Backstory: Avalon (Shadow of Death)

(Work of Fate)

“Avalon my dear can you come here for a moment?”
The middle aged silver vixen poked her head from the doorway of her apothecary workshop and looked into the kitchen “Daughter?”
Her teenage daughter looked up from the herbs she was cleaning in a basin of water “Yes mother?”
The silver vixen held up a pack of flasks and wrapped herb mixes in the direction of the teenage black vixen “Would you mind taking these to the healer at Shardrock, I need to work on the other requests. Please?”
The black vixen put down the herb that was in her paws and narrowed her eyes slightly “Do I ‘look’ like a personal servant to you?”
The silver vixen gave an appalled expression even as Avalon broke out a smile “Oh of course I will, can’t you take a joke every now and then mom?”
The silver vixen gave an amused exhale as Avalon came over and took the pack “Thank you. I suppose I let my work get to me to the point I can’t even start to relax. Dealing with work that might decide whether a beast lives or dies is quite strenuous when you think about it.”
Avalon patted her mother on the shoulder and shook her head “I understand mother. But there are plenty of professions that decide the fates of beasts, more than you think.”

(Not so Friendly)

Shardrock was nothing short of a miniature city in size, a fortress built during the Second Border War to stand between the capital and the kingdoms to the southeast. The walls had stood against seven sieges and countless seasons solidifying them into history as being one of only four forts to have stood through the past three wars in one of which it actually sent forces to lift the siege off the Capital. Shardrock stood atop a small rolling hill on the horizon from the town of Littlebue surrounded to the north and east by forest with a stream between it and the town to the west while the south remained meadow flatlands. The weather wasn’t the most pleasant at the time, cloudy with a heavy drizzle that covered everything making smooth surfaces dangerous to walk on for unwary beasts. The black vixen drew her brown cloak tighter around her as the wind picked up a tad, not too much but still a nuisance to exposed fur. The bridge that ran over the stream had seen almost as many seasons as Shardrock and would have seen more if it hadn’t been destroyed and rebuilt twice however this ensured it was maintained unlike other crossings. Avalon stepped onto the cobblestone of the bridge and looked at the stream below as it lazily rolled between its banks having been relatively unaffected by the water falling from the sky. One problem with being the best crossing in the area was it attracted a lot of attention, wanted and unwanted. Avalon’s ears shot up as an eerie chuckle came from along the bridge “Hehehe, well what we ‘ave ere a little beast roamin ‘round these parts all by ‘emself?”
Avalon turned her head enough that she could see three weasels out the corner of her eye. Two of the weasels stood behind and to the sides of the first weasel. The bandit to the left of his leader grinned and touched the tip of his curved blade with his tongue “Ohhhh a little fox, I always wunnered what kits sound like when dey scream.”
Avalon stood still as a stone, an unarmed fox her age wasn’t a match for three weasels, let alone a fox with her strength. She retracted gripped a stone pebble that was sitting on the guide ledge of the bridge with one paw and retracted the other into its sleeve “Please, I have no quarrel with you. Just let me be on my way and I won’t bother you anymore.”
The lead weasel cackled maniacally and held one arm to his chest and flapped a paw as he spoke with a feeble attempt at mocking the vixen’s voice “Pwease don ‘urted me I’m jus a likkle vixen I don’t ‘ate ya…”
The weasel went back to laughing and swished his sword through the air “Well we hate ‘you’ so we’re gonna let da fish acide ‘ow you taste!”
“Whut’s going on here?”
The three weasels looked over the shoulder to see a fourth had come up on them while they were conversing with the vixen. The bandit leader scowled “Nun of yurr business slime, go avay afore we decide to gut you too. Huh?”
The new arrival clad in bronze grinned widely “Oew, upset now are we? Well we can’t have that now can we? Why don’t you say hello to my not so little friend.”
The new bronze clad weasel brought a battle axe up over his back and held it up almost like it was a bat “Come on let’s play, the three of you, I promise I won’t cut you.”
The lead bandit snarled “Fool! Get ‘im!”

(Fantasy or Goal)

Avalon’s jaw dropped as the three weasels attacked their counterpart mercilessly swinging blades through the air.
“Crack!!! Bonk!!!”
The new comer gave a swift kick to the leader and brought his axe down in an arc cracking the flat of the axe against the second weasel’s now splintered skull. The third weasel stopped with numb paws as the flat of the axe came around and knocked the sword from his grasp. The bronze clad weasel took one hand off the handle of his weapon and planted his bronze knuckles into the forehead of his opponent knocking him out cold as the bandit leader got back up. The new comer put his free paw back on the axe handle and twisted the weapons so the blades were parallel to the ground before he thrust the weapon forward bringing the top of the axe crashing straight between the eyes of the bandit leader breaking the bridge of his nose. The bronze armored weasel cackled manically as he slung his axe over his back and turned around “And that’s how you fight!”
Avalon dropped the pebble from her paw a full score of rats smoothly and almost soundlessly exited from the trees on the north side of the path. Avalon looked at the weasel in surprise for a brief second then bowed her head politely “Thank you sir, I was afraid they had me for a moment. I’m Avalon Sure-eye what’s your name sir?”
The weasel turned with a grin that was a tad frightening as it appeared slightly crazed “Frank… Frank Hammerfist, Captain in the Prince’s personal guard.”
Avalon smiled when the weasel introduced himself “The Prince’s personal guard part of the Royal guard? I told father I’ve always wanted to volunteer!”
Frank gave the vixen a questioning look as one of his rats walked up beside him and looked the vixen over “Hmm Avalon… you’re Solus and Aeria’s daughter aren’t you?”
Frank looked at the rat beside him with puzzlement “Huh? Who’s that, wait…. Solus, the scout?”
The rat looked to his Captain and bowed his head for a moment “Yes sir.”
Avalon replied to the rat and took a few steps towards them “That’s right, he said I migh…”
The rat laughed rudely interrupting the vixen “He said he was ashamed of such a scrawny excuse for a daughter that’s what he said! What business do you have even thinking of trying to join the Royal guard; you’ll be torn to bits before there’s even a fight in the field!”
Frank chuckled lightly as the vixen frowned “Hahhahhahhahha, you know whut?”
Avalon looked at the Captain like a dibbun that had had their candied chestnut taken from them “What?”
Frank was still chuckling as he slapped the rat beside him with the back of his paw before he could interrupt him “I’ll say something to the Colonel about you just so I can get to watch you get pulled apart by the others! Hahhahhah!”
Avalon kept frowning not sure whether to be insulted or thankful that this beast’s odd mind had given her an opportunity “Assuming they live long enough.”
Frank stopped laughing and looked at Avalon with surprise “You’re serious?”
Avalon narrowed her eyes with annoyance “Would I say anything to a Captain if I wasn’t?”
Frank nodded a little then broke out laughing again “You don’t know what you’re in for! You’re little fairytale’s gonna get you killed but hey just another thing to entertain me until the next bandit raid! Where are you goin, wouldn’t want you ta get jumped again and never show up for judgment!”
Avalon gritted her teeth before sighing and answering the weasel’s question “Actually I was going to Shardrock to deliver these supplies to the healer there.”
Frank calmed down to a large smile “Excellent, follow us back to the fort so you can run your little errand and we’ll show ya to the Colonel. If he has a sense of humor he’ll watch you get killed by the others rather than just snuff you out himself right then and there.”

(Point of No Return)

One would have expected Shardrock to be tall and menacing up close however as Avalon found out, it was large but not exactly tall. The walls were about fourteen paws (feet) high which actually made it too tall for beasts to climb over but too short for most siege towers creating an awkward obstacle for invaders. From the path Avalon could see weasels, rats, and stoats up in the parapets but only a few as there wasn’t really any need for a lot of sentries at this time. Frank looked up at one of the guards and gave a dement cackle causing the guard to shriek and disappear behind the wall. Avalon figure it must have been the weasel’s signature as the gates began to open while they continued to approach. They walked straight into the fortress of Shardrock bringing what lied behind the walls into Avalon’s sight. The stone path continued straight running through a grassy courtyard that had a large main stronghold to the right that easily stood four levels high and two barracks buildings to the left with an armory situated between them. Four weasels came over the armory and looked from Frank to Avalon and back to the Captain “Wut’s this, what business does she have ‘ere?”
Frank smiled again “Well this here vixen wants to be in our ranks so I thought I’d give her a chance, though no the benefit of the doubt, to join!”
The other weasels looked at each other with surprise then broke out laughing as Avalon looked to the Captain “Where can I give these over to the healer?”
Frank looked at the pack then nodded towards the stronghold “He’ll be up in da third floor most likely, north side. I’m gonna go find da others so we can see if you ‘ave what it takes, hehheh.”
Avalon headed into the stronghold through its double oak doors passing by four more weasels as she headed towards the stairs. Once on the third floor the vixen headed towards the north side where Franks said the healer would be. She knocked on the door to the first of the northern rooms and listened. An old rat opened the door and looked at Avalon through his left eye with a monocle “Hmmm, don’t recall ever seein ya before, wat you want?”
Avalon looked at the rat questioningly “Aeria wanted me to deliver something to Shardrock’s healer, do you know where he is?”
The rat gave the vixen a look of annoyance and opened the door completely “I’m ‘is assistant, what did he order this time, more grog?”
The black vixen shook her head “No, it’s just medical supplies. Would you mind telling me where he is so I can give it to him?”
The rat shook his head and held up a paw “I’ll give the stuff to ‘im, he’s busy wid other affairs.”
Avalon handed the pack over to the rat and gave a bow before heading back downstairs to find where the weasel Captain had gone.

(No Withdrawal)

The black vixen opened the doors of the stronghold and walked outside to see Frank standing out in the middle of the courtyard with two other beasts. Avalon looked at the two new beasts, a ferret and a stoat, and took note at how different their personalities appeared to be from that of the weasel Captain. The ferret looked back over at the black vixen and gave a nod causing the stoat to turn his attention towards Avalon bringing crimson eyes to look at her. Avalon blinked in disbelief having never seen a beast in blood wrath before but even though she had never personally encountered one it was odd that this stoat wasn’t in a frenzy. The three walked over towards her, Frank grinning crazily while the ferret seemed more annoyed and the stoat appearing almost regularly impatient save for his eyes. The stoat stopped and looked her in the eyes as he spoke to the weasel, Frank “This is the beast you spoke of? I’m half blind and I can ‘see’ she is weak. What could she offer the guard that you think she should even be tested for?”
Frank swallowed his chuckling and took up a more respective tone with the stoat “She’s Solus’s daughter so the guard’s blood runs through her veins and her mother is a healer. Two things that when combined make a good beast for the support role sir!”
The stoat rubbed at his chin as if considering the idea “Perhaps you are right, or would be right… No matter what role you are in the guard however you must be strong otherwise you make the entire guard weak. What do I do with the weak?”
The ferret replied almost snakelike in attitude “Slay them sir.”
The stoat nodded confirming that what the ferret said was true “Exactly, this would be a waste of my time to test this vixen. A battle in which the outcome is already determined and holds no benefit to the victor is pointless.”
A fourth beast came trailing up behind them hidden beneath a green cloak as it walked with a wooden staff that had a silver sphere nestled in three prongs at the top. The stoat turned to the cloaked beast as it spoke “Forgive my intrusion but I couldn’t help but overhear something about pointless victory?”
The stoat gave a light nod to the cloaked beast “Yes, this beast wishes to join our ranks but to do so one must be strong and she is not strong. Surely you desert beasts have similar traditions that you can understand this?”
The cloaked beast looked at the top of his staff then to Avalon then the stoat “I’m afraid not, all our traditions are based on the clan bloodlines. The primary clans of each of your parents are the clans you are bound to by blood and the clans you belong to by right.”
Frank smiled at the cloaked beast “You think we should test her?”
The cloaked beast gave a slight nod “If she is blooded to your organization and wishes to do so then I see no reason why she can’t be put through your test. But my opinion comes from our traditions; it is not my place to instill our ways upon you.”
The stoat rubbed his chin in thought for a moment then huffed “Fine but you will only see what I speak of when I say you need to be strong in order to be in the guard… Arm yourself weakling!”
The stoat drew his mace and scowled at the black vixen “Do you even have a weapon?”
Frank burst out laughing as the vixen shook her head, at least he laughed until the stoat looked at him “Give ‘er a weapon you picked her you crazed halfwit!”
Frank gulped then smirked again as he went to draw his claymore “Here see if’n ya can handle thi… huh!”
Frank looked at the vixen with paws still on his claymore as she drew one of his short swords “No thanks, I think I’ll stick to something that doesn’t way as much as I do.”
The ferret chuckled darkly as Frank blinked in confusion “I guess someone isn’t in the mood for your jokes Franky. Ehhh Colonel!”
The stoat who the ferret had addressed gave a slight snort and swung his mace at Avalon. The fur on her neck stood up as she jumped to the side not expecting to be attack right as she was arming herself but then again she probably should have expected it. The cloaked beast watched as Avalon dodged the Colonel’s attacks “Does everybeast that joins your ranks do this?”
The ferret shrugged and gave a half nod “Basically, the warriors under our command have to fight us at a certain level, we can’t go all out or it’d be a fight to the death. She on the other paw is fighting for a direct position so she has to fight Colonel Graves, even if he doesn’t go all out it’s a deadly fight a good bit of the time.”
‘Cling’ the handle of the mace met the blade of the short sword leaving Graves to snort of dissatisfaction “Hah, finally you tried to hit me! Now all you need to do is go the rest of the way and actually hit me!”
Avalon brought he blade back and blinked And risk injuring you?”
Graves brought his mace back and up as he replied with annoyance “Injure me? I’m trying to kill you missy so you better try to do the same before you end up another mark on my kill streak!”

(No Failure)

‘That mace was heavy’ Avalon panted as she jumped to the side from yet another swing. Blocking wasn’t doing the trick against the behemoth in front of her; she had to rely on agility. The cloaked beast narrowed his eyes slightly in concern and looked at the ferret again “How much longer is this going to last?”
The ferret shrugged with uncertainty “Until she gets a hit on him then it advances to stage two. That is unless he gets a good hit in on her then it ends with a rejection… or death depending on the wound.”
The cloaked beast gave a questioning look under his hood “Stage two?”
The ferret nodded and motioned to Avalon and Graves with a paw “Yes, that’s when one captain decides whether or not he believes in the recruit. If not he takes side with the Colonel leaving the other to join the recruit however if neither has doubts about the recruit then neither will join the fight and the second blow she gets on the Colonel ends the test. In this instance however I’m going to join to join the Colonel so her promoter, Frank will have to join with her. And get humiliated if they lose.”
Graves swung his mace sideways and growled as the vixen’s weapon clipped his arm “Argh, that’s no hit! Hit me not my arm you fool!”
The Colonel swung his mace back around and this time was greeted by a slap to the shoulder with the flat of the short sword’s blade “Hmph, fine if you want to play nice then we’ll just have to step things up! TWO!”
The ferret jumped forward at Avalon’s side causing her to leap sideways as he drew his broad sword, all their weapons were dulled down a bit for the test except for the tips making them more of training weapons rather than their standard armament. The cloaked beast look at Frank who stood chuckling as the vixen started whirling back and forth “Well?”
Frank looked at the cloaked beast as he continued chuckling “I don’t promote ‘er into the guard I just wante ta see somebeast get killed.”
The cloaked beast clenched his jaw “So much for tradition.”
Frank giggled and turned his eyes back to the fight “Hit ‘er Kane, don’t be easy!”
Kane the ferret speared down with the sharp point of his sword aimed at Avalon. ‘Ting’ the weapon vibrated wildly as its point was forced upwards by the long sword the cloaked beast had pulled from under his cloak “I do hate it when I’m misinformed.”
Kane scowled at the beast with hatred “What do you think you are doing?”
The cloaked beast spoke as Graves and Avalon continued dueling behind them “You said your partner would join the other side… Look where he’s at.”
Kane growled in reply “That’s the vixen’s problem.”
The cloak beast brought their faces closer together “Then you’re mine.”
“CEASE!”
The cloaked beast and Kane looked over at Graves who held the left side of his abdomen with a plain face “I didn’t expect you to actually get a hit in but a hit is a hit…WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING!”
Kane gulped as his opponent replied with an obviously annoyed tone “Your Captain here said he was supposed to join you and his buddy was supposed to help the vixen… His partner didn’t move so I did.”
Graves looked at Frank blankly “Come here.”
The weasel hobbled over with a smirk “Yes sir!”
Frank walked up to Graves and the stoat moved like lightning bringing his mace down on Frank’s head with blinding speed. Frank smiled and gave a brief giggle before falling sideways stiff as a stone and unconscious “Anyone else and I couldn’t ‘ave done that… Fool has a boulder for a brain.”
The cloaked beast looked plainly at Frank’s unconscious form and stood silent for a moment as he thought on the Colonel’s words “Indeed… So is this test over?”
Graves inspected his mace, running the tip of one of his paw toes along its surface as he replied “This one is but she still needs to be tested with an actual mission. It won’t be something vital to our operations but still as dangerous as anything we do. Right now though I don’t know of any such task but I will find something, maybe not today or tomorrow but soon. Go to the armory and start sharpening your skills with a blade, you’ll need it.”
Graves was taken a little of guard by the vixen’s bow “Yes sir…” Avalon turned to Kane and held out Frank’s short sword “What should I do with this sir?”
Kane looked at the dulled weapon for a second then took it and threw on the ground beside Frank “He’s down, so should his weapon. Hmph… I’m looking forward to the next few days. I imagine they’re going to be quite interesting.”
Avalon’s mind was unsure how to process Kane’s words. She was trying to figure out if he was meaning he liked watching beasts being tested or if he expected her to fail miserably. Based on the way they had been acting she concluded that he meant the later of the two possibilities. She turned and walked away without commenting holding in her huff until she was far away from them.

(Midnight Steel)

Avalon waltzed into the armory between the two barracks and through the entrance room. Upon setting paw in the vast main room her eyes started to roam, inspecting the blades that lined the wall top to bottom. A rather old weasel came hobbling up to her and looked the black vixen over questioningly “Never seen ya afore, who are you an’ what in the Prince’s name are you doing in ‘my’ armory?”
Avalon’s rather foul mood practically evaporated as she looked at the weasel, stumped as to how to answer for the first few moments before actually saying something “Err Avalon, the Colonel sent me to start sharpening my skills with a blade… This is my first time being inside the fortress walls.”
The old weasel looked at her suspiciously then took notice she was still breathing a little faster than normal from the fight not to mention the slight jitter in her voice “New beast… fine, what are you skilled with? Bows, swords, maces, axes, hammers, pikes, or slings?”
Avalon frowned at the weasel having not really trained much with a weapon before except what her mother had taught her in self-defense with a short sword “Umm that’s the problem, I don’t know. The only reason I know how to use a blade is because my mother showed me how to use a blade when I was young.”
The weasel rolled his eyes and turned to look at the walls of weapons “No wonder you’re alive. You must have taken awhile to hit Graves, made him lazy you did… Any hobbies of any sort; pick something random for crying out loud!”
Avalon shrugged not seeing the importance in the subject of hobbies but bringing it up anyways “Well I always did like knocking fruit out of trees instead of climbing all the way up to get them.”
The weasel turned to her again this time with a slightly confused look “Huh how did you do that, with a pebble?”
Avalon narrowed her eyes slightly at the remark “Nooo, my mother gave me her spare dagger when we went out.”
The weasel spun around and walked over to one of the walls. The bottom two rows were composed almost entirely of daggers which the weasel inspected closely as he spoke to Avalon “Anything that catches your eye?”
Avalon’s dark eyes surveyed the array of weaponry and she began to frown, at least until one particular dagger caught her eye. She walked over and picked the dagger off the shelf, it almost seemed to disappear in her paw as it blended almost perfectly with the color of her fur “This one alright?”
The weasel looked over at her and scowled initially “What, your paw…” his eyes opened in realization that the black vixen was holding a black dagger / throwing knife “Ohhh, well if you plan on concealing it then yes. It looks a tad on the small side for you though.”
Avalon held it up and inspected the blade of the dagger as she replied “Do you have any with similar balance… and color?”
The weasel shook his head and motioned at the walls around them “What you see is what we have besides the ones beasts have already have claimed as their own. I’m afraid that rat dagger is the only one of its design here, as for the color that’s an easy fix though.”
Avalon looked at the weasel then a blackened short sword that was two rows above his head “Was that designed for a fox? It looks the right size.”
The weasel turned his head and looked up at the short sword which Avalon was now nodding to “Hmmm yes, it’s actually made out of steel using a particular type of black iron. The high grade metal used allows for a thinner blade of the same strength as compared to that of your average sword. It also comes with the bonus of added sharpness since the blade is thinner as well as giving the sword less overall weight. Some term it midnight steel because of its color and deadliness; can’t see it coming at you from the shadows.”
Avalon looked back to the weasel and questioned him “Can I use it?”
The weasel gave Avalon an annoyed look “Can you? It’s on the wall, take it out back and find out! Try the dagger too; see if the balance is right, even if it is small.”
Avalon watched as the weasel motioned to the doorway that led out the back of the building indicating that the black vixen was supposed to move in that direction. Avalon headed through the doorway and out into a small courtyard that was dotted with targets at varying ranges. The weasel stepped out behind her and nodded to a few of the closer targets “Try your arm with the dagger first. I’ll go get a blade guard and practice sword.”
The black vixen looked at the weasel with a little annoyance and hesitation as he walked back into the building “You mean I’m going to have to fight you too?”
The weasel scoffed as he headed farther into the building “Don’t be silly, not at your level of experience! I’m supposed to train the new beasts not slay them!”

(Practice Makes Perfect)

Avalon looked at the targets and picked the closest of the short range grouping just to get her bearings. She slipped the dagger into a throwing position in her paw and held her arm back to throw “See… How did I throw them?”
She flung the dagger forwards and almost jumped out of her fur as it stuck in the ground just in front of the tip of her left footpaw “Eh… Obviously not like that, err.”
She pulled the dagger out of the ground and tried again this time successfully bouncing the handle off the base of one of the nearby melee targets. The black vixen snorted to herself and went over to pick up the dagger with a rather impatient demeanor. She went back to where she had been standing and turned back around as she growled to herself “Now, let’s try this again. I’ve done it plenty of times before I’ll do it ‘again.’”
She threw the dagger on the last word and it spiraled off to bounce of a beam that marked the right edge of the range. Avalon stamped a footpaw and snorted as she looked at her paws “What’s wrong, I’m throwing it just like I remember!”
A voice from the doorway behind her echoed into her ears “Because you’re ‘trying’ too hard to determine when to throw. You’ve got to let it come to you otherwise your doubt will cause you to muck up.”
Avalon looked over her shoulder and blinked with surprise as her eyes locked onto the teenage otter standing in the doorway wiping down a relatively well repaired axe head. The black vixen turned towards the streamdog and tilted her head “What are you doing here?”
The otter kept his attention mainly on the axe head “Working like any other beast. Why, do you think there’s something wrong?”
Avalon straightened her neck and shrugged “I knew there were serfs in town but I didn’t know any were allowed to be here.”
The otter smiled as he inspected the axe head “Usually we aren’t but if you do a good job you get sent here or to other places of higher importance. Get treated a little better, and don’t have to worry so much about bandits. A few lucky ones even get to be guards and make sure the others are treated well. Granted they won’t do that here being the Prince’s Guard and all.”
Another beast must have come into the armory as he spoke with distaste from behind the otter “What are you doing? If you don’t stop flapping that jaw I’ll whip your hide raw; woodlanders.”
Avalon blinked wide eyed in shock about the comment as the otter spun around and gulped “Yes sir, my apologies.”
The voice growled at the otter in response “Sorry? Get your whinny hide out of my sight… I don’t know why we have to tolerate the lot of you pathetic creature…”
The otter darted off as the beast walked into the doorway before stopping and looking at Avalon for a moment as if it took a second for its brain to even register she was standing there. The middle aged black fox scowled at her “What are ‘you’ doing here? Get back home!”
Avalon frowned in response “Father!”
Solus wrinkled his snout in disgust “I said go home, be a healer like your mother! There’s no place for scrawny beasts like you here! You can’t even lift a full sized sword without difficulty!”
Avalon narrowed her eyes at her elder in annoyance “Yeah thanks for helping me with that!”
Solus raised a paw and snarled “You disrespectful little brat! I’ll clobber you right here and now if you don’t move!”
An almost equally harsh snarl came from the weasel that had returned and was now behind Solus with the otter “What do you think you’re doing? Quit messing with the recruit afore I split your ‘ead in two and give my apprentice a class on fox anatomy.”
Solus growled as he kept his flaming eyes on Avalon “Don’t tell ‘me’ how to treat ‘my’ daughter smug nose!”
Solus grabbed a pouch of sling stones from a wall hook beside the door and threw it at his daughter before turning and walking off not bothering to see if he scored a hit or not. Avalon stepped to the side and barred her teeth to her father’s back as he disappeared allowing the weasel to step out into the back area while the otter returned to his duties. The weasel looked at Avalon with furrowed eyebrows in annoyance “What was that all about?”
Avalon snorted before turning her eyes to the weasel and replying with resignation “He thinks I’m too weak to be here, just like everyone else. Difference is I told him a while ago and that’s how he’s treated me ever since.”
The weasel shook his head and held up a short sword roughly equal in size to the one Avalon had picked out “Do you blame him? Do you blame any of them? Being weak they’re expecting you to get killed quickly, don’t you think that worry’s at least him?”
Avalon sighed as the weasel walked by her “It feels more along the lines that they expect me to just get in the way… Can you help me?”
The weasel got a grin, not quite evil but it would make a woodlander uncomfortable “That’s what I’m here for isn’t it? On guard!”
Avalon whirled around catching the weasel’s swing with the black short sword. She grunted a bit from the effort of stopping the blow however the weasel seemed more impressed then disappointed. He gave a slight nod as he lowered his sword “Quick reflexes… Good, that’s one thing going for you. Most of the time I clip the beast before they’re three quarters of the way around.”
Avalon bowed her head to the weasel “Thank you.”
Inside the otter turned his head to look at the beast clad in his cloak watching the events going on behind the armory.

(Sharpening the Edges)

A short sword glittered in the sunlight as it clattered to the ground in unison with a yowl as the weasel jumped back “Ouch, you’re going to slap we to death with the flat of that blade the way you’re going! Three weeks and this is the thanks I get?”
Avalon sheathed the black blade of her short sword as she replied honestly “You did tell me not to go easy on you.”
The weasel narrowed his eyes “I meant hitting my blade not me.”
The black vixen raised her right arm showing the gash on her forearm “Really?”
The weasel frowned “Err… how about we move on to the dagger?”
Avalon kept a straight face but she was chuckling on the inside towards the weasel’s awkward feeling “Whatever you think is best Korem, you are the teacher after all.”
The weasel, Korem straightened himself up and nodded towards the targets “Yes, I want t see how you’ve progressed so far. Give it your best shot at the midrange dagger target”
The black vixen gave a slight bow with her head and followed Korem up to the rope that marked the front edge of the range. With a flick she pulled the dagger out of her belt in such a way she was already holding it properly. Avalon stood taking a deep breath for a moment before relaxing and drawing back her arm. With a flick the dagger went flying through the air to burrow itself partway into the target with a dull thunk. Korem stepped over the rope and approached the target to inspect the hit “Hmph not bad, still needs to put a bit more power behind it and take less time throwing but you got the aim down right. Of course a larger dagger might compensate since gripping this one’s probably a little awkward.”
He pulled out the dagger and started walked back towards Avalon as the vixen tilted her head slightly “Have you gotten any larger daggers like that one?”
Korem shook his head as he stepped over the rope and returned the weapon to its user “No, but I’ve been thinking. You seem to like that short sword a lot, if you can find the materials I could put in a custom order with the town forge for some throwing daggers.”
Avalon’s eyes widened slightly at the prospect “Same metal?”
Korem nodded in confirmation “Yes, it seems to provide the right balance for your size and err, strength.”
Avalon narrowed her eyes slightly upon Korem’s pause “If I hit you with the same motion I throw the dagger’s you’d think it was a war hammer that cracked your skull.”
Korem grew stone faced with a slightly annoyed tone “Because it’s practically the only set of muscles you’ve been working on. I mean I shouldn’t be able to do this.”
Korem poked Avalon in the neck and watched as his paw almost completely disappeared into her thick fur “If it wasn’t for the fact you grow out your fur you’d look like a stunted rat for crying out loud! Imagine what the enemy is going to think when they see you climbing out of a stream!”
Avalon growled lightly at the weasel “I don’t need reminded. I have been trying to get stronger but I simply can’t; at least not much.”
Korem withdrew his paw and sighed “I’ve seen, and then you focused on your throwing arm. I’m not sure what to tell you about this difficulty, it seems as if you just have slow muscle growth.”
“She barely survived her first two seasons, and you think… and she thinks she can fight with us. Do you understand why I’m so disgraced by this… whelp?”
Korem and Avalon looked at Solus who was standing in the armory doorway as he continued, steadily growing more annoyed “If you had two brain cells to rub together you’d toss her out before she caused any trouble failing a mission… And if you had any brain at all you would have never come here!”
Korem snorted and looked away from Solus “Get outta here before I decide to check up on your skill with a blade.”
Solus barked at Korem as he turned around “I’m telling you that you might as well boot her now and save yourself the trouble. I don’t care what happens to her.”
Avalon’s eyes seemed to shine more as tear droplets formed and reflected light from the corners of her eyes. She waited until her dad was gone before speaking in a distorted tone between saddened and angered “He has no heart at all. Sometimes I wonder if this is how he really is and the way he is with my mother is just an act.”
Korem slapped Avalon across the back of her head “Don’t start cryin on me. Imagine how that’ll look if one of the Capims comes in ‘ere and sees you flooding the place! Do what he isn’t and keep your mind focused and relaxed, that’s how you’ve been hitting the targets.”
Avalon blinked a few times and looked straight at Korem as she replied with a unsteady tone “You don’t know what I’m feeling ok.”
Korem clenched his jaw, something in her tone signaled an immediate halt to the subject “You’re right I don’t but we’ve got other matters to focus on.”
Avalon turned her head and sighed “Sorry I only concentrated on the first part of what you said. What should we do now?”
“Gear up.”
Korem’s head jerked to look back at the doorway where one of Kane’s rats stood tossing an apple with one paw as he looked at them “The Colonel’s got a little mission for you. Sounds like bandits got ahold of a nice little shipment of ore ‘eaded for town.”

(Murky Horizon)

Avalon ran out into the main courtyard where Colonel Graves and the mysterious cloaked beast stood in front of the armory. Graves rubbed his chin while beneath the hood of his cloak the other beast could be seen with eyes narrowed in a scowl. As she walked over Avalon could hear the cloaked beast muttering to the Colonel “That shipment was meant to be used for your guard and only we and your guard knew. I also highly doubt this is a random event, especially considering the guard strength attacked to the shipment.”
Graves nodded lightly “Word must have gotten out about the movement, all the guards attracted too much attention. This may work in our advantage though. If bandits are present in the area, sending someone to secure the shipment will almost definitely draw unwanted attention from the Prince when we move to escort him here.”
The cloaked beast’s attention seemed to have been grabbed by the idea however it hadn’t totally satisfied him “Perhaps but what if the information the bandits got came from inside?”
Graves swung a paw through the air and yelled out loud as he turned around in circles slowly for all to hear him in his rage “Are you implying that one of my guardsmen, beasts I have concluded are worthy, are passing out information? These beasts are here for a reason, they are loyal! I would never let anybeast I had doubts about in regards to loyalty on this force! What about your ‘soldiers’?”
The cloaked beast kept a level tone though his paw rested on the hilt of his blade beneath his cloak “We have no business with savages. Implying that we are working with such lowly beasts is more than an insult, it is a provocation. Get that shipment back or my beasts will search every hollow tree, every hole in the ground, and every house in the hills for it; and we ‘will’ find it.”
Graves scowled with teeth barred in a snarl “You will do no such thing sand beast or you will have to answer to me.”
Graves caught sight of Avalon from the corner of his eye and stopped barring his teeth as he turned to the black vixen “Hey kit, I think we’ve got a task perfect for your test. Dangerous but it isn’t critical to our mission…”
The cloaked beast whirled around, his eyes remained narrowed but seemed to change to an expression of inspection “If the bandits could overpower the guard then they’ll most certainly overpower a single beast.”
Graves snorted as he ignored the cloaked beast’s comment “So you believe. If you truly think you are ready to be in my guard then you will kill the bandits that have stolen our supplies. I will order some regular troops to standby and pick up the ore once the area is clear. Keep in mind if you fail, they won’t be allowed to save your scrawny hide.”
Avalon tilted her head forward slightly as if trying t look more threatening “Where are they sir?”
Graves closed his mouth and for a split second seemed to be holding back a grin before he finally replied with a growl of anger over the situation “They’re somewhere between Shattershock Quarry and Lamerat’s Bridge. If you can find them and kill them all I will assign you into the Prince’s Guard. Of course if he favors you he might put you into a more notable position than plain warrior.”
Avalon bowed to Graves as she responded to his statement “Consider it done sir. Should I spare any for questioning?”
Graves snorted at the idea and flapped a paw in disgust “I hate prisoners, all they do is whine. If you find any injured question them then slay them before the troops arrive.”
Avalon stood up and answered in a rather dark sinister voice “As you wish sir.”

(Shadow’s Storm)

A steady eye inspected the paw prints in the soft dirt that showed itself between gaps in the layer of the fallen leaves that sat beneath the treetops that made up the forest. Avalon inspected the leaves around the prints and took note of the trail of disturbed leaves and broken twigs that led away from the path; there were even a few pieces of torn cloth on low branches here and there. Even as she tracked the bandits her thoughts on how determined she was when she had finished speaking to Graves bugged her. It was a little scary to the black vixen ‘why was she so focused… excited about killing beasts?’
She slowed her pace and shook her head ‘not the time to think on the past, you’re walking around trying to find beasts that want to kill you.’
Avalon focused on the path for a moment then began surveying her surroundings as she moved. Eventually she started sticking to the shade of the trees rather than walking right with the path thought the sunlit spots where light got through the tree tops which would make her stick out like a sore paw. Avalon ducked down as she spotted a large outcropping of rocks that were almost a miniature hill. She observed the area around her and noted that the trail of overturned and broken leaves led straight up to a large hole in the side of the rocky hill indicating the bandits had made camp in some sort of cave. Avalon crept forward towards the outcropping while her eyes looked for any watches. She stayed crouched looking; waiting for a patroller or watchbeast to come around or out but after what must have been half an hour nothing had stirred except the birds and leaves in the trees. She silently drew her short sword and moved towards the entrance at a steady pace with sword pointed forwards. Avalon’s eyes narrowed upon hearing the echoes of chatter coming from deep within the cave however she stopped herself from stepping into the cave and charging them. Her mind pondered the situation for the briefest of moments, ‘no guards securing the entrance and they talk as relaxed as a mouse in his home’.
Her eyes roved around again for some beast she had missed previous but instead they darted to the small rope that ran just off the ground in front of her footpaws. A regular step would still set the trap off but she wondered exactly what the trap was. Avalon carefully traced the rope wiping away leaves the covered it until her paw touched the log that was tied to the other end of the rope “That would hurt.”
Using her short sword Avalon cut the rope up near where it wrapped around the log and then proceeded to step inside the cave while keeping her eyes open for any other hidden traps waiting for her to set them off. The chattering grew louder as she descended downwards, avoiding the occasional rusted pressure plate on the ground. The black vixen stopped as her eyes registered a difference in the tunnel ahead through the light coming from the torches that dotted the cave walls. Avalon put her back against the cave wall and slid closer to the opening until she could see inside the massive chamber ‘Huh, a tin mine how ironic considering what they’ve stolen’. Her eyes looked down from the few veins of tin that reflected a small amount of the light to the midsized campfire in the center of the chamber. There were a couple weasels and quite a few rats gathered around the flames as they sat on large wooden chests and talked. Avalon kept slow and slid around into the chamber’s darkest section which was on the opposite side from the fire. They seemed to be using a metal basin filled with lamp oil for their fire as it made little if any smoke though the aroma created by the stew that was cooking was enough to kill an otter ten miles away. One of the weasels distastefully looked at the rat who was stirring the stew in its cauldron “Ugh, you calls this vittles? We could clear a village just by putting it the town square!”
The rat smiled seeming to take the insult as a complement “I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I make some. Keep in mind the cave’s holding in a lot of the smell so it’s a lot stronger down here than it would be on the surface… Ahhh, I think it actually smells quite delightful!”
The weasel frowned as the other rats started giggling whilst the other weasels sat staring at the fire in silence. One weasel that was actually well armored unlike the rest who wore hardened barkcloth armor sat watching the flames dance around the blade of his long sword as he held it between him and the fire. His iron armor was a tad on the worn side but obviously maintained perhaps indicating he was once a warrior or, and more likely, he had recently obtained it from a warrior. The first weasel that had spoken looked to his fellow beasts and scowled “Really all of ya are gunna phase out on me, what are yurr problems?”
Another of his partners looked up from the flames and snorted “Why you want us ta do something for you? Deal wid it you clumsy fool or don’t eat it, you know you’ve ‘ad far worse.”
Avalon crawled her way up onto a wooden mining platform that stood nearby the fire and kept against the floor as she peered down at the enemy. The rather annoyed weasel had trotted away from the others and stood rummaging through his sack which was situated by his cot a few paces from the fire. The black vixen narrowed her eyes slightly as the rat lined up a series of bowls around the fire and began filling them. Without making a noise that could be heard over the rats talking to each other she pulled out her throwing dagger and got into a kneeling position so she could throw the dagger when the time came. Avalon waited until the rat had his back to her before she hurled the small blade at him disrupting his task of filling the bowls with food. Avalon barred her teeth in frustration as the rat grunted and almost fell forward with the blade buried in the back of his lower neck “Ouch, wha…”
The other rats sprang to their feet in shock at first then scowled at the weasels as their fellow rat pulled the dagger from his neck and dropped it to the ground with a cringe of pain
“What chya do dat ferr?”
“Think ya can mess wid us like that?”
“You slime, ya’ll pay for dat!”
The armored weasel stood up and hefted his sword with a growl “Don’t you blame us, and especially don’t blame me. Who’s paying you, I am… Someone’s in here wid us.”
The rats initially stepped back as the weasel stood up but now they were frantically scanning the interior of the chamber for the intruder however Avalon had ducked back down putting her belly against the platform again. She watched as the rats broke off into three pairs of two and lit torches so they could search the dark sections of the cave. The armored weasel that was apparently the leader moved himself over towards the chamber’s entrances and stood watching the rats and his fellow weasels as they searched the cavern. Avalon froze as she listened to two rats clamber their way up the steps of the platform, wood creaking with their every step. One paw went for her short sword as the other pushed lightly against the floor, ready to roll her over at a moment’s notice. She watched the light slowly increase until she could see her outline against the far wall then she rolled over. The two rats jumped back in surprise and waved their swords “Ahhh dere’s the sneaky ne!” “She’s up ‘ere!”
All eyes turned up to look at her as she leapt at the two rats locking blade with blade. Avalon booted one of the creatures in the gut sending him sprawling backwards down the stairs as she blocked the other rat’s attack. The other beasts came rushing towards the steps as the bandit leader stood watching the events unfold even as the second rat plummeted over the edge with a hole in his stomach. Avalon looked at the crowd of beasts coming up after her and took note of her options. She looked at the wooden beam that went up to the ceiling and at the support it held up. She knew she wouldn’t be able to put a dent in it but perhaps the weasel coming at her with that axe… She stood beside the pole and dropped a rat opening the way for the weasel to swing. Avalon jumped to the side as the bandit decided to chop instead breaking the blade of his axe clean through one of the floor boards. The weasel jerked his axe out of the floor and swung again at chest level. Avalon rolled forward knocking the weasel off his footpaws and down into the crowd of charging beasts right onto the curved blade of a rat’s sword. The three remaining rats pushed their way passed the corpse and rushed at Avalon as she snarled. The black vixen bolted over the edge, dropping first to a diagonal support beam then to the ground leaving the bandits to turn around and rush back down after her. Avalon turned as the cook she had injured came at her with curved sword in paw.  She blocked a few of his blows before finally getting a swift kick on him that sent him stumbling backwards into the fire that engulfed him in a fiery ball of unpleasant smell. She jumped for her dagger and threw it at the nearest weasel burrowing the blade into his sword arm, effectively crippling him. The three rats lined up and chuckle as they jumped at her all at the same time which proved to be a mistake as the vixen rolled to the side. She shivered slightly as they screamed having tackled their flaming companion setting themselves on fire. Four balls of fire darted around the cavern in panic looking for water causing the lead weasel to snort and take a step away from the cavern’s exit “Fools, one vixen’s beating you worse than a full squad of guards! Kill her!”
Two of the burning rats dropped as the injured weasel swung at Avalon only to miss as the agile vixen darted away into a shadowy corner. Without a second thought the weasel ran after her never seeing the black blade that was leveled at his eye level. One of the three remaining weasels dropped the last two burning rats as they tried to leap at him for help leaving their bodies to illuminate the area around him. Avalon got a rather ferocious grin as the weasel stood waiting ‘wait until that fire goes out, he’ll be blind as a beggar until his eyes adjust.’
The other weasel that had commented on the dead cook’s skills ran up beside his grinning partner and looked into the darkness of the corner with impatience “Come on, let’s get the brushtail! She’s hidin frum us the little coward!”
The waiting weasel gave a light chuckle “No we wait, you see she can’t hide in the dark forever she’s going to have to come out and as long as we’ve got light here we have the advantage.”
Avalon lowered her head as she reconsidered her position ‘it could take a while for those bodies to burn out.’
The black vixen surveyed the area around her, looking for something that could help her defeat these two light dwellers. Avalon stopped and thought for a moment, if she couldn’t draw them into the darkness then perhaps she could use the light to her advantage. The black vixen moved so the flames were between her and the weasels then stepped forward until she was in the gray between light and dark. She kept her eyes bolted to the side watching the two weasels from the corner of her vision as they looked straight at her and the fire “Dere she is!”
“I see her. What’s the matter afraid, want to see your mummy?”
Avalon crouched behind the flames of the fire and growled lightly ‘they were fools so dumb they didn’t realize what they were really looking at.’
The black vixen sprung forward between the two weasels, feeling one blade clip the fur on her right arm as she passed them. She spun on one footpaw and faced the two weasels as they turned to her. Their eyes went wild from the change in light and they waved their weapons with disorientation. “Ahh, where is she? I can’t see!”
As quickly as she could move and before the leader had time to move in she kicked one into the shadows and butted the other into the fire. She leapt back into the darkness and there was a scream as she dispatched the blinded weasel. The lone weasel that had been in charge of the slaughtered group sneered into the blackness with distaste “Foxes, no pride hiding in the shadows. Your worse than the woodland beasts, at least they have some sense of dignity and show themselves when they attack!”
Avalon stepped back into the light, the weasel didn’t move but instead grinned “Ahhh, you think I’m gonna fall for that? Make me come over there and then run back into the dark? I’m no cat you mouse.”
Avalon took another step forward and gripped her blade tightly as she leveled it towards him ‘armor takes maneuverability’ “Really or are you just making certain you have a quick path of escape?”
The weasel roared and raced at her with sword swinging in wide arcs side to side. What couldn’t be dodged side to side could be dodged up or down though up really wasn’t an option as long as gravity was in effect. Avalon waited until the last arc came a whisker’s width from her snout and started to come back then ducked. She heard the blade cut through the air dangerously close to her head but it was of no consequence now, Avalon brought her blade upwards at the weasel’s mid-width. She cringed as the weasel stopped dead in his tracks then he dropped his blade, the flat of it smacking her shoulder was enough to cause a good amount of pain. Avalon frowned as she watched the weasel dropped to the ground, an overkill of a cheap shot but effective and that was all that mattered. The black vixen stood up as she sheathed her sword, then she walked over to the chests near the main fire. She flung open the first chest and looked at its contents through her dark eyes.

(Darkened Path)

Avalon opened the other chests and looked through their contents. Many of them had the same contents as the first chest however a few she had found in the corner near the main fire had different contents. One was packed full of rare rolls of material such as silk while another was stuffed with weapons. She finally turned her attention to the lone crate sitting at the foot of one of the bedrolls by the campfire. Avalon put her paws on the crate and tried to pry it open though it was proving to be a little more difficult than she expected. With a grunt the black vixen pulled the lid off the crate and gazed inside. ‘Opals, rubies, onyx, emeralds, a hatchet, an axe, sharpening stone for blades, a few scrolls, a… a few scrolls?’ Avalon loosely put the lid back on the crate and trundled up to the surface.  As the sunlight made contact with her jet black eyes she looked around to make sure no one had returned from a patrol. Avalon gave a whistle unsure of how or where exactly to contact the beasts that were waiting to pick up the stolen goods. After what seemed like an hour of waiting a few bushes ruffled and a rat came forward with bow held above his head “Is it clear? Did you kill the bandits?”
Avalon growled at the rat’s question which she took rather insultingly “Would I be standing here if it wasn’t? Do you think I’d find the place and just call you in to clean the mess up? What kind of beast do you think I am?” The rat lowered his bow to his side and stood staring at Avalon “No insult intended but you should watch your tongue or it’ll get ripped out… not cut out, ripped.”
Avalon bowed her head for a moment “My apologies, the area is clear and the ore is at the base of the cave. There are about a dozen ‘slain’ bandits down there, if you have any clue as to how many there were it might be wise to compare the numbers in case any were out on patrol for unwary travelers… Also there are a few other chests of stolen materials, as well as a few scrolls that I thought should be looked at. I didn’t open them myself without other eyes present.”
The rat gave a small nod and turned back towards the woods before giving the squawk of a bird, possibly an owl. AS the bushes began to twitch and shiver he turned back to Avalon “Show me these scrolls you speak of first, my beasts shall obtain the ore while we look at the writings.”
Avalon bowed her head and answered before leading him into the cave “As you wish.”
Having entered the fresh air and returned into the cave the smell of burnt flesh now ate at Avalon’s nose causing a scowl of disgust to form across her face as she led the rat over towards the crate “In here, I saw two of them on top.”
She threw the lid aside and put her paw beside the two scrolls pointing out their location to the rat as he peered inside. Wordlessly he retrieved one of the scrolls and observed it for a moment even before unraveling it “Interesting, this quality of parchment… it is only used by the royalty and their guard to signify importance over regular messages.”
Avalon raised an eyebrow as the rat turned the scroll around in his paws and observed the broken wax seal “What does it say?”
The rat unrolled the scroll and read over the relatively scratchy writing, mumbling thwe words as he went “travel along Shalemist Road, crossing Lamerat’s Bridge on the seventh sunrise of Pinebloom… Ah!!! It’s a letter telling the bandits when and where the shipment was coming through!”
Avalon raised an eyebrow with curiosity and slight concern “And the other?”
The rat dropped the first scroll and hastily pulled open the second as he took it out of the crate. Whether because he was reading too fast or too shocked this time he didn’t mumble the words and before he even finished he crammed the note into one of his satchels. As he shut the satchel he spun and sprinted for the exit, sending his fellow rats crashing to the sides as he pushed through them. Avalon darted after him as he almost ran with a panic “What is it, what’s wrong?”
The rat shouted at her and his companions without so much as slowing down “Four of you stay, the rest follow me! The Prince is in danger!”
Avalon stopped for a moment with mouth wide open in disbelief ‘had they really been betrayed?’

(Traitor in the Midst)

Kane’s score and a half of weasels and half score of rats led the front of the column while Franks two score of rats brought up the rear. At the center of this column were the two Captains and their Colonel as well as Solus and his two subordinates. In the middle of this group was the weasel Prince, Thanatos, dressed in a rather dark green silk shirt and trousers accompanied by a pair of dark brown boots and silver colored foulard cape. The column was about six miles from one of the kingdom’s main cities and already the sides of the dirt road were packed with onlookers from surrounding settlements having heard the news of the Prince’s presence. Solus snorted as he kept his eyes forward ‘there weren’t supposed to be this many onlookers it created too many obstacles for their mission.’
Some of the onlookers tossed flower petals out into the column as they passed creating a rain of colorful brilliance and a smell that resembled the blooming of summer. The road was occasionally dotted with buildings on either side, mainly estates and farms but there was also the occasional wind mill and lumberyard too. These roadside workplaces were idle of production and their attendants instead stood along the road waiting for then watching the Prince as he passed by. Kane’s eyes focused on the setting sun as it lowered itself closer to the horizon leaving the ferret to mutter to himself “Not going to make it to Drenth by nightfall; going to have to break out the lanterns. Maybe everyone’ll go to bed for the night and we’ll have a clear path to the city then.”
Graves gave a slight nod as he kept at the Prince’s side “Agreed, the only other time I see this many beasts this close together is in battles where I’m trying to kill them. This attention makes puts me on edge every time.”
Kane brought his eyes back to the crowd as well as the other guards and their Captains, taking the time to look them over with his roving eyes. He looked at the three scouts then to Graves who was in front of him and to his right “Sir shouldn’t scouts… scout? They’ve had their eyes forward the entire time we’ve been marching. Good eyes don’t have much use if you don’t put them to a purpose.”
Graves took a glance at Thanatos from the corner of his eye and then brought his attention back to his front “Yes, but there’s nothing to scout here the area’s already been explored. What bothers you Captain?”
Kane shrugged slightly and noticed he was the only one in the center group that was looking around besides the Prince “Well isn’t it the job of the scouts to seek out danger? They have every other time we’ve moved with the Prince, including this road.”
Graves’s eyes began to roam around even though his head remained still “Yes but they don’t need to move their heads to look around. Keep your stance and keep watch or you’ll make the locals edgy and you know what that does to me.”
Kane gulped in his throat and turned his head straight ahead “Yes Colonel.”
At the back of the column the two score rear guard was led by a rat named Gre’berd who unlike the front guard leader stood in front of his beasts rather than behind. Gre’berd like all the other beasts had his eyes riveted in front of him however unlike all the other beasts his eyes wandered around, inspecting all the onlookers as they cheered. A drop of sweat formed on his brow as his mind sifted through the crowd nervously ‘originally Solus had been thorough with his task taking the time to scout a path before they moved through and then keeping watch with the main group as they actually passed through the area. Now however Solus was so relaxed he barely moved his head as they walked and the rest of the guard was so relaxed from his years of scouting they naturally believed in him. Relaxed, they left their guard down the worst thing they could do in the presence of the Prince and his subjects. Ge’berd’s eyes widened slightly and he looked over his shoulder as shouting came from the ranks of Frank’s rats. A black vixen and half a score of regular rats came hustling through his beasts sending a wave of alarm through Ge’berds mind as well as a bit of panic. Ge’berd drew his sword and pointed it at the black vixen that was in the lead “Identify trespasser!”

(Clouded Path)

Avalon growled her shout at Ge’berd as his rats pushed her backwards “Let me through There’s a traitor in the guard! Let me through you fool!”
Ge’berd scowled at Avalon “Probably you the way you’re breaking ranks like that! Wh… wait you’re the vixen Frank found on the bridge… Aval…” Ge’berd waved a pawat his rats “Let ‘er through! Let them through!”
Avalon rushed up to Ge’berd as Frank’s rats parted enough for her to get through. She looked at the lead rat with doubt first then interrupted him as he was about to speak “There’s a traitor somewhere in the guard; they have knowledge of movements before they happen and have a knowledge of how long it takes to travel through the area.”
Ge’berd turned his head to the front and kept marching forward as he spoke to Avalon silently “If there is a traitor in the ranks should we not raise the alarm?”
Avalon looked at Ge’berd as they moved forward “No, it could set off the traitor and cause more harm than good. We need to figure out who it is before we risk revealing our paw.”
Ge’berd nodded slightly as he replied “We’ll close in with the center group some, you go ahead and let Graves know. Not the Captains, the Colonel, this is too important to let slowly make its way up the ranks.”
Avalon nodded before she bolted off “Assuming the traitor isn’t one of the Captains.”
Ge’berd’s mouth dropped open upon registering Avalon’s words but after a moment he shook his head ‘Frank was too crazy and Kane was too easy to read and open mouthed surely it wasn’t one of them.”
Avalon rushed past Kane and Frank to come up right behind Colonel Graves. Without so much as introducing her presence she whispered into the Colonel’s ear “There’s a traitor in the ranks sir, I found a letter indicating that the Prince would be travelling this route and where he’d be at certain times. There was a similar note for the ore shipment.”
Avalon almost jumped out of her skin as the Colonel growled at her unexpected appearance and interruption “I outta crush your skull yo… traitor, letter, where the Prince is travelling? Who?”
Avalon looked and sounded worried as she replied silently “I don’t know sir but I didn’t sound the alarm as it could set whoever it is off into a killing frenzy.”
Graves clutched the handle of his flail and snorted “Find out who it is or I’ll crush the skull of everybeast I see that isn’t the Prince, including you.”
Avalon gave a slight nod then shivered in fright and uncertainty “How sir?”
Graves gritted his teeth “Observe and report.”
Avalon gave a slight nod and started looking around, taking careful not of every beast and every object from bushes to buildings. An estate stood off to the right of the front guard with its four story structure and colossal grain tower. Outside the front stood a weasel and a badger both of whom were armored and armed a little too obvious to be assassins. The black vixen’s gaze turned to the top of the grain tower; it had a top like a bell tower to keep rain water from running inside the dump hole for the grain making an excellent spot for an archer. Avalon rushed to the two guards and looked them over as she spoke “Is there anybody in the tower?”
The weasel shook his head “No, dere’s absolutely nobody in any of the buildings and nobody around them except us.”
Avalon narrowed her eyes at the weasel “Would you mind checking.”
The weasel snorted and flapped a paw “Pff why, I told you dere’s nobody here…”
The badger shifted slightly and growled at the weasel “I will check… you stay here and keep watch.”
The weasel snorted again as the badger gave him an order before slowly moving towards the tower leaving Avalon to turn and look at the trees on the opposite side of the road. There was no movement but the crowd along the path was the perfect place to lie in wait.”
Avalon began making her way across the road towards the crowd as the Prince passed between them. As the Prince passed through her vision she caught sight of a flash, ‘a dagger’, the fur on the back of her neck stood up and she bolted forward. One of the onlookers screamed as the dagger equipped weasel jumped into the street and elbowed Avalon in the stomach. The entire column stopped and drew their weapons in confusion. Solus looked around with a chill fully relaxed mood which quickly turned to concern as the front and rear guards moved to cluster around them.

(Black Stab)

The goose feather twitched in the wind as the rat held the arrow in his fully drawn bow and waited for the right moment to let it loose. Frank moved towards the weasel assassin opening the shot for the rat. He took in a breath then froze as somebeast barked behind him “What are ‘you’ doing up here!”
The rat turned with his bow but before he could bring his sights on the badger a heft iron warhammer slammed into his ribs crushing them before he was thrown over the edge. Kane turned as the rat screamed before landing in a heap at the base of the tower taking his sights off the crowd as three other rats made their way forwards through the onlookers. Avalon stood up as Frank buried a large tomahawk into the weasel’s face. Her eyes quickly caught sight of the three rats as they bolted from the crowd and made for the Prince with daggers under cloaks. Avalon leapt towards the nearest one as she yelled “Halt!”
Graves swung his flail swiping two of the vermin aside leaving the third to step to the side and let Avalon stumbled passed before drawing his poisoned blow dart. The rat raised his blow dart and took aim then made an unscheduled inhale as a stone from Kane’s sling smacked him in the throat. The rat’s eyes rolled back into his head as he swallowed the dart leaving him to fall to the ground stiff as a nail. Avalon looked around then made her way towards Graves wondering if it was finished. The Colonel looked around cautiously ‘that’s not all of them, there’s a traitor and none of those beasts worked for me.’
Solus stood beside the Colonel in a circular formation with an eyebrow raised as he questioned the Prince who was behind him in the middle of the circle of guards “Are you alright my Prince?”
Thanatos nodded with a heavy pawed look on his face “Yes, not so much as a scratch. Why were these killers not spotted earlier?”
Solus rolled his eyes in thought then turned and stepped towards the Prince “My Prince I do not know, none of your guard spotted them. It is a failure on their part.”
Thanatos looked at him with a glare of daggers “You are one of my guard, you are the leader of my scout…” the two rats under Solus’s command turned and stepped in to listen “you should have spotted these creatures with your eyes not my frontline warriors. They need to see a threat before they can react.”
Solus nodded slightly and replied “And they have failed to see the threat Prince.”
Thanatos squinted slightly then froze as Solus and his two rats drew their blades. Graves’s ears shot up as Avalon crashed through the ring of guards “Dad, no!”
The guards spun inwards as Thanatos jumped back away from the three traitors and ended up beside Kane who hefted his claymore and swung at the rats. Graves swung his flail and missed as Solus lunged at the Prince. Solus growled as he pointed his broad sword at the Prince with the intention of gutting the ruler. He roared as something similar to his eye knocked him back “Argh, I’ll kill you!”
Graves stood stone faced as father faced off daughter and Kane dispatched the two rats. Solus blinked for a moment then snarled “You whelp; I told you you’d get yourself killed! Now I’m going to be the one that fulfills that statement! You clumsy fool of an excuse for offspring, I hoped for a strong blooded warrior not some weakling that couldn’t lift a sword until they were ten seasons old.”
Avalon howled “Traitor, I looked up to you, the guard and now I find out you are everything but that! WHY!”
Solus glared at Thanatos “Because ‘he’ let woodlanders live with us! They’re an infestation, the only thing they’re good for are slaves and he lets them rot away our Kingdom by giving them freedom and using our blood to protect them! I will let it continue no more!”
Without hesitation Solus jumped forward and swung, his blow being countered just barely by his daughter’s blade. She groaned and slid back an inch as the blades met then Solus readied to swing again. In a flash of rage for betrayal the black vixen swung her blade in a blinding series of flashes. ‘Cling… cling… cling… zink.’ Solus countered three blow with a growl then felt his abdomen grow warm as Avalon lowered her stance and lunged forward with a scream putting her short blade clean through his belly. Solus fell backwards off his daughter’s blade and lay looking up at the sky. Kane stepped forwards to finish the traitor off and Graves held up a paw with a bark “No… she must finish him off.”
Kane’s eyes widened slightly “But sir, I do not recommend ordering…”
Graves growled at his Captain “No, his family’s blood is tainted with betrayal of the Kingdom that can only be undone by having a member of the family kill the traitor and she is the only one present.”
Avalon stood looking down at her dying predecessor with rage burning in her eyes and yet she couldn’t move. He had talked as if she was nothing her entire life, tried to kill her, and betrayed everything she saw that he stood for and yet all in all he was ‘still’ her father, the reason she was where she was. Her sword paw was starting to hurt as she gripped it tight enough to break her other paw if she had held it. She shivered, she wanted to kill him slowly and painfully yet at the same time she didn’t want to do anything at all to harm him. ‘Her anger would destroy her if she killed him in such a manner; she would never forgive herself for such a barbaric act.’ Avalon closed her eyes and gave a deep breath then knelt down beside her father. She looked him in the eyes with her dark watery orbs that shimmered in the light of day. Graves gripped his flail impatiently, if she took too much longer he’d slay them both however he made no move to stop the vixen from what she was doing as she whispered into Solus’s ear “I’ll always love you… father.”
Solus lay still only blinking as a tear drop rolled from his eye leaving Avalon to stand up and continue to look at his face as she pointed her sword down at him “If you have a heart then this will kill you quickly.”
The black blade of midnight steel plunged downwards through black fur and pierced the heart of a traitor and the father of a beast who felt no anger towards their parent. Solus instantly went limp and a small cry escaped his lips letting Graves relax, the task completed. Avalon pulled her sword back and let her arms hang loosely at her sides as she looked at the corpse in front of her with a pool of crimson growing around it. Kane put a paw on Avalon’s shoulder and stared at the corpse “It may have been difficult youngling but it was what needed to be done to complete the task.”
Avalon nodded silently as the Prince approached her “This is the beast you spoke of Colonel?”
Graves nodded slightly as he turned towards the Prince “Yes my Prince, this is Avalon daughter of Solus and Ariel Sure-eye.”
Thantos looked at the Graves with a blank face “This is not the… demonstration I had expected… Loyal, brave, obedient… I see no reason she can’t be in my guard. And I am in need of new scouts.”
He turned his attention to Avalon, his eyes taking a glimpse at the corpse in front of her “You have the lead scout’s position in my guard youngling. Perform as you have today and you will serve many seasons under me, operating as my eyes. Welcome to the guard my dear.”
Avalon bowed to Thanatos and answered his statement calmly “Thank you my Prince, it is an honor to serve at your side.”
Thanatos looked at Graves again as Avalon straightened herself “Bring Solus’s body, his betrayal has been redeemed and therefore it is still his right to be buried like any other member of my guard.”
Avalon’s watery eyes shimmered in the light “Thank you my Prince.”
Thanatos nodded slightly as he turned his head back to the black vixen “I am sorry for what you had to do; sadly not even I can turn back time to stop calamities such as this from happening. I will send for your mother so that she can be present at the burial.”
Avalon wasn’t sure but her eyes caught something in Thanatos’s eyes, they had water welled up in them as well as if he truly felt sorry that the events had unfolded the way they did.

(Sifting Through the Ashes)

The sound of a hammer striking hot metal echoed through the armory as Korem and Willowbank worked the forge. Avalon stood in the doorway looking out into the courtyard still dwelling on what she had done and wondering why she had done it. ‘Sure it was her duty as a member of the guard but why had she joined the guard?’ As if to answer her thought the young otter Willowbank gripped one of her paws and she turned her head to look down at him. He was looking up at her with a smile, warm and comforting. Avalon blinked a tear from her eye and smiled back ‘that was why she had joined, for those that were good, for those that deserved to live.’
Korem lifted the midnight steel scout cuirass and dipped it in his special quenching fluid creating a cloud of steam as it cooled with a hiss. Korem waited a moment then put the cuirass on a table where a line of twelve throwing daggers lied next to a new short sword and boots. Most smiths wouldn’t be able to craft such weapons however having been in the presence of one of the Ambassador’s smiths and then a badger Master Smith Korem had learn more than just a few things about the art of shaping metal. He turned his eyes up to look at Avalon as steam continued to rise from the newly forged equipment “Hmph, all your gear’s finished though you might want to wait a little while before you try it on.”
Avalon walked over to the table and looked over the newly made midnight steel equipment thoughtfully. Korem looked Avalon in the eye as the black vixen touched the flat of the short sword’s blade “I think I’d prefer to keep the one I have. It’s the exact same except… it keep ‘him’ with me.”
Korem gave a slight nod and removed the short sword from the table “I thought you might say that, I’ll put this one on the wall then.”
Avalon gave a small nod to Korem “Thank you for everything you’ve done Korem, I don’t know where I’d be without you… you too Willowbank.”
Willowbank hugged her and the black vixen hugged back softly “Your welcome Avy, I’m glad we could ‘elp.”
Korem gave a small grin; glad the vixen had something to be happy for “Anytime mam, anytime.”

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