Categories > Books > Redwall > Pride of Kavazara

Chapter 6: Rising Tension

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: 2006-02-26 - Updated: 2006-02-27 - 6101 words

Gregory P. Wong

Chapter Six: Rising Tension

Screams. Phantoms. Horrible monsters. Shapes darkening the sky. A white vixen. A sandy-brown marten. Ice. Sand. A massive citadel. Mouse warrior. Whirling madness. Swarms of deformed beasts. Two rats. Wildcat. Strange, horrible creature. Whispering death from the sky. Bodies everywhere. Fireball, rending the sky. Volcano. Badger. Abbey. Hares. Smaller castle. Vengeance. Squirrels. Mist creeping over the land.
Death, so much death!
Shadow, terrible blackness, consuming light.
The vixen Bloodmoon, subcaptain of the Nighthunt's Nightclaws, sat up in shock. She sobbed, and buried her face in her paws.
Hellsteeth, this was unbecoming of an officer, and a Nightclaw officer at that! These tears had to stop.
But they wouldn't. Hellgates, this ability to see what the future held was indeed a gift. Her gift.
Her curse.
More salty drops fell. Damnation! She had to get a grip on herself!
But the horror... It was... too much. So horrible.
She felt a strong, familiar arm wrap around her body and draw her close to a muscular torso. The paw massaged her shoulder in a very soothing manner.
"Shh, Bloodmoon. It was only a dream. I'm here for you, love."
She felt another paw gently cup her chin and turn her face to the left. In the moonlight that streamed through holes in the tent, she just barely made out the visage of her mate, Bladefall Lothame, another fox, and captain of the Nightblood assassins/infiltrators.
Bladefall was a good-looking fox, though many commented that he looked a bit "tough." Of course, that didn't, quite, fully describe her mate. Bladefall was tough, but the other fox was much more. Bladefall was as loyal to the Nighthunt chieftain, Kiern, as any Nightclaw, and her mate had actually managed to emulate Kiern's way of speaking. It was still distinctly Bladefall, but it was several steps up from the accents of the other Nighthunt beasts.
Of course, there was more.
While Bladefall was incredibly mature for his age--she remembered six seasons ago, when Bladefall's family had been recruited not long before the wolverine Nightdeath Longclaws' death at the paws of the squirrel Riala Goldentail--her mate had this enthusiasm and curiosity befitting a kit half his age, despite her mate only being two seasons younger than her. That good-natured energy had first drawn her to him two seasons ago, and, naturally, one thing had led to another.
Bladefall also had his own burdens to deal with. Only a season ago, her mate's father, Swiftaxe, and grandsire, Shade Venant, had departed for Dark Forest. In addition, Bladefall also had a younger sister, Loamstar, in the company of the horde.
She and he both helped each other cope with the problems. Her clairvoyance was just that more bearable with Bladefall.
"Aye, I know. You're always here for me, Bladefall." It was so nice to touch him. She put her head against the male's muscle-hard shoulder. "The visions have departed. Thank you."
She heard Bladefall chuckle. Now she felt a paw stroking her cheek. "Come on, Bloodmoon, you know you don't have to thank me for this. I just do what a loving mate should do."
What was that fluttering in her heart? Obvious. It was that incredible love she had for her mate.
She loved him so much.
"Oh, Bladefall... how could I bear to live without you?" she murmured. Goodness, were those more tears she felt rolling down her cheek? Of course, these were much different.
She took another look at her mate. Like all other Nightbloods, Bladefall had fangs and claws painted red. They matched quite nicely with that fur...
And that look in those eyes? Simple. Love, unadultered, unconditional love for her.
"Oh, silly me," she heard her love say tenderly. "You're crying again. Mayhaps you'd better get back to sleep. I think you have an hour or so before sunrise."
Sleep would be nice, but...
"I do not think I can fall asleep, again. The dream was... bad this time."
She watched concern appear on her mate's face.
"Are you sure you're fine?"
She nodded.
"Well, what can we do then?" Bladefall said reflectively. That was another thing. If she was in any sort of distress, Bladefall would sacrifice his own comfort to help her. She did the same, and doing less would not satisfy her. "We can't sleep, it's too early to wander about, and it's a bit of a wait. Unless..."
Oh, dear. It was that tone of voice again.
Not that she minded. Quite the opposite.
"What do you have in mind?" she purred. She let her paw wander along Bladefall's side.
"I'd explain, but, all things considered, I think showing would be superior to /telling/."
Oh, were those paws caressing her flank and back? She grinned and planted a moderately passionate kiss on her mate's lips.
"Oh, really?" she asked after she got her lips unlocked.
The male smiled widely. "Aye, indeed."
Somehow her grin grew even bigger as Bladefall guided her back down to the bed.

The stoat Kiern, chieftain of the Nighthunt mercenary horde, yawned and sat up as faint light slightly brightened the tent walls.
Just a few minutes after dawn. Excellent.
Another beast yawned. Oh, Hellsteeth. She deserved her rest. Perhaps he had better learn to better... wake up? Strange thought. But he had better stop disturb--
"You know, Kiern, stop worrying. I find rising early to have its advantages," said his mate, Astarte Darkmoon. He watched her sit up and rub her eyes.
Like him, she was also a stoat, but ginger-red where he was a lightish brown.
She was the captain of the twenty-odd Nightclaws, his personal guard. And apparently, a psychic. What a thought.
"Are my expressions that easy to read?"
Astarte smiled crookedly. "Kiern, I've been 'with' you for six seasons. I hope I can at least know when you're feeling guilty."
Ah, the jokes could go on and on. "So you can know when another fem has caught my eye?"
His mate snorted. "No, of course not. I--" The captain stopped for a moment, and she looked like she was mulling something over. "You know, that's actually a good idea. I'll have to remember that."
He let himself grin. "Oh, no. Why can't I keep my mouth shut?"
"You tell me. However, I meant to say knowing when you're guilty is good so I can make sure it's not misplaced." His mate's voice became serious. "You're such a good beast, Kiern."
"I'm only like this because of you and the others. I'd be nothing without you, my love." He gave a mock smirk. "I've only told you this tenscore times already."
It was true. Ah, those days of being Longclaw's Nightclaw commander. During that rather confused period, he'd crammed his feelings of honor into a metaphorical trunk so his sense of duty to Longclaws could survive without any qualms.
And then, on that fateful day six seasons ago, he'd finally broken from the misplaced loyalty he had chained himself with, giving Longclaws a chance to die the honorable death the chieftain hadn't deserved.
And he could not have done that with the help of others, most importantly two stoat females and a vixen.
Skyfire... He still remembered that somewhat self-conscious stoat who had been his subcaptain. Skyfire had loved him, and he was sure he had loved her, but his single-minded subservience to the wolverine had suffocated anything that could have happened. Skyfire had left him and the Nighthunt rather than see him, the stoat she loved, lose his own soul to the honorless void of Longclaws. But, Hellgates/! His blind sense of duty had been the fem's /death /sentence/! Skyfire had died, tortured to death by Longclaw's nemesis, Riala Goldentail.
At least her death was not in vain, though. It had provided something--Hellgates, what a /something/--to pull him away from those chains.
Next was Bloodmoon, the somewhat eerie seer vixen. Those seemingly-blind eyes had seen all too well, intuitively and clairvoyantly. The vixen had cast doubt into his mind... and had pointed him towards Astarte.
Astarte Darkmoon... he'd had mixed feelings towards the former Nightfang commander. While no doubt a good fighter and leader, the fem had had... unsavory habits. Seasons only knew how many times he had referred to his future mate as a... whore, open to any and all. Astarte had been--still was!--in possession of a seductively attractive body--which was, of course, at the peak of fitness--and beautiful, sultry features. Aye, Astarte hadn't been afraid to use that body to get what she wanted, and that had earned his contempt.
Of course, there was much more to the stoat fem than that. Who could have known a beast like his mate could actually have love and tenderness deep down inside?
Well, he hadn't known, until it had nearly cost him his very soul.
Now, Astarte had lost interest in chasing other beasts. Believe it or not, the female's heart belonged to one beast.
And that was reciprocated by him as well. He desired no other beast, and not just for physical reasons. Aye, he loved her dearly.
Astarte, bodyguard, mate, heartfelt friend, and confidante.
"Blame my bad memory," replied his mate. The humorous thing was, she had a perfectly clear memory. She'd developed a sense of humor. It did help counteract his pesky seriousness, after all.
"I will, when you get one."
He watched his mate grin widely, yawn, stretch languidly, and sink back down to the collection of blankets that served as a bed. Oh.
"Now, it's still a bit early. What do you have planned for today, oh chieftain?"
He chuckled. "Not /that/, Astarte. I have to meet with the captains and subcaptains of the Nighthunt. I think it be prudent to head back down south, as work here is becoming scarce."
He saw Astarte put on a mock disappointed grin. "Fair enough, Keirn. But..." He watched his mate sit up and-felt, now-press her body to his. He gazed at a paw that snaked out and jabbed his bare torso with a finger. "When you and the rest of us are done," finger, "and the Nighthunt is settled in for the night, you," finger, "and I," finger, "are going to spend some time together." Finger. "And we are going to enjoy it," finger, "since we haven't had the time to do so, understood?" Finger.
"Yes, ma'am, most enthusiastically." He reached forward and affectionately ruffled Astarte's ears. "Though I hardly think five days qualifies as a 'long' time, no?"
He saw Astarte shrug. "You never do complain..."
Actually, most definitely, the opposite.
He smiled, gave Astarte a kiss, rose, and helped his mate out of the little blanket nest.
"Now, I think we had better get dressed."

Kiern looked over at his assembled captains and subcaptains, arrayed around the tent in a circular fashion.
Hellgates, with the flaps closed, this tent would become a veritable oven in no time. Well, that just meant this meeting would have to be competed quickly, no?
"I assume everybeast here has a basic idea about what this meeting concerns." All nodded. Excellent. This would go fast.
Sitting directly to his right were his Nightclaw leaders, his Astarte and Subcaptains Bloodmoon and Jrok, vixen and male rat, respectively. Astarte shifted a bit in her seat. Six seasons ago, at the battle of Castle Floret, his mate had taken a grievous wound that left her right leg with a small but noticeable limp. Astarte was still an excellent fighter, only outclassed by himself, however. Limp or no limp.
They represented the score of Nightclaw elite warrior bodyguards. Astarte only selected the cream of the Nighthunt's crop, which, obviously, made perfect sense. No half-witted or slow-pawed beasts were getting the honor of guarding the chief, after all. The elite warriors were marked by their black cloaks and banner of white claws emblazoned on a black shield set on a blue field.
"Aye, Chief. Ah ken guess th' werk here be dryin' up," he heard a heavily-accented voice say.
He nodded to the voice's owner, a rather scruffy male ferret who sat on Astarte's right, Swiftblade. Swiftblade had his subcaptain, a weasel female named Birchtail.
Swiftblade commanded the twoscore Nightfangs, the general warriors of the horde. At one point they'd only numbered the standard twenty, but because of their grueling and hazardous duty-first into battle, last out-he'd had their numbers set to forty. Nightfangs were identified by their red gloves and banner of white fangs set upon a black field.
He nodded to the ferret. Swiftblade was a fine beast, despite the rumpled appearance. The captain had once been a Nightclaw until he had offered the beast the commission for Nightfang captain.
"Exactly, Captain," he said to the ferret. With the somewhat dubious exception of those brigands we were hired to eliminate"--that had been interesting indeed--"we have not had substantive commissions. I think it be best for us to go back south."
"It sounds like a good plan, sir," he heard a commander agree.
Bladefall Lothame the fox, captain of the Nightblood, the speaker sat to his left. Beside Bladefall was a female weasel, Slyvis, and a male stoat, Patcheyes, the subcaptains.
The score of Nightbloods were the covert assassins of the horde. However, under the leadership of the young fox captain, the assassins were /changing/. The Nightbloods now also undertook high-risk espionage, as well as sabotage, in addition to their... normal duties.
Well, that was necessary sometimes. A single blow could end a war before the first battle was joined.
The assassins were easily identified by their red-dyed fangs and claws, and their banner of a deadly-looking dagger on a gray field.
"Thank you, Captain. Any more comments? Captain Haartigo? Captain Dersa?"
He saw the captains shake paws in negative gestures.
Seated more or less opposite him was the Nightarms captain, the rat male Haartigo, and the ferret male twins, Diptail and Slicktail. The Nightarms were all beasts who preferred ranged weapons. Since they also deployed siege engines, they were obviously established wood-workers, as well. For the most part. One particular fox didn't seem to know the difference between a siege ladder and a catapult, but that was an isolated case.
The Nightarms were denoted by their bracers and their crossed-black-arrows-on-a-gold-plain banner.
Next to Haartigo was Captain Dersa, accompanied by Subcaptain Loamstar Lothame. The female weasel and vixen were the officers of the Nighteye scouts and skirmishers.
The Nighteyes servd as advanced scouts for the horde, their stealth abilities unmatched by even the Nightblood. Unlike the Nightblood, though, the Nighteyes only operated in the open field or in small settlements. It was Nightbloods who stole into castles and other fortifications.
Nighteyes also served the roles of trackers and skirmishers, meaning they held off a surprise attack until the Nightfangs were ready.
The Nighteyes had no distinctive uniform, which, on second thought, was a distinctive marking, and their banner was a blue eye one a white field.
And it was just an added bonus that the Nighteyes were all well versed in many different aspects. Nighteys were perhaps the most useful outside of combat.
"When will we be breaking camp, sir?" he heard Loamstar ask. "I ask so Captain Dersa and I can prepare some sort of vanguard."
A good question, and prudent suggestion.
"I hope to be on our way two hours after we adjourn, Subcaptain. I want the beasts to eat before we march."
He didn't hear any more notes or see raised paws, so that was that. It was time to get prepared to go south.
Whatever that entailed...

"'Redwall Abbey,' is it?" Tanth heard Grimtooth mutter reflectively. "Sounds like a very nice place, don't it?"
"I've heard quite a bit about it, sir," he replied to Grimtooth. "Though most of what I heard is not exactly positive for beasts such as us."
He watched the massive stoat roll his eyes. Grimtooth was as large as ever, but now he noticed that the stoat was beginning to develop a paunch. In any case, the black-furred stoat chieftain was imposing to look at.
He and the chieftain were in the command tent, where Grimtooth usually was when not roving about. Since he was now the highest-ranking officer in the horde--and he was one of the younger officers, too!--he was privy to most of Grimtooth's decisions.
And, in some cases, ire.
"Meaning what?"
He cleared his throat. "Meaning, sir, that Redwall has repulsed any and all attempts to take it. I don't like the looks of it, sir."
He heard the stoat chuckle. "Were any of those others /mine/, Senior Officer Tanth?"
What could he say to that? "No, sir, they were not."
"And that would prove that only warband can take the place." He watched Grimtooth put on a reflective look. "I hear it's loaded with treasure, and their greatest possession is a badger-forged magical sword that's rumored to be unbreakable."
Perhaps nothing would be the best thing to say.
He noticed Grimtooth was looking at him intently. Perhaps the chief was--
"I can see you still don't like the idea, Tanth."
Yes, the Chief was studying him again.
"No, sir, I don't."
Goodness, how to articulate this? "There are plenty of less defended marauder bands roving around the Mossflower region, sir. Waylaying them would be much easier, and would take much less time."
The chief put on a grin. "Ah, Tanth my conscience, always seeking the path of least blood." Now he noticed Grimtooth was grinning in a fashion that was completely not friendly. "But that Redwall treasure will be mine, Tanth. You will follow my commands./ Do you understand me/?"
Damnation. That attempt hadn't worked out well. In addition... "Sir, I understand fully." He let some bite into his words and tone. "However, I find it a/ serious slight/ that you question my loyalty to you, sir. I have always carried out your orders to the best of my abilities, regardless of my personal feelings, and that will not change. /Sir/."
He looked at Grimtooth, who was staring emotionlessly at him.
"Fair enough, Senior Officer, fair enough," said the stoat, smiling thinly. "That was a bit hasty of me. My apologies."
He nodded. Any other beast who had said that to Grimtooth would have been missing a throat right now.
"Now then, I'm a bit hungry. You?" Grimtooth asked him.
"No, sir. I'm fine."
Grimtooth nodded. He watched the black-furred stoat chieftain turn towards a back division of the tent. "Veredia, serve me something!"
He winced. Veredia's status was another thing that he wanted to change in Grimtooth.
He heard the flaps dividing the two sections of the large tent swish aside. He turned to look.
Hellgates, what did Grimtooth do to her?
There had probably been a time--no, not "probably." It was /definitely/--that this emerald-eyed, golden-furred ferret had been stunningly beautiful.
Had been.
Whatever Grimtooth did to the slave it had made her a not-quite-emaciated, bruised, welted, barely-dressed, timid wreck.
But seasons, there were still shadows
"Yeh... yes, sir?" he heard Veredia stammer.
"Well, where's my food? I have a tendency to get cranky when I'm hungry, Veredia, so I suggest you get me something to eat. We wouldn't want the whips and chains again, /would we/?"
Yes, Grimtooth definitely used the poor ferret female for more than serving dishes. Hellgates. The curse of having a pretty face...
And the curse of being captured by Grimtooth.of beauty in that suffering face. Grimtooth... why?
He watched the female slave quiver for a heartbeat, and then he forced himself to look away. The quick swish said that Veredia had fled the tent to get the chief something to masticate.
He heard the chief chuckle. "I have nothing else to say, Tanth. You're dismissed."
Why was his throat so blasted dry?
He nodded, saluted, and left the tent.
Had to keep he mind off what had happened. Perhaps... a logistical review. Yes, that would be good.
The horde numbered... what? Twelve and a half score? About that. For the most part, each beast was reasonably intelligent and skilled with a given weapon. Grimtooth's horde had been the scourge of the northeast plains.
And now it was heading south.
In any case, Redwall would be receiving a very nasty surprise soon.

"Ah, surprise, surprise an' all, ol' chap, wot," he heard the hare colonel announce. Ah, yes, Lucio.
Felblade, Badger Lord of the mountain fortress Salamandaston looked up from his current task, which was polishing his halberd. The blasted spot near the bottom of the spearhead refused to come out!
"Surprise, Lucio?"
"Exactly, doncha know. We have, oh, 'bout ten days before th' new recruits arrive, wot."
He sighed. "Wonderful, Lucio. Hopefully this time we'll have a promising batch again."
"I'd count on it, sah. Th' scouts we sent out t' take a peep are as blinkin' stringent as blinkin' daylights. We'll get a lot o' promisin' recruits, sah."
It was quite well known that the badger rulers of ages past carved out... messages on hidden, meandering halls that crisscrossed Salamandastron. Indeed, it had been known that his predecessor, Firesight, had once been discovered by some Lera or another to be actually painting murals on some forgotten wall /in his sleep/.
Indeed, very interesting. The paintings and carvings had an eerie tendency to come true, as well.
If it held true for what he had seen, they were going to need any competent hare in the Long Patrol. The total Long Patrol was fast approaching one thousand fighting hares.
But... would it be enough to outlast the approaching storm? Ah, that was the question.
"I hope so, Lucio."
He sighed and took a look at his halberd. Ah-hah! The spot was gone! Now his weapon was immaculate once more. And what a weapon! The halberd was at least ten feet long, with a heavy, broad axe-blade attached underneath the spearhead, backed by a spike. A very powerful weapon.
But again, would it be enough?
The paintings said no.
He'd seen the paintings of a badger with his distinctive, jagged stripe lying prone on the ground, bloodied beneath heavy plate armor, surrounded by piles of /something/. The landscape was not recognizable, but the forms of red-armored vermin, and mice, hares, squirrels and others most emphatically were.
Death in battle was inevitable. Fate did not lie. And that was a sobering thought.
However, he was happy to embrace his fate. Dying in battle... a sad death, yet a glorious one.
And neither day nor hour was known, so he would just have to meet it head on.
"Sah? Sah? I've lost you," he heard Colonel Lucio say.
Goodness... "Sorry, Colonel."
He glanced at Lucio, who was toying with the mustache Long Patrol officers were fond of. "Bad form, bad form, Felblade, sah. No bally 'pologies needed. We all know badgers have plenty on their bloomin' plates, wot."
He just nodded. Plenty on the plate... If Lucio knew of the painting in that musty passage, the colonel would lock him up and eat the key. He respected that loyalty.
He rose, and motioned for Lucio to accompany him. It was time for lunch, and that hare appetite would make itself insistently known.
This was going to have to be taken carefully.

"No, no, Cana, you must parry down when an opponent strikes at you in that fashion," Malaya Oakrune heard her husband, Malcan, lecture patiently to their daughter, Canaya.
Oh, little Cana was growing so fast. Even at just past six seasons, her daughter looked so... what? Like her? Not completely. Cana was an attractive mix of her and her husband's features, and it looked quite good. But Cana did seem to have inherited her crimson-gold tail, though. It was a striking contrast to her little one's tawny fur.
"Sorry, daddy. I forgot."
"No, no, you don't need to apologize, Cana. This is just a little training, after all. I just wish to give you some basic training before I hand you off to Brookrudd's capable paws."
"Indeed. But will our daughter have much to learn after this?"
Malcan turned to look at her and grinned. "You are too kind m'love. And you too are an accomplished swordsbeast! Between the both of us, Brookrudd will have nothing to teach!"
She beamed.
King Malcan was such a shameless flatterer... and they'd been married for six seasons already!
The immense Castle Floret seemed a bit large for only three royal squirrels and the local guardian force of seventy-five otters. In any case, her husband and daughter took this place for granted. This hadn't always been her place.
Oh, those days of being some quaint traveling warrior-in-training under the tutelage of Riala Goldentail! Those days of being a Wander of Mossflower, too. And, how could the memories of fighting side by side with Malcan against the hordes of the Nighthunt be forgotten?
Those memories were better than older, far more painful ones. But, with Malcan and that little bundle of joy that was her daughter, those could be forgotten.
Such fortune...
She fingered the hilt of her short rapier absentmindedly. There were remembrances surrounding this weapon, as well.
"Perhaps Cana would take a rest while we spar. We haven't had time recently, after all. Is this admissible, daughter?"
"Of course, mom."
She watched Malcan give a little salute to Cana and place the blunted training saber on a rack at the back of the little training room at the northern end of Floret. She smiled as Malcan retrieved his own weapon, a two-pawed broadsword. It was a big brother to the little arming sword she and Riala had found Malcan with those seasons ago. My, how time flew by...
Her husband was a kingly, charismatic squirrel, somebeast who was an excellent choice for Southsward's throne. Malcan was a bit less impatient than she was, yes, but she supposed that was a good thing. It would do no good for Southsward to have a jittery thing like her at the helm with nobeast to temper her!
She smiled warmly as she watched her daughter head towards the back of the training room, place the training saber next to Malcan's, and sit crosslegged, intently watching.
"Watch carefully, Canaya. You are about to witness the swordplay of Castle Floret's greatest swordbeast." Malcan looked at her and winked. Oh, Malcan. "And I find it most fortunate that I am married to her!"
She gave a sigh. "Malcan, you're impossible."
The king gave an exaggerated bow-complete with flourish, of course-and took up the large broadsword. It was about five feet long, from tip to pommel, and very exquisitely decorated.
Humph. Malcan was anything but incompetent with that blade. Yes, yes, Malcan was a deadly fighter belied by that always smiling face.
She saluted with Skyfire, and she saw her husband return the gesture.
And then she stepped forward, pointing her rapier at her husband... opponent. Her sword was a very fast weapon, light and deadly sharp. It was a bit unusual, but Skyfire had a ricasso-ring and a space in the basket hilt where her index finfer could slip through. By slipping her finger into the ring, she placed the rapier into a nice, crisp fencing hold, extending the reach and thrusting power of the weapon, since it wasn't perpendicular to her arm when held like this. The ricasso--where ever had that name come from?--was the unsharpened edge of the sword immediately above the guard, which allowed a swordsbeast to grip the blade for better control.
And, in this case, extend thrusting power. The ring was just there so she didn't get a finger lopped off. Off course, it was best to insert said finger, no?
She took a quick look at the light glinting from the rapier's curling reddish-gold brass and silver intaglio patterns, along with designs of flames, lunar phases, and stars. Such a beautiful weapon, but it had a tragic history. But-
Ahh! Malcan must have seen her temporary distraction and gone in for a swift kill.
Or pseudo-kill.
Fast! She neatly deflected the diagonal strike and struck out herself, aiming at her husband's throat. Damn! Malcan had cleverly used her parry to motivate his blade into a blocking position, neatly catching her thrust.
And then it was a good two minutes--which was a very long time for a fight--of a whirlwind of clashing steel. Rapier met broadsword as she tried to capitalize on an opening.
She withdrew, sidestepped to the left, and again thrust, this time aiming a hit to the shoulder. Again, Malcan batted it away. But this time, her husband replied with a counterattack of his own, aiming a strong-looking horizontal slice to her belly. She stepped back, and slammed her rapier to the trailing edge of the broadsword, forcing her husband to exaggerate the swing. Of course, Malcan wasn't going to be put off by a maneuver like that. She watched him whirl, allowing the parry to give the momentum for a counterattack.
Now... withdrew the finger from the ricasso, hold her rapier in a standard saber grip... She twisted her wrist so that it was diagonal to her body, pointing up and to the right. Now...
In a flash, she extended her grip a bit and intercepted Malcan's swing.
And, coincidentally, that block also neatly placed the tip of Skyfire at the side of her husband's neck.
She looked into his eyes. Malcan gave a jaunty smile.
"Again, another defeat at the paws of-"
"'Floret's best swordsbeast,' I know," she finished, chuckling. "What ever can a queen do with such a doting king?"
"Mayhaps letting the king win once and a while?"
She snorted and disengaged Skyfire from her husband's neck. "You win as much as I do!"
It was true, and her husband had better not dispute the fact.
Malcan shrugged. "Aye, it's true enough, I suppose. In any case, that was an expert move you executed, Aya."
"Thank you, Malcan."
She sheathed her rapier and turned to look at their daughter, who was staring wide-eyed. She was always wide-eyed, it seemed. Ah, the eternal curiosity and admiration of the young.
Well, time to--
"Your Majesties!" she heard a familiar--albeit breathless--voice call out.
"Yes, what is it, Brookrudd?" she heard her husband reply tensely. She would have, too. Brookrudd didn't run breathless to report petty matters. That should have been the job of eternally chatty Pilaris, but...
"Sire... a patrol found... found..." she heard the otter captain trail off and become silent for a moment, probably to regain his composure.
Anything that could fluster the sturdy otter like that must be /bad/.
"We found, your majesty," choked Brookrudd, "the devoured bodies of a fieldmouse family and two of our otter patrolbeasts... sire. Near the northern regions."
She heard the king sharply draw in a breath.
"Brookrudd, send recalls to all outlying outposts, and make sure that every patrol is either strengthened to five beasts or called back. Increase the battlement patrols as well."
She saw the otter nod. "Aye, sire. I'll get to it."
Brookrudd turned to go.
"Brookrudd, wait!" she heard Malcan shout. Brookrudd stopped and turned around.
"Pass on the orders to one of the others. I want you to rest."
That was noble of her husband. She watched Brookrudd give a tired sigh and bow. "Uh... Aye, sir. I'll do that."
Brookrudd left the room.
Malcan had always been apprehensive about the otter. After the previous otter captain, Swiftrudd, had fallen at the Battle of the Nighthunt, Malcan's father, Audric, had appointed the younger otter as the replacement. She remembered the new captain being a tad nervous, but that had passed soon enough. Her then-fiancé, on the other hand, was much less confident. Malcan, despite the occasional, strictly-friendly bickering with Swiftrudd, must have felt he was betraying Swiftrudd's memory.
But that had passed soon enough. Her husband was a close friend to Captain Brookrudd, and Brookrudd was all she or any other ruler could hope for.
"Cana, you can go outside and play if you wish. Your mother and I wish to talk."
She smiled when she saw her little princess nod, get to her footpaws, dust off her training tunic, and leave. She felt her mouth grow more grim as she looked at her husband.
"I don't know what to do, Aya," her husband said simply. "Something is terribly wrong, and I'm afraid Mossflower might be having the same problems. But I dare not send an envoy there, with the risks.
She sighed and took his paws in hers. "I agree. The best that we can do, as of now, is just wait to see what will happen."
"Aye. But it's so... draining, fearing something you cannot even identify."
Malcan had that look in his eyes again.
During the opening stages of the skirmish with the Nighthunt, "Nightblood" assassins had infiltrated the castle and assassinated the queen, Malcan's mother, Sydelle. And then... the terror of real battle, and the sensation of killing somebeast. That black fox had nearly had her, but for Malcan. Dark Forest... what was in store?
"We just have to be strong, Malcan," she whispered.

Raezel Snowdance bit down into a slab of bread. It tasted like... nothing. Ooh, big surprise for military rations. At least it wasn't that hardtack that needed to be soaked in a liquid for farking three hours. Ick.
And now she had to deal with... okay, that was a bit infuriating to think of. She reached down into a pouch and toyed with the four strands of short brown hair that she had found under her tunic a few hours ago. There was only one brown-furred beast here, and it sure as Hellgates wasn't her!
She and the other lieutenant were currently going up 'n down the damn southern ranges. It wasn't really hard going-when it was cold, it was okay, and when it was warm, it was bearable-but she was really suspicious of how these brown hairs got under her shirt. Seriously, now.
She chewed and swallowed, and repeated. Nourishing, okay, but not exactly exciting to the palate. Cripes.
She leaped on top of a medium-sized boulder, and looked behind her. The sand marten was larger than her, and seemed a bit more tired than she felt. But, of course, Tigron wasn't doing bad, just not as good as her. Well, with those nice, hard-holy spiderspit...
She grunted and stepped off the rock and continued up. She and Tigron were nearing the summit, so it would be easier in about ten minutes or so.
She fingered one of the throwing knives in its sheath on her fauld. High Templars almost never used bows, relying on arm-powered weapons exclusively. She had taken knife-throwing seriously, so here she was, one of the best Wraith knife-chuckers.
She looked behind again. Tigron was keeping up, breathing a teeny bit heavier than hers. Okay, so Tigron's muscles weren't an inhibition. Great.
Well, but those /hairs/.
It needed to be answered, but cripes, she was getting obsessed with this.

He shouldn't be getting so obsessed with those hairs he'd found, right? Tigron shook his head when he saw the snow vixen look away. It started to drizzle-damn-so he tossed up his hood. Oh, really now, this mission was just going downhill alarmingly.
He and the other Wraith were almost to the top of the mountain, so it would be easier going, soon.
And, in the meantime, he had to wonder about a couple of things. For one, how had a couple of white hairs gotten under his tunic? There was only one white-furred beast here, and it was... no, that was really stupid to even think that. But the fur was still there. Drat.
Well, there was always the question of how Raezel could stay so slim when she munched bread every farking half-hour.
Eating that much, Raezel should have been noticeably fat, not sexy and slender and nicely muscled and... oh, fleacrap. This was /ridiculous/.
He saw Raezel make it to the top of the mountain.
Well, maybe /here /was the best place to... talk to the snow vixen about those hairs.
Probably not. But, heck, definitely soon.
Raezel was waiting up top. Joy. Not too far off... were those trees? Finally.
He looked at the other Wraith. "Well, time for a visit to Mosflower."
He noticed Raezel jerk, and then the snow vixen began to move down the mountain.
And the fun continues. Oh, drat.
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