Open Season on Polecat (Open)

_To those that stand in the path of Savas Azazel,

Before the sun sets this day, I Savas Azazel will have come to you. When that time comes, all the polecats that reside with you will be brought before me. If you should choose to hide any polecat from me, then you will have forfeited the life of every beast you know. No breathing creature shall be left to remember you ever were. Your obedience will be met with reward, not punishment. If anybeast amongst you has news of a beast named Eve Azazel, they will be spared.

I present to you with this letter the head of one who disobeyed. Let it serve as a warning that Savas Azazel has not once made an idle threat._

Savas Azazel had made good his word. A buzzard had dive-bombed the sleepy village of Dunmordan during the mid-morning market, causing mice, shrews and squirrels to dive under their stalls and wagons for cover. The bird had been a black silhouette against the sun, screeching as it had swooped over the market. It dropped something off in the middle of the thoroughfare, which bounced and rolled along the dirt path. It was only when the thudding of the buzzard's wings as it beat the air had faded into the distance did the woodlanders emerge to find its grisly package. As promised in the scroll attached, Savas Azazel had delivered the severed head of a vole. The head was recognised by a few traders as one of the elders of the nearby village of Creekroam, from which nobeast had come for the past few days. Beasts wept in the streets as the news spread; when vermin attacked villages, survivors were few.

The appearance of such a large war-bird in a usually safe airspace was enough to send the local rooks and robins hiding in the trees, twittering amongst themselves nervously. It must have been a mercenary buzzard from the wild north or east, or so the gossip went. The Elders of Dunmordan quickly convened. The first order of business was sending for the undertaker to give the head a decent burial. It was quickly decided that the village should send messages for help. Perhaps a Long Patrol unit could be reached, or a local otter tribe with strong warriors to spare. However, the local birds refused point blank to fly that day, too terrified that the skies were being watched. It fell to fleet-footed squirrels to carry messages begging for warriors to aid Dunmordan in her crisis.

Savas Azazel almost sighed as he watched the messenger squirrel fall mid-leap from the treetops, an arrow lodged between his ribs. Every village he'd found on his journey through Mossflower had the same boring idea of sending runners for help. They insulted him by thinking such an obvious plan had not already been accounted for. His scouts had found Dunmordan a day before, and seasoned bowbeasts had been placed at vantage points all around the town. Nobeast was going in or out. Savas found this tedious; no village, camp or tribe in a hundred miles of marching had put up so much as a minor challenge to his strategic and tactical prowess. Sometimes stupid birds would take off from the targeted village with a scroll clutched in their claws, thinking they'd be the heroes that saved their little nut-nibbling friends from the vicious vermin attack. Savas' buzzard mercenaries liked to tear those wanna-be heroes apart in mid-air, so the villagers could watch and learn that they had no power against him.

The bowbeast that had shot down that particular squirrel was a ferret named Fikri. Savas watched in mild amusement as the ferret loped forward to cut an ear off the fallen woodlander. It was customary among Savas' horde to present the ears of the slaughtered to the leader, as proof of the deed. Fikri returned and bowed before his lord; Savas acknowledged him with an almost imperceptible nod. The ferret bowed again and hopped back to his position, his tail flicking. Savas could tell Fikri was very excited that the leader of the horde had watched him make the kill; Savas rarely showed any kind of interest in the accomplishments of his beasts. Savas was pleased, and that meant Fikri would become a more respected marskbeast in the horde's hierarchy.

The group of vermin around Savas instinctively cowered as a buzzard came to land in a nearby tree, loose leaves and dust scattering across the shady patch of the woodlands. Savas did not even look surprised at the buzzard's alarming entrance; he was quite used to the large predator's behaviour. He noted that the buzzard's beak was stained red. Another squirrel messenger gone, no doubt an appetiser for the great bird.

"Lord Azazel!" The war-bird screeched. "They send tree-rats for help. They disobey! Disobey! Kill! Kill!"

"Soon," Savas said. Though he was short for a polecat, dressed in simple scale armour, his stern, deep voice calmed the bloodthirsty bird. The vermin stood a little straighter when they heard his voice, and pawed at their weapons. If Savas said there was killing to be done soon, he meant it. He strode forward to look the buzzard in the eye. "They will answer to me first. Then they will answer to you."

The buzzard clicked its beak and tilted its head. "Wotcher wanna talk for? Kill'em, they not talk back, not disrespect Lord Azazel!"

Savas' whiskers twitched. "The conversation will be short. The spoils will be divided. Then, Koray, Marshal of Buzzards, your brethren have my permission to feast."

The great buzzard gave a triumphant screech, and spread his wings. "May your talons be sharp, Lord Azazel! We await your signal!"

Koray took to the air, the wind flapping the vermin's cloaks and tunics and ruffling their fur. Savas watched him go, the Marshal joined in the sky by his buzzard comrades. They wheeled about, far above the treetops, their piercing gazes watching Dunmordan hungrily. Savas raised a paw, and strode forward. The vermin obediently followed, drawing cold steel from scabbards and nocking arrows to bows. It was time to meet the villagers.

As foolish as the Elders had been in sending for help, they were wise enough to realise any resistance would be short-lived. The horde converged on the town, unceremoniously breaking down cottage doors, swiping food and clothes from cupboards and shelves. Clean, fresh cloth was a luxury in the horde; they were rough beasts of the wilderness, so their own clothes tended to fray and tear till they were hanging off their bodies. Their armour was in near pristine condition though, and their weapons were sharp and well-maintained. Savas did not care if the hordebeasts were filthy, pierced by rings or dressed in rags, but woe upon any vermin whose weapon or armour was not ready for battle.

The Elders had disobeyed Savas' order to bring forward any polecats. Whilst the villagers feigned ignorance at any sightings of a polecat, the hordebeasts search in all the usual places. Cellars, attics, crawlspaces, sheds, anywhere that looked out of the way or unused. A triumphant cry from a hut near the middle of town made the vermin perk up in excitement, ready for some action. A scrawny polecat was dragged from the cellar, the two weasels that had found it threw the unfortunate vermin to the ground. The woodlanders cringed away from the armed soldiers in the streets, keeping their young close. A few younger kits had started to cry at all the commotion and the terrifying appearance of the savage creatures in their neat, orderly village.

"Find the owner of this house," Savas commanded. He stood in the town square, watching as his vermin divided up loot. Woodlander weapons like finely made squirrel bows were prized highly, and soon the town was disarmed and impoverished. Some vermin got more loot, others less, depending on how wily or strong they were. The polecat lord did very little to make the business of looting equal; whoever could take what they wanted was the one that deserved to keep it. His only rule was that no hordebeast should kill another; he had no use for dead soldiers. Savas knew that the vermin sometimes squabbled and killed each other behind his back; there was no changing their greedy nature. He just made sure they feared him far more than each other.

An aging mouse stepped forward, leaning on his walking stick. His chin was held high and he looked at the polecat with stubbornness.

"It's my house," the mouse declared. "And that young fellow is my guest."

"Your parasite," Savas corrected. "Young he may be, but I'll wager he can't chop your firewood or pull your cart. What good is he to you?"

"Beasts like you wouldn't understand," the old mouse said. His voice was hoarse and commanding, and he glared at Savas right in the eye. "You think of beasts as tools to be used and thrown away. You never see your fellow creature as somebeast to appreciate."

Savas squinted up at the sky, growing bored of the mouse's bleeding-heart bleating over a worthless weak youth. Koray would be getting impatient now. The buzzard respected him and called him Lord, but no amount of deference could make beasts forget their empty stomachs. That was how he paid the buzzard mercenaries; the flesh of his enemies. He ignored the mouse and leaned over to pull the polecat up by the scruff of his neck. The polecat squealed instinctively, but had the presence of mind not to thrash around. He looked up at Savas' dark furred face, his mustelid features covered near completely in deep brown fur, save for a patch of white on his muzzle.

"You. Parasite. Who else has been hiding from me? Did a female polecat pass through here?" Savas asked.

The whelp whimpered, and answered in a timid squeak. "I-I, um… d-don't know-..."

"Do you have any idea how many beasts lie to me in a day? How many seasons I've listened to scared little worms spinning sob stories? I've been around liars as long as you've been living, so drop the act. Who was she, and where did she go? What did she say?" Savas snarled.

"Sh-she didn't say her name. D-didn't stay long, she passed through headed South. Said she was running... s-said she was running, and if I was smart, I'd run too." The polecat's head lowered, eyes firmly fixed on Savas' boots.

"Did she spend much time with you?" Savas asked, his voice lowered to a dangerous murmur. "Did you offer her shelter?"

The polecat froze, his eyes growing wide. "N-no! Like I said, she was in a hurry!"

Savas regarded the pathetic creature a moment longer, then dropped him back into the dust, satisfied that the polecat was telling the truth. "We march South. Scoutmaster Nergis! I want a full report on the next settlement ahead of us within three days."

A slender searat tipped his many-pierced ear and hurried off at a well-paced trot, disappearing into the treeline headed south. A few vermin, all small and wearing mottled brown cloaks followed him at a distance. The hordebeasts were strapping their new belongings to their packs and getting ready to move out; nobeast wanted to dawdle in Dunmordan once Koray and his buzzards got started. Savas looked at the quivering heap of a polecat on the ground, and snorted. Whilst the old fool hadn't had any real use for the youth, Savas had a few ideas in mind for one so utterly incapable of resisting him. "Parasite. Your life is spared for your information, as promised in my note. You will be my new cupbearer, since my last one died of poisoning. Keep up, or you'll be whipped till you do."

The old mouse that had been watching Savas with an evil eye started forward. He drew a dagger from his cane, a device the polecat would have found most intriguing, had the woodlander not been trying to assassinate him. It was a noble attempt, Savas supposed, trying to cut the head off the horde and potentially save woodlander lives. The mouse got about three paces before there was an arrow in his neck. The old mouse died silently, crumpling to the ground. Somebeast screamed, and there were moans of horror as the villagers saw their old friend fall. Savas withdrew his paw from his fine straight sword, and turned to see who his rescuer was.

"Now you're just showing off, Fikri," Savas said calmly, as the ferret lowered his bow. "As punishment, I'm promoting you to be my bodyguard."

Savas turned to stride off, missing the ferret punching the air in triumph as he did so. Being the lord's bodyguard was a dangerous position, but being closer to Savas usually meant more favouritism from him. As the horde trudged out of the village, Savas put a couple of claws to his lips and whistled loudly. Up above him, Koray screeched in jubilant reply, and the buzzards began to dive. The polecat didn't see what became of the villagers of Dunmordan. Screams and buzzard calls chilled the blood of the hordebeasts as they marched away from the village, but for Savas, the whole affair was now in the back of his mind. All he could think of now was getting to the next village. He was certain he was catching up to his wayward twin sister.

She was dirty and tired and hungry when she stepped foot in Dunmordan. Eve had looked like she was an escaped slave of some such, but she needed to keep going. If it wasn't for a lone old mouse that insisted she stay to full her stomach and get some rest, she probably would have kept going. The old mouse used logic to persuade her mind. If she didn't stop and fill up and rest her body, her body would betray her with fatigue and exhaustion, and then finally succumb to the elements long before her brother caught up to her. She even met another polecat; a scrawny young male that the mouse had also taken in, though she didn't say long after meeting him.

Upon getting cleaned up, eating and resting for only a few short hours, Eve was eager to get going again. She was still plenty tired, her body nowhere nearly as rested as it should be but she couldn't afford to stay any longer. 'So stupid..' she thought to herself. It was a known fact to her that her brother spared no quarter and would have the best of the best within his ranks. The mouse and perhaps maybe the other polecat could probably tell something was bothering her. She risked her own life for a few hours of rest, as well as just about everyone one in the quiet village of Dunmordan.

After the kind mouse gave her some food for her travel, Eve left the village about a full day before Savas' scouts arrived ahead of the rest of the horde. She had an eerie and nervous feeling that she needed to make haste and get as far away as possible and quickly as possible. She had been making her way east, but something told her to change direction and go south. She insisted that the polecat come with her, it was much safer to leave this place rather than to stay. He of course did not believe her nor heed her warning. The old mouse seemed unworried as well. Who would take her seriously? She couldn't reveal her identity or tell them who would be coming or why they would be coming. She just couldn't, whether it be the fear of someone's life at risk because of her, or the fear of someone taking that information and turning her into her brother. Whatever the case may be, it was by far more safer for both parties if she kept her identity unknown. She kept her face hidden under a hood much of the time. Her softer more feminine features mirrored that of her twin's. It wouldn't be hard for any beast to make the connection that the two were related in some fashion if said beast had seen both of them. It seemed however that outside of Savas' horde -perhaps maybe even only his higher ranking officers- none knew Savas had any family at all, just that for some odd reason he wanted Eve Azazel caught and handed over to him; alive. No one dared question him as to why that may be.

Sometimes beasts just thought her to be one of those odd beasts that claim that the end is near. Most times the end was near for those who failed to heed her warnings. If Savas ever so much of thought she may have been there and was offered help, the villagers would pay with their lives. She knew her brother, all too well. The time he had spent with their father had hardened him into the beast that he was today. Luckily she hadn't shared the same fate as her twin, though he seems to think that if she was with him, he could condition her into being like him. All those who cross paths with Savas and live to tell the tale feared his talent and ruthlessness. Eve feared him, but she had been one only one to blatantly stand up against him and survive. As much as he did, she didn't think he would have it in his heart -providing he still had one- to kill her. Members of his ranks were a different story, however. He seemed to have a good handle on all those under his colours but it only takes one.

Eve recalled one time in particular that he had almost succeeded, even without the aid of his ranks. Had it not been for a foolishly brave squirrel that called Savas out one on one and distracted him, she probably never would have escaped; Savas was well trained in the art of battle . Though she had not personally seen the demise of the squirrel she knew her brother survived, meaning that squirrel had lost more than just the battle. She had only known the squirrel for a short time after a chance meeting in a forked road, but even that was enough to seal the squirrel's fate.

By the time Savas and his ranks caught up to the scouts and surrounded the village of Dunmordan, Eve was more than half way to the next village to the south. She probably would have been there by now had she taken the path of least resistance and used the main road, but she chose to stay in the woods so that it would be harder to track her. The trade-off for that was that it was much slower and would take longer for her to reach the village. It also used up more of her energy than the main trail would have. She had hoped her change in direction would work out. Since they picked up her trail, she had been traveling east. Hopefully they will assume she had continued to go east and would also continue east bound. And while they would head further east she figured she'd continue south for a while then head west, creating as much distance as possible between them.

Most of her long-term plans never pan out in the evasion of her twin brother. Much like she could feel him, she knew he could feel her as well. It was an odd thing to explain for sure. She had often wondered how he managed to get his horde to follow him in his mission to capture her when they had no leads as to where she was, only that he had a gut feeling of where she was. Perhaps he had them believing he was some sort of seer or perhaps they just thought he was just that good at tracking. Whatever the case may be, most -if not all- of her plans were short-term because of this.

The day was coming to a close and it was getting darker, if she continued on through the woods she would surely get lost. Eve moved closer to the main road, though stayed beyond the tree line. She sat down to eat what she had left from what the mouse in Dunmordan had given her. It also gave her body time to relax while she ate. After been bush whacking all day and now sitting down in the early evening, she felt a little chilly, but she dare not strike a fire in fear of being seen. She would warm up when she started to move again. As she ate, she contemplated moving to the road and travel through the night. If she did, she figured she'd be at the village by mid-morning. Much like Dunmordan, she didn't plan on staying very long, only to get the directions to the next village. Hopefully an old mouse wouldn't persuade her to stay for a while. She giggled to herself; what were the chances of that happening twice in a row?

Walking along the path, she had arrived at the village, closer to early afternoon rather than mid-morning, mostly due to the fact the was tired and was running dangerously close to exhaustion. Despite that, she seemed happy. She had traveled all night, making up ground and getting further from her brother. She had no idea if his scouts slept during the night. If she had to guess it would be so. She couldn't imagine her brother being too happy if any of his ranks fell short because they were not well rested.

With a yawn, she entered the village. Most beasts had taken refuge inside homes to break for lunch, but there were still a few left wandering around. She looked around for someone to ask about directions.

The day was growing late, and that meant the horde had to set about the business of making camp. They were a nomadic group of beasts, so all they owned tended to be on their backs or in their wagons. Every evening, they made roughly the same camp layout, with the more respected and feared warriors closer to Lord Azazel's tent. The wagons were drawn around the outside circle, to make a sturdy wall in case of a surprise attack in the night.

Not all the wagons that followed the horde belonged to the soldiers. A slaver gang followed the horde wherever it went like a bloated flea on a rat. Lord Azazel tolerated this parasitic behaviour, as long as he got his tribute from the chief slaver. The slavers were looked down upon even in the horde; they were viewed as too weak to make it on their own, needing the soldiers to fight their battles for them. The slavers would prowl around the flanks of the horde as it moved south, snapping up any stray beasts they could before Koray or his buzzards could get to them. They'd sell strong working beasts and weak scholarly ones alike, for both had their value in different circles. So long as a beast had some selling point, they could be kidnapped at sword-point, locked up in a cage wagon and taken far from their homes and families to be sold at the sorts of markets that slavers frequented. In return for the horde's protection, the head slaver paid Savas Azazel a substantial percentage of his profits.

This meant that the hordebeasts were not permitted, on pain of death, to physically attack the slavers. Still, jeers and spitting and dark looks followed anybeast that held a whip. The soldiers would cut in front of slavers in food lines to the cooks, or 'accidentally' bump into them and spill their bowls of gruel and mugs of ale. The hordebeasts had little sympathy for the slaves too, whom avoided eye contact with passing vermin and were silently grateful that at least the bars of their cages kept them separated. The animosity between the slavers and hordebeasts ran high, especially after a few rounds of ale, but it never came to blows. There was always Savas to keep them at bay.

The polecat sat cross-legged in his tent, eyes closed. He breathed in and out slowly, letting the everyday worries of managing the horde fade, so his intuition could take over. Savas had a connection with his sister, one that couldn't be explained in words, but only felt by the twins. If he reached out now, he felt as if he'd find her there in the tent with him. Eve travelled South. Why? What lay there that could stop him from following? He had heard rumours of a wasteland that separated Mossflower from some warm country called Southsward. Perhaps she hoped to throw him off the trail there. Or perhaps she sought to lead him into a trap, taking the horde through a swamp and into toad territory. Swamps were hard enough to traverse, but fighting in them was a recipe for a really bad day.

Savas tried to imagine where he would run if he was alone and surrounded by enemies. Across the sea? Through a desert? Certainly, natural barriers seemed the obvious choice. Perhaps then Eve would take a less obvious choice. Try to blend in somewhere and hope that Savas rushes by, missing that one face in the crown so similar to his own. Well, Savas would not allow that to happen. Right now, beasts had something to fear; him. They needed somebeast to turn to in this hour of crisis, as a brutal vermin horde burned and slashed its way south through peaceful villages. Somebeast to rally a resistance to the terrible warlord and stand as a symbol of hope for all. Savas' muzzle twitched as his plan began to fall into place. He would make Eve Azazel that beast. How would she hide from him then, if the whole countryside was trying to make her their champion against him?

That evening, Savas met with his spies. The thing about good spies was they didn't look like spies at all, just innocent, upstanding woodlanders. A cheerful ex-Long Patrol hare named Dorian, a chubby squirrel named Eiji and an old otter named Naiman, dressed in a fishscale vest and a fisherbeast's hat. He looked as if he could be somebeast's kind old grandfather. However, all these woodlanders were in the employ of Savas Azazel, and paid well to infiltrate woodlander settlements to gather local information, and even spread a little disinformation of their own. This is what Savas had in mind now.

"Your objective for the coming weeks is to spread the following rumour as far and as wide as you can: There is an old prophecy that says that the polecat Eve Azazel is destined to slay Lord Savas Azazel, the leader of a great and terrible horde. Dorian, you will maintain your usual cover as a Long Patrol scout, work the town guards, local militia and any warlike clans of squirrels or otters who might listen to a veteran soldier's tales. Eiji, your approachable appearance is perfect to spread this rumour amongst town gossips, bored domestic beasts and taverns. Naiman you keep doing the retired fisherbeast act, chatter away at older creatures in positions of power, like shrew or otter chiefs, town elders and abbots. If this rumour catches on amongst the warriors, common folk and leaders of the woodlands, then surely they will start their own search for the one destined to kill me, and thus save their lives. She'll be forced to either turn and fight me, or head into the wilderness where she'll be slowed down and easier to track. Any questions?"

Dorian raised his paw. "What if she does attack you, my lord?"

"No doubt you mean; what if she attacks me and wins?" Savas corrected sharply. Dorian's long ears drooped under the polecat's stern gaze. "Simple, Dorian. She won't. We have buzzards to tell us the movements of the woodlanders, and kill any spy birds she might use. So long as we control the air over Mossflower, we can slaughter them piece by piece, always one step ahead of her scouts on the ground. A warrior needs eyes to land a blow, and she will be blind."

"Then why hasn't Koray found her yet?" Dorian asked. The other two were looking at the talkative hare as if he was expressing some sort of death wish. Fortunately for him, Savas was in too good a mood about his plan to get murderously aggravated.

The polecat strode forward and let the hare quiver in fear a bit, gazing into his eyes and letting the awkward silence stretch out. He replied, slowly and deliberately, as if explaining to a child. "We need the buzzards well-rested and fed for battle. Koray sends a few scouts ahead, but we know from them that Eve rarely uses roads, and there's thousands and thousands of acres of dense forest where she could be hiding at any given time. If they miss her with a careless glance, that would be a waste of a day's searching, causing strained eyes, tired wings and hungry, angry predatory birds, which is something I do not need to deal with. Understand?"

The hare nodded quickly, mouth clamped shut. With that question satisfied, and nobeast in the tent willing to incur Savas' wrath any further, the spies made haste from the camp. By tomorrow, they would be playing their parts as the everyday beasts of the woodlands, fitting into their roles as friends and drinking buddies, all the while planting the seeds that would stir up the countryside for a prophecy that never existed. Savas returned to his meditation, allowing himself a smile. He liked his scheme, it had a certain irony to it that he appreciated.

Eve had found a young merchant hare relaxing under the shade of his cart as he munched on his lunch. He had looked nice enough and he was a traveling merchant so it was more likely that he would sympathise with her and help her.
When she approached him, he quickly jumped up aiming to make a sale. The polecat softly shook her head from under the hooded vail of her cloak. "I am not interested in what you sell. I have no means of payment." She said to the hare, in a hushed tone. "I am just passing through. But I was wondering if you could give me some directions to the nearest village west of here." She asked.

Eve had thought long and hard over which direction to take next. As long as it wasn't north; she didn't know how close her brother actually was and she did not feel all too well with bumping into him if she could help it. The best course of action was also the riskiest. She would be traveling in the direction she had come from, meaning if Savas was on the right path, than she would find evidence of it in the villages she had visited before. Judging from her inner connection with her twin, she could feel his confidence as if he were right in front of her, grinning away, taunting her. She knew that if he was hot on her trail, all she would find was destruction in his wake. But the chances of him turning around were slim. And if he left no survivors to say that she was there, he would lose her trail. Of course this all seemed like good news, but she couldn't shake that confident feeling he had, nor did she know why he felt so strongly confident that she was able to feel it. She didn't like it and that made her nervous.

After giving her the directions to the nearest village to the west, the merchant tilted his head to her. "My dear, you do not look well. You should not be going anywhere in that condition."

Eve paused, blinking at him. She knew she should rest and regain her strength, but she also knew she couldn't afford to do so. "I know. But I can't…" She paused, thinking for a brief moment before continuing. "...my brother is looking for me, and I prefer to be on my own right now. We don't get along very well." She said softly. It was the first time she had opened up and told someone something about herself. He seemed to have cared for her well-being; maybe that was why she had told him. "..Perhaps if he happens to pass by, you can mention that I continued south?" She suggested.

The hare watched her with slight amusement, though nodded to her. "If I happen upon a fellow looking for a sister, I'll be sure to point him south. If you are in such a state as withholding your health to get further away from such as beast, it is probably best to get as far as possible. Though I do so in the hope you will slow down and take it easy." He said with a reassuring smile.

Eve Azazel smiled happily at the merchant hare. "Oh! Thank you so very much!" She said excitedly. She felt as if she wanted to hug the merchant, though chose not to act on it. She shouldn't really be hugging strangers, even if they are willing to help her. Grant it, the hare didn't know who she was, nor that her brother had dangerous and deadly back up with him.

The hare stopped her before she was able to run off. "Here. Take this." He said handing her the rest of his lunch that he hadn't eaten. "You need it more than I do."

Eve smiled. "Thank you" She said taking the left over lunch that the hare offered to her. She would stay longer and talk with the merchant, but she need to leave. She needed to keep going. If her brother did make camp, he would be moving by now and so she needed to keep moving. "Thank you so much for all the help." She said as she turned and started to leave.

The hare watched her with a shake of his head. There was something odd about her, that was sure. With a sigh, he began to set up shop for the afternoon.

Eve left the village just as quickly as she entered it, eating the food while she walked along. She stuck to the road for a little while to eat and let her body process the food. She wasn't as worried traveling on the road as she considered that her brother probably wouldn't send anyone back to any of the villages that he destroyed, or at least she hoped he wouldn't. If he was hot on her trail, that it would seem pointless to send others away from the targeted direction. If there were any survivors of the attacks, she would be able to help them. It would be the least she could do, considering her brother caused such destruction.

Choking for air the beast struggled as the razor sharp barbs cut into its neck. The predator had become the prey.

Squawking the breast tried to snip at the weapon caught around its neck only rewarded by a tongue full of bars and winding up with the weapon now firmly wrapped around its mouth. The predator had become the prey.

A flame darkened boot of steel slammed down on the creature?s lower neck as it began to lose its fight and weaken in the middle of the path. The predator had become the prey.

The prey that was now the predator yanked on the handle of its barbed whip and the buzzard cringed and gave a crow through its closed beak as the tiny razors tore the helpless bird apart. The prey that was now the predator growled caught in the dark side of its mind, this was why it was where it was and now where it should be,  "Wut fool, wut a brainless excuse ov'a beast yee are ta think ta try an' eat a beast that EATS OTHER BEASTS!"

The prey that was now the predator jerked the whip again triggering a final futile kick from the bird as it began to lose consciousness. The owner of the whip drew the flame darkened broadsword from its scabbard with its spare claw and gave a long sharp piercing snarl as it glared into the eyes of its victim "Now I will taste your blood."

In one eye socket and out the other the sword tunneled its way through the buzzard?s skull silencing, halting the bird for all time. The beast gave an amused grunt as it ripped the sword from the bird's skull "Hmph, a new way ta make a kabob."

Bringing the sword up in front of her she took a lick of crimson from the blade before her face turned to disgust and she spat repeatedly "Blugck, blood tastes like a rat's poison? Argh!"

The corpse crunched as she stamped on it in a rage "Vile blood, hollow bones, no meat, all feather, A COWARDS HUNTER!"

Nova looked up and stared down the path, her eyes opened large in an unpredictable rage.

OOC: Nova left the abbey having felt a poison hatred coming over her as the vermin side of her mind tried to get out for a while so right now? Yeah?

The horde was delayed for a few days from the march South. The circle of tents was perched on a hill clearing, colourful banners snapping in the breeze, and catching the sun's light as it rose over the trees. Buzzards wheeled overhead, or rested in the surrounding woodlands, preferring to hunt and socialise with their own kind. Archers prowled the woodlands for other, fatter birds to kill, and the more skillful beasts climbed up the great treetrunks to steal eggs from nests. Fish were caught, skinned and gutted, fires roared and a great feast was had. Though Savas was eager to press on to find his sister, there was tradition to attend to. Many betrothals stacked up over the months as hordebeasts took on wives and husbands, some having more of each than others. Whatever the arrangement, it was not formalised until Lord Savas made it so during the bonding ceremony.

Horn calls gathered the beasts in a great circle, those that were stronger and more important getting a better view, of course. The betrothed beasts that intended to be bonded together stood beside each other before the polecat. They were dressed in their best, which was typically clothing stolen from places the horde had raided. There was quite a variety of eclectic fashions amongst the vermin, from brightly coloured turbans and silks to shined armour with oak leaf metalwork across the breastplates. Savas avoided wearing gaudy baubles, and went for a pure white tunic with silver clasps. Whatever precious metals or stones his warriors might have stolen, he would stand out from them all; for the white tunic was spotlessly clean, and that was something nobeast else had in the whole horde.

The ceremony, like many vermin horde special occasions, was very short on words, to make time for drinking, dancing, dancing while drunk and getting into drunk fights over the poor quality of the dancing. Savas began the solemn part of the ceremony with a single paw gesture. Every beast that was to be bonded knelt, and the chatter amongst the crowd of vermin faded.

"Swear, upon your lives, upon the Moon and the Stars, and to your Lord, Savas Azazel," Savas began. "No matter if the skies turn black, the Sun dies, and the sea boils, your oath binds you. Your souls are joined from this day to the end of all days."

"We swear!" The chorus of voices chanted back, and then the whole congregation, bloodthirsty hordebeasts at heart, let loose a great war cry. The shrieking noise of the buzzard's calls added to the din as the mighty birds flared their wings. The noise would have sent a faint-hearted beast running, it sounded less like a happy occasion and more like a rally for battle. Savas was silent throughout, and waited for the noise to die down, before raising his paw again, this time fixing the newly bonded vermin with a chilling glare.

"Forget not this oath, through neglect, abuse, or betrayal, for if Fate does not find you, I surely will!" He pronounced ominously. Even the most genuinely lovestruck vermin's neck fur stood on end as the polecat spoke. They might be able to wriggle out of cosmic retribution if they broke their oaths, but from Savas' wrath there was surely no escape. The polecat waited a moment longer for dramatic effect. "The bonding is done. Let the ale and blood flow!"

Another roar of approval, and the circle broke up. The festivities for the day were about to commence, and they were anything but the fun and games one might see at a Redwall Abbey celebration. Savas really meant it about the blood flowing; blood-sports were a traditional part of horde bonding ceremonies. In fact, a celebration was considered a dull affair unless somebeast 'accidentally' got skewered on a spear, especially if the victim hadn't been very well-liked in the first place.

Savas declined to participate in much of the action. He could hear from his tent the bellows and calls of the horde as they watched fighters spar with each other, or hold contests of strength, skill and agility. The weak polecat youth he had made his cupbearer poured the lord some strong fermented drink they had looted from a few months back.

"My lord."

The polecat turned his head, his body perfectly still as he sat cross-legged on thick colourful rugs. Incense sticks glowed in a brazier, smoke curling up to the top of the tent.

"The Marshal of Buzzards requests his Lordship," a large fox warrior spoke, bowing respectfully at the entrance of the tent. For a moment the polecat did not react, then in one fluid motion, he got to his footpaws. He took two of his bodyguards to the ends of the camp, where Koray waited impatiently, the buzzard's great head flicking this way and that. The mercenaries didn't understand the vermin festivities all that well; Savas hardly knew anything about bonding amongst buzzards, and never thought it important enough to ask. Savas could not abide small talk anyway.

"Koray," Savas greeted the bird, his chin held high, his piercing look matching the mercenary's.

"Lord Azazel." Koray bowed his head., his wings fluttering in agitation. "Found trouble. One of my mercenaries, dead! Went hunting, found her torn apart. Want revenge. Want to find, to kill the vile little dirt-scratcher that-…!"

Savas' look made the great predator choke on the rest of his sentence. The bodyguards had to marvel at the way a simple polecat could cow such a mighty creature. When Savas spoke, his voice could have turned dewdrops to ice. "You come to me, on the day my hordebeasts get married, to tell me about some murdered bird?"

"I want justice!" Koray squawked indignantly.

Savas snorted. "You couldn't find the killer from the air? Very well, I'll give you two trackers, and bear in mind you are only receiving this good grace from me because the celebrations are going to keep us here for a few days regardless."

Koray clicked his beak. "We find'em quick, kill'em quicker. Plenty of time for dirt-scratcher dances. Thanks, O Lord Azazel!"

"I don't dance," Savas muttered under his breath, a scowl flashing across his features for a moment. He bade farewell to Koray and left orders for two fleet-footed trackers to report to the buzzard by first light. To take his mind off the buzzard's words, the polecat deigned to watch the bouts of violence after all. A chair was brought out for him, and he was given the best view as a weasel and a ferret circled each other with short swords. He didn't shout or even seem to take sides, but his stare was fixed on them the whole time, and his grip on the chair's handles grew tighter with every blow. At heart, the spectacle of the savagery truly thrilled Savas.

Eve was getting tired, but she had to press on. Something else made her stop; a large bird circling around, as if it was looking for something. A bird that size, she could only guess that it was looking for its next meal. She lay low, slowly creeping into thicker bush. From there, she climbed a tree. It wasn’t very high, but it got her off the ground and the leaves and branches shielded her from sight quite well. The branch she stood on was pretty sturdy while she hugged the truck of the tree as if she were truly part of the trunk.

She had never seen a bird like that before. Even from the distance, she could tell it wasn’t like any bird she had seen before. If she concentrated hard enough, she could hear the beating of its massive wings as it flew through the air.

She needed to control her fear for two reasons. One, she could do something stupid while running on just fear and anxiety alone, and two, if she felt it deep enough, her twin would be able sense it. “Deep breaths” She had told herself as she heard the bird of prey squawking from a distance. It sounded as though it was directly across from her, not coming from the sky above. Some poor creature was about to see their entire life flash before their eye.

The polecat waited several more moments. All seemed to be quiet…Too quiet, it seemed. She was hesitant of leaving her perch, so she waited just a little longer. After a few moments longer and still no sight nor squawk from the bird, she slowly climbed down out of the tree. She moved back to the road, but stayed along the tree line. That way she would be able to see anything coming at her, while still under some tree cover.

It didn’t take her very long see to a fork in the road up ahead. She was told to stay left to reach the next village. She stopped to blink and squint. Something was coming up from the road that veered right. She shook her head and continued on her way. By the time she got to the split in the road, she and the beast had met up. It was a vixen. Eve moved toward the road more, exposing herself from the protective tree line. She offered a friendly smile as they passed. “Be careful. There was a great bird around here not too long ago.” She warned the vixen. “I haven’t seen or heard it in a little while now, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” She sounded genuinely frightened by the experience, and just want to keep moving for fear of the bird, forgetting for the moment that her twin was after her.

The vixen stomped down the path away from the carcass of the bird repeatedly rubbing at her snout and spitting to get the taste of the creature out of her mouth all the while coming down from the rant its attack had sent her into. Even as she came up to the fork in the path she was still in a foul mood that if it smelled would have been like being in a swamp full of grump old toads but fortunately for her nose, and anybeast within a hundred paces moods don't smell. Nova stopped when the Polecat stepped into view and stared at the beast as it uttered a warning about the large bird that had been flying in the sky. Spitting off to the side of the path she gave a low growl “Ya mean that pile of worthless feathers that came swooping down tryin ta scoop me up wid its beak?” she spat at the ground again with a quivering lower lip “Bah, thing was as rotten in thinkin as it was in taste. Surprised I aven’t gotten poisoned by that filth.”

Looking at the polecat’s condition she wrinkled her snout in revulsion “Ack, yew don’t look much etter than im taste wise.” Closing her snout the white vixen reassessed the polecat, didn’t seem like much of an opponent and appeared more weary than a hare that had been stuck in the brig for a few days with nothing to eat. Blinking once Nova extended her right claw as if pointing at the polecat and waved the coiled whip that was in her claw “Hmph, what is a fatigued beast like yew doin out ‘ere anyways? Shouldn’t yew be inna town wid all the other weakies? Wat business yew ‘ave out ere I say?”

Eve looked oddly at the vixen. Did this beast just say that the bird try to catch him and that it tasted rotten? For a  moment, she was speechless as she watch the vixen spit at the  ground and continue talking. “Wait…you’re telling me you killed and tried to eat that thing?” She said, her mouth slightly agape. The vixen however did look like she could probably hold her own in a fight against the bird, yet Eve was still surprised to hear that the vixen did in fact fight the bird, and actually win and with no major injury to her body.

The polecat took a step back when the vixen started to size her up. For a moment or two, she was starting to panic, thinking that the vixen might try to kill and eat her. As the vixen continued talking, Eve started to somewhat calm down. It didn’t seem that the vixen was going to kill her, as bad as she seemed.

Eve looked down at the ground, kicking up some dirt before looking back up at the other female. “I don’t have a home, or even a town.” She spoke softly to the vixen, as if whispering to keep someone else from overhearing. “I am on my own. Just trying to get through.” She finished as she tilted her head. “What about you? Where are you from?” She asked, trying her luck with how talkative Nova might be.

[“I don’t have a home, or even a town… I am on my own. Just trying to get through.”]

Nova stood silent with her jaw clamped shut letting the polecat continue, even if the softy of a story was irritating her nerves, assuming she had any that is. The vixen kicked up a cloud of dirt with a growl “Tryin ta get through eh, you ain’t gonna get through anything the way you’re lookin.”

[“What about you? Where are you from?”]

“Oh, I’m from the desert lands ta da south n’ east.” Nova said holding her wrists against the sides of her head and flapping her claws exagerantly before dropping the act and her claws to assume a low growl “I’m frum the shipid Northlands ya fool! Garrr…”

Is the rudeness really necessary? I thought you wanted to be better than all that ferocity?

Clamping her free claw to her forehead Nova gave a low groan of a growl “I swear being all prim and proper is ‘arder than it sounds. Ack…” dropping her claw to her side again she blinked at the polecat “Who are I? I mean who are you?”

Eve watched the vixen. She didn’t know what to make of Nova. She seemed to be trying really hard to be polite and nice, though she needed a bit more practice if that truly was her goal.

The polecat giggled softly to herself. “My name is Eve.” She answered the vixen. “And I know I probably don’t look all that much to be traveling, but I must. I need to get as far away as possible. Someone dangerous is looking for me.” She explained. She didn’t tell many of her situation, but Nova didn’t seem to be a beast to work for or under another, most likely kept to herself and she doubted that Nova offered much help others either. So she figured her whereabouts would be safe if Nova ever did run into her brother.

“What is your name?” She asked. Eve quickly looked around; it normally wasn’t like her to be standing in the middle of an open road that could be seen from at least three directions on just the road alone. Not seeing anyone in sight, she turned back to the vixen.

[“What is your name?”]

Seeing Eve looking around puzzled the white vixen a little bit as she relaxed a bit “I’m not ‘ere wid anyone, what are you looking around ferr?” Eve looked back to her and the vixen twitched her snout a little being a little hesitant to introduce herself after having just been rather rude “Nova’s my name, at least ferr as long as I can remember.”

Then it dawned on Nova that Eve had said someone dangerous was looking for her and that perhaps she was looking around to see if that individual was nearby “Wait you said someone dangerous was looking for you? Isn't that all the more reason to stop and get ‘elp?” Nova asked the polecat as she clipped the barbed whip to her belt “Seeing the shape you’re in an’ having ya tell me there’s a dangerous beast about perhaps it’d be a good idea to come back ta the abbey.”

At that she rubbed the back of her neck nervously and gave a shy and fake laugh “Kind of waltzed out in a rage, pretty much the only reason I’m out here. Don’t like the little ones seeing me… Well uhh, you should really join me back to the abbey.”

Jeesh your mind jumps more than a frog on a holiday.

Eve nodded at Nova’s introduction. She offered a small smile to the vixen. For the first time in a long while, Eve let out of sigh of relief that she didn’t have to worry at that moment in time. She let her guard down, ever so slightly. Nova seemed genuine in her confused reactions to Eve’s behaviour, meaning the vixen probably didn’t even know of her or her brother. Grant it, Eve never mentioned her full name. The name she shares with her brother.

An abbey? That sounded nice; a quiet and peaceful place to take refuge. But wait. She couldn’t lead him there, could she? After a pause she nodded again. “…Alright” She said to Nova. “You are most kind.” She added as Nova spun off telling her why she had left the abbey.

“I’m sure whatever caused you to leave would have simmered down by now. And they probably know you left because of the little ones.” She assured the vixen.

Eve wasn’t planning on staying long at the abbey; just enough to get some rest and fill her belly before setting off again. She couldn’t risk getting too comfortable in one place. It would make it that much harder to leave, and it would risk the lives of everyone if Savas ever caught up to her.

“Which way to this abbey of yours?” She asked, looking at all directions of the fork.

[“I’m sure whatever caused you to leave would have simmered down by now. And they probably know you left because of the little ones.”]

Nova gave a hint of frustration in her sigh “Them knowing it or not really doesn’t help. Shouldn’t ‘appen in the furst place; at least that’s what he says.”

Flicking her claws as if shaking the subject from her claws like it was water she took a glance up at the sky to judge the time of day and just which way she was facing. As Eve inquired of Redwall [“Which way to this abbey of yours?”]

Squinting at the sky Nova thought of the bird for a split moment then snorted “Abbey’s ‘bout a week to the south, southwest. I came over the snowy mountains but I don’t think you’re exactly in the shape to waltz through the weather up there; we’d ‘ave ta go around.”
The vixen rubbed her tongue at the back of her upper front fangs and muttered under her breath for a moment before giving a low growl “Can’t stand being around myself sometimes, needless to say that doesn’t go so well. Ahh, me thinks we’re going to need some supplies before we get moving. Perhaps stopping at a village along the way to pick up some provisions would be good, I mean if something’s looking for you it’s probably a bad idea to fumble around foraging…” Nova’s face went flat as her whiskers drooped a tad “Great, utter one word about provisions and now I’m thinking of food… Hickory smoked perch glazed in honey. Bah, I’m turning into an ol’ hare!”

OOC: ??? I feel this is rather random 😣

Eve nodded slightly at Nova. She didn’t quite know what had happened, but she guessed that it had to be pretty significant for Nova to travel a few days just to get away and calm herself.

“South. Southwest.” Eve repeated. She smiled, knowing her brother should be going east, or if he found her tracks again once again, would be following her south. As long as she wasn’t going northwest, she shouldn’t be running into him, or at least not for a long while.
“Mmm…good idea. We’d be wasting too much time foraging for food when we can stock up in the next village.” She agreed. It would be different for her; she tended not to travel on the open road. Although it took longer and exerted more energy, she found traveling in the woods safer than on the road. Her mind was snapped back to Nova’s voice. She giggled. “I’m sure you would never be as bad as an ol’ hare.” She said with a smile. “…But if you are turning into one, best make haste to the first village along the way.” She added, starting to walk in the direction Nova had given.

( ooc – we can skip ahead to the village if you want. They can hear of the prophesy there. )

OOC: You know how people run into writers block? I fell into the quarry… face first.

Two days, two bally days before she... they came up on a village. It was far too small to be considered a town and the vixen was hesitant to even think of it as a village but then again she was comparing them to the more condensed settlements she had known about in the far north as well as Redwall. Glancing over to the side of the path she spotted a rather round field mouse cooking several fish over an open fire. The mouse slowed turning the spit as he stared back at them, particularly the fanged fox that was looking at him making Nova slow a tad and look at Eve. "Quite frankly you impress me, I wasn't expecting to have to travel this far before we came across a settlement but you're still... well here. Though ummm, you might need to do the talkin. I don't think the natives will take to kindly to staring at giant point fangs chomping in front of their faces... Heh."

Scratching lightly at the back of her neck she gave a fake grin "Say there anything in particular you like to eat?"

Eve gave a sigh of relief. It may have taken two whole tiring days, but she along with new friend Nova made it to the village. The polecat almost started to drool as the smell of cooking fish wafted into her nose. Following the smell she spotted the mouse that was cooking said fish. She watched the mouse for a moment as he stared at Nova and when Nova started to speak she was drawn from the mouse to look at Nova. “I’m resilient that way. Though unfortunately so is the beast that is after me.” She said with a soft sigh. Most of her good qualities could also be found in her brother; however he chose to use such qualities in a way that differs from her.

She nodded to Nova, taking a quick glance at the mouse. “I think you are right.” She said softly. Though if any of the villagers had met Savas before, they may not be take kindly to a polecat either. With a deep breath, Eve cautiously walked up to the mouse. “…Umm..Hi.” She said with a tilted head. “We are on our way to Redwall. Stopping by to rest and fill up before we head out again. There wouldn’t happen to be an inn or something in this village would there?” She asked with a tilted head.

The mouse finally broke contact with the fox to look at the polecat. “Keep on da main road, you’ll come to a tavern. They usually have some beds for travelers. Though I don’t suggest folks of your kind stay too long.” He warned, glaring at the two female beasts.
“Oh, We only plan on staying until tomorrow morning...” Eve said to the mouse. “...We just need some time to rest and get some energy.”
The mouse nodded going back to his cooking fish that had since been neglected. Eve returned back to Nova’s side. “I guess we stay on the main road. The tavern should be along here somewhere.”

( I’m thinking they hear the ‘prophecy’ at the tavern, which is where most gossip tends to occur in small villages. They can either overhear it as beasts talk about it, or someone is kind enough to tell personally tell them. Maybe even one of Savas’ spies are still there, spinning the story. lol )

OOC:

Sounds good with me.

BIC:

{“Keep on da main road, you’ll come to a tavern. They usually have some beds for travelers. Though I don’t suggest folks of your kind stay too long.”}

Nova looked off to the side and wrinkled her snout a bit, taverns nothing but drunk beasts. It wasn't necessarily a fact for all taverns but that was what the snowy vixen thought of when she heard the word. Not seeing Eve come back Nova jerked back then sighed as Eve's words registered in her head {“I guess we stay on the main road. The tavern should be along here somewhere.”}

Giving a slight shrug Nova towards one of the larger buildings down the road "Sorry about that, I was just thinking and I wan't paying attention to you coming back over. I suppose that'd be the tavern over there…" A wicked grin formed from the corner of her mouth as a cruel idea entered her head "You know, I think I could use a couple bottles of grog for something heh, heh heh." Her ears flicked a little as her eyes darted back to Eve "Sometimes I don't like being who I am and sometimes i just love it."

Eve blinked at Nova. She didn’t seem the sort to just zone out, grant it, she had only known Nova for two days. The polecat smiled as her ‘friend’ came back to reality, nodding at the vixen’s apology.
She looked over toward the building that Nova had nodded over to. “Seems to be.” She replied.

Eve looked at the old mouse. “Thank you.” She said before turning back to Nova as she voiced the suggestion of a couple bottles of grog. It was the second time in only a few moments that Nova seemed not herself, but who was Eve to judge what Nova’s normal personality was. Regardless, it was much better than the personality of her brothers.
Shrugging it off, Eve laughed. “Come on then, we can get you all the grog you like. May was well enjoy our time while we are here. May not come across another village on the way back to your Abbey.” Eve said as she led the way to the tavern.

Walking into the tavern, the size seemed to suit the village; rather small compared to other taverns. She could see three different kinds of beasts sitting at the tables: the gossipers, the drinkers, and those there for a meal. Some had turned to look at the new travelers before going back to their business, though most just carried on like no one had entered the building.
Scanning the room, Eve found a smaller table for the two of them. “Come on, I found us a table.” She had told Nova as she weaved through the tables, chairs and beasts. Getting to the table, Eve sat down and as she did much of the tension in her body seemed to have fluttered away.

The bar keeper happily walked over, to the new patrons asking if they needed anything. “I’ll have whatever meal you have a special today, and we would need a room for the night, please.” The keeper nodded, “Hot root soup. And I shall get you a key to a room in a moment.” They said then turned their attention to the vixen.

Nova relaxed sliding down a fraction in the chair when Eve inquired about getting a room, finally an actual bed! I don't have to throw together a pile of needles and leaves to sleep like a out-lander.

She blew a sigh then looked up at the bartender as he looked at her "Wha, oh… Fish, medium well please an' spring salad please. Preferably perch."

Nova looked at Eve and gave a slight shrug "Would ask if they have eel but last time I did that I got some odd looks."

The white vixen stretched her arms and gave a light yawn "Imma shut my eyes for a minute while we're waitin. Kinda loud in here but heh it doesn't quite make it to the level of a dormitory full of little ones stuffed with cordial."

Closing her eyes Nova folded her arms on the table and rested her head in them. She gave a light grunt as she threw one leg up so her left ankle was resting just above her right knee "Shame tisn't dusk."

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