Yay! I started messing with TWB! (as if I need another project lol) I just wanted to see if you sort of like where I'm going here. And yes, some of the names are still Redwall, but they'll be changed eventually. I don't have much, the first 11 pages or so, but I'll update it as I go.
So without further ado, here it is :D (Expect characters (especially RW originals) to have different personalities.)
Chapter 1 The Magician Returns Edit
Soft footsteps stirred the sunlit morning silence. Their owner’s gold coat shone radiantly in the light as she walked down the steps of a sizeable dwelling. The rough logs brushed against her unshod paws, but her attention was focused past the stone fountain that graced the front of the home.
She whistled a clear note, long and loud enough to be mistaken for a bird.
The morning and town remained still for a few moments, before a gray shadow swept around the corner of a house, and clopping thuds became audible. A lanky young horse slid to a stop a few feet from the golden mouse, black mane flying everywhere.
“You’re up already?”
“I have to be, father caught me sneaking out just before the party. He’s taken up watching me closely all evening.”
The horse took a bite of grass from the front lawn, rolling her eyes. “You know, sometimes I think your aversion to fun is disturbing.”
The mouse shrugged, walking down the steps “I hate crowds. Now can I get a ride?”
“You know, it’s a bit early for me .. I might just lay down for a bit .. five more minutes ..”
“Dancer!” The mouse’s tone was complaining.
Dancer snorted. “You know the answer Sally.”
Sally laughed, and clambered onto her taller friend’s back. As the horse trotted away from the village, she stated, “Anyway, you know I need a break once in a while. From .. everything.”
“And for some reason your definition of ‘break’ includes sharp, dangerous objects.”
“Yes well. Etiquette doesn’t suit me.”
Dancer dropped out of her lope and into a walk as they crested a hill and entered a thicket. She stopped, and Sally slid off, untangling the navy fabric from around her legs. “And neither do dresses.”
She walked a little deeper into the thicket, pulling a thick pole from the underbrush.
“Can I just finish my breakfast while you have at it?”
“Go ahead .. I’ll just need a ride back.”
Dancer flicked her long, black tail. “Well, call for me. I need grass, and the stuff it the woods is thin and nasty. I’ll be down near Evenglade.”
Sally rolled her black eyes, though they sparkled. “Fine. We wouldn’t want you to suffer from starvation.”
“Exactly.” Dancer’s brown eyes twinkled in return, as she trotted off.
Sally watched her with something akin to bemusement, before gripping her thick staff tighter and walking deeper into the woods.
This was a sort of training area, one she’d created herself.
Sally was proud of it .. it was impressive, seeing as the only inspiration was from folk-tales and history books. The only outlets of adventure available.
She paused momentarily, before starting to run down one of the multiple paths. Her dress flapped irritatingly around her legs, but she kept on, short hair flying behind her and catching momentarily around branches and twigs.
The first obstacle was a fallen log; Sally used the pole to propel herself over it. She landed on the other side with a thud, and vaulted forward again. Here large boulders and trees blocked the path, and she slid under branches, dodging others, while weaving between the rocks.
A few good swings of the trusty staff cleared the rest of the path, and Sally ran through a small meadow, paws tearing through the thick grasses.
She let out a sudden squeak as dress, paws, and grass tangled together, and she collapsed in a heap.
Sally groaned, before rolling onto her back, panting slightly. Spirals of white cloud raced across the sky, and as she watched them, she laughed breathlessly.
“Stupid meadow. Woodlands yes, meadows, no. Ha. Dancer would never agree with me.”
The morning was slowly growing warm, and Sally remained in the deep grasses for a few moments, watching the clouds. Cirrus, it seemed .. it was safe to assume it wouldn’t rain.
As she sat up, a strange chill slid down her back, making her shudder. The meadow seemed .. off, somehow.
Or maybe it was just the gust of wind that teased the grasses.
No. It was more than that.
A shadow stood in the trees. An upright, dark, and most definitely not Dancer shadow.
Sally scrambled to her paws, grabbing her staff. The creature standing in the trees moved toward her.
It was sinewy, ebony black with large, silky ears. A fox. He towered over Sally, pale, orangey eyes glimmering in the light, and he drew a long knife.
A cold wash of fear made the young mouse tremble and take a step back. “Wh .. what do you want? Who are you?”
He met her gaze for a split second, before he lunged, knife leading the way.
Sally dodged to the side, and she felt the rush of air across her cheek. She was forced to drop into a crouch as her attacker recovered almost instantly and slashed at her again.
All her senses where alive, more awake then they’d been in a long time. She threw herself away from the fox, whipping the pole around to face him. He moved like water, ducking agilely out of the pole’s trajectory.
The next second sharp pain exploded in Sally’s shoulder, and she slid back a few steps from the blow. The mouse clenched her teeth together, surprised with herself that she hadn’t screamed.
Sally ducked away, turning and bolting. Her feet tore through the grass in desperation, knowing he wouldn’t be far behind .. she could hear him, though in comparison with her, he was silent. Too silent.
And far too fast.
A heavy paw grabbed her shoulder, shoving her forward. Her chin slammed into the ground moments later, though the grass acted as a bit of a cushion.
“Dancer!” Sally’s cry was too muffled to be effective.
She jerked herself onto her side, to see the black fox staring at her with emotionless eyes. “So you are the one. Interesting.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Sally tried to scramble backwards, but the fox slammed his booted footpaw on her torso, and her words turned into a choking cry.
“No.” His dark voice was flat. “And you never will.”
He reached down in one swift movement, grabbing her right paw and yanking it so hard there was a jolting sensation in her wrist. The fur swirled oddly across her palm, making the vague shape of a feather.
“But you were the one.”
“Let me … go!” Sally choked out the words, barely able to breath in.
The fox never blinked as he sheathed his knife, drawing the curved sword at his side. “No.”
A hiss split the air, and Sally gasped in a breath as her attacker stumbled back with a short yelp. She forced her eyes open, to see him gripping an arrow shaft that protruded from his side.
He staggered back, growling low in his throat as another arrow sank into his left shoulder. Sally dragged herself in the opposite direction of the black fox, but fell back into the grass with a cry as she tried putting weight on her right paw.
She struggled upright again, just in time to see her would-be killer stagger off into the woods. Sally slowly sat up, careful to support herself with her left paw.
Aside from the patches of flattened grass, the meadow looked the same as it always did. But where had those arrows come from? Who had shot them?
“Hello?” Sally stood shakily. “Is anyone there?”
Only morning birdsong answered her.
A few minutes passed, but nothing changed. Then Dancer walked out of the woods, a little grass hanging from her mouth. “Oh there you are ... wait, is that blood?”
The horse hurried over to her, sniffing her all over. “It is .. you’re hurt! What happened? Who did this? What’s going on? Do you feel dizzy? What’ll we tell your parents?”
“I .. don’t know ..” Sally was in a daze .. she felt as though she couldn’t tear her gaze from the trees where the black fox had vanished.
“Dancer, have you seen any foxes lately?”
“What? No, just that vixen selling wares … a couple years ago I think. Why? Wait, a fox did this?”
To Sally’s discomfort, the horse nuzzled the wound across her shoulder. “Ahh! Don’t touch it!”
Dancer drew back instantly. “We’ve got to get you back to Aryah before you bleed to death! Get on my back.”
“I can’t.” Sally protested. “I think my wrist is dislocated.”
Honestly, the whole thing felt like a hazy nightmare. She realized she sounded far too calm.
What in the heavens had just happened?
“Well can you walk?” Dancer cut into her thoughts.
Sally nodded absently. “I think so.”
She laid her good paw on Dancer’s shoulder, blood from the cut running down to her elbow and dripping onto the ground.
As she limped from the meadow, she couldn’t help but look back.
The one what? What could possibly make her a target for such an attack? She barely left Evenglade … how could she really be that special? And why was the fox looking for her feather-mark?
What was going on?
Sally wanted to look for the one who’d defended her .. whoever they were, but Dancer wasn’t having it. The horse was nudging her in the direction of the village, and Sally’s thoughts were too muddled to think straight.
She stumbled along, casting plenty of glances behind her .. the fox was badly wounded .. he couldn’t follow them, could he?
A few beasts were moving around the town now, and they stopped to cast odd glances at her. Some looked a little worried, but none did anything. Dancer grumbled under her breath. “See, if you didn’t constantly get scraped up all the time, someone might actually notice when you’re in trouble.”
“It doesn’t matter ..” Sally stammered. All she could think of was the fox leaping out of the shadow of a building and stabbing her.
She made it home however, and Dancer stomped a hoof on the porch, a sound that reverberated through the whole house.
Her little brother opened the door, wild red hair spiking everywhere as usual. “What’s .. goin’ on?”
He looked half awake.
“Brome, Sally almost died!” Dancer was prone to dramatics, though it wasn’t far from the truth.
“Oh.” Brome wasn’t unduly concerned, but someone else was.
There was a flash of red fur, and a short mouse slid to a stop beside Sally, grabbing her. “You almost died? What happen this time? Did you fall out of a tree again?”
“Rose .. I’m alright ..”
“No you’re not, you’re bleeding!”
Sally sighed and fell silent as her sister dragged her into the house, where her mother joined them, fussing. Sally gave up trying to understand the two, as they were talking over one another.
Her father stood from his spot at the table, concern in his eyes, but also irritation. “Are you alright? Are any bones broken this time?”
“I’ll be fine ..” Sally insisted. Her family did a good job of interrupting her.
“You need those wounds cleaned.” Her mother tried leading her up the stairs.
Her father sighed. “I don’t really want to know, but what was it this time?”
“Did ya fall down a hill? With losta rocks .. sharp rocks?” Brome decided to ask, opportunely.
Dancer opened her mouth to speak, before asking, “What really did happen? You said there was a fox?”
“A fox!” Sally’s father looked alert. “Where is the fox?”
“No!” Sally suddenly snapped a little. She shook her head, suppressing a shiver. “There is no fox. Brome’s right. I just tripped and took a nasty fall.”
“Uhh ..” Dancer began, but Sally kicked her in a sideways fashion.
Thankfully, her father looked exasperated instead of noticing. “See why I tell you not to leave Evenglade? You’re a child. And more importantly, you should be spending your time learning something useful, instead of traipsing about injuring yourself constantly.”
Sally’s black eyes snapped momentarily, before she averted her gaze. Seconds later, her mother and Rose dragged her up the stairs to the second floor, intent on fussing.
Sally found herself in bed, wrist back in joint and dully aching. Her mother had sent Rose off to get some water, but mostly to remove her from the premises so she could successfully finish bandaging her older daughter’s wounds.
Neither said a word for a few moments, before the older, russet furred mouse shook her head. “You didn’t get this from a rock.”
“I didn’t run into anything else.” Sally lied. “Maybe a log.”
“Hum.” Her mother said, hazel eyes knowing. “You were playing with my kitchen knives again, weren’t you?”
“No.” Sally began, before thinking, and slowly letting a guilty look cross her features. “Maybe a little.”
“Kitchen knives are made for the kitchen my love. Do leave them be .. I hope you learned a lesson from this.”
“Perhaps, but it was more on how a seemingly safe place is really dangerous.” Sally thought, but only replied with. “Yes mother, I did.”
“Good.” Her mother tied the bandage, before looking at her fondly and kissing the top of her head. “The sooner you learn to stay away from the dangers of this world, the happier you will be. Now I’m off to supervise that sister and brother of yours; get some rest.
As the older mouse left, Sally frowned deeply, before drawing her covers up to her chin and staring about the room in silence.
It was hard to avoid danger when someone wanted to kill you for no reason.
Sally was kept under a watchful eye for the next few days, and honestly, she didn’t complain. Every dark shadow and unexplained noise instantly made her expect to see the black fox standing behind her, knife poised to strike. She didn’t make a move to leave the cottage for at least two days, only leaving when her mother forced her to go put fresh bedding in the stables.
Almost reluctantly she walked the short distance to the building for the two horses of Evenglade. Still, she wanted to see Dancer.
Sally laid a paw on the door, peering into the dim interior. “Dancer? Lightningflash?”
She felt as though the fox would jump out at her, and flinched as there was a rustle, accompanied by Dancer as the horse leapt at her instead. “You’re up again! Great! I was worried.”
“I’m ok.” Was all Sally put into words.
She gave her friend a quick hug, before walking into the airy building. It had two sides with a hall between them, and walls far shorter than the roof framing this. Some of the windows were open for sunlight, others weren’t.
“Out grazing.” Dancer looked mischievous, or perhaps she was trying to be uplifting. “I’m glad room service is here.”
“Yea.” Sally sighed.
Dancer teased. “It could be worse.”
“I suppose.” Sally got the shovel and the barrow, stopping by Dancer’s side of the stable and started scooping out the old straw. Horses had an affinity for straw, but it was a pain to change when it got musty.
Her wrist and shoulder were much better, allowing her to heft the heavy piles of straw into the barrow. Cleaning out just one side of the stable took forever. Dancer used her tail as a duster for where chaff remained, cleaning the entire floor.
With a sigh of resignation, Sally dragged the shovel across the hall to Lightning’s room, making a nasty scraping sound. Still, she didn’t lift it.
When the floor was clean of straw, a few barrow loads later, Dancer set about using her now mussed tail to dust everything. “Ugg, dad doesn’t dust much, does he?”
“Not in the least ..” Sally broke off with a sneeze.
Dancer wrinkled her nose suddenly, complaining, “Don’t do that, now I’ve got …”
She sneezed as well, bringing a back hoof down in a spasmodic stomp. It smashed through the floor with a loud crunch, and also the thud of her hoof hitting the dirt.
Dancer neighed in shock, yanking her foot free with a shower of splinters. She blinked at the hole, as did Sally. “Sally, dad’s not going to like this ..”
The mouse nodded. “I guess we’ll have to fix it. I’ll get the mallet and a plank.”
“Wait, there’s something in here.” Dancer was peering into the opening she’d made.
Sally joined her, slowly kneeling on the floor and reaching down into the long, narrow compartment. She carefully withdrew an item wrapped in thick oilcloth, stained from the dirt it had rested upon.
Sally’s heart skipped a beat. She could barely believe her guess as to what this was.
Dancer snorted impatiently, and Sally undid the string that kept the cloth in place. She unfolded it from around the object, and she gaped at what it was.
A sword lay in her paws. A long-hilted, heavy-bladed broadsword, it’s leather-wrapped hilt adorned with light sapphires. Sally slowly hefted it, mesmerized by the way the light danced off the blade. The sharp, only slightly rusted blade.
“What .. how is that in here?”
Sally heard Dancer, but she didn’t reply. She slowly stood, holding the blade out in front of her. It was heavy, but a slow grin spread across her features as she gently swung the sword through the air.
It made a pleasant swish, and Sally did her best to copy a stance she’d seen in a book.
Nothing had ever felt more right in her paws.
“Um, Sally?” Dancer broke through her thoughts. “Do you know why there’s a sword under my dad’s floor?”
“I have no clue.”
Sally didn’t take her gaze from the weapon as she tried out several different stances.
Dancer snorted. “Your dad will never let you keep that.”
The mouse looked up at this, a glitter in her eyes. Then she looked downcast. “No, he won’t.”
She smiled suddenly. “Which is why he won’t ever know about it.”
“That’s not a good idea ..” Dancer advised.
“But this sword is special.” Sally protested. “I know it is. And father would just sell it to some merchant .. I can’t let that happen.”
She traced the word on the hilt, engraved in the overlaid gold. “Sayna. I wonder what it means.”
“It sounds like a name.” Dancer observed. “You’re probably right.” Sally wrapped the sword back in its protective cloth reluctantly. “Where should I hide this?”
Dancer snorted. “We should fix the floor first.”
Sally gave the floor a dull look, before nodding and setting the sword down. “Right, I’ll find some boards.”
She walked out of the stable and around the back, where there was a pile of discarded things. Among it were some old planks, and she picked up one, instantly getting a few splinters in her paw. Sally winced, but carried the board back into the stable.
She pried the broken piece of floor up and set the replacement over the oblong hole. A thick layer of straw over everything hid the fact anything had been broken.
This done, Sally picked up the wrapped sword again, asking, “But where should I put this? I can’t leave it with my pole, it’d rust.”
“I don’t know .. smuggle it into your room?”
Sally raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Ok, ok, I get the point.”
Dancer flicked an ear. “The stable loft?”
Sally looked upward at the rickety old loft, but nodded slowly. “I suppose it’ll do .. for now.”
The constant clink of a hammer and chisel filled the air, mingling with the faint sound of the sea. On a ponderous cliff sat a half-constructed building, where many creatures were milling about.
A young mouse walked among them, the glint of silver chains around his neck and paws. He was carrying a load of bricks, brown eyes downcast.
His filthy, bare paws stirred the dust of the construction site, and he looked up at the mighty keep, already built. How much longer until the walls were finished?
It was a question that always nagged at the back of his mind. Until the walls were finished, he would live. When they stood whole …
He shook his head, stumbling over his own paws and almost falling on his face. He recovered, and continued on.
Live. That’s all that matters .. just live. You will live, even if the others die. He deposited his load of stones where the wall was being built, taking note of how much stood finished. He always did.
“Get moving!” A loud voice broke into his reverie, causing him to jump into a run the next second, lest the lash of a whip follow.
His bare, callused paws skidded through the dust as he ran to unload more bricks from a nearby cart. The filthy horse that was hitched to it turned his head to look at him. “Holding up?”
“As well as always.” The mouse nodded, stacking bricks into his arms.
“Stop daydreaming .. you don’t need more lashes.”
The mouse flicked an ear in acknowledgement, muttering, “I know.”
He ducked his head, hurrying back to the wall. Over and over, he performed the same task.
By the time the sun was high in the heavens, his every muscle burned painfully. Today was hotter than usual, and he hadn’t had a drink since the night before. His arms were starting to tremble slightly, and he felt as though his tongue would stick to the back of his parched throat with every breath he took.
“Survive. That’s all you need to do. You’ve done it before. Just survive.”
The mouse hefted another load of rock from the wagon, lifting it to his chest as he reached for a piece to add to it. At that moment, another slave fell into him, throwing him off balance.
The large rocks slipped out of his grasp, most falling harmlessly to the wagon, but one slammed down onto his outstretched paw.
There was a reverberating crunch throughout the limb, and the mouse gritted his teeth, barely holding back his scream. Desperately, he clawed to heavy stone off his paw, clutching it to his chest and biting back his whimpers.
“Hey! You again? Get a move on!” The slave driver’s voice barked almost as loud as the crack of his whip.
The mouse staggered, gasping as the lash caught his shoulder. He grabbed at the fallen stone, but his injured paw wouldn’t move.
The slave driver grabbed him by the paw, evoking a strangled cry of agony. “Well well. I wondered when you’d finally give out, mouse.”
“No!” He shrieked. “I can work! I can!”
“Then prove it.” The slave driver sneered. “Pick up that rock.”
The mouse yanked away from his tormentor’s grasp, staggering back to the cart, where the filthy horse watched with horror on his face. Despite his paw, the mouse fought to lift the rock, mostly with his good limb. He got it a few feet off the cart, before it slipped out of his weak grasp and smashed down upon the injury once more.
Finally, he screamed. The slave driver yanked the rock away, sneering, “Amusing, but you’re done. Hisk, take over for me.”
“No! I can work! I’m not finished! I can …”
“Shut up mouse.” The slaver yanked hard on the chains about his paws, evoking another cry.
“No … no … no! I will not die .. no!”
“Please … please no ..” His shocked pleas went unanswered, and unheard.
I had until the walls were finished!
His mind was screaming in horror at his inevitable fate. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen!
He staggered as the slaver threw him into an enclosure built against the wall of the keep. His legs caught on their chains, and he fell to the dust in a heap. There was an echoing slam as the door shut, leaving him in dim light of the final holding place of worthless, broken slaves.
He didn’t try to get up, just remained still, staring blankly at his crushed paw. Why? Why now?
“I can still work …” He muttered, miserably taking note of how almost every finger hung at an odd angle, and his palm looked flatter than normal.
“I said that too.” A lonely, empty voice echoed in the dimness, and for the first time, he noticed the larger creature laying against the wall. Its words were ended with a broken cough.
“Sick?” He asked.
The creature nodded. “I’d come great you, but everything’s fuzzy right now. The fever doesn’t like me moving. I’m Kaylar, by the way. You?”
“Tynek.” The mouse answered flatly. “What are they planning for us?”
“No clue.” Kaylar rasped.
Tynek slowly curled up into a ball where he was, muttering, “It’s not like it matters. Nothing matters anymore.”
“You want me to do .. what?” Sally stared at her father in disbelief.
He sighed. “Sally, I expected you to be overjoyed. Aren’t you the one who’s always wanting to travel? Your arm doesn’t still hurt, does it?” “Well, no …”
“Then you should be more than happy. I’m busy here, harvest is well under way and with all the trade coming in from our neighbors, I simply can’t leave. Neither can your mother, she has to keep track of the trades. Summerglen expects a shipment of grain within the week. You’re sixteen, it’s time you started helping run the family business.”
Sally pressed her paws together beneath the table, muttering, “You want me and Dancer to take a cartful of barely to Summerglen?”
“Is that too much to ask?” Her father sounded stern. “I want you to take Rose along too, she can record the transaction. You’ve been to Summerglen Sally, it’s a day’s journey and you can stay at the inn; I’ll see you have the funds.”
Sally wilted under her father’s stare, sighing, “Fine, I’ll go.”
He frowned. “What’s bothering you? The highlands have had peace for many years. As long as you stay on the road, nothing will happen.”
“Have you ever thought father … that this peace can only last so long?”
For a moment, the only sound was the soft rustle of the study’s curtains and the mid-morning birdsong from outside.
“What?” The red and silver haired mouse truly looked confused. “There has been peace since before my grandfather’s time. Has something happened?”
Her black eyes met his pale brown ones, before she looked away. “No.”
“Then there’s no reason you shouldn’t go. In fact I expected you to be excited .. you’ve been asking to ride with me since you were a kit, why should that change just because you’re going with your sister and friend?”
“No reason.” Sally’s voice remained quiet.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“No. And you never will.”
She held back a shiver.
“If something really is wrong, I’d hope you’d tell me. You’re not acting like yourself. What are you afraid of, you can tell me.”
Sally hurriedly shook her head. “No, I’ve just never left Evenglade by myself.”
Her father sighed. “You aren’t by yourself. And if you’re so concerned, ask that friend of yours, Gruvan, if he’ll accompany you. Now if there’s nothing else, I must see how our inventory’s coming along. You leave in the morning.”
He stood, walking from the study, long cloak sweeping behind his with an audible swish.
Sally stared out the window, expecting the black fox to appear in it, but nothing moved aside from the jewel-toned birds in the trees around the house.
She slowly stood, pushing her chair back as she did so. She automatically jumped as there was a rustling, but relaxed as her little brother crawled out from behind a pile of books, dust clinging to his blue tunic and a cobweb hanging limply from one side of his whiskers. “You’re going to Summerglen? By yourself> With Rose and Dancer and Gruvan? I want to come!”
“No, you don’t.” Sayna shuddered involuntarily, not wanting to think of what the black fox could do to a small mouse like Brome. “It’s safer if you stay here.”
“Aaawww you sound just like father.”
“I do not sound like father!” Sally snapped, before realizing she actually did.
“Uggh .. Brome, just leave it be. You’re not coming, both father and mother would say no.”
“But if you let me hide under the grain sacks …” Brome looked conniving, to say the least.
“No!” Sally exclaimed. “Do you want to get me in the most trouble I’ve ever been in? Besides it’s not …. Just no. You better not try it or I’ll tell father you were spying. And your plan.”
Brome groused for a minute, before muttering, “Wanna come see Gruvan.”
Sally scowled. “Why don’t you not?”
“I’ll tell mum you’re being mean! You’re the oldest, you have’ta be nice ta me.”
Sally sighed deeply, rubbing her forehead. “Fine. Just don’t you dare complain about not coming with us the entire time.”
Unfortunately for Sally, Brome only held his silence until they’d left the kitchen and were out of their mother’s earshot. Then he started wedeling again.
“But, it’s just for two days! Please? It would be so fun, and if I sold some grain it might prove to father that I’m old enough to help!”
“But, you and Rose get to go! What so special about Rose, she doesn’t even like traveling!”
“No.” “But I could help you make deals! I’m good at convincing creatures!”
“Well you’re good at convincing me you’re a menace.”
“So is that a yes?”
Brome’s voice droned on and on as the crossed the town square, but Sally was more concerned with the black fox suddenly appearing. Her eyes darted in every direction, and her paw itched to hold the sword she’d hidden in the stable loft.
“…. Let me try?”
“No … what?”
Brome glared at her. “I said, you’re just as bad as father, why won’t you let me try?”
“Because you’re too young.” Sally sighed. “But someday, we’ll all be delivering grain and haggling on prices.”
“You really think so?” Brome looked excited.
Sally smiled ever so faintly. “I know so. Then you can come with me and Rose as much as you like.”
He looked considerably happier, before his face fell again and he returned to his grumpy look. “But it’s so far away.”
Sally shrugged, stopping in front of a pleasant little cottage, before walking up the steps and knocking on the door. No one answered, and she tried again, but to no avail.
With a sigh, she walked down the steps and around the back of the home, Brome tagging along.
Sure enough, a tan and dusty brown mouse was weeding the large garden plot that took up most of the immediate yard. He looked up, waving, “Hey Sally, Brome! Dad’s off in the fields, sorry I didn’t hear you.”
“It’s fine.” Sally leaned against the brick fence surrounding the garden. “I’ve got a favor to ask you.”
“Why yes Sally, I’ve been wonderful, not at all worried at why you’ve been hiding in your house for the last two weeks. Oh good Gruvan, I was worried you were worried. Oh no Sally, I didn’t think for once anything absolutely horrible had happened when Brome basically said your entire arm was ripped off.”
Sally sighed, glaring at Brome. “You exaggerated again, didn’t you.”
He whistled nonchalantly. “Maybe …”
“Ack. No Gruvan, I’m completely fine. I’m sorry you were worried. But I really would like to ask a favor.” Gruvan laughed, shaking his head. “Ask it then.”
“Father’s sending Rose, Dancer and I to deliver grain to Summerglen. I was wondering if you could come too?”
He looked dubious. “Maybe .. when are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow morning, early. We won’t be back until the night after.”
Gruvan frowned. “Oh. Well, I promised dad I’d help him in the fields tomorrow. We’ve been doing that since the early harvest started, I help him one day, and work in the garden the next .. sorry Sally.”
“Sally’s scared of something.” Brome piped up. “She doesn’t wanna go alone, with just Dancer and Rose.”
“I am not!” Sally responded indignantly.
Gruvan looked somewhat concerned. “What? Are you really?”
“No.” Sally’s voice returned to its normal sound. “I’m not scared of anything. Thanks for listening Gruvan, at the latest, I’ll see you when I get back.”
She grabbed Brome by the tunic and dragged him with her, waving farewell. Gruvan waved a little confusedly, before returning to his weeding. Sally stopped near the front of her friend’s cottage, giving Brome a dark look. “I am not scared.”
“You know, I could go with you, if you’re afraid.”
The voice was a smooth sound, and Brome slowly backed away a few steps and Sally slowly turned her head to glared at the creature standing on the porch of the neighboring cottage.
He was tall for a mouse, making him just as tall as Sally. However his fur was striking black, with a white chin and chest. The smiled that curled across his face made her sneer. “As if I would dream of asking you to do anything for me.”
“But you could. After all, you might need the protection of someone who actually can, not that garden-loving buffoon over there.”
Sally’s black eyes glimmered wildly, and she showed her teeth. “Shut up Roderick, I’d punch you again sooner.”
She got the mental image of the black fox attacking, and shoving Roderick between her and the wickedly curved knife the assassin carried. For some reason, a rather demented smile crossed her face.
She shook herself, shoving that feeling away. That was taking it a little too far.
Roderick shrugged. “Have it your way. But you can always ask me to reconsider my offer.”
“In your dreams. I’ll protect myself just fine.” Sally snarled, grabbing Brome’s paw and dragging him with her. “Come on Brome, we’re leaving.”
She stalked away from Roderick’s cottage, across the town square, and to her own home, spending the walk in stony silence.
She only released Brome’s paw once she entered her own decoratively fenced yard, and then she stormed up the steps and into the house. Brome followed silently.
The golden mouse walked into the front room, pausing as she saw Rose siting in one of the chairs, stitching away at what to Sally, appeared to be a heap of cloth. Her sister looked up, frowning and asking in her soft voice, “What is it? Roderick again?”
“Of course.” Sally snarled. “Sometimes I’d like to … arge.”
“Mother says to ignore him.” Rose said, very properly. “Did you hit him again?”
“I should have.”
Rose shook her head. “Roderick’s family is very influential. We have to treat him decently as his father maintains as much land as ours .. I know he’s insufferable, but do consider the impact of your actions, Sally.”
“You’re not my mother Rose, I’ll hit him again if it comes down to it. And I won’t ever be sorry.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Rose frowned. “But what if that would harm father’s business? Think about that for a while.”
Sally glowered for a moment, before groaning, “How are you younger than me?”
Rose laughed her tinkling laugh. “You are immature sometimes.”
Sally huffed as Brome spoke up. “Rose, let me go with you!”
“To Summerglen?” Rose shook her head. “Sorry, but father wouldn’t approve.”
“Father never approves.” Sally grumbled, already in a bad mood.
“Oh, that is not true.” Rose scolded. “He only wants the best for us.”
Sally rolled her eyes. “That’s easy for the favorite to say.”
“Sally, please. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Rose took a stitch into her project.
Sally glared for a moment, before hooding her eyes and turning away. “And you wonder why I’m so quiet. Ha.”
She stomped into the empty kitchen and dug about in the cupboards, finding a loaf of bread and breaking a piece off. She slumped into a chair beside the table, stormily munching on her bread, showering crumbs upon the white cloth.
In the silence of the kitchen, her anger faded away, but so did her bravado. The fury in her eyes morphed into quiet, flat black.
Here she was safe, alone, and she didn’t have to worry about her metaphorical masks falling off.
But she had to leave this place tomorrow.
And out there? Anything could happen.
Chapter 2 (to be determined) Edit
It was barely light out when Sally awoke. Or, more realistically, when her mother woke her. She crawled out of bed, keeping her eyes hooded as she pulled on her clothing. A long cloak was draped across one of the chairs in the room, and Sally pulled it on, buttoning it around her throat.
She stumbled down the first story, where the smell of cooking food greeted her. As she walked into the kitchen, her mother smiled. “Up at last I see. Do you like the cloak?”
Sally nodded, but then raised an eyebrow. “You seem to have known about this for a while if you had time to make new clothes.”
The older mouse laughed. “If you must know, I’ve been talking your father into this since last fall. It’s time you and Rose started helping us more .. the demand for our grain is only increasing. We need more paws.”
“Oh.” Sally sat down at the table, and her mother looked oddly at her.
“You’re not pleased?”
Sally shook her head. “No .. I mean, yes I am .. it’s nothing.”
At that moment, her father walked in, Rose close behind him. He sat down at the table as well, giving Sally a nod. “Good, you’re up. The cart is loaded and Dancer is having breakfast.”
“And it’s time we did the same.” Her mother put a plate of biscuits on the table, followed by a bowl of apples. She sat down, and her husband folded his paws together, coughing at Sally as she reached for the food.
She quickly withdrew her paw and her father nodded, reciting the morning prayer he always did, with a few small changes pertaining to the situation.
“Lord Ignasa, we thank you for this meal, and please watch over us as we go about our day … especially my daughters as they set off on their journey. Protect us from all evil.”
He looked up, and Sally quickly grabbed a biscuit, biting into it. Rose rolled her eyes. “Really Sally, can’t you wait to be served?”
Sally sighed. “Really Rose, can’t I just get my own food? It’s just the four of us.”
“Etiquette,” Her father stated solemnly, “Is a thing to be practiced at all occasions. Especially when representing the family business.”
“He’s right my love.” Her mother paused in breaking a biscuit in half. “Manners and patience are a virtue one should learn well.”
Sally sighed again, falling silent and munching on her breakfast sleepily.
Rose smiled suddenly, breaking the silence. “Father, I’m glad you view me as old enough to do this .. I won’t let you down.”
His normal stern look melted away, and he smiled fondly. “I know you won’t dear.”
He looked to Sally, still congenial. “And I trust you won’t either. Look out for Rose.”
“Of course I will, father.” Sally felt a little trickle of pride, and her eyes sparkled happily.
“I’m not completely helpless ..” Rose pouted.
Her father tweaked one of her braids. “I’m just taking precasions sweetheart. After all, Sally has a way of confronting trouble, should you run into any. Which is why she’s in charge of this trip.”
Sally stopped chewing, blinking rapidly and speaking with her mouth full. “I’m what?”
“Please Sally, manners.” Her mother scolded.
Sally swallowed, almost choking, before she downed her glass of milk. “Ahge .. sorry. I’m actually in charge?”
“Don’t make me rethink it.” Her father looked droll. “But yes. Rose will be the spokesbeast, but you will make the final decision on prices, and if any trouble should arise, any at all, you are to keep Rose and Dancer safe. And by that I mean get them away from danger. Can I trust you to do that?”
Sally nodded. “I’ll protect them with my life.”
Her father chuckled good naturedly. “Don’t be over dramatic, I wouldn’t send you if I feared your lives would be threatened. Just keep an eye on things.”
“I’ll make sure we get home safe dad.” Sally stood quickly, cape flowing around her legs. “You can count on me. I’m going to see Dancer.” She ran out of the kitchen, and outside, where her gray friend stood eating grass between the stables and the cottage, already hitched to the loaded cart. “Morning Dancer!”
The horse looked up, munching on a large mouthful of the lawn. “Mmmph … Hey Sally. You two about ready?”
“Yea, I’ve just got to grab something.”
She hurried to the stable, opening the door and slipping into the dim interior. As she made her way to the loft’s ladder, her bravery began to drain away .. slightly. Her father actually believed she could do this, and put her in charge!
She couldn’t back down now and admit she’d lied about her former injuries. Besides, the fox had been shot .. he was badly hurt.
He’s dead by now, he was shot twice. And deeply .. he’ll have bled out. Besides, the arrow to his side would have hit some organs .. right?
She was just paranoid. Sally gripped the ladder and climbed up it, scrambling into the splintery old loft. The sword was still there, wrapped in its dirty oil-cloth and nearly covered with musty hay. She pulled it out, slipping it into the back of her belt, where it was hidden by her cloak.
Whether or not the fox was dead, Sally wanted to be ready if by some chance he appeared.
As she stepped onto the floor, there was a movement behind her, and she wheeled around, to see Lightningflash getting to his feet with a yawn. “Ho hum .. Sally? You’re up early.”
He shook straw chaff from his flaxen mane. “But now I remember, you’re off to sell grain with my little girl. That’s right .. that is right, isn’t it?”
Sally nodded. Lightningflash looked pleased with himself. “I knew today was special. Now you look after that filly of mine, see? She’s too scatter-brained to do it herself sometimes. But what am I saying, you and Dancer are best friends, you know her mannerisms. Now, what time is it? Did I sleep in again?”
Sally nodded. “You did, I think.”
“Getting old is such a pain in the back … no, it really is. I think I’ll have a nice roll if you don’t mind. Tell your father I’ll take him to the fields soon.”
The swaybacked palomino walked by her and out the door, head down and mouth open in a yawn. Sally let out a sigh of relief that Lightingflash hadn’t bothered to ask why she was there in the first place.
She hurried out into the morning, and to Dancer. Rose was coming out of the house, their parents behind her. Sally absently patted Dancer’s shoulder as the three walked up to them. Her father lifted Rose into the driver’s seat as her mother handed Sally a covered basket. “This is enough food to get you to Summerdale, plus snacks between meals. And carrots for Dancer.”
The horse perked her ears forward, grinning, “Thanks ma’am!” The russet mouse smiled. “Well, you are pulling the cart dear.”
Sally put the basket into the cart under the driver’s seat, before she hugged her mother. “Thanks mum.”
“Of course love. Now you remember to eat, drink plenty of water, and sleep, no staying up all night. And don’t talk to shady characters. And don’t you go picking fights, or playing with knives, see?”
“I won’t mum.” Sally promised, taking a step back as her father walked over to her. He handed her a satchel.
“That’s money for the inn and food, don’t spend it all in one place.”
Sally nodded and he laid a paw on her shoulder. “Good. Then you’d best be off .. Ignasa go with you.”
She smiled, giving him a quick hug. “Thanks dad.”
Sally climbed into the driver’s seat, and Dancer stopped eating grass, taking a step forward. She started walking, and Rose waved. “I love you! We’ll be back soon! We’ll make lots of money for you father!”
He laughed and waved along with Aryah. Sally joined in the farewell, before turning her attention to the road ahead.
Evenglade was waking up, already, creatures were up and about. Rose had to wave to everyone; Sally didn’t bother. However she did return the wave of a dusky brown mouse on his way to the fields.
Dancer pulled the cart through the gateway of trees that marked the entrance to their town, and as she always did, Rose reached up to brush her paw through the trailing leaves.
Sally leaned against the back of the driver’s seat, breathing a deep breath of morning air and letting it out with a deep sigh.
Rose turned the green leaf she’d plucked from the archway over in her paws, before tucking it into one of her braids, explaining. “A bit of home.”
Sally rolled her eyes, but chuckled a little at the same time.
“Oh, what’s so funny?”
“You.” Sally put her paws above her head, leaning back and looking at the clouds. “I would never associate sticking bits of woodland into my hair with home.”
Rose nudged her sister. “Oh, you’re so unpoetic.”
“As I remember, I’m the one who writes poems. Your argument is invalid.”
Dancer craned her neck around, asking, “Hey, speaking of songs, let’s sing one together!”
Sally made a face, but Rose, of course, was congenial. “Ok, what should we sing?” “The Woodland Maiden!” Rose exclaimed, “I’ll start out .. Oh there was once a maiden ..”
“Can someone else pick for once?” Sally interrupted.
Rose sighed. “Sally, I’d love to let you, but all your songs are so depressing!”
Sally gave her sister a sideways glance. “Come on, I found a new one that’s beautiful. And depressing is beautiful.”
“I’d like to hear.” Dancer put in.
Rose slumped down in her seat. “Oh fine. What is it about this time?”
“Once in a day when our land was gold,
We were ruled by a family of kings.
Noble the children of settlers bold,
Who tamed the wild woods and springs.”
Sally kept looking at the sky as she sang in her clear, if not a little flat voice. Dancer picked up her feet to the tune, moving a little faster.
“The northland’s lost snowflakes in residence south,
Driven back by their land’s icy blast,
Dispossessed outcasts who molded a land,
Far better than what they had left.”
Even Rose was listening in interest, which led Sally to sing even louder.
“They grew in knowledge, in wealth and in strength,
No one could compare their fame,
But as with time’s turning their honesty failed,
They cast aside the healing flame.”
“Who are ‘they’ exactly?” Rose had to interrupt.
Sally gave her an unimpressed look, sighing, “I don’t know Rose, can we not just appreciate the song’s beauty and not pick it apart?”
“Obviously, ‘they’ are the northland’s lost snowflakes. Meaning they came from around here probably, and migrated to the middle realms.” Dancer interjected.
Sally blinked. “You actually assessed that correctly. And interestingly, according to further verses of the song, the kingdom was overthrown and king and queen slain. But their infant son was saved and raised in his ancestor’s home, the northlands.”
“See?” Rose crossed her arms. “Depressing.”
Sally shook her head. “Actually, not so much. Listen to this and tell me what you think.”
She began singing again.
“So the southern child with his roots in the north,
Roamed winter’s frozen tears.
Overthrown king with a crown but no throne,
He’ll wait though all of his years.
Look to his children, the hawk and the star,
Whom the leaf and the flower’ll unite.
Look their tales of triumphs and woes,
Friend, always for freedom do fight.”
Sally looked up. “So, what do you think?”
“Depressing.” Rose crossed her arms. “Can’t we sing nicer songs?”
“But doesn’t it sound like a prophecy?” Sally argued. “Somewhere, in these northlands, is a prince without a kingdom, just waiting for his children to avenge him and reclaim it.”
Rose sighed. “Or it’s ancient and he died hundreds of years ago.”
Sally grinned cheekily. “No who’s being depressing?”
“Haha, very funny.” Rose huffed.
Sally sighed, looking up at the sky. “I wish we could find a real prophecy.”
Rose shook her head. “Father says they aren’t real. Just figments of senile imagination.”
“Yes well.” Sally didn’t look at her sister. “Father isn’t nessicarily right about everything.” “Why would you say that? Father is wise …”
“Of course he is, I never said he wasn’t.” Sally interrupted Rose. “But no one is completely correct about everything, are they?”
Rose looked hurt. “You really shouldn’t judge creatures like you know everything about them.”
“You two!” Dancer interrupted. “Let’s not start fighting before we get a mile from Evenglade, deal?”
Sally rolled her eyes. “Oh fine.”
Silence fell over the three friends, though nothing was completely quiet in the northern forests. Birds twittered in the trees, Dancer’s hooves made heavy thuds on the dirt path, and Sally shooed a buzzing insect away from her face.
Her fur was warming in the sun, but the morning air still did its best to bite through her cloak. Rose hummed happily, and Dancer trotted in time to the tune, her flowing black tail arching gracefully.
Hours passed in this manner, and Sally fell to reading on of the books she’d packed for the trip. Rose fell to stitching whatever her current project was. When the sun was high overhead, Dancer stopped in a clearing beside the road. “Lunch anyone?”
Sally looked up, but Rose beat her two it. “I think that’s a fine idea.”
Her sister sighed, biting back the fact she was supposed to be in charge, and nodding. She slid from the driver’s seat, leaving her book on it, and unhitched Dancer while Rose got out their basket of food.
The horse shook herself as she got free of the traces, and she ran forward, crow-hopping a little. “Ahhhh .. so nice to be free again.”
Rose fussed over spreading a cloth on the ground, and while she did so, Sally slipped the sword from her belt and under some grain sacks in the cart, though still within easy reach of the driver’s seat.
“Sally? Are you coming to eat?” Rose was sitting on the cloth and Dancer was beside her on the grass, eyeing the now uncovered basket.
Sally walked around the cart, sitting between her sister and the horse. The meal of bread, cheese, and apples was simple, but tasty. Although neither Rose nor Sally got much of the apples.
Half an hour later they were preparing to leave; Rose was packing the food, and Sally was once again hitching Dancer to the cart. The horse paused in her gazing to quietly ask, “You brought the sword?”
Sally blinked, before shrugging. “It’s just a precaution.”
“Anything .. I don’t know.” Sally lied. “We are going to be spending the night miles from home, and should anything happen, I have to be able to protect you and Rose.” Dancer looked suspicious, before tossing her head. “Rose will freak if she sees it.”
“Which is why she won’t.” Sally gave her friend a pointed look. “Unless something horrible and unlikely happens, she’ll never know about it.”
Dancer frowned before rolling her eyes. “Alright, I guess.”
She fell back to grazing, and Sally pulled the last buckle of her harness into place. She climbed up on the driver’s seat beside Rose, who was reading a map. “So, from what I can tell, we’ll reach Summerglade an hour before dusk.”
“Where are we now?” Sally asked.
“In the middle of nowhere, we’re miles from everything.” Rose studied the map closer. “We should reach a crossroads soon, where we need to turn right.”
Dancer started moving again, and Sally studied the green canopy above them as it rustled in a breeze that had sprung up sometime during the journey. Silence once again blanketed the travelers, broken only by Rose’s humming and Dancer’s thudding steps.
Sally slowly sat up, a frown on her face as she listened for an element of the forest quiet that she realized she couldn’t hear .. chirping birds and buzzing insects. The only sound not made by her companions was the wind teasing through the treetops.
“Isn’t it unusually quiet?” Sally asked suddenly.
Rose stopped humming and stitching, and listened. She frowned. “You’re right .. odd.”
Dancer flicked her ears. “But wasn’t there birdsong and all that while we ate?”
Sally met Rose’s gaze questioningly, to find her sister’s eyes held the same confusion. She shook her head. “Honestly, I can’t remember.”
A slow chill crept down Sally’s spine, but Rose tried to brush away her unease. “A storm must be coming; maybe all the animals have gone into hiding.”
“I’d rather not have father’s grain get caught in a storm you know.” Sally gave Rose a look.
“Well, maybe .. they’re just all .. tired ..” Rose commented feebly.
Dancer looked behind herself. “All at the same time?”
Rose sighed. “I’m just trying to rationalize the reason; who knows, maybe birds don’t like … the trees around here or something.”
Sally and Dancer exchanged a glance, and as Rose picked up her sewing again, she paused, squinting a little as she peered down the road. “Hey, I think I see another traveler.”
Both Sally and Dancer looked in the direction she pointed. A figure was walking ahead of them, but the creature was far enough away nothing could be discerned about it.
After a few moments, it vanished from view thanks to the foliage. Sally could not deny the sinking feeling in her stomach.
But it couldn’t possibly be the black fox, whom Sally knew had to be both mentally deranged and dead. He was shot twice! And then there was all that stupidity about ‘the one’. No, it was just another traveler. A random, harmless traveler.
It’s ok Sally. Nothing bad will happen, nothing at all. Tonight, you’ll be safe and warm in the Summerglade inn. Two nights from now, you’ll be safe and warm in your own bed. No foxes will try to kill you; you’ll sell all the grain and make father proud. Yes. Yes you will.
Sally blinked as she felt Rose shaking her. “Are you alright? You’re staring into the distance all panicky .. is something wrong?”
“Nothing .. just realizing I’m sort of homesick.”
“Wow, already? Who was it who’s always wanted to leave?” Rose teased.
“Eheheh .. yea.” Sally laughed nervously. “I just have to get over the jitters.”
The silence from the woodlands continued, and as the minutes passed, it only got more oppressive. Sally struggled with herself as the hairs on the back of her neck started to stand on end.
It’s not the fox, you’re just a paranoid wreck!
Sally tried to tell herself it over and over, but she was having a hard time keeping from hyperventilating slightly. Dancer kept flicking her ears back and giving her friend quick looks … each time, Sally did her best to smile, though she couldn’t help feel it looked fake.
Each time, Dancer raised an eyebrow, before shaking her head and returning her gaze to the road.
At least ten minutes passed in the manner, and the figure walking ahead of them had seemingly vanished for good. Still, Sally’s fear did not dissipate.
They were passing through a part of the road where the forest was trying to reclaim it, and Dancer was forced to slow down to avoid seedling trees and large, fallen branches.
Suddenly, Sally heard a slight snap from above them. She jerked her head up, in time to see a shadow plummet from the branch, one that landed in the back of the cart.
Both Sally and Rose let out an exclamation of shock, and Dancer half reared at the jolting from her load. Sally felt her heart freeze .. it was him.
She felt as though she was rooted to the spot as Rose gasped, “What are you doing?”
The fox looked at Sally, his sharp orange eyes digging into her very being. Finally, he spoke. “I must say I’m surprised to find you so close to one of the others.”
“Does he know you?” Rose gasped. Sally couldn’t muster a reply.
“Oh, she didn’t tell on me? More the fool for it, I’d say. I did find it odd your parents would send you far away unattended after I nearly killed her.”
“What?” Rose half screamed. “Kill her? What?”
The black fox took a step forward, drawing his cutlass. “Shall I demonstrate with you?”
Something in Sally’s brain turned on at the sight of Rose under such a threat. She jolted forward, almost diving over the back of the driver’s seat and grasping the hilt of the hidden sword. She drew it out with a shredding sound, and the oilcloth fell away as she brought it up to deflect the foxes blow, nearly cutting Rose in the process.
The fox raised an eyebrow. “Most interesting little mouse. But it won’t save you.”
“Where did you get a sword?” Rose gaped. “What is this?”
Sally couldn’t waste energy on a reply as, with a sudden flick of his wrist, the fox sent her tumbling backwards, off the driver’s seat and onto the hard ground. Dancer jolted out of her shocked state and did what was most natural .. she bolted.
Sally coughed miserably and she inhaled dust from the cart wheels that narrowly missed her head. The fox had jumped from the cart and now he towered over her, just as before. She tried to drag herself backwards, but again, he planted a boot on her stomach, pressing downward.
“Too bad little mouse. I could almost admire your resolve, but your family is slated for death. I’ll finish what the Greeneyes started.”
Sally choked on the dusty air as the fox lifted his foot a little, before stomping down again, and again. He moved to continue, but he never got the chance.
The thunder of hooves rang out as a horse burst from the foliage, it’s cloaked rider brandishing a drawn and loaded bow. The whistle of the arrow spilt the air, ending with a solid thud in Sally’s attacker’s ribcage.
The black fox growled in anger and pain as the horse head butted him, sending him falling to the ground. Sally could only watch in amazement as the horse reared, but the fox threw up a paw, and a forcefield of green covered him, deflecting the blows.
The strange rider leapt to the ground, drawing the staff across his back. He stumbled a little as he ran forward, swinging the stick at the forcefield. It shattered as a flash of blue ran down the staff and the newcomer brought it’s strange weapon against the fox.
Sally’s tormentor flew backwards a few paces with a yelp of agony, and he dragged himself onto his paws, staggering away as fast as he could. The horse moved to give chase, but the fox vanished before their eyes with a flash.
The horse stamped a hoof. “A cloaking spell .. typical of him.”
Sally stared at the horse and his cloaked rider in amazement, before she remembered to breathe again and started hacking violently. In a few seconds, the rider was kneeling beside her, lifting her head. By its voice she guessed it was an older male. “Are you alright? I should have been here sooner .. does anything hurt?”
“E ..” Sally began, but her voice would not work. “Everything ..”
“I did think it might.” He sighed, holding both his paws out flat above her. “Ignasa, grant me your healing for this creature, as you have given her a great destiny. May I be your servant in dark times.”
A faint blue glow spread across his palms, and he placed them against her torso. The blue seeped into her fur, and Sally felt her pain drain away. Her benefactor lifted her head once again. “That should relieve the pain you’re in. You will need to take it easy for the next week however.”
Sally coughed a little, asking, “Who .. are you? Was that … was that magic?”
He shook his head. “Magic? I wouldn’t say so. The power and miracles of our Lord Ignasa, yes. And as for me, I am Groddil.”
He removed his hood, revealing silky gray ears and fur, and stunning yellow eyes. Sally stared him. “You’re a fox too?”
“I am, but I am not here to hurt you. Contrary, I am sent to be your guardian.”
Sally sat up gingerly. “My guardian?”
Groddil nodded. “As Ferran is sent to kill you, yes.”
“Ferran is the black fox?”
The paint horse snorted. “More of a demon than a fox if you ask me.”
Groddil sighed. “And this is Stargazer. Can you stand? We must find the other two.”
Sally suddenly made the realization that Dancer, Rose, and the cart were long gone. They had however, left a gaping hole in the foliage where they had veered from the road.
With a wince, Sally dragged herself onto her feet, stumbling forward a little. Groddil grabbed her arm. “Hold on a bit, we’ll find them together.”
He led her over to Stargazer. “You’ll never catch them on foot.”
Something resonated in Sally’s mind about her mother telling her not to talk to shady characters, but fear for her friends won out over that sound advice. As the fox helped her into Stargazer’s saddle, she made the sudden realization he wasn’t short as she had initially thought. His back seemed twisted, keeping him somewhat bent over, and he limped.
She noticed he had seen her surprise, but he said nothing as he handed her the fallen sword. Sally held on tightly as Stargazer knelt down, and Groddil climbed on behind her with a slight, almost unnoticeable wince.
Stargazer stood once more, and started down the path of destruction Dancer and the cart had left.
Sally said nothing for a good while, and the silence was, in her mind, uncomfortable. However, every backwards glance she gave the fox was met by a sincere, but rather forced smile. She got the idea he wasn’t used to smiling.
Tynek laid in a heap on the dirt floor of his prison, slowly waking up. A day had passed without interaction from the guards, or anyone else, and the sun was rising once more.
The patch of skin on his wrist that had been worn raw by shackles had turn deep purple-black, and his paw was swollen grotesquely. As he opened his mouth, he realized how dry it was .. and how hot he felt.
“Uuugggh ..” His moan was a horrible, rasping sound.
There was a rustle from nearby, and a figure loomed over him. “They brought us water .. I saved some for you.”
Tynek blinked up a Kaylar. “Why ..?”
“Because why not?” The otter smiled a little, before coughing. He pushed a bowl of murky water within Tynek’s reach, and the mouse rolled onto his good arm, pushing himself just far enough of the ground to plunge his muzzle into the liquid.
He drank desperately, each swallow of the tepid water bringing relief to his parched throat. It was gone far too soon.
Tynek let himself collapse to the dirt again, groaning a little. “My head …”
“You have a fever.” Kaylar rasped as he lay down nearby. “My advice is to sleep every moment that you can .. it’s doing me a world of good.”
Tynek blinked at him, muttering, “Where are you from?”
Kaylar looked confused. “What?”
“We’re going to die anyway. I just wondered. I’m from the northeast coasts.”
“Oh.” Kaylar coughed. “I’m from the southern reach of the highlands. Lived in a little holt named Willowglen with my family.”
He pulled his ragged sleeve up, revealing a silver tattoo on his shoulder. “I’d just been made a warrior when they took me.”
Tynek fell silent momentarily. “I wish I could remember freedom. But it’s so hazy now. I almost remember my father .. a Bloodwrather, my grandmother always said.”
His companion pricked his ears forward. “A Bloodwrather? Did you inherit it?”
“Not that I’ve seen.” Tynek rolled onto his back. “I wish every day that I had. Then I would be free of this place .. I’d be free ..”
His voice broke a little, before he narrowed his eyes with a deep sigh. “But it looks as though I’ll be free soon enough as it is.”
Kaylar continued to look at him with a sorrow-filled gaze, before he too looked down in silence.
Time crawled by as the sun crept upwards in the heavens, the only sounds the clink of hammer and chisel, the crack of whips, and the cries of seagulls.
Shadows distorted and changed throughout the day; every time Tynek opened his eyes in a feverish nightmare, they had moved. Finally, as the sun began its descent, one of the slavers approached their enclosure.
Tynek watched with half open eyes as the creature opened the door, stepping in and giving the two a look of silent distain. He dropped a dry loaf of bread and a jug onto the floor, before stepping out and locking the gate behind him.
Kaylar rolled over, muttering, “What ..”
He shook himself, blinking at the food. “They’re feeding us?”
Tynek tried to get up, but even his whole limbs wouldn’t obey his wishes. Kaylar winced at his feeble movements and got the loaf and jug, crawling to his side. He broke the bread in half, lifting his companion’s head.
“Here, can you eat?”
Tynek met the otter’s brown gaze with confusion, muttering, “Why .. are you helping me?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.” Kaylar brought his arm up to his mouth and coughed into it. “Just because I’m trapped here doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help another. In fact, I believe the opposite is true .. we should stick together.”
Tynek weekly took the food and ate as best he could, though it was dry and his head hurt trying to chew it. Kaylar helped him drink, before falling to his own meal and eating ravenously. Halfway through, he looked up at his companion and asked, “Why are they feeding us?”
“Don’t know.” Tynek groaned a little as he closed his eyes again. “Aren’t they going to kill us?”
“I thought that too.” Kaylar leaned against the wall. “However, I think they would have done it already if they planned to. They wouldn’t .. heal us .. would they?”
Tynek didn’t open his eyes. “Never. In all the years I’ve been here, once a slave is like us, they’re dead. Unless … he has other plans.”
“Such as?” Kaylar sounded confused.
Tynek slowly turned his head to look at the otter. “How long have you been here?”
Kaylar coughed raggedly for a little, before sighing, “I don’t even know anymore. Maybe a year.”
“Then you wouldn’t know.” Tynek muttered. “He’ll make sport out of us .. see how long we can hold our own against some monster or a bunch of his soldiers.”
“You mean Daskar, right?”
Tynek groaned, raising his good paw to his forehead and letting his claws slide through his matted hair. “Yes. I hadn’t heard, but if his brother has come to visit, the tyrant always puts on some sort of show for him.”
Kaylar’s expression showed he understood. “So we’re to be the entertainment.”
“It’s all I could possibly guess. Though we’re pretty torn up to be much fun to watch .. I don’t know anymore.” He rolled onto his side, facing away from Kaylar. “Just let me sleep while I still can.”
Tynek could feel the otter’s gaze digging into his back, but he didn’t offer any more conversation. After a few moments, his reality faded away into sleep.
“How far could they have possibly gone?” Sally asked her strange new companions.
The fox’s horse had been taking them along the path of destruction Dancer had made for what seemed forever. Several times the horse had crossed a cleared patch of forest, and they had to pick up her trail on the other side.
Now, from her tracks, she was wandering aimlessly. No longer running, the cart did not cause such a path to follow in.
Stargazer tossed his head. “This one has unwarranted stamina, I’ll give her that. Beyond the bounds of most.”
Groddil said nothing, he just nodded.
Every so often, Sally tried to look at the sky to determine which direction they were going, but most of the time the tree tops blocked out the sun.
The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that Dancer was lost, going in circles, and had gotten them lost too. So much for ‘go straight to Summerglen’. They’d be lucky to get there by tomorrow night, and Sally couldn’t imagine the creature who was supposed to be buying their grain being in a good mood.
She cupped her paws around her mouth, calling, “Dancer! Rose! Where are you!”
Several birds flew from their perches in nearby trees, but there was no answer.
She cast a glance back at Groddil, but he was staring in a completely different direction from the tracks. “Stargazer, go this way.”
He pointed off into the forest, and without question, the horse did what he said. Sally felt apprehension grow as they left her friends’ trail. “Wait, why aren’t we following them?”
“They’re going in circles. It’ll take forever to catch them at this rate.”
“Uhhh ..” Sally looked oddly at Groddil. “Do you mean you’re giving up? If so, can you please let me down, I’ve got to find them.”
The fox shook his head. “You can’t walk on your own for long. We will find them. Together.”
His voice was firm, and he narrowed his eyes. “Before Ferran does.”
Sally stared at him. “You shot him .. that’s three times he’s been shot now! Why isn’t he dead yet?”
Stargazer paused in looking where he was going to give Sally an incredulous stare. “You don’t know a thing about Necromancers, do you?”
“You mean dark magicians?” Sally looked from the horse to the fox sitting behind her. “He’s one of them …..”
“Yes, you saw his power. At least, a small portion of it. I would have to give him an instantly fatal wound to end him .. and honestly, I’m not sure an arrow could kill him.” Groddil didn’t meet her gaze.
Sally shook her head. “He’s after my sister? Why? What is going on?”
Groddil sighed deeply. “You .. were ill-prepared for this to say the least. Your father should have told you all of this but … I see I will have to.”
“What?” Sally couldn’t comprehend what he could possibly mean.
Stargazer interrupted. “I hear them.”
Sally and Groddil fell silent, listening. Sure enough, the sound of soft sobbing rang through the woodlands. Stargazer hurried in the direction it came from, and soon enough, they came across the cart and its occupants.
Dancer lay on the ground, disregarding the traces, and panted heavily. Rose had her face buried in her paws and kept rubbing tears from her cheeks.
Stargazer shook his head, muttering, “Good thing we’re here.”
Sally leaned forward, calling, “Rose! Dancer! Are you ok?”
Both of them jerked their heads up, staring. And they kept staring, in absolute shock.
Stargazer used this moment to kneel, allowing both of his riders to dismount. As he stood up, Rose leapt off of the cart and ran to Sally, hugging her tightly.
“Ahhhh …” Sally couldn’t help but cry out as pain lanced through her ribs. “Don’t hug me .. please ..”
Rose let go, crying. “I thought I’d never see you again! I thought … I thought …”
She couldn’t finish her sentence, and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I thought you were gone forever.”
“I’m fine .. sort of. Thanks to them.” Sally pointed at Groddil and Stargazer.
To Sally’s dismay, Rose didn’t stop crying. “Rose .. it’s ok. I’m fine .. you don’t have to cry about it anymore.”
“Yes I do!” Rose disagreed. “You could have …”
“Died?” Sally finished. “But I didn’t. No one did .. it’s ok.”
Rose sniffled a little, but she nodded, doing her best to rub her tears away. There was a creaking jingle as Dancer stood, and for the first time, Sally noticed the blood oozing from the shallow gashes along her friend’s sides.
“Dancer! What happened?”
The filly shook her head. “I don’t know .. I just had to run .. I couldn’t stop .. I don’t know why!”
She seemed rather distraught at this. “That fox .. I was terrified .. but I left you Sally, I … I left you.”
Dancer hung her head so low her long mane brushed the ground. “It was like I couldn’t think.”
Sally walked the short distance between them and patted the horse’s neck. “It’s ok. Nothing bad happened.”
“This time!” Dancer protested. “But what about next time? I feel awful .. I’m so sorry Sally!”
Sally sighed. “It’s fine.”
Dancer shook her head as if to contradict that, but as she looked up, she seemed to notice Groddil and Stargazer for the first time. “Wait, who are they?”
Rose had stopped crying enough to silently stare at the two with wide eyes. Sally met the silver fox’s yellow gaze for a second, before stating, “They saved my life. They were the ones who drove Ferran .. I mean the black fox .. away.”
Groddil nodded, but didn’t make a move to speak. He looked .. almost shy, even if Sally had a hard time believing that was truly what she discerned in his demeanor.
Stargazer stretched one leg out in front of him, planting the hoof on the ground and bowing his head. “I am Stargazer, this is Groddil. We’re glad to be of service.”
Rose blinked multiple times, and Dancer looked just as surprised. “How ..? Did you just happen upon us?”
“No.” Groddil stated matter-of-factly. “We’ve been watching you for a long time.”
Stargazer gave him an exasperated look, before sighing, “Not because we wish to harm you in any way. My friend does not have a way with words; we aren’t stalking you, we’re guarding you.”
Both Dancer and Rose stared at the two blankly, before Rose tugged on Sally’s sleeve, voice scared. “Sally, I think this is was mother meant by shady characters.”
“A lot less shady than Ferran.” Sally countered, though she didn’t outright disagree.
Groddil seemed to realize his mistake and did his best to mend it. “If we wanted to kill you, we wouldn’t have saved the girl. We’re on your side.”
Neither Dancer or Rose looked terribly convinced, or comforted. Stargazer sighed heavily. For some reason, Sally felt amusement grow within her, and her uncertainties began to melt away.
Groddil looked frustrated. “It’s a complicated situation to explain, suffice it to say we mean you no harm. The opposite, really.”
Sally felt an honest smile cross her face. “I think I trust him. At least for now.”
Rose frowned nervously. “I don’t think father and mother would approve …”
“I know they wouldn’t.” Groddil tried to reassure her in his own, non-reassuring way. “But they would want you back alive and in one piece, which is why I’m here; to see they do.”
Rose looked pale, but Sally nodded. “We should get back to the road.”
“Please, not yet.” Rose rubbed her arms. “I need a rest .. I was scared out of my mind!”
Dancer sounded a bit sarcastic. “I’m the one who’s bleeding.”
Rose seemed to notice this for the first time. “Oh! What happened?”
“I ran through a forest and almost wrecked your dad’s cart .. Ahhh! Don’t touch it!” Rose had laid a paw on one of the deeper gashes running down Dancer’s flank.
The small mouse gulped. "You look awful .. I'll treat you .. let me get my supplies!"
She ran to the back of the cart, digging through it.
Groddil cleared his throat. “If I may .. perhaps you all need a few hours rest. We will keep watch to see you are safe from whatever may come.”
Chapter 3 Edit
“Get up filth! Today’s the day you die.”
Tynek blinked his eyes open to Hisk’s grating voice, regretting it as the pain of his injuries returned to him. He cried out as someone grabbed him by the metal collar around his neck, dragging him to his feet.
Harsh laughter rang in his ears. “Hellgates, why’d you even resist death? Your one heck of a mess, ain’t you mouse? It won’t even be fun to watch you die .. what kind of a fight can you possibly put up? Tell you what, kiss my feet and I’ll end your misery.”
Tynek turned his head just enough to spit in the slaver’s face.
The weasel dropped him with an angry yell, aiming a kick at him that sent him tumbling to the dust. Tynek gasped as pain splintered up his arm, and he braced himself for more brutal punishment, but the weasel’s companion interrupted. “Gurrad, don’t damage him further.”
Gurrad growled low in his throat, but grabbed Kaylar instead. “How about you? Last chance to die easy!”
“Lay off it.” Hisk grumbled. “Just take them.”
He grabbed Tynek by the collar, lifting him effortlessly from the dust. “Come on mouse.”
Tynek stumbled along silently as Hisk practically dragged him by his chains. He cast a glance behind him at Kaylar. The otter looked far better than when they’d met, keeping up with Gurrad, to the weasel’s chagrin.
The castle keep towered high above them, blocking out the morning sun and casting a dark shadow over the incomplete outer wall. Hisk dragged him over to the side of a small arena at the base of the tower, casting him into it carelessly. Kaylar was thrown in behind him, and Hisk slammed the gate shut with a bang.
Kaylar got up first, coughing a little. Still, he stood straight and squared his shoulders. “What pleasure can they get out of fighting tired slaves? I’ll never understand.”
He turned to Tynek, asking, “Can you stand?”
Tynek slowly got to his feet. “You shouldn’t be worrying about me. Save yourself for as long as you can, it’s what you’ll do anyway.”
Kaylar’s gray eyes seemed sorrowful. “I won’t abandon you.”
“Well, you should.” Tynek moved to cross his arms; then winced. “Everyone for themselves.”
Creatures were gathering around the ring now; most dressed in Daskar’s livery of black and green. A story above the ground, a balcony jutted out of the side of the keep, and as Tynek watched, a snow white ermine walked to the railing.
His flowing, pastel robes swirled around his feet, and his amber eyes were emotionless. Tynek couldn’t hold back his snarl, and neither did he want to.
However, his snarl was replaced by a little surprise as a stately, black furred weasel took her place by his side; and a heather brown male of the same species took the other.
His mouth went a little dry as he asked, “All three of them?”
“What?” Kaylar didn’t take his eyes off of the weasels.
Tynek clarified. “The Daskar siblings. All three are here .. what is going on?”
“Why does the Tyrant even grace us with his presence?” Kaylar’s sarcasm held a bitter note.
Tynek wordlessly shook his head as the white ermine motioned with his right hand, holding it out.
Moments later, a gate at the far end of the arena opened, letting in four guards.
For a few seconds, no one moved. Tynek looked at Kaylar for a moment, muttering, “Thanks. You’re the first creature who’s been kind to me for nearly as long as I can remember.”
Kaylar coughed, pulling the chains between his arms taunt, before bending his knees; bracing himself. “I’m not dead yet, and neither are you. We’ll only survive if we fight for each other.”
Tynek opened his mouth to reply, but Kaylar coughed once more, before bolting forward.
The otter leapt at the first guard, making him stumble back in shock. Kaylar slid to a halt behind his enemy, throwing his chains around the creature’s throat, and jerking his head forcefully back.
The guard could only form a broken scream before his neck snapped and Kaylar let him crumple to the ground, seizing his spear.
Silence blanketed the arena, and shock shone in the remaining guard’s faces. Kaylar didn’t wait for them to recover. He thrust the spear into one of them, running for the next without a second’s hesitation.
The otter drove his knee into the third guard’s chest, taking him to the ground and punching him in the throat with all his considerable strength.
Tynek could only watch in wonder.
However Kaylar could not recover fast enough to attack the final guard, who slashed at the back of his neck with his spear.
Kaylar rolled away, blood spattering to the dust as the spear sliced into his left shoulder.
The guard attacked viscously … desperately.
Kaylar lunged under a spear slash, driving his fist into his opponent’s stomach. As the creature doubled over, the otter grabbed him by his throat, dragging him to the ground and pinning him there.
He struggled momentarily, but soon went limp. Kaylar didn’t release his grip until he was sure the slaver would never move again.
He stood, staring defiantly at the three Daskars, blood staining his paws and shoulder.
Tynek could barely believe his eyes .. Kaylar had not exaggerated when he claimed to be a warrior.
The white ermine didn’t look all that surprised, and seconds later at least ten more guards entered the ring. Kaylar backed up a few steps, bracing himself and narrowing his eyes as he sized up his opponents. Tynek took one step toward the otter, but he held out a paw. “Stay back.”
Kaylar seized his chains below where they connected to the manacles, stretching them out with a clink as five of the guards attacked him.
He dodged to the side, bolting behind the first and slinging his chains around the guard’s neck. However this creature spun around, thrusting with his dagger. Kaylar gasped in pain as the knife sank into his ribs, but still yanked the chains taunt, jerking the guard’s head sideways.
The otter pulled his chains loose of the corpse, staggering backwards as crimson started to stain his rags where the knife hilt protruded from his body.
At that moment, several of the guards started moving toward Tynek. The mouse instinctively scrambled back, but Kaylar bolted for his assailants. The otter yanked the knife from his side, stabbing one of them in the back of the neck. He jerked it free as the creature fell, but couldn’t recover fast enough to dodge the other’s lunge.
He fell to the dirt as the guard scored a shallow hit across his side with a powerful slash from his spear.
Tynek felt a sudden fury awake within him. It only solidified as Kaylar cried out in pain as the guard wounded him; taunting him. It was unlike anything the mouse had felt before; anger, yes, but this? This was ten times stronger.
The Tyrant thought he had no bounds. That he could do anything he desired, and never pay for it.
But it was not so.
Tynek barely comprehended the inhuman sound that ripped itself from his throat; a roar of fury. He was done submitting.
The corners of his vision began to change; morphing from their normal state and turning blood red as he ran forward, driving his shoulder into Kaylar’s attacker’s back.
The guard stumbled, and Tynek drew the dagger tucked into the creature’s belt with his good arm, thrusting it into his middle back; aiming for the spine. The guard collapsed, and Tynek cast a glance at Kaylar, to find the otter was staring at him in shock, almost blankly.
Shouts and exclamations rang out from multiple directions, but they were fuzzy. Tynek spun around to face the remaining guards, and his anger took over.
The last thing he heard was the creak of snapping metal, and the last thing he saw was pure, brilliant red.
Night fell upon a bedraggled group of travelers huddled in a woodland clearing.
Groddil and Stargazer showed no negative effects however, and Sally could not deny her jealously. She lay in the back of the cart on a bed of grain sacks while Rose and Dancer made supper. Stargazer made frequent trips in and out of the surrounding woods with wood for the campfire.
Groddil sat on the driver’s seat, examining the sapphire hilted sword.
Sally turned her head to look up at him. “I thought you healed me ..”
“I healed all wounds that could have become fatal.” The fox corrected. “In other words, I fixed the worst part of the problem. I did say you would need to take it easy.”
Sally sighed, stopping as there was a twinge in her ribs. “Father will be disappointed with me. For multiple reasons.”
Groddil nodded, before returning his gaze to the sword.
Sally frowned grumpily, before asking, “You said you were our guardian. What does that mean; why are we so important?”
“I assume you have noticed the mark on your paw?” Groddil sounded slightly sarcastic.
“Of course.” Sally lifted her right paw, staring at the swirling feather in the fur of her palm. “How could I not?”
Groddil nodded. “Your sister has the same thing. The two of you are marked.”
“What does that mean? It isn’t a weird coincidence?”
“Heavens no.” Groddil finally turned around in his seat, sighing, “I suppose I owe you an in-depth explanation of what is going on. I fear your sister is not yet ready, but you might be. Basically, you cannot return to the life you consider normal.”
Sally looked at him in confusion, and Groddil continued. “I can’t tell you everything because even I don’t know that much. All I can say is that there are four of you marked ones, and it is my duty by the order of my Lord Ignasa to protect however many of you as I can until you are ready to fulfill the task he will give you. What it is I do not know.”
His yellow eyes twinkled a tiny bit. “But it wouldn’t do for me to know all.”
Sally stared at him blankly, her mind reeling as he ran a paw down the flat of the sword blade. “Supreme craftship, this.”
“I don’t .. understand ..” Sally realized her voice was shaking slightly. “I’m not a hero.”
“Not yet, no.” Groddil admitted.
Sally felt apprehension grow within her as she made excuses. “I don’t even know how to use that sword .. or any weapon!”
Groddil raised an eyebrow. “Would you like to learn?”
For a moment, Sally said nothing before nodding. “Of course I would .. I’ve always wanted to. You would teach me?”
Excitement began to shine in her eyes, before it dulled again. “My parents would never let me.”
“True. And I won’t ask you to disobey them.” Groddil leaned over the back of the cart, placing the sword beside her. “But if you ask me to teach you, I won’t refuse.”
Sally met his gaze for a moment, before nodding and looking away. “I’ll think about it.”
Rose walked over, holding a bowl of soup, and Groddil nodded to her, before staring off into the woods. Sally half sat up, then let herself fall back down with a wince. Rose climbed onto the back of the cart, giving both Groddil and the sword nervous glances. “I made you some soup .. can you eat it?”
Sally took the bowl, nodding. “I’m not fatally wounded Rose, I’m just sore. And stiff.”
“Well, I put healing herbs in that, they should help.” Rose fiddled with her paws. “Sally, what do we do now?” Sally ate a spoonful of soup, before sighing, “I don’t know, but Dancer is tired. We’re all tired. So I think our best option is to camp here.”
“What about the grain? We’re terribly behind schedule, but if we don’t sell it ..”
“Father will be disappointed, I know.” Sally sighed. “The first time he chooses to really trust me, and this happens.”
Rose hung her head. “I’m scared. I just want to go home .. even if it means we never get to leave again.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Sally ate some more of her food. “I don’t want to stay in Evenglade my whole life, even if it means I’m exposed to some dangers.”
Rose frowned, shaking her head. “You almost got killed, and so did I!”
“If I could fight, I could have actually protected you.”
“You did protect me.” Rose folded her paws together. “I would be dead if you hadn’t stopped him …. But where did you get a sword?”
She gave the object a meaningful glance.
Sally sighed. “It was in the floor of the stable .. under it, that is. And please don’t tell father!”
Rose looked disturbed. “Why would you want to keep something like that? Evenglade is safe, you won’t need it there, and …”
Sally finished her soup, handing Rose the bowl. “Rose .. you wouldn’t understand. You … can’t. Look .. never mind.”
Rose sighed, pleading, “Can I sleep in the cart with you?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind the sword too much.” Sally sounded droll.
Her sister frowned, before shuddering. “Oh .. fine. Where did you get that thing anyway?”
“Under the floor of Lightningflash’s stall.” Sally closed her eyes, hoping Rose wouldn’t ask a million more questions.
Naturally, she did. “In the stable? How could it get there?”
Her green eyes suddenly widened. “Wait, what if it’s the black fox’s? What if he put it there and he’s chasing us because he wants it back!”
Sally opened her eyes in irritation. “Rose, it’s sized for a mouse … or at least a creature smaller than a fox. Besides, he has a cutlass. And throwing knives. And magic!”
“Oh.” Rose looked down, before asking, “Who could it belong too?” “I don’t know, the hilt has a name engraved on it; Sayna. So I assume it belongs .. or belonged to someone by that name. But it could have been there for years .. from the state of the oilcloth it was wrapped in, I think it was. I don’t think Sayna is coming back to get it.”
Rose gingerly scooted the sword out of her way, drawing back her paw quickly as though she was afraid to touch it. She laid down on the sacks, stating, “This is all so scary and confusing .. I wish we’d never left.”
Sally said nothing, just met her sister’s gaze for a moment, before turning her head to look upward into the night darkened woodland canopy towering above them. Here and there, a star twinkled through a crack in the dense foliage, but for the most part, the leaves were black shadows.
After a moment, Sally let out a breath, stating softly, “Goodnight, Rose.”
It seemed like no time had passed at all; but Sally awoke to someone shaking her, and Rose’s terrified, high pitched whisper. “Sally! Wake up, quick!”
When she opened her eyes, the forest was white with early morning mist. It was light out, but the natural fog made the trees around the edges of their camp little more than shadows.
Rose’s green eyes were wide as she hissed, “There’s some creepy lady here!”
“Huh?” In her sleepy state, Sally tried to decide which one of their company was said creepy lady. “Me?”
“No! Sit up really slowly and peek over the edge of the cart!” Rose was serious.
Sally slowly did so, finding the pain in her ribs was much better than the previous night. It didn’t hurt much at all, though her torso did feel weak. She crawled to the edge of the cart and carefully peered out.
However she saw nothing but white mist and shadowed trees.
She turned to Rose, shaking her head. “No one is there.”
Sally peeked over the cart again as her sister whimpered, “I saw her, I couldn’t sleep and I went to get the water jug from the fire. She was all hunched over and had stringy hair!”
Sally blinked. “What was she doing?”
“Walking away from the camp, but she turned and saw me!” Rose shivered.
There was the sound of quiet footsteps, and Groddil limped over to them. His forest green hood covered most of his face, but his brushy tail swished across the ground behind him, distinguishing him quickly.
“Groddil, Rose says she saw someone ..”
Sally began, but he interrupted. “I know, I saw her too. She means us ill, and we must be off.”
Sally stood up, picking up the sword far where it was slipping into cracks between the grain sacks. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I sense evil power surrounding her; I am sure she is another Necromancer. Stay near me; within my sight.”
“Another one? But you said the fox was too ..” Rose’s voice was small in the quiet.
Groddil’s eyes were shadowed by his hood, but Sally caught sorrow in them. “The order of Necromancers is a strong one. There are more of them than there are Prophets to fight them … be ready for anything.”
Rose shuddered, hiding behind Sally, who gripped her sword tighter as they waited.
Moments dragged out in silence, before Sally asked, “Where’s Dancer?”
“Stargazer knows what he’s doing.” Groddil sounded sure of himself. “He won’t leave her alone.”
The fox drew his staff from its place across his back, the chunk of blue crystal set in the natural wood glinting in the soft light. His voice was hard. “Come out. If you want them, you’ll need to kill me first.”
“So you are just as keen as they say.” A soft, monotone voice came from directly in front of them, though Sally could see no one.
Groddil’s eyes flashed, and he brought the end of his staff against the ground as blue power flowed from his paw, running along the wood. “Your cloaking spell isn’t fooling anyone.”
A figure flickered into view not ten feet in front of them, and Sally’s eyes widened. The new creature was hunched over and holding a staff at least half again as tall as herself, more realistically, she almost hung from it.
Her dark gown was hooded and ragged, and her dark indigo tipped hair flowed from under the hood to where it was braided in front of her chest. Honestly, Sally could not discern what sort of creature she was.
Her expression never changed. “I’ve heard you are an esteemed Prophet; Groddil. Renown. The greatest of the great.”
She almost sounded as if she meant to taunt him in some way. And it seemed to work.
Groddil’s tail switched back and forth momentarily, before he ran at her, blue flashing down his staff. She leapt unnaturally high with no visible effort allowing the fox to pass beneath her; literally floating to the ground several feet away from him.
“I expected more tact, honestly.” She sounded rather bored. “Where are all your feats of unstoppable power?”
Groddil didn’t answer her, just stood where he was and seemed to collect his wits. Sally could feel Rose trembling beside her and digging her claws into her arm deep enough it started to hurt.
The Necromancer paused as the thunder of hoofbeats rang out and slowly, she smiled, though the tone of her voice remained flat.
“I’d love to stay and test just how powerful you really are, but plenty of time for that later. At this time, I have other duties.”
She waved her staff and vanished before their eyes; though her voice echoed eerily back to them. “Until next time, oh great Prophet.”
Stargazer appeared from the mist, sliding to a quick stop a few feet away. Dancer was close behind him.
“Is everything alright?”
Groddil sighed, before putting the staff in its place across his back, the blue fading from his paw. “No. We need to leave this place. As fast as we can.”
Sally looked at Rose, who hadn’t stopped shaking and still clung to her sister’s arm. “Uh .. Rose, you’re hurting me ..”
Rose looked down at how her claws were sunk into Sally’s arm, and quickly let go. “Sorry! Sorry … I just … who was she?”
This was directed to Groddil, who clenched his paws. “I don’t know for sure. But from her aura, I’d guess she’s Ferran’s apprentice. She has a similar feeling about her.”
“Wonderful.” Stargazer sounded sarcastic. “It figures he’d pick up a sidekick since we last saw him.”
The skin on the back of Dancer’s withered twitched randomly, causing her to shudder suddenly. “I don’t like the way the morning feels .. can we get out of here?”
“Yes.” Groddil started walking to the cart. “And I agree with you.”
It didn’t take long to stomp out the dying embers in the remains of the fire, and hitch Dancer to the cart. Groddil rode beside them, and both he and Stargazer seemed tense.
Rose read the map, but didn’t say anything. She just stared at it with a worried look on her face.
At first Sally took little note of it, but as the morning wore on, the mist didn’t wear off. Still, she told herself she was being paranoid again.
However, when several hours had passed without a peep of birdsong and the fog still clung to the earth as thick as ever, she could no longer deny her suspicions. “What is wrong with this mist?”
“It’s a spell.” Groddil had a disgusted look on his face. “She means to trap us here.”
Rose gasped as she heard this. “We’re lost?”
“We would be, normally.” Was all he offered.
Sally pressed him. “Well can you break it?”
“I’ve been trying.” Groddil frowned at the two sisters. “Please let me focus.”
Silence blanketed the forest again, before Dancer asked, “Shouldn’t we stop moving then?”
Groddil opened his eyes again, sighing with longsuffering. “No, these spells have a way of drugging their victims. The only reason you aren’t snoring away at this moment is Ignasa’s protection … basically a counter-spell I’ve cast, to put it in terms you understand. Now keep moving it the direction I take and save questions until we’re out of this; I need silence.”
He stopped talking once he ran out of breath, and inhaled slowly, closing his eyes as his posture relaxed.
They continued walking in the complete, eerie silence, and Sally honestly started to lose her grasp of time. The mist was so complete it hid the sky and left now clue how high the sun had climbed.
She didn’t know how far they had traveled, or in what direction. In fact, she started to feel disoriented in general. What were they doing here in the first place? Rose leaned against her shoulder, doing her best to keep her eyes open. Dancer just trudged along.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the mist began to thin, and the air began to clear. Sally cast a glance at Groddil, finding he was hunched over on Stargazer’s back, eyes closed as his hair drooped in his face.
“Are you ok?” She asked, concerned.
Groddil smiled weakly as if to try and ensure her he was. “I’m fine .. her spell was stronger than I expected.”
Stargazer looked haggard as well, but he kept walking. “She’s a spellcaster, no doubt about it.”
“Right, physically weak but spiritually deadly, make a note of that my friend.” Groddil patted his horse’s neck.
Rose stirred, blinking, and muttering, “Where did all the mist go?”
Sally sat up straight, trying to shake away the feeling of numbness. “We got free of it.”
“Oh .. good then.” Rose stretched and yawned. “Where are we?”
Almost instinctively, they all stopped walking and looked around the woodlands. Groddil rubbed his forehead, sighing, “Good question.”
“We’re lost?” Rose asked, near frantically.
“As of this moment.” Groddil stated flatly. “Look, don’t panic.”
He looked at Rose with an almost pleading look in his eyes, as if he guessed how worked up she could get. “I’ll get us out of these woods. Take a quick rest and let me get my bearings.”
Dancer sighed with relief and started cropping up all the sparse grass she could find. Rose looked frustrated. “How can you eat at a time like this?”
“Actually,” Dancer stated, pausing now and then to swallow, “This is the perfect time to eat … it’s relaxing.”
Rose groaned, before turning to Sally. “What are we going to do? We’ll get home by tomorrow night .. right?”
Sally looked at Groddil, consulting Stargazer in a voice quiet enough she couldn’t make out what he said. “Uhm, maybe?”
Rose stared at her sister for a moment, before looking down. Sally sighed, trying to assure her with confidence she didn’t feel. “It’s going to work out. We’ll get home .. somehow.”
Erwin walked through the stone hallway with Truman, who was energetically commenting on the slave.
“Bloodwrath sister, can you imagine what one could do with that? It’s a shame he’s just a mouse .. if I had Bloodwrath …”
“We would probably all die.” Erwin stated sarcastically.
Truman rolled his eyes. “Yes but think about it .. we could use that mouse as a weapon of destruction!”
“If you could control him. Still, it’s a shame the Greeneyes will get him.” Erwin curled her lip.
Her brother was silent for a moment, before changing the subject. “He killed ten guards without batting an eyelash … he tore metal chains in two!”
“He almost tore his arm off.” Erwin couldn’t resist putting a damper on Truman’s obvious enjoyment of the slave’s power.
She shook her head. “From all I have read and what I’ve seen today, Bloodwrath is a curse, not a toy or a weapon. He lost all ability to think or feel pain. I imagine he’ll soon be dead.”
Truman looked disgruntled. “Really sister, why must you point out all the negative effects when I’m trying to enjoy the most astounding thing I’ve seen to date. He’s a novelty … a deadly one to be sure, but something rare and amazing.”
Erwin didn’t answer him .. what was the point? He kept on about how fascinated he was, and she ignored him for the most part, but snapped back into reality as he asked, “You think he really is related to the old kings of Mossflower?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Erwin kept her voice flat. “He could be anything under how filthy he is.”
She stopped at the door to her room, stating, “Look Truman, this isn’t something either of us should mess with. Let Badrang deal with it, when it comes to the Greeneyes, it’s best to keep as much distance as possible .. you know that.”
The scruffy brown stoat sighed heavily. “I suppose you’re right as always.”
“Of course I am.” Erwin’s blue eyes twinkled mischievously for a moment, before she crossed her arms. “And just to get your mind off it, I heard Ripfang brought some fine wines from Mossflower the last time he was here. Badrang’s been hiding them in the cellar.”
“He did?” Truman looked betrayed. “Awful of him. Well then, I’m off to pilfer some, thanks for the tip!”
Her brother hurried off, a characteristic spring in his step. Erwin watched him for a moment, before she opened the stout wooden door to her chambers and stepped inside. She walked directly to an ornately carved dresser, sitting down in front of it and gazing at her reflection a while. Her blue eyes stared back and she rested her head on her right paw, marked with a splash of white that reached her wrist.
After a moment, she reached down and slid open a drawer in the dresser, pulling out a small leather pouch. “Fates and Lords of earth and sky, show me the path we should take regarding this mouse. Show me what fate lies before my brothers and I.”
She shook the bag for a bit, before absently reaching in and drawing out a flat piece of lavender quarts that twinkled in the sunlight as she took note of the etched symbol on one side.
Erwin set it down, before repeating the process until she had five of them lined in a row down her dresser.
She stared at the crystals, before rubbing the side of her temple. “Not good .. ill fortune resides with either choice .. I see.”
A sudden harsh knock made her jump, before she called, “Come in, brother.”
Her elder brother walked into the room, his white hair falling messily in front of his amber eyes .. he looked as though he’d been running.
“Are you alright?”
“What do you think?” He snapped, brushing his hair back. “I need you to read the omens; tell me what’s in store.”
Erwin looked at what was already sitting at her desk and shook her head. “Sometimes it’s better to face the future as it comes, rather than lay awake worrying about it.”
Badrang looked angry for a moment, before grumbling, “Is it that bad?”
“Well it’s not sunshine and rainbows.”
“It never has been.” Her brother sighed. “Look, stop being sarcastic and help me; it’s your job isn’t it?”
Erwin shook her head. “Badrang, I just know that you do not want to hear what I have to say. We go through this every time ..”
Badrang scowled. “As ruler of this castle, I command you tell me the future.”
“If you insist.” Erwin turned to the crystals on her desk. “From all I see here, the future is uncertain.”
Her brother huffed, and she held up her white paw. “But there are several distinct turns it could take. None of them have positive outcomes .. at least, completely positive. But then, the omens tell what might be, destiny has a way of changing.”
She paused, but under Badrang’s persistent stare, she gave in. “As we are now, we have several choices. Give the mouse to the Greeneyes if he lives, put him out of his misery and pretend it never happened, or keep him as a weapon like Truman wants. Which, as you may have guessed, is the worst course of action.”
“Undoubtedly.” Badrang agreed.
Erwin sighed. “The only problem is, of the other two scenarios, neither comes to a good end. I can’t see the final outcome, but all I know is trouble is coming. For all of us.”
Badrang tapped his foot on the floor. “You’re being vague again.”
“Omens are vague.” Erwin shrugged. “Mere shadows of possible outcomes. All I can do is warn you to be careful. And whatever you do, to get rid of that mouse in some way. He is ill fortune for our family.”
“I know that much; he’s a monster.” Badrang raised an eyebrow. “But I feel you’re hiding something from me.”
Erwin shook her head. “What could I possibly stand to gain from doing that?”
Her brother closed his amber eyes, sighing. “I don’t know, but I sense something quite shady from you at the moment.”
Erwin opened her mouth to reply, when the door burst open and Truman strode in, grinning and holding a bottle of wine. “Hey brother, this is prime stuff! Old Ripfang brought this, eh? I didn’t know he had such good taste!”
Badrang clenched his teeth, growling, “Where did you get that?”
“The cellar, where else? What do the omens say today?”
“What do you care?” Badrang snarled, pointing out the door. “Just go drink your stolen alcohol and get out of here.” Truman leaned against the wall, taking a swig from the bottle and ignoring his brother’s order. “You’re worried brother; have a drink! It’ll sooth your nerves .. works every time for me.”
Erwin turned around to face the two, snapping, “If you’re going to get drunk, don’t do it in here! Out, let me consult the omens further .. and Badrang, try not to worry too much. As reliable as my information has been, it’s also been wrong. Take the night off if you need to.”
Her snowy brother glared at her momentarily, before nodding. “Fine. Maybe I will have a drink.”
Truman pushed himself upright, slinging his arm around his taller sibling’s shoulders. “Perfect! Come on then, it’s been too long since you relaxed and it’s telling. We’ll worry about mice and the Greeneyes tomorrow; it’s not as if our little monster is going anywhere …”
His voice faded as he led Badrang down the hall, and after a moment Erwin stood. There was no need to consult omens again when they’d told her all she needed to know.
She strode over to a tall wardrobe in the corner of her stone room, pulling a satchel from it and slinging it over her shoulder.
Erwin opened her door, taking a quick look into the hallway, before she closed her door and started striding down the passage. Her fast walking transitioned to running fairly quickly, her flat shoes slamming on stones as her blue skirt fluttered about her legs.
Her cape flowed behind her and her satchel slapped against her side, rattling the contents. Already, she might be too late to change the fate the omens had warned of.
Out of breath, Erwin arrived at the heavy, intimidating door to the dungeons. She paused only long enough to regain the ability to stand up straight again, before pushing the door open on its groaning hinges.
The two sentries playing cards were so startled, one of them dropped his hand, scattering the tattered game pieces on the floor. They jumped up quickly, one of them bowing low in greeting. “Milady .. I .. we didn’t expect ya …”
She shook her head. “No need to fear, I am simply checking on a little problem for Lord Badrang. One of you, take me to the mouse.”
The ferret who had addressed her first stammered, “A healer is with him ..”
“Well, I am quite qualified in that area. Now hurry, the sooner I am out of this place, the better.”
The guard paused, before nodding. “Er .. right. This way milady.”
Erwin followed him deeper into the dungeon, lit by open torches bracketed to the wall. As she walked along, she saw the occasional filthy prisoner staring at her from a cell, but many were empty. Soon, the ferret pulled keys from his belt and unlocked one of the cells. “Eh .. well, a healer was here .. they must have done what they could already.”
He stammered as Erwin slipped past him into the chamber. “I’m sure they did. I’ll make sure they did it properly .. I’ll let myself out.”
“Uhm .. are you sure you want to be alone with .. that thing?” The guard looked nervous.
“I am. Why would I fear a dying mouse? Now leave me, I need to focus.” Erwin stared sharply at him until he bowed and retreated, before she knelt beside the crumpled heap of fur at her feet.
It was hard to believe this was the monster than had singlehandedly slain twenty two guards, this broken creature on the floor. But the warped, shattered chains still hanging from his arms were proof. Erwin quickly dug a simple key from her satchel and unlocked them.
She slipped the bloody things off the mouse’s crimson wrists, the right one so swollen it was nearly futile. However, she got the manacle free of him at last. Her nose wrinkled as she saw the lack of attention he’d been given, and guessed the previous healer had taken one look and left.
Erwin grabbed a bowl and jar from her satchel and poured the contents of a bottle into it. She began wiping blood from the mouse’s wrists, scowling at how the right one bent far more than it should.
It had to be horrifically broken, and it truly was a miracle bones weren’t jutting through the skin.
The black weasel pulled a small bottle of alcohol from her satchel, uncorking it and pouring some into the wound itself. Even in his unconscious state, the mouse whimpered softly.
As much trouble as she knew this one could become, Erwin could not deny she was glad he didn’t have to feel in full the terrible injuries he’d sustained.
“I’d give you a day, mouse.” She muttered as she began feeling his arm. “If not for the omens, I’d say you’d be dead in the hour. But you are meant to live, aren’t you. For some reason, fate chose you to be the lucky one … or perhaps in truth, the unluckiest of all.”
She began straightening what bones she could, shaking her head. “There’s no fixing this mess ..”
As Erwin felt his crushed paw, she paused. The broken state it was in was not the extent of its abnormality.
She seized her cloth and water, quickly washing the blood and dirt of years away. Even in the dim light, she saw it, and for one moment, it seemed as though her heart refused to beat.
Her gasp rang out sharply in the quiet prison, and she stroked the swirling, mused, but still quite obvious star mark on his palm. Eight pointed, running from the base of his paw too where his fingers began, and formed by the now obviously golden fur … Erwin very nearly dropped his arm.
It took every fiber of her being not to recoil.
She set his arm down, sliding away slightly. How? And why? What could this mean?
She fumblingly grabbed her pouch of runestones, shaking as she rubbed in between her paws and muttered breathlessly, “Fates and Lords of earth and sky, show me this one’s path in full; I beg you!”
As she placed the chips of lilac granite in the required order, her paws shook so much she nearly dropped the pouch. Once the five runes sat in their row, she shook her head, murmuring, “No! How can this be?”
Erwin turned back to the mouse, blue eyes wild. She scrambled toward him on her knees, claws reaching for his throat. “You monster! I’ll kill you before you do that!”
She grabbed his neck in her paws, ready to strangle him, ready to let her brother think he died of his wounds .. but the bag of granite chips fell to the ground, scattering them on the stones. Some rolled into cracks in the floor, some disappeared into the shadows, but only one landed next to her five, its face side up.
Slowly, Erwin released her hold on the mouse, moving toward this stone enough to read it.
Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth opened slightly, as she picked up the granite piece, her gaze darting from it, to the five on the floor.
“No .. no .. that can’t be .. I couldn’t … I wouldn’t ….”
She scooted backwards far enough to slump against one of the cold stone walls and clasp a paw to her forehead.
Slowly, tears formed in her eyes, though they didn’t fall. The only thing she could think to whisper she whispered over and over. “No .. no .. I didn’t need to know this .. I didn’t want .. to choose!”
The mouse’s face was turned in her direction, his eyes closed, his muddy, red-stained hair sliding onto the floor as he breathed slowly. Erwin growled under her breath at him .. she hated him; nothing would have satisfied her more than to drive a dagger into his wretched heart.
Yes, now she despised him, for what he was, and what he would be.
Still, for all she hated him … she needed him.
Erwin forced herself to crawl back to his side, though she desire to leave him .. to change fate itself … but she couldn’t. Not now.
She splinted his arm, making sure to cover his star mark, before forcing him to drink a little water. Some dribbled out of his mouth, but he swallowed enough to satisfy her. She placed some old bandages under his head, then did her best to collect as many of her runestones as she could.
To frazzled to think of what more she could do, Erwin stumbled out of the cell, into the corridor. The front of her dress was stained from kneeling and crawling on the floor, and she doubted her face looked any better. She could barely hold in her tears of fear and frustration .. and shock, more than any.
The weasel forced herself to calm down, wiping the dampness from the fur of her cheeks, brushing off the front of her dress and shoved the emotion out of her eyes. No one could see.
The guards did look at her in confusion as she walked into the room and past them without a word. The ferret who had escorted her in quickly asked, “Milady, are you alright?”
Erwin turned her head to look at him, pasting her false, tired smile across her muzzle. “I’m fine. I will return in the morning to see if he lives.”
She strode away without another word, cape snapping behind her.
How she wished that in the morning, the mouse would be dead, unable to harm all those he would ruin.
But for her, fate had never been so kind.
Chapter 4 Edit
Brome sat at the kitchen table with his parents, listening silently to their conversation and holding back when he thought to interject.
His mother looked somewhat unsettled, but forced a smile as she spoke. “Sally and Rose must be in Summerglen right now … selling wares just like adults.”
“Dear, you were the one who convinced me to send them.” Urran pointed out. “They’ll be fine, between our girls and Dancer, there’s at least a bit of common sense.”
“Oh I know, I know.” Aryah fussed. “I just can’t help but worry about them.”
Brome sighed, and ate some of his food. His mother had been fretting since Sally, Rose, and Dancer had left. It wasn’t like something that horrible could happen to them .. Sally was there. Sally, who’d pounded Roderick’s face into the dust on several occasions. Sally, who snuck out every day to practice battles or something when she thought the whole family was still asleep.
Sally, the one creature Brome could never be, but longed to.
She was out in the world right now, helping their family. And where was he? Stuck at home chopping wood and washing dishes and brushing chaff out of Lightingflash’s mane every night.
Brome stabbed his fork into the greens on his plate with a clink of metal on metal.
“Is something wrong with your diner son?” His father raised an eyebrow.
“No.” Brome said it sullenly, but gulped under his parents’ disapproving looks. “Uh .. It’s great.”
He quickly shoveled a pile of salad into his mouth, munching on it noisily. “Love it.”
“Manners sweetheart.” His mother sighed. “They were made to be minded.”
Brome swallowed quickly and painfully, wincing as the lettuce slid roughly down his throat. Both his mother and father continued to look at him a few moments longer, before returning to their conversation.
“Well .. they’ll be back tomorrow night at least ..”
Brome let both their voices fade into routine monotony, taking another bite of salad and tipping his head back to look at the kitchen ceiling. His thoughts weren’t on it however, they were someplace far away.
He’d be an adventurer one day .. or maybe a treasure hunter. The notion of befriending a horse and riding around the world in search of gold and jewels sounded quite appealing at the moment.
Perhaps he would even get to see the great southern desert, or the snow-bound isles of the north.
He had to momentarily leave his fantasy to take another bite of his supper, and as he chewed it, he glanced into the front room and out the large window that gave a good view of town square.
There were a group of creatures out there, gathered around the fountain.
No, they were gathered around a brightly decorated cart drawn by a black horse. Brome quickly ate the rest of his salad, wiping his muzzle on a cloth napkin and asking, “May I be excused?”
His mother glanced at his plate, before his father nodded. “You may. I expect you’re headed down to the inn for the latest news, so be sure to return before dark.”
Brome stood, sliding his chair into its proper place at the table, before nodding and hurrying out the front door. He could see the newcomers better now; well enough to see there were about five of them, aside from the horse.
His bare paws skidded on the cobblestone pavement a little as he hurried toward the cart, intent on being in the middle of everything.
As he wormed his way to the front of the small crowd, one of the creatures, tan with hair like raven wings, leapt onto the driver’s seat of the cart, spreading its arms wide. “Creatures, my good gentlemice and maidens, no need to push or shove. I can assure you will all see glorious things tonight!”
Brome blinked in wonder as he stared at the speaker. He’d never seen a rabbit outside of a book until now, and their ears were just as ridiculous looking as pictures portrayed them to be. They seemed far too large for the creature’s head; and with no tail visible beneath his russet, flowing cape, white shirt, and black trousers, he truly looked top-heavy. Brome couldn’t get the image of the rabbit falling forward off the cart from the weight of his ears out of his head.
However, despite his ungainly appearance, he seemed to have the concept of balance down extraordinarily well.
“I am Ballaw the illusionist, and we are the Rambling Rosehip Players! We hail from the far-off land of Southsward and we crossed the Great Desert to be here tonight! And I’m sure you’re wondering why they call me the illusionist … so I’ll demonstrate.”
He held his black tipped paws out. “Now you see me ..”
There was a swishing sound, and a sudden, small explosion that dosed Ballaw in smoke. His voice seemed to come from nowhere as it cleared, revealing the spot he’d stood in to be empty. “Now you don’t.”
Brome stared in amazement, forgetting to clap even if many around him did. His mouth was getting a little dry from having fallen open, so he shut it, swallowing as another of the performers, a slight maiden in red, glittering dress, stepped forward. Her strange pink eyes glowed with life as her feminine but strong and theatrical voice reached all of her audience. “We have many more wonders to share with you all; death-defying stunts, acting, and even magic! We’ll put on a show here, tomorrow night, be sure not to miss the wonders of the southern lands!”
Ballaw leapt beside her from the shadows of the cart, nodding. “Just a silver piece a creature to watch the show! Don’t miss this once in a life-time opportunity!”
This time, Brome clapped with the others. However, while the crowd slowly dispersed, he chose to follow the Rambling Rosehip Players to the grassy knoll just outside Evenglade that they chose for a campsite.
Soon the air was filled with clinks of mallets against metal stakes as tents were raised and a campfire was built and lit. Brome stood on the outside of it all, brain buzzing with questions, but unsure of how to start asking them.
Presently, Ballaw the rabbit noticed him and walked over.
Brome blinked up at him in wonder. Truly, he had a strange visage, one unlike any the young mouse had seen before. Not just his species, but how he dressed and walked, but most noticeably, how his eyes sparkled with mystery. His odd, dark red eyes that Brome found he could barely look away from.
They seemed a little sunken, almost as though Ballaw didn’t get enough sleep.
“So, enamored with the lives of traveling performers now?”
Brome nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! What all do you do? Plays? I’ve never seen a play, but I’ve read about them and I’ve always wanted to see one. How did you disappear like that? Are you actors or a circus?”
Ballaw held up a paw. “Whoa, slow down kid .. of course we do plays, I write the plays.”
He looked quite proud of himself. “I am, in fact, a master of literature. And yes, we are a circus too.”
“How can you be both?” Brome asked. Ballaw laughed. “The obvious answer; because we want to.”
Brome grinned at this, asking, “Can you teach me about plays? I’ve always sort of wanted to be in one.”
“Can I?” Ballaw raised an eyebrow. “Of course I could, but I’ve never offered private lessons. Besides, I’ve got a show to prepare for.”
“Please! I’d .. help you set up or something. At least let me watch you practice!” Brome fenagled.
The rabbit ran a paw through his black hair, before nodding. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt as long as you don’t get underpaw. On that note, can you care for horses?”
Brome nodded quickly. Ballaw looked momentarily thoughtful, before shrugging and pointing to the black horse. “Well then, that is Soot. Brush him down and I might be willing to teach you a magic trick or two.”
Brome’s grin made his face ache as he hurried over to the horse, Ballaw following leisurely behind him. The black horse snorted when the young mouse held forth his paw, stating, “I’m Brome, how are you sir?”
Ballaw laughed. “He doesn’t talk.”
“He doesn’t?” Brome looked wonderingly at Ballaw as the horse pushed its muzzle against his palm, whiskers tickling.
“No, look into his eyes.” Ballaw instructed. “He’s gentle, but he was once feral. He doesn’t think like you or me.”
The rabbit handed Brome a brush that had been lying on a stack of boxes, and he took it, but didn’t move to brush the horse that was now sniffing his wild red hair. “Why? What happened to him?”
“Oh, nothing. He was born that way, haven’t you ever seen a feral animal before?” Ballaw motioned Brome turn around. “Also watch yourself, he seems to think your hair is a new sort of grass.”
Brome yelped as there was a tug on his locks, and he had to pull his hair away from the horse. Soot snorted reproachfully and took a bite of real grass, stomping a back hoof. Brome approached him carefully, brushing him lightly, unsure of how he’d respond.
Ballaw laughed. “He’s a horse, not a jackal. He won’t bite much more than that frizz on your head.”
Brome started brushing more firmly, asking, “Jackal?”
“Nasty dessert creatures .. like foxes, but bigger. You don’t want to run into a feral one of those … matter of fact, it’s best not to run into any at all.”
Dust flew out of Soot’s coat, causing Brome to cough. But he kept at it, wanting to learn the magic trick Ballaw had promised. “So .. creatures can just .. turn .. wild?”
Ballaw shrugged. “I don’t know, all I know is some are and some aren’t. There’s plenty of legends surrounding it but I never had time to learn them all .. go ask Celandine, she’s the history fanatic. I make my own worlds.”
Brome paused as he finished brushing, asking, “Should I pick his hooves too?”
“No, that’s alright. Come over here and have a seat.”
With a wide smile, Brome did as he was told, plopped himself down on the worn wooden trunk beside the rabbit.
Ballaw pulled a dull iron coin from his satchel, flipping it deftly into the air and watching it gleam dully in the light of the setting sun; before catching it easily. “How about I teach you how to make this disappear, eh?”
Brome nodded vigorously, holding his paw as Ballaw dropped the item into it.
“It’s all about tricking the eyes of those watching you. Not really magic.”
“My sister thinks some creatures can actually use real magic.” Brome stated. “You can’t?”
“Nah, I never got into all that weird superstitious stuff. Good, honest tricks suit me better.” He took the coin back, rubbing it between his paws and holding forth two closed fists. “Now, which is it in?”
Brome shrugged, before pointing to Ballaw’s left paw. The rabbit opened it to reveal it was empty, and Brome pointed to his right one.
Ballaw opened that fist as well, grinning, “Ha! It’s in neither! Got you there young laddo, now how about you give it a try?”
He held his arm out, and the coin dropped out of his sleeve and into Brome’s lap. The young mouse took the coin, rubbing the cold metal between his paws, but dropped it into the grass instead of slipping it into his sleeve. Ballaw momentarily choked on his laughter, before patting his shoulder. “No worries lad, practice makes better. Not perfect, nothing is perfect, but better at least.”
Sally dragged a large, long dead pile of brush towards the little campsite. She struggled with how awkward it was and how it kept wanting to catch bits of woodland and drag them along with it.
She left the branch by the fire and walked over to Dancer, who was rubbing her head against a tree. Sally raised an eyebrow. “Tell me you don’t have lice in your mane.”
“I hope not!” Dancer sounded annoyed, but didn’t stop rubbing her head against the bark. Bits of it clung to her black forelock like snow. “My forehead just itches .. I can’t say why.”
She stepped back, shaking herself vigorously as Sally asked, “Did you sleep in Poison Ivy? Rose might have a salve for that.” Dancer heaved a sigh. “I don’t know. It itches off and on and it’s been doing this for a few weeks … the troubling thing is it’s only on my forehead.”
She suddenly thrust her face a couple inches from Sally’s, asking in a distraught voice, “Is it a horrible disease? Am I dying? Are there any deadly illnesses that start with itchy foreheads?”
Sally barely batted an eyelash at this sudden outburst, shrugging, “Ask Rose, she’s better at diagnosing things.”
Dancer nodded quickly, before trotting over to Rose and pestering her.
Groddil looked up from poking the fire with the end of his staff, which Sally noticed showed no signs of burning. “The young filly is prone to dramatics.”
“Uh, yea.” Sally nodded after a moment. “Quite.”
“And your sister is used to being comfortable.” Groddil continued.
Sally sighed, nodding and giving Rose a sideways look even though she was at least ten feet away.
“So, that begs a question.” Groddil stirred the fire, sending sparks flying into the night sky. “What makes you Sally?”
The mouse blinked, asking, “Excuse me?”
“What makes you different from everyone else in this world?”
“I … don’t know.” Sally finally had to admit. “I’ve always sort of wondered I guess.”
“Hmm.” Groddil gave her a long look, as though he was thinking, before turning back to his fire without another word.
Finding that a rather awkward way to end a conversation, Sally blurted, “What makes you different from everyone else?”
Groddil turned his head to look at her again. “What do you think defines me?”
“Uh .. mystery.” Sally admitted. “I really don’t know much of anything about you.”
Groddil paused, before nodding. “Fair enough.”
Sally expected him the elaborate, but he didn’t. So she asked, “When will Ferran and that .. apprentice of his, attack us again? I mean, I know you don’t know for sure, but don’t you have any ideas?”
“Within the week.” Groddil promised.
“Within the week?” Sally stared at him. “But we’ll be back to Evenglade before that …”
She slowly stopped talking, before sighing, “We won’t, will we?”
“Even if you were, do you think that would stop them? You and your sister are marked, and they intend to kill the both of you. At this point, it would be far more dangerous for you in a single place than if we keep moving.”
Sally blinked in alarm. “Will they ever stop hunting us?”
Groddil shook his head. “Not until you are dead; or they are.”
Sally flattened her ears slightly from fear, before asking, “But you can kill them .. right?”
“Perhaps.” Groddil shook his head slowly. “Ferran is skilled at what he does, and I’ve only seen a small piece of his apprentice’s power. Ignasa will protect you always, whether he uses me to do it or not.”
“Could I .. ever be able to fight them? To protect Rose and Dancer?”
Groddil raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t you nearly died enough? Besides, I thought your parents did not approve of fighting.”
Sally rubbed her ribs ruefully, remembering how much pain Ferran had caused her. It was almost gone now, nothing but a fading ache. “They don’t .. but maybe … maybe I do.”
“Tell me, what made you change your mind so suddenly? Just yesterday you seemed unsure. It’s not as if Ferran almost killed you again.” Groddil sounded .. interested. “At least, not yet.”
“I can’t keep from thinking of when he does. I don’t want to do nothing. Nothing is what I’ve done all my life.” Sally’s eyes shone fiercely. “I don’t want to watch my sister or Dancer get hurt. I don’t know what I would do if they died .. I’d go mad with guilt knowing I could have saved them. I love my parents, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them all the time .. teach me to fight, Groddil. I’m ready.”
His yellow gaze grew solemn, more so than usual. “Are you sure of that? You understand that raising a blade against another means you have to be willing to kill them. Can you kill a living creature, knowing that they have a soul just as you? If not, you can’t truly be ready.”
Sally swallowed a little, lifting her head high. “I don’t know. I can’t know until the moment I do it, can I?”
“Hmm.” Groddil stroked his scruffy beard. “Yes, that would be the test.”
He stood, twirling his conspicuously burn-free staff. “I suppose I can only give you the skills, and we shall see how you put them to use.”
Sally cast a glance over at Rose, who was giving Dancer a hug and probably reassuring her that she was not sick. “Right this minute?”
“Why not?” Groddil asked.
“Uhh ..” Sally scuffed a bare paw in the gritty forest floor. “Rose will tell on me.” “Things done in part are better off left alone. If you make a choice, shouldn’t you be prepared to face the consequences?” Groddil looked quizzical.
Sally hung her head for a moment, giving Rose a long sideways look. “I suppose so.”
She turned to Groddil, straightening her shoulders. “Where do we start?”
“First,” Groddil spoke as he searched through the pile of brush for our campfire, finding a thick, moderately straight branch. He gave it to Sally, finishing, “Show me what you already know.”
Sally took the stick, following Groddil a little ways from the crackling fire. He turned to face her, twirling his staff in his left paw. Come to think of it, he did almost everything with his left paw. “Attack me.”
“How?” Sally asked, wondering what strategy he’d suggest.
“I don’t care.” A little mischief shone in his eyes. “The result will be the same either way.”
Sally slowly adopted a stance, positioning her feet wide apart and taking the time to size Groddil up from head to toe. He was short for a fox, but even at that, he towered over her. He always limped from his right side, and she noticed that paw was curled inward unnaturally. He paid no mind to it; he never seemed too.
Suddenly, she threw herself forward, stick leading the way. Just like Ferran had, Groddil seemed to slide out of her path of attack like water .. the movement made her think of ripples on a still pool after a rock had been tossed in.
Groddil moved so much like Ferran, it unnerved her. The only difference was he was coming from the opposite side the black fox did, so he was the mirror image.
The force with which Sally had thrown herself forward carried her several steps too far. Her paws caught on a rock and she fell on her face.
“Well, that was as unspectacular as I expected.” Groddil sounded the closest to laughter that she had heard yet. “You are very dead.”
Sally picked herself up off the ground just as Rose came running over. “What is going on here?”
She looked accusingly at Groddil. “What are you doing?”
“Rose, stop.” Sally pleaded, though she doubted it would do much good. “I asked Groddil to teach me.”
“Teach you what?” Rose sounded distressed. “I turn my back on you for five minutes and you’re getting hurt; why do you do these things?”
“Lass, I offered to teach your sister to spar. Moreover, she is not permanently damaged in any way.” Groddil tried to explain.
Rose stared at him, then Sally. “Spar? Sally, father and mother do not approve of violence, they wouldn’t want this!”
Sally opened her mouth to reply, but Rose had always been a step ahead of her sister when it came to vocalization. “Besides, you’re a lady, and we don’t fight like this! Please, you’ll just get hurt, you can’t really expect to win a sword fight .. you can’t!”
“I won’t let you! You’re crazy .. you’ll get killed!”
“Rose!” Sally yelled, grabbing her sister by the shoulder. “I have to do this! We aren’t going to be home tomorrow, we might not get home for a good while! Even if we did, we would still have two Necromancers after our blood, and do you think they would spare our family? Do you think they would spare Evenglade?”
At that, Rose staggered back a few steps. Dancer spoke up from where she was watching this interchange. “We won’t get home?”
“We’re lost.” Groddil shrugged as he said it. “I’m sorry, but after Ferran’s apprentice’s attack, I don’t have a clue where we are.”
“And you didn’t tell us?” Dancer tossed her head.
At that, Groddil looked genuinely ashamed. “I should have. I guess I saw it as my responsibility and prayed it would work in our favor. Also I … didn’t know how you three would react.”
Rose suddenly sat down hard, as if her legs just wouldn’t support her. She buried her face in her paws but did not cry; as if she physically couldn’t.
Groddil gestured to Rose, looking like he wasn’t sure of how to handle the situation. “That’s .. what I wanted to avoid.”
Sally grabbed Rose’s paw, trying to drag her to her feet. “Rose, come on .. it could be worse.”
“Could be!” Rose glared up at her. “We’re lost, with two insane creatures trying to kill us, our parents are going to be distraught, and we could die .. I don’t want to die!”
With that, she did burst into tears.
“Rose ..” Sally began, before letting go of her paw with a sigh.
Dancer walked over to her, gently nuzzling the mouse’s back, her black mane spilling over Rose’s face and neck. The gray horse carefully lay down beside her smaller friend, lightly resting her head on her shoulder. “We’ll be fine .. I hope. You don’t need to be so dramatic about this … I hope.”
Rose hugged Dancer around the neck tightly. “That’s not comforting!”
Groddil looked at Sally as if he hoped to find answers, but she just shook her head. The fox cleared his throat, before turning and walking to the fire again. Sally followed him.
“Will your sister be alright?” Groddil asked, once they were a relative distance away.
Sally shrugged. “Probably. Dancer and Rose are both prone to dramatics. Just about different things. Don’t worry about it, Dancer will comfort her and she’ll be fine in the morning. Until .. something else shocking or scary happens.”
Groddil sat by the fire, grabbing another log and tossing it in. Sparks flew up into the otherwise dark woodlands as he stated, “I’ll start teaching you tomorrow.”
The two were silent for a while, and Sally noticed some movement in the woodlands just outside of the fire’s reach. She started a little, but Groddil shook his head. “That’s Stargazer; he’s keeping watch.”
Sally slowly exhaled, before sitting down near the fox. “How lost are we? Will we be able to find Evenglade again?”
“I’m sure, at some point.” He was silent for a bit, before he looked over at her. “Lass .. you seem the most .. let’s say, logical of your companions. Also the most adventurous from what I’ve seen. I .. am not used to dealing with creatures like them, but you .. are different.”
“What is it?” Sally pressed, wishing he’d get to the point.
He nodded as if he understood, continuing, “You might think that this is all some crazy random nightmare and the solution is escape or even killing Ferran and his apprentice … but it’s not. It’s more than that. Even I know how important this is, and I know precious little. You and your sister are not the only ones.”
Sally was taken aback. “The only ones with marks?”
“Yes, there are more of you. Four of you, in fact. The task Ignasa gave me was to find you and protect you .. all of you.”
Sally stayed silent, waiting for him to explain farther, and he did. “I .. can’t explain how Ignasa’s power works to you, it would take days, years even, but I have been given the ability to find my charges. That was how I found you and your sister .. that was why I could save you the day Ferran first attacked you. And I have yet to find the others. I have to, I feel compelled toward the eastern coast as strongly as I was to you, if not more so. One of the marked ones is in trouble .. I must find them soon.”
He looked at her apologetically. “I cannot leave you. And I cannot abandon this new mark when I feel his life is in such peril .. I can’t be in two places at once. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“You want to take us with you.” Sally concluded.
“It’s not a want Sally. It’s a need. A lot of lives hang in the balance, yours included.” Groddil’s voice held a grim note.
Sally frowned. “Aren’t there any other Prophets that could help this other mark?”
“As I’ve told you the order of Prophets is smaller than it has ever been.” Groddil shook his head. “I alone protect the northern realms, to the best of my knowledge.”
He stared into the fire. “If only there was another Prophet. Because the two Necromancers after us are far from the only ones around us, I’m certain of it. And aside from that …”
His voice trailed off, and he suddenly seemed so tired and frail, a chill slid down Sally’s back.
“Dark forces are at work. Darker and more powerful than any Necromancer they might send against me. Do you pray to Ignasa?”
Slowly Sally stammered, “My parents do ..”
Groddil sighed heavily. “Just think about what I’ve said. The third mark needs me as soon as I can possibly reach them.”
Before she could say a word, he stood, limping slightly as he walked to the edge of the firelight, facing the dark forest around the small camp. Sally just stared after him.
She couldn’t actually be considering helping him find this other marked creature, could she?
It was illogical, it was complete madness .. Dancer and Rose, especially Rose, were no good at adventuring.
They would all die; if not on the journey itself, when they finally went home and faced their parents.
But Sally could not deny how interested she was in all of this.
Wander the forest trying to get home, run into the Necromancers and likely be killed, or intentionally go east on a quest and possibly avoid them. Was it even a choice?
Sally shook her head, turning her gaze to her friends, who looked like they’d fallen asleep on the forest floor. “Rose is going to hate me.”
Erwin’s footsteps made echoing sounds on the cold stone floor. All her hurry from the previous day had vanished, now she walked like the lady she was, chin held high, black hair flowing behind her. Though perhaps she was moving a slow as she possibly could.
Her feet dragged against the ground, her paws hung loosely by her sides, and her eyes looked haunted.
She hadn’t slept last night.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw all the omens prophesied. This time it was not a suggestion or a path to follow. This time it was fate. Fate she screamed against, and yet aided.
Why was she the one to play this game?
She reached the door to the dungeons, opening it. It creaked horribly. The guards inside looked up, quickly leaping to their feet and bowing before her.
One of them, a rat, spoke up. “Milady ..”
Erwin held up a paw. “I assume he still lives.”
“Er .. yes, the last I checked.” The rat stammered.
“Do not forget I know the future. Now, escort me to him, if you would.” She kept her voice calm, but commanding.
He did as she said, and she followed him deeper into the dungeons. The air was musty here, with the faint smells of death and decay. But for a dungeon, even though she had never experienced any others, Erwin felt that this one was kept quite livable. Just like her older brother to obsess over cleanliness and details in every part of his keep. Even that reserved for his enemies.
The mouse looked exactly as he had when she’d visited. He hadn’t moved, but a thousand curses upon him, his chest still rose and fell.
Erwin waved a paw at the guard after he had unlocked the cell door. “Leave me. I’ll call if you are needed.”
The rat bowed and obeyed. She waited until he left the corridor to open the cell door and walk in. As she knelt beside the mouse, she made a mental note that he smelled worse than the dungeon around him. He probably hadn’t bathed in years.
She wrinkled her nose, but began undoing the bandages around his arm. As she moved the injured limb, he groaned a little, gasping as he weakly opened his eyes.
They were bloodshot, but thankfully the iris’s and pupils had returned to their normal brown and black. Even though she knew it wasn’t possible, she’d imagined what he could do to her in bloodwrath, and the thought of him opening crimson eyes was one that had not left her alone.
He tried to speak, but the only sound he made was a weak rasping noise. Erwin sighed, reaching into her satchel and pulling out a flask of water.
She helped him drink, and he would have downed all the water she had if she’d have let him. Even as she pulled the flask away, he whimpered a little, begging for more. She shook her head. “You need to take this slowly. I don’t know why you aren’t dead.”
She almost spit those final words.
He coughed, staring at her. She looked away, focusing on his arm as he muttered, “You’re … the tyrant’s .. sister ..”
Erwin snorted. “Yes I am, and your delirious at best to even consider talking in that way about my brother to my face. But then, you do have a horrid fever.”
He didn’t attempt to respond, and Erwin focused on her work. When she looked up again, she was relieved to see he slept again. She pulled a cloth from her satchel, picking up the glass bottle of cold water beside her. After pouring some on the cloth, she placed it on the mouse’s forehead.
She studied his face, not that she enjoyed seeing it. It was more sick interest than anything else. After all, this was the face of the one who would destroy everything she had helped to build.
Under the filth of slavery, she could imagine him being a striking creature. He would be slender and tall .. for a mouse anyway. His dark, slanted eyes would have contrasted with fur that shone like sunlight. He would have been something rare and beautiful.
“You will suffer more than any other .. even more than me.” She growled, her hatred for him dripping from her voice. “At least I can take comfort from that.”
Erwin unbound his arm, being careful not to move it. It looked even worse than the previous day, dark bruises showing through the fur and highlighting how swollen the entire limb was.
She washed it carefully, scowling. “You’re lucky you didn’t break your arm in half. I’d have had to amputate it.”
More’s the pity.
She couldn’t help that thought.
“At least you’ll never move that wrist again.” Erwin grumbled. It wasn’t enough of a price to pay, not for all he would do. But it was something.
The weasel rebound his arm in its splint, forcing her patient to drink some more water. She set a piece of bread and her canteen on his left side in case he awoke and was hungry. If he couldn’t feed himself .. well, good.
Erwin stood with the rustle of fabric, shouldering her satchel and walking out of the cell. The door groaned and rasped so much she pinned her silky ears. “Guard!”
Her call was answered by the rat only moments later, the pattering of his paws echoing through the corridor. He bowed. “Milady?”
Erwin waved a paw at him. “I am done here for the moment, and when I return, I expect this door’s hinges to have been oiled. If my ears are assaulted with its grinding once more, I will tell my brother of your incompetence, is this understood?”
“Yes Milady!” The rat gulped as he locked the cell. “I promise you won’t hear a sound when you return.” “Good.” Erwin turned on her heel, walking away as she spoke her parting words. “That is all.”
She breathed a sigh of relief once she left the dungeons behind. How she longed to never return .. but that mouse would take weeks to heal enough to even be able to stand, let alone run away. Which meant she had plenty of time to start planning his escape.
Believability would be her enemy.
Chapter 5 Edit
“You can’t be serious!” Rose’s voice broke the pleasant morning, sending a few birds fluttering up into the sky.
“Rose ..” Sally didn’t protest her sister’s outburst like she want to, trying not to raise her voice.
Groddil, Dancer, and Stargazer wisely remained silent.
Rose looked absolutely terrified, so much so she was willing to yell in Sally’s face about it. Or, more realistically, squeak shrilly … Rose was not all that good at yelling.
“I can’t believe you would even consider this! What about mother and father? They’ll be frantic!”
“Sally, I can’t take this sort of thing!” Rose clasped her paws together, clearly not below pleading. “I’m not an adventurer! I’m going to die if we do this!”
“Rose!” Sally blurted, giving in and yelling. “You and I have a high chance of dying whether we do this or not! And if we go home, we bring that danger upon our parents and Brome! Yes, they’ll be frantic .. I don’t want to do this to them!”
“But ..” Rose tried, however Sally was done listening.
“Father put me in charge. He told me to do what I had to in order to protect you and Dancer. In light of the circumstances, that’s what I’m doing .. believe me, this choice isn’t easy, and you’re making it harder!”
Rose frowned deeply, grabbing her sister’s arm. “Sally, this is crazy! We don’t even really know Groddil and …”
She paused, as if remembering the fox was standing where he could hear them. He nodded sagely. “Go on.”
“Um ..” Rose stammered, “This is just crazy. We’re disobeying mother and father!”
“Well ..” Sally sighed, giving into that. “Yes we are. But the stakes are high ..” Rose saw that moment of hesitation and pounced on it. “Look, we’ll go back and tell them. Father will protect us all .. it’ll be alright.”
Sally closed her eyes for a moment. She wanted to believe that. She really did.
But she knew it was a lie.
She jerked her paw away from Rose, crossing her arms. “No, he won’t. He can’t. They’re Necromancers Rose .. what’ll he do, talk peace with them? They won’t listen. Father would never just let us be killed, but he’s not strong enough to defend us either … surely you see that?”
From the look on her face, Rose did not see. Sally scowled. “I’ve made my choice. Father put me in charge, and I say we go to the eastern shores in search of this other marked creature.”
“I think we should go too.” Rose looked at Dancer like she was insane.
The red-haired mouse stamped a paw. “Oh of course you’d side with her!”
Sally raised an eyebrow, asking, “Why? I thought you’d fight me too.”
“Dad’s always telling me I need to see the world.” Dancer tossed her head. “He says it’s part of growing up .. he’ll be upset I didn’t tell him sure, but he’s always the one to tell me to seize opportunities.”
Sally grinned a little, but Rose scowled, turning and flopping onto the sacks of grain still stacked in the cart with a soft crump. Her voice was muffled, but accusing. “You two are mad.”
“Probably.” Sally agreed, feeling markedly better that Dancer had chosen her side.
She felt bad for Rose, she really did.
However she could not deny how satisfying it was that her sister had not gotten her way for once.