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71
Contest Discussion / Re: A quick announcement
« Last post by Crue Sarish on October 03, 2017, 06:20:43 PM »
Thanks for the update! Will keep an eye out for the rest of the posts.
72
Contest Discussion / Re: A quick announcement
« Last post by Aldridge Moor on October 03, 2017, 04:47:52 PM »
Bless you, Kali. :)
73
Round Five / Monsters in the Dark
« Last post by Minerva on October 03, 2017, 02:41:02 PM »
Alternatively Titled: "Hunger"

There was a distinct quiet as two beasts- one a frail mouse, the other Minerva- stood across from one another in the arena's center. From the stands, the weight of a thousand eyes bore down heavy upon the otterwife's back, and she lowered her head as she tried to shut out the audience's raucous cheering and laughter. No matter what she did however, the clamor continued in her ears.

"Lovely ladies, gentlebeasts. Residents of Northvale, and denizens from beyond." Minerva turned her head towards the podium in confusion as Nire Borean's booming voice carried throughout the arena and hushed the din. Blazing torches cast the cat's face in dark shadows as a cruel grin curled upon his maw. "It is my pleasure- no, my privilege- to welcome each and every one of you this evening to my humble Crater..."

Nire paused for effect, his gaze falling upon Minerva.

"...and to this season's Culling."

The otterwife's eyes went wide.

Nire smiled at her and then looked to the crowd. "Now, some of you more 'infrequent' visitors may be confused," he said and took a sip of wine. "You might be wondering, 'where's Hammerpaw? Isn't he the beast who usually conducts the Culling?' You are right, but sadly, that is not the case any longer. Hammerpaw has left us. So, I had to find a replacement, and who better to replace the mighty wearet in the Cull... than the beast who slew him?"

Minerva noticed for the first time a spear in her paws. Across from her, the mouse trembled.

"No. No no no," the otterwife pleaded beneath her breath.

"So." Nire stood up from his chair and clasped his paws together with an eager smirk. "Shall we begin?" he said, and The Crater nearly shook from the crowd's approval.

The roar breathed life into Minerva's footpaws as they started through the sand without her consent. She circled with the mouse, her spear trembling in her paws as she desperately willed her legs to stop, but these pawsteps weren't hers to control.

The crowd cheered, and Minerva found herself charging straight towards her opponent. The mouse swung weakly at her with his sword, but the otterwife parried it with her spear haft and sent the inexperienced beast off balance. Once more, her paws moved without her permission as Minerva turned the spear in her paws. She spun on her heels and swung the butt hard against her opponent's jaw, sending the beast reeling into the dirt with a resounding crack.

Minerva stood over the writhing mouse as he wailed and clutched his jaw. Seconds passed, and still the beast made no motion to get up. The otterwife felt her paws moving, turning her spear so that the point was at the beast's neck.

A look of realization came over her face. "No," she said to the defeated creature. "Ye have t' keep fightin'. Slap the spear away, swing at me, somethin'. If they see ye're beaten..."

Minerva's eyes widened as her head began to turn towards the podium. She met Nire's dissatisfied gaze as he rolled his eyes. Without a second thought, he raised his paw and curled his thumb down.

With a thrust of her spear, Minerva stained the sand red. The otterwife looked down in horror at the carcass at her feet as the crowd around her cheered. "Mon-ster! Mon-ster!"

Nire smiled and called for the next beast.

One by one, Minerva cut through each new opponent that was brought before her, until the bodies of a hare, a stoat, a bat, and a vole littered the sand along with tens of others. She yelled at all of them to fight, but none ever did. The otterwife pulled her spear free from a weasel's carcass and muttered a soft apology to the beast as her next opponent appeared.

It was Silas.

Minerva stared at the rat in shock as her legs began to move. "No, no. Not again! Please."

The rat threw aside his two sickle swords into the sand and got to his knees.

"Silas, no. You have t' keep fightin'. Remember? I told ye that," Minerva begged.

He shook his head. "Do what you have to. Save her."

As Nire thrust his thumb downward, Minerva did the same with her spear.

The otterwife fell to her knees in the sand.

"Truly tragic..." Nire said, "The Culling is about to end. But there is one more match this evening. Minerva versus The Monster of Mossflower Woods!"

Minerva looked up in confusion. She shrieked as Silas' eyes rolled back in their sockets. Around her, the blood pooling from each carcass began to move as if it were alive, flowing and collecting into one living entity. It squirmed like a snake without a head, and had sharp, curved teeth sticking out from every orifice. The otterwife couldn't believe her eyes.

Slowly, it turned towards her and charged.

The spear in her paws trembled, and, though she tried to get back to her feet, Minerva could not stand. "You... have to keep fighting," she told herself, but still she made no move to. Minerva cowered under Nire's gaze as the monster lurched back it's head.

And the monster consumed her.

~~~¿~~~


Minerva shot up from her bunk with a gasp. Sweat drenched the otterwife's brow as she tore her paws frantically across her chest until she found the familiar steel of Orran's fishhook. She cradled the object close, watching as dim torchlight gleamed off the curve.

"Just scary dreams. Just scary dreams," she whispered to herself. When her panting slowed, Minerva let the hook fall back dangling around her neck.

The sound of beasts sleeping soundly in the Drag was a welcome contrast to the screams in the arena, but it was haunting all the same. Already whispers of FTN drifted from ear to ear, bringing talks of escape and hope to Nire's slaves. But when night fell, each of them went to sleep in unawares of the monster that lurked in their midst. The monster that would tear that hope apart, and slay each and every one of them at a single motion of Nire's paw.

Where she hid them in her vambrace, the wrinkled paper of Silas' letters rubbed hot against her flesh.

Minerva buried her head in her palms, tears welling in her eyes from the guilt of what she did to the rat. The beast who brought her hope when she most needed it, the one who taught her letters and sounds, slain by her own paw. Every night she tried to recall his lessons as she stumbled through the words on the pages but, without him beside her, the sounds were lost on her lips.

Minerva told herself a story, one where Orran came walking home, but it did little to ease her worries. She wondered if anything could. Maybe... a song?

The otter looked to where Komi slept on the opposite bunk. Minerva opened her mouth to wake her but stopped herself short, watching as the sleeping stoat's chest rose and fell comfortably and a slight smile curled on her maw. Since her 'battle' with Aldridge, Komi's worries were pushed to the back of her mind. Not once did she tremble from a nightmare. It would be wrong to take that from her.

On restless nights on her farm, Minerva would often take walks by the stream to ease her mind. But there was no stream here, only sleeping beasts whose company brought her more dread. So, tonight, the Monster would be alone. Without a sound, she stood from her bunk and slipped out of the cave, and towards the gate at the end of the Drag.

The guard, Tegue, looked up as she approached and regarded her with a polite nod. "Evening, ma'am. A bit late for a stroll wouldn't you say?"

Minerva met the beast's curt smile with a frown in suspicion. "Aye, couldn't sleep. Nightmares." There was no collar on the rat, he chose this job. Despite this, a look of genuine concern still fell over him, and Minerva hesitated, before deciding to elaborate. "Figgered I could at least use this time t' get in some extra trainin'... if ye'll allow it."

Tegue nodded. "It's not like you could escape from the training grounds anyway. Escape would be easier through the main corridors, I think." At a look from the otterwife, the rat thought for a moment and added, "If you think training will help, by all means. At the very least, when the time comes, you'll be more prepared to Fight Those Nightmares."

Minerva regarded the strange phrase with a raise of her brow. Was that the cypher? Quickly she tried to recall the alphabet that Silas showed her and piece together the sounds with each letter. EFFF. TEEE. ENNN. The otterwife looked back to the rat and tried to hide her own dread as she stammered out a reply. "A-a-aye. Maybe. T-though if I had the choice, I'd take my daughter and Flee This Night."

The rat nodded. "Maybe not this night."

Nire's leash tightened around her neck and bile rose in her throat. "When?"

Tegue spoke in whispers. "Very soon, ma'am. Nire is getting anxious, as are the beasts of Northvale, so he's working on something big to keep them unconcerned with us. We know he's commissioned hundreds of banners, bards, and dancers, so whatever it is, he means for it to have spectacle, and that isn't good. We aim to strike before then." The rat produced a ring of keys from his waist and unlocked the gate. "Go take your walk. Clear your head. I know I've had to do the same many times before."

Minerva nodded and strode towards the training grounds, but the FTN member's words did little to help her clear her mind. Everything he said was just more fodder that she would have to feed to Nire once he called for it.

Moonlight fell from the open roof of the empty training grounds as Minerva strode across it towards the set of carved stairs at the other end. Though the otterwife had only stepped down them once before, weeks ago when she was still chained to Komi, memories of the Fell Wing, the nightmarish place where Nire kept his monsters, were still fresh on her mind. Not once since that first trip did she ever have the desire to go again- nor did she have the desire now, and yet, she stepped forward bravely into the darkness of the tunnels. If Silas could fight these things, then maybe she could face her fears too.

Between the rows and rows of cages that lined the walls, Minerva moved, watching as monster after monster stared back at her from behind the bars. There was a strange sense of belonging that filled the otterwife as each new creature looked her over. It was as if they recognized her for what she was, as if they knew she was one of them.

Minerva shook her head. No. She was no monster. Killing Silas, she had done what she was made to. What choice did she have?

Further down the hall, the cell belonging to Bessie began to come into view, but what surprised Minerva was the other figure- that of a hulking marteness- that sat against the wall. Commander Nix sat in complete silence, watching as the terrifying creature slept.

Before the otterwife could turn in the other direction, Nix gasped and startled backwards with a look of surprise. A moment later, she recovered and was on her feet. "What are you doing here?" A second passed and she rephrased the question. "What is a slave doing here this late? Why aren't you in the Drag?"

Minerva looked back the way she came, wondering if it would be best to make a run for it. "I couldn't sleep. I asked the guard if I could go fer a walk," Minerva said, deciding against it.

Nix narrowed her gaze at the slave suspiciously. "Aye, and you're walking in a place where somebeast tried to escape before, or have you forgotten that?"

Minerva swallowed the bile in her throat and shook her head. "I couldn't leave even if the doors were wide open for me."

Nix regarded her for a moment before she sighed in understanding and crossed her arms over her uniform. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand the feeling," she said. "You're lucky you stumbled across me and not some other guard. They'd have you- no, your daughter- flayed. Be glad I'm not one to want to put in that kind of effort."

Minerva looked up at the marten, remembering how she made a similar excuse months ago when she let Aldridge's villagers inspect one of the wagons. Nix ignored the look, turning her gaze back towards the massive spider as it slept with its many legs curled into itself.

Moments passed in silence between the two mustelids as they watched the unconscious creature, until, finally, Minerva turned her head and braved a question. "Ye asked what a slave was doin' here this late but... what are you doin' here?"

Nix's eyes didn't leave the spider. "You're not the only one who has trouble sleeping," the marteness said. "And when I think of why, it always comes back to this bloody creature. So, sometimes when I'm restless, I come down here and watch her. I think of different ways I might be able to kill her."

"Why haven't ye?" Minerva asked.

Nix shrugged. "Nire would never let me, even if I wanted to. Bessie's exotic, one of a kind. Her life's far too valuable for Nire to gamble with, so he only appeases crowds by putting her in fights he knows she'll win. Besides, even if Nire were to let me fight her, I don't know if I would be able to do it. I used to think so, I used to dream of it, but... I don't know if I can anymore."

At Minerva's silence, the marteness elaborated further. "Bessie's a simple creature. There's not much else she wants besides a full belly and to survive another day, and yet, Nire starves her. He keeps her hungry so that when she's put into the arena, she'll be more ferocious. I don't think she has any want to be here, but when your wants are dangled in front of you by a string, what are you to do? She may be a monster, and that's what I thought too for the longest time, but here... she's still a slave."

The chains dangling around the marteness' waist rattled as she leaned against the wall.

"I think he gets off to it too," Minerva said. "Doesn't matter who ye are, he just wants t' hurt ye, t' turn ye into a monster. If it weren't for him, I might still have my readin' teacher."

"And Marik would still have his father."

Minerva turned her gaze towards the marten. "I'm... sorry."

Nix shook her head. "I was popular in the arena, and Nire offered to give me my freedom if I defeated my husband. We talked it over. Marik was still young, and my husband thought he needed a mother more than a father. So, it was decided. The next morning, after breakfast, I slew my husband and Nire gave me my freedom."

Minerva's eyes traced over the worn stitching on Nix's blue uniform. She looked down at her feet, remembering the collar that the hunchbacked marten still wore snug around his neck. "But he didn't give ye Marik's."

"No." Even without a collar, Nix was a slave. Minerva thought of the pine marten's son, wondering what sort of deal must have been in place to keep him from being thrown in the arena. With his crippled back, he was certain to not last long. As if she read the otterwife's thoughts, Nix added, "Nire is a cruel beast."

Both beasts stared at Bessie as one of her legs twitched in her sleep.

Just like her, Nix simply wanted freedom for her child. Maybe... was it possible? "Nix, I have a question. About fightin', if ye'd be willin' t' answer," Minerva said.

"Shoot."

Minerva recalled Silas' alphabet as she thought over her words and sounds. Moments passed, and finally she asked. "Me and Komi were arguin' the other day. We were havin' a contest, throwing spears and knives. She thought that a knife could fly further, I thought the spear. So, what do you think? Do spears fly Further Than Knives?"

Nix stayed quiet, a look of disbelief on her face, as the words hung in the air. Minerva's heart pulsed in her chest as suddenly the marteness' gaze narrowed.

"Knives doesn't start with an N."

Without warning, Nix drove her fist hard into Minerva's stomach. Minerva gasped from the pain and shock of the sudden blow, and stumbled backwards only one step before the marteness grabbed her by the arm. Reeling the otterwife back close to her, Nix delivered a powerful backhand across Minerva's snout that sent her stumbling to the cold floor.

Nix spat as she hoisted her to her feet and pinned the otter's arms tight behind her.

Minerva's eyes widened as the marten marched her towards Bessie's cell. She struggled against the marten, but no matter what she did, she couldn't break from Nix's powerful grip. Roughly, she was shoved against the bars to the spider's cage, and Nix forced the otterwife's head through the space between the bars.

Holding her there, Nix kicked the bars.

"No. No no no!" Minerva squirmed against the marten's grip as the spider began to wake. Bessie cocked its head at the otter pressed slightly through the bars, and then, lunged forward.

Nix pulled Minerva back just as the spider crashed into the bars. Long, spear-like legs struck out from between them as the creature hissed in rage at the denied meal.

The marteness casted her aside roughly as she panted with rage. Turning towards her, she clenched her teeth at the beaten otterwife.  "Don't you dare, ever, affiliate me with those beasts again. Do you hear me?"

Minerva nodded frantically. "But- but ye said... and ye knew the cipher. I thought ye might be..."

"A member? Do you know what would happen if Nire even suspected I might be a member?" Nix asked. "It wouldn't be me who would be punished. It would be Marik, your daughter, and every other child he watches over in this Vulpuz-forsaken place! Their lives are not mine to gamble with. As for the cipher, I'm not bloody deaf. You think I don't notice when slaves and guards talk nonsense?"

"But, you could save him. Isn't that what ye want?" Minerva asked. "Hellgates, ye're next t' Nire nearly every time I see ye. Why don't ye just kill him? Then ye can leave with yer son."

"And if I do, then what? Somebeast will just replace Nire, somebeast possibly worse, like Blasio Timberfell," she said in disgust. "What if whoever replaces Nire says that there shouldn't be any children in the Crater? What if he thinks beasts shouldn't be allowed to go free, or that smaller beasts don't make good fighters and should be killed on the spot? What if they think only woodlanders should be made slaves, or vermin? If there's one thing Nire does do, it's that he gives everybeast a chance. It doesn't matter who they are, he gives them a choice to pick up a sword and fight."

"And yet ye've cast it aside," Minerva said. "Ye're more willin' t' parade with a caravan for Nire and bring more innocent beasts t' die in his games, then fight t' save yer son. Ye're nothin' but a bleedin' coward."

"Aye! I am! And so are you," Nix spat. At a look from Minerva, the marteness continued. "I know all about what Nire's making you do. You'd rather sacrifice everybeast here than risk your daughter."

Heat flushed in Minerva's cheeks. "I don't have a choice."

"Of course you do. Everybeast has a choice. You could lie or you could tell Nire what he wants. You could save FTN and bring the Crater crumbling down, or you could save your daughter. Nire won't give you her freedom, but at least then you can watch her grow up... just with a collar around her neck," Nix said. "I made my choice. And I know which one you'll make too. How? Because I know you. You're just a wife who lost her husband, whose child is your sole purpose for even living. Without her, you have nothing. You are nothing. And soon, you'll be wearing a blue uniform, just like me."

"You don't know me," Minerva spat.

"Then prove me wrong. Lie. Take that risk," Nix said. "Just leave me and my son out of it."

Without a word, Nix turned and left the Monster alone.
74
Contest Discussion / A quick announcement
« Last post by Kali on October 03, 2017, 12:28:21 PM »
Lights filled the stage. Kali is quickly scooted out into view of the audiance. "Guys! Why do I have to make the announcements! I know I promised... And Im a bard.... But I get stage fright and..." A hand full of cue cards were slapped into her chest. She sighed. "Fiiiine."

Kali coughs into her wingtip. "Ahem, so. Hello all! Im here to just read a quick announcment from the cast. We would like to thank our readers for their continued support and checking in week after week, even though we have had some delays. Which we experienced again because stuff happened offline to several people and there was even a moose invovled and..."

Kali looked to one side of the stage, "W-what? Yes, yes. Ill stick with the cue cards...ahem."

"We appologize for the delay. We have some awesome stuff planned for yall. More posts are coming and more announcements are coming as well."

"And now, in an effort to appologize for the delay, I shall now sing for the audiances plea-"

And then the curtain fell on her.


Kali's player here with an attempt to soften yet another announcement. We appologize about being delayed by offline events once again and that will be posting into the voting period. This is not an extension, but there are more posts on the way.

Once again thank you all for your patience and continued support of the story. You as the audiance have the most important part even if you are just following the story with out voting. At the end of the day we are all storytellers and want to make sure we can make the most enjoyable story possible for you all to read.

Please direct any questions you might have to Zevka.

Thank you and see you soon.
75
Round Five / Goldenheart
« Last post by Thrayjen on October 02, 2017, 09:03:14 AM »
For two days his belly ached and grumbled in discontent but hunger would not stay him. Dawn rose above the Crater’s bulwarks and with it, Thrayjen emerged from the punishment cells and marched straight to the training yard.

A pawful of gladiators set up the equipment, dummies and wooden weapons. A single trainer directed the slaves; at first, Thrayjen was excited to see the ferret, but his sable coat and his smirk betrayed him. It wasn’t Blue, merely a rival. 

Thrayjen paused, contemplating visiting Plockette at the bar, but he shook his head and looked up towards the wooden barricade separating the training ground from the archery range.

The rat made his way across the Crater, navigating the halls and the ground floor with ease of practise until the short walk ended at a door. Thrayjen pushed it aside.

The stretched yard was just as empty as the rest of the complex save for a single beast, and the stoat’s presence reached and filled the air with thick tension. With his back turned to the rat, Aldridge battled with an unwieldy tripod. Thrayjen watched as every time Aldridge attempted to place a heavy stuffed target into the grooves, the tripod would snap shut and collapse.

The third time it happened, Aldridge tried to grab the tripod as it fell, but the target in his arms overbalanced him and it ended in a cloud of dust and a frustrated curse.

“May I help?”

Aldridge froze, muscles visibly bunching beneath his shirt. As he hauled himself up, he afforded the rat a sidelong glare and walked swiftly down the fairway towards his workshop.

“Please wait.”

Aldridge ignored him and Thrayjen dashed forward to catch the stoat before he could lock himself away in his shop.

“I need to speak with you, please!”

The door shut behind the stoat.

“Aldridge!” Thrayjen yelled, cupping his paws around his maw. “Aldridge, please, I want to apologize! I’m trying to…”

The rat lowered his paws, grunting disappointedly. Scream all he like, he knew the stoat wasn’t listening. While Thrayjen kept hope and regret for company, Aldridge no doubt stewed in his anger for the two days since Thrayjen’s assault. Such a waste of precious time required stubbornness to remedy, and Thrayjen was determined that Aldridge hear his apologies.

“I can wait here all day, you know!” Thrayjen called out again.

No reply was awarded and so Thrayjen did as he promised, and waited.

Morning edged on and became sticky. Thrayjen tucked himself underneath the workshop’s awning, the cooler shade offering some comfort where no other could be found. He did not know how much time passed before another beast entered the archery range.

The Pearl Dawn shined like her namesake, the sun reflecting off her white curls and casting a glow about her form.. Her eyes sought his and he quickly looked away, both unwilling and unable to meet her gaze. The sound of her footsteps approaching would not allow him to ignore her.

“You missed breakfast.”

Such a simple phrase sounded so denouncing. Thrayjen winced, wondering if he had imagined her accusing tone. He glanced up to see her blank stare and her relaxed posture. She carried a small satchel filled with nuts and dried fruits, held slightly out towards him as though in offering.

“I…” He struggled, mouthing silent words that didn’t seem to fit. “I had more important things to do.”

“Searching out your trainer,” Rinam said. “Searching out your friend.”

“I don’t know if ‘friend’ is the right word anymore but, yes.”

“To make amends.”

Thrayjen nodded. Rinam moved closer, nodding to the food in her paws.

“Impatience festers on an empty stomach.”

The rat accepted the bag, sharing a faint smile with the mouse as he raised a pawful of nuts to his mouth.

“Quicker when amendment is needed,” Rinam added, and knocked very loudly on the workshop door.

“Go away!”

“We will not,” Rinam answered the stoat’s muffled voice. The sound of a chair being shoved back, of heavy pawsteps; the door opened.

Aldridge looked out at them with a deeply furrowed brow, his scowl contemptuous against Thrayjen’s reluctant frown.

“Out with it.”

Thrayjen swallowed his mouthful of breakfast and cleared his throat. He stood straight, determinedly meeting the stoat’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Aldridge,” Thrayjen began in earnest. “Whether you believe me or not, I’m so sorry for what happened. That wasn’t…I didn’t go there intending to fight you, and I know…I know how utterly ridiculous it was to accuse you of sabotaging me. That…that wasn’t me that day.”

Aldridge rolled his eyes and Thrayjen paused, licked his lips.
 
“I mean to say, that wasn’t who I am, who I’ve struggled to be since I fled Muskroarka. Something…horrible took hold of me. Something I thought I had locked away…but I was hurting, and angry, and I let it out again.”

His words sped with every breath until his lungs drained, and still he tried to talk. Rinam placed a paw upon his arm. A simple gesture, yet the physical support she lent inspired calmness in his racing heart. 

“I don’t want to be the Blackwhiskers, Aldridge. Rinam. I don’t want to be that monster anymore, but it’s getting so hard to fight it all back when I’m fighting everything else here. I’m sorry for what I let happen. I’m so sorry. If I never have an opportunity to speak to you again, please know that. Know that I wish I could take everything back. I know I can’t, and there’s so much hurt I’ve caused, but I’m trying, Aldridge. I’m trying every day to reign in the anger that haunts me, to remember everything I’ve done that’s caused suffering and remember that I must be better than that. For Helix…for Verna…and everyone else.”

Thrayjen sucked in a sharp breath, setting his jaw and bracing himself as though struck. Aldridge’s face had not changed, his flickering eyes emotionless and unreadable.

“Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for them. Every secret I’ve kept, every time I called Nire my master, I’ve done it for them. And I was wrong to do so. So, so wrong…and I was wrong not to tell you who I was. I didn’t trust you.” A harsh laugh escaped the rat. “I didn’t trust you…and so I never came to you for help. I thought you’d turn your back on me, reveal my titles and my past and I thought you’d stop me from ever seeing my family.”

“I’m sorry,” Thrayjen repeated. “I’ve been stupid, and I’m sorry, and I’ll go now."

The rat began to turn away but Rinam’s paw tightened its grip on his arm. He paused, looking from her to the stoat that backed out of his doorway.

“Come in,” Aldridge said quietly. While it was not relief that washed over Thrayjen, a sense of hope found him, and he stepped through the threshold.

The familiar musk of the bowyer’s shed was comforting, the scents of tea and cut wood homely. A white mouse stoked the small morning fire that burned in the hearth, looking up only when Aldridge addressed her.

“Aera, this is the one I told you about.”

The mouse looked up and wiped her sooty paws upon her apron. Thrayjen tried to smile and failed. She scrunched her nose, clearly unimpressed.

“Good morning,” Thrayjen tried. “It’s…it’s really nice to meet you.”

“I’m sure,” Aera said shortly.

“Would you put the kettle on, please?” Aldridge asked from across the room, standing by a door Thrayjen had not seen open before. Another room and another door lay beyond, the stoat angled towards the darkened area. “He needs to see.”

“Of course he does. Prince of the South who’s slaughtered thousands, who snaps at a word from the wildcat and performs our worst nightmares with a snarl. Oh, but Aldridge likes him, so let’s bring him into the fold! You told me yourself, Uncle. Nobeast ever made peace with the Blackwhiskers and lived to tell the tale. ” Aera muttered through clenched teeth, eyeing the rat sidelong. Aldridge smiled at her.

“And yet here, and now, there’s no Blackwhiskers in this room.”

As Aldridge stepped into the adjacent room, Rinam quickly guided Thrayjen past Aera. Another door lead into a musty, dark tunnel and together, they followed the stoat deep underground. The stoat turned down corridor after corridor until Thrayjen lost track of the turns, until finally they walked by a curious mechanical contraption and through another door that Aldridge held open for them.

Candles dimly lit up the room and cooling censers of tea masked the faint remnants of sweat and waste. A single chair sat unoccupied by a table, upon which lay the prone form of an unconscious vole. Thrayjen recognized her as the scribe that used to wander the halls, always scribbling away in her book. She was the one who guided him through Rinam to the hogbabes, who watched and observed and written the world down. He owed her his gratitude and silently tugged his ear in respect for the fading beast.

Aldridge lit a lantern and hung it from a hook on the ceiling. Immediately the room brightened and the rafter beams no longer cast deep shadows over Adeen’s peaceful face. The blanket that was carefully tucked around the vole could no longer hide her ribs. She likely would never wake up, yet Aldridge still strived to keep her heart beating. Thrayjen looked to Aldridge in sympathetic understanding as the stoat positioned himself beneath a thick lintel.

Sigils, much like Thrayjen’s kraken, were etched into the wood. The pattern of encircled shapes and symbols leapt forth in the light and Thrayjen stepped back to study the markings. A hammer and anvil, a loaf of bread and baker’s hat, a snake entwined around a staff... a bow and arrow. The rat looked at Aldridge, realizing for the first time he no longer stood in a shop but a monument of freedom and hope.

“These are the Marks of Madder Barrow,” Aldridge began, pointing at each symbol. “Ulrich. Aera. Luthier. This one is mine. They were given to a beast to acknowledge the skills they offered Madder Barrow. What a beast did to help the village would be honoured with these brands. The marks are sacred to me, Thrayjen.”

“They’re beautiful,” Rinam quietly said, releasing Thrayjen’s arm and turning to see each mark.

“They are,” Thrayjen agreed. “But I don’t understand. These marks are important to you. Sacred, you said. Why are you showing me them?

“I struggled for years to earn mine,” the stoat continued, “It was a battle. A hard fight. Seasons spent wallowing in self-pity and drowning myself in whatever grog I drudged up had broken me even before I arrived in Madder Barrow.”

“Then my mother decided enough was enough.”

Aldridge turned to his apprentice, standing with her arms crossed as she leaned against the doorway. He smiled, his eyes brightening.

“Aye. She wouldn’t let me suffer anymore. She refused to watch as I slowly died from misery, and so she offered me her help. I hadn’t asked her to. She simply offered me her paw and pulled me up when I found the strength to take it.”

Aldridge slowly lowered himself into the chair, gently pressing the back of his paw to Adeen’s cheek. He frowned, closing his eyes as he tenderly stroked the spiked fur of her brow back.

“There’s a storm coming, Thrayjen,” the stoat pressed on. “I don’t know how big or how violent it’s going to be, but it’s on its way.”

“I know,” Thrayjen slowly said. With a cautious tone, he added, “Trainer Hapley.”

Aldridge nodded.

“Miss Kali.”

The stoat’s lips curved upwards and again he nodded.

“Don’t.”

Aldridge cocked his head to the side but remained expectantly still.

“It’s not just the Crater,” Thrayjen pressed. “The slaves, the volunteers, the beasts who make their living here, the town. The whole town of Northvale was built up from a few shacks because of the Crater. Even if Nire was beaten, if every slave cast of their chains, what then? Nire will take more slaves and ruin more lives. If Nire dies, then another beast will take his kingdom for themselves. Aldridge...Rinam…”

Thrayjen shook his head. He studied the Barrow marks, slowly tracing the bowyer’s symbol with a claw.

“There’s no way to fix this,” the rat finished sadly. “I’ve seen this before.”

The stoat shook his head, mumbling until his words became pronounced and strong.

“Yes,” Aldridge said, “Yes, that’s exactly it. I don’t want to topple the Crater, or raze Northvale, or destroy anything but the way of life here.”

Thrayjen’s ears flickered. “Eh?”

“Fix it. I want to fix what’s accepted. I want to change the hearts and minds of every beast in Northvale. I want to rise against the oppression and the pain, and I want to build a better way. Evil can give way to good, Thrayjen. It can.” Aldridge paused and flashed a rare smile. “I’ve seen it before.”

Hope, Kali had said, was what one made it, and Aldridge was filled with hope. Beside him, Rinam beamed and made her delicate paw gestures, and even Aera offered Thrayjen a grin as the rat turned to study the Barrow marks again.

He deserves it.

Aldrige earned his place, earned his mark, his friends...Father’s respect, even. I earned nothing. I just ran. Ran until I no longer trekked blood everywhere I went.

“It isn’t always about blood,” Rinam interjected. “Words win where blades will not. The Rapscallion kingdom tried time and again to bring my tribe to heel. They wanted nothing of the beasts above for the gold beneath.”

“We gave up,” Thrayjen said. “They gave up.”

“And the beasts of peace and paper came from Southsward to take your place. They won us with their words, their law and order.”

Rinam took Adeen’s paw between her own.

“It isn’t always about blood. I did not shed a drop, yet I was betrayed and sold like a lowly crop. My father…” A paw sign. A moment of silence. “When he died, the town looked to me for guidance. When they came for us, I knew that violence would only beget violence, and so I stayed my paws. I let them take me, and my brethren…those who learned from my example, some of them survived.”

The mouse’s voice grew hard. She placed Adeen’s paw beside the prone vole and stepped back. “But sometimes blood must be paid, prince. Knowing when to stop is what separates us from our ‘Master’.”

“The other day, I couldn’t help myself. With Padoha…I just couldn’t help myself! I felt…such rage…” Thrayjen grimaced. “I don’t know if I can fight that rage back anymore. The Crater…I’m losing this fight.

“Like a king who leads a country,” Rinam began, “You must control your passions for the greater good.”

A warrior and a dancer…

Thrayjen looked hard at Rinam, brow creased, eyes unblinking as he studied the mouse. She was born to lead and inspire. Born to dance circles around those so-called masters and their evil, to honour her tribe and calm the tides of war that brewed on the horizon. With her at his side, with Aldridge’s dreams of change and redemption, he found hope.

In the dawning light that consumed him, an overlooked detail emerged; Nire spared Thrayjen from the lash and from execution, instead simply leaving him to cool his paws in a cell. What if the lynx still favoured him? What possibilities had he missed in the cellars, lost to misery and discouragement? If he still held Nire’s esteem, if he could gain it back…

The rat’s eyes hardened. He turned back to Aldridge, and smiled widely.

“I like ‘change’,” Thrayjen said, chuckling at the words that he never thought would come out of his mouth. “I want to fix things with you. I want your help…and I want to help.”
76
General Discussion / Re: The Official Site Update Thread
« Last post by Airan on October 01, 2017, 02:47:57 PM »
It's come to my attention that there's more that can be done to spruce up our community and make it better. Anyways, just a small update to tell everyone that I'm working on something in the background that will hopefully make our community much more active and interesting. Stay tuned.
77
Round Five / Crater Calando
« Last post by Kali on October 01, 2017, 02:28:02 PM »
The letter was impossible to miss, nailed to the side of the baker's cart.

Trent,
 
Thank you for looking after my cart for the next week or so. If you need to get into my shop, there is a spare key in the planter by the door. Make sure the cookies are sold for three coppers, and the scones sold for two.

Also, please refrain from snacking on the pastries. We need some to celebrate our eventual victory over our 'competition'.

~Inkpaw :3


"Sure, Inkpaw, sure." Trent said, eating another pastry. The rat rested his elbow on the cart to support his chin. The aloof looking beast could not fathom why beasts were passing by the cart with out stopping to buy from him. "At least I am getting caught up on my sleep," he said with a sigh.

"... and then she nails him in the chest with a spear."

Trent's eyes glanced towards the beasts idling by his cart. "I wouldn't say she 'nailed' him with it. Looked like the Reaper gave up to me." The fox crossed his arms. Like the hare he was talking to, they were both dressed in simple tunics.

Pulling his cap lower over his eyes, the scrawny rat tried his best to tune out the conversation of the labor beasts.

"Like heck he gave up! Monster killed him fair and square, because the Monster doesn't take gruff from no one. And that's why she could take on the Crimson Tiger. The Tiger got beat by the comic relief, foxy."

"Ah, she took him by surprise is all. I bet that was all some kind of act anyway. You know how the arena works. Nire spreads rumors about the Crimson Tiger being down and out and BOOM!" The fox throws a punch in the air. "The Crimson Tiger leaps out of the sand and kicks your Monster of Mossflower's tail up and down the arena."

The rat rolled his eyes. If only plugging his ears would help. Trent couldn't help but notice however that some of the beasts passing by the bickering fox and hare turned their noses up at the conversation. "It does make me wonder who would win in a-" A monitor lizard with tattoos and a robe began until his companion cut him off.

"Pleassse, don't. After the week with all the bugssss, I sstill have nightmaresss."

Trent raised an eyebrow to the interaction. "Interesting."

"Pastry... please."

Trent was happy to have the distraction of a customer, "Yeah, sure. What do you-" The rat's eyes feel upon the beast and he his heart quickened.

The wildcat's tunic was made of fine silk but hung hung loosely over his skinny frame. The fur underneath was unkempt, and back rings clung to his eyes from lack of sleep.

And yet, the wildcat still managed to loom over them, sending a sense of intimidation through the air.

"Martin alive, you're..." Trent began.

"Hungry." The cat replied quickly. His voice was horse and his tail hung limply behind him.

"Um, ok." Trent replied, he glanced to the obnoxious beasts next to his cart. They seemed oblivious to the gladiator's presence. "What would you like Mr. Tiger... sir?"

"Trask."

"Excuse me?"

"My name is Trask. I'm not the Tiger." Leaning over the stand The Crim- Trask looked curiously at each pastry as if they were some alien cuisine. "I haven't had sweets since I started training." He seemed unsure what to get until finally pointing a shaky claw at a large oatmeal cookie.

Trent gave him two as a buy one get one free deal, but mostly out of pity.

The cat's face lit up, and he purred slightly. Almost as an after thought, the Tiger flipped Trent a silver coin before turning to leave.

"... and that's why the Monster would wipe the floor with the Tiger."

"She can stab him with her pretty little fish hook." The fox mocked, "Like the Tiger would get fooled by such a cheap trick."

"Oh yeah, he certainly saw the bat coming with his own bloody knife!"

Trent rolled his eyes, turning back to his cart. The rat was surprised when he found a rolled up parchment on his cart right in front of his nose. Trent cast a glance around the market place but saw no one he recognized. He only turned away from the cart for a moment, how did they even... it didn't matter.

Inkpaw delivered his messages in pastries while others chose more old fashioned ways to pass out orders. The black ribbon around the parchment meant a coded message inside... an urgent one.

So Trent finished his own snack before opening up his new marching orders. His eyes scrolled down the parchment slowly, making sure he didn't mess up the cypher.

Shoulders slouched and eyes wide the rat hissed through his teeth, "Oh, you have got to be kidding me..."

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

"You have got to be joking..."

"Sorry, Kali. Numbers do not lie."

"B-but that's not possible!" Kali flailed her wings in the air, causing Ulrich to duck as he finished taking her measurements. "I exercise! I  train, daily! I couldn't have grown larger!"

"Tell that to the armor I need to resize," Drake replied again. "Train more or eat less. My armor is no good if you can't fit into it. Sheesh, show some self control before I have to resize your collar too."

Kali crossed her arms. "Like they had to do with yours?"

The burly fox's smile was less than kind. "A wise beast once said, don't crack jokes of he who makes your armor."

"Or body paint, in my case." Kali chuckled, but her voice turned serious, "Do I even need armor at this point? I've only been playing 'Mascot' since the battle with the Crimson Tiger."

The thought of playing Nire's 'Banshee' again made her fur crawl. If only the FTN would get off their butts and do something before she had to don the Flying Fox costume again...

Drake shrugged. "The ways of Nire are mysterious. After your first fight he made your armor a lower priority. Wants you outfitted for costumes now."

Kali couldn't help but catch a twinge of sadness in the fox's voice. She decided to pull that string and see where it led. Surely there had to be more beasts than just Kentrith who were sympathetic to their plight, "I take it you do not approve?"

Making a disgruntled growl the fox leaned his bulk against a countertop. "Costumes are made for... flair. Flair brings beasts to the Crater, but makes us go through our gladiators twice as fast. I find it... wasteful."

Kali raised an eyebrow. It was nice to know that there was more than just slaves dissatisfied with the bloodlust of the arena.

"I mean," Drake continued, "it doesn't do me any favors for my side business, ya know? Someone takes a sword to the chest plate and keeps on going, you bet beasts are knocking on my door for their own set of armor. But you get gutted in a flying fox costume I helped make? Makes me look cheap."

And the moment was gone.

"Oh! I almost forgot. My wife says you look adorable in the Flying Fox costume. The fox tail was her idea by the way."

Kali could only imagine what sort of vixen found parading around in a fox skull and tail as 'adorable.' In the end Kali decided she didn't want to know. Rubbing her eyes, Kali asked, "Can I go now?"

Ulrich gestured that he was done and Drake nodded to the guards. Kali was soon shuffled out of the armory by her escorts.

Once deposited back in the Drag, Kali did what she normally does after finding out she was too fat for her future armor: she decided to drown herself in comfort food.

Stepping into the mess hall, however, she is immediately hit by a loud, "KALI!"

The bat made a panicked squeak. She was not quick enough to dodge the weasel and was nearly crushed by the sudden bear hug forced upon her. "Buddy!"

"Rose. Spine. Breaking." Kali struggled to get out of the weasel's grasp. Out of the corner of her eye she caught Komi glancing in her direction. She regarded Kali's pleading look with hardly contained chuckling.

"Where have you beeeen? No, forget about that. It can't have been important cause you are here NooOOow. With MeeEEEee. Come on, sit down and grab a plate!" The weasel dragged the bat back to her table despite Kali's loud protests.

Resigning herself to her fate, Kali sighed and sat across from the weasel. It was about as far as she could get from Rose after 'saving her life' in the arena.

The glutton weasel plopped into her chair and immediately started into one of the many plates that surrounded her. When prompted if she wanted a cookie, Kali shook her head no. "Are you sure? They are really good. They even made them in the shape of little rat gladiators!"

"That would be... Silas." Kali said without humor, "He died."

"He did? Huh. I must have missed that one. Was it a good fight?"

"No... Silas died."

"That's a pity. If I die, at least I want to it to be a good fight." Kali had no reply to the weasel's laughter. She was secretly hoping that Silas would do her one last favor and be the cookie that finally pushed the weasel's swollen stomach over the edge.

Blast you, Silas... can't you assassinate even one beast? Kali silently cursed when Rose wolfed down the rest of her meal without exploding.

"I got to say," the weasel licked her chops, "if I had known that you gladiators lived this high off the hog I would have got myself caught a long time ago."

Maybe it will be the scorpion cookie? Nope, blast.

"You beasts live better than kings."

"Kings can come and go as they please," Kali said with as patient as a smile as she could muster, "The creature comforts are just here to keep us subdued."

"Yeah, and all you have to do is kill beasts to keep it."

Shock prevented the bat from replying immediately. She opened her mouth once or twice, but the words just failed her. "Most... would consider that a bad thing. You know, being forced to murder beasts against your will?" Kali laughed desperately, "What happens if you are forced to fight against your friends?"

"I never thought of that," the drunken weasel admitted, "I suppose it would hard for most beasts to murder their friends. So... I guess it would be a good thing." Rose leaned back in her chair, taking a swig of wine. "Makes them easier to murder first."

Kali closed her eyes while scrunching her nose. "I suppose you have to have friends first before worrying about murdering them."

"Oi!" The weasel wagged a drunken claw at Kali. From the way her claw hovered all over the place Kali would say Rose was seeing double... possibly triple. "I'll have you know that I have had plenty of friends! There was this one beast me and the rest of the gang called Ratty, on account of him being a rat. We were real creative, I know. But anyway, he was a good friend. Saved our hides and tails more than once." Rose sighed, "I miss him... sometimes."

Kali's features softened. "I'm sorry, what happened to him?"

"Oh, I killed him. He loved to sing but he had the voice of a toad. Drove us all up a wall. So we drew straws, I drew the short one and it was left up to me to put him out of our own misery. Strangled him with his own lute strings, ya know. Seemed poetic at the time." The weasel takes a sip of her wine. "What did you say you did before coming here?"

Eyes wide with terror Kali quickly said, "Accounting."

"Accounting?" Rose raised an eyebrow.

"Yes. Accounting." Clutching her suddenly ill stomach Kali stood up, "Excuse me a moment..." Ignoring the weasel's protests, Kali left the table. Falling into the mess hall line, Kali rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Why do I try to help beasts. Beasts are horrible..."

"Keep your head down, and wait for instructions," the fox had said. Well, she was waiting. It was hard to be patient in a place like this. Surrounded by beasts like... shudder... Rose. But that was only half the issue.

Kali would be the first to admit she was a bit batty, but even she knew Nire would eventually tire of the Banshee routine and toss her back into a real fight.

"Now, I have to make an example of you…” The image of the Crimson Tiger's face flashed infront of Kali, twisted with hate and malice. This time however, the memory ended with the wildcat finishing his grizzly work, his the knife slicing into her stomach...

"Wine, I need wine." And sweets, she thought, and her cloth gladiator dolls.

And her bloody lute!

Kali sighed. She wanted the lute maker back even more. She wanted all the beasts who had died in these past months back. Kentigern, Droven, Adeen... even Silas. She-

"Is that you, Kali?"

The bat looked up. Her face lit up at the familiar face. "Inkpaw!"

The marten chuckled as the bat fluttered upward, latching her claws onto the rafters above them. The two shared an awkward upside down hug.

"I hardly recognized you, carrying the weight of the world about your shoulders. What have you been up to?"

"Oh, you know. Dodging monsters and annoying weasel creatures. So, the usual." Kali rubbed the back of her neck. "H-how have you been?"

"Oh, nothing too interesting. I have just been working my tail off since I joined the arena. But it wouldn't feel right to tell such mundane stories here of all places."

"No. I want to hear it." Kali laughed nervously, "I w-want to hear something mundane. Something... not about this place."

With a raise of his eyebrow the marten glanced about the mess hall. "In that case, you will be happy that I made you a treat. In the most mundane of ways possible, I assure you." Grinning deviously the baker produced a parcel out seemingly thin air.

Kali's joyful chirp filled the room. "Is that what I think it is?"

The marten nodded, and closed his eyes while bragging about his latest pastry creation. "I know how much you like scones. I made this one special, just for you. I'm sure you will enjoy the filling the most. I gave it a unique..."

Before the marten could stop her, the pastry was gone, practically inhaled down Kali's sugar encrusted snout. Licking her chops Kali caught the scowl Inkpaw gave her. "What?"

Taking a deep breath, Inkpaw turned his attention back to the mess hall, "Or we can do this the old fashioned way..."

"Hmmm?"

Inkpaw ignored her. Raising his voice the beast threw his paws about in anger. "Ungrateful flying vulpine! You dare mock my food?"

"I-inkpaw!" Kali's eyes went wide as the marten only grew angrier. She seemed to shrink on the rafters.

"I'd like to see you do better! Leathery monster!" Grabbed by the ear, Kali was forced to drop from the ceiling and follow the marten or risk being dragged as he led her to the back storage room.

"What I do? Inkpaw! INKPAAAA-" The door slammed shut behind them and Inkpaw silenced the bat by wrapping his paw around her muzzle. His other paw came up to his own lips in a gesture to stay quite.

For his trouble, Kali shot Inkpaw a look of shock, confusion, and panic. Why was her friend dragging her off into a store room? Was she supposed to admire the art of his pastry rather than eat it?

Inkpaw waited a moment longer before whispering. "Fried Turnip Nutmeg."

Kali's confusion only grew. Rolling his eyes the marten tried another saying, "Frozen Tart Nuggets. You know... the cypher?"

"Cypher?" Kali's raised an eyebrow. Cypher? Like, that thing Kentrith taught her to identify-

A look of pure disbelief flooded the bat. "Noooooo," she gasped. "You are with..."

"Yes," Inkpaw stepped backward, giving the bat room to be properly shocked.

"But you look nothing like a spy!" Kali paused, realizing what she just said. She was thankful Inkpaw didn't call her out on it. "Oh! You know, being a baker is the perfect cover. You could make hidden messages in your pastries and send them to other operatives!"

With a completely straight face, Inkpaw replied, "I will keep that in mind. Please do try to curb your enthusiasm though, we have not much time."

"Of course! The mission!" Kali chirped, "What do you want me to do?"

"Do?" The marten arched an eyebrow. "I... don't have anything for you to do."

"Inkpaw, buddy, surely you dragged me back here for something else than to shoot the bull."

"Oh, but of course," the marten laughed. "I do have some instructions. I wanted to encourage you to keep hope alive, in both you and the gladiators around you."

Kali's twitched an ear. "And what else?" Her quick response seemed to catch the marten off guard.

"There is nothing else. This is important. Previous attempts to free the north failed because the gladiators were swayed by fear or glory for the arena. Tell stories, sing songs of the outside world, keep their moral up." The marten rubbed the back of his neck, "I would have told you all this by letter but it was, heh, indisposed of."

The bat however, does not share in his laughter. "So... essentially, what I have been doing for the past few weeks. Unsuccessfully."

"You just need to find something the slaves can latch on to. Give them hope."

"They are beyond hope." Kali didn't mean to snap at the marten. By his reaction, it was a shock to Inkpaw too. "The slaves are broken. And a few fancy tales are not going to make them unbroken. They need something to actually happen. I need something to happen!"

"And you thought I would send you, a bard, on what? A dangerous mission?" Inkpaw scolded the bat like a teacher. Soft spoken and yet driving the point home.

It only made Kali more furious. "Like being a gladiator is already dangerous? Like cattle waiting to be... butchered there in the arena? You can get beasts in here, why don't you just get us out of here, eh?"

"I'm not here to save the gladiators, Kali." Inkpaw's reply was laced with venom of his own, "I'm here to make sure they don't need saved ever again." 

He took a deep breath and calmed himself. "Kali, the arena is not the problem. The city is the problem. They are the ones who allowed Nire to build the arena in the first place. And they will keep filling the arena, again and again, no matter who we help escape. But you... you and the rest of the beasts here. You are doing something... special.

"For the first time in years, the mood of the town is changing. Beasts see the struggle you all go through, and some are starting to wake up to how vile this place is. The kiss between Bowyer and the Coward, the Reaper's death, and no beast is cold hearted enough to approve keeping dibbuns captive. Even if they belong to the Monster of Mossflower.

"Your collective efforts have done more for the FTN in the past month than all our efforts in the past year."

Inkpaw snapped a claw. "That thing you did, with the Tiger. You raged against the arena, you called them out as the horrible monsters they are, and they loved you for it. That. You need to do more of that with the gladiators."

"I've tried..."

"Try harder." The marten placed a paw on Kali's shoulder, causing her to look back at him. "Don't short sell yourself. You are an exotic creature from an alien land. Beasts will listen to you more than, say, a portly pine marten baker off the street. Surely you've brought hope to someone..."

There was no reply from Kali this time. Her thoughts went to the beasts of the arena. For the most part, beasts were happier around her. At least, Rose was happy to see her. It figures that the only beast she could save would be the one who actually deserved to die in the arena.

That's not quite true though, Kali realized as she remembered her conversation with Thrayjen. The weasel may have been a bandit, but surely her crimes were a drop in a bucket compared to the sins of a tyrannical despot. And even he didn't deserve to die here. Right?

"You're smart, Kali. You will figure it out." Inkpaw drew a sharp breath, "Remember to act sad when you leave though, to go along with our deception."

"It won't be acting." Shoulders slumped, the bat took her leave. Inkpaw made a great show about scolding the bat in front of the gladiators but she was too lost in her own thoughts to pay attention. She just shuffled into the mess hall, her head hung low.

Did she really only succeed in bring hope to bandits, thieves and despots? Were they even still bandits, thieves and despots? The arena was a great many things, but it was an equalizer. A beast's past was really just flavor for the audience. The arena didn't care who you were, only how well you fought.

"Sheesh, what's got his tail twisted in a knot."

Brought out of her mood, Kali glanced over to Rose. The weasel's meal is gone, vanished before the full looking weasel as she licked her chops. The thief spotted one last cookie on the table, but struggled to lean forward far enough to reach it. She flailed her paw about the table and whined pitifully.

Kali raised an eyebrow. With a sigh she pushed the cookie with her wingtip until the weasel could reach it. Rose squealed with joy as Kali sat down again. "So..." She drew a sharp breath, "I don't think I ever asked you how you got into banditry..."
78
Contest Discussion / Re: Setting Sail
« Last post by Kentigern MacRaff on September 26, 2017, 10:05:23 AM »
A shame to hear, for sure. Best of luck, though. And thanks for writing (Tooley is one of my all time favs) and also for taking the time to read and review. Always insightful and always helpful. Keep writing and adieu!
79
Round Five / Blackwhiskers
« Last post by Thrayjen on September 26, 2017, 09:43:36 AM »
Part One

Thrayjen’s heart stopped in his chest. His body trembled as the nursery door opened with unsettling slowness.

“What in all of River Moss…” a stern voice growled out, and the young marten whose mouth spoke with practised patience followed. “...is going on out there?”

Behind the twisted marten, the sound of chatter grew louder and louder. High pitched squeals, giggles, and the familiar noise of children playing stirred the rat’s stomach. For a horrifying moment he barely managed to swallow the whimper that clawed up his throat.

The marten peered up at Aldridge, then Rinam, and finally he rested on Thrayjen. The rat could not look away from the squinting youth.

“I know you,” Marik said as he crossed his arms. “You’re the Blackwhiskers.” The marten’s easy smirk betrayed his nature. “One of my dibbuns told a bedtime story about you. Then none of them could sleep for a week! Thanks for that!”

“Sorry,” Thrayjen shrugged, unable to help himself from smiling. Dramatic stories of evil pirates and the awful Blackwhiskers, of bold heroes and saved innocents reeked of his own weaving.

“What’re you doing here, anyway? Slaves aren’t supposed to be here,” Marik pressed, eyeing the collars around their necks.

Thrayjen lifted his wrist, the metal band flashing. The marten snorted.

“You lost?” The scolding mirth vanished. “Those don’t mean anything here at the top. Any level of the Crater but this one. You’ll have to go back down below now, or I’ll be forced to report you. I’ve got to finish feeding these rascals lunch, so if you’ll excuse me…”

“Wait, please!” Thrayjen stepped forward. “My chi-“

Marik shook his head, turned away, and shut the door with a click.

Thrayjen stared at the door, numb with indecision. A familiar heat flared in Thrayjen’s chest and he raised his fist to the door.

thud-THUD Thud thud

The rat’s knocking echoed down the hall. Within seconds, the door creaked open again and Marik scowled at him from behind the threshold.

“Look, I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is ‘no’, you can’t come in.”

“Please,” Thrayjen started softly as he gestured to himself. “My children, I…I don’t even know if they’re alive…I’ve heard nothing.”

The marten softened, tilting his head as he looked from the rat to his hopeful companions. With a heavy sigh, Marik pinched the bridge of his nose and grumbled, “What’re their names, then?”

“Helix!” Thrayjen immediately answered. “And Verna. They’re-“

“Hedgehogs,” Marik’s scowl deepened. “What’re you playing at?” He eyed the rat curiously, scratching at his neck in thought. “You’re not the first to come asking questions about those two.”

Thrayjen’s sandy tongue was sluggish in his parched mouth and, lost for words, he stood gaping down at Marik. The marten shifted uneasy and took a step back as his paw, still on the door knob, twitched.

“Please,” Thrayjen pleaded, his voice low and shaking. “Let me see them. Please…”

The marten once again looked from Thrayjen to Rinam and Aldridge. The white mouse smiled hopefully, her paws clasped together over her stomach as she stood beside the anxious but silent stoat. Marik looked behind him then, into the nursery, his face creasing as sympathy and frustration wrenched his brow every which way. Finally, he groaned and stepped aside.

“Be quick,” the marten hissed, looking down the hallway. “The guards are coming by soon and there’s absolutely no one allowed in here without Nire’s written permission!”

“Truly?” Thrayjen squeaked, sure the marten would begin to laugh at any second and close the door again.

“Hurry up,” Marik insisted as he rolled his eyes.

“Go on,” Rinam urged, and her voice stirred him.

The floorboards creaked beneath Thrayjen’s feet and somehow everything felt…sticky. The rat was overwhelmed by the scent of sticky fur, dripping noses, and fresh baked cookies. Every bit of furniture was half the size of one an adult would use and Thrayjen couldn’t stop himself from chuckling as he saw dozens of pictures tacked only a few paw lengths up the wall.

At least a score of dibbuns crowded around a table on the far side of the room, their voices unified as they counted and sang and bickered. While the older children carefully poured ladles of hot soup into wooden bowls, the younger dibbuns banged their spoons and cheered as a fat hedgehog lad with a very serious frown divided out cookies between them all.

Breath wheezed from Thrayjen’s lungs, hot and mournful.

“Helix…”

The hedgehog looked up, a cookie poised just above the plate of an eager otter lass. He dropped the treat and an enormous smile spread across his face.

“Papi Thrayjen! Verna, Verna! Papi Thrayjen’s here!”

The hedgehog shoved his chair back and grabbed the paw of a smaller lass with a woolen shawl tangled in her quills. Helix dragged her from her chair and charged forward, past the crowd of his playmates and letting go of his sister’s paw as he squealed in sheer delight.

Thrayjen’s muscles moved on their own accord. Thrayjen’s arms stretched out as he stooped, feet carrying him forward as Helix reached expectantly with chubby paws towards the enormous rat. Emotions flooded his mind and heart as he scooped the little hedgehog’s round body up and pulled him tightly against his chest. Panic, indignation, disappointment, fear, and utter joy smothered and choked the rat until his eyes poured and conversation was foreign.

“Helix, my sweet Helix, oh my boy, I’ve missed you so…” The name, clutched to his tongue as tightly as the child himself, was repeated over and over with unleashed happiness. Action seized him and the rat’s claws combed through the hedgehog’s quills, brushing crumbs and hidden snacks from between the rows, grooming his whispers with spit, all in between tight hugs and kissed cheeks. The giggling child squealed the whole time, tickled with affection, but eager to return the embraces of his long lost guardian.

“Are you all right?”

“I-“

“Do they feed you?”

“I-“

“Has anyone hurt you?”

“N-“

“Papi…?”

Such a soft voice was barely heard above the onslaught of questions but it ground Thrayjen’s jaw to a stop. His dark eyes raised to meet her soft grey ones and the child’s face bore a look of lost confusion.

“Verna…” Thrayjen whispered, shifting Helix in his arms. She trembled as she looked from him to Helix.

“My little Sweetnose,” Thrayjen said with quivering lips. “My little Verna, come see me? Please?”

Still she hesitated.

“I told you he’d come back, Verna!” Helix said cheerfully. “I told you he wouldn’t forget us!” Helix looked up at the rat and gestured towards the door and the winding halls of the Drag. “We saw you light up the magic fire one night! Marik let us stay up late because he said that the fire show was safe for us to watch because he doesn’t want us to watch the fighting shows because Marik said that it could give us nightmares!”

The child laughed, grinning from ear to ear.

“I told everybody a bedtime story and they had nightmares. I didn’t, though! I’m braver than everybody. Fable has lots of nightmares. Verna said she saw the Blackwhiskers through the window when me and Fable and her snuck out one time, and she had nightmares! I didn’t see, though…”

Thrayjen couldn’t help but hold Helix tighter, wondering with amazement when the hedgehog had learned to form his words properly. Gone was the infant’s accent. He was bigger, both in girth and in height, and his quills had grown longer and darker.

Gone, too, was Thrayjen’s happiness. Verna wouldn’t come to him. She was frightened.

Frightened of you

“Verna, please,” Thrayjen said, his pitch rising with the cracking of his voice. “I’ve missed you so much…”

“You need to go, now.” Marik nervously eyed the door.

“No,” Thrayjen insisted. “Verna, Sweetnose, come here. It’s all right, it’s just me…”

“The guards will be by on their patrol and they check in; you need to go now,” the marten insisted.

Aldridge stood over him, looking down with uncertain eyes at the rat who steadfast refused to look away from the hedgehogs.

“Nooo!” Helix clutched tightly at Thrayjen, who looked despairingly at Verna. Aldridge’s paw upon his shoulder loosened Thrayjen’s arms but it was Verna who coaxed him to let Helix go. Her tears rolled down her face and an otter lass embraced her in a careful hug, prompting the small child to wail.

Marik straightened himself as much as he could and tried soothing the crying hedgehog.

“Say good bye, babies,” Marik murmured, taking up Helix’s paw and nodding to Aldridge as the stoat began to pull Thrayjen away.

“I’ll come back,” Thrayjen croaked, holding onto Helix’s clinging paw even as Aldridge guided him away. “I’ll come back!” the rat promised once more.

“But I wanna to go home,” Helix said, his lower lip shaking as he pulled himself away from his marten caretaker and curled his paws towards himself. “I wanna see Nan!”

“You will see them again,” Aldridge urged, murmuring into Thrayjen’s ears as the rat gasped and hesitated. “But not like this. We’ll work something out. We’ll get you back to them.”

Fresh tears, cold without joy, blurred Helix’s form as Thrayjen followed the stoat. He felt numb, barely able to lift his head and look back as Helix’s crying carried him out the door and into the hallway. The door clicked shut and a deadbolt lock slid into place with a resounding clank.

“Are you all right?”

Thrayjen nodded at the question, trying to convince himself that he had gotten more than he had hoped for with the short visit. The pain of hope still clung to him, unwilling to stop its rampage since it had seized him the day he discovered his hedgehogs might just be alive. To know they not only lived but to feel Helix’s warmth still on his paws, to know the children lay just on the other side of a simple door…

Fire in his chest spurred Thrayjen to clench his teeth and hiss. He seethed as anger boiled within.

“We should go, though.” Aldridge’s voice sent writhing tremors down Thrayjen’s spine. The rat’s whiskers twitched. “Coins can only buy so many minutes for us.“

“You stopped us,” Thrayjen said, his voice so quiet that Aldridge walked several pace before realizing he was being spoken to. “At the top of the stairs,” Thrayjen continued, his voice rising and suddenly he was marching down the hallway towards the stoat.

“You stopped me. You didn’t want me to see them, after…after everything…”

“Blame not the bowyer.” Rinam’s voice, stern and kind, halted the rat. “All That Is demanded a moment, but still gave you time with your loved ones. Be grateful for what you gained. It’s more than most will ever know.”

“IT WASN’T ENOUGH!” Thrayjen’s scream sent Rinam recoiling.

“Easy,” Aldridge scolded. He frowned, reaching to comfort Thrayjen with another paw upon his shoulder but the rat smacked him away.

“You stole my time away. I could have seen more of them! I could have reached Verna. She was scared and she just needed ANOTHER DAMN MINUTE!”

“Thrayj-“

“QUIET,” Thrayjen roared, stepping towards Aldridge and thrusting his chin into the stoat’s face. “She needed me and I couldn’t help her. I didn’t have time and it’s your fault!”

”Ridiculous. Rinam’s head was full of Adeen’s ink, and that alone would have taken you both into the grasp of the tyrant with no thought for your own survival. More time would have left you dead.”

Rinam nodded in agreement, but to no avail.

“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!”

The yelling attracted beasts that craved dramatic entertainment. From the suites along the hallway’s length, various beasts opened their doors and stepped outside in curiosity.

“Don’t you dare pretend to,” Thrayjen warned. “You don’t’ know what it’s like to lose your family. You couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to have someone torn from you when all you wanted to do was care for them!” The rat’s lips curled back until all his teeth were bared viciously at Aldridge. “Just like with my father.”

The stoat gaped, holding up his paws in protest. ”Currathalla died naturally, and well, and he loved you til the end."

“Oh?” The rat’s head tilted to such an extreme angle his entire body seemed crooked as he backed Aldridge down the hall and towards the stairs. “Every piece of advice I tried to give Curathalla…every single time I tried to help him, there you were, whispering things into his ears, telling him you knew best, undermining me as I tried to help my father!”

”Slaughter doesn’t work forever. Rebellion always rises. The beasts of Rogues’ Reach rose against your father three times in twelve seasons, and you would have had him slaughter everybeast there. And yet when the theatre was built and the playwrights got to work, did they rise again? I helped your father, where I could.“

“You made him weak,” the rat growled, shoving the stoat backwards to accentuate his point, to intimidate, to cow, to prove to the stoat that he would not let him get away with his meddling.

“That’s the Blackwhiskers talking,” Aldridge snapped sharply, his own teeth beginning to slide out. “That’s the selfish prince who wanted the world. That’s not you, Thrayjen.”

“We both know that’s a lie,” the rat said, voice low and sultry. A smirk curled towards his eyes as he began to roll his sleeves up. “You don’t believe the Blackwhiskers is dead. She doesn’t, either.” He jabbed a claw in Rinam’s direction. His tongue slathered about his maw. “Nobody does. Why should I keep bothering, then? The Blackwhiskers gets what he wants.”

The crack of his fist off Aldridge’s jaw rang like a bell and immediately the beasts in the hallway divided themselves. Some called for bets, for the stoat to fight back, for the rat to put him in his place. Others hollered for guards.

Aldridge stumbled back and fell; Thrayjen leapt after him with claws and fangs and lashing tail. Rinam tried to stand between the two males, calling for order, only to be flung back as her comrades collided.

They swung at each other, stoat falling to a sweep from Thrayjen’s tail. Aldridge attempted throwing Thrayjen from him, but the rat gleefully perched on the stoat’s chest and delivered punch after punch. Blood and fur flew through the air as they rolled and bit into each other, hides scarring with fresh marks and gouges appearing in the floorboards when their claws missed.

The jeering in the hallway grew louder but the heavy sounds of boots came louder still. A tray dropped, glasses shattered, and beasts snapped and groaned as guards fought through the crowd of spectators.

“What is goin’ on here?!”

The voice was foreign, drowned out by Thrayjen’s rage. Paws grabbed at his arms and tried to haul him off of the stoat, but the rat merely cracked his tail against whoever had dared try to pry him from righteous wrath. Still the guards tried, and he turned from Aldridge as his patience wore out. The rat reared up and slammed his fist into the pretty face of a blue eyed ferret.

Immediately, everything stopped.

“Oh no,” Thayjen breathed. Aldridge echoed the statement through a bloodied nose. Every ounce of anger fled from Thrayjen’s body and his mind cleared. He stepped back and raised his paws to his mouth.

Blue sprawled on the floor, her cheek split from the rat’s knuckles. Her paws scrabbled at the floor as she searched for her balance. Behind her, guards in Crater uniforms shoved aside the crowd of bystanders. Redshore the otter headed them, smirking when he saw Blue on the ground.

“I’m…so sorry, Miss Blue,” Thrayjen whispered through clenched teeth.

“Not yet you’re not,” Redshore informed him. He stabbed Thrayjen in the side and Thrayjen grimaced, looking down at the familiar blue dart that would send him into a dead sleep. His vision blurred, from regret or from the sleeping serum, he did not know. Aldridge and Rinam were no longer there, but their shadows lingered on the stairwell long enough for Thrayjen to catch Blue’s sharp eyes and silent tongue blessing the subtle escape.

“I didn’t mean it, Miss Blue,” Thrayjen beseeched the ferret as she finally stood. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry…”

The rat begin to feel the pull of the dart’s ambitious alchemy. It had taken two to bring him into sleep the first time, as well as a bash to the head, but Thrayjen simply let himself sink to the floor.

~*~

The hours crawled along. Thrayjen lingered in a state of half-consciousness until the cold and damp coaxed him into waking. He lay on his side, soaking in a pool of water that trickled in through a crack in the stonework, and simply stared into nothingness.

Nan. Helix. Verna.

Each name, once a glorious symbol of his abandoning the influences of his heritage, became desecrated.

Verna was scared of you. Scared of the Blackwhiskers. Of you. Scared of me…of what I’ve done for her…

He had not attacked Aldridge for the hedgehog lass, or her brother, or their safety. Aldridge’s pain had been for him, and the Blackwhiskers had enjoyed every second of the stoat’s suffering. Every word Curathalla spoke to Aldridge instead of Thrayjen, every smile that should have been his, had broken out and in doing so had broken him. The Blackwhiskers won; he always got what he wanted, and he wanted blood.

I’ve ruined everything. I couldn’t stop myself. Every beast I’ve hurt for Nire, everything I’ve done to find my family…

Thrayjen slowly sat up.

I didn’t want any of this. The rat’s tongue nudged against his gold tooth. I didn’t want to hurt any beast… His notched ear flicked. Oh Nan, what have I done…I’m just a filthy vermin after all.

Nire. The lynx would use the hedgehogs, Thrayjen didn’t doubt, and demand carnage from the rat. Together, they would be used up and worn out and thrown away when the Crater sands called for blood.

And I’ll keep giving him what he wants. Whatever my loyalty could have bought was thrown out the moment I struck Blue. Helix, Verna my Sweetnose…you were safer without me trying to find you. I should have left you alone, like Blue said…

The screaming of unoiled metal from down the corridor failed to stifle Thrayjen’s despairing thoughts.

I’ve lost.

Two sets of paw steps approached, though Thrayjen only recognized the hard falls of Hargorn’s peg leg. The weasel eyed Thrayjen as he stopped directly in front of his cell, looping his claws into his belt and spitting at the slave.

“Nice manners an’ fancy titles ain’t helping you? Poor widdle ratty,” Hargorn chuckled at his own joke.

Thrayjen stayed his gaze low and missed the second body that followed Hargorn.

“Eh, well, yew’ve still got some friends, though, ah…” The weasel leaned against the cell bars, watching Thrayjen carefully. “Yew wouldn’t catch me near the Blackwhiskers, not without that there collar ‘round yer neck and a short leash attached…”

The weasel ushered the second beast forward with prodding paws. He meandered back down the corridor as he eyed the orange fruit bat who looked upon Thrayjen with large, curious eyes.

“Mister Hracken…?”

He was unable to stop the small smile. An evening spent at the bar, sharing drinks with Sly while Kentigern swung Kali around the room in a ferocious dance, was his fondest yet of the Crater. Both Sly and Kentigern were dead, though, and Thrayjen assured himself he’d be not long after his former drinking mates.

“Miss Kali,” Thrayjen greeted her gently, barely raising his eyes except to see if she was truly there.

The bat stood silently, rubbing her neck with her wingtips, glancing every which way except at him. Several times she opened her mouth to speak but not once did she speak.

“Is there something you’d like to hear?”

It was surreal to see Kali, the epitome of enthusiasm and glee, with a collar of her own around her neck; Thrayjen pitied the poor beast’s fate.

Kali drew a deep breath, holding it until her plump cheeks quivered.

“Is what they say true?”

“Aye,” Thrayjen sighed.

“I’ve heard some nasty things, from guards, and slaves, and even some beasts in the stand.”

“It’s true, Miss Kali,” Thrayjen said, his insistency turned to irritation. Was she hoping he’d tell her that what she’d heard were all lies? That he was just the sweet gentlerat that rubbed her back and held her ears back as she vomited up her attempts at carnivorous intimidation?

Before today, you could have told her ‘yes’.

“So,” Kali said, her lip turning up. “You really did eat babies?”

“No,” Thrayjen answered quickly, eager to dispel what was, in fact, myth. Kali sighed in relief, but the rat only shook his head. Sweet Kali deserved to know.

“There was a village I suspected of harbouring thieves that stole a pay cart on its way to one of the iron mines. I had every infant under five seasons skinned alive and their hides turned into gloves and hats.”

Kali had to physically close her jaw as she reared back, a single toe keeping her from scattering across the ground.

“I made their mothers watch so that nobeast from that village would dare contemplate stealing from my father’s coffers again."

“You…MONSTER,” Kali shrieked. “I thought you were a NICE guy!”

“I thought so too, once,” Thrayjen stated, shrugging. “Now I know better. I’m where I belong down here, Kali. I hope that brings you some comfort”

Thrayjen went to turn away, unwilling to further destroy Kali’s perception of him. It hurt to see her face wrench in disgust, to know she had come to hear him sooth her concerns only to break her heart.

“How can you just…just SAY it like that?! Like it was nothing? You murdered babies! Y-y-you murdered babies, and you touched me! You BABY EATING FIEND! Aug!”

Kali flailed her wings, brushing her fur as though she could clean the memory of Thrayjen’s paws away. The rat closed his eyes again.

Celine tried that, too.

“How did you pretend to be so nice for so long?!” the bat demanded, still twisting as she combed her fur. She managed to twist herself until she fell with a yelp, her rump hitting the ground hard.

“I didn’t pretend,” Thrayjen said quietly, repeating himself when Kali squinted in question. “I…I left those dark days behind, a long time ago. I left home, I left my kingdom, my culture, my family, and I made a new life for myself.” He steadied his jaw, holding himself up as he tried to coax his regret back down. “And those days are gone now, too.”

Kali shuffled forward, dragging herself along the ground until she wrapped her wingtips around the metal bars that separated them.

“Gone where?”

Here,” Thrayjen said. “The Crater. With the other broken hopes and dreams of every beast that bears a collar.”

“Why?”

“You foolish little imp,” Thrayjen cursed. He leapt to his feet and paced towards the wall. “Nire. Nire takes everything from everyone. He took my family, he took away my peace, my freedom…Our lives will join his collection soon enough, Miss Kali. The sooner the better, personally. I never wanted to be the Blackwhiskers again. Never wanted to hear that damned name, but Nire brought it back to life and here I stand!” The rat gestured to himself and barked out a single exasperated laugh. “Doing everything he says so that I can try and save my children.”

The rat let himself topple, landing with a shallow splash and dropping his head into his paw.

“I never should have told him. I should have just kept lying. I’ve been an idiot. I played his game too long and I lost, Kali.”

Thrayjen flexed his fingers, the bruises and broken skin a reminder of how far he had fallen into the cat’s paw.

“And I’ve hurt the only beasts who wanted to help me.”

The bat sneered, standing and drawing herself to her full height. “You’re an idiot, all right. Blabbering about a big secret like being a miserable baby murdering, blood loving, nasty tyrant.”

Thrayjen shrugged.

“You should go, now.” Thrayjen cupped his paw into the water, slurping from his palm. “A bright beast like you can’t thrive in this kind of darkness. Don’t think of me anymore, Miss Kali. It was kind of you to visit, but I’m not the fellow who sang with you and showed you sympathy once upon a time. He’s just another victim of the Crater. Think of the Blackwhiskers; maybe he’ll be the one to kill you one day.”

Kali backed up, her wings loosening from the cell bars.

“You can’t mean that.”

Thrayjen brought another pawful of water to his lips.

“I came here for a new beginning,” Kali whispered. “I thought this would be my grandest stage yet, but all I’ve found here is misery and hopelessness.”

“Hope is a plague.”

“No, it isn’t,” Kali growled. The rat at last looked up, taken aback by her tone and furthermore by the expression of sheer determination on her face.

“Eleven beasts had hope that I would save them,” Kali continued, her gravelly snarl simmering into anger. “Eleven beasts, and I saved one.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Kali,” Thrayjen offered half-heartedly.

“That one beast is why I won’t lose hope, Mister Blackwhiskers. Hracken. Thrayjen. Whoever you are! There’s one beast alive because of me, and that means all the world to her! One beast can make a difference! It only takes one beast to help another, and when there are many helping many then things can change!”

Thrayjen’s ears twitched. Her words were the lyrics of forgotten songs, melodies of hope and of freedom. Those songs were no longer sung.

“That sounds suspiciously like propaganda,” the rat said, eyeing Kali through narrowed eyes. “You haven’t been speaking to Trainer Hapley, have you?”

For a moment it looked as though Kali had been excited by the mention of the tod but she quickly collected herself. Clearing her throat, she mumbled a slow, “Nooo…?”

“That doesn’t sound convincing.” Thrayjen frowned at her. “I’m going to warn you, like I did Kentrith. Kali, look at me. Look at me. No, that’s a spider. Kali!” The rat whipped his tail; it sliced into the pooling water and the smacking noise startled Kali to strict attention.

From down the hallway, Hargorn coughed.

“Rebellions never prosper,” Thrayjen whispered slowly, enunciating every word.

“But-“

“No, Miss Kali,” Thrayjen interrupted her, biting back his annoyance. “Rebellions fail. Beasts die. The world moves on. Business as usual.”

The rat sighed, his frustration spent. He hung his head again, despair curling his shoulders down until his nose frothed against the stone. Minutes passed in tense silence, the soft dripping of water timing their breaths.

“Would you rather die a villain,” Kali began, her voice cracking as she bravely restrained angry tears. “Or would you rather die trying to help those who deserve better?”

“I’ll do whatever I have to…to protect my children,” Thrayjen replied lowly.

“Then help the resistance,” Kali whispered. “They want to help, and they’re trying. They’re trying to help so many beasts here…”

The bat reached between the cell bars, urging Thrayjen to take her thumbclaw.

“Hope is what you make it, Mister Thrayjen. You wanted to become a better beast, then let somebody help you fight what Nire wants you to be.”

Thrayjen stared at her outstretched wing. She was unwavering, the leathery skin and thin bones completely still. Her eyes, wide and earthen and bright as summer, gleamed with hardened determination.

“Please…”

Kali pleaded softly, patient as she offered him all of her hope and her dreams and her forgiveness in a single look. It shook the rat’s very soul, easing away his regrets and his despair, offering him a chance that he had not tasted since Nan opened her door to him for the first time.

“Because you’re worth it,” Kali cooed, nuzzling the rat’s scarred face. “Every life is worth the bother.”
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Contest Discussion / Re: Setting Sail
« Last post by Airan on September 21, 2017, 10:16:56 PM »
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