Categories > Books > Redwall > Pride of Kavazara

Chapter 4: Sand and Fire

by Forge 0 reviews

An deadly, ancient enemy comes from the Far Northlands, seeking to satisfy a cold, base hunger. The castle of New Kavazara, Bladestone, opposes them... but it may not be enough.

Category: Redwall - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2006-02-22 - Updated: 2006-02-23 - 8027 words

Gregory Wong

Chapter Four: Sand And Fire

Light armor? Check. Provisions and canteen? Check. Wraith hunting knife? Check. Blanket? Check. Change of clothing? Check. Small mechbow? Check.
Check, check, check.
Tigron scowled as he thought about his "mission." Dammit, he was sure the two Bladestone rulers knew he couldn't stand Raezel, and vice-versa. Oh, by the fires of Hellgates, why her? Why not anybeast else? Why, why, why?
Anyway, he was confrmed for this mission, and his whining would do less than nothing. Might as well make the most of it.
He was stripped down to the waist in the privacy of his personal quarters. Yes, the perks of being a lieutenant.
He touched the scar that ran along his chest, marring his smooth, hard muscles. While he wasn't like the hyperactive iceblinker, he was very unswerving in keeping his body in top physical condition. He actually exercised as much as he could. And, sometimes, attractive females had taken a look at him, clad only in training trousers as he did his regime of pushups, hanging crunches, chin-ups, jogs, and whatnot.
It was just too bad that he hadn't looked into the eligible fems. Too bad, it would have given something to think about when he was wandering into... what was it called again? Mushflower? Mossflummer? Wait, it was "Mossflower."
At least Raezel was, as the saying went, "easy on the eyes."
Ugh. Just a pretty face, but nothing more. He'd sooner get with a toad than her.
He slipped into his tan colored, heavy, loose cotton pantaloons and laced them. Over his torso he slipped on his long-sleeved armoring tunic-also a light brown-and tied it. Then, he began to slip into his armor.
Since the mission was not a front-line detail-hooray for that-he was only going in with eelskin leather armor. His cuirass, the armor that covered his torso, consisted of ten wide, hard, crisscrossing leather lames that were connected by light steel rivets. The top three lames looped over his shoulders, and the rest wrapped around his body to just above his waist. The end of one lame met the opposite end-at his back-in a V-pattern, and the ten lames crisscrossed over the other lames to provide excellent joints.
The articulated armor didn't impede his movements-which would be annoying to a Wraith who needed to be in constant motion-and provided decent protection to his body. Well, "decent" considering it was just hardened leather. His standard armor, which was the same design but made of leather-faced steel, would be great, but he had to travel light and fast. The thick crimson leather was specially treated to give it stiffness and durability, and it was hemmed with his personal color, brown.
After his body armor was in place, he slipped on the fauld-the section that protected his thighs and lower body. The fauld was a three-lamed oval that extended to his rear-with a little slat cut for the tail-and groin-oh yeah, he was sure as Hellgates protecting /that/-and the two four-lamed pieces connected to the sides, wrapping loosely around the outsides of his hips.
Armoring the legs wasn't too much of a good idea where mobility was concerned.
His pauldrons-the armor that protected his shoulder joints-followed. The pauldrons were shaped six-lame joints, and were connected to his cuirass, extending to about halfway on his upper arm, meaning he didn't really need rerebraces.
Next were some greaves that protected his lower legs. They were just simple leather cylinders, but they would keep him from getting hamstringed by a stray sharp object on the floor. These wrapped around the entire calves-over his pants-and were fastened with cord.
Completing his outfit were his fingerless gloves and vambraces. The fingerless gloves were suede, not polished leather. They were fingerless because he wanted to "feel" his weapons himself, not through gloves, and suede because he never did like the smooth leather on his paws, anyway. It didn't breathe at all. Ugh.
The vambraces, armor for the forearm, were not much more than leather wraps which were padded on the inside for comfort. The vambraces extended from halfway up his forearm to just a little past his wrists. Like his pauldrons and cuirass, it was also hemmed with brown thread.
All in all, the armor was light and would allow him to travel and-if it really had to come down to the little dance-fight with no restrictions.
Sure, there were weakpoints, particularly the joints, which should have been protected by light chain mail, but mobility versus protection was a give-take thing.
Of course, he folded his "casual" clothes-pantaloon and tunic identical to the ones he wore around here normally-and put them on top of the small blanket. He folded it up into a sling-like roll. That would go over his shoulders, under his cloak.
On top of the cuirass he slung on his scythe-carrier, belting it tightly. Over the fauld went his swordbelt, the scabbard on his left. Hanging at the back of his waist, the handle pointing to the left, was his curved hunting knife. The scimitar-shaped Wraith knives were issued to all Wraiths, and were really richly engraved along their 14-inch lengths with brass and wraithstone.
Now, slip on and fasten the hooded cloak-with its one side the color of dried grass and the other a mottled, gray-white-brown-green-golden camouflage-and he was complete.
He took a look in his mirror and tweaked his swordbelt a bit. There.
He sat down on his cot and examined his mechbow. The "mechanized crossbow" was a relatively recent addition to the Bladestone arsenal. It had the shape and dimensions of small crossbow, but it was one heck a feat of engineering. The wooden shell of the body hid a series of gears, slides, and other mechanical paraphernalia that lent the mechbow its abilities. A double-action sliding grip on the underside of the weapon both drew back the bowstring and fed a six-inch bolt from a 8-shot spring-action magazine. The mechbow's autoloading configuration gave it a range of over 75 yards, and mechbow could also be configured to fire in a manual-cocking mode that transformed it into an excellent sniper weapon with a range of just over 200 yards. Some real true-blue marksbeasts even mounted scopes on the weapons.
And, coincidentally, it was the staple weapon the Pathfinders. Yep, dreams never died.
He pocketed four loaded magazines and twenty-four extra bolts.
He set the mechbow back down on his bed. Stepping over to a carrier nailed to the wall opposite his bed, he neatly slid out Dawn and Dusk. He slid is longsword into its sheath, and stuck the scythe to his back. His supply pack would go over Dusk, and would be a pain if he actually needed to use it, but then again, the combination of mechbow, Wraith knife, and Dawn was good enough.
Unless he ran into a full-fledged sleeper contingent, and that would mean he was damned out of luck.
That done, he fit the pack over his shoulders, wrapped the blanket-wrapped clothes over his shoulders, picked up the mechbow, and left his room.
/And thus begins the most interesting adventure of my life/!
Yeah, right. Probably the most annoying one, if anything.

Getting up this early was just a tad annoying. Meaning very.
It was still dark when Raezel left her room and made her way towards the war room of Lord Longspear and Lady Galecut. She heard pawsteps from behind, and sensed Tigron the sandscratcher closing in. She turned, looking him up and down.
He was outfitted nearly identically. True, his pantaloons were far looser than her somewhat-tight trousers, and her tunic was only shortsleeved, she didn't equip pauldrons-instead she had curved rerebraces on her upper arms-and the coloring was different-her personal color was light blue, not that brown color.
She sniffed and turned on her heel towards the war room.
As usual, three Praetorians were guarding the door. She did a quick mind sweep, and determined that the two praemitar-wielders were regular pili, and the one holding the glaive was a magna pilus-commonly known as a magpil-a master sergeant.
Great. Now she didn't have to feel all nervous knowing that she had a farking praetor watching her.
Well, she might as well be considerate. She waited for the sandscratcher to catch up, so the guards wouldn't have to open the doors twice.
"Lieutenants Raezel Snowdance and Tigron Sandstar reporting as ordered!" she announced.
Just like every other Praetorian, the three didn't say a thing.
Tigron the Boring would be right at home.
"I /heard/ /that/, /icebiter/," she heard Tigron mindspeak to her.
"Good /for/ /you/."
"/Just quit for once/. /Could you do that/, /please/?"
Maybe Tigron could use a break. After all, they were gonna have to deal with each other for a looooong time.
She shook her head and led the way into the war room.
A large rectangular table dominated the center of the room. Inside were some, well, pretty high-up officers. Of course, Lord Longspear and Lady Galecut were there, along with the huge mountain of wildcat that was War Marshal Razorfang. Some assorted generals and Crimson Guard officers were there too, including Archon Keltaa and General Flantak, a male weasel. Ouchie. This was some major operation she and the sand marten were gonna pull.
And that didn't do much to reassure her.
She and sandscratcher walked to the edge of the table and snapped crisp salutes to the assembled high command. The officers rose from their seats and returned the gesture, letting her and the sand marten drop their arms.
Yikes. She was beginning to feel intimidated.
A little bit, at least.
"Lewtenents," started Razorfang, "yew know yaor mission?"
"Yessir." She swore Tigron said it at the same time as her.
"Good," said Lord Lonspear from beside the wildcat. "However, after careful consideration, we've decided to add some objectives to your queue."
She stood a little straighter. New orders...?
"First, you will both travel south and make contact with Redwall Abbey," continued the rat lord. "You will remain there to help in any needed defense.
"Second, you will make contact with Captains Trueblade and Whipclaw, and Major Flickerfist. They are to assist in the defense of Redwall."
At that, Lady Galecut rose from her seat, walked over, and presented two envelopes to her and Tigron. She took one, and sandscratcher took the other.
"These are orders that are to be given to the major when you make contact. If the officers cannot be reached, make sure those are burned." said Galecut. With that, the rat returned to her seat.
"Fourth, as soon as objectives one to three are complete," continued the rat lord, "you will make contact with both Salamandastron and Castle Floret. We're not quite sure on their exact location relative to Redwall, so you'll have to ask around. We do know that Salamandastron lies to the west, and Castle Floret is in a southward direction."
Longspear sat back in his chair and looked her straight in the eyes. And, like a good drill sarge had shown her, it was best not to look into the Bladestone Lord's eyes. So she focused on a spot approximately six inches above his head. He must have been satisfied, since he shifted his gaze to Tigron.
"You have your mission, Lieutenants. Good luck."

She really, really wondered how a sand marten-heck, tribes of them-could live here. They had left just after sunup.
And it was now real, real hot over this sandy, featureless excuse of a plain.
She was gonna farking bake. Whoopee-doo.
Really, how did Tigron stand this heat? For that matter, how could he do it so easily?
Sandscratcher stopped for a moment.
"I think we'd better stop for now and get some shadow. We'll continue when it's dark."
"And why is that?"
"It's getting close to the hottest part of the day, and you don't look so good."
She bristled. So that was it, huh? Sandscratcher wanted to show her up.
"I'm perfectly find, /Tigron/. I don't need your damn help."
The other lieutenant spun around and walked right up to her. He looked a tad pissed.
"Holy /crap/! Fine. You know what? I can deal with it. Really, I can. But, at least do what I tell you to do."
She frowned. "Why? What, I'm not smart enough to do it my own way?"
Tigron stared at her in disbelief. "Are you serious/? You're gonna lecture a /sand marten on how to wander the damned /desert/!? I'm just doing this so I won't have to drag your tail over the dunes after you pass out from heat exhaustion, so this isn't a favor to you."
She opened her mouth to shoot back at him, but stopped. He did have a point.
"Fine. What do I do, Master Sandscratcher?"
Tigron growled. "First of all, make sure you drink lots. You haven't been sipping much. Sure, it'll make you piss enough to put out the fire around Hellgates, but it'll shield you from the heat for a bit. This heat's making use a lot of moisture. Secondly, make sure you keep as much of your body covered as possible. And last, but of course not least, please, please take off that stupid bandana. It's not helping you."
She frowned. "It's keeping the sun off my head and ears."
The sandscratcher wiped a paw over his face in exasperation. What, a sand marten couldn't deal with the fact that she knew some desert survival?
The sandscratcher took a deep breath, and looked into her eyes. "First, you should know-at least I hope you know, living in a gigantic icecube maker and all-that a sizable percentage of your body heat leaves through your head and ears. So, put a bandana over it and you trap the heat. And yes, you're right telling me that it keeps the sun off, but guess what? Trapping the heat so close to your body is doing more harm than good."
Cripes. She sighed quietly. Score one for the sandscratcher.
"So, that said, use your hood. It'll keep the sun off, and it's not so close to your fur that it'll keep all the heat trapped."
"Fine, fine, you win, your lordship. Now, can we get moving?"
The sand marten didn't say anything, but just turned around and started walking again. She yanked off the bandana and stowed it.
And, of course, the wind picked up a bit, forcing her to squeeze her eyes nearly closed. Sure, snow foxes were called "iceblinkers" since they had long lashes that kept flying snow out, but they worked just fine for sand. To some extent, anyway.
She and his desert lordship traveled for a bit more, passing on one side of a large dune. It was just about noon now, and the sun was beating with its mighty hammer o' heat on the sand.
And then there were two Tigrons. Huh? She blinked, and the melded to form one image again. Weird.
Funny, it was also getting harder to breathe. And now her legs felt weak. And now she was actually /trembling/. How weird was this?
She sat down. She watched Tigron stop and whirl around.
"Hey, I'm getting a bit tired. I'll just take a quick nap," she said. She noticed her speech was getting slurred. Waaaay tired. This was going to give Tigron something to poke her about, getting this tired and all, but at least...
She fell asleep before she hit the sand.

"...just take a quick nap," he heard Miss Iceblinker say before she keeled over onto her back.
He groaned. "Please, Raezel, this isn't the time to take a little nap." He walked over to the snow vixen. "Hey! Let's get-"
His voice trailed off as he took a closer look. No, not now, not here, not /her/.
The iceblinker had just fallen victim to heat stroke... and, quite possibly, an even more serious condition associated with those without desert experience, heat fever.
What should he do? His first instinct was to help her...but that was going to take lots of time. Fleacrap! She should have stopped! This served her right.
And that wouldn't be too much of a problem. The Bladestone Lord had been pretty emphatic in getting the priorities straight. "/The completion of the mission supercedes all else/. /If one of you becomes so incapacitated as to be immobile/, t/he other will have to/... /have to abandon the fallen one and continue the mission/."
Why not? She was nothing but a great big annoyance. Leave her here. She had decided she knew what was best, so, fine, she should reap what she sowed.
He turned to go.
And then he remembered. Remembered something that linked him to her and her to him. Something terrible. Something that only she and he had experienced.
But so what? She never seemed to care.
But should that matter? Wraiths couldn't see everything somebeast thought. Maybe...
Maybe nothing. Life would be easier. That was simple. All those insults and hurtful things...
He reflected a bit more. With a grunt, he unstrapped Raezel's carrying pack. He stepped away from the vixen...
...and dropped his packs.
He couldn't leave her. No... If he left her, he'd leave a piece of himself behind.
Quickly, he disconnected her twin sickles from her back carriers and snapped them together. He rammed the sickle-staff into the sand on the slope of the dune. He unclipped Dusk from his back and rammed it blades first into the dust.
He quickly unwrapped the long blanket from his shoulders and fastened to corners to the two protruding weapons. He then anchored the remaining corners with his and Raezel's Wraith knives.
Now, at least she was in shade. Damnation! It was getting really hot, even by his desert-dweller standards. Shade wouldn't be enough for Raezel, though. Not by far.
He crawled under the makeshift tent and examined the iceblinker.
Her breathing was short, shallow, and ragged, and she seemed to be shivering, which was just plain silly in this heat. Of course, she wasn't shivering, trembling to keep her muscles warm. Her body had overheated, and she was convulsing.
He shook his head and unfastened her blanket and cloak. Those would make some decent bedding.
The armor wasn't helping, of course, and neither was the clothing in general. Quickly, he unfastened her armor-all of it, cuirass, vambraces, fauld, greaves, rerebraces and gloves-and laid it to the side.
Oh, if she ever found out... she'd probably kill him...
He slowly unlaced her tunic and maneuvered it off.
He drew in a quick breath and felt a quiver in his stomach. Geez, she was beautiful!
The first time he had met her, he was moderately surprised at how skinny she was. She had been so skinny he had wondered how those blizzards they had over there didn't blow her away.
Now... she was still thin. But it wasn't-definitely wasn't-unhealthy skinny. More like a very attractive slender. Feminine curves had filled in over her body. Her shoulders were relatively broad too, showing a body that was both incredibly beautiful and one belonging to a natural athlete. Beneath the snowy fur, he could see compact muscles rippling as she quaked.
Another gulp followed the first-any more of those, and he'd have to replace his throat-and he loosened her trousers. He could see that she was wearing undergarments, so he didn't have to worry about...
Ugh, no. Don't even think of that. He didn't like her, remember?
That out of the way, he went over to his pack and drew out a rag. Padding back over to Raezel's trembling form, he took his canteen and doused the fabric with water. He folded it into a pad and placed it on Raezel's forehead. The snow vixen moaned and tossed her head a bit, but he gently held it still until she quit moving. Damn. Her eyes were rolling beneath the lids. She was dreaming rapidly... and that was a sign that the heat was hitting her hard. Fever dreams... had to be.
He went through his pack again and dug around. Ah, there. Another scrap of fabric. He folded it into a square and saturated it again. Wet rag in paw, he began to run it over Raezel's shivering body, letting the water evaporate and cool her. He ran the damp scrap over her chest, and he swallowed-dammit, /again/!-as he felt her taut muscles.
Why was he doing this? She was just another pretty female with a sexy body. Whatever made young male act like babies around females was hitting him with a vengeance... which, for his case, was like saying the ocean was a tad wet.
Spiderspit, this had to stop! A nice-no, a /gorgeous/-body and a beautiful face wasn't everything. He couldn't stand her, and that was that.
He hoped.
He had run the cloth over her chest, stomach, and arms, but now he needed to get to her back. Turning her over on her stomach wouldn't do, since she was convulsing and unconscious. If her tongue got stuck in the back of the throat, there would be a serious problem.
He sighed. Hellgates...
Grunting, he scooped Raezel into his arm and lifted her into a sitting position, bracing her against his body with his left arm. His paw kept her head from lolling around.
He tried not to think about the incredibly close snow vixen.
The feel of her slender, muscled form was downright marvelous.
Actually close was a big understatement. They were so close they should actually be...
No, no, not those thoughts again.
His face was close enough to Raezel's so that he could examine her visage closely. Her face was fine-featured, dainty almost. Beautiful for a vixen, or by any beast's standards, in fact.
He finished sponging her back, and he laid her back down.
Fleacrap! She was still in bad condition. She was still breathing raggedly, and her muscles were still shivering. He felt her forehead. It was still burning like Hellgates.
He snarled to himself. He hadn't brought along rubbing alcohol, which was one heck of a lot better at cooling than plain water. So, now he had to do this manually. Just perfect...
He set aside the wet rag aside, and took his canteen and opened it. He poured some water into his palm, set the canteen aside, and poured the water over Raezel's torso.
And then he started massaging the water into her skin, making sure it evaporated optimally. He repeated all the motions he made with the wet rag... but know it was with his bare paws with fingers that massaged her equally bare body.
Oh, fleacrap... if she ever found out about this. Even if he told her the truth about what he was thinking, she would still try to knock his block off.
She looked like she was getting better, but he couldn't let up. She was especially vulnerable now as her temperature stabilized. He sighed and continued.

It was two seasons after she had met the chunky sandscratcher, and she was, frankly, tired of living here.
She had had the dream of becoming one of the Bladestone High Templars, but she gave it up. No reason in pursuing a hopeless dream, huh?
But, excitement, excitement, excitement. She needed something besides her tribe. Not that she didn't like it; she was actually taking a look at a cute fox who was definitely scoping her out. Now that she had gotten meat unto her bones-Dad had always said she only needed some time to turn into a fem that males would drool over-she found a bunch of same-aged foxes trying to get on her good side.
Still, she was only thirteen seasons old, and she, frankly, didn't want to get bogged down with that kind of stuff just yet.
What if one of them turned out like Tigron? Ick.
Anyway, she was checking out the war band of this "Grimtooth." A stoat had passed through the tribe and spread the word. This Grimtooth stoat seemed to be one heck of a fighter, and his army was second-to-none, though she would wager the Bladestone soldiers could put paid to him. Well, it did look promising, and better yet, there was actually a chance she could do this. So, might as well check it out.
And at least she could bring some things to the table. Dad and her older sister, Raiel, had done a really good job in teaching her dual sickles. In fact, she was so good with them she beat them both. Dad was a little indignant at being bested by a thirteen season-old. But he was very impressed, and he actually gave her-yes, /gave her-two family heirlooms, two war sickles, passed down from since who knew when. They were identical weapons, with wide-bladed C-shaped blades that stood a foot high. The wooden handles were about the same length as the blades./
But they were really ornate weapons, too. The blades were engraved with glimmering, crimson runic symbols that seemed to glow. Dad said they were... what were they again? Oh, yeah, wraithstones. According to Dad, wraithstones were these gems with really weird properties. If a blacksmith heated a crystal on a forge, it could be worked with as though it were melted steel. But, on cooling, it retained its pattern and hardened into a hard gem again. Neat stuff. Mixing the crystals with the steel made the weapon nearly indestructible, and it was nice to look at, also.
And, last, but of course not least, were the blades themselves. They were specially crafted so that they made this strange humming-whistle sound when moved at high speed.
Sweet stuff.
She was a bit nervous, though. Dad and about thirty of the clan's warriors had been gone for a week already. Probably on another trading meeting with the sand martens.
She had slipped out during the middle of the night, when it was coldest, and now she was only a few hours away from where this Grimtooth beast had camped. At least this war leader had had the sense to set up shop in the temperate zone between ice and desert. If they had tried the snow she'd bet a bunch of the warriors would be catatonic or something.
Hmm... Maybe her estimate had been wrong. She could see this huge collection of tents, not too distant.
With a shrug, she shucked off her cold-weather trousers and long-sleeved tunic and got into her shorts and white sleeveless tunic.
Well, might as well get her tail over there.

She walked towards the perimeter, and two sentries, a scrawny ferret and a snaggletoothed rat, both holding spears, stopped her. They both wore yellow tunics and trousers.
"Wot yew want?" the ferret grumbled.
"I'm here to see this Grimtooth. I'd like to join his army."
She saw the rat look her up and down. Her eyes narrowed. The way he was looking at her body...
"Well, I dunno 'bout bein' a fighter, but yew could be of some use when yew've growns a bit older," the rat said nastily.
Oh. Now she understood what that look was. And, guess what? She didn't like it one bit. But she had to be polite.
"Hey, hey, don't worry. I'm a good fighter. I don't want the, uh, /other job."/
"Sure yew don'," said the ferret. "We don' want yew righ' now. Come back whens yew're older. Mebbe it'll be fun."
Okay, fine. Maybe it was time to use a more direct approach.
"No can do, Pipsqueak," she said coldly. "let me through."
Well, it looked like that hit the mark. Pipsqueak was looking a little pissed, though the rat over there was grinning maliciously.
Pipsqueak stepped forward. "Wot'd yew say?"
"I said, 'let me through,' you undersized excuse of a ferret." She shot a glare at the rat. "And you can wipe that smirk from your ugly mouth, Chopper-face."
Now the rat was angry too.
"Wanna die, foxie?" Chopper-face growled.
"Do you?" she shot back.
Well, that was probably it, since Pipsqueak tried to grab her
She strafed left, stepped towards Pipsqueak, and hammered him in the stomach with a side kick. She ducked under the punch of Chopper-face and slammed a spinning back kick into the rat's jaw.
If Pipsqueak and Chopper-face were mad before, they were farking apoplectic now.
She drew out her sickles and gave them a few whirls.
Chopper-face got back to his footpaws faster and stabbed at her with his spear. She neatly deflected the shaft with her left weapon, and whacked the rat across the face with the flat of her other sickle. She sensed Pipsqueak coming towards her, and danced backwards as the spear thrust towards her. She rolled towards the ferret and swept his legs out from under him with a kick.
A little graceful twirl, and she was back to her footpaws. The idiots couldn't even get their own limbs untangled.
Maybe this place wasn't such a good idea. If losers like Chopper-face and Pipsqueak were any indicator, the quality of this place totally sucked. Totally not cool.
She was about to back away from the two guards when she heard a voice call out.
"Crossfang, Gurk, hold!"
It sounded like a youngish adult voice, but it actually sounded like it knew what the heck it was doing. Unlike those two idiots over there.
She saw a slim, medium-height ferret-he was only an inch or two above her current five-feet, five -inches-step out from behind a tent. He looked like he hadn't quite broken twenty seasons yet.
"Sir!" the two bumblers got back to their footpaws in record speed and saluted the new ferret.
"Last time I checked, it was Grimtooth, not the guards, who determined who was worthy to join the horde," the ferret put in mildly. By the way he said it, it looked like he was gonna hand Crossfang's and Gurk's arses back to them when this was all said and done.
"Get out of here. Tonight, you two are serving latrine cleanup." The two slightly bruised guards took off. Bastards.
She watched the ferret shake his head. She swore she heard him mutter "Idiots." Then the ferret turned to her.
"My name is Tanth. I'm one of Chieftain Grimtooth's junior officers. You are...?"
"Oh, hey. I'm Raezel Snowdance."
She looked Tanth over. His tunic and trousers were a bronze color. A symbol that looked like a battleaxe was sewn to the tunic's right shoulder. He had a finely crafted long rapier that hung sheathed from his right side. By the way he carried himself he sure as heck knew how to use it, too. And, since he had his sword on the right, it meant he was left-pawed, like Dad.
Not bad looking, either, but he was a bit too old for her.
Ugh. She had to stop /thinking like that. Geez... She was only thirteen!/
Then she noticed Tanth beckoning to her. Oops. She really had to keep her mind from wandering so much.
She and the ferret passed a lot of tents. There were some sparring rings around there, too, where collections of beasts fought in the roped off areas. She was /very glad that the overwhelming majority seemed to know more than Chopper-face and Pipsqueak. Sheesh./
"By the way," Tanth said from beside her, "I'm sorry about the little, er, /trouble you had with Crossfang and Gurk. I've never liked them myself, and I can't fathom why Grimtooth accepted them."/
She shrugged. "I'm fine. Those two morons couldn't have hit me if I were standing still."
She heard Tanth chuckle. "That was apparent." The ferret paused, and she wondered what was going through his mind. He looked like a contemplative sort, like little sandscratcher. Then she heard him speak again. "You come from one of the ice fox tribes, yes?"
She glanced at Tanth and saw the ferret nod. "If you are an example of the warriors from the area, I'll suggest the need for more recruiters there to Grimtooth."
That was a nice complement, and she sensed that the ferret wasn't insincere about it. Her talent for knowing what other beasts thought came in handy all the time.
"Well, um, I'm not exactly a run-of-the-mill warrior, Tanth." Oh, wait a second. "It's okay if I call you Tanth, right?"
"Of course. Just be sure to refer to me as 'Junior Officer Tanth' whenever other officers are around. They tend to get their trousers in a twist if you don't. Well, you were saying...?"
"Yeah. Like I said, I'm not a normal warrior. My father-" Oh. Would it be a good idea to tell Tanth that her dad was the chief of the tribe? Probably not. It would be bad to attract attention like that. "My father," she repeated, "is one of the clan's best warriors. Naturally, he taught me, and I'm, well, pretty good."
She watched Tanth cock an eyebrow. "Really? Interesting." The ferret nodded again. "So, after seeing you thrash those two half-wits, I assume you're both an unarmed and armed fighting expert."
She snorted. "I guess you could say that."
"Well," said Tanth, "I'm fairly certain that Grimtooth will be happy to have you." Tanth stopped, and she saw that they had arrived at a large golden tent. Hmm... it could only be...
"This is Grimtooth's tent. Step inside, answer his questions, and try to impress him. Take my advice," said the ferret. Weird. He looked like he had a faraway stare to his eyes.
She smiled. "What? Been there, done that?"
Oops. Maybe that was the wrong thing to say, since Tanth looked very uncomfortable right now. But why? It was just a question...
"In a way," Tanth said stiffly. But he loosened up a bit after a second. " It was a pleasure to meet you, Raezel Snowdance. Good luck, and, though I hear it's bad luck to say so, welcome to the horde."
"Nice to meet you too, Junior Officer Tanth."
Tanth grunted laughter, gave a wave, and stalked off.
Well, time to meet the head honcho of this place.
She stepped into the tent.

Well, that went nicely. Grimtooth definitely was impressive, big, muscular, and carrying this big battleaxe. She'd followed Tanth's advice and the chieftain was basically begging her to join his ranks. Well, time to start a glorious career as one of Grimtooth's great warriors.
She was sitting on a rock outside of the camp. Well, just /thinking wasn't too odd, right? Even the glorious life-ha ha-of Raezel Snowdance needed some calm./
Then she felt a twinge in her head. Whoa! Danger! What...
A heavy blow to the back of her head knocked her forward. What the bloody Hellgates?
Before she could get the twinkling birdies out of her vision, arms grasped her, pinning her limbs, and, damn, forced her to the ground on her back. She couldn't move.
The blinking birds finally left her vision, and she was treated to the rather ugly faces of Chopper-face and Pipsqueak. She could see a pair of stoats, another rat, and a trio of weasels behind them. A weasel took her sickles and tossed them a few feet away.
And Chopper-face and Pipsqueak looked veeeeery pissed off.
"What? Ready for round two?" she ground out.
"Aye, foxie," snarled Chopper-face. "But yew won' be alive to experience it!"
She laughed. Yes, laughed. She was scared out of her wits right now. "That's nice. How 'bout letting me go and then we can see who becomes worm food?"
She didn't like Pipsqueak's laugh. "Naw, we won' do that. 'Member how I said yew'd be useful once yew was older?" Oh, that sounded /bad. "Well, foxie, I usually likes my fems all growed up, but yew're too good to be passin' up."/
She flinched.
"See, after wes all hads our fun," the ferret continued, "Wes a-goin' to run a test. Wanna know wot it is?"
"Uh... Sure..."
Actually, no, she didn't. Let Pipsqueak run his mouth, because she needed to think fast.
But no brilliant ideas came.
"Well, ours little test is ta see wot happens to a beast if she gots her paws sawed off and is tossed in ta a scorchin' desert."
There was this male-teenager joke: "I don't wanna die a virgin." It was frighteningly relevant now. But, damn, she wanted to lose the physical aspect of it in a romantic fashion. Not from... rape.
Pipsqueak started to fumble with his pants.
Think! Distract them!
"Even /think /about putting /it anywhere near me, and I'll rip it off and make you eat it. You sure as heck look like you could use the protein."/
Another nasty laugh. Then her face exploded with pain as something hard struck her.
Damn, she felt something running down her face. Blood. That bastard! Pipsqueak had just done a good job on her cheek with the hilt off a knife.
"Ha! Yew really think yew can do that?"
"Naw, she can't," she heard Chopper-face reply cruelly. "Time for fun, wot do yew say?"
Her breath was coming in gasps now. This was the most frightened she had ever been. Damn! She had to try and get /some /semblance of control /now/.
Pipsqueak leered at her.
"Let her go," she heard a new voice call.
This voice sounded even younger than Tanth's. Heck, now that she thought about it, she could swear she heard some not-quite-out-of-puberty cracking. Her voice was a bit like that too, albeit not as "deep" as this new voice. Who could it be?
"Wot?" Chopper-face growled, annoyance plastered on his face. The rat turned, giving her an excellent view of her "rescuer." It was...
What in Hellgates!?
Wow, he had changed. Whereas she had gotten some meat onto her frame, Tigron had lost the fat. He also looked quite tall now, and muscular. He was wearing his pantaloons and shortsleeved tunic, and a sheathed sword hung from his left side.
Well, it looked like the saying "things change" was damned true.
And that sorta sucked. She couldn't call him a little snot anymore.
"Go away, yew wet-behind-the-ears nomad. She be all ours," she heard Pipsqueak bark.
"Let her go, or I'll take you all out right here. And then after she's released, I'll sit back and laugh while she feeds you your left arm. You look like you need the protein."
Despite the situation, she snorted.
Chopper-face looked angrily at Pipsqueak. Then the rat turned to the two stoats.
"Take care o' him."
She watched the two beasts smirk and advance on sandscratcher, their clubs raised.
And then Tigron blurred
Well, not really. He just moved so fast and so smoothly it just /looked like he had become a light brown streak of lightening./
She couldn't quite suppress a snigger as the two stoats stumbled backwards like morons. Obviously, Chopper-face's friends were as damned bad at fighting as he was. Sheez.
"Ugh. Yew idiots be scared of a teen-season beast?" she heard the other rat mutter. "Leave 'im ta me." The other rat turned to Pipsqueak. "Keep that fox warm fer me."
This didn't look good. She was sort of guessing that this other rat was some big-shot in Pipsqueak's and Chopper-face's group. The other rat grunted, drew a broadsword, and stepped up to Tigron.
"Heh heh," She heard Chopper-face laugh. "Slinktail is one o' tha best swordsbeasts ins the horde. That liddle idiot don't have a chance. Nobeast can stand up ta Slinktail."
Weird. Here she was, about to get killed and worse, but she actually felt a twinge of panic for sandscratcher. What in the world? The stress must be making her nuts.
There was a clang of steel as Tigron's longsword and "Slinktail's" broadsword clashed.
She momentarily forgot her situation. Whereas Slinktail's fighting form was typical-albeit very skilled-of common swordbeasts, sandscratcher's was completely new to her. He moved with this beautiful fluid grace, and he used agility as much as his sword to counter Slinktail's attacks. Despite Tigron's deft movements, he almost always stayed in contact with the ground. Very strange, but interesting. Add that to the fact that sandscratcher was keeping that strange "trance" look she had seen when she had first met him, and it was obvious that Tigron knew what he was doing.
She saw the sand marten and the rat back away from each other. Sandscratcher looked calm. Slinktail looked pissed as heck.
Tigron's ready stance was new, too. He stood almost completely erect, his right side-the one where the sword was being held-slightly forward. His other arm was held loosely behind his back, slightly bent at the elbow.
And then sandscratcher advanced confidently. His sword paw was held palm up, lightly gripping the longsword. Sandscratcher seemed to be wiggling his sword ever so slightly laterally.
She watched Tigron advance, and she tensed. She just had to wait for the right moment...
Sandscratcher moved up, the longsword swishing back and forth.
She watched sandscratcher lightly brush the blade of Slinktail.
Damn! It was as though that tiny touch was some type of trigger or something, since Tigron started up his smooth motions again. Geez! She had never seen a sword used so damned well or so damned /differently before!/
It was like Tigron was a blizzard. He moved agilely, powerfully, smoothly. But somehow, his moves were tempered. Tigron never seemed to be panicked or rushed. Well, looks like that meditate-before-everything psyche was extended to his fighting style.
Heh, maybe in sandscratcher's case, the longsword wasn't the weapon of one-hundred-and-one warriors. It was different, yeah, so maybe that crack she made about longswords didn't really apply.
Damn, she didn't like being wrong.
And then she saw Slinktail shamble backwards as Tigron landed a left backfist onto the rat's nose.
She felt the grips of Pipsqueak and Chopper-face loosen slightly.
She flexed her arms together. Yep, the two idiots weren't ready, as shown quite painfully when she got them off-balance and kneed them in the faces. It was a strange movement, but heck, she was flexible.
Pipsqueak and Chopper-face tumbled off, and she used that moment to bound over to her two sickles and retrieve them.
Amazingly, the two she had bowled over were up again, and the whole bunch was circling her. Even if they had the fighting skills of a three-week-dead toad, she didn't like the prospect of a damned seven-on-one.
And sandscratcher and Slinktail were still going full tilt, although the rat wasn't looking too happy. The two broke away again, and she saw Pipsqueak and his stoat buddies circling around to meet up with Slinktail.
Well, goody. Now it was two on eight.
But she and sandscratcher were surrounded. Uh-oh.
"Well, iceblinker, this is a wonderful scrape you've gotten yourself into," growled sandscratcher from behind her.
Little... "Hey, sandscratcher, I wasn't looking to be... attacked, 'kay?" she snapped back.
"Well, this wouldn't have happened if you had stayed in your nice frozen hole, huh?"
"What!? It's /my fault that Chopper-face and Pipsqueak over there had this desire to get into my shorts?"/
She heard Slinktail snarl. "Yew know, one second thought, I says we kills them both righ' now. She be too much trouble."
She heard Tigron snigger. "Well, bring it, you bumbling idiots."
Chopper-face gave an ugly sneer. "Why not? Maybe wes could make do with them fine weapons yews got there. Wes coulds be rich."
Oh, great. Would they never learn? She flipped Chopper-face a rude paw gesture. "Well, come and take 'em, then."
The ring of beasts began to close in. She backed into Tigron.
She noticed that he had a nicely muscular body.
And she sensed that Tigron thought her body was attractively lithe.
And she sensed that Tigron knew that she thought he had a nicely muscular body.
And she knew that Tigron knew that she knew that he liked the feel of her body.
"Hey," she whispered to sandscratcher. "Take Pipsqueak and that stoat. I'll try and take out Chopper-face and that one weasel next to him."
"And then we'll wheel around behind them in the confusion and keep them from surrounding us. Sounds like a plan."
Was it just her going crazy, or did he give a small smile?
She sighed. And she and sandscratcher picked that exact moment to move.
She heard the weasel yelp as she charged. Well, he only had enough time to yelp, anyway, since her sickles buried themselves into the weasel's throat.
She whirled to block a strike from Chopper-face's knife, and she slashed his arm with the other sickle. She heard the rat yelp, saw him jerk in pain, and she put him out of her misery with a quick jab the heart.
And then she ditched the bodies and caught up with sandscratcher who was finishing off the stoat.
Marten and fox, one. Hordebeasts, zero.
But, dammit, it didn't look like it was going to stay that way. The remaining warriors looked more alert and skilled than the last four.
But skilled enough? Yep, that was the million-coin question.
"Yew jus killed some mates o' mine," barked Slinktail. "Time ta die."
"I can handle Slinktail and that weasel. I hope you're good enough to take the other two. That other weasel looks like he knows what he's doing with that spear."
Wow. Amazing. Somehow, sandscratcher /still /found a way to add an insult.
She spat out some blood that had gotten into her mouth. "What the heck do you mean, 'I hope you're good enough'!? I'll take you on after I've buried these bozos over here."
Tigron growled. "Fat chance, 'foxie.' I've got better things to do after I've saved your tail."
She was about to snarl back at sandscratcher's annoying arse when the stoat she would be taking on rushed her with his battleaxe.
Really, now, not a chance. She neatly parried the blade and opened up the stoat with two vertical slashes.
And then the spearbeast weasel charged.
Cripes, that weasel was good. Fast, and from the looks of those scars, experienced to boot.
She hissed when the spearhead nicked her left bicep. She retaliated by hooking the shaft with the left sickle, directing it down. She drew blood from the weasel's cheek, barely missing the eye. But the spear was withdrawn skillfully before she could aim another blow, and she had to perform a rolling jump to the right to avoid the spear.
Of course, the spear weasel followed through, keeping her on the defensive. Damn. The spear had reach... she had to somehow get in close.
But it was way too hard. /Crap/. The weasel was creating a barrier of wood, keeping her sickles far away from his body.
Yes! A mistake!
She moved like lightening, hooking her sickles onto the haft of the spear. With a grunt, she banged the spear away. Now, it was time to metaphorically drop the proverbial hammer.
Or sickle. Whatever.
She scissored her sickles, and the weasel flew back, the head nearly severed.
She noticed that the area was completely silent. She turned and saw Tigron, bleeding from a slash on his right thigh, limping towards her.
Oh, just dandy.
"You okay?" she heard sandscratcher ask.
"Well, considering I've escaped some, er... violation and murder, yeah, I guess I'm good."
She heard the sand marten snort. "You're bleeding on the cheek. Let me have a look at it."
"I'm fine," she said, letting some warning into her voice.
"Don't be dumb. It looks really bad."
"I don't care. I'll take care of it all by my little self. You go off and meditate or something."
She saw sandscratcher frown. "Fine, fine, okay."
Tigron turned to go.
"Hey, Tigron," she called. Damn, this was gonna be hard.
She saw a muscle jerk somewhere on sandscratcher's cheek.
"Yeah, whatever. Just don't get it into your head I did it because it was you. I still don't like you, iceblinker."
"Well, same here, sandscratcher," she growled as Tigron Sandstar walked away.
But, somehow, she wasn't quite sure that their last statements held all that much heat.
Yep. /Waaay weird./
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