Author Topic: Brave  (Read 35 times)

Minerva

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Brave
« on: December 04, 2017, 02:24:21 PM »
On the fringe of the Northvale Tributary, Quin Aroway of the Aroway Lumber Company stood with the rest of the workers by the dam they had created. It was a rudimentary thing, created simply with carefully measured stones and logs, but it had done its job. By blocking off the tributary, the Northvale River was allowed to rise and more guests could freely enter the port to visit Nire's Crater for the Grand Tournament.

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

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

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

"Let's break her down."

And they took axe to lumber.

~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I never wanted to," her son replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...then so could she.

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

~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chorus of "Ayes" resounded through the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Waiiii... pleease..."

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

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

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

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

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

It was the sound of rushing water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fable nodded. "They're not real."

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

Fable looked up at her in confusion.

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

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

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

"Aye, I will," Komi said.

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

And then let go.

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

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