Ember the fox's eyes drooped. It had been a long day, and she was tired.
First, they had run into a band of rats somewhere in the middle of mossflower. After narrowly escaping with their lives, Ember led her little band of wanderers west.
At least, she had tried to. After a mile or so, her little brother Rooktail had tripped and fell down a hill, knocking himself out it when his descent was halted by a rock. He lay close to the fire, his head bandaged.
Ember blinked and wrapped her tail around her. Her yellow eyes began to close.
She could sense that they were not alone.
She blinked and shivered. She was rarely alone, what with a hectic band to look after and feuding with Fricka the Ferret every day. But all the same…
She made out the glint of firelight on Kyerda's silvery pelt. The silver fox twitched, murmered, and yawned. Ember blinked at her friend, and gazed around the clearing. There was her sister Ambereye, using a pack as a pillow. Sarpo and Indris, the pheasant brothers, were resting in the grass a little ways off. Fricka's huge brother, Wulfric, was curled up in a ball at the foot of a tree. Meanwhile, Fricka herself was curled up under a cloak.
They were being watched. Ember was sure. She sat up and glanced around. She didn't see anything.
They were being watched.
Ember the fox's eyes drooped. It had been a long day, and she was tired.
(((OOC: Your vermin better put up a darn good fight for their lives…. grin)))
Sierra notched a bow into her string, eyeing the band of vermin with growing unease as the fox on watch stood and peered around the camp suspiciously. Afraid to attract attention by moving until the others were ready, the squirrel lay unhappily against her tree limb and aimed carefully at the fox's heart, ready to shoot if she so much as twitched the wrong direction.
Ember heard the gentle sound of a bow stretching. She froze. Her eyes flicked to and fro. "P-please don't kill me," She whimpered, her voice carrying across the quiet camp. "We're just…just travelers...Who are you?"
"Who're you talkin' to, Ember," mumbled Rooktail drowsily, half-emerging from his stupor.
"Quiet," Hissed Ember through gritted teeth. "Stay...still!"
((( Sierra doesn't trust that vermin any more than you do, Wiktip.
hehe… suddenly I'm chief. Cool. )))
The tense voice in the trees drifted down to Ember again. "Drop your weapons to show you mean no harm."
(((feel free to hesitate... after all, it's a cruel world and it's not likely that you can make it without your stuff.)))
Ember whimpered slightly and dropped several daggers, a shortsword, several more daggers, a throwing star, then several more daggers. However, Ember didn't touch the secret dagger concealed in the back of her tunic.
"Pleeease, I don't mean any harm, please don't hurt us, we're just poor travelers," She whispered.
"Terrik, Wiktip, cover me." Sierra whispered. Without moving her eyes from the fox, she jumped from her tree and landing softly on the peat covered forest floor. Her bow was still taunt and ever aimed. She stared flatly at Ember.
"You go very, very heavily armed for a poor traveler. Don't do anything foul with whatever else you have stuffed in your boots, belt, or cloak, because more than one arrow is aimed at your heart, and if you hurt me you will die. Answer me truly: Why are you in Mossflower?"
"Why d'you think?" She said, annoyed. "We're travelers, idiot. You gotta be armed if you're a traveler. Why, just earlier today we were attacked by vicious, sword-wielding rats. Get it into your head, squirrely, that travelers don't have to be 'goodbeasts,' whatever you imagine 'goodbeasts' to be. By the way, I was born here. I got a brother. A sister. I'm a normal, respectable vixen. That simple enough? Or should I spell it out for you?"
Suddenly, there was a shout, a scream, abnd a wail of terror from Rooktail. The rats were back!
They hurtled into the camp, slashing everything they could find with their swords.
Completely forgetting the squirrel, Ember drew her concealed dagger and hurled herself at the rats.
Sierra bounded upward into the trees. All her kine leapt with her into the highest boughs and stared down at the apparent massacre. Terrik lifted an eyebrow at Sierra.
"Vermin kill vermin," he mouthed with a shrug.
Biting her tongue, Sierra shot an arrow into a burly, decorated rat below.
"Shoot. Just rats."
As the vermin below started to scatter, Sierra started aiming non-lethal shots without respect to race.
"Don't let anyone escape if you can help it," she called to her firing squad. The dozen or so other archers in the trees spread out a little, jumping from tree to tree to keep up with the dispersion.
Ember turned her head, as if in slow motion. A blazing pain in her tail.
"OOOOOOWWWWWWW!" She jumped a foot in the air, clutching her tail.
"Ember, let's run! The squirrels are attacking us, too!" yowled Wulfric.
"SQUIRRELS! I HATE 'EM!" Shrieked Fricka, clobbering a rat with her wooden spoon. "FILTHY, STINKING, RUDE, CRUEL, ANNOYING, COWARDLY…"
Kyerda, possibly the only one who managed to keep her head in the midst of the chaos, screamed, "Run! Ember, Wulfric, Rooktail, Fricka, everyone RUN!"
There was a mad scrambling as the whole band bolted out of the clraring as fast as their legs could carry them.
A few minutes later, the rats, scared out of their wits by the arrows that seemingly came from no where, deserted the clearing, leaving behind the squirrels and a ransacked camp.
"Whew," Said Amber, sitting down on the ground. "What an adventure."
The whole band, all of them, were settled a little way from their camp, collecting their wits.
Immediately, Ember grabbed her brother.
"Oh, Rooktail! Are you all right? You aren't hurt? Oh, I don't know what I'd do if I lost..."
"Okay, okay, I'm fine," Rooktail said, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"It's a miracle we all got out," Said Kyerda in her trilling, birdlike voice. "I can't believe those..."
"Squirrels!" Hissed Fricka, examining an arrow wound. "They don't care who's good and bad, oh, no, they're all vermin, let's kill them all..."
"Maybe they weren't trying to kill us," Said Sarpo, nervously running his beak through his feathers.
"Maybe they were trying to kill the rats but accidentally hit us," Finished Sarpo's twin brother Indris.
Ember glanced at them irritably, yanking the arrow out of her tail. "They were trying to kill us, trust me. Or else they didn't even car ewho they hit." She winced as blood flowed out of her wound.
"I wonder why the rats attacked us," said Wulfric, trying to change the subject.
Ember glared at him. "Rats hold grudges, Wulf."
"Well, Wulfric's got a point," said Kyerda, Wulfric's best friend. "Maybe we took something."
"But we didn't," said Ember. "Did we?"
Everyone shook there heads. Ember, who had a keen eye, immediately noticed something.
"Rooktail? Is something wrong?"
Her brother's mouth had twitched guiltily and he looked away.
"Nothing," He muttered, frowning.
"Roooook," she said dangerously. "What did you take?"
"Nothing," He said. "Just a little piece of paper."
"Rooky!" Ember was horrified. "How did you get it?"
"A rat was holding it, and he dropped it, and I picked it up. I think he saw me," He added with a whimper.
"Give me it!" Hissed his sister, holding out her paw. Rooktail reluctantly dropped a scrap of paper in her palm, and she observed it.
"I can't see much," She said, gazing at it in the moonlight. "Hand me a torch."
Kyerda lit one, and the band gathered around to look.
There was no writing, just thin lines. It looked suspiciously like...
"A map!" Gasped the pheasant twins.
Wiktip let a wry grin curve onto his face as his arrow struck home. Then as the fox's group started to flee, Wiktip made his move.
He was able to make the circuit around the clearing to where the band hand extracted themselves in only a matter of seconds.
As they fled he kept pace, quietly but easily all the same. After all, what land creature could travel faster through woods than a squirrel in a tree, and he was his chief's best scout and spy.
Sierra grit her teeth in frustration as the vermin scattered, leaving a few tangled bodies in the clearing.
"Stay here," she instructed her crew, as she watched her faithful but impetuous subject fly after the original pack. "Let him go, but let's stay together. Don't let them pick us off one-by-one. Creek, Angus, check and see if anyone down there is still alive."
"Map!" crowed the pheasants. "Map! Map!"
"It could be a map," Said Rooktail, observing it carefully. "The question is, where could it lead to?"
"It's a map of Mossflower," said Fricka irritably. "It doesn't lead anywhere."
"Map! Map!" Sarpo and Indris crowed.
"If it doesn't lead anywhere, then what is that "X" doing there?" objected Ember. Indeed , it was a crudely drawn map of Mossflower with an "X' drawn in the very middle of the forest.
"Hidden treasure," Said Fricka mockingly. "What use have we for treasure?"
"It doesn't have to be treasure," said Ember. "It could be a stream that grants eternal youth. Or a feather from the sacred hawk of, I mean, a sacred feather that cures all illnesses."
"Or a staff that can bring back the dead!" Said Rooktail excitedly.
"Shut up before I wring your scrawny necks, birds!" yelled Fricka.
"Anyway, how are we going to find the treasure or whatever if we don't know where it is?'' Said Wulfric.
"So it's somewhere in the middle of Mossflower. But where are we going to search? Are we supposed to dig up every mile to see if it's buried? Root up every tree?"
"And the rats will be hunting for us, if they've escaped," said his sister. "And then there's the squirrels. Will they follow us?"
"They probably don't even know where we are," said Ember impatiently. "Hey…wait," Said Amber, peering closer at the map, which was still clutched in Ember's hand. "Is that...writing? At the bottom of the map?"
Indeed, Amber's uncommonly sharp gaze had spotted tiny writing at the bottom. Ember peered closer. "Hey, you're right!" She exclaimed, twitching her golden eartips.
"Uh, one problem," said Rooktail, looking over Ember's shoulder. "That writing isn't readable." So it wasn't. Instead of normal writing, there were strange symbols drawn lightly.
Kyerda gently took the paper. After glancing at it, she announced, "I can read it."
"What?" said the others in astonishment. Kyerda had refused to reveal anything about her backround since they had met, and as the result kept astounding the others with her knowledge of baffling and unknown things.
"It says, 'Go to the very center of Mossflower, where there will be a tree with white bark and two knots above a hole in its trunk. Tie a rope to one of its branches and climb down the hole. There you will find it. Ragtail.'"
"Let's go!" squealed the pheasants. "Right now! Before the rats get to it!"
"That's right," said Fricka grimly. "The rats could get to it first. Let's ditch the whole thing."
"NO!" said Ember. "The rats might be dead, and we still have a chance. Let's get to it first. As leader of the band, I'm making the decision." Fricka glared at her but said nothing.
"Also," she continued. "We have to acquire new
supplies, as I expect out packs have been stolen or ruined by the rats and squirrels."
"But, uh, where do we get new supplies?" Asked Rooktail.
Ember fell silent.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, the last rat heaved his final breath and died.
((Oh man. I thought for a moment that the X was Redwall. Nice way to lead some one onto thinking it was something else when it totally wasn't. Props Larkspur.))
Wiktip was listening carefully to the conversation. Drinking in every word.
Rat treasure could only mean they stole it. And since it must have been stolen, it's only right that us squirrels should steal it back. AUkk. But chief wouldn't agree, he'd just say that stealing was bad and that we should let the vermin go. He thought for a moment, then a thought came to his mind.
He turned and rushed back to the clearing.
The fox said that the treasure was in the center of Mossflower and if the intend to go towards it, they would have to go in the same direction as Redwall Abbey…
(((Heh heh heh))
"We'll get supplies along the way!" Roared Ember, stowing the map in her cloak. "On we go! We're starting now!"
The band cheerily marched along, occasonally picking blackberries and fruit along the way to keep from starving. "When will we get there?" Whined Rooktail after a few minutes. Ember cuffed him. "Eventually, Rook. Eventually."
"Now, if we keep walking without stopping, we'll get there tomorrow morning," said Kyerda. "Prepare for a sleepless night!"
"At least we'll get to keep watch for the squirrels," muttered Amber.