Author Topic: Interlude: You Beautiful Militant  (Read 839 times)


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Interlude: You Beautiful Militant
« on: September 25, 2013, 09:55:25 PM »
Several days of traveling later, Flax was grudgingly beginning to accept that Ruta might be an asset after all. While he was only familiar with the mountain pass, Ruta seemed to know the mountains like the back of her digging claws, though, as she was constantly reminding them, “It be more familiar below ground.” Then she would invariably complain about the temperature above ground, and the vole would remind her that no one forced the moles to live in the mountains in the first place. Once he'd grown so tired of her complaining about the cold that he'd offered her some of his Hopfit's brandy to warm her up, but Pyracantha had soundly berated him like the old mother hen she had a tendency to be and snatched the bottle from his cold paws.

With only two bottles left, the molemaid was lucky he had even offered.

They trudged onward through the mountains, Pyracantha's sharp eyes finding small traces of the other survivors here and there. She was always so joyful, though saddened as she found fewer unique scents and tracks as the days went by. Far too many times, the scents were blood. Something terrible was happening to the others. Cutting them down one by one.

So why wasn't the same happening to them? Flax was convinced that the moles were keeping their distance because Ruta was traveling with them. It was proving to be one of her most useful qualities, in his opinion. Her rustic mole ballads she squawked at camp every night, on the other paw...

“Burr!” came the molemaid's sudden cry, shaking Flax from his thoughts.

“I told you, if you're cold, have some bran—”

Flax stopped and stared at the oddest and most disturbing sight he'd seen since the collapse. A pair of pillars constructed entirely of bones rose up before them. Ruta and Pyracantha both gaped at them, but Ruta looked far more terrified than Flax had ever seen her. Her eyes were the size of saucers, her lazy eye twitching madly. She raised a digging claw and pointed it at the pillars.

“Oi didn't know it were this close. Oi hoped they'm wouldn't go this way. Boi 'ecky I hoped they'm wouldn't,” she said, her voice barely above a trembling whisper.

“The tracks definitely lead this way,” Pyracantha affirmed. “The scents are stronger. I think they weren't here more than half a day ago.”

“Well, let's get a move on, then,” Flax said, rubbing his paws together partly in anticipation, partly due to the constant cold. “Feels like it's getting a bit warmer in these parts, don't you think?”

The vole started for the pillars, but a horrible scream and something small and solid thudding into his legs brought him crashing to the slushy ground. To his great surprise, Ruta perched on his chest and pinned his arms at his sides.

“What in the name of Noonvale...?”

“No! Don't ee go! Oi won't let ee!” The mole shouted into his face. “The not right in that place.”

The vole shook her off and got up. “Knock it off, Ruta. If you don't want to go, that's fine.”

The moles were clearly terrified of the place. It's not as if her protection would help them there anyway. And he was not going to lose the ground they'd gained on the other survivors.

“No! I won't let ee go!” Ruta clamped onto his leg with unshakable force.

“Oh, for the love of...Dewhurst! Talk some sense into this mole!”

The vixen knelt down next to Ruta and put a paw on her shoulder. “Please, Ruta, we're so close to the survivors now. If they get to Carrigul before us, we might never find them in the city. We have to go this way.”

“But the ain't right...”

“We'll be careful,” Pyracantha said. “Now, let's just let go of the nice captain's leg and...”

Ruta howled as the vixen tried to unclamp her claws, tears streaming from her eyes. “Please! Please! No! No no no!”

She carried on until she made herself sick, which worried even Flax. He exchanged a look with Pyracantha.

“The earth ain't right!” Ruta insisted, sick dribbling off the tip of her snout. “It be gurtly angry all the time, and there be gurt pressure, gurt deadly pressure, sometimes it shoots out of ee ground and poisons poor beasties. We'm never go there and neither should ee! Please! I don't want ee to die!”

Flax and Pyracantha exchanged another look. “The earth poisons them?” the vole said.

“So...” Pyracantha said, turning away from them with drooping ears, “there might not be any survivors left now. First Gashrock and Risk and little Poko.”

She sobbed brokenly along with Ruta, leaving Flax standing there in the midst of it all, feeling rather awkward.

“Aherm,” he coughed. “Look, fine, whatever. They might be dead, but we don't know that for sure! And the only way we'll find out is if we get to Carrigul in one piece. Ruta! Stop sobbing right now, let go of my leg, and tell me there's another way to Carrigul. I said on your footpaws, soldier! And you as well, Miss Dewhurst!”

Surprisingly, they both obeyed him. Maybe they were just too delirious from the cold or the light rations. But sod it all, he was the Captain of the Guard. He just wasn't used to dealing with all this crying. In the world of the Yew Guards, you shaped up or shipped out. There was no crying in the Yew Guard! Crying was something his daughter did when she spilled her porridge or fell and scraped her leg. And he comforted her then, but the last thing these two needed was a father. They were his recruits now, and they needed a captain.

“Sorry, you're right, Captain.” Pyracantha wiped tears from her eyes. “Ruta, is there another way to Carrigul?”

The mole thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “There be a cliff about three days from here. It not be as steep, and it lead up to the road. Carrigul be just a few hours away after that. We'm can...cloimb it.” Ruta didn't look too crazy about the idea of climbing, but if it was more favorable to her than a poisonous earth, then Flax supposed they had no choice.

“Right. Let's move out on the double.”


After nearly three days of travel, they found the cliff Ruta spoke of. It was not as steep as the rest of the road, nor as high, but still it looked as though one wrong move could prove to be disastrous. There appeared to be plenty of roots and rocks jutting out, though, so there would be no shortage of pawholds.

As they ate a lunch of edible tubers that Ruta had found nearby and prepared themselves mentally and physically for the climb, Pyracantha took Flax aside.

“Listen, I...I'm sorry for the other day.”

“Oh,” the vole said. “Well, don't mention it. I think we all have permission to go a little mad now and then, considering the circumstances. Here.”

He dug in his haversack for one of the remaining bottles of brandy, uncorked it, and offered it to the vixen.

The vixen cocked an eyebrow at him. “You do know we're about to scale the side of a mountain, right?”

“Oh come on, we're not getting drunk here. Just one swig, to loosen you up a little. You do know they call this stuff 'liquid courage,' right?”

Pyracantha shrugged and took the bottle. “I suppose you're right. Just wish we could give something to Ruta to cheer her up a bit.”

The molemaid was seated a short distance off, her back turned to the cliff, as if trying to convince herself it didn't really exist.

“Wonder if we'll even find any survivors in Carrigul, though,” Pyracantha said with a sigh.

“Well, we won't know until we try,” the vole said. “We really don't have anything to lose. Huh. I wonder what Kela's doing right now.”

The words tumbled out before the vole really gave them any thought. Maybe he hadn't been giving his family enough thought. Maybe he didn't want to think about if they had even heard of the terrible accident yet. Maybe he didn't want to think about the look on his wife's face as a faceless Yew Guard delivered the news, handing her...well, there were no weapons or uniform or other remains to be handed. Yet.

He felt Pyracantha's paw on his arm, and it was only then that he realized that his eyes were hot. He turned and hurriedly rubbed them, then cleared his throat and dared to look at the vixen. He had half expected to see her with some sort of triumphant look on her face. He didn't know why he expected that, but he was pleased that for once, her expression was hard to read.

“I, er...”

She shushed him. “Let's just get climbing.”

Flax had never respected her more than he did in that moment.


With some persuading, Ruta was finally prepared for the climb. Flax went first, then Ruta, with Pyracantha bringing up the rear.

“Just take it slow, dear, we'll be fine,” the vixen encouraged her young charge.

Flax just concentrated on finding them pawholds, digging his claws into any root or nook that would give them solid purchase, then calling down instructions. He could hear Ruta whimpering below him, and even further down, Pyracantha kept up a steady stream of encouragement. The cliff seemed to stretch above them for an eternity, and Flax's whole world revolved around testing each pawhold once, twice, three times at some points, often changing course. There were a few frightful moments when a rock or root started to give way underpaw, and for one horrid moment, his heart would leap into his throat and he imagined himself hurtling out into nothing.

After what felt like several days, Flax saw the cliff's edge not a mouse's length from his reach. “We're almost there!” he cried, willing his aching limbs to go on. With one last great effort he heaved himself over the edge, then turned and took Ruta's paw, and then Pyracantha's. The trio collapsed on the road, exhausted but exhilarated by their climb.

“!” Pyracantha panted, patting Ruta's velvety head.

“Aye,” said Flax. “Next stop, Carri...”

A wicked scimitar blade appeared at his throat. He was so tired, he hadn't noticed the half score of vermin now surrounding them.

“Well, bugger.”


The flat of the scimitar struck him again. Flax fought back a snarl. The vermin had taken them over to a sturdy pine tree on the side of the road and bound his paws to the lowest branch, where he had to stand on tip-paws to keep from hanging. Pyracantha and Ruta had been bound to the trunk in front of him and made to watch as a scarred, bony rat whipped him with his blade.

“Well?” the rat repeated for the fourth time. “What's a Yew Guard doin' so close to Carrigul, eh?”

“Going to see your mother, like everyone else,” Flax spat.

He groaned under the excruciating whip of steel across his back. The rat leaned in close to his ear, and he felt his hot, putrid breath on his cheek. “I can always use the edge of me blade, vole. I hear that's much more effective.”

“You hear? What's the matter, first time?”

He felt the rat's fist connect with his jaw and then his unprotected side. He wheezed, his body afire with agony, forcing a hollow chuckle through gritted teeth.

“Did anyone else feel that breeze just now?”

“Funny beasts they raise in Yew!” the rat chuckled, slapping him with his sword blade once more. “Isn't he funny, lads? Plik, show the funny vole just how funny we Carriguleans can be.”

A scrawny pine marten giggled wickedly and skittered over. He knelt down next to Ruta and dug his claws cruelly into her shoulder. The mole whimpered in pain as the marten then reached for one of her digging claws, starting to pull back on one of the digits.

Pyracantha let out a great roar, straining wildly against her bonds, her jaws snapping at Plik in between gushing streams of obscenities that even Flax, a military beast, had never heard before. Plik giggled at her. “Look, Hazer, I think we made the tubby one upset.”

The rest of the vermin cackled. Flax's blood boiled, but he strove to stay calm. A lot calmer than Pyracantha, anyway. “Don't harm the maid. Kill me instead.”

Hazer gave him another slap of his sword, for good measure, Flax figured. “Oh, we will kill you, definitely. After you tell us what you're doing here.”

“What do you even care?” Flax shouted over Pyracantha's horribly graphic description of what she was planning to do to Plik when she got free. “Yew Guards travel this road all the time.”

“Not anymore, they don't.”

It took a moment for his words to sink in. “I knew it. The road collapse wasn't an accident. You murdering scum were behind it!”

Hazer bobbed his head from side to side. “Well, yes and no. Why not ask your mole friend for all the juicy details?”

“You...! They...! What?” Flax turned to Ruta, who just hung her head sadly. He was in so much pain, and still exhausted from the climb, that his brain seemed to be having trouble absorbing all this new, unsettling information. He had nothing, no retort, no insult. After several moments of Pyracantha screaming at Plik, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “So what? She's not like the other moles. She's our friend.”

Hazer rolled his eyes. “Well, obviously. Which is why we're going to kill her, too. Plik!”

Plik pulled back on Ruta's claw until she howled in pain at the strain.

“Wait!” Flax yelled.

Hazer held up a paw, and Plik relented. “Yeeees?”

“Something doesn't make sense to me,” the vole said. “If you know the road to Yew is out, why are you here? Wouldn't you expect us to take a different route? It wasn't exactly easy getting up here, and it was only as a last resort.”

“Because they were looking for me, imbecile!”

A familiar hulking weasel smashed through the perimeter of the Carrigul soldiers, who promptly scattered as he dealt blow after blow with a rather vicious looking halberd. Zander smashed a ferret in the face with a fist, ripping the dagger from his belt as he went down. He hurled the dagger, which embedded itself in Hazer's middle up to the hilt. The rat went down with a screech, and Zander swept the halberd's blade through the rope holding Flax. The vole dropped to a crouch and shook the rope from his paws, flexing the lifeblood back into them.

“A little help would be great, y'know, whenever,” Zander growled as a stoat slashed through his halberd shaft, and he was forced to bludgeon him to a pulp with both halves.

Flax moved as quickly as his stiff limbs would allow, snatching up Hazer's fallen scimitar. Plik squealed as the vole bore down on him, slashing sideways with the razor sharp blade. The marten's head rolled off into the snow, his body sinking down next to it. With another slash, Pyracantha and Ruta were free.

Pyracantha promptly leapt up and slapped Flax hard across the face.

“Ow! What in hellgates...!”

“You should've let me have him, the Dibbun-torturing piece of filth!”

Flax somewhat reluctantly handed her Plik's short sword. “Sorry! Tell you what, just picture the rest of them with Plik's head.”

The vixen practically ripped the sword from his paws. Steam rose from her nostrils as she snorted for breath. “Ruta! You stay right here and do not move. Mummy and...Flax need to go take care of something.”

Pyracantha launched herself into the fray with such ferocity that even Zander looked taken aback. Flax joined them, and it wasn't long before the remaining few vermin tore off down the road as if there were demons at their heels.

“Damn,” Zander said. “Back in a mo'.”

He sprinted off down the road after them with the better half of his halberd. Flax and Pyracantha tended to Ruta. The molemaid was shaken but not visibly harmed. Flax thought he heard distant screams, but it wasn't until Zander came jogging back that he was sure the weasel had dispatched the rest of them.

“Can't have those buggers reporting back. I assume you're going to Carrigul, yes?”

“Yes, we are, Zander,” Pyracantha said with a smirk.

“Ahahah. Ah, you finally remembered, huh?”

“I did. And just why are you out here, when you should be living the high life with Tikora in Carrigul.”

The weasel tossed his broken halberd into the snow. “It's...complicated.”

“I'll bet.'ve been following us, haven't you?” asked Pyracantha.

“Yeah, pretty much the whole time. How long have you known?”

“Oh, I caught an odd scent here and there.”

“What?” Flax yelled. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“I didn't want to worry you,” the vixen said. “Plus, I wasn't sure if I was right. Zander's very good at tailing.”

Flax pulled a face. “Ew.”

“Other beasts,” Pyracantha clarified.

“Still, though. Stop looking at him like that.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Pyracantha sniffed, but Flax could see telltale crimson beneath her fur.

“Well, this has been sufficiently awkward,” Zander said, rubbing the back of his neck. “So, you gonna ask me to join up and go with you to Carrigul, or what?”

“Why? Would you say yes?” asked Pyracantha.

“I guess. I was just following you for a lark at first, but then I figured, I'm wanted at Carrigul, so it's either starve to death in the mountains or die there. Speaking of starving.” The weasel produced a bag full of supplies. “I was just sleeping on a ledge one night and it started raining food on me. I think that other group threw it off the cliff for some reason. Usually not what you want to do in a survival situation. Here, help yourselves.”

Pyracantha looked around at the corpse-littered ground. “Can we maybe...get a more appetizing change of scenery first?”

Her point was duly noted, and they went around a bend in the road, scrubbed themselves as clean as they could in the snow, and tucked in. Ruta seemed to be taking everything in stride, though Flax grimly realized that this was probably far from the first time that she'd witnessed such violence.

“Where'd you get that halberd, by the way?” Flax wanted to know.

“Found it,” Zander said. “There was a big heap of dead beasts I found a few days back. Looked fun, so I took it. What? It's not like they were going to miss it. I am, though. Guess we've got our pick of weapons back there, but still.”

“Also clothing,” Pyracantha added, eyeing Flax's uniform. “I wouldn't be caught dead in Carrigul with a Yew Guard uniform if I were you.”

“She's right. Moleface and I had better disguise ourselves, too.”

“Moi name be Ruta, Mr. Zander.”

“Right, Ruta. And, wait, who are you two again?”

After an overdue round of introductions, they packed up their remaining supplies. Flax nearly cried when he discovered both bottles of brandy had been broken during the commotion, but Pyracantha assured him there would be alcohol aplenty in Carrigul. Picking the least bloody and torn clothing they could find, Flax, Ruta, and Zander fitted themselves out the best they could, discarding their old clothes. Flax found his spear and gave Zander Hazer's scimitar. Pyracantha kept her short sword, and they found a dagger for Ruta.

They set off, and after only a few hours the snow finally, mercifully began to disappear as they left the mountain range behind. They paused on an overlook, gazing down at the city that lay before them. Carrigul. A knot formed in Flax's stomach. If only he had his Guards with him, so the mission could be carried out. Instead, he had a vixen, a child, and weasel he was only marginally certain they could trust to not turn on them at any moment. Still, Zander had saved their lives. And, the vole was ashamed to admit to himself, he could have killed them all by now if he'd really wanted to.

Besides, as he'd said before, they had nothing to lose. The time had come to go for broke.
"I've got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel." - Blackadder the Third