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For the record, I was voted off last round. Don't worry, the death post is on its way, it's just been a busy week for me. So yeah, with that said the vote for this round is between- Komi, Kali, Kentrith , and Thrayjen.
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Our next round of voting is upon us. Vote for the next casualty before 11:59 PM PST tomorrow.
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Round Seven / Battle Bard
« Last post by Kali on November 14, 2017, 05:48:07 PM »
And the crowd went wild. Drake had no idea what they were going wild over, but he could hear their shouts even while in the armory.

"Sounds like a good fight up there."

"I wouldn't call them 'good' fights."

The fox glanced at his fellow blacksmith. The elderly mouse was busy shining armor off in the corner, ever present scowl spread across his muzzle. A scowl that Drake now shared.

"Just be glad there is more use for you here than out there." The fox leaned against his own desk, a woodpigeon sandwich in one paw, a mug of ale in the other. "We have at least three sets of armor to get ready before the next match, so we don't have time to waste complaining about the arena, ya hear?"

The mouse stopped in his work, leaning back on his haunches to give the fox a most indignant look. Drake didn't understand why until he realized the irony of his own statement.

Rolling his eyes, Drake said, "My wife made this, okay? You think Nire has a temper? Try telling a wolverine why you didn't eat the lunch she made for you."

"Sure, sure." The slave turned back to shining armor, "So when do you think your wife your wife finally get done fattening you up for dinner dinner?"

"Just go get the next set of armor," Drake bellowed, sending the mouse to the back room of the armory with the wave of his paw. "Grouchy old rug..."

He turned back to his meal, opening his jaws wide for another bite, but hesitated. He looked at the delicious sandwich in his paw and then to the expanse of his own waist. With a sigh he set the sandwich down and muttered something harsher than 'grouchy' about the mouse.

And then nearly died of a heart attack as a beast came running through the door shouting for help. "Help! They are almost here!"

Drake recognized the pine marten frantically waving his arms in the air, even if only in passing. "Blazes!" The armorer shouted back, "Are you trying to get me killed? I nearly jumped out of my own skin..."

"It will be a better fate than what will happen if those slaves get ahold of you!" The marten's eyes were wide and fearful. "The revolt has come! The slaves are loose! They are right on my heels! I barely escaped with my life!"

The mug of ale dropped from Drakes paw, his tail poofing with fright. "Martin's beard..." He shoved the marten out of the way, "Don't just stand there! Help me barricade the..." The fox paused halfway to the door. "Wait, why are you even down here in the fi-"

Drake never saw the blackjack coming, but he sure felt it. He gasped as his brain matter bounced off one end of his skull to the other, collapsing forward.

But without completely falling over.

Slowly, the fox righted himself, glancing over his shoulder to the shocked looking traitor.

"Did that... even hurt?" Inkpaw raised a cautious eyebrow.

The fox scowled. "Not as much as this will..."

The marten flailed his arms at Drake, bashing him upside the head again with the black jack, but it was too late. Paw wrapped around his neck, Drake hoisted the marten off the ground and flung him against a weapon rack.

Weapons clattered to the ground around the baker as it fell backward. He struggled to sit up, eyes widening as the fox grabbed a battle ax from the wall behind him.

"Parlay?" The marten chuckled nervously. A moment later he rolled backward, narrowly avoiding being split in two by the fox's swing. The ax broke the stone where the marten was a moment before.

Drake cursed as his opponent rolled back onto his feet, the marten grabbing one of the fallen swords.

Clutching the weapon with both paws Drake brought the ax around for another swing, and another, and another. The fox didn't relent, each swing aimed in a different place than the first.

Some blows were dodged, others were met by the sword in a frenzy of sparks. Any other blade would have snapped in half by now, thought the armorer as he took both pride in his work and also wished he didn't.

The beasts parted to circle each other. "So, are you a spy pretending to be a baker, or a baker pretending to be a spy?"

"I prefer to think of myself as a distraction." The marten gave the fox a feral smile.

Ears flattening, Drake cursed himself for not paying more attention to the door as a tattooed weasel in a loin cloth came running through. "Hazah! Prepare to meet your ma-!" was as far as Rose got before the ax was thrown.

She managed a small 'yip' as the blade came towards her head... hitting the partly open door on the side. The momentum slammed the heavy wooden door into the weasel's face.

Drake threw himself against it as a four other beasts behind the weasel tried to force their way in. He didn't have to see their collars to know they were slaves.

And he didn't have to imagine what would happen if they got inside.

Expecting the marten to take advantage of the situation, Drake leaned to the side as Inkpaw thrust his sword forward, the blade cutting deep into the wood where the fox had been a moment before.

The fox kicked the marten in the gut, sending him stumbling. Grabbing the sword and ripping it free from the door, Drake moved to take a swing at marten to finish him off.

No sooner than he had done so then the door opened enough for Rose to get herself hallway through. Drake cursed, slamming his shoulder against the door again and pinning the poor bandit in-between. She yelped as the air was knocked out of her.

Swinging his sword to keep the marten at bay, Drake screamed when the weasel began clawing at his arm. He pushed harder against the door, tossing the blade to his free paw so that he might be in a better position to stab the beast.

That's when Inkpaw launched himself at the fox, one arm grabbing his wrist, the other trying to wrap around his fleshy neck.

"Ulrich!" The armor frantically screamed. "Ulrich!"

By then, the old mouse slave was standing at the entrance to the back room, eyes wide as he took in the sight before him.

"Help me!" The fox cried out, "The slaves are revolting! If we let them have the armory we are done for!"

There was a pause as the mouse took a moment to take this all in.

... and begin to smile...

"Ah... blazes..." Drake dropped his sword, and with a grunt of effort shoved the marten towards Ulrich. "Alarm! Alarm! Help me! Help me!" he continued to shout even as he slowly lost ground against the other beasts pushing on the door from the other side.

He felt the marten and mouse grab onto him, Inkpaw pulling at his chest while Ulrich bit into his leg. 

"NO!" The fox wailed as the combined efforts of the beasts pulled him away. The fox fell to one knee as Inkpaw spun him around and slugged him in the muzzle.

Drake fell hard against the ground. Images of his wife and daughter flashed across his mind as slaves flooded the armory. The fox sat up, refusing to close his eyes as inkpaw stood over him, rapier in paw.

The marten leveled the blade at the fox's throat. The cold metal against his flesh sent chills across his body. For a long moment the two locked eyes as Inkpaw decided his fate.

"Do you think the guards heard that racket?" the marten called over his shoulder without looking away.

"It would surprise me if they didn't," one of the slaves replied.

The marten cursed. "You, on your feet." The blade tapped on Drake's chin, forcing him to stand up. Ulrich drew the fox's paws behind him, binding them with rope as an oily rag was shoved into his muzzle.

"You ok, Rose?" The marten called out to the weasel. She was leaning against the fox's desk, clutching her chest and wincing. Drake was actually surprised that the little thief was still standing after being crushed against the door frame. 

"I will be as soon as I cut our foxy friend here open like a watermelon," the weasel bandit sneered.

"Later, we have more pressing concerns now. Go tell the others we have the armory. Go." The marten gestured for the door. "Go."

"Smash me against a door... this ain't over, fluffy." Rose pointed a finger at the fox as she stepped outside the door. Barely a step into the hallway her ears picked up.

"Guards!" She hissed.

"Go!" Inkpaw whispered a frantic shout at the weasel before slamming the door closed. He snapped his claws, gesturing for the others to help barricade the door.

Drake could feel the tension in the air. He could see the slave's fur rise as a beast on the other side of the door called out to them. "Drake? Are you in there?" A fist rapped against the wood. "The arena is on lock down. We have been order to secure the gladiator armory."

Hope began to flicker in Drake's heart. It was however, quickly squashed as Inkpaw pressed the sword tip into his chest, "Don't think I will spare you a second time..." He hissed into his ear.

Ulrich stepped forward, gesturing the others to be quiet. That little traitor.  After all the kindness Drake showed him! How dare he stab him in the back like this!

Coughing into his paw before he began, the mouse said, "This is Ulrich. Drake had to... leave. Something about his family. Personally I think his wife just cooked him some bad woodpigeon today and he is just-"

"That's fine," the guard replied quickly, eager to not hear the rest of that sentence. "Barricade yourself inside and don't open the door until the lockdown is over. We will be here in case there is trouble."

"O-oh, that's good. Not really needed though. It would take a battering ram to get through that door."

"Yeah, well, Nire's orders. We will be here until the lock down is over or until Drake returns."

The mouse bit his lip, turning to his companions for what to say next.

"What do we do?" One slave whispered.

"I say we grab a weapon, and take them on," said another.

Inkpaw however had nothing to say for once. Instead he grinded his teeth together, exchanging a heated scowl at their captive.

Drake returned it in kind.

Idiots...

Thought the fox as he sat down, getting comfortable for the long day before him...



><><><><><><><

"This is really happening, isn't it?" Baxter's nervous laugh did nothing to calm Kali down, nor the growing crowd of beasts they found themselves with.

The bowery was starting to feel cramped with the number of beasts gathering here. Gladiator, laborer, staff worker; all wore slave collars. All except Baxter of course. Kali couldn't tell if the beasts here avoided them because of the blue tabard wearing bard, or the batty bard that helped get them into this mess.

The suspense in the air was smothering. Everyone could feel it. The anxiety, the fear... no one knew what was going to happen next, only that come tomorrow they would be free beasts.

Or dead.

"Life is funny like that," Kali found a comfortable spot to sit down on, somewhere out of the way. The bat kept her injured wing close to her body as she plopped down on her tail. "One day you are trying to find a paying gig, and the next you are working with a rebellion trying to overthrow a tyrannical despot. Show business, right?"

"I guess this means I'm out of a job again." The fox chuckled. His laughter faded as he glanced down at Kali's wing. "Does it hurt?"

Kali stretched out her arm, peering at Baxter through the hole with a 'yes, you dork. why wouldn't the giant hole in my arm hurt?' type stare.

"Will it heal?" The fox said again. He looked rather worried about the bat's answer.

"Yes. Maybe. I really don't know." Kali leaned back against the wall. Rubbing her eyes she said, "I've seen bats heal from worse, and I've seen bats with less... not get better. I really just don't want to think about it right now."

The fox nodded slowly, "I'm sorry. Not just for the wing but..." Baxter tried to smile while rubbing the back of his neck, "I should have said something a long time ago. When Nire threw you into the dungeons, when you were being thrown out into the arena. I should have..."

"Run your mouth off and get thrown into the arena with me?" Kali raised an eyebrow. She laughed, "If anyone is to blame for where I ended up, it's me. No, seriously. All I ever wanted from life is to be rich and famous, and look where it got me. I was blinded by my own ambitions to the danger around me and... well..."

"Blind, like a bat?"

"Don't you start," The bat stuck her tongue out at the fox. "But yeah. Now? Now I just want my friends to survive through the night. I just want-"

"BATY!"

The bats' eyes grew wide as the crowd parted for the familiar figure of a tattooed weasel. "KALI!" Rose shouted again before launching herself onto the bat, crushing her in a bear hug with more strength than Kali thought a mustelid could have.


"Rose... can't... breath..."

Despite the bard's pleas, the bandit weasel only squeezed harder. "Kali! Where have you beeeeeeeeeeeen! I heard you went on an adventure and didn't invite meeeee! It's been so boring here wi- WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR WING!"

Kali was released, but only so the weasel could stretch out the bat's arm, "Oh my gosh! Yer crippled! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY KALI BAT!" Rose suddenly rounded on the fox, who retreated behind the safety of his lute.

"Down, Rose. Friend. He's a friend." Kali brushed herself off, hoping the weasel did not have fleas. "I got stabbed by a guard while messing with the banner. It should be fine..." She said for her own comfort than the weasel's. "What are you even doing here? I thought you liked the arena life."

"Yeah, but the pudgy marten baker offered me CHAOS... and cookies. And you KNOW how much I love chaos cookies."

Kali blinked surprise. "You mean, Inkpaw? He's here? Where is he?"

Rose opened her mouth, raising a paw, and then promptly paused. Tenetively she tapped her paws together, "Yeah... about that..."

A quick explanation later and the room filled with Kali's shout. "HE'S WHERE?" Slapping her wing to her forehead, Kali groaned. "This day just keeps getting better and better. Who is in charge here?"

With the gesture of her paw, Rose pointed out a white furred mouse over in the far corner conversing with Blue and Thrayjen.

"Come on." The bat took the lead.

Behind her, Baxter leaned forward, whispering in her ear, "Are all your friends scary murderous psychopaths?"

Kali only laughed, unable to provide a better answer.

Rinam turned on her heel,  arms crossed as she looked the weasel up and down at her lack of weaponry and allies.

"What happened?"

"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell, funny story really. We, heh, we got the armory. But then a host of guards showed up and blocked off our escape."

"How many?"

"A lot. Like, more than I can count on one paw." Switching her gaze from beast to beast the weasel grumbled, "Sorry but math was not something they taught at bandit school, ok?"

Rinam rubbed her eyes. "This is... unfavorable. We stand no chance of holding the gates with just bows and tools. We need those weapons."

"I'll take care of it." All eyes turned to Thrayjen. "I only need a paw-full of beasts. Six should do."

"Are you sure that will be enough?" Rinam asked.

"In close quarters like this, the more we take will actually be a hindrance," Rose winced while clutching her sore ribs. "Hallways are only large enough for two beasts fighting side by side anyway.  We don't have the armor or numbers to press gang beasts like the Blue Backs."

"She’s right, aye." Blue cringed. Even Kali's imagination could fathom why the trainer would hesitate at sending beasts to fight her former comrades. "Somebeast would notice a large group movin’ through the Drag. Alarms will be raised and you’ll find yourselves surrounded, and likely killed."

The ferret hesitated again, "Maybe I could go and... talk to them."

The others found themselves once again exchanging glances. Rinam spoke first. "I think you would be of better use here, helping us to plan our escape. Especially if Inkpaw is slain."

Rose laughed. "That and I wouldn't trust a trainer to help us fight against her friends."

"Rose!" Kali's cheeks burned with embarrassment. The weasel had such a tactful way of expressing herself.

"I would rather follow the Blue Back into battle than a Blackwhisker!" The voice came from a squirrel. A skinny beast, middle aged with a green tunic.

It was only a matter of time before someone picked up on the conversation, Kali realized, and not everyone was going to like it.

"Are you kidding? It would give me a chance to stab him in the back after what his family did to my family!" A rather burly fox pointed his wooden weapon at the rat as if it were real. "They were made into rugs. RUGS!"

Stepping closer to Kali, Baxter whispered, "Seriously, where do you find these beasts?"

Kali groaned. Every moment they wasted here was one less moment they had to rescue Inkpaw.

One less moment to escape.

"Everyone. We don’t have time for this." Rinam took charge of the situation, "Many have grievances you wish to act upon, but we as allies must work together. We need the Blackwhiskers’ assistance to help Inkpaw secure the armory."

And then the situation left her control. It left all their control. "We haven't taken over the armory yet?" The words were loud enough to be heard by all and it carried like wild fire.

The Barrow Beasts and other such like minded individuals were ready for a fight, and willing to take it to Nire no matter the cost. But there were more than Barrow Beasts here and not all were completely keen on the idea of dying. They worked so hard to NOT die, after all.

"We can't hold a gate with just arrows and toy swords. We need real weapons!"

"We are going to be cut down!"

"I should have just stayed in my cell..."

Rinam made one of her curious symbols, then raised her paws in the air, trying to calm beasts back down. Even Kali could see how shaky the situation was. One would have thought that after being trapped in the arena beasts would be more willing to take risks to save their own skins.

But this wasn't the arena.

Not here, not now.

The arena was cruel, merciless, and grim. But it had rules. You fought well, you lived. Don't tick off Nire, you lived. Avoided Hargorn and any other lackey who abused their power, you lived.

This, what ever this was, had no rules. Either they succeeded or they died, and they had to rely on other beasts they never even met to make sure it happened. They were going against every instinct that had been drilled into them since day one.

Kali couldn't blame beasts for being afraid. Not when she herself was terrified.

"Enough."

Kali herself was the most surprised when her normally shrill voice cut through the crowd with the same impact as a falling anvil.

"I did not face down tigers, raced against killer hawks, and even rode a blasted snake to get this far and give up. I know you are afraid, because I know I am afraid. I'm just a bard, ya hear? And a pretty terrible one to boot! I'll be honest, I don't give myself the highest chances of surviving the night. But I'm still here."

The words just came to Kali. She decided not to think about it and hope for the best that she wasn't spouting out nonsense.

"So yeah, I might die trying to escape. But if I do, I can tell you now that it will be giving my very last breath trying to crawl out of this Light forsaken pit and NOT to entertain that smug, overstuffed, flee bitten, two bit, coward Nire is. I don't care if I have weapons, I don't care if I have to work with a beast I don't like, I'll bite through the bars if I have to, but I am NOT spending another night here in this blasted arena."

Kali threw her wings into the air.

"Who is with me!"

Kali waited patiently for the loud cheerful reply of the crowd, that never came.

"Really? You are just going to leave me hanging like that?"

Awkward stares were passed around the beasts assembled here, each wanting someone else to be the first to join in the bats rather nonsensical, but strangely logical rant.

"Freedom or Death!"

The shout came from Rose, of course.

The chant spread quickly, echoing off the walls as it was accompanied by loud howls and hoots. In all honesty, Kali found it a bit tacky but she wasn't going to argue. She was just happy beasts were listening to her.

Finally the conversation came back to Rinam. "Hope Lives," she said with a coy smile, "Now, our intrepid liason with the FTN seems to have gotten himself lost in the armory. Who wants to go help him bring us some actual weapons..."


><><><><><


As it turned out, quite a many beasts decided to put aside their hatred of the Blackwhiskers if it meant going against the Blue Backs with something more dangerous than training swords.

Rose volunteered, of course. She thrived on chaos like a fish thrived on water. Water that is lit on fire and filled with sharp pointed knives. Something which she apparently hoped to arm herself with once they got to the armory.

There were four other slaves and gladiators that Kali only knew in passing. The fox who wanted to stab Thrayjen in the back was there. A scaly sand lizard slave. Apparently she was the janitor to blasio's office so Kali could easily see why she would be harboring enough resentment to go on this mission.

The other two were the squirrel from before, who also apparently also just wanted to find an excuse to shoot Thrayjen in the back with an arrow, and a ferret gladiator armed with a club.

Baxter came along too! Because he most certainly did NOT want to go. Unfortunately for him, Baxter was one of the few beasts who would not immediately be identified as an escaped slave. That could prove useful. Exactly how just required further imagination.

Kali was there because she simply wanted to save Inkpaw. Even more than that, she wanted to follow through on her speech to the beasts in the bowery. She wanted out of this arena and she was willing to do what ever it took to do so.

That...

And Inkpaw would owe her so many scones for this...

The idea of attacking the gates without weapons was, however, looking more promising after they saw what they were up against.

"Fifteen. Are you serious?" The squirrel nodded gravely to the fox's question. The beast leaned against the wall, clutching his training sword even tighter. "These guards, t-they are push overs, right?"

"They are all armed and dressed for battle." The squirrel spat, "Most of them have short swords, four of them half halberds. All of them are dressed in chainmail and bucklers."

"They are ready for us." Thrayjen rubbed at his chin as he tried to think of a plan. "We will need thin out their numbers."

Baxters ears stood up through his silly floppy hat. He bounced up and down excitedly, finding his inner rebel at last."I have an idea. Thrayjen. Quick. Hit me!"

THWACK!

"GAH! Not in the eye, you freak!" And the inner rebel died. He leaned forward, clutching his face. "You didn't even stop to hear me out!"

"I assumed you were going to run up to them and claim you were ambushed by escaped slaves and misdirect them elsewhere. I was thinking something similar so..." Thrayjen shrugged.

"It won't work." Rose finished tying an arrow head to the tip of her quarterstaff. "Even if it did work, you could only send them to the location you came from, and we don't have enough time to flank them. Besides, Inkpaw tried that on the tubby fox inside, and he hardly fell for it."

"Tubby fox?" Kali was taken aback, "You mean Drake?"

"What do you mean it won't work?" Baxter gave the weasel a most pitiful look.

"Won't work. And I called dibs on Drake's hide. Broad shoulders, wide pelt. I'm making him into a coat."

"You could have at least told me before I let tall dark and gruesome here punch my eye out!"

"No! We can't take Drake's hide! He needs that to live... and... stuff..."

"Children," Thrayjen interjected, becoming dismayed that the beasts responded to 'children'. "Time is short. We need to get into that room. If they block us off at the entrance, we are doomed. But if we can break their formation and flank them, we stand a chance."

Kali frowned. She didn't like the idea of causing harm to another beast, especially after throwing the guard to his death. But the thought of Drake laying dead in his own armory made her stomach churn even more.

But if she could prevent more deaths from happening.

"I'll lead them away." Kali smashed her fist into her open wing. "I can lead them away."

"Kali..." Thrayjen began.

"Can you even fly?" Baxter asked in a serious undertone.

"I have to find out some time, right?" Kali laughed. "I'll circle around and double back. That should help, right?"

Looking at the bat with a mixture of worry and... even more worry, Kali was surprised when Thrayjen simply nodded his head. "Keep running, and no heroics. Be safe."

Kali nodded in reply, unable to find a witty quip due to the butterflies flying in her stomach. "Just... save Inkpaw, ok?"

The bat gulped, setting off down the hallway ahead of the group as they finished setting up for their ambush. "Be a barbarian, be a barbarian, be a barbarian..." She muttered.

Kali fell into a run, a smile spreading across her face as a plan was formed. Tight spaces for great acoustics? No one here to tell her to keep her muzzle shut? Oh yeah, she was not going to let this opportunity pass by.

She opened her muzzle, and began to sing.

There was no better way to start a song than with an ear splitting cackle. Kali really must remember to start off like that in her next job, be in a mortal realm or... well, she didn't want to think of the alternative.

"Alas ye poor souls, for the death clock does toll..." Words from the darkest and gloomiest of songs she could think of tumbled out of her muzzle. It didn't even matter if it rhymed, "Doom! Doom on wings of darkness comes for both brave and coward. For the time has come for hunter to be hunted, for malice comes swiftly to those dressed in blue!"

The bat lept at the end of the hallway, entering the larger room filled with wide eyed, blue clad guards. Kali caught the rafters above them, clinging to them tightly and hanging herself upside down as she regarded the vermin with her most fearsome gaze.

"Beware the Banshee of Northvale! For she has come to feast upon your- GAH!"

Kali narrowly dodged a halberd as it was thrown at her.

"Kill the monster! Kill it with fire!"

Kali screamed again, dropping from the ceiling and falling into a low glide.

Horrible, mind numbing pain flowed through her wing as she stretched it out and she tumbled against the ground, rolling and landing on her back, facing the very guards she was trying to lead away.

"Oh snap..." Kali was quick on her feet, but the pudgy creature was obviously not quick enough to escape the guards.

Someone behind the guards cursed before giving an order that Kali missed. A moment later a guard screamed, collapsing with an arrow in his back.

"Take them down!" Thrayjen yelled before leaping into the fray. He was closely followed by the others, and quickly out paced by Rose.

She leaped forward, forcing an unfortunate guard to swallow the butt end of her quarter staff. She pulled the weapon back, spinning it around her so quickly it generated its own wind before thrusting the arrow tip into the belly of another vermin. The arrow snapped as she finished him off with a quick blow to the head.

Three down.

Many more to go.

"Enough!"

The word cut through the chaos, putting the battle on hold. Kali had never seen Inkpaw look so fierce, surrounded by more beasts as they exited the armory. Each one was armed and armored, and although Kali would normally have laughed at how Inkpaws leather vest failed to fit properly over his encumbered belly, she hardly laughed at how he lead Drake ahead of him with a sword to his throat.

"Drop your weapons and you will not be harmed." The marten pressed his blade closer to the fox, "Now! Or do you want the death of your armorer on your paws!"

The guards hesitated, looking to their own leader for guidance.

Not liking this hesitation one bit, Inkpaw growled, "Tell them to put down their weapons. Do it now."

Drake grinded his teeth together, "You heard 'em boys... put your weapons down." Eyes shifting towards the marten behind him, the fox's voice became deeper, "In their corpses!"

The fox kicked his head back, bloodying Inkpaws nose. Suddenly, the bonds came loose, the fox turned, striking Inkpaw in the temple and sending him falling backwards into his fellow beasts and bowling them all over.

A slender buck hare was all that managed to dodge the chaos, side stepping Inkpaw and lunging at the fox with a claymore.

Drake caught the beast by the wrist before elbowing him in the muzzle.

His blade wrestled out of his grasp, the hare was giving a show of flurried sword movements and the Dragon's iconic grin before Drake beheaded him.

"Don't just stand there!"

"Kill them all!"

Kali quickly lost sight of Baxter in the chaos that followed, but she saw that the other burly fox was almost immediately cut down, a guard opening his belly with his sword.

The slave ferret died shortly there after, impaled by a halberd as his killer was felled by an arrow.

Thrayjen and the lizard quickly closed the gap, stepping in to support Rose. The rat proved to be in top form, parrying a blow from below while slapping the nose of another attacker. A ferret guard cried out as the sand lizard made short work of him with her knives.

Kali didn't know what kind of war cry she used while entering combat. She imagined it didn't sound very threatening, given that nature overlooked her species when it came natural ferocity.

The guard could hardly tell though as Kali enveloped his head with her wings, biting on his muzzle with her teeth. He cried out, stumbling until he tripped over the body of a slain beast and slamming his head into the floor.

She rolled off of him, hissing at any beast that dared get near. Her eyes locked onto Inkpaw and Drake trying to murder each other with swords.

This isn't what she wanted. She didn't want to see her friends die or be maimed, she wanted... she...

She realized, with horror, that this was indeed exactly what she wanted. To escape meant combat, and combat meant death.

And all her friends were about to die.

With an earthshattering blow, Inkpaws weapon was cast aside, clattering at the ground before coming to a stop at Kali's feet.

The fox kicked the baker hard enough to send onto his rump. "Just as I thought." The voice lacked compassion as he raised his sword. "Just a baker pretending to be a spy."

Inkpaw closed his eyes as the sword came down.

"No! Drake don't!" Kali leapt forward, unarmed.

Suddenly the fox's sword redirected itself, finding a new target.

Kali didn't even get to properly scream as the sword touched her neck...

And stopped there, drawing a thin line of blood where the fox halted his attack.

Her eyes settled first on the sword coming so very close to separating her head from her body. Then up to the fox with the conflicted scowl and trembling paw. He seemed just as surprised as Kali was that she was still alive.

And then Rose's quarterstaff came sailing over the bat's shoulder like a spear, hitting Drake square in the forehead, right between the eyes.

The obese fox fell backward. His sword was quickly snatched up by Inkpaw. "Kali, are you ok?"

"Kali!" Inkpaw said again until the bat came out of her trance.

"Y-yeah. I'm fine." She rubbed at her neck. Remembering where she was, she turned quickly, expecting a fight.

But the fight was already over. The guards dispatched, the vermin were either dead or wounded, as were many of the slaves. The sand lizard remained intact, as did Rose and Thrayjen.

The squirrel was no where to be seen.

Three of the beasts who had accompanied Inkpaw on this mission lay dead at his feat. The others didn't look encumbered by their wounds.

Kali supposed it was her first real battle. Not an arena show to entertain an adoring crowd. Just quick, violent, and bloody.

She planned to retell it with much more flair later on...

"You won't... e-escape."

Rubbing his sore head, Drake propped himself up with his free arm. "You think you are doing these beasts a favor, marten? You are just going to get them killed like the last time. Or the time before that." The fox laughed darkly, "You won't make it a step past the gates."

A look of disgust crossing his muzzle, Inkpaw stepped closer. Coming so close to death, the marten seemed lacking on witty comebacks. He raised his sword, ready to give the final blow until a leathery wing wrapped around his arm.

The marten sighed, "Kali. Release me."

The bat offered no reply, but held his paw fast.

"Kali... this fox already tried to kill me twice. I'm not going to give him a chance for a third. He's a liability."

When the bat's grip only tightened the marten grew wrathful. "Blast it, Kali! We can't spare beasts just because they are your friends."

"He killed Joel." One of the slaves pointed to the slain hare. "Are we having votes now over who we keep alive? If so, I vote to have him gutted."

"We don't have time to argue about this, kali. Every Blue Back we come across is-"

"A Northvaler." Kali said patiently. "Slave, fighter, guard; they are all Northvalers, Inkpaw. They are all your neighbors, your fellow town folk, and at the end of this day you will have to look your town folk in the eye and tell them why their family and friends are not coming home."

"It's a little late to worry about that now," The marten gave a grim chuckle to the bodies laying at their feet.

The bat finally released the marten's arm. "If you really feel that way. Then go ahead. Finish off Drake and the other guards you already defeated, with out compassion or mercy.

"Just like Nire."

The marten cringed. His anger grew tenfold, tightening his grip on the sword until his knuckles grew white. He looked upon the armorer. The fox continued to give him a steady gaze of defiance.

"Is this going to come back and bite us? Probably. But we are not trying to just escape the arena, we are trying to free the north of the very ideals that brought us here in the first place. So you tell me Inkpaw, did I join the good guys, or are we just a rag tag group of violent dissidents like Nire claims us to be?"

A long moment passed until Inkpaw was able to compose himself again. He cast his eyes upward, clearly not happy with the answer he was about to give, "We will lock them in the armory."

"But they-" one beast began to protest.

"End of discussion. We have wasted enough time here as it is."

Kali let out the breath she was holding. It was nice to know that her faith in beast-kind wasn't always misplaced. She gave the fox one last glance but Drake was unable to meet her eye to eye.

Behind her, Thrayjen flashed a paw sign like Rinam had, smiling at Kali as the marten’s shoulders slumped.

Walking back towards the hallway they came from, Kali paused when she saw Baxter helping the squirrel to his feet,The archer bleeding from his leg.

This is all going to end in flames, Kali realized. Beasts were dying around them and many more would die before the day was through.

But if she could prevent even a few deaths, she called that a victory.

As the group gathered the spoils of their raid and left, the bat never saw the cracks starting to form along the floor, branching out from the pillars along the walls...
4
Round Seven / Steal Away
« Last post by Komi Banton on November 14, 2017, 05:47:05 PM »
As the big rat disappeared from view, Komi thought about following Thrayjen’s directions and getting to the bowyery. A place to hide, for Minerva and Fable at least. She shook her head after a moment though. No, it would be better to stick with the original plan Kentrith had given her.

Komi shouldered the sack that held her drum. She had picked up the second guard’s spear outside the Inquisition Chamber. Minerva had the spear she’d used to kill Hargorn. Though she’d eyed a fallen crossbow, she’d left it behind.

“This way,” Komi said. “Kentrith told me to meet him at the kitchen door after releasing the boars. I don’t know if they’re still waiting for us there, but that’s where we should try to go. We’d best try to avoid the Fell Wing and the area around the boar stables.” The otters followed her through the tunnels. 

At the first intersection of tunnels, Komi turned her head quickly when she though saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She saw nothing now, but the back of her neck prickled. She picked an opposite direction and hurried on.

“Do ye know where yer going, Komi?” Minerva whispered when Komi stopped at the third intersection, looking one way then the other.

“I’m guessing,” she replied, equally quietly so as not to worry Fable. “I know the scorpions are down this way. And there’s a section of storage tunnels that flooded. I had to help bail them last night.” She shuddered briefly, but continued. “But maybe the pumps are working now, or we can take another branch out.”

They walked for a little longer, Komi checking behind closed doors to see if they led anywhere other than to storerooms. None did.

Komi had the feeling that they were going ever downward. Their footpaws splashed in shallow pools of seeping rainwater. Small streams of it trickled on in front of them. They rounded a corner and the sloping tunnel before them vanished into smooth rippling water. It had completely flooded.

Komi swore, and got an elbow to the ribs from Minerva, followed by a pointed look at wide-eyed Fable. Komi raised an eyebrow.

“What?”

“Watch yer language.”

Komi rolled her eyes. “Woodlanders.” She turned back towards the way they’d come. “This way is blocked. We’ll have to try another way.”

“I don’t think so,” Minerva said. “Fable, stay here with Komi.”

“Min, wait!” Komi said, but the otter waded quickly in and swam out down the length of the tunnel. When the level of the water was almost equal with the ceiling, Minerva dove and vanished.

Before Komi could decide what to do, Minerva resurfaced, treading water. “It’s not completely flooded. It’s just this low spot in the tunnel. We can swim under and t’ the other side.”

“No, we can’t,” Komi snapped.

Minerva blinked water from her eyes. “Fable can swim it, if that’s what yer worried about.”

Komi’s ears went hot. “We can’t go that way.”

“It isn’t far…”

“Min.”

“And what if this is the only way out?”

“Because I can’t swim!”

The otter stared at her. “Ye can’t?”

Komi cleared her throat, looking fixedly at the damp stone. “No.”

“It ain’t that hard.”

“For an otter,” Komi remarked.

Fable tugged on the edge of Komi’s tunic. “I kin hold yer paw an’ help ye. Mummy did that for me when I was learnin’.”

Komi snorted and gave Fable’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Thanks, but I’m a bit big for even you to handle.”

“Not for me,” Minerva said. “I can help ye get through easily enough. Ye won’t be wet for but a moment. Ye trust me, don’t ye, Komi?”

Komi shifted from paw to paw. “I… I do… but… I… I don’t want my drum to get wet… It’ll ruin it for sure.”

“What’s worth more, stoat? The drum or yer life?” Then, Minerva grinned. “Come on, Coward.”

When Komi still hesitated, Minerva beckoned to Fable. “Come on, Fable. Show ‘er there’s nothin’ t’ fear. Fable gleefully bounded past Komi and splashed in. She paddled to her mother.

Komi took a step towards the water and slipped on the smooth stone. In the space of a heartbeat, she heard the “kachunk” of a crossbow being fired and something glanced across her armored shoulder and splashed into the water near Minerva and Fable.

Komi whirled around, dropping her sack and raising her spear. 

Jossia stood where the tunnel had curved away. She started loading another bolt in the crossbow. “Fancy meeting you here, Coward. On the run again?”

“Komi! Come on!” Minerva urged.

She stood firm, her eyes narrowing at the beast responsible for Alder’s death. If she tried to run, Jossia would just shoot her in the back. Besides, Komi wasn’t going to ever give Jossia a reason to call her a Coward again.

“Go, Minerva. Take Fable and get out of here!”

“Komi!”

Komi eyed the distance between her and Jossia. While she could throw the spear, Jossia would have ample time to dodge away. Then she’d have naught but a dagger.

“You killed Aldridge,” Komi snarled, advancing on Jossia.

Jossia raised an eyebrow, as well as the crossbow. “I’d heard someone killed him. Wasn’t me, Coward, though I would have loved to see your face as he lay dying.” She fired.

Komi sidestepped, and heard the bolt strike rock. She couldn’t wait to be sure if Minerva and Fable were all right. She charged at Jossia, paws slapping down the damp tunnel as she ran.

Jossia struggled to load the crossbow before Komi reached her, then dropped the weapon. She drew a sword from her belt. Steel met spear in the tunnel with a crash. Back and forth they traded blows. Komi fell back panting, her leg aching where the tip of the toad’s trident had dug in earlier that day. She was so tired, and Jossia looked fresh.

“How did you even get in here?” Komi panted, backing towards the water. “Nire threw you out.”

“You think his guards check every single beast who pays to get in for his little games? I paid my way, hoping to see you die on the sand. You always were such a disappointment.”

“Could say the same of you.”

Jossia charged with a scream. Komi fought, using everything she had left just to stay alive. Jossia drove her back. Her footpaws touched water. She slipped and nearly lost her head, barely ducking in time. She saw somebeast running down the tunnel behind Jossia.

Her paws hit a low spot and she went down. Water closed in, filling her eyes, her nose, her mouth. Panic filled her. She flailed, losing her grip on her spear.

Something tight closed around her chest, and suddenly her head was above water again as she coughed and sputtered. She struck something on her backswing, but splashed helplessly, looking for something to hold onto. She heard a muffled clash of steel on steel.

“Will ye quit movin’,” Minerva snapped in her ear. “Hit me again and I’ll dunk ye!”

Komi coughed up more water, but relaxed a little. Minerva pushed her forward. Her footpaws touched the sloping tunnel floor beneath her and she was able to stand. She looked to where Jossia and the newcomer, a young male stoat, fought. He had a sword as well, but Jossia’s experience drove him back.

“You’re dead, Jossia!” Komi shrieked and charged splashing out of the water, drawing her dagger from her vanbrace.

Jossia knocked her opponent down, but when she saw the murder in Komi’s eyes, she hesitated. Then terror contorted her face and she turned tail and ran back up the way she’d come.

Komi’s arm went back, then forward, and her dagger left her paw. It sailed the length of the tunnel, and thudded into Jossia’s retreating back. She dropped heavily.

Komi sprinted up the tunnel. Without batting an eye, she yanked her dagger free, then drove it in again, right at the point where spine met skull. Jossia’s body convulsed hideously. Komi yanked her dagger free and stepped back, watching with grim satisfaction until the twitching stopped. Jossia lay still for good.

She took several slow, deep breaths, then turned towards the others. Minerva emerged dripping from the water, spear in paw, watching the newcomer. The top of Fable’s head and her wide round eyes peeped out from the surface of the water.

The young stoat stared at her. He looked either like he was about to be sick, or cry.

“Mum?” he asked.

Komi’s heart leaped to her throat as she knew for certain that Kentrith had not lied to her. “Tavin!” she shrieked and slid pell mell down the tunnel. He met her halfway and they both nearly fell over as the embraced. “My son. My son.” Komi’s voice caught between a sob and a laugh. She ran her paws across his face, staring into eyes she knew, yet that looked so much older than she’d last seen. “You’re alive. You’re really alive!”

He buried his face in her neck, his breathing rough and warm against her fur. “I found you,” he said. “Happy said you were here and he was right and I found you.”

Komi held him tightly, hardly believing it. Surely this was a dream. Maybe she’d drown, and this was the Dark Forest, and her son had been waiting here all this time.

But she hurt too badly to be dead. This was real, and alive, and here.

Minerva caught her gaze. “Ye said yer son was dead.”

“I thought he was.” She pulled back from Tavin, a little surprised to see that he stood eye to eye, perhaps even a bit taller now. “How did you survive?”

Tavin stepped back and pulled down the neck of his tunic. A jagged scar marred his fur at the base of his neck. “’By a claw’s breadth’, the Redwall healers said. Another little bit to the side, and nothing would have saved me.”

Komi closed her eyes. “If only I’d known...”

“It’s not your fault,” Tavin said carefully. “I thought you’d died in the assault, too. By the time I was well enough to get up, the bodies had all been buried. It wasn’t until Kentrith sent me a letter some weeks ago that I even dared to hope for more.” Then suddenly, he grinned and Komi saw the shadow of the kit she remembered him being. “And really, Mum? ‘The Coward’. What idiot decided on that name for you?”

Komi laughed. She threw her head back and really laughed. “Wasn’t my first choice,” she said. “But we’ll talk about that later, if you want. For now, we need to go. We were thinking of swimming.”

“Why?” said a new voice behind them. “We can just go back the way we came down.”

Komi reached for her dagger, which she surprisingly didn’t have. Minerva raised her spear. All heads whipped towards the young shrew, bloody rapier in her paw, walking towards them.

“This is Nerra,” Tavin said quickly. “She’s with me.”

“Aye, with ya, ‘cept ya run off without me, again!” the shrew scowled. “Gloomy Guts is going to have a fit when he knows we’re gone.”

“Gloomy Guts?” Minerva and Komi said together.

“Kentrith Hapley…” Tavin said in response. “We were with him.”

Nerra snorted, “Aye, ‘til Vinny here up and ran off without us.”

“I saw her,” Tavin pointed to Jossia’s body. “Mum, that is Lady Jossia, isn’t it?”

Komi nodded. She noticed her dagger laying on the stone next to Jossia’s body and realized she must have dropped it when she ran to Tavin.

“Nerra’s right, though,” Tavin said, as he picked up the sword he had dropped much the same way she’d dropped her dagger. It looked like an old weapon, though masterfully made, with a black leather hilt and a blood-red pommel stone. He slid it into a scabbard slung across his back. “We can go back the way we came and catch up with Kentrith.”

Komi looked at Minerva, who had beckoned Fable out of the water. “Does that sound good to you? I’d rather not swim.”

The otter nodded.

Komi grabbed her sack with her drum, and picked up her dagger and tucked it back up her vanbrace. Minerva handed her the spear she’d dropped when she fell in the water.

“Let’s go.”
5
Round Seven / Knife's Edge
« Last post by Kentrith Hapley on November 14, 2017, 05:44:41 PM »
Why must everything fall apart now?

His lone companion stood facing him, his gaze seemingly accusing. Kentrith sighed, trying to keep his composure.

“Did you see Tavin and the shrew leave? How long ago?”

The slightly plump rat shrugged. “I don’t know. I looked back, and they were gone.”

Muttering about stupid brats with mush for brains, Kentrith fisted his paws and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “And I suppose you’re off to…”

Tegue glanced down the hallway behind him nervously. “Should have been back ages ago, actually.”

Reining in his irritation, Kentrith swallowed, then huffed, “I…”

“I’m sorry,” Tegue interrupted, moving away as he spoke. “If I’m not there…”

Kentrith stared after him until he passed through the doorway, blinking at the abandoned hallway. He glanced back and forth, then muttered, “By myself again. It always ends up this way, somehow.” A wave of familiar lassitude threatened to swamp him, but he shook it off. Marik is still stuck here. I need to get him out, then I can collapse into a ball of misery.

He continued down the passageway, his momentary worry of being caught through his soaked state smothered as several dripping beasts passed him.

“What’s going on?” he asked one harried ferret.

“The pumps have stopped, and we’re trying to bale water so we don’t flood. Where have you been?” Without waiting for an answer, the ferret sprinted off, and Kentrith, shaking his head, continued on.

He spent the next several minutes alternating cursing and blessing the weather and the problems it presented. The hallways that had been so empty earlier now were trafficked heavily by sodden creatures, trying to stem trickles of water, or hurriedly moving dry goods out of the way, or racing to retrieve more tools for water removal. Kentrith ducked, dodged, and flatted against the wall as the need arose, and worried how on earth he was going to sneak Marik out now.

"Feeling The Noose?" came a voice from behind. Kentrith nearly jumped out of his water-logged fur, and turned to face Thrayjen. The large rat stood to the side, looking slightly anxious.

"Frightful, Truth Needed." Kentrith replied cautiously. Glancing about him, he moved closer, footpaws itching to continue their journey toward the remaining kit. "What do you want?"

Thrayjen frowned slightly. "I was wondering why the Crane was not fighting in the arena tonight. Perhaps he had other things on his mind?"

Kentrith tapped his right claws nervously against the hidden scalpel. I don't have time for this! "I've been busy," he muttered. "Had to get the Dibbuns out while everyone was distracted."

Thrayjen stared at him for several moments. "That's why... the boars," he whispered. "And the babes? They are safe?"

"Safer every moment, as far as I could make them," Kentrith replied, looking over his shoulder.

The rat's shoulders sagged for a moment in relief, then he straightened. "As long as the hedgehogs are away from this terrible place, I am satisfied." After thinking for a moment, he mumble, almost to himself, "Then I'd better get my ladies out safely."

"Leave me out of it!" Kentrith blurted in exasperation. "I have my own mission!"

Thrayjen gave him a strange look before turning and running in the direction of the arena. Kentrith had traversed two more hallways before the rat’s words caught up with him, and he stopped in his tracks.

“Wait. Hedgehogs?

*******

Kentrith stared around at the disheveled nursery. The urge to look under the beds for the missing marten was strong, despite the ridiculousness of that thought. Marik could hardly bend over, much less be mobile enough in a prone position to crawl under any furniture.

He also doubted that Marik would have turned the beds upside down, or left them standing upright on their headboards.

He collapsed against the doorjamb, and pressed his paw to his muzzle. A shaking started deep in his bones, and he barely kept himself upright.

They won’t kill him, they couldn’t… He didn’t do anything, he’s only a kit…

Even silent, the words sounded hollow.

An arm wrapped around Kentrith’s throat, pulling him back. It squeezed, cutting off his air enough to where he was slightly panicked. He looked up into murderous eyes, their red rims detracting from their hatred not a bit.

“Where is he?” Kentrith gurgled out past his beleaguered throat.

“Where else,” Nix hissed. “With Nire. Nire wants FTN. He won’t stop until he makes an example of someone. Guess what, Kent? You’re the only FTN I know, except that otter, who was a traitor anyway.” Her eyes narrowed, almost disguising the glassy shine of tears.

Thoughts chased each other around Kentrith’s head. He’s not dead! At least, not yet. With Dia in the mix, now, I know at least one beast will have the same goal, to get him out. Maybe she can persuade Nix to join… He relaxed against the marten, whose grip loosened with surprise. When he didn’t take advantage of the opening, she released her hold around his neck, instead grabbing the sleeves of his tunic. After being yanked so many times, my tunic will never be the same, Kentrith thought wryly.

“Are you going to fight me?” Nix growled.

“Not while he’s threatening Marik,” Kent replied calmly.

Nix began to tow him away, making for the upper reaches of the Crater. “Now you’re concerned for his well-being,” she sneered. “Too bad you didn’t think about him before this.”

“I wasn’t just thinking about him,” Kentrith scolded her. “I also helped out the other Dibbuns.”

“That’s just like you, Hap. Always a bleeding heart. Even when I thought the arena had ripped it out of you, you always kept just the softest bit for the sob story.”

“Sob story?” Kentrith snarled. Nix jerked in surprise. “I’ll tell you, Nix, was losing your husband just a ‘sob story’? Each of those babes, each of the slaves here, has the same sort of tale to tell. Why is it so wrong to want to assuage all the hurt and sorrow that this place generates?”

“Fighting against it only causes more pain. It’s better to let things go, so they don’t get worse.”

“No, that’s not it,” Kentrith replied flatly. “You just don’t care as long as it doesn’t affect you. The minute Marik or you are threatened, and then you move.” He glared at her. “The pure self interest astounds me.”

She snarled wordlessly, and continued to drag him off.

As they moved closer and closer to the end of everything that Kentrith had worked for, possibly the end of his life, he was surprised that he didn’t feel more nervous. His shakes, his fear, and all his worries were mysteriously gone.

Save one.

How am I going to get Marik out of this? Dia will try her best, but…

“Nix,” he said urgently, as the door to Nire’s stadium section appeared in front of them, “Things are moving tonight. Events in the Crater will not be the same, no matter who wins. You have to promise me to get Marik out. I have friends, those who will help him, and you if you wish, to move along. To escape. Just promise me that Marik won’t be involved anymore.”

“I though I was self-centered,” Nix muttered, reaching for the door handle.

Kentrith halted, pulling her to a stop as well. He turned to her with mild incredulity. “That doesn’t mean I won’t help you,” he stated. The stunned look on her face took him aback. Without another word, he spun and entered the stadium.

The size of the crowd surprised him. A sea of blue uniforms clustered around the dreaded pair of tufted ears. At Nix’s bark, they parted to show Nire, teeth bared and eye pupils widened as far as they would go. Beside him, a large weasel held a twisted figure by the collar, lifting him off the ground. Marik had a set look on his face, the determination hiding the fear he must have been feeling. When he saw Kentrith, however, his eyes widened. Kentrith smiled at him. It’s alright, he thought, hoping that Marik would understand. Don’t worry about me. You are more important.

“Sir,” the weasel grunted. Nire turned and saw Nix and her willing captive, and pinned his ears. “Crane,” he hissed. “I might have known you were FTN. How long? Did you plan this from the very beginning? Was it you who retrieved the kits?" He laughed, a high, desperate sound. "Well, you missed one."

“Missed?” Marik interrupted. Nix and Kentrith both started, and Nix began shaking her head vigorously. Marik ignored them both, glaring instead at the Lord of the Crater. “You think it was deliberate that I was left behind? I asked to be left behind when the others were rescued." His voice was strong, every word ringing as everybeast held their breath at his audacity. “By now, those who work against you have removed your greatest weapon, and the only reason I remain is because I refuse. I refuse to bow to you any longer, I refuse to be used against those I love, who have given everything for me. You want to know who FTN is? Their identity?”

By now he was shouting, words spilling out of him like a fountain. His twisted body strained, and Kentrith noticed it was stiffer than normal. “It’s everybeast you have abused! Every single creature is somebeast that you have ripped loved ones from, have torn apart, have coerced into becoming the thing they most abhor. I am proud to be FTN, because they are the only ones doing something about it!

Silence filled every corner, as all eyes were riveted on the fiery young marten. Nire’s face was a frozen mask of disbelief, then he turned to the weasel. “Remove him,” he snarled.

A sword swung up, and both Nix and Kentrith gasped. Nix released her hold on Kent, and he dashed forward. He didn’t even pay attention to the hulking champion that lifted the crippled marten up. All he saw was the limping kit that had melted his heart when he though he had none left. The young beast who had inspired him to leave the place that was destroying him, then caused him to return to offer others the same opportunity. The young beast, who in spite of the blade slashing toward him, gazed calmly at his captive, his face serene in its defiance.

Both Kentrith and Nix reached them at the same time.

The swiping sword missed Marik’s neck as Kentrith snagged it, dragging it down. The fox was unable to stop the momentum completely, and it slashed into the young marten’s side. Kentrith jerked the weapon away, ignoring the cuts on his paws as he dove for the wound, placing his paws over the cut that spread life’s blood through Marik’s tunic. He didn’t even look up as he heard a thud, instead placing as much pressure as he could to stop the flow, glancing around for something to bandage it with. He did, however, look up at Nix’s words.

“Nire,” she bellowed, standing over the weasel that now lay in two pieces at her paws, “You asked me to bring you FTN. Well, here I am.” With that she lunged at the lynx, jumping over seats and aimed at his throat.

Several guards intercepted her, but she lifted the sword the weasel had used to swipe at Marik, the same instrument of the weasel’s demise. She took them by surprise, stabbing one right in the heart, then yanking at the spear he held. Jerking it backward, she sank the haft into another guard’s gut, swiping to the side at another and opening up his face.

“Um…”

Kentrith dragged his attention from the fight to Marik, who was staring bemusedly at him. “Right,” he mumbled, still dazed by the Iron Maiden’s ferocity. “Bandaging you. That… that would be good.”

“Technically, we’re family now,” Marik smiled as Kentrith shifted one paw to cover the whole wound so he could rip up his tunic with the other.

“What do you mean?” he asked the young marten, silently mourning his beleaguered tunic.

“I believe we have bled into each other’s wounds, making us blood brothers.” Marik’s smile widened.

Kentrith paused, looked at the still bleeding cut in his paw, then at the smirking beast. “Well, I believe the blood loss is making you delirious,” he informed his impromptu patient. He paused before putting the bandage on the cut, then huffed. “Too big. I’m going to have to sew it.”

Marik’s eyes widened. “Do you have to?” he whispered.

“If we want to keep the rest of your blood where it belongs,” Kentrith intoned grimly.

“What do you need?”

Kentrith’s head came up sharply, as he glared at the guard standing over him. It was an otter, who looked rather discomfited. Kentrith’s eyes narrowed. “Why?” he barked.

The otter shuffled awkwardly, then replied, “We’re not…” he swallowed, then tilted his head toward Marik. “The young un’s right. Nire has gotten away with too much for far too long, and…” He sighed, then gripped his spear tighter. “It’s time we stopped helping him.”

Violent cursing broke out from the other side of the stadium, drawing everybeast’s attention. Nix glared at them all, the seats around her littered with dead or dying guards. She gripped her weapons before her like some mad beast. “Nire’s gone!” she shrieked, gnashing her teeth with rage.

After a heartbeat, Kentrith ordered, “Go. We’ll take care of your kit.” Without waiting to see if she obeyed, he turned to the otter and the other four guards who remained. “I’m going to need thread, a sterilized needle, and actual clean bandages. I need alcohol, and my supplies of herbs from my room.”

He turned his attention back to his patient as the guards scattered to retrieve the items. As he bent over the seeping wound to examine it and plan his actions, he heard Marik whisper, “Welcome back, Healer.”
6
Round Seven / Interlude: When it All Comes Crashing Down
« Last post by Minerva on November 14, 2017, 05:41:14 PM »
"This is ridiculous."

"Such a great speech and yet Mister Borean still can't handle these trifling pests. And now there's a dead beast too. If he can't put a stop to these beasts, who's to say he can protect us?"

"I don't know, but if Nire can't handle this, well, then maybe... maybe it's time for a new beast to take over."

Booming thunder crashed outside the walls of the Crater, but it did little to deafen Nire Borean's ears to the criticisms of his guests. The lynx sat leaned over in his chair with his paws folded upon the flat of his desk, the words echoing in his head as he waited for word from his guard.

In the corner of the room, Blasio sat in his own chair, nibbling patiently on the ends of a twig, while Commander Nix waited by the door. The pine marten frowned, her claws coiled like serpents around her swordhilt.

Chuckling, Blasio broke the silence. "You're going to frighten Nire like a kit the way you're choking that sword, Maiden," the beaver said with a smirk towards the marteness.

"No harm in staying prepared," Nix said.

"I suppose not." Blasio rolled the twig in his mouth. "Knowing you, though, I'd hardly be surprised if you turned that sword on your master once FTN came knocking on that door."

As the lynx's cold stare fixed upon her, Nix narrowed her glare towards Blasio. "Don't you dare question my loyalty, Timberfell. I'd never ally myself with child murderers." The marteness turned and met Nire's gaze. "You've sent guards to check on the prisoners... and my son?"

Nire only nodded, returning his eyes to the door. A few moments later, somebeast knocked rapidly on the frame, and the lynx's ears perked up. "How many was that? Six?" he asked quickly.

"Yes, sir."

"Open it."

Nix kept her paw ready on her sword hilt as she unlatched the lock on the door and pulled it open. Three guards, a rat, a weasel, and a stoat, strode into the room, the lynx keeping his eyes fixed on each of them as they made their report.

"Master Nire, sir, the stables were in flames before we got there and the boars have all scattered in panic. Some of them are still in the Crater but most of them have fled towards the mountains or into Northvale," the stoat, taking up the front, said.

Nire grimaced. "Has anybeast been hurt?"

"Aye, sir, there were a few guards who-"

"I don't care about the guards!" The room nearly shook from Nire's shout. "Is anybeast from Northvale hurt?"

The stoat tugged at the collar of his uniform. "I- I don't know."

"Don't you think that would be important to find out?" Nire snapped.

The lynx clenched his teeth as he thought of the destruction the escaped boars would cause to the town. No doubt, if he did nothing, then there would be a panic and many innocent beasts would be hurt or killed. Nire scowled and slammed his fist against the flat of the table. He was playing right into FTN's paws, but what choice did he have?

"Organize a party of guards and handlers and go into Northvale. Take as many sleep darts as you possibly can and get those creatures under control before they have the chance to kill somebeast. Do it now."

"Aye, yes, sir." Nix stepped to the side as the stoat saluted and beat an urgent and hasty retreat towards the door.
Nire looked to the other two guards. "And you two. Are the prisoners safe?"

Nix turned her ear to the two guards as they glanced towards one another, then to Nire. "Aye, they're safe."

"But they also weren't there. There's not a trace of any of the young 'uns. They're gone."

"What do you mean, they're gone?" Nire growled. The lynx noticed Blasio shift in his seat, and a light betray itself in Nix's eyes.

"Escaped, sir. Apparently FTN already came and snuck the lot of them out."

"And how do you know that?" Nix said, putting a paw on her swordhilt and narrowing her gaze at the weasel.

The guard turned to the marteness and returned her glare. A moment later a sly smile crept on his snout and he turned back to Nire. "Because... not all of them got away."

Nire folded his paws on his desk. "Go on."

The weasel nudged the rat beside him and the rodent left briefly, returning seconds later shoving a bound pine marten in front of him into the office. Nix's heart skipped a beat as she met the eyes of her son. "Marik? No."

The young marten said nothing to his mother as he willingly walked to the center of the room, keeping his eyes fixed calmly on the lynx in front of him.

"I would have expected your spawn to be smarter than to be a traitor, Nix," Nire said flatly, standing from his chair with a knife in his paw.

"Nire, please," Nix begged. "He's still a child. He's young, he's foolish and gave in to that group's bloody lies."

"And yet, my hostages are still gone!" Nire screamed. He turned to the young marten and stepped towards him with the blade. "Where are they?" he growled.

Marik met the cold eyes of the lynx fearlessly. "Like you said, they're gone. Safe, away from you, where you can't threaten them ever again. Those leashes you once held on their parents, they're gone."

Nire pressed the point of the knife to Marik's neck. "Not all of them." The lynx looked towards Nix.

The marteness looked back to her son, terrified and frozen.  "Mom," Marik said, "you can end this right now. Just draw your sword. He won't do it. He's too much of a coward to bloody his own paws."

As if the words were blade themselves, Nire flinched. He recovered and scowled. "You're not the first to say that, so, perhaps it's time I prove everybeast wrong..." Lunging forward suddenly, Nire dealt the young marten a hefty blow across his snout. Marik's unbalanced footpaws gave way under him and he fell hard to the floor. Nire was already over him, and both marten's screamed as the lynx delivered a hard kick into Marik's crippled back.

Panting, Nire grabbed the sobbing Marik by the scruff and dragged him back to his feet, pressing the knife back to his throat.

"Now, do you think I won't kill him?" he shouted at Nix. "He's right. You can end this now and, if you care about your son at all, you will. You're to remind FTN why you're called the Iron Maiden. Bring me Lady Eve's head."

"Mom," Marik rasped. "Draw your sword... and fight."

But Marik's hope fell as his mother trembled and turned away from him towards the door. "I will. I know whose fault this is," she said. "Nire, I'll bring you more than her head. Just don't hurt him, please."

"Mom, you can't mean..." Marik trailed off, staring dejectedly at the floor. "You're such a coward."

Nix's paw froze on the door handle for a moment, then she turned it and shut the door behind her.

 "The wonderful thing about cowards, Mister Marik," Nire said, "is that they know how to survive." The lynx gestured to the other guards. "Prepare a cell for this traitor. If he escapes, it'll be on your heads, not his." Marik looked to Nire in disbelief.

The guards started forward but Nire stopped them with a raised claw.

"Oh... and if you'd do the same for Blasio Timberfell."

It was the beaver's turn to be surprised. Nearly leaping up from his chair, he raised a brow at the lynx. "What- what are you saying, Nire. What's the meaning of this?" he choked.

"You lied to me," Nire said simply. "You told me FTN planned to kill the children, and yet, now I'm hearing they spirited them away. The Monster wasn't lying was she?"

"Nire, I'd advise you to reconsider," Blasio said. The lynx eyed him with fury as the guards continued to advance on him until, a moment later, the beaver sighed. "I was hoping it wouldn't have to come to this, Nire. Bariston, if you would."

The weasel guard, Bariston, nodded at the beaver. Immediately, he drew his sword and drove it deep into the other guard's back, sputtering a geyser of blood from the wound. In the corner of the room, both Marik and Nire gave startled yells as the guard gurgled in pain before slumping forward lifelessly upon the carpet.

Seconds later, Nire recovered from the shock of the murder he just witnessed and looked towards Blasio in a newfound fear. "You..."

Blasio pulled a fresh twig from the inner pocket of his vest and set it into his mouth. "You should really pay your
beasts better, Nire. Otherwise you may find them on some other beast's payroll."

"What do you want," Nire growled. The lynx pushed Marik away from him to the floor, and brandished his knife defensively in front of him.

"Relax, Nire, you can put that away," the beaver said with a gesture of his paw. "I'm not some FTN beast here to bring justice upon you or any of that nonsense. What I want is simple. I want the Crater."

Despite his fear, Nire couldn’t help but smirk. “And why would I do that?”

“Because, as we speak, all of your slaves and gladiators are mobilizing, readying themselves to hunt you down. And what have you to defend yourself with? A split army- a quarter of which are mine- a mad pine marten, a spider, and a knife. Face it, Nire, you’ve already lost this battle,” Blasio said. The beaver paused before smiling slyly. “Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. You could still win this battle if you wanted to. All it would take is a word.”

Nire stayed dead silent as the beaver continued. “I have a total of five score beasts helping FTN as ‘volunteers.’ At a word from me- and a signature from you- I could very easily have them turn their blades against FTN. It’d be quick, simple. Not a one of them would see it coming, the gullible fools. And, I’m sure that Northvale would celebrate such dangerous terrorists being expunged from their city. I’d take the credit though, of course, and I’m sure the beasts of Northvale would herald me as a bloody hero, heh heh. The beast who succeeded where Nire failed. My pockets would be filled for life.”

“No.”

Blasio stared at the lynx in disbelief. “What? No?”

Nire snorted. “I’d never give away the Crater. Especially not to a passionless beast like you. You’d only hold care for the coin, not the sport. The Crater would crumble with you in the Podium.” The lynx shook his head. “No. I built this place with my own paws. I saw it rise. If it’s to fall, I’ll see that, too, but it won’t be without a fight.”

“Whether you win that fight or not won’t matter, Nire,” the beaver spat. “If you say no, the Crater will crumble regardless. I’ve made sure of that.”

In the corner of the room, Marik looked wide-eyed at the beaver and at Nire. “What’s he talking about?”

Blasio pulled a slip of parchment from the inner pocket of his vest and tossed it lightly at the lynx. Nire caught it with ease and folded it open, his eyes scanning over the words scrawled upon the surface and then the four names and stamps signed at the bottom. “You forged my signature,” he observed, folding the letter closed. “So, that’s your plan? You’ve made a dam ? I assume you were the one who destroyed the pumps then?”

“Of course.”

“Beasts are going to die,” Nire said. “I take it Aroway will take the fault for that?”

“Him and FTN, yes. So filled with rage at the Crater that they purposely rallied Northvale to be their expendables… knowing it would soon collapse. Despicable.” Blasio smirked. “If any of them survive the collapse, it’ll be with nooses around their necks. Especially after everything else they’ve done.”

“Everything you’ve done!” Marik shouted.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Blasio said with a smile at the bound marten. “I was just as panicked as everybeast else. But, in fact, I stayed brave, and I pulled several beasts from the destruction.” He looked back to Nire. “It won’t take me long to rebuild the Crater. And with you and FTN out of the picture, I’m sure I’ll be welcomed as its head.”

Nire flicked the parchment back at the beaver’s feet. “I wish you the best with that, Timberfell,” he scowled. “But, until then, the Crater remains mine, just as it will remain mine when this is over. So, what do you say to that? Do you plan to kill me?

Blasio shook his head and gestured for Bariston to put away his sword. "No. No. In truth, I respect you Nire. What you've built here is truly impressive. I'd have trouble sleeping for the next night or two if I did you in. But that won't stop FTN of course and, by the end of today, I'll be the Lord of the Crater regardless of what you do. Give it some thought. If you reconsider, find me."

Without another word, Blasio left the seething cat alone in his office. The beaver smiled to himself as he strode down the corridors of the Crater, his eyes glinting over the old banners and dusty arches. Everything could use a fresh coat of paint, he knew, but that could wait for later. The Crater was his, now all he needed to do was wait.

7
Round Seven / Choices Made in Mercy
« Last post by Thrayjen on November 13, 2017, 09:09:00 PM »
Thunder roared alongside the deep tolling of the town bell. Every note rolled through Thrayjen’s bones, wailing that Komi had made her choice and Free The North would take its prize through fear and pain.

“Banton’s done it. We need to move.”

Rinam looked up at the rat’s solemn words while Blue, only half listening as she watched the stands hum with activity beneath the defiled banner. Thick smoke wafted into the air, dissipating into a dark sky.

“You’re back?” The ferret frowned. “I told you to go to the infirmary and have what’s left of your face looked at! I’m not sure if the tournament is goin’ to continue today, but they’re callin’ beasts up top to help with the flames, even the ones still bailin’ the flooded tunnels. You better see Poil or your mouse friend before we get grabbed. Let me see that eye again…”

“Blue,” Thrayjen said, gently batting away her paw that reached towards his face. “The stables are on fire. The boars are rampaging throughout Northvale. The banner. It’s the FTN. They’re here to win today. We need to leave the Drag.

Without missing a beat, Blue immediately began towards the door. “The trainin’ yard and archery range are mostly stone and mortar. They should…wait. Wait, ‘Banton’s done it’? What does that mean, what did the Coward do?” Blue’s eyes narrowed at the bloodied rat before her. “The FTN, she’s FTN? Did you know she was goin’ to do somethin’?”

Thrayjen nodded. Blue reached for her shortsword. She hesitated, paw just over the hilt.

“Are you one of them? This whole time…Nire treated you well. I treated you well!”

“I’m not a member of any organized rebellion, Blue. Absolutely not.”

“Why should I believe you?” Blue snapped.

“I don’t approve of their methods,” Thrayjen said flatly. “The Blackwhiskers would, but I don’t. Those boars are horrifying creatures. My father would organize scores of beasts in a single hunting party just for a set of tusks. Anyone who sets them loose upon innocents, no matter their motivations...I can’t stand beside them.”

The ferret stared at the rat for a long moment before thrusting her chin at Rinam.

“And you? You knew?”

“I knew of a choice the Coward could make. I hoped she would choose otherwise.”

Blue’s paw hovered as she thought. Her eyes raced between the two gladiators as she bit her lip.

“I didn’t stop her because I can’t stand for the enslavement Nire imposes, nor the bloodlust he encourages, nor the indifference to violence and murder,” Thrayjen pressed. “We could have changed the town, day by day, ended this differently, but Komi chose. It’s why I didn’t tell her Aldridge is alive.”

Blue’s eyes widened.

“For now,” Thrayjen said firmly, “We need to stay safe while whatever happens...happens.”

“I think I knew,” Blue mumbled, blinking. “Before he...faked his death, Aldridge asked me to do somethin’. His story, about the vole and where he’d been keepin’ her, I knew he was lyin’, aye. I knew it! I confronted him about it.”

The ferret swallowed and looked down. “He didn’t deny anythin’ or make any excuses or lie. Not like you, Thrayjen. He just asked me to choose where I want to stand. You’re askin’ me now, too. I’m not even surprised, when I think about it. He was always a trouble maker.”

She grinned, shaking her head.

“Askin’ me to choose between my life and a rabble of slaves. What would my ol’ Pa say?”

“Asking you to choose between right and wrong, Blue,” Thrayjen replied. “And I think I know what he’d say. Your father fled tyranny to save you; he’d do anything to help his children, and that meant leaving his way of life behind.”

“The stoatess made a choice, and you can as well,” Rinam added. Her eyes flickered outside where Nire had risen from his seat and was delivering an announcement to the spectators. “Now is the time to help save lives instead of taking them for once.”

“What would you have me do, aye?” Blue asked skeptically. “Murder my own peers?”

“Just leave,” Thrayjen said. “Leave, and don’t look back. Like your father. That’s safest.”

The ferret twisted a polished button on her pressed uniform, staring at him with blue eyes. Her claws stilled.

“Aye. But I’m gettin’ my brother first.”

Thrayjen lead them through the hallway, past the dry baths where the sluices no longer pumped water, until they emerged into the Drag.

Shouts were ringing throughout the halls, competing with the ever-ringing bell and the noise of the spectators in the Crater. Bearing collars and blue uniforms alike, beasts ran in every direction, hauling sacks of sand or passing buckets of water from the kitchens up a chain of paws. A cracked wall leaked water, a small trickle flowing hurriedly downwards.

Thrayjen made a path through the bedlam, up the hallway until the hollering was softened by walls and the floor began to slope up.

“What you said about the bowyery was right,” Thrayjen said to Blue as they walked. “It’ll be safe from fire but I must get Foxglove.” The rat looked at Rinam. “The Barrow folk are with the FTN. No doubt they were waiting for something like this to act. The FTN will show their presence again, I’m sure, using the boars and the fire as a distraction to sneak slaves out. Keep a sharp eye for allies and opportunities and we’ll make it out.”

A terrible squealing noise flattened their ears to their heads as loose stones began to shake from powerful vibrations. Ahead of them, where the corridor widened into a split landing, several shrieking beasts turned sharply into the open doorway and heedlessly barreled by. The rat swore under his breath, watching after the fleeing creatures until another squeal snapped his attention away.

A boar, enormous and tusked, barreled past the doorway, his tusks scraping the side of the stone walls. The rat ran forward, ignoring the protests of his companions, and stuck his head past the threshold of the archway to peer with his single usable eye. The boar heard him and tried to turn around, but its frightening tusks trapped it on a single path. It kicked and bucked, squealing in rage and it tossed its body to and fro. A stone hooked, the boar lurched forward, and an entire wall collapsed from the force of the giant animal’s strength.

No longer protected, the destroyed flume that supplied the gladiator baths gushed water that followed the downward slope of the Drag. Thrayjen’s paws flew in all directions as the water rushed by. The boar was also knocked off balance and, startled, took off again in its original direction, snorting.

“As if we didn’t have enough floodin’,” Blue loudly complained as white peaks of water rushed by her knees.

A horrible thought occurred to Thrayjen as he watched the blood run from his fur. The tunnels beneath the Drag had mostly flooded the night previous, and with broken pumps there was only elbow grease and buckets to relieve the water, both of which were being used to extinguish a fire. Barely a soul was left to focus on the dangerously rising flood anymore.

“The lower levels are going to fill up before anybeast can do anything about it. They can only focus on one disaster at a time,” Thrayjen said, turning back the way they had come.

“So? The floodin’ will force beasts out, then!” Blue answered. “End of tournament, chaos everywhere, slaves escapin’...that’s good, right?”

“Not for the beasts trapped in the dungeons.”

“Do you want us to go back?” Rinam asked, water dripping from her whiskers. “We may not get another chance to go forward, if the FTN fails.”

“No.” Thrayjen shook his head. “I’ll go back. You two keep moving.”

“We can help more together,” Rinam said.

“Get out while you can. I’ll be fine,” Thrayjen said. “If the rebellion fails and I’m caught trying to release prisoners, I can convince Nire to spare me. A few ‘my lord’s and he’ll be too happy to believe me.”

“Now’s the time to get your pups!” Blue exclaimed excitedly. “Nobeast will be lookin’, and Marik will keep his mouth shut if I make him, aye. He’s probably movin’ the little ones right now, so who’s goin’ to notice if one or two go missin’ in the fuss.”

A flash of gold. Thrayjen smiled broadly.

“Kentrith Hapley has saved us the trouble.”

“What?!” Blue exclaimed.

“The FTN is using the fire and the boars as a distraction. They’ve smuggled the dibbuns out already.” The rat paused and frowned. “Don’t you think that wouldn’t have been my first worry?”

“It should have been me to help them,” Blue said with a frown.

“Make haste,” Rinam scolded. “I will fetch Foxglove, and we will meet you at the bowyery.”

“If you get a chance to leave the Crater,” Thrayjen warned, “Escape. I’ll find you on the outside.”

The white mouse shook her head. “There is still a fight to be won here.”

“No,” Thrayjen growled at her. “Don’t squander any opportunity that presents itself. Leave. I’ll find you. I will. Blue.” He looked at the trainer. “Make sure she goes with you.”

“Come with us!” Blue insisted. “Why bother with a bunch of prisoners when your pups are out there and I can get you out there too!”

Thrayjen shook his head, stones filling his stomach as he thought about the flooding from the rain, the broken water channels, the impending storm that would surely add to the burgeoning flood.

“Nobody else will care. I can’t pretend to forget there are souls trapped down there.”

“…alright. I won’t let her come runnin’ back when I’m holdin’ a door open for her.” The ferret ignored Rinam’s grunt of dismissal. “Take care of yourself; you’ve got to get back to your pups one of these days, aye.”

“Aye.” A longing smile. A sigh. Thrayjen turned away.

“The grave digger,” Rinam said, catching the rat’s sleeve. “Kadar. Do you recall where he resided in town, where we visited Aldridge’s hollow grave? If we do not meet again inside this wretched place, look for sign of me there.”

She pressed and curled her fingers together and showed him the new sign. “Until another day,” the mouse said. She turned and, together with Blue, disappeared beyond the landing.

Thrayjen made his way back down the Drag, beasts hastily moving out of his way as he swaggered like the fearsome butcher they believed him to be. Nobeast interrupted his purposeful stride, and the black rat moved to lower levels without interruption.

The deeper into the tunnels Thrayjen went, the higher the water levels had risen. Most hallways were flooded up to Thrayjen’s shins while others were completely inaccessible as the sloping ceilings trailed beneath the water line. Several beasts were attempting to bail the water with buckets, but they simply could not carry their liquid cargo up the Drag fast enough. A short stairwell lead up to a hallway that escaped the flood, but it turned sharply and revealed only darkness. The rat tentatively trailed down the dry path, letting his eyes adjust as he tried to keep a steady pace for what seemed like an eternity. Strange echoes haunted the lightless passage and soon became voices.

Thrayjen readied himself to charge as torchlight began to brighten the hall. Amidst jingling metal, the voices quickly became female and silhouettes gave birth to three forms.

“Miss Banton,” Thrayjen greeted the stoat, who brandished a spear beside the Monster of Mossflower and, to his surprise, a small otter Thrayjen recognized from the nursery. The rat tried to smile at the dibbun but her mother’s heated glare made it impossible. The blood soaking Komi’s pelt stifled any further pleasantries.

“Thrayjen,” Komi answered back. “Why are you coming this way?”

The rat raised his empty paws, showing the trio he was unarmed.

“The dungeons are still flooding. It’s getting worse.”

The stoat winced at Thrayjen’s words but the otter deepened her glare.

“Oh?” Minerva asked accusingly. Not headin' down here t' help yer freind Hargorn in his 'duties?' Ye're in for a surprise, mate..."

The hitch in the otter’s voice gave Thrayjen pause enough to consider her torn dress and the bruises on her neck.

“The bowyery is safe, from fire and boars, at least,” Thrayjen replied quietly. “The workshop will give you a place to...hide, if you need it. The only blueback there will be Blue but...you needn’t worry about her.”

"As if I'd believe somebeast of yer reputation, tellin' me somethin's safe! There's likely a score o' Nire's beasts waitin' for us! He'll gut us himself if he gets a chance. Don't turn yer back on him." The otter lowered her own spear, heavy rudder maneuvering her daughter even further behind her.

“Surely I’m as credible as the Monster of Mossflower?” Thrayjen laughed bitterly. “I never cheated, at least. I won’t repeat the things you’ve done in the arena in front of the little one, but we’ve done terrible things here. You and I both, Monster. Komi, too.”

A small sneer flittered across his lips as he glanced at the stoat.

“Her paws certainly look bloodier than mine. I’ve maimed and I’ve killed opponents in the arena to save my own hide. Yet you trust Miss Banton when she released death upon all to further the agenda of chaos. A shame,” Thrayjen continued, frowning deeply at Komi. “But necessary. Terrible deeds indeed, done to survive, done to keep hope alive and give freedom a chance. That’s your daughter, yes?”

“Don’t talk about my daughter,” the otter snapped. And don't ye dare talk about me as if ye know anything about me. I've done everythin' because I had to, not because I enjoyed it, like you, you nasty cur! Killin' beasts and bowin' like yer damn proud of it. I was tryin' t' save my daughter."

“Nire had my children too,” Thrayjen hissed impatiently. “I didn’t want to come here, and I certainly didn’t want to lead a life of death and cruelty again! I did everything to abandon those ways, but I’ll slaughter a thousand beasts before I let that cat harm even a whisker on their noses! Boars, lynx, whoever stands between them and safety!”

His voice had risen to almost a shout in his frustration, but the smallest of sounds stole their attention and calmed the rising heat in Thrayjen’s chest.

“Verna!” the small otter squeaked from behind her mother. “And Helix! You’re their daddy, aren’t you? I remember! Verna cried all night after you visited. I told her it’d be alright…”

“He’s on our side.” Komi stepped forward, reaching to her belt and unclipping a familiar ring of black keys from an even larger one.

“I don’t trust him,” Minerva spat.

“I do,” Komi said simply. “He could have stopped me from setting the fire and releasing the boars. He could have killed me, or raised an alarm. He didn’t.”

As Minerva began to grind her teeth, the rat counted Komi’s keys. Twelve keys for twelve cells; Komi handed him the keys to release the prisoners.

“Where did you get these?” Thrayjen asked, brow furrowed. “Hargorn always keeps these on his belt.”

“That’s a story for another time,” Komi quickly answered, and produced another key from her mysterious prize. “Look up.”

For a moment the rat remained confused. Against Minerva’s protests, the stoat pushed her key into the lock of Thrayjen’s collar and turned it. A click, a clank, and the collar fell to the floor.

An enormous weight lifted from him as he stared down at the open ring.

“Thank you.”

Komi shrugged nonchalantly. “What’s ahead of us that way?”

“Most of the tunnels that way are flooded,” the rat replied. “It’s a bit of a maze, trying to stay dry. There are some beasts trying to haul water the further up the Drag you go, and they’re quite frantic about it so you should make it through without the little one being noticed. The bowyery is safe.” Thrayjen looked at Minerva as he spoke. “It’s double walled, being behind the training yard, so the boars can’t get to it, and it’s mostly brick and mortar so the flames won’t bring it down.”

“Will you go there later?” Komi asked.

“Eventually.” The rat jingled the ring of keys. “First things first.”

Again, Thrayjen debated telling the stoat of Aldridge’s fate, but the memory of the freed boar collapsing a wall calmed the urge. Any life she had with Aldridge was over, and the sudden revival of her past lover likely would not go over as well as it had with Blue.

“The FTN might be comfortable letting chaos reign, but I no longer have the stomach for such.”

Komi smirked at his jab and accepted his extended paw. They shook and moved around each other. Minerva kept her spear trained on the rat but let him pass.

“There’s room at the end of the hall, to the right. It’s the Inquisition Chamber and doesn’t go anywhere else except to Hell’s Gates. The left door is connected to the dungeons.”

With that, the otter picked up her daughter and followed after her stoat companion, a wide-eyed Fable staring over her shoulder at him.

At the end of the passage, ignoring his curiosity to open the door on the right, Thrayjen threw the other door open and leapt down the steps into waist deep water.

Water was steadily trickling from the ceiling like rain, and pouring out from a large crack that came down and ran the length of a wall behind a row of cells. The guards normally present at either end of the hallway had abandoned their post, and a single solitary bucket floated helplessly in the rising water. A leathery wing stretched between bars, reaching desperately for the pail while the helpless creature scrambled for purchase halfway up her cell wall.

“Miss Kali!” Thrayjen sloshed through the water, counting the number of paws that reached out to him along the way. A scant few beasts remained imprisoned in the dungeons, and Thrayjen grimaced as he concluded the rest had been dragged up top for tournament fodder.

Perhaps that was the safer, in the long run, the rat thought.

“THRACKEN!” Kali squealed, joyfully dropping down into the water that flooded her cell. “You’ve come to rescue me! I knew that someone would! I knew that, somewhere out there, there must be someone...who…”

“Stop that,” the rat snapped as the bat began to look like she might sing. The enormous breath she had drawn in filled her cheeks until she slowly, noisily, let it out between pursed lips. Thrayjen stared at her for the entirely too-long minute, his mouth slowly falling open.

“Hi,” Kali finished meekly.

“It’s good to see you, too,” Thrayjen answered softly, and tried several keys on the cell door before it swung open. The bat flung herself towards him, large wings enveloping the taller beast and almost knocking him down into the water. He embraced her, awkwardly slinging her arms around her neck.

“Why are you down here?” Thrayjen asked. Kali frowned at him.

“It was me; I wrecked Nire’s banner. I mistimed my escape and...killed the guard.”

The rat made a sympathetic noise.

“At least you kept your lunch down, though,” Thrayjen joked, earning a half-hearted smile from the bat. Frantic pleading from the other prisoners recalled their focus. The water was rising.

Thrayjen went to each cell, trying every key until one would fit and the lock would click with the beautiful tone of freedom. A hare, a vole, and a rat all gracelessly flung themselves from their prisons as Thrayjen informed them of the Crater’s dire situation.

“That door leads up the Drag. The FTN is here, helping beasts escape in the chaos. Watch out for the boars on the loose, there’s fire up top by the barns, and the lower levels are flooded so keep going up!”

The motley group jumped for the door that would lead them to drier paws, but Thrayjen’s ears flickered and he paused beside Kali before they, too, could flee.

“What is it?” the bat asked anxiously.

“Listen,” the rat ordered, bringing a claw to his lips. Together, they stayed still and squinted through the darkness of the dungeon. Past the single surviving torch, the door to the Fell Wing loomed. Both Thrayjen and Kali shuddered as they made out the sounds of something howling beyond the threshold.

Together they turned away, but the orange glow of the flickering torch reflected off of Kali’s collar and gave the rat pause. The shadow of his collar felt heavy on his neck then, as though it had been freshly clamped around his throat. He thought of the Monster of Mossflower, her torn dress and frightened daughter. He thought of Celine.

“Go on,” Thrayjen ordered Kali, “Follow after the other prisoners. Stick together and get to the bowyery.”

“You can’t be serious!” Kali shrieked over the ever-present sound of streaming water. “Those beasts are horrible! They’ll kill everyone!”

“They deserve a chance at life just as much as we do,” Thrayjen said firmly. “Besides, if you were faced with drowning, would you be in the mood for lunch?”

Kali looked nervously from the Fell Keep to Thrayjen, shaking her head. “Please don’t! Please, please, please! It’s not very nice but please! Aren’t the boars enough?”

The bat cried out one final plea as Thrayjen trudged towards the black doors and pressed his ear to it. The frantic screams of something were immediately beyond the locked barricade. He pulled the keyring to his swollen face and, in the dim light, plucked the largest black key from the ring.

It might not even be the right key, Thrayjen thought, allowing himself a shadow of hope that the Fell Keep was lost. The bat was right to think him mad, that the monsters would rend him to pieces, but he could not bring himself to tear away from his sympathy. The monsters, mere beasts beyond the door, were the same as he. Frightening, deadly, enslaved. Scared.

The lock clicked.

Thrayjen and Kali both started as a door slammed open and, from where the guards should have been keeping watch, a blue-clad fox charged forth with a lute braced above his head. Being up to his waist in water, the screaming tod quickly slipped and fell tail over nose.

“It’s cold! It’s cold!”

Between yelps, Baxter spluttered to the surface and waved his lute about like a club. Sopping wet, the fox finally realized that nobeast was attacking him, nor was he in any imminent danger.

“Where’s Kali?” the bard boldly demanded at Thrayjen.

“You’re too late,” Thrayjen said. He clucked his tongue, unimpressed, and drew the torch from its sconce.

“What?!” the fox barked.

“BAXTER!” Kali hollered as she waded across the dungeon and threw her wings around the fox.

“I came to save you,” the fox said mournfully.

Thrayjen eyed the fox’s lute. “Is that all you brought?”

“My hero!” Kali cooed, regarding the fox with genuine admiration. “Now help me stop Thracken from releasing the monsters.”

“WHAT?!” the fox barked again, watching helplessly as Thrayjen pushed the heavy black door open.

Immediately, Bessie reared up in her swamped cell, four legs planted firmly on the stone wall while her other appendages reached and stretched for purchase against the steel cage. Eerily silent, the spider skittered clumsily across her leaky ceiling until coming to rest in a web-covered corner. Thrayjen raised his torch and stared at her with his good eye, seeing the hundreds of sharp little hairs that rose from her hide, the snapping pincers, and eight beady, black, unblinking eyes that stared straight back at him.

“You’re not that bad,” the rat said, loud enough to be heard over the water that rained down from cracks in the stonework. The spider’s front legs wriggled towards him. “Nooo,” Thrayjen said, his voice gentle. “Don’t know why Aldridge was so frightened of you. You’re a beauty…”

He fiddled with the keys, eyeballing the lock on Bessie’s cage. Bessie rested her legs on the bars.

“They’re too large,” he muttered to himself, then cursed. He approached her cage and quietly tried a key. The spider remained still, but the key did not fit the lock, nor the next key. After each one had been tested, the rat’s shoulders slumped.

“Good riddance!” Baxter said from behind the doorway, and Thrayjen turned to the fox with a snarl.

“Good riddance?! She’ll drown, you savage! She’ll drown for no other reason than Nire stole her from her home just as he did me. She’ll die hopelessly frightened and unknowing why she was subjected to such a fate!”

“B-but...but she’s evil!” Baxter offered, recoiling as the rat shoved his scarred muzzle into his face. “She’s killed dozens!”

“Shall I lock the door after you then?” Thrayjen growled. “Stay here and drown myself? Good riddance, right, fox? Good riddance to the Blackwhiskers!”

The fox winced and bit his lip as he struggled to find a response. He looked from Thrayjen, to Kali, and then finally to Bessie. He stared at her.

Bessie stared back.

“Aug, fine! Fine! She’s giving me the same look my oldest did right before I left and never returned…”

The fox stuck his paw into a pocket and pulled out a fork, a gnawed on old bone from a past snack, and a spare lute string.

“Will any of this help?”

Thrayjen took the bone, passing Baxter his torch as he did. The fox absently accepted the light, watching Thrayjen snap the bone with his heavy front teeth and gnaw it until the splinters formed a sharpened point.

“Just wait until Kali and I are far away so-OH, COME ON!”

Thrayjen jammed the bone into the lock and wiggled it up, up again, down, down, side to side and again until the lock finally released. Still until then, Bessie stirred from her position and scuttled above the cell door.

“Thracken…” Kali nervously stepped back to join Baxter around the corner.

Thrayjen threw the cage door open, and Bessie burst forward.

The spider tore from her cage, scuttling across the dripping ceiling and slipping several times as she hurriedly crawled through the Fell Glow doorway. Thrayjen heard Kali and Baxter shriek and the spider rushed by, and something heavy fell into the water.

“Kali!” Thrayjen shouted, and sighed in relief as the bat appeared in the doorway.

“I’m okay!” she chirped. “Baxter fell again. Bessie...just...she just left.” Kali paused contemplatively. “Is she going to eat everyone?”

“No,” Thrayjen answered far more confidently than he felt. “She’s like us. She just wants to go home. If she’s left alone, she’ll follow the Drag somewhere drier, and somewhere away from all the chaos. Maybe Mossflower Woods. Maybe Nire will dart her and she’ll be recaptured; he won’t kill her, at least. Either way, she’s better off than in here.”

“What about over there?” Kali pointed to a large iron hatch that resembled a ship porthole. A drizzle of water leaked from the seam where the domed disk closed against the wall; a circular valve sat in the centre of it, tightened to trap the screaming beast beyond. Thrayjen frowned, wondering what kind of creature would be crammed behind the heavy barricade.

Something Nire wanted in the Grand Tournament, no doubt. Why else would it be here and not in one of the pits...

Thrayjen approached the hatch and knocked. The screams suddenly stopped, just as mysteriously resuming as discernable words.

PLEASE! the creature begged. PLEASE, MERCY! HELP! AZALEA IS DROWNING! AZALEA IS DROWNING! AZALEA IS SSSORRY SSSHE ATE THE MARTEN! PLEASSSE!

“It can talk?!” Kali screeched, hopping over to stand beside Thrayjen.

“It’s a ‘she’.”

They shared a brief glance before Thrayjen began to crank the valve and open the hatch.

The hatch opened a crack, water freely poured out from the small escape, and the voice inside became louder. The choking behind the creature’s words became evident as water poured out from behind the hatch, and a long, forked tongue darted from the small opening.

“VULPEZ, SHE’S A SNAKE!” Kali cried, leaping back and knocking Baxter over again.

“Yesss,” Azalea hissed from behind her metal blockade. “Azalea isss Whiptail! Azalea will not bite! Pleassse, pleassSSsse help Azalea!”

“You won’t eat anyone?” Thrayjen asked. “Not like you did that...marten?”

“No!” Azalea shrieked, then gurgled as a rush of water poured past her. “Please! Azalea will be good, she will not resissst anymore!”

“We’re not beasts in blue,” Thrayjen replied, continuing to twist the valve. His paws flew over each other, never stopping even as Azalea’s nostril appeared. “In fact, we’re staging revolution right now. My apologies for the inconvenience…”

“Then Azalea will help! She will desSstroy those who imprisssoned her!”

Thrayjen hauled on the valve several more times and stumbled back as Azalea’s head burst from the tunnel she had been locked in. Her tail pointed upwards with the slope of her prison, and scars ran along her belly.

The snake looked down, head swiveling while part of her body still remained entombed. Her eyes rested on Thrayjen, and she dove forward until they were nose to nose. Her tongue flickered out and brushed against the rat’s face.

“Azalea owess you her life! She will devour those who would ssteal her from her home! She will wring the life from their bodiess! She will-”

“Do no such thing,” Thrayjen said sternly, swatting the snake’s tongue away from his face while his heart fought against his ribs. Azalea recoiled before springing forward. Her jaws opened impossibly wide and fangs longer than Thrayjen was tall flashed before the snake slammed her jaws shut and glared at the rodent. Behind him, Baxter and Kali whimpered.

“She wants to fight for us, let her!’ Kali insisted. “She could be useful!”

“Just leave,” Thrayjen pressed on, forcing himself to stare into each of Azalea’s eyes as she shifted her head to look at him. “Just leave. There’s a battle brewing here, and the chance at freedom is fleeting. You’re big, and scary, and you’ll be targeted by any bluebacks with darts or blade. The FTN, they’ll kill you just for being a snake in the Crater. Get out while you can, Miss Azalea.”

“No, no!” Baxter insisted. “Stay! Stay and eat all the bluebacks you want! It’s a buffet!”

“They’ll be plenty of dead with when the day is done,” the rat said. Azalea snorted but Thrayjen, very slowly, rested a paw on the snake’s snout. “You’ll die if you fight, so don’t fight. There’s flooding, fire, boars on the loose, and slaves are beginning to stir. Nobody will spare you. Nobody will fight for you. Just leave.”

Azalea looked from the stiffly alert rat to the trembling bards behind him. Her tongue flickered out, tasting the damp earth and the smoke and the fear in the air.

“Azalea will go, then,” the snake hissed, and began to slither further out of her tunnel. “Azalea will go and never return. What of you, rat?”

“I’ve got friends to help.”

The rat took a step back, and then another. With a final nod to the whiptail, Thrayjen grabbed Kali by her wing and began to back them out of the room.

“Wait,” Azalea suddenly lunged forward, stopping just short of slamming into the trio. “Azalea has friendss, as well. She can help them.”

~*~

Screams of sheer terror rang systematically throughout the Drag. Horrified beasts wearing blue and collars alike leaped into doorways or pushed each other down stairs, scrambling to flee from the snake that slithered through the Drag. Upon her back, three beasts clutched at her in varying degrees of dread. Thrayjen sat almost comfortably, subtly stroking several of Azalea’s scales as he admired how smooth she felt. Behind him, Baxter clutched at his lute and whimpered, tears staining the fox’s cheeks. At the rear perched Kali, her painted fur running all sorts of drowned colours, screaming and whooping and singing battle songs with exaggerated vibrato.

“It’s just up here,” Thrayjen said, and Azalea slowed. The archery range within sight, Thrayjen slid from the snake’s back and helped a sweating Baxter down.

“Nooooo!” Kali protested when Thrayjen offered her a paw. “Can’t we keep her?”

“No,” Thrayjen sighed. “As much as I’ll regret it later.”

“Azalea will dessstroy those who imprisssoned her?” the snake offered once again.

“The front gates are that way. Just keep heading up in any direction.” Thrayjen pointed further down the hall, unable to stop from smirking as his pulse raced. “They’ll be heavily guarded, but if you move quickly, most beasts will simply scatter. Watch out for the hawk. And the boars. And everyone, really.”

“Azalea will never eat a rat again,” the snake promised, and her body moved forward down the corridor before her head could catch up. ““You have Azalea'sSSs gratitude."

“Aw,” Kali groaned. “I really liked her. She could have given everyone a ride out…”

“Or every blueback and slave would have banded together to kill the ‘monster’,” Thrayjen replied. “This way is better. She stands a chance, and gives us an even better one.”

“What do you mean by that?” Baxter asked, finally coming out of his trembling fit.

Thrayjen barely glanced up as he headed for the archery range and bowyery beyond. “The guards will be preoccupied now with fire, boars, Bessie, and Azalea on the loose. Their spears and their arrows will be looking for other creatures while we find a way out.”

“What do we do now?" Kali asked. Thrayjen pushed the door open and stopped cold in his tracks. The yard was full of frantic beasts. Foxglove stood upon the workshop roof, tossing bows, arrows, and sharpened tools to beasts below as Marigold tended to slaves bearing wounds from boar or from guard. Blue stood, passing out wooden training weapons and arguing with Rinam as they counted beasts and attempted to sort the able-bodied from the meek.

"This is...this is wrong!" Thrayjen growled, glaring across the compound. "They were supposed to leave!"

“What now? What do we do?” Kali asked tentatively, sensing the rat’s rising anger. Thrayjen cursed and began to march across the range.

The bloodied rat must have made a startling sight, for some of the Barrow beasts took an offensive stance as the rat drew nearer. Rinam waited inside the bowyery door, greeting him with a somewhat smug smile.

“You were supposed to leave,” Thrayjen growled at her. The mouse shrugged. A flash of gold at her waist. Her rondel came to paw.

“I am needed here.”

The rat’s jaw dropped as his lip curled. Her stubbornness had dragged Aera into harm’s way, and the rat wanted to scream at the white mouse.

“Look at all these beasts,” Kali breathed in awe, her chest swelling with pride. “And they’re all here, willing to fight for what’s right!”

He remembered the Fell Wing. He remembered Kali begging him not to open the doors, recalled Baxter’s fear as Thrayjen picked the lock to Bessie’s cage. It hadn’t been smart, but it had been the right thing to do. Like Komi and the boars, every beast had a choice to do the right thing and Rinam had made hers.

“Damn you,” Thrayjen grunted, forcing his balled fists into the sign for courage. The mouse raised a brow.

“You’re frightened.”

“For you,” Thrayjen explained. “For Aera, and Miss Blue. For my children, out there somewhere.”

“You’re own life?”

“I rode a snake earlier. I’m feeling rather immortal right now.”

“It was amazing!” Kali exclaimed, and both Rinam and Thrayjen started at the bat’s exuberance. “She was like HISSSS and I was all YEAAAAH and beasts were like WOAH!” She gestured too hard with her wounded wing and winced.

“Can you still fly?” Thrayjen asked urgently as he looked from the hole in Kali’s wing to the smoky sky.

“Maybe...I don’t know yet.”

“Kali, you can get out of the Crater,” Thrayjen said excitedly. “If you stick to the smoke, if you stay low, Thunder won’t notice you. He’ll be too preoccupied finding where the boars have gone off too. The guards up top are minding the fire!, Kali! Kali, you could find Aldridge…”

The rat trailed off, Kali’s eyes widening.

“Aldy...he’s alive?”

“Yes, but it’s a secret,” Thrayjen hissed, hushing her with a quick whistle. “He’s in Northvale. He’s been preparing for this day.”

The bat looked up contemplatively. She gingerly tested her wing, unfurling it again.

“I don’t know how far I can get on this…”

The rat ground his teeth, seething to himself as he mentally measured the hole in Kali’s wing. The bat wouldn’t get far at all before her membrane tore and pain expelled her from the sky.

“It’s alright,” Thrayjen said, nodding rhythmically. “You’re right. You can’t, you’ll cripple yourself.”

“So what do we do?” Kali asked quietly. Thrayjen looked around the archery range, watching carefully as beasts excitedly milled about.

“I’m not sure,” the rat answered. “But I need a cup of tea.”

Blue exclaimed from where she had climbed onto the roof, perching precariously beside Aera. Her blue coat stood out amongst the beasts in collars. Thrayjen frowned, and gestured for the maids to come down.

“There’s always time for tea, Miss Blue. Especially before a fight.”
8
Contest Discussion / Round 7 -- ends at 11:59 PST on 13 November
« Last post by Zevka on November 04, 2017, 07:08:27 AM »
So, it's been pretty chaotic around here lately, but I want to get things rolling again on a more normal schedule. Round 7 will end at the end of the night on 13 November.
9
Contest Discussion / Round Six Voting -- Ends at 11:59 PM PST on 26 October
« Last post by Zevka on October 25, 2017, 03:50:02 AM »
Folks, our next round of voting is finally up and running. Deadline is the end of the night tomorrow night. Sorry this round took so long -- there were some major changes/disruptions to things -- but next round will be shorter.
10
Round Six / Of Cowards and Monsters
« Last post by Minerva on October 24, 2017, 10:09:23 PM »
Old hinges creaked and metal scraped harshly against stone as Hargorn heaved open the door to the Inquisition Chamber. The room before them was shrouded in darkness, and Fable whined and shut her eyes.

"Now, now," Hargorn said, smirking at the young otter with his jagged teeth as he carried her inside, "don't tell me yer 'fraid o' th' dark. Don't'cha worry yer pretty liddle tail, young 'un. Once I've got'cha safe an' snug, I'll turn on some lights fer ya."

Minerva struggled against her chains, biting and snapping at the other guards as they led her in after them and towards a set of manacles bolted on the far wall. The otterwife continued to twist and snarl as they were clasped tightly around her wrists.

"Guard th' door," Hargorn said to the two other beasts. Minerva pulled against her chains desperately as the guards moved to the iron door. Without a glance at the screaming otterwife, they pulled it closed behind them and locked it shut.

In the dark, nobeast could see Minerva's tears, and she slumped to her knees in defeat as she listened to the sounds of her child's sobs piercing the gloom.

Fable couldn't see her, but Minerva still forced a smile on her face as she hung limply forward. "It's gonna be okay, Fable. I promise, it's gonna be okay," she said, but her words only seemed to make the young one worse. She wished she could stroke Fable's head and ease her worries, but she feared that her daughter might never know her touch again.

"Aye, it's gonna be jest okay," Hargorn sneered, his peg-leg tapping against the stone floor as he hobbled through the darkness. "Now, why don' we get some light in 'ere fer ye, liddle un?"

White sparks brought light to the weasel's paws as he struck flint to steel within a hearth and started a small, crackling fire. Instantly, the orange glow pierced the darkness, and Minerva's heart skipped a beat. Hargorn smiled at the otterwife, tossing in several dried logs before grabbing a bellows and pumping it into the blaze.

As the growing flame scattered away the dark, it danced upon the gleaming edges of thin, cruel knives, spiked whips, and heavy bludgeons mounted upon the wall. Seeing the otterwife's expression, Hargorn laid a poker within the flames and hobbled towards her.

He curled a claw under her chin as he eyed the otterwife hungrily. "D' ye like me toys? Nire's a gen'rous beast. He gave 'em all t' me. D' ye wanna know which is me pers'nal fav'rite?" Though every extinct told her not to look, Minerva's eyes followed the weasel's claw as he pointed to a small, curved blade, not unlike a scalpel, at the far right wall nearest to Fable. "I'll tell ya what it's fer." The weasel grinned and raised his paws, and pantomimed pressing the blade against his palm. "Ye see, it cuts nice an' clean under th' pawpad. Ye ever 'ave woodpigeon? 'Tis as easy as sep'ratin' th' meat from th' bone.

"But that's fer later," Hargorn said, turning his good eye towards the sobbing Fable. "I prefer startin' with a more... tradish'nal approach." The weasel's paw moved towards Minerva's neck, and he snatched the hook from around it.

"Give that back," Minerva said weakly, but Hargorn hardly acknowledged her. He twirled the object nonchalantly by the cord as he ambled back to the furnace and pulled the poker from the fire, its end glowing bright and white hot. He started towards Fable.

"Please. Don't," Minerva begged as her daughter whimpered.

Hargorn ignored her. "Ye know. Hammerpaw was a good mate o' mine. I 'member how sometimes me an' 'im used t' sing ol' horde ditties in the Drag t'gether. I'm thinkin' I'll do t' 'er what ye did t' 'im," the weasel said, brandishing the hook and poker. "Don' worry though. She won't bleed fer long. I'll cauterize it." Hargorn turned once more to Minerva, dark shadows dancing within the hollowed socket of his missing eye. "Though, I kin say from exp'rience, that hurts even worse."

The weasel turned back to Fable. The young otter screamed and pulled against her chains as Hargorn stepped towards her. "Now now, hold still, lass." He raised the hook. "It'll be over in jest a tick."

Tears fell from Minerva's eyes as she screamed and pulled against her bonds. "Please! Please don't! I'll do anything!"

A smile crept to the weasel's muzzle, the point of Orran's hook a hair's breadth away from Fable's eye. Hargorn turned towards her, eyeing her like a starving beast. "Anythin', ye say?"

The poker clattered to the floor at Fable's footpaws as Hargorn dropped hold of it and the hook and ambled towards Minerva with a grin on his maw. He knelt down to her level, touching a paw to her cheek in mock tenderness. He spoke, trailing a claw slowly down the length of her body. "See, I was gonna have my fun with ye once I was done anyway, but I don't feel like fightin' ye like I had t' do with that Widow. So, yer not gonna squirm for me, no? Or bite an' snap like that vole friend o' yers did?"

Minerva shook her head numbly.

"Nah, 'course not. 'Cause ye know that if ye did, I'd 'ave t' play with all me toys with yer liddle un. But I tell ye what. If ye don't squirm. If ye play along an' do everythin' I tell ye, an' let me have my fun, I'll just slit 'er throat. Quick, simple, an' a whole lot less painful than what I was gonna do t' 'er. How does that sound?"

Minerva looked past him to her daughter, before nodding and letting herself go limp.

"Good lass. Don't worry. I won't hurt ye. I'm gentle by nature."

Hargorn smiled, the claws of one paw curling around the hem of Minerva's dress. The other, around her neck.

Clang! Something heavy slammed against the iron door outside and Minerva gasped as Hargorn's paw came unclenched from around her throat. "Hellgates," he snarled, grabbing a bludgeon from the wall. 

A few moments later, the hinges creaked as the door was pushed open and the carcass of one of the guards fell face first into the room. Komi plucked up the dead beast's spear and stuffed her bloody knife into her belt.

"Komi," Minerva said, relief laced in her voice.

Hargorn snarled and held the bludgeon tightly in his paws. "Well, well, if it ain't the Coward. 'Ere t' try an' save yer liddle friend? I don' know why ye're both'rin', seein' she was spyin' fer Nire. Some friend she is."

"He had my daughter, Komi," Minerva said. "What was I s'posed t' do?"

"I know," Komi said. The stoat glanced only briefly between the otterwife and her daughter, before she saw the burning poker and the weasel's belt on the floor. She narrowed her gaze at Hargorn and then, without a word, turned around.

"Aye! That's right!" Hargorn sneered, grinning at Minerva. "Run away, Coward, this ain't yer fight!"

"Coward?"

Komi pulled the door closed.

"You've mistaken me for someone else."

Komi rushed forward with the spear, swinging wide with the blade and forcing the weasel to jump back. Hargorn's peg-leg skittered on the floor, and he nearly lost his balance. Panting, the slavemaster kept his legs planted as he advanced with his bludgeon. Komi stabbed out at him, but Hargorn batted her weapon aside with surprising ease, countering with a heavy swing that Komi narrowly avoided.

Hargorn smiled as the stoat regained her footing. "Aye, and ye seem t've fergot I used t' be a gladiator, too."

The weasel surprised the stoat again as he swung his weapon with incredible speed, the tip smacking hard against the middle of Komi's spearshaft. The blow was enough to take away Komi's grip on her weapon, and it went skittering across the floor to a stop at Minerva's footpaws.

Komi grabbed her dagger from her belt with her other paw and clenched her teeth. She rushed forward, ducking under one of Hargorn's swings as she slashed out with the weapon. The blade met flesh, and Hargorn screamed as Komi tore it through his side. The stoat wasn't done. Sidestepping another swing, Minerva watched as Komi then ducked low and rushed forward, slamming her whole weight into his chest.

Hargorn's peg-leg gave way under him, and the weasel fell down hard upon the furnace. The slavemaster tried to rise, but Komi was on top of him in an instant. She kicked away his bludgeon.

"No, no, no!" Hargorn yelled as Komi clutched his head tight in her paw and then shoved it directly into the blazing ash and wood. The weasel screamed, bucking against her as the flames licked against the side of his face, but Komi held firm. With her other paw, she raised the dagger.

Hargorn snarled, his paw shooting up and catching Komi's wrist before she could complete the kill. With the fire still licking at his flesh, the weasel pulled her close suddenly, and then slammed his forehead into hers.

Komi gasped and fell off of him onto her back, the knife clattering from her paw and onto the ground next to Hargorn. The weasel stumbled back to his feet, moaning as he clutched at his wounded side with one paw and his scorched face with the other. He stumbled forward, his footpaw brushing against the fallen knife. Slowly a smile curled upon his face and he picked it up.

"Ye... put on a... good show, Coward. I think ye got me." Hargorn removed his paw from his knife wound, and smiled weakly at the blood that covered it. "But I ain't gonna lose...no. Not at all."

The blade shook in his paws as he stepped forward, and Minerva realized that Komi didn't have a weapon. The stoat scowled as Hargorn stepped forward and brandished his knife. Then suddenly he started running, but not at Komi.

Fable screamed as Hargorn charged towards her.

Her daughter's terrified scream spurred life back into Minerva, and the otterwife looked down at the weapon lying by her feet. "Komi! The spear!" Pulling against her chains, she kicked the shaft of the weapon as hard as she could, the force sending it skittering along the floor towards the stoat.

Komi scooped the weapon off the ground.

Hargorn raised his knife.

Fable clenched her eyes shut and screamed.

Blood splattered the walls.

For a moment, there was a deafening silence as Minerva dared open her eyes,  a silence only broken by the sound of a weasel crumpling dead to the floor, a spear in his middle and a bloodied dagger in his paw.

Minerva froze, staring at Fable as she hung limply from her chains, her eyes clenched shut, and a red, shallow gash upon her arm.

Komi sighed and smiled.

The young one opened her eyes, tears welling in them when she saw Hargorn's carcass lying inches from her feet. Looking to her arm, the child watched as threads of blood trickled out of the wound. A moment passed before the dam burst, and she turned to her mother across the room and wailed. "Mummy!"

"Fable!" Minerva cried in relief, pulling against her chains.

Komi plucked the keys from Hargorn's fallen belt, and unlocked the child's manacles. Fable wailed, scurrying past the stoat and burying her face in her mother's dress. Komi freed Minerva from her own chains, and immediately the otterwife fell to her knees. It had been months since they last embraced and so, she wrapped her arms tight around her daughter and pulled her close, sobbing into the young one's head. "See," she wept, stroking the Dibbun's head. "I told ye... everythin' was gonna be okay."

"Mummy, it hurts."

"I know. I know it hurts," Minerva said, letting go of her and looking at the child's bloodied arm. She clasped the young one's paw in her own and smiled reassuringly at her, pointing at the scars that lined her arm. "But, look. Now ye're just like mummy. Ain't that right?"

Fable wiped her eyes and nodded.

"Here, let me take care of it." Minerva tore a long strip from the hem of her dress and wrapped it around her daughter's arm, before tying it tightly. Leaning close, she kissed it and smiled. "There. All better, right?"

Fable nodded.

Komi waited patiently beside them, fitting one of Hargorn's keys into the lock on her collar. The iron came loose, and the stoat sighed in relief as she rubbed at her neck.

Minerva turned towards her, but kept her eyes low, hardly able to look at her friend. "Komi. I... thank ye... for savin' us. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't... I didn't want..."

Komi shook her head. "No. If it had been me and Tavin... I think I would've done the same thing." The stoat passed the keys to Minerva, sighing. "But... we've lost then, right? Nire knows what we're planning. He'll beat us at every step now."

Minerva pulled the collar from around Fable's neck, and met the stoat's crestfallen gaze. "No," she said. "There's still a chance. Nire thought I was lyin'."

"What?"

"Aye. He didn't believe me, and Blasio was there and told 'im somethin' different." Minerva remembered the broken pumps and paused. "But he didn't tell 'im everythin'. I don't know what that beaver's game is, but he's plannin' somethin', Komi, and it isn't good."

Komi could only nod as Minerva grabbed up her fallen fishhook from the floor and wrapped it around her neck. Then she plucked the spear out of Hargorn's body and raised the keys to her collar.

In stories, rain, thunder, lightning, it was all a sign of coming destruction. When the rain first fell over Minerva, she believed that the storm outside was for her, but as thunder boomed outside and echoed through the tunnels of the Crater and the Drag, the otterwife realized that she was wrong. The storm outside wasn't for her. It was for Nire. It was for Blasio. It was for the Crater. And when it was over, when the sun peeked back through the clouds, there would be nothing left standing.

Fable held tight to the hem of Minerva's dress as the otterwife's claws curled around the spearshaft.

And the collar fell from around her neck.
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