Spring Is Upon Us! (Eastern RP -- Jared and Etain -- Request Only)

  • The sun was setting over the lush, green, just-blooming forests of southern Mossflower, bouncing off the new blooms just bursting forth on the trees, and falling through the thick tangles of branches to reach even the darkest of woodland floors. Though serene, the scene was nothing but quiet -- birds chirped their sweet songs, the rush of melting snow could be heard all around, and winds were beginning to carry warm air up from the lakes and valleys of Southsward.

    Spring was upon the land.

    The new growth wasn't without observers -- two pairs of trudging paws carried their weary owners through it, although the poor creatures were too exhausted to take heed of the glory surrounding them. "How much further?" Etain groaned. She narrowly avoided tripping into the ditch beside them over an overgrown root. "We haven't stopped walking since we met those Island traders on the border between Kyuna and Southsward . . . that's nearly forty kilometers! Aside from the six hours of sleep I managed to catch, we --"

    She was cut off by Hinata's paw raising to silence her. The vixen pointed ahead. Etain shaded her eyes to gaze upon the most welcoming sight she'd ever seen in her slightly twisted, albeit short, life.

    Redwall Abbey.

    Come on. Hinata sped up. Thanks for reminding me about those traders. Let's go talk with the Abbot.

    "What's an Abbot?" Etain wondered, but then came back to her senses and hurried to keep up with Hinata.

    "Ha! I win again!"

    Anghan slammed his paw down on the table in frustration. "Ah jus' don't understand this game, laddie!" he cried.

    Katsuke shrugged and pulled the decks towards himself to shuffle once more. "Uta-garuta is truly very simple, Anghan-saa. You simply have to remember which card matches to each, and where I've placed them on the table."

    "Aye, but why are th'cards poems? Ah donnae ken enough about thae sort o' thing, lad." The older wolf huffed and sat back in his chair.

    Katsuke eyed him with a glint of humour in his face. "Play again?"

    Anghan pause. "Fine." He sat back up as Katsuke laid the first deck of cards out in front of him, face up, and then set the second deck down in front of him. "But read them slow, lad . . . my mind isnae as sharp as ye'res."

    "Hai." Katsuke lifted one card, opened his mouth to speak, and froze.

    "Eh? Whae's the matter?"

    "Stay very, very still, Anghan-saa . . . it seems that a beetle has landed right on your head." Katsuke slowly stood up and lifted his paw.

    "Careful, naow," Anghan warned, just before Katsuke's paw came crashing down on the crown of his head, and a small beetle buzzed away unscathed.

    Katsuke's face was instantly a look of terror. "Oops."

    Jurou sat contentedly underneath a tree in the orchard. His head was laid back against it, his eyes at half-mast, and he was perfectly tranquil. "You know," he said, rather quietly (as was his way). "It's a nice day out." He didn't bother turning to see if anybeast had heard him on the other side of the tree -- it didn't matter. It was a very, very quiet day, and he didn't want to spoil the . . .

    "Arggghhhh!" Anghan charged around the corner of the Abbey commons building with Katsuke slung over his shoulder, heading right for Jurou. He gave the pair a withering stare as they stumbled straight into him.

    The three staggered to their feet, disentangling themselves from one another. "I'm not even going to ask," Jurou muttered, and got up to find somewhere else more peaceful to relax. "Sandeyes! Where are you!" he shouted. "I need some sanity!"

    Hinata's paw rapped at the main gate, three times, quick and hard.

    ((ooc edit: added slightly to Hinata's and Etain's bit.

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    Eolin Sandeye basked in the purple-orange sunset of Mossflower Forest, wandering around the ramparts of the Abbey, shirtless and barefoot, dressed in naught more than his belted trousers. A light cool spring breeze bristled through his fur and blew his loose wavy headfur every-which-way. The squirrel happily breathed in the healthy clean spring air, putting his paws contently behind his head and baring his broad brown and white chest to the wind. He closed his eyes and fell into a meditative relaxation, quietly humming a melodic Eastern tune to himself. After a little while, he sat down on the ramparts, his back against the red sandstone and facing out across the Forest.

    A few minutes later, the sound of rapping at the Main Gate drew his attention. His ears twitched and he promptly stood up. He leaned over the wall and peered down at the Gate. Two figures stood at the threshold, rapping thrice quick and hard. He could just barely make them out in the remaining sunlight.

    “Is that who I think it is?” he asked himself.

    He hurriedly climbed down from the walls and ran straight to the Gate, tightening the belt around his trousers and pulling it up to his waist. Summoning all his strength, he pulled one door open and then the other.

    His eyes widened and his jaw dropped open at the sight before him. After a solid minute, he collected his wits.

    “Hinata? Miss Etain?”

    He was so absorbed in the surprise of the two visiting vixens, that he completely forgot about being very immodestly dressed.

    Outside the orchard, the Starheart siblings were busy harvesting mangoes. They noticed Jurou angrily storming through and calling out for “some sanity”. Sariah clambered down the mango tree she was hanging from and brushed leaves off her pinafore.

    “Hello, Jurou. Would you like to help me take in these mangoes to the Kitchens? We just need to wash them clean before they’re ready to be eaten.”

    She called back up to the tree. “Joshua! Come down, little brother!”


    Joshua dropped down from the higher branches of the tree and landed right in his sister’s arms, giggling. Sariah put her younger brother on the ground. Joshua waved at Jurou and picked up a basket of mangoes, balancing it on his head.

    Kumusta po, Kuya Jurou! We were just about to carry these mangoes inside! Wanna come with us?”

    Sariah and Joshua led the way inside the Abbey and to the Kitchens down by Cavern Hole, where they delivered their harvested fruits. Melwave, who had just finished washing dishes, smiled kindly at them.

    “Are those th’ mangoes? They turned out better than expected, didn’t they? Wonderful work, ye two. I’ll take ‘em from ‘ere.”

    She carried the baskets inside and set them by a sink.

    “Davbank!” she called over her shoulder. “Honey, can ye ‘elp me out, please?”

    Davbank looked up from an oven where he was watching over a baking pecan pie. “Aye, I’m comin’, Melwave!” He stood up straight and hurried over to his girlfriend’s side to help. But instead of touching the mangoes, he hugged his mate around the waist and pecked affectionately at her cheeks.

    Melwave giggled and politely pushed her boyfriend away. “Not ‘ere, Dav. Somebeast will see us! Ye know ‘ow strict th’ Friar can be if we don’t get our work done on time! Come on, ‘elp me ‘ere.”

    Davbank just laughed and picked out mangoes from the first basket.

    Sariah and Joshua hung out with Jurou inside Cavern Hole, sitting at one of the tables. Sariah was casually reading one of her martial arts books. Joshua sat between her and Jurou, smiling brightly up at the Ferret.

    “So, Kuya Jurou. What do you think of the spring season so far?”

  • The moment Etain saw Eolin, she completely froze. "Islander," she breathed, her paw clenching and reaching for her wrappings -- it was stopped by the gentle touch of the other vixen beside her.

    Hinata shook her head and signed, Just like we practiced.

    Etain took a deep breath, then nodded. She turned back to Eolin. "Mauralian-saa," she began. "I'm sorry for trying to kill you the last time I saw you. Very, very sorry. Also, though . . ." She immediately followed with a number of obscene words used by some Senshaan to describe Islanders, and a few regular curses, then bowed politely. "Sorry, dekka" (roughly translated, 'Island Scum') ", couldn't help myself." She grinned, though still gritting her teeth, then turned to Hinata.

    Her partner sighed and pawed her forehead in frustration. Close enough, she decided, and Etain giggled slightly. Hinata looked at Eolin and signed, rather rapidly, a slightly wordier apology, followed by, That was what she was supposed to say.

    Etain looked the Islander up and down. "He's half naked," she observed. "A bit pretty for a dekka boy, isn't he?" Hinata merely rolled her eyes in response, and signed a thanks for Eolin's responding to their knocking and requested to be admitted into the Abbey.

    Jurou quietly nodded and picked up a nearby basket of mangoes, his usual moodiness swept away by his growing fondness of the two Starhearts. They were a welcome presence at all times, a calming little haven from the usual chaos presented by his regular company. He smiled softly at Joshua's invitation, and proceeded to follow them through the Abbey and to the Kitchens, out of the bright sunlight and into the warmth of the ovens and the smell of the food being made.

    He gave the basket to Melwave, nodding to her, then exiting and taking a seat at a table beside the siblings. When Joshua voiced his question, Jurou nodded once more, but less grimly. "I like the spring more than the winter," he said. "It's less . . . cold."

    Suddenly, he noticed the book in Sariah's paws. He stood and leaned down beside her to study a page. "What is it?" he asked, laser-focused on the page. "It's . . . unfamiliar."

    Before he received an answer, however, his paw shot out and landed on an image in the book. "This is good." It shifted up to another image. "Not this . . . not this . . . this is good . . . this too . . ." He continued like this, selecting image after image, but then realized what he was doing and backed away, embarrassed. "Er . . . sorry, Starheart. Got carried away."

    Katsuke and Anghan were rolling around on the grass, wrestling, when Katsuke's ears pricked up. "I know that giggle!" he shouted, then leapt up and made a dash for the gate.

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    Eolin raised an eyebrow at Etain’s apology and carefully read Hinata’s signing. He understood both of them, oddly enough. It wasn’t much of an apology, not well practiced or thought out. Yet, it was an apology nonetheless. Eolin knew he was more than obligated to accept it; out of the goodness of his heart, he chose to accept it.

    To his own surprise, a genuine smile as bright as the sunset spread across his face. He extended his paw for Etain and Hinata to shake, then stepped aside to allow them inside the Abbey.

    “I accept your apologies, fully and wholeheartedly. I think we all got off on the wrong foot, didn’t we? Now let us put the past behind us and start over from here, shall we?”

    He blushed a light red as Etain observantly looked him up and down, unable to read her exact expression as she saw his shirtless form.

    “Oh, yeah…Um…” Eolin smoothed out his chest fur that had been blown hither and thither by the evening spring breeze and straightened his trousers a tad tighter around his waist. He rubbed the back of his neck bashfully and averted his eyes in embarrassment.

    Did she just call me ‘pretty’? As in, pretty boy?

    Sarcastic as it sounded, coming from Etain, it was a compliment either way. He felt a twinging instinct to protect his trousers and belt at all times from now on.

    “Yeah, sorry about that. Um…come on in, I guess? I’ll let the Abbot know you’re here.” He walked them towards the Abbey. Out of the corner of his eye, Katsuke came running toward them.

    “Katsuke!” He pointed at the newly-arrived Hinata and Etain. “Look who’s here! My cousins should be around here somewhere, too.” He told the vixens. “Jurou was out in the orchard, last I saw him. I hope all the mangoes have been harvested; the Friar and his cooks are planning to make some special pastries out of them tonight. You guys came just in time for dinner!”

    They entered the Great Hall. There, staring at the Tapestry of Martin, was the newly-appointed Abbot Bartolomew.

    “Father Abbot,” Eolin bowed respectfully to the harvest mouse. “Miss Hinata Sundance and Miss Etain Weiss have returned to Redwall Abbey.”

    Bartolomew folded his paws inside his brown Abbot robes and smiled kindly at Hinata and Etain.

    “Welcome back to Redwall, daughters of Senshan. It is wonderful to see you two again. The long winter has passed without a word from either of you. I am pleased to see you both again in good health, and am honored by your presence.”

    He looked to Hinata. “I see the hurried look on your face, Miss Sundance. Is something the matter? Is this an urgent need you must care to? My apologies if I sound forward; our former Abbot passed away from winter illness, not a month after you two left Redwall. I am still settling into my new role. Anyway, what is it that you and your lover need?”

    Joshua giggled and nodded with Jurou. “Yeah, I agree! Although, I do love the winter season, too. All the snow! Unlike Eolin, who hates the cold and tries to avoid it whenever he can.” He giggled and leaned comfortably on his sister, who wrapped her other arm around him.

    Sariah raised her martial arts book to show him the front cover. But before she could do so, he shot out his paw and pointed out images in the book. She tapped into her instincts and followed his fingers with her eyes.

    “That’s karate. Every Eastern warrior is required to learn that form, it’s mandatory. Some warriors will choose to supplement it with taekwondo. Eolin and I have both done that. Yeah, Muay Thai is decent, I guess. Uncle Lucas and Aunt Aedlin both use it. Ninjutsu can be pretty effective if you execute it just right. Judo and jiujutsu take many long seasons of study, so far as I know. I think kickboxing is pretty cool, too! I’m still an amateur at it, though.”

    She laughed out loud as Jurou apologized and backed away from her. “It’s all right, Jurou. Please don’t apologize. I admire your enthusiasm. Don’t ever be ashamed to express your passions. We absolutely must talk martial arts sometime, okay?” She leaned over and lightly kissed the Ferret on the cheek and returned to her book.

    Melwave and Davbank brought over bowls of sliced mangoes and placed them on the table.

    “Would ye fine beasts like to try some o’ these before we turn ‘em into pastries?” Davbank asked, putting down two bowls before the Starhearts and Jurou.

    “Wow!” Joshua bit into a slice and hopped happily in his seat. “It’s so sweet and ripe! The flavor just fills your mouth!”

    Sariah nodded in agreement. “Oh, it’s wonderful! They grew so perfectly! The best mangoes of the season! Jurou, you absolutely must try these!”

    Melwave laughed heartily and encouraged the trio to take the fruit. “Go ahead an’ finish those, mates. Just put the bowls in the sink when ye’re finished, an’ we’ll wash ‘em.”

  • Hinata heaved a quiet sigh of relief. Thank you, she signed to the kindly Easterner, accepting the offered paw and reflecting his smile back at him. I promise she practiced, she added, chuckling slightly, and followed Eolin into the Abbey.

    Etain ignored the squirrel's paw and brushed past him, immediately becoming dismissive. "Better be embarrassed, dekka. Put a shirt on. Where is --" she started, but was cut off as Katsuke slammed into her, bowling her over and taking Hinata with him, hugging them both. "Ack!" the arctic vixen managed, the breath driven from her lungs in one big woosh.

    "Missed you!" the big fox yelled.

    Etain softened, smiling gently and poking him. "Missed you too."

    Hinata heaved Katsuke off her. Where's Jurou? she signed. He shrugged. "Somewhere inside." Is he well? "Yes." Good. Where's the Abbot?

    Etain saw this last question and suddenly grinned. "Oh yeah! Where's the Abbot? We needa talk to him." She giggled. "We heard some weird stuff on the road we wanted to mention to him."

    Eolin mentioned dinner, and the trio stood and followed, joking casually and throwing arms around each other. They made their way into the Great Hall and stopped in front of the tapestry. Bartolomew was the one who stood there.

    Hinata's eyes widened slightly in surprise. You're the Abbot? she started to say, but then shook off the urge and started rapidly signing her thanks for the warm welcome, apologies, etc. Etain translated roughly. "Thank you, Bartolomew-sanaa, for having us here, and we would have given contact but we were involved in a slight mercenary job in the North and couldn't exactly reach the Abbey. (Also, what's an Abbot?) However --"

    Bartolomew interrupted. "I see the hurried look on your face, Miss Sundance. Is something the matter? Is this an urgent need you must care to? My apologies if I sound forward; our former Abbot passed away from winter illness, not a month after you two left Redwall. I am still settling into my new role. Anyway, what is it that you and your lover need?"

    Hinata nodded and kept signing. It's about something we heard on the road here. She nodded to Eolin. From some of your Maraulians.

    Katsuke scratched his head. "What were Maraul folk doing in Mossflower?"

    "Silly, they weren't in Mossflower!" Etain licked her lips and snickered. "They were in Kyuna, on one of the trade routes." She looked at Hinata, who motioned for her to continue. "They had a weird little bit of news."

    At this point, she started giggling again.

    "There's a war brewing!"

    Jurou, down in Cavern Hole, was thoroughly enjoying himself for the first time in a little while.

    "Karate . . . Taekwondo . . . I believe I've heard of the first, yet not the others. Do you know much of our Senshaan combat?" he asked, trying to hide his excitement. He loved martial arts, and had studied them a good deal with Katsuke and Hinata in his spare time. They each had a different variety of the deadly art form from each of their clans -- Katsuke practiced goju ryu, the art of Kyuna and the Triage, while Hinata had learnt budo from Etain. Karate was widely known, as it was popular among the Islanders that Jurou had met, but taekwondo, judo, muay thai, and the others that Sariah had mentioned were foreign to him.

    Of course, there was a third --

    "Mangoes!" he blurted out as Sariah kissed his cheek, looking at the couple from the kitchens with a surprised expression, the thought from before fleeing his mind in an instant.

    He accepted one of the ripe tropical fruits from Davbank, and bit into one. The juice dripped down his chin. His eyes widened. "These are . . . amazing!" he murmured. "How'd you get them to grow in Mossflower? These are an Eastern, or far Western fruit." He wiped away the stain on his face and took another bite, savouring the sweet, yet slightly tart, taste of the mango.

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    “A war?!”

    Eolin’s face drained of color; Bartolomew’s as well. Eolin gathered his wits first, and his once happy and cheerful face dropped into mixed disbelief and anger. Having previously wrapped his arms around his bare chest (lest Etain attack him in his vulnerability), he dropped them and pointed accusingly at the vixens.

    “What war? With whom? Against whom? I demand to know what’s going on here!”

    Abbot Bartolomew turned to the Eastern squirrel pacifyingly. “Eolin, please. I’m sure this is all a big misunderstanding.”

    “Misunderstanding, Father?” Eolin snapped at the harvest mouse, putting his paws on his trouser hips in impatient irritation. “If this war is real, then the entire Eastern seaboard could be in danger. That includes the Islands and the Senshan nation, and all the lands across that hemisphere of the world.” He glared blunt daggers at Etain and Hinata. “Please tell me you’re joking, or at least playing some ridiculous prank. If this is some kind of elaborate lie that you’re trying to feed our Abbey, it is one very poorly made and in most unrefined taste.”

    “That I can agree with,” Bartolomew added, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

    “My grandfather would never authorize a war!” Eolin shouted defensively, his strong teenage voice echoing through the Great Hall. “Nor would he ever condone one if it already existed! Jared Sandeye, the greatest warrior in Eastern history and the prophesied ruler of the Five Islands, is no beast to wage war whenever he feels like it. Rather, in the past, it’s the war that wages on him! Now tell me what’s going on here or else – mmph!”

    Bartolomew had clapped a paw to Eolin’s mouth, preventing further speech from the Easterner. “That’s enough, Eolin. No more words on this tonight until after dinner. I will not allow any violence to occur inside the hallowed halls of our sacred Abbey. Come on. I’d like to try those mango pastries for myself, and encourage our guests to feast on them as well. Let’s go.”

    Begrudgingly, Eolin had no choice but to submit to the Abbot’s authority. While Bartolomew led Katsuke, Hinata and Etain down to Cavern Hole, Eolin ran to his bedroom and donned a slim black sleeveless leather jacket and a pair of Abbey slippers.

    He found his family and Jurou and promptly joined them, smoothing his jacket formally and helping himself to a plate of raspberry tarts.

    Kuya Eol, where have you been?” Sariah asked, passing him the sliced mangoes. She tilted her head to one side and looked at him in confusion. “You seem quite out of it, cousin.”

    Eolin shook his head and passed her the plate of tarts. “Later, pinsan.” He lowered his voice and leaned in close to his cousin. “Hinata Sundance and Etain Weiss are back from the North. They have some very…concerning news.”

    Sariah stared at him in concern. “What news?”

    Eolin looked to his left and then his right, then whispered discreetly to Sariah and Jurou, “They met some of our fellow Maraulians on the Kyuna borders on their way back here, along one of the trade routes. They said something about…a war.”

    “A war?” Sariah repeated in horror. Eolin made a silencing gesture to her. Later, he mouthed.

    Sariah hesitated, but nodded silently, and turned to Jurou. “We know a few of your Senshan combat styles.” She put a raspberry tart on Jurou’s plate. “We know goju ryu, as it’s the style of our allies. As for the mangoes, well,” She winked slyly at him. “Mustn’t give away special Eastern secrets.”

    “When Etain confronted me last winter, she threatened to use budo on me,” Eolin explained, sprinkling shredded cheese on his salad. “Had Hinata not intervened, she probably would’ve killed me.” He looked over apprehensively at the arctic vixen. “Heck, she still wants to kill me.”

    Joshua, who was chewing casually on a grilled cheese sandwich, was also staring at the two vixens. “Hmm, who are they? What are they doing here?”

    “They’re the vixens we told you about who visited Redwall last winter,” Sariah explained. “And it’s rude to stare, manoy, you know that.”

    Joshua’s chewing on his sandwich had turned meditative, and he continued to stare curiously at Hinata and Etain. He looked from a pan of freshly-baked mango pastries (again, brought in by the talented otter chefs Davbank and Melwave), to the two vixens, then back again. His mind was filling with strange ideas that made sense only to him.

    He instantly stood up on his bench and waved enthusiastically at the two vixens. “Kumusta! Hello! Welcome to Redwall Abbey!”

    “Joshua!” Sariah scolded her younger brother. “What on earth are you doing?”

    “Greeting the newcomers!” Joshua explained innocently. “Didn’t Mom and Dad always teach us to be courteous to our kabayan?”

    “Yes, Josh,” Eolin gestured for his male cousin to sit down. “But not to those you don’t know! Sit down, pinsan, for goodness’ sake!”

    But Joshua had already hopped off the bench and seized two mango pastries from the baking pan. Before his kin could stop him, he sprinted over to where Hinata and Etain were sitting. He stopped by their bench and held out the fruit sweets to them flat in the palms of his paws, smiling as innocent as the child he was, his eyes shining brightly in the torchlight of Cavern Hole.

    Kumusta! Ako si Joshua Starheart! Hello! I am Joshua Starheart! Would you like some mango turnovers?”

    OOC: manoy - “brother”
    pinsan - “cousin”
    kabayan - “countrymen”
    Kumusta - “Hello”
    Ako si… - “I am…”

  • Etain and her vulpine companions followed the Abbot into the spacious, yet cozy, confines of Cavern Hole, and took a seat at the nearest table. She immediately laid down her head on the table. "Tired?" Katsuke chuckled. Etain slowly nodded, and felt Hinata flop down on her lap, laying across the bench, and begin to snore.

    "We walked for weeks . . ." the arctic vixen murmured. "Damn right we're tired."

    She was beginning to fall asleep . . . drifting off to the sounds of the crackling hearths and Katsuke's babbling . . . and right on the edge of consciousness --


    Jurou's ears pricked up. "Etain and Hinata are back?" His head whipped back and forth as he searched for his friends. "Where --"

    "They met some of our fellow Maraulians on the Kyuna borders on their way back here, along one of the trade routes. They said something about…a war." Eolin's face was grim as he uttered the final words of his statement. Jurou tensed up at the sudden, and brand new, information.

    "A . . . war?" he whispered.

    Eolin silenced them, mouthing something to his cousin, and Jurou almost completely missed what she said to him. He was so wrapped up in the thought of an outbreak of violence that he'd had no prior knowledge of. A war in the east . . . The whole of the coast could be in dire trouble . . . as well as the rest of the mainland, if things took on a larger scale. Not to mention the Islands, of course, and --

    ". . . Etain confronted me last winter, she threatened to use budo on me." Jurou was snapped back to the conversation at paw by the use of Senshaan vocabulary. Eolin continued, "Had Hinata not intervened, she probably would’ve killed me."

    "There's no doubt," Jurou blurted out. In response to the quizzical looks he received, he explained his sudden outburst. "You can't exactly blame her -- her brother was killed by Maraulians in a skirmish. Her sister was also lost in the same battle and never recovered."

    He noticed Joshua's curiosity towards the slumbering couple near the larger fireplace of the room, and began to explain their origin as well, but the little squirrel was already dashing towards the vixens before Jurou could even get out of his seat to stop the Dibbun. "Wait!"


    Etain's eyes blinked open instantly at the greeting.

    There, across the room, stood a very small, very Maraulian squirrel, atop a bench, waving his tiny paw. She snarled at the little one.

    However, he ignored it and scampered over to where she and Hinata sat, snatching something from a nearby tray, and holding out both paws to her and her lover.

    "Kumusta! Ako si Joshua Starheart! Would you like some mango turnovers?"

    Her eyes widened. "Mangoes!" she squealed.

    Jurou chuckled at the sound, almost forgetting to greet his returned friends at the sight of Etain, with Joshua in her lap, as the two happily munched away at the mango turnovers. "No need to be worried, apparently," he laughed to himself.

    The smell of food had awoken Hinata in a heartbeat, and just in time for dinner about half an hour later. Leaving the happy mango-eating pair, she made a beeline for the food nearby, and then spotted Jurou and the elder cousins.

    She sat down across from Eolin, where they'd been already joined by Katsuke and Anghan, rubbing the sleep away as she got down to business instantly. I should have explained myself earlier, but wasn't given a chance by my . . . She paused signing for a moment to look back at Etain. . . . more forthright partner. As she spoke, she laid a paw on Jurou's in a rather tender gesture that simply said, "Hello."

    She continued. The traders from Maraul were carrying some of your Eastern metal to Kyuna merchants. We met them on the road. In Senshan, it's typical to exchange news with those you meet when travelling, and they knew of the custom. She turned slightly so everybeast could see her paws. Anghan nudged Katsuke, who started translating in a whisper. They told us of the most recent goings-on in the Islands: evidently, the previously-esteemed Island of Eseltharis, or some portion of it, and a sect of Kanneki militarists formed a coalition. They've begun attacking the Islands and northern Gyuro and Ishuni at once, and according to the traders, have already overtaken the whole of Eseltharis.

    Dead silence reigned at the table.

    Jurou finally sat back, still tense. "So it is most certainly war," he whispered. He took a long drag of his siatha pipe, held it, and blew it out over his head. "Foreboding."

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    Eolin and Sariah listened in abject horror as Hinata informed them of the war raging in the East. Sariah’s face had drained of color, pale-white as a ghost and the portrait of absolute fear. Eolin’s paws were shaking with anxiety, and he was breathing in and out in nervous confusion.


    Eolin had stood up and planted his palms on the table in protest. His face burned with the same anger from before, but now with a vague skeptical rage.

    “No…That’s impossible! The Chieftain of Eseltharis would never allow that! The daughter of Faylekk Seaniver would never allow a takeover of her Island!”

    “I can’t believe this is happening…” the horrified Sariah whispered into her paws. “This isn’t happening. A war on our own lands…No…I can’t believe it.”

    Eolin stood up from the bench, holding his head in his paws. He began restlessly pacing around Cavern Hole. “Why? Why is this happening? Why?! They took…they took Eseltharis!”

    He slumped against the wall and slid down into a sitting position, still holding his head and curling his knees up to his chin.

    “I confess, I’m part Eseltharisan,” he explained to the others. His face shook with overwhelming anxiety and building terror. “My mother, Aedlin…She-she was the former Advisor to Faylekk Seaniver, the last Chieftain of Eseltharis. She-she-she…” Eolin trembled in his seat, gripping the sides of his head, now outright horrified. “She’d fight back! She’d fight the coalition! She never would have allowed Eseltharis to fall!”

    He looked up at them with tears growing in his eyes. “Where is she? Where is my mother?! What happened to Eseltharis? I-I need to know!”

    Bartolomew stood up from his Abbot’s chair and hurried over to Eolin’s side. He knelt down in front of him and wiped the tears from the Eastern squirrel’s eyes. “Eolin, son, it’s all right. Please don’t cry. I’m sure there’s an explanation for all of this-,”

    “She’s my mother!” the distraught Eolin screamed out. “Please!” He now choked and gasped on his words, and the excess tears streamed down his face.

    “Please promise me that nothing has happened to her! I lived the entire last autumn in Eseltharis! I know how strong and capable and fearless they are in a battle! The best archers and rangers and trackers and bowbeasts that the entire Eastern Seaboard has ever seen! Please tell me they’re all right!”

    Sariah knelt down on Eolin’s other side and wrapped her arms around her anxiety-ridden cousin. “Eolin…Oh, dear cousin. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” She met Hinata and Katsuke and Jurou, though her own eyes were also noticeably wet.

    “I’m sorry he is acting like this. He has a history with anxiety and stress, the burdens of being a warrior. At least tell us some positive news of this….war. For all our sakes, tell us something good about it. Are the other Four Islands fighting back against the coalition? What about the other provinces of Senshan? How are they reacting, and are they taking action to repel the conflict?”

    A few tables away, Joshua happily sat on Etain’s lap, both of them stuffing their mouths with the mango turnovers. Joshua giggled at the arctic vixen savoring the far Eastern fruit.

    “As I said, my name is Joshua Sandeye Starheart. What’s yours? What do you think of the mangoes? And do you want me to get some more? Do you want a grilled cheese sandwich, too? Maybe a bowl of baked vegetables? I like cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli! Those are my favorite vegetables!”

    Joshua stared at Etain curiously, his head tilted sideways and chewing in concentration. “Pardon me, but I don’t think we’ve met before. You’re not from the Islands, are you? Do you come from that, erm, ‘Sen-shan’ place that my cousins told me about?” He pronounced it as carefully as he could with his 11-season old mouth, so as not to offend her.

    Davbank and Melwave emerged from the Kitchens, bringing macaroni and cheese and hot vegetable soup, respectively. Davbank placed the macaroni and cheese on Etain’s table, while Melwave served the vegetable soup between Hinata and Jurou.

    Davbank stared around the room, his brow furrowed in concern. “Eh? Somebeast said sumthin’ about a war? What war? What th’ bloody ‘ell is goin’ on? Who’s talkin’ ‘bout a war?”

    Melwave shook her head in dismay. “Just as th’ world settles down in peace, somethin’ always 'as t’ come alon’ an’ start another meaningless war.” She looked straight at Abbot Bartolomew. “Please promise us that no 'arm will come t’ Redwall Abbey, Father Abbot. 'Eaven forbid that such violence will plague Mossflower an’ Redwall,” she added to Hinata and her company. “We’ve only just come outta winter, after all. It 'as been many seasons since Martin the Warrior 'as called upon a Champion. I 'ope we never 'ave need o’ one in th’ future.”

    Davbank wiped the sweat from the hot Kitchens from his brow. “'Oney, there’s no point tryin’ t’ stick our noses in where they don’t belon’. C’mon, let’s eat.”

    “Someone 'as t’ do somethin’ about this!” Melwave called to Hinata as she sat down with Davbank across from Etain and Joshua.

    Davbank nodded courteously to Etain. "Evenin', ma'rm. Don't mind us, just treatin' ourselves after workin' 'ard in th' Kitchens. Are ye enjoyin th' food?"

  • Etain nodded happily. "I'm Etain! I love mangoes. I grew up with them as a treat! In Kanneki we could only get them sometimes." She kept talking, even as her eyelids started to grow heavier. "Kanneki's at the top of Senshan, in the mountains. We don't usually have mangoes, cause of how cold it is up there, but sometimes . . ." She yawned. "Sometimes we can get some from Ishuni . . . or Kyuna . . ." Her eyes fell shut, and she started to snore gently.

    Semsa. War. Katsuke felt his breath catch in his throat. It felt tight, closed. "Ayan," he managed. A dull throbbing started, somewhere near his left temple. His ears were ringing. "Bokana ayan . . ."

    A paw suddenly gripped his tightly. He looked up.

    Hinata sat directly across from him, her paw on his in a warm clasp, her eyes locked with his in a stare that most certainly said, "Everything is going to be okay. Trust me."

    The big fox released a long, slow breath, and nodded at his friend. "Arakayo," he murmured, then stood and knocked Jurou's pipe from his mouth without even looking. "I think that some of us need to go to bed," he stated firmly, his voice shaking ever so slightly. "Ms. Starheart, I'm sure that the other Eastern lands have already begun to combat this new threat. Hinata and Etain, you two need rest and sleep. You've been on the road for weeks." He paused and looked at Etain, who had fallen asleep with Joshua on her lap, a half-eaten pastry still in her paw. "If somebeast could carry her . . . never mind. Thank you for the food, Melwave and Davbank -- it's much appreciated, and I'm sure those that still have the energy will gladly partake in it."

    Hinata dragged her weary body to its feet, and forced herself over to where Joshua and Etain were. She lifted the young squirrel from the vixen's lap and patted his head with a small smile. "I think she needs to go to bed," she whispered, straining slightly so the Dibbun could hear her. She then started to lift her lover from the bench, but a large pair of silvery paws intercepted.

    "Ah don't think ye're strong enough at th' moment, lassie," Anghan said, his deep voice rumbling through his chest and seeming to resonate in the very stones they stood on. Hinata looked at him, slightly stunned, and felt a single tear start to drip down her cheek. Anghan smiled gently. "Ah understand, lass . . . you've been on th' road. Ah ken." He patted her shoulder, and motioned for her to follow him to the dormitories.

    Katsuke started to open his mouth, but a familiar sound of wooden wheels on stone stopped him.

    Dan was wheeling himself into the hall, followed by a now-familiar creature. "Ah, Katsuke lad, thank ye for gettin' that taken care of, wot? I was going to come in once I'd heard what Ms. Sundance had to say, but you seem to have jolly well taken the news well enough." He looked to Bandit, who stood behind him. "Thank ye for staying with me, laddie buck. It gets real bloomin' lonely in that gatehouse, wot! Now . . ." He wheeled his way over to Sariah and Joshua. "Wot says the two of you head on up to the dorms, eh? It's gettin' late."

    He put a paw on Eolin's shoulder. "Somethin' tells me that you, lad, and Katsuke over yonder, need some rest. Go'on, take a seat by the fire for a while."

    The night past restlessly for all in the Abbey, even those with no idea towards the goings-on in the far-off East.

    Jurou lay in bed smoking, and thinking, until his eyes closed for the few hours of precious sleep that his body so desperately craved.

    Anghan tossed and turned through the wee hours of the morning, his sword close to his side and his belt around his waist.

    Aodhán brooded over page after page, maps of the East and old letters from journeying friends. He then retired for the fragile rest of an old hare -- only interrupted once.

    Thankfully, Hinata and her partner got a full night's slumber, though it was filled with the usual nightmares. When one woke up, the other held tight and whispered, "It's okay."

    Katsuke stayed up, for the entirety of the night. He sat awake, with Eolin Sandeye, silent as the grave yet holding onto to that dark kind of companionship created by a common fear, that kind that has you staring into the depths of a hot bed of coals while looking for an answer.

    Katsuke only spoke once. "What do we do?"

    The morning came quickly. Katsuke looked up at the door of Cavern Hole. "Dawn," he said simply. He blew on the hearth before him and Eolin, hoping to bring the flames back to life, but it wouldn't stir. He shrugged and stood slowly. "Come on. Better get some breakfast."

    Aodhán greeted them in the Great Hall. The sky, from what Katsuke could see through the tall, stained glass windows, was a sort of greyish color, dull and cloudy. "Morning, buckoes," the hare chuckled. "Late night?" Katsuke could only nod as he approached the kitchen. "Nay, laddie, no need." Dan pointed at a tray of food he'd placed on the nearest table, ready for their arrival. "Hot porridge and honey, with dandelion milk kept cool in the cellars, as well as slices of toast, courtesy of our friends in the Kitchen." He nodded at the two. "A good hot breakfast for travellers."

    Katsuke's head shot up. "Travellers?"

    "Go get all the Easterners. As well as Anghan."

    The old hare sat at the head of the table, looking at the small gathering of Eastern creatures in front of him. Anghan stood behind him, a paw on Aodhán's chair. "I . . . had a dream, last night," the Gatehouse Keeper said slowly.

    "I did too!" Etain stopped short as Hinata kicked her footpaw. "Sorry."

    Dan glared at her, then continued. "I had a dream. I don't jolly well know what to think of it, but I'll tell ye all anyway, since it does seem important."

    "I was wheeling my chair through a rather dark wood, with trees over head and all around me. The trees were all some kind of dark oak, almost black. There wasn't a single bloomin' bird singin', no other creature in sight. It was a rather gloomy dream, wot! But I heard a voice from behind me telling me to keep going. I turned, but there wasn't a creature behind me either, so I just kept wheeling.

    "Then I saw a large, white stone gate, round as the moon, with silver metal lining the bottom of it. The door was dark as night. I --"

    Katsuke interrupted. "That's the Umaketsaki Gate! It's on the Ishuni border with Kyuna, in the south. It was put up as a symbol of the friendship between the Eastern Islands and Senshan."

    Aodhán stroked his chin thoughtfully, then continued. "Well, I then pushed my chair up to it and knocked, three times. Nobeast answered, so I tried to open it, but it wouldn't budge.

    "A paw tapped my shoulder. I turned around to see our very own Martin, the Warrior of this Abbey, standing before me. He took my head in his paws. 'Aodhán! Before you awake, remember this.' And I jolly well remembered, wot! To the blinkin' letter. He said:

    A trouble in the East is brewing,
    One that must be stopped.
    The foreigners in this place must go,
    Without a moment lost.
    The Dibbun, the fox, the lovers
    The dark one with no past
    The maid, the elder one with a name
    With a history so vast

    And finally, the old adventurer
    Take your sword at last
    And on the road, you all will find
    He whose ancestor was outcast

    "And then, I woke up."

    It was silent for only a moment, until Katsuke shrugged. "From what I've heard of this Martin, this seems like a quest." He chuckled drily. "Making me 'the fox'."

    Jurou snickered. "He doesn't mince words, this dream mouse, that's for sure."


    • Semsa: war
    • Ayan: parents/family
    • Bokana: my
    • Arakayo: thanks

  • Global Moderator

    Joshua licked mangoes from his fingers and listened intently to Etain. “Senshan sounds like a wonderful place! I bet you can get tons of mangoes up there when you can, and-” Etain suddenly falling asleep and her gentle snoring prevented any further conversation. “Okay," he giggled. “I guess not.”

    “Hm?” He looked at Hinata in surprise lifting him off of Etain’s lap and putting him on the ground. “All right. Sweet dreams.” He waved goodnight to Hinata as she followed Anghan carrying Etain to the dormitories.

    Davbank and Melwave began clearing the tables, collecting the dirty dishes and utensils, and placing them in the sink, then returning out again to recover the leftovers.

    Melwave nodded thankfully to Katsuke with an amiable smile while she covered the bowl of vegetable soup. “Ye’re very welcome, Katsuke. As apprentices t’ th’ Friar himself, we aim t’ please. Always a pleasure t’ hear an Ishuni’s approval o’ our Redwall cuisine. We’re goin’ t’ clean up before we go t’ bed, so let us know if’n ye need anythin’ else.”

    “I’m impressed by yer refined taste, Katsuke,” Davbank observed as he grabbed the macaroni and cheese. “Th’ Ishuni province must be a culinary paradise. We’ll bring out some tea for ye an’ Eolin tonight, aye?”

    Sariah helped Eolin to his feet. He was still shaking from his anxiety, but he had stopped crying, at the very least. “Please come to bed, Kuya Eol,” Sariah pleaded with her male cousin.

    But Eolin shook his head firmly. “No, I need to stay awake. I need to think about this. You and Joshua go on.”

    Sariah hesitated, her paws lingering on her cousin’s chest. She slowly pulled off his sleeveless leather jacket. “Here, Eol. I just don’t want you to get too warm tonight.”

    Salamat, Sari.” Eolin inhaled and exhaled deeply to calm his nerves. Then he lightly wrapped his arms around Sariah’s waist and pulled her close to him. Sariah laid her head on his svelte chest and hugged him back for a couple of minutes.

    “Go to sleep, sweetheart,” Eolin whispered in her ear. “We’ll talk about this in the morning, okay?”

    Sariah lifted her head and kissed Eolin on his cheeks, then pulled away and removed her paws from his chest. “Goodnight, Eolin. Mahal kita, ang aking pinsan.” She walked tiredly up the stairs, waiting at the summit for her brother.

    Eolin knelt to kiss Joshua on the forehead. “You’ve gotta go to bed, too, kid. It’s past your bedtime, ain’t it?”

    Joshua nodded and hugged Eolin around the neck. “Yeah, I know. And I am getting really sleepy. Magandang gabi, Eolin.” He hurried up the stairs after his sister, and the two disappeared into the hallway.

    As Eolin watched his cousins leave, he saw Aodhán rolling into Cavern Hole, followed by Bandit, who pulled him into a comforting hug. Sensing the Maraulian squirrel’s fear, the Githinien ferret sympathetically rubbed his paw along Eolin’s back without a word.

    Bandit held one arm over Eolin’s shoulders as he turned to nod at Dan. “My pleasure, Mister Maoilriain. It was an honor t’ spend time wit’ ye tonigh'.” He reached up to stroke Eolin’s head between his ears. “Ye’ve heard, mate?”

    Eolin nodded with a shudder. “I don’t know what to do, Bandit.”

    Bandit sighed and patted the squirrel’s head consolingly. “I dunno, either, kabayan. But I promise ye that we will figure this out. Goodnigh', Eolin.”

    “Goodnight, Bandit.” Eolin watched the ferret leave before joining Katsuke by the fire.

    Sariah sat up straight in bed in her undergarments, staring blankly at the blanket covering her body. She could barely bring herself to lie down, let alone fall asleep. The war haunted her waking nightmares. Her mind was disturbed with visions, unable to discern between what was real or what was imaginary.

    Joshua lay down in bed beside his sister, folding his unbelted tunic and V-neck shirt and laying them on a chair. He looked empathetically into his sister’s eyes and wrapped his little arms around her exposed midriff, soothing her with his therapeutic immeasurable love. Sariah cuddled Joshua close and laid his head on her chest, feeling her apprehension melt away to be replaced with a deep warmth and passionate fondness for him. The Starheart siblings slept soundly despite the restlessness in the rest of the Abbey.

    Bandit tried to distract himself from what he had discovered that night with Dan, by reading a lengthy Eastern history book. But try as he might, he could not stop himself from thinking about it. He stayed awake all night, pacing his bedroom tirelessly, his paws thoughtfully behind his back.

    Bartolomew spent his night sitting in the Great Hall in front of the Tapestry of Martin. He asked the portrait of the legendary hero many desperate clueless questions of the war. Yet, none of them received an answer. At one point, he stood and reached up to run his paws along the length of Martin’s powerful blade, wishing he’d never have to wield it in battle again, in defense of Redwall Abbey.

    The fireplace of Cavern Hole outlined Eolin’s smooth svelte body as he sat beside Katsuke in silence. He idly drank a cup of peppermint tea and stared into the blazing tongues of flames in the hearth. While his tears had dried, he was still in shock.

    “What do we do?” Katsuke broke the silence.

    Eolin followed Katsuke’s stare into the burning hot coals. Something, perhaps his warrior nature, prompted him an answer - the answer.

    “We do the only thing we can do, Katsuke.” Eolin stared determinedly at the Ishuni fox, his brown and emerald eyes glowing with a warrior's spirit in the fire.

    “We fight back.”

    Morning arrived faster than anticipated. Eolin stood up from his chair and stretched. He threw his jacket over his shoulder as he followed Katsuke out of Cavern Hole.

    “Travellers?” he asked in unison with the fox.

    Eolin made a quick detour to his bedroom and exchanged his jacket for his usual blue-and-green tunic. Then he joined his cousins and Bandit at the table, with the other Easterners and Anghan, listening intently to Dan describing his dream.

    “The Umaketsaki Gate!” Eolin exclaimed, holding his drink of dandelion milk halfway to his mouth. “We’ve been there before! It’s a miraculous sight to behold. What a monument!” He sipped his milk and mused, “The elder one with a name, With a history so vast. That’s obviously me. But what could Martin possibly want with me?”

    “The Dibbun?” Joshua pointed to himself with his slice of buttered toast, guessing. “Martin was talking about me, right?”

    “Yes, he was, dear brother.” Sariah passed him a bowl of porridge mixed with honey. “And I am definitely the maid.”

    Bandit spread apricot jam on his toast. “Well, whatever Martin wanted wit' ye three,” he assured the squirrels. “I’ll be helpin’ ye every step o' th’ way. I’ll go alon' t’ protect ye. Who knows? Perhaps Martin does have some role in min' fer me as well, if'n not in th’ near future.”

    And on the road, you all will find, He whose ancestor was outcast,” Eolin repeated the final line of Martin’s riddle, looking around at the group. “I think we know exactly who that is. He lives at Maraul and is a very dear friend of ours. He fought alongside our grandfather when Zakrul Bloodeyes invaded the Islands decades ago. For his safety’s sake, we cannot tell you his name. You’ll just know him when you see him.”

    Joshua gulped down his bite of porridge and sat up straight, his face practically glowing with a burst of excitement. “So, does this mean what I think it means? Are we going on an actual adventure?”

    OOC: Mahal kita, ang aking pinsan. - I love you, my cousin.
    Salamat - Thank you.
    Magandang gabi - Good night.

  • "Aye, I do believe the three of ye have jolly well hit the nail on the head, wot? An actual adventure." Dan patted Joshua's head from his chair and looked at the other creatures at the table. "Of course, that leaves the rest of ye. Ms. Sundance, Ms. Weiss --"

    "The lovers!" Etain giggled and threw her arms around Hinata's neck, who nodded with a small smile. Dan chuckled and nodded back. He fixed Jurou with a piercing stare.

    "The dark one without a past, I presume?" The ferret sighed. The old hare turned to Anghan, who shifted uncomfortably. "Of course, that makes you the old adventurer, aye? And you, Bandit, I don't see anything that would prevent you from joining in on the fun, wot! An extra set of paws should be rather welcome."

    "But are ye sure that ah'm the one that the wee mousey intended by tha' line?" Anghan pressed, seeming a little unsure in his manner. "Ah know other old travelers at th' Abbey, an' any of them could be the creature."

    "Aye, but the poem mentions foreigners specifically." Dan leaned back and put his paws together to await a reaction from the rest of the table.

    "We're going."

    Heads turned towards Katsuke, who had stood with gritted teeth and a clenched fist, which rested on one of the daggers in his belt. "We're going," he repeated. "There's no question about it." He looked towards Eolin with fire in his eyes, brighter than the shade of his fur. He recalled the squirrel's words from the night before.

    We fight back.

    And he echoed them.

    Down in the kitchens, the travelers gathered round while packs of provisions lasting the next few weeks were passed out. Each was filled with delicious food cooked by none other than the amazing Redwall Kitchen staff, including Davbank and his partner. Katsuke thanked them and returned upstairs with his companions. Dan waited for them.

    "Don't go yet. I want each o' ye to take some time to think about the journey ahead, wot! If any of ye will step back and back out, now would be the time," he said, rather sagely for his typical character.

    The Senshaans dispersed, with Hinata and Etain retreating to their room, Jurou finding his way outside, and Katsuke taking a seat down in Cavern Hole, once more staring into a lit fire.

    Jurou, sitting up in a tree, sat for a few minutes before getting bored and rummaging through the pack he'd been giving. He was surprised to discover a small bag, made from black leather, that contained a copious amount of siatha. "Where'd this come from?" he wondered aloud, but dismissed the thought and put some in his pipe, lit it with a bit of flint he had in his cloak pocket, and took a deep whiff.

    "Addicting stuff, isn't it?" Jurou looked around for the source of the voice to see Aodhán at the base of the tree. The old hare called up, "I found an old pouch from a friend and put it in your pack. Thought you might appreciate it. Comforts of home and all that, wot!"

    The black ferret shrugged and nodded.

    "Come on down, lad. Let's speak for a moment, aye?"

    Soon after, the Easterners had all gathered once more. "We all in keiyuka then?" Katsuke asked all present.


    • Keiyuka: agreement/settlement

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    Davbank sealed four canteens of thick taro milkshakes (a unique Eastern energy-giving drink with bits of fruits, minerals, and nutritious sweets mixed in). “We’d go alon’, but then we’d be little use, I’m afraid. We’re no fighters; we’re chefs! Even Martin knows that.” He filled four more canteens of regular water, fistbumped Bandit and kissed each of the squirrels on the forehead.

    “Take care, okay?” Melwave hugged each of the four individually and gave them their bags and satchels of food and drink. “Please stay safe, an’ look out fer each other. We’ll pray fer ye every single day.”

    Davbank passed Joshua a working replica of his slingshot. “When ye run inta th’ bad guys, give this to ‘em righ’ in th’ face, ye hear? Make every shot count an’ tell ‘em it’s from me! I hope ye pull off yer pranks an' reign with terror an' tyranny t' throw off th' bad guys!”

    Joshua smiled mischievously and tied the slingshot to his tunic, hanging it on his left hip opposite his own. “I’ll be really deadly in battle with two slingshots, Davbank! I promise I won’t hold back!”

    Sariah tied up her pinafore over her shift dress and slung her sash securely over her budding breasts. Eolin sat once again by Katsuke by the fire, sharpening his short dagger with his stone. Bandit strapped his trusty weapons to his body: a sheathed double naginata and a Yumi bow on his back, and twin tanto daggers on his belt.

    Sariah and Eolin retreated to the former’s room. Sariah sat before her vanity mirror as Eolin brushed her hair.

    “Are you ready for this, sweetheart?” Eolin asked her encouragingly, stroking her hair smoothly with the brush, and pecking her cheeks.

    Sariah sighed blissfully at Eolin’s gentle brushing and kissed him back on his face. She did, however, look a bit concerned. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be, Eolin. But…” She looked over her brother standing by the bedroom door, practicing playfully with Davbank’s slingshot.

    “Josh thinks this is only an adventure,” she lowered her voice to a discreet whisper. “This is a war we’re talking about, Eol. We can’t keep that a secret from him forever. It’s ripping the entire Eastern Seaboard apart. Senshan is taking the worst of it. How long until he finds out about the truth of this and gets caught up in reality? He’ll be in grave danger. The coalition might target him.”

    “I don’t doubt that, Sari,” Eolin agreed, packing the hairbrush away in his cousin’s messenger bag. “We just have to do our best to hide it from him, until the time is right. And yet…” He sighed hopelessly. “He’s much smarter than he looks. He’ll find out eventually. Don’t worry. If the coalition does target him,” he held up his sharpened short dagger and winked. “They’ll have to get past us first.”

    “Belaldur, Isarandel! Are we going to go now?” Joshua skipped over to his sister’s side, bouncing energetically. “I can’t wait to go!”

    Both of his cousins pinched his cheeks, to his amusement. “Yes, Belorfing,” Eolin confirmed. “We are going right now.” He hoisted Joshua onto his shoulders and took up his satchel. Sariah grabbed her messenger bag and led the way out into the hallway.

    The four Islanders made their way outside to meet the others. All four of them were properly equipped with their weapons and usual possessions. Bartolomew and the otters met them in the Great Hall to see them off.

    “May Martin go with you,” Bartolomew laid his paws on the Islanders’ shoulders one at a time. “You have my blessing, and the blessings of Redwall Abbey and all who dwell therein. Good luck. Do not fear or despair, for higher powers stronger than the enemy watch over and protect you. I love each and every one of you. We shall continually pray for your success and security in these difficult times. Goodbye.” He bowed before the quartet and joined them at the Front Gate, standing between the open doors.

    Everyone exchanged last-minute hugs and farewells, then the Islanders followed their Senshan brethren down the road. Abbot Bartolomew, Davbank and Melwave watched silently and waved until the travelers were out of sight.

    Joshua skipped happily between his sister and cousin, his paws in theirs. He looked up and down the road and side to side quizzically. “So, um…Where do we go first?”

    Eolin nodded in agreement and tilted his head skeptically at the others. “Yes, where are we going first? Any ideas?”

    Sariah adjusted her grip on her yew staff and checked to see that Joshua’s ash staff was properly strapped to his back. “I’m okay with going wherever we need to. You lead and we’ll follow.”

    Bandit looked over at Anghan. “So, are we expectin’ anyone else to join us? Is there somebeast else we should know about that ye want t’ come alon’?”

    “Ahoy there! Heyo!” called a voice from the trees to their left. A gray mouse emerged from the shadows and waved happily to the group.

    “Glimbo Grunndo!” everyone exclaimed, surprised.

    Bandit slapped a paw to his forehead. “Oh, drat! I almost forgot about ye, Glimbo. Aye, I sent a letter t' our ol' frien' Mr. Grunndo here last nigh’.” He explained to the others. “I knew he’d like t’ come alon’ wit’ us t’ see Senshan an’ th' Islands.”

    “Aye!” Glimbo nodded and bowed. “‘Tis an honor to see y’all again, children of the Eastern Islands.” He shook the Easterners’ paws. Then he nodded to the others.

    “Greetings. M’name is Glimbo Grunndo, cartographer, mapmaker, and prolific international explorer! A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Bandit wrote me a letter early last night informing me of the war raging in the East. I know what I’m getting into, don’t worry. I’m well aware of what’s going on. As an explorer, you’re required to know these sorts of things, eh? Anyways, I wrote Bandit back as quickly as possible. Seasons bless the sleepless bird who aided our correspondence! I promise I won’t slow you down - if you’ll have me, that is. And I’m happy to help however I can.”

  • One by one, the Easterners walked out, Dan shaking their paws as they left the Abbey's safe, homely walls, and he stopped at Bandit. Aodhán took him aside and pressed a folded piece of paper into his paw. "Newcomer though ye may be, laddie buck, I've got to trust ye. Don't show this to Anghan, wot! Promise me this. Martin said more to me than I could repeat. Share it when you judge the moment right." They returned, but once more he paused when he reached Anghan, firmly gripping the big wolf's paw as best as he could. Anghan started to go, but Dan held on. The wolf turned and looked at him, confused. "Aye?"

    The old hare's eyes were glistening with the hint of tears, as he pulled the wolf closer to him. "Take care, old friend," he said fiercely, holding on for a moment longer, then letting go.

    "Ah will." Anghan nodded and placed a paw on Dan's shoulder, then continued out the gate.

    Katsuke fell in step beside Eolin. "May I suggest we avoid the conflict in the north, and travel on a southern route? Through Southsward to Kyuna, then upwards to the Ishuni ports? I'd assume you know the city of Usake well -- it's the major port for trade with your Island in particular," he added with a grin. He slapped the squirrel's back with a laugh. "We'll follow you, though, Sir Eolin, our Illustrious Leader." He made a mock bow, all in good fun, of course.

    Hinata rolled her eyes. Great big lummox . . . trying to cheer everybeast up, she thought with a little snicker. She looked about to survey their party. Etain walked beside her, sullen and quiet from having to walk yet again, back to where they came from, while Sariah was on Hinata's other side. Jurou walked a little ways in front of the group, as was his way, and Anghan in the back, keeping a lookout. Katsuke and Eolin were ahead of the main group. Bandit walked beside the two. Etain had her staff, Eolin carried his newly sharpened dagger, Katsuke had his assortment of armory -- everybeast carried a weapon or two, except Jurou. For some reason, he'd elected to leave his huge stash of knives at the Abbey, in the care of Aodhán, and hadn't told anyone why. He'd been silent the whole of the way, since leaving.

    The black vixen put it from her mind, and turned to her partner. She tapped her shoulder, with no response. Etain simply continued sulking. Hinata huffed and grabbed the other vixen's paw without another word, something she didn't do often, and planted a kiss on the tip of her ear (which she never did), followed by turning away and continuing without a word.

    The poor, hapless Etain felt her tail flick slightly, and she looked at Hinata, blushing slightly. Hinata wouldn't look at her, so she turned back to the road, with a small smile on her face. She still avoided looking at the Maraulians, though.

    “Ahoy there! Heyo!”

    Katsuke laughed heartily as the mouse jumped out in front of them. "Glimeyed Gardo!" He pounded the mouse on the back. "Where've you been?"

    Following Glimbo's introduction and request, it was unanimously agreed (by all but Etain, who was inspecting a nearby tree) that he should absolutely, without question, accompany them on their quest. "Welcome aboard, Greplo," Katsuke said.

    "Isn't his name Glimbo?" Etain scratched her head.

    "That's what I said! Grando."

    A few days went by, rather uneventfully, as the group traveled in relative peace, and keeping to themselves for the most part. The food was good, as expected of the famed Redwall Kitchens. The weather was pleasant -- until a sudden rainstorm pinned them all down in a grove of trees. The pouring rain was so thick, it was impossible to see even the path at their paws, forcing them to stay put under a mess of tangled weeds and branches, that thankfully was rather roomy, but only barely kept the water at bay.

    Jurou sat alone, outside in the storm, watching lightning crack across the sky. "That old hare better keep my knives safe . . . Akamaru knows how he convinced me to leave them," he muttered. The water trickled down his hood, dripping over his paws until it dropped to the ground. It thundered down against the back of his covered head, making a good deal of racket in his skull. He hoped it would drive the loud thoughts in his head away.

    But memories can be incredibly loud.

    Katsuke looked out at his dark, silent companion. "Wonder if he's okay," he mused. Eolin was beside him, eating something. "He's usually at least a bit more talkative."

    "Pro'bly just annoyed by the Easterners," Etain giggled. She had Jurou's pipe in her paw, and was smoking on it a bit every few minutes.

    Katsuke smacked it from her paw. "Hinata, don't let her get on that stuff like Jurou does." He chuckled. "We've already got one addict, we don't need two."

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    As the company sat beneath the protective shade of the weeds and branches, the Islanders wrapped each other in rainproof coats and coverings. Eolin cloaked a teeth-chattering Joshua in a cozy flannel blanket and pulled his winter coat tighter around himself. Bandit and Sariah cuddled close together to conserve body heat.

    Bandit lay back against the trunk of a wide aged oak tree, his arms comfortably around Sariah as she leaned on his chest. His troubled mind was mixed with confusion and worry. Although it had been days earlier, he still recalled the words that Dan had said to him, and the feeling of the mysterious paper being pressed into his palm. Not once had Bandit been able to bring himself to look at it, even in his short private moments when the group rested on the sides of the road. He dared not imagine what else Martin had said, a figure so unfamiliar to him, and yet possibly forming a part for him to play, if not large or small. He had buried the paper deep at the bottom of his pack, never once thinking to take it out and read it.

    Glimbo pulled the hood of his traveling cloak over his head and warmed his chest with his paws, shivering uncontrollably. “Golly, I hope this storm doesn’t go on for days. We’ll never get to Southsward at this rate!”

    “Oh, don’t be such a worrywart, Glimbo!” Sariah comforted him, patting the mouse on the shoulder with a light giggle. “I’m sure it won’t last much longer. Might as well make the most of it while we can, right?” She looked over at the thinking Jurou. “Hey, Jurou. I have an idea. Why don’t you and I spar in this rain? My Eastern karate against your Senshan style; just a friendly match, one-on-one.”

    “In the rain?!” Eolin jumped to his feet, almost as if to protest. “You can’t do that, Sari! You’ll get sick from this cold!”

    “Are you crazy, Sari?” Joshua also stood up beside Eolin, throwing his paws in the air in disbelief and shuddering. “It’s s-s-so c-c-c-cold out here! What-what if y-y-you two f-f-freeze?”

    But Sariah was already standing up, throwing off her sash and pinafore and giving them to Bandit. “Don’t worry, guys. I’ll be fine! It’ll just be a quick sparring match between me and Jurou. We won’t get sick if we make it short. I want to see what Jurou can do. I want to see his technique and style.”

    She knelt in front of Jurou and lifted his hood. “Hey, big guy. Do you want to work off some steam with me? One martial artist to another, how about it?” She stood up and offered her paw to the ferret. “Cheer up, my friend. Come on, let’s fight.”

    Glimbo shook his head at the Islanders. “She’s gotta be out of her teenage mind! I’m staying clear of this if you don’t mind!” He pulled his knees up to his chin and buttoned up his jacket. “Although it would be to have some entertainment for once, eh? Anything to break this gloom.”

    Bandit stared blankly at the Maraulian sash and pinafore and looked up at Eolin and Joshua. “Erm…I’ll just put them here.” He folded them neatly in Eolin’s pack and invited Joshua into his arms, taking the same place that his sister had just vacated.

    “Aw, man!” Joshua curled up underneath the oak tree with Bandit. “I don’t want t-to be out in th-that c-c-cold rain! I’m staying here! You better be nice to my sister, Kuya Jurou!”

    “Be nice to her?” Eolin joked, sitting down beside Katsuke. “I’m honestly more worried about her hurting him!” He patted Katsuke on the back. “How are you holding up? Do you expect great things from your ‘Illustrious Leader’? Do you even understand how little seriousness I’m going to take that title? If one of us the real leader, I think, it’s her.” He nodded over at Hinata. “Don’t tell her I said that,” he whispered to Katsuke.

  • Etain scooched closer to Joshua and wrapped him in an extra layer of blanket. "Don't get a cold, kiddie," she ordered, plopping half her cloak on his head to keep his shivering little ears warm as well. Hinata had her head in the white vixen's lap, taking a quick nap while the rain pounded the leaves above them and the ground outside.

    Katsuke looked over at her, snoring away. "You know, I do believe that you're absolutely right, oh Glorious Commander," he mused, a paw to his chin in thought. "She's the eldest of us four . . . at least mentally -- and she's always really been the glue that kind of keeps us stuck together." He took a long, deep breath, and said, "It's kind of hard to admit, since I always liked to be the protector, but I really do depend on her. All of her friends tend to -- I've seen it. She meets some lonely creature, scoops them up, and it's like every part of her is dedicated to watching over them from that point on."

    He paused. "I think it might be because . . . well, let's just say she didn't get a lot of that as a child," he finally added, after another few moments of deliberation. "So maybe she wants to give others what she didn't have."

    Jurou felt his mind sink deeper, and deeper in the dark, inky blackness of memory. The rain pounded against his head, but it sounded only like a dull buzzing now. The ground was wet, but he felt nothing. Nothing but that deep, bottomless darkness . . .

    It was a pitch black night, deep within the catacombs beneath the great, sprawling city of Hunderi, capital of Takeshi.

    He clutched his head in his paws, trying to avoid the thoughts, but they threatened to swallow him whole.

    The claws of a young female ferret rasped against stone and dirt, water dripping down from the packed earth above her as she clutched the bundle she held closer to her chest. Her breath was ragged, her fists clenched, her body strong and taut with muscle . . . but her heart was broken.

    She could have lived longer. Mom was young, healthy . . . she could have left Takeshi whenever she wanted to . . . she could have left me alone and lived.

    The cry of a newborn broke the silence in the tunnel, just as a peal of thunder sounded above -- though the mother and her child were too deep to hear it.

    "Hey, Jurou. I have an idea. Why don’t you and I spar in this rain? My Eastern karate against your Senshan style; just a friendly match, one-on-one." Sariah's voice flooded into his ears, yanking him out of his musings and pulling him back to reality. He jumped up, startled, rain flying in every direction from his cloak.

    "What?" He shook his head to clear the fog. "Er . . . sure."

    The black ferret unclasped his cloak and let it fall behind him, then fumbled around in it before finally drawing out an old stone, worn and smooth with age, yet black on one side and grey on the other. He caught Katsuke's gaze and tossed the stone over to him, giving it a little bit of a spin as he did so. "What side'd it land on?" he called.

    Katsuke looked down at the stone. It had landed black side up. "White!" he replied.

    Jurou narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but shrugged. "Goju ryu it is, then." The ferret blew rain from his snout and bowed to Sariah, crossed his paws over his head, and brought them down to above his waist, closed into loose fists, with his legs about two shoulder-lengths apart.

    Katsuke put the stone away and explained to Eolin. "White is goju ryu, and black is budo. The former's good for him -- keeps him calm and focused." He chuckled. "He won't admit it to anybeast, but that kid is an absolute genius. Knows every mainland form of fighting. Even Salamandastron boxing. Hope he doesn't get snapped in half by Sariah, though . . . we need all the fighters we've got." He laughed. "She looks like she knows what she's doing."

    Jurou took a deep breath, then blinked. "Your move," he said. He nodded to Sariah.

    Elsewhere, a pair of jaws snapped shut in frustration. "You're one of those Kanneki! You're supposed to be always thirsting for blood, right?"

    Abram Easterwind, former Advisor to the Chieftainess of Eseltharis, and current co-ruler of the Eastern Syndicate, paced back and forth in his tent, fury evident in his eyes, face, and every facet of his body. "We're moving too slowly . . . any idea why that is?" he demanded of his Senshaan companion, who sat calmly near him. The black squirrel's tail lashed back and forth before returning to its curled state.

    He slammed down into the chair across from the other creature in the room. "It's difficult to be patient. I've been patient for years waiting to end this damn war as quickly as possible, and I'm being asked to wait even longer!"

    Abram sighed, and placed a paw against his forehead. "I'm sorry . . . I don't know what's come over me. I'm just so . . . stir-crazy," he muttered.

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    Joshua pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his shins. “I-I’ll t-t-tr-try,” he nodded to Etain and curled up underneath the wool blanket she offered him and folded his ears under her cloak. “I’ll try m-my best n-not t-t-to g-get s-s-sick.”

    Eolin listened to Katsuke’s every word and nodded thoughtfully. “I understand. I won’t say I relate to Hinata, because I can’t. That’d be dishonest of me. But I do truly believe that she is far more suited to be our leader than I am. I really haven’t had much leadership experience. I do appreciate the gesture, though, Katsuke, honestly. You trust Hinata, so I will, too. I’d rather that she should have the Glorious Commander mantle. I just don’t know if I’m qualified to handle it.”

    “Don’t be so hard on yerself, Eolin,” Bandit piped up, ruffling Eolin’s hair. “Did ye forget, mate, that ye’re Jared Sandeye’s direct blood descendant?”

    “What has that got to do with it, Bandit?” Eolin tried desperately hard not to protest. “I could be the grandson of some amateur tailor from Southsward and it would make no difference.”

    “Well, then,” Bandit scratched his chin thoughtfully with one paw and cuddled Joshua with the other. “Howsabout ye an’ Hinata lead together? Joint commanders, eh? I bet ye two can learn a lot from each other if'n ye work together.”

    Eolin opened his mouth to object, but quickly stopped himself and bit his lip, thinking deeply. “You know, that’s not a bad idea, Bandit. I suppose we could both help each other this way. I’ll have to talk to her about that when she wakes up.”

    Sariah stretched her arms and legs in preparation for the fight. This was just a friendly sparring match, she reminded herself. Focus on the moment, don’t get carried away, and know when to hold back.

    She assumed a sideways stance to contrast Jurou’s square-on position: body slightly curved at an angle, right fist by her hip, and her left on her chest. Oddly enough, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling a little bit. How exciting this was!

    “My move.” The young squirrelmaid fighter began by circling her opponent, minding her shallow steps in the rain-soaked mud, and unfazed by the rain barraging her from the sky.

    She bent her front leg and brought up her fists. In two smooth movements, she threw her right fist into Jurou’s gut and her left arm up in a horizontal block. She retreated on her back foot and swung her front leg into a pair of high diagonal kicks over Jurou’s chest.

    Sevris Tellbring watched silently as Abram collapsed in exasperation into the chair across from him. The red-brown Kanneki bobcat laced his fingers together on his muzzle, perching his elbows on his knees.

    “Aye, a Kanneki I am. Thirsty for blood, as you claim, Easterwind,” He growled with surprising calm composure. “But even a Kanneki must know when to exercise patience and restraint. There are times when we must seek the blood, and there are times when the blood comes to us. The point is knowing how to recognize the difference.”

    Sevris sat up straight in his chair and looked at Abram rather pointedly. “The end of the war is coming soon. But we’ll accomplish nothing by sitting here passively. Do you want action? We can end the war by Saturday, even, if we work together.”

    He stood up from the chair and calmly folded his arms. Clenching his left fist, he flexed the leather vambrace around his forearm and pressed a small button with his middle finger. A short three-inch metal blade sprang out from a hidden chamber, sharp and deadly, and tipped with lethal poison.

    “The ships are ready, Abram. They await only your call. It’s no more than half a day’s sail to Tutha. We can take it by tomorrow morning. Hesitation is its own punishment. What do you say? I'll take any necessary measures to make you less…stir-crazy.”

  • Etain snuggled close to Joshua and Hinata. Her tail switched slightly in satisfaction and contentment, and she felt a bit of warmth flicker at the edges of her mostly cold and hardened heart.

    Is this what it's like to have a family?

    "You're probably on to something, oh Grand One. It'd make sense to have a Sandeye's help -- especially one directly related to the Jaredsakken." Katsuke chuckled slightly, and sat back against a tree root, shaking loose a few droplets of rain onto his ears and face. He blew the water from his snout. "You know, my father fought next to him . . ."

    Jurou felt Sariah's paw slam into his stomach, his muscles tightening at the point of impact in seconds to keep the wind from being knocked out of him. Wasn't ready for that, he thought, gritting his teeth, then ducked as he saw the kicks coming up towards him. One flew over his head, and the other glanced against his arm as he brought it up into a simple high-block. The rain dripped down his neck as he felt a smile start to spread across his face. His fangs flashed as he stood and grinned, took a steady stance once more, but then adjusted his back paw slightly, pulled his front leg in towards him, and crouched down slightly.

    Katsuke noticed the fight's sudden beginning and almost jumped up, then remembered the branches filled with water right above him. "Go easy, Rouki!" he yelled.

    Etain cocked her head in slight confusion. "Go easy? He just got beat up!" she giggled

    The bigger fox turned slightly towards her, a bit perplexed, then nodded in realization. "You've never seen him fight, have you? Off in the North, you were." He scratched his ear and looked back towards the two sparring individuals through the pouring stormwater. "Just watch."

    Jurou held his pose, his front paw barely resting on the ground. He sighed at Katsuke. "I am!" he muttered. The smile faded a bit, though still present as a smirk, and he cracked his neck back and forth. "Nice shot." He looked Sariah up and down. "You've got a lot of strength in you." He flexed his paws a bit and flicked his tail. "Do it again?" His smile faded as he started circling the young squirrelmaid.

    "He's not doing anything," Etain complained.

    "Shhh," Katsuke hushed, and went to flick her ear, then noticed the look in her eye and thought better of it. A shiver went down his spine, but he ignored it. Creepy, he thought.

    Abram sighed, and his tail curled in displeasure. "But how do we know when the right moment is?" he demanded. He stood and joined his companion on the other side of the table, looking down at the map of the Islands and Senshan, as well as whatever of Mossflower Sevris had thought to add to their plans. "It's moments like these I wished I had that . . . metal stuff you Kannekans put on your legs. I want to smash something," he muttered. He skimmed over the Islands on the map.

    He finally walked to the entrance of the tent, and whipped aside the flap that separated them from the winds outside.

    Rows and rows of short military-style tents lined the horizon, crushing the undergrowth that hadn't already been burned down and interlacing with the remaining groves of tropical trees that made up the cover that had previously concealed a large number of archers from the Eseltharis rebels. Campfires held off the oncoming night cold and darkness with an orange-ish sort of glow. The smell of cooking meat filled the humid air, and as Abram sniffed at it, he could also taste the leftover embers that burned to the south of them, carrying omens of death to any creatures that still wished to defy them. He grinned savagely.

    "If what you say is true, Sevris . . . these next few weeks will be ones that nobeast will ever forget."

    And the black squirrel laughed a cold, bitter, chilling laugh that would make the fur of any sane creature stand on end.

    Elsewhere, Katsuke got a sudden chill. He pressed his fur down on his neck, a feeling of dread playing at the edges of his consciousness. "Why do I get the feeling that something really bad is coming?" he asked himself.

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    Eolin nearly fell over laughing at the mention of his grandfather’s name in a Senshan context. “Jaredsakken?’ Warrior of Jared’? What is that supposed to mean?” He shook his head of rainwater and smoothed out his hair backward behind his ears. “He told me of a creature with the surname Ikari who fought next to him in the great Battle of Maraul, amongst reinforcements from Senshan. Was that your father? That’s amazing! You must be proud, Katsuke.

    “On that day, the Five Islands were united together, including Senshan. They rallied to the banner of their leader, Jared Sandeye, to fight against the threat of the tyrant, Zakrul Bloodeyes. I heard a special mercenary unit from Mossflower joined them, too! They once served under Bloodeyes, but defected and formed their own horde, for reasons beyond me. For the last decade now, they’ve operated as a band of goodbeast mercenaries for-hire who protect Mossflower and Redwall Abbey. Representatives from Salamandastron were there, too, and even one particular rat from the lands far to the South.”

    “Aye, aye!” Bandit nodded enthusiastically. “My parents participated in th’ rout against Bloodeyes, too. They returned home just fine. What a miracle!” He leaned down and kissed Joshua on the forehead; the boy was silently transfixed on the sparring match between his sister and Jurou. “Tell us, Katsuke, did yer father survive th' Battle of Maraul?”

    “One war ends and another begins,” Eolin mused, shaking his head hopelessly. “Is this to be the fate of our world, to forever be trapped in a vicious cycle of endless war and bloodshed and politics?”

    “Per’aps, per’aps not, Eol,” Bandit politely disagreed. He wrapped Etain’s cloak a little cozier around Joshua and straightened the hood of his traveling coat. “Maybe that ain’t fer us t’ decide, mate.”

    Eolin’s brown and emerald eyes burned with a fierce determination, the fire a stark contrast to the cold dark rain around the group. “We will put an end to this war. No matter what it takes, no matter what sacrifices. We will see this war finished, and peace restored to the world. Mark my words: I’m willing to give my life for it.”

    Sariah laughed as she came down from her initial attack, and stepped backward at Jurou’s surprisingly disciplined reaction to it. Noticing him crouch on the ground, she raised her wet eyebrows and brushed rain out of her long scarlet locks.

    Why would I do it again? He’ll just deflect it. He’s contracting his respiratory muscles to avoid losing his breath. Smart!

    She raised her eyebrows at the smile spreading across the ferret’s face. “Nice shot.” he said with surprising genuineness.

    Thank goodness for the dark sky blanketing the forest, for Jurou could not see the light pink blush beginning to glow on Sariah’s cheeks. Did he just…compliment me? Her blush only grew a little brighter when he began to circle her in the rain. What on earth is he doing?

    She mentally shook herself out of the daze. Focus, girl! Time for new tactics!

    Sariah brought her body into a preparatory position, her left arm raised above and behind her head, and her right arm blocking low at her waist. Her back leg was once again straight and the front leg slightly prepared to bend. Rotating her right fist slightly downwards, she launched straight into a hook punch into Jurou. She bent her front leg at the knee and threw her left fist from behind her head to throw a swift rising punch. Sensing a potential counter-reaction, she retreated on her back foot again and brought one paw to her ear, the elbow raised and sweeping down and out to the center of her body.

    You’ve got this, Sariah!

    Farther out in the forest to the north, Glimbo piled thick leaves and vines to keep out the rain from pattering on his already damp head. He shook his wet paws onto the grass below and rubbed his stained eyes. The Mossflower mouse turned to Anghan on his right.

    “Er…Begging your pardon, Mister Silverfur. But there isn’t a single bloody thing out here to see! Who in the name of Martin the Warrior would even be traveling through the forest at this hour, and in this weather, no less? They’d either be brave, or mad or both. Why did you bring me out with you again?”

    Glimbo moved to climb down from the giant oak tree they had mounted and touched down on the soaked ground, after some seconds of hesitation and mindful effort.

    “The squirrels make this look so easy…” he grumbled a bit. “Seriously, Anghan!” he called back up into the branches. “What’s your plan? Traveling through this mud has got to be absolute madness! We’ll get nothing done and make no progress towards Southsward if we keep moving now!”

    He sat down cross-legged at the base of the tree, wrapping his arms around himself to keep warm. “If you don’t mind me saying so, I believe it best to just wait out the storm before we go back on our way. Maybe it’ll be gone in the morning.”

    Sevris sheathed his hidden blade and lowered the gauntlet to his side. “Now why, pray, would you want our Kanneki blacksteel in your legs? Your muscles, developed as they are, wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’m not saying you’re not physically capable of handling it; not at all, Abram.” The bobcat shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s just that you have to prove yourself capable. Blacksteel is not given; it is earned.”

    He stretched his arms and followed Abram out of the tent, and followed the squirrel’s gaze out into the south Eseltharisan forest range, half-burned to the ground. The light from the troops’ campfires reflected in the bobcat’s malevolent remorseless eyes.

    “This is just the beginning, Abram,” he observed in a sinister tone, stroking his chin thoughtfully. He was purring low in his throat, a purr of satisfaction, malice, and ambition. “These next few weeks will indeed be ones that nobeast will forget for generations to come. Ah, but it shall be so much more than that.” There was now a surprising new cynicism in his voice. “I can already see the waters of the Eastern Islands running red with blood!”

    Sevris again unsheathed the blade hidden in his leather gauntlet, admiring the way it glinted in the fires around the pair. “Yes, there will be poisoned blood and more than plenty of it to go around. Prepare yourself, Abram! The moment is coming!”

    He joined the black squirrel in his cold bitter chilling laughter.

  • Katsuke gave Eolin a piercing sideways gaze for a split second. "Don't laugh so hard," he cautioned. "You might not be aware, but your grandfather is almost a thing of myth where I come from. A near legend." He chuckled. "I know some Senshaan who would absolutely toss you off of a cliff in a heartbeat if they heard you laugh about him." He kept his eyes trained on his friend and Sariah, circling about, while he continued to speak, surprisingly soberingly for the usually jovial fox.

    "The Jared-sakken is a title that is bestowed upon the most powerful warrior in the entirety of the Ishuni, Gyuro, and Kyuna tribes. All three of them were among those partaking in the war against Zakrul Bloodeyes, and the threat he posed to the whole of the East. Legend has it that your grandfather, Sandeye-sanaa, was in our land once, during the battle at Kakimono, during the final push out of Senshan. It is said that every eye that saw him that day, blood running down his sword, sweat on his brow as he continued to battle like a mad-beast, was instantly transfixed by the image, and the owners of those eyes went on to fight three times as hard.

    "Since that day, he was not only revered, but his name was taken as a title of great honor in our lands, as well as to whomever knows of the legends. Though we've had another two creatures who have taken the title in battle in stories for a little time, a true bearer of the name hasn't been recognized since your grandfather."

    The big fox took a deep, long breath, then continued. "At the Battle of Maraul, it is true that my father fought next to Sandeye-sanaa. My mother as well. According to what my adoptive parents told me, my father, Tatsune Ikari, was friends with your grandfather at the time. Not the greatest of friends, of course, having only known each other for a few months of the war, but still friends."

    He started to say more in response to Bandit's questions, but was distracted by Etain's shout of, "Now that's what I'm talking about!"

    Jurou blew water from his snout once more, then immediately brought his left arm across his body in a simple high block to counter Sariah's hook punch, followed by a right-armed angled low block to deflect her rising paw.

    For about a second they were at a distinct standstill, his face inches from hers as he grinned again, his teeth flashing, and pushed both her arms out. He saw her starting to come into her guard, and brought both his paws back down in a flowing motion into an X-shaped cross block that held her knee down, pressing her whole lower leg down with it. The black ferret spun, placed a paw directly behind Sariah's calf, swung an arm over and across her shoulders from the front, and twisted his body, making a simple, but very effective takedown.

    In seconds he'd jumped away again, coming back to the half-crouched guard that he'd used earlier. She's good -- almost had me there, he thought, starting to sweat slightly. Might be better than me . . .

    "Yeah! Now that's what I'm talking about!"

    Jurou shook the water from his head and continued circling, refusing to let Etain's sudden praise distract or deter him.

    Hinata started awake at her lover's shout.

    Then she fell back asleep in seconds, her head nearly touching Joshua's as she slipped into her world of dreams.

    Anghan wiped the rain from his brow and looked out into the storm. "Aye, friend, ye may be right," he murmured. He held a paw over his eyes to see more clearly, though it didn't do much against the sheets of water pounding the earth. "Ah brought ye out here 'cos ah thought ye might ken the area a wee bit better, seein' as how ye're a map-maker and all. Ah've heard o' strange tribes o' despicable wee ferrets an' such around here. Thought we maht get ahead o' things a bit." He laughed. "Not much of a chance at this point, though."

    He swung down from the low branch he'd been sitting on and looked around them a few times. "Although thae's no chance o' food or shelter unless we turn back around. Ah'm fer hightailin' it back to the others, see if'n they're doin' much better than us, aye?" He shouldered his pack and turned down the path back towards the west and started plodding through the rain. "An' ah'd advise ye to follow along, wee mousie," he called back.

    He hadn't made it a few meters, though, when something, somehow, caught his eye in the rain. He knelt down in the path to look at something. "Hm . . ." His paw traced the outline of a single line of tracks running across the muddy path and into the woods.

    "Mousie!" he called. "Coom here and take a look!"

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    Glimbo clambered over to Anghan’s side and examined the single line of tracks on the muddy path. His eyes followed it from the edges of the main road into the western side of the undergrowth, just a dozen meters ahead.

    “By the great Sword of Martin!” Glimbo gasped and clapped a paw to his mouth. “Anghan! Do you know what those are?!” He jumped back to his feet and immediately sprinted back down the path without a second thought, his pack hanging loosely off of his right shoulder behind him.

    “We’ve got to warn the others right away! They could be in terrible danger! Come on, Anghan, we haven’t a moment to lose!”

    “The Battle of Kakimono…” Eolin and Bandit both whispered the name of the legendary battle in awed reverent whispers.

    “I stand here humbly corrected, Katsuke. I’ve just never truly understood the meaning of the Jaredsakken title, that’s all. I apologize for my immaturity.” He patted the orange fox assuringly on the shoulder. “As for the Battle of Kakimono, I’ve always been curious about that as well,” Eolin admitted, kissing his younger male cousin on his cheeks. “Our grandfather never told us the tale of Kakimono, did he, Josh?”

    Joshua pulled himself out of his daze and shook his head in agreement at Eolin. “No, Grandfather Jared never said anything about it at all, Eol! Kuya Katsuke, what is Kakimono?” The little squirrel boy tilted his head quizzically at the orange fox. “Is it in Senshan?”

    “He never talked at length about Kakimono,” Bandit mentioned, scratching his head with one paw and stroking the back of Joshua’s hooded head with the other. “Why? Even th’ historical records in Bevidred speak little o’ it. I mean, surely, if ye’re Jared’s descendants, he would’ve shared it wit’ ye, wouldn’t he?”

    The Easterners were suddenly distracted by Etain’s ear-piercing shout, “Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

    Sariah had barely a second to think. In that short second, she stared into Jurou’s eyes, almost entranced by them as the pink blush reappeared on her cheeks from his sneaky grin.

    Suddenly, she cried out in surprise as Jurou held her right knee down, cutting her block short. Her whole lower right leg sank and pushed backward, her heel slipping into the mud below. Her eyes widened at his paw behind her calf and his arm across her shoulders. Before she could think, she was already spinning around in the air and landing flat on her back on the soaked ground.

    “Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

    “Sari!” She heard Joshua exclaim in mixed surprise and concern. She held out her paw to stop him from reacting. But he had already rushed in between her and Jurou. As Sariah sat up, the mud running down the back of her shift dress and hair, she couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the sight of her younger brother assuming a terrible imitation of a traditional karate pose, glaring “daggers” at Jurou.

    “Don’t you hurt my sister! Or else you’ll have to deal with me! Come on, I’m not afraid of you! Put them up, Kuya Jurou! You and me! Have no fear, Sari, I’ll protect you! You’re going down, Jurou! I said put them up!”

    Sariah took a full minute to laugh at her brother’s ridiculous attempt to come off as a professional karate fighter. She stood up straight, letting the rain wash the mud off her body.

    “It’s all right, manoy,” she gently pushed her brother aside. “You did a good job, but I can handle this. Go back with Eolin and Kuya Bandit, syota.” She smirked confidently and said to Jurou with a tone of undeniable finality,

    “Well, if I’m going down, then you’re going down with me!”

    She dropped into a new informal attention stance, both heels touching and feet angled at 45 degrees. As she stepped forward, one foot in before the other, her front heel fell forward into a small depression in the mud. Her left heel foot instantaneously followed, and she slid wildly through the mud.

    “Jurou-!” She called to the black ferret, trying to turn away at the last second before her paws accidentally grabbed his tunic. But her whole body collided instantly with his, and both fell to the ground in a muddy heap.

    Sariah caught her breath first and opened her eyes. She was lying at an angle on top of Jurou, her head over his right shoulder (her left), and her arms spread out on either side; her right arm was diagonal across the ferret’s chest.

    “Oh, my-!” Sariah hurriedly pushed herself off of him. “I’m sorry, Jurou! I didn’t mean to do that! Oh, my goodness, are you okay?!” She reached out to help her opponent to his feet. Once done so, Sariah blushed and rubbed the back of her head apologetically, then shrugged.

    “Um…You win, I guess?” she asked with an adorable giggle.

    The sound of her brother’s full-blown uncontrollable laughter suddenly penetrated loud and clear through the deafening rain. Sariah began to laugh herself, a slightly quieter giggle, but a genuine and beautiful sound like bells that rang melodiously in Jurou’s ears.

    Bandit stood up and craned his neck to spy something in the distance. “Oy, fellas,” he notified Katsuke and Eolin. “Do ye see that there?” He pointed to a group of silhouettes appearing from the north, blurred by the rain. “What’s that ye reckon?”

    Eolin sprang to his feet. “Yeah, I see it. I can’t quite tell what it is, though-!”


    An earsplitting explosion rent the air. A thick white foggy smoke rose around the group. Eolin shielded his eyes, feeling his body growing heavy and faint. Before he could stop himself, he slumped sideways to the ground.

    “Eolin!” Bandit coughed and inhaled the smoke. In an instant, he too had collapsed without another word.

    “Eol! Bandit!” Joshua moved to help his fallen cousin and friend, but tripped over an elongated tree root and fell flat on his face in the mud.

    “Joshua!” Sariah screamed and hurried to her brother’s side. Another rending explosion cracked in her ears to her right, and she too joined her family on the ground.

    From the shadows of the rainy forest, two dozen phantom shapes emerged and dragged off their unconscious prey.

    OOC: syota - "sweetheart"

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