Duskbiter decided not to push the topic further with the intimidating foreigner, with the fight outside being the more pressing issue at the moment. She ran outside, cautiously skirting around the thickest of the fight, looking for someone to blame. Upon sighting Vraskar, she stormed up to him.
"You there, what is the meaning of this ruckus? I thought you cleared out the village already! And would you do something about those interlopers before we run out of troops? The chief will not be pleased if we don't finish up here, and it's my head on the line!"
Chisk looked around at the remaining assassins, and furrowed her brows.
"This is taking too long. At this rate we'll never make it to the mountain before daybreak, and that'll look way less impressive, ay? Iretooth, wouldja put a stop to this already?" She then ducked out through the tent entrance with haste.
Iretooth paused at chief's the use of her full name for once, before taking out a pawful of small capsules and throwing them into the nearest brazier, then similarly bolting out of the tent while hooting with laughter.
Upon contact with the fire, the capsules released plumes of white smoke that filled the enclosed space of the tent within moments, dizzying the beasts remaining inside.
I could have died I could have died I could have died.
These thoughts cycled through Duskbiter's head as she stared down at the creature that had charged at her, blade inches away from cutting her down. It took all her concentration to hide the fear that was coursing through her. Pushing aside those frantic thoughts, she dispassionately glared back.
"I am General Duskbiter, second-in-command to the glorious army of Chisk Softclaws. We are here to requisition supplies from this village, nothing more." She felt somewhat guilty at glossing over the deaths of the villagers, considering her own family had been slaughtered by a passing horde. She didn't let that show though. This sort of thing got easier over time. "You look like you're protecting something. If there's supplies down in that cellar, I must request that you let me through, or I shall have to call my forces." She narrowed her eyes. "By the way, it's in your best interest to humor me. If there are villagers down there, I have no control over what my soldiers would do to them. I myself have no interest in a pointless bloodbath. Once we get the supplies we need, we'll leave this place well alone."
The sounds of renewed fighting outside drew her attention. "What in blazes is going on out there?" she muttered.
Chisk didn't expect to get shaken. "Gyaaaaah, hands off you moron, you don't just do that to someone without warning!" She shoved the dingo away, raising her club by reflex.
Several dark shapes burst into the tent, the sudden glint of steel eliciting more screaming from Iretooth, who was still cowering under the table. Surrounding the warlord and her entourage were eight pitch black goannas, including the one that had been guarding the rebel tent earlier. All eight were identical, likely siblings, and each held a wicked curved dagger.
"Huh, I always wondered how that one guy could be in multiple places at once." Chisk remarked airily, as if arriving at the answer to a moderately difficult riddle.
Iretooth flipped over the table, apparently done with hiding, and aimed her dart launcher at one of the approaching goannas. "Don't just stand there peasant!" she shouted at Kyra. "Someone like me doesn't deserve to die because of your idiocy!"
Chisk was already being swarmed by four goannas. Aiming for the legs, she knocked them all down with a sweeping blow, but they recovered almost immediately. Not quickly enough, for she smashed one goanna's skull with a sickening crack, sending the reptile tumbling down gracelessly. Another goanna fell to a poison dart from Iretooth, and Chisk finished the job with another smash. This didn't deter the remaining assassins though, and the sounds of fighting outside the tent threatened to spill over.
Ugh, terrible. Just look at the mess those barbarians had made of things.
Duskbiter delicately picked her way through the carnage of the village, sidestepping an oozing corpse here and there. She would rather have supervised from afar, but if she couldn't depend on those nasty raiders to ensure that the village supplies were secured properly.
A badly injured wallaby in her path, which she had assumed dead, suddenly jumped up and ran at her, screaming bloody murder about, er, something or other. Probably mad about the whole 'massacring an entire village' thing, that sort of rubbish. Duskbiter didn't even need to look up from her inventory parchments, simply stepping to the side as the enraged villager kept running forward in a blind rage. Best of luck to him.
She was so engrossed in her lists that she smacked right into a wall. Luckily, only a few nearby soldiers were sober enough to notice, laughing uproariously.
The building she had crashed into was once an inn, almost unrecognizable now. One side had nearly caved in, and through the splintered doors she could see the interior was splattered in blood, strewn bodies, and overturned tables. What was alarming was that all of the bodies were raiders, not woodlanders. That was not a good sign.
It was probably the exhaustion, but she stupidly stepped into the dim building, glancing around for threats. She only just noticed the strange looking foreigner still defending the room.
Chisk was in the middle of a meeting with General Iretooth, though she was barely paying attention to what the inventor quoll was saying, and in fact had tuned out a long time ago. Iretooth was, as usual, spouting indecipherable gibberish about the technical workings of her inventions, punctuated by her own shameless self-promotion. Iretooth hadn't even noticed Chisk briefly fall asleep. Normally Chisk would make Duskbiter handle these boring tasks, but with Dusky away to supervise the raid…
A ruckus sounded outside, the guards shouting as a figure barrelled in, specifically that dingo spy that Dusky had met with. Iretooth squealed in fright and bolted under the table. Chisk, on the other hand, was overjoyed at the interruption.
"Yes, yes! Good work pal! I bet you have something important to report, yes? That will force me to end this meeting yes? Out with it!"
Sayko shrugged. "Perhaps greater forces are at work here." She responded, in a rather vague and unhelpful manner, and glared ahead. "I can't say it's been a very nice trek so far. Hard to talk with others n' all that." She withdrew a knife from her belt, twirling it around. "I've had strange dreams lately, and I have to wonder whether they were leading up to all this. I can only hope someone like myself can help those folks, at least through my healing."
As the small army continued on, the mountain loomed in the distance, still far away, but finally in sight.
After the crowd had eventually quieted down enough, they gradually dispersed to prepare for their more minor roles in the plan, giving an opportunity for slipping away. The leaders of the rabble, along with the goanna guard from earlier, appeared to set out as a group toward the center of camp, while the rest of the rebels scattered in different directions.
Balma looked visibly relieved at being out of the Kitchens, and out of reach of the Friar's wrath. "Well, my seer work occupies a huge portion of my time, even if it's not spent doing actual predictions. It may not seem like difficult work for a gifted beast, but it's surprisingly hard to make a living doing it. There are too many seers out there, whether real or fake, and to most beasts it makes no difference 'cause they can't even tell the difference! If'n I were to try an' settle any place, I'd hafta compete with a whole lotta other seers and fortunetellers, all vying for the same customers. Mostly foxes, but there are plenny of travelling fortunetellers with performing troupes and the like, and the occasional old crone living in the swamp. And ya gotta be careful not ta get on the wrong side of really important beasts, or else ya might find yourself being run straight outta town like my mentor was." She stuffed another scone into her gaping maw, truly a terrifying sight, and continued.
"I gotta keep on top of the market, so I've been reading books on economic theory. Really dense material, hardly anybeast even studies the stuff. It's been years since I studied anything, so it's taken me a long while to get any understandin' of the stuff, but Skriv has been helpin' me. In fact, that's how we started hangin' out. After all, it don't seem ta make much sense fer a mysterious and mystical beast like meself and a stuffy ol' bookish type like her ta be friends, right?"
Skriv scoffed, and primly retorted "I just got tired of that lug spending hours moaning at the books in frustration. After all, somebeast has to keep the library in order, and I certainly couldn't do my work with all that racket going on. It was simple for a well-educated person as myself to explain these basic concepts, even to a lazy lout who breaks out into a rash at the sight of an alphabet primer."
Balma didn't seem to notice the jab. "Aye, if'n I were tha' stupid, I'd be embarrassed fer myself!"
Skriv continued. "As you two can probably tell, I spend most of my time with scholarly pursuits. My specific interest is compiling information on distant and ancient civilizations, which are in danger of falling into obscurity. Currently, I am gathering information on the history of Loamhedge, which was an ancient abbey that preceded Redwall, and from which several of the founders of Redwall originated. Countless generations ago, the entire abbey was swallowed into the earth, and thus into obscurity. I have recently traveled to the site to study what remained above ground, and to attempt to dig out any interesting artifacts lying just beneath the soil. It's quite difficult imagining what the place must have been like before it was abandoned, but with the aid of our furthest archives, I hope to piece it together once more. Perhaps someday, I may travel to even more distant places that have played a role in our history, regardless of the dangers."
Balma interrupted. "But Skriv doesn't spend alla her time with dusty ol' ruins! She writes stories, like, fictional ones. I read a few of them! Or tried to anyways…"
Skriv growled. "I did not give you permission to be rifling through my things again. Also, I wondered where some of my manuscripts went, you vile thief!"
Balma shrugged. "Well, they were lying right there on the lawns. Honestly, Skriv, you really should guard your things better. What if a thievin' magpie had landed and took it, and then published it under their own name? Add no matter how much you insisted that you wrote it, beasts would still go 'well tha' ain't your name on it is it?', and then you'd be plum outta luck, and then I'd be like 'haha I toldja so', and then y-"
"Shush." Skriv rubbed her temples, as if soothing away an incoming migraine. "Your voice echoes too much in here." She took a deep breath for a moment, calming down once more. "At any rate, though, my written work is not in a state fit to be showing to other beasts yet. It's a work in progress, though I don't know how I would go about publishing it. It's really more of a work of passion right now, a side project of little consequence with which I can ease away the stresses of work. It's a story of mystery and suspense, with a wide cast of characters. I have mostly finished the first book, and am beginning work on the second. I plan for it to be a trilogy, but it might end up longer than that."
Balma shrugged again. "Well, I gotta say I didn't understand half of what was happening. You started of with twenty different characters, and killed most of them off before I even memorized their names."
"Well it's not my fault you have a five second memory." Skriv replied defensively. "And like I said, it's a work in progress." She turned toward Dane and Amida. "What kind of literature are you familiar with? I know that purely fictional tales are not common in most places, and even the myths and legends are based on some fact. I wonder if certain places have a different literary tradition than here..."