Author Topic: On the Road Again  (Read 405 times)


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On the Road Again
« on: August 30, 2018, 08:39:57 AM »
The Gilded Rat was a far cry from the opulent setting of the arena, but as far as taverns go, it was a bit more ritzy than most in town. It was a subdued night, the fox bard providing music to the few patrons that appeared.

In the middle of a song,  he caught sight of a familiar face sitting down at the bar. After finishing his tune he said to his audience, "You know what, I think I will pause here folks and use all the money you've thrown my way to buy a drink. My throats getting a little parched." Baxter stepped away from the stage, smiling and nodding and holding out his hat to any last minute tips.

He slipped himself over the stool before pulling it closer to the bar and his fellow vulpine. Both foxes had the same red coat but they could not have been more different.

The heavy armorer looked different in a vest and tunic. He was thinner, if only slightly so, than before but not in a healthy way. Drake's fur was unkempt and looking patching from stress.

"Well, fancy meeting you-" The bard stopped as Drake glanced warily at him. Baxter gulped, waving off the indifferent stare with a nervous chuckle, "Haven't seen you in a while."

"I didn't realize you cared,” The portly tod sneered.
"Well, you have been a steady fixture in this tavern since the trial. Kind of hard not to notice when a beast of your... appearance goes missing." The rotund vulpine didn't reply so Baxter replied for him, "How's the family?"

There was hesitation as the fox reached for his drink. With a deep breath he said, "We're moving."

"Moving? Well that's a shame. I don't have many beasts left to talk to." The slimmer tod ordered a drink and it was slid to him, "Where are you going?"

"No where that I'm telling a little scoundrel like you." Drake chuffed, "No one else left to talk to, my tail! You still have that flying rat to keep you company."

"You know, for someone who had their life spared by said 'flying rat' you seem rather ungrateful."

"She stabbed me in the back, destroyed my livelihood, helped kill my friends, AND helped her little pals help flood my home with three feet of water. Forgive me if I don't send her flowers," Drake's growl kept Baxter's righteous indignation in check.

The armorer calmed himself, "It's just... you know what Kali is like. Having her do all that, after all the help I gave her, it was like being backstabbed by your own... your own..."

"Kid sister, yeah. I know what you mean." The bard nodded, "Ironically, she is only a little younger than I am."

"I know." Drake took a stiff drink, "How a beast stayed that... innocent for so long is beyond me."

"Yeah, I see what you mean. Still, it would have been a shame to see her die in the arena, right?" The armorer snapped his head around, eyes wide as the bard smiled deviously, "Imagine how long she would have lasted, all sweet and innocent. Nire would have probably fed her to the birds eventually. Imagine the sight of that, torn to pieces with all her bubbly goodness staining the arena sand. Instead she let you live so you can be all sad and mopey and alive to see your family. How sad indeed."

Drake opened his muzzle to reply but said nothing as Baxter downed his drink. With yet another sigh, Drake turned back to his own mead, "You fight as dirty as I did in the arena, you know that right?" Leaning back in his stool the fox ran a paw across his fat muzzle, "Some beast torched my home last night."

Baxter nearly choked, "W-what? Is your family-"

"Staying at the inn. My home got flooded, remember?"

"Oh man, I am so sorry..."

The fox chuckled. "Not as sorry as the poor sap who torched my house. I had to talk my wife out of hunting him down and... well, it... it doesn't need bare mentioning what an angry wolverine would do." The gladiator turned armorer shivered before continuing, "I'm almost certain it was a guard."

Baxter raised an eyebrow, "A guard, from the arena... set your ruined house on fire?" He thought about this for a moment, "I cannot fathom why. At the trial, you didn't say anything good about the FTN or the slaves."

Drake squinted as he peered down his now empty glass, "Didn't say anything good about Nire either.” He sighed,, "I'll never work in this town again, not after they painted us as villains for working at the arena. Doesn't matter if the entire town went to the games every weekend, every beast and their mother is treating us like the plague, blasted hypocrites. But there are beasts worse off than me."

"Worse off than a beast who found a scorpion washed through his kitchen window?"

Drake chuckled, “I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon. But aye, there were, and they were all expecting me, the last actual beast in charge of anything in the arena who is still alive, to stand up for those guards and staff members and tell them what a wonderful boss Nire was. How he kept things so organized. How it wasn't their fault a giant beast eating terror spider rampaged its way out of the city." Drake tapped the bar, signalling for another drink.

"Instead I told it as it was. I told the truth, the FTN killed a bunch of guards to free the slaves, and that Nire was the Saint of Blood Money." Drake shrugged, "I wasn't going to get executed for lying to the council and... well, I figured that I... owed the bat for... saving my life." he admitted in a whisper.

The bard only nodded. It was all he could do. The fox couldn't help with how the guards hated the armorer for not defending Nire, nor how they blamed him for their loss because he was the only one left to blame. He could hardly afford to even buy him a drink now that he too was back to hitting taverns for his meals.

"I'm sorry to hear about your troubles, friend."

"I really do hope something good comes out of this. The arena had to end eventually, I guess, and maybe after all the rioting, the anger and frustration works itself out, the town really will be a better place." Drake concluded, "I just wish it didn't happen in my lifetime." He finished the drink in one gulp, "But it's you I would be worried about. If beasts are getting crazy enough to torch the home of a fox married to a wolverine, what are they going to do to you, after you testified against Nire?"

For once in his life, Baxter had no reply. He only let his ears flatten and whimper.

Standing up, the armorer patted the tod heavily on the shoulder, "Stay safe. Tell the bat that... that my daughter thanks her for sparing my life. And my wife too." He nodded once before leaving, and Baxter never saw the fox again.

He turned back to his own drink, downing it quickly. Maybe things will get better in Northvale, once it purged itself of the last remnants of those still wanting to cling to the old, profitable but bloody ways.

Until then, maybe it was time to hit the road once again.

Slamming his glass on the table, Baxter tossed a few coins onto the table before making a quick exit through the back door.


With a stiff yawn Kali emerged from slumber as light drifted through the attic window. She stretched out her wings as far as they would go, gingerly rolling out a kink in her neck before she arose from her bed sheets.
It wasn't the luxurious bed she dreamed of, but it was comfy and warm and the room around her smelled of baked bread.

"Kali, breakfast is on." A female voice called up the stairs.

"Be quick! I can only fend off this pastry thief for so long!" A second, male voice said as well.
"I already stole a pastry! And there is nothing you can do about it!"

Kali could only roll her eyes, "I'll be right down."

Slowly, the bat pulled herself from the comfort of her blankets. Rolling her sore shoulder the bat practically dragged herself to the mirror. She stood in front of it for a long moment before finally opening her eyes.
Kali did nothing with her unruly head fur. That was a lost cause in itself. No amount of grooming would improve what she saw.

The memory of the barn she stayed in seemed so long ago, as was the memory of the happy, giddy bat forcing herself to smile into the mirror.

The bat that stood before her now was much, much less giddy. Kali was told that eventually her fur should grow over most of the scars to her body, maybe even the place where Thunder's talon had pierced her side. Her wings were another story.

By now the bone had mended, but her left wing was still bruised and swollen where the hawk had snapped it in her final fight with Thunder. It still trembled as she stretched it out, working the muscle while getting a good look at herself.

Most of the holes in her membrane would heal, eventually, leaving lightly colored scars in their wake. Others, like the tear left by the guard’s halberd, were as healed as they were going to get. The holes were small and shouldn't affect her flying, but the mere knowledge that they was there, that they would never heal…

"Well, at least it’s not a hole in my head." Kali tenderly retracting her wings with the slightest wince of pain. It would still be a while before she would be flying again. "Maybe the extra walking will do me good," Kali's wings paused around her midriff as she smoothed out her fur.

"Kali! I'm not joking about keeping Rose at bay!"

"Nom, Nom, Nom. I am not Rose, I am the Pastry Thief!"

The bat glanced downward to the stairs, then to the mirror.

After a long moment a smile crept onto her face, "It was worth it."

Kali wasted no more time. Throwing a green poncho over her shoulders and a red cap over her head, she hopped her way down the stairs.

"Rose, why are you stealing my pastries?"

Inkpaw was busy at the ovens, tending to his goods while keeping the Pastry Thief at bay from gobbling up the plate of scones on the table.

The apron Rose wore was only for show. She was about as helpful at baking pastries as she was at keeping herself from gorging on them.

The weasel offered Kali a smile that spread ear from ear. "Stealing? I'm not stealing. I'm... sacrificing my diet for the greater good! All this fine eatery is making you soft! You don't want to grow too heavy to fly, do you?"

Kali scrunched her nose, but the weasel's words held some truth. In the months since Nire's trial, and subsequent execution by Bessie, Kali's love for comfort food was pushing her into Un-pleasantly plump territory. She couldn't remember finding a fox-bat so heavy back home.

Of course, the owls and hawks usually made short work of her kin before they got as large as she was.
"The sacrifice to your diet is most appreciated. But I'll take it from here." Kali said, sitting down at the table.

"Awwww, can't I have just one more insty tinsy little bite?" The weasel crouched low against the table until only her large sorrowful eyes were able to be seen over the top.

Kali merely pulled the plate closer to herself while munching on her breakfast.

Inkpaw shook his head, "You would think that after a few months of bread and pastries you would both be sick of the stuff by now."

"Oh! Yer one to talk! I caught you sampling yer own pies this morning, yah greedy little varmint." The weasel threw her paws around inkpaws shoulders as he placed a tray of freshly baked goods on the counter.

The marten nestled his head into Rose's cheek, "Sneak thief."

"Scurvy spy."

"Bakery Bandit."

Kali only watched, eyebrow raised, as the mustelids continued to snuggle and intertwine their fluffy tails. "Here." She said, casting her eyes to the wall and shoving the plate full of scones across the table. The weasel unlatched herself from Inkpaw immediately.

"Sorry luv," Rose laughed at the martins pained expression, "But hunger before honor."

A bell chimed in the other room, stealing the marten's attention to the door. "I suppose we will have to continue our little discussion at another time. There are customers to-" Inkpaw blinked. He pointed at each pastry on the fresh tray as if mentally counting how many were left. His head swiveled to the giggling weasel before shaking his head.

"Poor Inkpaw," Kali chuckled, "How long do you think it will take us to eat him out of house and home?"

"Between the two of us ol' gluttons? I bet he will be rolling us out onto the street before the end of the year."

"If we still fit through the door." Kali reached once again for a scone. Sweet, delectable scone. And apparently forbidden as Rose drew the plate closer to herself. "I'm starting to think that a bakery was a poor choice for us to hide."

"Kali, Rose." The beasts turned for the door as Inkpaw entered the room. "We have 'guests'," he said, gesturing to the fox and wildcat that entered the shop behind him.


"I didn't realize things had gotten so bad." Kali hardly kept the disappointment out of her voice. With the blinds pulled down and the welcome sign flipped to 'closed', the bakery took on a darker, more somber appearance. She would occasionally glance over her shoulder at the wildcat leaning against the wall behind her. Fully healed and back in his prime, he looked intimidating even without the leather cuirass strapped to his chest.

"The town is ready to explode, Kali." Baxter sat in his chair backwards, resting his arms against the back while his tail twitched behind him. "The market is practically a ghost town without the arena. Shops are already packing up and leaving. The riots are only getting worse."

"There was always a possibility this might happen." Inkpaw placed another tray of food on the table, yet no one seemed eager to dig into it. "We of the FTN knew that the city would be divided between those who want change and those who still want the prosperity Nire's blood soaked arena brought."

"I'm think beasts are more angry about the giant flood wiping out their homes..." Rose added.

With a shrug Inkpaw said, "Yeah, well, when we set out to tear down the arena, we never thought it would happen literally." Taking off his apron, Inkpaw wiped off his paws, "Either way, we all knew this was going to happen one way or another. I’m just thankful we had enough to time to let you both heal,” he said to the bat and weasel.

Kali sunk even lower in her chair. This wasn't how it went in stories. The hero killed the bad guys, saved the day, and lived happily ever after. They never had to deal with the consequences of politics or angry mobs of unemployed minions. "So where will we go?”

The question went unanswered.

All eyes falling upon the marten, Inkpaw chuckled nervously. "W-why is everyone looking to me?"
"You are the idea beast." Baxter replied.

Rose laughed, "You spent how many years planning this little revolution of yours. What was the plan after you were done?"

Silence filled the room again. Kali never saw Inkpaw look so uncomfortable. Arms crossed, he glanced at the floor.

"I... never actually thought about it. Just live out my life as a happy baker in Northvale, I guess?" Rubbing the back of his neck he said, "I've been so focused on Freeing the North that I never actually imagined that we would, you know, free the north. I don't think any of us did."

Sadness entered his voice, "That's why the movement disbanded like it did after Nire's death. A few tried to stay and make things better, but... I, just really don't know. Maybe we go to Madder Bower." He paused, adding, "I would like to come back to Northvale, eventually. After everything settles down."

    Baxter leaned back in his chair, saying to the wildcat, “How about you big guy?”

    “I’m staying,” he chuffed. “I helped cause problems. I help fix them.” Trask looked at the pastries longingly, but didn’t move to grab one. “I will remain in Northvale until the roads are free from monster attacks. Until we finally catch, Bessie.”

    The beasts shared a collective shiver. Kali truly wondered if the spider roaming free on the countryside was really the reason Inkpaw and Rose didn’t want to leave Northvale so soon.

    “Right. You have fun with that.” Baxter took a swig of brandy, “Me, I’m ready to put this place far behind me. Do we leave in the morning or-”

    “I’m not going to Madder Bower.”

    The fox, the marten and the weasel turned to Kali. Kali chuckled nervously.,“I’m not… I’m not coming with you to Madder Bower.”

    “But where will you go?” Rose said, crestfallen.

    Inkpaw looks surprised as well. He sat down, saying, “Surely you don’t plan to stay here, do you?”

    Kali quickly waved dismissed the thought with a wave of her wing, “No, no. I’m… I…” she didn’t really know anyway to soften her words so she just said it.
“I’m heading home.” She let that sink in for a moment before continuing, “I found some maps in the marketplace. Maps of the far east. Far, far east of Mossflower. I think I found a way back to my homeland.”

    “H-how far is your homeland?” Rose asked with a slight whimper. When the bat didn’t reply, she gulped, “Weeks? Months?” Her voice cracked, “Years?”

    “You’re welcome to come,” Kali offered hesitantly. “But it will be a long, long journey. You might… never come back.”

    Inkpaw glanced at the table, before looking at Baxter.

    “That is tempting.” The fox didn’t look Kali in the eye, “I… I can’t be that far from my family though.” Baxter laughed, “I may not be in my children’s life, but I don’t want to just… you know…”

    Kali patted the bard on the shoulder, “I know. I feel the same. Minus the children of course,” she laughed. “This whole adventure was only supposed to be a year long. Then I broke away from my troupe, I got lost in a storm… twice. And... “ Kali glanced at the ceiling. “Seven years. I haven’t seen my homeland in seven years. I haven't seen my family…”

    “Oh, no!” Rose wailed, wrapping her arms about Kail, “My Kali! My Kali bat is leaving us!”

    Kali choked back a tear as she patted the crying weasel on the back, “These last seven years, it’s been like one grand adventure through a whimsical fairy tale, filled with all sorts of strange and fantastic beasts. It’s like I s-stepped into a dream world and never stepped o-out of it.” Kali sniffled, ruffling Roses head fur, “But none quite as odd as you, Rose. Or you Baxter. Inkpaw… even Trask. I will miss you all, terribly.”

    “I understand.” Inkpaw rubbed something from his eye while trying to smile. “I’m like Trask. I could never leave Northvale for long, now that we worked so hard to free it. M-maybe Rose will go with you?” He said hesitantly.

    The weasel sniffled but tried to smile as she rubbed her eyes dry, “Me, travel? Nah, I’ll only slow you down, bat.” The weasel clutched Inkpaw’s paw in her own, “Besides, I figure I need to settle down for a while before my own next adventure. J-just do me a favor. Don’t forget about us, ok? If you ever need us, you know where to find us.”

    Kali could only nod, less she finally break out into tears of her own.

    “Come now, let us not be sad,” Inkpaw rose from the table. “We are not departing each other just yet. We can say our goodbyes tomorrow, but tonight,
“We celebrate.”
    And celebrate they did. Inkpaw broke out the wine while the others helped about the kitchen. Even Trask pitched in to make desserts.

The beasts feasted until they could hardly move, and drank wine until even Kali’s singing was pleasant on the ears. It was a night Kali would not soon forget. But even if it did go on forever, dawn would still come too soon.
The day moved slowly. Preparations for a trip had to be done. Inkpaw had a small push cart filled with supplies and worldly possessions he could not bare to leave behind. He and rose would leave for Madder Bower later that day, but first they helped Kali prepare for her own journey.

    Kali stared down at the parchment in her wings and cringed. Somehow, the map did less to comfort her. It only served as a reminder of how far she needed to travel.

    She looked up at the river boat before her. A few more steps and she was officially out of Northvale forever.

    “So this is it,” Kali said out loud.

    “This is it.” Trask replied. Like the others, the wild cat came to say goodbye to the bat.
She turned to wrap her wings around him, “You know, you never did say why you decided to help us, back then with the owls.”

The warrior shrugged, “What is there to say? I always risked my life for honor. I figured that, for once, it would be nice to risk it for something other than personal glory.” He shrugged, then ruffled Kali’s head fur.

Kali then turned to Inkpaw and Rose. The three of them hugged as well. Kali held them tight, soaking up their scent and already longing for the embrace of her friends that she was leaving behind.

“Inkpaw, Rose…”

“We know, Kali. We will miss you too.” Inkpaw smiled, “Thank you, thank you for all that you have done.”

“And for, you know, saving me from scorpions,” Rose laughed, but then hugged her harder, “Thank you for being the first real friend I’ve had in a long time.”

“Ack! Rose, I need to breath.” Kali pulled away, patting the weasel on the shoulder, “Just promise me you will stay out of trouble, and maybe out of Inkpaw’s pastries.”

“I promise nothing,” the weasel said with a cheeky smile.

And then came Baxter. Kali found this goodbye to be the hardest. “Baxter, I… well… I’m sorry I got you fired.”
The fox blinked. He shook his head and laughed, “Ah, that’s alright. Management was a pain in the tail anyway.” He rubbed at his eyes with a paw, trying like Kali to not cry. “I got you a gift.”

Kali’s tilted her head to one side. Her eyes widened as the bard unslung his lute from about his shoulder, “Baxter, no. I couldn’t take this!”

The fox was not dissuaded however, “Take it, for all of us. Think of it as something to remember us by. To take back to your homeland. Just try not to use it as a bludgeon.” Both bards shared a laugh.

“Baxter,” Kali clutched the lute tightly to her chest, not sure what to say.

Crossing his arms and looking away from the bat, the fox gave her a ‘shooing’ motion with his paw, “Just get going, will ya? If you stay any longer you are going to make me start crying just like these weirdos.”

Kali smiled. She leaned in to give him one last hug as well, and kissed him on the cheek, causing him to blush. He finally broke down and gave her a tight hug as well.

The beasts were still waving as Kali boarded the boat. As the ship set sail, Kali glanced back to her friends one last time. She rubbed the tears from her eyes, and turned to the river ahead.

    The bat tested her wing against the wind. Once she healed properly, she would be flying again in no time, but for now the ship would carry her safely to her next destination in the depths of mossflower.

    Her next stop was Redwall... Eventually.

    Kali closed her eyes, feeling the wind brush against her fur. Her face broke into a grin.

    There would always be time for one more adventure…

« Last Edit: August 30, 2018, 09:47:10 AM by Kali »