_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.