Young ones! Come in, come in! I've found the second volume! Aye, and the third one, too!
I've sent off for some lunch.
Part two is first, of course. Now, its almost time for Kalvar to leave Redwall and set off south.
Chapter 1: FarewellsEdit
Stardust giggled and managed to crawl to the door this time before her mother caught her.
"Gotcha you little rascal!"
The baby mouse giggled and munched on her candied chestnut.
Looking out the window, she saw her husband, Kalvar the Ranger striding towards the door.
Gathering Stardust up in a blanket, she exited their room, heading down to the Great Hall for breakfast.
Kalvar sat at the head of the table with the leaders of Redwall, and grabbed a bowl of porridge.
Velvet sat next to him, holding their newborn babe.
He scratched Stardust's ears, who grabbed his claw and nibbled. He laughed. "I'd say she's hungry."
Mattimeo slid a bowl across to him the mousemaid and her child. "Here, porridge with honey spread on top."
As the creatures ate, Matthias and Kalvar conversed across the table.
"So its south and west to the coast?" Matthias asked.
Kalvar nodded. "Aye, and then south."
Pius interrupted. "I might ask, where do you plan on going?"
Kalvar stirred his porridge. "South, to some large castle."
Pius scratched his chin, then leaned over to the recorder, Tim Churchmouse, whispering to him. Tim whispered back, then hopped out of his chair and strode out the front door.
Abbot Pius explained. "I do believe that Tim has mentioned such a castle before, from the time of another Redwall warrior."
Tirdea the ferret walked up, carrying his bowl. "Speaking of warriors, we've got a lead on where the sword of Martin the Warrior went. The claw marks we found around the hooks suggest that a bird took off with it. I had Tripolius take a look, and he thinks that a southern magpie took off with it."
"South..." Kalvar said. "Good, that's the way we're headed.
The Father Abbot stuck his paws in to the arms of his habit. "So who all is going?"
Basil finished off his bowl of porridge and reached for the ladle to get some more. "It'll be Matthias, Kalvar, Mattimeo, Jess, Sam, Angelica, Logalog and my good self. Mmm, jolly good scoff, wot."
Pius pushed his empty bowl a paw length away from him. "That's quite the party."
Kalvar smiled. "I shouldn't have to tell you about the 'party' I brought here."
"Very well. I'll have traveling rations made for you, but you'll be living off the land."
Matthias did the same with his bowl. "We'll survive."
Kalvar finished his bowl and turned to look at his daughter, who was blissfully munching on a strawberry, a smile on her face.
"Yes, we will."
Velvet was nursing her daughter when Kalvar unlocked the door and entered their room.
He went to his weapons locker and pulled out his freshly repaired armor, which had been beaten to shreds during his fight with Dakkar the Warlord.
"You're leaving tomorrow?"
He went back to the locker and pulled out his weapons. Sword, dagger, and moonwood bow with a full quiver of arrows.
"Yes. I'll be gone before you wake up."
She stood and went to stand next to him, still holding Stardust. "Don't be long."
He looked at her and smiled. "Never planned on being too long."
He folded up the arm of his tunic a bit and pulled a golden bracelet off. "Take this."
She took it in one paw. The bracelet glinted in the sunlight, and she saw curious, square patterns adorning it. Turning it over in her paw, she saw a strung bow and a sword, crossed underneath a round shield. A creature, its species unidentifiable, was embossed at the center of the shield. Two paws with their claws pointed upward adorned either side of this creature, and each claw was different. On one paw there was a claw each for moles, hedgehogs, mice, hares, and otters, and on the other paw were claws for rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, and foxes. This whole configuration was raised slightly. It felt smooth as she ran a finger along it. The pattern had been skillfully engraved so that focusing on one particular portion of it brought that one to the fore, and all the others blurred out. Attempting to focus on the entire thing proved impossible. "What's it for?"
"Its a symbol, to identify a Ranger wherever they may go. We only give these to the creature we hold most dear. Wherever you go, as long as you hold that, any Ranger will help you. You'll be safe here, with my Rangers."
"What if you need it?"
He held up his other paw, showing her another bracelet around his wrist. It had some dark material in the engraved area. "We always carry two for this reason."
She slipped it around her wrist, studying it in the light. Stardust wriggled deeper in to the folds of her blankets, falling asleep.
Kalvar stepped forward and laid his paw on the mousebabe's head, then hugged his wife.
"Before the autumn leaves fall again, we will see each other."
They went to sleep that night in a sad, but hopeful mood.
Chapter 2: Him!Edit
Kalvar and the others were gone before the sun showed the first rays, meeting in the Great Hall, then leaving through the main gate and traveling southwest. He and Angelica had left their chainmail behind, it being too heavy to take, and just wore their leather armor.
They jogged no more than ten paces apart from each other, and covered ground fast, the leagues flying behind them.
It was high noon when they stopped for lunch and observed a mountain range to the west.
Lunch was a small meal of yellow cheese and barley bread with chopped nuts in it.
They began jogging again, and by the end of the second day the party reached the Great South Stream.
Matthias kicked a pebble in to the fast moving water. "Now all we do is follow the river to the coast."
The others agreed, and they bedded down for the night.
Mattimeo took first watch, and he settled down to keep an eye on everything. Unfortunately he got too comfortable, and was soon snoring.
Velvet had found that Kalvar kept true to his word. He was gone before she arose for the day.
She didn't descend too far in to a melancholy mood, having known that he was leaving for a long time. But by the fur, he'd be gone for over two seasons! They'd just met three seasons ago...
Velvet descended in to Great Hall, which was empty. That was odd.
Something was wrong.
She heard a noise behind her, and then gravelly breathing.
The young mousemaid whirled around, and was met with the sight of a creature in shadow, carrying a spear.
He stepped forward, smashing her down with the butt of the spear.
The party was rudely awoken by a gang of vermin, about nineteen of them.
"Gerrup you mangy lot! Let's see what yah got in yer havvysacks!"
Sam was grabbed by the scruff and dragged upright. "Bah, mangy lot yourselves you sack of sissies!"
The rest got the same treatment. Matthias smiled. "Nice of them to help us up, though."
Mattimeo agreed. "Aye, though they could have washed first."
"Sharrup!" A nasty looking weasel kicked him.
Kalvar rolled his shoulders. "First bit of work starts now."
He grabbed his dagger and plunged it in to a ferret. Spinning, he slashed the throat of another.
The others stood stunned by this sudden attack, and the friends leaped upon them, punching and kicking until the gang ran off.
Kalvar wiped his dagger off. "Next time Mattimeo, stay awake. Put a rock or something underneath you to make you uncomfortable if you have to."
Mattimeo nodded furiously. "Aye, sir."
Kalvar sneered a bit. "Don't 'sir' me young'un!"
There was a flash of feathers and the party threw themselves down. A brown flecked bird alighted on the nearby log.
Jess was first to rise. "A whip-poor-will! He looks friendly."
The whip-poor-will preened himself and harrumphed. "I should, I should say so. I come, I come bearing news from the Abbey."
Kalvar stood and sheathed his dagger. "What would that be, friend?"
"My name, my name is Lorshist. And I'm, and I'm afraid I have bad news. The Cruel One, Cruel One has returned!"
The party was taken aback.
Matthias shook his head. "Slagar is alive? Impossible! I watched him fall down a deep hole!"
Similar outcries were made, along with demands for more information.
Lorshist was glancing around. "I only, I only report what I have been told to. I have more, have more news for Kalvar."
Kalvar felt his heart sink. "No..."
"Yes I'm, yes I'm afraid it is so. He has, he has taken your daughter, Ranger. Velvet is, Velvet is taking some Rangers to follow him."
Kalvar hung his head, and a tear rolled out of his eye. "Which way has the blaggart gone?"
The bird kept glancing around. "Why he's, why he's headed south, of course."
Kalvar shook his head and looked up, his eyes clear. "All roads lead south. I know where he's headed. The fiend is going to meet up with his brother, Dakkar, to make me pay! Let's go!"
And the party sped off, with Lorshist left to fly back to the abbey.
Velvet made sure her longbow string was well waxed and fit for battle. She'd trained with it for the last two seasons, becoming quite skilled with it.
The three score Rangers behind her were silent, and four trackers split from the group to chase Slagar. She had not needed to show them the bracelet Kalvar had given her, Tirdea had swiftly agreed that they had to follow his leader south.
"We'll run him down as fast as we can." She growled beneath her breath.
Tirdea fiddled with his sword hilt. "We will, friend, we will. Those dibbuns are just as much our responsibility as yours."
The creatures ran faster this time, fear for the young ones lending speed to their paws, and it was but a score of days before they sighted their objective.
Their booted feet thudded along the planks of the drawbridge as they were approached by a guard of otters.
Their leader stepped forward. "Who are you and what is your business here?"
Kalvar spoke up. "We're creatures from Redwall, chasing after Dakkar's horde."
The otters nodded. "Ah, that one. We've been fighting him off for almost two whole seasons now. Get yourself inside, we need to bring up the drawbridge."
Kalvar sat on the bed in the room that the squirrel king had given him.
He felt a new emotion, one that he'd never expected to feel:
He'd lost family before, but he'd been young and didn't remember them.
But this was personal. This cut him to the core of his being.
That was his daughter.
It had been three weeks since she'd been captured, and he'd heard nothing of her.
He just knew where Slagar was taking her. South, and to Dakkar. Where he was.
Dakkar stewed. Two long seasons had passed, and finally he was almost able to move his paw again. After the tendons had been sliced by Kalvar the Ranger it had been useless, and had taken a long time to heal.
But finally, feeling was coming back to the paw. And it brought pain.
He groaned as the healer gave him another potion. "Drink this, m'lord. T'will take the pain away."
Dakkar snatched the goblet and guzzled it down. He felt a bit dizzy, then the pain was gone moments later.
The healer finished and left.
Dakkar promptly grabbed his sword and pointed it in to the corner.
"Show yourself, be ye friend or foe, so that I may gut you!"
The figure stepped out of the shadows, and Dakkar nearly dropped his weapon.
It was a tall, lithe fox, clad in dark blue travelers clothing and sporting a cape of the same color with stars all over it. He wore a red and blue checkered mask over his face.
A guttural laugh escaped Slagar's throat, and he coughed in pain, and his voice was equally gravelly.
"What do you want?"
Slagar held up a small bundle. "I bring you something useful."
Dakkar wrinkled his nose. "A rag?"
Slagar unwrapped the bundle. "No, something better."
He held forth Stardust. "The spawn of that Ranger character, Kalvar."
Dakkar took the small mousebabe, who started to cry. He stuck his head out the window.
"Shadesmeare, come here!"
His new mate slunk over. "Yes, what do you want?"
He handed her the babe. "Take care of this mouse. Guard it with your life?"
She looked incredulous, but bowed and left the tent. "Yes, Excellency."
Slagar stood rigid. "What will you do with it?"
Dakkar snarled and turned to him. "You are not an idiot, but a fool! That will just make Kalvar and his Rangers fight harder! And I can't kill the babe, or Kalvar will not die until I'm dead."
Slagar was impassive. "So give her back to them."
Dakkar shook his head. "I cannot. That will change nothing. There is some good news as well. Having his daughter will make Kalvar reckless, he won't think as much about what he's doing. He'll make mistakes. And I'll be there to use that to our advantage."
Slagar smiled. "Matthias is with them. I'll be there, too."
Dakkar returned the smile. "We shall have our vengeance together." And he laughed, that choking, halting laugh.
Velvet and the Rangers came upon the Castle three days later. Dakkar's forces had struck several times, each time being repulsed by the avid defenders.
They were let in and questioned, some of the Rangers, of course, being a focal point of suspicion as they were labeled 'vermin'.
Tirdea himself was highest among them, being the second in command.
He and Velvet met the others who'd left the Abbey in the courtyard, and left Kalvar and his wife alone.
"What if Dakkar kills Stardust?"
Kalvar put his paws on her shoulders. "He wouldn't dare harm a hair on her head. He knows that if he so much as scratches our daughter he'll pay with my wrath. He thinks that I'll be reckless, that I'll have lost some of my touch on the news of hearing about her kidnap. He is wrong. I will engineer events that will get Dakkar and Slagar out of this region and our daughter back."
He paused, and she pushed a bit. "So what's wrong?"
"Its you. I don't want to have to watch you while you're here."
She just laughed. "No need to watch me. Redwallers are made of sterner stuff than that!"
He smiled worriedly.
Tirdea watched from the shadows. He'd need to keep an eye on his leader.
Whether Kalvar would admit it or not, the taking of his daughter had affected him.
Tirdea would be there to help him. The ferret always would be.
The Ranger's second in command walked away around the side of the castle.
Floret's Skipper, an otter named Riclea Streambattle, watched the ferret slink off, and turned to his crew mates.
"That ferret's up to something. Warflo and Tidespring, watch him. Make sure he's trustworthy."
Chapter 3: In to the forestEdit
Kalvar knew he had to set the events in motion, so he was gone the next morning
He moved silently through the woods, only pausing to take care of the occasional sentry.
It was early in the morning by the time the Ranger reached the middle of the camp, and Dakkar's tent.
Shadesmeare awoke rudely to a the tip of her blade on her neck.
"Move and you die, fox!"
So she didn't move, but her eyes twitched up to the face, hidden in shadow. The creature moved forward, and she looked in to Kalvar's eyes, which had a tinge of red to them. From tiredness? No, this was something else...
"Where's my daughter?"
She quivered. "Sh-sh-she's not here. D-d-d-dakkar i-is making us switch her around so you can't sneak in and get her back."
Kalvar smiled, with no humor behind the expression. "I thought as much."
His fist snapped out and caught her a blow between her eyes, knocking the vixen cold instantaneously.
Kalvar sheathed his sword and got to work.
Tirdea the ferret watched his leader work under the darkness of night. The mouse moved around a lot, taking things from places, shifting things across tents, adding some objects.
The Ranger second in command sat on the branch of the tree, left leg swinging in to the bottom boughs, his moonwood bow ready.
Kalvar never bothered to get near Dakkar's tent, knowing that the guards would spot him and sound the alarm. Dakkar wasn't paranoid, just prepared. He only chose guards he knew wouldn't fall asleep, and were sharp of eye.
Tirdea had to marvel at Kalvar's skill, precisely changing things in only a certain portion of the camp. The ferret had a small glimpse of the Ranger's plan, but he could not fathom what it might be.
From the bushes ten paces away, two otters watched the ferret.
Velvet joined Kalvar the next morning in the Royal Banquet hall, where Squirrel King Drayden had invited the leader and his wife to breakfast.
"You were up late."
He looked at her, seeming wide awake, and broke his blueberry scone in half, reaching for the yellow meadowcream to slather on it.
"How do you know that?"
The mousemaid sat and reached poured herself some strawberry cordial. "You yawned. You only ever yawn when you stay awake too long."
The Squirrel King and Queen, Treeflow, entered and sat down.
Drayden nodded. "Its good to see that you are used to helping yourself."
Velvet answered. "We do things similarly at Redwall."
Treeflow asked of Kalvar. "And where you come from?"
Kalvar shrugged. "We eat when we get food. If you find a bush you eat your share and take the rest to your family."
"Why would anyone want to try to live up there?" The King asked.
"I don't know. There are many wonders up there that are impossible to find down south, such as ice and glaciers."
"What is a glacier?"
"A mountain of ice. No creature knows how they get where they are, but they are known to move, just a few paw lengths every season."
Drayden's brow rose. "That sounds almost impossible, especially the part about these mountains of ice moving."
"I thought it was impossible too, until one of my trainers stuck a pole outside our cabin. By the end of the season, the pole was no longer in front of our cabin."
The Kind nodded, and silence ensued all four beasts tucked in to the food.
Afterwords they all strode out on to the upper balcony of Castle Floret and looked down from the teetering heights.
Velvet was entranced by the height. "Our Abbey is nothing like this."
Kalvar, having spent his life traveling, and thus striding along the edges of great cliffs, was not so much interested by the height, but how the Castle had been built so high.
Drayden was proud to explain. "Before your abbey was built a great army of squirrels were besieged by vermin, and they knew they had to defend themselves. They had a large city on this very spot, and decided to create a stone forest. That story may sound cliched, but that is how defenses like this usually spring up, unlike your Abbey."
Kalvar nodded and leaned out over the railing, studying the dizzying drop. "I can imagine how only an army of squirrels could build this, no other creature could climb so high."
Drayden's back straightened a bit more.
"Riptang, attend to me!"
The fox Captain finished tightening his gloves and left his tent. He strode over to the Warlord's tent and tossed the flap aside.
Dakkar was sitting on the edge of his bed, twisting his healed hand around. A masked fox stood stock still in the corner.
Riptang bowed at the waist. "You sent for me, excellency?"
The white fox then tested his shoulder. It was still stiff from having it near completely gutted by Kalvar.
"I did. Kalvar was here last night."
Riptang leaned back slightly. "I haven't heard anything of the like around camp, sire."
Dakkar grabbed his plate gauntlet and fitted it on to his paw. "That's because I'm the only one who sees the signs. But I've never heard of anybeast doing such a thing that he did."
"What is that?"
"He moved objects around. And in a fairly small area, too."
Riptang's mind went searching for what he knew about Recovered Rangers, which was, unfortunately, very little. Very few Rangers had the skills to search for a reason to live, and fewer had found them. It was known that Recovered Rangers fought even harder, and were even harder to kill than their brethren. Kalvar had proven this after Dakkar had run the mouse through, and yet the Ranger stood and roared after the fleeing warlord, before toppling over.
Riptang had hoped for a while that the Ranger had died from blood loss, but his appearance on the walls during their attacks made it obvious that he had recovered fully.
"I would expect it has something to do with his daughter."
Dakkar snarled. "Of course it does."
Riptang looked to the third fox in the corner, who grinned at him.
Dakkar followed his Captain's gaze. "This is Slagar the Cruel, my brother."
The two red foxes nodded to each other, and Slagar spoke, his voice rasping out: "Ah, so you're the strategist that Dakkar has told me of."
Riptang nodded again, his mind racing. Three foxes as the top three commanders of nearly ten thousand creatures. This could get ugly...
Wild Ivy flipped her knife up in the air and caught it by the tip. Flicking her index claw, she sent the blade spinning around her middle claw, bouncing it back the other way with her ring claw. The blade curled around her first two fingers and under her palm. With a twitch of her wrist the blade sailed skyward.
"Marm, Castle Floret's in sight."
The blade came down, and Ivy caught it by the hilt and stuffed it in to her waist belt.
The circus had been traveling for two whole seasons to reach the southern fortress, and now they were just a half day's march from it.
Ivy sensed that not all was well in the southern regions. There was a weight that had settled on the land, she knew it.
But she didn't know why.
Hadier squinted at the fast growing dots two leagues out, and signaled the blue flag to Tirdea on the ground. Blue for "creatures approaching, not known if hostile."
Tirdea nodded and ran off to find Kalvar and Drayden.
He was back several minutes later, with their leaders right behind him, Kalvar still strapping his leather armor on.
Taking the wall steps two at a time, Kalvar stared out at the approaching caravan.
Mattimeo looked at him oddly. "How do you know that?"
Kalvar pointed. "Circuses generally travel south this season, and look at the shape of the wagons. Curved outward to hold more stuff, not to keep stuff out."
Suddenly a large band of vermin popped out and surrounded the caravan, and they were soon lead off in to the forest.
Matthias drummed his claws against the battlements. "Shouldn't we have done something about that?"
He turned to Kalvar, who was gripping the parapets with both paws, his jaw set, his eyes had a wild look about them, and he was the only one who heard the Ranger mutter:
"Right on time."
Wild Ivy was livid. The vermin jeered at her and her circus as they were paraded in front of thousands of the filthy creatures.
An armored fox approached her circus caravan, which had been arrayed in to a defensive circle. He took off his helmet, and Ivy found herself looking down at what she guessed a handsome fox would look like, his fur pure white. He'd come from across the northern seas, then. The armor hid it, but she also learned that he could move fast in it, and he was incredibly muscular.
The circus leader folded her arms, feeling the pommels of her five knives pressing against her wrists. "You must be Dakkar, the Warlord."
The fox smiled evilly. "Yes, I am. And you are Wild Ivy, the knife master."
Ivy was perplexed, but didn't outwardly show it. "And why have you stopped my caravan?"
Dakkar waved a paw, and a few score of his soldiers moved forward, scattering among the carts and beginning to search them.
"You're travelers. Travelers must be stopped and searched to be sure they won't help the enemy."
The performers were helpless as the horde stripped the caravan bare. They were performers, not warriors.
The white fox gestured to Ivy. "You carry weapons. But I will not take them from you."
This was most perplexing. "Why is that?"
Dakkar smiled. "Not only are you just performers, but I have heard of you, Wild Ivy. Much about you, and I know that you'll never use those knives to hurt anything." Here he shook his head, muttering, "Foolish idea."
Then he turned away and spoke to a red fox wearing a dark blue cloak. "Take them away. Keep them near the center of our horde, so Kalvar can't reach her."
The fox nodded, and organized the caravan to move, ordering the looting soldiers to return most of the performer's possessions.
Kalvar the Ranger, Ivy thought. Just the creature I'm looking for.
The Red Mist was attempting to consume him.
It highly uncommon for a Ranger to be afflicted with the malady known to the southerners as "Bloodwrath". Up North, it was known as the Red Mist.
Right now it was settled around the edges of Kalvar's vision, only held back by a tremendous effort of will.
The problem was compounded by being surrounded by the very vermin he had been sent to kill.
Like a wraith he slid through the camp, leaping from branch to branch, pawing silently across clearings as he continued with the movement of certain items.
He knew that Tirdea was watching him. How could the ferret resist? Ranger leader's second-in-commands were best friends with their leaders, so of course he'd care.
Of course Kalvar was the only one who knew he wasn't sliding in to an abyss. He'd been here before, but he didn't allow himself to think that made him immune to the slide, so he guarded against it even harder.
Ah, the caravan. His real destination for the night.
Dropping silently to the ground, the Ranger strode to the side of one of the wagons.
"Oy, what're you..."
Without thinking, Kalvar whipped out his dagger and stabbed behind him.
He turned to find his blade sunk in the neck of one of Dakkar's weasels.
The creature gurgled, then began to topple.
Kalvar grabbed him, then lowered the dying beast slowly to the ground and dragged him to the river, tossing the body gently in.
He made it back to the caravan safely, and entered the wagon decorated with five blades crossed at the tips.
The Ranger went in to the wagon and strode to the back of the wagon, where Wild Ivy lay sleeping restlessly.
She mumbled as he woke here, then came straight awake as he pinched her nose and held her mouth shut.
"Be silent." He hissed and released her.
The circus mouse caught her breath spoke. "Who are you?"
"My name is Kalvar the Ranger."
She sat, perched on the edge of her cot. "I've heard of you."
Kalvar's eyebrows rose. "Have you now? That's very odd for someone I haven't met."
She smiled. "I know who you were, at any rate, not necessarily who you are now. And I know what you are, as well."
Kalvar settled down for a long conversation.
Chapter 4: DisturbancesEdit
Kalvar was sleeping in late this time.
Velvet sat on in the rocking chair on the far end of the room, fletching arrows and setting them in her quiver.
She was so focused on the goose feathers that she started when Kalvar's paw came to rest on her shoulder.
She looked up at him. His eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot, but his movements were still as lithe and graceful as ever.
"Running out of arrows?"
Kalvar got a troubled look on his face, and he went and sat on the edge of the bed.
"'Tis a sad thing."
"To see peaceful creatures become killers. It seems as if anything Dakkar affects becomes more warlike."
Velvet set the fletcher's kit aside and smoothed the front of her dress. Before the beginning of her travels to Southsward she had been skinny, but not necessarily fit. Now she was tougher, having put on much more muscle as a result of the long, sustained marches and pulling a longbow.
"It was necessary."
"That doesn't make it any less tragic."
And with that he lay back down and went back to sleep.
Kalvar was dreaming again. It had started as his last dream had ended, with the sword of Martin the Warrior above Castle Floret with its tip pointing down, as he stood on the shore of the sea, the waves lapping at his feet.
Then he'd moved away from the water and up on to the grasslands surrounding Floret and towards the wood fringes.
Not knowing where he was bound, he followed his feelings. It was strange, in most of his dreams he at least had some sense of control. But in this one Kalvar felt his footpaws being moved for him, but he was still free to turn his head, examining the surroundings.
The woods were getting thicker, he was walking towards the heart of the forest.
Through a gap in the trees ahead he saw a thick trunk. As he got closer he found that the sun had begun to set, and the air had become cooler.
At the base of the large tree a fire had been lit, a large one. Something lay in the flames, it looked like a sack or a body. Dakkar was sitting near the fire, wearing just a simple homespun tunic.
He looked up at Kalvar's approach. His muscles shown, bulky in the firelight, but he was still smaller than he was now. This was obviously a younger version of the warlord, before he'd become a warlord.
The white fox jerked his head back towards the fire, and the body being licked by the flames.
"'Tis a sad thing."
Kalvar stepped into the fire. The orange tongues lapped at his body hungrily, but didn't harm him.
The body was not harmed, but Kalvar knew immediately who it was. He also knew the next fortress he would be defending.
Between the fire and the tree stood Martin the Warrior in full battle gear, shaking his head sadly.
Beyond the giant tree the waves crashed upon the shore and slid back in to the sea, and the failing light turned red, the sun eclipsed by the massive trunk.
Just as they had for countless seasons. And would continue for just as long.
Kalvar felt fully rested when he awok, and the Red Mist was currently not encroaching upon him.
Judging from the height of the sun outside as he stepped outside, he had woken just in time for supper.
The main dining hall was full as he entered, slipping in to his usual space between Velvet and Tirdea.
"Busy night, Ranger?" Tirdea inquired.
"When do I not have a busy night these days?" Kalvar replied, digging in to a bowl of hotroot soup.
"Meet with anyone important?"
"Actually, yes, I did. Wild Ivy, the leader of that circus that got captured."
Velvet's spoon paused halfway between her mouth and bowl. "And what did you talk about?"
It was Kalvar's turn to hesitate. "My past. And her future."
"What about your past did you discuss?"
"Things best left unsaid. Trust me, if I thought it was necessary that you know, I would tell you in a flash."
"And what about her future."
"They have to do with my plans for retrieving our daughter. She's just the catalyst that will push them in to the next stage."
Tirdea finished his bowl, and rose to leave. "Trust Kalvar, Velvet. His plans always work, even if Dakkar punches holes in them."
She turned back to Kalvar, who was almost finished with his meal. "Then why can't you tell us these plans?"
The Ranger swallowed the last mouthful. "Because, not meaning any offense, my plans to get her back do not concern most of the creatures inside the Castle. I have already selected those it does concern. I know Dakkar, and I know what he'll do. If he changes what he does, I have contingencies. Just be assured that our daughter will be back with us within a week."
Velvet nodded silently, not completely reassured.
Dakkar's forces were making a small probe this time on the West wall, so Kalvar and Skipper Riclea put almost every fighting beast on that wall, and the attack was quickly averted.
The Warlord seethed. Floret had been built with war in mind. It sat on a hill slightly higher than the surrounding area, and was covered by a moat on all four sides. The only way in was through a drawbridge, so they could not simply ram the gates. Riptang seemed to have hit a block. His plans on attacking Redwall, which had been built with peace in mind and thus not very well thought out for war, had involved researching the Abbey's history. So far he'd turned up nothing on Castle Floret, despite there being a score of full wagons stocked with books, writings, and maps that went wherever the horde went.
Thankfully having such a large army meant that he picked up a lot of oddities.
The plates of his armor clacked lightly together as Dakkar dropped from the tree in which he'd been perched, landing in a crouch in the undergrowth.
By the wall, the last of the vermin raiding party fell.
Riptang was frustrated, and scared silly.
He knew he could hold his own in a sword fight against Dakkar, for a while. But he was nowhere near as accurate as the Ranger with a blade, so he could not hope to truly defeat the warlord.
Just hold him off until the inevitable.
The fox needed an epiphany, else he'd, quite literally, lose face.
The Captain ransacked one book wagon at a time, searching through every scrap of parchment he found, poring over every map discovered.
He was currently scanning a rare Tome of Cultures, when he stumbled across something very interesting, and a plan began to form in the fox's wily brain.
It was not the epiphany he'd expected, but it was a start.
Slagar was at his usual position in Dakkar's tent when the Warlord gave Riptang permission to enter.
The Captain was carrying the Tome of Cultures. The book was a compendium of all sorts of different cultures, ranging from the Far North to across the Great Western Sea.
It even included some rare information regarding the Rangers. Their article was short, but did give a small tidbit of valuable information that Riptang could use.
"You have something for us?" Dakkar questioned.
"Yes, excellency. I have found something concerning Kalvar the Ranger."
Dakkar sat up straighter, his interst piqued. "Spit it out."
"I have found an interesting tidbit of information concerning the Bloodwrath in Rangers."
Slagar coughed violently. "And you think this Ranger is afflicted with it."
Dakkar glared at him. "Of course he does. We trained together for several season before we turned on each other. I remember many a time hearing of how he went berserk when there were innocent creatures harmed. Unfortunately very few have seen him like that. Even fewer lived."
Slagar snarled and turned back to Tirdea. "So he goes nuts when he gets the right trigger. How does this help us?"
Riptang smiled. "It can take very little to set off a warlike creature in to a full rage. Once in that rage it is almost impossible to bring them out of it. It has also been noted that beasts under the influence of the Bloodwrath lose most of their finesse with a blade, using in to wild swings. We can find him, trap him, and have the horde overrun him. And he will fight until it he cannot stand."
Dakkar leaned back, folding his arms. "We cannot have the whole horde there, he'd know and be scared off. And how do we get him where we want him?"
Riptang unfolded a map. "We can never find him during the night because he takes a different route to his objectives each time. However, we find traces during the day-"
Slagar growled again. "Get on with it!"
Riptang scowled. "I've calculated where he'll be this evening."
The masked fox's gravelly voice peppered the air. "Where is that?"
The Captain smiled. "On the shore, looking out towards the Maelstrom."
Chapter 5: RagnarokEdit
Kalvar didn't even bother hiding. He stood in the shallows of the sea, the waves slapping against his foot paws.
He turned at the approach of two scores of vermin, obviously from Dakkar's horde. Captain Riptang stood at the front of them.
"You're predictable, Ranger."
Kalvar smiled, and the corners of his vision started to become red. "Rule number one just keep turning me on my head, doesn't it?"
"It would seem so."
"And now you've come here expecting me to actually fight you?" The Red Mist was beginning to consume him.
Riptang shuffled something beneath his cloak.
"No, I don't expect you to." He pulled out Stardust and a knife. "I know you will."
Kalvar started forward, but Riptang held the knife high.
"Are you fast enough to stop me now, Ranger!?"
And he plunged the knife in to the small bundle.
Kalvar's world shattered, everything he'd fought for for many long seasons, taken from him.
He screamed a wordless scream, his heart rent out.
He had no vision. All there was was fighting.
All there was was killing.
Tirdea slammed the door open, breaking the pleasan lunchtime spell.
He pointed at Matthias and Mattimeo.
"You two, come with me! Now!"
Father and Son exchanged glances, then leapt up and raced after the ferret.
Bodies were strewn about in every imaginable configuration of death. Mattimeo counted no fewer than forty corpses, all of them vermin.
Blood coated the sands red, even forming a small tideline at the shore, where a few bodies lay in the shallows.
Kalvar stood in the water, the waves slapping against his thighs, staring out over the sea.
Matthias turned to Mattimeo, his face grim.
"Whatever happens out there, do not interfere."
He and Tirdea made their way through the bodies, and stepped in to the water.
Kalvar didn't seem to notice them until Matthias reached a paw out and tapped his shoulder.
The Ranger spun, roaring, and grabbed the front of Matthias' tunic, dragging him forward.
He brought his sword up, pressing it to the other mouse's throat. Matthias was shocked by how much blood was coating the blade.
Kalvar's eyes were blood red, but they softened when something pierced his mind on who he was about to kill.
He wavered for a second, looking as if he might fall. His eyes stared at Matthias, not seeing him.
Matthias put his paws on the Ranger's shoulders.
"What happened here?"
Kalvar hung his head, tears leaking out his eyes.
"He killed her. He killed my daughter."
The four warriors sat a ways up the shore, away from the scene of the carnage.
Mattimeo was first to break the depressing silence. "How will we tell Velvet?"
Kalvar looked up from his sword. He hadn't cleaned it.
"We won't be telling her anything."
Mattimeo stared at him. "We have to, she has the right..."
"I'll be the one to tell her, and I forbid any of you to say anything, or I consider myself to have the right to hunt you down for it."
The young mouse's jaw clenched shut.
Matthias nodded. "This is his family, Matti. We have to leave this decision to him."
Kalvar's mouth turned in to a crooked smile, not a happy one. "Family is important, right Warrior? You're a lot like me."
Matthias scowled. "I don't think I'm anything like you."
The Ranger sat forward, grabbed Matthias and dragged the Warrior mouse forward.
Reaching down to his hilt, Kalvar grabbed something and tugged.
A wrapping came away, and exposed the hilt of the Sword of Martin the Warrior.
"We are so very much alike. Notice I was always too relaxed when answering questions about this? I was deflecting. Notice how the sword in my dream hung over the Castle? In Northerner art, that means that the weapon will be used at that place, not found. Notice how I never spent too much time around you?
"You and I are so much more alike than you can imagine, brother."
And with that, Kalvar stood and walked away, disappearing in to the woods.
Kalvar sat at the wooden table, about to start eating. His twin brother, Matthias, was late for supper again.
He was a small creature, but a half season old. He was skinny, like most northerners were, due to the relative shortness of food.
However, food today was plentiful. The harvest was freshly in, and this year's harvest had been plentiful.
His father, the Laird Gregory, sat next to him as they ate. Lady Whey sat across the table, looking worried.
"Matthias is late again. Are you sure he just went to clean up?"
Gregory chuckled. "Don't worry, dear, he's always wanting to be clean."
Suddenly a crash was heard outside, and something slammed in to the door.
Gregory's good mood vanished, and he grabbed his double-headed hatchet.
The door burst open, and a hedgehog with his front sliced open fell through the opening. A huge, armored beast stepped through the doorway.
Gregory charged it, roaring, "Get Kalvar and Matthias out of here!"
He swung, striking the foe. The axe bounced off its armor, and the creature laughed. It was obviously female.
Whey gathered up Kalvar quickly as the beast sliced Gregory apart, and stepped over his body.
The door to the next room opened, revealing Matthias standing there, wide eyed. As the armored figure advanced, Whey rushed to it him, holding Kalvar.
The small mouse turned and ran. Kalvar felt his mother jerk to a stop, and spun around.
A gauntleted fist smashed in to her, and she fell, bleeding. Kalvar crawled out from her grasp and tried to get away, but was lifted in to the air by the murderer.
He quivered as the white fox banged her helmet visor up.
"Yes, little mousey. You will make good fun for Nortian of Metal!"
Matthias sat in his room at Floret, pondering this news. He didn't think that Kalvar was lucid enough to fully control his actions, but he knew that Kalvar wasn't lying.
There was a knock onthe door, and he opened it.
Tirdea stood there, the hood of his cloak down. "May I come in?"
Matthias' jaw worked around for a second. "Is now a good time?"
The ferret shrugged. "It may be a better time than you might realize."
The Warrior snorted. "You're going to have to explain that one to me."
He stepped aside, and Tirdea walked inside.
"Kalvar is very family oriented."
Matthias snorted, and folded his arms. "So he kept this from me? That's how he shows that he cares for his family?"
The two stood, staring at each other.
Tirdea motioned to the small grouping of three chairs. "May I?"
Matthias nodded, and he and Tirdea sat in the relatively comfortable chairs.
"You've got a lot of explaining to do."
The ferret nodded. "I will tell you what I can, although no one except Kalvar and Dakkar truly know much about their past. But I can explain why he'd keep this from you."
"The only reason that he kept this from you was to protect you. Kalvar thinks that sharing too much of a creatures past is a dangerous thing. I do believe he would know best, he is the one who's managed to stop Dakkar at almost every turn. Honestly, we find that this is because he knows Dakkar, and how he thinks. Unfortunately, Dakkar knows how he thinks. Kalvar knows this, so he would have known that Dakkar would be watching. That fox has a horde of about 9,000 creatures now. Some of them have to be good for something."
Matthias held up a paw. "How does this explain why he wouldn't tell me this?"
"Dakkar has more eyes than you could ever know. He's a fox, naturally cunning, and unnaturally strong, with thousands at his command. If he thought there was any chance that Dakkar would learn about you, giving the fox leverage over Kalvar."
"He could have made sure no one else heard."
"For Kalvar, even you knowing may have been too much."
"What do you mean?"
Tirdea shrugged. "You'd have to ask him yourself, although I doubt you'll get a chance to."
Matthias stared. "Why would you say that?"
"What he is now," The ferret said. "is not Kalvar."
The warrior mouse snorted. "Sure looks like him."
"His body is, but his mind isn't anymore."
"Bloodwrath, I know. But even those afflicted with it still retain their personality."
"Not Kalvar. For him the rules have always been bent. He has bloodwrath, yes, but there is a deeper meaning to it with him. Only a few creatures have seen him in this state and survived. Dakkar is one of them, and he fears Kalvar for it."
"He becomes madness."
Kalvar had become madness.
The large part of him had been a reason to live. He had survived by clinging to a slim hope that he had a future.
That everything would be alright.
And his hope had been torn from him.
Now all he had to do was what had to be done.
He did not speak, he did not examine.
All he did was walk.
Kalvar had become madness.
And madness has no war cry.
Another performance. The vermin horde was being constantly entertained by Ivy's circus.
She twirled two of her knives in an intricate fashion, hauled back, and threw them.
The two blades spun through the air and split two different dock leaves. She grabbed the other three and tossed on in the air. She threw both the ones in her paws, then caught the last by its tip and threw it.
The second pair she threw landed evenly between the first two, and the last one struck the middle.
Silly gimmick. Luckily the circus wasn't doing stage acts at the moment.
Wild Ivy retrieved her knives and turned to observe the rest.
They were all pulling their own stunts, nothing to extreme, but apparently entertaining enough to the rest of the vermin horde.
Dakkar wasn't in sight. Too bad.
A squirrel wandered around on stilts, holding a balancing beam.
He tipped, and almost fell.
Something bounced off Ivy's head. It fell on to here nose, where she snatched it off and stowed it away in her violet coat.
The squirrel grinned foolishly at her as she looked up at him, and tottered off.
Back in her wagon, Ivy pulled the object out.
It was a small packet, tied at the top by a short strand of twine.
She untied the twine and unfolded the wrapping. Three identical dice fell out, and she examined them. There were three sets of pictures on each cube, on opposite sides of their twin. Each was just a silhouette.
One was in the shape of a badger. Another was a silhouette of a castle, nothing special about it, just a generic fortress. The third one was a sword, its fuller running perpendicular to the side.
Nothing specific about the dice, but there was something on the wrapping. It was a map of Floret and the surrounding area, all the way to a huge southern river, and an eastern mountain.
There were words underneath the map.
You know what to do.
It was signed with the initials K.
Chapter 6: Looking BackEdit
Velvet aimed down her arrow, and let fly.
It flew well, and struck a stoat in the neck. He fell screaming as she pulled another shaft from her quiver.
The young mousemaid's arrow was just one of many that zipped from the top of the walls, and into the encroaching horde.
She moved aside as Matthias stepped to her side, whirling a swing. He let fly, and the stone zipped out, crunching a rat's armor. The rat collapsed, his paw holding his chest.
"You're good with that sling." She commented, pulling her bowstring back, another arrow notched.
"Younger than you when I started using one." He replied, putting a new stone in place, and pulling his arm back to begin spinning it.
Velvet released the string, and the arrow flew out. "Wish I knew where Kalvar was, though."
"Honestly," Matthias said. "You don't want to know where my brother is right now."
Her paw slipped as she grabbed another arrow. "What?" Matthias was gone when she turned to confront him, just in time to see the ranger next to her get him by an arrow.
"Is there anything else about Kalvar that you can tell me?" Velvet said, letting a ticked off tone enter her voice.
Tirdea turned to face her. The other creatures around them averted their eyes again. The ferret ranger sighed. "Perhaps it's best if we talk in private."
They made their way to Velvet's quarters. She sat in a corner chair and locked her gaze on him. It was by no means a happy one.
"I take it you've talked with Matthias about Kalvar." Not a question, a statement. Designed to regain control of a conversation.
"Tell me what you know about him."
He shrugged. "I've told you all I know pertaining to this matter."
"Then what else is there?"
Tirdea sat on a wooden chair at a small table. "I don't know him as well as I thought, honestly. What do you want to know?"
"Who is he?"
"Now? Or who he used to be?"
"Who was he?"
"Kalvar is one of the sons of Laird Gregory and Lady Whey."
"Where did they rule?"
"I don't know."
"How can you not know that?"
"Because it was destroyed when Nortian of Metal attacked them. It was an attack very late in the day, about supper time. Nortian snuck in and killed Gregory and Whey. Matthias was able to escape as he was late for mealtime, and was closer to the door. Kalvar was trapped underneath his mother's body. Matthias and Kalvar were about half a season old."
"What happened to Kalvar?"
"You more than any of us have seen his scars. Nortian tortured him, for fun, not information. She used everything, scars, hot chains. She even heated a knife to red-hotness and slid it through his bottom ribs. It scarred his lungs, and Kalvar was left short of breath for several seasons. And that was her problem. This little mouse would not die."
"How can any creature go through anything like that and live?"
"I think we both know the answer to that question."
The fox was running hot chains along his back. Kalvar roared, kicking his shackles limbs all around, not making any headway on the tight bonds.
"Tough little mousey, aren't you?" Nortian laughed. "It's okay, I've got something new for you."
He heard a sizzling. "No-" And screamed again. Nortian had heated two daggers and driven them between his ribs.
Kalvar vomited fire, and every breath became agony.
Then, for some reason, he was able to ignore it. His vision had reddened. Something was calling to the young mouse.
The small mouse turned to stare at the fox.
"Is that all, you albino minx? Bet you'd make a nice tunic or two.."
Nortian snarled, and grabbed another instrument of torture.
The pain continued for a long time, until Kalvar passed out.
He awoke back in his cage, an old squirrel pressing something cold against his back. He had a personal cage, being a "favorite" of the warlord fox.
Kalvar let her, allowing the cool water to soothe his aching body.
"Thank... you." He muttered, but the squirrel shushed him.
"Rest, small one. That fox's treatment has scarred your lungs this time. I fear that you will be in pain for a long time."
"Pain... good." Kalvar muttered, then passed out again.
It was the middle of the night when he came to consciousness again. His lungs were on fire, and his back wept blood. He knew what to do.
Reaching underneath the burlap sack he'd been using as a pillow, Kalvar pulled out the flint shard he'd managed to sneak in a few days ago. It was about the twentieth one. And this would be the last.
The mouse went to a corner of the cage. The cage bars were metal, but the rope holding the bars together wasn't.
Setting the blunt edge against his palm and gripping the side tightly, he sawed through the last rope binding, the top one.
He'd left it for last, so the cage side wouldn't lean outwards.
It broke, and he caught it before it fell.
Nortian's work on him helped him. Being tortured every day, combined with constant forced labor, had toughened his resolve as well as his muscles.
He leaned the metal frame out a bit and squeezed himself through.
A guard passed. Kalvar froze. The weasel didn't notice him, and kept moving.
Kalvar got out and leaned the frame back in place.
Looking around, he ran for the edge of the camp...
And ran right in to a guard.
The rat froze. "Ey-"
No time to think. Kalvar brought the flint up, catching the rat under the jaw.
He never knew he could move so fast.
The rat's eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell heavily to the ground.
Kalvar didn't bother to see if the rat was stunned, unconscious, or just dead. He was free, and wasn't planning on going back there.
And so he ran. Faster than he'd ever run before.
It was not long until his feet became leaden, and his lungs betrayed him.
Kalvar collapsed near a stream. It ran cool and fresh.
His back had split open, so he slapped some mud on it.
The cold of the soaked dirt energized his tortured body. The young mouse dragged himself to the stream and gulped refreshing mouthfuls of water.
"You're a sprightly young one, aren't you?"
Kalvar froze, and slowly looked up.
Nortian was standing there, her long blade out, fully armored. Flinty eyes were locked on him.
"This blade isn't like those butter knives I got you with earlier."
Kalvar rose, somehow knowing exactly where to run.
"I killed your parents with it. I can kill you, too."
Kalvar tore off, north.
"You can only run for a short time in that condition, little mousey!" Her voice taunted him.
But he knew that he could run faster and longer than she could.
He heard her following, not worrying about being heard.
A fallen log loomed ahead of him. He coiled and sprung, somehow landing near the top of the log. Kicking and scrambling, Kalvar made his way to the top.
Nortian crashed her way in behind him, and glared up at him.
Kalvar laughed, then coughed as his lungs sent a pang of pain through his body.
The white fox moved off to find a way around the large log. Kalvar decided it was time to move.
He turned and leapt, landing hard on the ground. More blood flowed down his back, each new wave of pain lending new speed to his paws.
Kalvar ran for hours, until the sun was high in the sky, and still Nortian followed him.
Up ahead, he saw a large column of fire smoke, and headed towards it.
Yelling for help, he ran up a small, rocky hill towards the large house. Behind him, Nortian appeared from the woods behind him.
The wide double door slammed open, and a score of cloaked creatures poured out.
Several fitted shafts to bowstring and let loose. The arrows all struck Nortian dead center of her chest, and bounced off her armor plates. A few more ran forward, drawing swords, but she turned and fled in to the woods again.
One of the creatures lowered Kalvar to the ground, feeling the wounds on his back.
"You're alright, young one. You'll be fine."
For the third time in as many days, Kalvar passed out.
And awoke again, garbed in a fresh tunic and under clean, soft sheets. He looked over to the other side of the room and froze.
A white fox was staring at him. Kalvar went to throw the sheets off him, but a lance of pain stopped him.
The fox stepped forward and placed a hand on his chest.
"Doc had to sew your wound back together, friend. I wouldn't move if I were you."
Kalvar settled back. This fox was male, and much smaller than Nortian. "I'm Kalvar."
The fox nodded. "I'm Dakkar. Welcome to the Rangers of the North, Kalvar."
"That's how he got to be a Ranger?"
"As far as I know the story, yes. I entered about a season after he did."
"He just... knew where to go?"
"Like I said, as far as I know, yes."
"So how did he become who he is today?"
"That's the good part."
Kalvar brought his paws up to his face, and caught Trainer Virge's leg from the high kick. The mouse was now about four seasons old, and getting stronger, faster, and more skilled in the art of fighting every day.
He grabbed the trainer's leg and twisted. Virge fell hard, and Kalvar was on top of him before the squirrel could recover.
Virge lashed out with a wide right, and Kalvar blocked it, then spun Virge around on to his stomach.
"Dead!" Kalvar shouted, and released the trainer, holding out a paw to help him up.
The squirrel accepted it. "You're fast, young'un. Too fast for any of us here."
"Thank you, Trainer Virge."
"You know what time it is."
Kalvar nodded and slipped his under armor on, then the chainmail shirt. Over that went his leather armor.
He picked up his longsword and shield, and left the room.
Dakkar was already there, going through his sword exercises.
Kalvar drew his sword. "Time to play."
Dakkar turned and swung without warning. Kalvar parried, the strength of the fox's swing sending his paws quivering. He spun, absorbing most of the shock, and went for a high diagonal swing. His friend blocked it, and stabbed out.
Kalvar threw himself flat, and the sword whistled over him. Jumping back up, the mouse brought his sword up, forcing Dakkar to jump back.
The two went back and forth for two hours, and finally ended up locking swords in the middle of the room.
Dakkar pushed, and Kalvar sidestepped, sending the fox sprawling.
His friend turned over, and felt the sword tip at his throat.
"Dead." Kalvar said, then sheathed the sword and helped the fox up.
"You won again. Why do you always win?"
Kalvar laughed and smacked the fox's shoulder. Dakkar had grown larger than him. Much more muscular, too. "You always forget the rules."
Dakkar grinned and smacked Kalvar back. The mouse grimaced. "Why do you always hit so hard?"
"Because you're smaller and faster than I am, so when I hit you I have to hit harder."
The door opened, and Virge entered, with several other rangers. "Kalvar, come with us."
The mouse, perplexed, glanced back at his friend as he left. Dakkar just nodded.
All six of the rangers and Kalvar ran out the front door.
Virge was in the lead, pulling out his bow.
Kalvar hadn't been trained to use the bows yet, but he did know about the moonwood bows. The wood was harvested at night. For some reason, the wood was most supple and flexible at nighttime, perhaps due to the lack of light. When rubbed with a certain mixture, the wood was perfect for bow making. It required a lot of strength to pull and shoot an arrow from it, but the wood was very strong; Any bow made from it would last a lifetime.
They'd been running for several leagues when he saw smoke up ahead. Something big was burning.
The mouse ran faster, easily catching up with Virge and the others.
Up in front of them, heading northwest, Kalvar sighted burning village.
Screams emitted from the buildings, and the rangers picked up the pace.
Kalvar drew his sword. He'd never been in a real fight before, and didn't know what do think.
They charged in to the village. Virge shot his arrow, and a ferret dropped, the shaft taking him in the stomach.
Kalvar whirled as a pine marten charged him. He just did as he had been trained: block and counter.
The mouse's sword drove through the marten's chest, piercing his heart.
No time to worry about what he'd done. Kalvar heard screams from the hut behind where the marten lay, and he moved towards it.
A beam lay across the door. The interior was on fire. Kalvar braced himself and heaved, pushing the beam out of the way.
He leapt through the flames, and beheld a mother dormouse holding two frightened young ones. A dead male lay on the floor.
"Ma'am, come with me!" Kalvar roared, holding out a paw, but she huddled back down.
He swept his cloak hood back, revealing he was a mouse.
"If you don't want your young ones to burn here, come give me your paw!" He said.
She hesitated, then took it. He pulled her up.
"Jump through the flames!" Kalvar roared.
"It's not far!" He said, taking one of the small dormice. "Jump!"
She closed her eyes and leapt, landing hard.
Kalvar hit the ground neatly beside her. She stood awkwardly, and he passed her the babe. "Get out of here, go southeast. There are creatures there that will take care of you."
The dormouse nodded, and began toddling away, her right footpaw dragging a bit.
The sight of her limping away hardened Kalvar's resolve yet more, and his grip on his sword blade tightened. He redrew it and moved to the next hut.
Down the street he saw more fires being lit, and a small band of vermin were yelling war cries. More screams erupted from huts.
Kalvar kicked open the next door and saw a small ferret family.
The mother and father lay dead, as did a young female. Only a small ferret, no more than a season old, lay there, gently pushing on his mother, crying for her to wake up.
He picked up the babe and carried him outside. Kalvar ran in to a hedgehog going the other way.
The mouse held the ferret out. "Take him, the others need my help."
The hedgehog nodded, took the ferret, and sped away, southeast.
Kalvar watched new fires begin to burn, and he heard something calling to him. His paw gripped the sword tight, and
Virge ran by, holding the paw of an old vole, helping him up. "Kalvar, the village is lost! We need to get out of here!"
Kalvar kept walking. The trainer ran back and grabbed Kalvar's shoulder, spinning him around. "Kalvar, listen to me-!"
He stopped talking. Kalvar's eyes were red. The young mouse grabbed Virge's paw and pushed it away from him, with no perceivable effort. The trainer knew that Kalvar was fast losing control of his actions.
"Stay out of my way if you want to live."
And Kalvar turned back to the vermin gang, striding away from Virge.
The ranger trainer ran after the fleeing refugees, knowing that he'd seen was not something he'd want to see again.
"Was this the first time that Kalvar had fallen to the Bloodwrath?" Velvet inquired, sipping some of the mint tea that Tirdea had gotten.
"In battle, yes. During his imprisonment in Nortian's camp he was in an almost constant state of rage. One time he was under the influence of the Bloodwrath for an entire week." Tirdea responded, munching a blueberry scone.
"You were that ferret that Kalvar pulled out of the hut, aren't you?"
"Yes." Tirdea rose, and stepped toward the door."
"You aren't going to finish the story?"
"There is much more to tell, but not right now. You need to rest, and digest the information." He left, leaving Velvet to her own thoughts.
Chapter 7: CallingEdit
Ivy rolled the die again. Badger, sword, sword.
She checked the map, and marked a spot in the woods.
"Well?" A hard voice came from the doorway.
Ivy spun around. Kalvar was standing there, his eyes red.
She held up the map. He strode across the wagon and took it.
The Ranger examined the map, then handed it back.
He walked back out of the wagon.
The circus leader scooped up the die again and rolled.
Examining the results, she shook her head.
Kalvar drew his sword as he left the tent.
He had work to do.
Badger sword sword, sword sword badger..., He thought to himself, and headed to the spot that Ivy had marked on the map.
It was a small clearing, with a score of vermin working, cutting down trees.
The Red Mist settled in, and Kalvar was lost.
Matthias was teaching Mattimeo how to put on plate armor.
It wasn't full plate, just half plate, covering the most important bits. The armor consisted of a breastplate, pauldron, tasset (waist skirt) and cuisse (thigh guards).
First went the cloth under armor, to protect their coats from chaffing. Then went a chainmail vest and leggings, to protect the body from sharp weapons and broadheaded arrows. Over these went a thin layer of leather, to prevent too much noise. Next went the breastplate, buckled at the sides with two plates from and back. Then the cuisse went on over the thighs, just the front. No plates went on the back, as they would impede movement too much. Next the tasset was strapped to the bottom of the breastplate, the thin, jointed steel covering the cuisse, and clanking whenever Mattimeo moved a bit too much. Finally the pauldrons went on, the upper half covering his shoulders. The lower half was jointed to protect the upper portion of his bicep.
Mattimeo shifted around, jumping up and down, testing the armor's weight and getting a feel for it. Matthias strapped his own set of armor on. The plates had been smoked over a fire to darken them and smeared with mud to get the shine off the steel.
Father and son both grabbed their swords and preferred choice of ranged weapons. Matthias had a sling, and Mattimeo chose bow and arrows.
"You sure you've done this sort of stuff before?" Mattimeo asked his father as Matthias looped a rope around the battlement and began climbing down.
"Since before I knew I'd have a son." Matthias slid smoothly down the rope, his armor gently clinking as he hit the ground.
Mattimeo started down, and was able to safely slide most of the way before he lost his grip, and crashed to the ground.
Matthias laughed softly and held out a paw to help the young mouse up. "Don't grip too tightly. You'll overcompensate when you loosen your paw to slide down." Mattimeo took it and stood, harrumphing.
His father went to the bottom of the wall and shifted some grass out of the way and pulled out a pike.
Gripping the end with the tip on it, Matthias broke in to a short run and rammed the end in to the middle of the moat and sailed up and over. He landed a bit more heavily on the other side of the moat.
Mattimeo was looking back up at the wall, amazed at how far he'd slid down the rope.
Something landed beside him. He jumped and looked down to the the pike stuck in the ground right next to his foot. His father was standing on the other side of the moat, his arms folded.
"Need to pay attention!" He called across to his son.
Mattimeo grabbed the pike and held it like Matthias had. He ran at the moat, but didn't quite get the pike in to the water just right.
He slammed in to the opposite bank, and nearly slid in to the water. Gripping the edge firmly, he managed to hold on.
Matthias calmly walked over and pulled the pike out of the water before it slid in to the water.
"Thanks." Mattimeo managed to grunt.
Matthias laughed softly again, and reached down to pull Mattimeo up.
"You need to get out more." He grunted as he pulled Mattimeo out of the water.
Mattimeo stood, and shook himself to dry out a bit.
His father was already jogging for the forest fringes. The younger mouse ran to catch up, and they talked as they ran, in a northeasterly direction.
"So Kalvar really is your brother?"
"So it would seem."
"How did you survive?"
"I don't know. I ran, I suppose."
Mattimeo was silent for a while.
"Why is he so fast?"
Matthias slowed and stopped next to a tree, leaning against it to catch his breath.
"I don't know. Probably something to do with him being raised by the Rangers."
"Velvet told me different."
"Yeah. Apparently Kalvar didn't know how abnormally fast he could move until he escaped from Nortian's cage."
Matthias straightened and began walking into the forest.
"You say he didn't know how abnormally fast he could move. What about before his escape?"
"No one knows now, except maybe you."
Matthias paused for a second. "I suppose you're right."
He drew his sword.
"Where are we going, anyway?"
"Badger sword sword." Matthias muttered.
The clearing was just another scene of chaos. Mattimeo was only starting to getting used to it, but Matthias had gotten used to scenes like this one a long time ago. All around there were half built siege engines.
There was a crash, and two triangles made of logs held by a horizontal beam fell, collapsing upon each other.
Matthias strode forward as Kalvar appeared from behind the logs, slashing the ropes.
The Ranger looked up at the Father and Son duo.
"Been waiting for you here."
"For how long?" Matthias asked.
"Couple hours." Kalvar said, swinging the Sword of Martin the Warrior over his head and bringing it down on a bunch of ropes. The blade sliced cleanly through them, and the logs toppled.
"Help me with these." The Ranger said, and grabbed on of the severed ropes.
Matthias and Mattimeo joined him, and they dragged all the logs to the center of the clearing.
Kalvar grabbed a bucket of vegetable oil and tossed it under the logs. Grabbing a torch, he set the pile ablaze.
"This will burn long and bright." Matthias said, as the flames lanced upward, and smoke billowed out.
He looked at Kalvar. The Ranger had a strange glint in his eye, and Matthias knew it wasn't from the flames.
Kalvar sat down on the ground, letting the heat warm him. "So how many creatures has Tirdea told?"
Matthias sat down, the fire on his left side. "Only those it concerns."
"I suppose you have some questions for me."
"We all do." Mattimeo said, seating himself to his father's right.
"Well them, ask." Kalvar drew the Sword of Martin the Warrior and placed it across his lap.
"Where were we born?" Matthias asked.
Kalvar looked up at him. "That is information that I refuse to share at this point in time."
"You can ask me all the questions you want. That doesn't mean I have to answer them. Besides," Kalvar shrugged. "I don't remember what the place was called."
"Then can you tell me about our parents?"
"Laird Gregory and Lady Whey. Gregory was a warrior, though not nearly as skilled as we are. He fought with a double headed axe. He was caring, putting all creatures up as his family. Whey was much like him, except she would go out and help with the little things, instead of just taking care of the large things." His eyes flickered up to stare at Matthias. Their red gleam had not completely subsided. Matthias began to wonder whether they ever would again.
"That episode at the village we heard about was the first time you fell to the Bloodwrath, but there's something not quite right. You fight all the time, so the Bloodwrath attacks should have been constant. But instead the attacks increased in frequency. Why is that?"
Kalvar turned back to stare at the fire, but Matthias knew he wasn't seeing it. "I had another love before Velvet. I was attached to another before she was taken from me."
Kursk spun around with a high kick, but Kalvar ducked it and kicked the trainer's footpaws out from under him.
"Dead." The younger mouse said, holding a paw to Kursk's throat.
"Well fought, young one." The older mouse said, as he rose. Kalvar turned and began to walk away.
The trained drove a hammer blow in to Kalvar's back, striking his kidney. The younger mouse growled and curled in pain. Kursk continued the assault by flattening his hand and striking Kalvar in the crook of the neck, stunning him. Kalvar fell to the floor, hard.
Kursk stood, rubbing the small of his back. "Dead. You forgot rule number one."
Kalvar was regaining the feeling in his limbs. He cracked his neck, feeling the vertebrae sliding around, and stood. "And it would seem you just forgot the rules of the fight."
The old trainer held up a claw. "Rule number three, young one: There are no rules in battle."
"I'll remember that next time." Kalvar's voice sounded as if coming through gritted teeth, and something in his eyes flickered. "Thank you, Trainer Kursk."
The older mouse walked away, growling as he painfully clicked his claws back in to place. A couple of them had become dislocated when he'd struck Kalvar.
Kalvar simmered angrily for a bit, then grabbed his sword belt walked out in to the main room. The refugees they'd brought from the small village were bunked there, as it was the only space in the Ranger's building that had enough room to keep them all.
A buffet had been set up for everyones use, and it was filled to the brim with all sorts of food. Most of it was fairly plain: salads, bread, and whatnot. Some refugee families had worked together to cook up some more interesting dished, including a large apple pie.
Kalvar didn't bother with that, getting his usual lettuce and bread with a light layer of blackberry jam. Taking his plate, the young mouse sat down at one of the many tables, pulling the armless chair forward. He always ate alone, enjoying the solitude.
Several creatures sat down on either side of him with their own trays.
"What do you want?" Kalvar spat. He hated being interrupted while eating.
"We heard what you did at the village."
The ranger trainee looked up, examining the three other creatures. Rat, mouse, and squirrel. Tough, probably been farming longer than Kalvar had been alive.
"Yeah, I was."
"Exactly how many vermin did you take out?" Rat asked.
"Now how did you do that?" Squirrel said.
Kalvar looked up at them. "I killed them. What does it matter?"
"It's pretty interesting how you were able to take on twelve vermin single pawed and win."
Kalvar laughed softly under his breath. "Killing. You know nothing of killing."
The squirrel sitting next to him grabbed at Kalvar's shoulder. The mouse shrugged it off, but the squirrel insisted. "I watched half my family get torn to shreds because some vermin rushed through our hut a bit too fast. Guess what they were running from."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but what you're trifling with is not to be messed with."
The other mouse stared, stony eyed, at Kalvar. "All three of us have had similar experience, Kalvar. Our families died because of you."
Kalvar, for some reason, could not feel sorry, and that sensation sickened him. "Again, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can, or could, do about it." The last bite of salad disappeared down his throat.
The rat bent closer. "I had one I loved. She was taken from me when a ferret ran her threw in an attempt to escape. Next thing I know, part of that ferret is lying on me, and I'm looking up at you."
Kalvar took his last bite of bread, chewing slowly then swallowing. "Did you love her very much?"
"I would have died for her." He said, leaning still closer. He was surprised to hear Kalvar laughing softly.
"Everyone talks about dying for a cause, or creature. No one ever actually talks of killing." The young ranger said, putting a paw at the edge of his clay plate.
He heard a small snick and grabbed the edge of his plate. He swung it, and the knife the squirrel had bounced off the hardened clay. Punching the dish forward, it stabbed in to the squirrel's throat, stunning him.
The rat came over the table swinging, and smashed the plate. Kalvar brought his other paw around and grabbed the rat's wrist. Twisting, he brought the rat in to the path of the other mouse, who had run around the table to get at Kalvar's side. The rat crashed in to the mouse, and they tumbled over in a jumble.
The squirrel had regained his breath, and stood clumsily. He lunged at Kalvar, who spun and let him sail on by. Now Kalvar was facing all three in front of him.
The mouse inched his way to Kalvar's right. The entire hall was watching now, having heard the noise. Kalvar stood in a seemingly relaxed pose, paws at his sides, weight off center. But off center for a reason.
The rat and squirrel ran forward, and Kalvar leapt up on to the table, lashing out with his hind leg at the rat, who ran full tilt in to it. He slammed down to the floor, senseless.
A door slammed open, and Trainer Virge stormed in.
"You three, stop this now!" He roared, then looked up at Kalvar. "Get down from there."
The older squirrel glared sternly down at the three young ones, sparing a moment to glance at the rat, whom another ranger was bringing around. "I will not have fighting in the main hall, and I will have to punish you. You three," He pointed at the three villagers. "Are unfortunately out of my jurisdiction. I will be speaking with your families, and I will be sure to find a suitable punishment for you." He pointed at Kalvar. "You, however, will be bringing in rocks from the quarry. You know what size."
So later that day Kalvar set out with a pickax and headed down to the quarry. The stones were used for many things, the fire, repairs to the building, siege weapons...
His pickax dug in to the granite, and one half of it split in two. A small chip flew from one of the halves and struck his leg. Kalvar winced from the pain and hefted one of the rocks and carried it back to the fort. Just one of two hundred he'd carry that night. And along the way there'd be sharp rocks, roots, crops he'd had to avoid.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, he'd taken this kind of punishment before.
Halfway back, he saw two figures out in the middle of the field, one crouching and one standing. The crouching one was obviously female, and the one standing was a male talking to her. Both were mice.
"-owe me, after that last crop our family gave to your father."
Kalvar sighed. Looks like he may have double punishment. Still carrying stone, he walked quietly up behind the talking couple.
"You gave those to my father, not my family." The female mouse said.
"Kind of hard to collect it from someone who's dead, isn't it?"
"That it is." Kalvar said, and the pair whirled around. He let out another breath, then pointed one of his free claws at the female.
"If need be, I'll help you collect half of what your father owes his family, and he'll accept only half of what is owed." He pointed at the male. "And you. I don't ever want to hear you trying to get things out of a victim's family members just because their related." Kalvar held the claw vertically as the male mouse opened his mouth to respond. "I don't want to hear it. I don't feel like lugging two hundred rocks to the fort and back tonight, so if you fight me, just know that you won't make it back alive."
The male's mouth snapped shut. He harrumphed, turned around and strode away.
Kalvar shifted the rock on his shoulder and began walking back towards the fort, weaving his way in between the crops.
"Thank you." Kalvar turned. The small female had followed him, silently.
"You're welcome." He said. "What's your name?"
"Mayapple. You must be Kalvar, I saw your fight with those three villagers in the main hall."
"That's why I'm lugging rocks tonight." He said, and began walking away.
"I could help."
This was a curious situation for Kalvar. He'd rarely ever had anyone ask if they could help him. Rangers were expected to be the ones to help others, and he knew the rules on punishment detail.
"Sorry, miss, but I have to carry every single rock myself."
"We can at least talk while you work."
Mayapple and Kalvar got to know each other that night, and continued talking even after Kalvar had finished with his task.
"What happened to Mayapple?" Mattimeo pressed.
Kalvar turned towards him, the memories of the past seeming to soften him, if but for a few minutes. "That's a story for another time, little nephew."
The young mouse's tail twitched. "Feels weird, having an uncle."
Matthias reached over and mussed his head fur. "Only because you weren't born with one. Trust me, it's probably weirder suddenly having a brother."
"I'll bet." Mattimeo mumbled, then straightened as they all heard a great amount of steady crunching, like a score of paws marching through the forest.
"I told yer we do what th' boss says, 'less you want ter end up at the end of a sword point." The distinct accent of a vermin swam through the trees.
"But why d' wehave te go check up on th' workers? There was a score of 'em over 'ere." A whiny voice answered.
"Just shaddup." A third voice ordered, and the two arguing vermin fell silent.
Kalvar stood, gripping Martin's Sword with a loose grip on the black leather hilt. "How well can you use that blade, Matti?"
Mattimeo snorted. "I have an uncle for one day and he's already callin me 'Matti'."
"Answer the question."
"Yes, considering Dad's been training me for seasons."
A ferret stepped around from behind the tree, and Kalvar ran him through.
"You're not even going to give them a warning?" Matthias asked incredulously. Kalvar's eyes were already reddening.
"Not in the mood for warnings." His brother said, and turned back to the vermin gang emergin from the forest.
Mattimeo drew his sword, only Matthias and Kalvar having drawn theirs ahead of time. He could use a sword better than most, but he wasn't nearly a match for the two older mice yet.
The other nineteen vermin had entered the burning clearing, snarling as they moved to surround the three warriors.
"Keep close." Kalvar said.
"Like you need to worry, we know you've taken on twice as many foes as this and come out without a scratch."
The Ranger laughed. "I didn't come out of that unharmed." And he charged.
Two spear armed vermin went down to a short flurry of slashes. Mattimeo parried a probing scimitar and lashed out at the rat holding it, who screamed and dropped.
Klavar seemed to be in some kind of control of himself, laughing mercilessly as he hewed vermin left and right. Matthias covered Mattimeo's back, making sure no vermin was able to flank him. Mattimeo himself was holding fairly well, managing to hold off three vermin at once.
It was over faster than any of them could have realized. The Ranger wiped the blood off his blade, then nodded to The young mouse. "Good show, Matti. Let's get these guys in to the fire."
They spent an hour rolling bodies in to the large blaze, making sure that Dakkar's horde wouldn't be able to use them as a food source.
"Should we stay here for a bit, make sure the fire dies down?" Mattimeo asked.
Just as Matthias was about to say yes, Kalvar overrode him.
"No, we need to get out of here as soon as possible. More of Dakkar's horde will come again, soon, in numbers that we won't survive. They'll take care of the blaze for us. They need the cover of the trees, we don't."
Matthias looked shocked. "You'd be willing to burn a forest down to kill a few vermin?"
"I'd be willing to bury this land under the sea if I could, as long as it would be rid of them." Kalvar said calmly, his red eyes glistening in the starlight. "It would be saving many other good creatures pain at their hands."
The Abbey Warrior had to agree, reluctantly, with the Ranger. It would save the good from the bad. But trees take a long time to grow back...
"You said you didn't come out of that fight at the shore unharmed." Mattimeo said.
Kalvar untied a couple bindings to his leather armor. Mattimeo noticed that the material was puckered, likea sword had gone through it. A hastily made bandage was revealed, with blood staining the middle of it. Matthias took a closer look.
"That's fairly deep, you'll need to get a proper dressing on that. Matti, go get some dockleaves and rivermud." The Abbey Warrior said.
"Right, I forgot, you were a healer before you were a killer." The Ranger muttered as his brother unswrapped the bloody bandages.
Matthias glared at him. "I'm a Warrior, not a killer."
Kalvar chuckled. "You carry a weapon, don't you? You take lives, don't you? Warrior is just a fancy way of saying 'killer'."
"You may be a killer, Kalvar, but I'm not. There is a code to follow."
"Long as you don't tell me it has anything to do with fighting. There is no code in fighting."
"Not specifically, except to respect your enemies."
"That's a given." Kalvar cut in. Matthias ignored him.
"And aren't you the one who stood fast that you'd never torture a creature?"
"That's not fighting, and I still stand by what I said."
Mattimeo returned, carrying a small bundle of dockleaves and a wad of mud. He handed them to his father, who began making a better dressing for Kalvar's wound.
"We should move, now." Mattimeo said. "I saw a large party of vermin moving this way."
Matthias nodded, and he helped Kalvar up. "Thanks." The Ranger mumbled.
The Warrior nodded, and the three mice walked a ways in to the forest, to where a small clearing allowed the moonlight to show through clearly. There Matthias dressed Kalvar's injury. The Ranger still had a grip on Martin's sword. Matthias nodded towards it.
"You better not disrespect that blade."
Kalvar looked down at the gleaming blade. "I can't. Martin's been aiding me, showing me where to go. If it weren't for him I'd have charged straight in to Dakkar's camp."
Matthias was startled at how shocked he felt. I just met my brother, I don't want to lose him.
"I wouldn't have been surprised if you did."
The Ranger looked up at him. "Speaking of being shown where to go, how did you know where to find me?"
The Warrior shrugged. "Had a dream."
"Badger sword sword." Kalvar muttered. Matthias glanced up at him as he finished tying off the bandage.
"How do you know about that?"
"Because it brought me here."
"Is that a code or something?" Mattimeo interjected. "Because I wasn't the best at puzzle solving..."
"It is a code, and you'll learn more about it later."
"You need to be taken in to Floret." Matthias said. "That wound is too deep, the bandage will only slow the bleeding."
"No." Kalvar said firmly. "I'm not leaving these woods until my time is almost up. I swore I'd be the one to tell Velvet about Stardust, and I will. How much time do you think I have?"
Matthias sucked in a small breath. "The blade missed anything vital, and the bleeding is slow, but constant. I'd say you have five, maybe six days."
The Ranger nodded, then stood up and turned to leave.
"Why don't you just go tell her now?" Matthias said suddenly. "She had a right to know that her daughter is dead!"
"Because you what!?" Matthias' voice was rising. "There is no real reason for you to not tell her! She'll just hate you more for waiting to tell her, and that will be sure to drive her away! Maybe you want that, because you're too much of a coward to face living the rest of your life with her!"
Kalvar froze, and turned to look at Matthias. His eyes were virtually flowing red, but clear tears slowly dripped down them. Mattimeo sucked in a breath, hoping against hope that what he thought was about to happen wouldn't. Then Kalvar dropped his gaze.
"Maybe I am." He said quietly. "Maybe I'm doomed to lose everything I love before I die heroically." The Ranger strode back to Matthias and embraced him. "Thank you."
Matthias was nonplussed. "For what? I just accused you of-"
"You just reminded me that I have faults, too." Kalvar said, releasing Matthias and holding him at arm's length. "Look at what I've done. I came to your Abbey and commandeered your defenses because I knew Dakkar. I built siege weapons on your grounds without consulting with you first, the same with my chllenge to Dakkar. I'm arrogant, and I don't know if I can get past that. But I cannot go back to Floret, because I am a coward. I'm scared to see how Velvet will react, and part of me wants to die so I don't have to face her. Another part still holds out hope that some miracle will have happened, that Riptang really didn't stab my daughter in the chest."
He turned and strode away in to the forest. "Don't come looking for me. You won't find me."
Mattimeo let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He observed as his father turned to him, a strange expression on his face.
"Next time that mouse tells me that he failed at rule number one again, I'll go tell him to jump off a cliff." Matthias muttered, and the two Warriors made their way back to the castle.
Chapter 8: Desperate MeasuresEdit
There are always survivors of major conflicts, a few voices that "live to tell the tale", as the saying goes.
And Riptang had most certainly lived. And told the tale.
"You let him get away!?" Dakkar roared, smashing a wine chalice with a gauntleted fist. Damson wine splashed all over the chart in front of him aad soaked a pheasant. Slagar took the opportunity to grab a leg off the dead bird, and munched happily, waiting for Riptang to get what was coming to him.
The fox Captain had gone to the only safe place he knew during the fight: the sea. Grabbing a large bit of driftwood, he had shoved it in to the briny brink as Kalvar sliced a path through to him.
"E-e-e-excellency, we could not stop him." Riptang stammered. "All t-t-two score of us charged him, but he seemed u-unstoppable."
Slagar swallowed a large chunk of pheasant and looked at Dakkar. "See? That's why you should send the doers, not the thinkers."
"Shut your trap." Dakkar snapped, glaring at his brother. "You're the one who tripped and fell down a well. Don't say that you're a good do-er."
The Masked Fox growled, and Riptang was slightly thankful that the Warlord was distracted for a moment. But he knew it was just postponing the inevitable.
There was a commotion outside, and Dakkar snarled, grabbing his sword. "What is it now?"
A stoat tottered in, held by one of Dakkar's elite guards. "Spit it out." The rat snarled, pushing the stoat down on all fours. The pathetic creature whimpered, but was silenced when the tip of the Warlord's blade lifted his chin.
"What is going on out there?"
"The R-r-r-r-r-ranger, excellency!" The stoat stutters. "H-h-he set traps for us, logs, vines that caught our legs. He's out there, hunting us! I'm the only one alive from the thirty of us that went out! He'd find each one of us trapped and he'd... he'd..." The stoat's voice trailed away, and he lay on the ground, twitching and moaning, re-imagining the untold horrors he'd witnessed.
A low growl escaped Dakkar's throat. He stepped forward and slew the rat, then turned to Riptang.
"You live, but only because I need your mind. If that fails me, then you will be of no use." The Warlord turned to the guard, who straightened even more. "Go and fetch Weshnu and Eataru."
The rat gulped slightly, but nodded and left the tent without a word.
Slagar's brain was beginning to properly clank back in to action. He'd get some kind of profit out of this, he knew it.
The guard returned, walking at a rapid pace. Two strange creatures followed him.
They were no taller than the fox, yet walked with a stranger gait. They wore no armor, only some thick clothing for warmth. All the creatures assembled knew there was enough weapons in the clothing to arm a small horde. The two creatures' muzzles were pointed, and their faces wide. The fur pattern made it seem as if they wore a mask over their eyes. Their teeth were razor sharp, Dakkar knew that they could easily tear the throat out of virtually any victim. Alternating light brown and black rings of fur grew from their tails.
It was said that Weshnu and Eataru came from across a the Western Sea, from the other side of the world. How they'd gotten here, nobody knew. But they did know that the two raccoons were very skilled assassins. And very, very fast.
Weshnu and Eataru sat in the two chairs that had been set in front of the Warlords desk. "What is it you demand of us, tyrant?" Weshnu said, his flat voice made even stranger by his outrageous accent.
"He obviously wants us to kill someone." Eataru said, sitting even straighter.
"Yes, I suppose so." Responded the first sibling. "After all, that is the only reason he calls us."
"It must be Kalvar." The female proclaimed. "Who else can match his speed but us?"
"We will still have to take him by surprise." Said Weshnu. The whole time the two were speaking they never looked at each other. They just stared right at Dakkar. "He is a master of the blade, and we cannot match him in a fair fight."
"Yes, we will. Perhaps we can use his own traps against him?"
Dakkar cleared his throat, and glared at the brother and sister, his gaze flicking between them. They fell silent, but still stared straight at him.
The Warlord sighed. "Why do I even bother asking?"
"Why because, oh lord," Weshnu pronounced the last two words sarcastically. "We would not know you wanted us until you called us. Then it is a simple matter to think out what you would want us for, so-"
"Yes, yes." Dakkar said, waving his hand dismissively. "Go on, then. You obviously know what to do."
The two raccoons stood and began to leave, already discussing ways in which to kill the Ranger.
"Just one thing." Riptang said, feeling he had to say something. Dakkar glared at him, but didn't stop the Captain from speaking. "Kalvar seems to be in a state of bloodwrath which he cannot leave. If that helps at all... I mean..." His last sentence faltered, the stares from the two strange creatures causing the fur on his back to rise.
"This is very helpful." Eataru said.
"It is. If we could borrow him, please." Weshnu proclaimed, pointing a claw at Slagar.
"Why me?" The slaver snarled.
"Because you know how to hunt individual creatures, like us." Weshnu said.
"Yes, you would be very helpful in our efforts." Eataru finished.
"Fine. But know that I don't take orders from you!" Slagar spat. He donned his dark blue cloak and left the tent with Weshnu and Eataru.
Riptang turned to see Dakkar glaring at him.
"I've let you live too many times because you haven't been the cause for failure. My patience, however, wears thin. Get out of here!"
The Captain marched out of the tent, double time.
This left Dakkar alone for the first time in days, and something in his mind seemed to have realized what he'd just ordered. He hadn't thought about it before, but now something... hurt.
There was not much time for play at the Ranger's fort, so the two friends took as much time as they could. Kalvar had just met Mayapple last night, and Dakkar was happy that he'd met someone to attach to.
Rangers always went armed, and both had their weapons of choice. They each carried a sword, and Dakkar also carried a brace of short throwing spears. Kalvar, not one for exotic weaponry, had stuck with bow and arrows.
"You'll never get that leaf!" Dakkar taunted. "Face it, you never were as good as everyone else at range."
Kalvar tried to ignore the jeers of the white fox, focusing instead on aiming. He released the bowstring, and the arrow sailed through the air, just grazing the leaf.
"It didn't stick! You owe me." The fox laughed.
"The deal was if I hit it." Kalvar said, punching his friend playfully. "You owe me."
"We can't tell if it hit from here." Dakkar said, punching Kalvar back, perhaps a bit harder than he should have. "The leaf moved, but the shaft may have merely passed close by. Methinks we should compromise. Neither of us wins."
The two now engaged in a duel, Dakkar's strength against Kalvar's speed. As it always had been.
Sword clashed upon sword as they battled around and around the small clearing, kicking up the earth, their breath coming hot and heavy.
It ended when Kalvar backed up a step and tripped up on a root. He managed to spring upright, but found the tip of Dakkar's blade against his throat.
"Dead." The fox said, then lowered the blade and held out his paw. "Good sparring."
Kalvar took the paw and shook it. "Thank you, too."
It must make a strange sight, Dakkar thought. A mice and a white fox shaking paws in the middle of a forest.
Being several leagues away from the fort was not normally a good idea, but Dakkar and Kalvar were trained experts in woodland craft. They knew how to move silently, what plants they could and could not eat, what direction they were facing, among many other things. One of them knowing when danger was afoot.
"Shush, can you hear that?" Kalvar said, placing a paw to his ear. Dakkar froze, forcing his breathing to quiet down. The woodlands had gone quiet. Normally there were many birds to be heard, but now there was only silence. He sniffed the breeze.
"Vermin." The fox growled.
"Awww, no need ter be so hairsh." A ferret said, stepping out from behind a tree. Suddenly the forest came alive with about a score of vermin. The friends were surrounded.
"Back to back." The two Rangers said in harmony, and stepped to place their backs together.
The ferret drew a cutlass. "A fox anna mouse inna forest? Now ah've seen everytink!" He twirled the blade. "Gerrem, buckoes!"
Dakkar and Kalvar stood their ground as the vermin rushed, then both set to work.
The fox focused on the ferret, who stood a bit back, cheering on his gang while hurling insults at the Rangers.
"Nyeeah! There's on'y two of 'em! Rip 'em ter shreds! 'Oy, mousey, yer could work a bit on not makin' friends wid 'vermin' yerself! Yer cudn't... uh, er..." The ferret stood staring at the fox brandishing a sword above his head, having put to much attention in to yelling at the mouse.
"Roo rye hah!" Dakkar roared, bringing the sword down on the ferret's head. The vermin's body crumpled instantly and lay, twitching, on the ground.
It was but a moments until all the vermin were cleared from the clearing, and the two warriors checked themselves for wounds. None of them were major, but the minor scratches and bruises they'd sustained would be a problem, so Kalvar and Dakkar gathered up their gear and set out for the fort.
They walked in silence for a while, until Kalvar brought the fox out of his reverie.
"What manner of creatures are we, friend?" The mouse said, looking back towards the forest.
"What do you mean?" Dakkar asked, confused.
"We just slaughtered twenty living, breathing creatures, and I don't feel a thing for them. I've heard tales about when warriors first slay a creature, and they go through what amounts to a small panic attack. So why not us?"
The fox thought about this for a minute. "Well, we already had major experience with death. I mean, most of the Rangers have lost all or most of their family. Wouldn't that keep us from caring about evil-doers?"
"It's not the same, Dakkar." Kalvar said, sounding irate. "We killed them. We're used to death, aye, but from a different standpoint. We have seen it be dished out to us, not the other way around."
"Maybe we just don't care about them." Dakkar said, thinking hard. The question Kalvar had posed was a very good one.
"But there's still the knowledge that we ended something. Think of all the work you took to get where you are now, everything you've done in your life that got you to this point. And to have it taken away," Kalvar snapped his claws. "Like that. Without your permission, without possibly even knowing."
"I don't know, Kalvar. I'm sorry."
The mouse sighed and took one last glance back at the forest. "I do feel sad, but only because I don't feel sad for them." He jerked his head back toward the wood copse.
Dakkar searched his emotions. No, no sadness. He wondered why that was, but discarded the question for later. Kalvar could be annoyingly truthful sometimes.
"Yeh think too much."
Kalvar shrugged, and the two friends remained silent until they reached the Ranger's small fort.
"Home sweet home." Dakkar mumbled.