we do finish the armor, the snake'll probably kill an' eat us!”
Pylom frowned. “Then we won't let him. Come now, mates, we're Gusoim; nothing can stop us from our goal! Come on mateys, let's cheer up and give that ol' viper a rousing warcry!”
All of the shrews threw back their heads and roared as one, “Logalogalogalogalogaloooooogggg!”
The sound echoed furiously around the cavern, hurting their ears. They all fully expected Rasponiss to come charging around the corner to tell them to shut up, but he never came.
One of the shrews strode over to he forge and picked up a random piece of metal. His eyes widened and he gasped, “Hey! These are our rapiers! It was that snake who stole 'em from us!”
The shrews all went into a tizzy, picking through the piles and exclaiming, “You're right! This is ol' Durvly's sword!”
“Aye, and here's mine!”
“Why that thieving serpent... we should grab our weapons and charge the scaly scumbag! We could take him!”
Pylom grabbed the rapier from the last speaker's paw and hissed, “No, we can't do that! He'd overpower us for sure! And even if we did beat him, we'd never find our way out of here. Now let's all act like intelligent creatures and get to our work. But...” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “set aside all the rapiers that you find. We could use them eventually if my dad and the rest of the tribe come to rescue us. Jurba, you're in charge of hiding the swords. Now...” he raised his voice again, “who here knows anything about armor-forging?”
One older shrews, Durvly, spoke up, “I do. I visited the badger mountain Salamandastron in me younger days an' I learned a few things.”
Pylom nodded. “Good. Now you can tell us what to do, and we'll do it. Come on Guosim, let's get to work!”
In a hidden nearby cavern, Rasponiss had been listening in on their conversation. The adder smiled to himself. That young leader shrew was a smart one. Maybe a little too smart. He could keep him around for awhile, but if the shrew started getting too impudent or rebellious.... Rasponiss bunched down into his coils and fell asleep, visions of domination and destruction filling his twisted dreams.
Log-a-Log Muggy's paws reached up and grabbed hold of the bone-blade that pressed against his throat. He pushed it away from his body before swiftly ducking and whirling around to face his assailant.
Shargg Ribsaw snarled viciously at the shrew leader, “Don't even try it, shrew, or yer crew'll be dead in two seconds flat!”
Muggy glanced around and saw that he and his Guosim were completely surrounded by vermin. Most of them holding loaded bowstrings.
Grimp suddenly gave a roar of fury and threw himself at the nearest vermin. Before a vermin archer could take out the savage young shrew, Muggy yelled, “Restrain him!” Two hefty shrews leaped forward and pulled Grimp back, struggling and snarling. They swiftly knocked him out with a light tap from a loaded sling.
Shargg rubbed a paw down his saw-blade. “Now, where'd ye put all o' me crew's weapons, eh?”
Muggy glared at him. “What are you talking about? We didn't take your weapons! We're trying to find the beast that stole ours!”
Shargg stopped and stared at him for a moment before saying, “So you're all out o' weapons as well, eh?”
Muggy nodded sharply. “Aye. Now let us go or we'll fight our way out!”
The big weasel seemed to ignore him as he twirled his sword around and paced back and forth, muttering, “Well den, have ye seen any lizards crawlin' about 'round here?”
Muggy glanced at Lirra and said, “No, we didn't see any lizards, but we did find some tracks...”
Shargg's sword was suddenly at the shrew's throat again. “Tracks ye say? Where'd dey go to?”
Lirra the tracker shrew spoke, “They went northeast, but faded off at one point.”
Shargg turned to his vermin and said, “Hoi, Nyrod! Take sum o' da crew an' go nor'east! Come back an' tell me wot ye found.”
As Nyrod the stoat turned to leave, Muggy asked Shargg, “Wait, what kind of weapons were stolen from you?”
Shargg shrugged. “Just metal 'uns. Swords, daggers, spear'eads. Why do yew wanna know, shrew?”
Log-a-Log growled, “Because, weasel, it's an important clue. The thief stole only metal weapons and objects from my crew as well.”
Shargg frowned. “Hmm.... Nyrod, you was on watch da night dat the lizard stole da stuff. Where'd it go?”
The stoat scratched his chin. “Eh, well... from wot I remember, it was goin' east, an' it was carryin' a bag of sumthin'. I follered it for awhile, but den it was gone.”
There was silence as both Muggy and Shargg stood staring each other in thought. Then Log-a-Log said, “We're also lookin' for a snake. It took my son and some of my crew.”
At the mention of a snake, Flark the rat screamed, “See! What'd I tell ye!? It's a big giant snake alright!”
Muggy whirled towards the rat and snarled, “Where was it?!”
Flark gulped. “Just north o' here. It took poor ol' Redgo.”
Log-a-Log turned back to Shargg. “So the snake attacked you too?”
Shargg could feel Zimla the ferret's eyes boring into him from her place with the archers. The weasel snorted, “Aye, but t'was only one.”
Zimla snapped, “An' he was my mate!”
Muggy glanced over at her. This was getting more and more complicated. He spoke his thoughts aloud, “I think that the missing weapons and the big snake are connected somehow.”
By now, both vermin and shrews had started to relax, seeing as how their leaders were not being hostile towards each other. Suspicious, yes, but not hostile. Yet.
Shargg tapped his claws on his sword. “So da snake is stealin' da weapons?”
Muggy nodded. “Maybe. But either way it's a threat to us all,” he paused in thought and took a deep breath before saying, “I hate to say this but.... maybe we could join forces to defeat the snake and get back both our weapons and our friends, if they are still living.”
Suddenly there was a loud uproar as both Guosim and vermin muttered and shouted about the seemingly ridiculous idea.
Shargg waved his sword and yelled, “Shaddup! All o' ye!” When there was silence, he turned to Muggy, “My crew joinin' up wid yours? Dat's the most stupid idea I've ever heard! We ain't going out to fight dat serpent. My clan can get weapons elsewhere!”
Log-a-Log frowned. He knew that it had been a big gamble to propose such a thought. Just then Zimla's voice shouted, “Waddya mean we can get weapons elsewhere? Some of our crew's best swords an' daggers were stolen, an' we want 'em back!”
The vermin started shouting out agreements, “Aye, ye can't just get metal weapons anywhere y'know!” “If'n we team up wid da shrews, we could get rid o' dat snake an' get back our weapons!”
Shargg ground his teeth and glared furiously at Zimla. The ferret smirked inwardly. If the whole clan was against Shargg's descision, there was nothing he could do about it, short of deserting, bu then he would be branded a coward. Both Zimla and Shargg knew this.
Muggy stared hard at the weasel. “Well? What's it gonna be?”
Shargg grumbled a bit before snarling, “Alright, we'll join ye to get rid o' dat serpent!” He spat on his paws and held it out.
Muggy snorted and said, “Good. But on one condition; if somebeast from either crew slays a creature from the other, that beast will be executed.”
Shargg nodded. “Fine.”
The shrew chieftain continued, “And another thing. We will fight and track together, but our camps will be apart. If you wish to tell me something from your camp, send a messenger.”
The weasel nodded again.
“Then it's a deal.” Muggy said.
The shrews and vermin went into a chatter again, but Log-a-Log Muggy folded his paws across his chest, addressing his shrews. “If any Guosim have complaints about this, speak up.”
The shrews muttered a bit, but said nothing. They all trusted their Log-a-Log. By the silence, Muggy knew that Grimp was still unconscious.
Log-a-Log then spoke to Shargg. “First of all, we need to find the snake's lair. Any ideas?”
Shargg turned to the old rat, Harflug. “How 'bout you Harflug? Where'd dose big adders live?”
The rat frowned and chewed on a grimy claw. “Well... I t'ink t'was a big red-rock quarry nor'east o' here.”
Muggy asked Lirra, “Is that where the lizard tracks went?”
The shrewmaid nodded. “Aye, chief. They went northeast alright.”
“Then that's where we're going.”
Log-a-Log turned to Shargg. “Get your clan together, we're going to find this quarry tonight.”
The big weasel turned and called to his vermin, “Come on ye lazy slugbrains! Git movin' afore I chop of yer legs an' make ye walk on da stumps!”
As they marched northeast, the Guosim and vermin split into their respective groups, both still eying each other suspiciously. Lirra whispered to Muggy, “Do'ya think that this was a good idea, chief? I don't trust that big weasel one bit.”
Muggy frowned and did not reply. Only time would tell if this fateful decision would lead them to victory, or death.
The newly formed Guosim-Vermin alliance trekked onward until they finally reached the edge of the great sandstone quarry that was the home of Rasponiss. Shargg Ribsaw swaggered up to Log-a-log Muggy and asked, “So, now dat we're here, what d'we do?”
The Guosim leader frowned as he looked down into the quarry. “I suppose that we should split up now. You take your beasts on the southeast side of the quarry, and I'll take the northwest. If either of our camps are attacked by the snake during the night, the other must come and help. Agreed?”
Shargg nodded. “Aye.”
Muggy turned to his shrews. “Alright Guosim, let's move out and make camp!”
The shrews and vermin split up and went their ways. As Muggy was following his crew, he heard a voice from beside him, “Hoi, shrew. I want's ter talk wid ya.”
He turned and saw Zimla the ferret standing behind him. The shrew kept his face indiscernible as he said, “What about?”
Zimla glanced over her shoulder before whispering, “I just want's ter tell you that I'm wid you an' yer crew all da way.”
Log-a-Log raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”
The ferret ground her teeth as she replied, “I hate Shargg an' I hate da serpent cause my mate Redgo's death was their faults. An' I know dat you feel da same way 'bout yer son, so I know dat you want revenge too.”
Muggy took a deep breath. “This isn't completely about revenge. It's about the safety of Mossflower Woods. We can't let that snake terrorize the woodlanders any longer. But you're right.... deep down, I do want vengeance to be paid for my son.”
Zimla smiled and nodded. “I knew it. I'll stick wid ya, mate.”
As she turned to leave, Muggy asked, “Wait, what's your name?”
“Alright. Thank you Zimla.”
The ferret nodded in reply before disappearing into the dark woodland foliage.
Log-a-Log narrowed his eyes and smiled to himself as he went on his way. This Zimla would definitely be helpful in the upcoming struggle.
The Guosim made their camp a ways away from the quarry's edge, posting sentries to keep watch from that side.
Grimp was just starting to revive when the tribe reached their spot. The young shrew groaned and rubbed his head, muttering, “What's goin' on....? Where am I? Who-” He suddenly leaped up and snarled, “The vermin! Where are they?! I'll tear the filthy scum limb from limb!”
Log-a-Log stood nearby, and when he saw Grimp awaken, he strode forward. Muggy grabbed the enraged young shrew by the shoulders and shoved him down, growling, “Listen Grimp, the vermin didnt harm us and they're not going to! So just calm down and rest for the night; we have a lot of work in the days ahead.”
Grimp clenched his paws and asked, “Where're the vermin now?”
Muggy took a deep breath before saying, “They.... they're somewhere else in Mossflower. But they're going to fight against the snake too.”
Grimp's eyes widened. “You... you mean that we.... joined with them?!”
Log-a-Log bit his lip. “Well.... kinda.... I mean....” His mind raced. Should he tell Grimp about the vermin alliance? Would Grimp become even more rash and attack the vermin alone?
Muggy sighed. “Well, what you should know Grimp, is that vermin have feelings just as we do. Some of them truly wish to help us to rid Mossflower of this adder.”
Grimp snorted. “Oh, vermin have feelings alright! Feelings of murder and hate!”
“Is that any different than what you're feeling now?!” Muggy asked in a loud voice. “If you carry on your whole life hating the way you do, then you're no different from those heartless vermin! And I don't want beasts like that in my tribe.”
Grimp sat silently staring at the ground and scowling savagely. Muggy said in a more gentle voice, “Listen Grimp, I know what I'm doing. It's like how the old saying goes, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' You just have to trust me.”
Grimp sighed and lay down. “Oh I trust you, chief. It's the vermin I don't trust. Because what happens after we kill the snake, eh? What'll the vermin do then?”
Log-a-Log Muggy stood in silence for a moment, then he whispered, “I don't know Grimp. I really don't know....”
Zimla crept stealthily into the vermin camp on the other side of the quarry. She carefully stepped over sleeping vermin as she tried to find a good resting spot. Just as she settled down on a soft area, a voice hissed to her, “Hoi Zimla.”
The ferret looked up and saw Shargg Ribsaw leaning against a nearby tree, slowly swinging his sword back and forth ominously.
Zimla looked down and said casually, “What d'you want chief?”
Shargg flicked his sword and caught it under Zimla's chin. He slowly raised the ferret's head up so that she was looking straight into his savage eyes. The big weasel snarled softly, “What were yew doin' back der, eh?”
Zimla sniffed moodily and jerked her head away, muttering, “Nothin' chief. I was just lookin' fer any sign o' da snake around 'ere.”
Shargg nodded sarcastically. “Aye.... an' were ye talkin' to yerself too? Cause I heard ye speakin' ter somebeast....”
Zimla's paw slowly reached for her bow and quiver as she replied, “No.... I wasn't talkin' to meself....”
The weasel chieftain bent down and asked, “Then who were ye talkin' to? Da shrews?”
Zimla glared up at him, unafraid. “Aye. I was.”
Shargg smiled, a nasty grimace of a smile, and said, “And what were ye talkin' about, eh? Figgerin' out some way ter assassinate me, were ye?”
Zimla snorted. “Of course not! Why would anybeast in dere right mind try ter do dat?”
Shargg's bone-blade was once again at Zimla's neck. “You would ferret. An' so would some of da shrews. I don't trust ye, an' I would slay ye or kick ye out but fer da rest o' da crew. But if I catch you wid one more mishap....” he flicked the sword up, slicing a small furrow in Zimla's chin. “den you'll 'ave a special place as anudder notch on me blade! Understood?”
Zimla ignored the blood that trickled down her neck as she sat glaring straight into her leader's face. “Aye. I understand.”
Shargg wiped his blade on the ground and nodded. “Good. Now get ter sleep, an' stay were I can keep an eye on you....”
Zimla silently sat watching the weasel go, then she cursed Shargg under her breath and laid down to sleep. But her paw was still clenched tight on her bow.
Pylom and his shrews worked hard all night, taking shifts so that they could all rest. They had gone off of the work that Redgo had started, and they made surprisingly good progress. Already they had completed enough armor plates to cover about half the length of Rasponiss' neck, but it still was far from being done. And all of the progress had come at a cost. Several of the shrews were burned by the scalding water or melted metal, and had to soak their wounded flesh in the cool, but stagnant underground pools.
Every once in a while, Rasponiss would unexpectedly show up, but he never spoke. He only either nodded approvingly, or hissed dangerously.
Durvly, the old shrew who knew some metal-crafting skills, oversaw most of the work, but Pylom was the official leader. He ordered each shrew a job, while he helped any in need.
He was helping to pour some melted metal onto a mold, when one shrew who had been burned and was resting, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “Hoi, Pylom, come 'ere!”
The sturdy young shrew turned and followed him. The other shrew pointed to a pile of overturned shale and sandstone at the back of the cavern. “I found this as a, you know, hiding place, but look, there's a small indent in the wall, and it's soft enough so that we could start digging our way out through it. We have all of the tools, and we just need to go upward.”
Pylom glanced back behind his shoulder before peering into the hole. When he got up, he said, “Well, maybe.... but I'm not sure if we'll be able to split the work of both armor-making and digging between the seven of us. Besides, that adder is more clever than we take him for, and he knows these tunnels and caves like the back of his, well.... tail. Anyway, it would be a very, very big risk. But we could try.”
He turned to the others. “Guosim, come here...”
They all crowded around him as he whispered, “Alright, Jurba here found a possible escape option for us. I very risky one, but a possible one. Now, we can take turns digging upward through this hole in hopes that we will eventually reach the surface. It's soft enough, and we have plenty of tools. We'll do this democratically in Guosim fashion. All those in favor, raise your paw.”
Three paws were raised.
“All opposed...” Three more paws were raised.
Pylom sighed. “I suppose it's up to me now. I choose....”
“Ssssso ssssssorry for the interruption, but may I asssssk one ssssssimple quessssstion?”
They all whirled around to see Rasponiss sitting near them, his head resting on his coils and a slight smile on his cold features. Pylom's mouth opened, but he could bring forth no words.
Rasponiss's smile broaded. “Are you trying to esssscape through a tunnel?”
Pylom gulped and nodded, trying to keep a brave face.
The adder nodded slowly, “Jussssst assssss I thought. You can go ahead and do it; I don't care.”
Pylom's eyes widened and he managed to gasp out, “Wait... er, you're just letting us do it?”
“Of coursssssse. Why wouldn't I?”
Pylom frowned. “Because you know that we can never finish it....”
Rasponiss gave a low, sinister laugh that echoed eerily through the cave. “Hehehehehessssss..... You are a very ssssssmart creature, my friend. Very ssssssmart indeed.”
Rasponiss turned and left the chamber, leaving the seven Guosim shrews standing speechless. Pylom took a deep breath and said, “Well mates, I suppose that we need to finish our voting. I vote.... that we never give up, no matter how hard it may seem. Are you with me Guosim?”
The shrews stood sullenly for a moment, then Durvly said, “Aye, I'm with ye, Pylom!”
The other shrews nodded and agreed in turn, “Aye, we Guosim never up!”
“We'll try more'n ever to get out o' this slimy snake-pit!”
In his nearby tunnel, Rasponiss smirked to himself. Fools. Brave, intelligent, and daring, but fools none the less.
The next morning dawned as any other, despite that fact that the day it brought would be a fateful one.
Log-a-Log Muggy stood with his Guosim at the halfway point between the two camps. Soon enough, Shargg Ribsaw and his vermin arrived, most of them still groggy. Log-a-Log's voice was curt as he said, “So, are you and your vermin ready to battle a giant snake?”
Shargg grumbled under his breath and glared venomously at his crew. Every vermin that saw his gaze, no matter how tired, immediately stood to attention. The big weasel cursed and turned back to Muggy. “Aye. Dey are.”
Muggy noticed that Zimla was staying back amid the crowd of vermin, trying to keep hidden. He nodded. “Good. Now, we need to send some scouts out along the rim of the quarry to find the best spot to descend. I'll send three of my shrews and you can send three of your beasts.”
Shargg nodded and motioned to Nyrod. The stoat went off towards the quarry, followed by two more vermin. Lirra the Guosim tracker and two other shrews strode off after them, but split up with them on each side of the gorge.
Muggy said, “We'll wait for they're report before we make any immediate moves.”
Shargg leaned against a tree and growled, “So we're just gonna sit 'ere for who knows how long, an' wait? Widout a plan?”
Muggy shrugged. “Hm, I suppose we should make some sort of plan....” He glanced down into the quarry. “The snake probably lives in some sort of cave or other. Maybe we can lure it out and attack it near the entrance.”
Shargg picked at his fangs with a dirty claw. “Aye.... dat might work....” he glanced back at his vermin and hissed to Muggy, “I could spare a few o' my crew, all de old an' useless 'uns, for bait....”
Log-a-Log wrinkled his nose in contempt. “No! We shouldn't waste our beasts like that. If we're going to send somebeast in, it should be some few chosen creatures who can run fast and fight quick if need be.”
Shargg stared at the shrew for a moment, his eyes bulging in what seemed to be outraged confusion at his idea being rejected, but then he growled and said, “Fine. We'll both choose our best beasts ter go in.”
Just then, the six scouts came back. Nyrod spoke, “We found nothin' on our side chief. Nothin' that'd be a safe way down.”
Lirra said, “We found a way that might be good. It's a little steep, but it should hold.”
Muggy nodded. “Good work. Now, let's get moving! We should go down a few groups at a time, with the rest watching their backs in case the snake spots us, although adders are usually only out at night. Still, we should be careful. Let's move out!”
Shargg snarled to his vermin, “Come on, ye swabs! Get goin' inf'n ye want's yer weapins back!”
They reached the spot that Lirra had found to be passable, and, after looking it over, Muggy and Shargg started to give their orders.
The Log-a-Log said, “Alright. Wildo, you and three others start down the cliff.”
Shargg nodded to some of his vermin. “Hangtooth, Flark, Nyrod, an' Dridge, yew go down wid 'em.”
The shrews and vermin carefully descended to steep incline of the sandstone cliff. Several Guosim and vermin archers and slingers stood watching closely for any reptilian movement. Soon, the first beasts were at the bottom. Muggy nodded. “Lirra, you take the next group.”
After a few tense minutes, and some close calls, all of the shrews and vermin were down the cliffside, expect for a few archers who stayed behind to keep watch.
Shargg leaped down from the last ledge and grunted, “So, now what d'we do?”
Muggy loaded his sling with a pebble and glanced around. “First, we find the snake's den. Then we need to set a trap outside of it.”
Dridge the weasel spoke up, “Like puttin' rocks an' stuff above da snake's 'ole?”
The shrew chieftain nodded. “Yes, exactly. We'll pile rocks and rubble above the entrance, so that when we lure the serpent out, the beasts we set up there will push it down on top of the snake. If that doesn't kill it, then it will at least stun it so we can finish it off ourselves. Any questions?”
Shargg narrowed his eyes and said, “Nope. It sounds good ter me. Now, which of you buckoes can run fast?”
Several of the vermin raised their paws. Shargg drew his sword an pointed at them. “You'll all be going in ter lure da snake out.”
The chosen vermin all seemed to go pale at the same moment, but they said nothing.
Muggy turned to his shrews, “I'll be asking you the same. Who're the fastest runners among the Guosim?”
None of the shrews raised their paws, knowing what it was for. Muggy sighed and said loudly, “I said who are the fastest runners among my tribe? Well, speak up! I don't want cowards in my Guosim!”
Several tentative paws were raised. Muggy nodded. “Good. And just to make you all feel better, I'll go with you.”
He turned to Shargg. “You can stay outside and organize the trap.”
Before the weasel could reply, a voice shouted from among the vermin, “Aye, he can stay outside cause he's a coward!”
Shargg whirled around, his bone saw-blade slashing the air as he roared, “Who said dat?!”
The vermin were all silent. Shargg stepped in among them and glared dangerously back and forth between them. “If'n I finds da stinkin' scum who said dat, I'll-” he immediately turned to Zimla and grabbed her by the throat, snarling, “It was yew! Yew said it, didn't ya!?”
Zimla snarled and batted his paw away. “No, as a matter o' fact I didn't! So git yer filthy paws offa me!”
Shargg snapped at her, “Liar! I shoulda killed you long ago!” he raised the sword to strike at the ferret, but something caught it and he turned around.
Log-a-Log Muggy stood there, with the sword held firmly in his paws. His eyes were hard and his voice harder, “Enough, weasel. We're not to be attacking our own crews when we're goin' out to face the enemy! Now, no killing of our own side, understand?”
Shargg stood panting and snarling as he glared furiously at the hard-faced shrew, then he yanked the sword away and said, his voice rasping in rage, “Fine.... I won't do any killin' yet.... but....” he glared at Zimla, “You'll be goin' inter the serpent's cave first!”
The ferret's face was impassive.
Muggy growled and said, “Well then, Lirra, you get some shrews and start piling up rocks and such.”
Lirra saluted. “Aye chief. But, eh.... which tunnel is the snake's? They're hundreds of 'em!”
Muggy looked around at the large quarry. She was right. They had no idea which tunnel the snake was in, and it probably knew the quarry inside and out. They couldn't risk entering a random tunnel and hoping for the best. He was about to voice his concern on the subject, when some vermin came around a large boulder, dragging two figures behind them. One of the vermin shouted, “Hey chief! We catched some lizards!”
The tossed their two captives down before Muggy and Shargg. It was indeed the pair of lizard thieves, Vazz and Sala.
Nyrod pointed at them and said, “Aye, those are dem! They're da lizards dat stole our weapons!”
The two unfortunate reptiles cowered on the ground as they were insulted and harassed by the angry vermin and shrews. Muggy pushed the furious creatures aside and glared down at the lizards. “Alright, first of all-”
Shargg bounded forward and grabbed Vazz by the throat, his sword prodding the reptile's stomach as he snarled, “First of all, you'll tell us where ye put our weapons! Unless ye want's ter die slowly....”
Vazz gurgled unhappily and hissed, “Me tell! Me tell you all, just pleaze don't hurt me!”
Muggy came over and asked firmly, “Do you work for the big adder that's been stalking around Mossflower lately?”
Vazz nodded. “Aye, we haz!”
The Log-a-Log continued the interrogation, “Then where did you put our weapons and why does the snake want them?”
The lizard gulped, “We give mighty adder lotza metal things, but we not know what he do with them, truth!”
Shargg's sword pressed harder into the lizard's belly, and Vazz whined in pain. The big weasel growled, “Liar! Tell us, where are dey?!”
Muggy pulled the weasel's sword away and said, “I think he's telling the truth, Shargg. He's scared enough as it is...”
“Oh I'll show 'im how ter be scared....”
Shargg threw the lizard down and stepped hard on his chest, the sword-blade pressing Vazz's throat now. “Tell us where da snake is, or you're dead!”
Vazz whimpered painfully, and his mate Sala said quickly, “He live in big tunnel over there!” she pointed over at a large tunnel entrance that was partially concealed behind some brush.
Muggy nodded. “Is the adder asleep now?”
Sala shrugged. “Me not know. All me know iz that he zay watch cave for intruderz an' tell him if there be.”
The shrew leader narrowed his eyes. “Very well. Come on mates, we have our information, so let's go!”
“Not until we take care o' dese scalescum...”
Before Muggy could move, Shargg drove his sword into Vazz's body. The unlucky lizard gurgled and writhed for a moment, then he lay still.
Sala gave a whimper and started to race off, but Grimp suddenly grabbed her and snarled, raising back a loaded sling, “This is fer takin' my rapier!”
But this time, Muggy was fast. He leaped forward, knocked the sling out of Grimp's paw and barked, “Enough!! We have no reason to kill them! Let her go; she won't bother us anymore.”
Grimp snarled, “But these filthy scum robbed us of our weapons! They deserve to die!”
Most of the vermin, and even some shrews muttered in agreement. Muggy clenched his paws and pulled Sala from Grimp's grasp and tossed her away, where the lizard scurried as fast as she could into a crevasse.
Log-a-Log turned to Shargg, who was wiping his sword-blade on his dirty cloak. The Guosim leader growled, “Ye didn't need to do that, Shargg....”
The weasel rasped, “I did need to, an' I kin do what I want's ter, see? Now let's go an' find dis snake's cave....”
Muggy stood glaring at him for a moment, then he sighed. “Alright. Let's go.”
Soon enough, everything was set for the trap. Rocks, sand, and rubble had been piled above the cave entrance, and many vermin and shrews sat behind it, waiting to push it down with their staffs and spears. Several beasts made torches.
Log-a-Log looked over the ambuscade approvingly and then turned to Shargg. “So, are ye comin'?”
The weasel stood leaning on his sword. He glared at Zimla and then spat. “O' course I am. Nyrod'll keep 'em in line out 'ere.”
Muggy nodded. “Very well then.” He turned to Zimla and said, almost apologetically, “Lead the way.”
The ferret returned the nod and spun on her heel, stalking off towards the dark cave entrance, a torch in paw. Muggy, Shargg, and about ten other choice vermin and shrews followed, most wielding torches and making sure to keep silent as they entered the lair of Rasponiss.
For a long while, the procession trekked silently onward, deeper into the serpent's tunnel. The atmosphere was filled with a sickening, pungent oder, that smelled of decomposing mosses and stagnant water. The deathly silence was only broken by Shargg, who would curse and mutter every now and then when he tripped or bumped into a stalagmite.
Log-a-Log Muggy kept a close eye on Zimla, watching as the ferret strode boldly forward, torch in paw. He kind of admired her, in a way. She was the only vermin he met that had true courage. It was courage driven by vengeance, but courage nonetheless.
Suddenly Zimla stopped and looked back at Muggy. “Dere's a fork in da tunnel.” she whispered.
Muggy frowned and strode forward, Shargg right alongside him. The shrew glanced back and forth at each path, and sighed. “To tell the truth, I have no idea which direction we should go. Maybe we could split up or have scouts go ahead....”
Shargg grinned wickedly and glanced at Zimla. “Aye, good idea, shrew... Why don't yew scout fer us, Zimla?”
Zimla narrowed her eyes and glared at him. “Fine. I will.” She paused for a moment, as though trying to decide which way to go, then she strode off down the right-hand tunnel.
Muggy glared at Shargg, but said nothing. He turned back to the five Guosim who had come with him. “Lirra, you and Rimby take the left path. If you don't find anything for a few minutes, come back immediately.”
Lirra nodded nervously and wrung her paws. “Alright chief... And if we find the snake...?”
“If the snake is asleep or doesn't see you, come back to us as quietly as possible. If he's awake and he sees you, then run as fast as you can back here, and give the Guosim warcry to let us know.”
The two shrews gulped and saluted. “Aye chief.”
Muggy smiled. “I very proud to have such brave Guosim in my clan.”
Lirra and Rimby had just started off down the left path, when a long, piercing wail echoed around the tunnel, causing everybeast to cover their ears. Shargg ground his teeth. “What in da name o' flamin' Hellgates was dat?!
Muggy clenched his paws and pointed down the right fork. “It came from down there, so it might have been Zimla! Come on, let's go!”
He raced down the right tunnel, followed by his Guosim and some of the vermin. Shargg however, stayed behind. If anybeast was going to be sacrificed in order to destroy to snake, it wasn't going to be him. He turned around and hissed to the remaining vermin, “Come on, we're getting' out o' here! Let dem be da bait; we kin spring da trap once da serpent comes out....”
Muggy pounded down the tunnel, loaded sling in paw. He stopped short when he saw Zimla crouched on the ground, her head thrown back as she screamed in sorrow. Muggy cautiously stepped forward and gasped at what he saw.
Lying limp in Zimla's lap was the swollen body of Redgo. The unfortunate ferret's face was twisted in terror, and his neck and body bloated from the adder's deadly venom. Rasponiss had left a morbid warning to anybeast who dared trespass on his ground.
Log-a-Log stood standing speechless for a moment, then he said quietly, “I'm sorry mate...”
Zimla stood, tears coursing down her face and pure rage gleaming from her eyes. She glanced back at him and said, in a low, rasping voice, “Dat serpent'ill pay for what he did... And Shargg! I'll kill dem both....” She stood and faced Muggy, then suddenly turned and bolted further down the tunnel.
Muggy yelled, “No, Zimla! Stop!” But she had already disappeared into the blackness.
Somebeast else had heard Zimla's cry of anguish. Rasponiss awakened sharply and raised his great head to listen more. His tongue flickered out and his eyes hardened as he caught the scent. “Intruderssssss!”
Pylom and his shrews had also heard it. The other Guosim looked at him, puzzled. The young shrew stared wide-eyed towards the direction of the noise, and then he shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe somebeast has lost their way in here or something...”
Suddenly the huge scaled head of their captor loomed around the corner and hissed. “Don't go anywhere....” Then he was gone.
Pylom blinked and took a deep breath, listening intently. He could faintly hear the sound of the adder's stomach-scales as they raked the sandstone floor far down the tunnel. He turned to the others. “I think he's gone. Now's our chance to escape! Hurry!”
Log-a-Log Muggy raced down the dark tunnelway after Zimla. He could hear her pawsteps pounding along the ground and her breath rasping. What if she came to another fork? What would she do, and how would he know what she did?
Then he heard Zimla's running slow, and her gasping deepen. Muggy put on a burst of speed and caught up with her. The ferret stumbled along as fast as she could, her eyes blazing madly and a mixture of sweat, tears, and saliva drenching her fur.
Muggy grabbed her by the shoulders and hissed, “Zimla, matey, get a grip! We can't go charging into the snake's lair like this; You could get lost or killed!”
The ferret pushed him aside roughly and snarled, “I must... kill da snake....”
Muggy was about to speak again, when a low, sinister voice echoed eerily through the tunnels: “Assssssmodeussssssss.....”
The shrew's eyes widened and he reached out to grab hold of Zimla, but it was too late. She blasted down the tunnel, an arrow notched to her bow. Muggy groaned and took off after her.
Then suddenly they both stopped and stared up into the face of the adder. Rasponiss bared his fangs. “Assssssmodeussssss hassssss come to bring you to eternity!”
Zimla raised her bow and fired the first shaft at the serpent. The arrow struck Rasponiss on the snout and stuck. The adder gave a snarling hiss and lunged forward at the ferret, but Muggy grabbed her just in time to evade the deadly jaws. The Log-a-Log dragged Zimla away, but she struggled against him, shrieking, “Die, serpent! DIE!!!!”
Muggy finally silenced the enraged ferret by slamming his sling lightly on her head, knocking her out cold. He picked up her limp body and grunted under the weight, as ferrets are far larger than shrews, and took off as fast as he could.
Rasponiss was somewhat tight pressed in the tunnel, and did not have enough room to rear back and strike, but that did not stop him. He crawled after them, fangs bared.
The few shrews and vermin who were left down the tunnel had heard the screams and hisses echoing across the walls. The vermin instantly fled when they heard the sound of Rasponiss's voice, but the Guosim, however terrified they were, stood their ground, not leaving without their chieftain.
After a few tense minutes, they heard Muggy come racing down the tunnel, followed by the ominous hissing of his pursuer. They all drew their weapons and stood ready to fight or run as Muggy came within sight. He shouted under his burden, “Get back!! Run to the exit! HURRY!!”
The shrews waited for their leader to reach them, then they sped off with him down the tunnel. They could all hear the savage hissing voice behind them, “Come to me furbearerssss, and I will sssssshow you eternity!”
Shargg Ribsaw stood atop the tunnel entrance, casually picking his grimy claws with his sword-blade. Then he saw the few vermin who had stayed behind come racing out the entrance. He snarled, “Is da serpent comin'?!”
One of the vermin nodded and yelled, “Aye! Da shrews're leadin' it down here!”
Shargg gripped his sword tighter as he roared to his vermin, “Alright mates, da snake's comin'! Get ready ter push da rubble down at my command!”
The weasel Dridge ventured a suggestion. “Hoi Chief, should we just do it now an' trap da snake in der wid da shrews?”
Shargg narrowed his eyes and gripped his sword tighter, pondering the suggestion. Then a slow, devious smile came over his features.
Before they knew it, Muggy and his Guosim could see the sunlight at the end of the tunnel ahead. Muggy stumbled and collapsed to the ground, Zimla's dead weight bearing down on him. Rasponiss was drawing closer. Several shrews hurried to help him up, and he gasped, “Go on without me.... all that matters is that we destroy the snake....”
Lirra the shrewmaid shook her head vigorously. “We're Guosim. We never abandon our Log-a-Log.” She was about to heave Zimla aside, when Muggy said, “No, she isn't dead. We need her help.”
Suddenly Rasponiss was upon them. The shrews who weren't helping their leader fired slingstones at the adder, hoping to buy some time. The snake's head snapped forward and grabbed one unfortunate shrew in its jaws.
Muggy was up and running with his shrews, dragging Zimla behind him. When they reached the entrance, he roared, “Now Shargg! It's coming!!”