Author Topic: Interlude: A Frosty Encounter  (Read 839 times)

Opal

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Interlude: A Frosty Encounter
« on: September 12, 2013, 08:45:25 PM »
To Flax's displeasure, by the following morning he hadn't found a reason to convince Pyracantha that Ruta should not be traveling with them. Flax had never liked the moles of the mountain pass. Though not openly aggressive until now, they were just plain creepy. All kinds of rumors drifted about the taverns of Yew. Most of the details didn't belong in civilized conversation, but the general consensus was that the moles were all uneducated and inbred. There were some other details about how the males only courted the mothers of certain Yew Guards, but those generally led to drunken fist fights and a heated argument about just whose mother had been with the most moles. This, of course, went directly against the accusation of inbreeding, but Yew Guards weren't exactly known for their logic once a few pints had loosened their tongues.

As they sat around the fire, sharing a meager breakfast of two salvaged hardtack biscuits which they softened in hot water, Flax caught Ruta staring at him...maybe. It was hard to tell, with those beady little eyes never pointing in the same direction. The vole suppressed a shudder and lowered his gaze to his food.

“So, Flax, what's our next move?” Pyracantha asked, breaking the awkward silence.

Flax swallowed the last bland mouthful of his breakfast. “Well, I suppose we dump her back home, for starters.” He jerked a thumb in Ruta's direction.

“Oi ain't going back, Oi told ee.” Ruta folded her paws across her chest subbornly.

“We've been through this, mole. It's too dangerous, and I don't trust you.”

“But...” Ruta began.

“No buts.”

Pyracantha rolled her eyes. “Flax...”

“From either of you.”

To his surprise, Ruta merely shrugged and got up, dusted off her pinafore, and made for the cave entrance. “Well, fine, if'n ee don't want me to show ee where the rest of ee survivors be camping, Oi'll just be on moi way...”

“Good, that's...Wait, what?”

“Yes, what?” Pyracantha echoed, hurrying to the entrance of the cave and dragging Ruta back in by her sleeve. “You know where they are? How many are there? Why didn't you tell us?”

“Ee didn't ask,” the molemaid said with a grin.

“Wait,” said Flax, frowning. “It's got to be a trick. She just wants to go with us.”

“Only one way for ee to find out, voler.” A mischievous smile spread across the mole's face.

Flax glared at the mole, but he knew she was right.

~

From their vantage point in a tree overlooking the frozen lake, someone watched as a young mole, a strapping vole, and plump vixen approached. The mole pointed excitedly at the campfire; the vole muttered something in annoyance, and the vixen clapped her paws triumphantly. Then the vole shot something barbed at the vixen, and the vixen answered back, and while they argued, the mole began to wander off on her own. Toward a certain occupied tree, in fact...

~

“Wait, shut up.”

“Excuse me?” Pyracantha sniffed at Flax. “You know Ruta is telling the truth, and how valuable she is. How can you even argue against that now?”

“Yeah, and speaking of our valuable Ruta...where is she?”

The vixen whirled about and saw only a frozen lake, snow, and more snow. “What! But she was just...”

“Great,” said Flax. “She's probably led us here to be ambushed.”

Pyracantha didn't dignify that with a response, though the tiniest part of her wondered if the vole captain was right. Instead, she followed a set of tracks that were unmistakeably Ruta's, that seemed to disappear at the base of a large pine. Odd. Moles were not known to be natural climbers.

Pyracantha spun round at a hefty thud in the snow behind her. Before she could properly register what she was seeing, a pair of incredibly strong paws seized her and threw her against the tree. She felt the breath leave her body as she slammed against the trunk and slumped down, gasping.

“Miz Pyracanther, voler, help!”

The vixen looked up and saw Ruta had been tied to one of the lower branches of the tree. She tried to call to her, but nothing came out. Her assailant drew close, a snarl rising up in his throat. It was a stoat—no, a weasel, definitely a weasel—the biggest weasel she'd ever seen, garbed in a ragged grey tunic and black cloak. An ugly great scar ran across one eye, which was nothing more than a milky white orb. He bared needle-sharp fangs at her.

Pyracantha noticed a movement behind him; Flax was charging toward the weasel with his spear pointed straight at his back. The weasel turned almost lazily at the last possible second, slamming the spear point straight down at the ground, the momentum sending Flax flying headfirst into the snow at Pyracantha's footpaws. The vole scrambled upright, diving for the spear as the weasel began to pull it out of the ground. Two sets of paws locked on the shaft, and a fierce tug-of-war for the weapon began. Pyracantha reached for her dagger, still gasping.

Snow and dirt flew freely as the vole and the weasel wrestled for the spear, jaws snapping at each other as they growled and snarled.

“Let go!” Flax shouted. “Damn your cursed Carrigulean hide, Tikora!”

The weasel bulled forward and gave Flax an almighty headbutt, letting go of the spear at the same time. He drew himself up to full height, a perplexed look on his features. “What did you just call me?”

Dazed, floored, and clutching his spear for dear life, Flax sat up and answered back, “You're Tikora, aren't you? Big, nasty weasel from Carrigul?”

“Tikora's a female. Do I look like a female to you, vole?” The weasel folded his paws across his burly chest and glared at Flax, his knuckles cracking as he drew his paws into fists.

“Er, no, I suppose not,” Flax said sheepishly. “Who are you then?”

“I am...no one of importance.”

“You're of importance to me if you attack my traveling companions. Also if you know of Tikora.”

The weasel snorted. “Who doesn't know of her?”

“A fair point, I suppose,” Flax conceded.

“Wait,” said Pyracantha, having finally found her voice once more. “You look...familiar. Have we met before?”

The weasel looked her up and down with his good eye. “I doubt it.”

Pyracantha thought he might have flinched ever so slightly, but she couldn't be sure. “If you won't tell us who you are, will you at least tell us what you're doing here?”

“No.”

“Okay...” The vixen rubbed her forehead in annoyance. They were getting nowhere, and fast. Where did she remember him from? “Can you tell us anything?”

“I can tell you that I'm going to kill that mole, slowly and painfully.”

Pyracantha rose to her footpaws, her voice low and her dagger poised at the ready. “I can tell you that you will do no such thing.”

The weasel moved with frightening speed, batting the dagger from her paw and shoving her roughly to the ground. Flax moved to attack once more, but the weasel was miles ahead of him. He knocked the spear aside and delivered a terrific kick to the vole's chest. Flax went down, and the weasel leapt over the pair of them and clung to the tree trunk, scaling it with natural mustelid ease and skill.

Ruta screamed as the weasel drew nearer, and something snapped deep within Pyracantha. Throwing caution to the winds, the vixen leapt as high as she could in the air, her paws grasping desperately. She caught hold of the weasel's tail, and she heard a distinct pop and an angry bellow as her added weight sent the pair of them tumbling to the ground.

The vixen threw herself on top of the weasel and pinned him. “You will not harm her!”

Flax retrieved his spear and pressed the point of it to the weasel's throat. “Enough!”

The weasel chuckled. “You really want to defend her? Her tribe's been trying to murder me for weeks. Ever since I got stranded in this fates-forsaken place.”

“She's not like them,” Pyracantha insisted. “She's helping us get out of here, to...” She trailed off. If the weasel was playing his cards close to his chest, so they should, too.

The weasel stared at Pyracantha, who glared right back. Finally he sighed, “I guess she's not worth all this trouble. I've got bigger fish to fry, anyway. I'll get out of your fur.”

Flax jabbed the spear point ever so slightly into his neck. “You're not going any—”

Pyracantha felt the weasel's footpaws gain purchase in her stomach and suddenly she was airborne, crashing into Flax and sending the pair of them into a tangled heap. By the time they extricated themselves, the weasel had gone.

“Well, that was one loony bastard,” said Flax. “Who was he?”

And then, Pyracantha finally remembered. “Dear Vulpuz. I know where I've seen him before. He was in Carrigul.”

Flax snorted. “Figures, he fought dirty enough.”

“No, but...it's actually kind of funny, you calling him Tikora.”

“Why?”

“Because that's Zander, Tikora's mate.”

The pair fell silent, and Pyracantha could tell the vole was thinking the same thing: What was Zander doing in the mountains? Stranded, no less?

“Erm, excuse Oi.”

Flax and Pyracantha looked up. Ruta, still bound to the tree branch above them, waved a digging claw she'd managed to free. “If you'm wouldn't mind getting Oi down? Oi'm not gurtly fond of heights...”
"I've got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel." - Blackadder the Third