Recent Posts

Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10
51
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.
52
Round Six / The Shade of Abandon
« Last post by Kentrith Hapley on October 24, 2017, 09:51:58 PM »
Kentrith watched yet another fight in the shadows, waiting for Komi to finish. Watching her movements, he was unsurprised to note a certain sharpness to her moves. She seemed fiercer, and faster, each swipe with more power behind it, and each dodge from a toad trident seemed more desperate. No wonder, Kentrith thought wryly. It’s only when she’s about to leave that she pulls out her best performance.

The weather couldn’t decide whether to pour the rain or send it driving into every beast’s eyes with a howling wind. Such weather usually made Kentrith miserable with aches, but he was thankful for it today. Getting the kits out would be easier under the cover of the storm.

Cheers erupted from the crowd, as Komi doubled back on one of the natterjacks, neatly inserting the spear blade deep into its neck as if it belonged there. The flabby beast rolled over as its partner croaked in rage and dashed for the stoat. Spear haft tripped toad, toad bowled over, spear struck toad heart. The fight was over just like that, and Kentrith’s fur stood on end. It was time.

As the crowd roared its approval of bloody sport, Kentrith made to turn, aiming for the suite when a still figure caught his eye. In the midst of the milling and cheering crowd, Tavin stood motionless, staring down into the arena. The bundle he had carried up until now was missing, and there was a new glint to the young beast’s eye that frightened Kentrith. Heart pounding in his throat, he surged toward the stoat. What is he doing here? He could be caught! He could get us caught, before I can get the Dibbuns out!

As he pushed through the crowd, he pasted a wide smile on his muzzle, slapping backs and raising a paw in jubilation when urged to join in celebrating. He reached Tavin’s side without him noticing, slung an arm around his neck, and began dragging him in the direction of his tunnel. Tavin jerked against the hold before he saw who was pulling him away.

“Kent,” he began, but Kentrith interrupted with a hiss.

“Not now,” he gritted through his forced smile.

He reached the relative privacy of the passage that lead deeper into the Crater, and swung Tavin around until the young stoat faced him. “What are you doing here?” he whispered harshly, glancing over his shoulder, then Tavin’s to see if they were watched. “You’re supposed to meet us at the kitchen door!”

“I couldn’t wait to see my mother,” Tavin whispered back angrily. “After five years, I have to wait peacefully to be reunited? I don’t think so!”

“You think you won’t be recognized? Or that you won’t be noticed?”

“Isn’t that the point of staging the escape now?”

Kentrith sputtered as a small wave of beasts flowed around them, most likely hunting for snacks to eat during the next fight. After they were alone again, he intoned, “It doesn’t matter why you’re here. You are endangering everything about this mission.” Tavin opened his mouth to protest, but Kentrith wasn’t finished. “So, you will help me. You will assist the escape, and if nothing else has gone wrong… hopefully she will be there to greet us when we get out.”

“Oh, good,” Tavin replied, not even putting up a token of a fight. “Lead the way.”

A sudden screech had them both whirling to face the far wall, where FTN’s banner was drifting down, emblazoned with stark words. Before Kentrith could wonder at the odd phrasing written there, the source of the screech followed the fluttering banner, followed by a sickening crunch.

The next scream was pure rage as Nire went out of his mind.

“We’re late,” Kentrith gasped.

He ran down the passage with Tavin in tow, wondering at the young stoat’s complacency. Slapping footpaws sent them both whirling around, only to be confronted by an irate shrew. She reached to her full height and slapped Tavin on the back of the head. “Ye’re supposed to stick with me!” she spat.

“Blame Kentrith, not me! He dragged me out!”

“Quiet, both of you! Unless you want us to get caught!” Kentrith threw a glare over his shoulder for good measure, then continued on leading them down the familiar passages, heart threatening to pound its way out of his ribcage. “I don’t remember your name,” he growled at the shrew.

“Nerra.”

“Well, I know why this idiot is here. Why are you here, and where did you get the money to pay for entrance?”

There was a bark of laughter. “Some beast has to keep an eye on Crabby here, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. ‘Sides, I wasn’t about to let him do anything interesting without me.”

Kentrith gave Tavin a confused look. “Crabby?”

Tavin rolled his eyes. “It was a lobster, not a crab.”

“You didn’t know that.”

“Whatever it was, I saved you from it!”

“And nearly got yerself drowned doing it!”

“Kentrith.”

The group skidded to a halt just out side the wing door. The blue back waiting for them blocked the entrance to the suites, watching them impassively. Kentrith panicked for a moment, then realized that the ferret looked familiar. “You are…” he wheezed out through a tight throat.

“Master Blasio asked me to assist you in your task,” the guard replied in an even tone. “For which you are late. I’m to report on your success.”

Rage washed through Kentrith. “What, he thinks I will be hard pressed to dispatch a few hostages?”

There were twin gasps behind him. The guard ignored them, instead giving Kentrith a piercing stare. “There have been concerns,” he said, his face bland and his voice a monotone.

Kentrith glanced at his companions to see Tavin reaching for something over his back and Nerra with her hand in her vest. Before either of them could draw a weapon, he turned and snarled, “I have enough help, as you can see.”

“One does not refuse Master Blasio.”

Gritting his teeth, Kentrith ground out, “Fine. After you.”

“No, please, lead the way.”

Casting a quelling glance at the beasts behind him, he headed further into the wing of suites, mind scrambling through possibilities. If we kill him, Blasio will know he’s betrayed, but if we leave him alive, the Dibbuns will be in danger. We have to stop him before he enters the room, or the babies will be scarred for life… I can’t kill him in front of them…

The wooden medallion he had received from FTN burned in his mind. No, I am a healer! I’m not a killer anymore!

“Well?” the ferret asked.

Kentrith realized they had reached the door to the nursery, and he had been standing there for some time, wrestling with himself. He turned to the three behind him. The ferret had a raised brow. Tavin kept reaching for his back, but grasping only air and looking disgusted each time. Nerra was trembling, a dagger in her paw. She kept raising and lowering it, and Kentrith realized it was only a matter of time before the ferret saw it.

The guard would raise the alarm, no matter how long he was out. They might not get out in time before they were caught.

Tavin and Nerra were both so young. Tavin had been raised in a horde, and Nerra had been wandering with Guosim her whole life, but he doubted that either of them had taken a life before.

No. That task, if it was a matter of who it would fall to, would always be on the shoulders of the Crane.

“This must be done,” the ferret reiterated, frustration growing.

“Yes,” Kentrith replied woodenly, turning to the ferret. “It must. Let me just ask this.” He took a deep breath, then asked, “Why would you work for a  beast who murders children?”

The ferret’s eyes widened, but Kentrith was on him before he could make a sound. He wrapped one paw around the guard’s muzzle, using his right to stab him in the heart with his ever present scalpel. The beast jerked, whining softly through the clamped jaws. Kentrith eased him to the floor as the struggles weakened. He could feel the glares of his two companions on him, but it was approaching pawsteps that brought his head up. Tegue rounded the corner, and stopped in his tracks at the scene before him. All of them froze for several long moments.

“Nire’s throwing a fit,” Tegue finally said breathlessly. Nerra twitched as he raced toward them, but Tegue only slid up to Kentrith and took hold of the dying ferret’s arms. “Quick, we have to hide him.”

Kentrith couldn’t say anything, but jerked his head to the closet that he had used so long ago with Adeen. Together they dragged the body in, tucking it under some old rugs in an effort to hide it, then exiting the room in a frenzy. Tavin and Nerra said nothing, only standing back as Kentrith turned back to the door.

The portal swung open, revealing Marik in the doorway, a blanket slung around his shoulders like a cape. “It’s about time,” he gasped. When nobody moved, he glanced around, at the blue guard, at the nervous shrew and stunned stoat, and at Kentrith, standing rigid over a small pool of blood. In a much gentler voice, he continued, “We’re ready to go.”

Tegue moved past him, and Marik limped to Kentrith, who stood frozen. He placed a paw on his shoulder. “You can mourn whoever that was later,” he said in a low voice.

“But, I killed…” Kentrith choked out.

The comforting paw patted him twice, and Marik replied, “I know, I know. But we have to get the others out now, before we run out of time.” When Kentrith didn’t reply, Marik placed his other paw on his other shoulder. “Kent,” he said more strongly. “We have a problem.” When the fox finally raised his gaze, he continued, “Guards came and took Fable, not too long ago.” His voice remained steady, but his eyes betrayed his anxiety.

“We can’t wait,” Tegue spoke from behind the twisted marten. He carried a bundle wrapped in a blanket, with spikes poking through the cloth here and there. The oldest rat maid also carried a small bundle, this one with a flat, long tail. Behind them stood several small ghostly figures, shrouded with bedcovers. Marik beckoned the rat maid over, then transferred the small stoat to Kentrith’s arms. “You need to get them out now.”

That drew Kentrith’s attention. He looked at Marik. “You’re coming too,” he half-questioned, reflexively accepting the small burden.

Marik shook his head. “I will wait for Fable here. If we are all gone, the search will be sent sooner, whereas I can stall them if I stay behind.”

“We have to go!” Tegue urged, shifting the prickly bundle.

“Happy,” Marik said gently. “I’ll slow you down.”

Kentrith turned to Tegue desperately, but the rat was already shaking his head. “The shrews won’t know me. You have to accompany us, or it will never work.”

Marik took Kentrith’s shoulders, turned him and pushed him down the hall. “Go.”

Kentrith looked over his shoulder suddenly. “I’m coming back,” he snarled fiercely.

Marik nodded, then turned and hobbled back into the nursery, closing the door behind him.

*******

Kentrith cursed as they froze before another passageway, as a squad clanked by, thankfully without noticing the huddled mass of small beasts and four bigger ones tucked away in shadow. Kentrith tried to fill his frozen lungs again, and swore he would never take part in any sort of escape again. Apparently, the Crane was not up to high tension situations involving children.

There was one hallway left before they could reach the door to the kitchen, then it was a matter of threading through the various tables and stoves without getting little paws burned, and without drawing attention from the kitchen staff, such as it were.  Tavin and Nerra were both now carrying smaller beasts, and the older ones tried their best to chivvy the rest after the adults. Gathering himself again, Kentrith led the little troupe through the door, into a world of steam and spices. Little ears pricked at cheerfully bubbling pots and noses inhaled the perfume of baking bread. Shuffling the toddling babe he held, Kentrith managed to snag the back of two jerkins before the owners could stray too far, and the others followed suit.

Miraculously, they were silent as they tip-pawed through the warm room, all stealing glances and stifling giggles at the snoring cook who held a ladle close to her apron. They reached the far door that led to the kitchen courtyard, where Tavin was supposed to have met them. Shrugging off a thousand what ifs, Kentrith yanked the door open on silent hinges, and they all shuffled out into pouring wet. He quickly shut the door on complaints, hoping the sleeping cook hadn’t heard, then turned to see if there was any help at all.

"Where's Komi?" Tavin bellowed, searching anxiously through the rain.

Kentrith groaned, suddenly panicked at the thought that one more thing had gone wrong. Speaking of wrong.

He turned to the one companion he had not expected. “Why are you here?” he bellowed over sheeting rain.

“You were short of help.” Tegue shrugged. “It’s been needful, to be sure.” He frowned, as if to himself. “Should have been done long ago.”

“It’s not done yet,” Kentrith growled, thinking of the marten he had left behind, but further argument was abandoned as two hooded figures headed toward them. Both had thick tails, one a rudder, the other a scarlet bush. Dia wordlessly took the babe Kentrith carried, which surprised him, but Eve lowered her hood, immediately soaking her immaculately groomed fur. “We’re in trouble,” she barked. “When banner rolled over, a guard was killed. Nire immediately dragged Minerva in for questioning.” She paused, more panicked than Kentrith had ever seen her. “She was spying for him all along!”

Tegue gasped, clutching his burden tighter, then yelping as he was pricked by tiny spines.

Kentrith breathed deeply, using the rhythm of his lungs to sort through emotions. He couldn’t lose composure now.

“It’s Fable,” he said through the numbness creeping over him. “He used her, his greatest weapon, to garner Minerva’s obedience. Without any other family, Fable is her only tie to… well, anything. She would do anything to keep her safe.”

“How can that be?” Eve burst out, her paws clenching. “How could any beast trade so much for…” She broke off.

“Nix killed Marik’s father for it,” Kentrith reminded her. She only pursed her lips, and looked away.

Taking one more cleansing breath, he looked around at the band who had chosen to be here, if for no other reason than it was right. He watched Dia, who cradled the young stoat, who had tucked his paw into his mouth. He had risked everything for her before, and he had risked so much to return here for the other young one who had made such an impact on his life. The reason he had returned, whom he had failed.

There was another baby he had failed as well.

He looked back to Eve. “I need you to take them to the shrews,” he told her, pushing two young ones toward her and adjusting his soaked shirt.

“Kent,” Dia blurted, alarmed, but Kentrith interrupted, “Marik’s still in there. And I will not leave a baby to the torturer. Nire’s promoted Hargorn to that position,” he told the scarred otter. Her ears pinned to her skull, and her muzzled curled in a snarl. She opened her mouth to say something, but Tavin beat her to it.

“I’m going with you,” he stated, retrieving his long bundle from some corner he had tucked it in.

“Not wit’out me, ye ain’t,” Nerra grumbled, pulling two waterproof cloaks from somewhere else. Rather late for that, isn’t it? Kentrith wondered, then shook his head.

“It would be better…” he started, but Tavin pinned him with a glare.

“My mother’s still in there. Also, I’m not leaving you alone.” He breathed deeply, then forced out, “I’ve seen what this place does to you, how it has changed you. I’ll stay by your side, if only to remind you of who you really are.”

Healer, or Crane? He could mean either.

Kentrith grunted, unwilling to argue. “Well, then.” He turned back to the kitchen door, looking much less welcoming than before. “Let us get to it.”
53
Round Six / Running of the Boars
« Last post by Komi Banton on October 18, 2017, 09:06:56 PM »
Komi stumbled out of the arena as the crowd around her continued roaring their approval at “the Coward’s victory.” Two toads lay dead in the sand behind her. The fur on her right side clung damply to her skin with toad’s blood. She handed her spear and shield to the blue-uniformed beast guarding the door and limped past. One toad had gotten a prong of his trident in her thigh. It hurt and oozed, but she didn’t have time to deal with that right now.

Kentrith’s voice echoed in her head. ”Komi, you win that fight, and you get the boars free as soon as it’s over.”

It was over and if things went according to plan, she’d never have to set paw on those sands again. She’d either be free or dead after today. If all worked well, Minerva, Fable, and all the other children would be free, too.

One more time, she allowed herself to wonder if Hapley had told her the truth about Tavin. He could have just had Tavin’s dagger by chance. If he’d been at Redwall, maybe someone had gathered it off the battle field? Maybe he just happened to have it with him from there? Maybe he’d found one that looked similar to hers, though how had he known that Tavin had a dagger just like hers?

The sooner she got out of the Crater, the sooner she’d know the truth.

She passed a trio of slaves under guard. All three carried yokes with buckets full of water from the lower levels that were still flooded from the deluge the night before. Komi’s own neck and shoulders ached from carrying water in the dead of night. She also skirted around the bath house, where the sluice had stopped working as well. Everybeast must take bucket baths, but she didn’t have time for that. Komi would get clean as a free beast. A little blood had never stopped her before.

Even though she’d planned everything, she still felt a sick drop in her stomach as she trotted across the sodden sand of the empty training ground towards Alder’s workshop. She hadn’t been to the bowyery since he’d died. She hadn’t been able to bear it. But today, she didn’t have time to be sentimental. She’d cry later when she was free, or she’d see Aldridge in the Dark Forest if she failed.

She eased the door open and slipped inside. Foxglove was absent. Probably either carrying water or watching the fights. She picked up an empty sack from a basket near the woodpile and hurried to the cupboard where her drum and knife had been hidden.

Blood and rainwater pooled at her feet as she uncovered the drum. She double checked to make sure the drumhead’s ties were loose so it wouldn’t make noise, then she eased her drum into the sack. She slid her dagger in her vanbrace once more. She hurried to another cupboard where Aldridge had kept flint and steel for lighting fires. She put those in the bag, being careful of her drum all the while.

Supplies in paw, she checked carefully for guards or other slaves before slipping out of the room. The crowd roared from the other side of the wall that divided the training area from the center ring. Quickly, Komi began circling the Crater, using all of the nooks and crannies she’d observed as hiding places, back when she’d plotted an escape for herself. The boars’ pen was opposite the bowyery, so it was a long, tense walk. The events in the arena kept eyes and attention inward, and if Komi was noticed, no beast stopped her.

Yet, when she reached the stables, she found a lone guard near the doorway. Keeping well back, she studied him. He stared towards the center of the Crater, where Komi heard the crash of steel on steel.

She circled behind him, going along the wall of the stable, open and unhidden should he turn his head and look the wrong way. She set her sack down on a dry hay bale, every muscle tense as she crept. She drew her dagger. A long scream echoed in the air from the arena and using the sound as cover, Komi leaped. One paw in front clamped down his muzzle. The other dragged the knife across his throat. He threw his body back against hers. Blood sprayed scarlet across the wood and stone near the stable. She allowed his momentum to carry them both back through the doorway. She let his body fall, ignored it as he twitched his life away on the ground. She quickly wiped her dagger on her tunic edge out of habit, slid it back in her vanbrace. She ducked back outside to grab her sack before it got wet, and closed the door.

Komi hadn’t dealt with the boars since they’d been brought to the Crater so many weeks before. The long wooden building that housed them was pleasantly warm after the cold, dreary rain outside. A few of the boars snorted at the smell of the guard’s blood. One butted tusks against the door to his stall. She heard the wood crunch.

She hurried down the length of the stable, scoping it out. Row after row of solid wood stables lined the right side of the room. Quick glances in the small doors on the left revealed rooms of tack for the riders or sacks of feed. At the big double doors on the far end, Komi peeped through a crack in one and saw the back of a blue guard on the opposite side. Beyond him, she saw a street that led away into Northvale. Quietly, she backed away.

A cacophony had been building from the bleachers around the arena. Voices all talked loudly and excitedly. Guards yelled in the upper levels. Whatever else the FTN had planned, it must have started. Time was short. She looked around her, in that large space at the entrance to the stable, and saw a ladder heading up to a second floor.

The floor above the stalls was a dark hayloft, piled high with sweet smelling hay and straw. Komi grinned and hoisted herself the rest of the way through the hole in the floor. She limped to the far end, picked a haystack, and pulled the flint and steel out of the bag. No need for tinder here. This whole room was tinder, waiting to be lit.

She heard the door creak open below and she froze. Waited for the shout of alarm.

The door closed. “You didn’t waste any time,” Thrayjen said softly underneath her.

She didn’t reply, but stayed where she was, completely silent.

“There’s wet, bloody pawprints on the floor,” he said. “The boars are still here, so you must be, too.”

Komi’s nose twitched from the dust in the hayloft, but she still didn’t move.

“The banner’s been unfurled. The rebellion damaged it and Lord Nire is livid. He knows something is going on. Your time is running out.” Thrayjen paused and Komi heard him move, though she still did not.

“Beasts die when chaos reigns, Komi. If you go through with this plan, driving the boars out among the innocent, what will be the cost? But I’ve played the passive side before. I know we can’t do nothing. There can be another way. You don’t have to do this.”

A boar snorted. Outside, the clamor continued.

“Rebellions are bloodier than war,” the rat finally said.

The door to the stable opened and closed and Komi heard no more from Thrayjen.

She whispered, “Sorry, Thrayjen, but the kits are counting on me.” She struck flint to steel, sending a spray of sparks into the hay. The fine, dry stalks caught and began burning, illuminating that corner of the hayloft. Swiftly, Komi moved down a few lengths and did it again, starting another fire.

By the time she’d started four fires, the first was crackling merrily and the boars below were beginning to snort and stamp in their stalls. Komi dropped the flint and steel in her sack and slid down the ladder. Back down the row she ran, wincing at the twinges in her injured leg. A haze of smoke drifted down from the cracks in the hayloft above.

As she ran past it’s stall, the one boar who’d smashed against the door earlier gave a ear splitting squeal and slammed it’s shoulder against the door. Wood splintered and cracked.

“Right, piggy,” Komi said, climbing up onto the unsplintered door of his neighbor. “You first.”

The heavy wooden fronts of the stalls were easily wide enough for Komi to walk across. She held onto the wooden pillar where the front and side walls of the two pens joined and reached over to unlatch the damaged gate. The boar slammed up against it again as she did so and the door crashed open with a splintering crunch. The boar went stamping and bucking into the open corridor, trampling the dead guard as he went. Komi leaned over the opposite side and unlatched his neighbor’s stall. Coughing from the smoke, she worked her way down the long line of stalls as the boars grew more and more agitated.

Those freed in the open floor of the stable jostled each other and stamped near the doorways. They knew where the ways out were, but lacked the paws to undo the latches.

Then she heard shouting from outside, along with cries of, “Fire! Fire!”

The big doors to the stable suddenly swung open. Komi dropped down into an empty stall, hiding behind the wall as the boars made a mad rush out of the smoky stable and into the rain. The guard who’d opened the door screamed as he was trampled.

Komi peered around the edge of the stable, staring at the outside. Freedom, just a short sprint away. There were guards and boars out there, but less guards than inside the Crater. A few steps, and she’d have the Crater behind her, the road before her, and she’d be free.

What about Minerva? And Fable? Kentrith and the kits?

Ash fell around her.

Kali? All the slaves escaping now with the FTN’s help?

Her paws tightened. She remembered Kentrith’s words. ”We’ll all get out together.”

Together.

She left freedom behind and returned to the Crater.

Komi waited until most beasts in blue were running away with buckets, then she darted back out the door she’d come in, eyes streaming from the smoke. She ducked into a small alcove near the stairs to another level of the building, trying to clear her lungs without coughing too loudly.

Kentrith had told her to get to the kitchen entrance when she’d set the boars free. Now Komi just had to do that without drawing attention to her wet, bloody, hay-strewn form. She was just about to start up a flight of stairs when she heard Hargorn’s unmistakable snarl echoing from above. She stayed hidden, then heard the cry of a youngster, followed by Minerva’s voice!

She almost broke cover right then, but then Hargorn and some guards came into view. Hargorn carried Fable, while the guards dragged Minerva behind the weasel. She waited while they passed by, drawing her dagger from her vanbrace.

Hargorn said, “Knew ye was stupid, but tellin' Nire all that useless info about boars an' escapin' slaves?” He spat to one side of the stone floor. “Some spy ye turned out t' be.”

Komi froze, her dagger in her paw. Minerva? A spy?

No! Oh, no, no, no!


She fell back into the shadows once more, unable to breath, tears pricking in her eyes.

I trusted her. I told her everything. All the FTN plans I knew. And she betrayed me. She betrayed us all!

Why?


But even as she wondered that, she knew the answer. She saw it, in the form of a little otter pup, staring tearfully back at her mother.

Then they rounded a corner and were gone, leaving Komi more alone than ever before.
54
Round Six / The Choice
« Last post by Minerva on October 18, 2017, 08:18:26 PM »
Alternatively Titled: Rain



...Sometimes while I've sat here, I've thought about the choices we made together. Even while our crops withered, I remember how hard it was for you to tell Artie that we would have to pull him from school. There were tears in his eyes when you told him, but there was also understanding. He accepted it without a complaint, and put aside his own wants and needs, to help us when we needed it. No doubt, he got that from you. 

Do you remember that day, seasons ago, when Old Clarkson threw out his back? We were struggling then with our own worries, and yet you chose to spend extra hours every day to help him around his own farm. You spared him a few coins, coins we could have used, but you knew he needed more. Sometimes, I worry that you regret that choice, but if we could do it again, I would urge you to make it, again and again.

As we live in such a selfish world, I've thought often about how much you, Artie, and Heidi gave, just as you were giving now, trying to pay our debts. You are so selfless that, truly, I believe if it came to it, you would give your own life for another in need. It's this selflessness that I've always loved about you, Silas, and was what made me feel so privileged to say that I was your wife. I love you. Always.

Yours evermore,
Jubilee.


Like a stray arrow, a drip of rain fell upon the letter in Minerva's paws and stirred fresh life into the long dried ink. Before any of Jubilee Hetherton's final words could bleed, Minerva folded the parchment safely back under her vambrace. She looked to the open roof of the arena where dark storm clouds loomed threateningly above.

As a farmer, rain was a blessing to Minerva. It caused her crops to grow, the flowers to bloom, and gave her an excuse to spend the day happily indoors baking scones with Fable. However, in the stories told to her over the seasons, rain was different. It was ominous. It was a sign of cold, of a hero's misery, and of darkness to come. It was a harbinger in either case, but here, whether it was for good or bad, Minerva didn't know.

"Ooh-ooh, what a terrible day for rain." Lady Eve let out an exaggerated sigh as she took her place in the seat next to Minerva's and adjusted her absurdly, wide-brimmed hat. A vole sitting behind them coughed in annoyance as the hat nearly blocked his view of the arena. When the vixen ignored him, he scowled and stomped towards a different seat with a better view.

Eve waited for the beast to be gone before turning to Minerva and giving her a sly wink. With the two alone, the vixen held her gaze fixed forward on the battle in front of them and spoke quietly in between the crowd's cheers. "Thank you for meeting me here. You look tired. Are you well?"

Minerva nodded. "There was a storm last night. 'Parently the 'pumps' were broken and the whole place was floodin'. Nire had us bailin' out water with buckets. Was that yer doin'?"

"It was Mister Timberfell's idea," Eve explained. "Without those pumps, the sluice can no longer handle the waterflow and the tunnels will flood. That beaver may be a rude scoundrel, but if there's one thing he's good at, it's knowing how places work and what keeps them that way."

"Aye, that seems t' be that 'rude scoundrel's' specialty." Minerva recalled only a week before Silas' death when they first joined FTN, and how he grew enraged at the mere mention of Blasio Timberfell. It was only after she followed the rat and tried to help him, that he told her what the beaver did. Damming up the river so the snow runoff wouldn't come to his farm, then breaking it down once he owned the land himself. Despicable. "Why work with a beast like him?"

"Without him, I don't think we would have gotten this far. He's given us the money, the resources, and even some of the best ideas. Your friend Komi Banton is being tasked with releasing the boars from the Crater. That was his idea too. If she does that, then Nire won't have riders to fend us off with, and many of his forces will be distracted trying to catch them in Northvale," Eve said quietly. "For once, I believe we actually have a chance."

"But in Northvale? Beasts would die," Minerva said. No, Blasio wasn't just helping them. A beast like him didn't help others for free. What was his game?

Lady Eve opened her mouth, but it was Nire's voice that reached Minerva's ears first. “AND hailing from the barbaric kingdom of the Rapscallions, the one they’re all here to wreak their vengeance upon, a chilling nightmare made flesh and blood, the sovereign of suffering...Prince Thrayjen the BLACKWHISKERS!”

Minerva covered her ears from the crowd's roar. Turning her gaze back to the arena, the otterwife watched as the rat, Thrayjen the Blackwhiskers, strode into the arena, a trident in one paw and a net in the other. Opposite of him, was Thrasher, the massive monitor lizard Minerva had seen take on three beasts at once, as well as a wildcat and shrew. The battle began without warning as Thrayjen suddenly hurled his trident through the air and skewered the shrew in his smiling mouth, killing the beast instantly.

From there, Thrayjen entered the fray with the two other combatants. Eventually they grew distracted with each other, and the large rat skulked around and took the wildcat by surprise, slicing her throat open. Thrayjen and Thrasher were more evenly matched, but even as Thrasher's strength seemed to prove more than Thrayjen could match, it was the rat's brutality that brought his opponent's downfall. Thrayjen's jaws closed around the monitor lizard's neck, and then it was over.

Lady Eve covered her eyes from the bloodshed. "Of course, even with this chance, there are still beasts like the Blackwhiskers or Commander Nix. Beasts who want to be here. Beasts who'd rather be selfish monsters than show an ounce of bravery."

"Aye," Minerva said as the guilt weighed heavy in her chest.

Thrayjen took a bow for everybeast before turning to leave the arena, and Nire stepped forward on the podium.

"Friends, neighbors, visitors to our humble Crater. Are you not entertained?!"

Nire let the crowd's roar die down before he continued with a grin on his face. "I'm happy to hear that, but while we set up for the next match I would like to talk about something serious."

Lady Eve raised a brow.

"For seasons, our humble Crater has served at the pleasure of Northvale. It is a partnership that has brought wealth and prosperity to many, many beasts. But, in recent weeks, a rebel faction of our beloved city has struck out against our arena, against the values we hold dear. They would tear down all that we have built! But, are we afraid?"

"No!" the crowd roared.

"We are not afraid! We will not be intimidated, bullied by the few who seek to oppress the many! Not even the
weather can close our doors! To commemorate our solidarity with Northvale I have commissioned a new tapestry for this tournament. Now, our brave gladiators will not only fight for personal honor, but the honor of Northvale itself! We will show those who threaten us that we will not cower against-"

"Oh my goodness!" Eve's eyes suddenly darted upward towards the rafters as a pine marten in blue tumbled down with an earsplitting scream and a dagger in his chest. The beast flailed in midair, before landing with a crack upon the stone podium where Nire stood only a moment before. The lynx stared in shock at the twitching body as the crowd around him screamed.

It was in that moment that the banner unfurled. Like the rain above, it cascaded to the floor revealing the image of Northvale and the Crater, conjoined together as one. But carved into the top were words. It took Minerva a moment to read them, but they soon became clear.

Hope Lives.

The arena was in chaos as Nire screamed along with the crowd, his gaze shooting upwards as he searched desperately for the culprit. He looked through the audience, and Minerva saw that familiar look, that same crazed look in his eyes he had that day in the Hall of Greats. And then those eyes met hers.

And his snarl twisted slowly into a smile.

Nire pointed a claw towards her and raised his voice louder than the din of the crowd. "Guards! Bring me the Monster of Mossflower!"

Eve turned worriedly towards Minerva. "What does he want with you? He couldn't possibly think you had something to do with this?"

"No," Minerva murmured, shaking her head. The otterwife fought back tears as she met the vixen's gaze. "I'm sorry, Lady Eve, but... I'm not as brave as ye think I am."

Lady Eve's eyes grew wide in realization. "You're... No. No no no."

"He has my daughter, Eve. I'm sorry," Minerva said. "Run. While ye can."

Eve shook her head. "I'm not a coward like you."

Minerva tensed as the guards grabbed her and forced her arms roughly behind her back, but she didn't struggle. She cast a glance back to her sponsor, but Eve said nothing as her gladiator was marched away. The otterwife didn't need words though. Like writing on a page, Minerva could read the vixen's disappointment and her hatred by her eyes alone.

And the rain began to pour.

~~~¿~~~

Nire's office was in disarray when Minerva arrived, a stark contrast to the lynx himself. The Lord of the Crater cut an impossibly calm figure as he stood amongst shards of shattered vases, quills and strewn paperwork, and a fallen bookshelf. Slaves hurrying to pick up the mess scurried to leave at a wave from their master's paw as Minerva was pushed roughly into the room.

"Please. Please. There's no need to be so rough with her," Nire said patiently as the guards marched Minerva
towards the center of the room. One of them pulled a chain from his waist, but the lynx shook his head. "No need to chain her either. The Monster of Mossflower is a guest."

The guards released her with a nod and took positions by the door.

Minerva looked back at them for only a moment before turning towards Nire. The lynx absentmindedly plucked a quill off of the floor and dipped it into a jar of ink, not acknowledging the otterwife's presence any further as he scribbled at a stray piece of parchment.

Minerva opened her mouth, but the lynx raised a claw to stop her. "I appreciate your eagerness, but you'll have to
wait. I'm still expecting other guests."

"Other guests?"

The door opened and Hargorn strode into the office with a grin on his face, and leading Fable by the paw.

"Mummy!" the young otter called as she broke from the weasels grip and rushed towards Minerva, but, at a look from Nire, Hargorn intercepted the child by the scruff and pulled her away. Looking towards her mother in confusion, Fable's eyes started to water as she was dragged away from her and towards Nire.

"Hello, young one." Nire patted Fable's head with a smile and a look towards Minerva.

The young otter followed the lynx's gaze and Minerva smiled at her reassuringly. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Everything's okay. Everything's gonna be okay. Just stay quiet."

Fable nodded hesitantly and rubbed her paw across her eyes.

In the weeks since Nire gave her his offer, the idea of simply lying had come to her head on many occasions from herself and others as well. But, standing in front of him now, and watching as he stroked the young one's head, that idea seemed even more impossible. One wrong word, one betraying glance, could end with both of their deaths. She would have to tell the truth. If seeing Fable grow up in a collar meant seeing her grow up at all, then it was the only option.

Minerva opened her mouth just as the door did the same.

The otterwife froze as another one of Nire's guests limped slowly past her and took his place beside the lynx. The beast rolled the aspen stalk in his mouth as he grinned at her through his devilish, buck teeth.

"Ah, is this the Monster of Mossflower?" Blasio Timberfell asked Nire. He chewed his twig in the pause. "I don't believe we've had a proper introduction. I'm Blasio Timberfell. I've seen your work. Truly remarkable. In fact, you did me quite the favor killing the Reaper for me. Some beasts just don't know to respect their betters." The beaver clutched at the bandage on his thigh.

Even without the introduction, the otterwife felt like she had already met the beast many times before. This was the beast who called for her head for daring to survive, doomed a family to rot in prison, and commanded others to send beasts to their graves. And for what? Measly, worthless coins.

But what was he doing here? What game was he playing? Shouldn't he be...

And then realization hit Minerva. Blasio was a member of FTN. He was funding FTN. If she told Nire the truth, she would have to tell him what the beaver was doing, and that he was double crossing him. And what would a beast like Blasio, who held so much influence, do then?

"Oh, is this your daughter?" Blasio said, placing a massive paw on the young one's shoulder. Knowing full well of her plight, the beaver looked towards Minerva and narrowed his gaze ever so slightly. "She's just as pretty as you are, my dear."

Minerva felt faint.

"Right, shall we get to business then?" Nire said, setting aside his scribbles. Looking straight towards Minerva, he continued. "You know why you're here, Monster. Tell me what FTN is planning and who they are. Now."

Minerva hesitated, her eyes moving from Nire, to Blasio, and to Fable. She thought of Nix and Marik, before finally shaking her head. "No. Not until you promise me my freedom..."

"I've already promised-"

"...and my daughter's."

Nire narrowed his gaze. "I don't have time to argue. Fine. Yes. You may both go free, I promise, but you will tell me everything. Now. You will not have another chance."

Minerva thought of Komi, daring enough to wrap a chain around a scorpion. She thought of Kali, brave, innocent Kali who spoke of hope to Nire himself. She thought of Kentrith, who came back to this hellish place to try and put a stop to it. And she thought of Eve, who refused to run even when the odds were stacked against them. She thought of the vixen's words.

"I'm not a coward like you."

She was right. Nobeast was a coward like her.

Minerva spoke.

"FTN is plannin' on releasin' the boars from their pens int' Northvale. They think it'll cause enough chaos that ye'll be forced t' send some of yer beasts t' round 'em up. While yer guards are distracted, a guard named Tegue will unlock the gates of the Drag. Meanwhile, one beast will be tryin' t' sneak the young 'uns out of the Crater, in hopes that with them safe, other beasts like me with children, will be able t' fight without fear of ye hurtin' them. The gladiators will charge t' the third floor of the Crater t' get as many weapons as they possibly can. From there, they'll storm through every ring of the Crater, freein' anybeast with a collar, until they find you. And well... some of the ideas beasts had t' do to you, I don't feel comfortable sayin' next t' my daughter."

And with only a few words, Minerva had doomed any hope of rebellion.

Nire stopped to consider before asking. "And who is their leader?"

Minerva paused, feeling Blasio's gaze hot on her flesh. "Lady Eveneda Persa," she said. "That's all I know. Now, I want t' take my daughter, and I want t' leave this place."

Nire held up a claw. "Not so fast. We're not done yet." Minerva could only stare in confusion as the lynx turned slowly towards Blasio. "And what say you, Mister Timberfell?"

"What?" Minerva said.

Nire rolled his eyes. "Please. You didn't possibly think that you were my only spy, did you? My friend Blasio here had several of his beasts keeping an eye on things for me. So, tell me, Mister Timberfell, if you'd be so kind, is the Monster here telling the truth?"

The room was quiet save for a low rumbling noise, something that took Minerva a few moments to realize was the sound of Blasio's quiet laughter. Only a moment later, the beaver slapped his knee and launched into near hysterics. "Of course not. Lady Eveneda Persa? That ditzy vixen, the leader of FTN? Do you take Nire to be a bloody fool?"

Minerva froze in disbelief as the beaver continued.

"No, she's lying through her teeth," Blasio said. "The real plan is much more heinous. Like the Monster said, they'll be releasing the boars straight into Northvale- that much is true- but it's in the hopes that they can blame it on you. Innocent beasts will die in that stampede, and with you taking the blame, Northvale will turn against you and the Crater."

"That's what everybeast keeps saying. That Northvale will turn against me. We've had accidents before. Nobeast has turned against us yet."

"Perhaps not. But they will when they find out you've killed all the children you were holding hostage. At least that's what FTN is going to have them believe after they do the deed themselves. And if not then, then certainly after beasts in the audience find themselves with daggers in their backs, or poisoned from your food, or fed to your creatures. How will they feel safe if they think you can't handle some measly rebellion? FTN needs numbers to destroy this place. A hundred gladiators is hardly enough and Northvale will supply the beasts they need."

"I see."

It was a lie. All of it... was a lie. And yet, Blasio was playing Nire for a fool, convincing the paranoid lynx of invisible assassins and nonexistent poisons. But while the beaver was simultaneously saving FTN and the revolt, so too was he damning Minerva.

And he knew it. Because as Nire turned away from him, and towards the otterwife, Blasio Timberfell only smiled.

"Guards, if you would please detain the Monster of Mossflower."

Minerva screamed, scratched, and clawed as the guards descended upon her with chains and weapons drawn. She struggled against them. Fable cried. "He's lying to you!" Minerva shouted as a rat pinned her arms behind her back. "I told ye everything!"

"I don't believe you. I believe you're lying, even now," Nire spat. The lynx crossed his arms as he paced around the restrained otterwife. "Do you remember what I said when you first came here? I told you that a good show requires cooperation. And yet, you seemed to have forgotten that, just as you forgot what would happen... if you didn't."

Minerva's eyes grew wide. "Please. No. I'm tellin' the truth."

Nire ignored her plea as he turned to Hargorn. "Hargorn, please take the Monster and her daughter to the Inquisition Chamber. The young one is a distraction, so I want you to kill her and make her watch."

"NO! PLEASE!" Minerva yelled.

The lynx ignored her and continued. "And prolong it. From there, I don't care what you do to her. Have fun, just, please... leave her intact," Nire said, turning his gaze from the smiling weasel to the otterwife. "She has many more battles ahead of her and I'll need her to be able to still hold a spear."

"O' course, sir, it'd be me pers'nal pleasure," Hargorn said with a chuckle. He looked down at the terrified, young otter before grabbing her by the scruff and yanking her into his arms. "Come along, me dear."

"Get yer paws off o' her!" Minerva snarled.

"Shut up!" The butt of a guard's spear cracked hard against the otterwife's skull, and she fell hard onto the floor.

Dazed, Minerva was pulled back to her feet and forced towards the door. She looked behind her. Nire hardly acknowledged her, too busy talking with Blasio and too evil to even care. As the door to the lynx's office was shut behind her and the guards led her through the tunnels, Minerva looked ahead of her into the eyes of her daughter.

Tears fell from Fable's eyes as Minerva smiled at her reassuringly.

"Everything's goin' t' be okay."

"Everything's goin' t' be okay."

But the rain continued to fall.
55
Round Six / Battle Bebop
« Last post by Kali on October 18, 2017, 07:51:34 PM »
"Send a bolt of lightning... very, very frightening to me..." Kali didn't know when she started to sing. Maybe sometime in the night, after she tried to escape from the window slits of the store room. She missed them in the dark, not that it mattered. They were wide enough to allow in light and nothing more.

After that, she tried to force the door open once guards finally ended their watch, but it would not yield to her. Even after she threw herself at it until her shoulder was sore.

"I see a small s-silhouette of a bat,  Scare-a-mooch, Scare-a-mooch, will you do a f-fandango..."

Sleep never came to Kali, not with the sounds of Trent being subjected to the owls grizzly feast filling the store house. Not while Kali knew she would be joining the rat as dessert once she was caught. The thought made Kali wrap her wings even tighter around her body as she hung weakly from the ceiling.

"Nire has a place for me, Nire has a place for meeeeeeeeeee..." Kali did a mock lute solo with her wing tips, "So you think you can stop me and spit in my eyeeeee, so you think you can leave me to dIIIIeeEEee. I just got to get right out of heeereeee..."

The bat sighed, "It will never catch on."

Her ears picked up at the sound of the lock being opened. She gasped, falling from her perch and onto her head. A moment of wing flailing and frantic flapping passed until Kali flung herself behind a rack of rolled up tapestries.

"Did you catch the fight between the rat and the lizard?"

"You mean Blackwhiskers? Nah, I was hauling cargo. Pity, I heard the reptile got a good ol' thrashin. He always looked at us funny, like he was hungry or something, ya know?"

Kali watched from between rolls of fabric as a pair of mice entered the room. Slave beasts. She bit her lower lip as they grabbed the offending banner she had so meticulously defaced. She tried to keep the message near the middle, so that it would not be easily spotted until someone unrolled it.

However, the banner was the least of her concerns. The presence of the slaves meant that her chance for escape had finally come. If she flew fast enough she might be able to clear Northvale before Thunder was unleased upon her.

Assuming that he wasn't already out there, looking for her now. Nire had to have known she was gone...

Kali jumped when she heard the felines voice drift up to the top of the arena.

"Friends, neighbors, visitors to our humble Crater. Are you not entertained?!"

The audience replied with a tremendous shout.

Kali tensed, watching the slaves struggle to carry the heavy banner out the door. Never had overcast skies looked so good to her. She would have to be quick, she would have to be quiet.

"I'm happy to hear that, but while we set up for the next match I would like to talk about something serious."

The bat counted silently as the beasts left the door. They were walking directly away from the door, setting the banner up to be unfurled. She waited until the beasts had their backs turned before dashing for the door. One step, two step, three steps and a hop to gain altitude and Kali was almost free...

Right when the guard came around the corner.

Kali's vision filled with blue as she collided with the pine marten, nearly bowling him over and sending the bat flailing backward. The pine marten, however, wasted no time in raising the alarm.

"Go get help!" the marten hissed to the stunned looking slaves. He hissed the order again to move them into action. "Alarm!"

Kali screamed as the guard rounded on her with his halberd. The pole arm swung faster than she thought a weapon so heavy should. She ducked under the swing, dropping to the floor.

"For seasons, our humble Crater has served at the pleasure of Northvale. It is a partnership that has brought wealth and prosperity to many, many beasts..." the cat continued, unaware about the fight happening above his head.

"Please! Stop!" Kali shouted, but the marten did not listen. He only pressed the attack stabbing forward towards Kali's fat belly.

"But, in recent weeks, a rebel faction of our beloved city has struck out against our arena, against the values we hold dear. They would tear down all that we have built! But, are we afraid?"

She caught the halberd with her wings, directing it to the side and away from her vitals. The blade of the weapon however caught her in the wing, forcing her backwards and pinning her against the tapestries rolled up behind her.

Kali's screams were lost in the shouts of the arena crowd.

"We are not afraid! We will not be intimidated, bullied by the few who seek to oppress the many! Not even the
weather can close our doors!"

The marten drew closer, paw reaching out to grab the bat by the neck. With her free wing, Kali reached for her knife.

The marten let out a yell, stumbling backward and bleeding from his arm. Kali used the distraction to try and free herself, slamming the knife between the axe head and the tapestry, she used the leverage to pry the weapon out.

Kali fell, panting, her wing a flurry of pain.

The sound of a sword being freed from the marten's scabbard made her ears twitch.

"To commemorate our solidarity with Northvale I have commissioned a new tapestry for this tournament."

The sound of metal on metal was familiar to Kali's ears, from training, from watching fights, but never from having to defend herself. The fight was upon Kali even before she knew it. The broad sword seemed to be everywhere with impossible speed. Where it hit caused destruction, chopping tapestries and tools in half as Kali did her best to dodge.

Training came back to her, as meager as it was. The guard raised his sword over his shoulder and she positioned her flimsy dagger to deflect it. The was a spark as the blades connected, the force of the blow throwing Kali to the ground.

"Now, our brave gladiators will not only fight for personal honor, but the honor of Northvale itself!"

The marten chopped downward with the sword, meeting stone where Kali's head was only moments before she rolled out of the way. She gasped as the blade came close enough to her waist to cut her sash as the Marten quickly brought it around.

"We will show those who threaten us that we will not cower against them. It is our turn to strike back!"

With a growl Kali leapt forward, slashing her dagger across the marten's chain mail. She ducked under the counter swing, throwing her shoulder into the marten and forcing him backwards, towards the door. But only succeeded in forcing the beast out of her reach.

He recovered, reading his blade defensively. Hissing, the guard charged once more.

"We will not go quietly! We will not roll over to the will of those who inspire terror and fear upon our people! We will remain strong and united against all enemies of hope and freedom!"

It would be terrible to die here, thought Kali, with the hypocritical speech of Nire being the last thing she had heard. But the pine marten was proving himself just as deadly as Thunder, and her friends were not here to bail her out.

Time seemed to slow down for Kali as the guard charged. Her mind raced for what to do, and in her desperation a single sentence came to mind. It felt like so long ago, that day on the training field.

"If you could put some force behind it, that would definitely take your opponent by surprise.”

Kali's eyes went wide.

Leaping into the air, Kali threw the dagger upward. Wounded wing or not, she turned her flight into a mid-air somersault. She caught the blade with her foot paw, thrusting it forward where the marten was unprepared to defend.

With her full weight behind it, the blade pierced even his chainmail, sinking up to the hilt into his chest.

Shock filled the guards face. He staggered backward, struggling to keep his balance on the slick stone until his ankle caught the banner behind him.

And over the side he went with the banner as it unrolled.

A terrible scream filled the arena until it came to a sudden, horrible stop.

Everything came to a screeching halt for Kali. Her ears fell flat, unneeded in the unearthly silence that followed. Her mouth opened in horror, unable to comprehend the death of the marten.

Without thinking she came to the edge of the arena, peering over to see the beasts body laying broken upon the podium. Another two feet to the right and she would have slain Nire himself.

All eyes turned to the bat and the banner that unrolled below her. It was a truly marvelous creation upon a blue backdrop with white silk thread depicting the town of Northvale itself. The market places, the docks, the sites beasts see when visiting the city, all blended together in a collage leading up to the Arena at the top.

All destroyed by the deep gouges in the banner from top to middle that spelled out the words, 'HOPE LIVES'.

Although tempting to draw a picture Nire being thrown off the Arena walls, Kali's artistic skills were limited to song and dance. At the same time it felt wrong to destroy a creation such as this with vicious words aimed at Nire.

Irony was cruel, she thought, unable to take her eyes off of the slain marten. She was woken up by the shrill screams of a beast in anguish. Not from the audience, but from Nire.

Regarding the scene with horror, Kali had to force herself to move, to back away towards the far edge of the arena. Guards could be seen coming up the stairs in droves from the left and the right, seeking to cut her off.

She looked one way, then another, and finally down to her wing and the great big hole carved out of it. Kali wasn't going to be flying anytime soon.

"Ah... well..."

"... crap."


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


The guards couldn't decide how to best shackle a bat, given that manacles were simply useless on a beast lacking paws. In the end they attached a chain to her slave's collar and called it good.

Kali kept her head low as they led her through the offices, leaving a small trail of blood from her still open wound where ever she stepped. She offered no resistance, not even a peep as they brought her into the office level.

A small part of Kali expected to see Kentrith, or even Inkpaw. But no such friendly faces appeared, not even the rat posing as a guard.

Of the Blue Backs who entered the room, only two of them stayed after the doors were shut behind Kali. She found herself in a familiar dining room. It was right on this very spot where Kali, for the first time, preformed for Nire. Where she stopped Silas from murdering the feline.

If only she had not gotten in his way.

Kali did not condone the crimes of Thrayjen, but she couldn't bring herself to judge him for them either. He regretted his actions. But Nire?

What excuse could he give?

"Kali."

The bat's eyes finally picked up enough off the floor to examine the room fully. Another fox stood somewhat awkwardly off to the side of the room. A fox Kali thought she would never see again.

With guards behind her, keeping ahold of the chain attached to her collar, Kali raised an eyebrow. In other circumstances Kali would have joked about Baxter being rather short to be an interrogator.

Tired, wounded and dreadfully hungry, the two bards simply stared at each other in silence.

Baxter spoke first.

"Did the guards do that to you?" Baxter's comment caused Kali to glance at her wing. The gaping hole was a startling sight, and she was trying very, very hard not to contemplate the consequences of such a wound. Would it heal? Would she be able to fly again? Kali simply didn't know.

"BY all that is holy, Kali, what have you gotten yourself into?" the fox sighed, "Look. We don't have much time. Nire only let me in here to talk with you because he's too busy being livid elsewhere. I had to beg even then."

The bat glanced to the floor, ears flat.

"Kali, I told Nire that this had to be a mistake. There is no way you could have killed a guard. You're... YOU for Martin's sake. Please tell me you had nothing to do with this." Baxter laughed. His laughter died off after Kali didn't reply. "Bloody... Kali, how did it come to this? You're a bard. You're not a murder. What ever you are involved in please, just tell Nire a-and maybe he will go easy on you."

The bat gave him an 'oh really?' glare with her eyes. Did the fox forget who he was talking about?

Baxter turned away, rubbing the back of his neck, "I'm sorry I never came to visit. I was... scared, you know. And I... I didn't want to see you get hurt.  And I don't want to see you get hurt now. Please Kali, just cooperate with Nire and he might spare you. Please..."

The fox gave the bat a pleading look.

"I don't want to see you die."

Kali widened her eyes for a moment before finally settling on Baxter's own. There was so much to say, and yet, so little time.

It was then that the door opened.

"N-nire," the fox began.

Nire swept into the room like a typhoon. His usual smile was plastered on his face, but frayed slightly at the edges. "Baxter! Thank you for helping your winged cousin settle in, but I can take it from here." The cat wrapped his arm around Kali, guiding her towards a chair before sitting across the table himself.

"Kaliiiiiii, my cheeky little bat. You have had an... exciting day. Come! Sit! Have an apple."

The fox gave Kali one last worried glance, then walked out the door and leaving Kali to her fate.

The bat did as she was instructed, tenderly sitting down and eyeing the cat warily as he slid a basket of fruit towards her. Her gaze lingered, mouth watering. Part of her knew that she had not eaten since last night, the other part of her knew that this could very well be her last meal.

She shrugged, deciding if it was her last meal then she might as well enjoy it. Grabbing a bushel of grapes with her good wing Kali began to munch away as Nire continued.

"Now, Kali, sweetie, we be both know that you lack the smarts to orchestrate such a fiasco."

Cheeks full of grapes, Kali looked up at Nire's wide Cheshire grin.

"I want to know who helped you out of the arena. I'm going to need their names."

Kali swallowed her grapes. She paused, glancing about the room, and then grabbed an apple.

Nire narrowed his eyes slightly. "Kali. I know you. You do not have a violent bone in your body. You couldn't even kill The Tiger in the arena, and I'm sure you didn't really want to kill that poor marten. Just think about his family! Those poor marten babies watching their papa fall and splatter at my feet. How horrible!" Nire gasped, "Are these terrorists really the kind of beasts you want to be associating with? Putting a humble bard like yourself to such vile acts. If you don't help me put a stop to this, they will only force me to hurt other beasts... is that what you really want?"

The lynx's eyes fell upon the bat, who only gave him an intense stare as she munched away at the apple.

"Right," drumming his claws on the desk, Nire's smile began to falter, "I always liked you, Kali. You always had heart. Reminded me of myself at that age. It's why I spared you from the games." The feline laughed, "What? Did you really think you were in danger? You haven't seen danger. I could have put you up to real warriors, or the owls."

Again the cat received only a silent stare of judgement as Kali worked on her apple.

Drawing a deep breath, Nire calmed himself, "But I am, if nothing else, a forgiving beast. And I will make it worth your while. I can give you back your lute. Restore you to your original job here. Just think, you can live the life you always wanted! Playing your tunes, eating... fruit and... what ever it is bats consider a luxury. The point is, you will never want for anything ever again. Food, clothes, gold. All yours. A beast complains about your singing? Just say the word and I'll have them flayed."

The cat gave Kali time to answer. She let the length of the pause drag out long enough to finish her apple. She held the core off to the side, letting it drop to the floor before reaching for a pear, completely ignoring the cat.

Nire's tail began to twitch and his smile turned feral. "This is kindness, you must realize this, yes?" He stood up, looming over the bat, "I can have you tortured. You won't believe the kinds of things I can get away down in the dungeons, next to the monsters. How long do you think it will take, hmmm? An hour? A day? How long do you think you will hold up after I pluck the wings from your body and feed what's left to Thunder?"

When the bat still refused to respond, the cat screamed, slamming his fist against the table and sending fruit flying in all directions. "I just threatened to kill you, you flying rodent! Do you not care? Answer me!"

"But you wouldn't kill me yourself, would you?"

The cat was taken aback as Kali's eyes met his own. There was something different now, a sharpness behind her gaze that bored through him, "You have beasts to do that for you. Beasts to torture for you, maim for you, even kill for you when you get bored, but you never got your paws dirty, have you? In fact, I wonder if I have killed more beasts than you."

Kali leaned back in her chair, "You are too much of a coward to do anything but hide in the shadows, Nire. You always have been, you always will be. The only thing that makes you dangerous is the control you wield over this town." Her face continued to not display the anger and bitterness that was reflected by Nire. No, Kali looked at him with something much worse.

Pity.

"It must be a horrible feeling, knowing that you are losing control. I wonder, after everyone finds out just how powerless you really are, who will turn on you first? The town, your friends... how long you will last in your own arena after they throw you into it..."

Nire twitched an eye. His face steaming with rage, "Throw this... creature into the dungeons." The guards came, lifting the bat up and escorting her to the door. "You're right, Kali. I CAN have you killed! We will see how brave you are after I throw you to the birds!"

Something crashed against the wall after Kali was lead out of the room.

"Inkpaw..." she said inwardly, "This better be worth it..."
56
Round Six / With Open Eyes
« Last post by Thrayjen on October 18, 2017, 06:17:52 PM »
“Then he just pushed by me, walked right back down the passage and ignored me as I yelled after him. ‘Hope guides us’, tch. If the plan is to close your eyes and hope for the best, it’s not much of a plan.”

Thrayjen blew steam from his tea, sipping gingerly and savoring the sweet taste of the blend he had concocted for Foxglove from Aldridge’s old herbs.

The young mouse sat in Aldridge’s old chair, staring into the fire Thrayjen had built, ignoring her own cup and the flattened sandwiches beside her. Her silence had stretched for hours as Thrayjen visited her, attempting conversation and failing to bring the redness from the mouse’s eyes.

From Adeen’s chair, Rinam looked at the rat seated upon the floor yet still eye level with her. She lifted her tea to her pursed lips.

“A desperate measure from the rebellion. Perhaps closing their eyes and hoping is the best they have.”

“Then they need to wait until they have something better,” Thrayjen grumbled. “I don’t think Komi realized how many are going to die. Or who, for that matter. Boars don’t care if you wear a collar or a blue uniform or nothing at all.”

“I should tell Nire,” Thrayjen said, looking into the flames. “Stop this before it starts.”

“Why?” Foxglove’s head turned enough to let the rat see her confusion. “Even if he believed you...what good would it do?”

“It would save lives,” Thrayjen answered, tilting his head.

“The lives of the beasts who let this all happen,” Foxglove said gloomily.

“And the lives of those who know nothing else.” Rinam looked at Thrayjen as she countered young Aera’s voice. “Like our prince once was, the beasts of Northvale are now. Hungry for carnage and amusement.”

“The boars...they won’t help, Foxglove.” Thrayjen pressed. “Violence leads to more violence. If Nire ever falls, another will be there to pick up the slack. Another and another, until a dynasty is cemented in history. We stick to Aldridge’s ideas. Change the minds of the beasts, and you change their ways. We must give them a chance.”

“They don’t deserve one,” Foxglove mumbled. “Uncle was wrong, and now he’s dead.”

Thrayjen looked to the ceiling and pictured the Barrow marks.

“I didn’t think I deserved a chance. Then Nan offered one to me and I found happiness for the first time in seasons.”

“Nan?”

“Helix and Verna’s grandmother,” Thrayjen explained, nudging Aera’s plate towards her with his tail. The mouse scowled but picked up her sandwich and took a tentative bite. Thrayjen continued, smiling with the small victory.

“I had been running for years, never staying in one place too long. Too worried about beasts recognizing me or my brother’s trackers finding me. Those seasons...they weren’t good to me. When I stumbled across Nan’s little shack, I was so tired, so hungry, I thought I’d die there.”

Thrayjen closed his eyes, imagining the scent of flowers. Thousands of colourful petals and leaves, fields of wild and planted crops littered with broken stone fences. Rain. It had been raining. His paws were filthy, his fur spiked with mud. The oak tree.

He had been digging. Burying. Burying his past. Thrayjen opened his eyes.

“I don’t know why I did it...but I got to the door and I knocked. It didn’t feel right to just push the door open, as abandoned as the place looked. I knocked, and I waited. Poor Nan must have been so frightened, but she opened the door anyways. Always open the door in the rain, she told me afterwards.”

A soft laugh. His smile wavered.

“She took me in without hesitating. Fed me, boiled some water so I could wash, wrapped me in a blanket.” A pleasant warmth, gentle and comforting, wrapped around him. “All while her two grandbabes slept in the corner.”

“You could have slit their throats in the night,” Foxglove whispered with a note of horror.

“Once upon a time, I may have. Nan showed me kindness when I hadn’t experienced any before. She...she let me hold the babies when my cough eased a few days later. She gave the Blackwhiskers a baby to hold. She gave me a baby to hold and trusted me with her.”

Gold glinted as Thrayjen’s mouth parted in a wide grin.

“Little Verna, my Sweetnose, was the most precious thing I had ever seen. Even her wee spikes were soft and delicate. She was so little, she fit in my paw. And she opened her eyes and...and she just smiled at me. No one had ever smiled at me with such blind love. I never wanted to let her go. So I stayed. I never meant to, but Nan was old back then, even, and her palsy was getting worse. She couldn’t tend her fields like she wanted, couldn’t get to market and back on her aching bones, and one day I realized she would die before the children were old enough to fend for themselves. I couldn’t let that happen.”

The rat sipped at his tea, frowning at the tepidness.

“And now I’m here. Still trying to protect them.”

“What happened to Nan?” Foxglove asked. The mouse tightly clutched at the arm of her chair.

“She died. Peacefully, in her sleep. Like she deserved.” Thrayjen sighed quietly. “That was the night the slavers came. I never got to finish her pyre.”

Several salty trails snaked down Foxglove’s cheeks. The mouse eased back into her chair, crossing her arms fussily over her chest before frustration guided her paw to slam down on the chair arm.

“That’s not fair,” she hissed.

“That’s not the point,” Thrayjen gently said. “Nan took me in and trusted me. She didn’t have to. She didn’t know anything about me, but she knew a beast in need when she saw one. She gave me help, and in doing so she gave me a chance at experiencing an actual life outside of fear and anger and evil. It’s what Northvale must be offered.”

“They chose this way of life already,” Aera insisted.

A log tipped over in the hearth. Sparks showered the air, though nobeast moved for a long time to correct the flames.

“Tell me about Celine,” Rinam said.

“No,” Thrayjen whispered.

“Foxglove needs to understand.”

“Understand what? Who’s Celine?”

“Understand that not everybeast deserves a chance,” Rinam answered simply, moving to stoke the fire back to life. “But the good that comes of patience and understanding can defeat the darkness.”

“Oh. Aldridge told me some stories,” Foxglove said with clear disinterest. “I’ve heard of the things you did, back...before Nan, I guess.”

“He kept the worst from you, I’m sure. I still have my secrets.” Thrayjen set his teacup down and crossed his legs. He leaned his paws on his knees, rocking back and forth until Rinam’s stare revealed there would be no escaping her.

“I loved Celine,” Thrayjen started softly. Neither mouse urged him on, even as the minutes went by and Rinam added another log on the flames.

“I loved her. But she didn’t love me.” The rat held young Aera’s gaze, his body beginning to tremble as her white fur gleamed orange. “I didn’t care enough to notice. I did...terrible things to her.”

Thrayjen swallowed and inhaled a long, deep breath.

“We grew up together. She was just a slave, but she was born special. Pink eyes.” The rat’s eyes locked with the Pearl Dawn’s. “White fur. And so she was given to me, a playmate of sorts. Someone I could torment in lieu of the children of noble birth. I wasn’t supposed to take to her so; she was just meant to be a whipping pup, but she didn’t simper to me like the other children. She was brave, and bossy. She feared nothing when she was with me, and we...Well, we were brats. Mostly me. I dragged her around everywhere with me. She used to sleep in my room when we were dibbuns because I couldn’t sleep without her, even after Greyvayyan was born. That habit never changed.”

The memories awoke no gentle laughter nor nostalgic smiles. Instead, a silent tear rolled from his eyes and dripped from his chin.

“As we got older, I…”

A wave of painful regret enveloped Thrayjen. His claws dug into his flesh as he mouthed silent words he had never spoken out loud. His courage abandoned him, leaving him with only the wide and shocked eyes of Foxglove and Rinam’s quiet breathing. He forced himself to keep his eyes open, to push himself. He owed it to Celine.

“I took her as my mistress. She had always been mine, but I wanted more than her company. She f-fought me the first time. I didn’t think anything of it. I made up reasons and justified myself. She was shy, but that would fade. I was her prince, her friend. I loved her. Of course she wanted me. Celine stopped meeting my eyes after that. Started to shy away from me. I thought she was bashful, or modest. Frightened of my brother, maybe, of what he could do. He was the only beast aside from Father I ever yielded to.”

A wince. A slow breath.

“Greyvayyan was always jealous of her. He didn’t want to share me, especially with a slave. But Greyvayyan...when Curathalla died and Greyvayyan became king, he gave me an ultimatum. Leave her be or he’d kill her.”

A bitter snarl formed on Thrayjen’s maw, lips pulling back to reveal teeth and gold.

“I should have listened to him, but I was selfish and didn’t. When he found out I kept carrying on with my lovely Celine…he dragged us both to the High Tower and told me either to push her off or he would.”

The snarl grew fiercer, his words a wild growl.

“What did I know about love…I raised my sword against him. I loved her so much, I raised my sword against my brother and king and Celine laughed. She laughed for the first time in seasons and stepped off the tower.”

Thrayjen’s jaw tightened and snapped shut with a click of teeth. His trembling stilled and he realized at some point he had stood up. The rain outside pounded upon the bowyery roof; the hollow noise echoed in his chest.

“It crushed me. She’d have rather died than live by my side. Every idea about myself, my world, was changed. Greyvayyan kept me close for a while and I did his bidding but I couldn’t stay there. I stole my brother’s sword and fled north. I learned what it was to be hungry, and to fear. I was cast upon the mercy of the world after showing it none and...at the end, there was Nan.”

Thrayjen walked over to the table, pouring himself a fresh cup of tea. He felt oddly tired, as though waking from a restless sleep.

“Do I deserve a second chance, absolutely not. But I was given one anyway. That’s why I’ll do anything to save my little ones; they give me a reason to live. They help me see things clearly.”

The orange flames cast a comforting glow about the workshop and yet nobeast dared breathe a word as the rat gulped his tea. No ease was to be found there amongst the beasts that tried to digest the confession. Thrayjen turned to the mice, their fur and perfect faces golden from the fire. His pounding heart finally settled.

“Think very hard before you condemn a beast, Miss Aera. Remember your uncle’s wisdom. He was...even smarter than any of us realized.”

Thrayjen bid the maids a good night, excusing himself from the bowyery and departing into the storm. He closed the door behind him, making sure the wind didn’t slam it. Heart pounding and bile rising, he clasped his paws behind his back as he walked across the archery range, fighting every fibre of muscle that begged to flee.

The door creaked open again and Rinam trailed after him. He didn’t want to wait for her or face her but the rat’s paws slowed until Thrayjen stopped.

“I hate Aldridge,” Thrayjen started as Rinam caught up. “For leaving us here alone.”

“The darkness of the Crater-”

“Hell’s Gates, I’m struggling too. Alone, now.”

The mouse looked up at him, blinking rain droplets from her lashes. They stared at each other, their fur and clothes limp with water. She tentatively reached for Thrayjen’s paw but the rat withdrew, stepping away from her. Again Rinam reached for his paw, bringing it into hers and demanding the counterpart with a beckoning gesture.

Her paws were warm. He noticed it immediately and couldn’t shake the thought. Her claws guided his into forms and patterns, and every symbol and gesture was revealed. He watched intently, eyes following graceful digits as they composed silent poems.

“Peace, for your mind. Mercy, for your heart. This is ‘courage’....and ‘strength’, for the tournament tomorrow. ‘Love’.”

Rinam stopped, tilting her head up.

“For your children. And ‘forgiveness’.”

Her paws tightened around his.

“It’s for Aldridge.”

“Aldridge?” Thrayjen frowned. Rinam merely smiled and nodded.

“You are so much stronger than you realize. Forgiveness for Aldridge in his time of weakness, for he has never been as strong as you in fighting his evils.”

Somehow, she illuminated the dark courtyard. Thrayjen smiled and held the sign a moment longer.

Thoroughly soaked, they made their way through the Drag and towards the slave’s sleeping areas. Before Hargorn ushered them apart, Rinam perched upon her toes, leaning in and brushing her whiskers against Thrayjen’s scarred cheek.

“I will teach you more when you return from battle. Until then.”

She once again molded their paws into the symbol for strength.

~*~*~

The sunlight was blinding with only wisps of silver clouds to remind anybeast of the previous night’s storm. All roads in Northvale led to the Crater, and the colourful banners that announced the dozens of fighters promised to entertain the throngs of beasts flocking to the greatest show ever.

Vendors sold cartloads of food and trinket. Brewers offered ales and wines. A toy maker’s stall traded in pewter pins and tin figures of the adored gladiators, some boasting moving arms and tails. Scarves and tunics bearing the embroidered sigils of fighters were peddled for outrageous prices. Thousands of paws walked the ground above the Drag, oblivious to the plight of those they so admired.

Beneath the groomed sands and the stadium seats, below the ground where Thunder’s soaring form could not spy, exhausted slaves hustled through the hallways and dashed from room to room. Trainers growled out advice and insight to their charges, fighters donned their armour and smiths added the final edges to ghastly weapons.

Thrayjen sat quietly on a bench, waiting by the gates that would rise up and let him greet his fate. He watched the other fighters, some nervous in their collars while others with naked necks stretched and scrutinized their blades. Blue sat statuesque beside him.

“Now, it’s a free for all, but Nire said each and every one of them jumped at the opportunity for a go at the Blackwhiskers. Remember, Thrasher likes to use his tail. You do too, but he has longer reach, aye. Rosemond likes to keep her distance, so get in close and watch out for her spear. And Kevin...well...You know what he’ll do if he catches you.”

Thrayjen swallowed and nodded.

“If Nire gives you the claws down...kill them first, aye? Don’t make them suffer. When they’re dead, they’re dead, and you can do whatever you want for show, but...don’t forget yourself.”

Thrayjen looked down at his paws, locked and curled to form a symbol for strength.

“Good luck, aye,” Blue said as Nire’s speech above them ended. Thrayjen caught the tightness in her voice and hugged her as they stood. She patted the kraken on his armor for luck.

The lynx had given the tournament a superfluous opening ceremony of speeches, coloured fire, and aerial displays of impressive finesse. The slave that Thunder had feasted upon was jeered by the audience, their paws and throats warming to the day’s spectacle.

Above them, the crowd cheered as Thrayjen’s opponents were announced.

“Have Plockette warm some mead for me, Blue.”

The gate opened.

“AND hailing from the barbaric kingdom of the Rapscallions,” Nire’s voice boomed above the growing cheers, “The one they’re all here to wreak their vengeance upon, a chilling nightmare made flesh and blood, the sovereign of suffering...Prince Thrayjen the BLACKWHISKERS!”

Across from the rat, the mighty scaled lizard called The Thrasher stood, a giant axe clutched in his claws. Further down posed a wildcat in a steel breastplate spinning a spear above her head while brandishing a shield.

Then there was Kevin. A small, sandy coloured shrew with a chainmail shirt that didn’t quite cover his round belly stood a distance away from the larger opponents. Rather than showing off with his dagger, the scarred shrew instead smiled nervously and gave Thrayjen a slight wave with his little paw.

Thrayjen shuddered inwardly, glancing at the shrew’s blood red sigil of grinning teeth.

The crowd’s roar was deafening. Thrayjen’s ears flattened against his head as he strutted into the centre of the sandy field. His skull white kraken hung from flag poles and the sticks brandished by ecstatic fans. The rat blew kisses and waved, spinning in place as though dancing, skipping over his net and avoiding the hissing hooks braided into the cords.

And then he hurled his trident across the arena and into the face of Kevin.

The shrew flew back several feet, half his head gone and rended by the prongs of death.

Collectively, the gladiators heaved a sigh of intense relief.

Thrasher and Rosemond charged forward. Thrayjen, too, was on the move, loping across the field towards his discarded weapon as he kept on the outside of the other two gladiators, all four paws digging into the sand and sending it flying as he ran.

Rosemond’s spear jabbed out, not near enough to strike the rat but enough to cow him from his target. The wildcat had proved the faster sprinter, standing between Thrayjen and his trident. She lunged forward, barely missing Thrayjen as he spun to the side and cracked his net like a whip. The cat hoisted her shield but when the rat pulled down, her shield wrenched with the hooks that snagged it. Rosemond hissed, struggling to tear away, then knocked herself in the face as Thrayjen let the tension go.

Thrasher’s tail caught the rat in the face. The burning pain lanced through Thrayjen’s skull, swelling his eye shut, and he let the net go entirely. Stumbling back, Thrayjen turned his head to see the lizard spin his axe. The rat leapt again, landing hard on his back and scrambling away through the wet sand.

Thrayjen barely managed to get to his feet. Thrasher’s lashing tail and Rosemond’s thrusting spear dogged him from each side, backing the rat up until he sensed the spiked wall behind him. The tail came again, and this time Thrayjen ducked as the whip-like appendage screamed over him. The rat shot forward, hurtling into Thrasher’s stomach and sending them both rolling into the ground. Thrayjen kicked once, twice, then scarpered sideways as Rosemond’s spear stabbed towards him.

Then Thrasher.

The crowd gasped as the lizard took the spear in the shoulder as he sat up. He howled as Rosemond’s paws twisted. Without missing a beat, the wildcat pushed her weight forward against Thrasher’s resisting claws as the lizard tried to push the spear away and out.

By Kevin’s body, Thrayjen tore his trident from the sand and stole up the shrew’s serrated knife. He turned once again and tore through the sand, head cocked to favour his open eye. Thrasher and Rosemond danced, the lizard swinging the cat about as they both gripped opposite ends of the spear. Finally, Rosemond let go as Thrasher gave up and heaved his axe at her. The double-headed blade slammed into Rosemond’s shield, cleaving a gaping hole into the metal that spurted blood from her severed arm.

Shrieking, the wildcat retreated back. Doubled over, she quickly fell, and Thrasher advanced on her from the front as Thrayjen crept into play from the side. Rosemond’s remaining paw suddenly found something in the sand. Without thought or grace, she flung Thrayjen’s net and tangled Thrasher. He flailed, trying to free his axe and his face from the braided cord that imprisoned him, only to further dig the curved hooks into his scales and flesh.

Rosemond laughed wildly, sitting up and reaching for Thrasher’s fallen axe. Thrayjen tipped her head back and sliced her throat open. He held her as she dropped in front of him, gurgling quietly as she pawed at her neck before stilling. Gently, he put her down.

To the crowd’s excited cheers and disappointed shouts, Thrayjen advanced upon Thrasher. The lizard was struggling fruitlessly, every limb save for his threatening tail caught in hook and rope. Dozens of wounds scored into his hide, but Thrasher refused to give up. He saw the rat approach and rolled away, ignoring the hooks that dug deeper into him. A foot came free; his hind claws and teeth immediately began working at the cords.

The volume in the stands grew, and grew, until screams of warning lit a fire of desperate energy and Thrasher ripped the remains of the net from him triumphantly. He looked up in time to see Thrayjen thrust forward with his trident, and skillfully spun out of the way, swatting at the deadly harpoon. Then, as Thrayjen’s arm was forced wide and the rat turned with the force of the hit, Thrasher leapt forward and knocked the rat down.

The weight on top of Thrayjen was crushing. Claws rend his face, teeth snapped at him as he tried to push back, and the lizard’s scales proved impervious to Thrayjen’s nails. He could smell his own blood, taste it in his throat. He grew weak, limp.

The lizard paused, looking at Nire.

The lynx, face disappointed, raised his paw.

Thrayjen shot up, jaws closing around Thrasher’s neck before the lizard could realize what had happened. Scaled muscle bunched and flexed as Thrasher pulled back, dragging the latched rat with him until he dislodged and rolled in the ground, spitting flesh and bile.

Beasts screamed, in delight, in terror. Nire threw his paws up in celebration, teeth bared in a wide smile. When Thrasher lay cold in the sand, fortunes were won and lost, with no sympathies or regard to the beasts who had died.

The Thrasher. Rosemond, the Longclaw. Kevin.

Gasping and panting, Thrayjen spun as he looked around with a single eye. Faces blurred and everything was coloured red, but through the windows in the Drag, Thrayjen could see a bright mouse with curly fur looking on.

The rat turned towards Nire’s high-pitched laughter. Thrayjen bowed, as he usually did, and forced his paws into the form of mercy as he walked back to the gate with twitching whiskers.
57
Round Six / Swine
« Last post by Thrayjen on October 18, 2017, 05:41:52 PM »
Breakfast with Blue had become a tiresome affair. She barely looked at him anymore but Thrayjen could still feel the piercing glare of her big, bright eyes whenever he wasn’t looking her way. When she did spare him a glance it was to merely scowl or sneer at his attempts to bridge the widening gorge between them.

With the Great Tournament looming over him, Thrayjen determined he wanted at least polite conversation again, and although she had never called him her friend, the hurt between them was undeniable.

“Miss Blue,” Thrayjen began, setting his morning tea down. “You haven’t been the same since-“

“I’m not thinkin’ about Aldridge, aye,” Blue growled, shifting her body away and crossing a leg over her knee. “Beasts die here all the time.”

“Actually, I wasn’t…” Thrayjen let his breath die, debating whether or not to bother with the stubborn ferret. Rinam flicked her eyes at him from across the table. Her spoon hovered halfway to her mouth. He couldn’t just quit.

“You don’t like the Blackwhiskers,” Thrayjen tentatively finished. Blue visibly tensed, her ears flattening against her skull. The rat nodded once in understanding. Tapping his claws on the table as, heart pounding, he forced himself to keep going.

“Did I once do something to you? Your family?”

“My old Pa fled Muskroarka with my baby big Brother and very pregnant Mum. He fled because of your old pa…and your brother…and you.”

It wasn’t the first time Thrayjen had met with someone that despised his family. Every day, someone new shot him a glare or drew a claw across their throat as he passed.

“He had power back there. Lands and a title. Your Pa was mad, though. He’d-“

“I know,” Thrayjen stopped her, shaking his head but once. “I know what my father was. I know what I was. I’ve lived a life of regret because of past deeds.” A breath of laughter. “I keep making mistakes, too. Bit of a hobby, actually.”

“It’s not funny,” Blue grumbled.

“No, it isn’t,” Thrayjen insisted. “I don’t know who your father is. I don’t even know your real name, Blue. Whatever happened those many seasons ago, I’m not that beast any more. I can’t take it back, and I’m sorry for…everything. Truly, I am.”

The rat’s face fell flat. He had apologized many times to Blue, but nothing ever seemed to get through the ferret’s cold attitude.

“I know,” Blue sighed, slouching over the table. “I do, I really do. I just…You lied to me. You could have told me at any time. You trusted me with the secret of your children but not who you are, aye.”

“Would you have treated me the same if you knew who I was?”

“Of course not,” Blue said. “But you would have swayed me. Beasts change, I know that.” She swallowed, picking up her fork only to put it down several times. Her footpaws danced beneath the table. “My own Pa used to be the Master at Arms for Currathalla. He taught the soldiers how to fight, and he taught me. His daughter. Because he saw the evil in the world, and he fled when it overpowered him, and he didn’t want me or Plockette to have to put up with the same. He changed for his children.”

Master at Arms? Could she be...

“And you could have changed my mind instead of lyin’ and makin’ it so I don’t know what to think any more.”

“Harrogale Khor,” Thrayjen breathed. “You’re the daughter of Harrogale Khor.” His heart plummeted.

“Aye,” Blue said dismissively. “And he told me things about you and yours. You did things I didn’t think you could. The massacres. Wars and conquests. You…” Blue’s eyes settled on Rinam, a crease of worry on her brow as she tensed up. “You did things to jills.”

Thrayjen put his fork down, closing his eyes and leaning his elbow on the table as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt Rinam shift across from him and Blue’s hard stare even as he shied away. Although the admission had never once escaped past his lips, ghosts of an inescapable evil haunted his mind. The stones of shame and guilt weighed heavy in his stomach and sliced across his limp tongue, unforgiving and cold.

Minutes ticked by, Thrayjen unable to speak and ignoring the world around him. The silence at the table was thick; the rat mouthed words to himself, lips barely moving as he cycled through faces in his mind. Rinam clinked her spoon against her water glass, gently trying to coax Thrayjen’s attention to them.

“I loved Celine.” His eyes still clenched tightly against the faces of the maids.

“What?” Blue asked, unable to hear Thrayjen’s whispering.

“I did what I thought right,” Thrayjen barked, his voice bringing a startled, short-lived silence to the entire galley. “I did what I was taught. I treated my enemies without mercy. I murdered, and I burned cities to the ground, and I tortured, and I raped. I ruined as many lives as I could because I had the right. And it took me years to learn how wrong I was.”

Blue’s quiet voice barely answered above the chatting voices in the galley. “My Pa told me everythin’, when we found out who you…used to be. He told me I wasn’t ever to be alone with you. But…you never made me feel unsafe.” Blue swallowed, oddly still for once. “I trust you.”

A bell rang, signalling the end of breakfast. Rinam finished her meal and stood, collecting Blue’s empty plate and leaving Thrayjen with his half-finished meal as she returned the dishware to the wash pit. When she returned, neither beast had moved to join the exodus from the galley.

“Why do you trust me, Blue?” Thrayjen asked.

Blue stood up beside the rat and gingerly reached a paw towards his shoulder. She hesitated, paw quivering just above him; it was all the confirmation Thrayjen needed and he turned his head away.

“These eyes are like the skies of a summer eve,” Blue said, trying to smile. “And these eyes see everything. I’ve not yet seen anything that makes me frightened of you, Thrayjen. You lied to me, but that’s not the worst thing you could have done.”

“Padoha-“

“Drank blood and was just as bad as the Blackwhiskers. I watched as you looked to Nire before you killed the Plague, and every beast since. I know you’re scared of Nire, and you’d do anything to protect your children from him.” Blue landed her paw on his shoulder, giving him a gentle and comforting squeeze.

“The Blackwhiskers wouldn’t do anything for anyone,” Blue finished. “Or even listen to someone else, from what Pa told me, aye. You love your children, and that’s reason enough for me.”
 
“A beast fighting for his family is more dangerous than any lord or warrior,” Rinam said conclusively.

Thrayjen frowned, skeptically shaking his head at the acceptance of those who should have hated him the most. He couldn’t bring himself to look up.

Blue determinedly snatched up his notched ear, dragging him from the bench and towards the doors.

“Come on, enough for now. We’ve got training to do.”

Laps and water hauling for the stable paws, Blue determined, was the cure for any hard feelings. It also sorted out allergies and stiff backs, the ferret said, but while Thrayjen forced a weak, unconvincing smile for her he knew that some things simply could not be fixed.

No matter how much he regretted.

Yolk heavy on his shoulders, Thrayjen watched from afar as Blue helped Rinam balance her yolk, something he normally enjoyed doing. The mouse usually made him feel calm, like he could collect his thoughts around her more clearly, but now he felt ill at ease in her presence. It was as if he betrayed her with his very existence.

They left the training yard, Hargorn sneering at Rinam as she walked by him, and carried on silently down the hallways. Thrayjen didn’t give the weasel his usual reprimanding glare.

“Who is Celine?” Rinam asked as they walked down an empty hallway. A cold shiver shook Thrayjen’s bones.

“My childhood friend.”

“And then?”

Thrayjen shut his eyes again, his gait seizing. “I don’t want to talk about her.”

“You said you loved her.”

“She didn’t love me. I thought she did. She didn’t.”

Rinam stopped in front of him and unshouldered her yolk.

“I am alone with you, Thrayjen. My trust is fickler than Blue’s.”
 
His face scrunched, a piteous whine squeaking out of his clenched throat.

“No,” Thrayjen moaned, shaking his head in protest and desperately trying to not look at the white mouse. “Please,” Thrayjen whispered, “Just let her rest.”
 
Rinam watched him; he could feel her eyes on him and he shrunk back as though struck.

“When you’re ready, then.”

I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready for that. I can’t…

“You still owe me,” Rinam said, no touch of sternness nor reprimand in her voice. “Aldridge is not here to stop us, now. I intend to have my tale. Come, we’re almost there.”

Thrayjen glanced up fearfully. Rinam regarded him for a moment longer before turning away towards the barns.

The smell of swine and fresh hay was more noticeable as the two made their way further up the Drag. They reached an open door and sun flooded into the hallway from the yard beyond.

In the courtyard outside, Komi stood with her back to them, her reddish brown coat fully filled since spring had ended. The stoat was keenly interested in the large swine across the yard, focused intently on the boars and the blue uniformed beasts that groomed one inside a large double doored paddock.
 
Does she know Aldridge is alive? Should I tell her?
 
Thrayjen reluctantly glimpsed at Rinam but began to shoulder off his harness and water.
 
“I’ll catch up. I want to talk with Aldridge’s widow and find out if she knows anything at all. Maybe warn her about what Nire said to me…about the tournament.”
 
“I will slow my pace, but do not tarry long,” Rinam replied, lowering herself and setting her buckets down. “We will talk later.” She paused a moment longer, carefully looking from the stoat to the rat before she carried on down the passageway. A sense of relief settled Thrayjen’s stomach as Rinam disappeared from sight.

Thrayjen approached Komi quietly, his arms behind his back and his stride leisurely. The stoat didn’t notice him until he hailed her from halfway across the courtyard.
 
“Good morning, Miss Banton,” Thrayjen offered cheerfully. The stoat started before she looked around hastily.
 
“You left breakfast early this morning. I was going to invite you to sit with us. Sorry I missed you,” the rat carried on until Komi sighed.
 
“I don’t need your sympathy, you know. Don’t feel obliged to be kind to me because I was once your dead partner’s lover.”
 
“That’s a perfectly good reason to be kind to you,” Thrayjen continued. “But it so happens I have a lot of respect for you. Your strength, your skills in battle. It was very brave of you to try and escape, way back when we first arrived.”
 
Komi stiffened but began to stride back towards the hallway, her pace quick and uneasy.
 
“You remember that?”
 
“Everyone remembers that,” Thrayjen said through a smirk. “Or some version of the story. Some say you made it out. Others say the scorpions ate you. Don’t spoil the ending for me, though; I haven’t heard it yet.”
 
Komi smiled but continued past the rat. He followed after her, easily outpacing Komi and stopping just in front of her. She frowned at him, her paws lowering into fists.
 
“Nire remembers,” Thrayjen said quietly. Komi squinted at him, a snarl forming on her lips.
 
“That’s why you’re here, then. Nire has sent his little pet to threaten me.”
 
“No,” Thrayjen hissed. “To warn you. Nire remembers your folly, and every one since. These boars you’re so interested in are going to be unleashed during the tournament. When and how, I don’t know, but Nire is determined to oust any…unsavoury slaves and enemies.”
 
The stoat regarded him sternly, considering his words.
 
“They’ll be used, for sure,” she said simply, staring with too much focus into Thrayjen’s eyes. The rat immediately sensed there was more to the stoat’s simple concurrence. Her lips had twitched into the faintest of smirks, and Thrayjen caught her tell.
 
“When did Nire even tell you he wanted to use them in the tournament?” Komi asked.
 
“The day I was released from the punishment cells.”
 
“Ah, yeah. For bashing up Aldridge.”
 
“Aye. For bashing up Aldridge.”
 
Rat and stoat watched each other tensely. After the moment grew too long, Thrayjen gave a faint chuckle.
 
“I’ve many regrets From That Nasty business,” Thrayjen said slowly, maintaining the tense eye contact that they had established. “But I’m glad I at least got to apologize before he…ah. Well.”
 
Komi’s eyes had twitched, wavering slightly as he flourished every word with subtle enunciation. Her lips parted, teeth poking out as she carefully considered her response.
 
“I bet he Forgave That Nearly right away.”
 
They stared at each other, stone still as neither beast dared to blink or move or breathe. Finally, Thrayjen smiled.
 
“Yes. And so much more.”
 
Komi’s stiff posture relaxed as she stepped back from the large rat, sighing heavily.
 
“I didn’t know you were with us,” Komi admitted quietly, eyes flickering towards the doors. A boar snorted and she swung her head around, quickly examining the source of the noise.
 
“I’m not,” the rat stated, and Komi tensed up again as Thrayjen raised his paws. “Not on record. I turned down Hapley when he asked me to join with them. I’m trying to help where I can while still remaining close to Nire. It’s…more beneficial this way, for everyone.”
 
“What’s in it for you then, if you’re playing both sides?” Komi asked suspiciously.
 
“Nire has my children,” Thrayjen answered her. The stoat stepped back again, surprise raising her brows as the rat continued. “The lynx doesn’t realize it yet, but that won’t last forever. I refused the rebellion because if I’m attached to it by name and that’s discovered, I can’t imagine what might happen to my children.”
 
“I didn’t know you had children,” Komi stated plainly, eyeing the rat with further scepticism. Thrayjen shrugged.
 
“I try to keep my business close to the vest. The day I fought with Aldridge, I had just seen my little ones for the first time in…in ages. I’m afraid he got between them and me.”
 
“All for them, then?”
 
“I do everything for them,” Thrayjen answered. “I imagine come tomorrow, my paws will be quite bloody.” He looked back towards the giant swine, eyeing the tusks of a large boar. “Why are you here, Komi?”
 
The stoat stared at him with an exasperated look.

“I was just passing through. Thought I’d visit the nasty blighters for a spot of fun. Tournament tomorrow and all…”
 
“No. You were watching the boars, the grooms coming and going, all from a distance. All with far too much interest from someone who has seen those mighty beasts before.”
 
“Fortunately, that’s nothing to concern yourself about,” Komi said pointedly. Thrayjen frowned, his brow creasing deeply.
 
“It is most concerning indeed,” the rat replied. “Nobody but the riders control the boars. Whatever you’re thinking, whatever they have you thinking, it’s going to come back and bite you. Nobody controls the boars but the riders.”
 
“We don’t need control,” Komi said, a smirk ghosting across her face as she brushed by Thrayjen. “Good luck in the tournament tomorrow, Blackwhiskers. I hope I don’t have to kill you.”
 
Thrayjen spun and stepped in front of her again, stopping the stoat abruptly and earning a scowl.
 
“Chaos is a wild beast unto itself, Miss Banton,” Thrayjen said quietly. “And rebellions are far bloodier than any war. At least in war, there are rules.”
 
“You never followed any rules,” the stoat sneered. “How many civilians, innocents have you killed?”
 
“Too many to count.” A dangerous edge crept into the black rat’s voice and he rose to his full height. “And history knows me as a villain for it.”
 
Thrayjen turned then, stepping out of Komi’s way and gesturing politely for her to continue through the doorway where the abandoned water buckets lay. The stoat eyed him before trotting past.
 
“Good luck in the tournament tomorrow, Miss Banton,” Thrayjen called after her. “I hope my paws are bloodier than yours.”
 
As Komi disappeared around a corner, Thrayjen ran his paw across the smooth surface of his collar. Komi was obviously planning something, and with the rebellion involved at such a key moment in the Crater’s seasonal schedule, he wondered if not telling her of Aldridge’s freedom was the right thing to do.
 
“Chaos breeds more chaos,” Thrayen mumbled to himself. He picked up the water buckets, two to a paw, and hauled them over to the grateful groombeast.

Later, as the afternoon air grew thick and the overcast skies bore heavy dark clouds, the Grand Tournament occupied Blue’s mind. The ferret allowed Rinam and Thrayjen out of their training early, determined to see them well rested for the next day. With sweaty hides and sore bones, they gratefully made their way to lunch.

In the galley, beasts stepped around Rinam and Blue but cleared a path for Thrayjen. Fighters and slaves that had previously smiled at him and greeted the polite rat glared or shrunk away from the deposed prince. Hurriedly, Thrayjen dished himself out his lunch and stuffed several sandwiches into his tunic pockets.

“There’ll be fresh ones later,” Blue commented as she eyed Thrayjen’s hoarding.

“It’s for Miss Foxglove,” Thrayjen answered with a shrug. “She hasn’t been eating much since Aldridge left us.” He resisted a knowing smirk at his own choice words. “And I haven’t seen her leave the bowyery for anything but visiting her mother in the infirmary.”

“Been watchin’ her closely, have you?” Blue asked.

His eyes flashing to Rinam for but a split second, Thrayjen’s face fell.

“Oh. Uhm, that’s not what I meant…that was awful,” Blue mumbled apologetically.

“She’s the niece of my friend,” Thrayjen answered quietly. “Besides, I’m old enough to be her father.”

Although he hadn’t meant anything by it, Blue fidgeted anxiously.

“I’m still tryin’, you know,” Blue mumbled quietly. “I haven’t forgotten my promise.”

“I know,” Thrayjen whispered back.”Thank-you.”

“Not that you helped, bunglin’ things with Aldridge right in front of the nursery. Nire yelled at me for that, aye. Said if I can’t control my boys then I’ll only be gettin’ female fighters from now on, if any. You’re a good liar.”

It took a moment for Thrayjen to catch the lighter note in Blue’s words. He smiled, squeezing the ferret’s paw under the table.

“I didn’t cause trouble before, which helped,” Thrayjen explained. “But your reputation was stellar before Aldridge. Nire was willing to believe in that more than any excuse I could have fed him.”

The ferret perked up, grinning broadly with pride. “Aye. I am pretty great.”
 
While Blue tried to convince Rinam to trade in her rondel for a short sword, the rat watched his trainer and pondered just how someone who made a living out of violence could possibly be so comfortable in their own skin. What made the difference between Blue and Prince Thrayjen the Blackwhiskers? What made Blue feel he had been evil when she trained beasts for bloody combat?
 
Never once had she been cruel, nor had she disrespected or berated him when he first entered her charge.

A slave is a slave, she had once told him. She was doing what she knew, just like he had.
 
Only she knew what respect was.

Blue had not been born a princess. She had grown up under her father’s tutelage instead, and Thrayjen knew of Harrogale’s way of dealing with undisciplined students. The old ferret had never raised his paw to his prince, something Thrayjen had exploited in his childhood but now he deeply regretted.
 
Could have used a few lumps from the grizzly old bastard. Wish Aldridge was still here.
 
Red fur caught Thrayjen’s eye and he looked up expecting to see Komi cross the galley. Instead, Kentrith Hapley flittered into the room for lunch.

If Komi would not tell him what the rebels were planning, then perhaps Hapley would.

Everyone seemed to eat slower than usual as Thrayjen waited for the bell to toll. As Blue departed to train with other gladiators, Thrayjen collected their dishes and excused himself.

“Don’t forget to bring young Aera her lunch,” Rinam said as Thrayjen all but fled her. The rat stopped, and glanced from Kentrith’s retreating form to the mouse.

“You don’t miss anything, do you?”

“Especially when I’m owed.”

The rat hesitated. Rinam had helped him find the children; she stayed with him while others recoiled and judged him from his past. She unfailingly met his eye even when he couldn’t bring himself to look at her.

Thrayjen nodded once, acknowledging the debt, and left.

Hapley had a heart start, but Thrayjen moved quickly against the current of beasts in the winding Drag. It wasn’t long before he spied the red fox’s halved ear as Hapley suddenly turned down a quieter passage, unseen and ignored by the beasts around him. Thrayjen followed them at a distance, waiting until Hapley turned around sharp corners before he dared to catch up.

“Trainer Hapley,” Thrayjen greeted the fox. Hapley’s tail bottlebrushed and he almost jumped, clenching his paws tightly as he whirled about to face the rat.

“You startled me,” the fox admitted through heavy breaths, clutching at his chest. “Abbot’s habit, you startled me.” As Hapley calmed himself down, he turned his lip up in an unfriendly sneer. “What can I do for you, Blackwhiskers?”

“From That Nasty look, I’ll assume you no longer think of me as a genuinely good beast. Pity.”

Kentrith’s head turned very slowly. Eyes narrowed into slits, the fox quietly asked, “What did you say?”

Thrayjen smiled politely and shrugged. “I said I think the tournament tomorrow will be Frightening Though Not fruitless. I imagine much will get done.”

The fox blinked, still glaring at him. Thrayjen sighed.

“I know the damn code.”

“How did-”

“Aldridge told me.”

It was a lie. Foxglove Aera had told him, but the running mouth of a dead beast was far safer to blame in case the wrong ears heard. The statement shocked Kentrith and he growled lowly.

“Or one of Nire’s spies told.”

“Nire’s spies didn’t help me find my children,” Thrayjen said quietly, his mouth curled in a slight smile.

Hapley shook his head. “You two fought before he was poisoned. Why would Aldridge tell you anything?”

“Think about that, Hapley. Where did we fight?”

“By the...nurseries.” The fox’s sceptical look fell flat. “What was that about anyways?”

“I wanted to stay a little longer with them,” Thrayjen immediately answered. “And, for the same reason, I’ve changed my mind. I want to offer you my help.”

“I wouldn’t trust you even if you had said yes back then,” Hapley said through clenched teeth. “The Blackwhiskers is a fiend.”

“True,” Thrayjen said with a nod. “But the Blackwhiskers was recently told by Lord Nire that he’ll be the cat’s personal bodyguard.”

A look of realization crossed the fox’s face. His ear straightened. “If you survive.”

“Aye,” Thrayjen said. “And then I’ll be by Nire’s side wherever he goes, whenever he goes there. Think of him tucked in his bed, nice and cozy with a cord around his neck. Silent. In and out. Nobody knows until the next morning.”

“There’s no time to…” Kentrith whispered to himself, his paws clenching with frustration. “What’s more is that nobody in the FTN trusts you, nobody would accept you.”

“They don’t have to,” Thrayjen replied. “It’s better if they don’t, for now at least. Only you know. You know the right beasts to tell...”

Aldridge is out there. Adeen.

“...And Komi, of course…”

“Komi?”

“Oh yes.” Thrayjen nodded, watching the fox. “I caught her admiring the boars a little too hard. Quite a brave lass, for a coward. After all, only the riders can control the boars.

Hapley stepped back as Thrayjen winked knowingly.

“So whatever Komi and your crew are planning...tell me. Tell me so I can help you. You’ll need it.”

“No,” Hapley stated. “I can’t trust you.”

Heat rose in Thrayjen’s chest and he clenched his teeth. He stepped back and with a deep breath, Thrayjen clasped his paws together as he had seen Rinam do when she sought patience.

“I’m not here as your enemy, Hapley. Things have changed. I’m getting closer to getting my children back. I know they’re alive now. I’ve seen them. Let me help you.”

“Don’t worry about your children,” Hapley said quietly. “I won’t tell you what we’re doing, but stick to high ground tomorrow if you can. The boars don’t like climbing stairs.”

High ground? Stairs? What is he talking about? Komi said...they don’t need control...Oh, Vulpez.

“You’re going to release them,” Thrayjen realized out loud. “You’re going to release them onto the crowd! Hapley, hundreds will die, you realize this, don’t you? Innocent beasts, children and elderly! Free beasts and slaves alike! How do you even plan on stopping the rampage? Have you thought that far ahead? Do you realize what Nire will do when the dust settles? Hapley, tell me, damn it!”

“Don’t worry about your children,” Hapley repeated himself, halting the barrage of desperate questions. “They’ll be fine. Do what you normally do and have faith.”

“How can I have faith in a plan vaguely explained by a beast who doesn’t trust me?” Thrayjen snapped. “It doesn’t exactly inspire hope!”

“Hope guides us,” Hapley said.
58
Round Six / Secret Agent Bat
« Last post by Kali on October 17, 2017, 10:05:16 PM »
"You just HAD to volunteer for the tough assignments, didn't ya?"

Trent gave his rope a tug, making sure it was still secure, less the down pour of water dislodge the grapple. The FTN saw the storm as a boon, granting them the cover they needed for such an operation. The rat dangling hallway up the wall of the arena however, merely saw it as a pain in the arse.

Every FTN member had a place to fill in the organization. Inkpaw had his charisma, Lady Eve held her influence like a weapon and Trent... was a tent maker.

One who could climb a rope and lacking seniority. It made him the perfect choice for a potentially dangerous mission. Apparently the spies couldn't get to where he needed to go with out blowing their cover or... something. The rat really wished he had asked more questions before embarking on this fools errand.

With one last heave, Trent pulled himself over the rim of the arena. He pulled a grey mask about his muzzle to conceal his identity and took a deep breath to calm his nerves.

"At least the bloody hawk can't fly in this weather..." is the only comforting thought Trent could come up with.

An instant later lightning struck, lighting up the sky and the outline of Thunder as the hawk swooped down upon the rat from behind...

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


It wasn't thunder that woke Kali up but the alarm of a warning bell, echoing through the hallways and playing murder with her sensitive hearing. She squeaked in alarm, falling from her perch and landing on her head.

"Who, what, where?!" The bat leaped to her feet, ready to defend herself from the mass of slaves around her. Their faces were obscured by the darkness of the night but Kali could sense confusion that mirrored her own.

"Line up. Everyone line up!" The voice of a guard cut through the panicked mutterings of slaves. "Form up." The guards were alert, arming themselves with torches against the darkness.

"What's going on?" Kali's frantic voice was almost lost in the noise. The beasts were quickly shuffled out of the drag under armed guard. "Where are they taking us?"

Her unanswered questions only allowed room for more questions to grow. Were they in danger? Were they being ushered off for a nightly game? Did they discover the FTN members in their ranks? If so, was Kali about to be executed?

Amid all the confusion, Kali almost missed the sound of pouring rain against the stone outside. It must have been a real gully washer to be heard this deep into the crater.

Forming a tight line the slaves are led through the hallways until they come to a supply room. Directed by Hargorn, beasts were given a wooden bucket and assigned into groups before being sent to another area of the Crater.

Slowly it all came together, the rushed atmosphere, the rain, the buckets.

The arena was flooding.

Messengers from other parts of the arena confirmed this, shouting their orders loud enough to be clearly heard.

"The pumps on section two have failed, sir. We need more beasts!"

"Water is getting into the scorpion pit and they are going wild. We need more shield bearers to herd them!"

"Nire says our heads will all roll if the arena doesn't open for the tournament tomorrow..."

Kali didn't have long to watch Hargorn become flustered, as much as the sight brought a smile to her face. A bucket was roughly shoved into her open wings before being ushered off with a small group towards the underworks.

Even there, in the underbelly of the arena, the sound of distant rain and thunder was muffled by sand and stone. It made Kali long for the days when she could just walk outside and feel the rain upon her skin. She had no idea how much she would miss such simple pleasures.

"You. bat. come with me." Kali twisted her head around to face the guard as he grabbed her by the shoulder, yanking her off her feet and down a side hallway. The guards leading them to slaves to the underworks did not argue.

"What good is one lone bat going to do? Fix a leak in the ceiling?" Even Kali couldn't tell if she was asking a serious or sarcastic question.

The rat opened a door to a room for cleaning supplies, gently pushing her inside.

"A lot more than you realize," said the beast waiting for them.

Kali's eyes widened to the sight of Inkpaw. The chubby baker looked different without his traditional apron. Instead he was dressed with a red tunic and sleeveless leather jacket. Kali couldn't tell what the animal the leather was made out of.

"Please, don't ask questions. We have a situation and not a lot of time to deal with it."

Kali was taken aback by the marten's serious nature, by the bluntness of his voice. This was not the Inkpaw she had come to know.

"We lost an operative."

Nothing good ever came from a sentence that began with 'we lost an operative'. Kali bit her lip to keep quiet as the marten continued.

"His name is Trent. Grey rat, head shorter than you are. He had an assignment infiltrating the storage shed on the top of the arena."

"What was his assignment?"

"That doesn't matter. Not anymore. He was attacked while scaling the wall, by Thunder."

The name of the hawk was enough to send shivers down Kali's spine. As did all of Nire's pet birds really.

"We think he is still alive," the guard crossed his arms. "Somewhere on the top of the arena. Reports are sketchy, but guards saw him fall from Thunder's grasp."

"The entire arena is on lock down as the guards search for him though," Inkpaw added.

Kali's eyes lit up. She was already a step ahead of Inkpaw in this math equation. Two plus two equaled one dead bat. "W-wait a moment. You want me, to rescue this rat?" Her voice squeaked higher than usual as she stepped backward.

The marten and rat exchanged glances. "If possible, yes. We need you to fly up to the top of the arena, and fly Trent to safety."

"Whoa, guys, hold up here. There are so many things wrong with this plan I don't even know where to begin. W-why not use Ratty McGuardRat here to go find him. O-or Kentrith! They can blend in a lot ea-"

"We can't get him out of the arena," Tegue said bluntly. "Too much ground to cover to find him, too many chances to blow our own cover. If we go after him, it would only be to kill him."

Inkpaw was quick to explain, "The other option is being captured and tortured to death until he gives up the names of his fellow FTN members. Trust me, Kali, he would rather we gave him a quick death than betray the Cause."

That did nothing to quiet the horrified look playing out across Kali's face, so the marten continued. "We are hoping that you, as a flying beast, can spare him either fate. But..."

"You will have to kill Trent if you cannot rescue him." The rat finished. Kali had the sense that both beasts were giving her a sugarcoated version of events. Even so, her stomach was being tied into knots. Suddenly, Thrayjen's attitude towards rebellions made just a little more sense to Kali as she began backpedaling to the door.

"This can't be happening," she said, wings pressed against her belly and forehead. "You can't ask me to do this. You said it yourself, Inkpaw. I am just a bard!"

"And you said you were prepared to do whatever it takes to free the north," The marten countered. "I'm not going to pretend this isn't a lot to take in. But the longer we wait, the longer Nire has a chance to catch Trent first. So I need to know, are you in?"

Kali seemed to shrink where she stood. She closed her eyes, summoning what was left of her courage to reply. This was beyond her skill set. By definition bards were made to be the complete opposite of stealthy. If even one beast spotted the 'exotic' fox-bat, it was a short trip to Nire's office and from there, a shorter trip to Thunder's gullet.

 "What do you need me to do..."


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


"You expect me to fly someone out, in this?" Kali flailed her wing at the open door. Rain pounded the arena outside so hard she thought the very rock might split open from it. Even here, at a service entrance to the mid-level of the arena, rain water was pouring into the hallway.

"If it's any consolation, birds can't fly well in this either."

"Tell that to Thunder."

Inkpaw laughed but kept his tone serious. "You have a thirty minute window to search for tent up top then you need to be back here. After that, this area won't be a safe entry point for you."

"Or I could fly off and never see this place again." Kali smiled. Such a lovely thought that was soon squashed by Inkpaws next statement.

"Yes, and in the morning, after you are found missing, Nire will make an example out of everyone you ever cared about by executing them in the tournament."

The bat's thoughts drifted to Komi, to Minerva, to Kentrith and Inkpaw. Even Rose... to a point.

"Still, I wouldn't blame you." The marten patted the bat on the shoulder, "Most important... stay safe."

"Inkpaw, I-" Kali never got to finish before he shoved her out the door.

"Go. Now! While your window is still open."

The bat chirped as she was met with torrential rain. She shielded herself with her wing but to little effect. "Of all the ways I expected to die in the arena, drowning was not one of them." She stretched out her wings, trying to get altitude, but the storm would not let her. She would have to take a less direct approach to the outer rim of the arena.

Stepping out into the stands of the arena, Kali kept low, ascending the stairs two or three steps at a time. Darkness fell upon the arena like a shroud and would only be banished by the crack of lightning. For brief moments at a time the arena was lit up. The entire pit resembled a rapidly growing lake, the stands rivers gushing into the center.

There was a second source of light though, one which Kali chose to avoid. Patrol beasts used lanterns to guide their way, searching diligently for the intruder, and by default, Kali.

Keeping her belly to the ground, Kali flattened herself against the top of the stairs, holding her breath as a patrol passed by.

"Clear." A beast shouted and Kali instantly recognized the voice.

Maybe it was the rain and darkness, maybe the bat's own adrenaline coursing through her veins, but Drake looked far more terrifying than he ever looked. The goofy, fat bellied fox was replaced by a beast on the prowl, eyes set forward as if he were on the hunt.

Kali wondered if Drake could really bring the axe he carried against her. If he would even hesitate before attacking her if she were caught here.

It was a question Kali was determined not to find an answer to.

The moment the patrol went by Kali darted from her hiding place, closing the distance between the stairs and the stone supports of the next level in a heart beat.

It was still not quick enough.

"Hey! There!" A guard shouted, spinning about to point at where the shadowy bat was a moment earlier. With brutal efficiency and training the beasts closed in on the stone pillar, searching all sides of it for an intruder.

By then Kali was already ascending the pillar above them. "I could have sworn..."

"It's fine." Drake said with strained patience, "The shadows are going to be playing tricks on all of us tonight. Just keep on the look out." The fat fox glanced upward into the shadows above him.

Kali gripped the pillar tighter, trying to will the shadows to conceal her. This was a horrible idea. This was such a horrible idea. She was going to get caught and then she was going to die.

No... that wasn't quite right.

She was going to get caught and then the FTN would send a beast into her cell to silence her before she could rat them out to Nire. Of course, Kali only realized this now, after it was too late to escape her fate.

The armorer below however merely turned away. "Shadows are playing on us all tonight. Come on. Let's get this finished so we can get inside, aye?"

Kali finally let out the breath she had been holding. She rested her head against the pillar, fighting the urge to run back to the exit before climbing higher. Now sheltered from the rain in rafters of the upper level, Kali was given a chance to plot out her movement.

Getting to the top of the arena was the easy part. Finding Trent... not so much. She peered into the night, spying the vague shape of the store house. There was no guarantee that Trent would go there, especially if he was just attacked by Thunder. Would he try to run instead?

"Hey Kali, we need you to save a rat but have no idea where he might be." Making a note to ask more questions the next time she engaged in espionage, Kali clung to the edge of the rafters. She stared up at the sky, knowing that she would be sharing it with her natural predator.

The bat had to admit, the temptation to just fly off into the storm was nearly overwhelming. It wouldn't be the first time she had flown in such weather. She would have to sing for a while until she got enough money for a new lute! She could get her life back on track, find a job with someone who would appreciate her singing.

She glanced off to the side. It all seemed so... selfish. Caring about something as silly as her singing career when beasts had real problems here in the arena. No, even if she did strike it rich outside the Crater, Kali would never be able to enjoy it while her friends suffered here. All that was important now was freeing the beasts of the Crater, and if that meant sacrificing a slim chance at freedom, then so be it.

Kali took a deep breath. It was now or never.

Kali let go of her perch, falling for momentum before stretching out her wings and gliding upward, the rain making it difficult to stick her landing. She tripped on the slick roof, landing with a loud splash. She yelled, instantly regretting it before scrambling for cover, which there was very little of.

And yet, more than she was expecting.  She had never seen the arena from this angle. It was pleasing to know that there were more than flag poles to hide behind but also chimneys, banisters and arches along the side of the building.  There was even a groove cut into the stone work as a sort of pathway for beasts to walk through safely.

There were also guards. Their lanterns gave away their position. The lanterns were unmoving, the beasts choosing to guard the stairwells leading back into the arena rather than braving the treacherous hike across the rooftops.

Kali gave them a wide berth, dropping into the groove and crouching her way across the arena proper. It wasn't a tall groove, just deep enough to cut a pathway through the otherwise flat stone roof. It was also, Kali noticed, not flooded with water.

"Trent." Kali dared to whisper as she walked. "Trent... Trent, where are you?" Come on... Treeeeeeeent." Where could a rat hide, thought Kali. Where would she hide from Thunder? from guards and the reach of their lanterns? Where could a beast hope to hole up for an entire night? The store house would be a poor choice. It would be the first place the guards would look. The tool sheds scattered across the roof tops as well. A flag pole? Please.

Kali paused, "Where... wouldn't I hide?" Her head drifted downward. The water was surprisingly low for all the rain fall beating against her head. Water that flowed away from the stairwells. With time running out, Kali was running out of options.

Her search eventually took her to the gutters, long square openings carved into the rock and slanted to divert water out of the pathway and out of the arena. "Too small to get my fat but in there..." Kali leaned downward to peer inside, but it was too dark to see into. "But if Trent isn't as large as Thray..."

Kali paused, for a brief moment the rain seemed to stop, like passing under a large leaf during the storm. She looked up in time, lightning illuminating the sky and the deadly shadow of Thunder passing over head before he circled back towards the arena. Kali threw herself against the half wall of the pathway right as the bird landed on the decorative arches that lined the ledge of the arena.

His claws hooked into the ledge, holding him there like a gargoyle. He looked larger up close than even Kali imagined. His keen eyes surveyed the top of the arena left to right, seemingly immune to the rain and darkness.

They would have no trouble finding the bat right under his nose.

Kali clamped a wing over her muzzle to keep herself quiet, even as she heard the beast step off the ledge and onto the rooftop behind her. His shadow loomed over her as he leaned forward to peer into the groove.

His head was craned to the left, where Kali had been, and was slowly swiveling back to the area under him.

Go. Now.

Kali wouldn't call it a voice prompting her to action, just instinct. Without a second thought she leapt out of the groove, throwing herself behind a chimney.

The birds head snapped in her direction. She could here the scraping of his talons against the stone as he drew near. Kali's eyes turned wide, heart beating a thousand times a minute, she felt like she was going to faint.

She tensed, crouching low before leaping around the corner of the chimney, she darted behind another chimney right as the bird came around the opposite corner.

There was no time to second guess her actions as Kali danced with the bird through cover. He was on the hunt now, and just a step behind the bat.

And she was running out of cover.

"I know you are here."

Kali nearly shouted out in alarm. It was the first time she had ever heard the hawk speak, and his words were surprisingly soft.

"I can smell your fear."

Both beasts circled around the same chimney now.

"I will kill you." The words seemed to pierce deeper than any blade, "And then... I will eat you. Surrender, and I will make sure your death happens in this order..."

Kali wanted to cry. She wanted to cry so badly. This was so unfair. Inkpaw could have at least given her a weapon, for Martin's sake!

Actually, attacking the beast would probably get her killed even faster. And running... Running was a death sentence. And there was no where left to hide from her natural predator.

Kali paused.

The hawk was hunting her, right?

An instant later the hawk doubled back, his horrible beak twisted into a feral smile at finally outwitting his prey.

His face drooped when Thunder found nothing there. Kali had to imagine the expression because by then she was already bouncing off the top of the chimney and gliding for the edge of the arena. She grabbed the decorative stone work, using it as a pivot over the side where she hung over the side, but out of view from the hawk.

She could hear him hiss in frustration before he took flight again. The sound of his wings beating against the storm was moving away from her, however, not closer.

Limbs weak and shaking, Kali pulled herself over the ledge and back into the arena. She was right. The hawk was never hunting her. He was hunting the rat, who was completely incapable of performing the maneuver she just made.

"At least I know he's alive..." and now she knew where he was. At least, she had a vague idea of where the rat could hide from both guards who were too cowardly to brave the rooftops and from a hawk with a birds eye view of the arena.

What she lacked was time to search every gutter however.

But even that yielded a solution as Kali studied the flow of the water on the pathway. It stood to reason that if the water was backing up in one area then something was blocking it. It was on her third such gutter that Kali finally found a vaguely rat shaped shadow stuffed into the gutter.

"Trent? Trent? Is that you?"

The shadow replied with a groan.

"Well, I'm running out of time, so... I declare you to be Trent." Kali reached in, securing her wing tips on Trent's shoulder. She pulled the rat free of the gutter one painful inch at a time.

"Trent! Trent! I was sent here to rescue you. Inkpaw sent me. Can you walk? We need to get out of here..."

"I-inkpaw..." The rat groaned. His movements were weak, slow. "Y-your Kali... the bat. Inkpaw talked about you..."

"That's good! Mean's I'm doing my job as a bard. Now up you go. We need to get you up on your feet and-holy..." The bat clamped her wings over her muzzle before she could finish the swear, finally realizing that the rat's tunic was not originally colored red.

"Pretty gnarly... eh?" The rat coughed up blood as he laughed. "Cursed h-hawk got me good..."

"W-what? No. Nooooo. You're fine. Tip top shape. Just got to get you on your feet and... then fly you to a doctor..." Kali struggled to prop the rat up into a sitting position.

"Doctor ain't gonna fix this, lady..." Trent laughed bitterly. "Inkpaw n-never should have sent you... I was... was dead the moment that..." The rat took a sharp breath as Kali helped him to his feet.  "C-can't believe he actually sent... sent you. Always... regretted... not stopping you from joining the arena..."

"Well, you know Inkpaw. He's always got a plan, right? Master spy and what not?" Kali began walking the rat down the path, even as he growled.

"Inkpaw is a bloody baker. I'm a tent maker and yer a bloody bard. You really think any of us have a plan? Really?"

The bat had no reply. She didn't want to spend energy arguing with a dying rat. And there was that horrible thought building in the back of her head, that the FTN really was run by just bakers, tent makers and bards and none of them had any idea what they were doing.

"Hey now, if you believed that, you wouldn't be here on the roof top, uh... what ever it was you were doing, right?"

Slumping against the half wall of the groove, Trent laughed. He laughed harder than he probably had in his entire life, Kali thought. "You mean dying?" He cast his head up into the sky filled with rain and lightning. "Banner." He said, "I came here to... leave a calling card... on a n-new banner. It was important, for the tournament tomorrow.. My first r-real mission and I screwed it... screwed it up..."

"N-now don't say that! Y-you have a new mission now, alright? Survive! You don't want to fail that one, let me tell you. All I got to do is... um... fly you, off the arena..." Kali looked the rat up and down, eyes lingering on the many holes the hawk left in him. Holes turned into gashes when the rat escaped his grasp.

Her eyes finally returned to Trent's and instantly they both came to the realization that she wasn't getting him off this roof top.

"Miss Kali..."

"Don't." Kali began, seriousness creeping into her voice.

"Miss Kali..."

"Don't you dare. This is my first real mission too. Get you off this roof. S-so... so I am going to get you off this roof!"

"I'm dead, Miss Kali," the rat said flatly, a small smile forming about his lips. "There is only one thing left to do..." with shaky paws the beast drew a dagger from behind his back. He offered it to the bat.

"I'm not killing you." She said with horror.

"Didn't ask you to." Trent wavered on his feet. "Yer, going to need a weapon more than I do, in case the guards block yer path." Trent coughed, "Now you listen here, Miss Kali. In wee bit that big ol' bird is going to circle back. He's going to find me, and when he kills me, they will stop looking for you. Wait a few moments and get back to where ever you need to go."

"Trent, I..."

"I'm savin' your life, bat." Trent was more insistent. "If I can die... doing something honorable like that... it would at least give it some purpose, you know."

The memory of the Crimson Tiger came back to Kali. Trent was the second beast asking her to let them die for honor.

Fighting back tears, Kali turned her head away. But took the blade.

"Don't feel bad, there is nothing more you can do here. Just tell that fat, lazy tailed baker to name a bloody pastry after me."

The bat only nodded in reply. She hugged the rat, squeezing him tight before leaving his side. Trent quickly disappeared in the rain the further she flew from him.

Kali couldn't bring herself to look back.

Coming to the ledge of the inner rim, she peered through the darkness to find her exit. All it would take is one quick glide to get there.

And yet.

Kali Hesitated.

She lifted her head to the store house across the way. She still had time to make a quick stop at the store house to deface the banner, she was sure of it.

All she had to do was be brave enough to finish Trent's mission for him.

Sacrificing stealth for speed, Kali arrived at the side of the store house quickly. She looked both ways for Thunder before circling around to the front, cursing when she found the large double doors to the store house to be padlocked.

So she continued searching for a way in. The building was larger than she expected, with an even larger building attached to the end of it. She felt exposed, scurrying around the side of the store house until she came to the far end.

Like the front, there were large barn like doors. But these were left unlocked.

Knife thrust into the sash about her waist Kali opened the doors just wide enough for her to slip inside. Tongue in cheek, she pulled the door closed once again, turned around...

... and nearly screamed.

It turned out, that big second building wasn't an addition to the store room at all.

It was a roost.

Four large barn owls sat on perches above Kali, sleeping. Kali couldn't fathom why they were here, nocturnal beasts that they were. Maybe they could not fly in the storm. Maybe Thunder wanted the glory of hunting down poor Trent all to himself. Maybe they were just lazy. Maybe Kali didn't care because there were four giant fricken owls standing before her.

It was every childhood nightmare coming back to haunt her all at once. All she could do was stand there, wings spread out across the door and jaw slack as she stared in horror. Out of the corner of her eye Kali saw a small hole in the far wall. Now all she had to do to get to the store house would be to cross a blood stained room filled with four... giant and... deadly...

Kali let the thought trail off. "Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, no."

Deciding the banner wasn't that important after all, she began to open the doors just wide enough for her to slip back outside, and wide enough for the blood curdling scream of Trent to drift through the room.

Somewhere outside on the arena, the hawk had caught its prey.

Kali didn't have time to mourn the passing of the rat. She threw herself behind bags of feed as the owls came to life. Out of all their frantic chirps and barbaric hooting, Kali caught but one word mentioned in common tongue.

"Prey?"

"Prey!"

"Prey! Prey! Whoo?"

"Thunder! Prey! Prey!"

"PREY!"

Kali sat there, behind the bags of feed, fighting the urge to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth. She was officially in over her head.

The birds slammed into the doors in-mass, struggling and clawing at each other to get out of the doors first. The frightened bat took the opportunity to flutter her way around the edge of the room to her own source of escape. The hole in the wall, just behind the feeding trough filled with seed.

In her haste, Kali knocked over a bag of seed. She didn't stop to see if the owls had heard her, she just dropped into a belly slide for the hole slid on through.

At least... most of her did.

Kali chirped as she stopped halfway through the hole, right about the waist. She let out a low growl as she sucked in her gut to pull herself through...

... and still remained wedged in the narrow hole.

"Prey?"

The word chilled Kali to the bone. One of the owls had stayed behind, head twisted around to glance over his shoulders. "Whooo? Whooo? Prey?" Kali could hear the birds talons scrape against the floor but it was muffled by the words of Drake.

"My armor is no good if you are too fat to fit into it."

Kali bit her lip. This is so unfair. After everything she had gone through, the countless dangers, the battles... to be done in because she ate one too many pastries?

Well... perhaps two too many pastries... or four... not to mention all the extra fruit when she got to the Crater, or the comfort food she splurged on after being thrown to the games.

Kali could just cry. "This isn't happening..." She said quietly. She gave herself one last tug, "I am not dying like this!"

She pulled herself through, bits of wood cutting scraping into her side as she came free. She was on her feet in an instant, throwing herself against the wall and holding her breath as the eye of an owl peeked through the hole. "Who?" The voice sounded disappointed. A moment later she could hear the owl move away.

Eyes wide, Kali slumped slowly onto her rump. "I want to go home..." She curled into a ball, wings drawing her knees to her chest. "I want to go home." She rocked back and forth until Kali remembered that she was on a time line. She couldn't break down, not yet.

Standing on shaky legs Kali began to search the room. It was filled with tools and props. The baskets the owls carried rose pedals with, shovels and buckets to... presumably clean out the roost behind the storage house. And banners. Oh, the banners there were. Trent never mentioned which banner he was going to deface, but she had a pretty good idea.

She found the biggest, most fancy banner she could see and began to unroll it from the wooden peg it was wrapped around. "Oh my..." She said, eyes saddened by the crime she was about to commit to such a beautiful piece of art.

Imagining the look on Nire's face made it easier to deface such a pretty thing. She drew the knife, about to carve FTN through the fabric, but hesitated.

Somehow, FTN just seemed... lacking in impact. It would only serve to spite Nire at this point. No, Kali wanted to inspire the gladiators. To give them...

Her eyes lit up, and the knife began to cut words into the fabric.

After Kali was done, she began the laborious process of rolling the banner back up. "I still got time. I can still make it back."

"Prey!"

Kali's ears twitched to the muffled sound from the roost. Dagger at the ready, she peered through the hole to see Thunder burst through the doors, followed by the loud hoots and calls of the owls behind him. He squawked loudly, triumphantly tossing the limp body of Trent into the room as a trophy.

An instantly later the birds fell upon the rat...

And began to feast.

Kali's eyes twitched. She backed away slowly, away from the sounds of the birds grizzly meal. She came to the big double doors of the store room. She pushed on them with all her might. But they would not budge.

"Why do we have to be out here?"

Kali stopped as she heard the voice of a new beast on the other side of the door.

"They caught the bloke who was sneakin around, right?"

"Nire's not taking any chances. He wants this place secured."

"But we'll catch our death of cold up here in dis storm!"

"Shut yer muzzle, rookie. You won't be up here that long..."

"No, but you will be here long enough." Kali said quietly, too quietly for the guards outside to hear. She slumped against the wall, cradling her head in her wings and cried.

She wasn't going to make her window after all...
59
Round Six / World of Stone
« Last post by Komi Banton on October 17, 2017, 09:44:10 PM »
“This winding path, these miles I've walked alone
While looking for the light that calls me home,
Candle at homestead door, you draw me on,
A beacon in the night, shining 'til dawn.”

Komi’s voice broke as she sang in the quiet evening light. She sat in the sand in a far corner of the training yard. A storm had brought night on early and everybeast else had gone to dinner. She had little appetite.

“And others walk this path with other fears
Sometimes; I call them friends and hold them dear.
Homebound with noble hearts, they're at my side,
And I by theirs; we keep each other's stride.”

Aldridge Moor was dead. Jossia had killed him in her quest for revenge. Komi would have rather that the poison had been for her. Not Aldridge. He’d done nothing to deserve such a fate.

“At times I walk alone on path gone black,
And though I wish to flee, to turn my back,
I keep their love inside and I press on,
By everything we share, I can stay strong.”

All she could think of was how she’d not spoken to him again after their argument. She’d wanted to give him space. She wanted space herself, to cool her head. Now there was an impassable space between them.

“I've seen enough out in those lands unknown,
And nothing now shall keep me from my home.”

The last quavery notes died away in the cool twilight. Komi closed her eyes, a few fresh tears squeezing their way out to follow the tracks in her fur. He was gone, as Tavin was gone, and she was alone again.

Kentrith’s voice said, “I always did like that song.”

“It was Alder’s favorite,” Komi said. She opened her eyes and looked at the fox trainer where he leaned against the wall. She didn’t know how long the fox had been there listening to her. “Suppose you’re here to fetch me inside for the night?”

“Soon,” the fox said, looking up at the clouds. “I needed to talk to you first.”

Komi sighed, and steeled her spirit for the task ahead. She may be alone again, yet others counted on her still. “Right. I need to Face The Night before anything else.”

“No,” Kentrith said. “Not that.” He rubbed a paw over his stump of an ear, looking away for a moment. “I suppose you’ve heard that I’ve been here before?”

What could Kentrith have to say to her that wasn’t to do with the FTN? “Here being the Crater?” Komi asked, eyebrow raised.

“Yes, as a healer. After some time, Nire decided that I needed a different job. After what I was forced to do, I couldn’t stomach it anymore and left. I wandered for a while, with little motivation to better my lot in life. Some friends managed to rouse me out of my depression. They took me to the one place they thought would heal me.” He looked at her. “Redwall Abbey.”

Komi whispered a curse and let her head fall back against the stone wall. “Of course. It always comes back to those bloody red walls.”

Silence stretched between them, until Kentrith cleared his throat. “Yes, well. Memories of those times were not easily forgotten by them either. When I arrived, it had not been long since the siege, and it was still a subject often discussed amongst the inhabitants. One whom it had impacted the most was a young beast scarred by the experience.” Kentrith drew a deep breath. “He had been outside the wall, ordered to gathered stray arrows.”

Komi’s fur prickled all along the back of her neck and she straightened, staring at Kentrith.

“An unlucky shot from one of the defenders struck him and he fell just before Redwall broke the horde’s hold. After the remaining stragglers had fled, the Redwallers found him alive, but badly wounded.”

Komi’s voice sounded hollow in her ears as she pushed herself to her feet. “How dare you! Mocking me like this. You’re just repeating what I told Alder at the spider’s cage, but twisting it to give me false hope!”

Kentrith drew something from a pouch at his side and held it out wordlessly. It was a dagger, double-edged with no crosspiece, and hilt that looked woven of metal. Identical to the one hidden in Alder’s workshop.

Except this one was sized for a kit’s paw.

“It took two years of building a friendship before he would show this to me. It never left his side. The fact that you died at Redwall was one of the most painful experiences of his life. The news that you were alive, I feared, would be more painful still.”

Komi couldn’t breath. She couldn’t think. She only stared at the blade in Kentrith’s paw. A blade she’d had commissioned from the horde’s blacksmith, who’d had rare skill. Tavin had prized that blade. “This is impossible,” she choked, too afraid to believe the fox.

“He’s here. Tavin’s here. In Northvale.” Kentrith’s voice was kind. “I saw him this afternoon. He gave this to me to show to you, so you’d know he was coming for you. I’ve been threatened on pain of death to return it.”

Komi shook her head. “This isn’t real. He can’t be here. Even if he were alive, how would he know where to find me?”

“I told him. Your name has always been familiar to me, but I didn’t know why. When I heard you singing to Aldridge in the Fell Wing that day, I recognized the song. Took me a while to remember that Tavin used to sing it. I sent him a letter that day.”

“My son died at Redwall,” Komi choked, eyes not leaving the blade. “An arrow took him in the throat. I saw him fall.”

“But you were never able to get to his body. Galleran prevented you and the tide of the battle turned. Komi, the arrow missed the windpipe. It missed the arteries in his neck. It hit just above the collarbone and went in his shoulder, but he survived.”

Like a cloudburst, Komi’s wall broke, and she stumbled back until she thumped against the wall. She slid to the sand once more. “I left him behind,” she whispered, horrified. “I abandoned him. He was alive and I left him for dead.”

“Shh, shh,” Kentrith crouched at her side, one paw on her shoulder. “You couldn’t have know. He had a near miss, and a lucky one. There’s no way you could have known that.”

“I abandoned him,” she said, her voice choking on the words.

“Yet he’s here. The moment he received word that there was a Komi Banton in Northvale, he came. He’s missed you and he loves you still.”

All these long seasons alone, and he was still alive. Still there. At Redwall.

Alder…


Tears flowed afresh. Aldridge would never know his son. He’d missed him by only a few days.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she said, her voice steadying in the thread of anger she found to hold. “You’ve known since I sang to Alder? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Would you have believed me?” the fox asked. He shrugged. “And I was trying to protect him. What if he didn’t want to see you again, angry that you’d left him? And what if I told you and you tried to escape again, and failed worse than before? And what if your escapes damaged plans with the FTN? So many reasons, Komi. I’m sorry.”

“I have to see him,” she said. “I have to know it’s really him.”

Kentrith’s paw held her in place. “I know. He said much the same. But listen, I still need your help. The FTN. The Dibbuns upstairs. You have to help us, so we can all get out together. I didn’t want to tell you he was here, but Tavin insisted. He looked about ready to kill me when I told him you didn’t know he was alive. He’s working on the outside. You’re on the inside. If all goes well, you can meet in the middle.”

“I don’t want him anywhere near this place,” Komi said. “This is no place for a kit!” Even as the words left her mouth, she realized the folly of them. Tavin wasn’t the kit she’d last seen at Redwall. After all these long seasons, he’d be grown. He’d grown up, and she’d missed it.

“You try stopping Tavin when he’d got his mind set on something. He’s a young beast of action, much like somebeast else I know.” Kentrith’s paw squeezed reassuringly on her shoulder. “Still up for releasing those boars?”

Komi nodded. Rain began to patter down around her, further dampening her face.

Kentrith whispered, “Listen, I’ve seen the roster for the Tourney fights. You’re the second fight and going to be fighting a pair of toads. If Nire can’t find you before your fight, it’s going to ruin everything, so you’ve got to see that through first. But, Komi, you win that fight, and you get the boars free as soon as it’s over. When that’s done, you meet us at the kitchen entrance and we’ll all get out together.”

Thunder rumbled overhead and the rain began to fall in earnest. The fox and stoat stood and Komi raised her face to the rain. It cooled her eyes, which ached from crying.

If Kentrith were telling the truth, and the dagger was Tavin’s and not some copy he’d had made of hers, then her son was waiting just beyond the walls. She’d see him soon.

“Kentrith, if I find out you’ve lied to me about Tavin — if all this is just some ruse to make sure I do as the FTN wants — I will gut you and strangle you with your own entrails.”
60
Round Six / No Tears, No Regrets
« Last post by Kentrith Hapley on October 17, 2017, 09:40:16 PM »
Blasio was the worst boss Kentrith had ever had. Kentrith stomped out of his third “meeting” with the brusque beaver, ready to slit the fat beast’s throat.

“My, my, someone’s in a temper!” Lady Eve strode toward him, resplendent in a dark green gown, a smile on her face. “Do tell me what’s bothering you.”

She slipped her arm through his, and he made an effort to shorten his stride. In the past week, she had been showing more signs of affection than he had received from anyone his age. He found himself wondering if they were all for show, or if she might actually be warming to him. The thought stunned him, and filled him with warmth at the same time.

“Well?” she murmured, breaking him from his thoughts.

He shook his head. “It’s Blasio,” he muttered. “It’s as though he doesn’t trust me to do as he asked.”

“You aren’t,” Eve pointed out with impeccable logic.

“That’s not… He’s… no, it’s like…” Kentrith growled. Pulling himself together, he continued, “It’s like he thinks I’m incompetent, that I have no aptitude for murdering children.” He snorted. “I was a healer, for crying out loud. I am perfectly capable of doling out death, based on that alone. That’s not accounting for my years as the Crane!”

“Anybeast who knows you would be shocked if you resorted to such actions.”

“Every beast is capable of murder, Eve,” Kentrith remarked bitterly.

“Any beast can kill another, it’s true. For some, however, it is so far out of their character, it is inconceivable. You are one such.” A delicate paw joined the other in a placating gesture on his arm.

Kentrith shook his head. “You give me too much credit. But that’s a conversation for another time. What have you found out?”

The comforting paw smacked his arm lightly in annoyance for the change of subject, but Eve obliged. “Plans are moving forward for unveiling the banner during the Tourney. We will be aided by the storm, and there are movements for a mass-scale revolt during that time.”

“Hopefully it is before too many of your recruits are killed,” he inserted acerbically. That earned him a dirty look.

“This does mean, however, that we are short-staffed.” After an uncomfortable pause, she murmured, “We don’t have the bodies to move the children out.”

Kentrith halted mid-stride and rounded on her. “You mean, if we get them out of the Crater, they’ll be trapped in Northvale?”

Eve opened her muzzle, but Kentrith bulled through whatever she was going to say. “Nire is not going to take this lying down!” he barked. At her look of alarm, he lowered his voice, moving her to a doorway for a little more privacy. “Once he realizes the kits are gone, there will be city-wide search for them. He will dig up the rocks in the road to find them, and will not stop until either he finds them, or finds proof that they are not in the city. And then,” he shuddered, “he might punish them so severely…” He had to slow his panicked breathing at the thought. He shook his head again. “We have to find a way.”

“There might be one avenue,” Eve said slowly. “Well, I don’t know how helpful…”

“What?” Kentrith asked, ears perking.

“Narvi received some unexpected guests…”

******

Kentrith walked into Narvi’s shop and into the midst of utter chaos. Beasts were everywhere, poking their snouts into jars, quarreling over pawfuls of dried herbs, and nattering at everybeast they could corner. Narvi seemed at his wit’s end, clutching his head with heavy digging claws. He spied Kentrith and hurried forward, moaning, “You’m here! Gerremout o’ moi shop! They’m turrible…”

Kentrith was forcefully sidetracked by a blow to the gut. He doubled over, gasping as spiky headfur corralled by a bright pink headband came level with his eyes.

“Hello, Kentrith.” Frey’s eyes sparked with malevolent glee. She saluted at her pink head wear.

“Gloomy Guts!” cried the shrews from around the shop.

“What was that for?” Kentrith wheezed at the smug shrew.

“That was for doing something stupid.” Frey punched him on the shoulder, her eyes narrowed at him. “Without us!”

“Ow,” Kentrith muttered, trying to straighten as his wind slowly returned. He started to rub his arm when Frey grabbed him around the waist and squeezed.

“What!” Kentrith barked, trying to brush her off.

“And that’s for doing something brave.” She muttered into his shirt. She let go and punched his arm again. “Without us!”

“Stop that,” Kentrith snapped. “You realize I am twice your size? I could break you over my knee, twist you into a knot, and stuff you into one of those jars.”

“Not before my crew got to you!” Frey’s declaration was followed by a cheer from the shrews, accompanied with the crash of dropped pottery and a groan from Narvi.

Sighing, Kentrith stood straight, eyeing his tiny antagonist and friend. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Are you jokin’? Yer involved in the biggest slave revolt in history, and you didn’t invite us!”

“They say they want to help. A bit of warning would have been nice.”

The familiar voice caught Kentrith’s attention, and he turned to find the hooded figure from his first meeting. It stood, arms crossed, with footpaw tapping. He hadn’t seen below the cloak before, and he realized the beast under the robe was an otter. Should have seen the rudder, he thought ruefully.

He turned to face the hidden beast. “I had no idea they would come,” he told her.

“Fights for all!” called Murbilee, raising another jar and dashing it to the floor.

“Yargh!” Narvi growled as several of the shrews made to follow suit. He yanked three jars away, juggling them in his arms as he howled. “That be it! You’m gettin out moi place, you’m scallawagians!”

“Wait, Narvi,” Kentrith cautioned. “We might need them.” He turned back to the hooded figure. “Eve tells me that FTN doesn’t have the numbers to help with the kids.” There was a shuffle to the side, but Kentrith kept his eyes on the hooded figure. There was something about the way…

“We have the numbers,” it replied, and Kentrith detected a note of frustration. The voice seemed feminine. “We simply do not have the agreement of the Council.” At Kentrith’s cocked head, she continued, “While I and one or two others are supportive of your aim to spirit the hostages away from the Crater, the rest are too invested in the revolt to pull extra paws from the crews.”

Kentrith watched as the paws clenched under long sleeves, and he finally noticed the scars. Long lines that snaked up and under the cloth, leading to the shoulder. Several clues clicked, and he realized the husky voice was female after all…

Keeping his gaze on the paws, he stated numbly, “I’m surprised you didn’t fight harder for help. You of all beasts should want to get the hostages out. Seeing as you used to be one.”

Weighty silence blanketed the room, until scarred paws reached up and pushed back the hood. “I thought you would have realized sooner,” Dia pronounced, her eyes hard.

“And I would have thought you would stay far away from this place,” Kentrith snarled back. Shaking with anger and despair, he stalked up to her, menacing her with sheer height. “It almost killed you! You’re supposed to be safe from all this, in a house with a garden!” He clenched his paws to stop them from seizing and shaking her.

She glared up at him, not intimidated in the least. “Well, some stupid fathead helped me get out, and I had to make sure I wasn’t the only one!”

They glared at each other, tension boiling about the room as palpable as fog. Slowly, Kentrith put both paws to her face, raw emotion causing his voice to break. “I didn’t want this for you.”

Her eyes grew shiny as she took his paw and squeezed it. “I couldn’t be free while my friends are still captive.” She wiped her eyes and whispered, “Especially Marik.”

Kentrith sighed. “Aye. Well, I think our feisty friends can help with that.” He turned his gaze to Frey, who now stood with crossed arms. The shrew snorted.

“What, we’re supposed to leave with a bunch of snot-nosed Dibbuns, and miss out on the fighting?”

Kentrith drew in a shaky breath, suddenly unable to verbally fence with her. “Yes.”

An argument broke out amongst the shrews, but Frey bellowed, “We’ll do it!” despite hearty complaints from Murbilee.

“Hold on,” said another voice. A figure moved up beside Kentrith, and a paw decended on his shoulder. Kentrith turned to the young beast, who carried a long bundle slung over his shoulder. Bright eyes pierced him through.

“You came,” Kentrith sighed, reeling from the rapid pendulum of emotions that assaulted him.

“Of course I came. How could I do any less?” Arms crossed as the stoat heaved a sigh. “There's more at stake here than just the kids. Now.” His eyes grew hard. “Where is she?”
Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10