Cockleburr awakened just in time to hear the weasel's warning. His eyes were still closed, but he heard it all. He groaned as Rugthort kicked him.

Then, he opened his eyes. "Vermin, you have just signed your own death warrants." he said calmly. "If you know what's good for you, you will return the map and set me loose. You don't know what you would unleash if you decipher the runes. It's your own destruction!"

He then heard Grundlink shouting. He grinned. "You have only a few seconds to decide."

Arries the squirrel jolted awake from the yelling. Once she heard what Grundlink was saying, her eyes narrowed.
"ARRIES! TELL YOUR PIGHEADED HENCHBEASTS TO RELEASE COCKLEBURR!" she screamed. She ran out of her room, snatching a dagger without stopping.
Arries the wildcat was congratulating Ragclaw, when she heard the yelling coming from the Inn. She swore, and rushed to the inn.
"I swear, if I find out who ruined my plan, I will demote him AND give him extra chores!"

Lance meanwhile had been trying to get some sleep as he laid in bed, opening both eyes lazily once he heard the yelling. "Er eins og Skellai aftur og aftur…" He said with a groan as he got up. Putting on his cloak that he had set on the bed post he grabbed his staff and went out of his room into the hallway. A rush of fur and bushy went past him as the squirrel-maid Arries ran past him with a dagger in paw with clear anger on her face.

He shook his head at this as he went back to him room and walked to his window. Wrapping a paw with his cloak he busted out the glass pane carefully and clearing the sill of glass he climbed outside. Apologies in mind for later, he quietly stalked over to behind a tree near the back of the Inn and saw the situation clear at hand.

A weasel and rat have the hedgehog Conkleburr hostage and Grundlink along with Arries rushing to rescue him from how it sounded. With a steady paw he unsheathed the lance blade from a hidden sheath and twisted it onto the top of his staff with a slight click. Using the darkness to his advantage he sneaked over to nearby where the two vermin generals were. Certainly different then how it was back up north, but it worked to his advantage as he waited for a good chance to ambush them unawares.

Bow loaded and eyes straight out, Grundlink stood firm as Arries the squirrel opened the back door for him. The rat squatted down and gradually stepped out of the Inn into the patio, the bowstring pulled taut and the steel arrow sharp as a lethal knife. His black pilgrim’s boots made hardly a clamor on the gravel and grass, and blended into the darkness of the night, while his eyes initiated a panorama of the area for Cockleburr.

His toes kicked against something stuck in the ground. Releasing the shortbow and unloading the arrow, Grundlink looked down. There, skewered and standing upwards like a sign, was a hedgehog spike, no doubt severed off of poor Cockleburr’s body amid his unconscious abduction. Grundlink felt furious rat growls develop in his throat, gripping his bow so tightly that it was almost in danger of snapping in two.

Those…monsters! Those ruthless sadistic monsters!

Memories surfaced in his mind, stifled, dark, and unwelcome: the day his parents revealed their darkest mystery to him, on his 18th birthday, no less; the day that changed his life forever.
He learned the reality about who his parents truly were, and who he truly was. What his blood was and is, and presented itself as.

The vermin commanded by Arries the wildcat, say they resembled him? One day, would he become noticeably like them? Under the correct circumstances and the proper pressure, in the perfect environment…would he succumb to his vermin instincts, abducting innocent woodland creatures left and right and torturing them for counter-intuitive reasons?

Why the struggle? Why the terrible haunting nightmarish struggle?

The answer came strong, a light glowing in his heart and growing brighter by the second.


He dared not become them. A promise made to Cockleburr, to his parents…to himself. Not those cruel soldiers with Arries, nor like his ancestors.

A premonition instructed him to sheathe the bow and instead employ the sword. A couple sleight-of-paw maneuvers, and one weapon vanished, instantaneously replaced by the other. It sparkled and shimmered in the moonlight, and Grundlink raised it over his head, crying out in a stouthearted valiant voice. His heart soared upon the wings of the night air, the rat speaking aloud with all the power of the South.

“Hear me, wildcat Arries! I am Grundlink o' th' South! Th' Eastern Islands are my protection an' my charge! They shall come t' no harm while I live an' breathe! Decrypt th' runes how you may, no victory exists for you! Th' secret power in th' Islands is already rising! Your planned invasion can only en' in defeat an' devastation, at th' paws of the Chosen One, my blade an' Cockleburr’s bow alongside his! Hear me, wildcat Arries! No victory exists for you!”

At Cockleburr’s warnings, Rugthort nearly choked on his ale. Kullek patted his comrade on the back while they both confronted Cockleburr.

“Listen ya here again, hedgepig!” Rugthort waved the steel dagger under Cockleburr’s nose. “We don’t give a single fish’s scale or a bird’s feather what ya say about the Eastern Islands! I’ve told ya once and am telling ya again: the map belongs to us, and we shall do with it as strikes our fancies! Those runes are helpless to not be read, and that’s exactly what our great commander Arries the wildcat plans to do! Just try and stop us, eh? Power or no power to be unleashed, as Arries is our leader, she shall strike down any and all opposition, and emerge victorious from the ashes of war!”

“Aye, aye! Spoken the truth, Rugthort has!” Kullek drained his mug of ale and wiped his mouth in his shirt. “Ya say something dangerous and terrible might happen if the runes are translated. Face it: there’s nothing ya can do about that either! We’ve seen our commander in action, ya wouldn’t like her when angry! She’s crushed even the hardiest, craftiest, and strong-willed of creatures, both literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally! A simple puzzle won’t escape Arries’ superior intellect. Ya see the Inn, eh? Sure, it’s new and is in desperate need of work and design; but it’s the wildcat’s achievement. That alone should clue ya in as to what she’s capable of!”

Rugthort likewise finished his ale and whacked Cockleburr’s temples mockingly with the pint.

“This has made me think, something I don’t do very often. Ya and yer rat friend must be delusional, visionary creatures! Talking about ‘Chosen Ones’ and ‘hidden underground powers’, ‘ancient legends’ and ‘signs in the skies’. Or whatever other rubbish yer disorganized minds have invented out of thin air. They’re nothing but empty fantasies and the dreams of senile aged beasts! Do ya spread legends like these everywhere ya go, in hopes to frighten other creatures into repenting and rethinking their lives, or else the ‘Chosen One’” – the weasel emphasized the word rather aggressively and in a tone of selfish shameless ridicule – “might slay them in their nightmares? What do ya hope to accomplish with these ideas? Fish feed and bird’s worms! Keep dreaming, spiky drunken dastard! The age of miracles has long since passed! I’ll reiterate for ya: we are generals of Arries, and nothing – I mean, nothing! – can stand in our way when she comes to invade the Eastern Islands! Nothing stops us, and nothing especially stops her!”

Arries the squirrel raced past Grundlink, her senses acute. She could tell where the vermin were. She ran faster than the wind. She found Cockleburr and saw his captors. She snuck up behind them, and grabbed them, her dagger at both of their throats. At the same time, Arries the wildcat burst in.
"Who are you?!" She yelled at the other vermin.
Arries the squirrel added, "And why did you kidnap Cockleburr?!"

In response, Cockleburr laughed. "You mock things beyond your comprehension, vermin!" he said. "Boast as you may, you and your wildcat go to your own destruction. Don't say I didn't warn you. Mightier ones than her have tried, and their bones are crumbling within the islands. But laugh as you will, don't say I didn't warn you."

A pair of otters strolled along the Mossflower path, leading to the famed Redwall Abbey.  It was dark, but there was enough ambient light to make out where to walk without too much trouble.  Both otters were about the same size, one ambling along briskly, the other with more a spring in his step despite the late hour, as if it didn't bother him much.

"Think we'll get to the Abbey before too long?" asked one to the other.  "I can't say I've ever seen the place and I am overjoyed at the thought of seeing it for the first time."  He smiled at his companion, though it was hard to tell if his companion caught the grin.

"Keep at this pace, maybe" said the other, much more pointedly.  "I would like to simply rest my feet, at the Abbey or anywhere.  There's always places around.  Its been a long while since I've been this way so I don't remember where they all are."

"Heh, well some navigator you turned out to be," smirked the first one playfully.

His companion only sighed at the comment.

Before long, they could make out the sound of rustling and shouting somewhere in the distance further ahead on the path.  The otters stopped to get a better idea of what was going on and then looked at each other.

"What do you suppose all that noise is about?" asked the practical one to his friend.

"Sounds like they forgot to invite us to their hullabaloo, maybe our invitation got lost," giggled the other.  His companion cuffed him back across the head playfully like he always did when a real silly comment was made by the other.  He stopped giggling, and continued to listen to the shouting and anger in the voices of the beasts up ahead.  "Should we invite ourselves and see what the arguing is about?"

"Not rashly" argued the first otter, "no point in doing something plainly stupid when you don't know who's doing the yelling or why they are.  They sound angry enough, and you know how these woodland beasts get when they don't get their way.  Out come the sabers, swords, and what have you and all we carry are small knives."

"Got to admit, they're pretty knives though," smiled the second, grinning again, pulling out the knife and pointing dead ahead, "Forward, ho, Whitewater?"

"Quietly though," cautioned Whitewater, "we go together and see what is up."

The two otters moved closer to the ruckus by the inn, wondering who was doing all the shouting.  Both hid behind a large oak, not far from the path, awaiting the beasts to either to show themselves, or give a hint as to the issue.  Neither were warriors by trade, and didn't particularly align themselves with anyone.

Arries the squirrel looked at the vermin carefully.
"I recognize them. They're with you." She roughly shoved them towards the other Arries.
"I never want to see them in my Inn ever again, you hear!? Or I won't let them get away." She carefully lifted Cockleburr up.
"Here, I'll get you inside and cleaned up." She carried him in through the back door, and put him in a chair. She lit a few lamps, and set to work bandaging his head.

It had all happened in a blur. Grundlink blinked once, then twice, then a third and fourth time. Arries the squirrel confronted Rugthort and Kullek, returning them to her wildcat friend to deal with accordingly. Cockleburr was retrieved and taken to the Inn, where Arries treated his head wound. Grundlink could feel the grip on his bow clenching tighter and tighter. But first things first: he followed the squirrel inside the Inn.

“Cockleburr!” In great relief, he sighed aloud and pulled up a chair beside his friend. “Thank th’ seasons ye are safe! Tell me where they hurt ye, an’ I’ll be sure t’ exact equal amounts o’ vengeance upon ‘em!”

Grundlink felt his primal vermin instincts beginning to fill his body. His yellow eyes burned sun-golden, akin to a courageous warrior. Paws setting an arrow to the bowstring and tail unsheathing his mithril longsword, he sprinted out the back door again to furiously confront the wildcat and her malicious cronies.

“This’ll be my last’ time t’ ask! Where…is…my…map?! Don’ any o’ ye understand wha’ unfathomable messages those runes bear? Do ye comprehend wha’ will inevitably happen if they are decoded? Only th’ chosen can read those runes; only th’ chosen can translate ‘em! Cockleburr an’ I are personally chosen by th’ authorities o’ th’ Eastern Islands themselves! Entrusted tha’ map wit’ our very lives indeed! We swore oaths t’ keep it safe! Now it’s fallen into enemy paws, a mistake for which I’ll never forgive myself! Give it up or be doomed t’ annihilation! Where…is…my…map?!

Rugthort and Kullek whirled around on their heels to face Grundlink. After his short monologue concerning the map and his duty to protect it, silence befell them…for a few seconds. They hurled their bodies flat on the ground, laughing evilly and tauntingly.

“That’s a great speech, black-and-white rat!” Rugthort wiped amused tears from his malicious red eyes. “Did ya write that yourself, in your sleep? I wouldn’t be surprised if ya did! Go on, then! Our mistress Arries has it. She retreated into that grove of trees over yonder behind us. Mind ya, she won’t give it back without a fight. Asking nicely will do no good! Best of luck out there!”

Kullek drew his cutlass, brandishing it before Grundlink before making a rapid downward slash. As if on pure instinct, Grundlink’s tail lashed forward to perfectly parry the aggressive blow, yellow eyes narrowing angrily. One foot darted outwards followed by the other against Kullek’s knees, then both to his lower ribs. With a surprised painful scream, the black rat fell forwards, his legs knocked out from beneath him. Rugthort drew his steel dagger, but in the same second, Grundlink corrected his posture and raised his shortbow.

Shikt! Woomph!

The mithril arrow impaled itself in Rugthort’s elbow. The weasel let out a high-pitched immature scream, dagger thrown aside and knees giving way, dearly clutching his bleeding right elbow. Grundlink’s tail smacked the kneeling Rugthort under the chin and in the middle of the back with the sword hilt. After collapsing, belly resting on his knees, Rugthort did not move, voicing only barely audible defeated whimpers. To Grundlink’s right, Kullek groaned and attempted to stand up again. Grundlink slung the shortbow across his back and transferred the sword from tail to paw, hitting Kullek aggressively on the back of the head – three times.

“That's for Cockleburr,” Grundlink snarled in a predatory tone. “Final warnin’, boys. Don’ touch my stuff.”

Guided by some unknown and unseen force, Grundlink hurried through the encompassing forest and eventually came to a vast clearing within no more than a couple of minutes, in which sat the enormous stump of an aged oak tree, long since dead and chopped down in unknown time past. He spotted Arries the wildcat poring over the map with her generals, extending the sword towards her in an undeniably threatening gesture.

“Under th’ authority o’ th’ Five Chieftains of the Eastern Islands, I command ye, Arries, t’ surrender th’ cryptic map your soldiers have unlawfully stolen! I command ye now t’ return wha’ rightfully belongs t’ myself an’ my friend Cockleburr, th’ original property o’ Benndel o’ Bevidred! In th’ name o’ th’ Chosen One, Tinarandel th’ Bearer o’ Ligh’: I, Grundlink o' th' South, command ye…to cease your conspiracies!”

Cockleburr was grateful that his friend Grundlink had freed him. As they went, he told the rat, "They conked me on the head, knocking me out, then kicked me a lot when I was tied up. I was hoping some of my spikes got on their footpaws." he said as he went with him. "You've just got to let me have some of those mithril arrows for my quiver."

He got his own bow and arrows and a dagger or any as he went with Grundlink to confront the wildcat. "Those vermin will never learn, Grundlink!" he said. "If we weren't sworn to defend the map and its interpretation, I would just let them decipher it to their own destruction. They deserve it!"

He stood beside his friend as he confronted Arries, and looked at the rat with awe. He had never seen him like this. It was the first of many amazing things he would see.

Arries the wildcat turned, eyes wide with fear and sympathy, but when she looked at her generals, her eyes hardened. She drew her sword, handing the map to one of her generals.
"Come and get it! I'm Arries the wildcat, daughter of Sinom the Fierce! The map is now my property!"
Arries the squirrel stepped in front of Grundlink.
"I'm Arries the squirrel, daughter of Norm! I shall not let you pass unless you give back the map. It is not rightfully yours!" She gave an earsplitting scream and charged. Arries the wildcat howled and rushed to meet her.

Grundlink reached out to grab the squirrelmaid by her shirt, but she had already sped away, charging the wildcat. He shook his head in disappointment, glancing fearfully at Cockleburr.

“Is she that damn reckless? She’ll get herself killed! Th’ wildcat will show no mercy! We’ve got t’ stop ‘em both! You hold th’ squirrel an’ th’ wildcat, I’ll incapacitate th’ generals. Remember, Cockleburr, th' intent is not t' kill! Hurry!”

He struck a battle stance, body pulling in reverse and blade raised above his head pointing outwards; one paw gripped the hilt and tail curled inwards. One of the generals, a pale white-furred red-eyed ferret one and a half feet taller, charged him wielding a wide steel broadsword, swinging aggressively and in a frantic rapidity. Grundlink crouched and spun to dodge a sideways move (otherwise effortlessly taken off his head) and dealt a swift kick to his adversary’s stomach.

The ferret reeled, painfully clutching the brief blow to his lower torso. Be that as it may, as his thick leather armor had absorbed a large portion of the blow, he recovered in an instant. Standing back up, Grundlink jumped up high, flipping over the ferret’s head; his tail dug into the other’s pocket and pulled out a spare steel longsword. He reassumed the battle stance immediately upon landing.

“Come an’ get me!”

“I’d be glad t’ do so, black-an’-white scum! I am Kradilus, ‘ere t’ avenge my brothers an' fellow generals Rugthor’ and Kullek!”

Kradilus spun the broadsword above his head and hurled it at the ferret, who blocked the blow using his twins. Locked in a tense threatening moment, Grundlink pushed the broadsword upwards with his full strength, away from both their bodies. But Kradilus ripped himself free and lashed out the edge of his blade on the rat’s right shin, who cried out and stumbled backward, falling upon his bleeding leg, and Kradilus initiated a series of swings around his body.

Both vermin’s arms blurred as Kradilus attacked and Grundlink defended, the latter lying desperately on the ground. While stemming the wound in his leg, his tail rolled around the side and parried Kradilus’ blows. The ferret drove his weapon down to take off his enemy’s head once again, who rolled away to the left, causing the sword to instead carve into the grass and dirt. Grundlink grabbed a pawful of leaves and strings of grass, placing the former upon his cut and tying the knots of grass around them. That taken care of, he stood up again and faced Kradilus, tail curling and uncurling, still maintaining defense.

Kradilus smirked. “We’ll figh’ forever until th’ death, vermin!”

“I can do this all nigh', ye brute! I did no' kill Rugthor' an' Kullek, no matter wha' ye think!”

"Tell tha' t' Arries, punk!"

Another bout of swings and parries began, one utilizing full unbridled aggression, and the other displaying a calm and coordinated demeanor in near-perfect quick defense from both tail and limbs. Not looking over his shoulder and concentrating solely on the fight, Grundlink called across the field.

“Cockleburr, have ye located th’ map?”

Unfortunately, in the calling out, Kradilus had in a second spotted a weak point in the rat’s body. One-pawed, Kradilus locked his blade under the mithril sword and twisted it under Grundlink’s wrist, slashing him just above the elbow in the underarm. Grundlink cried out loudly, dropping the longsword and suffering another cut to his right shoulder. A pair of violent kicks to his ribs and Grundlink was pushed back off the ground, landing on his spine on the surface of the tree stump. His tail lay limp on the ground, dropping the ferret’s steel longsword…and barely moving.


(Sorry it's so long!)

"Til heiðurs!" Lance yelled out after lunging out of his concealed position to the side with his lance, its steel tip gleaming as he went forward towards the ferret. Using his surprise entrance he aimed to move between the vermin general and the fallen rat Grundlink taking his battle stance as he faced his opponent. His lance in his right held aimed forward as if ready to throw it, while the parrying dagger in his left held up front sideways as if to mimic a shield.

The lance tip rested on the dagger as he stared, "Tími til að deyja." He said as he waited to greet the ferret's attacks with his own.

(And I'm sorry for the short post. XD)

CLANG! The sword flew out of Arries' grip as Cockleburr's arrow struck it. "The next one goes in your eyes, cat!" he said as he rushed past. He pushed the squirrel aside and then rushed the wildcat himself, getting her in a headlock. He knew his friend could take care of himself in a battle, but then saw the ferret and what he did. Grundlink was down. He kicked the wildcat and then bounced off, shooting an arrow through the ferret's paw. He was not to kill.

But the map was now his object.

OOC: If I'm wrong on this, my post will look awfully stupid, but the battle is outside the inn at this point, right???  Plus this post is short, since I simply need to get them involved.

The ruckus grew louder and more intense as both Whitewater and his silly companion (whose name was Riverclaw) had stifled their movements behind the trees as it was obvious there was a battle going on.  They looked at each other again.

"Do we chance helping them?" asked Whitewater practically, "they sound as if they have larger weapons than us, and they're clearly fighters."

Riverclaw looked back and snickered.  "Watch this, I'll get them to stop thinking about that stupid argument and all their tough talk."

He jumped out in the middle of the path and hollered down the road, "Hey, your mother was a hamster and your father smelled like elderberries!  Haha!"  He ran back beside his otter pal.  "That ought to catch them off guard as they try to think that one through."

Whitewater did nothing, except smack Riverclaw upside the head, and scold him.

"You puddenhead," he growled, "like we need them coming after us after they try to figure out who's done all that yelling."  He pulled out his short knife, knowing he might need it soon.  "Better get your knife out, you're going to need it."

"Your icy tone ought to freeze them," smirked the playful otter, but got his knife out anyway after the stare from his companion.

Arries the wildcat grunted as she was kicked, and the squirrel was distracted looking at Grundlink. Arries quickly noted who had taken Grundlink down, making a mental note to promote him. She lunged at Arries the squirrel. The squirrel turned just in time, and then they were locked in deadly combat, growling and rolling on the ground. At that time, most of the vermin had turned to pursue the otters on the road.

Kradilus loomed over the fallen Grundlink, unconscious and unmoving. The pale red-eyed ferret sneered evilly, tracing a sharp claw along the silent rat’s face and neck like a hunter inspecting its helpless prey. Where is the most effective place to kill Grundlink, to end his life forever? Put the pathetic miserable creature out of the hopelessness of inaction and weakness, and earn the favor and attention of Arries, of which Kradilus had long dreamed?

To achieve an honor and dream none in the army ever imagined, Kradilus took to sheathing his broadsword.


A mithril arrow struck him in the paw from the back side, penetrating under the bone through the muscle. Kradilus screamed boisterously in horrifying pain, the broadsword dropping to the ground. The ferret tumbled down on his rear end, cradling and attempting to wrest the cruel arrow from his flesh.

“Ye’ll pay for this, ‘edgehog!” Kradilus spat furiously at Cockleburr. “My fellow generals oughta gut an’ shake ye like a fish out o’ water! Lay a spiky finger on th’ map, and ye’ll come t’ beg for death before th’ end! This is yer fault!” Kradilus shouted at the motionless deaf Grundlink. “Ye’re next, rogue vermin! Call yerself a ferret! No genuine vermin are ye, fightin’ like a woodlander!” He spit irately and contemptuously at Lance Drifter, backing away from the dangerous sellsword creature.

The arrow bowed and snapped in two. Grabbing his steel longsword which Grundlink had dropped, he used the tip to fastidiously sever the arrowhead from his paw. He snatched some leaves and grass and wrapped the wound before standing back up again,  his eyes burning a bloody hatred.

“Where are ye, ‘edgehog? Come at me and face yer inescapable death! I, Kradilus, shall become th’ top general o’ Arries, daughter of Sinom the Fierce! Th’ Eastern Islands better prepare for what terrors await them! Th’ runes stand no chance, we’ll solve them; and neither ye nor yer near-dead rat friend can stop us! I don’t know what lies ye told Rugthor’ and Kullek, but it’s just superstition at any rate! I believe not in such ridiculous myths, an’ neither does Arries. So come, ‘edgehog! We’ve ‘eard th’ wildest stories of islands claimin’ t’ be legendary places of inconceivable power, only t’ be weak, pitiful, an’ defenseless when confronted by a genuine enemy! Th’ Eastern Islands mus’ be no special exception! Take up yer weapons, ‘edgehog, an’ let it be known: th’ Eastern Islands belong t’ Arries the Fierce now!”

Grundlink lay in darkness, his consciousness meandering the astral plane. He felt not alive though not dead either; merely…existing.

Pulling to his feet, Grundlink wandered the black void, black fur and pilgrim’s boots blending seamlessly into the empty shade; his white fur, tan belted tunic, and golden boot buckles the only standouts amongst the endless realm.

Hard metal footsteps made their way towards him from behind, and he swung over his shoulder. An aged mouse, brown and clad in gray banded iron armor beautified with cryptic Eastern runes, came strolling towards him. Quickly recognizing the figure, Grundlink smiled brilliantly, eased at the sight of a familiar face, bending down on one knee and speaking a foreign tongue.

“<chief benndel!="" how="" glad="" i="" am="" t’="" see="" you!="">”</chief>

Benndel waved a silver spiked gauntlet to encourage Grundlink to stand. “<arise, old="" friend.="" your="" part="" in="" history="" is="" not="" yet="" finished.="">”</arise,>

Grundlink did as bade, standing before the mouse Chieftain of Bevidred. _Benndel nodded and gave Grundlink a comforting smile. “<no, and="" neither="" am="" i.="" i="" only="" reach="" out="" connect="" to="" you="" in="" my="" sleep.="" are="" unfathomably="" blessed,="" child="" of="" the="" south.="">”</no,>

Grundlink agreed by nodding his own understanding. “<seems despite="" everythin',="" i="" still="" have="" so="" much="" t’="" learn="" abou’="" th’="" chieftains="" an’="" mysteries="" o’="" east.="" may="" inquire="" why="" ye="" reach="" out="" me,="" ol'="" benn?="">”</seems>

Benndel squeezed Grundlink’s shoulders, who felt a new vitality coursing through his body, and he puffed out his chest valiantly.

”__ Ol’ Benn clarified.
<cockleburr is="" trapped="" in="" an="" unfortunate="" situation,="" and="" you="" must="" help="" him,="" regardless="" of="" the="" circumstances.="" map="" belongs="" to="" that="" evil="" wildcat="" her="" ruthless="" generals="" now.="" yes,="" speak="" truth,="" grundlink,="" nobeast="" outside="" east="" can="" read="" it.="" but="" i="" am="" sending="" back="" all="" same.="" cockleburr="" outnumbered,="" even="" with="" stranger="" squirrelmaid="" on="" his="" side.="" entrusted="" two="" personally;="" destiny="" fate="" have="" marked="" as="" their="" own!="">”</cockleburr>_

Grundlink’s jaw fell open, the disclosure blowing his mind. “<wait a="" moment,="" milord!="" it="" was="" ye="" who="" awakened="" me="" earlier?!="">”</wait>

“<yes!>”</yes!> Benndel’s honesty bore no oppositional debate. “<and now="" the="" hope="" wears="" thin="" for="" side="" of="" good.="" go="" back="" and="" help="" your="" friends!="" reclaim="" map="" tell="" nobeast="" what="" secrets="" it="" holds!="" i="" have="" given="" you="" my="" blessing.="" worry="" or="" fear="" not,="" am="" watching="" protecting="" you,="" as="" are="" other="" four.="">”</and>

“<i’ll do="" ye="" proud,="" chief!="">”</i’ll> Grundlink held Benndel’s gloved paws in his own. The mouse's Eastern eyes shone like the morning cloudless sky, and warm tears streamed down his cheeks.

“<grundlink, i="" adore="" you="" like="" my="" own="" son.="" might="" not="" know="" it="" now,="" but="" have="" always="" done="" me="" proud.="">”</grundlink,>

Grundlink’s eyes snapped open in a nanosecond flash and gradually sat up, his body completely free of pain and discomfort. The shape of the midnight moon struck his eyes, fuel for the new energy that Benndel had given him. From the seat on the tree stump, he processed his surroundings.

Kradilus was standing up and advancing on Cockleburr, his injured left paw wrapped in grass and leaves. The broken arrow lay in pieces on the ground beside the stump. Lance followed behind him, prepared to attack if necessary. Both the wildcat and the squirrelmaid named Arries were rolling around on the ground, slashing, spitting, and growling at each other. An unexpected supernatural inspiration filled his heart, standing his tallest upon the tree stump under the glorious sapphire hue of a wide enormous moonbeam. Tail drew a sword, paws loaded the shortbow, and Grundlink aimed a mithril bolt above the threatening Kradilus' head. The released arrow sailed over the ferret and pierced an ash tree on the opposite side. Kradilus jumped a foot in the air in surprise, glancing behind…jaw dropped in awe and eyes widened in fear. Grundlink stared at him with a hard unshakable courage, bow lowered to his side and steel blade shimmering in the moonlight like a blinding blue-silver beacon.

"Ye can' hurt me anymore, Kradilus. I now have the powers of th' Chieftains o' th' East inside me! They watch over me an' my friend Cockleburr, an' neither o' us shall go out tonigh' without a figh'! This ends now! Order your commander Arries t' return th' map, or suffer th' wraths of the Five! Or...Cockleburr! Mr. Drifter! He's all yours!"__

The two Arries rolled around, neither landing a blow on each other. They snapped and punched, hit and kicked, but none could get the upper hand.
"Why? Why must you ruin it?" Arries the squirrel snapped. "I finally got a chance at a honest life and you destroy it! I tried to put my past behind me, but nooo, the great Arries the wildcat MUST take over! "
Arries the wildcat dodged and growled. "If it wasn't for your parents running away, my family would be alive! We would be rich, be powerful, be living a dream!"
Arries the squirrel finally kicked her away, and pounced, landing blow after blow on her opponent.
"You call that living a dream?! It was a nightmare! WE MURDERED! WE KILLED! WE WERE SURROUNDED BY DEAD BODIES!" Arries the wildcat snarled, but there was a tear in her eye. Arries the squirrel punched one more time, and knocked her unconscious. The squirrel stood up remorsefully. "I hated that. I know you did too." She turned and ran to help the others.

Cockleburr saw his chance. He saw his friend Grundlink coming to. "At last!" he cried. "Now we can punish these vermin together!" He wondered how his friend came to so fast. It could be…naw, it couldn't be! Now, where was the map? Maybe he could find a mace to complement his bow and arrows and saw one among the weapons of the vermin. He picked up the mace. It felt natural in his paw as if it was meant for him.

He saw Kradilus approaching. "Yes, come to me and meet your doom!" he said, hefting the mace.  "Spike and striiiiike!" he cried as he swung the mace.

Grundlink hurried over to Cockleburr’s side, leaving his bow and quiver on the tree stump, and drawing his own sword. He stood in his classic battle stance in preparation for the inevitable combat, sword paw raised high and outwards, and his tail pointed forwards and straight, ready to stab if need be. Defense, not offense. That was Cockleburr’s job.

Kradilus flourished his broadsword, smiling wickedly. “Oh, this is going to be quite fun! I’ll enjoy slaughtering th’ both o’ ye, an'  tha’ promotion will be mine! My doom, ye say? Nay, th’ only doom tonight will be yours, I promise it! For Arries the Fierce!”

The evil ferret hurled his broadsword sideways to his left over his enemies’ heads, blocked only by Cockleburr’s spiked mace. He growled in disappointed anger at the smart parry.

“Come on! Stan’ still an’ let me kill ye! Quit playin’ aroun’ an’ don’t block!”

Kradilus pulled his sword over his head at a 45° angle, and began a sequence of tight slashes and aggressive attacks, forwards and backwards, side-to-side. But in between and within the middle of it all, Grundlink’s twin swords blocked every single one at every known angle, and even at such beyond Kradilus’ comprehension. The latter rudely elbowed Grundlink aside.

Grundlink stumbled away and rubbed his sharply shoved right hip. The blade in his tail waved around accusingly.

“Hey! Tha’ was uncalled for!”

“We’re both vermin, so it doesn’t matter! Stay there if ye know what’s good for ye! Now, hedgehog! Let me see wha’ ye’ve got! Come on, ye spiky pig! Hit me!”

OOC: Deliberately made this short so Cockleburr could have his moments in the spotlight.

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