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It was going to be the clearest of nights that has not been seen in many days, when the might of Mother Nature’s blizzard finally stopped, the dark clouds started to recede and the winking stars were once open again to the sight of the earth. Here and there, snow drifts were piled high, and snow delicately covered the fine needles of the pine trees, each crystal beautiful and soft.
Footpaws thundered across the icy tundra of the northlands as a female squirrel raced against the bitter headwind and the chilling cold. Strapped to her back was squirrelbabe, who was silently staring about the northern night with open dark green eyes. There was an aurora borealis dancing across the sky in a ribbon of color ranging from red to magenta to turquoise to chartreuse. The squirrelbabe gazed up in awe, too young to know that the pretty lights only illuminated the danger she and his mother was in.
Chasing directly behind them was a tracking crew with a full complement of five vermin scouts, fully intent on catching up with their fast moving prey.
“Hellgates it’s cold.” panted a rat as he ran. His fellow trackers could only nod in agreement as they defiantly ran against wind and cold. He continued to complain stubbornly against the howling wind, “I don’t see the reason why Svar wants us to chase after a squirrel and ‘er whelp. I’m freezing my tail off and its blasted hard to run in this snow.”
Another rat in the group, the most senior among them, Grange, replied back, “Cuz orders are orders and ‘parently the squirrel and ‘er whelp’ we chasing arfter is the warrior prophesized to free the northlands from us vermin.” He gave a little cackle, “Hehehe, like that shrimp of a squirrel can possibly be a threat to the battalions of Taber La Flesche.” The motley crew laughed along with their commander as they continued to run after the two squirrels.
One of the scouts, a ferret named Kaiju, fell silent almost immediately after giving a short bark of a laugh. He knew all too well what was going to happen if they managed to catch up with the squirrels. He thought ahead to the part where they are capture; they would be brought before the Tribunes and be charged with endangerment of the country and premeditated rebellion, the most serious of charges within the La Flesche northlands.
Although Kaiju has had his fair share of killings and acts of cruelty common to soldiers, he also had what was considered an unusual conscience. Whenever prisoners were taken out of their cells and thrown to the mercy of the hordebeasts, they would often torture the poor soul before ending the life slowly with a look of pure pleasure on their faces. But Kaiju, if he was walking past or was on the sidelines would take every opportunity to ‘spare’ the prisoners.
With a grim face, he would walk out to where the prisoner was being tortured, stare down in secret pity, and break the neck with a quick twist to ensure a painless and fast death. Afterwards, he would get up and just walk out of the ring of spectators, silent.
He would never forget the looks upon the faces of those who had been tortured before he came. Most of them had a fearful glint to their eyes, while others were pained questioning looks. But all had that same look of, “Please end this, let me die with at least a shred of dignity.” The stares were so unnerving to him that he would often pass his paws across their face, closing the eyes.
Often, other hordebeasts to whom torture was second nature, would then give a growl of outrage and try to give Kaiju a piece of their mind. Claws or steel first. Unfortunately for the outraged beasts, Kaiju was one of the few in the horde who had been properly trained in close combat and swordplay. The outraged never really stayed angry for long, it has always been either death or the fact they will be crippled for the rest of their lives that filled their minds.
Focusing back onto the fate of the squirrelmum and her babe, he very well knew what was going to happen at the end of the tribunal. They were going to be thrown, not into woodlander’s prison, but in the horde’s military prison or as the soldiers call it, the Annihilation of Reason, where malcontents and mutinous soldiers were starved to the point of cannibalism.
Unfed and living in horrific conditions, those who manage to survive their time in there say that three days on the field full of decaying corpses would’ve have luxurious, at least there is open space and fresh air to breathe they say.
Kaiju shuddered inwardly at the thought of a female squirrel and her babe being offered to those beasts, not civilized animals. He knew that some of the males within that prison reverted back to base instinct of survival and have not been with the body of a female for a long time. Kaiju wrenched his thoughts away from that area, he would not think about the death of the two squirrels, especially the babe. It was against his every code of honor to hurt the innocent and the young, doing that would be spitting on the memory of Sabine, his younger sister, Pheline his mother, his father, and everyone else that died on that accursed day.
He was brought back into reality from his thoughts when Grange gave a growl of frustration, “Curses on that tree mouse, she made it to the pines. When we reach the trees, split up and cover more ground.”
The squirrelmum almost sobbed with relief as she felt her paws crunch on the soft snow-pine needle covered ground. She thought about jumping into the trees and hide among the evergreen branches, but then realized she couldn’t do it with the babe on her back. She bit her lip and continued running.
Unknowing to her, the temperature had dropped even further and the wind blew even harder, but because of the adrenaline from running, she was giving off so much heat, that every time her footpaw touched the snow, the compressed snow melted into a small puddle of water which then formed a thin layer of frost.
The blood was running in her ears so loudly that all she could hear was the beat of heart and her ragged breath misting in the air. So loud the blood pumped through her body that she was oblivious to the explosions of the trees as the temperature got so low that the sap in the trees expanded and blew off giant fractions of the tree trunk, each fragment sharp and deadly.
Still breathing heavily, she started to slow down until she stopped completely and was bent against a tree, paw stretched out to support herself. She took off the sling that was carrying the babe and put it gently on the floor. The babe started to make a small noise of discomfort as she felt the cold seeping through the sling, the squirrelmum bent down and tickled her nose, gazing lovingly in way that only mothers can do. The babe laughed, distracted from the cold, and swiped at her paw, the older squirrel smiled.
Another tree exploded off in the distance and this time she heard it. She stood back up, ears twitching in the wind and decided that this was not the best place to stay currently. As she bent down to gather the sling and put it on her back, she heard an ominous creak. She narrowed her eyes and stood back up to turn around.
Like a clap of thunder, one of the pine trees behind gave away to the cold and exploded in a barrage of sharp wood, hitting everything within its circumference. The squirrelmum took the full force of one of these missiles and was thrown back like a pile of rags onto the ground some distance away. The squirrelbabe was crying from the pressure and intensity of the sound on its small ears, but otherwise unharmed, protected by the sturdy trunk of the pine its sling rested by.
When the scout trackers had reached the pine, the group had split up rapidly and began going in different directions. Kaiju trailed behind the two squirrels, using every ounce of his tracking skills passed on from his youth. The tracks were quite clear, but the others had not noticed, in their rush to finish the search and get out of the cold, that the tracks were going south, not in the other directions: northwest, northeast, east, west, or back the way they came…
He continued to follow the tracks until he heard the explosion up ahead, followed by the sound of a baby’s wail. Kaiju then rushed forward, disregarding the potential danger the area still contained. He arrived at the scene where a scattering of bark, trunk, and blood told their grizzly tale.
His ears still heard the babe’s wail and his eyes located the sling. He came over to the sling to make sure that the juvenile squirrel was unharmed, which she was. Kaiju gave a sigh of relief as the squirrel babe continued to wail. For some odd reason best known to himself, he took the squirrel out of the sling and began stroking her back until she became silent and sleepy, gently he put her back in the sling, and she promptly fell asleep.
As he scanned the area again, his eyes immediately focused on the limp form of the mother who was bleeding profusely, even from this distance, Kaiju could tell that she lost a lot of blood already. As he hurried over to the bloodied squirrel, he stopped short. She was pierced twice by pieces of wood that looked more like lances, once through the abdomen and the other across the femoral vein, bleeding rapidly.
She gestured with what strength she had left for him to come over; he went up to the dying squirrel and crouched down besides her head. Her eyes searched his face and then locking onto his eyes. Compassionate brown eyes met defiant, but pleading green ones in a way that was uncomfortably familiar, Kaiju felt himself flashback.
It was a clear night and Kaiju was doing guard duty in the cold air. Sounds of laughter and chatter reached his ears, followed by an anguished shout of pain. His curiosity aroused, he went over to the campfire where the yell emanated from. As he reached the fringe of the group, he saw to his revulsion, that the hordebeasts had an otter tied to a stake by the campfire. They were poking at him with their weapons, piercing hide each time. One particularly cruel vermin, a thin rat, kept throwing his tail in and out of the fire causing searing pain that could be seen visibly on the otter’s face.
Giving a growl of disgust, Kaiju pushed his way throw the throng of soldiers to where the otter was, despite jeers of protest. He ignored them and faced the otter who was breathing heavily in pain. Looking Kaiju in the eye and giving a snarl of temerity, he whispered, “Do your worst you foul black hearted trash, you already killed my wife and children. I have nothing left.”
Kaiju met his stare giving him a look of contempt for show for the others,
- “I am not here to torture you otter, but merely to give you choice, remain defiant and those here will kill you slowly or accept my offer and you will see your family again.”
The otter stared long and hard into the eyes of Kaiju, wondering if he would keep his word, then the otter dropped his head in uncertain decision for what seemed to be forever. Finally he spoke in a low voice with his head still bowed and tears dripping like liquid crystals,, “Ever since they killed off everything I loved, I have no reason to live, but I will not die for their entertainment. If you can promise me that I will see my beloved Alissa again, kill me now, please.”
He looked up with sad entreated eyes, “Please, I beg of you, let me join my wife in eternal rest.”
Kaiju clasped a paw on the otter’s shoulder, “As you wish, I’m going to knock you out so you won’t feel a thing.”
- “Thank you…”
Kaiju spoke in a quieter voice, “I’m sorry for everything that has happened to you.” He tightened his grip on the otter’s shoulder cutting off the blood flow to his brain. The otter’s head slumped forward, unconscious, but breathing. Kaiju took out his anelace, a doubled edged dagger, and ran the otter through his heart. The otter’s body jerked a bit and released a lungful of air, rejoining him with his wife.
Kaiju cleaned his blade and left quickly more disturbed about this mercy killing than every other he had done since he became a horde member. Ignoring the protests and questions from his fellow soldiers as of why he ended their fun, he went back to his assigned guard post to mull over this odd feeling. Out of all the killings he has ever done, none of them still had that look of defiance, the sheer stubbornness to live as the otter had.
The squirrel lady swallowed like she had a lump in her throat and whispered an urgent request to Kaiju. “Please…take her, keep her safe, she doesn’t deserve the fate of the northlands…” She struggled to take a gasp of air. Kaiju felt compelled to ask, “What is your name treewhiffer?” Using the honor name for squirrels.
With eyes clouding up and breath coming in shorter gasps, she breathed out her last words on this world,
Kaiju stood back up and bowed in a sign of respect. Picking up the body of Azaira, he gently placed her against the trunk of the pine tree in an upright position, like she was sleeping. Realizing that the babe might freeze to death in this cold air, Kaiju hurried back to the sling where he, with a definite gesture, picked up and put on his back.
Realizing that it was death to go back to the hordes of Taber La Flesche, he made the decision that he had been agonizing for the past season and the one that Azaira chose. He turned to the south and began dogtrotting away, leaving the icy climate of the north and the life of a hordebeast.
Grange, the senior rat officer was shivering by a fire at where he and his trackers entered the pines. He cupped his paws and blew into them, warming them with his breath. As he sat by the fire, he cursed his misfortune of having to chase after runaways in this ice-ridden snowbound hell. A shuffling sound cause him to look up, it was the other three vermin returning back to this position. He gritted his teeth as snow from the pine branches fell on his neck from their disturbances and demanded a report.
- “Well? Did ye find anything? I sent four soldiers, but only three came back, what happened to Kaiju?”
He gave them a hard look which had an opposite effect of what he expected. The three rats shifted uncomfortably, fidgeting and scratching their heads in reluctance.
- “Well…er…um…he…the babe…er…ran?”
Grange whipped his head around hard to the one that had spoken,
- “What d’ye mean he ran?”
- “Er…er…we picked the direction where he was supposed to search?”
- “And…um…we found the body of the mother?”
Grange kept giving the rat a hard look until the rat took it as a sign to continue,
- “We found the body, but the babe was nowhere in sight. But there were a lot of ferret tracks between an ‘arf frozen pool of blood, the mother’s I think, and a pine tree. From the looks of it, one of the trees’s exploded and the squirrel was caught by a tree piece.”
The rat captain kept up his stare as he questioned the rat subordinate about one piece of information he neglected to say. “Good for ‘er, but, ye still haven’t mentioned what happened to Kaiju and the babe Flarn.” The rat soldier felt a sweat break out upon his brow despite the cold,
- “We’re guessing that he took the babe and…ran...south?"
Grange felt and the soldier saw a vein twitch running from Grange’s neck to his forehead, a sign that Grange was dangerously close to slaying the unfortunate rat with his bare paws. Flarn took a hesitant step backwards as Grange’s face turned beet-red and unleashed a tirade of curses into the night air. Taking a deep breath, which he regretted as he felt the cold air sting his lungs, he calmed somewhat and started yelling at Flarn,
- “WHY DIDN’T YE CHASE ARFTER HIM NUMBSKULL? INSTEAD YE COME BACK AND CHEW ON YER WORDS LIKE AN OLD RAT HAG WHILE HE GETS FURTHER AND FURTHER! AGGGHHHHH!”
Grange’s chest was heaving with breathlessness while Flarn quivered in place. Taking another deep breath, Grange ran a paw through his headfur and let it hang on his neck with exasperation. Finally speaking in a reasonable tone and speaking more to himself than his group, he made up a quick mission report in which to give his superiors.
- “I am going to say that both squirrels are dead. We broke the ice over one of the ponds nearby and drowned them both, but unfortunately, the squirrel mother pulled Kaiju in and drowned him along with her.”
He glanced sideways at the rats behind him,
- “Now, none of yew even breathe a single word of this incident or, not only will it be my hide, but ye as well.”
The three rats nodded in accord, as if their lives depended on the lie, which it did.
Kaiju trudged steadily southward; by now, he was out of the frozen tundra’s of the north but it was still cold enough that all but the trees and hardiest bushes grew in the tough soil. He had traveled nonstop for two days and a night, trying to put as much distance between him and the horde of Taber La Flesche and was feeling quite hungry since he gave almost every bit of food he could find to the squirrelbabe to keep her warm and satisfied.
Giving in to hunger as his stomach gave another thundering rumble; he looked back at his tracks and decided that he had gone far enough to allow a break. Changing direction, he headed over to an area that was full of stunted bushes. To his delight, he found a thriving fauna of strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, and cranberries which he immediately began picking and shoving them into his mouth, eating like there was no tomorrow; he was so hungry after traveling for two days with no food.
The squirrelbabe on his back gave a small noise of annoyance; being woken up from her nap by Kaiju’s noisy eating. But he only grinned, took the sling off his back, and lifted the babe out of it so she can work her little legs. Giving a cry of delight and surprise as the juvenile squirrel felt snow for the first time, she immediately began rolling around in it until she was covered from head to tail in snow. Giving a small sneeze from the cold air, Kaiju realized the need to build a fire so the both of them won’t freeze to death.
Soon, a cheery fire was burning; being fed by the dead remains of nearby fruit bushes. Burning scarlet to orange to faint green, it snapped and crackled like an angry being, but it warmed the ferret and squirrel up considerably.
Finally realizing that she was hungry, the squirrelbabe began to eat the berries that Kaiju had picked for her earlier, eating rather ravenously, she cleared the entire pile set forth before her and gave satisfied burp common to babes after a large meal. Deciding to have some fun with her, Kaiju looked around from where he was sitting and picked the biggest strawberry he could find. Waving the golden fruit before her, the squirrelbabe laughed as its infant mind became wrapped at obtaining the gold colored thing waving in front of its eyes.
Kaiju mused to himself and to her as he played with the squirrel. “Hmm, some tough warrior you are turning out to be, being distracted by a simple strawberry. You don’t even have a name since your mother didn’t have…the time to tell me. She said her name was Azaira and it’s a nice name, it would be fitting that you should be named after your mother since she saved your life. I’ll think I will call you Azaira, Zaira for short, the A seems a bit unnecessary. Now something of my own creation.”
He thought for a bit, having extensive knowledge of woodland lore, he soon came up with a decent addition to the squirrelbabe’s name. Smiling happily in triumph, he said to her, “Your new name is now Azaira Litavis, named after the legendary squirrel warrior of the old, how does that sound Zaira?”
The now named Azaira only giggled and looked up into the compassionate face of the ferret, too young to know what had just transpired.
The rat officer, Grange, was standing nervously to attention, fidgeting about and biting his grimy claws. As he expected, ten minutes after he returned to base with his trackers to report a “successful” mission to his superiors, then he was rushed to before higher ranking officers to be debriefed. What he didn’t expect was a direct order coming from the members of the Tribunes for him to appear before them.
As with every other soldier in the army, he has heard of beasts going into the Tribunes chamber and coming out either dead or promoted to places of power. He hoped he wouldn’t get the former, but didn’t really wish to get the latter either.
The problem with being dead was he would cease to exist and have no life, but getting promoted meant that he would also have no life due to the obligations that came with power. Not only would he be working around the clock making things go smoothly, he would also have to watch for attempts on his being, as beasts in powerful positions were prime targets for assassination. Then again, a prolonged social death to physical death would be much preferred over a direct physical death; at least he would live to see his life pass before his eyes.
Grange’s eyes shifted to the heavily armored and armed guards that stood at the exit to his room and the entrance to the Tribunes chamber, immediately any thought he had of escaping if things went badly in the chamber, escaped him. These guards were higher up than his commanding officer and were the best of the best fighters in the entire army. Such was the importance and stature of the Tribune.
A creak echoed in the small room, its sound reverberating from wall to wall, made Grange transfer his gaze from the guards to the entrance to the Tribune chamber. As gateway opened, the guards standing in front of it also moved, standing sideways with their backs to the wall, faces militaristically rigid as ever.
A reedy bespectacled stoat strode through from a dark hallway, walking with an air of almost haughty authority. He took one quick glance around the room and beckoned Grange over with an imperialistic curl of the paw. Gulping nervously, Grange straightened his back and went to the stoat.
Giving Grange an analyzing stare, the stoat gave a quick jerk of his head and turned on his footpaws, silently walking back into the gloomy hallway, a clear sign for Grange to follow him.
As Grange followed the odd stoat through the door, he heard the doors creaking again, looking back; he saw the doors shut with an ominous boom, sealing his fate to whatever powers lay ahead. Then it was quiet again and the stoat and rat continued to walk down the passage.
Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, an hour they had walked, Grange felt like they were going nowhere. He had also noticed that the hallway they were walking in seemed like a natural tunnel, but on closer inspection, he realized it was stone blocks cunningly carved and joined together so perfectly that it seemed almost alien. Along with this discovery, he also realized that this fortress where his camp was housed in was probably older than anybeast had dared to guess and probably held a greater number than the hordes.
“We’re here.” Intoned a flat monotonous voice. Grange was startled, he was beginning to think that the stoat was a mute due to his lack of conversation or even noise since the stoat was completely silent the whole time, Grange couldn’t even hear him breathe. They had arrived at another, but unguarded, door.
As the stoat opened the door and they proceeded inside, Grange's first thought about the Tribune chamber was that it was very dark in here, being lit only by a few candles in the room, Grange had to strain his eyes to get a look at his surroundings. They were in a spherical room, with a curved ceiling and walls, only the floor was flat. The walls also seemed to be purple here, adorned with odd patterns that ran in an endless cycle, flowing into each other. There were also black veils hung on the walls in pairs that appeared to be translucent because Grange could see faintly that there were hallows on the other side.
A hushed whisper sounded out from the veils, coming so fast and so quietly that Grange had a hard time hearing the words. “Excuse me?” asked Grange, voice nervous and unnaturally loud in the enclosed chamber. The whisper came again, speaking in a slow and raspy manner, “You are Grange, species rat, leader of the tracking group G4, sent to terminate the mother and the prophesied squirrel, are you not?”
Grange nodded, fooling slightly foolish since he didn’t know who he was nodding to, “Aye that is me, who’s asking?” The whisper sounded out again, this time harsh and urgent, “Irrelevant. All we want to know is the status of the two. Are they terminated?” The whisper emphasized the last three words.
Grange nodded again, anxiety alleviating slightly at what sounded like fear in the speaker’s voice, “Yes, they are dead. Lost one of my best beasts, but I saw to it myself that both squirrels drowned in an icy pond. Last time I saw them, they were sinking like stones to the bottom.”
A satisfied sigh coupled with a gurgling chuckle emanated from the veils, “Good, good, we shall see to that…ahh…you are well…rewarded.” For some reason, Grange felt that this reward would be less than appealing. “You are dismissed, Stoat here will lead you back out.”
Stoat appeared silently behind Grange, surprising him as Stoat spoke once again in his flat voice, “Come with me.” A door opened, though Grange couldn’t tell if it was the same door that admitted him in; as he and Stoat walked through, he noticed that this passage was much brighter, being lit by torches instead of candles. He also noticed that the air here was much fresher and surmised that this passage must be the emergency exit for the members of the Tribune. Which meant that the walk wouldn’t be as long as last time.
Grange and Stoat reached the end of the passage where they came to yet another door. Stoat turned to Grange and gave a “wait here” gesture and opened the door, temporarily blinding Grange with the bright afternoon sunlight after being enclosed in dimly lit corridors, and shut it with a soft click.
Grange began pacing back and forth, from wall to wall, wondering what the nature of this reward was going to be like. Judging by the tone of the Tribunes and his gut feeling, he wondered if they were setting up an execution squad for him. Seconds became minutes which became even more minutes and with every passing minute, Grange’s anxiety grew. Finally he heard the soft tapping on the door that could only belonged to Stoat. Steeling himself up for the worst, he closed his eyes, opened the door, and stepped into the white light of the day.
Cringing almost immediately after he stepped through, Grange opened his eyes to a slightly confused face of a ferret and the blank stare of Stoat. “I take it that you are Grange?” The rat coughed and straightened up, “Yes that’s me mate.” He saw the dark cerulean stripe overlaid in a crimson leaf insignia on the ferret’s lapel, flushed scarlet, and saluted, “Sorry Major, sir. Grange reporting.” The ferret only grinned in amusement, “Thanks for the salute, but why are you saluting to me? I’m a lower rank than you sir.”
Grange didn’t understand the Major’s words. “Yore a major right? Isn’t that higher than me?” The ferret scoffed in beguilement, “Bah, since when does a lieutenant general salute a major for anything else but to another salute?” Grange was even more confused now, bewilderment written all over his face “Wait…what? Lieutenant general? What are you talking about? I’m just a track leader, not a ranking officer.”
The ferret major shrugged, “That’s not what Stoat here says, orders directly from the Tribunes it seems. You are now the Lieutenant General of the Taber La Flesche battalions.” Each word the ferret said seemed to strike down heavily upon Grange, like hammer blows.
The now lieutenant general staggered away from the ferret, reeling from this sudden turn of events of expecting death to a sudden rise in ranks. It was too much for his mind to handle and he was unconsciously breathing faster than usual, dangerous in the cold northern air. His vision suddenly got blurry and he blinked rapidly, as if it would correct the vision problem he was having. The blinking only made it worse, not only was his vision blurry, but bright flashes of light were occurring every time he blinked.
The amount of information his mind could handle began to overload his brain, light flashes, sudden promotions, the Tribunes, proved too much to absorb and his brain effectively shut down and sent Grange into unconsciousness.
The ferret major and Stoat both looked over Grange’s fainted heap, the ferret grinning, “Think we should wake him?” Stoat only shrugged nonchalantly and headed back to the door that led to the Tribunes chamber. As he went through the entrance to omnipotence, his head turned slightly back so that the major can see his left eye, and said two words, “Your decision.”
That night a blizzard set in, a monster of a storm. The wind was blowing so harshly that the air seemed to crack and shafts of light froze and shattered. The snow was coming down so fiercely that land and sky seem to blend, and the horizon disappeared into a white nothingness. All sense of direction, depth perception and balance was lost.
Yet, Kaiju and Azaira had no choice but to walk on in the freezing blizzard. Kaiju, realizing it was death for them to stay in one place, since a blizzard can dump a massive amount of snow anywhere. With no visual objects or even the stars to guide them, Kaiju relied only on walking straight in the direction he assumed was south.
Azaira was no longer in her sling; it had proven too cold to put her back in the sling, especially since it was frozen to the ground. She was now clinging on the inside of Kaiju’s tunic, close to the heat of his body; her bushy tail sticking out of his tunic, waving with the wind, the only indication that she was there. As he walked he could feel the cold weather biting at every inch of hide that was not covered. Parts that were covered didn’t fair much better, the northern wind just whipped right through the layers of clothes and attacked him relentlessly.
He cursed his shortsightedness, a few hours before they started walking, winds had picked up and snow began falling heavily. Kaiju had dismissed this as a remnant of the storm that sped through when he was chasing after Azaira and the babe, but what a fool he was. The snow then began to come down like bricks, falling thick and fast, the wind increased its speed and made the wind howl in keen agony. It was only after the fact when Kaiju looked up, he could barely distinguish between the sky and the ground, with such conditions achieved, Kaiju realized it was a blizzard. He continued to mutter a stream of curses under his breath at the storm raging above, and then he switched the attention of his swearing to the fact that he had no haversack or any type of bag to hold food in.
His footpaw slipped on a patch of ice hidden beneath the thickening snow and he found a new object for his curses. He got flipped tail over head and landed on his back with a thump into a piling snowdrift. Azaira poked her head out of Kaiju’s tunic where she was hiding and went into a fit of giggling at the snow covered ferret. But he was in no mood for laughter and it took all his will to suppress the vermin instinct of grabbing the insolent little squirrel by her little head and throwing her somewhere.
Kaiju heaved in a cold frustrated breath and somewhat roughly shoved little Zaira back into his tunic. Ignoring her wails of protest, he got up off the ground and began walking once more, then stopping. The fall had disoriented his sense of direction and the blizzard was rapidly covering up his tracks. Looking frantically around for any sign of paw tracks, he walked back and forth in an area of a square, trying hard to even see anything. As he searched, he heard a rhythmic tapping that coincided with his pawsteps, when he stopped the tapping stopped. Kaiju half closed his eyes in suspicion and glanced downward; underneath a thin layer of snow, he felt something hard and cold on the bottom of his footpaw. Bending down and brushing away the thin layer, Kaiju, to his shock, discovered that he was standing on crystal clear ice that covered the gaping maw of the entrance to a dark drop into the earth.
Breathing calmly and standing perfectly still, he slowly raised his head upright and began walking slowly to the outside of the ice. As he raised his footpaw, the ice beneath groaned in objection to all the weight that was now being supported by Kaiju’s standing leg. As he put down the footpaw and raised the other one slowly, an ominous sound rang out.
As Kaiju looked down once more at the crystal clear ice, he froze in horror, long thin lines were spreading across the ice, branching out, and growing larger. As he looked back up, he gave another curse,
The ice gave away and broke explosively, ice shining like crystals and shooting off in all directions. Kaiju dropped into the hole in an instant and to his surprise began sliding instead of free falling to his death. Because it was in the ground, there was no light in wherever he was; Kaiju assumed that he was in an ice tunnel that formed naturally, besides his entire back felt almost frozen from sliding down the ice. He zoomed through a myriad of twists and turns, curving left, right, left, and little sudden drops as he slid onto a small ramp of new ice. It was a frightening experience, going at high speeds through a dark ice tunnel, feeling the wind rushing past your face as you zoom down further into the unknown; Kaiju’s heart was going miles per second. Moreover, he was frightened for the babe, realizing that if he flipped in someway or landed on his stomach after all this was over, he would kill Azaira, which bothered him even more.
Looking ahead, he saw a white light that signified the end of the tunnel; he stiffened with fear as he didn’t what was going to be on the other side. As the exit rapidly came and, as rapidly, went, Kaiju felt himself being shot off into empty space. It was a brief, but odd moment, at first he was sliding along solid ground, the next he was in the air as free as a wing-clipped bird, going down. In those few brief seconds in which he had to take stock of where he was, several things flashed through his mind. One was that the blizzard stopped and the other more important thing was that, below him, those pointy things looked a lot like trees with a lot of branches.
Kaiju instinctively, but idiotically, tried to flap, then realized that he was not a bird. He did the only logical thing that was available and straightened with his footpaws pointing down. He felt the sharp sting of pine needles first, then the numerous branches scraping at his body, but all that was overridden when he felt his foot hit a particularly thick branch of a solid pine tree. Kaiju’s face screwed up in pain as he felt his limb break with an audible snap and sent a large bone fragment through his thigh. But the accident was also a blessing too as the branch had slowed him down enough to hit the floor with less force if he had went full speed. Nonetheless, Kaiju hit the ground with a heavy thud and felt several ribs crack within him.
Cold as it was outside, Kaiju suddenly felt warm, as if he was standing in front of a fire. He realized that he might not live anymore, but that thought gave him comfort as he would be reunited with his family from seasons ago. With a blissful smile on his face, he allowed the merciful darkness of unconsciousness to take him, unaware of the blood that seeped from his numerous wounds on his body and unaware of a dark shape creeping up on him, blade at the ready.
Tera, the local otter healer of a small community which residents had dubbed Paz Norte, sat in her chair by a roaring fire, eyes leaden, on the precipice of sleep. In her rocking arms was her season old kit, named Streamak.
She had stayed up half the night trying to get Streamak to stay asleep, this was the fourth time he had woken up and started crying, but she couldn’t blame him. The blizzard that had raged outside was trouble for anybeast, inside or outside. She was mainly worried about the weight of the snow on her roof, fearing that too much might collapse it.
As Streamak had quieted down and began to sleep once more, Tera gave a sigh of relief and gently leaned into her chair, still rocking the sleeping kit. A series of squeaky snores announced that Streamak was now far along the path of sleep, she hoped he stayed that way until morning.
She was about to fall asleep herself when loud, rapid poundings hammered at her door. She gave a grimace and looked down at Streamak, he didn’t stir. Laying him down gently on a soft moss, leaf, and rush carpet, and then covering him with a blanket, she rushed to the door and pulled it open. Immediately the chilly air of the post-blizzard evening filled the room, making Tera shiver.
A large male otter with a look of urgency on his face came in; brushing snow off himself and a cloak-covered bundle he carried, he immediately went to the table that was situated in the middle of the room and laid down his burden flat upon the table. The hours of sleeplessness, the pounding, the sudden cold, the thump of the load on the table coupled with the clanging of a sword that hung from the otter’s belt was too much for Tera to handle.
In a hushed voice, she began berating her husband, “Alexei, are ye serious? Ah just got Streamak t’sleep and then ye come in all bangin' and noisy jus t'as when ahm about t’sleep. By the Nor’ern Sea, can’t ye restrain yerself at night and let the res' of us sleep peacefully?” She was about to continue on when she heard a dripping sound, Tera whirled around to find the cloaked bundle leaking blood onto the table which then flowed onto the floor. Approaching with caution, she walked up to the table, lifted the cloak gently, and gasped.
Sprawled in the bundle was a ferret, an heavily injured one at that, with one thigh swollen and the other protruding a white object, Tera instinctively knew that it was bone. As she further inspected the severity of his wounds, she noted some nasty scratches, bruising, and more broken bones. When she poked around his chest, she noticed that there was something soft underneath his tunic which didn’t really like part of his body. As she reached for some sheers that she kept nearby, she started to give out instructions.
“Alexei, star’ boilin’ water and preparing dockleaves and bandages. Also bring horehound, comfrey, and some nettle leaves.” As she cut open Kaiju’s tunic, her heart almost melted in both shock and sympathy at what she found. Little Azaira was still under Kaiju’s tunic when he landed, although she wasn’t as severely as injured as Kaiju, it was still pretty life threatening. A broken arm, broken ankle, and blood trickling out of her mouth indicated internal bleeding. With a renewed sense of urgency, she asked her husband to get some more things, “Get the agrimony and cattail pollen as well, it should be behind the dried calendula. Also get mah needles and prepare some yerba mate tea, ‘tis going to be a long job ahead.”
Kaiju found himself in his mind, which was a swirl of darkness. His first action was to try to look beyond, but he felt as if he was looking into a deep abyss, mysterious and unrevealing. He wondered what he was doing here, this clearly wasn’t death. Occasionally he felt his skin prickle painfully for a short while which then stopped.
As he wandered around his mind, searching for an exit or something similar. He felt a chill come over him which was then followed by sudden warmth, as mysterious as those feelings were, what was odder was when a white misty cloud began to intermingle with the darkness of his mind, pushing away the darkness, almost as if the white cloud was banishing it.
A voice that was not his own began to echo around him, soft, warming, but firm.
- With every beginning there is an end
- One has been lost, but it is not the first, not the last
- But when one dies, many others are saved
- One, Five, Ten?
- Understand that death is a task
- The fate of Litavis is engraved
- Mention these lines again
- When your time has come to past
The voice trailed off, leaving Kaiju to struggle with its enigmatic meaning. As the voice finally died down completely, Kaiju once again found himself alone, but realized that the darkness was slowly fading away. He also noticed that he was beginning to ache all over as color began to seep into his vision.
Kaiju slowly opened his eyes and gazed in wonderment at the plain brown ceiling, amazed that he was alive. He also noticed a blanket covering him and wondered what happened to his clothes and little Azaira. Movement shifted in the corner of his view and he turned his head to get a better look, an otter suddenly filled his vision, staring intently at his face. He tried to lift his paws to push the face away to a more comfortable distance, but found them limp, almost as if there was a great weight holding it down.
The otter reached up at Kaiju’s face and began checking around, she pinched open his eyelids, moved his face from side to side, opening and closing his mouth. Kaiju felt a bit foolish as the otter continued her inspection, then that exasperation turned to fear as the otter turned around to something bubbling in a small clay pot. After checking its consistency, she went over to a nearby shelf and grabbed a jar full of an unidentified white substance. Taking the clay pot off the heat, she grabbed a beaker and began to pour the boiling liquid very slowly into the waiting container. Opening up the jar of white substance, she grabbed a pawful of it and added it into the steaming cup. Taking a clean twig, she stirred the concoction until it dissolved.
Wrinkling her snout, she was apparently not satisfied with the current results; grabbing another pawful, she added it in small amounts, stirring the whole time. Finally when the mixture was to her approval, she grabbed it in her paws and brought the still steaming beaker over to where Kaiju lay.
Bringing it close to his mouth, Kaiju defiantly clamped his jaw and locked it. Motioning with the beaker to tell him to open his mouth, Kaiju still firmly closed it and shook his head vigorously. Giving a growl of irritation, she set the beaker aside and wrenched open his mouth forcefully. As Kaiju feebly tried to fight her tremendous paw strength, she held his mouth open with one hand while pouring the liquid down his throat with the other.
Contrary to the steaming image that the beaker was giving off, the mixture was soothing and cool to the touch. Kaiju also felt his aches starting to recede as the coolness left his mouth and became a relaxing warmth. From where he was lying, he tried to speak, but all that came out was a husky sound made by his swollen tongue. Grabbing a fresh beaker, the otter filled it with clear sparkling water from a nearby pail and gave it to him. “Don’t ye try t’speak for now, the herbs ah gave you put you t’sleep for a good six days, ‘tis only to be expected that yore tongue is swollen and you can’t speak immediately. Mah name is Tera, the locale healer ‘round these parts. Wha ‘tis yore name if ye feel well enough t’speak?”
Kaiju found his voice, although it was slow and rasping, “My name is Kaiju, there was a little squirrel with me, is she…?” Tera nodded, “She will be alrye, though she may have a limp when she is older, the damage ter her ankle was too much, even for one as young as her.” Kaiju let out a sigh, “Thank fortune. Err…what did you put in the drink if you don’t mind me asking?”
Tera promptly began reciting a poem,
- “T’ help old beasts when their bones creak
- Prickly bark, comfrey, burdock ye must seek
- For the chills and aches of head
- Hemlock, beetroot, then lie in bed
- If the stomach of the ailing will not rest
- Chew some lavender then digest
- Wounds of all which will pain
- Horehound, willow bark, and plantain.”
Kaiju recited the rest of the woodland poem,
- “While rest, come not sleep
- Valerian, chamomile slowly seep
- When its hot and you have to sprint
- Drink cold tea, with hint of mint”
Tera raised an eyebrow, “Ah see ye know woodland healing verses, mine d’if ah ask how?” Kaiju merely gave a grunt and closed his eyes, “That is a story for later winter nights, but for now, I’m feeling rather tired. As long as Zaira is safe for the moment, my conscience will let me sleep.” Tera nodded understandably, “I will wake ye up if anything happens.” But soft snores already denounced Kaiju’s entrance to the realm of sleep.
Alexei stepped out from the shadows where he was watching, weapon at the ready in case the strange ferret in his home decided to turn hostile. He motioned with his blade at the ferret, “Strange one, is he not?” Tera nodded, used to her bluntness, “Aye, that he is, who’ver heard of vermin waking up and asking about some other beast welfare besahde themselves?”
- “And the squirrel? She seemed to be in bad condition when you began to work on her.”
- “Ah yes, she has a better chance t’live than Kahju over there. In fact, she should be up and abou t’in a few days, ah’ll introduce her to Streamak, she’ll need a friend a’ter her ordeal.”
“Aye, that be true, she’ll make a good companion for Streamak.” His eyes grew hard, “But I don’t him hanging about with that ferret.” Tera turned to meet her husband, “Why not? ‘Tis obvious that he’s not like other vermin, or shouldn’t be considered vermin for that matter.” Alexei shook his head in finality, “Doesn’t matter to me, vermin will always be vermin, even if one like him is clearly different. I will not have him under my roof once he heals.”
“But…” Alexei furrowed his brow and gripped the hilt of his sword tightly, “Tera that is final! He was born vermin; he shall be vermin. That is a fact of life! Even though he does care deeply about the squirrelbabe, I still don’t feel comfortable leaving her in his paws.”
The question came quietly enough, “But’en, why did ye rescue him?” Alexei answered firmly in the same tone, “Twas the honorable thing to do, would you leave a beast to die in the snow, even if it was the most despicable creature you’ve ever met?”
Tera gave a reply of indignity “Of course not! Plus, ah’m a healer; t’would be against mah nature ter leave some beast to die, especially when ah can delay death from taking that beast.” Alexei responded with a look of frustration, “Then you have my position.”
Tera walked over to where Azaira was being kept, arm and leg covered with casts, “Ah see yore point, but’at still doesn’t explain why ye don’t like Kahju in the home.” The answer came briefly and flatly enough. “Because vermin like him killed my family and left me for dead. ‘Tis only willpower that is keeping me from slaying that ferret right now.”
Heh, its been so long since I updated or even worked on my stories and my story writing skills are in poor shape because of that, oh wells, gotta practice again. Here is part of Chapter Five so far.
Days passed, weeks turned over, and months flew by as the year began to renew its seasons. Old Beast Winter was beginning to fade away for Graceful Spring who was maturing into Lady Summer. Snowdrops and other hardy plants were the first to grow followed by the more delicate Spring flora of mayapples and buttercups. Unusually heavy April showers brought about a intense revolution of Paz Norte and its surrounding areas. Dogwood, silverbells, redbuds, and numerous other trees blossomed with flowers of the creamiest of white and the vibrancy of magenta pink. Traditional trees like oaks and beech sprouted their yearly foliage, covering the forest floor in a hue of emerald sunlight. Birds returned to their homes after their thousand league migrations, bringing back mates and young ones. Snow turned into rain and the cycle was began anew, all was peaceful.
Well, almost peaceful…
A flash of red fur that blurred by was followed by a brown one, the speed of both objects making dewdrops fall from petals as flowers were swayed by the afterwind. Mud splattered everywhere as foot paws slapped into the wet ground. Suddenly the red figure leaped onto the trunk of a beech tree and scampered up into one of its low branches causing the other figure to stop swiftly or crash into the unyielding wood of the tree.
Looking up, the kit shouted up to the small squirrel swaying by her tail on the branch. "Hey, ‘dats no fair Zaira! Ye said 'dat ye wudn't climb when we ah playing tag!" Azaira made face and shouted back,
- "Ye did too!"
- "Did too!"
- "Did too!"
As they were both arguing, Azaira’s tail was loosening its hold on the branch and by the time she noticed, it was too late. Her tail uncurled from the branch and she hung in the air for a moment, like a floating feather on the wind, before the laws of gravity compelled her to obey nature.
She fell with a hefty smack into the mud below and gave dazed groan of confusion.
As she gathered her senses from her mud dive, Streamak was in gales of laughter, holding his stomach as he rolled all over the soft ground.
- "Ahahahahah you ahahh fell ahaha in ta the mud! Ahahaha!!! Ah kan't believed that harppened! AHAHAH!!!""
Azaira wiped the mud from her eyes and mouth as she shouted back,
- "Keep laughing Mak! Jus’joo wait! I'll get ya back!"
As Azaira rose from the mud puddle, wiping the mud away from her eyes, Streamak stopped laughing for a moment to glance over to where Azaira had fallen, he nearly choked on his spit and his eyes bulged out in mirth as he regarded her appearance. She was covered in mud from head to tail with globs of mud just sticking to her, all in all she looked like a veritable, moving mud mound with eyes. Streamak roared with laughter again, tears streaming down his face; Azaira just crossed her muddy arms and gave Streamak a sullen glare, before rushing towards him.
Streamak stopped laughing as a squirrel-like shadow appeared on his stomach, "Wot the…?" He gave an ‘oof’ as Azaira landed on top of him and promptly began wrestling with her as Dibbuns of their age usually do. They rolled back and forth all over the muddy ground, each trying to get the upper paw, despite the slickness of the slippery muck.
Suddenly Streamak gave a twist to the left and neatly pinned Azaira down with his rudder like tail and foot paws. "Haha, ah gotcha now Zaira!" Azaira wiggled furiously like a fish and made a roll to the right, escaping Streamak’s hold. Using all the agility of a young squirrel, she leaped over and trapped Streamak beneath her, using her weight to hold him down.
"Aha, got ya back!" But Streamak pushed off the ground using the strength of his rudder like tail and flipped Azaira, but she countered by wrapping her arms around his legs, momentum pulling Streamak along as well. They both went flying headfirst into a giant mud hole, eyes wide open in surprise.
With another audible splat, they both landed in the mud headfirst and emerged covered in the icky mixture of dirt and water. Looking at each other, they both began laughing raucously, falling back into the mud from doubling over in laughter. Streamak extended a muddy paw, "Truce?" Azaira shook the proffered limb, "Truce." As they both began clambering out of the mud hole, Azaira started another game, "Race ya back t’the village!" and began sprinting away. Streamak rolled his eyes comically and shrugged his small shoulders in the Dibbun way of saying, "Whatever, I’ll still beat you easy." and chased after his squirrel friend.
They both arrived in Paz Norte breathless and stiff as the mud sticking to them began to dry in the afternoon sun. Breathing heavily, Streamak managed to gasp out, "Hah...ah win."
Azaira, too tired to argue, could only nodded her head wordlessly. Suddenly, two paws clamped down on both their scruffs like visors causing both Dibbuns to squeal in surprise. Tera’s voice sounded out above them. "Mah word, lookit t’both of ye, covered tipp t’toe in mud. Wha t’av ye bin doing? Jumpin' int’a mud holes?"
Azaira looked down, sliding her footpaw back and forth over the pebble covered ground, "Well I wuddin say we purpuloosilly jumped ina mud holes, we akseddintally fell in?" Tera looked to her kit and gave him a questioning stare; Streamak nodded vigorously as if his life depended on it. Tera narrowed her eyes and looked at the both of them, "Hmm, fahne, ye two ah telling t’truth..." Azaira and Streamak gave a sigh of relief. "...But ye two ah still getting’ bathed!"
A lone figure was coming up the path to Paz Norte, his hooded cloak billowing and fluttering lightly in the headwind of spring's deceivingly cold gust, his rucksack a quarter full on his back, and a bundle of seasoned oak firewood in his hands. As he passed the sign which marked the boundary of the village, he decided to take a short break from his travels.
Setting his pack and kindle down, Kaiju removed his hood and stretched his neck, massaging it with both hands. Simultaneously, his stomach rumbled thunderously, announcing its hunger for food; taking some cheese and oat bread out of his almost empty pack, Kaiju sat down on the grass next to the path and began to munch reflectively. It felt good to be home.
Finishing off the rest of the food in his rucksack, Kaiju got back up and shouldered his load once again. He continued walking along the beaten path for an hour before deviating off into the the neighboring grass, walking until he reached a clearing hidden by two majestic sycamores. Within this clearing was a humble abode that Kaiju had built for himself and Azaira. It was hidden well enough so it would not attract a second look from passerby's, but it was close enough to the main village so Azaira can grow within a unrestricted and mainly safe environment.
Shedding his cargo upon the moss cushioned tarp floor, he allowed himself the luxury of a full body stretch and short nap before heading into Paz Norte. Initially, the inhabitants of the commonality was wary of him, even suspicious that he'll perpetrate some unimaginable act of evil when they weren't looking. As the months went by, Kaiju's went and came from the village so many times that the residents gradually lost their inhibitions about Kaiju and came to accept him as a member of the small community. Having to keep a worried a eye on a energetic young squirrel also helped greatly too with Kaiju's naturalization as the inhabitants found it odd, but honorable that a 'vermin' such as him would take such care of a squirrel.
As Kaiju passed by Tera's home, he noticed bubbles floating aimlessly out of her front window, followed by yells and splashes of water. Kaiju went up to her door and knocked loudly, wondering if he was prepared to meet whatever sight was inside, "Hello? Tera? Are you alright in there?"
Amidst the splashes and tells, he barely heard Tera call back, "Git yore bottom in here Kaiju an' help mah wi' yer fiend of a squirrel!"
Swinging the door open cautiously, Kaiju mentally winced at the mess inside, Tera's normally neat dwelling was virtually destroyed with bathwater. Bubbles escaped through every possible opening in the home, whether it was the window or the chimney, suds covered the walls, and puddles of water were prevalent through out the living room of Tera's abode. Closing the door behind him, Kaiju continued to look the water soaked home.
A flash of red suddenly whipped by him, almost knocking the bewildered ferret off-balance, followed by Tera's sharp voice cutting through his bemusement, "Catch him!"
Snapping out of his initial surprise, he immediately saw another bundle of fur and bubbles rushing towards him. Stepping two paces to the side, he arrested the otter's living room sprint, trying to keep a firm grip on the slippery mass. Streamak struggled and gave grunts of effort, trying to break out of Kaiju's unerring grasp, but it was in vain. Strolling over to where Tera was holding a squirrelmaid by the scruff of her neck, the two exchanged their charges wordlessly, much to the chagrin of the two young ones. Giving a curt nod in appreciation, Tera pointed at the wooden tub in the center of the living room, "Let's pu' these little ruffian's back in while ah finish washing 'em."
Wielding lilac soap and loofah, Tera scrubbed at the two Dibbun's roughly, not sparing a single patch of hide nor a strand of fur. The two unwilling young ones crossed their arms and looked at each other in vexation, each being held by their respective guardians. After cleaning and dressing them, Kaiju helped Tera clean up the watery mess around her home, all the while telling news of his travels.
"The west country is getting pretty bad, viscous gangs and small armies are roaming the land, killing and fighting each other over territories and supplies. Last I heard, the fortress of Redwall was gearing up and training recruits, but things have gotten so bad around Mossflower country that there are few woodlanders left to even seek sanctuary, let alone fill an army. Yet they still intend to go out with whatever they had and 'purge' the land clean of this corruption as they call it."
Tera could only nod sadly, "Ah yes, the Redwallian pride, ah still remember when they woren't so ahverzealous, placing peace ahver unneeded war. The qualita of their fighters back then was only matched by the fighters of Sala'ndastron. Now they continue t'cling onto pride, training every single beast they have t'fight and kill, trying to duplicate the qualita of the warriors during the Reformation."