Darkness of the Heart Book 1:Mortality

By Tsar Greenwind

Prologue

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“Whilst I live on here there is but one thing to hope for, that I may go mad, if, indeed, I be not mad already.”-Bram Stoker, Dracula
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The ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend, legend fades into myth, and even myth is long forgotten. Once those legends and myths were reality, were life.
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Present

Ah, yes, Abbot. I need to be inside the abbey. Daylight is nearing and I am exhausted from my over-night travels.

No no, I do not show my face until I am rested. Thank you Abbot.

What a wonderful abbey you have here. I remember....ah but I must rest before I speak.

Where may I sleep for the day in darkness? Where no sun will touch me? The cellar? Doesn’t sound hospitable...Oh, no, it will do, fine sir, it will do. I have slept in much worse conditions. Thank you. Now, if you don’t mind I’ll rest my weary bones.
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Hello, Abbot, what was your name again? Oh, yes, Claudius, forgive me. This morning I was exhausted.

How did I sleep? Fine, thank you for asking.

Oh, yes, and you want to see what sort of beast I am. I’m not sure if you will like it, kind sir, but alas you request to see. What? You are repulsed, I can tell. Well, soon I will be healed. Yes, I am a ferret, is something wrong with that? Oh, no, I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, you just looked like you didn’t care for me.

I’m sure you want to know about me, am I right? Yes, I figured you would. My name was and at the moment is Wraith the Silencer. I’m sure you don’t recognize it. Where am I from? Why, I originally came from this area, although at the time there was no abbey, not even Kotir.

You laugh, Abbot. I tell the truth, kind sir. I am not one for fabricated lies. Ah, yes, I know how long ago the abbey was built, and I know how long ago Kotir was before that. How could I not know? I was the one who built the magnificent fortress that was once Kotir. You laugh again. An, but I need to feed. I will return shortly.
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You look shocked Abbot. Is it my face? Ah, yes, I feel the energy rushing through me. But enough about this, do you wish for me to tell you a story. It’s a long story. You do? Why, it all started when I was young, strong, mortal. Long before even the oldest legends and myths, when Salamandastron was not a fortress, but a mountain heaving forth molten lava. When Verdauga would not be alive for hundreds of years. When great tyranny ran through the land. It was the time of sorrow, of pain. It was the time of Wraith the Silencer...

Chapter One

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“Time is a scouring river that transforms the past into a smooth, featureless landscape where only the slight rise in the horizon betrays the place anindomitable mountain range once stood, until eventually even that disappears.”-Michael Romkey, I, Vampire
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Past

When I was young I always had dreamed of great power, like any of my sort did. I cam from humble backgrounds, a lonely alley in a lonely town. My mother hated me and I was hated among my siblings. But I did get respect among my peers, the fools. They believed I would take them to great riches. I had a plan on what we would do to get money from the castle. Ah, yes, there once was a castle before even Kotir, and a town surrounding it.

“You two will start a brawl in front of the castle,” I said, pointing to the weasel and rat nearest to me. Thier names, or at least what we called them on the streets, were Mold and Streetscum. Both knew the arts of pick-pocketing and all that a street-wise beast needs. I looked over at the rest of our small band. Two stoats, another rat, a marten, and a fox. I was the only ferret present. Swiftthief was one stoat, named for his ability to rob a beast blind, he was also known as The Prince of Thieves at the time. Nosebleed, the other rat, was known for his ability to easily cause a beast to have a nose bleed and was the brute strength of our little band. Flame was the fox, he was a bright red fox but was able to remain hidden when he wanted to. Dirk was the only marten and received his name from his choice weapon, which he had many hidden on his body. And of course we had Waterdeep, a stoat scared stiff of water and who laughed at the name we gave him.

Mold looked at me hard and flexed his wrists. Streetscum grinned with rotten teeth in Mold’s direction. Both had grudges against each other, even I knew that.

“The rest of us will slip into the castle from various doors and such. I’ve told you where you will be going in. Is all clear?” I asked. All present nodded. Mold and Streetscum headed for the main gates while the rest of us headed to various points of entrances to wait for my cue, which would be a bird call.

I saw Mold and Streetscum beginning to fight. I hoped they wouldn’t try to kill each other, that would not sit well with me. Soon others were involved in the fight. The two stoat guards watched for a short while than started trying to break the fight up. I let loose a hawk scream--loud enough for all to hear--and slipped into the unguarded main gates. I would meet my five friends within the treasure room, where a jewel waited for our taking.

I walked stealthily through the halls, dodging guards and other beasts. In this castle, called Castle Tor, most of the inhabitants were guards or royalty. The ruling family of hares were the last to rule this castle, but I will get into that later. At the time all beasts lived in harmony, you could say. Mice lived by rats, hedgehogs by stoats, and so forth. It was a more peaceful time. “Vermin”, as you call us, weren’t as outright with thier rottenness. Poverty caused petty thievery and such.

I caught a glimpse of the treasure room. Inside was the emerald called “Heart of Tor”. Back then Mossflower was called Tor, perhaps the hares were hungering for thier mountain kingdom that was at the moment an active volcano, destroying all in its path.

“Wraith!” a voice whispered. I turned and grinned to Nosebleed. Soon Swiftthief came, than Waterdeep, Flame, and Dirk. We were ready for our treasure, waiting for us.

After whispering for a short time among ourselves Dirk and Swiftthief began picking at the locks on the door. Nosebleed had taken care of the two guards, who now lay senseless against the wall, before I arrived.

There was a successful click and the door was unlocked. We grinned among ourselves. Dirk and Swiftthief moved out of my way, letting me be the first to enter. As I stepped through the doors I was astounded by the amount of treasure. We were surrounded by heaps and heaps of gold in forms of trinkets, coins, weapons, chalices, and multiple other things. I caught a glimpse of The Heart of Tor and walked cautiously over to it. There was bound to be traps laid in here. When I thoroughly checked the area I picked the beautiful jewel up. It was thick and green, like most emeralds. And, like the myths of it, shaped like that of a heart. I grinned and waved it above my head and turned to my friends.

“Whooo! We got it, Wraith!” Flame laughed and clapped me on the back.

I grinned slyly. “Yes, we got it. A bit too easily, though.”

Flame shrugged and peered at the jewel. The others began to gather around me to catch a glimpse of the “untouchable stone” as it was called by some.

A loud crash came from the doors. We all spun to see Mold and Streetscum thrown down, unconscious or dead. About twenty assorted guards stood behind them. They all carried shields with the insignia of Tor, a giant mountain with the Heart of Tor surrounding it. Most carried spears but some carried bows and arrows.

“Well, what do we have here?” a squirrel sneered, pulling his bow-string taunt. He aimed for Dirk but did not let the arrow go. I recognized this squirrel as Aris, the captain of the guards. His reputation was known to all--a ruthless killer when it comes to harm of his castle.

I stepped forward and gazed into Aris’s eyes defiantly. He broke his glare from Dirk and looked at me, grinning.

“Why, look, it’s the little thief. A bit arrogant, aren’t you?” he sneered and loosed an arrow in Waterdeep’s direction. Waterdeep was caught by surprise and the arrow hit his shoulder. Waterdeep screamed in pain and fell to his knees, holding his shoulder.

“And more will be on the way unless you hand over the jewel. Street trash like you does not have a right to it,” Aris said, pulling the bow taunt, an arrow trained on me.

I stood there and glared at Aris. We had met once before when I had stolen somebeast’s bread. I had been branded on my right ear, as was law. When you are found stealing you are branded on your right ear, the second time your left, the third time you get your face branded, and the forth time you are sent to the gallows. Gallows were a common occurrence, beasts found themselves there and no way to turn back. This was my second time but I knew I faced the gallows.

“Nothing to say, little thief? Your friends will die than,” Aris said and grinned. He waved his paw to Mold and Streetscum.

“If the king finds out about the way you do things--” I growled but was cut off.

“The king is the one who orders me!” Aris laughed and nodded to two guards. Immediatly both stepped to Mold and Streetscum. My gaze never faltered away from Aris. I heard my five other companions moan and knew what had happened.

“Why don’t you kill me?” I asked angrily.

“Oh, it’s much more fun killing your friends, little thief,” Aris laughed.

Swiftthief, Nosebleed, Flame, Waterdeep, and Dirk walked to my sides and flanked me. The final fight would soon come. Each of us had been branded at least once by Aris so we all had a grudge against him. This would be a fight to the death.

Chapter Two

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“I’m sorry, did I startle you?”-Stephen Dedman, Film Noir
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Past

Twenty guards against six thieves, and one thief wounded in the shoulder. I knew it was suicide but taking out a few of them before I die was better than public execution, which would be shameful. I’ve always found executions the weak beast’s way of death.

I let out a growl and grabbed a golden spear, lunging at Aris. The squirrel had barely enough time to drop his bow and dodge aside. I growled and sliced at his belly, attempting to expose his rich dinner to the air. He kicked me in the belly before I was able to finish my slice and the air went out in a gasp. I choked at the air and had barely enough time to duck a slice at my head with a spear. I was able to get my own spear in the spear wielder’s chest.

I grabbed the spear that had come close to getting my head and went mad. I tore at flesh as much as I could. I could no longer see Aris, the coward had probably left.

“Wraith!” Flame shouted. I turned to him, distracted. He suddenly lunged in front of me. There was a thud of arrow hitting body and the fox fell at my feet. I looked down at him, appalled. An arrow stood out of his forehead like some flower out of the ground. I jumped away from my dead friend and looked for the one who had fired the arrow--Aris.

Growling I lunged at the squirrel. I was close to tearing at him when I felt a sharp sensation in my back. I fell to the ground and closed my eyes, waiting for death to come. All around me death screams came. I heard a sickening crunch and through blurred eyes saw Dirk fall to the ground.

Soon all was silent, I thought I had died but I was still alive and conscious. A sharp kick came to my side and turned me on my back. I screamed in pain, realizing an arrow had hit my lower back but hadn’t gone far in. I grabbed it and pulled it out, throwing it aside in disgust. Aris stood above me, his figure blurry. I tried to rise but the blood loss was affecting me. I just stared up at him.

“Looks like you and your rat friend are the only ones who will live for the gallows,” Aris laughed. Two guards grabbed me and began to drag me out. I saw Mold and Streetscum with spears protruding from their chests. Swiftthief lay to the side, his belly slit open. I noticed his mouth worked, he wasn’t dead yet but soon would be. Flame lay like I had seen him--arrow in his head. Waterdeep had a spear through his back and close to ten arrows in his chest. And then I saw Dirk, his face unrecognizable. His head had been smashed. I recognized him by his clothes.

I still gripped the jewel and turned from the grisly sight. Nosebleed was in the same position as me except he had more guards carrying him out. He looked at me before his head fell backwards and he blacked out. I looked at Aris to see a paw coming at my face and all went to darkness.

Present

What is that you ask? Where Tor was located? Ah, well, it was once located a little ways south of here. When Kotir was built it was torn down.

Why did al the beasts live together, you ask? Well, unlike now, there was little prejudice in the world. Soon, thought, vermin would be separated from woodlander. I was one of the causes of that...

Don’t you want me to get on with my story, Abbot? Ah, yes, I thought so. Now, be quiet, please...

Past

I awoke deep within the cells of Tor, shackled. Dark and damp cells, at that. I looked around and saw Nosebleed leaning against the wall, staring at the bars. He was cut up as badly as I was so he was probably exhausted. He wore shackles like my own. When he noticed me looking at him he nodded his head.

“So, Wraith, you wake up finally,” he said, still looking out the bars.

“Yes, Nosebleed,” I croaked. My voice sounded horrible and felt like somebeast had set the insides on fire. Nosebleed looked over at me ad pushed a small bowl of water. I scooped some out and wet my dried throat, sighing with relief.

“You’ve been unconscious for a long time, I thought you were going to die like the others,” he said quietly, not turning away from the bars.

I moved into a standing position and groaned. “I wish I had died. What went wrong?”

Nosebleed looked me in the eyes. “Your plan, Wraith. Somehow they knew it was going to happen. They knew about it!” he growled and threw a chunk of bread at me.

I caught it and stared at him, knowing my mouth must have been hanging open. “But, how?” I stammered.

Nosebleed growled again and kicked the bars. “How in the name of Hellsgates should I know?”

I sat down on some soggy hay and closed my eyes. Nosebleed sighed and I could hear him chewing on something. I opened my eyes and saw him eating some bread. I began to eat my own bread, knowing it would probably be the last meal.

Before I was even able to get half way through the loaf the sound of boots and the clinking of armor came. I back into the shadows as five guards came to the cell door. All were grinning. As they unlocked the cell Nosebleed made no move against them, not that he could with his chains. Two guards grabbed me and three took him.

We were dragged up out of the prisoner’s area and further up into the castle. To where, I did not know...

Chapter Three

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“Your head rests on his condition, your fortune depends on my pleasure.”-David Niall Wilson, To Sift Through Bitter Ashes
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Past

We ended up in the throne room. Surprisingly enough the king and queen were there. King Mountainback and his wife, Queen Clover, sat watching impassively from thier thrones at Nosebleed and I as we were dragged in. We were shoved into kneeling at the royal couple’s feet. I growled and bit at the guard’s hands but Nosebleed acted calmly.

“What is this, old chap?” Mountainback asked Aris, who stood further behind us. I heard Aris walk in front of us, a distinct limp in his step. This made me grin, at least we had wounded him.

“Sire, these two were caught with six others attempting to steal The Heart of Tor.” He paused to show the king the stone, which he must have taken when I was unconscious. “The ferret had his right ear branded while the rat had both ears branded. They should both go to the gallows for this attempt.”

The king cleared his throat. “What bloody happened t’the others? Y’said there was eight.”

I heard Aris shuffling around and knew he must have some regrets on his actions. “They were killed in a fight, Sire.”

I glanced up and saw Mountainback shake his head before my face was shoved down again. I heard the sound of somebeast entering and waited to hear who it was.

“This ferret told us that it was going to happen, Sire. She is part of their little group of street trash but she decided to come clean,” Aris said.

I immediatly bolted to my feet to see Molly. She was young and beautiful. I had fallen in love with her like any other ferret would have. She smirked at me as she walked past and I was kicked behind the knees. I fell into a kneeling position and my face was shoved onto the floor again.

“What’s y’name?” Mountainback asked.

“Molly, Sire,” Molly replied.

“So, Molly. Why did y’tell?” Mountainback asked.

“I knew what they were doing and it wasn’t for the good of all Tor. It’s evil, Sire,” Molly said.

Mountainback stood up with a rustle of clothes. I felt his presence over me, an overwhelming presence.

“Which one is the leader, Aris?” he asked.

“The ferret, Sire,” Aris replied.

“Stand up,” Mountainback commanded.

I continued to kneel. The ground was beginning to feel welcoming. I was exhausted and my back hurt. I let my cheek rest on the cool stone and I closed my eyes. Soon I was jerked to my feet by a couple of guards. I opened my eyes to stare into those of Mountainback, his hot breath on my face. This close up I could tell he was an extremely fat hare.

“Y’defy me,” he said angrily.

My head swam. The pain was almost overwhelming but I managed to answer. “Yes.”

A gasp came from those around. Not only had I defied him but I also hadn’t called him Sire, which was required. Mountainback grinned slightly and slapped me on the face.

“The gallows will suit ya an’ y’friend just fine. It will be a public execution, o’ course,” Mountainback laughed.

I growled deep in my throat. “You’ll pay for this, fool.”

I tried to lunge at him but all be came dark. As dark as before...

Present

Yes, he was cruel. But then again, I was a thief. Most don’t tolerate that sort of thing. He was actually quite lenient when it comes to crime. All had four chances until they were sent to the gallows.

What about Molly? Oh, you want to know who she was. That will soon be explained. Now, I’ll get on with my story, we cant’ keep stopping like this, Abbot.

Past

Once again I woke in the cell and shackled. This time Nosebleed way laying down, facing the wall.

I heard the sound of beasts walking through the corridor. I looked over to see Molly standing there with two guards behind her. She had her arms crossed and she smirked at me. I growled but remained where I was.

“What’s wrong, Wraith?” she laughed.

“You coward! You sold us out. For what? How much did he give you?” I growled.

Molly grinned. “About half that The Heart of Tor would be. I’m getting more then I would if I had let you go on with your plan.”

“So, what we had between us means nothing to you?” I growled.

Molly laughed. “What did we have between us? Nothing, if you ask me.”

With a flick of her tail she turned and headed out.

Chapter Four

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“Madder eyes scream hungry
and silent above mouths
that open too wide
too red in the night.”-Lisa Lepovetsky, Vampire Lovers
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Past

I will go away from my plot, for this will be the only time I will touch the subject of Molly.

Her parents were of the few that ventured Salamandastron. The mighty badger stronghold was, back then, a fiery death to all those who ventured near. Those who attempted it ended up the same--dead. The mountain was known as Mountain of Death. Not a pleasant name, if you ask me, but it suited it. It spewed forth flames about every decade until later on but that isn’t part of the tale.

So, left parentless, Molly lived with my mother and I. My father had been friends with her father and both had died at the cursed mountain so it was only logical that she stay with us. My mother worked as a seamstress to support both of us.

Molly and I spent the days on the streets with the other “street trash”. Soon I became good friends with Dirk, Flame, Mold, Nosebleed, Streetscum, Swiftthief, and Waterdeep. At that time I took no interest in Molly. She was a female and there for inferior to me, as I believed then.

Later on I finally noticed Molly for what she had become. It was like a flower had blossomed days ago and I had just taken notice of it. All of the other ferrets were taking interest in her. I believed I had no chance until one day I talked with her.

“Hello, Wraith,” she said softly, coming up behind me.

I spun around to confront her. “What is it, Molly?” I asked.

She smiled and placed a paw on my arm. I shrugged her away, unsure of how to deal with her.

“What is it, Molly?” I asked.

Molly’s lips went into a pout, to my dismay. She was always a spoiled brat of sorts. When she wanted her way she would get it, no matter what it took. Then I didn’t know what she wanted.

“I just wanted to talk with you, Wraith,” she said.

“About what, Molly?” I asked.

Molly’s lips smiled slightly, she tasted victory, I could only assume. “About us. Have you never thought of it?”

I gulped. I had lived with her for all my life. She was almost like a sister, and yet... “Us?”

She leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Come, there are too many beasts staring.”

I glanced around. My friends were all watching us closely, probably wondering what was going on. I nodded and we both slipped into an alley.

“Well, Wraith, you’ve grown into a strong and handsome ferret. It would be silly for one as beautiful as I to go find anybeast other than you,” she said.

Vainess was another personality flaw of hers, although I didn’t notice it then. Ah, yes, the young and the foolish...

It shocked me to hear her say I was handsome. I had never thought of myself as anything other than a common thief. My friends were thieves. I was street trash and was used to it. Ever since my right ear had been branded with a huge “T” I had thought of myself as ugly.

“You look as if you don’t’ believe me that you are handsome. Is it your ear? It makes you look even more dashing,” she whispered into my ear.

I was soon to crack under this new sort of pressure. “Dashing?”

Molly smiled and nodded. “Don’t you think I’m beautiful?” she asked, pouting slightly.

I nodded dumbly, unable to find my voice.

“Then why do you reject me?” she pouted.

“I-I don’t, Molly,” I stammered.

Her expression brightened. “Then take me somewhere so I can show you off.”

I shrugged. I had about three gold coins in my pocket--a lot for a thief. I took her to a small jewelry shop, using all but two coppers of my gold to buy her a locket with our names carved into it.
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Later on Molly was at all the meetings I had with the others of my group. It was almost as if we were tied paw-to-paw. I would see her at home and just about everywhere else.

“When are you going to ditch her?” Flame complained one day when she was gone.

I stared at him, astounded. “Ditch her? Why?”

“She is only going to get you in the end, Wraith. Females like her are no good,” Dirk said.

I shook my head, denying it all. Why would she ever betray me?

I was so wrong when it came to Molly. It turned out she was only with me because of the money. I was one of the third best thieves. Only two were better than me--Swiftthief and a mouse named James. Swiftthief was soon ready to knock James, the King of Thieves, off. He was tired of being known as the “prince” and not the king.

I’m not sure what ever happened to Molly, she probably found her throat slit by somebeast more aggressive towards her type. I can only guess.

Chapter Five

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“I can float into a locked room as quietly as a shadow and stand behind you while you read this without you knowing it.”-Michael Romkey, I, Vampire
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Past

Nosebleed and I were awakened rudely the next morning. Two guards--a mouse and a rat--came in and kicked us before the sun was even up.

“Wake up, lazy beasts,” the rat growled.

Nosebleed growled but did as he was told, not wanting to get beaten more than he had to. I, on the other hand, was in a rage and tried to tear the rat’s throat out with my paws. This didn’t work, of course, because I was chained to the wall. I fell short about one foot and received a choke from the chain around my neck.

“That was foolish,” the rat laughed and kicked me again. He and the mouse unchained us from the walls and led us to the main gates of the castle.

Both Nosebleed and I walked haughtily along. Heads up high, shoulders rounded, and ignoring all around us. We would not die kicking and screaming, like we had seen most do, we would die calm, aloof. We would die like any who had touched the Heart of Tor should die.

We arrived to the town square, where the gallows were. There were two nooses ready.

A small and fat vole hurried over to each of us and measured our necks. “Size five and six,” he muttered and hurried back to where the nooses were being readied.

I exchanged glances with Nosebleed as we were shoved into the dirt to kneel. We had to wait for dawn, when all executions took place. As we waited I collected my thoughts. Thoughts of Molly, of the Heart of Tor, of my mother, and of my death. Death didn’t frighten me much then, and it still doesn’t.

There was a shriek of a female. I glanced up to see my mother rushing over. I groaned and looked away from her.

“Wraith!” she screeched, grabbing the back of my shirt.

I remained quiet, not wanting to speak with her. She pulled my face so that I looked into her eyes, her tear streaked eyes.

“What have you done, now?” she wailed.

A hedgehog guard walked over and shoved her rudely away from me. “No talking with them. Who are you?”

“I’m his mother,” she said fiercely.

The hedgehog raised his eyebrows and nodded, allowing her to walk past him to me. Once again she looked into my eyes and demanded to know what I had done.

I grinned calmly. “I stole thier precious heart and all would have gone well but for Molly.”

My mother shook he head. “What are you talking about? You stole the Heart?”

Once again I grinned. She shrieked again. “How could you? It’s suicide to try and steal that stone! You’ve gotten yourself killed for a worthless stone! You could have had all if you had only waited!”

I frowned. “Waited for what?”

My mother shook her head. “And what of Dirk, and Flame, and all the others?”

Until then I hadn’t really noticed thier deaths. I always had tried to deny it but that was impossible. “They all were killed,” I said bitterly.

Nosebleed, who had been silent for this whole discussion, grunted. I turned to him and he nodded toward where the sun was peeking over the trees. I turned back to my mother and grinned slightly. She wailed and put her face in her paws as Nosebleed and I were dragged toward the nooses.

“Well, Wraith, looks like the end of the road, eh,” Nosebleed muttered.

I nodded and took up the song we both knew by heart. I was a song that all thieves knew.

“In the shadows of night
Who prevails?
Those who don’t wait for the king!
Why, it’s the thieves, sir, the thieves!

“Who gets to live in luxury
Not the king, the fool!
Who can steal a man with perfect sight blind?
Why, it’s the thieves, sir, the thieves!

“Slinking through the shadows
Daring death and more
Who will defy all the laws?
Why, it’s the thieves, sir, the thieves!”

We both ended the boisterous song as the nooses were placed over our heads. My mother stared at me through tear-streaked eyes. She had never known I was a thief. She had no idea.

“Any last words?” Aris demanded.

I grinned cruelly at the squirrel. “Yes. I’ve never much cared for you. You’re ugly, stupid, and you smell really bad.”

Nosebleed laughed at Aris’s shocked expression. “Oh, and I heard you prefer the males. How do I look today?” Nosebleed laughed, strutting around as far as his noose allowed.

Aris’s face turned red behind his fur. He roared a command and the floor beneath Nosebleed and I was suddenly gone.

As my sight dimmed a little and air became less I could see a huge crowd surrounding us. Only one stood out, though, my mother. She wailed endlessly as other cheered.

I had one last glimpse at Nosebleed, who began singing the song softly again. I started singing it with him until our voices were cut off from lack of air. Nosebleed silenced and as soon as I thought it was the end of me something zipped over my head and I was on the ground below the gallows.

For a few seconds I groped around, trying to decide if I was dead or if somehow somebody had saved me. I looked above me and saw the hole of where I had stood only shortly before and the severed rope. I also saw Nosebleed, dangling. His face was a purple under his fur. I turned away from the hideous sight and pulled myself out from under the wooden platform.

In a daze I stumbled around. I was soon surrounded by some beasts in black hoods. None of their faces were distinguishable. Before I knew it we were all headed out of the town square and away. I blacked out before I could figure out where we were going.

Chapter Six

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“Where did you go? Why did you leave me?”-P.N. Elrod, Bloodlist
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Present

Ah, yes, my mother and Molly both knew a secret that I didn’t know. At the time I brushed it aside but it would have a big impact on my life. Funny thing is, those who saved me knew about it while I was completely in the dark.

What happened to Molly? In my mortal life I never knew what happened to her. I do know what happened to her. I know, kind sir, I said before I don’t know but I do. We’ll get back to her later.

Past

I awoke in a strange, underground place. I was first confused but then I realized what had happened. I was alive. I put my paw up to my neck nervously and felt what must have been left by the rope. I pulled my paw away, not wanting to feel it anymore.

“You have awakened,” a voice said behind me, a voice without gender.

I spun around, startled by the voice. I heard no beast enter. “Who are you?” I asked, my voice scratchy.

The hooded figure in front of me shook his head and motioned for me to follow him. I rose shakily to my feet and followed him down a long corridor. We soon ended up in a large cavernous room. I looked around in amazement, ten houses could have fit in there! All around, beasts in black hoods and robes stood around. I was unable to distinguish any of their species or genders. I assumed all were male, though. back in that time most fighters were only male.

“Where am I?” I asked my guide.

All assembled took thier hoods off and bowed to me. To my shock they were all female. They were assorted species--rats, stoats, hares, voles, badgers, and many more. They took their robes off and all were wearing assorted armor. It wasn’t complete armor, though. I seemed to only be for modesty. Some had staffs, swords, bows and arrows, and a lot of other kinds of weapons. All were quite impressive. Most wore jewelry--necklaces, bracelets, arm cuffs, and so on.

My guide turned out to be a badger. She looked pure muscle. She nodded when I stared about at the bowing beasts. “You are in the underground kingdom of the Kotus. We were formed by your father, Kotir. He believed females were the perfect fighters and so here we are.”

“My father?” I rasped.

She nodded. “Yes. He has been gone for a long time. When we heard you were to be hanged we knew it was time to bring you here.”

I shook my head, completely confused. “My mother said my father went to the Mountain of Death before I was born. She never told me his name. How do I know you are telling the truth?”

The badger shrugged. “You just have to. My name is Silk. My second in command, Ilna, is over there,” Silk said, motioning towards a slim but muscular hare. Ilna nodded and continued to lean on her long bow.

“You are our leader, Wraith Kotirsson. You will lead us into battle time and again and we will be victorious!” Silk shouted.

I played around with my name, Wraith Kotirsson. Odd, how one does not know his name until something happens but it feels right, like it was there all along. I looked around at all assembled. None were bowing anymore but they still had looks of respect.

“Wait here,” Silk said and hurried off. As I waited others began to talk among themselves.

Silk came back shortly, carrying a broad sword. I watched as she unsheathed it. She handed it to me hilt first and I stared at it, stunned. The blade itself was made of some very strong metal, I’m still not sure exactly what it was made up of. There was no nicks in the blade and it was as sharp as one could wish. When I looked at the hilt I could tell this blade was very old. Parts were slightly rusted and the grip looked worn. It was easily copper. Instead of a pommel stone there was nothing, probably misplaced.

Silk smiled as she watched me study it. “Do you know who’s sword that is?” she asked.

I shrugged, how was I to know?

“It was once your fathers, and his fathers, and so on. The pommel stone used to be the Heart of Tor, but then it was called simply Heart. Mountainback had stolen it when he conquered this area. Your father lost the sword and the stone but Mountainback return the sword, thinking it worthless. For years it has sat down here, waiting for you to claim it.”

I stared at the sword with a new appreciation and swung it above my head, testing it. The balance was perfect on it. “What are we waiting for?” I rasped.

Silk laughed. “No, you need to be trained first. I know you wish to fight now, but you need to know how to fight.”

For a moment I was angry but I could see the logic to her statement. I nodded my head. “When do I start?” I rasped.

Present

Yes, they were wise. Mountainback was a fool to have done what he did. I never much cared for the king. Once I knew the truth of the matter it angered me even more. He didn’t know at the time he wanted me hanged that I was Kotir’s son.

What? You say Verdauga? Oh, yes, but he is later on. Much later on. There is a link between Kotir and Verdauga, yes, but you must realize this was hundreds of years before Martin walked the earth.

My scar? What scar would that be? Oh, you mean from hanging. It would be right here, you see, but it isn’t. You ask me why but I cannot tell you, yet.

Am I a healer or magician? You could say that! Ha! A healer...

Chapter Seven

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“My revenge is just begun! I spread it over the centuries, and time is on my side.”-Bram Stoker, Dracula
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Past

Throughout the next year I trained hard with the Kotus. They were hard on me, but fair enough. I was allowed to go above ground once a week to do whatever I wished to. I usually spent my time doing what a thief always does.

On one of those occasions I was allowed above ground I was posing as a blind beast. I wore rags and, of course, a tattered cloth over my eyes. I did not want to be recognized, since many had witnessed what was to be my execution.

I stumbled about, shaking a cup around. A few coins jingled but not many. “Money for the blind!” I shouted, my voice in better shape than it had been before. I was rewarded with a clink of coins. I mumbled a thank you to whoever gave me money and continued on with my masquerade.

Unwillingly, I stumbled into an unyielding beast and muttered an apology.

“Stupid beggar! I should have you killed for this outrage,” Aris shouted. I was startled and almost jumped out of my fur. This was the beast who had killed my friends and attempted to kill me.

“I’m sorry, kind sir. Money for the blind?” I asked hopefully, shuffling out of his way.

“You are no more blind than I am, fool. Now get away from me. The stench of you is foul,” Aris growled and shoved me out of his way.

I mumbled another apology and stumbled back a few paces. I felt something to into my cup and felt it leave. The cup was lighter than before and I shook it but no sound came.

“There, now things are as they should be,” Aris laughed. I heard him walk off with a clinking of armor and weaponry.

I was angered yet relieved. He had not recognized me and for that I was grateful. If he had recognized me I would be surrounded by guards and close to being executed for a second time.

I rationalized that a different “disability” would work better now that this one had been exposed to the truth. I shuffled into an alley and began changing things around. I tied my right upper leg so that I walked with a definite limp. I was able to slop filth on my face and other areas not covered by my clothes. I still wore the rags and carried my cup but that was all that didn’t change.

I went back to the road and limped around, moaning pitifully as I could. Not many beasts even looked my way as I did so. I purposefully smashed into a tall female cat. Her fur was stripped and she had green eyes. She wore a tight-fitting maroon dress that ended about two inches above the ground. She walked with an air of dignity that showed she was snobbish.

“Get out of my way, fool!” she hissed and pushed me away.

“I’m sorry, Milady, forgive a poor--” I started mumbling.

She growled. “Silence, fool! I should kill you where you stand!”

I shrank away from her, making a mental note not to anger noble-looking beasts again--especially not females. I slipped some assorted coins and jewelry from her into my pocket and tried to limp away from her.

Before I had moved a few steps away she had me by the throat. She bared her teeth angrily and hissed. “A thief, are you?” she laughed and let me down. Her paw slipped into my pocket and she took back her belongings. “Do you know who I am? I’m sure that you can guess. If you know, follow me into the alley.” She left with a flick of her tail for an alley.

I thought for a moment and grinned. Only one other beast would have known that I stole from them. It would have to be James. None had ever seen “him” in person that they knew of and if they did “he” was in a robe and hood. She obviously kept her secret well, for none knew.

I glanced around, making sure none had noticed our exchange, and followed her into the alley.

“So, you are the first to figure out my secret,” James said cautiously, running her tongue over her teeth.

I nodded. “What is your real name? I’m hoping you weren’t named James when you were born, that just doesn’t seem like it would fit you.”

James grinned and nodded. She motioned for me to follow her into a darker portion of the alley. I followed.

“No, James is not my real name. It is Tsarsina Greeneyes.”

Present

What is that? Oh, you ask me about Tsarsina Greeneyes’s relation to Tsarmina. Quite obvious, if you ask me...No, I mean no offense, Abbot. Tsarsina was an ancestor of Tsarmina, though she wasn’t as blood-thirsty at the time.

Why did she call herself James? Well, as I believe I said earlier, females weren’t as accepted in society as they are now. They were believed frail and weak. Only suitable for sewing, pottery, cooking, that sort of thing. Primitive, I think.

Why did she want to speak with me? Soon, Abbot, soon.

Let me continue, kind sir, or you might not get all the answers to your questions.

Past

“Tsarsina Greeneyes,” I repeated, trying the name on my tongue.

Tsarsina nodded. “And you must be Wraith Kotirsson, the Wraith who should be dead, and the Wraith who is the Prince of Thieves. There would be no way you would have gotten your paw into my belongings, otherwise.”

I looked at her skeptically. “You really know about me, don’t you.”

Tsarsina laughed lightly. “You are the only beast to escape a hanging, and by mysterious figures in black!”

I frowned. “Yes, and while all my friends were killed in the hope of a false hope and dream. Of a false belief.”

“You could do nothing about that. But you are mistaken, one still lives besides you,” Tsarsina said, expression serious.

“What?” I demanded.

Tsarsina smiled and motioned for me to follow her. Like a slave following her master, I followed her. Under my breath I muttered an oath known to all loyal to the King (or in this case Queen) of Thieves. “You can take the money from the thief but you can’t take the thief from the money.”

Chapter Eight

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“Are you threatening me?”-Rick Hautala, White Tower
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Past

I was led by Tsarsina through the darkness of back streets and alleys. When we stopped at a small door, she held her hand up to me.

“Wait here,” she commanded. She slipped inside, leaving me to wait for her.

I waited for some time, cautiously glancing both ways. I did not want to be caught, I was very nervous when it came to that. The last time I had been caught it wasn’t pretty, I had found out Molly was a traitor.

“Okay, you can come in,” a gruff voice said from behind the door.

I shrugged and walked though the door to see a creature in a robe--face hidden. I nodded. “Where to, James?” I asked, since Tsarsina was in disguise.

The hooded figure nodded and headed to the left. We walked along a narrow hallway into a small room. In the middle of the room a beast sat in a chair. I could not tell who it was and so waited for Tsarsina’s explanation.

“Mold,” Tsarsina called out gently.

I was shocked to see my good friend Mold turn around and gaze at me. He looked like he was in good shape, but it was hard to tell in this darkness.

Present

Sorry, didn’t hear you, what did you ask? Oh. You want to know how Mold could be alive. Interesting thought at the moment, considering I had just seen a friend who I believed to be dead for months. I’ll get to it, you didn’t let me finish.

How did Tsarsina pass for a mouse? Well, people just took her word for it. She was the King of Thieves. Who would disobey the King? Certainly not most, but alas, some did sooner or later.

Past

“Wraith?” a scratchy voice came. A candle was lit and I could see the weasel in whole. He was, like I said earlier, in good shape for one who had a spear through his chest and one point.

I grinned and patted my old friend on the back. “Your alive!” I shouted excitedly.

Mold grimaced but nodded. “Yeah, guess this did come in handy, after all,” he laughed, showing me his “good luck scrape”. It was a ragged piece of metal that he wore on a chain around his neck. I always had teased him about it, telling him no real magician would wear one. His dream was to become one of those trickster magician thieves. There were many of them, using slight of hand to trick you into giving your money up.

I grinned. “It’s so good to see you, do you have a scar?” I asked, touching my own neck.

Mold nodded and pulled aside part of his shirt to show a ragged scar that looked as if something had punctured his left lung. “Metal didn’t save me from getting a slight wound in my lung, though,” he said, voice course.

“You’re lucky to come away with something like that, you could be dead, like...” I faltered at remembering all my friends--dead.

Mold nodded. “I know, they all are dead. All but us. James tells me you thought I was dead, too. I’m glad to see your alive. Surviving the gallows...”

I frowned. “But Nosebleed didn’t. Those who saved me came a moment too late for him. He had just stopped living and they came.”

“There was nothing you could have done,” Mold said.

“I guess not, but I still feel guilty...” I mumbled.

“It was Molly, not you. How could you have known how she really was? There was no way of knowing her true personality.”

“Some were suspicious. I remember Dirk and Flame always hated her...” I grumbled.

Mold nodded.

Tsarsina walked between Mold and me. She took off her hood and looked into Mold’s eyes. “You now know the truth. I am Tsarsina Greeneyes, the King of Thieves. I will no longer be James, a mouse.”

Mold stared in shock at this sudden turn of events. One moment he had been talking to me, than the next the former James was now a female cat.

Tsarsina smiled. “You are surprised. Good. Surprise is a good emotion, better than anger. Soon all will know.”

I grinned at Mold’s shocked expression and patted him on the back. “Yes, Mold, James is really Tsarsina. Now, I need to get back to the Kotus, they will be looking for me soon.”

“Kotus?” Mold asked.

I nodded. “They are my horde, you could say. Started by my father, Kotir. He believed females were the strongest and so made a horde of all females.”

Mold laughed. “What a world this is turning into! The King of Thieves really a Queen!”

Tsarsina smiled. “Yes, strange. I will be announcing myself at the thief headquarters tonight, come later and you will see.”

I nodded and headed off to my underground home, unawares of what was to happen when Tsarsina announced herself to all.
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When back with the Kotus I grew bored. Silk and Ilna scolded me for being gone for a long time. I shrugged them off and hoped to be able to sneak away that night, to see Tsarsina announce herself.

While I waited I practiced with my father’s sword. I held the worn grip in my hand as I hacked at a pole.

I soon found myself in a sort of frenzy, hacking the piece of wood to bits. My vision turned read and I felt hot. I howled and continued to chop at the wood. My only thoughts were to kill. Kill all in my way.

When there was no more wood to be chopped I dropped the sword and stared in shock. “What have I done?” I muttered to myself. I fell to my knees and sat like that for some time, not daring to touch the sword again.

Chapter Nine

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“Do you know who’s slaughtering whom tonight?”-Rick Hautala, White Tower
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Past

The next day I was able to sneak away from the Kotus and go to where Tsarsina would show who she really was. I was worried yet relieved that she had finally gotten the courage to do so after such a long time of hiding behind a disguise.

I watched as she stood up on a table, wearing her robe. Some laughed at her, not understanding why she would be doing it. Among the crowd, people whispered “James must be drunk,” or “What in the bloody names of Hellgates is he doing?” I watched silently.

“Silence!” Tsarsina roared gruffly. All was silent and she continued on. “Some of you know me as a mouse named James yet you have never seen my face, is that correct?”

Heads bobbed everywhere. I stayed still, waiting for a riot or something to start when she announced her true personage.

“Two of you know me for who I really am. Tsarsina Greeneyes,” she said, pulling her hood off.

There was a collection of gasps followed by angry talk. A few beasts lurched to thier feet and growled at Tsarsina threateningly but were forced to sit down by thier fellow thieves.

Tsarsina only nodded. “You have followed me for years, there is no reason you shouldn’t now. And those of you who have wished to overthrow me and take my place--Won’t it be easier now that you know I’m not a male, but a female? Those of you who are opposed to me than say so.”

Only a few angry yells could be heard. Others stayed as silent as they were. One mouse bar maid watched Tsarsina closely and blushed deeply under her fur. We all knew her to be a serious flirt when it came to “James”.

Tsarsina nodded to the embarrassed maid and grinned. “That is why I pushed you aside, you took it for weakness, but I was only trying to keep you sane.” She looked away from the maid and nodded to all the others. “You will continue to call me James, King of Thieves. I do not want others to know my true identity but you. I trust all of you to keep your word with me, but not with the king.”

Most grinned at her words and cheered. The few that had yelled protests were kicked out by others and soon all, but me and Tsarsina, were cheering. I was worried about many things--what if those few beasts told the king? What if those few beasts let the king know about thier hideout and such. Was it wise to do such a thing. Tsarsina looked in my direction and we locked eyes. I nodded and headed towards the door.

“Ey, mate, wot’cha doin’?” a thoroughly drunk otter asked.

“I am leaving, now if you would take-” I began but the otter interrupted me.

“C’n’t leave, mess mate, yer’ll be executed!” he shouted.

I pulled myself away from him. When he tried to grab me again, I kicked him in the lower legs, sending him to his knees.

“Now where’d’ya go, matey?” he mumbled and felt along the floor as I made my way for the door.

Outside I breathed in the fresh air, relishing it. The thieves hideout had always had a claustrophobic quality to me--full of drunk idiots or just plain idiots. I looked around to see none and slipped into the nearest alley only to run right into--

Present

What? Oh, yes, most took Tsarsina’s secret well. We were thieves but we were loyal thieves. Some of us weren’t, as you noticed, but the majority of us were.

Why did we all speak well? Same reason you probably do, we were born to well-speaking beasts. It didn’t matter what species we were or if we were street trash, we just spoke well. Further on the “vermin speech pattern” happened. But, let me continue, I stopped in mid-sentence.

Past

I nearly ran into the three beasts who had been kicked out. They all growled at me threateningly. I backed up, paws held in front of me, showing I meant no harm.

“What are you doing?” a particularly nasty looking stoat demanded, stepping closer to me.

“Nothing, actually...Just leaving,” I said, taking a step back. I wished that I had my sword with me.

The other two--a weasel and an otter--growled and stepped forward also.

“Just leaving, is that it?” the stoat laughed, placing a paw on a dagger.

“That’s what I said, now if you’d let me leave...” I said, attempting to slip through them. The otter and weasel each grabbed an arm and slammed me against the wall.

“You are staying loyal to that fool! We will carve you up real nice with a message for her,” he laughed, getting ready to place the dagger to my belly.

I growled and struggled against the ones holding me. “Let me leave,” I said through gritted teeth.

The stoat paused to snicker. “Why?”

“Do you know who I am?”

This caused the stoat to snicker even more. “Some ferret idiot staying loyal to Tsarsina.”

It was my turn to smirk. “Maybe you should check who you try to kill before you try, fool.”

The stoat’s mouth dropped for a second but he regained his composure. “And who are you, then?”

I shook my head. “Not until you let me go.”

The stoat chuckled and ignore my words. He once again readied to carve my insides. I began to get desperate. It was obvious none would be coming to my rescue. I prayed for a miracle and at the same time cursed my stupidity for leaving the Kotus that night.

I tensed when I felt the cold blade touch my belly and waited for pain. For some reason, nothing happened. I opened my eyes, which I realized I had closed, to see the stoat in the gripe of some beast.

“Get out of here,” the beast commanded. I looked into his eyes and immediatly listened to what he said.

I took off running, listening to the terrified shrieks of the others and shuddered. Who and what had the mysterious beast been? Only time would tell.

Chapter Ten

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“I didn’t see him, but he was there, stalking me, toying with me.”-Michael Romkey, I, Vampire
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Past

When I had returned to the Kotus I was a nervous wreck. I kept trying to forget the beast who had saved me. Who was it and why the interest in me? What had happened to those others? Thoughts raced through my mind like lightning--there one second, somewhere else another. Deep in thought, I ran right into an angry Silk.

“Where have you been?” Silk demanded, her badger bulk blocking my way.

I shook my head, not wanting this. “No where...”

Silk growled angrily, eyes lit with a fire. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt and put her face up to mine. “If you are ever to do that again, you will get more than a severe lecture.”

I nodded and pulled myself away from the angry badger. She growled at me again and I hurried away to my rooms. When I arrived I saw a hare in my room. I demanded what she was doing.

“Why do you want to know?” she asked sweetly.

I shook my head. “Leave, please. I don’t want to deal with this.”

The hare smiled. “I’m here to make sure you stay. I will not be leaving.”

I growled. “Fine. Stay. If you get in my way, though, you’ll be sorry.” I picked my sword up and began hacking away at a new wooden pole. I kept at it, as calmly as I could. Soon enough, though, I worked myself into another frenzy. I began chopping at the wood fiercely, not thinking of what the hare thought.

I didn’t realize my sword was gone and I was on my back at first. I still tried to hack away at air with air. The hare slapped my face and brought me to realization.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, standing over me.

I groaned and pulled myself to my feet. “Practicing.”

The hare shook her head. “That was not practicing. You were in a rage! There is a difference between calmly practicing and hacking at something!”

“What can I say?” I grumbled.

The hare began to head out, my sword in her paw. I growled at her. “My sword...”

“You don’t get this sword back,” she said, shaking her head. “It causes problems that we really don’t need.”

“Problems, how so?” I sneered.

The hare once again shook her head and she left the room. I heard a click as the door was locked behind her. I tried to open it, but it was useless. I was stuck. There were no windows because of the fact it was underground. I flopped down on my bed and stared at the dirt ceiling, wondering what I had done to deserve such an odd life, and wondering what was to happen to me.
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The next morning I awoke to silence, surprisingly enough. I walked to the door to find it unlocked. I grinned to myself and walked out.

Immediatly I was shocked. All around lay dead Kotus. Each had wounds. I stood, stunned. How were all these beasts killed?

When I regained my wits I walked further down the hall, searching for a clue. Dead. That was all I saw. I caught a glimpse of my first hint. A castle soldier lay on the ground, moaning. I ran over to the hare and grabbed him by the front of his shirt.

“What happened here,” I demanded angrily.

The hare looked at me and shook his head. He opened his mouth and began speaking rapidly. “Mountainback ordered us t’bloody well attack an underground area full o’ females. We thought it was going t’be easy. So many were killed....”

I shook him to try to get him to speak but realized he was dead. I was angry. How had Mountainback known about the Kotus? What had happened, and who was that female hare in my room the other night?

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Cloudeyes!” I growled angrily, cursing the princesses name. Cloudeyes was the daughter of Clover and Mountainback. Not many had seen her but it was obvious she was the one who had been in my room and betrayed the Kotus.

There was laughter from around the corner--female laughter. I cautiously peered around to see Cloudeyes standing, paws on hips, smirking. “Hello, Wraith. Bally well took y’long enough to figure it out.”

I growled, wishing I had my sword. “How did you get down here?”

“Well, it was easy, sah, just put on some bally armor and paraded around as a warrior. Some beast--a ferret I think--told me I shouldn’t be above ground. She led me here. I easily found ya rooms. Not very good security,” she laughed, eyes twinkling. Behind her stood about twenty castle guards, all ready to kill.

“So, you killed them,” I said, paws tightening into fists.

Cloudeyes shrugged. “Why not, sah?”

“All by yourself, Cloudeyes? Without your father to hide behind?” I sneered.

“Actually, ma father ordered the soldiers an’ let me command ‘em,” she laughed, ignoring my words.

I waited for something to happen, expecting for somebeast to try and kill me. Nothing happened, though, and I was surprised. I knew that Cloudeyes was trying to keep me wondering, she was stalling about something--she had to be.

“Well, I should probably be off...” I began, backing up.

Cloudeyes looked panicked for a second. “No, y’will stay here. If you attempt t’leave ya will be killed,” she commanded, after regaining her composure.

I crossed my arms. “And why should I stay? One way or the other you’ll kill me.”

“Because this way we had time to surround you, little thief,” a voice that grated on my nerves laughed. I turned to see Aris down the way I had came. No way to go. Either way there was a fool and their backup. I waited.

Chapter Eleven

Note: The song in this chapter and the hare, Earblade, were put in at a friend’s consent. Thanks a bunch Si!

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“Somewhere down the line I’d been very careless.”-P.N. Elrod Bloodlist
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Present

All the Kotus, yes, I fear. They were all killed by the tyranny of Mountainback and Cloudeyes. There was really nothing I could have done.

My sword? At the time I didn’t know, but I will get to that, Abbot.

You are wondering about that mysterious figure, aren’t you. Yes, that is one beast who haunted my thoughts, I kept wondering who he was and why he saved me. Mysterious fellow, he was.

Past

I watched as Aris stood still, almost like he was uncertain of what he was to do. Cloudeyes was the same way.

I laughed. “What’s wrong, is a thief like me too frightening for all of you?” I sneered.

Cloudeyes waved a spear and I was immediatly surrounded. I tensed into a crouch and watched them all closely. My eyes narrowed when none moved against me.

“If he makes any moves, grab him!” Cloudeyes commanded.

This was all very confusing. I couldn’t figure out any reason for them not to grab me to begin with. I pulled a dagger from a hidden sheath in my boot (a thief can never have enough daggers) and watched all the beasts surrounding me closely.

I realized my mistake too late. Soon I had a dozen spears placed at my throat. I dropped the dagger and stood as still as I could. One pressed uncomfortable against the front of my throat as I tried to swallow. I grimaced but stayed silent. I didn’t know what to think of all this.

Aris laughed. “Stupid thief.”

I swallowed my anger. I would not let myself surrender to rage when I could handle the situation better calmly. “Why?” I asked.

Cloudeyes laughed. “Silly thief! Did you not think we would wish to capture you alive? We have a special execution in store for you. One not even you will be able to escape from.

I heard Aris grunt and another beast walk up behind me. Soon all the spears were removed from my throat but one. I was shackled and searched. Soon I heard the chuckling of Mountainback behind me.

“I finally have y’again, Wraith Kotirsson. I should ‘ave recognized ya before. Kotir was an easy enemy...” Mountainback said quietly to my back.

I closed my eyes against the fury that was ready to consume me. “And you are an easy enemy, also. You will die at my sword!” I growled before Aris kicked me in the back of the knees. I hadn’t realized he had come behind me, and I wished I had something to kill the squirrel with.

“Silence, little thief,” Aris growled threateningly.

I pulled myself to my feet and turned to face Mountainback and Aris. Mountainback held my sword--my father’s sword. I watched as he twirled the blade expertly. It now had the Heart of Tor placed as the pommel stone. This angered me. The fool of a hare should not touch that sword.

“Put my sword down,” I snarled.

Mountainback only smirked and sheathed the sword in a new leather sheath with his name on it.

“Why don’t you kill me now? Get it done with?” I demanded.

“Oh, but that would ruin the fun of it all!” Mountainback laughed.

“Sorry to ruin your fun,” I snarled and lunged at him. I started to wrap my chains around his throat. Tighter and tighter. Before I could kill him, though, I was pulled away. I clawed and bit at the beasts that held me. I used my chains as my weapons. I was able to take down two of them with me as darkness clouded over me.
------------------------------------------------------------------
I awoke in the dark interior of the castle. My paws were tied above my head to the ceiling. I dangled painfully. The chains on my lower legs were attached to something on the floor and added to the weight of me.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim area I saw other beasts in the same position as I was. All looked haggard and worn. I knew they must have been there for a long time. One called out to me.

“Hello, there...” a hare called.

I looked over at him and scowled. My face felt like a huge bruise and I immediatly regretted it.

“Y’re new here, aren’t ya chap?” he asked.

“What do you think?” I asked darkly.

The hare snorted and looked away. One of his ears was missing and it looked like there was a fresh jagged cut in its place. It made me wonder how he could be so cheerful after something like that, but then again, he was a hare.

The hare, to my surprise, suddenly broke into a song:

“Ohhhhhhh when I was a pup,
I sat in a cup,
and dreamed of the deeeeeeep blue sea

“So I bought a boat,
And set it afloat,
Oh that was the life for me!

“But my boat got sunk (booohoooooooo)
Whilst I was drunk (woohooooo)
So, now I live in a trreeeeeee,

“OHHH IT'S A TREE HOPPER'S LIFE FOR ME,
OHHHH IT'S A TREEHOPPER'S LIFE, FOOOORRRRRRR
MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
THANK YOU
thankyou one and all.”

When he finished his song he grinned over at me. “I’m Earblade. What’s y’name, old chap?”

Being called “old chap” struck me as funny, considering he was older than I was. I grinned. “I am Wraith Kotirsson. What was that song you just sang?”

Earblade winked at me. “Why, The Ballad o’ Wetpaw Thinkslow!”

Present

Hmmm? Oh. Yes, he was slightly annoying. I never have cared much for hares. Too loud for my taste, but he was nice. There was no such thing as boredom, that was for sure. Cocky? Well, in a way all hares are that way.

Why was he in there? I haven’t gotten to that part yet, you interrupted me! No, no. I mean no offense, Abbot.

Let me continue.

Chapter Twelve

Note: Once again I need to give some credit to that jolly Si chap for a character, Athalia.

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“You can remember as long as you want. There’s nothing you can do.”-Don Bassingtwaite As One Dead
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Past

The next day, after staying awake all night listening to the sounds of other beasts being tortured, she entered. Her name was Athalia. A tall female ferret with one bad attitude. On my earlier stay at Tor a while before I had not heard of her, she must have been new. It turns out she was an expert in the art of torturing. A beautiful expert at that.

“So, Wraith Kotirsson, we meet,” Athalia said. She wore very little, like the Kotus. It struck me that she was actually wearing one of their suits of armor. It fit her perfectly. Added on was a long red cape that billowed out behind her. In her right paw she carried a crude looking whip that had small spikes along it.

“And who are you?” I asked calmly.

Athalia laughed lightly. “I’m your worst nightmare, as you can probably tell by your hare friend,” she said, motioning to Earblade, who kept a calm expression. “I am Athalia.”

“You don’t look like much of a nightmare to me,” I laughed.

Athalia grinned, anticipating something. “Hmmm. You want me to start early, don’t you?”

I was about to say something but before my mouth even opened her whip connected with my belly. I let out a shocked yelp at the pain and looked at her.

“I’m guessing this is going to be simple to break you in. Mountainback has put you in my care--and so you will remain until your last breath. How does that make you feel?” She smirked at me.

“Well it could be worse. You could be as ugly as Mountainback or Aris,” I said.

She grinned slightly. “You have a mouth on you. I can take care of that, can’t I Earblade?”

Earblade did not even turn to her voice. I could see his paws ball into fists but relax once again. I knew if it had been me I would have been shouting insults at her.

“Yes, I do. Not much you can do about that.”

She smirked again at this. “There is plenty I can do with a needle and thread. Or, I can just cut your tongue out...But both ways are too messy. I like hearing my victims crying out to me. Begging me. Pleading with me. My job is much more fulfilling that way.”

Once again she took me by surprise and whipped me across the belly. I did not shout out, though. I held my tongue. I did not want to give her the satisfaction of hearing my screams, though I knew I could not stand up to the pain for a long period of time. It made me wonder how long Earblade had survived in these dark torture chambers. How long the others survived.

“Hmmm. You do no wish to scream. That will change in time. Soon you will beg me to stop the pain.”

“Never,” I said, gritting my teeth against any more remarks.

“You learn quickly, but that will not save you from your destiny. One way or the other--you will die down here or wish to.”

She turned and left, to my relief. The door was slammed shut and all was silent. I glanced over at Earblade, who looked back at me.

“How long have you been here?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “What does it matter, old chap?”

I sighed and looked away from him, closing my eyes partially. I wished to be home. Not home with the Kotus, but home with my friends of the streets. My thoughts of home brought me to wonder about Tsarsina. What if those who did not stay loyal were greater in number than I believed and had betrayed her?

“What are y’thinking about, Wraith?” Earblade asked suddenly.

I looked over at him, realizing I must have looked deep in thought. “Everything... Nothing. Wondering what will happen. Wondering if my life is going to end in pain or old age. Wondering if my life is just as pointless as any others...”

“Well, laddie buck, cheer up. Y’shouldn’t let this drag y’down,” he said, grinning.

My rage mounted. Not at him, but at everything. Molly, Mountainback, Cloudeyes, the Kotus, my father, Athalia, my whole miserable live, all the betrayals I faced, and Molly many more times. “How can you say that? You have no idea what has and has not happened in my life! I have felt more betrayals than most! My life has been a miserable pointless trip that has only taken me through the pain of deaths and hatred!” I snarled. “How can you say that?” I asked softer, tears of anger clouding my eyes.

“Y’think I haven’t faced pain, Wraith?” he asked, face expressionless. “I once was o’ the proud family Swift, who were all killed by thieves who had stumbled upon my home. I, Strongblade Willachompa Quentin Julian Tarquin Cleckstrom Swift, was the only survivor o’ the Swift family. I chased those bloody thieves down but was badly injured. My ear was deformed an’ I earned the name Earblade Strong Willachompa Quentin Julian Tarquin Cleckstrom Swift. I tried t’get my father’s sword back, which was stolen. I followed Athalia t’Castle Tor. I went t’Mountainback’s chambers when he was sleeping an’ threatened t’kill him if he didn’t return my father’s sword an’ all o’ the other treasure Athalia had killed for returned ta it’s rightful owners. Somehow, Aris got in there an’ managed t’cripple me by spearing my side. During that time I was chained here for Athalia t’perform what she wished. I’ve been here a long time, it seems. Not long ago Athalia lost patience with me an’ there went my ear...”

When he finished telling me this all became silent. I never had guessed what had happened--he was always too cheerful for a past that horrible. I only nodded and looked away from him.

Earblade began humming his song. I listened and hoped he wasn’t planning on singing. I tried to think but my thoughts were a blur.

“Oh Molly...” I whispered to myself. “If it was not for that betrayal, my friends would all be alive and I would not be here.”

Earblade paid no attention to me and kept humming his song over and over. I thought of Tsarsina. What had become of her? Was she killed? I dearly hoped not. But I knew she was probably betrayed some sort of way by those who did not believe in her.

“Why...” I muttered to myself.

Chapter Thirteen

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“When the spirit is dead, the body follows at my leisure.”-Doug Murray, Avenging Angel
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Past

As time wore on I felt the thin reality of sanity escaping me. Athalia would continually practice on me with her torturing “skills”. I found myself away from my body. I would watch from above as ribs were broken, eyes were punched, jaw was cracked. I angered Athalia by remaining silent.

Athalia lashed out at me with her whip. It hit my bare back with a sharp crack. I tensed but made no sound.

“Silence will not save you, Wraith,” she sneered. She clenched armored fists.

I ignored her and watched Earblade. He grinned cheerfully and hummed to himself. I ground my teeth, and wondered what his problem was. A hare was bad enough but he was too cheerful, especially when I was being beaten.

One of Athalia’s fists connected with my chest. I heard a rib crack under the force and felt its pressure on my lung.

“How many ribs am I to break before you scream?” she asked, smashing her armored fist into my chest again.

“I don’t have enough to tell you,” I replied. My voice came out as a wheeze due to the fact some of my ribs were pressing against my lungs.

Athalia shook her head and turned to Earblade with a grin. “And what if I direct my anger to your friend? What then? How many of his ribs until you shout out? How many ears or limbs until you beg mercy for him?”

“Leave him alone,” I said quietly.

“Being heroic?” she laughed and slammed a fist into Earblade’s chest. He only laughed as the fist connected.

Suddenly Athalia turned to me and swiftly wrapped her whip around my throat. I could feel the spikes biting into my flesh. I gasped at the pain as air became less and less. My vision blurred and I began involuntarily clawing at the whip.

“Enjoying it now?” Athalia asked, her face right up to mine.

I struggled until darkness overtook me. I believed I was dying.

Present

Yes, Abbot, she was cruel. The perfect one for her profession, if you ask me. She was pure evil. I don’t know if she started out that way but she was now.

Earblade? He might have been overly cheerful but he wasn’t insane. Hares are hard to tell with. They could be insane and yet they aren’t.

Let’s continue.

Past

I awoke laying on the ground. My sore muscles felt better than they had before. I kept my breath calm, like I still slept and slowly opened my eyes to see a shocking sight.

Guards lay crushed on the ground. Beasts chained to the walls or ceilings were all dead. Death and destruction lay all around me yet I felt at peace.

Earblade walked over to me, head cocked as if in question. He had his usual cheerful grin as he swung the chains that were still on his arms back and forth. “Hello, old chap.”

“What happened here?” I asked cautiously.

“Some chap came--not sure of his species--an’ took them all out. He unchained y’and then me. Said somethin’ about ‘Kotus’, I think... Then he left. He seemed a little nutty,” Earblade said, considering.

Every breath I took was painful as ribs poked into my lungs. I nodded my head, not trusting my voice. “Athalia?” I asked.

“She’s taken care of,” he said simply.

I didn’t question him further about the matter, knowing he had probably “taken care of” her himself. “Where?” I asked.

“The odd chap?” he asked.

I nodded patiently. How I wished to get the information out easily, without all this silly business. Hares are so frustrating at times.

“He left the castle through a jolly tunnel, old chap,” Earblade replied. “Why?”

“Kotus... Underground,” I said quietly, thinking to myself.

“What is that?” Earblade asked.

“Quiet!” I growled. He took a step away, shocked. He shook his head at my outburst. I turned away from him. “Tunnel?” I asked.

Earblade snorted and led me to where there was a small opening blocked by a large metal sheet. After pulling it aside I peered in.

“Y’going in there after him?” Earblade asked, peering in also.

I nodded and slipped into the tunnel. As I crawled along I could tell this was Kotus made. I could see no signs of another beast going through but I continued anyway. I could hear Earblade following me closely as we went into mystery.

Chapter Fourteen

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“Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.”-Bram Stoker, Dracula
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Past

I found myself in the Kotus caves. I was in the training room, where weapons, dummies, and such were kept. I was shocked to even see the decaying bodies of a few Kotus. I saw Ilna, who had trained me hard during my time there. I turned away from the bodies, feeling sick.

“What happened here?” Earblade asked, peering at bodies.

“Cloudeyes,” I said simply, expression hardening with anger. “She will pay.” I clenched my paws into fists and looked around. “Where are you? Show yourself!” I shouted.

“Not so loud. My jolly ears can’t take it, old chap,” Earblade said cheerfully, covering his ears and grimacing.

I directed a glare in Earblade’s direction. I turned from him and continued my search.

“Oh, Wraith... Why show anger?” a voice laughed behind me. I spun to see nothing. “Over here,” the voice taunted, once again behind me.

“Where are you?” I demanded after turning to see nothing.

“Up here...” the voice laughed.

I jerked my head up but once again saw nothing. Beside me Earblade was doing the same, searching.

Somebeast poked me in the back. I spun around to come face to face with a creature in a black robe that had saved me in the alley long ago. I stared in shock. I could not see his face, yet the eyes were the same as before.

“Who...” I started.

He laughed again. “Who am I? Hmm. Interesting question...how do I answer?”

I growled involuntarily. My ribs were giving me great pain and I wasn’t in the mood for the games this beast was playing with me. “Let’s start with your name and why you have taken such interest in me.”

“Oh, that. Well, I am Malkavian Ahten,” he said, bowing like I was a great king, “and you, my dear Wraith, are Wraith Kotirsson, son of Kotir.”

Riddles. Great, I thought, just like a hare, yet he wasn’t one, I knew that much. “Why do you wear a robe?” I asked.

Malkavian nodded and took his robe off silently to reveal a ferret. He was about as tall as me and almost the same build. He had bright green eyes and a mischievous grin. He wore a simple white shirt and black pants. His feet had a pair of what looked like expensive boots on. He nodded as I looked him over. “Amazing how much we resemble each other, isn’t it?” he laughed and tossed the robe aside.

I nodded dumbly as Earblade looked back and forth between the two of us, shocked grin on his face. “Y’look just like jolly Wraith, old chap!” he exclaimed.

“A wonder, is it not? Shows my blood has not thinned through the generations...” Malkavian walked over to me and looked deep into my eyes. In his I saw a lingering bit of insanity, something that burned deep within him.

“What?” I asked.

“What? You do not know who I am? I was the original wielder of that sword of yours... the one stolen by Cloudeyes. What do they call the stone again? Ah, yes, the Heart of Tor. Interesting...” Malkavian said.

I let out a choked laugh. “Original wielder? How so? That sword is ancient! Far older than either of us!”

Malkavian cocked his head. “Yes... Like I said, I was the original wielder. I forged it from the lava of the Mountain of Death. Quite simple. There was great metal in that liquid at one time. It has, after all, lasted this long.”

“The Mountain of Death? All die that go there!” I laughed. My ribs were hurting me much but I couldn’t help myself. This was completely odd!

“I, obviously, did not... Or did I?” he said faintly, eyes glazing over then returning to normal. “But no, I did not.”

Things were beginning to confuse me. “How have you lived this long, then, if you lived that long ago?”

Malkavian laughed again, a deep laugh. “I am what is rumored not to be. Do you not remember hearing of creatures that thrive in darkness? That feed off the lives of others? The ones who sun destroys?”

“Vampires, you mean? The Shilmulo?” I laughed. “You are mad!”

“I may be mad, but I know what manner of beast I am. Yes.”

Earblade broke into laughter. He began rolling about on the ground, to my utter disgust. I looked down on him as tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Whooohahahaha! Vampires? Hehehehe... Oh dear, found a nutty one this time, old chap! Hahahaha!” Earblade laughed loudly as he rolled about.

I shook my head and turned back to Malkavian--but he was gone, just like before he had disappeared. I looked all around but he was nowhere in sight. The only proof that he was ever there was the robe he had discarded.

Present

Malkavian was mad, yes, but not by his words. He spoke the truth, even if it was out of a madbeast’s mouth.

Did I believe him? No, no, not then! I thought he was completely mad! Who would believe a beast like him? One that raved to be my ancestor of old times and so on? I figured he was some insane beast that had escaped from his keepers and pushed it aside, even though he did look like me.

Chapter Fifteen

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“If you had the slightest notion of what it is like to stalk your own kind, feed off thier blood, you would run screaming from me!”-Scott H. Urban, The Scarlet Letters
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Past

Later, after Malkavian Ahten had disappeared, Earblade and I set to the task of laying the Kotus to rest. Long ago the soldiers of Tor had been removed, probably the work of other soldiers. To my utter dismay, Earblade felt the need to sing, hum, and whistle throughout the grisly task.

“OHHH IT'S A TREE HOPPER'S LIFE FOR ME, OHHHH IT'S A TREEHOPPER'S LIFE, FOOOORRRRRRR MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” he sang loudly to the heavens.

I glanced over at him and muttered under my breath. “And he gets on my case for being loud,” I grumbled.

“What was that, old chap?” he asked cheerfully.

I glanced over at him and shook my head. “Nothing, Earblade.”

I felt sorrow for all the dead Kotus we had to bury. When I came to Silk I pet her cheek. She had been like a mother to me. Worried about me to where she was angry with my mistakes. More of a mother than my real mother. I looked at the gaping wound that opened her chest to the world and let a tear roll down my cheek. The last tear I would shed on anyone. The last tear I would ever cry.

“Goodbye, Silk. Mother...” I said to the badger as I covered her with dirt.

As I stood away from her grave I noticed we had finished the task. Each and every Kotus that had died that night were in an individual grave, with a marker to show their bravery. I walked out, determined never to go there again.

“Who were those beasts, wot wot?” Earblade asked as he trotted to my side.

“They were the Kotus. They were my army, my father’s army,” I said, clenching my fists angrily.

Earblade shrugged at my short explanation and began exploring tunnels. I decided to let him go, thinking if he had problems finding his way he would shout for help. The underground caves were large, but things echoed within them.

“AAAHHH!”

I heard the shout and dashed in the direction to find Earblade surrounded by thieves. Tsarsina stood in front of him, a dagger placed at his throat.

“Tsarsina!” I shouted. “What are you doing?”

“Wraith...but, you’re dead...” she mumbled, moving the dagger away from Earblade’s throat. “You’ve been dead ever since that night. Cloudeyes killed you!”

“What?” I asked, confused.

“An announcement was made that Cloudeyes had killed Wraith Kotirsson--you. I found my way here and was planning on making this underground area a place for thieves,” she said. She looked at me in confusion, noticing my ragged appearance and the way I held one arm to my chest, trying to keep my ribs in a better position. “What happened to you?”

I fit of coughs overtook me before I was able to answer. When I finally stopped coughing, my eyes were watering. I held up a paw to those trying to come to my side. “I spent this whole time in the dungeons of Tor, being tortured day in and day out. How long have I been gone?”

Tsarsina looked concerned. “You have been gone for three months!”

I glanced at Earblade, who had moved away from Tsarsina and closer to me. “Did you know we had been there that long?”

The one-eared hare nodded his head. “I didn’t tell y’because...I just had my reasons,” he said, grinning cheerfully.

Tsarsina glanced from Earblade to me. “Who is this?”

I opened my mouth but before I could even emit a sound Earblade was bowing and telling her his name. “Earblade Strong Willachompa Quentin Julian Tarquin Cleckstorm Swift, ma gel!” he called cheerfully, despite the fact she had come close to killing him. “And who might you be?”

Tsarsina grinned a half grin. “I am Tsarsina Greeneyes, the King of Thieves.”

Earblade cocked his head to the side. “Wouldn’t y’be the Queen of Thieves. Somethin’ tells me y’aren’t a male...”

I found myself grinning and at a hare! I put my paw over my mouth to keep a grin from being seen and watched Tsarsina’s reaction.

“I am the King of Thieves, no matter what my gender is,” she replied calmly.

Earblade shrugged. “Whatever y’say, ma gel, but I still think y’are a queen...”

I felt slightly dizzy. My ribs were beginning to cause great pain. I sat down against the wall. “I’m just going to rest for a small bit...” I mumbled before closing my eyes.
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I woke up, laying in my quarters. The same quarters I had before Cloudeyes had destroyed the home of the Kotus. I glanced around and saw Earblade sitting in a chair. On his lap lay a lute, which at the moment he was slumped over. I could easily tell he was asleep.

I began to slip out of my bed only to made lay back down. A small rat had waddled in, carrying healing supplies.

“Sit down, big guy!” the rat said, shoving me into bed. Earblade jolted awake, looking around nervously until he saw the rat.

“Oh, just you, old chap,” he said and let his eyes close again.

The rat proceeded to bandage me up. In a matter of minutes, he was finished and waddled back out as fast as his little legs carried him. I found this whole thing quite odd but figured there was nothing wrong with it. I closed my eyes to rest.

Chapter Sixteen

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“His eyes were positively blazing. The red light in them was lurid, as if the flames of hellfire blazed behind them.”-Bram Stoker, Dracula
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Past

Later on, I talked with Tsarsina and the others. We talked of plans. Plans of mutiny and such. We planned to rise against Mountainback, with Tsarsina and me as the leaders.

“But, how are we going to go up against Mountainback! He has that castle of his and all those guards!” a rat whined shrilly.

I grinned. “We have an even stronger force with us. Stealth is on our side. We know the streets like the backs of our paws. We have contacts within the guards. I even have a special benefactor, although I have yet to see him lately. We have most of the advantages,” I said arrogantly.

Earblade sat, grinning cheerfully at the whole prospect of it. I really didn’t know what he was so cheerful about, but his grin lightened my mood and I believe it did so with others. “Jolly good!”

“Special benefactor?” Tsarsina asked, peering at me curiously.

I nodded. “Yes, a ferret by the name of Malkavian Ahten. He is the one who saved me from that miserable little hell-hole. I’m not sure where he went, but I plan on finding him.”

“Malkavian Ahten,” Tsarsina said quietly, tasting the name.

“Jolly chap, although he does seem a little odd in the head!” Earblade said.

“That he does, but he is help even if he seems strange,” I replied, grinning at Earblade but at the same time asking myself if Malkavian truly would help us defeat Mountainback.

“And why wouldn’t I, Wraith?” a calm voice asked from the doorway.

I almost fell out of my chair in shock. There, in the doorway, the figure of Malkavian stood. He leaned calmly against the earthen door-frame, a grin on his face. He looked the same as before. Now he wore a similar white shirt but it had golden stitches. His pants looked more elegant than before but his books were the same. He now also wore a dark red cape that billowed out behind him, even though he stood still. His green eyes were lit with the same light of madness, or so it seemed to me.

“What are you doing here?” I stammered.

Malkavian pouted in mock disappointment. “But why not come here, when you need my help so much you cry out in your thoughts?”

I just gaped at him, wondering if he really could hear my thoughts. To my utter surprise, he nodded his head and grinned.

“But that is not what I am here for. I am here to tell you what to do. Leave this puny band of thieves. Find your own army. An army made purely of the vilest creatures: stoats, rats, ferrets, weasels, foxes, wolves, wildcats, martins. You get it, yes. If you make an army such as that, you will be almost unstoppable,” Malkavian said calmly. His voice, unlike most, was devoid of emotion yet it seemed to show great emotion. Instead of rising and falling with the words, it stayed the same tone but to me it sounded like a song of notes rising and falling.

“But why?” I asked.

“It is destiny, my young one,” he replied. Just like being called “old chap” by a hare older than me, being called “young one” by someone the same age of me struck me as odd.

“But my sword....” I stammered, trying to find a good excuse.

Malkavian let off a laugh. He sounded positively mad when he laughed, and unearthly. It was like nothing I had ever heard. It seemed to bounce off the walls to the point where I believed my ears would begin to bleed with the pain. I gasped when he stopped his laughter. All the others now stood with their paws over their ears, looking around nervously. Tsarsina’s eyes were wide as she stared at him.

“You will get that sword in due time, Wraith, but it is not yet time to wield it. The fire inside you does not match the fire within that blade. You need to earn it through pain and suffering. Only then will you be able to wield it.”

I started to say something but he suddenly disappeared. I did not even see the slight blur of his cape as he dashed off. It was like he had just disappeared, not ran off, but I knew that was impossible. Or so I believed it was.
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Shortly after Malkavian’s appearance I felt the urge to do as he said. To find an army worthy of taking Castle Tor and its surrounding area. To take it as mine.

“I think I will do it,” I said calmly to Earblade.

“What, old chap?” he asked, cocking his head to the side.

“What Malkavian told me to do. I think I will find an army purely of the species closest to my own,” I said softly, looking into his eyes.

“An’ what o’ y’other friends?” he asked.

“You and the others can stay here until I return. I won’t be gone long, at least I don’t think I will...”

“Raisin’ an army will take y’long, laddie buck,” Earblade chuckled.

I grinned. “Not if it is done right.”

Interlude One

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“Children of Darkness
Meet the Children of Light

Children of Man,
Fight the Children of Night.”-Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
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Present

The two stared at each other as they sat in the Great Hall by themselves. Mouse and ferret. Claudius looked nervously as the ferret paused in his dialogue to look about himself.

Claudius cleared his throat nervously. “Are you going to go on?” he asked quietly.

The ferret nodded his head. “Yes, Abbot, I have the perfect intentions of carrying on with my story. But...”

“But?” Claudius asked, leaning further in his small chair.

“But the light comes near. I know you need sleep, and the rest will help me greatly,” the ferret said.

Claudius nodded, just realizing his own exhaustion. “But....” he said.

The ferret held up a paw. “You must sleep. I do not wish to have you sleeping as I speak to you, that would not be good. Go.” The ferret stood and began ushering the smaller creature out of the room.

Claudius consented and walked up the stairs to get some rest. “More tomorrow night?” Claudius asked, peering down at the ferret.

The ferret only nodded and began to head for the cellar. Beasts were already beginning to arise. The normal beasts that cooked breakfast looked on the scene, eyes wide with interest. The ferret moved by them without a glance in their direction.

“Let him go into the cellar,” Claudius told the cellar-hog that glared at the ferret. The cellar-hog opened his mouth to protest but decided against it, seeing that the Abbot looked exhausted.

Claudius left and headed for his own bed and closed his eyes.
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The next night Claudius awoke feeling refreshed. It was almost dark out and he hurried out of bed and headed for the Great Hall. Beasts were leaving for their beds, nodding in the direction of the Abbot. The badger-mother, Anne, grinned at him as she fought with two dibbuns and pulled them up the stairs.

“Goodnight, Mother Anne,” he said as she left.

“Good-morning, Abbot Claudius,” she chuckled. “You should not keep hours like you are, it is bad for the health!”

Claudius only smiled. He went to the kitchen and found himself some soup in a pot and helped himself to it. Delicious soup, hot and steaming with vegetables. He took some bread and dipped it in as the ferret entered.

“Good evening, Abbot,” he said calmly.

Claudius nodded and swallowed his mouth-full of food. “Do you want some soup?” he asked.

The ferret shook his head. “I will be back shortly,” he said, and left the room.

Claudius ate in silence until the ferret returned, looking better than he had before. His face wounds were all but non-existent compared to the first night Claudius had set eyes on them.

“Take a seat,” the Abbot welcomed him.

The ferret nodded and took a seat at the table. “Ah, now where did we leave off? Oh, yes. Malkavian had told me to seek out a horde of beasts, or vermin if you wish. Earblade didn’t want me to go, although he would never attempt to stop me. Let’s continue...”

Chapter Seventeen

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“More evidence of paranoia,”-S.P. Somtow, The Voice of the Hummingbird
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Past

I left Tor quickly and with no mishaps. I felt a sense of freedom outside the gates of the castle and surrounding town as I walked away from it. Only once before had I been outside of those gates, and then it was muddy and raining. Once again, the rain came down on me hard as I walked away from the gates. I glanced back to see two guards standing atop the great wall that kept invaders out. In the robe I wore none would recognize me, even Aris wouldn’t be able to tell I was the young convict that had escaped death twice.

When I reached the dirt path the doors slammed shut with a resounding clang. I flinched at the sound of it but tried not to run. If I ran it would be too suspicious and the guards might come to find out what was going on. I let myself be swallowed by the trees of the dirt path and headed for the main dirt road, which was the same as it has always been.

As I walked through the down-pour without another glance back as I trudged through the muddy path. The boots I was wearing were soon coated with the stuff before I had even walked halfway to the road. I decided to walk away from the path and in the trees, where the mud was lessened by dead leaves and needles from trees.

With me I carried many daggers, a sword in a hidden hilt on my back, and a staff to aid in walking and if all else failed I could use it as a weapon. Slung over my shoulder I carried a sack of food that would support me for a month. After a month of time I would have to find my own food, but that wasn’t much of a task. I could make myself a bow and arrow easily and shoot down small creatures, or just live off berries and roots.

I shivered when I felt the rain penetrate my robe. “Perfect. Always leaving on a rainy day,” I grumbled to myself as I walked further.

Soon enough I made it to the dirt road. By that time the rain had lessened a small bit. To my surprise I heard the thunder of hooves, a rare thing indeed. Not many had horses, and those who did took good care of them. I stood aside under the trees and waited to see who would emerge.

A tall and lanky wildcat riding on a horse soon came within view. He wore a blue cape and silver armor. In a scabbard I could see the blade of a large sword. I could see from the distance that he was a light brown color and had blue eyes. Soon enough the feline and his mount were upon me, splashing mud on the sides of the road. I was far enough back not to be hit by the muck but he saw me and immediatly halted. The white horse reared up on its hind legs and let out a shrill whinny.

“Ho! Who stands there?” the wildcat called.

“Why does it matter?” I asked as I stepped out from under the trees and into the rain.

The wildcat grinned slightly. “You never know where a bandit may stand. Why are you standing over there?” he asked lightly.

“I was actually waiting for you to go by, so as not to get trampled by your horses hooves,” I replied, leaning on my staff. He seemed like a young wildcat, a few years younger than I was. Rather inexperienced, too. I could see that he held himself like nobility.

“Really? Which way are you headed?” he asked, expression brightening.

“North, I think, maybe South. Wherever I think would be best,” I said. This was getting interesting, very interesting indeed.

“A traveler, are you?” he asked.

I nodded. “You could say that... What about you?”

“I am Dimitrius Pendar, Knight-in-Training,” he said, pulling himself straighter in his saddle, looking even prouder than before.

“Well, Dimitrius, I am Wraith Kotirsson. I am searching for beasts in a horde that I plan on starting. Any good, preferably bad, beasts that could fill my ranks?” I asked, looking at him.

Dimitrius arched his eyebrows slightly. “Wraith, eh? I’ve heard that name before...same with Kotir. I’m assuming your father was Kotir.”

I nodded, unsure of where this conversation would be going.

“My father has had dealings with your father before, and he seemed impressed with him. You may come south with me and my sister. We do have an extra horse...” he said, trailing off.

“South?” I asked uncertainly.

“Yes, South. In the area of my homeland, Castle Pendar. My sister is near, you may come,” he said.

Sure enough, I heard the sound of more hooves beating the ground. I looked up the road and a female wildcat came on her own horse, another in tow. She was tall and wore armor much like her brothers. Her eyes were golden and she had black fur. Strapped to her back were two swords, instead of only one. She had a wild look in her eyes as she came closer. She stopped her black horse and looked down at me and to her brother.

“What is going on?” she asked, her voice strong.

“This is Wraith Kotirsson, sister. He says he plans on beginning a horde for himself. Let him ride the other horse and come with us,” Dimitrius said, eyes almost pleading with his sister.

She sighed and pulled the wild horse’s reigns and handed them to me. He pranced around for a small bit before settling down. I glanced up at the horse, uneasiness creeping into my mind. I had never ridden a horse before, and had absolutely no idea how to.

“Just get on the horse!” she exclaimed impatiently. I pulled myself up using the stirrup and sat in the saddle, looking around from my tall perspective.

Dimitrius chuckled as I sat in wonder on the horse. “Never ridden before, have you?”

“You’ve guessed it,” I grumbled.

His sister laughed. “I am Bastet Pendar, Knight-in-Training like my brother. I’ll tell you how to do it,” she said and began instructing me on what to do.

Soon enough we were riding to the south. I was already the farthest from home I had ever been and it filled me with excitement.

Chapter Eighteen

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“Tell me, or I’ll rip your throat out!”-Don Bassingthwaite & Nancy Kilpatrik, As One Dead
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Past

I traveled south with the two wildcats, trying to enjoy the scenery around me. The land was magnificent compared to the alleys and streets of Tor. I got used to riding the horse, although I did feel a little sore after the first day of riding.

“Why are you starting a horde?” Dimitrius asked on the second day of traveling.

I sighed. All along I had known this would be inevitable, that they would want to know my reasons. “I plan on overthrowing Mountainback. He is a fool and has attempted to kill me twice.”

“Twice?” Bastet asked, looking at me skeptically. “I see your ear is branded, are you a common thief?”

I laughed at the thought. “Yes, once I was a common thief but no longer. I haven’t been for about a year, when I held the Heart of Tor in my paw. Aris has always been after me, and that gave him more the reason to hang me. And I was hanged.”

Bastet snorted. “If you were hanged then how can you still be alive? Most people are dead after being hanged.”

Dimitrius snickered a small amount at his sister’s comment but easily regained his composure. “Do tell.”

“Since you both are so skeptical...I was saved before I died. Saved by the Kotus, who now lay dead from Cloudeyes and Mountainback. That was how I almost died a second time, Mountainback had me put in the care of Athalia, a female torturer. She was as ruthless as they come, probably more so than any others,” I said, recalling Athalia in my mind. I did not mention Molly, for I knew I would only get angry at her again and say something that shouldn’t be said.

“How did you escape that? A vanishing trick?” Bastet giggled.

“Not anything near that. Malkavian saved me, and he also sent me on this chase after a horde,” I said, not bothering with the details.

Before either had time to speak a band of foxes stepped out from the trees. Each had an arrow trained on us. There were probably a dozen total, but I wasn’t about to count them when they were planning on killing us.

“Hand us all yore gold,” one sneered. He stepped in front of the others. He was dressed more lavishly and I immediatly identified him as the leader.

“And if we have none? What then? Shall we hand you our bones instead?” I asked. I knew if I could get them angry enough we would have a better chance of surviving and leaving with our money.

He growled. “Well, ain’t yer the cocky one. Maybe we will take yer bones while yer still be alive.”

I laughed at this. Dimitrius and Bastet seemed shocked by my outright show of stupidity. “And how would you do that? Come up and take them? You think I would let you do that?”

He seemed almost uncertain. He probably identified us as rich by the horses we rode, and that was true for my companions. What he didn’t’ expect was a thief like himself, probably. “Wot c’n yer do ‘bout it?” he sneered.

“Plenty. If you are from Tor than you will have much to apologize to...”

“Wot does Tor ‘ave ter do wid anythin’?” he asked, uncertainty growing.

“If you are from there than you know what mistakes you have made,” I said calmly. Before any could react I was on him, two daggers placed at his throat. “Your first mistake was not killing us when you saw us, your second mistake was that I am the Prince of Thieves and so I know exactly how to handle those under me. Ready to give up?”

The foxes all had thier arrows trained on me. “If yer kill him we kills yer!” one called out uncertainly.

Bastet had jumped from her horse, both swords drawn while Dimitrius held his sword in his right paw but still sat on his horse. “And if you kill him we kill you,” Bastet laughed.

I began thinking to myself that if the leader under me shouted out that if Bastet and Dimitrius killed his foxes, that he’d kill them, I’d have to just scream. All the foxes were staring uncertainly at the two wildcats or at their leader while the leader just stared up at me stupidly.

“Okay...” I began. “If I let you up then tell your beasts not to do anything, or I’ll let the wildcats get you,” I said, winking to Dimitrius and Bastet.

The fox leader nodded his head nervously. I stepped away from him and he jumped away from me. We stood there for a short while and stared at each other.

“Yer cn’t be Wraith, ‘e died a while back,” the fox said nervously.

“I can’t?” I asked, acting as if I was confused of my own identity.

“An’ Steelpaw ‘ere be the Prince now,” one fox muttered.

“Quiet!” Steelpaw growled and turned back to me. “Who are yer an’ who are these wildcats?” he demanded.

“As I’ve said, I am Wraith Kotirsson. This is Dimitrius and Bastet Pendar.”

Both Dimitrius and Bastet had sheathed their weapons, although they would be able to get them out so fast Steelpaw and his foxes would have no idea what had happened. I had sheathed my daggers and now stood with my arms crossed over my chest, waiting for him to answer.

“But ‘ow? It was announced that yer were killed...” Steelpaw said nervously.

“Obviously he is alive,” Bastet said dryly, obviously having problems keeping her expression serious.

Steelpaw nodded slightly. “Wot are yer going ter do wid us?”

“I haven’t decided...” I said, grinning.

Present

What was that? Sloppy, yes. They’d even have trouble stealing something from a blind old mole. But, they mostly relied on brute strength against the weaker opponents. The cowards way, but they were probably pretty successful.

Yes, quite so. “Vermin” were showing their true sides all over the place. Soon enough, the terms would be in place and things would progress from there.

Chapter Nineteen

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“Now we are truly ready to begin.”-Anne Rice, The Tale of the Body Thief
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Past

I stood there for a short while, thinking about what to do with the foxes who had tried to kill me and my companions. An idea came to me. This Steelpaw had a way with beasts, obviously. He had talked them into ganging up on travelers, and travelers with horses!

“Well, Steelpaw, how would you feel about you and your small group becoming the start of a horde under my rule?” I asked him.

Steelpaw’s mouth dropped open for a second then he closed it. “Yore not going ter ‘ave us killed?” he asked suspiciously.

I shook my head. “No...well, at least I won’t unless you refuse my offer.”

Steelpaw nodded his head. “But ‘ow’ll we get food fer us? We ‘aven’t ‘ad much luck...”

I laughed at this. Not much luck? “Really? Why don’t I believe you? I’m positive you have much in the way of stolen possessions, considering many nobles come along this way and most of them are dithering idiots.” I turned to Bastet and Dimitrius. “No offense meant, of course...”

“None taken. You both should sign an agreement, and Steelpaw can stay here and recruit beasts as they come along,” Dimitrius volunteered. “I have some paper with me, and a few bits of charcoal.”

“Sign an agreement?” both Steelpaw and I asked uneasily.

“And why not?” Dimitrius asked, searching through his bags. Then he caught on. “Oh, I see...well...ummm...” he trailed off, embarrassed for us. Being thieves, neither of us knew how to read.

I felt my face growing terribly hot. I looked down at my footpaws and began speaking again. “Well, Dimitrius, if you write one out we can each cover our paws in charcoal and sign it that way.”

Dimitrius nodded, still a little stunned that one wouldn’t even know how to sign their own names, and continued searching through his bags. Soon enough he produced the items and began writing out a letter. “This agreement, signed by Wraith Kotirsson and Steelpaw, stands for an alignment,” he dictated. “Anything else you wish to add?”

“Steelpaw will be first captain and will stay in Mossflower to recruit members,” I said softly. Dimitrius nodded and jotted it down.

After he finished writing, he handed me the charcoal and I rubbed my right paw on it. I handed the piece to Steelpaw and placed my paw on the paper. After taking it away I left a black mark. Steelpaw did the same and there were two pawprints.

“There, now that we have that done...” Bastet, who had been silent, said as she grinned.

I nodded. “Yes, this was rushed but I think we really should be on our way.”

“I c’n understand that. Yer leave, yer c’n trust me,” Steelpaw said, shaking my paw.

“Let’s go, then. When I return I expect to see more recruited,” I said, spurring my horse. Steelpaw waved to us as we left to go South.

Present

Eh, what was that? You are a questioning beast, aren’t you Abbot! No, I couldn’t read. I had no reason to have that skill before then. I learned how to, but that isn’t to be told right now, it is farther into the story.

Yes, yes, I was awfully trusting with him. Vermin can usually trust vermin, though, so I had an easy time trusting him. He was a trustworthy beast, once you think about it. Most would have laughed at the prospect of joining a horde but I assume he was looking for a job or something.

You honestly think that, kind sir? That I should have killed him? I guess that just wasn’t my style, or at least it wasn’t then. I needed allies, and sparing (or saving for that matter) one’s life is the best way to get friends.

My mother? Ah, yes, my mother... After my first “execution” I had no idea what happened to her. I think she died of some disease, or maybe Mountainback was angry about loosing me and killed her instead. I’ll never know, not that I really care that much...she was a spiteful creature, not very mother-like in the ways you would expect of one...She is probably to blame for me turning, ah, vermin...

Past

“So, you really can’t read?” Dimitrius asked a short while later on the road.

“How would I have learned? All my life I’ve stolen to live, I’ve never had enough time to stop and read. There was never a cause for it!”

Bastet shook her head sadly. “It’s amazing what the world is coming to. It seems that one day none will be able to do anything but kill or be killed.”

“Well, we’re cheerful. Let’s set up camp for the night. It’s getting dark,” Dimitrius said, looking at the two of us.

I finally noticed that the world was being covered in shadows. Ah, night, the beauty of it all. I relished the night time when I was young, and still do. Who couldn’t? Darkness touching the ground and covering it all in shadows. The world going to sleep....it was wonderful!

We set up camp and sat around a small fire, cooking a sort of stew. I could feel my mouth watering at the smell of it as I looked at the pot. By habit I touched my scar of when I had been hanged. Also around my neck was the scrap metal that Mold had always wore. He gave it to me before I left, saying it was for luck. I sighed. “Life is odd at times, isn’t it.”

Bastet looked up at me when I spoke this odd comment. “What do you mean?”

“The way life chooses who will die and who will live, it is just strange...” I said softly, thinking to myself.

Bastet shrugged. “I wouldn’t really know, Wraith, but that is an awfully strange thought!”

I laughed softly. Dimitrius turned to us and told us that the stew was ready and we ate. I said nothing more on my thoughts, although they raced madly though my head.

Chapter Twenty

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“I make no judgments upon you.”-Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire
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Past

The next morning I woke feeling tired. I hadn’t slept well, dreaming of Molly and things to come. Dimitrius and Bastet were both up, heating up some stew.

“How long have you been awake?” I asked after I sat up.

Bastet shrugged. “Probably since the sun started rising.”

I yawned and went over to where they were seated. I sat down next to them, trying to shake the last bits of sleep from my mind.

“Good morning, Wraith,” Dimitrius said briskly.

I grunted in return. I began to finger the “lucky scrape” I had around my neck absently as we sat there. The sun was barely over the trees and so a small amount of light came down onto where we sat around the fire. I had always liked the sun. It always had caught my attention to some extent. I stared up to where it was rising as if in a trance.

“Wraith, wake up,” Dimitrius chuckled and threw a piece of bread in my direction.

I caught it and turned to him. “Sorry... I wasn’t paying much attention...”

“That we could tell. Something wrong?” Bastet asked, grinning broadly.

I shook my head. “Just thinking of things...”

“Not those morbid thoughts you were having earlier, I hope...” she replied.

I looked away from her. I began thinking of Athalia and those torture chambers. The three months I had endured. I felt myself shiver. I tried to think of something different, but I could almost feel the chains holding me to the wall, the dry fear of yet another beating to come.

I looked down at the ground, hoping it would give me some rest from my thoughts. I could still almost feel the rusty chains, the dampness of the air...

“Wraith!” Dimitrius interrupted my thoughts with a poke.

I turned to him and shook my head. “Sorry...”

“You were just thinking again,” Bastet chuckled.

I shrugged, glad to be having conversation instead of being left to my thoughts. I felt my mind drifting again as I took a bite out of my bread. This time, when Dimitrius shot a glance over at me, I nodded to him. “Where next?”

“We continue South, of course,” Dimitrius said, as if it was the most obvious thing.

“Okay... How far? How long?” I asked.

Dimitrius shrugged. “We’ll get there when we get there. It depends on the weather and who, let alone what, we run into along the way.”

Bastet began packing up her things and putting them in saddle bags. “We’d better get going soon, otherwise it’ll take longer.”

Dimitrius and I both hurried to put our things away. We packed our bags and put out the fire. Soon enough, we were all mounted on the horses and heading South.
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“Wraith!” Dimitrius said suddenly.

I shook my head to clear it. “What?”

“You’re doing it again. I looked over and you were just staring at the road,” Dimitrius chided.

I shrugged. “Sorry. I can’t help it.”

Bastet chuckled behind me. “Oh, let him be, Dimitrius. We can watch--”

A loud crash came from behind and Bastet fell to the ground. Something huge pinned her down, what looked to be a badger.

“What in the name of the Dark Forest?” I cursed and jumped down from my horse. I pulled out a dagger and stood by.

Dimitrius was by me in a second, sword unsheathed and looking grim. “Get off of her,” he growled.

Bastet struggled under the weight of the badger and yelped when it growled at her. Her gaze met mine and then Dimitrius’s, eyes wide with panic.

The badger growled again. He was a huge badger, much larger than Silk had been. He wore the armor of a guard from Castle Tor. A deep growl came from his throat again as he turned his fiery gaze on me. His face was fierce, his eyes a dark brown. His eyes narrowed some as he looked at me. “Wretch!” he spat.

I tightened my grip on the dagger. I wanted to lunge at the beast, but I knew if I tried such a thing he would snap Bastet’s neck in only a few seconds. “Let her go,” I growled.

The badger bared his teeth at me. “All wretches that should be killed.”

“Why are you out here?” I demanded. Either he was here to get me, or he was here on his free will. I had a distinct feeling Mountainback sent him.

The badger looked at me and squinted. “You’re that ‘Wraith’, aren’t you?” He chuckled deep in his throat. “Well, looks like we have really done well this time.”

“We?” Dimitrius asked.

“Yes, we,” a very familiar voice replied from the surrounding trees. Aris, my dear friend Aris, stepped out from behind a tree. “Hello, little thief.”

“Aris,” I growled. “Been a while, hasn’t it? I thought you would have died a while ago, considering your extreme stupidity,” I snarled, spitting at his face.

Aris raised a paw and wiped my spit off his face in disgust. “There’s something awfully funny that you should know, thief,” he said thoughtfully.

“And what is that?” I growled.

“That about twenty guards are behind you at the moment,” Aris replied, smiling.

I realized my head no longer felt fuzzy as I turned to see more than twenty guards surrounding us.

Chapter Twenty-One

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“As the old expression goes, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”-Anne Rice, The Tale of the Body Thief
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Present

Yes, he was very dedicated to his job. He seemed to want me so much that he would do anything to get me. It seemed no wonder why he had gotten the job he had and status. Mountainback obviously have some mind, not much, but some.

Molly? No, she wouldn’t have known I was alive. I don’t think anyone leaked the secret, since most thought I was dead. It was probably rather obvious that I had escaped when my cell was found empty and most of the guards were dead. They probably also found the burial area for the Kotus and put the pieces together from that.

Past

Aris let out a chuckle at my shocked expression. “Didn’t expect that, did you? Rather funny, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Do you want to know something even funnier?” I asked, smiling casually despite the true feelings I had.

Aris cocked his head to the side nervously. “And what would that be? That you have decided to throw yourself at the mercy of Mountainback and Tor?”

I smirked. “No, that a small ways in the wood is a band of one hundred beasts, all ready to come to my side the moment I give the signal. Makes you wonder what the signal is, doesn’t it? It could be a bird call, a scream, an arrow shot into the air, or even the death shrieks of a squirrel.”

“What?!” he asked nervously, obviously caught off-guard by my lie.

Bastet, who was still pinned down by the badger, glanced over at Dimitrius nervously. Dimitrius nodded his head as if agreeing with me, and Bastet soon followed his example.

Within the ranks of the guards, I could hear the sound of swords leaving sheaths and even a few bow-strings tightening.

Aris grinned calmly, casually pulling his own sword out of its sheath. “Really, little thief? Then we will just have to make sure you don’t give the signal.” He nodded towards the twenty guards and took a step casually in my direction. “It looks like this is the last time you will see the daylight. You’ve missed death enough times already, this time I’ll be sure you great your friends at the Dark Forest.”

At the mention of my friends I felt my insides go cold. I smirked at Aris, knowing my lie had no affect on him and he saw right though it. “Really, Aris? Is that truthfully what you think?” I paused. “If you really think that you can kill me, why do you have twenty or so guards behind me ready to do the work for you? Are you that afraid of one thief who has had less luck than yourself? A ‘little thief’ who probably wouldn’t be able to bruise you with one punch?”

Aris, as stupid as he was, fell for it. He puffed his chest out with false dignity. “I could beat you with one paw tied behind my back and probably with both tied behind my back.” He paused. “Okay, little thief, you will get what you want. You will die at the end of my sword.”

I knew I had used my best weapon against him--his vanity. Insult somebody like him and you can play with the mind. “Weapons are not?” I asked.

Aris turned to the badger who was holding Bastet. “Let the feline up, she won’t get anywhere with her friends here captured.” He turned back to me as Bastet pulled herself to her feet. “We will do it with weapons.” He turned to one of the guards. “Give him your sword.”

The guard handed the sword over to me without a question. I raised the blade to check the balance, which was close to perfect. The metal seemed cheap and I wondered if it would withstand the metal that Aris’s sword was made of.

Aris suddenly lunged at me, giving me barely enough time to block his sword with my own. He craftily pulled a short dagger out of a hidden sheath and tried to slice my belly with it. I easily deflected the blade with one of my own, causing both daggers to go flying into the dusty road.

“Better than I thought,” Aris grunted as he jumped back away from me, crouching cautiously in a fighter’s stance.

“Worse than I thought, but then I never did think much of you,” I replied with a smirk. I lunged towards him, wary of the blade that sliced at my belly. I attempted to slice at his head but instead came close to falling on my face--Aris’s sword had caught onto the cape I wore.

Aris let out a laugh and kicked at my side. I rolled away from him and in one move unclasped my cape and blocked the sword that tried to come at my face. I grunted and pushed Aris’s sword away from my own, jumping a small ways backwards.

Aris came at me with a growl, slicing at my unprotected legs. I was able to dodge aside from his blade and try to slice at his chest while I was at it.

Aris let out a yelp as my sword grazed his chest. “Little thief,” he growled, “you are going to pay for that move!”

“Really? I thought you were, since you are the one who is bleeding.”

Aris growled again and sliced at my head with his sword, putting too much force into the swing. I noticed this and ducked, causing him to spin clumsily around. I was able to kick him in the back of the legs, causing him to flop onto his back with a grunt. His sword flew out of his paws, leaving him weaponless except for any dagger that may have been hidden.

I walked over to him, placing my sword tip on his neck. “Who kills who, Aris?” I asked calmly.

“Help! Guards!!” Aris cried out.

I cursed myself for forgetting the guards. I jumped away from Aris and in the general direction of Bastet, Dimitrius, and our horses. I didn’t bother looking back and jumped onto my horse, immediately smacking it on the rump with the flat of my blade. The horse let out a shrill sound and began galloping down the road. I could hear Bastet and Dimitrius following me closely on their own mounts.

When I thought we would be fine, an arrow zipped past my head. I cursed under my breath and smacked the horse again as yet another arrow zipped by. I could see Bastet and Dimitrius on either side of me, also urging their mounts to go faster.

“The forest!” I shouted, turning my horse towards the trees. The horse obeyed quickly, running through the thin trees. I heard Bastet let out a shriek and Dimitrius shouting but paid little attention to either. We were almost free from our pursuers. At least I thought so until we hit the marshlands.