A alternate reality type of story, read it, its good
Chapter One - The Portal
Captain Kaylee of the US Delta Forces was walking briskly on her way to the science lab to help "drive-test" the new Alternate Reality Transport, A.R.T for short. With the XM8 assault rifle hanging on her back, with silencer and sniper scope, and P90 hanging on her side, her guns made clicking noises every time she took a step. She was also armed with a nylon traveling bag that contained personal effects along with a few pounds of C4, extra clips, and a few Tactical Battle Knives which she can throw with amazing accuracy .
She still remembered the conversation she had with her commanding officer just a day ago.
- "Captain, glad you can make it, please have a seat."
- "Thank you sir, pleasure is all mine. What is this top secret assignment that brung me here and that you knew I couldn't resist?"
- The Colonel smiled,
- "As you know, we here at this facility have been working on drives for a long time, specifically quantum drives. Although we are getting closer each day, we had made a new discovery that we weren't aiming for."
- Kaylee leaned forward, all undivided attention focused now.
- "As we were "messing around" as we like to call experimenting with quantum forces, we had a portal open up."
- Her eyes widened.
- "Portal sir? To where?"
- "We don't know, which is why we would like to go through to see what's on the other side."
- She began to speak, but the Colonel held up his hand,
- "Before you object, we had determined the other side to be safe, there is breathable air and we believe we can bring you back anytime with a device that utilizes the same quantum atoms as the portal does. You just hit the device and it will bring you back to the facility."
- She was somber for a moment, deep in thought. Then she looked up.
- "I'll do it"
Now she was walking to the lab where the portal was first discovered. She walked up to a balcony that overlooked the entire lab, numerous scientists was busy dashing around checking figures and calculations, all the while the Colonel was shouting for them to hurry up. As she walked down the stairs to the lab floor, the Colonel saw her and waved for her to come over.
- "Captain, welcome to Lab B-5 or Moronic Idiots Room as I like to call it. You call yourself scientists?! I don't care if you have a Phd in Theoretical Physics, you don't even deserve a High School Diploma!"
A scientist came up to them, "All done sir, everything is green and ready."
The Colonel nodded his thanks and motioned Captain Kaylee to follow him. As they came up to a what looked like a metal box with a door and windows that belonged on a ship, one of the scientists opened the door and handed her a small looking remote.
- "That is your way home, don't lose it. Good luck ma'am"
Captain Kaylee turned and saluted the Colonel who saluted back. She stepped into the chamber and the door slammed shut behind her. The portal looked a translucent golden shimmer that danced and fluttered in place. With apprehension creeping into her mind, heart racing a thousand beats per second, she took a deep breath and stepped into the portal.
There was a flash of light and she disappeared into the shimmer.
One of the scientists look at his monitors and said, "Uh, oh". Everyone turned around, the Colonel asked, "What do you mean by uh oh?"
- "I mean uh oh as in the energy levels spiked and still steadily rising, if we don't do something soon, the energy from this will overload the system and blow up the facility."
This set everyone into a phase of panic, all the scientists began running around trying to shut down all the equipment; the room began to hum with a high pitch frequency and pieces of metal began to glow. Electricity began to crackle throughout the room. All the scientists were beginning to shout in panic now,
- "No shut it dow-!"
- "-ower risin-!"
- "We can't hold i-!"
Small explosions began to rock the room.
- Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom
The explosions got bigger and more frequent, then suddenly the scientist who was monitoring the energy levels, dodged out of the way as a electric bolt came out of his terminal which headed straight for the massive batteries in the room. As if he can see it all in slow motion, the scientist watched in horror as the bolt impacted the the batteries and a fiery rush of red and orange came charging out of what was once batteries.
The entire facility exploded in a ball of fire with concrete, glass, and metal flying everywhere. The shockwave flattened the surrounding greenery and the explosion took care of the rest.
Chapter Two - I'm An Otter?
Traveling through the portal was a odd experience for Captain Kaylee. To her perception, it was pitch black striped with neon purple and every time she blinked the colors seemed to change. Gold, brown, red, purple, etc. Then she blinked once more and saw a bright flash of light.
Suddenly she appeared in the middle of some woods, dizzy, but on her feet. As she groaned and tried to collect her bearings, she saw a pond glistening in the bright sunlight. As she staggered over to dunk her face in the water to clear her head, she saw her reflection and leaped back with a shout. As she tentatively inched back over to the water, she noticed she that the clothes she was wearing had disappeared and instead was replaced with fur. She saw her reflection again and took a good long look at it.
She was an otter, an European otter by the looks of it, but with some distinct features. She had unusually reddish fur and still had her mother's sapphire colored eyes. Her hands were and feet were replaced with paws and she was still human sized as far as she can tell. She took another deep breath and noticed that the air here was cleaner too, much more pure. She thought to herself,
- Okay....this is weird. Why am I an otter and where are my clothes?
She thought back to the time when she agreed to come to a lecture on alternative reality.
- Hmm, Dr. Schozenburg did theorize that when another being from a another reality crosses over to a parallel universe, he/she automatically takes on the form of sentient beings of that reality. I guess this is what happened to me.
- So anyone, or beast in this case, I come across here will be in the form of animals. So all I have to do is pretend that they are human beings and nothing will be amiss. Alright, I'll go home later, let's see what this reality has for me to explore.
Her guns clicked against her, she wondered why they didn't disappear. Then she went to her nylon bag and saw that all her clothing had disappeared mysteriously, only the artificial objects remained. She wondered where she was as she packed her stuff back up. Deciding quickly that she should find some shelter, she shouldered her bag and turned off the safety for her rifle, cradled the gun, and cautiously proceeded through the woods.
An hour later, she made it onto a worn looking path with a sign that read:
- Redwall Abbey, 2 miles
She whispered to herself, "Could it be? No.." She immediately began running down the path and soon, the great bulk of Redwall Abbey came into view.
Kaylee stopped at the main gates, soaking up the sight she saw. Solid red sandstones of immense thickness formed the outer walls, flying buttresses appeared on every quarter of the wall. When the sun caught the stones, the colors became a comforting pink on orange to a pale rose color. The buttresses and arches stood as a contrast to the beauty, blending perfectly with the afternoon sun.
She went up to the door and began knocking.
Brother Liam was Abbey Recorder and he was in the gatehouse writing up the day's events.
- It is now five seasons since my friend Halli became Abbess and we are celebrating her jubilee out in the orchard. It was an odd time five seasons ago, when Halli became Abbess, she was a wild young squirrel, always inclined to have fun and never took anything seriously. Now she is the beloved Mother Abbess of all of Redwall.....and I have ink on my face....I know this because just right now, when I rubbed my eye, my paw was blue. Some things never change, I can hear her giggling outside the door. Please pardon my duties for the time being as I will try to give her a meadowcream facewash.
Liam jumped from his chair and ran for the door. Upon hearing the clatter inside the gatehouse, a pretty squirrel took to her heels and ran up the stairs to the battlements. The door burst open and Liam was shouting,
- "Halli!! You tree mouse! Where are you? I'll get you for this!"
Abbess Halli was dancing on the battlements, laughing, "Hahahahahahahahaha!" she giggled, hugging her sides, "You- haha- should'a seen the look on your... haha... ha... face! I snuck in while you were sleeping, thought I didn't notice you slipping off from my party so you can catch a quick snooze? Still a light sleeper eh water dog? Hahahahahahaa!"
Struggling to keep a look of outrage, yet trying to resist the urge to burst out laughing with his friend was almost impossible for Liam. He was about to reply when he thought he heard knocking on the gates. He listened again and heard the knock distinctly this time. He gestured at Halli,
- "Come down here and help me unbar the gate, we have visitors."
Halli giggled, "Oh no, you won't get me that easily, heehee"
- "No I'm serious, there is a visitor, go see for yourself."
She looked over the walls down at the gates where she saw a red-furred otter with strange metal pieces waving up at her and shouting hello's. She waved back and went down to the gates.
Kaylee heard the gatebars creak as they were lifted and the gates opened showing, two creatures peering from around the door. She greeted them,
- "'Ey there, is this place really the famous Redwall Abbey in Brian Jacques books?"
The duo behind the gate looked at each other and the squirrel said, "Aye, this is Redwall Abbey and I'm Abbess Halli, but who is Brian Jacques?"
Kaylee shook her head, "Never mind anymore, I was think of someone else." She bowed, "Please to meet you Mother Abbes and...?"
Brother Liam held out his paw, "Brother Liam, Recorder. Um, I didn't quite get your name missus's..?"
"Kaylee, Captain Kaylee. US Delta Forces" She let out a small giggle, "Did you know you have ink all over your eyes Liam?"
Brother Liam glared at Halli, who had stuck her head behind the door, trying not to burst out laughing again.
- "I am aware that I have ink over my eyes, thanks to a certain squirrel standing not two feet away from me. Please come in, we are celebrating the Abbess's fifth jubilee today, there is more than enough for everybeast."
When Kaylee entered the Abbey, she helped Abbess Halli and Brother Liam rebarr the gates again and walked towards the orchard. As they were walking, Brother Liam couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful red-furred otter walking besides him with eyes blue as the ocean, and teeth white as snow. Trying to figure out this new arrival, he asked her about the metal piece she carried in her arms.
- "Oh this?" She looked down at the rifle. "This is my weapon, its called an assault rifle and very reliable."
Liam nodded, "Ah I see, so how do you use it? Do you hit vermin over the head with it or what?"
She laughed, a merry melodious laugh in Liam's view, "I assume that you have never seen one of these things before?" Liam shook his head. She continued, "Well, I guess the basic thing really is that it shoots small bits of metal at high speeds and is quite dangerous to anybody."
Half believing her, he said, "Alright, show me."
- "Give me a target."
He pointed to a branch sticking off the battlements, "Shoot that stick off."
She raised her gun up, took aim and fired. Because there was a silencer on, it didn't make much noise, but it hit the branch, hitting it so forcefully, that it cracked in half and flew through the air.
Liam was amazed, "Wow, how did you do that? I didn't even see the metal hit the branch and yet it still flew through the air. But it doesn't sound so dangerous."
- "Oh, that's because I have the silencer on, see if I take it off," She grasped the silencer in her paw and twisted it off, "it becomes much louder." She fired off a shot and a booming crack filled the air. The birds out in the woodlands fluttered in panic for a bit and then flew back to their branches. Afterwards, it was all silent.
Liam was shocked, his paws covering his ears, as he couldn't move. Abbess Halli who had been watching and listening was also likewise of the same disposition. Halli hesitantly spoke,
- "T-That sounded like l-lightning and t-thunder, only c-closer, like next to y-you."
Brother Liam agreed, "It's like the cracking of trees in mid-winter, when it gets so cold, the trees actually freeze and fall with a loud crack."
Captain Kaylee nodded solemnly, "Aye, that is the power of my weapon, fate forbid I have to use it here, the pain of getting hit anywhere would great and will cause instant death if it hits any vital points of the body."
Chapter Three - Being Introduced
As they got to the orchard, everyone was in a panic. Dibbuns were wailing and running around, elders looked plained frightened, and the adults tried to restore order. When Abbess Halli stepped into the scene, she was immediately besieged by all Redwallers asking what in the name of chestnuts was that noise. As they surrounded her, they completely ignored Kaylee and Liam who were standing on the side observing.
Kaylee gasped in her mind's voice. All types of bipedal, anthropomorphic, and speaking animals were here, each alive and thinking. She focused on one conclusion in her mind and realized,
- Brian Jacques stories are true! There is a Redwall Abbey. It is in Mossflower and is habited by talking animals!
After this revelation, she snapped out of her mind and nudged Brother Liam, "C'mon let's go help your Abbess." Liam agreed, "Aye"
They both rushed into the crowd, yelling for them to stop and let the Abbess explain. After ten minutes of yelling and trying to disperse the crowd, Kaylee realized that this was getting them nowhere and switched to the alternative. She raised her gun into the air and fired.
She shot a bullet into the air and all became quiet. As the Abbeybeasts turned to look at her, she yelled out, "Redwallers please, let your Abbess breathe a bit. That sound you heard earlier was a gun without being silenced." She shook the rifle a bit so they would see it. "I'm sorry if I frightened you and just now, when I had to fire to get your attention, but you weren't responding to me or Brother Liam when we tried to get your attention. Now please let your Abbess speak."
Abbess Halli, who had took the silence as an opportunity to escape the packed congregation of bodies, spoke up,
- "Now that you know what caused the sound, allow me to introduce to you Captain Kaylee of the US Delta Forces. Even though she carries a weapon that makes a frightening sound, she is still a guest and Redwall hospitality still applies."
She beamed, "Now go have fun ye big doozies. Sister Kavan (Ka-Vaun), a moment please"
As the crowd dispersed with sheepish grins and conversation, Sister Kavan, who was the mouse infirmary keeper, came over, "Whot's 'up Abbess?"
- "I need you to take Kaylee and get her a dress, she must be freezing in nothing but fur."
- "Will dae Abb Halli. C'mon miz, let's go fin' ye a dress."
Kaylee held up a paw, "Woah, no dresses. Not my type. Do you just have a tunic and a habit I can wear?" Sister Kavan smiled, "Sure thing, mae beauty. Nought all maidens need tae wear dresses, now dae we?"
- "Aye, but I remember one time my cousin..."
They both walked towards the main Abbey building chatting amiably, like they have always known each other. Liam watched them go until he was elbowed in the ribs by Halli,
- "Eh, eh, what's this now? You liiiike her don't you?"
He rubbed his ribs, "So what if I do?"
- "I dunno, but she doesn't seem to be your type."
- "What do you mean?"
- "Well, she is obviously a warrior while your a dusty recorder."
He protested indignantly, "I use to be a warrior too you know, that was before I came to Redwall." Halli grinned, "I should know, I fought alongside of you remember?" Then she grew somber, "That was before our families got killed."
- "Aye, not one left alive, all had been murdered." Liam gazed up, eyes wet. "My tribe never stood a chance against his horde. Damn Bloodback, damn him to Hellgates."
Halli smiled sadly, "My mate never stood a chance either." She scrubbed at her eyes and sniffed.
- "Everyone who resisted was killed and those who didn't became slaves. Then I got captured; for the month I was stuck them, I saw horrible atrocities happen before my eyes, some of them to my mates. I raged and raged against my bonds, always trying to free myself and save them. They starved me for a long time everytime I tried to fight, I grew so weak. Then one day, when I felt myself collapse, they tossed me into the bushes to die. I laid there, on the ground, waiting for death to embrace me. Then a bumblebee came by, the sun shining on its mane, each hair sharp and distinct, and golden power on its leg. It was so vibrant, so alive, it made me want to live again, to dedicate my life to peace. So I pushed myself off the floor and began walking back."
- "Good thing you did too, I was only a few hours behind the horde when I found you. Staggering and breathing heavily, you collapsed again. You wouldn't wake for three days and during those days I languished in misery as I mourned for my family. I was too angry at first when my family was killed, wanting nothing more than following the horde and ripping them to pieces with my bare paws. When I found you and had to treat you, it gave me time to think. How much war and fighting hurts, how many lives have I ended. It bothered me greatly, so much that I also decided to dedicate myself to peace."
Halli laughed, "Then we came to Redwall and were made part of the order. A season later I became Abbess and you became Recorder. How impossible was that? I still think some of the elders regret their choice, even today.
- "I can see why they would regret it, you turned the Abbey upside down since becoming Abbess. Tea in the middle of the night and making a Dibbun a friar. What were you thinking?"
- "Well, Afton does make a pretty good trifle..."
Both of them burst out laughing as the two friends walked back to the midst of the feast.
Chapter Four - Bloodback the Merciless
Along the eastern plains of Mossflower, smoke poured into the air like water, tainting it, turning the blue sky black with soot and ashes. Through this veil of blackened smog, screams issued forth, intermingled with cruel laughter and the sound of metal slicing through flesh.
As the smoke begins to clear, a stoat of middle seasons is clearly visible holding a bloodied blade. Tall, muscular and wearing a black red cape, this was Bloodback the Merciless. The stoat was clearly enjoying himself as he brought the blade down repeatedly on the backs of the survivors of a vole settlement his horde had just raided. Ignoring the screams of pain, a rat came up to him, and saluted, "Chief".
Bloodback snarled and threw his sword down forcefully at the back of the poor creature he was torturing.
- "What is it now Naccog? I told ye to not interrupt my fun unless it was important."
The vole he was just torturing gave a final shudder and went limp, never to rise again on this world. Bloodback snorted irritably, "See, now look what ye done. He died on me and I wasn't finished with him yet. Ah well, there is still plenty more left to have some fun with."
Naccog bowed, "Apologies, chief, but two of the voles had escaped our notice. If they talk, all of Mossflower will soon know we are here and will be prepared once we march for Redwall."
Bloodback waved his paw dismissively, "Then send a score of trackers after them and make sure they don't talk then."
- "As you wish chief"
Naccog walked off and motioned a slick-looking weasel to attend him.
- "Yves, take a score of trackers and hunt down those two voles, chief wants them back"
- "As you wish, cap-tain"
- "And when you catch them, silence them."
Yves nodded and signaled a group of waiting vermin to follow him. At his command, all twenty one of them set a fast pace, being swallowed up by the forest in a matter of minutes.
Cavan and Tammia, who were brother and sister were laying in a hollow log, panting for breath. They were the only ones to escape out of an entire community of voles and had just lost their entire family.
- "Mother" gasped Cavan
- "Father" sobbed Tammia
They hugged each other and allowed their anguish to be subdued by each other's presence. They continue to cry for a bit then released each other, still sniffling a bit, but otherwise out of the shock. Cavan spoke first, ::"I think we should have a little moment of silence for our parents, may they be forever happy in the Dark Forest."
- Tammia sniffed "Aye, we should also go to Redwall Abbey and warn them of Bloodback and his horde. I overhead saying that after this, he was gonna go to the big red stoned abbey in the center of the country and take it for himself."
Cavan got up, "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go to Redwall Abbey." As they both got out of the log, Tammia asked, "Umm.. which way is it to the abbey?"
- "Well, mum always said that the abbey was to our west and a touch south, and since moss grows north of the trees, I say we go that way."
He pointed to the right, in the direction between south and west. Then he grabbed his sister's paw and they started running.
Hours later just when the sun was setting and it was the new phase of the moon, both of them stopped running, each gasping for air and trembling with exhaustion. Suddenly both of them fell in unison and were soon deep in sleep, whiskers twitching. Dreaming of memories with their now dead family and weeping in their sleep.
Yves contingent was still trotting at a fast pace when Yves held up a paw.
- "It's getting too dark to continue, we can't track further than this now. 'Tis a new moon and its pitch black. We sleep where drop, no fires. We can't advertise our presence in Mossflower yet, I see a single spark, that creature who made the spark is a dead beast. Get down and shut up, we continue at dawn."
Chapter Five - Can't You Ever Give a Straight Answer?
It was a beautiful dawning the next day. The sun was shyly peeping out from the horizon when it rose up suddenly and bloomed like a flower. Mixing its bright sunlight with the shade of the darkness, it created an exotic array of colors ranging from golden rod to orchid to orange and to red. Each swirling around clouds, intertwining with each other.
Captain Kaylee woke up with a start with a pounding headache, gripping her head, she thought,
- Sure hope they have aspirin here, this headache is killing me
As she put on her tunic and habit, she shuffled out of her room, yawning cavernously, and stretching. She decided to go wander around a bit, try to see more of Redwall Abbey and take the experience all in. She walked along the entire floor her room was located on, even peeked in on the sleeping Dibbuns who were dreaming, snoring, sleepfighting, and shuffling in their sleep, oh how cute they were. Her wanderings eventually took her to the Great Hall where the tapestry of Martin the Warrior hung. She stood in awe of it; reading about it in a book is one thing, but seeing in person was another.
The tapestry was so life-like, everywhere Kaylee moved, Martin's eyes seemed to follow her. Then she looked at the etchings that bordered the tapestry and saw the great deeds Martin did while alive. Battling the wildcat Tsarmina, fighting Badrang, help building the abbey. All in all it was a thing of wonder to behold.
Then she saw the sword, it was resting on double silver pegs and was shining, even in the dim dawn light. She reverently reached for it and grasped it in her paw. Like other champions before, she was amazed at the balance and weight of the sword, weighing no more than a pistol. She swung it down, laughed at the speed it went, and went on to continue swinging it. Being the ex-captain of her high school fencing team, she began doing increasingly complex maneuvers with the sword. Swinging it so fast, it left blurs upon the air, doing figures of eights, switching it from paw to paw with a flick of the wrist. She switched to a fighting stance and began mock fighting. Swish. Swish. Jab. Defend. Swish again. Jab again. Feint to the left, cut upwards in a diagonal motion.
By the time she was finished she was breathing hard with exhilaration and quite hungry. As she put the sword back, her stomach rumbled, and she grinned.
- Time to pay a visit to the Kitchens, wonder if there is a hare here. I didn't see one yesterday.
As she made her way to the kitchen, it was still quite peaceful since not many Redwallers were up yet. A fat smiling hare went up to her and shook her paw.
- "Welcome to the Abbey Kitchens miz, I'm co-Friar Moen, wot!, joint Friar along with Afton who is currently asleep. What is it that you want to break your fast on wot wot?"
Kaylee smiled at the hare's jolliness, "Surprise me chef." Friar Moen beamed even wider if that were possible. "Well for starters we have superb bread fresh out of the ovens, every kind of preserve you can jolly well imagine, oatmeal flavored with apples and honey, and" He whispered secretly, "a whopping huge watercress and chestnut flan, made to my own secret recipe, but don't tell anyone wot!"
She nodded eagerly, "I won't tell a soul if you give me a slice."
- "Deal! wot wot wot!"
Later as she was munching on her slice of flan, she went back to the Great Hall to sit and look at Martin the Warrior some more, wishing she had a camera to take pictures. As she finished and put her plate down, her eyes became strangely heavy, like she was tired and wanted nothing better than to sleep. As her head kept nodding forward, she heard a comforting voice dancing inside her head,
- "Traveler from different world
- You will set Mossflower in a whirl
- Keep the abbey safe from a horde
- Though you need not, wield my sword
- Home is gone, can't go back
- Friends here, you shall not lack
- You will be happy here, you have my word
- Lest the lines between peace and anger be blurred."
Kaylee heard, in her mind, say, "Wait, what do you mean home is gone? Martin!!"
- "Can't you ever give straight answers???"
Halli and Liam were up early that day too, being former warriors, it was a habit that one could never really get rid of. Well, most of the time you can't get rid of it, Liam was still sleeping when Halli sneaked into his room. Seeing the otter still stretched out in his bed, she took a extra pillow from a closet, and barely stifled a giggle. She raised the pillow high and set about her task with a will.
- Thawk Thawk Thawk
- "Wha-? Whaz goin-? Yowch! Oof! Alright alright I'm up already!"
- "Hahahahah, get up Liam. It's a brand new day and the early bird gets the worm."
Liam gave a groan and rubbed his head, "Sheesh Halli can't you even let me sleep five minutes after daybreak?"
She smiled sweetly, "Never. Now c'mon, let's take a early morning trip to Mossflower, the walk and fresh air will do you good."
The still sleepy otter flopped back down on his bed and responded groggily, "Okay okay, fine. Just give ten more minutes will ya?"
- Thirty seconds later, Liam's bedroom door bursted open with him dashing out while trying to bat at things being slung at him by the angry squirrel with his javelin.
A little while later, when Halli had calmed down a bit, the both of the were walking through Great Hall when they saw Kaylee asleep in front of the tapestry. As they walked towards her, she stirred and gave a yawn, blinking to clear the drowsiness from her eyes. She didn't recall any of her dream as she woke up.
Seeing them, Kaylee gave a wave and walked towards to meet them. Liam asked,
- "Pleasant sleep Kaylee?"
- "Aye, bit unusual for me, but pleasant nonetheless. What's up?"
Halli inquried, "We were wondering if you would want to go into Mossflower Woods with us. We still have some time before Abbey duty beckons, plus the fresh air would do good for sleepy-otter there." She pointed at Liam who rolled his eyes in a comical manner.
Kaylee laughed, "Sure no problem, just let me get one of my guns first. Mossflower is still contains unexpected surprises as I recall."
Cavan and his sister had also just woke up at dawn. Knowing the need for silence, they both rise quietly and sneaked out into the woods. After a while, they hit the path, growing excited, they thought they were in the clear, they began running towards Redwall again. Suddenly a harsh voice rang out, "I see them, they're running away Yves!"
- "Then why don't you go after them maggot head, instead of telling me?"
With hearts pounding, Cavan and Tammia began dashing once again, going headlong on the path towards Redwall Abbey.
Soon after, they were out of the gates with Kaylee holding her P90 in a relaxed position. All three of them stretched, exchanged stories, and just gossiped about anything.
- "--and he went, 'Crunch Bird my ass'"
They all laughed; Liam, who was still fascinated with the gun, questioned,
- "Where did you get a gun from, Kaylee. In all my wanderings, I have never seen a weapon as odd as yours. Not even the hares at Salamandatron have one of these."
She winked at him, "'Tis a secret mate." Liam joked, "Any chance I can get one of those then? But seriously, where did you get it?"
Kaylee looked thoughtful, "You know, I don't really think much of it, where I come from, this is pretty standard for those who join our military force. I was presented with one after my trainee graduation ended and had it ever since."
Liam began to ask more questions, like, where she came from, who were her parents, and how did she end up in Mossflower when Halli gestured them to be quiet. With her ears twitching and eyes closed, Halli had heard a disturbance that carried with the breeze. Dropping her voice, she whispered,
- "There is some sort of turmoil coming from somewhere and two beasts running helter- skelter over by the northeast. All three of us are going to scout out the area, Liam you take the path, while Kaylee takes the woods, I'll be up in the trees. Do a frog croak if you see anything."
Kaylee and Liam nodded and both set off, weapons ready. Halli bounded up into the nearest tree and a faint rustle was heard as she bounded through the foliage.
Liam walked stealthily forward with all the skills of an experienced forester. Now hearing the commotion clearly and coming towards him, he leaned against a tree and literally became one with his surroundings.
- A pair of voles sprinted past him, both just a little bit older than Dibbuns, and obviously frightened. Then Liam saw the score of trackers heading not too far behind and decided to act.
As soon as the first vermin ran past him, who was conviently Yves, he tripped the weasel with his javelin and killed him with a thrust. Then hurling himself into the main body of vermin, he shouted,
Halli then came shooting out of the trees like a rocket also yelling the abbey warcry and hitting out with a loaded sling. Both were fighting bravely, but were outnumbered ten to one. Halli had taken several gashes to her flanks and Liam had similar injuries and was also slashed in one of his eyes. It would be clear that they both would go down soon when they heard a sharp rapid,
Four of the back vermin fell, mortally wounded by the bullets of the P90. Kaylee was clearly seen on the side, P90 firing in bursts, shooting off bullets. Leaving five to fight Halli and Liam, the rest of the trackers rushed Kaylee, hoping to overwhelming her by surprise and numbers. Bringing the full power of her weapon to bear, she pressed down on the trigger, releasing a full automatic spray of metal death upon her opponents.
As the ammo magazine fell from the heated stock body and trigger, one creature, a stoat, who was more clever than his comrades, approached her from her side, dagger at the ready. As she was reloading her weapon, he jumped at her, blade slashing.
Kaylee saw him jumping and raised her arm in defense. The stoat snarled with victory as he scored deeply on the protruding limb, then whined with fright as Kaylee grabbed him with her injured arm and reeled him close. Face creased in anger, she brung her other arm into play and used the butt of her weapon to smash in his face. Dropping the deceased stoat from her grasp, she walked out to where Halli and Liam was, both having defeated their opponents. Halli inhaled deeply to get oxygen to her body then asked, "Are you alright?"
Kaylee glanced at her arm, "It's alright, I've had worse, it's pretty shallow actually. Never mind me, you two look in worse shape."
Liam laughed as he looked at Halli and himself, "Only a few rips here and there, nothing to serious." Then he collapsed. Halli shook her head, "Modest waterdog, it's been a few seasons since we fought. Forgot how much wounds hurt huh? Ah well, Kaylee take one of his arms and I'll take the other. We'll all get ourselves patched up soon enough."
They both lifted up the unconscious otter over their shoulders and began walking back to the Abbey.
Chapter Six - The Clouds of War
It was night time, the moon was beginning to shine and the night released its melody of noises into the air. Then, in the distance the thrum of hoverblades was heard, beating heavily upon the air. Suddenly a helicopter appears out of nowhere and lands in an the area that was once known as The Facility. A man steps off, dressed in a plain suit and carrying a briefcase, along with a group of ten people dressed in black jumpsuits. He looked around the blackened circumference and ordered,
- "Search the ruins for the hard disks and set up the machine. We must figure out their research and methods quickly, before everyone else arrives."
All promptly complied and began doing their allotted tasks. The man in the suit looked at his watch impatiently.
- No time, no time, we must find out what they did.
- How they did.
- We must find the portal machine.
It wasn't even midday yet at Redwall Abbey, but already the infirmary was busy. Sister Kavan had her paws full between treating Kaylee, Liam, and Halli, with Liam being the most seriously injured. She clucked her tongue at their brashness,
- "Tsk Tsk Whot made ye think tha' ye can take on ae score o'vermin armed wi'nought but ae javelin an' sling?"
Liam cracked open his good eye and chuckled, "We thought it was good way to stretch."
This remark brought a bit of humor to the faces of those present. As Sister Kavan continued to treat him, now moving on to his injured eye, she also continued to lecture him,
- "Gud thing tha' ta wound tae ye eye wer shallow, anay deeper, ye wuld lose ye eye. Ah patched up yore wounds with ya'oh an' horehound, ye will sleep like ae beauty t'nite. An' next toime ye go on fightin', bring ae blade or sumthin', it wuld work much better 'tan yore javelin."
She finished stitching up Liam's wounds and wrapped the area around his eye with a black linen cloth, "There, gud ah new. Althoh ye will ave' ae braw scar now, yore still ae yung, 'ansome riverdog."
She moved on to her other patients, lecturing each one in turn, "Mah, word, yung'ins these daeys. Everything is 'bout rush rush rush. Naever taken' ta time to sit an' plan ae gud plan."
Later that morning, shortly before noon, they were propelled out of the infirmary doors by Sister Kavan who had apparently pulled a old walking cane out of thin air and shook it at them.
- "Ah dun' care if ye is hurt, ye still have ta' do yore duties ye ken?"
Kaylee and Halli were both sporting casts on their arms with Halli having herb compresses bandaged about her sides. Liam also had herb bandages on his sides and a black cloth wrapped around his brow which gave him a very roguish look.
Kaylee giggled at Liam, "Don't you look handsome you rogue of an otter."
Liam smiled and turned to his friends, "C'mon mates let's get some lunch, I'm starving."
In the Great Hall, where lunch was being held, the vole siblings, Cavan and Tammia, were about to sit down when they saw Halli, Liam, and Kaylee enter the room. They stood back up and ran over to them to give their thanks for saving their lives. Tammia elected herself spokesbeast for the both of them,
- "Mother Abbess, my name is Tammia and this is my brother Cavan. We both would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for saving our lives, the three of you, and in return, we have important information that would be of most use to you."
Abbess Halli waved her paw, "Please save it for later, you two have to eat. The both of you look like half-starved wolves with ribs sticking out. We will talk after lunch."
Cavan and Tammia bowed and returned to their seats, where their platter of food was still waiting. The Abbess, Recorder, and Captain chuckled as they saw the two voles attacking the Abbey fare with a gusto. As the three of them went to get their food, they sat next to the pair of voles, eating as enthusiastically as the the voles. When they were down to nibbling stages, Halli started the conversation again,
- "So what's this important information that you risked your lives for?"
Warning reader discretion is advised for this part
Taking his snout out of the leek turnover he was eating, Cavan said, "From the east, where we came from, our home got destroyed, and our friends and family killed. There is a stoat who carries a blade always stained in blood and wears a cape dark as night shaded with red."
Liam and Halli glanced at each other, both thinking the same thing. "Please continue." said Halli.
With his eyes beginning to fill with water and voice breaking up, Cavan bravely continued.
- "He is cruel and merciless, those of us that survived were captured and sat awaiting their fate. Most of the time, he would be standing behind the survivors, whipping them with his sword."
Tears were running down Cavan's face now and Tammia took up the account,
- "Our friends would scream horribly each time the blade met their backs. He would cut them so many times, that most would just faint from the pain and die, remembering the terror that had sent them to their deaths." Sometimes, if he was in a extremely cruel mood, he would take one of the females and-- oh!"
She was sobbing too now, tears running down her face in rivulets of water. Kaylee, Liam, and Halli were gritting their teeth now, releasing barely controlled snorts of anger at the heartlessness of their situation. "We hid for three days until we couldn't take anymore, then yesterday we ran for it, and that's when they saw us and sent a tracking party after us."
Cavan pounded the table, "He sent the tracking party after us, not to bring us back, but to silence us. While we were hiding, we heard a lot of information going between him and his captains." He grabbed at Liam's habit tunic collar. "He is coming to conquer Mossflower, he's got his eyes set on this Abbey, his horde is five times the number of creatures you have here, and he will not rest until he is the lord of Mossflower. He is coming!"
Kaylee distangled him gently from Liam's collar and asked, "Who is coming?" Cavan, Tammia, Halli, and Liam looked at her and said together,
- "Bloodback the Merciless"
A solitary flower was slowly opening up its petals in the bright sheen of the late night moon. It was a beautiful flower that was blooming from the light of the mmon, its white petals casting a silvery shine in the gloomy darkness. It represented a single hope growing out of the arid ground from which it grew when a paw stamped down heavily upon it. It laid flattened on the ground, still casting a silver aurora when another paw stamped down heavily upon it and another and another and another.
The heavy tramp of marching footpaws echoed in the silent air. Shields clanked and armor rattled as Bloodback's horde marched deeper into western Mossflower. Then the stoat leader held up his paw, commanding them to stop. He snarled out, "Naccog, come up here, now."
As the ranks parted to let the rat captain through, he walked up to Bloodback's side, "Yes chief?"
Bloodback's arm reached around, as if he was giving the rat a friendly hug, but there was nothing friendly about it as Bloodback grabbed the nape of his neck and brought him forward. Bloodback dangerously asked "What do you see here Naccog?"
As Naccog stopped squirming in the grasp of his chief, he saw that they had arrived to a scene of death. The pale light of the moon illuminated it just enough to be visible. The score or so of trackers he had sent to kill the voles were dead and there no sign of their attackers.
- "I see dead beasts chief?"
Bloodback threw him to the ground, "I don't even see the reason why you have eyes in your empty head. There must be no brain in there if you can't see anything wrong with this picture. Look at the way the bodies had fallen fool!"
Naccog quickly scurried over to the corpses and examined each one, noting down the positions and wounds. He came back, "I see ten dead clustered on that side and ten spread out but dead over there. Six of the clustered ones were killed by sling and javelin and the rest were apparently killed by small bits of metal. The spread out beasts were all rushing towards the same direction as far as I could tell. I also made out the tracks of three beasts, probably the attackers."
Bloodback smiled sarcastically, "Very good Dr. Naccog, now tell me. How do three creatures kill a score of my trackers?" Naccog shrugged, "I dunno chief, t'aint possible?"
Naccog then was knocked ears over tail as Bloodback landed a solid punch to the rat's shoulder. He snarled, "Try to think at least once in a while dunderhead, it means that the Abbeybeasts has a powerful ally in their midst, which means we should proceed with caution when attacking Redwall."
He shouted to the rest of his horde, "Camp here tonight, we go to war in the morning"
Chapter Seven - Two Captains
Earlier that day, "Who's Bloodback the Merciless?" wondered Kaylee
Halli and Liam stared at her in shock. Then Liam said, "You mean, you don't know?" Kaylee shook her head
- "Afraid not mate."
Halli then took over, with jaws clenched, the squirrel Abbess explained,
- "Bloodback is a vile, cruel, disgusting excuse for vermin. He takes over peaceful settlements and tortures the survivors. Sometimes, he overdoes it and they just die from the pain. Other times, if you are strong enough, he will take you as a captive and beat you repeatedly just for fun, starving you, taunting you, until you collapse. When that happens yore a dead beast, he slings the bodies into the surrounding woods or if you are still barely alive, he buries you, claiming that its"
She spat out the word with great vehemence,
- "Respectful to bury the soon dead. I was once a captive of his for a month before I collapsed, luckily he just threw me into the bushes. If it wasn't for Liam who was tracking Bloodback's horde, I would've died soon enough. I still have scars from when I was a captive, here, feel my back."
She lifted up the back of her habit where Kaylee could clearly see the scars which stood out like whip chords, she felt them and then realized that it was more than one scar on the same place. Her heart burned with ferocity to think that any creature, human or animal, would do this to another being. Abbess Halli continued with her narrative,
- "During the time from when I was laying in the bush and when Liam found me, I was ready to give up on life. Then a little bee came, thrumming with energy, seeking a flower. That bee gave me the strength to go on living because it was so alive, as I made peace with my inner flame, I decided to dedicate myself to helping others. Liam also made the same pact soon after he found me, shocked by my condition. But now, with the coming of Bloodback's horde, we may have to revert our pacts."
Kaylee glanced at her pretty squirrel friend, watching the blood of anger rise behind her eyes, fully believing that this fun loving Abbess would be willing to fight once more, unrestrained, as she had demonstrated earlier that day.
"Since, Bloodback's horde is coming, don't we need to warn the rest of the Abbey? You know, get some able fighters, and train them in the short period we have?"
Liam wondered this for a moment then shook his head uncertainly, "Although a good number of Abbeybeasts here are accurate slingers and archers, none of them, save three I can think of, has ever taken a life. I can round up some otters in the surrounding area, but it won't be much. Our Skipper and his tribe are off in the northwest with the Guosim, fighting corsairs. Counting you, me and Halli, there are a total of six experienced fighting beasts at the abbey."
Halli and Kaylee's eyes gleamed craftily, "Well, then, we'll just have to train some fighters fast and teach them how to fight."
- "Just like that? Where are we going to pull some good fighters from? Our noses??"
Halli replied innocently, "Well, we do have two captains at the Abbey." Liam quizzically said, "You mean one?"
- "No, I mean two."
- "Ok...I'm pretty sure Kaylee counts as one captain, but who's the other one?
- "Wow, seriously, you don't know?"
- "And I will never know unless you tell me, miss Abbess"
- "Later, I'm still hungry, let's go pay the Kitchens a visit, what do you say?"
- "If I agree, will you tell me then?"
So they walked from the Great Hall to the Kitchens where they found Friar Moen resting on some potato sacks. Halli went up to him and asked, "Do you have any squirrelbakes and what do you do if a superior number comes and you are unprepared?"
Friar Moen looked up, "'Course I have squirrelbakes Abbess wot! And as for yore second question, you strike them first before they do. Squirrelbakes are in the oven wot!"
- "What's a pincer movement?"
- "You mean double envelopment? Pincer is just the term rankers use back at the old mountain o' Salamandastrom wot! The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the enemy has advanced towards the center of an army, wot wot, which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it. To make the maneuver more jolly well effective, send a second layer of pincers attacks at the more extreme flanks, so as to prevent any attempts to reinforce the target unit."
Liam gave Halli a "you knew?" look and interrupted, "Wait, wait, how do you know all this? I thought you were just a friar.". Moen looked indignantly at the Recorder, "I beg yore pardon sah, but before I came to Redwall, I was Captain Matteo Opsia Enfield Naoise of the 3rd Range Battalion, subdivsion of the Long Patrol, wot!"
It was still night and the man in the suit was still waiting and starting to swear at the laggardly pace they were going at. He was about to snap at his men when one of them came up. The soldier saluted,
- "Found this sir, its still mostly intact and the data is still retrievable, all you need to do is get a specialist to clean it up a bit."
He gave the man what looked like to be a jet black stone that shone with luster, but chipped and burnt in places, he stared at it, almost with a reverence. The soldier continued,
- "We also found what looks like to be a scientist but with limbs burnt off and burns covering 90% of his body."
The man looked up with interest, "Bring him and tell your men to pack up. We got what we came for and more, leave no trace of our ' visit '"
Liam gaped at Friar/ Captain Moen, "Why didn't you tell us this before?" Moen looked at him blankly, "Its 'cuz you never asked, wot!" Liam looked up at the ceiling exasperatedly and heaved a sigh. Halli was laughing as usual and Kaylee leaned over to ask, "You enjoy doing this Liam don't you?"
- "Aye, one of the perks of being Abbess, good job eh?"
Turning back to the issue the Abbess originally had in mind, Halli asked, "Moen, do you think it would be possible for you to train our Abbey creatures into decent defenders?"
Friar Moen looked puzzled, "Of course Mother Abbess, but why wot?"
- "Have you ever heard of Bloodback?"
- "Hmm, name does sound a bit familiar. Is this Bloodback a stoat chappy, loves blood?"
- "Aye, why? Have you met him before?"
- "Not really, but back in the 'trol days, he was a little nuisance, always threatening to kill us. 'Course, he didn't have enough creatures to carry out his threat, so we left him well enough alone wot."
- "Bad news then, he has slightly grown to more than a nuisance since you left the Long Patrol. He's intent on taking over Mossflower and wants to conquer Redwall as a base. This is why I asked if you can train our creatures to fight."
The hare friar/ captain winced, "He's that bad now eh? Then of course I bally well can, training recruits is always fun, though it's been some seasons since I was a sergeant." Halli beamed, "Great! How much time would you need?"
- "Um...three days minimum"
- "We don't have three days do we?"
- "Actually, we do."
All three heads turned to stare at Kaylee as she explained her plan. "Back where I come from, beasts of my military squad are trained for situations like this. We do as what Captain Moen says, strike first and strike hard."
Moen asked, "Beggin' yore pardon miz, but it's a whole bally horde out there while you're only a single otter, wot! How are you planning to attack them first without being slaughtered yoreself?"
- "I have surprises and guns."
- "Surprises are all well and good, but what in dickens is a gun?"
- "A launcher that fires bits of metal at a rapid rate."
- "Oh..ok..but what-"
Kaylee held up her paw and stopped the curious hare, "Just trust me on this Captain, its too long to explain everything again but rest assured, I didn't get the title of Delta Captain from just firing my gun."
With that, she jogged out of the kitchens and to her room to get her materials. Friar Moen watched as she receded down the hallway, "Odd otter gel ain't she Liam, wot?" Liam smiled fondly, "Aye, but she's not what you call odd, but more like unique and somehow, not from this world."
Chapter Eight - Early Attacks
Early next morning, Captain Kaylee silently slipped out of the abbey armed with her P90, half a pound of C4, and one of her Tactical Knives tucked in her habit cord. She treaded silently through the quiet woodlands, paws making mute crunches every time she stepped on the leave covered floor. The eerie autumn mist surrounded the trees and bushes of Mossflower, giving each plant an aurora of slight mysticalism. The sour milk of the sky shone a light gray light on the white mist, giving the woodlands a even more mysterious setting.
Although Kaylee was not trained in the ways of the woodlands, she was trained to walk stealthily and quickly, thus she covered a good amount of area in a short time. She was walking towards the area where she, Halli, and Liam had fought when her now sensitive ears picked up a sound that was out of place due to the time she had spent scouting around the forest, it was the snore of of two hundred and thirty one vermin soldiers as they slept. She immediately ducked behind a tree and lied down flat, searching the area for sentries.
There!, Her eyes had spotted five sentries walking around camp, each one often no more than sixty seconds from each other going in a circular path. After ten minutes of observing their movements, she decided to make her move, wrapping two ounces of C4 onto each of the eight rocks she had just found, she threw the rocks above the heads of the sentries, and each rock landed close to the proximity she wanted without attracting attention. Taking out the remote detonator, she thought to herself
- This is going to be amusing
- And with an ominous *deet*, pressed the detonation button.
She finished reloading and made haste for the other side of the camp, shooting anyone who got in her way. Then, as soon as she was clear, she turned and aimed at Bloodback, who was starting to get an idea of what just happened, and fired.
Bloodback was running around, grabbing at hordebeasts and unreasonably yelling at them at what was happening when he felt a searing pain in his right leg. He looked down and saw that a bullet had pierced his leg and exited on the other side. He gave out a howl of pain as he stumbled and fell, clutching at his wounded leg.
Kaylee gave a grim smile of satisfaction as she turned around and ran at a steady lope back to the Abbey, glad that she had bought her friend the extra time they need to train the defenders and that Bloodback had suffered pain unlike any he had ever suffered.
Bloodback snarled in pain as the horde's only compentent healer, Old Grimule, attended to his leg. Each time the elderly rat healer poked at his leg, particularly the wounded area, Bloodback felt the need to punch this insensitive rat in the snout and teach him a lesson. But he was too valuable to the horde, particularly when his healing knowledge could rival those at the abbey. Grimule gave a toothy grin, "Heehee, by okey, they really gave one to ye, eh Lord? Shot by an ottermaid no less, painful I imagine."
Bloodback sat up, gritted his teeth, and snarled back at the grinning healer,
- "If you don't fix up my leg right now, you are going to have to use your own herbs to fix a hole, right in your stupid face! Hurry up and let's be done with this!"
Grimule pushed him back down and gave the increasingly angry stoat another gap toothed grin, "Heehee, lie back down young un', honestly beasts these days, no patience. Your body doesn't heal at the rate your mind wants to, it takes its own good ole time see. Now, let's see here, some bayberry to keep away the maggots, henna for the wound, and some mint. Them abbeybeasts sure know their herbs, good teachers they are, heehee"
The stoat looked at the rat questioningly, "Wait, you've been in Redwall and why do I need mint?" Grimule looked up from where he was starting to work on Bloodback's leg, "I said I was in the abbey, now when did I say that? Heehee, when you reach my age, you tend to forgit things ye know and make up stuff too. As for the mint, have you tried smelling your own breath stinky? Phew, ye could draw thousands of flies to your mouth everytime ye opened it, they could lay some eggs, and your mouth would soon be infested wid maggots heehee."
Bloodback growled from behind closed jaws to cover up his embarrassment, "Just hurry up and how long until my leg heals?" Grimule replied promptly, "I would give it a week for safe recovery, but since ye are a impatient young un', I'll put the splint early and ye can be walking in three days. Heehee, ye got shot by an ottermaid, painful I imagine..."
Bloodback inwardly cursed at his misfortune, how was he going to last three days with this pestilent healer, when he could barely last five minutes? He would almost preferred death.
Kaylee arrived back at the abbey an hour after mid-day, much to the relief of Liam and Halli, who immediately began pestering her with questions. She waved her paw dismissively, "Food first talk later, I'm hungry. Forgot to bring some food along." When they reached the Great Hall, she got a huge platter of food from the duty cooks as they were packing up the lunch leftovers. A slice of wild strawberry and blueberry pie with syrup flowing thickly, a bowl of otter hotroot soup, three mushroom and onion pasties with gravy slathered all over, a tankard of october ale, and chestnuts with melted herb-infused cheddar cheese surrounded her as she ate with all the knowledge of an experienced trencherbeast.
A short while later, when Keyla had satisfied her appetite, Halli and Liam began asking questions again,
- "Where did you go?"
- "To Bloodback's camp."
- "What did you do once you got there?"
- "Raided it."
Halli and Liam looked at each other puzzled, "And how did you buy us the extra three days?" Kaylee replied simply, "I shot him in the leg." The Abbess and the Recorder gave her a blank "You shot him in the leg?" look. She continued, "I also took out about fifteen of his vermin and injured others, they will all need time to recover and stuff, but it will mainly be about how fast Bloodback heals." With that she took her leave and headed for the abbey grounds with Halli and Liam still slightly puzzled.
Chapter Nine - The Human World
Dr. Rosenberg was the chief scientists for the A.R.T, overseeing that the tunnel between the human world and other realities was stable, he was also responsible for making the return device that would enable Kaylee to get home. Shortly after Captain Kaylee stepped through the portal, Dr. Rosenberg left immediately, wanting to get out of The Facility as soon as possible because of the amount of hours he had spent on the A.R.T. But as soon as he stepped out of the lab, he knew something was wrong as he heard the machinery power down. It was only confirmed when the other scientists began to shout in panic and electricity began to crackle. He rushed back into the lab, but it was too late, he saw a massive electric bolt head straight for the batteries which exploded on impact. All he can remember was putting up his arms to protect his face and a burning rush of heat literally melting and cooking the flesh off of him, then blackness.
The G-man and his crew were at their base dubbed, 'The Tuna Can', because it was a concrete bunker shaped like a tuna can, just with bulletproof windows. Dr. Rosenberg was in their emergency room, unconscious and heavily sedated, as upon awakening, the pain would be great enough to shock his mind and kill him which is what the G-man did not want. He had dropped off the black data drive to his techies with orders to, "Decrypt, recover, and process." Originally, the data disk would have been the only thing to follow and would have taken months, may be years to reconstruct the drive based on just research alone, but now with a scientist who worked on the project at his fingertips, it would take weeks.
He allowed himself a rare smile, an operative of a ultra clandestine branch of the Department of Defense, known as SovAug, or Sovereign Augmentation, he was charged with the mission of finding new terrain for the United States to expand, build, and test weapons. Since doing any of the three on human Earth is usually noticeable, he and his crew were usually involved with the latest in quantum physic technology, such as the Alternate Reality Drive, a project in which only 100 people on Earth know, the exception of thirteen people. Himself, his crew, the Delta Force Captain, and the poor burnt scientist lying on the sickbed.