Chapter 4

Running. Running down the path, gotta keep up. Have to stay with him. Can't get left behind... Gotta keep up I can't be alone, not without him. A clearing ahead, have to catch him there. Can't let him leave me, have to stay with him. There he is! Dad! Stay! Wait for me! Wait, stop! Wait, NO!

Ryalto springs up to the fresh morning sunlight streaming into the clearing. Panting hard, Ryalto looks around, eyes darting from each sleeping figure, searching. His eyes stop at one form, lying completely still, not even breathing. Standing up, Ryalto walks hurredly over to the red robed form and turns it over. Scowling at the white skunk face that stares vacantly back at him, Ryalto looks around to the other forms, still searching. Walking to the edge of the forest, he scans the path's edge for paw prints, searching for anything. Then looking back, Ryalto sighs. "Only a dream, a nightmare. A stupid nightmare..."

Walking over to L'thal's still sleaping form, Ryalto shakes him awake. Blinking a few times as he regains consciousnes, L'thal looks up at Ryalto in confusion. "What time is it?"

"Morning, and the skunk's killed himself. Though that you would want to know." Ryalto then stands straight and walks over to the stream, sitting on the boulder and staring up at the rising sun.

"Are you sure it was Cyanide?" Brenei looks up from the pot on the campfire, staring back at L'thal in disbelief.

"I know the scent of Cyanide, Brenei. Almonds, and we skunks can smell it. I can smell it on his mouth, so he must have broken what ever contained it in his mouth." L'thal sighs and pats Tara's shoulder as they sit on a log pulled over from the forest edge.

Y'alris stares solemly into the burning fire's heart, shaking his head slightly. "Celulose capsules, containing Cyanide. I didn't think he had any..."

"You knew?" Tara looks at the half skunk, eyebrows forrowed.

"I knew that they had them, not that he had some. I certainly didn't think he was going to take one."

"Kind of makes sense," Ryalto says, still sat on the rock. "He was a fanatic, and didn't want to be used against his beliefs. Hence he killed himself. Probably now a martyr in the Cult's eyes."

Tara tilts her head to one side and blinks. "Are you gonna get off that boulder any time soon?"

"When we leave, yes."

Shaking her head, she gets up and walks over to Ryalto. "What's wrong with you now?"

"Nothing, I just have a lot on my mind." Ryalto looks Tara in the eyes, sorrow filling them.

Sitting down beside him, Tara puts her arm around him and rubs his shoulder gently. "Come on, Ry. What's wrong?"

"I had a dream last night... It's doesn't matter. Just promise that you won't leave me alone."

"I won't leave you unless I know that you will have someone around. Even if it's just a friend. Come on, cheer up! We'll be in Heather's Peak soon." Tara stands up, pulling on Ryalto to get him to stand with her.

Standing reluctantly, Ryalto sighs as he responds "I see nothing to be cheerful about, we go there during a war."

"Aye, but to end it! They'll call us heros!" Tara drags Ryalto forward to the campfire and sits him next to L'thal.

Y'alris looks up from the fire and stares over towards the woods and the red covered body lying near it. "So what will we do with him?"

Brenei follows his gaze and sighs. "We have no transportation, so cannot take his corpse with us."

L'thal shakes his head once. "He isn't fit for buriel, by our traditions. We leave him for the Luparls."

"Cause he killed himself?" Tara raises her eyebrow. "That seems a bit harsh."

L'thal smiles thinly at Tara and explains "He killed himself with a poison. If it had been a blade, then there would be no ban from his corpse being laid in tomb. But as he poisoned his body, by Skunk traditional beliefs he has tried to poison the land with his corpse. Thereby he cannot be buried. He could be cremated, but I will not waste the effort for him, as we still have two days till we reach the safety of Heather's Peak." L'thal then chuckels. "It is strange that the Cult kept that facet of Skunk mythology, that fire will clense all the earth..."

"Why?" Ryalto looks up at L'thal.

"Well... The mythos is that heavenly fire will clean the earth of all evil during a great catyclismic battle. That battle will be between the Ender and the Chosen, but no one knows who they will be. Only that the Ender will be a completely black skunk." L'thal shrugs before continuing, "Though how that will come to pass is anyone's guess. I have never seen any skunks without stripes. The thinest one-strip I have seen was at least a good inch across, hardly making him all-black."

Brenei takes the pot out of the fire and spoons the oats out into seperate bowls. "Maybe he'll be a half breed."

Tara scowls as she takes her bowl and passes one to Ryalto. "That's just not right, half breeds. No offense, Y'alris. But the idea of mixing the races... It's just too dangerous. You don't know what malformities would spring up. I mean, Y'alris looks like he got lucky with exotic fur patterns, but what else could show up?"

Y'alris scoffs and responds "I think that is something you do not want to truely know."

Two more days of travel, and two more nights of troubled dreams. And the same dream, too.

Ryalto walks slowly behind the four, trudging along under the dense forest's dark cealing.

Why is the same dream running rampant through my head? I wasn't even there to see his death, haven't even seen Brandur's Well. But why? And why did the archer always look like Y'alris?

Looking back, L'thal calls sharply out "Ryalto! Quicken thy pace!"

Now there is no time for rest, no time to take our time. Have to keep going, and walk as far as we can. It was good the first day, I hate Luprals. Such cold vacant stares, and the teeth... Ryalto shivers as his steps quicken and he soon rejoins the group

"Now do try to keep up, we will be at the main gate of the city soon. The forest's edge is only a stone's throw from the walls." L'thal slows his pace to walk behind Ryalto, looking behind only once.

Bad enough that we had to take the 'scenic' route. Could have been there by now if we had followed the river, but we had to push westwards first. So short on time, yet not so short as to take the quickest route. Though I guess it was safer to stay away from the P'lfal border.

The group walks out of the forest and look forward at a tall red brick wall. Looking at it's tall parapets, Ryalto shakes his head before turning to L'thal. "Just why was that built?"

Brenei heads towards the wall and walks south beside it. "One of the Order's Master knights from long ago had the strangest hobby of brick laying. He decided to build a wall, and that's it. Of course, other knights and residents of Heather's Peak have added to it over the years. Come on, the West Gate is just down this way."

"Makes some sense..." Ryalto notices a shiny rock on the ground and picks it up. Seeing it nothing more than common pyrite, Ryalto smiles and pockets it. He mutters as he follows "Not all that glitters is gold, but still is pretty all the same."

Approaching the gate, the group slow before four young knights. The tallest, a black fox with white tiped ears, steps forth and nods to Brenei. "Well met, travelers. State your names and purpose in Heather's Peak."

Smirking, Brenei responds "Well, I am Knight Brenei, the skunk is Knight L'thal and these kits are Ryalto and Tara of Lotcyon. Pray tell why you asked that?"

"Sirs, you did not state your purpose here."

Raising an eyebrow, Brenei responds acidicly "I was recently dispatched by Master Hermatra with the knight Toral on urgent matters. I must speak with her immediatly. Now will you answer my question?"

The fox looks to L'thal, ignoring Brenei. "And you?"

L'thal scowls and answers "I am accompanying Brenei since Toral of clan Ch'lan died before he could return. The kits, before you ask, are under our protection till we can return them to their village safely."

The fox stares at L'thal in shock. "Toral of clan Ch'lan is dead?"

Brenei coughs, then replies "Yes, blacky."

The fox growls and draws his dagger from it's hilt. "Be still your tongue, Rabbit!"

Ryalto takes his hand out of his pocket, clenching and concealing the rock with his fist by his side. "Why don't you answer his question, fox?" Turning in amazement at Ryalto's temerity, the fox snarls. Ryalto taps his quarterstaff once on the ground and stares right back at him. "He was kin, wasn't he? Fine, but you should still answer Brenei's question."

The fox blinks at Ryalto, then step back a step and sheaths his dagger. Turning his back, the fox snarls "You may enter," then rejoins the other young knights at the gate.

L'thal rests his hand on Ryalto's shoulder and asks "How did you know that?"

"His reaction was similar to mine." Ryalto walks forward past the guarding knights and through the gate, not looking back to see if the others follow.

A tall silvered Lynx walks beside Brenei through a tall gallery. Hanging on the walls are portraits of many men and women of various age and species. Light poors in from the high clear glass windows, looking out over a lush green forest to the west and south broken only by a wide blue ribbon. The pair walk slowly down the gallery and stop in front a pair of portraits, one a skunk and another a raccoon.

Brenei folds his arms and turns his head to the taller lynx. "Master Hermatra, this news must surely change what is happening. The cult will now be hunted by Lotcyon and P'lfal for it's medling-"

"Ah, young one. It should. But I fear that the dukes and barons are too wound up with each other to back down now. Sure, this might be enough to bring them to a table, as it has now done. But stop the war? Not likely. I know that we all desire peace, even those that wish revenge for the deaths we have whitnessed. But we cannot force them to reconcile, not if we wish to remain neutral." The lynx sighs and looks at the skunk portrait. "Remind me what deeds this knight did, Brenei."

Brenei looks at the name below the portrait, then grins. "Sir G'lont, the first master of Archery. The only skunk to hold that office, too. He helped to mediate a dispute between the Skunk and Fox, battled against some unknown beasts in the Colds, and then returned in time to train some of the next generation of knights."

"And the raccoon?" Hermatra raises an eyebrow.

Brenei looks intently at the raccoon for several seconds, then turns to Hermatra, shaking his head. "I do not recognise his visage... Yet he is in the Hall of Fallen Knights."

Hermatra chuckles, then answers. "So you do not recognise him? Interesting, as his kin saved your life. He was not a knight, Brenei, though like his forefather could have been. That is Bret of Lotcyon."

His brow furrowing, Brenei turns back to the portrait, and then back to Hermatra. "Ryalto's father? But why-"

Raising her hand, the lynx grins as she speaks "Is a man honoured in this hall if not a knight? Because he served the same moral code as us, and was a knight in all purposes except name. This portrait was taken before his final vow, as a keepsake for him and his family and without his knowledge. Unfortunately, he left before it was finished. Now his son is here, and I wonder if it should be given to him..." Hermatra lowers her hand and sighs.

Bernie looks again at the picture for a few minutes. Then rubbing his elbow, he asks "Master Hermatra, how long has this portrait hung in this gallery?"

"Since you brought word of his death. Before that, it hung in my personal quarters. And yes, you are the first to see it here."

"I see. Or rather, I see something..." Brenei starts to frown again. "I wonder, master, what lesson this portrait is to teach me?"

Hermatra breaths deeply before answering. "Ah, that is the thing you should have seen. It is simple, so I will tell you. A name maters not. You can be the best swordsman in the realms, fight millions of battles and save a hundred damsels in distress, and all this without a name. The public will give you one, if you do not have one, and it means as little as the comon dirt we tread. All of us are equal, and we cannot forget that. This hall is to dedicate to the future the memory of those that have served the Order galantly and with honour. Until now, no master has seen it fit to dedicate one not to have taken the vows in this hall. Now, I have. And none shall dare appose me, as I am in the right."

Brenei smiles, remebering a former lesson, and retorts "Your confidence is dangerous, milady. But you are right."

Chuckling, Hermatra nods her head. "Ah, so you finaly learned that leson? Such a pity that you had to lose a friend in the process, then." Turning to the collumn between the glass panes, Hermatra points to a new hung portrait of a tall black fox in leather gear and holding a wooden shafted mace on his shoulder. "I supose you do know this knight's record..."

"Toral... Thank you, milady, for seeing his place secured." A tear comes to Brenei's ear, which he promptly wipes away.

"See that it does not stay alone here when you pass on too, young one. And remember that we honour those that we chose to." Turning to Brenei, Hermatra places her hand on Brenei's shoulder in comfort. "Now go and check on those youths you brought in. I fear that the other masters will complain if they are left unattended too long, though what mischeif they may cause is minor."

"Yes, Master Hermatra." Bowing, Brenei then turns swiftly and walks down the sun-lit hall.

Sighing, the lynx turns around and stares into a shadowed doorway a few feet further down the gallery. "Come forth, L'thal."

L'thal walks forth, wearing his white robe and medalion. "Mistress..."

Turning to the pair of portraits, Hermatra points and asks "You wonder too why I honour this raccoon?"

Shaking his head, L'thal answers "No mistress, as I too would honour him. I am in wonder as to why you taught that lesson to Brenei now."

Sorrow fills Hermatra's face as she stares into the raccoon's painted eyes. "Because I may need him to know it sooner that he would think. Names are so precious to the public, but we know all to well what they are really worth."

Noding in agreement, L'thal turns to the portrait. "I understand that, Hermatra. But I do not see why-"

Raising a finger skywards, Hermatra turns to the skunk. "Ah, but you wouldn't. I sense something is coming, L'thal. You know that I am very aware of what happens."

"Aye, or you wouldn't have sent Brenei and Toral out." L'thal turns around and faces the fox portrait, then takes a pace forward and straightens it needlessly.

Turning back to the raccoon portrait, Hermatra sighs and continues. "And that same sense is telling me that what we see here is mearly the beginning. You know your people's legends?"

Turning abruptly back to the lynx, L'thal frowns. "You mean the one about the final Battle? Yes. You think that is about to come to pass?"

Chuckling at his intensity, Hermatra shakes her head. "No, not quite yet. The Word of Akun clearly states that the Ender will bring that to ahead. We have not seen him yet... Well, not really."

His frown deepens. "Not really? What do you mean by that?"

Turning to L'thal, Hermatra's face is one of complete innocense."Nothing, mere idle thoughts." Turning back to the raccoon portrait, she stares at it, seeming to focus on the deep brown eyes. "Tell me, L'thal. What is your opinion of the boy Ryalto?"

Puzzled by her change of thought, L'thal stands straight and crosses his arms as he too studys the portrait. "He is a stout lad who is dealing with the lose of his father fairly well, given the circumstances."

Noding once, Hermatra turns to L'thal. "Good... Tell him that the rulers of P'lfal and Lotcyon will arive on the morrow, and that I do not want him to meet with them then. He should go to the library"

L'thal raises eyebrow."Mistress?"

"That is my wish. He is far too... Youthful. He may do something rash if he meets with them. No, the library is a good place to keep him." Turning back to the portrait, Hermatra seems to dismiss the skunk's presence.

L'thal turns to go, but stops and, without turning, asks "What of Tara?"

Stating clearly and with a neutral tongue, Hermatra continues to watch the motionles painting. "She may meet with them, if she wishes. Her anger is not as strong, nor is she greiving as strongly as him."

"Very well. I shall do so now." L'thal walks back into the shadowed door, making no noise in his passage.


Stacks upon stacks of shelfed books, old and new. Some bound in leather, others encased in metal. All of them in tall metal bookshelfs, ordered and set half a metre apart with all avenues leading towards the room's centre. In the centre of this massive collection of bound hides and papers, three large rectangal tables lie under a bright skylight, placed so that the form a no-tiped triangle with the Order's seal in the center. At one of the tables,
Ryalto sits along the outside of the triangle with a steel bound set of hides, flipping through the pages idly while reading to himself. A slightly too big tan tunic drapes from him, partly obscuring the botom of the page's text. "'... and so the end shall come.' Cheerful." Ryalto flops the heavy book closed and sighs.

"Hey, what are you doing here? Aren't you gonna meet the dukes?" Tara speaks from a pair doors seen down one of the avenues. Walking forward, she steps around a short red fox as she makes her way to the central tables.

Ryalto returns to looking at the book, responding "Master Hermatra said for me to come here and read some stuff."

Tara bobs her head, looking at the strangely made book. "Oh. So, what's that?"

"The Word of Akun, translated into common. The guy at the desk said it was the best source for stuff on the Ender." Ryalto picks the book up and stands. "Very boring. Aren't you gonna go meet them then?"

Tara smiles and turns aside. "Oh, I thought I'd stick around with you for a bit..."

Ryalto frowns. Setting the book back down on the table, he turns to face her. "Tara, go and meet them. I got the impresion from L'thal and Brenei that I wasn't suposed to, but that don't mean that you have to miss out. Besides, you can tell them how you saved a Knight."

Sticking her tongue out, Tara then smiles as she corrects "We saved a knight, you mean. Don't think I'll let you shrug out of that one. You sure you don't want me to stay around?"

Ryalto picks the book back up, sliping it under his arm and nearly hiding it in the tunic's folds. "Tara, if I wanted you to stay, would I tell you to go?"

"Maybe. Well, see ya later then." Turning back to the door she came, she brushes her tail against the fox on her way out, startling him from his research. Walking back out of the doors, she walks quickly through the various halls and coridors, chittering quietly to herself in anticipation.

Ahead, a sharp baratone sounds clearly down the coridor as Tara approaches. "...Master Hermatra. We respect your wishes to resolve this conflict peacefuly, but I see no way for this to happen. Those skunks will not see reason!"

Coming around a sharp turn, Tara stands still at seeing three tall raccoons, each in fine sewn and dyed leather leggings and light coloured tunics, talking to Master Hermatra with Brenei at her side. "Baron Lontro, please enhance your calm. I have aranged for your party and the party from P'lfal to meet in the main hall-" Hermatra says to the youngest, his tail and cheek fur crisp with youthful vigure.

The oldest raccoon shakes his head slowly. "No, not there. The echo, it's just too much for me in my old age. Some place quiter... Maybe that library that is so famous?"

Brenei turns his head towards the raccoon, answering politely "Sir, we would prefer not to. We have prepared the hall for this meeting, the library is full of students and knights. It would disrupt their peace and mind to interupt that when such preperation has been put into the hall."

The older baron sighs, then speaks clearly "Then they may stay there. I doubt that the meeting will last much longer than a few minutes, anyway."

Her brow furrowing, Hermatra flicks her short tail while responding "I hope not, Baron Rolan, for I truely feel that peace is attainable. Very well, if you insist, we shall relocate to the Main Library. Brenei? Go tell the P'lfal party that plans have been changed."

"Yes Master Hermatra" Brenei nods quickly, then turns down a small coridor leading away from Tara.

Baron Rolan smiles thinly as the rabbit departs, and then looks forward. Spying Tara, his grin widens cheerfully and he approaches. "Well, who do we have here? Hello young one. What be your name?"

Tara curtseys, answering towards the floor "I am Tara of Fallow's Gale, sir."

"Fallow's Gale? then you must be one of the kits that the runner told us about. How good fortune for you to have ended up here." Lontro's eyes widen slightly as he scans around the corner for others.

"Yes sir."

The third baron follows Lontro's gaze, slightly puzzled. "Tell me, where is the other kit that was with you?"

"He is in the library, sir."

Patting Tara on the shoulder, Rolan turns back to the lynx Knight. "Hermatra, I would see this other kit too. It is not good for two young ones to be so far from home, but seeing what tragedy they escaped, I think their luck is good. Maybe it will pass on to us, and peace may yet be found."

Lontro nods his agreement. "How lucky for us that he is in the library, we can talk to him while we wait."

Hermatra's brow furrows as she turns and walks forward. "Yes, Baron Rolan..."

Tara blinks a few times, then heads further down the coridor uneasy from Hermatra's frown. Perhaps it would be better to go elswhere.

The barons make their way swiftly through the coridors and soon arrive at the same double doors, walking through them and down the avenue between the shelves. The red fox grabs a small hide bound book, then yips slightly at the barons before quickly retreating towards the doors. Rolan walks straight over to one of the tables, pulling out a chair and sitting with a sigh. Shorlty behind him, the middle aged baron joins him at the table a few seats down.

Lontro walks into the triangle's centre, placing his hands on his hips as he surveys the sparsely populated avenues. "Well? Where is the lad?"

From another set of doors on the oposite side of the library, Brenei enters with two skunks behind him, one white and one black. Bowing deeply to the raccoons, he then introduces them. "Barons of Lotcyon, Dukes R'yto and A'vril of P'lfal."

The white skunk smiles thinly, crossing his arms as he stops in front of Brenei. "Hello, Lontro, Rolan. Ah, Percon, how wide of you to bother to budge from that mountain stronghold of yours."

The midle aged raccoon snarls in reply "Can it, R'yto. Or perhaps you would like a personal demonstration of my latest toy."

Hermatra steps forward, raising both hands sharply at the two. "Peace! I will not see this meeting be a common squable. Now, please sit down."

A'vril steps forward, drawing one of the chairs from the outside table out as he sits. "Only with respect to the Order does P'lfal attend this meeting, Master Knight. We see no reason why we should not continue against these agressors."

Lontro scowls, still standing in the centre. "You invade our lands, and dare say we are agressive? You wouldn't know Lotcyon Agression if it bit you in the tail! If we were agressing, Knight, then P'lfal would now be ours. We would have had the new Hand Cannons already deployed on our borders."

A'vril scoffs, retorting "Those spitball sticks are hardly evidence to the contrary, Lontro."

Hermatra stamps her paw down hard, turning to each nobleman in turn. "Gentlemen! If you cannot-"

"Oh, sorry." Ryalto stops in mid step, looking up from a small leatherbound novel.

Turning in surprise, Percon raises his eyebrows as he asks "Who are you, lad? Speak up now."

Lowering the book to his side, he responds "I am Ryalto."

R'yto chuckles sarcasticly, sneering. "Another Lotcyon... They are so desperate, they bring their young as bargaining chits."

Frowning, Ryalto states clearly "No one brought me. No Raccoon, and no one of P'lfal." His stance shifts slightly, making him appear taller and accenting his darker toned fur.

Percon ignores R'yto's sarcasm, curious about Ryalto. "Oh, then you are a resident of Heather's Peak?"

Ryalto shakes his head, still frowning. "No, I am not."

"The other kit then." Lontro turns sharply to the skunks, pointing at Ryalto as he speaks. "See here, dukes. This kit cannot return to his home because of your invasion."

Ryalto opens his mouth slightly, then snaps out "Shut up."

Rolan turns in his chair towards the kit, disbelief in his words. "What did yo-"

Ryalto cuts him off, turning to each nobleman in turn as he continues. "Shut up, all of you. You skunks and barons, you just want to fight and squable. You are nothing but kits."

Lontro raises he hand, one finger pointing skywards. "Lad, I would quiet now, or I'll-"

Steping forward, Ryalto slams the book closed on the table."You'll what, tell my parents? They are dead. Hit me? I've faced more threats this last week than just you, first that damned Cult, and before that a group of bandits. You think that a few nobelmen that want to fight over a strip of worthless land frightens me?"

Hermatra steps forward towards Ryalto, eyes widened in concern. "Ryalto..."

Turning momentarily to the knight, Ryalto's face softens slightly."I am sorry, Master Hermatra, but I must say this." Ryalto returns to facing Lontro, sliding a silver ring from his hand. " Yesterday, I was of Lotcyon. My father was born of Lotcyon, and my mother was of Lotcyon. But from today, I will claim that no more. I am Ryalto, of no land. You noblemen are responsible for my father's death, and you make me sick." Slaming the ring down next to the book, Ryalto sharply turns, flicking his tail at the skunks. "Enjoy your squable." He stalks off, ears flattened in anger through the same doors the skunks entered.

Rolan stutters a few seconds, shocked. "What temerity of that kit. Who does he think he is?"

Picking up the ring and reading it's inscription, Lontro curses. "The son of Bret. Damn..."

Percon looks from Rolan and Lontro in slight confusion. "Bret? Who-"

Hermatra, still watching the doors Ryalto left through, answers. "Bret would have been a Knight of the Order, and one of our best. But his reasons for not joining are not of consequence. What is would be the fact that the kit is right in part. You all have let the Cult of Fire's Wake manipulate both your countries into this war. And so his father has died."

Scoffing, A'vril sits beside R'yto, tail flicking across the floor agitatedly. "If you think that little sob story will make me believe that..."

"Sorry that I am late, Master Hermatra. I only just learned of the change of venue." Y'alris stands at the doors, clearly nervous in a light blue robe with his tail clearly visible.

Hermatra's face softens at his appearance, and she turns to A'vril. "Ah, A'vril, this is Y'alris."

Confusion flickers across his face as the skunk watches Y'alris approach the tables. "A Raccoon with a skunk name?"

Bowing formally, Y'alris speaks. "Sirs, I am Y'alris, and I am of mixed heritage. My father was of P'flal, and my mother of Lotcyon." Clearing his throat, he continues with a bit more confidence. "As such, when two months ago the Cult came upon me and my friends, only I was spared their swords and was captured. Thanks to the bravery of two knights and two kits, I am now free."

R'yto frowns, staring at the half-skunk's tail stripes. "All very good, but what does this have to do with the war?"

Turning to the white skunk, Y'alris explains "Three weeks ago, I was sent along with five of the Cult's members to start the war that you now fight. Though I did not actually say or do anything, I was whitness to it and served as a bearer for those others."

A'vril scoughs, leaning back in his chair. "Laughable. You dug up some halfling to try and con us into a peace, Hermatra? Why such deciet from the Order..."

Y'alris steps up to the table, drawing the sleave of his left arm up and thrusting his wrist at the duke. A bald patch of skin displays a ugly flame shaped mark above the wrist, no fur daring to sprout near it. "Duke, I bear this mark. You tell me who in their right minds would do this to themselves."

R'yto coughs loudly, shocked at the mark. "Dear heavens..."

Rolan blinks a few times, then asks "I am sorry, but what significance..."

"If Y'alris is caught again by the Cult, and they see that mark, they will kill him outright. By his action of escape, he has sided with the Raccoons against the Cult and is now their enemy, Cousin." L'thal steps out from a darkened avenue to stand behind the skunks.

Turning around in his seat, A'vril's eyes widen. "L'thal. You bear whitness to this as truth?"

"A'vril, I do. I not only bear whitness, but am part resposible for bringing it to you. Cease this war, before we all live to regret it more."

"I do not see why you side with this lot..." Avril shrugs in contept at the Lotcyons.

"A'vril, stop thinking so rigidly for one moment! You know as well as I that the Cult desires nothing more than to kill them. Why do you think that they would not stoop to this?" L'thal strides forward and around the table, standing next to Lontro.

"I refuse to believe that skunks would sucomb to this." A'vril glares defiantly back at his kin.

Steping forward, L'thal flicks his tail as he continues. "Then explain why the former knight X'ander was among their number. If a former knight of the Order can change his alleigence to join them, then why not other skunks? Cousin, do me this favour. Trust me as you once did your life before."

A'vril gapes silently at L'thal for several minutes, then sighs deeply. "Very well then, L'thal. If you do say this is true, then it must be. Barons, my appologies."

R'yto blinks and tilts his head as he turns it towards his peer. "A'vril?"

"R'yto, we -are- both in the wrong here." Turning sternly to the raccoons, he breaths deeply before speaking calmly and normaly "Let us discuss the redirection of both our armies. I think that cult deserves a little payback for this."

Lontro drags a chair from the skunk's table, turning it around and leaning forward on it's back as he sits, hands clasped and resting his chin on them. "We have always tried to trim the Cult's ranks where we could. Your help may be of some use... But first this fighting."

Upon the western wall's tallest tower, Ryalto sits. With the sun's journey nearing it's daily end, the heavens turn burnt oranges and reds, turning the lush green forests shades of purple and blue and reflecting a few last rays of the river to the south. Sitting upon the parapet's wall, his back facing north with his knees to his chest, Ryalto stares out at the falling sun as his tail slips over the wall towards the forest.

The trap door a few yards along opens, and Y'alris climbs forth. Spotting the kit, he approaches. "You ok?"


"You know, reaming royalty, even those of a foriegn power, is not highly recomended." Y'alris follows the kit's gaze out to the horizon, his breath holdin slightly at the beauty.

"I had nothing left to lose. They took my father, and now they will take all my kin."

Placing his hand on Ryalto's shoulder, Y'alris shakes his head as he continues to watch the sun set."Actually, I think your outburst shocked them. That, and I think Lontro remembers his predecesor's lineage quite well. The war is over."

"You lie..." A tear falls from his eye, soaking into the already damp fur of his cheeks.

"No, no lie. I am sick of Lies." Y'alris sighs. "I will leave on the morrow for the Ford. I must continue my search for my sister, but know this. I will not forget what you did. You saved me from the Cult, and for that you have my life. If you ever need my help, I will give it gladly."

Looking up at the halfling, Ryalto smiles weakly. "Thank you, though I will never need it." He then returns his gaze to the dying light's flair.

Y'alris squeezes Ryalto's shoulder once, then steps back."Don't be too sure of that. I was certain that I had no siblings till I found a picture of my parents with my sister and me. Good life, Ryalto." Turning, Y'aris walks back to the trap door and returns down it.

"And good paths, Y'alris." Ryalto stares out, the sun now set behind the lush green treetops. Sighing, he continues to sit, turning to the sky and watching the stars appear.

Some time later, Hermatra opens the trap door. "So here you are. Such temerity has never been seen before when between two of such different stature, young one. I am now certain that my idea to keep you away was a good one. Pity that circumstance caused it to backfire." Climbing out, she streatches out, pulling the green tunic taughnt against her body, and then smiles at the kit.

Facing her, Ryalto slides his paws back to the tower's roof, his tail still slung over the wall. "Master..."

Waving her hand, Hermatra shakes her head at him. "No need to excuse yourself to me, you helped out greatly." Seeing the damp cheekfur, she then adds "Though at great cost. You have now renouced Lotcyon. You could return there, but would not be greatly welcomed by some."

Facing the floor, Ryalto sighs. "They would see my actions as that of a traitor. Better if I was to just fade away."

Standing beside him, the lynx reaches into both of her tunic's pockets. "No, for I see great promise in you. I offer you this," she takes out the ring in her left hand, "and this," her right hand reveals a small bronze key. "You may stay here in Heather's Peak till you are of age. Then, you are free to make your own path, where ever that may be. I urge you to stay, Ryalto. I never learned why your father did not stay, and hope that you might know." She holds the items to Ryalto, waiting.

Taking the key and ring, Ryalto turns back to the now dark horizon. "I do not know, Master Hermatra. But thank you. I will stay." Sliding the ring back on his left hand, Ryalto whispears to the cold winds that now slowly start to blow one remark.
"I have nothing else to do."

Ideas, characters, character names, and anything else that I can say is copyright, is copyright of The Redshirt (Jason Taylor) 2002-2003. If you enjoy this story, why not tell me? Or if you though it was absolute shite, tell me as well. I need the feedback.
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