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Final Round / The Beasts in the Crater
« Last post by Airan on January 22, 2018, 11:42:07 AM »
~~The following post is a collaboration between~~
Kali, Kentrith Hapley, Komi Banton, and Thrayjen


“Where is Nire!?”

It was a question asked by more than just the escaped slaves. The city was in complete chaos. Monsters running rampant across the streets, slaves escaping into the dead of night, Nire’s pet hawk being lit up across the sky like a meteorite, and entire streets flooded out by the lake now replacing where the arena was but moments ago. It was pure madness and all the other arena staff had seemed to suddenly be absent for questioning.

From the town guard to the shopkeepers with flooded basements, from slave to wealthy, Nire’s name appeared on the lips of even the most prominent of arena supporters.

It was not spoken of kindly.

“Where is Nire!?” The mob chanted. “Where is that cat! Where is he hiding! Bring him out!” Some beasts were half dressed, others were armed with torches. Trudging through the water, they were kept dry by the fire in their eyes.

“My adoring fans, my savage children,” Nire chuckled. “Are they like this in your brother’s kingdom, Prince? Do they hail your throne, scream your name one day, and wake up the next thirsting for your blood?”

“Never to my face,” the rat muttered, ushering Nire along the piles of rubble as they picked their way across the ragged and wet terrain of the Crater’s grave. Thrayjen stumbled, landing roughly on his knees and his forepaws sunk into the silty muck. The lynx chuckled nastily, his own large paws quite comfortable on the rocks.
   
“Why don’t you let them have me?” The Lynx’s snide laughter turned into a hiss. “Isn’t that the end goal anyway? Why bother going through with a trial if I’m going to be lynched anyway?”

Thrayjen’s whiskers twitched, the rat narrowing his eyes as he hauled himself from the mud and continued hurrying the lynx across the slippery stones. “The cost of our actions must always be paid. Yours, the beasts of Northvale. Always, the books must be balanced and to me, that’s important.”

“The Blackwhiskers is the only beast with any semblance of civility in Northvale. Tell me, how have you paid off your debts, Prince? Hm? Do a good deed every day, help old badgermums across the street, preventing the lynching of previously prominent public figures?”
Thrayjen’s eyes narrowed as voices and pawsteps began to approach.
   
“Move,” the rat growled, tone far less patient than before. “We’ve no time to debate philosophies and morals. I can’t make you understand the value of life when you refuse to see it.”

“We understand. We see.”

The rat tensed, heavy tail thumping against the ground like an anchor. He drew a deep breath, turning to peer through a single eye at the trio of beasts standing on the rubble behind him. Soaked in blood and water, wounded and battered, Komi and Kentrith looked no less fierce than they did in the arena as they propped a slumped Kali between them.

“Are you helping Nire escape?” Komi growled quietly, “Were you in his pocket the whole time?”

“Oh, goody,” the lynx grumbled, rolling his eyes. “The miserable widow, the traitor, and the tone deaf freak. Just in the nick of time for tea.”

Thrayjen resisted a strong urge to backhand the lynx, clenching his fist at his side instead and pointedly standing between the former master and his slaves.

“Kali?” Thrayjen nodded his head towards the bat.

“Wounded, but alive.” With Komi’s help, Kentrith eased Kali’s form onto a piece of rubble perched above the rubble. “I’m surprised to find Nire is alive as well. There’s many looking for him.

“Do choose your words carefully when you explain why Nire isn’t buried under his own arena,” Komi said, her paw tightening around the haft of her spear.

“I owe you nothing,” the rat replied. “You too have committed atrocities upon innocents. Or does Northvale not know who set the hooved behemoths upon them? How many children did you see trampled along your way? I saw several myself. Looked each one in the face to make sure they weren’t mine.”

“It was a waste of time,” Nire grumbled as he crossed his arms impatiently.

The stoat met the audacious rat’s steady gaze evenly. She made to advance then, eyes narrowed into thin lines across her face, teeth bared, but Kentrith swung his arm out to stop her. The tod stepped forward instead, glowering at the rat.

“We did what we had to,” Kentrith began. “I’ve done terrible things in the name of liberty.”

“That’s quite some liberty,” Thrayjen said, sneering. “Quite some self-righteousness that permits you to murder innocents in the name of others. The greater good, right? A few for the many? When the final count comes in, do remember to tell me how ‘few’ died to save how many, Kentrith.”
   
“How many did you murder in the fighting pits?” Komi snarled, but Thrayjen simply blinked at her and shrugged.
“I wasn’t doing it for a greater good. I wasn’t doing it to save hundreds or finish a stale rebellion. I did it for my children and mine alone.”

“Selfish!” the stoat barked.

“I didn’t care about Northvale until the bowyer convinced me to break the wheel of savagery in my life,” Thrayjen replied, checking over his shoulder to watch Nire’s eyes flicker to his sword. He put a paw in the handle, blocking the cutlass from the lynx. “What better way to try and better myself than by saving Northvale from itself.” Thrayjen caught Kentrith’s eyes. “All of itself.”

The rat chuckled, his lips curling up until every tooth in his head became bared in a giant smile, a single glint of gold catching the light.

“I owe you an apology, Kentrith!” Thrayjen hollered, still quaking with laughter. “Rebellions never succeed, I said! Well, when they turn into murderers for the sake of murdering, I suppose they do succeed! Get down in the muck and get your paws dirty in the enemy’s blood, aye? That’s how you win; by becoming what you loath. My, my, you remind me of my kithood history lessons.”

The rat’s laughter stopped so suddenly that the grin on Nire’s face slipped away and an uneasy silence settled between the beasts gathered.
   
“Nothing to say, Miss Banton? Doctor?” Thrayjen’s lips loosened into a sneer. “That’s what I thought. And that’s why you can’t take Nire. No one can. A trial will expose the cruelty of Northvale and remind the beasts that they let everything happen. They LET a tyrant into their home, they LET him build his Crater. They HELPED HIM, DAMN YOU!”

Thrayjen’s voice bellowed and bounced off every rock, and even Komi stepped back.

“Your FTN, your band of careless murderers and righteous warriors, they committed their own atrocities. How dare you assume this is Nire’s trial? Your arrogance, your ignorance, it paints you all as fiends.”
   
Kentrith stepped forward, his muzzle curling slightly and exposing a bit of fang. He planted his footpaws in the mud, paws clenched at his sides. "How long have you been a part of the Crater?” he gritted out. “You haven't seen years of Nire's abuse. I stood on the sidelines, watching, afraid to shift a paw for fear of the innocents who would die if I moved against him. But guess what? Innocents have died. So many have walked into that arena without a clue or prayer and been slaughtered. And then there are those innocents who lost it, who had their innocence ripped away from them. I grew tired of only watching. I decided to do something. Who are you to say that more innocents died here than would have if he had been allowed to continue? Yes, I bear guilt for all the blood that has been shed to bring us to this point. But I will NOT regret it for the sake of those whose futures are now brighter."
   
He glanced down at the furious lynx, then forcibly opened his paws. “We have a chance for something better. To build anew. Justice has long been lacking in this place, therefore justice must be served.” He breathed deeply, thinking of rosy walls and a kindly old mouse. “He needs to be tried under law.”

“Wait!” Eve burst out. “You can’t be suggesting that FTN should be put on trial!”

“FTN has served their purpose. We have the cat where we want him!” The foxes were nose to nose, glaring at each other. “Now the need for FTN is over! It’s time for something else to take its place! And we start with Nire.”

Komi cut in. "This town helped him and you don't think they'll help him again, given half a chance? Most of these beasts don't care! We took away their entertainment and their livelihoods. If Nire walks away today, he'll just live to build another Crater."
“Kill him.”

A silence fell upon the beasts. Each head swiveled behind them as Kali propped herself up on her good wing. Her left arm hung uselessly in her lap.

Kent was the first to help Kali stabilize herself, leaping to her side. Putting her wing to his chest she brushed him off. “The cat, Nire.” Her head drifted upward. There was something different about the way she looked at Nire, something that made even him cringe. Her formerly shining, hopeful eyes now glittered with something… different. Something foul. Bitterness, anger…

Hate.

“Kill him.”

“Kali…” Thray began, “Surely you can’t be serious. Are you really suggesting we murder Nire, are you?”

“Why not?” The callous statement raised more than one eyebrow.

“Kali, you are not a murderer.”

“I beg to differ. I just murdered me a whole big hawk. I murdered him good. Even lit him on fire. And don’t forget that poor sap I threw off the building.”

“That was self defense…”

Kali fluttered her wing, “Hey, I may not have murdered scores of enemies like you lot, but I’m fairly certain that regardless of the reason, murdering a beast makes you a murderer. So I think that entitles me to a seat at this crazy murdering club and have a say in what we do with Nire. I, the murdering barbarian bat, vote we murder him.”

“See, even Kali agrees,” Komi gestured towards the bat.

Thray hissed between his teeth. “Would you really deny justice to all those who died at Nire’s games? If we just kill Nire, this town will never be brought to see the error of its ways!”

“Why should I care what happens to the city?” Kali’s tone was… tired, but her growing ire was easy to see. “They laughed at me, in the arena, as my friends died alongside me.”

“That is why we need a trial…”

“Do you really think you will get that far?” Kali hissed. “What do you think is going to happen, Thray? What judge are you going to bring Nire before? The same one who looked on as Nire locked me, a free beast, away for disrupting a party? The same guards who paid to watch innocent beasts die in bloodsport?”

Kali’s face made the most horrible scowl, her wide eyes blazing with anger, “All you are going to do is deliver Nire back to his people and put him back into power. And they will kill you, one of the few friends I have left. Everyone else is dead, Thray. Droven is dead. Kentigern is dead. Min is dead. Rose and Inkpaw were torn apart by that horrible spider that we let loose!”

"I can't let the city go unpunished. I can't let myself..." The rat staggered in his breathing. "Northvale needs to be brought to justice. It needs to see the evil it has done, and I don't... I don't know any other way to do it." He drew his sword, "But I know that if you kill Nire here and now, then we will only go down in history as anarchists, Nire will be replaced by the next arena mongrel, and those who died here will never have the justice they deserve..."

“I don’t care…” The bat choked, “Yes, it’s petty, and cruel, but Nire killed every beast I ever cared about and who ever cared about me. They are all dead and I want him to PAY, Thray. I want Nire to DIE and I don’t care if the town is punished, I don’t care if it’s soul is redeemed. The town can BURN for all I care.”

“Well, I for one do very much care about the soul of this town,” Kali’s ears flattened, her head turned to the new beast. “And I would very much like it to NOT be burned down.”

Tears welled up in Kali’s eyes. “Inkpaw… Rose…”
   
“Oh, don’t get all blubbery,” the weasel said as she leaned on Inkpaw for support. Both were looking worse for wear. The pine martens shirt was missing, torn up and used as ragged strips wrapped around the weasel’s hip. It would have been a more dashing scene if the pine marten had the build of anything besides a baker.

“Did you really think a wee ol’ spider could do me in?” The weasel’s laugh was cut short, “Because yeah, it totally could. I nearly died! Me!
Can you imagine a world without me in it? Can you picture how boring it would-” the beasts stopped talking as Kali launched herself at them, wrapping both beasts up in a single winged hug.
   
“Yes. I’m glad you are alright too.” The marten then gestured to the others, “I am surprised that Nire is alive.”

“Oh, he won’t be for long.” Komi snarled. “As soon as that rat stops protecting him, we will gut him like a fish. Thrayjen actually wants to put him on trial!”

The marten took a deep breath, “Actually, I would prefer if he did.” Inkpaw untied himself from Kali, leaving the wounded weasel to cling to the wounded bat. “If Nire dies, the hope for a better Northvale dies with him. Those in power will only fill the vacuum that follows, we, the FTN and all that we have strived to accomplish will be painted as the acts of miscreants and revolutionaries. And everyone who worked so hard to free themselves will be nothing more than an escaped slave. Nothing will change. We will have all failed.”

“However,” said the marten after a moment, “After all that you have done for us, all that Nire has put you through, I will not stop you from taking your vengeance either.”

Thrayjen’s sword arm lowered just slightly, fierce eyes trained on to Kali as though the bat’s words would govern them all. The gathered crowd waited with bated breath, waiting for Kali to decide.
   
“Kali,” the fox murmured as he helped her stand. “You’ve done enough. He’s beaten, you’ve made it out. You’ve done well. It’s time to let go.”

The bat’s eyes softened. The hate and anger building behind them began to disperse. She glanced first to her friends, then to Nire. She held herself high, as Nire did so many times above them all.

The feline swallowed, ears falling flat. It was finally dawning on him, that his life actually depended on what they decided to do, here, now.

The bat bared her teeth, “NIre Borean. You deserve nothing less than to die for your crimes.” She let that sink in for a moment, watching his fur stand on end, Thrayjen tensing beside him. “But not from us.” She drew back a deep breath. “You wronged this town long before you wronged us. You turned this city into the nightmare that it is. You turned good beasts into monsters, longing to spill the blood of innocent beasts. Yes, you deserve to die. But by the paws of those beasts that you helped create.”

Kali began to smile, faintly. She hobbled forward, limping towards the cat, “I’m just a bard. I never wanted to be the judge of whether or not some beast lives or dies. I never wanted to harm that poor guard or even that hawk. I did that out of self defense. If I kill you here, now. While you are defenseless, it would be murder afterall. And worse, it would rob the town the chance to make things right. Even if they chose poorly… they do deserve that choice. And I will not rob them of it.”

She turned to the beasts around them, “Please. I… I don’t want to lose more friends. Or watch them be torn apart, not because of him. Not because of Nire.”

The cat slowly unrolled his tail from between his legs. “Ahem,” He coughs into his paw, “Well then, i-if we are all done with the melodrama, perhaps we can get me to-”

Without warning, Kali’s wing wrapped around Nire’s head, pulling him down as her knee came up to meet his muzzle. Just like Kent showed her in training.

The cat dropped instantly like a sack of potatoes, nose broken and body limp as he fell into unconsciousness.

Raising an eyebrow, Thrayjen said, “That seemed… petty. But oddly satisfying.”

“You have no idea.” Kali stepped aside as Thrayjen scooped the cat into his arms, throwing Nire over his shoulder.
He paused, as if wanting to add something else, but only nodded his thanks to the beasts.

Silence fell upon the others. Kali glanced downward before turning to the foxes, marten, weasel and stoat. “What happens now?”

“We get your wounds looked at, for starters.” Kent laughed, throwing his arm under her shoulder.

“We get you all somewhere to hide. At least until things cool off.” Eve waved for them to follow. “Come. I have a safe house at the end of the block. We can plan our actions from there.”
   
“So… that’s it? This is how the Crater ends?” Rose said quietly after the beasts dispersed.

Inkpaw threw an arm under the weasel’s shoulder to steady her as she walked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean… it’s just…” the weasel scrunched her nose. “Beasts will hear this story for years. It will travel far and wide to every city around here. Maybe even back to Southsward. After everything we all went through, after everything he did, they didn’t kill Nire, not even a little bit. They’re just sending him to jail!”

“Well, aren’t you glad YOU went to jail? I bet there are plenty of beasts who wanted your story to end at the gallows, being a bandit and all.”

“Inkpaw, I was nearly eaten by scorpions, and a giant spider.”

“Keyword, ‘nearly’.”

The weasel thought on this, “I can’t argue with that.”

“And it’s not like the tale is done. There is a lot of work left to be done. Getting Nire to the jailhouse through an angry mob, making sure there is a judge willing to put him to trial. There is some actual hope of that, by the way. We broke his power over the town by taking his source of revenue from him. That and… we kind of stampeded a bunch of boars through the streets. Beasts tend to take offense to that.”

“Oh my, does that mean you will be on trial?”

The marten paused, “I… didn’t think of that.” Rubbing his chin Inkpaw said, “I suppose the FTN will have to justify ourselves to the court too. It will lend weight to our testimony, to prove that we didn’t just try to destroy the town for the sake of destroying the town.” The marten sighed, “It will take YEARS to get this mess all sorted out, even after Nire’s trial…” he laughed, “You know, the bards never sing about the heroes being brought before court for property damage…”

“Aww, poor Inkpaw.” The weasel ran a paw across his cheek, making his fur bristle, “How about we give the bards a proper ending to sing about then.”

“M-miss Rose… I… don’t know what you-” Inkpaw found himself, for once, at a loss for words as the weasel’s arms enveloped him. Her lips met his and she dragged him downward into a kiss.

Inkpaw's limbs flailed, his eyes widening, then slowly he relaxed, melting into her arms. And then they collapsed into one giant pile because reality was not kind enough to let the weasel support them both on a wounded leg.

The bards however, would omit this detail from the coming ballad. A tale of heroism, of daring deeds and cunning warriors. A tale of monsters and how to keep from becoming them. A tale of love won and lost. A tale that would fall into legends.

The tale of the Beasts in the Crater.

...And how they escaped.   
   
****************

Nire’s trial had been an ugly affair. Free The North factions, led by Lady Eve, faced off against the city’s elite who bemoaned the loss of revenue and jobs among the city. Former slaves argued against their previous masters and claws were pointed all over. Daily riots broke out in the days that the city argued over Nire’s fate and the day Nire spoke in his defense, painting himself as a humble businessbeast who had been abused by one of his wealthy patrons and a few dissatisfied employees, that day had nearly seen the lynx walk free.

But the call for justice remained strong. Kentrith, Komi, Thrayjen, Kali, and many other slaves testified against the evil that had kept their loved ones and their friends in bonds, showing the visible scars on their bodies and speaking of the hidden ones on the soul.
Finally, Magistrate Preston Brockshire stood up at the end of the trial, after conferring with the ruling body of the city. The place where the trial had taken place was packed with beasts, all waiting to hear the verdict.

“We have reached our decision in the case of Nire Borean versus the representatives of Free The North. In regards to the accusation of Nire keeping slaves, this has been thrown out, given that there is no law prohibiting slaves in Northvale.”

“There should be!” somebeast shouted in the crowd and a few of the city guards quickly descended on that area to look for the vocal one. Komi couldn’t see if they found him or not. Her attention remained on the front.

Magistrate Brockshire cleared his throat. “In regards to the accusation that Nire brought in harmful monsters who created much property damage and loss of life, we find Master Borean guilty.”

Komi’s fists clenched in satisfaction.

“However, given that said monsters were previously secured in a safe manner until the actions of the FTN released them, we have waived the sentence of death in that regard.”

Another angry rumble swept through the room, but no one spoke out turn and brought the guards down on them.

The badger magistrate read through the list of crimes quickly, not pausing between charges for the crowd’s reaction. “For the charges of conspiracy to commit murder, bribery, extortion, and jaywalking, we find Master Borean guilty. For unlawful acquisition of a slave, mistreatment of child slaves, and extortion, we find him innocent.

“To conclude,” the magistrate finally said, “the city of Northvale has decided that Nire Borean’s sentence is to be hereby banished from Northvale at dawn. He is no longer permitted to be within a days’ walk of Northvale and is no longer allowed to do business here.”

The cacophony of cheers and boos from the crowd filled the room and guards quickly descended once more. A few fights broke out among differing factions, but Komi herself simply pulled her hooded cloak more securely over her head and backed away and out of the room. Tavin followed her.

Once outside, Komi got clear of the press of the crowds and stared at the building.

“You’re not happy with the verdict?” Tavin asked.

“He deserves to die for all that he did,” Komi snarled.

Her son shrugged. “The abbot of Redwall always used to tell me…”

“I don’t care what Redwallers think of this!” Komi snapped, cutting him off. She softened her tone just a little at the tight-lipped look on her son’s face. “Redwall is a different world from here. And here… well, here is just another nightmare waiting to happen. Nire can’t just walk away free. He’ll do this same thing to other beasts, somewhere. I just know it.”

“But there’s nothing you can do about it, Mum. The city has decided.”

Komi turned her back on the building. “The city is wrong. It’s been wrong this whole time, and I don’t think they’ll ever change.”

****************

Tavin woke up shortly after dawn the next morning, looked across the room where his mother had been sleeping near Fable. The little otter pup still dozed fitfully on her pallet, but Komi’s bed was empty. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Tavin rolled from bed. A slip of paper caught his eye on the small corner table and he glanced at it. His mother’s hasty scrawl on the paper read, “Stay in the inn. I will be back at nightfall.”
Tavin bit off an oath. Redwall’s badgermum had washed his mouth out enough times in the first season he’d been out of bed after Galleran’s siege that swearing was no longer a habit for him. He glanced at the window, thinking to follow his mother, but then Fable made a soft cry in her sleep and he knew he couldn’t leave her alone.

****************

Komi had stationed herself near the prison where Nire had been kept well before dawn came, so she was ready when the guards and city leaders arrived to see that the lynx’s banishment became official. Quietly, she tailed the group, staying well out of the mob-like crowd that followed the lynx. She skirted down side streets and alleyways, keeping abreast of them, until they came to a road out of town.
She could see the crowd, and more importantly, Nire, but she couldn’t hear what was said as the officials of Northvale spoke to Nire. She watched, low to the ground, as the lynx replied, then turned and strode away, a pack on his back and a walking stick in his paw. A trio of guards in the city’s uniform escorted the lynx. Komi swore in her head, wondering how long he’d have his special escort.
Maybe they’d save her the trouble of knifing the lynx in the back and do the deed themselves.

The sun rose overhead, heating the air and sending the bugs buzzing amids grass and flowers as Komi tailed the group at a distance. She kept downwind and out of earshot as long as they were out in the open. Once they reached the shelter of the forest, at some point around mid-morning, she sped up her gait so as not to lose them if they went off the road. She wasn’t exactly the best in woodcraft, but she’d scouted in her old horde, before Galleran’s, and she knew a few tricks.

Sudden voices made her hesitate and go low and still to the ground.

The three guards appeared, without Nire.

“Are you sure we ought to leave him?” an otter asked. “They said a day away.”

“I couldn’t take his lip any more,” the squirrel who led them said. “Never could. Good riddance to trash.”
Komi waited until they’d gone on down the path and then she hurried in the opposite direction. So, they’d left Nire defenseless now?

Good.

She spotted a flash of tawny-gray in the vibrant green of early summer and she slowed again, keeping plenty of foliage between her and Nire. The lynx was bigger, and certainly stronger. She thought she’d heard mention that the cat had been a gladiator once in his younger years, so using the element of surprise to her advantage would be key.

The day wore on as she stalked the cat. He walked on without hurry, though once or twice, he turned back, slitted eyes scanning the forest. Komi always froze, breathless, every time, waiting until he turned and walked on before moving again.
He walked off the path suddenly, going into the woods on a smaller trail. Komi followed, a distant shadow, unsure if he’d detected her, or if he’d gone this direction for some other reason.

Soon. Very soon. She’d have her chance. Here in the trees, she could get closer. She could use this environment to her advantage.
A smell made her hesitate and she sniffed again.

She recognized it, but couldn’t think of where or when. She drew a slow breath through her nose, sorting through the emotion that seemed to fill her with a numbing grief and a hint of fear.

What was that smell?

Nire hesitated, too, tufted ears flicking in the fading light.

Something crackled in the trees overhead Nire.

Then, whitish-gray fur rushed forward on too many limbs and Komi saw Nire whirl about. He had a glint of steel in one paw.
Bessie, the massive spider, pounced on Nire and the lynx’s scream was terrible. Komi scrambled backwards as quickly and quietly as she could, her heart pounding in her throat and every fiber of her being begging her to run.

Nire screamed again and again and Komi heard a strange rattling click from the spider. She kept backing up, eyes unable to tear away from the fangs and the limbs, and her ears unable to close to the lynx’s horrid screams of agony. There was a crushing crunch and Nire’s scream rose in pitch.

Komi turned and ran as fast as her legs could carry her. The lynx’s dying screams as the spider devoured him chased her into the night.
She didn’t stop running until she made it back to the road and she stopped there, paws on knees, bent double, heaving dryly as her stomach tried to empty itself of nothing. Gradually, her racing pulse slowed and her trembling eased. She gave the darkening woods one more look, then began the long walk back to Northvale.

The rising wind seemed to carry a keening cry on it and she walked as fast as she could.
2
General Discussion / Re: Does being a writer ruin your TV experience?
« Last post by ElliottLes on January 15, 2018, 03:24:38 AM »
Ironically they hid the Shark due to technical difficulty. Puppetry does not work well with water >.>

At least I think that was the movie they had trouble with xD

I love and hate the very best suspense horror movies. I love them because that's the best kind, and I hate them because they scare the living crap out of me.
3
Final Round / This Great Solemnity
« Last post by Kentrith Hapley on December 18, 2017, 10:39:14 PM »
Kentrith’s efforts to sew up the pine marten’s gash were not helped by the shuddering stones beneath them.

By the last stitch, there was a definite tilt to the pitch of the floor. Kentrith wiped his paws on his dirty breeches, snarling as the cuts on them made themselves known.

Their self-proclaimed guard glanced nervously at the cracking ceiling. “Can we leave now?” he begged, gripping his spear tight.

“What is happening?” Kentrith barked, throwing his tools into his bag, slinging it over his shoulder, then reaching to pull Marik to his paws.

“It’s Blasio,” Marik muttered, voice quavering as he tried to stand as upright as he could. One paw still would not reach the floor, and the single paw he stood on shook. Worried, Kentrith slithered to Marik’s other side, slinging the marten’s arm around him and taking most of the weight.

“If I find him,” he growled.

“You’ll help him, like the healer you are,” Marik interrupted.

“…right.” Kentrith sighed. “I’ll need to remind myself of that.”

“We’ll help you,” Marik rejoined.

“Enough chat, let’s go, before we die,” the otter growled, propelling them before him with a shove.

It was slow going, with Marik weak from pain and blood loss. The otter’s frustration was nearly palpable, but Kentrith refused to be pushed beyond Marik’s strength. The marten nearly collapsed as they came upon complete carnage in the hall.

They stood in the hall, staring at the bodies strewn around them. The most shocking was that of Nix, which slumped against the wall. The throat and chest were bloody, and she still clutched the sword and spear to her.

“Mom,” Marik whimpered, his working footpaw buckling. Kentrith nearly went down with him, as the young pine marten clung to his dead mother.

They all jumped when she gasped and choked. The otter scrabbled backward with a garbled shriek, and Kentrith swallowed a yell, which went down the wrong way. After a few minutes of marten and fox gasping and coughing, Kentrith inched toward her.

Marik had been unaffected by the return of the dead, instead examining Nix to gauge her wounds. “Mom,” he breathed, hugging her tighter.

“No, don’t,” Kentrith cautioned. “You’ll hurt her…”

“Too late for that,” she rasped. “Not much that… can hurt me now.”

“No!” Marik wailed.

“Hush!” Nix snarled. “It’s,” she paused, to struggle for breath, then continued, “No use bewailing what can’t be changed.” She looked at him with shadowed eyes, then whispered, “Not like you’ll be losing much. Happy raised you more than I did.”

“You,” Marik gulped, voice thick with tears, “you had no choice. Once Dad died…”

“I left you. Avoided you.”

“And saved my life.”

Nix huffed, then turned her eyes to Kentrith. “You’ll watch out for him?”

Kentrith nodded absently, scanning over the bloody gashes in her stomach. “What happened?” he asked, gingerly pulling out a shredded bit of cloth from one of the slashes.

She snorted softly. “Leftover guard. Nire…,” gasp, “ordered to… huh… kill everyone left… in the arena.” A coughing fit brought blood to her lips, followed by another chuckle. “Fewer of them now.”

Looking at the seven bodies surrounding her, Kentrith could only agree.

“Can we go now?” the otter muttered, shuffling up behind Kentrith.

Marik gave on final sob, then released Nix. Kentrith repositioned the young marten, then nodded once at his oldest friend. Marik used his free paw to wipe his face, mumbled something, then allowed Kentrith to turn him away.

They shuffled down the hall, followed by hollow, labored breathing. Tears trickled down both their faces. Rumbling behind them caused them to freeze, both horrified at what they had left behind.

“Oh, for the love of hotroot!” The otter closed on them, dropped his spear, then yanked Marik’s other arm around his neck. Ignoring the marten’s cries of pain, he lifted, until Marik was suspended between the two beasts. “Y’ can blubber to each other and discuss feelings after we are out of here!

Kentrith grunted in disgust at the rough treatment of his patient, but as they scurried down the quaking hallway, he couldn’t deny that they made better time.

They made their way to the kitchens, with the cracking stones and shuddering almost on top of them. They reached the kitchen to find chaos. Crockery lay broken everywhere, the hearth gone out from neglect. A noise drew their attention to several slaves huddled under the table.

“Oy!” the otter bellowed. “If you don’t want to die, get out of there!”

There was a stuttered reply that was unintelligible. An extended crash behind them spurred their guide, and he dropped Marik to dash to the kitchen door. He yanked it open. “Right through here!” he shouted, just before the spear took him under the ribs.

The slaves all shrieked as Kentrith stared in shock at the rat-held weapon that reached up into the otter’s heart. Shaking off his lassitude, he dashed forward. “What are you doing!” he yipped, interposing himself between the rat and the beasts in the room.

“Iss all thayer fault, ainit?” he hissed, yanking his weapon out. Dread washed through the fox’s veins as he realized his scalpel was not on his wrist like it usually was, but tucked away in the satchel that was slung over his shoulder. “These beasts tore it all down. Down, down!” The crazed light in the rat’s eyes as he jabbed at Kentrith for emphasis. “No more Crater, no more monsters, just rocks and water, and dead, dead, dead!” He fixed his manic gaze on the panicking fox. “Ye’re dead, too!”

Kentrith barely dodged the first erratic jab. I can’t die! he shrieked in his head. Marik just lost his mother, he can’t lose me too!

He raised his scored paws, which had just stopped bleeding, to fend off the waggling spear, hoping that he could take a little more damage without losing the use of his paws. Though, if he never healed again, he would count it in good trade if he could keep them all safe.

Cackling, the rat swept the spear up, neatly slashing just between his paws. The sharp blade swiped up Kentrith’s muzzle, scoring it. Kentrith ducked back desperately, tasting the blood that dribbled over his jaw. Clapping his paw to the wound, he watched the long weapon rear back for another thrust.

The rat choked as an arrow appeared through his throat.

Kentrith couldn’t move as the crazy beast toppled over, then was replaced by a very familiar figure.

“When being rescued, it is good sense to remain in one place,” Lady Eve said primly, as she nocked another arrow to the bow she held so gracefully. Her expensive clothes were sopping wet, with red staining it in several places. She flicked her ears, shedding drops of water, then turned and gestured behind her. “We’d best move on. I believe all your other friends made it out.”

“You came for me?” Kentrith blurted, as shivering slaves squeezed past him and out the door.

“Well, of course I did,” she huffed, turning to aim the bow out the courtyard. “I knew you wouldn’t take care of yourself. Just look at the state of your paws! I do believe young Frey is right, you need a permanent keeper.”

She glanced at him quickly, the snapped, “You’d better staunch your muzzle, or something. It’s not as though you need another scar.”

Kentrith felt a jab in his ribs as he helped a now-grinning Marik out the door. Her clothes were ruined, whatever powders or colors she had used for her fur was running horribly, and her bare footpaws slapped wetly as the building behind them finally gave one last groan and collapsed. Water gushed from the rubble as they all turned to see the death of the Crater.

A plume of billowing dust spread through Northvale, rising toward the sun and isolating their small group. A slight noise whispered from the cloud, swishing water in a rhythmic pattern. The sound of some beast walking through waist high water.

A forlorn figure emerged from the dust, walking through waters that once she would have flown over. Her leathery wings were riddled with holes, and the plump stomach bore a slash stretching from chest to hip.

“Kent,” Kali managed as she staggered, collapsing in a pool of shallow water.

Kentrith eased Marik to the ground, then rushed for the crumpled bat. Pulling her out of the dirty deluge, he carried her to the small area of ground where his companions waited. Laying her down, he quickly reached in his bag for bandages, then snarled as he came up empty. Bothan forgot to give me bandages! he grumped as he pawed for his tunic to make strips. He only felt bare chest. He swore.

“Wondered when you’d notice,” Eve said dryly, handing him her scarf. A former slave donated his ragged tunic, and a headwrap soon joined the pile. With these in paw, he quickly wrapped the bedraggled bard in a tight bandage. He then lifted her into his arms, where she snuggled closer to him, shivering.

“No more adventures,” she moaned. “I wanna go home now.”

The swirling water made him shudder, but he squared his shoulders, and turned to his ragtag group. Most of the slaves had drifted away, but two mice supported Marik between them. Lady Eve once again held her bow in two paws, and was watching him expectantly.

“Let’s join the others,” he announced, then strode off through the water.

*******

The size of the crowd waiting at the square surprised Kentrith. “We were supposed to meet at the shop!” he barked.

A bloody figure peeled away, rushing toward them as the crowd parted hastily for the intimidating stoat. “Too many for that tiny building,” Komi replied, then seeing his burden, she snapped, “Is she alright?”

Kentrith looked down at the sleeping bat in his arms, then back to the warrior. “She’ll be fine. I might even be able to fix her wings, though it will be some time before she can fly again.”

“That’s something,” Tavin piped up, having followed his mother. Kentrith frowned at the tiny, sniffling otter Tavin held.

“Fable?” He questioned. “But where’s…” As he caught the look on Komi’s face, he snapped his muzzle shut, then looked at the small group around him. Slave and freedom fighter alike stared at the ruin that had been their bane for so many years. Slowly, the number of watchers swelled as the Northvalers joined them.

“What I want to know is,” Komi snarled, putting a paw to the knife at her hip, "Where did Nire run off to?”
4
Contest Discussion / Re: Avatars & Reviews
« Last post by Airan on December 18, 2017, 07:20:17 PM »
Huh... for some reason I can't see the avatars to download them again XD

Photobucket has been acting up lately for some reason and doesn't like to keep their images permanent. In the future, I'd recommend using Tinypic for putting up the avatars, because they don't usually purge them later.
5
Final Round / Flight of the Phoenix
« Last post by Kali on December 18, 2017, 06:50:46 PM »
"Oh, come on!" Kali let her shoulders sag. The universe seemed determined to kill her today.

"Don't move!" The spear was thrust a little closer to Kali's nose. Unlike the guards of the arena, the village guard wore black uniforms under chainmail tunics. Their helmets were round metal caps with pointed tops. And their spears were tipped with iron.

After all the time on the training grounds, Kali could spot the difference in quality. The weapons of the arena were deadly, of course, but they were made to have a certain flair to them. To be flashy and exciting.

These weapons were made purely for functionality.

Made purely to kill.

Unfortunately for the guards, Kali had already rode two monsters to freedom today. Something as trivial as a spear could hardly phase her now. "Do you mind?" Kali batted the spear away with her wing. "You can put someone's eye out with that."

To Kali's surprise, the rat guard backed away a little. Even if the other six continued to level their weapons at the bat, they seemed... nervous? Afraid? But that couldn't be right. Who would be afraid of her? She was just a bat.

Slowly, Kali became more aware of her surroundings. The concourse was full of beasts gathered in a half circle around the arena, their numbers swelling into 'mob' territory and barely contained by the guards.

The Northvale villagers did not look happy.

In fact, they looked the opposite of happy. They looked enraged.

Beasts of all species shouted curses at Nire and threats at the guards. Slaves, masters, free beasts, just a while ago they had been in the arena shouting praises at combatantents, now they were calling for Nire’s head on a pike.

At first, Kali couldn't fathom why. And then she saw the rapidly disappearing rump of Bessie disappearing around the corner, quickly scuttling down a street among screams of terrified beasts, and being pursued by a fleet of village guards.

"Oh,” said Kali aloud. She could see why the villagers would be angry about a giant spider rampaging through their backyard. Or a giant beast eating snake... or a stampede of boars running through their markets.

Or slaves escaping the arena.

Indeed, the villagers had just as many reasons to be angry as the guards had to be afraid of the strange, exotic bat creature that fell before them.

Afterall, she was the mysterious Banshee and just as monstrous as any of the terrors coming out of the arena.

Honestly, Kali could get used to beasts being afraid of her.

"Really? Are we really going to do this now? Monsters are running loose, the slaves are going free, and the arena is collapsing and you are really concerned with the bard?" She paused. The arena was flooding. Once the place crumbled, the flood waters would spill out onto the concourse, maybe even take out the buildings around it.

The bat glanced to the crowd of beasts, angrily demanding answers from those inside the arena...

Kali tried to stand up suddenly. She gasped as the rat pushed her back down, shoving the butt end of his spear into her chest.

"I said stay still, monster!"

"You don't understand! You need to listen! You are all in danger! We are all going to DIE!"

"Be quiet."

"No! Listen! The arena is flooding and now the whole place is coming down! If we don't get out of here we-" The guard forced Kali back to the ground, pinning her as he drove the butt of the spear into her belly.

"You’re jests have little humor to them jester. Now be quiet or I’ll start using the bladed end... " He pushed the spear butt deeper into Kali's guts to drive the point home.

"You. Are. In. Danger!" The bat leaned up, despite the guards attempts to silence her. "You are all going to die! The arena is going to flood! You need to get out of here!"

By now, the bat's words started to gain the attention of the crowd.

"Do you really think we cannot see what you are up to? We are in the middle of a slave revolt! Monsters are running rampant through the city, beasts are dying, Nire is nowhere to be seen and you are just trying to distract us from catching your escaping friends!"

"I believe her."

Even the bat hesitated as the guards behind her turned to the new voice. She could see it on their faces, first came the shock that a beast got past the guards at the crowd, and then... nervousness as they saw who was talking. Kali seemed to shrink as she recognized the beast.

The rat gulped. The beast before them was a shadow of his former self. His eyes sunken and he had lost much of his muscle, and yet he stood before them completely unafraid of their numbers. It took the guards a second to regain their confidence. "Who do you think you are? Get back behind the line!"

The cat's eyes narrowed, tail twitching behind him as he stepped forward. "Who am I? I am Trask. But you know me as the Crimson Tiger. Perhaps you have heard of me?"

And he was not alone.

"Or perhaps me?" Komi was just as fearsome as the wildcat next to her.

Turning their spears away from Kali and towards the wildcat suggested that, yes, the guards had heard of them both. "You don't want to start trouble here, Mr. Tiger." The rat began, "This doesn't concern you. If you interfere, Nire will hear of it and-"

"Nire is a fool,” the cat hissed. "He is a liar who would send his own mother into the arena if he thought it was funny, but that one..."

Kali felt her heart race as Trask the Crimson Tiger pointed at her. The last time she saw him he was bleeding out from a knife wound to the stomach, begging to be given an honorable end.

Did Kali survive the snake, the hawk, the spider, only to be done in by the wildcat's revenge?

"That one is… kind. She is not an escaped slave trying to fool you." No beast is more stunned than Kali. "She is whimsical, and scatter brained, but she spared me in the arena. She would rather risk Nire's punishment that kill a fellow gladiator.

"She is no liar. If she says we are in danger, you listen to her."

"Touch a hair on her and you answer to me,” the stoat added with fierceness.

Kali couldn't help but smile, even if only faintly. Everything she did seemed to turn to ash, but knowing that she had made at least one good decision along the way, made everything worthwhile.

The guards however still seemed unsure. Even in the presence of two famously brutal warriors, the guards seemed reluctant. Their hesitation frustrated Kali, every second they wasted looking for direction from an unseen commanding officer was a second less these beasts had to live!

"If you don't believe them, then believe me."

Kali wasn't sure how to feel about the arrival of even more guards, these ones wearing blue. Once exiting the arena, the guards made a beeline for the bat. Worse yet, the beast in the lead was easily recognizable as Drake.

Old enemies were just coming out of the woodwork right now, she thought.

"You work in the arena, right?" The rat guard asked. "Is this slave telling the truth? Did Blasio really flood the arena?"

"What do I look like, the beaver’s keeper?" the fat fox looked angry, and wet. His fur was soaked to the bone, but his eyes were ablaze with anger. He lacked the intimidation of others when Trask stepped between him and Kali.

"Dragon."

"Tiger."  The two eyed each other warily before the fox shot daggers at Kali.

The bat gulped. She tried to ignore the irony of the situation as she stepped closer to Trask. "D-drake! Y-you got out of the armory quickly..."

"I should hope so. I wasn't about to die trapped in my own armory, no thanks to your traitorous hide. You left us there to drown."

“I tied you up in a room with pointy objects! I think that deserves a lot of thanks!”

Stepping between them, the rat guard interrupted. "Drown? So the arena is flooding?"

"Do you think I bathe in my armor?!" the fox threw his arms in the air. "The whole place is coming down!"

"And the slaves?"

"Forget the blasted slaves!" The fox growled again. "The arena is lost and if we keep wasting time here, the arena will take us with it!" He turned to the rat again, "Well? What are you waiting for? Get that crowd to disperse."

"But... the guard captain..."

"Do I look like I care two figs about your captain? Now, rat. Do it NOW!" The rat snapped to attention. He gestured for his fellow guards to follow him.

As Drake ordered his own beasts to get the wounded to safety and help disperse the crowd, Kali once again marveled how the universe was rewarding her for her good deeds. If she had let Inkpaw kill the fox... If she had killed Trask...

Maybe Thray had a point about mercy, after all. All the beasts they spared, the snake they freed and how they saved Bessie...

Kali paused, tilting her head to one side. Well, one bad idea out of several good ones wasn't too horrible.

"Drake... Trask. I can't thank you en-"

"Don't." The fox wagged an accusatory claw at the bat. "The only reason you are still alive is because my house is just down the street. Getting my family to safety is my priority. But once this is all over, I'm going to make you into a rug."

The fox pushed through them. He dropped the battle ax against the stone pavement on his way past the crowd. Kali's ears flattened. Losing a friend was hard, but she took comfort in knowing that he was at least alive.

Once the fox was gone, Komi softened her face towards the bat. "Kali, are you..."

Without warning, Kali wrapped her arms around the stoat, squeezing her tight. To her surprise, the stoat hugged her back just as tight.

"Kali," she said, "The others. Why are they not with you? Did they get out okay?"

Kali's voice choked, admitting, "I don't know." She didn't even have time to think about them. Were they dead? Were they crushed by the debris? Did they drown? She saw the spider practically crush poor Rose. Were Inkpaw and Baxter really... r-really... "I don't know. Bessie attack us and we got separated. What about Min and Fable? Where are they?"

Komi looked stricken. She glanced away from the bat, unable to meet her eyes, "Tavin is getting Fable to safety. I only came back because I saw you fall."

Kali blinked. "Tavin is getting Fable to safety?" Suddenly she pulled away from the stoat, "Where is Min? why isn't she here?"

The silence spoke volumes.

"No."

"Kali, she..."

"No," tears began to form at Kali's eyes.

"A pillar crumbled on our way out and Tavin was underneath it. Min pushed him out of the way but she… she didn't make it out of the way in time, Kali."

Kali felt the energy leaving her. After everything that had happened, to lose yet another friend to the growing list of beasts who have perished at this horrible arena, Kali was ready to finally give up. To finally break down and cry. She deserved that at least, after all she had been through. There were no more beasts to inspire, no more terrified faces to calm down, no more broken hearts to help comfort. Surely Kali could finally crumple into the poor, hurt bard that she was, right?

Unfortunately, the universe never gave her the chance.

Without warning, a pair of heavy paws grabbed both the bat and stoat, shoving them roughly to the ground as Trask shielded them with his own body.

A looming shadow passed over the wildcat, its talons barely missing them all as it swooped back into the air with a deafening cry.

Right, thought Kali. There was still one more monster to slay.

And this one brought friends.

Beasts scattered as Thunder circled above with owls following close behind.

"Mum!" Tavin shouted from the crowd.

"Get back! We will handle this." Using the spear to support herself, Komi got up before hoisting Kali back to her feet. "That goes for you too. Run and hide. We will take care of this."

"We will?" The wildcat raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not doing this on my own!" Komi protested, offering her spear to the feline. "You were willing to stand up to armored guards to protect Kali, surely a few feather dusters with claws won't be a problem?"

The cat regarded the spear with disdain. "Keep them busy. I'll get my own."

"W-what? No! There's no time!" Komi called out to the departing feline. A moment later, the owls attacked.

There was no order to their attacks, they just dive bombed the stoat at their leisure. "Kali! Run!" Komi shouted one last time, spurring the bat into motion. She turned her back on Komi as the owls descended around her. Their hoots and screeches filled the air as Komi did battle, and the bard found a hiding spot.

Again.

Kali was running away from a monster, again.

She was running away while her friends picked up the fight to protect her. To save her. To die... how many had she lost so far? Could she even count them anymore?

The bat gritted her teeth, coming to a halt halfway in the street. She turned back, watching as Komi ducked and weaved under talons and beaks trying to tear at her flesh. The bat then glanced to the other end of the street where Trask marched his way towards the village guard beasts. The vermin were busy trying to get the crowd to disperse.

"Your spears. Give them to me,” he demanded.

"W-what?" the rat guard stammered as the Crimson Tiger grabbed ahold of the spear. Securing the weapon in both paws, the cat heaved, pulling the spear up and over his head like a club and sending the rat flying through the air like a catapult.

An owl let out a surprised squawk as the rat collided with its side, knocking it out of the sky.

The spear was thrown, striking another owl in the back that was trying to flank Komi.

The other guards watched in horror, each eagerly handing the cat their weapons when he turned around, thrusting his paw out expectantly.

"Trask!" Kali shouted as she ran. "I need a weapon!"

Raising both eyebrows in shock, Trask hesitated. His gaze turned skyward at the hawk still circling around them, waiting for the owls to weaken his prey. With the flick of his wrist, he sent a spear at the bat. She leapt into the air, catching the shaft with her feet.

"Finish the fight this time, or Thunder will finish you."

Kali nodded solemnly before ascending.

"Kali! What are you doing? Get back here!" Komi shouted before thrusting her weapon into the belly of an owl.

Cracking his neck and clutching a spear in either paw, the Crimson Tiger joined the battle even as more owls descended upon them.


><><><><


Thunder looked down at Kali and laughed. Hovering in the air, he bellowed down to her. "How nice of you to save me the trouble of hunting you down. And look, you brought me a toothpick, too. How kind."

Kali scowled. This was by far the worst idea she ever had. Both wings throbbed with pain and fatigue now, not just her wound anymore. "Come closer and I will show you just how kind this toothpick will be to your face, ya bird brained idiot!"

The bird however only continued to hover, slowly working his way around the bat. "You really are new to this, aren't you?" he smirked, "What is the point of this folly? Why throw your life away at my talons?"

Kali gulped, glancing at his already bloody talons. With all the slaves escaping the Crater, Kali figured that she would not be his first meal tonight. "For my friends." She held the spear tighter in her foot paws. "The longer I keep you busy, the longer they don't have to deal with you."

The hawk tilted his head to one side, as if looking through Kali. His grin widened. "I see you finally found your spine. Good." The smile faded, "It's about time you put on a worthy hunt..."

Folding his wings closer to his body, the bird fell quickly, far more quickly than Kali thought he should be allowed to. Instinct told her to drop as well, but experience taught her that such a move would only cause her to fall into the bird on the way down. She banked to the right instead, the air flowing off of the passing hawk ruffled Kali's fur.

There were plenty of birds of prey in Kali's homeland. Owls, hawks, other creatures that liked to make a meal of her people. Their defenses against such fowl were limited to flight and escape. Afterall, nature blessed their enemies with talons, not them.

A few brave fox-bats would join the guard to protect travelers and merchants. Those rare breed of fools would train themselves to go hunting after owls, the braver would become legends among her people.

Kali... She would have been regarded as a banquet feast.

And yet here she was, picking a fight with her natural enemy. One who easily turned back around with a graceful summersault to come eat her face off.

Kali chirped before setting into a dive. The chase was on. If she could give her friends even five minutes to deal with the owls before Thunder came back to finish them off, Kali would say her sacrifice was worth it. With the shadow of Thunder quickly catching up to her, Kali hoped she could give them even one minute.

She wouldn't have been able to outrun Thunder even in her prime. Not in a fair chase at least. Kali turned suddenly for the streets, causing the bird to slow down as it turned to follow her. She ducked low, inches away from the pavement before turning again down another street. Glancing over her shoulder Kali saw Thunder lazily stretch out his legs, letting his his claws spark against the stonework.

Coming to another bend in the street Kali tucked pulled up, veering hard to the sky before landing on the wall of an inn and rebounding towards the bird behind her. She aimed his spear for his heart, but caught nothing but feathers as he glided past her.

She screamed as his wing beat her across the side, she barely managed to keep herself from being knocked out of the air. A surefire death sentence.

Thunder only laughed, falling back onto Kali's tail as she veered upward for height. She banked backward again once she cleared the city, aiming for another joust with the hawk..

Kali's thrust missed again, but she recoiled quicker this time, spinning and swinging her spear like a club. The spear connected with the bird but only as Thunder knocked it out of the way, retaliating with a quick swipe of his claws.

The bat gasped as her flesh opened across her chest. She broke off the assault, turning for one of the red rooftops below. Tossing the spear from her feet to her wings as she landed, Kali still took a step back as Thunder landed in front of her. The look of fire in his eyes, his terrible smile, it reminded her of those old stories about dragons.

"Thunder!" Her pleas were as shaky as the way she held her weapon against the bird. "You dont have to do this. You don't have to be a monster."

The bird smirked, "Have to? Silly creature, you know nothing of how the natural order works. I am the hunter, you are prey. Nire understood this. He lets me hunt the runaway worm-beasts, and those who try to break in to his nest. Anywhere else and I would face an angry mob with arrows and slings for doing this."

Behind them, the sun set for the last time on the arena. Walls began to crack, starting from the foundations and spreading across the sides.

"Nire is finished! He can't protect you anymore. It's OVER."

"Yes." The bird’s smile faded. Behind the bird, an arena watch tower collapsed into the street below. "And that is why I will take pleasure in killing you..."

Ears flat and her heart racing, Kali let out a shout before thrusting forward with her spear. At the last moment she dug it into the wood, using it to pole vault herself up and over the bird. She could feel the cord to her lute pull tight from the momentum until she landed on the other side of Thunder.

The bird turned in time to see the shaft bury into his chest.

If only Kali had the strength to drive it deep, it may have killed him.

As it was, Kali only succeeded in making Thunder angry.

Leaving the shaft behind, Kali ran for the edge before dropping into a glide. She flew for the setting sun, towards the crumbling arena.

Back on the roof, Thunder screeched. Grabbing the spear with his beak he tore the weapon from his flesh. His eyes frantically glanced about the city before settling in on the departing form of Kali. Growling deeply he crushed the spear with his beak.

Kali didn't need to look behind her to know that Thunder was closing the distance. She just needed to make it to the arena before her lungs finally gave out, before her sore arms finally stopped moving. Aiming for a window she tucked herself into a tight ball, gliding into the arena as Thunder glided over.

Hitting the unstable floor inside, Kali kept moving, dashing across the hallway and leaping out the window on the other end. Not a moment sooner did Thunder appear in her vision, narrowly catching her with his talons as he came in from over the top of the arena.

She screamed. Turning for the arena seats.

The Crater by now was living up to its namesake. The pit was filled to the brim with water. The constant flow of current into the arena made the waters churn violently. Cracks in the walls became wide divides, separating the stone and causing entire sections to fall.

Weaving in and out of support columns, the audience section they were in lurched to one side as the foundation gave way. The level above them began falling down, threatening to trap the pair. Kali gave all that she had left to pull out of the grandstands before they collapsed on top of her.

Kali lost track of the bird. She figured it would be too much to hope for Thunder to be crushed by the debris, but she had yet to be so fortunate.She was well and truly spent by the time she reached the top of the arena. Her left wing felt like it was going to fall off.

Pushing herself to the limit, she glided for the top ramparts of the arena, where the storage house was. It amazed her that just this morning, she had killed a pine marten up here. Now the entire wall tilted to one side, threatening to fall upon the city beyond. The water, still gushing up from the center of the arena began to spill out of the middle levels, flooding hallways that would surely take it out into the concourse area.

Kali could only hope the Northvalers outside heeded her warning.

Kali came in for a landing at the open doors of the storage house and nearly collapsed. By now, she more than made up for her lack of exercise since leaving her home land. Her heart was threatening to break out of her chest and her knees buckled under her weight.

"Where is it? Where is it?" Kali threw herself into the piles of supplies now rendered junk rolling across the floor. She dove through banners, she tossed tapestries aside, she threw shovels and pitchforks behind her, becoming frantic as she struggled to see in the room with only a single oil lamp still lit to illuminate it.

"There!" Kali emerged from the pile of rugs, her wing wrapped around her prize. Now she just needed one more thing and she might actually survive this battle.

"Yes. There you are..."

Kali let out a yell as the bird reached in through the door. She panicked, throwing the jar at Thunder and breaking it across his beak. It's contents splattered across his face and shoulders, stinging at his eyes. He hissed, reaching in once again to grab Kali by the leg.

She fell backward, landing on her lute.

"No!" She cried.

She reached with her wing tip, desperate to grab the one object that would save her now right as the bird caught her.

His claw wrapped easily around her waist and squeezed, pinning one arm against her body. Kali felt herself hoisted into the air, the arena wall collapsing the moment they left.

"You are a most troublesome creature." The humor was gone in Thunder's voice. He began to squeeze and Kali could feel his talons piercing her flesh, digging into her hips and side. "Look at what you have done!"

Kali felt like she was going to hurl, dragged along like a rag doll as the bird continued to rise high above the arena.

"Look!" Thunder demanded. "Look at what you have done to my home!" The arena looked so far away now. The final parts of the arena were starting to collapse in on themselves. The rising water was spilling out into the city around it, as if a giant lake had appeared in the center of Northvale.

"You ruined everything. You and all those worm things you call friends. But don't you worry, I'll deal with them soon. I'll devour them slowly, like you." The bird chuckled, "And then I will move on, to another village, to another town. I will renew myself... like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I will live on as legend while your bones bleach under the sun."

Thunder's talon dug just a little deeper into Kali's side, causing her to scream. The bat fought off the pain, forcing her eyes open and grinding her teeth. "Y-you have it w-wrong, Thunder. You are not a phoenix."

The pair ascended higher into the sky. Thunder gave the bat another squeeze with his talons, a smile forming at her sounds of pain. He finally looked down to see her dismay, her fear and her anguish.

Instead all he saw was the fierce determination behind her eyes, "You are not going to rise from the ashes. You are only going to BURN." It was then, just a little too late that the bird saw the oil lamp that kali held onto desperately with her wing.

A savage yell bellowing from her lungs, Kali swung her weapon with all her might. With a resounding crash the lamp broke over Thunder's beak. The bird gasped as glass was broken over his face, and when the small fire had caught the sticky oily substance Kali had thrown at him only moments before, he screamed.

 It was the most awful sound Kali had ever heard. The once mighty hunter reduced to such fearful wailing. The frantic beats of his wings only fueled the flames as the tiny flame fed upon the oil, spreading across his body.

The bird spiraled downward, the flames visible from all of Northvale, like a meteor streaking across the sky.

And still clutching Kali in a vice like grip.

She pounded her wings against his talons, struggling to wriggle her way free. Again and again she beat her wing against his leg, even biting into his claw. The bird only held firm as the ground rushed to meet them.

The flaming bird crashed into the middle of the arena. The stone work of the Crater finally gave way, entombing Thunder forever as the walls collapsed onto each other with a resounding splash.

Waves of water spread outward into the city, carrying with it the last remnants of the arena. It's tapestries, its trophies... and one badly seared and broken lute...

6
Contest Discussion / Re: Avatars & Reviews
« Last post by Kali on December 18, 2017, 06:47:19 PM »
Huh... for some reason I can't see the avatars to download them again XD
7
Final Round / Through Shadows Falling
« Last post by Komi Banton on December 16, 2017, 10:32:57 AM »
Komi ran.

She held the screaming, weeping Fable in her arms, and she ran. Tavin and Nerra ran just in front of her, her son continually glancing back at her, as if worried she’d be left behind.

Her lungs ached and tears coursed down her cheeks. The wound in her thigh from her battle that morning burned like fire, slowing her down. The sack with her drum thudded against her backside, from where she’d tied it to her belt earlier to leave her paws free.

Cracks spider-webbed over the walls. Dust hung thick in places where the walls had crumbled. She stumbled over a piece of rubble, nearly falling, and staggering in order to catch herself.

“Mum! Mum! Here!”

She looked up to see Nerra dart through the kitchen doorway and Tavin waving with her spear to make sure she saw. Something crashed loudly behind her and a gust of air and dust struck her back. She pelted through the kitchens, past clanking pots and pans on their hooks and abandoned knives, spoons, and chopped vegetables.

Then she burst out the next door and into the evening air outside the Crater. Before her, Nerra and Tavin continued running until they were well away from the walls that formed the outside of the arena.

As soon as she reached them, Komi collapsed, gasping raggedly. She clung to Fable, who struggled and fought against her, crying for Minerva all the while.

“Mum?!” Tavin cried, his voice edging on panic.

“I’m okay,” she choked, waving one paw weakly, and nearly losing her grip on Fable. The otter pup wriggled like a trout, nearly getting out of Komi’s exhausted hold.

“Mummy! Mummy! Let me go! I want my mummy!” the otter pup wailed.

“Fable,” Komi could hardly talk around her gasps for air and her own sobs that wanted to sneak out. Later, she promised herself. Mourn Min later. “Listen to me. Shh…” She changed her grip on the otter, still holding her secure, but going to more of a cradling hold and rocking her in a way that she hadn’t done since Tavin was a kit. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Your mother’s gone. She’s gone, Fable. We can’t go back for her. I’m sorry.” Her voice broke and she bowed her own head until it touched Fable’s. “I’m so sorry.”

She felt paws on her shoulder and raised red eyes to look at her son, who knelt beside her. “I’m sorry, Mum,” he whispered, his face contorting with his own guilt. “It’s my fault.”

“No,” she said, and put one arm around him, pulling him close to her. “Never, ever think that. Min made her choice on her own. You didn’t make her do anything.”

The three of them stayed there in a secure embrace, Fable weeping loudly, and silent tears from Komi’s eyes trickling over her dark fur. Tavin’s breath was warm and soft against her neck.

There was a crash from the crumbling Crater. They all looked up as dust rose from a section where they had been. Komi swallowed down a cry of her own.

Goodbye, Min.

Her breathing was beginning to steady, and a bone deep weariness settled over her.

Fable stopped struggling, and now just sobbed, limp in Komi’s arms. Komi shifted the little otter in her lap, put a paw under her chin, and raised her bowed head.

“Listen to me, Fable. I know you hardly know me, and that’s not fair to you, but your mother told me so much about you. She loved you so much. More than you know.”

The little otter blinked, and two more fat teardrops rolled from her eyes.

Komi continued. “I know I’m not as good as your mother, but I will take care of you. You won’t be alone. I promise.”

“I want my mummy,” Fable whimpered, her lower lip trembling.

Tavin’s paw reached out and took hold of Fable’s smaller one. “Aye, and you’ll never stop wanting her,” he said. “You’ll always miss her, but that’s okay. And it’s okay to cry about it, too. But you have to remember, would your mummy want you to be sad all the time?”

The pup shook her head.

“Would your mummy want you to be happy?”

Fable hesitated, then nodded.

Komi’s son smiled through his own tears and leaned close. “You just remember all the things she taught you, all the songs she sang, and stories she told you. As long as you can do that, and remember all the happy times, it will hurt less and less the longer you go on. You will never stop missing her, but you will never stop loving her either.”

Tavin gave Komi a sideways glance, and there was something in those eyes, that looked so much like Alder’s. Komi realized that what Tavin was saying had probably been said to him many long seasons ago, when he thought she had died in the siege at Redwall. She swallowed down a lump in her throat.

“By Martin,” Nerra suddenly said, pointing up toward the collapsing Crater. “What is that?!”

They all looked, as a massive, furred, eight-legged creature came scuttling out of a hole in a wall, her spiny pelt red in the evening light.

“Bessie,” Komi said, climbing to her feet, though her legs shook violently from the strain. She hitched Fable onto the hip not weakened by her injured leg. “One of Nire’s monsters.”

“Did you have to fight that?” Tavin whispered, his voice cracking.

“No, I fought a scorpion,” Komi said, as they watched as the spider race along the crumbling rooftop, heading towards the setting sun in the west.

A shuddering rumble ran through the ground, making them all stagger.

“We shouldn’t be here,” Komi said, her eyes scanning the collapsing building before them. “I don’t know how bad the flooding will be, but we should get to high ground.”

“We can meet up with the rest of the GUOSIM,” Tavin said. “They were taking the other children away from here. We’ll be safe with them and Fable can see her friends again.” He smiled at the otter, who returned a shaky little smile of her own, though her paws were twined tightly around Komi’s neck now.

A flutter of motion caught Komi’s eye and she turned her head, looking towards the Crater’s main gate. She blinked, not sure what she was seeing. A small figure fluttered from an upper story, flapping hard, but then spiraled down out of sight.

“Kali!” Komi gasped. “That was Kali! Come on! She must be hurt!”

She hurried across the cobbled roadway that ran by the Crater, heading towards the area she’d seen Kali go down, but then stopped short when she saw the crowd before the Crater’s main gate. Somewhere in the middle of it all, she heard Kali’s voice.

Komi glanced at Fable, then at Tavin. “I have to check on Kali. I won’t leave another friend behind if I can help it. Take Fable.” The otter pup hesitated to unlock her paws from around Komi’s neck, but Tavin tickled her suddenly. She squealed and he pulled her away. Komi took the spear from Tavin in exchange. “Stay here!” she ordered.

She turned and elbowed her way through the crowd.
8
Final Round / The Ballad of Bessie
« Last post by Kali on December 15, 2017, 07:13:38 PM »
"Where have you been?" The chubby bat threw her wings around Baxter, hugging him tight. The blue garbs of the fox made the bard easy to find in the crowd of slaves, and when he proved missing Kali began to panic. "I thought you got trampled!"

"Ha!" Baxter laughed, "Almost. It's like navigating a river of beasts down here. But no, I was-"

"Or you got eaten by snakes!"

"Y-yeah, I guess that is possible now."

"Or scorpions!"

"Kali." The fox scrunched his nose.

"Or Thunder swooped down to take you away! Or the guards got you! Or Nire! Or..."

Grabbing the bat by the shoulder with one paw, Baxter shoved something into her chest with the other to shut her up.

"What is this? Is this..." Kali blinked in confusion before her eyes lit up with recognition. It couldn't be, thought the bat as she ran a wing tip over the wood. She strummed at the strings experimentally. "Where did you get this?"

"Behind someone's desk in the bowery. I went back to grab it before we left." The fox smirked. "It reminded me of the lute you broke over that assassins head a few months back."

"Silas." Kali held the lute tighter, eyes closed, "It's the same one. Luthier Droven was fixing it for me before Nire..." The bat choked back a sob. "I guess I forgot all about it, what with all that has happened." With a chuckle she said, "All my life I just wanted to play my songs for some rich noble somewhere, ya know? I wanted that so much that I traveled the world looking for it. But, looking back, it all seemed to silly. All these beasts, being kept as slaves, watching their families die around them and all I could think about was..."

"And look at you now, Helping to inspire a slave rebellion."

Kali chirped with laughter, “Yeah, life is funny like that.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Baxter seemed to have a hard time staring Kali in the eyes. "Kali. Do think... do you think that after all this is over, after we are free and everyone is safe. Do you think you and me..." Baxter gulped, "Do you think we could ever..."

"Nope."

Baxter nearly fell flat on his face. The bat's answer was quick and simple and in the most friendly tone he had ever heard.

"R-really? I mean, but... you know..." The fox's fur seemed to fluster, "Surely the idea of us getting together after all this is over isn't THAT far fetched." His voice turned to a whimper. "Is it?"

Kali shrugged, "It’s not anything personal but, I I'm just more into fox-bats than foxes." A mischievous smile connected one ear to the other as she slung the lute over her shoulder. "But I'm not opposed to the idea." She leaned forward, kissing him on the cheek. "Thank you for finding my lute."

Baxter's eyes widened. And then he looked confused. “I, was going to ask if you wanted to team up and form a duet. After all is said and done.”

Kali came to a pause. “You mean you were not suggestion we… ahem… oh.” The bat laughed, burying her head in her wings to hide her burning cheeks. “Excuse me while I go throw myself at a scorpion now.”

The fox glanced sideways, then back to the bat with a smile of his own. “You want to grab a drink after all this is over?”

“Yeah, I would like that. I would like that a lot…”

Coming up behind them, Inkpaw glanced at one beast and then another. Drawing a deep breath through gritted teeth the chubby marten said loudly, "You do both realize we are all about to drown in a giant death arena, yes? That we will all DIE if we do not leave right this second, yes?"

"Oh, give it a rest, chubby cheeks, danger is always the best time for romance." Walking up behind the marten, Rose slapped him across the rump. He jumped, giving the weasel a most horrific glance as she blew him a kiss.

Kali buried her head in her wings in embarrassment. Baxter just laughed.

Face beet red, Inkpaw shook his head. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "So much for looking forward to surviving." He sighed, "Can we please just get going?"

The sudden rumble and shifting of the floor ended what ever reply the others might have had. The ground lurched below their feet, cracks rapidly appearing in the floor before them,  The entire room shuddered, nearly tripping the beasts as the floor lurched upward rather than crumbled below them.

Kali glanced down as the stone crumbled away to reveal a face emerging from the floor, all eight eyes reflecting the bat's own terror.

Bessie rose through the floor, squeezing herself out of the hole she created and scattering the beasts around her.

Letting out a terrible wail, Kali found herself clinging to Bessie’s head she rose to her full height.

"Fates alive," Inkpaw managed to gasp as the spider glanced to left then right. It wasn't clear what the spider was searching for. Escape? It's captor? A snack? "Everyone, j-just stay calm. Don't make any sudden movements and it may just go away on its own."

“Inkpaw! Run!” The bat cried while still hanging on the monster.

The baker blinked, finding himself suddenly alone as the rest of the slaves fled down the hallway. He cursed, falling into a run behind them and struggling to catch up.

The spider however, had a much easier time catching up to the beasts.

Slaves tripped over each other to get away from the monster as it lurched forward with terrifying speed, all the while Kali wailed desperately for help. For some reason, Thrayjen's name came up more than once in her panicked cries.

A ferret screamed as Bessie trampled him to paste. The sound of crunching bones only gave the others more motivation to move faster. Others leapt to the side and got ready to fight, instead the monster brushed passed them. In fact, it seemed devoted to one target.

It didn't take much imagination to guess which of the beasts Bessie might be after. Inkpaw was, after all, the heftiest creature in the room, next to Kali herself. Despite this, the marten moved quickly, putting all his energy into fleeing from the beast.

A pity it was not enough.

With a kick of her foreleg, the spider sent Inkpaw flying forward. He rolled over twice before skidding across the floor.

The breath knocked out of him, Inkpaw struggled to get back to his feet. The marten rolled onto his haunches, looking up into the looming figure of Bessie as she closed the distance.

Suddenly, Rose was there, standing in front of Inkpaw. The weasel flailed her staff about, hissing at the spider to drive it away.

Bessie...

Bessie did not like that.

Not. One. Bit.

The spider came to a halt right before Rose, it leaned downward like a feral beast, hissing back at the weasel.

Rearing backward, Bessie prepared to stomp the offending beast between her and her prey flat.

Kali did everything she could do to prevent her friends from being torn to pieces. Still clinging desperately to the monster's back, she reached forward, covered its eyes with her wings and hoping it would be enough to save Inkpaw and Rose.".

The spider would lurch forward to crush them regardless, smashing the ground with its claws a moment after Inkpaw pulled Rose out of the way. The two beasts were nearly crushed again as the spider danced about furiously.

Seeing the spider distracted, the other slaves came to help.

Spears were thrown and blades were swung as slaves surrounded the spider. A stalwart fox hacked away at the spider’s leg with a short sword. The spider didn't so much scream, as let out a seething hiss, turning quickly and kicking the fox onto his back. Her free leg came down like a spear, impaling him through the belly. The spider hoisted the fox high before kicking his corpse free.

She then turned against her other attackers, slashing at them with her legs, scraping stone where she missed, splattering blood against the walls where she didn't.

"Legs! Go for the legs!" Someone shouted over Baxters frightened yelps.

The spider skittered around once again, still blinded by the bat.

It attacked wildly at a beast. A rat was saved only because Rose was there to ram her staff into Bessie's throat. The spider gagged, backing up into a wall, sending tremors through the hallway.

Kali watched as beasts pressed the attack. She saw Baxter stoop low over Inkpaw, helping him to his feet while Rose helped bash away at the spider’s legs.

"Kali! Get off of the bloody spider and out of the-" Rose began to shout. She was cut off as the spider launched a counterattack against them, bowling over beasts left and right. The spider’s leg shot out like a spear, striking the weasel in the side where her hip met her stomach.

Rose spun as she fell into a small pool of her own blood. Bessie buckled under the bat and Kali could not tell if Rose was alive or dead.

Finally having enough of these beasts and their terrible weapons, Bessie chose a direction and ran.

That direction happened to be a blocked by a wall, which was rather unfortunate for Kali... and for the wall.

Kali closed her eyes, her hide assaulted by rocks and dirt as Bessie simply crashed through the already weakened wall. Not stopping there, the spider then climbed upward, crashing through the ceiling and into the level above them.

They arrived somewhere in the office section of the arena, as far as Kali could guess as she was flung off the spider. She landed against the floor, the wind driven out of her. All she could do was lay there. Everything hurt, from her head to the bottom of her rump, and especially her wing. If the spider wanted to eat her, Kali figured she would just let her.

‘Just, get it over with,’ thought the bat. She was tired of being tossed from one danger to the other. Why couldn’t the spider just finish her off finally? Just stomp her flat and suck the juices out of her tasty bat meats. Surely she must taste good, why else would everything in the universe be trying to eat her?

Slowly, the image of the gruesome creature drifted into view and loomed over the bat, clacking its hairy mandibles together. Kali whimpered. On second thought, the idea of having her juices sucked out of her body was about as terrifying as being devoured by hawks. But she could only lay there, winded and in shock.

However, the spider retreated, quickly finding herself another wall to plow through at the end of the hallway, and leaving behind another gaping hole, this one  with a wide view of the sun setting over Northvale beyond.

"Great, now I helped unleash a deadly snake AND a giant spider upon the city." Kali laughed to herself. Why was it she could only save bandits and monsters?

Slowly the realization dawned on Kali that she was staring at the city. The city outside. The city they were trying to escape to.

"F-freedom. Freedom guys! H-hey! I found a way out!" Kali's heart began to race, she got to her feet, glancing over her shoulder, but her friends were not there.

Only the rapidly collapsing hallway behind her.

Kali's jaw dropped. Why couldn’t she ever get a break? The bat began half limping, half running from the collapsing building behind her. Panic filled her heart. She couldn’t die here, Inkpaw owed her so many sweet treats for all that she has gone through! But bats were not made for running! That's why nature gave them wings!

"This is bad, this is bad, this is bad!" the bat chirped over and over again, cringing as parts of the ceiling began collapsing around her. Debris quickly grew in size from mere pebbles to large slabs of stone.

Kali wasn't going to make it. Not like this. But could she still fly? Did it matter if she didn't at least try?

She stretched out her wing, biting back the pain that shot through her arm. Pain was a good thing here, it meant she was still alive.

One experimental flap turned into another. The pain was intense at first, but gradually evened out into a dull throb. It was still preferred to the pain being splattered by rocks would bring.

Kali picked up speed, leaping into the air once, and then twice to escape debris. "Come on. You big, fat, loud mouthed bard. Is this all you got?" she hissed to herself. "Is this how you are going to die? After all you have done? Are you going to let your friends down now?" Her mind drifted to her friends. She didn't even know if they were alive now. Were they being buried in rubble?

Who would save them if they were?

Who would care enough to dig out a couple of escaped slaves?

Letting out a yell, Kali put in one last surge of energy into her wings and she took flight, leaping into the air and shooting across the hallway. With the building collapsing on her heels, Kali glided through the opening and into the night.

The bat shot out of the building, trailing a cloud of dirt behind her. Kali's flight was however short lived. Her wound caused her to spiral out of control and she landed ungracefully on her rump before rolling head over heels across the concourse surrounding the arena.

"Ow,” she finally managed to gasp. Her head was swimming now, adding to her already sore body. She wanted to just rest here but so far experience had taught her that standing still was a bad idea. Her eyes opened wide however when she realized where she was.

"I'm on the outside..." Kali's voice trembled.

"I... I'm outside the arena." The bat threw her wings into the air. "I'm FREE! Free I tell you! Freeeeeeeee-"

And then reality ensued as half a dozen guards swarmed around her, leveling their spears at her face.
9
Final Round / Courage (My Word)
« Last post by Thrayjen on December 15, 2017, 07:10:01 PM »
Lady Eve’s voice caught and kept the attention of the rebels, inspiring the rabble into a mostly cohesive, goal-oriented troupe. Amongst rebellions there shall always be rebels, and not even Eve’s grand promises could convince everybeast. Thrayjen’s heavy muzzle turned towards a particular group who continued their rumblings. Their threat was not lost upon the rat; as beasts in blue and beasts with chafed necks poured from the bowyery yard at Eve’s command, Thrayjen held an arm out to stop the mice and ferret behind him from proceeding.
 
“Rinam,” Thrayjen began, looking to the tallest of the white ladies. “The kitchens you worked in before forced into the pits. It had a loading bay somewhere for bulk supplies, I assume?”
 
Rinam nodded and gripped her rondel tighter. “You wish us to flee while you press on.”
 
“Never!” Foxglove Aera spat.
 
“It’s not such a bad idea, aye,” Blue said as she hopped from foot to foot.
 
“Coward,” Foxglove snarled back.
 
“I won’t be there to protect you,” Thrayjen patiently said, waiting for the young mouse. Her face scrunched as her front teeth ran along her lip.
 
“You actually mean to go after Nire? Now? Somebeast else can get the cat, there’s enough after him already!”
 
“And they all mean to kill him on sight, not ensure Northvale is held accountable.”
 
“That’s…not such a bad idea, aye.” Blue winced slightly at Thrayjen’s angry glare. “Him livin’ is going to just further divide the beasts in Northvale. There are so many in town whose lives depend on the Crater. My brother…even my pa, back in the day, we all work here. The schools, the library, the harbour, everythin’ came about because of Nire’s Crater.” Blue swallowed, running both her paws over her head and pinning her ears down. “Lettin’ Nire live would be to encourage all of those beasts who don’t understand. I…I don’t even know what I’m doin’. I know it’s right, but I thought I had it all figured out before. There’s goin’ to be so many beasts like me who just…don’t know anythin’ else!”
 
Dryly, the ferret added, “Beasts like what they know. It’s comfortable…”
 
Thrayjen gently shook his head. “And yet with Nire dead, Northvale won’t have the chance to recognize what they did as wrong. It’ll always just be ‘the tyrant Nire did this’, but they did this. They helped him.”
 
“You’re saying he deserves to live? He, of all beasts?”
 
Thrayjen sighed, his disappointment heavy. “Truth is, Miss Aera, I don’t rightly know what he deserves. As a former tyrant myself, it’s not my choice.”
 
Foxglove’s mouth closed with a click of teeth as she looked at the ground. Her mother placed a paw upon her shoulder.
 
“If we can get out safely, then we should take that opportunity. I don’t want you to risk-“
 
“It’s my choice!” Aera interrupted the older mouse. “My friends are out in this horrid place, fighting for their lives and for ours, and I will not run. I will not abandon them when they need every paw they can get.”
 
The white mouse launched herself forward, lurching past the group of bewildered creatures. Her mother called desperately after her, shock and fear filling every crease in Marigold’s usually relaxed face. Her paws carried her forward but Blue held the mouse back as she sought after her daughter.
 
“Easy now, Mrs A. She’s got her mind made up.”
 
“Now’s the time to find your brother, if he’s still inside the Crater,” Thrayjen said to Blue. “The kitchens won’t be the guards’ priority. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to fight any uniformed friends.”
 
Blue winced at his comment but nodded, looking sick at the prospect of fighting her peers. She guided Marigold by the arm, picking their way towards the Drag.
 
“Nire may no longer be in the Crater,” Rinam quietly said, following beside Thrayjen.
 
“The king won’t leave his castle,” Thrayjen promptly answered.
 
“We don’t know that. He is a coward, like most beasts of coin.” Rinam pointed out. Her eyes narrowed. “He may have fled.”
 
“He may not have,” Thrayjen insisted. “If they kill Nire, they’ll justify killing me. There’s so many here who I’ve terrorized. If they can just wait for him to see justice done proper…perhaps not murdering me won’t be so impossible.”
 
“You fear them yet you give them choice. Curious traits for a king.” The white mouse eyed him sidelong, the corner of her mouth lifting slightly.
 
“I’m not a king,” Thrayjen said insistently, shoving the heavy bowyery door open and leading the group into the damp corridor. “I’m a farmer.”
 
The hallway was eerily empty. Beasts had moved under Eve’s guidance to the main gate whereas many still in uniform had tried to salvage other areas of the Crater.
 
“I bet most of us, er, them,” Blue quietly said, timid against the quiet of the hallway and the shouts and screams that lurked beyond, “have gone to secure areas of importance. Can’t have another armory incident; the crematorium might be a swell of activity. Mad Muda keeps a lot of loud potions down there that the guards will be interested in protecting, if she hasn’t been flooded out.”
 
“Most will be at the main gates,” Thrayjen added. He scratched his chin with a claw, eyes flickering down both ends of the corridor. “That’s where most slaves will be trying to get out. Most of Nire’s forces will be trying to stop the hail of armed, angry beasts who remember what a naked neck feels like. Find Plockette as quick as you can. How’re you going to get the loading doors open, Rinam?”
 
The curly furred mouse simply flexed an arm and shrugged. “I shall burn it down if the lock will not yield, though I suppose a nutpick and a knife will suffice.” She turned to the large rat and held his gaze for but a moment before her paws flexed into a foreign symbol.
 
“If we lose the tyrant today, than the world shall be twice as good. If we lose you, a good soul will be mourned. Be safe.”
 
“Is that what that means?” the rat asked, looking at Rinam’s paws.
 
“No.” She smiled, a rare sight that Thrayjen found himself mimicking. “Return to me and I’ll show you more.”
 
Blue burst into a choking fit, her ragged laughter betraying her anxieties. She threw her arms around Thrayjen’s neck and gave him a rough pat. The tension in the smaller ferret’s body moved the rat to return her embrace.
 
“Rotten searat,” the ferret said, strained voice nearly a gasp. She blinked profusely, blue eyes wide and worried. “Imagine if I hadn’t been assigned as your trainer, aye?  I’d still have a job! This is all your fault, you great hulkin’ shadow, so if you don’t find me after you get out, I’ll box your ears until they fly off.”
 
“Then I best be quick,” Thrayjen said, and they held each other for a minute longer. Blue then pushed him away, galloping ahead and ushering Marigold and Rinam towards the winners’ lounge where Thrayjen hoped Plockette was safe.
 
Thrayjen watched them go until their footsteps were lost, heart pounding in his chest as he grappled with his decision to seek out Nire. He could run after the girls, simply take them out to freedom, or insist on finding Plockette himself rather than the lynx. He could join Foxglove and fight in the hoard of desperate beasts at the main gate. Thrayjen’s paw rested on the cutlass sheathed in his belt.
 
Northvale will simply kill you in the end, Thrayjen thought.You’re wasting precious seconds. Go after Rinam. Get out. Leave. Northvale will hate you regardless of how you’ve changed. What you’ve done will never leave them…just like the Crater will never leave them…this is a mistake…
 
“I made a choice,” Thrayjen barked into the empty hallway. He took off, marching through the Drag towards familiar corners and posts.
 
I saw my own evil. They can too.
 
One turn led the rat past a grisly scene of three dead Bluebacks and four perished slaves. One beast had tried to drag themselves away, but the corpse at the end of a long blood trail proved the swiftness of death.
 
I changed. They can too.

He passed the courtyard that led to the barns. Black smoke filled the hallways and the rat choked and gasped as he crawled. His paws slid along slick and sticky gore, the taste of blood on his lips as his pawsteps inadvertently sent droplets splattering. The rat stumbled, tripping over the tail of a squirrel who had met the hooves of a boar. Her stomach spilled from her split flesh and Thrayjen hurried his pace, fleeing past several more bodies that had fallen prey to boar or revolt.
 
They have too.
 
On the ground floor of the Crater, the devastation was worse. Beasts occasionally would run by the rat, their pelts slick with blood or blackened with smoke. Guards fended off crowds of slaves, and beasts everywhere were screaming. Thrayjen scoured the crowd for the flash of white fur, but nowhere could he see Foxglove.
 
The dark rat slunk along the walls, heading for the one door he knew led up. The several times Nire had called him to his office had been enough for Thrayjen to memorize the route, and he moved hastily despite the pockets of fighting. The door itself barely hung in its frame, wood cracked at the hinges and a broken hole where the lock had once rested. He wasn’t the first to try this way.
 
Fear clenched him as Thrayjen worried he was already too late. He pushed aside the broken barricade and thundered up the stone steps. Yet, as he made his way towards the large wooden doors of Nire’s office, the hallways were empty save for dead. Guards lay in pools of their own blood, and for each blue uniform there was at least one slave whose life had ended in the pursuit of freedom.
 
Nire’s office loomed before the giant rat as he forced himself into a steady pace. Dread united with his fear as he simply pushed on one of the heavy doors and it opened. Stepping over the body of a blue uniformed guard, Thrayjen let himself into the lynx’s lair.
 
Furniture was turned over and books had been emptied from the shelves. Chairs had been thrown and shattered against the stone walls. Nire’s desk had been looted and the drawers, ripped from their tracks, lay ruined in piles of board and shredded papers. The lynx’s chair sat vandalized, hacked at crudely with varying blades.
 
It was the only time Thrayjen had ever seen the fireplace cold, yet the greatrat wore an enormous, cocky smile.
 
“They didn’t find you, did they?” he called sarcastically to no one. “They would have just grabbed you and dragged you out and killed you if they did…but no, here lays your throne in pieces.” The rat leapt onto Nire’s desk, kicking papers into the air and watching them spiral back down to the ground. “So where are you, my Lord?” He snidely spoke to himself, whiskers twitching. “Come out, come out…”
 
Thrayjen squinted as he searched about the room from his perch, tail lashing excitedly behind him. His fear turned into exhilaration as the Blackwhiskers realized he would have the feline lord to himself. His cutlass was in his paw, tongue running over his lips as he imagined in detail what he would do to the lynx. A wrinkle in the curtains; a simple fold where there should have been none. Fabric that did not dance in the breeze as its partner did.
 
There.
 
The Blackwhiskers eagerly followed the curtain to where it tucked into the shelving next to the window, and the greatrat’s paws etched slowly along the crevices and nails until one particular bump clicked. A door barely opened, cleverly disguised as a functioning bookcase, and the Rapscallion whistled despite himself.
 
Stairs lay beyond the secret door. A passage, narrow and unlit, comprised mostly of stairs lead upwards. Without knowing where he was heading, the rat tripped and stumbled his way up, getting stuck twice and having to wrench his tail with a paw until he could wriggle free. At last, a flash of light found his eyes and the Blackwhiskers hurled himself through the hall, scratching at the walls and biting the air as his body moved too slow for his craving.
 
Grey sky above his head, the black rat galloped along the topmost tier of the Crater’s rounded levels. No bulwark kept wayward spectators safe from the edge and the long way down paused the Blackwhiskers for a moment as he contemplated how long it would take to reach the bottom. An owl flew above him, screeching as it disappeared into a plume of smoke. The Blackwhisker’s eyes locked onto the lone figure across the platform.
 
“Nire,” he growled, salivating and clenching his sword. His paws launched him forward and he dodged ropes and enormous fire cages that had once glowed with coloured flames. His imagination took off as quickly as his paws and his teeth would snip that shaggy cat’s flesh from muscle very neatly.

The Blackwhiskers drew near, and for a moment he saw only red. Then, with paws patiently clasped behind his back, Nire turned towards him. His chin up in quiet dignity, the lynx stood a portrait of calm acceptance. The claymore in his paw was leaned upon like a cane, its desire for blood and flesh unconsummated.
 
Thrayjen slowed, and rose to his feet. He sheathed the cutlass in his belt and stopped pawsteps away from his former master.

“Come to kill me, Blackwhiskers?” Nire asked, nodding at the rat’s sword and pointedly looking at Thrayjen’s bare neck. “Not much room up here for theatrics.” A quick glance down, down into the fighting pit below.

“Long way down,” Thrayjen answered, unable to disguise the hunger in his voice.

“Seven seconds.”

“Fair enough, but who would want to clean up that kind of mess?”

They stared at each other in silence. Nire broke into a broad smile, chuckling as he lowered himself to the stone and sitting with his longs legs dangling over the edge.

“So you’re not going to kill me. Yet. Why then are you here?”

Thrayjen eased himself down beside the lynx, squinting through his toes at the distant ground. He wrapped his lengthy tail around a rope hitch, swallowing the unease in his stomach as he thought about the long seven seconds down.

“It would be rather hypocritical, wouldn’t you say? The Blackwhiskers killing a great lord simply for doing what the Rapscallions have been doing for generations. Kidnapping, enslavement, blackmail, torture and abuse…”

“And murder,” Nire added helpfully.

“Right. And murder. The whole package. The difference between you and I, Lord Nire, is that my people never had a choice. They lived in our lands, they lived by our way. They grew up knowing only Rapscallion reign, and they became we. Your people…Northvale. They let you in and accepted you. They chose your way.”

“And yet I am labelled a tyrant,” the lynx sighed, disappointment weighing heavily upon his brow.

“By those who didn’t chose you.”

Thrayjen looked down across Northvale. Smoke was thick in the air as the barn fire had spread, Northvale shrouded in grey smog. From the top of the Crater, the town and the beasts below seemed so tiny, so unimportant. Beside him, the lynx shifted and Thrayjen watched him carefully, noting how the cat’s eyes flickered from fire to fight to searching for the source of every scream.

“’We’, you said. My people.” The lynx grinned. “I tried to make them that. I had a people once, and I was happy. War took everything from me. I lost my home, my culture. I tried again, to find happiness, and I found Northvale.”

The lynx shifted, bobbed tail lashing against the ground as Nire ground his teeth in frustration. “They loved me. I made them what they are! I gave them everything!”

“Which I why I won’t let anyone kill you today. It’s not right for Northvale to raise you up and then simply murder you.”

The lynx’s head snapped towards Thrayjen and the rat calmly stared back into Nire’s widened eyes.

“You’ll…you’ll let them decide my fate? Those turncoats, those simpletons?!”

“Aye,” Thrayjen answered. “When they put you on trial, the whole town will be put on trial. They’ll be forced to see what they’ve become.”

“Why do you even care?” Nire demanded, his high-pitched voice hiking in indignation. The rat smirked ironically.

“I care because I was you, once. Long time ago, but the history was written. I faced myself down and I when I realized how disgusting I was, I tried to change.”

“Yet you still fight like a savage,” Nire sneered. “So really, have you changed all that much? Do you think Northvale would change? They love bloodsport now, and that will always nag at them. I scratched an itch they couldn’t reach! They’ll shred me to pieces and still that won’t satiate their appetites; I’ll always be a part of them, and you, Prince Thrayjen, will be forgotten by all save those who remember the Blackwhiskers.”

The lynx narrowed his eyes, running a claw through his whiskers contemplatively.

“We can flee,” Nire hissed. “We can go south, to Muskroarka. I can set up a new arena, a new life. You can have your royal status back. Together, we can topple your brother. We’d be powerful, you and I. I’ll even give you that mouse you’re always eyeing. The one with the curly fur; the Pearl Dawn.”

Thrayjen smiled patiently, tilting his head as he regarded Nire much the same way he’d often look at Helix when a pie went missing.

“I’m not the Blackwhiskers, Lord Nire. I can’t help you find happiness or somewhere to belong.” The rat stood and offered Nire a paw up. “I can only help you find fairness.”

“It isn’t fair, though,” Nire growled, nudging the forgotten claymore. He planted it tip to stone and hoisted himself up. “You say you’re not the Blackwhiskers, but I don’t believe you. You’ve the same bloodlust as the town. They’ll kill me, and remember you, and then you’ll tear each other to bits.”

Thrayjen shrugged, unable to argue with Nire’s logic. The cat spoke the truth; Northvale would never forget its dark chapters, and never let him forget his. The rat glanced down and found himself staring at the sword clasped in Nire’s claws. The lynx looked from him to his blade, a slow smile spreading across his features.

“It was MacRaffs. I found it near Timberfell’s body. In my Hall of Greats…” Teeth poked out from behind the lynx’s stretched lips. “He wasn’t very great, though, was he? Murdered by a drunk bowyer. Forgotten by his partner. Here.”

Nire offered the claymore forth. “I admit, I almost missed it when I hid behind a statue, but…it is a pretty decoration, don’t you think?”

Thrayjen’s whiskers twitched. The sword had killed many and righted wrongs and created new grudges. It was no trinket. The hare that had wielded it had been a fierce warrior. Nire dishonoured them both by greasing the hilt with his paws.

“Take it,” the lynx offered again, and Thrayjen reached his paw out.

The cat was fast, and while not a warrior himself he wasted no time. Nire brought the hilt up and slammed the pommel into Thrayjen’s swollen face, his eye exploding into a fiercer pain than before. Thrayjen fell back, clutching his face and screaming a thousand curses as he felt fresh blood trickle down his cheek.

“Take it, then!” Nire shrieked, turning the sword and, gripping it tightly with both paws, slashing down at the floored rat.

Thrayjen barely rolled to the side in time to evade the frantic cat’s attack, his legs and hips sliding off the stone platform. His caws barely found enough purchase to cling to safety as his tail, still curled about the hitch, set his roll further off balance. He scrambled from the edge, kicking wildly as Nire tried to come in close.

Nire launched himself forward, landing on top of Thrayjen and grappling with his claws and teeth as Kentigern’s sword skittered across the stones. Thrayjen grabbed at the lynx’s clenched fists, holding the larger cat’s blows back. Screams of rage cried in a foreign tongue bellowed forth from the lynx.

“TAKE THE SWORD! SLAY ME! I’M RIGHT! I’M RIGHT! BLACKWHISKERS! KILL YOU ALL! I’M RIGHT!”

Spitting, hissing, Nire yelled enraged nonsense, his muscles weakening as Thrayjen dug his knee into Nire’s stomach and flipped him over. The lynx growled and let loose a terrible, high-pitched roar as the muscles in his legs bunched up. Thrayjen drew his cutlass and pointed it calmly at Nire, heaving heavy breaths as his tail edged the claymore even further away from the deranged cat.

“You KNOW I’m RIGHT!” the cat shrieked, hunkering down onto four paws as his back arched and tail lashed. “They’ll KILL ALL OF US! Me, you! Without me, this town is NOTHING BUT CHAOS!”

“Chaos breeds more chaos,” Thrayjen answered, squaring his shoulders. “So I’ll see peace return if it kills me.”
10
Final Round / Brave
« Last post by Minerva on December 04, 2017, 02:24:21 PM »
On the fringe of the Northvale Tributary, Quin Aroway of the Aroway Lumber Company stood with the rest of the workers by the dam they had created. It was a rudimentary thing, created simply with carefully measured stones and logs, but it had done its job. By blocking off the tributary, the Northvale River was allowed to rise and more guests could freely enter the port to visit Nire's Crater for the Grand Tournament.

The burly hare glanced up towards the sky, noting that the sun was starting to descend on the horizon.

"Sunset, aye? It said sunset?" one of his workers asked.

"Aye, I believe so," Quin answered him. The burly hare read through the scroll Blasio's associate gave him once again, making sure he was correct. "Aye. 'Just before sunset, the Grand Tournament will be concluded. Remove the dam then, but no earlier.' You know what that means, lads?" Quin called, taking up his axe and looking to the sky.

"Let's break her down."

And they took axe to lumber.

~~~¿~~~

"Minerva!" Komi called as her partner rounded the cusp of the Hall of Greats and raced towards them at the exit. Upon arrival, the panting otterwife frantically passed her bloodied spear to Tavin. "What happened? What's wrong?"

"We need t' leave. Now!" Minerva urged, taking up Fable into her arms.

"Who were those beasts? Are there more comin'?" Nerra asked, reached for her rapier.

"It was Blasio," Minerva said to Komi. "I dealt with him, but I was right about him schemin' somethin'. He's plannin' for a flood t' hit the Crater that's gonna make the whole place collapse stone by stone. If we don't leave now, then we'll be underneath it all."

"And ye believe that villain?" Nerra retorted. "He wanted Kentrith t' kill children."

"He had a spear at his throat. He wasn't gonna dare t' lie t' me," Minerva argued. The otterwife looked around her, seeing cracks already beginning to form in some of the stone pillars around them. "Tavin, which way's the exit?"

The young stoat raised a claw towards one of the torchlit corridors. "That leads to the stands. The path out in the kitchens isn't far from there, but..." Tavin lowered his paw, hesitating. "What about the beasts in the bowyery that that rat told us about? They don't know. We have to warn them!"

Minerva grimaced, clutching Fable closer to her. "We don't have time. This place could come tumblin' down any second for all we know!"

"Tavin, I have to agree with Min," Komi said, looking from the otterwife to her son. "There's no telling how much time we have. If we stay, all five of us could die. We should all get out of here, while we can."

"If we don't do anything, it'll be more than just the five of us who die," Tavin argued, turning to the opposite corridor.

"Tavin!" Komi barked, her claws snapping around her son's wrist. "I am not going to let you take such an unnecessary risk! We're leaving, now."

The young stoat fought against his mother's grip, but the older stoat refused to relent. "Mum, please," he said. "You're right. It's a risk, but if we don't take it, then hundreds of others will die. We're the only ones who can save them and I... I can't just run away knowing that. Mum, trust me, please."

Komi clenched her teeth, her brow furrowing. Tears waited behind the walls of the stoat's eyelids, threatening to spill out in a torrent, but she held them back as she met her son's gaze. "I do, Tavin, I'm just... I'm scared. Do you understand that? After all these seasons I've only just found you're alive. I'm not going through the pain of losing you. Not now, not again."

Tavin nodded and wiped at his snout with his sleeve. "You don't think I feel the same way? I thought you were dead until I got that letter from Kentrith. Do you think I want to lose you again too, to feel lost again like I did when I woke up in that infirmary bed and you weren't there? No. But we can't just do nothing. We have to help. If we don't, we're nothing but cowards."

Komi sniffed and wiped her snout. "I know," she said, relinquishing the young stoat's arm. She stepped forward and threw her arms around his shoulders, pulling him tightly against her. "But I'll be damned if I let you go alone."

"I never wanted to," her son replied.

As the two stoats broke from their embrace, Minerva clutched Fable closer to her, and a lump rose in the otterwife's throat as everybeast looked towards her expectantly. Komi grimaced, no doubt knowing what her partner wanted. The stoat gave her an approving nod before turning away from the exit corridor.

Minerva watched as Tavin, Nerra, and Komi all turned away from her and started down the hall towards the Drag and bowery. In her arms, Fable inquisitively inspected her mother's fishhook, watching as the warm torchlight shone just as brightly off its tip as it did the red-pommel stone in Tavin's sword hilt.   

"Mummy, where are they goin'?" Fable asked, looking away and watching as the three beasts receded down the hall.

It had been nearly a season since Minerva was dragged from her farm and yet, despite her willingness to read, this story was still strange to her. The world was different than she knew. In all her life, it was the vermin who were the villains or the cowards, the turncoats and the Monsters. Never was it the heroic, brave woodlanders, and yet it had been her who killed Silas, her who betrayed everybeast, all because she had been frightened to take a chance.

The otterwife remembered that day on the path as Orran raised his paw and begged her to leave with him. Leagues from the forests around their farm, looming tall and ominously upon the horizon, lay those dark mountains. There was no telling what lay beyond them, but Minerva knew well what was still behind her in those trees. And Orran lowered his paw.

The otterwife thought of Komi's fierceness, of Silas' compassion, of Eve's determination, of Marik's optimism, and of Tavin's courage.

She replayed that scene by the path in her head, but as Orran raised his paw, Minerva took it within her own.

Because, in this strange, dark, new world, if vermin could be brave...

...then so could she.

"Nowhere," Minerva answered her daughter and followed after them.

~~~¿~~~

From an outsider's point of view, the bowery was dark and seemingly abandoned, and had it not been for Nerra spotting the head of a lookout ducking back from the doorframe, the party may have passed by it entirely. Komi pressed her ear against the door, listening as shuffling paws and stout orders were shushed quickly in alarm. The stoat nodded to her companions, before raising her paw and knocking against the frame.

Nobeast within moved to open it, and Komi frowned before raising her paw again.

"Let me try, Komi," Minerva said, stepping forward. She thought for a few moments before saying, "Open the door. We're not Nire's beasts. Ye need t' let us in, now. There's a danger comin' and, before it's too late, we need t' Flee This Nightmare!"

More whispers erupted from within along with the scuffle of footpaws. The pawsteps grew closer until they suddenly stopped abruptly as a beast spoke. "Wait. I know that voice. Rinam, let me."

The door slid open and Lady Eve poked her muzzle out from the crack, narrowing her gaze at the otterwife. "And here I thought Nire would have already let the Monster from her cage. You've some nerve, showing your face here, traitor," the vixen spat. "You should leave, before the rest of FTN and I mistake that blue dress as a uniform."

Minerva grabbed the edge of the door before Eve could shut it in her face. I'm not leavin'. Not until ye hear us out. There's danger comin', and if ye keep hidin' in here, then all of ye will die. We have t' get everybeast ready. We can fight our way outta here together!"

"What do you think we're doing? While you were out doing tricks for Nire, every last one of us has been preparing to fight. We're not hiding anymore," Eve snarled. "But... knowing your games, maybe it'd be better if we did. You could still be Nire's pawn and trying to lure us into a trap."

"I'm nobeasts pawn anymore," Minerva said, Fable peeking out from behind her dress.

"Minerva did what she had to protect her daughter," Komi argued in her defense. "Was it right? No. But, if it had been any of us in the same situation, we can't pretend like we wouldn't have done the same thing."

At Lady Eve's silence, Minerva grimaced. "If ye can't trust me, then can ye at least trust them?"

The vixen's calculating eyes moved from Minerva, to Komi, to Nerra, and then to Tavin and his sword. As if donning her other persona, she sighed dramatically before pulling the door open to let them in.

Inside, shades were pulled off of lanterns and the bowery became alive with activity. A multitude of different beasts, still wearing the collars marking them as slave or gladiator, sorted through bushels and collected weapons in the corner of the workshop. Those who had already found the sword, spear, or axe of their preference had moved to the less crowded shooting range, where they practiced their sparring one final time. Minerva's eyes lit up for a split second as she recognized the familiar curves of two sickle blades, but her chest fell as she quickly realized they were in the paws of a different rat.

As Minerva continued looking, a sudden, dark shape darted from the crowd of beasts and nearly knocked her to the floor. "Minnie! Komi! Beasts I've never seen before!" Kali called. Relief washed through the otterwife as quickly as her breath left her as the bat pulled her and all of her companions into a tight, leathery hug.

"Ka.Li. Puh. Lease," Komi gasped, trying to break free from the embrace as the air left her lungs.

"Oops, sorry!" The foxbat released them and left the two stoats, otter, and shrew all gasping for breath.

Fable peeked out from behind Minerva's dress, and Kali met the young otter's curious gaze. "Oh, whoisthis? It's a liddle Minerva," she cooed, bending down to the Dibbun's level. Kali made a funny face at Fable and the young one giggled.

Smiling, Minerva looked away from the sight and met the gaze of Thrayjen. The hulking rat gave her a nod before turning back to the white mouse and blue-eyed ferret he was talking to. 

"While Nire's beasts have been busy bailing water, we've been preparing. As you can see, we're all nearly ready," Eve said.

"Good," Komi said. The stoat gave Hargorn's keys to Tegue to pass among the slaves before turning back to the vixen, "because we need to start moving, now."

A terrible boom echoed through the workshop and Fable, Kali, and several of the younger slaves all squeaked in fright. "Aye, the weather sounds like it's getting worse," Eve said.

"That's not the weather," Tavin explained. Beside him, Minerva ran a comforting paw through Fable's fur. "It's the arena cracking apart. The whole place is about to collapse."

"Collapse?" Eve muttered in disbelief. "What's happening?"

It took a few minutes for them to explain everything to the vixen and the room full of slaves, but when they finished, the bowery grew deathly quiet.

"Blasio then? I figured as much," Eve murmured. "After Kentrith brought that letter to me saying he wanted to kill the kits, I knew Silas was right when he warned us that he was up to no good. Hellgates, I should have listened to him. When I find that beaver..."

"Don't worry," Minerva replied. "He's been taken care of. What we need t' worry about now is gettin' everybeast out of here. As much as I hate the beast, Nire can wait. We're runnin' out of time. Ev'ry second we stay here could be our last."

As if in warning, the ground below them began to rumble. Looking to Rinam, Eve exchanged a nod with the mouse before grabbing a bow and a quiver of arrows from the shelf and throwing them both over her shoulder. Other slaves readied their own weapons. "Attention everybeast, it's time." Eve addressed them. "For far too long we've waited for this day to come, but it's finally arrived. Today we cast aside these collars and take back what was stolen from us. Today, the Crater falls, but shall we be inside it? No. We'll be free from this place, readying our quills as the victors to write history. For today is a momentous day we shall all remember. Today is the day we Free the North."

"Aye? And what of our plan to hunt down Nire?" a beast called from the crowd after the cheering settled. "I don't know about you beasts, but I'm still itching to introduce that cat to my axe blade."

"Nire deserves justice. He doesn't deserve that justice," Thrayjen replied. "When we've escaped, we can cover the exits and capture him. Then he can have a fair trial. Likewise, anybeast in blue who throws down their weapons should be treated the same."

"Puh. You're one to talk, Blackwhiskers. Maybe we should prepare a trial for you too," the beast sneered.

"Enough," Eve snapped. "If you wish to chase after Nire and rip that lynx limb from limb, then you have every right to, but know that this place is crumbling apart. Every second you dally, is another that could be your last. I reassure you that whatever you choose, I won't let that cat escape. Now, shall we begin?"

A chorus of "Ayes" resounded through the room.

Tegue opened the door and beasts flooded from the bowery and Drag, and into the open corridors like ants defending a desecrated mound. The threat of the imminent collapse spurred many onward towards the light of freedom and safety, while others more negligent to the danger split off from the pack, obviously running to be the first to get at Nire.

"Stay close t' me, sweetheart," Minerva said, clasping Fable's paw within her own. The otterwife exchanged looks with Komi, and together with Tavin, and Nerra, they stepped through the threshold.

Upon entering the first corridor, Minerva quickly looked around her for any glimpse of Kali or Thrayjen, but in the madness, it seemed as if they had already disappeared to their own paths. As the otterwife continued looking though, she saw Lady Eve notching an arrow to her bow and starting towards a flight of stairs."Where are ye goin'?" Minerva called out to her. "Ye're not goin' for Nire, are ye?"

The vixen paused at the foot of the stairwell and looked back to her. "No, not Nire. Kentrith should have been back ages ago, but Tegue tells me he was distracted by an ordeal." Eve sighed, shaking her head. "That fox worries about others too much. He likes to leave the worrying to me, it seems. Don't worry about me. Even if it means dragging him out of here by his ears, I'll find him."

"Aye, I'm sure ye will," Minerva said. "Good luck."

Eve nodded but, as she started up the stairs, she paused once more."Oh... and thank you... for the warning.  Without it, we'd all certainly be chasing after Nire like we planned. There's no telling how many of us could have died." The vixen glanced over her shoulder at the otterwife, smiling at Fable next to her. "Now get her out of here." Without another word, Eve readied her bow and went up the stairs. 

"We should move," Tavin said, drawing his sword.

Everybeast nodded in agreement and it was decided, for Fable's sake, they would head back towards the kitchens where it was less likely they would encounter as much fighting. Together they hurried through the corridors, Tavin making up the front with Komi, Minerva keeping Fable close in the middle, and Nerra watching the back.

As they proceeded, the group came across a long hallway set with spiraling pillars which rose to meet heavy stone arches, ornately carved with the images of crossed swords and faceless warriors charging into battle. Unfortunate Blue Backs speckled the floor from the slaves who came through before them, and Minerva covered her daughter's eyes from the bloodshed.

A low rumbling began to fill the hall and Tavin glanced around him worriedly, seeing cracks in the pillars. Regaining his composure, the young warrior pressed on. "Come on, it shouldn't be much further now."

"Waiiii... pleease..."

All eyes turned towards the sudden rasping voice, and they quickly realized that it came from one of Nire's guards. He was unarmed and a dark crimson spot stained the belly of the young rat's uniform, but the beast was still alive, struggling to lift his head where he sat slumped against one of the pillars. He looked pleadingly up at Tavin, hardly able to form words. "Pleeasse... I s-render.  Just take me... with you. I don't wanna die."

Even as the rumbling grew louder, Tavin hardly hesitated  in sheathing his sword.

"Tavin, no. Let him be, we don't have time. We have to get out of here," Komi urged.

"We'll make time," the young stoat answered. Tavin bent down next to the fallen guard, taking the rat's arm and slinging it around his shoulder to support his weight.

As Tavin rose, the rumbling reached a fever pitch, and it was only then that Minerva realized what it truly was.

It was the sound of rushing water.

There was a tremendous, earsplitting crash as the wave from the Northvale stream surged directly through the broken pumps and into the Crater's tunnel system. Almost immediately the walls of the arena began to shake, and everybeast yelled as small pieces of debris and rubble fell from the ceiling. Minerva clutched Fable close to her, watching as Tavin desperately struggled to pull his charge to safety, while just beside the young stoat, two long cracks split from the base and the top of a pillar. Like two outstretched paws, they yearned to feel the other's touch.

A resounding crack echoed through the room as the fissure connected and the pillar suddenly split in half, crumbling and bringing down with it the decorative archway above. Tavin froze in horror as a shadow fell over him. Nerra and Komi screamed, too far away to do anything.

Time stood still as Minerva thought of that night in the Drag and the way Komi had writhed from her nightmares. The otterwife looked towards her daughter beside her. She was getting to be so big, she thought, and then as the first tear hit the floor, she wordlessly let go of the young one's paw.

Minerva collided into Tavin just before the heavy stones and rubble did, and a resonant crash echoed through the hall.

The sun was setting outside the Crater when the dust settled, and Minerva's ears rang as her eyelids flickered open. Through her darkened vision, she saw Tavin on the floor a few taillengths in front of her, unharmed. The otterwife smiled.

From the horrified look on Komi's face, Minerva knew what had happened. Even still, the otterwife tried to move, but found only her arms worked, and she couldn't even feel her legs. Turning her head as much as she could, she saw that, while she had saved Tavin, she hadn't been fast enough to get out of the way herself. Heavy stones covered her entire back half and it was at that moment as the pain began to surge through her entire body, that Minerva knew that she was going to die.

"No. No no no no no!" Komi screamed. The stoat charged forward and threw herself upon the otterwife, trying vainly with all her might to lift the rubble.

"Komi. Komi, stop it. You can't..." Minerva muttered, the words tasting familiar on her tongue.

"No! No, I'm not just going to let you-" Komi choked on a sob as the stones refused to budge, and angrily slammed her paw against the flat of the rubble. "We can get you out of there. Please, don't give up."

Minerva shook her head. Around her, the Crater continued to rumble . "I don't think that's possible, Komi. I can't move and I can't feel my legs. I don't think there's time."

"And what about your daughter!?" Komi yelled. "You'll just leave her?"

Minerva didn't answer, and instead began to cry. Quickly, she wiped her free paw across her face and asked, "Where is she? I need t' see her."

Komi stumbled to her feet and swallowed before beckoning with a paw, and Nerra led Fable towards her. The young otter broke away from the shrew's grip the moment she saw her mother, wailing in hysterics.

"There she is. There she is," Minerva murmured and pulled her daughter close. She ran a paw through Fable's fur as she spoke, "Come on, now. It's hard for me t' see yer smile behind those tears." Fable tried to smile, but it only lasted a moment before she lost herself and buried her head into her mother's shoulder. Minerva could only chuckle sadly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Can I ask ye a question, sweetheart? Do ye remember what I told ye about things that are scary?"

Fable nodded. "They're not real."

"Aye," Minerva said, then shook her head. "I lied t' you."

Fable looked up at her in confusion.

"The world's a scary place, Fable. It's filled with monsters, and scoundrels, and places- dark places just like this one. But ye wanna know a secret? Just because somethin's scary... doesn't mean ye have t' be afraid." Minerva stopped stroking her daughter's head for only a moment to unwrap the cord of Orran's fishhook from around her neck. "I need ye t' know that, because from now on... when ye have a nightmare... I'm not gonna be there t' sit at yer bedside. Do ye understand? Can ye do that for me?"

Fable nodded as her mother wrapped the hook's cord around her neck.

"That's my little lass," Minerva said, clenching her eyes shut from the tears and pulling her daughter as close to her as she could. As she held her, she spoke to Komi. "Take care of her, Komi... show her how t' read... and, please, teach her t' be brave."

"Aye, I will," Komi said.

The walls rumbled and Minerva looked to the stoat before giving her a solemn nod. "I love ye. Always know that," she whispered in Fable's ear.

And then let go.

"No! NO NO NO! Mummy!" Fable wailed as Komi suddenly hoisted her up and pulled her away, the fishhook dangling around her neck. She held her tight against her chest and began to flee the crumbling hall. Tavin and Nerra exchanged a quick nod with Minerva in thanks before chasing after her.

A piece of stone fell near Minerva, but she didn't look up. Even through the fear, and the pain, she kept her eyes on Fable and smiled at the crying babe, watching, with tears in her eyes, as she grew smaller in the distance.
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