**The six comrades struggle to disembark. Hunt hauls himself over
the side and lands on his bum with a flourish. Mari and Tsar leap
away with slightly more grace. Ember, Angus, and Raitha clamber
out, the otter being the last; the captain is unwilling to
abandon her ship. They find themselves on a beach.**
Hunt: *wipes brow with exaggerated sigh* Whew! Glad to be off the
bally boat-- *hastily, after a sharp glance from Raitha* --not
that she weren't a beaut, y'see.
Embershard checks to see that her dirk is in order and begins
wringing the salt water from her purple tunic.
Ember: *sardonically* Quite the seabeast, eh -- runs us straight
into a current, which wrecks us on an island.
Raitha: *moving toward the rat, paw on scimitar* Now look, y'mangy-furred, grog-
sloggin', mud-hided, ale-swillin' vermin --
**Mari comes between the two quickly.**
Mari: *angrily* This is no time for fighting! **Her voice is more
stern than anyone present has ever heard it.** We need to work
together -- Embershard, you said it yourself!
Ember: *grumbles* "Shut my slimy gob", indeed.
Raitha: *mutters* "Some seabeast", me tail!
**Tsar narrows her eyes. Trust a vermin to start a fight, she
thinks to herself, as she checks to make sure all the possessions
on her person are still intact from the wreck.**
Angus: *smirks* As fun as this is turning out to be -- *he turns
and points to the treeline several yards inland from where the
group stands* -- it looks like something even more fun is over
**The group turns as one and stares at the line of greenery. The
leaves quiver in several places ... but no wind is blowing.**
By Hunter Oaktree
**Hunt instantly strikes a 'ready-beast' pose. His ears flop
about, he is crouched low, and he attempts a snarl. Mari has to
suppress a giggle at his antics, but the others are not so
Ember: *looking as if she'd like to slap him over the head* Quit
clowning around, hare! Our lives may be in danger!
Raitha: Aye, shut yer trap, ye bob-tailed nuisance.
**Angus and Tsar content themselves with merely glaring. Hunt
withers under their gaze. His ears droop, and he ceases his pose.
The beasts draw closer to the treeline.**
Mari: *fearfully* What do you think it is?
Ember: Could be anything. Searats, other vermin, some weird
creature we've never seen before -
Hunt: *interrupting excitedly* A wild carrot!
**There is a collective 'Huh?'**
Hunt: A wild carrot! It could be a bloomin wild carrot! You
know, those yummy orange fellows that lay around in the ground all
spring until they get uprooted and eaten by the likes of us. A
wild carrot! *He dances around, singing.* A wild carrot, a wild
carrot, a wildly didldly orangity blinkity carrot!
Raitha **tapping her paw to her head**: The sea must've gotten to 'is head.
**The other beasts decide to ignore him for now and concentrate on
the imminant danger; the increased rustling in the trees.**
Angus: I say we charge 'em. There's enough of us; we can over
Ember: That'll never work.
Angus: *defensively* And why not? Just because you didn't think
of it first?
Ember: *sighing, as if having to explain something to a child* No,
it won't work for three reasons. One; we don't know why 'they'
are. Two; we don't know how many of 'them' there are. Three;
**Before she can get to three a large rock comes hurtling out of
the bushes and strikes Hunt on the footpaw.
Hunt: Ow ow ow OW!!! 'Oo did that, eh? Come on, fess up, 'oo
**A low, evil chuckle sounds from the treeline.**
By Raitha Galestarr
Raitha's keen ears catch the telltale whistling. Abruptly, she throws herself to the ground, just as another rock whizzes past overhead. "Belay! Nobeast fires rocks at me an' gets away with it!" She snarls indigantly as she scrambles upright, wrenching her sword from it's sheath across her back.
The sea otter's words seem to tip off some unknown signal. At its warning, a sudden volley of stones hurtles in, catching the small band unawares.
"Get under cover!" Embershard yells, clutching her shoulder where a deep bruise is swelling rapidly. "We'll all be cut down!"
"Yurrum, gerrimbeast! Yurrumyurr!" A high-pitched, squeaky voice rings out from the undergrowth. Small, bulbous forms stream
forth from the low, dark bushes, the hail of stones thickens, and the six comrades are driven back down the beach into the shallows.
Forced to crouch low behind the jagged rocks protruding from the icy saltwater, they hold a hasty conference. It seems there is nothing to do but beat a hasty retreat back to the ship.
"I don't like it." Ember exclaims in a low voice. "This may very well be the island Uriel sent us to in the first place. If we leave, we are failing him."
"Ah'd never 'ave agreed to work for that vermin in the first place." Tsar points out. "But neither did Ah ever leave a quest unfulfilled. Aye, but Raitha knows the waters, what does she say?"
Heads turns to where Raitha should have been crouched in the waist deep water. But there is no sign of her!
Around a small point of jagged, saltlashed rock, Raitha pulls herself out of the water, shakes droplets from her coat, and hurries into the forest. In the dim, half-light of the onsetting evening, combined with the mysterious darkness of the thick fog, the faint ripple the sea otter made in the water went undetected by her comrades as she swam silently away. In her mind, Raitha is sure that this is the deadly island the ancient map marks out as the home of Uriel's jewel, and her large hazel eyes keep a keen lookout for clues as she pads softly through the deep spruce forest. Intending to circle around and take her friends' attackers by surprise, she takes a southern tack, back towards the deadly coveshoal that captured her ship.
"Ach, tha' wild-eyed seafarer'll bring us all doon!" Tsar exclaims as soon as she realizes what's happened.
"Well, hadn't we better be ready, for when she attacks them?' Mari asks. The squirrel's teeth chatter in the aching cold of the water, but she is no better off than the others.
"Aye, yew can, Rainblossom. But a' fer this cat, Ah'm goin' after they seadog. She'll be needin' 'elp, nae doot. Can ye all stay 'ere an' be ready?" Tsar says through her shaking whiskers. Nods go around. The remaining beasts flatten themselves against the rocks as Tsar hauls her shivering body through the water to where fresh splashes mark Raitha's path, and tracks off into the trees.
It does not take Raitha long to notice a crackling, snapping, rustling far ahead in the trees. Her ears flatten back against her head, and her eyes widen, her grip tightens on her sword and her paws step more carefully in the damp needle-loam as she presses forwards, drawing closer to the sounds.
A small clearing opens in the tangled forest, ringing around an upthrust outcropping of granite, crowned with a huge, gnarled, majestic spruce tree. Raitha's eyes glow keen with curiosity as she draws closer, catching sight of a large cave opening in the base of the outcrop. Momentarily forgetting her self imposed mission, the sea otter pads closer, possessed by her kind's irresistable curiosity. Before she can draw any closer, a darker patch of shadow blocks off the cave entrance briefly before lumbering heavily into the light. A dull, grating snarl rakes the air, Raitha's mouth drops open, her head craned back, her sword hanging in her paw at her side, useless as she gapes at the creature towering over her. Long, stained fangs dip below heavy jaws. Small eyes glint bleakly in the squat head, cold and hungry.
Back on the beach, the five comrades and their attackers stop suddenly at the harsh cry ringing out from the forest, high and grating with fear from a creature unfamiliar to it.
**With nothing better to do, Angus follows after Tsar. They
finally reach the spot where Raitha was fighting.
Raitha go down, badly wounded, and something within
him awakens. Old memories....memories of a vixen, travelling with
him...woodlanders attacking just because they were foxes....Kireza
dying beneath their blades. He gives a cry and charges the
creatures that attacked Raitha**
Angus: I won't let you take her....no! DEATH! I'm not letting her
**The other four look at each other, surprised Angus feels this
way for Raitha. However, that isn't who he's talking about. He's
reliving the death of Kireza again. Shrugging, they join the
**Angus, covered with rips and scars, and bleeding, staggers away
from the battle and places a paw against a tree to steady himself.
**Angus sways suddenly and collapses**
by Embershard Trillwind
**Embershard watches Angus collapse nearby the fallen Raitha. She
can hardly see what the four beasts still standing are fighting
-- sometimes it seems to be a dark, squat creature with gleaming
jaws, sometimes it is a barrage of stones, sometimes it seems to
be the foliage itself. Amidst the battle cries and flying
shrapnel, the intermittent pain and the seeping blood, it is
nearly impossible to figure out exactly what's going on.
Suddenly, Ember lowers her dirk and looks around, breathing
quickly. She calls to the others, and one by one they step back
and look around in wonder.**
Ember: Whoever we were fighting ... they're gone.
Mari: *with a short cry* Raitha! Angus!
**They see the crumpled figures of their cohorts on the ground.
Tsar and Mari leap toward the prone form of the dark otter; Hunt
and Ember rush to Angus's side.**
Tsar: Th' lass is breathin' -- but that's all Ah'd give 'er!
Hunt: Well, here's one fox wot won't do much dancin' soon; but
he's bally well alive!
**Mari jumps up and begins scouring the brush for the ingredients
of a poultice. Soon she returns with a bundle of uprooted plants
and, with Tsar's help, begins cleaning and binding the many
wounds of the two unconscious fighters.**
Ember: *massaging her wounded shoulder* Hmmft. Exactly what we
need: a wrecked ship, two beasts knocked cold, a horde of
savages, and we don't even know if this is the right island.
*wipes and resheathes dagger* If I had a gold coin for everything
that's gone wrong so far ...
Hunt: *brightly* Cheer up, vermin-ol'-gal! At least the blinkin'
attackers are gone --
**As Mari finishes applying the medication, Tsar's ears suddenly
perk. The sound of drums and low chanting trickles in on the
wind. Angus and Raitha stir fitfully.**
Tsar: What ... what's that noise?
by Mari Rainblossom
*Instinctively all of them lower their voices to hushed whispers, speaking barely loud enough so that they could hear each other*
Ember: It sounds like drums to me...
Tsar: Rahther barbaric, ahn't they?
Mari: *her voice sounding very small and frightened* D..do you think it could be.... c...cannibals?
Hunt: *giving her a sidelong glance* Way to keep the bally spirits up, old gel. Cannibals indeed...
*Mari bites her lower lip as the steady, heavy thump of the drums and chanting floats nearer to the spot they are occupying.*
Mari: *slowly, unsure of herself* Do...do you think maybe we should... I don't know... hide? Or something? *She looks at the others for a reaction to her proposal*
by Raitha Galestarr
"Uhhh, oh, me back!" Raitha raises her head and stares at the squirrel, frowning as well as possible through the deep clawgash running across her cheek. "Hide? Are yew mad? Lookit what the slime did ter me! I ain't leavin' 'til I pays 'em back fer that!"
"Nay, seadog. Ye'll stay right where y'are fer the moment." Tsar pushes Raitha none too gently back down.
"What's goin' on?" Angus groans as he comes fully awake.
Embershard hushes the fox quickly. "Keep yore voice down, matey. There's somebeast a'coming. And we don't want them to see us, I think."
"I say, chaps, I've just had a bit of a good wheeze!" Hunt exclaims eagerly. "What say we wait until the filthy blighters are past us, the follow them to wherever they're going! Jolly good, wot?" He rubs his grumbling stomach. "Might also find a jolly ol' bite of grub, eh?"
Slowly, Raitha rises to her paws, looking at the lanky hare keenly. She picks up her sword and sheathes it decisively. "Belay, Hunt. That's the best idea to come outta you yet. Everybeast aright with yon course?"
Creatures nod. Hunt's plan is a good one, to be sure.
"Aright then, let's 'ide. Keep yer glims skinned fer the course yon mystery beasts is chartin'. We'll latch on an' foller their wake when they've gone by." Raitha whispers.
Everybeast hides as best they can in the thick underbrush, slightly off the path the advancing unknown seem to be travelling on.
It is not long before faint lights can be distinguished through the trees. The drum beats grow louder, and with them come the sound of chanting, clearer. Mari, hidden up in the branches of an old spruce, flattens herself against the bark of her limb and peers down, wideyed at the sight that greets her.
Small creatures, both vermin and goodbeasts; weasels, stoats, ferrets, mice, shrews, hedgehogs, and even a rabbit or two, march by in one long, chaotic line. They are dressed in ragged wovengrass garments, dyed in a score of gaudy colours. Tarnished jewellery hangs from paws, ears and necks. Torches are waved above heads, their lights reflected in eyes glinting with madness. Several creatures out in front carry drums. They stride along, beating the taut skins with bones, howling and drumming to the rhythmic, concerted shouts of the others.
It seems to take an agonizingly long time for the long procession to pass the six concealed comrades. Indeed, it is many minutes before the end of the line can be seen. Embershard slowly starts to exhale as the final ranks of savages pass her. Until suddenly, one, a weasel, stops abruptly, right over the spot where Angus had lain scant time before.
Ember's heart freezes, her eyes riveted on the fait scarlet stains decorating the pine needles where the weasel stands.
by Hunt Oaktree
The weasel glares down at the pine needles. His eyes narrow in
suspicion. The companions are barely breathing, for fear of being
seen or heard. After several tense moments, the weasel shrugs and
follows the rest of the line past the hidden travelers.
"Whew! That was a close one, eh? Bally vermin nearly got us,"
Hunt sighs loudly.
After hastily shushing the hare, the beasts come out of hiding and
gather to quickly begin following the strange procession. Angus
and Raitha, although still raw from the fight, are at the front of
the pack, eager to take revenge.
They walk for what seems like a very long time, stumbling through
the woods in pursuit of the odd figures. Soon, however, the
injuries of the otter and fox catch up to them, and they must
rest. Mari and Tsar are designated as scouts, and are sent ahead
to try to see where the procession stops. Hunt fills the silence
with a typical stupid ballad, self composed, of course.
"Once there was a band of six
Yoo hoo, yoo hoo
The happiest six in the known land
Yoo hoo, yoo hoo.
"A fox, a cat, a squirrel, a hare, an otter,
And in the lead a rat, no 'otter',
Yoo hoo, yoo hoo, yoo hoo."
"If you don't shut your mouth right now," Ember says, fingering
her dagger, "I'm going to rip your tongue out and stuff it down
Hunt, slightly shocked by the reaction to his masterpiece, goes to
a rock and sulks.
"Loud-mouthed, clumsy bottomless pit..." the rat mutters. "You
could have gotten us killed with your gabbin'!"
"What??" Hunt screeches, offended. "I could have done no such
bally thing! How?"
"That weasel. You're just lucky he didn't hear you."
Suddenly, a gravelly voice comes from the bushes behind her.
"But, that's where you're mistaken. I DID hear him."
Ember wheels quickly and finds a long spear trained on her throat.
Angus snarls malignantly and bats it away. "Belay that, mate,"
Raitha growls. "There's more o' them."
As if by magic, several beasts materialize from the surrounding
forest. A smattering of wild-eyed ferrets, shrews, mice, and other
species forms a tight circle around the travelers, muttering in
guttural tones and waving knives, spears, and bolas.
idiot," Ember hisses at Hunt.
The weasel grins winningly. "Oh, I wouldn't be too hard on 'im, I
knew ye were 'ere long afore 'e piped up." He turns to the
barbaric crowd around them. "Na'akate-mi guaste ma'ano-fuee
Angus narrows his eyes at the weasel. "You aren't a native 'ere."
"No, I'm not," the weasel replies nonchalantly. "I'm a bounty
'unter. Perhaps ye've 'eard o' me... I'm Duskhound."
"Course, shoulda knowed ye'd turn up somewhere," Raitha growls.
"So this's Uriel's best attempt at a search team?" Duskhound
sniggers, not a pleasing sound in the least. "Pity, really, to
lose so early in th' race... My employer'll be 'appy."
Ember glares dangerously. "Just who is your employer?"
Duskhound leers haughtily. "That is a mystery you'll 'ave ter
carry to yer grave. But that shouldn't be too long a wait with the
'elp o' my new friends. Maka'tuke! Aliyama gai-naa si'ya hismas!"
The scowling natives leap forward and tackle the travelers. Any
resistence is quelled by weight of numbers. They bind their
captives' paws tightly with tough vine thongs.
The island beasts prod the four questors with blade and
spearpoint, propelling them roughly across the uneven ground.
Raitha grimaces at the searing pain in her side with every stride,
and Angus, who received slightly worse in the battle, stumbles
three times. Any attempt at conversation is met with a sharp jab.
The pace continues for nearly half an hour until the small
procession reaches a barely visible pit.
Duskhound turns to the glowering prisoners. "Welcome t' yer last
residence. If ye're wonderin' about the squirrel an' cat, they'll
be joinin' ye shortly." The bounty hunter nods at the pit, and the
islanders shove the companions inside.
They fall into a muddy chamber wider and longer than the mouth of
the pit. The dying daylight beams around them, and the surrounding
air is dank and black.
Ember gazes up at the silhouetted forms leaning over the aperture.
"I'll have your grinnin' skull on a long pole, weasel!"
"It's not my skull that'll be bleachin' on a pole, rat!" Duskhound
jeers. The weasel retreats from view, and a heavy wooden lattice
closes over the crevice.
Raitha beats her paw on the mud floor. "Duskhound, I've wanted ter
rip that grin from 'is face fer a long time."
"I wonder how he got here?" Angus murmured.
"The longboat ye saw off the Greynorth," Raitha grunted. "'E musta
survived Northgrave some'ow."
A tentative voice sounded in the gloom. "R-- Raitha? Raitha
Paws spring instinctively to where weapons should have been.
Raitha gropes for any kind of projectile in the mud to use.
Suddenly, recognition dawns on her as a small bird of prey steps
toward the light. "Stormfyre!"
"Who?" Ember rasps.
The sparrow hawk's fiery golden eyes shine in the light as he
glances over the four beasts. "I was not aware that you weren't
alone," he murmurs, eyeing Ember and Angus in particular.
Raitha shrugs. "Stormfyre, meet Embershard, Angus, an' Hunter
Oaktree. Ember, Angus, Hunt... Stormfyre. Now what in th' name o'
the seas an' skies're yew doin' 'ere?"
Stormfyre bobs his head. "I'm here to find you," he replies.
Seeing the stunned look etched on Raitha's scarred features, he
continues. "Your life is in danger. I know, that's not news,
but... I assume you are looking for the healing stone?"
Raitha nods dumbly.
Stormfyre clenches his beak. "You're not the only one interested
in the stone. Neither is Duskhound. There's something far more
dangerous on the move than the odd mercenary or fortune seeker. I
don't know who or how many or how powerful they are, but they
destroyed a vermin coastal village looking for you, and they're
by Raitha Galestarr
"Now wait a minute." Ember buts in, staring keenly at the kestrel. "Who are you, bird? Why were you lookin' for Raitha? What's yer stake in all this? Come on, tell us, or..."
Raitha steps in brusquely. "Don't worry yore 'ead over that, matey. Let's just say me'n Storm 'ere 'ave been through a lot tergether. The rest's somethin' to save fer a lazy winter night. Fer now, let's think on how we're gonna get outta..." She stops abruptly at the sound of pawsteps overhead.
"An' how're we doin' down here?" The hollow voice echoes eerily down in the dank pit. With a faint grating, the grill is lifte and drawn back. Backed by the many torchlights shining behind him, Duskhound smirks at his helpless captives.
"Told you it wouldn't be long..." Turning to the creatures standing behind him, he barks: "Gh'lyad'ha, kunduleka! Wan'tane'h ptah!"
One by one, the captives are hauled up, and bound tightly with cedarbark rope. Roughly prodded along with spears and axes, they are herded through the dark trees, to a sudden clearing. In the center, built of highpiled pine and sprucewood, a huge bonfire blazes, surrounded on all sides by shrieking, yelling creatures.
"Raitha," Ember whispers to the otter, standing closeby. "Have ye noticed there's none of our kind here? No rats, hares, squirrels, cats, foxes, or otters, anywhere!"
Raitha flicks her eyes around unobtrusively, and nods slightly. "Aye, yer right! None of any of our species at all! May 'aps that means summat."
The two are soon distracted from their thoughts by a commotion being set up on the opposite outskirts of the clearing. Straining their eyes across the leaping flames, they can just make out seven dark poles, like stakes rising from the earth. Around two of them huddles a group of creatures, yelling in raucous voices and laughing cruelly at something.
The captives are shoved roughly along the edge of the circle, around to where the mob is thickest, just around the stakes they had spotted before.
Angus squints his eyes against the bright light, but he can still see well enough to spot the whips weilded by many creatures. The cruel snap of thong leather spilts the air, combined with an occasional short gasp or soft cry.
"I think we just found Mari an' Tsar" Raitha tugs at her bonds angrily, gritting her teeth as the crowd parts enough for the five friends to see the squirrel and the wildcat bound to two of the stakes. Tsar and Mari flinch under the whiplashes being rained on them by the sadistic watchers.
"Tsar! Look! There's the others! They're okay!" Mari shouts suddenly, and winces as a whip scores her cheek.
Tsar flinches at a vicious whipcut that is opened abruptly in her arm. "At least we ain't goin' to our deaths alone, mah lassie. But Ah wish we'd never bin wrecked on this shore!" She replies.
Before words can be freely exchanged, the other five are bound roughly to the remaining stakes, and the attention of the crowding creatures is turned on them.
by Embershard Trillwind
**The five questors are bound nearby their two companions, flame
reddening their fur and glinting from frightened and angry eyes.
The savagebeasts crowd into the stakes, taunting and prodding
and sneering jibberish at the group. Mari's eyes are wide and
her white fur blotched red with blood. Raitha curses back at the
mob, while Hunt looks mildly ill beside her. Angus is by now
almost too weak to resist. A cry is heard, and the savages
suddenly draw back, fearful looks crossing their faces. The
weasel Duskhound strides toward the captives and crosses his
Duskhound: *thin lips curve cruelly* Well, ain't I lucky ... got
the 'ole batch together, all at one go.
**He smirks at the group. His cocky stance and self-assured
voice is too much for several of the prisoners, who clamor back
Tsar: Why, if Ah'd me paws free --
Raitha: Straggle-haired maggoty mudsucker! Gimme 'alf a minute an' I'll see yer in 'ell!
Embershard: There's three things I've never believed in, lummox,
that's a magic jewel, an unescapable trap, or a smart weasel!
**Duskhound laughs with genuine mirth at the insults.**
Duskhound: Smart, eh? Bet ya wish y'd been so smart a few 'ours
ago, I wager. *Smile twists to something more.* My cohorts --
*he gestures to the savages* -- spent a lot of time searchin'
for ye an' capturin' ye, some of 'em got a mite hungry. We took
all yer possessions, so wot else can we do for 'em?
**He paces a bit, melodramatically, then snaps his claws in an
Duskhound: Of course! I reck they'd like roast fowl as well as
the fish they's always eatin'! Or boiled squirrel, or basted
otter ... *grins pointedly at Raitha, who snarls back* Gal-yah
ma'nafue ka maga'kee!
**While calling to the wildbeasts, Duskhound raises his arm and
points at the captives. The mob surges forward and hauls Angus's
stake from the ground with the fox still roped on. Gleefully
singing an old battle chant, they approach the fire with their
**The bonfire is abruptly extinguished.**
Duskhound: *whirling around wildly* 'Oo did that?!? I'll gully
yer gizzard --
**From a hill above the clearing comes a wild cry, and vermin of
all persuasions appear over its crest. The largest of the rats
waves a sword madly and shouts unheard orders to his crew.**
Ember: *sharply* Bloodblade!
**Bloodblade the Terror and his corsair band flock over the
hills, taking the bounty hunter and the savages completely by
surprise. Angus's stake is dropped and crashes into the ground.
Amid the riotous confusion, the prisoners are left unguarded!**
Ember: Bird, Stormfyre! Use those talons and free us!
**Stormfyre lashes out at Raitha's bonds wildly. The otter is
cut free in a matter of seconds, and leaps to the ground.
Grabbing a sword from a fallen searat, she frees the others and
together they lift Angus and make a swift getaway. It is only
until they are well hidden from the fighting that anyone dares
**Greeneye the searat, former Captain of the Axewrath, trecked through the forest. He swore again when his axe became entangled in the foliage. He was fully armed and dressed for a sea voyage, not for a cross-forest trek. His ship had crashed on the rocky reefs around the island, and he was the sole survivor. The memory of his first mate dying on the beach, with Greeneye unable to stop it, burned in his mind like a brandmark. He had sworn by the never-ending sea that he would recover a Sapphire that the mate had been unable to, to break a curse on his family's village. Greeneye wiped away a tear, then continued. Suddenly, the sounds of chaos made him crouch down in the grass. Some fellow vermin were engaged in battle with some savage little creatures. Then he stumbled upon a group of five creatures hiding in the underbrush. He was about to fight the otter and the bird, both hated species, when he spied a fellow rat.**
Ember: *pulling her dirk* Who are you? What do you want with us?
Greeneye: Arr, matey, there be no need for that, I be a friend. Me ship sank yester-eve, an' I be lookin' fer a place to stay afore I can join up with another crew.
Raitha: Belay the talk, rat! You're vermin, an' I don't want the likes of you stinkin' up our company!
Greeneye: Harr, yer a feisty little otter, but me eyes do espy a fellow rat in yer ranks. What makes 'er so special?
Hunt: I'm sure you rat chaps and chappesses have a lot to gab about, but the party's about to be crashed, I do say!
**Several of the savages, armed with spears, surprise the little band.**
by Tsar Greenwind
"Vermin, as long as ye are going te help us, ye could untie us!"
Tsar pipes in irritably, pulling against her bonds.
Greeneye glances over at Tsar with a slight nod. Without turning
his back on the approaching savages, he helps all with their
bonds. Raitha jabs menacingly at the savages, trying to keep them
Marigold glances around herself and grabs a stick. She wields it
menacingly towards the savages, baring her teeth a small bit.
Despite her wounds, she seems ready to defend herself and her
The others follow Mari's example, picking up whatever they are
able to lay their paws on.
"SCANICA!!!!" Tsar shouts, running towards the savages. She goes
after the first one--a ferret.
Soon enough, the scene errupts into a melee. Various warcries are
shouted savages and travelors are wounded.
In the surrounding trees, another creature approaches stealthily,
blending in with the vegetation.
by Mari Rainblossom
**Mari is battling fervently back-to-back with Hunt, who is fighting just as viciously. As the pair are driven backward by an ambush of more vermin than they can handle, they are forced up against the front of bushes and other vegetation that circle the clearing, forming its border. The squirrel glances over at the hare, who stares back grimly. The situation looks hopeless. Mari raises her slingshot and Hunt his double-edged sword, both prepared to go down fighting. The vermin grin smugly and grunt mutterances of victory amongst themselves, then snarl grotesquely at the hare and the squirrel.**
Hunt: *under his breath to his companion* Well, looks like this is it, old gel. Pleasure knowing you, what short time it was, wot.
Mari: *her voice quavering* The pleasure was mine, Mr. Oaktree. It was an honor to have fought beside you.
**Hunt nods his acknowledgment of her comment and the pair ready themselves for their final battle. Just then, the vermin let out a mighty roar and rush to finish them off. Just before their weapons gore them, Mari and Hunt feel themselves being grabbed from behind and dragged into the bushes. A squeal is heard from Mari but it is quickly silenced, and the sound of several retreating creatures rustling in the vegetation fades quickly as they-- whatever they are-- depart. The vermin halt in their charge, look at each other and back at the bushes, thoroughly puzzled. After a moment, a bold marten parts the leaves with his paw and peers into the spot the hare and the squirrel disappeared. He squints into the shadows, then turns back around to face his comrades.**
Marten: Nobody there, me 'earties. They're gone-- clean vanished.
Weasel: Well... don't cher think we oughter go after 'em?
Marten: Naw, mate. They won't survive long out there. Let some other creature finish 'em off.
**The vermin shrug and dash off to help finish off the others. But somewhere deep into the foliage, Mari struggles to breathe against the paw that is clamped tightly over her mouth.**
Raitha, Angus, Greeneye, Ember, Stormfyre, and Tsar battle near the middle of the fight. They form a tight-packed circle, and vermin fear to come close to the battling friends.
"Where'd Mari and Hunt go?" asks Angus, looking about quickly.
"That's a silly question, matey. They be just o'er—" Raitha's voice breaks as she starts to point her sword, only to see that Mari and Hunt are gone.
Eager to investigate, Greeneye speaks up. "Arr, they can't just ha' dissappeared inter thin air, buckoes. I'll go take a look."
The others come with him, Tsar taking the lead. The black cat takes offense at Greeneye's taking command, and crouches to the floor looking for prints. She sniffs at the hard earth.
Mari and Hunt looks desperately out, only paces from their friends. They struggle to get loose, but the rough paws only hold them tighter. Then they feel themselves being pulled under the earth, and the battle sounds are coming from above.
Stormfyre the hawk crashes into the underbrush, tearing at the foliage with his beak and talons. Greeneye and Ember, the two rats, hold off the oncoming vermin, while Tsar and Raitha help clear it all away. Raitha's sharp eyes see that there is a thin outline of a hatch in the grass.
"Look 'ere, mates. Blow me down, it's a trapdoor!" she says, her eyes flashing. "But belay any chance o' openin' it, there be no handle!"
Angus steps forward, brandishing his mace, and slams it into the soft grass. The spikes stick, and he starts straining to lift it. As he strains, the lid slowly lifts, then wavers.
"Give me some help here, guys!" he says. Tsar and Stormfyre each grab either the chain or the handle, and together they pull. It lifts slowly, then comes out with a pop. As they look down into the hole, they can see several small, furred beings escaping into the darkness.
"It looks like'n the wee little folk 'ave stolen our bonnie companions! After them, friends!" Tsar says, in her heavy Northern accent.
Each eager to go, they jump down into the dark. They look around, and Greeneye pulls out an oil-soaked torch, and Raitha lights it with her tinder box. They look around, too astounded to speak. Amazing!
In the light of the flaming torch, an astonishing sight takes
form and pulls away from the shadows. The six adventurers stand
in the entrance to a massive underground tunnel. The earthen wall
are lined with wooden beams undergirding the structure; the floor
of the tunnel is bare and well-packed. A sudden grinding noise
startles the group and they turn back to the entrance. The mossy
door has slid back into place!
Ember feels around for a knob or lever. She smiles a little
sardonically and reports to the group, "Well, we're not locked
in, at least. There's a simple latch, and even one of us could
open it alone."
Angus snorts and grins wolfishly. "Not like we're dying to get
back outside," he notes, sarcastic as usual.
Tsar and Stormfyre have been persusing the walls and ceiling
carefully, while Greeneye ventures farther down the hall. "Seems
safe," Stormfyre observes, while Tsar adds: "Aye -- a solid lot,
though a bonny old tunnel."
Out of the corner of her eye, Ember notices Greeneye slipping
farther into the tunnel. "Get back here, rat!" she hisses
furiously. "We'll advance together and cover each other's --"
Greeneye shoots her a defiant leer from his mangled eye and
retreats into the darkness.
Ember curses loudly enough that Raitha snarls at her. "Keep it
down, vermin, ye'll alert somebeast!"
She glares at the otter but lowers her voice. "We have no choice
but to follow that ... rat. Keep quiet, and close ..."
The five slowly creep into the foreboding darkness of the tunnel
before them, feet scraping softly against the well-packed earthen
The questors stride silently under the sanguine light of the
torch. The darkness before and behind them seems like a smothering
blanket, heavy and oppressive, and threatening to swallow the
travelers. They walk in silence. Tsar bares her formidable teeth.
"I nae like this. 'E cahn't've gone too far in th' dark, so why're
we not cahtchin' oop wid 'im?"
Ember narrows her eyes. "I hope he's not stupid enough to try
exploring on his own without a light."
"Perhaps he ran into whatever took the squirrel and the hare,"
"Ain't no way t'know, matey..." Raitha growls.
Ember turns and glances back down the corridor. Suddenly, her
chest constricts. "Where's Angus?"
"What?" Tsar hisses.
"He was bringin' up th' rear," Raitha rasps.
Paws spring to weapons. Stormfyre glances around warily. "I don't
Embershard nods slowly. "Right, everybeast keep close together."
Suddenly, Stormfyre emits a splitting cry. "Kiiiiieeeerrr! There
is fire on the wiiiiiiind!" He leaps past Raitha, talons stretched
forward. An indistinguishable shadow retreats as the sparrow
hawk's claws strike the soil.
"Are you insane; they'll hear you!" Ember snarls.
Stormfyre wheels. "They already know we're here!"
Dozens of shapes materialize from the heavy darkness. At first,
they seem to be apparitions conjured from the dark by a fatigued
mind, but the shapes take form in the outskirts of the torchlight.
With a shrill, collective war cry, A band of ragtag creatures
launch themselves at the remaining four, brandishing a vicious
array of assorted weaponry.
Greeneye struggles against his captors, two dirty, little, disheveled shrews. They wear dark, rough clothing that scratches at his fur. He bites at the paw holding him, letting his strong front teeth bite clean to the bone. The shrew releases him immediately, and Greeneye kicks out at the other, missing the shrew altogether. He falls, off balance. The shrew jumps at him, and Greeneye comes up with his cutlass held out. The shrew falls smack on the proffered point.
Greeneye snatches up the shrew's torch to look around. As usual, his rebel nature has gotten the better of him. At least now he is without enemies. Or is he? He feels little eyes boring into his back, making the fur on the nape of his neck crawl. He notices that he has been hauled through another trapdoor, this one in the wall. At least from this side the doors are clearly visible. He starts crawling through passage after passage, going the way his new companions must have.
Suddenly he stops and sniffs at the air. His nose twitches, and he recognizes the scent of fox. Sure enough, Angus the fox is in the next passage. He twirls his mace in one paw, with his short sword in the other. Three shrews come at him, and one lies on the floor, clutching its arm in pain. Greeneye holds still, watching the fox.
Angus doesn't wait for the shrews to make their moves, but rather comes in at them. He deals one shrew a bash in the brains with his mace, and another falls from a blow from his short sword. The remaining shrew, turning to run, is felled when Greeneye catches him with a slingstone to the back.
"Tha' was noo way ta end 'is life, rat," Angus says, glaring at Greeneye. Angus is ready for action. "Ah, I'm sorry I was so cruel ta ya, laddy. You're a searat, an' ya think different than I."
The two inspect the hatch, and they quickly have it open. They don't see which way the others have gone in the passage, so they make a guesstimate and start down along their choice, soon losing their direction in the twisting maze of passages.
by Hunter Oaktree
**Hunt and Mari seem to have gone from the frying pan into the
fire. A ragtag band of shrews, moles, and other assorted
creatures are surrounding the two. A dark, lithe shrew pushes his
way to the front and stabs his sword at the captives.**
Klynne: You two, follow me. And don't make a sound, if you want
**Hunt and Mari, very much wanting to survive, follow quietly.
Quickly, the strange group leaves the tunnel and enters a large
underground cavern. Glowing fungus on the walls provides light,
and huge roots thrust upwards, creating nature's perfect chair.
The hare and the squirrel sit on two of these roots, and the dark
shrew sits in front of them.**
Mari: *Quietly* Who are you, and why did you save us from those
Klynne: You may call me Klynne. I am the leader of this group,
*motions at the beasts around him* the last surviving members of
the crew of the good ship Fellinore. Who might you be?
Mari: Nice to meet you, Klynne. I'm Mari Rainblossom, and this
Hunt: *interrupting* I'm Hunter Oaktree, leader of the
expedition to find...um, something I can't tell you...and
also...heehee...also captain of the recently wrecked ship
**Mari looks at him strangely, but the hare continues his charade
Hunt: Yep, that's me, Cap'n Hunt. I'm in charge of all bally
Klynne: *slightly amused* Well, welcome, Cap'n Hunt, and Miss
**Suddenly, the noise of a struggle comes from outside the lighted
Sharp eyes darting to a tunnel running off from the main chamber,
Klynne leaps to his feet. A gaunt mouse rushes out of the
aperture. Klynne grabs him as he runs by. "What's going on, Drin?"
"Vermin in th' north passage, sah!" he shouts, waving a paw
The shrew releases him and snarls in frustration. "They must have
followed us through the north entrance! Drin, rouse Markum and the
others... if there's going to be a fight, we'll need our best
fighters ready." Drin nods hurriedly and bolts for another
passageway. Klynne signals to two shrews standing nearby. "Gresk,
Marto, arm yourselves and join me. You two," he turns to Mari and
Hunt, "come also. No funny business, understand?" The hare and the
squirrel nod silently.
Gresk and Marto grab a pair of sickle swords and prod Hunt and
Mari with the flats. They take the message quite succinctly and
follow Klynne as he strides resolutely toward the north passage.
The sounds of battle grow louder as the five walk briskly farther
down the corridor. Presently, the flickering light of a torch is
visible reflecting off of the limestone walls from around a bend
in the passageway. Klynne rushes around the corner, baring a long
A dozen or so shrews, mice, and hedgehogs are engaged in bitter
combat with a motley group of shouting warriors. The rat is
limping slightly with a shallow slash across the footpaw, and the
bird is holding his wing awkwardly, but the sea otter's and rat's
blades flash rapidly. Two mice are down with various wounds, and
a shrew is either dead or unconscious. The tunnel is narrow at
this point, making it easy for the enemy to defend against higher
Klynne absorbs this in an instant and launches himself into the
fray, locking blades with the stocky rat. She bares her fangs
malignantly, but she trips momentarily on her wounded footpaw. The
shrew swings his blade in a roundhouse, but claws dart out of the
guttering torchlight and bite into his shoulder. He hadn't seen
Hunt leaps around the corner after the shrew, ripping a sword from
its scabbard across his back. He brings it in a downward chop, but
it catches against the hilt of a scimitar. He glances at the
owner. She glances at him. A moment of stunned recognition washes
over both their faces.
"Hunt?" Ember snaps. "What in the seasons are you doing?"
Klynne rubs his shoulder gingerly, glancing angrily between Hunt
and the other four. "Who are you? Are you in league with each
other? Why did you attack us?"
"We attack you?" Stormfyre explodes. "You attacked us!"
A hedgehog wounded in the knee points a stubby claw at the sparrow
hawk. "You tried t' kill Lurry!"
"I tried to capture whoever was following us," the small bird of
prey protests. "And what happened to Angus and Greeneye?"
"And Mari?" Tsar growls.
"I'm here," Mari calls softly, stepping into the torchlight.
Klynne nods to the two shrews behind him who begin tending to the
wounded, casting wary eyes at group their comrades have just been
fighting. He folds his arms and looks pointedly into Ember's eyes,
then Raitha's, Stormfyre's, and Tsar's. He raises his chin. "I
think we have a bit of confusion to clear up."
by Embershard Trillwind
Ember glares at the shrew. "You're right, we do," she snarls
caustically, wincing from the pain in her footpaw. "What is the
meaning of your attack!? We did nothing to you!"
Klynne laughs, a little bitter himself. "You invaded our island,
brought dozens of vermin in your wake, and captured these two
"Captured?" Stormfyre laughs, at the same time Raitha blurts,
"Survivors of the Greynorth," Klynne says with tilted chin,
though now he looks a little uncertain. "Your captain explained
it to us --"
"Captain?" Raitha chokes. Her dark face, flushed with battle,
deepens even further.
Klynne now appears distinctly uncomfortable; he motions to the
bystanding creatures to ready their weapons, in case the otter
turns unpredictable. "The hare, Captain Hunt --"
Raitha hurls herself at the hare with the full fury of a
nor'eastern gale, and it takes the bodily force of Tsar,
Stormfyre, Embershard, Klynne, and Mari to hold her down. "That
longeared sandstrider told ye wrong, shrew, I'm captain o' th'
Greynorth, an' not the sea nor an addlebrained rabbit dare claim
otherwise!" Gradually she regains her bearing, while Hunt shrinks
into the wall, chagrined.
Mari steps between the two parties. "Really, let's think
clearly," she says sternly, her high clear voice soothing and
reprimanding. "The six of us are together on a mission, along
with a fox and another rat. If you find them, you must not harm
them!" she pleads to Klynne, who grimaces but nods.
"You saved us from the battle above; we thank you," Mari
continues. "Allow me to help heal your wounded, and offer my deep
sorrows for your kinsbeasts whom my companions killed." She caps
off this statement with a steely glare at the questors, who look
a little sheepish. "We will not harm you again."
While she and Klynne oversee the injured, Ember gathers the
questors inconspicuously together. "Should we tell them of the
mission?" she askes, in an almost imperceptible whisper. "They
may be of help --"
A sudden shout explodes from a nearby tunnel, and a ragged shrew
shoots out of the opening. "Klynne!" he gasps, clutching his left
side and staggering to a halt before the leader. "There are a fox
and a rat in the east hall -- and they're killing left and right!"
by Raitha Galestarr
Klynne turns abruptly on the six comrades, an expression of hard distrust on his face. "Don't hurt the rat and the fox, eh? Well let this be a warning, if they cannot be stopped, we will kill them, and you too. I have seen enough to know not to trust you." His gaze turns to Mari, though her face is a picture of blank horror. "All of you."
"Klynne..." The shrew starts again, but his leader nods grimly at him and draws his sword.
"Don't worry, I am coming. Burtsi, Flelglum, keep these creatures here under a good guard. We will stop those two in the east hall, come!"
The six friends are surrounded by nine menacing creatures, and backed up against the wall as the woodlanders depart swiftly for the battle raging in the east hall.
The foremost of the guards, the large hedgehog pinning Raitha shifts his eyes over the small group. "We should never have trusted vermin. Huh! Now don't go thinkin' ye'll escape." He snaps, spotting the swift glance that passes between Raitha and Ember. "Ye won't get away from us!"
"Oh, we wouldn't be thnkin' of it, yer mightiness!" Raitha snaps, cocking her head to one side. "But lookit there, ye missed summat!" Like chain lightning, the sea otter whips a paw up, clamping about her guard's throat and kicking off the wall, leaving him sprawling and winded.
With a wild yell, Ember draws her dirk and dashes forward, bulling over a sturdy mouse. The others follow suit, knocking their guards tips over tails, and dash off down the hall. Briefly, Raitha pauses beside the hedgehog, struggling to rise.
"Sorry, matey, but we couldn't let yore pals go an' kill our mates, now could we?" She says, and deals the unfortunate beast a smart rap to his forehead, laying him out cold.
As the four friends run, blades flash in an extra effort to keep from being followed; slashing the heads from the torches burning in the wall brackets and leaving the passage behind them in darkness.
Far down the corridor, several minutes of running blindly passed, Tsar, in the lead, slows to a jog, and then stops, staring about her. They are in a winding tunnel, smaller and rougher than the large one they had been held in, somehow more ancient than the rest of the place. No torches spit and flicker in the rusting brackets embedded in the wall, and only phosphorescent fungi light the way.
"We can't find the east 'all, can we?" Raitha's eyes glimmer dimly, stretched wide in her face in an attempt to see in the almost zero light.
"I can't tell left from right down 'ere." Ember agrees.
Anxiously, Mari bites her lip, swinging her sling distractedly. "But what about Angus an' that rat, wotsisname... Greeneye? We can't leave 'em to die!"
"Kreeh! I cannot see my way down here! But I will not desert our comrades, we must find a way!" Stormfyre flaps angrily, his feathers brushing the cieling with a ghostly hiss. "Think, everybeast, think! Where could the east hall be?"
"I say, everybeast hang on to ye ears for one bally moment!" Hunt pipes up. Heads turn his way, and he cowers for a moment from Raitha's dark gaze, but soon straightens up and points to a spot on the wall. "I can't tell me directions from a slice o' jolly apple pie, chaps, but mightn't these be of some help?" He runs his paw over some ancient looking heiroglyphics scored deeply into the earthen wall, several small rounded stones embedded beside them.
"Prob'ly not." Raitha snorts rudely and steps forward to study the marks. Her expression suddenly changes to one of shock, fascination and intense wonder. "What in the name o'..." She whispers as she leans closer. "There's a join 'ere."
"What? What are you talkin' about, Raith?" Ember asks, becoming curious herself.
"There's a join 'ere! Ye know, a crack, a fit, this part o' the wall's hollow! There's summat be'ind it!" Dark hazel eyes glow with curiosity as their owner leans closer to study the strange marks.
"By all me whiskers an' claws." Tsar's voice shatters the mood. "Ah'll nivver be able ta live this'n out. We're to be luikin' fer our braw laddies out fightin', not setting out fer some 'idden room! Ferget it an' let's go!" The cat strikes the wall sharply with her sword hilt, snapping her friends out of their trance immediately.
"I s'pose the cat's right... But I'd still love to see what's be'ind that wall that need's 'idin'..." Raitha stops abruptly. A loud creaking, grating sound echoes through the passage. The six comrades stare about them in shock as the tunnel starts to quake in the deep noise. But just as a dark crack starts to open along the tunnel wall, the world collapses on itself. Earth pours down from the ceiling, and the walls start to crumble down on the creatures under them.
"Cave in!" Stormfyre yells, just before a large falling rock clubs the kestrel flat. All around, the world is crumbling, and one by one, the six creatures are knocked down under the heavy blanket of soil and rock. Pinned against the wall by a root beam, Raitha kicks furiously to free herself, but her struggles are suddenly ended by a large rock slab. Darkness consumes the small twisting tunnel and the beasts trapped inside.
Greeneye and Angus stand back to back, swinging their weapons and snarling at the beasts surrounding them. The battle takes a sudden pause at the deep rumbling that fills the air. "Cave in." The rat mutters. "What in the name o' hell's whiskers could have happened?"
Raitha comes to painful wakefulness, unsure at first whether she is dead or alive. Her world is shrouded in oppressive blackness, and her limbs are hampered by some invisible force. Suddenly, the memory of the cave-in rushes back to her. A moment of panic floods her mind as she wonders if the air supply has been cut off. Gritting her teeth, she staves it away.
The sea otter attempts to find her voice. At first, only a hoarse croak emanates from her parched mouth, but she soon gains control of her vocal cords. "Hey! Hey… Anybeast… Anybeast there?"
A familiar voice breaks the stale air. "Jus’ absotively spiffin’…. I steal a boat… Nearly get hauled off by a bally sea eagle… Survive the Northgrave thingummy… Captured by a blinkin’ tribe o’ cannibals… Battle a shipload o’ corsairs… Nearly get skewered on a shrew’s knife… An’ now I’m killed by a flippin’ seadog."
"Hunt! Hunt, you awright?"
"Wot? Oh, I say—Raitha. Sorry, ol’ bean, I’m killed."
Raitha grins lopsidedly at Hunt’s self-diagnosis. "Ye can be killed later, bucko. Can ye git free?"
"Bally cruel beast, can’t let a jolly chap die in peace…" the hare mumbles as he struggles against the surrounding earth and rock. He catches a glimpse of the eerie green glow of luminescent fungi ahead. He feels his way forward with his forepaws, finding an aperture which leads to open air. "I think I found a way out!"
"’Kay, can ye reach th’ others?"
"’Ang on a tick…" The hare crawls lithely through the opening and stands in the corridor. "Righto, the others…" He jumps atop the pile of debris and begins digging with his footpaws.
"Who’s that?" Raitha calls.
"Watch your clumsy paws, hare," Ember grunts.
"Found one!" Hunt shouts gleefully.
"Ooh, me ‘ead…"
"Tsar, is that you?"
"Aye, rat, wot’s left o’ me," the cat grimaces. "Wot I wuddn’t give fer a guid ould flagon o’ cold rockflower tea…"
"To clear your head?" Hunt inquires.
"Tae douse a certain sea otter," she grouses.
Raitha ignores the comment and tries to work herself free from the debris. Her paw brushes against something furry. "I think I found summat… Mari’s tail!" The sea otter frowns. "I dunno if she’s—wait, she’s movin’!"
Mari scrambles backwards and manages to clear the rubble. An urgent sob enters her voice as she says, "Raitha! Hunt! I… I think I found Stormfyre down there, but he’s… he isn’t moving! There was something wet…"
"Hunt, hurry!" Raitha shouts.
"Wot do y’ jolly well think I’m jolly well doin’?" Hunt replies, an edge of irritability creeping into his voice.
"I’m free!" Ember climbs out of the rocks and earth and joins in the digging.
"I think I found a wing!" Hunt announces.
"Be careful… pull him out carefully!"
Mari arrives quickly as Hunt and Ember lay the sparrow hawk spread-eagled across the rocks. "Oh no…"
"How is ‘e?" Raitha calls.
Blood stains the small bird of prey’s bright plumage. Several bones in his wing are splintered, and his breathing is rapid and shallow. Mari puts a tentative paw to his neck. The pulse is steady. "Quickly, I need something to bind these wounds!"
Hunt rips a strip of cloth from his tunic sleeve and hands it to Mari. "Y’ better not die, bird, I just sacrificed me best shirt…" he murmurs worriedly.
"Mari, ‘ow is ‘e?" Raitha repeats.
The squirrel purses her lips with dread. "Raitha, I can stop the bleeding… maybe even set some of these bones, but he’s… he’s just too sorely wounded…"
"There’s nothing Mari can do," Ember summarizes grimly. She glances at the injured bird. "Only the healing stone can save him now."
Angus pulls back, his mace still pointed at a scraggly mouse. The sounds of the cave-in are still loud in his ears.. The battle abruptly stops as both sides realize the meaning of the sounds. All Angus can think of is his friends. He sets off at a mad dash, following the quickly dying sounds of the cave- in. Greeneye takes the lead, his legs pumping like pistons. They turn a bend in a tunnel to find the way blocked off by loose soil and debris from the tunnel's roof.
Greeneye, not thinking, sets to work digging a tunnel. He uses his cutlass as a spade, digging at the clumpy earth. Angus quickly follows suit, and the two are working hard when the first of the cave dwellers come into view, still armed to the teeth. Greeneye shouts to them.
"Arr, are yer jus' gonna stan' thar or are yer gonna 'elp us dig.?" he shouts.
"I'll never help you!" a small shrew pipes up.
"Yer'd rather see yer friends die down 'ere? They're in there, too!" Greeneye says. And he knows that Angus's friends are also in there, knowing the effects of such a band of warriors on a community.
A few of the scraggly warriors step up, and help tentatively. Greeneye grins encouragingly, and Angus showes them how to use their weapons as shovels and props to hold up the tunnel. When they see it isn't a trick, the other cave dwellers come, too, and they soon have a good-sized tunnel in the debris. A mouse cries out, and they saw a paw. Angus runs over, and carefully dug out the whole creature. It was a shrew, who had been breathing from a pocket of trapped air. They pass the unconscious shrew back to the tunnel's entrance, and some of his friends tend to him.
Soon, several other beasts show up. Several of the beasts start crying when the crew find a dead little dormouse, who has been crushed by a beam. Even Greeneye sheds a tear for the beast. Greeneye and Angus take the lead of the tunnel crew, both digging madly to reach their friends. Greeneye suddenly collapses, and Angus kneels beside him. Greeneye is looking about wildly, and now and then lashing out at nothing.
"What's wrong with him?" an older shrew asks.
"I don't know," said Angus, who tries to find out what was wrong with the searat. But then he saw. Greeneye is lashing out at the walls of the tunnel, as if trying to support them. Greeneye is afraid of being in small spaces! Angus tries to move Greeneye, but Greeneye lashes out at him. Then, he rises abruptly and throws himself at the tunnel, clawing at the loose dirt with one paw, digging with his cutlass, biting and spitting soil, and even pushing back dug soil with his loose paw.
Suddenly, Angus looks up. Greeneye's paw has broken through. He is soon beside Greeneye, digging with him. Greeneye has seemed to quiet down, and is now digging rationally. They come across the scene of the rest of the band gathered around the fallen Stormfyre. Angus also kneels down beside him. There is a moment of silence, but then Mari looks to see Greeneye moving cautiously toward the dark tunnel.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" she asks angrily.
"Yer not gonna get anywhere's there!" Greeneye says. "Per'aps we can find summat down this passage."
Seeing his logic, the rest of the band stand to follow, although a couple stay with Stormfyre. The last stage of the adventure was at paw!
by Embershard Trillwind
"Hold it right there!"
The seven whirl around and gather in a little closer to the
unconscious Stormfyre. The hallway is clogged on either side with
ragged creatures, coated with dust and weilding vicious weaponry.
In the front stands Klynne the shrew, gripping a notched blade
ferociously and glaring at the company. Merely a shred of self-
control holds him back from attacking immediately. Behind him,
scores of goodbeasts quiver in rage.
"It wasn't enough to invade our island," Klynne snarls, all prior
politeness lost in the fray. "You slaughter us, destroy our home,
and and now an innocent mousebabe lies dead!"
Mari extends her paws helplessly. "We didn't mean --"
Klynne's face contorts. "I've heard enough of your lies,
squirrel," he spits. "You more than deserve the death we will
Mari reels back in pained shock. Grabbing her by the shoulders,
Raitha throws the white squirrel into the center of the circle of
questors. She falls beside Stormfyre and scrambles to her feet,
grappling with her sling.
"We'll have to fight this one," Embershard says quietly, the light
of torches glinting in her eyes.
"Wi' me broken paw? In this ... little ... hallway?" Greeneye
fires back, bravado fading.
Raitha shares a glance with Tsar. "Bring it on," she growls
"I say, wot next?" Hunt sighs, nonetheless crouching and ready for
Around the fighters, the goodbeast horde shuffles and murmurs
anxiously; and amidst them, Stormfyre stirs.
by Raitha Galestarr
"Uhnn, wha?" The kestrel lifts his head, but his faint mumblings are suddenly cut off in a squawk of pain that draws all eyes to him.
"Stormfyre, be still, please! You are too injured to move." Mari acts quickly, placing firm but gentle paws on Stormfyre's wings to stop him moving.
The kestrel does as he is told. Lying back, he peers at everything through hazy golden eyes, taking in the situation; the crumbled, wrecked passage, the furious horde of woodlanders, so oddly minus the species of any of the desperate warriors standing against them. "What happened? Why does my wing hurt so much?"
"Your wing is the least of your worries, murderer!" Klynne snarls, drawing his sword and pointing it at them. "Kill them! Kill them all! Take no prisoners, my warriors!"
"Kill! Kill! Kiiiilllll!" A wild scream of rage rises from the cavedwellers. In a concerted mass, they charge forward, throwing themselves on their opponents. Almost instantly, Raitha, Tsar, Ember and Greeneye, in the foremost of their small group, are forced back, almost tripping over Mari and Stormfyre in the middle. Flaying about with their weapons, Angus and Hunt push up to the rank with their comrades.
"Die! Die! Kill them all!" Klynne is heard ranting from the sidelines, where he stands, waving his sword and shouting orders.
Raitha, turns her head and glares over at the shrew. "Grrrrrrrrr- Shaddup, yer slabsided coward! Why don't ye stop yellin' there like a fussy ol' cormorant mother an' come 'elp yer mates face us? Ye won't be bawlin' so loud then!" A hedgehog falls to the sea otter's sword, and she steps back to avoid his fall. Sidestepping neatly, she avoids a howling mole's club and whacks him across the head with her swordblade, knocking him out cold. Through the caved in darkness of loose earth and struggling, crouding bodies, her eyes gleam with light half anger, half fear.
There is no end to the horde pouring out of the outer tunnel entrance. They press forward eight abreast, eager to wish death on the invaders. But while the three vermin fight on grimly, the sea otter at their side snarling in reckless battlefury, tears course silently down the faces of Tsar and Mari as they cut down mice, shrews, hedgehogs, voles and others with sling and blade.
Silently, Stormfyre watches his friends hacking at the foe, trying to drive them back, or sacrifice their lives trying to protect him. "Stop! This is useless! We have to get out of here, can't you see that?" He yells and hauls himself forward to tug at Raitha's jerkin hem. As the sea otter turns about, she gives a sudden shout and falls to her knees. A large mouse jerks his sword loose from the sea otter's leg and raises it for a deathsrike.
"Die, vermin! Back to Hellgates where you belo...!" The mouse slumps forward to the ground, blood running from his throat. Ember stands over him and tugs her dirk loose.
A looks of respect and surprise crosses Raitha's face as she pulls herself upright, gritting her teeth against the agony in her leg. "Thankee, Trillwind, looks like I owes ye one..."
"Go! Run! Shift yersel's lads an' lassies!" Tsar suddenly yells. Completely taken off guard, the others stare at the cat.
"What? Run? In the middle o' a battle?"
"I say, that's just not on! Must protect the ol' bird an' such, wot!"
Roughly, Tsar grabs Hunt before he can lunge forward to take on the teeming foe single pawed and shoves him towards the deep, winding tunnel that the walldoor concealed. "Cummon, me mateys! We kin lose our scent in yon tunnel, ye ken! Now run!"
Before they can even think, the others are obeying the cat, shoving over the woodlanders attacking them and racing off suddenly into the darkness.
Stormfyre is grabbed in strong paws and hoisted up between Angus and Hunt. The kestrel is jolted and pulled mercilessly, completely blinded in the dark. In the back of the group, Raitha limps painfully, finally falling on all fours and loping after her friends. Tsar rushes along in front, her green eyes glowing through the almost pitch darkness.
The woodlanders have halted a moment, completely stupefied by the sudden desertion of their foes. Left faced with nothing, a few begin edging back out towards the main tunnel, but for a sudden commotion that stirs up near the mouth. Klynne charges through his warriors, anger stamped on his face. "What do you mean they're gone? Well, get after them! Don't just stand there! Charge! We will not rest until the murderers are caught and dealt with! I will make them scream for repentance for the death of one mousebabe! Go!"
Galvanized into action, the cavedwelling forces rush off into the pitch darkness after their foe, shouting aloud until the rough walls resound to the sound of savage hunting howls.
The group runs softly down the passage, supporting each other as best they can, because almost all of them are hurt. Stormfyre caws softly, but is held firmly by the others. They finally arrive in something that looks like it was just revealed by the cave-in. It's a series of cold steps, leading downwards. They start down it, each drawing weapons. They seem to have lost the cave dwellers in their run.
Raitha, limping slightly but trying to hide it, is noticed by Mari. "I can bind that for you if you want," says the albino squirrel.
"Belay that, missy," says Raitha. "I'm fine."
At this point, Greeneye looks over. "That's a nasty lookin' gash yer got there, otter. I think yer should let the squirrel look at it."
"I'm fine," Raitha insists, but grimaces slightly. "I suppose yer could put a little somethin' on it, Mari" she concedes.
As Mari binds the wound and Greeneye watches with a sort of strange curiosity, Ember notices that they have fallen behind.
"Come on, mates, the party's not waitin'," she calls back.
Mari and Greeneye support Raitha as they start down the stairs, and soon catch up to the others. Tsar, Ember, Angus, and Hunt have been gazing around a large room. It looks to have once been a storage chamber of some sort. The floor is now covered by an oozing slush, and several frogs can be seen on the other end.
"Groikk, tresspassers!" calls one, and hops toward a stack of weapons. The others follow suit.
"Oh, come now, chaps, we don't mean you no...," starts hunt, but is cut off when a frog hurls a spear at them. "I say," he pipes up. "Bally rude to interrupt a chap, what?" "Haha, that teaches ya," laughs Tsar, who pulls her sword .
As more toads arrive, the friends gather together and sling stones and fire arrows back. Hunt and Tsar start circling around the muck on a thin lip of stone. A frog, who had been swimming in the ooze, suddenly pokes its head out. Reacting instantly, Tsar strikes and lops off its head.
"We're outnumbered two to one!" shouts Mari, trying to tend to Stormfyre, whose wound has started bleeding harder. She pauses to fire her slingshot at a big male who had been coming across the gunk with two spears clutched in its paws. The stone hits the frog in the forehead, and it drops beneath the gunk.
"From one fight to another," growls Greeneye, loosing another slingstone. Suddenly he falls into the muck, shoved off the platform by a frog that had come up on on his blind side.
Raitha, not worried about her own safety, dives in after him. Greeneye kicks out at a toad that had come at him and strikes out to the surface. Raitha's paw grabs him by the scruff of the neck, and they both surface with a squelch. To their dismay, they see that their friends are being assaulted from the rear by some lizards that seem to have snuck around. As Hunt and Tsar quickly make their way back to their friends, Ember knocks one of the lizards into the muck. It is immediately enveloped, and it drowns. Seeing the lizards can't swim, the group starts fighting fiercely. The warriors push the lizards toward teh muck, and a couple fall before they can see what is happening.
As Tsar, Hunt, Greeneye, and Raitha rejoin the main group, Angus spots something. The fox neglects to tell his compatriots, keeping the information to himself. As the battle turns to the side of the warriors, a score of frogs surface. A huge frog fully twice as big as the normal frog takes the lead, and the frog force annhilates the lizards. Now the two forces look angrily at each other for a second.
Then the frog leader shouts, "Attack! Groikk! Kill the intruders!" His shout is drowned out by Ember, who shouts, "Get them! Get those frogs!"
Puzzled, both sides stop to look at Ember. She grins, and the warriors realize what she's thinking. They charge the frogs, who are so surprised that they flee. The big frog stops before diving to shake his spear. "Groikkoik! It's not over yet!"
"We did it! Now there's only a few sentries to stop us from getting around!" says Mari. As they start, Hunt notices Greeneye isn't following.
"I say, ole Greenthingy, come on!" He says, wiggling his black ear.
Greeneye scoffs at the group. "Yer c'n go get yerselves killed, but I ain't gonna fight fer yer. I ain't gonna get meself killed fer summat I don't even know!"
"What do yer mean, rat?" asks Raitha, more annoyed than interested. But still, Greeneye is an able fighter and they need all the help they can get.
"I mean I ain't gonna fight 'till I'm let inter the secret o' whatever brings yer here, an' given me fair share in it!" he says, glaring.
by Hunt Oaktree
Hunt turns and glares at the rat, annoyed.
"Jolly good time to ask for a story, wot?"
Greeneye holds his ground firmly. "I still want ter know, hare.
What brings yer here?"
Ember, also annoyed, responds. "We could ask the you the same
Greeneye harrumphs. "Later. If'n I joins yer side, I'm I oughter
know wot yer fightin' for!"
The small band clusters for a hasty conference. "Th' last thin' we
need is anoother vermin among us!" Tsar says angrily, looking over
the roughened rat.
"Aye, but look at us -- wounded an' bruised, we could use another
pair o' fightin' paws!" Raitha returns.
"It's only for this quest!" snorts Angus. "It's not like we're
gettin' married t' each other, eh?"
They whisper together for a few moments, and then turn as one
toward the former searat captain. "We have no choice," Embershard
sighs, her voice less sharp than usual. "We can't leave you alive
as an enemy, and you've been too much help for us to kill you. We
haven't much time for a tale such as ours, but you'll hear it.
Betray us, and you WILL suffer." Her eyes narrow. "The weasel
Uriel has hired us to bring to him a mystical jewel which
supposedly heals all wounds. Our companion, a rat named Jenner,
has already fallen on the adventure. We wrecked on this island --"
she glares at Raitha -- "and we think the jewel is here.
Bloodblade the Terror has one band out looking for us, and
Darkhound the bounty hunter has rallied the island natives against
Hunt grins mischeviously. "Wot with those two an' Klynne's Killer
Cavedwellers, every bally beast on the island's got it in for us,
Stormfyre twitches in pain suddenly; Mari shushes him.
The female rat nods at Greeneye briskly. "There's a battle on the
surface, a horde down the corridor, and angry frogs down here.
We're all injured and we have no idea where to find the jewel.
Help us, and we'll guard your back and share the reward. Refuse
Greeneye's good eye glints maliciously. "I've come this far wi'
ye, I'll stay th' journey through," he agrees. "But I can make
threats too, y'know. Turn on me an' ye'll feel a blade between yer
ribs, no question."
Hunt coughs loudly. "I say, well, now that we're all friends again
an' all -- let's get out of here!"
With a resounding murmur of agreement, the eight -- now a unified
group -- struggle down the corridor, helping each other along, and
grimacing from individual wounds.
by Raitha Galestarr
Far, far into the depths of the earth the passageway seems to stretch. The dank walls curve low overhead, studded with rough bumps and protrusions that catch the taller creatures frequently, causing no small amount of discomfort and cursing. Paws already shaky from wounds and exhaustion slip and squelch through thick, marshy mud, from which rises a foul odour. Coughing and gasping for breath, trying not to inhale too deeply, they plow onwards, ears ever alert for the sound of pursuit, either from amphibians or from cavedwellers. The water dripping from the cieling bounces eerily about in the darkness, mingling with the trickling sound of some underground watersource.
Tsar's ears lie flat against her skull, her head bobs slowly from side to side. The cat flicks her green eyes in all directions; uncomfortable with the oppressive darkness and ever present drip of water. "Raitha, yer a waterbeast, diye think yon water's floowin' close? Ah dinna like the thought o' a stream fallin onter me 'eid, ye ken."
Raitha pauses and leans against the slimy wall. far be it for her to admit, but the sea otter is feeling decidedly pressed, aching and even frightened by this heavy atmosphere. It isn't doing a world of good for her unpredictable temper, and tersely she snaps: "I wouldn't know if me life depended on it, cat! I'm a sea otter! Not some river-slippin' waterwallop--!" She struggles angrily against the strong paw Greeneye clamps over her muzzle.
"Shhsst! Shaddup!" The big rat hisses at his comrades. "What's that?"
"I say, what's what, ol'bean?" Hunt pipes in, swishing his long ears comically about. For a moment he stops, then leans forward, ears upright with interest. "Oh, that's what, wot!"
Forcefully, Raitha breaks Greeneye's grip on her, almost knocking him over. Narrowing her eyes, she stares at Hunt. "What's what, mate?"
Typically, the hare replies in the most riddlish way he can contrive. "Well, I don't ezzactly know what's what, ol' gel. I mean, what I think what is might not be what what is at all. And bless a bally turnip to an oaktree, I haven't a clue what's what down here, wot!"
"I wouldn't think different. The hare's been addled down here, he's talkin' even less sense than usual!" Angus sneers at the beaming hare. Hunt's face wilts. He draws himself up in an offended manner.
"Now see here, y'great bottomed, sadsacked excuse for a fox! I...!"
Roughly, Greeneye clamps his paws on the hare's shoulders and spins him around, snarling into his face. "Stow that babble, hare! Your ears are better than mine! Tell us what you hear before I rip your tongue out and hang you from the cieling so's you don't bother us no more!" The others looks at each other, slightly shocked by the rat's outburst. With Greeneye's claws still digging into his arm, Hunt perks his ears up sulkily and mutters his findings.
"Oh allright! No sense bein' torn apart by beasts with no sense o' humor, I bally well suppose! It sounds like ropes creakin', an some kinda roar. I say! I've heard that somehwere before! Now where was it? Hmm, roar, creaking ropes, roar..."
"Could that be possibly aboard a ship?" Raitha suggests sarcastically.
Hunt snaps his claws triumphantly.
"I say! Now I've remembered! It was aboard our Raitha's jolly ol' ship!"
Raitha groans, but the others stare at each other in consternation. A ship? Underground? It isn't possible!
"Cummon, then! If there's a ship down there, I wanna see it! An' who knows what we'll find!" Ember says. "This might just lead us to the jewel!"
**Angus, who has until now refused to share his findings, speaks
Angus: Yer goin' the wrong way *mumbles, so no one else can hear
him* I think
**Raitha turns back towards the fox**
Raitha: Oh, really? Explain.
Angus: Um, uh, follow me. I'll show ya.
**The others shrug, not knowing what's going on but willing to
investigate it. The fox leads them back to the room where they
were previously fighting the frogs. He motions over to one section
of the wall, where a handle--like one on a door--can just be made
out. However, it is not in the most accessible of locations.**
Angus: I'd be willin' t'bet that there's somethin' interesting
behind that...whatever it is.
Ember: Supposing we agreed to check this out, how would we get
**Angus is silent....**
At this, Tsar the cat stands forward.
"Ah be nah the strongest o' creatures, but I do be a cat, an' a bonny good one at tha'. Ah think ah'd be able tah get in there."
Greeneye, who has little chance of getting through because of his size, grins. "At least we 'ave one noble 'earted beast 'tween us, eh? You go in there, matey, we'll cover yer."
The way is blocked by a pile of boulders, and Tsar is barely able to squeeze through. A lizard pops up and hisses at the cat, but is silenced forever by a slingstone from Mari. A few more appear, but Tsar cuts down one and the others are also hit by a variety of missiles from the comrades, each peering in through the hole. Suddenly, Tsar splips and falls against a boulder, and the boulder balanced atop the pile teeters and starts to fall.
"Hurry up, mate!" yells Raitha, and the wildcat leaps to her feet and rushes to the hatch. She wrenches it open and looks in. It's a small cabinet, and inside is a large green gem. Tsar lets out a woop and pulls it out and throws it to the friends. Greeneye makes a snatch but Hunt gets it first, waggling his ear at the searat.
Tsar start across quickly back to his friends, but suddenly a boulder falls and pins her down. Hunt and Mari discover that they can fit through, and quickly tug the wildcat out, but one of her footpaws was crushed. Coming back through the hole, the three find Ember, Raitha, Angus, and Greeneye battling a gang of ferrets, weasels, and stoats. And in the middle of the gooey pond stands a ship, covered with slime and looking every inch the ghost ship. Suddenly, a stoat grabs the jewel but Raitha runs him through. Jumping from her good leg, Tsar grabs it from midair. Suddenly, her paw is well again. Realizing what this means, the friends quickly pass around the jewel. Good as new, they attack the enemy with such a ferocity that they drive them to the ship. < p> Mari, the last to the stone, pulls away from the fighting and goes to Stormfyre. She kneels near the fallen bird. Is it too late? She hopefully lays the jewel on the hawk's chest and holds her breath, a million miles from the fighting. Nothing happens at first, but then the hawk stirs, and sits up. Mari cries with joy. Seeing the fight, the hawk swoops on the enemy, and Mari seizes her own weapon to join the fight. The Weasel's Jewel is theirs!
<>"Kiiiieeeeeerrrr! Ahh, it is good to be alive!" Stormfyre loops at
a crazy angle before lighting softly on the rocky ground in the
middle of the group as the lizards retreat before the avenging
Mari clutches the shining stone, her eyes reflecting its
brilliance, unsure whether the jewel is merely shining from the
torchlight or glowing with a luminescence of its own. Glancing at
it and at their fallen enemies, the smile fades momentarily from
her ivory face. "Don't you think... Might we heal them as well?"
"Bilge an' barnacles!" Greeneye howls. "Heal 'em? Y' gone mad,
"They were trying to kill us," Ember grumbles.
"An' how do we know it doesn't have some kind o' limit?" Angus
scowls. "Maybe we'll use it all up."
"We could use a guide t' these caves," Raitha muses, eyeing the
fallen reptiles cannily. "I wouldn't like t' try slippin' by
Klynne's lot the way we came."
"Arr, I can't b'lieve dis!" Greeneye snarls. "We was jus' killin'
'em, an' now we're savin' 'em?"
"Wouldn't you want to be saved if you were dying?" Mari glowers.
The searat bares his forefangs. "I'm never gonner be dyin'. That's
cos I kill all me enemies an' they stay killed."
A look of astonished indignation crumples the squirrel's soft
features. "Perhaps that is all I can expect from a vermin."
Tsar lowers her chin darkly. "Aye, lass, all ye c'd ever expect."
"We've come too far to be divided now," Ember hisses. "Raitha's
right, we need a guide, or we'll spend the rest of our seasons in
this hole. If nobeast else has any better suggestions, I think we
should use the stone... for one."
"One?" Mari protests.
"As moch as Ah'd hate tae admit it," Tsar lilts, "the rat's
right." She glances askance at Embershard. "They tried t' kill us,
an' they'd overwhelm us all if we 'ealed 'em all."
Mari's eyes fall to the ground. "You're right," she murmurs. With
another bitter glance at Greeneye, the squirrel kneels at one of
the downed lizards and holds the stone to its chest. She shakes
her head. "This one's gone."
The albino squirrel crouches next to another body and presses the
jewel to the lizard's limp form. Pursing her lip, she waits. The
reptile's throat pulses once. Elongated claws curl slowly.
Suddenly, amber eyes slitted with midnight-dark pupils flash open.
With a baleful spitting hiss, the lizard lunges forward, knocking
Mari back onto the stone floor.
Reacting swiftly, Raitha sweeps her scimitar underneath the
reptile's legs. It falls to the ground again, and Ember holds her
dirk against its stone-grey throat. She speaks softly,
diplomatically. "Don't struggle; we're not trying to hurt you! Do
you understand my speech?"
The lizard stares at her for a moment and replies sibilantly, "You
zzzpeak azzz off-landerzzz. Why comezz you to theezzz cavezzzz?"
The rat narrows her eyes. "You're not in a position to ask
questions. Is there any way out of here other than past Klynne's
"Klynne!" the lizard spits. "Klynne izzz a thieving coward!"
"Yes, fine, we're trying to avoid Klynne. How do we do that?"
Ember repeats impatiently.
"You want Lyra azzz guide?"
"S'pposin' yore Lyra, yeah," Raitha grunts.
"I'a Lyra, mother of five zzztrong eggzz."
"You know these caves?"
The lizard flicks her tongue impassively. "All tribe of Lecerta
know, yezzz. I take furrbeastzzz, featherbird where you wantzzz."
"Great," Angus smirks. "Let's get goin', huh?"
Ember stands and allows Lyra to rise to her feet. The rat waves
her dirk meaningfully. "No tricks, lizard. Just show us the
quickest way out of here."
The reptile nods silently. Angus and Greeneye take the lead,
followed and guided by Lyra, who is watched closely by the other
four questors from behind.
Stormfyre approaches Raitha tentatively as they stride through the
gloomy caverns. The thrill of being restored was becoming replaced
by a certain uneasiness. "Raitha... what will become of the
The sea otter shrugs. "Yew 'eard Ember, we was hired by Uriel the
"And he will get it?" the sparrow hawk prods.
Raitha pauses, unnerved. "What're ye gettin' at, matey?"
Stormfyre clenches his beak. "Raitha, there is something about
this stone. I do not know if I just became aware of it since it
was used to heal me, but... in the paws of a goodbeast, the stone
could surely do great good. But in the paws of a vermin..."
The sea otter stops abruptly. She grips the sparrow hawk's wing
with a muscular paw, disbelief etched upon her scarred face. "Yew
ain't gonna try t' stop us, are ye?"
"I don't know," Stormfyre murmurs. "Perhaps I am simply being
paranoid... but maybe there is something. And if there is, I
cannot ignore it."
Raitha lowers her eyes sullenly. "I understand."
Stormfyre raises his eyes with grim determination. "I hope you
by Hunt Oaktree
The group follows the lizard through the caves, growing more and
more suspicious. The caverns seem to go on and on, and the
travelers could be going around in circles, for as much as they
know. Hunt, truly bored by the never-changing scenery, begins to
sneak looks in the openings that appear every now and then in the
wall. As he glances through one, his face lights up, and he
disappears into the room.
Mari, who has been walking beside him, turns to talk to him
and notice he is missing.
"Hunt? Hunt, where'd you go?"
From farther down the corrider, she hears a loud crunching
noise. It sounds like a bone being broken Concerned for the
hare's safety, she yells down the hall, "Something's happened to
Hunt! We need to help him!" and runs into the room.
When the others arrive in the room, they find Mari staring at
the sight before them. Hunt languishes on a pile of fresh
carrots, munching on a rather large one. Stacks and stacks of food
are all over the place, and the travelers realize for the first
time just how hungry they are.
Raitha addresses the lizard prisoner while eyeing a stack of
"Look 'ere, lizard. We're not lettin' you go, we're simply
stopping for a lunch break. Feel free to browse yerself, but if I
catch you makin' an escape..." She leaves the threat hanging and
helps herself to an apple.
The group devours the food, talking limited, concentrating
only on eating. Hunt and Ember find themselves arguing over a
beaker of elderberry wine.
"I was here first, hare," Ember hisses, grabbing the beaker.
"Gimme that wine."
"Now now, old gel," the hare replies, also grabbing the
beaker. "No need to bally blow up about it. There's a simple
solution to this."
"And what would that be?"
"Give me the wine!"
The rat growls and they begin to struggle. Soon, however,
Hunt slips on a wedge of cheese and the beaker goes flying,
spilling its contents over Embershard.
Hunt stiffles a giggle as he backs away from the angry rat.
"Well, you're lookin' a bit red in the face, dear," he
deadpans. "But don't get all mad. Just recite the mantra after
me, and it'll keep you calm."
"What mantra?" Ember growls through her teeth, stalking closer
and closer to the hare.
"Salad and scoff, that's all it is. Just salad and scoff, the
way to live." Hunt chants, now backed against the wall. "Salad
and scoff...come on, bally gel, just repeat after me...salad and
Their joviality is interrupted as Mari gasps. A large shadow
falls across the doorstep. Klynne's voice carries through the
"Of course, I should have known. You have a hare...of course
you would end up in the storage rooms."
by Raitha Galestarr
A thin smile plays over the shrew's face as he raises one paw and waves it over his shoulder. From either side of him, dark, ragged shapes stream into the room, surrounding their prey thickly. Swords and spearblades flicker thirstily, pointing at the creatures trapped in the center of their bitter ring. Klynne's eyes flick to Hunt, frozen in place with horror, mouth fallen open.
"Thank you, hare, you delivered your comrades straight to the clutches of death, and I didn't even have to ask..."
"Why you slinking little..!" Ember draws her dirk and lunges at the hare. Tsar grabs the rat, digging her claws lightly through her fur angrily. Greeneye helps her drag Ember back from the cowering hare, growling himself.
"Don't get too confident, hare, I just don't want Ember ta rip you apart afore I gets a chance ter..."
Fangs showing, Raitha glares angrily. "So, shrew, now ye got us, wha' d'ye want, eh? Ye seems ter be goin' to a lot o' trouble just ter catch us when all we want's out." A stern spearpoint stabs lightly at the sea otter's paw, warding it away from her swordhilt.
Klynne puts on a face of mock surprise. "Oh, you still haven't figured that out? I want the jewel. A pity I've never been able to get it because of the lizards guarding it." Lyra hisses malignantly. "However, you have done the dirty work for me, and now I want my due." The shrew gestures towards Mari, and several ragged creatures advance on her.
"Heh, sure ya don't wanna relate all your grandiose plans an' bore us even more?" Angus sneers despite the sharp blades pressed into his back. Still smiling coolly, Klynne slaps the fox across the face with his swordflat.
"I wouldn't waste my breath, now tell your squirrel friend to give me the gem, now!"
With a gulp, Mari slowly draws the jewel from her belt and holds it out.
"Kiiiiiiiieeeeeeeerrrrr!" Like a whiplash, Stormfyre leaps into the air and hurls himself at Klynne. Just as the shrew grabs the glowing jewel, he is knocked off his feet by the kestrel, whacking a wing across his face, ripping the jewel from his grasp. Klynne staggers back with a gasp, and his followers freeze, not knowing what to do. In the blink of an eye, Stormfyre flaps free, dropping the gem from his talons back into Mari's paws.
"Kreeh! Run! Don't stop to fight! Run!" He shrieks, diving recklessly into the mob. A thin rabbit staggers back, dropping his sword and clutching at the long gashes rent in his face.
Hurriedly, the seven comrades and the lizard heed the hawk's words and bull through the woodlanders guarding the door. Stormfyre is still circling and slashing when Raitha, the last to leave through the door, leans back in and grabs his wing as he passes her.
Ember shoves Lyra out in front, yelling fearfully. "Hurry, lizard! Get us out of here! Move it!"
Their paws pound the earthen floor fiercely as they dash down the corridor after the lizard. Back in the store room, Klynne climbs back to his feet. Blood rises in the shrew's face. Angrily, he grabs his sword and waves it over his head. "After them! Get them!!! Go on, chase them!"
The walls flash past in a blur of darkness. Running swiftly along the hardpacked floor, Hunt, out in front, doesn't have enough time to stop when he suddenly spots directly ahead a strange break in the blackness. With a gasp, the hare backpedals, and cannons into Raitha. With a loud oath, the sea otter and the hare tumble forward, and land with a splash in icy shallow water. Swearing vividly, Raitha surfaces and swings angrily at the hare. "Watch where yer goin' ye fumble pawed slimeslinkin' barrelscraper!"
Hunt ducks the blow and points behind Raitha. "I say, ol' gel, turn about! What's that?"
"Oh, ye seasons of slaughter!" Mari breathes, staring where the hare points. The others look too. Suspiciously, Raitha narrows her eyes.
"What, ye think yer all gonna get me ter look like that? Not a chance..." She turns around and falls silent.
"Kill the intruders!! Get that jewel back!!! Go!" The cavedwelling forces, with Klynne howling in their midst, crowd out of the tunnel and grind to an untidy halt behind the little band.
A little way past the small group of friends, the tunnel suddenly widens out into a deep inlet of salt water. Far down near the end, light pours in like a rip in dark fabric, reflecting off the water. Much closer than that, dim golden lights bob and glitter, and suddenly illuminate a huge, sleek, elaborately painted galley. Everybeast on shore is frozen in place as the huge ship draws closer, the only sound emanating from it the creak and groan of oars, and the slapping of water against its hull. The galley slowly halts, not more than half a shiplength from where they stand, and an anchor is thrown overboard.
"So, my employees, you have found my jewel for me, and just in time for my arrival. How pleasing!" A cultured voice rings out smoothly. All eyes train on the high prow of the craft. A tall creature wearing a flapping tawdry cloak mounts the bowsprit and peers down at the creatures on the shore.
Placing a paw beside his muzzle to block his voice, Greeneye whispers to Embershard. "Is that who I think 'e be?"
She nods disparagingly, stepping forward and drawing her dirk in salute. The female rat's voice rings back, speaking one single word.
by Embershard Trillwind
Silently Mari pulls the jewel from her pouch and carefully hands
it to Raitha. The otter passes it on, and the healing jewel goes
from questor to questor until it reached Ember's slightly unsteady
paws. As it leaves each beast's paws, they realize their recent
injuries have faded ...
Embershard moves forward slowly, clutching the jewel, prepared to
swim out to meet her employer with the prize. She wades a foot
into the shallows -- when Klynne hurls himself at her back and
wrestles her to the ground. The jewel flies out of her paws and
into the water not a yard from Uriel's outstretched paw. Crushing
the rat's face into the water, the shrew cries, "My followers --
don't stand there, get the jewel!"
The entire shoreline leaps into action. Scores of beasts, Angus
and Greeneye in the fore, surge into the shallows in pursuit of
the glimmering gem. Raitha charges into the water and elbows
Klynne in the head. He falls away, unconscious. One of his minions
runs over and drags him out of the water. Ember rears up, gasping
and choking, and stares at Raitha through watery eyes. She coughs.
"Well," she murmurs unsteadily, "either we're even or we owe each
The shore has become a froth of battle. A dozen divers struggle
with the jewel underwater. The placid weasel Uriel strides to the
fore of the ship, raises a hand, and cries, "Stop!"
The action grinds to a halt, swords in mid-swing, and all eyes
turn to Uriel. Klynne sits up woozily and squints at the weasel.
"Enough of this," orders Uriel coolly. "Klynne, you have done
well. Call off your beasts."
Mari's jaw drops. "And all this time you were --"
Klynne gestures grudgingly to the bedraggled creatures, and they
slowly straggle out of the shallows. The eight questors remain
there, staring defiantly at the weasel. Tsar lifts the jewel from
the water and watches its sparkle.
"Of four separate questing parties, I must say you were the most
unlikely," Uriel continues to the eight. "Duskhound was my
personal pick, Bloodblade not too far behind. Frankly, I'm
surprised you've avoided killing each other."
"Wasn't easy," murmured Hunt sardonically, shooting a glance at
"And I see you've gained a friend." Uriel glances at Stormfyre;
then his gaze falls on Greeneye. "Jenner, what happened to your
"Captain Greeneye, your majesty," Ember narrates hastily. "Jenner
was washed overboard."
"Very well." Uriel waves away the news. "My jewel..."
Without warning, Stormfyre soars forward and snatches the jewel
from Tsar's paws. "Vermin, you'll only use this for evil! You
don't deserve it!" He hovers a bit above the ship, out of the
reach of everyone present.