Part IV, The Jewel

by Stormfyre

"Storm, whaddyer think ye’re doin’?" Raitha roars angrily.
"The bally featherbag’s gone cuckoo!" Hunt exclaims.
Uriel fights to maintain his aristocratic composure. "What is this?" he cries, his voice halfway between astonishment and indignation.
"This stone cannot be allowed to fall into the paws of an evilbeast!" Stormfyre yells defiantly. "It cannot be allowed to leave this island!"
"This ain’t gonna do any good, Storm!" Raitha shouts.
"Any good for what?" Ember snaps. "Do you know anything about this, Raitha?"
The sea otter glares at the rat. "’E just said summat ‘bout thinkin’ th’ stone could be used fer evil! I didn’t know ‘e’d snatch it like that!"
"Embershard, who is this bird?" Uriel demands.
"He’s a friend of Raitha’s, Majesty," Ember replies, glowering at the otter.
"I ain’t losin’ my pay ‘cause of a feather-bottomed traitor!" Angus snarls, fingering his mace.
"This is a matter of honor!" the sparrow hawk retorts. "The jewel would be the cause of great evil!"
Mari spreads her paws incredulously. "How could the jewel be evil, Stormfyre? You yourself were saved by it!"
"The stone itself is neither evil nor good," Stormfyre shakes his head, "but if it were to escape the island, it would become the greatest evil the world has known!" He gazes pleadingly into her eyes. "Don’t you see? The jewel can bring friends from the brink of death; it can rejuvenate and regenerate; it is a fountain of youth, but there can only ever be one! If it was brought into the world, it would be coveted by everybeast! It would become the idol of every living creature! Creatures would slaughter to obtain it! Wars would devastate the land! Lust for immortality would kill more than the jewel could ever save!"

by Greeneye

"Thanks fer the lesson in morality, yer stupid bird," growls Greeneye. "But in case yer was wonderin', I'd already figgered that out. An' I be sure everybeast else 'as, too. I wasna goin' ter give it ter that weasel, anyway."
Raitha agrees with Greeneye, saying, "Stormfyre, we're not all stupid. So jus' 'and o'er the jewel, back ter us. Yer can't play hero ferever, matey."
Uriel is enraged, and he shouts, "Kill the bird and his friends! Kill them!" At his shouts the cavedwellers and the corsairs move as one, sweeping toward the little bunch.
"Give 'em billyoh, chaps!" shouts Hunt. "Let them know Hunter P. Oaktree died fightin', wot?"
As the friends make a circle, Greeneye whips out his sling. Nobody notices what he's doing until the former Captain lets the stone fly and it hits Stormfyre's wing. Tsar moves quickly and pins Greeneye, her eyes flashing at the traitor.
Stormfyre drops the jewel, but his wing brushes it and the slingstone wound is instantly cured. The great hawk dives after the jewel. Angus leaps out and catches the jewel neatly in his paw. The friends start passing the jewel back and forth as the enemy scores hits on them, and it is soon apparent that they could fight forever. Uriel shouts out, "Stop! You'll never win!" and the cavedwellers and Corsairs pull back.
"Now, it appears we are at an empass. You have the jewel, I have the ship. Now unless you want to stay here forever, hand over the jewel. I promise no harm will befall you."
"Sure," growls Ember. "Like we'd ever trust a weasel's word."
"Would yer trust a rat's?" asks Greeneye, glaring at Ember. "It's obvious we ain't gettin' nowheres."
Raitha grins. "Yer right. We do be at an empass. But we got the jewel an' eternal youth, an yer 'as only as long as yer dares stay."
Uriel scowls at the band. "None of you would dare challenge me without that jewel. None!"
All of the friends are outraged, for they are all courageous beasts. But they know that they cannot accept the challenge, for it would mean death. All, that is, but Angus.
The brave fox steps forward, grinning easily at the weasel. "I've got the guts to take on a million Uriels. So come on, stupid weasel."
Uriel draws a long rapier. "I accept your challenge, fox. And maybe I'll carve those words on your gravestone!"
The weasel climbs down from the ship. Angus steps forward, sword and mace in paw. The tense situation is suddenly broken as one of the cavedwellers cries out, "Get 'em!"
Nobody knows who shouted, and all is instant chaos. Uriel, not wishing to be robbed of his kill, drives toward Angus. Stormfyre takes to the sky and attacks, driving the cavedwellers and Corsairs from Angus. Greeneye bulls his way through the crowd, and is soon at Angus's side.
"This is my fight," says Angus, who runs toward Uriel. And just before the two can come together, Raitha bursts from in between two cavedwellers, whom she kills with two swipes of her scimitar. She then steps up to Angus, but Greeneye stops her with a paw.
"It's 'is fight," says Greeneye, angrily eyeing Angus. But he doesn't have much time to stand around, for another bunch of cavedwellers comes at him, and Raitha and he were hard pressed to fight them off.
As a bunch of Corsairs also come at the two, Tsar, Mari, and Ember run toward them.
"We're all together now, I see," said Mari. "All but the bird and the fox, that is."
"Angus is over there gettin' isself killed, an' Stormfyre's...," starts Raitha, but suddenly notices that Stormfyre is nowhere to be seen.
"Where's the bonny bird got itself to now, eh?" says Tsar, who both looks for the hawk and runs a stoat through.
"Beats me," says Mari, felling a shrew with a slingstone.
The cave echoes with the sounds of fighting, and the only thing missing is the great bird Stormfyre.

by Raitha Galestarr

High in the dark recesses of the vast cavern's arched roof, the kestrel hovers, on the verge of stooping, his dark eyes fixed on the turned back of Uriel below him, as the weasel looks right and left for the bird whilst screaming orders to his horde. Judging his moment right, Stormfyre dips up his wings, and drops with breathtaking speed towards his enemy, a bloodchilling screech issuing from his wide beak.
"Fire on the wiiiiiiiiiiiind! Kieeeeeeeeeeerrr!"
Uriel whirls about at the sound, and freezes at the terrifying sight of the raptor speeding towards him, talons spread. A thin moan escapes the weasel's throat as he stands helpless, frozen with horror. But just as Stormfyre's talons reach to close about Uriel's neck, a scream breaks from the weasel's lips. Brought by it, a burly stoat throws himself suddenly at Stormfyre, slashing his wing and chest deeply with a knife as he tackles him.
The kestrel tumbles hard to the deck of Uriel's galley, bilked of his prey and wounded. The burly stoat pins the bird's wings cruelly, and Uriel leans over him, sneering.
"Thank you very much, bird. Methinks you have just won me my Jewel." Standing up, the weasel grabs Stormfyre's wing and heaves him up into view of the battle and its participants.
"Your friend the bird is here, my friends! Give me my Jewel, or you will all see him writhe in his death throes! He has no Jewel to heal him now!"
Creatures grind to a halt, staring in despair. Angus curls his lip at the weasel.
"Let 'im kill the bird, he's a traitor anyway." But the fox is knocked abruptly aside by Raitha, who snarls menacingly at Uriel.
"Keep yer filthy paws off 'im, vermin, or I'll kill yer meself!"
"I think not, my fine warrioress. If you ventured near me, my beasts would cut you apart...." Uriel smiles thinly. "Give me my Jewel."
"KIIIIIIIEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!!" Dangling in the weasel's grip, Stormfyre rallies all his strength and swings upwards, ripping with his beak viciously into Uriel's arm. The weasel Lord shrieks in pain. Enraged, he flings the kestrel furiously from him and turns away, cursing as he nurses his arm. Stormfyre hits the side of the rail in a shower of feathers and bloodspray, and hurriedly drags himself over it, landing in the water with a dull splosh. Feathers completely sodden and weighted, he flounders frantically for several moments, then starts to sink.
"Raitha, go get him!" Greeneye shouts, shoving the sea otter towards the water. Briefly she turns to argue, but Tsar reaches out as well and gives her an extra push.
"Goo, seadog! We kin hauld off yon vermin laddie's buckoes wi'out ye fer the moment, ye ken! Go get yon 'awk!"
Raitha nods smartly. Dashing around a pair of shrews, knocking one over, she drops her sword and flings herself smoothly into the water.

Water slowly fills Stormfyre's eyes and beak as his struggles to remain afloat become weaker and weaker. He has almost given up hope of returning to land, when Raitha's sleek head breaks the water. She hooks a paw about the hawk, holding his head up, and paddles high in the water for a moment, collecting her bearings. She finds herself facing the bright opening of the cave, some ways away. Something about it catches her eye, and she turns back again to study it. It takes no more than a moment for her to realize what caught her sight: Just visible outside the bright portal is a very familiar sleeklined stern, a barque's, obviously run aground.
The small group of friends fighting on the shore look up at the sound of their comrade's voice shout back at them.
"Get in 'ere, mates! Swim for it! We can get outta here! Shift it! Move!" Raitha raises her free paw and waves frantically at them. "Cummon, shipmates! Swim for it!"
Stranger orders have been called before now, and the questors are almost used to it. Without much questioning, they fight fiercely down to the water's edge and splosh in. Swimming as best they can, they paddle out to their friend.
Uriel, clutching his arm, leans over the rail, curious as to this odd move of his resourceful adversaries. Suddenly, the weasel starts to curse vividly, seeing Greeneye, the best swimming, arrive at Raitha's side, bearing the Jewel. Not stopping, Stormfyre is slowly revived as the eight beasts make their getaway, heading for the natural harbour outside the cave.
Furious, Uriel rushes to the bows and shouts out over the melee on shore. "You idiots! Can't you see they're not there anymore? They're in the water, probably heading for Galestarr's ship! Move your worthless carcasses! Use the tunnels! get around and cut them off! they can't be allowed to escape!"

by Hunt Oaktree

The eight companions, struggling and gasping for breath, make their way to the Graynorth. Raitha and Tsar climb the ropes and lower the gangplank quickly, so that the other beasts can board. Once everyone is on, Raitha makes a quick check of her ship. She comes back grinning from ear to ear.
"Aye, she's seaworthy, mateys," she says.
Working fast so that they can sail before Uriel and his crew can catch up to them, they hoist the mainsails and sail off.
Raitha is at the wheel, and she can not help but keep looking over her shoulder, worrying about the weasel. Ember is sulking in a corner, trying to puzzle out why she was running away from her employer. Angus is leaning against the mast with a sardonic expression. Tsar is watching Greeneye suspiciously. Greeneye is admiring the surface of the Jewel, feeling healthier than he has for quite some time. Stormfyre seems the happiest of all, glad that the Jewel is away from the gripping claws of the deadly weasel. Mari is up in the crowsnest, scanning the horizon for seabeasts. Hunt is eating.
"Mmmrff, scrumptous," he mutters through a mouthful of scone.
Angus looks around at the irrepressible hare.
"Where did you get that scone?" he asks jealously.
"I frmm hmift," Hunt replies.
The hare swallows and clarifies. "I found it," he says.
"Oh," Angus responds, and turns away, disinterested.
Just then, Mari yells from the crowsnest.
"Ships, coming from the island!"
Raitha leaps into action.
"Aargh, must be that weasel Uriel's fleet. Don't worry, though; my Greynorth can outrun any ship."
Ember snorts with derision.
"What makes you so sure, seadog?" "She made the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs, rat. She can outrace anything Uriel throws at 'er."
Pulling a long face, Hunt dances over to the two and grins foolishly.
"The seven brave travellers
Now are one more,
And we've found the Jewel,
Yoo hoo, yoo hoo,
So let's all have a nice, hot scone!"
While the others are distracted by the hare's song and dance number, Ember grabs the Jewel from Greeneye's lax grip.
"I don't trust you with that," she snarls, backing away from the group. "I'll hold on to this for awhile."

by Stormfyre

Greeneye spits impudently at Ember's feet. "An 'oo do ye think trusts yew wid it, rat?" He lunges forward, clawing for the stone.
Ember bares her fangs and flashes her dirk. "I wouldn't try it, blubbergut."
"We don' 'ave time for this!" Raitha glances back at the pursuing ships. One is pulling ahead of the others, giving eager chase. Her eyes narrow as she recognizes the crimson device on the banner. "Bloodbane."
The corsair galley pulls gradually closer, and Raitha can hear the raucous commotion of the crew on the deck as they await their prize. Suddenly, she feels a rumble through the deck planks. Far ahead, a maelstrom caused by the capricious currents of Grasch Nordu whirls dangerously, broken here and there by enormous reefs. A sure deathtrap for a careless sailor. Not necessarily for a reckless one, though.
As a hasty plan forms in her mind, Raitha steers Greynorth toward the vortex. Greeneye's sea-trained eye recognizes their course. "Ye daft, otter? I thought we was aimin' t' escape wid our lives!"
Raitha glares at the rat. "Jus' follow my orders an' ye'll live t' curse the world another day! Now... Mari! Climb the riggin's and pull in the mains'l about 'arfway! Stay up there, an’ when I says 'now,' unfurl th’ sail! Angus, git up 'ere! I'll need yore 'elp wid th' tiller afore too long. Tsar, Greeneye, Ember, an' Hunt, watch for boardin’ grapplers! When I gives th’ signal, hack the lines through! Storm, get in th’ air an’ tell me the lie o’ Bloodbane’s ship!"
Mari is up in the ratlines and reefs in the sails. Greynorth begins to slow like a runner with her shoelaces tied.
Stormfyre is soon perched on the rail next to the tiller. He shouts to be heard over the thunderous roar. "Bloodbane is ten shiplengths back, about thirty degrees starboard, and closing fast!"
Raitha nods, peering through salt-rimed eyes at the maelstrom ahead. Timing is crucial.
"This is insane!" Ember shouts over the crashing water.
"If she wanted dead, all she needed ter do is ask," Greeneye grumbles.
The sea otter stares at the vortex, mentally charting its boundaries and currents. "’ow far’s Bloodbane now?"
Stormfyre peers back at the corsair galley. "Five shiplengths!"
Raitha turns momentarily to glance at her adversary. The corsairs are gathered on the forward deck, pointing and shouting excitedly. Cap’n Bloodbane stands on the prow, yelling something to his crew. Snapping her head back towards the maesltrom, the sea otter turns the Greynorth, lining her bowsprit with the starboard edge of the maelstrom. "Storm, is ‘e turnin wid’ us?"
"Yes! They’re turning! They’re—They’re nearly abeam of us now!"
In her peripheral vision, Raitha sees the huge corsair galley gradually drawing closer to the Greynorth. The whirlpool is only about three shiplengths ahead. Almost time for…
As if on cue, a boarding grapple is hurled from the galley’s spar deck. It catches on Greynorth’s rail amidships. Two more grapples hook onto the rail.
Judging her timing carefully, Raitha shouts, "Mari, now!"
Mari unfurls the mains’l in a blink of an eye. Instantly, it swells against its fastenings on the mast, filled by an updraft from the gyrating water. Raitha nudges the helm to port towards the maelstrom, drawing the hawsers taut. Pulled by her own grapples as if they were stretched rubber bands, the corsair galley begins drifting toward the monstrous eddy.
"Angus, ‘elp push us t’ starboard now! Push f’ yer life, bucko!" Raitha throws her brawny frame against the tiller, joined by Angus’s efforts. The Greynorth jerks suddenly to starboard. The sea otter maneuvers her ship around her adversary, all the while keeping the grapple lines taut. The corsair galley’s monstrous bulk acts as an anchor, protecting the Greynorth from cross currents as the updraft fills her mains’l and fuels her momentum. The noble barque is thrust into the clear.
"Now, cut th’ grappler lines! ‘urry!" The lines fall easy prey to the flashing blades mid-deck.
The ponderous corsair galley wallows like a struggling animal in quicksand. The conflicting wind currents around her dark sails cause them to luff clumsily. The maelstrom current tugs mercilessly at the huge ship, pulling her into its deadly maw. The proud bow crumples against a protruding rock. The stout timbers are shredded like so much matchwood. The corsair galley rends itself apart on the unforgiving shoals.
Mari bounds down from the riggings, holding a paw to her open mouth as the horror of what just happened hits her. "That crew…" she breathes.
Raitha shakes her head. "That crew woulda killed every one of us widdout a second thought, no mistakin’ that."
Angus picks at a splinter that had imbedded itself in the pad of his paw during his joint wrestle with the tiller. "So… where’s the jewel?"
Ember rolls her eyes with a huff, reaching into her tunic. "I have it right… here…" A look of rage washes over her face. "I tucked it in my tunic, and it’s not there! Somebeast took it!"

by Mari Rainblossom

*A gasp goes through the crew as they realize what's happened. The Jewel-- gone!! Mari's lip starts to quiver as she sees what this means.
Suddenly, a thump is heard from the cabin, near the center of the ship. Every head whips around to catch the source of the noise. A dark shadowy figure, clad in a hooded cloak and huddled over under the shower of the seaspray, is scurrying across the deck. In his sleeve there is a light blue glitter that looks very suspicious...*
Mari: *gasp* It's...
Tsar: ...The Jewel!
*Everyone freezes for a moment, including the robed figure, as they are all caught in shock. Finally, the figure makes a move toward the rail of the ship, and makes as though he's going to go overboard!*
Ember: He's getting away!
Raitha: *pointing her scimitar at the figure* Stop him!

by Embershard Trillwind

Hunt hurls himself at the figure's legs and grabs the ankles heartily. The hooded creature collapses, efficiently tackled, and the Jewel scuttles out of his grasp. Greeneye grabs the gem.
Stormfyre keeps the beast at talonpoint while Raitha gingerly peels back the cloak's hood, demanding, "Who are ye, yer bilgeswillin's?"
Ember shoves her way to the creature and stares down at the exposed face. "Duskhound!" she gasps angrily. "I should have known!"
"What .. what should we do with him?" Mari asks timidly.
Tsar scowls. "He wanted tae go o'erboard, Ah suggist we oblige!"
There is no argument, but no hearty agreement either. Angus and Raitha grapple with the fighting Duskhound and struggle to the side. Greeneye crowds in to get a better view.
"One!" Raitha cries, Duskhound swinging back and forth between her and the fox.
"You'll be sorry!!" howls the weasel angrily.
"Three!" On the final count, Angus and Raitha heave Duskhound back. Just as he begins his arc over the side of the ship, one arm breaks loose. With a wild shout of victory, Duskhound's claws snatch the Jewel from Greeneye's paws -- and he and the gem plunge overboard into the chilly green water.
Ember darts to the side and stares down in vacant disbelief. "No!" she almost shrieks. "Raitha, can you -- Hunt -- anyone?!? What am I going to tell Uriel?!?"
But the Greynorth has moved far beyond Duskhound's grave. Only a ripple shows where the bounty hunter and the Jewel fell.

by Stormfyre

The eight stand in sheepish silence for a moment before Hunt pipes up. "A giant pink sea serpent!"
"What?" Ember glares at the hare. "That's our cover story! The bally rock was taken by a jolly ol' giant pink sea serpent!" Hunt grins elatively.
"You know, hare," Angus growls, "I am gettin' sick an' tired o' you flappin' your fat gob."
"If you hadn't been so careless, greasyclaws," Ember snarls at Greeneye, "we'd still have the jewel!"
"Greaseyclaws, is it?" the searat repeats, hefting his axe.
"This's nae goona 'elp," Tsar intervenes. "For better or worse, it's lahng goone, an' it ain't coomin' bahck."
Ember scowls darkly. "It's a very easy thing for you to say, cat, but it leaves me in a nice fix."
"An' what about our pay?" Angus grumbles.
"I suppose ye're 'appy, bird," Greeneye growls at Stormfyre.
The sparrow hawk turns slowly. "Happy that a means to save countless lives has just been lost at sea? Hardly. But my honor is satisfied."
"Well, whoopdy-doo for you," Angus mumbles caustically.
Mari walks slowly to the rail of the ship. "Do you think this is the end of the quest?"

by Greeneye

Greeneye scowls. "A good a endin' as any, mate."
Tsar mutters, "I was a hoopin tha' it would end a bit more heroic like, ya ken."
"We can't all 'ave 'eroes," says Raitha, climbing back up to the tiller.
"I guess it's all for the best, though I sure could have used that reward," Ember says.
"YER coulda used it? At least all o' yer 'as each other. Jus' look at me! I got nuthin' since me ship sank," growls Greeneye.
"I guess you can stay with us, then," says Mari, looking at Greeneye as he stares moodily out over the sea.
"Says who?" growls Angus. "He's vermin."
"An' yer not?" laughs Greeneye sarcastically. "I guess a helping set of paws never hurt anybody," says Ember.
"Yer gonna have to pull yer weight," warns Tsar.
"I c'n do that, messmate," says Greeneye, grinning at Tsar.
"What next?" asks Stormfyre.
"We can always hire ourselves out to somebody else, though that wouldn't do for long," says Ember.
"Not very honorable, this mercenaryship," says Stormfyre.
"It pays," says Raitha.
"Then I guess we go wherever the current takes us," says Ember.
They all turn and look into the sunset, thinking of the future. Only Raitha, standing closest to him, heres Greeneye mutter, "An' who elected yer Cap'n?" She pays him little heed at the moment, but remembers the scene later.

~The End!~