Author Topic: The Beasts in the Crater  (Read 227 times)

Airan

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


“Where is Nire!?”

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

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

It was not spoken of kindly.

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

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

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

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

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

“We understand. We see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Selfish!” the stoat barked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate.

“Kill him.”

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

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

“Kali, you are not a murderer.”

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

“That was self defense…”

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

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

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

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

“That is why we need a trial…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Keyword, ‘nearly’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tale of the Beasts in the Crater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Komi’s fists clenched in satisfaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three guards appeared, without Nire.

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

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

Good.

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

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

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

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

What was that smell?

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

Something crackled in the trees overhead Nire.

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

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

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

The rising wind seemed to carry a keening cry on it and she walked as fast as she could.